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My Thoughts

    My Thoughts, Stories

    Sunday Brew #1

    Sunday Brew (1)

    I’ve been pretty terrible at blogging recently, and of all the blogs this is the one left to the bottom of the pile.  But I wanted to start trying to blog more here, do more of a diary style update, pulling together some thoughts on films, books, theatre and such.  I saw a weekly round up work well on another blog, so thought I’d give it a go.

    What I’ve been doing…

    You’ll see from the below, that I’ve spent a lot of this week being wrapped up in stories – Waterstones Birmingham had two author talks I added, Alwyn Hamilton on Monday and Pierce Brown on Wednesday, both promoting new books.  I also went to the cinema. A lot.

    I had a bit of a dodgy tummy earlier in the week, but was glad to make it for lunch with my friend Sarahat Medicine in Birmingham and had a very nice croque monsieur and Chelsea bun – something I’ll hopefully write up for Full to the Brum.  I’ve been trying to cook more, so lunch at work has been a slow-cooked orange curry – another vegan dish to try and get some vegetables in at lunch.

    What I’ve been watching…

    If I haven’t been at work, chances are this week I’ve been wrapped up in a story.  It’s Oscar season at the cinema which means there is a glorious amount of things to see at the cinema; so much so that I’ve ended up seeing six films this week.  Tuesday saw a preview of Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, which was on at such time that I managed to squeeze in a viewing of The Post beforehand.  With the weather being so utterly miserable on Saturday, I decamped to the cinema for the day and then rounded off with a trip to see Phantom Thread with my mum on Sunday.

    I have this lovely idea of writing up my thoughts on all the films in long reviews, but given how slack I am on blogging recently, and how lop-sided my cinema viewing habits tend to be year-round, I think I might just try and include them in round ups.  So, here goes:

    The Post felt poorly paced, with the first half too slow, and the two stars were perfectly adequate but didn’t pack the punch we’ve seen from them in other films – not enough screen time was given to Streep’s character to convey the brave choices she made as a women, who never asked to be there, in a man’s world. Could do better.

    The Shape of Water was gloriously shot and Sally Hawkins was superb.  But I’m getting a bit bored of this nerd-boy ‘boobs’ trope which just felt out of place at the beginning of the film.  The story is about outsiders finding love, but I found myself more interested in the relationship between Elisa and Giles, than the romance between Elisa and the monster.  The side-plot involving Russian spies felt like it was there to bulk out the plot, and whilst there was a lot I found problematic about this film I also didn’t entirely hate it.

    The Greatest Showman was probably the film I enjoyed the most purely for being a nice piece of throwaway escapism on a dreary Saturday.  Sure it wasn’t a faithful retelling of Barnum’s life and it very much fell into the rags-to-riches trope, but the songs, the dancing, the costumes and the stories of outsiders finding a place to fit in was a nice place to spend an hour or so. And I don’t think it pretended or tried to be anything more.

    Downsizing seemed entirely confused as to what sort of movie it wanted to be; the film was meandering and missing any kind of coherent narrative. I’d give it a miss.

    Darkest Hour felt like a vehicle to get Gary Oldman an Oscar and he would well deserve it for this performance. But I don’t feel like it added anything new to what feels like a well-trodden tale of history.

    Phantom Thread was not as styled as Shape of Water, but I enjoyed the aesthetics of this – the grandeur of the couture and the central house.  The storytelling was eerie, but drifted along and felt less narrative and more a snapshot into dressmaker Reynolds’ complex relationships with the women in his life: his dead mother, stern sister, and revolving door of muses until he meets Alma. Oddly entrancing, but likely not to be everyone’s cup of tea.

    I’ve also watched a few episodes of Altered Carbon on Netflix, which appeared on Friday.  Before that I was dipping into Limitless, a tv series based on the 2011 film, itself based on the novel The Dark Fields by Alan Glynn.

    What I’ve been reading…irongold

    I’m woefully behind on novels, so I’ve been desperately trying to catch up on Pierce Brown’s excellent Red Rising series (which I started over two years ago), in time for his talk at Waterstones this week.  He was promoting Iron Gold, the newest novel set in the Red Rising world, and one I’m eager to read – although I think I might have to try and read some of the others on my shelf/kindle first, as if I stay in that world too long it’ll be hard to read something else after.

