Thoughts on Carrie

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I have a strange relationship with death. We are long-distance enemies. Hateful pen pals. Despite having never been to a funeral, I worry about it more than is rational. Not my own mortality, that is, but that of the people around me.

The unknown of the experience of losing someone has built it up into my greatest fear. It can keep me up at night for no reason at all.

I’m not great at making friends so the ones I do have are obliged to outlive me. I’ve decided that no one’s allowed to die now. Not anyone I love. I’ve had a small taste of that and I didn’t much take to it.

When I say a small taste, I mean someone I love did die, but it was someone I didn’t know personally. Or directly, in person, having met. I missed that opportunity only two weeks ago. Nevertheless, I felt I knew her personally.

It feels personal.

The books she wrote and the words she spoke were so open that it seems impossible that I could know such intimate details of her life and not truly know her. She was so open. Not open in that friendly, arms-outstretched way that some people can be, but open in a way that went deeper, and darker. Carrie didn’t shy away from things that could make you uncomfortable. She didn’t dilute herself to put you at ease. She was just joyfully, heartbreakingly Carrie all the time.

Her final book, for instance, was the publication of a 40-year-old diary. If it’s edited, those edits are limited. It follows the pattern that Wishful Drinking, Shockaholic and Postcards from the Edge have laid out before it: an equation of startling honesty and self-deprecating humour. No one will ever prove so persistently that light can be drawn from even the darkest places.

As the media reported on news of her ill health on the 23rd, the phrasing – “massive heart attack” – felt so coarse. The word “massive” seemed the worst of it. It was as though those news sources sought to minimise hope amongst a group taught to hope against all odds. I couldn’t help myself.

A quote of hers kept in my mind:

 “You know the bad thing about being a survivor… You keep having to get yourself into difficult situations in order to show off your gift.”

Show off that gift just one more time for us, I kept thinking.

If anyone was going to survive 2016, surely it would be Carrie. Indomitable Carrie. She’d bounce back and joke about being described as “stable”, because that’s how she was. She drew light from even the darkest places. She’d probably write a book about it with a Star Wars pun for a title, and spend her recovery on Twitter, liking tweets that feature weird pictures of herself, Mark and Harrison while privately DMing fans words of comfort.

On Christmas Day, I unwrapped The Princess Diarist. I was given cards with Leia’s image emblazoned on them (“Tis the season to be rebels!”), and even a Han and Leia mouse mat that my mum had sweetly made up on Vistaprint. There was a lot of Carrie, in the most bittersweet of ways. She’s all over the gifts my best friends are yet to unwrap. With our shared love for our princess and our general, we’d made it through this shitty year together.

Perhaps it’s weird I got all the way to December before feeling like this.

Death has been everywhere this year, death and bad things. So many famous people died, it’s a small miracle that I, the perpetual fangirl, didn’t already feel buried in this strange and illegitimate grief. I felt sad every time, naturally, but also detached – by necessity. Sad things are happening at an ever more alarming rate but we hide out from those things, we separate ourselves, we try to keep our heads up and push on.

I’ve had my heart broken a few times and a few ways in 2016 but through it all, I took comfort in my newfound world of Star Wars. Now, to end the year on this new heartbreak feels especially cruel given that Carrie and her galaxy far, far away had been a comfort for most of it.

I miss her. I miss her all the time. I miss her in moments that she’d never have been in anyway. Isn’t that bizarre?

How strange an experience it is to lose a personal hero.

Perfect Present Pressure

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38 tabs open. Wishlists and wishlists and wishlists. Every Black Friday deal scoured and every RRP scorned. ‘Tis the season. Time to find the perfect gift for every man, woman and child in the land. And, blimey, are some of you hard to buy for.

My compulsion to get The Perfect Gift™ for everyone is exhausting. And it’s not your fault. You’re great. I know you’d pretend to like it even if I were to get you a gift voucher for Build-A-Bear.

It’s me. I’m doing this to myself.

Every year, without fail, I’ll waltz into a department store to pick up something specific and I’ll be overwhelmed by a flood of aggressive marketing: was/nows and 3 for 2s and cashbacks and WHAT DID I EVEN COME IN HERE FOR?!

