Tuesday, 21 October 2014

For Now, For Always....

If the theme of 2012 was children, and the theme of 2013 was Disney, then the theme of my life in 2014 has most definitely been weddings.

Every single day that I took off from The Lion King in the seven months I was there was for either a hen weekend or a wedding. 

The Merchandise team would turn to me for information and opinions on weddings (something that I wrote at the beginning of the year that I struggled with, and am now an expert on), and would make me perform any wedding-related clues during particularly heated games of Heads Up. (If you've never played Heads Up cancel all plans for tonight and download it immediately. I feel I should point out that every game of Heads Up is a particularly heated game. At least if I'm playing it it is.) 

I had five weddings this year. Five. 

And four of them involved my absolute best friends in the entire world. 

One of those, I am mortified and devastated to admit, I missed. I was in Florida and in my extension and therefore unable to leave. 

That was the wedding of Jiminy Cricket and Rex. I introduced them in January 2006, and did that thing that you have to do for your friends when you're sixteen, of telling them they liked each other and giving them each other's MSN messenger addresses so that they could talk on there for a while, smile shyly when they passed each other in the corridors, and eventually go to Southend Pier to discuss their mutual love of John Mayer and Matchbox Twenty. 

In the weeks leading up to the wedding that it made me feel sick to miss, I started going to speak to various characters around the parks. (This is where I regret having a Disney alias for each friend. I mean the ACTUAL Disney characters in the parks now, make sense?) I told them that I was missing my best friends' wedding because I was in Florida, and their reactions were MAGICAL. Obviously. 

I asked them to hold a sign saying "Congratulations Dean and Becky" while I took photos, and hoped that they wouldn't be annoyed that I was taking up their time like that when there was an endless queue of excited children (of all ages) waiting to meet them. 

The Princesses squealed. Chip and Dale ran in circles. Duffy jumped up and down. Alice told the entire queue. Daisy ran to get Minnie so that they could pose together, despite the fact that they had separate lines of people waiting for them. The cast members working on the Where's Perry? attraction saw my sign and asked if they could pose for me. The team working in the America pavilion in Epcot took their own photo to use for promotional material. Carol, the entertainer in The Rose and Crown, wrote and sang a song about them to the entire pub while I filmed. A girl working in the Morocco pavilion wrote Congratulations in Arabic for me and posed with her own sign. Then I sent all the pictures and the music to Dale (back to using an alias now- Dale is an actual human with a real name that I won't be revealing)- and he stayed up until 2.17am putting together the video that I sent my friends on the morning of their wedding. 

They loved it. They felt me with them for the entire day and mentioned me in the speeches. (In reality I went to the cinema on my own and sat there crying about the fact that I wasn't at the wedding. Especially when Jiminy sent me a picture of her in her dress, my eyes well up thinking about it now.)

Wedding number one down. 

(This is the link to the video, if any of you are interested. It is magical, even if I do say so myself.

The next three weddings involved hen weekends. 

The first wedding after Jiminy Cricket and Rex's was Minnie Mouse's. Minnie Mouse is ridiculously organised and had her hen weekend so far in advance that I was still in Florida and missed it. She did, however, then have a barbecue the weekend before her wedding. 

She had the women over during the day, and we had a tea party (which involved vodka in teacups and filthy games, obviously), whilst the men went out for an Indian. Then in the evening the men came back to the house, and everybody watched the football together. (Well. Not me. I was outside slurring about how much I missed Disney, I'm sure.) Then we had a barbecue and played Beer Pong. 

It was perfect, and definitely an idea I will be stealing for my wedding.

The hen weekend after that was for Madame Adelaide. 

We went to Bath for a relatively chilled weekend. We ate, drank, danced and spent a lot of time in our onesies and most of our time playing Heads Up. We got to see a beautiful city, learn Charleston, I bought my dress for the wedding, and got to know a gorgeous group of girls that I was then also lucky enough to see again a week later as we watched Madame tie the knot. 

The final hen weekend of the year was for Pumbaa.

Pumbaa's hen weekend was organised by her sister. Her sister is THE most organised person I have ever met. She's like a cross between Monica from Friends and Santa Claus. Seriously. 

Which meant that it was INSANE. It was jam packed and exciting and funny and magical, and I will be hiring Pumbaa's sister to organise my own hen weekend and my wedding. 

I could write up every second of every hen event I went to this year because I loved all three of them so much, but instead I'm going to provide you with the highlights of each one, and the things I love most about these occasions....

1. Grandparents. 

The absolute number one thing I love about hen weekends is that everyone's drunk and honest and outrageous in a way that they never normally would be- and there are normally mums and nans about to witness it. 

A few examples: 

- At Minnie's hen we played Mr and Mrs. The groom had been asked certain questions and his answers noted, then we asked the bride the same questions to see how many matched. One of the questions was: What is the groom's favourite...ahem...position? The bride answered -in front of the groom's mother- mortifying- then remembered it was her own mum that had done the interviewing! When she pointed it out her mum giggled and answered: "Thought I'd spice it up a bit babe. It is your hen." 

- At Pumbaa's hen we did It's A Knockout (which I cannot recommend enough), and as part of the warm up challenges the groom's sister had to pole dance on a man from another team. She did, she was amazing, and we won that challenge. As she walked away from the man she had stripped, taken her top off for and pole danced on, her Nana grabbed her, hugged her and said "well done, I am so proud of you." In what other situation would that happen?!

-A few minutes after the above incident, the It's A Knockout team were explaining the health and safety procedures to us, and to make it a bit more interesting for the filthy minded hens and stags (seriously, normal people become ridiculous at these events!), they made us "put one hand in the air and one on your genitalia". My favourite moment of the whole weekend, potentially just ever in my life, was when the sister of the groom, dead seriously and with a concerned look, caught her Nana's eye and said "hand on your genitalia Nan! Quickly!" 

2. Other Wedding Guests. 

This was something that I hadn't particularly thought about before this year. The three hen weekends I went to were those of my three best friends in the entire world. They are the centre of everything to me and anyone that has ever spent more than five minutes with me will have heard me talk about them. So meeting their other friends that I've spent years hearing about but never actually met was brilliant, and, clearly, these girls have excellent taste in friends so I ended up meeting some amazing people. And because hen weekends are SO full on, you end up getting to know people very quickly, and making friends easily. 

I found myself walking away from all three weekends excited to see everyone again at the wedding. 

Now they all need to hurry up and have babies so that we can be reunited again at the christening.

3. Fun- just because. 

I wrote in my last post that it is so rare for adults to do something just for the sake of fun. Obviously hen weekends happen to celebrate the fact that someone is getting married, and they take a LOT of organising, but once they're happening they are probably as close to doing something just for fun as you can get for an adult. 

I said earlier that the only time I ever booked off from The Lion King was for the sake of hen weekends and weddings. 

What a brilliant way to spend my only days off. 

I cannot think, in fact, of one other occasion in which a group of adults ranging from the ages of 20 to 70 would get together to play Pin The Pants On The Hunk, partake in a Burlesque dance class, do a "How Well Do You Know Your Friend?" quiz, dress up as brides and attempt to eat chocolate with a knife and fork, and time themselves bursting balloons attached to one another's backsides. Can you? 

4. Silliness. 

When Minnie Mouse had her hen weekend away, the one that I missed, I was in Florida. Specifically, I was in Walt Disney World- the happiest, most magical place on earth. I was with Dumbo, one of the sweetest, most magical people on earth, when I received a picture of a man. 

A very specific area of a man, to be precise. I'll let you imagine what body part it was, but I'll tell you one thing: it wasn't his face.

Receiving that picture in broad daylight in Walt Disney World whilst hanging out with Dumbo was potentially the most surreal moment of my entire life. We just don't send pictures like that to each other. 

Except, when you're on a hen weekend, you do. 

Suddenly male body parts are the funniest thing on the planet. They're on straws, part of the games, hidden in goody bags and referred to an unreasonable amount. You would never do that in real life. 


5. Gossip. 

I mentioned above that because hen weekends are quite full on, you get to know each other very quickly. The day before the most recent hen weekend I had given my number to someone and was waiting to hear from him. My memory of it is that I played it very cool and mentioned it in passing in the car on the way there. 

When I arrived at the wedding everyone that had been at the hen weekend- from the bride's colleagues and close friends to family members and groom's relations- asked whether I had seen him again yet. 

Equally I was keen to talk to people I had only met at the hen weekend about pregnancy, holidays, in  depth work issues and their love lives. 

I swear I made life long friends at these things. 

Now as magical and special as the hen weekends were, they were nothing on the weddings. 

Like with the hen celebrations, I could bore you with every second of each wedding, from having my hair styled to watching the first dances, but instead will provide you with my favourite parts....

1. The Moment The Bride Walks In. 

In the movie 27 Dresses we're told that instead of looking at the Bride when she walks in, we should look at the groom. I tested this three times this year, and can confirm it is the most magical moment of the day. 

At Minnie's wedding, it resulted in me sobbing unashamedly into Pumbaa's shoulder. At Madame Adelaide's wedding, it meant squeezing Dale's hand painfully tightly until the bridesmaid provided some comic relief by stepping on The Dress, and at Pumbaa's wedding, it meant taking a lot of deep breaths to steady myself in time for my reading. 

