Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Honor To Us All

There's a running joke in the television show Friday Night Dinner  that the family have Nice Grandma and Horrible Grandma. It's the only joke in the whole series that I can't relate to.

But it seems I'm the only one.

Almost every one of my friends has a Nice Grandma and Horrible Grandma, and has referred to them as such for as long as I can remember.

(The funniest thing about this is that the whole family refers to them as Nice and Horrible- including their own son/daughter, and it's just totally accepted.)

So apparently my brothers and I are three of the only people on the planet to be fortunate enough to have the four kindest and most amusing people on the planet for grandparents.

I was lucky enough to keep all four of my grandparents all the way up until five days before my seventeenth birthday, when my paternal grandmother (or Nanny as she will always be known) slipped away in her sleep, graceful and classy as ever, aged eighty.

Today is five days before my twenty seventh birthday.

Ten whole years have passed since then.

Which is totally inconceivable to me.

How has it been that long? She could have been here, yesterday, calling me precocious and producing jam filled cakes out of thin air.

Anyway, the arrival of today's date paired with watching Friday Night Dinner and discussing my best friend's Horrible Grandma with her got me thinking about Grandparents in general and how lucky Mowgli, Chip and I are.

I don't know about your grandparents. Maybe they're as wonderful as mine. Maybe your Nice Grandma is great and your Horrible Grandma is pure evil. Maybe they're full of funny, wise anecdotes, exceptional secret recipes, and classic one liners. Maybe they love Keeping Up Appearances and Porridge. Maybe all your memories consist of sitting on their knees as a toddler. Hopefully, whatever your memories are, you can enjoy- and maybe even relate to- some of my most treasured Nice Grandparent memories....

1) Cakes

The other day Dale and I were eating cakes (it's my birthday month, we've eaten cakes for breakfast, lunch and dinner for three weeks), and when we were sad that they were over and were staring resolutely at the empty cases, Dale asked whether I remembered as a child sucking on the empty paper. I did. And was immediately transported back. Back to around 1998. At least once a week we would come home to find that Nanny had let herself in with her key and left us some fancy cakes on the kitchen table. Normally filled with jam and topped with white icing and either silver balls, colourful sprinkles, or coconut.

2) Modern Dating

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with my Grandad Ed that went like this:

"Your brother seems very happy with his girlfriend. Everyone's being a bit vague about how they met though. Can you tell me once and for all? How did they meet?"

"Well," I begin, still deciding exactly where to begin with explaining Tinder to a ninety one year old, "on the internet."

I stop there, thinking that will do for today's lesson.

"Right," he says, seeming to be taking it in. "You must have some real issues if you've got to turn to the internet to find a girl, haven't you?"

3) Young at Heart

Last week I went to see my Grandad Derek on his seventy eighth birthday. He was at the Bowls Club (his favourite place in the whole world) running an Open Day for new people to go along and trial bowling for the first time.

Two things struck me about my time there.

The first was how excited my Grandad was about his birthday.

You know the way old people say 'ah once you get to my age, birthdays don't mean much anymore'?

Not my Grandad. He was so excited. Which explains why my mum gets so excited about hers, and why I, in turn, get so excited about mine. And also is the perfect permission story for me to tell when people make faces about the fact that I tell everyone when mine is coming up despite the fact I'm over the age of ten.

The second thing that struck me was how sad he was to be back from his ten days in Fuerteventura. When I asked him whether he had a good time he looked genuinely gutted as he answered 'I just find it so hard settling back into reality. It was so great.'

I didn't know that anyone felt like that about holidays past the age of ten either (except my Mum. She's more like her dad than I ever realised.)

The final thing that I feel I should highlight to you at this point is that he was recently on Radio Two as a success story of someone who started learning the Saxophone aged seventy six.

Honestly, he is the original proof that if you can dream it, you can do it- and you should.

(Also he only looks about twenty five. Forget surgery, keeping busy might be the answer to maintaining your youthful looks!)

4) Therapy

Sometimes I feel like my Grandma is my therapist. Quite often I'll 'pop' in for a coffee (she provides me with special fancy cappuccinos) and end up being there talking at her for hours about everything that's happened to me and happened to cross my mind in the past month. And she listens to all of it. Never has to get on with something more important, never has a vacant expression, never busies herself with other things. She listens and then responds with sensible, Grandma advice, and is always on my side. Always.


5) Technology

I can't write about my grandparents without mentioning this subject.

Not a week goes by when there isn't a funny story about my Grandad and his computer. This is the same man who loves his birthday, holidays, and takes up new hobbies as and when he fancies. He has an iPhone, iPod, hotmail, computer, printer, scanner and Facebook account.

There are so many stories that I could tell about his adventures with these various pieces of technology, but when I asked my brothers which story was their favourite, they both said the same thing.

It's his Computer Rules.

He's very strict.

He deletes emails almost as soon as they come in, and when he goes on holiday he calls around to his family and friends and asks them not to send any emails for the next two weeks as he really does believe (no matter how many times everyone tells him) that they will clog up his computer.

He treats his Facebook friends the same- much to the amusement of my cousin Hannah- whom he asked to delete his friend who had written a lovely message on his wall about how great it was to be in touch again, because he 'really didn't need him on there, clogging things up.'

My mum then reminded me of her favourite story.

The time that somehow- and we will never know how- my Grandad managed to change his Facebook profile to say he lived in Cambridge (he lives in Essex) and 'works at Raise These Sails.'

'Raise These Sails' is the name of my cousin George's band. They describe themselves as 'Progressive/Post Hardcore.'

What a shock that was to those of my Grandad's bowls pals that had been lucky enough to be added as a friend.

6) 1940s Fairytale

There's a little quote making its way around little wooden plaques in people's homes and on centre pieces at weddings the country over that says something along the lines of "Every love story is beautiful but ours is my favourite."

Never has that phrase been truer than with my Grandad Ed. Almost every time I see him he retells the story of his first date with my Nanny.

She was late. So late, in fact, that my Grandad assumed he had been stood up and gave up hope of ever seeing her again. He decided that if she wasn't on the next bus, he was leaving. Bear in mind, lovely readers, that there was no Facebook in the 1940s. No whatsapp, no mobiles, no Linkedin, no Twitter.

No way of getting in contact.

She was on the next bus.

Obviously. 

Because if she hadn't been, according to my calculations, there are twenty two people that wouldn't exist today.

Which leads me to my next story...

7) Too Much Information.

The time my Nanny told me that she hadn't planned my Dad.

"Oh no," she said, blissfully unaware that she was about to scar her fourteen year old granddaughter for life, "we hadn't planned him. But we went to a wedding, we had a good time, and then that was that. I was pregnant."

Nice.


8) Marriage Lessons

I have learnt so much from both sets of grandparents about how relationships should work.

Every single time I left my Nanny and Grandad's house for seventeen years, it was always to wave them off together. And after fifty eight years of marriage they always cuddled as they waved their family off. It's something that struck me- even at the age of twelve- as true magic.

My Grandma should run classes on marriage. Seriously.

Sometimes I watch her in awe and feel I should be making notes.

"Derek do you think you could do the bacon dear?"

"Can't you do it? I'm just in the middle of showing Rebecca something on my computer."

"Oh I would darling but I'm just not as good as you. I just don't know how you make it so crispy, you really are the expert."

Now written like this it might all seem really obvious. But it's actually genius. I watch as he physically puffs up, his chest rises slightly, and he replies "Oh well it's all in the way you place it on the pan. Quite simple really," and then proudly struts to the kitchen to show us what he can do.

Brilliant.

My Grandma and Grandad also always do their shopping early on a Thursday morning and always have Fish and Chips for tea on Friday night. No expert has ever told me that's a secret to marriage, but I think having weekly rituals that involve guaranteed time together might just be one.

I have learnt so much from all four of my grandparents, and do my best to appreciate them every single day.

I like to think that I will continue to carry these wonderful traits, that they will continue to be a part of me, and then of my children, and that I will be as funny, determined, interesting, wise, and loving as my absolutely amazing ancestors.










Sunday, 24 April 2016

Schadenfreude!

Those of you who have read my blog before will know that I am an avid fan of Avenue Q, and regularly quote it.

You will also know that I am a huge fan of making people happy, and that my deepest wish is that I could make a living the same way that Ant and Dec do- simply bringing happiness to normal people.

One could argue that that is part of my job, but not quite in the same way as Ant and Dec so I won't be wording it like that on my CV just yet.

Anyway, one of the best songs in Avenue Q is Schadenfreude. For those of you who are unaware, this means 'pleasure derived from another person's misfortune.' The examples cited in Avenue Q include laughing at ice skaters falling over, feeling warm and cosy watching people out in the rain, and watching actors fail to get to the end of their Oscars speech.

