Escape/ Vienna

Back in the country and back on track. Easter seems to be sprinting past, and the glorious hour of final deadlines is heading into view. It’s been a little while since my last post, the ebb and flow of student life taking over as it sometimes will, and truthfully just wanting to immerse myself completely whilst I was abroad. It had been nearly a year and a half since I had left the UK, doing a tightly budgeted trip around Europe for a month with my wonderful Australian friend, who as we speak is studying successfully at one of the top drama colleges in the country. We tripped and sprinted from Lisbon to Seville, the deep orange sunset blasting through our bus windows as we crossed the boarder into Spain. From Seville we travelled to Barcelona (a highly anticipated return visit), and bathed in the art, music, tapas and sand coloured stone. Germany next felt like a different galaxy, it was late November so Munich was alive with the lights of the Christmas markets and bitterly cold. The hot Gluwien steaming in my hands and first tastes of real German Wurst stick in my mind as the most vivid sensory memory. We visited Neuschwanstein Castle built by King Ludwig II (and the inspiration for the Disney castles and logo), riding up the side of the mountain in a sturdy German horse and trap, with the most friendly and chatty driver you could hope for. Being up in those mountains was the most alive I had felt since my father had passed away five months before, the colossal vistas from every angle and the silent heaviness of the mountains making one understand the dark German myths and Wagner’s music, reminding us how majestic the world and its creations truly can be. After Germany we finished in Amsterdam, a place I could have spent months as opposed to days in, its polite liberation, elusive history and calm irreverence for the norms of the rest of the world felt like a blessing and guideline for many other nations to follow. As always though, I’m left with the more vivid feeling of the return home, of going back to my fathers house which was then being sold and echoing with a cold emptiness without him there. I remember the deflation of normality as it seized my soul. The realisation that I wouldn’t return to the lakes where I had been living before, that for now I was distinctly cash strapped post travel, and that soon I would be living with my incredibly loyal and kind best friend in Bedford (not a place I would recommend visiting for any reason), with no clear idea or direction of what I would be doing next. Even now the strange sickness of despair is threateningly easy to recall, a glance over my shoulder reminding me that not too long ago, life was not the active and positive river I’m currently wading in the middle of, but a hopeless and desolate place that I wouldn’t wish on anyone- a landscape I wish never to return to.

With kindness, patience, and a great deal of determination however, I began to recover myself. I stopped trying to drown my emotions and block my ears stubbornly to the torrents of grief I did not want to hear, and by my 25th birthday I was something close to myself again. With university beckoning in September, I enjoyed the summer at my mothers and went on a weeks holiday with another great friend to Cornwall. I desperately wanted to get away, and with the memories of Europe still warmly and firmly in mind we decided to start exploring at home as well as abroad. English holidays hold a totally unique feeling, one is at once a local and a stranger, our little island holding so many niches and coves of culture and beauty, something I have always loved and continue to feel proud of in-spite of some of our less charming spots. So, when the opportunity was offered by the same friend to go and explore a new city in Europe- Vienna- I jumped at it like a jack rabbit. I think genetically a timer goes off in my mind when I haven’t been out of the country for 12 months of more; something niggles and reminds me how little of the world I’ve seen, how much is out there waiting for me, how many views I’ve yet to see, how the time is now when you’re young and able and free of heavy commitments. So we booked it in January, and at alarming speed April came and off I went to London to sleep over at my brothers, then to fly.

I consistently reassess myself whilst I’m abroad. With social media and the ‘trends’ constantly being promoted of what one is supposed to enjoy repeatedly hurled at us through memes every day: sleep, food, booze, youth, Beyoncé and of course on top of them all, TRAVEL. The familiar sensations hit me as I prepared and arrived at the airport, that kinetic buzz of energy and business through the air (with a sprinkle of high security and alertness as well), and I wondered how I would feel once we’d left the safe hub of the UK once more. I was not disappointed. We landed late- our flight was at 8.30, and I had spent a great deal of the flight reading and rehearsing German from my new phrase book. We dragged our tired selves and suitcases down the totally empty and silent main streets (it is not a city that values nightlife, party culture or rowdiness in any way), and found our neat and budgeted hotel about twenty minutes from the city centre. After a heavy and hot (the temps over there are currently and around the mid/ low twenty-something degrees, clear sunny skies and warm nights- heaven!) sleep, we had brunch at Café Central- I chose it because it came highly recommended as a breakfast spot, only finding out later it was a favourite haunt of Lenin and Trotsky’s for many years. From then on we took the city by the horns, making one brief shopping stop for yours truly to purchase some new trainers (my much more stylish but impractical boots were giving me fresh blisters by midday) as we were topping around 25000 steps a day via my friends Fitbit.

