Sunday, 4 December 2016

Happiness does not exist


At least, not in the noun form. Everyone is searching for happiness like it is this big magical thing that just pops along out of nowhere and settles down into our life, granting us everything that we have ever dreamed of. But life isn't like that. Happiness isn't like that. It is simply not a thing that you acquire and appears out of nowhere. Instead, happiness is something you have to work at. Which would make it a verb, technically. Something that grows and fluctuates constantly. You have to work out what makes you happy and then perform it. Which for someone our age is occasionally easier said than done.

I think there are two main ways that you can work at achieving happiness without having to make any prior decisions. Firstly: don't compare yourself to other people. Your life is your life. No one else's. It goes at its own pace and you are free to do whatever you want to do, when you want to do it. Who cares if everyone around you is getting engaged? And buying houses. And getting promotions. And travelling to far off beautiful places. And seems to have a better social life than you. And more money. They only tell you the good bits after all. They don't tell you about the stress of preparing for their workday every day.  Or how much they detest the early starts. They don't mention how they are so tired at the weekends, they only use them to sleep. You don't see all the petty arguments which rage between them and their significant other.

Secondly: don't listen to what people think you should be doing. Which is almost the same as comparing yourself to other people but not quite. Society is full of ideas as to what you should be doing in certain times of your life. And people (including your friends and family) love to tell you exactly what you should be doing right now and how you are failing. I am finding at the moment, that my friendship group is roughly halved and falls into two camps. Either they are getting engaged and buying houses. Or they are still out partying. I personally am in this stupid in-between category. I can't deal with clubs any more but I feel that I am too young to be home on a Saturday night watching Netflix. I don't want to sleep around, yet I am nowhere near ready to commit to someone for life (maybe I need to meet the right person - who knows). I feel I am too old to be part time in a job, yet I don't know what career I want yet. I am too old to get a dive of a place with a bunch of students but too young (/poor) to get a mortgage with a W1 postcode. Ahhhhh it's all so difficult and it's not helpful for parents/friends/strangers to sit there telling me that I 'should be doing this' and 'when I was your age I had achieved all this.' Ignore them and go your own way.

Happiness is an aspect of my life which I have put to at the bottom of my list of priorities but which I have finally learnt should be moved to the top. It is such an underrated concept and something I am working at. And actually I am doing pretty well and slowly working out how to be happy and what I have to do to feel it. Generally it is only when I compare myself to others and when I think about what I 'should' be doing right now, (i.e when I don't follow the above rules) that's when I get stressed and upset. Most of the time I am fine.

I always thought that by 25 I would have my life sorted. And suddenly 25 seems very very close. But there's still time. Maybe 2017 is the year when everything slots into place. Where I find a boyfriend I love and actually want to stick it out with. Where my book gets taken on by a publisher/agent. Where I settle in one city and want to stay. Or maybe it won't. And that's ok too. Life has a way of working itself out. It will all be ok in the end.

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Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Labyrinth

When I was in Edinburgh, I was trying to find a bookshop on my last day when I accidentally wandered past a little garden instead, in the centre of a square on the south side of the city. Nestled in amongst some university buildings, I walked through the entirety of the gardens and there in the corner of them, I located The Labyrinth.

A little plaque on the outside of the hedged-off labyrinth, told me that labyrinths are in fact different to mazes, which most people don't realise. Whereas with a maze, it tries to trap you within its walls/hedges via dead ends and misdirections, a labyrinth is very simple. There is no way you can get lost in one, as there is only a single route which leads you right into the centre. As long as you follow it faithfully and don't try to take any shortcuts, you should reach the middle without any problems.

The idea is, that while you are wandering the path set out for you, you are meant to try to completely relax. All the things that are worrying you, you need to bring to the surface and then leave them on the path so that by the time you reach the centre, you are at a point of complete peace. You can stand in that central point, regulate your breathing and feel like you have achieved something without the weight of worry, panic or any other negative emotion interrupting that.

And it really worked.


I personally used the labyrinth as a metaphor for my life. The path representing my life that I am travelling through and the centre representing my ambitions. At points, moving along this path, it felt like I was going to be there forever, and the ambitions that I was striving towards seemed to be just as far away as when I started. But slowly, ever so slowly, I came gradually nearer, until suddenly I was there. Occasionally I did go backwards a bit, and it seemed as if I was moving in the wrong direction yet it would always loop right back around. And when I finally reached that home strait, it was something of a surprise.

At some points, walking along that path seemed slow and unrelenting. But if I had sidestepped on to a different path and tried to take a short cut, it could, in fact, have taken me the wrong way, or even all the way back to the beginning. There is no shortcut to achieving my ambitions, I just have to keep on going, work hard, never give up and remember that every step I take is a step in the right direction. It's definitely a good thing to keep in mind.

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Monday, 31 October 2016

Edinburgh


I didn't think I was ever going to fall in love. I didn't think I was capable of it. But it's finally happened - I think it is safe to announce this important, irrevocable event in my life. Obviously I want all of you to be the first to know about it. In fact, I want to shout it from the heavens. And all over the internet too. I am in love with EDINBURGH.

London has always been my favourite city. Wherever I have travelled and whatever beautiful places I have seen, London has always felt like home and I didn't think anything was going to knock it off that top spot. But Edinburgh has managed it. I walked in and it just felt right. Like a breath of fresh air. This city has been waiting for me all this time and now I have finally woken up to it. There is so much history, beautiful views, stunning architecture, creativity (I was constantly surrounded by music and monuments to famous writers who found inspiration here too!), wonderful friendly people, there were quaint pubs and tea shops and hundreds of bookshops. Basically it is my idea of heaven.


