Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014: Year in Review

Collage of photos that summarises my 2014

     Well, here we are. The last day of 2014. It sounds like a bit of a cliché, but time really has flown. I think the older you get, the faster it goes, and I can’t believe that’s another year of with already. I’ll do another post soon, looking forward to 2015, but today I want to take a look back at this year. Naturally, this post is littered with links to posts from throughout the year. I’ve said before, that New Year seems a little daft in some ways; it is just another day after all. But there’s nothing wrong with pausing to take stock of your life so far, and have a think about where you want it to go in the future.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Merry Christmas

     The day may be over and done with, so the title of this post may be a little late, but I hope everyone reading this had a good Christmas (if you celebrate it). The photos here are a few quick snaps from around my house (apologies for the less-than-great quality). Anyways, it may sound clichéd, but there is something about this time of year that makes you pause, and appreciate the good things in your life. Things I took for granted as a child, when I was caught up in flurries of wrapping paper and twinkly lights, I now realise are more important than I once thought. I am fortunate enough to send Christmas in a warm house, with plenty of good food, and surrounded by my family. No serious tragedies or hardships have rocked us this year, and I am incredibly grateful for that.

Christmas tree with lights, star & presents

Presents wrapped in black & white paper with silver ribbon & baubles

     Christmas may not be a holiday for everyone, but it is one everyone is aware of. Yes, it has been over-commercialised to ridiculous extents over the years. Many that do celebrate it probably are not religious and take little note of the origins of the holiday. Living in a predominantly Christian area, I was taught all about the Bible stories while at school, though I would not call myself religious now. However, I will always celebrate Christmas, because I cannot fault a time of year that gets so many people to return home and spend time with family and those who are important to us. Not everyone is so lucky, and we forget that sometimes. We get so caught up in our hectic lives that we need to stop and breathe for a day or two, and Christmas is the perfect reason to.

Christmas decorations - light up star, cards, pine cones & snowman

Christmas decorations on stairs - robins, flowers, red & gold beading and dangling hearts

     I’ve already written about my favourite things about Christmas here; while I do appreciate the real meaning of the holiday, as I’ve just explained, I still enjoy the fun and festive (even if commercialised) aspects of it. This year, I spent Christmas Eve in the kitchen with Mum, getting everything prepared for the day itself. We also go to church on Christmas Eve; as I’ve said, I’m not particularly religious, but I go for Mum & Dad, as it’s the only time they ever ask me to. Christmas Day was spent at home, but several of my aunts, uncles and cousins came round for Christmas Lunch. The day seems to be a continual rotation between opening presents - stockings in the morning, gifts from relatives in the afternoon - and eating ridiculous amounts of food - the turkey affair for lunch, then sandwiches and cakes at tea time. I love that we have family round though, as I don’t see them all that often through the rest of the year. My cousins on Dad’s side are getting older and having their own kids now though, so not as many come for Christmas as they did when I was little. We usually see them at some point in the days before or after though, which is still nice. The whole brood on the same day might just be a bit too insane now!

Christmas dinner table with white & silver napkins, candles, ornaments & pine cones

Christmas dinner table with white & silver napkins, candles, pine cones & dangling ornaments on light fixture

     Boxing Day was like Christmas Take 2, as Mum’s side of the family came round. We always spend Boxing Day with them, it’s only the host that varies. This year was especially busy for us, as we hosted both days so there was a lot of preparation! Boxing Day is only an evening meal though, so it’s slightly less full on. Then we do the final round of present exchanging afterwards. Both sides of our family are pretty big, so both days are very loud and busy. We even Skyped one strand of the family who couldn’t make it on Boxing Day this year. Christmas is two days of drinking, eating, opening presents and general loud, crazy merriment in our house. It’s not perfect of course; who’s Christmas ever is? But I am grateful to have such a big, yet still pretty close family. I may not see all of them as much as I used to, now that my cousins and I are all growing up, but it’s so nice to all get together at least once a year like this.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Musically Inspired - Give Them Heart

     What are you passionate about? What makes you excited? What do you wish you could spend all your time doing?

