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 – Lana Del Rey New-Album-Day

No one:

Me: It’s Friday night. This week has been insane. Let’s get self-indulgent.

In honour of the release of Chemtrails Over the Country Club, the new LP from Lana Del Rey, I’ve created something of an homage to one of my all-time favourite songwriters. There is no doubt that Del Rey is a controversial and, at times, problematic figure (see my previous essays on this here and here). Her relationships with power, race and patriarchy have been generally and radically underdeveloped at times, which is being incredibly generous. Additionally, as her recent interview with Annie Mac attests, for someone who captures emotion and feeling with such succinct eloquence and beauty in song, she is terrible at articulating a verbal and coherent viewpoint to herself and others.  

However, I critique because I love her and always expect better (as we all should with the cultural figures we look up to). Her songs are pure poetry and there is simply no one writing and crafting lyrics and music the way she does and has done since she first released Born To Die in 2012. Call it what you like: sadcore, baroque pop, dream pop. Without Del Rey and, I would argue, Frank Ocean and James Blake, we would not have the contemporary musical landscape we have now: vulnerable, melancholy, introspective and, in many ways, increasingly wise. Furthermore, I think we have been lucky to witness her transform from self-objectifying Lolita figure to a woman who runs with the wolves, bedding into the deepest facets of the Wild Woman archetype, and an advocate for healthy masculinity.

No matter how many people criticise her for having glamorised submission and abuse, there is a reason why her stories and her lyrics resonate with so many, in particular young women. Young women who are barely given the hint of a helpful roadmap to navigate the West’s patriarchal, white supremacist power structures with their spirits and souls still intact. She has given voice to the dark, shadowy feelings, experiences and dynamics that women have luxuriated in, surfed, cursed in themselves, acted upon without knowing way, forsaken or indulged over months, years and lifetimes. No wonder she has made people feel both extremely uncomfortable and seen. Those criticising her penchant for playing with façade and persona may not understand how imagery, persona and glamour are means of survival in a world that simply does not accept you the way that you are, in all of a woman’s emotional ebbs, flows, chaos and glory. With Chemtrails Over The Country Club, it seems we have Del Rey at her most retrospective. Without putting too fine a point on it, there does seem to be an eerie quality of finality to it.  

With all this in mind, I give you a comprehensive run down of my favourite things regarding Lana Del Rey’s music, starting with my personal top ten Lana Del Rey songs (in no particular order):

I’ve taken the liberty of listing my favourite Lana Del Rey lyrics and verses, all of which I typed out myself and, indeed, what joy it gave me to re-type and recall such rich and gorgeous words:

‘The poetry inside of me

Is warm like a gun’

‘Bartender’, Norman Fucking Rockwell

‘It doesn’t matter if I’m not enough

For the future or the things to come

‘Cause I’m young and in love’

– ‘Love’, Lust for Life

‘Give me Hallmark

One dream, one life, one lover,

Paint me happy and blue.

Norman Rockwell

No hype under our covers

It’s just me and you’

– ‘Venice Bitch’, Norman Fucking Rockwell

‘Summertime is nice and hot

And my life is sweet like vanilla is’

– ‘Without You’, Born To Die

‘I had a dream that I was fine,

I wasn’t crazy, I was divine’

– ‘I Can Fly’, Big Eyes Soundtrack

‘I don’t care what they say

Drag racing my little red sports car,

I’m not unhinged or unhappy

I’m just wild’

– ‘Chemtrails Over The Country Club’, Chemtrails Over The Country Club

‘Will you still love me when I shine

From words but not from beauty?’

– ‘Old Money’, Ultraviolence

‘Nothing gold can stay

Like love or lemonade

Or song or summer’s day

It’s all a game to me, anyway’

– ‘Music To Watch Boys To’, Honeymoon

‘Catch a wave and take in the sweetness

Think about it

The darkness, the deepness

All the things that make me who I am

[…]

Are you ready for it?’

– ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’, Norman Fucking Rockwell

‘Calling out my name

In the summer rain

Ciao amore

Salvatore can wait

Now it’s time to eat

Soft ice cream’

– ‘Salvatore’, Honeymoon

‘It’s fucking hot, hot

Winter in the city

Something ‘bout this weather

Made these kids go crazy.

It’s hot,

Even for February,

Something ‘bout this sun

Made these kids get scary’

– ‘Heroin’, Lust for Life

‘And who I am

Is a big-time believer

That people can change

But you don’t have to leave her.

When everyone’s talking

You can make a stand’

– ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’, Norman Fucking Rockwell

‘Maybe my contribution

Could be as small as hoping

That words would turn to birds

And birds would send my thoughts

Your way’

– ‘Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind’, Lust for Life

‘Think I’ll miss you forever

Like the stars miss the sun in the morning sky

Waiting’s better than never

And even if you’re gone

I’m going to drive’

– ‘Summertime Sadness’, Born To Die

‘You hate the heat, you got the blues

Changing like the weather

Oh, that’s so like you.