As a staunch royalist, it shouldn't be that surprising to anyone that the royal offerings of Edinburgh were at the very top of my list to visit. So on the first morning, I sped up the Royal Mile and into the castle. Packed full of history, this huge castle was more like a mini walled village. It had so many different buildings to explore, the Scottish crown jewels, two prisons, the biggest war memorial I have ever seen and I even stood in the room where King James I (the first King of both Scotland and England) was born. I always find it so weird to think that millions and millions of people throughout hundreds of years have stood where I stood and walked where I am now walking. The magnitude of history can become a little overwhelming if you think like that.



I was thinking something similar when I was at Holyroodhouse Palace the following day. This is the Queen's Scottish palace (the equivalent to London's Buckingham Palace) where she spends a week to do all her Scottish business before heading up for her holiday at Balmoral. And as I walked those corridors, I found it amusing that the carpets had been rolled back away from where the public were allowed to walk. Can't have us commoners muddying her home, can we now?


The Royal Botanic Gardens were absolutely beautiful and a lot bigger than I was expecting. I was only going to spend a brief half hour to an hour in these before heading on down to the royal yacht. But they were so beautiful and there were so much more to them than I thought, that I actually spent most of the afternoon wandering around the peaceful gardens. Which meant I had to sacrifice seeing the inside of Royal Britannia but I still went along to the harbour to view it from the outside. Pretty big for a private yacht but this time I was disappointed on size - somehow in my head I was expecting a cruise liner and it wasn't quite that big. The gardens were much much more impressive. My favourite part, was the gorgeous Rock Garden where they had plants from all over the world at different levels. And right in the middle, towering above the lake, was a waterfall. Of course there was. The whole effect was stunning.





It is safe to say I did A LOT of walking when I was in Edinburgh. I had no idea that it was so hilly. It gave me a proper workout that's for sure and next time I visit I will definitely go to the gym for a month beforehand at the very least. I obviously explored the ground thoroughly, wandering all over the Old Town, the New Town, Stockbridge and the entirety of the Leith walk all the way down to the harbour (which was 2 miles each way, just saying!)




But I also made the effort to see the city from above. The castle was on a hill, well technically a volcano, giving me excellent views of the Old Town below and a bit of the New Town beyond. I climbed Calton Hill, which turned out to be an excellent idea as I met a lovely local who gave me advice on what I shouldn't miss during my explorations. Plus it gave me a slightly different angle on the town. And on the very first evening I climbed Arthur's Seat. Again, I wasn't fully prepared for this little trek. I mean, the hill is right in the centre of the city, how big could it actually be? Answer - it is HUGE. And climbing it in skinny jeans/little slippery ankle boots was not my cleverest plan ever. I think I would have been ok if it hadn't been for that. And the fact the 'steps' going up the side of it, should actually be known as 'little death traps that make you fall.' I can't believe I got both up and down them, all in one piece. It was totally worth it for the views of the sun going down over Edinburgh, though. It was truly beautiful and I don't think I have ever felt so content in all my life.


As I had seen so much of Edinburgh from above and at ground level, I had to complete the trio. It was only to make it neat and to ensure that I got the fullest view possible of the city. So I headed underground on the Mary King's Close Tour. I didn't really know what this was about, but it was, in fact, one of my favourite things that I did whilst I was there. All over Edinburgh there are these little alleyways that run down the hill away from the main streets. These are called Closes and the closes that we were being taken to visit were below the massive City Chambers building in the very centre of the city, right opposite St Giles Cathedral. They had originally existed as normal closes with people living in the houses. But when the City Chambers was to be built in their place, everyone was chucked out and they simply knocked off the top 3 or 4 storeys and plonked the building on top. So the closes still exist beneath the building. It was surreal to one minute be going down steps into what you think are going to be cellars and then to suddenly find yourself looking down a street. It's like an underground city. And it's these little quirks which made me fall in love with Edinburgh.


Another of the great things about Edinburgh which made me fall in love with it a little more, were all the literary connections. Considering that I had taken myself off on holiday in order to write, I really had managed to pick the perfect place. Every day I saw the Scott Monument (the largest monument to a writer every created); walked past the Balmoral Hotel where Dickens and JK Rowling both wrote masterpieces; sat in pubs and cafes that were frequented by authors and I'd arrived by the only train station in existence to be named after a novel. It was basically a writers' dreamland.



On top of that, there were SO MANY second hand bookshops there. Which of course I couldn't resist - it was definitely a case of eyes bigger than stomach kind of a thing. I bought far more than I could fit in my bag so I then had to buy another bag to lug them the 450 miles home. Oops. Oh well. I regret nothing.


I ended up dedicating the whole of my final day to bookshops and going on a proper tour so I could examine as many of them as I could find. I didn't want to leave any of them out, did I? I visited about 8 or 9 in all and they were all wonderful in their own unique way. One which was called Cabaret, was a weird mixture of homeware and books. So to reach the books, you had to go down this super steep spiral staircase. For a clumsy clot like me, it was an absolute death trap, especially because there were pictures and figurines alongside the staircase all the way down. It would have taken one tiny misstep for the whole lot to go flying. Armchair Books was my official heaven. Not only did they offer a student discount but there were just books everywhere you looked. The second you stepped inside, you were completely surrounded by them. It was wonderful.

I really can't believe that it has taken me such a long time to drag my ass up to Edinburgh. Sure it is a long way to go and extremely far out of this southern gal's comfort zone (like seriously, anything north of London is technically north right?) but this is one of the best trips I have ever been on. This city, with all it's creativity, gorgeous architecture and cute little cafes, is just so me. I will be back there for sure. And I definitely will be visiting the little Southern Cross Café lots more times when I return. When I am a bestselling author, I want a plaque attached to the wall going 'Charlotte Coster wrote her novel here'. Totally going to happen.

