Review-“Don’t Be Terrible”-by Ellen Waddell and Oliver Milburn

Don’t Be Terrible purports to ask if stand up can save your love life, and it does so by having affable Nice Man Steve attempt to win back his disinterested girlfriend by learning the art of comedy from jaded stand up Alice. What it actually does, in an impeccably acted and tightly written hour, asks what comedy really does for us, both as producers and consumers, and what it’s like when you don’t quite get (or suspect you are the butt of) the joke that surrounds you, especially if you’re a genuinely nice man trying not to fall into the dreaded Nice Guy trap.

Balancing comedy and theatre can be tricky but here the show is funny enough to keep you smiling for an hour and touching enough to never stop being an engaging play. The acting is nailed on throughout, including some impressively difficult physical moments. Though the show wouldn’t suffer from playing to a larger audience, there’s a particular level of immersion in a smaller room, especially at some of the darker points where the tension between the actors and audience is palpable enough to blur the fourth wall slightly.

The characters are drawn well enough to be relatable to a point where you don’t always have to like them, and the dialogue inhabitable without slipping into cliche right through to the painfully sweet conclusion where things are never quite OK because they aren’t, but at least we can laugh at them. Smart, real and sometimes brutally honest in a way only comedy can be, this is a funny, affecting and darkly comforting world to inhabit for an hour.

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In which a man told me to beware of thirty three

I wasn’t sure if I should write this. Or if I should publish it at least. I wasn’t going to and then I was and wasn’t again a few times so it’s now prudent to explain that it is the second of August, and yesterday was my birthday, and I was 34.

I had Feelings about this. I wrote a piece a couple of years ago about the pressure people feel to have their lives together when they turn 30, and how sometimes people are so busy ticking a list they miss the really awesome stuff they did without thinking about it. I explained turning 30 didn’t bother me, because when I was 16 I I invented the Law of Jarvis, which states that it is OK to be a complete and utter mess, an absolute laughing stock, a thorn in your mother’s side until you are 33 because that’s the age that Jarvis Cocker’s twenty years of dicking about with Mellotrons and claiming to be in a band culminated in the glories that are so very rightly his. So I had a pass in that regard.

And I’m actually so weird that when I turned 33 I decided I was going to honour that law, and have something to show for it, and make this Like My Fucking Year Dudes. It didn’t happen. Anyone who knows me and a fair number of people who don’t will be aware that I am, frankly, mental. Always have been. Sabotaged my childhood. Stole my twenties. I’m still waiting for this mythical day when I will magically be cured and spend the rest of my life smugly giving talks about how much better I am than people who are still ill, who are obviously just not spending enough time imposing arbitrary deadlines based on Britpop era chart placings. It ain’t gonna happen.

I’ve had quite the smorgasbord of diagnoses and treatments and what have you, but when I turned 33 last year it was the anorexia that had got me. Or still, to some extent, is getting me. And let me tell you, anorexia is a young girl’s game. Never in one of those things-to-do-in-your-30s lists was it written that you should sit shivering in a day unit,picking at a Kit Kat while nineteen year old waifs in Disney onesies sob quietly, being absolutely fucking mortified to have got yourself into this situation. So it was that I’d fucked it again. Didn’t get life sorted by thirty. Came up with cunning excuse, then fucked that deadline as well. What a tragic, useless bitch I turned out to be.

Then a few months after my 33rd birthday, and his 30th, my ex boyfriend died, and it really went to shit.

Let me explain. We met in 2004, when we were basically kids, and we had one of those big epic dramatic Epiphany Summers where we were absolutely obsessed with each other, and we stayed together for four years, and played house, and argued about books, and got a rabbit for some reason, and moved back to his beloved home city where eventually my choking insanity and his youthful panic at dealing with it hit critical and we broke up.

It was then, twenty five, broken, homeless, reeling and suicidal that I made the decisions that made me who I am now, and brought me to the point of having a reasonably enjoyable adult life doing things I’d been afraid to. Over the last couple of years we’d become friends again, having conducted a brutally painful post mortem of some of the hardest times in out lives and realised that even under that, in some way, we loved each other.

