As long as I can remember, I have been 'away with the fairies.' A chronic daydreamer, from a very early age I was constantly floating on a cloud of some kind of whimsy. Whether my fantasies be patched together from Alan Garner, JK Rowling, Eva Ibbotson or even Toy Story (at around 6, I had a thing for Woody the cowboy)…as a child I was always longing to be somewhere I wasn't. The everyday, mundane and minute details of everyday life bored me. Admittedly, they still do, sometimes. Whilst on the surface throughout my school days I'd be attentive and quiet, mentally I'd be an age way, in a liminal time, a faraway place. I'd be deep in an enchanted forest, running down the spiral staircase of a rich King's castle, hanging out in the Gryffindor common room with Harry (wishful thinking – I am so blatantly a Hufflepuff…), or living with Tolkien's elvish folk in Rivendell. My favourite film today, aged twenty one, is Labyrinth. I am in love with the fantasy art of Brian Froud, Jasmine Beckett Griffith. I own unicorn candles. I have a miniature, mischievous brass Cornish Piskie that I almost unconsciously rub surreptitiously everyday for 'good luck.' I wholeheartedly embrace the concept of the seven chakras, and fully believe in the life-enhancing and calming properties of crystals. I have been described as 'kooky' by friends. I'm not entirely sure it was meant as a compliment. Don't get me wrong, I'm not utterly spaced out 24/7, but I can get so lost in my own thoughts/daydreams that I am rendered oblivious to those around me. Whilst a vivid imagination can certainly be a blessing, it can also be a curse. I'm self-aware enough to realise that my chronic daydreaming can sometimes make me appear withdrawn, odd, or at worst, rude. I'm not. At least, I hope I'm not. I just don't always have the energy or the practicality reserves required to deal with some interactions, unfortunately. The left side of my brain has always remained firmly in control. Give me a cryptic poem to puzzle over rather than an equation any day. I might be able to think of something vaguely intelligent regarding the poem. The equation would be a lost cause -(Math is my Kyrptonite).
Although it's certainly got it's drawbacks, I think there are a few reasons that I should feel pretty okay about not being quite ready to hang up my fairy wings and plant my feet firmly on the ground quite yet. I think it's a sign of creativity. It shows hope – daydreaming is, to me, daring to believe that the world can be a different place; more magical, a place where anything can happen and dreams can be believed. I wrote earlier that the mundane details of the life bore me. In many ways, this is true. Most of us don't get a thrill out of online baking (unless your account looks like Richard Branson's), and to my knowledge I don't know anyone that particularly enjoys washing the dishes, dealing with energy bills, or hanging out the laundry. I am not a practical person. My head could definitely be screwed on a little more firmly. But crucially, it's the times that we are engaged with dull tasks that we can allow our mind's to wander, that give us the time for the spark of fantasy and wonder to be ignited. I once had a job, aged sixteen, where one of my main tasks was to lick envelopes. I'm not kidding, I was literally paid to sit and seal them up. Money for nothing, certainly, but soul destroyingly dull. I resolutely didn't care – it just gave me more time to daydream, uninterrupted. The rhythmic seal of the envelope, ceremoniously writing out the addresses in block capitals, acted as a kind of soothing backdrop for the riot of fantastical in my daydreams. I'm not suggesting that we all boycott necessary, everyday tasks or lose our grip on reality altogether. Daydreaming can rob us of just being present in the moment, and I'm a huge advocate of being mindful. I just think it's important that we sometimes allow ourselves occasionally to escape reality, to not be consumed by trivial annoyances of everyday life. I'm a firm proponent of the idea that there is magic all around us, inside us. We must make an effort to see it, to create it, to cultivate the creativity inside us and refuse to let that sprinkling of pixie dust in our souls to rub off during the (sometimes eroding) difficulties of everyday life.
I am the world’s worst decision maker. Or at least, I’m up there. In the top twenty, for sure. I basically need a flow chart to decide what socks to wear in the morning. I find having multiple options vaguely terrifying. If I were to psychoanalyse myself, I’d say it’s likely rooted in a deep fear of failure, of making the ‘wrong’ choice. The inability to make swift decisions can strike whether the choice is minor or major, life changing or inconsequential. Case and point: I once cried, age six, in The Disney Store, unable to choose between a Tigger watch with a green strap or one sporting Oddball from 102 Dalmatians with a blue strap. It just felt so incredibly vital that I made the right decision. Fifteen years later, this indecisiveness has, unfortunately, remained a resolutely unshifting facet of my character. Incidentally, I chose Oddball. Probably appropriate.
So yes, it’s fair to say that I find decisions difficult. But lately, I’ve been confronted with a hell of a lot of them. I’ve just finished my degree in English Literature, a broad degree that offers no firm direction. Everything is incredibly uncertain, career-wise. I’m unsure what to pursue, and having to decide what the hell I’m actually going to do with my life is, to say the least, pretty f*cking overwhelming.
A more pleasant decision and immediate decision to be made, as opposed to the foggy realm of my future career path, was going to choose a puppy this weekend. I nonetheless found it ridiculously difficult. I looked down at three beautiful puppies. They all had faces constructed by the angels. Big brown eyes blinked endearingly. Wet noses nuzzles, tiny sandy tongues licked affectionately. I loved them. I loved them all. I wanted them all. I needed them all. It took an age. I ummed and ahhhed, cradling each one, wanting whichever was pup I currently had in my arms. It seemed impossible. How could I possibly pick between them?! But pick I did. I chose a red pup – the one I’d held first. I cradled him like a tiny furry child and as he blinked up at me, I followed my gut instinct and said that this was the doggy for me. Signed, sealed, (and not quite yet) delivered, he’ll become part of the family officially in three weeks. I adore him already. I look at his picture and melt, reduced to a ridiculous, soppy mess – or rather, an even more ridiculous, soppier mess than usual.
In the end, I made a choice. I’m incredibly happy with the one I made. I’m happy with my judgement. Sure, in the case of the four adorable puppies, there’s wasn’t exactly a ‘wrong’ choice. There was no bad outcome, nothing major at stake. I was either going to get an incredibly cute puppy or an incredibly cute puppy. But what I feel I can take from puppygate is this: I was able to make, what felt at the time, like an incredibly hard decision. I was able to make a choice and not regret it. Often we just have to decide, and get on with it. More often than not, we’ll make the right one. Perhaps there aren’t even any ‘good’ or ‘bad’ decisions. Just decisions. Life will constantly present us with choices that have to be made. The trick seems to be not to panic when they do. I’m going to try and view having multiple options in a more positive light, follow my gut and just get on with it. Another positive note: all future life choices will now be made whilst petting a dog. It might also make me more decisive: ‘Right Pup – One Bark for Yes, Two for No – what do you think?’ The new puppy will be lucky enough to hear me rambling on incessantly, and will in all likelihood become the silent, furry, adorable equivalent of a life coach. God help him. He’ll get lots of cuddles, though.
