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.

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.

Stream On Vol. 16

After a four week break (July was rough, let’s just all agree to move on and leave it behind!) we’re back baby. Welcome to volume sixteen 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 and 15.

Summer Of Soul (2021: Disney+: 118 minutes)

1969 is viewed as the year of Woodstock, with Harlem Cultural Festival which celebrated African American music and culture, and promoted Black pride and unity being forgotten in the sands of time. A beautifully balanced documentary, favouring performance footage with the addition of talking heads and archive footage, we get to be in the room (park) where it happens. The music is out of this world, powerful and extraordinary.

I Capture The Castle (2003: BBC iPlayer: 107 minutes)

After William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Dodie Smith’s (who also wrote The Hundred and One Dalmatians) I Capture The Castle is my second favourite book of all time. This is a solid adaptation of the book, but a great 1930s-set period drama in its own right. 17-year-old Cassandra Mortmain (Romola Garai) lives in a decaying English castle with her eccentric family, they are running out of money as their author father (Bill Nighy) continues to struggle with writers block. When their new landlords arrive, Americans Simon (Henry Thomas) and Neil (Marc Blucas), the former looks set to catch the heart of Cassandra’s sister Rose (Rose Byrne) whilst Stephen (Henry Cavill) continues to wistfully long for Cassandra.

Beast (2017: All4: 107 mins)

A troubled woman (Jessie Buckley) living in an isolated community finds herself pulled between the control of her oppressive family and the allure of a secretive outsider (Johnny Flynn) suspected of a series of brutal murders. An intriguing and atmospheric gem.

The Founder (2016 :Amazon Prime: 115 mins)

The story of Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton), a salesman who turned two brothers’ (Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) innovative fast food eatery, McDonald’s, into the biggest restaurant business in the world, with a combination of ambition, persistence, and ruthlessness. Pacey and well crafted.

Barb & Star Go To Vista Del Mar (2021: Sky/Now: 107 mins)

If you’re a fan of oddball comedy a la Step Brothers, there’s a good chance you’ll love this one as much as I do. Lifelong friends Barb (Annie Mumolo) and Star (Kristen Wiig) embark on the adventure of a lifetime when they decide to leave their small Midwestern town for the first time – ever. And then there’s Jamie Dornan in his best role ever. This song and performance will never not make me smile.