Preaching to the Choir

There are few sentences that can strike fear into the heart like “I’m not sure if you just said this because you were drunk, but…”

Reader, I enjoy a bit of a tipple. And sometimes, when I have been tippling a little too hard, I do and say things. From eating McNuggets out of my coat pocket on the 73 bus to inexplicably treating a group of my friends to a full rendition of Sweet Transvestite from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, it’s fair to say that I have experienced my share of post-night-out blushes.

Meaning that when my friend uttered the above, I was ever so slightly apprehensive. I braced myself.

“I don’t know if you just said this because you were drunk, but do you remember us deciding to join the office choir after Christmas?”

I did not remember. And I had absolutely, 100% just said it because I was drunk. I burst out laughing, took another sip of my wine.

“Let’s do it.”

Which is how I found myself spending my Tuesday lunchtimes crammed into the hottest room in the world with forty assorted colleagues, trying to read the words to an 80s ballad off a fuzzy projector. And friends, it is an absolute joy.

One of the greatest things I’ve found about being a grown up is that the concept of “cool” starts to lose its grip. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve never been cool. But when I was younger, the idea still seemed important. As a teen, I didn’t much care about fitting in with the popular crowd, but my purple eyeliner, green converse, one-of-the-lads schtick was just another version of “cool”.

When I started blogging in my early twenties, I was floored every time I realised that while people love quirky, weird little you on the internet, they don’t expect you to actually be like that in real life. I’d go along to events, sure that being cool didn’t matter anymore, only to be devastated when I was met by a wall of glossy-ponytailed sneers.

Jesus. Cold sweats. Anyway, where were we?

Oh yes, choirs. And coolness.

Being in a choir is not cool. It is just not cool. Bless Pitch Perfect and their little acappella hearts for trying but it is not cool. Because at the heart of the thing, almost every variation of cool is about not giving a shit. And being in a choir is inherently, unavoidably earnest. There is no way to appear nonchalant or aloof while singing “Only You”. It is a space entirely free of irony.

At first, this is debilitating. As soon as you enter that room, there is no way to pretend that you’re not keen. The terror that someone will notice that you’re in a choir because you want to be in a choir and not because you just, like, happened to be in this room, so whatever, is overwhelming.

Then an amazing thing happens. Once you realise that there is no point even attempting to appear cool, you’re free to completely lean in the other direction. The pressure goes.

You start to spontaneously click your fingers. Maybe you throw in a little shimmy every now and then. You high five people. You admit that “Only You” is an absolute stone cold banger. This is the least cool thing you’ve ever done, and it delights you. The whole idea of “cool” starts to loosen and rinse away.

We make happiness very complicated sometimes. In our hobbies, in our work, in food, in sex, in exercise, in our choice of books and clothes and words, we carry this bizarre idea that doing something just for the sheer, unadulterated joy of it is frivolous, undignified, maybe even a little embarrassing. We’re frozen with the worry of what other people will think of us. And there’s something blissfully freeing in knowing that people already think you’re ridiculous, so you’ve got nothing to lose by screaming the high notes of “Walking on Sunshine”.

And that, pals, is very cool.

What Learning to Drive Taught Me (Other Than How to Drive a Car)

Yes, that is me. I’ve always looked fantastic in hats.

At the beginning of 2018, I set myself a resolution. And you guys know how I feel about resolutions. But this one…well, let’s just say I had some reservations.

That’s right. I decided I was learning to drive. My youngest cousins were now zipping around the road with gay abandon, while the thought of so much as sitting in the driver’s seat of a car still filled me with unmitigated dread. It was time. My other half and I made a deal: by the end of the year, both of us would have learned to drive. All well and good. Until the traitor actually booked some lessons.

I was furious. And then terrified. And then furious again. One of the many excellent things about my other half is that he is constantly challenging me, pushing me, believing in me so ferociously that it forces me to back myself. He is my biggest cheerleader, refusing to let me away with ducking out on myself, especially if he suspects I’m doing it because I’m scared. He is the best and I hate him. I passed my test on December 18th, with a whole 13 days to spare.

So, what did the experience teach me? Well, it taught me how to drive a car. I am now judged to be safe on the road. Most excellent, and god help us all. But it turns out I picked up a few other things along the way.

I am bad at being bad at things

Oh, friends, this is one of my least affable qualities. I know it will come as a shock to all of you that I too am a mere human with flaws and hangups, despite the unflappable paragon of grace and elegance I’m sure you see on this blog. But dear god, I am so lucky I was smart at school.

