A lesson in the absence of communication: Normal People review

By the time I’d bought Sally Rooney’s Normal People in April last year, it had already been chosen as Waterstones’ Book of the Year 2018, and one of my good friends had been badgering me to pick it up myself as she’d loved it so much.

However, I felt exhausted when I finally closed the pages of Normal People, and while I think it’s true that there can be a wrong time to read a book (I was feeling very low at the time), I’ve had no desire to re-read Rooney’s novel since. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t enjoy it. The recent TV series cemented this for me, precisely because it is such an excellently accurate adaptation.

The problem with reading and watching Normal People, for me, was that it was compelling, but in no way rewarding; I’ve never been so frustrated with two main characters and their lack of communication.

Normal People school

Normal People centers around Marianne and Connell from County Sligo in Ireland, who begin a secret sexual relationship during the final years of school, and then continue to have an on/off relationship well into their university years.

In school, Marianne and Connell aren’t in the same friendship group and operate on different social planes. Connell plays on the school’s sports team, is well-known and part of the ‘popular’ group, whereas Marianne doesn’t have any close friends and is generally alienated despite her intelligence and rebellious attitude. The fact that Connell and Marianne’s relationship is kept private is understandable, initially. They’re both still relatively young, and having to navigate through the social ranks at school to confess to a connection they both don’t yet understand is daunting.

However, when that connection deepens, school ends and the dreaded ‘I love you’ has been said, it still doesn’t seem to give Marianne or Connell a desire to speak more openly about their relationship, either between themselves or to others.

I felt an affinity with the characters of Lorraine, Connell’s mum, and Niall, his friend and housemate at university, who both seem perplexed at Connell’s defensiveness and hostility whenever they ask after Marianne; it’s like he doesn’t want to have to admit she’s a significant part of his life. Additionally, Peggy, Marianne’s friend at Trinity, states that Marianne and Connell make a ‘cute couple’, but Marianne quickly dispels that, which then leads Peggy on to a clearly uncomfortable discussion (on Marianne and Connell’s part) about exclusivity and threesomes. Even after Peggy leaves and Marianne and Connell are left alone, the word ‘couple’ seems to hang in the air but no confrontation of the subject ensues.

There are no speech marks throughout Rooney’s novel and for me, this emphasises the lack of verbal communication between Marianne and Connell; their feelings for each other may be strong but they just don’t translate verbally. Nothing of huge significance is voiced in order to eliminate the strain in their relationship and for it to progress healthily. I think the TV series helped in conveying a more tangible connection between the two characters in terms of their body language and sexuality, but watching it, I was still asking myself the same question as when I was reading the book:

Are they really meant for each other or not?

There is absolutely no denying that Marianne and Connell have something, and there are times when they ‘get’ each other without the need for words — for instance, early on when Marianne is upset by being groped in the nightclub and Connell judges correctly that she wants to be taken home, and further on, when they’re apart and Marianne comforts Connell by suggesting they continue their video call overnight so he can eventually fall asleep after experiencing a bout of insomnia.

Nevertheless, it’s in the moments where communication is needed that their relationship ultimately fails and leads to a breakdown of understanding. For example, when Connell loses his job in Dublin during the university summer break and has to go back home, he wants to stay with Marianne, but she doesn’t pick up that sense from him. This then results in another breakdown of communication and more time away from each other, thus creating further distance and hostility. If they were really meant for each other, would this be happening?

They are obviously sexually compatible — and I want to take a moment to say that the sex scenes in the BBC Three series are some of the most honest and real that I’ve seen on-screen, from both film and TV. There are no cutaway shots, clever angles to hide the actors’ flesh or cliché fade-to-black effects; we see each small moment as authentic, even if it’s awkward. Marianne repeats “it doesn’t feel like this with other people” to Connell, and we believe her — but the couple’s lack of articulation even bleeds into their sex.

This is most evident when Marianne asks if Connell would want to hit her. I think this stems from the insecurity leftover from the dom/sub relationship she pursued with Lukas in Sweden. In this moment, Marianne’s worried that Connell will say yes, he does want to hit her, in which case she would sink comfortably back into her self-hate. Connell’s reaction to her question is almost one of revulsion, which, instead of relieving Marianne of her fear, makes her feel ashamed for even broaching the subject and once again results in her running away from the situation. I can’t help thinking that if they’d discussed Marianne’s relationship with Lukas, they’d be able to navigate through their sexual experiences better and eliminate feelings of shame or discomfort by establishing suitable boundaries.

I think what draws a lot of people to Normal People is the ‘will-they-won’t-they’ aspect, but in my opinion, this aspect is abused; it becomes traumatic for both Marianne and Connell and it became tiring to me. I found myself frequently asking if I really cared if Marianne and Connell ended up together or not. Their relationship becomes toxic because of their constant back-and-forth and it baffles me that so many people can find that attractive or desirable.

There’s also a theme of forbidden love running throughout which is founded on the fact that Marianne and Connell used to keep their relationship secret. They never seem to fully mature from that or break free of that mindset and this plagues their connection senselessly. I think a lot of emphasis is also put on the fact that they come from different backgrounds and family upbringing, which seems like a trifling obstacle. The only thing holding Marianne and Connell back is themselves, which brings me to the subject of mental health.

Normal People uni

Sally Rooney handles the portrayal of mental health beautifully in Normal People, as do Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones in their nuanced performances, and I think the issues Connell and Marianne face have a huge impact on the progression of their relationship.

After the death of his childhood friend Rob, Connell’s anxiety spirals out of his control, and I found his therapy scene, in both the book and in the series, incredibly compelling. It was refreshing to read about and to see a man willingly go to a therapy session and try to understand the complexity of his emotions. In this scene, Connell seems to be struggling to know what he meant to Rob, and because he feels alienated due to the fact that he has never been able to really ‘click’ with anyone, he’s afraid he’s never going to have a real impact on anyone else’s life. This, I think, is why he worries whether he and Marianne’s connection has longevity.

Equally, Marianne is also troubled with the tangibility of their connection. She doesn’t tell Connell everything about her time in Sweden but she does allow him a glimpse of her feelings of disassociation, by explaining over email how she feels ‘outside of [her] own life somehow’, detached and ‘shocked that anyone can actually see [her]’. It’s as if Marianne wants to disappear into insignificance; the depletion of her self-worth (also reinforced by her emotionally abusive brother) may mean that she’ll never feel good enough for anyone, let alone Connell.

There are many moments of regression mental health-wise for both characters, which, while completely realistic — not everything is linear and there are always setbacks on the road to recovery — affect the plot, because we never really see a huge breakthrough from either character, there’s no epiphany moment where Marianne and Connell finally realise that their insecurities aren’t so dissimilar and that they have the potential to lift each other up and overcome them.

I like finishing a novel or a series knowing that the characters have experienced a shift, or a significant change has been made. However, at the end of Normal People, I felt a tension again, like the same kind of thing we’d seen before would happen; Connell would go to America and then Marianne would decide to be with someone else, and the cycle would repeat itself. I found the ending of the series to be more upsetting than the book because visually I could see a deep tenderness between Marianne and Connell, but again I found myself wondering whether they truly loved each other, especially on Marianne’s part, as she didn’t take up Connell’s offer of joining him in New York but also didn’t give a specific reason for wanting to stay in Ireland instead.

Normal People beach

I don’t always expect a happy ending from a story, but I think this one falls flat without it. Ultimately, I think my frustration with Normal People is that —while I can appreciate its complex and intimate narrative — as a reader and a viewer, there’s no pay-off for investing so much time in these two characters, whose relationship still doesn’t feel fully formed or entirely healthy by the book/TV series’ conclusion. Here are two people who, if they focused on some self-love and improving their communication, could potentially work and flourish as a couple. Unfortunately, we can only wonder.


Thanks for reading.

What did you think of Normal People? Am I completely wrong and want too much from these characters, or did you feel the same? How does your perception of a healthy relationship impact on your reaction to the events of the story? Do you now follow Connell’s chain on Instagram..? Good or bad, let me know your thoughts!

Reading responsibly…

How lockdown has affected my relationship with books

Hello, long time no speak.

I hope you’ve been enjoying my book reviews on Instagram — I wanted to post more on there and it’s been a great editing tool in helping me cut reviews down to reasonable(ish) lengths!

Anyway, since my last post on here in early February, SO MUCH has changed. The whole world has seen a huge shift due to the coronavirus pandemic, and we’ve all had to make changes to adapt.

However, what I’ve noticed during this strange period is that aspects of my life that I thought I could control have slipped from my grasp…


A couple of mornings ago (what day even IS it?) I opened up my Goodreads app yet again with an overwhelming sense of dread, stared at my reading goal for the year, and had a revelation.

I’ve been punishing my own reading habits for almost two months.

Now, before I go on a — probably quite self-indulgent — rant about my discovery, I do want to point out that there have been some beautiful things happening in regards to reading during this lockdown. There are people who had never really made time for reading before who now consider it their new favourite hobby; people are discovering new authors, new genres; books are being sent in the post as gifts; conversations about books are generally thriving from what I can see, and as I said, it’s a beautiful thing.

But back to my Goodreads.

Goodreads, for the most part, has been brilliant. I’ve discovered so many new books, recommended and been recommended tonnes and loved being nosy at what my friends are reading. I smashed my reading challenge last year, and upped the number of books for this year. This quantifiable goal had never been a problem for me before.

But ever since the lockdown, and ever since connecting via social media became more important than ever, that Goodreads goal has been taunting me. Telling me I’m one or two books behind my goal, while everyone else, it seems, is storming through… I want to keep up, to be on target. I’ve found myself, DAILY, thinking I can’t possibly read fewer books than last year, I’M A READER. I can’t abandon my personality as a bookworm! Why aren’t I using all this free time wisely?!


The problem is, of course, my own self-critical mindset. I’m surrounded by incredibly talented friends and family members, many of whom are reading a lot and creating amazing things at the moment. The ‘good’ side of my brain (and my heart) is immensely proud and happy for them, but the toxic, comparative side, makes me feel awful that I’m not also having a busy period of reading and creating.

What troubles me, as I’m sure it does for some of you too, is that this lockdown hasn’t gifted me any particular inspiration to start up baking, sewing, drawing, working out more, or even learning a musical instrument. Just like the world outside, the creative side of me is facing a period of uncertainty.

I’m a very ‘all or nothing’ person, meaning that when I’m interested in something, I won’t stop until I’ve researched and learned everything I possibly can about it, to the point of obsession. The lockdown has knocked this aspect of my personality majorly. I can’t really focus on anything for too long. I’m hopping from one thing to another because I’m restless. I could be doing more in-depth research into an idea I’ve had for a novel, but I know I’d get bored within less than half an hour. And because I miss everyone so desperately, social media has invaded my hobby time.

