Sunday, 30 August 2015

My (current) Top Six Reasons For Rantiness

Admit it.  We all have days like this.

I try to be a nice person.  I try to consider the feelings of others and I try to be kind towards people.  But I'm part Mediterranean and I have a feisty side.  There's a part of me that resembles a coiled spring (and no, I'm not just referring to my unmanageably curly hair), just waiting to burst forth into a gigantic rant.  When that happens, it's not always a pretty sight.  So, in order to prevent any poor, unfortunate souls from coming into contact with "Ranty Emma," I figured I'd provide regular readers to my blog with a helpful list of things that awaken the beast within.  We all have days where everything winds us up and we all have our own little lists of things that niggle us, even though we often realise we're getting annoyed or upset over something pretty trivial.  I know that sometimes, I should just count to ten and take Elsa's advice and just let it go.  But sometimes, despite our best intentions, something silly will push us over the edge.  With that little nugget of honesty in mind, here are six things that really get my goat...

1. Victim-blaming/homophobia/sexism/racism and all the other big "isms" in life.

You said it.

Let's get the most serious bit out of the way first, shall we?  If you cut yourself, what colour do you bleed?  Unless you're part android, or you've snuck here on a rocket from Mars, I'm going to assume that the answer to that question is "red."

Now, I'm not suggesting you go slicing into people of different races, genders or sexuality, but here's the thing:  They bleed the same colour as you do.

Not only that, but they have hopes and dreams, just like you do.  They have fears, just like you do.  They feel changes in temperature, hunger, tiredness, sadness, love, joy and loss, just like you do.  I bet if you took a person of any religion, any nationality and any sexuality, if they stub their toe, they're going to make that same howling noise, followed by rage through gritted teeth as you do.  Don't deny it; we've all been there.

People are just that.  People.  Not a label that you've given them.  Not deserving of bad things, because they've "brought it on themselves."  Just people.  Living, breathing, fallible humans, just trying to make the most of their relatively brief stint on this massive chunk of rock, spinning around in space.  Just.  Like.  You.

If you seriously want to waste the finite amount of time we have in the world, casting hate on a person for no reason beyond the colour of their skin, the gender or sexuality they identify as, the religion they belong to, or the country they're from, then you need to take a very long, hard look at yourself in the mirror and ask whether you might be better off doing something - literally anything - else with your life.  And stay the hell away from me, until you do.

Now that the serious bit is over with, we can ready ourselves for the trivial stuff...

2. People who don't respond to messages.

So.  You have an idea for a get-together with a friend you've not seen in a while.  You fire off a text message, suggesting said get-together and asking if they fancy it.  And then you wait for a response.  And you wait.  And you wait.  And... You wait.

I get it.  People lead busy lives.  Our loved ones don't just sit around, waiting for their phones to bleep with a message from us.  But you know what?  I just sent a text and it took less than thirty seconds.  It really doesn't take that long to reply to someone.

Sometimes, we get a message and then go into an area without signal, meaning we can't reply straight away.  That's fine.  We just have to remember to respond when we can.  Sometimes, people are busy doing something where they can't respond to a text right away and that's fine, too.  I work in a profession in which we have to sign our mobile phones into the office on arrival and we can't look at them again until our lunch break.  So, if someone texts me at around 9:30am when I'm at work, they're not going to get a response until any time between 12:15 and 1:30, depending on when I go on my break.  But they will get a response, because once I check my phone and I see that there's a message, I reply to it.  Why?  Because it's kind of rude not to.

Sure, some messages don't require a response.  If you send someone a joke and they text back "LOL," that's kind of a conversational cul-de-sac.  And I'll be honest; if I'm in bed and you text me at gone midnight, you'd better be in dire trouble, because otherwise, you're not getting a reply, but you will be getting some passive aggressive muttering from an overtired woman who was trying to bloody sleep.

Look, just do me a favour:  if I send you a text that has a question in it, send me an answer.  If not right away then, you know, at some point in the week after I've actually sent the damn thing.  Otherwise, I end up feeling like I'm being clingy; unsure whether to ask the question again, or whether I've done something to offend you, or whether you've just forgotten to reply and I should send another text just to "nudge" you.  Or maybe you've died.  Don't make me think you've died, people.  It's much easier to click "reply."

3. Incorrect grammar (I know, I know.  I'm very anal)...

Thank you, Ross.

Recently, someone sent me an message, which said "lots of love" at the end.  I thought it was a really nice way to end a message (and hey, at least they replied), but then I looked at it again and it actually said "lot's of love" and my brain exploded into tiny pieces, which splattered all over my laptop screen.

Look, I know I'm very anal about this.  I realise many people think incorrect use of grammar is a really pointless thing to get annoyed about.  And no, I would never dream of criticising any of my friends or family members for using the wrong form of "your" or anything like that.  I will, instead, silently weep for the future of the English language.

Let's be really honest about it: however anal you may think I am, "their," "there" and "they're" all mean different things.  So do "your" and "you're."  Words are beautiful tools with which we convey meaning to others and if you're wilfully writing things that don't actually make sense, I think that's quite sad.  You might be thinking "oh for goodness sake, you know what I meant."  But that's the point; I know, so why don't you?  Unless you have a medical reason (dyslexia or similar), everyone should be capable of picking this stuff up.

I genuinely don't get why so many people are just going about their daily lives, apparently clueless as to what words mean, or where apostrophes go.  I was taught this stuff in school.  By the age of thirteen, I knew that an apostrophe is used to either join two words together, or to denote belonging.  I knew not to use it for plurals (like "cat's" or "lot's").  I knew that "you're" meant "you are" and that "your" essentially meant something that belongs to you.  I admit that "their" and "there" took a little longer to sink in, but I'd gotten the hang of that by the time I sat my GCSEs.  

