Angie Thomas: a modern day revolutionary?

Angie Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give, has fundamentally changed the YA literary genre. Following in the footsteps of many LGBT works, Thomas has proved that this type of fiction can also be an excellent way to provoke conversations concerning gun violence and race, even if parts of her novel are fundamentally flawed and undermine her main message.

Thomas tells the story of Starr, a 16-year-old black girl who is caught between two realities: that of her privileged  white school, and of her home life in a predominantly black, poorer neighbourhood. Thomas herself had a similar upbringing, in many respects, but shockingly could even relate to the aspect of the novel where Starr’s friend, Khalil, gets needlessly killed by a policeman after being pulled over. This is the crux of the novel: the aftermath of the tragic shooting on Starr’s life, amidst the underlying tension between her two lives, and of Starr’s progression from fear to finding a way to use her platform and try to take action on behalf of Khalil and everything that his death represented.

The obvious merit of this novel is that it presented racial inequality in America in a way which is easily digested. News stories are often very blandly, despite their shocking content, because of the lack of a strong narrative element and due to the monotonous language used to describe momentous events. Thomas, however, of course allows for some characterisation, and offers a lens beyond the stereotypes that the media, failing to expand on headlines, has frequently perpetuated. Reading fiction about these kind of events allows the story to be understood in a way which is more relatable: the rich nature of the text, concerning Starr’s and Khalil’s personal lives, help to indicate that actually there is much more to them than simply victims of crime, something which contemporary protests against police shoots aim to achieve, but often not quite as effectively as Thomas seemingly has. Therefore from that perspective, Thomas’ work is revolutionary, seeing as many people still have -unconsciously or not- a racist mindset, and thus to read a book which forces them to empathise from another point of view is invaluable.

So the main message is strong. However, there were aspects of the book that I did not agree with, which can be difficult to admit because many people automatically equate that to disliking the sentiment of the book in general, which of course is not true. But the book is too long. The legal process is too drawn out in the book and paradoxically, despite the needless pages, there are underdeveloped character relationships. There is a lso a fractured friendship group, with a friend called Hayley becoming a racist throughout the novel, and yet this is hardly expanded upon, and Hayley is used more as a motify for  Starr’s personal ability to rise above societal hate than to be seen as an actual person. As for Chris, Starr’s white boyfriend, well there does seems to be racism concerning him:

“I kneel beside my dead friend in the middle of the street with my hands raised. A cop as white as Chris points a gun at me.

As white as Chris.”

This is a troubling quote, because what Thomas is doing here is creating a world which is basically black people versus white people. The focus of the policeman should not be his skin colour, and nor should his skin colour be equated to an emotion nor have negative connotations, as is implied in the excerpt above. Understandably there is institutional racism, but surely the focus of Thomas’ novel should be more on the failure of the justice system to condemn the police-officer, and not because the police-officer was white himself. More white people than black get killed by police officers every year,  TIME notes, and therefore this commentary on racial bias is not as pertinent as it may initially seem. If the focus had been tilted slightly to the law, then the message behind this book would have been much more appropriate.


“You’re black, okay?” I yell. “You’re black!”
“I’m black?” he says, like he’s just hearing that for the first time. “What the f*ck’s that got to do with anything?”
“Everything! You’re black, I’m white. You’re rich, I’m not.”

It sounds racist, doesn’t it. Very. This excerpt is from the book, but I actually just changed the words “black” and “white” around, because the whole point about racism is that it should not be tolerated towards anyone, regardless of history, because that is, after all, what equality means. But sometimes racism towards white people can be overlooked too. The real version, from the book, is here:

“You’re white, okay?” I yell. “You’re white!”
“I’m white?” he says, like he’s just hearing that for the first time. “What the f*ck’s that got to do with anything?”
“Everything! You’re white, I’m black. You’re rich, I’m not.”

