How to dive heart-first into life’s new chapters

How do you handle entering a new chapter in life when you are so acutely aware of it being a ‘new chapter’? Whether you’re starting University, a new job or a new lifestyle, sometimes when you know you’re entering a new era it can alter how you approach it.

A lot of my life seems to be divided up in the post-production of my memories – sorted and compartmentalised into different ‘eras’ or ‘chapters’ upon reflection. Very rarely have there been times when I’ve known at the time that I was entering a new era, besides perhaps starting secondary school and college. However, even then I kept similar friends and every evening I came home to the same house with the same family so this shifting between ‘eras’ was seamless and mostly unnoticeable.

Talking to a friend last week, we were looking at my old diaries (laughing mostly at my use of Taylor Swift lyrics to describe the great heartache and distress of being an 11 year old) and what surprised me is how clear cut they all are – each representing a different ‘chapter’ of my life despite some of the notebooks being half empty, beginning/ending at random points and some only kept for a month, others for a year.

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To my friend it looked like a mess of disorganised half filled notebooks but to me, they clearly represent different ‘eras’ of my life defined by certain emotions, people and points in time. The tone of each one is so different (as is noticeable even from the outside, perhaps best demonstrated by the emo phase notebook of 2015. Yes it does have the words “don’t read or Satan will rise and devour your soul” written next to the spine, thank you for noticing) and, although I was just writing for writing’s sake, when looking back I can see clear themes in each one that categorise each ‘era’ for me even if I didn’t know what those were at the time.

But here I am, stepping into what will undoubtedly be a new chapter so much more significant a change than anything I’ve ever experienced. For perhaps the first time, I am hyper aware that everything is about to change and I’m honestly not sure how to approach it. I’m about to move out, live with people who are complete strangers, study something new in a new city with an entirely new lifestyle. I am very aware that this whole thing just sounds like me #goingthroughit but with everyone else around me getting ready for University, work or just existing for the first time outside of school walls I know that we’re all equally clueless. The thing that makes it scary isn’t the wealth of opportunity waiting in the great beyond, it’s the things that are getting left behind. Like on some sort of huge supermarket checkout belt we’re being propelled forwards whether we like it or not, into adulthood and a proper life beyond anything we’ve experienced. But it’s not like we’re leaving anything behind because the space in which we existed before has since ceased to exist. My sister goes into my old school every day looking up to new students taking their A-Levels, attending our clubs and being the oldest around – that era now belongs to them, there is no space left for us. Yet for a lot of people, our next era hasn’t yet begun – I feel like time has swept me off its radar and I’m yet to be claimed by what’s coming next. It’s the physical representation of what a 4 hour airport layover fees like: the plane that got me here has left but the one taking me away hasn’t arrived yet so for now all I can do is wait.

But maybe it’s just aging that has allowed me to be so hyper-aware of what is changing around me. I have been lucky enough to have had experiences good and bad this year that, even as they happened, I knew would impact me in a big way. That’s an odd thing, knowing something is shaping you as a person when you’re still up to your ankles in the experience itself. That feeling of really, genuinely growing up is so strange but also something I know will permeate through the next few months. There is a platter of new experiences waiting in front of me that will probably never come in such quick succession at a time of such emotional importance ever again.

So here we are, teetering on the edge of the rest of our lives. In a state of limbo for the next few weeks with nothing much to do except prepare for what is to come. Although it might feel like a waste of time, enjoy it. Cherish this bubble of time as you sit in No-Man’s land for a while and take a deep breath before you walk towards what’s coming. Because it is coming. The wonderful and the difficult and the unexpected is all right around the corner and you’re so lucky that, for maybe the first time in your life, you’re hyperaware of the importance of this next chapter. You can buy all the new kitchenware or highlighters you want but honestly I don’t feel like there’s any way to approach this new era other than headfirst.

But should this awareness alter how you go about the next few months? That’s up to you. You can treat it all as a blur, letting the experiences and emotions fly at you to be analysed and reviewed later on just like me reading my old diaries and making more sense of it all in retrospect than I could ever have made at the time. Or you can try and consider what you would like to define this next era for you. Do you want it to be a time of growth? Relaxation? Excitement? You can’t control what it will be, but in the coming months try to take a moment every now and then to ask yourself what has been ‘defining’ this era for you so far and whether that’s what you want to remember it as. If you don’t like what you find then you still have the power to change the ‘tone’ of the chapter no matter how many pages in you are. This self-awareness is a tool to help you check in with yourself – whatever comes next will probably shape you in an important way and, although you can’t control how, you can make yourself a little more open minded, a little more self-forgiving and a little more grateful for all that is about to come your way.

A Month of Europe’s Finest Catcalls

Alternatively titled: Jerks exist in every country – who knew, right?

[This article contains references to street harassment]

europe

Like most people in 2019, I’m well aware that catcalling and street harassment is a major problem. However, I’ve been lucky enough to grow up somewhere where it didn’t affect me all that much. I live in what most people would consider the ‘middle of nowhere’, with no bus stops and lots of fields. It’s easy to have almost no street harassment when the streets have more horses and sheep than people.

So, having spent the last month travelling from city to city in Europe, I was very much exposed to the reality of living in busy areas and the dangers that can come from this. My travel friend and I had obviously had our fair share of catcalls and creeps but nothing could have prepared me for what we experienced in every single city we visited.