When I read, I usually leave my phone in another room or away from me, and I can easily spend a few hours in another world. Recently when reading, I’ve found myself stopping, updating my page number on Goodreads, seeing what everyone else is reading, feeling bad, and then opening up Instagram, doing the same, and consequently spending the next few hours hating myself. It sounds silly typing it out, but there you go.

It’s a quote I’ve been seeing a LOT, and then ignoring entirely, but I’ve realised it really is ‘okay to not be okay’ — it’s okay to not even feel like YOU right now.

You’ve also got to remember what your goals were before the lockdown — okay, a lot of them will be on hold, but for instance, my goal was to get a new job that I enjoyed and to really throw myself into it and prove myself. That’s a goal I think I’ve achieved (and am still in the process of achieving). Now, I’m working from home and lucky enough to still be on full hours and pay, unlike many others. I’ve realised during this time how passionate and resilient I am about work. I’ve been beating myself up about my hobby and not giving myself enough recognition over the thing I spend most of my time doing!

Also, even if I was still going into work as normal, I don’t think I’d be able to get through as many books as last year anyway — I drive fifteen minutes to get to the office now; two and a half hours have been cut off my daily commute time compared to last year. I used to do most of my reading on the train and the tube, so I had only just established a new reading routine before the world went into corona chaos. Also, because I am currently very anxious, I’ve been needing more than books to distract me and calm me down of an evening (playing Animal Crossing has helped; I highly recommend).


My last post on here was about the book releases I was most excited about this year. Have I read any of those books? No.

I finally bought The Mirror and the Light and Hamnet, however they’ve been sitting on my shelf abandoned. I’ve been purposefully avoiding them because they are hardback and they are long. Of course I’ve enjoyed the other books I’ve been reading and reviewing, but I’ve been denying myself the pleasure of reading others because of an unimportant number on a social media app, and that is incredibly sad.

No more.

Two mornings ago I lowered my Goodreads goal to a more realistic one. I may even get rid of the goal altogether.

Because of my previous ‘I need to read a paperback and get through it quickly’ mindset, I am currently reading The Five by Hallie Rubenhold. But I’m now reading it carefully instead of rushing through and tracking the page number each time I put the book down. I’m reading it at a slower pace because it’s a lot of historical detail to take in, and I want to read it with the respect it deserves. And I’m also reading it at a rate I’m comfortable with because I simply need to take a bit more care of myself.


I know this post hasn’t been particularly original, but hopefully it helps to remind some of you, as well as being a reminder to myself, that you don’t have to be on top of things right now. You are enough, you don’t need to use this time wisely, etc etc!

Stay calm, stay safe and healthy.

Read responsibly, create from a place of love, and give yourself a pat on the back for getting through this post.

Till next time!

My most anticipated book releases of 2020

January is finally over, which means there are loads of upcoming book releases to get excited about!

I thought I’d share five of the books I’m most looking forward to getting my hands on in the next few months, so without further ado…

The Foundling – Stacey Halls

(UK release date: 6 Feb 2010)

The Foundling

I bought Stacey Halls’s The Familiars last year, mainly because of its gorgeous cover — typical me — but it was also, thankfully, a gorgeous story. The cover of The Foundling is equally as gorgeous, and I’m looking forward to delving into more of Halls’s rich historic detail and compelling storytelling. Zaffre Books recently posted a snippet of The Foundling audiobook on their Instagram, and will be posting an additional snippet every day at 6pm until the book’s release!

The Mercies – Kiran Millwood Hargrave

(UK release date: 6 Feb 2020)

The Mercies

I still have yet to read The Deathless Girls by Hargrave, which is a YA feminist novel about the brides of Dracula, but it sounds right up my street, just like Hargrave’s latest novel. The Mercies is based on a real-life witch hunt in 17th-century Norway, and I’m hoping it’s as dark and intriguing as it sounds. Its release is creating quite a buzz so I’ve got high hopes.

The Mirror and the Light – Hilary Mantel

(UK release date: 5 March 2020)

The Mirror and the Light

I’ll try not to make this sound dramatic but reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies CHANGED MY LIFE. I’m obsessed with the Tudor period, and I’ve never read such a stunning and raw portrayal of Tudor life. Mantel’s majestic writing style cannot be beaten, and I’m so excited for the final instalment in this trilogy.

Hamnet – Maggie O’Farrell

(UK release date: 31 March 2020)

Hamnet

Funnily enough, I found out about this book thanks to Stacey Halls’s Instagram post in November last year! Hamnet has been described by reviewers as an immersive tale of grief and loss. O’Farrell portrays the real heart-wrenching story that influenced Shakespeare’s most famous play. I get shivers just reading the synopsis of this book! I have a feeling it’s going to be very special. I’ll get my tissues ready.

Q – Christina Dalcher

(UK release date: 30 April 2020)

Q

I read Christina Dalcher’s Vox on holiday last year and sped through it greedily. I think I finished it in less than two days (alright, I was just lounging on the beach to be fair, but still). I loved the Handmaid’s Tale vibes throughout Vox. promises a similar dystopian tale of survival, bravery and defiance. The striking cover was revealed last Wednesday by the publisher, HQ, and I’m hoping to get my hands on a proof after entering their draw!


I do pretty much read anything, but I think this list makes it quite transparent what my favourite go-to genres of books are… historical, mystery, and feminist!

Which book releases are you most excited about this year? Let me know in the comments!

 

 

Review of BBC’s Dracula: A complex feast for a Stoker fan

Can you remember New Year’s Day? It seems so long ago, even though we’ve still got a week of January left…

Anyway, try and cast your mind back through the hazy fog to January 1st and you might recall that the first episode of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s three-part BBC adaptation of Dracula flew onto our screens.

I’ve been a bit of a vampire nerd ever since reading Bram Stoker’s novel in my early teens, and as a result, I’ve seen a fair few adaptations of Dracula. So, the stakes for this new one were high. (Please either enjoy that pun or grit your fangs—I mean teeth.)

This review is going to be littered with spoilers so I recommend you watch Dracula before you read on because the plot does deviate from the events of the book.

Episode 1: ‘The Rules of the Beast’

Dracula 1

This episode was faultless. It had everything I wanted and more.

Screeching bats, TICK. Dracula’s towering shadow, TICK. Both basic Dracula components appeared within the first ten minutes — and there were also flies buzzing around Jonathan as he entered the castle, signalling decay within the walls. Great stuff.

The castle itself was rich in gothic detail. The low, flickering candlelight used created the perfect unsettling ambiance, and I loved that we got to see how much of a maddening labyrinth the castle was to Jonathan.

I was in awe, terrified and grossed-out many times over during the episode. The fly entering Jonathan’s eye made me shiver; the undead corpses chasing Jonathan through the castle tunnels was scary as hell; Dracula bursting out of the wolf’s stomach was gloriously gory, and Jonathan’s deterioration was masterfully displayed — I genuinely felt sick seeing his fingernails peel away. Huge hats off to the hair and makeup team. I also loved that we could visibly notice Dracula absorbing life and youth from Jonathan; this seemed to draw on the part of Stoker’s novel when Renfield begins killing insects and animals to absorb their ‘life force’.

The casting was superb. I’ve always been slighted annoyed by Jonathan’s character but John Heffernan brought a wonderful subtle gentleness to the role and conveyed Jonathan as a truly damaged man in the convent scenes. Claes Bang had the dark hair and thick eyebrows reminiscent of Christopher Lee’s Dracula, along with a perfectly menacing smile and a new, disarming sense of humour that felt welcome rather than out of place. And Dolly Wells. Sister Agatha. AGATHA VAN HELSING. Oh wow. What an absolute power-house. Her quick wit, intelligence and nonchalant attitude to danger firmly established her as a formidable opponent to Dracula; the power-play between them was electric.

There were three great stand-out moments in ‘The Rules of the Beast’: the striking chiaroscuro on Dracula’s face when he rose from his grave in the candlelight (that shot had Hammer horror written all over it); the nod to Sherlock when Sister Agatha mentioned a ‘detective acquaintance in London’; and when Dracula started hungrily licking Agatha’s bloodied knife after she’d finished tantalising him with it. The latter, hyper-sexualised imagery was almost on-par with Dracula’s lustful draw of breath after licking Jonathan’s shaving knife in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation. (You ask me why I think Gary Oldman is the best actor in the world, your answer is in that scene.)

I was genuinely speechless when the episode ended. I couldn’t wait for the next instalment.

Episode 2: ‘Blood Vessel’

Dracula 2

Remember I said the stakes were high? Yeah… this episode is where things became problematic.

The Demeter’s journey isn’t short, but the description of it in Stoker’s novel is, so that’s why ‘Blood Vessel’ felt too drawn-out. It was as if I was watching a murder-mystery where I already knew who the murderer was and how he did it. Ironically, at the beginning of the episode, Dracula advised Agatha ‘not to get too attached to any of [the people on board]’ and I really didn’t care for many of the characters — although I did enjoy the ‘needs paprika’ scene and the unlikely bond formed between Oglaren and the boy posing as ‘Piotr’.

Dracula was less terrifying, which was probably because he had more screen time; the more you see a monster, the less likely you are to be scared of it, after all. I was on edge watching ‘The Rules of the Beast’ but this time I didn’t even so much as flinch. I was missing the grit and gore of the first episode, Dracula’s jagged movements and unpredictability.

The Inside No. 9 references were fun and the twist was cleverly done, I admit. The birds-eye shot of the castle steps forming a number nine inside Agatha’s ‘dream’ was great. However, I felt as though the first half of the episode was preoccupied with leading up to the twist, and as a consequence, we lost some of the striking cinematography and horror elements that made the first episode so enjoyable. Additionally, even though Dracula evidently enjoyed having the upper-hand over Agatha, and made her blood ‘last’ like a fine wine, he seemed to be playing games with her only to pass the time rather than truly trying to get to her. In ‘The Rules of the Beast’, Dracula seemed intrigued by Agatha’s fascination with him, but this time round his behaviour towards her was more dismissive. The power dynamic shifted and their chemistry was less palpable.

Nevertheless, one thing I admired about ‘Blood Vessel’ was its discourse regarding stories. The form of Bram Stoker’s novel was epistolary: it was made up of diary entries, letters, news articles and other written accounts. ‘The Rules of the Beast’ seemed to pay homage to Dracula‘s form because Jonathan narrated his experience of Dracula’s castle to Agatha, in the same vein as Jonathan’s journal entries in the novel. In ‘Blood Vessel’, Dracula continued the narration of events by telling Agatha the story of his sea voyage. Additionally, we saw Countess Valeria divulging a story from her youth to Dracula and in doing so she became encaptured within that memory, making her easy prey for Dracula. This tied in with the ‘blood is lives’ comment from the first episode to create an intricate metanarrative: Dracula is able to absorb knowledge and stories from people by drinking their blood, stories which in themselves are also ‘absorbing’ and distracting, and which can be retold many times over. At the end of ‘Blood Vessel’, Olgaren made a comment to ‘Piotr’ about honouring the dead passengers of the Demeter by ‘telling their story’, reinforcing the power of a good narrative.

