Grateful for a collection of words on a page

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read. Some of my earliest memories are of borrowing Enid Blyton books from the ‘library’ at my grandparents’ house: a bookshelf especially for us grandchildren, crammed with magical tales of The Secret Seven, The Famous Five, The Faraway Tree and The Twins at St. Clare’s: well-thumbed pages rich with nostalgia (and with that dusty, musty smell all old books seem to adopt), the same stories that had been devoured years earlier by my father and aunties. I couldn’t get enough of these sepia-tinted worlds; worlds in which children would pack up their sandwiches and run off for an adventure in the woods, where food always tasted better outside, and where everything was always alright in the end.

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My parents would often read to me before bed, and unlike my brother, who would be asleep less than halfway down the first page, I would always beg for just one more chapter – I remember being ill one night and my Dad picking up The Island of Adventure to take my mind off it, despite the fact that it was dark outside and way past my bedtime. What a treat! Reading has always been my favourite escape.

I would however be lying if I said that having discovered the wide criticism of Blyton’s work as an adult hasn’t tainted my love of these magical stories somewhat. It is hard to read any of the originals now without picking up on the themes of racism, sexism and elitism that led to her works being banned from more public libraries than any other author (thanks, Wikipedia!) – and re-reading one of the stories this Christmas with my cousins, it was also hard not to laugh at how horrifyingly racist the depictions of her non-white characters actually were, and how ridiculously and idealistically middle-class everything seemed.

I can safely say that these descriptions have in no way or shape informed my own opinions of the world, but perhaps I’m just lucky that they also didn’t match the values of my own parents. Maybe if I had not been a white, middle-class child myself, I might have questioned why the black characters were always depicted as mean and frightening, or why Georgina was considered boyish because she didn’t have long hair, or why it was always the female characters that had to make the picnic, whilst the boys went off to save the world.

Sadly, I don’t think I would give these books to my own children (if I have any) – and that makes me incredibly sad, because they genuinely brought so much joy to my own childhood. Although Blyton was also often criticised for being too simplistic, her stories sparked my imagination no end. I loved being transported to these different worlds, whether boarding schools or enchanted forests, haunted houses or distant islands – but they are no longer stories for our time. I merely took Blyton’s words at face-value, enjoyed them for what they were and looked no further. The English Literature student in me shudders; never again. We expect more from our literature these days; we have a responsibility to ensure that the words we give to our children only broaden minds, rather than close them. JK Rowling created a world so vivid, so rich and so layered, that it appealed to adults and children alike – and if I compare the two authors… well, there really is no comparison.

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When I started my English degree in 2005, somebody told me that I would never read a book the same way again – and they were absolutely right. I learnt to read critically, to subconsciously identify themes, subtext, social commentary. And it was fun! If I thought Enid Blyton could transport me to a new world, I was nowhere near ready for modules on Post-Colonial Women’s Writing or Modernity, Crisis and Narrative Fiction; for works by Margaret Atwood, Arundhati Roy, Yevgeny Zamyatin or Djuana Barnes (Jo – that one’s for you). My degree opened my mind to so many more possibilities, collections of words that I had yet to read, words that had the power to create such emotion, passion and genuine feeling. I still sometimes have to stop myself from underlining a phrase or making a note in the margin.

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Films are fantastic, but they can’t give you the depth of character that a book can. I’m in awe of anyone who can craft a character, a made up person, that the reader genuinely cares about. I felt almost bereft at the end of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch; having travelled with the central character, Theo through many years of his life, through great emotional turmoil and trauma, I just wasn’t ready to leave him at the end of the book. And in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale – now wonderfully captured in the new TV series – how desperately we hope that Offred is travelling to safety at the end of the novel, how passionately we care about her, having been inside her head for hundreds of pages. I loved the TV series, but I’m sure part of that love came from knowing the book beforehand, having an even greater insight into the characters than was played out on screen.