Amsterdam, stop one. Waiting for the night tram in a (very crowded, public) square at 3am, a drunk man tried to talk to us. He looked about 10 years older and, after we weren’t responding to his lingering gazes and slurred ‘hey beautiful ladies’, he tried to sit next to us on the cramped bus stop seat. When we chose to stand rather than sit and answer his enquiries about where we were going, he wasn’t very happy. His friends pulled him away and seemed to laugh it off – I’m sure this man would never have hurt us but that’s not the point. The unspoken awareness between my friend and I that telling him the place we were staying was an absolute, bold and capitalised NO speaks volumes. Moreover, the feeling of dread and anxiety that came from realising he would be on the same night tram as us is something really quite unexplainable to any men who don’t know what it is like to be taught to fear an entire gender. It was crowded, well-lit and he sat far away from us, yet I still couldn’t shake the discomfort and fear that something would happen. That’s the reality of travelling when female (or, some might argue, existing when female).

When we arrived in Prague, my friend was in the train station toilet while I waited outside (in a public area) holding both our bags. A man stopped by me, knelt down and introduced himself. I may have been paranoid and exhausted after a five hour train journey but I could sense his eyes flickering over the large backpacks as I tightened my grip on them for fear he would take them. He stayed for a while, asking my name, where I was from and if I would shake his hand – all of which I reluctantly shared with him as the countless horror stories of angry rejected men ran through my mind. He never said anything inappropriate but I was alone, he was knelt uncomfortably close to me and I was trying to hold onto two backpacks both heavier than I was. After pretending after a while that I just couldn’t understand his thick accent when he asked for a sip of my water, he left. And I cried. Which sounds utterly bizarre, but I was convinced he would either take my bags or try to hurt me – neither of which I would have much power to stop. The thing is, even men who mean no harm should be aware of the way their actions can be interpreted and understand that it’s reflex for women to assume the worst. Because so many times the worst is a reality.

Again in Prague, a drunk man slapped my butt while I waited outside the toilets and I later saw him do the same to multiple other women. In Poland, I was wearing a dress, walking at 11am in broad daylight and was physically grabbed around the waist by a drunk middle aged man who lent into me and almost pushed me towards the wall. What’s interesting is that, even now, I don’t think there was much malice in these men. As I said, both were drunk enough that I could easily push them away and it wasn’t part of an aggressive move for power, it was just that they both genuinely felt entitled to touch me. And that’s not malice, that’s ignorance and idiocy and years of society telling them that it didn’t really matter, was just a ‘bit of fun’ and that women are purely there for their drunken pleasure. Then again, the ‘drunkenness’ of these men is never an excuse: how many women do you know that always become sexual predators when they’re drunk? A drunken decision is too-enthusiastic dancing, a messy text to your ex or maybe even a bad tattoo. Harassing another person is a not.

It was swelteringly hot in Budapest so my friend and I were both wearing shorts as we walked around the streets near our hostel at 4pm. The fact that I feel the need to explain what we were wearing is slightly ridiculous too – shorts shouldn’t invite harassment any more than a winter coat. Within ten minutes, we were met with whistles, shouts and a whole range of animalistic noises (at one point a man genuinely growled). One man lost all creativity and just repeated the word ‘sexy sexy sexy sexy’ again and again as his gaze followed us all the way along the street until we were out of earshot. It was genuinely so constant and bizarre that we both just laughed. But, had it been the evening, had I been alone or had I been further from the hostel, nothing about it would have been funny.

Paris, however, definitely delivered the worst of the street-harassment-buffet we’d been sampling. We stayed in a very nice, safe hostel in what we didn’t realise was a not-so-nice, not-so-safe area of Paris. A 1am trip to take touristy pictures of the Moulin Rouge (which was 5 minutes from our hostel) may not have been a good idea in hindsight when we considered the other kinds of not-so-classy places that the Moulin Rouge was surrounded by. Long story short, the sort of people that hang around places labelled ‘SEX’, ‘GIRLS!’ or ‘P*SSY’ on a Monday night do not lack any confidence whatsoever when it comes to catcalls. At this point there were four of us and at the time I remember comparing the pavement to a creepy catwalk with the worst possible audience gawking from either side.

What was undoubtedly the worst part of the trip came a day before we went home. Sitting in a beautiful Parisian park with three friends, lounging on chairs in a shaded area, we were surrounded by all sorts of people and families. Yet this publicity didn’t stop one man’s quest to be named the Creepiest Pervert of The Trip (a highly competitive award let me tell you). He was sat adjacent to our group, around 3 metres away, just staring. He looked about 30, wore sunglasses and proceeded to (I’m sorry there is no delicate way to say this) touch himself while watching us talk, fully (and I mean FULLY) exposed to the world around him. With my back to him, I only realised when one friend wrote the message ‘we have to leave NOW’ furiously in her notes app and showed it around before we all quickly got up and left (much to the man’s disappointment I’m sure). The saddest thing is, we were so confused and shocked that we didn’t manage to tell anyone around us or get a good enough look at his face to report him. The sadder thing is that it probably doesn’t matter – he wouldn’t have got caught and certainly not punished enough for it.

But the thing is, none of these experiences are particularly shocking or new. With 90% of women in the UK saying they have experienced street harassment, it’s likely that almost every woman reading this has been shouted at, followed or touched without their consent. It would also be wrong to say that this never happens the other way around: many men have been verbally or physically harassed by women, which is an issue within itself. However, the sense of power imbalance and universal fear shared by women walking alone that makes every single man seem like a threat, is an issue that needs to be addressed. Each of the countries I visited are all so different from one another, all so beautiful and wonderful yet never exempt from the common factor that is creepy men.

