Teacher for a Day

Paragliders – Whitsun 2012

Before I begin, the above title isn’t strictly true; I wasn’t a teacher for a day, I was “Volunteer 001” for three days and “Student” for the fourth – these being the labels printed onto the lanyard I wore during the days I helped out at my primary school, assisting with the end of year school play. Being in charge of the lighting desk is a task I’ve done before and is a very enjoyable one, especially as it gives me the responsibility of illuminating the scenery and putting the spotlight onto the ten and eleven-year-olds who stand on the same stage that I stood upon several years ago when I myself was a performer in such a production.

Still being in full-time education myself I don’t have a wealth of experience teaching children of primary school age, but having spent last week in the company of some of the keenest, most enthusiastic year 5s and 6s imaginable I’m happy beyond measure that I’ve come through the experience wanting to do it all again. Nothing quite beats having six eager faces staring up at you as you demonstrate an action or dance; faces which contort into focussed, furrowed brows as they copy your movement – transforming into beams of achievement which stretch to broad grins as they do it right for the first, second, third and fourth times before producing a dazzling grin when the triple-sidewards-shuffle has at last been perfected.

The highlight of going back into my old stomping ground (well, walking politely and considerately upon ground as I’ve never been much of a rebel) came about when the effects an overcrowded, overheated school hall-cum-theatre combined with the restlessness of the kids I was doing vocal coaching with to make me to show some initiative and take matters into my own hands. “Everyone, follow me!”, I hailed over the heads of infants still eating their lunch “But where are we going?”, “Outside, into the playground. We all need some fresh air. You’ll sing better”, “But it’s raining”, “That won’t stop us”. So out we went – the youngsters running and screaming at the novelty of not being on lock-down inside during “wet play”. Sheltering under a multicoloured awning, the six singers – two girls and four boys – sang.  A capella. And I sang with them. And I felt the most alive I’ve felt in a while.

If you’ve seen the show Billy Elliot you’ll know that the only way young Billy can describe the feeling he gets when he dances is as “electricity”. Well that’s the way I feel when I sing; but to sing with six eleven-year-olds who don’t question the fact that they’re spending their lunch hour raising their voices against the wind and rain of drizzly northern England and don’t have any inhibitions about singing in front of themselves, each other or strangers isn’t something you get to experience every day. It was a challenge, it was hard work and it left me shattered at day’s end but it was worth it to bring up the lights on the night of the performance and watch these same kids belt out the melody for all they were worth in front of an audience of parents, siblings and teachers was remarkable and heart-warming and oddly nostalgic for me.

So there was I, sat at my little lighting booth, waving my arms to indicate the direction of sway for the final song and doing the actions – with them every step of the way. I was so proud of their confidence and perseverance and it was a privilege to be a part of their closing days of primary school. It confirmed to me that performing arts are such an important and irreplaceable part of school life, allowing as they do for the creative juices to flow in all who are involved and for children to widen their minds and think outside of the academic box. So in future, if anyone asks me to “do the lights”, I hope for their own sake they’ll have read this post before inquiring – because for me, “doing the lights” is so much more than flicking a few switches.


Do Magazines Maketh The Man?

The magazine section in my local Sainsbury’s can, I find, be a minefield (metaphorically of course – unless there’s a special “celebrity” wedding edition of Hello just out). I am perpetually baffled by the categorisation of magazines; always weighing up whether I’m simply over analysing the psychology behind the situation of the publications or whether there’s an underlying sexist issue to be found lurking near the kiosk counter. For once, I’m sure the latter has happened. It turns out that Sainsbury’s have dispelled the need for a specialist “technology and gaming” section, or words to that effect anyway, in favour of lumping premier film magazine Empire and other such volumes in with the likes of Nuts and FHM.

Apparently, the “Men’s Lifestyle” banner now covers a broader spectrum of journalistic works; that is to say, not just magazines featuring girls who are paid to be photographed practically naked and whose covers are shielded from the eyes of young children and anyone else who doesn’t want surgically enhanced human flesh forced upon their retinas. How very inclusive of them. NME and Empire were but two magazines which were unfortunate enough to suffer the humiliation of being classed as such.

Not only do I feel a deep-rooted sense of annoyance bordering on anger about this, but I felt rather uncomfortable at the time when I wanted to employ my periodic flick through Empire preferably in an environment which didn’t include titles which have to have their covers censored in the form of being covered up when on display in shops. Surely Empire, the world’s leading source of film coverage, isn’t classed as a male orientated publication? I have one friend in particular – my personal knowledge fountain of all things cinematic – who would be mortified if she received raised eyebrows or disparaging looks when indulging in movie reviews in our school library as she is apt to do (I’m ransacking the uni prospectus shelves by this point, but there you are).

Granted, magazines covering a broader spectrum of interests – such as Shortlist, sister publication to the also free Stylist – are visibly geared to a male audience, although this certainly doesn’t stop me devouring it. The fact that Stylist is its female counterpart, though the two overlap in many areas, means that everybody effectively has access to the same information. In the case of Empire, however, both men and women are interested in its content and this should be recognised by the purveyors of the publication; after all, it is in their interest to market items such as magazines to their advantage to sell as many as possible. Even from a purely monetary profit it is obviously more lucrative to ensure the reading public have the optimum access to magazines across every interest and genre.

