Category: Discussions


I’m conscious not to make these posts all about me. I know that that is sort of the point of some blog posts but I do try to steer the content away from myself whenever I can. Trouble is, I am all I know at the moment, so it makes it quite difficult, particularly when I’m in need of a good vent. Blogging is cathartic. Yesterday, I read something that was such a blatant massaging of the writer’s ego that it made me audibly shudder and make noises I was even embarrassed to make in an empty flat. I really hope this blog is never seen as self-indulgent, because that’s not my intention, but for the time being you’ll have to put up with the ramblings about half-written stories, experimental classroom content and rants about EastEnders until my life takes a more adventurous turn.

Anyway, last week was half term. A chance for a much needed recharging of the batteries before it’s full throttle into killer Christmas season (which, of course, I secretly love). By the end of half term my mind was typically racing and I was crawling towards that Friday finish. The problem with this job (and, I’m sure, many other jobs) is that you can never drop the ball. It’s impossible to switch off. I’ve spoken to teachers who say that feeling of unrest doesn’t leave you until well into retirement. You’re constantly feeling like you need to be doing something and the guilt that follows a duvet day is unreal. It’s one thing I’ve struggled with, as I appear to have lost the ability to relax. I was always a bit tightly strung but since starting the PGCE, it’s just been impossible to chill. Even on a Spanish beach, drink in one hand, book in the other, I had to take frequent breaks to go for a walk, check my emails or just do something! It’s relentless. And dangerous. Because, along with every other member of staff and the children, I was ready for a break.

Now for someone who enjoys being active, it’s not necessarily a bad thing (at the moment, but I’m sure in a few years’ time I’ll feel very different). I’m so precious about the time I have ‘off’ that I’ve started making a list of all the things I want to achieve over the holiday (that’s right. I’m setting myself targets. Welcome to the system.) On the list last week was; a blog post, work on a new story, edit an old story and another little project which I’m not going to talk about yet, but have been meaning to do for a long time. All little jobs that I’m sure mean nothing to anyone else but they’re important to me because, as I’ve said before, I’m finding it hard to express myself at this stage in my life, so I wanted to take advantage of the break from work to explore my ideas.

Guess what. Very little of it happened.

It’s frustrating because I know I am to blame. I make the choice. But a contributing factor is the many online distractions. I’ve ranted about the online world before and I don’t want to run at it with a pitchfork because, obviously, it provides a lot of support for people, including myself. It’s bloody hardwork though, when you’ve got an idea, but you can’t quite pin it down because your phone is buzzing, or an email comes through, or you find yourself scrolling through Instagram without even remembering opening the app. I’ve heard interviews about the online world being an addictive space and I believe that is true. I can’t help opening up these apps in the hope that something will interest me or that someone has got in touch, when 9 times out of 10 those things don’t happen. So instead it’s just a big waste of time.  Time where I could have been writing.

I worry that it’s not just my written work that is suffering. I’m craving a book that I can be absorbed into. A world where I can just sink in and forget the real world. I’m a constant reader but, even with something I’m so passionate about, I’ll gladly interrupt my reading to reply to a whatsapp or a snapchat or check my twitter. I hold stories so highly yet I’ll stop to check my phone. What the hell is that all about?

At times I feel like I’m losing the ability to connect. I’ll choose the saddest film, because I want to feel sad. Just to know I’ve felt something. But lately, I’ll find I’m bored after ten minutes and reading old whatsapp messages. I’m desperate for a new TV series that will absorb me and distract me from my smartphone, but after watching introductory episodes of lots of programmes, I just can’t get into anything. I long for the days when I was obsessed with Doctor Who, Torchwood, Lost…..this was about ten years ago when I didn’t have the access to the internet that I have today. I used to just sit and binge and enjoy and feel. I worry that I can’t do that anymore. Nowadays I’m checking Twitter during ad breaks of American Horror Story to see how everyone else feels about the episode. Who cares?

A safe retreat from all this is the theatre. The theatre is different. That is a space where I can immerse myself and I can connect. And, what a coincidence – phones are not permitted.

I’ve heard of people going unplugged and I think there’s a lot to be said for it. It’s a brave thing to do in this era where we’re so dependent on technology but I’m sure it would be good for the mind and the soul. I long for a quiet space, physically or mentally, where I can just sit and think and write and flow, but I’m struggling to see where that would fit into my life at the moment. My goal for next year is to figure it out, express myself and find the time to be unplugged.

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Things are taking a suitably nightmarish turn in ChezG, just in time for Halloween. Like everyone, I’ve experienced the disorientating cold-sweat of a bad dream on many occasions. Sleep paralysis has trapped me beneath my duvet several times too. But over the last few weeks, I’m finding myself regularly trying to shake off a nightmare, and spending the following day in a sleep deprived mind-fog.

It happened again last night. Having lay awake for a few hours I drifted off at about 2.30am but by 3 o’clock I was jolted awake by a racing heart, soaked forehead and thoughts of ‘YOU WILL NEVER SLEEP AGAIN’ drumming in my ears.

It’s hideous.

I’ve got two recurring nightmares that stalk me in my sleep quite often. The first is that my teeth have fallen out (I’ve been told that this is an indicator that I’m either going to come into money or that I’m pregnant. No further evidence for either yet). I’m sure this is a pretty standard nightmare but it always sends me rushing into the bathroom to frantically check my gums. The second is that I’m back in the part-time job that accompanied my Uni days. I’m trapped behind the till, forced to face the mundanity of scowling customers and scanning milk. The incessant call of the petrol pumps. The constantly broken lottery machine. I’m forced to relive a time when my only entertainment for eight hours was a never ending production line of ill manners, reduced pasties and body odour. *shudders*. I know it’s hardly the stuff of a Stephen King novel but I will always remember it as my personal hell.

