Another Blog About The EU Referendum

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WARNING: This is an opinion piece about the result of the EU Referendum. I repeat: an OPINION piece. If you voted ‘Leave’ at the polls this week, I recommend you stop reading now. You’ll save yourself a rise in blood pressure.

I wish the ‘Leave’ posts on my social media feeds had come with a similar warning throughout this referendum. I am guilty of taking the clickbait, and calling out posts where I thought the information being shared was misleading or unnecessary. This didn’t make me feel good, but I stand by my words. I wouldn’t have published them on the web if I didn’t have faith in them.

I saw friends and family members determined to vote ‘Leave’, cite both rational and irrational reasons for doing so. I saw similar behaviour from  those voting ‘Remain’. The ‘Leave’ campaign had Brexit The Movie a chronically one sided ‘documentary’ designed to incite mistrust towards the EU, whilst the ‘In Crowd’ who supported the ‘Remain’ campaign used cute puppies to convince people to stay, which was patronising and weak.

When your personal aspirations and beliefs are affected by a political outcome; it’s hard to avoid being an angry, judgemental fuckwit. That’s why my newsfeed is full of riled up voices on both sides – we’re all guilty of losing our temper with someone in the last few weeks. I believe so-and-so is wrong, they believe so-and-so is right.

Perhaps that’s the issue; it’s all belief when it should be statistics and facts. But no-one has faith in the numbers because both sides have lied, though I would argue the ‘Leave’ campaign led the way here. Their promise to invest the millions of pounds we send to the EU each week back in to the NHS was a blatant lie (something which Nigel Farage casually revealed on breakfast television, shortly after the result had been announced).

In 2014, I attended a debate which acknowledged the importance of the then upcoming EU Referendum. Along with Belle Jar founders Louisa & Juliette, I was invited to the NAWO (National Alliance of Women’s Organisations) debate about ‘Young Women, Media Representation and Europe’. I listened to Paula Buonadonna (journalist, broadcaster, and Media Director at British Influence) talk about how important it was for young women to vote to remain in the EU if they wanted to see the changes they’d discussed put in to policies. I felt intensely hopeful when I left this debate, but two years later things feel quite different.

I was lucky enough to be invited to attend another EU debate this year, which was co-hosted by The Telegraph and The Huffington Post, and broadcast live by Youtube. I listened to Boris Johnson and Priti Patel debate their reasons for leaving the EU, and Liz Kendall and Alex Salmond debate why we should remain. Liz Kendall directly answered the majority of her questions, whereas Boris Johnson spent a lot of time dithering – there is no other word which accurately describes it – whilst trying to outwit Alex Salmond. Salmond also indulged in bids to outwit Johnson, but generally, Boris led the way in avoiding questions. I left the debate feeling confused by the statistics, but certain I would be voting ‘Remain’.

As we all know, my vote was not the winning vote.

Shortly after the result was announced, I saw a plethora of social media statuses which I had no patience for. The result had upset and angered a lot of my friends, and some thought this was an appropriate time to police people’s reactions, and tell them they shouldn’t complain. A few even suggested people didn’t understand or favour democracy because the vote “didn’t go their way”.

I didn’t post anything which suggested I felt this way, but what made my blood boil was that before this, many of us were chanting  “unless you vote, you don’t have a right to complain!”. Fast forward a few weeks; we’ve exercised our right to vote, the results are announced, we’re complaining, and suddenly that’s not okay? COME ON GUYS. Not only is it our right to moan if we’ve voted, we’re also British; so by nature we bloody love a bloody good moan! ‘kin ‘ell. Let a girl vent once in a while, eh?

To all those who’ve still got the arse ache; I salute you. Keep on moaning (unless you’re being offensive or a bully, then you should reel it in).

The “democracy is democracy, duh!” people telling others “not to over-react” were also guilty of simultaneously posting statuses joking about the result of the EU Referendum, which is the equivalent of waving a red flag in front  of a bull on social media. Well done! You’ve successfully added further hypocrisy to this shit-show of a referendum.