Now you may be thinking that it doesn't sound very nice- it isn't. But we all do it, so it's okay to embrace it. Be honest with me- did you laugh at Madonna's Brit Award incident? Did you watch Jennifer Lawrence falling over at the Oscars? If you didn't, are you going to look it up the second you've finished reading this? (And not a second before, may I add.)

I think if I'm ever going to make a living making people happy, it's going to be using schadenfreude. I think I regularly bring people happiness by the simple gratitude that they are not me, in any given embarrassing moment...

It's the night before I start my new role. More responsibility. More pressure. I'm going up in the world.

I've been at a social dinner for all of the managers in Essex, and am now walking back to my car, swallowing back tears as I regale the story of the very embarrassing thing I did in front of twenty of my colleagues in the Lakeside branch of Bella Italia.

"Why can't I be more like Princess Kate?" I wail, opening my car door and throwing myself into my seat, "she would never have done that."

"No, you're right. She wouldn't have done." My mum replies, attempting a sympathetic voice as she laughs her head off. "Ooh but you know who would!" She perks up, adopting her look-on-the-bright-side tone. "Miranda Hart!"

Ah. The other person every little girl wants to grow up to be.

Thanks Mum.

I messaged my friend Alice- about both the embarrassing act and my mum's reaction- who immediately replied 'who wants to be like Kate? At least you're not boring!'

The truth is that I want to be like Kate. I want to sail through all life's social occasions with the ease and grace of Julie Andrews. I want to be able to leave the presence of people without cringing as I replay everything I said and did on the drive home. I want to be able to marry Prince Harry without being terrified that I'm going to bring shame on the family with my ridiculous, and genuinely accidental, antics.

My nearest and dearest are now so used to these stories that they just half laugh and half despair at how I do these things.

But another friend pointed out that it's what makes her relaxed around me, the fact that I have these stories to tell, and that I (have no choice but to) make fun of myself, means that she never feels stupid in front of me.

(There's a compliment in there somewhere.)

Anyway, Alice has a point.

They're stories to tell, right?

So tell them I will.

Please bear in mind that these four things happened to me in the past seven days, so this represents my average week...

1) The Work Incident

Rewind approximately half an hour to before I rang my mum.

I've spent the whole evening sat between my regional manager and a manager from another centre that I've never met before. It has all been rather lovely- despite the most unhelpful signs all the way to the correct car park I did make it on time, contrary to my concerns I struck the right balance between dressy and casual in my outfit choice, I managed not to fall on the dodgy tiles in my heels on the way to the toilet, the conversation has been natural and full-flowing, and the delicious food all managed to make it to my mouth rather than down my front.

Successful, all in all.

We've requested the bill, the last of the drinks are being consumed, and we're all feeling satisfied that it has been a simply lovely evening, when- with absolutely no forewarning and for absolutely no reason at all, I fall off my chair and fly backwards across the floor before I come skidding to a halt in front of twenty colleagues from across the county, my regional manager, and several Bella Italia Lakeside staff- all now silent and staring, unsure what to do.

I hit the floor really hard, so hard that if I were in a room on my own I would have burst into inconsolable, teething-baby tears.

The shock of whacking my backside on the dodgy, faux-wooden floor- apart from the pain- knocks the breath out of me.

I feel everyone's eyes on me- unsure whether to laugh or to comfort me.

I realise I have to lead this.

If I want to keep my new job, I think, I probably need to choose a route that isn't 'burst into tears and insist I haven't had anything to drink.' (NB. I was driving, and genuinely had not had a sip of alcohol.)

"I'm fine, I'm just mortified,' I shout, trying to keep the wobble out of my voice.

The room erupts into hysterical laughter which- my mother will later point out- is probably for the best. If everyone had been nice I may not have been able to keep my tears at bay.

I laugh merrily along and swallow my drink with my horror, before escaping at the earliest possible second and calling Dale- who said "brilliant, does this mean we can move to Australia?"

2) The Wedding Part 1

I went to Oxford for a wedding.

Oxford is quite far from my house.

(Though the majority of the guests travelling from Malaysia means that I can't emphasise this point too much.)

Instead of booking a hotel like a sensible person might have done, I chose to drive there and back in a day.

It was absolutely fine, I enjoy driving and it's only a couple of hours each way.

Except that it started at 12, which meant getting up and totally ready by 9 (for those of you that don't know- getting ready for weddings takes time), to allow myself an hour to get lost. (I have been known to get lost on my way to work, I was never going to make it all that way without a couple of hiccups.)

I made it to the Park and Ride having only taken two wrong turns and managing to get myself straight back on track. What I hadn't taken into account was that I would have to pay for both the Park and the Ride (last time I used it in Essex you just paid for the bus, not sure whether that's changed across the country or whether Oxford just have their own expensive rules), and that it would take TEN YEARS to pay over the phone for parking because I didn't have enough change with me for both.

I clearly stated the registration, make, and colour of my car as requested, only to be told that the voice recognition thing wasn't working, I would have to text them, and then call them back.

I felt like they were doing it on purpose- you know like Rowan Atkinson in Love Actually?

Having finally paid, I raced to the bus, jangling every penny I had with me, and buying the only ticket I could get with the very little change I had with me (who has change with them when they're in their fanciest frock?), making a mental note to get money out for the journey home, and then...proceeded to sit on the bus for what felt like another hour whilst they checked that everybody within the vicinity of the car park had made it onto the bus.

The second the bus pulled up to Stop E1 (unbeknownst to the driver- when I had said I need to get to Stop E1 he had rolled his eyes and said he thought I probably meant the city centre. Turns out I did.), I ran up the road, frantically holding my phone at a strange angle as I attempted to use the map Dale had sent me to navigate my way through the city, whilst also holding the five hundred other things that I would have been carrying in a handbag had I realised earlier that I needed one. (In the absence of a bag that matched my meticulously paired shoes, dress and fascinator combo I had thought it a good idea to just carry my lipstick, chewing gum, invitation, purse, phone, and Bonjela (my wisdom tooth is coming through), forgetting that I would look even more ridiculous than if I had gone with a slightly odd coloured clutch.

Kidding myself that I was having an adventure straight out of a movie, spinning around in my pretty dress in the sunshine as a musician played a guitar in the square and a Preacher stood on his box shouting about how loved we all are, I scuttled down a street that looked like it might be the right one- only seven minutes to go until the ceremony was due to start.

Stretching to see past parked cars and walking tours, I spotted some bright and beautiful bridesmaids scurrying through a gateway. I'd found it.

I took a deep breath to pull myself together, and turned to the shop window beside me to arrange my bright blue fascinator, boost my hair a bit and replace the lipstick that had undoubtedly slid off during the more stressful parts of my adventure.

It was only as I smiled at myself in the window that I realised that there was a very stern faced and scary man directly on the other side of that window, with raised eyebrows and not a hint of amusement.

3) The Wedding Part 2

Another fascinator story, sadly.

I made it into the wedding (although it did involve squeezing past the bride- who was ten minutes early and who I have never met- desperate to shout: I am invited! I know your fiance!) and was casually strolling back through the city to the reception, catching up with an old friend, when a bus drove past.

All at once my fascinator flew off, my arms flailing above me to rescue it; my dress flew in the air to reveal my underwear (I wish that was the only underwear/naked embarrassing story I had to tell. I could write a book just about all the times I've inadvertently flashed horrified onlookers), my wrap fell and got caught up in my legs, my chewing gum skidded to hit the toes of a man waiting innocently at the bus stop, my lipstick rolled in the opposite direction, and paper scattered the floor as the various parts of the invitation escaped my grip.

The friend I had been walking with scurried about trying to rescue all my things whilst the other guests gracefully collected my various belongings like the true princesses they are, and I wished desperately for a hole to swallow me up and take me away to an underground lair full of embarrassing idiots to save the beautiful and graceful University of Warwick graduates of the world from having to deal with us.

4) Specsavers

I think you might actually relate to this one.

In fact, I think Princess Kate may even relate to this one.

Earlier this week I visited Specsavers for my bi-yearly check up, and the second I was called in I found myself inexplicably giggly.

I always get a little bit nervous at the eye doctor. Last time I actually did something exceptionally embarrassing. I'll let you guess at what that was- fortunately I was spared that this time.

Instead, I found myself faced with a round, jolly optician. Santa without the beard, if you will.

"Ooh sorry," I said as he had to adjust the machine for the third time, "I must have an exceptionally small head."

"Oh no," he replied conspiratorially, leaning in and whispering, "the lady before you had an exceptionally large head."

"HA. Oh you are funny. Ha ha ha." I began, melting into over the top and unnecessary giggles.

'Pull yourself together!' My head said, as my body continued to convulse with laughter at nothing.

Then they took me through to the next room, where I was presented with a beautiful Asian man with bright blue eyes.

I had to bite my tongue to stop myself saying the absolute nonsense that had come out with Summertime Santa, especially as he made all the machines much smaller.

