Sunday, 28 December 2014

Bloggers' Secret Santa


Christmas is one of my favourite times of year, but I have to admit, I absolutely hate receiving gifts. I am quite hard to buy for, and unfortunately I don't have many acting skills. Therefore, when someone gives me a rubbish present, I am not very good at convincing them (whether it is true or not) that I am in fact, over the moon with the items that I have just unwrapped. And I hate the charade that we then play out. They know they have got me something rubbish and I know that I will put it in a box, never to use it but we try to persuade each other that this isn't what is about to happen. We are both in denial about that, concentrating instead on the festivities.

One little trick we have thought up to alleviate this stress is to use a Christmas List. Now, I know, this isn't exactly revolutionary. But normally what happens at Christmas, is that you are asked to make a list and it is ignored completely. Because your friends/family either 'find something better' or decide that they couldn't possibly stick to it due to it being too expensive or whatever excuse they come up with. However, my family have learnt to now STICK TO THE LIST. It stresses us all out too much otherwise and it is just easier for everyone. I feel a lot more comfortable, knowing exactly what it is that I am opening and it means that I have not had a proper surprise in years.

Until now that is. Because, as I announced back in November in this article here http://charlottecoster.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/bloggers-gift-swap.html, this year I took part in the #APOVGiftswap organised by @violahelen_ (www.apieceofviola.wordpress.com) I have no idea how she organised us all and paired us all up, but it meant that I got to know 17 year old Mel (from www.whatdoesmelthink.blogspot.co.uk). We got chatting and found that we had so much in common. Not just in our interests, but also she has applied to come to Reading University where I studied. Which Viola couldn't have known because Mel hadn't talked about it on her blog at all. So it was just a massive and really weird coincidence.

After a couple of weeks of getting to know each other and reading each others' blogs, we eventually started thinking about the presents. Mel has put up her own article about what I sent her (which you can view here http://whatdoesmelthink.blogspot.co.uk/2014/12/blogger-gift-swap-gifts.html) but you can have a little peek here.

I received my gifts when I returned to my parents' house on the 20th December. I had sent it there, rather than to my own home, to ensure it did arrive before Christmas. Otherwise I would have had to wait until the new year. And it was hard enough to wait anyway - I am thankful it wasn't sitting around that long, or my impatience might have gotten the better of me.

But I absolutely adored my gifts, both of which were so thoughtfully picked out. I can't wait to watch the films. This director is amazing (he is currently directing the West End theatre show starring Tamsin Grieg, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) and apparently watching Spanish films will really really help my vocab, accent and fluency. I have heard that from both Mel and from my buddy/Spanish teacher so it must be true. And I have already started the coffee which is so yummy. I love that I don't have to go out to get my Starbucks any longer.


Thank you so much to Mel for my lovely gifts. I really feel like I have made a new friend in her so I hope we keep in touch, especially if she gets into Reading. Isn't that what Christmas is all about?

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Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Blogmas


They say a poem a day, means creativity will stay...so for my very own advent calendar, I wrote a rhyme every day according to what was in my head at that particular moment about different aspects of Christmas. You can see my excitement building throughout the month.
Alsooooo pay special attention to the beginning of each poem. There is a little sentence that has been hidden within them so see if you can work out what it is.

1st December - written with Black Friday (28 November) and Cyber Monday (1st Dec) in mind
Christmas is right around the corner,
less than a month away
but it still feels like ages
until that special day.
Shops are packed with people
trying to find something nice
to give to their special loved ones
but at a reasonable price.
It's then the world turns vicious
but we should all just chill out
because peace, love and good-will to all men
is what Christmas is all about.

2nd December
How many millions of pounds
does Christmas cost each year?
When we're buying hundreds of presents
and spreading the Christmas cheer.
Decorations, gifts and food,
Alcohol, crackers and cards.
Trying to save all that money
can sometimes be really hard.
Especially for us poor students
who struggle all year round
coz to buy all these presents,
extra money has to be found.
So be careful what you wish for
on your special Christmas day
as someone might be broke
and doesn't want to say.

3rd December
Right now I'm not excited
about the prospect of Christmas Day.
It doesn't seem like it's happening
as it's still so far away.
I'm in a bubble of denial,
shutting it out of my head
so I can worry about it later
and think of other things now instead.
Like 'what shall I blog about next'
and 'what stories shall I start to write?'
'What am I going to wear today?'
and 'what am I going to eat tonight?'
Christmas can take a backseat
for at least another week
Then I really should begin to think
about those prezzies I need to seek.

4th December
It's so cold outside at the moment;
the wind whistles through the trees.
Then rushes across the fields and roads
until it reaches me.
It rustles all the leaves on the hedgerows
causing them to dance.
It makes the animals shiver
and I don't stand a chance
in my thin winter clothes
that never protect me enough,
against that icy stroke
which I feel in its gentle puff.

5th December
Singing carols at Christmas,
is definitely part of the fun.
A chance to truly relax,
once your jobs for the day are done.
Traditional hymns in a church
celebrating that special night
or shouting along to the popsongs
yelling the words with all your might.
They are so upbeat and cheery,
they don't fail to make me smile.
And I forget everything I have to do,
just for a little while.
Whether that's wrapping countless presents
or helping to prepare the food,
the joy of the Christmas songs,
always gets me in the mood.

6th December
Town has become so busy
because of the Christmas rush
as everyone bumps into each other
trying to find the perfect stuff
for all their family and friends
to give on that special day.
They search for the perfect items,
and use them to say
just how much those people
are simply so great.
And how they mean a lot to you
and how meeting them was fate.
How life is perfect with them there
and how you don't want them to change
but to be absolutely honest, I find
all this a little strange.
Why do you need to give them presents
to show them how you feel?
Why don't you simply tell them
how they are a huge deal
and life would be darker without them
and you don't know what you'd do
if they hadn't stayed loyally at your side
consistently loving you.