The recurring nightmares are bad enough but I’ve built up enough a resistance to shake them off after a few minutes of feeling very sorry for myself. But this recent barrage of horror stories created by my own mind, is proving a little more difficult to get over. I’ve had allsorts over the last few weeks – from the death of family members to spooky intruders in the flat – but, sometimes, it not so much the content of the dream but my body’s response to it. That sicky feeling, where you’re not sure what is real and what isn’t, is horrible and impossible to identify in those jolting first few moments after a dream, making it very hard to talk any sense into yourself. Last week I actually woke up shouting, which is alarming in itself when you’re ripped out of sleep by the sound of your own voice. A few times, like last night, I’ve had such an adrenaline rush that I’ve just been totally unable to get back off to sleep, which, although it’s frustrating, I can cope with during holidays but during term time, I panic I’ll be tired for school and then can’t recover the next day because I’m in work. It just ramps up into a vicious anxiety circle. I’ve spent several days over the last few weeks feeling emotional and exhausted because, like anyone, I really bloody value my sleep!

So what is causing it? I’ll admit my bedtime reading hasn’t been the most pleasant recently.  I’ve had American Psycho, Carrie and some very graphic Torchwood novels in the last few weeks but I’ve always been able to cope with anything I read before. I’ll often leave the TV to send me to sleep but it’s always with a light comedy (typically French and Saunders) or a Disney film. I’ve even taken solace in Desert Island Discs! I’ve found the internet is the worst pre-bed activity, because whether it’s twitter or Instagram or BBC news, whatever I read seems to buzz around my brain for the rest of the night. It’s a horrible feeling that I just can’t come down from. A theory from a friend is that heat can trigger nightmares, which is tricky as hot water bottle season is in full swing. I suppose it could be a combination of things. Either way, I’m spending Halloween Eve exhausted, looking hideous and dreading going to bed. Great.

It’s that time of the term again. Just a few days left and we’re all slogging away with the last of our energy, dragging ourselves towards Friday (and I include the children in this. We’re all exhausted.). With the end of term being typically hectic, it’s been hard to pin down any kind of thoughts to blog about. However, there is one thing I’ve been thinking about over the last week or so.

Beliefs. What we believe in is important to us. For a lot of people it gets them through their day. Some have more beliefs than others. Some think it causes a lot of problems. Regardless, what we believe in is an important human trait.

In education, we’re expected to be a whitewashed, stripped down version of ourselves. We’re not allowed to appear to have any kind of life outside the classroom at risk of appearing ‘unprofessional’. In most other aspects, this makes me cross, as I think sharing our true selves is part of being a role model of diversity and reality for young children. However, when it comes to religion, I think there’s a thin line we need to tread.

It’s important for us to get the balance right. It’s OK for us to talk about religion, after all it has been around for a very long time and will continue to be around long after any of us have shuffled off, but to impose a view on others is definite no-no. We wouldn’t do it to an adult, so to push a religious view point on a child is to take advantage of their impressionable position.

My Grandad always says ‘Never talk about religion or politics’ and as I’ve grown up I’ve realised this is excellent advice (unfortunately, a couple of times, I’ve learned this the hard way). It’s a road that can easily lead to trouble. Whether we’re the teacher or the parent, we should be opening doors for children, not closing them. Our role is to present the world with an open mind and allow the child to make their choice. We must only educate. There should come a time when each child should be allowed to explore their own thoughts.

Religion can be a fantastic gateway into exploring other cultures and whether you’re Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim, Agnostic…whatever, it’s a subject that should be respected and used to educate.  I know lots of people who are agnostic but wouldn’t dream of pushing those opinions on the children. I know some people with strong religious beliefs who wouldn’t do so either. I know some people who are less likely to follow that road. There are even more people whose religion I don’t even know because….I don’t need to! It’s a personal choice that doesn’t necessarily need to be worn on a sleeve.

This might seem like a strange stream of consciousness but the position we’re in, as adults, and the way it can effect children, for better and worse, has crossed my mind a lot this week. It’s a powerful position and one that should never be abused.

Image result for halloween craftWe’ve got a bit of a dilemma in Blwyddyn Un at the moment. Our topic is ‘Celebrations’ and at the start of the term I asked the children what kind of things we celebrate. We had the usuals – Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Weddings etc….

But then came the word we’d been dreading: Halloween. I managed to brush the suggestion off but it kept creeping up.

‘In the craft area, I’d like you to draw something to do with a celebration that we can put on display, please,’ I announced the following week, expecting an influx of birthday cakes and Christmas trees. One boy drew a spider. Another a pumpkin. Another child drew a ghost! ‘What’s this?’ I asked with annoying faux-ignorance. ‘For Halloween!’ they all chirped excitedly. ‘Oh, great,’ was my reply through a very forced smile.

See, personally, I don’t have a problem with Halloween. I love it. And I’m all for any celebration that breaks up the monotony of everyday life. I’m not a horror kind of person but in October I just want to watch American Horror Story, eat lots of chocolate (OK, that’s a constant urge) and dress as a vampire. It just comes naturally this time of year. But, professionally, I’m stuck.

