Tag Archive: discussions


‘Why?’

One question, asked flippantly, when I revealed, through gasps of discomfort, I’d spent my Friday morning forcing myself through a tough gym session. It’s not everyone’s idea of fun, and to be honest, it wasn’t mine either until earlier this year and on occasions I’m still not 100% sure it is now. Once I’d moved to live across the road from a 24 hour gym, I felt compelled to join. Enough was enough. In my eyes, I no longer had an excuse to not go.

I’ve always been quite slim and in reasonably good shape. (I have shy abs. They are there somewhere, I promise, they just rarely make an appearance) and after starting with gentle work outs, I quickly began pushing myself to do better and better each time, even if it meant spending a few days unable to sit down without groaning or picking up a glass without wincing ‘Oh Jesus Christ!’. The whole gym lifestyle does appeal to me. I’m competitive and constantly seeking self-improvement, I enjoy the healthier option on the menu and I love that feeling after any kind of hard work. My 24 hour gym allows me to fit in a quick work out after school or late at night (when no one is around to judge). So, generally, gyming suits me.

However, on Friday, I did things a little differently. After having my arm twisted by a friend to make a morning visit, I cringed my way through a gruelling workout. I had a feeling my friend was a gym professional but, having not seen him in a vest before, you can imagine my self-esteem plummeting like a dumb bell when a muscly Adonis emerged from the changing room.I knew I was in trouble.  Those who know me know I’m a stubborn sod. Not a quitter. (Sometimes, like this case, it’s a character flaw). I kept chipper and enthusiastic despite feeling like my insides were about to fall out of my mouth and my arms had been stretched to double their natural length. Post-workout I felt great – a bit wobbly in the arms but the usual adrenaline was there.

24 hours later, everything aches. Just raising my mug of tea to my lips is forcing me to make noises which are bordering on post-coital. I’m covered in so much Deep Heat, my fumes could lift a hot air balloon and I’m popping Ibuprofen like tic tacs. When I told my auntie that I’d been to the gym she asked ‘Why?’ and, for the first time, I asked myself the same question. Why am I putting my body through this? Why am I pushing myself to feel this pain?

I’ve come up with a mixture of reasons. OK, I’ll admit, I do sort of feel inadequate and even more so when I’m in the gym surrounded by the brothers of Hercules. I’ve always been happy in my own skin but I have said that I’d like to be just a little bit more toned and in shape. I don’t want to look like an over-stuffed, leathery old sofa, I just want to be able to out-run a murder, should I ever need to. It’s ten percent ‘looks’, ninety percent ‘feeling better’.

The pressure to look good is everywhere and I think it effects men just as much as women. I’d quite like to drown Mark Wright in a vat of Okyos yoghurt every time I see his tanned pecs on my television. I’m sure I’m not the only bloke to think ‘God, I wish I looked like that.’ So many TV shows and movies rely on their aesthetically beautiful stars stripping off. Alright, some of it is entertaining and I promise I’m not going all Daily Mail here, but viewed at the wrong moment it can leave me feeling a little inadequate. And that’s from a 26 year old, who has enough self-confidence to shrug it off and not be too bothered. What effect is this having on teenagers, who are already freaking out about changes and appearance? (I’ll leave that there….there’s another blog there!)

When I first started gyming I reminded myself that this was for me and that I would only do what I was comfortable with and what was possible to do within one week. I’d challenge myself, but realistically. I was never going to strut in and start pumping iron, gazing lustily into the mirror as I do, like many of the gym-goers I see.  It was also supposed to be something enjoyable and this pain is not fun. (Note: First person to say ‘No Pain, No Gain’ will be strangled. Once I regain control of my arms.)

So in answer to the question ‘Why bother with the gym?’, this aching blogger does it for a few reasons, but mostly for himself. I want to feel and look good (in that order). Yes, tighter abs and bigger arms would be lovely, but I needed to remind myself that this was only ever to strengthen my health and mind-set. Anyone else’s routine is irrelevant and pushing myself to agony is not going to help. I think, once you’ve found that level that suits you and you’re happy and comfortable, that’s when you’re winning at gyming.

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The Summer holidays. A few weeks ago, I regarded the upcoming break as the holy grail. Paradise. Six weeks of fun. Sunshine and happiness. Non-stop laughter.

Now, at the start of week four, I can honestly say it’s been dreadful. Dreary, uneventful and, on a couple of occasions, leaving me longing to go back to work. I know, there is no pleasing me.

