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Girl Gang? Sign Me Up. An Ode To Female Friendship In The Desert

When I was seven I wanted to be a Ghostbuster. Unsurprisingly, not many of my contemporaries were having any of it, much preferring to ponce around with their Sylvanian Families whilst I sat pondering the logistics of playing both Venkman and Spengler simultaneously. (I like a challenge). Imagine my delight, then, when they announced that they were rebooting it with a female cast of comedy geniuses, poised to take on New York in some of the best boiler suits ever seen on celluloid. The mud-slinging that has come since – this week seeing the release of the latest trailer – has been slightly heartbreaking, mostly because people are up in arms that they’ve dared to remake an 80s buddy movie using only girls. (Eugh, girls! Imagine!).Olivia Phillips Girl Gang

Now, I no longer harbour dreams of donning a Proton Pack, as handy as that may occasionally be, but I do think that life in Dubai can often feel like one big female buddy movie – and that I’ve come up against a fair bit of flak for how I’ve chosen to portray that to the outside world. “Ooh, you girls love a line-up, don’t you?”, I was once asked by a particularly sarcastic pal back in the UK, after I’d uploaded a picture of me and six girlfriends outside Frankie’s in JBR. “What’s happened to you?!”, another one Whatsapped me when I’d posted ‘These ones!’ and a hearts-for-eyes emoji on Instagram. “If you start hashtagging ‘squad goals’ you are dead to me, Phillips. Dead.”

Admittedly, it might not have been my most eloquent Insta-moment. And maybe it’s not very ‘cool’ to brag in such a shamelessly saccharine way. We’re British after all; it’s our job to be mostly underwhelmed. But I don’t care. I love my girl gang. I’m proud to have them, and to show them off, knowing that, without them, my life here would be significantly less emoji-filled – both literally and metaphorically. And in a town where few of us have our families or oldest friends to lean on, I cannot overstate the wonderful, life-affirming, crisis-averting importance of having them around.

Research backs it up, too. There’s been hundreds of studies done on the very real health benefits of female friendship, concluding that the time we spend together releases oxytocin – a depression and stress-killer which also makes you feel calm and warm. Combine that with many a free ladies’ night drink and it’s little wonder I feel the need to enthusiastically pepper everything with hearts. It’s science. In comparison to men, we’re more open with each other, more vulnerable, supporting the argument that it’s why we live longer. Sorry, lads. Jane Fonda put it perfectly in a TED talk she did last year with long-time friend Lily Tomlin, “Men’s friendships are side-by-side, whilst women’s are face-to-face,” she said. “I exist because I have my women friends.” I feel her. Especially because, prior to moving here, my life in London was vastly different.

Perhaps it was the longer office hours, or the dread of going out in the rain, but I found myself with a rather diminished crew; friends scattered all over the home counties, banished there by some kind of affordable-housing, Zone 18 Overlord. In comparison, we live in a country brimming with ex-pats (who, incidentally, all seem to live in the Marina), keen as mustard and all in the market for new friends. It also attracts a certain type of soul – social, adventurous, likeminded – that makes it easier to find a connection. When you’re putting roots down in a new city, that respite and emotional support you get from a strong group of female friends is vital. You need them not only for the belly laughs and the brunches, but for the homesickness and the heartbreaks. For the debates, the career advice, the sisterhood and the solidarity. We’re all in it together out here, all doing something pretty brave. There’s camaraderie in that, which may or may not come across in my pithy footnotes on Instagram. But next time I write ‘These ones’, smiley face, under a picture of my girl gang, you’ll know it’s shorthand for all of the above.

In Defence of Eurotrash By Someone Who Really Likes Yachts

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Being raised in a half-Greek, half-English household is a precarious situation. On the one hand you’re brought up to respect boundaries, indoor voices, vegetarians, SPF and to stubbornly keep the thermostat on 13 even when there’s a polar vortex. On the other, you’re taught that boundaries are ‘suggestion only’, indoor voices are ok, but only if you’re trying to hide from someone, that vegetarians can’t be trusted, olive oil is an acceptable form of sunscreen, and to turn the thermostat up to ‘fire’ even when it’s hotter than Hades outside. These flagrant contradictions meant that I was a confused child. Always cold. Always being told to pipe down. Always rubbing olive oil into my skin and wondering why people moved away from me on the bus. But I was nonetheless polite, with a strong love of sarcasm, and tea.

