"I am not normal", they'd giggle after making a funny face for a camera. They'd have their MSN messenger status as "nOt YoUr AvErAgE gIrL", and they'd say "I know I'm crazy but I just don't care" approximately five hundred times a day.
In my early teens I did not understand this at all.
Why would you not want to be normal?
Surely if you consider what you're doing to be not normal then it isn't natural for you to be doing it?
I remember looking at one of these girls once and thinking: but you are normal. Apart from the whole consistently referring to yourself as weird thing, you are normal.
She was a fourteen year old girl. She liked boys, disliked Maths, argued with her sister, watched Friends, moaned about our Food Tech teacher and spent far too much time playing The Sims.
In a well respected home counties secondary school in 2003 that was fairly average.
I never went through that phase. I always wanted to be normal and I am, quite frankly, the most normal person I have ever met.
Instead, I went through a (relatively long) phase of pretending to like things that I didn't really like in order to be the person I quite fancied being.
I know that the world tells us to "be who we want to be" and "reinvent" ourselves if we're not happy but trying to be something that isn't natural to you is exhausting. And actually not that fun.
I used to rave that I loved spicy food. I would order spicy food when we were out, say yes if it was offered at a friend's house, take the spiciest things at the buffet....and suffer with my mouth on fire and all my taste buds diminished for the rest of the evening.
All because Polly from the film Along Came Polly loved spicy food and I thought that if I wanted to have an exciting life and travel like she did, I would need to like ridiculously hot dishes. I vaguely remember seeing it as some kind of metaphor for life as well...as though people who order a korma from the local takeaway sit inside bored and alone all day every day whereas those that like a vindaloo go sky diving and bungee jump in their spare time.
I also listened to what I honestly think is really boring music, whilst wearing dodgy clothes, too much eyeliner and pretending to be passionate about musicians who died before I was born in an attempt to be a grunger because that's what my first boyfriend was.
(I am aware that I've probably offended a lot of people with that last sentence. I didn't find the music boring as background music at home but a whole concert of it? Talking about it all day and night and nothing else?)
I was actually really happy during this time- I loved pretending to love the music and fitting in with a specific group of people, dressing up so that it would be known that I was one of them as soon as I walked in.
But I couldn't have kept it up any longer because it wasn't me.
Since then I've been through my fair share of denial/pretending phases (Pendulum and Family Guy to name a couple) but I like to think that I'm an open book now, and that I'm comfortable enough with myself to be honest.
Now I'm going through a new phase.
A phase which my mum, 22 years my senior (sorry mum) tells me she's still going through....
The One Day phase.
I look at other people and think one day I'll be like that. When in fact, chances are I won't. I'll grow older and wiser. I'll gain experiences and memories that will change me forever. Some of my personality traits will grow even more prominent, whilst others will disappear altogether.
But I will never be the lady who has immaculate, fresh-looking lipgloss every single second of the day. I will never be the girl who manages to glide gracefully through a door without pushing right next to the Pull sign first. I'll always be the one that manages to throw my drink down myself and randomly trip over nothing.
I'm not putting myself down- I know I will also never ignore a street charity fundraiser, I'll never take my bad day out on a stranger and I'll always have plenty of hand sanitiser with me...
Anyway, recently I've caught myself thinking it more and more- when will I be like that? So I thought I'd share with you the various personality traits that the voice inside my head is certain I will develop some time soon....
1. Immaculate Grooming
On Monday I went to the hairdresser. When I told her I wanted my fringe cut back in (such a relief to not have to sound ridiculous saying bangs in my Essex accent, by the way) she replied "okay, fine or heavy?"
Um...what now? After staring at her blankly for a few seconds then listening to her repeat it three times I eventually understood that she was asking how thick I wanted my fringe to be. I didn't really have an opinion.
She then went on to ask me where exactly my parting is supposed to be? I didn't really know. It just falls where it falls normally.
"O...kay. And um..." she ran her fingers through my hair and looked at the ends, "when exactly did you last have your hair cut? We do recommend every six weeks."
I nodded and mumbled something about it having been slightly longer than six weeks.
