Judgement Day.

Is today the day the world will end?  If it is, then why the hell am I sitting here amongst Shakespeare and the Milky Bar Kid (in the form of buttons) and not outside enjoying my last few hours? 

Although 89 year old Harold Camping – who predicts that a giant earthquake will roll around the world today – got his first end-of-world prediction wrong back in 1994, he is sure that today, May 21st 2011, exactly 7000 years since Noah’s flood, is the day that the world will end.  Believing that poor old Harold Camping is a bit of a nut, many have dismissed his Judgement Day prediction and mocked him for it.  But none of us will know until 6pm New York time (roughly 11pm British time) today.

In the spirit of believing that the world might end today, I have compiled a few ‘Life Lists’ of my top times before this beautiful world ends.  I hope you enjoy, and if Camping is right, I hope you will be a sucker like me and claim divine belief in exchange for saviour.  I’ll see you in Heaven…

Things I’ve learnt:

I can’t paint my nails.  It usually looks like I’ve dipped my fingers into the pot.

I am my father.  I’ve got the Shires nose and the Shires big toe, but as well as that, I’ve got the determinism and drive to do anything in the world.

I am actually more like my mother than I thought, and the older I get, the more of her mannerisms I seem to have picked up.  I now think to myself ‘that’s something mum would say’ on a near-daily basis.

I can be horribly stressy sometimes but it’s usually because I care.

I have learnt more about life and the world during University than I have about my degree.  But that’s ok, because I’ll use the things I’ve learnt about the world far more than I will use Chaucer.  I would have said Shakespeare, but his work has taught me a lot too.

I’m a hopeless romantic, probably influenced by my own parent’s relationship.  I want something like what they’ve got.

I’m also Bridget Jones, apparently.

I want to be a big-dog in the media world and my dream is to work somewhere high up in the BBC.

If I eat too much sugar, my brain hurts and my vision blurs.  My weird body also reacts badly to too much coffee, maltesers and crisps.  Or maybe it’s just reacting badly to the revision I’m doing whilst I’m eating said food.

I can be terribly bossy and usually think that I know what’s best.  I rely on the fact that I have more hindsight than my younger siblings, and justify this as my way of bossing them around.

Best days in the World:

A-Level results day.  Checking UCAS every hour through the night before receiving a letter in the morning to confirm my place at my first choice University and then getting three very unexpected A’s.  Needless to say I was handed a jug of water at 7.30pm to sober me up… This truly was the first day of the rest of my life.

Worst days in the world:

When I had a fight with a glass door back in 2004 and ruined my hand good and proper.  Although I’ve got some pretty fierce scars and can say I’ve had ‘plastic surgery’, it was bloody awful to be a fourteen year old kid staying in a Burns and Plastic Surgery Unit.  I think I learnt a lot about humanity in that ward and it put a lot of things in perspective.

I’ve come to learn that I can’t complain about the way that my world has been.  I’m a lucky person with good friends, good family, and opportunities that many don’t have.  I hope you’re happy with how your world has been if this is the end.  Enjoy your day-the-world-will-end.

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What I Wish I’d Known Before Uni: Guardian contribution

Using the powers of social media, Twitter in particular, I managed to blag a contribution into a Guardian article today.  After seeing the journalist tweet that they needed to speak to current students about what they wish they’d known before coming to University, I tweeted back and emailed a small, lighthearted snippet that evening.  It arrived in print in the Education Supplement and online this morning and can be found here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2011/may/17/university-guide-student-advice?INTCMP=SRCH

What arrives in print and online has, of course, been edited down, so I thought I’d post my original response on my blog.  I’ve received a few comments today from disgruntled Shackelton boys who I lived with in Halls.  I do apologise chaps, in true journalistic style, a few points made may have been slightly exxagerated for effect…

Hindsight, as I tell myself when I’m approaching an essay deadline, is a wonderful thing. If only I’d thought to start this earlier, if only I’d known this before Uni.