7th December
My Christmas hours have been announced
and this month I'm working so much.
Which will mean I miss out on loads of fun:
Christmas meet ups, shopping sessions and such.
But it's all ok because with the money
I can buy my family gifts,
finding out what they truly need
and what they've specified for Santa's list.
But far more important--Christmas week I'm free
so I can travel to my parents' home
and spend some time with them on the special day
to ensure that they are not alone.

8th December
As we creep ever closer to Christmas,
the shopping rush becomes more intense.
People panic although we are two weeks away
and the crowds are far more dense.
I know I have to do my shopping sometime
but with all these people here,
I think my family will be lucky
if they receive their presents next year.

9th December - challenged myself to write a rhyming haiku which I have never managed before
Six months of the year
my excitement mounts. Can't wait
til Christmas is here.

10th December - I was playing with form today. As we are in day 10, I wrote a 10 line poem with the line number indicating how many syllables is going to be in that line. And because I am always always surrounded by a million family members at Christmas, I wanted to imagine what it would be like to have no one at all. And I came up with this:

Days
go by
and I grow
cold. Who will light
my fire? Who will
hold me tight? Christmas is
a time of love and I am
so alone right now. I want to
feel happiness just once this year and
now is perfect to attempt a smile.

11th December
Any day now, I hope
the festive spirit will engulf me,
dressing up like Santa
must be the key.
So I get down a big red coat,
put a black boot on each foot,
fetch a massive sack for presents
and cover my face in soot.
That's when my Mum walks in
and jumps backwards in fright.
I hadn't a chance to look in the mirror
but I really did look a sight.

12th December
Yesssssss Christmas is here.
Oh no, I read the date wrong,
we've still got two weeks to go.
Why does December have to be so long?

13th December - I managed another rhyming Haiku
In under two weeks,
children will be SO hyper
they will not contain their shrieks.

14th December - I decided to write a Shakespearean sonnet for Santa. As you do.
Santa baby, you are the one for me:
the one who, when I close my eyes at night
and am drifting off, I continue to see,
whizzing through my dreams til dark turns to light.

Your huge white beard and ever-smiling face,
your coal-black boots and bright red attire
are enough for you to stand out in any place.
From looking at you I could never tire.

Your selfless attitude makes you the best
as you live purely for giving to the young
This is what makes you better than the rest
and this is why songs about you are sung.

I hope I am worthy of you, my love
as I sing your praises to the heavens above.

15th December - I called this one The Christmas Carols get Confused
Hark the herald angels sing -
we wish you a merry Christmas and a happy new year.
So deck the halls with boughs of holly,
(the holly and the ivy)
and come all ye faithful
for once in royal David's city,
the Virgin Mary had a baby boy
while shepherds watched their flocks by night.
In little town of Bethlehem,
amid the winter snow,
Good King Wenceslas looked out
to see three ships come sailing in
with we three kings of Orient
to hear the bells on Christmas Day.
Ding-Dong-Ding!
Ding dong merrily on high
just hear those sleighbells jingling,
and ring, are you listening?
So although the weather outside is frightful,
and in the bleak midwinter the frosty wind made moan,
go tell it on the mountain.
Have a holly jolly Christmas.

16th December - sing these words to the tune of Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Every inch of ground is covered
with a sweet but icy frost.
Makes my nose and fingers frozen
as I cry bout Christmas cost.
All those cards and gifts so dear
that I wish I needn't buy.
But it would seem weird if not.
It's so expensive, I might just cry.
Maybe I should make my gifts
to show they come from my heart instead.

17th December - trying a different rhyme scheme as all my poems are similar
Right around the corner,
I can see the night is near
so embrace that Christmas cheer
and do not stress about the day.

I know it's hard to do this
but relax and have some fun.
Most of the shopping is done
so settle down and enjoy.

Get some alcohol in,
place your family all around you
then raise a glass or two,
for the loved ones who aren't here.

18th December
Eat until you can stuff in no more,
sing festive carols until your throat is sore
and let your voice ring out.
Drink until you are on the floor
spend time with those you should see more,
this is what Christmas is all about.

Not the presents or the fuss
the stress or the rush,
but spending time with your loved ones
for once. Ignoring the stresses of everyday life,
and the people who give you strife
Spend time with your brothers, sisters, parents, daughters, sons...

19th December - 19 syllables for 19 days
Anyone want
Christmas to be here right now?
Not long to go
but I can't wait.

20th December
Turkey eater,
Could wrap neater,
Wine sipper,
Paper ripper,
Board game winner,
Too full for dinner.

What is this lovely time of year,
the one that's filled with all the cheer?
I hope you guessed that it's Christmas Day,
and have a merry one, I truly pray.

21st December
Less than 5 days to go
I really hope it starts to snow
so that we can have a proper Christmas which is white.
Now wouldn't that be a wonderful sight?

Better start holding back on the food I eat
say no to all those extra treats,
because I want to make sure that I still have space
for when I truly start to stuff my face.

22nd December
All at once, I start to think,
what if Jesus had not been born?
What if Mary hadn't become pregnant?
What if he wasn't alive that Christmas morn?
What if the animals went undisturbed?
What if the shepherds continued to watch their sheep?
What if the Angel Gabriel never talked to Mary?
What if the Wise Men's gifts, they decided to keep?
What if there was no star in the sky?
What if there was truly no place to stay?
What would we celebrate on the 25th December
if we didn't have a Christmas Day?

23rd December
So long to this year,
for it's nearly at the close.
Let's celebrate it in style,
ignoring all the lows.
We should focus on the highs
and what has been great,
then bring all that joy
into this very important date.

24th December
TA-DA
Christmas is (almost) here
Drink up
and fill it with loud cheer.
Sing
along to your favourite song
Smile
all day long.
Eat
until you belly is about to pop
Drink
from the morning and just don't stop.

Just enjoy yourself
and celebrate in every way
that you can think of
because this is a special day.

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Saturday, 20 December 2014

When does Christmas truly start?


As the years go by, Christmas seems to start earlier and earlier. The carols start playing in the shops a little earlier, the Christmas displays go up a little earlier and it is forced down our throats for half of the year. No longer is it just a few days at the end of December but a massive corporate machine of events, which stretches out the festivities for as long as possible. Take a look at this post to see the dates for when Christmas can actually be said to begin.