And he was thirty when he died. Thirty years, three months and nineteen days to be exact. His birthday is the 3rd of August. He’s never going to get his Jarvis moment. And he was clever, and charming and funny and argumentative and stubborn and passionate and he did wonderful work that he was very well respected for. And he was loved, so much, in so many ways by so many people, even me. Especially me. Who owns the shyly cocky eighteen year old version of him in a Sonic Youth T shirt trying to quote Larkin and pass it off as a thought of his to get in my pants. Who was not, in the end and really ever, the love of his life, or anyone’s. And who was angry with him, for a long time, because he hurt me in a way no one ever has.

But then ten years later it didn’t matter because there we were arguing about tuition fees and rating the cast of Casualty in order of attractiveness and buying books we didn’t need just to hang around the bookshop. And I kind of think, if we had known when we were kids that his time to live and succeed and do amazing stuff would be so limited, we probably would have got so hung up on going for the IMMENSELY MEANINGFUL TEACHABLE BUCKET LIST INSPIRATION PORN moments that we would have missed all the glorious nothing that you clock up by the time you’re in your late twenties.

The thing is, I wasn’t in love with him, hadn’t been for a decade. That’s fine. That’s how it goes. But what it is: if I had never known him, if we hadn’t had that beautifully ill advised game of house, if we’d called time on it sooner and parted ways like adults: I wouldn’t be who I am now. I wouldn’t have made the decision to train for a job I love. I wouldn’t have moved back to my adopted home city, where every inch of it is both him and the woman I became after he was gone. I wouldn’t know the people I do. Wouldn’t have gone back to complete my aborted creative writing MA so I could go HA HA HA I DID IT NYEHHH, which I just did, and somewhere along the line picked up accidental journalism credits and wrote two actual fucking plays. It was a doomed relationship. It was a huge mistake. It was a bad idea.

But it’s in every wonderful thing that I have. It’s every time I know I’m not going to fall to pieces for good, that I will be ill and get better and maybe get ill again and survive and go on. And he had less time than me, and I’m chatting shit now, but what I want to say here is that his thirty measly little years where he didn’t get married or become Prime Minister: they were fucking enough. He was enough. 

We’re all enough. Even me, even me. Even if we never write Common People or get elected or even spend that much time outside some form of hospital setting-those things aren’t the measure of a life. We’re not afraid, really, that we won’t live our best lives. We’re afraid that when we’re gone, we won’t have left any of ourselves with the people we leave behind.

I had an idea years ago that I would write a play charting a relationship using a playlist he made for me years ago. His music taste came off well in it. His boyfriend credentials, not so much.

When he died I made the playlist again, I added anything that had been dissected between us in the interim. It starts with Dashboard Confessional and it ends with Little Mix and that is weirdly as if he planned it. The play will probably never get made. It doesn’t matter. I may not be a Proper Writer, but I fucking wrote it. I wrote it because I felt it. I felt it because I knew him. Because I didn’t know he was going to up and fucking die on me midweek just before Christmas I never really had the big moment of telling him that. He’d probably have been insufferable if he did.

What I would like, I think, more than to write something that becomes as legendary as Common People (oh yeah we’re back on the Jarvis metaphor) is to know that I wrote or said or did or was something, at some point, that became a part of the best bit of someone else. I want to be what a classic song feels like. I want that more than I want a wedding or a book deal or a law degree. And I want it for you as well, when you think you’re shit. When I look at the people I know, the funny and fierce and brave and talented and loving people who make me want to do things better, and leave a trace of me in them, and I see how many of them behind the scenes are still feeling like they haven’t ticked off the bucket list, like they’re not enough, like they’re wasting time, I start to think maybe wasting time is kind of the point.

In about 1996 Jarvis did an interview about becoming an Amazing Success And Defying All The Odds in which he said something I’ve never forgotten. Admittedly in this interview he also justified shagging around on his long term girlfriend by saying “if your cock points in a certain direction you follow, because at least it’s an imperative.” (deduct three million feminism points, confiscate Mellotron for a week) but still, it’s worth knowing. He’s never let me down again since so here we go.