Female orientated publications can also be described as guilty, with their plethora of fashion and beauty-saturated volumes. It could be argued, though, that this is allowable as these magazines feature almost exclusively women’s fashion and beauty and articles intended for a female audience. They could quite easily direct males with just as strong an interest in fashion to men’s magazines such as Esquire and GQ which feature a decent amount of it and male versions of Vogue, though we regrettably don’t have a British version (though that may say more about Britain than the fashion industry).

When we reach the rather murkier territories of entertainment and technology, the line is often a little blurry and can results in gender stereotyping. Nowhere is this more prevalent then on the shelves of any good newsagent. There’ll be women’s lifestyle and fashion all together, then the hobbies and interests and then the men’s lifestyle, technology and current affairs all shoved together. That’s another one; I always have to dive into a herd of men peering into gaming and computer pages to search out a copy of Total Politics which seems to be permanently hidden away from the masses, as if its content were some great secret of national importance. Indeed the politics of magazine selling strategy is certainly beyond me!

I’ll stick with the old

Saturdays, for me, are always enjoyable – whether I’m out and about or staying in and relaxing. Last Saturday was a day of mixed fortunes weather-wise, charity shopping, book shopping and drinking milkshakes with my best friend. Call me ostentatious but the day consisted of not one but two outfits – not through vanity but due to rain. How glamorous. To cut a long story short, during the first of the day’s errands I was caught out in the bucketing rain and howling wind (ok, it wasn’t quite that Wuthering Heights but hey I’m trying to make this more interesting!) with only a shower-proof jacket for protection over my outfit.

I had gone for a look I’ve now labelled “French Utility” (i.e. khaki chinos, grey converse, black eighties blouse with huge gold buttons and all topped off with my black beret). Sadly my chinos and converse were soaked on my return and I didn’t fancy wearing my beret again considering it nearly blew off my head whilst walking home! It was one of those situations where you need to change in a hurry into a ‘fail-safe’ outfit that you already know will ‘work’. Thus I wore exactly the same thing I wore last Sunday (don’t worry – I won’t describe it for you again here) as I was anticipating another imminent rain fall.

Luckily my second outfit of the day survived the weather due to the foresight of my friend to bring an umbrella with us as we wandered around the shops (or rather as I dragged her round the charity shops!). The day was fruitful in that we found some old lps and eps going for £1 each in Cancer Research and I bought two – one because it is a fantastic song (‘Walk Like An Egyptian’ by the 80s girl power band ‘The Bangles’) and one because the cover artwork was fantastic (and it has some really iconic tunes on there such as ‘California Dreamin” by ‘The Mamas and The Papas’). I love vinyl records – even buying them 30 or 40 years after they were first released is exciting and gives me a completely different thrill to the one I get when buying a cd (that is, very little thrill as I’m usually stood in a queue in HMV).

I have heard it described by people of the lp generations that buying a record was something truly exciting – something you saved up your pocket-money for (if you were lucky enough to get it that is, birthday and Christmas money if not) for weeks and weeks for and had to choose so carefully as it would be constantly replayed until you had the money to buy another. Back in those days I think people appreciated music more – not in the sense of enjoyment, far from it, but in the sense of appreciating their access to it. Nowadays all you have to do to hear your favourite song is listen to it on YouTube or Spotify, and if you want to buy a copy it’ll cost you 89p on iTunes, which for most people is an insignificant amount of money.

Music is so accessible to us as a society that we don’t treasure it as we once did – like fashion we have become a ‘throwaway society’ in the sense of music too – and I know many people who update their iPods according to the weekly charts and then never listen to the songs again once they are no longer in the media limelight. This is why I don’t tend to download music – if I like an artist or a band enough I will buy a physical copy of their album to enjoy. Over time this has built up into a small cd collection for me, and though I obviously don’t listen to all of it all of the time I do go in and out of phases of listening to different music. For example, I somehow always seem to listen two my Regina Spektor albums around Christmastime (no idea why!) and my Miike Snow album when I’m stressed. My old stuff (ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Joni Mitchell) tends to come out of the woodwork in holiday time as it is more chilled out than some of my music.

I think the issue I’m trying to raise is whether music, like high street fashion, is becoming something we feel we need to keep up with, and that by racing through every song in the charts we feel that we have accomplished some great feat. Because of this constantly changing barrage of songs, people are led to believe that music is an easy career option, and that so long as you have auto-tune and look the part you can have all the fame and the glory without the raw talent. I often hear songs on the radio now and my first thought is “If you’d have given me the right software + auto-tune I could have made this record”. How depressing is that? The idea that music is drifting from being an art form to something that ‘anyone’ can do well? I’m not going to name any names, as everyone is different and has a different taste in music, but I just wanted to put the idea out there that nowadays it seems to have flipped from being “quality over quantity” to “quantity over quality”.

Adding a vintage effect with the black and white

She looks best in a tux.