When I first started working in schools I was surprised that the H-word had become so taboo. I’ve got a lot of fun memories of Halloween as a child and a teenager (well, from about 14 onwards. Before that I was actually scared of Halloween, much to my mother’s embarrassment, but I realise I was a minority). I get that the roots of Halloween have connotations to paganism and I’m not saying we should making any sacrificial offerings or anything, but I believe Halloween is a different celebration to what it used to be centuries ago. It’s part of our culture now, whether we like it or not. It’s something that we do. And if it’s true that Halloween stems from Celtic festivals, then shouldn’t we, as descendants of Welsh Celts, be using it as a point of education?

The most obvious change is that it’s now commercialised. Children are unaware of its original meanings and enjoy Halloween just because it’s a bit of fun! We all like a good scare to get the adrenaline going and on these winter nights there’s nothing better than curling up with some sweets and Hocus Pocus. It’s become bigger, even since I was a child. Chances are they’ll be trick or treating with their parents so why should we pretend like it doesn’t exist and ban it from the classroom? I’m not saying we spend weeks preparing for it, like we would Christmas, but I don’t see why we can’t treat it like Bonfire Night and have a couple of Halloween-themed numeracy or literacy sessions. We could base some work on Funnybones or Winnie the Witch. We could design a costume. We could be developing our fine and gross motor skills by pumpkin carving! Oh my goodness, think of the scope for craft activities! Further up the school we could touch on the historical links, more so to the Welsh and Celtic side of things. We’re encouraged to bring the children’s interests into our teaching so it seems ridiculous to just ignore Halloween. I understand it would have to be watered down to suit the age group but, come on, it’s just a bit of hocus pocus! Children learn most when they’re interested and having fun, and I think Halloween ticks both those boxes.

 ‘It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to talk about what’s wrong. It’s OK to play with girls if you like them, to dress like girls if you want to, to like the colour pink if you like it, [..] to not be all that bothered about football if you’re not all that bothered about football.’

‘How Not to Be a Boy’, Robert Webb.

We’ve all read special books that really mean a lot to us. I’ve got a shelf full, but How Not To Be A Boy felt very personal for me. In my review last week I discussed the messages Webb shared and some of the shocking anecdotes he recalled, but I was wary of including too much of my own personal experiences in a review of a book that was written by somebody else. So I’ve saved them for this week (you lucky things).

I know it’s not my parents or my family who were to blame, this isn’t a dig at them, and I’m not saying that the past has traumatised me beyond repair, but the rules of the patriarchy and society that Webb discussed definitely loomed over my childhood.

For me a big issue growing up was ‘football’. I just didn’t get it. It wasn’t that I hated it (although I have grown to hate the sound of football due to a) Too much exposure of football crowds chanting tunelessly on the TV as a child and b) Now living within ear shot of a football ground.  Why can’t they sing something with words rather than sounds? Songs that I know. ABBA, for instance.) Football just never interested me. Being a fan, my Dad was, I’m sure, disappointed at first but he’s accepted it, after a lot of perseverance. As I grew up, I knew that it was weird that I didn’t like football. After all I am male and all males have to like football, right? I began to notice that people found it hard to talk to me after I dropped the ‘I don’t like football’ bomb. We’d go to parties at the local club or get visits from extended family members and every conversation seemed to go like this.

‘And what team do you support lad?’

‘Oh, I don’t like football.’

‘Ahh…..’*quizzical look*

END OF CONVERSATION.

There were rare instances where, following ‘the look’, I’d get ‘So….do you like any other sports? Rugby? Cricket?’ To which I’d fail to redeem myself by saying ‘No’ or when I was feeling particularly brave ‘No but I do like to read.’ It was just totally incomprehensible that I was a boy who wasn’t involved in sports. I started to get sensitive to it and, knowing I was odd, anxious about the conversation which I knew would come. In a lame attempt to tackle it I started to answer with ‘Liverpool’ in the hope it would shut them up.

Of course, as you get older, you realise that you’re not as odd as you thought and there is nothing wrong with being a boy who is not interested in football, but it was such a big deal for me as a child that I remember being elated if I heard a celebrity on TV admitting that football doesn’t interest him or met another anti-football freak like me. Last year, an ex-family member said, whilst I was in the room, ‘Imagine having a son who didn’t like football. You’d be devastated wouldn’t you?’ This is the kind of message I seemed to be confronted with regularly, that I’d failed as a boy because I didn’t like football. Of course, as an adult I was able to shrug off his comments and stick two fingers up behind the idiot’s back, but a comment like that during my childhood would have really upset me.

So I was already failing the stereotype via my choices of hobby, but ‘the rules’ really started to affect me when I started school (Note: this was probably the only time I was ever seen as a rule breaker during my childhood). I don’t know how it happened but I ended up having a circle of friends who were all female. Perhaps I didn’t prove myself to be included as ‘one of the boys’ or perhaps I just thought ‘God, I’d rather be sitting over there with the girls than having competitions about who can wee the highest up the urinal with the boys.’ Perhaps I took part in said competition, failed, and was therefore excluded from anything ‘Boy’ for the next ten years. I don’t know. I just preferred to stick with the girls. ‘Oh, he’s a ladies man’ teachers would tease. ‘Oh he’s gay’, older boys would decide.

