What (not) to do when you have a nervous child: letting go of old things and trying new things edition

I’m not one for universally acknowledged truths, so this generalisation will probably bite me in the behind, but I suspect that most – if not quite all – parents have, at some point, a series of thoughts around the things they don’t want to hand down to their offspring. The hangups and torments, the weaknesses and inner monologues. While we’re busy wondering if they’ll have our hair, or avoid our grandfather’s unfortunate nose, there are things about our outlook – no matter how much we’ve found peace with ourselves – that we probably wouldn’t hand down with Uncle Joe’s cheekbones and Auntie Jean’s height.

I was a nervous child. And a conflict-avoiding adult. It has taken decades of practicing the things I love – that I’m good at – to create enough of a core of confidence to make certain moves in my life. Weirdly, even though I have a very low opinion of my appearance to this day, I can be brashly confident about, say, posting an outfit photo on Instagram (well aware I don’t look that great! Don’t care!) and I told my then good friend that he loved me before he knew it himself (ten years, one marriage, a house, a cat and a child later I still know I was right). But when it comes to New Things I have to actively fight an inner voice that tells me these things are not for me; they’re for better people, cleverer people, prettier people.

I’m not unaware of how much of this is inextricably bound up with being female in this world. And when I knew I was having a daughter, busy being overjoyed simply because she was, I was relieved in some part not to have the responsibility of raising a feminist-friendly man but also terrified of the threats she was going to face both to her person and to her personhood. I prayed she’d get her father’s slight build, so she wouldn’t have to be a fat, female child – something I’d never choose to go through again – and also his calm, sweet fearlessness. He’s bungee jumped and abseiled down Table Mountain and I swear if he could hang out of an aeroplane window with his tongue hanging out like a gleeful spaniel, he would. I won’t even jump off a low wall and have to say the Lord’s Prayer in two languages under my breath as soon as the engines fire up on a plane.

But it’s more than that. He’s the one I get to make the phone calls and organise the appointments. He’s the one who happily wanders up to anyone in the room, whether he’s met them before or not, and shares life stories. There’s an undercurrent there – a reason he’s so keen to make friends, past trauma – but it manifests itself in this glorious openness. Sitting in the Monsters Inc Laugh Floor in Florida, the camera turned on him and labelled him as the guy who just wanted to get up and dance. Up he sprang and made sure it was the most outrageously embarrassing dance he could possibly manage, making our daughter almost vomit with the giggles, and then sat down, cheeks pink but pride undamaged. He will so happily make an idiot of himself, and then get over it instantly. I would be replaying any moment of accidental humiliation in my head for the next 24 years.

What has all this got to do with getting rid of old things and trying new things? I’m getting to it. You can probably see where this is going.

Our 6yo is her mother’s daughter. Sure, she also has my superpowers (an easy facility with language, a low-effort / high-reward approach to academia) but try as I might to hide my fearfulness it has leaked into the bond between us. She is cautious, frequently shy and absolutely terrified… of being terrified. Unexpected significant changes to routine bother her (she never seems to enjoy the idea of a holiday until she’s actually on it), and she really, really hates giving or throwing things away unless they’re demonstrably so far beyond use – or gross – that she can bear to tear herself away. And because the cinema is loud and dark, she has misgivings about new films – even though she loves TV and will obsessively watch the things she likes – and it’s sometimes hard to work out what will scare her. Some things, like The Jungle Book I predicted (and gave her an out, having offered to go without her anyway); others are harder to anticipate. She is extremely bright and imaginative, and thinks about things very deeply – so deeply she has told me outright, without prompting, that she can’t help considering what the worst thing that can happen is.

It can be hard for adults. On our second trip to Disney World, a place we all love and obviously have to invest both time and money to get to, rides and experiences she’d loved so much she cried when she had to leave them last time suddenly became too terrifying to do again. We started to ride things in turns so she could sit out, although she also braved and enjoyed things I hadn’t expected her to. She surprises and confuses me constantly, and sometimes, I admit, it distresses, frustrates and disappoints me. I so desperately want to be able to share the things I love with her – for her to love them too – that I can forget to let her be herself and learn and grow out of these things in her own time (and accept that she might never love those things, even if she’s not scared of them anymore). Because when I think about it at any length I know she must and will grow out of it, simply because most people do. When I look back, I was every bit as scared and only did things she was allowed to opt out of because my parents didn’t consider letting me avoid them and my big sister made fun of me. So then I was just scared and resentful – which didn’t achieve much, really. I still had to go through the process of becoming not-scared, only then with shame attached. And at the moment that R expressed fearfully that she thought she might ruin the holiday for others by being different, I knew that my gut feeling that pushing the issue was not the way to go was correct.

In the past few weeks we’ve had two issues crop up that I handled, in the first instance, extremely badly while trying to do the right thing. But then which, with patience, lots of love and a bit of strategic thinking, we were able to resolve in a way that made everyone content. So here I offer my mistakes and my successes, in the hope that if you, too, have a child who thinks about everything just a little bit more than they need to, you might find some help – or at least solidarity – in them.