The point that Thomas is trying to spread is one which promotes equality, and yet by having a protagonist with such views, she fundamentally undermines that message by having Starr refuse to talk to Chris on the basis of his race alone. This attitude is not crucial to the plot itself, so why she chooses to include this is baffling. What is more:

“I swear, I don’t understand white people.
Breadcrumbs on macaroni, kissing dogs on the mouth—”
“Treating their dogs like they’re their kids,” I add.
“Yeah!” says DeVante. “Purposely doing shit that could kill them, like bungee jumping.”
“Calling Target ‘Tar-jay,’ like that makes it fancier,” says Seven.
“F*ck,” Chris mutters. “That’s what my mom calls it.”
Seven and I bust out laughing.
“Saying dumb shit to their parents,” DeVante continues. “Splitting up in situations when they clearly need to stick together.”

Is this spreading the right message? No. What is worse, is that Chris seems to take these generalisations and run with them, and it seems ironic that Starr, a character who is supposed to develop into an icon of equality, is the one who perpetuates this rhetoric at the end of her developmental arc. It just seems inconsistent with what Thomas is trying to achieve, because racial equality applies to everyone.

In general, though, The Hate U Give is a worthy read, as it does have an important intent behind it. However, if you are interested in racism, then just read Reni Eddo-Lodge’s book instead: it is factual, well-written, and absolutely fascinating.

Milkman, Burns// february

And here sits words, they together being both Milkman, and simultaneously number one prize winner in twenty-eighteen. It seems odd. Many have complained about their not-wanting-to-read-it feeling. ‘Challenging’ that it was: although the shiny pinkness it exuded might have made them feel safe, because that it was what they came to the pink book for, yes. That was my answer, and another answer is that perhaps the problem is not with the book, but with the readers’, the objectors’ literacy. Or their poor literacy. Not everything is limited to a monosyllabic nature, even if that is essential a twenty-first-century-mode-of-communication, headless of the need, or is it heedless, or is that the same thing now, that in real life people talk more and shout less than they do in that other place, the internet. Because, of course, there is still culture, somewhere in the world, although not in the maybe-hole-of-the-internet that everyone lives in now. The real question- the one we should be asking ourselves, and not only because asking questions is important, but because it allows us to feel like to have some autonomy in matters which really do not concern us, individuals- is will Author, the one who gave us the gift of difficulty and through Narrator reminded us that reading-while-walking is a dangerous activity, will Author be able to continue on her one long path down the halls of authors and poets who write Classics and become pictures of classical greatness. One good pink book is something, indeed, but another book in the same specific tone, about the sadness or the troubles or the difficulties in that warping nineteen seventies madness, and it could be jamais-vu. Today people might find tablets girl, a.k.a. girl who was really a woman, something to talk about, but if another maybe-boyfriend hoards superchargers in the same way but in another text, will the problems be limited to ‘over the water’ or will Author struggle to find her book land after the splash, quite a splash, that was made by this pink book? It is a good time to meet Milkman nonetheless. Well, no, it is never a good time to meet The Milkman, (not The Real Milkman, but) renouncer-in-state Milkman Milkman, because that is when Narrator becoming interesting. Becoming interesting is a problem. Eyes on you and beyond you, the rumours becoming truer than true and you sit here wondering well hell is this not our world, were those implicated for violences and celebrity rumours guilty of everything that they were told they deserved. Terrorism is a theme for today, being that people are terrorised today by everything because that is what they were taught, but not in the same way that people were taught not to be too sad if Somebody McSomebody’s brother’s head was in the road. And then there is being interesting, as aforementioned, but not in the way of flashing lights, also, either, but in the way that interesting manifests on trains and buses and lots of people pressed together and one single Milkman driving his white van alongside the road whilst you are reading-while-walking. Not having paragraphs is something strange, to be grappled with. Difficult it is, to be stopping, pulling away, because breaks are not clean and today we like a clean-break life, yes. Tell me, you like the clean-breaks but life is not like that, no, it is one long messy feed of pictures and noises and message you do not want to read but do because you are bored, and anyway: relevancy. Relevancy. We will read the pink book, winner of the big prize? Yes we will, reader-of-mine.

Was Hardy really a feminist?

In the past, I have not been the most enthusiastic reader of Thomas Hardy’s work. Having read Tess of the D’Urbervilles  for “fun” in the Summer, I had decided never to look at his work again, until, of course, I was set Far From The Madding Crowd as a text. Karma, thank you. The impression I was left with was not…great:  the heavy and somewhat pointless descriptions of landscape dominating the novel just did not enrapture me. But you know all this! The real question is- am I glad that I had to study this, in the end?