Yesterday, the sun was shining and I was feeling miserable so I took myself off on a little trip. I packed a rucksack – book, bottle of water, some blueberries and a Bounty…you know, the essentials – and went for a walk around my town. It’s not a famously beautiful town, and it has many faults, but it’s my home town and it was great to have the chance to walk around without the pressure of having to be anywhere. I passed shoppers, families, Pokémon trainers, drunk people (yes, it was 11am) and a lot of people who were less fortunate than myself. Unfortunately, there’s been a significant rise in homeless people in my hometown over the past year or so. On a walk around the town you can easily pass four or five people sleeping in doorways of empty shops. Yesterday, I began thinking about these people and how terrible their nights are going to become over the next few months, as winter kicks in. We’ve many empty buildings in our town centre and it seems so cruel that none of these can be opened up to provide some shelter…..but that’s another blog post. I considered myself lucky for the roof over my head and the food in my fridge.

I carried on walking, right up to a heritage centre on the outskirts of town. I ended up traipsing through a wood and following the river. I’m quite vocal about my love for Wales.  It’s incredible that such a tranquil spot is just a ten minute walk from the middle of town. I was grateful for having such beauty on my doorstep.

Of course, I couldn’t stop my mind from wandering onto work (it’s the nature of the job, right?) and I started to think about September.  In four weeks, I’ll be in my new classroom with my first batch of year ones. I thought about the activities that I’ve already planned and started to get excited about all the things we’ll get up to (trying to be positive – my strategy is to counter every thought of sheer panic by thinking about something I’m looking forward to.) I thanked whoever was watching for my job, the opportunities I’ve been given and took a short moment to feel proud of everything I’ve done in the last three years.

Then, after a cheery stop at the cemetery, I thought about my family, and found myself thanking whoever, as I do every day, that I still have everyone around me. I’m a very lucky.

Then, I wandered over to a park just a stone’s throw away from my apartment and sat in the park and read my book. I know that once September hits, free time is going to become a very rare thing, so I was thankful to be able to take time out and do something I enjoy.

I finished the afternoon by visiting a friend. It’s not been easy over the last few months, as we’ve all been busy with work and….well….life. I was grateful that, even though I might not see them as often as I’d like, we slip into comfortable conversation so easy. It’s never awkward.

So, no matter how rubbish things get, it’s important to take a minute to be thankful for what you’ve got. There’s always a positive and it’s easy to get bogged down in negatives. We’re often very quick to forget what we have got and tend to focus on what we haven’t.

It’s good for the soul to take stock.

 

I’ve got a phobia.

Now, it’s not Whales or lifts or peas or anything like that. (I am genuinely wary of those things but this fear is far more serious. I class this as another level of terrifying.)

It’s not something I really thought about until I was a teenager. Then it slowly started creeping in and over the last couple of years I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it. The resulting thoughts have given me nightmares, pushed me to the verge of panic and had me questioning my every action.

I’ve got a phobia of turning into my mother.

Well, sort of. It’s a fear of turning into either of my parents, but many would agree I am more like my Mum than my Dad (*shudders as he types*). We’ve had a turbulent relationship. I won’t air the details publicly but I left home when I was eighteen and I vowed never to go back. Eight years on, we’re still in touch, thankfully the relationship wasn’t damaged completely, but it’s not your average mum-son set up. I would never want to upset her, but she bloody winds me up at times! (as I’m sure, I do to her). It didn’t bother me as a teen but as I’ve grown up it is something that hurts me, as I start to realise just how important that mother figure is in adulthood as it is in childhood. At 26, I still find myself in situations where I just want a mum. Thankfully, I have plenty of surrogates.

My mum has many positive attributes – she can be very thoughtful and funny and, when I was ill a few weeks ago, she came to my flat and cleaned! But, as I’m sure she’ll agree, she can also be very difficult. I find myself querying whether or not it’s inevitable. Will I one day realise I have morphed into one of the people who created me? Will we share adjectives? Will people think of me as they do her? Will I behave as she does? The thought of turning into either of my parents, is not very appealing. I want to be Me.

