Monday, 20 February 2017

A shadow of my former self???

When I listed myself on Guardian Soulmates in 2011, I stated categorically that I wanted a partner who preferred to stay in bed on a Sunday morning for some shenanigans, not one who wanted to go out for a jog, or whose profile picture was a shot of them skiing. I have nothing against skiers per se, it’s just that there only seemed to be two tribes of people on Soulmates in those days: artistes, and skiers. Also, I can’t see your face in a ski mask. Now, I haven’t started skiing. And I’ve barely begun jogging. But if you see me in the near future, I may bore you senseless with my talk of Banting. Not to be confused with ‘having a bant’ or some ‘bantz’, or indeed our beloved Swan Company Whatsapp Group ‘Dr Bantermist’. 

You can all google, I won’t go into the specifics, but Banting is a diet, or as the Banters like to call it, a WOE – way of eating. You basically can eat as much fat as you like, moderate protein, and hardly any carbs. I really do mean hardly any – under 30g* per day. As an average day, I have scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast, protein and salad and cottage cheese for lunch (plus 2 squares of 90% dark chocolate which isn’t really permitted, but I’m still breastfeeding and I need some chocolate in my life), and protein and veg for dinner, followed by blackberries and double cream. Booze has sugar/carbs, but they don’t limit your booze – they leave it up to you. 

Those that know me or have read previous blogs, know that weight has always been an issue. I’ve done most diets. I’ve had colonics. I’ve been to the gym. Hell, I even did a couple of 10k’s about a decade ago (the St John’s Ambulance lady looked vaguely worried at my shade of purple, and I probably jogged/walked it in the same time your average Joe could walk 10K but, I did it). The only common denominator during all this time was that I was always hungry. I literally cannot ever remember being on a diet and not being hungry. In fact, most of my life I have felt peckish. All the time. Or been thinking about my next meal ;-)

So, why did I begin Banting? Well, I felt pretty lethargic and kept getting poorly, and I was fat.  But primarily, I had high blood pressure and wanted to get off the medication for it as I hate taking pills. I also wanted to be in a position that when another job came along (please God), I was ready and able to do whatever the director wanted, which is kind of important as an Actor. In Don Quixote, I kept busting my knee attempting to step onto a tall ish box (actually I had two people helping me up, bless them, but it still hurt), because I was overweight and I had zero stomach muscles post C- Section. It still bugs me that I couldn’t do what they wanted choreography wise. That I felt scared I might bugger up the routine or the symmetry of the piece. We’re watching ‘This Is Us’ on Sky at the moment and the character Kate had this scene where her boyfriend told her she had to stop letting the ‘fat’ rule her life. She explained that it is ever present – when you’re sussing out the gaps between tables in a restaurant to see which way you should go, when you have to put your bum in the face of people at the theatre as you edge to your seat (I used to face them but we were practically humping), the airplane seat belt, the knife edge every time you take in some clothes to try on in a changing room. I could go on. It’s not really a way to live. Though to be honest, most of the time I don’t even notice I make all those calculations and adjustments – they’ve become part of my every day life. And it wasn’t until that episode that I realised, shit, that’s what I do. Husband helpfully told me I wasn’t as big as her, but that’s not really the point.

So, said husband kindly said we could put a little of our savings towards me having some personal training, so that I could feel a tad more confident about what my body could achieve. My trainer, Malcolm, recommended Banting. And I’m not sure I could be more grateful to anyone. Ever. Because, after the first two weeks (I’m not going to lie, they were pretty tough folks), during which you’re in sugar withdrawal and what they call ‘Carb Flu’ descends, the hunger stopped. And I really do mean that. My husband didn’t believe me. It took me about 3 weeks to persuade him and then he tried and realised it was true. I’m not saying there are zero cravings, especially when I pass a doughnut shop. But I can go hours without food. I’m not thinking about food. My body feels calm. And it’s probably not just the diet – it’s the training (we started at twice a week, and are now down to once a week so that I get used to doing it on my own as well, quick smart before the dosh runs out!), and I’ve been doing yoga once a week at Battersea Yoga which is a true haven. And probably does more for my emotional and mental health as much for any toning or fitness. Malcolm is high energy and, for a trainer who primarily works in the parks, has OCD about dog poo, which I find highly entertaining. It’s like they can smell his fear and they all run over to him and look like they’re about to mark their territory, whilst he stands still as a statue pretending it isn’t happening.

