Last Days: Festival of Love on the Southbank

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Exhibitions at the Southbank Centre are generally something I avoid, purely because it sometimes feels a bit too…well, corporate, I guess. I’m not sure how to explain it, but I suppose I assume I’m not going to have that much fun at them, because everything’s going to be very serious, and I won’t be allowed to touch things and engage with them. And there’s a part of me that tends to feel like I should try and find something elsewhere, like it’s some kind of huge cop out to go to one of the busiest tourist destinations in town.

That said, I found myself with too much time on my hands one Sunday after working in the morning, and was at a bit of a loss for what to do. I always like strolling down the Southbank, whatever the weather, so I found myself having a quick cloudy lemonade at the Hayward, and looking through the literature for what was on. Something caught my eye: the Museum of Broken Relationships had set up an outpost, pulling in contributions from London’s broken-hearted residents. I’d read about the museum before, and it really grabbed my interest. People submit artifacts from relationships they’ve been in that have fallen apart. It’s incredibly voyeuristic, but ultimately a fairly uplifting experience. Pain is universal, broken hearts are commonplace, and many of the stories accompanying objects are about how the person concerned has moved on with their life.

I spent a good couple of hours in The Heartbreak Hotel, where not only can you forensically dissect past romances, but you can also examine letters to Cathy & Claire, the agony aunts at ‘Jackie’ magazine in the 70s. You step into an interpretation of the Jackie offices, complete with blocky wooden desks, typewriters and extendable desk lamps. The letters themselves are fascinating, with advice written from most members of the Jackie staff (Cathy & Claire never actually existed). While you’re in there, you can also grab a cocktail from the Department of Good Cheer, and get dressed up as famous pop heartthrobs.

I liked it so much that I revisited the weekend after with a friend, this time going into the Tunnel of Love, which I was a bit too freaked out by to go alone. We wandered in down a corridor of pin ups, both likely (Jennifer Lawrence) and unlikely (David Mitchell). Everything was pink neon hued, saturated in saccharine. At the end of the tunnel we reached a large space with a big Twister board, some viewing booths and a DJ space. Obviously we made our way straight to the DJ booth and started scratching up Donna Summer before viewing a wall of lovelorn confessions written by visitors to the exhibit.

All in all, the Southbank is an excellent place to while away a few hours, and I recommend you giving the Festival of Love a final send off before it vanishes after this weekend.

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Kind, decent and thoughtful

Morning lovely readers!

So guess what? I’ve got my voice back! It’s very exciting. I’ve never lost it before, and let me tell you that it was absolutely horrible. I felt like I was trapped in my own body. I LOVE talking. I talk loads. My energy also completely sapped away, so I was just lying pathetically on the sofa like some sort of Victorian invalid maiden thing, wimping about the house and feeling sorry for myself. Suddenly everything seemed like a huge effort, and I actually ended up feeling so miserable and maudlin that I began to question everything in my life. Which was, you know…heaps of fun.

I’ve blogged a little lately about looking for a job, and it really hit home this weekend. I was trapped in the house for about 4 days, and I felt unbelievably lonely. Working from home is amazing in so many respects, but nothing measures up to actually being with other people; not for me, anyway. I love interacting with people. I miss having girly chats while making cups of coffee, and I miss flirting over the photocopier. I even miss the blooming photocopier, for goodness sake! So I started thinking about that, then I got all lonely and sad, and then I missed my friends and the fact I was too ill to see anyone, and THEN I got all sad about being single, because I really wanted someone to hold my hand.

It’s not really typical of me to feel down about things. Usually if something bad happens I bounce back extremely quickly – like the job rejection I got last week, I’d almost completely forgotten about it an hour later. I don’t have a great capacity for sadness (or maybe just a bad memory?!), but when I do get down, I get really quite blue. As a twenty something, things seem to be in flux. Career trajectory, relationships, friendships, appearance…nothing seems settled, as I’m sure is the case for many people. Usually I like it, but at the moment, I’ve had enough, and I’d like some stability please.