23rd December - Work holidays start
Us working folk have the short end of the stick, having to wait until it's basically Christmas Eve to start our holidays. I always feel like I can't truly relax until I finish my work responsibilities and it's after that, when I can embrace the festivities.

around 19th December - School Holidays start
Kids are a little luckier than us and get a few extra days. But this may not be a truly accurate representation of when they start getting excited about Christmas because teachers have been revving them up for a while. What with all the Christmas themed activities and the concerts/nativities/plays, the kids are buzzing by the time they are free from school.

1st December - Advent Calendars start
Well, at least we are in the right month. A lot of people I know, most ferociously my older brother, refuse to acknowledge Christmas until we are in this month and the countdown begins. He thinks just over three weeks of preparation is more than enough. And it is really. You can easily buy all the presents, food and alcohol you need if you are smart about it.

20th November - Christmas Lights Turn On
Towns suddenly turn into twinkly winter wonderlands, with lights adorning all the buildings, a massive Christmas tree in the centre and many other decorations besides. If this doesn't make you begin to start thinking about Christmas I don't know what will.

around 10th November - Christmas Adverts
In the society we live in today, the media is king and controls us in very weird ways. Which means that TV adverts have now turned into an event. In particular the Coke advert with the famous red truck and the John Lewis Advert, which in recent years has become an integral part of our festivities. I actually find myself looking forward to what they are going to bring out next which is the most ridiculous thing ever.

1st November - the Festive Lattes
The Starbucks and Costa Christmas coffees are actually one of my favourite things about the festive period. They are so yummy and I look forward to them coming out every year, which they do the minute that Halloween is out of the way.

middle of October - Christmas Lights first go up
They may not be turned on for another month or so, but you can see them begin to go up even before Halloween is out of the way. It is a kind of ghostly representation of how Christmas is creeping up on us even then.

July - shops receive their Christmas deliveries
This is not even an exaggeration. We trip over Christmas items in the stockroom for months before we actually put the displays up. And this enables us to sneak in mini Christmas displays before all the craziness hits the shelves sometime in October. Which is still absurdly early to be honest

January - When you buy your first present
They always say preparation is key. So using the January sales to buy gifts and Christmas cards, is sensible really. And it means, you can spread out the joy for the entire year. Hooray.


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Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Zoella and the Ghost-writing Debacle


If you didn't know who Zoe Sugg (aka Zoella) was before, you certainly do now. She has been in the news a lot over the past few days: firstly, for breaking literary records and 'writing' one of the fastest selling novels ever; then for admitting that she didn't in fact write it at all. And that latter piece of news has brought her quite a lot of stick.

Before I begin this not completely complimentary discussion, I would just like to point out that I do like her a lot within the YouTube world. I have seen a huge amount of her YouTube videos and despite the fact I think her main channel videos are little more than cogs in a massive marketing machine, I do enjoy her daily vlogs a lot. She is charismatic, entertaining and very good at what she does.

However, she is not a writer. Anyone who has read her blog would be able to tell you this and would instantly guess that she had not written her novel herself. So it didn't take long for the whispers to start. These whispers soon escalated into shouts. And her and her publishers were forced to make the announcement that she had in fact used a ghost-writer, Siobhan Curham who is a bestselling YA fiction novelist in her own right.

What bugged me about this whole thing wasn't that Ms Sugg used a ghost-writer. This is extremely commonplace. All those who are giving Ms Curham sympathy don't need to do that either. She understood that by undertaking the ghost-writing assignment she was going to receive very little or no credit. What bugged me about it, was the lying that was involved and Ms Sugg trying to pass it off as completely her own. The only reason this makes me annoyed is because of her audience. Her YouTube fans (and therefore the directed audience for her book) are young girls aged between 12-16. This is a very impressionable age, where they idolise people like Zoella and trust them completely. These teenagers are now stoutly defending her against the wave of criticism, without actually understanding what has really gone on. And it is this trust (which may or may not be lost in the process), that Zoella should most worry about, not the literary critics.

It is these young girls who she is now punishing in her next mistake that she has made: her 'break from the internet.' She is clearly hiding and to be honest, I don't completely blame her. The criticism must be hard to bear. But interrupting her daily routine of Vlogs is only damaging her reputation with her fans more. The literary critics and adults who she is hiding from, are not the ones who watch the videos or who are missing her. Nor are her fans the ones who are doing the criticising, so why allow them to miss out? I could understand staying off Twitter for a bit, and all the other social media sites which must be an absolute minefield at the moment. But surely, continuing to upload and proving to her fans that she hasn't done anything wrong (which she HASN'T, it's just she handled it so badly) is a far better way to allow this to all be put behind her. In some ways, this break of hers is actually making her look guilty and the fact she hasn't resolved it, is only making the issue drag on longer.

Finally, taking Ms Sugg out of the equation completely, the news surrounding this book has annoyed me most because I have been punched in the face with a realisation of just how impossible it is to get published if you are not well-known already. As a wannabe author myself, who is desperate to have what Zoella has been handed on a plate, it is faintly irritating. The intense popularity of a frankly mediocre novel is a clear indication of what is truly the selling point. And this is Zoella's name. Nothing more. Just her name. If Ms Curham had sold it herself under her own name, it wouldn't have sold nearly as well.

It is sad that this is what the literary industry has become. Do stories and plot lines and depths of characters not matter any more? Why is it ok that Ms Sugg is given the chance to do what thousands of actually talented people can't? And are you all seriously fine with the fact that our literary world is diminishing just so publishers can make huge amounts of money out of people who they know will instantly make sales? As other publishers undoubtedly jump on this treasure-filled bandwagon, good luck to any other wannabe authors out there. Our lives just became ten times more difficult so we are going to need it.

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Monday, 24 November 2014

Bloggers Gift Swap


It's exactly a month until Christmas Eve and it's safe to say that I AM EXCITED. I love Christmas and everything about it - the food, being surrounded by family, the decorations, the songs, the communal stress of buying presents. It's all such good fun.