But as well as wishing I’d foreseen my 3am coffee and chocolate digestive addiction before coming to University, I also wish I’d known the following:

  • Societies Fairs are there to steal the beginnings of your student loan.  The bombardment of sweets, pens and stickers are just a ploy on behalf of hungry society committees to get you to pay annual membership fees.  To say that joining all of the drama societies in first year – and parting with lots of pennies – is a regret, would be an understatement; if only I had known that only the ‘Drama Kids’ actually got into the plays.
  • I also wish I’d known what a class shock University would be, perhaps just so that I could have prepared more.  Living in the most expensive halls merely for an en-suite bathroom meant that losing my South London (ish) accent would have to happen very quickly.  And as the only one in my flat of eight without a ‘Gap Yah’ behind me and a Private School on my personal statement, perhaps I would have fitted in better in the cheaper halls – the boys were better looking in those anyway…
  • I suppose the biggest advice I wish I’d had before coming to University would be that everything would be alright in the end, and that if it wasn’t alright, then it wasn’t the end.  And I wish that someone had told me it would all go so fast.  And that spending hours making vodka jelly never, ever works.

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Pukka: A Review of Jamie’s Italian

A day visit from the parents can only mean one thing; food. Whether this comes in the form of a mighty long trip around Sainsburys to ‘stock up’ or an afternoon in a restaurant (not a curry house or Scream pub) with an option of three courses, a student’s adoration for free food is universal.

Knowing that my Dad and brother are suckers for Italian food, I suggested Jamie’s Italian – the new mega restaurant that I had heard so much about but had yet to indulge.  I knew that they didn’t take bookings so when we turned up around 2pm and there was a 45 minute wait for a table, I wasn’t surprised.  The host at the door seemed stressed and frazzled, but was nice enough to suggest we continue to browse the shops and return when our pager vibrated; this would mean that our table was ready.  Thirty minutes and a Selfridges browse later, we returned to Jamie’s Italian and bought drinks at the bar before squeezing into a spot in the Entrance waiting for our table.  I suppose this wasn’t ideal and I admit I was a little worried that my father wouldn’t be very patient to wait amongst the hustle and bustle of people, waiters and push-chairs but it was ok, our pager vibrated and we were on our way to a table.  A lady host (much more smiley than the first one) led us through the vast number of tables, chatting away about how we had chosen the best day to come to the restaurant as, apparently, ‘the specials today are superb!’

Sitting down at our table gave me the first chance to actually take in my surroundings.  The restaurant seems manic as soon as you enter; its a mixture of a strong ‘homecooking’ smell, seemingly hundreds of shirt-and-aproned waiting staff, fire from the open-plan kitchen and tables upon tables of people – not forgetting those waiting in the Entrance for their pagers to buzz.  But this is what Jamie wanted the restaurant to be; fun, engaging and accessible, a place where people can come together, enjoy eachother’s company and share great Italian food.  Jamie’s understanding of the country is clear from the setting. The space is large and open-planned with lines of tables and booths very much on top of each other, aligning with his vision of a place where people can ‘come together’ and spend time over their meal, much like the Italians do. The atmosphere was constantly loud and once seated, you really did feel surrounded by people (this feeling reinforced when your food arrived and surrounding heads peered around to see what you’d got).  The decor was fitting to its namesake. No frills, no fancies, just a minimal and even industrial feel. I described it to my dad as the inside of warehouse. ‘Yes’ he said, ‘a warehouse without the ware’…

The lights existed of bulbs hanging from the ceiling with pottery shades.  The tables were mostly aluminium-esque and the floors very, very wooden.  It wasn’t luxurious and it wasn’t exactly comfortable (I felt a little bit claustrophobic scrunched up against the booth behind us) but it was certainly honest, unpretentious and allowed the food to speak for itself.  It was also interesting, and a refreshing change to be in somewhere so different, where recognisable music was played instead of panpipes.  Although it seemed that it was effortless, there had certainly been a lot of effort put into the design of this restaurant, the design that would make the 200 or so diners feel like no effort had been made at all.  We were, of course, sitting in a commercial wonderland where Jamie’s name added as many pounds as letters onto the dishes and his face plastered the walls through rows and rows of his books.

