Sunday, 30 September 2012

University, what do you expect?

I've begun the countdown to my final year at University. York starts ridiculously late, so while everyone else is over Freshers and Freshers' Flu, we're still twiddling our thumbs and waiting for our loans to appear.

I'm really struggling to believe I'm already two thirds of the way through my uni life. TWO THIRDS. If my degree was a cake (and I wish it was), then I'd be seriously close to full up by now.

The first slice, sorry, year, was a weird one for me. Probably the most uncharacteristic year of my life, the early months were funded by a massive mood courtesy of a crap break-up. I got vaguely involved in university life, mostly in the form of frequenting York's nightlife (let us never mention Pub Golf 2011), and learning the perils of leaving food unlabelled in a fridge shared between seventeen people. I had a lot of fun, and learnt a thing or two about linguistics, which was useful.

My "Mandarin" essay/impression
Disappointed with how much of a mardarse I'd been in the first term, and how unproductive I'd been (short of stealing straws in anger at high drinks prices and the occasional kitchen cleaning rage), I swore I'd throw myself into second year. So I enrolled in two evening language classes, got a job waitressing, started this blog, got an editorial role with The Yorker, promised myself I'd finally get travelling, spend less time pining for home, and swore off boys.

My plan was successful. Though I bombed one of the language classes (fuck you, Mandarin), and dropped a full plate of linguini on a customer (didn't get fired, woo!), otherwise I did pretty well. I was a lot happier overall, saw some wonderful places and made some cracking memories.

So if I've been improving year on year at this university lark, by my calculations, this one should be my best. So what am I expecting from third (& final) year?

Well. If the third-years in the library are anything to go by; I'll be sat with a pen glued to my hand, pale because the enormous piles of books surrounding me are blocking out sunlight, and angrily scowling at anyone that even thinks of making any audible sound. I'll be jealously stalking all my fresher/second-year friends online. I'll be wishing I had a hangover, because that would mean I'd gone out and had fun the night before, rather than trying to recreate a social life by trying to befriend the takeaway delivery guy in between essays. "I remember hangovers." I'll say. "Hangovers used to be so great."

I can smell the panic already. But rather than stirring myself into a tizz just yet, I'm going make myself another little promise. If all the essays get too much, and if a First appears just as likely as gaining a guest appearance on Coronation Street, I'm going to take a step back. If that's an early night, a spooning session with my best friend, or a Friday night lost to word-count-woe fuelled tequila shots, then so be it. My degree is important to me, but so is my sanity, and I'm not going to give either up for the others sake.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

These city streets (The Yorker archives)

So, welcome to your new city. We know trying to discover all the best offerings of a new place can be a bit of a pain, so the Lifestyle team have been real generous and are giving you a helping hand in your path to unearthing York’s most interesting spots.

York is FULL of gates. No, not kissing ones. It’s a fancy way of saying street, basically, and it can be quite difficult knowing your Coppergates from your Colliergates. We've handpicked the most interesting ones you need to know about!

It may sound like something from a Lewis Carroll poem, but it’s not in Wonderland, it’s just off Parliament Square. Home to York’s main market, pick up fresh flowers, fix your phone, and browse local artists’ work.

Swinegate has an unusual history; originally a lane where pigs were kept, it later developed a slightly seedier nature when it became home to brothels and prostitutes- then known as “Swingate”, with neighbouring Grape Lane being known as “Grope” lane (charming). Now home to more respectable joints, you’ll find student musts Vudu Lounge and 1331 here.

Here you’ll find York’s largest and most ambitious excavation site. DIG is literally unearthing York’s astonishingly long history, and although the guided tours have stopped there’s still plenty to be marvelled at over at the exhibition that’ll be hanging around all year.

Short street, long name. The plaque that lives on this street tells us it means “”What a street!” and is probably the only street name to be considered this quirky & adorable anywhere. The “Whip” element comes from the days of public humiliation as punishment- stocks were erected here so petty criminals could receive a good old fashioned flogging.

No guide to York’s best streets would be complete without heralding the famous Shambles. This cobbled lane has pretty much the coolest namedropping potential out of all York’s streets, having been mentioned in the Doomsday Book in 1086. Usually full of tourists- because it’s plain gorgeous, make sure you check out the incredible chocolatiers, and head down for a romantic stroll at night.


