Tuesday, 18 November 2014

“Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”

Flicking back through the last eight weeks of photographs is like taking a trip in a time machine. I will never forget how scared I felt the first day I moved in; how nauseated at the thought of leaving and in that moment if we had turned the car around I would never have gone. I listened to so much BeyoncĂ© on that journey. “I’m not afraid,” I told myself over and over again. “I’m not afraid of anything.” I replied to good luck texts from my friends with shaky hands and refused to cry or think about home.

It took one look at my university bedroom and the equally, secretly, terrified faces of my new flatmates and everything was fine. Someone brought cake, the rest of us fetched our alcohol, music playing, and suddenly we’re laughing, we’re happy, we’re all going to be okay. Someone else went to Reading festival in the summer, someone else worked at Leeds. We talk about Arctic Monkeys, A-levels, who hasn’t lost their virginity somewhere in the blur of the last few years of teenagehood, play never-have-I-ever - all lying of course - and spell out our names as we save each others numbers. We wander out, elated, to explore our new world of libraries and bars, concrete steps, a campus of new experiences awaiting us in the morning but we can’t wait for that, we want it now. Snapchat, “have you seen this TV show…” falling over, spilling ciders, walking home. I climb in through a window in our building, fall up the stairs, smiling. Hangovers follow, medicated by mugs of tea. Milk and one sugar, are we becoming friends? (Yes.)

Two months have flown by; a blur of drinking and dancing and attempts at cooking, movies and arguments and laughing, never quite getting enough sleep or enough coffee. It’s not quite a home, this funny flat with the bedroom doors that stick and the mouldy showers and the fridge that’s too cold and the freezer that’s permanently melting. It’s not a family, this weird group of people, thrown together and suddenly alone, supposedly independent. Some of us only share in birthday meals and chip in for washing-up liquid; some of us drink tea at 2am together and watch TV in each other’s rooms, advising and teasing on everything on the colour of shirts, to who’s turn to clean, to who had who in their room being noisy last night. And that’s okay, everything’s always okay, or it will be in the morning or one day, far in the future, when I’ve got a drink in my hand and a funny story to tell. It’s always okay.

House hunting, walks to Aldi, figuring out the laundrette, homesickness, fresher's flu, far too many tins of soup and spaghetti hoops consumed. Visits from family, trips home, adventure, stress, panic and laughter. Essays written, seminars endured, lectures napped through. Coffee drunk, tweets written, instagrams posted. Whiskey, vodka, Jager, Malibu, vomit and alcohol poisoning. Too many pizzas to count. Halloween, Bonfire Night, passing by in a blur. Suddenly it's nearly Christmas and I feel as if I've lived here forever.

University is somehow everything and nothing like I imagined; exactly as I knew it would be and also in another universe. Even when life feels terrifyingly new and upside down and fragile and I remember how far away I am from home, its so good, this learning how to be a person stuff. This tumble-driers and microwaves, budget, student, train tickets, "adult" stuff. Cigarette smoke on cold November evenings, sparkles in the sky, the smells of winter, soft sweaters and hugs, more music than my ears know what to do with. Fairy lights, to-do lists, poster sales, endless, endless books. Sometimes I get sad of course and when I do I listen to music and read messages in my yearbook and miss my family - who half the time are somehow capable of infuriating me from miles across the country - and my friends - because a million messages and texts and Skype sessions are just never the same as being in the same room and laughing so hard you need to pee with people who've known you forever.

It’s as if one day I woke up and someone handed me my brand new life. An adventure, just like I always wanted.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Once upon a time...

Long ago, in a land not so far away, as this bittersweet, modern-day fairy-tale shows us, a girl meets a boy. A boy with a guitar, a broken heart and an unrecorded album in him enough to get him across the ocean to the life of his dreams. This unnamed Irish musician along with an equally mysterious and talented Czech piano player carry us into a world where anything seems possible. She has a broken hoover, a complicated family, a talent for sharing her own joy with all she meets and changes his life irreversibly and forever.

