A love letter to Abbott Elementary and teaching

Here’s a list of just a few things that occurred during my PGCE (training year of becoming, in my case, a secondary school English teacher):

  • I spent five hours cutting out butterfly templates for a series of lessons on Ray Bradbury’s ‘A Sound Of Thunder’. They were utilised for about 20 minutes of a lesson before being abandoned.
  • I dressed up as an alien called Lady Stardust so students could help ‘send me home’ by asking me questions, as they had social & communication difficulties.
  • I had a two month stint as head of media, setting up the subject as the school had never taught it before.
  • Had a three month spell of crippling depression where I lived, quite literally, on a day-to-day basis.
  • Got bullied by a class of year 7 students. There were only 12 in the class. Words cannot do them justice.
  • Had the loveliest year 8 class who I taught story writing to. They wrote wonderful stories which I compiled in an anthology I still have tucked away in my memories box
  • Helped a new student settle in during a school merger where the school population increased by a 1/3. He then surprised me with a bee shaped thank you card that said ‘You’re the bees knees’. I cried in front of the aforementioned year 8 class. Not the year 7 class, they would have eaten me alive – even more than they already had done.

During my NQT year, the adventures continued. Ask me some day about the attack of the GIANT bee that sprayed liquid at the class during my first ever lesson as a ‘proper’ teacher. Or the fight that occurred between two year ten girls bigger than me (I’m 6ft – have a think about that) but they both separately snuck out of internal exclusion to apologise and they became my total favourites for the remaining 18 months I taught them. Or the day my year 7 boys spent a week planning and then performing film pitches to their visiting head of key stage who posed as a famous film director.

I’ve got 9 years worth of stories that I wish I had compiled more formally than snatched memories that come in waves. Ask any teacher to tell you a story and they’ll have so many you’ll most likely regret asking. Stories that will make you laugh, stories that will make you wince and stories that will break your heart.

Quinta Brunson, creator and star of Abbott Elementary has managed to capture the bittersweet insanity of schools so wonderfully. In fact, it might, quite possibly, be the most accurate depiction of the bittersweet joys of being a teacher. Which I don’t write, or throw my total seal of approval at, lightly.

When I share some of these anecdotes with loved ones, quite often I get the response ‘I don’t know how you do it!’ Occasionally, ‘Why do you keep doing this?’ Lately I’ve found myself struggling to answer either question. I’ve continued to know it in my bones but had difficulty getting the words to string together and articulate it. Because, when you think about it, it’s pretty mad isn’t it? We work silly hours, for silly money following the mindless dictations of government officials who really have no idea. We’re overworked, overstretched and underfunded. Yes, we might get those long holidays but most of us work those and when we’re not working them we’re desperately trying to refuel our batteries before the next cycle begins. We’re running a marathon at the pace of a sprint. We’re working with young people, the only thing that is predictable about that is how notoriously unpredictable they and it can be. We work a job where the good is fantastic. Phenomenal. Brilliant. Effervescent. Magical. But the bad can be soul-destroying. Heart-wrenching. Devastating. Demoralising. Hopeless.

But we keep on doing it.

Why?

I reckon you need to watch Abbott Elementary, now on Disney+, to get it. Within those 13 x 22 minute episodes, you will see why we keep on doing it – laid on in the most accessible, universal and properly hilarious way possible. We do it for those smiles, the recurring in-jokes, the comradery, the joy of helping young people learn something new and seeing them believe in themselves. We are cheerleaders, coaches, parents, social workers, police officers and allies all wrapped-in-one. We are sages on stages, guides on sides and *ahems* at the fronts…

We do this oft-beautiful, sometimes-awful, job because we are compelled. Something has drawn us to it. That want to help. To make a difference. To encourage, support, nurture and instil in our young people wonder and joy and hope and kindness. To make a building strong you need to make sure it has strong foundations. To ensure ‘good bones’ as that brilliant Maggie Smith (not that one) poem says. That’s where we come in. We do this job as we continue to believe in countless possibilities and want to be that helping hand along the ladder to whatever comes next.

