Category: Life Lessons


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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‘We are made to feel poor on thirty thousand pounds a year. To feel poorly travelled if we have been to only ten other countries. To feel too old if we have a wrinkle. To feel ugly if we aren’t photshopped and filtered.’ How to Stop Time, Matt Haig.

I hate social media.

I’ve referenced it plenty of times before and, yes, I’m aware of the irony of the situation but still, I bloody hate it.

I’ve ranted about the frustrating fakery and mundanity of Facebook before, but this quote in Matt Haig’s book highlights just how awful and problematic social media can be.

The main problem is it’s just so easy to manipulate. I’m not saying everyone who uses social media lies but I’ve encountered plenty of people who will use it to paint their lives as blissful perfection, when in reality they living a normal life that rises and falls like the rest of us. It’s so transparent and incredibly annoying, particularly when you know the person well enough to understand that they’re fabricating a false life online. Then, perhaps even worse is the attention seeker. The kind of person who tags themselves at the hospital and then signs off. No explanation. Lots of messages of support and well wishes. All to cause worry and get people talking about them. You wouldn’t do it in real life. You wouldn’t walk into a room full of family and friends and say ‘Oh I’m just off down A&E’, then disappear, allow them to panic about yours safety, then rock up hours later and explain you were only driving past A&E on your way to the post office. You wouldn’t treat your loved ones like that in real life so why do it online?

I’ve been 100% facebook free for almost a year now and I don’t miss it one bit.

Twitter, to me, is a different kettle of fish. It’s less personal, I’ve found, and you’re more likely to actually learn something or reach out to someone. It still has its annoyances but it is far more bearable than FaceyB.

Then there’s Instagram. I have an account and I could happily spend hours scrolling through my feed but I’m starting to understand the dangers of that too. I was one of these people who thought ‘Oh, God. Instagram. All those gorgeous models pouting and posing. It’ll never effect me.’ Wrong. It’s not until you’re almost on the verge of tears looking at the one hundredth posing, leather-skinned, tensed and airbrushed six pack that you realise just how much it’s effecting you. We’ve all been there. ‘WHY can’t I look like that?’ ‘WHY am I stuck at home whilst he’s posing topless on a beach and being paid for it?’ ‘Why can’t I go on all the holidays he goes on?’ ‘What am I doing wrong?’ ‘I’ll never look as hot as that…..’

WHOA! Hang on there. Suddenly I’m thinking thoughts that are against everything I stand for. It slowly gets inside your mind, robs you of your self-confidence and sends you into a miserable spiral of self-loathing.

If you’re not careful.

I’ve always been very proud of how far I’ve come and growing up I wasn’t really bothered what I looked like (and there are photos of the haircuts to prove it), but my personal social media boom does seem to have an impact on my thoughts. I’m more likely to stress out about not being able to afford a holiday, or go out on adventures or not living in the city I want to live in, because my Instagram and twitter feeds are full of people living the lives I dream of. I do have a thirst to do those things but my anxiety is certainly enhanced by watching other people document their adventures online. In reality, I’ve got a lot to be grateful for and my life is pretty full. I once advised someone to not compare their life to others, because it gets you nowhere, but I’m well aware that I need to take my own advice. I’m guilty of wishing for changes in my life and I always end up pining for the life of a city-dweller or a creative type.

Social media can be an amazing thing but I understand why so many people are unplugging. Sometimes I have to switch everything off, including the TV and the lights, spark up some candles and sit quietly, reading or soaking in the bath. It’s during this time that I’m at my most relaxed. When I’m switched off from the outside world. This is when I start to think more clearly and, often, ideas for writing will creep in. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, sick of reading about misery, or bamboozled by the lives of others, unplug yourself, be grateful and remember no one is perfect.

 ‘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 spoilers river song gif

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!

It’s been a testing week at school with several big events culminating in the space of just a few days. Yes, it’s been exhausting and everybody is feeling the stretch, but I’ve started a new week armed with some interesting new knowledge.

For example, last week I learned that I am coping better with pressure. My diary was full and I jumped from job to job, day to day, with ease. In the past, the Monday morning of an action-packed week would have seen me flapping round the staff room scrutinising the briefing. But this week, I tackled each challenge calmly. So, I’m definitely getting there.

