Thursday, 30 May 2019

No Outsiders: Why Equality Is a VITAL Thing To Teach Children

There are certain things we are taught at school: maths, spelling and for a lot of us here in the UK, how to play London's Burning on a recorder.  Parents everywhere must be so incredibly grateful for that one...

And then there are the things we learn without realising: how to share and take turns, that it's okay to ask a question if you're not sure about something and, crucially, that we are all different, but equally deserving of respect.

It may come as a shock to those parents protesting the new "No Outsiders" programme - which features books incorporating same-sex parent families and racially diverse characters, in an effort to teach children that differences are not a bad thing and that everyone is worthy of respect, regardless of gender, orientation or ethnicity - that equality and the celebration of differences has been fundamental to the Primary School curriculum (and Early Years, for that matter) for a very long time already.

Rightly so.

Yes, an understanding of what they have in common with their friends and what makes them different and special is a core aspect of what children are expected to have learnt by the time they complete their first year of primary education.  It has been for years.  Why?  Because it's important.  It's important for a child's sense of self that he or she can recognise things they are good at.  Things that make them unique.  It's equally important for a child's blossoming understanding of society as a whole, that they appreciate that not everyone is the same as them and that those who differ are no less special than they are.

Why is it important?  Well, think back to your school days.  Every single one of us can probably remember someone who was bullied for being different in some way.  Perhaps their family had a different set of customs and therefore stuck out.  Maybe there was a child who dressed differently or spoke with an accent unfamiliar to the rest of their classmates.  Perhaps there was one member of the class who struggled academically and fell behind everyone else.  Or maybe they just didn't look "right."

Some of you will look back and realise that that "different kid" was you.  I know that's what I remember when I look back to secondary school, in particular.  And I know what a dreadful effect it had on the rest of my life.  Bullying - which almost always stems from one child seeming to be "different" in some way - results in scars that last long after we leave the classroom.  And so, happily, modern schools have measures in place to ensure that differences, be they cultural, religious, ability-based or surrounding a family dynamic, are celebrated and discussed, so that we teach children that their version of "normal" is not necessarily the same as that of their classmates, and that that is not a problem.  We are all different.  We can all be celebrated.  We all deserve respect.

So far, so good.

The trouble over this long-standing programme of inclusion has only sprung up because it now also includes differences in sexuality as standard.  Suddenly, mothers and fathers who were perfectly happy to have little Daisy taught that some children only have one parent, are up in arms over the idea that their offspring might discover - heaven forbid - that some children have two parents of the same gender.

That's it, in a nutshell.  That's what the hoo-ha is about.

Never mind that the 2010 Equality Act already means that things such as discrimination on the basis of gender, sexual orientation, race or disability was already a thing you can't do and that we should be stamping out wherever possible, including in our schools; it took the introduction of the No Outsiders programme to convince protestors that the idea of children learning that gay people exist is  THE WORST THING EVER!!!1!!ONE!!!

And so we find ourselves in a situation in which furious parents are taking their children out of school and forming protests outside these educational establishments, chanting and holding up placards.  We find ourselves living in a world in which some school heads have suspended teaching of the No Outsiders programme, after receiving death threats.

And for any child with two parents of the same gender (or an LGBTQ+ sibling or other relative, for that matter) what is that teaching them?  That they're wrong.  That they're bad.  That they're different and unacceptable.  Is that seriously what we've sunk to?

Many of the protestors are using religion as the excuse for their blatant homophobia.  Many - laughably - are insisting that we don't call them "homophobic," as though the violent insistence that children cannot possibly be taught that LGBTQ+ people exist and are worthy of just as much respect as anyone else, is somehow something other than grotesquely homophobic.  Just as "I'm not racist, but..." almost always leads to an inherently racist sentence, this cry of "we're not homophobic, but..." falls bitterly flat, when followed by the outright denial of children being taught to respect diversity and to show tolerance to those whose lives differ to their own.

We live in a country which allows people religious freedom and goes as far as to protect that freedom.  However, we are a secular nation.  Religious beliefs do not underpin our laws or our school curriculum and nor should they.  As a non-religious person myself, I can say that the existence of God is unproven.  The existence of humans is not.  And those humans have every right to be represented, heard and respected, regardless of their sexual orientation.  There is nothing sinful about being gay, in my eyes.  And to those who believe that being gay is wrong for religious reasons, that is, again, a belief, not a provable fact.  Therefore, we as a broader society - made up of people of all religions, as as well as agnostics and atheists - cannot be held to ransom by those who have chosen to interpret their faith in a way that persecutes the LGBTQ+ community.

Grossly, as a last resort against any kind of tolerance towards the LGBTQ+ community, homophobes will sometimes tell you that if we accept love between two men or two women, we must also accept "love" between a paedophile and a child.  I shouldn't have to make the obvious statement that to conflate consensual love between two adults of the same gender, with sexual abuse between an adult and child is horrific.  I don't know any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person who would ever, ever condone paedophilia.  There is nothing loving about assault and to suggest as much is abhorrant.

Love between consenting adults, however, is and always has been, the most natural thing in the world.