I’ll be suckered into every deal going if I’ve got a person in mind for it. I’m weak. And once I’ve bought one Perfect Gift™, that’s it! That’s the game. Over. Because I couldn’t possibly get something this perfect for Emma and not somehow materialise a gift equally fitting for Hannah and Laura and Claire.

So, the search then begins to match whatever probably-quite-high bar I’ve started with. A combination of rush purchases and over-thought buys will be laid out across my bedroom floor, with an internal monologue debating the virtues of each potential gift matched up with each person. There’ll be switches. There’ll be notes-to-self highlighting notable gift gaps, or perhaps those ideas that are feeling a little below par because, actually, does Laura even like [insert giant generic franchise here] anymore? And, naturally, there’ll also be a formal present pile analysis to manage relative generosity from person to person, because every loved one must feel precisely the same amount of joy this festive season.

This dramatic escalation of retail chaos typically occurs by mid-November, by the way, leading to an overly-prepped and ultimately disappointing Black Friday weekend where I attempt to fill in all of those aforementioned gift gaps – or close the deal on pre-made purchasing decisions. You add 30 items to your wishlist for easy deal-watching and you’d think at least one of them would be reduced at some point, right? Wrong.

By Cyber Monday, reduced or not, the last wave of buying has to begin if I want to be truly assured that all of those internet orders will arrive in time. Accordingly, the biggest annual assault on my bank balance then takes place during those twilight hours of an all too manic Monday.

But that’s okay.

It’s okay because, other than one slightly dubious call for a brother unwilling to drop a single hint, I think – I think – I’ve nailed it.

My Royal Parks Half

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I DID IT. Properly, actually ran 13.1 miles.

Dreamy conditions, peak physical fitness and a full Kennedy entourage came together for one fine day. On top of all that, the race route was heaven: six miles of cinematic city landmarks before what was effectively a seven-mile park run around Hyde Park.

Despite a long, anxious week of build-up involving endless injury paranoia, on the start line I felt very… ready.

We started out roaming the fanciest of all the city streets, heading past Buckingham Palace, Horse Guards Parade, Churchill War Rooms, Admiralty Arch, Trafalgar Square, etc., etc. It’s an endless string of iconic landmarks to captivate you every step of the way. I would still be admiring one as the next began to appear. It was so. much. fun. I kept bounding cheerfully past people – partly trying to make up for the minutes lost in a portaloo queue at mile one, but bounding nevertheless. It was the best feeling in the world. I would compare it to the feeling I imagine Westlife were singing about in Flying Without Wings.

I hit six miles feeling fresh. That was at the entrance to Hyde Park, where a lot of the charities based their support, making that milestone particularly packed with people. There were so many people cheering for so many runners, and I was part of it!!!! Overwhelmed to the max, basically. Then I turned a corner to see my own support team: Dad, Mum, Callum. I flashed a little smile with an ‘I’m KILLING this!’ level of confidence that was both uncharacteristic and magnificent because I absolutely, totally was. (Why do I never feel that fresh at six miles when I’m running six miles is my question?!)

The whole way round, there was an inspiring mix of calls of my name and funny messages – from “May the course be with you” (my #1), to “Tiramisu if you do it under 2!” and “You go, Glen Coco!” I kept wanting to stop and thank people for their support, except also never ever stop. Reading all of those signs, even if they were for specific people, kept me distracted for most of the way. It made you aware of why so many were doing it. Every crazy costume or heartfelt dedication on the back of a t-shirt was a reminder of how meaningful this challenge was for so many. And I got to be part of the fundraising side of the race for once. It was profoundly inspiring to experience.

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Home straight, aka the longest 800m has ever felt.

I reached the finish line in 2:03:05. This may seem odd to non-runners but, proud as I am of my finish time, it was when I saw my splits that I felt really chuffed with myself. I only went and got negative splits! Negative splits on my first half! Every single 5km of the race was quicker than the one before – and only marginally. Taking out the portaloo debacle that must have added about four or five minutes to my first 5km, all of the splits are pretty even. I bloomin’ NAILED that pacing lark.