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And before you think I’m all highbrow, miss ‘high and mighty I only read high quality literature’, I love a good trashy thriller too. Who wasn’t on the edge of their seats for the final pages of Gone Girl?! Reading is subjective – we all have our preferences, and I love that. There’s no requirement to stick to one genre, or to only read Man Booker Prize nominees, or to like everything your friends like. It’s good to mix it up! I even read a terrifying book called The Game a few years ago: no, not a horror story, but an insight into the slimy, is-this-even-serious world of the ‘pickup artist’; an allegedly true story in which a seemingly unattractive man is able to sleep his way around America thanks to a series of tricks and strategies to dupe women into finding him attractive. Yuck! Whilst this didn’t quite dash all my hopes of ever finding Prince Charming, it was certainly illuminating – and hey, that’s the power of the written word.

About a year ago, I met the then-two year old twins of my boss; I hadn’t even got into the room before one of them had brought me a book and plonked himself down next to me, right there in the hallway, so excited was he to get straight into the story. It was just lovely! And recently, I had the pleasure of reading a bedtime story to my friends’ six month old daughter. Even at that tiny age, it was clear to see she was transfixed by the pictures (and of course my outstanding dramatic performance!). It’s so important that we step away from the screen and look at some words every now and then (or stay on the screen if you’ve got a Kindle – no judgement here), and the younger the better.

I can’t understand it when I meet people who tell me ‘I don’t read’. I just don’t get it! I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t read as much as I’d like to – of course scrolling through Facebook or watching X Factor is sometimes simply the easier option, but why would you want to limit yourself like that?

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Grateful for Olly and FiFi

Dear Girls 

I feel like I’ve been soppy-grateful for a lot of people recently, but honestly, what is this life if not for the people you choose to have in it? So this weekend, apologies girls but you’re getting a joint one, because that’s what you get for having your birthdays a week apart.

As mentioned in a previous post, our friendship is one that arose out of coincidental circumstances – essentially, you were both moving to London and desperate to find somewhere to live, and I happened to be connected to both of those living situations. I can’t believe how quickly our friendships have grown – to the point where not a day goes by without approx. 1 million Whatsapp messages flying around between our group of four (not forgetting you, Julia): moaning about our journeys to work, moaning about work, moaning about what we have to do after work… thank goodness we all like moaning just as much as each other.

But all jokes aside, that group is so much more than a forum for complaining about our first world problems: it’s a support network, somewhere we can go for advice, a confidence boost, a sympathetic ear or a fist-pump emoji (if time is short: we are millennials you know). Of course this Whatsapp group is not the extent of our friendship: it is born of our need to know exactly what we are all doing/eating/thinking at any given moment. That’s true friendship right?! (Or perhaps we just need more hobbies).

Fiona, I was surprised to notice that you didn’t have the curly red hair I had imagined when I first met you (is that some kind of awful Liverpool stereotype? If so, I apologise). But everything else I had heard about you was true: that you were a lovely girl, a great laugh and so easy to get along with. We became friends almost instantly, and very soon our little Streatham group of four was formed. 

I’m so happy you came into my life at that time: you constantly show me new ways of looking at things – never confrontational, always mature and mindful of others’ feelings, you’re so open minded and measured in your way of approaching things. You’ve taught me that it’s okay to take the time to think things through, but you’ll take no crap from anyone (Fitness First, lower your weapons), and I love it when you get all ‘lawyer’ on people.

I’ll always admire your bravery: moving to London, starting a new job, throwing yourself into a new group of friends – and then taking the huge step of buying a home, whilst tackling a far from easy time at work. We all know it was tough for you, but you showed (and continue to show) such strength of character and professionalism throughout. How could we do anything but love you?! Your Muttley laugh cheers up the dullest of days and your kindness and generosity is always so appreciated. 

And I know I always have you in my corner: whether it’s to introduce me to an excellent new Netflix series (hello Rupaul’s Drag Race: can I get an Amen up in here?!), share eyebrow tips, or (literally) run away from teenage Hoodies pelting ice at us on the Streatham High Road. I didn’t know I would gain a new best friend last year, but I’m so happy I did.  

Olly, my fellow clumsy sister, your confidence and your poise constantly inspire me. Watching you flag down a bus recently, I realised that even the way you do that completely irrelevant task is so full of self-assurance: I would have limply fluttered my hand out, inexplicably embarrassed, but you thrust your arm into the air, knowing your rights as a bus-riding customer, an independent woman in a modern world. This is a ridiculous example, I’m aware, but to me it also illustrates how you do everything in your life: with passion, self-confidence and commitment.

