Monday, 31 July 2017

Ofsted Report: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

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Ofsted - Raising Standards, Improving Lives

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Inspection Report for Boarding School
Unique Reference Number MAG1C51331
Inspector Charlotte Coster

Note - This is the first Ofsted Inspection carried out on the aforementioned school. 

Brief description of the service
Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is an independent coeducational boarding school accommodating girls and boys between the ages of 11-18, who all board. It has 4 boarding houses, housing a mixture of female and male children up until 6th form. Although grounds are extensive, all houses, living areas and the majority of the classrooms are located within one building. The school aims for children with a specific talent to discover their full potential and trains them to learn a specific set of skills, within a safe environment.

This was an announced inspection and the data was collected through a combination of school documents, discussions with staff and pupils, observations and guided tours of the school.

The senior management team at the school has a wealth of knowledge and experience to successfully support both staff and students at the school. 

The staff team work effectively at gaining the trust of the students and advocate them in a positive manner. The children seem to enjoy the lessons they undertake and achieve the standards that are required within the school. 

There are a number of key areas that require improvement. There are major concerns expressed regarding the recruitment process, the subject matter of the curriculum, and the safeguarding of the pupils attending. In addition there were issues expressed concerning the inconsistency of staff and the lack of supervision the pupils in terms of behaviour and routine. 

The overall quality rating is inadequate. 

Helping children to be healthy
The provision is satisfactory.

Boarders' health is maintained by one individual who is knowledgeable and efficient. Medical supplies are kept securely by this individual. No records are kept either of the supplies held or of pupils' known conditions and illnesses, although the matron was obviously proficient in these. Records should be updated and secured in time for next visit. 

There is one dormitory for the use of sick pupils and staff alike. Consider expansion to separate males and females and staff. 

No medical education is offered and there are no drug/alcohol/smoking policies accessible although there have been no breaches of the zero tolerance rule. Policies should be made available by time of next visit. 

Boarders are offered an excellent choice of meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner and all pupils without exception enjoy the food. The catering staff were extremely welcoming and friendly, spoke highly of their relationships with the rest of the teaching staff and some pupils. The inspector sampled several meals over the course of the inspection and they were found to be truly excellent. 

Sport is virtually unavailable. Only one sport - an unknown game named Quidditch - is offered and past the first year, an individual can only participate if they are one of the seven members of the house team. This is unacceptable and more physical education should be made available. Quidditch itself is enjoyed by those who play it but is highly dangerous. The inspector witnessed several pupils falling from great heights, almost swallowing the balls and being bludgeoned by other balls. 

Protecting children from harm or neglect and helping them stay safe
The provision is inadequate.

Pupils and parents respect the skill of the staff who are charged with their care. There are high walls on all sides and only one entrance that remains locked at all times. Visits from outside persons are few.

However, most pupils have offered that they do not feel safe.  Despite these precautions pupils have reported an inappropriate, dangerous individual who has managed to gain entry to not only the grounds but to one of the boarding houses. Despite there being an alert and further precautions taken with the removal of pupils from the house, he managed to escape and could not be found within the grounds. In addition, another dangerous individual has been reported to have gained access several times throughout one pupil's school career which resulted in the pupil being kidnapped once and injured multiple times. This is unacceptable. Security needs to be updated at the perimeters and at the castle entrance with security men and cameras by time of next visit. 

There is an additional lack of safety within the curriculum taught at the school. This includes interaction with dangerous beasts, plants and some instances where they are encouraged to harm each other as part of a lesson. This is unacceptable. 

Bullying has been reported to be common throughout the school, and individual have to endure both from other pupils and from staff. There are no bullying policies. The behaviour observed was generally good. The reward system of house points is well maintained but some pupils have reported that one house has an unfair advantage and lots of teachers are biased in their offer of points. Punishments are varied and inconsistent Corporal punishment was used by one teacher, one punishment put the pupils in mortal peril and most simply used lines. Consider revising and standardising. 

The house system is well established although there seems to be little support of the younger pupils from the older and minimal form of induction offered. Only one teacher runs each boarding house and is rarely seen there, with rooms far away from their assigned house. There is a system of prefects and a head boy/girl although it is unclear how these are chosen and what their duties are. Some exhibit abuse of their power. 

The houses themselves are adequate and secure with good accommodation that the pupils (without exception) felt was inclusive and comfortable. There are no fire policies or equipment throughout the entire school which is essential considering the wide use of fires and candles throughout the premises. This needs to be amended at the first possible opportunity. 

Recruitment processes have been lacking in consistency and this has proved a risk to pupils when several unsuitable individuals were employed. Credentials need to be more thoroughly checked, qualifications strictly adhered to (none of the teachers hold qualifications, some did not finish school) and a policy of recruitment implemented as soon as possible. 

Helping children achieve well and enjoy what they do 
The provision is inadequate

Boarders receive an inconsistent level of support from teachers which is based on favouritism rather than policy. Although many pupils find (off their own volition) a teacher who can offer them the personal support they require, there are many others who do not. Consider revising. 

There is a high regard for each boarder to be treated with equality. However there is no strict policy which is adhered to and some individuals are treated differently by both staff and pupils because of the nature of their birth. 

Routines are not strictly enforced which means bed times do not exist and standards of work are not as high as should be expected. Quality of teaching is highly inconsistent, no planning documents could be offered at all and the curriculum content highly irregular. The teachers are all very specialised and do not adhere to the national curriculum or its standards. 

