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Sunday, 7 December 2014

25 Things it Took Me 25 Years to Learn

As I write this, I am 24 years and 51 weeks old. Apart from it no longer being socially acceptable to count my age in actual weeks, this milestone also symbolises the point at which it is expected for one to have their shit together. Some of us are getting married or expecting our third child at age 25, while others (ahem) are still not entirely sure how supermarket shopping actually works. As somebody who is permanently dancing on the line between 'I've got a pension fund you know' and 'Yay, Frozen!' I feel I am adequately qualified* to share my insights into what I have learned in the past 24 years and 51 weeks.

1. You're never going to have enough money 

I make more in a month now than I had to live off for a whole term when I was a student, and I'm still skint. If you think about it too much, it can keep you up at night, so best not to worry too much and go for the Pinot rather than the Sauvignon next time and everything will be fine. 

2. The things that scare you can often be the best 

Some of the best things I've done so far have been the absolutely petrifying things; moving to a city where I knew no one (times two), telling a boy that I love him (paid off), cycling down Clapham Road (not for the feint-hearted) and signing up to trek to Machu Picchu (probably a bad decision, in hindsight). 

3. It gets better 

Not knowing when it's going to get better can be very difficult, but rest assured that it will. If nothing else, time is a great healer, so that shitty thing will become less shitty as time goes by. Conversely, the joy of being 25 is that there's still so much more exciting stuff to come, that will probably be better than the exiting stuff that's just been. 

Every year that I have been an 'adult' has gotten progressively better than the previous one; graduating from a confused mess of a student, to a student with some good friends, to a person with a degree, to a person with some sort of responsibility, to a person who is ever more comfortable in their own skin, to a person with an actual job, to a person with an excellent flat and flatmates, to a person with a lovely boyfriend is a pretty good upwards trajectory, year-on-year. 

4. Occasionally, it will get worse. But then it will get better again (see point 3.)

In-between being a person with a degree and being a person with a job there was a time when I was a person with not a lot really, but it got much, much better even though at the time I wasn't sure it ever would. 

5. Moisturising is really important

Dried-out, wrinkly skin is no joke, yo.

6. People are generally nice 

Treat them as such, and let them prove you wrong. 

7. Some people are the worst but that is their problem, not yours 

Mean people aren't just being mean to you, so don't take it to heart.

8. Stop shopping in Primark

You're a grown-up now, start dressing like a lady, damit. (It's still acceptable for fancy dress).

9. Get a signature scent 

Now is the time to commit. 

10. Good friends are the single biggest key to happiness in your entire life 

Be good to them, find time for the best ones and laugh a lot. If it all comes crashing down, these are the guys that are morally obliged to listen to you rant, and when the big things happen, these are the guys that will get in the Champagne. 

11. Holidays are the best use of money 

Miserable people just haven't been on enough holidays. 

12. It's totally ok to like Taylor Swift

This one's straight from the heart. The girl is an inspiration to us all. 

13. Be nice to people at work 

You're going to spend more time with them every week than any other human beings, might as well make it pleasant.  

14. Angry people aren't angry at you

Don't take it personally. 

15. Starting a book club might be the best thing you ever do

Read all of the books, some of them will change your life. There's also a chance that you'll meet some excellent people in the process. 

16. Being good at cooking goes a long way 

People love it when you cook for them.  

17. Weddings of friends are the best and the worst and everything in between 

All that buildup, mixed with everyone being dressed all fancy and all that Champagne makes for a heady mix of emotion.  

18. Sometimes, the thing you were looking for might have been right there all along 

Take a look around. People change, feelings change and circumstances change. Always be re-evaluating whey you thought you knew.  

19. It's totally fine to dance like a dick and no one cares

Straight up some of the happiest moments of my life have been when dancing like a dick, surrounded by people who don't mind being seen with you. 

20. The importance of good-quality make-up 

Invest in the good stuff, it's totally worth it. 

21. People like receiving personal correspondence  

Think how great it is when you scan your inbox contents and see your friend's name among the quarterly earnings forecasts and sales reports (are they things that workplace emails contain? I don't really know). Spread that inbox joy and we'll all come out the other side happier. 