Last Sunday, I wasn’t having a particularly great afternoon. The morning had started off pretty well, in all fairness. The weather was beautiful, a blissful, balmy 28 degrees, more tropical than typical UK weather. I’d gone to yoga for a particularly sweaty session and very much enjoyed it. The afternoon took a turn for the worst, however, when I learnt I’d been rejected for a job I’d been pretty confident I’d at least be elegible to be interviewed for. As usual when I feel inadequate, my thoughts inexplicably and uselessly turned to regulating my food intake and exercise levels. I felt uncomfortable – it was Father’s Day and we’d had a buffet lunch. I suddenly felt weak, out of control and greedy. I felt that I’d over indulged and old, restrictive thoughts started to swim menacingly, shark-like around the peripheries of my mental space. Altough I’d been lounging in the garden with my family, basking in the (rare) sunshine, I’m ashamed to say that I gave in to compensatory behaviours and sneaked off to excericse. My mother followed me and rumbled me in my attempts. I was embarrassed and annoyed with myself – as much as I feel I really have managed to forge a much healthier relationship with food on the whole, some aspects of my mentality surrounding my consumption and my body remain strange. Her calling me out on the ridiculousness of surreptitiously isolating myself in order to ‘burn off’ lunch when I should be enjoying relaxing family time made me realise how selfish I was being. It also made me realise how far I still have to go to feel ‘normal’ again in regards to my thoughts and behaviours. I let my insecurities get the better of me, yet again.
So I was feeling pretty subdued, on the whole. Tired. Tired of battling with myself day in, day out. Tired of job hunting. Tired of being afraid.
Things certainly got a hell of a lot brighter when my cousin casually informed me via text that she’d given birth, three weeks early, to her second child. A baby boy. She invited us to go and visit them in the maternity ward of the local hospital. We jumped in the car, eager and excited to do just that.
I saw him and thought immediately: he’s perfect. He has a dent in his ear at the moment (forceps – ouch). Perfect. He has a slight scratch. Still perfect. He’s healthy. Beautiful. I watched his chest rise and fall, watched his hands curl into into little fists. I traced the oval shape of his tiny fingernails. Perfect. So alive.Babies are the opposite of tired. They are so awake, so raw. They are painfully, stunningly, beautifully fresh. New. I sometimes wonder if that’s why they wail so piercingly. Why wouldn’t they? Everything is a first – every sight, every sound, a sensory overload. Baby L was patient as he was passed around like a beloved, tiny, precious parcel from one adoring, cooing relative to another. I held him in my arms and as he blinked those blue eyes open, peering into mine, the afternoon’s feeling of being irreversibly tired just melted away. He was placid and strikingly peaceful while we held him. He was so content, and holding him, a bundle of purity pernsonified and encased in a teeny babygrow, I felt content too. I looked at my cousin, who’d been so brave in what was, by all accounts, a pretty horrendous birthing experience. I watched her smile down at her first son, and got a reality check on what’s actually important in life. Love. Family.
Sunday was a day of gains, on the whole. I may have lost a job prospect. Lost some peace of mind, some perceived ‘progress.’ So what? Life is not linear. It has ups and down, and the day’s gains outweighed the losses. I gained a new member of my family. I looked down at him and saw the world through raw, fresh eyes. I gained perspective. I looked at him and felt love: I gained extra room in my heart, as corny as that sounds. A new person to love.
Last weekend we welcomed 7lbs of joy into our family and into the world. I hope baby L soaks up life. I hope he looks around at the simpering faces cooing down at him (I imagine we look simultaneously idiotic and fairly menacing), and that he is able to sense how much he is loved. I’ve only met him once, in the three days he has so far experienced. He has already made my life better. He has already made me appreciate life more. He has already made me less tired.
Life is precious. New life is the even more so. Here’s to living like the oversized babies that we all are – curious, soaking up new senses, surroundings, and experiences. Here’s to loving without limits. Here’s to family. Here’s to realising what the important things really are, and taking comfort in the fact that every day is a second chance; an opportunity to be born again.
Today is my last day of being 20. I’m not quite sure how to feel about it all, really. I know it’s just a number. It doesn’t really mean anything. Just time, jogging along, as time unavoidably tends to do. Saying that though, it’s undeniable that there just seems to be something symbolic about turning 21. More so than at age 18, I think, there seems to be some kind of auspiciously grown up connotation to 21. I taste the words in my mouth, and they feel slightly strange. Twenty one. A proper adult. Isn’t 21 just for…more responsible people?
Terrifyingly, I remember thinking as a kid that anyone over 20 was practically ancient. In case I wasn’t already feeling my age today, my yoga teacher informed me this morning that she’s concerned one of my hips is weaker than the other. I’m clearly already a pensioner trapped in an (almost) 21 year old body. Get me to the Mecca Bingo centre and let the good times roll. Admittedly, I always did feel like I was just a bit too invested in the daytime TV programme‘Cash In The Attic.’ Quite clearly, I didn’t choose the pensioner life, it chose me, fifty or so years too soon.
Twenty has been quite a strange year for me, to be honest. Not my happiest. I think it’s a slightly liminal age, 20. Not the heady, reckless, ‘look-at-me-I’m-of-age-and-I’m-going-to-drink-jaegerbombs-til-I-puke’ 18 and not the slowly-starting to get settled mid twenties. At 20, I feel like I lost quite a bit of confidence. I’m hoping to rebuild that, slowly. I’m much less sure, inaway, about everything really. Though maybe that’s not all bad. It’s good not to have a too rigid idea of the future. Frightening, but then we can never really know what’s coming round the corner, can we? 20 certainly wasn’t all bad for me – far, far from it. There was a lot of good. I’m so grateful for all my beautiful friends and family – I’m so lucky to have such amazing, supportive and inspring people in my life. I’m just hoping that in my 21st year I’ll be in a better headspace, able to make the best of whatever opportunities life throws my way.
Fingers crossed and touch wood, my 21st birthday is shaping up to be a lot better than my 20th, even though the forecast is, weather wise, abysmal. I’m hopeful that 21 will be sunny for me on the whole, however. I’m entering the year happier, which is a good start. On my 20th birthday I was caught in a rapidly spiralling and terrifyingly all-consuming calorie phobia, terrified of gaining weight and dreading eating out to celebrate. I point blank refused a birthday cake or even a solitary bun, and my mum half-joked that we’d have to put a candle in a strawberry. I was the only one that made my 20th birthday slightly sad – it was self-sabotage. I got beautiful presents. I was made a fuss of. I was surrounded my dear friends that celebrated with me on a night out, but I rigidly controlled how much I drank and tallied up the mounting calories in every celebratory cocktail I was offered. Not this year. This year I am getting a cake and I am going to eat it and I am going to enjoy it. I am going to drink as much as I want (though ideally, I’d like to still be fairly vertical at the end of the evening). I am going to be with loving family and friends, as I was last year. But this year I am going to celebrate with them. I am going to be in the moment. I’ve never really been a party girl, and am pretty reluctant to be centre of attention. I hate planning events, especially when they’re centred around me. But the driving force for my 21st plans has just been a sort of quietly defiant voice in my brain saying ‘f*ck-it.’ I’m going to soak up turning 21, and I’m going to milk my celebrations dry.