Apart from anything, pacing it well meant I pretty much loved it from start to finish. At 10 miles the legs started hurting and the miles started to stretch out, but you rationalise the pain at that point; you’ve run 10. I knew at that point that I was going to finish, no question.

And finish I did.

Thank you to everyone who sponsored me, trained alongside me and put up with me talking about it non-stop for about two months. It was a joy I’ll never forget. And the team I was part of raised a total of £1,425 (£1,661.75 including gift aid) for Together For Short Lives.

Job well done I’d say.

My Half Mad Half Marathon

It’s Wednesday, a day to rest and recuperate from the endless mileage and stopwatches, and I don’t really know what to do with myself. Dare I say it, a night off from running has left me with itchy feet.

Don’t get me wrong, my legs are tired; they’re hanging limply from my hips like I’m a lame marionette, but I’m quite used to that. They usually figure out what do within the first mile. Left, right, left, right – the usual. At this point, they’re so used to running, I seem to have developed autopilot mode. It’s the basic walking stuff that tends to be where the trouble lies.

Somehow, though, on my journey of athletic discovery, I’ve gone from “OH, PLEASE GOD MAKE IT STOP” to finding the permanent ache of every muscle in my body oddly satisfying. And it’s never been as satisfying as it is right now. Fresh from a lengthy winter-to-spring plateau, I’ve been given renewed motivation and focus.

Aimg_3509 few weeks ago, on an uncharacteristic whim, I signed myself up to run the Royal Parks Half Marathon in aid of Together For Short Lives.

The cause is an incredible one: the UK’s biggest charity providing palliative care to children and young adults with life-shortening or life-threatening conditions – of which there are 49,000 in the UK. Together For Short Lives is there to help these children and their families as they are faced with unimaginably difficult illnesses.

Given that through the training I do with my running club I get to see what a difference health and fitness makes to young people’s lives, it strikes me as a particularly important cause. I’m reminded of what a privilege it is to have the freedom to go out and hit the pavements, or run around a 400-metre track for an hour. Not everyone’s pain is temporary. Not everyone’s struggle finishes on a high.

On a personal level, I’d been in need of a challenge, something to inspire and motivate me to really start pushing myself again. Immediately, once I’d signed up, it started to make a difference. I’ve been running quicker, going further, pushing harder and even eating better.

I’m hoping that soon I might be able to keep up with the entirety of Coach Dad’s Big, Tough Track Sessions, perhaps take on some cross-country kickassery and continue knocking my Parkrun PBs down a peg. For now, though, the priority is getting around 13.1 miles – preferably in a tidy two hours (yikes!) and to raise the all-important £1,200 target for Together For Short Lives.

If you’re able to spare a little cash to make all of those pavement pounding hours worth my while, please support my race and donate here.

Right. Well, I better go and do some core strength exercises. No time for rest!

 

All of the Stuff

Hello again, blog. It’s been far too long. Let’s catch up.

Since I got my job– oh, did I tell you I got a job? I got a job. Anyway, since I got a job, things have been very, very busy. On top of the having-to-go-to-work-everyday thing, I’ve also been working on redecorating my bedroom.

I started having pinsta dreams of a perfect white haven of clean lines and empty desks and minimalist chic. Ha! Oh, sweet, naïve, young Jessica. The reality is something of a nightmare. That’s dramatic but… seriously, it’s a nightmare.

Let me provide some context. I’m in the clear-out stage still. This has been my bedroom for 20 years. The last time it was redecorated was 10 years ago. My family have, to put it mildly, some – err – hoarding tendencies. There is SO. MUCH. STUFF.

Before all this, I was having scary fantasies about the stuff-laden walls gradually closing in on me as stuff, stuff and more stuff just piled up. The reality wasn’t much different, to be honest: at one point, the shelf over my bed collapsed under the weight of a thousand books. Which was terrifying. There was a brief second where I really thought my English degree might actually kill me.

Somebody call the TV show ‘Hoarders’ because, seriously, S.O.S.