He said his plan for life was actually a bit unclear now that he was An Unlikely Success, Future National Treasure and Michael Jackson Antagonist, because life becomes boring if there isn’t always something else just out of your reach. He said, in a nutshell, that people who get whatever they want and achieve all their dreams tend to become boring, bored bastards. 

He’s right, you know. 

So there’s me, anyway. I’m 34, and I’m a lot less anorexic than I was a year ago. At the point now where it’s like an eroded tooth. All the drama and physical danger and frenzied obsession is gone and it’s exposed the godawful pain that made me do it in the first place. And that’s fine. I’ll live with that. I’ll live with myself til I like her at least a little bit. I’ll live with all of you, and you’ll all leave little traces of yourselves with me that make me better, and if I’m lucky I might do the same for you, I hope.

This has long been a lullaby of mine. It’s basically about how sometimes in all the ways that matter, being average is exactly what you most need to be. Remember that next time you fail or you’re ill or somehow make a tit of yourself. For as the Living God sings, aren’t you happy just to be alive?

Fuck it. Yes. Yes I am. You too, OK?

https://youtu.be/QwDZEAf9axY

In which Transport for London have little time for the Atkins diet

It’s generally been my experience that you never have to wait too long for the next argument on the internet. Even so, there’s a good number of debates that keep popping back up, like a photo of you in the mid 90s wearing ecru denim that your mum persistently re-tags you in on Facebook.

 

So I wasn’t entirely unprepared for the wave of protest that followed the announcement that one if Sadiq Khan’s first acts as newly elected Mayor of London was to ban what he called “body shaming” adverts on the Tube. The displeasure on Twitter ran the gamut from “creeping Sharia law” (no, really, that was an actual comment) “try cleaning the carriages first” (well…they might have a point there)  with most occupying the eternally self righteous dreadzone between freedom of speech concerns and “you can’t just ban everything that upsets you. Are you going to stop shampoo adverts because they hair-shame bald people?”

 

Only it’s not quite that simple.

 

Before we go any further, I’ll declare an interests. Firstly-I’ve already exhausted most of the above arguments on the “beach body ready” advert with obligatory woman in bikini that started all this last year, when in response to a petition about sexist advertising the Snake Oil Merchants Who Shall Remain Nameless decided to respond by humiliating and terrorising a much loved friend of mine on her Twitter account and unleashed a shitstorm which made the BBC and even made a pass through the rapacious self publicising tentacles of the sentient embodiment of the menstrual cramp, Katie Hopkins.  As I said at the time, the advert itself wouldn’t have induced any emotion in me other than stultifying boredom, but even if it did that wouldn’t be the real problem. The real problem is in the barrage of gleeful egg-account Internet Traffic Wardens who happily piled on to tell a recovering anorexic to “wear a burkha then” “stop being jealous of an attractive model because you’re ugly” and-here being the real rub-”why are you against people being healthy? Just go to the gym, if it upsets you!”

 

See, it’s that. That right there.

 

You see, Transport for London haven’t banned pictures of attractive models in bikinis. Attractive models in bikinis will still be there to sell you drinks and holidays and even-guess what-swimwear! The point here isn’t that the mere sight of a pretty person is enough to send the good folk of the capital into an entitlement tantrum, no matter how much the image would stroke your prejudices. The point isn’t that women should be covered up. The point isn’t hiding from anything remotely unpleasant with SAFE SPACES and TRIGGER WARNINGS and OTHER THINGS ARMCHAIR LIBERTARIANS ARE AGAINST WITHOUT ACTUALLY QUITE UNDERSTANDING. The point is very simple: these aren’t health products. They’re diet products. They are not one and the same. Let me explain why.