For the next three days we took a free walking tour and visited palaces, galleries, and the Danube. We ate mountains of bread and pastries, fresh sausages, drank cream filled Melange (typical Viennese coffee) and viewed the apartments where Mozart had died aged 35. We saw the balcony where Hitler declared his absorption of Austria into his great new order, and stood in the square where the crowds had cheered for him. We learnt of the royal history and strange romances, deformities and scandals that made the two empires there so completely bizarre and grand. We slept contentedly and heavily in our room with aching feet, sore legs and happy hearts. We went for drinks in Le Loft, a cocktail bar so black, shiny and slick it would do Tokyo proud, with a view of the entire city and hand painted effervescent ceilings that shone like technicolour. On the last day we rode the Viennese wheel in the oldest amusement park in the world- The Prater (which also featured in Orson Welles’ The Third Man, sending my film lovers heart fluttering) and rode to the top of St Stephan’s Cathedral as they held Friday mass in solemnity and song. Obviously three days and a first visit are never enough to see a whole city and know it well, and while we got to do a lot, there is so much left to return to and see one day. As I arrived back and the plane hit Stansted’s familiar worn tarmac, I felt the old longing return to my stomach. I want more of this, I thought. It sounds ridiculous, but when travelling, I believe it’s the closest to feeling like a truly alive person I can feel. We are alert and aware of our surroundings, because we must be. We are teaching ourselves a new language, seeing new sights, tasting new foods and smelling new scents. We look at people in a fresh way, and every day is an opportunity to cram as much life, food, beauty and fun in as we possibly can. So as I sit here, back in my white room in Portsmouth, with my snuggly jumper and slippers and green tea, I am surrounded by a new comfort as the short term goal of deadlines approaches: there is an enormous and beautiful world out there, when the madness calms down. I am surrounded by a continent filled with fascinating streets, art, people and tastes, and when all is said and done, that’s something to be positive for. I want to be a part of it.

North vs South

Sometimes at university, you’re able to spot divides between people. Lecturers vs students, older vs younger, boys vs girls… in the most harmless sense of course, it’s natural that we have loosely different categories. In Portsmouth there are a great many students have have either been born and raised in Portsmouth itself, or a town or two away. This is actually quite lovely, as it makes the place feel all the more homely knowing locals don’t necessarily flee as soon as humanly possible. Then, there are the number of us that have come from elsewhere: Southerners, Londoners, Northerners, people from Malta, New Zealand, America, Spain and countless other places. All in all, we seem to find our way and rub shoulders together on the course just fine, enjoying the diversity of each others journeys, stories and pasts (or what we tell of them). My observation comes more from the social aspect of intermingling as well as the time we spend briefly conversing and bonding during lecture/ seminar breaks. It’s that beyond the foreign sense of otherness we observe in those who have travelled from a different county, nation or even continent and are trying to decipher exactly how to live in a new city and get on well with those around them beyond their own nationality- it’s the bizarre and quite ancient sense of rivalry that still exists between people who hail from the North of England and those who come from the South. I confess to being one of the most southern of southerners myself: born on the outskirts of London, schooled in Suffolk and living in Cambridge for several years, you barely get more tweedy, plummy or country than that. I’ve always been proud of my routes, and the way my family and father raised me to behave and speak… It has though, as my life has moved around and become less glued around the nations capital, set myself and my family members apart sometimes. Mostly not in a negative sense- people delightfully pointing out ‘you’re so well spoken!’ Or, on slightly less pleasant occasions ‘you’re well posh…’ in an unabashedly accusatory tone. Again, I try not be embarrassed or sheepish and simply respond ‘ Thanks. It’s how my Dad taught me to speak’, hopefully closing the subject as quickly as it opened. Occasionally, this response is not enough. People will act as though it makes me odd, pretentious, or in some way ‘other’ to who they are, or where they’re from. Where this rivalry and nit picking can come in the strongest however, is between northerners and southerners in general- I thought this bizarre gap would have closed generations ago, we’re such a diverse and open country now, accepting people from all over the globe and making it their home to, how can we possibly still feel a sense of defence, rivalry or history between the north and south ends of this relatively tiny island? Well, evidently we can. Don’t misunderstand, most of the time the subject is bantered over in good humour. Cracks are made about each others accents, the lacking in either side’s cuisine, the landscapes, the attitudes with money, the manners, the honesty… the list goes on and on. What I never expected was for this tradition of barbing each other to have trickled down to students today, and I’m consistently surprised whenever the issue is brought up or pointed out in an unnecessary or aggressive way. I suppose what I hope is, if we can overcome what must have been a strangeness at first (many years ago) of accepting different colours, cultures and accents from around the world onto our island home, why can’t we put to rest the petty squabbling between the North and South, that besides when we were literally fighting over farmland in centuries gone by, is 100% pointless, and 100% irritating?

