Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Roots of Friendship

Recently, I decided to clear out my email inbox.  To say I hadn't done it in a while is kind of an understatement.  The oldest email I found in there was from 2003...

But it was that last email from fourteen years ago, that caused me to write this blog.  

We talk a lot about how romantic relationships get started.  When you meet a couple, one of the most obvious questions to ask is: "How did you two meet?"  But we don't think about it so much with friends.  We know how we met, but we don't necessarily dwell on the minute details of our first encounters (unless they happen to be really funny or unusual).  And yet, the "how" is actually pretty important.  It's from these little acorns that mighty oaks of friendship grow, after all.

And yes, I realise what a major cliché I just used...

Don't judge me; I'm emotional okay?!

The oldest email in my inbox was from a girl I'd met on a Manic Street Preachers fan forum.  She was replying to the first message I had ever sent her, after I saw some nasty guy picking on her, online.  I don't 100% recall how I got her email address, but I think there was a thread on that forum where you could post it if you wanted forum members to be able to contact you via email (these were simpler times, clearly...) and if that was the case, then clearly she had done so.  

Now, I won't lie to you, dear reader:  I was rather determined to befriend this person.  I already knew that she lived in Devon and, with me living just down the road in Cornwall, it felt too good an opportunity to miss; I could have a friend who loved the Manics as much as I did!  Maybe we could go to gigs together?!

And so, I was already tempted to drop her a line and introduce myself (in the least stalker-like way possible).  Before I could fire up Hotmail, however (hey, it was 2003 and Hotmail was cool - oh, who am I kidding?  I still use it, now...), I noticed a conversation happening in another thread.  

Online forums have always been places where you'll find someone determined to be... Well, to put it nicely, an ass.  The official Manic Street Preachers forum was no different.  And as I scrolled through a thread that day, I realised that the ass in question on this site, was picking on my potential friend.  And I saw red.

So, I wrote that girl an email, telling her that I was completely on her side and that she shouldn't worry about what idiots online said about her views (to clarify, the forum ass had been making rape jokes and she had quite rightly said that she thought rape was too serious a subject to joke about, only for the ass to turn on her and call her a "do-gooder," which was apparently 2003's version of "a snowflake").  

That first email I sent is, no word of a lie, almost too cringe-worthy to stand reading, now.  Not because I regret sending it in any way, shape or form.  But because I was... Well, so desperate.

I really liked this girl - her posts on the forum always made me laugh and I just had this overwhelming urge to be her friend.  And, in my sheer need to be liked by her, I veered wildly from telling her about my experiences of bullying at school, to massively over-using exclamation marks, to getting overly sweary in my attempts to prove how much I disliked the person/people picking on her (you'll find an online ass usually needs backup; cowards don't like to operate alone).  And at the end of the email?  I wrote "loads of love" (TO A FREAKING STRANGER) and signed off with FIFTEEN KISSES.


Guys, I will be completely honest with you:  I would not have blamed her one little bit, had she deleted that email and never responded.  Frankly, had she taken out a restraining order, it would have been understandable.

But she didn't.

She thanked me, called me "sweet" and told me how she had always been seen as uncool, because she wasn't into drink or drugs.  She said that she had strong moral values and would always fight for what she believed in.  She admitted that she had been bullied at school, too.  

Instantly, I felt like there was a connection.  Right from that first message, she stopped being "the cool girl from that forum, who I wish I could go to gigs with" and became someone I genuinely wanted to get to know better.

There is something incredibly sweet about being able to see those first messages.  The tone of them is a little unsure in places - shy, even.  After all, we were two complete strangers and we were very young; I was only 21.  There is a sense of innocence when you read the first exchanges we sent one another.  A sense of something new that just might become something special, given time.

In my reply to that first email from her, I talk to her as though she's already a friend.  I talk about my job.  I mention having recently been away to Wales.  I make chit-chat, as though I've known her for years, and yet, there is a point at which I tell her I ought to keep the email short because "I don't want you to get really bored of me!"  

I'm also pleased to say that I ended the email with a far less creepy six kisses.  Still too many, but hey, I was learning...

I SWEAR I'm not this clingy, usually.  Honest.

She replied and she suggested we chat on MSN, sometime.

For anyone too young to remember MSN...  Think SnapChat, but with way fewer dick pics.  Or WhatsApp, but with way fewer dick pics.  Or...  You get the gist.

Over time, we did progress to chatting on MSN, as well as continuing to email one another.  After a while, we swapped phone numbers and began texting.  We eventually met up, to see if we "clicked" as well in real life as we did online.

We did.  

And she did become my gig buddy.

But she became so much more than that.

She became one of the best friends I ever had.  Someone I could go to if I needed advice.  Someone I laughed with, until there were tears in both of our eyes.  Someone I could tell anything, to.  Someone who I always felt valued me as much as I valued her.  Someone I felt enormously proud to know and strangely protective of; she was strong, stubborn and feisty, but that didn't mean I wouldn't have raised merry HELL for her, had she ever needed me to step in for her.  I never lost that initial urge to show her that I was there for her.  If it was ever us against the world, I was confident that we'd win.  