    I’ve also been reading a lot of articles online. I thought about trying to keep tabs on all of them, but that would be impossible, so here are five I found particularly interesting;

    Birmingham, My Thoughts

    Kerslake debate

    Last Wednesday I went to the city council chambers for a public hearing on the Kerslake Review, organised by Pauline from News in Brum. The event was organised because of the lack of debate around the report’s release; “We are bringing the city together to debate the topic the council won’t.”

    For those asking what is the Kerslake Review; “In July 2014, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council commissioned Sir Bob Kerslake to conduct an independent review of corporate governance in Birmingham City Council.” – Taken from gov.uk, where you can find the report in full.

    The debate itself was led by a panel. Chaired by Diane Kemp from Birmingham City University, the panel also included: Pauline Geoghegan of News in Brum; Alex Yip Vice-Chair of BCProject, Business Director; Sohail Hussain, a West Midlands Youth Commissioner; Catherine Staite from Institute of Local Government at University of Birmingham; and David Bailey, Professor of Industry  at Aston University . Deliberately not the usual faces but an impressive line up never the less, one panelist admitted to having not read the 68 page report he was asked to give an opinion on, which felt a little disrespectful. However the majority of the three hours, a strict timeline as the room was being paid for privately by News in Brum (helped out with an impromptu donations on the night), was given over to the floor.

    Whilst there were a few conspiracy theories and agenda pushing, these were thankfully minimal and the majority of speakers were considered and thoughtful. There was a real feeling of love for the city, mixed with a sadness that things have gotten this bad, but a desire to move forward and improve; “Birmingham used to lead the way, now what are we leading the way in?”  Speakers from the floor also questioned the links between regional/local government and central government, issues around devolved powers, and a feeling that Birmingham was missing out on funding compared to other areas of the country.  It was clear that there were a lot of informed and passionate people in the audience, with a real desire to see things improve.

    Ultimately, whilst the opportunity to talk seemed cathartic, I do wonder what good it will have.  A report on governance felt like it was asking the council to get its house in order, and as there’s been no official forum to debate within the council, it seems that ideas on improvement from residents are even less likely to be heard.  A video at the beginning of the debate illustrated that most people didn’t know about the review and with low turn-outs for local elections, it’s hard to really get a grip on whether residents really understand what their role is with engaging local government, and if they feel there is any at all.  Still at least through the evening’s efforts there is some record of the residents of Birmingham speaking up, officially or not.

    I left feeling like there were a lot of people wishing the city well, but no clear, agreed idea of how we the residents, the council itself and both groups together move forward.  I wonder; what happens next?

    ‘Kerslake Debate 2: Child Poverty in Birmingham’ takes place at Parkside Lecture Theatre, Birmingham City University, near Millenium Point on Friday 13th March, 6.30-9pm. To book a space, visit http://newsinbrum.com/

    Related articles

    My tweets from the evening https://storify.com/lauracreaven/kerslake-debate-my-tweets

    Birmingham Post – Birmingham development centres too much on ‘glamour projects’ http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/news/regional-affairs/birmingham-development-centres-much-glamour-8701880

    Chamberlain Files – Andy Howell slams council’s ‘shocking’ partnership record and ‘disgraceful’ refusal to debate Kerslake Review
    http://www.thechamberlainfiles.com/andy-howell-slams-councils-shocking-partnership-record-and-disgraceful-refusal-to-debate-kerslake-review/

     

    My Thoughts

    How a house move taught me the value of consumerism

    Still baring the scars from the last house move 12 months ago (and the one before that 4.5 years ago), I’ve moved house again a few months ago.  

    My, now-ex, housemate moved in with her boyfriend and I took the decision that it was time to downsize from half a house to renting a room.  After all, I work full time and my curiosity in exploring and learning more means I’m often out a lot, so saving money and having less space to clutter seemed a wise plan.

