Thursday, 19 October 2017

Why Blog?!

You know that old iPhone advert (which subsequently became a meme) that had the tagline: There's an app for that"?  Well, I was thinking about this blog the other day, pondering what to write about next, when I realised many of the subjects I was thinking of, are ones I've already covered, sometimes more than once.  In other words: There's (already) a post for that.

That's not just because I really like repeating myself.  Although, anyone who works with me and hears the same story several times because I insist on telling every colleague, may beg to differ...

It's because this is what I do.  I think about things, I mull them over and put my feelings into words on the virtual page.  It helps to untangle the thoughts buzzing around my incredibly noisy brain (and, if there's not a blog post about my noisy brain already, I've definitely made a YouTube video on the subject).

Sometimes, the things I write are merely observations on my own silly quirks, or on life in general.  Other times, I might want to write something about a hobby or a passion of mine.  Then, there are the occasions when I see something on the news, or read something online, that shocks, angers or upsets me so much, I feel compelled to publish something on the subject.

All of it is done because I'm someone who finds that when thoughts are bubbling up in my brain, I need to get them out.  As I mentioned earlier, writing things down helps to untangle my thoughts.  I would rather sit for an hour, sobbing over the keyboard as I write a piece on a horribly upsetting news story, than lie awake at night, feeling sad about it.  I'd rather bash the keys furiously and post an angry blog on a subject that gets my blood boiling, than find myself on edge and becoming snappy with the people around me, because I've been unable to have a damn good vent.

Now THIS is a damn good vent...

And then there are the personal blog posts.

Yes, I talk about my life on this blog.  My ups and downs, my crushes and heartbreaks, my best days and lowest points are all frequently found here, in one way or another.  And it's for the exact same reason as I write about anything else: to declutter my brain and try to straighten out my thoughts.  By writing stuff down, I often find that I understand a situation better.  Sometimes, I understand myself better.

I have always worn my heart on my sleeve.  It's no secret that if you ask me how I'm feeling,  if you're close enough to me, then you'll get the honest answer, warts and all.  I don't hide my feelings very well.  This weekend, for example, I tried very hard to mutter a casual greeting to my mum as I wandered past where she was sitting.  However, moments earlier, I'd had a ridiculous sobbing session in my room, over something that actually, I should have brushed off like sand from a beach towel.  Still, my skin has never been particularly thick and so I was upset by this thing and, despite my desperate efforts to hide it, my mum saw through me right away.  That's just how I am.  If I'm soppy over someone, you'll know it (they probably will, too).  If I'm angry, I'll rant to whoever's listening.  And if nobody's listening, then I'll blog about it, safe in the knowledge that even if nobody reads what I've written, at least the words aren't pumping furiously through my veins, anymore.

And when my heart feels battered and bruised, the only thing that helps is to talk my feelings through.  Whether it's to a friend or family member, to myself (shut up and don't judge me) or on this blog, I have to release my emotions into the wild.  Keeping them inside feels like swallowing poison; I can feel my emotions churning in my guts.  Vomiting words onto a screen helps to ease that sensation.

I feel no guilt about any of that.  No shame, whatsoever.

One thing I love doing is looking back at old blog posts to see where my mind was, when I wrote it.  Was I happy?  Sad?  Angry?  Hungry?!  

Okay, I'm always hungry, so that's just a given...

But old blog posts tell a story when you read them consecutively.  In the last year, regular readers all know there's been a bit of a storm in my life, involving people I was exceptionally close to.  And yep, I blogged about it.  I shared a lot of the details.  Not to be vulgar or to publicly shame anyone.  But because, throughout all of it, I felt I wasn't being listened to, and I needed people to hear me.  The only outlet I had was this blog.  I felt like I was constantly screaming, internally.  When I wrote a blog entry, the screaming went down a notch or two.  Writing about what was happening became cathartic.  It stopped that churning in my guts, even if only for the hour or two I was writing.  If I could make myself laugh with an appropriate gif, all the better.

And yes, a lot of those posts were angry.  But if you read those angry, hurt-filled posts in succession, you'll notice something.  You'll see a person going through - and I say this with no irony - the stages of grieving and coming out the other side.

From furious rage, to sadness that took my breath away, I poured my heart out because I needed to.  And I make no apology for it, besides understanding that those two people I loved and missed from my life may have found it uncomfortable reading, had they ever stumbled upon those posts.  But, as time went on, the posts were written by a person who no longer had the red mist of anger swirling around her.  They were written by a woman analysing her own behaviour.  A former friend, accepting that her pain had been caused by someone else who was also hurting and that I had made plenty of mistakes, too.  It was talking about things - and writing all of it down, too -  that helped me reach that place of understanding.  So when I look back at those posts, whilst some of the anger makes me blanch, I understand the process I went through.  I appreciate how I came out the other side.