A friendship like that sometimes rushes in, all at once, burns brightly for a year or two and then fizzles out.  But ours seemed to get stronger with every year that passed.  We grew up, together.  She got married and bought her first house.  I fell into - and found the courage to leave - an abusive relationship and eventually wrote a novel based on my experiences.  We watched one another grow and mature and, as the years went by, our friendship just went on deepening.

Sometimes, months might go by when we didn't see one another.  Perhaps a week or two would pass without a text.  But we both knew that when one of us messaged the other, or we met up again, it would be like no time had passed at all.

And that time we spent together could be anything and it would still be fun, simply because it was us.  We loved getting into silly costumes for Manics gigs, giggling all day in the queue, before singing our hearts out once the band took to the stage.  But equally, we were happy sat on the sofa, our hands wrapped around mugs of tea, putting the world to rights.

Somehow, no matter how much older we got, no matter how much changed in our lives, we were still those two young girls, feeling like outsiders from the "cool gang," rolling our eyes at the aspects of the world that we simply weren't a part of.

I said at the start of this post that we don't tend to think about how our friendships begin.  Except, that's not entirely true.  Just as with any relationship, there comes a very specific time, when we inevitably  think back to how it all started: when it ends.

That friendship was never supposed to have an ending.  After thirteen years, I suppose I figured we were almost unbreakable.  After all, we're both feisty, stubborn so and sos.  We'd had disagreements before and yet we'd always worked them out.

In the end, we never exchanged a cross word.  There was no blazing row that led to us falling out.  No harsh things said that couldn't be unsaid.

I fell out with her sister.  We had an argument that I wish we'd resolved face to face, rather than dragging it out via text and carrying it onto social media.  It was petty and stupid to take it that far and we are both equally responsible for allowing our entire friendship to evaporate in anger, rather than taking the steps to fix it.  Because it was fixable.  It was certainly not a reason never to speak to one another again.  I was angry and hurt for reasons I felt were legitimate.  She was angry and hurt, because she didn't think I should have been angry and hurt in the first place.  We both went about dealing with it in completely the wrong way.  And I don't blame my friend for taking her sister's side.  Family comes first.  That's something we both believed in.

But I miss her.  I miss them both.  Very much.  Every day.

I recently reached out to both girls.  In many ways, I became that shy, nervous 21 year old all over again; hoping to build bridges.  Keen to be friends.

I didn't put fifteen kisses at the end.  I didn't over-use punctuation, or include random references to my childhood or my job.  But I did reach out, with - in many ways - those same feelings that I had when I sent that first email all those years ago.

I just wanted her to be my friend.

I think I sort of hoped and prayed it would go like this...

Often, the roots of a friendship get kind of forgotten, as the years go by.  They're buried under all of the other memories you share.  You're too busy laughing at that time you saw that thing, or making plans that will eventually lead to new memories being created.  You don't have time to think back on how that person came into your life.  They're just there.  And you can't imagine them ever not being.

But it's that initial beginning that led to the friendship you have, now.  The roots are important - they're what got you to where you are.  And, should the worst happen and that friendship come to an end, you'll inevitably end up digging through the memories you created together one day and remembering how it all came about in the first place.

It's not a fun memory to have on your own.  It's a memory worth sharing, whilst you have the chance.

So, let's not make "how did you two meet?" a question that we only apply to couples.  Let's ask friends to share their stories, too.  Let's ask our friends if they remember how we met.

And let's not leave it too late to share those memories.

The How I Met Your Mother Finale RAGE FEST

Little did I know this story would end with me SEETHING WITH RAGE.

Recently, during a rant about the BBC's promise not to have a female Doctor on Doctor Who, I mentioned that I had just watched the finale of How I Met Your Mother, having binge-watched the entire nine seasons of that show in just 7 months.  I said that it was almost inevitable that I would eventually write an extremely angry blog post about how utterly awful the finale was.

Ladies and gentlemen... This is that post.

Now, obviously, there are some pretty major spoilers ahead, so if you've not seen it before, but you're planning on watching the show and you don't want to know what happens in the end, maybe go off and do something else online, instead of reading this.  And when you eventually watch the show, don't bother with the finale.  Invent your own.  I promise, you'll do a better job than the writers did...

If you've watched the show and you're simply curious as to what I thought about it, this is definitely the blog post for you.  And if you've no intention of ever watching it, but you're also intrigued by my FIERY ANGER, then strap yourself in: this isn't going to be pretty...

Okay, so for the uninitiated, let's recap the show's premise:

Ted Mosby is an incurable romantic, searching for "The One."  The show is presented in both flashback and flash-forward mode, with an older Ted telling his teenage children the story of how he met their mother.  Along the way, we meet several girlfriends who didn't stay the course, including one who Ted almost married, only for him to be left standing at the alter, when she ran off with her ex.