But do not lose hope! Talking about these experiences and how common they are is so important, particularly when it makes male friends aware of just how constantly women have to have their guard up. This awareness and understanding is what can perhaps help people spot inappropriate behaviours in their friends, themselves and even just make them look out for their non-male friends a little more. If you’re from the UK and want to make street harassment illegal, sign this petition (https://www.change.org/p/make-street-harassment-illegal-in-the-uk). If you’re not, just search up your country on change.org and sign one that will help your community. Remember, there may be a whole buffet of creeps in every country but there is also an entire platter of incredible sights to be seen and memories to be made – if you’re safe and look after your friends, there should be nothing stopping you from having the best time of your life. Minus the creeps, most people you meet will be absolutely lovely, most will look out for you and almost everyone will be there to help you if you just reach out and ask.

If anyone has any questions, is worried about or wants to discuss any of the things mentioned here in a private, non-judgemental space then feel free to message me (:

Lady Bird: A new era for female-led cinema in Hollywood

Greta Gerwig’s beautiful tale shows an honest mother-daughter relationship and avoids the overused clichés of many coming-of-age films

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Is Hollywood finally opening its doors to female voices? Or is it just trying something new, like a teenage girl navigating high school in early 2000s California? Lady Bird hints at a new dawn for women directors who could provide the fresh female perspective we’ve all been waiting for.

In her solo-directorial debut, Greta Gerwig tells the story of Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson’s tempestuous and unpredictable relationship with her mother (three time Emmy Award winner Laurie Metcalf) as they attempt to navigate the changing world around them. “Lady Bird” explores her relationships with religion, alcohol, academia and most importantly, her family. With a strict mother, passive father and burn-out brother, the McPhersons reflect the most raw parts of being a family as they struggle financially and try to find where they all fit within their household dynamic. Complete with an awkward cowboy-themed high school dance (in which dance partners must ‘leave six inches for the holy spirit’) and a pretentious-indie-boy-heartthrob (captured perfectly by Timotheé Chalamet’s character Kyle), the story has all the hallmarks of a teenage film with none of the clichés. It resonates not only with young people, but with any nostalgic parents watching their children enter the choppy waters of early adulthood.

Saoirse Ronan (“Lady Bird”) beautifully displays the familiar coming-of-age experience, yet her acting skill suggests a level of cinematic wisdom far beyond her years. This is first and foremost a film about women but one that manages to capture the poignant moments of growing up that are universal to anyone who has ever felt lost, unsure and excited at the same time. Like “Lady Bird”, we dive heart first into all the first time experiences the film allows us to relive: nervously anticipating first kisses, leaving home for the first time, and experiencing first time heartbreak; all explored through the honest gaze of its young female director.

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(Above: Gerwig directing Chalamet and Ronan during the coffee shop scene)

Hollywood has looked at mother-daughter relationships before, with big names (such as Meryl Streep in 2008’s Mamma Mia! or Lindsey Lohan in 2003’s Freaky Friday) daring to shed the limelight onto female experiences. However, this film strikes a balance between mothers and daughters like never before, capturing both sides of every situation. Gerwig allows us to understand the challenges of growing up feeling misunderstood, the frustrating struggles of raising a teenager and the emotional points at which these two experiences collide in a clash of misunderstanding. Laurie Metcalf and Saoirse Ronan teach us that communication must go both ways but very rarely does. Each character is flawed yet genuine, not giving us the mother or daughter we wish we’d had but instead laying out an honest portrait of the beautiful and messy moments that make up a real family.

Both leading women received Oscar nominations for their performance, as well as 35-year-old Gerwig being in the running for ‘Best Achievement in Directing’ and the film being nominated for ‘Best Motion Picture of the Year’. Other awards include three BAFTA nominations and two Golden Globe wins – showing high critical acclaim for a Hollywood film that holds the same creativity and originality as one would expect from a smaller, independent production.

Strides towards a more inclusive film industry have been made in recent years, with the #MeToo movement and equal pay debates bringing into question the way women are treated in Hollywood and how these attitudes reflect the female stories that get told. Gerwig is one of only five women to ever be nominated for an Oscar in Directing (since the awards began in 1929) and her heartfelt investment in this film makes it indisputably well deserved. She expressed her ‘deep need to take care of [her] characters’ and this painstaking attention to each of her layered, complex women comes across like no mother-daughter film has done before.

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There is still a long way to go when it comes to female-driven films in Hollywood but ‘Lady Bird’ takes a step forward for women who are young or old, mothers or daughters, excited by or frustrated with life. It doesn’t just reflect our current society, but all the universal stories of womanhood that Hollywood has previously failed to depict. Lady Bird is both refreshingly new and wonderfully grounded in the past – in it we may be witnessing the start of something beautiful.

[This article was written using Ellen Jones’ review of ‘Call me By Your Name’ as a style model, as part of the Original Writing Coursework for English Language A-Level].

Jones, E, 2018. Why Call Me By Your Name should win the 2018 best picture Oscar. The Guardian, 20 February 2018. Culture.

 

What do young Europeans really think about Britain?