It’s not me. I want it all gone. If I could have one superpower, I would want the ability to touch things and magic them gone. Do you know how hard it is to get rid of 20 years worth of stuff at once – especially when every time you throw something out, you have to answer anxious parent questions like, “But what if you need them at some point in the future?” (Kennedy, W., 2016, re: knickers) or “You’ve never even worn this, have you?” (also Kennedy, W., 2016, re: unwanted Christmas present that my past, present and future self all stand unified in rejecting).

Think of those white walls. Think of those white walls. Think of those white walls.

I feel genuinely weighed down by All of the Stuff. I find it an oppressive space. And it’s the only space I have. From books, DVDs, clothes, bags and CDs (remember them?) to my desk, drawers, wardrobe, futon and TV. It’s such slow progress to try and offload it all. I had a major breakthrough with the clothes this week thanks to my mother, but then I start on the next thing and once again my room’s looking worse than when I started.

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What is floor space? Yikes.

I have to keep reminding myself that eventually there won’t be a next thing. I just want to skip over this part so that I don’t have to live in piles anymore. I don’t even fantasise about the new furniture I’m getting, I fantasise about everything just being gone and having space again. A foreign concept.

I realise that this perhaps comes across like seriously privileged whining. Too much stuff? Pfft. That argument’s not without merit, but I will say that in this particular instance I believe the hoarding in my family is entirely founded in financial anxiety rather than extravagance. It’s like, ‘Oh, we can’t get rid of that! What if we sometimes need this bizarre, unnecessary item that no one really wants to touch because it’s so coated in dust?’

Instead of getting too bogged down in my messy reality, though, I’ve found some much needed escapism via my home décor Pinterest boards. I guess this is adulthood: lusting after chests of drawers and floral arrangements.

While I lie utterly exhausted on my bed after another clearing sesh, I choose to think about the endgame rather than attempt to remember what my carpet looks like (maybe a shade of blue?). So, suggestions welcome for space-saving storage solutions, reliable and sturdy furniture sourcing or the best Pinterest boards to follow for beautiful minimalist homeware. Hook me the hell up.

Wait For It

I’m going to say something controversial now: job-hunting sucks.

Looking for a job, the whole painful process of unemployment, is a relentless fight to retain some semblance of ego. Truly nothing takes the same toll on your self-esteem. It makes romantic rejection seem like a trip to Disney World: sure, ‘It’s A Small World’ is going to make you loopy by even the second play, but you can always hug adults dressed like cartoon characters for comfort.

Every tip about the job searching process contradicts another: stand out but not too much, blog to show off your writing skills but don’t write about this or this or this, don’t allow yourself to be taken advantage of but take whatever opportunities you can get.

Most of your efforts go unrewarded, potentially even unread. You spend 50% of your energy crafting applications that walk the line between “I’m different and exciting” and “I will fit into any team”, and the other 50% is used up trying to convince yourself that you’re employable. I find myself vacillating between adamant confidence that I’m a hard-working, intelligent wunderkind and believing that I’m a useless good-for-nothing. (The ratio tips ever more towards the latter, unsurprisingly.)

On a recent day off, I went to support my running club at a track event and during the day, a thirteen-year-old girl I train with/ trail behind asked me about my job because she wanted to get one (that pocket money just ain’t cutting it for her). If you aren’t familiar with what failure feels like, check in with the smaller humans who look up at you like you’re in charge, like you’re supposed to have it together, because those eyes read like, “Girl, I’m in Year 9 and I know where my next pay packet’s coming from!”

At one point, a position with Dream Job™ potential came along. I worked my little cottons off to perfect my application, pouring an abundance of time and heart into it in the hope that this would be The One. It was the first job I got genuinely excited about, the one that I opened up about to friends and family, all of whom reassured me I was perfect for it. Even the stranger I was stuck on a coach with for eleven hours insisted I was perfect for it (and she knows me better than anyone).

I started to believe it. I built it up in my head.

I didn’t even get an interview. Instead, they sent me a vaguely encouraging rejection email and I pretended it didn’t matter after all.

When enough applications have been floated out into the ether never to be heard from again, rejection can feel like a comfort. It’s closure. That message read as heartfelt and personal. “Try again in the future” was better than being job-ghosted. I later discovered that the company had sent the same email, word-for-word, to a friend of mine.