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There is one thing that I’ve always been on the fence about, however. All my sensible British reasoning tells me I’m not to go near it. To politely decline, cough awkwardly and ask where the loos are as a get out tactic. But on the inside, I’m lighting up, booty shaking to some kind of electro-reggaeton hybrid and weighing up the merits of sequins vs lamé. It’s the lure of Eurotrash, and it’s too strong, too shiny, for me to resist. I completely forget that I’m supposed to be vaguely serious, vaguely professional and – oh, God – vaguely chic for my job, and I get totally swept up in, well, the fun of it all.

I’m hardly the only one, either. Last night’s Eurovision, surely the biggest celebration of Eurotrash there is, pulled in 10.5 million viewers in the UK. Sure, they might not have all been of that particular ilk themselves, but I can guarantee they all loved gawping at its spectacle. Not in a completely ironic way, either – there are some people out there (myself included) who love a good wind machine, a strong creosote tan and an unapologetic flashing of flesh. I’m looking at you, Poland. One look at my Instagram feed tells me that girls and guys alike are increasingly embracing the TOWIE school of grooming more than ever before, with hevage and cleavage level-pegging for attention and totally po-faced abs selfies de rigueur. Self-aware it ain’t, but calling it gauche and looking down your nose at it doesn’t make you superior – it just makes you a snob. Have fun with that.

That’s not to say that Eurotrash is totally devoid of snobs, though. I’ve seen women in Mykonos use their Birkins as beach bags, and had my watch openly scrutinised by the people at the next table at Novikov. But despite the occasional douche, the entire scene is built on pretty much pure joy. Conspicuous consumption, chasing the sun, drinking jeroboams and not giving a shit that it could all be deemed a bit tacky by people who are, frankly, probably having much less fun. Even the budget version – the Lipsy-clad revellers, waxed and buffed to within an inch of what is decent, have the same philosophy. Show up, look good and dance like you’ve got every last wind machine in the world aimed at your Lucinda Ellery hair extensions. It’s Eurovision IRL, people, and we could all use a bit more of that, no?

I’ve Just Turned 30 And This Is What I’ve Learned…

So turns out I have lots of things to say. Gird your loins, then, as going forward I’m planning on proverbially chewing your ear off in a weekly post I’m imperiously naming The Column. It may well be as wanky as it sounds but I’m doing it anyway. Leap before you look, right? Now that I am a full week and a half into Proper Adulthood, I feel that I’m equipped to share such profound life lessons with you. Doing things without having remotely thought about the consequences is just the tip of the iceberg, kids…

1. Find a mentor

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Or if that seems like too specific, and tricky, a goal – like me suggesting you locate the Lost City of Atlantis by 2pm tomorrow (it’s next to the Pret on Kentish Town Road if that helps at all), then at least surround yourself with inspiring people. People you look up to, who will lift you up, energise you and fill you with zest for life and determination. People who, when you’re 40, you’ll still look to and say ‘I want to be like that when I grow up.” Rumi once wrote, ‘Set your life on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.’ Basically: ‘llow the haters, the wastemen and the bitchy, fake friends. There are too many of life’s good people out there.

2. Don’t waste your time on things you know aren’t right.

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Your instinct is a powerful tool. Sometimes, when you know, you just know. The worst thing I’ve ever done is clung onto people/ places/ things that I knew in my heart weren’t working out for me. The truth can be a scary, and often lonely, place sometimes, but not giving yourself a fighting chance of being happier in the end is far scarier. Life’s short – too short to pretend, that’s for damn sure. I’m incredulous that I’ve just waved goodbye to my twenties but you know what? At least I can say I’ve learned to be honest and authentic. I’ve dealt with things (like a boss, obvs). And I’ve moved that little bit closer to the life that I really want to live. Who needs white denim hotpants, anyway?

3. Focus

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I may be letting the side down massively here, but I am one woman who really bloody struggles to multi-task. I can just about brush my teeth whilst simultaneously looking in the mirror (complex), or switch the toaster on and get the Vitalite out of the fridge (a stretch. I’ve managed to forget to put the bread in many, many times). Add this to the fact that I’m very easily distracted and it just makes doing any job about three times as long. Try and do one thing well rather than five things badly. What I’ve learned? Switch Facebook off when you’re writing an article (I’m actually considering deleting it all together). Instagram the minimum amount (it’s been reported that Instagramming food makes it less enjoyable. I’m guilty.) And stop interrupting your night out to take selfies. (again – guilty. You can see how much I don’t follow my own advice here: @FavouriteThing.)

