Happy Sundays: Who says romance is dead?

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In a society where your best chance of meeting someone is buried in the depths of online interaction and vanity-based dating apps, you can’t help but think that romance is well and truly dead. I can’t tell you how many times my faith in romance has faltered and I have resorted to dating apps like Tinder. I find the confidence to swipe right only to be scared off by some lad telling me he wants me to be his toes so he could bang me off all of the furniture – my god, did that one made my toes cringe.

But worry not, my friend, my faith in romance has been restored. This week, something completely brilliant and, to me, utterly unheard of happened.

A friend and I were walking along a road – tired from essays, hot from the humidity and with yesterdays make up on. Not in any position to be approaching a potential date, that’s for sure. Mid-conversation and mid-step, we are stopped in our tracks by a young man who has actually ran quite a way to catch us up.

Now, my first thought is ‘Can we help you? Is he asking us to fill out a survey?’ I look at my friend who, without a doubt, is just as confused by this absolute stranger standing before us as I am.

Brace yourselves, this is where it gets good. The boy introduces himself, says hello and, I kid you not, proceeds to explain that he saw my friend, thought she was amazing and just had to come and speak to her. At this point, I’m squealing. Who on earth does this?

His friend soon joins us, he’d been abandoned in the pursuit of love. We then proceed to make casual chitchat to let Lothario over here make his move – perfect wingmen if you ask me.

After an exchanged phone number and three handshakes with the friend, we say our goodbyes and carry on with our walk, utterly astonished.

I can’t help but wonder, if we all set down our phones and stopped swiping left, would we just take the plunge and run after beautiful people, too? Are dating sites, masked as a way of extending the dating pool, actually stopping us from noticing the people passing us in the street?

Should we all start embracing the world around us and approach perfectly good strangers? Compliment someone, ask someone out, strike up a conversation in a coffee shop. Whether you get a date or not, you’ve made someone’s day. Maybe this brave young man will push me to reach out to people in the real world and maybe it won’t. But after this, I truly believe that it’s those who run that keep romance alive.

Love,
Beth xo

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Review: Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood, Part One

 

‘Alphinland’ is the first of nine short stories in Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress (2014) and the fictional fantasy world created by its protagonist, Constance. There are incantations, dragons, goddesses and even a special box for a certain poet ex-boyfriend of hers – not that she’s bitter. Alphinland is where Constance, an endearing elderly widow, goes to escape, but there is just one rule – it is off limits to her late husband, Ewan.

During a cold and bitter ice storm, Constance is guided by the voice of Ewan when preparing for the ensuing weather problems. But as the narrative unravels it becomes apparent that there are many unanswered questions between the two – “did you have an affair?”, “pull yourself together”

Despite tension in the air, Constance relies on and trusts Ewan’s judgement and owes a lot of her practical choices and decisions to him. She’s dependent on someone who is no longer in the world with her. This is the one thing in the book I felt quite frustrated over – obviously. Refer to this review for a ‘girl power’ outburst and then you’ll understand my thoughts. I just can’t help myself.

Constance is really quite likeable, she doesn’t trust other people’s intentions when offering her help – “she doesn’t watch the television news for nothing”, you know – and in a fallen tree induced power cut she assembles herself a duvet fort in front of the fire so she makes it through the night without freezing. Imagine a little old lady wrapped up like a burrito – adorable, is it not? However, she relies on her late husband’s interjections to get her successfully through the day and I want her to give herself more credit. Even in Constance’s own mind, her solutions to problems come to her through the voice of Ewan and therefore, not even her own practically belongs to herself. She believes he’s the forward thinking one but, after years of marriage, perhaps she picked up a few tricks.

The short story comes to a dramatic close when Ewan’s presence disappears. Constance finally acknowledges out loud Ewan’s death, telling him so, in a fit of rage when he confronts her about a man – her ex-boyfriend locked away in Alphinland? But, he’s forbidden to going there? And so, she goes looking for him. This, for me, is the moment where Constance is faced with truly being alone or holding on to what once was, despite its cracks.

The end of the short story, for me, was a little confusing. Atwood delves in and out of fantasy quite rapidly and, in all honesty, I really didn’t know what was going on for a little while. That’s probably why I did give this short story a lower rating and it hurts me to do so because I am a fan of Atwood.

Admittedly, my experience with short stories is very limited and as a fan of Atwood, I commend her ability to create an experience without making it feel rushed or totally overwhelming to read. A lovely bed-time story that delves in and out of the past, present and fantasy.