Here concludes the results of the Inspection. Recommendations will be offered verbally and within another document. All recommendations should be carried out within 3 months, when a follow up inspection will be instigated. 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Scotland June 2017

Scotland is one of those places everyone needs to visit more! Me included for sure - I tell myself so every time I do make it all the way up there. It really is the most beautiful country but for me personally, it is kind of awkward. I live on the South Coast of England so actually France is easier to reach than Scotland is. It's way too far to spend a weekend there and if I have the time off to take a proper trip somewhere, I tend to flee the country like every single other Brit. However, for the past couple of weeks I have been on a 2 week staycation, travelling across Scotland and I thought I would take this opportunity to share my adventure with you. I am sure it will persuade you that you should definitely give Scotland the time of day.

Loch Ness and Inverness
I started my tour in the pretty highlands with an explore of Inverness and the surrounding countryside, which I headed into in order to search for magic and the mythical Nessie. I never realised just how big Loch Ness is and how far away it is from Inverness: 22 miles of beauty, which we drove by at about 11pm as the sun was going down. It was truly stunning and the little snapshot that we experienced that weekend was not enough. I could have stayed there for weeks.

We went Nessie hunting the morning after we arrived. As we walked by the glittering Loch we knew that this was where mythical creatures dwelled. I decided to believe that the sparkling surface was little to do with the sunlight bouncing off the water and more to do with Nessie sending up her twinkly mythic magic.

There are plenty of picturesque walks around the villages which surround Loch Ness, not just by the Loch itself. We were staying in the village of Drumnadrochit, nestled in a valley. We climbed one of the surrounding hills to find the beautiful Dhivach Waterfall which apparently used to be a haunt of JM Barrie's. Which I can totally understand - it is magical here as well and you could totally imagine Tinkerbell living there.

That day we walked about 12.5 miles exploring the beautiful countryside. It may sound like a lot but we could easily have walked more if it had not been for our inappropriate shoes (only bringing heeled boots was potentially the worst packing mistake I have ever made. Except perhaps the time I forgot all my underwear. Moving on...) and the interchangeable weather. It would literally change without any warning at all. The candyfloss clouds turned an angry grey and sank on to the top of the hillsides, obscuring them from view. And then the heavens would open on us. We got poured on - by the rainclouds themselves and the puddles. Some arse drove through an enormous one really fast, on purpose, just as we were passing it. It was a proper Bridget Jones moment which we could have done without really.

So obviously we had to go to the pub to warm up with a whiskey - when in Scotland, you must drink whiskey. Isn't that how the saying goes? The bar tender was delighted and he seemed to enjoy talking all the different whiskeys over with me, advising me which ones to try. I am very proud to say that I did it the proper Scottish way too: straight with only the littlest amount of water. I was a bit worried that if I had asked for coke with it, the locals would have lynched me. It turned out to be reasonably pleasant though and did the job of warming me up.

The next day started off fine but as we bussed it back to Inverness (a stomach churning experience considering our whiskey-induced hangovers. I genuinely thought I was going to chuck up all over the couple in front of me! Which would have set my friend off. Not ideal.) the sky got darker and darker and darker. It was pouring again by the time we reached town.  So we hid in a coffee shop called So Coco which only did THE best coffee and cake ever. And by the time it had revived us, the rain had stopped and we could explore the town a little.

Aberdeen and Stonehaven
Aberdeen too was extremely wet (you can see a theme developing here) so I spent most of the week, hiding in coffee shops with my writing and my books. And much as I wish the weather had been a little better, it wasn't a bad way to spend my days. I found a few really unique ones, most memorably, Cup and Books & Beans. Both were decorated absolutely beautifully. If you are a tea addict you will be in heaven in Cup which has every type of tea you could imagine with suitably cute little teacups to go with it. Books and Beans is more of a coffee haven and if you are a book lover - which I imagine that most of my readers are - this is a must. You actually sit amongst the bookshelves which makes the books all the more tempting.

The grey city/the granite city should not be dismissed. Yes the rain can make it look a little dismal but it is really striking. Old Aberdeen in particular is something else. This is where you can find most of the sights such as St Machar's Cathedral (which is unlike any other cathedral that I have seen before), Aberdeen University, including the beautiful King's College Chapel, Seaton Park and Brig O Balgownie which is one of the oldest and most unusual bridges in Britain. All are situated within about half an hour's walk of each other. And along the way, I strolled past these absolutely adorable houses. I was basically house hunting as I went and any of these would do nicely.

Speaking of cute cottages - Footdee is well worth a visit as well. It is just the most adorable little place on the edge of Aberdeen, only about half an hour's walk from the centre - so unexpected amongst all the quays and the constructions sites where they work on the huge ships. It is only a tiny square and apparently there is a waiting list that is years long for one of these cottages. Which doesn't surprise me at all. Just look at them.

Most of what is attractive to see in Aberdeen are the parks that are scattered across the city and because it was raining for the majority of my stay, I could not really appreciate them. I walked around Seaton Park pretty briskly because the clouds were starting to look threatening (I really couldn't cope with getting caught in the rain again!). The afternoon was much brighter though so I wasn't as worried when I walked over to Duthie Park. It was just windy (I climbed the mound in the corner of the park and was genuinely a bit worried I was going to be blown over the edge. I hung on to the flagpole very tightly) and cold. Therefore rather than relaxing outside on the grass, after my stroll, I plonked myself down in the greenhouses which housed the Winter Gardens. They were seriously pretty and as I couldn't feel the wind, I could just enjoy the bright sunshine which had finally appeared. In fact, it made the greenhouses so warm that I found myself dozing off, much to the amusement of a pair of old ladies who walked past me.