This year I am even more excited than usual because I am taking part in my first ever, bloggers' gift swap event. Run by @ViolaHelen_ who writes over at A Piece of Viola, the idea is simple. We send in our details, she pairs us up and then we get to know our partner...after which we send off a little box of goodies. And receive one in return. I can not wait and I will update you on every step that I take in the lead up to the event. So stay tuned =]

If you are a UK Blogger and want to get involved, there are still a few days left to sign up. But hurry, you have to send in your details by the 28th November. Click here to find some detailed instructions from Viola herself -  https://apieceofviola.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/get-involved-christmas-blogger-gift-swap/

And if you are taking part do give me a shout. You never know, we may be paired up =]

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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Dos and Don'ts of Tinder - An essential guide for men


Continuing along the dating theme that I seem to have going on here, I thought I would spend a little time talking about Tinder. This online dating app has been around for a couple of years but really took off at the end of last year. It has now been rumoured to have over 10 million active users. That's a lot of singletons, I had no idea there were so many.

Lots of my friends turn their nose up at it: those in relationships see it as online dating which still has a huge 'YOU ARE A LOSER' stamp attached to it. While those who are single, see it as just a last resort, where all the rejects accumulate to have some kind of massive orgy. I however think it is absolutely hilarious. And, if nothing else, it is the best ego boost in the world. Seriously, give it a try. When you are down, it is a great way of seeing that someone, somewhere finds you attractive.

I have had Tinder since the end of January, although I have only used it for about 6 of those 10 months (I stopped while I was dating people, like the good girl I am). During that time, I have noticed some patterns starting to emerge in the quality of individuals' profiles and the likeliehood of me swiping right. So all you single guys out there, take a look at these little tips I have compiled to ensure that a girl might actually consider you.

Do choose your pictures carefully
Tinder is linked to your Faceebook and therefore you have hundreds of photos at your disposal yet sometimes people really do not think their pictures through. If you put a picture of the back of your head, how the hell do we know what you look like? Or of the side of your face? Or if a stupid mask is obscuring your face? Be sensible about it.

Don't include a picture of a tiger
You might think you are being unique. You are not. And sitting with your arm around a sedated tiger does not mean we automatically assume you are well travelled and quirky.

Do include a picture with a baby/child
Men who are good with children are hot. It's wired into our basic DNA. If you don't have a child to hand, puppies also work.

Don't include selfies
Especially ones where you are holding up your T shirt. Yes you may have nice abs but you just seem vain. It is a good idea to have one picture alone though. If all of them, have massive groups of people in, I am not going to bother playing spot the difference between them to attempt to work out who you actually are.

Do have more than one picture
We like to know you are a real human being and haven't just lifted your singular picture from the internet. At least make the effort to lift a few.

Don't have a picture with another girl
We are jealous, slightly territorial and competitive. Even if she is your sister, we will assume the worst so it's safer not to have any other females in your pictures. Because we will automatically deduce that you are still clearly in love with her and she is far prettier than us anyway so there is no point in liking you at all.

Do pay attention to the bio
Don't ask us questions that we have already bothered to type out once. God, you can at least read can't you?

Don't ask us 'how are you?'
Errrr fine...thanks for asking. You however are boring. Ask us something interesting. I once had someone give me a test to see whether they would ask me out for a drink. A little weird, but actually quite fun and it is a very effective way to see whether we had anything in common. Apparently, we didn't.

Do message first
Females only ever message you if they drunk or being egged on by their friends. Or both. If you fancy her, tell her.

Don't spend months messaging us
Contrary to popular belief of older generations, we do actually like proper communication. And we also like to know you are real. And we slightly enjoy being wine and dined. Take us out. If you are nice enough, we will probably sleep with you.

Don't be creepy
This includes asking us where we live, if we have any fit friends, or making lurid sexual comments.

Don't ask us if we have whatsapp
We are not stupid. We know the only way you can have our whatsapp is if we give you our number. Just be upfront about it and ask us for our number.

Don't take it too seriously
We are fully aware that Tinder is for just one thing. Yet we are still here. You don't need to tiptoe around us.


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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

London Literary Festival - first look at Curtain Call by Anthony Quinn


I love London. It's so full of life and there is always so much to do.

A couple of weeks ago (oops was it really a couple of weeks...so little time, so much blogging) this took me to the Southbank centre for the London Literature Festival. They put on a whole range of events from talks to debates, to readings but what I was heading into the capital for, was a First Look Book Club.

The idea of this is simple and quite ingenious: give a small group of the general public a brand new novel that isn't even published yet. Ask them to read it. Throw them together in a room and encourage them to discuss the good, the bad and the ugly of it. Observe all of this. Improve book accordingly.

It does really make sense and I am surprised that they aren't a common practice. You receive the criticism for the book while there is still time to make alterations, ultimately enhancing your chance of selling the book. And for a literature nerd like myself who is absolutely desperate to be published (and therefore always fan-girling at any events that involve authors/publishers) the event excited me a huge amount.

There were about 12 of us altogether, including me and my friend, made up of all females - teachers, students, book enthusiasts...and then there was the event runner who chaired the discussion, the author, his wife and his publicist. It was a nice cosy set up, very informal  and everyone was so friendly. It definitely helped that we were all book nerds as well so had a lot in common with everyone but it was great to meet everyone. Especially the author, Anthony Quinn who is really lovely and really appreciated our thoughts on the book.

The book was pretty great as well. Curtain Call is set in the 1930s and one of the best things about it is that you can't quite work it out. At first it appears to be a murder mystery when early in the novel, one of the main characters interrupts a murder. However, this is definitely used more as a plot device than as the focus of the novel and it takes a backseat for the majority of the story. What is far more central is the romance between two of the characters. But again, you couldn't simply call it a love story either as on top of those two elements there are enough historical references, to allow it to fall into the historical fiction category. It would be wrong to say that Curtain Call is just one of these genres and Quinn intertwines them beautifully.