Europe Flag | Europe Blog

In 2019 you can ask anyone in Britain ‘what do you think about Europe?’ and they will probably have an opinionated answer. But, in these Brexit-riddled times, how often do we ask ourselves: ‘what does Europe think of us?’.

Using connections made through European Youth Parliament and foreign exchange trips, I have (with the help of some friends) contacted young people from all over Europe and compiled a list of answers to the question ‘what do you think about Britain?’. Some participants have chosen to answer from a political perspective, others using their personal opinions. All quotes are completely verbatim from individual perspectives and in no way represent the country as a whole.

Marek Příplata, 17, Czech Republic

“Right now Britain seems kind of indecisive, because British citizens voted for Brexit, but making a deal is really difficult when British government seems like it doesn’t know what they want in that deal. But showing EU that being a member is not crucial for countries is a great example.”

Prezemek Ornicz, 17, Poland (Bielsko-Biała)

“I don’t think anybody from my close environment has ever been to the UK so frankly speaking we perceive it mainly as a tourist destination. You know, “Oh, I really wanna visit Britain sometime”, “God I wish I could afford that”, “London must be amazing” – that kind of stuff. However, if you’re partaking in some sort of English contest, you’re pretty much forced to study its culture (the royal family tree etc.). As regards Brexit, it only ever comes up if we talk universities and studies in England because nobody knows how it’s gonna be after a year or two.  As for other stuff, British food has a terrible reputation here in Poland (no worries though, ours is no better haha). We obviously adore your music (Florence and the Machine are the greatest of all time) and language (still, Polish > English). I think it’s kind of hard to touch on anything related to the British mindset or lifestyle because insofar as this goes, [Poland and Britain] are kinda like fire and water.”

Zuza Łężna, 17, Poland (Wroclaw)

“If I’m honest, I’ve always aimed to live in the UK – I’ve been there 6 times as of now, and it can be so beautiful! The people are so kind (I’ve had conversations with shopkeepers about Harry Potter), the countryside is genuinely beautiful and so full of history, and the cities have the spirit of history, yet are so open minded and make you feel very free. Obviously, I’m aware it’s far from perfect, but it has a spirit I fell in love with from the first time I went there.”

Eneko Mateos Madinabeitia, 18, Spain

“From what I’ve seen, Britain is a nice place and people I know from Britain, especially young people, are cool, but I’ve also noticed certain pride of being from the UK (from elderly people mostly), maybe reminiscent of the old power Britain held. Nevertheless it’s a lovely place with lovely people.”

Hannah Hamborg, 18, Germany

“I would say that the overall perception is quite stereotyped. Most people here love British culture like the royals for example and Harry Potter of course. There are also quite a lot of jokes about England and how everyone is really polite compared to Germany. And many refer to British traditions that seem a bit weird to us. And people talk a lot about Britain, especially since Brexit. It seems like it’s the main topic of news every single day and most are quite annoyed about how uncertain everything is. And of course there are also people who think of Britain quite negatively, saying all British people are strange, but that is a really small minority. I think that most people here really like Britain, are really interested in it and quite sad about Brexit.”

Jure Sušnik, 19, Slovenia

“Having lived here for 6 months I think it’s a lovely place. The people are nice and it’s a picturesque country. Ultimately there is a lot of good going on. Except for the weather. The weather is terrible.”

Daniel Røvik, 20, Norway

“My idea of Britain is a bit composed. I really like going there, and enjoy Brits as people! You are doing a lot of things right, and it is lovely to go there for a holiday. On the other hand I find the country a bit funny/weird as you guys seem to don’t adapt to the rest of the world on some points such as driving on the left hand side and your sockets hahaha!”

Nadège Widmer, 20, Switzerland

“I believe that the current state of Britain is quite uncertain and unstable which makes it complicated for its citizens. The Brexit was chosen, however, its implementation has definitely been subject of various changes. Also, I feel Britain is perfectly caught between two stools and fears a no-deal. It is hard to see, from an outsider’s eye, what exactly the British population really thinks and we can sense diverse opinions about how should the Brexit actually unfold. All in all, it is hard to imagine how Britain could survive (no economic decline) without a deal with the EU.”

It seems that young Europeans really do love Britain (even if it is a very stereotyped Harry-Potter-royal-family version). Our plug sockets might be ‘wrong’ and our food might have a ‘terrible reputation’ but there seems to be a general sense of adoration for Britain, particularly a love for a very idealised version of London. However, amid this endless flattery we should pay attention to the flaws that some Europeans see: the ‘pride from the old power Britain held’. Ideas of our political authority have always existed but, in the last few years, the idea that Britain is (or should be) the epicentre of European power seems to be a common one. We must remember that we are one cog in the larger machine of Europe, even if/when we eventually leave the EU. The political decisions of our country are not stopping you from learning about all the rich and interesting European cultures that are out there. Who knows, you might connect with some open-minded young people. And let’s face it, they’re just as confused about Brexit as we are.

 

 

‘Gone With The Wind’ Review

Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind | By Margaret Mitchell | Pan Macmillan ...

Set in the deep American south (North Georgia to be exact), ‘Gone With The Wind’ explores the life of Scarlett O’Hara, an entitled, self-centred teenager who has every young man wrapped around her little finger. As a heroine, she is mean, vapid, dislikeable and this makes it so much fun to read. Granted, there are times when you morally disagree with her choices but it can never be said that she’s afraid to make a tough decision (even if others will be hurt by it) to protect herself and, later on, the people she loves. The epitome of a survivor, Scarlet grows and develops from a fiery teenager into a headstrong woman and, as a reader, you are invested in every step of her journey, no matter how blistered these steps become. She is a self-proclaimed sinner and, with the smirking, corrupt Rhett Butler at her side, the pair experience the highest highs and most detestable lows that society has to offer.

