Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Twenty-two.








Charles Darwin, in case you were unsure

Today is my twenty-second birthday. While I certainly don't look or feel as wise as the bearded man above, I thought it would be nice to reflect on arguably the biggest thing that's happened to me this year: Big City Life.

When I finished uni, I thought taking a break from studying was a good idea. Aside from gaining some good ol' life experience, I wanted the space and time to jump at any opportunity (like moving away) if it came about. So although the move to London was somewhat unexpected, it happened at a time when I was very open to change.

London was a place I dreamed about living in throughout my childhood and teenage years. I thought it was the most exciting city in the world. But, after a brief stint in Brighton, where I lived for 6 months in my second year of university, I gained a bit more perspective. I fell in love with the coastal town, and my burning desire to live in the capital faded.

When my 'significant other' (guess who) unexpectedly landed a job opportunity in London, suddenly, moving to my childhood city of dreams was back on the agenda. It initially took me some time to feel sure that moving was the right decision, I was nervous about essentially dropping everything on the spot and leaving, but images of Victorian buildings, double deckers, unknown people and places tugged at me. I felt I had nothing to lose by going - only lots to gain.

Now that I've been here five months, that initial doubt seems so far away and I can't imagine having chosen to stay in Malta. As with any unfamiliar place (especially one as huge and diverse as London), I discover new people, places and things on a daily basis - part of the reason why I started this blog. And occasionally - when I stumble upon one of the city's incredible landmarks, but also sometimes just crossing the road on my habitual route home - I regain a massive sense of admiration and wonder at the place, feeling like a child all over again.

And now, paying tribute to 22 year-olds across the globe, here are some worldly accomplishments that are slightly more significant than my move to London:

At age 22:

Charles Darwin set off as ship's naturalist on a voyage to South America and the Galapagos Islands.

James Joyce left his family, his church and his country for the European continent, in order to become a writer. (We are one and the same, James)

Caresse Crosby became the first person to patent a brassiere, which was made of two handkerchiefs and ribbon sewn together. (Thanks, Caresse!)

U.S. swimmer Mark Spitz won a record 7 Olympic gold medals.

Inventor Samuel Colt patented the Colt six-shooter revolver.

Dia DiCristino survived 11 brain surgeries.

Andrew Robinson bicycled across the United States, unsupported, to raise money for the World Wildlife Fund.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The quest for a simple life









"Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify."
Henry David Thoreau

I think one of the great problems of our time is that our lives are filled with physical and mental clutter. Every day, we face the challenge of steering a clear path through a chaotic world full of choice. It feels a bit like we're on a path sabotaged by distractions - constant, conflicting messages that hit us from a thousand angles. I think it makes our lives unnecessarily complicated.

The outside world is a huge mixing pot of clashing voices and media platforms (who do we listen to?), retail brands (what do we buy?), food that hails from every corner of the globe (what do we eat?). The internet is essentially a virtual reflection of all of this, giving us access to anything at the press of a button, and we each own at least two screens. In the midst of all this, we're left confused, stressed, unfocused, and ultimately unhappy.

I hate that feeling at the end of a long day, when I've been flicking from one tab to the next, one screen to the next, seen a million flashy adverts on these screens, and answered to (sometimes useless) conversations on every platform imaginable, before proceeding to amble down the aisles of the supermarket, disillusioned by the colours and brand names screaming for my attention. Moments like these make me feel mentally exhausted, and I think they take their toll on our general levels of concentration and calm.

Some days I feel more relaxed than others. Some days, I take things slower, multi-task less, make simpler choices. These are the better days. I think there's something inherently satisfying about being able to live simply - and no, I don't mean spending your life chewing on straw in a field (although my inner farmer loves this idea) - but just doing your best to cut away at the unnecessary detail that is so very distracting. The stuff that gets in the way of having clear head space.

