Sunday 31 January 2016

How To... Spot Warning Signs In Your Relationship

So, last week in my incredibly romantic "How To..." guide (because nothing says "Valentine's Day romance" like rules and advice, clearly), I looked at How To Be NOTHING Like Christian Grey.  

Unfortunately, in Fifty Shades, a guy we're sold as a hot, sexy, brooding billionaire is actually abusive pond scum.  That would never happen in real life, right?!  Well, duh.  First of all, there are still millions of women who think Christian Grey is the perfect man, despite all the stalking, threatening, non-consensual controlling, manipulating and general douchebag-ery he gets up to.  Go cry over that for a while and then we'll continue...

...Feeling better?  No?

Well, that's cheered me up, anyway.

Secondly, of course this stuff happens in real life.  You can meet someone gorgeous and funny and clever and they can still actually be a complete and utter louse.  Sometimes, your knight in shining armour is just a dude in a tin foil hat and all that.

Now, sadly, having been in an abusive relationship, I have gained a somewhat depressing super-power.  I can spot a bad boyfriend/girlfriend a mile off.  I can usually tell when someone's "perfect" relationship is actually shoddier than a second-hand IKEA shelf-unit with half the pieces missing.  It might look okay, but it's wobbling like heck.  Like I said, it's a kind of depressing super-power, but, with great power comes great responsibility, so I feel like I ought to share some of the big red flags you ought to be looking out for.

Now, before we start, I don't want anyone to think I'm just some bitter old crone, silently judging everyone else's relationships, out of jealousy because I don't have one of my own.  For a start, I have better things to do with my life than cry over my lack of a boyfriend.  More importantly, I'd like to think that by sharing red flags, I'm actually helping people, rather than just being all "YOUR RELATIONSHIP IS BORDERLINE ABUSIVE, HA HA" like some strange Nelson from The Simpsons.

Before we kick off the list, let me just stipulate: if your partner does something on this list once, it might be worth sitting him/her down and talking about it, before you book them a one-way ticket to Dumpsville (aside from the last item on the list - if your partner does that even just once, ditch them and run).  Honest communication is really vital in a relationship and you'll have a much better idea of where things stand, once you've talked it through.  That said, if they do a lot of the stuff most of the time...  You might want to think about kicking them to the curb.  And if you're in any doubt as to whether your relationship might actually be abusive, please do speak to someone and find some help.  A guide to recognising abuse in a relationship is available here.

In the meantime...

1. Finding yourself making excuses for your partner.

"Oh, he's normally really lovely, he's just had a stressful week at work."

"She'd never hit me or anything, she just finds it hard to control her emotions and she snaps.  I probably wound her up."

Sure, we all have an "off-day," now and then.  Sometimes, your partner might act in a way that you know is out-of-character.  But if those days become more frequent and you find yourself having to defend or excuse your partner's behaviour to your family, friends, or even yourself, it's a really bad sign.  

It's not just your excuses you have to be aware of, either.  If your partner constantly blames other things (even you) for their behaviour, then it might be a sign that they don't want to take ownership of the things they choose to say and do and that is a major red flag in a relationship.  

The early stages in a relationship should be the honeymoon phase; there shouldn't be any fear of their temper, any concern that they might put you down or any unfair comparisons to other people they find attractive.  Any poor behaviour that does occur shouldn't be written off with a list of convenient excuses, either by you or them.  As time goes by and things get more serious, if any nasty personality quirks come to the fore, it's harder to acknowledge them, without remembering the lovely person your partner has the capacity to be.  But it's still not acceptable to make excuses for inexcusable behaviour.

At the end of the day, we have a choice as to how we treat the people in our lives.  And if someone isn't treating us right, we don't have to put up with it.

There comes a point where you have to try to accept that it might not be their job, their childhood, their fear of commitment or the fact that it's a month with an "R" in it.  They might just be an arsehole.

2. Not being able to reveal details about your partner or refer to them as your "boyfriend"/"girlfriend."

People can sometimes be a little freaked out by the start of a new relationship.  It's a big deal, going from being single (especially long-term single), to being one half of a new couple, especially when friends and family start clamouring to meet you, or see photos etc.  Some folk need a bit of time to adjust to their new situation and that's okay.  But if you find yourself in a position where, several weeks or even months into the relationship, your new partner is requesting that you don't use their name anywhere, or post photos anywhere, something iffy might be going on.  Same goes if they start telling you not to label your relationship with words like "girlfriend" or "boyfriend."

At the end of the day, unless you're dating a member of MI6, you should be able to say "my new boyfriend, Adam, is really lovely" on Twitter, without it causing a massive security breach.  If "Adam" is putting his  foot down and saying he doesn't want his name/face to appear anywhere on your social media posts, nor does he want to be referred to as your boyfriend, it might be that "Adam" isn't all he's cracked up to be.  In fact, Adam might be a nob.