I’ve got a friend who has expressed similar concerns. His mother was not very kind to him as a child and he ended up leaving, just as I did. He’s still in touch with his mother, but communication is very rare, and he often finds himself avoiding her just to maintain a quiet life. His mother is a trouble-maker. She is notorious throughout the family for causing upset, chaos and drama. She appears friendly and fun to those on the outside, but she is far from kind to those who are close to her. She talks down to her elderly parents and makes very little time for them. On the rare occasion my friend visits, she sits texting on her phone or reading through facebook, barely acknowledging him. At Christmas, my friend was the only one of her children to visit her, and she spent a lot of time in a funk that she wasn’t out partying with her friends but was instead begrudgingly sitting through a meal with one of her sons – a ‘waste of time’ if the others weren’t there! She made many comments about not needing family and being happier on her own. This has left my friend feeling pretty low and he can’t help feel that pang of envy when he sees other people doing things with their families. He longs for a good relationship with his mother – to be able to share things with her, ask for her advice and take her for meals to spoil her – but he knows that is not going to happen because the relationship is too badly damaged. His mother is just not that kind of mum and that sometimes leaves him feeling like an outsider, especially on occasions like Mother’s Day.

Me and my friend were talking recently and the fear became very real. The thought of turning into that person fills his blood with ice. To be regarded as his mother is would be too much to bear and he worries that he might struggle to resist his genetic destiny. He worries that over the years he will push people away and become the lonely person his mother has become. He worries that, without knowing, he will begin to treat people as she does.

Many times I’ve opened my mouth and my mother comes out. I remember the time I laughed and my Grandad told me I sounded just like her.  I remember the time I delivered a sarcastic comment to my brother and clasped my hand over my mouth in horror, because that is just what Mum would say. Are these just things we have picked up from being around these people or are their traits infused in our blood? Is it genetics or environmental?

My answer is…I don’t know, but I suppose I need to accept that, naturally, I am going to pick up my parents’ traits. Good and bad. I might be very thoughtful, but I might also become obsessed with whinging about the weather (it WILL be cold in the Winter! Why complain?!). I might be very jolly around my friends, but I might also be grumpy and unsociable at times. I hope that I can take on board their positives and pick out the good from those around me. To tell the truth, I don’t spend much time with my parents now that I live alone, and I’m far more likely to see my Godmother, or the caretaker at school who wants to adopt me. Is it possible that I can become like them? Bubbly, fun and full of kindness? Can I magpie traits from others as well as my parents? I don’t see why not.

I think my main worry is that I will take so much from my parents that I won’t end up being Me.  I’ll be a mash-up of Mr and Mrs H. I hope that, in years to come, when I’m no longer here, I can be remembered for being a product of the goodness of both of them. But, most importantly, be remembered for being Me.

Short post this week as I’m on a roll and determined to spend as much time as possible on the five year project!

So, in the last couple of weeks major developments have happened. The first episode is almost complete. Which, considering this has been five years coming, is a major step for me! I had a bit of an inspiration burst over Easter and began changing my plans for the pilot. One thing led to another and here I am, close to a full first draft of ep. 1. I’m so excited!

I decided to give my planning the ‘Reset treatment’. Whilst I was writing Reset, I stuck a huge piece of paper to the wall and covered it in post-its – each representing a chapter – which details key points in the plot. I was able to mix these around and throw some away and add new ones as well as get an overall view of where my story is going. It also served as a constant reminder (because it was huge!) that I needed to be working. So, when I sat down at my laptop I realised I needed some visual prompts. I took a piece of paper and sketched out an episode map which showed each characters journey throughout the eight episodes. Having this in front of me has been a great help.

Another planning device I used with Reset was to create a scrapbook of images – whether that be actors who would play characters, key props or pictures of potential settings. So over Easter I created the Big Red File. I split the file into sections, one for each main or recurring character. Each section starts with a collage of images of actors who could play that character, then on the reverse I have the random facts page. The random facts page is a working document which I plan on adding to as I go along. This page has the character’s key information (e.g., full name, DOB, family, etc) as well as any other facts (Such as stories from their childhood or guilty pleasures). The big red file is going to be my bible.

Something which I also found handy when I wrote After Caitlyn was to create a playlist of songs. I’ve not reached that stage yet, but I have jotted down a few songs which could feature.

Getting creative with my planning has definitely spurred the project on and rejuvenated my enthusiasm. It’s like looking at the story with a fresh pair of eyes. I can see what works and what doesn’t, and I’m able to make tweaks and changes, which leaves me very excited! I’d be interested to hear of any other techniques writers use to immerse themselves into their stories and develop their writing.

In the meantime, I’m pressing on with Ep. 1 and my next step is to give it a proper name, as five year project is getting a bit naff.