And for the love of everything I hold dear, do not get me started on "should of" instead of "should have."  That makes literally no sense whatsoever and is just lazy.  I see that written down and I essentially have this reaction:

Don't turn me into Phoebe, folks.  You won't like me when I'm Phoebe.

4. Ironically, getting irate (or over-dramatic) over something stupid.

Why yes, I have recently saved a load of Friends gifs, what makes you ask?

One of the things that makes me ranty is getting ranty over something stupid.  Yes, I know.  I'm an enigma, wrapped up in a riddle.  Or something.

But seriously, I hate wasting my precious rage over something undeserving of it.  I hate feeling irate because someone I don't even know has written a tweet, saying "Your right, Clare! I should of bought those shoes when we saw them.  There all sold out, now! I really liked them, to."  And I loathe the fact that just writing such a grammatically incorrect sentence to evidence my point has made me feel bizarrely dirty.

I want to save my anger for the big things in life.  For the times when I switch on the news and see that people who truly aren't fit for work are being judged to be so and are having vital benefits cut.  Or when dozens of immigrants are found to have drowned, trying to escape a life of war and poverty and you still get idiots moaning "well, we don't want them coming over here, do we?" rather than showing any decency or compassion.  Or when I read literally anything in The Daily Mail.

Yet, whilst I do feel angry at those big, important things, the silly little niggles still get to me.  The lack of a "thank you" when I hold a door open for someone shouldn't make me want to yell "YOU'RE WELCOME" in a passive-aggressive manner, but it does.  And that bothers me.

What's more, other people's overreactions bother me, too.  Recently, when I saw a teenage girl tweet that "my life is not worth living if One Direction split up, tbh," I was furious.  Partly because "tbh" is on my list of abbreviations I detest and partly because ARE YOU SERIOUS?!  IF I GOT OVER TAKE THAT - WHO WERE A DECENT BLOODY BAND - YOU CAN GET OVER WAND ERECTION.

I know I shouldn't be bothered by other people's dramatic reactions, stupidity, rudeness or complete inability to spell.  But for some reason I am.  That is a failing on my part.  And I hate it.

5. Other people's bad driving.

On the way to Minehead, there's a road leading to a roundabout.  Approaching this roundabout, the road splits into two lanes, which are clearly marked with arrows.  The left hand lane has an arrow pointing to the left.  The right hand lane has an arrow pointing straight ahead.  The sign beside the roundabout echoes these directions, saying "GET IN LANE" and visibly demonstrating which lane to use, depending on which exit you need.  There are only two lanes and, aside from going all the way around the roundabout and heading back in the direction you came from, there are only two exits - left or straight ahead.  It's all marked out for you, so using said roundabout genuinely couldn't be easier.

And yet, back in May, as I pulled into the right hand lane to go straight ahead, the driver of the car I had been following, for some reason stayed in the left hand lane and also went straight ahead.  This obviously led to a very near-miss, in which I almost collided with the side of his car upon leaving the roundabout, because he was in the wrong lane and travelling at the same speed as I was.  I beeped him.  He, presumably because his penis was only two inches long and half an inch thick, proceeded to slam on his brakes (causing yet another near-miss), yell obscenities out of his window at me, speed off well above the limit for that road, before slamming on his brakes again and yelling at me some more, then travelling at well below the speed limit for a while, in an effort to intimidate or annoy me.  All this, because I had beeped him for being in the wrong lane.  Or, to put it another way, all this, because he did something wrong.  He eventually sped up again and drove the windy little roads towards Minehead, crossing over onto the wrong side of the road every time he went around a bend.

I could fill a book with the names I called him.  It's fair to say that I turned the interior of my car a rich shade of blue as I cursed him over and over for his appalling lack of driving skills and his general propensity to be a dickhead.  I looked a bit like this:

The friend I was with, meanwhile, pleaded with me at length to "just let it go."

If only I could.

The thing is, being an asshole behind the wheel of a car isn't just stupid, it's dangerous.  Had I not slammed on my brakes and avoided smashing into the side of that guy's car (because HE was in the wrong lane), I could have injured the small child he had sitting in the back.  I could have written off his car.  I could have given my passenger whiplash.

Taking a bend on the wrong side of the road runs the risk of a head-on collision.  Not bothering to check which lane you should be in at a roundabout runs the risk of a crash (or a spike in my blood pressure; neither is worth it, to be honest).  

For reasons I've never been able to fully understand, some people get into a car and immediately think: "Well, I'm encased in metal.  I'm basically Robocop."  And that, to them, gives them the right to do whatever the hell they like, be it pulling out of junctions right in front of you, veering from lane to lane without indicating, or stamping on their brakes for literally no apparent reason, causing you to do the same in order to prevent yourself from going into the back of them.  These people are idiots and since they're unlikely to ever stop being idiots, we should just all collectively decide to hide their car keys, for the good of humanity.

6. Not being listened to.

 I like to think that I'm a good listener.  If someone's having a hard time, I will always act as a shoulder for them and, if they want me to, I'll try to give some advice (if they don't want me to, then I'll just listen - I'm flexible like that).

The thing that really grinds my gears is not being listened to.  Not only if I feel very sad about things and just need a friendly ear, but in any aspect of life.  Feeling as though your opinion isn't important to those around you just makes you feel minimised.  And, as you've probably guessed from this blog (and others), I'm someone whose mind is almost constantly buzzing about something or other.  I usually have an opinion on things.  I usually have got creative ideas to share when people are putting together a project.  So when people start discussing something around me and tell me I can be involved, I feel rather put-out if I make a simple suggestion, only to have it immediately vetoed, or if I share an opinion and have it slammed or ignored.  Or worse, if I'm not once even asked what I think of something.

