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.

Magical.

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.

IT'S JUST SO STRESSFUL.


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.

Oh.

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.

When? 

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. 



Friday, 9 May 2014

Just a little change...

Since beginning my job in London six weeks ago sleeping in my own bed has become an increasingly rare occurrence. Between tube strikes, dodgy train times, Chip moving to Magaluf (and therefore being unable to drive me anywhere) and the other members of my family having their own social lives, I have found getting home from work safely every night of the week to be impossible.

It's a nightmare.

I now carry a bag of underwear, makeup remover, toothbrush, toothpaste, pyjamas and deodorant with me all the time, and have paid Boots an absolute fortune in replacement makeup as I continue to leave it at various homes and hotels in and around London.

Whilst this has been a huge pain- and it has- I am a very independent person and hate having to rely on others and be a nuisance to them, particularly when there is not much I can do to help them in return- it has become something of an adventure.

Each one of these adventures has led me to think about change...change in my own life, change in other people, and change in the world in general....

1. Hudson Hornet

Thanks to a combination of the events listed above, this time last week I found myself knocking on the front door of a very old friend. Hudson Hornet was my boyfriend between the ages of sixteen and nineteen and, although it was an easy, happy, friendly break up, until the tube strikes brought my life to a halt last Tuesday we had not seen each other in almost six years.

It was surreal.

Not because it was weird, or because we felt like strangers, or like we were still a couple. We didn't slip back into our old ways or struggle to find things to talk about.

It was surreal because it was like no time had passed at all- but we were suddenly grown ups.

And we've changed.

I didn't realise I had changed. In fact, I would go as far as to say I almost prided myself on the fact that I haven't changed.

I don't think I've changed hugely. My manner and nature and general personality haven't particularly changed since I was about 2 really.

But little parts of me that matter more than I had ever considered are different from when I was 19, and sitting there, on Hudson Hornet's sofa at 2am on a Tuesday almost six years on from when we had last seen each other, those tiny changes became more apparent than ever.

I should have known.

I actually was given a huge hint that those little things had changed last year when I was in America- and the suggestion did throw me at the time before I brushed it aside and didn't give it another thought.

I was always Monica from Friends.

Always.

From when I was about 14 I was compared to her.

I was bossy, insanely tidy, compulsively organised, slightly controlling, amazingly self disciplined and had a ridiculous amount of energy at all times.

Then last year we were discussing which Friends character each person in the group was and someone casually commented 'Rebecca's obviously Rachel', before everyone murmured in agreement as though it was so obvious it didn't need discussing and moved on to the next person.

When did I become Rachel?

I mentioned it to my mum as a weird thing for everyone to say then moved on and didn't really think about it again.

Until I was sitting on Hudson's sofa.

He asked me what time I started work on Wednesday morning.

"Mm well I thought I started at 11 but thinking about it nobody ever starts at 11...must be 11.15 or 11.30 maybe. It's written in my diary but I'm not sure which of my bags it's in...I'll check in a minute..."

Hudson looked at me open-mouthed and shook his head, before muttering "well you've still got a diary, I suppose that's something..."

I should probably mention that in the six years we've been apart Hudson has earned a degree and built himself an extremely successful career in banking and is now living in a very posh flat in a trendy area of London and offered to 'leave the keys with the concierge' if I needed to get in during the day.

All of which perhaps magnified the lack of organisation and order in my life.

He asked me what I do when I get to work so early.

I sit in coffee shops and write.

"Oh no you're one of those." 

"One of what?" I brushed my wavy-because-I-slept-in-plaits hair out of my eyes and looked at him indignantly.

Suddenly I felt like another of Jennifer Aniston's characters- the one in Along Came Polly. 

He caught me up on six years of building a steady, successful life in London and I told him about my six years of bouncing around the planet; of my adventures around the world.

He said things like "It's a bank holiday in most of Europe tomorrow so I'm manning ten desks on my own. Nightmare!" whilst I nodded knowingly and shared my own nightmare stories like "I was massively held up today because the elephant's trunk broke so I chatted to its leg while Zazu decided which merchandise he would buy if he were a guest."

I shook my head in amazement. Why was the seventeen year old boy that answered to the wrong name to my Grandad for two and a half years because he was too scared to correct him manning desks for banks across Europe?