Originally published in Y Magazine, Issue 1 (view here), 29th Sept '12

Monday, 24 September 2012

Waiting for civilisation

I am broke. Monumentally, breathtakingly broke. Largely due to a bit of a book splurge, but mostly due to those holiday things I went on, that I've definitely not already told you all about. To reassure Natwest that I'm not going to do a runner with their ill-advised and very generous overdraft, I've returned to York and waitressing early in order to top up my despondent balance.

Because my university has ridiculous term times, and all my new housemates have better things to be doing (like exploring Spain and climbing mountains...), I've been living on my own. Though I don't particularly feel responsible enough to maintain a house by myself for any period of time longer than it would take to use up all the clean dishcloths, I've faced the challenge pretty well.

For instance; The broadband in our house was duff, so, like a GROWN UP, I spent an hour on the phone to a lovely and well-meaning, but impossibly accented woman. Whilst wedged between a piano and the wall, trying to unscrew what I believed to be the main phone socket with a butter knife as a screwdriver and my phone as a torch, the Sky lady and I agreed that it'd probably be best if a professional engineer was sent out. Technically, it was the engineer who solved the problem, but I definitely feel my efforts played a role in the whole charade. That now sits proudly on my CV, right next to "Knows all words to Robbie Williams back-catalogue".

Naturally, as it's me, and not some actual domestic goddess, there have been a fair share of mishaps. Perhaps the most horribly stupid is when I angrily phoned my landlady demanding to know why the washing machine wasn't working, and where I was supposed to plug the bloody thing in considering it was in the shed. She turned up the next day, and rather than heading out to the shed, simply opened the cupboard door beneath the sink- where a fully working washing machine was dutifully waiting- and pressed the "on" button.

Aside from embarrassing myself, I've been trying to avoid soul-munching boredom by training as a housewife, should a career as a professional Linguistics graduate not work out. At first, this mostly compromised of carefully arranging my room into an obstacle course for me to navigate before work each morning. Then I went a bit crazy.

Not exactly Food Blog fodder, is it?
Feeling guilty for spending so much of my wage on flapjacks, and not on giving Natwest their money back, I decided to make my eating habit cheaper by making my own. Spurred on by this sudden and uncontrollable enthusiasm for baking, I made a (really shit) loaf of bread, and an apple pie that I didn't want to eat (don't like apple pie, duh) and ended up donating the lot to some local starving students. I spent the next day cleaning flour out of my hair and butter off the floor. 

I've mastered dragging out simple tasks this summer. I can make a book last and I can make showering and drying my hair last an entire afternoon if I know I have nothing else to do. But there are only so many nights of no TV, books I've already read thrice, no internet access, and no noticeable social life, one can endure before they start to lose their shit. I've been replying to radio presenters' rhetorical questions, just to hear my own voice.

Thankfully, my housemates are slowly starting to move in. It does mean I'll have stop showering with the door unlocked (so I can hear the radio downstairs!) and I'll have to stop wearing the green paisley trousers so much. Those are sacrifices I'm happy to make in return for real interaction that doesn't involve asking customers how they'd like their steaks cooked.


I have exciting news. I've been shortlisted for the Best Young Blogger at the Blog North Awards! (I KNOW, me neither). If you could take a few seconds to follow this link and vote for Every Second Song, I'd probably never stop being excited.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Boobs that are news, and boobs that aren't

There's been a little bit of a frenzy regarding boobs lately. Though I must admit I'm no expert, even in my role as boob-layperson I've been noticing a lot more attention on them in the last few weeks.

First of all, there's Royal boobs. Everyone's in a tizz about Kate Middleton's pair being on show. Personally, I'm a lot less interested in seeing them than the French and Italians (and Swedish and Irish, apparently) are.What has caught my attention is how the fuss that's surrounding Kate's chest doesn't even remotely compare to the fuss that kicked off not long ago about Prince Harry's-ahem- crown jewels being made a public pastime.

Really, what happened to Harry is worse, on paper at least. He genuinely was in private- a hotel room- and the picture really is of his privates. Yet Kate, in reach of a public road, had only her breasts on show. Yet it's her, not his, highness that is suing all relevant newspapers. And it's her, not him, that we're all feeling outraged for.

Perhaps it's because everyone's kind of come to expect it from Harry- the Royal family's answer to banter. Perhaps it because Kate was more hurt by the -cough- revelation. I sympathise with the pair of them equally- if not with Harry a little more. Imagine having to explain to your gran why your balls are on the front page of The Sun. That said, I'd be mortified if midway through a bikini change someone snapped a picture and whacked it onto Facebook- nevermind onto the front pages of French mags. No one wins, really.