     Whatever it is, embrace it. We all have different interests and hobbies, likes and dislikes, and I think, too often, we judge each other for these things. Too often, it is seen to be uncool to be passionate about something; it may be construed as geeky, or sad, or taking up too much time. People might tell you to "get a life". But what’s wrong with being passionate about the things you enjoy?

John Green quote about nerds, enthusiasm & loving stuff
(Source)
     I was reminded of this John Green quote while writing this, and I think it’s something we forget. Passion is a good thing. It’s the driving force behind so many great achievements. No great works of art or sporting successes or breakthrough inventions came about by accident. They happened because the people behind them worked hard and poured their hearts into it. And surely, we all want to find a bit of happiness in life, so we should do what we love, regardless of the opinions of others. Giving up something you love because of the opinions of others will only make you miserable. And if we all only liked the same things, the world would soon become a far less interesting place, as creativity and imagination would be stifled.

     Some people are lucky; their passions become their jobs or they succeed in following their dreams. For others, there are some limits; as unappealing as it may seem, sometimes we do have to face reality and do the boring stuff sometimes. And don’t let your passion eclipse the rest of your life and lead you to neglect other things that are important. Just as long as we make time for our passions too. If you really love something, you shouldn’t have to downplay that around other people. The world is not perfect, and will probably always have judgemental people in it, which is just an unfortunate truth. But try as hard as you can, not to let them squander your passion or ridicule you for doing what you love. 

     So get excited about things. Go to the midnight release of the new superhero film. Follow your favourite band around the country. Devote as much of your spare time to drama or music or sports practice as you can. Give up everything to travel the world. Chase your dreams. Whatever it is that makes you happy, pour your heart into it. Don’t compromise on it because of people who, in the end, won’t really matter.

Song: Heart & Desire - Mallory Knox

Click here for more Musically Inspired posts.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

My Favourite Things About Christmas

    Not everyone reading this may be celebrating Christmas this year, for whatever reasons. I’m aware that it has become a very commercialised holiday, so we often forget that it is not a universal one, particularly in the UK, where the majority of the population do celebrate it. For me though, Christmas is one of my favourite times of year. Here’s of a few of my favourite things about the festive season.

Family
Christmas is a big holiday in our house, and family takes front and centre at this time of year. My Dad’s side of the family comes round on Christmas Day itself, although as many of my cousins are starting there on families now, there’s less of us now than there was when I was younger. Boxing Day is reserved for Mum’s side all getting together, so it’s almost like having two Christmas Days. I have a lot of cousins, and both sides of the family are big and loud, which always makes Christmas a lot of fun. I couldn’t imagine a small, quiet affair!

Decorating
Christmas may only last a day itself, but the lead up to it is just as exciting. As some readers may have noticed, I like arty things and I’ve always taken great care when decorating my student rooms, so I love decorating the house of Christmas. Some things stay the same each year, but Mum buys new stuff from time to time. As she’s working a lot this year, I’ve been entrusted with doing more of it myself. The tree is the biggest project of course; we get a real one from outside, that’s usually verging on 7ft tall. It takes a while, but the end result is worth it! It’s usually the last thing we do too, as live ones won’t last a whole month! We should have it in by the end of this week.

Food
Christmas dinner has to be the best meal of the year. My mum is a great cook (she does it for a living!), but gets help from my aunties of course, as there’s so many of us. We have everything though; turkey, gravy, sausages, 2 kinds of stuffing, roast & mashed potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, parsnips, chestnut balls, bread sauce, cranberry sauce… Not to mention a choice of at least 3 desserts! I help with some of the preparation in the days beforehand, but it really is amazing what Mum manages to put together. Chocolate and candy canes are also great too!

