The Premise

Having completed my 52 First Dates challenge with varying degrees of success, I was left with a bit of a gaping void in my life, a void I must add that I didn't expect to be fully filled with boyfriend but with some sort of purpose for writing. After a few weeks to cool down and an aggreesive attack of writer's cold turkey, I decided I had to get back on the blogging wagon and do something else. .

52 First Dates was an amazing experience for me because it forced me confront something that had been scaring the bejesus out of me for years - dating. Now, I am no longer scared of dates to the point of vomiting on my own shoes, and for this I am eternally grateful. So why stop with dates I thought? Why precisely!

As a child, I flatly refused to do anything that remotely scared me or might vaguely lead to injury (I blame that sprained finger on my first ever dalliance with a trampoline), and for many years I was so painfully shy I have recollections of being sat in the corner at Christmas parties being so scared of getting up and walking past other children to go to the loo that I'd risk weeing myself than draw attention to myself. Which, for the record, I never did - you can be sure I'd be a whole lot more messed up now if I'd been known at the party-pants-pisser. And although I'm not that frightfully shy child anymore (thanks to senior school and booze for knocking that clean out of me), my sense of self-preservation is still as finely tuned as ever, and I've convinced myself I'll end up with a Darwin Award for being the only person ever to die as a result of getting an errant olive on the lung or choking on my own Slush Puppy-induced vomit on Oblivion at Alton Towers. Those who know me will acknowledge that in the grand scheme of things, however boisterous and gregarious I may seem within my comfort zone, in most aspects of my life I am the girl least likely to do...well...pretty much anything. This includes (and by no means definitively)...
...asking a stranger for their telephone number
....eating seafood
...speaking in public
...going to the cinema on my own
...touching spiders
...eating on first dates
...changing my nephew's poopy nappy
...going on most scary rides at theme parks
...and many MANY more.

These are all things borne our of irrational fear, unjustified hatred and pointless fussiness and such random acts of cowardice. I'd dearly love not to baulk at, dread or reduce myself to tears over such seemingly trivial things, but I'm mortified to admit these are but a few things in life I'm just not equipped to deal with in a dignified and adult way. I am not just being a silly girl, but a shameful, embarrassing, out-and-out wuss of the highest order, and I hate it.

I am massively ashamed of the awkward social circumstances that my lack of adventurousness has brought me over the years, and feel that at the ripe old age of thirty-something I should really strap on a pair, man up and do something to sort this all out. So what better way than to document this potentially humiliating experience as I confront that which revolts, replulses and terrifies me...publicly, and with photographic evidence, where possible. Brilliant. What could possibly go wrong?

And so, The Girl Least Likely To... was born.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

...learn Russian

I'll be honest, learning a difficult new language at my age wasn't something at the top of my 'to list'. But when offered the opportunity to study any language of my choice by Rosetta Stone, I just couldn't say no. I've always heard good things about the Rosetta Stone system, but I'd never really had that sort of money to spare to put towards something like learning how to speak a new language. Well no excuse now! So what did I go for? I know you already know as it's in the title, but let's pretend you didn't read that and just go with the narrative...

I was always pretty good at languages at school, doing well at French, German and Latin (for my sins). As a result, myself and a couple of other cunning linguists at school were offered Russian as an extra GCSE. However after a tester lesson with a teacher that was so scary she would have made Stalin's knees wobble, we all bottled it and never thought any more of it.

Since this was part of a blog where I challenged myself, Russian was the first language that sprung to mind, as it was totally alien to me. It was utterly unlike other European languages I might have stood a fighting chance at picking up quickly, and of course, it has a totally different alphabet. So Russian it was.

The first thing I noticed about the Rosetta Stone programme was how user friendly it was. And it doesn't use any English words, so it could be used by any speaker of any native language. It's an online programme where you log on and gradually work your way through various modules that teach you how to not just read and write the language, but how to understand and speak it using the mic and speakers on your computer. The voice recognition software blew my mind a little bit, although I won't lie, for the first few lessons I did feel like the prize plum doing my best Bond villain impression at my laptop.

I'll be honest, I really struggled to begin with. Russian is HARD! But I did manage a breakthrough. The main problem I encountered starting Russian from scratch was the alphabet. I didn't know what most of the letters were meant to sound like, so I couldn't even read a word and imagine how it might be said. When I first started the reading exercises, I was trying to learn whole words just by the shapes of the letters rather than reading them as I'd read other European languages. This is probably my only criticism of Rosetta Stone, but it's a very minor one, as it was easily rectified by downloading an app which teaches you the Russian alphabet, and after that I had the breakthrough. Once I could read the words, I found it a lot easier to piece the words together.