Quinn is clearly an ambitious writer. Not only does he flaunt any restriction to specific genres but he also writes confidently about a great many more 'main characters' than most authors would normally attempt. In fact, I couldn't say there were any sub characters at all. Every single one had a very important part to play, had their own plot and was filled out enough for the readers to care about them. Plus they were all interlinked which was faintly satisfying when these links came to light. Each character was humanly rounded with flaws as well as strengths in their personalities and what was perhaps most endearing, was that each one had a secret that they were trying to hide from the rest of the people in the novel. This elevated position of knowledge as the reader is, again, faintly satisfying and it is also very entertaining to watch as they develop. They often have to face up to this horrible secret they are hiding and once they have confronted it, (and allowed it to come out in the open) they are much stronger characters so the work of the author is done.

Curtain Call is simply a really enjoyable novel. It is surprising and gripping, emotional and absolutely hilarious at points. It contains something for everyone and I believe that anyone could enjoy it, male or female, young or old. So make sure you keep any eye out for it as it hits bookshops early next year.

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Our Girl

Sunday nights are no longer going to be the same. For weeks now, the English general public have been lucky enough to have some exceptional Sunday night viewing which, let's be honest, is normally the kind of dead slot reserved for documentaries and occasionally a costume drama. But for the past couple of months, we have been enjoying a new type of drama. One which we have jumped on board with in a big way.

Our Girl, featuring Eastenders star Lacey Turner, depicts the progress of young army medic Molly through her fast tour in Afghanistan. Following a successful pilot episode which portrayed her training, we had to wait over a year for a full series to return. But this wait was well worth it.

The basic premise is very broad as you can see from above: I could sum up the whole 5 hours of viewing in a sentence. But this was intentionally done and clearly a clever design to allow the characters to breathe in an unimpeded way. Each episode had enough plot to be interesting and were definitely not short on action. What was the real focus of the drama though, was the character development. In particular this was portrayed in a skilfully realistic way by Turner. In the pilot, there were dramatic changes as Molly worked hard to complete her army training and Turner played it admirably. However, I believe her acting just hit a new level throughout the series. She shined as the warm yet blunt heroine, and the changes she underwent during the series were a lot subtler, but no less noticeable.

Her leading men (played by the very English Ben Aldridge and the very Welsh Iwan Rheon) also supported her in a perfect way. The whole boy-loves-girl-but-girl-loves-different-boy has perhaps been a little overdone in British drama but that is not to say it wasn't entertaining in this case. And in its slow progression, it isn't the overriding plot focus. It is more about friendship than anything else and coming to terms with the atrocities/danger that all who are in Afghanistan (whether locals, Brits or Americans) face on a daily basis.

With conflict happening a conveniently long way away, it is extremely easy to forget about it. To turn away and act like nothing is happening. Out of sight, out of mind and all that. But Our Girl has managed to bring the atrocities of the middle east to our attention once more and it definitely includes some simple words of wisdom that we should try to hold on to. None of us are wholly bad or wholly good, but all of us should (and can) strive to fix the little things in order to improve the bigger picture, one step at a time.

Our Girl is realistic, human and hugely emotive so it will be sure to stay with you, long after you stop watching it. It is heart warming, always slightly unexpected with a massive plot twist minutes before the end that you will just not see coming. So make sure you check it out. All 5 episodes are still on Iplayer and I promise you won't regret it.

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Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Urinetown the Musical




There are a lot of musicals out there in theatreland. A lot. So it is becoming increasingly difficult to make one stand out from the crowd. They all follow a reasonably similar structure in terms of plot and musical numbers; they all have similarly cheesy lines and actions and they all have a happy ending. But Urinetown the Musical manages to add it's own unique edge to the regular format.

Most enticingly this occurs due to the character of Officer Lockstock being aware that he is in a musical. At points, he stops the show to explain what is going on to the audience and to the youngest character, Little Sally. This is quite a daring move as there is a danger of destroying the flow of the musical and the spoilers he offers could have a negative effect on the audience. However, in this musical, it does seem to work and it allows the characters to (excuse the pun but I had to do it at least once) take the piss out of themselves and the musical that they realise they are acting within.

And yes, it is how it sounds - the musical is principally about peeing. A little unsophisticated for a west end musical but it is entertaining all the same. The basic premise of the plot (set in a fictional futuristic version of the world where there has been a 20 year drought) is that the water has been depleted to such a serious level that private bathrooms have been banned in an effort to save the little amount of water they still have. Which means the characters have to pee in disgusting and expensive public amenities controlled by the corrupt Urine Good Company. Until a young and very handsome lead, Bobby Strong (played by the equally good looking Matthew Seadon-Young) decides to rebel after his father is exiled to the mysterious Urinetown for breaking the law by peeing in the street. And then all hell breaks loose, enabling the excitement of the musical to start.

The title Urinetown the Musical has caused a little trouble for those selling the tickets, or so I've read, and there has been talk of changing it. If Urinetown was simply the town in which the characters lived, I would probably agree with them. But it is so much more than that...it is the shadow of threat which overhangs the characters constantly, forcing them to follow the oppressive government with very little complaint. So it is only fitting that it hangs over the musical as well, consistently hovering in the background.

I did say that Urinetown the Musical is unsophisticated but that is the exterior which the writers have purposefully (and very cleverly) put in the forefront. Beneath that, it has a resonance of Animal Farm about it (you will see what I mean when you go to see it) and is a very cynical look at the political world that despite being fictional, could potentially become a reality.

And Urinetown understands how real this crisis actually is in certain parts of our world. Therefore they are now supporting water.org, a leading charity which looks for developing solutions to the very present water crisis. Next Monday 20th October, Urinetown are putting on a charity gala to announce this collaboration and proceeds from the gala (as well continued support for the rest of its run) will be going to this valuable charity. For more information and to book tickets make sure you visit http://www.urinetown.co.uk/gala.php - not only will you have a brilliant night, I can assure you, but you will also be helping people where the fictional crisis of the musical is very much a reality.

