What-To-Watch Wednesday #6

What To Watch Wednesday #5

After a break last week – due to personal, not national, reasons – W2W is back. 5 recommendations of underseen gems on your favourite streaming services

Here’s What To Watch Wednesday #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5)

Hacks (2021-: Prime Video: 19 x 35 mins)

Deborah Vance (Jean Smart) is one of the most faces and names in comedy. Her long-running residency in Las Vegas is renowned, even if her material is no longer as fresh as it used to be. That’s where Ava (Hannah Einbinder) steps in, when a professional crisis has her fleeing LA in desperate search of a job. Their shared agent Jimmy (Paul W.Downs) thinks this could be the start of a mutually beneficial partnership, but he’s already got enough on his plate in the form of his chaotic assistant Kayla (Megan Statler). Darkly funny and totally must-see.

If you like this, you might like: Broad City (2014-2019), The Marvellous Mrs Maisel (2017-)

Abbott Elementary (2021-: Disney+: 13 x 23 mins)

The finest sitcom on tv currently, it feels sure to go down in TV history for all the best reasons. By and starring writer-creator Quinta Brunson, she plays Janine – one of a group of teachers who are brought together in one of the worst public schools in the country, simply because they love teaching. Grounded in the experiences by Brunson’s own teacher mother, this teacher-writer gives it the full double thumbs up here.

If you like this, you might like: Superstore (2015-2021), Great News (2017-2018)

We’re Here (2020-: Sky/Now: 14 x 50 mins)

Drag brings people together. It also has the ability to pull people out of their comfort zones and find their voices, as is encouraged here by Bob the Drag Queen, Eureka and Shangela as they travel the country visiting small-town residents and encouraging to own the stage in a lip sync extravaganza.

If you like this, you might like: Queer Eye (2018-), Glow Up (2019-)

Only Murders In The Building (2021-: Disney+: 20 x 35 mins)

Long-time friends Martin Short and Steve Martin have an incredible rapport, as showcased here in this murder mystery with a difference. They play Oliver Putman and Charles-Haden Savage, respectively. Both residents of an affluent Upper West Side apartment building, a shared love of true crime podcasts finds them teaming up with Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez) to solve the murder of one of their neighbours. Funny and carefully crafted, there’s nothing like it on TV right now.

If you like this, you might like: The Flight Attendant (2020-), Barry (2018-)

Romcom of the week: Marry Me (2022: Sky/Now: 111 mins)

Global pop superstar Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) ends up married to a stranger, divorced maths teacher Charles (Owen Wilson), after finding out her actual fiancée has been cheating on her. Determined to not become a laughingstock in the press, Kat persuades Charles to carry on their fake-marriage until the attention is no longer upon them. Bet you can guess what happens next… CINEMA!

What-To-Watch Wednesday

My weekly recommendations are back, baby! Just like my Stream On feature from last year (all 19 editions available here), every Wednesday I’ll put up some suggestions of TV & Films you may be missing on your various streaming services.

The Newsreader (BBC iPlayer: 6 X 50 mins)

Set in Melbourne in 1986, The Newsreader follows a daily news team through their trials & tribulations – both professional and personal. The sets & costumes are so evocative, the storylines so well rendered but it’s the cast that are standout. Anna Torv (Fringe, Mindhunter) plays the station figurehead, a ‘difficult’ woman who wants to cover real news. Sam Reid (The Limehouse Golem and the upcoming tv adaption of Interview With the Vampire) is the up-and-comer desperate to break through. Covering the AIDS crisis, Chernobyl, Halley’s Comet and the Challenger space shuttle explosion – The Newsreader is a compelling drama series grounded in reality.

What this if you like: The Newsroom (2012), Please Like Me (2013)

The Resort (Sky/Now: currently airing season 1, 4 x 30 mins aired already, 4 left of season 1)

A bitterly frustrated couple go on vacation to celebrate their ten-year anniversary. Neither Emma (Cristin Milioti – Palm Springs, HIMYM) or Noah (William Jackson Harper – The Good Place, Love Life season two) seem able to acknowledge to each other just how unhappy they are. When Emma falls off a quad bike during a day trip, she finds an abandoned  and extremely outdated mobile phone. Intrigued by the mystery, she discovers it belongs to Sam (Skyler Gisondo – Booksmart, The Righteous Gemstones) who disappeared from the resort fifteen years prior. Emma & Noah decide to solve the case together which may just force them to answer some far bigger questions along the way. Part comedy, part love story, part thriller and part sci-fi tinge – this is exactly what you might expect from the writer of the wonderful Palm Springs.