    However this meant the very painful need to get rid of a lot of things I just wouldn’t have space for.  Despite a trunk full of books going to charity last year, another car-boot full went to a local school’s summer fair fundraiser and several others to another school’s library.  Saucepans, cuddly toys, DVDs and a variety of other miscellaneous items to various charity shops.  Most things went to charity, some went to organisations which give you money for your old things, but mainly it was just about ridding myself of stuff I didn’t need.

    A fellow Brummie blogger, Travelling Coral, linked to a blogpost about consumption and the Disease of More.  Thankfully I’ve been pretty fortunate enough to work in jobs I’ve (mostly) enjoyed and haven’t felt the need to buy things to distract me from a terrible 9-5.  But the move has made me recognise that I still buy more things that I need – my groaning bookcases as prime example.

    The last paragraph in the blogpost, an almost call to action, really resonated with me and made me think:

    “If the goal really is to work until you die, then keep earning, keep spending, keep consuming, and ultimately your goal will be reached.  If the goal is to enjoy at least a portion of your life, to spend time with family and friends, to enjoy what little time we have on this earth, then wake up, get conscious, and make a change.  Slow down.  Breathe.  Take a step back and evaluate your consumption, and ask, at what cost? ”

    – from the blog With Husband in Tow.

    With the house move scars still so fresh and a spate of celebrations upcoming, it made me realise that maybe the answer wasn’t to clutter up my friend’s houses with more junk, but buy something that would mean spending more time together doing something we enjoy; dinners out and concert tickets, primarily.  After all we can consume more, but we can also consume art and knowledge and good food in the company of friends and loved ones.  And what better way to consume than that?

    Birmingham, My Thoughts

    Death Cafe Birmingham

    20140730-180319-64999737.jpg

    Ever given up a sunny Sunday afternoon to sit around and talk death with a bunch of strangers?  I did last week for Birmingham’s first Death Cafe, which took place as part of The Electric’s Shock and Gore festival.

    The Death Cafe is a voluntary group, developed in London by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid.  There objective is simple: ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.  Birmingham’s first meeting was held in The Victoria Pub and organised by Carrie Weekes, a soon-to-be undertaker, and Sharon Hudson, a palliative care nurse specialist – with sweet treats from Conjurer’s Kitchen, and a room rather surreally decorated for a themed Dr Sketchy’s later.

    With a three-course list of questions, we sat in groups of eight and discussed attitudes to death, end of life care and what we’d like to see at our own funerals.  It was interesting to see the diversity of ages and experiences – from those working with people at the end stages of their lives, to people caring for elderly relatives and those who were just curious.  It also fascinating to see people’s experiences of talking about death in the everyday; from parents whose children didn’t want to discuss ‘what happens if…’ to those who’d written wills and had paperwork sorted for every eventuality.  Topics of assisted suicide, organ donation and the debate about knowing how long you have left were all covered too.

    Cake pop & menu

    Cake pop & menu

    It sounds strange, but I left the Death Cafe feeling oddly energised.  It gave me the opportunity to think about my own experiences with death, how better to live and questions to ask of loved ones.  For a few hours talking about death, I felt oddly more appreciative of my family and my life.

    Would I go back?  You know, I think I would.

    Check out http://deathcafe.com/deathcafes/ for information on the next Birmingham Death Cafe.

    Books, My Thoughts

    Life’s too short to read bad books

    LUCIA book challengeI vividly remember the first book I never finished.  It was Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, and I hated it.  Up until that point I read everything veraciously and this was the first book that I struggled through, that gave me reader’s block and made me struggle with whether it was okay to give up on a book.

    And my answer is yes.

    I’ve rarely found anyone who has given up on a book did so without good reason, even if that reason is that they didn’t like it; there’s often reasons why they didn’t.  It’s why the book club I run has a rule that you don’t have to finish the book.  Rarely do I find that people didn’t finish a book because they ran out of time, and if they did it’s usually because something was preventing them from picking up the book in the first place.  But if someone doesn’t finish a book, there’s usually just as much to talk about as those who mercifully struggled to the end.  Hated the plot, the characters or the writing style?  Great, lets discuss why!  Books people don’t finish often make better book club books anyway.