The Santa Ana moves you’

– ‘California’, Norman Fucking Rockwell

‘Sometimes it feels like I’ve got

A war in my mind.

I want to get off

But I keep riding that ride.

I never really noticed that I had to decide

To play someone’s game

Or live my own life.

And now I do.

I want to move

Out of the black

And into the blue’

– ‘Get Free’, Lust for Life

‘I can feel it coming in the air tonight

See you walking on that blue Pacific

I can see you bathing in the summer light

Turning tan and you look terrific

You got game boy’

– ‘Guns and Roses’, Ultraviolence

‘I only mention it

Because it was such a scene

And I felt seen’

– ‘White Dress, Chemtrails Over The Country Club

‘I’d be lying if I said

I wasn’t sick of it’

– ‘Heroin’, Lust for Life

If you are still here, I have compiled a list of the best Lana Del Rey bops. I understand that not everyone wants to spend their evening wallowing in the inky waves of melancholy, so, here are some of her most up-beat songs. No less poetic, but a little more frivolous and fun to keep you from feeling too blue:

  • ‘Fuck It I Love You’, Norman Fucking Rockwell
  • ‘Florida Kilos’, Ultraviolence
  • ‘National Anthem’, Born To Die
  • ‘Burning Desire’, Paradise
  • ‘Doin’ Time’, Norman Fucking Rockwell
  • ‘In My Feelings’, Lust for Life
  • ‘High By The Beach’, Honeymoon
  • ‘Fucked My Way Up to the Top’, Ultraviolence
  • ‘Summer Bummer’, Lust for Life
  • ‘Diet Mountain Dew’, Born To Die

Here are my picks for her most underrated songs:

  • ‘West Coast’, Ultraviolence
  • ‘Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind’, Lust for Life
  • ‘Terrance Loves You’, Honeymoon
  • ‘Brooklyn Baby’, Ultraviolence
  • ‘Change’, Lust for Life

And her, perhaps, most overrated songs:

  • ‘Cherry’, Lust for Life
  • ‘Lust for Life’, Lust for Life
  • ‘High By The Beach’, Honeymoon
  • ‘Gods and Monsters’, Paradise
  • ‘Beautiful People, Beautiful Problems’, Lust for Life

And the biggest question of all: which is the best Lana Del Rey album, so far?

I am very hopeful after my first listen of Chemtrails Over The Country Club. So far, I am loving ‘White Dress’, ‘Tulsa Jesus Freak’ and ‘Not All Who Wander Are Lost’ (any song with a ‘Lord of The Rings’ reference gets a massive thumbs up from me). Ultimately, however, and even in light of the divine Norman Fucking Rockwell, I still think my heart lies with Ultraviolence. I will never get over Del Rey working with Dan Auerbach, and I definitely think it’s her most cohesive and complete work.

I’m curious to know if there are any here with which you agree, disagree or that are missing altogether!  Please feel free to comment or message.

And, because she went there (and in case anyone particularly cares): my moon’s in Taurus, my Cancer is Sun (with Cancer Rising). If you know, you know.

Darkness visible

The sadness
is sweet and sharp:
a cacophany,
a Universe
of ocean
that rages and
rocks
of which I
can only
provide glimpses
through
the glints of
salt stars.
The cavernous
pit, and expanse
of echoing promised-pain
makes all the darkness
terrifying
even the luxurious
shadows of safety
that beckon
softly.
A refuge, a
sanctuary of
stillness and repose.
This doubleness
conflicting
commingling
is mad
madness
maddening.
But it is
ancient,
as old as Moon
herself.
Bedded in me,
my soft peachy flesh
of limbs and heart,
there is space
and containment. And
I hold and keep the
embers
that makes this
darkness visible.

Dusk is for fireflies

Dusk is for

fireflies and

lime liminality:

night cushions

and enraptures,

no mock stars.

I gasp

then fold in

and in.

The plunge

is breathful and

receptive.

I lay there,

my back finally

unwrinkled,

and I didn’t

wince or yearn

from myself.

Bathed in breath

I listened:

I heard

a whale song,

a lament.

Mournful, sighing

for children

who have lost their way;

who supped on milk,

and forgot how

to dance in starlight

and kiss the Earth

with grubby, curious hands.

Dreamers, with indigo souls

as deep as the

murmurs of night,

distracted by

false light

absorbed and obsessed

with their own

shadows.

The owls are coming,

their eyes bright,

with wings

ready to

shift and glide

over the currents

of torment.

Clear-seeing,

rich is silence

cutting through

the chaos, illusion

and deceit,

to gentler

enigmatic shores.

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.

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

Crudo 2

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

11365761493_ec95cd78d6_o-1500x755

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

StellaDonnelly_BewareOfTheDogs

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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