I’ve had a pretty lovely last day as a twenty year old so far. I went to yoga. I went and treated myself to new makeup I didn’t need. I got a spray tan, surprisingly. It’s my first one, and though the lovely lady that sprayed me with what she slightly unnervingly called her ‘gun’ has promised it will develop overnight, at the moment I’m looking releivingly unlike a) David Dickinson b) an Oompa Loompa, or c) the shade of a Sainsbury’s carrier bag. The full effect remains to be seen. I’m hoping tomorrow will be a good day. I’m feeling lucky that some of my friends can make it out to celebrate with me, and incredibly touched that people have sent cards and presents.
The overall mood tonight is: ‘hopeful.’ I’m quietly excited. I’m hopeful that tomorrow is going to be great. I’m hopeful that I’m going to love 21. I’m hopeful. Excited and hopeful. Excitedly hopeful. It’s nice to be excited about things again, even in a quiet way.
I’m sorry that this post is pretty uninteresting and slightly rambling, as ever. I just felt that I should document my last night of 20, in some small way. But now, I’m going to stop being so self-reflective, possibly pour a small pre-celebratory tipple, and ponder the big issues – i.e is my Burberry ‘Summer’ perfume strong enough to mask the pretty potent smell of my spray tan? If not, one thing is for certain is this – I will enter 21 smelling vaguely of digestive biscuits. There are worse things, I suppose.
I hope tomorrow is a wonderfully happy unbirthday (or birthday!) for you all. See you on the other side of twenty. ❤️
I was recently lucky enough to spend four nights in beautiful, bustling Barcelona. It really is such a vibrant city. It’s absolutely teaming with life and colour. I felt like I only scratched the surface during my time there – I could have happily stayed for weeks. Every side street held a new treasure, and so much beautiful architecture it was honestly impossible to take everything in. From street artists, to markets, to cafés, bars and shops, the city truly is a feast for the eyes. I want to emphasise right from the get-go that should you ever get the chance to visit Barcelona, you should vamos and take it faster than you can say Sangria.
It turns out that what was, in highschool, a seemingly passable grasp of the Spanish language in real life amounted to me just about remembering ‘hola,’ ‘adios,’ ‘gracias’ and ‘muy bien.’ As you can imagine, I hardly wowed the locals with my fluency. Surprisingly, the GCSE Spanish module on what our school uniform consisted of did not prove useful. I did remember the phrase ‘Dos cervezas, por favor,’ (although I’m not certain I picked it up at my very Catholic secondary school…) which certainly came in extremely handy. Incidentally, Estrella tastes even better when you’re drinking it in Spain.
I think as a tourist with a limited time schedule it can be so tempting to just rush around like a headless chicken, determined to ‘tick off’ sights on a to-do list, as it were. What was great about this trip was that with a ticket valid for ten journeys it was easy to zip about pretty speedily on the Underground. I feel like we packed a lot in to our short stay, but I never felt overly rushed. Over three days we visited Casa Battlo, strolled down La Rambla, wandered the Gothic Quarter, soaked up the sun in beautiful Park Güell, ate breakfast outside the art gallery at Montjuic and were awed by the epic (and still, unbelievably, a work-in-progress – it’s due to be completed in 2026), La Sagrada Familia. I adored all of these places, but La Sagrada is simply unmissable. I cried. Incidentally, if you’re planning a trip to the Catalonia capital it’s well worth booking tickets for both La Sagrada and Park Güell before you go – we had to return much later than we had originally intended as there were no tickets available when we first arrived. But go you must (young Jedi). At the risk of sounding incredibly cliche, the only way I can think to describe the glow cast by the stained glass windows is just a vision of pure magic. The entire basilica looks as though it’s been modelled straight from the pages a fairytale. I felt like I was in a dream. I’m a little iffy on heights, but if I visited again I’d pay the extra money and brave the winding staircase tower – there’s so much detail and intricacy to the entire cathedral I you see something new every time you glance in a different direction. Gaudi apparently explained that he wasn’t too fussed that he would never see his Magnum Opus completed, and enjoyed reminding friends that his most important client in the sky wasn’t in any particular rush. Like Gaudi, I’d say it’s best to take a slow pace in Barcelona. Leisurely soak up the ethereal beauty of the Sagrada and stop to smell the blossom in Park Güell. They’re stunningly beautiful experiences that are worth savouring. I will never forget them.
My dad begged me to get a snap of Camp Nou, which I cared about infinitely less. For those as illiterate in and as oblivious to football as me, Nou is the holy ground of FC Barcelona. I passed it only fleetingly from the confines of a rapidly moving bus, but was determined to get the snap for him. I got the picture, but unfortunately I don’t think it was quite what he was hoping for. I managed to capture the shiny silver ‘FC Barcelona’ sign, but unfortunately the ‘B’ is obscured by an unfortunately (or brilliantly?) placed lamppost. Upon closer inspection of the photo, I realised the sign proudly declares the site as the home stadium of ‘FC Arcelona.’ Excellent. I’m considering selling the photo to rivals Real Madrid, who could presumably use it as inspiration for some suitably pithy football chants.
I did manage to take a couple of pictures that I was more pleased with, however. In all honesty, everything was so beautiful it would’ve been hard to take a bad picture. The city is filled with Gaudi’s stunning architecture. His designs are so intricate and delicate yet at the same time not oppressively stuffy in the way that some ornate European cathedrals seem to me. He seemed to favour mosaic and primary colours over heavy gold. Everything he touched seems to have resulted in an explosion of a rainbow of blues and yellows and green. Even La Sagrada Familia wasn’t in any way gothic, and still invoked the underwater scenes I learnt that Gaudi was so fascinated by. Its curved lines and spiralling pillars made it look sort of similar to what I imagine King Tritan’s Palace would look like in a live-action remake of The Little Mermaid, but presumably with more crucifixes. I did a bizarre kind of interactive tour in Casa Battlo, a kind of stately home designed by Gaudi, in which Pokemon Go-esque figures appeared on a phone screen in front of you as you moved from room to room. All in all, it was a cool idea but I found it kind of distracting. The house is 32 metres of glistening mosaic, and the interior was so beautiful it seemed a shame not to just look up and soak in what was in front of you rather than staring at a screen. The audio segment of the tour was really interesting though, and explained that Gaudi was fascinated by the look of objects underwater, as well as being inspired by nature. This explanation into his aesthetic gave a really good context to his work. It was a happy accident that I visited Casa Battlo and did the tour on my first afternoon in the city, but I’d recommend doing that before you do much else (but after you get an Estrella!). As Gaudi’s architecture peppers the city – as well as Casa Battlo, La Sagrada, Park Guell, Casa Mila are among the most heavily visited spots in Barcelona – it was brilliant to see elements of his work that he drew upon time and time again to create such visually arresting aesthetics. I also noticed that he really liked Salamanders.
Another high point was watching the Magic Fountain. I wasn’t entirely certain that I’d get to see it – we rocked up and waited an hour and a half for the display to begin only to discover that we’d gotten the wrong day and that if we were waiting for the rousing chorus of ‘Barcelona’ to start up and the lights to come on, it’d be a hell of a long evening. Sitting at the top of Mont Juic with it’s panoramic views of the city and watching the sun go down, however, I certainly felt there were worst places to be. There were also lots of lovely vendors more than willing to provide Cerveza, Coke, Agua, or Selfie Sticks, which kept us pretty well catered for the duration of our wait. When we arrived the next day, the display was actually on. It was markedly busier than the night before, and the atmosphere was infectious, the crowd a sea of smiling faces and laughter. A particularly touching moment came when the fountain cast a blue and yellow light and Oasis’ anthem ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ sounded triumphantly in what was presumably a tribute to the tragic events in Manchester. A beautiful sentiment for a beautiful night.