This week it was announced that viewing a live theatrical production will no longer be a requirement of some GCSE Drama courses as of September.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to read that I think that’s rubbish.

How can students be expected to value and appreciate the magic of the theatre without ever stepping inside one? I go to the theatre regularly and the pre-show buzz and atmosphere is just as exciting as the performance. It’s all part of the experience.

Exam boards have said teachers may opt to show students recordings of productions instead but, in my view, that is no substitute for the real thing. Yes, recording of works released by companies such as National Theatre Live are an excellent resource for our schools, but students still need to be given the chance to witness a live performance.

When I was studying Drama at A Level, our class adored those theatre trips.  Those visits gave us invaluable insights into the workings of the theatre as well as broadening the content of our viewing. We’d sometimes organise trips between us but that would always be to see a musical, so we missed out plays. The trips organised by our tutors were always plays by the best authors and companies. Our tutors introduced us to incredible work that we might not have chosen to see ourselves. I remember seeing The Overwhelming by Out of Joint theatre company. It was such an intense piece of theatre that I still think about it today. If my tutors hadn’t organised that trip, then I wouldn’t had that opportunity. (It also featured Andrew Garfield – Spiderman!)

Those trips also gave us an excellent chance to bond as a group. We were preforming together regularly so it was important that we all got along and doing something that we all loved gave us the opportunity to get to know each other. So it benefitted us socially too!

Most importantly, watching a live production enables the craft to be modelled for the students.  They need to see the control of an actor in character, the energy of an ensemble and, most of all, the hard work that goes into a production! Recordings can deliver a shade of the emotional impact of a play but, in my opinion, nothing beats sitting in a theatre and immersing yourself into a world.

If exam boards want to cut the live viewing then surely this move is akin to training teachers without putting them in the classroom.

I’ve got long hair. Not too long but long enough that my fringe is getting in my eyes. Long for me. When I was younger I used to work in a petrol station and I could always tell when my hair needed cutting because old men would start referring to me as ‘love’ and ‘darling’. Because only girls can have long hair. When it gets this long – which I must say is not that long – people start referring to it as ‘girly’. More gender-confined rubbish. I’m a man, so I can’t grow my hair longer than a couple of inches.

I was in a school recently where I taught a very fashionable and on-trend year 6 boy. He was part of a group of alpha males – intelligent, popular and sporty – and in my first week I overheard him telling his friends how he wanted a man-bun in his hair. His friends, roughly all around eleven, seemed indifferent. Neither supportive nor adverse. Just not bothered because, let’s face it, it’s not their hair, it’s his, so he can do what he likes. However, it was the adults that seemed surprised. ‘He’s going to look like a muppet,’ one commented. During the last week of term, the boy walked confidently into school with his hair in a small ponytail. Again, a few comments of surprise from the children, but overall no fuss. The adults however….

‘He looks ridiculous..’

‘Oh! What does he look like?!’

‘Poor thing…’

Now, I’ve spoken before about these gender stereotypes in schools – remember Cardigan-gate? – and I’ve said that these views seem to be adult-imposed. The children in the school weren’t fazed, the criticisms came from the adults. Now, please understand, this school was lovely and every member of staff was committed and passionate about pupil progress, development and wellbeing. I’ve not been in many other schools where the sense of community was so strong. So, this really is my only criticism. I don’t think their comments were formed through malice, just through this ridiculous habit that we’ve picked up of consigning traits to masculinity or femininity. As teachers we have to champion diversity and individuality. This boy had decided he wanted a ponytail and – very bravely – walked into a class of his peers wearing his hair in a style that was different and that he had chosen. I made sure to tell him that I thought he looked great. Children should have the confidence to express themselves and know that it is alright to be the people that they are. Children are following our lead, so we should be modelling that confidence and support.

Coincidentally, I noticed a few weeks ago that SpiceWorld was on Netflix. (Did I watch it? Of course I did! It was terrible). I was seven when that film came out – so primary school age – and when asked how I wanted to celebrate my birthday I asked to take a few friends to the cinema to see SpiceWorld. Now, hats off to my mum and dad, because they made the absolute right choice and they took me. Not once, at the age of seven, did I consider SpiceWorld, a film about five girls, championing girl power, to be a ‘girly film’. I know parents that, had they been in my parents’ shoes, would have anxiously tried to persuade me to see another film. Like Men in Black or Jurassic Park: The Lost World. Masculine films. Because we all know that lads are more likely to handle aliens and snarling dinos. Well, not this lad. I was all about the zig-a-zig-ah and I’m pleased my parents supported my choice. (They also get extra points for actually sitting through it.)

