European Communities

On my Year Abroad I thought a lot about communities – families, friends, social groups, political groups. Especially in the cold, dark, Viennese winter – I wanted to belong to a community, too. I tried life drawing, where I met cool intellectual, international types and drank wine and beer and then went home feeling uber-European. European – seems odd to write that, I’m not sure I’d ever identified as European before?

Working at a school, I constantly taught and planned lessons in English – teaching students about my culture, where I came from, what we did to celebrate certain events. I loved reflecting on why the UK was the way it was – I’d never thought much about wearing poppies in November, we just did it. Telling foreign people about British culture and customs brought me closer to the UK than I’d felt before. Which was strange, because I’d been abroad before, when I lived in Stuttgart – where I had lots of international friends and some local friends, too.

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Outside the Opera

Teaching English was great – I became closer to my language. Why do we use the plural “sheep” but not sheeps for more than one? Why do we pronounce brought and taught the same way? And why, oh why do we expect foreigners who visit or work in our country be able to speak perfect English, when most of us can’t string together a sentence in French?

I became part of many communities, I ran, I swam, I drew – I went to art galleries with large paintings from the 18th Century and contemplated Brugel, Brecht and Belguim. I was in the centre of Europe! I could be in Bratislava in less than two hours and jog in the Schönbrunn palace gardens in less than 20 minutes. I had so much time on my hands – but what to do with it?

I went to libraries across the city, lots of them – the Hauptbücherei – main library – which looks like a ship from the outside, the local library in my Bezirk or district. Vienna has 23 districts – they begin with the first and go out like a snail – I was living in the 12th, Meidling, and teaching nearby. The buildings were incredible. Large, beautiful, spiralling yet not overbearing – each one like the next but somehow entirely different to the next. In Meidling there was a lot of Sozialbauwohnungen, social housing, built in the 70s when social housing was needed most.

I loved seeing it all and reading the transcriptions on the side of buildings – what might it mean and how long had it been there? I got buses and trams everyday through the winding streets, trying to make sense of where in the city I might have been today – north, south, east or west? I was terrified to cycle, like many locals did – for fear of getting hit by a passing van!

Once, on a bus to my house in Meidling, after I’d moved in with some friends, my boyfriend asked, “did the voice just announce “bless you””? I laughed – he was right, the bus’ final stop was Gesundheitszentrum Süd – The hospital in the south of Vienna. Gesundheit means health, but it also means “bless you!” When someone sneezed at work, it became a force of habit to say it back. When I visited people in Innsbruck, they told me they said “Servus!” too, which was a jolly greeting. Just like in Derbyshire when we say “ay up!”.

I made more friends as time went by – I went tours of the UN with my school. I was fascinated. I got to know more and more students and their ways of life. I met local Viennese people, people from around the region and people from neighbouring countries. I tried wines that were in season. I remember the first day at my school, a vocational college, well. I was given a tour of the grounds and the building. It was a great school – a pleasure to be part of. It was the only school in Vienna with its own vineyard. I couldn’t believe it! Where I went to school, in Belper, we did weekly food tech lessons. I’d never been passionate about cooking but have come to enjoy it as I’ve grown up.

Teaching was interesting because I wanted my students to understand British politics. I did several lessons on Brexit – I was honest, clear that I didn’t vote for it, but I tried to explain what had happened and why. The tables turned during the elections in Vienna when I got the opportunity to ask students and some teachers about their political views. It was refreshing to see so many young people engaged in a debate. In Austria, voting age is 16 and the students at my school were 14 – 19 years old (on some occasions older).

I wonder, being back in the UK – if the voting age was lowered, would we have a fairer say on all matters Brexit?

Now I’m back in the UK and studying for final year, I am embracing the communities I come across at Uni more than ever. Today I did a Park Run, which was full of a range of ages, ethnicities and different communities. Social groups, runners, first-timers, non-athletes. Running along with everyone I felt proud to belong to a Leeds community.