Now, the key is, does the weight stay off. And I guess we’ll have to see. But every other major diet I’ve done hasn’t ever seemed sustainable, and this is. I began just shy of 4 months ago. I’ve lost 15kilos, 20cm off my waist, my blood pressure is 118/80 and my resting heart rate has dropped from 93 to 70. I list those not to brag, but to emphasise that all has happened WITHOUT being hungry. And I’ll be honest, I debated about posting this. Because I look at the women’s magazines on the shelves and they’re all covered in diet stuff. I’d say at least a third of all the posts in my various groups on Facebook (primarily for mums, but not all) are about wanting to lose weight or getting fit. And the story is always the same – always hungry, fell off the wagon, back on the wagon, etc etc. And I feel sort of evangelical about this WOE. And I want to shout it from the rooftops. And I know for many of my friends, weight isn’t an issue – they can eat what they like. But since the 70’s when the US suddenly decided fat was bad, and carbs were good, obesity has steadily risen. And it makes me beyond angry that we were fed advice that was actually wrong. The US has recently changed their dietary guidelines and there is now ZERO limit on fat intake, but there is on sugar. I could go on about this all day, but if you want to read more, I’d suggest starting with Jason’s Fung’s The Obesity Code. Similarly, if you want some personal training or Banting coaching, I’d highly recommend Malcolm. Just bring a pooper scooper ;-)

It’s probably also worth saying that according to the joy of the medical profession that is the BMI Scale, I still have 14 kilos to lose, just so that I fall into the ‘overweight’ category, rather than the ‘obese’ one. So, I have a little way to go, though I have no desire to be super skinny. I like being curvy. I like the freedom of it. The non conformity of it, I suppose. I like falling into the ‘character’ actress category, and given that even if I do shed another 14 kilos, I’ll still be larger than most actresses, I think that casting bracket is safe, though I might need some new headshots soon. Most importantly, I’ve assured the husband that even at my smallest, the boobs didn’t really decrease, so he’s happy.


Gem (soon to be seen high kicking for 2 hours non stop in the West End. I’m not, but you know, I could… ) x

*for the breastfeeding mums – I started at 80g of carbs per day and reduced by 5g per week, so that I could check it wasn’t affecting my supply. I now average 40g per day.

Friday, 27 January 2017

Brother of Mine

Last year, my friend's brother died suddenly. I couldn't imagine what that must have felt like for him, or indeed his parents, his partner, or their young baby. Then two weeks ago my Brother died, alone, in the shower, and his wife and oldest son found him. And everything became unreal.

Unreal because we'd seen him two days before and he looked pretty healthy, and happy. Unreal because he was mid fifties and that is way too young. Unreal because some fucking narcissistic nut job has become the most important person in the world (or has he?) and Brexit is nonsense and the NHS is crumbling and everyone can see it but we don't seem to be able to stop it even though it feels like we are plummeting.... life goes on. But it also keeps stopping suddenly. Like when I look at the list of Christmas thank you's I have yet to begin and my Brother's name is there alongside his wife's. Or I scroll through my texts and there it is again.

I've never lost someone this close to me. I've never lost anyone suddenly. And 'lost' is a ridiculous word, isn't it? He's not been misplaced, mislaid, misdirected. 'Passed away', though I have used it frequently in the last two weeks, isn't much better. It doesn't convey the brutality or rawness of a sudden death. 

A toddler is a fair distraction for grief. A toddler means you don't have much time to think. And for that I am grateful. There seem to be two modes - the engaged mode when I am socialising/chatting/taking Hector to a class; the mode that has briefly forgotten. And then the default, core mode which is honestly just one of sadness. Overwhelming, barrier smashing sadness.

It's a peculiar state of affairs for two reasons. One, that we had to wait for an autopsy to establish that he'd had a heart attack, and thus are having to wait almost a month for the funeral. There is no real progress on the processing until that funeral has happened. There's no real sinking in that we won't ever see him again until we all gather and remember and celebrate and mourn. And drink, probably, given that everyone is Irish Catholic.

The other reason is that circa 8yrs ago we all thought he was about to die - he had a tumour in his pancreas, and everyone knows pancreatic cancer is unbeatable. He said his goodbyes, made a video for his boys, my work gave me a day off to have lunch with him. It felt like the end. And then they operated and it was benign. As if by some miracle. 

And so it feels like we got almost a decade we thought we wouldn't get. But yet it also feels like we were cheated - that we thought he and we had won at this game of life, and then one day he hadn't.  Though he did take early retirement, spend much more time with his family, get an absolutely hideous tattoo, buy and sell a few more cars, die his hair green for Christmas Day (nope, I don't know why either) and continue to wind my Mother up.

That's the other thing. I've lost my ally. The only other person in the world who truly understood my Mum's level of crazy. Who understood why I can't often rise above it or ignore it. But who loved her like I love her. I've lost the person who I thought one day would help me go through my parents' things (morbid I know, but if you knew how much stuff she's got in storage, you'd be sending her a copy of Marie Kondo to go with the one I've sent her). 