No tv or film deception has ever shown our profession so earnestly, with neither cynicism or cloying melodrama. With an estimated 50% of teachers in the UK saying they plan to leave the profession within the next five years, maybe this extraordinary can serve as a reminder of why we do it but perhaps, most importantly, this can serve as a timely callout of how greatly our educational institutions and practitioners need supporting.

The Northman

‘I will avenge you, Father, I will save you, Mother. I will kill you, Fjölnir.’

Imagine being Robert Eggers right now. Stunning audiences in 2105 with the captivating The Witch (and also introducing them to the incredible Anya Taylor-Joy), following up in 2019 with the near-indescribable The Lighthouse – we’re now here with an epic for the ages. A feast for the senses, Norse mythology has never looked this good on the big screen nor felt as vitally visceral.

A retelling of the story of Amleth, the direct inspiration of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Viking King Aurvandil (Ethan Hawke) returns from battle badly injured and determined to commence his son’s training to be a man and future King. But loving son Prince Amleth (Oscar Novak) instead has to witness his father’s murder at the hands of his Uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang), who also enslaves grieving Queen Gudrún (Nicole Kidman) as his new wife. Amleth flees for his life, determined to get vengeance for himself and his family. Years pass, he’s now a strong and fierce warrior (Alexander Skarsgård) when the fates and Olga (Anya Taylor-Joy) suggest that it is finally time to wreak his revenge.

What follows is a cinematic marvel. Continuing his partnership with cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, the signature visual style with Eggers is present, correct and as brutally beautiful as we would expect. Each shot is a feast for the eyes – there’s something hauntingly captivating about every single frame. And there’s much to be haunted by here. This is a film that is as vicious and violent as you would hope for from a tale with these origins. It’s to point of near-ecstatic deliciousness that we bare witness to such primal and pulsating savagery.

The reason it is so compelling is the substance that comes with the ascetic. Skarsgård in particular is a tour-de-force, a hulking embodiment of unbridled obsession with fate & destiny. It feels wrong to describe his undeterred quest for retribution as a pleasure to watch yet, thanks to Eggers at the helm it genuinely is. Within the barbarity, there’s wonderful teasing out on the threads than bind and drive us – how humans are dammed to follow a path that is not of their own choosing.

If you’re looking for a bold and nihilistic tale, you’ve come to – quite literally – the perfect place.

Sand In The Hourglass

Lately, I’ve found life to be tinged by an unidentifiable grey. As the French or pretentious may call it, ennui. Leech-like, it’s bled away so much joy from my day-to-day life – growing in mass and potency by the hour. And I’ve not really been able to pinpoint why. So, I’m hoping this word splurge might help me draw some conclusions – or someone out there can set a good therapist on the case.

For a whole host of reasons, lately it’s felt as if I’ve become aware of The Matrix. Although, in my case, The Matrix isn’t this far-reaching nebulous conspiracy – it’s an over-awareness of the passing of time. In August, on the 25th to be precise so you can add to your diaries for celebration/gift-giving – as you see fit) I turn 30 years old. I still haven’t worked out how I feel about this fact. For the most part, like 99%, I am enjoying being 29 way more than I enjoyed being 22 (in your face, Taylor Swift). I feel more certain in myself and who I am. Right now, I am the most confident I have ever been. I even made a complaint about a cold meal, and resulting bad customer service, in a restaurant last weekend. This is the most comfortable I’ve ever felt in my own skin and I’m starting to actually enjoy my own copy. For the first time in my 29 years, I’m starting to become my own cheerleader. Or, at the very least, have gotten far better at faking it till I make it.

But at what cost? That’s where the ennui is setting in. I am finding these benefits of aging at the cost of my beloved aging too. Truly, I don’t think I’ve ever felt this aware of the inevitability of death. The fact that I will die someday is far less frightening than knowing all of those I love will die someday. Is this the best my life will ever be? The happiest I will ever be? The most amount of loved ones I will ever have? How am I supposed to cope?