I’m so proud of the way you’ve carved out a life for yourself in your new home, despite the rocky road that lead to your moving in date: putting yourself out there to make new friends (both human and four-legged) and making your flat so beautiful and homely. You have such a flair for interior design, and I am so jealous& You love hosting, sharing your great talent for cooking and looking after others (I can’t say I’ve ever stayed at another friends’ house after a drunken night out and been run a Jo Malone bath the next morning; as you would say, ‘dreamy’!).

You are the most organised person in history when it comes to planning events: making birthdays, baby showers and hen parties extra special, for the friends who you love so dearly. You will go so far out of your way to ensure plans are executed perfectly and everybody has a brilliant time, still managing to squeeze in a packed schedule of social engagements and work commitments, your trusty Filofax always bursting with notes and appointments (and carpet samples!). You’re such a caring person, always keen to think of solutions to the problems of others. 

You’re always there to give me a word of encouragement, to help me stand up for myself and reach for the stars. I’m in awe when I hear about your achievements at work: presenting to rooms full of people without a hint of nerves, dreaming up creative ideas and fun ways to engage with people. I wish I had half your confidence: please never stop pushing me, never stop encouraging me to step past my stupid anxieties – I appreciate it so, so much. 

I’ll honestly treasure the memories of our holiday to Cyprus this year: whilst not the most cultured or crazy of trips, I think to have an entire week without one snappy word or sigh of frustration – and instead to have one literally full of laugher – is huge testament to our friendship, and long may it continue. You girls make me laugh so much: I know that whatever we are doing we’ll have a good time. 

Thank you Olly and Fi, for being such important women and role models in my life: you constantly inspire me, both professionally and personally. Happy birthday my loves – I’m so grateful to know you.

All my love,

Clare XXX


Grateful for my secret boyfriend, Prince Harry

This Sunday I went to Kensington Palace to see the Diana: Her Fashion Story exhibition. (I know, I know – many of you may think I live there anyway due to my super secret relationship with Prince Harry. Alas, you are mistaken). 

It was wonderful to see some of the beautiful clothing (plus a few hideous eighties ensembles!) that had been worn by Diana, and at the same time completely heartbreaking to know that some of the pieces were worn just a few months before her death. The dresses also documented some of the most press-worthy moments in her life: the beautiful gown she wore to dance with John Travolta in Buckingham Palace (wow, what a moment); the outfit worn during the iconic moment she consciously removed her gloves to shake the hands of an AIDS patient. I love how the exhibition mainly included dresses that highlighted Diana as a person and an individual, rather than simply as a sidekick to Charles. 

The exhibition also featured a slide show of moments from Diana’s royal career and beyond, and served as a sobering reminder of a life cut terribly short. How much more she could have achieved had things turned out differently, we’ll never know. I hadn’t ever really paid much attention to the idea of Diana as an independent woman, but even from the way she dressed post-Charles, it is clear that she was very much her own person. 

For William and Harry, I could never imagine the incredible weight of having to go through the trauma of their mother’s death in the public eye, to be faced with constant stories and photographs prying into every aspect of her short life. It’s amazing that both of them have spoken publicly about their grief as adults; so brave and dignified, there’s no question that they have done Diana proud. 

And so today reminded me of something else: I just really, really love the royals. And by royals I’m mainly talking about my boys William and Harry here: the shining figureheads for our country, forward-looking and good-humoured, hardworking and well mannered. What’s not to like?! 

I guess my love really started to grow during the hype around the royal wedding in 2011: a free day off work, absolute bonus! Then 2012, with the London Olympics and Golden Jubilee: what a year for the UK. I never expected to feel such love for my home country; the atmosphere in London that year seemed to be quite electric, so positive and together; we had such a shared sense of community and pride. I attended a Jubilee party with union jacks stuck to my face, painted my nails red, white and blue, watched Mo Farrah win the 10,000m gold from a big screen in Hyde Park. Where have we gone since then? 

