“Friends” at 20: The One With my 10 favourite episodes

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This week, exactly 20 years ago, a show launched on primetime US TV that would change the face – and world – of television forever. Over 236 episodes, and 10 seasons of laughs and one liners galore, “Friends” bought ensemble comedy to the mainstream, as we became engrossed in the lives and loves of six twentysomething flatsharers – Rachel Green, Monica Geller, Phoebe Buffay, Chandler Bing, Joey Tribbiani and Ross Geller.

It was a show that was as much a cultural phenomenon as it was a sitcom – with coffeehouses springing up in towns and cities from London to Lisbon, “the Rachel” haircut being a staple request of most beauty salons, and catchphrases like “How you doin’?” and “We were on a break!” becoming ubiquitous.

As a comedy writer myself, the show has greatly inspired me in my writing with the delivery of lines and the wit and warmth behind a show that is even continuing to find a new audience from repeated airings on Comedy Central. With this in mind, I’ve been watching my boxsets of the show all this week to ascertain what I think are the 10 best episodes from Friends’ 10 series. Shall we go get some coffee, guys?

10. THE ONE WITH THE CANDY HEARTS
(Season 1, 1994)

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Phoebe: Ok, so now we need… um, sage branches and the sacramental wine.
Monica: All I have is oregano and a Fresca.
Phoebe: Um… that’s ok! Ok, all right. Now we need the semen of a righteous man.
Rachel: Huh. Okay, Pheebs? You know what? If we had that, we wouldn’t be doing the ritual in the first place.

When I watch all the series back, it’s often the first one that I find hasn’t dated the best, so I had a bit of a hard time deciding which episode from Season 1 was worthy of inclusion on my list.

So why ‘The One With the Candy Hearts’? Well, for starters it’s where we first meet Chandler’s notorious, nasally challenged ex-girlfriend Janice (“OH! MY! GAWD!!!”) on a double date with Joey that goes awry. It’s also where the girls plan an anti-Valentine’s ritual that quite literally goes up in smoke (with hilarious effect).

But props has to go to Ross in this episode, where he ends up forgetting his date at a sushi restaurant to spend the evening with ex-wife Carol with a final scene that is as touching as it is humourous – something the show would continue to get exceptionally good at further down the line.

9. THE ONE WHERE CHANDLER TAKES A BATH
(Season 8, 2002)

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Monica: What do you think you’re doing?
Chandler: Leaving my troubles behind?

Though this episode was the start of the what to me, felt like it was slightly incestuous Joey and Rachel storyline, this was still a great one for its other, smaller storylines – namely that of Chandler and Monica, who just a few months into wedded bliss were still as riotously funny as ever in this series.

Chandler getting into the art of drawing baths (made a bit more ‘butch’ with the addition of a plastic navy ship – “so it’s a boy bath”, asserts Monica) was a nice little nod to the start of their relationship in the fifth series (more on that later) when they snooped around to keep it a secret from the others.

Props also go to Ross and a now heavily pregnant Rachel, who find out they’re having a girl at their latest scan and literally veto a bunch of potential names – among them Sandrine, Phoebo and Ruth (“I’m sorry, are we having an 89 year old?”)

8. THE ONE WITH THE DOLLHOUSE
(Season 3, 1996)

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Monica: What’s this?
Phoebe: That’s a dog. Every house should have a dog.
Monica: Not one that can pee on the roof.
Phoebe: Well, maybe it’s so big because the house was built on radioactive waste.
Chandler (holding a tissue): And is this in case the house sneezes?

Most people usually go for the excellent ‘The One Where No One’s Ready’ from this series, but this particular episode holds a sentimental value to me, hence why it had to be this one. Namely because aged 8, this was the first episode I remember watching when Channel 4 used to air it on Friday nights.

Monica and Phoebe storylines are often hilarious because of their competitive streak and opposing points of view (see also storylines with Phoebe and Ross) and this is no exception, as Monica’s straight laced takes on home making with an inherited doll house from a recently deceased relative causes Phoebe to make her own wacky, bohemian doll house with a bubble chimney and an aroma room.

