Birthday Eve

Somehow

a bull snorted

silver

and the sky

hummed pink,

the cotton

richness of

clouds golden

with sunset.

A trail, a road

waving and

weaving across

Her firmament,

pied beauty

no possibility

of losing my way.

No detours

through other

chasms and cosmos

bright;

no other

celestial seas

or turtle shells.

Just this place.

A teeming,

beating heart

in time.

And this time,

with its waxing abundance,

bee-dance

and goldfinch sweetness,

that lines,

as ever,

the crags and mountains

and canyons and oceans

of my own

being.

Fragrant, fertile

and, yes,

fleeting.

I arrived

sighing with

life, death, life.

Bursting with joy,

yet, for months

I was grieving.

Love Note Year in Review: 2020

Arundhati Roy, in her signature wisdom, wrote in April that ‘the pandemic is a portal’: this year, it is impossible to deny, Covid-19 drew us across a collective threshold, and there is no going back. In a year that the veils were lifted, where our stories and systems, both personal and cultural, were laid bare under a bright, unforgiving light, we were given the gift of 20:20 vision: society cannot function without people who are normally paid the least and are given the least amount of respect; underfunding public services, including healthcare, is a short-sighted, political decision that has resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands; we continue to fester in the sickness of white supremacy and racism that brutally terrorises and kills; we are approaching a number of one-way doors that will result in climate catastrophe. This pandemic was an apocalypse: a word that comes from the Ancient Greek, meaning ‘an uncovering’, a revelation. In spite of the death, chaos and suffering it has unleashed, I am convinced that we needed it. Death, chaos and suffering were mightily at work beforehand, we just didn’t realise it.

Almost as soon as the pandemic put a stop to our hectic, exhausted lives, it became clear, like all moments of change, great and small, that we have a choice: to bury our heads in the sand and avoid the pandemic; to desperately cling to the familiar shores of neoliberalism, white supremacy and exploitation; or to take the plunge into these unknown waters and to live more consciously, meaningfully and compassionately. Joseph Campbell wrote that ‘the neurotic drowns in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight’ and whilst at times I caved to cynicism and despair, particularly later on in the year, I have tried to choose acceptance, curiosity and joy over and over again. As Roy attests, this pandemic is an opportunity to shift, reset and revive, and we would be fools to not pay attention to that.

As such, here are some of the things that have expanded my world this year: that gave me hope, helped me to re-frame my biases and reflect upon my own experiences and contributions to the world, and that gave me joy.

‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’ with the assistance of Alex Haley

This was by far the most powerful book I read all year, and came courtesy of the amazing ‘Let’s Talk Racism’ book chain on Instagram. X was nothing short of a lightning bolt of a man. His autobiography is incredibly immersive, giving a huge insight into his many turbulent and shifting lives and iterations. There is no doubt that X was one of the most quick-witted, sharpest and, often, humorous critics of white supremacy, re-framing and wiping the floor with his accusers at every turn. He was unfiltered, incendiary and uncompromising, an unrelenting champion of and for Black people. I found the chapter of X describing his days in prison re-teaching himself to read and write particularly moving, as were his trip to perform Hajj in Mecca and subsequent travels across the Middle East and Africa. He was ever-evolving, ever-driven for justice and whilst scathing of many of his contemporaries, he showed capacity for compassion and his own personal evolution. A truly extraordinary man.

Through ‘Let’s Talk Racism’, I also borrowed copies of ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’ by Emma Dabiri and ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ by Rhodes Must Fall Oxford, both of which massively expanded my awareness of the insidious workings of white supremacy around women, beauty, the university and pedagogy. I am so grateful for the chain: it has been a key part of the work I have pursued this year to reckon with my own white privilege and racism, whilst introducing me for the first time to Pan-African productions and modes of knowledge, expression, spirituality and culture. In spite of the hard work, I have encountered so much that is truly joyful.

My subscription to British Vogue

The fashion industry is one of the world’s biggest polluters and has been notoriously crap at dealing with the problem. The industry has been so caught up in producing, over-producing, tens of collections every year and conducting the flying circus of fashion weeks around the world, that it has become caught up on its own proverbial hamster wheel. There is, naturally, a human cost to this overproduction and consumption: people in Bangladesh, India and other countries continue to work in horrendous conditions for next to nothing, whilst their rivers and forests are polluted and destroyed (if you haven’t seen documentary ‘The True Cost’, I cannot recommend it enough). Furthermore, designers and creatives have experienced sustained burnout under the unrelenting pressure of an industry and culture that demands more, instantly, and all the time, as memorably recorded by Suzy Menkes in 2015. However, things are beginning to change: Edward Enninful, the Editor-in-Chief at British Vogue has written so beautifully and powerfully this year about the need for reset and change in the industry:

‘But a truth has been exposed by the tumultuous events of 2020: there is no normal to return to. Like many of you who I’ve spoken to or corresponded with over these past months, I share a sense that, actually, ‘normal’ is what got us here in the first place. If we are going to evolve, to a place of greater fairness and safety for our planet and its people, our future cannot look exactly like our past. We are going to need a genuine rethink about our lives. Our attitudes, our priorities, our compassion. What and how we consume. What we stand for and how we voice it […] let’s be honest: normal wasn’t working’. (British Vogue, August 2020).