It’s important to stay engaged in conversations, now more than ever. I loved my Year Abroad – it was a challenge, perhaps one of the biggest and best yet. I received money from the ERASMUS scheme to do it, which funded everything from travel, studying, drinking (I promise I didn’t waste it all on booze!), taking part in a Gebärdensprache Kurs (Austrian sign language). Yes, the EU has it’s problems, it can be problematic at times. But the cultural learning I was able to experience in Vienna was einzigartig; one of a kind. I was able to learn and broaden by horizons. And all the while on public transport that cost me less than 50 pounds a semester. I’d hate for the next generations not to get that chance.

Please, please think about the younger generations in this election. The result will be pivotal to our future – not just Brexit, but the way we deal with the Climate Crisis, too.

 

I disagree with the Daily Mail article (what’s new?!) about rubbish at Glastonbury 2019

“What stinking hypocrisy! They cheered David Attenborough like a god at Glastonbury, but as the crowds headed home, they left a squalid mess that makes a mockery of their eco-posturing” 

So begins the Daily Mail article written about Glastonbury. Daily Mail Article

I was at Glastonbury 2019 as a fan and a recycler. This was my fourth year of volunteering with The Recycling Crew, an organisation which enables volunteers to come to Glastonbury festival for free. If you pay the deposit of the festival ticket and do 24 hours of work for the crew, you receive your money back later in the summer. Every time you work one shift, you receive meal tickets which are exchangeable for a really tasty hot veggie or vegan meal in the crew campsite.

It’s a great deal, but the amount of rubbish can sometimes be shocking. I am writing this because I want to set the record straight. I know how many hundreds and thousands of people read the Daily Mail’s right-wing, click-bait drivel and I know I can’t combat this, but I can at least have a try.

Glastonbury is an amazing festival, you just can’t deny it. Over the course of the weekend you are bound to experience extreme highs – dancing in a field full of people to the artist you’ve been listening to all year in anticipation of seeing them live, laughing so much that your belly aches listening to comedy in the Mavericks after hours tent, listening to inspiring speeches from politicians, the overwhelming sense of belonging you feel after listening to Kate Tempest play her album in full knowing that everyone around you understands and believes everything she is rapping. Whilst you are doing all of this, it’s inevitable that you might not always be able to put your beer in a nearby bin. That is why the recycling crew are there, every year.

For me in particular, spending nine months in Austria teaching English to teenagers, I’ve been through a lot of highs and lows. I’ve taught many lessons on Brexit and attempted to explain my understanding of the situation and give my unbiased opinion (which, admittedly wasn’t always!) When I returned to England in June I was anxious to see how much the United Kingdom had changed, how we as a people are behaving in the wake of Brexit and the climate crisis. I spent a week meeting family and friends and spending time in their company, then headed off to Glastonbury.

The weekend was crammed with everything it could have been and more – I did not anticipate seeing two Aussie blokes playing with their penises and making comedy out of it (Puppetry of the Penis) nor did I expect to see a man dressed as Hitler singing about the Führer to the tune of Frank Sinatra songs, whilst making countless jokes (Frank Sanazi). Nor did I imagine to be just so blown away by Stormzy, who tweeted prior to his set “I am the first black British artist to headline Glastonbury”.

I didn’t think I’d experience a band that I knew playing their first ever Glastonbury on the legendary John Peel stage at 11:15am on a Sunday morning. I met Eyre Llew from Nottingham just three days before and it was such a pleasure to see them perform.

Last but not least, I didn’t expect to spend such a brilliant night out on Sunday, to wake up on Monday morning at 5:30am to be confronted with a small reality of what is our countries’ throw-away society. In German there is a word for this – Wegwerfgesellschaft – either this implies that German speaking people are more aware of this problem, or that it is just a really cool, slightly unnecessary word, you decide…

I digress. On Monday we got through an incredible amount of rubbish, despite being tired and hungover. Everything that could be was recycled – tins, cans, compostable plates and forks and food waste  and plastic bottles (which there were significantly less of this year thanks to the ban!) things that couldn’t be had to go to landfill. Cups, bottles and salvageable blankets were saved to be disinfected to be sent to refugee shelters.