That's the thing with opinions - we've all got one and we all deserve to be listened to, providing we're not spouting ignorant hate (see number 1 on this list...).  Whilst I know it can be irritating for someone to have an opinion on everything and to want to voice it, I'm not averse to letting everyone have their say.  So, when I'm in any situation where I feel like my say hasn't even been considered, that makes me annoyed.  What's the point in having a person there with you, if you're not prepared to ask them what they think, or what they want to do in the situation?  Sure, there are people in the world who really are just happy to go along with what everyone else wants to do, but we should still ask them for their view.  And I'm not some contrary little madam who disagrees with the general consensus just for the sake of it.  Often, I'll find myself in agreement with those around me, anyway.  It's just nice to be made to feel as though my thoughts matter.

And if you treat me like they don't, well...

Again, thank you, Ross.

Of course, despite saying all of this, the fact remains that I'm British (albeit with a touch of Mediterranean fire).  Most of the time, even when things really annoy me, I'll do that thing of insisting that I'm okay and it's nothing, whilst mumbling under my breath, rather than actually addressing the problem.  I don't see the point in starting a row for no reason and I tend to blame myself for my own ranty-reactions, too.  I guess what I'm saying is, I'll have a rant now and then and I'll get cross over something that seems trivial, but for the most part, I'll suck it up and deal with it in my own way (currently, by watching videos of Josh Widdicombe doing stand up comedy and wondering where my sudden "thing" for guys with curly, blond hair has come from).

But always remember that underneath my three quarters of British reserve is one quarter of Greek Cypriot feistiness, just waiting to be triggered.  I might be smiling, but I could also be having a furious row with you in my head.  I might be silent, but that could just mean I'm simmering on a low boil.  And for the love of God, if I tell you I'm fine, run.

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Bedtime Story (26/8/2015)

I sort of wish I was turning 30 again...

It's my birthday in just over a fortnight (and my dad's two days later) and as such, birthdays have been on my mind, recently.  Only Christmas can beat the excitement of a birthday when you're little, so I hope this story captures that birthday count-down and brings a smile to people's faces...

Becky's Birthday

On Monday morning, Becky woke up with a spring in her step and a smile on her face.  Her birthday was just around the corner - so close, she could almost touch it.  "How many more sleeps?"  She asked, as she bounded down the stairs and into the kitchen.

"It's your birthday on Friday," her mum replied.  "That means four more sleeps."

Becky frowned.  "That's loads," she groaned.

"Well, you'll just have to fill your days with fun things until your birthday comes," her mum told her.  "That'll make the days pass much quicker."

So, Becky ate her breakfast and then rushed outside.  She made mud pies for her imaginary friends and climbed to the highest branch of the apple tree at the end of the garden.  After lunch, she drew lots of little pictures for all of her friends and stuck them into envelopes to be given out as party invitations.  Then, she went to the shops with her mum and bought balloons, streamers and bunting to decorate their house with, when the day of her birthday party finally arrived.  Once Becky had eaten her dinner, she practised playing musical statues all by herself, so that she'd be really good at it when the time came to play it for real.

By the time Becky went to bed that night, she was very tired indeed.  She asked for just two bedtime stories, instead of her usual three and she only spent half an hour playing with her teddy bears once the light had gone out, before she finally closed her eyes and drifted off.

On Tuesday morning, Becky woke up bright and early and skipped down the stairs.  Her dad hadn't left for work yet and she jumped into his lap as he finished his breakfast.  "How many more sleeps until my birthday?"  Becky cried.

Her dad smiled.  "Three more," he told her.  

"That's still a long time," Becky groaned.

"Well, you know what to do," her dad replied.  "Keep yourself busy so that the time passes by faster!"

So, Becky wolfed down a piece of toast, then spent her morning trying on all of her best party dresses, so she could choose one for the party.  She practised tying her hair in plaits all by herself and then raided her mum's make up bag and even had a go at putting on lipstick.  After lunch, she bounced on her trampoline in the garden, seeing how high she could jump, until she was all out of breath.  Once her dad got home from work and they'd had some dinner, Becky showed him a fantastic new dance routine she'd taught herself for the party.

When Becky got into bed that night, she was shattered.  She only asked for two stories instead of three and she didn't manage to stay awake long enough to play with her teddy bears once the light had gone out.

On Wednesday, Becky jumped out of bed and hurried downstairs for breakfast.  "How many more sleeps?"  She asked, as she munched on a piece of toast.

"Only two more," her mum smiled.

"That's not too many," Becky grinned.  "But I need to stay busy just in case the time goes slow!"

She swallowed her last mouthful of toast and then ran back upstairs to rearrange her dolls' house.  She raided her mum's sewing box and, with the help of some sticky tape, scraps of fabric and lots of glitter, she made party dresses for all of her dolls.  After lunch, Becky's mum took her to the park and she rode on the roundabout until she was dizzy, then had lots of tries on the monkey bars until she could almost go all the way along without letting go.  After dinner that evening, Becky played a long game of Twister with her mum and dad.

By the time Becky got into bed, she was so tired that she fell asleep during her second bedtime story.

On Thursday, Becky walked slowly down the stairs, rubbing her eyes.  "There's only one more sleep, isn't there?"  She asked her mum.

"Just one more left," her mum nodded.

"I just need to stay busy for one more day," Becky said.

Her mum smiled.  "Are you sure you don't want to save your energy for the party tomorrow?"

Becky shook her head.  "No, otherwise today might go really slowly!"