I didn’t want to be a girl or dress like them. Apart from a bit of an obsession with the pink power ranger, I wasn’t overly fussed about the colour pink. To me, I just had a bunch of friends. I couldn’t understand why it was an issue for a lot of people. The way I was spoken to, it was almost like I was letting myself down by hanging round with girls. Like I was showing a weakness by associating with them, because they were lesser beings than men (which is obviously totally incorrect). The fact they were girls never bothered me, until people started telling me very bluntly that I should be bothered. I remember in the last few weeks in year six, one boy in my class gave me a bit of a thumping in order to prepare myself for secondary school, where, in his opinion, I was going to get regular thumpings because of who my friends were. Great. It’s always good to have something to look forward to, isn’t it?

And so, like Webb, the ‘Sovereign Importance of Early Homophobia’ came into play. It seemed that because my friends where girls this made me more susceptible to becoming gay and in my town that is a big no-no. Throughout high school the same message haunted me – Do Not Be Gay. Whether it was someone in my family tutting when a gay character was on the TV or one of my English teachers reacting like I’d asked for it when a bunch of nasty girls humiliated me during class. It might have been listening to my Mum use some mildly offensive term to ‘joke’ with my brother or it could have been the time someone close to me gave me a very serious talking to because my gay friend had signed off a message on my Facebook wall with a kiss and, to them, it ‘looked really, really bad.’ The message was loud and clear. Some people decided for me and took it upon themselves to spread the news. All assumed from the company I kept.

I met my then-Best Friend in secondary school and she was a very vibrant and resilient girl. It never crossed my mind that I shouldn’t be friends with her because of her sex, I just thought she was really cool and I admired her confidence! But, by choosing another female friend, I’d inadvertently chosen five years of people telling me I was wrong, without even knowing me properly. I wouldn’t say I was bullied any more than the next person but I did have a label, which I could never shake. I was the boy who had girl friends (never to be confused with girlfriends. That didn’t start until well into my teens and the plural was never necessary). Whether it was a friend putting in a sneaky comment or an older boy humiliating me in front of the whole class just to get a few laughs, there seemed to be something every day. I’d never change it because I believe that my best friend was a better friend to me than any of the boys at my school would have been. We had a lot of common interests and we used to laugh so much! And there were others. I had a whole bunch of friends, most of whom were female, and I don’t regret meeting any one of them. But it’s a shame that my school life was tainted by the most humiliating and hurtful actions just because I chose to be friends with someone of the opposite sex. That decision seemed to put me into a category – I was a boy who chose female company so I must be weak. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone that the females I befriended were probably more bolshie, stubborn and tough than most of the year 11 boys put together. But they were also the funniest and most supportive people I could wish to be around.

Secondary school was tough for other reasons.  It was a time of unrest in my home life and I needed someone to confide in, a service which was gladly provided by all of my female friends. Had they been boys, it may have been a different story, because society doesn’t take kindly to boys who listen or care.

As for talking about my feelings, I’ve been fortunate to have plenty of people to confide in over the years, should I need to, but the pressure of ‘manning up’ has certainly been there. I had to be strong, solely because I was a man. During a particularly grim period a number of years ago, I confided in a doctor about feeling constantly on-edge and miserable (at the time, dismissive of the ideas that I might be anxious or depressed, because I’d been conditioned to think of those illnesses as weaknesses. I now know that the strongest person can suffer these conditions). The first doctor told me to buck up and fix my feelings ‘the British way’. The second one told me to find a good woman. I’m thankful that, after many dark months of feeling awful and constantly on the verge of tears, I was able to manage my feelings in my own way, but to someone less fortunate than me, that advice from a professional could have been very dangerous. Webb’s book highlighted just how dangerous the pressures society puts on men to bottle up their emotions can be and it’s terrifying to think so many suffer in silence.

So in 2017, I finally got the advice I needed twenty years ago. It might have come too late, but as I grew up I taught myself that ‘normal’ didn’t exist, that I shouldn’t be ashamed of who I was and that the problem lay in the way my life was viewed by others, not with myself. It would have been great to have been given this advice when I was younger, and I’m sure in a way it was hinted at by some people, but I can’t regret anything because it’s made me who I am. That’s sort of why I shared it (or a slice of it. I have enough material for many, many blog posts).  Yes, it’s been a bit of self-indulgent therapy for me, but I hope that if the teenage me is out there reading this they’ll realise that they don’t need to be ashamed, or feel like the odd one out because it’s absolutely OK to be themselves. You might feel like a failure at the moment, but in time you’ll realise you’re only failing a stereotype, and that can only be a good thing.

Image result for How not to be a boy In the last year I’ve been lucky enough to experience two works of art that have really ‘spoken to me’, having never really understood the phrase before. The first was the touring production of Rent in October 2016 (after which I spent several weeks sobbing). The second was How Not to Be A Boy by Robert Webb.

I knew from pre-publicity that this book would be right up my street, and I was correct. Not only was the main thread relatable, but How Not To Be A Boy is beautifully and passionately written by Webb. I absorbed this book. It was actually ‘unputdownable’.

How Not To Be A Boy is Webb’s memoir with a focus on the pressures he encountered to conform to society’s ideas of masculinity. Webb writes honestly about his upbringing and childhood, and with hindsight is able to identify some of the dangerous messages he was given which effected his adult life. It begins with his closeness to his mother and difficult relationship with his father, and ends with his modern day struggles to steer away from following his father’s path.

Webb’s discussions on gender go beyond the ‘blue for a boy and pink for a girl’ debate, and he relives insightful anecdotes, (some warm, some hilarious, some tragic), in a way that had me unable to resist the urge to fling my hands in the air and shout ‘Amen!’.