Along with his excellent advocacy for decolonising fashion and art, Enninful demonstrates keen awareness of the change being demanded of fashion environmentally. Indeed, all of these issues and contexts constantly intersect. It is so incredibly refreshing to hear a fashion editor speak honestly and in no uncertain terms about the hard work and change that is required to live in a more just and less exploitative way. Of course, we want the pandemic to end as quickly as possible, but we cannot return to life before the pandemic. Enninful is aware that this moment is our opportunity to make big decisions about the direction we want to go in, what kind of people want to be, how we want to leave the world for future generations. For an industry that constantly chases the ephemeral newness of capitalist modernity, this is nothing short of revolutionary. It is so incredibly exciting, and comforting, to have such a man in in such a position of influence and authority. With his recent promotion within Condé Nast, he is set to have increasing influence over the role of fashion in the world. Accompanied with his invigorated focus on sustainability, this is extremely hopeful and promising. I have loved getting to know him and his vision of fashion over the year and, given fashion’s huge economic and cultural reach and influence, I am looking forward to him exacting some truly impactful change.

Hay Festival Digital

This was a completely divine couple of weeks of talks, readings and lectures all brought to us online. I am still quite stunned by how smooth-running the festival was considering they had next to no time to get online; equally, I am stunned that I haven’t been to the festival before now. Books? Wales? How had I managed to miss it? Regardless, the Hay Festival brought me so much happiness. I curled up in bed listening to Stephen Fry tell stories of Troy; attended talks on the Welsh language (which I began learning during Lockdown); had my questions answered by Simon Schama and James Shapiro; attended the Schools Programme featuring Onjali Q Rauf and Laura Bates; and immensely enjoyed Rutger Bergman and Michael Wood’s respective talks. One of the best moments of the festival was virtually attending Gloria Steinem’s talk with friends and family, all texting one another in excitement as this feminist queen imparted wisdom about activism and the fuel of being pissed off. I really hope that they continue running the festival online in some capacity going forward: there was such a magic to enjoying talks about books whilst knowing that people were logging in from all over the world. A true gift and moment of solidarity this year.

Online theatre

As a child, going to the theatre was pretty much the highlight of my year. I still think going to see ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ in Stratford-upon-Avon when I was seven years old was one of the best days of my entire life. However, since becoming a worker bee, I have found opportunities for going to the theatre, and requisite non-subsidised ticket prices, become quite a barrier to going. In 2020, I more than made up for years of missed theatre. At one point, myself and a couple of dear friends were virtually going to the theatre together every week, courtesy of the National Theatre. We watched ‘Jane Eyre’, ‘Twelfth Night’, ‘Small Island’, ‘Frankenstein’, ‘Antony and Cleopatra’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, sometimes dressing up to suit the occasion, building in our own ice cream breaks and having post-show chats. It was such a rich experience: I still can’t quite believe the access we were all given. I donated to the fund as and when I could and it was a genuine pleasure to do so.

Similarly, I watched more ballet than I ever could afford to see in one year: ‘Romeo and Juliet’ featuring Matthew Ball as, perhaps, the best incarnation of Romeo ever (sorry Leo); ‘The Winter’s Tale’ featuring Edward Watson as a truly devastating King Leontes and Lauren Cuthbertson who makes me weep; ‘The Cellist’ featuring the divine Marcelino Sambé; ‘Anastasia’ with Natalia Osipova, someone who embodies negative capability; ‘Sleeping Beauty’ featuring Fumi Kaneko who has the most graceful arms ever and, my personal favourite, ‘Woolf Works’, a ballet triptych inspired by the life and works of Virginia Woolf. The ‘Orlando’ section in particular was truly astonishing, especially the partnership of the aforementioned Edward Watson and Francesca Hayward. The music, choreography, costuming and staging here created a piece of art that was electric. I quite forgot that they were performing in a grandiose old building, so futuristic and transporting was this section. It was everything that is truly brilliant and exciting about contemporary ballet. I remember watching ‘Danse à Grande Vitesse’ years ago and being enthralled by the limits of ballet and dance that were being pushed here: the same can equally be said for ‘Woolf Works’. Yes, tutus and Tchaikovsky are fun, but these new frontiers of dance and expression are so important and so invigorating. I cannot wait for more.     

The first was little and apple green

The first was

little and apple

green

I beamed to see it,

as it coiled around

my fingers

neat

playful:

my friendly

Messenger

with a pink fork

and a smile.

But then,

the next night,

another came

(I was ready for bigger

leagues?)

a wider face,

not mean,

but I was

trapped in sand

up to my waist

and I was

afraid

that it moved

beneath me.

No cute coils,

but a waxy

olive head

with penetrating

eyes

like it knew me.

And the sand was

trapping

as I felt it move

and heave.

Dusk was falling

and my hips

wouldn’t budge.

I wanted to

befriend it too,

but it felt so big

and all I could do

was kick my feet.

Then,

as though

the decision

was made for me,

I coughed

and scales

and a head

fell out

of my mouth

dry

olive green

and the thing

was dead.

I grieved,

I grieved,

I had done it

all wrong

I feared too much:

the crust of

skin

lay in the

brittle sand,

as the sky turned purple.

I just didn’t know how to be,

friend

or pupil;

I couldn’t sink into

surrender,

celebrating

the mystery

by the shores

of the sea.