He looked at me with equal confusion.

Why was the girl who had named her children by the age of seven and treated her degree like it would change the universe wandering around the world's coffee shops writing?

How are we both almost 25 and how have we changed so much? 

Overall Hudson, like me, hadn't changed at all. He still had the same manner, nature and general personality and yet...he was so different. We were so different.

2.Madame Adelaide and Pumbaa

After two nights at Hudson's my next adventure was to be to stay at Madame Adelaide's with Pumbaa.

It started, as most hilarious nights do, in a most sophisticated and sensible manner.

Pumbaa picked me up from mine and we spent the entire journey discussing a combination of weddings and a certain very entertaining friend I have, then arrived at Madame Adelaide's absolutely beautiful home for pizza and wine.

We talked, laughed, reminisced and planned until it was finally time to book the taxi and make my first foray into the real Essex.

Sugar Hut.

What. A. Treat.

I actually had a fab time but I think perhaps that had more to do with the company than the hordes of suited and booted men crowding around us and attempting to rap the words to Baby Got Back.

Apart from being reminded that I have the most beautiful, funny and entertaining best friends in the entire world, my night in Sugar Hut also reminded me that some things never change. It did this by reminding me of two core facts that are unlikely ever to change in my lifetime....

a) Drunk men are terrifying and hilarious in equal measure.

They display things about themselves (like the fact that they know every word to the rap in Waterfalls by TLC) that they would never dream of admitting without a few jagerbombs. And they look proud of it.

Drink also seems to give them the idea that they are invincible when it comes to girls.

They could approach any girl, with any line, and if that girl is not immediately falling at their feet there must be something wrong with her. 

The first lad came over with a Flynn-Ryder style half grin on his face, clearly prepared to bring out the charm and watch me swoon. When I didn't react to his very impressive rapping along to Hotel Room Service he shouted in my ear that I 'must have a boyfriend.'

As it happens I do, but I don't think that Dale has taken away my ability to appreciate a man who decided to wear a wedding suit to a club and rap in my face.

I don't think I had that ability in the first place. 

The second lad was so sure that Pumbaa was definitely interested in him- despite the engagement ring, and the fact that she, and then Madame Adelaide, and then I had all told him she wasn't, that he proceeded to half hover over her shoulder for the entirety of the night.

The third lad has actually won me a dare.

Years ago, I was sitting with my friend Timon (who I sincerely hope is reading this) making a make-believe list of qualities the man I would marry would have, when I said 'he's going to be tall.'

At this, Timon burst out laughing and replied 'I dare you to find a man shorter than you. There aren't any.'

Timon, it took me six years, but I've found him. And I believe he's interested.

Because on Friday night he came up to me, gestured for me to bend down so that I could hear him (yes, he was that short) and said seductively in my ear 'I'm Matt, how old are you?'

I wish, really wish with all my heart, that I could tell you that I replied 'I'm Rebecca, how tall are you?'

But I didn't think of it quick enough.

I am aware that I sound very much like a moaning feminist here and that my little brother would be outraged if he read it back. But that's not how I mean it.

As I was standing there in the club surrounded by these classic nightclub idiots, I realised that I had been here a million times before. All the way through uni, the nights out in Italy, the random odd nights out I've had when I've been back in Essex, the nights out I had in America....nothing's changed. The next morning I shared these stories with my mum and she told her own stories of the same thing happening when she was my age. I expect my Grandma has stories of stupid men making ridiculous decisions when she was my age.

Having spent the past few months moving countries, houses and jobs; preparing to move houses again soon, preparing for my friends to all be married by the middle of October, preparing to settle in Essex for the first time since 2007, I found it strangely reassuring that some formulas can't be messed with. Which leads me to....

b) The second thing I learnt- well I didn't exactly learn. I was already perfectly aware but it was a nice reminder such as I have not had since our trip to Dublin in 2010: Pumbaa is also terrifying and hilarious in equal measure when she's drunk.

I won't bore you with everything she did but my absolute favourite moment of the night- potentially my favourite Pumbaa moment ever: was when we asked whether she needed to text her fiance to let him know she was safe and sound back at Madame Adelaide's.

"Yes. I need to make sure all of the radio producers in Essex get drunk."

"Um...sorry Pumbaa?"