I’d love to say I was speechless at the end of ‘Blood Vessel’, but the last scene set me off in a rage. I was so excited to see Whitby in all its gothic glory and felt like I’d been robbed when I saw that — WHOOPS — Dracula had spent over a hundred years in his box of soil at the bottom of the sea. WHAT?!

There was no real logical explanation for it. Dracula had already drunk from the Captain, so he wasn’t weak and in need of rejuvenation from the soil. He told Agatha he’d swam under the boat in order to get back on it before, so what was stopping him from grabbing his box from The Demeter and pulling it ashore with his super strength? The ship wasn’t far from Whitby. It was still night. Also, even if Dracula did just jump in the box, could he not have woken himself up? He could clearly breathe underwater because we saw him breaking out of the box and walking underwater to shore. SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

Were we talking about stakes? I think by this point, they’d sunk into the mud.

Episode 3: ‘The Dark Compass’

Dracula 3

After I had let my frustration out about the ending of ‘Blood Vessel’, I tried to reserve judgement for the final episode.

I still found it difficult to adjust to the 21st century setting, but thankfully the pace of ‘The Dark Compass’ was faster than ‘Blood Vessel’, and there were some genuinely chilling moments amongst the absurdity of others. I’ll start with the absurd parts…

I don’t understand why Gatiss & Moffat decided to omit the character of Arthur Holmwood completely, and have Lucy engaged to Quincey instead. The engagement itself was preposterous — in a nightclub of all places, on the same night that Quincey had been introduced to Lucy’s friends, and less than one minute after we’d heard Lucy say ‘it’s not like I’m gonna marry anyone’. Stoker’s Lucy was a frivolous and flippant character, but the modern-day setting of this episode made Lucy’s acceptance of Quincey’s proposal ridiculously unbelievable.

I cringed watching Dracula using Tinder to find victims and texting Lucy — although I did laugh that he used all capitals to text, typical centuries-old man, ‘LOL’. The thing that annoyed me the most was when Dracula guessed the WiFi password at the Jonathan Harker Foundation because it was HIS NAME? You’d think, with a highly intelligent and cunning vampire imprisoned there, they’d have put better safety measures in place… I didn’t appreciate the cheap joke.

However, that’s enough about what I didn’t like. There was actually a lot to appreciate in ‘The Dark Compass’ and now that I’ve watched it back, I think the good balanced out the bad in this final episode.

Mark Gatiss brought a great comedic element to Renfield’s character. Watching him answer a crossword in the car by writing ‘Dracula is my lord’ with so much confidence and conviction was funny.

I enjoyed the graveyard scene, where Dracula allowed Lucy to listen to the voices of the undead ‘sufferers’ buried there. Dracula’s vulnerability finally became apparent in this scene; he was fascinated with Lucy because she didn’t fear death and was willing to let him drink from her.

Part of my favourite line from the novel made it in: ‘The children of the night, what music they make.’ In the novel, this line refers to the howling of wolves, but in this adaptation, Dracula referred to the people in the graveyard who were at ‘unrest’, which I thought was just as effective. The little zombie-fied boy in the graveyard was creepy; I didn’t expect to see him again so I was terrified in a later scene when I realised he had followed Lucy home and was grappling at her bedcovers. Stuff of nightmares.

Lucy’s arc was engaging and I liked that she was sullied, burnt and ‘ugly’ in her vampirism after being cremated. In Stoker’s novel, Lucy’s beauty is enhanced in her death, so to reverse that was a bold move by Gatiss and Moffat, but it paid off. Lucy lost rather than gained the title of the ‘Bloofer Lady’ in her undead state, and I felt sympathy towards her that I’ve never had before. Hats off to the hair and makeup team again, because Lucy’s charred body looked horrifyingly realistic, and hats off to Lydia West for giving an unnerving performance in that scene.

I thought the ‘blood is lives’ concept concluded superbly in ‘The Dark Compass’. Agatha was able to travel ‘to the new world’ in Dracula’s veins, and, after Zoe drank Dracula’s blood, gain closure by finally uncovering Dracula’s true weakness: fear of his own death. Agatha and Dracula’s chemistry was reinstated in ‘The Dark Compass’, and the ending of the episode cemented a mutual understanding and respect between the two characters. Once Agatha had made sense of ‘the rules of the beast’ and vocalised this through Zoe, Dracula chose to share one last moment with her in gratitude as he drank Zoe’s cancerous blood, alleviating her pain in death as he succumbed to his own. The blinding light used in the final scene was striking, and I loved the shadow of the cross that appeared across Dracula as he walked towards the window.

In summary…

There was a lot going on in this adaptation of Dracula. On reflection, I think my main issue was with the second episode. All stories need a middle, and this one felt weak. The pace was slow, but then it jolted too suddenly at the last moment and we went from atmospheric, gothic candlelight in the Victorian era, to vibrant neons in the present day, with too poor an explanation for the time-skip.

However, what I did truly love and what made this Dracula unique was Dolly Wells as Sister Agatha and Zoe Van Helsing. Van Helsing was so integral to the destruction of Dracula in the novel and to have this character brought to the forefront and reimagined as a highly powerful and intelligent woman was incredible. I loved the fact that Agatha was eager to be close to Dracula, to pursue him and learn from him in order to uncover his weaknesses, rather than relying purely on her prior knowledge of the undead. Through Agatha, we were offered explanations of Bram Stoker’s vampire lore. We got to understand why Dracula kept to the shadows, couldn’t stand the sight of the cross and needed an invitation etc. and for that, I applaud Gatiss and Moffat.

Thanks for reading. What did you think of this Dracula adaptation? Let me know!

The Best TV of 2019

Happy 2020!

I hope you all enjoyed the last festivities of 2019 and can reflect on the positives of the past year rather than any negatives.

2019 was an amazing year for TV, so in this post I’m reviewing my favourite shows!

I’m going to order them by release date and not by personal rating because I honestly can’t compare some of these to each other — there are too many different genres and ideas to consider. (As a note, I will be using ‘season’ and ‘series’ interchangeably, depending on whether the show has been distributed in the UK or US.)

Without further ado…

 

Sex Education (Netflix)

Synopsis: Otis is sixteen years old. His mum is a sex therapist. One day at school, with the persuasion of his friend Maeve, he sets up his own sex therapy clinic.

Sex Education

Sex Education is a beautifully hilarious story about adolescence and how we all bumble our way through it. It also highlights the importance of communication and honesty within relationships, sexual or not. I became really emotionally invested in the characters, particularly with Maeve because of her complex storyline and development. I assume Sex Education is meant to be set in present-day England but the fashion and some of the sets made it feel weirdly 1980’s/early 1990’s American to me, although I hardly noticed it after the first episode.

Highlight: Gillian Anderson masturbating a courgette. Yep, you read that correctly.

 

Fleabag (Series 2, BBC)

Synopsis: Fleabag meets the priest who is set to marry her dad and godmother.

Fleabag

I think the nation already loved Andrew Scott after his performance in Sherlock, but I’m not sure how prepared everyone was for the Hot Priest’s intense sexual chemistry with Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag. I don’t think I was the only one screaming at the TV each week for them to ‘JUST DO IT ALREADY’, nor do I think I was alone in blubbing into a mess of tissues at the final episode. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s writing is a gift, and Fleabag will be sorely missed.

Highlight: ‘I sometimes worry that I wouldn’t be such a feminist if I had bigger tits.’

 

Game of Thrones (Season 8, HBO)

Synopsis: The final chapter in the fight for control over Westeros’ future.

GOT

There are so many things to love and loathe about this final season for me, but how could I leave it off my list? It was THE TV event of the year. It was an emotional goodbye from every viewer to the incredible cast and crew, and whether fans agreed with the ending or not, I don’t think anyone could deny that it was a huge rollercoaster. The internet was in chaos for months.

Highlight: Arya hiding from white walkers in the library during ‘The Long Night’ battle. Genuinely terrifying.

 

Years and Years (BBC)

Synopsis: We follow the lives of a family from Manchester from one night in 2019 and onwards.

Years and Years

A satirical but scarily realistic vision of our future political and social climates, Years and Years is far more chilling than any episode of Black Mirror I’ve watched — which is saying something. Years and Years draws on current conversations on technological advancement, economy, terrorism, asylum-seeking and more to offer us often bleak insights into what our future could look like. I loved watching the dysfunctional family dynamics between all the characters, and how their relationships fluctuated throughout the events of the six episodes.

Highlight: Muriel’s ‘This is the world we built’ speech. Goosebumps.

 

What We Do in the Shadows (BBC)

Synopsis: A mockumentary about the lives of three vampire housemates living on Staten Island.

What We Do in the Shadows

After becoming a huge fan of Taika Waititi’s 2014 film, I was already beyond excited for this to come out after hearing whispers in previous years of a TV spin-off. I didn’t realise there would be three completely new main characters, but luckily it didn’t feel like an unwelcome change. The dynamics are pretty much the same as the film, except this time instead of two squabbling male vampires to counteract the main, ‘softer’ vampire (Kayvan Novak), we have a squabbling vampire couple — brilliantly played by Matt Berry and Natasia Demetriou. Additionally, instead of the creepy Petyr of Waititi’s film, the housemate nobody wants to talk to this time is Colin Robinson, who proves that everyone knows an ‘energy vampire’ like him.

There were so many memorable moments in this for me: Nandor picking up ‘creepy paper’ from the craft section of the shop, the Baron’s big night out, and Nadja and Laszlo’s transformation into ‘shame bats’ to name but a few.

Highlight: The Trial conducted by the Vampiric Council. What a treat.

 

Good Omens (Amazon Video)

Synopsis: Armageddon is nigh and it’s up to an angel, a demon, a witch and an eleven-year-old Antichrist to stop it.

Good Omens

I was twenty-nine years late to the Good Omens book fan club, but I did thankfully read Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s end-of-the-world comedy before the series came out. I was laughing aloud on my commute and getting some funny looks along the way but I didn’t care because I loved reading every sentence. I had high expectations for the Amazon series — and I was so glad it did not disappoint. I’ve never marvelled at how close an adaptation was to my imagining of the book. David Tennant and Michael Sheen are the on-screen dream team as Crowley and Aziraphale and hardly any detail is spared. I’m glad this was made into a series rather than a film as originally intended.

