Friday, 26 August 2016

Let It Go

Some of my friends and family appear to fly through life, light as air, happy as a clam, with seemingly no concerns at all, and I am fascinated by this. Of course they do have worries, they're adults like the rest of us, so what is it that they do to seem so unencumbered by adulthood and all it brings with it?

I've done a little bit of unofficial research to work it out, and the answer seems to be this: they have the power over those cheeky little voices in their head.

Please bear with me on this one. I've mentioned this (slightly nervously at first) to a few people, and they have all agreed that they also have voices in their own heads that speak up in quite similar ways to mine, and that it's those voices that are quite often holding them back.

See if you recognise any of them...

1) The Voice of Cringes Past

This little voice can make an appearance at any moment, and will often pop up in my life when I'm either having a quiet moment- like driving alone or exercising- or when I'm nervous or lacking confidence.

It normally starts 'hey, remember when you...?' and goes on to list unbearably cringeworthy things that you said or did, spanning as widely as something you regret from when you were seven years old all the way up to something as recently as five minutes ago.

Ughhh if only you could undo those things. If only you could replay them so many times that you could become desensitised to them and stop wanting to curl up in a corner eating peanut butter cups and avoiding human beings for the rest of time.

You can't.

But it might reassure you to know that only the other day somebody told me that she regularly replays something she once said to me and every time convinces herself that she can never face me again. HONESTLY it's something that I didn't think anything of at the time and that hasn't crossed my mind again since. And I'm not the most easygoing person. So maybe most people have forgotten about the things I still tear myself apart about. And maybe nobody even thought anything of them at the time.

It may also reassure you to know that when I was tentatively broaching the subject of The Voice of Cringes Past with one of the most confident, outgoing people I know last week, his reaction was 'I thought that was just me! I do that all the time. Sometimes it'll be things I said years ago and it'll randomly pop into my head and make me think why did I say that?'

So it's not just us. It's everyone.

Well, almost everyone.

2) The Voice of Shocking and Unnecessary Mean Thoughts

This one may be more difficult to admit to. But it's there.

It actually doesn't make an appearance very often at all, but every now and then it does and it's brutal. 

A few weeks ago I popped into the Post Office to pick up a package. The lady who served me was a dream. She smiled as I walked in, was polite when she asked me for my ID, and efficient when she collected my package for me from what I call backstage. And yet as she asked me to sign the form to confirm that I had received my package, The Voice of Shocking and Unnecessary Mean Thoughts made an appearance.

Gosh, she's got surprisingly fat fingers. 

It said, totally unnecessarily and really nastily. Where did that come from? I am a kind, and thoughtful, and positive person.

Sometimes, it even comes dangerously close to the surface, and I find myself hugely thankful that it didn't quite come out of my mouth. Someone was once saying to me that they thought they were an excellent communicator, and the evil voice popped up inside my head: 'do you really?' with a raised eyebrow. I honestly had to take a moment to realise that it hadn't come out of my mouth. Thank goodness.


3) The Voice of Self Doubt

I heard recently that an overwhelming percentage of people, and in particular, women, feel that they are 'pretending' at their job and just waiting to be caught out as not really being capable of doing what they're paid for.

You are not alone if you relate to this.


4) The Voice of World Issues

As I'm sure you're aware by now, I'm a worrier. Along with being a worrier, I'm passionate, opinionated, and empathetic. A potentially unhealthy combination, in that it means I get unreasonably angry about things happening elsewhere in the world, something that my boyfriend does not understand at all.

Whilst the voice in my head is riling me up and leaving me frustrated at the state of the world and the fact that there's very little I can do about it, Dale is calm and serene as always.

"But you  being angry about something that someone posted on Facebook in Japan isn't going to change that they did post it and that it's caused what it's caused. It's nothing to do with you. Let it go."

He's right, of course.

I voiced this to a few people who told me that I should never change. It's anger that sparks action. If you just let it go then you could argue that you're a part of the problem. It shows you're human. It shows that you care.