So, basically, let children watch whatever they want (you know, within reason) and if they want to grow their hair, let them. Children have very little understanding of what is ‘for a boy’ and what is ‘for a girl’ until we impose those thoughts on them. So the only way we’re going to change that is to stop. Now. Stop telling them they can’t play with that toy because it’s pink/blue. Stop telling boys they need a haircut because it’s looking ‘girly’. Stop telling them that cardigans are only for girls! (Yes, I’m still not over it!) Instead, let them decide, smile and be proud that you know a child who is confident in exploring their own identity.

I’m never one to be out of Oz for long. Hot on the ruby heels of my re-read of Wicked, I took a twister back into Maguire’s Oz in his sequel novel, Son of a Witch. Like Wicked, I’ve found Son to read better each time I re-read. Although it does lack some of the magic of the first book, fans of Maguire’s Oz won’t be disappointed as his trademark darkness is still evident.

The story starts with a mysterious stranger, later to be revealed as Lirr, suspected (but never confirmed) son of Elphaba, being admitted to the same mauntery where he was born. Liir has been the victim of a strange attack, leaving him comatose and inches from death. He is nursed by the silent Candle, who uses her musical skills to lure his mind into reverie where the truth about the attack is revealed.

We’re taken back to the moment Wicked ended, seconds after Elphaba’s death. In these early chapters, we get to spend time with those familiar travellers from Baum’s novel, though they turn out to be bitchier than originally thought! Their bitter quarrels and the Tin Man’s sassy advice to  Dorothy (that she should invest in a leash for Toto) provide plenty of humour before events turn pretty bleak.

The re-appearance of Glinda is very welcome but Maguire taunts us with the idea of her becoming a more prominent feature and adopting Liir. Unfortunately for both the thought is far too fleeting and Glinda is soon off to her country retreat. Obviously a favourite character from the original book, Glinda’s short and sparse appearances in Son are refreshing, with Maguire still proving he is capable of mixing the familiar with the new. Glinda is still as air-headed as ever but it’s touching to see her so affected by her friend’s death. Her loyalty to Elphaba remains apparent through her support of Liir.

As for our protagonist, Liir transforms from the pathetic, mild-mannered child lingering around Elphaba’s skirts, to a brooding and angry young man, emotionally blunted by the vagueness of his past, his own self-loathing and loss of his (poor) mother figure. By the end of the novel Liir has expressed many of the traits which made Elphaba such a strong hero. He is determined in his quest to find Nor. He shows very little sentiment for others, or himself, and his desire to make some sense out of a very messy situation binds him to the reader. One of the strongest themes of Son of a Witch is that of relationships and, in this story, Liir becomes part of a very modern love triangle. Whilst Liir does love Candle, the mother of his child, he also has a touching relationship with Trism, Minor Menacier for the Ozian Army. Remembering that Son of a Witch is now eleven years old, with Wicked being published ten years prior to that, Maguire’s portrayal of relationships, sexual fluidity and that idea of indecisiveness over our desires is quite contemporary. Liir never actively questions his sexuality – it isn’t an issue of whether he likes men or women, it’s whether he loves Candle or Trism or both! Maguire should be admired for putting a bisexual (or pansexual, it’s never really clear which) character at the heart of his work. By the end of the novel, the reader is left feeling equally torn over which lover Liir should be with. Both relationships are written so delicately and naturally that it is clear both sets of couples care very much about each other. However, at the end Liir is left alone, with both his partners missing, therefore leaving him unable to come to any arrangement. His attentions, instead, are focused on his daughter, who he has found wrapped in blankets and hidden in the barn, abandoned, for reasons unknown, by Candle. Maguire certainly is the master of the cliff-hanger with that final line – ‘She cleaned up green’. Does this confirm Liir’s parentage as he carries the green gene? Will history repeat itself now another green child lives in Oz? Will the child live up to her grandmother’s name? Maguire sets up questions as fast as he answers them.

Another thing that strikes me about Maguire’s work is his ability to mix the familiar with the unknown. Oz is painted in Baum’s book as this wonderful, magical fantasy land, whereas Maguire blends that beautifully with familiar elements which makes Oz appear imperfect and closer to our world. Creatures such as Draffes and Tsebras are often referenced and briefly described, making it clear, without deliberately stating, these are just Giraffes and Zebras, but given a new name in a new world. The mauntery has never been directly referenced as a nunnery but through Maguire’s descriptions the comparison is clear.