For those who argue that the royal family should be abolished, don’t bring anything to this country, blah blah blah: a) stop being so miserable, and b) Prince Philip retired at 95! Harry served on the front line! Plus, you only have to walk anywhere near Buckingham Palace to see how much tourism they bring to the UK. 

So me and Harry have literally been in the same room three times now, and I don’t know about you but in my world, that pretty much constitutes a long-term relationship. Reason number 4,435 why I love Prince Harry: he seems like such a normal guy! And as Harry’s likelihood of reaching the throne dwindles, he seems to get ever-more normal (or at least more so than his older brother). But let’s be honest, even pre-royal baby he was dressing up as a nazi and playing pool naked. But why the hell not?! (Okay, granted: nazi costume, never a sensible idea). We’ll still love you Harry, regardless of what you do. And who’s heart didn’t melt at the video of him and the little girl stealing his popcorn at this week’s Invictus Games? He’s a lad but he’s great with children too. Swoon!

I was lucky enough to hear Harry speak in person and to actually meet him face-to-face at a drinks reception last year (!!!), and he genuinely seemed like such a down to earth person; so eloquent, warm and natural, with a touch of that Army Officer banter – joking about how the Daily Mail had printed nonsense about Meghan, and speaking very frankly about the struggles faced by those with PTSD – a cause he was clearly very passionate about. Thank goodness I wasn’t expected to utter a single word beyond “nice to meet you” to him, because every single word in the English language promptly left my head as soon as we shook hands. Thank goodness I was with my boss who was able to actually engage in grown-up conversation! I spent the entire evening refusing canapés incase I was introduced to him with a mouth full of miniature Yorkshire pudding. 

And it’s not just the boys; I’ve got to give it to Beatrice and Eugenie too: if you want to wear the most hideous hats to your cousin’s wedding: you go girls. And Zara: if you want to marry the most un-Royal rugby player you can possibly find: do it! Sure, we’re probably not going to bump into Kate in Primark any time soon, but this younger generation seems so much more… normal. And who doesn’t want a bit of that?!

Grateful for Becky

Dear Becky

On the week of your 31st birthday, how could I be anything but grateful for you, my angel? I don’t even know where to start talking about all the ways in which you’ve positively impacted my life… so I guess I’ll start at the beginning.

I knew you as the girlfriend of somebody, and you knew me as the girlfriend of somebody else. For some odd reason it never crossed either of our minds to step outside of our bubbles and know each other for who we really were… until we both found ourselves very suddenly single. You knew how I was feeling, and you reached out to me and invited me into your life. 

You welcomed me into your friendship group, you picked me up and showed me the way; always so confident and positive, seeing the opportunity for fun in every empty Friday night (and in every empty glass). You taught me how blissfully, selfishly wonderful it was to be young, free and single in London. How we could blow all our money on a trip to New York, drink Bloody Marys on Tuesday nights, blag our way into VIP areas or go dancing all night (even if we were moving house the next day). 

Most importantly you taught me about friendship; about including everybody and saying yes to every invite. Everyone you meet is a potential friend, after all – and our group wouldn’t exist at all had it not been for you, Becky: the glue that brought us all together. Having such a strong group of female friends has enriched my life no end: we lift each other up. A fantastic networker, you’re the life and soul of any party: you draw people to you with your spark, your enthusiasm and your beautiful smile. Even at nine months pregnant, you were still just as fun as ever – no Aperol required! It’s no surprise that your life is so full of friends from so many different times and places. 

I was so unbelievably proud of you when you took the scary step of going travelling on your own. It was a big decision but you took a leap of faith and – of course – it all worked out. Your passion for life and your willingness to try new things constantly inspires me. 

We navigated the tumultuous minefield that was the London dating scene (you rather more successfully than me). Agonised over text messages, made ridiculous decisions, laughed (and cried) over disastrous experiences that should have had their own column in a trashy newspaper. If only we’d had the balls to follow Price Harry that time! 