Then the lights went out and he started poking about with my eyes.

The world got a bit small, and a bit tight, and I couldn't breathe, and I couldn't stop wriggling, and...

He turned the lights on.

"You've gone very pale. I think you're about to pass out. Let's have a break." The beautiful man said, concern etched over his perfect face.

"Has anyone else ever needed a glass of water to avoid passing out at a standard eye test?" I was desperate to ask. I didn't, because I was quite confident about the answer, and I already felt stupid enough.

I heard a bout of unreasonable laughter come from the next room.

I can only assume Santa was whispering conspiratorially about my unusually small head.



Not only do I have a lovely talent for embarrassing myself in simple situations, I also have an exceptional talent for saving other people's embarrassment for them.

I spend so much of my time feeling mortified that I will do almost anything to save other people that awkwardness.

I have so many examples of this (including having to pretend to be a vegetarian for a year, and buying a chest of drawers that I did not want or need), but this is Minnie Mouse's favourite, so I thought I'd share it with you....

I climbed aboard a bus in Coventry to be met with the friendliest bus driver I have ever and will ever meet.

"How are you?!" He asked, with unusual enthusiasm for Coventry.

I answered, matching his enthusiasm.

"And how's your sister?!" He said, "How's her new job going?"

Gosh.

How embarrassing for him.

He thinks I'm somebody else.

How do I break it to him?

I don't have a sister? I've never met you before in my life? I'm not who you think I am?

None of them felt right.

"She's...great!" had escaped my mouth before I could stop it. "The new job's a challenge but she's enjoying it. Thanks for asking! You take care."

I took my seat on the bus and hoped against hope that he wouldn't ask anything that I couldn't lie about.

He didn't.

What he did do, however, was stop the bus at a stop approximately three stops before I needed to get off, and shout "here's your stop mate! Have a nice day, won't you?'

I'd already lied. I couldn't make up an excuse as to why I might be staying on for three extra stops quickly enough- I didn't know who I was pretending to be. But equally, I couldn't now tell him that I wasn't who he thought I was.

So I got off.

I got off, and waited twenty minutes in the freezing Coventry cold for the next bus to come along, and prayed that I would never get on his bus again.

(I didn't.)

I could tell you so many more stories like these but I am just about ready to burst with embarrassment having regaled these ones, and I imagine you are now desperate for the bathroom or another cup of tea, I have gone on a bit, so will leave it there.

What I am hoping is that I, like Miranda Hart and Nicky from Avenue Q, will have made you feel better about your own faux pas, and that next time you fall off your chair, or break wind in public, or show the world your underwear, or pass out for no reason, and you're wailing that Princess Kate would never do that, someone might tell you "she wouldn't, but you know who would?! Rebecca!"

And you might think- Oh. Yeah. Well at least I'm not boring.

You may even think of the cast of Avenue Q, who remind us as the song finishes that "we provide a vital service to society, you and me- schadenfreude, making the world a better place to be" :)

Monday, 28 March 2016

The Girl You Think I Am

Let me tell you about Rex.

Rex burst into my life in 2005 when we bonded over our love of Goo Goo Dolls, dislike of the college bus, and the fact that we both had a free double period first thing on a Wednesday. 

He is the closest real life human being to Ross from Friends I have ever met (hence the alias), and soon became one of my best friends, favourite people and, as it turned out, fierce protector. 

If a boy so much as looked at me (and let's face it, with the bright red streaks in my hair, inexplicably round cheeks, and permanently spotty forehead, I was fighting them off) Rex was there- interviewing them about their intentions with me, visibly sizing them up and then debriefing me on his in-depth opinions on what I should next. (He was never wrong.) 

Which is why I was beside myself last week to meet his very own, two week old daughter. 

She is perfect. 

And it will come as a surprise to nobody that he is wonderful with her. 

He answered the door holding her confidently with one arm; her tiny, content face looking up at him, uncannily like his wife's mum on a teeny scale. 

I watched him for the next couple of hours as he confidently fed, burped, and comforted this tiny person, more relaxed and happy than I have ever seen him before. 

At the time I didn't think anything of it. 

It suited him. 

It seemed right. 

Already I can't remember a time that they didn't have a baby. 

(Although that may be because they've been looking after me for eleven years.) 

But in hindsight I wondered: how does he know what he's doing? 

There's so much in the press, on social media, and in general conversations about how mums deal with having a baby, how wonderful they are and how much you change when you become a mother. 

But what about dads? 

They don't give birth, and they only have a couple of weeks off before they return to work, and the hours between 9 and 5 go back to exactly how they were before. 

But the fact remains that they have also become a parent- their lives have changed forever- and they are going to be faced with new challenges almost every day for the foreseeable future. 

So how do they know what they're doing? 

On the drive home from their house that day, I was struck by the lyrics of Carrie Underwood's song 'The Girl You Think I Am'. 

The first line of the second verse is 'I've been Daddy's little girl since my first cry'. 

This, of course, immediately made me think of Rex calmly comforting his two week old daughter. 

Carrie goes on to sing about how she desperately wants to be the heroine that her father believes she is. 

Both Rex and his wife- Jiminy Cricket- have already described their daughter as strong-willed and wise. 

Which of course, she will be, because she has such wonderful parents. 

Already she is brave and beautiful, already she has turned their lives upside down and brought a new magic to every single day that they could never have predicted. 

What wonderful confidence and self-worth this little person who is already so loved by so many is going to have. 

She's going to want to grow into the superstar that her parents already see. 

I listened to the song again. 

The previous weekend my dad had come over straight from his sixth day at work so that I could do some presentations for him. 

These presentations will have been boring and meaningless to him (he didn't say this- I just know I would have been bored and lost had I been listening in his position). 

I was going to a scary assessment day a few days later and he volunteered to listen to me whittle on about various numbers and targets that would mean nothing to him so that I could go in feeling more confident. 

The night before the assessment I popped in to see him and his girlfriend. He had no doubt that I would get it. 

I had that song in my head the whole time. 

I sang it to myself on the train all the way there. 

As my shaking hands accepted the coffee they presented me with when I arrived. 

As my shakier hands pointed at the various charts and graphs I had created to support my points. 

I want to be the girl you think I am. 

I am confident that if I didn't have parents who have every faith that I can do plenty of things that I'm quite sure that I can't do, I would never be brave enough to try. 

And I can see already that Rex is going to be that person for his child. 

Another friend's husband is already proving to be the same with his one day old son. 

Another friend who is already doing an amazing job of being this person for his one year old son has just found out that he is soon to have another. 

And a fourth friend- causing ridiculous emotion on my part- has had confidence in his children's brilliance for as long as I can remember. And now the first one is due this year. 

Which is why I thought today- my own wonderful dad's birthday, and the weekend that so many of my male friends have become parents in one way or another- would be the perfect time to celebrate how brilliant dads are...

1) Laughter

My Dad is particularly good at laughing at me when I need it most. 

When Dale told me he was going to the toilet and got on the plane without me, leaving me to run to the gate as they called my name over the tannoy at the last minute?  When I accidentally sat in on the wrong funeral? When I drove directly over a roundabout because my driving instructor told me to 'go straight over'? 

None of them were funny until I told my Dad and he laughed hysterically. Suddenly they did seem more funny than mortifying. I mean, I'm not denying that they are mortifying. But the fact that he laughed also made them funny. And less horrendous. 

He also makes me laugh a lot. Inadvertently, most of the time. 

Nothing makes me happier than catching my brothers' eyes when my Dad uses a word in the wrong context, or gets something slightly wrong. (Anyone else's parents fans of the Black Eyed Beans?) 

2) Shared Interests

My brother Mowgli said that his favourite thing about our Dad is the fact that they have so many shared interests. I assume that, by that, Mowgli meant he really appreciates that his Dad brought him up to love football more than life itself. 

Mowgli watches, plays, bets on, talks about, dreams about, decorated every bedroom as a child around, football. And that passion definitely comes from our Dad, who introduced Mowgli to a healthy interest in sport at a very young age. 

But I also feel similarly. One of my favourite things about my Dad is our shared love of chocolate, The Apprentice, Ant and Dec, Christmas, and moaning about how rubbish The X Factor has got as we settle down to watch it for the seventh week in a row. 

3) Inspiration

When I asked one of my best friends whether she had anything to contribute to theme of this blog, she replied simply 'my dad is the best person in the whole world.' 

She then expanded on that by saying that he is creative and kind. When she was pregnant the whole family referred to the bump as 'Steve.' Obviously, they were never going to use that name for the baby, so when she was born, they abandoned Steve, and so her dad made them a fairy door for the garden (something that he does regularly), and wrote 'Steve' on it, because now the baby is here, Steve needs somewhere to live. 

She also commented on how wonderfully positive he stays no matter what's going on. He is always smiling, and that's inspirational to her. 

