It was Saturday afternoon. Having made the journey back from Surrey to Essex for one of my favourite occasions of the year, I was on Chelmsford High Street buying popcorn when my phone vibrated. A text from dad: Just buying popcorn for tonight. Sweet or salted?
This could mean only one thing: it was X Factor Final weekend.
Which, in turn, means that there are only three weeks left of the year.
In just three weeks, 2012 will be over and we will be catapulted into 2013.
I can't wait.
2012 has been exciting, dramatic, funny, embarrassing, frustrating, boring, devastating, heart-breaking, painful and unforgettable.
It has been the most challenging year of my life: it's one that I will never forget but one that I am also delighted to be leaving.
Now I understand that the most challenging year of my life might be the dream for another person; and I promise that this post is not going to be a pity party.
It's quite famously said that the difficult times are what make you: they test you, drain you, teach you, and leave you ready to take on the world as a stronger, wiser person.
I'm not sure that I totally believe that. Genuine tragedies don't make people; they break them.
But in my case I think it may be true. Maybe the changes that this year has made to my view of the world and the people in it are going to serve me well throughout my life. Maybe they will help me make decisions, help me to accept certain inevitable truths and leave me more prepared for whatever else life may decide to throw at me.
So as we near the end of 2012 I began thinking about what this roller coaster (I thought I'd continue with the X Factor theme) year has taught me...
1. That I have amazing friends around me.
There's a famous saying that when trouble strikes 'you know who your friends are.' I always understood this to mean that the friends who are there for you during the difficult times as well as the good times are the real ones: the ones you can really trust. Those who bolt during the bad times are no good.
I always knew who my friends were: and I was right. There was a time this year when my bedroom looked like an over-stocked florist. The room was filled with cards, vases of flowers, boxes of chocolates, ornaments with life-affirming messages on them....
Minnie Mouse, Cowgirl Jessie, Pumba and Jiminy Cricket made absolutely certain that I knew that despite the fact that I was living in a different country with a different language (read my posts on Ireland from January and March for more details on that)- they were always there for me. Cowgirl Jessie even made the journey over to the Emerald Isle and was putting a smile on my tear-stained little face quicker than you can say 'Yeehah!'
But what I learnt this year was that the circle of trust around me is far bigger than I originally thought.
Firstly, I got an email from Daisy Duck. Now if the situation was reversed, and Daisy Duck had been having a difficult time, I am ashamed to say that I don't think that I would have got in touch. I would have worried that she would think I was merely being nosy and didn't really have her best interest at heart.
Her email made me happier than I'm sure she will ever know. She worded it in a way that told me that she genuinely cared. She offered herself as somebody to talk to if I needed to, and nobody was more surprised than I was when I took her up on it. I poured my heart out to her and she responded in a way that told me that I was normal, and that everything would be okay again.
Hearing that from somebody outside of my normal circle of trust was surprisingly reassuring.
I then got a similar offer from Mary Poppins- who had known me for around four months at the time- which I also accepted. Mary Poppins made me laugh until I cried. I laughed the most I think I've ever laughed in one sitting. What an amazing person: to offer to comfort somebody she barely knew, and to do it so well. Turns out she really is practically perfect in every way.
Then my Fairy Godmother revealed herself. I had been living with her as an employee for around four months when she came home and made the mistake of asking how I was; prompting a waterfall of tears and a messy barrage of words attempting to explain what had caused them. She listened. She listened to everything I said without judgement or interruptions. (I should point out now that this was during lent when I had given up chocolate: something that made the whole thing ten times worse I assure you.) Having finished listening, she hugged me and told her own stories to reassure me, like Daisy Duck, that I was normal and that I would get through this. She then walked out to her car, and brought back in with her a huge box of Thornton's chocolates: I think you should eat these pet. There's nothing else making you happy right now: give in.
My Fairy Godmother was my boss. I have since lived with bosses who have treated me like the staff member I am. She treated me like her baby sister and I know that I could turn to her with a problem now and she would listen.
These are just examples of some of the wonderful people who listened to me and provided me with copious amounts of chocolate and, once I was diagnosed as allergic to chocolate (thanks 2012), with endless sweets, hugs and words of reassurance that everything would get better.
2. That everything would be a million times worse if I was an only child.
My brothers have the ability (and the cheek) to turn everything into a joke and turn even the heaviest heart into a feather. The best example of this that I can think of is the time (six years ago now) that I failed my...well let's just say it wasn't my first driving test...
Everyone was full of sympathy. I got hugs and sorry frowns, and little shoulder rubs and reassuring 'you'll definitely do it next time' messages.
From Mowgli I got: 'You failed again?! Bloody hell that's got to be a record hasn't it?' paired with a sly grin and a cheeky glint in his eye.
At this point, that was exactly what I needed.
Obviously six years ago I did appreciate that my brothers make me laugh in a way that nobody else can; but until this year I hadn't realised just how much harder everything would be without them. The three of us find things funny that nobody else ever would. We remember things that nobody else can remember, are honest in a way that would be rude from anyone else, and most of all: understand our parents in a way that can never be explained.
3. That nothing is forever.
Obviously I've been told this before and somewhere in my consciousness I'm sure that I was aware of this fact. But if somebody had told me this time last year that I would leave the job that I loved in Ireland to move to Greece on my own and work for a con company doing a job that I didn't sign up for, eating in the most foul-smelling room in existence and being treated like I'd murdered somebody when I was sick I would have been terrified.