I have written about a great deal of enormously personal things on this blog.  Bullying, my childless status and my experience of abuse, just to name a few.  The abuse posts have been just as cathartic as anything else.  I've written furiously about what I went through, sobbing over my laptop as I remembered things I'd tried to bury, but equally, there are posts in which I talk about using what I went through to help others.  

Grief of any kind is a process and writing things down - getting it all off my chest - has always been one of my most trusted ways of moving through that process.  Without having the capacity to write things down, I would find it all too difficult to cope with.

And sure, I could write a diary (actually, I do).  But writing things openly and honestly gives me the benefit of knowing that I might inadvertently help someone else who happens to be going through something similar, be it abuse, dealing with weird personality quirks or fallouts.  It also forces me to write better than I would if I were merely jotting everything down in my diary.  I can practise the hobby that I love so much and exorcise a few demons in the process.  Seems like a pretty good deal, to me.

Without this blog, many of the thoughts I've had in my head over the past 11 months would have been too heavy to handle.  

Without this blog, my rage at injustices I see in the world, would have no decent, safe outlet; it would be internalised and my body would writhe with it.

Without this blog, I would have taken far longer to have discovered the joy of poking fun at myself for the amusement of others on a much grander scale than I have chance to do in "real life."

This blog is me and my life.  Why write it?  Because it's a part of me.

And I don't intend to stop.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Bedtime Story (18/10/2017)

I am TERRIBLE when I'm hungry; I get "hangry" and all I can think about is how much I want to eat something!  They say stories come from the heart, but this one definitely comes from the stomach!

You can also listen to this story as a podcast!

Hungry Hugh

Hugh was playing with his remote-control car when it first happened.  A loud rumble, that seemed to make his whole tummy shake.  He clutched his belly and frowned.  He'd been so busy playing, he'd barely noticed how hungry he was, but suddenly, it was all he could think about.

Hugh bounded down the stairs and hurried into the kitchen, where his dad was cooking dinner.  "How long until dinner's ready?"  Hugh asked.  He pulled his best "sad face" and blinked up at his dad.

Dad chuckled as he stirred the food in the pan in front of him.  "About twenty minutes," he said.  "You can have a biscuit, if you like," he added, nodding at the biscuit tin.

Hugh opened the tin and took a biscuit.  Then, checking that his dad wasn't looking, he took another, then another.  Scurrying back up to his room, Hugh nibbled on the first biscuit.  Each bite tasted sweeter than the last and before long, he'd scoffed the second biscuit, too.

Hugh glanced at the clock on his bedroom wall.  There were still fifteen minutes until dinner.  He took a deep breath, trying to ignore the gnawing in his belly.  But it was no good; before long, the third biscuit was gone, too.  And Hugh was still hungry.

Creeping down the stairs, Hugh decided he simply couldn't wait until dinner.  He needed something else to eat and he needed it now!  He headed into the lounge, where his younger sister was watching cartoons on TV.  Spying the fruit bowl on the sideboard, Hugh wandered over to it, pretending to be looking for something else.  "Have you seen my pencil case?"  Hugh asked his sister.  He quickly grabbed some grapes from the fruit bowl and shoved them into his pocket, before his sister turned to look.

"Isn't it in your school bag?" 

"Oh, of course," Hugh replied, laughing.  He darted out of the room and into the porch, where his school bag was kept.  Sitting on the little bench, underneath which everyone's shoes were stored, Hugh hungrily ate his stolen grapes.  But it seemed as though each bite only worsened the rumbling in his tummy.  He was still hungry!

Hugh looked down at his watch.  Ten minutes until dinner.  He sighed and sank lower onto the bench.  Suddenly, an idea formed in his mind; Hugh grabbed his school bag and opened it, hoping he might have something left in there that he could eat.  He knew he'd given his lunchbox to his mum, but maybe, just maybe, there was still something left over from snack time.

Sure enough, right at the bottom of the bag, was a packet of raisins that he remembered he hadn't completely finished, that day.  He fished the packet out and tipped the contents into the palm of his hand.  Five raisins came out, all stuck together in a clump.  Hugh ate them all in one go!  The hunger pains in his belly were getting a little less severe, now, but he still felt like he wanted to eat something else...

Hugh snuck into the conservatory at the back of the house.  Mum had just finished making some decorations for the Halloween party they'd be having in a couple of weeks' time.  Hugh hurried to the cupboard where all the party things were being kept.  Opening the door, he fumbled around until he found the large packet of sweets Mum had bought for trick-or-treaters.  He figured it wouldn't matter if just one sweet was missing...