Throughout the series, we have several clues as to the identity of "The Mother" (who obviously only gets a name - Tracy - when we meet her at long last).  We're told that she plays bass.  She carries a yellow umbrella.  She enjoys the same books as Ted.  We even come tantalisingly close to meeting her, when Ted briefly dates her roommate, but she remains just out of sight and reach.

The running theme of the show is this idea that Ted is waiting for the perfect girl.  In older Ted's voice-overs, he frequently tells his children that a heartbreak we've witnessed in that episode won't matter for long, because he's getting closer to meeting the girl of his dreams - their mother.  As a first-time viewer, I got excited each time Ted met someone new, wondering: is this her?!  And each time a relationship failed, I reminded myself that SHE was waiting, somewhere.  Someday, he'd find her.  It was a remarkably simple (and arguably kind of cheesy) premise - the idea of tracking a person's romantic history and the lessons each failed relationship teaches them, all with the promised climax of that person finally meeting the partner they're destined to be with - and yet it worked.  And it worked in part, because the idea of there being someone for everyone and that each heartbreak is just a stepping stone along the way to finding Mr or Mrs Right, is something that many of us can identify with.  We wanted Ted to find "The One," because many of us have wished for that, ourselves, at some point in our lives.

If only the person who made this gif had got the quote 100% right, it would have been quite beautiful.

In the very first episode, however, we're introduced to a woman who Ted falls head over heels for.  She's a straight-talking, rather commitment-phobic journalist named Robin.  And throughout the show, Ted wrestles with his feelings for her.  They date then split up.  She becomes one of the core "gang" that the show centres around.  Then, they get back together and this time, they fall in love.  And then they split up again.  Then Ted gets over her.  And then he realises he still loves her.  She turns him down.  It's a merry-go-round of doomed romance.

Whilst having a will-they, won't-they pairing in a TV show is nothing new, this one in particular was no Rachel and Ross situation.  Because, despite Ted's regularly reoccurring feelings for Robin, the show kind of beats the viewer over the head with the fact that they are most definitely better suited as friends.  Older Ted reminds us frequently that "The Mother" is on her way; it might hurt that Robin doesn't love him, but someday, he's going to meet someone perfect for him who will.

Wait for Tracy, Goddamnit.

And, whilst assuring the audience that Robin and Ted are utterly wrong for one another, the show provides Robin with someone who is right for her.   Someone who appears as commitment-phobic as she is.  Someone whose sense of humour and gung-ho attitude to life matches her own.  Ted's "bro," Barney.

When we first meet Barney, he could easily be written off as a rather disgusting and entirely two-dimensional character.  He's not just a ladies man; he's a man who sleeps with as many women as possible and regards getting into the pants of any female he likes as a challenge.  He disregards women over the age of 30 as being too old.  He is vocally against "fat chicks."  He seems to love sleeping with women, but for much of the show, he has zero respect for them.  Then something happens.  Barney falls in love with Robin.

I won't lie.  When it first became obvious that Barney - a man who had seemingly never loved a woman (besides his mother) in his life - was falling for Robin, I was rooting for them.  Hard.  When they finally got together, I was overjoyed.

And then they split up.  That never sat right with me, but that's probably because I SHIPPED THEM SO HARD, YOU GUYS.  But Barney's character had changed for the better as a result of his time with Robin and he became a deeper, more compassionate person (albeit still one who viewed women as predominantly sex objects).  He eventually got engaged to someone else.  He proved he could have a serious, committed relationship.  But there was a sense that his feelings for Robin might not have gone away, completely.

Finally, after what felt like way too long and with way too much false hope along the way, Barney won Robin back.  He may have done it by pretending to be in love with her arch nemesis (I was totally fooled by that storyline, by the way), but when he laid his feelings bare, it became clear that he had never stopped loving Robin.  The scene in which he proposes and Robin accepts actually made me shriek "YES!" at the screen:


And so, the scene was set.  The two other main characters in the series, Marshall and Lily, were happily married and had had their first child.  Robin and Barney were back together and were hopelessly in love and planning their wedding.  Ted was putting his feelings for Robin to bed at last and was just waiting to find "The One."  And, at the end of season 8, we finally saw her for the first time.  Now, it was just a matter of waiting for she and Ted to meet.  We knew who "The Mother" was.   We were on course for a final season that tied up any loose ends and finally gave us the happy ending we had spent eight previous seasons wishing for Ted to get.

What could possibly go wrong?!


Earlier on in the show, it had been made clear to us that Ted had first spotted his future wife and the mother of his children at a wedding.  Later, it became apparent that the wedding in question was that of Robin and Barney.  So, the fact that the entire final season takes place over the wedding weekend is bizarrely understandable.  We know there's a lot of ground to cover: Ted and Tracy's first meeting, the beginning of their relationship, Robin and Barney's happy-ever-after...  

But, despite there being several flashes to Ted and Tracy's future relationship, the majority of the season passes by without them having met, yet.  Instead, we get to know Tracy before Ted does.  She becomes a major character, without him having so much as said "hello" to her.