If any of this sounds familiar, then once again, it's probably time for a conversation about why this stuff is such a big no-no.  It could be that your new partner had a bad experience in the past and talking it all through might get to the bottom of the matter really quickly.  Your partner could have really valid reasons for not wanting to be named, seen or labelled as your significant other just yet and you won't know what those reasons are until you've talked about it.

But on the other hand, if, several more weeks or months down the line, they're still refusing to let you name them on social media, tag them as being in a relationship with you, refer to them as your boyfriend/girlfriend or post pictures anywhere, it could be a massive iceberg to the Titanic of your relationship.  They might have another partner somewhere.  They might be a commitment-phobe, who's trying to keep their options open by appearing single.  Either way, it's worth finding out, before you get too emotionally invested.

3. Never knowing which version of "them" you're going to get.

True story: towards the end of my relationship with my abusive ex, I started to dread seeing him, because I never knew which "him" I would get.  Would it be the charming, funny, sexy one?  The tormented, "you don't know how hard my life has been" one?  The angry, unpredictable one I was actually scared of?  Or, the one who took obscene pleasure in criticising my body, looks and life in general, whilst praising all the other women he was sleeping with behind my back?  Oh, it was a fun game, trying to work it out, I can tell you.  If by "fun," you actually mean "something I would rather stick razorblades in my underpants than ever have to live through again."

Pro-tip: if you walk on eggshells around your partner, never entirely sure how he or she might react to things, or which version of the person you originally fell for you might get at any given time, do not try to tell yourself that you can "fix" them.  Do not listen, when they tell you that you can fix them.  You can't.  It takes a professional to do that.

Instead, if you're in a relationship with someone whose moods fluctuate to a wild degree and who leaves you questioning yourself over and over... Run like HELL.

4. Possessiveness.

It's lovely to be a part of a couple (yes, shockingly, I do still remember that much), but feeling possessed is less enjoyable (for most people, anyway).

If your new partner starts referring to you as "mine" after just a couple of dates, it's a subtle warning sign.  If they start texting you constantly, asking where you are, it's more of a flashing red light.  If they start trying to control where you go, what you do, who you see or how you dress, without your consent to do any of those things, then consider it to be a massive red flag, wrapping itself around you and eating your face.  You don't have to belong to anyone and you are free to have a social life, opinions and a career outside of your relationship.  Anyone who doesn't respect that needs to be binned, pronto.

5. Emotional distance

Alanis Morrisette once wrote a song called "So Unsexy" and it contained the line: "Your hand pulling away and I'm devastated."  For a long time, I couldn't stand to hear that song, because damnit, when you've been in love with someone who pulls away at every given opportunity, it's physically painful to be reminded of it.

Not everyone is touchy-feely and that's okay.  But your partner shouldn't be recoiling from cuddles, refusing to hold your hand or rolling over every time you try to initiate sex.  "People need love," as Abba once sang (man, this is a particularly musical entry) and physical affection is important in a relationship.  If you feel as though you're not getting any (allow me a dirty laugh, here, because I wrote something that could mean sex, hu hu huur), then it's time to ask yourself why.  Has the chemistry faded away already?  Are they withholding affection because they feel guilty about something?  Again, there could be a perfectly valid reason, but it's definitely worth talking about.

See also: finding excuses why they can't see you.  It's one thing to not want to get too physically close all the time (like I said, some people just aren't as touchy-feely as I am *HUGS INTERNET*), but if your partner is evading opportunities to spend any time together, it's a pretty worrying sign.  If they genuinely have to work, that's one thing.  But if it's the third or fourth weekend in a row and you know they're free, but they can't catch up with you because their second cousin once removed's hamster died and they're in mourning, it might be time to wake up and smell the coffee.  Mmm.  Coffee.  Milk, no sugar, please.

6. Lying by omission/refusing to open up

Alright, let's get real for a minute.  *clicks fingers in sassy sort of way*

We real?  Okay.  Now, we all come with baggage.  Mine is mainly purple.  But seriously, how and when we choose to open up to a new partner about our deepest secrets is totally up to us and that's how it should always be.  BUT we should never be in a position where we feel that our partner is keeping things from us on purpose.  If you've been with someone for a while and they're clamming up any time the conversation gets serious, that could be a sign that perhaps there's not enough honesty or trust in your relationship.  If it gets to the point where your partner is purposefully evading questions on certain subjects (the past, their feelings, whether kermit and Miss Piggy should get back together; you know, the biggies), then it's time for, ironically, a more serious conversation. 

Sometimes, you'll begin to realise that your partner always changes the subject if you talk about a certain topic.  Or, you'll find that no matter how many times you ask a seemingly innocent question, it never gets answered.   That's when you have to ask yourself whether the person you're with is being entirely open and honest with you.  And if they're not, cut them loose.  Or whatever slang the cool kids are using for "dumped" these days.