But the course of neither true love nor musical success never did run smooth, and this whirlwind ride through the pubs and bars, kitchen tables and poky upstairs bedrooms, recording studios and vacuum cleaner repair shops of Dublin is no exception. With an ending as poignant as it is surprising this show lets you take nothing for granted and will break your heart, leaving you wondering, wishing, hoping, like its two romantic protagonists.

Once takes it's audience on a magical, musical journey, encouraging you to follow your dreams and open your eyes to the world around you - with plenty of stomping and clapping Irish and Czech folk music to keep your spirits up every step of the way. A love song to the power of kindness in strangers, the importance of friendship, music and following your heart and a story that will leave even the saddest of faces nodding, smiling and clapping along.

I can safely say it's the most uplifted I've ever felt leaving a theatre and something to regret missing out on! "Once" The Musical opened on Broadway in 2012, winning eight Tony Awards including Best Musical, before appearing in London's West End at the Phoenix Theatre in 2013. I saw the show in April 2014 with Doctor Who's Arthur Darvill as "Guy" and Zrinka Cvitesic as "Girl," who were both absolutely amazing. This show is truly a once-in-a-lifetime musical experience.

And if you need any more convincing...

Oh, and by the way: "Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, who wrote the music and lyrics for the film, have composed the music for Once the Musical. They won an Oscar for the song Falling Slowly." I got emotional again just listening to the soundtrack while writing this. Enjoy xox

Thursday, 20 March 2014


I'm sure everyone's aware by now of the #nomakeupselfie #cancerawareness trends on social media. I've had my rant about the attention seeking nature of this idea - if you want to post a selfie, go ahead, the internet is already full to bursting of them and one more can't hurt - just don't dress it up as raising awareness. Frankly, it's insulting to those who suffer with the disease. Make a donation, send a tweet and carry on with your day, in my opinion. 

However I've been won over by arguments that the trend has actually raised a huge amount of money and okay, I grudgingly admit that it does seem to be working. Which is obviously fantastic news and part of the reason I decided to write this piece. Cancer Reseach does already have a huge amount of focus on it and I'd like to distract your attention from all of the lovely foundation free photos all over your  twitter feeds and facebook walls just for five minutes. 

Alcohol selfies. My phone is full of them, my twitter and Instagram feature a fair few and I'm sure yours and your friends' do as well. Selfies with wine glasses, pints, cocktails and shots. Selfies getting drunker and happier and messier as you scroll through your camera roll. Memories of laughing at the pub, of dancing, clubbing, being silly, and having fun. Amazing times with people you want to remember forever and the odd one or two nights you wish everyone could conveniently forget. (For me, it's the New Years Eve I mixed vodka with rum, threw up in my sisters bedroom bin and spent the first hours of the year hugging a toilet... thank god there aren't photos of that.) 

However the majority of our drunk selfies are the opposite of this. Far from embarrassing they are awesome and funny; great reminders of all the stupid things we did and the faces we thought looked attractive after two or three (or five or six) drinks... We'll save regret for the hangovers. 

So I'm suggesting we do something for good with these selfies too. You may not know this unless you know me well, as it's not something I like to go on about too much. My dad passed away in 2009 due to alcohol related chronic illness. There were other complications of course as well, but alcoholism was his official diagnosis and alcoholic liver cirrhosis his cause of death, if you want to get medical. 

Drinking is fab and fun and a brilliant thing to do most of the time but like everything in life there are cases where it gets out of hand. And when it does it can be one of the hardest diseases to cure. This is partly due to the stigma of addiction not being treated as a disease and the relative decline in the level of medical care you then receive, partly because of the addictive quality of the substance that is slowly killing you, partly due to socio-economic reasons (it's more common among adults with higher levels of stress in their working lives, which TENDS to come in lower income brackets..) Anyway. 

Alcohol Concern is a fantastic organisation working in the UK to help combat this problem: both with teenage drinking and alcoholism which tends to be more of an adult condition. They're a charity that deserve recognition too. Alcohol is another factor that can lead to some cancers and in general, thinking about your alcohol intake is always a good thing to be doing. 