It is of course foolish to deny that we live in a throw-away society – but what struck me the most is people’s blatant denial of this. A lot of it will come down to capitalism and the fact that it is cheaper to create certain products that are not recyclable.

But if you own something, it is your responsibility to look after it and dispose of it as you see fit. Our generation have not all grown up with this sentiment, myself included. From what I saw whilst recycling, that is clear. Throwing away or leaving shoes, tents, clothes, food etc. at Glastonbury simply because you cannot be bothered to take them home is a crime against our environment.

I’ve heard many people say that they leave tents because they will be collected and sent to refugee camps, whether this is true for certain festivals I am not sure. But surely, if your tent is able to be used again you should take it home with you to use it again or take it home and then donate it yourself. Make sure you know the facts.

One thing is clear to me – we can’t be in denial of the climate crisis any more. This is why I want to share some positive things with my friends, families and anybody else who may read this:

  • Fast fashion is corrupt and we need to stop buying clothes which we don’t need. If you can fix your clothes and wear them again, do! If you want or need to buy new clothes there are charity shops, vintage shops and swap shops all over the UK that are cheap and won’t cost the world.

 

  • Reduce your plastic usage! You do not need to buy plastic water bottles or to use the plastic cups/coffee cups you are given in coffee shops or at festivals – take your own and reuse them. If you must use plastic, check it is recyclable.

 

 

  • Animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of climate change – I am vegetarian but not yet vegan, even though many people have inspired me to be over the past 6 months. I want to get there and I hope in the future I will!

 

  • Toothpaste and toothbrush alternatives exist! Opt for a bamboo toothbrush and try getting creative with making your own toothpaste, my sister has made a great one with just baking soda and coconut oil!

 

  • If you’re from Belper, get to  Sue’s Sustainables  and Vegan Revelation Café at De Bradelei Mill! I love the shop and it really made me seriously consider what I could do differently to impact the environment. You can buy everything from Mooncups to eco-friendly deodorant!

 

  • Similarly, if you’re from The Lake District please check out my cousin Hayley’s newly opened weigh-it-your-way shop – Roots Refill Pantry

 

A final thought – I know this could come across as hypocritical/negative/judgemental – it is not at all intended that way. I believe that if people make small changes then we will be able to eventually make bigger ones. I am pledging to stay informed, to do what I can, to listen to others, to help and inspire others to do what they can.

Disclaimer – I have lived in Austria for a year and yes, I have flown a lot in order to visit family and friends, but I admit that I’m not proud and I want to significantly reduce my use of air travel in the near future.

Yes, people throw rubbish on the floor at Glastonbury – but there are more than enough bins and every morning of the festival litter pickers wake up at 5:30 and work throughout the day to keep the site clean. We have got a long way to go and banning plastic is just a small step, but let’s look at this with some positivity!

 

It is 2019 after all – we won’t get anywhere without mindful the habits of our ‘snowflake generation’, let’s embrace the negative labels that those older generations have dubbed us with and see what we can change!

 

 

A reflection of 2015 in music

Winter

Nobody’s Empire // Belle and Sebastian

After five years off the scene, Belle and Sebastian returned in January with their ninth studio album ‘Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance’. Nobody’s Empire is the opening track, and stays true to Belle and Sebastian tradition. The instrumentals are gentle, like a shy marching band. As usual, it’s Murdoch’s words that give life to the song. Belle and Sebastian aren’t trying to prove anything, they’re just observing, storytelling from their own angle.