On that one day where the weather let up a little bit, I also grabbed the opportunity to whiz over to nearby Stonehaven. This rugged coastline is something that I just don't see down here in the South of England. The sea was such an unbelievable blue - I always think that the North Sea looks so much bluer than the English Channel that I am used to. It is a royal, electric kind of blue which looked amazing. Almost good enough to swim in, although that would have been tricky considering I was at the top of a cliff. And I would imagine that it would be a little on the cold side - the three seals which tuned up, didn't seem to mind so much though and looked like they were having great fun, playing with each other, within the waves. We thought it would be a better idea if we went for Fish & Chips and Ice Cream instead though, which we ate right on the beach. Perfection.

I obviously couldn't take a trip up to Scotland without visiting its capital. It is one of my favourite cities in the entire world and being back within the view of its beautiful architecture reminded me of that. I so so badly want to live here.

I first visited Edinburgh last October and during that stay I explored most of the touristy sights (check out last year's Edinburgh blogpost here) so this time it was fun exploring more of the nitty gritty intimate life of the city.

Shopping is not usually top on my list of priorities when I go away. But during that weekend in Edinburgh I had a wonderful time being 'dragged' around vintage clothes shops. There are some such beautiful ones, like Armstrong's on Grassmarket and when you visit them, you never want to visit a High Street store again. You just want to stay immersed in that walk-in treasure trove, exploring every single nook. You can find some absolute gems hidden in its depths. In return, my friends came with me to one of my favourite bookshops in the world, Armchair Books. Last year I had visited pretty much all the bookshops that Edinburgh had to offer and I declared Armchair Books to be my favourite of the bunch. With its floor to ceiling bookshelves and hidden little corners, it had this friendly feel that was really hard to drag me away from. It's basically my idea of heaven.

In addition to shopping we also spent our time, contentedly eating and drinking our way through the city and I was excited to sample the nightlife for the first time. I hadn't been brave enough to go out by myself when I visited last year but now, with an ex-Edinburgh student leading the way, we took in the nightlife scenes in both the New Town and Old Town. Garibaldi's was potentially my favourite; an underground intimate bar just off George Street that had a small dance floor which contained a pole. For pole dancing. You can imagine just how exciting that is, when you have drunk 8 vodkas. We ended the night swaying gently and trying to find our way home in the maze of streets and little closes that make up the Old Town. But as we crossed North Bridge, we realised that the sun was beginning to rise so we stood there a while, chatting to a scotsman in a kilt, and watching it slowly appear to light up Calton Hill.  It was a perfect way to end the night, although it would have been slightly more sensible to head to bed a touch earlier, considering how little time we actually had for sleeping before we had to check out. I am 99% sure I was still drunk.

I think I have basically summed up the excitement of my trip but quickly before I go, I thought I would also share with you -- I tried Haggis. Yes I did really. And I didn't hate it  I am ever so slightly proud of myself. In fact, taking this into account, on top of the fact I drank my body weight in whiskey in the course of 12 days, I think I can basically call myself Scottish now. And I wouldn't mind that at all.

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Thursday, 18 May 2017

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

I am going to make a bold claim. I think The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath is one of the most important books I have ever read. I'd even go one step further - I think it's also one of the most important books written in the English language. And I think everyone who can read, should read it.

I might have missed Mental Health Awareness Week which was last week but we are still embroiled in the heart of Mental Health May. So to add my contribution into the mix of blogposts, I am going to urge you all to read this book.

It is incredible to me that we can live in the 21st century (in a supposedly free and open society, that is accepting of so many things) yet people with mental health issues can still meet as much of a stigma as they do. How is it possible that when so many people suffer such a varied number of diseases, they still encounter such an awful prejudice from the people around them. Even from those people who are meant to care for them.

The problem is, people just don't understand mental health illnesses. Because they can't see it. And because it is hard to explain. And because opening up about it and talking about feelings makes a person extremely vulnerable. Which means people tend not to do it. So people don't understand it and so there is a stigma around it. Because people can't see it. And because it is hard to explain. And so the vicious circle goes on and on.

By reading The Bell Jar, you break the circle. Here is an ideal opportunity to examine one person's descent into darkness and it is an incredibly moving read. If you can handle it. It is very intense, very dark and very detailed. Plath has no qualms in depicting her demons completely thoroughly and opens up in a way that is impossible for the majority of sufferers to do.

When I read it, I realised just how mild my own depression was and how much worse it could be. Although I related to some bits of the book, I have never suffered anywhere near to the same amount but it was reassuring to know that I was not alone in my hurting. Below I have picked out a couple of lines from The Bell Jar which really resonated with me and could help anyone who doesn't suffer with mental health disorders to understand a little more about the thought process that goes on when our brains do not behave themselves.