Whatever the actions of either party are irrelevant. My point is, everyone is more upset for Kate than they were for Harry. Apparently, boobs are worse than balls.

Which leads me nicely onto this campaign.

No More Page Three is growing in popularity. With over 23,000 signatures on the petition and a crapload of Facebook/Twitter attention, it could very well be the beginning of the end of bare chests emblazoning the front pages. Sit up, The Star, take note Daily Sport. This time, we mean business.

In fact, people are getting quite angry about boobs all of a sudden. A tiny part of the feminist inside of me is a little defensive- hey guys, women's bodies aren't offensive, let's not get upset over them being proudly displayed- but the rest of the feminist inside is pretty excited.

Page Three's are normalising the objectification of women, and for a profit. While Ria, 21 from Essex, might have a lovely figure and a dazzling smile, I'm willing to bet she's also got an interesting opinion or two. She might even helpfully contribute to society in some way. But that's irrelevant, because she's attractive enough to make men hand over thirty pence.

It's a little pathetic really. All this outrage about publishing pictures of Kate Middleton topless, and a general acceptance of others having their tits splashed over the daily rags. I'm aware that there's a lot more to it that this- consent and privacy and the money being made out of it for starters- but we are all getting a little excited over nothing.

Think about it. If almost every woman has your standard two breasts, and the population of the world is split roughly into 50% for each gender (give or take the exceptions), then we're basically on more boobs than there are men in the world. We should all be used to them by now. It's not news that they exist, and if it is, then it's old news. And it certainly doesn't deserve a reservation on the third page of newspapers round the world, globally.

I think if we can all agree that 1) boobs aren't there as entertainment, 2) that they don't warrant daily publishing internationally on NEWSpapers, 3) that there'd still be plenty of things to talk about if we weren't talking about tits, then we'd all be a lot calmer. The Sun could find other, less offensive things to publish on p3. and Kate Middleton could get on with smiling and waving and having fabulous dress sense.

And for the people whose existences are going to be at a loss without a daily tit-fix, there's such a thing as porn. It's a little higher up the shelves at the newsagents, but I'm sure you can manage the reach.

You can sign the petition by clicking here.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Was my summer worth it?

I'm not sure if I've mentioned it, but I've had a pretty eventful summer. 

I've jumped into ice cold lakes, been to a rave, cleaned and emptied an entire house, been kicked out of a hotel, scaled rockfaces and bookshelves, defrosted my first freezer, been a translator, gotten lost, made unlikely friends, eaten a steak at 10pm covered in mud, moved house again, read approximately one thousand books, written approximately ten thousand articles and blogs, dived into the Med, almost been kidnapped a couple of times, stargazed listening to Czech folk music, slept in tents and cars and mansions and left my teenage years behind me. And that's just some of the stuff I was sober enough to remember.

With all this excitement to try and draw some kind of life experience from, I don't really know where to start. It's been a haphazard whirlwind of rushing trains, buses and flights. Countless bags packed and unpacked, outfits changed and taxis home; always on the way to somewhere else. I've not really had time to take stock of it all- and now I'm about to hurtle myself into a whole host of work- of Yorker, degree and part time varieties.

So have I learnt anything? I'm not sure. I definitely feel more grow-ed up, though I'm a far cry from a proper adult just yet. I now know not to get onto a boat with creepy men, not to snigger at people sincerely singing into the middle distance, not to take pyjamas to a rave. I can more or less bake bread, I've memorised the rules of Fuck the Dealer, and have endured the pain of a triple figure phone bill.

I'd been joking that my mini gap-yah was a soul searching mission, that I was going off to find myself in a bookshop, south of France. I wasn't genuinely expecting an epiphany while sunbathing in a hammock, but I think I secretly was hoping to find something out about myself. I blame reading Eat, Pray, Love. Truth is, I'm not sure I did. No- I'm not struggling with an existential crisis, I just don't think these three months have been a life-changing event for me. Not overtly, anyway.

That's not to say I haven't really, thoroughly enjoyed myself. I'd do the whole "memories that'll last a lifetime" spiel, but it's a bit cheesy and tired so I'll just take it for granted that you'll all agree I've had a great time. Saves on me using up a load of clichés and gushing about how fabulous my life has been. You'd only get jealous.

Looking back, there is one change I'd make. I was certain at the beginning of summer that I'd do just fine on my own; and while Regina, Alex, Jerry & Kevin will always house a lovely little alcove in my heart; I don't think I'd do it alone again. For one thing, there's no one to take picture of me when I'm gallivanting around, but more importantly; it would have been cool to have always had someone with me, experiencing the same things at the same time- and who isn't going to get sick of me constantly retelling anecdotes.