"All of the radio producers in Essex need to get drunk."

"Okay. Pumbaa, why do all the radio producers in Essex need to get drunk?"

"I don't know, who said that?"

"Umm...you did..."

"Did I? When?"

Madame Adelaide and I caught eyes and stifled giggles and laughed hysterically regaling this story to Pumbaa the next morning.

At this point I looked at the two of them and felt the total opposite of what I had felt at Hudson's.

How are we all almost 25 and how have we managed to not change at all?

3. Tigger

Later in the week Tigger came down from Banbury and out with me and my friends from work before the two of us stayed in a hotel in London together.

When we were still in America there were a few suggestions from people that it's never the same when you meet your friends from abroad back in the UK. I have never found this when I've met up with friends from jobs abroad before but perhaps it's because I never expected it to be exactly the same.

It's a bit like when you're in Primary School and you have your friends round to play...do you remember that? It never feels the same talking to them when it's just two or three of you in your own house as it does when you see them in the full classroom in school.

Anyway. A year is the longest I've spent in one place away from home so I did wonder whether this might be the time that everything feels different.

But I spent a lot of time on my own with Tigger in Disney. In parks, resorts, restaurants, supermarkets, housing and on buses...and it was always the same. So there was no reason for this to be any different.

And it wasn't.

We had already Skyped for almost two hours earlier in the week and still managed to have a million things to tell one another in London.

How did we even manage two months apart? Nothing's changed. 

4. Jiminy Cricket and Rex.

The next night was spent with one of my favourite couples ever (I came up with their aliases separately and am aware that they are slightly strange together. Just go with it.).

I came out of the station, saw them sitting in their red fiesta ready to pick me up and felt as though I had been whizzed forward in time to experience a day in the life of their daughter.

I hopped in the back and they told me that they had originally thought that the girl waiting at the bus stop was me because she looked like she might be wearing a Lion King costume.

She was in fancy dress.

(I did have a brief moment of wishing the merchandise cast members were allowed to dress up lions...I might suggest it....)

They drove me back to their gorgeous house in Rayleigh and I had another rush of realisation similar to the one I had had whilst staying at Hudson's.

Jiminy Cricket had become Monica from Friends. For some reason when we discussed it at college she always came out as Julie (perhaps because Rex always came out as Ross), but now she was so clearly Monica.

I went through the front door and sat on the sofa where Jiminy almost immediately brought me a glass of water and explained that she had set up two of the guest bedrooms so I had the choice of the comfier bed or the double bed. I feel I should also tell you that Rex brought me a cup of tea in the morning just as my alarm went off. Just like staying at Monica's. 

As with Hudson, Madame Adelaide and Pumbaa, we laughed, chatted, reminisced and planned, swapping stories and catching up, leaving me feeling both impressed and proud at having such wonderful friends, mixed with a pang of when-did-they-grow-up-and-leave-me-behind?

I told Rex and Jiminy about staying with Hudson and about how the ways I've changed had become so apparent when I was with him.

Rex suggested that perhaps it isn't me that's changed; but everyone else. He said that he quite often thinks that I never change; that he was certain I never have, it must be something else.

I thought about this over the next few days. I definitely have changed: those little things about me are different. I've become Rachel.

But I do think Rex might have a point.

I think perhaps it isn't that I've changed, as such, but more likely that I have accepted what I am and am happy to just be....this.

Maybe I've always been Rachel.

I think perhaps I always thought I should be organised and bossy and self-disciplined and so tried my absolute best to be but actually...I'm not. And that's okay.

I had an amazing time on my night out with Tigger but there came a point when I thought: that's enough. I want my bed and a hot chocolate now.

So that's what we did.

We left. And when everyone called us boring and told us to stay, we said, Miranda-style: No thanks. It's hot drink and duvet time for us.

How am I almost 25 and when did I become so willing to admit that I'd rather be snuggled up with a warm beverage for a chat with a friend than throwing some drunken shapes to Beyonce? 

5. Facebook.

The final realisation in my acceptance of change came in the form of those ridiculous '25 things about me' posts that were the height of fashion in 2008.

2008 was the year that I last saw Hudson. The year that I apparently began to change.

That year I was nominated (or whatever the word was back then) by Pumbaa to write down 25 little known things about myself and post them in my 'notes' section on Facebook.

