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London’s free outdoor theatre: Captain Show off and Women of Troy at the Scoop, 27/08/2015

Last Thursday I went to see some fabulous and free outdoor theatre in the heart of London Bridge. Every August since 2002, a fabulous theatre group named Gods and Monsters has performed classical Greek and Roman theatre at the Scoop, London’s free outdoor amphitheatre. The Scoop is surrounded by precarious looking glass offices, and is right next to the river Thames and Tower Bridge.

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Because of its location many people stumble upon it by chance and have the option of taking some time to enjoy free entertainment, and because it is free it can encourage people who wouldn’t normally go to the theatre to come and see these performances and benefit from them, because theatre is good for the soul and everyone should be able to see it.
The Scoop is used all year round as a space for free music, drama and dance shows; years ago when I was fifteen I performed at the Scoop as part of a youth dance performance with Laban, its a great space that visitors can just come along to without needing to worry about booking, and if you have a spare evening you should come down to London Bridge and see what’s going on, find out more at http://www.morelondon.com/

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Every August  theatre company Gods and Monsters are able to stage, with the help of their sponsors and audience donations,two plays adapted from Ancient Greece and Rome, one is often a light hearted family friendly comedy, and the other tends to be a Greek tragedy. This year the comedy was Captain Show Off!, which was about two long lost twin brothers who end up in the same town and get mistaken for each other, often with extreme and humerus consequences. It featured musical theatre and live music, S&M  and two gloriously chavvy slaves  called the Shiftichics who were working for ‘Wonga’, a Roman loan shark. It was very tongue in cheek, set in the town square of ‘Tescgoss’ in the province of ‘Ev’ryliddle-helps’ and was full of these not so subtle cultural references, but it was also interesting as it was adapted from the Roman comedies of author Plautus, and under all the farce it serves to remind us that situation comedies haven’t changed much in the last two thousand years, and that we have quite a lot more in common with the Romans than we may think.
The Scoop is an outdoor theatre, and we were unfortunately reminded of that when it started to rain and we had to huddle under our umbrellas and hope for the best, and although the performance had to stop until the rain lifted I was really impressed by the level of professionalism of the actors who gave no indication they noticed the rain and carried on in high spirits, despite the fact they must have been very cold and wet. The weather cleared up, however, and we got to see a very happy ending for all the plays characters, most who end up getting married. Slightly un-realistic, but very cheerful and energetic, the first play was great for all members of the family and put the audience in a good mood.

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A mood that would be shattered an hour later in the second play Women of Troy, which was adapted from the several plays on the subject written by Euripides, who in turn was inspired by the Illiad. The play was split into two parts, the first centring around the Greeks before the  Trojan war and the second focusing on the ruins of Troy and the fate of the women after the Greek victory. Both parts focused on the female characters, and the horrors that war can inflict upon them, and how they may deal with it. The director of Gods and Monsters states in the Programme that he aims to each year showcase an ancient play that has current significance, and Women of Troy was chosen to reflect the women that are currently in war town countries.  The play was atmospheric; even though there were few props the darkening sky (the play started at 8pm and its getting uncomfortably close to Autumn) mixed with the stage lighting and occasional live music created a natural gloomy setting, and the actors did the rest. It was a depressing, upsetting and gut wrenching play, but it was also gripping, engaging and compelling and I would recommend it to anyone who can handle some Game of Thrones style tragedy for two and a half hours straight.

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The play starts with an introduction by Helen of Troy (impressively played by Emily Sitch) who is the reason for the war as she ran away from her Greek husband Melaneus with a handsome Trojan prince. Emily Sitch portrayed her in a really interesting way, Helen is sometimes seen as a victim in the story but she came across here as a shallow, vain and un-interested individual who doesn’t seem to notice or care the turmoil in Troy’s aftermath except where she is explicitly concerned, you find yourself really hating her and getting annoyed that she is the only one who will have any resemblance of a ‘happy ending’, and any actor who can have that effect is very talented in my book.
The Greeks are enraged, and the only thing that was stopping them from launching into a full on attack  is that their is no wind to sail their ships, and apparently the only way to appeal to the gods and change the weather is for Helen’s husbands brother, and the king Agamemmnon to sacrifice his eldest daughter, the innocent and childlike Iphigenia. This part of the play was incredibly moving and disturbing in equal measures, and the strong, emotional and convincing performance by actress Hannah Kerin had me hooked for the next act.

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The next act introduces the Greeks deception and defeat of the Trojans with the use of the famous Trojan horse trick, and shows the women of troy in anguish. Their husbands and sons have been killed, and they are about to be shipped off to Greece to be slaves and concubines for their husbands murderers. In their time of need they turn to Queen Hecuba, the mother of  recently deceased Paris (Helens ‘abductor’), but she has problems of her own when she discovers that the treacherous Calchus, a merchant who has flitted between sides throughout the play killed her last surviving son when the Trojans started to lose the war. Maddened with grief, she and the other women trick the merchant to bring his sons and go on an adventure for treasure, which ends in Calchus being blinded and all his sons being murdered, an act that is barbaric, but weirdly understandable in the circumstances.