I've especially loved having Anna with me in my last week in France- someone who's cool and funny and interesting- there to take the piss out of my accent and to have "you had to be there" moments with. I'll forever refer to distant places as "Ain't no man collecting your bins", and tell people that they've got the wrong end of the leek.

One of the best things about my summer has been all the reunions I've been having. Stressed Mecca Bingo experiences with the BFF, fancy meals in London, nights out with the boys and walks round Sainsbury's with my mum. Those are the little moments that have really stitched all the antics of my summer up together- and I don't care how disgustingly cheesy that sounds. I love coming home just as much as I love getting my one way ticket out again.

Though I've come out a little battered, I've come out in one piece. In related news, my mum is now giving away all the kittens she had while I was off making a fuss somewhere to any good home. Back to normality; to work and studying and facing up to graduation (gulp). It's time for the tan to fade(!)

Sunday, 9 September 2012

My first rave; a review.

I'm not really the kind of person you'd expect to hear has gone to a rave. I don't usually make it past the third pub when on a crawl, and the only house or trance music I listen to is whatever Sam Dumigan has downloaded in his infinite music wisdom onto my laptop without telling me.

So when my workaway host told me we were heading out to a "Free Party" yesterday- I had no idea what to expect. First of all, I needed an explanation as to what a "free party" meant. (jsyk, turns out it says it on the tin.). I couldn't decide what to wear; having forgotten my UV face paint, I was at a bit of a loss. Then I didn't know what to bring.

I'm almost certainly the only person at the rave who packed a book (for the journey!), a 12-pack of jam tarts and a pair of pyjamas. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.

Getting to the rave was a long and confusing process. As they're not strictly speaking entirely 100% legal (not even a little bit); the address wasn't exactly exhibited on a banner being flown around Acquitaine for all to see. Instead, we were told to drive to a town, then call a number, then drive to another town. Repeat this a few times, often driving back to the place you've just been sent from. The process wasn't in the slightest bit frustrating, which surprised us, because you'd expect that this would have us tearing our hair out in clumps. Then, eventually, find a man standing at the corner of a road who tells you to drive down the centre of a field, and voila.

The woods were being set up for the nights events when we arrived- speakers being plugged into trees, the STD info stand lining up their information leaflets, artwork being strategically draped from more trees. It was all very interesting to watch, so Anna and I parked ourself on a sawn log and chatted as we watched the night unfold.

We were clearly too early at 8pm. By eleven, people had only just started to arrive, though the music had been thundering on since we'd got there. This didn't faze us, though, having settled quite cosily onto our log and well on our way through a five litre box of red wine.

Very much enjoying our terrible wine and hilarious conversations, neither of us had noticed that the rave had started to pick up. The music was a thumping bass mixed up with other noises- and I can't really think of a more complimentary way of describing it accurately so I think I'll leave it at that.

Not that my opinion affected the rest of the rave-goers enjoyment of the music. They were having a cracking time- so much so that they were in a weird zombie like state, worshipping the piled up speakers by vaguely shaking themselves around whilst stood directly facing them, like an inanimate dance partner. Most of their eyes were glazed over, lending the name "Trance" to the genre with a beautiful accuracy. Perhaps I'd missed something about the musics enchanting ability, or perhaps it was something to do with all the drugs these people were evidently on. Either way.

Not wanting to miss out, I had a bash at copying the favoured dance moves, though it was more like a half-hearted solo mosh pit, jutting around within a small space, so gave that up pretty quickly. There was one guy who chose instead to impersonate swimming all night. It's quite likely he was on drugs, come to think of it.

After several hours of staring at speakers barking out deep bass at us, surrounded by dreadlocked headbanging and brazen drug deals, getting chatting to some Italian racists, and spilling enitre bottles of beer down ourselves, myself and Anna trunched up to the car to fix ourselves a cheese sandwich and to listen to some Michael Jackson on the radio.

True to form, I fell asleep at around 3am, tucked into a sleeping bag in the back of the car. The amalgamated bass'of the two separate dancefloors didn't wake me, the hundreds of veteran-rave goers balancing beer bottles on the bonnet while they rolled joints didn't wake me, and the general din crowds of people having-it-large didn't wake me.