The most difficult thing about human existence (and I’m paraphrasing from someone far more intelligent and eloquent than I) is the fact we live our days knowing that someday it will all end. But we just don’t know when. It’s cursed knowledge. I’ve spent the past few weeks, months perhaps, living in the brace position terrified for unbearable news to arrive at my door. So focused on the now, clutching my head and stoically starring downward – waiting just in case – that I’m missing what’s happening in the world around me. I’m forgetting to stop and smell the flowers as I’m already anticipating their wilting.

You don’t need me to tell you how frightening this world is. How much trauma we’ve all endured these past years. As I wrote before, in a previous blog post, we are all fatigued and adrift in different sized lifeboats. And the hardest thing to do right now is let ourselves feel that. We hide in books, records, films – these things matter, call me shallow but it’s the fucking truth. As much as absolutely possible, we avoid being still with our thoughts and we avoid letting ourselves feel. Because to feel can mean to hurt. To be open to feelings, that requires the truest extent of bravery and strength. To allow ourselves to be vulnerable means exposing ourselves to the world and inviting it to hit us.

And yet, is that also not the beauty of life – the infinite possibility of feeling and emotion. The profound potential of feeling ecstatic joy and jubilation. The very act of feeling seen and known and understood and loved – irretrievably, unequivocally and unreservedly for and despite those things. That’s our purpose and our reason for living. But how to hold onto that, and to stay open to all those wonderful possibilities? Now that’s where I don’t have the answers. Not right now at least.

The Resolution Solution

Back in 2019, in those halcyon pre-pandemic days, I set myself a list of dares instead of New Year’s resolutions. Those dares varied from the small – go get my nails done in a salon – to the big – perform a poem at an event in public. The idea behind The Dare List was simple, why set big targets such as ‘Try to be braver!’ that felt so nebulous and unachievable. Using a bit of school vernacular, these SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely) goals would be baby steps to building up that bravery. These goals were personal and related to my direct personal experience – after all, who else would have ‘Go to Madame Tussauds’ on their dare list because they are incredibly frightened by wax mannequins after an incident with a Roman Centurion model at Canterbury Roman Museum aged 7? The list ended up being a working document, with some edits here and there and some additions along the way. It was incredible experience that I’d fully recommend, and would happily write about in way more detail for any publishers out there..!

It was such an impactful process that I endeavoured to repeat it in 2020, with dares building upon those earlier ones and the successes I found along the way. Then March 2020 hit and – you can guess the rest. Hitting Lockdown 3.0 at the start of January 2021 reduced any want or real possibility of cracking on with a Dare List, so that got quickly abandoned. We’re now 3 days into 2022 and I’ve spent a lot of time thinking whether I’d want to do another list. It was working through and evaluating the benefits of undertaking the list that lead me to this solution.

This year I won’t have a dare list because the theme of my year will be to dare. Every single day, in some way or another, I will dare myself to be braver in whatever way fate provides. No approaching this task with to-do-list in hand, instead I want to reshape my overall mindset. That’s not to say I’ve totally ruled out coming up with a list of activities I’d like to try and dare myself to accomplish – I turn 30 in 234 days, and I can see a 30-before-30 list on the horizon. But, for 2022, I’m going to dare to be me. Dare to finally and fully live within my skin, my brain and my personality.

During the tail end of 2021 I found myself sometimes casually, sometimes cruelly, sometimes consciously and sometimes unconsciously thinking – you have wasted your entire 20s waiting for your life to begin. Stripping that back, I can see the bullshit. When nice brain mode is activated, I can see so many of the things I have achieved and that I am proud of, the adventures I’ve had and the wonderful people who have been along for the ride. But I think I’ve spent far too much time thinking of what comes next that I often don’t feel these joys at the time and am often unable to live & relish within the moment.