A coincidence that felt closer to fate was seeing an advertisement for the V&A ‘David Bowie Is’ exhibition. I am a self-confessed Bowie super-fan. David Bowie Is a lot of things to me, and I’d read reviews of the exhibit when it was being showcased in London a little wistfully, assuming I’d never get the chance to go. When we saw it advertised, we happily forked out a more than fair fifteen quid and booked tickets for the last day of our trip. The exhibition was incredible. I saw hand-written lyrics, diary entries, dazzling outfits (a personal favourite being the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ Pierrot clown suit). Indeed, I got huge outfit envy – a jumpsuit worn on the Ziggy Stardust tour was particularly beautiful. Sigh. That man had style. Watching an early 70s, orange spiky haired David singing ‘I had to phone someone so I picked on you’ was jarringly emotional for me. At the end of the exhibit, we were reminded ‘David Bowie Is All Around Us.’ An alien angel music man that pioneered the children’s right to boogie, flamboyantly and fabulously demonstrated the fluidity of gender and sexuality, and emphasised the vital need for self-expression, I found this thought infinitely comforting. David Bowie has been, for me, a shooting star in what has sometimes looked like a dark sky. I listened to Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide blaring alongside a gigantic screen of a montage of his live performances, and felt tears come into my eyes. Hearing Bowie emphatically remind us ‘oh no love, you’re not alone…’ in a room packed with other devotees was a pretty special experience. It made my Barcelona experience even more memorable and special to me than it would have been otherwise. It also made my trip a lot more expensive – I bought a miniature LEGO Ziggy in the gift shop for equivalent of about £20. An essential purchase.
All in all, I don’t have a bad word to say about this stunning city. I feel so blessed to have been able to visit it. My only complaint is that I could’ve done with another week, at least. I laughed, I cried, I sang, I listened to Ed Sheeran’s ‘Barcelona’ in a sun soaked Park Guell, I people watched in the Gothic Quarter over a jug of Sangria. I ate fresh seafood and drank too much wine. I didn’t go far off the beaten track – everything I did was a pretty standard tourist activity. It didn’t matter. It was extraordinary to me. I saw things I’d never seen and I was happy. That is the reason, I think, that we travel. We visit different places to experience the new. Hopefully, we gain joy from this widening of our horizons. The further we go, the wider we travel, the smaller the world seems. There are so many beautiful places to see, to give yourself over to. Barcelona is one of them, and it will always have a little piece of my heart.
This was initially intended to be a different, longer, more thoroughly researched post. I started a piece focused upon my belief that art – from contemporary pieces produced by artists today to work from the old masters – can help us to appreciate the beauty within ourselves and in the world around us. Art is, after all, a tangible record, a documentation and a visual depiction of an aestheticised subject. It’s an encapsulation of that particular artist’s version of beautiful.
Portraits are particularly useful in considering the ever transitioning standards of beauty. Body goals for Rubens are quite different to the #fitspo that populates the Instagram feeds of 2017. Botticelli’s Venus probably wouldn’t make it down the runway come New York fashion week. Picasso’s painted ladies would need facial realignment surgeries, but I’m actually not sure that having eyes in the side of your face was a good look back then, either. The point I’m trying clumsily to make is this; there’s no one way to be beautiful – there really is just difference, and that difference should be celebrated. I will write that piece eventually, when the time is right. It just isn’t right today.
Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman.’ Hey, if you had eyes in the side of your face, you’d cry too.
Botticelli’s babely Venus.
Truth is, I started writing, and I felt like an utter fraud. I’ve been having a few rough days body-image wise, analysing my reflection in the mirror far too often. What kind of hypocrite was I? How could I possibly preach about the importance of seeing beauty in all things when I can’t even find peace or acceptance in regards to my own body? I haven’t weighed myself in an age, but I can see changes starting, slowly. As I’m trying to become less rigid in my eating habits and rules (I’ve documented my body/food issues in much more detail in an earlier post, in the unlikely event that you’re interested), allowing myself to eat delicious food with my family, and not documenting every single calorie that passes my lips, I’m slowly but surely becoming less bony, less fragile looking. The bones in my hands and feet are becoming less pronounced. I’m finding that I’m bloating in my belly after eating, but my rib-cage is still pronounced, giving me a shape that I feel is reminiscent of a pregnant stick-insect. Attractive. I’m still thin – too thin for my natural weight. I will undoubtedly gain more weight, and should. I know this, but these perceived changes, real or imaginary, unavoidably send me hurtling down a rabbit-hole of ruminations on my body fueled by self-doubt and insecurity. I find myself spiraling, ridiculously, annoyingly, for not much reason at all, into a pretty damn anxious state. I need to be drawn out of myself, distracted from my preoccupation with thoughts about my own looks. One thing that’s really helped these past couple of days has been photography.
My fabulous mum and dad bought me an DSLR Camera for my birthday, and they really generously presented it to me a little early. I really enjoy taking snaps while I’m out and about, but as of yet have been sticking with the trusty iPhone. Although a lot more cumbersome, there’s something just inherently more satisfying about hearing the click of a full-size, proper camera. I’m still very, very, very much an amateur photographer – I can barely even get the camera to focus. Yet it makes me happy. I’m finding myself looking at the world around me from a new perspective, thinking about something other than myself and seeing the beauty in the small details. Through a photographer’s eyes, I’m noticing the drops of dew on a spiderweb, the symmetry of a ladybird’s spots, the spectrum of colours in a magpie’s wings. I’m looking for beauty in places I wouldn’t have before and finding it. Although this is a slightly rambling, confused kind of post, (admittedly, I am often both rambling and confused myself), I hope it just conveys, in a kind of round-about-way, that we can find something lovely in just about most things. Photography is helping me to become less wrapped up in my own head – instead of wandering around outside, zombie-like and engrossed in thought, I’m actively looking at my surroundings, searching for a chance to get snap happy. Nature is awesome, and the universe seems to be generally pretty willing to provide some kind of photo opportunity. I’d encourage anyone to find an activity that keeps you mindful, even if it isn’t photography. It’s so necessary for our overall well being to be brought back to the present moment, distracted from incessant ‘what-if’s’ and worries. Sometimes, we just have to look up, view life through a rose-tinted camera lens, and appreciate a pretty goddamn flower. There’s so much beauty in the small things – we just need to be willing to see it.
Let’s face it, any film that involves David Bowie, the Jim Henson Company, and lashings of quintessentially 80s cinematic magic was destined to be a cult classic. I will love ‘Labyrinth’ forever (you know, it’s not long at all). It has an incredible soundtrack – I’m fairly certain that synthesizers sound upon entrance to the gates of heaven. It’s undeniably quotable. The Goblin King, and this is the key pull for many of us, is brought to life by the Thin White Diamond Starman, the late, great Mr. David Bowie himself. There are Muppet-esque creatures involved. Jennifer Connelly is sublime and I’m of the firm opinion that her eyebrows should be credited in their own right. The film exudes glitter. What is not to love here? It’s 101 minutes of pure fantasy fun. It’s trippy as hell – particularly the infamous Firey scene. It’s mad and it’s magic in equal measure.