As expected with a sequel, Son of a Witch ties up a few loose ends from Wicked but also introduces more questions for the third book. Princess Nastoya is finally released from her human body and sent to death. Maguire tackles Nastoya’s story with striking truthfulness, commenting on her decaying body, diminishing mental state and foul smell in way that creates a tight anxiety about our own mortality and the idea of being trapped in life whilst longing for death. The story progresses rapidly, with few references to events from Wicked and Baum’s original Oz. On the road to the Emerald City, Liir bumps into an old crone and her companion, a young boy named Tip. Tip appeared in Baum’s original sequels to Oz and it’s thrilling to see Maguire continue to reference Baum’s original work. Readers of the full series will also know this is an early hint at a future story thread to be tied up in the next two novels.

Overall, Maguire’s sequel provides a welcome return to his vivid but twisted land of Oz. Though it may just be shy of reaching the dizzying awesomeness of Wicked, Son of Witch still dazzles with its story of frustration and belonging. Liir is a suitable replacement protagonist but, pleasingly, the shadow of Elphaba still looms. Fans of the first novel might be frustrated at the inevitable death of Elphaba, but her presence is certainly felt throughout the second book, not just as Oz recovers from her actions, but as her (suggested, never confirmed) son steps into her boots, dons her cloak and takes flight in her name.

Six thousand strong, they cried in unison, hoping that the echo of their message would be heard in the darkest, most cloistered cell in Southstairs as well as the highest office in the Palace of the Emperor.

“Elphaba lives! Elphaba lives! Elphaba lives!”

 

‘The doctor has told me that one of the most effective cures for high blood pressure is to have grandchildren,’ My Dad told me last summer, being as subtle as a slap in the face.

This is one of many hints dropped by my friends, family, pupils and even strangers in the last two years. It seems some people think that once I hit 24, I became ripe for fatherhood and my sole purpose was to find a girl to create some mini-G’s with (like one isn’t enough.)

Well, here’s a great big humdinger of a surprise for everyone – I don’t want children.

I know. Horror of horrors.

It’s not that I don’t like children – come on, I’m in the wrong job if I didn’t – it’s just that….they’re not for me. I have plenty of children already in my life – Godchildren, cousins, friends’ children, pupils – who I love, enjoy being around and have good relationships with, but I just don’t think I’m ready for that full time position and I can’t see myself being ready any time soon. I’m quite happy being the Godparent or the Uncle or the teacher. I’m quite happy to turn up, play a few games, read a few stories, be a bit daft, perhaps share some (rare) pearls of wisdom and then shuffle off home. In short, I’m happy to be Rafiki.

Parenting is a big job and I’m not throwing any shade on that (have I used that term correctly? I’m not sure what it means but I’m doing my best to keep up to speed with the street-lingo now that I’ve reached the ancient milestone of 26.) I’ve seen friends and family struggle with the negatives and rejoice in the positives of being a mum or dad and I know that they’ve all done a great job at raising their kids. I don’t want to put any doubt in your minds that I think parenting is a very tough thing to do, particularly nowadays where there is just so much to protect your child from and social media has put your every move under scrutiny. I admire anyone who raises a child. But it’s just not for me.

I’m a child of divorce (and I’m reluctant to play the divorce card – this isn’t the sole reason behind my choice, but it is naturally going to affect it) and, in this particular case, this child got to see at an early age just how hateful humans can be. I wouldn’t want to risk putting another child through that. Urgh. No thanks.

I think the most prominent reason I don’t want to be a parent is because….well….I don’t feel like I’ve lived MY life yet. I know that might sound selfish but how can I oversee another life when there’s still so many things that I want to do? I’m 26 and haunted by crippling anxiety that I’m not in the place I want to be.  That place changes regularly. At the moment, I’m a mess of selfish contradictions and it wouldn’t be fair to drag another person into all that. There’s so much more I want to do. I want to write more stories, I want to visit more countries, I want to meet new people. We only get a short time on this rock so, as amazing and rewarding having a child might be, I’d like to tick a few more things off the bucket list before I even contemplate settling down. And also I don’t want having a child to define who I am. I don’t want to be known as ‘Fallulah’s Dad’ or ‘Father of Darth’ (I should also not be allowed to name children). I want to establish the person I am before I introduce someone else to the photograph.