It is obvious that I would never have chosen Hardy to study, which as someone who is enthusiastic about English literature, is problematic. Not only is he an acclaimed (although not hugely by me) poet, (I studied Neutral Tones at GCSE) but he is also one of the most acclaimed Victorian writers. Just like Dickens and Steinbeck, he is one of those white men whose work one simply must read if they are to consider themselves learnèd. Or so that was the impression I have been given throughout my schooling (so far), and really it is the only impression that matters considering that this is the institution which sets you up for the sadly all-important exams. So it was a book unwelcomed to my psyche, being both pastoral and Victorian, but ultimately I learnt 2 lessons:

Lesson one: Hardy has an excellent use of perspective

Often there is a sense of distortion in his work: in Oak’s first introduction to Bathsheba, a “small swing looking-glass was disclosed, in which she proceed to survey herself attentively”. Here, like in many other parts of the novel, the reader is viewing Gabriel viewing Bathsheba viewing herself, and it is this layering which creates an almost cinematic effect. All the attention is on her, but without fanfare or exclamation marks!!!! With writing, unlike film, the idea of selective viewing is not often touched upon. Here is why:

Carol (2015) - a typical technique that is used throughout the movie. rarely do we find a scene that has a full and clear view, there is usually something stands in the way. this implies the view of the society on homosexuality and creates an imprisoning atmosphere for the love between two women.

This film still, from Carol (2015) would be very hard to put into writing, due to the obscured nature of the model/ actress herself and the nature of the reflection. Thus for Hardy to be able to explore perspective in that way is admirable.

Lesson two: it is actually unclear if he really was a feminist at this point, despite many fervent claims

This is concerning Far From the Madding Crowd, because of course in Tess of the D’Urbervilles he is does prove himself otherwise. But in this earlier context, it is uncertain if the plot actually supports Bathsheba taking on her own farm, and therefore the idea of “the women in the role of responsibility” that she represents.  She is portrayed as, unusually for the context, a woman independent from the authority of men, by owning a farm. This ownership was given to her, not earned, through her uncle’s will, which means that Bathsheba’s use of this power is even more important. If she had bought the farm herself, and then failed, at least some merit would be given to her for being able to make the money to buy the farm in the first place. But here, she is simply being given an opportunity on a platter, and as it is clear to see, she squanders it. She almost lets all her sheep die from an illness, simply due to pride, and she spends the entire novel being swept away by various men than tending to her farm.

It is as if Bathsheba is incompetent, because when every time she checked the farm at night, Gabriel “almost constantly preceded her in this tour every evening, watching her affairs”. Whilst this may be attributed to devotion, there is also a sense of her lack of skill. As if Gabriel is also following her just in case she misses something, because that is what was expected of women. What is more, when Bathsheba is at the marketplace, instead of focusing on her work, Hardy portrays her as being purely vain and concerned that there is a “black sheep among the flock” because one man was not looking at her. It is this scene where Bathsheba had a chance to assert herself in the an all-male environment, and yet instead Hardy chooses to portray her as wasting her time, despite all the power and opportunity she has been given.

Even if that interpretation is wrong, the narrator is highly sexist, making claims like: “women are never tired of bewailing man’s fickleness in love, but they only seem to snub his constancy”, or how she was a “novelty among women- one who finished a thought before beginning the sentence which was to convey it”and also “the numerous evidences of her power to attract were only thrown into greater relief by a marked exception. Women seem to have eyes in ribbons for such matters as these”. It could be argued that the narrator does not reflect Hardy’s true feelings: that these harsh, sweeping generalisations are what Hardy expects the public want to hear. But this does not make sense. Nowhere else in the novel does the narrator explicitly express an opinion, or pass judgement in this way. Therefore the narrator is not a character, which means that the things they say are assumed to be true. Thus one cannot assume that Hardy included this bias consciously, and therefore that he was, at this point in his writing, still not the feminist that he is lauded as being today, in light of the casually sexist narrator and  Bathsheba’s failure to handle the responsibility she has be given- which is normally only given to a man- thus suggesting that women as a group were incapable of labour.

