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, this year I took part in the #APOVGiftswap organised by @violahelen_ ( 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 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 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


They say a poem a day, means creativity will 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:

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 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
Christmas is (almost) here
Drink up
and fill it with loud cheer.
along to your favourite song
all day long.
until you belly is about to pop
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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