 

Now, just so we’re all clear, adverts don’t cause eating disorders. I’ll say it again: adverts do not cause eating disorders. Eating disorders are complicated psychological mechanisms for distress management that creep into the silent spaces where someone feels they’re not happy enough/good enough/worth enough and hides the ever expanding list behind: thin enough. I can vouch for this, because I have one. It may sometimes be more accurate to state that it has me. I didn’t become anorexic because I saw attractive people in bikinis. I never read fashion magazines-well, I tell a lie, I filched them off my cousin to read the filthy bits, teenage me had her priorities right on that score. Couldn’t have given less of a toss about the waistlines of the girls in the Topshop adverts. Still couldn’t.

 

But you see the thing is: I became anorexic because deep down, when you take away my intelligence and my sarcasm and my degree and my intersectional feminism, right down there in the quiet place: I believe I am worthless, and that I should be punished for this.

 

No trash TV or perfume billboard did that to me, or to any of the millions of other people (Rethink’s current estimate is that 25% of them are men) with eating disorders. I’ll tell you what though: it made it a hell of a lot easier to go on having one. To find an acceptable lie. To watch the TV host pour gallons of sugar into a tube and feel a little superior thrill at the expense of the fat person on the screen. To waste twenty quid on a useless product in the hope that if I take it like it says on the box or maybe a few more just to be sure, I’ll feel forgiven enough to eat something.

 

And when I’m writing this I’m not even thinking of me, or my beautiful friend who I mentioned before, and the dark places we’ve been, and the tears and scars and feeding tubes and Section 3 renewals and broken hearted parents and the numbers, the numbers, the ENDLESS FUCKING NUMBERS.  I’m thinking of the others.

 

The other women I know. The normal women. With no diagnosis, no pscyhiatrists, probably never even been on an SSRI. The ones who get on the Tube, every day. The ones who repost Facebook memes about all the stuff they eat that they know they shouldn’t. The once who announce, confronted with an office birthday cake, that it’s alright because “I’ve been good this week.” The women who get salad when they want pizza and haven’t drunk full fat Coke for years. The ones who still go to the gym with brutal head colds not because the endorphins will make them feel better, but because they need to know the books will balance properly, that they’ve done enough to be forgiven. The ones who prefer Starbucks to Costa because the calorie counts are on the menu.

 

The women who aren’t vapid sheep consuming media at face value or entitled snowflakes crying that it’s not fair she’s prettier. The ones who are uneasily aware, all the time, of the background hum around us all, that hum of not-good-enough-not-good-enough-never-be-good-enough, though they know better. The beautiful, brave, fierce, funny, clever women who are nurses and mothers and professors and artists and editors, and would never dream of insulting a fat person or telling their daughter to lose weight, but who know, because the culture that surrounds us leaves little germs wriggling through our minds and into our dark places, that when they feel bad, they feel fat.

 

My littlest niece is just over a year old. She loves food. I mean, she LOVES food. She’s memorised all the little signals that soon it will be time for food, and her utter unparallelled joy when they roll around is nothing short of adorable. And sad. Because I know she won’t keep it. I know one day she’ll be with friends or at a family dinner or on a date and she’ll say no to something that looks delicious, because for all of her life there’s been an industry that packages people’s insecurities in cute pink laxative teabags and sells it back to them as the pursuit of health. Because if you eat what you want you’ll be fat, and then you’ll need to but some carb blockers and fat burners and meal replacement shakes, so you can beat back the fat and be good and worthy and clean and pure and forgiven.

 

That is what body shaming is. That is why elevating trivia to a value judgement is harmful even to those who haven’t spent a lifetime banjaxing their self destruct button. And that is why, if I’m honest, I couldn’t give a toss that you don’t get to clock that model’s tits at Edgeware.

 

Things I Never Imagined I’d Have Done at 30

So I’m still not sure how I let this happen, but I turned thirty last year.

And….that was about it, really. I held my breath and put my fingers in my ears and shut my eyes and everything, but no seismic change took place at midnight. And this despite the frankly injudicious amount of Baileys in my Baileys latte. Despite the twin facts that I am terminally single and have no children, and despite the fact that if I’m honest I had always seen 30 as some kind of celestial cut off point, I don’t appear to have entered my Sperm Bandit Years even a whole birthday later.