You can be heroes…

Long time now speak… my apologies. Life has somewhat overtaken for the last week or so as a student- but I’m back to report it’s all going rather nicely, if a little bit of a shock to the system. Different priorities and changes seem to gather momentum in the university at this time of year- deadlines appearing closer in the distance, solid study groups forming and lecturers hurling evaluations at us left, right and centre. What I’ve come to take away from the last few weeks of both uni and social interactions of one type or another, is not to underestimate your effect on other people. The scale of difference for example, that I’ve experienced in my feelings and observations from module to module that we’ve been studying over the last half a year is astounding. When asked this last Monday to fill in what was one of the first of the evaluations, I felt slightly stumped (thankfully for all the right reasons). How could I convey with the ticking of boxes and a few lines here and there, just how much this lecturer and their chosen area of expertise had or had not enriched or effected my education/ studies/ life here in Portsmouth? Luckily for this one, I had nothing but the most positive and effusive praise to present. I honestly declared it to have been the best module I’d been on so far, and praised their humour, passion and thorough academic style when it came to the content. My companion in the lecture was also in complete agreement, and as we were walking out having delivered our thoughts and bid the lecturer farewell, we were both surprised at the amount of thankful nostalgia we were taking out with us. So often on this course, it can feel like both the life and education of a first year should not be taken that seriously (regardless of the sheer scope of the fees we are still paying for this portion of our education). After all, it’s only the second and third years that really count- right? Wrong. So, so wrong. A first year is (at its best) a specimen of a university student so ready to absorb, so sensitive to both criticism and encouragement, so wanting to prove themselves to both peers and course lecturers, and so acutely aware of when they’re being either dismissed or minimised for the sake of ease, that it can and will shape a lasting memory in their mind of whether or not as a student- they truly matter at all. In a university this large and diverse, it is incredibly easy to feel as if one goes unnoticed- or is at least barely noticeable. The chemical reaction that happens when a lecturer has not only thoroughly researched and prepared the module through which they intend to guide you, but also motivates and devotes a fair and non-reluctant amount of time to you– as not just a student but an individual, is astounding. It releases waves of happiness, a sense of being cared for, a steam of motivation to prove them right and a stream of productivity that would otherwise perhaps have remained stemmed. I don’t write this post as a criticism of anyone in particular- but a hopeful reminder to any lecturer/ supervisor that you, your attitude, your knowledge, your passion, your humour and your organisation can positively make- or negatively break- a students spirits. All in all- please inspire us. It’s why we’re here. Thanks.

Let’s Misbehave…

I had a thought this last Saturday morning. I finally allowed myself a long booked in advance night on the town with my entire house (it was a friends 30th birthday, which I classed as a ‘special occasion’). I thought it about time, what with deadlines drawing near, my friends already planning to leave Portsmouth permanently in just under a month, and feeling confident in my own behaviour and sense of well being at the moment, to indulge in one of the few ‘why not?’ nights I allow. I also- genuinely- needed some fresh experience, stories and first hand knowledge of Portsmouth partying a la 2018. To say that the evening escalated not only quickly, but quite wonderfully for my purposes, is an understatement. We got fully and relatively warmly dressed up to the nines (lots of tight jeans and spangly, floaty tops), curled piles of hair and put the champagne in the fridge to chill. So far so good. Very civilised jovial ‘pre drinks’ were had- a bottle of wine between a few of us and a few shots to spare, and off we hopped into our Uber shaped carriages to the Wetherspoons evening ball.

When we got there- about 9.30, the place was suspiciously quiet. The floors thus far unsticky and bar lacking enormous queues or nameless gropes from behind. The calm before the storm. We ordered bottles of wine, found a nice central table near the dance floor, and off the evening kicked. I’d be lying through my teeth if I said it wasn’t a wonderful time, and a well needed change of perspective to bring student partying culture into a different point of view for my usual old-lady self. For a while. When we got in and started the festivities with the main birthday group, I promised myself I’d be observant but enjoy it as much as I could. What would the point be of going out with my soon to be distant dear friends if I didn’t throw myself into the experience as much as they were? The group that included the birthday boy- five hard drinking males all averaging around 30 years old- made this task one I would soon find challenging to the extreme. What I realised differentiates the elegant jollity of the pre drinks or more socially relaxed glass or two of wine at the bar with friends from a student night is of course, the pace.

What starts as a relaxed excitement when we first arrived turned into the most Olympic series of shot and drink buying I’d seen since my days in Cambridge. Unbidden boyfriends, girls and the accompanying guys all began procuring little black trays crammed with untrustworthy looking potions. Jäger bombs. Sambuca. G&Ts. More wine. Beers. On and on to the table they were brought, and the chemical madness picked up its pace as it always does. At this point, I began to slow down as much as I could to try and pick up the changing dynamics around me. When others are getting royally sloshed and you have the foresight to get a glass of water and tell everyone it’s vodka lemonade, it’s incredible the quite unsubtle behaviours people will let you see. When I previously googled the genuine effects of alcohol on the mind and its thought process, a key quote from a prominent scientist in the US solemnly reminded ‘the obstacles that the sober, more active mind would usually flag up for us and warn us against are no longer there. We feel and see what we want to do- throw a punch, have another drink, tell a secret, and what would logically deter us from pursuing this is no longer of importance. The danger here is where those decisions can lead.’ This quote reverberated in my ears as I looked around the now rammed club at about midnight- music crashing in on my hazy brain, friends shouting into each other to be heard. The dancing was getting wilder and the security more prominent and hands on. The young people chatting each other up at the bar were getting sloppier and closer to each other by the second. At least two arguments within the group had already broken out and subsided. Eyes were lingering more fervently and lazily on each other, and hands now no longer caring or nervous about where they rested or wandered. I’ll not bore you (or shock you) with the gory details of where this evening ended and how (4am, tears, laughter, mozzarella sticks, lips locking- not necessarily in that order) but as my ‘night off’ from health and self care came to its end and I hazily reflected on what I would perhaps use in my future writing piece, the only word I seemed to be able to spot in the alcoholic distance of my mind was: permission. When I looked around the club at the end of the night, just before the lights where switched on and everyone was well and truly (as they used to say) ‘loose’, I realised why at least the majority of people may have been there. They were letting themselves out of their usual restraints, and giving themselves permission (via alcohol metaphorical tying their sober hands back) to let their inner, truthful, more decadent selves do exactly as they pleased. The married men were somehow unmarried by the volume of tequila they drank, the women no longer modest or restrained in their emotions once the cosmos hit their bloodstream. It truly makes me wonder- may be that’s what it’s all about- at least here in Portsmouth last Friday. You want to have a fight? Want to have a fling? Want to eat fast food? Want to call that person you don’t like out on their BS right then and there? The solution is easy. Get together with your friends, make yourselves clean, well shaven, made up, smelling wonderful, looking quaffed, and watch the veils of social decorum and restraint fall with every sip. I did, and I can assure you it was most entertaining.