Hugh gobbled up a large marshmallow.  It tasted so good that he simply had to have another.  And some gummy worms.  And a chocolate pumpkin.  Hugh took a look at his watch.  There were only a few minutes left until dinner time.  He sighed with relief and headed into the dining room to take his place at the table.  

His tummy didn't feel hungry, anymore, but it did feel strange.  

As Dad brought out the food and laid it on the table, Hugh pulled a face.  "Do you mind if I only have a little bit of dinner?"

Dad frowned.  "I thought you were starving?!"

Hugh smiled, sheepishly.  "Actually, it turns out... I'm full."  He patted his swollen belly, sighed contentedly and sank into his chair.  "I think I might need a sleep."

"What on Earth have you been eating?!"  Mum gasped.

But Hugh was already snoozing in his seat, dreaming of his secret feast.


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Why Do Trolls Not Understand That Celebs Are PEOPLE, Too?!

If there's one thing guaranteed to get my interest piqued, it's talk of my favourite ever girlband.  Yes, I'm talking about Ginger, Sporty, Baby, Scary and Posh: The Spice Girls.

A few days ago, I was scrolling through Facebook, paying very little attention to the photos of people's dinners/babies/cats/completed Christmas shopping lists and the "share this if your husband is the light of your life!!!1!!one!!" updates, when I stumbled upon a short video of Mel C (aka Sporty Spice) being interviewed by John Bishop for an upcoming TV show.  In the clip, Mel explained that whilst she had fond memories of being in the band, there was definitely bullying within the group and that she often found it very hard to deal with.  Mel was visibly upset as she spoke and, having experienced bullying myself, both at school and in the workplace, I felt for her.

And then I did a stupid thing.

I read the comments.

We all know that any online comment section is going to feature the worst of humanity, collected together like flies on sh!t.  I was expecting nasty comments about how Mel C was "the least talented one" (like hell is she; she's had a musical theatre career!) or jibes about her looks (beauty is subjective and whilst I've always thought Mel to be very pretty, I knew there would be cruel folk in the comments, making her out to be "Ugly Spice").  But beyond all that, I also expected that there would be people discussing what Mel was saying in the clip and perhaps expressing some sympathy.

And yet...

It just wasn't happening.  What was happening was some spectacular "othering" of this woman, based on nothing more than the fact that she's famous.

"I was bullied at work," one woman crowed, "and it really WAS Hell for ME, because I didn't have the luxury of being rich and famous, like Mel did!  She should try living MY life!"

"Still accepted all her royalty checks, didn't she?!" A man agreed.  "So it can't have been that bad!"

Hang on a second, let me get something straight...  Are we seriously implying that being "rich and famous" somehow buffers you from all of life's negative experiences?  And are we supposed to believe that just because a person gets on with their job, despite the problems they're having within it, the problems are somehow less real?!

The idea that being wealthy, successful and well known means that you can't possibly suffer the way that "normal" people do is utterly ludicrous.  Look at Robin Williams.  Chester Bennington.  L'Wren Scott.  These were all people who had achieved success in their careers, had reached a certain level of fame and were apparently much better off than most of us will ever be.  And yet all of them took their own lives.

Yes, fame can bring you money, meaning that you might not suffer the same financial concerns that plague many regular people.  And of course, there must be something nice about making headway in your chosen career to the point that you are known for it, potentially on a global stage.

But fame is not a bandage for all of life's wounds.  A break up, a personal illness or - yes - bullying, still affects a person, regardless of how many people know their names, or how many zeros are on the end of their pay check.

In fact, when life is giving you a rough time - when you are going through some kind of personal trauma - fame is almost certainly salt in that wound, rather than any kind of bandage.  

Just like both Mel C and the harsh woman in the comment section, I've been bullied in the workplace.  I know how much I hated having to smile and pretend I was fine just in front of the parents bringing their kids to the pre-school I was working at (and of course, the kids themselves).  If I'd had cameras thrust in my face and reporters desperately chasing me for a story, let alone fans - and detractors - talking at length about how easy my life must be, because I had wealth and fame, I can only begin to imagine how much worse the pain would have been.  

When people talk the way that woman in the comment section did, they don't make a clear, or in any way valid point about fame cushioning celebrities from life's problems.  What they do do, is make it clear they have a pretty massive chip on their shoulder about their own lack of wealth, success or notoriety.