I’d argue that Labyrinth has as much to offer an audience today as it did back in ’86, and this is not even taking the iconic insult; ‘your mother is a fraggin’ aardvark!’ into consideration. It taught young ‘uns everywhere not to graffiti – apparently it really pisses Hobgoblins off. It also likely acted as the sexual awakening for thousands of young teens across the globe – Bowie’s leggings were, to point out the painfully obvious, snug. As important as all of these points unquestionably are (particularly the film’s emphasis upon balls – crystal, that is, get your mind out of the gutter, people) – I’d say that we can take some morals from this bonkers, inherently 80s moviethat are actually pretty integral life lessons. Sarah may have only had thirteen hours to complete the Labyrinth and reclaim her baby brother from the mesmerising, permanently smirk-wearing Goblin King, but she packed a hell of a lot in, and learnt a fair bit on her travels. I think it’s fair to say that the Labyrinth and it’s assortment of oddities can teach us all a thing or two. Here goes…
1) Things aren’t always what they seem. Lavish presents might not always necessarily be something you should welcome with open arms – you never know what may be expected in return. Be wary of Goblin Kings bearing gifts. (Note: this lesson can also be eked out by a little something called the ‘Trojan Horse’, though the perpetrators were, in this case, Greek rather than Goblin). On a more positive note, ‘Labyrinth’ demonstrates that there are likely to be doors where none can immediately be seen. Opportunities can arise when you least expect them, and that’s why it’s so crucial to keep on going, even when things seem pretty bleak.
2) Perseverance is key. Although undeniably rash in wishing away sweet, stripy little Toby, Sarah’s old ‘Come-On-Feet’ attitude is pretty inspirational. I know that Sarah has a minor strop upon embarking on the old baby-brother retrieving quest, but I’d probably waste approximately twelve of the thirteen hours crying, trying to get phone signal or fritter away the time on something equally unproductive. She makes the mess, but she sure as hell gets herself out of it again. Impressive.
3) If a talking worm gives you advice, it’s worth listening to. Good advice can come from unlikely places. So, next time a neighbour says ‘Ello and offers some friendly advice, go on, go inside, go and meet the missus. Perhaps not when you’ve got a thirteen-hour deadline to save a small child from spending eternity as a Goblin, though. If this is the case, you might want to get a move on.
4) Sometimes you’ve just got to bite the bullet and make a choice, even when the right decision isn’t immediately obvious. Up or Down? Left or Right? Become the Goblin Queen or make it back in time for your Finals? Whichever choice you make, it’ll likely all turn out okay in the end, and you’re likely to meet some ‘Helping Hands’ on the way.
5) Friendship is crucial. What Donkey sang in ‘Shrek’ is so very true – you gotta have friends. Even though Sarah eventually confronts the Goblin King alone (that’s the way it’s done, after all), there’s not a chance she could’ve gotten as far as the castle without a little help from her friends. A wide variety of friends means having a great range of skill sets to rely on. It’s important in life to have friends that you know you can turn to, should you need them. Sarah, Hoggle, Ludo, Didymus and Ambrosius are unquestionably #squadgoals. Take that, Taylor Swift.
6) We needlessly cling on to a lot of junk, in both a literal and metaphorical sense. I am a self-confessed hoarder and am guilty of hanging on to things in the vague hope that they might one day prove ‘useful.’ I am also liable to lug a lot of emotional baggage around with me daily. Like Sarah, it’s worth acknowledging every now and again what’s junk and what isn’t, and recognising that sometimes we need to let go of what’s holding us back for our sanity’s sake.
7) The only limits we have are the ones we put on ourselves. I often find myself telling myself I can’t do something before I’ve actually tried to do it. Next time I’m bogged down in the marshy Swamp Of Eternal Self-Doubt I’m going to take some inspiration from Miss. Williams and take the (sometimes terrifying) leap of faith in the Escher Room of life.
8) A less inspirational, but nonetheless practical piece of advice: Don’t take food (or drink) when you’re not sure where it’s been. Might have a worm in it. Not the talking kind, either. Could also be spiked with a hallucinogenic. In the realms of the mythological pantheon, it hasn’t seemed to do many young heroines much good – (I’m looking at you, Persephone). Don’t risk it, kids.
9) Stand up to bullies. I ADORE Jareth as a character, but he’s unquestionably an arrogant, scheming, downright nasty piece of work. Also, ‘Labyrinth’ is a strong indicator that the old adage of bullies only being bullies because they’re damn miserable themselves generally has a lot of truth behind it, as unsatisfactory as this saying is if you’re the unfortunate victim of an caustic, sparkly tyrant. Think about it, wouldn’t you be pretty miserable whiling away your days in a filthy throne room surrounded by drunken goblins and a more than healthy amount of chickens? As the Goblin King croons…the lost and the lonely, that’s Underground. Aw. But still. Drugged peaches are never an acceptable seduction method, and using ‘Cleaners’ as an intimidation technique was a low-blow. Not cool, Jareth.
10) The way forward is sometimes the way back. Although Hoggle scoffs at this particular piece of advice, I think there’s something pretty valuable to take from the Wiseman’s words. That’s not to say that we should obsess over the past – it’s over after all, and pretty damn impossible to change. I’d argue that a little introspection, however, can result in both a happier future and a lot of personal growth. Note: I’m talking about contemplative, non-judgemental self-reflection on past-behaviour here; I’m not a proponent of torturing yourself by mentally replaying the moment you said/did that one really stupid thing yesterday/last month/in your third year of highschool on an infinite loop. This will only cause you to spiral into a hellish circle of embarrassment and self-hatred. Like Elsa The Snow Queen (different movie) – You need to let that sh*t go.
11) But remember, words have power, and you can’t take back things said in anger. Also, smugness tends to not pay off. Try not to employ the phrase ‘It’s a piece of cake!’ with too much regularity. The universe will reprimand you for your complacency. Good things rarely follow.
12) You’re braver than you think, and no matter what you’ve done, redemption is possible if you want it enough. Hoggle is convinced that cowardice is an inherent part of his nature, and feels no choice but to play delivery-boy in Jareth’s dastardly scheme to wear a magnificently spangled jacket, get blue highlights, and dance with Sarah. Although Hoggle understandably crumbles under Jareth’s threat that should he refuse, he’ll be relegated to the Bog Of Stench, he redeems himself by aiding Sarah, Didymus, Ambrosius and Ludo in storming the Goblin City, saving their lives through his courageous actions.
13) Families are tricky. You love yours. No matter how much your family annoy you or how dysfunctional your home-life is, you know damn well you’d cross the Goblin City to rescue your fam if the need arose. So, next time you’re wishing your whiny little brother away to the realm of the goblins, perhaps reconsider.
14) Don’t let anyone own you. Not even really sexy Fae Royalty. You’re not something to be bought. Not for all the empty promises and crystals in the world. And remember – the kind of love that demands submission as a prerequisite and brands fear a necessity is no kind of love at all. Despite what anyone tries to tell you; they have no power over you. The only person in charge of you is you. You’re a strong, independent human being that don’t need no Goblin King, girlfriend.
