The festival feeling

The King and I are in Hyde Park. It’s mid June so naturally it’s raining.

We are drinking cheap wine out of plastic cups. We’ve smuggled it in right under securities noses – a feat we are remarkably proud of.

We are both wearing hooded waterproofs and are thus looking suitably uncool.

Blur are about to play. There is an ice-cream van on stage reminiscent of that in the Parklife video, The King tells me.

Anticipation lingers in the air. A few eager members of the crowd are already in a state of ecstasy fuelled elation. Others are more disoriented. Everybody – drunk, drug addled or otherwise is essentially happy.

British Summer Time at Hyde Park is the most middle class festival I’ve had the pleasure of attending (trying to make myself sound like a seasoned festival-goer when in truth I have been to approximately 3 in my lifetime.)

Nevertheless, never in my life have I met such polite festival-goers. Where usually, when I run off for a wee (as sods law always states I must, just before a band are about to play) I must push my way through the swathes of people as they curse me and pour warm beer/piss? over my head, at Hyde it goes more along the lines of ‘no please, after you‘ and just as the Red Sea did for Moses, the crowd graciously parts for me.

In an overly optimistic act of generosity Damon Albarn attempts to distribute Mr Whippys to the front row, who are pushed up against the fence like wild eyed animals trying to escape. “Well that was a bloody disaster” he says, as he makes his way back up to the stage.

I love festivals. I love that even when things go wrong they still somehow work. I love the way in which we all come together in appreciation, rather than animosity. I love that when the wind blows it’s still warm. I love having a legitimate reason to jump up and down and throw my arms around in a manner which, in any other situation, would see me promptly carted to a secure unit. I love the eccentric fashions commonly sported by transexuals which office workers are suddenly prepared to don for one day only. I love that nobody really cares that it’s raining. I love any situation where the more bizarre one’s behaviour the better. I love the music, even if I don’t really love it that much. I love buying big portions of carbs in takeaway containers and eating them with as little decorum and decency as possible.

Most of all I love seeing everybody else so in love. Everywhere I turn there are people in love. Couples kissing. Friends embracing. Strangers singing to one another. It would be sickening were I not one of them.

I’ve seen Blur once before. 2009, Glastonbury. I was sixteen and a jewel eyed idealist. Stood at the top of the hill overlooking the masses that stretched out in front of the Pyramid stage.

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That same year, I started college at Taunton’s finest educational establishment – Richard Huish. In his opening spiel about the values and virtues we must uphold whilst undertaking our education, my geography teacher Nick told us all that we ought to act as if we were at Glastonbury all the time. 

Fantastic, I thought. I’m being actively encouraged to wear sparkly hotpants, a little denim waistcoat and a trilby hat. I LOVE COLLEGE!

I’m not really sure that’s what he meant though.

When we’re at festivals, our capacity for love is somehow increased, we become more tolerant, a little more adventurous, perhaps even a little braver (if you’ve ever dared enter a portaloo at Glastonbury you’ll know what I’m talking about). We become nicer, more liberal people with ideals about art and music. We become more interesting, more exciting versions of ourselves and, as a general rule, we become more interested and excited about other people. At festivals we are galvanised in sheer appreciation. We are filled with a sort of uninhibited optimism, a feeling that all the love and vibrancy and music in the world might just overpower all those other terrible things.

Damon et al told us that night that love is the greatest thing that we have. As I stood there swaying and singing, I completely agreed. I think we all did.

Then we return to our monotonous routines. Monday morning moods and midweek slumps.

We can’t spend everyday frolicking around in fields donning tie-dye and pretending to be hippies.

But what if we could take that festival feeling and apply it to ordinary existence?

That passionate, yet peaceful solidarity. Full of love and appreciation, jubilation and anticipation.

As I sway to Blur and the sun goes down, I think it really really really could happen.

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The art of being alone

Being alone and being lonely aren’t the same thing.

