Thursday, 19 December 2013

Kindness is for life, not just for Christmas

"Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around" Leo Buscaglia

Remember my blog post about Jim and Stella, the lovely old couple I met during rather unfortunate circumstances?
Today, Jim came into my work to deliver a Christmas card. Sadly, I was out at the time so I missed him but he stayed for a wee while and chatted with some of the Nursery staff. He still can't talk about what I did that day without getting emotional. I had absolutely no idea how much it meant to him that I helped Stella and it’s very touching to know that my small offering of kindness has gone so far, that one act of compassion could have had such an impact on two strangers' lives. I really didn’t really do much but it was enough that I cared.

Christmas is a time when we show love and compassion towards one another. It’s a time when even the most frozen heart can thaw, even if it’s only for a little while. I wonder why it is that we wait for this festive season to demonstrate that side of our nature. Wouldn’t it be lovely if everyone was like that all year round? I was not shocked to discover that two people walked past Stella that afternoon as she lay, shaking and bleeding in the road. However, not being shocked by such appalling behaviour is in itself shocking. How sad to think that we have come to expect so little from our fellow human beings, that it no longer comes as a surprise that some are capable of turning a blind eye to the worst suffering.

I know it’s a cliché but how wonderful it would be if we could only extend the love, forgiveness and compassion we feel during the Christmas period and to do it, not for reward or personal gain but simply because it was the right thing to do. It needn’t be a grand gesture that makes the difference, it could be something as small and as simple as a smile, a sympathetic ear or stopping when no-one else has. 

Sometimes it feels like we live in a world full of people who couldn’t care less. Try being that person who couldn’t care more. Beginning now, treat everyone you meet as you would like to be treated; offer them all the love and empathy you can muster, spread it like gold dust and in doing so perhaps a little of that gold dust may cling to your hands.

I love this time of year partly because of the coloured lights, the chocolate and the exchange of presents but mostly I love it because it brings out the best in people. Christmas seems to wave a magic wand over everything, turning us into better versions of ourselves; it’s the time of year when people are reminded that they are here for something other than themselves. My wish is that we could bottle some of our festive spirit and sprinkle it liberally over things throughout the year. It's a schmultzy thing to say but this Christmas let us open our hearts as well as our presents. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, 'Carve your name on hearts, not on marble.' 

Leave nothing behind but goodness, be kind, live well. Happy Christmas Xx

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Just a Silly Phase I'm Going Through

“Youth and regret, here alone. Bright and joyful celebration.”

What’s a girl to do? It’s the story of my life that I should develop a hopeless crush on someone who is totally uninterested in me. I wonder what the odds are of falling for someone who feels the same way back? Slim to zero I reckon. It’s a miracle that anyone should ever fall in love with anyone else. Surely we should all be single entities, floating around on a lonely planet, colliding occasionally but never actually connecting. In fact I’m beginning to think there’s more chance of my fridge sprouting wings and flying out the back door than me enjoying a mutual connection with someone nice. 

It’s not a big deal. I’m fine on my own. Really. But I have to admit, it’s not like my hopeless crushes to last this long; normally they fizzle out when I realise they’re not going to go anywhere. But for some inexplicable reason I feel different this time. It’s hard waiting around for something that might never happen but a whole lot harder giving up on it when you know it could be something special.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

A Daring Adventure

“When I look back now over my life and call to mind what I might have had simply for taking and did not take, my heart is like to break.”  ~William Hale White

Today the family watched my niece in her Christmas show. It was all very sweet but there were a few moments where I had to avoid eye contact with my sister for fear of us both sniggering like 12 year olds – you know that bubble of laughter that builds like gas inside your stomach before erupting at the most inappropriate moment? I had to swallow that down a few times during the hour. Some of the singing was buttock-clenchingly awful but as I sat there enduring the din I felt guilty about judging these kids. After all, at least they were up there giving it a go. You wouldn’t catch me singing on stage in front of a couple of hundred people unless there was copious amounts of red wine involved. So, bless their cotton socks, they were trying their best and nobody should ever be ridiculed for that. Furthermore, they looked like they were having the time of their life and let’s not forget, it’s not the winning but the taking part that matters.

