When I Grow Up

Thanks to the kindness of my boyfriend’s sister (side note – she is an excellent sister-of-boyfriend to have in one’s life. I consider myself very lucky) I finally got to experience the utter treat that is Matilda the Musical. I am somewhat of a London disaster ~ I live in one of the most exciting cities in the world and I spend far too much of it sitting in my flat drinking tea and watching old episodes of Poirot. I rarely go out to enjoy the theatrical and cultural wonders that the Big Smoke has to offer (pubs aside). So it was with extreme gratitude that I accepted the ticket to the aforementioned show; time to find out what everybody else had been raving about so heartily.

Before I ramble on in my usual way, let me just say – if you haven’t seen this show, you simply MUST. It is the best thing I’ve ever seen on stage. It made me cry (although that’s not a hard thing to do, I’ll give you that one, sunshine), it made me laugh, it made me utterly terrified. It is such a wholly uncynical, unshowy portrayal of childhood and has captured the spirit of the book I loved so much. Absolutely perfectly. The reception was joyous – each and every audience member was transported back to their childhood, if just for a couple of hours. And that’s a beautiful thing, is it not?

Anyhoo, that slight plug is done now. I’m not being paid by anybody to advertise it. Honestly. That would be a nice job though, wouldn’t it?

The subject of this blog came to me when a certain character was introduced tonight. Several songs into the show, a young woman appeared; and my tummy did a little flip. I know this may sound odd – but Miss Honey was one of the heroines of my childhood. And she was standing in front of me! She even walked past me in the stalls. Should I tap her on the shoulder? Tell her how I used to dream of sitting with her in her little home, eating marge and honey on thick doorstop bread, musing on books?

The titles of the novels they discussed thrilled me. I can remember the strange, unfamiliar roundness of the words ‘Nicholas Nickleby’ ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ ‘Great Expectations’. They were unknown, tantalising tales. I remember the crisps crammed into Hortensia’s mouth, crumbs spraying as she talked. I remember the gloop of Mrs Wormwood’s hair dye dropping into an alien bottle. I’d forgotten all of this; the days of sitting in my beamed bedroom in the early nineties, Matilda’s world becoming my own. I used to try and move pencils with my eyes.

I wonder if these actors knew what a job they were taking on, personifying the heroes and demons of one’s childhood? How much it means to us? Does this seems a strange thought, coming from an actor who appears in novel adaptations for a living? Perhaps Anne Elliot (I am currently playing her, the wonderful woman of Jane Austen’s Persuasion) meant the world to one person who came to the see the show. Perhaps that’s the power of moving a story from page to stage.

I am now Miss Honey’s age.  I am no longer Matilda – I’m her teacher, the grown up, the one who is supposed to take care of things. I even rock the floral dress/cardi combo on a regular basis. I started this blog with the intention of extolling the virtues of novel adaptations; to emphasise just how powerful it is to see one of your heroes come to life. But as Matilda drew to a close, another, more powerful thought overtook me. We should never grow up, should we?

There is a beautiful song that made me, my friend and the entire audience have a little sniff tonight. The children ride carefree on swings that soar over our heads. They sing these words:

When I grow up
I will be tall enough to reach the branches
that I need to reach to climb the trees
you get to climb when you’re grown up.

And when I grow up
I will be smart enough to answer all
the questions that you need to know
the answers to before you’re grown up.

And when I grow up
I will eat sweets every day
on the way to work and I
will go to bed late every night!

And I will wake up
when the sun comes up and I
will watch cartoons until my eyes go square
and I won’t care ’cause I’ll be all grown up!

When I grow up!

When I grow up, when I grow up
I will be strong enough to carry all
the heavy things you have to haul
around with you when you’re a grown-up!

And when I grow up, when I grow up
I will be brave enough to fight the creatures
that you have to fight beneath the bed
each night to be a grown-up!

And when I grow up
I will have treats every day.
And I’ll play with things that Mums pretends
that Mum’s don’t think are fun.

And I will wake up
when the sun comes up and I
will spend all day just lying in the sun
and I won’t burn ’cause I’ll be all grown-up!

We imagined adulthood as an extension of our youth, with more freedom than we could dream of. If only that were true. I look at children with such envy sometimes. Lucky things for not knowing what awaits them. Fear, responsibility, lack of money. Being a grown up sucks, doesn’t it?

But here’s the thing. I don’t think it has to. None of us got a certificate when we reached eighteen. Well, I didn’t. Did you? Where did you get it from? Nobody said Oh hey, you’re in your twenties now, so time to put aside childish things. It is not a prerequisite.

I firmly believe in jumping in puddles. Whether you’re wearing wellies or not. I believe in being outside until the sun goes down, coming back in for tea. Yes, I’ll probably be the one cooking it, but doesn’t that mean I get to eat what I like? I believe in stuffing my face with chocolate and ignoring all those people that tell me it’s bad for me. I believe in going on little adventures, even if it is just taking a different path to work. I believe in cuddling a teddy bear at night. Even if that teddy bear is no longer made of stuffing and wool, but of skin and bone, with the ability to cuddle you back. I believe in going out and having a little dance in the rain.

It’s easy to forget sometimes. Especially when you’re a couple of thousand into your overdraft, you’re overwhelmed at work, you’re wondering how things got so complicated. We’re still those same kids. Nothing has changed. We’re just dressing in our parent’s clothes.

Miss Honey has a little verse in the song of her own:

When I grow up. I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that I need to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grownup

When do we actually grow up?

I vote Never. And I ask of all those who love me – if I ever start to look like a Grown Up, please take me puddle jumping. And tell me to stop being such a wally.

matilda

The Clever North Wind

Dearest readers. How can I apologise enough for my extended absence? What an absolute git. There was I, luring you into a false sense of security – “oh she posts regularly, no chance she’ll hold out on us” – when, lo and behold, I go and take a few months off. What’s that, you say? You’ve not noticed? Right, well. Fair enough.

I rewatched Chocolat tonight, with my little sister. Do you remember my last post (was it my last post? I’ve lost track) where it was decided that When Harry Met Sally had claimed the top spot in my movie favourites? Well, forget that. Chocolat has been there before and it is there now. A truly beautiful film, in every sense of the word, Chocolat is porn for those of us addicted to the brown stuff ~ and it explores themes that resonate with each and every one of us. For those of you who have read the book, I’m going to focus purely on the film. I hope that is quite all right? I have read the novel and liked it; although personally I prefer the film utterly. Also, Joanne Harris always seemed like a bit of a grump on twitter and I don’t like to reward that type of behaviour.