When I did get up- a solid eight hours sleep under my belt- the party hadn't stopped. Wandering around, the crowds had thinned out but were still partying hard. There was a fine mist of drug and dance sweats hovering, and the open air loo system meant you had to watch where you were going in case you accidentally trod in a poo that you couldn't tell whether its origin had been from a dog or an actual human.

I think the regulars were as surprised as I was to find myself there. Clearly, I wasn't the usual clientèle for an illegal rave in the forest. Apparently it's unusual to change into a pair of cosy pyjamas before bed. Apparently it's unusual to go to bed at all. In any case, I can't say I'm decided on the rave. I had an incredible time, largely due to the wonderful entertainment Anna Finn provided, but I don't think it's my scene. Whatever, I probably won't be invited to another, so it doesn't matter at all really.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

I've learnt a few things about myself in France...

Travelling, it has been suggested, is one of the best ways to learn life lessons. You know, soul searching, horizon broadening, that kind of thing. And I for one agree. There are a number of things I didn't know I was shit at, but now, thanks to my trip in France, I'm now enlightened to.

This may not shock those of you who have seen my culinary attempts before, but it's been a genuine surprise to me. I am viciously proud of the curries I make- and am a spice snob like you've never known before. But pass me some flour and a whisk, and I deteriorate. A five minute can't-fail bread recipe becomes all out kitchen war, a food fight between me and the mixing bowl. And after all the effort and stressed google searches ("what is hoummus supposed to look like"), the result always tastes like shit. It's so demoralising.


Still, not one to let a little stodgy bread or salty chocolate brownies get in my way, I've made myself a little promise that I'm going to carry on making stuff from scratch. I'm going to stop relying on tins of peaches to get my five a day, and I'm going to make the perfect loaf of bread if it kills me.

Coping with bugs.
I've never been one of those people who squeels at the sight of a creepy crawly. I'd prefer for them not to be in my cocktail, or in my bed, but as long as they keep themselves to themselves, I can carry on with my life. If you don't look at me, I won't look at you. It's worked for me all my life- and I even have the magic ability to not implode whenever a wasp dawdles by unlike basically everyone else I know.

But that's changed. You try sharing a tent with the entire fucking cast of A Bug's Life.When I'm trying to relax on a hammock with a good book and Beedrill, of Pokemon fame, tries to pick an unprovoked fight with me, then as far as I'm concerned, our laissez-faire deal is off. Next time a demon hybrid of Eight-Legged Freaks and the devil incarnate creeps up on me, I'm going to scream until someone bigger and braver than me disposes of it.

Speaking French
Despite my 80% attendance at my evening classes last year, it turns out I'm not fluent in French. Waste of money, I know. I do give it a good try, and spend a lot of my time at parties translating the conversations around me for Anna, the other workawayer staying with us who has an even tinier grasp of the language than me.

It's cool though- I have one useful phrase nailed. If in doubt, I go "je peut comprende un peu, mais je ne parle pas". And for those of you who can't be arsed to translate, it means "I can understand a little, but I can't speak it". And for the rest of you who are aware how appallingly bad that attempt is- don't jump to your trolling stations just yet- ITS SUPPOSED TO BE BAD FRENCH. That way, I'm promptly exempt from having to struggle to understand what's going on. Genius, really.

Being cool 
Okay, this one isn't really new. There have been some hints over the past twenty years that have indicated I'm not blisteringly cutting edge. I have a blog, for starters. I get withdrawal symptoms from Coronation Street, and form really strong attachments to authors (if you're reading this, Bill Bryson/Simon Armitage, I love you). I'm not sure the press needs to be informed of this revelation.

But the extent of how uncool I am has certainly come to light. While I'm at a gangette (French riverside parties- very similar to Fishing For Bishops vibes, but with free onion soup at the end), and everyone else is passing around beer and joints, I'm taking a quick nap in the back of the car. I had to hold back the surge of emotion upon finding a birthday message in a handwritten prayer book. I only just managed to contain my excitement on finding a pressed flower in a French art book from the 1930s.

Long and short of it; if you are asked on a scale of one to ten how uncool Farrah Kelly is, you should politely ask the enquirer for a larger scale.

There have been some other life lessons, for good measure. It's not all been about how sub-par I am. I'm not as bad you'd rightly expect at rockclimbing. I can find a books' ISBN number in less than ten seconds. I can climb to the top of a pile of crates with a torch in my mouth, a book on palmreading in one hand and a long checklist in the the other, and still manage to come back down with the right edition of Keats. You know, real life skills. The important stuff.