Overall, although it was interesting to pull apart the themes of the novel in seminars and to make presentations upon the characters, reading Far From the Madding Crowd was an unsatisfying experience. The story was initially drab, and the plot finishes off incredulously, and although Hardy had the perfect opportunity to create a heroine, instead he makes a fool.

What Margaret Atwood, a Pulitzer-prize winner and orange hair dye have in common

(Or which writer does short stories the best?)

Sometimes you read three books- just randomly picking them off the shelf- and in hindsight you realise that they all seem to be spookily similar. This has, in a way, happened with my reading over the last few months, where the number of collections of short stories I have read has been quite high compared to normal! Most writers are known only for their novels, so it was fascinating to see how they performed with the slightly different medium.

First of all, I read Margaret Atwood’s The Stone Mattress


Now, admittedly, I have not read any of her other work, (including, yes, I know, The Handmaid’s Tale), but I saw this book in the local library and decided that I might as well give her a try. Her writing style is very particular: not particularly flowery but her words are crafted in such a way that the writing is still imaginative and emotive.  Indeed, I would not be surprised if an extract from one these stories was featured in an English Literature exam, to the horror of many students searching in vain for the metaphors and allusions.

Atwood’s talent does shine through in the some of the stories, such as Alfinland, which about a fantasy writer who gets lost in a snowstorm and receives guidance from her dead husband. However, other stories just seemed to be, although illuminated by excellent writing, not exactly thrilling. There were some stories in there which just did even not fit into this collection, in terms of tone nor content, like Luxus Naturae and  I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth. The reason why these jarr so much is because in the opening of the collection there are a few interconnected stories, with a minor character from one becoming the protagonist in the other. That inconsistency is not ideal, especially as both of these irrelevant and weaker tales have been published before, so it is not like Atwood had publish them in this collection so that they could be seen by the world.

In terms of handling the short stories as a form: some of the endings fell flat, and it would have been more fun to see larger twists and surprises in there. However, the delivery of the ideas was superb, and therefore, although I would not read another short story collection by Atwood, I will endeavour to take on her longer works. At some point. Maybe.


Then I embarked on Trigger Warning by Neil Gaiman


There was one stand-out story here, called Click-Clack The Rattlebag. It proves that short stories are one of the best mediums for horror (although the others in Trigger Warning are more just fantasy/ science fiction), because it offers enough time for a premise and a twist, but not enough for time to be “wasted” on fluff, in this context, like character development and world building such as in a novel. It instead cuts straight to the fear, which is what people want from the genre, presumably.

Another highlight was a story about a teenage girl who used orange hair dye which turned her into this angry deity, much to the fear of her family. However, it is told through a questionnaire form, with only the answers revealed, so there are pieces of the narrative which you still have to fill in for yourself. On the other hand, other parts of the collection were not so strong- the poetry to say the least! That seemed to be an indulgent inclusion; as if he was trying to prove that he could write well in both prose and verse, but the real question is…can he? (Um, no.)

The stories do not fit together in any way, and Gaiman does allude to this in the introduction (which is rather drawn out), by saying that these could all be potentially disturbing, and thus all need a “Trigger Warning”. A good excuse to pull together seemingly random stories, none of which were exactly distressing in my mind. It is not that I mind this lack of consistency, but the book does seem a bit contrived because there is no new content in there apart from ONE story. One of them is even about Doctor Who, and another, The Sleeper and the Spindle, is a book in its own right with lovely illustrations by Chris Riddell. It just all seems a bit frantically drawn together, as if the publishers wanted to release another book and so patched together all his old work.

So, the content itself was much more inventive that Atwood, but like the Canadian, the consistency of the quality of the works throughout the collection was patchy, and it was concerning that there was only one previously unpublished story.

Here is, however, a lovely excerpt from “A Calendar of Tales”

I built an igloo out of books in my backyard.

I slept in my igloo made of books. I was getting hungry. I made a hole in the floor, lowered a fishing line and waited until something bit. I pulled it up: a fish made of books – green covered vintage Penguin detective stories. I ate it raw, fearing a fire in my igloo.