The first time I heard the soulful voice of Janelle Monáe was on her ep Sincerely, Jane. My brother, as per usual, had a host of songs for me to listen to and my first impression on hearing the intro beats was the likeness to Amy Winehouse’s Tears Dry On Their Own. Well, maybe that’s just me. The lyrics and style of the song motivated me to listen to her first album “Metropolis: The Chaise Suite”.  This, her first album, is a chronological tale of the life Monáe’s alter-ego Cindi Mayweather, who is mass-produced as an android in the year 2719 into a world with a strict social structure. With a voice like Monáe’s you could easily sing any manner of genres, and both of her albums are a culmination of soul, funk, jazz and rnb.

This Kansas-born girl doesn’t only have the status as a darn good singer though, she’s also pretty high up in the alternative fashion books. Her trademark black and white tuxedo ensembles along with her brilliantly oversized updo make her refreshingly unique in her appearance – she knows what she wants to do and she’s damn well going to achieve it.

This girl can rock a black cape like no one else I’ve ever seen, and that’s not even mentioning the rest of her attire: a silk shirt, scarf, drainpipes and stilettos – all black – and then that fantastic pop of bubblegum, pink lipstick. Jil Sander SS11 anyone? I’m sure they’d be more than pleased to have Ms Monáe as a model. You never know, she’d probably through in a spontaneous performance of Cold War or Tightrope free of charge. Listen, and revel in her soulfulness…

Hairbands Vs Headphones

When I walk anywhere on my own I always listen to music through my trusty headphones. But these aren’t just any old headphones, oh no. These are over-the-head, black, Sony headphones that are very visible and rather big. Compared to iPod headphones they are: much better quality, so much cheaper, and make the bass amazing. They also look very cool. I use my headphones all the time so I never have to think twice about putting them on. I did the other day however, you know why? Because I was already wearing a hairband. Now I love hairbands and more often than not can be found wearing one – I own many as they suit my short elfin hair do. But when my hairbands come up against my headphones in pecking order I’m never quite sure of what to do.


Sony Headphones MDR V150

Sony Headphones MDR V150

The problem is that I never really like wearing my hair “on its own” – it always needs either a hat or a hairband or I spike it up into a huge side quiff (warning: using hairspray to make a quiff stay in places causes continual choking throughout the day whenever you shake your head!). This being the case my hairbands always have to battle with a colourful piece of plastic or wool on the top of my head.

I do get a few funny looks when I wear the two together though – whether it is my hairband protruding from underneath my headphones or just my general attire – I shall never know. So the upshot of this is, in situations where it doesn’t seem appropriate to wear both a hairband and headphones – which do you wear?

Hairbands or Headphones?

All I can listen to at the minute is:

Travelogue by Joni Mitchell – The whole album is amazing but especially the tracks “Dream Flat Tyres” “Love” and “Sire of Sorrow”.

Aretha by Rumer.

Northern Lights by Renaissance.

Sincerely Jane by Janelle Monae.

And on rather a summery note…

Georgy Girl by The Seekers – I’ve always loved this song (I am one of those people who whistles constantly!) because it makes me think of shopping in the summer – much the same as “Hometown Glory” by Adele.

Dreaming of sun

San Jose, California

San Jose, California

Dionne Warwick – Do You Know The Way To San Jose

This was my song of the summer but listening to it now is making me dream of sun (helped by the fact that I’m wearing at t-shirt right now that professes that exact same statement!). “Do You Know The Way To San Jose” charted at number 8 in the UK in 1968 and it’s not hard to see why! January can be a very gloomy month, but we can all get through it by dreaming of the sun and holidays in the summer. I’m really looking forward to pulling all of last years summer clothes out of the wardrobe again – Britain being how it is we only enjoy a couple of weeks of weather warm enough to wear shorts and t-shirts in in a year so they can be quite momentous occasions!

I’m particularly hoping to get a lot of wear out of my vintage 80s royal blue playsuit which I mentioned in July in a previous post but never quite got around to putting up a picture of it – hopefully I will this year! I also bought a black and white stripy maxi skirt from H&M last week – and then I wondered why I bothered as it will sit in my wardrobe for a few more months before I will have any hope of wearing it in this country!

Do you know the way to San Jose?
I’ve been away so long. I may go wrong and lose my way.
Do you know the way to San Jose?
I’m going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose.

L.A. is a great big freeway.
Put a hundred down and buy a car.
In a week, maybe two, they’ll make you a star
Weeks turn into years. How quck they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas

You can really breathe in San Jose
They’ve got a lot of space. There’ll be a place where I can stay
I was born and raised in San Jose
I’m going back to find some peace of mind in San Jose.

Fame and fortune is a magnet.
It can pull you far away from home
With a dream in your heart you’re never alone.
Dreams turn into dust and blow away
And there you are without a friend
You pack your car and ride away

L.A. is a great big freeway.
Put a hundred down and buy a car.
In a week, maybe two, they’ll make you a star
Weeks turn into years. How quck they pass
And all the stars that never were
Are parking cars and pumping gas

I’ve got lots of friends in San Jose
Do you know the way to San Jose?
Can’t wait to get back to San Jose.

Oh to be in California!