Vianne Rocher (Juliette Binoche ~ she’s lovely, isn’t she? If I could look like one famous person I think it would be her. Although she was terrible in that Wuthering Heights adaptation. Nobody believes you’re from Yorkshire, Juliette.) and her daughter Anouk travel from town to town in 1950’s Europe. They find themselves in a small French village, freshly arrived from Andalucia. Every time the North Wind blows, Vianne and Anouk spirit away to another place, ready to spread the word of Mayan Cacoa; a gift from Vianne’s heritage. Little Anouk is clearly ready to settle down; Vianne less so. Her itchy feet never allow her to stay in a place for very long. In this particular town, the Comte de Reynaud rules with an iron fist. The unmarried Vianne and her newly opened chocolaterie goes against everything he believes in. Particularly during Lent. A war is raged between the conventional and the unusual, inflamed by the arrival of the gyspies, led by Roux (Johnny Depp) (sounding a little like an Irish Jack Sparrow).

First of all, the soundtrack to this is totally beautiful. I urge you to listen to it immediately, if you haven’t already: http://youtu.be/8GsxwZMaJVg?list=PLtnvAECcy8uFGEXwgz8GG7EP-I1sbuLst

And now, to the crux of this post. What has made her pick up her pen (computer) again, I hear you cry? Tis this. I have a strong interest in people who are a little ‘different.’ Those who feel they don’t utterly belong. When I was sixteen, I wrote a play called The Mountain Man, about a giant who was feared in his small town because he listened to Grieg and read banned literature. It was a bit rubbish, but that’s not the point. Perhaps I always felt a little isolated myself, who knows? I was always a little odd compared to everyone else, but as I get older I don’t see that as a bad thing. But truthfully, I think everyone feels that from time to time. Convention can become exhausting. I say, fight it with every fibre of your being.

But no, actually. That isn’t the point of this post. I don’t think I was entirely certain until now. I, Emily, am a strange dichotomy. I am a real homebird, who cannot go for a day without phoning my mum, cannot breathe properly without the Wiltshire air, cannot relax unless I can see the stars outside my window. But I also have extreme itchy feet. As soon as I arrive in a place, I want to see somewhere else. This is far from unhappiness or dissatisfaction – it’s because I’ve always been longing for a new adventure. New friends to make, new places to see, new beds to sleep in. The life of a touring actress has offered endless opportunities to move on.

But now? Now I feel quite different.

I have started to want to settle down. Yes, it’s happening. I rather like my life at the moment. Everything has fallen nicely into place, and it feels like the work and the worry of the past 29 years has been leading to this ~ I’m finally on the right path. My itchy feet have abated, and I find myself with a need to live in a little home, to see the same person night after night and to wake up in the same bed every morning. I want to decorate a kitchen. I want to put indian wall hangings above a sofa, and to have friends over for dinner. I want to have a dog. Yes, it’s happened. I think – I’ve become a grown up. Is this what it’s like? I still want to have adventures, but it’s no longer with the intention of searching for something that’s missing. I think I have everything I need now.

We all yearn for something. We travel around, looking for what it is. Some people never settle down ~ their home is dictated by the clever North Wind, or the tide of the sea. But I don’t think that’s me anymore. I was once a Vianne. I’m now an Anouk.

Oh! And on this note of chocolate shops and adventures ~ I announce my little plan. I don’t know how long it’s going to take, but it’s going to happen eventually. I’m going to open my own little shop. It’s going to be called ‘Puddings and Books.’ Where/when this will be? Who knows. But I promise you it’s going to happen. Watch this space.

chocolat

Pepper on my Paprikash

One of those wonderful moments today. I say wonderful; probably only wonderful for a Film Geek like me who has rethought her Uber Film list. It is a special feeling to find your current Number One usurped by an old favourite. An old reliable that’s plodded along quite nicely for years in my top ten has suddenly nabbed the top spot, previously filled at various points by the following films: Waterloo Bridge, Back to the Future, Beauty and the Beast and Gone With the Wind. But out of nowhere, When Harry Met Sally has sped past these pretenders and crowned itself as Emily’s New Favourite Movie.

I have seen When Harry Met Sally a thousand times, just as everybody else has. Like John Hannah says of The Beatles in Sliding Doors – you learn the lines from this film in the womb, they are so iconic. I was three when it came out, but the same thing sort of applies. For various reasons I felt it deserved a rewatch today ~ I am procrastinating horribly, as leaving my lovely flat very soon and must pack. Am currently surrounded by boxes filled with books (how do I have so many? Four boxes packed so far) ~ but I digress.  I find myself quoting lines from this movie to help friends through life’s problems.You are a bloke who spoiled his girlfriend rotten at the beginning of the relationship but now want to cool it off?

“That’s why I have never taken anyone to the airport at the beginning of a relationship. Because eventually things move on and you don’t take someone to the airport and I never wanted anyone to say to me, How come you never take me to the airport anymore?”

You have a friend who is seeing someone in a relationship?

“I don’t think he’s ever going to leave her.” “Nobody thinks he’s ever going to leave her.” “You’re right, you’re right, I know you’re right.”

You’re scared you’re going to die alone?

“I’M GOING TO BE FORTY.” “When?” “SOMEDAY.” “In eight years.” “But it’s there. It’s just sitting there, like some big dead end. And it’s not the same for men. Charlie Chaplin had kids when he was 73.” “Yeah, but he was too old to pick them up”

You see someone who is having an orgasm in a deli?

“I’ll have what she’s having.”

I think it is unnecessary to explain the story, but I shall quickly brush over. Harry Burns (Billy Crystal) and Sally Albright (Meg Ryan) meet as university graduates and immediately rub each other up the wrong way. Years pass and they frequently bump into each other and a close friendship forms, despite Harry’s previous insistence that men and women could never be friends because sex always get in the way. These two seem to buck that trend. For a while, at least…

I shall not reveal what happens, just in case you haven’t seen it. But you must see it. It is such a wonderful film and sparks so many conversations. Can men and women just be friends? I, for one, have many male friends. And I love them all. But not in that way. I just love male company. Sex doesn’t always have to get in the way. But what if you do fall for a friend? And they fall for you too? Is this the ideal relationship? Yes perhaps, in theory. TV in particular is littered with these couples: Nick and Jess, Daisy and Tim, Ross and Rachel, Ted and Robin. But ultimately, if it goes wrong – you run the risk of losing a friend. And that is a little heartbreaking.