In reality I handled the whole thing relatively calmly; safe in the knowledge that nobody is ever alone: people are surprisingly kind to strangers- and even if there are no other people around- Skype means that I will never be without a little bit of home.
I also found that my experience in Greece left me with a lot of positives: I met some wonderful friends, gained a lot of new skills for work in the entertainment industry, learnt a lot about myself and got myself a gorgeous tan that lasted almost the whole summer.
This has changed the way that I will make decisions forever; and is perhaps the reason that I'm probably less nervous about the big move to Florida than I should be.
Those of you that have read my June post will know that one of the things that I discovered about myself whilst I was in Greece is how proud I am to be British. 2012 has been an amazing year to be British; mainly because of...
1. The Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
Did we celebrate it by having a few too many at the pub and beating each other up? No. By shouting like football hooligans and causing riots? No. By getting tattoos of Her Majesty on our upper arms or lower backs? Not in my house anyway....
No, we didn't. Because the fact is- despite what pessimists, British expats and the occasional Italian might think- British people as a nation are not drunken hooligans. An occasion like the Queen's Jubilee highlights this by drawing the media's attention away from the few idiots that ruin our reputation, and towards the majority.
We decorated our houses with pride, made cupcakes, attended pub quizzes, had street parties, drank tea, enjoyed a second Royal Variety Show organised by Gary Barlow, (finally) learnt the words to the National Anthem and explained what the whole thing meant with delight to our children.
At the time of the jubilee I was working in France and then the Isle Of Wight and every child that I met had an impressive knowledge of the Royal Family. One group of children managed to sing the whole National Anthem with the word 'Queen' replaced by 'Dean' to cheer on their mate on the Aeroball. That might just have been my favourite moment of the whole year, actually.
2. The Olympics.
I should probably admit that actually, as wonderful as I think the British are, the hooligans that I spent the Opening Ceremony with did get ridiculously drunk and slur the wrong words to the National Anthem like football yobs at 2 in the morning (Peter Pan, Flynn Ryder, Lumiere and Cowboy Woody- I'm looking at you).
But the ceremony itself was something that even the most pessimistic expat must have been impressed by.
My favourite moment of the ceremony was the moment that Rowan Atkinson appeared on our screens. Only minutes before Peter Pan had drunkenly joked: 'the only thing missing is Mr Bean!'. Priceless.
My proudest moment, of course, was the moment around an hour before the ceremony started. The moment that one of the most beautiful people I know, Gabriella Montez, text me to let me know how excited she was to be appearing in the opening ceremony.
Now I was in France for the duration of the Olympics which meant that, sadly, my viewing was limited to Volleyball and Cycling. But, having now spent three months back in the UK I can see, as I am sure that you can, what a difference hosting the Olympics in London has made to Britain. British TV, magazines and radio shows are full of successful, hardworking sportsmen and women, children are taking a bigger interest in sport, young people have been inspired to get active and work hard, and less prominent sports like Javelin and Cycling are becoming more and more popular alongside the standard football and netball.
In my opinion, holding the Olympics in London has changed the whole country in an endlessly positive way: something that we should be very proud of.
3. James Arthur.
No explanation needed.
Choosing Britain's Best Moments of 2012 got me thinking about my own. This year I have been to some wonderful places, met some amazing people and laughed a lot. But I've managed to choose my six top moments of the year (aside from the God Save Our Gracious Dean moment that I've already mentioned)....
1. The two and a half minutes that C'est La Vie by B*Witched was playing in a club in Dublin on St. Patrick's Day night. At the time I thought: this is the best moment of my year so far. It still is.
2. The time that Lumiere decided to cheer me up in her own unique way. She walked in on me crying about a personal drama. Did she hug me? Tell me everything was going to be okay? Not really her style. I looked up to find her mooning me in broad daylight. Biggest.Smile.Ever.
3. The moment that my mum and I walked into our hotel room in Disneyland Paris. It was pouring with rain outside; we were freezing cold and dripping wet. The room was warm and bright and decorated so that you were made to feel like you were in one of the car hotels in...well, Cars. The attention to detail was unbelievable, and the feeling of excitement for the parks creeping into my tummy warmed me up more than the heaters in the room did.
4. The two moments (that I'm taking as one brilliant moment) that I finished the videos that I made of my brothers' lives for their 18th and 21st birthdays. Blood, sweat and tears went into those videos and finishing them and finally seeing them as they would see them on their birthdays sent a proud little butterfly into my tummy.
5. The moment that Steps sang Love's Got A Hold On My Heart at their reunion tour this year. I was 9 again for two and a half minutes and I loved every second.
6. I know I said above that the best moment of the year was B*Witched. Actually, it was the second best. But the winner was so good that it's in a league of its own.
That's right. The moment that I read the email.
After reviewing your application and interview we are delighted to be the first to say
You have been offered a place on Disney’s Cultural Representative Program.
As the clock struck twelve on New Year's Day this year, a little voice in my head told me that this year had been sent to test me: that it was going to be difficult.
Those of you who believe in The Law Of Attraction will tell me that I therefore brought it upon myself. Perhaps by believing it was going to be the most difficult year of my life: that's what it became.
I hope that's true.
Because right now I honestly believe that next year, 2013, the year that my dream comes true and I move to Walt Disney World, Florida; is going to be the most exciting, adventurous, magical and wonderful year so far.
If this year was Thorpe Park's Saw, next year is going to be Lilo and Stitch's Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride.....
Stay tuned to find out...