He was older than me, my Brother, so I often felt like an only child growing up,but as an adult, I've had my sibling there. We got drunk at Joe Allens and I fell out the cab, much to his horror. We stayed up drinking red wine at his house, relaying our separate childhood stories. He tied our marriage knot along with my sister-in-law (sounds sexual - it isn't, it's a humanist thing). I think he thought it was slightly bonkers but he went with it. He was a loving man, a brilliant father, and a great husband by all accounts.

My Dad always says all you need is health and happiness. Everything else is surplus. A bonus. 

I'm not sure I have anything else to say right now. Other than the usual cliches. To cherish every day and everyone you love. To go after what you want full throttle without embarrassment or shame, because life is super short. To maybe have/take a phone with you at all times, even in the bathroom.... And to bear with me if you are due a thank you/Birthday card/email reply/coffee date - it'll come.

With love and good intentions on this new moon xxx

Friday, 14 October 2016

Who am I, now I'm a Mother?

I'm 36 years old and I'm having an existential crisis. I doubt I'm alone. I fear this happens to everyone at some point, but most definitely to Mothers. And Actors.

I've been out of work two weeks and I am, as my agent amusingly suggested, 'twitchy'. I had forgotten the neuroses of an actor. The lack of control. The waiting for the phone to ring. It's struck me that I find the admin of acting much like the admin of dating. I bloody hated first dates. When other people would tell me how exciting they found it, the 'will he, won't he like me/will I like him', the analysis of conversation and written communication after the event, the waiting, I hated it. Did I mention the waiting? And acting is much the same. Not the actual 'acting'. But everything else around it. It requires an ability to appear interested and engaged, but with no hint of need. To keep abreast of everything that is going on in the acting world so you can spot possible opportunities but without actually stalking anyone. Tricky. Twitch.

Now. So that's half of it. The other is being a Mum. Well, a parent, but I'm gonna go with Mum for now.

It strikes me that most Mums who do go back to work head back after 6 months plus. So they hit the 'Who am I, now I am a Mother' question pretty early on in the child's first year. I think somehow I've delayed that existential question. Until now. Because if you go back to work swiftly (15weeks) and it's different work, and it's all consuming work (as theatre really is), then you don't really have time to ponder the meaning of life.

Cut to today. I've been out of work for two weeks (after nearly 11 months), so I am, bar the auditions and the odd pockets of time for writing (his one a day nap or when his Dad takes him off for an afternoon for me), a stay at home Mum. And I'm not gonna lie folks, it's been hard. And I'm not even talking about the obvious stuff, like how knackering it all is when it looks like you've achieved nothing. I'm talking about the question of 'Who am I, now I am a Mum?'

I believe we have character and personality traits that are probably fairly embedded by 36yrs. But it's also true, I think, that we are what we do. We are who we hang out with...... So on some days, I am a hopping rabbit (I'm trying to be more energetic animals in an attempt to get fitter), who speaks, and points out what EVERY single object is, what colour it is, whether we've seen it before, a tired rabbit who has changed some nappies and wiped up (let's be honest, occasionally eaten) my child's regurgitated food, whilst breastfeeding and ordering the weekly food shop online and put some washing on and wondered just how demented my own Mother is when she keeps calling to tell me about this extra special kitchen top surface she's had put on, which is so brilliant you can't put anything hot on it (No. Me either. Sounds something like calico. Who designs a kitchen top that can't have hot shit on it???!!!), whilst also enquiring how long we can survive without me working, a zombie rabbit with high blood pressure. If that's not an oxymoron.

We had two nights out this weekend - dinner on our own, and a friend's wedding on our own. We barely socialised and spent much of the evening snogging in a corner. I felt a vestige of an earlier incarnation of me. Of us. Our early dating (the good bit, when we'd already established we liked each other). Our child-free days. I felt horny. Then we got home and I felt guilty for enjoying those feelings. I felt excited that our son was still awake and we could hang out with him. I felt disappointed that after that, we were both too knackered to act upon our earlier foreplay. This is parenthood. A fucking maelstrom of emotions. Often conflicting.

I rarely feel like the old me. I hang out with friends and we click right back in, but I'm always only 75% in the conversation because I have an eye on my child. Or on my phone if he isn't with me. I've also turned into someone I used to hate. Someone who used to utterly baffle me. The person who doesn't reply to emails or texts for days. Weeks. Months even. I never used to understand that person. But now I do. I've got them all. I know I need to contact them. I want to contact them. I just need time. And headspace. It's the headspace that's the thing. There's no room at the inn. It took me 6 months to send Thank you cards for Hector's 1st Christmas. We're knocking on the door of 3 months since his Birthday and I have yet to begin. To be fair, I haven't even spent all the birthday money he got yet. Lucky him!