A person can happily spend a day entirely by himself and feel completely fulfilled, inhabited and happy. On another day he could be standing among swathes of people and feel completely, hopelessly isolated.

My nearest and dearest are all much more together than I am and have their lives in such an order which requires them to get up before 10am on a Monday. I do not.

I have three weeks before I start my new job. So, from the hours of 9-6 Monday – Friday I am alone. I am entirely free to do what I want. Empty days stretch out in front of me, waiting to be filled with funny anecdotes and urban adventures.

In a bid to be productive I too rise with the workers and leave the house on Monday morning, imagining, somewhat optimistically that I have somewhere to go.

On this particular Monday I was rather looking forward to spending the day alone. With my nose in a book, sunning myself in one of London’s green spaces. Naturally, because I’ve made these plans, it’s raining.

Instead I’m sitting downstairs on an overly air-conditioned Starbucks, sipping my second venti soy chai latte of the day – the most pretentious sounding drink I could possibly order – and tapping away at my keyboard. I am such a cliche.

I am alone.

But crucially, I’m not lonely.

A 2014 survey found Britain to be Europe’s loneliest country. Loneliness is catching, it is a side effect of unemployment and a lack of self belief.

I fear it. I dread that desperation and hopelessness that creeps up behind your eyeballs and fills them with water.

It can creep up in the most obscure and unexpected places – at a dinner party or whilst watching a band play. It can absent itself from places where you’d expect it to be – alone in a cafe or on a 5 hour train journey.

Because, in truth, loneliness isn’t about being alone at all.

Although aloneness can certainly act as a catalyst to loneliness.

Loneliness lurks in the imagination, no matter the situation.

When a person is fundamentally lonely, the loneliness still lurks, even when surrounded by people. Because inevitably the company will leave and he will be alone again.

I am notoriously known for being lost.

Dazed and confused, staring up at the sky, overwhelmed, exasperated and utterly in awe of everything.

Being lost, in life as well as in actuality, is an incredibly lonely feat. I long for somebody to find me. I am desperate to depend on somebody, but often there is nobody there.

I realise this sounds incredibly pathetic and sad, but bare with me because it gets better.

The moral of this story folks, is that I always eventually find myself. And once I do I realise I am capable of more than I had realised.

Being alone is an opportunity to build a more genuine independence.

The art of being alone without being lonely, as I have taught myself, is the art of self-reliance. Aloneness requires resourcefulness, creativity and a pinch of this –

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In the unlikely event that you, dear reader, whoever you may be, have already read the post I wrote during my hedonistic teenage years about the virtues of being single at university, you might remember this rather lovely thing Bob Dylan said of his then wife:

That the thing he’d

always loved about her was that she never thought that anybody else was the answer to her happiness, she always had her own built in happiness.

That to me is the art of aloneness. And one which is deceivingly difficult to master. Days alone pose the best opportunity to build yourself into the person you want to be: To take charge over your own happiness. I firmly believe they should be spent searching within yourself for whatever it is you feel you’re lacking, rather than absent-mindedly waiting for somebody else to save you.

Human beings are innately social creatures. We crave contact. I love my people. My tribe. I am always embarrassingly excited each time I see them. I miss them when they’re not there. And I can’t deny that it is, as a general rule, always better when we’re together.

But, in my experience, dependence on external sources for happiness or help only accommodates loneliness – because when those sources of happiness leave so does your own.

The secret, I think to never being lonely, and even to lasting love and friendship, is to create your own happiness. Invest in it. Fill up on it. If you can learn to love being alone, you’ll have so much more to offer when you’re not.

A love letter to Lena Dunham

Dear Lena,

We’ve never met, but I’ve seen you from a far. Actually, I’ve seen you pretty up close.

I’ve been inside your college bedroom, I was at camp with you, I was there when your internet boyfriend died and that time you were almost a lesbian, then vomited. I’ve seen your naked body.

You have been totally open with me. Your manner of matter-of-factly displaying yourself – both on screen and in text is nothing short of inspirational. Your willingness to lay bare (often literally) your most humiliating tendencies and most unattractive character flaws is incredibly courageous – and will encourage millions of mentally maladjusted Girls to be courageous alongside you.