The great thing about this book is the sheer length of time it spans – never stuck on one event for too long, the focus constantly shifts as time passes, much like real life. It begins as a seemingly simple love story: girl loves boy, boy loves girl but is engaged to a different girl and is too honourable to back out, which meant I was expecting a Jane Austen style will-they-won’t-they-but-we-all-know-they-definitely-will type of thing. This book is anything but that. It spans the entire American civil war from the perspective of Southerners fighting a losing fight, with the infamous Gettysburg’s address showing families grieving over soldiers lost many miles away. Yes, it’s a love story, but it’s also a tale of war, motherhood, widowhood, fire, murder, grief, gossip, adultery and business start-ups. Every chapter holds something new.

However, this excellently written book is simultaneously a very uncomfortable one with regards to its presentation of racism. Scarlet is the daughter of a plantation owner whose slaves Mammy, Pork and Dilcey (among others) are considered part of the family in a sickly romanticised portrait of peaceful co-habitation that seems to brush over the abhorrent concept of slavery beneath the happy pretences. The book shows an idealised image of slavery that is deeply upsetting to read, an unfamiliar perspective that seems awful particularly when it was written in 1939, only 80 years ago. This is the most sympathetic view of American slavery I’ve ever read and learning that this book is America’s second most read (#1 is the Bible) makes sense when considering the racism present in the USA today. Literature can be a tool to capture a certain state of mind from a certain point in history in order to start a wider analysis of why or how certain people thought the things they did. Yet, in Gone With the Wind, there are points where the author herself is clearly attempting to justify and push a biased, rose-tinted view of the past that is (rightly so) entirely uncomfortable to read.

It’s not uncommon that great literary masterpieces have unsettling viewpoints that make reading classic books a completely different experience when viewing from a 2019 perspective. However, enjoying the beautiful writing style and complex characters can be done whilst simultaneously condemning the representations of race – if we hide from ‘classics’ that we no longer morally agree with, we stifle the opportunity to ensure that we keep moving further and further away from the once very real world of inequality on the pages. You should probably read it just so you can tell everyone that the famous line ‘Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn’ is misquoted due to the film adaptation and there is actually no ‘frankly’ in the book itself. Or, you know, for the initiation of important thematic discussions about the deeply flawed foundations the USA that reflect the racism that is pervasive in our societies to this day – that too.

‘The Rainbow’ Review

The Rainbow by DH Lawrence

Literary Classics | That's 2 For The Books

‘The Rainbow’ was banned in 1915. Around 1011 copies were burnt for ‘obscenity’. Only 100 years ago I wouldn’t be able to publish this review, or at least not whilst praising the book as much as I’m about to.

The prequel to the better known “Women In Love”, this novel follows four generations of the Brangwen family. It begins with Tom Brangwen, a stable silent type that falls in love with Lydia, a polish widow who moved to Nottingham with her young daughter Anna. With a daffodil bouquet in hand and a desire for something beyond his simple life, Tom starts a family with Lydia. Learning to communicate across cultural barriers and becoming a father presents new challenges for him. As Anna grows up, the focus shifts and she becomes the protagonist – a young woman who falls in love and starts a family of her own. Anna’s eldest child, Ursula, later takes on the role of a headstrong protagonist in the third and final generation explored in the novel. By looking at three different generations, Lawrence is able to show the start and end of relationships, the way love changes with age and the ways in which communication can break down over time.

The unconventional narrative structure means that you, as a reader, have an overview that spans more years than certain characters have even been alive for – you read about an adult Ursula training to be a teacher what seems like moments after reading about her birth. Lawrence so skilfully draws subtle parallels between the women of different generations, showing Ursula go through the same struggles her grandmother Lydia went through only a few hundred pages ago. You know that feeling when you find old photos of your grandparents and realise that they were teenagers once too? The Rainbow is that feeling for 400 pages. Never before has a novel made me reflect so often on my own family history or left me wondering so much about its future.

But why was it banned? The prosecutor at the ‘Obscenity Trial’ (Herbet Muskett) stated that “although there might not be an obscene word to be found in the book, it was in fact a mass of obscenity of thought, idea and action.” Lawrence published multiple books that were banned for ‘obscenity’ because of his exploration of passion and love, particularly from a female perspective. Ursula’s romantic relationship with a woman might have also added to society’s idea that this was an immoral book. However, in 2019 ‘The Rainbow’ would seem more PG than most 12 rated films – nothing is ever explicit, but rather eluded to.

Another interesting thing about DH Lawrence is that he’s usually a topic for heated debate – some argue that he objectifies women, others say that he’s created characters modern Feminists should adore. Having read two of his books I’m still not sure which one I agree with, but that’s the beauty of controversial literature: it makes its mark in history for both right and wrong reasons.

‘The Great Gatsby’ Review

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks: BW 22: The Great Gatsby

Ask anyone about ‘The Great Gatsby’ and they’ll probably have one of three responses: (1) “That’s my favourite book” (2) “I hate it” or (3) “I haven’t read it but I love Leo Dicaprio in the film.” As you might have guessed, I fall into the first category, some of you may be firmly in category two and a lot of readers will probably fall into category three (which is fine, Leo Dicaprio IS good in the film).