So, after breakfast, Becky built a den in the garden.  Afterwards, she made perfume using petals from flowers and water from the outside tap, so that her den would smell beautiful.  Once they'd had lunch, her mum took her swimming and Becky went down the flume thirteen times.  She ran all the way home and then helped her mum to wrap presents for a game of Pass The Parcel.  After dinner, Becky helped to hang bunting in the lounge and she blew up balloons until she was out of breath.

Becky was so tired that night, that she fell asleep before her mum was even halfway through the first bedtime story.

On Friday, Becky's mum and dad waited for her to run down the stairs.  They waited and they waited.

Finally, they crept up the stairs and into Becky's room.  Her eyes were tightly closed and she was snoring!

"Becky?"  Her dad whispered.  "There are no more sleeps left.  It's your birthday!"

Becky blinked and rubbed her eyes.  She let out a tremendous yawn.  "How many more sleeps did you say?"

Her mum laughed.  "No more sleeps!"

Becky threw back her bed covers and flung her arms around her parents' necks.  "Happy birthday to me!"

The day was filled with presents and cake and the most fabulous party Becky had ever been to.  She danced, she played games and she smiled all day long.

That night when Becky crawled into her bed, her mum smiled and kissed her forehead.  "Did you have a lovely birthday, Becky?"  She asked.  

Becky let out a long yawn as she nodded her head.  "How many sleeps until my next one?"

Her mum laughed.  "Three hundred and sixty four!"

Becky smiled.  "Oh good," she said.  "That gives me time to rest until then."

And with that, Becky closed her eyes and went straight to sleep.


Sunday, 23 August 2015

Bring Me Sunshine... (Why I Will ALWAYS Love Morecambe & Wise)

I have always loved comedy.  There was a time in my life where it seemed like every other weekend, I would disappear to some comedy club or other, to see what the stand ups were like there.  When comedy is good, it can make you forget your troubles and you can experience the wonderful freedom of simply letting go and laughing out loud.

I like all sorts of comedy, really.  Of course there are some styles I dislike and some comedians I just don't find funny, but for the most part, I'll give anything a try, from acerbic stand-up, to parody songs, to modern-day sitcoms.

My love of comedy came, as so much of my great loves have, from my childhood.  My sister and I watched a lot of the stuff our parents (and their parents) liked.  We giggled at Carry On films, we watched so many episodes of Dad's Army that we could practically quote scenes and we were introduced, via BBC repeats, to the magic that was Morecambe and Wise.

Eric Morecambe (born John Eric Bartholomew) and Ernie Wise (born Ernest Wiseman) had been child performers on the old UK variety scene.  Eventually, they'd teamed up (whilst still only in their teens) and formed a double-act, which went on to become quite probably the greatest comedy double-act the UK - and possibly the world - has ever seen.  Their television shows attracted enormous audiences 
and their Christmas specials were absolutely not to be missed, featuring big-name stars of stage and screen, practically queueing up to make fun of themselves.  

Tom Jones found himself equipped with a new pair of backing singers...

Of course, the days of Morecambe and Wise dominating the Christmas schedules are, sadly, long gone.  Eric Morecambe suffered his third heart attack in 1984, as he left the stage at the Roses Theatre in Tewkesbury.  He died a few hours later, aged just 58.  Ernie Wise was devastated at the loss of his oldest and dearest friend and, heartbreakingly, read the lyrics to "Bring Me Sunshine" (the song the double act were famous for singing at the end of their shows) as a eulogy to his comedy partner.  Although he outlived Eric and appeared on stage and television, Ernie suffered a series of mini strokes and heart problems in the years following his partner's death.  He passed away in 1999, aged 73.

So it is, that Morecambe and Wise are something of a memory, now.  But what a memory.

In today's hectic, sharp-tongued world, there are, it seems, hundreds of comedians out there, just waiting to tell us what they dislike about modern life.  And of course, there's nothing wrong with that.  As I said, I find all kinds of different comedy entertaining and I can definitely get on board with the ranty, putting-the-world-to-rights style of many of today's stand-ups.  But Morecambe and Wise weren't about that.  They weren't wanting to moan about the cost of living, or go off on a political rant.  These were two men from a variety hall background - they wanted to sing, dance, tell jokes and make people smile.  They wanted to entertain.

Unlike many modern comics, Morecambe and Wise had no intention of resorting to cruelty or mockery without purpose.  When a guest star was made fun of, the audience could tell that it was never being done with any kind of malice.  It was, simply, just funny.  When the famous conductor & composer, Andre Previn appeared as a guest, he was constantly referred to as "Andrew Preview" and Eric Morecambe delighted in seemingly frustrating Previn with his deliberately bad piano playing.  Whilst Previn was undoubtedly the stooge for Eric and Ernie's comedy, he was never personally insulted or put down.  In fact, his rather superb (and unexpected) comic skills instead meant that the "Andrew Preview sketch" has gone down in history as one of Morecambe and Wise's greatest moments.

Presenting: "Andrew Preview" in all his glory.

Eric and Ernie sometimes told a risque joke, or alluded to adult themes, but they were never, ever crude and their shows were free from bad language, meaning the whole family could enjoy them together.  There was no need for cussing or insulting anyone - they were just happy to make people laugh by doing something silly; performing with the kind of genuine warmth for one another, as well as for their craft and their audience, that endeared them to viewers in their millions.  

Eric and Ernie may have mocked one another on stage, but the many years of friendship behind their eventual television success always shone through and you never felt that the pair were anything but mates as well as colleagues.  Their lampooning of one another simply came across as the kind of harmless banter that is inevitable between two people who know one another very well.  From Ernie's despair at Eric's supposed lack of intelligence, or appreciation for the finer things in life, to Eric's mocking of Little Ern's height and his constant insistence that Ernie wore a wig ("but you can't see the join!"), the pair were always happy to be the butt of their own jokes.