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The women of Troy continue to suffer. Their remaining children are murdered to stop the bloodline, and all the while they wait their enslavement. The actors gave emotional performances which invoked horror at the idea of having to serve those who killed your families and Hecuba suggests what is in store in the future when she  states that the women of Troy would not forget, that they will have their revenge and the war is not really over.  It was a troubling and addictive play, and it definitely inspired me to learn more about Troy, Euripides and Ancient Greece.
This is theatre you would pay to see, and the fact that you can just stumble upon it shows how diverse and exciting entertainment can be in London. Check them out and come along to one of their performances next year, bring tissues, cushions and a pillow and get ready for a theatrical roller-coaster, you might even learn something.

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Lazy Vegetarian Meal Ideas #12 Macaroni and Cheese: Kale and Mushroom editon

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I’ve been meaning to make macaroni and cheese for ages and on Thursday I finally got around to it. This is the first time I have ever made macaroni and cheese or a cheese sauce, and it didn’t end up as.. saucy.. as I was expecting, mostly because I used too much pasta and too little milk, but it still tasted really nice and for a first attempt I am very happy with it. I added mushrooms and kale in an attempt to add some health to the layers of carbs and fat (because kale makes everything healthy, right?) but you probably shouldn’t try and eat this every day or you will become humongous.

What you need: Spirally pasta (or actual macaroni), two and a half table spoons of flower, three quarters of a small pint of milk (I used semi skimmed), some butter, grated maturecheddar cheese, breadcrumbs, three mushrooms, a few handfuls of kale

Spices: Salt and pepper

1: Cook pasta as per cooking instructions, and heat some butter in a sauce pan

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2: Add the flower and some salt and stir thoroughly until it is all mixed together

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3: Add some milk, a small amount at a time, and stir with some more salt and pepper. Bring to boil, then simmer for 7-10 minutes

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4: Add the grated cheese, again a bit at a time, and stir in. Leave for five minutes and prepare mushrooms/kale

5: When the sauce smells cheesy enough and all cheese is melted, stir in the vegetables and pasta

6: Add to a baking dish topped with extra cheese and breadcrumbs and leave for 20-25 minutes

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7: Serve and enjoy!

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Should the Labour party admit defeat, and is there an alternative path for the UK?

The Labour leadership election is the first party leadership contest I have ever followed, and the first I have ever actually heard of. This, primarily, seems to be because of Jeremy Corbyn, the left wing outsider who is rejecting the ‘centralist’ approach favored by the other candidates and appears to want to bring back ‘old Labour’ as it was before Thatcher and the 1980s.

Now, I’m not a Labour supporter (or a avid supporter of any of the parties), but I do find it refreshing that someone, literally anyone, is trying to bring Labour in a new direction. At the moment, and at the time of the last election, they appeared to be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. They are not anti austerity, but they want to appear ‘nicer’ than the Tories. They want to appeal to the ‘working class’, but they don’t appear to know how to do that. And, whilst they tried some ‘leftish’ policies, some which sounded quite good (emphasis on apprenticeships rather than universities was one I liked), they weren’t distinguishable enough from the Tories to really make an impact, and if you have a choice between a party which, whatever scruples you have for them at least are fairly clear and consistent with what they aim to do, and a party that changes its image all the time and appears to be suffering from an identity crisis, I imagine many people will pick the former. However, I’m not sure this return to old Labour principles is going to be beneficial in the long run, simply because Old Labour belonged to a world that, even though it was only a few decades ago, is no longer the world we live in today. Jobs have changed, pastimes have changed, technology has leapt forward and the people who are now the ‘working class’ that Labour traditionally seeks to represent is not the same working class that was here 30-40 years ago.

Personally, I think the Labour party in itself, the party that represented the old working class, is done. And it is done simply because the working class that used to support them has changed a lot in the last few decades, and with it they have new needs and new demands, and Labour has not evolved along with them. The working class used to be a distinctive group, filled with miners, factory workers, and people who largely did physical labor, that is at least how I imagine the working class of 30-40 years ago and before. Now the mines are closed, and although some factories still exist from what I have seen they make up less than 10% of the total workforce. I would say the new ‘working class’ now describes people who work in retail, or customer service. People who work in shops, bars and offices. People who perhaps wouldn’t have been classed as working class thirty years ago, and it is debatable if they really fit the bill of being ‘working class’. Class distinctions and divisions have changed a lot, and what class means has changed a lot too. And these people have new needs, and new agendas. And I would argue that Labour cannot say they represent them when they either sound so much like the Conservatives they may as well merge with them, or claim to represent views of a people that do not exist in the same way as they used to. People are anti austerity because they claim it hits the poorest and helps the richest, and under the Tories this does appear to be the case at least in some areas, but many of them do not really seem to have definitive vision of what they want instead of austerity. I do not believe Old Labour can claim to represent enough people, but New Labour is so close to the conservatives that people are now saying they should just merge together. Neither seems to truly represent the people in today’s society, and does not offer a real alternative to what we have now.

One alternative that offers real change, greater freedom and ultimately greater equality is a real free market, liberal society and although many people dismiss it based on biases and often incorrect assumptions, I’m now going to try and show through some examples how it could provide a real alternative and ultimately benefit the working class (as well as everyone else). This system does not necessarily push for austerity, but it does push for far less government spending and intervention, and because of this it may not be popular with many Green Party and Corbyn supporters, but less government spending does not necessarily mean a worse quality of life and people becoming poorer, in fact those who support it tend to suggest it will make things fairer and actually lessen the gap between the rich and the poor in a way that austerity on its own without changing the basic principles behind it cannot do.