We see her meeting each of the rest of the gang.  We get to know her.  We fall in love with her.  We know that she's the future mother of Ted's children and we could not be happier; she's perfect for him.  Despite Ted having yet another wobble over his feelings for Robin, we know that the real love of his life is just a day or two away from sweeping him off his feet.  We even see Tracy inadvertently save the wedding, when she bumps into Robin and calms her last-minute nerves.

Shortly before that encounter, we see Robin having a freak-out, in which she wonders whether she ought to be marrying Ted, instead.  She questions whether Barney loves her the way Ted has over the years.  She wonders if he's capable of being honest with her, given his track record of lying to get what he wants.

But Tracy is there at the right time to calm her down.  Barney puts Robin's mind at rest.  The wedding goes ahead and we see how blissfully happy Robin and Barney are.  Now, all that remains is for Ted to finally meet Tracy himself.

And it's at this point that I have to ask myself whether someone in the writers' room asked: "Hey, do you think we could just MASSIVELY mess up this whole thing in the finale and really upset the vast majority of the show's fans?!"

So, here we are in the finale.  We've made it through nine seasons.  Nine seasons of Ted intermittently pining over the wrong girl.  A girl the show has consistently told us is not the person he should be with.  That girl is now married to the man the show has perfectly paired her with; a man we know is her ideal match.  Ted is finally just moments away from meeting the love of his life.  We've spent more than twenty episodes, having Tracy cleverly introduced, without her having met Ted.  We're on tenterhooks, waiting for that moment when everything will be perfect.  Lily and Marshall are having their second child and they've come through a stressful period in their marriage and are even more rock solid than ever.  Robin and Barney are married and now all we're waiting for is the final piece in the puzzle:  How did Ted meet the mother of his children?!  

And then the finale takes everything we loved about the show, rolls it up into a burrito of disappointment and force-feeds us every last morsel.

Twenty minutes from the end of the show, we discover that Robin became a super-famous news anchor/reporter and divorced Barney, because their relationship apparently buckled under the stress of her being away so much.  Robin disappears from the group, becoming distant even from her best friend, Lily, who mourns the loss of their close friendship.  We see Barney go back to his former Lothario self, before he discovers that he's gotten a conquest pregnant.  He falls head over heels with his baby daughter and it's her that finally makes him change (despite the fact that his love for Robin had done that, already and it was actually pretty hard to believe that he'd slip quite so easily back into his former patterns and not experience enormous depression at the end of his marriage).  Then, heartbreakingly, but some might argue predictably (there were many rumours that this would happen), we find out that Tracy - the mother we waited so long to meet - died several years ago, from an illness that is literally never explained.  We get a few brief moments in which we see the first, almost unbearably cute meeting between she and Ted and that's it.  Her part in the story is over.

Ted explains:

But we're not done, yet.  Oh, no.  The show hasn't finished ruining the previous nine years.

Because the kids' reaction to hearing the heartwarming tale of how their parents met, is to admonish their father and basically tell him:  "This was never a story about Mom.  It's about how you love Aunt Robin and you want to know if we're okay with you dating her.  Go get her!"



KIDDING ME?????!!!!!

I'm so enraged, the spelling mistake in this gif, which would usually annoy me so much I couldn't use it, gets a pass.  Because maybe the person who made it was furious, too.

I have MANY feelings about how wrong this ending was.  

To get the full impact of how bad it was, I have to compare it to a finale I liked and say that it would be like Rachel getting off the plane in the Friends finale, only to tell Ross that actually, she really was in love with Joey.  Whilst, across the city, Erica tells Monica and Chandler that she's decided to keep her babies, causing Monica to throw herself out of the damn hospital window.  Meanwhile, Phoebe finally gets arrested for all the many crimes she's long hinted at having committed, whilst her twin sister records a comedy album, featuring all of Phoebe's funny songs from the entire ten seasons, and is immediately hailed a genius.  The show ends with Chandler, sitting alone in the empty apartment he shared with his now dead wife, asking himself: "Could this be any more tragic?!" before weeping inconsolably as the final credits roll.


Brace yourselves, I feel a list, coming on...

  1. Literally the ENTIRE final season is set during the weekend of Robin and Barney's wedding.  We see them have their last minute doubts, but we see those doubts resolved.  They love one another.  They are right for one another.  Their marriage is the culmination of a beautifully written love story, between two characters who could barely commit to a lunch date, before finding the perfect partner in one another.  We are sold their relationship as the happy-ever-after for these characters and we believed in that.  To take it away, with barely any real analysis of how the end came about, was a slap in the face to everyone who rooted for them.

Bobin forever, you awful writers.  BOBIN FOREVER.

2.  The show had spent NINE SEASONS telling us how wrong Robin and Ted were for one another.  They wanted different things.  Robin had told Ted to his face that she didn't love him.  Their story was resolved; they were destined to just be friends.  Ted was determined to come to terms with that fact, somehow, just before he met Tracy.  The Robin we see in the finale - the woman who puts her career ahead of every relationship in her life - is far closer to the Robin we meet in the first episode, than the Robin she became, too.  So, not only did they undo her entire character progression in order for this to happen, but they turned her back into the woman who was DEMONSTRABLY WRONG FOR TED.  What message were they trying to convey?!  If you wear someone down over the years, they'll eventually cave and decide they want to be with you after all?!  Or that if you've had a thing for someone for years, it eventually stops mattering whether or not you're right for one another?!