Me, Mowgli, and Chip are also lucky that our parents happen to be the nicest people in the world, and therefore have had being kind inspired into us. Which leads me to...

4) The Little Things

My Dad would do anything for anyone. He comes from a whole family of selfless people. Both of his parents and both of his sisters would do anything for anyone too, which means that for a long time, Mowgli, Chip and I took this to be the norm. 

It's only as I've got older that I've realised that driving all the way to Coventry and back twice because I had more stuff than I could fit in the car was actually a huge thing to do. That dropping me off to my new job in Portsmouth in 2011 was actually quite a long way out of his way. That allowing me to have a sixteenth and twenty first birthday party at home was actually quite brave. 

A few weeks ago I got all the way into work before I had realised that I didn't have my lunch with me. I had either left it in the car, or at my dad's. My car was parked a bit of a trek away, so I called my Dad to check whether I had left it there before I went all the way back to my car. 

He had it. 

It was fine- the centre I work in is inside a Sainsbury's so I would be able to buy lunch later. 

Forty five minutes later- you've guessed it- my Dad was standing at the front of the centre, waving frantically with one hand and holding my lunch up in the other. 

Chip later told me that he had reminded Dad that I work in a Sainsbury's and told him it would be ridiculous to drive my lunch all the way there, but he had brushed it off and insisted. 

5) Support: no matter what

Almost everyone that I have discussed this with has said that one of the best things about their dad is that despite not always agreeing with them, or thinking what they're doing is right, they always have their dad's support. 

One friend commented that her dad always goes above and beyond to make her happy, even if he can't understand why it would make her happy- the knowledge that it would is enough for him. 


And, of course, the final one that I discussed at length above- belief. Belief that you are going to change the world. Belief that you can do anything you put your mind to. Belief that you are going to take the world by storm.

So I will continue to watch with awe, pride, and gratitude as my friends produce these little superstars, will continue to be grateful every day for my own wonderful Dad, and will continue to work hard at pretending to be as brave, clever, kind, and strong as my parents insist that I am. 

And I will continue, of course, to listen to Carrie Underwood. 







Monday, 8 February 2016

Chip N Dale

Right now I am curled up in the corner of my new bright red sofa. Come Fly With Me is on in the background, and Dale is on the floor building chairs. 

I like to think, lovely readers, that I am a 21st century woman perfectly capable of building flat packed chairs myself. I went and picked them up from the store, drove home, and carried them from my car up to my gorgeous new first floor flat all alone and just fine whilst Dale was at the cinema this afternoon. 

And I cannot emphasise enough that these things are really heavy. I certainly won't be bothering with any other kind of exercise today. By the time I fell- sweaty, bruised, and bleeding ever so slightly- into the flat with the fourth and final outrageously heavy and awkward-sized box, I thought I might sleep for a week. 

But I didn't. I opened the boxes, took out the parts, and had just begun to build when I had a message from Dale to say that the film had finished and he was ready for me to meet him and do some errands in town. 

Now we're home and, thanks to one teeny, tiny mistake of putting a screw in the wrong way up (I did still manage to build it), I am banned from all building duties and am only to contribute when absolutely necessary. 

The upside of all this, of course, is that I am finally able to write to you to tell you all about my latest adventure: Living With a Boy. 

I have lived with boys before. I've got two brothers. I naively thought that meant that I didn't have much to learn from moving in with Dale. I was wrong. 

I have learnt so much. 

About Dale. About relationships. About flat packed furniture, council tax, delivery companies, home scents, toilet ducks, kitchen appliances, and more. 

And here I am going to tell you all about it. 

So whether you are somebody who has experienced this all yourself, is about to, or is looking forward to doing so one day, please make a cup of tea, sit back, and enjoy my Guide to Moving Into Your First Home...

Chapter 1: What I have learnt about my boyfriend, and possibly boys everywhere: 

1) Size does matter. 

At least when it comes to the television. 

Dale chose the television, and has since told anyone and everyone who will listen what size it is. And every single male that has crossed into this flat since we moved in two weeks ago has immediately commented on how big it is, and asked for its exact measurements. 

I could not be less bothered. 

This morning, Dale came into the kitchen as I was washing up, kissed me on the cheek and said 'I think I'm going to buy you a special treat.' I immediately- and somewhat stupidly- thought he was going to say a creme egg. (I have serious creme egg issues, but more on that later.) 

'Yes?' I replied hopefully, already thinking we could get three for a pound if we go to the right place. 

"I'm going to buy you a bigger television for the spare bedroom." 

We definitely do not need a bigger television for the spare bedroom. 

But apparently it's important. 

2) His ideas about storage are vastly different from mine. 

Paint a picture in your mind. We're unpacking everything, excitedly deciding what to put where. I'm immediately reminded of a story that my parents regularly told me as a child- that the first day they lived together Mum went through all the food that she had bought and Dad was so excited to hear about it. 

Dale casually points up to what we have decided is the Hot Drinks Shelf, and says 'if there's not enough room for all that coffee we could always put it in the airing cupboard.' 

Now, please, please tell me if I have got this wrong. But I always thought the airing cupboard was for clean bath towels and bedding. The occasional beach towel, maybe. 

Have I been missing something all these years by not keeping my tea and coffee in there?!

Answers on a postcard. 

Or in a comment below. 

Either is fine. 

3) As hard as he tries, chores are a battle...

To my absolute delight, on our first full day in the house, I was working and Dale was at home when I received the following text message: 

"You know that kind of nappy thing that you put on the mattress? I found one. Is it a single one? I couldn't get it on." 

By nappy thing, he means bottom sheet. 

And yes, it was a double one. 


Chapter 2: What I have learnt about moving: 

1) I don't want to do it again. 

I was warned that if we were going to buy, we needed to make sure it was absolutely the right choice because moving is expensive. 

So we went with renting. 

What I have learnt is that even moving into a rented flat costs a lot physically and emotionally. 

Obviously I wasn't going in completely blind. I have moved out of my mum's plenty of times to live in all kinds of places. In an interview I once had I confidently said that I don't think any living situation could surprise me now, I've done them all. 

Which is true. 

But I've never moved out totally before. 

And I've never moved anywhere unfurnished. 

Which, it turns out, makes a big difference to unpacking, and to upsetting the neighbours by needing to get rid of enough cardboard to build a fort bigger than the whole block of flats put together. 

Equally, we were warned that buying a house together is a bigger commitment than marriage. 

Honestly? I think that filling a rented flat with flipping-hard-to-put-together flat pack furniture is a bigger commitment than marriage. Dale pointed out the other day that we can never move out because we're not taking the bed down so that we can get it through the front door again. So this is it. We're growing old here in a two bedroom, first floor flat in central Chelmsford. 

2) It takes ages.

I quite regularly meet people at work who say that they can't book an appointment because they are moving house. 

For a year and a half that has bothered me. Moving takes a day. What's all the fuss about?

Now it's two weeks since moving day- moving day for two adults into a relatively small flat- and from where I am sitting I can see boxes, upside down chairs, screws, a couple of lamps with no bulbs, and approximately eight instruction manuals. 

And I'm wondering whether going to the cinema later will be an irresponsible waste of time. 

3) Chapter 3: What I have learnt about living as a grown up. 

As I said above, I have moved out plenty of times before. I have rented, and I have had various homes- apartments, hotels, even tents on several occasions- provided as part of my employment- and so I thought I had lived like a grown up before. 

But I have never been totally responsible for the upkeep of the entire property before. Okay, I had to keep my tent tidy (and did a great job- the team used to make fun of my tent for looking like a Guest one. Something I'm very proud of), but that didn't exactly leave me with plenty of rooms to keep on top of. 

So here is what I have learnt now that I am well and truly living as an adult (disclaimer: I've no doubt I will eat my words once I am paying a mortgage.) 

1) We will argue.

We were warned that we would argue. We have been together for just over two and a half years. Of course we have argued. But we were warned that moving in together heightens that. 

Now I am aware that we are only two weeks in, and am sure that we will argue about lots more things than this. 

But so far, here are the wonderful arguments that we have had: 

*Moving is stressful vs No it isn't. 

*Delivery companies are stupid vs No they aren't. 

*Recycling is worth it vs Just chuck it all in the same place. 

*Hollywood Studios isn't worth going to now vs YES IT STILL IS.

*Home scents matter vs They are a stupid waste of money.

*Here is everything that's happening in my work right now vs Stop talking about work. It's the weekend. 

*Craig David is on the radio, nice treat! vs Where have you been? He's everywhere right now. 

*Making the bed is worth it vs It's a stupid waste of time. 


2) There are more home scent options than homes in the whole of the UK. 

I have found myself tearing my hair out in the supermarket, watching as other women have confidently marched up to the shelf and taken the one they are sure is going to make their house smell beautiful. Absolutely no hesitation. 