The fates conspired this week to remind me of a past relationship. I actually blogged about it before, around Christmas-time, which was when it ended. Suddenly I’ve been reminded of it lately, and it’s knocked me for six. I’ve been so lucky with relationships. Every boyfriend I’ve had has been interesting, kind, and cared about me. I’ve learnt something from each and every one, and I’m pleased to say that I’m a better person today because of them. All apart from one, that is. The last one. Gosh, that was a silly relationship. I’m writing this because I want to try and impart some wisdom about the whole thing, and I hope it might mean something to one of you.

I’ll tell you this now: if a relationship is hard work, then get out. Seriously. We’re in our twenties, there’s no need to enter into a difficult, troublesome relationship. Every other relationship I’d had before this had been so easy – just a matter of liking each other, then being together. The one thing that rang true for me in Caitlin Moran’s book was about a relationship which she said was a kind of ‘penance’. This was mine, my ‘punishment’ for years of easy, lovely romances. It wasn’t abusive, it wasn’t out and out horrible, it just messed me around so badly that my self confidence was completely shattered, and my nerves exhausted.

Around Christmas, about a week or so before I finally took steps to end it, I had a chat with my Uncle Chris – he of the ruby rings in chocolate puddings – and he gave me advice. He said: ‘Millie, it shouldn’t be difficult. It should be easy. If he cared about you he would just show it. He’d do things like bringing you your favourite sandwich, because he knew you liked it’. I listened, because Uncle Chris is a wise chap. I’d like to give you all that bit of wisdom. What’s the point in putting up with something that’s making you unhappy? Don’t be scared of being single. There is no reward for working hard at a relationship. Don’t settle for crumbs of affection when you should have…well, a whole sandwich, to go back to Uncle Chris’s advice.

It makes me sad to realise that I’m still suffering a bit from that relationship. After it ended, I didn’t cry once. I felt amazing. Maybe I should have cried – I’ve been holding on to a lot of pain, and I hadn’t even realised until the last week or so. I think it’s about time for me to let go, and to start caring for myself again. If you feel like me, I want you to do the same. Trust in your instinct; don’t stick with something you know isn’t right. As I’ve found, you can work unbelievably hard at something, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right thing to work at. Have courage.

All I’ve ever hoped for is someone decent, kind and thoughtful. And I’ve been lucky enough to experience that in large amounts, so I know it exists. I hope you all do too, even if you’ve had a bad experience or two. I look to my family, and I see so much love, so much respect. I blogged the other weekend about how moving I found it seeing my aunt and uncle so in love and supportive of each other after 40 years of marriage. Don’t be cynical, and don’t let anyone treat you in a way that you know isn’t right. ‘Respect’ sounds like an old fashioned concept, but it’s absolutely essential for any relationship to work, in my opinion.

Be decent, and people will treat you decently. And if they don’t, they’re definitely not worthy of your time. Keep your chin up, feel happy in yourself, and never let anyone bring you down. I did, but I refuse to let it happen for a minute longer. I’ve learnt enough about myself to know my own value, and I know that I deserve to be treated very well, and so do you, I promise. Don’t be afraid of change or the unknown, and don’t be afraid of being on your own. Let go of baggage, because what good is it clinging to bad memories? Only you can change the way you feel. Be proud of yourself and get to know your own worth, because it’ll make it a lot easier in future.

So there we go, a bit of an odd post for me, but I wanted to say it. I know I might have fairly old fashioned values, but I’m proud of that. Please, women – and men, too – care for yourself, and care for others. Ditch the bad eggs. Life is much too short to be with someone who doesn’t bring you your favourite sandwich, just because.

My family and other dinosaurs

(Not a rude title. I genuinely saw some dinosaurs)

So my last blog post finished on Thursday night, because I’d broken through the 1000 word mark with a vengeance. On Friday I headed back up to London for some National Gallery and dinosaur fun, because it was the perfect remedy to a champagne and fashion filled week. I love the Natural History Museum very much, and I spotted two amazing things on Friday that I’d never seen before: 1. A dinosaur whose name translated as ‘chicken mimic’, and 2. A dinosaur called ‘Albertosaurus’. I’m not sure if I can describe quite how delighted I was about this. Watch out! Here’s the Tyrannosaurus Rex…and over there, you can see the Diplodocus, and ambling over the hill is….Albertosaurus.