I guess maybe because they are my best friends, and I've spent ten years fantasising about weddings with them, it was extra special. Maybe because I've been at the end of the phone to listen to the tears of heartbreak, I've been hurt and furious on their behalf, I've told them that they deserve the best, I've reassured them It Will Happen, I've laughed and cried through He's Just Not That Into You with them approximately five million times, and I've told them how wonderful they are, watching the faces of the three luckiest men on earth register just how lucky they are was extra special. 

Plus my best friends are the three most beautiful women ever, which probably helped. 

Still, next time you're at a wedding, watch the groom's face. If you're not overwhelmed with love and magic, make a little noise when they ask whether anyone knows of any reason why the two of them cannot be joined in holy matrimony....

2. Confetti. 

When I was little I always thought confetti was a surprise for the bride and groom. When you look at pictures they always look shocked and happy, as though it has come out of nowhere over their heads. 

In reality, it really makes me laugh. The bride more or less announces "it's time to throw colourful paper over me now, so I'll wait here, you get into two lines. When you're ready, I'll walk down the middle of the two lines, and you must throw your confetti as I get to you, okay? It must be right, because the photographer only has one chance." 

Then the couple walk down, everybody throws it, and they look surprised and happy for the photo. Brilliant. 

3. The Speeches. 

I think the speeches are my favourite part of the day. I'm lucky in that I've only been to four weddings for the whole day as an adult, and every single speech at every single wedding has been heart warming, genuine, and funny in equal measure. 

At Minnie's wedding, her husband explained that he's got where he is today (he and Minnie have achieved a ridiculous amount at their young age), because his mum taught him you can get anything if you're nice to people. 

At Madame Adelaide's wedding, her husband said that if anyone had told him four years ago that he would be living in Essex, married to an Essex girl and the co-owner of a pussy cat, he never would have believed them. (I don't know if I can get across in words how brilliant this was, actually. I think it was the outrageously happy and proud smile that went with it that made it.) 

At Pumbaa's wedding, her dad said that his new son-in-law was not being welcomed to the family, because he was already a part of it. So much so that he can't even see where the joins are anymore. 

They are all tiny clips of long days but each of those will stay with me forever.

4. The Wine. 

On no other day of the year is it acceptable to start on the wine at 10am (except maybe Christmas day, and even then I think it's meant to be slightly later), and continue to drink until 1am. For free. Minnie Mouse was pregnant at the most recent wedding and I think she was fairly sad to miss out on that particular highlight. 

5. The Food. 

When I was a bridesmaid for Minnie Mouse the ridiculously delicious food started at 7am when we were brought bacon sandwiches. Yes, I am a vegetarian. But (I feel like I will regret posting this for all to see), I am a vegetarian with a dirty little secret. I miss bacon. And sometimes- when nobody's looking (or when my Grandparents don't understand the rules of vegetarianism- a story for another time), I eat bacon. Minnie Mouse's wedding was one such occasion. And it was amazing. 

After that it's a champagne reception with hors d'oeuvres (at Madame Adelaide's wedding they had these mozzarella and tomato with balsamic vinegar things that I am still dreaming about), then a three course dinner, then cake, and occasionally, an edible favour. 

It's like a dream. 

6. The Little Things. 

The weddings I went to this year were full of them. Little things that could never have been planned but made the day nonetheless....

- The Lord's Prayer: 

It was Minnie Mouse's wedding. Pumbaa and I had cried non-stop more or less since we had woken up. We had sobbed when we got to the altar (neither of us had been warned that we would be walking down the aisle to Christina Perri's A Thousand Years and we were therefore emotionally unprepared for it) and so were a little worse for wear. It was time to say The Lord's Prayer. We opened our mouths to say the first line. From behind us, an outrageously loud, passionate, Irish voice filled the church. Minnie's step mum. At first I thought it was just me laughing, that is totally my sense of humour. As it continued I could feel the bridesmaids either side of me vibrating with laughter. Four of you laughing your meticulous pedicures off wearing matching dresses and matching tear stains with Christina Perri going round your head is nothing less than real magic. 

- Let It Go. 

The next wedding I went to was that of a family friend, and was just for the evening reception. The bride and groom have been together for eleven years, since they were in year ten, and finally tied the knot in August. 

The bride and the groom's brother did an impromptu duet of Let It Go. She clearly knew the song very well, because she managed to swing around in her dress at exactly the right moments so that we felt like we were watching The Real Elsa. It was funny, powerful, and managed to avoid being cheesy or cringey. It was perfect. 

-I Wanna Dance With Somebody. 

Madame Adelaide didn't want a big party after her wedding. She wanted the service and the dinner, and that was that. When we had all finished dinner, she was at our table talking when I Wanna Dance With Somebody came on. This is my favourite song of all time and a huge hit between the four of us as a group of friends. The bride said that she wanted to dance. What I've learnt this year is that what the bride says goes, no matter how laid back the wedding (to give you an idea of how laid back Madame Adelaide's wedding was, Pumbaa and I recited our reading from Pumbaa's phone). Within seconds, Pumbaa had dragged every single person into the middle of the room, and her fiancĂ© had turned the lights down and the music up, and- da-daa. There was a disco. It couldn't have been any better if it was planned. 

- The Groom's Nana

I mentioned when I was discussing the hen weekends how brilliant I think Pumbaa's husband's Nana is. 

At their wedding, after the bride and groom had had their first dance, the dance floor stayed empty, and Pumbaa and her dad had a Father-Daughter dance. (I'd like to point out that I had managed to keep it together all through the service and the speeches, and only cried at this point of the day- 8.15pm. A personal record, I believe.) The second I registered that they were dancing to I Hope You Dance- one of my favourite songs and the song that means so much to Pumbaa that she has the lyrics tattooed on her- I lost it, and sobbed into my wine. A few moments later, couples started joining the dance floor. I stood, snivelling pathetically as I watched everyone, when I realised that Nana was dancing with someone very young and very good looking. I turned around to put my camera away. I turned back. She was dancing with someone different. Equally young and equally good looking. 

The pattern continued for the rest of the night. I didn't cry again after that. 

7. Thoughtful Touches. 

I couldn't tell you all of the thoughtful, personal additions to every wedding I went to because there were so many. But each and every one of them made it extra special for every single guest. Minnie Mouse provided us with Krispy Kreme donuts with our names on them, Madame Adelaide gave us personalised Dairy Milks, my family friends put photos of themselves as children on the toilet doors to show which were for boys and which for girls, and Pumbaa and her husband put photos of their parents on their wedding days on the top table. Everything was so well thought out, I will be expecting this every time I go out for dinner from now on. 

8. Dancing. 

One of my favourite things to do at weddings is to look around at the serious, teary faces during the service and remind myself that in a few hours they'll be throwing themselves around the dance floor with their ties around their heads. 

Similarly to the hen weekends there aren't many times in life that people of all ages and backgrounds will come together and let their hair down. There's a brilliant moment on the video of my 18th birthday party where my outrageously tall, 18 year old neighbour Rob is dancing with my relatively short, 65 year old Grandma, and they're chatting while they bop. I LOVE moments like that, and since I turned 21 it's only really at weddings that it happens. 

9. My Best Friends. 

The best thing about all three weddings is that I got to spend actual time hanging out with my best friends in a way that we never normally do as adults. 

We took a Charleston class, and a Burlesque one. We played Heads Up. We went wedding dress searching, guest outfit shopping, and tiara hunting. We viewed venues, assessed invitation designs and discussed seat covers. I spent real time with their husbands' families, learnt more about their taste in food, flowers and music. We drank wine for whole weekends at a time, dressed up, dressed down, even undressed at some wilder moments during the Burlesque class...We laughed and cried together, had our hair and makeup done together, opened presents, reminisced about the past and predicted the future together. We wrote and rehearsed readings together, and held hands as we watched our best friend walk down the aisle. 

I feel closer to my best friends than ever before, and we have made wonderful memories together because they agreed to commit their lives to someone else. Funny, isn't it?

A lot of people have asked me recently how I feel about all of my best friends being married. How I feel about being single at "this stage in my life". (Seriously. I'm 25.) When I'm going to get married. Whether I would like to have children soon.

There's a moment in Sex and the City when Charlotte says to the three other girls "maybe we could be each other's soulmates? And then we could let men be just these great, nice guys to have fun with."

I've been lucky enough to watch my three beautiful best friends find their true soulmates, fall in love, and walk down the aisle towards men that know just how lucky they are.

For me, though, those three girls are enough right now. They're everything.

My favourite moment, out of all of the weddings I've been to this year, was on Pumbaa's wedding day. The four of us had a photo taken.

The photographer asked "Is it just you four?"

And my eyes filled with outrageously happy tears as I nodded and my voice croaked "just us four."

That's more than enough for me.

For now, for always.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Baby Mine...

It was 4 in the morning when my baby brother's head appeared at my bedroom doorway.

"Are you awake? Just um...well, there's a storm. And it's loud."

I gathered my duvet around myself and followed him to my parents room. They weren't there. I snuggled in my covers on one side and he snuggled in his on the other, and we watched a Mock the Week rerun, talked to the dog, and jumped every now and then at the storm.

This was at 4 o'clock this morning, my brother and I are adults, and we're more or less living in our parents' house alone until the new people move in at some point before Christmas.

Climbing into their bed, listening to the storm, watching Chip trying to be brave every time thunder sounded, with Favourite Things from The Sound of Music bouncing around my head, I felt like a child playing grown ups.

