Monday, 12 March 2012

Starting the Must List.

Left to my own devices this weekend, instead of padding around my disgustingly messy bedroom wondering where my vow to keep the place spotless went wrong, I popped on my sunglasses and went exploring. It's been on my mind for a while that I've lived in this stunning city for well over a year now, and have done a grand total of NO THINGS. Excluding trips to The Willow or H&M.

A few weeks ago, I composed a York Must List- things I MUST do before I move out of this city. It's not too long, I kept it all achievable. I promised myself I'd get through it over the next year or so, so what better time to start than now?

So me, my iPod, my camera and my copy of Simon Armitage's Seeing Stars went on a little walk into town. After pottering around the market, and the devouring a gorgeous cupcake from this lady, I headed up to Museum Gardens. The park in the centre of town is so idyllic, as though someone has scripted the perfect summer day and set it there.

Awkward moment when hair from a Viking grave is
in better condition than mine
Now, this may surprise some of you. I'm actually a bit of a nerd. I know, it's hard to believe. In between doing really cool things and being in really cool places, I love nerding out over poetry or history or the like. So going into the museum was actually a really exciting prospect for me. And even though the staff clearly thought I was a little pathetic for going to a museum, on my own, on the sunniest day the North has seen all year, I was determined to spend the rest of the day getting acquainted with every single exhibition. And with my student card, entry is free- so I was fully prepared to take every advantage.

Obviously, York being the centre of all things Viking-related, much of the museum was devoted to the brutal and thrilling history of all things Jorvik. There was also a natural history bit- though I'll always prefer human history to that of animals and plants or whatever. (Saying that, The London Natural History Museum blew my mind so severely that I just wandered round muttering "science" for the entire day.)

Museum Gardens
Easily the most impressive part of the museum is the audio-visual exhibit, where they start at the present day, and take you backwards through the pivotal moments in York's history. One particularly poetic moment of the show- "but meanwhile it flees, time flees us irretrievably while we wander around prisoners of our love of the moment" was definitely my favourite line. And other than revealing how despairingly little I know about the city I love in, it was seriously entertaining. For a pretty small city, turns out York has been crazily important in British history. Who knew?! (Apologies to my friends studying history, who will most likely never speak to me again after reading this. Especially Sam Dumigan. I'm sorry for being such a failure.)
Hello shadow/castle walls!

Inspired by my educational trip, I finished the day by walking about a quarter of the Castle Walls- I did not realise how gorgeous the view would be from up there. And seeing as almost all good roads lead to a pub afterwards, I found myself in the cultural highlight of York- the local Wetherspoons. I don't half know how to treat myself.

So that's me starting my York Must List! Exploring a city I already know like the back of my hand was quite a charming experience. Being a tourist for the day was so much fun- and excellent practice for my future escapades in lands less familiar to me. Doing it all on my own was interesting, too. I thought I'd get bored or lonely, but instead I was so caught up in unearthing York that I went the entire day without once drifting off. Maybe I'm more cut out for this travelling lark than I thought- or maybe I'm just being daft comparing going round your own city for a day with global backpacking. Probably. Either way, this particular Saturday is going to go up there as one of my favourites so far.

On the Walls- hella awkward.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Happy International Women's Day! British Women.

Today is the official day of recognition for women’s achievements, rights and challenges globally. To celebrate, we’ve compiled a list of some of the best individual and groups of female minds in Britain that we believe deserve recognition for their work and successes over the last year.

Her book “How To Be A Woman” shot this Times columnist into the book charts, and into the hearts of feminists everywhere. The book describes itself as a re-writing of “The Female Eunuch”, and is possibly the wittiest ever rant on women’s rightS and women themselves; Moran brought admitting to being a feminist out of the gutter and into the totally acceptable for women everywhere.

Though not technically a cause originating from the UK, The London SlutWalk saw thousands of women join with hundreds of thousands others from around the world to protest attitudes towards rape last year. A global event, it raised the awareness of sexual abuse victim’s rights, and firmly shouted that victims of abuse aren’t to blame for their treatment.

Turn on any radio station and chances are you’re going to end up listening to the ballad-powerhouse that is Miss Adele Adkins. With topping charts and picking up more awards than she can carry becoming an average every-day task for the songstress, there doesn’t seem to be much Adele can’t do. By breaking the mould of high-polished high-energy pop music, she’s stunned the world with her breath-taking vocals, and given the media something to think about when it comes to what your typical talented female should look like, too.