 

Spring

Standing in the Cold // Drenge

Drenge’s second album brought (some) maturity and an extra addition to the band – and they are definitely better for it. Standing in the Cold is everything you expect from a Drenge track and more – sulky and loaded with self loathing, embellished with echoing riffs that get progressively haunting throughout the track. Eoin’s lyrics slowly unveil a sort of dysfunctional relationship, ‘I was half your age and I thought we were in love’, demonstrated with sadistic biblical images images of burning cars, being nailed to trees and stained glass windows. You could look for some ‘deeper meaning’ in all of this, but you’d be wasting your time. Meanwhile Eoin would be laughing at you like a satisfied child. Nevertheless, Drenge dominate on this track.

 

Summer

She’s a Witch // Gengahr

Gengahr’s sound is quiet and shy, yet somehow it manages to tease you at the same time. Give it a listen.

 

West Coast // FIDLAR

This song needs no explanation – it’s your standard driving along the motorway in July, windows down and the speakers full blast. It exudes teenage immaturity, ‘got drunk and barfed on my shadow’ to the point of envy. I’m also pretty sure just the intro gives me endorphins. Everything about it is brilliant.

 

Autumn

Lousy Connection // Ezra Furman

I wouldn’t ordinarily listen to music with trumpets in it, but Furman’s witty lyricisms make it irresistible. What drew me in was his attitude – he shows awareness of all that’s shitty about modern life, but doesn’t take himself too seriously, ‘The century seems like it’s turning out okay
It’s like a game of worldwide karaoke, and my rich friends and me just sit and blow smoke rings. There’s nothing happening, and it’s happening too fast’. It seems I’m not the only one who’s been drawn in… His album received 5 star reviews from numerous music press such as NME, Rough Trade and Pitchfork to name a few.

 

Winter

No Fun // The Magic Gang

If you listen to this once, you’ll probably find it catchy. Listen to it a further 10 times and I challenge you not to sing along with the riffs (air guitar is optional). It’s plain to see that good things are to come for The Magic Gang in 2016.

 

Two to Birkenhead // Bill Ryder-Jones

Bill Ryder-Jones’ is a romantic with a guitar. In his latest album ‘West Kirby County Primary’ he gives a voice to his quiet seaside his hometown, West Kirby. With the ambiguity of his lyrics, it seems as if he’s returned as a fly on the wall to favourite streets, bars and even old friends’ living rooms, taken notes, then at the end of the day crafting these overheard conversations into a monologue, and setting them to guitar. Two to Birkenhead is my favourite from the album, a love song in denial; full of the adolescent urge for escape and independence, its emotion amplified by the electric guitar, gathering up so much tempo throughout the song that by the end it feels powerful enough to set a match to and let it burn.

Courtney Barnett @ Technikum, Munich | 20/11/15

This year Courtney Barnett conquered the music scene. She and her band of three played The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, featured on The Late Show and released an album ‘Sometimes i sit and think, sometimes i just sit’ which topped not just one, but four Billboard charts. I was pretty pissed off to have missed her set at Glastonbury when I heard her for the first time in a Rough Trade store a month later.

But after seeing her in Munich last night, I take it all back. Seeing her at a 300 capacity venue was, in my eyes, incomparable to The Pyramid Stage.

One thing you ought to know about Barnett is that her songs each tell a story, every one embellished with a mix of concern, truth and wit. I’ve never heard a more intriguing song starter than ‘I masturbated to the songs you wrote’ (Lance Jr.) By the end of the song you actually realise it’s actually a sarcastic dig at what seems to be a previous partners’ musical endeavours.

Barnett and her band didn’t bother with the generic set list structure (start with a fairly popular song to drag people in, fill next 20 minutes with new stuff, recite the crowd pleasing classics in the last five minutes, inevitable acoustic encore, end with most popular hit so that people aren’t tempted to leave early). As ever, they went for a different approach, which in retrospect I can unapologetically say it seems like the songs were decided on 5 minutes before curtain call. But because each song switched seamlessly from angsty to paranoid, pissed off to infatuated, contemplative to ignorant, it worked. Barnett’s crafted monologue against the backdrop of electric guitar and drums had you completely drawn in and fixated. For an hour and a half the audience stepped out of their own confused minds, and boarded Barnett’s (somewhat unhinged) train of thought.