I recently found them and was hugely surprised to find:

21. I want to work in Disneyland, Italy, Greece and Spain when I finish my degree. 

So maybe even the ultra-organised, named-all-her-children-already, self-disciplined, determined-to-be-successful 19 year old that said goodbye to Hudson in 2008 would have been delighted to find this 25 year old version of her sitting on his sofa six years later; flyaway hair, unorthodox life and all. 

Then. Just as I thought I had thought this one to death and it was time to move on, I got sick. And had all the time in the world to analyse life and all its mysteries. 

So to while away the time I decided to start watching Friends from the beginning, and discovered something I cannot believe I had never discovered before. 

The whole basis for the first series of my favourite tv programme of all time is that all six of the characters are going through a quarter life crisis. 

There's a moment in which Monica tells Rachel that everything 'just will work out', and Rachel says 'but what if it doesn't?' This is the thought that has been going round and round in my head ever since my crisis started back in March. 

But the magical thing about being a Friends fan in 2014 is that we know that everything works out in the end. 

So maybe when I see Hudson again in 2020 I'll still be finding my way like Rachel. Maybe I'll be a happily married, working mum like Monica. Or maybe I'll keep going with this hippy thing I seem to have going on right now and I'll be a full blown Phoebe. 

What I do know is that as much as I might worry that I've changed, as much as I might stress that I'm going to change- or that I'm not- and as much as I might go on about not knowing what's going to happen next, I know that one day I will look back on these young, free, unpredictable days with a huge amount of nostalgia- perhaps with Hudson, Pumbaa, Madame, Tigger, Rex and Jiminy sitting on my sofa though ;) 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Someday...

It was 1am on a random Wednesday in April 2003. Tears were streaming down my face, my hair was sticking out at all angles where my frustrated hands had raked through it far too many times. My mum's sleepy eyes looked across the kitchen table at me with a mixture of sympathy and despair.

I was 13 and attempting to make a life changing decision.

What options was I going to take for GCSE?

I didn't have a clue what I wanted to be when I grew up. I knew I wanted to be a kid's rep for a summer and to work for Disney one day, but unfortunately my school didn't offer a 'work in the sunshine' qualification, so I was stumped.

What if I made a decision then in five years found that I couldn't do my dream job because of the options I'd chosen when I was 13? That's a lot of pressure for a child. Pressure from adults who thought they knew best.

What I'm leading up to here is a confession.

My name is Rebecca and I am having a Quarter Life Crisis. (I would like to thank Sleepy for putting a name  to what I am going through right now. It suggests that I am not the first to go through it and I can't tell you what a relief that is.)

I am 24 years and 11 months old. It's 11 years since I sat at that kitchen table crying because I couldn't decide what I wanted to be when I grow up. I have not, I am pleased to tell you, found myself back at that table in tears just yet.

Instead I have found myself reaching for a pen and notepad to write all of this down to make sense of it.

Because right now I feel exactly the same as I did in 2003.

I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

And there's pressure- well-intended pressure- maybe even unintended pressure, coming from adults all around me to decide.

I am aware that a lot of that pressure is coming from me. The majority of these adults are just making conversation with me- asking me what I want to do next and making casual throw-away comments that they don't realise I will internalise and continue to repeat over and over in my head.

A family friend recently told me that she didn't think her daughter would ever have children because 'she's already 28 and hasn't got pregnant yet.' Oh. No children for me either then?

A man on the train was telling two fourteen year old girls that they need to have decided what they want to be when they grow up by the end of this year otherwise they are guaranteed to be failures.

(I should explain that he followed this by serenading the entire carriage with Why Do Fools Fall In Love?  before declaring in his strong London accent that he'd got on this train by accident- he didn't live here at all, but in Phoenix, Arizona. He then gave his business card to the 14 year olds, suggesting they called him for work experience, and stumbled off at Shenfield muttering something about being in the dog house. So maybe he wasn't the most reliable source for life advice but it bothered me all the same.)

Somebody else told me that there comes a time when you have to stop prancing about having fun, and take some responsibility for your life- start considering other people and the future.

Other people are so certain that I'm going to be a success that I'm overwhelmed with the need to discover exactly how I'm going to manage that.