It’s easy to dismiss all of this, however, when we remember that MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered in her constituency days before the polling stations opened. Like many people, I didn’t know who Jo Cox was until her death was reported on national news. Britain First supporter Thomas Mair shot and stabbed her, multiple times, in broad daylight. He killed her because he was a right-wing extremist who didn’t agree with Jo’s liberal politics of growth and acceptance. I haven’t got the words to explain how cripplingly unfair it is that Jo’s killer was not treated with the same severity as any other extremist murderer, by the national press. We can moan and joke all we like, but a woman was killed for her political beliefs during this referendum. That’s more truthful and shocking than any statistic.

Nigel Farage told the papers he won the vote “without a shot being fired”, which is at best a stupid remark, and at worst; a callous disregard for the feelings of Jo Cox’s family. Farage, like most MPs, knows the power and influence of language. He should know better, but alas; this is the man who frightened a nation by using a campaign poster which resembles Nazi propaganda. I’d laugh, but it’s beyond a joke now.

But actually, I can laugh – because I am a privileged individual (and because I read Peep Show’s take on the Referendum). I’m not working class, but I’m not middle class. I have a full-time income, and I still live at home with my parents (#missindependent). Over the next few days, months, and years I imagine I will weather the potential changes that Brexit brings more comfortably than others who will be directly affected by the policy changes. I’ve always believed compassion works well when it comes to voting; and I voted ‘Remain’ because in my view, it was the compassionate thing to do. Laugh, undermine, attack that view all you like; we’ve all been wrong in some way during this debate. I don’t regret my decision.

Like everyone, I’m tired of all the hate and all the rage and all I want to do is sit down and have a cup of tea, and wait for all this to end. The problem is, it’s only just begun; so it’s going to be a while before anyone feels like sitting down with each other and talking calmly, instead of scalding each other with their opinions (and possibly their very hot cup of tea).

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19th May – World IBD Day

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Bowels are important – we all know that – but today is World IBD Day; so they’re extra important for the next 24 hours. This day has been set aside on the calendar to raise awareness of Irritable Bowel Diseases, particularly the two most common in the UK: Crohn’s & Ulcerative Colitis.

I was diagnosed with mild Ulcerative Colitis when I was 12. I’ve been quietly living with it for 13 years and have rarely spoken about the hospital appointments; blood tests, endoscopies, and medication I endure in order to stay healthy (forgot to mention the acne as well). I’ve always struggled with telling people about the illness, but after reading the stories from other sufferers/heroes on the Crohn’s & Colitis Facebook page, I realised I am blessed to only suffer the occasional relapse; some people are slaves to this cruel condition.

Reading these stories, however, gave me the courage I needed, to say ‘Come on Bob, it’s not that bad, don’t let it hold you back! – and that’s the revelation I’ve decided to share with you today, on World IBD Day.

I wrote a blog about how I’ve let Ulcerative Colitis dictate my decisions not to go to music festivals, but this year, I’ve decided to GO FOR IT. I’m off to Isle of Wight Festival in June and then to Bestival in September. Me & my bowels are being brave – and I don’t give a s**t about anything else!

Interstellar Live, Letters Live & Caitlin Moran at The King’s Head

WARNING: This blog post contains excessive name dropping and shameless gloating. I have seen and heard some amazing things in the last few weeks and I want to share them with you. I would’ve blogged sooner if I hadn’t been studying*

*staring at the pages of my workbooks, trying not to have a break down.

On Monday 30th March, my friends and I went to The Royal Albert Hall to see Interstellar Live. When Christopher Nolan released Interstellar in 2014, it completely changed my perspective on sci-fi cinema (and Matthew Mcconaughey). The mind-bending plot and exquisite soundtrack blew my mind right out of my ear holes. I jumped at the chance to see the film a second time, accompanied by a live orchestra and introduced by a panel of geniuses.