7. Being hung up on their/your ex.

Ah, the ex.  Nobody really wants the ghost of girlfriends/boyfriends past lurking around their new relationship.  If, every time you do something, your new partner's eyes glaze over and they lovingly sigh "aah, Jesse used to do that," then they're not ready to be with someone new (and yes, "Jesse" was the only name suitable for both a guy or a girl that I could think of at that particular moment).

In much the same vein, if you're watching your partner and wishing they were your ex, then do the kind thing and tell them you're not ready for a new relationship.

Go out there and get Jesse back!!  Whoever the heck Jesse is...

8. Your friends don't like them/they don't like your friends.

Friends are awesome.  Let's just take a moment to think of our friends and how fabulous they are.  Seriously, your friends were in your life before your new boyfriend/girlfriend and if it all goes tits up, they're the ones who are going to take you out and get you drunk once you're past the "crying in the bath whilst listening to Mariah Carey" phase.

Your friends - and also your family, obviously (in fact, this sometimes counts double for family, depending on how close you are) - are often the first people who will give you their honest opinion on your new relationship.  If they meet the brand new love of your life and they seem unimpressed, don't just casually dismiss their view as jealousy or nastiness for the sake of it.  We trust our friends to know what's right for us and if they unanimously begin to show signs of believing that your Mr(s) Right is actually Mr(s) Wrong, there's probably a reason for it.  So, ask them and really listen to what they tell you.

Similarly, if your new beau is rude about your friends and family and starts making excuses not to hang out with them, ask yourself why they dislike them so much?  Could it be because they can tell your besties can see through their disguise to the idiot beneath?!  Besides which, if a new partner isn't excited about meeting your family and friends - and doesn't care about making a good impression on them - it's really not a good sign.  If they're not interested in the other people who are important to you, nor do they care whether those people like them, it's a pretty big warning that they're not taking this relationship seriously.

9. They don't make you feel special.

Look, we all know the honeymoon phase doesn't last forever.  There comes a point where your partner's going to fart in front of you, burp, scratch, pick their nose and demand control of the TV remote.


It's absolutely normal that things stop being all cutesy-wutesy and eventually become, well, absolutely normal.  However, it's not okay for your partner to stop bothering completely with you.  If you suddenly never get told you look nice, never go anywhere together, never laugh together and never feel like you're even important to the person you're meant to be in a relationship with, anymore, then seriously, love yourself enough to dump that person's ass.  

A person doesn't have to shower you with compliments every second of the day, whilst buying you flowers and continually saying "I LOVE YOU, NEVER LEAVE ME," because let's face it, that might be scary.  But if they suddenly stop caring altogether, you need to walk away.

Being lonely without a relationship might seem scary, but being lonely in one is much, much worse.

10. ANY form of non-consensual violence or sexual activity.

Yes, they can help it. 
Yes, it's abuse, even if it's the first time they've ever laid a finger on you.
No, you are not to blame.

There are people out there who can help you if you are ever hurt in this way.  Don't stay, thinking you "owe" it to your partner.  Don't think you deserved it.  Tell someone and get help.

I think we'll stop at ten, because that's a nice, even number.  

Seriously, love is awesome and brilliant and makes you feel like you're walking on rainbows and farting perfume.  But it can also make us blind to the very warning signs of trouble in Paradise that we should be looking out for.  I'm not saying that you should be keeping tabs on your relationship like some kind of creepy romantic ninja, but you should be aware of what is and isn't acceptable behaviour and take steps to sort out problems before they fester.  And if they can't be sorted, don't drag out the inevitable.  Kill that relationship.  Kill it with fire.  But not literally, because... Death, prison, take your pick.

Next week, I'll be writing a hopefully funnier blog: "How To Avoid Being Annoying In A Relationship."  I know, you can't wait.  Neither can I.

Saturday 30 January 2016

Let Me Explain Why A Disney Song Just Made Me Cry...

My Kirstiekins and me.  That may not be her actual name.

My four closest friends and I each have something unique we share with only each other.  With my friend Kate, it's hilarious memories of accidentally going to watch a live porn show in Prague.  With Lizzie, it's our regular mini holidays to Butlin's.  With my bestie Lydia, it's a whole heap of stuff, but lately in particular, our shared adoration of all things Dan and Phil related.

Lydia wants to trade me in and have Dan as her best friend instead.  I want to be Phil's girlfriend.  It's a situation that works well for us.

With my friend Kirstie, it's our regular "Karaoke Challenges."  

It all started several months ago, after we went to a place in Plymouth that has private karaoke booths.  It was our second or third visit and all of us had a great time, belting out tunes.  A few days later, Kirstie texted me and said she'd been thinking it would be really fun to do challenges, where one of us suggests a genre and we both have to send the other recordings of ourselves singing a song from that genre.  It's meant a great deal of my life is spent searching for karaoke videos on YouTube and getting thumb-strain from holding down the "record audio" button on WhatsApp, but I love it.

