“Til death do us part”

I love New Year’s.

As a serial resolutionist any calendar event that promises the hope of a fresh start, a new beginning and a lethal cocktail of drunk friends, Jools Holland and copious amounts of confetti, well that’s my kind of celebration.

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Realistic Resolutions? Yeah right…

Well that’s that then.
The excitement of Christmas has subsided, the Quality Street have been devoured, the countdown is over, the living room floor is collecting pine needles and a breakfast of chocolate and wine is no longer considered perfectly acceptable.
The media have been busy with end of year reviews reminding us of all the must-see films we didn’t get a chance to go see, the must-read books we still haven’t gotten around to reading and the year-defining albums we’ve never even heard of. The shops have very swiftly put to bed their ‘Eat, drink and be excessive’ mantra, filling their shelves instead, with fitness DVDs, exercise equipment, dieting pills and nicotine patches, while casting a judgemental eye on the extra pounds we drag along the aisles, and the fewer pounds we have to spend at the tills.
It’s January 1st. Everyone is skint, sick of turkey and ham sandwiches, and full of unrelenting optimism for the year ahead… Isn’t it wonderful?
2013 is here, and so far I’m impressed.
My Les Miserables anticipation is at breaking point, travel plans for the summer look promising (in that they might actually happen this year) and despite a potent combination of rose wine, Polish vodka, four hours sleep (a nap) and a roast dinner I actually don’t feel all that dreadful. You’ve gotta love New Year’s positivity! Look at this year, all shiny and new with the wrapping still on, so full of possibility and potential…
This will be the year! You watch, by this time next year I will be a millionaire! I’ll have the body of a Goddess, I’ll speak two new languages and will have successfully finished and published my first book. No problem.

Clearly, realism is not a friend of the resolution.
So to give myself more of a fighting chance with the New Year’s hopes and dreams I’ve put together 13 more realistic resolutions to tackle in the coming year.

1. Learn how to bake bread.
2. Make more soups.
3. Be a good gig reviewer and actually keep up to date with new music so that when it comes to the best of 2013 lists I will not be left wondering who all these young pups in the top ten are.
4. Give blood (finally).
5. Get my ears pierced (finally).
6. Watch more classic films so my common response to the mention of any critically acclaimed movie will no longer be “Never seen it”.
7. Spring clean the extensive collection of utter tripe on my Media Player and iTunes.
8. Remove Tokyou as the default response to the daily wondering ‘What will I have for dinner?’
9. Visit London (finally).
10. Learn how to like coffee/red wine/Guinness.
11. Learn how to combat hangovers with something healthier than a giant bag of Heatwave Doritos.
12. Find the ultimate Little Black Dress.
13. Break the bad habit of a lifetime and stop becoming so emotionally attached to fictional characters… except my own.

Stories of Growing up and Romantic Misadventures

I have always been a firm believer in Peter Pan’s mantra: “If growing up means it would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree, I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up! Not me!”

While I doubt I shall ever feel too old or dignified to climb (or fall out of) a tree, there are certain things about growing up which I dread – the responsibilities, the expectations, the ever-present reminder that time is running out for you and your loved ones.

How nice it would be to stay this age forever – old enough to move away from home, young and helpless enough to be welcomed back to the nest when need be. Old enough to be trusted to make the right choices, young enough to make the wrong ones now and again.

But we all know things won’t stay the same, we know that the whole ‘I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up’ thing won’t stay cute forever, that our grace period for romantic misadventures will only last so long and really, we’re thankful for it – who wants to stay in shared digs and low-paid employment forever? I have a childish, bouncing up and down in one spot shouting “When I grow up I’m living alone” Macauley Culkin moment at least once a month. To stay 23 forever and exist in a constant stream of nights out and hangovers, how would our bodies, or our parents, stand it?

I turn 24 in the New Year, and with the first echoes of a quarter-life crisis ringing in my ears, I’ve been weighing things up – all the things I’ve achieved, but mostly, all the things I have yet to do. Pass my driving test. Travel. Find a career path can stick to.

All the grown up things my friends have been doing recently seem completely alien to me – getting a mortgage, getting engaged, having a baby, buying a bed… I can’t imagine ever being financially stable or responsible enough to own a home or devote my life to another person, never mind investing in a divan. The prospect of these adventures seems a world away.