22. There is no purer form of pleasure than laying in bed on a Sunday morning

Nothing beats that heavenly feeling of being able to get out of bed on your own terms.

23. Don't lie to yourself 

It doesn't help anyone and will probably waste a lot of your time.  

24. Dairy Milk is the best 

Don't waste your time on Galaxy.  

25. Getting angry and/or stressed is the least productive response you can have to something

Being angry isn't going to help you solve that problem any quicker, and no one likes a stress-head.

*nb. I am in no way qualified to give out life advice 

Monday, 3 November 2014

Guest Post: A Feminist Pro-Lifer, Say What?!

Foreword: The guest writer of this post is my best friend in the world. I have written about our friendship here, and I am fairly sure she is my soulmate. Through the many, many things that we agree on, there is one thing which we certainly do not, and that is which side of the pro-life/pro-choice debate we fall on. I am absolutely an advocate of choice, while she is unwaveringly pro-life, and this has caused some heated discussions, to say the least. Where our opinions and beliefs again converge is that we are both hardened feminists, so I thought that it would be interesting to get her to write about what it means to be a feminist pro-lifer. 

An unwanted pregnancy can be a terrifying experience, regardless of your circumstances. I’m 24, employed and married to the love of my life – a couple of months ago, this did not help my snotty-nosed-quite-inebriated-self come to terms with the fact that my period was a week late as I repeatedly sobbed into my husband’s shoulder “I don’t want a baby yet”. I understood his incredulous gaze a few weeks later when after said period had come and gone we saw a cute baby advert and I asked “when can we have a baby like that please?”

But, if I had been pregnant, I would still have had the baby - because that is what I believe the fetus is: a baby, a person, a human. And I can’t justify my adult desires overriding the right to life of another human being, regardless of its size, its current residence or level of independence.

For many women who discover they are unexpectedly pregnant, their reasons for not wanting a baby can be a lot more poignant: they wouldn’t be able to afford a baby, they would be a single mum, they wouldn’t have anywhere to live, they would be trapped in an abusive relationship, they would lose their job, their baby would be taken into care… the list goes on.

As a pro-lifer, who believes in the humanity of the unborn from the moment of conception, I believe we should be fighting to eliminate these reasons rather than promoting a “quick fix” solution, which ends an innocent life.

As a feminist pro-lifer, I believe we should be fighting to eliminate these reasons in the name of equality. We should be fighting for recognition that while a woman’s biology does not define her, it is an important aspect of her identity and not an inconvenience that can be treated as such by society. It is, in fact, an incredible science, and should be celebrated.

I wouldn’t want a baby right now because I haven’t lived my own life to its full quite yet. But every time I have sex, I’m fully aware that there is a possibility that I could get pregnant. The majority of heterosexual couples are also aware that no contraceptive method is 100% effective at preventing a pregnancy, but they still choose to have sex and who can blame them? Sex is fun.

But it’s not consequence-free, however much you want it to be. And it’s not the sole responsibility of women to “deal” with an unwanted result of those cosy cuddles. It seems that society teaches men that, actually, they can have consequence-free sex and if a woman does become pregnant then the chivalrous thing to do is to let her know that it’s all on her – it’s her choice. She can make the life-changing decision, and he’ll drive her to the clinic or her local GP depending on her choice.

We’ve been indoctrinated into believing that choosing between either continuing or ending a pregnancy is empowering. It is taking control. Or is it actually taking responsibility for men’s actions? For their ignorance of the potential outcome resulting from sex? I certainly don’t see it as an empowering choice, I see it as an awful choice. You either suck it up and have a baby that you most certainly weren’t planning on having and therefore change the rest of your life, or have to go through an undeniably unpleasant procedure which could have long-term repercussions on your mental well-being. So in fact it’s a “which is worse” decision, not a choice.

