Culture Corner #5

I look forward to driving long distances because it’s the most productive opportunity to catch up on podcasts. Usually I’m alone, so I can easily concentrate on the words and the road ahead of me without any distractions. My favourites are constantly on shuffle and it makes the miles pass smoothly and bearably – so much so that I genuinely don’t want the journey to end.

Typically I am pretty passive and content listening to conversations, comedy and stories; I might laugh along or nod my head to a very intense debate. But on route to Watford in preparation to head back into the dreary office following the holidays, a sentence from The Guilty Feminist stopped me in my tracks (not literally – the car still sped along).

“Everyone only gets an opportunity to wake up and have 365 goes at being 10 or 21 or 39,” said Deborah Frances-White in the episode ‘Big’ co-hosted by Kiri Pritchard-McLean.

I honestly had to pause the radio to let her words sink fully into my brain, and swill them round a bit until I could comprehend the magnitude of their meaning.

Sure, the comment was part of a wider fantasy about being able to relive parts of youth having had some life experience, but the way Deborah framed the reality of age and how flimsy our relationship with it is portrayed the subject in a format I had never before considered.

I’m as curious and uncertain about ageing as the next person, and although I’m not interested in obsessing over reliving my glory days and would rather choose to respect and welcome every new age, I am guilty of not living in the moment as devotedly as I could.

While I like to picture myself as one of those happy-go-lucky spirits that embraces each day with eagerness, I’m probably more often that not a grouchy laptop-gremlin, plodding through work, living for the weekend and waiting for events and holidays to finally approach.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with getting excited for upcoming plans, but most of our days are spent dawdling in the mid-week; so why is this such an inhospitable and hurried period? Surely I should be tackling the mundane Monday-Friday calendar with as much enthusiasm and ambition as I would a fun-filled trip away.

Time and age may be a construct, but it’s the one we live in rhythm with, so there is significance in it. The shocking realisation that we have so few chances to get up and make a difference or just have fun while Earth makes its annual pilgrimage around the sun has completely reset the goggles I view my diary with. I no longer will succumb to impatiently dragging myself through the week – I’m going to make sure its a more magical place to hang out.

Thinking back over 2019, the apparently grey days chained in-between the shining beacon of Friday night, Saturday and Sunday are where many glorious personal victories have been achieved. Most books, magazines and news articles were devoured on my journey to and from the office; the Met Line became a sanctuary to write blogs and jot down creative ideas; the evenings offered a space to socialise and exercise; and standing up on the tube became a savour as it meant I could squeeze in screenings of TV programmes like Derry Girls, Peaky Blinders and Drag Race UK.

I also dismiss the 9-5 as a strict schedule for working, but on reflection many great friendships have been formed in these solid hours; laughs, good food and great conversations have painted the picture of most office days – work is just the reason we’re all there in the first place.

Aside from soaking up culture on the commute, evening activities have become rife: cinema trips, catchups in the pub and yoga to name but a few. January can be a difficult month – it’s a weird, awkward shift back into reality for those of us who celebrate Christmas – but being kind to ourselves, setting life goals and focusing on the little moments that bring us joy are some simple ways to lift the mood and remember that some of the most brilliant experiences are often during the seemingly dullest of days.

Book review

A challenge I set myself every single new year is to read more books. I definitely succeeded in the last twelve months compared to 2018, but no amount will ever be enough! So I can keep track of past reads and curate future book piles I have downloaded Goodreads, and I’ve set myself the aim of completing 30 by 2021.

I read roughly 10 books last year (which actually sounds quite pathetic when typing it out); some have been absolute game-changers that have influenced how I perceive situations, while others simply granted me a blissful escape from routines with the preoccupation of someone else’s story.

There has been a delicate mix of fiction, autobiographies and memoirs as evidenced in the selection below. It’s missing a few that I’ve passed on to friends and relatives or stashed away for safekeeping, and I’ve cheated a bit as I’m still tearing through My Thoughts Exactly by Lily Allen (I adore the blunt unfolding of it) as well as savouring Happy by Fearne Cotton as I like to give myself an uninterrupted period of time to understand the content and complete the activities. I saw the year in with The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender, which affected me so much with its calm and considered storytelling I shared it in an earlier blog.

Since moving to London a friendship with an old school mate has rekindled and strengthened which I’m delighted about for many reasons, one of them being she has an excellent taste in books and we have swapped many recommendations! She actually was the one who demanded I read Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton as it reminded her so much of me, and I haven’t stopped ranting about it since. It’s the memoir that defined my 2019 with the message that being a wild and misguided young woman is not unusual and not something to be ashamed of, and led me to discover the wonderful world of Dolly that I was unfashionably late to.