This, and a number of other recent incidents, have had me thinking about my childhood.

Firstly, a few weeks ago my cousins found pictures of a sexy fashion shoot that they had done when they were little. The photos are brilliant. Back to the camera, head turned to look directly into the lens. Down on one knee with face really close to the camera. Hands on hips, serious face, chin tilted up. They were five and ten years old. So funny. 

I know that twelve years on life has more or less become one big sexy fashion shoot for a lot of us, but it still made me wish that that was how I was spending my day today. Making various sexy poses in the garden for absolutely no other reason than fun.

When was the last time you spent a whole day doing something for absolutely no other reason than fun?   

Secondly, as I mentioned above, very soon a new, super lucky family, are going to be moving into my childhood home and creating new memories, which means that I am currently sorting through a lot of my own in an effort to decide what's worth keeping. During this time I have laughed, cried, cringed, and grinned, and more than anything, have well and truly wandered memory lane....

1. 1996.

And onwards, really.

The first thing that I was super excited to find was My Sweet Love- the only boy doll you could find in the 90s which made it the best one to have as far as I was concerned. I named him Charlie and I loved him like he was real.

I had a little cot in the corner of my bedroom that I would put him into every night, and wake him up from every morning. I pushed him around in an old pushchair, fed him, dressed him, sang to him and played with him. For years. And when I found him he slotted right back into my arm as though he'd never left.

Every child that I have worked as a Nanny for has impressed me with the level of love and care they show their toys. I always marvel at how careful they are, and how much they treasure each item, so when I found my own toys I was super impressed at how well cared for they were.

I also loved naming things as a child. I decided what I was going to name my children in 1996 (and only very recently changed my mind about them- lucky I didn't have children super young!) and still love hearing about what people choose to name their children, but yesterday Chip informed me that I used to name everything. 

I have no recollection of this at all but according to my little brother I used to name the waves as I jumped over them. That does sound like something I would do. Please tell me you used to do silly things like that too?

2. 1998.

And probably the years surrounding it. I found Miss Lund's Register, in the front of which I had written: Miss Rebecca Ann Lund, age 9, class 5A, and my entire address. You know, in case I left the register anywhere and a kind stranger found it and wanted to post it back. (I actually found my name and full address written on most things I owned as a child, and do vaguely remember thinking as soon as I got something new that I must write my name and address on it in case I lose it.)

The Register was a book that my Grandma gave me- I think maybe she originally used it to keep track of her clients and didn't need it any more, but it made a seriously good register. It was just like the ones my teachers used, and I do believe I was the absolute envy of all of my friends.

There are pages in there titled "Katherine's Page" and "Lorna's Page", where I would occasionally allow a friend to have a (very rare) turn at being the teacher.

I had great fun discussing this find with my mum, my little brother Chip, and my friend Flounder, which brought on some other brilliant memories.

Chip reminded me that when we went to my Grandma's for dinner on a Thursday night, once dinner was cleared up and everyone else was sitting in the living room doing a puzzle or watching the television (the News, always the News at the my Grandparents' house. One of my mum's favourite stories is about when she suggested I take Pingu to watch at Grandma's and I cried and said I couldn't because Grandad only watched the News. Anyway...), I would go into the empty kitchen and put on my Grandma's shoes that made a nice clip clop sound on the tiles, and do an assembly for nobody.

I remember walking my pretend class into the kitchen, enjoying the clip clop sound of the shoes, and telling each member of the class where they had to sit.

Occasionally I would stand in one corner of the kitchen and do that loud, stage whisper thing that teachers do when they take their class into assembly, telling one of them to come round because there was a space here.

When I mentioned this to Flounder she told me that she would also be talking to one pretend child and interrupt herself to tell another pretend child to be quiet. She would also say to the empty air in front of her that if he was upset he could come and sit next to her, because the upset children always sit next to the teacher.

Flounder also reminded me about playing shops. Remember that?

You would set up the shop and shout that it was ready, then when nobody came you'd go into the kitchen to remind the adults that you were ready for them to come and shop now- just in case they hadn't heard. That adult would then have to keep leaving the shop and come back in as a new person. You'd also have to keep running back downstairs to collect the things you'd sold- they were your toys and you needed them back in your room.

My cousins, brothers and I also used to put on shows for our parents. My auntie and dad were always conveniently doing the washing up by the time the show was ready, so my mum, Uncle and Grandparents had to suffer through a performance at every family dinner.

Just to be clear- we are a super talented family. One cousin is a midwife, one is a car salesman and one works with animals. Mowgli is a builder and Chip works with the public. We're all excellent with people, quite charming if I do say so myself, and we're all very hard workers. Performers, however, we are not. I remember once we all sang Earth Song by Michael Jackson. I can only look back and imagine how painful that was. We also thought swapping clothes was the funniest thing ever. There are three girls and three boys so we would swap over and laugh until we cried. 

3. 2000.

Secondary School started, and my priorities changed.

Actually, they probably didn't change as much as they should have.

I stayed a child maybe I tiny bit longer than most. But I loved baby Charlie and I loved pretending, I wasn't ready to give that up just because it wasn't cool anymore.

I did, however, spend a lot more time dancing in my room than I had before. I had danced since I was 7 so I had probably always danced a bit but by the time 2000 came around I was a fully fledged choreographer.

I remember being in my friend's purple and green room (remember when everyone had a purple and green bedroom? I think that was around 2000), when she performed a dance for me. I shook my head in awe and said to her "Daniel is so lucky to have you." Daniel was her boyfriend, by which I mean they went red and sniggered past each other in the halls at school, slow danced at the disco, and on Valentine's Day Daniel's friend would give me a card and present for her. Then I did a dance for her. She shook her head in awe and said "James is so lucky to have you." You see the pattern.

In my clear out I found an entire box dedicated to Steps. Albums, posters, annuals, sticker books. I also had the video, and would watch, rewind and watch again until I knew every single dance off by heart. Great at school discos and concerts. I was at a concert once when I did the whole dance for Love's Got a Hold on My Heart- verses and all- and the girl next to be could not believe it. I remember thinking smugly, yep, I'm not just here cause it's cool, I am a die hard fan.

We also used to perform as bands in the playground, remember that? Being brunette as a tween was a nightmare for me. Whenever we played Spice Girls I had to be Posh Spice. Steps I had to be Lisa (who I've recently found out was everybody else's favourite?! It was all about Claire for me), and finally, the ultimate kick in the teeth: whenever we played S Club I had to be...Tina. Ouch.

We made our own band as well. Obviously.

I was a member of several, but my favourite was...I can't remember the name of it. I was in it with the twins who lived two doors down from me, and Mowgli, my brother. If anyone remembers the name of our band I would love to know. Our big hit was Smile to the Sun.

Smile to the Sun.
Come on everyone.
Join in the fun.
Yeah! Move along.

We were going to be stars and I was going to marry Calvin from S Club 8. Even though his last name was Goldspink and Frankie clearly fancied him.

Still, Frankie's married with a baby now and as far as I know Calvin's still straight so maybe I still have a shot at being Mrs Goldspink....

All of this thinking about my childhood got me thinking about being an adult, and how much life has changed. I decided to ask a few of my nearest and dearest about the things they miss most about being a child....

1. Fancy Dress for absolutely no reason at all. Going to Asda dressed as Spiderman in the middle of the day, or to the doctors in a bridesmaid dress. Brilliant.

2. Napping at parties. I've been told I'm really boring for this one but honestly, you wish you could too, don't you? Chip pointed out that he'll probably never fall asleep at a party then wake up in his own bed sober again. I miss that. Equally missed is falling asleep in the car and being carried in.

3. Kicking off if you don't get your own way. The last three times I've been out for dinner the restaurant has been out of the salmon. What I really wanted to do was burst into tears, kick the table and ask them why they didn't warn me before I got myself all geared up for it. But I'd probably be arrested now. So I smiled politely, told them I totally understood and would have The Other Fish.

4. Crying when you hurt yourself. Last week a huge square of perspex fell on my head and it really, really hurt. But I was at work and in public and I'm 25. So I had to laugh it off, snap (ever so slightly) at the nearest person as though it was her fault (it wasn't.) and rub it really hard when nobody was looking.

5. Peeing in the garden. I don't think I ever did this, but a few people had it as their first choice. I think this is a boy one....

6. Being naked for most of the day. The theatre that I work in is really hot. I would love for it to be acceptable for me to rip my clothes off the second they become uncomfortable, but it definitely isn't. Even outside work I'd say I'd probably be arrested. Shame, that one.

7. Playing with toys. Just playing. Waking up on a day off and having absolutely nothing to do but play. Teaching a class of beanie babies, performing a show, building a shop, pushing cars around on a mat, building a lego house (I wonder how many of you have Ed Sheeran in your head now?), making a train track....

8. Being totally honest with people. I once had a boyfriend whose tiny cousin stood up during a dinner party and said "Okay I've had enough of you now. You can all go home." The entire family were absolutely horrified but I often think of him now when I've had enough of someone. How nice would it be to tell people what you really think?

9. Riding a bike on the pavement. No fear of being hit by a car, no worries about being a pain to drivers, just fun.

10. Running round in circles in public. Just to entertain yourself. With plane sound effects.

11. Doing handstands, anywhere and everywhere, in a dress, and not even thinking about your underwear being on show.

12. Making things fly. The other day at work a little boy bought a Pumbaa then proceeded to run it around with him in the air, insisting he was a flying warthog. His mum rolled her eyes and muttered, "everything must fly", throwing a knowing look at me. I wish it was acceptable for me to make everything fly. Walking back from Tesco to the theatre on my dinner break would be so much more fun.