But the more I think about it, and the more I consider Dale's words every time I get angry, the more I think it might be better for my mental health to follow his advice.

What I don't think I will ever be able to change is being upset about the world. Anger I can work on, but empathy is far harder to tackle and therefore so is sadness.

I try my best. I try to recycle, to eat and shop in a moral way, to donate to charity.

 But it doesn't matter how much you do, there's always something more you could be doing. And that bothers me far more than it should.

Do your best, then let it go. That appears to be the advice from the happy and the wise. Easier said than done, I know.

5) The Voice of the Future

Will I have enough money? What jobs will I do? Should I have more qualifications at my age? Will we buy a house one day? How many children will we have? What will we name them? What if all the good names are gone by the time I get to have-a-baby age?

Just a few of the totally unreasonable and totally unnecessary questions to pop into my head when The Voice of the Future is on the loose. We have so much to be happy about today. Why worry?


6) The Unstoppable Voice

It doesn't matter who you are, where you're from, or how you've come into my life. It doesn't matter if you're a colleague, a friend of a friend, my best friend, a man on the tube, the lady serving me in Sainsbury's, or a clearly psycho total stranger who has happened to get your paws onto my generally friends-and-family-only blog. I have a pathological need for you to like me. And that is exhausting. 

This voice is the loudest and the most persistent, and it drives me to insanity sometimes.

Earlier this year I saw possibly the happiest person I know. She also happens to be the most kind hearted and the warmest person I know. And I was so surprised at her reaction when I was worried that her friend- a person I had only met that day and have no reason to ever meet again- seemed a bit annoyed at both of us.

For some reason I had imagined that she would be the same as me- pulling her hair out about it and bending over backwards to apologise. But she wasn't.

"Whenever my Dad's mad, my mom always says he'll get happy in the same pants he's mad in. It's the same. She'll be okay again in five minutes." (Please note she's American. She means mum and trousers.)

I won't bore you with the details of what this girl was a bit annoyed about but as my friend explained why she didn't feel the need to fix the situation even I could completely see that she was right. Her friend wasn't angry about anything that actually mattered and she'd be over it in five minutes and never think about it again.

I cannot emphasise enough how energetic, kind, and thoughtful this friend is. Perhaps it's because she isn't weighed down worrying about the nonsense that I worry about.

I also recently read something on the internet posted by one of my ultimate heroes, health and fitness Guru Chalene Johnson.

Somebody had commented on her status "you annoy me. #unfollow."

That would have resulted in me gulping back the tears and my quivering voice insisting that I know it doesn't matter but then needing a few minutes to blow my nose.

Chalene drew attention to it. And not to make a fool of the writer of the comment, and not to shame her as a 'hater', but to demonstrate to people that it's okay if everyone doesn't like you. I won't write exactly what she said (mainly because I'm not sure about copyright), but basically her message was this: not everyone is going to like you. And that's okay. If you find somebody annoying/ boring/ upsetting in any way then try your best to remove them from your life to make room for all the wonderful, magical, fascinating people that are out there. And let the people that find you annoying (because there will be people that find you annoying) leave your life, to make room for the people who find you wonderful, magical, and fascinating. And just be thankful that your life is only full of these great people.

My happiest friends are also the healthiest, most beautiful, most energetic, and kind, and  I truly believe that if I could keep the energy that I put into worrying, and could let go of those totally unnecessary things that pull me down, I would be lighter, and as a result be as happy, musical, and energetic as the happiest people I know.

Now just to be clear I am a happy person. I am happy every single day, am positive, and grateful, and smile a lot. But I know that if I could just Let Things Go I could be lighter and even happier. And so could you.

So this is me promising you, lovely readers, that I will continue to do my best at everything, but then I will Let It Go. And so should you.

Monday, 20 June 2016

I Think I Can, I Know I Can....