'I hated these visits because I kept feeling the visitors measuring [me]...against what I had been and what they wanted me to be.'
There is nothing worse for someone who suffers, than if they feel like they are being judged. It can set progress back by months and makes them clam up. Everyone has an idea of how a person should be and how they should act and the problem with mental health sufferers is they don't fall neatly into those little boxes. And that's something that the person involved has to come to terms with, in order to improve. So to be judged against how they should be or how they were when they seemed 'fine' is not helpful. At all.

'The world itself is the bad dream'
This will be impossible for anyone to understand unless you have been there yourself. But battling against your own brain is exhausting. And you can't escape it. The world becomes a nightmare and every single moment can be agony. Yet nobody notices. It is heartbreaking and I wish nobody had to suffer in silence.

'They were a part of me. They were my landscape.'
If you suffer from mental health issues it is NOTHING to be ashamed of. However hard everyone tries to make you feel that way. And that's what we all have to remember. They are a part of our personality. Not a particularly nice part for us but a part of us all the same. And that's ok. You are allowed to be exactly who you are. Nobody should make you feel bad for not fitting the mould. And the sooner everyone just became more accepting of those who are different to themselves, the better.

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Sunday, 30 April 2017

Plays vs musicals

You all know I visit the theatre a lot. For me it vaguely resembles an addiction. If I spot an advert for something that I will enjoy, I will most likely book it straight away, on the spot. I can't help it. But as I always tell my mother - it's better to be addicted to the theatre rather than alcohol or drugs or cigarettes.

I have noticed something which has surprised me though. Despite the fact I am a writer, I have a tendency to veer towards musicals. 9 times out of 10, it is a musical that I book rather than a play or anything else.

Musicals definitely have their place - they are fun and entertaining and are brilliant escapism. In short, they are everything I look for when I am yearning for the relaxation that I know I will find in the theatre. But every time I attend a play, I do find myself wondering why I don't see more of them.

Maybe it's due to attending relatively few that those which do tempt me are always so excellent. They drive me to share in experiences that I would never have come across otherwise and they always make me think and feel something. On top of which, they often have such entertaining narratives, played out by a whole host of varied characters. I always find them intellectually stimulating. And inspiring too. I rarely leave a play without the urge to go straight home and write one myself.

A couple of months ago, I saw Sex with Strangers at the Hampstead Theatre starring Theo James and Emilia Fox. In theory this was not a very good play. The plot was mediocre. Therefore the acting was unexpectedly mediocre too as they were constantly fighting with such stodgy dialogue. Even the direction - something which would normally pass me by completely - was noticeably awful as I became distracted by the constant pointless movement of the actors who flitted around each other and around the stage. I shouldn't have liked it at all.


I actually did. Because it made me feel something right at the end. Having not cared about the relationship the whole way through, I was unexpectedly moved to tears when Olivia was trying to choose between her ex and her current boyfriend. Why? It was Emilia Fox's stricken face as she dithered. Great acting.

And it did make me think as well. The whole play was based around writing and blogging and becoming a successful novelist and all the trials which surround that choice of career - what you have to sacrifice to be successful; what you have to do to make it in the industry. It's something that relates to me and therefore I could get on board with the entire play.

And that's what I need out of plays. I need them to make me feel.

Most recently I went to see Forty Years On at Chichester Festival Theatre, starring the legend that is Richard Wilson. And it did exactly that. Through an inventive use of direction, dance and of course, stellar acting it packed an emotional punch that I wasn't expecting. Bennet is a top playwright. A funny playwright who takes the everyday, comments on it and makes you think/feel about it. And Daniel Evans, through his skilful direction, made it relevant to today as well.

This was Bennett's first play and the first time I watched it, I found it a little hard to swallow. I was so busy trying to work out what the play was doing that I missed a lot of its charm. But the second time, I was able to appreciate the sketches for what they were - sketches simply depicting human life and playing it back to you in a funny way.

That's what made it both so wonderful and gave me the emotional smack in the face. Humans don't change. Whether you look at humans in the 1900s, 1940s, (the two eras the play within the play was set) 1960s (the decade the play was actually set in) or now, we are all the same. We all get sad, we all fight each other, we all get drunk, we all love and lose and smile and laugh and worry...we are wonderful yet horrendous and we are totally consistent.

This play made me think about the world I live in, the history that it has and the legacy I am upholding. It made me shed a little tear and left me breathless in a way that a musical rarely can.

I am not trying to say that a musical does not make me feel for the characters. It does and I can become fully immersed in the characters' stories. But I rarely find myself relating my own life to them. It's like reading a really entertaining novel and I am simply there to enjoy the world it has created for me. Undeniably, that manages to suck me in every time. But plays suck me in too, in a completely different way. And, thinking about it yet again, I definitely should go to more!

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Wednesday, 29 March 2017


Yes really.

In this modern age of unemployment and uncertainty I am actively chucking my job away. Am I insane? Probably...

Despite working in retail for a very long time, this isn't my life. It never has been and I don't think it ever could be. In my heart I have always been a writer. Right since I was a child of three or four and started forming my letters. And I need to give the possibility of earning a living as a writer, everything I have got or I am never ever going to settle into life.

Since leaving uni almost three years ago, I have always felt as if I have been waiting for my life to begin. I thought something would have happened by now to make me feel as if I had a place in the world. But nothing has come about. I have halfheartedly applied for jobs and not even received interviews and all the while gone a little crazy in retail. It is time for my life to change.