Who do I trust? Febreze? AmbiPur? Airwick? Does a brand name matter? Can I get one I've never heard of? Do I want a plug in? A ball? A stand alone? Then what scent? Is it really going to smell like Fresh Linen? What on earth does Frost Pine smell like? Will apple cinnamon be overpowering? 

Do there need to be so many options? 

I've spent an absolute fortune. 

On Saturday evening I was in the lounge and Dale heard- from the kitchen- a click so familiar that he immediately shouted 'please do not tell me you have bought another scent?' 

To save you any research I would highly recommend Ambi Pur 3volution in Cotton Fresh. 

The same applies to Toilet Duck and Toilet Bleach, but I haven't done the research yet. Any wisdom you can pass on would be highly appreciated. 

3) You're expected to Just Know. 

On day three we put our rubbish where it seemed obvious it should go, only to get a rather snotty note put on the wall for all residents to read. (Nobody will ever know it was us, but still.) 

We don't know how or when to start paying council tax (we have now registered- don't panic), who or when we start paying for electricity and water (we only know there are two companies involved because Pumbaa and Baloo were unlucky enough to have water issues over Christmas and told us as part of that story), how and where we recycle (I am not exaggerating about the amount of cardboard we have), or where we supposed to park. 

Why does nobody tell you this stuff? 

Why wasn't this a part of General Studies at college? 

Okay, they couldn't have told me specifically where to park outside my future house but I could have done with a lesson or two on which questions to ask the Estate Agent. 

Right? 

Chapter Four: What I have learnt about buying furniture. 

1) It turns you into your mother. 

I am now fascinated by the inside of other people's houses. I take a moment to appreciate everything from the shade of the wood that they chose for their side tables to the type of lighting they went for, all the way down to their soap dispenser and scent. Because it will cost a lot of thought and a lot of money, and I want to decide which ideas I want to steal for my own home. 

I also find myself saying things like 'has that got a coaster underneath it?' and 'I've just hoovered in there! Shoes off!' 

Exactly in her voice. 

2) There is a huge gap in the market for a delivery company that can arrive on the day that they say they will. 

I understand that they are travelling far and wide and I am fiercely passionate about lorries not being on such tight schedules that they risk lives, but at the same time, people have things to do beside wait for a towel delivery. 

Don't tell me I have to book the day off work Tuesday because that's the day you can deliver, and then tell me at 9pm on Tuesday that you won't make it until Thursday. 

Does anybody else feel an uncontrollable wave of rage that this happens every single day across the country?! How do these companies function? How do people ever have things delivered? 

We had to just cancel one order in the end because three separate days they said they had 'attempted a delivery' but failed, despite the fact that we had been in all day. 

Dale doesn't mind. 

"They do function. They function and make money because this is how it has worked for years," is what he says calmly as I pull out my laptop just a little bit too aggressively and begin vigorously typing another complaint email. 

Despite his complacency, we as a household have decided to boycott online shopping. Haven't we Dale? 

*He's looking at me blankly.*

3) Flat Pack Furniture is not as fun as it sounds. 

Over the years I have quite often heard radio shout outs for people staying in on a Saturday night to build their new bed/wardrobe/chest of drawers, and I have always thought 'what a lovely excuse for a night in. It sounds quite fun.' 

I do like having a to do list, and I like working hard and being able to look at something I have produced (hence the creation of my blog), so you'd think it would be right up my street. 

It's not. 

In my head I always imagined having a takeaway, the radio on, following instructions and proudly watching as the results come together. 

Actually what happens is that everything is delivered so far apart, and everything takes so long to build, that if we had a takeaway every time we built something we wouldn't fit through the front door anymore, let alone afford the rent. 

So, genuinely, last night we had a building furniture snack of carrots and broccoli. 

The instructions don't really make any sense. 

You're not sure that you want to risk interpreting the coded diagrams wrongly in stage one in case you get to stage four before you realise your mistake, but unless you decide something you can't get anything done. 

The second person also rarely has much to do, so I found myself staring absent mindedly and chewing on carrots for at least half of the time that I was 'helping' build the bed. 

And it's never ending. 

Also, this might be just us, but has anyone else ever had to add in an additional step to their DIY involving super glue? 

Chapter Five: What I have learnt about myself. 

1) I do have a Cadbury's Creme Egg problem. 

It's something that I was always vaguely aware of- but it's not until you live with one person and one person only, who is providing you with almost permanent attention, that you realise which of your habits are issues. 

It was when Dale eventually mentioned that he had found some receipts lying around that he was concerned about that I realised my struggle is real. I am addicted to Cadbury's Creme Eggs. 

Be kind, please. This is always a tricky time of year for those of us belonging to CCE Anonymous. 

2) It turns out my dream was always achievable.

For the past few months I have insisted that this is all too good to be true. Dale and I? Living together? In a beautiful flat that we can afford? Near my friends and family? Near the job I love? No way, something is going to go drastically wrong.

Except, (and I hate to curse it here), it hasn't.

This is it, this is life now.

I wake up to that gorgeous face every single day, and I feel so overwhelmed with happiness at every tiny thing- at being able to moan about building furniture and stupid delivery companies, at being able to go to work knowing that no matter what goes wrong I will be back at home with the best person in the world this evening, at seeing his toothbrush in the little white cup that we chose together, and the Toy Story mugs that he so proudly chose sitting in the cupboard.

And the world hasn't stopped.

The Earth is still turning and allowing me to enjoy every second.

Three years ago I wrote:

"Maybe in three years time I'll be wishing I could come back to this day- right now. The day that I spent making an Ugly Bug Ball with the gorgeous two year old that I Nanny for. Maybe I'll be wishing I could go back and live in Florida again. (I'm quite sure I'll be wishing that one.) Or maybe I'll have learnt to just be grateful for where I am.

After all....I'll be twenty-six by then. And that's really grown up :)"

I vaguely remembered that I had written something about being more grown up by twenty six, so a few weeks ago I opened up this post to read it to Dale. 

I got as far as the first word of the last sentence before tears started streaming down my cheeks and my voice cracked so that I couldn't read it any more. Because somehow, without even realising...

3) My prediction about myself had come true. 

I had forgotten that I used to desperately wish that I could go back to every part of my life and live it again.

 Not long before I re-read that post I had said to someone at work that I actually don't find myself wishing desperately that I could go and live in Florida again. It was so wonderful, but so is now. 

Last week, I was just about to go to bed when Dale burst into the bedroom: "DisneyParksBlog are live streaming Fantasmic! It's on at 7pm in Orlando which is twenty minutes. Think you can stay up?" 

Fantasmic is my absolute favourite show in the entire world. It's just amazing, and I have actively avoided the music since I left because if anything is going to make me desperate to go back, it's that. So my first thoughts here were- 1) How did I ever find a boyfriend as enthusiastic and more knowledgeable about Disney than me? and 2) Am I going to face the music (so to speak) and watch it again?

Obviously I did. 

And it brought back so many Florida memories. 

One of which was the constant fear I had that the magic would disappear the second I landed back on UK soil, and would take Dale with it. 

Watching it with Dale in our bed in our (albeit rented) flat almost three years after the adventure started brought it home to me: the adventure is never going to end because I brought the souvenir holding all that magic home with me- all five foot ten of it. 

And so finally, age twenty-six, I have learnt to just be grateful for where I am...and that's really grown up :) 


Monday, 14 December 2015

What Makes You Beautiful...

Let's talk about how beautiful you are.

We don't talk about it enough.

Earlier this week, my mum commented on the interesting hair cut of a man staying in the same hotel as us.

"Does he really look in the mirror and think 'oh yes, my hair looks great today'?"

My immediate response was "do you look in the mirror  and think 'oh yes, my hair looks great today'?"

Let me make it very clear here that I do often think that my mum's hair looks great.

What I meant was that I never look in the mirror and think I look great.

"Do people really do that?"

 (Obviously by 'people' I do not mean Eva Longoria or Davina McCall. I imagine they do it every day.)

The second the words were out of my mouth I realised.

I have actually done that.

I've recently had my hair cut quite a lot shorter than it's been in years, and for the first few days after my trip to the hairdresser I would occasionally catch my reflection and do a double take. 'Great decision, Rebecca, should have had this style years ago,' I would indulgently think to myself.

I feel I should balance this shocking confession out by telling you two things:

1) Earlier this year I lost my mind and decided to get a fringe cut in and spent the following three months crying every time I caught my reflection. So I've earned this moment of glory.

2) My new hair cut has now lost the hairdresser's magic touch and I'm back to being frustrated by everything about it. Rest assured, my ego will not explode.

But I shouldn't feel like this, should I?

Should I feel that I have to balance every good thing I feel about myself with something I dislike, to keep things fair? Fair for who?!

Before I had my hair cut, I mentioned to a friend that I LOVE her hair and was thinking of taking a picture of her to the hairdresser to show her what I wanted.