For me, simple living is a work in progress - something I aspire to get better at as I go along. Having less 'stuff' is one of the things I'm working on - trying to move away from mass-manufactured junk that I don't need, and make more mindful choices when it comes to the objects I accumulate (this is a lot harder than it sounds). Food is another area where simplicity is extremely satisfying - choosing simple, seasonal and preferably local ingredients without all of the anomalies that come with pre-packaged foods.

Staying afloat of the mess that is the media can sometimes be daunting - it's easy to get overwhelmed by its often contradictory messages. I think it's important to keep a safe distance while staying informed, acknowledge that the stories we're being told aren't necessarily true - nor can they be fit neatly into boxes of 'right' or 'wrong'. This distance is what helps me stay sane, pretty much.

I also think it's highly satisfying to enjoy simple pleasures - reading books, having good conversation, sitting in nature (even if this is a small patch of grass on the corner of your street), leisurely walks. If we can do our best to block out the chaos that modern life imposes on us, I think we can work towards being happier people, and do the world a lot of good in the process.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

A dismal day



This bank holiday weekend, a group of us decided to visit Banksy's Dismaland, located in the obscure seaside town of Weston Super-Mare. It began with an overcomplicated plan that involved lugging our hungover selves to Heathrow airport to rent a car (in which we squeezed 8 passengers), then setting off onto the rainy motorway and stopping off for a pub lunch in Bath before continuing onto WSM. It ended with frolic, fatigue, and us having a nickname for absolutely everything, notably our driver Ian (pilot), lead passenger Tina (co-pilot), and passenger who never knew where we were going but provided useful insight along the way, Timmy (co-co pilot). The rest of us left navigation in the hands of the experts while enjoying Heart FM blasting from the radio.

I didn't have very high expectations for Dismaland before we arrived. To me, it seemed like a bit of a media stunt with a very overstated message, by an artist who is normally renowned for his wit and subtlety. I had also read a scathing review of the 'bemusement park' which filled me with doubts. Bearing all this in mind, however, worked well for me, because I left pleasantly surprised with what I found beyond the bleak gates of this derelict - and indeed rather dismal - site.

What Banksy has created here is an expression of a world-view that challenges that of its real-life counterpart, Disneyland. Here, the bleak 21st-century realities of surveillance, oppression and popular culture are laid bare for our observation. And unlike an amusement park, where cheap thrills offer customers a distraction from the outside world of these realities, Banksy's park is designed to remind us of society's failures. If Disneyland is the ultimate portrait of fantasy, Dismaland is a brutal representation of reality.

Anyone expecting an actual theme park experience will be disappointed with Dismaland. This is a modern art exhibition, using the framework of an amusement park to access its audience. Once you realise that this is a parody of a park, and not by any means a park itself, the tongue-in-cheek messages Banksy and other artists are trying to send come across much more clearly.

There were a few things in particular which caught my eye. The picture above highlights one of the 'main' attractions; a grotesque image of Cinderella leaning dead out of her toppled carriage with eerily life-like paparazzi photographing her. Ironically, visitors stood behind the 'paparazzi' taking photos of the scene from their phones and cameras. This jeer at popular culture and our obsession with hounding celebrities (even driving them to their deaths) is even more relevant with the recent release of Amy which I've written about.

I also really enjoyed the main galleries for their showcase of varied modern paintings and art prints. Close by, Jimmy Cauty's 'model village' was on display - a highly detailed miniature of a dystopian, police-run city, that took years to complete and was nothing short of impressive. The outdoor cinema was a great spot to sit back and watch some excellent animated shorts. I would've sat there for ages if it wasn't for the cold creeping in.

While I don't necessarily think this is Banksy's greatest work, it's giving people access to an alternative aesthetic; unusual pieces of work that embody their own anti-establishment message. I think it's good for people to see something like this for the non-restrictive price tag of £3. I really enjoyed immersing myself in this weird (and often true) world, and what better place to present weirdness than at a twisted fairground in Weston Super Mare?