As time has gone on, Kirstie and I have gone through various different "challenges."  Highlights include:

  • David Bowie songs: During which I tried - and largely failed - not to impersonate the late, great Thin White Duke as I warbled my way through his greatest hits.
  • Blur songs: Which I quickly came to realise were almost all too low for me to sing comfortably.

  • Songs by boybands: Which was a challenge I loved, but which I suspected Kirstie may have hated me for.
I couldn't pick, so I sang songs by both.  Obviously.

We've been through so many genres (aside from rap, because we'd probably both die from cringing at our own efforts) and so many ideas ("songs that make you cry" and "songs you like by artists you hate" being notable ones), that we're now entering bizarrely specific territory, when it comes to setting the next challenge.

Like all my greatest ideas, the latest challenge came to me whilst I was on the loo, humming the theme tune to a cartoon I used to love ("Madeleine," in case you're interested and if you don't know what that is, you must educate yourself as soon as you've read this blog).  I suddenly had a lightbulb moment and thought: "Songs that meant a lot to you as a child!"

And here's where we go from chirpy, happy blog with loads of gifs, to BLACK PIT OF DESPAIR.

To quote the 10th Doctor: "I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry."

You see, the song that immediately came into my mind was from a classic Disney film called The Rescuers.  The song is called Someone's Waiting For You and in the film, it's sung over very sad scenes of a little orphan called Penny, whilst she stands on the bow of a boat and gazes up at the stars, quietly crying to herself, because she longs for a family to adopt her, but she's stuck with a mean woman who treats her horribly and tells her nobody will ever love her.

It's funny, but I think I had mentally blocked out the reason why that song meant so much to me as a kid, until I just sang it as part of this week's "Karaoke Challenge" and my eyes suddenly got all watery at the end.

No, I wasn't a sad little orphan.  I wasn't forced to go searching for a diamond, so I could make a cruel woman a fortune.  Little mice in clothes haven't come to my aid at any point in my life so far (man, if you've not seen The Rescuers, you really should).

In fact, when I first watched the film as a little girl aged maybe 6 or 7, I couldn't explain why the song meant so much to me at all.  It had no relevance to my life, whatsoever.  But, in some seriously heavy-handed foreshadowing, I was certain that it was important.

Fast forward a few years later and there I was, a frightened, twelve year old girl, being horrendously bullied on the school bus.  Day in, day out, I was spat at, shouted at, had food thrown at me, had people come and sit next to me and whisper the most hurtful things they could think of in my ear...  I mean, you can click the link, I won't re-hash it all again, here.  

But the one thing they would say, more often than anything else, was that nobody would ever love me.  I was too ugly, too shy, too much of a "freak."  I would never, ever be loved by anyone.

And suddenly, that song came back to me.

"Have faith little one,
Until your hopes and your wishes come true.
You must try to be brave little one.
Someone's waiting to love you."

It sounds pretty silly to cling so vehemently to a Disney song when you're going through something horrific, but hey, maybe that's why I largely blocked it out until now.  That song, for me, represented never giving up.  Trying to never truly believe what the bullies were saying, no matter how many times they said it.  Someone, somewhere, someday was going to look past my massive nose and unruly curls and actually want to get to know me.  Somebody was going to love me.  The bullies were going to be wrong.

Older me cringes slightly, but I know for a fact (since the memories have come flooding back, like a tidal wave of woe), that I even used to get out of bed at night sometimes, when I was unable to sleep, because I was dreading getting onto the school bus the next day and having it all happen again, and I'd walk to my window and look up at the stars and sing the song quietly to myself, whilst a single tear rolled down each cheek.

Hearing the song again, recently - and singing it, tonight - I realised just how important it was.  It's just a silly, corny, overly soppy song about an animated Disney orphan, waiting to be rescued from her lousy existence by a pair of mice who were in a will-they-won't-they relationship.  But that song made me feel less alone, when it felt like there was nothing to hope for.  It made me believe that things would get better, when I had literally no evidence that it was ever going to.  I repeated the lyrics over and over in my head on those bus journeys, despite whatever I was actually listening to on my fantastic Sony Walkman at the time.

"Don't cry little one.
Make a wish for each sad little tear.
Hold your head up, though no one is near.
Someone's waiting for you."

I guess we sometimes never completely realise how important something is until we sit down and really think about it.  And, weirdly enough, I didn't sit down and think about Someone's Waiting For You until I had the random idea that singing songs that meant a lot to us in our childhoods would be a good "Karaoke Challenge."  But I'm so glad I did think about.  Because, even though the memories aren't good ones, knowing that I had something to hold onto - something that gave me a little glimmer of light at an otherwise incredibly dark time - makes me feel strangely comforted.

I may not be in a romantic relationship at the moment, but I know now that I'm in a place in my life where people -  friends and family - do see beyond my perceived physical flaws and love me for who I am.  I didn't give up on that dream and it came true.  The future was worth waiting for.

