Scotland: What We Did On Our Holiday

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Ah, Scotland! Land of haggis, neeps and tatties!

I’ve long wanted to venture north and cross the border, fight White Walkers and save my kingdom from the Long Night but alas, that’s quite a different north. Instead, we enjoyed miraculously sunny weather, a lot of walking up hills and minimal swordplay.

Here’s a few of the things we got up to while travelling around Edinburgh, the Trossachs and Glasgow, and that I whole-heartedly encourage you to try. If you dare.

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Something to Tell You

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I haven’t updated this blog in forever but I’m back now and boy do I have something to tell you. (Three copies of it, in case you were wondering.)

If you follow me on any social media, you’ll have some idea of what I’m about to say so I’ll cut to the chase: I saw Haim, I met Haim, I love Haim.

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BBC Radio 1’s Big Weekend Norwich 2015

© BBC

© BBC

Note: This is as much a diary entry for me as a shared account or review for all of you so fair warning if it turns into a stream-of-consciousness post.

From the moment I first heard about this year’s Big Weekend, it all seemed implausibly fortuitous. My best friend texted me to say that when she saw Norwich trending on Twitter that wonderful morning, she had never expected Taylor Swift to be the reason. Not only was this year’s Big Weekend going to be held walking distance from my friend’s house, the headliner was the very person we had been spiralling over since the 1989-era had begun: Taylor fucking Swift, y’all. It also happened to be the weekend immediately after my final university deadline. The perfect celebration.

Taylor Swift in Norwich is truly the most insane, unbelievable thing to happen in Norwich since… well, since last year when The Avengers came to town. (Seeeriously, people, Norwich is the place to be.) For my friends who attended UEA, I can’t imagine how bizarre it must be to go from Captain America strolling around the Sainsbury Centre one year to the world’s biggest popstar rocking up the next. In addition to Taylor, the lineup included a mixture of fresh (Florence and the Machine, Years and Years, Hozier, etc.) and throwback (Snoop Dogg, Fall Out Boy, Muse, etc.). Prior to ticket release day, only Taylor, Florence and a handful of smaller bands were announced. It didn’t matter. They had us at Taylor. We woke up and began frantically tapping refresh, secured tickets for both days and then wondered how we could possibly go back to our mundane lives what with a Taylor Swift show on our horizon. (more…)

Internet Friends

262872_10151055031855698_432420098_nIn the years since my pre-teen fingers hooked the telephone line up to the computer only to hear the garbled static of the dial-up tone, I’ve formed many friendships via the magic of the World Wide Web. It’s like having the ability to pick ‘n’ mix your friends, weeding out the fried eggs from the jelly worms. Instead of situation-enforced friendships with people who you don’t necessarily connect with, you have a whole world of potential friendships that are formed through mutual interests. These friendships don’t occupy a physical space, but a metaphysical one. It is the ideal solution for anyone with introvert tendencies and niche interests. For me, that’s a check and check.

 I came to know my best friend, Hannah, after happening upon some of her creative writing online. It was our own platonic version of love at first sight. A writing crush quickly developed (and has since snowballed), and I shyly reached out to her expressing my respect and admiration for her obvious talent. Having written many different pieces for online publication myself, I know how daunting it can be and how far a kind message can go. That one little email ended up being a life-changer. After exchanging a few messages, we added each other on Skype and kept in contact over instant message, often participating in group chats to live-heckle West Wing episodes together – one of life’s great bonding activities.

 At the time that this all occurred, I was going through a particularly tough time personally. I was deeply depressed at university, facing the reality that after two years of work and a scary amount of money, I hated my course. The idea of accepting that was terrifying, but I knew what I wanted to be doing: I wanted to be writing. When I met Hannah, it felt like the world was giving me a whopping great sign and a best friend to boot.

 We were chatting via Skype instant messenger in the early hours of a Friday morning, still on student sleep schedules, when my finger clumsily hit “call”. It was 3:30am and we had never spoken on the phone before. I assumed her reaction would be to shut the call down and say goodnight. She assumed I was so excited about what we were discussing that I had intentionally called her up to continue. It was 20 minutes before I admitted my mistake as she obliviously extolled the virtues of Donna Moss. At 7am, I heard my brother and parents waking up for their days of school and work respectively but Hannah and I were still going, drifting cyclically between drowsy and hyper.