Heartbearn by Nora Ephron was given to me by the same friend for my birthday and sucked me in straight away with the effortlessly unputdownable prose. I think it’s the first book I’ve read that made me realise plot isn’t always the most important factor: a great book has a good plot, outstanding writing, or both. The authority of Ephron’s words left me powerless although not much really happens in the book. She tells a tragic tale in such a beautiful way that it left me feeling exactly as the book is entitled, and it was almost as if I also physically endured the emotions of the protagonist.

On the other end of the spectrum was I Found You by Lisa Jewell. Initially I was sceptic: Heartburn was a tough act to follow and the opening chapter failed to wow me. My mum lent it to me and promised it would pick up so I powered on through and soon enough was hooked on the turbulent plot; an example of how a writing style I can’t quite connect with can be saved by a book’s intense and addictive twist.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman has been on pretty much everyone’s reading list recently, and rightly so. It’s spellbindingly unique, contains hilarious cultural references and I ended up adoring the enchantingly frustrating narrator. The honest detailing of everyday routines resonated with me; getting up and playing out the same structure of office and home life day in day out was refreshing to view from the perspective of such a socially clueless character.

Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath The Skin by Andrew Wilson was such a captivating doorway into the life of the infamous fashion designer, and while the information overload was quite strong (I tend to find this with biographies as they are so factual and referenced), it uncovered McQueen’s interesting and troubled background in a considerate and heartfelt way. By the end I felt like I could have known him: Wilson clearly was tenacious with his researching and the interviews with those close to the designer brought him back to life as the wicked, vulnerable genius he was.

Another depiction helping to keep a soul alive is Back to Amy by Charles Moriarty. Initially I saw this and knew it would make a great coffee table book – it’s filled with never before released photographs that Moriarty took of Amy before the heights of fame engulfed her – but it’s intended for so much more than simply lying around collecting dust. The images are gorgeous, natural insights into the young, innocent Amy, surrounded by interviews with those who worked or brushed paths with her, and even her Mum shares her side of the story. The combination of stunning visuals and striking words pays a raw tribute to the late singer and possibly made me love her even more.

The majority of 2019s book pile – minus some I’ve given away or stashed for safekeeping to revisit in the future

Starting me off for 2020 will be Decca Aitkenhead’s memoir All at Sea, which was a reference in The High Low podcast and sounded so moving I ordered it almost immediately. It was quite difficult to source on Amazon (especially any new copies) and on arrival I was surprised to find this version has spent some of its shelf life in a library in Massachusetts! I’m still confused as to how it could have ended up at my door, but that’s the magic of secondhand books: stories keep circling around and they outlive us all.

Others on my list are: Before I Find You by Ali Knight (I go weak at the knees for a thriller); Diary of a Drag Queen by Crystal Rasmussen, which my best friend gifted me for Christmas and I’m keen to get my teeth into; Wild Embers by Nikita Gill (I bought my sister this for Christmas last year and I was given it by my Nan this year – I follow Gill on Instagram and her poetry is empowering yet mysterious); and The Guilty Feminist by Deborah Frances-White which I am excitedly anticipating to be mind-blowing (it’s the latest release featuring an interview with Pheobe Waller-Bridge) and just as fabulous as the podcast. I’m hoping to read some more classics too – 1984 by George Orwell being a key contender (my boyfriend has had a copy sat on his bedside table since we first started dating and every time I go round another layer of clothes or unidentified objects is stacked on top of it, so I’m sure he won’t mind me borrowing it).

Small sustainable changes

For as long as I have been aware of the devastation caused by global warming and plastic pollution I have turned my attention to making small, sustainable changes to my lifestyle wherever possible. We can’t all afford to do everything, but even the most minuscule adaptations can contribute to a healthier planet – if ever in doubt I remind myself of the well-circulated quote: It’s just one straw – said 8 billion people.

Starting with straws, I only accept paper ones at a bar if I actually need it. There are very few drinks that warrant straws in my opinion and it’s quite frankly unnecessary to serve plastic ones anymore. My best friend bought me a metal straw about 2 years ago and I have finally got round to retrieving that from her kitchen drawer, so for instances where the device is imperative (e.g. McDonalds milkshake) I’ll ensure I have that to hand.