I've noticed since I discussed this with people that as adults we do all do childlike things to keep ourselves entertained in day to day life. At work I have to take a clipboard out of a tray of stock, count the stock and record it on the board. I like to pretend I'm a doctor checking on a patient. Nobody that isn't inside my head would ever know, but that's what I do.

Jiminy Cricket puts popping candy in her coffee and lets it hop around her mouth- to all the world around her she's a business woman having her morning caffeine boost.

Mushu likes to sit on the single seat on the bus and pretend she's Cinderella singing In my own little corner in my own little room....

Cowgirl Jessie does really good impressions of various insects and likes to do them and watch people look for the animal.

As I discussed all of these things with Jiminy Cricket the other day she sighed that she wished she could go back and be a child again.

I actually feel the opposite.

I feel so blessed that I was lucky enough to have the childhood that I did- that I had grandparents that watched shows, gave us dinner on a Thursday and let me clip clop around on their lovely kitchen tiles. That I had parents who taught me to love my toys, and provided me with enough independence in a secure environment that I managed to let my imagination go crazy. That I had brothers and cousins who let me boss them around and be in a band with them, and listened to me name the waves.

These memories have actually made me super excited for the future.

My best friend Minnie Mouse has just announced that she is having her own baby. She is about to create the magic of childhood from the other side, and watch someone grow up the way that we did.

Don't panic- this is not me announcing that I am having a baby. I cannot wait for that time, to have the opportunity to create the safe, loving environment filled with fun and imagination that I had.

For now though, I am really, really excited about being an auntie :)

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Life I Lead

So I'm sitting in my bedroom, listening to Summer by Calvin Harris, mourning my time in Italy. Yes, I was only there for three weeks, yes I always knew it was more like a holiday than anything else, and yes, I'm lucky that it ever happened at all. But, despite plenty of experience, I'm not very good at leaving things. Never have been, never will be. (I cried when I left The Lion King. I was only ever going for 3 weeks. I am ridiculous, I know.) 

I look around my room, feeling desperately sorry for myself, when my eyes land on the Good Luck card that Simba gave me the day I left. They move along to the birthday card that I've still got on display from the Lion King team. I look down at the Princess Belle mug that I'm holding- bought for me by one of the most thoughtful people I have ever been lucky enough to work with (also from The Lion King.) I realise with a jolt that if weren't for my Fairy Godmother, I wouldn't even have a room to look around (I am aware that I now have two friends with the alias Fairy Godmother, but Sleeping Beauty had three, right?). I'd either still be sleeping on sofas full time, or be in a mental institution, having finally gone crazy from the ridiculous travelling I was having to do between Covent Garden and South East Essex. 

But thanks to my second Fairy Godmother, I have a beautiful room in a gorgeous flat and can quite happily compare my life to a number of sitcoms including, but not limited to, Sex and the City, Friends, Miranda and Not Going Out, depending on the day. When I'm having a particularly magical day I like to pretend I'm simply a member of the cast of Mary Poppins. 

Suddenly my concerns at not being in Italy anymore are replaced by a rush of joy. A rush of gratitude at being here. That I live in this flat, that I work with these amazing people who have brought wonderful things into my life. (Not just cards and mugs, obviously.) 

To my absolute dismay, Simba is only staying in London for a couple of months, and with only two weeks left has begun to evaluate his time here. At breakfast a few days ago he explained to me that he feels like he has learnt something from every single person that he works with at The Lyceum Theatre. I feel exactly the same. 

So now I've started thinking about my latest adventure, about what it's done for me, and about what I'm liking most so far....

1. The friends I've made. Obviously.

 The people I work with, my Fairy Godmother, my flatmate, the Father-Christmas-type man that works in my local Boots, the Tesco Security Guard who laughs every time I set the alarm off (every time. I don't know why.) rather than using his power to embarrass me, the unreasonably good-looking staff at the Surbiton Train Station Caffe Nero...they've all played a part in this adventure and I will be taking a little piece of all of them with me whenever my next adventure begins. 

2. The friends I already had.

Living and working in London is a huge adventure for me, and I'm absolutely loving every second. But one of the best things about it is that I'm a stone's throw away from my own front door. All five of my best friends work in London and can meet me after work/run into me at the train station/pop outside of the office to say hello. We don't use this often enough but the knowledge that we can if we want is a surprising comfort. 

It also means that I can go home whenever I want. I'm no longer missing the big things like weddings, engagements and babies. I can see my brothers and the dog when I'm missing them, pop to see my parents and keep in touch with my grandparents without it costing me a plane trip or a fortune in phone bills. 

I recently helped my mum move into her new house- something that probably doesn't appeal to many of you but that for me was totally magical. I soaked up every second, from my Grandad being shamelessly excited for lunch to my little brother's ridiculous jokes and my mum's brilliant excitement. (I feel that we should all take a moment to appreciate just how excited my mum was on moving day as well. Have you ever met anyone who's totally excited on moving day, and not even remotely stressed? That's my mum, ladies and gents. No idea how she produced the outrageous worrier that is me.) 

Not only that, but London is the centre of everything, which means that people who aren't even from the South, or necessarily from England will always visit. I'm seeing friends that I haven't seen for ages who aren't even from near here. I've managed to spend more time with Disney friends than I ever could have predicted- we've practically created a new UK pavilion here in the UK. 

3. Nothing's Strange. 

When I first arrived in London I went to see my favourite comedian and actress of all time- Miranda. She suggested doing little things to amuse yourself and brighten up your day. So I tried it, just for the laugh, really. To see if it made me happy, and see what reactions I got from other people. 

I ordered Starbucks under ridiculous names (Pocahontas was my favourite), I galloped towards my train- on one occasion Tigger and I galloped all the way from the Natural History Museum to the Science Museum. My friend took a selfie with a stranger on the tube. My mum and her boyfriend lifted their arms and let a stranger go underneath them rather than let go of hands.

Guess what?

Nobody reacted. Nobody took a blind bit of notice. There's such an eclectic mix of people in London that everything is strange. Which means nothing is strange.

So I've started running again. I can run around London- run like Phoebe from Friends if I want- and nobody will even notice. I've stopped worrying about the fact that I always spill my coffee. I've stopped trying to remember not to say thank you to the ticket machine. I've stopped attempting not to laugh or cry out loud at my book or a text. On one occasion I even burped out loud. (Actually I'm mortified about that but if anyone noticed they didn't react.) 

4. Living in a tourist destination.

Those of you that know me well or have followed my blog for some time will know that I love nothing more than living in a tourist destination. I've lived in a holiday resort in France, in a hotel in Rhodes, in various destinations around Italy, in the more scenic parts of Ireland (and by that I just mean Ireland. Everywhere is scenic in Ireland.) and in Walt Disney World, Florida.

Now I live in London. The third best destination in the world. (According to Trip Advisor. Fix-It Felix once told me never to trust a website that involved a review of the Thames. Still, on this occasion I chose to ignore his advice.)

I've always loved the idea of living in a normal life in an extraordinary place. In Greece I loved that I would spend my morning off on an idyllic beach with a magnum and the afternoon at work. In France I loved that I would have breakfast in my own bed then go and put on a (somewhat dodgy) Donald Duck costume and be accosted by screaming children. In Florida I loved that I would do a food shop and clean the house then pop to meet Mary Poppins and Sleeping Beauty.

Now I'm in London. Doing a shift at work then walking along the Thames and going to see a show. Spending my days off nipping to a museum or Harry Potter Studios (okay, I haven't done that yet but it's booked!). Wandering Covent Garden on my break. Meeting friends for dinner in Leicester Square. Lazing in Green Park in the London sunshine before my shift. Bumping into Bradley Cooper on the way home from work. (Only happened once, but still.)

When I was in Italy, one of the other tutors had put together a presentation about the UK. One of the slides had a stunning picture that he had taken from Google. The picture had been taken from the bridge that I walk across twice a day to get to and from work. I will never stop being grateful that that view- other people's dream, other people's special holiday memory- is just a daily occurrence for me.

Another reason that I love living in a tourist destination is, of course, my total fascination with language. I loved walking through Disney and working out where people are from, seeing how much of their conversation I can understand. That is just as possible, and just as much fun in London.

5. Free entertainment, inspiration and magic.

Another reason tourist destinations are perfect for a person like me is that they are filled with permanent inspiration for characters, scenes and settings to write about. They're not always necessarily hugely exciting, entertaining or magical, but sometimes they are....

*Charming Frenchman.

A few weeks ago I was on the tube when a very old, frail woman stepped on. A man immediately stood up to offer his seat to the lady- but because she moved so slowly, a standing man whipped into the seat before she could reach it. Just as everyone began tutting in British outrage, the man's face broke into a huge grin, he pointed at the lady and said- in a beautiful French accent- "just kidding!", before helping her into the seat.

The entire carriage shook with laughter. Even the scary looking man in his sixties with the moustache and the briefcase cracked a smile.

*Entertaining train driver.

(Are they called train drivers? The people who make the underground trains move? Am I the only person who doesn't know this?)

Everyone was in a hurry. Everybody always is, in London.