Presents
I don’t want this part to sound too selfish; it’s not that I want to get loads of material items myself. It’s more the fun of wrapping & unwrapping everything I enjoy. Mum’s always decorated her presents amazingly, with a different theme this year, so I’m attempting a student-budget version myself now. I like choosing ribbons & ornaments to match the wrapping paper, and generally trying to make them look nice. The mystery of what’s in each present under the tree is always fun too! As a kid, Santa was a huge deal of course, and every Christmas morning is spent unwrapping our stockings in our pyjamas. Then we exchange all the gifts from under the tree with the rest of the family, on both days.

Music & Atmosphere & Everything Else
I love the whole run-up to Christmas. Yes, sometimes it can be too commercialised and tacky, but it’s all in good fun. I love hearing Christmas songs in shops & on the radio, and playing them on my piano. I love seeing parades & Santas walking around (I witnessed Santa visiting my cousins’ street this year). I love all the decorations in shops & cafés. I love all the films (both Christmassy and not) being shown on TV. I love roasted chestnuts and advent calendars and hot chocolate. I love all the twinkly lights through the towns. I love visiting the Winter Wonderland. There’s a special sort of atmosphere throughout December, when everyone just seems to be feeling happy and festive. I just think it’s an all-round lovely time of year.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Outfit of the Day - Dance til Dawn

     I'm sharing another evening outfit this week, as it seems appropriate for the holiday party season. This dress is bright and fun, and very easy to move in. I really like this style, with the skater skirt, as it creates a lot of movement when you're dancing. The back is also slightly more daring for me, but why not show off a little skin? You should always wear what you feel most comfortable in, but sometimes it's good to try something new. I chose flat shoes, for a night on my feet, and patterned tights create a bit of interest when the dress is plain, such as this. I love my leather jacket, and it's a great way of dressing up almost any outfit, and giving it that slight rocker-edge that I'm a big fan of. I go minimal jewellery on a night out, as I've lost things in the past; here, I like the contrasting green earrings with the colour of the dress, and I think this two-part ring is very cool.

short purple dress with leather jacket, black flats and cobweb tights

short purple dress with black flats and cobweb tights

long green feather earring

silver metal bracelet and double chained rings, with pink nail polish over purple dress

black cobweb patterned tights and flat shoes

short purple dress with black flat shoes and tights

short purple backless dress, with thin crossed straps, black cobweb tights

Dress - Forever21, Jacket - Topshop, Shoes - H&M
Tights - Galeries Lafayette, Bracelet & Ring - Forever21
Earrings - New Look, Nail Polish - 'New Romantic' by Rimmel

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Edinburgh Winter Wonderland

     If you've never been to Edinburgh at Christmas time, I highly recommend it. Sure, it's Hogmanay that gets most of the attention; but in a city that boasts so much history and culture - there's a castle on top of a volcano in the city centre for goodness' sake! - how could Christmas be anything other than magical? There are lights strewn all over the city, from ropes running the length of Rose Street to the twinkling trees leading up to the castle. Princes Street Gardens is the core of it all, the Winter Wonderland lit up like a fairy tale in the weeks running up to Christmas. Living in Edinburgh, I sometimes take these sorts of things for granted, but I make sure to visit this at least once each year. There's lots of fairground rides, from the carousel and helter-skelter for the children, to the ferris wheel and spinning swings for the grown-ups to enjoy too. Then there's the German-style Christmas Market, which seems to be bigger than ever this year. Warm your hands on your mug of mulled wine or cider, munch on delicious pretzels, sausages or waffles, and browse handmade craft stalls for all your gifts and decorations. The Winter Wonderland is open all day, but I prefer to go after dark, to see all the lights, and experience the way that it creates such a warm, festive atmosphere on even the coldest of nights.