(photos courtesy of Urintetown the Musical)

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Friday, 19 September 2014

Malta and Gozo - August 2014


Not going to lie, I have felt the need to go abroad for a long time. Following my trip to Spain at New Year (check out what I got up to here http://charlottecoster.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/spain.html) I have had a huge amount of stress attempting to finish my degree. As did most final year undergraduate students...so me and my best friend from boarding school, Jo (who was also at Reading University with me) decided to book a trip somewhere to celebrate the end of 11 years in education together.

It took us a while to decide where to go. We debated options like Croatia, Lanzarotte, Bosnia, Chile, and Portugal before we eventually settled on...drum roll....Malta. And it has to be one of the best decisions we have ever made.

I have to say...and I will try not to say this too much throughout the blogpost (although that will be difficult), Malta is absolutely beautiful. Everything about it...the views, the architecture, the quaint little cobbled alley ways, the harbours and beaches... And, even though the island is really small, it contains just about anything that you could want to entertain you...which I will go into, a little more here.

Areas of natural beauty

This is one of the main aspects of Malta which attracted us to traveling here in the first place. It has to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever been (I warned you that I wouldn't be able to avoid using the word 'beautiful' for long). Settled deep in the Mediterranean, it is such a southern part of Europe that it is basically Africa and has the dusty, humid heat to prove it. But the difference is, there's water everywhere. All around the island, there are little harbours and inlets, which are refreshingly damp views after you find yourself in the middle of the parched countryside, more inland.

the dead end
One of my favouritest (most favourite? I can't write English I am so excited by the memory) of these natural stunning views, was The Blue Grotto, which we visited on our final day in Malta. Finding it was a bit of a challenge. We were meant to get two buses but we somehow managed to get off at the wrong bus stop which made it absolutely impossible to find our connecting bus. Instead, we became hopelessly lost in the little rural village of Zurieq, wandering around it for about an hour, which included a 1.5 mile stroll down a dead-end. (Please also bear in mind that this was in the hottest part of the day so the temperature was 30+ degrees)

Eventually, just as we were considering returning to our hotel, we spotted a sign that said The Blue Grotto and what followed was a further two hour trek through the town and along various main roads. I kid you not, I was so tired and sunburnt by this time, I did actually have a little lie down next to one of these main roads (I dread to think what the people in the cars driving past thought of us). But we finally located the Blue Grotto, without any help from either bus or internet. Just our feet and a few blue signs. Maybe if we'd known that we were about to walk (for 3 hours) approximately 6 miles in searing heat, we might not have bothered coming here at all. But I am so so glad that we did. The Blue Grotto is definitely my favourite place in Malta. It was totally stunning, the ocean such a deep perfect blue and twinkling in the sunlight.

On arrival, we headed straight down into the little cove by the cliff you can see in the picture and jumped into a boat that took us around the surrounding caves. Well, to be more accurate, I stepped gingerly into the boat. I am slightly terrified of anything smaller than a ferry, and this particular one was unstable to say the least. I did not let go of the side of the boat for the whole half hour trip, which unfortunately meant  I couldn't take any pictures of the spectacular insides of the caves. As there is no (or very little) sand out here, the water is a completely clear blue and you can see right down to the seabed. It looks like we are mere centimetres from it, when actually it's at least a couple of metres deep. And the caves themselves were huge with wonderfully artistic ceilings, cut out from hundreds of years worth of pounding waves.

History
Other than getting lost, one of the better ways you could spend your time on Malta, is immersing yourself into the huge amounts of history that is prevalent across the island. There is so much - loads of museums in every town, beautiful old churches and cathedrals, old theatres, war memorials and the famous Neolithic temples.

We could have spent a lot more time than we did examining these ancient treasure troves, but Jo isn't very into history. So I had to forgo this mostly. We did have a chance to look around the beautiful St John's Co-cathedral in Valletta, close to where we were staying. You know how cathedrals are often beautiful on the outside, but completely plain on the inside? Well, this was the exact opposite. On the outside it was nothing special, but inside was incredible. The marble floor was completely covered with brightly coloured art, and all the gold decorations and statues that you can see are 24 carat gold. We were given a free audio guide and a map so we could press the right buttons, therefore telling us the right information. But somehow we became really confused by the map and ended up going backwards, unable to work out which numbers related to which bit. We must have looked pretty stupid, having no idea where we were going or what we were doing and wandering around, against the flow. In fact, I am pretty certain that we did look stupid because we had to wear these silly cloths to cover our legs as well. I guessed that we would have to cover our shoulders but apparently my hotpants didn't quite make the cut either so I spent the entire time tying and retying the stupid fabric.

I did also manage to drag Jo around the Ġgantija temples which were on Gozo. I thought they were pretty cool but she wasn't so impressed, calling them 'a load of old stones'. But they are two of the oldest structures, not only in Europe but in the world. I loved being able to wander in amongst their walls and imagine how beautiful they must have looked back when they were in their prime, thousands of years ago.

Surrounding Islands


The temples that we did get around to visiting were actually situated on Gozo, the sister island of Malta which we devoted a whole day to exploring. We had wanted to see, Comino as well but unfortunately didn't have enough time for both the additional islands so we picked the larger one.

For speed and to ensure that we saw as much of the island as possible, we decided to go on one of those open-topped tour buses. I always laugh at the people sitting on those, snapping away with their cameras whenever I see them in London. But actually on Gozo, it was quite effective.

Khaleesi's wedding place
AKA the Azure Window, Gozo
The Entrance to King's Landing
AKA the entrance to Mdina, Malta
We saw a huge amount, including a factory/warehouse where sundried tomatoes were...well...dried by the sun; a beautiful bay with stunning cliffs surrounding it; a beach with really unusual red sand; the ancient temples I mentioned above and one of the many places where Game of Thrones was filmed (Khaleesi's wedding at the very beginning of season 1. I could do a whole essay on the areas that they filmed Game of Thrones in. We visited the old capital city of Mdina the gate of which is the entrance to King's Landing so that was pretty cool as well).

Beaches/Harbours/Bays
The Ramla beach on Gozo is definitely the prettiest that we came across, with unique red sand and a smattering of Roman remains on the edge of it. After we had become really sunburnt, it was a relief to stop off here and to relax in the cool, glittering sea.