So my suggestion is, maybe if the #nomakeupselfie #cancerawareness campaign isn't your cup of tea (or intoxicant of choice..) to give your drunk selfies a chance to do more than be hilarious, hangover inducing and humiliating pixels, stored on your phone or laptop and bring them out to share with the world of the internet while raising awareness of alcoholism. If you can, no pressure, why not make a donation to Alcohol Concern, Cancer Reseach UK or any other charity you'd prefer? Studies have shown that alcohol directly contributes to 1 in 30 of all cancer deaths worldwide and causes up to 1,400 itself annually. You never know how much difference your £1 could make to someone's life xoxo 

Sunday, 9 February 2014

"Welcome to the Dallas Buyer's Club."

"Let me give y'all a little news flash. There ain't nothin' out there can kill fuckin' Ron Woodroof in 30 days."

Yesterday, seeing as I've made it a mission in my life to watch all of the Oscars Best Picture nominees before the awards show, I went to see Dallas Buyer's Club. I came out of the movie feeling emotional, conflicted, kind of angry and also with this peaceful sense that I'd just had a bucketful of incredible life lessons thrown at me.

"I swear it, Ray, God sure was dressin' the wrong doll when he blessed you with a set of balls."

Usually it take me a while to feel I want to write about a book, an experience or a movie. Not this time. I was composing sentences of this post in my head as I walked out of the cinema, scribbling notes on my phone as I raced home and grabbing my laptop as soon as I got through the front door.

"I've been looking for you, lone star."

The story of Ron Woodroof, played by Matthew McConaughey, follows a homophobic Texan cowboy through his diagnosis with HIV, his denial and anger, his fight with the state and the government's medical authorities over non approved but life saving drugs, his friendships, loves and losses and his complex path to increasing acceptance and tolerance of difference.

"Oh, I'm the drug dealer? No, you're the fuckin' drug dealer. I mean, goddamn, people are dyin'. And y'all are up there afraid that we're gonna find an alternative without you."

It deals with the "othering" and cruel, thoughtless rejections he experiences from people he thought were his friends. It discusses the pointlessness and corruption - or maybe just simple incompetence - of the federal response to the AIDS crisis. It handles all of the sudden messiness of an illness that seems to spring out of nowhere and the horror of fighting something so insidious all the while with the society you live in blaming and passing judgement on you for your perceived "wrongdoings;" with no one on your team, no one in your corner.

Rayon: "This guy says that the Florida Buyers Club is cheaper."
Ron: "Well then, tell him to go back to the FUCKIN' SUNSHINE STATE!"

It's no spoiler to the film to state that Ron does eventually pass away - because while HIV does not constitute a death sentence (although being born of course does...) it does bring your unavoidable and final end that bit closer.

"A little tequila, sunshine and tacos never hurt anybody."

Essentially, in my opinion, death is one of the least fucked-up elements of the condition of being human. All I or anyone else can promise you that is completely and inescapably true, is the fact that one day you will cease to be alive, just like everyone else who has ever taken a breath on this earth.

"Would you stop starin' at her tits, Rayon, you're startin' to look normal."

This truth should, rationally, be followed by the acceptance of its inevitability. But humans are scared by death. We spend our lives running from it, grieving it, crying over it and yet we are still somehow still surprised when it catches up with us or those we love.

"That shit is purer than a preacher daughter's pussy, right there."

I have more familiarity than I would like with death. I don't claim to know very much about the HIV virus or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) but I have seen several of my family members lose their battles with cancer, with liver disease and organ failure and simply with old age. I've held their hands while they lay in hospital or hospice beds and I think this qualifies me enough to say that the film's depiction of these realities was accurate and moving.

"You know what? You don't deserve my money, you homophobic asshole."

I know what dying people look like: the way their muscles shrink and their yellowing skin shrivels, hanging from skinny limbs. I know the smells and sounds of hospitals: antibacterial hand soaps, the harsh stench of medicines, steadily sloshing drips and the glugging churn and whir of dialysis systems. I've seen their tired, reddening eyes grow a little more scared with each slow, painful day until the blissful relief of unconsciousness. And while it was sad to see these facts reflected back from a cinema screen, it's also a relief to remember how normal, how everyday and unremarkable even, it all is.