Highlight: Crowley driving his Bentley, all ablaze.

 

Killing Eve (Series 2, BBC)

Synopsis: Can Eve catch Villanelle, before she gets caught herself?

Killing Eve

I love Killing Eve because it’s not just a simple cat-and-mouse chase. The second series kept me guessing in terms of who had the upper hand and who was losing control. Eve and Villanelle prey much more on each other’s vulnerabilities this time round, in a power play quite unlike any current on-screen female pairing. The first episode is intense. I enjoyed seeing Villanelle in a position of weakness which is such a contrast to how we’d seen her before.

I thought this series got quite hung up on its agent/double agent elements, however it still maintained its intensity, wry comedy, wit and cool. I’ll be interested to see what happens in series three, though, because I thought the last episode rounded things off well.

Highlight: Villanelle cringing before putting flowery Crocs on.

 

Stranger Things (Season 3, Netflix)

Synopsis: It’s the summer of 1985 and the town of Hawkins has a brand-new shopping mall which brings residents plenty of entertainment, but behind all the fun, a dark force is lurking…

Stranger Things

I felt like season two of Stranger Things lost its way at times; season three felt more consistent and delivered better action and plot. The fact that Mike, Eleven, Will, Dustin, Lucas and Max are all nearing adolescence allowed for more freedom in terms of their humour and dialogue.

Dacre Montgomery’s portrayal of a possessed Billy is creepy as hell and every Hopper scene is fantastic. Also, the colours this season are awesome. I loved the neon vibes in contrast with the bleaker horror scenes.

Highlight: Steve, Robin, Dustin and Erica’s operation. (‘You can’t spell America without Erica’.)

 

The Boys (Amazon Video)

Synopsis: Imagine if all the Avengers were actually total douchebags and Stark Industries was a corrupt corporation… After a huge personal loss, Hughie, (Jack Quaid), becomes embroiled in a plot to take down the superheroes who call themselves ‘The Seven’.

"The Boys" Ep103 D04 Photo: Jan Thijs 2018

I saw the trailer for this and thought it looked, plainly put, WEIRD. Usually, I’m totally up for that, but this just seemed a different kind of WEIRD. However I can now happily report that it was the good kind of WEIRD. Someone stop me typing WEIRD in capitals.

The Boys is a refreshing twist within a saturated market of superhero spin-offs. In The Boys, ‘The Seven’ are guided by their agents. They are despatched to (sometimes planned) disasters and attend publicity events in order to keep up good appearances and act like they give a damn about the world, when behind closed doors they’re actually doing some pretty mucked up stuff. Homelander, The Seven’s leader (very obviously a parody of Captain America, with some of Superman’s powers), is the ultimate villain: complex and unpredictable.

I can’t wait for season two, which is out this year!

Highlight: Billy Butcher using the best escape method ever after raiding the lab.

 

Stath Lets Flats (Series 2, Channel 4)

Synopsis: Lettings agent Stath is struggling within his dad’s business, which is under new management.

Stath Lets Flats

Despite the first series coming out in 2018, I wasn’t aware of its existence until I saw one of my favourite actors, Dan Stevens, post about it on Instagram. I’ve never binged-watched anything so quickly in my life. When I’d watched it all, I went straight back and re-watched it. Most of the time the more you hear something, the less funny it becomes, but this just isn’t the case with Stath Lets Flats. Stath’s broken English is what makes this series hilarious. There are so many quote-worthy pieces of dialogue thanks to Jamie Demetriou’s writing talents, and I suppose we have to thank his and sister Natasia’s Greek-Cypriot upbringing for heavily influencing the script. (FYI, Jamie is in series one of Fleabag and Natasia is in What We Do in the Shadows! They’re a talented duo.)

This second series brought the characters much closer together and I felt that there was a stronger emotional undercurrent, which heightened rather than distracted from the comedy.

Highlight: ‘Thank you for your time.’

 

His Dark Materials (BBC)

Synopsis: In a world where people have daemons as spiritual counterparts, a young girl called Lyra acquires a contraption called an Alethiometer and is destined to undertake a journey of uncovering many dark secrets.

His Dark Materials

I went into this adaptation pretty much blind. I’ve yet to read the trilogy of Philip Pullman novels this is based on; I’d only seen The Golden Compass film and didn’t enjoy it much, so I was delighted to find I was completely sucked in by His Dark Materials. The CGI is amazing, particularly where the character of Iorek Byrnison is concerned, and the cinematography is mesmerising.

I found the sub-plot involving Will and his mother less engaging than the rest of it, but I understood its importance because clearly Will and Lyra’s worlds will converge in the next instalments.

Highlight: Mrs Coulter’s scream of fury at being locked in at Bolvangar. Ruth Wilson is incredible.

 

The End of the F***ing World (Series 2, Channel 4 & Netflix)

Synopsis: Two years after the events of series one, Alyssa is trying to build herself a new life without James, but Bonnie, recently released from prison, has other plans.

End of the Fkin World

As the episodes are only about twenty minutes long, I binged series one of The End of the F***ing World in a day, and then thankfully the second series aired a couple of days later!

Like Sex Education, this is another series set in England but with a slightly American feel. Alyssa’s aunt owns a strange diner-type cafe in the middle of nowhere, and instead of seeking refuge in a Travelodge or run-down B&B, the characters end up in a creepy motel-posing-as-a-country-lodge. But again, these are minor scruples where plot and characterisation are concerned!

Bonnie is a great addition to the story; her deadpan facial expressions almost match those of Alyssa’s. The threat of violence throughout this series is ever-present and builds to a perfect crescendo in the final episodes. I found myself holding my breath because by the end I truly cared about the fate of each main character. I also admire how this series tackles the issue of trauma and its detriment to mental health. I cried a LOT.

Highlight: ‘Went for a swim. I feel better now.’

 

The Witcher (Netflix)

Synopsis: Destiny drives Geralt of Rivia, a lone monster hunter, towards a powerful sorceress, and a young Princess with special gifts.

The Witcher

This is a late addition to my list because I only finished watching it a few days ago and didn’t expect to like it! How wrong I was. I don’t usually delve into fantasy fiction — something I’m going to try and change this year — so I wasn’t aware of The Witcher books, or games for that matter. I purely watched this because I was bored and because of Henry Cavill!

There’s a lot going on in The Witcher and because there are different timelines involved it can become a confusing watch. I had to pause the beginning of the fourth episode and, helped by a spoiler-free internet search, retrace the steps of the previous episodes in order to get my bearings, but after that it was plain sailing. The Witcher offers magic, monsters, fighting, sex, Henry Cavill grunting after literally every bit of Geralt’s dialogue, and of course, Jaskier, the singing bard who becomes Geralt’s unwanted sidekick. I’m still finding it hard to get Toss a coin to your Witcher, o’ valley of plenty… out of my head.

I have high hopes for the second season.

Highlight: Jaskier’s face after receiving Geralt’s insult about his singing.

 

And that concludes my list!

I did miss out on two big shows last year — Peaky Blinders and Legion. I started re-watching Peaky Blinders with my boyfriend, who had never seen it before, and we didn’t even make it to series four before the new one aired and then got distracted by watching other stuff, so I’m hoping to finish it soon because series five is available on iPlayer! As for Legion, I’ve bought it on Amazon. I LOVED series one. I thought it was the most mind-bending thing I’d ever seen but then series two felt unnecessarily ‘bitty’, so I’m eager to see what happens in series three.

Anyway, what do you think of this list?

What were your favourite shows from 2019, and what are you looking forward to watching this year?

As always, thanks for reading!

Bloody Brilliant: Review of Period. by Emma Barnett

I hinted about it in my last post, so here it is! My review of Period. by Emma Barnett.

The extended title is ‘It’s about bloody time.’ and I couldn’t agree more. (This is also what my boyfriend will say when I’ve finally published this blog post.)

Period. – Emma Barnett
(London: HQ, 2019)

Synopsis from the dust jacket:

Emma loathes her period. Really, she does. But there’s something she loathes even more: not being able to talk about it. Freely, funnily and honestly. Without men and women wrinkling their noses as if she’s pulled her tampon out and offered it as an hors d’oeuvre.

But somehow, despite women having had periods since the dawn of time, we’ve totally clammed up on anything to do with menstruation. Why, oh why, would we rather say ‘Auntie Flo’ than ‘period’? Why, in the 21st century, are periods still seen as icky? Why are we still so ignorant about such a fundamental bodily process?

Now, in Period., Emma draws on female experiences that will make you laugh, weep (and, most probably, squirm), in a fierce and funny rallying cry to smash this ridiculous taboo once and for all.

Because it’s about bloody time.
PERIOD.

IMG_0751

In May 2016, Emma Barnett became the first person in the UK to announce on live TV that she was menstruating. Not out of the blue, obviously, but during ‘The Pledge’, an evening panel show where the topic up for debate was menstrual leave in the workplace. (If anyone has a clip of this, I’d love to see it – the internet has disappointed me in my search so far!) Barnett says her panel was ‘duly horrified’ (27) at her announcement, but her panel was not made up entirely of men. And that’s why Period. exists. Barnett makes it clear from the outset of her book that she’s not just here to reproach men for reinforcing period taboos; the problem, as a woman once confessed to her, is that ‘we women are complicit in the silence’ (57).

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book as much as I did. Barnett strikes the perfect balance by using humour alongside cold, hard facts which confirm a worldwide lack of period progression. The topics covered are all-encompassing: religion; education; family attitudes; workplace conversations; parliamentary debates and the infamous ‘tampon tax’; sex and poverty to name but a few.

Barnett also calls out brands such as Always who are meant to be paving the way for period-positivity but often have unrealistic adverts for their sanitary products. She notes that not one advert shown on TV has featured red liquid to signify menstrual blood; the fluid used to display products’ absorption qualities is always clear or blue despite there being no regulations in place against using red. Crazy, then, that brands who are trying to convey more realistic advertising encounter problems when trying to do so. Barnett reveals that Thinx, the re-usable period underwear brand I mentioned in my last post, had to overcome some absurd hurdles before they were able to even use the words ‘period’ and ‘fluid’ in their promotional material. Along with an unexpected section about the until-now missing period emoji, these facts make Barnett’s call-to-arms extremely compelling. We should be ridding ourselves of period shame and questioning those who have been reinforcing stigmas, especially through globally-accessible media.