When I went outside I observed that someone had covered the whole world with books: pale-covered books, all shades of white and blue and purple. I wandered the ice floes of books.

I saw someone who looked like my wife out there on the ice. She was making a glacier of autobiographies.

“I thought you left me,” I said to her. “I thought you left me alone.”

She said nothing, and I realized she was only a shadow of a shadow


And lastly- the Pulitzer prize winner, Jennifer Egan, with her work,  A Visit From the Goon Squad


I am losing respect for the Pulitzer committee at this point, because this book held a queasy amount of attraction. As in, the characters were vaguely unlikeable and certainly unrelatable. The most lauded point of the book was the “Powerpoint journal” that Ally had for the segment about her. This girl is 12, and so the presentation of her thoughts in Fishbone Analysis, Cause-Effect and Bubble Charts form do seem a bit, again, contrived and ridiculous, especially considering how incongruous the form is to the content.

It is clear to see perhaps why the Pulitzer committee found the book attractive, but then again it does seem too… frivolous, perhaps, for the context of the award. It seems very similar in a way to Less, which also won the Pulitzer recently, and was touted as being the first comic novel to win the Pulitzer. And whilst Egan’s novel is not comic, it is not outstanding in the conventional literary sense, either. Maybe the overarching theme of misspent lives gives it more credit, as well as the unusual emphasis placed on sibling, rather than marital, relationships throughout. That is not to say that I do not think that the book is not well-written: it most certainly is. It is just that for an international award the tone was a bit too icy, and the characters a bit too inflexible.

The form of the short story was well-utilised here, though, because it did what Margaret Atwood had only partially achieved. Each character was a protagonist in one story, and then a secondary character in another, and each segment is told at a different point in time: one details how a publicist struggles with her the failure of business, and mentions her desire to fund Lulu’s (her daughter) education. Then another story is of Lulu as an adult, where she has a more active role in the narrative. The only problem is that one is unable to develop any meaningful relationship with any of the characters, because each chapter/ story is only a few pages long, and also since many of the characters are not likeable. And not even in an anti-hero way: more like, well you deserve everything that is coming for you because you are consistently pretentious/ obnoxious etc.. It is also not clear what Egan is trying to achieve because the stories themselves do not have the typical “story arc”, with a surprise/ pay-off at the end, and yet they do not work cohesively to form a larger narrative. As in, one of the chapters could be missing, and you would not notice when reading the novel through.

It is hard to say, therefore, given the many flaws that each collection has, if one author can really be touted the “best” short story writer. To give one author this title would suggest that their work possessed a standard much higher than the others. But, sadly, they are all too problematic in their own way to be crowned. So the short-story crown shall remain with me indefinitely, until I find a worthy author.

kate tempest, let them eat chaos

let them not eat these words,

or chaos indeed. Everyone has herds

of things which tides against them, and have no time for this little

book of pretentious spittle

to contend with their sanity,

the banal profanity

of constant rhymes

about the faults of our times.


What can we learn from:

All that is meaningless rules
And we have learned nothing from history.


To blame the culture around social media

and the swamping, endless wikipedia

with words that are short

and make my face contort:

behold a lack of art

and  heart.

A stereotype is not fun

Before I was an adult, I was a
little wreck,
pedding whatever I could get
my grubby mitts on.

Ketamine for breakfast,
bad girls for drinking with

“This poem was written to be read aloud”

Is she aware that this is not allowed

on public transport, or in coffee shop

that a-one-eye-look from a cyclops

will come my way if I do?

She knew, she knew, she knew

and made this is little caveat

for the well-wishing diplomat

to lean on,  when faced with her endless

repetition, which makes surely her friendless.


A stereotype is not fun

I hate to think I’ll make it to seventy,
And realize I’ve never been alive,
and spend the rest of my days
wishing I could be

Fight Club had done this already, a cinematic vision

with artistic precision,

to discuss what is now a mere cliché

and very passé

especially the sickening form

words stuck all over the page, forlorn,

seemingly irrelevant for the spoken word,

something which should not to be read

or evidently, heard.


We die.
So others can be born.

We age
so others can be young.

The point of life is live.
Love if you can. Then pass it on. 