"Mr Woodroof, I'm afraid that you're nothing more than a common drug dealer..."

However, watching this film also reminded me of how much the benefits are worth the effort of being aware and careful of what you put into your body. You shouldn't be blindly trusting of what anyone else tells you about something as personal as your own health, your own existence, your own death, in fact.  Not doctors, not governments - as no one knows better what is best for you and what your own unique and individual cells and tissues need than you yourself do. Having independence over what you allow to go into your system completely affects your power to control how you feel and how well or sick you are.

"I like your style, doc."

I loved so much about Dallas Buyer's Club. I loved the script and the moments when I laughed, the scenes that made me cry, the actors - including Jared Leto and Jennifer Garner - being amazing and vulnerable and real at the same time as playing characters so flawed and deep and unconventional. I loved how graceful and kind they were to one another; how there was warmth and humour, love and family even in the middle of terrible pain and addiction and the random unfairness of disease.

"Congratulations... fuck off and go back to your bed."

Basically, what I'm trying to say, is that you should definitely not let my ramblings about death put you off and that you really, really, really need to see this film.


Monday, 20 January 2014

Saving Mr Banks ...

It's hard to know what to say - what to start with - when trying to describe this film. I could tell you that you definitely need to see it; that you will laugh, cry and want to shout at the screen; that by the end, whatever your feelings on Disney, you will love and adore the characters and hope that Emma Thompson writes all future scripts for all movies. "Saving Mr Banks," as well as being the story of how the much loved children's book "Mary Poppins" was made into an equally - if not more so - loved Disney film, is about a (now grown up) little girl and her relationship with her father. It is about how your past haunts you into adulthood, and if you aren't careful and willing to let it go, all through your life. It is about love and loss, about watching your parents screw up their lives and, by extension yours. 

I have to confess I didn't cry while watching it. I didn't cry as two small girls watched their father drink himself closer and closer to death and then eventually, gently even, slip over the edge. I didn't cry as the oldest daughter saved her unstable mother from a suicide attempt. I didn't cry as P. L. Travers, now a fully grown-up woman and a successful writer, crumpled into tears watching her childhood brought to life in a magical, moving film that somehow made all of that pain as close as it would ever be to alright. In fact the closest to tears I got was as she hugged a Mickey Mouse cuddly toy all alone in L. A. and realised how just how very lonely she was.

Trust me, you need to watch this film. If you love the story of the nanny who blew in with the east wind, carrying a magic carpet bag; providing the spoonfuls of sugar needed to help the life lessons go down, then you will enjoy seeing a whole new element to her creation brought to life. If you are yet to be won over by the singing and the dancing, the mystery and adventures - the dancing penguins and the flying kites in London skies, the suffragettes, the chimney sweeps and the echoing cathedral with it's swooping birds - prepare to have your opinions changed. Emma Thompson is totally magical and has written a movie that will sweep the most hardened Disney haters off their feet. Tom Hanks is ideal as Walt Disney - the storyteller who makes dreams come true and characters dance off the page and into imaginations all over the world.
The songs that make "Mary Poppins" so wonderful are all here. From Chim-Chiminey to Supercallifragilistic to Feed the Birds (sobs) and Fly A Kite, you can easily spend the whole film singing along and will come away feeling oddly reminded of your childhood, however distant it seems day to day. Personally, among others such as Annie and The Sound of Music, Mulan, Peter Pan and Pocohontas, "Mary Poppins" was one of the films I watched with my sister about 743682 times when we were little. It's really rare to see something that perfectly appreciates what's so wonderful about the original, but adds to it beautifully, expanding on the themes you were only partially aware of, when watching curled up on the sofa, having begged to stay up past bedtime to finish the ending. It allows you to love it again in a whole new way; seeing it with fresh, grown-up - or at least closer to it - eyes. 
And finally, no. She didn't come to save the children. She never did. Excuse me while I go and cry over how perfect "Saving Mr Banks" is, re-watch "Mary Poppins" and spend the next three weeks raving about it to everyone I know.


Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Laughing through your tears...