As the tax boundaries currently lie, you pay 20% tax until you earn over £31,000, then every penny you earn after the £31,000 is charged at 40% tax rate, and then those who earn over 150,000 are charged a 45% tax rate. This is clearly unfair, as you pay double the tax if you earn 31,000 and only 5% more if you earn over £150,000. To my mind, the solution isn’t to increase tax. In fact, I would suggest the opposite. Cut taxes to 10% at the most for the lowest tax bracket (or remove them altogether) and if you must have taxes (although ultimately you may not need them) make it 20% for the middle and say 30 or 40 for the upper.
The current system makes it so if you end up earning more money, you will initially actually make less (this happened to me, I got a £1,20 an hour pay rise and lost £62 a month) although you will make it back in a tax rebate, although this will often take about eight months or more as it often starts the April after you began working. I wouldn’t say that the current system is terrible, but I do feel that everyone involved would benefit from their taxes being lessened both so they would take home more of what they earned and so getting a pay rise or a promotion would be initially more attractive and would have a more visible reward. Although £150,000 sounds like a lot, it is nothing compares to those who made their money from inheritance, or the stock market or other non standard vocational means. Those who earn £150,000 or more are not ‘upper’ class or necessarily rich, and often they may never benefit from a lot of the things their taxes pay for, if they use a private company they are still paying for the NHS, if they privately educate their children they are still paying for state schools etc. However, Labour wouldn’t cut the taxes, because many of their policies (at least their old ones) involve nationalized services, which means they need people to pay a certain amount of tax in order to keep these afloat.

There also seems to be an uneasy partnership at the moment between the private and public sector, often where some tax funded areas are controlled by the council but are carried out by a private company that is subsidized by said council.  I would also at this point like to talk about NHS dentists for a moment. This is not a free service, but presumably our taxes cover it as they cover other aspects of the NHS. It is subsidized, but it is hardly cheap. And because the NHS dentists are more readily available as they are endorsed and subsidized by the government, that means private dentists, whilst they may offer a better service, have to charge more because they will mostly have less customers and no extra perks. What I think would be better is if dental practices were privatized and independent of the NHS and therefore the government, which rather than rising prices I would say would actually lower them over time, as there would be more competition for more clients and many people will respond to the cheapest rate. If there is competition, not every dentist could afford to be expensive because they would lose clients, and if they had enough that they could raise their prices and their clients didn’t like it, they would have other places to choose from who would lower their prices to attract these customers. Therefore logically it would be cheaper because if these practices had to rely on people directly rather than government taxes, they would have to answer to the peoples demands, and if they demanded cheaper dental care, they would have to comply or eventually go out of business. In broader terms, there are many people who may not want to fund the NHS and may not use it, because they can get a better service with less waiting time elsewhere or if they (as some do) do not agree with the medication the NHS administers. If they do not wish to fund it, is it fair that they have to through their taxes? People always go on about how the NHS is free and should remaind free, but is it truly free when peoples taxes, which often amount to around £400+ a month, help pay for it? Would it be more expensive if they paid for it outright? It would be if the NHS itself was privatized but still subsidized by the government, but if it was all privatized and you had other, competing, companies to choose from it may well end up cheaper than what we would pay in taxes to the NHS. This isn’t the same as choosing the American system of insurance, although this may be beneficial in some areas, and it may not be perfect, but I wouldn’t dismiss it without learning more about how it would work.
Another area I think would benefit from complete privatization is universities, and I am aware this is quite a controversial statement, but bare with me.

We know that more and more people are going to universities each year, and that the prices for these university places have reached extreme levels. At the moment, because the government will happily give a massive loan to anyone who wants one, anyone who wants to go to university regardless of their grades can go to a university (although whether said university is highly regarded, or will benefit their lives in the long run, is debatable). We have recently heard that those who do not go to university and do an apprenticeship may well end up earning more than a university graduate and be in far less debt, but largely because of Blair’s New Labour and the idea that everyone needs to go to university to get on in life, people still seem to be opting for the university root regardless of the financial obstacles. And I do not believe the current system, where people become more and more in debt to the government and are very unlikely to pay back their debt over the life time is ultimately sustainable, or good for anyone involved. The prices will either rise to ridiculous levels and beyond, or the government will have to stop issuing loans, because if you keep giving out more and more money and, as the degree becomes more and more worthless less and less graduates will be earning enough to pay it all back, you will end up running out of enough money to fund it all. And I do not think the government needs to be involved at all. If the universities were allowed to run themselves and be completely responsible for themselves, and if people are aware that they are paying upfront (even if they end up paying less), they will probably be more scrupulous over which university they go to and more likely to look at alternative routes. What I think would happen is that some universities would close or change to ‘training colleges’ or apprenticeship schemes, where they would give their students real work experience in a career where they would earn money and get real experience in that field which would help them get a job later on. This is not an inferior system, I see no reason why a vocational subject like ‘Project Management’ needs to be a standard university degree, and it would be beneficial both to the student and the economy if instead people could gain real experience on the job that would be recognized later in life. This would also mean there were less academic universities, which would make it harder to get into one but would also make the degree worth more and, fairly quickly, would become cheaper as with less universities and more finances at stake the universities would need to make their prices more attractive to the students who do want to do an academic subject. Student loans would not have to disappear, they would just be controlled by banks, or independent body’s (like I believe they do in Germany already) which, whilst they may be subject to interest rates, would again have competition and therefore have to make themselves attractive to their clients, whereas currently there is just one loan to choose from. I do think that the only logical alternative to what we have now, in our current university system, is privatization, and that this would ultimately benefit rich and poor students alike, because university is not currently free, it cannot be free in this country with 91 universities, and the way it works now is getting worse and worse.