"Well, I had it much worse, because I'm not rich and famous!" is not a meaningful or helpful contribution to a conversation.  It's the kind of thing a jealous kid says, because their next door neighbour's bike is newer and shinier than theirs.

Reading that woman's comment made me upset and angry that there are people in the world who genuinely seem to believe that when you accept fame and fortune into your life, you somehow also agree to lose your human capacity to feel, as well as your right to any kind of sympathy, should something bad happen.

Aaaaaand then I read the guy's comment.

I originally put it on a par with the woman's ridiculous bleating about celebs having it easier because they're celebs, but in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, it feels far worse.

The guy was, if you recall, suggesting that Mel shouldn't have carried on accepting her royalties, if she was that unhappy in her job.

I get that Mel C was in a place of luxury, in as much as she was probably earning a pretty decent amount and was therefore more likely to be able to quit her job and not have to worry about being broke as a result.  But she'd still receive royalties from the songs she recorded with the group, if she went the way of Geri and left.  So, was this guy suggesting she shouldn't accept those payments, either?  By way of somehow proving herself?!  And who the hell does she have to prove herself to, anyway?!

When I was being bullied in my old job, I still took my wages home when they were given to me.  The money was one of the things that kept my life stable; despite what was going on at work, my wages meant that I could afford to do things outside of my job, that took away some of the sadness I'd been feeling.  It helped me to keep living my life.  In the end, when I did hand in my notice, with no job in place to go to next, I ended up being doubly depressed, because by then, not only had I been bullied out of a job I once really loved, but I was also financially crippled as a result!

I mentioned Harvey Weinstein above, because the guy in the Mel C comment thread was echoing sentiments I've seen written by others (many men and some women) about the actresses who've made allegations against the producer.

"If they were willing to prostitute themselves for a job in the first place, they can't whine and stamp their little feet about it now," one guy ranted in - you guessed it - another Facebook comment thread.

I feel a little rage break is needed...

...And we're back.

Victim-blaming is of the most gross, hurtful and depressingly common reactions to stories of abuse or accusations of sexually predatory behaviour.  And it seems to me that yet again, the guys who are slinging these harsh words around are forgetting that they're talking about real people.   Sure, real people who work in Hollywood, live in mansions and are hugely famous, but still people.

If an actress comes across one of the most powerful and influential producers in Hollywood and is purposefully intimidated or sexually advanced upon by him, she will be aware of his standing.  Aware of his ability to make and break careers.  Aware of the power he wields, if it comes to her word against his.  Possibly, she may even be aware of previous allegations that hadn't yet seemed to have harmed his glittering career.  It's not necessarily a case of should she speak out, but does she feel able to?  Does she think she'll be believed?  Does she even think it'll change anything?

The circumstances may be different, but at heart, Weinstein preying on actresses as he's alleged to have done, is not so far away from the company boss, harassing the young intern, just starting out in her career.  It's still a person in a position of enormous power, behaving in a way that, as a result of his seniority, he believes can be shrugged off as "banter."  It's still a question of whether that intern feels she'll be belittled and laughed at if she speaks out.  "Oh, take no notice, Geoff's just got a bit of an eye for the ladies."

The fear, shame, embarrassment and anger felt by that young intern are no different to the emotions an actress might feel when groped and harassed by a powerful, famous producer or director.  And it seems that Hollywood has that same "office mentality" of turning a blind eye and tutting "well, you know what he's like..."

I'm tired of reading these kinds of comments every time a famous person speaks out about a personal problem.  I'm sick of people tutting and shaking their heads because the person talking just happens to be a celebrity, as though fame insulates them from harmful experiences.

Yes, being famous enough to have a fanbase must be wonderful.

Yes, having more money than you or I will ever probably have in our lives must mean financial aspects of life are a lot easier to handle.

But fame alone doesn't mean that a person no longer feels things.  It doesn't prevent them from experiencing heartache, pain or suffering.  Fame doesn't mean that a person can't be a victim of something or someone, and speaking out about bad experiences should be applauded, rather than mocked.  

We're all people and we all deserve to be listened to and believed, regardless of what job we do and how much cash is in our bank accounts.  

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Bedtime Story (11/10/2017)

As Halloween approaches, I've been thinking about the things that scare me.  I try to be brave, but that doesn't always work out, haha!  The idea for this story came pretty easily and I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I have writing it.

If you're brave enough, click here for the podcast!

I'm Not Scared!

I'm not scared of spiders,
With their long and hairy legs.
I don't mind the way they crawl,
Or their silvery, sticky webs.

I'm not scared of creepy crawlies
Of any kind at all.
I don't mind bugs with wings and things,
Or insects big or small.