But at least, where romantic misadventures are concerned, I feel I have come of age. I have been helplessly, blindly in love and fallen back out of it again; felt the sudden, blunt thud of hitting the ground, and realising, actually, you are strong enough to get back on your own two feet and carry on. I’ve played the games, tried on things that don’t necessarily suit me, made the same mistake more than once, I’ve run away from feeling and stayed where there was none, I’ve indulged in no strings attached, only to find myself tangled up in ribbons, tried to struggle free only to find the knots tighter round my skin. I have no regrets, but I’ve learnt a few lessons.

Wilde told us ‘Wisdom comes with age’ but mostly it comes with misadventure and I have at least learnt to take that wisdom into account when misadventure comes a-knocking. Being grown up has nothing to do with receipts of purchase or contracts binding, being grown up is entirely a matter of the heart. The most grown up I have ever felt was on the rare occasion when my head has managed to steer my heart clear of harm even when it most wants the thrill of the chance.

It’s the same old story – you know that Champagne gives you a sore head the next morning, but you never turn it down when it’s offered. You can say no to that exciting little glass of bubbles and reassure yourself that you will wake up headache free, but there’s still the niggling little wonder ‘Oh, what harm can it do?’ My brain has finally learned how to answer loud enough so that my heart will listen “It will do a great deal of bloody harm! It will feel like your little brain is being passed through a sieve and then repeatedly attacked with a potato masher while Alvin and the Chipmunks sing a never-ending chorus of ‘It’s a Small World After All’. That is exactly how it will feel.”  While we might risk this punishment for our heads when someone pops a champagne cork, it is a much greater deterrent when it comes to matters of the heart.*

So perhaps I may not be grown up or financially stable enough to invest in life’s important things, bed frames, family homes or lasting relationships, but at least I have learned how to tell the difference between a relationship that will last, and one which will simply give me a sore head in the morning.

(*Disclaimer: I have never learnt how to turn down a glass of champagne.)

Guilty Pleasures.

A while ago I posted a list of life’s simple pleasures. The little things that put a smile on your face. Since then I’ve been contemplating life’s more guilty pleasures… Bless me father for I have sinned…

  1. The Script – pop rock at its most indulgent. They are perhaps the only band that I would willingly accompany my little sister and twelve of her teenybopper friends to go and see live, in the same way I have used her to go and watch kids films in the cinema without looking like a weirdo. I love The Script. There I said it. But surely everyone finds themselves singing along with ‘For the First Time’ and drooling gracelessly at the sight of Danny O’Donoghue in a knee length coat… no? Just me?
  2. Matt Cardle – I know, I know, I should hang up my gig-reviewing hat immediately and go write for Smash Hits (does Smash Hits still exist? Am I that out of touch?) But I should point out I’m not particularly familiar with his music, I just like looking at him, a lot. There is just something about the X Factor winner… I’m entirely convinced that he should be my husband. He plays guitar and writes god’s honest pop songs, and wears a hat, he’s wholesome. You could bring him home to meet your mother.
  3. Grey’s Anatomy – to be honest I hold little guilt in this pleasure. I love Grey’s Anatomy unhealthily so. Thursday nights are like Christmas Eve on a weekly basis. I know I am an intellectual, educated young woman, a feminist no less, I should be spending my Friday mornings with affairs much more highbrow and self-developing, but instead I prance around my room excitedly as the latest episode downloads, and spend the next 45 minutes brain turned off, jaw-dropped, often on the verge of tears. I’m not kidding, during the infamous Shooting episode I spent an hour and half with one hand over my open mouth, the other clutching on occasions the duvet, my teddy, and my very pissed off ex-boyfriend who was trying to sleep next to me. And don’t even get me started on 007…
  4. Downton Abbey – on a similar vein, ITV’s hit period drama is a guiltless pleasure which I know I shouldn’t be quite as in love with as I am. It’s a programme I have conflicting emotions about, it’s entirely ridiculous, the plot is often absurd and historically questionable but if my mother, a history teacher, can roll with it, so can I. So again, often on the verge of tears, I tune in every Sunday night, turn the better half of my brain off and giggle inconsolably at the Dowager Countess’ fantastic one liners (she has obviously inherited the scriptwriter who put Coronation Street’s Blanche in our hearts). Also, I have been in love with Allan Leech since Man About Dog, so seeing him as a heartbroken Irish Revolutionary upsetting the landed gentry is practically porn for me.
  5. And finally, perhaps the most guilt-ridden of all… Popworld – Unlike the aforementioned guilty pleasures which I indulge on a daily basis, this little gratification only ever rears its ugly, disco ball head after at least three pints, and usually at someone else’s suggestion. I can’t resist the dated dance floors and  sugary pop music, I need to put my face in the Spice Girls cut out and drink toxic orange alcopops that double as nuclear weapons, I just need to dance to Cotton Eyed Joe once in a while, is that so wrong?? Is it?? …yes, I know it is. I’m seeking help. I promise.