Physicist Stephen Hawkings was the first of many brilliant men to grace the stage. He welcomed the audience and introduced the panel: Professor Brian Cox, composer Hans Zimmer, director Christopher Nolan and physicist Kip Thorne. They discussed the science behind the plot of Interstellar (which still manages to escape my understanding – tesseract, anyone?) and of course, the incredible soundtrack. After a brief interval, Michael Caine fed the audience some anecdotes about Christopher Nolan before the film and live orchestra began to play. The musicians played flawlessly. Impromptu applause followed several pieces and echoed for what seemed like eternity once the credits had rolled. I cried. Science and music are just spectacular. Honesty Level: 100% (TARS!)

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On April 4th, I went to Letters Live with my friend Rachel. She’d purchased the tickets in the knowledge that Benedict Cumberbatch would be one of the many speakers at the event, reading out letters of note. No other speakers had been announced. Tom Odell opened the ceremony with musical renditions of his chosen letters; Matt Berry read Elvis Presley’s letter to President Nixon, Cumberbatch read Kurt Cobain’s suicide note, Tom Hiddleston‘s impersonation of Marlon Brando was uncanny, Juliet Stevenson’s Marge Simpson was impeccable, Tobi Jones gave new life to words from Ted Hughes, and Kylie Minogue (yes, KYLIE MINOGUE!) read Nick Cave’s letter to MTV. Each time a speaker was announced, I turned to Rachel and excitedly exclaimed expletives before focusing all of my eyeballs on the stage. We were star struck and spellbound by the words and the presence of such talent.

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On Friday 10th of April, Rachel and her family friends Mark & Francis invited me to see Caitlin Moran at The King’s Head. The pub was tiny and due to lack of seating/feeling confident on gin, I sat right at the front. Rachel & I had been fortunate enough to briefly meet Caitlin at The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction last year when she was a judge, so the privilege was slightly re-lived as I sat inches from her Dr. Marten’s and fabulous hair. She gave stellar life advice for young women and read some excellent extracts from her new book How to Build a Girl. She also re-enforced the ‘what would Courtney Love do?’ mantra that I’ve been attempting to emulate for the last 6 months. What a woman.

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Ultimately, it’s been an absolute pleasure to witness these events and share oxygen space with some of the country’s finest minds and mouths. I look forward to the next cluster of cultural celebration!

(Gloating over*)

*for now

Images Courtesy of:

http://www.nolanfans.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=43&t=12466

http://www.tumblr.com/search/kylie%20minogue%20gifs

http://aroundandupsidedown.co.uk/lifestyle/book-reviews-moranthology-how-to-be-a-woman-and-how-to-build-a-girl-by-caitlin-moran/

WOW – Women of the World Festival 2015

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‘Our life experience – that’s our expertise’ – Jude Kelly

I have so much to say about my experience at The Women of the World Festival this weekend, but in the interest of a) getting some sleep, b) catching up with university work, and c) making up for the meals I had to skip; I’ve tried to be as brief as possible (although condensing it down feels like extinguishing an already exploding firework).

The Women of the World Festival (WOW) was founded five years ago by Jude Kelly, the artistic director of The Southbank Centre. It is designed to champion the artistry, activism and achievements of women from all walks of life. I had previously attended stand alone events, but I had never attended the entire weekend. This year, I felt it was time to immerse myself in to everything the Festival had to offer.

(Before I forget: editor, friend, and all round excellent human, Louisa, spoke at the Cambridge WOW festival on Sunday about the creation of the Belle Jar website. Read her blog here!)

On Friday 6th March at 9:30am, Jude Kelly opened the festival by reminding us even if we don’t consider ourselves to be activists, by turning up to WOW; we had become active in the campaign for gender equality. She then began the festivities with the first event: ANNIE LENNOX IN CONVERSATION. I was so excited to see Lennox speak, that I arrived 30 minutes before the Southbank Centre opened. Turns out, ‘Sweet Dreams’ are made of £2.50 cappuccinos, a lot of patience, and thorough time keeping.