What this if you like: The White Lotus (2021-), Palm Springs (2020)

Trainwreck: Woodstock ’99 (Netflix: 3 x 45 mins)

The 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair was a coming together of likeminded souls, spirits joined in a search for peace, harmony, and good vibes. To commemorate its 30 year anniversary, the organisers decided to throw Woodstock ’99 in an act of celebration. As you probably guess from the title, it didn’t go well. Each of the three episodes focuses chronologically on a separate day of the festival – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – whilst also intercutting the now with some past decisions that emphasises the hubris and obviousness to the awfulness to come. This one really needs to be seen and talked about, particularly when it comes to accountability of mob mentality and the pervasive nature of sexual assault at music festivals.

What this if you like: Fyre (2019), Keep Sweet: Pray & Obey (2022)

Instant Hotel (Netflix: 15 x 45 mins)

This Australian series may just be the greatest example of perfect reality tv. Using all the formats and formulas you know and love, this show manages to be the pinnacle of how it’s done. Five couples tour the country visiting each other’s ‘Instant Hotels’ (think Air BnBs). As you’d expect, there’s personality clashes galore and all manner of surprises along the way. Chuck in the various glamourous, and not so glamourous settings, you’re in for a treat.

What this if you like: Selling Sunset (2019-), Four In A Bed (2010-)

The Broken Hearts Gallery (2020: Netflix: 108 mins)

Lucy (Geraldine Viswanathan – Blockers, Miracle Workers) is devastated after her boyfriend breaks up with her. But when she meets Nick (Dacre Montgomery – Stranger Things, Elvis), a hotelier, she decides to create a gallery where people can leave memorabilia from their past relationships. Funny, charming and a total joy.

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.

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. 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.

Charlotte Sometimes… Goes speed dating

‘It wasn’t awful…’

That’s the text I sent my friends as I left the bar this evening. I’d just been at a speed dating event, which I’d been incredibly nervous about beforehand – so the immediate feeling on leaving was came from the bar being very low. On the floor. Impossible to limbo under and barely requiring even a hop over. After trying to sleep the past hour, I realised I needed to talk through the night to find a kind of peace with my ‘wasn’t awful’ evening as, if it ‘wasn’t awful’ what was it? And why do I feel sadness tinging at the edges?

I’d booked the event at the start of July during an infrequent crossover of ‘God, I hate the apps’ and ‘Well, why not?!?’ It was due to happen a couple of days later, which was the key here – as an overthinker of Olympic status, I didn’t need any longer to think over it all or strategise for all that could go wrong. Then the football happened and the event got postponed. I couldn’t make the following week due to work commitments, and an increasing tough blend of end-of-school-year fatigue meets Long Covid. That’s how it ended up happening literally a month later than planned.

Going on my own had felt the best choice – there’d be no where for me to hide (I’m surprisingly good at this for someone so tall and hard to miss…) and no need to worry about who liked who/any overlaps in possible matches. And yet, at 5am on Thursday when I woke up straight into an anxiety attack – well, that’s when it all started to feel like a bad idea. I could go into detail about what kind of thoughts that nasty voice in my brain was churning out, but I think doing so will amplify them and give them more volume. I think they’d also make you feel sorry for me, which is not the intent here at all. Suffice to say, they were not nice thoughts about myself and placed huge doubt in what I was thinking in even going to such an event – who did I think I was putting myself forward? Who’d even like me?

Big twist time, I did end up going! I popped those nasty thoughts in a box, pushed them to one side, had some Dutch courage and braved it. But, as you’ve probably guessed – it’s being ‘not awful’ isn’t the most glowing endorsement is it?