Alongside the parents complaining for religious reasons of course, we have parents who claim to be against the teaching of the No Outsiders programme for cultural or personal ones.  These are the parents who claim that to mention gay people in schools somehow sexualises young children, or exposes them needlessly to something they shouldn't witness.  These are often the same people who disapprove of sex education full stop.  Because everyone knows, if a girl is shown how to put a condom on a banana at the age of 14, she'll be pregnant by 15.  Obviously.

And yet these are often the same people who think nothing of asking a young girl if she has a "boyfriend" at school.  Or of putting a baby boy in a "ladies man" t-shirt.  Children are subjected to an almost aggressive level of heteronormative behaviour that simply never gets questioned, because it's so ingrained in society.  It's okay to joke about two six year olds having to get married, because a boy has held a girl's hand.  But it's not alright to explain that men can marry other men.  Because that's somehow a line we can't cross.

These "you're sexualising/confusing our children" types are often the ones who genuinely believe that "boys are going to be taught that they're actually girls," or that "children are going to be encouraged to believe that they're gay when they're not."  I'd laugh, were it not for the fact that these are real arguments I've had from people who are against the No Outsiders programme and who have clearly not read about it, beyond what they've seen in The Daily Mail.

Having worked in schools, pre-schools and nurseries for 18 years, I have read the curriculum.  Everything that is taught has been adapted by year group, to ensure that it is age appropriate.  The gist of the entire programme is simply: "To teach children about the 2010 Equality Act and British Values.  To reduce vulnerability to radicalisation and extremism.  To teach children to be proud of who they are, whilst recognising difference and diversity.  To create a positive school ethos, where everyone feels they belong."   There.  I took that from the Equalities Primary website.  Note the distinct lack of "To teach boys that they are actually girls and to ensure that all children are made to doubt their own sexuality as much as possible."

And to those who believe that teaching about LGBTQ+ relationships will confuse children?  When my friend's son was around 4, he met my sister's then partner (now wife).  He wasn't remotely traumatised.  He just instantly accepted that my sister loved a woman, then went on with his day.  Children are not born judgemental.  They are taught to be that way.  

I am passionate about inclusion and diversity.  I know how vital it is, in order to stamp out extremism and prevent bullying.  I know how crucial representation is for a child who feels different, be it due to their burgeoning sexuality or their home circumstances.  To be told that you are accepted, respected and loved is a basic human right.  To deny that to anyone - at any age - is frankly revolting.  

The Early Years curriculum has the core ethos: "Every Child Matters."  This is indisputable, as far as I'm concerned.  Every child does matter.  Every child has the right to be represented.  That includes children of same-sex parents.  Children with LGBTQ+ family members.  Children who, as they grow and develop, may find themselves questioning their own sexuality or struggling with their gender identity.  Not because they've had those issues forced on them, but because not every child grows up to be straight and cisgendered.  For those children, the knowledge that their school has been stopped from teaching that everyone is equal and worthy of respect, regardless of sexual orientation, has the potential to be hugely damaging.  Why should any child suffer, just because a group of loud parents are using religion or outdated "moral values" as an excuse to be homophobic?  And what are these parents "protecting" their children from?  The knowledge that love takes many forms?  The importance of tolerance rather than judgement?

We live in a world in which - finally - same sex marriage is becoming increasingly legalised and accepted.  Yes, we still have countries in which it is simply not safe to be openly gay and that fact shames us as a species.  But we are moving forwards.  We are heading towards a world in which equality really will exist, on a universal scale.  To get there, it is vital that we teach the next generation that love is more important than hate.  That tolerance and acceptance should never be overshadowed by those who fear what they cannot - or will not - understand.

Equality is a vital thing to teach to the world's children.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

My Top Ten Crazy Ex Girlfriend Songs

Around 2-3 years ago, my sister and sister-in-law were visiting and had gone into the kitchen to watch something.  I could hear them laughing to the point that I became determined to find out just what was so funny.  After I joined them in the kitchen, they showed me what it was that they were watching; a musical comedy show called Crazy Ex Girlfriend.  They were on episode two and the song that caused so much mirth was called I'm So Good At Yoga.  I watched it with them and by the end of that one song, I was completely and utterly hooked.

Last night, after four seasons of sheer brilliance, Crazy Ex Girlfriend reached its finale.  A show that started off as a slightly oddball pastiche of romantic comedy, about a woman named Rebecca uprooting her life to chase down her first love and win him back, had ended up becoming a raw and yet ultimately uplifting portrayal of mental health problems, a beacon of feminism and inclusivity and a heartwarming display of the many different forms of love we find in our everyday lives.  If it sounds a little ridiculous to say that my life is better for having discovered the show, so be it.  It's true.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend took comedy tropes and turned them on their heads.  It used music to deliver jokes and communicate ideas fresher and braver than many shows dare to put out into the world.  The cast were mind-boggling in their talents - this was no mere acting job.  This was an ensemble who danced and sang in a whole host of styles.  Over the course of 4 seasons, over 150 songs in a wide variety of genres were gifted to us and it's for that reason that the only way I can truly explain how much this show means to me and just why it's so amazing, is to go through some of those songs right now.  Besides, I can't resist a top ten list...

10) "I Have Friends"

So, a few months after I got really into Crazy Ex Girlfriend, some stuff started going on in my life.  A stupid argument with one friend led to the implosion of my entire friendship group and shortly afterwards, I realised the person I'd spent years referring to as my "best friend" was...  REALLY not.  Like... A whole lot of "NOT."