3.  The show spent the whole of the final season, introducing us to Tracy and showing us that she really was perfect for Ted.  Prior to that, the WHOLE SHOW was about it not really mattering what heartbreak Ted endured, as long as he learned a lesson from it, because those lessons could be carried forward into his eventual relationship with Tracy.  In other words, those doomed romances weren't so important in the grand scheme of things, because he hadn't met the love of his life, yet.  Every woman Ted dated - Robin included - was eventually shown to be not quite right for him, in one way or another.  But in Tracy, we found someone who embodied everything Ted needed in a partner.  She fitted into his gang of friends.  We could see her being a part of his world, before she even became one.  We were given the chance to fall in love with her almost on Ted's behalf, prior to their first meeting.  To kill her off with no explanation was cruel enough (we never even find out what illness killed her).  But to actually write her importance out of the show completely, by suggesting that Ted's whole story was never actually about her, was far too harsh.  Tracy deserved much, much better.

I name this ship Tred.  And it floats a whole lot better than Trobin does.

4. Barney deserved better, too.  We'd already seen him turn his character around.  He'd found someone he adored in Robin, and he'd done the seemingly impossible and gotten married.  Between the end of his first engagement (to Quinn) and getting back together with Robin, he may have returned to his playboy ways, but we saw plenty of suggestions that he was actually maturing as a character and was no longer completely happy with his lifestyle.  We saw a softer side to him.  We watched him confront his demons and become a more fully rounded person.  By the time he proposes to Robin, he's proven that he is willing and ready to give up sleeping around and treating women badly.  In the finale, we see only brief flashes of any emotion after his split from Robin and he quickly goes back to being the Lothario he was, before.  He openly denounces the idea of real love, or pledging yourself to just one person (and whilst this could arguably be as a result of his painful divorce, we're literally never given the chance to explore his feelings) and only finally changes his ways for good when his daughter is born.  This felt almost like a slight to Robin, given that she can't have children, but it also gave rise to several questions:  Why do we never meet the mother of Barney's child?  She never even gets a name, being referred to only as "Number 31," the final girl in a "perfect month" for Barney (in which he sleeps with a different girl on every day of the month).  Is Barney sharing custody?  Because if so, this new, reformed character that he's become as a result of fatherhood surely wouldn't be referring to the mother of his child as merely "Number 31."  And if he has sole custody, how did that even happen??!

5.  If Robin has become this incredibly successful journalist, travelling all over the world, to the point that Lily comments on the fact that they rarely ever see or even hear from her anymore, how is Ted still in close enough contact with her to know that she's living at her old apartment and is single?  If he's still in close touch with her, why isn't her supposed best friend?  Robin's lifestyle led to the break up of her marriage and a loss of closeness with the group, but somehow, we're meant to believe that she and Ted are still so close that he can just turn up at her home, knowing that she'll be in?!  And if Robin really has distanced herself from the whole group (which is very heavily implied), how is Ted even close enough to her to still have romantic feelings for her?  Ted is portrayed throughout the show as someone who values friendship and feels it's important to make time for the people in your life.  If Robin had disappeared from their group as much as it's suggested, surely he'd have had very little to do with her over the years, especially as he had his own issues going on, such as raising two young kids, dealing with the sickness and then death of his wife and becoming a single father?!  Where would he find the time to chase someone who had purposefully distanced herself from the group?!  And if Ted really hasn't seen much of Robin in the last few years, it makes his casual dismissal of Tracy in favour of Robin at the end of the story much, much worse.

6.  Who was "The One?!"  Tracy is sold to us as the love of Ted's life literally throughout the entire nine seasons of the show.  Well before she's ever appeared on screen, she's the person we're rooting for Ted to meet.  But with the kids saying that the story was never about her, but was actually always about Robin, is the show trying to make the point that there's no such thing as "The One," after all?!  And if so, why, considering that this was a show that never shied away from having its main character philosophising on life and love, did Ted never speak about that?  We're left asking ourselves whether the show was trying to make a point about the concept of "The One," or whether they were suggesting that actually, it was Robin all along.  Which, considering how long they spent ramming home the idea that she was wrong for Ted, makes it feel like a really stupid ending.   "The One" is the one it didn't work out with, but who you still have feelings for, anyway?!  Okaaaay.

At this point, I actually yelled "NOOOOOOO" a la Luke Skywalker at my TV.

7.  We know that Ted supposedly left Robin and Barney's wedding early, because he was due to fly to Chicago the next day, but what was Tracy's excuse for also leaving early?  She was the bassist in the wedding band; did her set end and she decided to duck out?  What entertainment was there after the band finished?  And why was she getting the train home again, when we saw her driving a van (which she used to pick up Marshall and baby Marvin) just a day or two before?  Come to think of it it, if she had access to that van, why did she have to catch a train to the venue?!  This point may have been cleared up, but I think I was so upset by the Bobin divorce at this point, I was too consumed with rage to notice...