Arriving at the bar, I couldn’t get over the noise. Were bars always this loud in the before times? Did we always have to endure such loud music that required much shouting to even attempt a conversation? Have dj’s always thought mixing Ed Sheeran and Beyonce, before segueing into an awful remix of Shakira’s ‘Hips Don’t Lie’ was a good idea?

A few people had already arrived in the upstairs section, where the event was happening. There wasn’t much vibe, just us awkward folk awkward-ing. Clearly the past 18 months had had an impact on our socialising skills, if there really had been any to start with… The website for this evening had promised 15-20 dates on one page. On another 20-25. I asked the organiser what the numbers were looking for tonight. He replied ’14 blokes and 11 girls.’ I nodded, barely close to the promised numbers – but not ‘awful’. I genuinely didn’t expect him to follow up with ‘Well, I say that – two of the girls did arrive, clocked the blokes coming up here and are refusing to come up as they’ve said they don’t like the look of the quality of the men. But I mean, come on! You’re here now, why wouldn’t you come up??! They’re young I guess, you get it though right?’ I nodded sagely in agreement, as if to shake silent the red alarm whirling in my head but also to cover up for really not knowing what to say. Looking around the room, they may have had a point…

This is not to make a judgement on looks, appearance or height. It was more about the feel, and the feel wasn’t good. In all honesty, it felt really thirsty. And there was a growing discontentment from the blokes about the ratio and odds being far from in their favour.

My first ‘date’ happened before the event even officially started. Having sat down to get my bearings, I was alone for less than a minute before a bloke sat in the chair opposite. He hadn’t asked (a lack of questions being asked would turn out to be a recurring theme of the evening…) and started his attempt at a charm offensive. He was insistent on taking my IG details and checking I added him there & then. In a rather cyclical move, he returned at the end of the night to insist I go on a drink with him – refusing to take no for an answer. Soon after, as I left, I took so much pleasure for using the ‘block’ button.

The rest of the – fourteen in total – dates varied from ‘fine’ to ‘not good’ to ‘oh Lord, have mercy’ – which I guess is how you get to ‘wasn’t awful’. One guy ignored the Covid guidelines and decided to sit next to me instead of opposite – not asking for permission and trying to take the mick out of me as I subconsciously crossed my arms as a barrier. Another guy explained to me how men and women are different, ‘not to offend you, but men are less patient and wanting – we’re just really eager for you girls!’. I met a rapper-poet-events-boxing organiser. Several accountants/financiers/bankers, most of whom told me how lucky I was to be in a job as ‘rewarding’ or ‘noble’ as teaching. A man questioned me for referring to these in passing as ‘dates’ as I was putting too much pressure on them. I got called ‘quirky’ for wearing a headband. A couple of the dates were nice enough, good practice for the future but clearly nothing there for either party.

The fact all this happened whilst a line of four men stood at the back overseeing all the dates whilst they waited for their own, that definitely didn’t help matters. Or the fact the woman sat next to me walked out three dates in, leaving an empty seat next to me – so every time my date finished I’d have to explain the empty seat (the organiser didn’t) and proceed with my next date, in the knowledge the last date was probably listening in.

We didn’t get the promised interval, instead we ‘pushed on through’ as the organiser put it. Which would have been a chance for a second drink or a chance to leave. I took the later option, I probably would have done anyway – but my decision was cemented by overhearing the last of the queue boys discussing how tall I was when I stood up.

It felt like it was over, and it really was now.

I already feel a bit better for typing it out. There’s a catharsis to be found in writing, and with no-one to talk through it with right now – I’m putting it up here. However, I still feel today lingering on me. Aside from a throat that is sore from all the yell-talking over the questionable playlist, I feel a bit of a sinking stomach too. What’s next?

The apps no longer seem to work, endless swipping for minimal matches and next-to-no conversations. My social life is expanding again as the world ‘reopens’ – but no single men have crossed into the horizon.

I didn’t go into tonight hoping to meet the love of my life (although I would have been open to the prospect..!) But, whilst I rediscovered my ability to hold my own in a conversation and make people laugh – I didn’t get to experience that spark to night. That hint of possibility and potential, of intrigue and interest – of wanting to know more about someone. Words can’t express how much I miss that feeling, and the worst bit is that those 5am gremlins are making me doubt and disbelieve it will actually happen again.