Perhaps you could dream up your own, very real, period ad… Mine would mainly involve grease: greasy hair, greasy Chinese and a greasy face. Oh, and many profanities nestled within a sassy monologue about my period vibe. And low slung tights. (200)

What makes Period. extraordinary is the inclusion of stories from people Barnett has met during her life and career so far: some empowering, some hilarious — my favourite being ‘Would you go to prison for your period?’ (57), — and some tinged with sadness. Barnett brings to light the difficulties faced by women with no access to sanitary products, as well as sharing stories from a trans activist who desperately wishes to be rid of their period and a woman born without a womb who longs to know what menstruation feels like.

Barnett also shares her personal experience with endometriosis.  I found myself dumbfounded and angry reading about her extreme period pains and the confusion accompanying her struggle to conceive because she’d been told by medical professionals that her cycle was normal. The fact that it was almost twenty-one years before she was diagnosed with endometriosis screams out for more research to be conducted. Our healthcare systems are lacking funding for ‘female conditions’ and this in turn is affecting progression in our educational system. I had no idea endometriosis existed until last year and I didn’t really know what it was until I read this book.

This made me wonder how many people I knew felt that their academic education about periods was sufficient, so I created a simple yes or no Instagram poll. Forty-five out of fifty answered no. A couple of male friends I spoke to told me they’d only ever learned about menstruation in a biological sense, with no emphasis on how it could affect a woman’s mood, lifestyle or other parts of her body.

It can’t be right that when teaching about something so normal and frequent as a monthly bleed, boys are often sent out of class and the person conducting the lesson is generally someone different to the normal teacher… (146)

I distinctly remember a PSHE lesson on periods at my all-girls school being taught by our headmistress, and thanks to Barnett I now realise how problematic that was. Whilst it may have given more emphasis on the importance of the lesson, it felt more like an incredibly formal ‘here for one night only’ event. Surely the headmistress, who had already squeezed us into her busy schedule, would cover everything we needed to know about menstruation? Even if we did have burning questions afterwards, we wouldn’t have felt confident enough to approach her outside of that classroom.

It wasn’t until my higher education that I developed, as Barnett calls it, ‘period-pride’, but Barnett notes that stigmas can still haunt the most open of us, especially in the workplace:

it’s one thing learning to talk to your friends, family and, if necessary, the doctor openly about your flow. It’s something else to bring up your period with your boss and your work colleagues. Or that guy who sits near the loos at the office as you stagger past with your dainty special zip-up bag, waddling the final stretch to the toilet, otherwise known as ‘the red mile’ (too much?), having put off the soggy change for two hours too long. (116-117)

I almost spat my tea out after reading the words ‘dainty special zip-up bag’ because I do, in fact, own one of these and I have frequently waddled to the toilet with it, holding it as discreetly as possible. I’ve been carrying out this act of discretion on auto-pilot because stigmas I’ve been exposed to have insidiously created within me a shame I didn’t realise I had! That’s pretty mucked up. I wouldn’t hide the simple fact that I’m going to the toilet, so why would I try to hide the fact that I’m on my period? Marathon runner Kiran Gandhi didn’t try to hide her free-flowing blood when she ran through London in 2015, and it’s thanks to acts of confidence like this and defiance against ludicrous ‘norms’ that change is underway.

Don’t be revolted, lead the revolt — preferably with a grin on your face and a tampon tucked proudly behind your ear. (17)

Period. is structured in a way that begins with women’s first experiences of blood and then concludes reflectively. One of the last chapters covers the ‘no blood’ period (pun intended), of a woman’s life, and we read thoughts from various women about what menopause and losing their monthly bleed has meant to them. Reading this chapter, along with an earlier discussion of the fact that women don’t technically need periods (unless they want children), made me think reflectively of my period and what it means to me, which, I’ve realised, is not a great deal. I’m grateful to have a relatively stable cycle and low-scale pain each month, but that’s about it. I don’t think my period defines who I am. It’s just something that happens to me and half the world’s population, and this is the crux of Barnett’s message:

Whether you love, loathe or are indifferent to periods, whether you have them or not, menstruation is a fact of life and should be thought of and spoken about as something ‘truly unremarkable’ (270) instead of something dirty and shameful.

Period. is all about ‘finding your fanny voice’, so I’ll use mine to end the review here and urge you to pick up a copy of this book.

It will be bloody brilliant, trust me.

 

Small steps towards a greener life

Hi, how are you doing? It’s been a while. You’re looking GREAT.

I’ve been a bit MIA on the blogging front; I’d love to say I’ve been off speaking at global warming conferences but I’ve actually just been trying to sort a few things out — mainly my skin and career… I’m not where I want to be yet but it’s all about the small steps!

Speaking of small steps, they’re also important in the journey to better protecting our planet. In light of Greta Thunberg’s recent UN speech, and the Extinction Rebellion protests currently underway in London, I thought I’d share the steps I’ve been taking in order to do my bit for the environment. I’m not preaching that I’m the perfect eco-warrior; not all of us are able to drop everything and live completely waste and emission-free, but if we could all make slight adjustments to our day-to-day lives, we might be able to make good progress.

Special shout-out to my Mum for this post; she was nature-loving and eco-friendly long before I was!

Friendlier lifestyle:

Know your waste – What you can recycle depends on the local facilities in your area. I’ve been using this page of the recyclenow website to get clued up on which household items I can dispose of in my council bins and where to take the items I can’t (such as batteries, old computer parts, building materials etc).

Charity/shelter shops – I’ve been buying from and donating to charity shops for years. I’ve always loved the sense of discovery involved, and who doesn’t like a bargain hunt for a good cause? Recycling isn’t just for paper and plastics; if you’re doing a Marie Kondo-style clear-out, consider the items that are still in good condition because charity shops and shelters will gladly take donations of clothes, toys, furniture and books etc. One person’s trash is another’s treasure and all that.

Charity shop clothes
Some of the charity shop items hanging up in my wardrobe.

Drink tap water (when it’s safe to do so) – In the first episode of BBC programme War on Plastic, (which aired in June this year), it was discovered that there were virtually no health benefits for drinking bottled water over tap water. Additionally, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall carried out a marketing experiment in London where he disguised tap water as a new bottled brand, and most people who said they avoided tap water because of its taste declared they liked the taste of this one! So there you go. No need for buying endless plastic water bottles, even if they can be recycled. You can always ask for tap water refills when you’re out and about. I’ve recently discovered the Refill app, which tells you where your nearest tap water refill stations are! Read more about Refill here.

Consume less meat, fish & dairy – Aside from any ethical arguments; it’s been common knowledge for a while now that the livestock industry is one of the biggest contributors to global climate change, and fishing techniques used in the seafood industry such as trawling can have equally damaging effects on marine life. I’m not saying let’s all become immediate vegans — I haven’t stopped eating meat, but when I went veggie for a month for chaity last November I realised I didn’t need or want meat as much as I did previously. I rarely eat meat for breakfast and lunch any more and I also try to have vegetarian dinners at least three days out of seven. There are so many different meat and dairy alternatives available now anyway,  so we could all be capable of cutting down on our consumption of meat, fish and dairy and considering more responsibly-sourced ingredients. Don’t think of it as a diet. You can take it from me that eating Quorn nuggets feels just as much a treat as eating normal nuggets!

Some of my easy-to-make veggie meals.

Let loose – I try to buy loose fruit and veg wherever I can. Annoyingly this can work out more expensive in supermarkets but if you can afford it, do it. It’s also worth going to markets or farm shops and supporting local businesses. My nearest farm shop is striving towards plastic-free packaging, and they even have their own re-fill dispensers now for laundry liquids, rice and seeds etc!

Stanhill pumpkins
My local pick-your-own field. This was the pumpkin patch last year, basking in the weird October heat.

Snacks & meal prep – How many times have you gone out to buy lunch in the past week? How many of those lunches came in non-recyclable containers? Appreciated, sometimes you just won’t have time to plan your meals or make things in bulk but when you can, not only will you be saving on plastic waste and money, you’ll probably be healthier for it! I find it far easier to make veggie lunches in bulk because there’s no meat prep to be done and less washing-up.

No receipt, please – Unless you really need a paper receipt, why get one at all? Most high street retailers are turning to e-receipts, so opt for these instead of hard copies. They’ll probably be easier to find if you do need to return something! Also, some receipts are made from thermal paper and coated in BPA, which in large amounts is toxic to us and the environment. It’s not possible to tell which receipts are BPA-coated, (unless you own a science lab), so in this case it’s best to avoid possible toxins being recycled by not recycling at all.

Paperless statements – You can’t recycle shredded paper, so contact your bank and ask them to send you online statements instead, (if this option is available to you). The process might be a faff but it will be worth it! How many statements have I pointlessly filed away this month? None!

Grow up (and outwards) – If you have a garden, plant seeds to encourage growth and wildlife. You don’t need to have the skills of Capability Brown to make it look pretty — the plants and flowers will do that for you! You could also grow your own fruit and veg and transport it to your kitchen plastic-free.

Garden
Unfortunately I take no credit for my parents’ beautiful garden!

Compost – This page on the Eden Project website has some useful tips in building up a good compost heap or bin. You can also use compost to fertilise your plants and flowers, so win-win really.

Beachwatch – My mum and I participated in a beach clean in Hastings last month, organised by volunteers for the Marine Conservation Society. They provided us with biodegradable bags, gloves, litter pickers and a clipboard with a tick-list of waste types so we could record specific items we found in order to contribute to the MCS’s research. You can find out where and when your nearest beach clean is here.

IMG_9071
This was Hastings beach before we’d cleaned! We didn’t have a full bag at the end of it but we did find loads of BBQ skewers and a burnt pile of metal nails… lovely.

Give intangible gifts – Sometimes an experience, trip or day out is better than a physical present. Spend time with your nearest and dearest. If they’re not your nearest and dearest — it may seem impersonal to give someone a voucher but they might make more use of it than, say, a generic bath set, (or they may not, maybe that’s just me.) Alternatively you could encourage your family and friends to be more eco-friendly by gifting them some of the products below…

Friendlier products:

Re-usable bottles/flasks – Take your tap water with you! I’ve got this 500ml metal bottle from Typo which is good at keeping my water cold in summer. It’s quite heavy but worth it. I’ve dropped it a couple of times but it’s still fine to use…

My former colleagues didn’t appreciate my dented bottle so they bought me a sparkly new one, quite literally, which now resides at my boyfriend’s house:

Typo sparkly bottle.jpg

Canvas/jute & cloth shopper bags – I always re-use the plastic bags I have but they’re a faff to clean if you spill something (if you’re clumsy like me, anyway). My Ravenclaw bag comes pretty much everywhere with me if I’ve got extra stuff to carry, (headphones, water bottle and books), and I’ve recently bought another bag from H&M.  It’s well worth paying £5 or so for a bag you can wash and that will last you years.