One thing I noticed about the Labour manifesto in May, and one that they kept harping on about and suggested was beneficial to the poorer in society, was to get rid of zero hour contracts. Now, I am not sure how much this would have covered, if it would be extended to those who work through an agency (who do not have the same rights as those employed by the company directly) and things like part time bar work at events, and I am sure that some companies do take advantage in some areas. However, ultimately I feel zero hour contracts are beneficial to those on lower incomes because it allows flexibility. If you have never had a job, or you have been out of work for a while, and a company is required to offer you a contract straight away, they are unlikely to pick you. But if it is a zero hour contract that allows a turnover for those who, for whatever reason, decide or it is decided by management that they are not right for the job, they are more likely to give more people a chance and, if you are right for the job and they want to keep you on, they are then able to offer you a contract. With things like temporary bar work/seasonal work etc they could not have a fixed contract because the hours could not work that way, and temporary work is a great way for inexperienced people, especially young people, to gain skills that they can then use to get a full time job. If I had not worked for an event company and not worked at one off day bar work jobs, I would not have been able to later get a job for a year in the student bar, because a ‘zero hours contract’ allowed me and many others without any experience to work in that setting. I would say that forcing employers to offer a contract right away for every job would create more unemployment because companies are less likely to take a chance on those with less experience, and it is a catch 22 situation where you cannot get a job without experience, but you cannot get the experience for the job if no one will employ you without experience. Zero hour contracts allow more people to gain experience, and therefore I would say they can be and are often good for the very people the previous Labour party said they were trying to help by eradicating them.

The basic principle of all this is, basically, that the government does not have the experience, expertise or ability to successfully run all the nationalized industries that they currently control, and that having one centralized system that controls everything isn’t the best way to run a country. If different sectors, like universities, medical care, schools etc are allowed to control themselves and compete with each other for consumers, the consumer ultimately has the power over who they give their money to and the company needs to appeal to the people and give them what they want in order to survive, because the government will not save them if they fall on hard times. So if every company was very expensive and many people wouldn’t afford them, especially in places where they would need these people to use their services, they couldn’t sustain themselves on those prices and they would need to lower them in order to attract people. Basically people would have the power, there would be no banker bailouts, no government helping along multi national companies, and a wider choice of services offered that people would be able to choose from. Yes it may not be perfect, and things like benefits obviously wouldn’t be sustainable, but I do not think the way they work now is sustainable either. If you are on benefits and got a house that way, you cannot start working or you will lose them. Therefore you will have to live in relative poverty and ultimately be unable to leave it because you cannot earn more money without losing everything you have. I am not saying some sort of social security would not exist, but it would probably be on a voluntary system and would literally be for those who cannot earn money due to ill health (mental or physical).  It would not pay way over the minimum wage, and you would not be better off on benefits then you would be in a job, which ultimately is (although you may disagree) a fair system, because if someone earns say £22,000 a year and their taxes help someone who is on benefits to earn £23-25,000 a year, if that person can work (if it is not due to a mental or physical disability) why should someone who earns less money fund someone who does not work to ultimately have more for, pretty much, doing nothing. Obviously during the recession there were not enough jobs to go around, and many people could not work regardless of how much they tried to get a job. However, in a world which encourages competition between businesses and would therefore likely increase the number of businesses, as well as several illegal industries now being legal, what would probably happen is that there would be more companies, and thus they would employ more people, so in theory (I cannot make guarantees until we actually see it in practice) there would not be a shortage of jobs, and there would be more roles to choose from, so people would not be forced to get low paying jobs because of the job center forcing them to do so. I do not think working is the moral thing to do, or that people ‘have’ to work, but if someone does there is no reason why they should help others not work if they are perfectly capable of doing so. Perhaps rather than a benefit system for people who can work, if you have worked in the past it could be like an (optional) pension scheme where you and your employee pay in a certain amount that will sustain you if you do fall on hard times later in life, or perhaps communities would have the option to create their own mini benefit systems for that area. For those who do have mental and physical problems that hinder them working, I wouldn’t go as far to say there would be no support. Perhaps a small tax could be in place for that, or perhaps there would be companies that would work in a charity non for profit way that would directly fund them. There are options that could work that don’t have to be tax based, and obviously this would need its own debate and list of options, but it isn’t something that would be ignored.  I also think that if there were more medical options available through more medical practitioners outside of the NHS, mental health care would get better because there could be specialists (those who work exclusively with depression, or bipolar, or multiple personality disorder etc) and therefore people would get a better level of care and support as their doctor would fully understand their condition. They would still have to go through an evaluater to see what they would need, but as there would be more specialists in theory anywhere there would be more awareness and it would be easier to diagnose someone with the correct illness, rather than putting them through various treatments that are not going to help them. I am not sure how it would all work out, obviously it is a big process and a big change, but it is an idea.