Why should women have to shoulder all of this? How did men scoop such a good deal? They have fabulous sex, they don’t wear a condom (the sinking feeling that they may have to vanishes as soon as they hear that you’ve kindly been dosing up on hormones, one-a-day, for the past six years) and now we’re pregnant it’s still all on us – our responsibility, our problem to solve. It doesn’t sound like a very equal society to me.
The promotion of abortion is disguised as being the liberating answer to women’s oppression but if I am expected to terminate my pregnancy in order to keep my job, keep my partner or keep my house then I am not being empowered, I am still being oppressed by the patriarchal society in which we live.
I am not a commodity, I am proud of my biology and I do not believe that ‘feminist pro-lifer’ is an oxymoron.

Sarah Delap

Monday, 7 April 2014

The Social Awkwardness Has To Stop

Modern city life is a hotbed of social awkwardness around every corner. Not a day goes by where I, or one of my equally socially inept friends, don’t experience something of at least a moderate level of social discomfort. Day-to-day, this can range from the casual ‘awkward door-run’ (when someone holds the door open for you and you’re then forced to run to said door to avoid the person having to wait too long for you) to the full-blown ‘work colleague starts crying and you’re morally obliged to express concern’ catastrophe. It is from this minefield of social awkwardness that we got to thinking that it would be good if there was some sort of training course that one could go on, where one is taught how to deal with a plethora of socially awkward situations. We took the liberty of making a mock-up course syllabus for the reference of anyone who might be interested in running such a course, in the interest of the good of the people.  The course would be divided up into handy modules in commuter, socialising, etiquette and office awks, tailored for the awkwardness level of the individual.

The course would be as follows:

Commuter Awkwardness

·         How to ensure fellow passenger is pregnant before offering them your seat. Pointers include: female, baby on board badge, huge bump, hand on back, evil glares

·        How to determine whether fellow passenger is elderly enough to offer seat. Pointers include: walking stick, Gandalf beard, complaints about hip, chatter about the olden days, evil glares

·       How to handle accidental hand-touch as a result of holding the same pole

·        How to elegantly barge on to train and subtly crush any commuters in front.

Socialising Awkwardness

·         How to navigate conversation after forgetting fellow person’s name/history/job/life/existence

·         How to fake reaction to ‘new’ information and disguise previous Facebook stalk

  •  Techniques for handling a situation in which one finds themselves to be disproportionately drunk for the amount of alcohol consumed 

·         How to recover from loudly insulting a fellow partygoer who appears to be standing within earshot

Etiquette Awkwardness

·         Correctly determining whether a person is going to go for the handshake, hug, cheek-kiss or fist pump upon being introduced to them and responding accordingly. Alternative options include: fist kiss, hand hug or pump shake

·         The correct point at which to laugh at a joke that one does not understand

·         Pretending to have in-depth knowledge and opinions on current affairs/politics/history/basic maths/trending things

Office Awkwardness

·          Small Talk: A Beginners’ Guide – for use in lifts, corridors, bathrooms and more

·         How to carefully inform fellow office inhabitants that the milk in the fridge is indeed not ‘there for everyone’

·          How to ditch colleague to avoid tube/bus stop/two hour walk home awks

Bonus Module (for the particularly posh socially inept)

Yacht Club Awkwardness

·         How to handle the sheer embarrassment of finding out one’s boat buddy owns a three-berth when one only owns a two-berth

      Disclaimer- I cannot in any way take full credit for this, my much more hilarious friend Selina did most of the funnies, I just happen to be the one who has a blog. We wrote this for a work project which never ran in the end, but we thought that the world needed to see it anyway. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

I Don't Know How To Be Cool

As a kid, coolness was a measurable phenomena; there was a certain set of criteria and depending whether and to what degree one met that criteria, they would be awarded a coolness score. This criteria could vary from school to school, context to context, but the fundamentals remained the same. In my teenage years, being cool meant owning and being able to effectively use hair straighteners, wearing school trousers which were the perfect amount of flared and tight (it was the early naughties), being allowed to watch certificate-18 films at sleepovers and having at least one story (with only a loose sense of truthfulness) which involved you being drunk. Bonus points were awarded for having a boyfriend who was also considered 'cool' (to be part of a 'cool' power couple was always the dream, sadly I only ever managed to attain some questionable conquests at best), having a particularly profound MSN screen name and living within close proximity of a bus stop. I liked those days, one knew where one stood (for me that was slightly outside of the full-blown 'on Wednesdays, we wear pink.' power clique, but I was happy) and the rules were clearly laid out.