Apart from the odd one, there aren't actually that many beaches on Malta or Gozo. Which may surprise you, as they are islands after all! What are far more common are the harbours, which are nearly as cool. We strolled along many bays, harbours and little inlets, lusting after the beautiful boats. Getting around by boat is often far quicker so many people on Malta do own one of some kind. And some of them are ridiculously extravagant.

Nightlife

What there is definitely no lack of, are bars and there are a huge number of both bars and pubs dotted evenly throughout the whole island. But if you did want a bit more of a boogie and a dance scene, Paceville is where you need to head to. This holds the 'strip' of the island and although it may not be quite as big or insane as Magaluf/Zante/Malia, it is still pretty fun.

We didn't actually stay there long. Being extremely old, we found ourselves to tire very quickly of the intense noise and slightly overwhelming crowds of people in these clubs. So we left in favour of a nearby pub, just around the corner. There we shared a bottle of wine and were chatting in relative peace until this was ruined by some middle aged Italian men who seemed intent on bringing us back to their hotel to 'show us their swimming pool.' Needless to say, as soon as we had finished our wine we looked for a way to escape without being too rude. They bought us a few drinks, sang karaoke dedicated to us and finally left us alone for a moment, to visit the toilet. We took the opportunity and legged it from the pub. Not stopping until we reached the bus stop about half a mile away. There we hopped around in fear, expecting them to round the corner any minute, but the bus arrived and we made it back to our hotel safe and sound. And very drunk.

Architecture

Wherever I go when I travel abroad, I always make sure I dedicate a portion of my time to simply wandering around the new place. It helps you to get your bearings but more than that, it is a great way to soak up the atmosphere and to observe every day life as it goes on around you.

The tall, softly coloured, sandstone buildings tower over the narrow cobbled streets and we instantly seemed to lose ourselves in the midst of these little mazes within each town. The more rural towns were slightly different, and were much more shabby, with smaller farmhouses, spaced out amongst loads of browned fields, that had gone dry in the sun. Each was separated by a walls that were basically piled stones which was apparently common across the whole of Malta to prevent soil erosion.

I loved the cities of Malta though. Each building and street had its own character and there wasn't a moment that I was bored. For anyone who wants sun, sea and (a little bit of) sand - you will find that all here. As well as so much more.


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Saturday, 13 September 2014

Top 10 types of people you will meet during Freshers Week


Many of you will be starting university in the next week or so and during that initial week, you will be meeting a lot of different people. Some you will like and some you will want to throttle, but all of them will be a vital part of your university experience. Check out below a few different stereotypical people that you will be more than likely to meet and see how many you can spot once you start university.

The Lad
And by this I don't necessarily mean male...they can be female as well. They throw themselves wholeheartedly into the freshers week student stereotype ie. sleeping with everything that moves. Which is fine if that's what you want to do, and it's definitely good to get that out of your system now. But if you don't want to be a notch on the belt, you had better watch out for these people.

The homesick one
They have never been away from their parents before, never done washing before, never cooked a meal before. And are often very very close to their families, with a long term partner back at home...be kind to them. They are going to find the first few weeks very tough.

The shy one
They are scared of large groups of people, they are nervous of new people, blush when someone of the opposite sex talks to them and so far have said about 10 words. But suddenly give them a few drops of alcohol and they are away, talking nineteen to the dozen about family, school, pets, hopes and dreams...you discover they are enigmatic and hilarious. Draw them out of their shell gently, they are nice I promise.

The confident one
These are the people that you are sure you saw arrive just ahead of you but somehow seem to know what they are doing already and have pretty much everything sussed out. This is most likely because they already know people at university or have been to a uni before and dropped out...something like that. They are super laid back about the whole thing, very social and ultimately really nice people. Stick with them they will help you out as you are finding your feet.

The one desperately trying to fit in
To be honest, even though you have had some very in depth toilet cubicle conversations at 1 in the morning, you have no idea who these people are. They act one way with you, another with the rest of your flatmates and another way again with the opposite sex. They join every society and sport going, turn up at every single welcome talk and are definitely fun to be around. These are the people pleasers so they are often well liked but at the same time you are not entirely sure they are giving you their full attention/full personality. But this will be revealed eventually. Nobody can pretend to be someone else, forever.

The one who didn't come for their studies
They pretty much get drunk all the time and just about manage to crawl out of bed for the societies fairs. That's all. Nothing more. University is meant to be fun right? So writing essays is definitely not on the cards for these freshers.

The one who already knows people at the uni
You don't see much of them during fresher's week. A swift hello and then they are off to see their infinitely cooler buddies in the years above. They are introduced to a different circle of friends from you, their hangovers are far far worse, so of course they don't turn up to any of the welcome lectures (and they know full well that they don't need to) and seem to already know their way around campus.

The clingy one
Very similar to the shy one. You're in their flat, they come to know you reasonably well and are too nervous to get to know anyone else so they refuse to let you go. They follow you everywhere on nights out, sign up to the same societies as you and won't take your hints to go away while you are desperately trying to flirt with that ultra fit guy/girl. But be nice to them, they are trying their best in a situation they don't feel entirely comfortable. And you should be flattered.

The one looking for love
They don't really seem to like going out, but they are extremely social, especially with the opposite sex. They dress up nicely in their Hollister shirts and cute Topshop dresses every single day, and make sure their hair (and make up where applicable) is perfect. They are bound to become one of those statistics who finds their husband/wife at university.

The one who is worried about the £9000
They turn up to every welcome talk going, (even the useless 'how to log into the library computers' ones); they already have a timetable set out in their student planners and they put their student loan straight into a high interest savings account. They then refuse to drink too much throughout the week as they don't want to be hungover for those all important sessions and they explore every single opportunity going. They are absolutely determined to make this £9000 worth it.