My basic point in this little tirade is that I do not believe nationalisation and increased government interference is going to help the ‘working class’, the ‘new middle class’ or anyone else. Even though privitization is often thought to be ‘right wing’, in line with the tories ideology and responsible for the increased wealth and power of a few multinational private companies, I think that ultimately ‘real’ privatization actually works in favor of the people and against big companies, because it does not allow the government to prop up the companies they favor. The company is responsible for its own success, and it needs to appeal to what the people want in order to maintain their success. If the people decide they do not want to support said company, they can simply buy from someone else. The companies would be at the mercy of the people, and prices would fall as standards would rise in an attempt to maintain the favor of the people and, in doing so, keep taking their money. As a side note, a more liberal society would also mean by default that people have the freedom to do what they want with their own lives and bodies, and many new industries that are currently illegal (but do not necessarily harm anyone) would exist, which would in itself create new jobs, new opportunities and new boosts to the economy.
I am not saying this will create a completely equal society, I do not think such a thing can realistically exist, but I believe it is a truer form of democracy than simply putting a cross on a ballot, giving money that you will never see to the government and relying on them to run everything. It is an alternative, and perhaps you don’t agree with it, but nevertheless I think we need a real opposition party who wants to reflect the needs of the current society we have, and whilst I am sure Jeremy Corbyn means very well, I get the impression he is reflecting an old Labour that will not benefit the current ‘working class’ simply because the working class of the 70s and 80s is drastically different to what it is today, and things like cutting taxes and allowing more companies to compete to give them cheaper rates may be more beneficial to today’s society than the government trying to control everything when they are not capable of doing so.

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Birdeatsbaby at Vigfrid von Underbelly of Hoxton, 14/08/2015

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On Friday night I went to a gloriously intimate gig at the slightly hipster and very bohemian venue Zigfrid Von Underbelly in Hoxton, East London. I went to see the fiercely unique and wonderfully dark indie band Birdeatsbaby, who was supported by two fabulous bands named Zara and Hana Piranha.

The weather that day was abysmal and I ended up wandering around Hoxton Square in the pouring rain for far too long due to my inability to read maps, but when I finally got to the venue it was warm and colorful and the bar staff were very friendly. The gig took place downstairs in the venues room, which had the appeal of being intimate and yet surprisingly roomy, it also had a seating area which was great as most of the time you can’t even dream of sitting down during a gig, especially not in comfortable plushy chairs. It gave the room a great relaxed and chilled vibe, which went really well with the general attitude of the night. The room had snazzy wallpaper, a glittery disco ball, atmospheric lighting and lots of Birdeatsbaby merchandise, including a rather fetching ‘human’ skull.
The stage was small, but still large enough to separate the band from the audience and give them space to jump around, and the venue really reflected the dark yet quirky image of Birdeatsbaby and their supporting bands.

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I got downstairs just in time to hear the first band Zara begin their set. Zara has three band members, a lead female singer on vocals and guitar and two males on guitar and drums. I hadn’t seen or heard them before tonight but I was instantly intrigued by the lead singers voice and outfit.  They had a loud rocky sound and very loud guitars and at first I was a little worried because the instruments were drowning out some of the singing (which would have been a technical issue, not the fault of the band), but it got a lot better as their set went on and I ended up really enjoying their later songs, especially ‘Pretty please‘ and ‘Screaming‘, which had a really good beat and strong lyrics.
I also particularly remember their song ‘Honey inside‘, which had a catchy and memorable chorus and I will definitely need to look up that song and add it to my collection. The lead singers voice was sometimes drowned out by the instruments, but it got stronger and stayed strong during this song and it ended up being a really memorable and energetic start to the night. Check them out and listen to ‘Honey Inside’: https://www.facebook.com/ListenZara

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Next up was Hana Piranha, whom I already really like so am probably a little biased, but I very much enjoyed their set. They are very at ease with the audience, always have great energy and stage presence, and are fun and engaging to watch. They are lively and seem to really get into their songs and give it their all, which in turn makes their audience and fans more engaged with the music. Hana Piranha also has a fantastic, strong and raunchy voice which gives their sound that bit extra and works very well.
I love Hana Piranha’s use of violins in otherwise heavy rock songs, that touch of classical music really adds to the sound and feel of the music and gives it a depth and uniqueness that is missing from a lot of other rock bands (although I am also just a sucker for a violin). They are able to convey a lot of emotion in their songs and often delve into dark themes that you can relate to and empathize with.  As per my last review I again have to mention the song ‘Chipping myself away‘, which I’ve heard several times live but always strikes me as one of their best and most popular songs, and one that I can imagine being played on the radio and attracting a large crowd at an alternative music festival. Another song I have to mention is ‘Blue Sky’s‘, because it has the best violin intro and is instantly recognizable, its another song that you would recognize anywhere as being unique to Hana Piranha and anyone who hasn’t heard it really should.
We also heard some of their newer songs, including ‘Fishing with dynamite‘ which, although I hadn’t heard it before, I can still remember some of the lyrics and ended up humming the tune in my head on Saturday, it was really catchy and I definitely need more of it in my life.
They played several covers on Friday, and I loved how they put a Gothic twist on several well known songs, my favourite being their rendition of ‘Sweet dreams’ by the Eurythmics’. They incorporated the violin to really make the songs their own and give them a unique sound, I definitely ended up preferring their rendition of ‘Sweet Dreams’ to the original. All in all it was a really strong performance that the audience really responded to, and I can’t wait to see them live again. Check them out: http://www.hanapiranha.com/