4. Save

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AKA credit cards are not free money. That was the very astute gem of advice my friend Anna from South Molton Street Style offered up when I told her I was writing this post. She’s right of course, but not only did I not get the memo about this until very recently, I also seem to have spent every single last dime I’ve earned on things that appear to be a) not a house, b) not a car, and c) not not alot of shoes. My advice is this: don’t buy shoes, buy trips. And SAVE. Save from the very beginning. That way you can be smug and own a grown-up flat in your mid-twenties like so many of my bastard friends. I’ve been left squinting at my bank balance, trying to attract help by waving a white stiletto above my head and keeping myself warm with memories of holidays of yore.

5. You’re not the only one with imposter syndrome

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Imposter Syndrome is A Thing. It’s actually a very female predicament; we tend to underestimate our capabilities and talents, whilst men basically think they can fly. A secret: they can’t. We can. But, even at 30, I still often feel like I’m playing grown ups at work and at any moment Jeremy Beadle/ my boss is going to jump out of the stationery cupboard and tell me the jig is up. Then I actually think about it and I remember I worked my ass off to get to the stage where feeling slightly fraud-like is even a consideration. If anything, it proves that work still challenges me. And that can only ever be a good thing.

6. Have an open heart

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It could be my Greek side but I love invading people’s personal space, making things awkward, giving too many hugs, too many kisses (I once did a Rachel from Friends and kissed someone who’d just interviewed me on the way out. Still got the job though – WHICH JUST PROVES MY THEORY). Love big and be generous. You get back what you put in.

7. Be hungry. For everything.

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Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is just showing up. I like to interpret this as just saying yes. Extra work, events, parties you’re too knackered to go to – make the effort. You’re never gonna think back fondly of that one night you stayed in, ate chicken from the Waterfall Kebab Centre and watched Game of Thrones. (Which, incidentally, is my plan for this evening. I am allowed. I am recovering from a two week hangover. See previous ‘just say yes’ philosophy).

8. Be your own best friend

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People come and go from your life for a reason, everyone has a purpose, but, at the end of the day, it’s just you left. Be nice and make sure you actually like yourself, then. In the hallowed words of RuPaul, if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell you gonna love somebody else? Can I get an A-MEN? (She also said, ‘My goal is to always come from a place of love… but sometimes you just have to break it down for a motherfucker’). Just saying.

9. Don’t worry

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Seriously… who the hell cares? Is it going to matter in a week? A month? A year? Probably not. Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. I’d love to tell you I wrote that, but it was Corrie ten Boom. Also: Hakuna Matata. Timon and Pumba are very wise.

10. Sing and dance in front of the mirror

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I do this WAY more than I’d care to admit but I gave it up for a while and those were dark days. I’d like to think that acting like a complete twat will always have a certain appeal and that I’ll mortify my children by still doing it when I’m 45. Plus: singing’s good for you; it increases oxygenation in the blood stream and releases endorphins. Despairing neighbours when I’m still pretending to be Whitney at 1am; please refer to above link.

11. Dream big.tumblr_inline_mvnovwla5i1qcvqgb

This is getting a bit quote-heavy I realise, but one of my favourites is from the poet Robert Browning, which I had as my screensaver for a long time when I was struggling to make the next step in my career, ‘Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?’ It reminds me to aim high, make plans and always push myself. To never settle. To be ambitious (If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough – sorry, last one I promise!). And to remember that it’s the hardest things to achieve in life that are always the most worthwhile.

12. Date wildly inappropriate peopletumblr_lwesh6zqQh1qcp9gro1_500

Well, briefly, anyway. Do it now, while you still can. Trust me, I’ve been there, done that and have an array of very interesting T-shirts. Comedians, drummers, drain cleaners, people who went by the name of Maverick (I mean, come on. The clue was there)… all lurking somewhere on the wrong ‘un scale, but all pretty fun nonetheless. Do it for the stories, learn what you want (GSOH, nice to his mum, the ability to dance like Channing Tatum) and what you certainly don’t bloody want (emotional fuckwittery, a poo van as a main mode of transportation, Morris dancing parents – yes, really) and get on with it.