Walking in a Winter Wonderland

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The Impossible Project Colour 600 Poisoned Paradise Film

Hyde Park

29/11/14

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Paris, Je t’aime

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The first time travelling without family or a school figure to keep an eye on things is dauntingly exciting. On the morning of New Years Day 2013 I had a cheap coach ticket booked to spend a few days in Paris with a friend. With nothing more than a rucksack and a hangover I set off on my first adventure of this kind, feeling all the freedom in the world (except my dad had made me promise to text him every day).

Of course as two, slightly naive, 18 year olds we were bound to find ourselves in trouble. But, as with many things in life, when travelling you learn on the go: picking up tips, tales and invaluable experience.

Our first mistake was to leave booking our accommodation so late. This was silly especially at that time of year when everywhere was fully booked, leaving only the ridiculously expensive or the dirt cheap. Naturally we went for the dirt cheap, staying at a place called Hotel Richard. I use the phrase “dirt cheap” because the place was in fact unclean. The bedding provided was a stained blanket, so we slept under our coats. The window was permanently ajar, our neighbouring guests were noisy, but in a city as expensive as Paris, and for a two star hotel, I suppose we got what we paid for. Not that it was worth it.

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Upon arrival we were left by the coach in the middle of nowhere. This is different from when I used Megabus to Amsterdam, as directions to travel from the stop to the city centre were provided. In Paris, however, the same company left us to our own devices. Which sadly for us was a terrible outcome, as we struggled to decipher the Paris metro system (the London underground is much simpler!), and we found ourselves wandering down some empty streets at night until we found our hotel, but not before befriending a strange man in the process, and being rescued by another man. Lesson learnt: have clear directions at hand. This sounds obvious in hindsight, but we stepped off our coach with only vague directions and a map, and our naivety almost landed ourselves in bother.

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Luckily, although guidebooks warned us of the criminal side of Paris, we were only scammed once, losing 5 euros in the process. Which is quite good seeing as they tried to grab my purse, and that would have been my money gone. As in any city, a cautious nature and a bit of common sense to not have your valuables on show will get you by safely. Also if anyone approaches you with what you think is a petition to sign, and you can’t communicate with them, don’t sign. Because you might find out then you just promised to donate about 20 euros to an unknown (and non-existent) cause. And if you try to push them away with 5 euros, they won’t like it and will try to take your purse.

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With these experiences it almost sounds like we had a terrible time in Paris, especially as we discovered our budgets were too small for such an expensive city and nearly ran out of money. But despite these mishaps which were a result of our own gullibility, Paris was an amazing city to be in. We walked up Montmarte and fell in love with the view; explored the city’s steamy side with the Moulin Rouge and the shops nearby; we wandered next to the river and crossed the bridge covered in padlocks- exploring the market stalls alongside offering books, artwork and even some vintage French porn.

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I fangirled when viewing the stunning Palais Garnier, the opera house in which ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ was set, and when I saw Victor Hugo’s resting place in the Pantheon. We saw beautiful churches (accidentally temporarily joining a funeral), visited the bustling Louvre to see both the strange and beautiful artwork on display, and admired the Notre Dame from all angles.

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Paris has too much to see in just a few days, and there is even more than just the typical touristic locations. As literature students, and this is something for anyone who appreciates the tranquility of reading, we had to visit the famous bookshop Shakespeare and Company which is bursting with books and has a cat. We also discovered a restaurant which is now one of my favourites in the world: ‘Au Limonaire’. A tiny little place tucked away on a street called Cité Bergère, it has the type of cosy atmosphere where tables are close together, but not uncomfortably so. The menu was reasonably priced, and the food was delicious. Visitors however, tend to come for the music. There is a little stage, and the night we were there we chatted to one of the musicians. It turned out he was from Manchester, having moved to Paris a few years ago. He and his band-mate performed music that was amazing and utterly insane. They sang a mixture of French, Spanish, and ‘The Teddy Bear’s Picnic’. So for a memorable evening I would recommend that tiny, brilliant restaurant.

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We ended our trip by visiting the Pére Lachaise Cemetery, which involved us getting lost again because it is towards the edge of the city, so towards the edge it wasn’t on our map. The grave of Oscar Wilde had recently been restored as so many kisses had been given to the tombstone it had eroded away. This means that now there is a glass panel protecting Wilde from our kisses.

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Our trip to Paris wasn’t perfect, but it was a huge amount of fun and a great learning curve to prepare us for future adventures. I did forget to text my dad one evening and he rang me, so a final lesson learnt is to always reassure your parents that you’re still alive.

Poisoned Paradise Polaroids

A few months ago The Impossible Project released a new range of film for 600 type polaroid cameras (see here). Three choices for the ‘Poisoned Paradise’ theme: colour film with different patterned frames of tiny snakes entwining around exotic flowers. It was love at first sight as I became over excited and ordered the triple pack to test all three patterns.