Lennox joked that when she was younger she thought she couldn’t be a feminist because she was ‘too vain’. She wanted to be aligned with the cause, but often felt intimidated and ‘not good enough’ because she enjoyed expressing herself by wearing make-up and high heels. What a relief it was to hear someone, who I regard as beacon of hope and power, admit that they too had experienced anxiety about their own place within a feminist world. Jude Kelly kindly pointed out this was a typical reaction from young women to feminism, and arguments which state feminists shouldn’t wear make-up, or be feminine, are an irrelevant distraction from the true feminist cause: to gain equality.

Lennox opened up about her personal life, and shared her belief that women naturally feel a lot of pain, emotionally and physically. She revealed her first experience of motherhood – giving birth to a still-born son – was the ultimate combination of these two types of pain. I felt a terrible urge to cry when she said this. What stopped my tear ducts from leaking, however, was the way she explained what this personal tragedy had taught her.

It had opened her eyes to the tragedy of every day life, and cemented her own personal belief that she must help, she must make a difference to women in a less fortunate situation. She channelled her pain in to activism, and as a result she raised immense funds and awareness around the issues of poverty, HIV and AIDS. Jude Kelly summarised Lennox’s outlook beautifully:

‘You must realise your own potential, then you can open doors for other people.’

Feeling high on life after hearing Annie Lennox share her experience and insight, I stayed to watch Jude Kelly chair the BLURRED LINES discussion with news presenter Kirsty Wark, journalist Hannah Pool and BBC Newsnight editor Ian Katz. Their discussion considered the impact of misogynist behaviour on the internet, and how women in the public eye are generally trolled, and criticised more violently than men. The debate also highlighted the Campaign4Consent, which was set up by seventeen year old school girl Lily and her friends, in order to get the issue of consent on to the UK school curriculum.

In the queue for the next event, WOW QUESTION TIME, I met another girl who had come to WOW by herself. We struck up a conversation, and after introducing ourselves properly, realised we shared the same first name (Kate, not Bob). I don’t usually buy in to the fate/mystical universe thing; but I’ll admit that meeting another Kate at an event which made me want to burst with feminist glee is pretty cosmic. Unfortunately, due to excessive interest, we didn’t get in to the event, so we attended a discussion entitled THE WOMEN WE LEAVE BEHIND instead.

This conversation centred around the women and girls who live in countries where western foreign policy, interventions, and civil unrest are consistently detrimental to women’s rights. The insight of panellist Feruz Werede, a human rights activist, was particularly poignant. She spoke about the human rights abuses that are affecting women and girls in Eritrea, the country where she was born. This abuse includes trafficking of girls and women, and harvesting their organs for sale. I felt wretched with ignorance. Why wasn’t this being reported in the international media? Was anyone trying to help these women? Feruz explained that Eritrea’s laws and government are intensely secretive, and getting aid in and out of the country is not always possible. Fortunately, organisations like Equality Now are trying to put activism and legislation together, in order to help the women and girls who face atrocities like this, and to bring closer attention to the global issue of violence against women both at home, and abroad.

‘Often, the media is amoral at best, or immoral at worst, with regards to women’ – Jude Kelly

The next events on my agenda were about WOMEN IN JOURNALISM (which bestowed me with a FREE goodie bag) and HOW TO WIN AT B/VLOGGING. It was after these events that I realised it was almost 4pm, and I hadn’t eaten since 7am. After a hasty dinner, I concluded my first day at WOW back in the hub with Jude Kelly, who was interviewing broadcaster Lauren Laverne and HSBC’s most senior lawyer, Sandie Okoro. I enjoyed Lauren’s stories of being in a band, and trying to ignore sexism in the music industry by cracking jokes, and thinking of herself as Iggy Pop. Sandie Okoro revealed that when she was seven, she told her school teacher she wanted to be a judge and the teacher cruelly replied: ‘little black girls from Balham don’t become judges’. Okoro urged the audience to ‘Think big. Ambition is free’, and her own advancement in the legal business has proved this. I left the Southbank Centre feeling full of potential.