I'm not scared of witches,
Who cast their wicked spells.
I'm not creeped out by cauldrons,
With their bubbles and weird smells.

Vampires?  They don't scare me.
I won't let them suck my blood!
If I met Dracula, I'd hit his head
With a big garlic bulb - THUD!

I'm not frightened by monsters,
Who might hide under my bed.
The thought of them doesn't scare me,
At night when I rest my head.

And I'm not scared of the dark,
Or the shadows that lurk in the night.
The thought of all the lights going off
Never gives me a fright.

Ghosts don't scare me one little bit,
As they float round a haunted house.
And I'm not scared of hairy rats,
Or of a scurrying mouse.

No, I'm not scared of anything.
At least, that's what I say.
I'm really very courageous,
As long as those things all stay away.

So, I won't fear bugs or monsters,
Or ghosts straight from the grave.
And as long as I never see one,
I can keep on being brave!


Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Bedtime Story (4/10/2017)

Arguments are a fact of life, sadly.  We don't always all get along, 100% of the time.  But it's important that arguments are resolved and that everyone feels listened to.  I wrote this story with that thought in mind.  

This week's story is, as always, also available as a podcast.

Bobby VS Bailey

It was pouring with rain outside the treehouse.  Bobby frowned as he poked his nose out of the door and watched the seemingly endless downpour.  "It's been raining for ages," he groaned.  He folded his arms across his chest.  "I'm bored."

The treehouse belonged to Bobby and his sister, Clara.  But every day, their friends Bailey, Sam and Jessica came over to play, too.  Today was no different and everyone was feeling just as bored as Bobby was.

"Why don't we put our hoods up and go outside?"  Sam suggested.  He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and made the face he always made when he was about to have a good idea.  "We could go on a bug hunt!  Bugs come out when it rains, because they live in the holes in the ground, or the cracks in trees, and sometimes when it rains, their homes get filled up with water.  So, we could go hunting and see what we can find!"

Jessica wrinkled her nose.  "I don't think my mum and dad want me out in the rain," she said, in a voice that made it sound like she didn't want to be out in it, either.  "They made me promise to stay in the treehouse."

"We don't have to be out long," Bailey shrugged.  "Maybe we could get a plastic tub, poke some holes in the lid and collect some bugs, then bring them back here to look at?"

Jessica still didn't seem entirely convinced, but eventually, everyone agreed to the plan.  They climbed carefully down the ladder from the treehouse and into Bobby and Clara's house, where it was nice and warm and dry.  Clara ran to the kitchen to collect a tub, whilst everyone else waited in the conservatory, pulling up their hoods and getting ready to go back out into the rain.

Before long, the friends were stomping down the road, keeping their eyes peeled for creepy-crawlies.

"Mum says we're only allowed to go as far as lane at the end of the road," Clara reminded Bobby.  "She doesn't want us out in the rain too long."

"Told you," Jessica grumbled, tugging her coat tighter around herself.  "It's not nice, out here!"

But Bobby was determined.  "We're going to find some bugs," he insisted.  He turned to Sam.  "Where's the best place to look?!"

Sam frowned.  "They won't be in their homes, but they'll be looking for shelter," he explained.  "So... We should check underneath bushes, perhaps?"

Bailey nodded, as the friends approached the wooded lane at the end of the road.  "I think we should look for a spider," he said.  "We'll spot those easily!"

Jessica cringed, but Clara gave her arm a squeeze.  "It's okay," she told her.  "It'll be more scared of you than you are of it."

Everyone began searching for bugs, but nobody could find any.  They were all getting very wet and they were starting to feel cold.  "We're looking too close together," Bobby huffed.  "We need to split up!"

"We'll go together," Jessica insisted, clutching Clara's arm.

"I'll look over by that tree stump," Sam replied, scurrying off.

Bailey pointed to a large bush, just as Bobby pointed in the same direction.  

"I'm going to look under there," the boys both said in unison.

"Hey," Bobby frowned.  "I said it first!"

Bailey shook his head.  "We said it at the same time!"

"Well, that's going to be my place to look," Bobby insisted.  "Find your own!"

Bailey hurried over to the bush.  "I got here first," he called.  "So I get to look here!"

Sam glanced over at the boys.  "Can't you just look together?"  He asked.  "That's what the girls are doing.  It's not a competition, you know!"

But Bailey and Bobby felt like they were in competition, now.  And neither boy wanted to back down.

Bobby barged Bailey out of the way and grabbed at the branches of the bush, lifting them up.  A large spider came scuttling out from beneath.  "I found a spider!"  Bobby cried.  "Clara!  Bring me the tub!"