You might be thinking ‘saying that some people hate this book is a terrible way to advertise it’, which could be right. However, what makes a book interesting is the fact that everyone can read the same words but come away having had an entirely different experience. If no one ever comes away feeling ‘lukewarm’ about it then it must be an interesting read.

Famously taking place in the roaring 1920s, F. Scott Fitzgerald tells the tale of Nick Carraway, a young man who moves to Long Island for work and ends up living next door to the resident party animal: Jay Gatsby. Mysterious and aloof, the guests at Gatsby’s many extravagant parties have never met him and enjoy nothing more than circulating gossip about how he came into all this money at such a young age. When it turns out that Gatsby is still obsessed with his ex-lover Daisy (who also happens to be Nick’s cousin), he asks for Nick’s help to win her back. Daisy’s engagement to tough-guy Tom Buchanan doesn’t seem to phase Gatsby and a tangled web of romance causes confusion in all directions as old flames are reignited. Confessing that his flamboyant and expensive parties were all put on in the hopes that Daisy would turn up, Gatsby comes across as unable to let go of the past. It’s an emotional story of friendship and love that sits so perfectly in its time period with references to the liveliness of the American dream and constant debates over new and old money.

However, The Great Gatsby is not my favourite book because of its plot – it’s the way it’s written that makes it so captivating. The beautiful descriptive language brings together all the senses in an immersive experience that verges on poetic at times; the colours and sounds of the parties unfold around you, making it the type of book that you want to read slowly so as to soak up all the extraordinary imagery each sentence has to offer by some form of literary osmosis. The symbolism is so strong that you’ll never be able to look at a green light, a yellow car or a pair of eyes on a billboard in the same way again.

Whether you read it as a romantic tale about obsessing over your past or just a cautionary warning about road safety, there’s so much to learn from a book like this. Even if you end up in category number 2, at least you read something that incited a strong response in you and helped you get closer to finding what you are looking for in a good book. Ultimately, The Great Gatsby is loved by many and hated by many but is indisputably a book that needs to be read.

A Retrospective From Outside The Closet Doors

A personal story to celebrate UK LGBTQ+ history month

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The first memory I have of the word ‘lesbian’ is when I was five and playing with my friends. We were playing ‘sleeping beauty’ and I was prince charming, so, naturally there was a wholesome-pretend-kiss-on-the-hands like we’d played a million times before. But, this time I heard someone shout “LESBIAN” and I turned around to see a bunch of year 2 boys in fits of giggles, all gawking at me. One of these boys was my brother (don’t hate – he’s wonderful now. We can’t really hold people accountable for what they said at age 7) and I remember being very confused but trying to shrug it off because I didn’t want the older boys to think that I didn’t understand what they meant. One of them, obviously feeling guilty, ran over and told me not to worry, that ‘lesbian’ just meant I had a big butt– this was back in the pre-Kardashian/Nicki Minaj days when nobody wanted a big butt, so I wasn’t very happy. However, I knew that whatever ‘lesbian’ was, it must be much much worse if that boy had insulted my butt in an attempt to spare my feelings from whatever this great evil insult originally meant.

That day I went home and told my mum, pretty unphased, I asked “mum, what is a lesbian? Does it really mean you have a big butt?” Now, my 5 year old memory definitely isn’t crystal clear but I don’t have any recollection of receiving a clear answer, I just remember having to leave the room while my brother got what I thought was a big telling off because (in my little 5 year old head), this word ‘lesbian’ seemed to be the worst swear word of them all. However, looking back, the conversation was probably more of an “it’s okay for people to love each other” kind of deal. There are a lot of things a five year old doesn’t know or understand, so it wasn’t really a number one priority in my head at the time so I soon enough stopped caring about the whole thing, happily accepting that lesbian must just be some big grown up bad word for butts that wouldn’t really concern me for a while yet.

I must have learnt the real definition for the word at some point between age 5 and 8 because by the time I was year 3, I was already hearing whispers of what it meant to be ‘gay’ and why that was just about the worst thing you could call someone. My friends and I were changing ready for our swimming lesson and someone innocently asked if the (female) teacher would be changing with the rest of us girls, to which someone replied “Ew no. That would be so creepy. Haven’t you heard? She’s one of them.” At this point I still didn’t really understand what anyone was talking about, but that moment would replay in the back of my mind over the next few years of my life, planting little seeds of shame that would stay there for a long time, warning me to never ever become “one of them”.

Something I should probably stress is how lucky I am to have grown up where I did, in a loving community of a school that put me in good stead for the rest of my life. Okay, sure there were still kids being kids in the ripe old time of 2008 where everything was ‘gay’ and everybody just repeated whispers of opinions their parents shared in private, but as a community there was a level of acceptance that many people don’t have in life.

However, the moment that has stayed with me more than any ‘lesbian’ insult or homophobic comment was a moment with the one-of-them-teacher when I was 8. We were doing a ‘how-to-react-when-someone-is-mean’ scenario type discussion and at the end, the teacher brought us all up close to her as she sat on the floor and suddenly spoke with a genuine passion that I still remember to this day. She said to us: “In the scenario where the boy misses a goal and his teammates call him ‘stupid’, I changed it. It didn’t originally say ‘stupid’, it originally said ‘gay’,” with a serious tone and eyes glazed close to tears, she looked right at us and said slowly “You are allowed to love whoever you want to love.” At the time I remember thinking, wow she’s pretty intense about this, but honestly, having someone (who I know now was speaking from genuine honest fear that we, as young children, would one day go through the ridicule and self-hate that she suffered all those years ago) sit down and show us kindness as if her life depended on it, is what got me through the next chapters of self-discovery.