Yes, when you watch some episodes back, a little of the humour is dated.  But there is something genuinely wonderful about stepping back into a time when comedy was simply for fun, without trying to spread a message or cut anyone to the quick.  When you watch Morecambe and Wise, you can see the love for performing that Eric and Ernie both had, as well as the immense skill they had in doing the job.  It's not hard to imagine the enormous amount of work that went into making a show that was adored by millions, yet the boys managed to make it look effortless.

Sometimes, we don't want to think about anything too deeply; we just want to switch off and have a bit of a laugh.  And that's what Morecambe and Wise gave us.  A chance for a good belly-laugh.  An opportunity to enter a world of silliness and fun, in which of course two guys would choreograph an entire dance routine whilst making breakfast!

I was talking about Morecambe and Wise to someone the other day and I described an evening in, watching their old Christmas specials, as being like "a really big, squishy hug."  It's heart-warming.   It's hilarious without being nasty.  It's silly.  It is, at its heart, just very, very funny.  It was after that conversation that I decided to use one of my weekly bedtime stories here on my blog, to pay tribute to the boys.

I may have only been eighteen months old when the world lost Eric Morecambe, but I grew up watching him and Ernie and loving them.  And now, three decades later, they're still bringing me sunshine.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Bedtime Story (19/8/2015)

As a heads-up, at some point between Friday and Sunday, I intend to write a blog post in which I gush over my enormous love for Morecambe And Wise.  The above gif is making me smile like there's a hanger stuck in my mouth, because pretty much anything featuring Eric and Ernie always does.  This week's bedtime story is dedicated to them, for always bringing me sunshine...

That's What Friends Are For

Eric and Ernie had been rehearsing for weeks.  Now, the school talent show was just a few days away.

"So," Ernie said, scratching his head.  "You do that joke, then I do my dance and we end on a song, yeah?"

Eric nodded, pushing his glasses up onto the bridge of his nose.  "I reckon we're a shoe-in for first prize, you know," he told his friend.  "Everyone else is either acting, singing, dancing or telling jokes.  We're the only ones doing everything!"

Ernie grinned.  "What are you going to buy with your prize money, if we win?"

Eric let out a long puff of air.  "A new football, maybe," he mused.  "And a football shirt to wear whilst I'm having a kick about."

"And we'll each get a trophy," Ernie reminded him.  "That would look so cool on my bedroom shelf.  I've cleared a space already, just in case."  He glanced up at the shelf on the wall and clapped his hands.  "I'm so excited, Eric!"

"Well, Monday night will be here before you know it," Eric replied.  He glanced down at his watch.  "I've got to get a move on; we're off to see my grandparents this weekend and mum wants to leave before rush hour."  He smiled as he gave his friend a quick hug goodbye.  "I'll keep practising, whilst I'm away!"

Ernie nodded his head.  "Me too," he promised.

The weekend passed by in a blur, as Eric spent time with his family and grabbed every spare second he could find to practise the routine he and Ernie had so carefully planned.  By the time he arrived home on Sunday night, he could barely wait to see Ernie and have one last rehearsal before the talent show, the following evening.  But when he rushed round to Ernie's house, he was in for a nasty shock.

"He's ever so poorly," Ernie's mum told Eric, when she opened the door.  "We had an emergency doctor round yesterday and he thinks it's flu.  Bless him, Ernie's got a really high temperature; he's shivering and his joints are hurting him...  I've not seen him this ill for a very long time."  She sighed and shook her head.  "I'm sorry, Eric.  There's no way he'll be well enough for school tomorrow and that means he won't be able to take part in the talent show, either."

Eric's shoulders dropped and his mouth hung open.  All of their plans and dreams seemed to come crashing down around his feet.  He swallowed hard and shuffled on the spot.  "Can I see him?"

Ernie's mum wrinkled her nose.  "Well...  I'm sure he'd want to see you, but..."  She sighed.  "Okay, come in," she told him.  "But don't get too close. I don't want you catching this as well."

Eric climbed the stairs and gently pushed open the door to Ernie's bedroom.  The room was dark; the curtains were closed and the light was off.  Ernie was lying under the bedcovers, looking thoroughly miserable.  "Eric?"  He croaked, as his friend entered the room.  "I'm so, so sorry."

Eric shuffled into the room.  "Don't be silly," he insisted.  "You can't help it."  He forced a grin, clapped his hands and fiddled with his glasses, so that they rested wonky on his face.

Ernie chuckled in spite of himself.  "You look funny like that," he said.  "You should do that tonight, in the talent show."

Eric rearranged his glasses and quickly shook his head.  "Not a chance," he replied.  "I can't do it without you.  We signed up as Eric and Ernie, not just Eric!"

"But you'll win, Eric," Ernie pressed.  "You're funny and you don't need me there; you can sing and dance without me.  Then you can go and buy that football and we'll have a kick about when I'm feeling better."

"It won't be the same without you, Ern," Eric protested.  He hated seeing his best friend so crestfallen, so he rushed to the window, just as an ambulance went speeding by, with its siren blaring.  He turned and gave Ernie a broad grin.  "I tell you what; he won't sell many ice creams going that fast," he joked.

Ernie giggled and shook his head.

"Shall I do a dance?"  Eric broke into a shuffle and beamed as the smile on his friend's face grew wider in response.  "See, look at that," he told Ernie.  "You look better already!"

"That's because you make me laugh," Ernie replied.

Eric dug his hands into his pockets.  "That's what friends are for," he said, simply.

"I really mean it, you know," Ernie said, his voice sounding a little weak.  "You could win the talent show on your own, tomorrow night."