The first one I have tried was the hibiscus theme: the black background against the red, orange and pink flowers could be my favorite. Whilst the professional analogue photographers create beautiful artwork with this film, my results were my usual mixture of good and bad, but focused on capturing fun and treasured memories with those who mean the world to me. Including my Labrador.

The first time I tried the film was when I clambered up the Pen-y-Ghent hill in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside with family. True to northern English weather it rained throughout the day, meaning an overcast outdoors caused the film to develop with lack of colour, and the pictures had an eerie quality to them. Although the Yorkshire countryside has inspired some gothic tales, I don’t think my photos captured it’s full beauty very well.

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(Fun fact: The second photo contains the highest waterfall in England. It’s not very high at all).

A few days later I took my lovable but boisterous chocolate Labrador Otis walking to a canal river close to my dad’s house, where my family had often cycled to when I was a child (mainly because there was a decent pub nearby). It was a sunny, clear day so I was able to capture the beautiful scenery whilst my dog modeled obediently. His good looks are slightly marred by the harness he wears around his face, but if I was to remove that he would probably run off…

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During this time my partner was visiting me from Brazil, and as we had been planning for a year to visit Amsterdam (he had been previously and loved it), we finally made the journey. It is an amazing city, and the canals and streets are perfect photo opportunities. The weather was always bright but not too sunny, and so the film developed perfectly.

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Finally, it was a flatmates 21st birthday celebrations one night, and as we were dressed to the nines it seemed ideal to use my camera for the occasion. I didn’t take the photos, and one of my favourite things about owning a polaroid camera is that it can be passed around as everybody is curious to have a go. (Except I am always cautious about who gets to use my precious film).

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(The birthday girl’s blog can be found here)

Impossible film comes in packs of eight, but sadly I had left my camera lying around for too long, therefore when I tried to use the last picture to capture the Tower of London and the tower poppies, the film had aged and so nothing developed. Sob.

Still, I’m excited to use the other two film packs (I’m thinking Christmas markets and fairs will be too fun to not photograph- stay tuned) to capture more birthdays, holidays, and possibly my other dog. If my photos ever mean anything, I guess they’re about enjoying life.

A Few of my Favourite Authors..

A bookworm since I first learnt to read, and an English Literature undergraduate, I thought it was time I wrote a blog post about my favourite thing in the world (besides tea, dogs, travels, and elephants..)

I have conducted a list of a few authors whom I admire, and that I have read more than one book by (there are many amazing novels I have read, but I am yet to read anything else by the same author). For each one I have written a gushing statement as to why I think the author deserves all the praise in the world, and a novel/book by them that I personally would recommend anyone to read.

I hope I can encourage you to discover for yourself these authors, if you are new to them. To me they are amazing writers of different background/genres/topics, and exemplify why literature is on of the greatest inventions of the human mind (in my opinion).

So without further ado…

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Victor Hugo

Quite possible my favourite author of all time. He was a social commentator, and wrote about topics including capital punishment, religion, poverty, the law, class divisions etc. He also went into self exile and claimed Jesus visited him and declared him to be a prophet (which people tend to ignore…). He wrote extensively and passionately about the things that interested him: The Hunchback of Notre Dame is not quite a love story between people, but of Hugo’s love for the grand, Gothic cathedral.

I would recommend: Les Miserables- It’s long, intense, and has an entire section dedicated to the structure of the Parisian sewers, but I find it to be one of the greatest novels I have ever read.

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Irvine Welsh

I adore this man. He writes gritty, intelligent, angry novels that bring what is considered the scum of society to the limelight. Drugs, sex and violence are not written glamorously (I have read sex scenes in his books that make me feel physically sick) but with honesty and a dose of what reality is for some. And if you’re a fan of the Scottish accent like me, the dialect is a bonus.

I would recommend: Trainspotting– His most famous and a modern classic, the film is faithful but the book is better.

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Jack Kerouac

It took me a while to read On The Road because a bookseller told me it is over-hyped nowadays because it isn’t relevant anymore. I always intended to read it eventually, and with no disrespect to the bookseller but I completely disagree. On The Road is cemented into its era, but to me that is one of the qualities of Kerouac. There’s no point trying to imitate the Beat Generation; what they did was relevant to them and their lives, but you cannot help admiring Kerouac and co, as controversial as they were, because of their desire to learn, explore, and to understand and see the world.

I would recommend: The Dharma Bums- I read it after On The Road and you can draw parallels between the two, but I found Kerouac’s Dharma Bum idol more admirable and interesting. Kerouac brings together Buddhism, friendship and the great landscape of America, and his style of writing is as addictive as his most famous novel.

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John Steinbeck

I have a love for 20th century American literature which shows the real America behind the image of the ‘American Dream’. Steinbeck does a particularly good job with this by writing about the working class, and their personal and political struggles. He doesn’t romanticise the actions of his characters- they don’t become misunderstood heroes. His characters are people, as flawed as the system that left them without homes.