The thing is, young people are brainwashed into believing that their dreams don't matter. You have to get a 'proper job' - preferably something boring and hard that will suck all the joy out of life and place you in an office from 7am-9pm every day. Otherwise your life is basically not worth living.

News flash for you though - your life, young person reading this, can be exactly what you want it to be. Obviously you need a bit of money to survive. But other than that, you can do what you like. You should never place someone else's expectations for your life above your own.

Basically what I am saying is, if you want to travel, travel. If you want to get married and have kids, go ahead. If you want a 9-5 career in the city, do that. And if you want to write, bloody hell go and write. Right now. Why not?

That's what I said to myself about 6 weeks ago. Two days later, I had handed in my notice. Now the day is finally here (as I publish this I am about to start my final shift) and I am surprisingly apprehensive. Yes I know that this is the right thing to do and I NEED to give writing my attention full time. But my retail job has always been a little comfort blanket for me. A safety net that I can use to blame my lack of success in getting published. When I take that away it will just be me and my ambition to be a published novelist. That's really scary. But exciting too. Who knows what could happen in a week, a month, a year, 10 years... This is a new chapter and I hope it is going to be a great one. Whatever happens though, I know that it is an essential one and my life is going to be better because of it.

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Friday, 24 February 2017

Paris is still beautiful - February 2017

A couple of weeks ago, shortly before Valentine's Day I was in Paris. The city of love. The city of croissants and canals and the Eiffel Tower. The city of beautiful architecture and expensive coffee. The city that inspired countless literary greats (whose ranks I yearn to join). The city of windowboxes and balconies and picturesque squares. One of my favourite cities in the world.

I have been to Paris before. A few times. But it has always been in the summer and I was a little apprehensive of being there in the winter. In my head, the sun is always shining in Paris, the flowers and trees are always in full bloom and you can always walk around in floaty skirts and brogues. Paris wasn't the city where it rained or the wind whistled under your coat as you tried to enjoy a stroll along the Seine. Was it? Apparently, puddles do exist there. And occasionally you do have to duck into a coffee shop to avoid the horrendous weather rather than simply sit out on the pavement watching the world go by. Who knew? It didn't diminish it at all though. It gave it a new dimension. A reality that I hadn't really seen before. And of course, it was still beautiful. It was Paris.

As you can see from the last time I was in Paris in 2014, I have already been to many of the large sights such as the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and the Notre Dame. Yet we did visit these iconic places again as I was with my sister who had never been before. I couldn't exactly stop her from getting her view of Paris from the top of that unexpectedly romantic big piece of steel could I? But (proving that sisters can compromise with each other now and then) to make sure I was kept entertained, we also visited some of the more quirky sights and wandered districts such as the Latin Quarter, Montmartre and the streets of Le Marais. They were still very much in the tourist zone but we were giving over time to simply walking and looking and therefore breathing in all of Paris. Everyday Paris. The Paris that was still beautiful despite the cloudily dull sky.

Occasionally I did go out of my way to ignore the tourist attraction that was right in front of my face. In particular, to the Notre Dame, the poor thing. I didn't mean to ignore its grandeur so fully but when I was there, I found myself looking at the ground instead. Everybody else was gazing at the sky while I accidentally walked into the back of selfies, trying to find a tiny golden plaque on the floor. The plaque that marked the centre of Paris.

And then I ignored it again, instead turning away, crossing the bridge and heading to the almost-as-famous Shakespeare and Company. Trust me to find a bookshop. while I was abroad. I was in good company with this one - Ernest Hemingway and Lawrence Durrell were just two of its many famous visitors and while I was having coffee, I spied Clemence Posey of Harry Potter fame which was quite cool. Not as cool as the bookshop itself though. This place can only be described as a haven for the book lover. Stuffed full of books old and new, it is perfectly equipped for every reader and traveller's needs. Their upstairs is beyond incredible, and rather than describe it, I think I will leave it for you to go and find out for yourself exactly how wonderful it is to be surrounded by books and book lovers alike. I haven't felt that utterly content in a very long time. I really felt like I was a part of something when I was there. It felt like home.

Sticking with the literary theme, I couldn't resist a slightly macabre visit to Pere Lachaise cemetery. I have to admit, I kind of love graveyards. I realise that this is a slightly weird confession to make. But I just find them to be so peaceful and pretty, full of beautiful structures and flowers. I like wandering around reading the names of the people buried there and trying to imagine the life that they would have led. Plus, I find them to be so full of love. People focus too much on the death side of it. But it is rarely the dead person who chooses the gravestone or the inscription or any of it. It is those who are left behind who have to organise all that and pay for it too. They are the ones who want to remember the individual in the best possible way. That's why graveyards always make me kind of emotional. This particular one was the resting place of the wonderful Oscar Wilde, one of my literary heroes. So of course, I wasn't going to miss the chance of being in his presence, and hopefully soaking up some of his leftover creative vibes. It was huge and we had a very calming walk amongst the graves and mausoleums, some of which were probably bigger than any future house that I would be able to afford. Once we were in the centre of it, it was unbelievably quiet and the cemetery was all you could see in any direction. It was beautiful.

When you think of beauty within Paris, you probably wouldn't automatically think of a graveyard. Or an abandoned train line for that matter. But that too was one of my favourite walks which we took. La Petite Ceinture it was called. Originally this train line used to run around the entire city but it closed down yonks ago. It is still there and nature is slowly but surely claiming its territory back. We only walked a small part of it: one of the little sections that has been opened up to the public and you are actually allowed to walk. The majority of it is out of bounds technically (although this hasn't stopped plenty of explorers and wouldn't have stopped me had the weather been slightly better!) but I enjoyed the little taster we had in the shape of the section within the Promenade Plantee.