8.  The show spent NINE WHOLE SEASONS devoted to the notion of Ted finally getting a happy ending with the mother of his kids.  WHY DO THE BUILD UP AND THEN RIP AWAY THE ENDING????!!!!!

Look, I know there were fans who liked this finale.  I know there were people who felt like Ted and Robin did belong together.  But if that was the case, you know what?  Just have her be the mother all along - if Robin couldn't have kids, then have an emotional moment where Ted tells her it doesn't matter, because he loves her enough not to have them.  Or, have them talk about adoption.  If it had to end with those two getting together, don't spend nine years focusing on how it wouldn't work between them, or telling us how perfect she and Barney are for one another, instead.  If it was always meant to be about how there's not just ONE perfect person for all of us, have Ted ruminate on that fact.  

The ending felt like an afterthought.  It felt like the whole show had been leading up to something, but the writers decided "nah" and just wrote a load of scenes that felt out of character from almost everyone (aside from Marshall and Lily), without thinking for a second about what they'd spent nine years creating up until that point.

Arguably, the ending of the show had been decided upon in season 2, when the final scenes with Ted's future kids were shot, so that they wouldn't continue to age over the course of the show.  So, back in season two, it was decided that Ted would end up with Robin.

But, you know what?  If that's where the writers were going all along, they had plenty of time to make it feel like a satisfying ending.  They had literally years to build the Robin and Ted storyline up to a crescendo, where all the fans were rooting for them to get together.

They didn't do any of that.  They did the opposite of that.

And look, I know a lot of the fans who did like the ending, did so because it was a "surprise twist."  But was it?  Really?!

Because the mother's death was pretty heavily foreshadowed a few episodes away from the end, when we see her and Ted having a meal together in the future, during which she says: "what sort of a mother would miss her own daughter's wedding?" and Ted breaks down in response.  Why else would he be crying, unless he knew Tracy would miss her daughter's eventual wedding?  Ted was sensitive and prone to getting emotional, but not to the degree that he'd have randomly burst into tears at that comment, without it having a deeper meaning.

And as for Ted and Robin?  As a fan of the show who never saw the two of them as being right for one another, I literally spent pretty much any episode in which it was so much as hinted at that Ted still had feelings for her, muttering under my breath: "if they end up together, it'll be such a predictable cop-out."

I don't see it as being a big, shocking twist.  I just see it as being atrociously poor attention to detail right at the end of a brilliant run.  There were too many unanswered questions, too many out of character moments and the entire, nine-year premise of the show felt like it was completely undone in the last twenty minutes.

You're right, Willow Lily.  I need copious amounts of alcohol, too.  Enough to make me forget.

You know what?  Even if the writers filmed the final scenes with the kids back in season 2, and they went with the whole "you're in love with Aunt Robin" vibe back then, they didn't have to stick to it.  It was their show.  That's the beauty of writing; you sometimes have an idea of what you want to happen at the end, but if you're really paying attention to the story and the characters, you allow the plot to be driven by them, somewhat.  In my novel, Cracked Mirrors And Torn Reflections, I had an idea of how Jenna and Richard's relationship needed to pan out.  But how it got there changed along the way - I went with the story as it developed.  The How I Met Your Mother finale didn't feel like writers going along with the characters' natural development, or the story's own path.  It felt like a natural progression up until the final twenty minutes, when someone remembered: "Oh, heck, we wrote the ending seven years ago" and then tried to shoehorn everything in.

That's why it was so unsatisfying.  That's why it was so divisive.  Because it felt as though the writers didn't put the same amount of thought and care into the finale as they had the whole nine seasons up until that point.

An alternative ending was released as part of the DVD boxset, in which the mother doesn't die and Ted hints strongly that Robin and Barney get back together.  Maybe it's trite.  Maybe it's sentimental.  But for me, that's the ending that should have aired on TV.

That's the ending I'll think of, whenever I remember the show.  Because, for a show that spent nine years leading up to a happy ending, I feel like it should have actually given us one.

Friday, 28 April 2017

I Need A Little Time...

I'm not very good at taking time for myself.  It's funny, because I really thought I was.  I'm good at binge-watching TV shows on Netflix, with a scented candle lit and a big bowl of popcorn on my lap.  It's just, I've recently discovered that that's not entirely the same thing.

Because often, whilst I'm watching TV, I'm also checking my phone, to see if anyone has texted.  If someone has, I feel the need to reply right away, because I know how much I hate it when you message someone and they either never respond at all, or they take days to do so.  I feel that need to reply even more if the person texting has some kind of problem they need to talk through, or if they might be feeling lonely, angry or just fed up.  

And, whilst I'm half-watching TV and checking my phone to see if there are texts I need to reply to, I'm also checking Twitter, to ensure that the abuse-awareness account I run isn't being forgotten about.  

Before I know it, my "Me Time" has turned into "Me, You, Them And Whoever Else Time."