I also learned that I can speak Welsh. Surprise!  Hoorah! After an oral assessment which seemed to come completely out of the blue and with minimal preparation time, I managed to babble my way through each part of the test and, smugly, was pretty proud of my results.

Thirdly, I learned that the next few weeks are going to be tough on the heartstrings. I’m a sensitive sod and the reality that I only have 14 school days left with my class is starting to sink in. I know I’m going to struggle in the last week but I’m starting to realise that this is the nature of the job. I’m sure it gets easier. Seeing the excitement on their faces as they spent the afternoon with their new teacher stirred mixed emotions. I was excited for them, whilst faced thoughts of just how much I’ll miss them. But I also began to understand what other teachers have said – it’s a vicious cycle. At the moment you might be ‘the best teacher ever’ to them, but next year their new teacher will steal your crown and you’ve got another bunch to win round *sniff*.

Lesson four – you can get through anything with good work mates who know how to laugh.

And finally, over the weekend, I learned to take more notice of one of my favourite quotes:

‘People will forget what you said, and forget what you’ve done, but they will never forget how you made them feel.’ Maya Angelou

I’m not trying to be enigmatic and mysterious! Nothing dreadful has happened, but after a few unrelated conversations I realised just how true this is. It’s bloody hard to forget cruelty and we must always remember kindness.

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been forced to make a very difficult decision. It’s something that’s been in the back of my mind for the last year but, the time has come where I can’t ignore it anymore. It’s time to say goodbye to Pepe the Peugeot.

Pepe was my very first car, and my cousin’s before that. I’ve had him for five years now and we’ve been on many adventures together. For quite a while I knew Pepe was on his last wheels. The left door is dodgy, the rev gage is broke and I didn’t feel comfortable going too far with him in case he conked out. Last week his exhaust fell off and then he overheated due to a crack in the radiator. So, it’s safe to say Pepe is not in good health.

Last year, I was offered a chance to swap cars and, although I was tempted, the thought of not having my Peugeot was heartbreaking! I know, some might say It’s just a car, but it’s really hard to say goodbye. It felt like I was giving away a member of the family!

Your first car is always special. Pepe was my freedom. Because of him I could visit friends, stay out late and go to ASDA for chocolate whenever I wanted! I could travel to see family and help people out by giving lifts. Oh, and most importantly, he rescued me from the perils of public transport. This car was even more special because I inherited him, and I felt I owed it to my cousin to look after hm.

The last five years have been very important for me and although friends have come and gone Pepe the Peugeot has always been there. He was there when I was stuck working in a petrol station, desperate to get out and find a purpose. He was there when I started working in schools, forging a career path and meeting new people. When I was travelling around Wales during my teacher training, I was driving Pepe, and it was behind his steering wheel that I was flitting between elation, excitement and uncontrollable sobs of frustration. He’s faithfully ferried me from school to school during my year on supply, and when I moved into my first solo home, he came with me. He’s just always been there.

He may not be in the best of shape, but he can tell many stories! He’s stuck around for five tough years and, although some might think I’m a sentimental sod, I’ll always remember my first car and be genuinely upset when he’s gone. It’s been tough to accept, but his days of cruising around the north Wales coast are over.

So, it’s with a heavy heart that I’m beginning the awful task of looking for a new set of wheels and preparing to park Pepe up for the last time. *sniff*.

I used to have a bit of a fear. I didn’t like doing things on my own. I’ve got friends who would happily go to the cinema alone or eat in a restaurant by themselves but I never felt comfortable doing any of those things. I’d feel like all eyes were on me and I just the thought was enough to make me cringe.

As we get older, we do start to lose that horrible feeling of self-consciousness and realise that the world is not looking directly at us. If anything, we’re pretty invisible. Last year, I started going to the gym. At the first, it was with a friend, so any awkwardness could be laughed off, but when my friend could no longer find the time to gym, I was faced with the option of ‘go alone or stay at home’. I was tempted to jack it all in and vegetate in front of the television but the desire for a healthier lifestyle made me choose the first option. Initially, I was self-conscious but after a couple of solo visits I realised everyone else was too busy focusing on their own work-out to be scrutinising my sweat sessions. Hitting the gym became my ‘me time’, a chance to work out and spend quality time with myself.