One of the unsung heroes of British feminism this year- most likely because she isn’t too keen on doling out interviews- is the highest ranking female in the British army. With an incredible career spanning 26 years, Moffat is tackling any inequality in the military from within, and encourages women to sign up to the British army, saying there’s never been a better time for women to join.

The girl guides have been steadily rising in numbers and influence over the past year. Promoting women’s rights campaigns has seemingly become another badge they can stitch onto their sashes, having been invited to advise at the UN Commission on Status of Women this month. Two British serving members of Guides will help develop international policies on gender equality at the global conference held in New York- a far cry from baking cookies and earning your washing-up badge.

That’s just five British female stand out achievements- there are hundreds more influential and incredible women that have gained so much this year. From your grandmothers, to the head teacher of the primary school down the road, and from the female chairperson of the big company to the women Olympians. Happy International Women’s Day!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Rapping Lyrical

Mark Grist, one half of the Dead Poet's, recently shot to fame thanks to an astounding performance in a rap poetry slam battle.  The video went viral, and if you've been hiding under a rock that doesn't have a wifi connection, you can find it here. The novelty was in seeing an teacher in a battle with a student; old v young, suit and tie v baseball cap and trousers that hung below the arse. 

For me, the novelty wasn't the only reason to stick around. The lyrics were impeccable- both MC Blizzard and Grist delivered masterfully crafted lines, never stumbling or losing rhythm, inventive insults which dripped with wit and intelligence. It's high time spoken word poetry was appreciated as an art form, an entertainment form. This unlikely duo have done the trick.

Grist's performance was brilliant. Witty and cutting, the only thing that made it taste sweeter was that it was directed at a cocky pupil- everyone has always kind of hoped to hear what their teachers thought of them, and here it is. In a much purer and honest form than your school report ever could have been. 

On a side note, I want to praise Blizzard. “The honest truth is Bradley, I’ve been served better whilst in Costa”, while the lyric is perfectly put together, and I think Grist would agree with me on this, it’s not entirely honest.  In all the excitement to congratulate Mark Grist on his (well-deserved) win, many have wrongly demoted Blizzard's skill as sub-par. His extraordinary ability to properly produce amazing lyrics at a speed most professional rappers can only try to emulate, not only demonstrates his quick-tongue and skill, but also his forward thinking imagination. Lines such as "But hold up Mixy, I'm taking the mick, see, you could mix E in my drink and still could never lick me", while remain a tongue twister for anyone else (genuinely struggled even typing it out...) are simply fluid for the young battler. Three dimensional insults (personal favourite, "then you'll know what it's like to be on the wrong side of a glass ceiling"), and intelligent ("I'm gonna get rid of Mark like when Germany brought the euro in") against almost any other performance poet would bring them crashing down. 

But not against Grist. With words as sharp as his suit, he effortlessly tore into his opponent, stumping the audiences and causing thousands of YouTube viewers to burst out in laughter; "This blizzard lizard's got no fire it's just hot air he's breathing, when all's said and done, as the years drag on, you'll look even more like Deborah Meaden”. Not needing to resort to tired lines, he brings creativity and originality to traditional jokes- the standard “your mum” joke reaches new levels of profanity and hilarity, and is a highlight of the entire slam. The Pokemon line (around 8 minutes into the video) is simply put, genius.

Using Blizzard’s real name, playing on his previous occupation, yet still slipping in youth culture references, ultimately, this was a battle Grist couldn’t lose. His skill and cool were at a level that almost guaranteed winning- and a perfect triumph that the video has well over 1.7 million views. It’s a war of attrition Blizzard didn’t really stand much chance against. I’m not claiming Grist is the best rap battle poet in the world, (his next Don’t Flop, though as lyrically engaging, just doesn’t have the excitement this battle does), I’m asserting that a better platform for a poet such as himself couldn’t have been scripted. You know, unless he’d written it.

Upon the video going viral, Grist’s fame meant his other videos have also seen a surge in popularity. “Really Really Good at Bored Games”  is an admission of how uncool he is, yet comes across as incredibly smooth.

“Girls Who Read” is my personal favourite. A little soppier than the others, it still contains the dry humour and hints of boyishness underneath the more tender feel- and certainly appeals to any romantics who had been so far unconvinced by Grist.