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Thursday, 29 September 2016

Week of Walks - Spain - September 2016


I love exploring new places. Whenever I go abroad or even if I have a single day off in the UK, I tend to pick a town and just wander around its streets. It's the best way to get a vibe for the place and from those peaceful amblings, I get far more of an insight into the culture than just sticking to the touristy sights. Don't get me wrong, I do love a good museum or gallery or a stately home. But better than any of that is simply walking through the town, gazing up at my surroundings.

Which is basically what I did when I visited Spain a few weeks ago.


I was staying in a town called Calella which was about an hour along the coast from Barcelona. It was a beautiful spot and had the best of all three worlds - an intricate and interesting town to explore, the hills behind it and the sea on its other side.



We started off by walking the coast, taking in the beautiful sea views and climbing up the cliffs. There were many different paths set into the cliffside and they took us higher and higher through the woods. On the very edge of one of the cliffs there was a lighthouse to warn passing ships of the jaggedly rocky coastline below. And even higher still were two medieval turrets that used to be watch towers before they fell into disrepair hundreds of years ago and were now simply a small tourist attraction.

From up there we had some excellent views of the town and the hills behind Calella gave us a similar view. By exploring Dalmau Park and again trekking through steeply ascending woods, we had the whole of Calella laid out before us with the sea beyond.


We travelled further along the coast as well, to the town of Santa Susana. At ground level it was very touristy with massive hotels dominating the beach. But if you moved away from them and bothered to climb the hill behind all of those grandly tacky structures, you got a real feel for the historical town. The architecture was lovely and I walked the winding roads until I was close to the top of the hill and could view Calella in the distance.



As we were staying so close to Barcelona I obviously couldn't resist spending a day exploring that wonderful city too. I felt that it was a mixture of many other European cities I had visited. It had the gridded structure and hip-ness of New York with the architecture and beauty of Paris along with the friendliness of London. We spent the entire day walking around it and went from Las Ramblas all the way up to Park Guell so it was interesting to see the difference between the ordinary apartment buildings and the grandness of some of the sights closer to the touristy sights. Gaudi's unique designs which we spotted frequently throughout our walk were also stunning.



So there is my advice for you. Whenever you visit a new place, make sure you do a lot of walking. That's how you can see the reality of the country you are staying in.

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Saturday, 27 August 2016

Buying Back My Time


During a dead period at work the other day I found myself daydreaming about being rich and what exactly I would spend all my money on if I did happen to win the lottery. Is it just me who does this? Please tell me it's not because I have actually found myself doing it an awful lot recently.

And it made me think - why exactly do I want to become a millionaire?

Because, to be completely honest, I don't need or want lots of money. Yes I really do mean that. I am a strong believer in how money can't buy you happiness and how there are all sorts of other stresses that come with having money that we just don't see. On top of which, there isn't an awful lot that I would want to do/buy that I don't do/buy already.

After thinking about the issue a bit more deeply, I realised there was only one true reason I would want to have more money = I would be able to give up my job and use all my time to write and push getting published. Essentially I want to buy back my time.

We all spend a hell of a lot of our waking life working. Time is one of those things which is meant to be inherently ours. We are born and we have a certain amount of it to use how we like. Except we can't. Therefore we spend money to grab some of it back for ourselves.

Mostly, we achieve this through booking a holiday (completely quitting our jobs may be a little too drastic for some). By spending a few hundred quid we manage to secure a week or two of our lives a year that we can use purely for ourselves. We can explore a new place, breathe a different air and totally relax. Essentially we can do whatever we want to do.

I find it so sad that we can't do what we want all the time. It is our life after all, yet we have so little control over it. Which is why buying back our time for ourselves is so very important. Book your weeks off somewhere exotic for an explore and a relax. Give yourself treats. Visit friends and family. Eat, drink, do whatever makes you happy and don't feel guilty for spending that money. Remember that your life IS yours despite the fact the majority of the time, it does not feel like it.

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Sunday, 21 August 2016

What makes the Olympics truly great


The Olympics is like marmite - it is one of those events which you either love or you hate. If you are really into sport, well then I guess this is what your heaven would be like. Sport on telly, all day every day on every channel. While the rest of us just endure, trying not to complain too much (even when the Bake Off is pushed back a few weeks QUEL HORREUR!)

I am not exactly what you would call a sporty kind of gal. I don't play sport, I never watch sport and prefer to sit reading/writing/eating cake/all three rather than attempt to run or do something similarly energetic. But even I get gripped by Olympic Fever.

It happened so slowly that I barely noticed it. At first I treated the Olympics with a certain nonchalance. Oh it's here...fine...if it has to be. Then I had it on in the background while I was doing something else. Then I started watching the odd event and then I looked up when the finals of certain events were, to ensure I didn't miss them.

Because that's what the Olympics does - it sucks you in. We all get swept up into this crazy two week adventure and go totally nuts. We just can't help it.

The reason for this, quite simply, is because the Olympic athletes are so inspiring. They have worked incredibly hard for many years to reach this point of skill and fitness - they are at the top of their game. And because the media bigs up their journey so much, we almost feel like we have been on this journey with them although the television crews can barely scratch the surface of the amount of work that truly goes on. And then we look on as they succeed or we see them fail.

Either way, it is incredibly emotional. These athletes put everything into the tiny amount of time it takes them to compete. Literally everything that they have. They don't half arse it, they don't give up. They fight to the very last second until they can give no more. And the emotions that are produced afterwards (whether that is due to elation or despair) are so raw, it is almost intrusive to watch it. And we go through the emotions with them.

I watched the incredible performances followed by the extreme happiness of so many athletes - Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow, Max Whitlock, Laura Trott, Jason Kenny, Andy Murray, Bryony Page and so many more....and I also saw the crushing disappointment of countless others.