2/5 Mockingbirds

Love,
Beth xo

Review: Us by David Nicholls

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This has been one of my favourite books to read all year and certainly a perfect way to finish 2015. It’s beautifully written and I’ve never both laughed and cried so much at a book before. While university work stopped me from reading as much as I wanted to, I’m so glad it took me as long as it did because I simply didn’t want it to end. It encapsulates what I think is wonderfully awkward British humour and tugs on the heartstrings through a tale of loss, love and admiration.

Douglas Petersen is a 54-year-old industrial biochemist. He’s cautious, logical and some would say a little uptight but you just can’t help adoring him on his mission to make his wife fall in love with him again. He shares his most precious memories with us of how he and his little family came to be.

On a grand trip around Europe with his wife, Connie, and son, Albie, Douglas can’t seem to get anything right. He traipses around galleries and tries to engage with the culture that surrounds him in an attempt to be exciting and fun – not like the regimented father they know him to be. But, after an argument in a restaurant and some words that should not have been said, in an act of defiance, Albie elopes with a wild accordionist named Cat and turns the family holiday into a solo rescue mission so that Douglas can save his failing relationship with his son.

And slowly but surely, through sheer determination, Douglas abandons his awkward self and becomes a funny and spontaneous man, who will go to lengths to make amends with his son and to show him how much he really cares. He meets an exciting woman who is, also, currently at a cross roads in her life, doesn’t shower or shave for days, gets arrested and even buys a pair of some very out-of-character trainers.

While the break down of Douglas and Connie’s marriage is always at the forefront of his mind and a driving force behind his actions, this novel shows the powerful struggle of a father who just wants his son to be proud of him, but never quite gets it right. Pushing Albie to study practical subjects rather than his passion of photography and an incident where Douglas glues Lego together ends up coming together to paint him, to his wife and to his son, as an uncreative, unsupportive and oppressive father. But I just don’t think that’s true. All he wants is for his son to be prepared for the life ahead of him – and perhaps a post-apocalyptic world. Douglas so badly wants his son to be proud of him, that he wants Albie to want to be like him and for him to appreciate the things he worked hard to do. His determination to be his son’s idol, however misguided, is a beautiful exploration of the struggle parents face in raising their children and experience as the non-favourite parent.

My favourite quotes:

“I am clientele, why you not assist me? Oh yes, I was quite the bad-ass now, quite the bad-ass”

“Mike and Connie’s team were called Mobiles at the Ready, which got a laugh but made me anxious, because that kind of anarchy is just intolerable to me”

“I punched it because nothing hurts a jellyfish more, nothing affronts their sense of dignity, than an underwater punch in the face”

4/5 Mockingbirds

Love,
Beth xo

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Admittedly, I’m a little on the fence with this book. Despite the fact that I couldn’t put it down and stormed through it within less than 3 days, I think that may have been due to my desire for it to end.

The book introduces the perspectives of Rachel, Megan and Anna; three women whose lives are entwined in ways that they would never have imagined. Rachel is a drunk, lonely and divorced. She takes the 8.04am train into Euston everyday and lives for the moment that the train stops in the same spot, so she can romanticise the lives of the people she sees. Giving them everything she has lost and desires. Anna is mistress turned wife turned mother and homemaker. She despises the existence of the sad and pathetic ex-wife that just won’t leave her alone. The only tarnish on her perfect marriage… or so she may think. And finally, there’s Megan. Seemingly happily married but is the unfulfilled, haunted and empty victim who has the darkest secret out of them all.

I can’t deny that the plot is brilliant, expertly thought out and thrilling to watch unfold. Despite my constant guessing, I was never right. Which is what you want from a thriller, right? Always being pointed in the wrong direction and inevitably shocked when the pieces come together. However, it was exceedingly frustrating to watch these weak and pitiful women be overpowered, beaten and broken down by twisted, selfish and desperate men. Every time Rachel would open another bottle or buy another drink to drown her sorrows, I wanted to shake her and yell at her to get a bloody grip. All of the women within this novel tear down another woman in some way or another and it’s what makes them so desperate for a man’s approval.

The plot wouldn’t be what it was without these women. It would never have had the impact it did if the characters weren’t constantly fighting against one another, rather than working with one another. It would be nothing, too easy almost, without an unreliable, erratic and unstable drunk, who no one can take seriously but who really is closer to the answer than anyone else. The ‘perfect’ wife, haunted by the pathetic ex who just can’t let go. Blinded by her hatred. Refusing to accept her husband’s wrongdoings, unreliable to do the right thing if it may spoil her perfect family. And the troublemaker, the cheat; trapped and made vulnerable by her own dark past and unable to break her destructive cycle.