 

They wore flannel

They wore flannel

Scarlet red.

A riot

against a green

Impressionist’s backdrop,

Van Gogh’s colour wheel

whispering

yearning in

Roerich’s ready moment.

A theatre

heaving:

the systems and

structures rattled

and bellowing,

like a giant ship

thundering from steam.

Primordial screams

from the mouths

of elderly elites,

pagans, all,

and a quivering

bassoon:

a vision

bursting from the

confines of its

frame

admonishing and wry

lit in ancient blue light.

Circles, circles

and rounds

and ground.

A sinking incorporation

with a marble mask

and limbs

out of joint.

We ravishers

our flesh made fabric

In flannel, flannel

to cool

to slow

to remember

our pounding

relationship with

the expansion and

contraction,

the soils of our

lifeblood and its

freshness and

sweetnesses

long lost

long found.

A kiss seals,

stamping certifies

we are knit

awaken

awaken

awaken:

the rip-roaring

of a womb’s

subjects

partying and prancing:

whilst the void, it

lurks,

and bears abound.

There is fire burning

There is fire burning

in the world.

Forests are collapsing and crumbling

Ablaze

With human hellfire.

The animals and cultures

of feathered, furred and

Chlorophylled life

terrified, perishing.

The heat rising everywhere

Pregnant women labouring under

the heat

No escape on the beaches

A mobile eruption of heat

Scattering ash confetti

Sanctifying the destruction,

years in the making.

The sacred lands, buckling

Drowned, burnt,

Tortured.

It groans under the weight of

greed:

Made manifest by scarlet flames

The sacrificial fires

are out of control

Punishing sacrilege

And yet,

it is the vulnerable

who suffer the most.

Ancient communities

and barbarised peoples who are hurting

the most.

And I sit here.

I greet the swan family every day,

tripping with joy and wonder

at the sanctity of kinship

and little ones.

On my narrow strip of rubber

within my four walls

I reflect

I try to go inward

so as to help with the struggle

outward.

And I do not do enough

And I cannot do enough.

I find refuge in my breath

and yet,

There are black people

In Minneapolis beaten and oppressed

and the injustice rolls on and on

and on.

I watch the canal

tenderly flow.

This haven of trees, grasses and

animals,

singing, honking, whispering and

breathing,

rippling and ever so, ever so

alive

as these dying days

drag on:

It is a glory.

The crescent moon

Pale

peeks through

our canopy of

tentative, ringing

Covid blue.

Lana Del Rey and whiteness

Beginning on the 21st May 2020, my phone blew up for a few consecutive days with incredulity, anger and disbelief at Lana Del Rey’s numerous statements directed at ‘the culture’. I still don’t really know what she is trying to define by that term. After the first statement, in which she namechecks numerous black female artists who have allegedly been allowed to sing about ‘being sexy, wearing no clothes, fucking, cheating etc.’ when she has not, I declared to one group chat that I would get our thoughts and analyses, which were extensive, down here. I held off writing straight away and I’m glad I did: what followed were even more spurious statements and rebuttals from Del Rey about how people criticising her had begun a ‘race war’, and that people who ‘misunderstood’ her should ‘fuck off’.  We saw her Instagram fill with images of white Hollywood movie stars, including that classic chauvinist James Bond no less, a GIF of her pole dancing in the ‘Gods and Monsters’ music video, and declarations that ‘no one gets to tell your story’. Del Rey claims that she embodies a ‘delicate’ form of femininity that is currently rejected by feminism, bizarrely claiming that it will be the forefront of a ‘new/3rd wave of feminism that is rapidly approaching’. We are, of course, already in the fourth wave and have been since the early 2010s. I aim to discuss Del Rey in relation to feminism at greater length in another essay.

With regards to race, Del Rey has, unfortunately, proven herself painfully unaware of how much privilege her whiteness affords her, and thereby has been unable to show how race and her question of feminism intersect. I can see why Del Rey believes that she is, in the words of  Ibram X. Kendi, ‘anti-racist’: she cast A$AP Rocky as her JFK in the ‘National Anthem’ video and wrote songs with him for ‘Lust For Life’; she has collaborated numerous times with The Weeknd; some of her best friends are black women who have featured prominently in her music videos and on tour from ‘Lust For Life’ through to ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell’; and she is giving all of the profits from her poetry collections as reparations to the indigenous Navajo community.  She has proven, however, that she is not necessarily anti-racist, with each new comment she released digging her heels into her first problematic statement even further until a defence of her is rendered almost impossible.

Lana’s original namecheck of predominantly black and Hispanic women, Doja Cat, Ariana Grande, Camila Cabello, Cardi B, Kehlani, Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé, was used to highlight how these women have been celebrated and rewarded by ‘the culture’ for being sexual, provocative and complex whilst she has been maligned. In doing this, she demonstrated a lack of awareness about the more significant barriers that Women of Colour (WOC) face in getting to a prominent position in the music industry in the first place, as well as equating these women, who are already exposed to latent racist exoticisation stereotypes, purely with sexuality and sexual mores. This is deeply ironic coming from someone who has both Nina Simone and Billie Holiday’s names tattooed onto her clavicle and has regularly referenced Holiday in her music, for example in the music video for ‘Summer Wine’ and on the song ‘The Blackest Day’ from the album ‘Honeymoon’.