 We talked about The West Wing, where to find the best cookie recipes, the US election, an obscure miniseries that Bradley Whitford was in once, words for vaginas, our differing accents and a thousand other topics, as though it was all of the utmost importance. And it was. It was urgent that we knew each other inside and out. For me, coming out of the toughest period of depression I’ve ever experienced, it was invigorating. The emotional lethargy that had developed over a number months seemed to lift overnight and every person I knew commented on my immediate shift in mood following that day. I had found the best friend I had always been looking for. That phone call ended at 8pm the following night, lasting a total of 15 hours (ignoring a few connection failures). We slept, we washed, we ate and then we called each other again. The next day, we began bouncing around ideas for my application essay for a new university course. Sometime during our first week of incessant phone calls, I accidentally referred to Hannah as my best friend in what felt like our premature “I love you” moment. Thankfully, she felt the same way.

 Two weeks later, she visited me for the first time – a mere seven-hour journey. The day she arrived, I received notification that my course change had been accepted and I was to start studying English the following September. We celebrated together, my victory sweetened by having shared it with my brand new best friend. Hannah was meant to stay for three days on that trip but it ended up being nine. It would probably have been even longer were it not for her pesky graduation ceremony and the fact that she had to keep buying more underwear.

 Ever since, we’ve spoken a little or a lot (mostly a lot) every single day. We are constantly travelling to see each other, having logged many hours napping on stuffy coaches travelling up and down English motorways. Even without the luxury of time spent together in person, our hours together on Skype ensure that we are, at least metaphorically, inseparable. There will be times where we go long periods on the phone without saying a word, as though casually hanging out in real life. There will also be times when conversations don’t start with a hello, but a “Here’s a thing that happened – tell me your thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams!” Though we live on opposite sides of our small country and are apart most of the time, we aren’t really, aside from those times when Skype refuses to co-operate. The internet giveth and the internet taketh away, I guess. For us, though, it has given most generously.

 When I graduate this year, it will be in no small part thanks to Hannah. From helping me perfect my application, to sending me a “What Would Donna Do” necklace as a ‘first day’ present, to supporting me every step of the way, I owe my best friend an enormous debt of gratitude.

 While meeting friends online is still a taboo, as I know well from the many times people have asked Hannah and I how we met, it has enriched my life immeasurably. It doesn’t matter how you meet people, it only matters who you meet. Having a best friend strengthens every other relationship because you have someone that takes care of the heavy stuff, enabling the best version of you to shine through for everyone else.

 I am my best self thanks to my best friend.

2014: A Year in Review

1920336_10152035606485698_205299555_n2014, for me, was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of year. There weren’t any big life-changers. Time just passed me by and before I knew it, we were on the cusp of a new January. Looking back over the events of the year is a happy reminder that it wasn’t all just a waste of time, so allow me to reflect on the last 12 months…

  1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?

I went on a little holiday without the parents. It only took 22 years. You quickly realise that within a group of friends, everybody quickly adopts the archetypal family roles in a holiday situation. I think I was probably the dad that no one really listens to and often mocks, but who still gets to sit in the front seat of the car. My friends might argue I was the grumpy teenager but don’t listen to them, they are all known liars. These kids don’t gimme no respect!

  1. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

I’m not really a new year’s resolutions type of gal, but I definitely went into the year with the hope that I would continue to progress in my running, having run my first 5k on Christmas Day. I can happily say that all of my fitness goals were achieved. I’m training harder than ever and I’ve run nearly 40 races this year. And I won my little trophy for my efforts.

For next year, I have no resolute goals but I would like to keep the running going strong. I hope to run further and faster over the course of the year, with my eyes on a quarter marathon or perhaps even further.

  1. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No.

  1. Did anyone close to you die?

No.

  1. What countries did you visit?

None. I’m rather deficient on the wanderlust. Also quite poor.

  1. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

Given that I’m about to drop off the end of a big ole cliff, finally reaching the end of my degree, a heavy dose of confidence wouldn’t go amiss. I can feel the anxiety rising in my body, stress coursing through my veins as though my transformation into the nerve-killing superhero I always knew I could be is imminent.

I hope that finishing university will also give me a little time to just enjoy being a person in the world again. So much of the last five years has been consumed by essays and exams and journal articles; I can’t wait to just take a breath. Not that the prospect of finishing education isn’t also terrifying.

  1. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

March 14th. HAIM. UEA LCR. Not only was it an incredible experience to watch my favourite musicians absolutely slay on that stage, but seeing three incredibly talented women at the top of their game was energising. They can do anything with their guitars in hand, and why shouldn’t I be able to do the same with a pen in mine? Sharing it with my best friend, my soupsnake, the platonic love of my life made it every bit more beautiful. I believe that seeing the band you love the most is one of life’s greatest pleasures. The hope that we’ll be able to repeat the experience enthuses me no end. Este, Danielle, Alana – your move. Tickets please.