Now, never say never. I’m quite open to the idea that in a few years’ time I might be in different circumstances and change my mind, but at the moment I have firmly decided that I don’t want to be a dad. I’m quite at peace with the thought of being that mad old Welsh bloke living in a villa somewhere hot, who sits on the beach reading all day, drinking mojitos and smiling about all the great things he’s seen and done. Imagine that. My Dad is just going to have to take up Yoga or something because I’m afraid I can’t help him with his blood pressure. So, next time you bump into me, ask me how I’m doing. Ask me how my job is. Ask me about my exciting plans for the next twelve months. Ask me if I’d like a mojito. But please, don’t ask me when I’m going to have children!

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It started when I was fourteen. Introverted, lacking in confidence and with no idea of who I was. I was a clumsy, nervous little mouse with a bad haircut who barely knew anything of the world outside his high school. I’d endured a full year of secondary school when my best friend, K (extrovert, super confident, wore furry pink trousers to non-uniform day….you get the jist), bullied me into joining her Friday night youth theatre group. Bullying has never left me so grateful.

I jojazz hands!ined Wrexham Musical Theatre Society (WMTS) in January 2004 and remained there (give or take the odd year out) until March 2014. It was the setting of many firsts and many lasts for me, but I will always remember it as the place I first had friends. I know that sounds super sad, and of course I had some friends in school, but this was the place where I suddenly didn’t have to try to fit in. Imagine my shock when, as a fourteen year old, I discovered a hive full of people who were just like me. Imagine what that does to a boy. Many people have passed through the doors over the ten years that I was a member, and lots of them have shaped who I am today. I met a cluster of friends who I know I will never lose contact with and who will always be there no matter when I turn up at their door. I’ve trusted these people with thoughts I never dreamed I could share and I know they have done the same with me. For me, WMTS represents a home that I sometimes didn’t have when I was younger, as I spent some time being passed around the family. It’s provided me with stability as, no matter how unsettled things got, my WMTS family was always there.165909_10150927101122173_506567172_9793714_943399763_n

Being at the Society taught me how to be myself. Whether I was attending workshops or rehearsals or (as I got older) meetings, being a part of the theatre helped me realise that it was OK to express myself and be whoever I wanted to be. It’s OK to laugh, to cry, to get angry, to speak my mind, to hate who I want, to fancy who I want and, importantly, to enjoy every last moment.

Since 2012, we were aware that WMTS was not getting the support it needed and that closure sign was looming. We fought hard. We put on shows and fundraisers and tackled countless obstacles along the way, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. We spent our teenage years at the Society, and it was in these last few months that we realised we had come full circle, as we were now able to watch a new generation do exactly the same. The younger members of our group reminded us of the fun and mischief we used to get up to at their age and although it was touching to see that the Society was still able to bring people together, we were sad that they wouldn’t have the opportunity to grow up with that place of security that we were so lucky to have.

In March 2014, we performed our final show. It was the perfect ending to our time at the t008heatre. The energy backstage that night is something I’ll never forget. I remember being so happy that we were getting a chance to go out with a bang and sing together one last time, but simultaneously I was dreading that final number. As we joined together for one last curtain call, grasping each other’s hands and listening in the darkness to the sobs from both backstage and within the audience, I remember being utterly grateful that we were able to say goodbye on our terms.

For the next few months, WMTS remained quietly open, closing down slowly but surely, without any fuss. Many of us had ventured across the country to pursue other commitments but we all stayed in touch and listened intently for any news of the Society. Nothing came.12715413_10156573059980381_6965131466867006289_n

382985_294977330536506_1728688693_nThis week, I stumbled upon a photograph which left me devastated. It had been sometime since I was able to visit the Society as word had spread in early autumn that the building was now closed. I’d been waiting for the inevitable and this week I was confronted with an image of that beautiful building in the early stages of demolition.

I’m mature enough to know that loss and unfairness is a huge part of life. But I also can’t help but yearn for that place that was very much the hub of my youth. I’m angry that no one could save it. I’m angry that somewhere that harboured so much love, passion and talent could be allowed to wither and fade. I’m angry that a building that has been a part of our town for many years– many before I was even born – can be so cruelly torn down. I’m angry that a theatrical company that has been performing in Wrexham for over seventy years can be allowed to slowly collapse. It’s no secret that in the latter years, we struggled. We suffered many casualties and dramas, as many companies do, but we were determined to carry on. It doesn’t seem fair that a place that had so many people fighting for it can be forgotten. Towards the end, there was a small army of young, devoted people who were passionate about keeping the Society open not just in their name, but in the name of all those who came before them. I remember during the last Pantomime, standing in the wings, waiting to go on stage, and looking at some old photographs which had been unearthed from many of the hidden storage spaces. It hit me just how many people had invested themselves in the Society and I became emotional just realising how small in number we were compared to the Society’s earlier days. I remember the smiles and twinkling eyes of those photographs and, although years stood between us, we were sharing the same magic of the building.

