Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Why I did the Ice Bucket challenge

The nomination was inevitable. As soon as any kind of craze hits social media, it is rare you can escape it. I was dreading it - for several reasons:

No. 1 What with every celeb under the sun - bikini ready - make up in place, getting covered in ice to show how good they still look, even sopping wet - the whole idea is somewhat in overkill. Started off cute (Benedict Cumberbatch, Gwyneth Paltrow) and then when Katie Price does it with one of her never ending stream of husbands, you know something has hit bargain basement.

No. 2 If you do it - it kind of looks like you want the attention - to show how good you look in a wet T shirt like some awful competition at a Hooters bar. Plus apparently (although how on earth would they know?) only 20% of folk who shower themselves in water, actually donate. With something that has reached the zenith of it's potential and has gone from cute to cloying, that you know the time is up.


This video. There is no cure. The thought of being 'locked' inside my own body, unable to move, is perhaps one of the most horrifying thoughts one can have. Anyway, I'm not here to preach...

Now I know there are a million good causes out there - and what matters to me charity wise, isn't gonna be the one you would pick to donate to if your numbers came up in the lottery... So why this one? Well no one set out for this to happen - it wasn't a cynically marketing ploy - it happened spontaneously. Chris Kennedy, a golfer from Florida, was nominated by a buddy to do the challenge, similar to the one screened live on air by Golf Channel Morning. kennedy chose to support ALS as he has a relative suffering the disease. Buddies took on his nominations, and it began to go viral.

Now the charity has over £10 million in donations.

Today, I was nominated and my husband - who hates all forms of social media and isn't on twitter, Facebook, etc, agreed to drown me in icy water. I did it, posted it, donated, nominated on - but still felt a bit, well embarrassed. Like I had done something oddly 'wrong.'

This was compounded when a friend I had nominated texted to say she was ill and unable to do participate - adding that she was agreeing with the swell of public opinion that it wastes water. A total  buzz kill from the off. Already a judgement.

Now I'll accept that in California (exceptional drought conditions mean that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power has stepped up it's water wasting patrols) this may be the case. But here in the UK - where it is raining so much you'd get a bucket of water if you left a tub out there for a couple of hours?

It's just a bit of fun people. As long as you donate, who cares whether you pour water or fucking whiskey over your heads? If you donate quietly or stage a three hour production that deserves an interval during viewing - who the fuck cares?

No matter what you do in life, haters gonna hate. So for Fran and her nomination I did it.  Brrrrrrrrrr.

Monday, 25 August 2014

When the rain starts to fall....

Another rainy bank holiday. There is nothing quite as predictable, as a wet weekend the minute the words 'bank hol' are whispered. For once, I don't mind. This summer has been glorious, in more ways than I ever imagined, so the relentless rain doesn't bother me at all. I'm finally blogging again - it feels like this year my blog has taken a bit of back seat - maybe because I get to vent about all kinds of subjects over at Babble, so there is less to vent about here. Who knows. If you are still here reading - Gawd bless you.

Anyway, the reason that I write is that the other day I read an article on friendships - where Relate did a survey and discovered that a whopping 10% of people in the UK don't have a single friend to turn to. It reminded me of all the times as a Samaritan, I'd talk to people who felt they had nobody to share their bad (or sometimes good) news with. It always made me eternally grateful for the friends that I have - the people that I love, the people that I can rely on.

So what makes a good friend? Over the years I've had all kinds of criteria for people who I called 'friends.' There were those that I used for connections to great parties and venues in my shallow 20s; those that seemed incredibly important at the time we worked together - only to never speak again once we moved on; people I met for just one evening but felt like I'd known them all my life. Then there are those we gather as we go, and somehow, never put down.

Friendships though are very different to family relationships - as with family you are pretty much tied there for life. But if you don't live up to a friend's terms/expectations then they can drop you like a stone. Only twice in my life, has someone I loved and cared about dropped me without explanation. They simply stopped talking to me, taking my calls, and left me high and dry wondering what I had done. Both times were devastating. Perhaps because I pride myself on being a good and loyal friend - and would never intentionally hurt someone I valued, I simply couldn't understand why they would assume the worst in me - not even bothering to explain why they no longer wanted me in their life. Plus, I had always hoped that if I upset or annoyed a friend, they would value ME enough to ask me for a coffee, talk over why I'd upset them and we could move past it. I respect enormously anyone who has ever called me on my behaviour - as at least they gave me right of reply.