Then there's the look I get when I explain that I want to be a writer but I'm working in a theatre just now.

You know when that woman walks on stage during the early rounds of the X Factor? She normally works as a dinner lady at her local school but has swapped her dreary tabard for a white skirt that is far higher than socially acceptable for a lady born in the late 50s, paired with a bright red top featuring one too many sparkling diamantes. Her hair is platinum blonde with super sexy dark roots, and she toddles onto the stage in white, diamante-clad heels she can't walk like an adult in, declaring that she truly believes that she is 'the next Whitney'.

You know when she's finished the weird, high screeching noises that made up her cover of Mariah Carey's Hero, and she still insists that she could win and go on to be the Next Big Thing?

Still with me?

Fab.

You know that look that the judges all give her? You probably do it at your TV screen too.

That's the look I get when I say I want to be a writer but I'm working in theatre just now.

And it's soul destroying.

In that single look all of the faith and confidence that my nearest and dearest have instilled in me suddenly has a question mark hanging over it.

Maybe I can't do this?

The truth is that I have never had any plans to solely be a writer. I want to be lots of things. I want to have a career and write, and be a mum and a wife and a sister and a daughter and a granddaughter and a best friend, and to do all of these to the best of my ability.

But nobody ever asks about those other things. People want to know what you're doing with your life. And by doing they mean being paid to do.

And maybe because I've just returned to Essex for what's looking likely to be a substantial amount of time for the first time in a long time, people are particularly interested in what I'm going to do.

But I don't know.

I don't know whether I want to stay in the UK for the foreseeable future. If I do, I need to grow up.

But I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.

I've thought about being a midwife, or a speech therapist, or a researcher, or a psychologist, or a guest service expert, or a travel agent, or a teacher....but I still feel like that 14 year old, looking at these jobs blankly as though they might be for me in ten years but not yet. I'm far too young.

Aren't I?

But my three best friends have it together more than anyone else I know. They all have beautiful houses, wonderful fianc├ęs, glamorous wedding plans and high flying careers. They go on holidays, to shows and concerts, parties and clubs, can always make family occasions and make all the weekend plans that they can fit in because they know that they will never be working on a Saturday.

On the other hand, I'm currently working in a theatre with performers. Performers who have spent their lives studying, working towards and building up to the career that they're in now. They're all headed toward big things and are excited for them to happen. They miss family occasions, can never make plans at the weekend because they probably will be working, and have to book anything that involves tickets at the last minute because they never know where they'll be more than a couple of months in advance.

Then there's me.

Somewhere in between.

Possibly ready for the settled routine life (?) but with no idea where to start. Enjoying the random, unpredictable scene but not heading in any particular direction.

In my attempts to make sense of my Quarter Life Crisis I have talked to anyone and everyone who will listen, and have found some interesting answers in the minds and lives of those around me...

1. Don't listen to everyone.

Firstly I talked to my best friends. Who revealed something so unexpected that I did that annoying thing on the train and made a noise at my own phone (very irritating in other people but actually unavoidable if you get a juicy text on public transport.)

They get told that they are too young to have it this together. For every 'Ooh but you should settle soon, biological clock and all that', that I get, my wonderfully together friends get 'you're far too young to be settling, you've got years in you before you need to worry about that.'

I know I shouldn't be happy that my friends get a hard time too, but I felt so much better after this conversation. It put all my worrying into perspective and reminded me that people just want to have their say: chances are it's the same people that are telling me to hurry up that would just as soon tell me to slow down. People just talk. They like the sounds of their own voices. They like to envision themselves as wise. They aren't necessarily.

2. Stop taking everything so seriously!

Then I talked to a lad at work. Who, when I poured my heart out to him about all the pressure I feel, and about this whole Quarter Life Crisis disaster, said 'sounds to me like you've got Peter Pan Syndrome.'

Suddenly it doesn't seem like such a big problem anymore.

3. Be Yourself.

I always think I'm very good at being happy. I'm happy 99.9% of the time and am rarely seen to be in a bad mood. So normally when I read those online quotes or Buzzfeed entries about how to be happy I nod smugly, roll my eyes at how obvious they are and continue with my day. But today as I was writing this post, the following quote popped up, as though to remind me who I really am and how I normally think:

The secret of being happy is accepting where you are in life and making the most out of every day.