Friday 29 January 2016

I Think I Might ACTUALLY Be A Grown Up...

Recently, a lot of people on my Twitter and Facebook feeds have been talking about age.  There's a YouTuber that I'm a big fan of who's turning 29 tomorrow and, seeing as he has many young fans, there's been a lot of chatter along the lines of: "Oh my God, he's getting old... He'll be THIRTY next.  That's so scary.  I mean, 29??!!  How can he be that old, already??!"

I'd go on, but I don't know what else was said, because by that point, I was too busy hitting my 33 year old head against a wall, to try to knock the stupidity out of my mind.

Listen to Batman, guys.

Listen, here's the thing.  I get it.  when you're 15, of course 29 sounds old.  When you're 15, 30 seems a lifetime away (because it literally is, when you think about it).  I know that and I understand that.  But it does seem like a stupid thing to say, all the same.

I mean, think about it.  These days, people are living longer.  It's not uncommon for people to live well into their 80s and 90s.  That is old.  Your late twenties and early thirties?  Please, that's not even middle-aged.

Anyway, as is my usual habit, I had a bit of a rant about this on my Facebook/Twitter page and I was surprised when a few of my younger friends started saying how much they were dreading turning 30.  The general consensus (mainly amongst my "20-something" friends, it should be said) was that thirty is a big, scary number and that you have to be a grown up by then.  It's considered old.  

And I laughed and I laughed and I laughed and... You get the gist.

Pictured: me and my fellow 30-something friends. I'm in the middle, obviously.

I'll level with you, dear reader.  I did have a wobble about turning 30.  But it had utterly nothing to do with feeling old, or being closer to death or any other such nonsense.  It was purely because I knew that I hadn't achieved the stuff I had always expected to have achieved by the time I reached my 30th; I wasn't married, I didn't have kids and I didn't have my own place.  It was basically because society dictates that your life will follow a set path and if yours deviates for any reason, you start feeling set-apart from those around you and it can be quite a depressing sensation.

I got over my wobble with a decision to celebrate my thirtieth by going on a trip to Alton Towers with my sister, her partner and my closest friends.  I made "Emma's 30th Birthday Trip" tops for everyone and my best friend got me a Breakfast At Tiffany's themed cake.  Frankly, I kicked turning 30's ass.

The thing is, once I realised that turning 30 didn't actually mean I had to have achieved all that stuff otherwise I'd have failed at being a human, I was absolutely fine about the whole thing.  In fact, I was more than fine.  How cool was it that I was entering a whole new decade?!  I could leave any crap from my 20s behind and turn over an entirely new leaf.  Suddenly, 30 wasn't a big, scary number; it was an opportunity to start afresh.

More importantly, getting older - the non-physical side, at least - isn't scary, either.  Not if you look at it from a different perspective.  I tend to think of myself - my body, my self-confidence, who I am as a person - as a pair of very skinny jeans that I've had for a long time.  Back in my teens, they were still pretty new and tight and not that comfortable.  In my 20s, they started to give a little, but I still walked a bit funny.  Now that I'm in my 30s, they suddenly feel like they fit properly.  I can do more than just walk in them; I can dance in them.

Life takes you on a journey, from the moment you're born to the minute you shuffle off your mortal coil.  Where you go on that journey is at least in part up to you.  Sometimes the view changes, sometimes you're in a tunnel and you feel like your signal to the rest of the world has been cut off and sometimes you end up in the very last place you expected, but the whole time, you're still moving forwards.  You can't help but learn and grow as you go along, so it's kind of inevitable that at some point, you're going to feel as though you've adapted to the journey and you'll unbuckle your metaphorical seat belt and feel free to move around the cabin...

...I know what I mean, but it's highly questionable that anyone else does, at this point in the proceedings.  Basically:

I'm 33.  I don't feel old.  I still go to theme parks, get drunk much too quickly, form crushes on people I will either never meet or at least never have, say utterly stupid things, have utterly stupid dreams, fangirl like a crazy person, play games, do party-dances at Butlin's, splurge my money on pretty shoes and just a moment ago, someone on TV mentioned the composer Ravel and I immediately pretended to ice-skate like Torvill & Dean, whilst humming "Bolero."  Because I'm effortlessly cool.

And that's the thing.  I may make little jokes about myself, but I do it because I'm comfortable in my own skin, now.  More so than I ever was in my teens or twenties.

The beauty of getting older is that you slowly start to accept that you'll never have perfect hair, or that you'll always have a nose that people could take shelter under when it rains.  You just learn that you're you and you're the only version of you that exists, so you may as well make the most of it.

Basically, I've realised that being a "grown up" doesn't mean that you're necessarily married, with a couple of kids and a white picket fence.  It doesn't mean that you have to be earning loads of cash and that you give up any hobbies that might be thought of as stereotypically "childish."  Being a "grown up" just means that you accept who you are and you do your best to accept everyone else for who they are, too.  It's about letting go of silly little concerns that you're not cool enough and just embracing your inner nerd.  It's about those skinny jeans fitting at long last.

