Taking a stand…

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In the news this week…

“What the hell has happened to Renee Zellwegers face?”

“Our favourite chubby singleton denies plastic surgery”

Now firstly, I never received the memo for when Renee Zellwegers face became public property, and I wasn’t aware she had to apply for permission to have surgery (or not as the case may be!). I’m also not sure when it became ok to refer to her as our ‘favourite chubby singleton’, presumably referring to ONE character she played in her substantial career.

What sits uncomfortably with me is that newspapers and magasines everywhere deal with the issue of feminism and talk about women standing together, as well as expressing concern over the figures that show an increase in younger girls (& boys) suffering from eating disorders, and yet this load of tosh can be printed without even a slight hint of irony. We’re encouraged to ‘share’ and ‘like’ articles questioning what she’s done to herself. Sorry, where was the bit in feminism that made it ok to drag other people down to make ourselves feel better?

You may think I’m being over sensitive about this issue, but it being ok to discuss, share pictures and ridicule a person, makes it ok to do so across the board, makes it ok for those insecure ‘popular’ girls to pick on the kid with acne, makes it ok for groups at school to ridicule someone’s outfit. It’s not ok, none of it’s ok. It’s bullying.

And it leads to articles like the one pictured below to be released…

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In what world do we live in that it’s ok to look at pictures of couples and judge who should be with who; or decide who is unattractive & therefore doesn’t ‘deserve’ the pretty person they’re with. It’s disgusting. I’ve always had quite bad skin and sometimes carry a little extra weight, should my husband divorce me because his skin is so much nicer? Should he trade me in for a skinnier model around January time if I put on a few pounds over Christmas? Are we allowed to be together based on how we look? Or are we equally attractive or unattractive enough to be together? See how gross it is as a discussion point?! So why is it ok to talk about celebrity pairings as such? It’s not. And any publication or social media site that do so are saying it’s ok to bully others. To slag them off behind their back. How can we look in children’s eyes in schools and tell them not to bully, if they can’t escape magasines, newspapers and TV shows making it clear it is ok?

I for one don’t want to stand for it being ok and instead of just posting a Facebook status about how bad I think it is or clicking ‘like’ on a bullying page, it’s time to make a stand. It’s a plan that’s in it’s infancy so far so please excuse the rough timeline of events.

But here is the plan so far, firstly, I’m getting involved with an anti bullying music video (more details to follow), secondly I’ll be contacting my local MP for support as it’s an issue that affects every single town, city and borough and it’s an important enough issue to be taken seriously. Communication also needs to go out to magasines, newspapers asking them to stop printing things that condone a society that mocks one another and puts people down based on their looks. Bullying is not ok and it’s time to take a stand. My baby girl will not grow up in a world where it’s ok to be bullied for how you look or who you are. Friends, comrades, please join me, if you feel as I do about this issue, why not write to your local MP, or tweet your favourite magasine, but please do something. Together, we can achieve anything we want to, but action needs to be taken. For all the kids in the future who shouldn’t have to put up with being made to feel worthless because of their appearance, for all adults who make excuses not to go to the office so they aren’t made to feel ugly by the office bully, for the well known people who for some reason are just supposed to roll over and take what’s said about them because ‘they’ve put themselves out there’ (a pathetically cowardly argument in my opinion). We as women, should be encouraged to push each other up, not pull one another down. We as a society should celebrate one another, bonding over similarities and celebrating our differences.

Do I expect to eradicate bullying completely? Do I expect newspapers to totally cease in printing embarrassing pictures and poking fun at the subjects? Sadly no, I’m not as naive as I am idealistic. But if one child walks the school corridors with their head held high instead of crying in the toilets, or if one person stops and thinks about how their words and actions could affect another fellow employee, then it will be worth the fight. And it’s one fight I’m more than ready for.

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Creating Christmas Cheer…

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October is a bit soon to be using the ‘C’ word but as it’s my baby girls very first, we are very excited about Christmas this year!

Both my husband & I are big fans of the Christmas period, and as everyone, we have certain Christmas traditions that we look forward to carrying on with our little family. We’d also like to create a few of our own traditions and have been talking a lot about them recently.

Hopefully in years to come, Scarlett will cherish her memories of family Christmasses as much as we will, and hopefully we’ll still be upholding the three below that we plan to start this year!