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I awoke on Saturday 7th March full of fire, and ready for another day at WOW. I attended the MAN UP OR MAN DOWN workshop, which discussed sexist language and how to combat it. As well as being informative, the banter was top notch. The girls and women in my group were laid back and supportive. I didn’t feel judged or like I’d ‘got it wrong’ – a notion which many of the speakers addressed when they were speaking about female potential. They were keen to remind us that this is how patriarchy encourages women to feel – and that even acting as an equal often feels like ‘misbehaving’ (Jude Kelly).

I flew from one language based event to another: HOW TO GET PUBLISHED, chaired by author, founder of The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction, and all round literary hero, Kate Mosse. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project was also involved in Mosse’s talk, and both women provided fascinating and useful insight in to writing and publishing both non-fiction, and fiction books. Mosse urged us to claim the title of ‘writer’ regardless of a publishing deal, and to write every day, to work at it, to normalise it; to make it less intimidating. Female perspectives and female stories are important, and the job of the female (or male) writer is to have their ‘eyes down, on the page’, sharing those personal experiences.

Next on my agenda was a CONSENT WORKSHOP, which was introduced by Laura Bates, before being led by Susuana Antubam, the National Women’s Officer for NUS. Susuana spoke about the I Heart Consent campaign which she is currently running in universities and colleges, and we had group discussions about the true definition of consent, and the numerous issues surrounding rape culture.

When I was at school (only 6/7 years ago), no-one was talking about the issues of consent in sex education. I learnt about the biology of sex – but that was it. It seems ridiculous that I didn’t know I could say ‘No’, and not have to justify myself. I discussed this with two girls in my group who were studying for their GCSEs, and I spoke to a woman who was attending the workshop so she would be able to give this information to her grand-daughter. The workshop  solidified my belief that women are now feeling brave enough to say ‘no’.

On Sunday 8th March, I awoke with that fiery excitement still burning inside me (and without a hang-over!) and gunned it back to The Southbank. It was International Women’s Day, so everything felt like it had an extra-feminist edge. I went to EMILY DICKINSON: PRESENTED BY POET IN THE CITY, which involved a panel discussion about Dickinson’s poetry, and live readings of selected poems from the glorious Juliet Stevenson. I briefly met with my friend and fellow Belle Jar writer, Juliette, before she went to THE EDUCATION EMERGENCY event and I attended the BEING A MAN talk.

The panel included poet Anthony Anaxagorou, writer and broadcaster Ekow Eshun, psychotherapist John McKeown, and artistic director of The Red Room, Topher Campbell. They spoke about the aversion to emotion that is encouraged within masculinity, and patriarchal culture, and the way this damages men and boys of all different ethnicities and sexual orientations. Whilst there were no concrete conclusions on how to solve negative, inherited masculine attitudes; the efforts of the panellists in their professional and personal lives, were encouraging and uplifting.

I made my way to The Queen Elizabeth Hall to see YOU’VE BEEN FRAMED, a discussion about WOMEN’S MENTAL HEALTH. This was the most revelatory discussion of the weekend. Artist Bobby Baker, and Chair of National Hearing Voices Network, Jacqui Dillon, spoke at length about their personal experiences of being diagnosed with mental illness. Whilst both women were inspirational, I found Jacqui’s story particularly poignant. Jacqui was born in to a family that associated with a paedophile ring, and consequently, suffered sexual abuse from an extremely young age. When she reached her twenties and decided to seek professional help, but she was told by psychiatrists she was ‘psychotic’, and had imagined the abuse. They refused to accept Jacqui’s psychosis was a natural reaction to intense, and prolonged trauma.

Fortunately, Jacqui eventually found professionals who were willing to accept the truth; which is why she is now able to tell her story to strangers like me. Jacqui and Bobby’s discussion highlighted something crucial: psychiatrists and societies often re-frame people’s natural responses to trauma, and diagnose them as mental illness. They pathologise or medicalise natural reactions. They don’t always consider the social context may be the true issue which needs addressing, not the reaction of the individual.