Webb talks about the patriarchy, and how the rules and gender stereotypes created by society are damaging to both women and men. A striking moment is when he talks about how ‘clever’ boys and girls are viewed by society. He notes how when labelled ‘clever’, girls have to respond with how hard they’ve worked for it, whilst boys are expected to shrug it off, as if it all came naturally. If you’re a boy who does well at school, excuses have to be found for this ridiculous behaviour, and often you’re labelled with having no common sense. ‘He’s a clever lad, no common sense though.’ (How many times did I hear that growing up?)

A common thread throughout  is of males suppressing their emotions. One of the most heart-breaking parts of the book comes at the mid-point, where Webb tells of the loss of his mother. Webb writes about his grief and suffering so eloquently that it’s frustrating to comprehend why we are constantly told to ‘man up’ and hide our true feelings. We’ve all had experiences with this, to various degrees, and it’s important that Webb highlights the problem in his book. With almost three quarters of suicide victims in the UK being male, it’s of vital importance that we breakdown the ‘man up’ culture and talk about our problems, as Webb does in university. The patriarchy strikes again by enforcing a false notion that only females open up and talk about their feelings. What a dangerous message. Webb talks candidly, and admirably, of his battles with suicidal thoughts and his subsequent therapy sessions, in a way that may give hope to many.

How Not To Be A Boy also brings to light just how old fashioned words such as ‘masculinity’ and ‘femininity’ are. As Webb explains, all they do is conjure up archaic stereotypes which, in 2017, are unnecessary. He describes masculinity as a repressive process which needs to be recovered from and explains how the term only really means ‘not being a woman’. Why not a woman? Women are strong, brave, loving, thoughtful, sensible, loyal, trustworthy and millions other admirable adjectives so….why do we have to avoid being like that? Why do we need these words?

The restrictions that we live under should be blindingly obvious, but Webb unmasks these hideous stereotypes with flair and style, adding his own thoughts, warm humour, and prompting many outbursts of ‘YES!’  from this reader. In an era where people are angry at clothes shop for removing labels, and the walls of gender stereotyping are being slowly eroded, How Not To Be A Boy is essential reading and a book I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

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I’ve always been partial to a good surprise. I was one of those children who secretly hoped for a surprise party or who would hint heavily to his friends that his birthday is just around the corner and wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone in his class sang to him? (Note: Rest assured, I’ve grown out of that.) I love surprising people too. I like to see their faces when I give them a meaningful gift or organise a treat for them. I’m a big fan of surprises – they break the monotony.

A few Christmases ago, my mum decided to tell me weeks before the big day that she had bought an iPad for me and I went ballistic. I was totally grateful for the cracking gift but I was furious that she spoilt it! Part of the joy of Christmas is the excitement and build up and she had casually demolished the mystery! Ooof! I was annoyed….

So, it’s probably not a surprise that I am totally anti-spoiler when it comes to TV. I don’t watch much TV, so the shows that I do watch mean a lot to me. And it means a lot to me that those programmes aren’t spoiled. I present to you, Case Study One: EastEnders.

Sometimes, particularly in these upcoming cold, dreary winter days, the thought of getting home, putting on my pyjamas and watching EastEnders (and thinking ‘Well, at least my life isn’t that bad…’) is all that makes the day bearable. I haven’t missed an episode for about three years. I know it’s a sad fact, but nevertheless, it is true. This week was a big week for EastEnders, with plenty of shocks and surprises promised. There was a lot of hype and, I admit, I was a bit excited. So you can imagine my disappointment when all the shocks and surprises were announced before transmission. I spent the whole week sighing and tutting as another storyline unfolded in the predictable or previously announced way. It shouldn’t have been boring, but it was. (OK, there were a lot of things wrong with last week’s episodes, but I maintain the stance that if everything had been kept secret I would have enjoyed the episodes a lot more.) Why do shows feel the need to leak everything beforehand? Alright, there is an argument that I shouldn’t go looking for spoilers, but we’re in an age now where even logging onto Twitter or Instagram can ruin a show for you – I didn’t have to look far. In the last few years, under the previous Executive Producer, some of the best storylines were transmitted by surprise. Look at the 30th Anniversary episode – they brought back Kathy. Iconic and memorable and a total shock. So, EastEnders, stop spoiling things for your fans! You CANNOT hype up a mystery ‘major character death’ and then, days later, announce an actor is leaving and not expect us to put two and two together. We’re not stupid.

On the topic of Twitter, I was getting increasingly agitated by the constant stream of spoilers in my news feed for Game of Thrones (which also happens to be Case Study two, for those of you keeping score of that). I understand people want to talk about it when they’ve watched it but what I don’t get is the need to spoil it for everyone. You don’t need to tweet (in detail) about it. You certainly don’t need to record clips from episodes into a snapchat story!! (I actually had to block someone for this – What kind of monster does something like that?!). Digital Spy also seem intent on spoiling it for others by revealing spoilers in their article titles or, even worse, writing a vaguely mysterious title about a possible death in the episode then spoiling it with a picture of the dead character in question! Stop! I will read your article but let me watch the bloody episode first!