1) My Nan loved Christmas and in my childhood was the absolute core of Christmas spirit. One of the highlights of Christmas Day was always receiving our sacks of gifts from Nan. Which at first sounds really shallow! But it was never about the quantity, it was opening little bits that Nan had found throughout the year, that she thought myself and my cousins would enjoy, usually including some form of troll (the gremlin type creatures, she didn’t wrap up internet bullies!) and nightwear. Nan is no longer around but we would like to make sure her vivacious spirit stays present in our little girls holiday period. Therefore, instead of the traditional stocking, Scarlett & any future siblings will receive a Lois Christmas Bag! With a few little pieces with a few ongoing themes, it may only be October but I’ve started looking for some small bits already, as I’m pretty sure Nan did, and I can only hope she’s looking down with a smile. Both my Grandmothers were incredibly loving and giving and Scarlett will receive the same.

2) I spent one Christmas Day on my own, in the dark and although it was sad not to share it with someone, it was one of the most rewarding Christmasses. Let me explain…! I was working at the hospital at the time and volunteered to do as many Christmas shifts as possible, reason being that a lot of my colleagues had young families whereas I was in my early twenties and my family were all South East so doing one shift meant I was unable to go; so my thinking was I may as well do as many as I can. I lived in a house share at the time & the house was empty, my best friend that I lived with had headed down to Cornwall as late as possible to keep me company but for the three days I was on my own. I should also point out that it was a student house share so we had electric on a card (you’re starting to see where this is going!). On Christmas Eve I got home from work at 2am and got in, deciding that as it was officially Christmas Day I would have a glass of port and open my Christmas Eve pyjamas, (a tradition my Mum started & one we’ll be continuing!) I got in, switched on the light and walked into the wall…the light never came on. Instantly I knew what had happened, so I headed down to our creepy basement to push the button that gave us £5 of emergency credit…but predictably, being students, we’d already used that option! A quick call confirmed that I would have to wait till Boxing Day to get more money on the card (this is also in the days before internet on phones & I had no computer that didn’t need electricity to turn on!) and so my Christmas Day dinner turned into bread and cheese! The story could be a tragic tale on a par with the matchstick girl if a) it wasn’t my own fault for being a lazy student and not ensuring there was electricity and b) if I didn’t have such a fantastic time at the hospital! What I learnt in 2005 was that there is a magic at Christmas and it has nothing to do with having the latest games console or buying lots of stuff. Patients had the biggest smiles on their faces when they saw family members come in or when the awful, (and I mean awful!) Father Christmas did his rounds. Visitors were so kind to all the staff who were working such long hours to keep their loved ones safe (I’m not including myself, I was just a receptionist but the Dr’s & Nurses were amazing) and despite the pain, the sadness and the hard things people were going through, not one shift went by without seeing several acts of kindness and happiness that you just don’t see at other times of the year. So yes, for the rest of Xmas 2005, I mainly sat in a cold dark house by myself and chatted to family on the phone, but I could only tell them what a great time I was having, they felt awful when they heard the house situation but it really honestly didn’t matter. And the true meaning of Christmas has always been very important to me, I’ve always tried to do some volunteering or fundraising around Christmas. We should all of course do it all the time but at Christmas time, a time that can be the best time ever for some, but also incredibly difficult for others, why not try and help them find a bit of Christmas magic. Therefore whether it be volunteering at a Crisis centre or taking part in a Santa fun run, or even just going to visit someone who may be lonely and appreciate visitors; we want to ensure that Scarlett sees the true magic of Christmas. (I’ll also try and be sure to teach her that if you live on a meter, you have to be more on top of keeping it funded!)

3) I set up a netball club in 2006 & we used to do a lot of charity events and other activity related things, the idea behind Hotshots (which I’m proud to say is still going!) was that anyone & everyone could take part and have an active lifestyle. In 2012 I implemented what I dubbed ‘Activity Advent Calendar’! For every day of December, behind each door there was an activity to be done at each participants own pace; whether the activity be 10 star jumps, or dancing around to your favourite Christmas song, for a few minutes each day, we all got active! I posted it online and others joined in, we had 50 people join the group, the youngest participant was my cousins little girl and the oldest were my Dad, Aunt & Uncle who took part as a team with more gusto than anyone else taking part, it was brilliant! Even family in Australia would take part & we all posted videos and photos and it was a nice way to all keep in touch. It was a really rewarding experience and quite a nice bonding venture (not to mention it was a real giggle!) so we’re going to set it as an annual thing. Not necessarily with sporting activities each day but a little something to do together in the run up to Christmas. Again I’ll put it online so anyone who wants to take part is more than welcome to join us, or why not draw up your own!

So there they are! Our very own Christmas traditions that officially begin in 2014. Hopefully they will be Christmas traditions that Scarlett enjoys and although I’m sure in her teenage years she’ll probably rebel against at least part of it, maybe she’ll want to pass some of it onto her own children.