So what do I look for in a friend? Humour, warmth, shared interests, loyalty, generosity (of spirit) and  kindness. Obviously there is the old 'chemistry' that means we click with one person and not another. I'm pretty outgoing, find people in general fascinating, and always want to hear 'their story' - so making friends has never been a challenge.

But what keeps a friendship going? You can meet someone you work with, bond over work and stress and daily grind, and then one of you moves on to another pasture. Then, really, is the test of the 'friendship' - because to maintain it, you'll have to pull your finger out and arrange meet ups and hang outs - and that all takes effort. Circumstances play a huge part in whether or not a friendship survives - as we move around the country/countries - take new jobs, start families, the time we have to devote to our friendships becomes all the more squeezed. We strike up friendships with those living near us, and gravitate towards those who are in similar situations - juggling bringing up kids, hating the commute, 'we're hoping the council will let us extend...' blah blah.

Crucially I think friends have to be honest with one another - and in being so - are at their most supportive. The difficulty of course, is that most of the time this kind of support can be unwanted, or at the very least hard to hear. I can't be friends with anyone who doesn't appreciate honesty, or can't be honest with me. I loathe flattery and manipulation and value those who can tell me I'm being a twat, or to stop worrying about unnecessary stuff, or simply advise me in a way that I maybe don't want to hear - but I NEED to hear.

Most of all, my dearest friends bring me comfort. I can be my idiotic self with them. I can drink too much, swear, cry, be fearful, sad, happy and everything in between. They still love me. Fuck knows why - they must be good listeners that's for sure. My oldest friend I met aged 3, 38 years ago. My newest friend I made in 2012. The majority of my buddies I have known 30 years, or at least 15, save for those I met in the last 6 when I changed careers in 2008 and also moved house/area.

Perhaps at the core of good friendships, is a shared history - of events, (school leaving, uni years, marriage, travelling, career start outs, weekends away, weddings, christenings and more parties than you could shake a stick at). There is a knowledge that no matter how many months you go without seeing each other - the minute you sit down together it is like you spoke yesterday. There is an unspoken agreement that the friendship is there and should you ever really need something - they'll be there for you. Which makes me hold up my hands to count - that if life ever really threw the book at me - who would be there for me, who would hold my hand, offer me anything from a bed to sleep in, to a huge hug? I feel beyond lucky that I can count over my two hands and beyond.

The older I get the more I realise though, that friendships can't be taken for granted, as much as we often do. That just because you've known someone for X amount of years, if they behave badly towards you every time you see them - then why have them in your life? I'm less tolerant than I was back in the days when my life revolved around my social life and dating. Now, I've got kids, I've got responsibilities, I've got less money to spend on catching up with friends, when I've got cricket lessons and holiday clubs to pay for. (As an aside, how on earth did I ever have the money to socialise as much as I did - christ in 1997/98/99 I don't think I ever stayed in!) Time is more precious than ever, so I'm only going to devote it to those that make time for me, and who want to put in as much effort as I do to keeping our friendship going.

In the article I mentioned, Tim Lott asked what the secret is to long friendships? I have pondered on this - wondering for example, why I kept in touch with so many school friends and yet not one of my Uni buddies? What made us all stick together through primary school, grammar school, uni, jobs, etc - even when some of us live a sea apart? I don't have the answer. Lott thinks the secret is an absence of pride.

He writes, "Too many [friendships] falter on stubbornness or the determination to hold on to offence. Successful ones rely on humility and the recognition of human fallibility." 