When I worked in London two years ago I was fortunate enough to a) also live in London, and b) work only evenings and weekends. Since then I have worked in Essex. As a result, I have made it to the ripe old age of twenty seven never having commuted to London for work.

This week though, the stars aligned in a way that they haven't before, allowing me the opportunity to commute from Chelmsford to London like a real, grown up commuter. 

For those of you that have been lucky enough to live this commute, I'm really hoping that you will relate to this and not just think I've become grumpy in  my old age. For those of you who have never experienced it, sit back, relax, and have a read of what I learnt from my four days as a commuter...

a) The rumours about the weather affecting the trains beyond the reasonable? 

All true. 

All three of my trains in the morning of day four were delayed due to inclement weather. (It was raining. No snow, no hail, no monsoon, no hurricane. British June Drizzle- that's all.) All three of my trains in the evening of the same day were also delayed, despite the fact that the rain had stopped around midday and it had been 21 degrees for most of the afternoon. 

b) The reason the weather affects the trains so much is this...

We're British, right? We love nothing more than to moan about the weather. It's too hot, it's too cold, it's muggy, it's rainy, I'm burnt, there's hot and there's hot and this is too hot. So when something goes wrong with the trains- give the punters what they want, they say. Tell them it's the weather's fault. 

Now I know this because on the way home, once it had stopped raining and the sun had a little sombrero on and his maracas out- they found themselves having to be honest. 

And I am not kidding or even exaggerating when I tell you this is the announcement that came over the tannoy. 

(Please imagine your best over-the-top London accent. Bert in Mary Poppins, if you will.) 

Ladies and Gents, just to let you know I'm meanta be goin' 'ome now, only the new driver ain't turnt up to take over. So er...well you'll be delayed. Sorry 'bout that.

Oh that's okay, not to worry. This is a free train service after all, what can we really expe- oh wait. Most of us have had to remortgage our houses to afford a weekly ticket. 

c) You will see the same people every single day...

1) The One With The Phone....

Seriously, this guy has been on every train I've ever caught. Nobody seems to have told him yet that that dodgy Nokia ringtone that everyone abandoned in 2003...well, was abandoned in 2003. And that it's embarrassing to have it going off every two minutes for the entirety of a forty minute journey. 

When this guy is around (and he always is), the soundtrack to your journey is this: 

*dodgy ringtone*

"Hello? Hello mate, listen, I'm on the train so I might cut out a bi-hello? Hello?" 

*dodgy ringtone*

"Hello? Sorry mate, cut out cause I'm on the train. So this board meeti- mate? Are you still there?" 

And repeat. 

You've said it a hundred times! You're on the train! You're not going to have a useful conversation and you';re driving everyone crazy. Put.The.Phone.Away. 

2) The Self Righteous One

This one only appears on a rush hour tube. 

You're squeezed on. Your nose is pressed up inside someone else's armpit (and it's never someone who had time for deodorant), a different person's hair is touching your face, you're not quite sure where your hands are, and out of the corner of your eye you can see that there are about five people with their noses actually squashed up against the glass, their breath leaving slobber on the windows.

And then there's one person. Always. 

"Excuse me, you're quite close to my bag. Could you please step back?" At this point they usually, like number one, get their phone out and say, loudly enough for the entire carriage to hear, "ugh yeah, I'm on the train and I've got some idiot standing really close to me. Don't know what's wrong with people." 

As though the tiny student with her books squeezed against her and her head pressed against the side of the train has all the room in the world and has chosen to situate herself as close as possible for the laugh. 

I like to think that the person at the other end of the phone is picturing a blissfully empty train with a stranger hugging their friend because they just find them so charming and irresistible. 

3) The Tut Master

The one who is unimpressed by the behaviour of every other commuter- from anyone who has dared to bring luggage with them to anyone who squeezes past and accidentally brushes them- but, unlike the first two characters, is far too British to draw attention to themselves by being loud. Instead, they settle for a little tut and eye roll directed at all around them, and as a result attracting more attention than the loud ones. 