I always feel stupid in the hairdressers. I never know what they're asking and even when I understand I never know the answers about my own hair. Does anyone take that much notice of their own hair? Turns out I don't.
I feel exactly the same about waxing, nails and fake tan.
When am I going to have a routine for this stuff?
2. Playing by the rules
There's a part in Notting Hill in which Julia Roberts suggests going into a locked communal garden at night, and Hugh Grant explains to her that they can't because only the people who live around the edges are allowed in. When she smirks and asks him "you abide by rules like that?" He replies "heck, no. Other people do. But not me, I just do what I want."
I feel like Hugh Grant at that moment sums me up.
I so badly want to not care, to break the rules and deal with the consequences. It would be so much cooler, and so much easier- less worrying- to be like that. But I'm not. It's not in Hugh's (well, the character's) nature to be like that and it's not in mine.
I like to think that One Day I'll be the kind of care-free person that does whatever she likes, that doesn't care what other people think and that will stand up for herself if she gets caught and explain her actions.
I don't think I will ever be like that. However stupid the rule, however ridiculous the request, even if everybody else is breaking it, if it is a rule I will stick to it. I will explain to everyone around me why I think it's stupid and why I think it should be changed then I'll smile sweetly at whoever's come up with the ridiculous thing and do as I'm told.
When will I stop caring about the rules and just do what I think makes sense?
I like shopping. Really, I do. Sometimes I pop into New Look on the way home and buy a new skirt, or a pair of shoes.
I get excited the first time I wear them and I do enjoy looking nice but...I feel like I don't necessarily care as much as a lot of the people around me.
I was once with a friend who, when discussing Pandora bracelets, said that she couldn't wear them because her style is "more chunky necklaces and dainty bracelets." As soon as she said it I realised she was right- she does always wear chunky necklaces and dainty bracelets.
What do I always wear?
I also have two gorgeous friends who launched their own clothing line and were featured on ASOS as a "hot couple we love." In an interview they were asked to describe each other's style. They used fashionable sounding words that made their wardrobes- and somehow their lives- seem amazing. I tried to imagine me and Dale doing an interview like that and giggled. Later I showed Dale the interview and mentioned that we could never do an interview like that. At this Dale began to describe his own style using equally cool words.
It's not that I don't care how I look- I have only ever met one person in my entire life who genuinely doesn't care how he looks and he, fortunately, is naturally absolutely gorgeous, brimming with a special kind of self confidence and- I believe- totally oblivious to the fact that he really possesses this rare quality.
Obviously I care, just in a slightly different, more casual and comfortable way...
When am I going to know- and care about- my style?
4. The Little Things
I am generally able to deal with the big things in life. I've never had any trouble keeping a job, house or boyfriend, I've never particularly fallen out with a friend or got myself into huge debt (unless you count my student loan which nobody does...do they?), but for some reason I just can't cope with the little things.
I spent my time clothes shopping last Tuesday attempting to word this in a way that doesn't make me sound like a social outcast.
I am an awkward person. I am. But when I say I'm an awkward person it immediately conjures a picture of a socially awkward, shy/rude, not-particularly-good-with-people, wears-dodgy-glasses-and-braces-to-hold-up-plaid-skirt kind of girl, don't you think?
Which I like to think I'm not.
I like to think I'm a chatty, sociable, easy-to-get-to-know, nice person.
I tried to think of a sensible way that I could word this as I stood waiting for a changing room in Forever 21. Just as I began to fear writer's block a lady came out with an arm full of clothes, strolled right up to me and gave me the majority of them saying "I'm just going to keep these ones, thanks."
She thought I worked there.
One Day, this will only happen to me in top class designer shops and One Day I will know the perfect actions in this situation and promptly deal with it accordingly.
The current me, however, the Rebecca that was in Forever 21 that day, responded "Lovely, thank you. And have you got your changing room number? Perfect, thanks. Enjoy the rest of your day", then stood like an idiot with an arm full of too-large clothes and a number but unable to go into the now empty changing room without being seen by a member of staff for fear of being accused of stealing.
Another excellent example of the kind of awkwardness I am referring to happened to me on Wednesday....