There was a time when, keen for more information on plots and such, I would have gone looking for spoilers online but I have since discovered the art of watching spoiler-free. The 50th Anniversary of Doctor Who taught me this can be a very rewarding experience. I enjoyed the episode so much more because I didn’t know what was coming and I was able to immerse myself properly. The same goes for the last season of American Horror Story. Despite each episode airing in the USA days before the UK, I was able to avoid spoilers and it made the season for me. I was totally obsessed with the show and it made me want to tune in each week. If I’d known what was happening, I’d have just been tuning in out of habit or to prove my findings correct, which isn’t quite the same experience.

My earliest memory of spoiler-rage is set in the school canteen. (This could be Case Study three, but to be honest, I’ve sort of lost track of that). I was (and still am) a huge Harry Potter fan and I used to buy each new book the day it was released, then spend as many hours as possible reading. I’d take the books everywhere – I’d read in the car, in the bath, in school during lunch time, and during 90% of the time I spent at home. I’d invested so much time in these stories and I really cared about what was happening. So, imagine my absolute (hormonally-assisted) meltdown when a girl in the dinner queue casually told everyone that Sirius dies in the fifth book. I was just pages away from the heart-breaking moment, and to hear it being announced (so proudly, by someone who hadn’t even read the sodding book) sent me into a rage! If she thought it was a good idea, she was gravely mistaken. ‘Oh! Thank you! Thank you very much for revealing that bit of information and saving me the trouble of finishing the book I’ve spent the last 48 hours reading during every waking moment. Phew! For a minute I thought I was going to have to enjoy it!’

Urgh. It still makes me cross. I can hold a grudge.

I don’t understand this necessity to prevent people from enjoying something you have had the privilege of enjoying. If you have watched something awesome, why would you want to spoil it for someone else? The guy who streamed Game of Thrones over his snapchat story – what was he benefitting from that? EastEnders weren’t benefitting anything from their pre-publicity reveals. If they’d have kept some mystery people might have watched to find out the answers.

So there are no positives to spoilers. The clue is in the name. It spoils everything. So stop it. Stop it right now!

A few weeks ago I was in Cardiff visiting one of my closest friends. We met in college eleven years ago and, despite her moving to Cardiff in 2009, we’ve remained bestest buds. When we she first moved down we used to write to each other a lot. To a stranger, untrained in our ridiculous comedy, the letters would read like some sort of cry for help, but to us they were hilarious. We used to send each other all sorts of stupid stuff, writing letters as characters and sometimes creating over the top, ridiculous stories to entertain each other. On my recent visit, we were talking about these letters and how it had been a few years since we sent our last. I’d taken down a particularly long and bizarre ‘book’ that she had written for one of my birthdays and it had provoked plenty of hilarity.

‘Where did we get our ideas from? I couldn’t think of anything like this now….’, she sighed flicking through the pages of Christmas carols she had adapted with rude and absurd new meanings.

It’s a worrying thought that has also crossed my mind. Up until a few years ago I was constantly writing.  Whether it was short stories, bits of screenplay, notes of ideas, or bonkers letters to friends. There was a point where I was constantly typing in ideas into my phone or scribbling on the back of my hand. I often used to leave my evening job with my pockets stuffed full of till roll which I had covered with ideas during the laboriously dull shifts. I was bursting with ideas.

The last time I really sat down to write (and complete!) anything was in February, when I wrote a full script for the Performing Arts concert in school. Before that, I hadn’t written anything since the September following my PGCE, when I went a bit mad with freedom and channelled all my pent up creative energy into a short story. That was about two years ago now. Before that, I hadn’t written anything worth talking about for a long time.

So, when discussing this sudden halt in creativity, our first morbid thought was ‘It must come with age’. Now that we have reached the sickeningly disgusting age of 27, and hover on the brink of *gulp* 30, it seemed obvious that that creative vein from our late teens had just sort of slowed. But age can’t be to blame, really can it? People don’t just stop being creative once they reach their late twenties! It doesn’t happen!

So, what is it? We both have quite demanding jobs and, as I’ve said lots of times before, I do sometimes feel this horrible sense of creative restriction since I started my PGCE (3 years ago this week!). I don’t perform anymore and I don’t really have the time to write, which has resulted in me feeling quite frustrated that I’m not able to express myself like I used to. My friend’s job is similar – she works long hours and by the time she comes home all she wants to do is switch off.  On the rare weekend, where I’ll feel so frustrated that I’ll force myself to just sit and write, what comes out is re-tellings or twists of real life events. Things that have happened to me or my friends. My writing now is more grounded to real-life – totally different to Reset, which I started writing in 2009, that I created a whole new world for.

Maybe it’s not ‘work’ so much, just ‘life’. We’ve got all these horrid responsibilities now that we didn’t have as teenagers and it seems that life is just clogging up our heads. In the last year or so I’m finding myself getting increasingly forgetful. Whether it’s names or memories or highly important jobs I need to do – I always had a very good memory but I’m noticing a steady increase in my ‘scatty moments’. A few weeks ago I totally forgot the word for ‘flannel’, so how can I expect my mind to focus on creating a story?

Perhaps creativity is like a muscle. My life has seen big changes in the last couple of years and it’s meant that I’ve had to give up performing and not had much time to write. Maybe the problem is that I’ve neglected to stretch that muscle that was so strong just a few years ago, which makes it tricky for me to carry out any kind of lengthy writing session now. When I think about it, my ‘creative peak’ was at a time when I was writing daily and that time itself has come off the back of my time in education. At GCSE level, story writing was part of the exam so I had plenty of opportunity to practise (‘write a short story about friendship’ *shudders*). At A level I wasn’t so much writing but devising stories and improvs as part of a Drama and Theatre Studies course, which also involved writing analytical essays about how I would creatively stage productions. Then, finally, at degree level I chose a Creative Writing module which resulted in Reset being written. It’s important to remember that during that time in university I was constantly required to read all kinds of literature, so perhaps immersing myself in other people’s writing is another way to inspire my creativity.