The rusticity and authenticity shone through the presentation of the dishes.  Our ‘Top Italian Bread Selection’ encompassed focaccia, sourdough and crisp breads arriving in a small tin pot; our lamb ravioli starters in a pottery-style dish.  The food was faultless and the lamb ravioli was my favourite part of the meal.  Served with a tomato, chilli and herb dressing, it came fresh from the Specials Board for a reason and would have made an excellent main dish as well.  The £7 price tag is a lot for a starter but it was very special.  Dining with two fussy-eaters is hard so I was pleased that both were able to find something on the menu that pleased them amongst all of the chilli, squid ink and rabbit!  Both my Dad and brother opted for the ‘Jamie’s Italian Spaghetti Bolognese’ – well let’s see if the master can make an Italian classic shall we?  Both plates were left empty at the end of the meal, the ragu of beef, pork and herbs was complimented greatly with the parmesan; simple but delicious which I think is key to an enjoyable dining experience, especially at lunch time.

 

Feeling a bit rushed for time, I went for the ‘Beautiful Bucatini Carbonara’, again a seemingly ordinary Italian dish, but one which you would agree is necessary to master if you are attempting to do like the Italians do. Although not as hot as I might have liked, I couldn’t complain and enjoyed trying the new ‘tubular spaghetti’ which was thick and a great alternative to usual spaghetti. All of the pasta in Jamie’s Italian is made fresh daily which is definitely telling, and justifies the £10-13 price tag for what would otherwise be a standard, pasta dish. The carbonara was delicious, not too creamy (which was perfect for me) and a generous amount of crispy fried smoked pancetta, which you can’t always rely on. It was nicely seasoned with thyme and Parmesan cheese, but there was too much pepper, a taste which got a little laborious towards the end of the dish causing someone who NEVER leaves food to… leave some. Thought and flavour had been put into the menu and notable dishes include the Prawn Linguine with garlic prawns and chilli and the Monachelle Puttanesca with capers, anchovies and olives. Unsuitable for a casual lunch, but ideal for an evening meal, the ‘Mains’ selection was varied with different meats, poultry, fish and salads, priced from £11 to £17. The flavours did look delicious and I believe best prove Jamie’s Italian ambition; his menu certainly showcases him as the Italian chef, Gennaro Contaldo’s protégé and recognises him as innovative and creative.

After the initial encounter with the frazzled host at the beginning, and the barman explaining himself that he would rather come to the restaurant on a weekday to avoid this busy-ness, the staff were undeniably attentive and polite. Our waitress read us the Specials, was happy to comment and recommend dishes and filled our water-jug without needing to be asked. She was obviously rushed off of her feet, noticeable only for the slightly flustered sense you got from her, but as we sank into this ‘Italian way’ – as influenced by Jamie’s ideal for his restaurant – we didn’t really notice time. Our plates were cleared promptly and smoothly (no awkward balancing acts of dropping of cutlery) and amongst hundreds of other diners, she ensured that we didn’t feel forgotten.

The dessert menu continued the Italian theme, with icecream and sorbet galore, tiramisu and pannacotta.  Although the icecream selections did look like a dessert you would expect from the kid’s menu at a BeefEater…  The chocolate, raspberry and amaretto brownie that I had was enjoyable but it was disappointing that the waitress said the chefs were unable to offer the dessert without amaretto (which I had asked for) but when the dessert did arrive, it became clear that the amaretto biscuits (which were simply sprinkled on top) could have been removed.  The tiramisu was also disappointing to the world’s most experienced Tiramisu Taster and Dad did not enjoy the addition of orange mascarpone meaning that we came away feeling that the desserts were a waste of time and didn’t satisfy, as had been hoped.

Jamie’s Italian is definitely ambitious and I believe that Jamie Oliver’s hard work has paid off. His restaurant is a clear success, proven by the queue out of the door and extensive wait for a table.  But beyond that, his ambition and true adoration for Italy shines through both his menu and his restaurant.  Although I did feel a little bit like I was buying into a brand (which I suppose I essentially was), considering Jamie’s very British roots, his food seemed effortlessly Italian and his flavours and the vast options available added a rustic nature to this ‘brand’ and image.  The dining experience was an enjoyable one, with attentive and polite staff and delicious food served in good time.  What I didn’t enjoy was the initial agitated and busy environment that I was first met by.  However, I look forward to returning and relaxing into many more a Jamie’s Italian afternoon.