I talked about this a little when I took up yoga a few years back. I absolutely cannot cope with not being immediately good at things. I don’t know how. If I can’t do the thing straight away and if I am not instantly better than everyone else at the thing, I tend to flounce off, insisting that the thing is boring and that I never even wanted to do it anyway. I know, I know. This is categorically Not Great. I’m working on it.

It is impossible to be immediately good at driving. Yes, some people might be quick learners, or have brilliant reflexes, or amazing spatial awareness. But no one gets into a car for the first time and knows how to drive. I found this endlessly hard and frustrating to begin with. I’d trundle along, sweating buckets and internally screaming at my instructor to please, please, for the love of god, please just tell me that no one has ever driven so beautifully at seven miles per hour.

During one particularly massive huff, one of my pals gently suggested that not immediately being good at driving was why I was paying someone vast sums of money to teach me. This gave me some very sound logic with which to battle my ridiculous ego.

Don’t get me wrong, the ego was still there, but with great effort and practice, I forced it to just sit there and deal. It became apparent very quickly that being defensive and impatient was not going to get me anywhere, figuratively or literally. I forced myself to admit when I wasn’t sure, to ask for specific practice on things I knew I wasn’t good at, to appreciate the process of learning and improving. I’d love to tell you that this was a huge awakening for me and that I’m now throwing myself into new learning experiences but alas, I am still the worst. But we survived. Sometimes, your ego gets bruised and that is a thing you just have to deal with. You will survive. Which brings me rather neatly to…

You can live through a bit of discomfort

I’m a bit of an overthinker. I can go from zero to existential crisis in seconds. I once ruined my own Christmas holidays by wholly convincing myself that I had left the oven on and my flat was going to burn down and kill a bunch of innocent children, probably on Christmas Eve. I hadn’t, of course. It was totally fine. One of my gravest regrets in life is teaching my other half the word “catastrophise” and therefore giving him the vocabulary to call me on my shit.

Anyway. This overthinking tendency combined with the aforementioned ego means that when I am not good at something, it inevitably gets blown way out of proportion. I work myself into complete, overwhelming panic. And when that happens? I flake.

I thought about cancelling every single driving lesson I took. As I improved, I started to enjoy the actual time in the car but the hour before never got any easier. Somewhere between the evening before and the hour before, the dread would set in. I’d notice that my jaw was clenched, that I felt sick, that I was lightheaded. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was worrying me but the feeling was clear: I was terrified. Literally every time, I’d pick up my phone to call in sick. One text message, and I could make the fear go away for a while. I didn’t cancel a single lesson.

Partly, this is down to the nature of driving lessons. I was working to a deadline, somewhere in my future, the magic number of lessons when I would be ready. Cancelling would have meant adding two hours onto that total, somewhere down the line. It wasn’t really getting rid of the fear, it was just kicking the can down the road.

So I learned to sit with my fear. To accept that it was there and do the thing anyway. Even when my legs felt like wooden blocks and my teeth were literally chattering with terror, I forced myself down the stairs and into that driver’s seat. I’d talk to myself gently, like you would to a very little kid, telling myself it’s going to be okay, it’s going to be over soon. I learned that running away isn’t the only option when you’re terrified. You can accept that something is going to be hard and uncomfortable, but that it won’t last forever. You can go through it and be absolutely fine. No matter what that fear tells you, you can learn to drive in Tottenham and live to tell the tale.

The right teacher is everything

I think we have established that I can be a delicate little flower when the mood takes me. The upside is, I know where my weaknesses are and I’m pretty good at insulating against them where I can. So the first thing I said to my instructor was, “Just a heads up, if you shout at me, I’ll cry. Sorry, I don’t mean to, it’s just an embarrassing reflex.”

He laughed and recounted the time one of his pupils got so terrified, they decided to shut their eyes on the road. He took the wheel, told them to take a deep breath and open their eyes again when they felt ready. I knew I’d picked the right guy.

He gently coaxed me down residential streets at seven miles an hour, made me stick my tongue out when he noticed I had stopped breathing and when I blithely followed a double decker bus straight into a bus stop, interestedly inquired, “So, what we doing here then?”

When I informed him that we now lived in the bus stop, he laughed uproariously, made me stick my tongue out and softly coached me back out onto the road.

Driving is hard. Getting on the North Circular roundabout is hard. Learning to do anything new is hard. There’s no sense in making it harder with the wrong teacher.

I’m taking my first road trip at the end of this month.

I learned to drive with Chris at BSM. This is not a sponsored post or a collaboration, I just had a really great experience with them and would wholeheartedly recommend for anyone learning to drive in North London.