Blackest Day Higher QUality

Simone and Holiday both famously used their art to fight racism and empower black youth throughout their careers, for example in the songs ‘Young Gifted and Black’ and ‘Strange Fruit’ and in numerous other contexts. This video of Simone talking about the artist’s duty to reflect the times, particularly with regards to fighting racism, is one that Del Rey has shared herself on her Instagram:

Nina Simone

It is bizarre, then, that Del Rey, who so idolises these black women who spent their careers and lives fighting racism, is unable to acknowledge and concede that bringing WOC into a conversation about how she has been hard done by the music industry is problematic. It does not matter how may times you tell people that you are not racist: if you are making racially coded comments and comparisons, even and especially unconsciously, then refusing to accept the fact that your white ignorance and privilege have been exposed by those very comments, you are being racist. For white people, our racism is often unconscious and unthought of: our work is to bring our assumptions and everything we take for granted as white people into consciousness, to learn, listen and ultimately become allies in the fight against racism, racial inequality and injustice. Not to dig our heels in, take offence and accuse others of starting ‘a race war’.

This need for clarity and consciousness has become even more sickeningly potent in the days after Del Rey’s flurry of racially coded and unapologetic statements. The video went viral on 25th May 2020 of Amy Cooper threatening Christian Cooper (no relation), a black man, that she would call the police and tell them that he was threatening her life when he had asked her to put her dog on a lead in Central Park’s protected nature reserve ‘The Ramble’. Amy Cooper chillingly showed how America’s law enforcement system, well known for its extensive brutality of black people, was geared in her white favour, and that she was more than willing to use it to get her own way at whatever genuinely life-threatening cost to Christian Cooper. Within days, we saw what the outcome could have been: George Floyd, an unarmed black man, suffocated to death by police officers in Minneapolis. In recent weeks, we have already seen how the American justice system values the life of Ahmed Aubrey, who was lynched by a white father and son in Georgia. It seemed serendipitous that we had this public genealogy of white supremacy and racism unfold so compactly this week:  from Lana Del Rey accusing people of starting a ‘race war’ when what she had articulated was racially coded and, yes, racist; to a white woman using her whiteness as a weapon to threaten a black man who left the altercation, thankfully, safe; and yet another terrible and all too familiar example of police officers murdering an unarmed black man. Even though what happened with Del Rey can be interpreted as a celebrity scandal, it does not exist in a vacuum. Every single part of the events of this week are connected, and are expressions of what is normalised and still accepted in a white supremacist society.

This is not, of course, a problem that only exists in the USA. As writer and journalist Reni Eddo-Lodge argues in her amazing book ‘Why I am No Longer Talking to White People About Race’, by focusing on race as something that happens on the other side of the Atlantic, Black British history is ‘starved of oxygen’ and not given the attention it needs. Racism and white supremacy are alive and well in the UK, and we cannot fall into complacency, believing that it is only in the USA that racism exists. I have spent the past few weeks writing an inquiry project for my teacher training qualification (PGCE) about race and curriculum in the UK and there is no doubt in my mind that the National Curriculum devised by Michael Gove, particularly in Key Stage Four English, serves to perpetuate white cultural hegemony, erasing, denying and ignoring the communities and cultural identities of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) pupils and anyone else who identifies as non-white British. White people are profoundly ignorant of the way in which we accept whiteness in all parts of our lives as standard and normal, as though our entire country’s history was not built off the back of slave labour and colonial oppression of BAME people. Now more than ever, white people need to be doing the work to make our unconscious privileges and ignorance, conscious. This is a battle, in part, because ideological vehicles like The National Curriculum hit us when we are young; but as responsible, conscious adults, we must actively educate ourselves. Too many people continue to suffer and we must do our part to fight and stop that.

This essay has been fuelled by anger, to be sure. But I also offer it in the spirit of generosity. I have been critical of Lana Del Rey because I think it is important for white people to call each other out and educate one another about the way our unconscious privilege and ignorance is a form of racial violence. As such, I want to provide a list of materials that have helped and continue to help me, as a white person, to recognise and check my own privilege and ignorance, which, I hope, help me to be an ally to all BAME people and actively fight racism. I recommend the following to all white people:

‘Why I am No Longer Talking to White People about Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge

‘About Race’ podcast by Reni Eddo-Lodge

‘Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire’ by Akala

‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas

‘Americanah’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

‘I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings’ by Dr. Maya Angelou

‘A Raisin in the Sun’ by Lorraine Hansberry

‘White Teeth’ by Zadie Smith

‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama

‘The Ministry of Utmost Happiness’ by Arundhati Roy

‘The Wretched of the Earth’ by Frantz Fanon

‘Orientalism’ by Edward W. Said

‘OJ: Made in America’ by Ezra Edelman

‘Black Panther’ by Ryan Coogler

‘Straight Outta Compton’ by F. Gary Gray

‘Get Out’ by Jordan Peele

‘Mississippi Burning’ by Alan Parker

‘Lemonade’ by Beyoncé

‘Homecoming’ by Beyoncé

‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ by Kendrick Lamar

‘Kiwanuka’ by Michael Kiwanuka

Gal-dem

The Runnymede Trust resources

‘Let Them Drown: the violence of othering in a warming world’ chapter in ‘On Fire: The Burning Case for a Green New Deal’ by Naomi Klein

