Monday, 10 November 2014

It's Fun To Be Free...

This year has seen the launch of #likeagirl, #HeForShe, #FreedomTo, and #TweetYourFeet, all working- alongside many others- to make equality the norm in the UK and across the world.

For those of you that have not followed these, #TweetYourFeet was Essex Police's campaign to encourage the county and beyond to Stand Together Against Domestic Violence. To remind us that men and women should be equal in relationships. There should be mutual respect, love and power in a relationship, and that's all there should be. 

#FreedomTo was this year's Pride campaign. People from all over the country and the world thought about, discussed, and tweeted what they wanted the #FreedomTo do without judgement from others, or fear of what could happen if they were just themselves. 

#likeagirl was a (brilliant, in my opinion), campaign started by Always in an attempt to show the world that no matter what steps we think we have taken against sexism, we have got so much further to go. They asked a number of teenagers and adults (male and female) to do a variety of actions like a girl. They were asked to act out throwing a ball, running and fighting like a girl. 

What would you do? 

Chances are, you would do exactly what the participants in the experiment did. You'd mime worrying about your hair, you'd make your feet fan pathetically out behind you and your hands dangle in front of you as you ran. You'd mime slapping your hands about and holding your head back in a fight, making stupid noises, and you'd pretend to try and throw the ball and drop it right in front of your feet. 

They asked girls under the age of ten to do the same thing. 

They did their best. Showed how they would run, throw, and fight. 

They asked the adults again. 

Women: Is that how you run, fight, throw? No? But you're a girl. 

Men: Do you think you might have just offended your sister?

But my sister doesn't run/throw/fight like that. Girls do. But not my sister. 

(I can hear my little brothers saying mine does right now. Cheeky monkeys. Maybe that's why I'm writing this.) 

#HeForShe was the campaign started by Emma Watson in her UN Speech. She pointed out that the word feminism has negative connotations. (I totally agree with that, and have not used it in this post yet for fear of putting you off. In my experience feminism is given a bad name by the man-hating few that unfortunately have the loudest voices. The extremists always do, why is that?) 

#HeForShe was started in an attempt to get men and women on board with making men and women equal. Not moving women up to men's level. Not getting evil men to submit to us women, but making the world equal for everyone, no matter what. 

We have quite different opinions on  equality in my house, which has got me thinking a lot lately about what it means to me. 

As most of you will know (because I never stop talking about it), I have been lucky enough to work, live, and talk with people from all over the world, and the result is that I find myself endlessly grateful for the fact that my background, race, sexuality and culture mean that equality is very rarely an issue for me. But I have seen how much of an issue it is for others and continue to see it every day. It is an issue and I am proud of the fact that Britain seems to have acknowledged and taken steps to change that in 2014. 

The one that does affect me, of course, is sexism. 

Not particularly in a deep, woe-is-me, men-are-trouble, let's-burn-our-bras, we-must-define-gender kind of way. I don't get paid less than my male peers, I'm not less likely to get a promotion in my line of work, my opinions aren't dismissed because I'm a woman, but in a general, every day sense, I guess I am affected by it. 

At the risk of sounding like Samantha Brick (remember her? The journalist who wrote about how difficult it is to be so beautiful?), I cannot walk down a street in London alone without being accosted. Just to be clear, I am totally aware that it is not because I am so breathtakingly beautiful that men immediately forget what they were doing and feel the need to sweep me off my feet, it's because all the weirdos of the world collect in London, and if they see a girl on their own without headphones in, they are going to take their chances. 

I actually don't mind this, I like talking to new people and I've met some fairly awesome strangers this way that I still talk to now. 

What I do mind is when the first question is do you have a boyfriend?, the second question is can I take you on a date then? And then when told no they don't understand why. 

"But you don't have a boyfriend. There's no excuse." I need an excuse to say no to a date with a perfect stranger? One guy continued to chase me down the street when I said no, insisting (very loudly) that we just go for a coffee, that I was boring, a spoil sport, I needed to be more adventurous in my life, that by saying no I was proving that I wanted every day in my life to be the same, that I need more spontaneity. 

Believe it or not that didn't make me want to go on a date more. 

Anyway, the point I'm making is not that all men are weird and stupid and unfair like the ones that stop endless girls in the street, but that I honestly don't believe that this happens to men walking alone in Leicester Square (feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, I am genuinely interested.) 

So why is it that men feel that they have the right to do that, and not women? (Again, I am aware that I am hugely generalising. No offence meant.) 