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Este Haim performing Go Slow at the LCR. Photography by me.

  1. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Probably my little running trophy. Surviving my second second year of university was no small feat, though. Both of my experiences in second year have been rough but knowing how much more it mattered this time, both personally and professionally, made the knocks harder to take. I’m proud of how I dealt with it, though – by taking the advice of the wise women in my life and lacing up my trainers, which brings us full circle to my original answer: my little running trophy. Not only was it an acknowledgement of my efforts on the track, but it represented overcoming the challenges I faced and continue to face at university. It made me feel like I could accomplish anything I wanted. I felt strong.

  1. What was your biggest failure?

Maybe the mark I got in February for an essay that I thought I’d nailed. I remember picking it up first thing in the morning and having it hang over me throughout a day of lectures and seminars. Nothing stifles creativity like being on the verge of tears, and so I left my creative writing seminar feeling totally defeated and spent about an hour in the uni toilets. The real kicker was that I was weeping in the cubicle so long that the motion censor lights switched off. Picture me sniffling away while performing star jumps in an effort to get the lights back on. I wish I could say it was the most pathetic moment of my life.

  1. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I went over on my ankle at the end of a Parkrun in April, landing arse-first in a muddy puddle, putting me out for a few weeks. Later in the year, the saga of my terrible toe began. No, Taylor, we are not out of the woods yet.

  1. What was the best thing you bought?

Cinema tickets for Guardians of the Galaxy. Spending the last hours of my birthday with a giant Chris Pratt, watching him dance-off into a new day was very special. It was a new dawn, a new day, a new life for me. And yeah, I felt pretty good about it.

  1. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

This answer would probably remain constant whether you asked me this year, last year, next year. My best friend, Hannah. She is there for me day in, day out. No matter what is going on, I have someone to go through everything with me. Every best memory I have from this year, and from the moment I met her for that matter, has Hannah at the heart of it. And if I think about my bad memories from the year, it’s Hannah who was helping me deal with them – that, or texting me cute things about Josh and Donna (e.g. “Today I thought about Josh and Donna’s child having a first crush and Josh offering advice. I did other stuff too but that was important.”). On top of that, she really nailed my presents this Christmas. I’m still reeling from her gift-giving prowess. (more…)

Human Disaster

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Last week was kind of a smorgasbord of minor calamities for me. On Sunday I passed out at Ben Howard and the following day had me occupied with a clogged toilet, at which point I was forced to accept that my life was basically a sitcom (reviews would read: “too sad to be funny”, “amusing at points but far too ridiculous to enable the suspension of disbelief”). I also had a bad experience at Zizzi’s which hit pretty hard given my penchant for Italian food and the wasted opportunity it turned out to be; their pulled pork pizza was one of the most significant bummers of my lifetime. Anyway, given the comedy of errors that Sunday night turned into, I thought I would recap.

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Our view of Ben Howard. © Emma Holbrook

About five songs into Ben Howard’s set, I whisper rather pathetically to my friend Emma, “I need water” or “I can’t breathe” or something desperate and dramatic. Concerned, she suggests I leave the crowd, which I rather sensibly, and stubbornly, refuse. My other friend, Hannah, has now turned around to support Emma’s suggestion and before things turn into a singalong of Jojo’s Leave (Get Out), I flop onto Hannah’s shoulder, suspending all arguments. It is at this point that Hannah and Emma turn into my bodyguards, helpfully guiding me out of the crowd. It’s clear to everyone that it’s a matter of time before I’m flat on the floor, and I lose my eyesight for a moment, so we hurriedly stumble to clear space. Before I know it, Hannah has turned into Paramedic in Charge and is authoritatively saying, “Let’s sit her down” and Emma has hustled a security dude over. The security dude insists I go to the first aid room so I get up to follow him. Instead of leading us, he goes through to the bar to grab a water for me but we all follow him because I’m so out of it that I don’t know what’s happening. Dude then has to say, “Yeah, this isn’t the first aid room.” It shouldn’t be news to me but it is.

Our time in the actual first aid room is a series of amusing missteps. To set the scene, before Hannah, Emma and I go in, there are about six first aiders and one patient in there and it’s probably definitely already over capacity. First, they ask my name for a form that has to be filled out. “Kennedy,” I say, because it’s, y’know, the answer. Inexperienced First Aider Number One, we’ll call him, seems amused by this and asks, “Like the president?” He laughs, I sigh. I give him a pass on it seeing as he probably thinks I’ve never heard that before. He doesn’t know my life. Hannah and I lock eyes and share a mutual internal groan. Not for the last time that night.