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The previous acts were fabulous in their own right, but Birdeatsbaby was definitely the main attraction. Featuring their wonderfully ethereal singer Mishkin Fitzgerald, their set was packed with old favorites and much anticipated new songs from their upcoming album which will be released next year. Mishkin is the lead singer of this band and is fantastic both in Birdeatsbaby and as a soloist, but the other band members didn’t disappoint either. Hana Piranha returned to the stage to sing and add her violin to the mix and guitarist Gary seemed to be a favorite with the crowd seemingly just from being himself, throughout the night you had many audience members crying out “Garry!”.
They have been together a while, and you can tell because they have great chemistry together as a band and really seem to enjoy playing together on stage, which is great from an audience point of view as it is much more fun to watch. They played old favorites such as ‘Bullet’ And ‘Drinking in the Day‘ that most of the audience already knew word for word and could sing along to, and as an extra treat they also played some brand new songs including a very enchanting song called ‘No Mirror‘ which I am very excited about and can’t wait for the release.
Mishkin Fitzgerald has a very natural, soft yet powerful voice that gives Birdeatsbaby its unique and slightly otherworldly sound. I have never been disappointed by one of their gigs and definitely plan to attend more in the future.
What I love most about Birdeatsbaby’s live shows is how informal they are, that many of the audience members are friends with the band and the band will watch the previous acts and support them in the audience rather than hiding behind the wings and disappearing straight after their set. They support each other and have a good enough relationship with the audience that we want to support them, that the audience is more like friends then fans. It was a great night, if you are in the London or Brighton area you should try and come along to one of their shows: http://www.birdeatsbaby.co.uk/, if you want to get a real feel of Friday’s show check out some video footage from the night: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-k1mM9vV5k

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Equality for boobs: Update!

I’ve just discovered a development in the ‘equality for boobs’ department -read https://londonisbutonecity.wordpress.com/2015/04/03/equality-for-boobs/  if you don’t know what I’m on about. I’ve found two articles on the Guardian that are finally bringing these issues to light, and I’m ecstatic about it.

The first article was titled  ‘Why I designed a fashion range for women with larger breasts’ and it briefly talks about a new clothing range designed  by Yael Aflalo, which she aimed at women with ‘larger breasts’. Now, this should have been a good thing. It is harder to find clothes that will flatter larger breasts and, especially where bras and bikinis are concerned, clothes that will fit both your boobs and your body will be tend to be more expensive. However, this clothing range was not, as it claimed, designed for women with big breasts. This clothing range was designed for women who wear a C-DD bra cup. This created an uproar in the comment section, and so it should have. To say you are designing a clothing range for women with bigger boobs and then cut it off at a DD is simply ridiculous, and I am thoroughly disappointed.

I am not saying there is anything wrong with being a C-DD cup, in fact I envy anyone who is simply on how much money they save. But the average bra size is a 36D, and even that is debatable. As some people have pointed out a lot of women wear the wrong bra size, and a lot of the time they will wear a back size that is too big for them and a cup size that is too small, which doesn’t give you enough support and can make the breasts look bigger and ruin the silhouette. A 36D is however now considered the average size, and so for now we shall work from that. If this is the ‘average’ size, it seems to suggest that there are many women who wear ‘above average’  bra cups, and of course there are. I do, many of my friends do, some of you dear readers do, and many women you see passing by you on the street every day are above a DD cup size. And they do have to pay more for their bras, and they are largely un-represented in the fashion world and in clothing stores. It is stuff like this that perpetuates the idea that anything above a DD is not normal, is rare, and therefore would not have a big enough market to bother catering for. Therefore they can charge us more because they don’t think many of us exist. But we do exist, and I for one am tired of it. There are some great stores (Bravissimo, Marks and Spencer’s and Anne Summers) that do cater for larger bra cups (going to a GG and above), but because they are a rare thing they can and do charge more and you do find yourself often paying twice as much for a E+ cup then you would for an A-DD cup, both in that store and anywhere else. Primark has a DD-F range, which is great but I have mostly given up trying to find my size there. Why? Because it is sold out. Because all the 32-34 DD-F bras go quickly, and why is that? Because there is a demand for it, because it is not an uncommon size.

The second article was fantastic. It not only talked about how bigger breasts are largely ignored in the fashion industry and models are actually penalised for having bigger breasts, but it also debunked the assumption that larger breasts automatically equate a larger body and how hard this can make finding clothes that flatter and fit. Having larger breasts does not mean you wear a larger dress size. There are many women who wear size eight, or ten, or twelve who also wear an F cup or above, and many who will also have a small back size and bigger breasts (sizes 28 and 30 are hard to find, and in bigger cup sizes it can become harder to find a 32, or even a 34 back size). When I first wrote my little opinion post about it I couldn’t find that much else about it on the internet, even though I’ve had many discussions with many women who share my frustration, and I am really happy that other people are finally starting to talk about it.  Public opinion is far more important than it used to be, we have seen the good and terrible things twitter can do, and I really hope if journalists start to talk it then people will start to talk about it and then someone in the fashion world will see an opportunity and  realize there is nothing strange or rare about bigger breasts, and they deserve  representation and cheap bras just like any other boob. I admit that it takes more effort to dress a curvy shape then a straight one, and that it may be harder to design and create a larger bra then a small bra. But it can’t be that hard, and it doesn’t have to be that expensive. Once retail stores catch on that there is a demand for affordable bras in larger sizes I can only hope they will do something about it.