The Moana Incident

When Moana came out in cinemas I was really keen to see it, but R dithered. I was perfectly happy to go without her, but she also really wanted to see it. But, unlike films on DVD at home that I’d seen before, I couldn’t tell her what might be scary and how it would resolve – I didn’t know. So we agreed we’d just get it on DVD and if it was on a small screen everything would be much easier to deal with and could be paused, etc. It arrived at home to her enormous bouncing excitement; then she read the back cover, caught a sight of some words that suggested danger or scary moments, and decided she wasn’t going to watch it after all.

I bribed. I cajoled. I argued. It did not end well.

So I apologised. And I backed off. And then I started to think about why she had wanted to see it (musical snippets on YouTube; the kid’s a sucker for a musical and has been listening to carefully vetted bits of Hamilton for weeks on my phone). For me, getting her to see it was an exercise in helping her to see the worth of overcoming her nervousness; for her, it was a chance to find a new thing she’d enjoy.

So I bought the soundtrack. First we just listened to the one everyone knows. Then we started listening to some of the other songs.

“I know there’s a big scary crab in it. My cousin told me. I don’t want to hear his song.”

One day in the car, when she was in a good mood, she wanted to listen to the soundtrack all the way through. “But the deal is, we’re not skipping Shiny,” I said. “FINE!” came the answer. During the song, she stuck her fingers in her ears.

We listened to the soundtrack all the way through again. One finger came out of her ears. “This doesn’t sound that bad… show me a picture of the crab?” We looked at them on my small phone screen. She looked on with trepidation. I showed her a picture of Jemaine Clement, because we like chatting about who does the voices.

Then one Saturday afternoon, I watched the film. She left the room with the iPad. And kept coming back in, and leaving, and coming back in, and leaving. She caught a glimpse of Tamatoa. She popped back in for the last ten minutes and was monumentally unfussed by Te Ka. Big animals = bad. Lava monsters = fine and dandy thanks, here, incinerate my island I don’t care. 

The next day: “Can we watch it again?” She stayed in the room for everything except Tamatoa.

A few days later, I watched Tamatoa’s scene on my phone, knowing she wouldn’t be able to resist poking her head over. “He doesn’t look that bad, I suppose. And I saw a picture of him on Google with Jemaine Clement’s face.” I laughed out loud.

All of this happened over maybe two weeks. We’ve seen the film over and over again since then, because she adores it. She insists on watching all the credits through to see Tamatoa’s brief end-credit sequence. It’s a great new joy in her life, and she has at least one example in her head now of a time when, having gradually desensitized herself to something that worried her, it worked out for a best. That won’t always be the case, but I needed her to have that example.

So if I have any tips it would be: don’t push, at all, but do gradually build up exposure by going for the most tempting bit. All carrot, no stick.

 

The Great Clothes Clear-Out of 2017

R didn’t just inherit her dad’s build; she got his height, too. Then again, I’m almost 5’9″ myself. She’s 6yo and right in the middle of the weight range, but she wears size 2 shoes and to get the length right her leggings and dresses – her preferred uniform – are all aged 8-10. She doesn’t like trousers much these days, but it’s just as well on a practical level – the waist gapes if the length is right unless they’re trackie bums like the ones she wears for stage school (yes, it does massively help confidence if you can afford it / talk them in through the door, but it’s by far not the only way if you can’t or can’t right now).

Being prone to impressive growth spurts means you end up with a lot of clothes in good condition that need to move on. Whether to family and friends – her cousin of the same age is slightly shorter and slighter – or to a charity shop.

I suggested we might need to move on a few pieces she’s clearly outgrown – and in some cases never really liked in the first place. CUE THE TEARS.

We tried logic – getting her to try them on to see how badly they fitted. We tried appealing to charity – wouldn’t it be nice for another child to have them? We tried pointing out the horrendously limited storage in our shoebox of a house. To no avail. On – gentle – questioning, two issues emerged:

  • Many of these things were presents from us or her grandparents – what if said grandparents were mortally offended or thought she hadn’t liked their gifts?
  • What if she wanted to wear them again?

There wasn’t a whole lot we could do about the second of these. The rigmarole of trying on tiny jumpers and short leggings helped – she could, with a bit of lighthearted cajoling, recognise that, as angry as she was about it, she couldn’t make the clothes bigger or herself smaller. But the former was a really big issue for her. She seemed to feel especially bad about pieces I could tell she’d never been that fond of, since she felt a sense of guilt she hadn’t even got use out of them when they did fit. A mixture of failed obligation and FOMO. I briskly told her that obligation be damned – you’re not obliged to like or use a gift. You are obliged to politely thank someone for it. Equally, the person you give it to is not obliged to like or use it after. Once it’s no longer yours you cannot dictate the terms (she got a bit reproachful about this – “what if they don’t care about it like I do?!” – but accepted at least she wouldn’t be there to see it).