The Natural History makes me very happy, and if you haven’t been in a while, I strongly suggest you do so IMMEDIATELY. Well, maybe not right now, but, you know. That said, if you can get to Oxford, their Natural History Museum is wildly superior because you can actually TOUCH STUFF. Yes. I know. It’s an illicit thrill. And the National Gallery is always fun, and I’m always wearing the noisiest shoes in the world. Again, I would urge you to make a visit. It’s so easy to overlook places like this, because you went when you were at school, or you think they’re too touristy, but honestly? It’ll make your life a bit better if you go. Also, you can tell me if I’m odd because I still find the animatronic T Rex in the NHM really rather scary.

So Friday was perfectly lovely, and Saturday I raced over to beautiful Italian restaurant La Luna in Godalming, for a family party. Specifically, my aunt and uncle’s 40th wedding anniversary. I’m quite conscious these days of writing stuff in my blog that only I will care about, and that I should just write it in my diary and be done with it, but I wanted to share this. My family are absolutely wonderful, and I am so so proud of all of them. We’ve got quite a big family, and quite a few different generations, making family parties absolutely brills.

As I said, I’m not going to bore you with infinitesimal details, although the food was absolutely tremendous, and if you’re in Godalming you should definitely give La Luna a try. But I will just say briefly what an absolutely megadude my Uncle Chris is. A 40th wedding anniversary is a Ruby thingamajig, and Uncle Chris had bought my beautiful Auntie Sandie a gold ring with three rubies in it. Here’s the bit which qualifies him for megadude status: as he knows the staff of the restaurant really well, he’d got them to pop the ring into my aunt’s chocolate mousse, where she was amazed to discover it. What?! Absolutely adorable, and such a romantic gesture.

He then made an amazing speech about how much he loved her, and how lucky he was – my Auntie Sandie is a completely phenomenal woman, so I don’t blame him – and then she in turn made a speech. I tried videoing them, but I was crying AND laughing so I’ve achieved a Blair Witch style shaky cam effect. When we were back at their house afterwards, Uncle Chris spoke some wise words to me about love and life, and also told me that he’d managed to secretly book the honeymoon suite they stayed in after their wedding, for this weekend.

They’re both such sweet, kind, thoughtful people, and it made me feel so proud and happy to be at the celebration. The loveliest thing of all is that, when talking to them, they each thought they were so lucky to be with the other! I just wanted to share the experience with you all because I found it really moving and inspiring to see how in love two people were after 40 years, despite life’s ups and downs. I feel like being a part of my amazing family has taught me some great values, as well as making me believe in love! I hear so many cynical people talking these days that I love things like this. It probably explains why I’m a bit of a romantic idealist, and that isn’t something I intend to change. I’m a lucky girl. If you’re still reading, why not give your family a call? See your parents? Hang out with your cousins? Family is the most important thing, and let’s not forget that.

The Valentine’s Day Conundrum

Where to start? Well, you all know my feelings on the day. Yes, I can see it’s a saccharine, over-commercialised pile of rubbish, a Card Company holiday that doesn’t mean anything. But I still adore it. Why? Because I’m a cheerful soul and I truly believe that we need to grab any opportunities we can to celebrate something upbeat . I suppose you could say that I love love. I do. I love taking care of people, I love doing nice but silly little things purely because they’ll cheer people up or just make them smile.

On a typical Valentine’s Day I’d be found baking some heart shaped cakes, putting the finishing touches to a handmade card, popping off to the florist to buy a bunch of charming flowers, and putting together a playlist that would almost definitely include both Nina Simone AND David Hassellhoff (diverse!) This year, though, I’m single. For the first time. So how do I align my love of – well, love – with the fact that I’m excluded from this particular day on a technicality?