Bailey rushed past Bobby and wrenched the tub out of Clara's hand.  "It was my idea to look for a spider," he hissed.  "So I get to catch it!"

Bobby tugged the tub back out of Bailey's hands.  "Well, the tub is from my house!"  He snapped.  "So I get to catch it!"

Clara rolled her eyes and folded her arms, shivering against the rain.  "Stop arguing!"  She shouted.  "We're all wet and cold!  I don't care who does it; just one of you catch the thing, so we can go home!"

Bailey blinked at the floor, his eyes scanning mud and wet leaves.  "I can't see it, now."

Bobby shook his head.  "That's your fault, for taking the tub from me!  I could have caught it straight away, if you hadn't!"

"Well, you were trying to take over my idea!"  Bailey argued.

As the rain continued to pour and the boys kept arguing, Sam let out a long sigh and began hunting for the spider, whilst Jessica stayed well out of the way and Clara tutted to herself.

"If Sam catches that spider, you aren't allowed to come back to the treehouse to look at it," Bobby snapped.  

"FINE," Bailey shouted.  "I'm going home, then."  He turned on his heels and splashed through the puddles as he stomped down the lane.

Jessica hurried down the lane after him.  She glanced over her shoulder at Bobby as she passed.  "I'm going home as well," she announced.  "I've had enough of all this shouting.  And I'm cold and soaking wet and I don't even like spiders!"

Clara rushed after Jessica.  "Come back to the treehouse," she suggested.  "I'll get Mum to make some of her special hot chocolate, with the marshmallows on top.  It'll warm us right up!"

Sam shook his head at Bobby.  "I can't find the spider, anyway," he sighed.  "I think I'll just go home, too."

Bobby opened his mouth to argue, but suddenly, Bailey's voice echoed down the lane: "Guys!  I found an even bigger spider!"  He pointed to a wall and motioned for Bobby to bring the tub.  Everyone rushed down the lane to meet him.

"Wow!"  Bobby exclaimed, as he set his eyes on the spider.  "It really is even bigger than the last one!"  He handed Bailey the tub, but Bailey shook his head.

"It's your tub, from your house, remember?"  

Bobby smiled, wryly.  "But you found it."  He took a deep breath.  "Why don't we work as a team?"

Together, the boys managed to coax the spider into the tub and they placed the lid - which Clara had carefully poked holes into - on top.  Gently, the boys took it back to the treehouse, taking it in turns to carry the tub.

Before long, everyone was back in the treehouse, cosy and dry, sipping hot chocolate and looking closely at the spider.  Even Jessica had to admit, it was pretty cool to see it up close.

"I'm sorry we got so cross with each other," Bobby said to Bailey.

"Me too," Bailey agreed.  "We work much better together."

Sam took a sip of his hot chocolate.  "We shouldn't keep it for too long," he said, nodding at the spider.  "One of us should probably take it down to the garden and set it free."

Bailey and Bobby nodded.  "I'll do it," they said in unison.

Everyone exchanged glances.  "Uh-oh..."  Clara began.

Bailey laughed.  "We'll do it together," he promised.

The friends all breathed a sigh of relief, as they finished their hot chocolates.  Outside, the rain finally began to subside and the sun peeped through the clouds.  

It had been a good day, after all.


Sunday, 1 October 2017

The Circle of Friendships

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you might be aware that I've not exactly had the best of years.  In fact, things got so bad that by February/March, I was back in counselling, having been to see the lovely nurse practitioner at my GP surgery and having ended up ugly-crying all over her desk.

One of my morning rituals (besides weeping and refusing to get out of bed) is checking Facebook's On This Day feature.  I do it because I like to see what I was up to this time last year, or the year before that etc and every now and then, it throws up a gem I had forgotten about; a funny photo, an in-joke that's still hilarious or just a memory that makes me smile.

But this year, more often than not, the memories it shows me are ones that make me sad.  I see pictures of people I don't know, anymore.  I read stories of places I no longer visit.  I've had a pretty major adjustment to make this year and it's taken a long (looooong) time to feel okay, again.

And then, this morning, this showed up on Facebook:

The only person in that picture that I still speak to, is me.

Those were my besties.  The gang I had been friends with for years.  In one, individual case, when that blog above was written, we'd already been very close for over a decade.  They were the ones I would always be able to rely on.  The ones I'd have done anything for.  The friends who loved me, as I wrote in that "little blog about friendship", as much as I loved them.

Until they didn't.

One event snowballed into this avalanche of nastiness that, for several months, buried me completely.  