When the friend that you fall for is just that – your friend – it is very easy. They do not ask anything from you, they understand your foibles and can deal with them. I think this is perhaps why people fall for their friends. They seem like a lovely uncomplicated option, as opposed to partners who ask for your time, for commitment and honesty. Friends don’t tend to push that. Meh, you are what you are and I like you that way. But this is the thing. When a friend crosses over into a potential partner (and I have seen this happen so many times) it will become complicated. When a friendship has turned into something else, those people have every right to ask for your time, commitment and honesty. As trying as it is when you have a friend who takes days to answer messages, cancels plans and is somewhat vague – and believe me, I have many male friends like this, it does seem to be more of a male affliction than a female one – it suddenly starts to matter a lot more when that person becomes your partner because you need to know what the ecky thump is going on. And suddenly it’s not easy anymore. Suddenly you don’t look so uncomplicated, because you’re asking for things just as a girlfriend would. You’re not just the friend who pitches up for beers every few weeks, has a laugh and lets it pass if a few messages go unanswered. And suddenly it seems that you’re not so attractive.

There was a lovely moment on New Girl‘s last episode. Jess loves her birthday and is hoping her boyfriend (previously friend) Nick has planned something exciting for her day. He hasn’t (he has organised a surprise party, but not until 7. He was hoping to sleep until then). Jess is unaware of this and is baffled when his exciting plans for her day involve her getting a diabetes test and picking up rocks in the park. She affirms that she never wants to be the type of girlfriend who demands something of her man, or is seen as high maintenance. As long as he’s tried, that’s all she cares about. But as the day goes on and she is more and more disappointed by his lack of preparation, she tells him that he’s ‘doing great’ then promptly runs off for a little cry. Women who get together with their male friends (and I’m sure it works similarly the other way round or in same sex relationships) are constantly trying to tread the line between being uncomplicated, cool and breezy (ie: the women that these men fall in love with) and not feeling as though they’re doing so at the expense of their own self respect. Or at the risk of feeling walked over. We cannot always just be ‘cool with it’ if we feel we are not being treated well. We have heard many of our male friends moan about girls in the past – too needy, too moody, too angry and we are terrified of being thought of that way. But at what point is enough enough? At what point do we say “er, actually – I do ask for your honesty, your time and commitment” without the fear of being dumped? I think the friend/relationships that work are the ones that get past that point. That transcend from asking for nothing to mutual respect.

Friends falling in love should be the best thing in the world. But it is important to remember to treat that person with the same level of respect as you would do with anyone else you enter into a relationship with; a woman you met at a bar, a man you bumped into in a museum. Crossing the line from one thing to another is very difficult and requires care. But with honesty and communication it can be done. And to prove it, I leave you with this speech from the film that inspired this blog.

“I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

when harry

The Woman I Am Privileged To Know

I apologise heartily for the ‘blip’ that was my last post. A bit of a low point, happily done with – although am excitedly making my way through my bucket list (I have a ‘pinterest’ board dedicated to it now. Yes, I have finally joined ‘pinterest!’ Here tis if you fancy a look: http://www.pinterest.com/millydaisy/bucket-list/). I am back to musing on films and books, and this week’s post comes courtesy of Caitlin Moran and Louisa May Alcott. 

I have just finished Moran’s novel How to Build a Girl. I will admit, I had my reservations. Secretly, my only worry was that Moran wouldn’t like me if she met me. Secretly, I didn’t think I was cool enough. Caitlin Moran always has something zeitgeist-y or witty to say.Cool Girls love Caitlin Moran. They talk about Caitlin Moran over dinner parties and have Interesting Things to say about the Feminist Movement. I always keep quiet here, because I don’t think I am a very good feminist. In fact, I have always eschewed the term. I thought because I had a lot of boy friends and didn’t mind boy banter about boobs or farts that perhaps I didn’t deserve to call myself a feminist. I digress a little here, but I do want to address it – I believe in equality, so I am a feminist. I may not talk about it very much, I may not get openly angry at the radio or newspapers, (this is mainly because I don’t want to be asked to back up my opinion. I get scared then) but I, like you, think that we deserve to all be on a level playing field in work, sex and life. Anyhoo, as I was saying – yes, I am not a Cool Girl. I have never been a Cool Girl (except for that brief period in 1998 when I spent my birthday money on a Puma jacket). But once I started reading How to Build a Girl, I realised that Caitlin Moran was never a Cool Girl either. 

Although protagonist Johanna is fictional, she does appear to be based on Moran herself. The same Wolverhampton upbringing, the same dive into the world of music journalism at age 16. Therefore, I feel comfortable using Johanna as a euphemism (is that the right word?) for her creator. Which brings me to a book quoted in Moran’s novel: Little Women. Another novel where the writer uses her own experience as a basis for her world; Louisa May Alcott tells the tale of her four sisters (she was indeed one of four) who reside in Orchard House, Concord (her actual childhood home. Also on my bucket list). Although set in 1860’s Massachusetts, Johanna Morrigan and Jo March (just as I type this I realise the initials are the same. I wonder if this was intentional). In a world where girls are expected to be pretty and find a husband, Jo writes with fervour, determined to become a published author and to bring the March family out of poverty. 

Both Johanna and Jo despair of their own awkwardness. Johanna does a Scooby Doo impression on TV, quotes the musical Annie and admits to liking outdated music. Jo burns her dress from standing to close to the fire, shakes hands instead of curtsying and cries to her mother “I’m ugly and awkward and I always say the wrong things… There’s just something really wrong with me. I want to change, but I can’t. And I just know I’ll never fit in anywhere.” Some of these quotes are altered; from the 1994 film rather than the book – I know some people hated Winona Ryder’s interpretation of Jo, but I was nine when it came out and thought she was the most wonderful thing I’d ever seen. Indeed, Jo March felt like a love letter to me, this awkward girl who talked too much to cover up shyness, with interests woefully different than my peers. I knew about Morecambe and Wise, Led Zeppelin and Joyce Grenfell (I still crack out that impression at parties). I loved Jo’s inability to fit in. I was given a quill and scented ink for Christmas in 1995; I copied out the entire text of Little Women, sneaking out of bed when Mum and Dad had retired for the night. Jo March was fifteen at the time of the first novel. I am now 28 and she is still my hero. 

Indeed all of my Cool Girl friends were once Jo, too. They were also awkward as girls, with an intense love of literature, odd fashion sense and conversation more suited to adults than their fellow children. This is Johanna, too. But this is the thing. If you are an odd child, who does’t know what her place is – perhaps you grow into a Cool Girl. Johanna finds her place writing in London. Jo finds hers writing in New York. They “step over the divide between childhood and all that lay beyond.” 