When I think about myself as a youngster I feel sad that I never expressed my talents for fear of failure. Or lack of confidence. Or lack of encouragement. Or…who knows what? All I know is something prevented me from choosing the paths that might have taken me to great places. Frustratingly, I had it all inside me. I could’ve been a brilliant singer or actor. I was extremely creative and spent many hours writing plays, choreographing and singing. I had (and still have) an incredible gift for remembering lyrics. But all these things took place in the privacy of my bedroom, or in the bathroom, singing into a deodorant bottle, imagining the tiny flowers on the wallpaper was a rapturous audience at the London Palladium. I perfected the thank you speech for my BAFTA at an early age and I truly think, with the right guidance and an injection of self-confidence, I could have achieved that dream. In fact, I could have achieved anything. But sometimes it’s easier to not try. Sometimes it is easier to hide away, to let other people take the risks and to let life pass you by. Years of having a thick layer of protective fat really saw to that.

We often make the mistake of thinking that opportunities are going to spring up and hit us in the face. For a long time I imagined meeting the man of my dreams in a museum or a library. Like a scene from a Rom-Com, I would play the part of the ditzy, misunderstood character who bumps into the handsome geek as we browse the artefacts from ancient Egypt. Cue the moment where the music kicks in, we’re both completely awestruck and spend the rest of the day strolling through parks and sipping hot chocolate whilst discussing life and love. I now know that is never going to happen, not least because I rarely get the chance to visit museums nowadays and the last time I spent time in a library I stumbled across a strange man doing something very dodgy behind the Historical Fiction aisle.

Opportunity can be difficult to recognise. It doesn’t come with flashing lights and alarm bells attached to it. Sometimes it is subtle to the point of being invisible. Opportunity surrounds us but it rarely falls into our laps; we must go out and grab it with both hands. A wise person once said, “If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door” but that takes time and effort. It can also involve hurt and humiliation. But the other option is to never try and that simply isn’t an option.

I am raising my son to believe in himself. I desperately want him to recognise his qualities and to try his best, even when he’s not very good at something. I will guide him in his interests and I’ll tell him he’s gorgeous every single day, because that is the truth. Judging by the deodorant/hairspray fumes that waft from his bedroom every morning – enough to stun a small horse! - he perhaps believes me a little too much. I have always encouraged Junior to be the best he can be, to try his best and to never judge others when they try theirs. I will endeavour to raise him to take appropriate risks, even if that means certain people laughing at him or making fun of his efforts. Even if that means failing miserably or falling flat on his face and even if that means taking the giant leap of following the person of your dreams on Twitter only for them to immediately ask you to unfollow them. Life cannot be lived fully without risk. To play it safe and to never put your dignity on the line would only result in a life unlived. It’s worth remembering that with time the hurt doesn’t hurt anymore. Only regret does.

I still suffer from debilitatating nerves when I give author talks but I have never opted out of any because of this. There’s something exhilarating about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Not only is it a gigantic “fingers up” to all the people who ever doubted me but it’s also a reminder that I am as good as the next person if not better.  I remember my first gig at the Edinburgh Book Festival, where I presented my novels to a fully booked auditorium, filled with children from all over the country, some of whom had travelled an entire day to see me. The pressure was huge and as I watched over 250 eager children file into the venue I thought I might actually die of fear. But the second I started speaking, the nerves disappeared and were replaced with an immense feeling of peace and pride.

I wasn’t alone on the stage that day. In the shadowy corner, just behind my right shoulder, I felt a strange and unexpected presence. A ghost of a girl, sitting in a chair, quietly absorbing the words coming from the mouth of the woman she would become. She was wearing her favourite burgundy dress, tied at the waist with a black belt and her hair shone chestnut under the lights. It was me, aged ten. It’s an extremely difficult moment to try and put into words without sounding seriously unhinged but I held that moment in my hand, brilliant as a star, fragile as a bubble and at the end of the gig, just before the lights went up and the children prepared to leave, I turned to my younger self and smiled a smile that told her, “We got there in the end.”