The train was moving at a painfully slow pace, people were checking their watches, tutting, and raising their eyes to the heavens.

An announcement came over. Here we go. What now? Signalling failure? Earlier Person On The Track?

"This announcement is for the person who keeps pressing the Open Door button. We're all very sorry that you weren't given enough trains to play with as a child, but everybody else here has somewhere to be. So if you could kindly stop pressing it so that we can get to the next stop at a normal speed, the entire train would be grateful. Thanks."

Cue my second experience of the whole carriage shaking with laughter.

*Singing on the Train.

One evening a few months ago I was sitting on the train waiting for it to leave London Liverpool Street for Wickford, when two men got on. They sat down, and shortly afterwards, two girls sat opposite them. They began talking to the girls, and gradually began talking to everyone around them. To my absolute delight, they started telling everyone which Disney character they thought they could be. (They called me Belle. Just saying.) As luck would have it, everyone sitting in the carriage at that time was up for discussing all things Disney, and there was soon a gorgeous atmosphere (rare, on an Abellio Greater Anglia train, let me tell you.). When somebody new came into the carriage, one of the men announced:

"Just to warn you before you get comfortable, sitting in this carriage is going to involve singing Disney songs all the way back to Wickford."

"That's absolutely fine. Should we start with Circle of Life?", the absolute hero that had just climbed on responded.

And so we did. We started with Circle of Life (this is when I really came into my own- there was an argument about the lyrics that was only settled when I chimed in and whipped out my Lion King name tag.) and continued with Under the Sea, A Whole New World and Be Our Guest- to name a few.


6. Everything You Could Ever Need.

There's a (heartbreaking) moment in Friends when Monica and Chandler announce that they are leaving New York to live in the suburbs. Phoebe's response is:

What if you want Chinese food at 5am? Or a fake Rolex that breaks as soon as it rains? Or an Asian Hooker sent right to your door?

Okay I don't necessarily have experience of needing any of these things but the theory is there- and that's exactly why I love living in London.

Here's exactly why I don't love living in London....

1. You do spend your days surrounded by unreasonably angry people.

How dare you walk slowly when they are in a hurry? How dare you walk round them when you are in a hurry? How dare you be in the queue already when they want their coffee/money/train ticket right now? How dare you be looking at Facebook on your phone when there are other people on the train? (That seriously happened to me the other day.) How dare you be reading that book with such a ridiculous cover? (Also genuinely happened to me.) How dare you charge that much for Simba Plush Toys when my child wants one? (Okay, maybe it's just me that experiences that one).

2. You become an unreasonably angry person.

Why are they walking so slowly? I'm in a hurry. Don't you march around me like that, I'm walking slowly because I've had a bad day and I'm tired, okay? Oh for goodness sake, why is there a queue? I need my coffee/money/train ticket right now or I'll be late. Get off of your phone. I do not need to hear about what happened to you last night, thank you. They are charging how much for a cup of coffee?!

3. Tourists.

I love living in a tourist area, really I do. But the things that annoyed me about tourists in Florida annoy me just as much about tourists in London. DON'T just stop right in front of me when we're walking at the same pace because you've realised you read your map wrong. DON'T allow your whole party to saunter along taking up the whole of the pathway and the edge of the road- I don't want to have to make the decision of whether to be on time or risk getting hit by a few cars. DON'T bring a tour group of 30 French children into the small Starbucks on the corner of Covent Garden EVER. But especially not just before I start a 10 hour shift. DON'T push your way onto the tube- you let people off first. That's the rule. DON'T say excuse me in your own language then push me out of the way and stand right in front of me. In fact, DON'T push in ANYWHERE, EVER. You are in Britain. We queue.

4. The Tube.

You feel guilty if you have a seat. You feel unreasonably disappointed if you don't. You get outrageously competitive for a seat then have to pretend to be all nonchalant as soon one becomes available. You get pressed up against super smelly people and you get paranoid about the way you, yourself smell. You're terrified of annoying anyone that might shout at you. You randomly fall in love with people so easily on the tube then are mortified when you realise that you weren't being that discreet with your staring. You want to offer her your seat, but you're not sure whether she's actually pregnant. You're being pushed from behind into the person in front of you and now your bodies are touching in the most awkward way and you have to just keep apologising and avoiding eye contact.


5. The general smell of London.

Sometimes I can feel myself breathing in bad health. 

6. Not knowing who you can trust.

Like in all cities, I guess. Some people are wonderful. Some people will go so far out of their way to help you, you don't know what you did to deserve it. When I was in Milan I had several men go out of their way to carry my case for me out of the kindness of their hearts before I met the one who helped me out then stood over me demanding money.

London is the same.

Some people are so amazing I can't believe my own good luck that I met them.

Last week I met a middle aged man in Pret who commented on my accent. We got talking about where I had lived and what I had done, and he asked me whether I would be interested in joining a luxury brand to work. I wasn't interested, but I was excited by the idea that I could wander in for coffee and wander out with a career, so I gave him my number and he promised to call when something came up.

I left delighted. I called both my parents and my boyfriend to tell them what wonderful luck I had.

"Only you, Rebecca. Things like this always happen to you."

Fast forward two hours and I received a totally inappropriate text from this kind middle aged man.


Luckily, my day continued. I met Dale for lunch, walked along the Thames, booked our tickets for a Theatre Royal Drury Lane behind-the-scenes tour, and I had a lovely evening at work with the gorgeous Lion King team.

And so it goes on.

I will continue to meet dodgy middle aged men, continue to complain about tourists and continue to spend my entire wage on coffee and theatre.

But I will also continue to witness magic, to marvel at the views, spend magical days with Simba, beautiful evenings with Disney friends, celebrate milestones with my nearest and dearest, experience far too much live entertainment, and eat out too much with Dale. I will continue to be grateful for the Fairy Godmother who made all this happen. I will continue to be thankful for the wonderful people who are slowly building my character into what it's supposed to be.

And I will continue to pretend that I'm simply a member of the cast of Mary Poppins.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Home Again...

Two years ago, having worked a season at a holiday resort in France the previous summer, I decided to do what everyone tells you not to do. I decided to return. I announced that I would be going back to the same place, with the same company, to do exactly the same job.

"It won't be the same."

"You'll ruin the memories you had of the year before."

"It will never live up to your expectations based on last year."

Almost everybody thought it was a mistake.

My thinking, however, was different.

My thinking was that I was unequivocally, unbelievably happy when I had done that job before. My boyfriend at the time told me that he literally saw the pain in my eyes when I discussed how much I missed it. He had never seen me like that about anything before. If I had the opportunity to go back- why on earth wouldn't I?

My other main argument in the should-I-shouldn't-I-debate was that I knew it would be different. Of course it would. But everything changes all the time. Imagine if you only ever did everything you enjoyed once just in case it wasn't exactly the same next time.

Imagine if you only ever did everything you hated once just in case it was exactly the same next time.

We'd never learn. We'd never improve. And we'd be missing out on so much!

(I didn't like coffee until I was 24, for example. Starbucks and I would both be missing out on the best part of my day if I hadn't randomly kept trying it until my taste buds changed their minds.)

I returned to France and, as I had expected, some things were exactly the same, and some things were totally different. Partly because it was a new year, with new people, new management and new ideas. Partly because I was different. I returned that year with detailed knowledge regarding what the job would involve. I knew a lot more about what worked and what didn't, I knew what my weaknesses were and I went in with a plan to strengthen them. I had spent the six months of winter as a Nanny, and six weeks after that working for a con company in Greece. I had learnt more about working with children, that my strengths lie with younger people, and that the company that I was working for in France were probably the best company I would ever work for. I also knew that when the summer finished I would be going to do my dream job in Walt Disney World.

This new knowledge and my new experiences made me a better instructor, a stronger member of the team and a more confident person as I made decisions about how to handle certain aspects of holiday resort life.

In those six months of winter my family also changed in a way I never could have predicted and my boyfriend let me down in a way that I had never truly believed he would.

I was more cynical and more vulnerable than I had been last time which made me a totally new person in a different way.

The memories from that summer will stay with me forever. And guess what? So will the memories from the summer before.

For years I have been trying to find the words to explain why I don't believe anybody should ever avoid returning to something that made them happy "in case it's not the same", because we, and the world, and everything around us, change so much that returning to something can only lead to improvement and knowledge and moving forward.

Finally, a few weeks ago, in my new favourite book of all time, I found the words I have been looking for.

"The voracious ambition of humans is never sated by dreams coming true, because there is always the thought that everything might be done better and again."  

Thank you, John Green.

Three days after I read this perfect sentence, my favourite sentence in any book, ever- including everything by Cecelia Ahern and Dr Seuss- I received an email from a company that I worked for in 2009.

They wanted me to start in a fortnight and work for three weeks teaching English to children. In Italy.

I could have turned them down. I could have been concerned that to return to something I had loved so much five years before would be foolish- I would tarnish the memories, have expectations that were far too high, be disappointed.

Obviously I didn't.

Thanks to the amazing support of the management team that I work for in London; joint with the wonderful help from the Italian company, both of my parents and Pumbaa, I somehow managed to pull it together.

Two weeks later I was on a plane from London Gatwick to Milan Malpensa where my latest Italian adventure would begin.

And this time I was five years older. Five years wiser. I would sail through the potentially awkward moments and disasters that I encountered on my last trip to Italy, wouldn't I?