The sticking point remained. Finally, we came to an agreement. We would gently broach the subject with the grandparents next time we saw them and explain that the clothes no longer fit – and ask their permission to give them away. In the end, she asked my mother hrself, and was so reassured by the answer she forgot to even mention it to my mother-in-law. And once we also pointed out that clearing out would leave room for a few new bits and pieces we needed to get her, the fog began to lift. The very next day after that visit to my mother, she helped me carry every item of clothing she owned into the living room and took control of the whole process: we had a pile for keeping, a pile for the bin / recycling (old underwear and tortured socks), a pile for friends and family and a pile for the charity shop. I held up the items, we agreed on their destination, she piled them up accordingly. We matched socks, stuffed things in bags and handed them to Daddy to send on their way (or temporarily store). And she has never once regretted a single item.

I am sure I will get it wrong again. Sometimes impatience to see her best self breaks through. Sometimes she surprises me so much; at her end-of-term showcase at stage school we were expecting her usual shy mumble, but she read her poem beautifully with a happy smile and bounced through the rest of the show, even the dancing which I could tell was slightly embarrassing her. She’s really excited about having a part as a hula girl in the next show, and a bit where she holds up a sign to the audience. She was a confident narrator in the school Christmas show. She meets new people of all ages and can go from hiding behind my leg to being their BFF in under 20 minutes. She fears being embarrassed and standing out by wearing a BOBBLE HAT IN SCHOOL OMG even though her friends do, but chooses the most outrageously day-glo trainers for out of school that you can imagine, and tells all her friends about them. She says I’m embarrassing her all. the. time. but also happily still gets before-school kisses and cuddles at the gate.

I never know when one of these bone-deep reactions is going to hit, or what understandable or less understandable issue it’s going to hit over. I, too, have to learn as she is learning. Each time I have to remind myself that patience works – and that it’s no less than she deserves. That validating her feelings of fear – telling her she’s entitled to them – isn’t the same as saying there’s anything to be scared of. That, as much as I’m an unapologetically strict parent about certain things – manners and consideration for others, for example – carrot is a considerably more effective tool than stick (metaphorical stick, I hasten to add – I do not believe in ever raising a hand to a child in anger, ever). And frankly, carrot is really all I want to put into the world where my daughter is concerned. Even if she never changes one bit, I’ll love her just the same, just as deeply and fiercely.

I often think I’ve given her the wooden spoon that is the worst of myself. The least I can do is teach her the ways to add the spoonful of sugar that I’ve had to learn the hard way. If she can learn faster than I did – cocooned with love, not shame – then maybe I can have given her a little of the best of myself, too.

BFI / Radio Times TV Festival – The Crown & a TV writing masterclass

A few weekends ago saw my first visit to the BFI & Radio Times TV Festival – and that’s hardly a surprise, because it’s a brand new festival.

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It was, in all, a really fun day. We had only two events booked. The first was a panel / Q&A with four editors from the Radio Times – which, I admit, I’ve only bought at Christmas for years now, though I do keep a weather eye on the Facebook page / website and I have now signed up for a subscription out of curiosity – about the experience of writing about television. The other was a panel about Netflix sensation The Crown, with Suzanne Mackie, Philip Martin and the glorious Claire Foy (the last of whom I managed to walk straight past in the ladies without really registering this until  I’d swept past, gone in the cubicle and was mid-pee, at which point my brain kicked in – that’s pre-occupation for you).

Although the latter panel had the star factor and plenty to talk about in terms of both specific production (Peter Morgan’s apparent 7-season plan, how re-casting is going to work for season 3 and beyond) and general consumption (the Netflix all-in-one delivery model), it was actually in the masterclass with Alison Graham et al – and in some of the audience questions and introductions from Radio Times editor Ben Preston – that some of the really interesting themes emerged.

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In the masterclass panel it was obvious the youngest member of the panel was something of an odd one out; he was the only one who made regular set visits, as the soap opera specialist, and he was the only one who made videos or regular digital content. At one point Graham even commented that no-one knew where he was because he half-worked for the website – a snippet of insight into the print vs digital structure of the RT, and also a suggestion that digital is just… different from what was repeatedly referred to as “proper telly”. All used Twitter but, interestingly, only for work and only after the fact; two out of four grasped why people might make Twitter their second screen, but for one it was only for ‘event’ TV (talent shows etc); in this he was swiftly contradicted by the live TV specialist, who was horrified at the thought that you might look at Twitter before Strictly  was already over – what if you missed a move?