The great thing about the Rosetta Stone programme, aside from it being so flexible to log on and use, is it doesn't bore you with making you learn words off by heart - it uses pictures and corresponding words, and lets you work out what each word means for yourself. It sounds obvious, but it's a much easier way to learn. It also breaks down words into component sounds, lets you work out which words from a list most fit the picture and in a much more playful way guides you through the new language from scratch. 

Another great part of the programme is you can download the Rosetta Stone app which means you can run limited aspects of the programme whilst you're on the move. I used to use it on the bus on my way home, although I did draw the line at practising saying the words out loud in case there were any native speakers nearby to recognise my remedial accent.

Unfortunately I've not had quite as much time to devote my quest to learn Russian as I would have liked, and I haven't made it to the stage where I'm confident enough converse with a native speaker through the software (which although it sounds a bit daunting is by far the best way to practise any language). I reckon now I could confidently order a sandwich, point out a kitten and introduce myself in the right gender, but it'll be a wee while before I can tackle Tolstoy in his native tongue. But I have to say I've thoroughly loved the time I've had to learn Russian, and it's certainly something I would love to carry on in the future. Rosetta Stone, you've not made a Bond villain of me yet, but you've certainly won me over.

Friday, 7 September 2012

...Give Blood

Let me get this straight from the off. I hate needles. If ever an occasion arises where something small, sharp and needly has to cross the boundaries of my flesh, I'm reduced to a whimpering wreck of pathetic-ness. From the day I was pinned to the chair to get my BCG after the multitudinous schoolyard horror stories of arms exploding and irreparable scarring to the day I got my one and only tattoo, a teeny tiny heart on my wrist no bigger than a 5p piece, needles for me were synonymous with fear and tears. And it's not even as if having an injection or a blood test really hurt (although I ain't lying, tattoos do and even my minuscule attempt at body art stung like a bee-atch), but it's more the idea of it that gives me the heebie jeebies.

I'm also not very good with blood, and my squeamishness over all things claret is something I've not really been able to get over. I had my first induction into the world of 'squeam' around the age of 10 when I'd spend weekends away from boarding school staying with my aunt and uncle. Every Saturday night there's be a treat - cherryade and onion rings in front of the telly. Awesome! The catch? We'd have to watch Casualty. For a young child of a 'sensitive disposition', this was an absolute nightmare. But I worried that if I chose not to watch Casualty with everyone else, I'd have to sit in another room, on my own, sans crisps, sans pop, and that was a sacrifice I wasn't willing to make. So instead, every Saturday night I'd sit and stare into my bowl of snacks for an hour, and make do with listening to the screams and squirts that came from BBC's longest running medical drama.

So in case you've not established it yet, the idea of giving blood is something I'd never ever considered before, not because I'm selfish and want to keep it all to myself, it grows back, right? But because the very idea of sitting and being sapped of my bodily fluids (and not in a sexy Edward Cullen kind of way) by choice makes me feel physically sick. I'm signed up to be an organ donor, but that's easy, you've already checked out and your vitals are of no more use to you, so why not given upcycle the buggers and give someone else some use out of them? But real arm blood from my real warm veins? Nuh uh. Nope. Not on your life, or mine. Until today...

So this blog of mine is designed to put me in touch with the things that freak me out the most in the hope that by making it all public, I can pressurise myself in doing all the things I'd been too pathetic to do before. So earlier this week I signed up to donate blood online which took no time at all, and this morning I did! Yesterday, over lunch with my friend Katie, I revealed my plan, and was regaled with tales of awful blood squirty noises and not being able to find veins. Wonderful! And a phone call to the parents saw them directing me to Tony Hancock's Blood Donor sketch which I couldn't bring myself to find. I tried my best to forget about it, but it was obviously playing on my mind as I woke in a cold sweat having dreamt they'd tried to sap me of all my life blood by sticking a length of aquarium hose into my jugular to fill up a bucket (which reminds me, I must clean the fish out...). Anyway, once it was time to properly get up, I filled myself with as much muesli and sugary tea as I could (just in case I wasn't allowed to eat for days afterwards, you never know...) and I headed off to the City to lose a bit of weight.

This particular venue was the Brewers Hall, a very posh place with coats of arms and chandeliers dotted all around the place. I know it's my first time, but to go to all that effort....bless. I was one of the first, but soon enough the waiting room was filling up with eager blood-bearers, and the first few people starting assuming the position on the hospital trolley-bed-stretcher things. There was music on in the background, a guy laying out biscuits and cups of squash, and everyone was very chirpy. It wasn't the macabre scene of blood-letting I'd thought it would be.