Blimey.  On that basis...  I think I might actually be a grown up, despite feeling no self-inflicted pressure to act like one 100% of the time.  

Anyway, enough of this.  I'm off to paint my nails with bright pink glitter, whilst searching for funny dog-related gifs, like the fully functioning adult I am.

Wednesday 27 January 2016

Bedtime Story (27/1/2016)

I live in England.  Of COURSE I'm going to end up writing stories about rain...

Sadly, there's no podcast edition of this week's bedtime story, as I'm currently suffering from sinusitis, which has caused a massive blockage in my ears - I can't hear well enough to edit a podcast and I definitely don't want to put out a podcast that's full of clunky noises and heavy breathing that shouldn't be there.  So, sorry for the lack of one and I very much hope that this feature will be back next week.  

Don't forget, if you enjoy these free, weekly stories, I have a whole book full of adventures with my very own Cherry Tree Gang available to buy here.

The Rainy Day

"I'm bored," said David.  "This is a pain.
We can't play outside, because of the rain!"

His dad gave a grin: "Oh, never mind.
We can have loads of fun here, playing inside!"

He told David: "Settle down and we'll watch a movie,
Or dance to some music - now THAT would be groovy!
Or we could always play some board games instead;
There are loads of those piled under your bed."

But David's face still looked terribly glum.
"I want to play out," he said. "In the sun!"
He wanted his bike, his scooter or skates.
He wanted to go to the park with his mates.

"Oh, come on," Dad said. "Playing indoors is great!
There's no need for you to get into a state.
There's plenty to do.  Come on David, look!
Why don't we curl up with your favourite book?"

But David's mouth was set in a scowl.
And outside the wind continued to howl.
"I don't want to be stuck here indoors,
I want to run outside on the moors!"

His dad chuckled.  "Listen, dry those cross tears,
I've still got loads of fun play time ideas!
We could do painting, or gluing or something creative;
You don't have to get so mad and frustrated.

We could play dress up, or ping-pong,
Bake cookies or have a sing-song.
We could go for a rainy drive in the car,
Or stay in and I'll teach you to play the guitar.

We could go online and search for cool stuff,
Or sit in our pyjamas eating Marshmallow Fluff.
We could get out your magic set and learn a few tricks,
Or there are plenty of things round the house we could fix.

We could play on the computer - have a few games?
Or I'll light the fire and we'll stay warm by the flames.
You could have a hot bath and relax with some bubbles,
There's no need for the rain to cause you such troubles.

We could do a jigsaw; you've got loads of puzzles!
Or just find a nice teddy bear you could nuzzle.
We could set up your train track and watch them go - choo!
Or play hide and seek - me versus you."

Outside, the rain had come to a stop.
David's eyes opened so wide, they might pop!
"I can go out," he said with a grin.
"If it's not raining, I don't have to stay in!"

But he looked at his dad and his smile disappeared.
He'd had so many amazing ideas!
David suddenly smiled and he said:
"I'd rather stay in and play with you, instead."


Sunday 24 January 2016

In Praise of The Bestie-Boys!

Is it just me, or is it ridiculously lovely when two guys are best, best friends?!

I've been thinking about this a lot, recently.  There are plenty of people out there who will immediately jump to the "THEY ARE SECRETLY IN LOVE WITH EACH OTHER" conclusion, when faced with two guys who are extremely close.  And that's cool - there's nothing remotely wrong with being gay, or even about fantasising that people might be - but for me, that's not why I like "Bestie-Boys."  Although frankly, that is probably the campest title I could possibly have used to describe male friendships.  Oh, well.


For me, it doesn't have to be about sexuality - at least not in the sexy sense.  I think personally, it's more that being so close and open about your affection for one another is kind of a stereotypically female thing to do, so to see two guys (regardless of sexual orientation) acting the same way feels really refreshing.  Dare I say it, heartwarming.  Clearly I do dare, because I just said it.

I guess it's perhaps about how relatable people are, too.  I have really close friendships in my life and I feel very lucky as a result of that.  Because I feel so lucky, I often tell those close friends that I love them and try to make sure that they know they're valued in my life (I recently made them a video and everything... I'm still hoping it straddled the right line between cute and creepy...).  So, when I see guys who aren't afraid to be honest about how special their besties are to them, I instantly get them, if that makes sense?  And yes, I also "get" the sexual overtones, even if they're just jokey.  After all, you're reading a blog written by an entirely straight woman, who frequently tells her female best friend (who's married to a dude) that I "would" her.  It's just a thing we do.

As is this sort of thing.  Usually at gigs.  But sometimes just because...reasons.

Early last year, I developed a crush on a real-life person.  I know; shocking, considering my penchant for celebrity crushes.  But one of the reasons that person went from being "dude I see now and then" to "dude whose face I want to nibble" (shut up and don't judge me), was the fact that he has a best friend and he's not afraid to show his affection for him.  