Later, they begin asking me things like, “Have you been drinking?” A simple question, you might think. In my hazy state, however, I misunderstood the question not to mean alcohol but really any drink. My reply, therefore, was, “Not enough.” Everybody laughs at me. I don’t blame them. I attempt to claw back some dignity by hamming up my haziness and muttering, “I haven’t been drinking enough water… probably.” It’s too late. They have decided I’m either an alcoholic or an idiot. They then ask how much I’ve eaten. Before I can reply, Emma eagerly jumps in and announces to the room, “She just ate a MASSIVE pizza.” More laughter. As they continue with the form, it becomes clear that Inexperienced First Aider Number One is not doing a good enough job and it becomes a team effort between three inexperienced first aiders and their superior. They take turns with their questions and seem remarkably nervous to ask me rather inane, basic questions. At this point, I’m 99% fine and amused by the fuss. They ask my emergency contact and I give my mum’s number, despite that we are in Norwich and she is approximately seven hours away. It would need to be quite a slow emergency, and therefore not an emergency, for that to be remotely helpful.

It’s when they begin trying to get my pulse that things go awry. To begin with, the first aiders are fighting over who gets the honour. I can’t blame them, have you seen my wrist? Hot shit. When they begin trying to get my pulse, Inexperienced First Aider Number Two fails to find any sign of life. Then One and Three take their shot. I try to break the tension with a “maybe I’m dead” quip. All of a sudden no one wants to laugh; I develop an irrational bitterness but remind myself that I got a good laugh out of Emma for my earlier “All About That Space” singsong upon noticing that she follows NASA on Instagram, so I’ve had enough validation for one day. I also begin to think about the episode of Chicago Fire I’d watched the day before, where they go into a bombed building to get people out, checking pulses to identify those who are still saveable. LIKE WHAT IF YOU JUST DIDN’T FIND THE PULSE, CASEY, YOU CALLOUS BASTARD????* I now feel concerned that my pulse playing hard to get will cause me problems in a dramatic disaster-style situation. Upon sharing my concerns with Hannah, she suggested that I remind myself TV isn’t real life. Solid advice.

Eventually we get back to Inexperienced First Aider Number Two and she claims to find a pulse. It takes about five attempts but we’re there. Not dead. Relatively normal. And is that The Fear I hear in the background? We dash back to the concert, relieved in the knowledge that I have a pulse, and enjoy the rest of Ben Howard. Turns out we actually missed out on the real drama of the night. Long story long, what a fuss.

*I can’t stay mad.

HAIM 14/03/14: Concert Review

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“I was worried your expectations were maybe a little too high,” admits my best friend, The Wise One, after the lights of the LCR come up and people begin filtering out. She was probably right to be worried too. Since we’d very serendipitously procured our tickets, I’d been monomaniacally immersing myself in all things HAIM. It’s fair to say I was monumentally pumped.

The day itself proves a stressful experience, and one that I would not recommend to friend or enemy. The usual seven-hour trip from Bournemouth to Norwich comes with a bonus hour, a pair of crying babies (a pair!) and stifling heat, to the point that the cheese in my Mum-made sandwiches actually melts. By the time I arrive at Norwich Coach Station, I couldn’t be less in the mood to party down. We go straight off to the LCR, though, get in line with some very excitable people (too many of which pronounce it “Hame”, those fools), and by the time we hear a few drumbeats of the “Falling” soundcheck I’m game-ready. My mood is as changeable as the English weather, after all.

The support act, Saint Raymond (band or person, no one knows), keep us all happy for their half hour set, putting in a solid performance. There were definitely some songs that I’m keen to check out now, and I know my bud felt the same. Supports can be hit and miss, and I would definitely call them a hit. As we watch them, I find myself distractingly amused by the timidity of the Saint Raymond bassist in comparison to Este’s approach. After they finish up, we are then treated to pretty much a complete run-through of the most recent Beyoncé album, with the crowd enthusiastically singing along to tunes like “Drunk in Love” and “XO” – an exciting tease for what is to come.

HAIM open with “Falling”, taking the concert so far off the ground with their first song that it is going to take the entire set to land again. The band’s third single is the biggest lyrical treat they’ve offered as yet, with lines like “I can feel the heat but I’m not burning”, but it is the concluding proverb that Danielle repeats over and over that has the crowd yelling at the stage: “Never look back, never give up.” In fact, the atmosphere at the venue adds another dimension to what already felt pretty close to perfection. The HAIM ladies seem truly warmed by the reception, and the confidence with which the entire room sings along makes for a flawless introduction. “Falling” quickly transitions into “If I Could Change Your Mind”, with an equally impressive performance that sees Danielle get to show off her mad guitar skillz (a recurring treat that night).