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Adele.

Back in January, I read a review of Adele’s second album, 21, that told me this was ‘a record I should own.  Not download – own.’  The big voice and emotive lyrics that caught my attention in the debut album, 19, along with the spell-binding live gig that I was lucky enough to see in 2008 had already cemented Adele as one of my all-time favourite artists. 

She is an artist close to my heart, not only for her similar adoration of Nancy from Oliver Twist, but also for her modest beauty and effortless talent.  Melt my Heart to Stone is my favourite track on the debut album, with its slow, sensitive melody and lyrics that any eighteen-year-old girl with a crush can relate to.  Her cover of Bob Dylan’s Make you Feel my Love was a close second, with an epic love ballad quality and stunningly poetic lyrics.  Alongside these poignant and perfect offerings are the seemingly random Cold Shoulder, produced by Mark Ronson, and Tired, both backed by heavy drumbeats and something of an intergalactic quality; but brilliant nonetheless.  At the time, I thought of Adele’s first offering as wonderful, but the true perfection has surfaced in her second album, which lacks the disjointed quality of 19 and demonstrates Adele’s stunning vocal qualities and sets her as a young woman who has found her place and grown up a lot since she was a young girl still searching in 19.

 

I admit that after her first album, Adele – or any of the reviews – didn’t need to persuade me to buy her second and I was sold when I heard her first release, Rolling in the Deep.  Although this isn’t my favourite track off the album, I think it was a congratulatory lead single, with heavy drum beats and strong chords that literally say ‘I’m back!’ 

Widely understood as a ‘break up album’, this record contains a mature view to growing up and, as the title highlights, reinforces the difference between the artist aged 19 and now, a few years on.  The sound of the record is more succinct and the slow and mid-tempo ballads flow effortlessly.  This is not to say that the album holds no surprises; Rumour Has It, with its beats and backing vocals, definitely stands out and her cover of The Clash’s Lovesong is catchy and smooth, proving Adele’s ability to be versatile not random.  My favourite song on the album is another of her slow and stripped down ones, Don’t You Remember; truly showcasing her emotion and outstanding voice, this song is simple yet extraordinary.  Its credentials as a ballad are clear, but Adele also proves herself as more than capable in One and Only and Someone Like You; other obvious ballads that are different in their concept, and thus produce a very different sound.

 

At a time when record labels search for the next Gaga – an artist at the opposite spectrum of Adele – her modesty and humanity prove Adele as genuine talent, who lets her voice speak for itself.  She smashed Madonna’s record for the longest spell at the top of the album charts (for a female artist), with neatly coiffed red hair and a cockney charm, no cone-shaped bras or leotards.  Although after three and a half months at the top you expected nothing less of Adele, initially her success was unexpected in nature.  Surely she is too humble to take over the world?  Surely her plain performances won’t catch on?  It is this endearing quality and ability to comfort in such a time of societal turbulence that has, perhaps, strengthened her success.  And it is this endearing beauty and flawless talent that will maintain Adele as one of the most spectacular artist’s of our generation.

 

 

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#dissiskillingme

Besides the Orange Room, and the old faithful, 1C, the newly renovated I-Lounge may just be the hub of the University of Birmingham’s Main Library. Home to the early-bird students who prefer working in the greenhouse effect to the icy chill of other floors, the I-lounge serves coffee when we need it most and tempts us with muffins when we’re penniless. It is in the I-Lounge where I started to think about my latest blog, whilst on a quick-trip from my desk to fill my water bottle up (who says I ain’t leading the high-life?!)…

Third year has turned us all into crazy people, animals who wander around the library until midnight with tongues hanging out and odd socks on, caffeine-ed up to our eyeballs. And part of the desirable third year package is an agonising hope that someone may be worse off than you. And that maybe, just maybe, you won’t get the lowest mark in the class.