I imagine that instead of the cemetery or the trainline, you would think of the highly manicured Tuileries or Luxembourg Gardens. Which are lovely in their own right. But it is worth the effort to travel a little further out where you can find the absolutely stunning Parc des Buttes Chaumont. We walked along the Saint Martin Canal to reach it, another lovely area, on our final morning and it was a perfect way to end the trip. A place of peaceful delight and divine views - which is basically what I have come to expect of Paris. And you need not anticipate anything less, you can be rest assured it always lives up to expectations.

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Monday, 23 January 2017

La La Land

If you haven't heard of La La Land, can I start this post by asking WHERE ON EARTH HAVE YOU BEEN? Living under a rock perhaps? It has all anyone has been talking about since it came out in the UK and totally cleared up at the Golden Globes in the same weekend. I have seen it twice in the past week and may or may not go see it again because it has given me a lot of feelings. A LOT of feelings. Which I thought I would talk about here. As it is one of the jobs of this blog to be a haven of all things wonderful. And this was certainly wonderful.

Just before I begin my discussion though I would like to put a really big SPOILER ALERT right here. I just need to splurge a little bit and talk about everything to do with this movie so if you haven't seen it, stop reading here and go and see it at once.

There is no doubt that everything about La La Land is truly beautiful. The cinematography is stunning, the costumes are wonderful (I would like to own every single one of Emma Stone's outfits), and the acting is fabulous, particularly from Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone - all those intense closeups where you can read every single emotion in their face. Truly incredible. And the music is just dreamy. You go into this little bubble of beauty when you watch it and you simply don't want to leave. But these are aspects that are obvious to everyone. I am not here to rehash what the critics of the papers have said so I will discuss it no further in that way. I want to get into the nitty gritty of it. Which basically means I am going to take little bits and analyse it to death. Sorry not sorry.

The character progression depicted within the course of La La Land is spot on. Actually I have often said how films normally don't manage to get this as right as La La Land has. Books do it well, because they have 300-800 pages to play with. TV series also do it well because they have 8 hours to achieve it. Films with a mere two hours of time often can't manage it. Particularly if it is an original film. But over the course of a little over two hours, you are invited into Mia and Seb's magical yet frustrating world of trying to succeed in their artistic dreams. You travel with them, sharing in not only the journey of their relationship with each other but the relationship with their art. And it's interesting that both try to achieve their aims in a different way - Mia relentlessly goes for audition after audition and is on the brink of giving up. And Sebastian sells out a little to do something that he doesn't want to do in order to sidestep into what is his ultimate dream. And you watch as they find each other and realise how much they both need the other to put them on the right track. Mia needs Sebastian to push her forwards, Seb needs Mia to pull him back and remind him of who he is and what he is working towards. And that leads to their success at the end.

As an artist myself, in the form of writing, the struggle of both Mia and Seb spoke to me in so many ways. Both characters had moments that I related to. Seb at the beginning had this moment when you first saw him perform in the restaurant. His boss (with a cameo from JK Simmons) was very insistent that he should stick to the mind numbingly dull versions of Christmas carols. But Seb can't stop himself from performing something else. He threw everything he had into that performance but when it was over, the people in the restaurant continued as if nothing had happened. Nobody eating even glanced his way. And where I am applying to literary agencies at the moment, it feels exactly like that.

I think anyone pursuing a career in a creative art can also relate to the conversation that Mia had with her parents just after she had moved in with Seb. I know I certainly can. Here, they were clearly asking her how she was going to survive if neither she nor Sebastian were making any money and yes it was all very well that she was putting everything into her acting, but how was she actually going to eat? These questions (which my parents have asked me numerous times) are the little shout realism that are in the outer edge of the artists' brains. The parents are telling them things that they have pushed to the back of their minds because they can't cope worrying about not eating as well as the possibility of failure in their chosen career. The fact that Mia was having this conversation out of shot was a clear indication of how this was something that she was very much not focusing on, something that she was trying to ignore but she couldn't help but hear it from her parents. And it was Sebastian who was in shot who could see the damp stain on his ceiling and took the realistic advice on board, sacrificing his own dreams to support hers. They couldn't both be earning nothing after all.

I feel like people in general are saying how they related to Mia and sympathised with her a lot more. Most too, have been taking her side in their argument. But I became completely heartbroken for Seb at this moment. He was a bit of an arse, I admit that. But this was the beginning of the end for their relationship and I think he could see that. She was almost there and he knew that once she succeeded, she couldn't give her all to it without leaving him behind.  He had the hardest job of all in this movie. Because, having pushed Mia forward he had the joy of watching her fly but then, immediately, he had to let her go. Which he was more than willing to do because he was amazing and understood how important her dreams were to her. But I found that totally heart breaking.