I couldn't help but think what great role models these people are for youngsters. They advocate hard work, determination and never giving up on your ambitions which is an incredibly valuable thing to pass on to children. I hope that there were lots of children watching this summer, who then found out about a sport because one of their heroes won a gold in it. I hope they yearned to be like those people that we saw up on the podium. And I hope they copy them. Because if they do, there will be a great many fantastic Brits in the future.

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Thursday, 11 August 2016

Half a Sixpence


As a theatre blogger/lover/addict (delete as appropriate) I regularly lament that I do not live in London with access to the fabulous West End every night of the year. But when it is summer and you live in one of the most beautiful towns in the UK which boasts one of the best theatres in the country, I don't really have much to complain about.

I am, of course, talking about Chichester Festival Theatre, which I am so lucky to have just down the road from me. This year, amongst other productions, it has put on Half a Sixpence which I was invited to attend on Tuesday night with a group of fellow bloggers.

Half a Sixpence, based on the novel Kipps by HG Wells, is the story of overworked apprentice Arthur Kipps who yearns for a better life and more money. But when he comes into an unexpected fortune, he finds that it does not solve all his problems. He struggles with trying to straddle the two worlds that are as far away from each other as could possibly be - the world of the poor, with his friends and the world of the rich, which he now technically belongs to.

Prior to attending the show on Tuesday night, I made the decision not to watch the film. Perhaps this was foolish, but as this had been adapted by a writer you might possibly have heard of, Julian Fellowes (yes, the Downton Abbey genius!) and new songs had been added by musical dreamteam George Stiles and Anthony Drewe (who helped create shows such as Mary Poppins); I wanted to enter with a fresh perspective too. I didn't want to simply be comparing this exciting, brand new adaptation to the old version the whole time. But I was in good company as Charlie Stemp (who played lead, Arthur Kipps) didn't either

Talking of whom, Charlie Stemp was absolutely wonderful in his first lead role. With a little West End ensemble work already under his belt, Stemp actually auditioned to be understudy Kipps but after circumstances changed for the original lead, he got the role. Proving that sometimes luck and good fortune play a big part in this crazy industry. However, that doesn't take anything away from the fact that he is unbelievably talented. He serenaded, whistled, pranced and banjoed his way through the show with apparent ease. Which isn't easy at all considering that he is on stage for the majority of the runtime. His energy didn't seem to wane though and he definitely made you fall a little bit in love with this slightly doofus-like character as he carried out the plot of the show.

Devon-Elise Johnson and Emma Williams (who played his love interests Ann Pornick and Helen Walsingham) were similarly fantastic. Johnson's girl-next-door portrayal of the often ignored Ann really made us feel for her and the feistiness she brought to the part was spot on. Johnson's vocal prowess was proved time and time again too. From the emotional 'Long Ago' to the extremely comical new addition 'A Little Touch of Happiness' which had us all in stitches, Johnson proved how truly diverse her voice was. Williams, in some ways, had a much harder job in that she played a slightly less likable character. It would be easy to view the character of Helen as this horrible woman who stole Arthur away from his childhood sweetheart. But Williams' performance and stunningly heartfelt vocals allowed you to empathise with her and feel for her big time! Williams did a truly epic job.  

You might not feel like you know this musical but actually it is highly likely that you know at least one of the songs - Flash bang wallop which comes at the very end of this new reworking of the show. Giving the cast no chance to rest, it is this massive extravaganza which ends the show with a (literal) bang. The entire musical is a big spectacle with one huge glittering dance number following another. It is gorgeous to watch. Most of the songs have been adapted in some way to fit the changes that Fellowes made and then there were the additions of a whole bunch of new songs. These fitted seamlessly into the musical and were in keeping with the original score so well that it is hard to tell which are the additional ones. In fact, two of my favourites - 'A Little Touch of Happiness' and 'Pick Out a Simple Tune' - were new ones and I didn't realise until I had looked them up afterwards. One thing is for certain, whether new or old you won't be able to leave the theatre without them buzzing around your head and accidentally humming them.  

I do love the classic musicals and considering the popularity of Showboat, Guys and Dolls and Funny Girl this year, I hope that Half a Sixpence may have an opportunity to Flash (Bang and Wallop) its way into the West End. But in the meantime you can catch it at Chichester until the 3rd September. And if you are under 25 you can get tickets for £8.50 (find about their Prologue scheme here) so you really have no excuse.

**I was very kindly invited to attend Half a Sixpence and meet the cast by Chichester Festival Theatre but, of course, all the opinions expressed here are my own**

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Sunday, 7 August 2016

Harry Potter rewatched

Everyone has been a little Harry Potter mad recently  with the whole excitement surrounding the release of the book version of the play that is currently in the West End (and I still haven't seen. So sad about this!!!) Me included! I grew up with the stories. I mean I was 6 when the first book was read to me and I was 19 when the final film came out. It has literally been my companion throughout the entirety of my childhood.

So I thought to get in on the hype a little bit I would reread all the books and rewatch all the films. This is in fact, is the first I have rewatched the films as an adult, since they first came out. I have been wanting to do it for a while and then my brother gave me a box set of all of them for Christmas. So I did feel it was finally time. And here is my adult perspective of those wonderful films.

Harry Potter 1

This came out in 2001!!! Can you believe it. I was only 9 and the child actors were not that much older. They were incredibly cute!!!

When this first came out, I had to wait until it was on video (yes, video. Do you remember what they are???) and then I watched it over and over and over again. To the point where I could speak the lines along with the film. Even now, I could still talk along with the majority of Hermione's lines (did anyone else want to be Hermione when they were a kid??)

Since this has come out, I have struggled through boarding school and teacher training and I have realised that the teachers of Hogwarts seriously need to work on their disciplinary and general techniques.