This, from a team of people who still exercise an enormous influence over the TV watching habits of a significant chunk of people, was fascinating. It’s easy to be dismissive and assume the RT‘s readers are older and might not second screen on social anyway, but I think that’s a narrow-minded assumption; plus the busy stream of digital content across social channels from the publication suggests that either they have a busily active broad demographic or they’re trying to woo one. Netflix et al do make an appearance in the listings, and if there’s anyone who understands a binge-watch it’s someone who has to review shows in advance of broadcast. Yet, more than once, those words “proper telly” – eg traditional broadcast, released weekly – came up, with the clear perspective that this was (should be?) still the approved way of consuming television. Shades, perhaps, of the paperback vs Kindle debate that never seems to quite go away.

Diversity of viewing habit wasn’t the only intriguing morsel to be winkled out of an hour of chat. A young woman of colour, who wrote for a smaller publication and raised the woes of trying to engage consistently with PRs if you have to give a negative review, also asked about diversity, and whether the panel handed off to writers with more direct experience if a programme was of a particular cultural niche. The panel awkwardly scraped for ideas of how this might work, giving examples of Welsh and Scottish programming; somehow I don’t think that’s what she was getting at.

The idea that television is something to be delivered in discrete doses certainly wasn’t unique to the panel – and even some digital-only services have sought to emulate it too (my festival pal, Alex Totaro, has written about The Good Fight as a network show in disguise). Several audience members spoke almost guiltily about binge-watching The Crown – as it if was something not quite proper and that the show’s exceptional quality made this a rare treat (the man who stayed up all night to watch all 10 episodes back to back with his wife, and who thought all television other than this and Our Friends in the North to be thoroughly inferior was a fascinating study all on his own). This might have also been impacted by Preston’s introduction to the panel, in which he detailed how he couldn’t possibly sit and watch more than a single episode at a time, since this simply didn’t allow him to savour it appropriately.

I watched The Crown in three of four episode clusters;  actually, it took me three goes at the first episode for it to grasp me, and had it been delivered in the traditional Sunday night format, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to give it the second and third goes (urged on by friends). There is still water-cooler, communal pressure to be had – and I can succumb to it with the best of them, or I’d never have got through the first three tedious episodes of The Night Manager and made it to the considerably more pacy pay-off.

I can’t very well think of a job I’d like more in the world than sitting in a room with blinds drawn and headphones on, succinctly summing up my thoughts so as to direct the viewing public in a helpful way. It is an immensely rich journalistic job to end up in – and the panel made it clear it does tend to be one you end up in rather than pursue; although, again, most of them came through a more traditional journalistic route than might the next generation who will be blogging their way through to digital-only publications, likely without first having a stint at Industrial Engineering Weekly or similar. What I’d love to see in the next BFI / RT festival is a panel that brings the print and digital teams of the RT (and, if they’re willing, other publications) together to discuss the similarities and differences of writing about TV on and offline, and for different audiences watching TV in different ways. Show us your future-proofing, RT – I’m ready to see it.

Film review: Beauty and the Beast (live action)

It doesn’t feel an overstatement to suggest that Howard Ashman was absolutely key in transforming the lumbering beast that Walt Disney Animation had started to resemble in the mid-80s into the fleet-of-foot animation royalty that dominated the 90s and heralded an era of musical hit after musical hit. He did it through the gift of song – his artistic vision and a lyricist’s pen dripping with inspiration that was at its most passionately effective in partnership with his long term creative collaborator, Disney Legend Alan Menken. The 14th of March marks the 26th anniversary of his sadly premature loss, so it seems a fitting moment to return to some of his very finest work with the company as Disney indulges in its latest project to reinvent its back catalogue into live action for fun and profit.

If Bill Condon (Twilight: Breaking Dawn 1 2, Mr Holmes) attempts to tighten up the more dated elements of the tale as old as time by developing its independent and intelligent heroine’s back story, there’s no need to lift a finger to invigorate the music: it’s aged perfectly.  The sole bum note is the Beast’s new number, a rather pedestrian lament penned by Sir Tim Rice (who also completed Ashman’s work on Aladdin) – though it’s good to see the cursed Prince get his due with a bit more character development. Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens brings a note of gruff sarcasm to his performance which is warm and welcome; he’s also provided with hints of a more complex story than simply ‘petulant child’, and this helps with what has always been a tough sell of a romance – even more challenging with live action characters and hard-working CGI and prosthetics than it is with animated protagonists.

The supporting cast is stalwart and solid; Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth is reliably…McKellian. Ewan McGregor can safely be counted on to belt out a rousing tune; his Lumiere’s Be Our Guest might lack the tongue-in-cheek suaveness of the sorely missed Jerry Orbach but taken as its own performance is still a Busby Berkeley extravaganza in which the running joke of Belle failing to actually get to eat anything remains. Audra MacDonald’s Mme Garderobe gets a fuller role and injects necessary notes of both pathos and jollity as a result of her continuing love affair with harpsichord husband Mastro Cadenza- a newly-created character and gleeful cameo from Stanley Tucci and his spectacular dentures. The challenges here are largely of realisation rather than performance; where Cogsworth and the Maestro’s household objects lend themselves to mimicking facial expressions, Lumiere’s tiny face, Mrs Potts’ flat surface and the wardrobe’s unnerving facelessness are at times slightly unnerving. While this doesn’t prevent national treasure Emma Thompson from being bumblingly charming and pretty much pulling off that crucial titular ballad, she’s one of the few characters that is preferable in her briefly-observed human form.