But I was thinking of you the whole time…

Well, here I am.

This is me, turning up on your doorstep after a two week absence, with chocolates, flowers and lame apologies.

I know I haven’t written, I’m sorry you haven’t heard from me in so long, but before you duly slam the door in my face, please, give me a chance to explain.

You see, one of the most important things about being a writer, aparts from actually writing, is finding something to write about – call it life experience. I like to call it the yes game.

After all, how many great stories started with “Well I went home straight after work, had a cuppa, made some cheese on toast and caught up on the Great British Bake Off on Sky Plus.”

As much as this sounds like my dream evening in, it doesn’t make for good writing. What does make for some interesting stories however is whatever usually follows the questions “Pint?”, “Mojo?”, “Party?” These answers usually make for some great hangovers as well, which incidentally, is when I do my best work.

Because, despite my absence, the creative juices have been bubbling away up there in my noggin – seriously, it’s like the dream-catching scene from the BJG up there. Right this minute there are approximately seventeen excellent ideas for articles, five and a half amazing works of fiction and the outlines for four long overdue pieces that I owe to various people and publications. It’s all up there, it just hasn’t made onto paper yet, there’s a writer’s blockage somewhere in the production line, I’ve called someone about it, but you know what these guys are like, they say they’ll be here by 2pm, but you’re still sitting around waiting for them at five…

I know these excuses don’t make up for the neglect I’ve shown you over recent weeks, but I do hope you’ll forgive me, and if it helps, here are just a few things which you can look forward to hearing about when the creative juices start flowing again:

*Why I’m too old for student parties *Boobs/Say no to page three *What little difference twelve months can make *I want to be a writer, but I really need to eat and pay rent too *I’d like to be a journalist but appear to be missing the killer instinct *I’m Rising Because… 1 billion rising against domestic violence and sexual abuse *Where have all the good men gone?/Man the fuck up *Growing up and other unavoidable pains in the arse *Dumbing down the kids/Why I’m for competitive sports *Maybe nice guys don’t finish last/Reasons why I’m being less of a bastard *The Fifth Province of Ireland/Tales of the Irish Diaspora

What’s in a name?

It’s always the same with a new baby/pet/car/electronic gadget (that last one might be unique to my friends who are the proud owners of Larry Laptop and Terry Tablet). The first question on everyone’s lips is “What are you going to call it?”

And it’s a very important decision, perhaps not so much for Betty Beetle, your new Volkswagen convertible, but for a child, a name can determine their entire future. As if new parents weren’t under enough pressure already.

But compared to the stress which writers endure over names, parents have it easy.

That old saying that people judge books by their cover? Lies – it’s their title.

Mothers gestate for nine months but writers can carry the growing weight of their work around for years. And as for character names, that’s another emotional breakdown in the making – is your heroine a Mary or a Jane??

Some of literature’s greatest works have never made it to print because their authors have turfed the whole thing in the fire over such seemingly minor deliberations. Exhibit A – James Joyce never just ‘named’ a character, every single man and woman who graced his pages was christened with a particular theme, meaning or namesake in mind – believe me I have bald patches having written essays and presentations on it in the past.

Not all writers are quite so anal about it all, and are probably under less pressure than parents to get it right from the start. Most working titles sound nothing like the finished product, and unlike excited parents, authors do not spend excessive time and energy combing through baby name books to find the perfect title. Part of the beauty of writing fiction is that the title will probably present itself to you over the course of the writing process.