I started to realise that I could do things on my own….

I’ve been desperate for a break away for years. I wasn’t fussed on where – abroad or closer to home – but I needed a trip away. When it became clear that going with someone wasn’t going to be possible, I decided not to wallow in self-pity at home but to bite the bullet and go solo!

So, I spent three days of the half term in London. It might not seem like a big deal to some people, the kind of people who travel alone all the time, but for me it was huge. I can be quite an anxious person, so the thought of being away from home, where so many things could go wrong, worried me for a short time after I’d booked the trip, but the possible adventures my trip could produce soon dawned on me. Being a huge theatre fan, I was determined to see a show or two whilst in the West End and I realised that I could see whatever I wanted! I didn’t have to compromise with anyone because this was my trip! I made all the decisions. So, on my first night I saw Les Miserables, a show I’d wanted to see for a years, and I was not disappointed. On the second night I saw David Tennant in Don Juan in Soho which was hilarious and extremely topical. Not once did I feel odd for being a solo audience member. In my time in London, I visited all the places I’d always wanted to see. I went to see Van Gogh’s painting in the National Gallery, spent a few hours in the British Museum, had a coffee at the Theatre Café and shopped in Covent Garden. I literally did not stop walking (just ask my poor feet!). I didn’t have to consult with anyone because each decision was my own to make – and it was very liberating!

So, if you’re the kind of person who would turn down the chance to do something great because it would mean doing it alone, take the plunge and be brave. This half term break has been the best for a long time because I didn’t let anything restrict my fun – I grabbed it and made the most of it! Not only did I have an awesome time but I learnt a bit about myself.  Travelling solo reminded me that I have strength, I can be brave and I can relax, and I can be comfortable in my own company. So my advice: Do it for yourself, go solo and enjoy!

In my classroom, the word ‘No’ is used a lot. Never in an unkind way, but regularly throughout the day will I find myself saying ‘No I can’t do that for you.’ Alright, when a child is making an awful mess of gluing work into their books or tidying the role play in the way I don’t like, it’s bloody hard not to interject, But then I use the ‘no’ on myself to remind me that they need to learn.

In year one, it’s very easy to take over. It’s easy to do everything for the children. They do need more support than the juniors, obviously, but it’s so important to find the right balance between helping and hindering. It might sound cruel, but they need to learn to do things for themselves.

It’s a sad fact that the world we live in is not fair and not kind. Whilst I aim to make the time in my classroom a happy one, I don’t hide from the children the fact that things don’t always go the way we want them. I think some people might be guilty of over-protecting children from that fact.

For example, a friend of mine works in a school and is in charge of the football team. When choosing a squad for a match, he was faced with a backlash of complaints from parents of the children who didn’t make it. This made his job impossible. How was he going to please everyone? There more children wanting to play than there were spaces on the team. He couldn’t please everyone, so he chose the players who would work best in the team. Parents complained that their child hadn’t made it and took their anger out the teacher, who was only really doing his job. It’s sad that not everyone could get on the team, but it’s an unavoidable fact. Here is what should have happened – the opportunity should have been taken to explain to that unlucky child that although they didn’t make the team this time, there would always be other times, and if they continued to try hard, they’d get their chance.

When I was younger, I was part of a theatre group and there were occasions when I didn’t get the role I wanted. But I got over it. I told myself that next time might be different and I got on with it. I always ended up enjoying the part I was given. I needed to be told ‘No’ to learn and develop a stronger resistance to disappointment. My parents didn’t know I was disappointed and certainly didn’t march down to the theatre to have it out with the director…..and I’m bloody glad they didn’t!