Eric shrugged his shoulders.  "We'll see," he replied.  "Listen, you look exhausted.  I ought to go; some of us have got school tomorrow!"

Ernie smiled.  "Let me know how it goes," he said, managing a wave as his friend left the room.

The next day dragged for poor Ernie.  He managed to get out of bed a few times, but he spent much of the day under his duvet.  At ten to six, his mum came in with a bowl of soup.  "Ern?"  She sat on the edge of the bed.  "How are you feeling?"

Ernie let out a long sigh.  "I wish I was there to cheer him on, mum," he mumbled.  "The talent show starts at six o'clock.  He'll be nervous and I'm not there to calm him down."

His mum stroked his hair and gently kissed his forehead.  "Eric's going to be fine," she promised.  "You just need to concentrate on getting better."

"I know," Ernie breathed.  "I just wish I was there.  I practised so hard, mum..."

His mum rose to her feet, hearing footsteps on the stairs.  "Hear that?"  She asked.  "That's probably your dad coming up to check on you, too."

The door creaked open and through the gap, an arm poked through, waving.  It was too small to belong to Ernie's dad.  Ernie sat up in bed.  The arm disappeared and when it came back again, the hand was holding a pair of glasses.  "These," a voice said, "are for seeing around corners.  And you, Ernie, look terrible."

Ernie burst out laughing, as Eric bounced into the room.

"What on Earth are you doing here?"

Eric popped his glasses back on and shuffled his feet.  "Couldn't do it without you, could I?"  He nodded hello to Ernie's mum as she left the room, then sat on the edge of Ernie's bed.  "We're a team, you and me, aren't we?"

"But what about the trophy and the new football you were going to get?"  Ernie frowned.

"You've got ears like a trophy and if you curl up small enough, I'm pretty sure I could use you as a ball..." Eric joked.  He sighed.  "Seriously, none of that matters.  I thought about going up on stage without you, but after all the practising you'd done for the show, it just didn't feel right.  If you're not up there with me, I don't want to do it."

Ernie blinked back at him.  "That's the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me," he said.

Eric grinned.  "Ah, the act was rubbish anyway," he teased.  "We'll come up with something even better for next year's talent show and we'll definitely win.  And we'll win it together."

"That's what friends are for," Ernie nodded, remembering what Eric had said the previous evening.

"Hey," Eric tutted.  "That's my line."  He rose to his feet and nodded to the door.  "I ought to get going," he said.  "I'll come back and see how you're getting on after school, tomorrow."

As the door closed behind him, Ernie gazed up at the space he'd cleared on his bedroom shelf for the talent show trophy and a smile crept across his lips.  He didn't need a prize.  He already had something much more valuable.  And that's what friends are for.


Thursday, 13 August 2015

Today's Rant: Ageism Makes My Blood Boil...

Yesterday, I saw something that made my blood pressure creep up.  It was a trivial comment - something that many people might have brushed aside and forgotten about - but it lingered with me for the rest of the day and the more I thought about it, the angrier I got.

I don't believe in the term "guilty pleasure."  As long as you don't derive pleasure out of doing something horrific, like using puppies as tennis balls, or enjoying the music of One Direction, then why should you feel guilty about something that makes you happy?  So, I won't apologise for saying that I get a great deal of joy out of watching BBC3's reality TV show, Don't Tell The Bride, in which a couple are given £12,000 towards planning their dream wedding, on the condition that the groom organises everything (even buying the wedding dress) in just three weeks and the bride has absolutely no input whatsoever and can't see or speak to the groom for that three week period, so that everything he (or she; the show has also featured gay and lesbian couples) plans is a complete shock on the big day.  The resulting programme almost always makes me laugh, as a hapless groom orders a dress in the wrong size for the bride, or comes up with a themed wedding so bad it's brilliant.  

For several years, Don't Tell The Bride has been a staple of the BBC's freeview channel, BBC3, but recently, it was given an upgrade and a new series aired on BBC1.  For the new, prime time BBC1 series, the show made three simple changes to the usual format:  They changed the narrator, they increased the wedding budget to £14,000 and they decided to feature couples of different ages, rather than focusing on couples in their early 20s as usual.  As a result, we had a few brides/grooms in their late 30s and 40s, mixed in with the usual young lovers.  For me, the only thing that was ever so slightly less enjoyable than usual was the change of narrator, as BBC3's Rebecca Statton is wonderfully sarcastic and witty, whereas BBC1's Zoe Ball seemed a little hesitant to go to some of the cattier (and therefore hilarious) places Rebecca takes her narrative.  That slight niggle aside, it was the same show entirely.

It still gave me this familiar feeling... YAY!

So, when I stumbled upon the Don't Tell The Bride twitter feed (oh, okay, I searched for it...) and saw that they'd retweeted a comment from a fan that made me bubble over with rage, it came as something of a shock.  The tweet was from a viewer commenting that the show is better on BBC3, "because who wants to see a middle aged couple get married?"

That was it.  No other reason for the BBC1 version of the show being inferior.  It was just because the BBC1 version featured "middle aged" couples, as well as some of the young ones that have featured since the very start of the BBC3 series and who continue to feature on the latest BBC3 incarnation.  To this viewer, the mere fact that a couple of the brides/grooms were in their late 30s/40s, was enough to put her off the BBC1 version of the show.  

Now, let me reiterate:  The premise of Don't Tell The Bride was exactly the same.  The grooms were still trying to create over-the-top weddings, with crazy themes.  They were still buying wedding dresses that the brides would have little choice but to wear, whether they liked them or not.  The same problems with running out of money due to silly spending, or failing to send any invites with only a week to go until the wedding were still happening.  All the elements that make the show were very much still there.