‘Episode 102: Empire State of Mind: overhauling the history we teach’ by ‘Reasons To Be Cheerful’ podcast

‘Episode 59: Black Revolution and Whiteness Psychosis with Kehinde Andrews’ by ‘Under the Skin’ podcast

The International Slavery Museum, Liverpool

 

Here are some works that I am yet to start:

‘How to be Antiracist’ by Ibram X. Kendi

‘Brit(ish)’ by Afua Hirsch

‘Things Fall Apart’ by Chinua Achebe

‘Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee’ by Dee Brown

‘Girl, Woman, Other’ by Bernadine Evaristo

‘Women, Race and Class’ by Angela Davis

‘Sister Outsider’ by Audre Lorde

‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ by James Baldwin

‘Ain’t I a Woman: Black women and feminism’ by bell hooks

‘Bad Feminist’ by Roxane Gay

‘Hamilton’ by Lin Manuel Miranda

 

I am absolutely in need of more recommendations, particularly films, so please do send me anything that you are aware of that will help me in my learning.

Love Note – Corona-party

On Tuesday 17th March 2020, I was told at 15:20, after a full day of teaching, that my placement was to be suspended with immediate effect. At this point, I am aware that my course will continue with online learning and seminars, that I have up-coming assignments that I will need to prepare and I have a stack of journal articles to read, but that I will be housebound for the foreseeable future. This has presented me with something of a paradox: being at home is both unnerving and reassuring; liberating from the busy-ness of normal life but may also create a void of emptiness that will leave me climbing the walls. As such, I am doing my best to come up with a daily routine of interesting things to do that will keep me calm. I think that, in spite of all the chaos, this is a really pertinent opportunity for me to dig into some of my interests and hobbies, learn some new things and keep staying curious. At this point, and it is still early days,  I have three books on the go, which I can barely believe myself, I am filling my days with interesting tasks and activities that prevent me from binging on television, and I am keeping positive and cheerful in light of a perfect storm of governmental confusion, media confusion and general upheaval.

‘What Would Boudicca Do?’ by E. Foley and B. Coates

Boudicca

This was a New Year’s gift from a dear friend and is a fun whistle-stop tour of remarkable women from history. I have decided to read a chapter a day over the course of whatever it is that is happening (am I self-isolating, in quarantine, living out a course suspension? Who knows). So far, I have read condensed histories of Boudicca and Mary Wollstonecraft. Tomorrow, Mae West. The book is fun, digestible, full of nuggets of important intersectional feminist history and reading just a chapter a day gives me something to look forward to for tomorrow.

Duolingo

Duolingo

I downloaded and started learning through Duolingo before the corona-party started, and I am now even more committed to keeping at it. Currently, I am refreshing and building up my French and I have started learning Welsh from scratch. I was inspired to start by a friend who is on a 200-day streak and I loved his commitment to the cause. Additionally, I was stunned by the fact that whilst I’ve been chugging away nonchalantly speaking, reading and writing in English alone, over half the world’s population is bilingual. Language learning is going to become more and more essential for Britons, especially in light of our new (sob) relationship with the EU, so I think it’s important that learning new languages and, by proxy, understanding the cultural contexts of different countries and their peoples, becomes more of a priority. French has always been of interest to me (I have delusions of grandeur about moving to Paris) and Welsh is an important part of my own personal heritage. My mum is a native speaker, as is my Grandma on my Dad’s side. Hilariously, they speak different dialects so can’t communicate with one another. Nevertheless, learning Welsh has been an absolute joy. I can just about tell people that I am a vegetarian from memory (dw’in ddim yn bwyta cig) and it is just delightful learning how to speak and write a language that so liberally uses the letters ‘w’ and ‘y’. Duolingo isn’t perfect, but it’s exactly what I need it to be right now: good for my brain, good for my cultural awareness and a diversion from binge-watching TV. Speaking of which…

The Good Place, Netflix *slight spoilers*

The Good Place

Of course a bit of Netflix was going to feature. MW and I are on the final series of this hilarious sitcom that incorporates trashbagism with the central tenets of moral philosophy. The writing is sharp, effortlessly condenses complex philosophical ideas into twenty minutes segments, has truly mind-blowing twists and a range of characters that I absolutely adore. Up there for me is Jason Mendoza, a hapless dimwit from Jacksonville, Florida, who has a heart of gold. Jason is one of the most stupid and naive characters I have ever encounterd but is extraordinarily emotionally intelligent. Whilst head haunch Michael has to scam and manipulate everyone else to get them to do the right thing, Jason is receptive, honest and the most in touch with what he needs. Our time with the show is coming to an end and I am going to miss it enormously.

Going for a walk

The Park Nottingham

MW and I went for a half an hour walk around the Park Estate in Nottingham today. We saw the first of the cherry blossoms coming out; a cute dog with a bandage on its paw who was still tugging its owner along; beautiful Lady-and-the-Tramp Fothergill architecture; my favourite cedar tree; and we talked about everything and nothing. It started trying to rain at one point and we both arrived home with rosy cheeks. Going for a walk was such a nice break from the work of the morning. We felt refreshed by it, we’d had some good exercise, and it helped us to disengage from our screens.