The thing is, if a guy is unafraid to show his affection for his male best friend, it stands to reason that you might feel like he'd be unafraid to show his affection for you, were you to be in a relationship with him.  And I think that's a big part of the attraction of male double-acts to female viewers/listeners and to women in "real life," too.

Despite the fact that it's 2016 and we're supposed to be this very liberal society, we still cling on to these outdated ideas that men can't be affectionate towards one another, without their sexuality being called into question.  And to be fair, if two guys are besties and they happen to also be gay or bisexual, does it really matter?!

The fact is, I for one am glad that more and more men - of all orientations - are open about their strong friendships and their feelings for one another.  If women can be all cuddly and "love you, babe" with their closest friends, then why the heck can't blokes do it, too?!

It reveals a sensitive, caring nature and I think we can all agree, those are positive qualities in a partner, heck, in a person in general.

So, here's to the "Bestie-Boys."  The blokes who aren't afraid to show their affection for one another.  The ones who, secretly or not so secretly, so often top our crush lists. ;)


How To... Be NOTHING Like Christian Grey!!

With only four Sundays to go until Valentine's Day, the cards are already out in the shops and magazines are preparing their "relationship special" editions.

Being terminally single, Valentine's Day is one of those "holidays" that tends to pass me by (despite the horrific tendency of half the loved-up people I know insisting on posting photos of their cards and presents on Facebook - trust me, there's a special place in Hell for those people).  This year, however, something connected to the date appeared online and I shuddered like I'd wet my pants.  And not in a good way.

Male bloggers were being asked on Twitter to share an article entitled "How To Be Like Christian Grey," just in time for Valentine's Day.  The idea being that women want a man like that and that being like Christian Grey is a romantic and good thing.

Can I get a collective "HELL NO"?!

Thank you, ladies.

Here's the thing.  Imagine the distance from the Earth to the sun.  Then double it.  Then triple it.  That's how far away from being the perfect man Christian Grey is.  If we want men to treat women with any modicum of respect, then the very last thing we need is to be releasing "How To..." guides, educating them on how to behave more like a psychopath.  

I had already been thinking it would be fun to write a "How To..." guide on my personal favourite topic: "How Not To Become Annoying When In A Relationship."  Because trust me, from a single person's perspective, a whole heap of people don't know how to avoid becoming the infuriating one who pats us on the head and tells us "you'll find someone..." despite us having never once mentioned our single status.  That's more irritating than sandpaper underwear.  But I digress...

Then, I read about these "How To Be Like Christian Grey" guides, being prepared in time for a day that celebrates love (and tacky marketing of heart-shaped chocolates and teddy bears, but we won't go into that...).  I'll be honest with you, dear reader, it made me so angry, I wanted to punch a wall.  But I bruise like a peach, so I decided to write my own guide as to how to be nothing like Christian Grey, instead.  And next Sunday, I'll be releasing "How To Spot Warning Signs In Your Relationship," because God knows, if we still have people touting Christian Grey as the perfect man, then we definitely still need articles like that, too.

Fear not, I'm still also going to write How Not To Become Annoying When In A Relationship the following Sunday and I'll finish my "How To..." series with How To Be Happy Being Single, which I'll release on Valentine's Day itself.  Aren't you lucky?!

"I'll read what she's reading."

So, let's start off with this week's "How To..." guide.  How To Be Nothing Like Christian Grey.

1. Give A Woman Space If She Asks For It.

It's annoying when we fall for someone and we want to see them all the time, but they have pesky things like a job and friends and family, isn't it?  Still, if someone you've recently started seeing tells you that they need a bit of time and space to think things through, especially if your fledgling relationship has been very intense and has moved fast, respect that person enough to grant them that space.

Besides which, space in a relationship is a good thing.  Giving your partner time to spend with their friends, indulging in hobbies you don't share, means that you're still allowing them to be the person they were before you met them, rather than trying to take over their whole life.  Christian Grey tells Ana that he wants her world to begin and end with him and frankly, that's possessive, obsessive and utterly creepy.  Also, it's entirely unrealistic.  

So, if you're seeing someone, no matter how much you miss them when they're away from you, give them the right to spend time by themselves or with other people.  They shouldn't even have to ask you for that, because spending time without you is their right.

Do NOT track their mobile phone.  

Do NOT insist that they're in constant touch with you.

Do NOT stalk them thousands of miles away.

Those things are to romance what Patrick Stewart is to hair care products.

I know, Sir Patrick.  And I'm sorry. 