Also of note is the start of the hilarious storyline between Chandler and Joanna, Rachel’s snooty boss at Bloomingdale’s, who is utterly enamoured with ‘the Chan Chan man’, but who he refers to as a ‘big dull dud with weird mascara goop in her eyes’ – something that makes it difficult for him to break off their fling, which he learns to his peril when he ends up handcuffed to Joanna’s office chair at the start of series 4.

7. THE ONE WITH THE HOLIDAY ARMADILLO
(Season 7, 2001)

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Ross (as the Holiday Armadillo): Merry Christmas. Oh, and Happy Hanukkah!
Ben: Are you for Hanukkah, too? Because I’m part Jewish!
Ross: Huh? You are? Me too!
Monica: Because armadillos also wandered in the desert?

Aka ‘The One I Put on at Christmas’ – especially when I’m wrapping presents or writing cards with a Mexican hot chocolate. Festive “Friends” episodes produced some great moments over the years, and this was one of them. As Ross ponders how to teach his 7 year old son Ben about Hanukkah in the face of jingling bells and flying reindeer, he ends up doing so in an oddly unique way, via his disguise as “Santa’s part Jewish representative for all the Southern states”.

Elsewhere, Phoebe discovers her apartment that was on fire in the previous series is ready for her to move back into – alas, Rachel’s new found fun living with Joey results in a series of hilarious Christmas presents for him (drums and a tarantula) to try and drive Rachel out the apartment and back to living with her again.

6. THE ONE WITH RACHEL’S OTHER SISTER
(Season 9, 2002)

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Chandler: So let me just get this straight. So my two friends die; I get Emma; then my wife dies; then Emma, the one tiny ray of hope left in my life, gets taken away from me?
Phoebe: There’s your movie!

We’d met Rachel’s sister Jill in the 6th series (played by the brilliant Reese Witherspoon), but it wasn’t until three series later when her other sister, Amy, showed up unannounced (and some would say uninvited) to Thanksgiving with the gang.

In a move that proves to be, as Ross put it, ‘like when the Indians gave the Pilgrims syphillis’, Amy’s lack of tact or social skills at the annual dinner at Monica’s provides laughs-a-minute in this episode from Christina Applegate who plays her, culminating in a catfight even non-sitcom shows would find hard to top.

Elsewhere, there’s a hilarious storyline involving Joey as he and Phoebe try to come up with a good excuse for him not showing up at a downtown parade with the rest of the ‘Days of our Lives’ cast – and one that doesn’t involve a raccoon.

5. THE ONE WITH THE EMBRYOS
(Season 4, 1997)

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Ross: According to Chandler, what phenomenon scares the ‘bejesus’ out of him?
Monica: Michael Flatley, ‘Lord of the Dance’!
Ross: That is correct!
Joey: The Irish jig guy?
Chandler: His legs flail about as if independent of his body!

Though this episode’s title derives from Phoebe’s quest to have her half brother Frank Jr and his wife Alice’s eggs placed in her uterus as a surrogate for them to have kids, this episode should really have been called ‘The One with the Apartment Game’.

Having been kept awake all night by Joey and Chandler’s rooster, Rachel and Monica challenge them to a furious battle of the sexes as Ross invents a quiz to test how well the friends really know each other – which for the girls, comes at the expense of losing their apartment to the guys.

This game reveals some amusing facts about the gang along the way – Monica’s high school nickname of ‘Big Fat Goalie’, Joey’s imaginary friend Maurice, the space cowboy, and the gang’s inability to remember what Chandler’s job is (according to Rachel, ‘he’s a transponster!’)

4. THE ONE WHERE HECKLES DIES
(Season 2, 1995)

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Chandler: If I’m gonna be an old, lonely man, I’m gonna need a thing, you know, a hook, like that guy on the subway who eats his own face. So I figure I’ll be Crazy Man with a Snake, y’know. Crazy Snake Man. And I’ll get more snakes, call them my babies! Kids won’t walk past my place, they will run. “Run away from Crazy Snake Man,” they’ll shout!