I have always, and still always, see the magic in everything. I see magic on my journey to and from work, I see infinite amounts of it during work and am lucky enough to experience it every time I see any member of my family or my friends.

But recently I have uncharacteristically taken my eye off of the present and directed it toward the future, mounting an unreasonable amount of pressure on myself.

Last time I found myself worrying about the future so much was when I chose my Options at age 13.

I now know, of course, that it didn't matter in the slightest. The only real difference I imagine it made to my life was that because I chose Food Technology I was forced to work with Cruella Devil- the Regina George of my school who set out (wearing more makeup than the entire cast of TOWIE combined and fashioning unfathomably red hair) to make every nice girl's life miserable.

With fourteen year old me- you may be surprised to know- she came up against an unlikely barrier.

When she came over to my cosy corner of the classroom I imagine she planned on briefly embarrassing me then returning to her cronies to have a good laugh about it. What happened was that I politely (because I never would have broken a rule in school and I rarely get angry enough to forget my manners) shocked everyone (not least myself) by telling her where to go.

I can't remember exactly what happened, but what I do remember is being overwhelmed with adrenaline, seeing a flash of red, then watching as everyone's shocked eyes moved from me to her as she skulked back to her own table, confused, no doubt, as to what had just happened.

Cruella did, of course, proceed to attempt to continue to make my life hell for the next couple of weeks before she got bored of watching me and my relatively quiet, unassuming friends stand up for ourselves, and moved on.

What if I had taken History instead?

History had been my first choice- the subject I wanted to take more than Food- but because of a flaw in the system (which they decided to fix the following year) I had to take my second choice. If I had taken History, would it have changed the entire course of my life? Would I now be an archaeologist,  fulfilling a passion for studies of the past until my heart's content?

Probably not.

But I also probably would not have had a run in with Cruella, and would not have discovered on that day of that year that I possessed this fierce ability to stand up for myself.

That, actually, was probably a far more important lesson for me to have learned to prepare for me for adulthood than the order in which Henry VIII married and disposed of his wives.

So maybe this is where I'm supposed to be right now. Maybe I'm learning far more important lessons bouncing through life somewhat haphazardly than I would be in a sensible, straight-laced profession. Maybe I'm meeting the people who are shaping me into the person that I need to be to be a success. Maybe I was destined not to be a huge success, not to change the world, but just to be happy. Which I am.

As I was mentally writing this post on my way home from work two nights ago, I walked off of my Central Line train and stepped onto an escalator, watching a man setting up to sing as I did so. As I decided on the last few words I would use when writing this, he broke into a song that made me change my mind.

He started singing Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.

Turns out I was right. I was where I was meant to be :)

Sunday, 23 March 2014

At The Age of Not Believing...

A few nights ago I was sitting around my kitchen table with two cups of tea, a mug of hot water with lemon and two of my best friends. We spent the entire evening laughing as we caught up on thirteen whole months worth of stories, adventures, escapades and mishaps.

We had been sitting there for about an hour when Pumbaa started discussing the absolute nightmare she'd had with finding a wedding venue that doesn't insist upon seat covers. She is strongly opposed to seat covers and couldn't possibly have them at her own wedding.

Madame Adelaide joined in. She also has issues with seat covers but didn't have too much hassle when organising her wedding because it's such an intimate event.

They both nodded in agreement over the top of their steaming mugs of tea and turned to me for my opinion.

Um.

Am I supposed to have an opinion on seat covers?

It was then that it hit me.

I am a grown up.

And yes, I am expected to have an opinion on seat covers. And on the missing aeroplane. And on house locations, the education system, and whether or not Oscar Pistorius is guilty.

(I have been asked my opinion on every single one of the topics mentioned above in the last two weeks and have gazed stupidly at the person mistakenly speaking to me like an adult and changed the subject to something Disney related. For that I do apologise.)

It seems like only yesterday that my ideal night consisted of drinking too many vodka and cokes, having a deep discussion with Pumbaa about how unfair it was that every gorgeous lad we met looked straight through me to get to her, and crying to her dad that 'I'm a minger' before serenading him with Beverley Craven's biggest (and only?) hit when he picked us up at 3am. Now it involves too many hot water and lemons, having a deep discussion with Pumbaa about how unfair it was that they insisted she have seat covers, and swiftly changing the subject to dresses before waving her off at around 11pm.