But when it comes to this new age blogging phenomenon, again the pressure is on to get it right from the start.

A good blog title should stick out in the memory, it should clearly describe the theme or topic, and apparently it should be short and snappy, no more than three words.

Ohhh…

Well, whether or not the title of this blog sticks out in the memory probably depends on your familiarity with Gemma Hayes lyrics. It probably gives the impression of a blog about getting high. And it’s just a tad too long to meet the official ‘Blog Title Rules’ set out by the world wide web.

So perhaps it’s worth explaining where the title ‘Go Chase your Dragon’ stems from, and it’s pretty much perfect timing too as my Gemma Hayes hype reaches its pinnacle ahead of her Liverpool gig this weekend.

For anyone who hasn’t heard the song, “Chasing Dragons” is about the parting of two lovers who have come to find a fork in the road which will inevitably divide them. Despite the sad subject matter it’s quite an empowering song, and one that hit home for me in the rawest aftermath of a break up.

Stick with me guys, I promise this all has a point…

As a ‘girlfriend’ I wasn’t much of a writer, even though I claimed it was what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t do much travelling, or reading, or gig-going – all the things that I most wanted to do. The ‘why it was’ isn’t particularly important, but the ‘how it changed’ has been the biggest adventure I’ve been on so far.

It was as though I had been hibernating for years, and stepping out into the fresh light of singledom, suddenly the world looked completely different. I didn’t have to settle down in a ‘safe’ career so I could start hoarding away enough pennies for a mortgage or a wedding. I didn’t have to ‘put up with’ the incompatible traits or lifestyle choices of my ex because we weren’t married, we were 22 and free to live our lives how we wanted rather than settling for a watered down version which better suited ‘us’ rather then ‘me’. We didn’t necessarily hold each other back so much as we held ourselves back out of a sense of duty or fear.

Being young and in love is one of the most wonderful things you can ever be, but it should never hold you back for what you could be. And so speaks an old romantic!

As well as affectionately naming their various electronic devices, my female friends are perhaps also unique in that nearly all of them are in long term relationships at quite a young stage of their lives. It didn’t seem all that strange to me when I was one of them, but finding yourself suddenly single after a few years has a way of opening your eyes to things you might not have noticed before.

I may offer my own experience up as an example of why you should chase your own dragon rather than ‘ours’  or worse still, ‘their’ dragon, but that’s not to say it doesn’t work for everyone. Many of my friends have found their paths diverging from a significant other only to meet them again a mile or two down the road, and for them it’s worked… so far. They would be the first to own that.

But they’re stronger for all the bumps in the road. And the romantic in me will say that if it’s meant to be, it will be, eventually.

You may not be chasing the same dragon, but you at least need to be running at the same pace.

Here’s to Good Intentions

The road to hell may be paved with them, but I am all about the good intentions.

It’s the same every Sunday hangover, I sort my life out. I make the same resolutions, this week will be a different, Monday morning will be a fresh start. I will get up in time to have a good healthy breakfast. I won’t give in to takeaways. I will go to the gym. I will go to every class and practice shorthand everyday. I will drink more water, less cider. I will get my five a day. I will remember to brush my teeth and take off my makeup when I stumble in at 3am. Oh, I will get to bed at a reasonable hour. I will be the me my Granny thinks I am.

By 3am Tuesday morning I’m fully make-uped, unbrushed, passed out on my bed with a cheesy chip on the bedside table.

For me, ‘sorting my life out’ is a weekly routine. I reassess life goals, career plans, fitness objectives. I write To Do lists, I make notes for articles I will write, jot down illustration ideas, I sort my washing, I tidy my room, and within 24 hours all my good intentions have given way to bad habits.

Self-motivation is not a skill I can put down on my CV unfortunately.  But optimism most certainly is. Yes, Sundays resolutions are set aside as soon as I hit the snooze button on Monday morning, but that’s not going to stop me making them all over again next week. If I started every week already resigned to the bad habits and hangovers there wouldn’t be any point in setting the alarm in the first place.

So here I am, an eternal optimist, starting afresh with another writing venture.

And knowing me, I’ll start again Sunday morning.

Here’s to Good Intentions.