Staying connected

Meme FINAL

I don’t mean this in a mindless, compulsive way: more like checking in with friends and family members on a regular basis, if you can. I have had hilarious and lovely chats with my mum and Grandma today, as well as touching base with a variety of WhatsApp groups where the memes, bad jokes and cute pet photos are flowing. I think it would be quite easy to become very insular and isolated at this time. As much as it is nice to hole up for a while, we need to stay connected and active in a healthy way. Additionally, we need to be mindful of the isolation others may be feeling, particularly older people who are having to self-isolate. Age UK run a befriending service that I volunteered for last year, and I am sure they would appreciate more people signing up at this time. I wrote more about the importance of building relationships with older people here

 Yoga with Adriene, YouTube

Yoga With Adriene

As many of you know from my incessant ramblings, I have sworn by Adriene Mishler’s YouTube channel for years. It is free, full of warmth, wisdom and fantastic yoga practices, and is a go-to for grounding and exercise. Life is always uncertain, but we are experiencing that all the more keenly at this point: yoga is an amazing way to breathe into the uncomfortable feelings, emotions and sensations that may arise, especially if you are prone to anxiety. Her 30 day yoga journey, released in January and prophetically entitled ‘Home’ (where I am spending an awful lot of time at the moment), is one I will be gravitating towards. She also announced today a new yoga playlist that contains videos of practices that pertain to uncertainty and crisis. Just twenty minutes of tuning into my breath and dropping down into my body makes such an incredible difference to my day.

Pema Chodron

Pema

I couple my practice with reading a chapter of Pema Chodron’s ‘The Places That Scare You: a guide to fearlessness’. Chodron is a cornerstone of Buddhist wisdom and guidance, encouraging us to see our fears, anxieties and stuck points as opportunities for growth, self-knowledge and integration. Instead of pushing away or resisting old patterns that no longer serve us, we can get to know them, allow them to pass through, and grow our compassion for ourselves and, as a result, all human beings. We all struggle. We all have our edges that push us to our limits. In this time of collective uncertainty, chaos and fear, we have a real chance to see our lives clearly: we may not like what we see, but that’s OK. It’s better to be conscious of our choices than to live in ignorance or stuck in cycles of self-abandonment.

Music

Music

Over the past couple of days, I have revisited a lot of my musical favourites. I was partially inspired by Daniel Radcliffe’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ which was an absolutely delight. Since then, I have been listening to Father John Misty, Bob Dylan, Sade and Agnes Obel, with a little bit of Andrew Lloyd Webber thrown in (he did a Twitter poll for a song to perform and ‘All I Ask Of You’ from The Phantom of the Opera cam out on top. The whole thing is lovely: check it out). Normally at this time of the year I have my annual Stravinsky Rite of Spring binge due to the impending seasonal transition: it definitely still freaks me out even after all these years, but I wouldn’t be without it. I have started reading Tolstoy’s description of the Russian spring in Anna Karenina as a companion to Stravinsky. The violence and the vibrance of spring, with its renewal and rebirth, is both excruciating and profoundly beautiful.

 

N.B

I genuinely believe that coronavirus is forcing us to re-assess our social structures and our places within them. At no other time has such a compelling case been made for Universal Basic Income; the free childcare labour of grandparents has been shown to be so underappreciated; the undervaluing of the NHS, teaching, and ‘low skill’ jobs such as cleaning and delivery work has been exposed and challenged; rates of pollution dropped in China because of lockdown etc. This is a confusing and uncertain time, but it can be a fascinating time. I think it is giving us the chance to evaluate what most certainly is not working for us and what we can change in the most positive way. Business as usual wasn’t working before coronavirus, it certainly isn’t working now, and we would be fools to let this opportunity to enact progressive, socially aware and compassionate policies post-coronavirus to just slip away. I am not completely fluent in politics, I don’t know what the right answers are; but it is clear that we are in a unique situation where we can move to build a fairer, more just world where everyone is taken care of. I wish that people would stop worrying about market volatility as though it were something that wasn’t invented and perpetuated by humans in the first place. Let’s build something else.

Love Note Year in Review: 2019

Like 2016, 2019 has, in many ways, been a stellar year for me, but has been societally shambolic and difficult to digest. Here, I have written about some of the films, music, TV shows and podcasts that have been my companions along the way. These have all inspired me, taught me new things, expanded my thoughts and given me a richer understanding of the world and the people in it. Enjoy and do let me know what you think.

Book: Crudo by Olivia Laing

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I have read a few books this year that have completely blown me away, including Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie  and Circe by Madeline Miller. Here, however, I want to discuss dearest Crudo. I bought this book from Shakespeare and Company whilst in Paris on the recommendation of a great friend with great taste. Crudo is a very short book but it is an absolute gut punch of hilarity, darkness and tenderness. Indeed, it’s hard to really pin down exactly what happens in it because it is such a heady mixture of consciousness, recollection, projection and commentary. For me, this spells perfection: I have always loved character studies and don’t think an exacting plot is always necessary all the time. What I can get to with Crudo is that it centres on Kathy, who is getting married but has all sorts of qualms and skeletons to negotiate with first. Almost every page I declared ‘I LOVE THIS BOOK’ as it twisted and turned unpredictably through the mental chaos of anxiety, exhaustion, eating, friendship, loss, Twitter and drunken chaos in beautiful Italian locations. It is a love letter to anyone who is in despair at recent political turns of events, sardonically laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation whilst also grieving and mourning the rise of hatred, fear and intolerance in the West. I think this book will benefit from many readings, and I cannot wait to sink my teeth into it again.