Crucially, you make clear that the assortment of mishaps, humiliating experiences and deeply disturbing philosophical thoughts which comprise your past and your present do not define your future. Of your old self, you say –

I can simply watch her with sympathy, understanding and some measure of awe. There she goes, backpack on, headed for the subway or the airport.

You have shared the unsharable. Your hyper-self-awareness and your quippy wit – have turned something at a glance narcissistic, into a sensation affecting and inspiring millions of Girls.

obvi

A love letter seems like the only appropriate way to express my feelings of sheer jubilation each time I read something you’ve written or see you on the television.

Your work is so accessible – because it’s rooted in such truth.

And the truth is that we’re all a little narcissistic, unsure of ourselves and then too sure of ourselves. We’ve all fallen flat on our faces in front of the boy we love. We’re all compulsive and have weird sexual fears and regrets. We all have neurosis about our bodies and have said stupid things to our friends. We’ve all send emails we strongly regret and we are all afraid of our inevitable demise. The thing that makes you so exceptional is your willingness to talk about this stuff, so candidly and so poignantly.

You have created a dialogue about rape and how to define it, about falling in love and about obsessively listing the calorific content of food. Nothing is too trivial or too pertinent to be given your attention. We’re all in this together.

I guess I just want to say thanks. Thanks for being here Lena. In this world. On my screen. Under my pillow. I know I speak for all of us when I say, I’m really glad you’re here.

Love,

Sarah

The way words change the world

The King and I walk to work together. I use the word work very loosely here… While he, a surveyor and aspiring property tycoon is very much employed – complete with salary, work mobile and 25 days holiday a year, I – an aspiring writer am still very much resigned to the ranks of intern.

It is a glorious blue summer’s day. But before they can reach us, the sun’s rays are obstructed by the sturdy structures of Wigmore Street. We hop between ray pools, basking briefly in the warmth before being plunged into the cold created by shadows. We admire the structures stretching above us. Our feet scuffle on the tarmac.

We consider the craftsmanship and creativity, the ingenuity and the determination, the sheer intelligence and the engineering which catalysed the creation of each building, the design of each street.

We do this a lot. Both in awe of the infrastructure left behind by previous generations and the ways in which ours might improve it. Both considering ways in which we might contribute toward the next generation. He sure of himself, I a little less certain – but both eager that our professions should in someway shape a greater future.

He, a surveyor, is mightily proud of this tradition. “This is what we do – we build things, create things, improve things. We cater to an urgent need.” He gloats – quite rightly. “What do journalists do? Besides create their own news?”

He jests. But he has a point, no?

His line of work serves a very obvious purpose – it stretches up in front of us and looms over us. His colleagues, like him are all level headed, all actually paid for their time. All clocking in before 9am. There is a visible and urgent hankering for development in his field – his job, he makes it known, is vital. The mark they make is far more obvious than my sorry scrawling – buildings enshroud everything else. Don’t they?

My goal in life is to spend each day remixing the dictionary. To move words in to different orders to convey certain messages or meanings. My peers, for the most part, are all slightly dishevelled, most slightly unsure. The literary community are nice, but not essential – is the general consensus, I think.

But still, we continue our futile attempts to ply our trade – and maybe, just maybe gain some sort of recognition in the form of monetary compensation. No dice.

Why? Because we do aspire to build things, to create things, to meet the needs of the people. Through writing we aspire to better the world – we aspire to reveal wrongdoing, to promote right-doing, to question societal norms and to promote intellectual thought.

Just as Robin Williams so poignantly pointed out in Dead Poet’s Society

“Medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”

Great writers have changed the world. They have made it a more marvellous place. Their simple observations when written down have catalysed the most poignant positive change I can comprehend. Words are what engage us – words foster an exchange of ideas – without which great change may never have occurred. Great ideas transcend borders. “No matter what anybody tells you,” said Williams in Dead Poets, “Words and ideas can change the world.”

Well written words don’t stretch out above us it’s true, but if buildings create the shadows that block out the sun, it’s art that fills up the ray pools between – and basking in that light and warmth is one of life’s great pleasures.

Running… It’s not an addiction, it’s a daily grind. So why do we do it with such hearty vigour?

People who say they’re addicted to running are lying bastards.

As a general rule, when addicted, one tries to resist with every ounce of strength the thing to which one is addicted, (for instance saying ‘one’ when referring to oneself – very annoying) – then will eventually succumb to its sirens call, binge in a most undignified manner, and proceed to feel incredibly guilty and disgusted afterwards at the act they have just undertaken.

We all have such vices – red wine/coconut macaroons/banana milkshake

(Or D. all of the above)

Alcoholic Carrie

Addicts are condemned by the disdainful eyes of society as inebriates, quitters, slackers. Runners on the other hand are largely admired for such dedication to their so called addiction. (However if you were to see me running the likelihood is I’d be shunned and avoided as opposed to admired, the reasons for which I’ll explain shortly)

This is not addiction as I’ve ever seen it – balled up in the corner of the sofa up to my armpits in Ben and Jerrys, watching Bridget Jones for the 1236836th time, crying and wondering where it all went wrong. 

Running, I think, is the exact opposite of an addiction – it’s something which I force myself to do, kicking and screaming, with every ounce of my being – never something I succumb to after to many chardonnays on a slow Thursday. It is a struggle, often agonising. And afterwards, there is no guilt, as there would be with commonly diagnosed addiction – there is a vast sense of relief – followed by this unprecedented feeling of rapture and elation.

My trainers are worn, their souls flattened from the immense weight I bear on my shoulders no doubt. My feet pound the hard tarmac and my joints ache as they grind together. I have blisters on my soles and am producing unfathomable amounts of mucus. I am red faced and my hair, slicked back on top of my head is scarily reminiscent of David Beckham circa 2003.

beckham bun

I’ve swallowed approximately seven flies and spat out many more. The conniving little gnats have the most insolent habit of getting stuck right behind your tonsils so that you have to sort of dry heave/cough them back up in a pool of your own phlegm.

… As I said earlier – I’m more likely to be shunned and avoided than applauded.

Yet I keep on running. Keep slogging onwards, upwards. Spitting out insects with reckless abandon along the way. I’m moving at a glacial pace no doubt, but I’m going somewhere, I’m not giving in.

Running represents progress. It’s a constant among chaos. While the rest of my life might be going to absolute pot, I can leave for an hour and undergo this form of moving meditation.

Every time I hit the hills I can go a little faster, my posture is a little better.

Running requires no expensive equipment. – While I may be in dire straights financially, I need not be physically. There is no set time, no six o clock on the dot – no scary ex marine yelling obscenities at me because I’m 34 seconds late. There are no time limits. It’s free, in every sense of the word. It’s no strings attached exercise.

And when you feel stuck within any given situation it really is one of the most freeing things you can do.

It’s no secret that I can be slightly mentally unstable at times. Running provides clarity. Your feet start working overtime so that your mind doesn’t have to.

And like all girls exposed to Kate Moss et al, pasted amorously all over the city to scorn us every time we succumb to our McFlurry addiction, I am, shall we say, bikini body conscious. Being a little more honed and toned is of course a welcome side effect – but it’s not the aim of the game.

Running is sort of like life really – you’ve just tackled this huge hill, anticipating an incredibly rewarding smooth slope for all of your efforts, but wait, oh no, you’ve just reached a corner… The ascent continues up, up, up. It hurts and you want to stop.

But if you can pace yourself, push yourself, with the sun beating down on your back and keep running up that hill, suddenly you realise you might be able to do so in life.

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Force Majeaure  

A well to do Danish family go skiing. The businessman husband is there to spend quality time with his family – as informed by his wife.

