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Being Scared

I’ve found myself re-counting numbers recently. Second guessing myself. This morning, I counted the handful of change for my morning cappuccino three times. Three. Clearly, the trust has gone.

Maths has never been my strong suit, but still. It’s starting to verge on the ridiculous. At work I find myself struggling to grasp what the month number for May is (it’s five…isn’t it?). Is this just age? Surely not, I’m barely 32. The years of alcohol? Hmmm. I have a nagging feeling the reason behind this strange emergence of Dyscalculia is because I find myself in, well, a strange period in my life.

calc ageI have begun to question things in ways that haven’t crossed my mind for at least ten years. And it’s really annoying because, with my questions remaining unanswered, I feel lost and discontent. And the other, even more annoying, thing is that it’s only me that can provide any answers.

It’s funny how it is generally acknowledged that you become wiser the older you get and, by default, more confident. But my confidence is no longer the unwavering warrior it was when I was younger and knew nothing. Sure, I’ve got less tolerant of the selfishness of others and I am more likely to say so rather than hush into a corner and somehow blame their behaviour on my faults. And yes, I’ve become openly accepting of those with whom I shall never be friends, who shall never like me and vice versa. We are all different. But am I more confident with age? In a word (well, two) – not quite.

I suppose it depends on what confidence means to you. For some I imagine it’s having the guts to go out on stage in front of hundreds of people. To be able to take a risk, make that scary career change. For me, it’s having the strength of self-conviction – the total assurance that everything will turn out ok in the end, because you are you, and you can handle it.

My self-possession rose and peaked almost out of nowhere between the ages of 24 and 29. With hindsight – something I’m pretty sick of now – I realise this time is The Golden Period. The pressure is off. You become aware, for the first time, how far you have come in such little time. Your twenties bring with them an intense personal growth spurt that you have no real control over – grown-up stuff just happens to you whether you want it or not. You accept this fact, grow from it. You have money. You are young. You sit back and enjoy it for a bit. Uncomplicated confidence. You are going places and you know it.

But then you hit 30. Ouch. All that confidence so flippantly built ebbs away. But this time the subtle change in yourself, so frivolously disregarded when it moved in the other direction, does not go unnoticed. It starts to drive you a bit mad. You get angry with yourself. How could you let this happen? Why did you sit back and relax while youth and all its opportunities passed you by – look at all those chances you were too lazy to take. And now, now you’re just too old to do things. You’ve got commitments.

It turns out my star didn’t rise at the same trajectory and speed (hell, I don’t move at the same speed) as was mapped out in my twenties. I got too comfortable. Smug. Other people are younger than me now. It is annoying. They are annoying. To make matters worse they are more skilled than I both was and am now – they’ve been forced to do more internships than I’ve had hot toddies. They don’t need to do IT training. They don’t even call it IT – to them, technology is just life.

Life is hard enough as it is. And when the total confidence that everything will work out how you want it leaves the room, what do you do? For me, well, I’ve got to work out what it is that I want – it turns out thirty-something Gemma might have different (less ambitious) ambitions from those of ten years ago. And it’s sobering to admit that to yourself.

I think the key is nailing that fine balance between accepting who you are and what you can achieve whilst still treating yourself with the respect to challenge yourself and grow. Maybe once I solve that equation two and two might start to make four again.

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I don’t get spas. The culture of enforced relaxing is something I’ve never quite understood, especially because none of the things one does at a spa seems in any way relaxing. Do you actually know anyone who has been to a spa? Have you been to one?

It’s a very alien concept to me, my aversion to which probably stems from the terror of the unknown – I’ve never been to a spa, and I plan to keep that track record. Besides, I don’t think they’d let me in – spas seem to be a place that welcome extrovert types. Types that actively enjoy being naked around each other. The thing is, some of these people are my friends.
Consequently a spa trip has threatened to materialise on three occasions now. Two birthdays and a hen do. I’ve just got to pray no more of them want to get married before my excuses wear too thin. I can’t afford it. I’m busy – all month. You can’t get public transport there. And, of late, I HATE SPAS!! Of course, the response is always the same – total bemusement.

“What – you don’t like relaxing?!” and the inevitable,

“How do you know if you don’t like spas if you’ve never been to one?”
A valid point. Obviously, there are some things you don’t need to have experienced to know you won’t like them – electric shocks, for example. Being lashed with a rope, clearly not enjoyable. But my poor friends don’t realise they are in fact pressing for me to endure my own form of social torture.

dosney plain croppedI can understand how massages are a good thing. Well, as long as you don’t mind being touched by a stranger. Or being greased like a goose. And thinking of hot ovens, what’s with saunas? Being unpleasantly hot and naked in semi-public? It’s clear how such things appealed to the Egyptians with their general love of oils and balms, and I can forgive pleasure-seeking Romans because, you know, where better to be debauched than in a big orgiastic pool? But for the likes of you and I…eurgh God, it makes me cringe just thinking about it. What if I bumped into the neighbours?

We can learn many useful lessons from history, lessons which could save us a great deal of time and expense. The Romans ruined baths, played with them too hard. Then the Italians made them fashionable again in typical swagger, ensuring they were an experience unaffordable to anyone but the posho’s. While the rest of Europe was living it up, knocking back wine with their thermal water and no doubt singing and stuff, stuffy Brits stuck to strictly medicinal baths, frowning on indulgence of any kind.