So maybe that is the key after all - that the heart of real friendship is that we accept our friends for all their failings and they us. That we can always say sorry and move on. That we can make mistakes and still carry on, because life without that person in it, isn't quite as shiny after all.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Carpe Diem

Years ago, I decided I wanted to volunteer. Give something back - try to be there for others when they needed a friend the most. So I went to an open day, did all kinds of role plays, met some fantastic people, and then had the obligatory interview. The girl who interviewed me reeled off all kinds of questions, to suss out if I had any prejudices (we all do, unwittingly or not) and whether or not these would float to the surface and obstruct my ability to be a Samaritan. Then she asked me, 'Have you ever tried to commit suicide?' It was somewhat of a shock. Mainly because I had anticipated practically every question - but not that one. The most obvious one of all.

I looked at her, blinked back tears and replied quietly, 'yes.'

It is perhaps the greatest of all the taboos - suicide - to discard one's life, seemingly without regard for your loved ones - all those you leave behind. Some call it 'selfish.' But they have no idea what they are talking about - as in the throes of depression, one feels that taking their life will in fact bring a calmness, a resolution - the only one they believe will work - and in doing so they will stop being a burden to all those who are trying to help them.

As a Samaritan we were taught to explore suicide - not to hide away from the topic. Most people don't kill themselves the very day they decide to do it. Most put a plan in place, get their things in order, or try and resolve situations, before they actually do the deed. The warning signs are usually those who have been incredibly down, who suddenly are very up: you would assume they are better, or 'cured' when in reality they have a plan in place and it has brought them comfort and a resolution - the light at the end of their very dark tunnel.

People assume that most suicides happen on days of celebration - like Xmas day. But that is also not true. Often when depressed folk have hoped that something - a holiday, a new job, Xmas - will work out, and then it does not, do they realise that hope is futile and there is only one way out.

If you have never been depressed - you'll never understand it. It isn't the same for everyone - but my bouts of depression (there have only really been 3 in my adult life, 2 post natal) make me unusually quiet. I don't want to interact, don't want to eat, don't want to tap into the joys of life. At those times I felt utterly numb. Like I was being dragged down to the abyss, unable to get air, unable to see anything further than the apparent tragic waste of me living. I wanted to curl up and hibernate and never wake up. Sleep was the only pleasure I enjoyed - a temporary respite from an otherwise anxious state. Depression clouds all judgement. It stops rationality, the ability to accept sympathy, the ability to empathise. It sucks the very life blood from your soul leaving you a hollow husk of sadness - a blank canvas with no colour.

It is time we talked more openly about being depressed, about all kinds of mental health - without fear of judgement, without pity, without shame. Often the loudest, happiest sunniest people are the ones with the darkest thoughts, the demons in their heads. They fool us all, whilst they can never escape, or fool themselves.

Today I awoke to the news that the incredible comedian, actor, father and husband, Robin Williams, had killed himself after a bout of depression; the outpouring of grief and tributes all state one thing - what a lovely kind man he was. He clearly had a devoted family and many friends, a genius talent and an enormous body of wonderful work. And yet, he is gone. May he rest in peace.

"I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone.”

Robin Williams (as Lance Clayton in World’s Greatest Dad - 2009).

Monday, 28 July 2014

It sure goes quick

My best friend's Mum told me a while ago, "You only have your kids until they are about ten. Then they go; off seeing friends, having their own lives and before you know it they are off to Uni. It sure goes quick."

At the time I think my daughter was 1, my son 5. Days were fairly exhausting, life was all about routine and endlessly trying to entertain them. I kind of wished the years away. Which is funny, because now I'd like to slow them all down.

We've been away in York for a week and husband swears that our Sproglette has changed in that time. She's had her fringe cut, started making silly faces in photos and was obsessed about finding yellow bikes dotted all around York in celebration of the Tour de France having passed through a few weeks back. She's excited about starting school nursery in September and is demanding a party in December when she is 4, but wants to invite only boys.

All the endless opinions and questions she throws out; she is suddenly more than ever, her own little person. 3 for me is the age that kids are at their cutest - still a smidgeon of baby face in them, funny phrases trotting out their mouths and they still break out into dances no matter where they are. They've yet to feel judgement, or coldness or censorship. They just are. Sproglet at 8, is much more aware of himself now - happy (thank god) to kiss me and hug me still - but not so much in front of all his school buddies. He thinks One Direction are rubbish and is football crazy. He has a growing sense  of what he deems cool, what isn't. He has yet to care about his clothes or hair that much and I'm hoping vanity won't feature for a few years yet.