Film: Apocalypse Now

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I was horrendously late in joining this film’s bandwagon, but was so glad when I did earlier this year. From that first shot of palm trees and the withering notes of The End by The Doors floating in like a breeze before the chaos, I was completely enthralled. This film is one of the greatest examples of a disorientating, arthouse viewing experience blended with the hallmarks of an epic: dramatic helicopter sequences and iconic lines offset with simmering delusion and madness all the way throughout. One such line, ‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning’, is a case in point: the line is delivered so much more softly than I thought it would be. I imagined that line to be a yelled declaration in the heat of conflict, but it is almost a tender revelation: an insight into how war and nationalism has warped and disfigured these men’s emotional engagement with the world around them. Amongst a host of spectacular performances, and there really isn’t a bad one in the whole film, Dennis Hopper stood out for me. With cameras draped around his neck like beads, Hopper plays a sycophantic, voyeuristic photojournalist, an unnamed self-declared ‘little man’ who has been brainwashed by Colonel Kurtz and is always ready to get a picture. An embodiment of a culture and a media that will transmit horror without reflection, Hopper’s photojournalist is the keenest harbinger of the shit state that is our current retinue of communication and media affairs.

Music: Beware of the Dogs, Stella Donnelly

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Music-wise, this year has been a stunner. With the returns of Lana Del Rey (who I wrote about here), Michael Kiwanuka, fka Twigs and Nick Cave amongst many others, and Billie Eilish’s brilliant debut, this year has felt particularly golden. I want to give my attention here to singer-songwriter Stella Donnelly, whose album Beware of the Dogs is undoubtedly one of my favourites from the brace of brilliance that was 2019. If there were to be any soundtrack to the #MeToo movement, it would be this album. From a sassy , beachy opener that holds a ‘grabbing’ middle-aged man to account, in what I would argue is a direct middle finger up to the likes of Donald Trump, to the searing and devastating ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, Donnelly keenly and devastatingly  confronts rampant toxic masculinity and a patriarchal culture that is riddled with sexual assault and violence. And yet, even with these serious concerns, the album is undeniably fun. With a contents list that features the maddening performativity of relationships, the deconstruction of awkward family dynamics and cake allergies in a register that nods to Noughties Lily Allen and Kate Nash (but with plinky plonky music exchanged for a wilting easy-breezy Australian nonchalance), this album feels assured, mature and endlessly witty. I can’t recommend it enough.

TV: The Politician, Netflix

The Politician

As the Golden Age of Television enters its late period of peak saturation, this year has once again been brilliant, if not slightly exhausting. Shows I loved included Stranger Things, Big Little Lies, The Real Housewives of New York City which, quite frankly, deserves an Emmy (that trip to Miami, in particular the first night, was the trip to end all Bravo trips), The Last Czars, which expertly wove dramatic reconstruction with historical analysis, and His Dark Materials. The Politician, made by the producers behind Glee (which I never much cared for) is an absolutely hilarious, obscene, outrageous drama which follows a group of Californian uber-rich teenagers taking part in a high school election campaign. Whilst this may ring with all the hallmarks of another glossy, predictable teen drama, The Politician is hilarious, piercingly dark and shocking, with some of the biggest knots of twists and turns I have seen on a TV show. We had to take a break after watching the first couple of episodes because it was so intense. Yet, the show’s astute political and social commentary feels absolutely essential in a ravaged post-truth Western world, in particular the stand alone episode ‘The Voter’, which serves as a microcosm of the lives of undecided and politically disaffected members of the electorate. With a soundtrack reminiscent of Western revenge tragedies and dramas, and a wardrobe department to rival seminal teen show Gossip Girl, The Politician is a sensory riot, and one of the most groundless viewing experiences I have had: I had absolutely no idea what was going to happen next or which bizarre direction the drama was going to take. This all serves to make it utterly compelling and brilliant television.

Podcasts

I have found it impossible to pick one podcast that has stood out as my favourite this year. Different podcasts serve very different moods and purposes, and there is no singular podcast to be drawn from my list of regulars and favourites.

Reasons

Reasons to Be Cheerful – Ed Miliband and Geoff Lloyd’s podcast forms the audio backdrop to my Monday mornings. This podcast has introduced me to many exciting concepts and policy ideas that I hope will become a part of the fabric of our politics in the future. Favourite episodes included topics like social care for the elderly, tax on frequent fliers, music and history education, the power of protest, community organisation, architecture and town planning and sustainable fashion. I am also exceedingly proud that my email on green fashion alternatives and tips was read out by Ed himself. #goals

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Dressed: The History of Fashion – This podcast fills the gap that glossy magazines have left in my life (I still buy the September issue of Vogue and the December issue of Harper’s Bazaar but that’s just about it). Instead, I have a podcast full of incredible interviews and explorations into the personal and cultural stories of my favourite designers and some of the clothes I wear on a day-to-day basis. I have enjoyed listening to episodes on The Met Gala, fashion and physique (mapping the female body), the history of the penny loafer, the biography of Cristóbal Balenciaga, the history of the French haute couture industry (Worth, Vionnet and Louis Vuitton being some of the most interesting stories) and a compelling conversation with Dr Monica Germanà about Bond girl style, looking at sexual, racial and colonial implications of women’s bodies and women’s dress in the franchise. I have shunned James Bond for many years but this conversation, with its focus on masculine and imperial anxiety, has shifted my perspective entirely.