I’ve chosen this episode because for me, watching this as a teenager it was the first time I remember being blown away by someone’s acting performance. And Matthew Perry puts on by far his best performance as Chandler here, in a comedic and dramatic sense.

When Rachel and Monica’s cranky neighbour Mr Heckles suddenly dies, he bequeaths his old apartment of strange posessions to them. Amongst them, Chandler finds his old high school yearbook, and realises, to his horror, some uncanny similarities.

Overcome with panic at the direction his life is heading in, he ends up calling – who else? – Janice, before the rest of the guys make him realise he’s not completely the same as their late neighbour, and that he has the chance to change for the better.

3. THE ONE WHERE ROSS IS FINE
(Season 10, 2003)

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Ross: Okay, I guess it’s just flan for three. Hey! Hey, that rhymes!

And from one star performance to another, as David Schwimmer put in his craziest, most stooge like performance as Ross in this episode as he struggles to come to terms with Joey and Rachel’s budding relationship. His overreaction to events results in an awkward dinner party at his place with his new girlfriend (and Joey’s ex) Charlie.

Not only is it an episode that has forever altered the way I say the words ‘fajitas’ and ‘margaritas’, but Rachel and Joey’s reactions to his antics are just as hilarious – especially the final scene with Joey and Ross the following morning.

Elsewhere in this episode, Monica and Chandler make progressions to try and adopt a baby – with things going greatly awry when they meet a couple that Phoebe is friends with, and Chandler lets slip to their son that he is in fact, adopted.

2. THE ONE WITH THE ROUTINE
(Season 6, 1999)

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Ross: Hey, when the snippy guy sees The Routine, he’ll wanna build us our own platform!
Monica: Was it really that good?
Ross: We got honourable mention in the Brother-Sister Dance category!

As I mentioned earlier, Christmas episodes provided some comedy gold on “Friends”. This however, for me, is the gold standard. As Joey and his dancer roommate Janine (played by Elle MacPherson) get dancing parts on Dick Clark’s Millennium Eve special, über fans of the show Ross and Monica tag along like puppies, and end up stealing the show with a dorky and side splitting high school routine to the Loreta song ‘The Trouble with Boys’, that has since spawned an internet craze for wedding first dance recreations.

Also in this episode, Phoebe and Rachel bribe Chandler into hunting Monica’s apartment for their Christmas presents – which results in finding some unusual presents for the gang from Chandler, and a rather puzzled look on his face (‘priceless’, suggests Phoebe) when he finds out what Monica has got him.

1. THE ONE WHERE EVERYONE FINDS OUT
(Season 5, 1999)

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Phoebe: They thought they could mess with us! They’re trying to mess with us? They don’t know that we know they know we know! And Joey, you can’t say anything!
Joey: I couldn’t if I wanted to.

What other episode could I have picked as my all time favourite but this one? With all the gang at their comedic best in this episode, Monica and Chandler’s secret relationship finally comes out in the open as Phoebe attempts to seduce Chandler.

From the opening scene where Phoebe catches them having sex from the window at Ugly Naked Guy’s (soon to be Ross’s) apartment, to the awkward exchange between Chandler and Phoebe on their “first date” where she performs a hilarious dance and claims she’s “very bendy”, and the ‘They don’t know that we know” exchanges, every time I watch this particular episode I laugh just as hard as I did the first time I saw it.

And that, for me, is just one of the reasons that makes “Friends” one of the most timeless shows, let alone sitcoms, that there has ever been. Here’s to 20 years of laughs with our friends.

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#CrazyStupidAlbum: The Script – “No Sound Without Silence”

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An interesting point was made by Danny O’Donoghue, the charismatic lead singer of Irish rockers The Script when I saw them being interviewed on BBC Breakfast last week. Namely, that on the subject of critical acclaim. This was a question probably raised in light of a scathing – nay, toffy nosed – one star review given to this, the band’s fourth studio album, in that weekend’s Guardian.

Of their critics, he said: ‘We’ve got to the stage in our career where we measure our success by our tours, our albums and the support from our fans. The biggest failure you can make as an artist is to try and please everybody.’ And indeed, when you place the cold hard facts – 20 million record sales worldwide since their 2008 debut – next to their critics’ subjective, snarky soundbites, you begin to see why.