It’s a sad fact, one that at times is difficult to accept, but my life now requires me to focus on things other than writing and performing. Once my ideas might have blossomed and flourished but now, my exhausted brain just tends to let them fester for a bit and then crumble away. But, determined to end on a positive, I’m going to make a promise to myself: to try to find the time to be creative. Whether it’s late-night writing, surrounding myself with inspiration novels, or spending time with fellow theatricals. That’s my promise….and I’m making it just as I’m going back to school!

Somehow the BBC documentary No More Boys and Girls managed to evade me but after a couple of prompts from people who know my interests, I managed to catch it this morning. And I’m so glad I did.

Using a focus group of year 3 pupils in Lanesend Primary School, Dr Javed Abdelmoneim uses a series of strategies to investigate how gender boundaries affect children.

Most disturbing is the opinions girls have of their own gender. The children saw men as strong and powerful whilst women were weak and emotional. According to the children, men could have ‘harder jobs’ – such as authority roles, like policemen or captain – whilst all women seemed destined to be hairdressers. One of the most memorable parts of the programme saw the children draw their own ideas of a mechanic, magician, make up artist and dancer. All of the children associated male characters to the first two professions and female characters to the second two. Of course, their preconceptions were changed when Dr Javed introduced a real mechanic, magician, make-up artist and dancer with opposite genders to the children’s ideas. The girls were in awe of the female mechanic whilst the boys enjoyed a tutorial from a male make-up artist specialising in SFX make-up. It was amazing to see the children understand that ‘anyone can have a chance to do what they like’.

The amount of times the children referred to males as ‘strong and successful’ was shocking, especially as they saw females as the total opposite. It’s sad to think young girls are starting their lives thinking so little of themselves. To show the children that biologically they were all as strong as each other, Dr Javed set up a fairground style strength tester. It was powerful to see one girl cry with ‘happy tears’ after she exceeded her expectations and one boy have a meltdown because he didn’t reach the highest score. It’s important to remember these children weren’t born with these ideas. As adults, we have programmed them to think that boys are stronger than girls. On supply, I’ve visited schools where boys were chosen to move the PE equipment because the teacher needed someone with ‘big muscles’ to help. I’ve seen girls left out of using gym equipment in high school, banished to the dark corners of the sports hall to do some aerobics instead. Is it any wonder the children breakdown when they realise these stereotypes aren’t true?

I’ve talked about my own experiences in school a lot, but it’s still shocking to think that happened just over ten years ago. Split PE sessions with ‘gender appropriate’ activities seems like such an old-fashioned idea but it was happening ten years ago! Although I may have been the victim of a bad careers advisor (and unenthused parents), I remember being told to choose another career path other than one in the theatre. It was heavily hinted at that the theatre was a world for women and, although I would have been happy to be involved in any way (actor, stage-hand, technician…anything!), I was persuaded to keep that dirty secret part of my social life, not my career. What struck me was just how excited the boys were to meet male role models from creative industries, from areas that are usually perceived as ‘female’, and vice versa for the girls. Why should they be denied the chance of following that route just because of the restrictions adults have put on gender? As teachers it’s our job to encourage and nurture each child. Breaking down ridiculous stereotypes and opening those doors to career paths should be part of that.

(As a little side note, I was at a course a few months ago where we were discussing curriculum topics. We were advised to think carefully to ensure the topic we choose inspired all learners and not to ‘choose fairy tales because the boys won’t be interested, or dinosaurs, because we need to keep the girls on board too.’ Well, in my opinion it shouldn’t be a case of choosing the right topic, it should be a matter of delivering the topic in a way that inspires all children. In January our class topic will be dinosaurs and I can already think of many girls who that will appeal to. I had lots of boys last year who loved learning about Little Red Riding Hood. The topic title shouldn’t matter, it’s the activities that draw them in.)

Having a quick scout on Twitter I can see that No More Boys and Girls has come under fire from a lot disgruntled people calling for an end to ‘gender neutral nonsense’. The Piers Morgans of the world are mistaking the programme for encouraging children to choose their gender, when that is not the case. The whole point of No More Boys and Girls is to break down stereotypes that are damaging our children’s view on the World and of themselves. Anyone who is happy for girls to believe they are the weaker sex and live a life feeling second-best, and for boys to live under the impression they must be strong and successful, then break down when they inevitably ‘fail’, needs to seriously consider their beliefs. It’s about raising a generation of confident individuals who aren’t afraid to embrace failures, and who can aspire to be whoever they want to.

Breaking down these boundaries is about nurturing confidence and self-belief, and it starts in the classroom and at home.

Right, it occurred to me that this year I have seen a lorra lorra theatre and, ridiculously, have only written about a few shows. So to catch up, this week I’m giving you four fast reviews for the productions I missed, but really did deserve to be talked about…..

