What Straight A’s Mean Thirteen years later: Not Much

Nero was the last Roman Emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty; the Boston Matrix analyses a business’ product portfolio; the wife of Bath was married at the age of 12; and it was on the road to Damascus that Saint Paul underwent his spiritual conversion. A list of useless facts, yes, but also the few remnants of knowledge left from my A-Level studies in Ancient history, Business studies, English Literature and Religious Education respectively. This knowledge, hardly set to influence my future but rather my ability at that time to recall, apply and analyse such knowledge, would be pivotal to my future… Or would it?

Often seen as the defining point of our education, our A-Levels mark that we’ve finally reached adulthood and are now capable of making life-altering decisions: Will you continue your academic journey into university? Will you bow out for some time to travel the world? Will you opt for immediate employment and save yourself a lifetime of debt? While many at this time, on results day, will focus on what to do if you don’t get the grades you had hoped for, I wish to proffer some advice to those who do. This seems counterintuitive – like giving money to the rich. Their futures seem bright. They’ve been given the opportunity to put their best foot forward. It’s the less fortunate, the disappointed and broken-hearted who need words of encouragement. In some way though, this too ought to comfort. The bottom line is you can achieve the best grades possible and get nowhere near where you had hoped you might be. The opposite is equally true.

Thirteen years ago, after receiving my A-Level results, I made the decision to pursue a degree in Law. I had neither the interest nor the intent of pursuing a career in this field but given its perception as a “sensible choice” and its potential for broad application, it seemed like the right thing to do. My heart yearned for English literature, as it still does now, but alas the head triumphed. My head, of all the heads, rife with confusion and indecision.

As a result of this decision and many more to come, I now stand in a job which I can proudly say is important. It matters and I would like to think that, on some small level, I make a difference to the lives of the people I work with. But the selfish part of me, which I admit dominates any selflessness I might possess, longs for that “dream job”, should such a thing exist. A career that not only utilises your greatest skills but also fills that void; that void that says “you were born to do this” and gives that sense of purpose we all crave in life.

Before this sounds like a tale of woe, much like the poor old wife of Bath, I am in no way disillusioned. The decisions I have made, whether wrongly or rightly, have led me to a place which I not only can appreciate but where I can continue to better myself. It’s just not my place. My place exists somewhere beyond the here and now and I’m certain I’ll arrive there when the time is right.

So, what I would say to you on this seemingly fateful day, just as Roxette once tried to tell herself, is “listen to your heart” (unless of course your heart leads you to degrees like The Art of Walking or Puppetry). Ignore the voices that lead to the purely “sensible choice”. A sensible choice can soon become foolish if the outcome in no way reflects you or your goals. Your dream might not yet be clear but at least if you follow your heart, and ultimately what interests you, you’re bound to be at least one step closer than me.

And to those who feel like their dreams have been shattered by today, consider me – 31 and still dreaming. Those results are no more a reflection of your ability or future than my law degree is a reflection of me. Time is still on your side.

…Or we could just pack it in altogether and go to Australia. It’s what all the cool kids are doing anyway.

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To Be or To Do, That is the Question: The Reality of Relaxing

Relax verb : ‘Make or become less tense or anxious.’

The concept of relaxation seems simple really. Everyone’s idea of it might vary slightly but generally we could all agree on what it looks like. ‘Chilling out’, ‘getting some down time’, ‘recharging my batteries’; all those familiar idioms we use interchangeably to paint a picture of relaxation.  And yet, it appears to be one of the most difficult things to do. I have recently found myself in a situation where I have been forced to relax. The very idea seems contradictory. ‘Force’, that is to apply pressure and ‘relax’, to relieve pressure, two opposing terms, put together to form one illogical notion.

Now, that’s not to say I’ve been handcuffed to a chair in a lavender-scented, candle-lit room with meditation muzak on loop. The handcuffs are, of course, metaphorical. I have allowed myself to become so crippled by anxiety that I’ve had to completely ground to a halt.

As I relay this to you, I am sitting on a chair outside. The sun is shining – a rare occurrence. I feel the heat of it against my skin. I observe the gentle breeze and the scent of freshly cut grass. I hear the occasional buzz of a bee doing its part for civilization. I note the cars further afield and imagine all those people coming and going. This scenario sounds like the ideal backdrop for relaxation but, sitting here, a casual observer, I do not feel relaxed; instead, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. Why is that bee working harder than me? You don’t catch bees sitting around observing the noises we make. Surely, I should be in my car heading somewhere important to do something important. How dare I sit by idly and watch the world go by? The handcuffs now feel real. “Let me go and do something.”