There was the friend who didn't tell me she didn't want to do something I had been planning for ages and, when I told her I was upset and a bit cross that she hadn't just been honest (because I would have understood and been fine with it, if she had), she accused me of bullying her.

Then there was the friend related to the first friend, who took her relative's side (understandably, really, but after more than ten years of friendship, I'd have liked to have been asked for my side) and just never spoke to me again.

Then there was the friend who also took the first friend's side and, just to make damn sure I knew where I stood, sent me hate mail, calling me a "selfish, thoughtless b*tch" and rejoicing in the fact that "now all your girls have had enough of you!"

And then, a few months later, there was the friend who got angry at how depressed I'd been over the whole thing, because it meant that I wasn't apparently there for her, enough.  And who ditched me for a boy band and their fans.  

I wrote about all this in several blogs, with varying levels of anger, hurt and, as the months slowly went by, a reluctant acceptance.

I wrote to the first friend, back in March, saying I really regretted not sorting it all out and putting the argument behind us.  She said she'd "think about" meeting up to talk.  I never heard from her again.

In the early Summer, I wrote a long and genuinely heartfelt message to the first two friends (the related ones), apologising for my part in things, saying how hurt I know we all were, because everything had been blown out of proportion and telling them both I loved them very much and wanted more than anything to talk everything through and see if our friendships could be fixed.  I never had a reply from either of them.

Several years of closeness were thrown away by four people, based, essentially, on the fact that I angrily asked one of them: "why didn't you just tell me you didn't want to go away with me?!"

It's a crime worthy of hanging, I'm sure you'll agree.  What a nasty human I am.  If anyone wants to mail me more letters filled with hate, I definitely deserve them.

You said it, Ross.

I re-read the blog I wrote four years ago, today.  Surprisingly, it didn't upset me.  It didn't make me angry, or resentful.

I mention right at the start of it that I was inspired to write about my friends because I was still sad over the loss of my oldest friend, with whom I'd fallen out the previous year.  But you know what, dear reader?  That oldest friend?  Is still my oldest friend.  In fact, she's my best friend.

Because, although it took us both a while to stop being stubborn with one another, at the end of August last year, I messaged that person and we talked it all out.  We both said sorry for the argument we'd had, we caught up on everything we'd missed out on in each other's lives and, within a week or so, we were meeting up again.  And heartwarmingly, it was like we'd never been apart.  We laughed, we talked, we smiled, we hugged.  Just like always.

She's tolerated me since I was 11.  She deserves a long service medal!

That is friendship.  That's what friends do.  They have petty fallouts and they might sulk for a while and not speak, but, unless the argument was about something truly unforgivable, they come back to one another.  They apologise and they talk it all through until it's fixed.  And when the friendship is back on track, it's stronger for having weathered the storm.

For part of this year, I felt like that person - my best friend - was also my only friend.  

The pain of losing the circle I had built around myself was so severe that it eroded the confidence I'd worked hard to regain in myself, after my abusive relationship, a few years ago.  That circle of friends had been there for me - and I for them - for so long, that without them, I was lost.  

If they didn't want me, anymore, maybe nobody did.

If those people, who I thought knew me so well and had been in my life for so long, could say and believe such awful (untrue) things about me, then perhaps I wasn't worth being friends with, to them or anyone else.

The thing is, much like when I was doing simultaneous equations in my GCSE maths classes, I got it so, so wrong.

My best friend is and always will be my best friend, but she's not my only friend.  I was just so sad, so lonely and so mad about everything that I couldn't see that actually, I was surrounded by friends.

The friends who posted me "love mail" to counteract the hate mail I'd received.

The friends who met up with me from time to time to check that I was doing okay.

The friends at work who listened to and supported me on a daily basis.

The family I would choose to be friends with, even if we weren't related.

My life was (and, thankfully is) full of friends, but I was so blinded by the pain of losing the ones I was supposed to be closest to (family aside), that I couldn't see them.

But friendships are circular, in that when it's a real, strong friendship, they surround you from every side.  They are the wall around you, protecting you and shoring you up when times are rough.  They are endless memories that you envelope yourself with.  You don't have to see them to know that they're there.  But when you do see them and realise how lucky you are?!  That's when you feel incredibly, exceptionally blessed.

For what it's worth, if the first two of my former close friends - the ones I messaged earlier this year - ever wanted to get back in touch, I will always be open to hearing from them.  But that's unlikely to happen.  They had words straight from my heart, telling them I love them and want to make things right and they chose to stay silent and to keep portraying me as the bad guy.  Maybe that's how they've coped with the end of our friendship?  By telling themselves it doesn't matter, because I'm an awful person, anyway.