The Gmail account I set up specifically for professional use has become my tormentor. Now I gotta, I gotta inbox full of rejection (to the tune of Natasha Bedingfield’s ‘Pocket Full of Sunshine’, FYI). I can log in anytime I like just to feel bad about myself. It’s a quiet wasteland only occasionally disturbed by the entrance of a lone cowboy to the theme music from ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’; that worn, old cowboy will shoot a couple of holes into my ego and then ride on. On one hand, it’s nice to see somebody, anybody, but on the other, those bullets hurt, man!

Quick bounce back on Kennedy these days, though. I blast the Hamilton soundtrack and knuckle down in search of my next opportunity (“I am inimitable! I am an original!”). It’s this relentlessness that’s perhaps toughest of all. There’s no free time because there’s no work time. Every second that I’m not sat browsing Indeed.com or rewording my CV to cater to every demand of the latest position that pops up, I feel like I should be. I haven’t been relaxed enough to read a book for weeks. I love a good cover-to-cover reading sesh but a few hours not spent producing something, not grinding out another boastful yet genial covering letter? How indulgent.

I have to imagine my future self reading this post and calling Debbie Downer on all of it. Her inbox is a happier place: opportunity, acceptance, accomplishment. She can plan for trips on aeroplanes and shop for her friend’s Christmas presents with unconstrained generosity. She is exhausted at the end of the day. Her time is hers; it’s evenly divided between friends, TV, runs and reading without a nagging feeling in the back of her mind.

She’s great.

I can’t wait for you to meet her.

 

Running Away From My Problems

DSC00104I just finished my 58th Parkrun. 25:25. Another personal best. It feels like a miracle after waking up with tired legs and pizza belly. It feels like a miracle for a lot of reasons. It’s now been a year and a half since I first dusted off my old non-brand trainers (unloved even in their best days) and decided to go for a run one autumn morning.

The truth is I took up running in an effort to combat depression.

It was October 2013. Not my worst month, certainly not my best. My mum had suggested running, or physical activity of any kind, countless times in the months prior. Problem was, I didn’t want to leave the house. I really didn’t like leaving the house. Then my counsellor asked me about my fitness; she asked how much exercise did I do during the week? None. The truthful answer was none. I was perfectly happy doing absolutely no exercise, resentfully resisting the suggestion and throwing away some typically facetious reply about how the only marathon I would be doing was the binge-watching kind. So perfectly happy was I.

“You should aim to do 20 minutes of exercise twice a week,” she told me. “You should do something that makes you out of breath.”

Living in a house full of keen runners, running seemed the obvious option. It didn’t require the commitment of a gym membership or buying new kit. I simply laced up my trainers and started running. And then I walked because, damn, running is really hard. But then I ran again…

The first thing that hit me was how satisfying it is to be physically challenged. I can now personally attest to the whole “runner’s high” thing. Yes, endorphins make you happy. We know this because we all watched Legally Blonde. The unavoidable discomfort that had put me off sport for years is now masked by a far greater, almost euphoric feeling of accomplishment. Is there anything better than that moment when you’re four kilometres down in a 5k and ‘Shake It Off’ comes on your playlist and you find just a little more fuel in the tank? It’s as addictive as everyone claims. Not the ‘Shake It Off’ moment specifically, but The Buzz. I’m running to chase that feeling. It is an exact opposite of the feeling I know I’m running away from so I know I’m going in the right direction.

If I’m ever thinking, “I don’t want to run today”, I think about how dropping out might affect my rate of improvement and hastily dismiss the thought. I’ve never known motivation like it. I’m not a serious athlete. I’m not looking to become a serious athlete. But I want to be better than I was last week. So, I go out to feel good. Those aching calf muscles afterwards only serve as a gentle reminder of how great I did. Besides, if I wake up early for a run, go out and push myself, it’s a free pass for the rest of the day. A day when I’ve run is a day when I’ve achieved and, therefore, I can relaaaaax. Imagine Pixar’s Inside Out is the inside of my mind: Sadness takes a nap while Joy (voiced, of course, by Amy Poehler) eagerly repeats affirmations as I unwind with some feminist literature.