I would recommend: The Grapes of Wrath– Another iconic novel, one that provides a sympathetic account of the families who were victims of the Dust Bowl Migration.

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Edgar Allan Poe

Stepping away from the novels and on to the short stories, (and poems), Poe is one of the most iconic Gothic writers of all time. His mystery stories set a standard for detective fiction- influencing Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes. I sometimes find that horror which was written about 200 years ago can be disappointing, as in the age of films and CGI we are perhaps not as easily scared nowadays. However Poe managed to sustain the right level of creepy, and created the ideal horror- nothing that is obvious and jumps out at you, but instead leaves you bewildered.

I would recommend: The Tell-Tale Heart– A famous favourite of Poe’s, and like The Raven has been featured in The Simpsons. I have loved since a teacher read it aloud to the class, including making the haunting knocking sound and generally making us students shiver.

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Oscar Wilde

To round off the list I have included Wilde, whose novel The Picture of Dorian Gray is brilliant and a definite must-read, but I love him more for his plays. They are usually satirical, poking fun at the uptight Victorian society Wilde was a part of, and they show the brilliance of Wilde’s wit- nearly every line is quotable. Wilde is the kind of person I would have at my dinner table.

I would recommend: Salome– This is one that retells a biblical tale, rather than his usual comedies of society. It is always interesting to read what an author writes that is a step away from their usual territory. Whilst the story is not of his own invention: the imagery, the language and the characters are vivid and intriguing.

A room without books is like a body without soul.- Cicero

Bass is Best

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And by bass I mean the guitar.

I haven’t picked up the instrument in god knows how long, but I took lessons for 5 years since my 13th birthday when I was given a very green, Irish looking bass that I named Paddy (how original). It was a change from my violin lessons that I had taken for about four years before. My musical tastes were changing, I was becoming more interested in rock music and quite honestly I felt that my violin lessons were going nowhere. I was ready for a new challenge.

So I took up bass because I was advised it was a natural step from the violin, rather than playing the six-string guitar (also my sister was learning guitar and I didn’t want to do the same as her. Ahh sisterhood).

This post is going to be a personal ode to the four stringed instrument of awesomeness. Because by becoming a bass player, I realised there was never enough appreciation for it. Like the drummer, the bassist would be seen as the ‘loser’ of a band: whilst the singers and guitarists would be the ones getting laid, the bassist would be forgotten about. As a typical bass is four stringed, it would be called the ‘easy’ option compared to a six stringed guitar (NB: 5 and even 6 or more stringed basses exist.) There are hardly any bass solos in songs, bassists don’t commonly sing, and so it can be mistaken for being boring.

Of course this is far from the truth. Together the bassist and the drummer are the backbone to a band’s music: they define and keep the rhythm going. Which is quite an important role. A band is not always run by the lead singer or guitarist: Steve Harris of Iron Maiden, Paul McCartney of The Beatles, both were/are key members of the band, and are both iconic in their own right.

And bassists are cool. The bass plays a big role in jazz, blues and funk music- the groove in these genres can leave you closing your eyes and just enjoying the sound, or wanting to dance full of joy to be alive. Bass players on stage rarely go crazy, we’re just too laid-back. An old instructor once commented on how bassists compared to guitarists are generally quieter and more chilled out- which is needed with some playing techniques as you have to allow your body and most importantly your hands to relax. Watching an highly skilled bassist perform is a great sight as they can play with so much ease, as though they had accidentally found themselves on stage.

The techniques and sounds you can achieve with a bass guitar: plucking, slapping, popping, tapping… The instrument really allows creativity to come forth, (although dedication can lead to slightly deformed thumbs…). Practicing scales over and over again, whilst important, is repetitive and boring, but a true joy of playing an instrument is to make up your own sounds and medleys.

Learning to play the bass is not easy. When you’re practicing a very fast-paced song, it’s difficult to quickly change frets and to pluck the strings as they’re more wide apart than on guitars, and the strings are thicker. If you want to play music that is more blues, you generally pluck without a plectrum, which hurts. Any stringed instrument creates calluses over time, but of course when you’re a beginner it’s too tempting to simply give up and stick to picks. No instrument is a walk in the park to learn to play (except maybe the recorder), least of all my beloved bass.

Perhaps ‘bass is best’ is a rather ambitious statement. Throughout my youth I have had a go at not just the violin and bass, but also the keyboard, harmonica and guitar. My dad plays guitar and my sister plays guitar, saxophone, clarinet and accordion. I come from a family that appreciates a diverse and eclectic knowledge of music, and so I know that every instrument holds an important, unique and beautiful sound. But I argue that the bass guitar is an amazing and under appreciated instrument. It has been a driving force behind important music genres, and iconic songs and bands- after all, music would be lost without a beat.

Below are some songs that I really love, mostly due to the bass rhythm.

Life Lessons #1

Very thoughtful piece from my dear friend, a fab idea- and great advice! I think we all have experienced a time we realise it has helped so much to talk out a problem, and that it makes a problem no less significant but easier to deal with.