Nowadays, no one appears to have written any sort of guidelines on how to be a cool semi-adult and thus the lines are blurred on what is actually cool anymore. Obviously I'm not saying that we should all live our lives by the same elaborately-disguised bullying that most of us endured at some point growing up, I am merely interested in the concept of what is cool. Personally I don't buy the self-righteous proclamation by some that they don't care what people think of them, as I think that many people still do care about the image that they project. Afterall, what is Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr or even Tinder if not just another way for people to show others how cool they are?

Society and the media has traditionally told us that thick-rimmed glasses, bow ties, satchels, paperbacks and social awkwardness are wholly uncool; while perky personalities, manicured nails, designer clothes and trust funds are what we all should be striving for. This, however, is not the case in real grown-up life. Anyone who has ever been on the internet or been outside (and if you're reading this, I'm assuming there's a good chance you've done both) will know that somehow now a pug wearing Ray-Bans is the coolest thing out there. Correct grammar, making your own clothes, photography, brewing and drinking tea are all now somehow cool. In my (obviously the height of cool) flat, we have at least six varieties of tea on-hand at any time, and I sleep under a lovingly knitted (by my beautiful and also very cool friend) blanket which is the coolest item that I own. Look to the mainstream media, and we are told that this is the height of uncool. Look to the internet, and people will be double-tapping that shit all over the place.

So, what's happened? Do we have the internet to thank because we all now have a voice and a platform from which to project it and thus overthrow the ideals of the mainstream media? Do we have the likes of Zooey Deschanel and Lena Dunham to thank for changing the traditional ideals of cool within the mainstream media? Have times just changed and the quirky/cool index has shifted? Or, is it that we've just all grown up now and learnt that actually we were all just pretending as teenagers and now we're finally all free to be who we really are?

"If I wanted to be ironic, I'd grow a mustache."

Weigh in in the comments below. xoxo

Friday, 19 April 2013

Some Days

Occasionally, you'll have one of those days where your eyes see everything in a soft focus and you can stare into space for an indeterminate amount of time with only a throbbing pain behind your left eye for company. Some days your worry and fury and constant discontented internal dialogue will take leave and you'll be left with a watery landscape of emptiness and indifference, just there, doing nothing.

On these days, you'll go to your bed in broad daylight and think of nothing and do nothing and for a moment, feel like your existence is nothing, just waiting to be something. All the energy spent hoping and longing and being ashamed suddenly seems wasted and you consider for a moment whether it would be so bad after all just to give up on all your dreams and spend your days instead like a misplaced housewife, making cakes laced with despair and unfulfillment.

These days are rare but when they come around they are accompanied with some bizarre relief to be able to escape from your mostly solitary company and just be. Just exist without moving forward or backward or anywhere apart from a series of moments strung together by hazy indifference.

And these are the days when you'll awaken from an absence from your own head and see that there is a fly in your tea. And that will be a perfect metaphor for your life.

This may sound like I've just been on a substance-induced trip, but my life isn't interesting enough for that.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