I have actually had a similar experience with men I already know, as well. 

I've been told that by being friends with a lad who knows I haven't got a boyfriend I am leading him on- even if I've told him that nothing will ever happen. 

But he knows you haven't got a boyfriend Rebecca. Even if you've said you're not interested, it's not fair to keep texting back when he knows you're single. 

Am I supposed to have no friends when I'm single?

 Does the same apply to men without girlfriends? 

I was recently told by the man next to me on the train that I was "clearly dressing for male attention." 

I was wearing leggings, a baggy t-shirt with a long sleeved t-shirt underneath, a scarf, boots, and a winter coat. The only skin he could see was on my hands and face, and my body shape was totally hidden by the size of the t-shirt. 

When I pointed this out, he said "exactly. You've totally hidden everything. Left it all to the imagination. Totally on purpose for men. You're clearly a tease." 

It's not the first time I've been accused of bringing it upon myself. 

By admitting I'm single, by the way that I dress (quite sensibly, by the way), by the fact that I don't wear headphones, the fact that I suffer from Resting Pleasant Face. It's all my fault. I lead men on by simply being myself. 

I found a new campaign yesterday in which women send pictures of themselves in what they were wearing when they experienced a similar encounter to the ones I've described. This is an attempt to prove that women do not bring it on themselves, and it's working. 

Lily Allen has talked this week about the fact that when she was pictured coming out of a Halloween party with Chris Martin, the world went crazy accusing her of abandoning her two children for a night out. 

Nowhere did any journalist feel the need to point out that Chris Martin also has two children that weren't with him. 

There is, however, a flip side. 

There's an episode of Friends in which Ross and Rachel hire- to Ross's great dismay- a male Nanny. When the men are horrified by this they say "but that's like a woman wanting to be a...", and they can't think of the end of the sentence, and are too scared to suggest anything and have to deal with the consequences from the women. 

Why is it that we can say that it's weird for a man to be a Nanny but God forbid anyone ever said anything similar about a woman? 

Similarly I recently read an article that explained that in relationships men are generally expected to be taller, more athletic and earn more than women. I know that this doesn't apply to every relationship in reality but it generally is expected. There's a storyline in Sex and the City in which the characters end up breaking up because Steve just cannot deal with earning less money than Miranda. That's a storyline that I genuinely believe applies to real couples all over the world. 

I've also noticed since I've been dating again that there is a general expectation from men and women that either the man will pay or the bill will be split. I have never (thank goodness) been on a date in which the man expected me to pay for the whole thing, but I have been on dates where they expect to pay for the whole thing, and definitely have friends who expect men to pay.

We had a big discussion about this when I was working as a waitress, because everyone was concerned that if you give the bill to the man, you may be implying that the woman cannot pay, and offend her. 

My thinking was- what about the poor guy?! Why is he expected to pay? Forget offending the woman by implying the man might be treating her, worry about offending the man by implying he should cover the whole thing. 

I've also noticed- primarily on television but absolutely in real life as well, that it seems far more acceptable for women to discuss famous men that they fancy than it is for men to discuss their fantasies. Obviously it does happen- especially when men are in a group together- but I've noticed that women will happily talk about how hot Bradley Cooper is and make silly remarks about what they'd like to do if they met him, and everyone laughs and agrees and it's all wonderful. 

Have you ever seen a man do that in front of a woman? Most of the time they get an eye roll and told "you wish" or even that they're coming across as leering and disgusting. 

That can actually apply to all emotions, I find. 

It's totally acceptable for women to cry over tv adverts and episodes of Downton Abbey, but it's generally not as openly okay for a man to cry. 

I can't imagine not being able to cry, or openly discuss my feelings about everything from my new job to the lyrics of Jessie Ware's new song with my friends, but we happily look down on men for doing it. 

I went on a date once in which the guy I was with teared up relaying the events of an episode of The Middle to me. Guess what? I do stuff like that all the time, and it only assured me that we were going to get along just great. But he would probably kill me if I told anyone that he did that. (This doesn't count, nobody will ever know who I'm referring to.) 

As I'm fairly sure I've made clear, I am absolutely for equality. I'm up for men being able to cry and for women to be able to walk down the street single, proud, alone, and safe. 

But I also think that we just are different. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, right? Obviously there are exceptions to every rule, but generally there are some traits that will always belong to men, and some that will always belong to women, and no amount of clever hash tag campaigns will ever change that.....