How refreshing, how new

no, how I wish I knew,

all these things

before reading a book which used old ideas

and stereotypes for its wings.





to the lighthouse// january

He smiled the most exquisite smile, veiled by memory, tinged by dreams.

                  It hard to grapple with something that does not exist: nothing, no bones, to tie the language together

And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees
and changing leaves

                 In our world full of pictures and pages, each curated to our little personal dreams, it is hard to be beautiful, and but it is even harder to make sense, and have authenticity tumble through your work.

 Bitter and black, halfway down, in the darkness, in the shaft which ran from the sunlight to the depths, perhaps a tear formed; a tear fell; the waves swayed this way and that, received it, and were at rest.

             Where is it, where is it? Are we built from a lust for life, or from a fear of death: is that your dusky illumination.

Could it be, even for elderly people, that this was life?–startling, unexpected, unknown?

            What shines through the ink, is an enthusiasm for language and the twisting of words, so devoid from the other works which pseudo-intellectuals have branded their favourite, champagne literates, illerates.

The very stone one kicks with one’s boot will outlast Shakespeare

           Were you a millennial, pre-emptive? Indeed, bubbling with ideas and hopes and knowledge and just wanting to be understood, the ideas larger than people’s capacity for understanding. Or was your ego larger than the need for the words to be pared down to be understood.

So that is marriage, Lily thought, a man and a woman looking at a girl throwing a ball

            If I craved a string of quotes, with no meaning in context to each other except for the overwhelming existential sadness they all made me feel, I would go somewhere else: literature was not borne for this.

Or maybe it was.

Well, we must wait for the future to show.

Did a genocide almost happen in England? (And other gems from Anglo-Saxon History)

Haters will say that Anglo-Saxons are dull because they were simply bearded men, with nothing but pillaging and unaesthetic mud huts to their name. Haters would therefore be wrong. Here are some of the most interesting things I’ve learnt from my reading of The Anglo-Saxon Age by John Blair, The Anglo-Saxons by James Campbell and Anglo-Saxon England by David Brown.

  1. The mains gods in Anglo-Saxon society were Tiw, Woden and Thor. Tiw was the god of war, swordplay and the sky, whilst Woden was the chief of all the Anglo-Saxon gods and Thor was the god of sky and thunder. (Marvel, anyone?) These gods were honoured especially in place names- Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, as well as a few places like Tuesley in Surrey, Wednesbury in Staffs and Thursley in Surrey.
  2. The word Welshman has a root in slavery, becomes it comes from “wealh” which means slave. So the place “Walton” could either mean the place of the Welsh/Britons, or the place of slaves.
  3. Kings never stayed in power for too long. It is crucial to remember that at that time there were many simultaneously ruling kings in England, because England as a unified place did not exist and was more like a mixture of different smaller kingdoms. Anyway, even kings of smaller areas were not in power for very long. and this was because soldiers were attracted to kings by gifts: but gifts depended on the wealth of the kings which in turn relies upon power and conquest. If a battle is lost, then all the soldiers could switch sides so that they could receive gifts from another king. So power and authority was very fluid in the seventh century.
  4. In the eighth and ninth century, wealthy landowners would build monasteries on their estates to enjoy the tax advantages. Essentially, taxes would have to be paid to a church in order to maintain them, but if you already had a monastery on your land then these could be evaded. This evasion was so prolific that a famous monk, Bede, complained about these “fronts” in his book.
  5. King Alfred devoted the last ten years of life to reviving literacy and learning in his society. He was the only English king, even before Henry VIII, who wrote books. That is impressive. Good old Alfred even learnt Latin, and being the kindly man he was, translated texts into English for his subjects’ benefit alone. He also organised the first compilation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle is basically the main source we have for nearly all events in that era, from early Anglo-Saxon life to the Norman Conquest.
  6. One could see how strong royal power was by their coinage. There were decrees issued by Aethelstan between 924 and 939 which ordered that throughout the land there should be a single type of coin, with the same sort of weight and consistency. This is key because it illustrates the consistency of their rule -if they were overthrown then something new would have been introduced- in a time where the turn-over of kings was high!
  7. In 1002, Æthelred and his council ordered a massacre of all Danes living in England. These Danes were living happily in the Danelaw, but of course their presence was unwanted by an English ruler because of the threat of a revolution they posed. However, the law ordering a genocide could not have been enforced, as it is thought that up to a 1/3 of all people in the time were Danish. It does however suggest that there were anti-Danish sentiments at the time, and it is clear that this suggestion of a massacre, whatever came of it irrelevant, did prompt King Swein to invade England (and promptly rule it) a year later.
  8. Churches in the eleventh century are vastly different to today. Back then, they were owned by the lords who built them, whose purpose was determined by a tenurial rather than pastoral manner. The church’s main function was not exactly religion, but to serve “the needs of the lord, his household, and tenants” (Blair).
  9. Anglo-Saxons did not learn to read and write until after the spread of Christianity, when Augustine came to England in AD 597.
  10. Most people were buried with their spear and shield. Swords were found for one in ten graves, and many had no weapons at all. Weapons were found however, were appropriate to their class, and were therefore symbols of wealth, not constant warfare.
  11. Anglo-Saxon houses had hollows in them for storage. 
  12. In the seventh century there was a mass conversion to christianity- first observed with royal families. Christian kings were buried in churches: the first one was Aethelbert of Kent in 616 in St Martin’s Chapel at St Peter. Lesser folk, however, were buried outside churches.
  13. People buried coins when they feared they would lose them. Therefore when lots of coins were buried at a particular time (because nothing like safes existed back then), it signalled that a raid was going on. However sometimes these people died during such attacks, and therefore their coins remain buried, as they are found today.
  14. -by is the danish word for village, i.e Grimsby is Grimr’s village. Hybrid names like Grmis-ton is Grimr’s village, with a Danish personal name (Grmis) and an English word (-ton, for village).
  15. Edward the Elder tried to stop the black market! He wanted all exchanges to be carried out in a port in the witness of a reeve (royal official) so that the sale of stolen property could be hindered, stolen property being mainly cattle.