I’m definitely way happier in my skin at this end of my twenties, I feel braver and more certain of who I am. There’s definitely less self-flagellation and more self-acceptance of what makes who I am. And yet, there’s still a lot of work to be done. Quite often I live my days at a slight distance or remove from what is actually happening, assessing possible outcomes and probabilities, emotionally preparing for the arrival of what could occur. Not to mention the overthinking that happens after, of how things could, would or should have gone. Which leads me on nicely to how I’m going to dare to change that up a bit:

  • Dare to be nicer to yourself.
  • Dare to say more of what you’re thinking, rather than what you think people want you to say.
  • Dare to be less rigid and regimented.
  • Dare to appreciate what you have got, rather than lamenting what you haven’t.
  • Dare to let the universe take the wheel sometimes.

That last one is the one that most relates to my love life, such as it is in it’s continued dormant state. Being perfectly honest with myself – and daring to do so! – that’s the think I feel like I’ve wasted the most time over, lamenting over surely being broken to be so unwanted. Not being enough to be wanted, not being enough to get them to stay or to pick me. I’ve simultaneously let my love life happen to me yet also define my sense of self-perception. No-one wants me so I must be unwantable. Not good enough. Not attractive enough. Not palatable enough. It feels like I’ve spent my twenties on a reserve bench waiting to be picked, whilst all around me are others getting picked.

What I’m currently trying desperately hard to do is reframe it all and reset the mould on how I view both myself and the chaotic situationships that littered my twenties. There’s societal expectation, articulated both aloud and sublimely, that makes me feel like I’ve failed. That, no matter what I achieve in life, it’s a failure if I don’t leave behind a family and romantic partner. I can’t tell you how excused I am by beating myself over this very fact, of draining so much joy from personal achievements and appreciating the now when that relationships section of a future biography or Wikipedia page (what, I’m *daring* to dream!) remains decidedly sparse.

In a move that may seem initially counter-intuitive, I’ve deleted my dating apps. Again. In theory, for a month, but I’m aiming for longer. I’ve been intermittently using them for 7-odd years and, during my most recent spell of usage, I think I finally admit quasi-defeat as I fundamentally don’t believe they work for me. Aside from minute boosts to self-esteem, they genuinely make me bitterly unhappy. Whether it’s me and how I’m wired, we are just not compatible. During my last stint, I just could not find the capacity to maintain messaging. I just don’t want to do it anymore. I’m not designed to chat to 6 different people, develop a measured emotional investment in them, then possibly date 3 of them whilst they date 3 others. And that’s the toll matches took on me, let alone how personally I’d take people not matching or unmatching or not replying (yep, even when I was doing the same. I didn’t say I wasn’t being a hypocrite..) In all honesty, by the end, it just felt like I was wasting time and energy – which is something I try to reassure myself with as a face another tidal wave at rising panic over if I’m doing the right thing. Then I start to do the calculations of how much time I’ve spent on dating apps over a near-decade vs what little benefit I’ve ever had from partaking, and things start to plateau a little…

Which, all in all, is me starting to be a little braver really. I’ve been using the apps as a crutch, a pinky toe in the dating pool – snatched minutes here and there to make me feel like ‘at least I’m trying’. Maybe I need to actually dive in, daring to be more present within moments and take more chances. Daring to admit that I’d actually like a love life this year, instead of playing a bit part in others people, means daring to accept myself a bit more and appreciate who I am a bit more. It’s easy, far far too easy, to berate myself for not having met the supposed love of my life because I’m not good enough. But maybe I’ve not met a right person yet, maybe because they’ve also got a bit lost on the way. But maybe I’ve not put myself out there nearly enough, global pandemic aside. Obviously.

It’s surely about time I dared to let myself accept that maybe I’ve been good enough for myself all along, and it’s about time I listened.

SAD (In both senses of the word…)

Although I’ve experienced it for longer than I care to remember, it always seems to arrive as a surprise. Winter comes every year, yet somehow, upon each return, we seem unable to compute it or work out how we survived it last time. For some of us, Winter comes knocking at the door hand-in-hand with Seasonal Affective Disorder. It’s essentially depression which is more apparent and hits harder in the Winter months; with reduced sunlight the body’s internal clock seems to struggle and the production line for both serotine & melatonin seems to run dry.