Being the kind of weirdo who mercilessly mocks my own tragedies in life as a kind of bizarre coping mechanism, I took to singing this song to myself as a way of distracting my mind from the fact that I kind of... didn't have friends.  Which, you know, is essentially what Rebecca is doing in this song.  

Sarcastically singing "I have friends, I DEFINITELY have friends" was just a thing I did to get through a bad situation.   And it worked!  I'll always have a soft spot for it, as a result.  Also, just like Rebecca realises she very much does have an incredible new support network of friends as the series continues, so I went on to realise I wasn't friendless, after all.  Hooray!

I Have Friends, I DEFINITELY have friends!

9) "Let's Have Intercourse"

Whilst we naturally focus on Rebecca and her character development across the four seasons, it's important to remember that one of the awesome things about Crazy Ex Girlfriend is the way it constantly develops the other characters in the show, too.

When we meet Nathaniel, he is hard, uncompromising and seemingly uncaring.  Only once he is brought off his pedestal (by a bout of diarrhoea, because duh, of course that's what it took) and eventually realises his strange crush on Rebecca is actually love (that plot line is not connected to any bowel functions...), does he start to change as a person.  And what's perfect is that he changes willingly, originally purely because he thinks only by becoming a nicer person will Rebecca want to be with him, but ultimately because he realises he's happier in all areas of his life when he does make the effort to be a better man.  By the end of the final season, he's almost unrecognisable from the emotionless taskmaster he entered the show as.

Crazy Ex Girlfriend does pastiches of well known songs and singers extraordinarily well and this song is a perfectly pitched play on Thinking Out Loud, by Ed Sheeran, but without any of the romance.  As a result, it's both hilarious and somehow instantly familiar, even the very first time you hear it.  And as for Rachel Bloom's ballet dancing... Wow.  I mean, I know I have a super massive crush on her and I'm therefore biased, but the girl knocks it out of the park.

I won't be back to normal til I see what your nipples look like...
...They're probably straightforward nipples.

8) "A Boyband Made Up of Four Joshes"

In season one of Crazy Ex Girlfriend, Rebecca's psyche is often explored through her reminiscing over events from her childhood and early teens.  In episode three, she recalls inviting everyone from school to come over and watch a boy band concert on pay per view at her house.  Distressingly for young Rebecca, very few kids show up and when they do, they witness the breakdown of her parents' marriage, explaining why adult Rebecca has some pretty major issues with abandonment, lack of a reliable male figure in her life and the prospect of throwing parties...

Of course, at this party, Josh turns up and Rebecca instantly believes it's his presence (and not all the background work Paula's done to ensure plenty of people actually come...) that makes it a success.  She dreamily revisits the pay per view boy band concert she never got to see, only in her own private fantasy, every member of the band is Josh.  Now, having been a  big fan of boy bands when I was growing up ( I quite like them now, too...), I'm not about to suggest that anyone who enjoys a boy band has some mental health issues they need to address, but I do love the fact that in this song, the boy band is very much presented as a non-threatening entity, where all four members are offering to "fix" Rebecca's problems.  Not only does it tie in to the fantasy a lot of young girls have (holding my hands up to this one) about the "perfect" member of a boy band being the ideal person who'd understand them and love them the right way (not like real guys, who might hurt them...), but it also neatly continues to emphasise Rebecca's delusional insistence that she requires the love of this one specific person in order to make her better, rather than working on fixing herself.

The song is also catchy as heck!

Baby you can kiss all your unexplained symptoms goodbye,
you're never gonna miss all those nightmares in which you tend to die...

7) "You're My Best Friend (And I Know I'm Not Yours)"

Crazy Ex Girlfriend has always been a fantastic analyser of relationships, be they romantic or otherwise.  Whereas Rebecca's obsessive nature and often over-the-top feelings for her romantic interests was one of the main themes of the show, other characters and their relationships were usually given a fair amount of airtime, too.  Darryl, originally Rebecca's boss in the show, is a favourite of mine, because (again, I hold my hands up) I often find that I identify with him.  

Darryl is unashamed about his feelings and he finds it hard to keep them in.  He loves completely and the people he loves are exceptionally important to him.  Before Rebecca comes along, he lives quite happily, believing his workmate Paula is his best friend.  Then Rebecca enters the equation and she and Paula have such an intense level of closeness, it's difficult for Darryl to get much of a look in.  His feelings towards Paula don't change, but it's clear that she thinks of Rebecca as a much closer friend than he is.  The trouble is, Darryl isn't great at stepping back and making Paula feel comfortable.  He has a few boundary issues and whilst they come from a good place - loving and caring about the people in his life - they can serve to make people feel a little uncomfortable (I'm hoping this isn't something we share...).  So, this song is Darryl's way of recognising that he's perhaps not as important to Paula as he wishes he was, but that that doesn't have to change the way he feels about her and she doesn't need to feel bad about it.

Also, being that I am someone who loves completely and finds it hard to keep my feelings in, but who also self-analyses a lot and isn't as kind to myself as I possibly should be, I can massively identify with the idea of having to say "sure, I adore you but I realise you probably adore other people more."  Tragic?  Kinda.  

"That's why I love you like a sister 
and you love me like a second cousin..."