Firstly - house points are neither a good deterrent nor a good motivational tactic for teenage kids. They are inherently selfish and don't care a monkeys about their house prestige.

Secondly -  the mixed signals. The teachers set down rules but then casually break them whenever they feel like it (for example when they send Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco into the forest for detention after dark despite pressing on them how terrible it is to enter the forest/wander the castle and its grounds at night)

Three - their blatant shows of favouritism from Snape, McGonagall and Dumbledore. Really? Of course they are going to have favourites, every teacher does. But it is extremely unprofessional to show that favouritism quite so obviously.

Talking of Dumbledore and Snape, it did hit me half way through just how many of the actors are dead. I am not sure I am over Alan Rickman's death yet!!

Harry Potter 2
When I was a child, this was my least favourite movie out of the 8. I think it was mostly because it was kinda scary. The disembodied voice freaked me out and the spiders wasn't great either - Ron summed it up best when he said 'Follow the spiders? Why couldn't it be follow the butterflies?' Even as an adult, I still jumped when the basilisk appeared out of the water when Harry was down in the chamber.

Saying that, it was also a really really funny movie. There were some great one liners in there. For instance:
'You and that bloody pigeon aren't going anywhere'
'Have you seen my jumper? Yes dear, it's on the cat'
'You're a mess Harry'
'At least no one on the Gryffindor had to buy their way in'
'Oh Harry if you die down there, you're welcome to come and share my toilet.'

Hermione has better hair, Harry's voice has almost broken and Ron has learnt to drive - don't these kids grow up fast?

Harry Potter 3
So the Harry Potters have spent two movies introducing the world in general and the vague plot/threat. But the third one seems to be a lot more settled.

The characters really come into their own in this movie and you find out what they are made of. Hermione is calm, logical and the voice of reason. Ron tells it bluntly how it is. And Harry is kind hearted to the core. When Snape insults him and his father, he defends his father first. And he does the same when he is defending himself/his father to Marge too. And when Lupin nearly kills him but then gets knocked around by Buckbeak, he goes 'poor lupin, he's having a really rough night.'

I love the constant love and friendship that he displays when he is surrounded by his friends and how he is constantly searching for it in Sirius and Lupin in this movie. It's heartbreaking that he is just looking for love and acceptance and he finds it because he is wonderful to all the people he meets despite having a horrific childhood. He really is a great character.

Harry Potter 4
This is basically the one where they are all rubbish with girls. Hagrid puts his hand on his conquest's bum and she says no and he spikes flitwick's hand when he can't keep his eyes off her. Ron gets jealous about Hermione and Krum. Harry dribbles at Cho, and then fails to ask her out. Ron fancies his sister in law, and asks her out by screaming at her. The comedic moments are pretty endless.

In fact, they are great a relief from the dark Voldemort-based events that go on. The opening titles of this film are noticeably darker and the first death that we actually care about, happens. This is the beginning of the adultness of the Harry Potters, and it all just steps up a bit: the acting, the subject matter, the budget and the special effects are all a lot bigger form here on out.

Harry Potter 5
The Order of the Phoenix is the one where Harry finally learns the benefits of friendship. He has always been a bit of a lone ranger throughout the other films especially when facing the threats at the end of the year. He always battled them by himself and he has always been a touch arrogant because of it, putting himself above the others a little bit because of the experiences he has had. But now finally he understands just how important love and friendship is. It ultimately saves him. And he, in return, saves them. It was a joint effort. He's also all the more accepting of people who are different. Losing Sirius was completely heartbreaking and the acting is a lot better, particularly surrounding that event.

Harry Potter 6
This was always my favourite and watching it refreshed that opinion. I love it. There are some really funny lines in it and I think the banterous friendship between Harry and Ron is much more normal than it has been in the previous movies. I love the little moments like when they were fighting over getting the non-tattered potions book, when he was opening up about his love life and when they were talking about girls '[Ginny] is attractive, she has nice...skin. Hermione has nice skin don't you think. As skin goes.' The relationship with Hermione solidified too as the best friend of Harry and the love interest. He was her moral support when she had to watch Ron fawn over Lavender.

Harry Potter 7 Part 1
Everything is stepped up here. Most notably the action. There are long pauses between the different sections of action but when it comes, it is totally enthralling. The mystery surrounding the horcruxes and the hallows keeps you interested. The effects are much better and the deaths start coming from the very beginning. And every single one is heartbreaking. Whether that is Hedwig or one of the human characters, you feel as if you have got to know them all and you care about each one. It is horrible when they die.

Harry Potter 7 Part 2
And this is where it really comes together. Part 1 just seemed to be one long introduction to this film. In fact, all 7 films seemed to be an intro for this. It is fabulous. The amount of action. The amount of characters. The amount of answers you finally get.

Over the 8 films, you really feel like you get to know the characters. The films came out over a period of 10 years and span 7. You literally watch the characters grow up in front of you. You grow up with them. You almost view them as friends. SO when they have hardships, you really feel it. When Harry finally meets his Mum andDad, getting ready to die, your heart breaks. His line - I didn't mean any of you to die for me - it is survivor's guilt big time. The whole thing was beautifully done. The action was wonderfully entertaining, the emotional bits really pulled at your heart strings. Harry shows his humanity again and again. The friendship between the three are shown again and again. And you realise that they are everything to each other. They are the three sides of the triangle and co-exist wonderfully. It is a perfect series.


Preference 8, 6, 7, 3, 2, 1, 5, 4
Favourite character - Draco or McGonagall
Favourite non human character - Dobby obviously

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Saturday, 30 July 2016

The Truth


Whispers have been haunting my every step. Did I kill him? Did I kill him? Did I kill him?

The answer: yes I did.

When I told them, they didn’t believe me.

‘But how can that be? You are only 4 and three quarters. He was 51. You must be wrong, you silly little girl. Who really killed him?’