For it seems that, far from not pleasing everybody, they are pleasing a very loyal and broad crowd indeed. In fact, they seem to be one of the few artists out there at the moment still relying on good old fashioned melody and soul in their own unique brand of Transatlantic sounding pop rock.

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What’s more, far from sticking to a supposedly ‘typical’ sound, they diverge off and experiment with some of the sounds of their Irish roots on here, most successfully of all on ‘Paint the Town Green’. Its lyrics sound like every old woven story you’ve heard in pubs from Dublin to Donegal with subtly honorable music to match. Similarly, ‘Army of Angels’ is all military drum riffs and arms aloft lyrics that sound like a 21st century rebel anthem.

But one thing that cannot be denied, and that they really excel at, is their knack for a good aural earworm with simple yet effective song structures – album opener ‘No Good in Goodbye’ and current single ‘Superheroes’ are perfect examples of this.

So for all the accusations of being formulaic, not only is ‘No Sound Without Silence’ as far away from such a description as possible, it manages to be by far and above their best album to date. Long may The Script continue to have the last laugh over Alexis Petridis et al.

STREAM THESE: ‘No Good in Goodbye’, ‘Army of Angels’, ‘Paint the Town Green’

‘No Sound Without Silence’ is out now via Sony/Columbia. The band are out on their UK and Ireland arena tour in March 2015. www.thescriptmusic.com

50 Questions (in the almost style of Tom Fletcher)

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Hi all,

So I’ve just returned from several days in glorious Richmond upon Thames with my sister and brother in law – more on that later. But I wanted to do something a little bit fun for this new post.

I love Tom Fletcher (he of McFly and McBusted fame, and viral wedding speech ubër fame of course)’s YouTube channel and Twitter. On his latest vlog, he proceeded to answer a series of 50 questions set by his sister, Carrie, who is a stage actress. I won’t be getting naked with each question answered like he did, but I swear to answer them as honestly as possible.

In fact, if you want to do it, why not play along and share your answers? It’ll be great fun. Much love 🙂 💞

1. What are you wearing? 
A blue T-shirt, my old comfy sweat pants and some socks.

2. Ever been in love? 
I don’t honestly know. I might have been but maybe just not realised it.

3. Ever had a terrible breakup?

No. If it was terrible I’ve probably blanked it out by now.

4. How tall are you? 

6 ft 7. I am a tall bugger.

5. How much do you weigh?

No idea. I’m a healthy weight though.

6. Any tattoos?

No.

7. Any piercings? 

No. But I did have a fake lipring once when I went through my ‘difficult emo stage’ circa 2005.

8. OTP?

Olly Murs and Caroline Flack. Or Carolly as I’ve often called them (and still do!)

9. Favourite Show? 

Friends.

10. Favourite bands?

The Saturdays, Take That, Coldplay, The Script, Girls Aloud, JLS, All Saints.

11. Something you miss?

Cadbury Dream bars. They were the BEST.

12. Favourite song?

At the moment? Probably MNEK – ‘Wrote a Song About You’.

13. How old are you? 

25.

14. Star sign? 

Virgo.

15. Quality you look for in a partner? 

Fun. I need to be around someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

16. Favourite Quote? 

‘Lovers do not find each other, they are with each other all along.’

17. Favourite actor? 

Emma Thompson.

18. Favourite colour? 

Blue.

19. Loud music or soft?

Depends what mood I’m in!
 
20. Where do you go when you’re sad? 

Onto YouTube to watch some funny videos.

21. How long does it take you to shower?

Half an hour?

22. How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?

I’m almost always in a rush. 15 minutes tops.

23. Ever been in a physical fight? 

Yes, when I was being bullied at school.

24. Turn on?

Really good perfume. And nice eyes.

25. Turn off? 

People claiming their tan is natural who look like they’ve fornicated with an bag of cheesy Wotsits.

26. The reason I joined WordPress?

To write this blog.