About seven years ago, Mum introduced me to a daughter of her friend. This little girl was ten and very unhappy; she was getting picked on at school. According to her it was because she was weird. She liked The Beatles. Her favourite TV show was Dad’s Army. She liked to wear her Grandad’s glasses. I wish I could tell this girl just how OK it would all become one day. That liking things that are different will one day shape you into an individual. You don’t follow the crowd blindly; you are strong enough to know who you are. Not fitting in as a child will often result in a well rounded adult. Hard to tell a crying girl that, though. I’d love to know what she’s up to now. Perhaps I’ll find out. I like to think she’s off to uni, or travelling the world. Whatever it is, I hope she’s happy with her own individuality. 

Before I wrap up, make myself a jacket tater and finish series one of Arrested Development – I’ve watched seven episodes today – I’d like to note a few more similarities I spotted. Both Johanna and Jo muse on their own decency. Johanna searches her caustically typed reviews for a trace of her own goodness “Surely they will know underneath it all I’m a good and noble person, in love with the world?” Jo confesses her worries to her younger sister “I don’t know if I could ever be good, like Marmee. I rather crave violence.”  They both work hard to find their voice in their writing – Johanna adopts a scathing tone, ripping apart new bands – all just to fit in. Jo writes tales of murder and gore, hoping to get her short stories accepted by the newspapers. Both of them are encouraged to write as they truly are. Johanna by intuition, and Jo by her future husband “There is nothing here of the woman I am privileged to know.” Actually, while we’re on that – both of these women act incredibly bravely when it comes to men. Jo turns down a proposal from her best friend Laurie. Who just so happens to be very rich. As a child, I never understood why she did. Not only is Laurie her best friend in the world – and he’s Christian Bale for God’s sake, but he could bring her out of poverty. But I understand now. She loves him. But she isn’t in love with him. And she has to be true to herself. Instead, she marries an impoverished German professor, who challenges and adores her. 

And it is Johanna who inspires this post. Having suggested a threesome to impress the man she’s sleeping with, she suddenly realises that he’s a bit of an arse. And that she shouldn’t have to do anything she doesn’t want to do in order to impress somebody. The next quote made me smile “I have never prevented my own doom before! I have never stood in the path of certain unhappiness, and told myself – lovingly, like a mother to myself – ‘No! This unhappiness will not suit you! Turn around and go another way!”

I think this is lovely. And something we must all learn. I am not a Cool Girl yet, I haven’t quite found my place or come to terms with my own awkwardness. But I will. At least – one step forward – I think Caitlin Moran and I would quite get on. And Louisa May Alcott. I like to think of us three – along with my fellow Cool Girl/ Awkward Child friends – sitting down and having some gin and talking of books, laughing at the world. 

Jo and fr

Bucket List & Sandpaper Desolation

No, this isn’t a post on the questionable Jack Nicholson/Morgan Freeman movie. Last night was an odd low point. I couldn’t tell you why ~ I think tiredness has a lot to do it with it; have been working without a day off (really, truly, honestly!) and I think I just need a Good Sleep. An incident occured. The internet stopped working. Quite justifiably, this induced me to swear. It induced me to throw books across my tiny room. It involved me blubbing inexplicably for an hour or so, trying to keep quiet and not wake my flatmate. It was then I came to realise that perhaps it wasn’t the lack of internet that was upsetting me(although I had just settled down to wath Celeste and Jesse Forever on Netflix.) Believe it or not, I don’t tell you this for attention or to get sympathy. It’s because nearly everybody I know has suffered from a Low Point and I think it’s something that needs to be discussed. To remove the stigma. It happens to us all and I’m not ashamed that I spent last night wondering what I was doing with my life. 

Whatever the catalyst (ahem, internet) my little Sandpaper Desolation (this is what I call it when things are bad; it’s like sandpaper rubbing the same spot over and over again) resulted in me thinking, as I sat in bed this morning, eating my Crunchy Nut Cornflakes. It is time to get a little control in my life. Is not that the key to happiness, for everybody? That and Crunchy Nut Cornflakes, naturally.

TIME TO DO THINGS THAT TERRIFY YOU

I was terrified of moving into my current flatshare. Two years ago, it was. Newly single and nervous of meeting new people, the temptation was to stay in my little rut where it was comfortable. But it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I’ve dressed up as Molly Ringwald, I’ve partied until the early hours, I’ve made lifelong friends and – without sounding like a smug Davina McCall during the Streemate years – two couples are now together because I moved in. I call that a good result. We are now coming to the end of our time together. This makes me very sad (especially as I will be homeless until the end of the Persuasion tour) but I am so pleased that I spent these two years with such wonderful people.

Likewise, my new job at Hampton Court caused sleepless nights. Terrified of getting it wrong (truth be told, I still am) and of looking like a stupid fool, I very nearly called up before my first day to tell them they’d made a huge mistake. But I didn’t and the sense of accomplishment was immense. Although I still said ‘fantastic’ the other day. Not sure that was OK. OK is also not OK.

So I can take one thing from this. To quote the old adage “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I’m not sure if standing in the middle of the road when a bus is coming is the right kind of scared, but I’m sure I’ll think of something. A little thing every day that forces me out of my comfort zone. I’ll report back when I can think of something.

THE BUCKET LIST

At the risk of sounding like one of those people who say “I just don’t have enough ME time.” “I need to spend some time on ME” (God, I hate those people. It is my opinion that those who say this are people who have far too much ME time already), I think maybe I need to think about what I want from life a little bit. I’m always so concerned about appearing selfish, or self-involved (I’ve edited this several times, I’m still concerned that I do!) that I tend to worry more about what other people want than me. When – inspired by the Break Up Bucket List that’s appeared on twitter – I thought about what would be on my Bucket List, I wasn’t really sure. But I’ve thought about it at length and here is a brief sample (money permitting) (money will probably never be permitting):

1) Go to New York. Amazingly, I am doing this in December, thanks to the kindness of two brilliant friends. Still can’t quite believe I’ll get to tick this one off.

2) Go to Russia. Probably not right now… I’d like to go to Saint Petersburg and see the Winter Palace.

3) Write a novel. I’ve started about three. One day I will finish.

4) Own my own home. I don’t know if this will ever happen. I hope it does.

5) Stand under a waterfall.

6) Lie under the stars and watch the sun come up.

7) Learn to drive

8) Learn an instrument and stop being so scared of playing it in front of people

9) Get a tattoo

10) Go travelling for an extended amount of time, to see the world. To not have to work for a little bit. Have adventures, meet new people, escape.

13) Learn to cook more complicated meals

14) To do something that really scares me. Perhaps jump out of a plane. Go bungee jumping.

15) Wear a beautiful ballgown. Go to a really fancy event. I presume the event will be decided at the time!

16) Have a party on a beach.