My weekend at WOW was coming to a close, so I took a seat at the final discussion and caught up with Juliette again. The discussion came in two parts, firstly, Jude Kelly offered her thoughts on the subject WHY WOMEN STAY. We stay, quite simply, because there is nowhere else to go. Women across the globe are immobilised in so many ways. In her introduction to Laura Bates’ book Everyday Sexism, Sarah Brown states that ‘women who lead, read’. Two thirds of the world’s women can’t read – how can they be expected to get anywhere without a basic education? Jude Kelly urged us to keep calling out sexism, to keep being exhausted and irritating in our own circles, because the world is slowly starting to realise that empowering women, means empowering the world.

The second part of the discussion, entitled FUTURE FEMALE: THE ECONOMIC CASE FOR GENDER EQUALITY ACROSS THE GLOBE, featured a live Skype session with Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, and a further discussion with Jude Kelly and BBC Radio 1’s Gemma Cairney. Christine insisted gender equality matters so much, because it makes economic sense. She also raised the following point:

‘We used to be called the fair sex, but for the fair sex, it’s a very unfair situation’.

This unfair situation was then addressed by campaigner Eloise Todd, who was promoting the newly launched Poverty is Sexist Campaign. This is one of the many organisations dedicated to improving women and girl’s economic independence across the globe. Finally, Christine answered Gemma’s question: What three pieces of advice would you give to your twenty-five year old self? Christine’s reply was simple:

  1. Grit your teeth and smile.
  2. Don’t let the bastards get you down.
  3. If you’ve tried everything, and it doesn’t work, leave; they don’t deserve you.

The applause at the end of the discussion was deafening, and I was both elated and exhausted to have been witness to such a glorious Festival.

I’ve spent the last two days typing out just a fraction of what I encountered this weekend at WOW. This weekend has proved to me there is an immense power behind the sharing of personal experience, the sharing of statistics and information, and the sharing of art and creativity. Whether this is shared in the form of debate, lectures, or a bit of banter; I believe by spreading the word, signing the petitions, and documenting the speeches; we can help alter negative perspectives on feminism.

The power of the individual story is only as powerful as the individuals who listen to, and re-tell that story. That’s what my weekend at WOW helped to re-enforce. I’m already looking forward to next year.

P.S. For anyone who wants to hate on this by saying ‘Women get their own Festival, what about men?!’ – You can attend the Being a Man Festival (BAM) later in the year. Give me a shout when you do, I’d like to come with!

P.P.S. This post is definitely the opposite of brief. Oops.

SUNDAY #6 – Happy International Women’s Day/ WOW Festival

 

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Happy International Women’s Day!

On this day last year, I contributed a small paragraph to Belle Jar for a collaborative article celebrating International Women’s Day. My contribution explained why Annie Lennox is one of my favourite women. On Friday 6th of March, almost a year later, I saw Annie speak at The Southbank Centre as part of the Women of the World Festival (WOW). I nearly cried. It was 9:30 in the morning, I was overwhelmed with lack of sleep and the realisation that I had seen one of my music/humanitarian icons in the flesh (I will blog/bore you about this in detail, over the next few days).

Today, I am returning to the WOW Festival for the third day in a row. I want to be more articulate, but right now I’ll settle for: ‘THIS HAS BEEN ONE OF THE BEST WEEKENDS OF MY LIFE AND TODAY IS GOING TO BE BRILLIANT!’ I have seen and heard some of the most inspiring and empowering stories, and no amount of blogging will justify their brilliance (but by ‘eck, am I going to try later on).

Also: I sank a delightfully dry bottle of white wine last night, and have lived to tell the tale headache free. This post, therefore, qualifies for the SUNDAY category.