1779064_735809426450471_415188736_nYesterday, my friend and I paid one last visit to the site. Outside, props and set pieces lie carelessly amongst rubble and bricks. The roof of the building is open, allowing for the cold rain to soak through to the studio that holds so many of our warmest memories. It’s a horrific site. Of course, the new owners are entitled to do whatever they want with the building as they have no emotional investment, but it seems so shocking and disrespectful to see a place that has been a symbol of pride and strength in my life (and many others’ lives) in such a state.

It would be easy to try and pin the blame on a long list of people, but I think it’s too late for that. Some thought the Society was being held in the past, but I strongly believe that WMTS had a future that could have been saved. In times where many young people wander lost and troubled through life, I’m grateful for the place that steered me in the right direction, and I’m sorry that the youth of Wrexham have lost another sanctuary. I overheard someone discussing a student once. ‘He might feel lonely now. He might feel like the odd one out, but trust me, one day, he’s going to walk into a room, and there will be his people, waiting for him’. Well that’s what happened to me when I was fourteen. To a lot of people in Wrexham, WMTS was a ‘derelict building’ or ‘that old operatic place by Matalan’, but to me it was my safe place and I don’t know where I’d be now without it. I’ll miss it and I will never forget the joy that it brought me.

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Merry Stress-mas!

Christmas! It’s everywhere. In the shops…on the streets….in our homes!

I bloody love Christmas, and have done since I was a child, but as I’ve got older I have suffered annually from Christmas-angst. It’s only recently that I’ve noticed just how stressful the holidays are. We put so much pressure on ourselves to have the perfect Christmas and I am a serial offender of this crime.

For the last three years I’ve vowed to have a stress-free Christmas and it NEVER happens. Each year I push myself to the verge of an anxious breakdown, sometimes literally making myself ill, just over Christmas. And I know plenty of people who are exactly the same. What is wrong with us?

In the grand scheme of things – it’s one day. One day! But for weeks prior to the 25th I catch myself worrying about everything. Buying the perfect presents, getting the right wrapping paper. Do I have enough nibbles? What if friends come round? Do my decorations look perfect? Is everywhere clean?! Am I getting a cold?!

I worry so much about the slightest thing ruining that run up to Christmas that, nine times out of ten, I’m ill through bolstering my own stress levels. But I can’t seem to break the cycle. This year I was adamant I would have a perfect Christmas in my new home. I was doing everything I could to remain calm but this weekend those first embers of anxiety have started crackling and I can only put it down stress-mas. (Don’t worry, I ate loads of chocolate and drank some questionable vodka.)

Why is it we get so obsessed with making this one day perfect?  I know people who have gone so far as to get new windows and doors for their whole house before Christmas when it wasn’t really necessary. Why do we have to have everything perfect? We spend our time preaching to the children that the importance of Christmas isn’t the aesthetics and the material things, it’s being with your loved ones and being thankful. Then we get totally freaked out because the baubles on the tree aren’t scattered correctly and M&S don’t have the right stuffing.

Of course, the stress isn’t always brought on by oneself. A big chunk of my Christmas-chaos comes from arguing family members and guilt from unsatisfied (and VERY divorced) parents. Hats off to those who actually manage to split themselves in two over the Christmas period – I’ve yet to perfect this, so have opted to label this year a ‘Friendy Christmas’ rather than a family one. I love my family but, just like everyone else, they drive me up the wall. So for this year, let all of us children of divorce raise a big middle finger to parental guilt and enjoy the season for ourselves. Just for this year. Let’s not stress about what time we get to dad’s and whether mum will find out we spent half an hour extra with him. Let’s just go with the flow, open our gifts and get back home to the brandy bottle as soon as possible. (And I’ll feel so much better knowing I’m not the only one!)

For a happy Christmas, we need to keep things simple. Be with those who make you smile. Do what makes you happy. And calm down.

So whether your Christmas is chilled and stress-free or a total bloody nightmare…Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda.