Monday, January 14, 2019

Box of Thumbs and Hearts

The theme of my week has been “social media” - from an unexpected spat with a decade-long-forgotten ex-boyfriend, to a tweet that landed me a front row chair for the “women aren’t funny” parade, to a desperate plea to instagram to refill the little rectangular box of self esteem that is my phone. 

I call it a phone, but really I never phone anyone… I communicate solely by the written word so I can prepare my utterances. I don’t know when voice to voice communication first started to make me feel so boxed in to a corner; I often see text as my saviour, but perhaps the causality is reversed and it’s actually my captor.

My phone is an innocent looking box that when opened can turn out to be jammed full of thumping pink hearts and weird blue thumbs. I open it when I need a glowing rectangle to connect me via lurid icons to the people I am avoiding meeting in flesh and blood. I know it’s vacant and shallow, but damn, sometimes in the sickly orange light of the M25 I look forward to popping it open when I reach my drive way so I can bathe in the apathetic love from these vapidly cultivated symbols.

How easy it is for us to gently scroll our thumb over the “offer positivity” icon and increase someones validation-in-a-circle-number™ for something we will never think of again. For my part as a generator, I’ve significantly contributed to thumb up inflation in my small circle by liberally sprinkling my approval across a large number of posts. I don’t suppose many of them are as addicted to the pixelated thrill of a notification as I am, but in my own way I feel like being generous online is a useless yet nice thing to do.

Generally speaking, I like social media; I am very averse to being alone and have chosen a career that has me riding solo most of the time. I’m the agoraphobic shepherd, the vertiginous window cleaner, the coeliac baker and the unionised CEO.

Social media is a way to constantly have low level company that doesn’t involve me buying a walkie talkie for my husband. He’s very grateful for its existence. I can test jokes, publicise live shows and just… chat… with whoever else is bored at the same time as me. Anywhere in the world. From my uniform hotel room with a million low light lamps and zero illumination I can crowd-source a playlist of upbeat music or chat about a TV show I’m watching as though someone is sat on the bed beside me with popcorn. The icons and symbols I’m sneering at above have all come from real people, with real interaction to offer and to write it off as meaningless because it comes via technology would be to disregard all epistolary novels because they are also simply the product of the best available remote communication at the time.

Just in the time I’ve been writing and rewriting this my phone has been constantly in and out of my hand: I’ve agreed with someone on a book about law I just finished and been able to tell the author how much I liked it, I’ve found video of an American gymnastics meet and welled up watching it, I’ve extolled the virtues of a National Trust membership with an old friend from school. There’s such a glut of the world to find and augment your day with.

I’m too reliant on my phone, and I know that; I take it all too personally. Just this week I politely asked a stranger to be less over-familiar with me when they tweeted me; the winky faces and comments on my appearance with suggestive overtones were just a bit too intrusive time after time. I could have muted or blocked but I thought a reasonable appeal to common sense might work - after all, I was unlikely to be the only one on the receiving end. I was immediately blocked from this person, and whilst, overall, it is going to make no negative impact on my life, for a few minutes afterwards I sat in shame wondering if I was at fault. I wasn’t, and reasonable Laura knows that - but when you allow the meaningless to be your boundless uplift, it follows you’ll allocate it an unreasonable downward pull.

I tweeted something this week about jobs for women in comedy and was immediately confronted with varying levels of disagreement from the predictable usual suspects. Easy to ignore were the simple “women aren’t funny”, harder to walk away from were the blatant misinterpretations of my point dressed up as straightforward explanations. The number of times this week my thumbs have raced over the glass explaining the difference between a “female” and a “female comedian”. When the anger first started trotting in I hovered over deleting the tweet just to cease the vitriol that was now swirling in my living room. I still stood by my tweet, but quite honestly I was physically shaking and not sure I wanted the fight. I sat for a bit and determined that the shaking was stupid. I looked at the likes and retweets in agreement with myself and imagined the reaction as a room full of people: an audience of 150 agreeing politely and about 20 men booing loudly. I kept the tweet up. Muted the moronic and persevered with the debate. Probably overall it was a total waste of my time, but since we developed agriculture what do we have but time, eh? Is this thing on?

On Saturday I went for a day’s shopping in Bluewater to try and find a dress… across 6 or 7 hours I was in and out of fitting rooms and clothes trying on dress after dress. Whilst I appreciate it is the first worldiest of all problems to claim that a day in a sumptuous palace of capitalist hedonism is “exhausting”, there is something curiously draining about repeatedly trying on clothes.The sight of my arse peering out through strained tights as I bent down to pick up a dress - it was a quip to my friends at the beginning of the day. By 6pm I was wondering how this trussed ham had made its way onto the back of body - stowing away like one of Theresa May’s crises and causing irreparable harm to my self-esteem. The constant temperature changes, the impairments to sight and sound as dresses are wriggled over sensory organs, the strip lighting and curtains that aren’t quite wide enough to give you privacy - it’s all a recipe for insecurity and instability.

When I pick up a dress that’s priced over £50 my brain starts a little story for me, it says “Laura, this dress was designed by geniuses and woven out of fabrics invented to compliment the human body. You are going to put this on and the invisible panels constructed by Karen Millen and NASA will whisk the parts of your body you dislike off to another dimension. While you are in this dress you will be 5’10” and won’t have all those fears about owning 2/3s of the world’s eyebrows while some people have none. Your collar bone will naturally pop to a sexy 50s level, and you will have knees made of “firm” instead of “gelatinous”. You will look, not merely “beautiful”, because that could mean any thing, you will look how you imagine you have the capability to look if only you had the money. This dress knows your aims and is made of how to get you there. This dress is rocket fuel.”

I carry the dress lovingly to the fitting room all the time marvelling at the science that must go into making these dresses worth the money. My t shirt comes off over my head causing a flurry of static electricity and ruffle to muss my hair. My skirt comes down leaving the various restrictions of my tights and underwear exposed. There’s an angry red line where my bra rubs my ribs and the mini fold under there is waving happily. Never mind, I think, rubbing distractedly at the strap welts on my shoulders, this dress is designed for these challenges. I am the snow and this dress is the tyre chains.

The dress goes back over my head pulling my fringe into a greasy curtain and smearing the remaining oily sheen of foundation towards my chin where it has gathered in a little orange huddle right by the too-dark hairs on my top lip that this light is determined to celebrate. I locate the under skirt, the second lining, the fluffy bit and the over beading and try to get them all to lie calmly before focusing on the zip. I am not double jointed, an escapologist or a jelly fish so the zip is difficult to get my hands on.

I push the curtain to one side and back out asking a free friend to get the zip for me and she begins. It’s not happening. “It’s not you,” she says, soothingly, “the fit is fine - it’s where the zip crosses the dress pattern. Hang on.” Another friend is called over to hold the material together while another one channels the force and determination of Dwayne Johnson to raise the obtuse zip to its final resting place. My friend is right of course; the dress fits fine and it is the chunky material that’s causing the problem but that doesn’t make the feeling of being a swollen joint any less real. Are other people in the fitting room looking at me and wondering why I am so deluded as to thinking this dress is the right size, how can it need two people to do a zip? But then it is on and it is indeed the right fit; it’s for another blog post to discuss why the right fit is this overtly tight one, but for now; it’s the right fit.

I stand, finally in, breathing awkwardly - feeling ashamed and embarrassed trying to assess the dress in the various mirrors around me. Bizarrely I am still only 5’1” and the science hasn’t worked so a foot of the dress is lying in a puddle around my feet, and the magical panel has done nothing to disguise the downward droop of my gaping tummy button in the stretch of the fabric. My friends have their heads cocked to one side and we are all debating the nicest way to say “not this one darling” and get me back into my clothes. The price tag has meant nothing about the dress; the dress is still only designed for one body, the magazine body, the rare body, not my body. It is not expensive because they have worked tirelessly on how to make it the best it can be for the majority, it is expensive because if you have the body for this dress you will buy it regardless just to show that off. How could you not?

The layers of dress are going back over my head, my old clothes go back on but they don’t feel pristine and carefully chosen like they did this morning when they went on - they feel stretched and crumpled and tired. So do I. We move on to the next shop where the tags will tell me the same lies. And I’ll believe them. How could I not?

In desperation as my sugar levels drop to unacceptable levels and we stop for a coffee and an affirmation of our friendships, I look back at the photo of the nice dress I found. The picture I quite like. The one dress in twenty that I looked back at the photo and felt proud of my lumps.I prepare it for instagram - one quick heroin hit of mood booster. I write something attempting humour in a bubble over the photo to lessen my attention grab’s humiliation and I carefully pose the text down one side of my body to minimise the real estate my hips take up on the screen. Post. A slow dribble of yellow faces with heart eyes, and the lovely beautiful comments from my friends about how great I look are gratefully and sociopathically consumed. I needed that. It’s fructose in place of nutrition but I know it’s not terminal. It’s not the end of days. I’ll have a lovely boost from lovely people right now, and then I’ll probably go away and stew on why I needed such a shallow reaction which will result in a lengthy, verbose blog post that I’ll then post on social media and wait for the appearance or absence of iconised reaction to that before closing my laptop and going to a job where I base my self worth on the binary reaction options of a comedy gig and wonder why approval means so much to me. C’est la vie.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Brooding

It's been a chaotic week... I always enjoy a visit from my siblings and this week I had my grown up sister come and stay. She's the one that always has it sorted (at least on the outside) and is the first arm around you either to hold you back or pick you up depending on which way your mood has swung.

She now has two children - the chalkiest of cheesiest children you will ever meet. One is a quiet, obsessive little thing who loves magic and fantasy and his own company. The other is... well, actually according to everyone he's a little me. He's temperamental and funny and often totally baffled by his own emotional outbursts. It's interesting to watch.

This week they were incoming and I'm always so grateful to them for shoehorning their 2.4 family into our shoebox flat for a cramped but giggle-filled vacation. This week Nephew the First was fascinated by the fact that Brighton is full of flats. He lives in a village in the West Country and doesn't know anyone else who lives in a flat - he thinks it's amazing that we live in a "pile of people". Amazing is one word my little innocent.

The only down side this week was that I couldn't shift my gigs around to be about in the evenings so I had to pop up to London and work after bedtime.

Monday night I popped up to MC a show and came back a little rattled... I won't go into details but, it takes a lot to make me feel insecure on stage. I've been threatened whilst on stage, put in a head lock by a man after a gig (yes, really) shouted at for something another act said and generally dealt with everything comedians deal with at some point during their careers. Comes with the territory, right? Well, except the headlock. That was over the line. But, Monday... Monday rattled me because it came from acts not the audience and the nature of the show meant I wasn't in my usual position of power to deal with it in the way I normally would.

NOTE: I dealt with the show brilliantly and the whole spectacle for the audience was fine, ok? So if any part of you is tempted to message me in some way to tell me that if I can't handle it then I shouldn't do it... I did handle it, ok? Handling it like a professional at the time and then admitting you felt things about it as a person afterwards are two separate things.

To admit I was rattled and to be admitting it now is a HUGE thing for me. In my head now the business manager is trying to get a memo to my fingers saying "don't type this - it won't go well." Reasons the brain business manager is suggesting are:
"If the booker reads this they won't book you again." which then translates to "if the booker reads this, they might not book a woman again." Because, I was the first woman to do this show EVER and so that's an absolute tonne of pressure that anything I say or do has an effect on a whole swathe of people being considered for it again. Maybe I'm inflating my own importance (probably - hell I'm a millennial comedian, when am I not eh?) but that's a little bit how it always feels.

Self employed = shut up or it'll be harder to get work.
Self employed woman = shut up or it'll be harder for women to get work.

So, Tuesday morning I'm feeling a little wobbly but thinking to myself I'll just let it sit for a bit until it settles. Distance will help and I'll throw myself into being an Aunt. When one persona doesn't feel right put a different one on.

That's when the projectile vomiting begins. A tummy bug rampages through both nephews and Wahaca cod tacos are flying everywhere.

Nephew the First learns an important lesson about living in a flat; when someone vomits spectacularly in it, there is nowhere to hide from the smell. When two small people with impeccably bad aim vomit in 4 out of the 5 rooms then it's best to burn the building down and move to a new continent.

The poor little mites are lying still, trying to keep fluids down and I'm trying to find bits of guacamole in the hinges to the loo seat. There's a knock at the door.

"Hello?"

"Hi!" The man's nose wrinkles at what appears to be 6 people living in a two bedroom flat that they are mainly using for vomit storage. "I'm from the management company for the building."

Hey! Nephew the First - here's another cool thing about flat life, there are so many people making a living from not dealing with your damp!

"Right, ok?" I'm vaguely wondering whether there is vomit dripping into the downstairs neighbours flat already and I am about to be evicted.

"We've had an alert from your downstairs neighbour..." Oh crud. How did tortilla get through the floorboards? "... about some pigeons nesting. Have you noticed them?"

Oh. I wasn't expecting that. My chest tightens, and not in the good "I look mid-20s way".

"Yes. Yes, there are some pigeons." Nephew the Second releases a rainbow of dry cream cracker somewhere in the distance.

"Are they on your balcony?"

"Yes, they are."

"Do you mind if I come and have a look?"

"At my pigeons?"

"Are they yours? Are you keeping domestic pigeons?" He sounds concerned, but it could be fear.

"No! No... they're just... they're just wild pigeons. Not mine." On the horizon of the living room, a fruit winder goes flying upwards into a hastily provided waste paper bin. I shut the door.

I show the man through the flat - look Nephew the First, so many people can just come through your home when you rent a flat?! If we weren't here he has keys!

The man looks at the pigeons on the balcony.

"Have you reported them?"

"No." I say, "I don't mind them."

I more than don't mind them. I'm very attached to them.

"Do you feed them?" He asks.

"No." I say, casually kicking a crust of bread off the side of the balcony.

We return to the hall as fresh waves of flat lemonade parade past the tonsils of my favourite little people.

The man turns in his trench coat and gives me a card. "We need to deal with the pigeons. Someone will be in touch about putting in pigeon spikes as soon as these babies have left the nest. We legally can't do anything while they're raising young but the second the babies have gone we need to clear this up. You need to phone us when you see the chicks fly, ok?"

I nod and promise I will. He leaves.

I go into the living room and tell my sister what the man wanted and I'm surprised to find myself struggling not to cry. I blame the watering eyes on the bile haze acting like a smoke screen across the room and look fondly at my poor grey boys lying wanly on a blanket that I will never touch again.

I'm furious. Why can't they live there? What harm are they doing? Yes, there is some poo. Poo washes off. They aren't causing any structural damage and there are precious few trees left for birds to nest in so if not buildings where are they going to go?

The human resources manager in my brain is quietly suggesting this might not be an entirely rational response to being told some wild pigeons need to stop shitting all over your once beautiful balcony. The HR voice is trying to imply that maybe, the pigeons have become a bit of a no human baby placebo. Especially this week when looking at how beautiful your sister's family unit is, it's probably difficult realising the closest you have to that are these birds that fly away as soon as you open the door? HR voice pushes a pamphlet towards me about how being told they must go has probably hit the nerve of environmental guilt and fear that's chiming well with feeling powerless off the back of the wobbly gig. The main stupid voice in my brain is shouting "NO IT'S NONE OF THAT THANKS I ACTUALLY LOVE THE PIGEONS AND THAT MAN WAS EVIL AND THAT'S ALL THIS IS ABOUT."

I think about Nephew the Second angrily insisting he is not tired, and that the reason he threw a shoe at his Dad was well founded and nothing to do with the aforementioned sleepiness. I hope for his sake he stops being like me well before his thirties.

I stomp about for two days. Furious. Loading nephews into cars to go home and sleeping bags into washing machines to try and find the last of that smell. I continue stomping. I stomp around returning the flat to it's usual state: very little clutter, I don't like clutter. Do I?

More gigs pass; more ins and outs of a flat that slowly stops smelling like vomit. I remove the traces of a nephew infestation. It's a nice flat - I keep it very tidy. Because I don't like clutter do I?

Tom leaves for four days away and the flat is very quiet. WhatsApp brings me pictures and chatter and I don't really notice that I only talk to pigeons and audiences.

On Thursday, I go to have a look at the nest. Interesting fun fact, pigeons don't actually nest - they just lay an egg and then shit all around it in a vaguely nest shape. Eventually the nest shape fades as they just shit everywhere and live in a whole sea of shit. I suppose I hadn't really noticed the shit. I was looking at the pigeons.

It'll be nice to have the balcony back I suppose. No more vomit in the flat, no more shit on the balcony. I suppose everything's easier and cleaner without complications isn't it? That's good. I don't like clutter, do I? Focus on work and stuff. Productivity will go through the roof. The big brain boss will be delighted.

As I stepped out on to the balcony the parent birds flew off. Followed by one baby pigeon. And, hesitantly, the second. You bastards. I wasn't ready for you to go. Now I have to phone and tell the management and you can't live here any more.

I made the call. I explained I'd seen both the babies flying and that if they wanted to come and wash the "nest" off then I have some days off next week and they're welcome. I told them I refused to have spikes - that was too far. A net maybe. But no spikes. They say they will hurry along to get it cleared up before they start the next brood. I hung up. I felt empty and guilty.

I pop up to London and do a gig for an IVF charity - I see the lady who was the very first IVF baby do a speech and I think about how desperate people are for mess in their lives. How much we need to be clearing up messes to feel full. I think about the messy gig that made me feel wobbly... how much stronger I feel with two days distance, how I've already said I want to do it again because next time I'll wobble that little bit less. How I've found different messes to tidy. How I still want another little mess, maybe. Do I? Do I want clutter?

Friday morning dawns. Tom is still away. I get up and go to the kitchen to make a cup of tea - the mug goes down on the clean sideboard and everything is in its place. It's a beautiful Brighton morning, I unlock the balcony door to feel the cold air and look at my chicks. The chicks are gone - off enjoying their wings. Mother bird is standing triumphantly up to her knees(?) in the shit of her children, partner and her own motherly ass. She looks me in the eye, a little bit judgey - does she know I made the call? She might - the walls in flats are very thin. She doesn't - she's a bird. She steps to the edge of the balcony and flies away because she isn't my family she's terrified of me.

I survey the waves of shit - white, grey, black, green, yellow - all the colours of the shitbow spread like an ocean across my once pristine balcony. How did I not notice this building up? It's disgusting. I look at the spot where the mother bird had been standing, and there - perfect pure white amongst the pebble dash is a brand new egg. The second my eyes settle on this beautiful, oval stay of execution I realise why you never see the shit.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Two Humps One Motherboard

Recently I went to Dubai and had four days of rest time in the middle of the tour. Terry Pratchett has a wonderful series of books about tiny gnomes, and in this book he explains that "the faster you live the more time stretches out, it's all a sort of relativity."*

I am smaller than most adult humans, and I firmly believe that my attention span runs in accordance with Pratchett's laws concerning time. I need approximately one day of rest time every three weeks. Less than that and I loathe myself and the world, more than that I begin to climb the walls.

Four days off in a hotel without my people and my comforts and a strong idea of something I could pop out and do was too much for this gnome.

I decided to take myself on an adventure; a terrible, tacky, touristy adventure to a Nature Reserve in the UAE where I could sample the delights of Emirate culture along with 150 other people and neatly packaged into a 3 hour window. Pretty perfect.

On the drive out I was the only one in our pick-up car travelling alone so I got the front seat next to our driver Salim, who, as a born and bred Dubai native, began to happily tell me all about the sights and sounds of Dubai and the suburbs as we left civilisation and drove into the desert.**

Salim pointed out all the sights: "Those are flamingos, that's the tallest hotel in the world, that's modern slavery dressed up like progress." All the sights of Dubai.

Then we passed the camel race track and my mind boggled at the amount a good camel will go for. Turns out I would even be underachieving were I a camel rather than a human. I listen avidly to all facts about the camels and the races and the culture and then Salim slips in this little nugget of information...

"Of course, they don't have human jockeys any more - they have robots to ride the camels."

There is a short pause while I process this information and I flare up slightly... "No way? I call bullshit. Just because I'm a naive woman, travelling alone you think you can feed me this bull and I'll just sit there nodding and lapping it up? No."

He's still going, "The humans drive around in an inner track controlling the robots from the cars."

No, no they don't. Yes, obviously I’m stupid enough to have paid you for this trip to see “the real Arabia”™ circa a white person watching Aladdin in 1992 but I’m not going to believe everything you say.

The rest of the evening progresses beautifully... I lose a shoe in some sand, make friends with a Chinese couple who both sell lifts. Yep. I try and pose for a sunset selfie alone while all the men take photos of their girlfriends leaning back on the tops of the dunes. I do worry for this generation that entire relationships are going by without a single photo of the male portion of the relationship being recorded. But that's not my worry; I don't think my husband has ever stopped in his tracks to record my moments of grace and beauty. He is normally looking for a wet wipe to help me get the ice cream out of my hair.

I return to the hotel that evening and graze around on the internet for a bit before my mind returns to camel jockeys and I type it out and hit search. To be confronted by picture upon picture of tiny robots in jockey outfits sitting confidently betwixt two humps and awaiting their day in the perpetual sun.

Huh.

I firmly believe we are all about 10 years away from losing our jobs to some kind of robot, I just don't think jockeys ever suspected they'd be first in line.

What an awful meeting that must have been... to be called into the Race Manager's office.

"We've got to move with the times... I'm afraid, from now on we're going to be racing with robots."

"Oh hey, no, that's ok... I can ride a robot... I'm sure once I get used to it..."

"No, sorry - you've misunderstood... the camel is keeping it's job - it's you that's got to go."

To be less employable than a camel?
To belong to a species that has written itself out of something it invented for its own pleasure and exhilaration?
To be such a lazy species that we've written ourselves out of a sport where WE WEREN'T EVEN THE ONES RUNNING?

Makes you proud to be a human, doesn't it?

First they came for the jockeys and I didn't speak out for I am over 5'5"***

I like to believe the dole queue that week was just check out assistants and jockeys looking dismayed... a sea of older woman who loved a natter and a bag pack sitting looking forlorn amongst the feline men and women of previous racing fame.

"One day I just came in to work and there was... an unexpected item in the bagging area. A fucking robot. Between my humps. My humps! My humps! My humps! Replaced just because we're heavier than aluminium."

"We were replaced just because Tesco are a sack of shits and Sue often stole from the till. It's awful."

"We can't believe robots took our jobs."

A lonely cigarette raises its head in the corner, "Me neither doll face. We thought we were invincible."


Robots have snuck into every area of our lives, replacing jobs - yes. Also, freeing up people and time and energy to invent new things, new jobs and new ideas for the future as technology has always allowed.

Not all these robots, however, are doing a better job. I certainly don't remember in days gone by handing a load of £10 notes to a human cashier and having her accept 6 of them only to look at me, baffled, and hand 4 back saying,

"I'm sorry, I don't know what these are."
"They're £10 notes, just like the other ones."
"Are they though? Maybe you could just smooth down the corners?"
"Yeah, sure ok, here you go."
"Ok, I'll take these two but I still don't know about these two. Have them back."
"What if I give them to you the other way up?"
"Dunno try it."
"Here you go."
"Yeah, ok. I'll take one of them now but what the hell is this other one?"
"Take it."
"No."
"Take it."
"No."
"Take it."
"Oh look a £10 note! Great, I'll bank that for you."











* Do read The Bromeliad Trilogy if you haven't already and my apologies if I'm teaching you to suck those quail nuggets Grandma.

** We'll discuss at a later date to what extent I truly believe Dubai to be civilised.

*** Obviously I am not and was therefore at the picket line speaking out.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Egg Layer

I had the dream childhood; just hard enough that people still seem to like me now I'm an adult, but so easy that I never would have believed how much effort went into keeping my days breezy.

I grew up in the middle of Somerset; fields to the side and back of the house and estate of cycleable roads and playwithable children to the left. Pubs that could be worked in come my teenage years and plenty of villagers to nod at whilst walking the dog.

Nodding took on several meanings as I progressed through childhood... in the early days the nod meant "Yeah, you're damn straight I have a dog" then it progressed through several different incarnations of dog-nods from "Yeah, I can't believe my lazy ass parents make ME, a child, a prodigy waste my time of walking this furry shit-machine either" to "I'll nod at you but you really need to get a life, you're friends of my parents don't act like you know me" to finally "This nod is going to really mean something to you when I've gone away to University and become a famous actress."

I was always above my station.

Nowadays when I go back there is no dog left to walk, Caspar our golden retriever ate one sock too many (true story: you always knew which shits were his up the field because they'd have one of your best socks curled through it) and bit it about a decade ago. Now when I pop back the only option is to maybe walk mum; easier in that I rarely have to port a bag of her offerings around the block, harder because she has opinions on more than lamp posts and other dogs. If I ever have to manage a nod to someone on one of these walks you can be sure my inner monologue is "How are you still alive?! I left YEARS ago..."

The highlight of my childhood memories are the holidays... I am one of four children and every year come redundancy or high water we would be loaded into a car, top box bursting and tent at various stages of decomposition and carted off to some form of escape.

As I understand it, my early years were dominated by trips to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean but then my gluttonous parents decided that two angels were not enough and they bred two more... significantly reducing the luxury of our trips but greatly increasing the chances for excitement. Not that I really remember the beaches of St Lucia or the bays of Turkey... the one thing I can recall is having to have my hair braided at kids club and being utterly condescending about the ridiculous of the whole affair.

Looking back now as the wannabe liberal, left loving person I've attempted to become I'd like to try and claim that my reticence for corn rows was based on a desire to not culturally appropriate and not to use someone else's culture as my whimsical fashion statement. In reality, I think it just fucking hurt and I was annoyed that my sister had already cried off it and so I was stuck in the chair to save my mum's blushes at having two awfully behaved daughters.

Our family holidays soon gravitated to boats; a life long passion of my father's and something we all learned to yearn for. We would spend a week on a little watery caravan pottering up and down various rivers and canals in France - pulling in to small villages just in time for them to shut for whichever local holiday that day was (in reality I think they just enjoyed pissing off nob-head tourists by closing the shutters whenever someone with a guide book strolled into town) and begging my Dad to let us steer.

About three times a day Dad would need a beer or a wee and so the steering of the boat would be left to one of us. Whichever one it was would sit in the drivers seat looking piously at the others and pitying their total lack of competence. That was until the nose of the boat gently edged into the river bank and the cold sweat would appear instantly right the way down the back. Dad would reappear with a beer in one hand (regardless of whether he'd gone for a pee or a beer) and a small cigar in the other and try to coax us back into a straight lane with some encouragement, guidance and passive aggressive comments on our ineptitude at boat driving. One can only assume that by 8 he was Nelson.

Once the driver child in question was safely in tears and despondent at the idea of driving they would release the wheel back to Dad and he could resume his holiday. As a child I remember worrying that holidays were not fun for Dad; he just had to sit there steering the boat drinking beer and no one was allowed to talk to him much in case he couldn't concentrate. The man is a genius.


Last year we all went on holiday again. Unfortunately we were missing one sister, who has, one can only assume spurred on by the popularity of Game of Thrones, gone to live in the wild. They claim to have a house and cars and roads and things but I have looked on a map as to the location of their village in the Scottish Highlands and I refuse to comprehend how late night food deliveries and other such essentials arrive.

Since childhood we have now gained husbands and the next generation... they were all loaded in too. Minus my husband because he was working and my next generation because they do not exist. I needed to rewind the clock; I needed to feel that the world I used to know still exists somewhere hidden under a layer of decisions I now have to make and consequences of decisions I didn't make well enough. I thought if brie could still taste the same when eaten with trembling, exhausted post-swimming pool fingers, and air beds still went down in the night and pine needles still got everywhere despite your best attempts to brush your feet off before you went in the tent then... then what? I don't know. Then I was still living in the same world; it had all happened, and I could still be happy.

I bought an inflatable crocodile and orca on eBay, I got myself a camping chair and I booked a ferry and a campsite that looked like the past. My past. Off we went... I was loaded into the back of my sister's car with her two children... two little boys who were utterly furious with me for not being my husband but delighted because I have an inferiority complex and was therefore trying to make them love me by outshining my husband in the fun stakes. I failed but they let me try.

We put up a tent in the crushing rain, I argued with my mother, she argued back, we played cards into the bug filled night and we searched for gluten free food for my sister amongst the very few French words we could string together.

"Sans... what the fuck is gluten? Gluteene? Sans Glootin? Sans *mimes stomach ache*?"

Day after day of this holiday kept happening and I was having two different times; a time that was magical; a time that I knew I would always look back on fondly. Watching my one nephew spend the day wearing ear defenders and playing chess; refusing to come swimming or join in anything because he's 8 that 8 year olds are weird. Watching my other nephew come flying out of a tent shouting and wetting himself because he was weirded out by this prospect of predicting your pee in time to get to the toilet block. 14 is no age to go camping for the first time. I'm just kidding; he's 5.

The other time I was having was... hollow though. This wasn't right, was it? Sure - all the components of my childhood memories were there but I was different. I felt panicked and frightened all the time that I wasn't doing it right; I wasn't making the memories properly. I was shit now. Am I shit now? Has France and inflatables and everything stayed the same and it's me that's wrong? That's a route I'm scared to explore for long.

And then one evening, I found the clearing in the wood where the two paths converged. The nephews were grumpy and my brother was drunk and my sister and her husband were cross.

"Let's play 1, 2, 3, and in."

I think it was my idea but I'm sure family legend stated that we by now all think it was our own idea.

"What's 1, 2, 3 and in?" My brother the IDIOT asks.

"You know," I said, "Like hide and seek but you have to get back to the base and tag yourself in..."

"Oh!" He says, "You mean 40/40 in?"

My brother is 10 years younger than me and, it turns out, generations of children (much like regional herds of cattle) have slight variations to the way they speak. The very same game will have a million different names and variations as it spawns across years and counties.

We played. First we played on the empty plot by our tent... each running and chasing and hiding and laughing. It began to entertain the nephews; us playing a 1, 2, 3 and In Lite in order to patronise and occupy them but it soon turned into an all out war between the adults that delighted the children even more than the game set up to pander to them.

Footwear was exchanged for items with a more competitive grip on the foot and pretty soon we were all in agreement that we'd "completed" the game in this area of the campsite and a further challenge was required. We were off to the park.

There we were; four adults ages 21- 34 slamming round a childrens park with a 5 and an 8 year old losing their minds over what appeared to be happening.

"I'm not sure we should be doing this" says my wonderfully socially conscious brother in law, "it might be offputting for actual children who want to play here? The park is meant for them."

I looked over at the line of curious looking french children who were peering out from the edge of the park. They looked back at me. Feeling more self-conscious than I've ever felt before, conscious of being too old to be doing this in every possible sense of the phrase; I waved.

"Vous joue avec... us?" My half-baked sign language and I asked. The children looked to their leader; the older girl who looked like she'll be taller and more competent than me but July this year. She looked at them and let out a stream of the language I had so viciously mocked.

"We would love to; thank you."

And with that we had 5 little extras added to our game. No rules needed explaining; they'd been watching. They got it. "Un, deux, trois et ici" (None of us could for the life of us remember "in") had begun.

I felt not shit.

"Tell them off for egg laying!" My brother shouts, in response to the smallest French girl hanging around the base just waiting for us to peak out.

"Oh piss off, what the hell is "egg layer" in French?" I shout back.

"Oeuf! Oeuf is egg!" says my triumphant sister sprinting towards the bench that counts for the "maison".

"Couche d'oeuf! Couche d'oeuf! Pas de couche d'oeuf!" is our best approximation and we launch it at the baffled children who continue to giggle and run around with these laughing adults and their two little boys.

I felt really not shit.

By the time the light faded and the French parents began ambling across to find out where their children were and take them home to their first night of sleep with their own new family holiday memories in, we had 14 French children whisked in to our game.

I lay down on my combination of air bed and the French countryside that counted for mine and felt really, really not shit. I was sun burnt and tired; full of paella and a weird basil cheese we'd paid too much money for at a market. I'd played in a park with my brother and sister and some random French children we couldn't speak to but had played a game with; it was just like the past. The relief at still being someone other people want to play with... my god it was like a shower after sunshine or a kiss on the top of the head. The relief that, as a team; we still got it. I cried for the best reasons that night.

The next day I nod to lots of people on the campsite as I walk a furiously hopping 5 pee filled five year old to the toilets, "Yeah, that's right; I still got it. Probably still can't drive a boat but me and my sister are the ones your kids want to play with".

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Cheers Iokasti

I'm having a glass of wine to celebrate... a glass of wine from a bottle I was given on holiday in Crete nearly two years ago from the loveliest restaurant owner I have ever met. We do that thing that people with no money do with wine; we put it in the cupboard and save it for a special occasion and then spend years assuming that nothing that happens to us is special enough to deserve that wine. So the bottles accrue and suddenly we have all these bottles sitting there; waiting for our lives to get good enough to drink them.