More than ever, I'm digging time spent with them. All too aware that the sand in the timer keeps falling and every step they take is one further away from me. Don't get me wrong, I still love ME time - what little of it I get, especially in the school hols - but when I'm with them, I'm really focused on the time I'm spending - not thinking ahead, not fretting about work or money - just being. It's doing my head all sorts of good. This year has been one of my finest - for no major, significant reasons - more lots of little ones: I've been invited along on 3 different friends' holidays, seen Prince, been offered two jobs I never would have expected and have thrown myself into a career change that has made me excited and nervous - both good things. Plus, I finally wrote my Dad a long overdue letter in the hope of healing our fractured relationship and the upshot is that he is coming over to stay from Ireland, in September - his first visit in my 23 years living in England.

On bad days I'll wander around my house wishing I had the money to repaint the hall, or fix the broken tile that has been chipped for 6 years in our dining room; I'll wonder why I don't have things all worked out just yet (fingers in pies, but pies not quite cooked), I'll hanker after that bigger house, bigger garden, flatter stomach... But on good days - and there are more of these than ever - like today when a spontaneous ice cream meet up with a mate and his son meant Sproglet and I learnt how to loom (important skill I assure you - and if you don't know what it is - be thankful!) and Sproglette and I walked in the rain laughing and Husband built me a fan for our bedroom - the mundane moments bring unbridled joy. Perhaps because, as my friend's mum said, this time will pass. They will grow and leave me, so I had better enjoy it all while I have it.

One day, they will be gone. 

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Players only love you when they're playing...

'But when we're together it's so good...then he kind of goes cold.... But he texts me and sends me emails all the time...really flirtatious... I know he likes me. He really does.' So said my good buddy, just before the object player of her affection brought another woman to the work Xmas party and proceeded to canoodle with her in front of my friend for the entire night. Nice. yet she went back for more. Time and again she let this man reel her in and then cast her aside. I sat high up on my happily married pedestal and judged (and also worried for her). One evening at a dinner, having drunk too much wine, I told her exactly what I thought and she refused to speak to me for the night - telling me that I was harsh, and I didn't understand what it was like.

But of course I did - I remembered back on the 6 years I had been single in London and dated all kinds of undesirables. We've all been there, haven't we? Been pursued with a relentlessness that borders on obsessive, felt a sudden chemistry that jolts you into next week, tentatively reciprocated the flirting and then..... nadda. They disappear - off to find the next victim on their ego-filling hit list. 

Once you are in a relationship, living with someone, or married even, you assume that the players of old - the ones that had you reaching for the vodka at 7pm, as you stared at an empty in box or a silent phone, are all in the dim and distant past. The last thing you'd expect is a new one to pitch up in your life, full of charm and chat, trying to schmooze their way into your life.

But that is exactly what happened to me a while back. Out of nowhere, I was suddenly pursued by someone (that at the time) I worked with. At first it was mild - email banter and the odd text. I was flattered, curious and surprisingly, attracted back. This was the thing that unnerved me most - how could I be married, happily and attracted to someone else? I immediately emailed player and told him it would be better to keep the whole thing professional - that whilst I had only been attracted to 2 people in my whole ten years of marriage (the other being Taylor Kitsch, and frankly, if you meet him and aren't smitten - you don't have a pulse) I didn't think it was a good idea to encourage our friendship any further. His reply was hilarious - 'Er, you know I have a girlfriend? And you are married with kids?' Then he ended 'if you ever think you could trust yourself around me to have a pint some time, give me a call.' 

As we say in Ireland, if he was a chocolate bar, he'd've had himself ate.

That, you would have thought would have been that. But still he pursued and for a man who worked with words, his attempts at flirtation where surprisingly cliched and obvious. I was no angel - lapping up this attention, that at the time was lacking in my marriage. But I did tell my Husband everything - and he replied that he was often attracted to others, but as long as I didn't do anything about it - then there was no harm done.