15) Scrabble is always a rousing choice at house parties. Don’t try and play against Sir. Didymus, he will thwart you in the most valiant way possible (V-A-L-I-A-N-T, 7 letters, 12 points). Another lesson learnt from Sarah’s victory celebration bash: build bridges with your enemies. One thing I would point out here, however, is that the sight of Jareth in owl form, peering into the festivities wistfully from the outside, breaks my sentimental little heart every time. Poor little Goblin King. Come on Sarah, you know you want a game of Scrabble with the King of the castle. It’d have been nice if she’d have been magnanimous enough to let him win, that time. Pick your battles, and all that.
16) Glitter improves everything. If there’s one thing that the Goblin King taught me, (aside from how to make outrageously tight leggings a credible style choice, that is), it’s that glitter is akin to Oxygen. Glitter makes everything better. Want to make a dramatic entrance? Arrive in a shower of glitter! Got a dungeon? Make sure it’s full o’ them sparkles. Want to wear lipgloss? That’s cool, as long as it’s Xtra Glitz. Jareth exudes glitter. I like to think that the Oubliette in the Labyrinth encapsulates my entire aesthetic – y’know, a mess but…a glittery mess.
17) Time is short. As Jareth reminds Sarah, time is a tricky mistress, particularly when you have a mercurial Goblin King able to manipulate the clock seemingly upon any minor whim. Make the most of every second – you never know when the clock will strike thirteen.
So remember, life might not always be fair, but baby, that’s the way it is. Get on with it, do the best you can, and when in doubt, Dance Magic Dance. Try to live every day with Sarah’s strong-will, Ludo’s kindness, Didymus’ valour, Jareth’s sass, and a dash of the general Goblin populous’ enviable ‘live for today, drink lots of Ale, have a fight with a few chickens on the way’ mentality. You are all Babes With The Power, and deserve to shine as bright as Jareth’s wardrobe. Keep calm, and like the Firey’s advise…’don’t lose your head!’
Yesterday, on a whim, I bought a book called ‘Reasons To Stay Alive.’ I only picked it up because it was in the reduced pile. I’d never heard of the author, Matt Haig, but I’d seen the book before. It had been well-publicised. I vaguely remembered seeing it smattered across every prominent surface in every other bookshop I entered a year or so ago. As I took it to the counter, the elderly, irresistibly chipper bookseller peered down at the book quizzically. “Do you need reasons to stay alive?” he asked unexpectedly, piercing blue eyes twinkling at me behind his glasses. “Well…” I replied, probably sounding a little cowed, “I mean, hopefully I’ve already got a few.” He laughed.
You do not have to suffer from depression to appreciate and learn from this book. There are times when we all need reminding that things are not as bleak as they can sometimes seem, need to be told that the sun always breaks through eventually, even in the cloudiest of skies. Something that Haig does beautifully within this narrative is gently remind us, all of us, that though there may be times that the world seems to be filled with darkness more than with light, and though we may experience situations that can feel more than a little bit hopeless, there are always reasons to pull through. There are infinite reasons to keep going. You’ve definitely got more than a few. This book will remind you of some you might’ve forgotten.
It’s an unflinchingly honest, warm, wry, witty book. I read it in one-sitting. It is, however, so wise that I feel that one reading isn’t enough to sponge up all of Haig’s special brand of non-preachy wisdom, and so I am sure I will read it again and take more from it still. It’s a candid and easily accessible exploration of what it’s like to live a life at war with your own mind. It’s more than that though. It’s also a guide that advises you, as the blurb puts it, to “make the most of your time on Earth.” Time, it is all too easy to forget, that is limited. One part of the books magic lies in its emphasis that feelings of depression and anxiety are not forever. “This book is impossible,” proclaims the opening page. “Thirteen years ago I knew this couldn’t happen. I was going to die you see. Or go mad…the fact that this book exists is proof that depression lies.” Echoes of those feelings of hopelessness and fears of what we might perceive as an inevitably bleak future, Haig reminds us, might come-and-go for a very, very long time. Life is not linear. It’s filled with ups-and-downs and laughs and smiles and crying and arguing. There’ll be bumps in the road but there’ll also be fair bit of plain sailing thrown in for good measure. The darkness doesn’t last forever, this book emphasizes. When feelings of inadequacy and anxiety start to dig their claws into our psyches, there are ways to loosen their seemingly iron grip. The central message is this: Things will get better. You will get better. Things will be brighter. But you have to fight, and you have to stick around to see it.
‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ defies reduction to any one genre. Part memoir, part self-help book, Haig’s narrative is inspiring, and not in that gooey, sickly-sweet, ‘that’s-nice-but-I-just-threw-up-a-little-bit-in-my-mouth’ kind of way. This is not a sentimental or self-congratulatory story of personal triumph. This is not 253 pages of vague rambling about the importance of reconnecting with our authentic selves or inner child, however one goes about doing that, precisely. It’s a book about survival, and more specifically, about surviving against what are frankly some pretty f**cking terrifying odds. “Suicide is now – in places including the UK and US,” reminds Haig, “a leading cause of death, accounting for over one in a hundred fatalities…as people who kill themselves are, more often than not, depressives, depression is one of the deadliest diseases on the planet.” It was an eerily appropriate read for Mental Health Month. Stigma haunts the topic of depression like a stubborn bad smell, particularly, I feel, for males, who often find it hardest to admit that they’re suffering. It’s only through time, and the continuance of dialogue generated by eloquent, honest, and downright brave voices like Haig’s that the taboos around mental health are going to eroded. For depression suffers, this book could prove a lifebuoy, something to cling to when the storm hits and the waves are crashing and it feels like you might not be able to keep your head above the water, this time. “Be brave,” Haig implores. “Be strong. Breathe, and keep going. You will thank yourself later.”
By the end of this book, I really, really, cared about Matt Haig. I fully intend to read his other, fictional novels. If ‘Reasons To Stay Alive’ is any indicator, they’ll be filled to the brim with wit and warmth and encouragement, and packed with instances of the endurance and perseverance of the human spirit. I feel genuinely happy that Haig is capable of feeling good again, and that he’s scaled a mountain that must have seemed insurmountable. He’s a living lesson, his book proof of the vital need to just keep going, to keep putting one foot in front of the other, moment-to-moment, day-to-day. Even when it seems as though we aren’t making progress or achieving anything, we are. We’re alive, and that’s one hell of a miracle, when you stop and think about it. Stop and think about it.
P.S. There is no such thing as ‘not depressed enough’ to seek help. If you’re suffering, reach out. Even though it can feel like the hardest thing in the world to admit, even to yourself, that you need help, it’s worth it. Happiness is your birthright. Do anything that works for you, to keep you going. You are loved and loved in return. Stay.
Helplines for those suffering (UK)
Charity for sufferers of depression. Has a network of self-help groups.
Minds are messy. I sometimes find myself trapped in a tangled web of worries regarding how others perceive me. I’m often anxious that there’s a disconnect between who I am and who others believe I am. I rarely take an action without worrying what others will think of my decision. This results in me stalling and dithering, a ball of frustrated anxiety, trying and failing to find a solution that pleases everyone, and achieving only mass-dissatisfaction.