I was having a bad day. I didn't feel too wonderful and I just wanted to get home when a lady at the train station was ridiculously rude and really upset me. So I stormed home, planning all of the things I would say to her next time I saw her, I put my key in the lock and...someone opened it.
My housemate's friend?
"Hello!" I put on a false cheery voice, "how are you?"
Her face darkened.
"What the hell do you think you're doing?"
"Um..." my smile faltered. "Have I come to the wrong flat...?" I looked towards the stairs. Mine is on the middle floor- the only floor with stairs going up and down. There were stairs going up and down.
"No I haven't...I am at the right flat."
"No. No you're not."
"You. Do. Not. Live. Here."
"Oh...okay...I'm really sorry. I'm having a bad day actually, I don't feel well and I was really angry and I guess I...I...well I obviously wasn't concentrating walking...um...walking up the stairs. I'm sorry. I'm Rebecca, by the way. Sorry. Bye."
Turns out there's more than one floor with stairs going both ways.
When am I going to stop being so awkward and be a smooth-talking adult?
Yesterday I was thinking about the other ways I'm awkward. I could think of quite a few examples of incidents but I couldn't think of a way to link them all together when....
I looked down to see that I had cous cous in my hair.
And I realised: my self-presentation. My ability to make the effort I make getting ready in the morning last past lunch....
There are women who always look like they have just stepped straight out of a tumble dryer. Their clothes always look just washed and ironed, their hair and makeup look freshly perfected, their handbags look as though they've just been plucked from the designer shelf and their nails just manicured- I see and marvel at them every day as they leave the theatre looking immaculate, despite having just watched the emotional rollercoaster that is The Lion King.
I step out of the shower, moisturise, apply my makeup, dry my hair, step into my freshly laundered clothes and paint my nails. I take a sip of my drink- oh no! I was holding it in a weird way because of my wet nails and I've poured it down my top. Now it's gone down the wrong hole and I'm choking. Oh no, I'm really choking. I drink some more but where I'm choking I abandon the weird hold of the cup and smudge all my nails. My makeup goes streaming down my face as I choke and now the tears have dried around my eyes making them all tight and puffy. I remove the nail varnish and attempt to salvage the mascara but now my eyelashes are all stuck together where they got wet....
And then I leave the house.
I've always known this about myself and I do always vow to stop being like that but I don't mean to do it. It just happens.
I have always got a stain on me. Whether it's coffee, juice, a leaked pen, cous cous, ketchup or chocolate I am always covered in something. I hadn't thought much about this for ages until last week I spent a whole afternoon with someone I don't often spend long periods of time with.
In his presence I spilt Pimms all down myself (I was trying to dig out the fruit- such a classy girl), splattered curry all up my jumper (missing everyone else) and threw yoghurt dressing all over the table- seeing myself through his eyes reminded me that One Day I need to change.
I have endless embarrassing (and some really funny) stories about inappropriately throwing food or drink in public but for some reason insist that one day it's going to end and I'm going to be a perfectly presented lady at all times.
When is that going to be?
Once, a few years ago, one of my friends said they ate half an Easter egg in one go! She said in a way that implied absolute scandal- imagine being so greedy as to eat half an Easter egg in one go?!
All my friends giggled at the hilarity and sheer cheek of it all...except me.
This was my first year at uni and I guess I had never discussed Easter Egg eating habits with anyone outside of my family before but in my house it is absolutely acceptable, expected even, to eat a whole one in one go. Sweets and all. For breakfast. A week before Good Friday.
I had no idea people ate them in halves- or even smaller parts than that?!
I remember Happy once telling me about a friend who used to eat a Matchmaker- you know those minty sticks- a day, and make the packet last a ridiculous length of time...I was 15 and doing my work experience and marveled that anyone like that could exist.
Now, though, I am convinced that that one will day be me. One day, I will eat half a twix, wrap up the other half and save it for tomorrow. One day, I will be able to buy a box of six cherry bakewells and make them last six days. One day, I will be able to buy ice cream, take it home and put it straight in the freezer (instead of finding a spoon and digging in before the front door's even shut behind me), and leave it there until after my dinner, maybe even forgetting about it for a couple of weeks....