Then there’s my long lost friend Vitamin D. Sunlight hitting my skin, warming its colour to a few shades up from its natural vampiric white. I feel like I went years living inside, only venturing out when I had to, for food or education or if a fire alarm went off. I’m a writer. I sit and I write. I’m more relaxed in front of a Word document than anywhere else. Running is a break from that, offering balance to my natural lifestyle. It takes me so many places, exploring my home county one foot in front of the other. I live in Bournemouth. I have the seafront, from Boscombe Pier to Sandbanks, and the New Forest, and the numerous athletics tracks that host club training sessions. Is there a place any more perfect to run? I doubt it. I have my running shoes to thank for showing me my world. I’d never really noticed how beautiful it all is – even if I do try to ignore my mum when she points out all the geese and rainbows and flowers and MUM, I CAN’T TALK RIGHT NOW, I’M TOTALLY OUT OF BREATH. WE’LL TALK LATER.

Getting out more, I’m meeting people all the time – happy, active people. I think I might even be one of them now. At the end of our track sessions, I don’t see a single person looking glum. The stand is always abuzz with proud smiles, people asking, “How was your session?” and “Are you racing at the weekend?”

Running might seem like a lonely sport; it’s not strictly a team sport, after all, but I think if you find the right running club, it does feel like a team. It’s not that there aren’t runs where I want to stick my headphones in my ears and drown everything else out with nondescript dance music. There are plenty and they’re necessary. But going out and having people cheer you on is an entirely separate, valuable experience. Making friends is always a plus, right? We all appreciate nice people supporting us.

And finally, of course, there’s the reason most people want to start exercising: that old “getting in shape” chestnut. While my main motivation for exercising was mental health, I have to admit that the idea of slimming down was an added incentive. The fact that I hated my body was never a big issue but it simmered beneath the surface, perfectly in line with the many millions of women who share that experience and have their vulnerability fed by marketing and the media. I would conceal whatever figure I had underneath baggy grey-tone tops that hung off me, hoping never to draw any attention. Funny thing is, my figure hasn’t really changed, only the way I see it has. I train four or five times a week but my body looks about the same. It’s probably tighter and firmer, but the same size, same shape. Running has merely given me an appreciation of what my body is capable of. The legs I always resented for being too chunky can carry me for miles and miles. My body is strong. It doesn’t matter what anyone else says about it, my body is so great, it can run far away from anyone who says otherwise. I feel oddly powerful, like I could lead the people into battle or catch kids who are trespassing on my land (I have no land). So, now I wear colours and I wear shorts. Sometimes even a cheeky crop top. I don’t care. My body is healthy. I’m happy.

People often ask me, “Why now? What made you take up running?” I don’t know what to tell them. I don’t think they understand the weight of the question. “The desperate need to feel better,” doesn’t seem like the appropriate response, but it’s the truth. And it worked.

BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend Norwich 2015

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Note: This is as much a diary entry for me as a shared account or review for all of you so fair warning if it turns into a stream-of-consciousness post.

From the moment I first heard about this year’s Big Weekend, it all seemed implausibly fortuitous. My best friend texted me to say that when she saw Norwich trending on Twitter that wonderful morning, she had never expected Taylor Swift to be the reason. Not only was this year’s Big Weekend going to be held walking distance from my friend’s house, the headliner was the very person we had been spiralling over since the 1989-era had begun: Taylor fucking Swift, y’all. It also happened to be the weekend immediately after my final university deadline. The perfect celebration.