2. Listen To What Your Partner Actually Wants

So, in Fifty Shades, Ana frequently tells Christian that she's, you know, not mad keen on all the hitting and being controlled against her will stuff that he wants to do.  Christian's response is to tell her he'll "try" to change for her, which is basically a huge steaming pile of bull, because he never actually does.  Instead, he just keeps on telling her he'll hit her if she doesn't do what he says and he keeps on controlling her life long after she's asked him over and over to stop it.  That doesn't make him a super-sexy stallion.  It makes him a massive arsehole.  If your partner says "hey, I would prefer it if you didn't try to run my career, thank you," then you know what?  Don't buy the company she works for.  And on a more realistic level, just listen to what your partner is trying to tell you and respect it.  Respecting someone and treating them as though their opinions are important to you is way sexier than railroading them into doing whatever you want.  

And listening to your partner, rather than controlling them against their will is also much less likely to get you dumped.  Or kicked in the balls.

3. Make Sure Your Partner Feels Able To Talk To You.

In Fifty Shades, Ana is terrified of telling Christian that she's pregnant.  Okay, so it's a big deal to drop a sprog on someone, but at one point, she literally fears that he might murder her.  That's not okay, guys.  She also decides it's best not to tell him when she's going out with one of her friends, because Christian had told her to stay in and again, she's genuinely scared he might harm her as a result of his anger.  Being the sort of person whose anger means that your partner is genuinely too afraid to tell you things is definitely not something any "How To..." guide should be advising.  So, I'm telling you here and now:  DO NOT BE THAT GUY.

Instead, be someone your partner feels safe with.  Be supportive.  Even if what they're telling you makes you angry, never ever threaten to "beat the shit out of" them, as Christian Grey does.  Learn to talk problems through.  Sure, you might argue - that's absolutely normal in relationships - but you should never overreact so strongly to things that your partner is afraid of being open and honest with you.  Honestly is crucial in relationships and if you don't have it in yours, then you have big problems.  

So, provide a safe pair of shoulders to cry on and be there to listen, if your partner needs to talk.  Learn to take your partner's views on board and find a way to compromise when you disagree on things.

In case it's not already obvious by this point, do not do anything Christian Grey does.  

So, STOP with the "How To Be Like Christian Grey" articles!!!

4. Actually Give A Damn About Consent!!!

Consent is pretty major, guys.  In fact, this should have been number one, because if you don't have full, informed consent, given freely, you should be doing precisely NOTHING with your partner.

Manipulating someone into a sexual relationship is a no-no.
Giving them alcohol, in order to sway them into saying "yes" is a no-no.
Ignoring them when they say they don't want to do something and saying you're going to do it anyway is a no-no.
Not giving someone the chance to fully understand what they're getting into is a big no-no.

Do you see a pattern emerging, here?!  By the way, these are all things Christian Grey does.  And seriously, that makes him lower than genital warts in the list of "things women want."

Sure, it's pretty irritating when you really want to do something sexual and your partner's not up for it at all.  But prison is probably way more irritating and that's where you'll eventually end up if you manipulate or force people into sexual activity, rather than gaining their free, full, informed and enthusiastic consent.

And you know, nobody gives a toss if you have a helicopter and billions of dollars, in prison.  

5. Take Responsibility For Your Own Actions.

Throughout Fifty Shades, Christian blames literally anyone and anything for his own actions, rather than take any responsibility for himself.  His behaviour is all down to his childhood.  He doesn't know any better.

I mean, never mind the fact that he was adopted at a young age by a wealthy, loving family.  Never mind the fact that he sees his family members in happy, healthy relationships.  Never mind that he runs a hugely successful business and deals with people at a high level on a daily basis.  HE JUST CAN'T HELP BEING A THREATENING, CONTROLLING, MANIPULATIVE STALKER, OKAY??!!

Except of course he can.  Abuse is always a choice.  In almost all instances, we have a genuine choice as to how we treat the people in our lives.  So, if you do something lousy and your partner gets upset, don't be like "oh, my childhood dog ate my best jumper when I was five and now I can't help but cheat on you with your best friend, because her hair was just like a poodle's."  Accept that you choose how you treat the people in your life and own up to it when you're behaving like an ass.  Better still, just don't behave like an ass in the first place.  If you're treating your partner with respect and affection, giving them space and not trying to control their life, whilst only ever doing anything sexual with their full consent, then it's unlikely you're going to do anything majorly wrong, anyway.  But if you do, take responsibility.  

We're all humans and we all make mistakes, so if you do upset your partner unintentionally, just apologise, listen to why they were hurt by whatever it was you did and move on from it.  Don't wallow in self-pity, looking for ways to make your partner feel guilty for something you did.

In other words, don't be like Christian Grey.

There is so much more I could write, but I think I summed it up rather neatly in that last line.

Basically, be nothing like Christian Grey and you'll be doing okay.

Join me next week, for the second "How To..." blog, in which I'll be talking about spotting red flags in your relationship.  

Oh and guys, my ex was just like Christian Grey, so I promise, I really do know what I'm talking about, here.  I wrote a semi-autobiographical novel about it all and it's getting 4 and 5 star reviews on Amazon.  Give it a look!