‘Miss Brown won’t see you now.’

In a year and even recent few months of genuinely superb film being delivered by the great and good in Hollywood- I should have been prepared for just how excruciating (pun intended) Fifty Shades Freed was going to be. As I woke up this morning to the joyous news of Gary Oldman’s receipt of his long anticipated Oscar and the quadruple win of my previously eulogised favourite The Shape of Water (as well as the powerhouse Frances McDormand winning her second)- I began post-Oscar day in very high spirits. A side effect of this buoyancy in the midst of high profile and global art celebration is however, my fully liberated and unbridled rage at the mere existence of the Fifty Shades franchise.

In the elation and hope created by first and foremost the creativity and company of my course, the incredible standard of film at the moment, and seeming shift of attention and power moving to celebration of female artists and their advancement within the industry, there seems to be a static black abyss remaining amongst it all, quietly and wealthily unquestioned. Why, oh why, oh why, are we, in this year, this age, and with this range of intelligent and varied material at our fingertips, still permitting the intellectual and literary bile that is the Fifty Shades series to become a considered cinematic event? When I was dragged last week (inwardly kicking and screaming)- to the cheap Monday showing of the last of these films, there were many aspects of the viewing experience I found quite disturbing. Firstly (and unsurprisingly), the majority of seats in the screen were being filled by women’s behinds. I found this deeply worrying- not only because it meant that all the women I could see (it was a full screen) had willingly paid their money to support the making and viewing of this film- with one or two exceptions like me out there I’m sure. Secondly, the sheer lack of wit, imagination or depth apparent from the first lines was genuinely depressing. In comparison to the human imperfection and beauty delivered by incredible films like Three Billboards, Get Out, The Shape of Water and especially Call Me By Your Name when examining intimacy in a romantic context, one could expect more chemistry and verbal jousting from a David Attenborough special on mating sea lions than what was flaccidly being delivered between these two romantic leads. As the ‘story’ progressed (there was next to no narrative arc; they have missionary sex on their honeymoon, they’re being stalked, she falls pregnant due to missing vital birth control, they have fully clothed sex in a car, he gets drunk and petulant, she meets with the kidnapper and gets punched, she shoots the kidnapper, they end up back together to raise the doomed child and continue having mildly S&M style sex that we don’t actually get to view) I began instead to watch the entire film as a comedy, and giggled my way gleefully and thankfully to the end of an absolute charade of a sexual/romantic caper.

Now, as you could well be thinking, why complain when no one actually forced me to physically sit through it? Well, much like the high viewing figures that emerged around Mel Gibson’s travesty The Passion of The Christ can attest, I and many others went to witness the spectacle of a contemporary cultural event, not with the aims of enjoying a romantic film of quality and decent spankage. Now it is done, and the tide seems so strongly to be changing within the industry towards the empowerment of women as storytellers and filmmakers, we can hope and pray the era of the weak, one dimensional, twenty something year old characters is over, and put this embarrassing era of the faux liberating Fifty Shades franchise to bed. When there are so many incredible tales to be told, actresses and actors to play them, writers to form them and directors to shoot them, why would be revert back again to the squirming naked form of Dakota Johnson, biting her lip and coquettishly cooing ‘Whatever you say, Mr Grey.’ As a student I see endless possibility for change and expression within the arts, and it is one of my truest goals in life to try and prevent us as women (and innocent human beings) having to watch any such poppycock ever again.

Dry dates

On we continue! Returning a little to the original base theme of this blog, I’d better check in after having researched and presented my pitch last week, the room practically bubbling with nerves and anticipation (happily everyone did more than a sterling job with their own, and clearly delighted in supporting one another). Whilst researching both the local and global culture of drinking/ partying/ drug stigma/ societal norms- I was left a little concerned / discombobulated to say the least. It was foolish of me to choose such a ridiculously vast and complex subject as this, when I’d have had a much easier time magnifying on local sexism (experienced and often observed), homelessness (tragically normalised around the city) or the strange and often comical life of a mature student (you are already enjoying these shenanigans). However, in its own convoluted and overpowering way, drug and alcohol abuse ties each of these strands together- it magnifies and enhances the disconnection (or indeed connection) between young men and women we see of any given evening out, is often blamed at least in part by the majority of people suffering in homelessness as a previous escape, it is the catalyst often to violent and regrettable behaviour on both sides of the gender pool, and as a mature student I see how it acted as a more than welcome distraction back during my days studying in Cambridge, and is playing an occasionally similar role in the lives of some of my younger colleagues. I continue to sit slap bang in the middle of the maelstrom of argument within my own head, not having decided to focus on the drinking/ partying culture here to either condemn or condone it. I think above all I’m always fascinated by the extremes of human behaviour, that I continue to be drawn to the arenas in which I will find it messily unfolding with no qualms over been watched.