When applying for post-grad courses at university I was rejected twice and had to spend a further two years in a part-time job that I despised. At the time it was the end of the world for me but as time ticked by I stopped seeing it as a failure and more of a learning curve. I worked harder on future applications, clocked up a lot of voluntary experience and did my research. I’ve achieved that goal now, and it might have taken me a bit longer than I planned, but I believe I’m better off for the setbacks. I appreciate my position more because I know just how hard it was to get here! I could have thrown a tantrum and given up. But I didn’t.

The children in my class know that the world is not perfect but they’re still very happy children. I think one of the kindest things you can do for a child is armour them with steely determination and resilience to disappointment. Not through cruelty, but by allowing them to grow, be independent and foster a realists view of the world.

It’s Saturday. The high point of the week. The bottom of the countdown. I’ve been out to visit my family, as I do most Saturdays, and I’ve come back to the flat to carry out the traditional Saturday clean. I start in the kitchen and work my way through until every room is spotless. I feel like I can’t enjoy my weekend unless I’ve carried out this weekly routine. I check my phone at regular intervals. Snapchat, Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter. (No Facebook. I’ve mentioned before how I hate Facebook. In my opinion, it transforms friendships into cyber-friendships, and before long you’ve forgotten what this person looks like because you only ever communicate via memes of cats.)

On this particular Saturday, I’m feeling very perky. I’ve got my iPod plugged in and I’m belting out some classics as I scrub, because I am in a very good mood. Last night, I did something new. Something totally out of character that has recharged my batteries. Last night, I went out. Alone. OK, I didn’t go to a club or a bar, but I called in at my local theatre. I became a member late last year and have dropped in two or three times, so I vaguely know a handful of people.  On Friday they were having a bit of a get together so I got dressed up and strutted on over. It was awesome. Nothing major to report, but I was out, interacting with other people, face to face. Talking to people. And it felt good!

Don’t feel sorry for me. Put those tiny violins away, my friends. I’m pretty sure I’m just experiencing something a lot of people my age go through. The majority of my friends have moved away, got married, had kids, settled down etc. and I just…well…haven’t. No one is to blame. It’s just one of those things.

Anyway, I came back from the theatre on Friday with a great big smile across my face because I’d broken the routine. The monotony. I’d gone out!

Don’t think I sit alone in the flat every weekend. It’s not like that. I’ll occasionally go out with my wonderful work friends or visit the theatre with some old school mates, but most of my weekends follow the same template. There’s no spontaneity anymore. I never get a random text inviting me round and neither does my doorbell ring unexpectedly. That’s what I miss.

As a child, I remember how exciting it was to see the familiar car of a friend or relative who just thought they’d drop in for a cup of tea. That never happens anymore! I’m not just talking about in my own life but it seems to be a dying act. If anyone is going to visit you, you know about it, sometimes days, in advance. Is technology to blame? Has text messaging led to the death of spontaneous visits? Now I understand this isn’t for everyone. I would love it if someone thought to call in on me by surprise but I know my Dad hates having visitors, never mind unexpected ones! But it’s another arrow in my war against social media. Does it stop spontaneous visits? Even my grandparents tell me to call them before I visit to check they’re home (which I quietly refuse to do. If they’re not in when I rock up, I’m not bothered because I decided to visit them.)

It all boils down to my continuing argument – Does social media actually make us less social? Have we lost the art of being social?  Has the convenience of technology made socialising…well….inconvenient? And are we too caught up in creating false lives online that we forget to live real ones? When I was growing up I always imagined my life being a bit like ‘Friends’. People would drop in whenever, help themselves to my fridge contents and there’d always be someone around to have a coffee with. Now, I know that’s not really a realistic expectation, (and on reflection I’m not really sure I want you poking around in my fridge, thank you very much!) but it just shows how times have changed. Would Ross and Rachel be together if they met in 2017? This cynical sod says no, because they’d be too busy counting their Instagram likes to notice each other!

Anyway, here I am. Saturday. Hoovering the hallway, sink full of bleach water. Living room smelling like polish and incense. And then a sad realisation washes over me. Every Saturday I emulate my parents. When I was young, Saturday was the cleaning day. The house would be cleaned from top to bottom just in case anyone was to pop over. Twenty years later, I’m doing that in my own place.  Only, times have changed, and the doorbell doesn’t ring.

Bloody technology!