And this leads to my bone of contention with the spa. Being laid back and laid bare are two very un-British things. As a result we’ve taken the spa concept and ruined it (but in the opposite direction to the Romans…) We pour Health & Safety all over it. We make it slightly awkward. And we make it really quite expensive. Which leaves us and our spas at a sanitised mid-point which is neither opulent nor all that medicinal. An economic indulgence rather than a true physical one.

Our island seems to have been invaded by these spa hotels, offering semi-indulgence at an either astronomical cost or as a bargain-basement-group-voucher – ensuring that your experience descends into a bit of a hustle to get the next cheques-on-legs through the door. Where’s the relaxation in that?

I wouldn’t mind if the hen parties that flock to these places actually got up to any Romanesque debauchery, but maybe that comes at an added extra top-up price. In my head – and please, feel free to put me straight, actual spa-goers – what you actually get is a brisk rub from a surly masseuse, one glass of fizz in the hot tub, an awkward gossip in the sauna and, more comfortably, a pedicure. Followed by a Michael Buble tribute act in the bar.

Why not just go and have a massage in town after work? Listen to Buble on the drive home? Look, I know I’m missing the point of it all. But when I describe what is relaxing and indulgent for me, perhaps you’ll see why.
Gemma’s Dream Spa Weekend:

Don’t leave the house

Eat cheese. All day. Fully clothed

Have more than one glass of fizz, and have it on the sofa – not in the bath. And don’t bother with the strawberries

Enjoy the healing powers of herbs. In my gin.

Don’t talk to anyone. Watch film/s in silence.
Absolutely zero interaction with a Michael Buble impersonator.
And aaaahhh. I am relaxed.

Is it me or are horror films more, well, horrific these days? There’s no denying that classics of the horror canon such as The Exorcist and The Shining are, obviously, disturbing. The teen slashers from my own era, Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer etc, might be a little on the light side but they don’t exactly shy away from blood and terror either. But now, something’s changed.

I used to love all this stuff, practically growing up on a diet of horror. I couldn’t get enough of the Goosebumps books, quickly graduating to Point Horror and then on to Stephen King in my early teens. I’d loiter in the deathly quiet of the (surprisingly well-stocked) Adult Horror aisle of my little local library after school, sometimes for hours. It was a day of pure joy when a new book arrived on the shelves. I remember a particularly gruesome tome about a trucker who turned into a massive human-eating hog who terrorised a small town (note to self – must Google this…).

They were all American, these novels (well, it was the 90s). Big blockbusters of books in a world of highways, dusty towns and malls. And I totally immersed myself in it. I even wrote my own horror stories for a time. Then we got cable TV – hurray! – and I suddenly had access to hundreds of horror films, and that’s when my journey became audio visual. Silence of the Lambs, The Blair Witch Project, Rosemary’s Baby, Alien, The Poltergeist. My relationship with the genre endured for many happy years.

But then I made the mistake of watching Saw. I’m pretty sure my mother recommended it to me as well (alarming in itself). It was 2004, we had a pirate copy (I know, sorry) – the picture so grainy and the sound so poor that I had to sit on the floor right in front of the TV to watch it. There I was, numb-limbed on the carpet, in the house on my own (classic schoolgirl error, almost as bad as me running upstairs) in a total, stunned, crumpled mess.

I remained in that position for a good long while after the credits stopped rolling – but I’ve never fully recovered. I haven’t watched a horror film since. Really*. I’ve tried. I gave The Descent a go (on another recommendation from my mother – you’d think I’d learn), but had to give up ten minutes in.

Of course total avoidance is impossible – sometimes I’ll catch bits of films when I’m channel surfing, and immediately wish I hadn’t. Unexpected trailers are a struggle. And now horror has started filtering through to my relationship with television, too. I love a good TV drama, especially ones based around crime. But as they too become increasingly more violent, I find I am unable to watch. I literally sit there with my hands over my eyes. Press mute. More recently, just change the channel. It’s meant I’ve had to give up on some series which I have loved for years – Silent Witness and Luther have both bitten the dust.

Is it just me? Have I become a highly sensitive, over-emotional bag of nerves? Or is it the horror? Has horror gone too far? Can horror go too far? Isn’t that kind of it’s point? I accept that, as with most things, you have to keep upping the game in order to keep things fresh. But to what limits does horror have to go to?

I suppose when I was on my own horror journey I was forever upping the stakes as well – young adult vampire fiction progressed to Stephen King, which in turn progressed to teen slashers, to 70s porn horror, and then somewhere along the line I just reached my limit whilst the industry churned on. Now, as an outsider, I feel the culture of the genre has changed beyond all recognition. What once was niche is now the norm. Human torture games, rape – it’s a new kind of horror. Less about giving you chills, making you jump – innocent thrills, almost – more about turning your stomach, throwing you into the cesspit of the human condition. Total depravity on a whole new scale and, for me, beyond the point of watchable.

Although people evidently do go and see them – but who? And why? I know tastes change as you get older – like I never used to like avocados, and now I do. I used to like being scared, but now I don’t. Have I just forgotten what it’s like?

I understand that within all of us there is a grim fascination with horror, if not an actual enjoyment of it. But I have neither the equipment nor the will to face up to horror any longer – there is enough of it in the real world to deal with, never mind having it confronting you in full-on 3D surround sound after a hard day’s work.

As an aside: I accept not all contemporary horror fils are in this violent vein. If anyone has any suggestions of something they recommend, let me know

*I haven’t watched a pirated film since either – gold star for me

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