Taylor Swift in Norwich is truly the most insane, unbelievable thing to happen in Norwich since… well, since last year when The Avengers came to town. (Seeeriously, people, Norwich is the place to be.) For my friends who attended UEA, I can’t imagine how bizarre it must be to go from Captain America strolling around the Sainsbury Centre one year to the world’s biggest popstar rocking up the next. In addition to Taylor, the lineup included a mixture of fresh (Florence and the Machine, Years and Years, Hozier, etc.) and throwback (Snoop Dogg, Fall Out Boy, Muse, etc.). Prior to ticket release day, only Taylor, Florence and a handful of smaller bands were announced. It didn’t matter. They had us at Taylor. We woke up and began frantically tapping refresh, secured tickets for both days and then wondered how we could possibly go back to our mundane lives what with a Taylor Swift show on our horizon. (more…)

Fancy Dressing Up

I imagine that my family’s dinnertimes are much like those of the Kennedys – that is, the other Kennedys. To clarify, there are some obvious differences: no one in my family was ever forced to have a lobotomy, nor have any of us run for political office. But in every other sense, we’re identical: good-looking, intelligent and we love a lively dinner table discussion (except Callum, who just begrudgingly puts up with them). The Other Kennedys, as I shall henceforth refer to them, apparently loved to quiz each other at meal times, a fact I became aware of after Lorelai mentioned it in an episode of Gilmore Girls. At one of our recent mealtime discussions, talk eventually turned to an upcoming fancy dress party the family was invited to, with the theme: “people from history”.

That’s great, I thought. There’s loads of those! My first suggestion was Richard III. I suggested my dad cut a hole for his head out of one of those cartoon road play mats that I used to play with my cars on as a child, and he could wear it as a poncho with perhaps a slightly off-centre crown. He could even glue some toy cars on the mat to take it to the next level.

Coming up with suggestions of historic women was harder. The obvious options were the queens: Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria. My mother doesn’t really have the aesthetic for Liz, with short, very dark hair. The costume would also require the investment of excessive time and money. When I suggested Victoria, she was indignant but I maintain that it’s rather narrow-minded to only take that suggestion to mean post-Albert mourning era Vic; in fact, I’d watched The Young Victoria only the day before. Even Queen Victoria was young once! Alternatively, she could do the more iconic look but covered in gold as a nod to the Queen Vic bust that has finished many a Walford resident off. I sense she would not be on board with that idea.

Other options seemed scarce. Women have, as a general rule, been left out of the history books and the women we did think of didn’t have a distinct look. My mother resisted suggestions of Jane Austen, Florence Nightingale, the first woman to go to space, the first dog to go to space. To be fair, the latter idea would require a costume inside a costume which seems like more trouble than it’s worth. It’s still an amazing idea. My mother did not agree.

The idea I got most into, though ultimately can’t do because only my parents are available to go to the party, was for us to go as the musketeers. But with this suggestion came the inevitable squabble over who would be who. Naturally, I wrote my dad off as Athos: the eldest, haggard and greying, attempting to keep the peace between the others. The clear choice for D’Artagnan was my younger brother, Callum: youthful, athletic, with much to learn and the newest addition to the group. Dividing Porthos and Aramis up between myself and my mum was the complicated part. I insisted I was Aramis. My mother protested against getting Porthos. I can understand why. Porthos is the short straw. There’s really no way to make it work and, after the Victoria and space dog suggestions, my mother was getting far too annoyed with the rest of us to want to hear me suggest Milady de Winter (ya know, the villain of the piece) so we let go of that idea. I also don’t know if we’ve moved too far from historic figures to fictional characters.

As we began to quiz my dad about which mathematical symbol was the title of the last Ed Sheeran album (a definite quiz question at the other Kennedy house), it occurred to me that JFK and Jackie O might be the solution. Sure, it’ll fuel the “heh heh Kennedy” jokes for another year but they’re historic and they’re people! As it looks like me and Callum aren’t able to make the party, despite my enthusiasm about the theme, we only need ideas for my parents. If I did have to go, “Teen Kennedy” would be my call. Sure, no one’s heard of this particular Kennedy but when I’m walking around yelling, “I am a Kennedy, Google me!”, what the hell will that matter?

If you have any other suggestions, particularly for historic women my mum can go as, please send them my way! Warning: she’s definitely not open to anymore dog suggestions.


P.S. This week she mistakenly called me Geoffrey. That’s not relevant but it really tickled me.