Edinburgh Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Trees decorated with lights in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens

Christmas tree on the Mound, Edinburgh

German market in Edinburgh's Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

German market stall in Edinburgh's Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Edinburgh Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Edinburgh Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Children's rollercoaster in Edinburgh's Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

German market stalls in Edinburgh's Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Spinning swing & helter-skelter fairground rides in Edinburgh's Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Edinburgh Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Carousel in Edinburgh's Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Giant tower of spinning swings in Edinburgh's Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

German market stalls in Edinburgh Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Ice skating rink in Edinburgh Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

German market stall in Edinburgh Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Ferris wheel in Edinburgh Winter Wonderland at Christmas in Princes Street Gardens

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Why I Write

     I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I was an avid reader as a child, and I think this prompted an interest in producing my own words. I started by keeping a daily diary - this soon died out though, as going to school almost every day while nine years old doesn’t make for the most riveting of subject matters. I liked creative writing at school though, and would write my own short stories at home as well. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more motivated to write in spare time, as I no longer have someone making me do it. I still write fiction, but after being asked to write for a local newspaper while in high school, as well as the personal and discursive essays we wrote, I’ve dabbled with other sorts of writing. Starting this blog when I went off to university was a natural progression. Now, I write in some almost every day; for my coursework, for this blog and the Huffington Post, for my new MuggleNet internship, and for my (attempt at a) novel.

     Writing is something that seems to come pretty naturally to me. I’ve always been interested in artistic ventures, music and art being my favourite subjects at school. I still play the piano when I’m at home, and though I draw rarely nowadays, it’s still nice to do it now and then. However, although I enjoy these, they aren’t my preferred form of self expression. For me, expression comes with words. Be it an upfront, personal story, a topical opinion or an entirely fantastical piece of fiction, writing is how I exercise my artistic side and express whatever it is that I want to get out there. Words are how we communicate as humans beings, to one another, and they are what comes easiest to me. I find that words are a clearer, more direct form of expression and explanation than other art forms (even though I still enjoy those too!) and they can carry incredible power. I like writing more than speaking too, as it immortalises your words, and allows you the time to think them over, and phrase things in the best way. I’m by no means an exceptional writer; but I enjoy writing, and sometimes I can’t help it when the words just start to pour out.

     Naturally writer’s block is an occurrence from time to time. My creative process isn’t something that I’ve thought about much; usually I just start writing and see where I end up. Coursework and news articles are a different story naturally, as I work from sources. For this blog, I tend to loosely plan my posts in advance, because if I didn’t, life would get in the way and I wouldn’t upload nearly as regularly. For fiction, sometimes I just blurt out short scenarios, often from prompts, like my 642 Things series. Longer pieces required far more planning of course; my ‘novel’ has a clear outline, even if the details and actual writing of it are somewhat lacking, and I keep changing parts of it. 

     Inspiration can come from anywhere though. I have a notebook that I always carry with me, to scribble down ideas before I forget them. Sometimes it goes untouched for days, other times I fill pages and pages in one go. It’s nice to have a stockpile of ideas too, as I don’t use all of them straight away. Media and the internet can be a great help; sometimes I find inspiration in other stories, in films and TV, or in music (my Musically Inspired series); sometimes I respond to ideas in other people’s blog posts; sometimes a quote or image from Tumblr or Pinterest can spark a new thought. Other times, I find inspiration in the real world, from detailed descriptions of places I’ve been (my Musings series) to character studies of complete strangers I’ve seen in cafes or passed on the street. While the internet exposes you to things from across the planet, I find the real world works better when I’m blocked.

     Where my writing takes me in the future, I’ve yet to find out. But no matter what I wind up doing, I suspect I will always continue to write in one form or another. This blog certainly isn’t going anywhere anytime soon! Of course, it’s great when people read and enjoy or respond to my writing, but that’s not why I do it. I do it for myself, because I enjoy it and because it’s my way of expressing my thoughts and emotions.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Outfit of the Day - Leather & Lace

     First of all, let's be entirely clear; these are fake leather shorts, not real. I seem to share a lot of my casual, daily outfits, so I thought I'd share one from a night out for a change. I used to have another pair of leather shorts, which were lost a while ago and I've only just found another pair I liked enough to buy - while I do like leather shorts, there's some awful pairs out there. They're a bit shorter than I usually go for, but I was feeling a little daring, and opted to show off my (fairly long) legs in these patterned tights. I love the deep red colour of the top, which is suitably bold to pair with the shorts, and the little bits of black lace detailing keep things interesting. The headband is something I forgot I had, so when I came across it again, I figured why not wear it for once? The black feathers mean it isn't too obvious amongst my hair, but is a quirky detail when you spot it.