(Image courtesy of groupthink.jezebel.com)

Belle Jar at The Guardian Student Media Awards 2014

Before I launch in to an explanation of what happened at The Guardian Student Media Awards (still suppressing the urge to scream with joy whenever I say/type that), I would like to explain just how I came to be standing in The Guardian Offices on the 27th of November, with some of the most brilliant women I have ever met.

In July 2013, my friend John sent me a link to a website called Belle Jar. I spent most of the day browsing through the articles on the site, overjoyed that I had found a corner of the internet that I could relate to. Belle Jar declared that its aim as a website was to ‘smash patriarchal norms, one day at a time’, and I decided to be brave and send in an article for the editor’s consideration. I submitted my article ‘Why I need Feminism’, and held my feminist breath. The editor, Louisa, replied saying she would be happy to publish the piece, and invited me to join the informal writing group on Facebook; my tiny walnut heart cracked with joy. At the time, I was just discovering my own voice through the medium of this blog, and through studying feminist criticism as part of my Literature degree, and Belle Jar’s acceptance made me feel more confident about my writing.

Through writing for Belle Jar and sharing the work of the numerous writers that also contribute to the website, I have managed to form a firm, feminist, friendship with Louisa and co-creator Juliette. Our mutual dislike for misogyny has taken us to see incredible women like Malala Yousafzai, Mary Beard, and we have even been to the House of Commons. It is Louisa & Juliette’s originality, effort, and dedication to Belle Jar, that resulted in their nomination for ‘student website of the year’ at The 2014 Guardian Student Media Awards (and Louisa’s last minute entry in to the competition!)

When she received the news that she had been shortlisted, she invited Juliette & I to attend the ceremony with her (I proceeded to type all further communications in Caps Lock, whilst trying not to explode with gratitude and excitement). On the night of the event, we all met at Kings Cross Station to have a pre-awards catch up. The girls greeted me like old friends, and we were escorted to The Guardian Offices by Juliette’s sister, Erika.

I won’t deny that part of the excitement surrounding the ceremony was the knowledge that there would be free alcohol and food. However, the bigger attraction was being involved in an event hosted by The Guardian newspaper. I live in a county that generally promotes looks over books (decorating your vagina with diamantes is a genuine past-time in Essex, according to TOWIE), so attending The Guardian Student Media awards was an absolute privilege for me. It is difficult to express just how much I admire and enjoy the articles I read in this publication. I still find it hard to believe they let me in the building, let alone drain their white wine resources. Louisa and Juliette quickly greeted a few students who they recognised from their own Universities, before we made our way to the front to watch the ceremony. The evening was introduced by Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian. Alan kindly reassured us that we were ‘all winners’ due to our nominations, before handing over to Rick Edwards (T4 presenter/writer) who was charismatic, sharp and devastatingly attractive.

The winners were announced and unfortunately, we were not amongst them. However, Mr Rusbridger’s previous words of wisdom softened the blow, and we decided to use the rest of the evening to our advantage. I use the term ‘we’ loosely, Juliette and Louisa were fantastic networkers; I spent most of the time nodding and grinning, hoping that would mask just how overwhelmed/drunk I was. We managed to speak to one of the judges in charge of the website nominations, and she was extremely accommodating; praising the website and informing us that we were the only website of our kind to be shortlisted. She also pointed us in the direction of two of the writers who work for The Student section of The Guardian, who were really friendly and insightful. I did manage to speak coherently to two other students who had been nominated in the photography category, and we all walked the short distance to the after party at a nearby pub together, and proceeded to drink and chat the night away.

With Louisa & Juliette’s guidance and friendship, I have patched together my disconnected thoughts about feminism, which has ultimately transformed my approach to writing. Thanks to the success of this evening, I will always look to Belle Jar and The Guardian for inspiration and reassurance, (and the GIF below).