6) "I Hate Everything But You"

At this point, picking songs and ordering them has gotten hard.  In a lot of ways, this should be top three, but it's landed at number six and I had to bump a lot of songs I like, along the way.

When Skylar Astin arrived in season four, taking over the role of Greg from Santino Fontana, I had some... feelings.  I had shipped "Grebecca" hard and I'd spent two thirds of season two and all of season three wishing that Greg would come back and that they'd eventually get back together, but that was all based on the original Greg.  Having him back and it being a different actor felt weird for a while.

But Skylar is a great actor and singer and his portrayal of a slightly more easy-going Greg (believe it or not, given this song!) was hard to resist.  Greg, with his enormous walls around himself and his habit of snarkily criticising things, was always the antithesis of Rebecca and her overly-emotional, almost childlike naivety and this song proved that Skylar Astin's portrayal of the character was just as true to who Greg really was as Santino Fontana's version in seasons one and two.

Rebecca's high level of enthusiasm for things that others might deem merely "okay" is something I very much identify with.  I get ludicrously excited about things and it's definitely fair to say I sometimes feel things a bit too much.  So I understood her disappointment at Greg not being as ecstatic about their day trip to a water park as she hoped he might be.  That said, I think this song is rather beautiful in its own way and I feel like if someone wanted to serenade me with it, I'd probably melt!

I hate the phrase "love conquers all" 
and I hate that it's true.

5) "Friendtopia"

Crazy Ex Girlfriend does an incredible job of exploring the ways that friendships can affect our lives just as much as any other kind of relationship, and it often uses the friendships the characters have as a mirror to their behaviour in their romantic attachments.  For example, the way Rebecca tries to force Valencia and Heather into her idea of what a "girl group" should be is hugely similar to the way she desperately tries to squeeze her love life into her own unrealistic fantasy of what romance is.  In a lot of ways, the season 2 episode that contains the song Friendtopia is difficult to watch, as Rebecca attempts to engineer two women who've openly confessed to not having had a lot of close female friends in the past, into being her new "squad," whilst also failing to recognise that in doing so, she's massively alienating her best friend, Paula.  It's a clever way of highlighting that Rebecca's mental health issues don't only affect her romantic relationships, as well as being a reminder that friendships are better when they're not forced.  Rebecca's behaviour risks causing the end of the friendship she has with Paula, simply because it doesn't fit her pop-culture-influenced mental image of what female friendship is supposed to look like.

Also, this song sounds like the Spice Girls and takes the concept of "Girl Power" to slightly scary places.  Which will never fail to amuse me.

All citizens must watch Hocus Pocus, or they will be killed.

4) "It Was A Shit Show"

This song marks the first time (very much not the last) that Crazy Ex Girlfriend made me cry.  I mentioned earlier that I was very much Team Grebecca and despite the hugely dysfunctional nature of their relationship, I held out a lot of hope that they'd eventually settle into something lasting and healthy.  Greg's perfectly sensible decision to call it off and go to business school in an attempt to get his life back on track, having admitted to being an alcoholic, was one that was hard to argue with, however.  Santino Fontana was also one hell of a singer and the emotion in his voice during that last refrain "I won't regret this beautiful, heart-stopping, breathtaking, life-changing..." broke me.

It's a huge credit to the show's songwriters (Rachel Bloom, Jack Dolgen and Adam Schlesinger) that this song manages to so perfectly encapsulate the tugging of the heartstrings that takes place when you know you have to end something for your own good, despite knowing that it's going to hurt like hell to walk away.  I'm putting the original show-version of this song as a link, because Santino's version is gorgeous and fully deserves to be heard, but I'd urge you all to seek out Rachel Bloom's live tour version, because DAMN.

Not to be crass,
but this sucked ass.
This was a shit show.

3) "Getting Bi"

Okay, let's get emotionally honest.  

First things first: if there was a couple on Crazy Ex Girlfriend who I shipped even harder than Greg and Rebecca, it was, without question, Darryl and White Josh.  

Darryl is a divorcee, who thinks he's 100% straight.  So, when he starts to connect with White Josh, he thinks it's purely as a friend until, after helping him clean up following a party, White Josh kisses him on the cheek and winks as he leaves.  This causes Darryl to openly question what it might mean and whether he's got to look at himself in a whole new light.  He tries to tactfully find out whether White Josh is gay, by asking why they call him White Josh and not Gay Josh (way to go, Darryl!) and is stunned when White Josh laughs and says it's not like people call him "Old Gay Darryl."  Darryl insists that he's straight, but the fact is, he's obviously intrigued and excited by the idea that White Josh might like him.  There are full-on butterflies and loaded looks and it's just too adorable for words.  Eventually, Darryl realises that he's bisexual - a fact he never cottoned on to until he was middle-aged and is therefore pretty stunned by.  But Darryl being Darryl, he's also not someone who can hide his feelings.  He quickly tells White Josh about how excited he is to be "out" and when White Josh suggests he try some gay dating apps, Darryl gushes that he won't find anyone he likes as much as him.


Getting Bi is not only a massively catchy Huey Lewis pastiche, but it's just perfectly played on a variety of levels.  Firstly, it's very on-brand for Darryl.  Of course he would feel the need to gleefully dance around, telling everyone about his sexuality whether they want to know or not.  Secondly, the reaction from everyone is perfect.  They're not remotely bothered.  They've been encouraging and helpful and nobody has seemed remotely fazed by the fact that their "straight" friend is agonising over his feelings for a guy.  The only thing that riles them is that their boss is singing "yes I like sex" in the middle of a work meeting.

