Late breakfast conversation

Ok, so this is off-topic. Apologies to those of you who have been anticipating the first Back to Books With You entry; I was patiently awaiting my return to the Sandman series, the second volume of which happily appeared through the piles of bath salts and chocolate yesterday. So you can expect those posts next. For now, given the wealth of feeling that ekes out at this time of year, I thought it might be nice to meditate a while on what makes Christmas stand out for me.

Granted, you have the obvious – spiced nuts, a piece of meat (or nut roast) bigger than your head, gleefully frivolous TV, the awkward present-opening ritual where everyone waits, watches and claps. But I decided to do things a little differently this year.

My immediate family are quite relaxed on the whole. We all have our tempers, but we all place a high level of importance on allowing ourselves time to do exactly as we please, individually. This may have taxed somewhat on our family dynamic; we are rather spread out with my parents being divorced and my dad now remarried with a new little one on the way in March, my brother in his old house and my mum in yet another. My grandma, the other member that I feel belongs in our immediate circle, is in another place again, on her own, in Cradley Heath. Regardless, we seem to all understand each other perfectly when we do meet up, like old school friends that we don’t necessarily call regularly, but when we do, we pick up where we left off.

We used to celebrate Christmas in a very traditional way; our family bundled into a car and drove up to the grandparents’ house, we all played with the puzzles from the toy drawer and my brother and I tried desperately to watch some normal TV while everyone else talked about something grown-up. Sprouts were always present and always ignored. Washing up was a fresh argument every year. (“I’ll do it,” “NO, I’LL DO IT.”) Since my grandad died and my parents divorced, about eleven years ago now, it’s been a bit different. It’s been a struggle to please everyone. This time, being rather in need of a rest, I announced that I was going to please myself. And the idea was, I suppose not surprisingly, well understood. Staying in my own house in York with just my boyfriend, I made time only for exactly what I wanted to do, eat, watch, listen to, whom I wanted to see. I was not going to travel or go outside my comfort zone. Effort would be a crime.

This time is what makes my Christmas. A full rest. Time to actually notice that bit of mould on the windowsill. To go for a walk and take in views that you don’t every day. To stroke the cat under the chin. Time to get bored. To realise that nothing is urgent. You are in control of your own life, its pacing, and you can reprioritise whenever you want to. If you don’t want to wash up that cup right now, it will wait till tomorrow. Today is surplus, it doesn’t count, nothing you do in it matters.

On Christmas Day, I am grateful that no one cares where I am or what I am doing, not even me.

Friendly Decisions

Stuck with my internal monologue clamouring for my attention, as usual, one night recently I realised something about the choices we make. It was an odd night; I had just been on a performing weekend away from home, with my housemate whom I hadn’t really seen to talk to properly for a good while before then. We had a hard time returning to our giggly private wavelength after working apart for so long, and actually spent most of the recent past bickering. Not that that’s uncomfortable territory to us, but it was decidedly less jovial than the norm.

Going through the necessary post-battle catch-up chat that inevitably always leads to bigger picture discussion in a generous gesture of late-night passionate, amateur philosophising, the monologue was watching her mouth move as we talked about things that were now completely off-topic, irrelevant to how we had been behaving and feeling, of course proffered in peace, suggesting that actually, behind the battle that must have been blind confusion, we had true time for each other – making time for the irrelvant seems to be a massive action in our lives these days. I can’t remember the last time we decided to allow ourselves to play computer games and not talk about work. It is only a decision, after all.

The monologue was watching her talk in that post- period, the frustration-exhausted thankfulness going through the motions of chattering out that stressed energy, and it said, “You care what she thinks. That’s why you’re still here. That’s why you’ve argued. You would have walked away otherwise.” And that was such a comforting reminder – that the reason this had been a long, bumpy process was that we were each being so careful and so thorough, not wanting to let go of either our own principles or each other’s. Wanting to acknowledge every passing thought and experience it fully, talk it out fully. And all the little comments along the way had been known as the cads that they were. We had been getting on with this situation in the best way possible – letting it exist but not consume.

It is so easy to dismiss the things or people that provide us with something important, when you feel for a moment that they are not providing it. You can get defensive and choose to forget all the other times that they have had your back, have seconded you, laughed with you, in the first instance that they don’t. But everyone else is just as complex as I am, and as wanting, as ambitious, as proud. Or, at least, I have to allow them to be. We could all do with flexing our independent personalities every now and then.

What is it that you hold onto most stubbornly? What friendly decisions have you made?

Money-controversial

We all have our little taboos. Mine, at the moment, is money.

I keep finding myself regressing to my nine-year-old wish that I had come from a wealthy family. It’s not just to do with the RP accent that I hanker after, because my mum speaks very eloquently despite coming from a low-income household, and anyway I could well have picked that up from her if I was so desperate to belong to the same associations. It’s not to do with wanting more and better Barbies, even though my re-sealable plastic bag full of grubby hand-me-downs was decidedly lacking as far as role models and playmates go.  But money opens doors. More and more in my own ventures as a developing independent artist, I hear that another success story in my industry actually had a fair helping hand. And that is not to say that they don’t work hard for their rewards; often the most bloody-minded workers and the most stringent savers are those same people who started out with an advantage. But it is continuously disheartening to realise that the vast majority of the big names in the arts, young and old, local and national treasures, had such a headstart – or backup, depending how you want to think about it. ‘Anyone who’s anyone…’ is becoming more and more relevant to me; it seems all the notable actors or directors went to Central, or another prestigious drama school. “As long as it costs at least £14,000 a year, mama…”

I don’t just want to speak more clearly and articulately, with better diction and vocabulary; I want to experience that feeling of assured assertiveness, that confidence that you can stand your ground because you have support behind you in a form that transcends the braun of the opposition. Money gets you a lot of things, and I my appetite for those things is splaying in a larger wave perhaps than ever before.  It gets you experiences, connections, as well as all the survival basics, it allows you time to achieve and settle into the bigger things – a more interesting or convenient job, a more initially expensive but long-term-efficient house. You are self-sufficient. You don’t need to worry about the government, I imagine, except that you have a more authoritative say on what they do with all that tax money. The country is at your disposal, and not vice versa. There is still a very present class divide and I am yearning to be on the other side of it. Kings and queens are living in our midst and it is killing me to be around them, harbouring this greater and greater sense of unworthiness. What dignity, what comfort comes in being able to walk the world with that sense of security, the knowledge of going home to a well-bred dog and well-mannered siblings, the awareness of one’s rights and what you should and should not put up with. What one can query, and change. The feeling of contribution, of rightful place, or importance and welcome. Of belonging, especially on Radio 4.

Rumour has it that Oxford University, for all its justifying qualities, places rather higher demands than are commonly known on its applicants. Forgetting the geniuses-only capacity and the inherent dress code, successful first-stagers are not told when their interview will be, but simply expected to be in Oxford and make themselves available at a phonecall’s notice.

I am but a ponderous urchin...

I may be speaking controversially in favour of an element of capitalism that our nation has so long steered away from, if only in terms, but I am in unrequited love with money. Call me pretentious, but a large part of me would still happily forsake other dreams in order to marry some fop named something like Prince William, and expect our visitors from the lower echelons of society to enter the room and be struck by the resemblance to the second series of Green Wing.

And to clear my name should I be speaking ignorantly on my chosen topic, I refer you to Puck’s closing speech of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Think it but a certain kind of brainwash that calls for your fixing.

“If you pardon, we will mend.”