Having said this, as I continue enjoying (for now) a relatively booze free existence, I’ve come up against yet another social hurdle needing to be addressed- that of dry dating. As I am gleefully, as my housemates call it ‘living like a health hippie’, there seemed to be no natural reason to turn down a young (surprise surprise, navy lieutenant) for a casual meet up this last week. As we continued to chat and plan, I asked where my suitor was planning to escort me in the evening… ‘For cocktails and food I think, at Sant Yago?’ Here enters my dilemma; do I break my winning streak and indulge in what is hailed to be some of Portsmouth’s finest tapas and cocktails? Or, do I risk coming across as a boring health nut and over health conscious harpy and order a cranberry juice when I sit down in that balmy cocktail bar? I’m vexed with indecision. As usual in life, I have a sneaking suspicion I’ll play it by ear and trust my feminine instincts… when the moods right we can feel it, but then we know when to say no… you know?

Truman at Tiffany’s

A sunny, frosty and joyous afternoon to you.

Another week’s been rapidly threaded and (happily) plenty achieved. In amongst sprinting alongside other clever and dear uni friends, doing our best to create, mature and critique our way from Monday to Friday, it’s been a time of rebalance. I don’t know about you, but the more I read other authors, watch new films and research, the more I find it difficult to put my head down at night without a constant flurry of thoughts/ worries and ideas bouncing from one side of my skull to the other. As such, long stretches of the late night that would rightly be spent sleeping, are instead spent countering argument and counter argument, experiencing anxious thoughts between sleep and awake and lapsing great eons of time in my strange little brain. This week I’ve fallen back in love with Truman Capote. I mean this in the sense that I reread an old favourite of his (Breakfast At Tiffany’s) late at night, spent a good few hours laying and revelling in his charm and power with language, dreading I would never be able to achieve said charm and its success, and proceeding to watch Philip Seymour Hoffman portray the complex character in the always incredible Capote. A writer such as Capote will always and inevitably leave me feeling highly reflective, his personal life, gifts, hard work and epic heights of success (not to mention his fatal drinking and drug problem at the later end of his life) make him at once inspiring and frightening to behold. How can one with so much talent, wit, ability and zest for life and society end their days in a state of liver diseased and drug addled oblivion? When looking on the pensive of history, it’s not uncommon.

At once Capote raises many ideas and questions- is it, as seen in so many successful artists, the sense of tragedy underneath it all that gave him the sensitivity and strength to creat such incredible examples of literature/ journalism as in In Cold Blood? How did he live a life of such hard work, confidence and excess whilst also simultaneously being the soul conductor of his own demise? Is it inevitable that one should fall down that path when one exists with the extremes of joy and beauty and the dread of death and depression? Does the dark eventually snuff out the more fragile and colour filled light? Is it a mere matter of time, and the risk of living a full, pleasure filled existence, champagne flutes in hand and cigarettes aloft? Or, if he had had a little more help, a different set of circumstances around him, could he have not continued to live a life of quiet motivation, luxury, contentment and stability with those he loved? I don’t know. A lot of questions. Many of them unanswerable. What I do know is that I wish I could have known him, and learnt from someone like him. He strikes me as one of those personalities who when they enter a room, they fill it. Nothing to do with stature, but a fizzing, popping and eager aliveness that pours from them even when they’re at their most louche and lazy. I long to be with those people daily, only half daring to hope I could be like them.

So whilst I get ready tonight for another wild/ well behaved evening on the town, I’ll think of all the nights hidden in the lights of the Manhattan skyline he must have enjoyed- glasses clinking with syrupy/ vaporising cocktails, air heavy with cigarettes and Chanel, the witty reportage and salacious gossip he spooned to greedy socialites and stars, all whilst forming a character like Holly Golightly in his mind. A character unsurpassed for my money in beauty, flippancy, joy, depression, indulgence and starvation, as well as that whiplash playfulness with words.