Now this may in part be because I’ve plotted my adult life according to the Law of Jarvis, or if you ask my best friend the “how-old-was-Jarvis-when-he-did-the-thing-thing” which was devised when my painfully virginal sixteen year old self saw the Do You Remember The First Time documentary and learned that the great man himself didn’t cash in his v-card til a mere few weeks shy of his twentieth birthday. The living deity himself endured cold hearted teenage rejection right up to the wire but oh, what glories were to follow! And with that Fresher’s Week had forever lost it’s terror. (creepy fact: I was almost exactly the same age, and a small part of me considers that an homage rather than an indictment of my market value) Now according to the Law of Jarvis I have until I am 33 to achieve success, be hailed as a living god and then have a Creator Breakdown and spend a year in hiding writing really bitchy songs about Tony Blair. And I don’t need to worry that I’ll never have kids til I’m well into my forties. Result!

So, disturbing and weird as this all may be, at least I didn’t have a full on Bridget Jones my-life-is-over brain melt and start making up aloof-sex-goddess names to write on my coffee andattempt flirtation with Starbucks staff.

But maybe I did, a bit.

An important fact here: I am thirty years, two months, sixteen days and two hours older than my first ever niece. Like me, she came the exact day she was supposed to and like me, she was born during a thunderstorm and I adore her beyond measure, as I do the sister from whence she came. Who-here goes-is two years younger than me.

‘I didn’t have a problem with this. People asked, and it really wasn’t a thing. My sister was always the kind of child who planned her wedding with a tea towel on her head and named all her dolls the names she’d picked for her four babies. I was the kind of child wont to run downstairs in a blind panic at midnight to tearfully inform my parents I couldn’t stop blinking. That’s families, and in particular, sisters. We grew up wrapped around each other, as you do, but we are poles apart in the Game of Life tactic stakes. Her gameplan was always very different from mine, and there is nothing at all wrong with the priorities either of us set for

I did get to thinking, though.

About life and plans and being thirty and stuff, and about being someone’s big sister, and hoping that in between doing each other’s homework and grassing on her for bunking off school, I passed on something to her, something I will pass on to her daughters (second one imminent) something about hope/bravery/wishing/love/happiness or whatever.

And I hoped I, and my sister and my nieces, would think I was worth it.

And I kept thinking over the next year, not all the time, just sometimes.

When I was about 12 and a strange, sad, confused little thing,I spent much of my time upstairs with my typewriter and my copy of Pulp’s Different Class with amazing changeable covers, trying to write something that felt like listening to that album. At the most I managed some clumsy purple prose that made too much reference to soft furnishings. However, I spent the weekends at my auntie’s house for reasons that involve the bizarre North West subculture of girls’ competitive Morris dancing (NO WORD OF A LIE RIGHT) happily eating sandwiches made of digestive biscuits and Nutella and sometimes gaining access to the Narnia of my cousin’s bedroom. She was ten years older than me and her room smelled like secrets and Impulse and she once let me taste Hooch and she had an amazing selection of magazines with filthy bits, which I would sneak out into the spare room and scour for information about what being an Adult would be like. I was fairly sure I would need some instructions for this, having proved not overly good at being a child. And what I found when I looked for instructions was those lists. You know the Lists. Things You Should Have Done/Worn/Owned/Eaten/Forced Yourself To Give A Shit About Before You Turn 30 And Your Youth And Promise Fade Overnight, Forever And Ever. All these lists that try and reduce thousands of weird and gorgeous and scary and funny and brave women into a bullet pointed list of value judgements and none of them ever say “before turning 30 every woman should have perfected the art of looking casual in Boots whilst costing up pregnancy tests.”

I hate the bloody things. I hate them and I’m not going to deconstruct them anymore, because I’m going to tell you to go here where Ellen takes them apart and reassembles them far more succinctly and with much greater wit than I could.