See, as I’ve just realised, your options as a single person on V Day are very limited. You either have to opt out completely, or you have to feel utterly horrible about it all. You can sit there, refreshing the Facebook homepage and seeing photo after photo of adorable presents, and chipper statuses. Statii? Anyway. That isn’t really my style. So what to do? What about a third option? I decided yesterday what I’d do. Seeing as this is my favourite day of all the commercialised holidays, I chose to embrace it wholeheartedly.

Because you know what? There are heaps of us who are single today. It means absolutely bugger all, but it doesn’t change the fact that we’re still being subjected to a day that is purely for couples alone. I chose to adopt the approach that this was a day about love in general. I decided instead of swerving Twitter for the whole day – or worse, going on and posting depressed updates – I’d wade right in and be Aphrodite for the day.

I refuse to let anyone feel bad about today. And the thing is, you can brush if off all you like and say ‘it’s only a silly commercial bit of rubbish’, but as long as I can see people commenting on how thoroughly wonderful their relationship is, then there will be a need for someone to rally the troops and cheer people up. I rarely feel self-pitying; I haven’t even been single for a particularly long period of time, and I’m actually rather enjoying it. But today? When I see the photos of flowers, cake, and kittens (really) people have been given by the person who thinks they are really, truly ACE? I’m afraid to say it makes me feel a little lonely, a little sad, and a little bit excluded.

So I hope you’ll forgive me for interpreting the day in my own way. I’m sorry that it’s not in ‘keeping’ with the spirit of the holiday that I am choosing to show love to my friends, but hey. The actual St Valentine was imprisoned and beheaded, so, let’s not talk about the true meaning of the day too much, shall we? What is a relationship? Having someone who goes through the bad times with you and holds your hand. Someone who thinks you are wonderful the way you are. Someone who thinks about nice little things to do for you and does them. That description? That’s my friends. I really, truly love my friends, and I won’t make any apologies for the fact that I want to think about them and appreciate them on a day that celebrates love. My friends are AMAZING and I owe them a great deal.

If I’ve misunderstood the point of the day, then please, just indulge me. I personally don’t have the luxury of a boyfriend who will be looking after me all day and whipping me off to dinner, so let me be happy in my own way and have a bit of a Twitter love-in with chums. If I want to give people compliments, virtual bouquets of peonies, and a YouTube link to a soppy song, then that’s my prerogative. I should NOT have to be excluded from a day because I so happen to be single, and neither should anyone else I know. No one should EVER feel rubbish about themselves because a day dictates it.

Also, have you seen the news lately? There is so much to make us miserable out there, every single bloody day. I think Valentine’s Day is the perfect excuse to concentrate on what makes us happy, to celebrate our loved ones, and to eat an awful lot of heart-shaped sweets. If I want to salve everybody’s slightly aching hearts, then let me do it. I know I’m as soft and fluffy as a marshmallow, but it’s too late to change now. If working in a call centre didn’t beat the inner happiness out of me, then nothing will. Come on. Don’t crush my spirit. You can take my life, but you cannae take my soft-centre.

So in the meantime, come down to Twitter and follow me @ameliafsimmons for a day full of whimsy, compliments, larking about, and general cheeriness. I’m sorry (not really sorry, though) that I won’t be submitting to the cultural stereotype and weeping to Adele while stuffing my gob full of Ben & Jerry’s. I’m sorry (I’m still really not) that I will hold my head high and wish anyone who will listen a Happy Valentine’s Day. I’m sorry (still definitely not) that I will hold Valentine’s Day in my heart, and…oh, hang on. I’m getting mixed up with ‘A Christmas Carol’.

But “joking” aside. Go and tell someone you care about them. I know we shouldn’t need a day to do it on, but we do, really, don’t we? Because we don’t do it often enough. Don’t be shy, don’t be sad, and do just enjoy it. It’s only one day a year, after all.

I LOVE YOU, BYEEE!

Amelia xx