That's not how I've coped.  I've coped by looking at what happened, analysing what I could have done better, talking through my depression with a wonderful counsellor, making contact with the girls to suggest we sort things out and, finally (and after a lot of pain in the process), accepting that they just don't want to do that.  

Ultimately, I've coped by realising I have to be a friend to myself and stop beating myself up for things I never actually did, whilst acknowledging the mistakes I did make.  And I've coped by opening my eyes to the people I have in my life and realising how lucky I am to have them.

I still have a circle surrounding me.  It might not be the one I always thought would be there, but that doesn't make it any less special.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

I Get A Little Carried Away...

You know that feeling you get, when you realise something about yourself and it's kind of half-revelation and half "oh GOD, I've been trying to pretend I'm not like this for about twenty years"?!  I had that, recently.

I've always known that I have this habit of living in my head and making things bigger in my mind than they might be in real life.  I can remember years ago, having an insanely massive crush on a guy who worked in town.  I recall waving at him one day and him waving back and smiling, and let me tell you, I analysed those four seconds for about A WEEK AND A HALF.

"Did he know who I was, or was he just being polite?!  What kind of smile was that?  Flirty?  Friendly?  Did he have wind?!"

So, my own ability to take things to the "Nth degree" has never been in doubt.  But I always thought of it as an internal thing.  One of those Emma-isms that people would only know about if I specifically told them.  After all, unless you happen to be chummy with a clairvoyant, most people you hang out with can't tell the ridiculous notions running through your head.

The trouble is, it turns out that my habit of getting carried away has, for want of a better phrase, broken free.

My weird, internal thoughts are SOARIN', FLYIN'...

Yes, I am no longer able to restrict my habit of getting carried away to just fantasies in my head.  It turns out, I get carried away with everything.

In a couple of weeks' time, I'm going to an 80s disco with some friends.  I was already looking forward to this, when one of my friends suggested something that awoke the beast within me.

She suggested we dress up.

Just like that, my secret tendency to get carried away with things was a secret no more.  Because, within days of the suggestion, I had been out with another friend and dragged her to various fancy dress outlets, searching for "the ultimate 80s outfit" to wear to the disco.

I returned with rainbow leg-warmers, yellow lightning bolt earrings, chokers with neon shapes on them and a glittery rainbow hairband.


My plan was to wear all of the above with a pink strappy top, a black ra-ra skirt and pink fishnet tights.  But suddenly, as I played Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go on repeat for the nineteenth time, that outfit sounded too safe.  A plain, pink strappy top?!  WHAT WAS I THINKING?!

Hours after getting home from my shopping trip, I went onto EBay and ordered a Choose Life t-shirt, too.  Because why not embrace the cliché completely, if that's the road I'm going down?!

There.  Now, I was finally satisfied with my sartorial choices.

That is, until my mum piped up: "You know, jazzy leggings were really in, back then.  Instead of a skirt, you could have gotten some shiny or metallic leggings, maybe."

Just like that, I was back on EBay.  One pair of pink, metallic leggings later, the outfit was done.

Except now, I'm trying to refrain from also buying a neon pink sweatband.


Of course, once the dam had been breached, I realised that it had never really been fully plugged in the first place.  I've always been someone who gets carried away with stuff.  

If I'm baking a cake, I want it to look like something from The Great British Bake Off (and I have a worrying habit of talking to an invisible camera whilst I'm cooking - shut up and don't judge me).

When I used to go away to Butlins' Halloween Ball every year (also 80s themed; what a shame I can't make use of this oufit twice, next month!), I would insist on decorating our room with skeletons and garlands, even though we barely spent any time in there, unless we were sleeping.  

And my bank account would - if it were capable of speech - tell you, possibly through wild sobs, of the number of times I've promised to stay within my means at Christmas and not go mad on presents for everyone, only to end up scrabbling down the back of the sofa for loose change, come January, because the risk of dropping into minus numbers is so very, very great...

All of this has made me wonder about the times when I do exercise self-control.  Do I not drink until I throw up because I'm capable of not getting carried away, or is it just because I suffer from an enormous phobia of vomiting?!

Perhaps I'm not as calm and in control as I like to think.  It turns out that when I have a reaction to something (be it excitement, fear or pleasure), I'm liable to get a little carried away as a result.  Maybe I'll spend all day wondering about what a wave from a cute guy actually meant, or perhaps I'll spend all my money on garish 80s-wear.  The point is, once an idea is in my head, I seem unable to do anything but run with it.

My friend and I have just booked a Beauty And The Beast themed afternoon tea, for next month.  So, if you'll excuse me, I need to end this blog, so I can go and look online for Belle costumes...