The nurses were all delightful. First up was Theresa, nurse-in-chief, who did my medical interview, and we bonded over my Tatty Devine necklace, the artist Rob Ryan and Pinterest (this is starting to sound like a date write up isn't it? Sorry, can't help it, old habits die hard). Whatever nerves I had about the whole malarkey were starting to evaporate, as they were all so bloody nice there (pardon the pun) it was hard not to go with it. Next up was Carol, the lady responsible for the finding of veins and installing the relevant medical equipment into my arm. Unfortunately for me the only bed available was right in front of the waiting room so all the seasoned fluid-givers would be treated to a magnificent display should I take a funny turn and freak out. Wonderful. That said, Carol was equally lovely, explained the entire process, and distracted me wonderfully as she did the worst bit of all and slipped the needle into my arm. And you know what? It was totally fine. Yes of course being stuck with a wee needle isn't going to be the best feeling in the world, but once it's in you hardly notice. Carol explained how long it'd take to fill up my bag, usually about 15 minutes, but she reckoned I'd be done in ten. Yeah, go me and my thrusty pumpy plump veins!

To fully document the occasion, I decided to take some pictures to prove I'd done the deed which helped me remove myself mentally from the situation. If you're a bit funny about needles, perhaps skip to the next paragraph...

I actually couldn't see this view from where I was lying, it was only once I'd moved the camera round to take a picture I realised what it looked like.

So there I was, flat on my back staring up at this crystal light fitting, Gangsta's Paradise by Coolio on in the background, and I was aware of this weird warmth as the blood left my arm. And again, it was absolutely fine. I was so busy fart-arsing around with my phone to make sure I had a picture that wasn't blurry that before I knew it, I was beeping like Super Mario Brothers and the harvest was done. Next up was a rather handsome South African chap who came to whip the needle out and make sure everything was A-Okay. And everything was A-Okay, he was hot! I did feel a little light-headed, which was probably part down to a little swoon as well as the blood loss. He kindly arranged my little bag of irony goodness on the table at the end so I could take another picture for posterity, and then plastered me up. And here it is...

Pint anyone? It's a Brewers Hall special on tap...

Whilst administering to my arm, he mad a joke about checking that I wasn't going to suddenly squirt all over the table of biscuits which made me feel even more flushed, and I had to agree that it wouldn't be a very ladylike thing to do. Once we'd established I wasn't going to crumple into an anaemic heap on the floor, I was sent over for squash and biscuits. Oh yes. But not just any biscuits...only a fucking MINT CLUB!!!! (other biscuits were available...) I've not see one of those this side of the nineties. GET IN!!!!

"If you liiiiike a lotta chocolate on yer biscuit give your blood...."

And that, my friends, was my first experience of getting over my fear of spiky things and gory things and giving blood. I floated off to the bus on a heady mix of chocolate, blood-loss and euphoria that I'd not only beaten a real bugbear, but I'd done something good. It was so easy to do, everyone at the centre was lovely, and it really wasn't the big, painful, scary ordeal I had led myself to believe it would be. I've been incredibly fortunate in my life to have not had something terrible happen to either myself or someone I love that would make me find out the hard way why giving blood can save lives, and I'm incredibly grateful for that. But that doesn't mean it won't happen, and if god forbid it does, it's tremendously reassuring to know that there are many other people out there who do the same as I did today on a regular basis. But they could always do with more. So having done it once, as long as my gloopy warm red stuff is still good enough to give away by the pint, I will be making it a regular event (especially if there are more hot Antipodean male nurses exercising their bedside manners!). In the grand scheme of things, it's nothing to me, but it could be everything to someone else.

By the way, in case you think this  blog is going to be a self-indulgent display of worthiness, it's not. Oh no. I think you'll find that pretty much everything to come will be of absolutely no greater good to anyone other than myself (and even then I think my benefit will be largely questionable), but an experience of giving blood is something I think is worth sharing in the hope that it might prod someone else to do it too. It's an hour out of your time and a little bit of discomfort, but that's it. Oh, and of course, there's the warm fuzzy feeling of having done a good deed and, of course, biscuits at the end. Well come on, we are in a recession!

So what are you waiting for? If I can do it, you certainly give a little bit of your red stuff away too and get a free biccie and a cuppa.

Does my thumb look big in this? What a knob...

Next stop, live bone marrow donation? Selling a kidney on eBay for charity?  Hmm...I think I'll draw the line here for now thanks, give a girl a break ;-)

Monday, 3 September 2012

...Speak in Public

So here we go, the inaugural post in the documentation of my life as The Girl Least Likely To...and my attempts to be...well...more likely to do stuff. And what better way to start a brand new blog than with something rather large...speaking in public. But not just is this a very big fear of mine, it was also for a very special occasion: my beautiful little sister Sophie's wedding. No pressure then!

I've always hated speaking in public. I don't trust me knees enough to keep me upright and I certainly don't trust my voice to maintain an even tone without either a monstrous burp-like gulp sneaking in or for my voice to disappear into my shoes. I tried a bit of talking out loud in front of large groups at school in plays and things back in the nineties, and the pre-performance nerves would always go straight to my stomach. I'd literally be knock-knock-knocking at puke's door up right until the second I set foot off stage and it was all done and dusted. It was hideous. And I was rubbish at it.