The Shape of Water

As usual, when arriving at the cinema last night my expectations were incredibly high. I’d agreed with a friend to go and see The Shape of Water, and had worn my aqua green top and vintage sea-weed-looking scarf (always love a theme.) When we arrived the screen was surprisingly packed- for some reason I thought it wouldn’t be a particularly popular film (Blank Panther being the obvious blockbuster triumph of the moment) but there we all were, huddled in to the surprisingly chilly leather chairs with our boxes of popcorn and hopes for the film piled equally high. Post cinema I often write and recite a review in my mind on the bouncy walk home- what it was like, what it lacked, what it made you feel, any gaping holes in the plot etc etc, yet this new Del Toro number did what I consistently strive to find in every film I watch- it managed to totally bewitch me. From the moment the credits begin in their surreal and eerily saturated light, you know you may be entering a world where perhaps things don’t entirely make sense- or if they do, perhaps they’re not entirely as they seem. You can tell from the trailer it will be a kind of surreal romance, an allegory of self understanding and communication, the sense of otherness artists and film makers are always wishing to explore and dissect. What you won’t realize is how unabashedly visceral and nude (in the artistic sense) the film is. Where perhaps you’d expect tasteful pans away when the lead female gets into her warm morning bath, instead Del Toro keeps his steady eye on her- never lurid, instead wanting you to take her form in as a creature herself, a naked soul in the water and totally unashamed. He makes quiet but deliberate social commentaries throughout on key issues in the 1960s; homosexuality, racism, sexual intimidation, the brutality of the Cold War, scientific ignorance and fear- without ever pulling us too far from the strange and mythological romance unfurling between our two enthralling leads. Without giving too much away, it seems that Guillermo Del Toro had a vision for a pure romance in this film. It’s a dark adult fairy tale. A message that though people are not themselves their idea of perfection, another can find in them a kindred spirit, a deep understanding, a sensual equal and find that they are ‘two of a kind’. This idea is of course a deeply beautiful one, and one in which he gleefully plays with visual imagery and the incredible use of colour and movement throughout the film. In particular, film makers have always enjoyed using water to create a sense of danger, drama, depression or sensuality on screen- but in this film Del Toro takes it to new depths (pun intended). It is the transparent ink with which he tells his story and bring the two lovers together. It is the sanctuary from danger in which the creature hides, and the quiet place in which Eliza (Sally Hawkins) can give herself pleasure in peace and privacy. As she finds herself falling easily in love with the creature, he shows us the intricate waltz of two drops on a bus window, twirling, joining and separating again- a dance I’ll wager most people watched as children (and adults) on their own long, dreary and cross-country journeys, making us feel he is giving our minds a pass into his world… a world I for one am more than happy to return to.

Valentines sans Vino

Back on track eh? Another week has motored by, smoke puffing from the exhaust, leaving us panting for breath. One of the most wonderful luxuries of university life is it’s looseness with time. Time to relax, work, walk, write, gym, eat, clean, go out with friends and indulge or stay in and do the same. Being my second turn on the university merry-go-round, I’m suddenly far more aware of how rare and ideal living this way can be. Our weeks have a structure of lectures and seminars, without really having a ‘structure’ at all. Each day can turn into something different as we are lucky enough not to be locked into a life of long shifts, permanent early starts and limited brain-curdling sleep- our afternoons, days and evenings are mostly much our own to use and fill as we like. As I’ve continued dry Jan into dry February (brave- yes, but I’m leaving wiggle room for the best celebrations and loveliest people), and the absence of nights spent at the pub, out at clubs, or even in having Prosecco with the house ladies has come about, it has had rather an unexpected perk. The result of these nights inevitably melting away from my liberal weekly schedule is an abundance of- wait for it… Time!

The hours (and let’s face it, occasional days) that have previously been spent on weekend and week nights either pre drinking for, getting dressed up for, recovering from or trying to forget- nights out of both small and grand magnitude have vanished, leaving pages open of blank unblemished time I’d never have expected. At first, I was a little puzzled. What on Earth is one supposed to do on a Wednesday evening when the choice has been made not to go out for the Caligula-esque weekly ‘Purple Wednesday’, leaving a long stretch of evening and afternoon before them? The simple answer, I began to realise was- everything. On the nights and days when I felt a little short changed by my challenge and the once desirable goal of dry Jan was beginning to loosen its charms, I realised I could do something truly shocking with my time that was almost unheard of in a student… I could practice self care. I could read. I could work. I could sink into a heavily scented Epsom salt bath for as long as I liked. I could actually keep on top of my correspondence, let them know how I was loving and thinking of them too. I could actually enter a gym. I could do research- not just for my course, but my other interests in life too. Instead of semi- drowning my mind in the blissful fizz and pop of music, noise, gin & tonic and wine, I could instead rest it, fill it, nurture and supply it with the nutrients and care it needs to flourish. I think perhaps the strangest shock you endure when taking a break from the booze is the altered dynamic you have with yourself. No longer is it a catholic based push-pull of indulgence one evening and atonement the next. Instead a sense of calm comes between you and your body. You’ve made a silent pact to take care and work with one another, one enabling the other to be as productive, energised and responsive as they can be, whilst also getting the reward of peace and quiet at the end of a night. Don’t mistake me though, the titivating glamour and opportunities presented by a beautifully boozy night out shall possibly never subside! And I fully intend to indulge in them in the future… However, it seems to me that if going without leads to a better, healthier, happier and more productive version of yourself for the most part- particularly whilst in education- then ‘per angusta ad augusta’.

Happy Birthday Father.

Sunday is always a day of reflection. I’m not religious in any sense, but it would be strange I think if there weren’t a day each week when we stop to pause, look back on our achievements over the last six days, and forward on what we wish to achieve in the following. This Monday more than most others, I’m in a decidedly reflective and thoughtful mood. My plan was to write my piece today on the hilarious and all around bemusing night out I went on a fortnight ago with a large group of friends. They were funnelling, strawing and generally absorbing all colour, flavour and manner of delicious alcoholic beverages, whilst I (in the last strides of Dry January) felt practically Audrey Hepburn levels of saintly sipping my diet lemonade whilst looking on. It was a genuinely fun, amusing, bemusing and self confirming night that I absolutely will share in a few days, but today my minds eye is very specifically drawn to one point.