Normally, that's actually pretty fine.  I'm a people-person.  I like to have other people around me.  I like being in touch with people.  But my problem is, I have a habit of putting other people first.

Yes, I know.  That sounds like a humblebrag.  "Oooh, I'm just soooo selfless.  I put myself second aaaaall the tiiiiime."

But, I promise you, I'm not trying to sound like that.

I just mean that if someone's need seems to be greater than mine, I will put my own needs second, in order to accommodate theirs.  I tell myself that it's a nice, compassionate and mature way to be.  But, in reality, it's not always helpful.

Because, in deciding that my feelings are less important than everyone else's, I end up doing a disservice to myself.  I end up feeling guilty if I tell someone that they've made me feel hurt or angry (and, sadly, recent experience in that area has made me feel like I should never voice those feelings again).  Indeed, sometimes I end up swallowing those feelings entirely, rather than risk a negative response to them.

I end up pushing myself to be there for everyone else, whilst ignoring my own feelings.  My gut reaction to seeing someone I barely know on Twitter saying that they feel sad or lonely, for example, is to offer them my inbox as a place to rant.  To offer my metaphorical shoulders to cry on.  But too often, what I really need, is someone to talk to, myself.

What happens when you bury your own needs and feelings?  They start coming out, elsewhere.  You get short-tempered with people who have done nothing wrong.  You feel absolutely furious with people who have (anger just starts gnawing at you like a dog with a bone).  You start feeling the physical symptoms of stress.  For me, in the last 4 weeks, that's meant a worsening of my asthma, a return of the griping stomach pains I'm on medication to prevent, lack of decent sleep leading to exhaustion and a desperate wish to escape.  To literally anywhere.

Thankfully - and it seems bizarre to use that word in this context, but go with it - I'm having counselling, as a result of the grief I'm still going through because of losing two of my closest friends in the world.   So, I was able to talk these feelings through with my therapist, this week.  Her advice?

Go off the radar, a little.  Stop trying to be there for absolutely everyone but yourself.  Put Emma first, for a while.

It's alien and weird.  All week long, I haven't sent a single text to anyone, asking "how are you?"  Not because I don't care about any of the people I usually get in touch with to ask that question.  But, because I recognise how thinly I was spreading myself.  How much I was ignoring my feelings in order to try to put everyone else first.  

Because if anyone had texted me that question, had I been brave enough to answer it honestly, I would have had to say: "I'm not okay."

The fact of the matter is, you can't be all things to all people.  And you can't be anything to anyone, if you're not looking after yourself.

It's not selfish to say "I can't do X," or "I don't want to do Y."  It's perfectly reasonable to feel a negative response to something and to express it.  And it's not a character flaw to step back from the world and concentrate on fixing yourself, first and foremost.  Because nobody else can: you have to recognise what your needs are, what your problems are and what you can do to sort them out.  Nobody else can do it for you.  And, in realising that, I finally realised that I can't fix everyone else's problems, either.  Offering a stranger the chance to "DM me, if you ever need to talk" is kind and thoughtful, but there is no pressure on me to cure anyone's woes, because I can't.  

I'll always be someone who likes to please people.  I'll still be someone who offers her shoulder for strangers and friends alike to cry on and who tries to go along with what others want to do, because I don't like letting anyone down, or making people feel like I don't care.  

But I can't do it, right now.  I need to fix my own stress.  I need to concentrate on what I want and what I need.  I need to fall off the radar, just a little, and fill my life with things that make me feel happy.

I need a little time to put me first.  

And that's okay.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Bedtime Story (26/4/2017)

I won't lie, this story is basically being written just so I can use this gif!

As always, this story is also available to listen to as a podcast.

Timmy's To-Do List

The sun was streaming in through Timmy's bedroom window.  But he didn't want to go outside and play.  The only thing Timmy wanted was Super Dragon Race 2, the brand new computer game that all of his friends were raving about.  Timmy already had the first Super Dragon Race game and he was the king of it - he'd played all of his friends and won every time.  But now, the sequel was finally out and Timmy was absolutely desperate to get his hands on it.  The trouble was, his birthday was months away and Christmas was even further.  And it would take him ages to save up his pocket money to buy it himself...

"Can I please have Super Dragon Race 2," Timmy begged his parents over breakfast.  "I promise, every night I'll do my homework before I play it."

His parents looked at one another.  "How about this," Dad began.  "What if we give you a list of jobs to do?  We'll pay you for all the jobs you do, say a pound each, then when you've finished them all, we can go to the shops and buy this game you want.  Deal?"

"Deal!"  Timmy exclaimed.  "What do I have to do?"

"Well, it'll take quite a few jobs to save up that much money," Mum said.  "But you can start off by washing the dishes."

"And then you'll need to tidy your room," Dad added.

Timmy nodded to himself.  "Wash the dishes, then tidy my room.  I can do that."

Dad gestured outside.  Timmy's grandad lived a couple of doors down from them.  "Grandad will probably have some jobs for you, too," he suggested.  "Ask him what he needs doing and remember, we'll pay you a pound for each job."