For those who haven’t had direct experience of depression, be that at any time of year and in any incarnation, the best way I can describe is having a grain of sand halting the cogs of the brain. It’s invisible, unseen and often unnoticed until it’s toll is felt with a vengeance. It often makes an appearance with anxiety, a complex web of overthinking and unease. Together they can stop day-to-day living as you know it, leaving behind scare resources to just about exist instead.

I didn’t get my first diagnosis of anxiety & depression until I was 21, working on an academic essay for my PGCE somehow became the thing that upturned my life completely. I struggled with it, for reasons both logical and imperceptible, to the point that my battle with it became the centre of everything. My ineptitude of writing it meant I was an awful person. Useless. A waste. As the deadline for the essay approached, the spiral worsened and deepened – to the point of near-total consumption. In all honesty, I don’t know how I got through it. The diagnosis of anxiety & depression provided a name to the monster and brought with allies to help fight it.

Retrospectively, it explains so much about things I struggled with as a child. My 60% attendance at school in year 11 makes more sense. The deep-rooted fear that arises from the deepest pit of my stomach when even remembering my secondary school years becomes that much more understandable.

I’ve written before these struggles. I’ve even written before about my fear of SAD, and how September is the start of a new school year and my internal countdown. I think I was in denial about it’s return, naïve and hopeful that maybe – after 20 months of a global pandemic with all the emotional & mental & physical turmoil it brought with it – just maybe, it might take a break this year.

Instead it has arrived with the kind of entrance an all-consuming diva could dare to dream of. Except not only has it arrived bang on time, it arrived with horrific efficiency and timekeeping. For me, SAD arrived precisely at midnight on Monday 1st November. The clocks changed on the Sunday, going back an hour which means the mornings are a tad brighter but the nights get darker quicker. The sun now sets at 4.30pm, leaving us stuck in the bleak blackness for far, far too long.

I’d gone to bed on the Sunday happy and rested, waking up just two hours in – at midnight – feeling the weight of everything. The back-to-school dread, the countdown timer to Christmas already unwillingly started, mixed with the sudden realisation that this would be it. Until March.

I’m only three days in, but these three days have felt brutal. It feels like a Dementor arrived like a Grim Reaper of joy, taking everything that makes me me with it. My appetite is one of extremes – I’m either too hungry or too full. I’m aching and tired, yawning constantly and craving just to be still. My passions have gone from technicolour to grey, I struggle to motivate to do anything beyond staring into space. Social interactions seem harder, forming sentences becomes a Herculean task when the words feel just out of reach. Hope has been zapped, dread and worthlessness grow where it once sat. Everything, even the most simple of tasks becomes a battle. Whilst surrounded by people, the loneliness settles within the bones with an ever-present ache.

I’ve already lost count of the amount of conversations I’ve already had that involve the phrase ‘Are you okay?’ It’s a question that’s becoming increasingly hard to answer. Not because I’m afraid to say I’m not okay, but because even just finding the fuel to say that feels a waste of deplenishing supply.

The only hope is that this a transitionary period, that these are a form of growing pains of adjustment that are transitional. Temporary unwelcome residents that will swiftly depart. Soon this weather and the every-present dark sky will be the new temporary normal until it reduces it’s overtime and lets the sun return from supporting to main act.

Because I desperately wanted to feel like myself again, not a barely-there shadow.

Stream On Vol.19

Welcome to volume nineteen of Stream On, where I recommend 5 things you could watch on some of your favourite streaming sites.

Not enough for you here? Try the previous volumes –volumes 1234567891011121314 , 1516, 17 & 18.

Midnight Special (2016 – BBC iPlayer – 105 mins)

A father (Michael Shannon) and son go on the run, pursued by the government and a cult drawn to the child’s special powers. Also starring Joel Edgerton, Kirsten Dunst and Adam Driver – this is a poignant fantastic fantastical science fiction drama.