Now, I watched that episode at a fairly important time.  As I mentioned at the start of this countdown, I got really into this show when I was going through a rough period with friends... well, not being friends, anymore.  Something that came out of that whole thing was that a girl I knew at the time offered to be a support, over the internet.  We'd talk every 2-3 days for an hour or so and she'd just check in on me and see if I was okay.  I didn't really think anything of it, until I realised how much I was looking forward to hearing from her.  And how pretty I thought she was.  And how much she made me smile.  Eventually, I asked myself a very simple question: If she asked me out, what would I say?  And I realised the answer was a resounding yes.  It suddenly didn't matter to me that she was a woman and I'd only ever been with guys and only ever imagined myself with a guy.  I figured her gender would be too small a reason to turn her down, given how much I liked her.  There'd be no harm in going on a date with her, just to see.

She never asked me out and I never told her how I felt.  And given all the crap that was going on in my life at the time, I didn't quite have the emotional capacity to deal with what this newfound revelation might actually mean about me as a person, so I sort of... Pushed it out of my thoughts.

Until around ten months later when I had that feeling "like glitter was exploding inside me" (to borrow a quote from the show I'm meant to be discussing) and that feeling was caused by locking eyes with a woman I was just instantly attracted to.  That was when I started to admit to myself that actually, yes, I was bisexual.  And that that was fine.  No biggie.

Seeing LGBT representation - specifically bisexual representation - provided so perfectly in Crazy Ex Girlfriend was a big deal for me and that was compounded in season 3, when Valencia - again, someone who considered herself completely straight and had only ever been interested in guys - met Beth and instantly "clicked" with her, then when the show did an "eight months later..." time jump, the pair were shown sitting, holding hands and clearly very much in love.  And just like with Darryl, nobody batted an eyelid.  Valencia had fallen for someone who was right for her.  That person's gender was completely irrelevant.

The message Crazy Ex Girlfriend sent out with these two storylines was that you can think you're one thing, only to meet someone who makes you realise you're something else entirely.  And that that doesn't have to be something frightening, or shocking.  It's just about meeting someone you click with and realising that love doesn't always take the form you expect it to.  You are who you are and that's fine.

God, I love this show.

I don't care if you wear high heels or a tie,
you might just catch my eye because I'm definitely bi.

2) "You Stupid Bitch"

In a lot of ways, Rebecca Bunch is an anti-hero.  She's a hugely troubled individual, whose actions are often questionable at best.  In the episode from which this song is taken, she crosses a huge line and goes from "quirky girl driven to bad choices by her naive belief in happy ever afters" to "actually borderline psychotic."  Having broken into Josh's apartment to delete a text she sent him by mistake, she's mortified when he finds her there and she has to make a quick excuse.  Lying that someone threw a rock through her window and she was too afraid to be at home alone, Rebecca is put on the spot when Josh offers to go back to her place with her and she's forced to call Paula and beg her best friend to put a rock through the window before she and Josh get back home.  The trouble is, the rock in question turns out to be a decorative rock that Paula's husband took from Rebecca's coffee table, whilst nipping into the apartment to use the bathroom.  Josh quickly realises that the rock came from inside the apartment and questions everything that has happened, eventually leaving Rebecca alone and devastated.  She tries to fall back on Greg, who happens to be passing by, but he's determined not to let himself get close to her again and Rebecca ends up spiralling into self-pity, realising she's "ruined everything."

Whilst I'd like to think I've never done anything as stereotypically "crazy" as the events leading up to this song, I can empathise with feeling like you've done something monumentally stupid and ruined everything.  I'm someone who beats herself up over the tiniest little thing and I've been known to attend the odd private pity party for myself.  This song has, therefore, become my go-to tune when I'm feeling especially down on myself and fancy wallowing for a bit.  It's a very pretty ballad and it perfectly encapsulates that angry-sad feeling of "well, I'm the worst human ever."

Bitch.  You're a stupid bitch.  
And lose some weight.

1) Face Your Fears

Paula Proctor is an absolute badass.  Yes, she's also a deeply flawed character in a lot of ways, given the huge amount of insane stuff we find out she's done in order to help Rebecca win Josh, over the course of the first season.  She pours all of her energy into her best friend's love life, rather than face her dissatisfaction with her own marriage, her career and her family life, for a long time, which is...  Less than healthy.

But Paula is fiercely loyal, tough, smart, funny and someone who you would absolutely want fighting your corner for you.  Besides which, Donna Lynne Champlin has one of the best voices on the whole show, combined with some of the greatest comic timing, both of which combine to make Face Your Fears my absolute favourite song from the show.  The advice she gives in the song is unquestionably bad, but even having heard it dozens of times, it still makes me laugh.  It was also only the second song I ever heard from the show and it takes me straight back to sitting in my kitchen with my sister and sister-in-law, marvelling at the amazing TV series we'd just discovered.

And just like that, this blog has gone full-circle.