I expected her to laugh and brush the compliment away.

She ruffled up her perfect locks and replied 'my hair? Yes you should. It's great.' Then smiled.

Granted, it was her sister's engagement party and she had had the odd glass of wine, but it struck me that I absolutely should not have expected this absolutely gorgeous girl to brush the compliment away. I should have expected her to know how great it looks. She gets to see it every day. She should know more than anyone.

(NB. I did copy her hair cut and am now happy. I can confirm that she was right in her advice.)

And in the two and a half weeks that have passed since then, I have noticed more and more that our expectations of what is and isn't acceptable when it comes to opinion on appearance are totally skewed.

I have been given so many opinions on the appearance of other people in the past two weeks, I wish I had counted them up.

They have been about people I know in real life, celebrities on the television, regular humans on the television, people I've heard about but never met, people I've seen but will likely never meet, and everything in between.

And very few of the comments have been complimentary.

One may argue that if I want to sit on my sofa and criticise the appearance of whoever is appearing on my television, or on the internet, then that's my prerogative. What harm can it do? They will never be any the wiser, and I am entitled to my opinion.

Firstly, the problem with that attitude is that it very quickly becomes 'if I want to voice my opinion out and about...', or 'if I want to tweet that person to tell him/her what I think is wrong with their appearance...'

And then people are actually reading everything that I am sure they are aware of themselves, simply confirming that all of their fears are true, they are not good enough, and all of that worrying that they do about their appearance is justified.

The second problem, of course, is that it sends us, and the people around us, into all kinds of frenzy about our own appearance.

If all I hear about Adele- an outrageously talented singer and songwriter who is exceptional at her job- is that she needs to lose weight, then is weight all that matters? Does it mean that all people say about me- an educational professional who's trying desperately to be at the top of my game- is that I need to lose weight?

Equally if I hear one more person say that Cheryl Cole is too skinny, I will eat myself into a coma.

A few weeks ago I was genuinely concerned when a few people in a row made concerned faces and told me I had lost weight.

Had I?

Now that on its own I probably wouldn't have thought much of. People quite often say that to me when I wear a particular pair of trousers because I got them in the sale in a size too big so they do make me look extra small. Makes sense. I haven't lost weight, I was just wearing ill fitting trousers.

Except that during that same week so many people had commented on Cheryl being too skinny.

It really stayed with me, and had me doubting myself.

Have I lost loads of weight? Is there something wrong with me?

I would check myself in the mirror and inspect how far out my tummy comes, whether my arms had got skinny.

I did eventually weigh myself (something I actively avoid because I don't want to get caught up in all this nonsense), and I had lost a couple of pounds since I was last weighed at a medical check in August. Those pounds were back on within a few days. For no rhyme or reason. Probably just the time of day I was weighing myself, and the difference between eating with my boyfriend (during which time I consume more than I do every other day of the week put together), and my colleagues (where we tend to eat salad and fruit to avoid falling asleep post-lunch. Unlike most jobs the busiest part of my day starts at three).

That week that I had lost a couple of pounds though, I was thinking about it more than I have ever thought about my weight before. I was making a game plan for putting it back on over Christmas. I ate a lot of things that are bad for me, and that I didn't even hugely enjoy.

And I, a very sensible (I like to think) and mature twenty-six year old woman, put all of this concern down to the non-stop utter nonsense that I had been bombarded with about Cheryl that week.

I mean, seriously, if Cheryl, an absolutely beautiful, seemingly-warm-hearted, sweet, hard worker who has built a career out of talent, personality, and yes, beauty; and has managed to make it last this long, is not good enough, what kind of chance do I have?! 

Just imagine what this is doing to far younger, less sensible, more impressionable girls and boys across the country.

I spend more time than I should vaguely worrying in the back of my mind about how I'm always a little bit scruffy. When am I going to be one of those perfectly made up, MAC make-up girls with a different coordinated outfit every day of the year, and never a hair out of place?

And then today a friend wrote on social media saying that he had walked past a group of the exact girls I described above, the girl I hope to be one day, and was so grateful that his girlfriend is naturally beautiful and surrounded by lovely friends. Gosh. I didn't realise that we weren't all aspiring to be those girls. Those girls who have made it to that level of perfection also aren't good enough because it's not natural!

How can we ever win?

As just about everyone who has ever spoken to me knows, I work with children and I love every single one of them about thirty seconds after meeting them.

I have a nine month old Godson- the best person in the world- who I do not want growing up thinking he is not good enough. He is more than good enough at nine months old and he is only going to make us prouder.

Do we really want him growing up thinking he's not good enough because of the size of his tummy, his nose, or his teeth? Because he has a mole, a spot, or fluffy hair?

I am not for a second saying that we should ignore beauty.

I am very much a visual learner and love beautiful things.

But I think we should see the beauty and embrace it and all its flaws.

I have read somewhere that you should never comment on a child's appearance at all. All the way down to not commenting that you like her shoes, or his hat.

I don't agree with that at all.

Appearances do matter, that's a part of life.

It shows people who you are, and you have to be able to take appearance into consideration to a certain degree to shape a first impression, and to get by every day.

But why do we have to comment on the negative? Why can't we just comment on the beauty and ignore the flaws around it?

I am surrounded by absolutely beautiful people. Really, really beautiful people. My friends, family, colleagues, the children and their families...everyone. Actually at Pumbaa's wedding even the photographer commented on how gorgeous her family were.

But I imagine that none of them (or very few of them) would describe themselves as beautiful.

I imagine that if you asked them, they would be able to tell you what they would like to change about themselves, but not what makes them beautiful.

A girl who works in Sainsbury's (the Sainsbury's that I am in all the time) that I have never met, spoken to, or had any interaction with before, stopped me at the weekend to tell me that she loved my new haircut. She said it looked great.

I bounced back to work thinking- not of how wonderful my new hair is- but how absolutely gorgeous that girl was. I have noticed her in Sainsbury's before, and once commented to my manager how amazingly patient she was with a very chatty, very old man.

This girl almost oozes light, the kindness shines out of her eyes and her smile, and her gentle manner.

She was absolutely beautiful.

And that's what is beautiful about all the people I love.

When I was sixteen I worked in a cafe. I remember so clearly my Nanny and Grandad once surprising me by appearing at the little ice cream window on the side one Saturday morning. I remember thinking that they really were the most beautiful grandparents. How lucky I am, I thought, to have such absolutely gorgeous relatives.

Of course, in reality they may not have been turning heads of strangers in the street, for being the most attractive pensioners to ever walk the streets of Burnham-on-Crouch.

What was beautiful was that they had taken time out of their Saturday to surprise me.

In the time that I have written this, I have messaged my friends and family asking them 'what is it that makes you beautiful?'

The replies I have received so far almost all go along the same lines.

(Except Minnie Mouse, who replied 'my face.' This is why she is my best friend.)

Everybody else replied something like this: Oh dear, I definitely can't see it at all myself. But I suppose my [insert either smile, eyes, nose or lashes here] because that's what people have complimented me on most.


Which makes sense, doesn't it?

We can't really see ourselves. What we see is a reflection of how people respond to us, and respond to the world around us.

So if I spend a week looking at pictures of Cheryl looking unbelievable, with hugely critical comments underneath pulling her appearance apart, I'm naturally going to wonder what people think of me. When that is paired with concerned faces and 'have you lost weight?!' I'm going to start worrying that everyone really does think all the nasty things they think about Cheryl, about me.

I'm going to become sensitive, insecure, and defensive. Therefore potentially critical of others as well.

When a person I have never spoken to comes over and tells me that she has noticed me enough to notice that my hair has changed, and that she thinks it looks gorgeous, I'm going to see thoughtfulness, and kindness.

And I am going to want to be thoughtful and kind too.

Because I want to ooze that beautiful light the way that she does.

Imagine if we all oozed beautiful light like that lovely girl in Sainsbury's. What an absolutely stunning place the world would be.

Let's try it :)

Monday, 23 November 2015

Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah

As I write this I am watching Walking on Sunshine on Netflix. It is, so far, a relatively cheesy but totally lovable musical featuring Hannah Arterton and Leona Lewis. It has a catchy soundtrack, a stunning setting, and a lot of advice about love.

Having spent the past two days in bed with a rotten cold and cough combination, I have watched a lot of television and read a lot (of mostly nonsense) on the internet, both of which have involved being given more than enough advice on love. 

Between that, and various people in my life with the desire to advise me on the language of love, I am drowning in relationship tips. 

I'm not sure whether it's because I am in my mid-twenties and so anyone and everyone above the age of fifty thinks that I need it; or whether it's specifically because I'm the only one of my close friends that isn't yet married. Either way, every man and his dog likes to provide me with advice- from the cashier in Sainsbury's as I'm paying for my milk, to the Grandmother dropping off her Granddaughter at the children's centre I work in. Everyone has something to say that they think I need to hear. 