DIDs

The Desert Island Discs Archive – This year, I discovered the delights of conversations and the musical favourites of some of Western culture’s greats. Tucked away in the archive, I found Powell and Pressburger, Leonide Massine, Tennessee Williams and Lauren Bacall amongst others. Gregory Peck was as dreamy as I hoped he would be and had a great story about the filming of Moby Dick, which coincidentally was shot down the road from where my grandparents lived in Wales; Jessica Mitford was hilarious and sassy; Roald Dahl was a bit of a snob; and P L Travers wasn’t as scary as I thought she’d be and picked a list formed exclusively of recordings of poetry being read aloud. One such recording was of Alec Guinness’s reading ‘Little Gidding’ from T.S Eliot’s Four Quartets, which was a balm I never knew I needed. Utterly transporting listening.

One last thing…

Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, Netflix

Joseph Campbell

Originally broadcast in 1988, and which I watched on Netflix this year but has now been removed, this series of six conversations in six episodes between comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers is one of the most fascinating TV shows I have ever seen. Combining conversation, story-telling, animation, archive footage and film clips, this series takes a deep look into the psyche and collective unconscious of human beings. Campbell takes us on a bewildering but utterly brilliant journey through indigenous ritual, Jungian archetypes, the world religions, Western capitalism, the sacred feminine, the interplay of symbols and allegory, the sublime, the liminal passage and many other areas to present a multi-faceted, deep and intriguing portrait of human behaviour, interconnectedness and culture. Every single episode had something profound to learn from it, but the episode that stood out to me the most centred on animal-human relations, including the role of sacrifice, the transcendence of Death and the horror of a world where human beings are divorced from where they get their food, their clothing, almost everything. Additionally, I loved Campbell’s ideas that stemmed from the Buddhist teachings: that the present is all there is, and in the present, when you sit wholly aware, unblinkered and unfettered from trappings of ego (fear, envy, jealousy, anger, boredom etc.) we are witness to and subjects of, what could be called, the divine. I have never thought of myself as a religious person, and I still don’t think I am, but I found immense power in what Campbell had to share. There are iterations of ancient behaviours and beliefs all around us, and Campbell’s myth work is a great source of inspiration and an anchor when the ocean of chaos, anxiety and societal disruption feels too overwhelming. His work prioritises the power of metaphor beyond what is material, and it has enriched my life immensely.

 

Love Note – Yves Saint Laurent photo reel

This week has been, in a word, intense.

I went on the hen weekend to end all hen weekends last week (6 hours sleep in 48 hours); in a related move, I am now hideously ill and was confined to my sickbed all day yesterday sneezing, coughing and croaking my way through seminal teen film ‘Clueless’ and ‘Animal Farm’ by George Orwell; and I started my PGCE in English on Monday. There are emotions, curricula and pathogens flying all over the place in this house.

As such, and whilst still in the thick of my pity party, I am going to post the photos from my trip to the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Paris. We’re in the thick of Fashion Month, with Paris just round the corner, so it feels pretty time-appropriate; plus there is nothing like pretty clothing to raise your spirits when you’re spluttering your way through multiple life transitions.

So here we have it, Yves Saint Laurent, with his epoch-changing Mondrian dresses, elegant evening wear and exquisite accessories. I also managed to get a snap of his reconstructed studio and design notes, which made the whole experience even more magical and intimate. If this doesn’t pick your spirits up on a rainy day, I don’t know what will.

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Love Note – Avocado Carbonara

This recipe is Shrek-green, super tasty, quick and easy to make. It is also ridiculously healthy but doesn’t taste like it should be, which feels like winning.

Enjoy!

Ingredients (enough for 2 servings)

¾ of a packet of wholewheat spaghetti (you can work it out)

Two avocadoes

One big clove of garlic (two clovers if smaller)

2 tbsps of olive oil

2 tbsps of lemon juice

1 tsps of basil

2 tsps of parsley

A generous amount of soy/nut milk

Pinch of salt

Pinch of pepper

4 salad tomatoes

Sundry sunflower and pumpkin seeds

Method

  1. Cook spaghetti. I like it slightly al dente. At the very least, make sure it sticks to your wall.
  2. Plop the garlic, olive oil and lemon juice into a food processor/ Nutribullet
  3. Whizz them up until the liquid is creamy
  4. Add the avocados, basil, parsley, salt and non-dairy milk and whizz until the mixture is creamy
  5. Once the pasta is cooked, drain the water and pour in your green carbonara mixture
  6. Stir and combine so that no pasta is left dry
  7. Dice the tomatoes into tiny pieces and stir into the pasta. Include the tomato juices from cutting: it tastes very fresh and we don’t want waste!
  8. Sprinkle seeds
  9. Serve up
  10. Top with pepper
  11. Eat

Avocado Carbonara