Little goals are the easiest and sometimes most rewarding to achieve. Giving myself credit for completing mini-missions has boosted my confidence and made me feel like I’m doing my bit for the planet, so I’m attempting even more changes for 2020 and beyond. Once switching and adapting these new, minor ways of life, I find they tend to stick and there’s no going back, which is incredible!

Without really acknowledging it, my entire brain-wiring has reprogrammed itself: I ignore plastic bottles as if they genuinely don’t exist, opting for a Diet Coke if it’s in a can and I really need it (i.e I’m hungover); I use canvas tote bags I’ve collected to pack my shopping without a second thought; I try to only buy responsibly sourced skincare and beauty products from Lush or The Body Shop (who offer in-store recycling) and block out temptations from unethical brands.

I have switched to environmentally-friendly period products. I can’t get on with tampons so I’m putting off testing out a moon cup for as long as possible, but in the meantime TOTM (the name stands for Time Of The Month) offer organic cotton pads, which are compostable and delivered in biodegradable packaging. They cost around the same as a normal packet (£3.30 for 9 medium pads) and if you order two or more products delivery is free of charge! If you’re forgetful ~ like me ~ when it comes to preparing for your period, you can even opt for a subscription service to arrive on time each month.

2019 saw me flirt with using beeswax wraps as an alternative to tin foil and clingfilm, and while the trial was successful I need to invest in a wider variety to use on rotation as my one poor wax wrap was worked into the ground.

My trusty middle finger water bottle from Typo was by my side everywhere I went (including work, which went down as interestingly as you can imagine) and worked twofold as a conversation starter and handy receptacle. It’s lasted amazingly considering I filled it up every day and haven’t been quite as hygienic in washing it as I probably should; there’s no funny smell or metallic taste, which is so often the demise of reusable containers.

I have trained myself to be far more conscious regarding where the clothes I buy originate from, which in turn has led to virtually zero fast-fashion as I tend to steer away from purchasing if I can’t find the company background and ethics. My wardrobe is thanking me as the pieces I invest in are well-made to last longer and are easy to mend.

For Christmas I asked for some additions to my eco-warrior tools and my family came through with the goods. Hands down the best present I received was the fabric shaver I have been desperate to get for ages (my face lit up when I pulled it out of my stocking – not even joking) so I can give jumpers a revival by clearing them of bobbles! My brother gave me a fab leak-proof coffee cup made mostly from recycled cups, that is recyclable again once it’s run its course, and I now have a 1litre reusable water bottle (that’s slightly less cheeky and more appropriate for office use) that will be ideal for days out! Santa also brought me a bamboo travel mug so on the rare occasion I treat myself to a takeaway drink I can avoid single use cups.

This is just the beginning of my sustainable journey and I have a few tricks up my sleeve for the next steps I want to take! I’m on the hunt for a healthier natural deodorant, some bamboo lunchboxes and a reusable razor so any suggestions on these are more than welcome! I’m going to join Amnesty International too – if you’re looking to do more for charity maybe consider doing the same for a organisation that sits in line with your beliefs – the donation that comes out every month is roughly equivalent to one less pint at the pub (if you’re doing dry January then it’s the perfect excuse!).

My rCUP made from recycled coffee cups, Ecooe insulated flask for hot and cold drinks and bamboo travel mug (left to right)

The best albums of the decade

To round up the first Culture Corner of 2020 I thought I’d share some of my favourite music from the last decade! My tastes have developed and evolved tremendously in this period – at 12 I felt pressured into listening to One Direction and Justin Bieber so I’m grateful I have had the space to break free from the mould and experiment with artists I love. At 22 my loyalties lie with rock and indie, although I have a super eclectic palette and feel drawn towards country, jazz, dance and tend to lean towards whatever sounds good to me – no matter who or what it is.

2010: Vampire Weekend Contra

2011: Arctic Monkeys Suck It and See / The Strokes Angles

2012: Jake Bugg Jake Bugg / Lana Del Rey Born To Die

2013: The Strokes Comedown Machine / Arctic Monkeys AM

2014: First Aid Kit Stay Gold / Catfish and The Bottlemen The Balcony

2015: Slaves Are you Satisfied / Tame Impala Currents

2016: The 1975 I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it / Red Hot Chili Peppers The Getaway

2017: The Big Moon Love In The 4th Dimension / Declan McKenna What Do You Think About the Car?

2018: Idles Joy as an Act of Resistance

2019: Foals Part 1 Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost / Stereophonics Kind

I’m looking forward to what the next decade has in store for musical talent, sustainability and book releases, but more importantly to what each day brings in terms of small surprises.

Lily x