The thing about love advice though is that it's not hugely clear what you're supposed to believe, is it? 

There's a little picture flying about on social media at the moment that will pop up as being shared by somebody I know at least once a month. 

It's invariably attached to a photo of an old couple who know nothing of this quote and have just been found on Google images. Chances are that they were one another's third spouse but fit the message perfectly because they are old. 

"We were born in a time where if something was broken, we would fix it, not throw it away." 

Of course, this is great advice if you're just going through a bit of a tricky patch. You've got to that stage where the magic has gone slightly and the sound of her chewing is driving you crazy, and if he puts his plate on top of the dishwasher instead of inside it one more time you swear to the heavens you will murder him. 

Yes, okay, you try to fix it. You discuss the annoying things. You book a special holiday. You try to find the magic again. 

But not every broken relationship can be fixed. And as far as I am concerned it's far braver to walk away from a broken relationship, and to have the strength to acknowledge that you deserve better, than it is to stick out misery for the rest of your life because you're worried about what people will think. 

What I'm trying to say is, I think this advice is absolute nonsense.

This film is telling me that 'when you know you know.'

The Granny I mentioned that passed on her wisdom to me at work the other day? She told me that your wedding is like your funeral except you can smell your own flowers. 

Friends is telling me to find my lobster. Once I've found him it doesn't matter how much he messes me around, if he's my lobster then that's it. I've no choice but to be with him. 

Sex and the City is telling me I should stay single forever. (I'm just on season 4.) 

About Time is telling me that I must marry someone kind.

He's Just Not That Into You insinuates that I should wait until I am somebody's 'exception', rather than the rule. 

A Cinderella Story is telling me that I must marry someone who loves me for the real me. 

(I can actually hear you judging me for the list of films I have watched this weekend. I'm not well!)

I read an article the other day that said that society is so hell bent on making us choose our life partner- the most important decision you can make- solely on 'listening to your heart', and that if a person wanted to start a business in the same way that we make this all important decision, the world would stop running altogether. 

All of these people can't be right, when they are saying such different things. 

And who are all these people, to dish out advice on love? Surely what works for one, doesn't work for another? 

There's always the story of the guy who started out as a prat and then learnt his lesson and became a hero husband. That girl then tells her story like she's an expert, and then girls all over are sticking it out with their prat boyfriends hoping that their prat will become a hero. 

There's the story of the girl who didn't even like the guy at first, but then they spent more time together and she somehow fell for him. That guy is the reason that that annoying lad who you have told, painstakingly, that you're just not interested, keeps suggesting various 'activities' for you to do together 'just as friends', in the hope that you'll suddenly fall hopelessly in love with him. 

So, I say, I shall be listening to only one piece of advice when it comes to relationships, and that was from my oh-so-wise friend Pumbaa, who chose not to listen to the disapproval of her friends and family when she first met her husband, because her friends and family weren't 'in this relationship, just watching from the outside. They didn't have a clue.' 

Now, of course, four years later, everybody absolutely loves him. 

And Minnie Mouse, my equally wise friend, often tells the tale of the moment that she realised that actually, Pumbaa's new boyfriend was the man that she, Pumbaa, would go on to marry. "It was when she stopped talking about her relationship. She had nothing to say anymore. She was just happy. And nobody ever talks about that." 

She's right. 

Nobody ever talks about that. 

People provide you with all this nonsense advice when you're unhappy. You think anyone in a happy relationship cares about whether or not bad relationships should be fixed or given up on? You think they need reminding to follow their heart? To find their lobster? To check that their partner is kind? To make sure they love the real them? Do you think that Gran from work the other day has been happily married for fifty years? 

Of course not. 

Nobody ever talks about the fact that they are happy. 

Until now. 

I have decided to remedy this. 

This all started last week when I realised that I wanted to record every single thing that my boyfriend says and play it to the rest of the world. 

I, obviously, think he's the funniest, most brilliant person on the planet and think that everyone should have the pleasure of witnessing how great he is. 

That's when I realised that, actually, the rest of the world would probably find that weird. We don't shout about things like that. It is, as my dad's girlfriend would say, uncouth. 

But I've decided to go for it anyway. 

I started off by asking all of my nearest and dearest what their favourite things about being in a relationship are. How their lives would be different for the worst if they hadn't met their other halves.

I got some cracking replies...

  • "I wouldn't have someone to get up to get me a drink in the middle of the night."
  • "We're so close to each other's families. Without each other, there's a huge group of wonderful people we wouldn't know." 
  • "I wouldn't have been able to try out so many career options without his support." 
  • "She provides me with moral support during my hangovers." 
  • "He made me try baked beans. It turns out I like them."
  • "I love having one person to make lots of memories with that we can treasure forever." 
  • "If it wasn't for my husband, I  would probably still think Egypt was in Europe." 
  • "I met my best girl friend through my husband. If I hadn't met him, I wouldn't have her." 
  • "She helps me decide what to have for dinner." 
  • "Just a cuddle from him can make all my worries go away." 
  • "I wouldn't have been able to quit the job that made me so miserable." 
  • "If we were ever to break up I would really miss his dogs. They would never understand why I stopped being around."
  • "I would never have heard of my favourite band." 
  • "I would have to make my own cups of tea." 
  • "I wouldn't have a baby kicking inside me as we speak." 
  • "I love being able to just be myself and not be judged." 
  • "I wouldn't have somebody to get rid of spiders." 
  • "Without my husband I would have to stand on the toilet to open the bathroom window. I can't reach on my own." 
  • "I wouldn't be able to cope with my Dad's sickness if I didn't have my husband there with me." 
  • "If I wasn't married to my husband, my most embarrassing stories probably wouldn't be broadcast across Essex." (He works in radio. He's not just a loud mouth.) 
  • "When I poo and it doesn't flush he gets rid of it for me." 
Before sending these great reasons to love love, most of my friends immediately replied that they had no idea what to say. Could I give them an example? 

I realised as soon as I received these messages that it is a hard question to answer. We're not used to discussing the wonderful things about our relationship. But I've thought about it, and much to Dale's absolute horror, made my own list...

Having someone to point out that I'm about to make a huge mistake using my own words. 

Whenever I suggest going somewhere cold he immediately reminds me of the time we were in New York for Christmas and I said, through gritted teeth, "if I ever suggest going to Lapland, Canada, or anywhere involving snow, remind me of this moment." 

He has had so many opportunities to remind me of that moment. It's amazing how quickly you forget yourself. 

Similarly, we regularly have conversations that sound like this...

"Hm, I'm thinking of getting my hair cut differently, what do you think?" 

"Remember the fringe?" 

Oh right. 

Having someone to bring over the Home Alone Boxset, the ingredients for a roast dinner, and my favourite caramel cupcake when I'm suffering with a cold and a cough. 

We didn't watch the Home Alone Boxset. We decided it wasn't close enough to Christmas and watched The Worst Week of My Life instead. Which leads me to...

Having someone to organise things I would not have considered

We're a strange combination really. I don't think about day to day things in too much detail. If I want to stay in a hotel I'll book the first one I find. If I want to go to a show I'll buy the tickets and worry about travelling there when it gets to the day. I never consider parking until I arrive, and I am a nightmare for leaving directions until the last minute, and therefore spend at least half of my life lost. I worry about where we're going to live, what jobs we're going to be doing in ten years, and how we are ever going to afford a mortgage. 
Dale thinks all that future stuff will work itself out. But I genuinely have never seen him so horrified as when I went on one hotel comparison site and was going to book the best one there and then. We didn't book it. He needs to do days of research before something like that. Then yesterday when I suggested watching the Home Alone Boxset, it was he that reminded me that it's only the 22nd November. That maybe we should leave those, along with The Santa Clause (my absolute favourite), Elf (close second), and A Muppet's Christmas Carol (his favourite) until closer to Christmas Day. He wanted to make a spread sheet. We settled with making a list in our heads. 

Having said that, I am grateful for...

Having someone to do spreadsheets for me. Seriously. Dale is so good at organising holidays that friends and family, and even friends of friends and family ask him to organise their holidays for them. 

I truly believe he should start a business.

Having someone to make my life magical. 

A few weeks ago, he- for absolutely no reason at all- woke me up with pancakes and a bag of presents. He had got up and driven to Asda, bought ingredients, and made them, letting me sleep in until eleven. 

Having someone to make me laugh. All.The.Time. 

He makes me laugh about things I'm angry about. About things I'm sad about. When I'm stressed because we've been in Boots for forty-five minutes and I still haven't found anything for that one relative that I don't have a clue what to buy for, he comes round the corner holding Santa earrings up to his ears. "For Grandad Derek?" 

He also likes to sing a lot. He woke me up the first morning of our Disneyland Paris trip this year by flinging open the curtains and singing Zip-a-dee-doo-dah. Okay, I don't like relationship advice and I don't like those nonsense meme things that fly about. But I do think that if someone can make me laugh waking me up at seven am, he probably is a keeper. 