I spot weeds, I tear them out (this is my new favourite thing). That breeze is perfect for laundry. There’s the ladder we borrowed from my father-in-law: I wonder could I wash the windows without killing myself? And with these thoughts come the not-so-sudden realisation but rather the stern reminder – I am completely incapable of doing nothing. The closest I can get to this is by putting these frustrations onto paper or, more accurately, my phone because I seem to have lost the ability to function without my phone. No doubt another contributing factor. 

I am, of course, not alone in this plight and daren’t suggest I’m in some way hard done by.  Given the fact that I have two young children, I am offered more “free time” than your average parent thanks to the support of my extended family. And yet, I find myself sometimes under the most pressure when given this opportunity. What can or should I be doing to make the most of this time? I might adopt an unconvincing guise of relaxation and wear a face mask while simultaneously hoovering or take a really long shower but only on the condition that I also clean it. It seems then that time is only well spent when in pursuit of some superficial goal and that it cannot simply be “free”. We are not afforded do not afford ourselves this luxury.

Whether this mind set is human nature or a product of modern day society I do not know – I’d imagine it is a combination of the two. All I know is that given my recent opportunity to relax I have found it almost impossible. When given a choice ‘to be’ or ‘to do’, the latter appears to be the option we’re more comfortable with which, seems to me, a very sad state of affairs.

Unlike that bee and his comrades, who we are so largely indebted to, we were not designed to buzz at a rate of 11,400 times per minute. We’re only human. And with that comes a need to buzz but also a need to just ‘bee’.





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Weddings: What’s Worth Remembering & What You’ll Probably Forget

This is it. The big day. For some, the biggest. And should you choose not to avail of some form of sedative, you’re likely to experience a range of thoughts and feelings; from the seemingly trivial (but completely valid), “Are my hands a shade too brown?” to the more terrifying “Do I really want to spend the rest of my life with this man?” Yes, your hands probably are verging on that time Ross was an 8 but it is your God-given right on this day to make even a Kardashian look pale. As to spending the rest of your life with this one man, chances are you’ve made it this far for a reason. And if you change your mind, there’s always the bathroom window.

You’ll question whether you’ve done enough; whether you should have opted for the veil with the satin trim; whether you should have seated your friend next to his friend because of that one awkward time they woke up next to each other. These unanswerable questions are inevitable. After all, you’ve spent months planning this day; you’ve spent what could have been the deposit for your house on this day; you’ve ate nothing but quinoa and avocado dieting for this day.

Thankfully there’s an upside to the frightening picture I have thus far painted for you. Alongside these niggling, ultimately irrelevant worries are moments of complete bliss. Moments so perfect you wish you could take into your hand and hold. The details that consumed you for months on end will inevitably fade with time. You won’t recall which genus of flower formed the focal point of your bouquet – despite the headache coming to this decision gave you. You’ll forget which grape produced the gallons of table wine: in part because of your fading memory and in part because you drank too much of it. It is the memory of your husband-to-be’s face as you walked down the aisle; the image of that wonderfully gratifying expression that only a grandmother can make; the memory of your dad squeezing your hand a little too tight as he gives you away that will stand the test of time.

That’s why we seize the moment try to freeze it and own it, squeeze it and hold it. (Eminem, Sing for the Moment).

This is not to negate those finer details. I have no doubt they will make your day truly beautiful. The food will be sumptuous; your dress sensational; the music show-stopping but what is all this worth if, in the midst of all this splendor, you can’t behold the true beauty of this life-changing day?

My brother was married last week and, unfortunately, I could not be there. Their service was performed in his fiancé’s grandparent’s back garden with only a handful of adoring onlookers. His bride-to-be, being 8 months pregnant, could not find a suitable white dress in their local city (Brandon, Canada) and instead, she wore an above-the-knee, floral dress that perfectly accentuated her bump. He wore a corsage to match. Soft music played in the background – I’d imagine from a Spotify playlist. And within minutes they were married. Bound together for the rest of their lives and, watching from 4,000 miles away via Messenger, it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen.

In an era of wedding one-upmanship, it is easy to get caught up in the fuss of it all. No matter how low-key your intention (speaking from experience), the temptation to splurge greets you at every opportunity. The words of others “Oh, you must get a videographer” echo in your ear, leaving it hard not to feel in some way deficient if you don’t. As my second wedding anniversary comes around, I say “trust your instinct”. Slow down. Remember what this day is really about. Be as present in every moment as possible, for it is in these small moments that you will find the greatest treasure worth holding on to.

This is it. The big day. Enjoy every single moment.