Force Majeure (2014 – All4 – 120 mins)

Forget Downhill, the Will Ferrell led remake from 2020 (in all fairness, you probably have). If you’re going to watch a drama about a family vacationing in the French Alps who are confronted with a devastating avalanche that exposes the façade that surrounds them – make it this one. Just brilliant.

Something’s Gotta Give (2003 – Netflix – 128 mins)

Jack Nicholson, Diane Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Amanda Peet and Frances McDormand in a romantic comedy classic about a swinger on the cusp of being a senior citizen with a taste for young women who falls in love with an accomplished woman closer to his age.

Summerland (2020 – SKY/NOW – 100 mins)

Gemma Arterton is simply wonderful as a curmudgeonly woman who learns opens her heart to an evacuee after initially resolving to be rid of him in this moving journey of womanhood, love and friendship.

Evolution (2001 – Amazon Prime – 101 mins)

A fire-fighting cadet (Seann William Scott), two college professors (David Duchovny and Orlando Jones), and a geeky but sexy government scientist (Julianne Moore) work against an alien organism that has been rapidly evolving since its arrival on Earth inside a meteor. The kind of mid-budget science fiction comedy they just don’t seem to make enough of any more.

Stream On Vol. 18

Welcome to volume eighteen of Stream On, where I recommend 5 things you could watch on some of your favourite streaming sites.

Not enough for you here? Try the previous volumes –volumes 1234567891011121314 , 1516 and 17.

The White Lotus (2021 – SKYGO/NOW – 6 x 55 mins)

In a tropical Hawaiian luxury resort, an array of guests and employees experience a week like no other. A pitch-black satire, perfectly blending comedy and drama – this is one for fans of Succession, with a perfectly timed UK release to plug the void before season 3’s return next month. Featuring an incredible cast (Connie Britton, Jennifer Coolidge, Jake Lacy and Steve Zahn to pick but a few) that are phenomenal across the board, experience schadenfreude in its purest form as we get to see awful rich people do awful rich people things – with building menace and overtones that something properly awful is on the fast-approaching horizon.

Personal Shopper (2016 – BBC iPlayer – 105 mins)

The hate behind the Twilight series was always problematic, viewed with venomous derision by much of the press and public it exposed the clear distain held for products being viewed as ‘for’ teenage girls. Its stars continue to be scoffed at by many for having appeared in the franchise, displaying an ignorance of their true talents. Any Kristen Stewart doubters need to give this one a try – a modern gothic in which she plays a personal shopper in Paris who refuses to leave the city until she makes contact with her twin brother who previously died there. Her life becomes more complicated when a mysterious person contacts her via text message. An atmospheric slow-burn.

The Last Five Years (2014 – Amazon Prime – 94 mins)

There are three musicals that I will see no question and no matter what. Those are Hadestown, Rocky Horror and this one. Whilst the film version doesn’t capture the full magic of the show, it’s a close-enough stopgap till the opportunity arises to see it on the stage again. (If you’re London-based, that’s not too far away at all…) A struggling actress and her novelist lover each illustrate the struggle and deconstruction of their love affair. The twist? Their stories are told in alternating reverse, Kathy (Anna Kendrick) starts at the end and Jamie (Jeremy Jordan) at the beginning.

His Girl Friday (1940 – Amazon Prime – 92 mins)

Someday I will fulfil my dream of writing a deep dive feature into my love of the grumpy/sunshine enemies to lovers trope. For now, I’ll just continue to use every opportunity to point you in the direction of iconic examples – few are as iconic as this one. A newspaper editor (Cary Grant) uses every trick in the book to keep his ace reporter ex-wife (Rosalind Russell) from remarrying. The whip smart dialogue is delivered at lightning speed – in most screenplays, one page of dialogue translates to approximately one minute of film. But with all of the overlapping and simultaneous dialogue in His Girl Friday, the film ended up at a fast-paced 92 minutes instead of the lengthy 191 minutes the screenplay seemed to dictate (click here for more incredible facts about the film). Just brilliant.