outfit of red peplum top with black lace, black fake leather shorts, striped tights and heeled ankle boots

black feather & bead headband, dragonfly earring

black and silver rings, pink nail polish with deep red peplum top

outfit of red peplum top with black lace, black fake leather shorts, striped tights and heeled ankle boots

black high heel ankle boots with irregular striped tights

Top - Primark, Shorts - New Look, Tights - Gipsy
Boots - H&M, Headband - Jennyfer, Earrings - Claire's, Black ring - H&M 
Silver ring - Unknown, Nail Polish - 'New Romantic' by Rimmel

Saturday, 6 December 2014

642 Things - The Sound of Silence

     What is the sound of silence, and when did you last hear it? What was missing?

The sound of silence - blank music score with notes piled up below
(Source)
     Silence: (noun) Complete absence of sound (as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary).

     Silence has no sound, yet somehow we can still hear it. Or perhaps we don’t hear it, perhaps we only notice the absence of everything else. Silence is neither loud nor quiet, simple because it is not there at all. Silence is nothing; it is an example of humans ascribing a concrete noun to an abstract, invisible, immaterial idea. It can only be defined as the antithesis of something else, as it has no meaning on its own, without relation to sound. Silence can make the world seem still, tranquil, peaceful, or uncomfortable, awkward, deafening.

     How often do you experience complete silence? We can get pretty close sometimes; but there’s probably always going to be a car driving past outside, a bird chirping its song, a gust of wind whistling against the window. City life, especially, makes it difficult to find total silence, as there are always people around doing something. The countryside can be quieter, but nature and animals still produce noises too. The truth is, the absence of sound is not a far cry away from the absence of life. When there is no sound, there is no sense of life around us; it can be an extremely lonely situation to experience.

     Even when we don’t talk, we make sounds when we move, even when we breathe. To lose all of these, would make us practically dead. Imagine a world without the laughter of children, without raindrops on your window, without whispered secrets, without puppies barking with glee, without Christmas sleigh bells, without music. What a dull, lifeless world it would be. Silence can be good for removing distractions, allowing for tranquility and introspective reflection. Often silence is better than talking on and on about nothing, for no reason. But to stay like that forever, would remove so many of life’s pleasures. Everything would become monotonous, all alike, and eventually mind-numbingly boring. Sound allows us to communicate, to express, to react and to feel. Sound is a part of life.

For more 642 Things to Write About posts, click here

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

The Problems With The Music Industry

     First up, I’m going to start this article with a small disclaimer: I am not part of the music industry. I do not know about all of its inner workings, so I do apologise if my information is incorrect. I don’t want to seem like I’m talking about something I know nothing of, but I have researched this matter, and all of my information is what I have gleaned via musicians and publications online.

     Now to the crux of the matter; the music industry doesn’t appear to be in great condition. It’s never been the easiest industry to “make it” in, but in recent years it seems to be getting harder and harder for new artists to break out, and for existing ones to continue making a living. Of course, not everyone is good enough to make it in this industry, but there seems to be far too much emphasis on the commercial potential of an artist, rather than their actual talent.

     The result of this is more and more bands seem to be splitting up lately. As a fan of rock music, this is the genre I know most about, therefore I’m unclear as to whether or not this is a trend across the industry as a whole (though I suspect it is). But rock in particular seems to be struggling; with the exceptions of big names like Foo Fighters, Biffy Clyro, or the newest success, Royal Blood, it’s not a genre that is prevalent nowadays. Just this year, we’ve lost bands including Kids In Glass Houses, The Swellers, Canterbury, Save Your Breath and The Blackout. Now of course, some of these splits could be for personal reasons within the band; but I strongly suspect finances played a large role in many of these, or at least in part. Many bands are simply not generating the money necessary to continue making music for a living.