27. Fears?

The ones I love not being safe and secure. Injustice in society.

28. Last thing that made you cry? 

‘Long Lost Family’ with Davina McCall.

29. Last time you said you loved someone? 

Today to my sister.

30. Meaning behind your WordPress name? 

I’m sure I have explained. It stands for ‘Crazy Stupid Blog’!

31. Last book you read? 

François Lelord – ‘Hector and the Search for Happiness’.

32. The book you’re currently reading?

Jim Henson’s biography.

33. Last show you watched? 

‘Chasing the Saturdays’.

34. Last person you talked to?

My mum.

35. The relationship between you and the person you last texted?

My sister.

36: Favourite food?

Chicken.

37. Place you want to visit?

Ireland.

38. Last place you were?

London.

39. Do you have a crush?

Might do.

40. Last time you kissed someone?

If we’re talking a passionate, fireworks inducing snog…then never.

41. Last time you were insulted?

Yesterday. I won’t say by who though.

42. Favourite flavour of sweet?

Lindt Lindor Truffles.

43. What instruments do you play?

Used to play guitar and keyboard.

44. Favourite piece of jewellery?

My green, terracotta and blue wooden bangles.

45. Last sport you played? 

Football, against my will, 10 years ago.

46. Last song you sang?

The Saturdays – ‘My Heart Takes Over’.
 
47. Favourite chat up line?

Feel that? *rubs skin* It’s boyfriend material 😉

48. Have you ever used it?

Hell no.

49. Last time you hung out with anyone?,

Over the last two days.

50: Who should answer these questions next?

Anyone and everyone I love dearly.

Kermit the Frog’s note to self (and my own)…

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Anyone who knows me knows that I am literally as big a fan of The Muppets as they come. Ever since I used to get home from nursery as a 2/3 year old and watch Sesame Street at lunchtimes with my sister, to now where they’re mildly inconveniencing Jack Black and duetting with Olly Murs on X Factor, I have been a devoted fan, and virtually all their DVDs (well, except ‘Muppets from Space’, which wasn’t very good, let’s be real) are on my shelves in my bedroom.

My allegiance to a favourite Muppet seems to change every other week – usually between Animal and Gonzo the Great. However, one Muppet for me somehow manages to stand tall above them all as a beacon of easy going, green normality in the madcap posse of bears, pigs, chickens and general weirdos. Yes, I am of course talking about the original Muppet, Kermit the Frog.

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This week, I happened upon a small piece he did, entitled ‘Note to Self’ for CBS News in the US. In it, he read out a note to his young ‘tadpole’ self, that was at one parts witty and twice as many parts eloquently and touchingly put. Even as far back as 1978’s first big screen debut ‘The Muppet Movie’, he seemed to have this impenetrable gift of expressing what following your dreams and your passion in life was really all about – the quote above from said movie being a perfect example – and at once making you forget he’s just a frog.

It got me thinking, and the more I thought about it, the more I toyed with the idea of writing a note to my young self. I would like to think that 14/15 years constitutes as enough time to have passed to spread a bit of my knowledge on life. I just hope 12 year old me feels the same way. I doubt it, but I can try! Here goes…

Dear 12 year old me,

Hello there. Yes, you! Hey! Listen, I know the new copy of Smash Hits is more interesting. But no one’s gonna run off with it in the next few minutes. Trust me, I know. And let’s be honest, your Geography homework that’s due tomorrow probably won’t do itself in that time either, and it won’t matter given you’ll get to dump it in two years’ time (exciting isn’t it?). Hope you’re sitting comfortably? Good. Then I’ll begin.

As I’m to understand it, your life’s not exactly been easy in the last year, has it? I know you’re hoping things are going to get better this time after the year you endured. What I can tell you is that it will get better. It just won’t always be easy. But you’ll find the strength to fight your battles the older you get. People will soon see you as you always knew you were.

You know Simon, your best friend who you do library duty with? Yes? Well, what I will say is stick with him. He’s a really cool guy, and you’re gonna experience so much together as friends. He’ll always listen to you unconditionally whatever the problem is. And he’ll introduce you to Tenacious D who are pretty bloody awesome.