Timmy went rushing to ask.  He darted down Grandad's garden path and knocked on the door.  "Grandad," he said, almost breathless from running.  "Mum and Dad are paying me to do some jobs for people, so I can buy Super Dragon Race 2.  Do you have any jobs that need doing?!"

Grandad scratched his chin.  "Well, my boots need polishing," he said.  "Oh, and the garden needs weeding, too.  You can do those jobs for me, if you like?"

Timmy nodded and smiled.  "Okay," he said.  "So, I have to wash the dishes, tidy my room, polish your boots and weed the garden.  I can do all of that!"

Grandad grinned and pointed at the house next door.  "My friend Margaret has just moved in there," he explained.  "I bet she has lots of jobs you could do!"

And so, Timmy hurried off to the house next door and rang the bell.  A kind-faced old lady answered.  "Ooh, I recognise you," she smiled.  "You're Jim's grandson, Timmy!  What can I do for you?"

Timmy told her his story and Margaret nodded her head.  "Well, I could definitely use some help," she said.  "The fence in the garden needs painting, the boxes I used when I moved in need flattening and the dog will need a walk.  Can you do all of those things?"

Timmy nodded.  His to-do list was getting pretty long, now, but he recited to himself: "I need to wash the dishes, tidy my room, polish Grandad's boots, weed his garden, paint your fence, flatten your boxes and walk your dog."  He promised Margaret he'd be back later and rushed back home.

On his way, he bumped into Mrs Henning from Number 65.  She was friends with Timmy's mum, so Timmy decided to tell her his story and ask if she had any jobs for him to do.

Mrs Henning took a deep breath.  "Hmmm," she pondered.  "My lawn needs mowing, if you'd like to try that?"  She paused, wrinkling her nose.  "Oh, and my car could do with a wash?"

"I can do those things!"  Timmy promised.  And, after assuring Mrs Henning that he'd be back later, Timmy hurried back home.

"How's your to-do list coming along," Dad asked, when Timmy came in.

Timmy cleared his throat.  "I have to wash the dishes, tidy my room, polish Grandad's boots, weed his garden, paint Margaret's fence, flatten her boxes, walk her dog, mow Mrs Henning's lawn and wash her car."  He pulled a face.  "That's all going to take a very long time, so I'd better get started!"

Timmy collected all the breakfast things and put them in the sink.  As he washed up, he kept reciting his to-do list to himself, to ensure he didn't forget anything.  The trouble was, the more he tried to remember it, the more confused he got.

"I have to wash the dishes, tidy my room, weed Grandad's boots, polish his garden, paint Margaret's dog, flatten her fence, walk her boxes, mow Mrs Henning's car and wash her lawn."  

Timmy pulled a face.  "That's not right..."

He tried again.

"I have to wash the dishes, tidy my boots, paint Grandad's room, polish his weeds, flatten Margaret's dog, mow her fence, walk Mrs Henning's car and box her lawn."

Timmy blinked and rubbed his eyes.  "No, that's still not right..."

Mum came into the kitchen.  "Are you okay?"  She asked.

Timmy stared at her.  "I've forgotten what's on my to-do list," he confessed.  "It's all mixed up!"

Mum smiled.  "Okay, tell me what you think you have to do..."

Timmy took a deep breath.  "I have to tidy the dishes, wash my room, flatten Grandad's boots, paint his garden, weed Margaret's dog, paint her boxes, mow her fence, walk Mrs Henning's Grandad and drive her lawn."

Dad came into the kitchen.  "I think someone's a bit confused," he smiled.  "Here's an idea.  Why don't your mum and I help you with all your jobs?  We'll get them done quicker, that way."

And so, Timmy, his mum and his dad finished the washing up.  Then, Timmy tidied his room and, when he had finished, they all headed over to Grandad's, where Timmy polished Grandad's boots, whilst Mum and Dad weeded the garden.  Afterwards, they went to Margaret's house, where Timmy flattened all of her moving boxes and helped paint the fence.  Then, they all went for a walk with Margaret's dog, before they popped to Mrs Henning's place, where Dad helped Timmy mow the lawn.  Then they all had fun washing Mrs Henning's car.

By the time all of the jobs were done, Timmy was exhausted.  It was also pretty late!  Timmy glanced at his watch.  "Dad," he panicked.  "The shops shut soon!"

"Don't worry," Dad replied, gesturing to his car.  "We'll be there in no time.  Come on!"

Timmy and his parents jumped into the car and headed straight to the shops with minutes to spare.  There, Timmy finally grabbed his game and Dad handed him the money Timmy had earned from his jobs.  As they walked back to the car, Timmy was tired, but delighted.

Dad climbed into his seat and turned the key in the ignition.  "I bet you can't wait to play on that game when we get home?"  He asked.  There was no reply.

Mum frowned.  "Timmy," she called, softly.  "I bet you're really excited to have a go on that game, now you've finally got it?"  Again, there was no reply.

Timmy's parents turned slowly towards the back seat.

Timmy was fast asleep, with Super Dragon Race 2 cradled in his arms.

It had been a very busy day.