These three women share the narrative, jumping from morning to evening and recalling the day. The multiple perspectives, along with the broken time-scale, left the narrative jumping from one part to another and unsmooth. While it built tension to hear everything retrospectively and malleable to the affects of the narrators’ feelings, it wasn’t something I was enthralled by. The narrators, with their perspectives tainted and blinded by alcohol, undying love or desire, left me feeling suspicious and untrusting that what was being accounted was actually completely true.

The novel is a hard-hitting thriller with an ability to evoke doubt, pity and suspicion. Hawkins does a brilliant job to conceal any clues to the mystery of this “whodunnit” novel. The big reveal was subtle and completely under dramatic, but that’s all it needed. The drama is still yet to unfold after this particular moment of clarity and the book progresses suddenly into a dark, violent and shocking story. Aspects of this book were thoroughly enjoyable, gripping and thought provoking but I just couldn’t completely enjoy its style of narration or it’s choice in weak, hysterical and dependent female characters. Apologies from the feminist within me.

2/5 Mockingbirds

Love,
Beth xo

Review: Millie Marotta’s Tropical Wonderland

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This review has probably been my most fun and most visual post to-date. While I absolutely love escaping with a book in hand, it was amazing to pass the time and relax whilst doing something a little different. I have wanted an adult colouring book for months and I love any excuse to sit down and avoid adult responsibilities. I wanted a book that had a lot of patterns that filled its pages, so this particular one was absolutely perfect for me. It’s a colouring book that doesn’t make you feel like a five year old, what more could you want?

Millie Marotta’s Tropical Wonderland is the second in a series of colouring books illustrated by Millie Marotta and with its intricate and detailed designs it encourages creative freedom so that every individual can make each and every page their own.

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I have a Fine Art A Level under my belt, so I’m an absolute flaming perfectionist over anything arty or creative. Which means I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to fully relax and let the process of creating something calm me like it used to. Every time I didn’t stay within the lines, the perfectionist niggled a little bit more and I will probably actively avoid the sections that ask you to draw your own tropical flora. They scare me because I’ve never been too great at illustration. So my attempt will only end up with me sulking and not opening the book for a few days and that’s not fun for anyone. However, once I got into the rhythm of colouring I forgot about my initial apprehension, proved myself wrong and lost hours to filling in just one page.

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I had an absolute ball playing around with different techniques to fill the shapes and spaces. Using one colour per block or blending colours, I could make this as bright and as colourful as I wanted – the possibilities are endless. Using practically all of the colours available to me probably makes this a very unrealistic interpretation of a tropical wonderland, but it just looks so pretty. The intricate designs allow you to change up colours as and when you want to, rather than leaving one leaf or flower one block colour.

At the moment, my final year at university is only just starting, so I didn’t have much stress or many worries to escape from. I just couldn’t wait to get started and write about this book, and so the page was completed through pure excitement and determination rather than the need for therapeutic activities. But later, when I have to juggle assignments, lectures, part-time work and keeping up with my society and having a social life, the “me time” I got through sitting and concentrating on nothing other than the task at hand will really help. I would recommend this to anyone who has trouble un-winding after a long and busy day, suffers from anxiety (as this has been highly recommended to me by a dear friend who does) and also finds enjoyment in making something look pretty without the hassle or stress of trying to create your own illustration – you don’t need to be the next Van Gogh to enjoy a book like this, but if you are then you’ll probably do a better job staying within the lines than I did and possibly attempt the “do it yourself” sections.

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perfect instagram oppotunity, it would be rude not to

This colouring book will last me throughout my entire final year of university; it’ll aid me in my endless procrastination marathons and to de-stress me when my assignment and dissertation deadlines loom closer. It’s basically unproductive productivity and that means it’s okay, right? Okay, maybe not. But it has a wonderful purpose and therapeutic value if everything feels like it’s getting a little bit too much and you want to escape from being overwhelmed.

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The amount of time and care I took in completing just the first page leads me to believe that this book will be a very long and slow work in progress, which I will probably needlessly document on Snapchat and Instagram. The amount of illustrations there are for you means endless distraction and art therapy. The quality of the book itself and the pages means it is absolutely worth every single penny you spend on it.