I did. I really did. I am telling the truth. Mummy always told me I should tell the truth, otherwise my nose will grow and I don’t want to look like an elephant.

Mummy had only just come home when I did it. Daddy had been looking after me all day. I don’t know why. On Saturdays it is always Mummy who plays with me but I didn’t mind it being Daddy. Except when he got cross with me when I asked where Mummy was.

It was very late when she came home. I was tucked up in bed. She came in to kiss me goodnight.

‘I’m sorry I left you with Daddy, it won’t happen again’ she’d whispered in my ear.

I should have said something. Like how much I loved Daddy and how much fun I’d had when we had played. But I didn’t. I was tired. So she left me.

I tried to go to sleep but I couldn’t. Because that is when the shouting began. I tried to ignore it. It happens quite a lot so I did what I had always done. I snuggled under the cover with Ted and pretended I was in a tent. But I got too hot, so I had to come back out again.

I didn’t like the shouting. I hoped it would stop soon. It didn’t. It got worse and worse and louder and louder. I was scared.

I was also worried. I think they were shouting about me. I heard my name. So I did something naughty. I got out of bed.

I tiptoed slowly towards their bedroom, even though I knew I was safe. They wouldn’t hear me. Their door was shut which means I am not allowed in. I went in anyway.

I couldn’t see much. Daddy had his back to me and Mummy was over by the window but I couldn’t see her because Daddy was in the way. They hadn’t heard me come in, so they were still shouting at each other.

‘I don’t want you going near her ever again!’ Mummy yelled.

‘You can’t stop me!’ Daddy bellowed straight back.

‘I can and I will.’

‘You can’t come in here and make demands.’

‘I just did.’

‘You’ve been screwing around all day and this is how...’

It carried on and on like that. And then suddenly Mummy was silent. It was just Daddy shouting and shouting. He was so loud and Mummy wasn’t saying anything. He was very still, barely moving at all. He was just very noisy. So when he stopped I had to see if he was alright. And if Mummy was alright too. 

‘Daddy?’

He whirled around to face me and as he did so, Mummy came into view behind him. She made a swift movement. I watched the light fade from his eyes. Like he was going to sleep. And then he curled up on the floor.

So yes, I am telling the truth. I hope you believe me. Because I have as much blood on my hands as Mummy. And that will stay with me my whole life. I will never forget.
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Thursday, 30 June 2016

What is beauty?


I was looking in the mirror, doing my makeup (this is the only point in my day that I actually spend any time looking at my face) and it hit me that soon I am going to be 24. 24!!! That is kind of old. Not actually old. But the kind of old where you should start getting your sh*t together (scuse my French). And mine is very much not together. Mine is very much all over the place.

My thought process then moved on to the physical effects of being another year older. And yes there aren't many but I do notice a few more lines on the face, the odd grey hair appearing (although I am not sure if it was actually a blonde bit. My hair is kinda weird in certain lights/sections) and crinkles appearing when I smile or laugh or talk. Or sneeze. Or do nothing.

And the next progression was this - I found myself, subconsciously and without even really thinking about it, listing out the things I don't like about my face. My thick eyebrows that take SO MUCH EFFORT to stop them from invading the rest of my face, the bags under my eyes, my teeth which aren't quite even, my thin eyelashes and hair and every other undesirable feature. Believe me the list went on for ages.

It made me wonder though, why was it that I 'hated' myself so much? Where have I got this unrealistic, unattainable idea of beauty from?

I blame it on the media (like I blame everything else wrong in this country). But this time I might be justified.

They fill our heads and all our various screens with perfect people. Who are perfectly ordinary people too, yet they happen to have their imperfections edited out and the resulting image is what the rest of us aspire to be.

Those people, the people with the clear skin, the flawless teeth, hair, eyes, bodies, life...it is all a lie. A fairytale that we couldn't achieve if we wanted to and hasn't even been achieved by the people who are paraded in front of our faces all day long.

Part of my aim for my 24th year, is to appreciate what I have. To stop comparing myself to all those celebrities who have a team of make-up artists and photoshoppers presenting them as perfect. How boring would the world be if we all look the same anyway? It is time that I take back my face as my own and just deal with it. After all, this is what I have been given. And to be honest, it doesn't really matter what I look like, does it? It's not me that has to look at it all day!

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Friday, 10 June 2016

Mary Poppins


A few months ago you may recall that I wrote all about the excitement I experienced when I went to see one of my favourite childhood films on the stage - Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In that blogpost I listed a few others that I had watched and rewatched religiously as a child. One of which was Mary Poppins. Which I finally got to see on stage at Southampton's Mayflower Theatre this afternoon (it's not often that this London Theatre Blogger manages to get out of the West End and join the UK tours so this was exciting too).

Now, as this ranked higher in my preferred films, my excitement was also proportionately higher. Which meant that I have been as high as a kite for the last couple of weeks, since I booked it.

It helped too that a Strallen sister (Zizi Strallen in this instance) was in the title role. You can always tell that a production is going to be top class if one of them is involved. And she is the most phenomenal dancer. Her singing wasn't of the same calibre but her dancing (and there was A LOT of dancing) was flawless. She swept easily across the stage, making it all look so easy.

The thing about Mary Poppins was that it was just so entertaining. There was always something to look at - from the beautiful scenery, to those huge dancing numbers to the special effects to the beautiful costumes, it all added up to make a spectacular performance.

And she flew. She really did. This was one of many special effects that wowed the little children who made up the majority of the audience. But even I have to admit it was pretty magical to see her arcing over everyone as a kind of stern angel.