If a bear runs at you in the woods, don't run away.
Look it deep in the eyes, put your hand on its chest and say

There's not much more I can say, other than thank you to Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna for creating this incredible TV show.  For giving the world something that picks apart stereotypes and portrays mental health problems realistically, even though that sometimes means it's uncomfortable to watch.  For showing female sexuality as an empowering thing and female friendships as something beyond the usual sitcom trope of "the girls," drinking wine and giggling on the sofa.  For making it blatantly obvious that a person can fall in love with anyone, regardless of gender and regardless of the way that person might have previously identified, sexually.  For giving us characters who are believable, with massive flaws and ridiculous ideas, as well as all the things that make them loveable. 

And I should add that several songs I love didn't make this list, purely because I would have been here all night, doing a top fifty.  So, special mentions to:

Let's Generalise About Men

Dream Ghost

Group Hang

We'll Never Have Problems Again

Ping Pong Girl

And so many other songs.  Just...  Go watch the show.

You won't regret it.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

When Did Life Get So BUSY?!

Back in early 2017, I remember thinking I was never going to do much, again.  I was going through a really nasty bout of depression, brought on by a fairly well-documented life event.  I had my day job and maybe once a month or so, I'd see a friend.  I was making YouTube videos and writing weekly children's stories, to give myself a creative outlet, but that was it.  There really wasn't much more to my existence.

Fast forward to now and I'm suddenly wondering when life got quite this busy.

You see, I now have far more hours in my day job, so I've got less free time.  And yet I'm now also a singer with a chorus, I'm training/studying for a qualification in directing, seeing as I'm Assistant Director of that chorus, I'm a member of an offshoot quartet formed via said chorus, I run social media accounts for the chorus, I co-host a podcast, I still have my own YouTube channel, as well as two others to create content for, I try to write whenever I get the chance and my social life actually exists, again.  Oh, and my best friend and I are talking seriously about setting up a business together.

It sounds hectic.  It probably is, if I actually sit and think about all the stuff I have to do.  But I love it.

In the last couple of days, I've had a bit of a stressy "blip," thinking about how I'm going to fit things in.  I've asked myself how I can dedicate myself to each individual thing I have to do, without watering anything down due to time constraints.  I've panicked that I might focus too much on one thing and let another slide, which is terrifying, especially considering one of the things I'm doing is going to involve exams, which I definitely don't want to fail.  And I've wondered how I'll fit in any "down time" for myself.

And then I came to my senses.

I've always managed to squeeze a YouTube recording session into an afternoon off work.  I've always fitted editing into my evenings.  It doesn't often take more than 4 hours to edit one of my videos and it's frequently less than that, since I'm pretty good at writing detailed notes for myself, so I know exactly what I'm doing.  With that in mind, a weekly YouTube video for my channel can generally be sorted out in one afternoon/evening, leaving me the rest of the week for other stuff.

Once I'd gotten that into my head, everything started to feel less hectic.  I told myself I'd come up with something of a study timetable (probably worked around evenings where there's not something I really want to watch on telly and I'm not out at rehearsals) for the course I'm doing.  My best friend and I have already gone through the calendar for the rest of the year and plotted out when we need to record videos/podcasts, so that's all organised.  Social media is an ongoing thing that I love doing and it has become part of my daily activities, without me even thinking about it.  It turns out that I was panicking over nothing, really.  I can do this.  All of it.  I can do it because I want to.

You see, everything I've got going on - all the things that are keeping me busy - are things I love.  Things I enjoy doing, with people I want to spend my time with.  When you realise that, your life feels less full-up and more...just full.  Sure, that probably makes no sense to anyone not living in my head, but it makes sense to me, at least.

My life is full of opportunities to learn and grow.  It's full of possibilities.  I get to keep my creative juices flowing, have a lot of fun in the process and I am discovering new skills.  All of that is good.  It's something to be happy about.

Sure, there will be days when I still stress over upcoming exams, or worry that I've spent too long on one project and not enough on another, because that's just me.  But when I look back at my life in early 2017, it seems horribly empty.  Life nowadays is busy, exciting and challenging.

And that's just the way I like it.

Monday, 11 March 2019

So, You've Decided To Be A Misogynist...

I spent most of yesterday with my head down the toilet.  Working in a germ factory, as I do, has the fabulous perk of making you vomit yourself inside out, every now and then.  Yay.  But given that all I've had the energy for in the last 36 hours or so has been staring at my phone, I've been doing a lot of Internet stuff; reading threads on Facebook that I might usually have scrolled past, searching hashtags on Twitter, just for something to do, that sort of thing.  And I'm here to tell you it had a very profound effect on me. 

It made me mad.

In fact, it made me furious.

You see, one of the hashtags I caught up with on Twitter, was for International Women's Day, which took place on Friday.  And there, amongst the genuinely touching tweets from women supporting one another and from men speaking up about equality (special shout out to Richard Herring, who raises money for Refuge each year on IWD, and who responds to countless guys moaning about there not being an International Men's Day - there is, it's November 19th), the inevitable happened.

Firstly, I stumbled upon a dude who, reading between the lines of his multiple rage-filled tweets, has recently been forced to pay child support.  How could I guess such a thing?  Because he had gone on an epic rant on the hashtag, claiming that all women were "bitches" who "get pregnant deliberately because they just want your cash."

Because, dear reader, only a woman is capable of making a baby happen.  The man in the situation has nothing to do with it.