4.5/5 Mockingbirds

Love,
Beth xo

Review: Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

One of the main reasons I wanted to read Elizabeth is Missing is because we all love something with our own name on it –tacky key rings from the seaside, gaudy mugs from gift shops and, of course, award winning novels. You can’t help yourself really, can you? So, for obvious reasons, I was absolutely delighted to read this heartwarming novel by Emma Healey whom delivers an honest and moving insight into the progression of the main character, Maud’s, dementia.

Elizabeth is missing and Maud is sure she’s going to find out why, but it is extremely difficult to solve a mystery when you can’t remember the clues. Struggling against her forgetfulness and trying to keep her grasp on the present, Maud’s memory is frequently clouded by the unsolved mystery surrounding her older sister’s disappearance during her youth. Is Elizabeth really missing? Or is Maud just confused? Haunted by the unanswered questions surrounding Sukey and her sudden disappearance?

Watching the memories and the mysteries unfold through Maud’s perspective leaves you feeling as frustrated as she does, and searching for answers in the notes Maud leaves piled up in her pockets and in the memories of her childhood. You can’t help but laugh a little about Maud’s forgetfulness –clusters of forgotten tea, the odd boiled egg and where is it best to grow marrows? But the answer Maud is looking for is buried in her own questions. There is more to Maud and her infuriating question asking than her daughter, Helen, thinks and she remembers more than she may realise.

This novel is a thought-provoking and touching story about the struggles of living with dementia without labeling itself as a book only about dementia. It’s exploration of the battle Maud faces everyday makes reading the book an enlightening experience, rather than a sob story. Leaving the reader wanting to know more but not being able to creates the same sense of “I can’t quite put my finger on it” and “I know I’m forgetting something, but I can’t remember what I’ve forgotten” that Maud battles with everyday.

I loved this book and I almost wish it could have been longer. The short and sharp discovery at the end doesn’t quite do Maud’s long and repetitively agonising search for answers justice. But as this is my only criticism, it is also praise to the author and her ability to write such a novel. Is it really a downfall if it leaves me wanting more? It was simply just not enough. Discovering the true fate of Elizabeth and, quite literally, digging up the past leaves most of our questions answered. But I have just one – where really is the best place to grow marrows?

 3.5/5 Mockingbirds.

Love,
Beth xo

My University Survival Bible

Starting university can be an overwhelming ordeal and no matter how prepared you think you might be, there aren’t enough matching kettles and saucepans a person can buy that will make it any less scary when you finally get there. So, here are a few do’s and don’ts that I have discovered while making my way through university. Hopefully, taking any of these on board will mean that your university experience will be more manageable and comfortable from the get-go.