But when my little sister asked me to do a reading at her wedding, I couldn't possibly refuse. It was a tremendous honour and I knew how much it'd mean to both her and Gaz, so I knew I'd have to do it, and do it well. Failure was not an option. Since it was such a special day, I wanted to write something especially for the two of them, so I decided to compose a poem. Now, not only did I have to battle my fear of speaking in public, but I also had now piled on the pressure even more by picking something I'd written myself. It had to be good. And I had to read it out well. But a couple of tearful early rehearsals in, I realised I couldn't look at it any more because it was starting to give me  night terrors and tummy troubles, and being the procrastinator I am, decided to lock it away until the night before the wedding whereby I'd only have a limited time to fret about it. Even the thought of it was making me well up. This was not going to be easy, on every front.

The night before the wedding, I opened up the document, scanned through it once, printed it out, and hid it beneath a huge stack of books and pretended it didn't exist. It was only seven short verses and a teeny tiny part of the overall day, but I knew if I pulled it off it would mean so much to the family. It would also mean I'd managed to read something out in front of a large group of people, although whether I was a blithering blubbering wreck or not remained to be seen.

The next day arrived with frightening speed, and the hustle and bustle of wedding preparations gripped the entire household. Us bridesmaids were primping and preening amid clouds of pressed powder and Elnette, Mum was trying to remember everything she might have possibly forgotten and Dad was split between plying everyone with carbs and acting as taxi driver. My sister was managing her pre-wedding nerves tremendously well, and the moment there was a pop of a cork I was straight in there for a dose of sparkling Dutch courage. But the sight of Sophie in her wedding dress totally changed the nature of my nerves. Suddenly I wasn't so fussed about speaking in public, it was more about whether I could get through the poem without sobbing shamefully in front of the entire congregation. Because I'm one bloody ugly blubber. The emotions of the occasion were instantly overwhelming, and I began wishing the terror would return in its place. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems nerves are much easier to manage than big, fat tears trying to elbow their way out of your face for all to see. And I'd also forgotten waterproof mascara. Uh oh...

Soon enough, we were whisked off to the venue, and the countdown was set. Fortunately for me, the bar was open earlier, so half a glass of something strong and grapey later, and I was back on the right side of the nerves. Fortunately for me, I was reading straight after the intro, so I knew I could get it over and done with early on, and I could sit back and sob away in relative private at the rest of the service. One very welcome distraction to the proceedings was my scrumptious little nephew George, who I was lucky enough to accompany down the aisle. The doors were closed, the bridesmaids were assembled, and my proud Dad appeared behind us with the beautiful bride on his arm. It was all systems go.

The amazing thing about walking down the aisle with quite possibly the cutest little 17 month old is every single eye was on him. That is, of course, until the bride arrived. As did the tears. The introduction from the registrar was great as it was very general, welcome to this wonderful day, look at the lovely building etc, so I had enough time to dry the weepy peepers and get myself together for the reading. And then I was called up to the front. This is it...


At the last minute, I decided to take some moral support with me, so I carried George up on my hip and cuddled him tightly. Before I started, I warned the congregation of the likelihood of tears, and promised to buy everyone a beer if I made it through tear-free. And I very nearly had an expensive round compared to prior rehearsals. But once I got to the fifth verse, I went. Sophie and Gaz were sat right in front of me, and I was so proud to see them there I just couldn't help myself. Tears at three o'clock. I managed to warble my way through the last few lines with most words decipherable, and then it was done. It was only once I sat down, I realised that almost everyone else had been blubbing along with me, my parents included, and suddenly it didn't matter anymore. What mattered was I'd done it, I'd survived, and I think I'd pulled it off.

Courtesy of Charlie Healey

The rest of the service was short, beautifully sweet, and suitably emotional. I don't think I have ever felt so happy than to see two such wonderful people tie the knot, and to have spent it in such wonderful company. Once the service was over,  I heard many kind words about what I'd said for the happy couple, and judging by the fact there was not a dry eye in the house, I hoped I had done the right thing. Looking back, this was a public speaking on a level nothing like I'd ever done before, because I'd always spoken as someone else, or to present something formally. It turns out speaking from the heart for people you love is a much, much harder thing. But it makes it all the more meaningful when you do, and I couldn't be more proud to have been given the chance to do something special. I'm just bloody grateful I'm a girl, as I really couldn't cope being a Best Man, Groom or Father-of-the-Bride...thanks Mother Nature.

So this one's for you, Mr and Mrs Rees. I love you both. 

Courtesy of Becky Banfield