Then came the "jokes."  You know, the ones which might be funny if it was 1956.  Or if there weren't still plenty of people who seriously hold these opinions in twenty freaking nineteen:

"I guess I'll allow women one day out of the kitchen, then.  As long as the wife is back to getting my dinner on the table, tomorrow."

"International Women's Day seems to be making women angry.  They must all be on their period."

Meanwhile, over in Turkey, police were busy tear-gassing women who had gathered to march for women's rights.  For the past 17 years, women have marched the same route on International Women's Day, but that didn't stop police from unleashing a hail of rubber bullets on participants, even whilst the Turkish President made a speech, claiming to be "on the side of women."

If women marching for equality, only to met with tear-gas and rubber bullets, isn't a striking piece of evidence that International Women's Day is still needed, I don't know what is.

And then came the men who genuinely see women as subservient to them and, for reasons best known to themselves, felt the need to use International Women's Day as a platform for their genuinely gross views:

"I hope all women learn a lesson.  Never leave a pub without a guy.  We give you a safe drive home, you give us sex in return.  This is what happens when women think they can do things on their own and be independent."

"Women's movements are always about putting down men.  Well if women were really so woke, they wouldn't wait years to report their sexual assaults, or talk about it on any platform other than to the police."

"Sexist bullshit.  Hope International Men's Day is given way more attention. Women are bound to protest it.  All feminists want is to crush men to the ground."

It's a sad indictment on (some!) men, when the only way they seem to be able to compute the idea that women deserve respect, is when they're reminded that their mothers are women.  Their sisters, their grandmothers and, if by some miracle these misogynists have them, their wives or girlfriends.  For some guys, it seems as though they can only get on board with being respectful if it's towards a specific woman, who they happen to know personally.  Any other female is fair game.

A case in point occurred when I went from Twitter to Facebook, in search of a conversation that would make me less liable to want to gouge my own eyes out.

Firstly, I caught up with a Coronation Street thread, about the forthcoming wedding of characters Kate and Rana (I ship them so hard, it physically hurts me to know that Rana's leaving the series).  Frustratingly, it didn't take long for the comments to turn nasty.  In the interest of fairness, I'll point out that plenty of women were moaning about not liking the characters, or being annoyed by the upcoming plots etc.  But it was the number of men who were saying things like "These two women get too much attention on the show.  Rana should have stayed with her husband!  As if you'd leave a man for a woman!" that really rankled.  It's as though misogyny on its own isn't enough - we have to also indulge in a bit of homophobia for fun, too.  And as a side note, come on; Rana's husband was a whinging dullard with nothing interesting to say for himself.  If she hadn't realised she was in love with her female best friend, I'd like to think she'd have left him eventually anyway, lest she die of boredom.


Then, a page I follow on Facebook posted a sweet story about a guy who approached two men he thought were a couple, to ask if they would mind talking to him about how best he could support his son, who he suspected might be gay.  He wanted to know how to ensure his son felt safe and loved, without feeling pressured to come out before he was ready to.  The two men in question (who, it turned out, weren't a couple, but were gay and drew on their own experiences to help the guy) told him what an amazing job he was doing as a father, just by being so accepting about the whole thing.  The comments beneath the article were full of sweet, supportive statements.


"If these guys had been saying all this stuff to a woman, she'd have accused them of "mansplaining," instead of it being a sweet story.  Double standards!"

When a woman - perfectly politely - explained that no woman would accuse a guy of "mansplaining" if she'd actually asked him a question and he'd answered it, the dude told her she was "full of crap."  When another woman backed the first woman up and explained that "mansplaining" referred to a guy patronisingly telling a woman something she usually already knows, without having been asked to, Mr Misogynist responded by telling her: "You crazy women need to give up your war on men."  After a third woman replied, backing up the first two, the dude responded that all three were "nothing but feminist trash."

He eventually went on a long rant, explaining that "feminism is a disgusting cancer on society.  If you're a white cis man, you are a target of hatred.  Feminists believe in some imaginary "patriarchy" but if you look, you will see that feminism is nothing more than a movement to put men in their place and make females dominant.  It has nothing to do with equality.  It is a CANCER."

Ah, yes.  Cis white men.  The world's most truly oppressed group.

And what, pray tell, is a man's "place?"  Because for years, women have been told that their place is in the home, raising kids.  Or tied to the kitchen sink.  For years, we've been judged in ways men can't possibly begin to understand.

We're too fat.  Or too thin.  We're showing too much skin and should be ashamed.  We're not showing enough skin and should remember we're supposed to look sexy.  We're wrong to choose not to have kids, but we're awful if we have them and go back to work.  We should dress in a way that pleases men, but we're then responsible if one of them "can't help" but rape us, because we're too tempting.  We're too mousy and quiet, or we're too opinionated and over-emotional.  In far too many countries, we're still not allowed control over our own bodies.  In too many countries, we're still prevented from voting.  

I mean, for crying out loud, half the time, our trousers don't even have pockets!  Because somewhere along the line, some designer decided that women don't need to carry tissues, or small change, or have their phone close to them, or anything sensible like that.

I don't hate men.  I hate misogynists, but thankfully, not all men are misogynists.  I have male friends who appreciate that women are their equals.  I have male family members who are as appalled as I am when they hear of countries where women's rights are still practically in the Dark Ages.  I know men who don't only respect the women they're related to, or are in a relationship with.