A Beginner's Guide to the Books of the Deep South

My favourite thing to read about is the American Deep South, preferably the Old South. I find the whole concept utterly fascinating and so starkly different to anything I have ever experienced. It is a place and era so entrenched in subtleties, customs, traditions and a rich culture that has weathered great change and has great pride, and contains some of the most fascinating people and stories. It has a very unique identity which lends itself to mystery, injustice and heartbreak yet also beauty, celebration and love. The books that have touched my soul most deeply are those that are set against the backdrop of this fascinating corner of the world, so treat this article as a beginner's guide to the best books of this sort that I have come across in my twenty three (roughly nine of which I've spent seeking out the best literary southern belles that bookshops have to offer) years on this earth.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Let's start with the obvious and work from there. To Kill A Mockingbird is the story of a young brother and sister and their would-be idyllic childhood in Southern Alabama, apart from their mother is dead and their father is the only lawyer in the deeply prejudiced and racist county who is willing to represent a black man who is standing trial for the rape of a white woman. Essentially this is the story of the children's struggle to learn right from wrong in a place and time that is deeply conflicted in its ideals. Their father wants his children to grow up understanding that there is not a fundamental difference in credibility between races, despite the efforts of some to make it seem like there is. This is a beautiful and poignant yet frank tale of life in the old Deep South as seen through the eyes of a little girl who is struggling to understand the complexities and conflict of the world in which she lives. In my very humble opinion this is something that every human being should read at least once in their life. Oh and it's set in the early '30s. 

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

This absolute diamond of a book has really risen to prominence over the last year-ish due to the film adaptation's release. The Help is a magnificent depiction of life as a maid in Mississippi in the '60s. Until reading this book I never realised the horrors that were still going on in The South as late as the '60s, and what life was really like for the women who worked their whole lives serving white families and bringing up their children. The characters are lovable and relatable and the story can be as sweet and humorous as it is brutal and honest. We see great victories which will go on to reshape history, along with the tiny defeats of the daily lives of the women who still have little choice but to be the maids of white families. The film is a good adaptation as it does the book justice and I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a story of friendship, empowerment and life in the Deep South as told by the help. 

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

A lesser-known feature of this list, but no less good. I actually found myself reading it as it came free with a magazine one summer when I was about 14. It is the story of 14-year old Lily in 1964 South Carolina who goes on a journey of self-discovery and empowerment which takes her, along with her maid, to a farm owned by four sisters as she escapes her abusive father. There is a slight underlying theme of Civil Rights, but this is mostly a story of growth, discovery, love and loss for both Lily and the sisters she finds herself amongst. It is a heartwarming and mystical story which follows Lily's coming of age in difficult circumstances. This is a perfect substitute for a mindless summer read that is as touching a thought-provoking as it is relatable and entertaining. 

The Color Purple by Alice Walker 

Another obvious choice but again a worthy contender. The Color Purple (I'll spell 'color' this way just this once) is heart-wrenching and bloody in nature and in the beginning I did wonder why I was putting myself through such a depressing experience but it is surprisingly enlightening. Reading this as a teenager, I struggled with the language to begin with as it is epistolary in the form of the protagonist's letters to God which are written in the true style of a poor, uneducated teenager of the 1930s, making it largely phonetic and employs a dialect that I was not familiar with. However, once I'd got over this I was completely engrossed. The book follows this girl's life and the horrific treatment she is subjected to in a world where is is neither safe nor fair to be a black girl and is completely powerless over her own life. The book follows her over many years and we see the growth, love, loss, empowerment and discovery of a character who we are rooting for from the very beginning and whose victories and emotions we feel that we are sharing by the end. A must-read if you don't mind a little gritty frankness in the violence and injustice that it depicts. 

The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

As far as I understand, I think that this book is actually the second part of a trilogy (preceded by Little Altars Everywhere and succeeded by Ya-Yas in Bloom) but this one is the one that really stands out to me. Everything that enthralls me about the Deep South is in this book and I could read it every day for the rest of my life. It gives us a snapshot of the deeply dysfunctional love that can be created by a society which has so many rules and expectations. We follow the story of four friends growing up in 1930s-40s Louisiana who are the daughters of rich plantation owners and are at the heart of Louisiana society, but are damaged products of their circumstances. The reader learns about their childhoods and the events that sculpted who they became, and then their struggles and experiences as they then become parents themselves. This is the book that fed my fascination with a moment in time in a place that seemed so exotic and thrilling to me. It is fundamentally a story of friendship and family and how intertwined those two things are, but also looks at mental health and how it is dealt with in a time and place in which such things were scarcely acknowledged. I truly urge you to read this book and tell me that it doesn't enthrall you one tiny bit. 

Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

The littlest-known item on this list, but definitely as worthy a contender. My dear friend Clare bought me this book after learning about my fascination with the Deep South, and boy did she do good. Set in the present day, this book tells the story of a girl who grew up in Alabama who has now escaped (as she puts it) to Chicago, after she vowed to never set foot in Alabama again, however the day has come that she must return. Through a series of flashbacks, we learn the intricacies of what this place-or rather the people in it- did to her for her to vow to never return. It is clever and compelling and I thoroughly enjoyed every second of this not-everything-is-as-it-seems coming-of-age story. 

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

There's a reason that 'Gone with the wind fabulous' is an actual recognised saying, because anything as fabulous as Gone With The Wind must be very fabulous indeed. I can't even really begin to put in my humble words why you should take the time to read this, but I will try. It is an epic tale of one Southern Belle's experience of the American Civil War. We see the metamorphosis from insufferable spoiled brat to strong independent businesswoman of Scarlett O'Hara as she must do whatever it takes to survive the destruction that is going on around her. She sees her beloved childhood home of Tara begin to crumble under the drastic change that Georgia-and the whole of the south- is experiencing and it is down to Scarlett to lead the way and keep it going. We live through her various marriages- though there is one man who will always have her heart but will always be out of reach- and begin to understand the intricacies of southern life and the change that happens in Scarlett's lifetime. Read it, it might just change your life. Or at least entertain you for a few hours. 

So if you are intrigued by the deep south and want an entertaining snapshot of what life as a southerner is like, then give this lot a try. You can learn about the civil rights movement, southern hospitality, love, loss, power, feminism, bravery, geography, history, friendship, childhood, coming of age, agriculture, climate and fashion. Most people can find something to relate to.

I understand that I have missed a few of the obvious here and this is simply because I haven't read them yet. I've got A Streetcar Named Desire (which I can't wait to get started on, I'm obsessed with New Orleans) and Huckleberry Finn lined up on my bookshelf waiting for me to get around to, and if you have any other recommendations, I'd love to hear them. 

What are your favourites? Do you find the Deep South as fascinating as I do?





Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Kerry Washington- Queen of Everything

This weekend I finally got to see Django Unchained (best film EVER btw, I could talk all day about how incredible it is) and those of you that know me will know that 90% of my film selection process is based on who the female lead actress is. Pretentious film-douches will cringe at this statement but sue me, I have a great respect for a few different actresses and like to make a habit of seeing those actresses in as many things as possible. A lot of girls I know will make a habit of seeing particular male actors in everything that they do, so I'm just the same really apart from I'm more of an admirer of the ladies. I just really enjoy well-written, well-acted and yes, pretty female characters and often find them not only relatable, but inspiring, thought-provoking or just plain funny.

One lady who is very much on my radar at the moment is a certain Kerry Washington. I first came across her in a little show called Scandal which premiered last year and is currently on its second season, in which Washington is the lead as 'crisis manager' Olivia Pope of Olivia Pope & Associates. She is the the suavest (is that a word?), most together, strong and powerful woman in Washington DC, dealing with the personal lives of those in the White House and DC's most high-profile characters. Washington's character in this role has the world at her fingertips and immeasurable power and influence over some of the US's most powerful people. She is cool and distant and doesn't so much as flinch at any scandal which comes her way.

Now imagine the absolute polar opposite circumstances to those that I just described and that is Washington's character in Django Unchained. A slave (the film is pre-civil war) who was married to the film's titular Django (Jamie Foxx) who suffers brutal treatment at the hands of her owners and is sold and separated from her husband, Washington's full acting range becomes apparent.

 Her ability to one day make us believe that she is capable of rigging the US election and the next show us how it feels to be helpless at the hands of a plantation owner in the antebellum era is astonishing. The commitment and determination that she brings to these roles really demonstrate not only her unparalleled acting ability but also her strength and poise as a person. She is fiercely dedicated to equal rights and was an active party in helping to get Obama re-elected, as well as absolutely downright bloody gorgeous, which means that this girl is only going to go from strength to strength.   

From what we've seen so far, I think the lil' troublemaker (Django reference) is here to stay.