4) Superman

Most trains are filled with supermen and women, particularly during rush hour. 

These are people whose journeys are so much more important than everybody else's. They will step in front of you, push you out of the way, knock you down the escalator if they need to. These are also the people who sigh far more dramatically than necessary when the inevitable delays are announced, and immediately grab their phones, presumably to let the world know that they'll be a little bit late to save the day. 

5) The One That Everyone Bonds Over

These people are so ludicrous that all the other types of people come together in united amusement and/or disbelief at them. They're normally either shouting about their beliefs (not usually respectable religious beliefs, but the belief that their dog is reincarnated Elvis or something), singing out loud to their headphones, prancing about dressed in a gorilla costume (seriously), or dancing with the kind of enthusiasm that should be reserved for behind closed doors.

I love these people. They break up the tedium of 'I can't hear you, I'm on the train', and the tutting. 

6) The Overexcited One

We've left Shenfield, and the next stop is Stratford. It's still a long way away. Yes, it's the next stop, but we've still got a while to go. But they need you to get up from your seat to let them get to the front door, or worse, you're already standing as there were no seats free (because The Self-Righteous One is taking up a seat or two with her bags), and they insist on squeezing past you so that they can stand beside the door, ready to get off in twenty two minutes. (When you will also be departing.)


Now it's not like me to be negative, I believe my life's purpose is to make people happy. To Spread the Joy. 

But I did not enjoy my four days of commuting, and if I hadn't vowed, five minutes into the first journey, that I would be writing about this when it was over, I'm not sure I would have coped at all. So the main thing I have taken from the experience is thank goodness I don't have to do this every day. I have never been more grateful for my driving licence. 

However I will share with you my three highlights....

One of my favourite things that happened was when I was showing my ticket to a ticket inspector and just as I was walking away I heard him ask the lady behind: 'boy or girl?' I whipped my head around to see what on earth prompted that question, when I saw a hugely pregnant woman positively beam as she said: a boy and a girl. 

It made me happy, it obviously made her happy- that moment of interest in another person didn't cost much from the ticket inspector but it prompted a lot of smiles in a crowd of otherwise fairly grumpy people. 

Another was when I had just taken out a chewing gum and popped it in my mouth. "Excuse me?" the man sitting diagonally across from me said, throwing me completely by being polite and gracious, and none of the characters above. "Can I have a chewing gum please?" 

And then of course, there are the clever announcements. They bring more joy than I can explain. They give these moody, animal-like travellers an excuse to smile at one another without falling into category five. The man in Chelmsford is magical. He reminds everyone to stand clear of the doors, and then follows it up with "Outstanding as always, Chelmsford," or "Chelmsford, you never cease to amaze me." 

It's a small part of his day but this tiny bit of creativity and humour brings smiles to a lot of people. 

So, ladies and gents, I implore you. 

Next time you are on a train- please smile when you spot these people, rather than wanting to cry as I did this week. Please be kind to them. Be funny. Smile. Help people out. Be The Change. Spread the Joy.

I'm quite certain that when Cinderella said 'have courage, and be kind,' she was talking about surviving train journeys.

And as those of you who do these journeys regularly will know, courage and kindness are not common characters on the commute. 

So introduce them. Wiggle up and make room for them. Invite them on. Let them stand in front of you, move too close to you, bring their luggage and their kids on too. 

Have courage, and be kind. 

And for goodness sake, remember how wonderful you are to do that every day. 

If you can do that, you can do anything. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Honor To Us All

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

But it seems I'm the only one.

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

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

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

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

Today is five days before my twenty seventh birthday.

Ten whole years have passed since then.

Which is totally inconceivable to me.

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

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

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

1) Cakes

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

2) Modern Dating

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

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

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

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

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

3) Young at Heart

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

Two things struck me about my time there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) Therapy

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


5) Technology

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

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

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

It's his Computer Rules.