We’ve shared so many fun times together… but you were also a steady rock in my life when things started falling apart Throughout Mum’s illness you were constantly there for me: sending almost daily text messages just to let me know you were thinking about me (and I know you never thought you had the right words to say, but you absolutely did; each of those messages meant so, so much to me), you were the person who was there with a large glass of wine as I arrived back in London from a harrowing weekend at home; you were the one who rang me in tears when we found out there was no cure, and the one who offered to drive up to the Midlands and see me, just to give me a hug. I can’t tell you how much your friendship meant to me during that time. You’re such an empathetic person, always thinking of others, trying to find exactly the right words; desperately wanting to just make everything better. And you do – even if just for a moment.

Nobody deserves the beautiful family you now have more than you do: Antony is such a perfect match for you and you have no idea how much joy baby Joshua brings to me every time I see his little face (actually, who am I kidding? Of course you do!). You’re just bursting with love for that little man and it makes me so, so happy to see. I’m honoured that I’ll be walking down the aisle before you when you get married next year, and I promise I’ll do my very best not to fall over.

So happy birthday my darling Becky, and thank you so much for being in my life – for being a shoulder to cry on and a best friend to laugh with; for all the laughs, the proseccos, and so much more: for being the blonde and short to my tall and brunette (it works!!). 

All my love,

Clarabella XXXX

Grateful through gritted teeth

This Friday evening I found myself standing on the platform at Marylebone station with approximately 40 million other people, staring dismally at a board full of glaring orange cancellations. What did I do to deserve this?! Why does this always happen to me?! Why is life so darn unfair?!

In the insular bubbles of our entitled little millennial heads (I know, stereotyping millennial – such a new concept!), it’s easy to feel very wronged by the world a lot of the time. I will admit that for a second I felt like stamping my feet in the style of a two year old (not for the first time: as an actual two year old I had knelt on the stairs and banged my shins against the step until they bled, because I was so jealous of my newborn baby brother. Sorry, Greg!). Because how dare a train not be completely on time and why the hell should I have to spend my Friday night in a queue and oh my god what if I don’t get a seat when the damn thing actually arrives anyway. 

But then I found out why all the trains were cancelled in the first place. Somebody had felt so lost and alone in this world, so beyond help or solace from anyone or anything, that they had been forced to leave it. To think that anybody could get to the point where jumping in front of a train feels like the only option just breaks my heart completely. And to hear people describing that decision as ‘selfish’ or ‘thoughtless’ because it’s made them late home for dinner just makes me shudder. Did these people ever think that somebody who has chosen to end their own life might not be making 100% logical decisions?! 

So there was my reality check. On a day when a tube train full of people experienced potentially the most horrifying and terrifying moment of their lives, and on a day when somebody else just felt that they couldn’t carry on any longer, thank goodness that I was standing on that platform safe and alive. Thank goodness that I had two legs that I could very easily stand up on for the 1 hour and 40 minute journey if I couldn’t get a seat. And thank goodness that I felt loved and supported in this world. 

But it’s not always easy! What I’m really trying to say is that sometimes it’s hard to feel grateful, even though we know we should be. I was still cross that my trip home was going to be delayed and that I wasn’t going to be able to eat anything until 10pm. I was still mad that I hadn’t had time to buy a cheeky Friday can of gin and tonic for the journey, and that my phone was running out of battery. 

I hope I haven’t given the illusion with this blog that I’m some kind of sanctimonious, perfect person who walks around in a cloud of flowers and rainbows feeling grateful for the pavement and the rubbish bin and the traffic lights. The world is full of lots of things that I am very much not grateful for, from terrorism to Donald Trump to the weird condensation that forms when you put a hot piece of toast on a cold plate. And it’s all relative. In the heat of the moment we can only interpret what’s happening to us in the context of our own lives and experiences; no, a delayed train wouldn’t be an issue for somebody living in a country where running water is a luxury and public transport is unheard of, but as a Londoner who’s used to everything right here, right now, of course it is. We can’t feel bad for getting frustrated by the things that impact us, regardless of how small and irrelevant they may seem in the grand scheme of things. They’re our feelings and we can’t control what upsets us.