Women of the world, if you have breasts that are considered huge but are really just a normal size and you are sick of expensive bras, ill fitting clothes and everyone going “Oh my god, you are such and such size, that’s enormous” join the discussion and lets make equality for boobs a reality.

The articles: http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/aug/10/fashion-range-for-bigger-boobs

http://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/aug/13/why-does-fashion-ignore-big-breasts?CMP=fb_gu

5

Gone Girl and ‘misogyny’

I’ve just read a Guardian article published in October 2014 in which the author appear to have taken offence to the film ‘Gone Girl’, in the article she claims that it perpetuates myths about false rape accusations and paints women in a bad light.

*Spoilers for the second half of the book, read on at your own peril*

I should admit now that I’m still reading the book, I’m really enjoying it but haven’t finished it yet (so please, for the love of all deities, no spoilers PLEASE!) and I’m not going to watch the film until I’ve read the book. However, from what I know from the book so far (including the false rape accusation) the point of its inclusion was to demonstrate how ruthless,manipulative and cruel the character Amy can be when someone does something she doesn’t like, and to show that her husband was not her only victim. She is meant to be a psychopath. She is not meant to be representative of women in general. She is not meant to be nice or particularly likable, although one of the disturbing (and great) things about this book is that none of the characters are innocent or inherently good, but the reader does find themselves identifying with some of the things they say and feel (although hopefully not their actions). She uses the persona of the innocent female victim to her advantage because she knows how to play it, because she knows how to manipulate people, because she is good at playing a character and admits herself that she does not have a ‘real’ personality. All the things she does is for the story and for her character, I see no evidence it was in any way intended  to be about rape accusations or women in general, although the fact that it has created so many discussions can only be a good thing in my opinion. It is a work of fiction, and fiction is allowed to portray life in the way it wishes without necessarily having an outside agenda or a moral message.  Art is art, and art is neither moral nor immoral (to quote my darling Oscar Wilde). I am also quite glad to see complex and unpleasant female characters in books and film because it opens up the opportunity for new and fresh story lines, and it accepts that women can be as complex and as immoral as men. It should not be seen as a representation or accurate depiction of women, but the fact that we have come a long way from giving men all the interesting story lines should be celebrated.

The idea of a manipulative woman who lies to get people into trouble is not that outlandish idea, nor is it misogyny to admit that. I have known of several abusive relationships which involved the woman emotionally and physically abusing the man, and often using emotional manipulation to make them feel crazy and threatened. Admitting that women can and do do bad things is not misogyny, it is realistic. Women, like men, are human beings with varying personalities, experiences and actions, and complaining about a female character who does bad things because it sullies the image of real women is ridiculous, because the whole point of good fiction is to create memorable and sometimes controversial characters.  Patrick Bateman of American Psycho murdered women, raped women and even carried out his own abortions. Was he meant to be representative of men in general, and was the book trying to say that all men are evil psychos who murder women, cut up their body parts and then keep them in gym lockers? No. It was a work of fiction about a character that was quite possibly mad, and it is meant to shock and disgust us and show the depravity that can exist underneath seemingly normal, attractive and privileged people. The misogyny in this book (if you have read it you cannot deny that that is what it is in this case) is disgusting, but it is used because that is who the character is, not because that is what men are. It is a story designed to create a reaction, but it is still a story, and art is allowed to delve into the corners of life we in real life may not want to think about  because art without censorship means art can discuss what it wants, and that to me is the whole point of fiction. To think that people believe and take everything they read or see in films at face value is insulting, surely people are intelligent enough to know the difference between fact and fiction and can be trusted to see a film about murder, or false rape accusations, and not go on to assume this is normal behavior that everyone is engaging in.

I do not consider myself a feminist. That does not mean I disagree with a lot of things feminists say and do, I believe in gender equality and that men and women should be able to do what they want regardless of their sex. A girl can be a soldier and a boy can be a ballet dancer and that’s fine, it is about the individual rather then the sex. However, what I do not like about the feminism I have encountered is the anger many of them have when a woman, even if she agrees and is willing to support many of the things they say, does not wish to label herself a feminist and does not take everything feminists say as truth without looking into it. I do not wish to call myself a feminist because I believe the word itself inherently is just about women and does not include men, and whilst many feminists want equality for both genders I think you can believe in that and promote it without having to go around telling everyone you are a feminist.  I will support the causes I believe are helpful to women and beneficial to society, but I will not throw myself behind a label I often find myself disagreeing with, and I do not see why this is an issue.

Sexual harassment and un-wanted advances are unfortunately part of every day life, and campaigns that illustrate this should be celebrated (the one in new york where a girl walks down the street and videos all the creeps that come up to her and follow her was excellent, we need more of these). We also need to acknowledge that this kind of attention often starts very young, and some of the most likely victims of this are going to be teenage girls. I experienced it, all my female friends experienced it and young girls still experience it every day. We need more campaigns aimed at younger girls, to show them that they can speak out, and to show the men often twice their age who subject them to unwanted behavior that it is not acceptable. This is the kind of feminism I believe in, the kind that tackles real issues and aims to create a safer and better world, and shows women that they do not have to accept this behavior, they are not alone, it is not their fault and they can do something about it.