And you know Mrs Dimbleby, your learning assistant? Listen, I know things haven’t been easy, but she’s only doing the right thing by you. You may not see it now because you’re so desperate to be normal and fit in and be a carbon copy of everyone else, but she will be the greatest mentor you will ever have to go on and better yourself and prove your talents to the world. Make sure you show your appreciation for her.

And hey – got to say, I like the new S Club 7 poster on your door. Rachel is rather delicious isn’t she? About that…I know you feel rather like it’s uncool to be a fan of theirs right now – at least, to your classmates who think they’re not cool, and who tease you about it. But don’t feel ashamed. It’s their music and TV show (and Rachel. Oh, Rachel…I’ll digress) that makes you happy and makes you smile when nothing else does, and as long as you’re happy, that’s all that matters.

And you know how you really like English? Like, really like it? That’s OK too. This year, your English teacher is going to be an incredible lady called Diane Howes. She’s gonna have a more significant impact on your future and your path than you realise, and she’s going to invigorate your passion for the subject more than you thought possible.

You won’t be into PE or football much still either, but that’s OK. Once you leave this place in another 5 years, you’ll find things you do enjoy that keep you active. As for popularity, and getting girlfriends, don’t worry about that now. You’ll make new friends along your future path who right now, don’t even know you exist but will be such a big part of your life.

And what’s this…is this a book you’re writing? Looks good so far! Make sure you keep writing as well. That will go on to be one of the greatest gifts you give to others – family and friends alike. The pen and paper is your gift to the world.

I’ll let you get back to this week’s Smash Hits now. Looks like an interesting issue this week. PS I made a cuppa for you *places it on your bedside coaster*.

Keep smiling, stay cheeky, and be cool.

Yours truly,

Alex MacGregor.

The art of a bucket list.

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So, a couple of weeks ago was my birthday. And it was no ordinary birthday – well, maybe ordinary by my usual standards. Just a fairly quiet day spent with family and loved ones with lovely presents, cards and messages (Tweets too) of love and many happy returns.

I don’t usually ask for much (outside of my naively hopeful but futile annual wish list of a Nando’s black card, an old VW Camper in sky blue or Gemma Arterton in a box, preferably dressed in her denim shorts from her lead role in “Tamara Drewe”), and I’ve often found that’s the best policy with birthdays. Set tentative but not massively high expectations of the day, and the rest, as they say, will follow.

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But what I mean by it being un-ordinary, was that it was un-ordinary – if that’s the right word for such a situation – in the sense of the age I was turning. For I am now a quarter of a century old/young – delete as applicable for how you view age. I am, in fact, 25.

Because here’s the thing. I have never, nor will I ever govern myself, as our society at large does, by my age. Maturity, yes. But as an individual, I have always felt very young at heart, and I would like to think that I’ve always had a sunny outlook on life, no matter what the situation, and that this is what keeps me sprightly and mentally alive as it were. Since becoming an uncle three years ago, I think that’s become even more of the case.

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I can remember as a kid – aged 7 or 8 – when the Spice Girls were at the absolute peak of their phenomenal success, and seeing them on the news, meeting the late Nelson Mandela on a promotional trip to South Africa. One of the assembled throng of media outside his house – where a photocall had been arranged – asked him if he was a fan of the girls, to which his response was, “I don’t know if I can be. Because, you see, I am a very old man.” Such a response then prompted the band’s official spokesperson, ‘Ginger Spice’ Geri Halliwell, to turn to him and famously say: “You’re not old. You’re as young as the girl you feel, and I’m 25!”

I can remember my parents laughing about this at the time, but I didn’t really know why. It’s only now, 17 years later that I’ve come to understand what Geri meant, and it’s a philosophy I strongly live by now, that age is only a number, and nothing more. Don’t get me wrong – I do have my days where I feel I am a zimmer frame and a set of false teeth away from uttering the phrase ‘In my days…’ (or even classics my dad has been known to come out with from my childhood and beyond!), but I can honestly say they have been, and continue to be, few and far between.