I tell my husband I've become a version of me that I don't like. The nagging one. I mean, I nagged before, but now, boy can I nag. Because that chore I mentioned 3 weeks ago, and 2 weeks ago, and 1 week ago, is taking up precious headspace that I can't afford. He's getting better. I am doing more chores. Only fair. And necessary. Because a nagging wife ain't hot. And a nagging wife doesn't want sex because she is too irritated. And irritated is just a little too far away on the continuum from angry, for good angry sex.

And yet, I'm a good version of me overall, right? I'm looking after a whole other person (two, if you count the husband). Thinking for them. Organising for them. Loving them. And I'm working a bit: researching what theatre and tv is coming up, aka stalking everyone. I've even made a spreadsheet. That's how I roll. And I'm writing a web series with my friend. And I'm trying to write jokes for a new set. But the mechanics of joke construction and uncensored thought seem, on occasion, to be a pipe dream I can only wave at on my two free afternoons when my husband takes Hector to art class or to the park (he basically throws glitter at glue and then eats it from what I can gather). I'm a less fit version of me. I've managed 3 days of long walks and one online yoga class in two weeks. There's a long way to go. I carried a child and the stomach knows it. It displays it proudly as I resignedly hoik up my Asos leggings that have become staple clothing. That and the two nursing bras I am yet to replace. And yet I get to throw a ball with my child and sometimes not realise that an hour has passed as we laugh at each other.

So do I want to be the old me? Well, yes, sometimes. Do I want to be the new me? Sometimes. When I work out exactly who that is. If I work out who that is. I'm told I do a good impression of 'scary wife with a heart', and my friend referred to us both as middle aged last week, so at least I know my casting finally, if nothing else.

PS if I owe you a text, an email, a thank you card, a play date, a coffee.... I'm on it. By Christmas at least.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

A working mum

My Mother can often be heard telling people how I began my career at the RSC aged 8, as a munchkin. Which is about as relevant as when she tells them I have my gold medal in acting from LAMDA, still unaware that that is somewhat less impressive than actually having been to LAMDA, despite my advising her of this on numerous occasions. My Father, in his speech at our wedding, remarked that I earnt more as a Munchkin than I have ever earned since, in the performing arts.

Tomorrow that changes. Tomorrow I start rehearsals for the RSC for two shows for their Summer Season at The Swan. And it is brilliant but bittersweet. Not just because it's taken circa 12yrs to get that call. But because I am on maternity leave from my office job. Because we have a 15 week old little boy called Hector. And he is the best thing I've ever done in my life, other than meet and marry my husband.

So, having planned to continue sitting on my arse, watching Sky Box Sets and eating cookies whilst I breastfeed, I will be up and out of the house by 8.45am tomorrow, having got up at 6.45 to try and do two boob feeds and express some milk.

We've spent the weekend talking and thinking logistics. Our families don't live anywhere near, and friends will help out on the odd day, but they have jobs and partners and children of their own to look after. We've got childcare to help look after him and bring him to me each lunchtime for a feed and a cuddle and bring him back home (courtesy of the rather wonderful Bea & Co). My ever supportive husband (courtesy of his extremely understanding boss) is going to work from home. Then we have to work out our move to Stratford and whether we rent out our London flat. I know - a no brainer. But possibly not when you see how much stuff we have to sort out. It probably is time to throw away the blow up sex dolls bought for that Edinburgh show.

I've found myself holding Hector tighter in the last 48hrs than ever before. Staring at his face and repeating Mama over and over at him so he doesn't even contemplate anyone else holding that title, even if he doesn't get to see me for most of the day. We were planning to move him out of our bed, into the side cot but now I'm thinking I want him by me whenever we have the opportunity. I can't even imagine how hard tech weeks and understudy weeks with performances in the evening will be.

But I'm hoping it is worth it. In fact, I know it will be. Once the shows are up and running I'll get most days with my baby, and to do what I've always wanted to do in the evenings and the odd matinee. And that's a pretty good life, right?

And more importantly, the more parents that do it, the easier it will get. The RSC has a nursery. PIPA has just launched. My friend went off to Malaysia to film when her bubba was 6 weeks old, and was apparently expressing milk in the forest. So if she can do it, so can I. There are brilliant women and men pushing for this industry to accommodate working parents, not least my agent and the RSC casting team, and for them I am thankful.

And I might start crying on the bus tomorrow morning on my way to work. In fact, I'd bet money on it. And I might start crying again when he arrives at lunchtime for some boob. And I might not get to socialise with the cast at breaks cos I'll be in a room with a breast pump. And some cookies. So if you see me crying, or indeed with my tit out, or both (because believe me, those two things are in no way mutually exclusive), feel free to come and say hi, or give me a hug. Maybe not whilst I've got my tit out actually, but after. After would be fine.

And in the unlikely event that you're in the production and reading this, know that the stain on my jumper is not an early, and let's face it, odd, character choice, but probably just regurgitated milk. 

To be continued....