His newfound popularity is doing wonders for spoken word poetry. He has started a little fashion on twitter- #SpokenWordSunday. I’m proud to admit that I was the first to jump on this bandwagon (poetry-wagon?)- and was the first follower he retweeted with my suggestion of Taylor Mali. Mali is also a teacher turned poet, and is definitely worth checking out. Each week, I spend hours scrolling through the suggestions this new twitter trend, fuelled by Grist, offers up. I’m finding poets I never would have reached otherwise, and am now actively searching out live poetry events in my area.

He’s making T.V. appearances, both with and without his Dead Poets Partner “Mixy”, and is being namedropped by national press. Hopefully, for the spoken poetry field, and the rap battle scene, his unlikely fame will increase interest in these art forms. I’d love for this to be the beginning of a new trend of spoken word- and at the moment, Grist is pioneering this new phase of popularity. 

(Originally published in my sister blog)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

The Yorker Archives: Waitressing

Looking for work to fund your shoe habit? Need to fit it around your lectures, and not swallow up any spare time? With so many restaurants hidden behind corners in York, waiting could just be the perfect part time job for students.

It’s quite difficult to describe working as a waitress in general terms; time spent working in an all-you-can-eat buffet is another experience entirely to working in a pub-grub type eatery, and a world away from working silver service. Having worked in two completely different style restaurants (a fairly classy Chinese restaurant-come-takeaway and now a charming and much more sophisticated Modern European affair), I’d say there are only a handful of standard waitressing experiences.

First of all, the hours. They can be a blessing or a curse, depending on your outlook. Working evening shifts means it’s guaranteed you’ll never have to pull a sicky from a lecture (or vice versa). However, it does mean you might be too tired for that 9.15. Shifts tend to be flexible, some restaurants closing up early depending on how busy they are. Be warned of the place that stays open until a given time regardless of whether you have any customers in, though- an empty restaurant translates to Ultimate Boredom. Extra shifts are usually available at the weekend; and as we all know, very little happens in York at the weekend, so this is ideal really.

The job can be demanding, something that may genuinely come as a bit of a surprise. How hard is it to take someone their roast dinner, after all? Well, throw in three other tables waiting for their starters, one table waiting to place their order, a couple of old women wanting to know if the chef will do mash without any butter, a young couple on their first date accidentally smashing a wine glass, and someone else kicking off because his medium-rare beef has been served slightly too medium for his liking. It’s a very high-pressure environment, so be prepared for a handful of stressful moments of despair. Don't worry, though, if you make a mistake, most customers are very understanding. I speak from experience; when I dropped a plateful of linguini in front of a table, I thought I was going to be sacked on the spot- instead the customer laughed and told me not to apologise, she was still full from the starter and was happy to wait a while longer.

It’s not all stress, drama and complaints though. 99% of the time, customers are charming, and just want to get on with having their tea. You make some friends with people you’d never expect. Especially in such a touristy place as York, you meet all manner of people, and form little bonds with the regulars. In most restaurants, waiting staff will be a similar age to you, and aren’t necessarily people you would meet otherwise- I work with people who went to York St John, which is brilliant for a bit of Uni rivalry!

The money isn’t to be sniffed at, either. Though for the most part you’ll be getting by on minimum wage, there is the wonderful blessing of tips. Obviously the tips depend completely on the style of restaurant you’re in, and the quality of the service you provide; but however you look at it, it’s definitely a bonus.

Personally, the pros outweigh any cons for me. If you’re happiest when you have lots of small tasks to do, an array of people to get to know, and aren't (excessively) clumsy, then this is the job for you. It can take some getting used to, balancing twenty wine glasses on a tray with one hand and taking someone’s coffee order with the other, but it’s a high-energy atmosphere that really prepares you for most pressured, customer-oriented work atmospheres, and gets top marks for being fed left-overs at the end of a shift!


Thursday, 1 March 2012

Sound of Spotify

As a prerequisite to reading this article, go out and immediately listen to Emeli Sande’s album; “Our Version of Events”. What you are about to read can only be understood having heard it, as the only words I can think to do it justice are your standard music review adjectives (“stunning, gorgeous”, so on and so forth…), and these adjectives, however apt, don’t really give you an insight into the mood I am in whilst writing this article.

Basically, I’m outraged. Not because the album offended me in any way, but because I simply don’t have access to it. You see, when I find an artist I like, I fall in love with them. I form a proper attachment to them- an attachment that Spotify Free just doesn’t seem to comprehend. It’s a love that is forbidden by their “five listens per song” limit. And it cuts me deep.