But "who wants to see a middle aged couple get married?"

It won't shock you to know that the girl who tweeted this comment looked fairly young.  But young doesn't have to mean ignorant or immature, so why was she making such an ignorant, immature comment?!

Probably because ageism, however we try to protest otherwise, is still rife in our society.  People in their teens and early twenties seem to view thirty as ancient.  God forbid you're past 40; you're practically a fossil.  You need only look at the way female television presenters in particular are put out to pasture once they stop being youthful and sexy, despite still being more than capable of doing their jobs, to see that we tolerate ageism in every sector of life.  When my mum and I stopped working at a pre-school we'd been employed at (as manager and room supervisor, respectively) for seven years, whereas I was optimistic about finding new employment, mum, at 56, admitted that she knew she would probably be viewed as "too old" by anyone who interviewed her.  Never mind the wealth of experience she had in the field, or the fact that she held glowing references.  She was aware that due to her age, she could potentially struggle to find work again.  When she did begin a new job, she spoke at length of her "gratitude" to the company for taking on an older person.  And that makes me sad, because why shouldn't they have taken on an older person?!  

But all too often, it's fair to say that older people are passed over in favour of the young.  And it's not just in the job market; it's a frighteningly general thing.  We don't show anywhere near as much care or respect for the older generation as we should.  For some reason, far too many people still view anyone much over 65 as being "past it," or uninteresting.  

Well said, Sir Ian.

Ageism is, perhaps, one of the most stupid "-isms" around.  Whilst discriminating against any group of people is quite obviously wrong, when we discriminate based on age, we're behaving as though we, ourselves, are immune from the passing of time.  Unlike any other form of discrimination, this is the one where we almost certainly will eventually become the people we're discriminating against and therefore we'll be put in the position of experiencing an uncomfortable role-reversal.  That girl, so mortified by the idea of having to watch a middle aged couple getting married, might find that she doesn't meet "the one" until she's in her late 30s and becomes a middle aged bride herself.  Those bosses who turn down potential employees because they're older than the other candidates, could eventually find themselves interviewing for jobs many years later and being turned down due to their age.  It is, frankly, a circle of stupidity.

If we're lucky, we'll all be old one day.  Our hair might turn grey and there'll be lines on our faces that aren't there in old photographs.  But, health providing, we'll still be the same people, with the same skills, memories and sense of humour.  Our thoughts and opinions will be no less relevant.  Our capacity to love, to fear and to dream won't simply disappear.  And we'll crave - and deserve - the same level of compassion and respect that we expect to receive now, whilst we're in our (relative) youth.  We'll have gained a few ailments along the way, I'm sure, but we'll have gained a whole lot of experience with it.

Years ago, I overheard a teenager say to his friends: "Old people are so boring."

Pictured: My reaction.

Through my dad's involvement with The Royal British Legion and also simply from knowing people as they've grown older, I can say that I've spent evenings in the company of people in their 60s, 70s and even 80s and laughed more than I have with younger acquaintances.  I've danced, I've gotten drunk (their fault completely, I should add) and I've heard some of the most incredible stories from them, too.  If you think about it logically; the older a person is, the longer they've lived and therefore the more experiences they've had to tell you about.  As the world constantly moves forward and changes, people of every generation have memories that become stories.  Whether it's about running down the road, chasing after a milk cart, or my generation boring younger people with stories about taping songs off the radio onto an old cassette tape, we experience things in our lives that newer generations won't.  And that makes our memories different and interesting.  Last year, a walk with my dog ended up taking well over an hour, because I stopped to talk to an elderly neighbour and was engrossed in the story of his wedding day, which had taken place more than fifty years earlier.  People of all ages want to be listened to and shown some respect - that's not something that magically stops once you reach 50, 60 or 70.  When you open the papers and read headlines about elderly people dying of loneliness, then you have to ask whether that's the kind of society you want to live in.  It's not one I could ever take pride in being part of and I think it's vital that we stop seeing the elderly as being past it, or not worth spending time with.  They're older, that's all.  They're still people.  And that's the point, really...We've got to start viewing people as people, rather than numbers.  Because, as the old cliche goes, that's all age is, really - a number.  If you genuinely think  that someone's not worth speaking to because they're older than the people you'd usually converse with, then all I can say is...

I do feel a bit better, now I've had a bit of a rant.  But I think I need to answer the question that started me off on this ramble in the first place:

"Who wants to watch a middle aged couple get married?!"

Me.  Especially seeing as I'll be a middle aged bride, if I'm ever lucky enough to get married.  I enjoyed watching a couple who'd been together for well over a decade tie the knot on TV.  I loved how well the groom knew his bride and I enjoyed seeing how he was overcome with a childlike enthusiasm when it came to giving her the most perfect day possible.  I liked seeing a bride who was finally having the wedding she'd waited years for.

I enjoyed seeing a middle aged couple get married.  I would find it absolutely charming if they had a couple in their 70s tying the knot on the show.  And if that girl really, really couldn't enjoy a TV programme, simply because the participants were a decade or more older than usual...  She has my sympathy.  Time's going to catch up with her, too.

And the bitch in me hopes she gets LOADS of wrinkles...

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Bedtime Story (12/8/2015)

Photos that capture genuine giggle-fits are the best.

This week's story is inspired by - and dedicated to - my awesome mum.

Mrs Mudge Won't Mow

Mrs Mudge hated mowing her lawn.  The mower was old and heavy and the grass seemed to grow so quickly, that she had barely finished mowing, before it was time to start all over again.

One day, Mrs Mudge gazed out at her garden, where the grass grew wild and she shook her head.  "No more," she said, aloud.  "I won't mow it.  I've had enough!"