There are a couple of quotes from Seb that spoke to me, in particular - firstly was when he told Mia to 'write something as interesting as you are' - YES! I am very much going to take this on board. Don't half arse things, do it properly and make every single thing I write as amazing as I am (within the limitation of the amazing I actually possess, of course). I am so passionate and I need to put all of my passion into all of my writing, all the time. The second of his quotes that I adored was when Mia asked 'Are people going to like it?' And his response was  'Fuck em.' DOUBLE YES! You can not write or sing or act or paint because someone else may or may not like what you are doing. To be able to throw your all into it, you have to do something which YOU are fully behind. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. It's the passion that counts and you can only give that if you like it. As soon as you start worrying about someone else liking it, you are only going to fail. Because not everyone is going to like it obviously. You just can't win if you think like that.

In terms of quotes I love, I could actually write down the entirety of The Fools who dream, which Mia sang at her audition. In fact, I could write an entire blogpost just on that song. Maybe I will. It was stunningly done, simple and effective. Just Emma Stone's face and the camera and those beautiful words.The lyrics were spot on. 'Here's to the ones who dream. Foolish as they may seem. Here's to the hearts that ache. Here's to the mess we make.' And later the lyric changed to 'crazy as they may seem. Here's to the hearts that break.'  I can't stop listening to the song and it resonates so so highly with me and my attempts to become a published author. You do start going a little bit crazy the more you get rejected, (but as Emma Stone also advised us during this song, a bit of madness is key) and your heart does break a little when you throw everything into your art and get nothing in return. But you have to keep doing it, and when you finally do go into the Seine (ie. achieve your dreams), you wouldn't change a bit of it, you would do it over and over again. Did you notice when Mia and Seb were dancing through their alternative life together, that when Seb and Mia danced up to the Seine, they turned away from it? She didn't jump into it like her aunt did in the song and therefore she didn't achieve her dreams when she was with him. Ugh *sobs*

Because there at the end, we had the crux of it. If you are going to succeed in your art, there are things you are going to have to sacrifice. And for Mia/Seb this was each other. Having pushed each other into their successes, they couldn't have each other too. Mia's stricken face when she realises she is in Seb's bar tells us exactly how OK she is with that. The look between Mia and Sebastian across Seb's, was so full of love and gratitude and the nod was the final thank you - the huge thank you that they gave to each other, for getting them to their successes against all the odds. Neither of them would have made it without the other.

I would urge anyone to watch La La Land and it is possible to simply enjoy the ride. But if you are an actor, musician, artist, writer or anyone else wanting a career in something creative, it will speak to you on such a strong level, you definitely shouldn't hesitate. It gives you such hope to see your struggles depicted so epically on screen with them both succeeding in the end. If they can, anyone can. And that's what we have to bear in mind as we continue along our personal journeys. Thank you Damien Chazelle, Justin Hurwitz, Emma Stone and Ryan did good. Really good.

(photo courtesy of

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Saturday, 7 January 2017

Reading Roundup

Last year I read 88 books. Can you believe it? I can barely believe it myself. That's an insane amount and considering that I was aiming for 55, I think I did really really well.

Out of those 88, I read 43 classics, 4 of which were Shakespeares, 2 were Austens and 3 were Dickens. I also reread all of the Harry Potters and 77 of my reads have been books I've never experienced before.

I have found some incredible new literature this year that have snuck into my list of favourite books so I thought I would share a few of these with you.

Firstly, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. I have no idea why it took me so long to read this book. People have been recommending it to me for absolutely ages and I can see why. Immediately I was sucked into the world of intrigue that Zafon wrote about expertly. The mystery set within the beautiful descriptions of Barcelona and the bookshop where Daniel works, kept me turning the pages and I loved all the characters. It was satisfying and engaging and the plot involved around a book/author. What more could you want out of a novel?

Next up I read and adored Margaret Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale. Later in the year I read one of her newer ones The Heart Goes Last and I have bought Blind Assassin. It is safe to say I am now a huge Atwood fan. She is the queen of Dystopian future fiction. She just has this uncanny ability of finding the very worst in human beings, breaking down society and making stories around it. It is an epic, exciting read that definitely touches a nerve.

To see the good in human beings once more I read Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. This is technically not fiction as it is based around Albom's own experiences, meeting weekly with an old tutor of his who is dying, but it does read as easily as fiction does. It is a beautiful, highly emotional read which makes you view life in a slightly different way and reconsider what is important.

Another author who has fast become one of my favourites this year is HG Wells. I read Kipps shortly after seeing Half a Sixpence at the theatre and found myself really relating to the retail struggles that he wrote about within this classic novel. Wells has a very readable style and I now really want to read The Invisible Man and The History of Mr Polly. I also love that he grew up down the road from me.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins and The Tennant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte were two more classics that I hadn't read before and absolutely adored. Both were easy to read and had an element of mystery which kept me enthralled. But, most excitingly, each one had a very strong female protagonist which was quite unusual for that kind of literature. They were flawed and determined and jumped off the page to become real people. They were a joy to read.

And finally, I read what is now one of my favourite books at the very end of the year, The Secret History by Donna Tartt. This has been on my TBR list for a very long time after being recommended it repeatedly on Instagram. I am a huge fan of Fitzgerald, and I feel that this had echoes of him in it. Tartt has such an easy to read style and I was totally gripped by the intensity of the situation that the extremely normal main character found himself in. I feel like it could have happened to any of us and that was both exhilarating and exciting. Great book.

Talking of Instagram and while I am on the subject of rounding up 2016/books, I thought I might officially introduce my Bookstagram that I started last June.