I am not complaining about this change at all- I would genuinely far rather the second night (which is maybe what worries me). What I would like to know is....when did this happen?

Was it happening in the years leading up to my Disney adventure, and I was too busy playing abroad to notice? Or is there a big jump between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-four that nobody warned me about?

What I do know is that a lot of things have happened to draw my attention to my new grown-up status in the last two weeks...

1. Mowgli and Chip.

In the weeks leading up to my departure from Walt Disney World, most of my guests asked me what I was most looking forward to getting home to.

My absolute, unequivocal answer every time was Mowgli and Chip. My two baby brothers.

Within around fifteen minutes of us all being in the same room again my mum wanted a photo to mark the occasion. So we had the photo taken and I immediately posted it online.

It got a lot of attention.

And it wasn't until I went back to look at the notifications that I saw it through the eyes of the rest of the world.

My baby brothers aren't babies. They're men. Actual men.

My mum also posted the picture and somebody made a comment about 'the eldest.' None of us know who she was referring to, because I think you would have a job guessing which one of us is the eldest. It isn't obvious anymore.

This was then confirmed a few days later when the three of us went to a Christening and somebody commented that 'Mowgli must be the eldest, then Rebecca, then Chip.' Guess again.

Actually throughout the whole Christening I did have to remind myself that we're adults now. I don't know whether you find this with your siblings but whenever I'm with my brothers (perhaps because this whole grown up thing seems to have crept up on me a bit) I revert back to being an eight year old. Which means that observing me at the Christening probably would have been much like watching Elf.

I still marvel when Mowgli gives someone directions or Chip starts expressing his theories on the American government. Even going to the Christening in the car with just my two brothers threw me a little bit. When did we get old enough to do that? 

I always had a theory when I was little that once we were eighteen, sixteen and thirteen we would be a real, adult family. When that didn't happen I guess I assumed it never would. And now somehow, totally out of the blue, it has.

But then Mowgli will jump out from behind the kitchen counter to make me jump and hide the pasta sauce that I was about to use and all will feel right with the world again.

2. Zzzzz

This story is not actually mine, it's Pumbaa's, but it's wonderful and demonstrates exactly what I'm trying to explain: that my friends and I have suddenly grown up.

Pumbaa, one of my best friends and favourite people in the entire world, was in a meeting in which her team were attempting to come up with a name for a product targeted at young people. One of the suggestions involved using the word 'beats'. Upon this suggestion, Pumbaa's reaction was:

Ooh, yes! Beatz with a z?

At which point someone had to explain to her that the letter z does not make things cool.

She was also later told that her work location would no longer be taking her opinion into account regarding products targeted at 'young people' because she's now 25 and therefore outside of that bracket.

When did we stop being young?

3. Flights.

On a similar note, I was recently discussing holiday plans with Dale for later this year. When I commented that we would need to take into consideration the cost of the flights, he casually responded:

Yep you need to remember that you won't get a young persons discount after May so fill your boots.

I hadn't even thought of that.

4. Sport Relief.

On Friday night I snuggled up on the sofa with a hot chocolate and a cherry bakewell (welcome back to England, indeed) to watch Sport Relief with my dad. When the charity version of Greatest Day came on I was listening but was also in a battle with my new phone, so wasn't paying a huge amount of attention to the tv screen. Part way through my dad asked:

Who's that girl with the red hair, Rebecca?

Here we go, I thought. It's nice to be asked a question you'll definitely know the answer to. Like when family friends suggest a board game at Christmas then pull out the Friends quiz game. Or when an episode of Catchphrase comes on that you've already seen (that's never actually happened to me but it happened to Mowgli once and he loved impressing us all the way through then admitted the truth at the end).

Dad rewound it.

I didn't know who the girl with the red hair was.

Or the girl with the black hair.

In fact, I didn't know anyone until Baby Spice appeared.

Then I realised. I also don't know who number one is right now.

I don't even know who presents the top 40 anymore.

I am turning into my parents far too quickly.


5. Ringtone. 

I was in the car with Pumbaa on my way home from my first Nando's in over a year (what a treat), when her phone started ringing.