She made herself a cup of tea, picked up her pen and started to do a crossword puzzle.  Outside, the grass continued to grow...

The next day, the grass looked longer, so Mrs Mudge decided on a plan.  She went on the Internet and searched for animals that eat grass.  Later that day, Mrs Mudge went out and bought some grasshoppers from a local pet store.  "There," she said, as she let the insects into her garden.  "I read that they eat grass.  Maybe they'll stop it from growing too long."

But the grasshoppers simply hopped about.  And still, the grass grew.

The next day, the grass looked even longer, so Mrs Mudge went back online.  After searching for a short while, she went out and bought some chickens.  "This will sort the problem out," she declared, as she let the birds into the garden.  "They'll peck at the grass and keep it short."

But the chickens just pecked at the garden fence, whilst the grasshoppers hopped about.  And still, the grass grew.

The next day, the grass was even longer.  Mrs Mudge sighed and headed straight into town, where she bought two goats.  When she got home, Mrs Mudge let the goats into the garden.  "Come on you two," she told them.  "Eat up all that lovely grass!"

But the goats just butted heads, whilst the chickens pecked the garden fence and the grasshoppers hopped about.  And still, the grass grew.

The next day, Mrs Mudge could barely bring herself to look out of the window.  Just as she suspected, the grass was longer than ever!  Mrs Mudge went into town and came home with a cow.  "Everyone knows that cows eat grass," she said, as she let the animal into her rather crowded garden.

But the cow ate all the daisies, whilst the goats just butted heads, the chickens pecked the garden fence and the grasshoppers hopped about.  And still, the grass grew.

At her wits end, the next day Mrs Mudge marched down to the local zoo and came home with an elephant.  By this time, her little garden was running out of room at a rapid rate!  "Munch on that grass," Mrs Mudge told the elephant.  "Or if you won't eat it, stamp it all down!"

But the elephant just trumpeted all day long, whilst the cow ate all the daisies, the goats just butted heads, the chickens pecked the garden fence and the grasshoppers hopped about.  And still, the grass grew.

The next day, Mrs Mudge had finally had enough.  "There's no room for anyone else in this garden!"  She exclaimed.  So, wearily, she trudged back into town and took back the elephant, the cow, the goats, the chickens and the grasshoppers.  Afterwards, Mrs Mudge went back into the kitchen and made herself a well-deserved cup of tea.

It was just as she was drinking her tea, that Mrs Mudge had an idea.  She went back onto the Internet and contacted a local gardener.

"You tried grasshoppers, chickens, goats, a cow and an elephant?!"  The gardener laughed, when she called him on the phone.  "Well, don't worry, Mrs Mudge.  I'll be round first thing tomorrow!"

That night, Mrs Mudge finally went to bed with a smile on her face.  Her garden was no longer crowded and there was no noisy trumpeting to keep her awake.  Soon, the only sound that could be heard was Mrs Mudge's peaceful snoring.

And outside, the grass still grew...


Sunday, 9 August 2015

A Picture Tells A Thousand Stories

This one acts as a reminder that doors are supposed to be closed at night...

My best friends have this little joke they like to share about me whenever we get together.  "We'll get home," they'll all say, "and half an hour later, the photos from today will be up on Facebook."

It's a fair comment.  I'm one of those annoying people who always has her camera in her bag and is forever looking out for a good photo opportunity.  I may not own a selfie-stick, but that doesn't mean that I don't take more than my fair share and every time my friend Lizzie and I come home from Butlin's, I spend at least an hour editing photos on my laptop and uploading them to Facebook (saving the best ones on my camera to be printed out later).  There's a shelf in my room that's pretty much groaning under the weight of several photo albums, all of which are packed with pictures taken over the years - complete with little handwritten notes beside each photograph, serving as a handy reminder of where and when it was taken.

And this photo might be a handy reminder not to eat as much cake as I do, these days...

They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but for me, it's not simply words.  A picture can bring back a thousand memories, or tell a thousand stories.  When I look through my photo albums, I don't just see dozens of pictures of me and my friends or family in similar places, doing similar things.  I see reminders of days out, in-jokes, times gone by and people lost along the way.  I can judge by the clothes, hairdos or even the colour of the walls in our house as to when the picture was taken and from simply knowing the date (roughly, if I haven't scribbled down the exact date beside the photograph in the album...), I can remind myself of where I was in my life at that time, right down to where I was working, whether I had a crush on anyone or whether it was pre or post abuse (because when you've been through a life-changing event like that, you do tend to look at yourself as two different versions - pre and post).

A photograph can make you laugh, or even make you cringe.  It can cause you to wonder what on Earth you were thinking with your outfit choice, or what the heck you were doing when it comes to the bizarre pose you're pulling.  

A photograph can make you cry.  It can vividly remind you of a person who's no longer around.  It can bring back profound memories of what that person meant to you.  And of course, a photograph of someone who hurt you can cause enormous pain, if accidentally discovered.

For me, a photograph is not merely an image, printed out and stuck in a book.  It's a snapshot of a moment in time.  A memory, preserved forever.

Even if that memory is of thinking you might be about to plummet to your doom...

Yesterday, a friend gave me two new photo albums, complete with spaces for handwritten notes beside each picture I put in.  I have a whole load of photographs to sort out and stick in to the new albums and I'm genuinely excited about getting on with that little project for the afternoon, because I know that every photo I look at will bring back its own memories and cause me to smile, on an otherwise very grey and dull Sunday.

Everything we do - every place we go, every person we meet along the way - shapes us, even if only in a small way.  Pictures help to remind us of the journey we've been on.  And for every step of the journey left ahead, you can bet I'll have my camera with me...