Yet, there was. Because the Player continued and I did nothing to stop him. He asked to meet, reeled me in, even with all his dreadful tactics: staring at me in meetings, always being overtly touchy, taking an interest in various Facebook status updates I wrote... I, foolishly and embarrassingly, let myself be played. Let me be clear though - NOTHING ever happened - I did not have an affair. But emotionally, I definitely moved into a shady area. 

Deep down, I knew the player was a tragic emotional vacuum who was only interested in fuelling his own ego - he had no real depth of feeling for me. I doubt he wanted anything to happen either - to him, it was all just one big game. But, something that had been a silly banter I would joke about with workmates, became larger - and they warned me to be wary - they saw right through him. Thankfully, I am not made for deceit, or webs of lies - I am as honest as the day, so I never crossed a line. But it made me see how fragile we can be, married or not, and how we are all vulnerable to flattery and attention, no matter how immune to it we think we are. 

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. I left the job, moved on with my life, Husband changed jobs, we re-focused on us, on our family and I am in a much happier place now. We finally have weekends together and can make plans, we eat dinner together, he nightly bathes our Sproglets. 

So I learnt a valuable lesson - that I wasn't sitting on some smug married perch, immune to all the nightmares that single folk have to endure in the dating wilderness. That marriage takes work - that those vows once spoken wearing a lovely white frock, are in fact, pretty damn difficult at times to adhere to. That we are all fallible, that we all can make mistakes. 

I look back with shame, on that night with my friend, when she was teary and angry at my lack of empathy, my cool judgement on her yo-yo 'relationship.' If I could go back, I'd shut my mouth, fill her glass and give her a massive hug. 

Thursday, 17 July 2014


Sorry, blame it on the heat. (The ridiculous cloying, energy sapping, damp humidity that plagues us all).  Maybe my hormones (Raging). Whatever. Let me share with you all the hottest man model on the planet. He is a cross between Jesus and Brad Pitt.


See what I mean? 


Sometimes, it feels as if Richard Linklater's films are speaking only to me. Like he magically transported himself into my mind and read my thoughts, my worries, my grumblings.

When I walked out of Before Midnight last year, I stopped on route home to get wine, determined to smugly announce to my Husband that Linklater, Hawke and Delpy had proved that I was NOT mad after all. That the fight we had had that very day had just played out on screen.

Tonight I watched his latest film - and ultimately his best - Boyhood. Shot over 39 days, over a time spanning 12 years, it covers a young boy Mason's transition from boy to man. Or 6 year old to college boy at least. I'm not going to give away any spoilers, but it is utterly incredible. Just visually stunning - to witness this boy grow literally before our eyes. The script ambles along at it's own leisurely pace, taking us along for the joyous ride. Warm, moving, funny and smart - it is almost feels like we are watching a lifetime of home movies, rather than a crafted film. So intimate, so real.

Ethan Hawke plays Mason's feckless Dad, who has a heart of gold buried underneath his teenage-style muso ambitions. He is incredible. As is Patricia Arquette, as the softly spoken hard-working Mom who makes ends meet and meets dead end men. Meanwhile Linklater's own daughter Lorelei is just astonishing - growing from precocious child to thoughtful adult.

Ellar Coltrane as Mason is nothing short of mesmerising - his huge blue eyes just aching with all the angst of growing up, surviving, loving, losing and all the rest. As I watched his pudgy years slip away, and acne begin, facial hair appear as his voice breaks - all I could think of was Sproglet and how every second he slips through my fingers a little more. It made me want to stand in front of Father time and tell him to take a hike. I just wanted to relish every single second, before it disappeared.

I wish I could define why I loved it so: and yet, I am at a loss for words. There is no other film quite like it - save the fantastic 7 up series on ITV, charting kids lives from the 60s. But this is contained within one family - and all it's disfunction.

At it's heart, the message, spelt out in the final scene (not a spoiler I promise) is to seize the moment - or it in fact seizes us. If there was ever a film that advocated that we cherish every second of life, the good and the bad bits - I have yet to see it. At over 2 and a half hours long, some critics may mock that we age along with it - but for me, there was never a dull moment.

Linklater's gift is to make us feel included in this family, to champion and cherish all the times we get to spend with them - to love them like he clearly does. Then it reminds us, to look around us and do exactly that with our own.  This is nothing short of brilliant.