But the misogynists are still out there.  Still shouting that feminism is cancer and that women are somehow "making up" the very real injustices we face.  Whether they truly believe that if women had real equality, it would somehow destroy their lives, or whether they just dislike women so much they can't bear the thought of them being treated like people is a whole other question.  But they exist.

They're the ones who question what you were wearing and whether you were walking alone, if you complain about being harassed.

They're the ones who claim there already is total equality and that the patriarchy is a myth, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary.

They're the ones who jump straight to calling you "an angry lesbian" if you reject their unsolicited dick pic.  Spoiler: that really happened to me.  As it turns out, I'm actually bisexual, but dudes like that make me much keener on girls.

They're the ones who derail International Women's Day by spending the whole day asking when International Men's Day is, only to be strangely silent on November 19th.  It's almost as if they're less concerned about having their own day, than they are about arguing against women having one, too.

I don't have the answers as to why men who seem to genuinely hate women are still a thing.  All I know is that I'm pretty damn tired of them.  So, next time you decide to be a misogynist, remember that the people you're targeting are living a life you've never experienced.  A life that still, in many parts of the world, offers them fewer opportunities than you get.  A life that will be judged in ways yours never will be.  

And then maybe, just maybe, ask yourself what's so terrible about treating people with equal respect, instead.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

The Day The Music Died

I'm pretty sure the cassette tape had come free, from somewhere.  In the back of my mind, a part of me thinks it might have been something my dad got from saving up points with a particular petrol station, but I could have invented that, completely.  What I do know for sure was that it was a cassette full of "Hits From The 50s" and I would only have been around 7 years old when Dad got it and started playing me some of the songs he remembered hearing on the radio in his earliest years.

By the time I was 8, I was already trying to sing the harmonies to All I Have To Do Is Dream by The Everly Brothers.  I knew all of the words to Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino.  And I had perfected my Big Bopper impression, from the start of Chantilly Lace: "Hello baaaaaaaaaby!"

And just as my mum got me into The Beatles, Abba and The Carpenters at a young age, my dad, thanks to that cassette tape, got me into Buddy Holly.

I don't entirely remember which of Buddy's songs was on that tape, but I'm going to assume it was probably That'll Be The Day.  What I do remember was that his was one of the catchiest songs on the cassette (La Bamba, aside).  And I remember thinking I wanted to hear more from the guy with the funny "hiccup" style of singing, because he sounded cool.

Over the years between my childhood and my twenties, I "discovered" more of Buddy's back catalogue.  For a guy who only spent around 18 months making music before he was tragically killed at the age of just 22, there was a fair amount to find.  From up-tempo rock and roll tunes like Oh Boy! to wistful ballads, such as True Love Ways, it was obvious to my ears that this young man from Lubbock Texas, with his thick spectacles and curly hair, had been extraordinarily gifted.  Even the tunes he didn't write, he was able to put his own distinctive spin on, so that they became instantly recognisable as Buddy Holly songs.  He experimented with sound, damping his guitar strings one minute, twanging them in an effortless solo, the next (often in the same song).  He wasn't afraid to play with a big band, adding strings and extra instrumentation for songs like Raining In My Heart at a time when clean guitar sound was just becoming all the rage.  He demanded artistic control, ensuring that his backing musicians played exactly the way he wanted to.  He was even a pioneer of using studio technology to achieve the sound he desired, something many of today's singer-songwriters take for granted.

Despite his tragically brief stint as a recording artist, Buddy was one of the pioneers of rock and roll and influenced countless hugely successful musicians who found fame long after his death; Elton John, Brian May, The Rolling Stones and Bruce Springsteen, to name just a few.  And his influence on The Beatles is well-documented; the first song The Quarrymen (the precursor to the Fab Four) ever recorded together was a cover of That'll Be The Day and they went on to cover Words Of Love, too.  Even more modern acts, perhaps sometimes without even realising it, owe some of their sound to Buddy Holly's vision, all those years ago.  As Keith Richards once put it: "Listen to any new release.  Buddy will be in it, somewhere.  His stuff just works."

Buddy also managed to become a rock and roll legend, without succumbing to the excesses of fame.  Somewhat shy, he had married a woman he'd fallen head over heels for and was expecting his first child, when his life was so cruelly snuffed out.  No diva demands for this rock icon; in fact, the only reason he was on the plane that crashed on February 3rd 1959, killing him along with Ritchie Valens, The Big Bopper and the plane's pilot, was because he wanted to skip ahead to the next location on the tour he was part of, so that he could do some laundry and have some rest, in order to be fresh for his next performance.  Indeed, he was only participating in the tour to provide for his new family, having been denied royalties owed to him by the man who'd been his manager.

A week after his death, It Doesn't Matter Anymore (incidentally, my favourite Buddy Holly song) was released in the UK and shot straight to number one.  Devastated by the news of three rockstars dying so tragically young, Don McClean wrote American Pie, describing the events of the early hours of February 3rd 1959 as "the day the music died."

We'll never know what Buddy could have gone on to achieve.  The same can be said for Ritchie Valens, who at 17 was the youngest life lost that night, and for J.P "The Big Bopper" Richardson.  But Buddy's legacy is one that continues to this day, inspiring musicians with his distinctive vocals, pioneering studio techniques and clever guitar playing.

He may be gone, but Buddy's music will live forever.