The next few years are kind of funny to me now, I went from 8 – 11 with this “EVERYONE CAN BE GAY AS LONG AS I’M NOT” mindset that involved me just hoping and praying (yes there was literally praying at one point) that I wouldn’t end up being ‘one of them’ because even if it was ‘okay’ it still wasn’t normal, and at the age of 11 everyone just wants to be normal. Well, the joke’s on me because if you have to devote a lot of brain power to ~not being gay~ then…you probably are. Most straight people don’t have to climb mental mountains to secure the fact that they’re straight.

The thing is, when we make our goal ‘tolerance’ then we raise our kids to ‘bare-minimum-tolerate’ gay people when we should be celebrating them, representing them to the world as something kids should be proud to be, not as a burden they get lumped with. Like, thanks a bunch for thinking that I deserve to exist but shouldn’t I get a little more than that? Shouldn’t I deserve to feel good about who I am rather than just, ‘tolerant’ of it?

The only queer person I knew of when I was growing up was that teacher, and I sat with confusion wondering why people were so cautious around mentioning her ‘partner’ – still to this day people say ‘partner’ in that hushed tone instead of girlfriend because they’d rather be complacent in their bare-minimum-tolerance than tell their children that their teacher is a lesbian. As a kid I put this whole self-discovery thing on the back burner and just waited patiently, begging and hoping that I would get a crush on a boy anytime soon. And it happened! Oh ladies and gentlemen you have no idea how relieved I felt, thank goodness – finally the reassurance I needed that I was straight. This boy was my key to freedom, his existence meant that all the worry and shame of being gay went out the window…until I learned that I wasn’t in fact off the hook because (wait for it) BISEXUALITY EXISTS! Wow if someone had told me that a few years earlier then I really wouldn’t have subsided into the straight-relief I thought I had earned, I really thought that all those years of focusing and hoping had paid off.

From then on, when I was old enough to use social media and learn about these things for myself, everything sort of got a whole lot less complicated. The first time I had a crush on a girl I was so excited about this amazing person that it wasn’t until halfway through writing notes to my friend in the middle of a lesson, that I really clocked the fact that she was a girl and that this was the big scary moment of realisation that I had been keeping at arms-length for as long as I can remember. But it wasn’t scary, because it wasn’t a surprise. All those years of self-inflicted homophobia from childhood experiences that the other people won’t even remember mean that kids like me all over the world have to deal with an entire mountain of denial and dread before they finally become okay with themselves. And that’s only step one.

As a kid I was lucky. I was surrounded by a loving family and accepting friends and can sit here today, sharing my entire queer experience with the world with the knowledge that both my parents love me for something that I swore would never even leave my own private thoughts, let alone theirs. So you know what? I don’t care if I talk about it a lot. If I can make sure that other little kids, maybe even my own little sister, can learn to celebrate who they are rather than just shut it away, then that’s enough for me. So, happy UK LGBTQ+ history month to all the people still tackling their own mental molehills, you’ll get there I promise, one day you’ll be proud to call yourself “one of us”.

Teens are keen for Halloween

Imagine: it’s Halloween. You open the door to a sea of kids dressed as zombies and witches and ghosts, tiny hands stretched out expectantly as they shout ‘TRICK OR TREAT’ while you stop and consider, what is Halloween actually about?

Whether you spend months making the best creepy costume or just prefer a night in with horror movies on the TV, we’ve all carved a pumpkin once in our lives and wondered what it was all for. We’ve all eyed up the discount chocolate on November 1st and thought, what’s this actually celebrating? Well, put on some Tim Burton and grab a torch because we’re going to look at how Halloween, as we know it, came to be.

You’ve probably heard adults complaining about how Americanised it is. My mum likes to claim it was HER that made trick or treating a big deal in our village when my siblings and I were young, so even though to our generation it’s always been this way, it’s actually relatively new to celebrate it the way we do (with the whole fake spiders and haunted houses thing) and will seem even newer to those who grew up elsewhere.

Despite having roots in Celtic harvest festivals, pagan celebrations and the Gaelic festival of Samhaim, it is widely believed that Halloween as we know it today was adopted by (or even begun with) Christianity. You’ve probably heard it referred to as “All Hallows’ Eve”, that’s because Halloween falls the night before All Hallows’ Day as a part of Allhallowtide, a three day long celebration focused around honouring the saints. But the October 31st we know and love may stem more from the part of the festival that involves praying for recently departed souls and the idea that they can return for this one night (Paranormal Activity doesn’t seem so far off now, does it?). As with Christmas, the originally Christian holiday is now celebrated by secular people all around the world. However, some Christians believe the holiday to be too associated with evil spirits and witches and therefore choose not to celebrate it for reasons regarding their faith.

So, we know where the word ‘Halloween’ comes from and that it vaguely relates to the dead, but what do we know about all the fun things we associate with Halloween today? The influences from the Gaelic festival Samhain gave us traditions such as apple bobbing as well as less commonly practised activities like mirror-gazing and fortune telling. As for pumpkin carving, that originated in Irish folk tales from a time when they didn’t even have pumpkins, originally they would carve turnips to scare away any ghouls.