But what of Belle herself? Emma Watson’s is a very cool and reserved take on one of Disney’s more fearless heroines. In many ways she’s a more realistic introvert, and there are some touching moments, such as a small bubbling up of glee at being given the library to explore and in the richer relationship with the delightful Kevin Kline’s Einsteinian Maurice. Still, this interpretation leaves some of the high drama sadly lacking; for one, her Fraulein Maria hilltop moment is oddly muted. It perhaps doesn’t help that Watson is well nigh steamrollered by an absolute barnstormer of a performance from Luke Evans on full-bodied form as Gaston, rolling effortlessly from high camp to cartoonish villainy with a genuine note of unhinged violence. Where Be Our Guest and Beauty and the Beast should dominate the score, it’s actually tub-thumping tavern jig Gaston and menacing rabble-rouser Kill the Beast that lead the way as the film’s most engaging musical moments. There’s been much press coverage of Josh Gad’s Le Fou being the first obviously gay Disney character, though this is rather more disappointingly blink-and-you’ll-miss-it than advertised; still, he’s an able enough foil for his puffed-up partner in crime, even if his conflicted moments are a little lacklustre.

Condon’s Beauty and the Beast is a beauty but a funny film; just a touch too paint-by-numbers to attain the high standards set by Jon Favreau’s lavish and loveable take on The Jungle Book and certainly not about to replace the near-perfect Ashman swansong from which it took its cue. But it’s an affectionately crafted and solidly enjoyable family night out; the lights of its most stirring numbers remain undimmed and that wickedly effective Gaston is possibly even an improvement on the source material. If, being honest, it wouldn’t be included in the bookshelves of the mind where my most prized treasures rest together, I wouldn’t refuse to include it in the library.

Beauty and the Beast is on UK general release from Friday March 17th. Many thanks to @disney_uk for two press preview tickets. All opinions my own; more blog-based movie reviews here; even more film stuff on my Letterboxd profile.

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Fear of showing fear of flying

I write this sitting in the kitchen sink at 35,000 feet. I won’t be able to post it up here, but we’re four and a half hours into a flight that’s barely halfway over so there’s plenty of time to write. So by the time you read this, it will already be done and dusted.

I’m supposed to be watching The BFG but I’m struggling a little with both staying awake and fully appreciating it. I actually love some of the cinematic changes from the book – a livened up exchange with a visiting Fleshlumpeater (was it that one?) is beautifully done; the setting is simply stunning. I’m not sure it’s actually possible to find fault with Mark Rylance in anything, but the modernisation of Sophie is as hard as a snozzcumber to swallow. I mean, she’s officious and self-righteous in the book, too (Dahl was nothing if honest about the foibles of even his own family) but this feels a little like Hermione gone horrid. The corrections to the BFG’s language seem snarky and cruel rather than thoughtlessly self-assured. But we’re only 35 minutes in. I might have judged the little tyke too harshly. Watching a film on a plane is never giving it its best shot, and I’ve already rewatched – and thoroughly enjoyed, again – Captain America: Civil War. So maybe I’m feeling generally combative.

Plane journeys are pretty dull after all – even if the destination is a thoroughly exciting one. But I relish the boredom. The boredom is fantastic. The boredom is my favourite thing. Because the boredom means the crippling anxiety is over.

It’s not technically accurate to say I have a fear of flying. What I have is a fear of take-off. Approximately 2.5 minutes into the flight, I chill the hell out and then it’s plain (ahem) sailing all the way. And no, before you ask, it doesn’t come back for landing. Landing is normal. Landing is natural. Landing is what we’re meant to do. I do get horrible ear pain, but eh. We’re heading down. We’re where we’re supposed to be. There’s nothing weird about an incomprehensibly massive, heavy metal object coming to rest on the ground. Firing it up from the ground, well… this might be the only time you’ll hear me quoting Frankie Boyle, but he did make me laugh on just one occasion when he said there wasn’t anywhere on Earth he liked enough to be fired at it in a tube at 700pmh.

Luckily, there is such a place for me; many places, in fact. It’s what keeps me getting on flights because if there’s one thing I can accept less than take off it’s never visiting exciting places. Perhaps if I had endless time and money I’d go everywhere by train – my most beloved mode of transport – and sea (far less beloved due to my propensity to feel grossly nauseated, but I do love watching the waves. But I am, at this moment, heading to my happiest of happy places, Walt Disney World, and I couldn’t do it any other way that is remotely reasonable.