A technique that I’ve found mildly successful in silencing these worries is simply asking myself: does it actually matter? Does it matter what people think of me? Have I behaved in a way that I, personally, think is acceptable? If so, good. If not, I need to reconsider my actions and go from there. I must be my own judge and not let others’ perceptions of me haunt my every action and influence all of my decisions. Crucially, when we worry what others think of us, we project our own insecurities onto those surrounding us. We assume that everyone has noticed what we conceive as our ‘weak points’. We construct others’ perceptions of us. This is pointless and a waste of mental energy. It is all guesswork. Please yourself, do what you think is right. Make yourself proud and I believe the rest will follow.
We think that people think about us a lot more than they actually do. I actually find this thought incredibly comforting. I often feel incredibly conflicted – on a sensible, intellectual level, I know that no-one actually gives a damn if, say, I eat a muffin. But sometimes the mind is neither sensible nor logical. ‘They’ll think you’re greedy if you eat that,’ a nasty little voice occasionally whispers into my ear. ‘Disgusting, greedy pig. Lazy. You’ve barely done anything today. Of course they’re allowed to eat it. But not you, you don’t deserve it.’ And on it goes. This cruel, irrational, bullying self-punishment for a crime I haven’t committed. Unless, that is, I make a conscious and overt effort to battle against these thoughts, disregarding them as illogical. Would you ever think less of someone you love for eating a muffin? Um, no, me neither. I make an effort to pause, and halt this internal diatribe against myself. Eat the damn muffin, smile and be happy. None of this matters. Most of the time these days, I am able to do just that.
I worry. Who am I? Why don’t I have a clear perception of my own identity? How is everyone else so sure, soconfident of their place in the world and how they fit in to it? When I am able to think rationally, I wonder, is everyone quite as sure as I think they are? If they aren’t, we are alike and our struggles are similar. If they are, then their confidence has likely been gained through experience. If they are as unflappable and self-assured as I perceive them to be, then good. Life is not a competition. If we are not in competition with those around us, it makes sense that we cannot then ‘fall behind.’ The ‘but-they’re-doing-so-much-better-than-me-because-I-saw-that-one-post-on-facebook’ mentality is so draining and poisonous. I am trying to restrain myself from comparing my journey to the journey of those around me. Sometimes the answer to reducing our stress-levels is as simple as ‘don’t think too much.’ Many of us inflict unnecessary suffering upon ourselves by analyzing situations needlessly, hypothesizing on a future that we can never fully be sure of until it arrives. I am trying to stop sweating it about the small stuff.
This one is embarrassing to admit because it’s so shallow, but I think it’s something many of us worry about: on bad self-image days, I worry that others think I’m unattractive. I can see a bad photo of myself and still be thinking about it long after the camera has been put away. I’m ashamed to say that there have been times that I’ve been having fun, enjoying myself and not caring how I look and someone has taken a candid photo of me. I’ve afterwards looked at this picture, been horrified, and it’s spoiled the otherwise fantastic time I’d been having. This is obviously pretty sad, self-obsessed, and not to mention pointless. I could spend an eternity analyzing my own reflection for flaws. At times we suffer with negative self-image, I think it’s helpful to remind ourselves that we are our own worst critics. No-one else is critiquing our profile side on, obsessing over whether our bellies look noticeably bloated or not. If you spoke to a friend in the same way that you think/speak about yourself, would you have many friends left? Thought not. I know that these ideas are easy to say and much, much harder to put into practice. I know most of us would probably feel pretty ridiculous standing in front of the mirror telling ourselves non-ironically; ‘I love you. You’re gorgeous, you’re wonderful’ (not that you shouldn’t tell yourself these things – you are undoubtedly both!) Most of the general populous, however, aren’t going to be parading around Gilderoy Lockhart style, waxing lyrical about the wonder of ‘me, magical me’ anytime soon. I’m not suggesting that we all can or should take self-confidence and self-love to those dizzying heights. But just making an effort to silence the negative thoughts surrounding our appearance that subtly chip away at our self-esteem over time can make a significantly positive impact upon how we feel about ourselves.
Iworry. ‘Why am I such a coward?’ I think, desperately. ‘Why do I find it so hard to take risks? Will I always be so afraid?’ Yes, that’s right, I worry about worrying. Incredible. If they did a degree in worrying, I would graduate with First Class Honors. How do I quieten these thoughts? I’ll be honest – sometimes, I can’t. Writing helps. So does yoga, usually. A good book. Consciously releasing any tension I am holding in my body. Smiling. Fresh air. Looking up at the sky. Remembering that I am a spec in a vast and incomprehensibly wide universe. Reminding myself that I love and am loved in return. 9 out of 10 times (an unofficial stat, but still), the things we are worrying about are usually not that significant, even if they feel vital at the time. If I f**ck up occasionally, I am learning that that’s okay. The world around me will not collapse. It sounds counter-intuitive but, actually, sometimes thinking about why we’re worrying and getting to the root of the fear we feel can actually be useful. For example, when I stop and think about it, I am able to understand that two reasons I find it hard to take risks are that;
a) I have a perfectionist streak, am terrified of failure, and as such find it hard to take leaps into the unknown. I am afraid that things will go wrong and I will be unable to deal with it. I will not be able to be ‘perfect.’
b) I am afraid of making a mistake and looking silly.
After I’ve identified the root of this fear, I am able to deal with it head-on. Do I really want to miss out on opportunities and life experiences because I will be chasing the impossible construction that is ‘perfection’? As for point B), again – is it worth missing out on all the things that life has to offer due to a fear of looking ‘silly’? Every mistake is an experience.
I read an article recently about the importance of developing a personal manta. This can sound slightly hippy-dippy, but having a go-to phrase just to silence the incessant mental chatter of worries can actually be really calming. It doesn’t have to be fixed. Mine varies daily. One that often works quite well is just reminding myself ‘there are good things happening all around me.’ I also like; ‘this is not as scary as it seems.’ Sometimes I need to reconnect with the present, ground myself and touch back down to Earth after floating away on a grey storm-cloud of anxiety. When I hear my voice raised a couple of octaves (and believe me, my voice is already pretty high-pitched) and tightened with anxious energy, I exhale, pause, and remind myself ‘I am doing my best.‘ These five words continue to motivate me to try my hardest, to fight becoming sucked in to a vacuum of suffocating stress, and help me to give myself a much needed reality check.
The crux of this post is, I suppose, that if you’re someone that feels your mind is constantly whirring, writhing with what-if’s and worries at any given moment, you cannot simply indulge or give-in to this negative mental chatter. I hope that some of the techniques I’ve explored in this post prove in some way useful – I feel I can only really loosely call it ‘advice.’ These are just some methods that I use when I’m bogged down in a marsh-land of insecurity and worry. They work for me, usually, and I really hope that they work for you. I truly hope that you can find the serenity you’re searching for, and that, for the most part, you can regain control of your thoughts and tell your mind to STFU.