For large food shops I always make sure I have a few jute bags in my car. However, the one thing I hate in supermarkets is being caught out by those annoying little clear plastic bags for loose fruit and veg. I don’t want to use them but equally I don’t want my yellow pepper touching the bottom of my shopping basket because germs. Luckily, my Mum introduced me to &Keep, an online shop selling only eco-friendly products. From there I bought three organic cotton produce bags. (&Keep are also selling delightful “I’m with Greta” recycled tote bags at the moment, for all your eco-warrior/bag lady needs.)

Bars of soap – Save on plastic dispensers by buying bars of natural soap instead. I took one on holiday to use as a handwash and for cleaning our swimwear in the shower when needed. I also brought a bar back with me as a cute little gift.

Olive oil soap

Natural sponges & scrubbers – Loofahs, sea sponges and coir fibre brushes to name a few are natural, bio-degradable alternatives to plastic sponges, brushes and scourers for your kitchen and bathroom. Again, &Keep have a wide array of these products on their website.

Lunch boxes & beeswax wrap – You probably have a lunch box but if you don’t, it’s time to make a purchase! Additionally if, like me, you prefer wrapping your lunch components separately, you can use beeswax wrap as an alternative to cling film or aluminium foil. It’s malleable when warm, holds its shape when cool, and it’s washable and bio-degradable.

Natural makeup remover – Coconut oil. My friend recommended this to me as a skincare tip rather than an eco-friendly thing, however I’ve been using this huge jar from Amazon to remove eye makeup since April and it’s still going! Just make sure you refrigerate it in summer because the whole thing can melt in hot temperatures.

Lush products – Not only do Lush use fresh and natural ingredients, their black pots are made from recycled plastic and can be returned to your local store to be recycled again — here’s how it works. Also if you return five empty pots to Lush you receive a free fresh face mask in return. Fabulous incentive!

Lush
My current to-be-recycled pile ft. my favourite Lush products!

Indoor plants – House plants don’t just look pretty, they can help with air purification and contribute to your general physical and mental well-being. I took the plunge in May last year and bought my first big indoor plant, an Areca Palm, and I’m pleased to say it’s still alive nearly a year and a half later. When the leaves started growing outward I was worried because I thought they were drooping. I kept thinking I’d neglected the plant too much or I’d been incorrectly watering it but turns out it was just adjusting to the air humidity and temperature of my room. I trim dead leaves off occasionally but new ones always grow in their place. I quite like how it looks now because you can see definition of the leaves better than when I first bought it, (excuse the bad lighting):

You can also see my aloe vera’s growth, and my cute little cactus addition, (the smaller aloe plant in the first picture was fake and has been moved to my book shelf! Only natural stuff allowed in this corner now).

Reef-friendly sun cream – At the moment fully eco-friendly sun creams come with rather hefty price tags, so for my recent holiday I opted to use Nivea’s protect & moisture sun cream. This sun cream is compliant with the Hawaii Reef Bill which, by January 2021, proposes to ban chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate from the production of sunscreens in Hawaii due to their toxic effects on coral reefs.

Less harmful cleaning products – Sometimes you can’t avoid buying plastic-bottled products like kitchen and bathroom cleaners. The good news is there are brands out there striving to make cleaning more eco-friendly, both in the ingredients they use and their packaging. Method products are cruelty-free, use plant-based ingredients and recycled plastic bottles. I found Method in my local Dunelm store and was pleasantly surprised to find that their products were just as tough on dirt, grime and limescale as the leading brands using harsher chemicals.

Responsible sparkle – Bio-degradable glitter. Useful in the run-up to Halloween and Christmas, or if you’ve just bought tickets for Glasto next year and want to bling yourself up for it! I love Gypsy Shrine, and they have a good selection of environmentally-friendly sparkle on their website.

That concludes my recommendation list! I have three things from my &Keep haul I’m yet to use, which are all made from bamboo:

  • ‘truthbrush’ – I’m letting my plastic one run its course at the moment!
  • Re-usable nail varnish remover pads
  • Re-usable makeup remover pads – these are a tricky one at the moment because I’m trying to get my acne under control so I think I will need more than a 16-pack as I’ll need to wash them after every use to avoid bacteria build-up!

My to-buy list currently looks like this:

  • Re-usable tongue brush/scraper – my new toothbrush doesn’t come with a tongue brush like some plastic ones do, so I’m looking to buy a brush or scraper separately.
  • Thinx – Proper period pants! I use pads near the beginning and end of my period, (side note: I’m not sorry if discussing my period makes you uncomfortable — more of this in my next post), but would love a comfier and more eco-friendly alternative. Thinx aren’t cheap but they offer a 60-day money-back guarantee and have loads of FAQs on their website which makes me feel more confident in making a possible purchase.
    (I recently tried the Mooncup in place of non-applicator tampons but couldn’t get on with it. However, if you’re willing to give them a go, silicone menstrual cups are able to collect three times as much blood as a regular tampon and, provided they are properly cleaned between uses, can be re-used for up to ten years!)
  • Litter grabber – I’m going to become the local weirdo out at strange hours picking up rubbish and I’m going to be PROUD. Should probably also add biodegradable bin bags to my list too.
  • Shampoo & conditioner bars – My Mum is currently trialing these! She prefers the conditioner to the shampoo because she says it’s hard to get the shampoo into a proper lather and it doesn’t feel like it washes out as well as bottled shampoo. However, I’ve read on the Primal Suds website that your hair feeling waxy or thick is completely normal; it will take time to transition from being washed with chemicals to all-natural ingredients. When I have the patience I’ll let you know what that transition is like!
  • Re-usable food bags – I don’t have an urgent need for these but I’ve seen some silicone brands online as an alternative to plastic freezer bags so they could be useful for storing meals made in bulk.

In addition to all this I’m going to start making some ‘eco-vows’, the first one being to use less water. As you may have noticed from my not-so-subtle hints in some of the points above, I’m a bit of a clean freak. I used to shower and wash my hair every day but not only is that awful for the environment, it’s not as healthy for me as I once believed. I’ve managed to cut down on the showering now but I still need to rein in the obsessive hand-washing habit! It’s really not helping my eczema.

I’ll stop rambling on now.

Keep me updated on your journeys to becoming more eco-friendly! Have you made any eco-vows of your own? I’d love to know if you found any of the tips and products above useful. Let me know in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading!

[I’m not sponsored to promote any of the brands or products I’ve mentioned in this post.]

SIX: The Musical – A Right Royal Time

Last month, my friend Lydia, (she wanted me to name drop), took me to see SIX: The Musical, on the basis that I love all things Tudor-related, because the stars of the show are – you guessed it – Henry VIII’s six wives!

SIX is shown at the Arts Theatre which is modest in size compared to the more widely known theatres in Covent Garden. There’s no fancy foyer, it’s just straight in to the bar and ticket stand, then up or down the stairs to the seating. We were in the stalls.

Until recently, I’d developed a very narrow-minded view of musicals as being too cheesy for my liking. However, after hearing so many people rave about The Book of Mormon I bit the bullet in January and was far from disappointed! My problem with SIX was that nobody I knew had seen it to reassure me.

When the show started I still had my dubious hat on, but by the end of it I was part of the standing ovation, whooping as loud as my lungs would allow.

six18102-todaytix-1600x1200pxls-prod_b967d08e

The stories of the six women may be over 400 years old, but their experiences are still well-remembered today, and SIX conveys a modern relevance that is funny, heartbreaking and empowering.

The show is staged as a kind of sing-off and so each of the queens has her own song about her relationship with Henry.

Catherine of Aragon’s song was compelling and resilient.
Anne Boleyn’s was light-hearted and nonchalant – not the stance I would have liked but I’ve always been defensive of Anne!
Jane Seymour’s song made me eye-roll at first but within about a minute the tears were flowing.
Anne of Cleves delivered the much-needed comic relief, making us cry with laughter instead.
Catherine Howard’s song annoyed me at first but then she completely brought it back and surprised everyone.
Finally, Catherine Parr’s solo was unexpectedly heart-wrenching and bittersweet, which led on perfectly to the group performance at the end.

The costumes deserve a special mention here – gorgeous, glitzy and badass in equal measure, and each of them well-suited to the queens. We couldn’t decide whose we liked best!

Six_photoby_IdilSukan_10-1024x683

What I loved most about SIX was that it exploited popular stereotypes of the queens, and then completely broke them down in order to convey much more humanity to their characters than generic history books will allow. The cast portrayed individual transitions from vulnerability to strength that culminated in a stunning sense of unity and power by the end of the show.

So, if you love history, strong women and a good sing-along, SIX is a must-see! You’ll be coming out of the theatre humming ‘we’re six’ and asking ‘Henry who?’

Good news – SIX is now running until January 2020! Get your tickets here.
(This post is not sponsored in any way, I just want to spread the word.)

Thanks for reading!

My Trips in 2018: Edinburgh

Long overdue, but it’s time to share my second trip of last year with you all – Edinburgh!

It’s taken me longer than I expected to collate this all; I was originally going to make it a short post but I loved this city so much I couldn’t help myself, so strap in…

My best friend and I began a list towards the end of Uni of all the towns in the UK we hadn’t yet been to, and Edinburgh was one of them, so we booked a long weekend away for April 2018.

The Hotel:

We found the Residence Inn by Marriott on Expedia and chose it mainly because of its central location, (only a few minutes’ walk from town), and the fact that we could get a twin room with double beds and breakfast included for a very reasonable price.

The room itself seemed huge – we had a sofa and foot rest/coffee table, a large desk and chair and a television on the wall. As all of the rooms at the Residence Inn are also self-catering, we had a kitchen/utility area which was equipped with cutlery and crockery, a fridge, kettle, microwave and dishwasher. Very handy if you want to save some money – conveniently there was also a small Sainsbury’s about ten steps away!

Residence Inn

In terms of wardrobe space in the room, there was enough for the two of us but we’d mainly brought jumpers and jeans with us anyway so ended up folding most of our stuff. I didn’t take a picture of the view but we were opposite one of the offices, (the hotel is in Edinburgh’s Quatermile, a mixed redevelopment of the former Royal Infirmary), so be careful if you’re staying mid-week and want to open the curtains in nothing but your underwear!

Residence Inn Kitchen

Residence Inn Desk

One of the things we did find strange was that to the left of the living/bedroom area, there was a basin and mirror and after that was there a separate door, which led to the toilet and shower. I think it’s odd to separate the toilet from the sink, especially if one of you gets up during the night and wakes the other up with the running tap! Also, the breakfast area was part of the lobby so there was no privacy between those of us stuffing our faces with food and people checking in and out, which felt weird. Nevertheless, it didn’t ruin our trip, and surprisingly neither did my horrific flu that decided to make an appearance the morning of our flight!