  • DO invest in an NUS extra card and rail card. The money you spend on an NUS card can be made back within one cheeky ‘loan-day’ shopping splurge, so it is definitely worth the investment to have one for your entire university experience. And let’s face it, there is no denying you will get home sick at one point during a semester. It’s bound to happen. Leaving home is a huge change in your life and you are not alone. There are thousands of students at your very university that have gone through or are going through the exact same thing as you. A rail card might make visiting home and having a comforting cuppa with your family more affordable and less of a financial burden for you to fret over.
  • DO join a team or society as soon as you feel ready to. University can be a very overwhelming experience, especially when you’re going it alone and are leaving home. While the horror stories you might hear can be intimidatingly off-putting, once you get to know the people in your society the traditions and rules you may have to endure as a fresher are much easier to laugh off. It’s an easy way to meet a big group of people all at once and you can find closer connections with those people over time. It is also never too late to join a society. I joined a society in my second year and it really expanded my friendship group and developed me into a more confident and sociable person. So if you are a little shy, that’s okay, and if you don’t think a society is for you during your first year, you’ve still got time if you change your mind later on.
  • DO write a shopping list. By planning out your meals for the week ahead, you will only buy what you know you will cook and eat, meaning less goes to waste and you aren’t throwing away money. If you have left overs, freeze them. One pot of spaghetti Bolognese can stretch to 3 portions, meaning not having to buy shopping for two more days in the future.
  • DO suggest to flatmates/housemates to share the cost of household essentials such as washing-up liquid, bin bags, toilet and kitchen roll. More often than not, one person in the group will constantly be re-stocking while others escape from contributing. If you all put an equal share into a tin, perhaps £10 a month each, then you can take out what you need when you need it and avoid being the only person covering the costs. If you don’t use all the money up over the months you’re living at university, what you accumulate can contribute towards a take-away night for the entire flat and give you all a little bonding time.
  • DO use other people’s success as a driving force to improve. It is incredibly easy to watch someone else succeed and feel threatened by it if you’re not doing the same. Nobody wants to feel inferior. But rather than tearing down another person’s success by responding negatively, perhaps use it as an opportunity to learn from them. Why not ask someone about his or her work or for his or her help with the next assignment? They might be able to share tips or comments that could be the difference between one grade and a better one. Changing the way you respond to jealously could improve your mindset regarding other people exceeding, teach you some useful study methods and, hey, you could also gain a friend.
  • DO NOT do all the washing up yourself. More often than not, the kitchen will become an abyss of dirty plates and you’ll be rummaging through draws for any cutlery you can find. To make it fair, suggest taking it in turns to clean the kitchen with your flat/housemates or if that doesn’t work, be a one-man band and be responsible for your own. Trust me, if you’re a person who likes things neat, clean and tidy you will get the itch just to suck it up, get on the marigolds and clean up what has been left behind. But once you succumb to the pressures of day old baked beans, you could be taken for granted. Don’t be afraid to devise a cleaning rota or to tell your flat mates your plans. You share the communal area and it should be a place where you can spend time and invite people over without being embarrassed by the mess.
  • DO NOT leave reading and essays until the last minute. It’s a good idea to get a step ahead and start working your way through your reading list over the summer. That way when you start your semester you’re not constantly trying to keep up with 3 books at a time. You need to do the reading to be able to contribute in seminars and, believe me; lecturers will catch you out if you haven’t. With essays, it is very easy to put off until later. But eventually, there will be no later. How much time you do or, rather, do not spend on your essays can really reflect on your marks. If you struggle to sit down and start your essay, try doing some reading and make notes in a word document. Eventually, you will have a very rough base to build your essay upon and you’ll find you’ve already done half the groundwork without realising it.
  • DO NOT buy food every day at the student union or on-campus cafes. When you’re spending £3-£5 at a time on your lunch it doesn’t seem too much. But when you add the total amount that you are spending together, you may no longer wonder why you’re broke. Save yourself added expenses and make yourself a sandwich. What you spend on bread and ham could last you a week’s worth of lunches and is probably the same amount you would spend on a single shop-bought Panini.
  • DO NOT be afraid to ask for help. Your lecturers are there to answer your questions and make themselves available throughout the week if you want a one-on-one meeting. They will talk to you about anything from an essay, a lecture or your worries. University can become incredibly overwhelming and your personal tutor is there to give you advice and direct you towards the right avenues if you need any further assistance with your problems. Remember: they have been in that exact position themselves and couldn’t be where they are without having gone to university. Their advice is tried and tested and you should trust it.
  • DO NOT do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. Whether you’re asked to join for the night on the town or your society has bestowed some tasks upon you, there is nothing wrong with saying no. Do not feel pressured into anything you do not want to do and maybe come up with alternatives that you will enjoy. If you aren’t the clubbing-type, suggest going to a pub for a few drinks or if you don’t drink at all, maybe suggest a lunch-date or games night with some friends. Getting drunk isn’t the only way to have fun at university, so maybe spend some time looking into what is available to you in the area.
  • DO NOT be surprised by the amount of sex at university. When people escape to university, they are afforded an opportunity to let loose and explore their sexuality when and how they like to. If your parents are anything like mine, they’ll ship you off in your innocence with a box of condoms and hope for the best. It is perfectly okay to want to have sex. It is also perfectly okay to not want to have sex. There is an unreal amount of pressure surrounding young people and when someone should lose their virginity, and a lot of people are comfortable doing this during their teens. However, there are lots of young people in the world who want to wait until they are comfortable to enter into this sort of relationship and should be proud that they didn’t give in to peer pressure during their younger years. But when they do decide that they are ready, here are a few words of advice: Make sure you are 100% ready and comfortable with the person you choose to do it with. Always tell them if it is your first time, they will be more attentive and will understand if you need to stop. Be safe and take precaution – it isn’t just the boys’ responsibility, there are ways for girls to minimise the risks. Unwanted pregnancy can happen, it can also be prevented. Your first time doesn’t have to be romantic like the movies make out. You might need a little bit of dutch courage to take control and be confident, but have no regrets. As long as you are happy, nothing else matters. If you feel 100% comfortable with the person you are having sex with, there should be no reason for you not to enjoy yourself –talk to that person, tell them what you want to try, stop hiding under the duvet and explore what you both do and do not like. Your body is a temple and it should be worshipped within the walls of your student accommodation.

Love,
Beth xo