The juxtaposition of Mary Poppins' character is much more apparent here than it was in the film. Strallen played her with this beautiful poise that didn't crack throughout the three hour production. She was highly moral yet humorous too. And at times, she was extremely dark. In her effort to teach the children, she was not always outwardly loving but she was loyal to them, which came out particularly in her disposal of the bully after the interval. I love the fact that the theatre production included more of the stories from the original books because you were able to get to know her a lot better and feel like you understood her more.
When I watched this I felt like a child again, filled with wonder and unable to take my eyes from the stage. I was drawn into the fantastical world, to the point where I didn't want to return to reality. And that is exactly what musical theatre should do. Well done Mary Poppins, you were practically perfect in every way.

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Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Intimidating TBR pile tag

I think I am addicted to buying books. I kid you not, I do an Amazon order a month and buy odd ones basically weekly from charity shops and the like. But I already have SO many (68 to be exact) that I already own and haven't read. Yet. I will one day.

So to examine my shelves and to pay more attention to my ever-growing TBR list, I thought I would do the Intimidating TBR tag. I noticed that Sarah from Sarah's Chapter had done it and I am now jumping on the bandwagon even though I am about 6 weeks late.

1. What book have you been unable to finish?
Vanity Fair by William Thackeray. I started reading this a couple of years ago, while I was writing my dissertation but because I got busy, I put it down for ages, and I then forgot what happened. I do really want to reread the whole thing and will get around to it eventually. Probably later this year. 

What book have you yet to read because...

2. ...you just haven't had the time?
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - it's awfully long isn't it. Another book that I want to read later this year.

3. ...it's a sequel?

The Red Queen and the other books in the Cousin's War series by Philippa Gregory. I have read The White Queen and I wasn't overly enthralled by it. So I have left the rest of them for now although I do own them all. Gregory has a very old fashioned way of writing and tends to repeat things.

4. ...it's brand new?
I don't often buy brand new books. And if I do I get so overexcited by them that I have to read them straight away. But my most recent book purchase (although it's obviously not a new book) is a book of Sherlock Holmes stories. They only arrived the other day so I haven't got around to reading them yet.

5. ...you read a book by the same author and didn't enjoy it?

I am a little bit on the fence about Cecilia Ahern. I love Where Rainbows End but really hated How to Fall in Love which I read most recently. So although I own PS I Love You and If You Could See Me Now, I can't be bothered to read them because I don't like her style very much and am a little unsure whether I will enjoy the plots.

6. ...you're just not in the mood for it?
I have had Dracula by Bram Stoker for a while but I just can't seem to bring myself to read it. I know it will probably be brilliant and I will love it. But it's SO gothic. And I might even find it scary. (I'm a wuss!)

7. ...it's humungous?

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. Have you seen the size of it? It's HUGE. After I watched the BBC series in January (starring the divine James Norton as Andrei) I was like yeah I can do this. So I ordered it. And now I am like, no. So many characters, so much waffle on Russian politics, so many long Russian names. It's going to take me months.

8. ...because it's a cover buy that had really poor reviews?

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I very rarely make cover buys. But this one had an interesting blurb and I liked his others (Cloud Atlas is one of my favourite books). Since then though, I have read a lot of very mixed reviews. I know I should give it a go to see for myself but somehow it's slipped further and further down the list.

9. What is the most intimidating book on your TBR pile?

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. That book is LONG and it has really tiny writing. Again, it's another one I want to read this year. I seem to be saving all the long books for the second half of the year. Whereas I have read 30 already I will probably only read 6 in the second half. If I do actually read this and all the others mentioned above, like I want to. I will keep you posted.

10. Who do you tag?
Everyone in the lovely GG Book Club, I call to you - give it a go and let me know what delightful books you have on your TBR list.

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Sunday, 24 April 2016

William Shakespeare

William Shakespeare. You know that completely extraordinary poet and playwright? Who is ever so slightly famous? Well yesterday marked the 400th anniversary of his death.    

As a literature graduate I have an awful lot of love/time for Shakespeare. I say that like I need an excuse to love him. As if! But in actual fact, I know there are plenty of students and graduates who aren't quite as enamoured as I am.

When I was a teenager I didn't really get him. And even as a first year student I hated studying Hamlet (still not a huge fan to be honest) but from there my love grew a little. It was the comedies that captured me and I love every single one them. In the summer of 2013 I went to The Globe to see my favourite, The Tempest, three times. And A Midsummer Night's Dream twice.

The thing about Shakespeare is that really you have to see it performed. And not only that, you have to see it performed well. The RSC is obviously the top choice (if you can manage to get one of those extremely sought after tickets to any of their performances), but any professional group would do. The thing which trained actors can often succeed at, where amateurs sometimes fail is they make him sound natural and completely normal.

Because that is ultimately what he is. Yes the language is dated and littered with little phrases such a thee and thou and whence which we don't use any more. But he is an English human being not an alien.

What actors have all managed in the performances that I have witnessed, is they have given his words meaning. They are not just words on a page any more, they have been given life. And when you start paying attention, you realise that Shakespeare is not so alien.

Last night I was watching the various fabulous performances in the Shakespeare Live programme and trying to work out what it was about Shakespeare that made him so great. Why has he been translated into every language on the globe? Why has his work been adapted into everything from film and ballet to songs and raps? Why is he very much still a huge part of our lives, 4 centuries after he died?

The answer is quite simple. Human beings haven't changed that much. And Shakespeare wrote about the simple, core emotions and events that were at the forefront of culture at the time: love, grief, murders, wars, history, kings, queens, mistaken identities, basic silliness...all things which are very much part of our lives now too. He looked around him and vividly depicted basic emotions and every day life. It was done so well and so honestly, that of course we can still relate. Because like I say, we haven't changed that much.  