Day 1:

The transfer from Edinburgh Airport to our hotel took around 40-50 minutes. We’d pre-booked our transfers and it was relatively easy to find the Airlink bus shelters with the help of friendly staff.

Our first stop was to Greyfriars Kirkyard, where burials have taken place since the 16th century. The kirkyard’s most famous graves belong to John Gray and his skye terrier Greyfriars Bobby, who, when his owner passed away, was rumoured to have guarded John’s grave for fourteen years until his own death. In other words, Bobby was a very good boy, and has earned posthumous fame because of it. His statue stands just outside the kirkyard and the pub named after him.

Greyfriars Bobby

The kirkyard is also famous due to some of the names that stuck with J.K. Rowling when she visited, and later featured in Harry Potter! We saw the grave of a William McGonagall and a Mrs Elizabeth Moodie, and it took us some squelching through mud but finally we found He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself:

Thomas Riddle

The graveyard itself is beautiful yet eerie. I wouldn’t like to experience it on a dark and foggy night. It came as no surprise to find out that evening ghost walks are regularly held there.

Kirkyard graves

Kirkyard church

Kirkyard gravesAfter this, we passed The Elephant House, a cafe J.K. Rowling visited during the time she was writing Harry Potter. We didn’t go in as we’d already had a snack and it looked like a bit of a tourist trap. We were on our way to Victoria Street, the street that is meant to have inspired Diagon Alley. As you can probably tell already, Edinburgh is an ideal city for Harry Potter fans to visit.

Victoria Street is a small curve of colourful shops and some eateries, leading down to Grassmarket, (originally a medieval marketplace, and a spot for frequent public execution). The bright colours of the shop faces on Victoria Street contrast brilliantly with the traditional stone buildings associated with Edinburgh architecture.

Victoria Street 1

Victoria Street

The street wasn’t as narrow as I’d expected, but I could envisage its transformation in J.K. Rowling’s mind to the hustle and bustle of Diagon Alley. There is a jokes and novelties shop called Aha Ha Ha just before Grassmarket which can easily be recognised as the Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes of Victoria Street, and there are now also two Harry-Potter themed shops on the street, The Boy Wizard and Museum Context (pictured above: the purple shop with the number 40). The former is a more modern space with Harry Potter gifts you can probably buy at any merchandise shop. However, the latter holds the same and much more, from unique gift ideas such as hanging hot air balloon and boat mobiles to other film collectibles and memorabilia. Museum Context also uses its exposed brickwork and staircase to its advantage, making it seem more like an old curiosity shop than a typical tourist attraction. I also liked their Chamber of Secrets-inspired stairway decoration!

Museum Context Balloon

Museum Context Enemies of the Heir

Our next stop was Dean Village. We got an Uber from town, wanting to save our feet. The drive took less than 10 minutes, and I couldn’t believe the difference in atmosphere and location within that short time. We were transported from the busy town to this tranquil place, sheltered from any sound save the stream that runs through it. My photos don’t do it justice!

Dean Village stream

Dean Village bridge

Dean Village structure

After this, we walked back through town to the hotel to unpack, then went out again for dinner and some cocktails (so I could try to forget how ill I was).

Day 2:

We got up early enough to avoid the huge queues for Edinburgh Castle! This was one of our favourite visits because there was so much to see. Even more enjoyable for me, too, because the castle is high enough as it is, so no scary winding steps to climb!

Edinburgh castle exterior

Before we roamed around ourselves, we decided to wait for a free guided tour. I think this ran every half hour or so. It was very informative – we learned about the castle’s origins and its involvement during Edinburgh’s turbulent history, including the Jacobite rising. The castle has consequently been named one of the most besieged in Great Britain.

After the tour, we visited one of the castle shops as our guide had told us they were serving whisky tasters. We tried out some Bruadar malt whisky liqueur, which was lush! It tasted quite like honey too, so must have been really good for my throat… I bought a little bottle to take home. After warming up, we had a look in the castle’s impressive Great Hall, then ventured to the Royal Palace and the Crown room to see the collection of jewels stored there. I’m like a magpie so I enjoyed looking at all the sparkles.

Edinburgh castle great hall

The castle is also the site of the Scottish National War Memorial, a magnificent and somber building to commemorate the men and women who saved lives and sacrificed theirs during the World Wars and other conflicts. There was no photography allowed inside but here it is from the outside:

Edinburgh castle war memorial

Also on the castle grounds is St Margaret’s Chapel, built in the 12th century which makes it the oldest building in Edinburgh. David I, St Margaret’s son, was thought to have built the chapel in her memory.  It’s a tiny structure, but worth a look inside. People are allowed to marry there, but I can’t imagine they’d be allowed to invite more than ten people to the ceremony! My pictures of inside the chapel are poorly lit and blurry so you’ll have to see it for yourself.

Turns out Greyfriars Bobby wasn’t the only pet grave we’d see on this trip; the castle houses a small cemetery for soldiers’ dogs, which we could see if we poked our head over the top castle wall:

Edinburgh castle pet semetary

The castle’s prisons of war and military prison cells were poignant and also a bit spooky; my friend accused me of trying to scare her by the stairs in the military cells, saying she’d felt a hand on her shoulder…!

Before our reluctant departure from the castle, we had a look at Mons Meg (the huge cannon gifted to James II), viewed the panorama of the city and finally gathered in the crowd to hear the famous one o’clock gun.

Edinburgh castle panorama

Edinburgh castle exterior 2.png

It started raining in the afternoon so we decided to pay a short visit to the National Museum of Scotland. We were dragging our feet a bit by this point, so didn’t see a great deal but had a walk around the Fashion and Natural World sections, and saw Dolly the sheep along the way!

Clearly we just hadn’t had enough of walking, though, because in between looking for a restaurant to return to for dinner that night, we found ourselves on the way up to Calton Hill. This is another viewpoint with incredible views of the city and Arthur’s seat, along with its own monuments and observatory. Unfortunately, the observatory was closed for construction and it was still tipping it down, so we didn’t stay as long as we’d liked, nor did we get spectacular pictures. I can imagine it being an ideal place for a picnic in the sunshine, though.

Calton Hill

Calton Hill panorama

The main event for our Saturday evening was The World Famous Frankenstein & Bier KellerMy friend had heard about this beforehand, and initially I thought it would be another tourist trap. How wrong I was! We arrived quite late, I think it was about 11pm, only wanting to have a nose around and a couple of drinks. I immediately regretted my choice of a warm, high-necked dress because there was a party going on in there that I wasn’t prepared for! There were a number of hen and stag parties, and the music was thumping. We were blown away by the decor.

Frankenstein sign

Frankenstein

It was clear to see the owners’ effort into making this a unique experience; not just a trip to the bar. We went upstairs at first, and I read a poster on our way up about a ‘monster show’, so I asked the barman when the next one was. He replied it was at 12am, and advised us to stay in the upper bar for it, and so we did.

Spooky, gothic VIBES. It only lasted a few minutes but it was such fun. Don’t look the monster show up online before you visit – just enjoy the thrill!

Anyway, long story short we got a little bit merrier than previously planned, joined the downstairs party and stayed dancing and talking to the DJ until the bar’s 2am close. Whoops.

I would LOVE to return to the Bier Keller at Halloween. I imagine it would be insane. And even if you’re not a party person, you can go during the day or early evening to avoid the noise. It will be great for children, too. Either way, it’s not to be missed!

Day 3:

I at least had the advantage on this beautiful, sunny (!) day of not knowing whether it was my flu or a hangover that was making my head pound. Still, a couple of ibuprofens down and we were on our way to the Palace of Holyroodhouse!

Palace of Holyroodhouse

Palace of Holyroodhouse lanterns

Again, the cab ride only took around 10 minutes. There was hardly any queuing to do so we were soon equipped with our free audio guides. Inside was not quite as gold and glamorous as I was expecting, but then it is still a working royal palace so I guess rooms are maintained to be more functional compared to palaces with displays in every room. I remember there being an enormous amount of tapestries, which is decorative and practical, keeping the rooms warmer in what is usually a cold Northern climate!

The highlight for me was seeing Mary, Queen of Scots’ chambers. Looking into the ‘supper room’ it was chilling to know that Mary’s private secretary, David Rizzio, was violently murdered there. In another chamber there was a box containing a lock of Mary’s hair on display, and I couldn’t believe I was so close to such a crude piece of history.

When we exited the palace we came out by the remains of Holyrood Abbey, which were breathtaking in the crisp, clear sunshine. More beautiful views of Arthur’s Seat and its surrounding hills awaited us as we made our way round the back of the palace.

Holyrood Abbey

Holyrood Abbey outer

Holyroodhouse grounds

After lunch, we headed to the The Writer’s Museum. This rather narrow, quirky looking building houses information, records and objects related to three famous Scottish writers: Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson. To be honest, I knew next to nothing about Scott and had only read To a mouse by Burns at school so it was interesting to learn about some of the events which shaped their lives and writing. It was also fascinating to read about Stevenson’s experiences at sea, knowledge which would have helped him greatly in the creation of Treasure Island.

Writer's Museum

We saw an advertisement for a Book Lover’s tour outside the museum which takes place on Sundays at 11:30am. I’d definitely be keen to do that on my next visit!

This was shaping up to be a literary afternoon because we stopped in the National Library. Unfortunately it was near closing time, and you had to own a library card to access the reading rooms, so we were limited in what we could see. However, there was a free Muriel Spark exhibition on, so all was not lost! I studied The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie during one of my university semesters, so it was great to see letters of praise for it from Spark’s friends, critics, and even Vanessa Redgrave, who played Miss Brodie on stage in the 1960s. I found it inspiring to see snippets from Spark’s notebooks; nothing fancy, just lined paper, a blue biro and determination. It’s always comforting to see crossing-out in drafts of famous novels. It’s good to know their authors were only human too: making mistakes and self-criticising.

IMG_2411

Our next visit was exciting, magical and alcohol-fuelled… Harry Potter style! We couldn’t resist another themed visit. I can’t remember if it was mine or my friend’s spot on social media before our trip, but we’d discovered that the Pop Up Geeks were offering cocktail making in the form of Perilous Potions. The location was a small bar in the Edinburgh Arches, near Waverley Station. We’d booked because we’d heard how busy it could get, and I’m not surprised seeing as there was only capacity for about five small groups. This only added to the ambiance, though, because we felt like we were in a small potions classroom! Filch’s framed proclamations were hanging on the walls, the sorting hat rested on top of the bar, and there were cauldrons and candles a-plenty.