Add your voice to the sound of the crowd. – The Human League (1981)
Gigs. More often than not, you’re standing in a room surrounded by a crowd of sweaty strangers. You will be jabbed by pointing elbows as fellow concert-goers jostle for prime position. Beer will unquestionably be spilt on you. By the time you leave, your toes will be bruised and your ears will be ringing. You’ll likely be desperate for a wee, having sensibly decided to steer clear of the toilets, which are, as a general rule, grim on an apocalyptic level . If you worked up the courage to brave the bar queue, you’ll also probably be destitute by the time the band exits the stage – in arena venues, five pound pints are the norm. Despite all of these apparent drawbacks and obstacles, in the case of live music, I firmly believe that the rewards outweigh the trauma. I argue that every gig I have ever been to has had its own rewards. They’ve certainly all been, at the very least, an experience. Even the ones that weren’t particularly good.
There is something special about hearing music live. For me, there is no moment more electric than hearing the sound of the crowd screaming as one in anticipation when the lights dim. There’s no feeling better than sensing an excitement so palpable you can almost touch it when the band are about to head onstage. Hearing the opening notes to your favourite song at a live gig can make your heart soar. An amazing encore can leave you reeling and buzzing with excitement for hours after the show has ended.
I got all of these amazing (and legal) highs when I was lucky enough to attend an Iron Maiden concert the night before writing this post. It was phenomenal. Even seated, the energy radiating from a bunch of strangers congregated as one body to rock the f**ck out – or at least, gathered companionably to sit comfortably in an allocated seat, enjoy the music, politely head-bang and bask in Iron Maiden’s glory – was palpable. There were new fans and fans that had clearly worshipped the band from their genesis (not to mix band metaphors here – Phil Collins and Bruce Dickinson are pretty contrasting characters). I saw eight year olds obviously only recently Maiden-mad and eighty year old rock veterans. The eighty year old a few seats along from me went harder than I did; I have never heard ‘The Number of The Beast’ screamed with quite so much gusto. There were heavily tatted, burly-biker looking guys. There were pristine middle aged women with designer handbags, French Manicures and stylish-but-sensible Kitten heels. Gigs are a shared communion, a mixed bag of assorted characters. As lead-singer Dickinson himself pointed out, there were clearly attendees present that had loved Iron Maiden when they dominated the Heavy Metal scene in the early 1980s, and those whom (myself included, much to my chagrin – I feel in my heart that I belong to the decade of the synthesizer), weren’t even twinkles in our mother’s eyes in the 1980s. The best gigs are a unifying force, bringing together those of all colours, creeds, genders and ages. All I had in common with the vast majority of the strangers in the crowd was a shared appreciation for the music. For the length of the set-list at least, that mutual respect for the show we were being given was more than enough.
Whether they’re full-blown rock gods or just-started small-timers, seeing a band/musician live makes you feel ten times more connected to them than you did previously. If you’ve seen an artist live, even if you weren’t hugely keen on them prior to this real-time encounter, after being in the same venue as them for more than a two-song set-list you’re likely to feel at least some kind of affinity with them. This artist-fan rapport can range from anything to a full-blown adoration to a grudging level of unwilling affection and respect. Silly and obvious as it sounds, being in the same room as a musical artist forces you to recognise that they are actually, y’know, real. They aren’t a disembodied voice emanating from your headphones. They’re a living, breathing, certified human-being, and if they’re worth their mike as a musician, they should be as excited to play for you as you are to listen to them. They’re just like us, except they probably have hundreds to thousands of screaming fans, possess a disarming level musical talent, and are likely to have a f**ck ton more money than you or I do.
Over the years, I’ve seen concerts given by mega-famous, pop-princess girl bands (oh yes, I witnessed first-hand the Girls Aloud glory days). I’ve watched Rock Stars shred their electric guitars. I’ve belted out indie anthems from Brit-Pop heroes. I’ve head-bopped to rappers, likely looking incredibly uncool in the process. I’ve indie-shuffled awkwardly in bar room basements to niche, unsigned alt-rock four pieces. I’ve swayed to and sung along with folksy singer-songwriters, I’ve danced at festivals to that one-song-we-all-know delivered by one-hit wonders that peaked in the early 2000s. One of my all-time best gig experiences was tipsily stumbling into a tent and hearing the fantastic Gypsy Punk band ‘Gogol Bordello.’ I’d never heard of this group before, but, thanks to the efforts of the marvellously bonkers front-man Eugene Hütz, who generously persisted in chucking red wine into the audience whilst leaping about like an over-excited puppy, I’ve never quite forgotten them since. I’ve stood and watched the musical output of friends-of-friends with dubious talent but bags of charisma and an infectious enthusiasm. I’ve clapped, cheered, and, on the whole, enjoyed them all. I can honestly say that I’ve never left any kind of concert or gig wishing that I hadn’t bothered attending. And I’ve never, ever, been indifferent. Every single live gig or performance I’ve witnessed has made me feel something. In a world where, sadly, many of us seem to live under a permanent facade of blasé beige-ness, remaining resolutely unmoved and unexcited by everything, hearing that hubbub of excited chatter whilst filing out of a venue post-gig is something really special. To put it simply, music in any form has the ability to make people happy. It provokes opinion. It provokes discussion. It provokes emotion. And that’s no mean feat.
At the other end of the spectrum, attending a live gig given by some artists can actually make you appreciate their sound on CD/Vinyl/any non-live format more. Admittedly, this doesn’t happen to me with that much regularity. But when you’re listening to a band that you’re familiar with that doesn’t quite work live, their music just feels…off.A prime example of an instance of this is for me was seeing Alt-J at Leeds festival in 2015. Now, I love Alt-J. But I couldn’t help feel that the live format didn’t do their sound justice. As much as the lyrics are usually unintelligible, listened to through headphones, this indiscernible crooning sounds kind of cryptic and mysterious, soothing and alluring. Live, it just sounded to me like a kind of vaguely unimpressive mumble. Personally, I felt that their talent just didn’t translate to the live medium. This is probably a pretty unpopular opinion. I’ve had plenty of friends that have seen Alt-J live and loved them. I didn’t. I’ve got friends that hate Alt-J with a passion, branding them ‘Hipster Bulls**t, and with other, even less complementary titles.’ I don’t. I enjoy their output. Just not when I heard it live. As much as I am actually physically wincing at the reek of pretension that this statement unquestionably radiates; it’s the truth – I would much rather listen to ‘An Awesome Wave’ on Vinyl rather than hearing it mangled and distorted under the influence of dodgy acoustics and speakers that were simultaneously annoyingly tinny and an aggressive, ear-drum busting level of blaring. Perhaps you were present at that particular set and loved every second. My opinion might not be the same as yours. That’s fine. Such is the beautifully divisive nature of live music. You love it or you don’t. On this particular occasion, I didn’t.
On the whole, though, I would argue that not much beats the live experience. The feel of the music vibrating through your whole body, shaking you to your very core, and that goosebumps initiating, hair-raising thrill of excitement the second the lights on stage are illuminated is pretty unique. So next time you’re at a gig, close your eyes, soak up the atmosphere, and cheer along with the best of them. Unironically and unapologetically add your voice to the cacophony of screams. Triumphantly and joyfully make yourself a part of the sound of the crowd. Enjoy the music and live life live.
Twenty One Pilots Confetti Shower
Petshop Boys – magnificently showy (wouldn’t expect anything less!)