Is that your phone Pumbaa? Would you like me to answer it?

She looked at me and burst out laughing.

When she finally had enough breath to do so, she told me that no, it wasn't her phone.

It was part of the song.


6. Since I've been home I've had two brand new but fairly important characters introduced into my life. Both of them have asked me how old Dale is. And both of them (much to my disappointment) have had the same reaction.

Dale is almost 27.

Which I think is outrageously old. When did I get old enough to have a 27 year old boyfriend?!

Is that the reaction that these two new characters had?

No. To my absolute horror both of them replied:

Ah so not much of an age gap at all then. That's nice.

7. Having moved back to the UK with a lot of new items it has taken a lot of organising in my bedroom over the past two weeks to get everything sorted. Whilst sorting through my things for what felt like the one hundredth time I found the photo album that Pumbaa (who, I assure you, is not my only friend despite more mentions in this post than is socially acceptable) made me for my eighteenth birthday of the previous two years.

I made a lot of fashion faux pas (particularly in the hair department) and had a very round face between 2005 and 2007.

I had blonde hair.

If you take nothing else away from reading this post today, please take this: never, ever let me have blonde hair again. It clashes with my skin. And my eyebrows. And my eyelashes.

Whilst I can fully believe that I ever made fashion mistakes, what I cannot get my head around is that I'm cringing at pictures of 2006.

Hasn't 2006 only just finished?

No, it hasn't. Those pictures are eight years old. It is eight whole years since I turned seventeen. It is perfectly normal to look back at pictures from eight years ago and wonder what on earth you were thinking.

I am so old.


8. Children.

I cannot believe that I am now at an age that I can look at fifteen year olds and think (but only think- because I think you need grandchildren before you're old enough to say it out loud):

It feels like only yesterday that I was reading The Gruffalo to you and tucking your little three old self into bed at 7pm.

How are you an adult discussing studying midwifery?

9. Weddings.

As those of you who know me well will know, I have five best friends here in Essex. I am aware that I sound like a six year old saying I have five best friends, but I'm sure you know what I mean. Absolute, true friends that I know will be friends for life and that I would call at 3am without hesitating if I needed them.

Every single one of them is getting married this year.

There was a time when I knew the odd couples getting married and everyone would say 'well they are very young.'

That doesn't happen anymore.

My friends have houses, mortgages, husbands, in-laws and seat-cover-issues, and that's perfectly acceptable. Expected, even.

They are grown-ups.


And apparently, so am I.

And I'm quite excited about it.

It means I have three weddings left to attend, three hen celebrations and three new pairs of shoes to buy. It means that I have an excuse to stay in the UK for at least  the next seven months, a group of fifteen year olds to discuss the teen book that I am about to attempt writing, and plenty of funny stories to tell. It means I can get cheaper insurance, rent a car for half the price and go speed dating (I won't, but it's nice to know the option's there). It means that I can seriously begin to think about what I want to do with my life and start to put it into action without the guilt of 'settling too young.'

Over the next two days I have three job interviews; jobs that are in the UK, that require me to either have a driving licence or a yearly train ticket, and that involve paying vast amounts of tax. It's a small step toward being a grown up but it's the most significant step I have ever taken in that direction.

(Just to give you an idea of how small a step it is that I'm taking, I think you should know that one requires me to take Lego with me, one involves a certain mouse, and one involves a Castle.)

I know myself well enough to know that I will never lose my sense of magic, wonder, or fun (if you have any doubt about an adult managing to maintain that may I direct you to my mum), which means that by stepping into this new, grown-up world, there will only be things to be gained.

Over the past seven years I have watched as my gorgeous, teen best friends have got amazing jobs, worked their way up steep ladders admirably, organised complicated mortgages, bought wonderful houses, fallen in love, been on once-in-a-lifetime holidays, had film-romantic proposals, planned their dream weddings, and become beautiful, strong, funny women.

Maybe this grown-up world has its own magic after all?

Of course it does.

I'm not saying in any way that I'm ready to do all of those things right now. I might find that in November I'm ready for another not-quite-grown-up adventure. Or I might not.

Either way, when the time is right, whenever that may be, I know that it will be a whole new adventure in itself; and will be just as magical and exciting as every other adventure I've ever had.

Just as long as I don't have to deal with seat covers.