I would love to describe to you every single second of every single day that I was there- because every one of them felt like an adventure to me. But I'm not sure that you'll ever read my blog again if I do that. So I'll just tell you the most important parts.

Here are my favourite things about my time in Italy....

1. Italian People.

Italian people are the best people in the entire world.

They are passionate, hospitable, warm, friendly, funny, loud and full on. In my experience they cannot do enough for you and rival even the Irish in the charm stakes.

Every stereotype you have ever heard about Italians is true.

Coffee and good food are at the centre of their lives, they're super family orientated and they're passionate about everything. As far as I can see these traits start in Italians at around the age of two. One of my favourite things to do is just watch Italian children talk to each other. When it comes to talking, Italian children could just be tiny adults. They skip any childish habits and go straight to talking like their parents. It's brilliant. I once watched what looked like a full blown, adult argument between two six year olds. Arms were flying, voices were raised, facial expressions were changing at a comical rate. They were discussing the fact that one of their classmates didn't like Nutella.

One of my new favourite things about Italians is something that I didn't know about them until this trip. I don't know how I managed to let this one pass me by for so long but it has explained plenty about the Italians I met on my last trip and about the beautiful Italian I was lucky enough to live with for six months once.

Italians live by rules that somehow the rest of the world manage without but that they are adamant are vital....

1) You must always dry your hair. Thoroughly. It is very dangerous to wander around with wet hair.

2) You must shower in the evening because it takes 8 hours for your body to dry. It is very dangerous to wander around with damp skin.

3) You should never mix coffee and milk after 9am. It's bad for your digestive system and you won't sleep.

4) You should never eat pizza or polenta close to bed time. Similarly to the combination of coffee and milk, heavy food and bedtime will cause indigestion and lack of sleep.

5) Plain pasta cures any number of illnesses.

6) You must never have bare feet. Ever. Unless in bed or in the swimming pool.

They do actually make a lot of sense (well, some more than others) but a lot of the people I met in Italy were so passionate about these rules that I had never heard of before that it made me laugh.

I was lucky during my time in Italy in that I was so totally immersed in Italian family life that I saw it as it happens every day and some days felt as though I were sitting inside a film, able to watch it from the inside. I witnessed a baptism, dinners out, dinners in, special occasions, normal moments, arguments and love.

At the baptism I watched as the entire family reminisced about years gone by and discussed what was to come. They laughed, smiled, disagreed and fussed over the baby. One of the kids broke a glass playing aeroplanes with it. One of the aunties helped herself to my cheese and got told off by her sisters. Another auntie spilt wine on her white top and asked her mum to get the stain out for her. One of the uncles chased the kids around the restaurant gardens when they were bored of sitting nicely at the table. The Grandad fussed over his eldest grandaughter as though she were a Princess. Her parents told me her grandparents spoiled her because she was the first grandchild.

One night I cycled home in the pouring rain, got in, had a bath, warmed up, and was about to have dinner when we realised the dog had escaped and had to chase him three streets down.

One morning at breakfast I was eating (my chocolate cake and coffee- another of my favourite things about Italy. More on that later.), and the mum was bent down with her head in a cupboard. Without saying a word the eight year old padded down in his pyjamas, put his arms around his mum's neck and kissed her gently on the cheek.

One evening we all fell asleep in front of Harry Potter and the Philospher's Stone and had to drag ourselves up to bed in the middle of the night.

In some ways, Italians are no different at all from my own family. Noticing these similarities reassured me in a way that I don't think I can explain here, but I'm hoping you can understand.

2) Italian food.

The rumours are true. The food in Italy is the best in the entire world. I've never totally understood why France have that title and now, having spent a substantial amount of time in both countries, can confirm that it's totally unwarranted. The food in Italy is unrivaled.

Granted, they massively struggle with the concept of vegetarianism, which lead to some brilliant moments including being offered bacon, ham and sausages, and- on one occasion- a platter of cold cuts, but somehow I managed and still experienced absolute culinary delight.

As I mentioned above, breakfast is...different in Italy, in that it doesn't massively exist. If they do eat it, they tend to have something sweet (like a croissant, biscuits and, to my absolute joy, chocolate cake) and coffee.

Now this is where John Green's advice really comes into play. Last time I was in Italy I didn't drink coffee or wine. Thankfully, over the past five years my tastebuds have developed (or disappeared- I read once that you like different things when you're older because your tastebuds die- I'm not sure if that's 100% accurate though?) and I now delight in both. Which means I really should live in Italy full time now.

They don't drink coffee the way that we do. They will only drink a cappuccino first thing in the morning (otherwise they'll never sleep- all that coffee and milk mixed together!) and they tend to sip shots of espresso, finish the cup, and that's it.

I spoke to an eighteen year old who had once visited Dublin with an Irish tour guide and had found it so weird that she bought a huge coffee from Starbucks and carried it around in a takeaway cup for the entirety of the tour.

They don't really do that.

They also don't share Brits' love for what my host father called "interesting combinations" for breakfast.

He told me an absolutely brilliant story that went as follows:

Years ago, when he had been visiting England, he had missed what he was being offered for breakfast. He decided to go ahead and accept it anyway and waited for it to come out.

When it came out he could not believe it. 

"Beans on toast. Beans. On toast. I mean I like beans and I like toast but they doesn't mean they should ever be put together! It's like putting marmalade on pizza."

He was so passionately disgusted I actually cried with laughter as he was telling me.

They also tend not to snack really. Obviously I was only there for three weeks so feel free to correct me if I'm wrong- but in my experience they seem to really only eat two meals a day- lunch and dinner- and not eat a huge amount in between.

But when they eat- during lunch and dinner- they eat a lot. 

My poor little tummy just couldn't manage that much food in one go. The courses seemed to go on forever. Every single bite was delicious and it seemed such a waste to leave it, but every single day there would come a point when I would have to give up, declare basta (enough in Italian- remember it, trust me if you ever go you will need it) and stop eating.

Every time I did this the same two things would happen.

1) I would be told- despite the fact that I had just eaten what I would eat in a day at home- that I eat nothing. Sometimes I would have eaten a bowl of pasta in a tomato sauce, then a huge plate of stuffed vegetables, then another, equally huge, portion of cheese, crackers and bread, then fruit, then they'd tell me I eat nothing.

Then I would explain that it was delicious but I just couldn't eat anymore, then they would concede that they understood, my body wasn't used to it, then-

2) they would ask me whether I wanted alcohol in the coffee they were about to serve with my tiramisu for dessert.

I did once consider explaining that in the UK I would have had that initial bowl of pasta for dinner and basta- nothing else, but I didn't think that they would ever, ever understand.

On one occasion having eaten enough and explained that I just couldn't cope with anymore they told me that they were concerned that I was going to come back to London to my boyfriend and tell him they didn't feed me.

That was never going to happen. 

I mentioned above that I now like wine.

On my first night with my first family we were sitting down to dinner when my host father told me that the region I was in was famous for producing a certain type of wine. He told me that all of it, in the entire world, was produced in the small town that I was currently staying in, so here it was particularly good because it was more attainable and definitely the real thing. 

He told me he thought I might have heard of it.

It was called prosecco. 

Why did I ever leave? 

That area was also renowned for having invented tiramisu- up there with prosecco as one of my favourite inventions ever. 

The tiramisu I had there was delicious. However. During my third week, when I was with my second family, I mentioned that I like tiramisu and in the time it took me to watch one episode of Buona Fortuna Charlie- the host mum had whipped up four individual coffee desserts without even breaking a sweat.

It was the single best thing I have ever eaten in my entire life. I managed to control myself but if I'd been alone I might have cried.

If for no other reason- go to Italy for the food.

3. The other tutors.

The job that I did involved teaching my own class of children at the appropriate level in the morning, then in the afternoon joining up with the other classes to do larger activities that involved practicing English in a real life setting.

Tutors are made up of all native English speaking nationalities, and I was lucky enough to work with people from England, Ireland, Scotland, Canada and America.

I don't think I ever could have explained to the other tutors just how wonderful they were without gushing. But seriously. In my first two weeks in Italy there were thirteen tutors. That could have ended in disaster. I was actually really nervous about that before I went- that's a lot of cooks in the kitchen. And the kind of people who leave their home country to go and teach English through ridiculous songs and games tend to have big personalities that could potentially clash.

Not us.

Every single person was an inspiration in their own way and I learnt something from all of them.

I have never laughed so much at work before. I've never been around so many interesting, funny and talented people in one go. I was meant to be in Italy for those two weeks- if for no other reason than to meet them.

Have I gushed enough yet?

4. The Job.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language has been one of the most fun, entertaining and surreal jobs I've ever done. It's also been one of the most challenging.

A few days ago Dale was telling me that he finds being around his niece and nephew exhausting. Imagine the children you know. Imagine how exhausting it is being with them.

Imagine that they're six years old, that there are twelve of them, and that they cannot understand anything you say.

Imagine that they range between the ages of six and fourteen, that there are one hundred and thirty seven of them, and that between them they can only understand a few words you say.

Sometimes, it's really, really hard. It's frustrating and maddening and tiring.

And sometimes, it's really, really, really funny.

If the children are the right children, and the other tutors are the right ones for your personality, it can be like real magic.

Luckily for me, that's exactly what it was.

And when it's like that- and in fact, even when it's not- it's a welcome break from reality.