But it’s also important that after that initial screaming tantrum (internal, let’s hope), we take a step back and readdress the situation. On Friday, I really really tried to unclench my fists, breathe and remember that today, I didn’t get burnt in a terrorist attack, and I didn’t feel so hopeless and alone in the world that I couldn’t carry on with my life any more. It helps, I promise. 

We all know that life’s not fair, and sometimes the only thing that will help is to scream and shout and to throw something (non-dangerous) at the wall. But when it isn’t life and death, we take a step back and we move on, knowing that things could be a lot, lot worse. When I started writing this blog I hoped that it would help me to appreciate what I do have rather than focus on what I don’t. There really is something to be grateful for in every single day – even if you have to grit your teeth to find it. 

Grateful for Being “Fine as I Am”

Whilst out for dinner with friends this week, we started talking about the dangers of being single for too long, of the potential to simply become too “fine as you are”, and thus unable to work as part of a pair when the opportunity does arise, due to said “fineness”. The more I thought about this sentiment, the more absolutely ridiculous it sounded: why on earth should being self-sufficient and confident as a single person ever be labelled as something remotely dangerous or negative? Why should we ever aspire to work at our optimum only when we are just 50% of one whole? Who really wants to be a “we” and never, even occasionally, an “I”? It doesn’t make any sense to me. Surely the one thing worse than being fine on your own, is not being fine on your own?

Sure, there are many perils of being single for too long – forgetting how to shave your legs, losing the ability to cook a balanced meal that doesn’t include fish fingers, being unable to function without sending 47,000 messages to your girls’ Whatsapp group per day (including photos of all your meals) – but being “fine” is definitely not one of them.

I certainly haven’t always been fine as I am. Emerging not entirely unscathed from a long term relationship that begun when I was just 18, I realised that I had been hiding behind the strong opinions and forceful nature of somebody else. I hadn’t had the opportunity to work out who I was, what I thought, or where I might fit in; instead, I had tried to make myself fit into somebody else’s world, without ever really questioning whether it was the right one for me. I hadn’t ever thought about saving up for a house, reading a map, planning a holiday, researching political parties – because somebody else had always done it for me.

That first year of singledom was such a transformative one for me; it was at times terrifying and scary and lonely (although now that I think about it, honestly not for very long), but it was also extremely freeing: I realised that I could wear whatever made me happy, be friends with whoever I wanted to, and do things just for me. I didn’t know that I had been living in somebody else’s shadow; that all my decisions were based upon another person rather than on my own wellbeing. I’m not trying to say that I was in any kind of emotionally abusive relationship here: I was simply young and naïve when we got together; I hadn’t allowed myself time to grow alone and at the time I didn’t think I needed to.  We are like flowers: some of us grow in the same direction and at the same speed, whilst others just grow completely differently, starting off together but ending up apart – and there’s not a lot we can do about that.

As a single person, I found that I had so much more room in my heart for all the wonderful new friends I would make; so many more things to say with no limits on my thoughts or ideas when I didn’t come as part of a pair. And I was empowered by so many of the strong women around me; both single and in relationships; women who had bought houses, started businesses, moved to new countries, dealt with great traumas – because of course you don’t have to be single to be fine on your own. I learnt that when we lift each other up, we can take on the world.

I still treasure a card given to me at the time by a friend who had been through it all before me; she didn’t need to write those lovely words, but she knew how much they would mean to me.

With the death of my mother, the past few years have not been easy. But one thing I have learnt about myself is that I’m a lot stronger than I ever knew. Yes, there are many times when having a partner beside me would have made things just that little bit more manageable, but in being forced to deal with the unimaginable on my own, I found within myself a level of resilience that I may never have discovered, had I not had to pick myself up and carry on. And of course I have never once been truly alone in this.

We must also remember that “fine” is very subjective. I’m in no way saying I’ve got it all sorted; my internal monologue is a constant stream of “calm down, Clare”, and I get anxious about walking into a pub on my own, or making a decision to get my hair cut – let alone any life choices that are actually important. But when it boils down to it, I know that I have just got to go for it, because nobody else is going to go for it in my place.