When crossing a few coursemates in my now-fully-H2o’d-state, the immediate reaction was mixed. The still-properly-working-human inside me was pleased to recognise a familiar face, a friend perhaps whom I hadn’t seen for weeks. I wanted to know how they were, how many Easter eggs they got and most importantly when we’re all next going out for that drink. The student in me enquired how their workload was going and whether they had found that elusive article on WebCT that we needed to read for Jim’s class. And the frantic-working-to-the-deadline-freaking-out-dissertation-writer in me buzzed, interrogating them as to how far they’d got with the word count, how many sources they’d referenced and how many more days they were going to need to write. Am I the only one who’s freaking out? Are they ahead of me? Am I behind? They’re struggling? Great, I’m not the only one…

In a time of desperation, we seem to thrive on other’s misfortunes. We all know the burst of excitement (albeit small) when you see all of your coursemates on Facebook the night before the deadline, all ignoring each other in an unspoken recognition of your naughtiness. And the secret smirk you give when you hear of someone who wrote ‘fuck this’ in the middle of an essay as a joke that they no longer found funny once they’d handed the essay in…

The tiara; proof that I was still very much in a delusional Royal Wedding state…

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Nothing costs Nothing.

Goodbye Spotify.  It has been wonderful; you introduced me to Aloe Blacc, James Vincent McMorrow and Melody Gardot.  You helped me find Karima Francis after I saw her support at that gig.  You, Bonobo and Rumer helped me chill out; and you, Chase & Status and The Streets helped me pump up. 

I enjoyed meeting ‘Jonathan from Spotify’… briefly.  Then he just got annoying.

But now, as my final free hours slowly decrease, I’m searching for your replacement.  Could it be LastFm?  Or will my graduation and endless employment opportunities allow me to ‘switch to Premium’?  Probably not.

But whatever happens, the end of Spotify as a free outlet by which to stream music just proves that all good things come to an end.  Or come to a monthly limit of ten hours.  Goodbye Spotify, it was nice knowing you.

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Who do you think you are?

The anticipation is killing me.  In just a few more days, the nation will join together in force to laugh, joke, sing, dance and be merry.  There will be ladies, gentlemen, children, cats and dogs, Nannys and Grandpas all preparing for that big event that will be screened to the masses.  Some are for it, some against but we will all have heard about it.

Britain’s Got Talent. Of course!  Back on our screens and better than ever, BGT provides the platform for Brits –  young and old – to grace the stage, perform their ‘talent’ and be judged through to Boot Camp or back to reality.  Every year we are surprised, shocked, impressed and miffed by some of the acts.  The tear-jerking stories of a one-eyed, three-legged dog dancing whilst holding an umbrella tend to steal the show, somewhat, but through the gimmick and dramatisation, a small amount of humbleness can be felt for our Great Britannia and its people. 

My favourite from last week’s show was a young guy who sang Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, dressed in his ‘sherbert lounge wear’ and looking as if we was about to go on a long haul flight ‘on Easy Jet’ – as one judge so eloquently put it.  But after the preconceptions and first impressions had settled, he opened his mouth to reveal true talent and unassuming modesty.    

The boom of judging and panel shows that appears on television now is phenomenal.  X-Factor, BGT, America/Britain’s Next Top Model, So You Think You Can Dance are just a few.  And then there are the mocumentary style shows, TOWIE and My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, further examples of spectacle that allow us, the British nobody, to judge and stereotype to the high-heavens. 

I went for a job interview this morning for a temporary admin role at University and was confronted with a panel of three ladies with clip-boards judging every word I said, what I was wearing, how I spoke, how long I paused after hearing the question… Although I got good feedback from the interview, the concern over how one is judged still affects performance and confidence. 

I’m procrastinating hugely from Nineteenth Century working class fiction and a dissertation that needs writing but I thought I’d leave you with one thing.  Steven Hall is a 53 year old Telecommunications Engineer and in the build-up to his act, I think you’ll agree that we all judge him wrong.  The grey suit might, but those hips of Steven Hall’s do not lie.

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