Wonderland, Venue Cymru, LlandudnoImage result for Wonderland the musical

I’ll start with Wonderland because it’s got a bit of a tragic story.  I saw this in Llandudno in June and it was spectacular. Wonderland is the familiar story of Alice given a modern twist. Alice is a 40-something divorcee with a teenage daughter who enters Wonderland via a dodgy lift in her apartment block. She doesn’t take the trip alone as she’s joined by daughter Ellie and awkward love-interest Jack. Whilst in Wonderland they’re encouraged to go through the looking glass, a magical archway that exposes the other side of their personalities (cue Alice becoming stern and sensible and Jack transforming into a confident charmer.)

Wonderland boasted many memorably songs, particularly ‘Through the Looking Glass’ and ‘Finding Wonderland’, sung with passion and energy by a very talented cast. Rachael Wooding was a powerhouse as Alice, revealing Alice’s faults and insecurities poignantly. Bree Smith gave a cracking performance as the sassy Queen of Hearts, slaying with her performance of ‘Off with their heads’. Ben Kerr and Francesca Lara Gordon were also brilliant as the March Hare and Mad Hatter, giving us refreshing twists on the classic characters. The set pieces were gorgeous, fully immersing into the crazy world of Wonderland where anything is possible. Most striking was the way the famous tale of  Alice was re-worked into a modern setting, giving the characters (particularly Alice) a bit more depth along the way. Wonderland was a work of art and must-see, modern musical.

However, just a couple of weeks after seeing Wonderland, the tour was cancelled due to problems behind the scenes. There’s plenty of speculation online, but, whatever the reason, it’s a great shame that the hard work, commitment and talent of the cast and crew will go unseen.

Les Miserables, Queen’s Theatre, London

Image result for les miserablesThis was a bucket-list show that lived up to all of my expectations, and beyond. The star of the show is its musical score and I was not disappointed to hear Claude-Michel Schönberg’s music played by a live orchestra. ‘At the end of day’ saw the full cast launch into action with breath-taking harmonies whilst ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ gave the audience goosebumps you could strike a match on. Simon Gleeson was made for the role of Jean Valjean, whist Hollie O’Donoghue was perfect as Eponine, giving a beautiful performance of ‘On My Own’. Katy Secombe and David Langham stole every scene as the dastardly Thenardiers, providing much needed comedy amongst all the tragedy! The revolving set works really well, seamlessly taking the story across France and through the ages. The battle sequence in the second act is particularly stunning, with tense performances (and gun fire!) keeping the audience well on the edge of their seats. At one point it took all my will not to cover my eyes. The deaths during this battle scene are especially heart breaking (no spoilers), and many gasps were heard as the barricade revolved to reveal the true carnage. Les Miserables remains packed with emotion throughout and it ends in spectacular fashion with the beautiful finale. There’s no question as to why this show has been around for so long. It’s a must-see and a show that I’m sure I’ll revisit.

Don Juan in Soho, Wyndham’s Theatre, LondonImage result for don juan in soho

Sex, drugs and David Tennant – what’s not to love? Though, admittedly, the main pull to this production was, initially, that is starred a certain former Time Lord, I was pleasantly surprised to find a sparkling script and stellar performances waiting for me at Wyndham’s Theatre. Updated to 2017 and relocated to Soho, Don Juan tells the story of a privileged, hedonistic party-goer as he sleeps his way around London, picking up plenty of hookers and cocaine along the way. David Tennant was, of course, fantastic as the titular bastard, unleashing his inner-Russel Brand and being fantastically horrid to every other character, including his loyal aid, Stan, played excellently by Adrian Scarborough. The relationship between Stan and DJ is surprisingly endearing, though Stan, on the edge of a breakdown, is desperate for DJ to pay him so he can retire, he can’t help but stay by DJ’s side. Don Juan in Soho is strikingly contemporary, with references to the ‘strong and stable’ government we find ourselves trapped under today as well as several witty remarks about American politics. DJ deliciously berates the world we live in, stating social media, fake news and lying politicians as factors of a crumbling society in one passionately performed monologue that had the audience on the verge of shouting ‘Amen!’. DJ tries to explain to Stan that life is all about pleasure – shamelessly seducing the chavtastic Lottie (a brilliant comic performance from Dominique Moore) in a hospital whilst simultaneously trying it on with grieving bride Mattie in one ridiculously outrageous scene. Don Juan in Soho was theatre at its best as it forced the audience to think before they left their seats. It was engaging from the first moment, topical and surreal, and definitely one of the best plays I’ve ever seen.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Venue Cymru, Llandudno

Image result for the curious incident of the dog in the night-timeA really touching story told in a refreshing, and visually brilliant, way. Christopher finds his neighbour’s dog has been killed and takes it upon himself to solve the mystery. His mission sees him uncover a family secret, which in turn takes him to the terrifying world of Central London. Scott Reid was phenomenal as Christopher, giving a truly powerful performance, particularly as Christopher’s condition begins to take control. The modern and tech-heavy set pieces drew us in to the story using clever effects (a green box giving the effect of a football match on TV, a remote control train bringing London to life before our eyes) to add an extra fizz to the already sparkling performances. Surprisingly, Christopher has uncovered the culprit by the interval, leaving the second act to explore the secrets of Christopher’s family and the effects his ‘behavioural problems’ have on his loved ones. Anyone who doesn’t feel prickly-eyed throughout Act 2 is incapable of emotion. The emotional energy of the performances is sometimes borderline unbearable, and the sequences in London are also quite overwhelming, as we experiences flashing lights, loud noises and almost nightmarish scenes, we’re forced to view the world from Christopher’s point of view. This is a play that will stay with you long after you’ve left the theatre.