Are you starting university in the next few weeks? - let me know in the comments.
And check out these articles:

Top 10 things to do in Freshers Week http://charlottecoster.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/top-10-things-to-do-in-freshers-week.html

Top 10 items to pack for university http://charlottecoster.blogspot.co.uk/2013/08/top-10-items-to-pack-for-university.html

Social Societies http://charlottecoster.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/social-societies.html

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Thursday, 11 September 2014

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat


I first became interested in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat back in 2007, when I was 15. Having decided they wanted to bring back this classic musical, (written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber), Bill Kenwright and Lloyd Webber himself were on the hunt for a brand new Joseph to front it. I watched the X factor-style show with avid interest and being the teenager I was, promptly fell in love with each of the handsome young contestants. Much to my disappointment though, I was unable to go and see either the winner in the West End or the runner up in the tour, so I have been waiting a long time to be able to finally see this musical.

Unfortunately though, there weren't any of the men who I'd fallen in love with, still donning the 'many coloured coat.' (Actually remarkably few of them are still in theatre at all which is a bit of a shame). But who we had instead was X Factor finalist and Welshie, Lloyd Daniels (he came 5th in Olly Murs and Joe McElderry's year). Despite it being his musical theatre debut, he played the role with a certain amount of flair and was definitely engaging in his performance. I feel that he was more comfortable in the catchier numbers rather than the quieter Close Every Door To Me where his tuning could have been improved. Saying that, I did find him really entertaining and his funny response to Potiphar's wife's advances had me giggling.

Eastenders star Matt Lapinskas, in the role of Pharaoh, was also in his first musical theatre role and he was enigmatic enough to pull off this over-the-top character well although I, at times, could not hear all of the words he was singing which was at a fairly crucial point in the story, meaning I was confused for the next part. Danielle Hope joined these TV stars and was truly fabulous in the role of Narrator. Her perfect vocals sounded effortless. It is a hard sing for this particular character as it carries the majority of the songs and she was rarely off stage, but she did not let it show. Her theatre training was obvious and she kept the cast ticking along nicely with humour and a natural ease that was a joy to watch.

The chemistry between the three leads was great. There was a nice touch at the beginning where, having introduced the story, the Narrator permitted Joseph to begin and he thanked her with a little nod of his head. It was additions like these that signalled the production to be of the highest calibre. These three, along with the rest of the talented supporting cast, brought you along for a glitzy and really entertaining ride. Some of the dance choreography seemed a little simplistic for the group who were clearly accomplished but it was still so fun to watch. And that is essentially what Joseph is - fun. The kids in the audience were loving it and I found that a smile didn't leave my face not only for the duration of the musical but for hours afterwards as well. If you need cheering up or simply to have a very distracting break from reality, this is the musical for you.

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Thursday, 4 September 2014

Paris


As a self professed cynic when it comes to love, I seem intent to completely surround myself with couples this summer. My first trip of the holiday was spent travelling with a friend around Malta (a blogpost about which will be appearing soon) while my second smaller trip - a weekend city break - was to the city of love itself. Paris.

Words can not describe how much I love this city. I have been once before when I was about 14 and on a school trip, but at that age you definitely can't appreciate it. Back then we did things like go to Disneyland Paris. This time we did EVERYTHING.

Well, maybe not quite everything. Anybody who has been to Paris would be able to tell you that there is A LOT to do. So much to see, so many chances to view the city from cool places, so many shops, so many little cafes and restaurants, so much architecture and culture and everything else in between. But we did manage to do a lot of it!

The top of everyone's list and the uber clichéd thing to do, is the Eiffel Tower. Now, I love this unique structure. I am not even sure why, it's not particularly pretty but there's just something about it. I think it's an incredible piece of engineering, particularly considering that it was only meant to be a temporary adornment to the city. However, the Parisians fell in love with the 300+ metre flagpole so it stayed. Me and my buddy Kim, decided to take the elevator to the very top which offered some breathtaking views of the city. And it provided us with the best map we could have asked for, meaning we could plan what we wanted to do next.


As I am a huge fan of architecture, I was in my element here, particularly around the Sacre Coeur in Montmarte Hill. So much of our weekend was just wandering around; through quaint little alleyways, becoming horrendously lost in the process but we got to see some truly beautiful areas. At one point our vagueness meant that we managed to misplace the Eiffel Tower, don't even ask how. I think we just got distracted and didn't look to the right. Duh. But every single building we came across, whether it was a world famous monument or just a street of houses, were such a delight. Obviously there are the famous Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur, the pretty Louvre and the majestic structures of the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower...But I actually prefer simply wandering the streets. Montmarte Hill was without a doubt the cutest part of Paris, with it's steep hills, stone steps and pretty houses.


But if you want to see some truly majestic architecture, you have to visit the palace of Versailles. As it was the home of several French kings, each one wanted to outdo their predecessors, and added wings, redecorated with plush furnishings and generally made sure it was one of the most beautiful palaces in the whole of Europe. And of course, the Hall of Mirrors is a very important historical location. It was pretty amazing to visit this iconic home at last.

Another iconic place that we did visit, although we were vastly underwhelmed by it, was the Moulin Rouge. Made famous by the popular film, travellers and fans have high expectations but unfortunately it is simply a tiny theatre, in one of the seediest areas of Paris. It was the only time that, as two females, Kim and I didn't feel completely safe so we didn't hang around long.

I was expecting the world-renowned Mona Lisa, housed in the Louvre to be similarly disappointing. In fact, it was a lot bigger than I originally imagined. This may come as a surprise but the reason for it was that everyone always stresses to you that it's going to be smaller than you think. So I had begun to prepare myself that it would be roughly the size of a postcard. However, it really isn't. It's just an averagely sized portrait. Compared to the rest of the paintings in its gallery, which are all about the size of a small house (and that's not an exaggeration, they are huge) yes it is very small. But ignoring that, it seemed about the right size for a portrait to me. And I was really glad that I had met this celebrity at last.

Paris is one of those places that everyone has to visit at least once in their lives. Preferably before you are 26 because then, on production of a European Passport or driving licence,  you are allowed to enter all the main attractions/sights for free. But whenever you go and whoever you are with, you will be sure to have a great time. This is one of the most gorgeous cities in the whole of Europe and you would not regret your time here.

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