    Thankfully it’s not just me who thinks it’s okay to give up on a book, even as a self-described reader / bookworm.  Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project (which is a great book) talks about the relief of giving up on a book and letting go of the sense of obligation.  And Adele Parks advised a teacher not to force young people to finish a book if they hated it at a World Book Night event I went to.  So if authors are advising people to give up on books they hate it seems reasonable to do so.

    But when do you give up on books?  Writer Jen Doll suggests preserving with 100 pages.  I tend to go for 100 pages or 10% of the book before making a judgement, but some times the first five pages are enough.  This way I avoid the guilt that comes with leaving a book unfinished; I’ve given myself a point where it’s okay to just admit it’s not for me.

    What do you think, am I admitting defeat too early, should I struggle on and finish what I started?  Or is life just too short to read books you don’t like?

    Birmingham, Internet and social media, My Thoughts

    Congratulations on the smug political status update

    I’ve wanted to write this for days, but it felt a little improper to do so before polling stations closed and results were read out.

    Pre-election and even on the day, my social media feeds have been full of mockery of political parties, jokes about delayed election days for certain voters and a number of other equally silly things.  I’m sorry, call me a killjoy but I don’t get the joke.

    I like democracy; sure, I think my opinion makes the most sense (otherwise why would I hold it) but I like that democracy is ultimately about the masses deciding.  The right of a political party to exist, no matter how much I agree or disagree with their policies, is part of what makes this a great system.  But a philosopher once told me that you argue against something’s strongest points not its weakest.  It’s why I’ve always been against no platform policies and more recently why I’ve been annoyed at these Facebook statuses and tweets – and I love sarcasm.  Sure, mocking something is kind of arguing against it; but is it really an effective way to changing people’s minds – are you even reaching those people who are genuinely planning on voting for those parties you vehemently dislike so much?  Maybe the question should really be were you even trying to reach them via social media?  Because to me, at least, it just looked like a group of smug self-congratulating updates which spectacularly failed to do anything useful – and the results seem to agree with me.

    So here’s my plea – and you may call me idealistic for it.  Next year it’s a general election and if you care so much about whom people vote for, get off your bums and do something useful.  If you’re passionate about a political party then join them and hand out flyers and speak to people to convince them to your party is best.  If you’re passionate about not voting for a certain political party then effectively debate with people who might be tempted to vote that way about why that party’s policies are incorrect and what the alternatives are.  Point out flaws in an argument in a way that will actually engage with people.  Talk to people who feel disengaged, tell them to register their dislike of all the parties by spoiling their ballot so their voice is counted.  Stand for election.  Hell, start your own party if you like.

    But above all, do something that might actually count.

    My Thoughts

    Shapes, words and reminders

    I’m sat here in the new library, looking out onto Birmingham with my wrist bandaged up like a prize fighter. Today marks the day I got my first tattoo. I always thought I’d be the kind of person never to get one; I always said there was nothing I liked enough to chose to mark my skin with every day. But this has been a hard year and I’ve resorted back to one of the things that helps me to remember to persevere.  And when I thought about it, I’ve been doodling this on my wrist on and off for ten years, this little purple star.

    It’s funny because my mind remembers in pictures, shapes and colours; I’m hopeless with names but I will remember where on a shelf a long forgotten book is or the route to somewhere I rarely go. But words, words and stories, have always been my first love, in all their shapes and sizes. During hard times I always retreat to stories; books, music and film; to quotations and lines from songs.  Tell me a story, better yet put it in a song, and it has the power to stop you in your tracks…or struggle on through.

    I have a quote for most occasions and several for when things are tough and you keep going, but the one I always come back to is from New Found Glory; “every darkness, I’ll shine through”.  Life is full of struggles, big and small, but keep shining. It’s the same message as Winston Churchill’s “If you’re going through hell, keep going” or Disney’s Finding Nemo “just keep swimming”.  Life is wonderful and hard, awesome and awful, it’s so simple and wonderfully complex, but it’s worth persevering even when things aren’t as good as they could be.

    Someone I once heard talk said tattoos didn’t have to have meaning, they can just be artworks in their own right, and he’s right. To most people who might see this little purple star and I’m okay with that because stars are pretty awesome in so many ways. But to me it’s so much more.