When I was first introduced to the Arctic Monkeys, I played them on loop for about three months straight. Rihanna, One Night Only, Black Kids and Jamie T all suffered similar fates. Two Door Cinema Club have only just been relieved of their duties, and currently in charge of my iPod are Friendly Fires. It's just how I go about listening to music. A phase of a band here, fifteen consecutives listens of an album there. I blame this peculiar way of enjoying music for my very stunted knowledge of what’s popular at any given moment. I’m anti-hipster, essentially. I hear of an artist when they start to gain popularity, and I’m still singing along long after they’ve fallen out of the charts.

(c) Emeli Sande
Sometimes, the choices are acceptable; the general consensus on the Arctic Monkeys is that it’s OKAY to be able to recall any lyric from any of their (first three) albums (I gave up post Last Shadow Puppets…). However, some are less acceptable, and some are just all out embarrassing. My entire A-Level period was spent revising alongside Pixie Lott’s cheery meaningless pop- which has since become so ingrained into my studying patterns now, that whenever I am in desperate need to concentrate on revision notes, I just whack her on my iPod and I’m good to go.

My music habits aren’t obsessive; I don’t particularly care much about the celebrity behind the music. The only music poster I have still is one I pinched of Azealia Banks giving me the finger (less than delightful to wake up to, but I really have grown to love it). I very rarely venture out to live music gigs that don’t involve my own friends rocking out on stage. I just want to listen to what I like. Again and again and again. And again. Consecutively. As though I’m trying to commit it to memory.

For those of you who aren’t Spotify Savvy, it’s a free music service- essentially an on-demand radio. I love it. It allows you to siphon off what doesn’t appeal to you, and leaves you with what does. I’ve recently discovered Ben Howard and Passion Pit through their “similar artists” function, for which I’m very grateful. It’s also cracking for having a good nosy at what your friends are listening to, though I’m not sure I want all my friends to know that I actively listen to Alanis Morisette (I’m slowly turning into my mother, I may as well embrace the soundtrack).

Spotify- spoiling the customers?
One massive bugbear I have with it, however, is that it just so happens to limit the amount of times you can listen to any given song to five times. Which, for my habits, is very frustrating. When Our Verison of Events cut off at the beginning of the week, I was furious. This frustration, I recognise, is completely unjustified. I’m very aware that this reeks of a First World Problem. You’re only allowed a certain amount of free stuff? Poor you. Must be taxing. Fancy that big bad company not spoiling you completely, those bastards.

Which got me thinking. Why do people resent paying for music so much? Any entertainment, in fact? No one seems to buy music anymore, or go to the cinema, or buy DVDs. Everything is downloaded, and I’m willing to bet a massive deal of that is illegal. Personally, I’m so terrified of The Internet Police knocking on my door and suing me for copyright infringement because I’ve downloaded the Mulan soundtrack, that I never, and I mean NEVER, illegally download things. If I really want to listen to something, I’ll use Spotify, or, or youtube. Or, as an ultimate last resort, I’ll download it on iTunes. But paying for my entertainment really is considered a last resort, and I have to have some sort of guarantee in my head that is going to be worth the £5.99.

Why is there a sense of entitlement with entertainment? Artists do not OWE us their music/films. The amount of money it costs to make a blockbuster, or for a band to produce and distribute albums, is highly disproportional to how the general population values its worth. What results is this stand-off between consumers and the producers of entertainment; we don’t want to have to give money away for something so easily accessible; they don’t want to give everything for free.

It’s a boundary that’s becoming harder and harder to define. The lack of a willingness to pay for music has surprisingly benefitted many in the music industry. Lily Allen and the Arctic Monkeys famously rose to power through the online music host MySpace, and have both made a lot of money packing out stadiums as a result. Software such as Spotify allows music to be recommended solely through social media, creating up to date and vital information on what is popular, and allowing artists to gain much more attention than was necessarily previously possible.

Perhaps this begrudging does benefit both sides of the battle. Customers are being pickier about what they’re willing to pay for, and therefore we’re sorting the wheat from the chaff ourselves, rather than allowing some media buffs to do it for us. Increasing the difficulty of competition can only increase the quality of the winners, right? Or does it damage smaller artist’s chances of any acknowledgement? Personally, I think not. Ed Sheeran’s success speaks volumes, for instance.

Either way, the industry has won this time. Our Version Of Events must mean a lot to me, because instead of sitting in my Spotify account, it now lives in my iTunes account- the true sign that an album is worth it. A song know’s it has made it when people transfer from Spotify to iTunes. You’ve won this one, Emeli. Better luck next time, bank account.