It’s only October the 18th so I promise not to mention Christmas again until December, especially because Halloween is just around the corner; being a theatrical household, Winter is quite the season for us! But whatever you do over the holiday season dear friends, I wish you a very happy and healthy time. Whatever your traditions, or even if you don’t have any, there’s no denying that there’s a certain wonder about this time of year, that’s different to different people. So whatever it means to you, enjoy your very own slice of magic!

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Treading the boards…

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In a few short weeks, Scarlett will take to the stage for the first time. Well, not technically the very first time, at seven months pregnant, I was in a show that my husband wrote and played the parts of ‘pregnant maid,’ and ‘pregnant Lizzie Gupp’ , as well as the highly memorable ‘pregnant chorus girl’. I’m now doing a show with the same theatre company doing a commemorative piece about the people of Gloucestershire in WW1, only this time, instead of being carried around with me, she will be making a very short cameo.

It’s being performed in a theatre of course but anyone worried about me being a horrendously pushy parent thrusting her into the spotlight at such a young age should know that we’re ensuring she won’t be under bright lights or on stage when there are any loud noises and she will essentially be carried on and then carried off whilst all the time being looked after by a family member whilst the rest of the show continues. This is a company that have seen me get married, get pregnant and support me throughout the entirety and it is therefore just a short cameo of a baby girl who is loved by the cast around her. I certainly won’t be pushing her to do theatre if she doesn’t want to in the future. In fact, my husband and I often joke that as we have such a theatrically heavy lifestyle, Scarlett will grow up desperate for a more routined stable office job! And if so, that’s absolutely fine, she will have the opportunity to be whoever she wants to be and when young, if she wants to do some theatre or get involved in shows in any way (her Godmothers are both technicians so she’ll probably more likely grow up as a technician and reprimand her Mother when I behave like an actor!) we will enable and support her to, in the same way that if she’s into sport, we’ll be out in the rain every Saturday morning if needs be.

There’s no getting round it though, with her Father working so regularly with the RSC and both of us running a professional theatre company, writing and in my case performing, she’s going to be around a lot of theatre. A few people worry about the stability of such a lifestyle or the influence that Scarlett will have growing up. And of course her lifestyle, influences and stability are things that concern us as parents, we want her to have as happy and as healthy an upbringing that she can possibly have. But here’s where my views differ from those with concerns. When I was growing up, I remember visiting my Dad at the office several times as he often had to work on the weekends, I used to totter off to the drinks machine and chat to his colleagues, and I have memories of giving him ‘lessons’ on his flip chart in his office. I remember the doorman really clearly, I remember the people he worked with, a lot of whom I am still in contact with today. He used to happily let me wander round to chat to the people in his team and as a result I gained independence, I grew in confidence and I still know that a chocomilk is a number 55 on the machine they used (ok not necessarily a life skill but still…!). I’m pretty sure nobody asked Dad if he thought it was appropriate to let me see the ‘office world,’ or if he worried I’d grow up too sensible as a result, or if he was pushing me too hard towards a life in business. And of course clearly, if he was trying to he failed miserably, out of the two children Dad had, I am by far the most ridiculous, I barely have a sensible bone in me, and although I have done office work, it really isn’t me. And this isn’t because I’m a rebel and am pushing away from my upbringing. It’s because my parents also took me to swimming lessons, encouraged me to learn musical instruments, took me abroad, and, took me to the theatre. I saw and experienced several things and was then able to find what I was passionate about. And I was passionate about theatre, always have been, always will be.

Now consider Scarlett’s childhood, she will meet several of our peers including many RSC Practitioners and members of staff, several other actors, musicians and technicians, if there’s a coffee machine, in time, I will teach her where the buttons to get a chocomilk are situated! She will gain independence and confidence and she will get a really in depth view of a theatrical life. At the same time, we take her swimming regularly, and as much as we can afford we will allow her to experience as much as she possibly can to find what she is passionate about. We’re lucky that our jobs enable us to travel a lot and she will therefore see a lot of the world and if when she grows up, whether she gets her own corner office in the business world like Grandad, becomes a technician like her Godmothers, or finds her own passion and becomes a professional sports player, Dr or astronaut, we will be proud of her and help her achieve her goals.