But the anxiety, the fear – it’s really, really, really real. It starts a few weeks out with the occasional wobble, and the last two days are a painfully blurry countdown of hours until take off, minutes until that moment when the engines go from a dull purr to a roaring throttle, when the pace suddenly picks up and the slowly trundling beast that haltingly bumbled back from the gate becomes a raging lion in full gallop after a gazelle.

(Sophie is now in a rusted car, being thrown down a hill by what appear to be gargantuan Nac Mac Feegle. I love Spielberg, but I might have to give this one up as Not For Me. Still, when it comes to films I’m no quitter, and I recognise that I am, after all, writing a blog post at the same time…)

Anyway. The anxiety.

God.

It’s so unpleasant.

For 48 hours now I’ve had a persistent constriction in my chest. I get quite panicky about heart stuff; a lifelong poor relationship with food, aversion of any exercise that isn’t a bracing stroll and witnessing a close family member suffer a heart attack in their 40s when I was a child… well, I worry about my heart health. Obviously worry is super good for heart health, and so then I start to get anxiety about what the anxiety is doing to me. As vicious circles go, this is the Wandsworth one-way system. Now that the tightness has eased, I’m free to feel a pain in my chest that is caused by the muscles in my neck – bunched up in tension by day and bad sleep by night – slowly trying to work out if they’re okay to relax or not (after all, there is a return flight).

These days, I’m honest about my fears with most of the people I know. The thing is, I don’t want it to mean I don’t get asked to travel; I recently missed out on a flight with work because I was sick, and none of the relief I felt at being spared take off was worth the annoyance I felt at being out of the loop. I will absolutely accept the flights and get on the flights and live through the tremulous wibble in my own head because I desperately want to beat this.

I am a supporter of – believer in? – hypnotherapy, having used it for birth, and I keep meaning to book some sessions in to deal with this. I wonder if some other forms of therapy could also be helpful – CBT for the thought spirals, perhaps. I mean, I need to address why I am so scared, from the fear of dying to the fear of knowing I’m dying, to the existential dread stuff about what comes after. One of my best friends has pointed out that it’s not unnatural to be perturbed about the very, well, unnaturalness of take off. The thing is, I don’t worry once everything is stable; I’ve flown through two (separate) hurricanes and been in a plane that had an emergency unscheduled stop due to a failed engine (one of two) which, once repaired, I had to get back into to fly home. Turbulence doesn’t overly bother me, even though one of my parents suffered lifelong injury after falling and being trapped in a loo when a plane they were in hit an unexpected pocket of it in a cloud, or however it is that works. How is it such a very small part of every journey can cause such disproportionate horror?

But there is one person who has no idea that I feel the slightest frisson. I never, ever mention my fears within my daughter’s earshot. While we’re trundling down the runway I’m reading (the same line fourteen times if necessary), or my eyes are shut in peaceful sleep (prayer) or I’m giving my daughter a gentle snuggle (holding on for dear life). I don’t medicate – if the odd glass of bubbly doesn’t count, and not every time – except with eating too much rubbish. After suffering through endless weeks of viruses followed by worry about the flight I have eaten in the past three weeks all the sugar I haven’t eaten in the last two years (I am actually savouring the thought of a hard reset in the New Year; realistically pancakes and waffles and ice cream – oh my! – will just be too tempting in the Sunshine State). My friend Erin gets anxiety from eating sugar; I’m not sure my attempt to treat mine with it is the wisest move I’ve ever made. But food has always been love in my house. Pretending so that my daughter is spared my agonies is the least I can do.

I travelled fearlessly as a child myself, and this continued until I was in my late teens. God willing she’ll be like her dad, gazing eagerly out of the window and savouring the speed even now he’s in his 40s, without a frisson of fear. I remember once actually reading so intently I didn’t notice the plane had risen off the ground; I just looked out and saw clouds. I must have been about 19 then, because I was reading – or trying to read – James Joyce’s Ulysses, which was my gift for winning the English Prize at school during my A Levels. I chose it out of a sense of duty and pretentiousness and after that all-encompassing attempt to work out what the hell was going on I abandoned it and leant it to my friend Beatie whom I think still has it. She’s always been madly smart and has written a fantastic book you should all read, called Petite Mort. It’s very good, and the scary part is I don’t think it’s anywhere near as good as she’s going to get, say, three novels from now. There’s Angela Carter-level talent just beginning to show. You’ll see.

(I think Sophie has just risked accidental suicide. Hmm. I properly love the rendering of the Nac Mac Giants, though.)

I think blog posts are supposed to have a story to them. This is meant to be like my word of the year piece – a neatly constructed slice of life with something at the end. A moral, a resolution, a conclusion. But I’ve been reading a lot of Shirley Jackson this past week – note: do not read Shirley Jackson to calm your spirit, that is just stupid – and I’ve been hugely enjoying the way her creepy, plotlessly unsettling stories seem to just suddenly end, with either nothing changed or everything moved slightly to the left, inexplicably. The fact is, I was scared, and now I’m not. I’ll be scared again and then I won’t be. And I’ll carry on in the cycle – and carry on hiding it from my favourite person in the world – because… well, because.

So that’s that, then.

2017 is going to need a stronger word of the year.

If you’ve read my blog before, you might know that each year I assign a word of the year to give myself direction and purpose. It gives me not so much a resolution, but more a thematic approach to the areas of my life where I feel some development is in order. Back in 2013, I needed to get myself in the mindset of Decisiveness. The following year I embraced my Creativity. I had a year of Asking in 2015, and followed it up this year with recognising and respecting Value – mine and everyone else’s.

With that kind of track record, this year’s going to need a really, really good one. Also – and I feel it’s now reached the point of being self-explanatory shorthand – 2016, you guys. 2016.

This year’s theme can be tricksy. It will need some definition. What is it?

Chance.

Let’s be clear: I’m not talking about ‘leaving things up to chance’. I think that’s the opposite of what a person like me needs; perhaps my worst self-development trait is sometimes being  nervous of making things happen and so waiting for others to offer. Which, realistically (cynically?), they won’t. That path leads only to entitlement, I think  – or at the very least a belief that everyone is able to SEE into your SOUL and magically KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. Don’t go there kids. And stay in school.

No, this Chance is chance in the sense of:

Give yourself a…

Give this new situation a…

Take a…

This chance is learning to live with uncertainty. Learning to accept the ripples in my stomach not as harbingers of a maelstrom but as currents leading to a wildly exciting white water ride. I have one or two things up my sleeve for 2017 that are massively out of my comfort zone, and for once I’m making this a reason to do them rather than an excuse not to. It’s the greatest testament I can think of to truly having recognised my own value – and with it embraced the possibility of failure. Because if you truly think you’re offering something positive to the world, then failure is a disappointment but not a devastation.

I’m proud of my accomplishments and achievements, but I recognise I could challenge myself more. By committing myself to the possibility of failure, I also give myself the best opportunity to succeed. There are dreams that are tired of being dreamed, and simply want to be lived.

And in the year ahead, I fully intend to give those dreams a chance.

 

Sending myself a get well tea-mail from Piacha…

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I’ve been sick, on and off, for a month. What started out as simply the world’s most disgusting head cold has ambled on as a strength-sapping virus-chest-infection combo. I’ve been working pretty much throughout (thank God I have an employer that is set up to support working from home) but this week the ongoing lurgy cost me a business trip. Things are… irritating. And that’s where tea comes in.

Tea. So much tea. You guys know I love tea, right? And write about my tea love. And you know that I visited Piacha in Islington and loved that too, and then Pia sent me a lovely email saying ‘hey, wanna try our tea subscription service?’ and basically this is the best possible way I can think of to deal with feeling so utterly grotty.

The way it works is that you pick a tea from the website as usual. Then you choose the subscription option instead of a one-off purchase. You’re asked to choose a delivery interval: 1, 2, 3 or 4 weeks. You set up payment. Then, on schedule, a foil sachet of tea arrives through your door. That’s it.

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Being an absolute gem, Pia let me try my first delivery free. I opted for the Shui Xian oolong I tried in our tasting as it’s a lovely rich, nutty, black oolong. There was no question I was ending the subscription there – I’ve now drunk my way through two deliveries of Shui Xian in a bid to sort out my raw throat. I then fancied a change so I have switched the most recent delivery to 40g of beautiful pine needles white tea which is incredibly delicate and fragrant. Cake is now a very occasional treat for me, but my shelf of tea canisters sees me through each day in which I’m apt to drink anything from 2 to 12 cups of teas of varying colour, flavour and caffeine content. My tea shelf is packed with gems from my favourite tea shops (and one weird Disney World Alice in Wonderland weird strawberry flavoured weird tea). Knowing I’ve got a regular delivery coming from one of my most trusted sources is not only reassuring in terms of keeping my tins topped up, but being able to switch around my options means that my tea promiscuity is well catered for – I can be getting hot and heavy with one blend while flirting unsubtly with another.

The small print, as it turns out, is as uncomplicated as the principle. Price varies per tea though all have free UK delivery (with EU and international options) – plus it’s 10% cheaper than buying one off. The cheapest by volume is £5.31 for 75g of loose leaf English Breakfast and the most expensive is £10.62 for a generous 75g bag of Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong – with most at the lower end of the scale. My current delivery is just £4.95 per sachet (albeit a 40g pack). Plus of course many loose leaf teas, including oolong, can stand up to multiple brewings. You can log in and change tea type and delivery interval, or skip deliveries, at any point. I know I’ll be away at Christmas, so have already arranged to skip the relevant deliveries.

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One tip from me: if you are going to go for it, then do make one further investment if you haven’t already – tea tins. Piacha teas come in lovely foil sealed packs which preserve freshness, but once you’ve torn a pack open, you’ll want to transfer the contents into an airtight tin to keep them smelling and tasting perfect. Should you be able to resist inhaling it all, tea can stay in decent nick in a tin for up to two years.

In a long, frustrating, exhausting month that culminated in the GP announcing “you don’t look well” before I even described the problem (me: “…”) it’s been a massive source of comfort to have black tea and dark chocolate to hand at all times. I’ve always believed in treating myself, but as tempted as I’ve desperately been to sign up to all manner of beauty boxes and nerd subscriptions, I’ve resisted it due to worries that I wouldn’t really want everything I was getting, or it wouldn’t be fair to have a regular delivery that was just for me. But tea… tea I’d definitely drink. And it’s tea I’ve chosen myself, and want to drink. And I can share it with other people! It’s useful. And delicious. And one of my favourite things in the world. Self-justification made easy, my friends.

And with that, I raise my mug to you and hope that the next time you see a post from me it will be with a clean bill of health. I can guarantee there’ll be a fresh cuppa, too.

Disclosure: The lovely Pia of Piacha kicked off my subscription with one entirely free delivery for review, but all deliveries since then have been paid for by me. All thoughts, opinions and words are my own; the pics are courtesy of Piacha.

The top three red lipsticks (that I’m thinking of right now)

I never used to wear red lipstick. Never.

To wear red lipstick was surely to court attention. To assume a certain level of confidence in one’s appearance. To take up visual space.

And then I got over myself. (Or maybe just got older). I drifted down the red lipstick railroad, making stops at some of the suburban outposts like Lipstick Queen’s Medieval and other great red lipsticks for people who are scared of red lipstick. I still like to visit these at weekends. But since then I’ve taken the plunge into central scarlet. I love a rich, matte finish, a painted pillarbox with precise edging and vibrant pigments. If it has just a touch of softness, so much the better.

Here are my current favourites – but, in the words of the Haunted Mansion’s Ghost Host, there’s always room for one more, so I’d welcome any recommendations.

  1. Besame 1941 Victory Red, $22

besame 1941.PNGA fairly new addition to the Besame family, the brighter 1941 shade supplanted even Agent Carter’s 1946 ruby Red Velvet in my affections. A slightly thicker formulation – Besame mixes are forgiving on the lips due to their softness, but messy to apply and a little prone to feathering – it wears better than the Red Velvet and is a better daytime shade, with just a hint of a sheen over a matte base. It’s quite an all-comers shade as I’ve seen it look beautiful on a variety of skin tones and with various hair colours, including my own paradoxical Mediterranean look: deeply dark brown hair with very pale skin. Taking Besame’s advice to apply, blot thoroughly, and re-apply gives it greater staying power, but you’re likely to need a couple of top-ups during the day, particularly if you’re an all-day tea-sipper like me.

The only problem with Besame is it’s very hard to come by in the UK; a very kind friend in LA sent me the Victory Red when it was released, along with a lovely special edition pin which was a launch gift, and I’ll be stocking up on Besame cosmetics when we’re in the US in a few weeks. If you have American pals near a Sephora – or the flagship store in Burbank, California – it might be quicker to beg a favour than wait for the infrequently updated European website to be stocked!

2. Illamasqua Sangers Blood Red, £19.50

illamasqua.PNGThis was a very kind birthday gift from another friend (I pick them super well, do I not?) and I absolutely love it. It’s much more matte than it appears on the website images (though full marks for showing different skin tones), and has a very thick, crayon-like texture which means you feel like you’re applying it with a trowel. It is mildly drying, but it clings on impressively – I rarely have to do much more than a quick post-meal reapplication, and it survives my habitual tea-drinking admirably. The shade is very similar to the Besame, and I have been known to mix them together to take advantage of the more silky feel of the Besame on the skin, without losing the staying power of the Illamasqua.

3. Charlotte Tilbury Matte Revolution Red Carpet Red, £23

I got a handful of CT samples when I bought a foundation and lip pencil from the shop in Covent Garden and this was among them. It is such a beautiful, classic Hollywood shade, with just a hint of softness and sheen so it’s never harsh – like combining a matte lipstick with a touch of highlighter. I immediately popped in again to ‘give it a try’ and wandered around town for the afternoon feeling like an absolute superstar. Because of the price I delayed splashing out on my own tube, but after suffering an epic cold / sinus drama over the last three weeks I needed something to cheer me up, and it had to come home with me this weekend as a post payday treat.

Because I still look bleary, I haven’t yet got a good picture of myself in it – but I’ll be sure to Instagram on both my day-to-day and style ‘grams when I do.

As ever, I hugely welcome tips. I’ve yet to find a shade of pure red I like in the NYX liquid lip ranges, but I feel they should get an honourable mention here are a favourite of mine – an absolute bargain at £5.50 each, so I have three other colours instead.

Disclaimer: None needed – the gifts were from brand-neutral IRL friends, not PRs, and I spent my own cash on NYX and CT!