5 Things I Like About My Dad

My original hype man. #the90s #throwback

My original hype man. #the90s #throwback

It’s my dad’s birthday this week. He is, quite possibly, the hardest person in the known universe to buy presents for. I imagine that if there is alien life out there, said aliens would be easier to gift (FYI I’d go straight for Earth: A Visitor’s Guide to the Human Race). My dad owns so much stuff, whenever I see things I think he’d like, it’s safer to assume that he already has them. Even finding a card took five different shops. Five! Seriously, what is with the ‘cards for dads’ sections? They are frustratingly narrow-minded in their ideas about what fathers like. My dad likes beer, sure, but do I want to buy him a card that casually implies an unhealthy level of alcoholism, with a bonus illustration of a couch potato with a beer belly? No, I do not. Instead, he’s getting a card that has the word “daddy” on the front because the other options were so across-the-board terrible that the simplest option was to just infantilise myself.

To make up for the shortcomings of the world’s card-sellers, I decided to gift him a whole blog post. (Don’t worry, I’m still giving him an actual gift. The poor bloke’s getting on a bit now – deserves a treat.)

  1. He has moral objections to Monopoly. I can’t be certain that this does not have more to do with time consumption combined with a limited attention span, but he has long claimed to morally oppose the board game Monopoly any time my brother decides it’s game time (usually around 4pm on December 26th). Not even the charmingly quaint Bournemouth and Poole special edition can entice him. He doesn’t like the spirit of it. It’s all about trying to get people to go bankrupt, taking advantage of other people’s misfortune and ruthlessly building your empire, according to my dad – and, to be fair, the rules. I think it’s sweet. He never raised us kids to be morally corrupt bankers and, lucky for him, my brother and I both study humanities so he never has to worry about us getting rich and trading in our four houses for a hotel. What a relief that must be.
  2. He’s an athletics coach. And basically everything in his chaotic world revolves around that. The whole family is kind of sporty, including me now, I guess, but Dad was the OG. However, rather than put any time into his own training, he gives up at least two nights and a morning to train the next generation (and sometimes me). Which is neat of him. But also, often, he works with so many kids that his stories are impossible to follow when he recounts race days. We’ve developed a strategy that involves all of them getting “the one who” titles so that I can differentiate one twin from another, and which [popular girls name] he’s talking about.
  3. Sometimes he’s also a DJ. Sometimes it’s embarrassing. Sometimes it’s fun. Of the pros, I would cite growing up around an eclectic variety of music, having regular invitations to parties and someone to buy chart music for me (“because the people will revolt if you don’t have this one, Dad!” – B*witched single, 1998). The cons are that I’ve been over-exposed to Aqua and that DJ-speak is the single most cringe-inducing sound to my ears. The reverb of the mic, that affected delivery more resembling a radio DJ than a real person (like how my mother sounds as posh as the “mind the gap” lady whenever she’s on the phone), the pause as everyone strains their ears to figure out what the hell he’s saying. It’s the pause of it. I never know what the words are. And he’ll laugh at his own joke, his own joke that only he heard, and I’ll know it’s over and the Black Eyed Peas track from 2010 that he can’t let go of will fade back up. Relief. It’s over. Dance enthusiastically in the hope that it’ll stifle future DJ-speak.
  4. At Christmas, I made everyone watch The Lego Movie because I’m an amazing person, what can I say, and even though my dad didn’t really “get it”, he immediately downloaded ‘Everything is Awesome’ afterwards. I only found this out on New Year’s Eve, when he played it at the party we were at. I thought it was awesome.
  5. He is frustratingly laidback. He lies so far back, he is horizontal and snoring. This might be more endearing were I not my mother’s daughter. He’s a sweet and loving parent, but he seems to object, on a spiritual level, to tidiness. He was talking once about going to one of his athlete’s houses and admiring their messy home. He likes a messy home. It’s just as well. He says it’s homey and lived in and loved in if it’s messy. It’s a nice perspective to have but I can’t help but wonder if he’s only romanticising messiness to derail any argument against his own hoarding tendencies. He does like his mess, though. That’s genuine. While I can tell my mother longs for a sparkling, shiny house, he genuinely enjoys the chaotic piles of books and the clutter of our four lives mixed together. I like that about him. But I also like that I don’t have to live with him forever. Do you know what I mean?

Happy birthday, Dad.