I certainly didn't think I'd be drinking this bottle on a Wednesday in January whilst building my dream house with my husband on Sims. A project that's now in its 12th hour and really does answer the question of what childless couples do when they've run out of sex to have. I have to say though, this house is smashing. It's really cool. I'll DM you some photos if you're interested.

We didn't open this wine to celebrate the house... we'll get a Sim bottle for that. Feels appropriate. We're celebrating that today, I finally finished my course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and am released from Wednesday sessions until further notice. This bottle of wine feels appropriate because without a glimmer of exaggeration that holiday in Crete is the last time I remember feeling like little old rock solid me before everything broke.

When I last wrote about being put on medication and starting therapy a lot of people got in touch to say it was helpful and I liked that; I don't really like publicly grieving as it's not useful to me but publicly sharing information I do enjoy. This, by the way, is in no one to put down the experience of publicly sharing pain for other people; fuck no. Do what you have to do by all means and if anyone has an issue with you, wonder why it's easier for them to vocalise their complaint than scroll past and get on with their lives.

I debriefed with my CBT therapist today and we looked at the difference between the crash and now. It was really quite astounding. I had always previously downplayed my problems and my struggles for the big reason; I am not destructive. Other people with issues like mine turned to alcohol or other things and addictions to get themselves through and their lives suffered as a result. I am not like that; I'm not a particularly addictive personality. Obsessive; yes. But not addictive. So, in the maelstrom of everything going on in my head my life was continuing as normal and I really did just get on with everything. I was able to tell myself things couldn't be that bad because I wasn't losing work due to my drunkenness, I wasn't cheating on my husband to get a buzz, I wasn't anything; I was just broken.

On this side of the therapy I am able to see that those destructive behaviours are not depression or anxiety; they are symptoms that one may or may not have and the fact that I didn't have them did not make me faking in any way. If you feel similar; it's ok to be broken but not breaking anything.

The other thing masking a problem was stand-up comedy... somewhere along the line my life had boiled down to pretty much nothing except the pursuit of becoming a comedian. I had no hobbies, no interests, no pets, no children, and a fear of putting anything in my diary that wasn't comedy in case comedy came up. I would cancel any social plans for work and only travel to see friends around the country if I already had something in the area.

This level of dedication is possibly necessary to make it in comedy, but it doesn't make for a healthy human being. The difficulty is, a career in comedy is so varied and lively looking from the outside that it masks the unhealthy nature of being obsessed with your job. If I had been in an office and disappearing in to the office at 8am, coming out at 10pm, answering phone calls during dinner, leaving social events to deal with clients, not booking holidays in case work came in then it would have been easier to see the problem. Comedy masks that by looking fun. It's not even a case of working myself too hard, because let's face it; I'm hardly on Junior Doctor levels of exhaustion. It was about not being able to see that I had systematically removed everything except comedy from my life.

Even if you like your job, like I do (I love it) for me, having one thing be everything can't be right for a healthy mind, can it? I have had to comb through my time and try out some hobbies to see if I like them; nothing with targets or challenges or anything like that. Just out and out hobbies.

When I have finished this bottle of wine, I'm going to book a holiday with my husband to go somewhere and get given another one. I'm going to get a dog this year and look at houses and go horse riding and book tickets to things on a Saturday night and so fucking what if I'm offered a gig; I have plans. Plans to build the best goddamn house the Sims has ever been seen. They'll name Sims 5 after me. Sims 5: Lexxpansion Pack. Nailed it. Plans to play with the Magic: The Gathering cards I got for Christmas... sure, it sounds like most of my hobbies were plucked from the mind of a 15 year old, but THAT WAS THE LAST TIME I HAD HOBBIES so it's all I know ok? No judgement thanks.

I have a lot more to say on the subject of anxiety and depression and I'm going to keep writing it down here. Hopefully in a way that is fun in places. If it is useful or just interesting then I'm very glad of it and please feel free to point it or me in the direction of anyone else it might be useful to. Here is a link to my experience with anti-depressants in case you know someone who might find this anecdotal information helpful, or it's good for you:

http://lauralexx.blogspot.co.uk/2017/03/you-be-you.html

I am also currently putting together a new solo stand-up show that touches on these experiences in a definitely funny way and if you're interested in seeing it, head to my website for details: www.lauralexx.co.uk

Cheers.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Saintly

Do you know what the trouble with having a load of New Year Resolutions is? You realise exactly why you haven't been doing all of them forever - they're difficult and take some effort. Who wants to put effort in during January?

January diets are a myth; I'm totally convinced of that. No one has a clean cut off with the leftover chocolate from Christmas, do they? January is for finishing that guilt free because you have to or it's wasteful and mumbles something about rainforest or something, right?

I have got round the misery of a January health kick by actually starting it in December so that I don't feel like such a New Year twat. I saw a personal trainer once on the 20th December and then ate my body weight in potatoes every day for a week because it didn't matter; I'd seen a personal trainer. This was perfectly because I could confidently rock up to see the personal trainer on the 2nd January without feeling self-conscious that this new fad wouldn't last because I'd cleverly begun it last year. Take that, all you judgey looking dog walkers in the Brighton area who looked sceptical at my leggings. The only slight snag in this plan was arriving at the park only to have the personal trainer look at me with her head on one side wondering why the woman she had trained in December had managed to triple in size since learning what a squat was.

Hopefully, what I've managed to do there, though, is increase her passion for the job by showing her what a difficult task some people can be. I'm not sure she's ever trained anyone with burpee tourettes before but I think constantly being told where she can fuck to every time she politely asks for "3 more" of anything is going to really mould her into a better, more patient person.