There's this story I have from when I was little - the kind of age when you wear flowery dresses over jeans and princess welly boots without even thinking about it; the age when best friends are forever and ever; the age when boys are smelly, the tooth fairy really was real and school involved colouring in as actual lessons - the kind of age, essentially, before life has any consequences whatsoever. I must have been five or six - and I clearly remember this bit even now - I was lying upside down on the sofa, probably watching CBeebies (who remembers that?!) as the phone rang. One of my two bestest best friends had been hit by a car. I remember my mum telling me she had been knocked over so hard she flew feet into the air. I remember she had broken more bones that I knew the names for. I remember it was quite unlikely she might get to carry on being alive.

She did, luckily, and get to live on and finish off being ages six and seven and eight and grow up happily ever after (as far as I know - sadly we lost touch when she moved away.) But having that happen to your child, to your big sister - and even to your best friend - is something hard to deal with, especially at age six, when life has never been quite this serious before. She should have been giggling in the playground and chasing her constantly escaping pet rabbits round her back garden. She shouldn't have been in an ambulance with flashing lights and having paramedics tell her mum that if she didn't survive the journey to hospital, she might not get her daughter back. She - if you want to get really picky - definitely shouldn't have run out into the road. The one road in our town where people drive as if they think they're on a motorway. But you don't know these things, not when you're six.

I made her a get well soon card - as soon as we knew this was definitely going to be an option - wrote xoxoxox inside in smudgy felt tip pens, coloured in the outside, and as a last thought, added a message in messy, primary-school, joined-up handwriting. Something along the lines of.... feel better soon, love from Jessica. Oh and P.S. This chocolate is for you but if you don't feel like eating it you can always give it back to me at school. Innocent, six-year old logic. My parents dropped it off at the hospital for me and her dad told them it was the first thing that had made them laugh since the accident.

This tiny, random memory colours so much of my attitude to life now I'm older. I'm just as bad as anyone else at using the phrase "let me know if there's anything I can do." We're all guilty of it, when a friend needs help, when someone is ill or has lost someone or even is just having a rough time. I should try harder not to say it though - I know first hand just how irritating this meaningless combination of words can be - even when meant with the best intentions, in cards saying "With Sympathy," with bunches of flowers that slowly die, from faces that just don't know what else to say.

Do something. Don't ask the sick person, or the family that have just lost someone "if there's anything they need." Of course they need something - they need their daughter out of the hospital, or their friend not to be dying or for the person they love to be alive and well. So do something, don't ask. Even if you just buy them some chocolate. Or make them a cake, everyone loves cake. And then you've done something and you don't have to say those meaningless words any more. Make people laugh, even when they're sad, Actually, especially when they're sad. Laugh through your tears and they dry a lot faster.



It's a truth (pretty much) universally acknowledged that the only time I ever want to sit down and write on this blog is when I should be revising/writing an essay/insert activity that I'm supposed to do to pass exams, leave sixth form and be allowed to live an adult existence. (Yes, that was a Jane Austen quote... sorry.)

It feels so strange that in just a few weeks I'll be 18 - and legally allowed to do basically anything - but still live in exactly the same way, going to lessons, arguing with my family, being stressed about UCAS. Life isn't going to change dramatically in any way at all, which doesn't help to explain why I'm dragging my heels so much right now.

Learning things - for some reason - feels entirely pointless. This is an incredibly bad time for this to happen. In September, I and everyone else currently aged 17/18 and wrestling with the annoyingness of the UCAS track and admissions offices, will supposedly be heading off to university. Towns all over the country will be filled up with new students, cars full of families dropping them off and driving away waving goodbye, anxious parents, brand new friends, duvet covers, posters on the walls of new rooms.
Nights out in cities seen with fresh eyes because the high street isn't the same one you've been wandering up and down since you were 14. Cooking meals and doing laundry feeling exciting for some bizarre reason - because you're doing it all by yourself. Lectures, independence, student loans, new experiences and homesickness (even if you won't admit it...) On one hand I wish it could all start next week, but on the other I am honestly, really, completely freaked out.

I should probably also stop dealing with the anticipation of this by refusing to be motivated to work. You can tell its a real bad mood when inspirational quotes aren't helping...