During ‘Small Poppies’ her words resonate with an unsettling truth, probing modern societies unspoken demons – the struggle for individualism in a time where everyone looks different somehow similar, narcissism in the time of the selfie-stick,  insanity and inevitably depression… The song ends ‘an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye, I used to hate myself but now I think I’m alright’.

The contrast is found in songs like ‘an illustration of loneliness (sleepless in New York)’ where she lusts over an anonymous person in her absence, ‘wondering what you’re doing, what you’re listening to, which quarter of the moon you’re viewing from your bedroom’. Because sometimes you have to fall in love and ignore the shit state of affairs that we’re currently faced with.

To me, it’s sort of ironic that interviews with Barnett have her labelled as ‘the voice of the millennial generation’, – she’s not one voice above the rest, she’s just as confused and pissed off as the rest of us. ‘Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you’ surely proves she’s no closer to finding a solution than the rest of us. In the mean time, listening to her music is the only way to guilt-free procrastination.

The Modern Lovers

Since returning from the US, I have been obsessed with this band. They formed in 1970, but nothing was released until over four years later, when they split. Frontman Jonathan Richman sung about his frustrations, disparity, wanting to have a long running girlfriend rather than just getting laid at weekends and what it was like to grow up in Massachusetts, taking influence from The Velvet Underground (apparently). I’m convinced there has been nothing like them since.

'some people try to pick up girls and get called assholes, this never happened to Pablo Picasso'

‘some people try to pick up girls and get called assholes, this never happened to Pablo Picasso’

Even though NME have pretty much sold out at this point, I managed to get some use out of the ones my dad and I have bought over the past couple of years, by decoupaging a second hand bedside table that fits my record player on top and (most of) my records inside it! I’m pretty pleased with the way it turned out…

 

 

we’re going nowhere, but nowhere’s on our way …

The Libertines, September 2015

The Libertines, September 2015

When The Libertines announced that they’d be playing ‘intimate venues’ a week ago, I was very skeptical about what that actually meant. I also thought it was too good to be true after seeing them in Hyde Park last July, where they were on top, gloriously fucked, form. Hyde Park has the space for up to one hundred and fifty thousand people to come and watch. Whereas Rock City can hold two and a half thousand at a push. So the tickets were in demand…

Whoever markets the Libertines saw the perfect opportunity to lift people from their post summer blues and hand them a chance to improve their year. And a chance to get ‘Anthems For Doomed Youth’ to be pre-ordered by thousands. That guy is currently very very smug. Who knows, maybe it was the boys in the band themselves.

Despite their surge of festival sets over the summer, which i’ve heard to be somewhat ‘underwhelming’ at times, Rock City was something else. Everyone at that gig wanted to be there. It felt as if no time had passed since the Libertines split almost ten years ago, and the moment they walked out on stage we knew that they would be making a comeback like no others.

Carl and Pete were sharing the mic, Gary was applauded by a sea of beer covered fans chanting his name, and John looked a bit confused by the whole affair, but when Pete decided to launch himself into the crowd, he got his phone out and took a picture.

Without ranting about how incredible the new record is going to be, I can safely say that everyone there last night was part of something special. It was the perfect way to say goodbye to Derbyshire and my teenage years.

‘Here’s a story about the rules of death and glory
To be learned by heart by all children of men
It’s the hour of the morning on the day after the dawning
When the sun they said would never set finally set again
Was it Cromwell or Orwell who first led you to the stairwell
Which leads only forever to kingdom come
Rushed alone by guiding hands whispers of the promised land
They wished you luck and handed you a gun
Life could be so handsome
Life could be so gay
We’re going nowhere
But nowhere, nowhere’s on our way…’