You could easily turn around to me and say that you hated Shakespeare in school and definitely don't find him funny. Ok, I believe you. But go and find a production of Twelfth Night on YouTube or somewhere. Skip to the bit where Malvolio has turned up in Olivia's bedroom, showing off his legs that are clothed in ugly bright yellow stockings (thinking that she would find them attractive) and then wonders why she doesn't fall instantly in love with him before proceeding to chase her around the room. I challenge you not to find that HILARIOUS.

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Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Tea and Me

Recently I have been on a bit of regime to introduce more positivity into my life and on to my blog as well. And I had a MAJOR realisation. I haven't talked about the biggest joy there is in life, on the blog at all.

Tea.

Wonderful tea.

I suggest if you don't like tea, you stop reading now. Because this post is going to be full of it. Also, I am not sure we can be friends. Tea is kind of essential to life and a bit of a big deal so if you are not going to even consider it, I am not sure how much we are going to have in common.

I'm only joking. But seriously. Tea = important.

I have noticed (well... certain colleagues have recently pointed out to me) that over the years I seem to have acquired a very particular set of habits and hang ups surrounding tea. Which I thought I would share for your amusement!

I do think that this is potentially THE most British post I have ever written!

1. Herbal/fruit/green tea does not count as real tea
They are all so gross and anyone who says they are a tea-drinker yet this is all they drink...well you don't make the cut I am afraid. Tea is a brown lovely liquid which makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Other forms of tea do not have the same effect.

2. I actually get quite angry with fruit teas
Why do you smell so good and taste SO bad?! I dislike you a lot.

3. Peppermint tea is kind of magic
I do slightly exempt peppermint tea from number 2. Because it is a miracle worker. It solves everything: aches and pains and sore throats and stomach aches...anything you can throw at it basically.

4. There should be no sugar in tea! 
I would have no teeth left if I put sugar into every single mug of tea I consumed.

5. And milk should be minimal
These people who dunk the tea bag in for two seconds, take it straight out and then pour in half a pint of milk and 5 sugars...that is not tea. That is milk and sugar and water. You are not a real tea drinker.

6.Tea should be properly brewed
There are two ways you can reach the appropriate level of brew. Either you can leave the tea alone for around five minutes so the brewing has a proper amount of time to take place (this has the added bonus of the tea then being the correct temperature to immediately start drinking once it is ready) OR you can simply leave the teabag in. Either are acceptable.

7. Teacups should only be used if you are having afternoon tea 
This is pretty self explanatory. Teacups are lovely occasionally but you wouldn't consume the correct amount of tea if you always used them.

8. Mugs are the best way to drink tea!
They have to be rounded, bigger than your fist and be able to fit your hands around them. A big handle is also necessary.

9. Morning and Post-Work tea are essential
I will never say no to a cup of tea but all others are optional and I see them as a bonus. Only those two cups are necessary for the well-being myself and all those around me.


10. One mug of tea can give you roughly 1000 words of productivity
Ish. Obviously there are various other conditions that effect this, but on average this is how much writing I can do whilst sipping my tea.

11. Biscuits are acceptable accompaniments to tea.
Dunking however is not. I don't understand those people who like to have bits of biscuit as an added feature.

12. Tea and cake is the best 
And of course, you could add scones if you wanted to go the whole hog.


13. Drinking tea at mealtimes is risky
It's best to leave it separate really. Breakfast is obviously ok - things like toast or cereal. But if you are thinking about lunch or dinner, I wouldn't bother. Mixing temperatures (eg. a cup of a tea and a salad) is not cool. Stick to cake and biscuits if you want to be safe.  

14. And the best brand of tea? Yorkshire!
Obviously. PG Tips and Twinings are ok too! Supermarket brands are not.

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Friday, 1 April 2016

Are book adaptations more suited to TV or Film?

I love books.

Yeah ok...I will tell you something you don't already know.

As a self-confessed book nerd (or addict or lover or geek or whatever other noun professing strong love you would like to insert here), when I am not reading them, I am discussing them. And when I am not discussing the books themselves, I am discussing something book-related such as their adaptations.

Now there are a lot of adaptations out there but the most common way is via film and TV. And in film I swear the cinema is swamped by them. You can't visit it without there being at least one adaptation in there. For instance at the moment there are not one, not two but four books in the film world -- most notably Allegiant, Batman vs Superman (based on Marvel comic books so kind of counts. Kind of), High Rise and The Huntsman: Winter's War (loosely based on Snow White).So even though I have got two kind-of ones, there's still two more actual proper novels.

I have to say that I am not always a huge fan of film adaptations. Without fail, they never ever live up to the book. Two hours is just not enough time to attempt to fit all that emotion in and to portray those wonderful characters in a way that actually does them justice.

I do watch most of them and every time I really hope I am proved wrong. But I never am.

That's not to say they are bad films. In fact, I find if you try to ignore the book they are based on, you can actually enjoy them more. Or if you don't read the book at all. This is what I did with the Divergent films and as a result I have actually really enjoyed them.

TV adaptations I am a little more positive about. In the past three months alone there have been two major book adaptations screened on the BBC - War and Peace and The Night Manager. And I absolutely adored both of these.

In a TV series you get a lot more freedom in that you have loads more time to play with. The Night Manager spanned 5 1-hour episodes and in War and Peace there were 6. You obviously can't have a five or a six hour film.

This extra time allows the actors and the directors to explore the story more deeply, recount more of the events of the book and to delve into the characters fully. Throughout those weeks you spend watching the characters grow and progress, they actually start to become a part of your life, almost like the real family and friends who you know and love. There's no way you can achieve that in a two hour film, however great the acting/writing is.

To be honest, although I prefer TV to film and although I prefer the book itself to TV (OBVS!) I am never going to complain about any book adaptation. There are just so many wonderful books out there which the majority of people won't have the time to read or won't know about. Both TV and film reach fresh audiences and might encourage the person to locate the book. And that could never be a bad thing, could it?

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