On day one, as the family dine at a mountain top restaurant, disaster (almost) strikes – and the dynamic is utterly derailed. A controlled avalanche is set off, and the four watch with marvel as it cascades down the mountainside.

They point in awe and take photographs on their iphones. This tidal wave of white tumbles down the mountainside toward the restaurant, gathering unprecedented and impressive speed.

The family begin to panic. The mother shields her children, they desperately look toward their father for direction. It’s fine, it’s controlled – he tells them.

But the avalanche’s rumble bellows louder as it tumbles further down the mountain, toward the family, picking up more speed and more snow as it spills down the slope.

The father, in a moment of sheer panic grabs his I phone and his gloves and bolts abandoning his family to the avalanche.

It’s all white. The haze clears and the mother and her children emerge, unscathed. The food is still on the table.

The Father returns to the table, laughing. They are alright. But all is not right.

What ensues is a darkly witty drama and an exploration of the dynamics of family life after harsh reality is revealed. Force Majeaure blends exquisite cinematography with awkward conversation, to create some darkly funny scenes.

The characters are impeccable – controlled to the brink of sheer awkwardness – afraid of expression. In this upper middle class nightmare – nothing is overstated. Like the avalanche itself, chaos unfurls in a controlled manner.

Force Majeaure reveals the paradox of being both a member of the materialistic middle class and an alpha male. In a place where nature itself is ordered and structured – the creases ironed out, the people who stay there lack a sense of true humanity – interactions seem false – never exaggerated – always held back.

Tomas’s fatal error reveals the intrinsic basic instincts this family thought that they had evolved past. His fatal flaw gradually pulls away at the smooth aesthetic of the film to reveal real human fragility.

Mad Max

It’s five o’clock on Friday afternoon. I’m somewhat looking forward to a bottle of wine and some bad dancing.

Then The King calls and informs me he’s got tickets to see Mad Max.

Until now, I’ve done well to largely avoid this movie. So well that I could tell you nothing about it besides the fact that Charlize Theron stars as a head shaven feminist, there’s a lot of engine roaring and it happens in a desert. That’s all I need to know. I think I’ll sit this one out.

I tell a colleague I’m going to watch a movie, to which he responds “wow, I’ve never really known anybody to go to the cinema on a Friday night.”

It’s official, I’m a loser.

I make it quite clear that I am displeased with The King’s decision. As a compromise we buy a bottle of cheap rose and some plastic cups to sneak into the cinema.

I would just like to reiterate the above point. (Loser.)

We are half an hour late. So, in fact, right on time. Accompanied by a bag of M&Ms and low expectations we make our way to the screen.

As we take our pews a saggy gnarled creature is getting dressed for another day of brutal dictatorship in a distopian desert land.

But, now here’s the real twist. I’m hooked.

From the outset the film is a visual spectacle. Never have I disliked something so intently yet been unable to rip my eyes from the screen.

Perhaps the reason I’ve done so well to avoid the plot is the fact that there is no real plot. On the surface the entire movie consists of a car chase – as Charlize et al flee in search of hope in the form of “the green place.”

This is textbook post apocalyptic stuff of course – the futility of life but paradoxical need to pursue it at all costs.

The film is full of paradoxes actually. It’s progressive, despite it’s lack of plot. Intricate, yet completely anarchic. Genuinely disgusting but equally dazzling.

It’s an all consuming spectacle. Bold, brave and a little bit bawdy. An all in catastrophe, so perfectly conceived it comes together like a symphony.

It was even vaguely philosophical – ending with the resounding question;

“Where must we go, we who wander this wasteland, in search of our better selves.”

The answer, I’m sure is inside ourselves. – When the going gets tough, the tough get going. When resources get scarce, get resourceful. I get it.

Thankfully, living in such a vast metropolitan sprawl we need not answer and instead search for the nearest bar.

I leave the film feeling thankful – firstly that it is over, secondly that I don’t live in a dystopian desert land. And when I finally get my hands on it, I really do appreciate that drink.