1. Friendship. 

Pumbaa was on a train next to a group of middle aged men last month when she heard the following conversation: 

"Chris can't come to football anymore, the doctor told him his arthritis is too bad in his hip, he's quite upset actually...."

*The whole group burst out laughing.*

"That's hilarious, oh mate I've got to text him telling him to get his goalie gloves out."

If that was women that conversation would have gone very differently. 

2. Interaction. 

I have always been fascinated by men and their behaviour towards each other. When I was at uni I used to occasionally go to my friend's house full of boys and just hang out with them while they got ready for a night out. One of them once frowned at me and said "why on earth would you want to just come and be here with us? You must be so bored." 

It might be the most fun thing I've ever done, I think about it quite a lot actually. Boys are hilarious when they're together. 

A few weeks ago I was working in the Grand Circle at The Lyceum when one of the boys was looking out of the window (the Lyceum is directly opposite a hotel and from the Grand Circle you can see into bedrooms. You can imagine what he was looking for.) One of the boys noticed some kind of stick on the side. I have no idea what it was for, opening high windows, maybe? He reached across from the bar and started lightly tapping it on the top of the first lad's head, not heavy enough that he was aware it was there but so that he felt a tickle and kept scratching his head. 

How do boys even think to do stuff like that to each other? 

3. Domestic Bliss. 

I discussed this at length with Minnie Mouse a few weeks ago, and what we agreed was potentially controversial so I won't go into it too much. But the fact is that- as much as I am for equality among all people: regardless of race, culture, nationality, gender, sexuality or background- nobody will ever be able to change the fact that it is women that give birth. 

Yes, women can be the sole breadwinner, they can be wonderful mums and have successful careers, some women don't want to have children and shouldn't be judged for that....but the fact that only women can have children means that men and women will never be exactly the same. Sometimes equal and exactly the same can be confused. But because it is women that give birth it will always be more likely in a lot of households that women will be the ones running the day to day life of the house. Obviously not every house is the same, and plenty of men cook and clean and look after their children, but generally it is more likely to be women that take charge of those things. 

Not with Pumbaa and Baloo. 

I was there the other day when Baloo was asked which washing powder they used. Someone interrupted, asking, "wouldn't you be better asking Pumbaa that?" 

The answer is absolutely not. Baloo is most definitely the domestic head of that household. 

When I discussed it with Pumbaa later, she said people ask her things like that now because she's just a boring wife. 

I pointed out that she clearly isn't, because she didn't know the answer. 

"Does that mean I have a boring husband?" 

No. It makes him a sexy, domesticated hero right? Mums at the school will be saying "She is so lucky. Her husband does the washing AND cooking during the week," and they'll all sigh and make some derogatory joke about their own husbands. 

Imagine that conversation happening among men? 

Me neither. 

4. Honesty. 

One of the lads who works at The Lion King told me that I've recently developed swagger. Yep, I had Cher Lloyd in my head for the rest of the day as well, sorry about that. We ended up discussing my confidence in detail and decided that I perhaps did need to keep an eye on my ego. I hadn't noticed it inflating but apparently it had. I told him something would definitely happen for it to deflate. I'd trip and fall in public, for example. That happens often enough. 

I thought a lot about my confidence that day, and considered ways of keeping it in check. 

Then I got home. 

Mowgli immediately hit the mole on my arm and shouted "got it!" with glee, as he does every time it is visible. Chip then made some comment about me needing to check a mirror, and a (male) friend called me and proceeded to make (predictable, honestly) driving test jokes (I took a lot, okay?!) 

As long as I have brothers and boy mates, I think my ego will be just fine....

5. Jokes. 

Similarly to the story above, Flounder recently told me a story about her best friend's brothers that has stayed with me because it perfectly demonstrates the difference between boys and girls. 

Her best friend was dating someone that her family suspected to be gay. A few people had mentioned it to her, as nicely as they could. 

One day she was saying something about her boyfriend and commented "that's what happens when you date an older guy I guess..." 

Her brother responded: "No, that's what happens when you date a guy who wants to be dating other guys." 


That's exactly the kind of thing my brother would say. 

A girl never would. 

6. Arguing. 

This is where I believe boys absolutely have it right. Whereas girls tend to tiptoe around being annoyed at someone, bitching behind their backs and then become quite defensive if they're accused of anything, boys' arguments tend to go like this: 

Man 1: That really annoyed me when you did that the other day. You're an idiot sometimes. 

Man 2: I know mate. Sorry about that. Beer? 

It's one of my favourite things to watch. 