There were moments when I was doing ridiculous things- jumping around in the middle of a circle of 60 children singing "you can't ride in my hot ferrari 'cause I'm too cool and I'm down to party" in my middle class accent, for example, when I would picture my home life. I would picture Dale's face if he knew this is what I was doing. I would picture the team at The Lion King, counting t-shirts and promoting Simba plush, and think- how on earth did I end up here, in this circle, doing this? What is life? 

I would also look at the other tutors. One of my favourite people to watch has a Law degree. I used to watch her bouncing round the circle impersonating a pensioner and try to imagine her as a solicitor.

I was hoping that this job would chill me out a bit- I am a notorious worrier and have been told that I need to stop worrying so much, and I thought maybe a break from reality would remind me that nothing actually matters. I really thought it was working, and even discussed the fact that things from home don't seem to matter anymore- when on my last day one of my colleagues told me she'd never met anyone who worries as much as I do. Oh.

Apparently Italy can't cure everything.

I cannot recommend this job enough though, and if- after reading this- you're interested, please get in contact with me.

5. Just Italy.

For my first two weeks I was near Venice. I went to the beach, I went to the gorgeous city of Treviso, I learnt some Italian, I appreciated everything. The buildings, the smells, the roads, the fact that everyone cycles everywhere...I just love Italy and being there- even to work- is just magical.

For my final week I was in a mountain.

Every single time I stepped outside my breath would be taken away. The children who lived there didn't understand my sighing at all- you're from London, an amazing place, why would you be excited about a mountain?!

One day they'll understand.

And now I'm back.

And despite the fact that this was my second Italian adventure- I loved every single second.

And despite the fact that you're not supposed to ever return to something you loved- I am back at The Lion King.

I haven't chilled out, in the slightest. I haven't stopped annoying everyone with my worry, and I haven't developed any big new personality traits to add to the team.

But I have changed, because adventure changes you.

So I'm back at The Lion King, and I'm different. And it's different.

Dale's back in the UK. And he's different.

But we're not never going to see each other again because it was so amazing in America and we don't want to ruin it. I'm not going to leave The Lion King because I loved it before Italy and I should quit while I'm ahead.

Why is this the advice people insist on giving out?

Not me.

I'm going to keep doing the things I love- better and again. 

Sunday, 15 June 2014

We're All Mad Here

At around the age of 14 I began to notice that a lot of people around me liked to refer to themselves as different. 

"I am not normal", they'd giggle after making a funny face for a camera. They'd have their MSN messenger status as "nOt YoUr AvErAgE gIrL", and they'd say "I know I'm crazy but I just don't care" approximately five hundred times a day.

In my early teens I did not understand this at all. 

Why would you not want to be normal?

Surely if you consider what you're doing to be not normal then it isn't natural for you to be doing it?

I remember looking at one of these girls once and thinking: but you are normal. Apart from the whole consistently referring to yourself as weird thing, you are normal. 

She was a fourteen year old girl. She liked boys, disliked Maths, argued with her sister, watched Friends, moaned about our Food Tech teacher and spent far too much time playing The Sims.

In a well respected home counties secondary school in 2003 that was fairly average.

I never went through that phase. I always wanted to be normal and I am, quite frankly, the most normal person I have ever met.

Instead, I went through a (relatively long) phase of pretending to like things that I didn't really like in order to be the person I quite fancied being.

I know that the world tells us to "be who we want to be" and "reinvent" ourselves if we're not happy but trying to be something that isn't natural to you is exhausting. And actually not that fun.

I used to rave that I loved spicy food. I would order spicy food when we were out, say yes if it was offered at a friend's house, take the spiciest things at the buffet....and suffer with my mouth on fire and all my taste buds diminished for the rest of the evening.

All because Polly from the film Along Came Polly loved spicy food and I thought that if I wanted to have an exciting life and travel like she did, I would need to like ridiculously hot dishes. I vaguely remember seeing it as some kind of metaphor for life as well...as though people who order a korma from the local takeaway sit inside bored and alone all day every day whereas those that like a vindaloo go sky diving and bungee jump in their spare time.

I also listened to what I honestly think is really boring music, whilst wearing dodgy clothes, too much eyeliner and pretending to be passionate about musicians who died before I was born in an attempt to be a grunger because that's what my first boyfriend was.

(I am aware that I've probably offended a lot of people with that last sentence. I didn't find the music boring as background music at home but a whole concert of it? Talking about it all day and night and nothing else?)

I was actually really happy during this time- I loved pretending to love the music and fitting in with a specific group of people, dressing up so that it would be known that I was one of them as soon as I walked in.

But I couldn't have kept it up any longer because it wasn't me. 

Since then I've been through my fair share of denial/pretending phases (Pendulum and Family Guy to name a couple) but I like to think that I'm an open book now, and that I'm comfortable enough with myself to be honest.

Now I'm going through a new phase.

A phase which my mum, 22 years my senior (sorry mum) tells me she's still going through....

The One Day phase.

I look at other people and think one day I'll be like that. When in fact, chances are I won't. I'll grow older and wiser. I'll gain experiences and memories that will change me forever. Some of my personality traits will grow even more prominent, whilst others will disappear altogether.

 But I will never be the lady who has immaculate, fresh-looking lipgloss every single second of the day. I will never be the girl who manages to glide gracefully through a door without pushing right next to the Pull sign first. I'll always be the one that manages to throw my drink down myself and randomly trip over nothing.

I'm not putting myself down- I know I will also never ignore a street charity fundraiser, I'll never take my bad day out on a stranger and I'll always have plenty of hand sanitiser with me...

Anyway, recently I've caught myself thinking it more and more- when will I be like that? So I thought I'd share with you the various personality traits that the voice inside my head is certain I will develop some time soon....

1. Immaculate Grooming

On Monday I went to the hairdresser. When I told her I wanted my fringe cut back in (such a relief to not have to sound ridiculous saying bangs in my Essex accent, by the way) she replied "okay, fine or heavy?"

Um...what now? After staring at her blankly for a few seconds then listening to her repeat it three times I eventually understood that she was asking how thick I wanted my fringe to be. I didn't really have an opinion.

She then went on to ask me where exactly my parting is supposed to be? I didn't really know. It just falls where it falls normally.

"O...kay. And um..." she ran her fingers through my hair and looked at the ends, "when exactly did you last have your hair cut? We do recommend every six weeks."

I nodded and mumbled something about it having been slightly longer than six weeks.

I always feel stupid in the hairdressers. I never know what they're asking and even when I understand I never know the answers about my own hair. Does anyone take that much notice of their own hair? Turns out I don't.

I feel exactly the same about waxing, nails and fake tan.

When am I going to have a routine for this stuff? 

2. Playing by the rules

There's a part in Notting Hill in which Julia Roberts suggests going into a locked communal garden at night, and Hugh Grant explains to her that they can't because only the people who live around the edges are allowed in. When she smirks and asks him "you abide by rules like that?" He replies "heck, no. Other people do. But not me, I just do what I want."

I feel like Hugh Grant at that moment sums me up.

I so badly want to not care, to break the rules and deal with the consequences. It would be so much cooler, and so much easier- less worrying- to be like that. But I'm not. It's not in Hugh's (well, the character's) nature to be like that and it's not in mine.

I like to think that One Day I'll be the kind of care-free person that does whatever she likes, that doesn't care what other people think and that will stand up for herself if she gets caught and explain her actions.

I don't think I will ever be like that. However stupid the rule, however ridiculous the request, even if everybody else is breaking it, if it is a rule I will stick to it. I will explain to everyone around me why I think it's stupid and why I think it should be changed then I'll smile sweetly at whoever's come up with the ridiculous thing and do as I'm told.

When will I stop caring about the rules and just do what I think makes sense? 

3. Fashion.

I like shopping. Really, I do. Sometimes I pop into New Look on the way home and buy a new skirt, or a pair of shoes.

I get excited the first time I wear them and I do enjoy looking nice but...I feel like I don't necessarily care as much as a lot of the people around me.

I was once with a friend who, when discussing Pandora bracelets, said that she couldn't wear them because her style is "more chunky necklaces and dainty bracelets." As soon as she said it I realised she was right- she does always wear chunky necklaces and dainty bracelets.

What do I always wear?

I also have two gorgeous friends who launched their own clothing line and were featured on ASOS as a "hot couple we love." In an interview they were asked to describe each other's style. They used fashionable sounding words that made their wardrobes- and somehow their  lives- seem amazing. I tried to imagine me and Dale doing an interview like that and giggled. Later I showed Dale the interview and mentioned that we could never do an interview like that. At this Dale began to describe his own style using equally cool words.

It's not that I don't care how I look- I have only ever met one person in my entire life who genuinely doesn't care how he looks and he, fortunately, is naturally absolutely gorgeous, brimming with a special kind of self confidence and- I believe- totally oblivious to the fact that he really possesses this rare quality.

Obviously I care, just in a slightly different, more casual and comfortable way...

When am I going to know- and care about- my style? 

4. The Little Things

I am generally able to deal with the big things in life. I've never had any trouble keeping a job, house or boyfriend, I've never particularly fallen out with a friend or got myself into huge debt (unless you count my student loan which nobody does...do they?), but for some reason I just can't cope with the little things.

I spent my time clothes shopping last Tuesday attempting to word this in a way that doesn't make me sound like a social outcast.