As I'm still wading through Hotel Chocolat's back catalogue in order to get to my sofa, I thought when I visited the cinema this week I would try and avoid wasting a literal £20 on a box of popcorn. "I'll take my own snacks!" said 2018 me and popped a bag of hula hoops and an apple into my handbag.

The reason, I now know, that cinemas don't sell you apples in the foyer is twofold:

1. Apples do not provide the obligatory floor stick necessary to make a cinema feel like a cinema.
If someone spills popcorn on the floor it is oddly nostalgic; it's light and fluffy and doesn't get in anyone's way. Unloading a bushel of apples into the row in front causes an issue; apples are much harder than popcorn, they're bigger and they ferment. All in all, it's a ticking time bomb waiting to get the kids club drunk at 10am on a Saturday morning. There's also nowhere handy to put the core once you are finished... for some reason every single seat is furnished with a cup holder, but not even one of them has a core holder for the health conscious film lover. The floor seemed inappropriate for slippage reasons, but I'd not eaten the hula hoops yet so I didn't have a bag to put it in.

2. It is VERY hard to chew an apple in time to songs and dialogue you have not previously seen or heard before in order to not disturb other cinema-goers with the boulder you have decided to eat next to them.

I would have needed precisely two more weeks in a rehearsal room with Zac, Hugh and Zendaya in order to be able to not annoy each and every person sitting within 10 seats of me.

Some combination of apple and tooth provides the amplification of a top of the range Bose. Previously undiscovered levels of volume are exposed to the world when an apple meets a set of gnashers.


All in all, I'm not feeling apples as a cinema snack for the future. Some places I think apples are very appropriate as a snack:

1. A concert largely consisting of white noise.
2. The iPad shop.
3. When being attacked by a horde of doctors you need to keep at bay for a day.


In a week of trying to stick to a few new ideas to mould my life a little, I feel like apart from the apple hiccup* I have not done too badly... exercise has been done, hobbies have been sought, disposable bottles and cups have not been purchased. It is a little disheartening to have got the 6th of January and not been sent any form of medal or light financial incentive but, I suppose it's best not to rub it in the faces of people who haven't seen a miraculous turnaround like me. Who amongst you can honestly say that you've gone so far as to sweat in a park for 40 minutes AND choke on an apple this week?

Quite honestly by the end of next week I fully anticipate looking exactly like Jameela Jamila and rolling my eyes every time poor Meghan Markle is asked how she intends to be more like Laura Lexx in future. All the best women alliterate, don't you know.










*and again, I apologise profusely to the man who got home from The Greatest Showman in Brighton Odeon on Tuesday to find apple on the back of his neck. I hiccupped and the rest is obvious. I'm sorry.

Friday, December 15, 2017

The 365 After You

Well, 2017… I’m going to have to break up with you. I tell you what - I’ll give you about two weeks of gardening leave to sit about, pretending you’re still a year while we assume you’re done and get cosy with our families.

I’m sorry it’s ended this way, and it’s not that I won’t look back at you with a few fond memories… we went to Rome together, we went to France, we got into Dungeons and Dragons. There’s some cool stuff that I won’t need to burn after we say goodbye.

That we’re ending on such bad terms is, I suppose, in large part my fault. When we got together I was just coming off the back of a long term thing with 2016 and I didn’t give myself time to recover before I launched myself into you.

2016 was hard on me: I can’t even begin to describe how deeply depressed I got being with 2016.  We were not a good mix… 2016 brought out the worst in my depression but at least it was also the bottom and I bounced off it into help.

But hey, it’s not cool to talk about your exes, is it? Not in a break up letter. Sorry babe.

I thought, when I met you, my shiny little new year, that perhaps things would be on the up. You know, that’s how stories go isn’t it? The baddy (2016) kidnaps the princess and then the dashing Prince (2017) arrives just in the nick of time, as the clock strikes midnight and here we are… in a new once upon a time.

Annoyingly though, I don’t think we’re in a Grimm love story, my darling. I think we might we the product of one of these dirgey new writers that has to spin everything into nine different instalments instead of wrapping it up between two, not to be judged, covers.

Our death sentence, if you think about it, is so simple… we wanted different things, didn’t we?

I suppose, what it boils down to, 2017, is that I wanted you to have my babies and you have staunchly refused every step of the way. You wanted to focus on your career and I am SO proud of you for doing that - the progress you made for feminism with the Silence Breakers - my god I am in awe of you for being the year that did. For that, you will always have my heart.

I thought we were ready us two… you are two thousand and seventeen, I am thirty one… what better time in our lives to get on with it? I thought it was the right time for a child.

For a while, I thought maybe it was the commitment you weren’t into… perhaps you’re just not the children type. But then I saw you having kids with so many other people, I mean… as far as my raging hormones are telling me it’s absolutely every person in every advert ever made and every woman on the street and internet. You gave them all a baby! But not me.

So, I’m going.

I’ve heard about this new idea… it’s called 2018 and I’ve dug out its number and given it a call. It’s up for some team work, this new new year… it wants to work with me on lifting the silence around infertility and trying for a baby.

2018 is promising me something; it’s not going to be quiet and sad. I’m not going to feel ashamed. We’ve got a podcast coming out, and a show and everything else we can type and write that will help people, like me, who’ve had a bastard of a time making a family.

Our mission, me and old 2018, is to track down every incarnation of the urban legend that tells you “it’s the trying for a baby that stops you falling” and crushing it with our iron fists of fury. We’re going to find them all and say, “No one should be made to feel ashamed of wanting children so shove your cousin’s sister’s yoga teacher who tried for 3 years and then fell pregnant the second she stopped trying, shove her up your ClearBlue advert because we’re not interested.”



So, thank you for everything 2017… you’ve got a lovely side… but you’re not for me any more. I’m moving on.