He's very strict.

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

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

My mum then reminded me of her favourite story.

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

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

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

6) 1940s Fairytale

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

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

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

No way of getting in contact.

She was on the next bus.

Obviously. 

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

Which leads me to my next story...

7) Too Much Information.

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

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

Nice.


8) Marriage Lessons

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

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

My Grandma should run classes on marriage. Seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

Brilliant.

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

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

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










Sunday, 24 April 2016

Schadenfreude!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Mum.

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

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

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

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

(There's a compliment in there somewhere.)

Anyway, Alice has a point.

They're stories to tell, right?

So tell them I will.

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

1) The Work Incident

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

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

Successful, all in all.

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

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

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

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

I realise I have to lead this.

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

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

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

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

2) The Wedding Part 1

I went to Oxford for a wedding.

Oxford is quite far from my house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) The Wedding Part 2

Another fascinator story, sadly.

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

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

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

4) Specsavers

I think you might actually relate to this one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He turned the lights on.

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

I answered, matching his enthusiasm.

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

Gosh.

How embarrassing for him.

He thinks I'm somebody else.

How do I break it to him?

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

None of them felt right.

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

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

He didn't.

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

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

So I got off.

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

(I didn't.)

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

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

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

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

Monday, 28 March 2016

The Girl You Think I Am

Let me tell you about Rex.

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

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

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

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

She is perfect. 

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

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

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

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

It suited him. 

It seemed right. 

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

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

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

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

But what about dads? 

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

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

So how do they know what they're doing? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I listened to the song again. 

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

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

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

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

I had that song in my head the whole time. 

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

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

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

I want to be the girl you think I am. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) Laughter

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

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

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

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

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

2) Shared Interests

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

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

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

3) Inspiration

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

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

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

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

4) The Little Things

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

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

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

He had it. 

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

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

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

5) Support: no matter what

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

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


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

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

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







Monday, 8 February 2016

Chip N Dale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have learnt so much. 

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

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

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

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

1) Size does matter. 

At least when it comes to the television. 

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

I could not be less bothered. 

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

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

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

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

But apparently it's important. 

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

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

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

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

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

Answers on a postcard. 

Or in a comment below. 

Either is fine. 

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

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

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

By nappy thing, he means bottom sheet. 

And yes, it was a double one. 


Chapter 2: What I have learnt about moving: 

1) I don't want to do it again. 

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

So we went with renting. 

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

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

Which is true. 

But I've never moved out totally before. 

And I've never moved anywhere unfurnished. 

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

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

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

2) It takes ages.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1) We will argue.

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

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

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

*Moving is stressful vs No it isn't. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Do there need to be so many options? 

I've spent an absolute fortune. 

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

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

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

3) You're expected to Just Know. 

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

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

Why does nobody tell you this stuff? 

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

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

Right? 

Chapter Four: What I have learnt about buying furniture. 

1) It turns you into your mother. 

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

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

Exactly in her voice. 

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

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

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

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

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

Dale doesn't mind. 

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

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

*He's looking at me blankly.*

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

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

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

It's not. 

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

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

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

The instructions don't really make any sense. 

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

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

And it's never ending. 

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

Chapter Five: What I have learnt about myself. 

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

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

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

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

2) It turns out my dream was always achievable.

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

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

This is it, this is life now.

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

And the world hasn't stopped.

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

Three years ago I wrote:

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

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

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

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

3) My prediction about myself had come true. 

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

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

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

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

Obviously I did. 

And it brought back so many Florida memories. 

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

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

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


Monday, 14 December 2015

What Makes You Beautiful...

Let's talk about how beautiful you are.

We don't talk about it enough.

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

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

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

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

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

"Do people really do that?"

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

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

I have actually done that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I expected her to laugh and brush the compliment away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And very few of the comments have been complimentary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Had I?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How can we ever win?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don't agree with that at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She was absolutely beautiful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Which makes sense, doesn't it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let's try it :)