I have been planning to start this up for a while as my love of books is so strong, I wanted to devote a whole account to pretty bookish pictures. And I figured it all makes sense. I travel around so much and whenever I do, I have a book with me to read whilst I am on the train/plane. Therefore, when I take my bookish picture in whatever fresh town I am, it records not only the place I am in, but the excellent book that I am reading too.

I have loved my 7 months that I have been a part of the bookstagram community. They are so welcoming and lovely and I hugely enjoy all the bookish discussions we have on there. If this sounds like something you would be interested in, do come and join me over there. I'd love to have you. And here's to a fabulous 2017 with many more fantastic books.

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Sunday, 4 December 2016

Happiness does not exist

At least, not in the noun form. Everyone is searching for happiness like it is this big magical thing that just pops along out of nowhere and settles down into our life, granting us everything that we have ever dreamed of. But life isn't like that. Happiness isn't like that. It is simply not a thing that you acquire and appears out of nowhere. Instead, happiness is something you have to work at. Which would make it a verb, technically. Something that grows and fluctuates constantly. You have to work out what makes you happy and then perform it. Which for someone our age is occasionally easier said than done.

I think there are two main ways that you can work at achieving happiness without having to make any prior decisions. Firstly: don't compare yourself to other people. Your life is your life. No one else's. It goes at its own pace and you are free to do whatever you want to do, when you want to do it. Who cares if everyone around you is getting engaged? And buying houses. And getting promotions. And travelling to far off beautiful places. And seems to have a better social life than you. And more money. They only tell you the good bits after all. They don't tell you about the stress of preparing for their workday every day.  Or how much they detest the early starts. They don't mention how they are so tired at the weekends, they only use them to sleep. You don't see all the petty arguments which rage between them and their significant other.

Secondly: don't listen to what people think you should be doing. Which is almost the same as comparing yourself to other people but not quite. Society is full of ideas as to what you should be doing in certain times of your life. And people (including your friends and family) love to tell you exactly what you should be doing right now and how you are failing. I am finding at the moment, that my friendship group is roughly halved and falls into two camps. Either they are getting engaged and buying houses. Or they are still out partying. I personally am in this stupid in-between category. I can't deal with clubs any more but I feel that I am too young to be home on a Saturday night watching Netflix. I don't want to sleep around, yet I am nowhere near ready to commit to someone for life (maybe I need to meet the right person - who knows). I feel I am too old to be part time in a job, yet I don't know what career I want yet. I am too old to get a dive of a place with a bunch of students but too young (/poor) to get a mortgage with a W1 postcode. Ahhhhh it's all so difficult and it's not helpful for parents/friends/strangers to sit there telling me that I 'should be doing this' and 'when I was your age I had achieved all this.' Ignore them and go your own way.

Happiness is an aspect of my life which I have put to at the bottom of my list of priorities but which I have finally learnt should be moved to the top. It is such an underrated concept and something I am working at. And actually I am doing pretty well and slowly working out how to be happy and what I have to do to feel it. Generally it is only when I compare myself to others and when I think about what I 'should' be doing right now, (i.e when I don't follow the above rules) that's when I get stressed and upset. Most of the time I am fine.

I always thought that by 25 I would have my life sorted. And suddenly 25 seems very very close. But there's still time. Maybe 2017 is the year when everything slots into place. Where I find a boyfriend I love and actually want to stick it out with. Where my book gets taken on by a publisher/agent. Where I settle in one city and want to stay. Or maybe it won't. And that's ok too. Life has a way of working itself out. It will all be ok in the end.

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Sunday, 13 November 2016

The Labyrinth

When I was in Edinburgh, I was trying to find a bookshop on my last day when I accidentally wandered past a little garden instead, in the centre of a square on the south side of the city. Nestled in amongst some university buildings, I walked through the entirety of the gardens and there in the corner of them, I located The Labyrinth.

A little plaque on the outside of the hedged-off labyrinth, told me that labyrinths are in fact different to mazes, which most people don't realise. Whereas with a maze, it tries to trap you within its walls/hedges via dead ends and misdirections, a labyrinth is very simple. There is no way you can get lost in one, as there is only a single route which leads you right into the centre. As long as you follow it faithfully and don't try to take any shortcuts, you should reach the middle without any problems.

The idea is, that while you are wandering the path set out for you, you are meant to try to completely relax. All the things that are worrying you, you need to bring to the surface and then leave them on the path so that by the time you reach the centre, you are at a point of complete peace. You can stand in that central point, regulate your breathing and feel like you have achieved something without the weight of worry, panic or any other negative emotion interrupting that.

And it really worked.

I personally used the labyrinth as a metaphor for my life. The path representing my life that I am travelling through and the centre representing my ambitions. At points, moving along this path, it felt like I was going to be there forever, and the ambitions that I was striving towards seemed to be just as far away as when I started. But slowly, ever so slowly, I came gradually nearer, until suddenly I was there. Occasionally I did go backwards a bit, and it seemed as if I was moving in the wrong direction yet it would always loop right back around. And when I finally reached that home strait, it was something of a surprise.

At some points, walking along that path seemed slow and unrelenting. But if I had sidestepped on to a different path and tried to take a short cut, it could, in fact, have taken me the wrong way, or even all the way back to the beginning. There is no shortcut to achieving my ambitions, I just have to keep on going, work hard, never give up and remember that every step I take is a step in the right direction. It's definitely a good thing to keep in mind.

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