Since Pumbaa sent me the text about the group of men talking about Chris, his arthritis and his goalie gloves about a month ago, I've done a lot of thinking about this and noticed a lot of differences and similarities, in adults and children. 

Whilst I totally believe that we should all have equal rights and be treated with equal respect, and am super excited about the developments that #likeagirl and #HeForShe are certain to bring about, I also believe that girls should be allowed to be girls and boys should be allowed to be boys, without any pressure to make us all the same. 

Exactly the same and equal are two different things, and I think it's important to remember that. 

Boys and girls are different, everyone is different, and we should be embracing that, learning from one another and appreciating one another for what we are. 

Minnie Mouse found out this month that she is having a bouncing baby boy. 

I want him to come into a world in which he can be himself. He can have the same rights as everybody else, he can tell his mates they're idiots, drink beer, and find himself hilarious. But he can also tear up at the BT advert, take charge of the household chores, and expect to only pay half of the Nando's bill. 

So let's continue to work for equality, and continue to remember that everyone's different. 

Let's Stand Together Against Domestic Violence; run, fight and throw like the real, strong women that we are, stand up for men and women alike, give everyone equal rights, no matter what their background, and make sure everyone has the Freedom To be themselves.

It's Fun To Be Free, and I want this gorgeous little man that's going to change my best friend's life to know exactly what that means...

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

For Now, For Always....

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

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

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

I had five weddings this year. Five. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wedding number one down. 

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

The next three weddings involved hen weekends. 

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

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

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

The hen weekend after that was for Madame Adelaide. 

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

The final hen weekend of the year was for Pumbaa.

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

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

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

1. Grandparents. 

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

A few examples: 

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

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

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

2. Other Wedding Guests. 

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

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

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

3. Fun- just because. 

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

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

What a brilliant way to spend my only days off. 

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

4. Silliness. 

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

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

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

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

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


5. Gossip. 

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

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

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

I swear I made life long friends at these things. 

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

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

1. The Moment The Bride Walks In. 

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

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

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

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

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

2. Confetti. 

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

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

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

3. The Speeches. 

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

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

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

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

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

4. The Wine. 

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

5. The Food. 

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

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

It's like a dream. 

6. The Little Things. 

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

- The Lord's Prayer: 

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

- Let It Go. 

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

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

-I Wanna Dance With Somebody. 

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

- The Groom's Nana

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

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

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

7. Thoughtful Touches. 

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

8. Dancing. 

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

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

9. My Best Friends. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The photographer asked "Is it just you four?"

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

That's more than enough for me.

For now, for always.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Baby Mine...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. 1996.

And onwards, really.

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

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

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

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

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

2. 1998.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Flounder also reminded me about playing shops. Remember that?

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

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

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

3. 2000.

Secondary School started, and my priorities changed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We made our own band as well. Obviously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I actually feel the opposite.

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The Life I Lead

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. The friends I've made. Obviously.

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

2. The friends I already had.

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

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

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

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

3. Nothing's Strange. 

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

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

Guess what?

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

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

4. Living in a tourist destination.

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. Free entertainment, inspiration and magic.

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

*Charming Frenchman.

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

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

*Entertaining train driver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Singing on the Train.

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

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

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

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


6. Everything You Could Ever Need.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. You become an unreasonably angry person.

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

3. Tourists.

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

4. The Tube.

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


5. The general smell of London.

Sometimes I can feel myself breathing in bad health. 

6. Not knowing who you can trust.

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

London is the same.

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

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

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

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

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


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

And so it goes on.

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

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

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

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Home Again...

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

"It won't be the same."

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

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

Almost everybody thought it was a mistake.

My thinking, however, was different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, John Green.

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

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

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

Obviously I didn't.

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

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

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

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

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

1. Italian People.

Italian people are the best people in the entire world.

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

Every stereotype you have ever heard about Italians is true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) Plain pasta cures any number of illnesses.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Italian food.

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

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

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

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

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

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

They don't really do that.

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

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

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

When it came out he could not believe it. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was never going to happen. 

I mentioned above that I now like wine.

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

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

It was called prosecco. 

Why did I ever leave? 

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

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

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

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

3. The other tutors.

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

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

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

Not us.

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

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

Have I gushed enough yet?

4. The Job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Apparently Italy can't cure everything.

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

5. Just Italy.

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

For my final week I was in a mountain.

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

One day they'll understand.

And now I'm back.

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

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

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

But I have changed, because adventure changes you.

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

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

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

Why is this the advice people insist on giving out?

Not me.

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