Perilous Potions - Bar

Perilous Potions decorationsWe were greeted by our witch-turned-barmaid, and given the book to begin our potions journey, property of the ‘half-cut prince’ (ingenious):

Each cocktail was rated by potion-making difficulty level, so you could choose how experimental (and patient) you wanted to be. We went for the easiest first and then made our way up the scale. Nothing blew up or brought us out in warts, so I’m guessing we did pretty well! We were given pieces of parchment with the ingredients and methods on after our orders were taken for each cocktail.

Perilous Potions - drinks

My friend picked a prosecco-based cocktail which took about ten minutes of pipette work to get right! That was entertaining to watch. My favourite cocktail was whisky-based (can you tell I decided to like whisky this weekend?!) and the final effect was a sparkly blue concoction not dissimilar to the glowing surface of Dumbledore’s pensieve.

After our two-hour slot we were feeling pretty tipsy so it was time to get dinner and sober up as our last visit was later that night.

We had tried to book a tour of The Real Mary King’s Close the afternoon before but they were fully booked, so to my dismay we were going to go below ground-level in the dark! I’m a wuss.

The Close is a series of historic streets underneath the city’s Royal Mile, and was named after one of its merchant residents who lived there during the 17th century. Our guide was dressed up and in character as a maid in a merchant’s household during the 16th century. She told us about the types of families that would have lived in the Close and the hardships they would have faced during times of plague and poverty. We also learned what the traditional calling of ‘gardyloo’ meant (hint: see the last three letters of the word!)

The Close had an eerie atmosphere, and the darkness was no good for photos – hence the absence of them here. There was a moment where we all had to sit down in front of a fireplace and listen to a ghost story – I was of course terrified even though I knew a gimmicky jump-scare was coming! There was also a room filled with a pile of children’s toys. We were told that a young girl called Annie haunts this room, and is only appeased when she’s gifted things to play with, so people sometimes bring things to give to her on their visits! Amongst the cuddly toys we did see a Westlife CD, though. Poor Annie.

Ghosts aside, it was fascinating to be able to walk through a different world from the streets above. Most of the original foundations are still in place, which does make some parts of the Close inaccessible, but the parts we walked through felt safe enough, and my claustrophobia was under control!

At the end of the tour was a very steep hill which we were told would have been rife with people selling their market wares, farm animals roaming and children playing. The road was cobbled and possibly the narrowest we’d ever seen! It must have been chaos, but it was admirable to know that even in difficult circumstances, the residents of the Close were able to make it work and that life endured all the same.

Sadly, there ended our trip!

Edinburgh

Now that I’ve written about it, I realise we crammed so much into our last day, let alone our trip, but it didn’t even feel rushed! I think part of that was due to the fact that everything was so close by; we didn’t use any transport apart from a couple of cabs! This is what I loved most about Edinburgh. Large cities can sometimes feel too busy and claustrophobic, but in Edinburgh you can escape the liveliness of town in no time at all. The hills dotted about offer a real sense of comfort and tranquility, reminding you that you’re never far from nature.

If it wasn’t so far away from family and friends, and colder and wetter than down here in the South, I would move to Edinburgh in a heartbeat! I will definitely be visiting again. Writing about this trip has made me miss it so much.

Now, I haven’t forgotten the important bits to end on:

Food & Drink – Lunch: On our first day, we ate lunch at Makar’s Gourmet Mash Bar on the Mound (up the big hill, opposite the Museum on the Mound). Like the name suggests, their specialty is potato! It was quite a hearty lunch and warmed us up, (helped by the local beer and ciders). I can’t remember what my friend ordered but I had the smoked sausage, cheese and egg rosti fritter stack. Despite violently blowing my nose every ten minutes, my tastebuds hadn’t gone by this point so I can say that my food was tasty!

On our second day we tried Civerinos Slicea pizza place near our hotel offering ‘pie-sized’ pizzas or huge slices for lunch! I went with the vegan and veggie option and wasn’t disappointed:

IMG_2300

On our last day, we went to Hemma, a stroll away from Holyroodhouse. The exterior is all glass and there is seating outside with some AstroTurf to make it look even more inviting in the sunshine. Inside was bright and modern, with chilled-out vibes – I think they had a table football in there, and also an area at the front with book shelves (which is always a winner with me). The food is advertised online as European/Swedish. They have an area available to hire for parties. There there were a couple of large groups when we went so it did take us a while to be served. However, the food was amazing! I had a salad which I’m not sure is still on their menu, sadly… (that’s what I get for posting so late), but here it is:

IMG_2386

Mixed leaves, couscous, avocado, halloumi, some spicy-ish green sauce and oranges – I’ve never had oranges in a salad before but it seemed classy so I went for it. I probably needed the vitamin C for my flu, anyway.

Tea, coffee and cakes: Before heading to the Writer’s Museum, we stopped off at Zebra Coffee Company, just round the corner from the mash bar. It’s small inside but we managed to nab two seats on the end of a bench out the back. My friend had a coffee and a brownie and I had a chai tea and a rocky road slice! They were LUSH. The chocolate was so rich but without being sickly, although I don’t know I’d be saying the same if we’d just eaten lunch!

Dinner: On our first night we visited Cafe Andaluz for tapas in the new town, (there’s also one in the old town). I can’t remember what we had but I think it was some sort of chorizo dishes, and fish. We enjoyed it, anyway!

Our second dinner was spent in the Cellar Door, conveniently opposite the Frankenstein Bier Keller. This is a traditional Scottish restaurant. It was slightly more up-market and therefore more expensive, but we enjoyed our food all the same! I had the Scotch venison, which came with butternut squash, potatoes and a red wine jus.

As I said, we needed to sober up after our cocktail making on the last night, so I went for a hearty pie at the restaurant in The Inn on the Mile. My friend went for a haggis topping on her burger, which I tried (because when in Rome, right?) but I’d lost all sense of taste so it really wasn’t worth it. I’ve tried haggis since, though, and it’s a no from me.

I’d love to say my flu ironically disappeared after this trip, but I actually ended up keeping my rattly cough for nearly three and a half months afterwards – which included the next trip I will write about, Zakynthos! That’s Zante to all you lads out there. But it wasn’t that kind of holiday at all…

Thanks for reading!

Review of Black Mirror: Bandersnatch

I watched this on Friday and MY GOODNESS. I need to talk about it. This is new, bold, exciting, and may change the way we view film and TV from now on.

The premise of Bandersnatch, (set in an ironically significant 1984), is that the main character, Stefan, is developing a game based on a fantasy book in which you can choose different options in order to form your own storyline. The author of this book Bandersnatch, Jerome F. Davies, famously ended up insane and decapitated his own wife. Stefan has the chance to develop his game for a big company.

And that’s as much as I can tell you because what happens is up to you. During scenes, two options pop up and you must decide the focus of the plot by guiding Stefan’s behaviour and actions. We start with the basics: choose what Stefan has for breakfast, Sugar Puffs or Frosties. Then, as you would expect from having watched any previous Black Mirror episode, the decisions get tougher, the plot more serious, the options darker. You’ll find yourself considering whether Frosties really was the best way to start Stefan’s day.

Bandersnatch

A glaring metaphor echoes throughout Bandersnatch, (if you choose similar options as I did), due to one particular scene with Colin Ritman, the well-known games developer, (brilliantly played by Will Poulter). Colin makes an LSD-fuelled speech about messages embedded within every game, stating that the PAC in Pac-Man stands for Program and Control:

He’s the Program and Control man. The whole thing’s a metaphor, he thinks he’s got free will but really he’s trapped in a maze, in a system – all he can do is consume, he’s pursued by demons that are probably just in his own head, and even if he does manage to escape by slipping out one side of the maze, what happens? He comes right back in the other side. People think it’s a happy game, it’s not a happy game, it’s a f*cking nightmare world, and the worst thing is it’s real and we live in it.

Bandersnatch is undoubtedly a maze, as Colin describes. I think it’s safe to say that, in an Inception-like way, not only is Stefan the ‘Pac-Man’ of this situation, being controlled as he believes by some external force, (that force being us), but so are we. If we can play Bandersnatch, then it can also play us, and very early on it does seem to do this. I watched the film with four friends and after choosing what we judged to be the better option of the two for Stefan, we were proven wrong. We were eventually taken back to the same scene, to make a different decision. We thought we were being clever and purposefully chose the same option again. Obviously that’s not how Bandersnatch is to be played. We thought we were ‘slipping out of the maze’ but we were once again transported back to the scene, manipulated into choosing the other option in order to ‘unlock’, as it were, the rest of the film’s content and pathways.

Being ‘played’ isn’t all bad once you’re past that initial hurdle. If you’re curious enough to view most, (or all), of the different pathways in Bandersnatch, then the insidious confusion and at times ridiculousness of Stefan’s various storylines is a welcome treat. The running time of the film, when you come to the end of your first chosen pathway, is around an hour and a half. I think my friends and I racked it up to double that time; we kept clicking on the options presented at the end of each version of Stefan’s story until the final credits rolled. We wanted to find out what happened if we hadn’t chosen to ‘follow Colin’ or ‘shout at Dad’. Without wanting to spoil too much, we stumbled upon a fourth-wall-breaking moment that was quite special, and brought an Orwellian feeling to the forefront.

BlackMirror

After viewing Bandersnatch I was reminded of fanfiction and all its possibilities. Normally, viewing of characters in film and TV is limited within directorial and written constraints. Fanfiction allows a new space to be created for these characters; whether you are a writer or reader of fanfiction, you are driven by a want to see beyond what the characters have already done on-screen. You wish to explore these characters exhibiting different behaviours and reacting to new stimulants and situations.

Bandersnatch does not have any of the conventional constraints of film and TV. It is its own type of fanfiction, really. I admire Charlie Brooker’s boldness in creating such diversity and even contradiction within his writing, because I’ve always believed a peculiar kind of selfishness is attached to writers, (of course I’m including myself here). There’s the ever-present mentality of ‘these are my characters and I’ll direct where they’re headed‘, even when you do have help with writing along the way. Brooker has let go of this mentality with Bandersnatch, and I think we may thank him for his selflessness.

For the record, I’m not saying all film and TV should be like this from now on. We’d never have the time to live our own lives. But it does herald an exciting future for script writers and film makers who wish to explore the same kind of path as Bandersnatch, if you’ll pardon the awful pun. Being granted some free will and the choice to guide the action of what we’re seeing may also teach us more about our own viewing preferences, and what it is we wish to gain from them.

Rarely has anything on Netflix deserved more than two viewings in a row, but with Bandersnatch, I tell you to view it as many times as humanly possible. Choose your options well. Then choose again. Then change your mind. Get weird. Get deep. Enjoy. Then scour the internet for theories, hidden meanings, ways of watching, and fascinating facts about the filming process, like I’m about to do…

Thanks for reading and I hope you all have a Happy New Year!
See you in 2019.