And it was while I was reading her scarily accurate reworked list that it occured to me that of course I wasn’t the person little me had conjured up from mid 90s magazine lists and sneaking Bridget Jones’s Diary out of the library. Nobody ever is. That’s the whole point of your twenties. And while you probably didn’t need me to point that out to you, I wondered why nobody ever made a list of all the things they never imagined they’d do, or have done, or be doing, at 30.

Because it seems to me like all the list things: getting a tattoo, planning a wedding, losing your passport in Magaluf- anyone can do that shit without even thinking. That’s exactly why it ends up on the lists. Cold reading as lifestyle journalism: the abyss stares back. The stories, I reckon, are in the bits we didn’t imagine.

An example: When I was little, all I ever wanted to do was write books. For a couple of years when I discovered music, I made up bands in my head-my lack of a) discernible musical talent and b) friends rather ruling out an us-against-the-world platinum album followed by painful Behind The Music episode. When I hit 17 I fell down the fanzine rabbithole armed with a) a best friend who enabled the shit out of my schemes and b) my poor battered lecky typewriter-my god, if those keys could talk. I’m not going to lie, these were some of the best times of my entire life. I’m still the bassist in perennial non existent indie also-rans Unexplained Calf. That was a whole other thing, I’ll-nah, I probably won’t get to that later, it makes me sound weird.

But I don’t write books for a living.  There’s a long and a short and a wry-little-joke-peppered version of that story and I alternate them like the writer I’m not, but in short what happened is: I went mad. I was pretty much born with OCD, and my first memories of this are the secret magic spells it was my job to do every night, as my sister slept next to me, or something awful would happen to her and it would be all my fault when she was dead. And I got older, and sadder, and the evil hissing spiteful bitch who snarls out at me from the mirror led me to hurt myself in ways it makes me sad to remember and starve myself to keep her fed, and there were hospitals and pills and stitches and hands I washed til they bled and they still weren’t clean enough, and therapists and food replacement drinks that tasted like Baileys which had been pissed out by a racehorse. And I got more scared, and more sad, and I ended up in my mid twenties spun entirely into a web of all the things I hadn’t done, and all the things I’d never be. Suicidal, in fact. Within a hairs’ breadth of never making 26, fuck 30. I wasn’t ticking off items on the list. No house, no wedding, no baby, no career, no books, no success, no fascinating anecdotes, no job even, no friends who didn’t pity me, no future, no worth, no point, no, no, fucking NO

Clearly, something had to be done.

I have this friend who made a whole show out of going back and doing all the jobs she dreamt of as a little girl (which you should totally go and see, by the way. Juliette is a major force for good in the world AND SHE HAS A MUPPET OF HERSELF). And in the end I picked myself up and threw myself into getting a job no little girl, anywhere, EVER, has wanted when she grew up. Hold your breath… I’m a fucking social worker, kids. I told you. Nobody dreams of that as a child. But here’s the thing: it saved me. And I love it. It’s one of the best parts of my story, I think, and no script editor would have thrown that one out in a million years.

And that’s what I’m trying to say. I think that’s true for all of us, and I think your 30 List will be better and braver and weirder than some dross on the other side of a perfume advert. If I were Juliette orEllen or one of those other smart and brave girls I never was,  I’d probably be putting together for this years Edinburgh Fringe a show of all the things we never dreamt we’d have done when we woke up in a cold sweat at thirty and realised we were adults.

But I’m not. I’m this girl, in this story right here, and so this is my (somewhat befuddled) list of Things I Never Imagined I’d Have Done at 30:

My job. I never thought I’d be able to do it, and I never thought it would show me so much.

I never thought I’d sit holding the hand of a man who sobbed with joy and relief when he saw in the file that his birth mother hadn’t wanted to give him away.

I never thought I’d be able to manage alone in a house full of angry, broken teenagers as a terrified and unprepared substitute parent or that I would, in the end, love them all, or that one of them would pop up on Jeremy Kyle some years later (THAT’S THIS WHOLE OTHER THING, RIGHT…)

I never thought I could convince someone, really make her feel, as I sat on the phone shaking and dry mouthed and scribbling details so people could find her as she sobbed down the phone, that her life was precious, and it could be good again, better than good, and that she was never going to be alone with the fear that it wouldn’t.