Logan Lucky (2017 – SKYGO/NOW – 118 mins)

Two brothers (Channing Tatum and Adam Driver) attempt to pull off a heist during a NASCAR race in North Carolina. Both leads show impeccable comedy chops in this hilarious heist caper. But Daniel Craig is the MVP, with a performance that has to be seen to be believed.

Stream On Vol. 17

Welcome to volume seventeen of Stream On, where I recommend 5 things you could watch on some of your favourite streaming sites. Yes, I know it has been intermittent recently – but normal service shall resume! As it’s my birthday on Wednesday 25th, I thought I’d make this a themed one. Here’s my five favourite films of all time and where to watch them.

Not enough for you here? Try the previous volumes – volumes 1234567891011121314 , 15 and 16.

The Princess Bride (1987 – 98 mins)

I could sit here and tell you, yet again, why I love this movie so much. But, if you know me and/or this film, you know all that stuff already. So, if you’re one of the few who knows neither of this, give this piece I wrote for Den Of Geek a try.

Available on: Amazon Prime (with Starz add-on), £3.49 to rent or £4.99 to buy on SKYGO.

Casablanca (1942 – 102 mins)

Some movies just have the perfect script, packed full of endlessly quotable lines that are effortlessly delivered by an extraordinary cast. A phenomenal movie, that everyone needs to have seen.

Available on: Amazon Prime and SKYGO, to rent for £3.49 or buy for £7.99

A Matter Of Life and Death (1946 – 104 mins)

During my second year of studying Film Studies at university, I found myself falling out of love with cinema – exhausted by having to analyse and break films down. Seeing this, for the first time and on the big screen, brought it all back to me and then some. One of the most beautiful and poignant films in existence. The kind of film that makes you believe in love and that it’s all worth it.

Available on: Britbox, or to buy on Amazon Prime for £6.99

High Fidelity (2000 – 113 mins)

Based on Nick Hornby’s 1995 novel of the same time, just transplanted from London to Chicago, we follow 30-something record store owner Rob (John Cusack) as he goes through a break-up that he thinks doesn’t even enter his top 5 worst break-ups of all time – as he lists in great detail. Until he starts to realise that maybe he’s got it all wrong. Also featuring Jack Black in his breakthrough role, as the most annoying employee in existence. Few films capture the healing power of music or the harsh reality of love & break-ups. After watching, give the 2020 gender-flipped tv series a try.

Available on: Disney+, or on Amazon Prime to rent for £2.49 or buy for £8.99.

Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975 – 100 mins)

Astounding, yet never fleeting, as the film approaches it’s 50th anniversary it remains as beloved as ever. I first watched it in my early teens, just on a whim – I then watched it every single day for the rest of that month. It really is the greatest cult film of all time.

Available on: Amazon Prime and SKYGO, to rent for £3.49 or buy for £9.99

On The Bench

An emotional hangover set in the weekend after last week’s speed dating (click here if you need to catch up). Unsure as to why, I tried to unpick it all. Although the 14 dates hadn’t been brilliant, they hadn’t been awful – trust me, I know an awful date or two or five.

In many ways, it had been a rather helpful experience. My first dating experience in a few months, it was a relatively low stakes opportunity to get back into the swing of things. And I’d done a good job, way better than I’d feared. The nerves had evaporated instantly – I was witty, charming, flirty. We’re talking the A-Game being served here guys, that felt good – like shaking the dust of, working those muscles again and feeling the buzz. Unfortunately, that A-Game felt sort of wasted, as there hadn’t really been anyone it felt worth using it on. I’d spent energy, little energy I could or can really afford to spend on company that I’d never see again. I’d invested in something I’d see no returns on. It, and I, all felt a bit empty and hollow on response.