I am so, so certain that this will one day be me, that for the moment I don't feel so bad continuing to eat these things in bulk...I know I'll make up for it in the future.
When am I going to start being sensible with sweets?
7. Standing Up For Myself
This is the trait that I think about the most. This is the one that I'm most excited about discovering inside myself. I have actually tried working on this one because I really do want it to become a part of me but it's not going that well just yet....
I know when I'm being taken advantage of. I know when I am being treated in a way that I do not deserve and I have enough self-confidence to know that I deserve better. When this happens, I calmly but firmly explain why this behaviour is not good enough, what needs to change for it to be acceptable and that they can try again when they've decided to have some respect. In my head.
In my head I have all the right words, the right phrases and the right tone. In reality, my voice goes unreasonably high and shaky, my eyes leak and my mouth does this weird down-turning thing. I cry. I am a crier, always have been and it's looking as though I always will be.
I don't want to be, I really, really don't, but my body lets me down every time.
One Day I will learn to control my emotions and stand up for myself.
Anyway, the point I'm trying to make is that none of these things (sadly) comes naturally to me, so I'm not sure that any of these will ever actually find their way into my life. It might be time to make peace with the fact that these- along with my life as a popstar- may never come to fruition. It's just another phase.
And I've noticed recently that as I've slipped into my One Day phase, others around me appear to have returned to the crazy phase. I'm not sure whether it did disappear for a while or whether I just stopped noticing it, but I'm seeing it more and more.
When I first arrived home from America I went to a job interview which involved sitting in a circle around a pile of plush toys. As we sat down the girls around me began to giggle "oh my goodness, I'm such a child, I just want to play with them. Aren't I mad?"
"Ha, we're terrible, aren't we?" another replied, looking down at the toys.
"Oh my goodness this is so embarrassing, but I have actually thought about buying a Woody toy from the Disney Store," a third girl added.
Um...first of all, of course you want to play with them- they're toys! That's what they're for! Haven't you ever seen dads with lego, and Grandads with train sets? We're human, we want to play with toys. Second of all, my bed has eight plush toys on it and I don't think I'm crazy at all. Stop calling yourself crazy.
I shared this story with the girls I now work with at The Lion King. They had the same reaction as me. On discussing it, one of them suggested that people exaggerate that kind of thing and refer to themselves as crazy because they want to be different. They want to be special.
We all have our quirks, but we tend to be aware that they're weird. Whilst everyone else reaches for chips when they're drunk, I reach for banana and marmite on toast. I know it's weird, but I also know that everyone has their weird things, which makes it not that weird...does that make sense? One of my friends eats whole balls of mozzarella like apples. Another sneaks up behind people making cricket noises. My little brother pronounces the letter r weirdly behind closed doors- he doesn't have a speech impediment, he just thinks it's hilarious. Another friend makes chocolate digestives out of plain biscuits and nutella. My mum has a freakish little toe and loves Monkey World to a ridiculous level (her friends think it's hilarious that she regularly wears her MW t shirt despite the fact she doesn't work there). My brother's girlfriend drives forwards onto our drive whilst everyone else reverses. Madame Adelaide loves her cat more than I believe she could ever love a child. When Minnie Mouse moved house she had a box the same size as my case for an entire year in America labelled "Nail Stuff", and Pumbaa and her fiance slept in separate beds on their holiday rather than pushing the two singles together.
We're all so different that we can't compete with each other.
Which makes us all the same really.
So let's stop competing. Let's stop trying to be crazier, weirder, wilder, zanier. Stop trying to 'not be normal', and just be who it comes naturally to you to be- that's bound to be strange to someone.
I am surrounded by amazing people who are weird and wonderful and their own brand of normal every single day and they are so loved for what they are.
I love being normal, and now that I've made my peace with mild food and cheesy music hope to go on to embrace the slightly awkward, easily-walked-over, ketchup-and-coffee-covered, chocolate-worshipping girl that it looks like I'm stuck with until that One Day comes.
Luckily for me my wonderland is full of equally normal, real, loveable, interesting-food-eating, quirky-habit-fulfilling, funny-idea-voicing individuals for me to share my adventure with: and so is yours.
Because we're all the same.
We're all mad here.