Here we are with our Bob cuts and business cards:

BELLE BOBS

(Here is a list of all the winners from the evening too)

The Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour – New Dark Arts Exhibit

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‘I solemnly swear that we are up to no good’

When the Warner Brothers Harry Potter Studio Tour opened in 2012, like thousands of other muggles; I was desperate to go. I got my chance to visit in February 2013, and it was every bit as magical as I expected it to be. Visiting the Harry Potter Studio Tour is a privilege in itself; but visiting it on a press night, with complimentary drinks and snacks, redefines the word privilege. My journalist friend Rachel allowed me to share this opportunity with her last night. We were there to experience the new ‘Dark Arts’ exhibit.

The experience was all the more exciting for me, as I’ve recently read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for my Open University course in Children’s Literature. Reading J.K Rowling’s first book made my little, walnut heart swell with nostalgic glee, so re-visiting the Warner Brothers Tour became an extra-emotional experience (the free drink probably helped with that too).

Rachel & I were greeted with a glass of complimentary champagne, the sight of Location, Location, Location’s Kirsty Alsopp; and then took our seats in the screening room. We chatted excitedly, even though we knew what to expect as we have both been on the tour before (this was Rachel’s fourth time; try not to hate her). Mid-conversation, Simon Pegg walked in to the room and I immediately lost my trail of thought. I tried to play it cool, but shrank in surprise/embarrassment at his appearance, and promptly text my Mum the news instead. The lights went down, the introductory film was screened and then we were let in to The Great Hall (a novelty that will never wear off).

Along with the other guests, Rachel & I were allowed to roam freely around the sets, taking pictures and enjoying the magical atmosphere. Like moths to a flame (or perhaps more accurately, Harry Potter’s eyes to the Golden Snitch); Rachel & I were drawn to the complimentary bar, which was full of green and orange drinks, smoking like they’d just been poured from a cauldron. Once we discovered that the smoke was actually dry ice, and the concoction was prosecco-based, not poly-juice potion; we knocked them back like Pumpkin juice. Needless to say, this resulted in us being really quite inebriated and therefore laughing like first-years whenever something even remotely exciting/funny happened.

We admired the new Dark Arts exhibit, which included the life-size animatronic of Bathilda Bagshot, suspended above a table that seated Lord Voldemort, The Malfoys, Bellatrix Lestrange and Severus Snape. There was also a full scale model of Nagini on the table, hissing away at Bathilda. Rachel & I spent a considerable amount of time circling this exhibit; firstly, pursuing the man who was handling a live python, who turned out to be the real-life Nagini’s owner, and general go-to-guy for Snakes in the Harry Potter films, and secondly; taking full advantage of the bar.

As we circled, we spotted more celebrities. Amanda Holden was there with her children, taking photographs and talking to journalists, and Jake Wood (who is better known as Max Branning from Eastenders) was also there with his family. Mary Berry was also present, but unfortunately, we were too busy indulging in the complimentary snacks to stumble across her; these included mini beef burgers, mozzarella balls, spicy prawns and scotch quail’s eggs. Rachel was also being stalked by one of the numerous Death Eaters, so we decided to break away from the bar, and venture outside to see the familiar sights of Number 4, Privet Drive, Godric’s Hollow, and The Knight Bus.

We continued walking through, encountering Buckbeak and Aragog, amongst hundreds of other fascinating pieces of Harry Potter memorabilia. The tour ended with the spectacular model of Hogwarts; lit-up like a dream, and so intricately detailed, you need at least four hours to inspect it before you look at anything else. We were offered a sobering, complimentary coffee, took our last look at the magnificent turrets, and made our way out through the gift shop, to receive our gift bag of Weasley exploding bonbons, and a notebook bearing the Slytherin crest. Rachel & I said our goodbyes at Euston, and boarded separate trains’ home, both quoting the same line in our prosecco-filled heads: ‘I’m not going home, not really’.

Today, I am drafting up a plan for my University assignment, which will be a discussion about the relationship between instruction and delight in Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. I feel like last night’s delightful experience has provided me with the right instructions to pen this essay; now to stop procrastinating/boasting, and actually do some work. ‘Mischief Managed’.

Disclaimer: I should probably just rename this blog ‘the amazing events my friend Rachel takes me to as her +1’.