His mum once told me that he sings more when I'm around. I thought I might cry. 


The number one thing that everybody replied when I asked them about this was that they didn't want to be cheesy, or provide a cliche for their answer. 

None of them did. 

Except maybe Mickey Mouse. 

Mickey Mouse said "the best thing about my marriage is getting to spend every day with my best friend." 

I honestly believe that Mickey Mouse said what every other person that I asked wanted to say. 

Because that is the best thing about relationships surely? Even if you don't see each other every day. The knowledge that you will talk to your best friend every day without exception is wonderful. If Dale didn't organise wonderful holidays, keep a check on my Christmas spirit, and randomly make me pancakes, he would still be my best friend and would still be the biggest part of my life, and that's what makes it magical. 

(If it makes it feel any less cheesy or cliche, he did follow it up with something very rude and un-Mickey-Mouse-like. I'll let you draw your own conclusions as to what that may have been.) 

So please, lovely readers, continue to read, watch, listen, and learn from the relationships and love stories of those before you. Enjoy the catchy soundtracks, the funny anecdotes, and the beautiful scenery. 

But make your own mistakes, find your own rules, write your own story and create your own advice. 

And occasionally, just occasionally, allow yourself that rare and uncouth treat, of discussing what makes you happy :)


Sunday, 18 October 2015

Future Conditional

It's September 2014 and I am at an assessment day for a grown up job. The first grown up job I've had since 2010. The brilliantly animated MD of the company is standing at the front warning us of what we might be taking on if we are successful and choose to accept the position.

"You are going to take this work home with you. You are going to wake up in the middle of the night concerned about whether or not you made the right decision about Little Jamie's national curriculum levels. You will think about work on your days off, and have a lot to get done during the week."

Fast forward thirteen months.

It's my weekend and I feel compelled to write a blog post about my job.

My parents, brothers, and boyfriend know the ins and outs of my job as though they do it themselves, so much do I feel the need to talk about it. My dad and boyfriend, in particular, probably feel that listening to me go on about my job is an extra full time job that they took on the day that I accepted it.

I work with children, ladies and gents, and I work in education, and with that comes huge responsibility and a lot of laughter.

Over the past few weeks I have seen several plays related to working with children and in education, and both gave me a lot to think about.

The first was Matilda. If you haven't seen it, go. It's wonderful. (Disclaimer: if you seriously love the movie or the book of Matilda, still consider going, but cautiously. It's not the same, and hearts may break.)

Matilda explores the importance of education, and the importance of those who work in the field, in a bright, colourful and fun musical with a catchy soundtrack and outrageously talented children.

It's beautiful, and there were a few times that the lyrics well and truly got me (mainly during the song 'When I Grow Up' which I'm sure I will use in a future blog.)

It left me with that distinct, 'children are wonderful and I am so lucky I get to work with them every day' feeling, and made me count the ways that my job is so magical....

1) The children make me laugh. So much.

I quite regularly ask the children if they have any questions. Obviously I mean about their work. This week I did get plenty of questions about maths and English but to my absolute delight I was also asked...

a) Are you a vegetarian or a meat eater?

b) What's your favourite colour?

And

c) Rebecca, which of Spiderman's powers do you think are most impressive?


2) Every day contains at least one surreal sentence. I know that I have mentioned this regarding previous jobs with children, but my favourites from my current job are below. All of the sentences below were said by an adult to a child, but please imagine, as you read this, that I don't work with children, that all of these were said in an office job involving other adults:

a) 'Please stop eating the chairs.'

b) 'We do not do drum rolls on other people's heads.'

c) 'Where's Gary? Oh he's...he's under the table.'

d) 'My name's not Tracey. It's Jasmine. Stop calling me Tracey.'

e) 'I'm sorry I said that I think the Wonder Gecko is the best lizard. You're right, now that I have read up on it I agree that it is actually quite a disgusting creature.'

f) ''I know that the story is going to be about detectives because Rebecca told me' is not a good enough answer to your comprehension, Gary.'

g) 'You didn't go abroad? Just to Spain? Oh right.'

(You'll notice I used the name Gary. I'm sure you've heard the big news lately that there have been no new Garys since 1999, so you can be assured I'm keeping everyone totally anonymous.)


3) I always know where I stand.

I was once explaining to a child why his behaviour was not acceptable. He tipped his head to the side and replied 'your hair looks stupid like that.' That evening Dale and I went out for dinner. As we walked into the restaurant I caught myself in the mirror. He had been right. My hair looked ridiculous like that.

A couple of weeks ago a child said to my manager: 'I really, really like you.'

When was the last time someone said that to your face within five minutes of meeting you?

4) I know I make a difference.

I know I make a difference because I work with people, and everyone who works with people makes a difference. But I also know I make a difference because the children tell me every day. See point number three again.

5) I really, really care about every aspect of my job.

Which brings me to the second play that I saw that revolves around education and children.

Future Conditional. 

Future Conditional is Rob Brydon's latest project and it's wonderful.

I thought that the name Future Conditional was particularly brilliant. I feel the need to say this because I heard a pompous theatre snob saying he didn't feel it was strong enough for the play. I think the reason he didn't feel it was strong enough is that he didn't understand it. It wasn't aimed at pompous theatre snobs, it was aimed at people in education. I therefore did the very British thing of explaining it particularly loudly to Dale as we walked past him. Future conditional is a tense in English (I'll not explain it now. Partly because I did just write it all out and realise it would be quite boring to read, partly because a teeny part of me is terrified I'll explain it wrong. Still, it's a key part of the English language and something that children learn at school, that's all you need to know). It also refers to the fact that children are permanently told that their future depends on their learning and behaviour now- it will be positive under the conditions that they work hard, and negative if they don't. It also refers to how our future, the future of our country, rides on current pupils in our schools. Genius title.

It actually wasn't particularly easy watching for me. During the interval Dale asked whether I would be recommending it to colleagues, and I told him no. It was too stressful. Too close to home. Then  at one point when the rest of the audience (clearly not people with my job) were laughing, Dale leant over and told me I looked like I was going to burst into tears. I was watching discussions that I have every day play out in front of me. I was listening to debates that I'm asked my opinion on every week, and was having to bite my tongue to not shout out from the audience. (It was a very intimate theatre. It felt possible.)

It was hard to watch and stirred emotions in me as no other play ever has.

At the end I watched potentially the most emotive scene I've ever watched.

It was about a teacher- which I am not- but I related to it. As a Nanny, an Activity Instructor, a Beaver leader, even a babysitter, and as part of my current job. He explained how much he cares about every child. Every single one. And that he doesn't forget them easily, and never stops rooting for them. He is always on their side.

People do not work with children for the money. As my MD said back on that day in September 2014, working with children- and particularly in education- involves waking up in the night worrying about them, thinking about it at all hours, calling work on your day off because you've just remembered something and want to check up on it, worrying all the time that you're not there.

A few weeks ago my manager saw a child that she used to work with. The child's mother was absolutely flabbergasted that she remembered the child. Of course she did! It was a year ago but they spent a lot of time together. Chances are my manager woke up in the night worrying about that child, and spent her weekends thinking about how she could help her.

Parents regularly call up and say 'hello, my name is Kristen, my son Gary comes to you.' I know! I know that your name is Kristen, I know your husband's name is Fred, I know that you have just got two puppies called Pickle and Sausage, and that Sausage is a bit of a nightmare. I know that Gary does karate on a Wednesday and basketball on a Friday, that his favourite dinosaur is a triceratops, and that he is left handed and so finds using a mouse tricky. I know all of this and have spent my weekend thinking about how we could get triceratops stickers to motivate him, and that I must order a pencil grip for him, and I woke up last night thinking maybe we could put a red dot on the side of the mouse that he should click to remind him and help him get into the habit.

But of course Kristen isn't to know that.

To her I'm just a (hopefully) nice lady that is there when he is dropped off and picked up at one of the many places that he goes to, and that he occasionally talks about on the way home.

But I genuinely care. I build his confidence and I listen to his stories, I ask him questions and I answer his brilliant ones to the best of my ability. I laugh out loud at his jokes, celebrate his achievements and spend time reassuring him over the disappointments. I watch out for his safety and well being, and occasionally (very occasionally in my current job, thank goodness, but more often in previous jobs) clear up his sick and his pee. And that's before I've taught him anything even remotely related to the national curriculum.

And through it all- through every second of it- I have his best interests at heart, and know that the decision to take the job thirteen months ago was an absolutely brilliant one- constant worry and all.

This is my future- unconditional- the one that I worked hard through my entire school life for- and I am loving every second of being a part of shaping the conditional futures of these children.

Of course my future continues to be conditional and always will be.

But for the moment, what a happy ending to my first grown up adventure :)