Today marks what would’ve been my fathers 84th birthday. Whilst my siblings and relatives are posting beautiful collages of pictures on Instagram, Facebook and all other formats (I’ve done the same in the past), I find myself wanting to wind in tighter, and not look at social media at all. There is such a sense of dilemma in life sometimes- in our incredibly lucky, privileged lives as we have them, about privacy. I swing pendulously between the two markers of self preservation and protection, to cathartic sharing and emotional generosity. Whilst on some days I enjoy sending (mostly meaningless) snapshots and messages to other smart devices on other desks and in other attentive hands, there are times when I can feel myself pulling the thick blanket of privacy back over me, insulating my thoughts, nurturing my life, blocking the glimpses with which we can sometimes be so generous to our long lists of ‘followers’ and ‘friends’. Today is one of those days. Whilst I know I would in some strange way enjoy compiling a few of my favourite pictures of my dad, writing a sweet, thoughtful, sincere and honest post about how much I miss him and in how many ways and precious moments- I know it would be… a distraction. A distraction from what today and every birthday, anniversary, loss and birth should be- a time of reflection, and perhaps even quiet celebration. My father is by far the most influential person still on the woman I am and the person I hope to grow to be, having given me the strongest of my strengths and gifts as well as some of my most tender and obvious flaws. How can we hope to truly show and share with people these unspeakable bonds we make? These lifetimes of moments, laughs, tears, handholds, conversations, meals, trips, holidays, walks, worries, celebrations and stories- in a shared post? I know that’s never truly the point, and in many cases it’s for the reward and recognition of kindness and support that floods back through our notifications as a result, which can be a beautiful thing.

Today though, I just wish I could talk to him. I wish I could share so many of the moments and memories I’ve built here with wonderful new friends and intriguing new minds. I wish I could commiserate with him about all the moments I’ve felt as though perhaps I couldn’t get back up… And perhaps my life was only ever meant to be a lukewarm one, not a scorching success. I wish I could just reach for my phone, and bring back into my life with the press of a button a voice and force for tenderness, pragmatism, hope, humour and wisdom, that daily I still momentarily miss and wonder at its absence. What makes this so very bittersweet, is that I’m sure he would be happy. Besides Portsmouth being much too remote from Essex, I believe the realisation of my skills and ambition as a writer, the discovery and study of great poets and films, the embracing of history and contemporary culture wrapped in one, would have brought him a great deal of joy and contentment. (Until our next visit.)

So, today’s my dads birthday… and I did want to share. But more than that, I want to keep him as close to my heart and mind as vividly and as long as humanly possible. I want to cherish each precious gem of memory near to me, as I roll up my sleeves, put on my shoes and carry on. As I continue on this journey, as I work to heal myself, learn from others, dig in to the work at hand, achieve success and continue in self care, I think of him. Not just today, but every day well spent.


To start this post honestly, I have to say that my initial plan for university as a woman of twenty five was to live a relatively quiet and untroubled existence. The previous decade of my life has been filled with more than a little personal turmoil, changes, losses and setbacks including the loss of my father just shy of a year and a half ago, and the ensuing uprooting of my life from my long term family home in Essex. After a great deal of soul searching and quiet days spent with hot mugs of teas, long phone calls to friends and a great deal of self reflection, it seemed to me the unavoidable conclusion would not budge from in front of my eyes. My desire to progress, grow, explore and expand my mind and talents could best be achieved by a return to my education. When I first attended university in 2011 at the age of 19, it was a decision propelled by fear and suitability rather than passion and positivity. I had been told all my life by others what I excelled in, that I had a great deal of potential, yet no one had expanded on this assertion with the vital questions- where to then? What subject? What university? What to do with this ‘talent’ in its early stages?

In the end I bottled my first university application during sixth form, following the advice of my older brother that if I were truly a writer I would ‘just be able to get on and write’ naturally. I now see vividly how naive and ill advised I had been, not trusting my own gut instinct that university would offer a sense of nurture, guidance and direction that so many young people at that age seek. Instead I embarked on a gap year in Cambridge, the word ‘directionless’ being the most key I identify with this time.

This gap year came very swiftly to an end with my fathers diagnosis of cancer during the Christmas period of that year, and for sixth months I played the nurse, lost teenager and frustrated daughter to his patient, until as the summer came and temperatures began to climb, thankfully his health returned to him as well. This development left me free again to silently wonder in the quiet afternoons- what now? What do I truly want to be? How can I get there? As my nineteenth birthday approached. Through total impulse I began looking at university courses on my own in our sunlit dining room, my father sleeping next door, and selected English Literature as my degree. It was, I reasoned, the most suitable. I had achieved very good marks in English literature throughout my life, and a great many of my favourite writers had studied it. Just behind my ears at the top of my neck I could feel a niggle of indecision- you want to be a writer… it reminded me, perhaps you should study creative writing? I swept this silly notion away however, dismissing it as my family had as a self indulgent and not much respected degree (I realise now how truly dangerous intellectual snobbery can be, and remind others whenever I can how pointless it is). My decision was made. I would read literature (and whatever else the degree would entail), meet the love of my life in Cambridge (I selected my university purely by the appeal of the city in which it was set), broaden my mind and social boundaries in the way only university could, and come out the other end a sort Byron/ Plath/ McEwan hybrid writer. Clearly, this was a foolproof plan.