I am an awkward person. I am. But when I say I'm an awkward person it immediately conjures a picture of a socially awkward, shy/rude, not-particularly-good-with-people, wears-dodgy-glasses-and-braces-to-hold-up-plaid-skirt kind of girl, don't you think?

Which I like to think I'm not.

I like to think I'm a chatty, sociable, easy-to-get-to-know, nice person.

I tried to think of a sensible way that I could word this as I stood waiting for a changing room in Forever 21. Just as I began to fear writer's block a lady came out with an arm full of clothes, strolled right up to me and gave me the majority of them saying "I'm just going to keep these ones, thanks."

She thought I worked there.

One Day, this will only happen to me in top class designer shops and One Day I will know the perfect actions in this situation and promptly deal with it accordingly.

The current me, however, the Rebecca that was in Forever 21 that day, responded "Lovely, thank you. And have you got your changing room number? Perfect, thanks. Enjoy the rest of your day", then stood like an idiot with an arm full of too-large clothes and a number but unable to go into the now empty changing room without being seen by a member of staff for fear of being accused of stealing.

Another excellent example of the kind of awkwardness I am referring to happened to me on Wednesday....

I was having a bad day. I didn't feel too wonderful and I just wanted to get home when a lady at the train station was ridiculously rude and really upset me. So I stormed home, planning all of the things I would say to her next time I saw her, I put my key in the lock and...someone opened it.

My housemate's friend?

"Hello!" I put on a false cheery voice, "how are you?"

Her face darkened.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Um..." my smile faltered. "Have I come to the wrong flat...?" I looked towards the stairs. Mine is on the middle floor- the only floor with stairs going up and down. There were stairs going up and down. 

"No I haven't...I am at the right flat."

"No. No you're not."

"I'm not?"

"You. Do. Not. Live. Here."

"Oh...okay...I'm really sorry. I'm having a bad day actually, I don't feel well and I was really angry and I guess I...I...well I obviously wasn't concentrating walking...um...walking up the stairs. I'm sorry. I'm Rebecca, by the way. Sorry. Bye."

Turns out there's more than one floor with stairs going both ways.

When am I going to stop being so awkward and be a smooth-talking adult? 

5. Presentation.

Yesterday I was thinking about the other ways I'm awkward. I could think of quite a few examples of incidents but I couldn't think of a way to link them all together when....

 I looked down to see that I had cous cous in my hair.

And I realised: my self-presentation. My ability to make the effort I make getting ready in the morning last past lunch....

There are women who always look like they have just stepped straight out of a tumble dryer. Their clothes always look just washed and ironed, their hair and makeup look freshly perfected, their handbags look as though they've just been plucked from the designer shelf and their nails just manicured- I see and marvel at them every day as they leave the theatre looking immaculate, despite having just watched the emotional rollercoaster that is The Lion King. 

I step out of the shower, moisturise, apply my makeup, dry my hair, step into my freshly laundered clothes and paint my nails. I take a sip of my drink- oh no! I was holding it in a weird way because of my wet nails and I've poured it down my top. Now it's gone down the wrong hole and I'm choking. Oh no, I'm really choking. I drink some more but where I'm choking I abandon the weird hold of the cup and smudge all my nails. My makeup goes streaming down my face as I choke and now the tears have dried around my eyes making them all tight and puffy. I remove the nail varnish and attempt to salvage the mascara but now my eyelashes are all stuck together where they got wet....

And then I leave the house.

I've always known this about myself and I do always vow to stop being like that but I don't mean to do it. It just happens.

I have always got a stain on me. Whether it's coffee, juice, a leaked pen, cous cous, ketchup or chocolate I am always covered in something. I hadn't thought much about this for ages until last week I spent a whole afternoon with someone I don't often spend long periods of time with.

In his presence I spilt Pimms all down myself (I was trying to dig out the fruit- such a classy girl), splattered curry all up my jumper (missing everyone else) and threw yoghurt dressing all over the table- seeing myself through his eyes reminded me that One Day I need to change.

I have endless embarrassing (and some really funny) stories about inappropriately throwing food or drink in public but for some reason insist that one day it's going to end and I'm going to be a perfectly presented lady at all times.

When is that going to be? 

6. Food.

Once, a few years ago, one of my friends said they ate half an Easter egg in one go! She said in a way that implied absolute scandal- imagine being so greedy as to eat half an Easter egg in one go?!

All my friends giggled at the hilarity and sheer cheek of it all...except me.

This was my first year at uni and I guess I had never discussed Easter Egg eating habits with anyone outside of my family before but in my house it is absolutely acceptable, expected even, to eat a whole one in one go. Sweets and all. For breakfast. A week before Good Friday.

I had no idea people ate them in halves- or even smaller parts than that?!

I remember Happy once telling me about a friend who used to eat a Matchmaker- you know those minty sticks- a day, and make the packet last a ridiculous length of time...I was 15 and doing my work experience and marveled that anyone like that could exist.

Now, though, I am convinced that that one will day be me. One day, I will eat half a twix, wrap up the other half and save it for tomorrow. One day, I will be able to buy a box of six cherry bakewells and make them last six days. One day, I will be able to buy ice cream, take it home and put it straight in the freezer (instead of finding a spoon and digging in before the front door's even shut behind me), and leave it there until after my dinner, maybe even forgetting about it for a couple of weeks....

I am so, so certain that this will one day be me, that for the moment I don't feel so bad continuing to eat these things in bulk...I know I'll make up for it in the future.

When am I going to start being sensible with sweets? 

7. Standing Up For Myself

This is the trait that I think about the most. This is the one that I'm most excited about discovering inside myself. I have actually tried working on this one because I really do want it to become a part of me but it's not going that well just yet....

I know when I'm being taken advantage of. I know when I am being treated in a way that I do not deserve and I have enough self-confidence to know that I deserve better. When this happens, I calmly but firmly explain why this behaviour is not good enough, what needs to change for it to be acceptable and that they can try again when they've decided to have some respect. In my head.

In my head I have all the right words, the right phrases and the right tone.  In reality, my voice goes unreasonably high and shaky, my eyes leak and my mouth does this weird down-turning thing. I cry. I am a crier, always have been and it's looking as though I always will be.

I don't want to be, I really, really don't, but my body lets me down every time.

One Day I will learn to control my emotions and stand up for myself.


Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that none of these things (sadly) comes naturally to me, so I'm not sure that any of these will ever actually find their way into my life. It might be time to make peace with the fact that these- along with my life as a popstar- may never come to fruition. It's just another phase.

And I've noticed recently that as I've slipped into my One Day phase, others around me appear to have returned to the crazy phase. I'm not sure whether it did disappear for a while or whether I just stopped noticing it, but I'm seeing it more and more.

When I first arrived home from America I went to a job interview which involved sitting in a circle around a pile of plush toys. As we sat down the girls around me began to giggle "oh my goodness, I'm such a child, I just want to play with them. Aren't I mad?"

"Ha, we're terrible, aren't we?" another replied, looking down at the toys.

"Oh my goodness this is so embarrassing, but I have actually thought about buying a Woody toy from the Disney Store," a third girl added.

Um...first of all, of course you want to play with them- they're toys! That's what they're for! Haven't you ever seen dads with lego, and Grandads with train sets? We're human, we want to play with toys. Second of all, my bed has eight plush toys on it and I don't think I'm crazy at all. Stop calling yourself crazy.

I shared this story with the girls I now work with at The Lion King. They had the same reaction as me. On discussing it, one of them suggested that people exaggerate that kind of thing and refer to themselves as crazy because they want to be different. They want to be special. 

We all have our quirks, but we tend to be aware that they're weird. Whilst everyone else reaches for chips when they're drunk, I reach for banana and marmite on toast. I know it's weird, but I also know that everyone has their weird things, which makes it not that weird...does that make sense? One of my friends eats whole balls of mozzarella like apples. Another sneaks up behind people making cricket noises. My little brother pronounces the letter r weirdly behind closed doors- he doesn't have a speech impediment, he just thinks it's hilarious. Another friend makes chocolate digestives out of plain biscuits and nutella. My mum has a freakish little toe and loves Monkey World to a ridiculous level (her friends think it's hilarious that she regularly wears her MW t shirt despite the fact she doesn't work there). My brother's girlfriend drives forwards onto our drive whilst everyone else reverses. Madame Adelaide loves her cat more than I believe she could ever love a child. When Minnie Mouse moved house she had a box the same size as my case for an entire year in America labelled "Nail Stuff", and Pumbaa and her fiance slept in separate beds on their holiday rather than pushing the two singles together.

We're all so different that we can't compete with each other.

Which makes us all the same really.

So let's stop competing. Let's stop trying to be crazier, weirder, wilder, zanier. Stop trying to 'not be normal', and just be who it comes naturally to you to be- that's bound to be strange to someone.

I am surrounded by amazing people who are weird and wonderful and their own brand of normal every single day and they are so loved for what they are.

I love being normal, and now that I've made my peace with mild food and cheesy music hope to go on to embrace the slightly awkward, easily-walked-over, ketchup-and-coffee-covered, chocolate-worshipping girl that it looks like I'm stuck with until that One Day comes.

Luckily for me my wonderland is full of equally normal, real, loveable, interesting-food-eating, quirky-habit-fulfilling, funny-idea-voicing individuals for me to share my adventure with: and so is yours.

Because we're all the same. 

We're all mad here.