I promise that I will try and do as many of these as possible. Some will be more achievable than others. But I will endeavour to complete them.Of course, as ever, I shall report back. Perhaps I shall add some more. I would also LOVE to hear your own.

I apologise to everybody that this blog post is less of a film blog, and more of an emotional splurge. When Low Points happen, I don’t feel comfortable sharing that with friends or family and don’t really feel it’s something I can show anybody. As far as I’m concerned, it’s my job to help them, not their job to help me. I don’t like the attention and I don’t want to burden anybody with all the mush – because, for the most part, the mush clears fairly quickly. It is very important to discuss mental health though, is it not? If people don’t, there is a horrible silence that descends. So many people I know suffer from their own Low Points, be they sandpapery, or sharp, or painful, or numb. We should acknowledge this. It is utterly normal and part of the human condition. This is my way of talking about without actually talking about it.

Goodbye, Sandpaper Desolation! Here is a picture of a thing that makes me smile:

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You Are Lisa Simpson

To those of you who know me well, this next sentence will not come as a surprise. I cry at everything. Really. I cry when I’m sad. I cry when I’m happy. I cry when I’m hungry. I cry when I’m angry and feel injustice has been done. I cry at adverts. I cry at birthday cards. Yesterday I cried at a HIMYM rerun. Where Marshall turns up at the airport with a marching band for Lily and tells her what he had for lunch? Oh, gosh.

I can understand this can be annoying. I found it thoroughly irritating in family members as a kid, only BAM! puberty hits, and I’m one of them. I have no control over it; is not meant to manipulate or to tug on the heartstrings. I just can’t help it. Believe me, it bugs me as much as it does you. To my friends who asked me to read at your wedding – I’m sorry. I tried so hard. I couldn’t make it through without the bottom lip going and the Claire Danes chin wobbling reliably.

There is one thing guaranteed to send me over the edge. Something that has been a trigger for as long as I can remember. Animated films and TV programmes. Pixar seem to have the monopoly on emotional manipulation; I can’t remember seeing one of their films without turning into The Human Waterfall (an interesting X-Man power, perhaps?) I cannot particularly articulate why this is ~ perhaps because animation is often aimed at children, so fears and upsets are more primal, more simple. Because children represent innocence and to me, the loss of innocence is one of the saddest things of all.

For no particular reason (hey, maybe I’m feeling masochistic) I’ve decided to list my top 5 Saddest Moments in Animation. I would love to hear yours, if you have the time or the inclination to post them. It seems to me that this is a common thing!

In no particular order…

Jessie & Emily – Toy Story 2

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A common one, this. Aided by Sarah McLachlan’s heart wrenching When She Loved Me we see how toy cowgirl Jessie was the love of Emily’s life. They grew together, played together, went everywhere together. Jessie’s face is radiant as she lies contentedly in Emily’s arms. But Emily grows up, as children are wont to do. Jessie is increasingly neglected until, eventually, she is given away. Abandoned, no longer needed. This is the worst one for me. This will set me off for days. An ex-boyfriend soon regretted bringing this DVD home. “What is WRONG with you?” I don’t know, truthfully. I think the idea of loving unconditionally only to be kicked to the kerb is a heartbreaking one. But also – and this is a common theme in this list – children growing up and losing their innocence makes me so very sad. I think I watched too much Peter Pan as a kid.

Jurassic Bark – Futurama

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Have you SEEN this? Honestly, it breaks my heart. Fry (in the future) finds his dog Seymour fossilized. The Professor tells him that there is enough of his DNA to clone the dog, but that he lived for twelve years after Fry disappeared. Fry changes his mind and decides that Seymour must have moved on and found a new owner in that time. Cut to a flashback scored with Connie Francis’ I Will Wait For You – Seymour is shown waiting outside Fry’s pizzeria – for months, seasons, years, waiting for his master, until finally he closes his eyes and passes away. God, I’m crying just writing about it.

Mother Simpson – The Simpsons

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Homer was told his mother was dead, so when they are reunited after 27 years, he is overjoyed. However, it soon becomes clear that Mona Simpson is on the run from the law, and after a tip off from the police, she has to leave her son again. The end credits show Homer sitting on his car bonnet, in the starry night. He says nothing, but stares into the darkness. However old we are, our parents are still everything, aren’t they? For the most part, we never stop needing them.

Wall-E and Eve – Wall-E

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A hard choice between this and Up, but this one – despite the latter featuring actual humans with a beautiful love story, this just did it for me. Again, it’s Wall-E’s unconditional love for Eve, his innocence, his refusal to give up when it seems she is lost and his willingness to wait for her and follow her across the galaxy. Sweet, innocent and beautiful.

Best Friends Forever – The Fox and the Hound

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The original Emily Blub-Trigger. First set me off in 1989. Still doing it today. Two best friends torn apart by circumstance, their place in life and what is expected from them. Another case of innocence lost. Not sure why that is an issue for me…! My childhood best friend (who I know I am friends with on facebook, hello if you’re reading this) moved to France when I was 13 and oddly enough, I watched this film just after she left. It was a mistake!

Honorable Mention

You are Lisa Simpson – The Simpsons

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An honorable mention because it is not a traditional cryfest. Lisa Simpson, lacking any understanding from her family or teachers, is inspired by her substitute teacher Mr Bergstrom (who sounds a lot like Dustin Hoffman). But, as substitute teachers are wont to do, he leaves – onto the next school. Lisa is left crestfallen; how is she supposed to know who she is without his guidance? He leaves her a parting note ‘You are Lisa Simpson’.

Truthfully, it is this particular iconic animated moment that inspired today’s post. As my friends and I approach 30, a new wave of insecurity hits. Are we in the right place? Are we doing the right thing? Who are we supposed to be? I lose count of the friends who have recently poured out worries about their position in life. But for them, I try to take a leaf out of Mr Bergstrom’s book and say this: You are you. And you are brilliant. And don’t worry. It will fall into place. Just keep being you and know that is enough.

I’ve just rewatched all these clips. It was a terrible idea. Thank heavens I’ve already taken my mascara off.

Consciously Naive

I begin today’s post with an apology for my extended absence. I have been busy beyond compare ~ tour, temping, tonsillitis. The three Ts. I will also be leaving my lovely little flatshare soon and have been fretting about what the future holds. Mainly though, I have been deep in research for my new job: Historical Interpreter at the Royal Palaces. As my first day grows nearer (it’s on Saturday, at Hampton Court) I grow more and more trepidatious; I am meant to be professionally knowledgeable about the Georgian period, when in fact – despite copious amounts of research – nothing is staying in. I find myself reminiscing about the year of my GCSEs. At 6pm the night before each exam I’d grab a coke, stick Goo Goo Doll’s Gutterflower in the CD player and read all of my text books for the first time. Inexplicably, I got pretty good results. Why doesn’t that work now? I have neglected my blog, my Hotbuckle duty and letter writing, but I promise – all will be picked up again sooner than two shakes of a Cockapoo’s tail.

Today’s post touches on a film that is not an ‘oldie’ – it was shot in 2003 – but the book it was based on is from 1948 and remains one of my favourites. A book that resonated deeply with every romantic girl as she grew to womanhood and experienced her first love, her first heartbreak, her first journal. I talk of the Dodie Smith literary classic, I Capture the Castle.

A quick recap of the tale: Cassandra Mortmain (Romola Garai) and her family live humbly in a dilapidated castle purchased to inspire their struggling writer father (Bill Nighy). Two young American brothers inherit the nearby Scoatney Hall and become the Mortmain’s new landlords. Cassandra’s beautiful sister Rose (Rose Byrne) captures the hearts of both men, while Cassandra attempts to deal with her unrequited love for the elder American brother, Simon. (Played by Henry Thomas; only ruddy Elliot in ET)!

Cassandra – dubbed ‘consciously naive’ writes her diary sitting in the kitchen sink. She tells us all she sees ~ her artistic stepmother dancing naked in the moonlight, her father’s anger at his own inability to write, her sister’s attempts to marry well and thus save the family from financial ruin. But most of all, she tells us what goes on in her mind. And therefore is a somewhat unreliable narrator. The young gardener, Stephen, (played by Henry Cavill… yes, more on him later) loves Cassandra with puppyish abandon, but she spends her time thinking of Simon. The occasional fantasy of her and Stephen passionately kissing in the fields sometimes invades her thoughts, but she pushes it aside. Does Cassandra really know what she wants? Does she know what is real and what is a fabrication from her daydream world? She admits herself “Dreams are like a drug. The magic doesn’t last. And then the pain is worse than knives.”

I am a girl who does – and always has – lived in my mind. From dawdling on family walks to drifting off during science lessons, my little daydreams have made life that bit happier. I spin elaborate fantasies in my mind, situations – they always have to actually be feasible, the dream is ruined if I don’t think they could happen – and spend hours staring out of the window, inhabiting my little fantasy world. Sometimes I set time aside, just to have a little ponder. 3 – 3.30 Imagine that Henry Cavill is having lunch in the nearby Pret and he has to sit next to me. And… go! (NB that could actually happen; he could be shooting a film nearby. Shut up). But when does this become dangerous? Is it true what Albus Dumbledore says? “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live?” Does life become too unbearable when the dream is over?

(3.30-4 Imagine that this blog is spotted by an editor and you suddenly become a published writer… go!)
I worry often that my daydreams impact dangerously on my ‘real life.’ That perhaps I won’t appreciate what I have if I spend too long dreaming of what I don’t.
But then I stop.
The best and most wonderful people I know live halfway between the real world and the fantasy one. The creatives, the artists, those who grab their dreams and pull them into reality. Where would be without the writers, the musicians, the visionaries who transcend the two worlds? One of my close friends is an inspiration – she has her dreams, her love of music and her need to travel – and she lives them. Is this not what life is about? To take your dreams and mould them into a feasible reality?

A little spoiler: As the book and film end, we see Cassandra growing up into the woman she’s supposed to be. She still has her journal, her little daydream world – but she is beginning to understand how life works a bit more. Here is my confession: a large part of me is an incurable romantic. Most of my dreams are about love, about my future, about my hopes in a partner. Perhaps this is counter-productive. Friends have told me time and time again that there is no hope for me if I don’t put myself out there, if I don’t try in reality. But I don’t think that’s true. In the book’s iconic final line, Cassandra ends her diary with ‘I love. I have loved. I will love.’  Perhaps sometimes you just need to find somebody to share your daydream world with.

 

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William Shakespeare: The Greatest Briton

When asked to muse on the subject of The Greatest Briton, I will admit I found myself torn. I didn’t wish to discount the achievements of anybody. Keir Hardie? Mary Wollstonecraft? I am deeply interested in the history of the common man, how one person can rise to make a difference to the world, no matter how small. This is how I came to make my final decision. A man from modest beginnings who became the stuff of legend. A man who inspires like no other, even 400 years after his death. A man who has influenced my own choice of career more than any other: William Shakespeare. Perhaps an obvious choice, but his popularity shouldn’t make him any less valid…although far be it for me to succumb to bardolatry.(Thank you for that phrase, George Bernard Shaw).

The mystery that shrouds Shakespeare has excited conspiracy theorists for generations. The Oxfordian theory suggests that the real author of Shakespeare’s plays was Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, inciting support from actors such as Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance. After all, how could a humble boy from Stratford with terrible handwriting and little knowledge of the world pen such beautiful tales of far away countries and exotic lands? For my own part, I believe that the tale of that humble boy is far more thrilling than any other alternatives.

Little is known of his early years. We know he was born in 1564 to John Shakespeare – a glover and whittawer – and Mary Arden, the daughter of local gentry. Young Will attended the local grammar school. In the 1570s, Stratford-upon-Avon was a popular stop for touring companies and may have given Shakespeare his first taste of the theatre. He married Anne Hathaway in 1582 and had three children. Thus ends the sum total of knowledge on his early life.

Shakespeare’s first documented appearance in London comes from dramatist Robert Greene who dubbed him ‘an upstart crow.’ We do not know how he had come to be there – it has been suggested that he replaced a murdered actor in The Queen’s Men and followed them to the capital – but the years following established him as an actor and playwright of great esteem.

Shakespeare’s plays often subtly queried the morals of Elizabethan and Jacobean society. Theatre had the power to influence the masses and all would feel the messages in his plays keenly. Gender, race, sexuality and the divine right to the throne; all were questioned at Shakespeare’s quill.

The latter would once bring him close to danger. In 1601 the Earl of Essex sponsored Shakespeare’s company for a performance of Richard II at the Globe, hoping to fan the flames of rebellion as he plotted to overthrow the Queen. Elizabeth I herself saw the parallels in the play whereupon a monarch is deposed and murdered. Upon trying to march upon the City of London, Essex was arrested and beheaded for treason. Thankfully, Shakespeare and his company were left unscathed by this brush with the revolt.

Othello tells the story of a Moorish general who marries a white woman, only to be driven mad by his scheming ensign. Two years prior to the play’s creation, Queen Elizabeth I had demanded the removal of “blackamoors” from Britain. For Shakespeare to write of an interracial marriage with the black protagonist corrupted by the whim of a jealous white colleague was extremely shocking. Despite Othello’s murderous actions, the audience are asked to sympathise with him at the hands of Iago’s manipulation. In the seventeenth century, this was utterly unheard of. It has also been suggested that Shakespeare himself had a love affair with black prostitute Lucy Negro– the ‘dark lady’ of his sonnets.

English Jews had been expelled in 1290 and not permitted to return until Oliver Cromwell. Shylock in The Merchant of Venice is often viewed as anti-semitic stereotype, but sympathisers point out that Shylock is given a beautiful speech that celebrates tolerance and understanding “Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons…If you prick us, do we not bleed?” How can this be read as anything other than a plea for equality? It is a tragic twist of fate that the Nazi Party used the image of Shylock as anti-Jewish propaganda; they corrupted him as they corrupted the Swastika, an ancient symbol of luck and eternity.

In Romeo and Juliet, two youths defy their family for love. In Twelfth Night a young woman uses her own intelligence and wits to survive alone in a strange land. In The Tempest he questions colonisation, a common endeavour for the period. Time and time again, Shakespeare uses his plays as a platform to encourage non-conformist thinking. With theatre, he challenged and he provoked; reaching the people of England like no other medium could.

After the death of Elizabeth I and the ascension of James I, Will found wealth and renown. The new King favoured him greatly – Shakespeare wrote Macbeth for him and James responded with a coded birthday message in the King James Bible. James was supposedly a descendent of the real Banquo and the Witches’ assertion that Banquo’s children would be kings proved Will’s loyalty to the new monarch. He was greatly rewarded: his company was renamed ‘The King’s Men’ and offered the patronage of the sovereign.

William Shakespeare died in 1616, a writer sponsored by the King and a gentleman with a coat of arms. Not bad for a grammar school boy from the Midlands.

Will Shakespeare from Stratford was the master of words. He spun magic with his quill; magic that is still a fundamental part of modern life. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Shakespeare wrote close to a tenth of the most quoted lines ever and invented over 1700 words of our language. He is the second most quoted English writer, after the authors of the Bible. He wrote women beautifully and although men performed those parts in his time, he unknowingly provided the first role for an actress. Margaret Hughes appeared as Desdemona in Othello in 1660 thus paving the way for female actors everywhere, myself included. He started my own career; my first few jobs were exclusively in Shakespeare plays. He is many people’s first experience of the theatre and his tales have been adapted into countless of modern stories. I doubt there are many people in the world who have not heard of him; who cannot name at least one of his plays.

I marvel when a person of humble beginnings rises up out of their designated station in life. When one is not born of aristocracy or royalty, to have the ear of the king and to influence the thoughts of a nation is nothing short of miraculous. For his contemporary achievements, for his posthumous ones and for the everlasting legacy he has left behind, I whole-heartedly believe that William Shakespeare is the Greatest Briton.

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Mrs Norman Maine

Before today I have never seen The Artist. Shocking, isn’t it? I have always wanted to, but I believe it was showing in cinemas at a particularly brassic time (just out of interest, I googled brassic. Apparently it’s actually spelled boracic. As in boracic lint, cockney rhyming slang for ‘skint.’ There’s a fun fact for you, language fans). Where was I? Oh, yes. I was poorer than a church mouse –  I say that as if things have changed – and the unfortunate necessity of eating took precedence over celluloid entertainment. Thank you BBC iPlayer, for providing me with this second chance. As I thought, I loved it. Poignant, beautiful and touching ~ a homage to a veritable plethora of classic movies.

A very brief description of the film will now ensue; I believe nearly everybody has seen it. George Valentin (Jean Dujardin – gosh, he’s lovely isn’t he, with his Gable moustache?) is a silent film star at the top of his game. Loved by all, he has the world at his fingertips. But it is 1927, and talking pictures are taking over Hollywood. As his career spins into decline, Peppy Miller’s (a gamine Berenice Bejo) – the woman who loves him – goes from strength to strength with the advent of the talkies.

It was tempting ~ and, admittedly my first thought ~ to draw a movie parallel with Singing’ in the Rain’ – that wonderful Gene Kelly/Debbie Reynolds classic. Again, talking pictures dominate the world of 1927. Again, silent film stars must learn to adapt. Again, a young dancer falls in love with a matinee idol. But Singin’ in the Rain is lighter in tone and while superb, does not portray the real tragedy of this time, when careers and lives were ruined.

I was reminded instead of A Star is Born ~ the 1954 version, that is. Not the 1937 original with Janet Gaynor, nor the 1976 rock musical with Barbara Streisand. No, I’m talking the heartbreaking, rich technicolor masterpiece with Judy Garland and James Mason. Singer Esther Blodgett (Garland) is discovered by alcoholic movie star Norman Maine (Mason) whilst singing in a downtown club. Incidentally, her performance of The Man That Got Away is, to my mind, the perfect example of vocal brilliance. I have long harboured a secret fantasy of singing this in a jazz club. Should probably learn how to sing better. Here she is. Judy, not me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ooeuybwJAsE

They fall in love and marry. Esther is advised to change her name to Vicki Lester and she is thrust into the world of Hollywood; her career flourishing. Norman, however sinks into depression as his own falls by the wayside, liquor his only solace. On the night of Esther’s Academy Award win, Norman arrives at the ceremony drunk and inadvertently smacks his wife around her face. Realising what he has become, he willingly enters rehab. Upon his exit however, he overhears Esther’s confession to a mutual friend that she intends to abandon her career to nurse him. Riddled with guilt at what he has done, he drowns himself. Indeed, the title of this post comes from the last line of the film – Esther/Vicki’s re-entry into the world of entertainment after Norman’s death, introducing herself by her married name.

Now, I am an actress and can only speak of my experiences of this industry. Perhaps the same is applicable to other careers, but all I can say is this. The acting industry really can be a horrid one. It saddens me greatly to write that. I adore the theatre and quite clearly I adore film (hence this blog!) but the actual day-to-day business of being a part of it is tougher than I ever thought possible. I know some quite brilliant actors who have segued into other jobs and have found themselves happier for it. For as The Artist and A Star is Born suggest, if the industry doesn’t want you (and for the most part… it doesn’t) it’s a soul-destroying and confidence wrecking lot.

You can be as talented as you like, but despite hours and days and months and years of writing, auditioning, networking and wishing, you can still find yourself rejected.This is unbelievably hard not to take personally. It is even harder not to be destroyed by it if you have a partner or a close friend in the same business who appears to be doing well. You want to be happy for them, of course you do, but it is so very difficult not to compare your own lot to theirs. It is natural and it is human. I will never forget when an ex-boyfriend and I each wrote to the same agencies. He received six invitations to audition, I received none. I loathed myself, but was seething with jealousy ‘But I’ve been out of drama school longer that him. I have more experience. It’s because I’m a girl. It’s because I’m too posh.’ (Nb: I’m not that posh). To be fair, the same ex-boyfriend listened several times as I cried down the phone for not getting this audition, not getting that role. I told him on many occasions that I was giving up. For I know of no other job where talent and ability can get you so little as this one. Working hard does not always equate success, unfortunately.

I was lucky. After five years of uncertainty and low self esteem (although I did have some wonderful jobs, they just never lasted beyond a month or two), I found myself working for the theatre company I am now a permanent part of. I love being with them – it is one of the closest thing we actors can get to a full time job and I feel my work is rewarded and recognised. I have been performing with them since January 2012 and will be soon be undertaking my fourth production. The common thing that seems to bind us players together is a love of the theatre but a wariness of the industry as a whole. This is possible, believe it or not – I still feel more at home on the stage than anywhere else and love discovering new characters –  but I despise the fickleness of this business. Perhaps this is naive of me, but I think we all deserve to be a part of a career that recognises endeavour.

If not for this brilliant company, or if – heaven forfend – it should ever come to an end, I would not pursue acting any longer. I am so proud of my wonderful, talented friends who have done well in this industry and who seem to be able to make a living from it without driving themselves to distraction, but equally I do not like seeing other friends despair because they are getting nowhere. They don’t deserve this. It is a terrifying thing to put a long held dream aside and pursue other options, but my goodness. I do hope happiness can be found in other areas. Love, friends, a pub. A job that offers some prospect of promotion. I believe many actors (and I count myself in this) adopt this career because of a need to make other people happy, a need to tell stories and – as much as I am loathe to admit it – a need for validation. If we can find these in other aspects of our life, do we really need to put ourselves through the mill anymore?

I don’t want to end up like Norman Maine or like the real life stars Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford et al. If my career falters, I want to be able to pack up and move on, not be destroyed by perceived failure. There is no shame in walking from one path to another.

However, it may be that my musings are all complete tosh. I am still a working actress and I intend to be a working actress for as long as this company wants me. If anything changes, who knows? Perhaps fear of the unknown and a deeply rooted sense of belonging to this world will keep me from pursuing anything else. Perhaps, just like many other actors, I just don’t know what to do for best.

This I do know. The dog in The Artist was probably the best dog I’ve ever seen.

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No Harm in Trying

I had the oddest craving the other day. I did not find myself suddenly and magically with child, like a West Country Mary Magdalene. I found myself sorely in need of a reminder and craved the resolution this reminder would bring. I know of two films that can help with this. So I watched them both. The first – a 1950 classic starring James Stewart (you’d think I’d be running out of his films by now) (nope) and a giant rabbit. The second, a 2008 Mike Leigh semi-improvised comedy with Sally Hawkins, a lass steadily working her way up to becoming one of my favourite modern actresses.

You see, I needed reminding to be happy. Sometimes I find this difficult. My default state is one of anxiety and I find that two meddling little imps called Hopelessness and Gloom can be my all too constant companions. But – and I stress this after years of treatment in many different guises – I find that the most successful warrior against The Black Dog is instilling in yourself a sense of optimism. Even if it doesn’t come naturally.

Harvey is the tale of Elwood P. Dowd, (Stewart) a gentle, kindly man who spends his days in his local drinking joint with his best friend Harvey. Harvey: a 6ft 3.5″ tall invisible white rabbit. His sister, Veta (an Academy Award winning turn from Josephine Hull) believes him to be mad and the film follows her attempts to have him committed. Happy-Go-Lucky follows Poppy (Hawkins) a relentlessly cheerful primary school teacher who takes driving lessons with the embittered Scott (an ever excellent Eddie Marsan), a man teetering on the edge of a breakdown.

These films have one vital link. Both protagonists are clearly smart and negate the naivety that often – it is assumed – accompanies a blithely happy soul. They have deliberately chosen to make the most of every day, to be kind to everyone they meet and to see the beauty in each moment. Elwood offers friendship (and his card) to everybody he comes across, showing interest in their life and enjoying every minute. He states, quite simply“I always have a wonderful time, wherever I am, whomever I’m with.” He hints later that he has not always been of this disposition – of a darker time before Harvey the Pooka (a magical creature of celtic mythology who takes the form of an animal) makes an appearance. But he has made the choice to live his life in such a manner. “I’ve wrestled with reality for 35 years and I’m happy to state I finally won out over it.”

Poppy is clearly intelligent and a wonderful teacher. She helps uncover a pupil’s abuse at the hands of his stepfather and guides her young charges with warmth and knowledge. When her bike is stolen, she grins and sighs “I didn’t get to say goodbye.” She befriends a tramp, talks exuberantly to strangers and grabs each experience she can – trampolining, flamenco, learning to drive. And in a line that echoes Elwood’s own, Poppy picks out a self-help book near the beginning of the film and muses “The Road to Reality? Don’t wanna be going there!” Her friend and flatmate Zoe gently chides her “You can’t make everyone happy, Poppy” to which Poppy responds “No harm in trying, is there?”

Both of these two joyful creatures experience negativity and wariness at the hands of others. Elwood is dragged into an institution, hit, grabbed by the neck and generally avoided by most. Poppy is derided and hated by an increasingly combative Scott. “I can’t believe you are a teacher.You are arrogant, you are disruptive and you celebrate chaos.” She laughs and replies “I slipped through the net, didn’t I?” But why? Are those that are unhappy so threatened by those who choose to see life through rose-tinted glasses? Why the need to drag the smiling down? As Elwood says “That’s envy, my dear. There’s a little bit of envy in the best of us.”

I’ve watched these films and I’m reminded how short and sweet life is. I don’t choose to listen to the voice in my head that tells me I’m useless, that things are too tough. I choose to be nice to people, to see a Good Thing in every situation, no matter how dark it seems. I realise I can bug people when I do this. But never mind. I think they should do it, too. I (thank God and touch wood) have never yet experienced a life altering personal tragedy. Who knows? When I do, I may find my little ethos fails me. It must be impossible to find the beauty sometimes.Sometimes I do fail and for that I have wonderful friends and family who lend a shoulder and a cuddle. Sometimes some wine and chocolate. I hope I offer the same service when they find themselves at a low point. Nobody should suffer alone.

To sum up ~ to conclude, if you will ~ too much thought and time in one’s own head is the danger. Focus on others; focus on what you see, hear, touch. Live for this very moment, so fleeting and precious. Be kind.

In the words of Mr. Dowd himself “In this world, you can be oh so smart, or oh so pleasant. For years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

I believe I just have.

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