     So why is this? The internet plays no small role in the matter. While social media has been greatly beneficial in helping new and independent artists get discovered, illegal downloading and streaming is destroying the chances of them actually making a livelihood from their music. Legal streaming, like Spotify, is scarcely better, as the artists make very little money from it, the lion's share going to the streaming companies themselves. The film and television industries are facing the same problem, and while it’s tempting for a lot of us to get things for free when possible, we need to be aware of the consequences of this. If we don’t pay for music, how can we expect artists to continue making more? Another issue is that people are buying fewer and fewer full length albums, opting for just a few singles instead. Taylor Swift’s “1989” is the only release of this year to have achieved platinum status so far. I’m less certain as to the reasoning behind this. Perhaps this is because we are less invested in artists personally? Perhaps the urgency placed on them by the industry to release an album is to the detriment of the song quality? Perhaps the decreasing numbers of artists writing their own songs means their music is losing the sense personal investment and honesty, which listeners can recognise? Whatever the reason, artists are losing money as a result.

     And without sufficient funds, it is nigh on impossible to sustain a career in the music industry. It’s always been difficult to get signed to a record label, especially when their focus is largely on the commercial viability of an artist. Many talented acts are left in the dust in favour of mainstream safe bets, thus comprising the integrity of the industry, as creativity and expression are shoved inside. Even acts that are signed continue to face problems, and receive only a small percentage of their sales profits, as the rest is divvied up by every other person remotely connected to their music. Their creative freedom is stifled and profit is placed above all other concerns, amongst other potential conflicts; just look at the million dollar lawsuit that 30 Seconds To Mars (a large, well established band!) faced in recent years. The alternative is to produce music independently, which is also not easy. Crowdfunding has become a great aid for many bands, but it’s not the most sustainable source of income. The fact that fans are willing to pour money into their favourite acts is promising, but it’s not something that most bands feel comfortable doing, continually asking for contributions to produce record after record. Both Canterbury and The Blackout crowdfunded their last releases, only to split up months later.

     So alright, we’re clearly not spending as much money on music as we used to. Maybe it’s not that big of an interest or concern for some people, but it certainly is for me. I’ve written before about why I think music is so important, so click here and here for more on that topic (or this article will go on forever!). To phrase it briefly though, music (and other art forms) is a form of emotional expression, which can unite people across the world. We consume music, and art, made by others because it speaks to us and expresses things that we aren’t always capable of expressing ourselves. Music has been around for hundreds of years, so it clearly matter to us. In many ways, it would be nice if it could remain a pure art form, rather than being commercialised as it is now; but at the end of the day, people need to make a living somehow, and, as proven, if they can’t do so from their music, many will stop making it. I’m not going to pretend I have a solution to fixing this entire industry; there will always be corruption and those only in it for the money of course. But please think about this next time you download music illegally, then wonder why your favourite artists aren’t releasing anything new. Please support artists. Please go to their concerts and pay for their albums. Please don’t let the music die.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Outfit of the Day - A Splash of Colour

     Cosy, comfy and practical. This cardigan is so soft and warm, definitely one of my priorities in the winter time. I like the fake leather panels on the arms too, which add a bit of interest, and it has a really nice fit overall. The jeans are simple and comfy, but all the grey, which can look sophisticated sometimes, can also seem a bit dull. I compensated with this brighter top, which has a slightly draped hem and fun patterns. In most of my outfit posts my jewellery tends to match in colour, but not style. However, I bought these pieces without realising that they happen to match by all being leaf patterned, which I think is a nice little detail to tie an outfit together.

Winter outfit of grey cardigan, green top, jeans and boots

Winter outfit of grey cardigan, green top, jeans and boots

Green patterned top with hand wearing silver leaf & knot rings and pink nail polish

Silver leaf earrings & necklace

Black biker boots with grey skinny jeans

Winter outfit of grey cardigan, green top, jeans and boots

Cardigan - New Look, Top - Desigual, Jeans - New Look
Boots - Even & Odd, Necklace & Leaf Ring - Forever 21
Earrings & Knot Ring - Unknown
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