However, the kind of feminism that is often perpetuated in the Guardian and thrown around to varying degrees of extremity is not the kind of feminism I want to support. The kind of feminism that claims to be about real issues but uses inconsequential and often irrelevant things to back up their cause, and often end up taking something that really isn’t a big deal and warping it into yet another example of ‘patriarchy’ and ‘misogyny’ and, whilst saying it is related to other actually important issues, do not seem to have any real examples to choose from. Like the outrage over physicist Matt Taylor’s choice to wear a t-shirt depicting girls shooting guns in bikini’s on television, a man who made a very important contribution to physics and who was forced to apologize on national tv because of his t-shirt and was reduced to tears, the guy who is now just going to be remembered for that t-shirt. That t-shirt was designed by a female friend of Matt, who has created several other artistic garments with similarly scantily clad women and was herself shocked at the reaction. Whilst it may have been an inadvisable choice I do not see how or why it created such a backlash. I quite liked the t-shirt, personally. I probably wouldn’t wear it outside, but I don’t see why bikini clad gun shooting women have to be offensive, or why it is the best example of our ‘misogynist society’. The same goes for Tim Hunt (see my earlier post) who was fired because he said that girls cry when you criticize them. A poor thing to say yes, but a key example of misogyny? Really? He literally just said that sometimes men and women fall in love with each other in the work place, and as his wife is also a scientist he may have been speaking from personal experience, and that women cry. Which is annoying, but seriously. Is it a big deal? The guy was 72 years old, he would have grown up in a very different world and although his comments may be a little insulting his actions appear to suggest he supported female scientists and was actually in South Korea to promote them. Sexism is a real thing, but personally I feel that using these frankly pathetic examples actually works against women, because it portrays us as petty and over-emotional people who, not having real examples, will fall back on any questionable comment or choice of clothing and take it way out of proportion in order to promote a feminist agenda. And this is not helpful. There are real problems, we should be focusing on them, not on victimizing and singling out scapegoats like Hunt and Taylor and blaming them for all the ills of the world that they have nothing to do with.

The same goes for Gone Girl, a fictional depiction of fictional messed up characters which is being taken, again by the Guardian, as an example of our misogynist society because it depicts a woman lying about being raped. 1: It is a work of fiction, and 2: It is a fact that some women do lie about being raped. This does not mean that this should be the assumption and that women should not be trusted, but as with any crime it is not always as straightforward as it seems and it is important for us to acknowledge this. Accepting that men can sometimes be victims does not suggest that women are liars, but to have a fair society we have to acknowledge that there are variations and we cannot work on absolute principles, such as men are never wrongly accused and women never lie.  I do not like the feminists who would censor every account of a man being genuinely wrongly accused and having their life messed up because it may perpetuate a bad image of women. The point of free speech is to show different sides of a situation, and to encourage open discussion and debate, it is not to suppress someone else’s experience or to refuse to ever be challenged.  To do so implies you have a weak argument, and it hurts your cause more than either a genuine individual case of a man being victimized or an illogical and obviously flawed misogynist tirade every could.

Basically, people need to stop complaining about fictional characters and irrelevant fashion choices and start to focus on the real issues that effect women. We can talk about misogyny in the work place, and in the police procedure and in any aspect of life, but do not blame Tim Hunt or Matt Taylor or anyone who hasn’t done anything that directly harms women (because I am sorry, saying girls cry does not harm anyone with any kind of self confidence or maturity) and definitely do not blame Gone Girl, which as I cannot say enough is a fictional story about fictional characters in a fictional situation.

The article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/oct/06/gone-girl-rape-domestic-violence-ben-affleck#comment-41854506

5

Lazy Vegetarian meal ideas #11 Fabulous tomato, basil and pine nut pasta sauce

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I got the idea for this meal idea from an awesome blog post I saw today: http://foodfulife.com/2015/08/12/pasta-with-easy-fresh-tomato-sauce/, and although I added a bit to the recipe and changed some of the ingredients I totally owe the author for this fabulously easy, cheap and delicious meal. This was a little hard for me, even though its so easy to make, because I love spices and I didn’t use any (apart from pepper) for this recipe, but sometimes simple is better and it is definitely the case here. This is also the first time I’ve used fresh basil and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it at first, but it worked out really well.

What you need: Tinned chopped tomatoes (although fresh would probably be better), fresh basil (chopped), a medium white onion, fresh garlic (to taste, I didn’t use that much), pine nuts, olive oil, spaghetti

Spices: Salt and pepper

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1: Chop the onion and fry on a medium heat for about five minutes, then add the garlic and fry for a few more minutes

2: Add the pine nuts and fry together on a medium heat for a few minutes (make sure to stir and not burn the pine nuts!)

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3: Turn to a low heat and stir in the tomato and finely chopped basil. Keep on a low heat and make sure it doesn’t start to boil

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4: Cook spaghetti as per cooking instructions whilst keeping an eye on the sauce

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5: Stir the spaghetti into the sauce and serve with olives (optional). Enjoy

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