Irish and Scottish immigrants in the 19th century brought Halloween to North America as the celebration slowly assimilated into mainstream society until Americans were enjoying their spooky holiday from coast to coast. Just as American experiences such as Prom, Black Friday, and Oreos made their way over to England, the concept of big Halloween celebrations and Trick or Treating soon became part our lives – shown by our parents all swearing that ‘halloween was never a big deal when I was young’.

So, when you’re putting on your purple lipstick and Tesco’s witches hat, take a moment to consider all the amazing faiths and traditions that come together to make the chocolate-fuelled, face paint extravaganza that we love today. Be safe this Halloween, the chance to dress up and eat sweets only comes once a year – don’t waste it, have a spooky time, and why not try carving a turnip this year?

[article written for The CCHSG Kilt but due to miscommunication didn’t get included, so I thought I’d put it here instead! :)]

The ghost of secondary school’s past

ghost of secondary schools past

I’ve just about said goodbye to secondary school, GCSEs: done, prom: attended, yearbook: signed. However, when I take my firsts steps into sixth form with my new formal clothes and professional folders, the ghost of my secondary school past is going to linger a little longer than I thought. Being 5 years my junior, my little sister is about to take her first steps into secondary school right after I’ve taken my last.

It’s a strange time in my household, so many new beginnings come straight after so many endings. Finishing primary school, secondary school, sixth form, straight into starting secondary school, sixth form, university. While I leave behind school uniform, my brother leaves home and my little sister leaves her ‘being a kid’ chapter. But watching my little sister buy ‘big school’ supplies and get measured for the uniform I’ve spent the last 5 years in is somewhat…strange. I’ve finally said goodbye to the long haul that is secondary school, all building up to the exams that are already a distant memory buried in better summer days and emotional goodbyes. And yet, as soon as I finally lift this weight of the seemingly never-ending stretch that is secondary school behind me, it comes back and hits me in the face in the form of my little sister and her new schoolbag.

The thought of redoing the last five years makes me feel exhausted already, as if I’ve finally escaped and don’t want to even think about a time where I still had to study maths and got dress coded for the way I wore my school cardigan. Not because I had a particularly bad school experience, but because that part of my life seemed to drag on and now I’ve finally passed the finish line.

However, I’m going to (whether I like it or not) relive every moment vicariously through my sister as she embarks on the same journey I started 5 years ago. That thought is so bizarre to me. Everything that’s so familiar to me now is going to be new and exciting to my sister, the corridors awash with unknown faces and a whole span of unlearned knowledge ahead of her. I weirdly feel a bit like a parent, in the way that I want to stop her from making all my mistakes and want to give her advice it took me years to learn. But even if I equip her with a foolproof secondary school survival kit, I know it will just go over her head the way it all did when my brother told me 5 years ago.

Nevertheless, this is for my little sister:

First of all, write as much down as possible so in another 5 years you can laugh about how everything boring to you now was so fresh and so exciting. And remember, this is all uncharted territory for you, a primary school of 60 won’t prepare you for the constant hustle and bustle of secondary school corridors.

The friends you’re supposed to be with will find their way to you eventually, some you’ll find in year 7 and some you won’t find until year 11 so just keep an open mind, be ready to always let new friends into your life and don’t be afraid to let go of people who don’t fit your life the way they used to. That’s okay. Who you are is changing at rapid speed through those few years so of course the kind of people you need around you will change too. If you have to try really hard to get people to like you, chances are they’re not your crowd.

TAKE ON NEW OPPORTUNITIES!!! The only way to really find out what you like doing is by getting involved in everything. As long as you also learn to quit things you don’t enjoy – trust me, time and energy is precious so if you give something a shot and it’s not for you then that’s alright, just take that energy and save it for something else even better. When you think you’re right in an argument always listen the same amount you speak because you can learn the most from people who disagree with you.

Teachers are people who are tired and work hard for you, so be nice and work hard for them. Also, if you’re worried about a friend you’re allowed to tell a teacher, I promise it won’t make you a bad friend it will always always always make things better in the long-term. It’s okay to not be the best! Don’t give up when things are hard because I promise every older student or older sister with good grades who looks like they have their life together struggled just as much as you are now.

Try not to label people as ‘popular’ because it just creates a pointless distance that everyone realises is irrelevant within a few years. Be kind to people, because everyone has their ‘stuff’. And in a few years you’ll work out what your ‘stuff’ is, I can’t lie, it’s going to be difficult and it’s going to feel like secondary school is forever and that no one else in all of history has ever cried in a toilet cubicle. But I promise, in moments like those all you have to do is turn to someone next to you and you’ll be greeted with washes of empathy because you’re all in the same big chaotic boat. In secondary school you have each others’ back because the comradery and support forged in trips to the school councillor or the pep talks before first dates or the last-minute corridor revision for tests no one is ready for is so real and genuine that it will be the thing that gets you through the next 5 years.

Your experience might be miles away from mine, and I’ll admit that I’m scared about what life will throw at you in the next few years when meeting you in the hospital room feels like last week. But even through all of that, I’m so excited for you and the buffet of opportunities rolled out like a red carpet in front of your shiny new Clarks school shoes.

I don’t know what kind of person you’ll be at age 16, but I do know that if she’s anything like 11 year old you I can’t wait to meet her – love from your big sister.