As soon as “IICCYM” finishes up, odd members of the crowd begin the birthday heckles to the now-28-year-old Este. She beams, touched. “It took us a while but we finally fucking got here. And it’s my fucking birthday!” Este announces loudly so as to be heard over the small crowd. Cue a merry singsong of ‘Happy Birthday’ that gets the eldest Haim sister extra giddy, and then, in return, she and her younger sisters blow up the speakers with a killer cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”. This is perhaps the biggest opportunity of the night that HAIM have to show off just what brilliant musicians they are, and it doesn’t get squandered. Danielle and Este look and sound unstoppable on the right hand side of the stage, while Alana parades some serious swagger around the left. I truly don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone play a maraca with as much gusto as Baby Haim during “Oh Well”. Props.

Next comes “Honey and I”, my personal favourite, and the first album track of the night. It’s another example of how beautifully HAIM seem able to adapt their songs for each medium they explore. The laidback album version of “Honey and I” works perfectly for iPod listens, but on-stage they play much more with the build-up of the song, toying with their audience until everyone is joyously dancing around on the spot, yelling, “My, my, my, my honey and I!” The album’s title track, “Days Are Gone”, quickly follows and still the energy of the audience doesn’t let up. Every syllable seems to bounce right back at the stage.

One of the highlights of the evening comes in “My Song 5”. It might well be the peak song of the set for bassface, though Este’s game was looking tight all night, and we see Danielle let loose once again at centre stage. She seems to get a real kick out of coaxing the audience into bellowing, “Honey, I’m not your honey pie!” prematurely, before that particular lyric eventually does blast out – as though in response to the audience’s eager attempt.

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It is in the preamble to “Don’t Save Me” that the sisters, famed for their on-stage banter, kick things up a gear with Danielle telling the audience to prepare for a rap. “Y’all have to come up with a really good topic,” she explains, with a charming shyness that sharply contrasts the entertaining brashness of her older sister. Este adds, “I’m like the Jay-Z of jingles.” The crowd then proceed to soak up an explosive performance of “Don’t Save Me” that has me mentally booking more HAIM concert tickets to dates not yet announced. The chosen topic for the rap is Tinder and, with the help of soft-spoken drummer Dash Hutton and the littlest Haim, Este freestyles: “Motherfucker better impress me… Don’t try to trust me. No, you can’t undress me, ‘cause what? My name is Este!” Without missing a beat, as Este takes her bow, Middle Haim is already kicking off the band’s inaugural hit, “Forever”. It proves to be yet another contender for song of the night.

After “Forever”, the band disappear off-stage and the crowd is standing still for what seems like the first time in… well, forever. I think we suddenly all realise how mobile we’ve been, throwing shapes in whatever space we could make for ourselves. Thankfully, before we even have time to worry about where they’ve gone, Danielle quietly reappears behind the drum kit. A spotlight comes down on her, and she starts “XO” as Este, Alana and Dash return to front-of-stage. It’s Este’s biggest moment of the night, and somehow a thousand times better than their Radio 1 Live Lounge rendition. It’s also the most mellow that the show gets all night, but still everyone sings along, echoing Este’s conviction as they go. “The Wire” follows, giving a nice close to the evening as each of the sisters gets their own lead vocal through the song with a corresponding big cheer from their appreciative crowd.

“Let Me Go”, really the only decent way you can end a concert like the one we’ve just beheld, closes out the night. It begins with the sisters all playing their guitars and heartily singing their pleading lyrics. What it builds to is other-worldly. Halfway through, after a guitar solo that blows the roof off the building, Danielle puts her instrument down and picks up her drum sticks. Soon those perfectly-conditioned manes are flying everywhere as the sisters unite for a drum battle finale the likes of which I have never witnessed before. The four accomplished musicians on stage reach the climax of the song and the show triumphantly, as there’s no doubt that what we’re witnessing is special. I can’t imagine a single person who saw that concert not wanting to go back for more. The band briefly stay on stage a while longer to drink to the end of the tour and to Este’s birthday. Alana soaks it all up, having run around the stage so much that it seems she’s grown attached to the place. And then it’s goodnight.

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“I was worried your expectations were maybe a little too high,” admits my best friend, The Wise One, after the lights of the LCR come up and people begin filtering out. “But that was unbelievable. HAIM live are a religious experience.”

She’s a wise one, like I say. Best. Night. Ever.