The only difference between my experiences in the office and her experiences in the theatre is location (and ok, let’s face it, theatre has a little added flair!) we as parents, like my parents did before, will keep her safe when in a location outside of the home. We will teach her to be polite and respectful, and she will know where she can and can’t go (the Managing Director’s office and an unsteady set in a theatre are equally as scary for little ones!). My concession is that a life in theatre is not 9-5, it’s often long hours, late finishes or early starts. And of course, from that point of view, although when she was a newborn she came everywhere and anywhere with us, now she’s nearly four months old, we make sure that she’s at home at a suitable time, and as much as possible give her a routine. Don’t get me wrong, she will experience the shift type lifestyle that we lead and there will be unavoidable times when she’ll fall asleep in the car on the way home because we’ve been unable to get childcare and we both need to be at a theatre, or working separately on productions, but what child hasn’t been carried in by a parent after a slightly later than normal night due to circumstances. She will grow up knowing that at the end of the day she comes first, we work hard to be able to provide for her and she will never be pushed to be part of a world she doesn’t want to.

Theatre is a central part of our lives and will therefore inevitably be a central part of hers in childhood. But if typing hands rather than jazz hands turn out to be more her thing, rest assured we will support her in that. Whatever she grows up to become, I hope that she’ll always have happy memories of her childhood, and will know how much we love her and always do our best for her. And who knows, maybe one day she’ll be more successful than we are in theatre, “all the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players,” whatever stage she chooses, whatever sort of player she wants to be, we’ll be right behind her…with dramatic panache!

Midnight fatigued feelings…

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As I type this, it’s 05.21 and I haven’t been to bed yet. Baby Scarlett has a very blocked nose which is making sleeping almost impossible for her and she keeps waking up and crying. My husband has a busy weekend coming up with a lot of driving so I am currently downstairs with the Moses basket down here with me so I can keep the cuddles going for her whilst not disturbing my husband, who has been a pillar of support over the last couple of difficult days and really needs some rest!

It must be very confusing for her not to be able to breathe through her nose and it’s heartbreaking not to be able to do anything for her. I’m no longer bothering to try and go to sleep, it just makes it harder to get up each time! So instead I decided to go back and have a little read of all the messages on Facebook of congratulations and well wishes from when she was born. And, like I did then, several tears came to my eyes as I read through all the heartfelt expressions of love, support and good luck.

Admittedly, I’m VERY tired, and my emotional control isn’t what it used to be before those pesky maternal hormones came into play!

But ask anyone that knows me and they’ll confirm that I’m cranky when I’m tired, I’ve always been bad at sleeping but I’ve always caught up or slept at funny times to ensure I had enough rest time. That’s not quite how it works when you have a baby. Scarlett woke me up at 2am on the 1st July when my waters broke and I haven’t caught up since! There’s no time, like almost every parent, I walk around on fumes most of the time. But you know what, it’s brilliant.

Every day, every single day when I look into that little girls face, with her beautiful blue eyes I feel like I could do anything. Every smile lights up the entire room. Today, despite the fact that she has been feeling poorly, when the two of us were standing together in the lounge with her, my husband chatting to her with her in my arms, she let out her first proper baby giggle, and the emotions took my breath away. In that moment, I swelled with pride and my heart nearly burst with love, not only for her but for my husband as well. We made this tiny little new person and she amazes us every day. It’s hard, it’s really hard, especially when it’s 05.21 and you’re weighing up whether to make Camomile tea or admit defeat and put on a pot of coffee so you can survive the following 24 hours (especially knowing full well my husbands away for the night working!). And I know it’s not a night of missed sleep that I’ll get back, tonight is gone and there’s no retrievals. But I couldn’t be happier.

Years ago, nearly 30 years ago in fact, my Dad wrote a poem. I should tell you, my Father is not known for his theatrical talents, he freely admits never to having read a book (since he had to at school) and although he’s very supportive of me, creative pursuits are not really his bag. However, he once told me that he couldn’t adequately explain how he felt when I was born, and that this once in a lifetime poem, just sort of came to him. And I think his words actually sum up that crazy haze when you realise your life has been taken over by someone else, that moment you realise someone has set up a permanent camp in the largest part of your heart, really quite well. (I should also point out that my Mum is more the creative talent, and used to write a lot of poems, but she didn’t keep them so heartbreakingly I never got to read them)

So in fact that’s enough from me, I’m going to try and get at least a cat nap, and I’ll leave you with my Dad’s words…

“When I looked at my little girl
The feelings I experience put me in a whirl
As she lays there asleep
My thoughts are ones I want to keep

I just stand there by her bed awhile
Whilst I look at that angelic smile
The look on her face is so peaceful
What a shame she has to age and become tall

As each day becomes part of our past
I hope and pray my feelings will last”