(And yes, just to clarify, I did quote Eminem.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Age Attacks When We Least Expect It

Most days come and go without a single acknowledgement of our age. Ageing, much like growing, happens so gradually that we drift along blissfully unaware of the fact that we are literally decaying. The lines embed that bit further, body parts might ache that bit more but on the whole we’re so oblivious to this that we manage to keep ourselves firmly in denial.

There are, however, some days like today that we’re offered a less than friendly reminder that we are not as young as we used to be. Before I continue and risk the wrath of anyone over 35, I am under no disillusion that I am “old”. I’m firmly on board with the idea that life begins at 40 and I’m truly convinced that my parents are having more fun than ever in their sixties. At the tender age of 31, I can still somewhat unconvincingly boast that I am young.

Back to the day in question. Much of my job consists of spending time with teenagers. I must note that these are not the very young and impressionable, so-awkward-it’s-cute 13 to 15 years olds but the generally miffed and unabashedly honest subsection of over sixteens.  In a typical day, transporting a youngster from A to B, we will battle over both volume control and radio station. I am, without exception, always the loser of this game and on this occasion a very loud Billie Eilish won. Billie warbled “I’m that bad type, make your mamma sad type, make your girlfriend mad tight, might seduce your dad type” and by the end of the 3:14 minutes not only was I firmly convinced that she was the Bad Guy but I was also a bit scared of her. As I heard myself actually say this out loud to the 17 year old girl in the front seat with the bright red, partly shaven DIY hair do, I thought “Christ, I’m old”.

Other insignificant but, on this day, seemingly exaggerated events nodded to my not-so-young-anymore age. I found myself trying to grab at the volume dial without being caught; I found myself willing for the news on the hour; and perhaps most telling of all, I found myself gutted that I was missing the Jeremy Vine show.

The moment, however, which I believe truly sealed my fate was when I declined to join my younger cohort for a Mc Donald’s and proceeded to whip out a miniature sized Tupperware with the Go Jetters on it filled with grapes. If, by now, she wasn’t already convinced that I was 100, this did the trick. I felt immediately disappointed in myself; like that wave that overcomes you when Tesco staff zoom into your face before clicking without any shadow of a doubt “Thinks customer is definitely 25 years old or over.” I always had visions of myself as a “cool mom”, the type Amy Poehler aspired to in Mean Girls as she rocked her pink velour tracksuit and heels. Instead I found myself as a modern day Mrs Doubtfire. The dungarees or width of my eyebrows were fooling no one.

n-AMY-POEHLER-COOL-MOM-628x314 (1)It’s strange, really. We can go through life taking steps that are deemed pretty “adult” without taking much cognisance of this. We might have a mortgage and two kids but it’s the realisation that you prefer The Jeremy Vine Show to chart music that really makes you feel your age. It’s seems then that the number is irrelevant.  Age really is nothing but a number. It’s the subtle reminders that we’ve changed that are much more affecting.  It’s the things that become so synonymous with ageing, like a distaste for loud music or certain musical genres, that speak volumes (no pun intended). Like the literal ageing process, these things happen so gradually (maybe it’s a decibel for every year) we fail to notice them until one day you’re hit with the realisation that you’re scared of a 17 year old girl purporting to be the “Bad Guy”.

Those clichés – “you’re as young as you feel” – have more truth than previously suspected. I’d imagine there’s a 70 year old out there somewhere munching on a Big Mac listening to Billie Eilish who feels much younger than me.  Though who’s to say opting for a packed lunch and Steve Wright’s Golden Oldies should make us any older? If that’s the case, I’ll happily settle for being old any day.

Far From Shallow: The Enduring Power of a Star is Born

*so many spoiler alerts*

Five days on and I remain under the spell of A Star is Born. First of I must unequivocally state that this is not a movie review. Not only I am far from equipped to comment on any fancy film-making concept relating to camerawork or staging, but my last movie “review” basically amounted to “you either love it or hate it”, which i’m sure you’ll agree is groundbreaking stuff. This is simply the expression of a feeling; a sense that this was something very special and the lingering impact it has had.

GagaASIB

In life, it is rare to come across something that not only manages to capture us in a moment but stays with us once a moment passes. Visions of Cooper making goo goo eyes at Gaga etched in my brain; impromptu outbursts of “We’re far from the shallow now”; that feeling of mourning for Jack. This movie has stuck; to the extent that I have found myself nerding out to promotional interviews and critical reviews ever since. Moreover, it has actually driven me to write.

The story is tried and tested. Literally, as it serves as the fourth rendition of A Star is Born. To summarise: Boy meets girl. Boy serenades girl. Girl serenades boy. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl falls in love with boy. Boy is on his way down. Girl is on her way up. Familiar as it may be, there was something so inherently raw and real about this. The backdrop may have been the stardom of two gorgeously talented human beings but there was little glamour about it.

The music is of course largely contributory to the hype that surrounds the movie. Before the tragedy of the story crushes your heart into microscopic pieces, the music will have you using your sleeve as a tissue. When Ally (Gaga) sets foot on that stage for the first time and Jackson (Cooper) looks on lovingly with his big Arizona eyes as she belts out “I’m off the deep end watch as I dive in”, you’re gone. Caput.

Particularly for me who loves a crooner and has very little interest in the current pop landscape, the music was a breath of fresh air. Between Jackson considering “Maybe it’s Time” to concluding he’s “Out of Time”, this rock and roll served as a welcome interlude. We can kind of understand why Jackson gets so pissed at Ally for singing that awful song about some guy coming around “with an ass like that.”

Within what appears to be a conventional love story, are themes that extend far beyond a whirlwind romance, some of which have more personal resonance than others. Jackson, a long suffering alcoholic, reveals glimpses of the trauma he endured as a child, setting the scene for the movie’s tragic ending. Ally demonstrates complete devotion throughout and is willing to sacrifice her own career in order to support her husband. In the end, Jackson takes his own life to avoid ruining hers and thus A Star is Born.

What might be even more remarkable than a drunk man remembering the lyrics to a song he’s heard only once, is the talent that oozes from these two individuals. As if Bradley Cooper didn’t seem perfect enough with his flowing sandy locks and ability to embody any character on screen, he now can sing flawlessly and direct, no doubt, an oscar winning movie. Similarly Gaga who we knew could write killer songs and perform like a goddess, can now also act and looks like perfection beneath her facade of stage makeup. It really puts into perspective my inability to whistle or follow the routine of a simple step class.

While much of the movie appears bound in tragedy, there is so much positivity to be derived from it. Talent is at its best when unfiltered; having a voice is power; being true to oneself is paramount; love extends far beyond our flaws.

In truth, had I of known the outcome of this film, I doubt I would have gone to see it. I tend to avoid anything that might cause me to feel too much which this did in bucket loads.  But I am glad I did. I’m glad I watched Ally sing that french song in the drag bar. I’m glad I watched Jackson peel off her makeshift eyebrows. I’m glad I watched their love blossom and come to its untimely end. I’m glad I watched A Star is Born.

So there you have it. A non review of a movie which I have just reviewed.

5 out of 5 stars.

 

No One Dare Disturb The Sound of Silence

I am no music critic; just a humble listener who knows what they like and what they don’t. What I like? Simon and Garfunkel. What I don’t like? (Generally) People covering Simon and Garfunkel. I understand there is a time and a place for covers – presumably when an artist can bring something new, something unique and something arguably better to the table. There are no doubt countless examples of average songs that have been elevated by an alternative ear, a different voice and a new sound. I myself have over the years, probably to the horror of many, preferred cover versions to their originals. Some of these rooted in almost fact that they are “better” and others based on nothing more than my preference for a particular artist. In regards to the latter I’ll not be too specific as I’m liable to lose all credibility.

When you think about it, it seems an awful injustice that someone, who took the time to craft their melody, perfect their sound and create those meaningful lyrics that probably encapsulate the loss of a previous lover, should be subjected to the misinterpretation of their song. A pain which I’m sure can, thank God, only be alleviated by millions of pounds of royalties.

By the title of this piece, I’m sure you’ve gathered what has inspired my latest rant. To those who know me, they will know that I am a huge Simon and Garfunkel fan. And herein lies the bias. I am fully aware that my words are probably clouded in a spellbinding mist of love and adoration for the duo and are a far cry from a neutral standpoint. For the purposes of this, you’ll also note I have revised the lyrics to the song that you see in the title. They should read “No one dared. Disturb the sound of silence.” In this instance, someone has dared disturb it and ironically they come in the form of a band named Disturbed.  A heavy metal band, this seemed like an unorthodox choice for the group, one which I can respect and understand if little else. I often think had I possessed some kind of musical talent and decided to go on one of those TV talent shows I too would cover The Sound of Silence. A timeless classic of this nature always prompts these lesser renditions.

People writing songs that voices never share. No one dared. Disturb the sound of silence.

As I write this, my initial hardened stance has softened. Disturbed, like many of us, were inspired by the song and wanted to “pay homage and honor” to its creators by reimagining it. It just simply did not need reimagined. It stood in its original format completely perfect.  The softness cannot be emulated; the haunting undertone mirrored; the honesty echoed.

I recall hearing it live – admittedly by Garfunkel alone and 50 years later. Artie, in his seventies and struggling with his voice, still managed to perfectly embody the spirit of the song in a way that a younger man or stronger voice could not have. It belongs to him and Simon (and no, we’re not getting into the Paul Simon vs. Art Garfunkel debate now).

Others have quite openly stated their preference for this newer version. I imagine every time this happens a fairy somewhere dies. And that is where my real problem lies. I shudder at the suggestion that someone could hear both and get more from the latter. I despair at the thought that many will not even know that another or better version even existed; one which captivated audiences around the world and cemented the beginning one of the most powerful careers in music history.

I recognise that some good may come of this. Perhaps when millions flock to YouTube to listen to this song, they will note those two odd looking chaps in black and white and think to click on them – not only offering them the true Sound of Silence but a catalogue of music so wonderful they’ll wonder how they had managed to go their whole lives without ever having listened to those two chaps before. After all, it’s what happened the first time I heard The Sound of Silence.

For that, I suppose I can thank you Disturbed. But I beg you: stay away from Bridge Over Troubled Water.

 

The Mother of All Mothers

Life’s too short to drink shit coke – Catherine Rainey

To anyone who has ever read any of my previous posts, it should be pretty obvious by now how important my mother is to me. Subtle references to her spending nights with me watching Father Ted may, on the face it, seem like nothing more than a pastime we shared together but the truth is much more poignant and indicative of a bond much greater than some mutual interest in a TV show.

In fact – and it’s only occurred to me now – I don’t think Mum even likes Father Ted.

On those nights neither of us particularly enjoyed ourselves. She would hold my hand in the reassuring way that only a mother can, offering words of comfort while Ted did his best to distract me from whatever anxieties took the forefront that evening. She often lay until the wee hours, kept awake by the less-than-soothing theme tune and repetitive laughter track, never daring to move until I found sleep.

With many a night spent like this – and undoubtedly hundreds more of a different nature with my siblings (of which there are four) – it is safe to say that, as she turns 60, she must be fucking exhausted. I can only assume this, however, as she would never complain of those hours of lost sleep, unlike me who manages to moan at every opportunity about sleepless nights on account of my own child. She is of a higher order you see; in a league reserved for only the finest of mothers. I imagine she secretly wears a medallion on the inside of her lapel, symbolising her patronage to some mystic motherly force which few others are accepted into.

I take this opportunity to again pay homage to my mother and her services as she celebrates her birthday 60th today. In typical Rebekah fashion I have not bought her a big bunch of flowers or a piece of jewellery befitting of such a momentous occasion; instead I offer up these humble words – which also coincidentally happen to be much less expensive. Just as Dad receives rubbish Star Wars memorabilia and novelty mugs for his birthday, you too must pay the price (excuse the pun) for raising such an “economical” daughter.

(This might be a good time to bring up the fact that you will also probably have to pay for my share of your birthday meal.)

It is often said that being a mother is a thankless job. True. There are no pats on the back, no monthly pay packets, no periods of annual leave.  The truth is mothers do not “mother” to be thanked. It is out of pure unconditional love that they dedicate their entire lives to pursuing so little of their own interests and goals in favour of their children’s. They derive their satisfaction from other more meaningful sources – from the smiles on their kid’s faces, the late night cuddles, and the achievements of their children. That said, after only 15 months in the motherhood game, I’d imagine a “Thank you” every now and again would be nice.

After all these years I can say with no uncertainty that I never thanked you enough. How could I have? How could those two little words ever amount to the recognition and appreciation you deserve? Nonetheless, I say it now and for the world (the handful of people who read my blog) to hear. Thank you.

Thank you for loving me each and every day of my life. Thank you for giving me a childhood that I can only think of with fondness. Thank you for rewarding me with my wonderful brothers and sisters, all of whom remind me of you in their own little ways. Thank you for putting your own grief to one side in order to tend to mine; to this day I still don’t know how you did it. Thank you for being brave; never afraid to argue the truth or sing louder than the voices around you. Thank you for finding strength when others could not. Thank you for guiding me in the right direction while always allowing me to make my own decisions.  Thank you for being an individual; your inability to give a shit of what others think inspires me to never blindly follow. Thank you for being the grandmother to my son; as I watch the two of you bond I am reminded of the tender love you gave and continue to give me. Quite simply, thank you for being you.

At half your age, I can only hope that I amount to half the mother and half the woman that you are. Happy birthday Mum.

P.S. Sorry for reminding everyone of how old you are.