I never thought I’d keep the card she sent me to say thank you under my pillow for a three month sojourn taking time off from life on the National Anxiety Disorders Residential Unit at Bethlem Royal Hospital. That was a thing I hadn’t banked on as well.

I never thought I’d go of my own free will to the place that defines the word asylum, to eat biscuits out of bins and wear red lipstick on the Tube where people can see me and might think I don’t know I’m ugly. I never thought I’d last that long at it without bailing back home. But I did. And I did every terrifying thing they cooked up for me (and ate it all, too).

I never imagined how much it word hurt to hear a sweet, scared 18 year old saying in a therapy group that “I don’t want to be like, thirty, and still be in places like this..” then immediately apologising to me because….yeah.

I didn’t think I’d have it in me to just hug her and say: you’re right. You’re right and you will not turn into me. There is so much, so much that you can do. I lost years, but you won’t.

I didn’t believe, really, that it would work. I never imagined I would really be able to eat food and not numbers, that I wouldn’t write the worst thoughts in my head up both my arms and cast spells to keep me safe from my own pathetic/weak/stupid/ugly/wrong/hateful/evil/fat/angry/lonely/sad/scared self

and the power of that ice cold feeling that you fucked it again.

I didn’t think I’d sit here now, past the magic number on the evil scale, and be brave enough to say that scares me shitless, because if I say these things out loud and not on my body, they can’t touch me.

I didn’t imagine that the bands I loved as a strange little girl would still be going strong, and that I would spend most of my 30th year seeing them live, with the friends I made because of them, fucking smashing it, and seeing other strange little girls discovering themselves to the same soundtrack, and loving it.

I didn’t think I’d have the stomach to let someone screen my picture, cursed face and scarred arms all present and correct, to a sold out house at the Edinburgh Fringe (I was representing Honesty. And people who’ve spent their lives trying not to be photographed. Them too)

I never thought I’d hear my dad, my lovely clever dad who I always wanted so much to be like, tell someone he was lucky to have a daughter who taught him things, and have  to duck out of the room because my mascara wasn’t waterproof.

I never thought I’d still be getting use out of my useless degree (Cultural Studies and English, fyi) and that rather than wishing I’d done teaching as my mother predicted I would, I would be profoundly grateful that I did what I wanted instead of what scared me less, and still working my way down the reading lists.

I never thought I’d still be spending nights having YouTube nostalgia battles and writing sketches funny only to us with my first best friend, the funny and vital and rare boy who it turns out was just as scared as I was all along, who kept me going from four to seventeen then left the country trying to run away from himself

I never thought my next best friend, who produced awful fanzines with me and introduced me to Radio 4 and made my university years the happiest of my life and at whose wedding I cried my false lashes off reading out the Velveteen Rabbit, and who held me while I sobbed and sobbed because I couldn’t even die without fucking it up, would still even want to speak to me, never mind still be the smartest, kindest, most gorgeous woman I know and have THREE SPINNING WHEELS IN HER HOUSE which your best friend clearly doesn’t.

I never thought I’d be sitting here as I type this googling PhD opportunities in said useless subject because I can. I could. At some point before I die and hopefully a lot sooner, I will.

I couldn’t have imagined so many jobs and bedrooms and books and songs and stories and overindulged pet rabbits and ill advised T shirt purchases and girls with kissable lips and boys with eyes I drowned in, and I’d never have believed you that even the awful bits would be worth so much more at this point than what some publishing house intern thinks a thirty year old life is measured by. And you won’t believe me when I say it to you, but it’s true. You contain multitudes. You’re going to be fine. You always were fine. In spite of everything, life’s a bit of a bloody adventure, really. And it’s like those books you had to flip the pages of to get the chosen ending, and you always cheated and tried to go back, but even though you can’t go back, you can always, always keep going forward. And you always should. I’ll be so pissed at you if you don’t.

So.

Want to tell me your list?

This article originally appeared on http://manchestermind.org on 21st January 2015