Please don’t think that this blog is some kind of ‘pro-single forever’ sermon – of course I would like more than anything to find my person; to be able to share my life and my heart with somebody else. But until that happens, I know that I can live my days to the fullest without needing the endorsement of somebody else; that I can take whatever the universe throws at me and deal with it in the best possible way (even if I still can’t read a map and still haven’t saved up for a house). Currently accepting applications from others who are “fine as they are” – surely two “fines” together make something so much more wonderful?!

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Grateful for “Yes”

As I sit on a beautiful beach in Cyprus (sorry for all the smug Instagram spam by the way), sun in my eyes, sand in my hair, umbrella above my head because it is actually too hot right now (I know, we’re never happy are we), watching my three friends happily passed out beside me, I am grateful that we were all, at some point in our lives, open to the idea of saying “yes”. 

This week, we realised that none of us would be here, or in fact even know each other at all, were it not for our dear friend Becky. (Don’t worry, she was invited too but her 6 month old baby requires a little more attention than us 30 year olds). When people ask me where I know my friends from, I just say “London”, because when I think about it we are actually quite a random set of people who could easily never have met at all. And anybody who has lived in London will know it’s not exactly easy to find yourself a group of friends that you actually end up liking and wanting to continue being friends with well after the days of jäger bombs and Infernos and loafing around Clapham Common are over.

Had the four of us not been open to new friendships, to saying yes and stepping out of our comfort zones just a little, life could have been very different. For example:

Yes 1: Julia knew Becky first, through their mutual friend Helen, but Helen only ended up living with Becky because Julia encouraged her to move south of the river. Helen said yes, and plucked Becky from the scores of others trawling through spareroom.com. And so a friendship group was born.

Alternative Universe Yes 1: Helen never moved south of the river, and therefore never even met Becky. Becky moved in with some other randoms, who were clearly not as fun as us. They weren’t interested in going out, had never heard of Michael Kors and didn’t like prosecco. Nobody ever went to Cyprus.

Yes 2: I had known Becky at uni, but we never really established a friendship until we both became single a few years later. Becky invited me out on a girls’ night with her group of friends – including Helen and Julia – and the rest is history.

Alternative Universe Yes 2: I was too terrified to go on a girls’ night and said no, preferring to stay in with a family sized bag of Doritos watching Lost. Becky invited me out a few more times but when I kept saying no she gave up and started inviting another (definitely less fun) girl instead. I developed an obsession with re-watching the entirety of Lost all in one sitting, and as a consequence lost my job and had to move back home with my parents. I never went to Cyprus.

Yes 3: Olly knew Becky through her best friend Rosie, who happens to be Becky’s cousin. When Olly moved to London it just so happened that Helen was moving out of our shared house and we had a spare room for rent – and that’s how we came to be friends with Olly.

Alternative Universe Yes 3: Olly decided she’d rather make her own friends and said no to Becky’s offer of a room. She ended up living in a different shared house where nobody appreciated a good lasagne and no one had ever seen Grays Anatomy. With nobody to cook for and nothing to watch, Olly used her spare time to train as a Body Attack instructor. Olly never went to Cyprus.

Yes 4: Fiona knew Becky through work. When Fiona moved to London it just so happened that Becky was moving out of the flat she shared with Olly, and was seeking a roommate to replace her. Fiona said yes!

Alternative Universe Yes 4: Upon meeting Olly, Fiona decided she couldn’t live with someone with such an evangelical approach to cheese, and decided to look elsewhere. With few rooms available, she ended up living in a cupboard in her brother’s flat, moving in her imaginary friend Ru Paul for company. Fiona never went to Cyprus.

If you believe in fate, in a kind of Gwyneth-Paltrow-in-Sliding-Doors destiny, then the four of us were meant to be sitting on this beach right now, regardless of what happened before. But I have no doubt that these four little yeses were life changing ones for all us, and have helped to lead us down the paths we are on today (even if we don’t quite know what they are yet). 

Any of my friends will be quick to tell you that I’m a bit of a scaredy cat; a lot of things make me anxious and you will never ever find me saying yes to a bungee jump or signing up for a stint on Big Brother. But as Danny Wallace says in his 2008 book Yes Man, “Probably some of the best things that have ever happened to you in life, happened because you said yes to something”.