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I can’t remember when I started feeling this way and viewing life this way. But I can maybe try to pinpoint where it originated from – about 10 years ago. I was still at school at this point, on the cusp of sitting GCSEs, and still frustratingly wrapped up in my classmates and year group’s perception of me, which to put it mildly was often misunderstood and with literally a handful of friends, only one of whom remains a large part of my life today.

Every teenager who isn’t blessed in the popularity, trendy and academically successful stakes at school seems awkward and self conscious. I felt that I was just that bit more awkward and self conscious then the rest. And being often plagued with spots, a lack of aptitude for Maths, Science or PE (supposedly ‘manly’ contact sports like football and rugby, which I never liked even before high school in particular) but a genuine love of English and writing, even down to the clothes I wore on non-uniform days or my taste in music (if we’re talking 10 years ago, I was mad on Rachel Stevens, Girls Aloud and McFly), it’s probably hard not to see why I wasn’t particularly thought of highly.

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Where it all changed was in February 2005. I was three months away from my final GCSE exams when I came down with two weeks of a particularly bad cold. I’d been off school with colds before but this was very unusual, it was awful and I remember having one day where I just couldn’t move at all. Two weeks later, I was back at school but still wasn’t quite right, and I was a bit sore in the right side of my stomach, and felt nauseous.

To cut a long story short, this soon developed into peritonitis, a pretty severe form of appendicitis that rendered me out of action from my studies for 6 weeks and was, at one stage, potentially life threatening. The date I was rushed into hospital to have my appendix removed still sits clear on my mind now: Monday, 21st March 2005.

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All I can remember of that day was being high on gas and air, whilst sat in the ambulance with the paramedics on the way to A&E and turning to my mum, suddenly freaking out in all this madness as I realised that day was supposed to be when I sat my final French speaking exam. My mum told me in no uncertain terms that this was the least of my worries now – and rightly so too.

Where this little chapter of my life fits in here, was because it was in the six weeks of recovery following my operation that I changed – and for the better. It made me take stock of my old life and realise what was really important – family, my own happiness and my own health. Near death experiences have a funny way of doing that I’ve always felt. They’re almost God’s way of saying ‘You need to put the brakes on whatever is dominating your life and see it for what it really is, because it’s not making you the best you there is.’

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Which was why, a few months ago whilst watching Graham Norton’s chat show, I felt an odd kind of kinship with Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, who was one of his guests that week. I’ve always admired Cheryl since my Girls Aloud fan days – and continue to do so (the title of this very blog is in part, owed to that of her most recent solo UK chart topper, the brilliant “Crazy Stupid Love”).

As has been well documented, she faced a near death experience of a very different kind, when she battled malaria in 2010, just over a year after her and Girls Aloud bandmate Kimberley Walsh had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro along with other famous figures, to raise awareness of malaria as part of that year’s Comic Relief campaign.

She spoke about this in relation to a question Graham had raised with her, regarding her obtaining a large rose tattoo on the small of her back that had divided opinion since she had been seen with it in public some months before. It transpired that she’d done it as part of what’s known as a ‘bucket list’, or as she cheekily called it, ‘a f*** it list’.

The bucket list is by no means a new concept to most of the public at large (see the popular John Green novel ‘The Fault in our Stars’) but it was to me, and it got me thinking the closer I got to my birthday this year. And so I decided that no harm would come from writing my own.

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On my list, my aspirations and hopes and wants range so differently. Some are philosopical (to stay happy, see the positive in every situation life throws at me, to be a good uncle to my niece and nephew), some are rooted in my childhood (appear on ‘Stars in Their Eyes’, visit the Cotswold Motor Museum and meet Brum), and others are more what I call ‘pipelines’ – unlikely to happen, but no harm giving thought to them (write a comedy script with French and Saunders, live in another country for a year or two).

In a way, having this list – all of which I’ve written in the past tense, as if to visualise it happening – gives me something to feel positive and young at heart about, even on the days I don’t feel it, to inject spontaneity and fun into the straitjacket of modern adult life. So, much like Geri Halliwell, I am as young as the man I feel. And I’m proud to be whatever age I am.