What I did not anticipate however, were the numerous attractions and obstacles laid before me the moment I arrived in my new student digs on Mill Road. From the beginning of my studies there to the end, most of what I recall are insistence’s on drinking, eating, dancing, laughing, spending, sleeping, rushing, coughing (it to this day is the worst flu I have ever had that first September)- with short stolen intervals in order to attend the barest minimum of lectures and write the scrawniest versions of essays imaginable- if I got that printed hand in done and delivered before the deadline, and was dressed, sprayed and hoisted for the ensuing debauchery that night- I had won. I realise now the only reason I allowed myself to detract so skilfully from my degree, was in fact my unhappiness at not being well suited to it. The more I attempted and failed to truly embrace the breadth of material and style in which we were told to work, the more I would louchely shrug my shoulders, think- well no one really enjoys their degree, and head to my classmates for our regular start (4pm) at the pub.

There were wonderful times to, of course. Through my living situation I met some of the most talented, startling and vivacious young artists, musicians and greatest friends I’ve made to date. They opened my small, private schooled eyes to the sheer scope, colour and power of art in all its forms. I was taken to indie cinemas to watch cult films I’d never heard of, went to several music gigs a week- the mix of young aspiring musicians and substantial recognised talent swirling together in a maelstrom of sheer potential. We attended poetry slams, choir performances, book readings, gallery openings and walked the Fitzwilliam museum so regularly that I could still direct you to the first Monet painting you can find. I learnt a great deal about how I wanted my life to be, and the people and places I wanted to be in it whilst I was in Cambridge, but the majority of my progress was not made within university walls.

The year after I left Cambridge I worked as an English teacher and boarding tutor in an isolated all girls school in Staffordshire. Without going too deeply into my experiences there, it was at the very least another strong learning curve – and the first of many jobs that set alight the small flame in my mind that, no matter how many times I tried to put it out, would reignite to tell me You need to go back to university, and you need to do it right to become who you so wish to be.

In admitting that instinct was right and coming back to university, it took I think a great admission of failure. In order to move forward and start afresh in Portsmouth on a course that is truly fitting and suited for my intellectual abilities, I had to admit that a) I had not chosen either the best course or university for any of the right reasons and b) I had not applied myself even 1/10 as much as I could have to have given my time there a true chance at success. I know this post is long and arduous, but I think I needed to clear the air- I needed to draw a map of my bizarre and winding path up to this point in my life- sitting here in my cosy heated house on St Paul’s road writing a blog for my creative writing degree, so you understand the perspective and voices I’m sharing with you on here.

I promise the next piece will be juicer, meatier, back on current life (and most importantly shorter), but I suppose if you’re here and reading this now, you must be a little interested… maybe?

Until next time.

Portsmouth ahoy

So, let’s get into it shall we? The focus of my blog is supposed to be around the first chunk of my year here as a student, and I can certainly say I was both surprised and perhaps a little apprehensive about Portsmouth as a whole when I first moved here. Having previously lived in Cambridge, I’d become adept at understanding a city and its multiple facets. How on the outset when you first drive in, car loaded up with your life’s’ pieces, you are first greeted by its loudest landmarks, the towering spires, the general look and sense of its buildings and streets, the smells, the mish-mash of shops and unique sense of personality one can feel when first navigating the bemusing new streets you’ll soon be calling home. I was lucky to move into a very warm and enthusiastic house of third year law and psychology students, girls of twenty one who greeted me with kindness and excitement, my seniority of four years proving to be a much more exotic asset than I could have anticipated – but mostly one of humour and glee at my stoically labelled ‘maturity’.

To explain the origins from which I came, I’d need more than a paragraph to do it justice. Suffice it to say I spent my summer in the countryside at a relatives newly renovated home, surrounded by fields, lazily beautiful Suffolk sunsets, and quaint village events. The relative with whom I was staying, as it turns out- had fully grown a potent and consuming passion for the consistent consumption of alcohol throughout the long summer days and its maddeningly hushed and balmy nights. Whilst this was an experience all on its own, it also made for an interesting contrast when I left that temporary nest to land in the buzzing, busy, bursting full and slightly frantic energy of a house of five young women- four of whom had the steam under their heals of a final year in Portsmouth. This sense of urgency seemed to begin the release of a profoundly ‘carpé noctem’ attitude to the ensuing days and months- at once welcoming me in as an initiated first year and toasting their coming escape to the land beyond that wonderful university bubble.

In many ways this blog has been a long time coming- since late September this last year I have spent a great deal of my time (when not spent studying/ procrastinating/ attempting to read) partaking in, observing, and quietly documenting to myself the almost Dionysian approach I now see in my younger peers when night falls and the decision to obliterate ones thoughts and social boundaries is made- Lambrini bottle in hand. The following few posts on here will be some of my recollections of these nights, the effects this can have on students sense of self and balance with their expensively purchased education, and the truly shocking, glamorous, hilarious and sometimes unavoidably dangerous situations they procure.

I’ll leave you with one of my photographic teasers until then, see you soon!