Days on, and after some incredibly helpful and insightful conversations with some loved ones, I think I may have found out the cause. My mindset needs reshaping and I need to change my approach to dating and all things matter of the heart. Because I think that right now, I’m causing myself more harm than good. Pushing myself through motions I’m not in the right head or heart space for. Desperately chasing and grasping, out of force rather than choice. Trying to fix something that is near enough, totally out of my control.

As an eternal singleton, the fundamental thing that causes myself the most upset is feeling like I’m getting it all wrong. That I should be in a relationship. That I have failed on all levels. That I’m nowhere in life. My achievements are not valid because that zone of my life is empty. I am yet to make a move on the Game of Life. Everyone else is progressing around me, making these huge life choices whilst I’m left feeling like I’m no-one or nothing. And, fuck me, it’s exhausting. I’m exhausted.

Because, you know what? I actually love my life. I have amazing family, a rolodex of fabulous friends and an incredible inner circle I consider as both. Both my jobs – teacher by day, film critic by night – full and excite me in so many different ways, regularly providing me with experiences I could never have dreamed off. And yet that voice in my head tries to cut that joy off at the root with one venom-ladden sentence, ‘Doesn’t really matter does it? You’ve still failed at the thing that counts.’

So many personal victories have lost potency in the face of taking on that voice, losing to it’s nastiness and bile. And the worst thing is, this year, it’s been getting louder. As my peers taper off into home buying, marriage and children – I feel like I’m stuck in stasis, increasingly alone and adrift in this failure zone. I know that’s not right. I definitely know it’s not okay.

Our society is geared towards us being coupled up. There’s the tax benefits, being able to get on the property market, food shopping – just to name a few that I can currently think of as I frantically stomp out this stream of consciousness. We seem to place a higher focus and stronger emphasis on these kind of successes. And thus, we make those who are unable or unwanting to settle down feel inept and inadequate outliers.

I know a relationship is not the centre of one’s personal universe. Life is a solar system made up of tens of different planets that work together to make life full. But instead, right now, whilst my relationship planet has no signs of life and seemingly no power to charm, it’s acting like a black hole – pulling everything out of alignment and distracting me from all that is good. A diversion from my enjoying my life for all the good that is within it.

If that’s the kind of energy I’m channelling right now, I can only imagine how it feels to be around it. There’s nothing desirable – either platonically or romantically – about this degree of intensity. This is a vicious circle that needs to be broken. What I need to do is turn the blinkers off, open my eyes instead of narrowing them with singular focus, and stop cutting myself off from so many opportunities for joy. And I think putting myself on the bench is the only way to do it.

It’s gotten to the point where I have to force myself to go on the apps, endless trailing through – yet another talking stage feeling like it’s splintering off any emotional resilience I have left. The prospect of dates feel as appealing as going into battle, afraid that I’m waiting mine and their time and energy on something that is hopeless. Frightened that one wrong comment or rejection could send me spiralling into the pit of despair. In a world where first meeting in person feels impossible, going digital feels like the last (only?) weapon left in the armourery – but it’s taking too much from me each time I go to use it.

So, once again, dating apps and I are going on a break. And, cliche as it may sound, I’m going to focus on myself for a while. On what makes me happy and be who I want to be, instead of trying to make myself appealing and who people want me to be. There’s guarding your heart, and there’s what I’m doing right now. My heart is protected by impenetrable buttresses (hehehe), a moat and a field of thorns a la Sleeping Beauty.

If I want to find and accept both self-love and self-peace, let alone any from external influences, the current self-defence protocol is going to have to be updated. Right now I think the only way to do that is by having a reset, turning it all off-and-on-again. These past few months I’ve been throwing everything at the wall, trying to get something – anything – to stick. But I can’t if I don’t feel like I deserve it, view it as the centre of everything yet protect myself from it so greatly. So, for now, I’m going to try and feast on my life instead. I want to find a way that I can validate myself, instead of trying to find validation and solace in others.

Right now, I’m a walking self-fufilling prophecy – but I’m finally going to take ownership of it and rewrite what comes next.