hello, hello, hello

A foreign number in the corner of magazines and computer screens: 2019. In many ways, it simply marks the cumulation of days. On the other hand, the dawning of a new year symbolises the attempts that many now make to become a better person. The metric for self-improvement is, of course, individual, and in many cases the decision to abandon resolutions can be as difficult to embrace as elaborately planned (if unsuccessful) workout regimes. This is due to societal pressure to find faults within oneself, and hurriedly erase them before anyone notices, even when you have no current qualms with your lifestyle.

But what lies ahead for this little blog? What about this little world we live in, indeed, with such a great capacity for harbouring both incredible acts of kindness, and evil? The answer to the former, and almost certainly the latter, is that although we all have some idea -hopes even- nobody really knows. We have managed to survive another year without nuclear war, but with the threat always looming somewhere in the ink of newspages, it serves as a sobering reminder that life should be not taken too seriously. I could make various promises about how often I will post, or how many books I will read this year, but instead an organic approach to posting seems more appropriate. Book review blogs do not make for internet sensations, anyway, and as much of my reading is leaning towards those necessitated by academic commitments, rather than by personal preference, this blog may become a spot for the chronicling these various textbook activities more than anything else. Whilst this will be undoubtedly useful to me, the interest in this for others remains to be seen. However I will also continue with my Winter Challenge, and embark upon various discursive essays, as well as the slaughtering of various classics (To the Lighthouse, you are next) but the general tone may become more… dusty.

So: hello, hello, hello 2019. I hope you feel welcome, and will forgive me if at times I seem distant, or boring, if ineffectual. Then again, politicians act this way, and they seem to be ruling to the country. Maybe this isn’t such a bad approach, then.

“You exposed your penis on national television, Max”

“You exposed your penis on national television, Max.” is a phrase we are all used to hearing during the festive period. Or maybe not. Maybe if your name is Thomas the sentence will end slightly differently. But yes, we have been there, having all done regretful things in the Christmas period, perchance slightly intoxicated. But luckily, it’s coming up to a new year and we all know what that means. A NEW YOU! Or does it?

The premise of coming into a new calendar year -2019- is always attractive. It’s nearly Christmas and with great Christmas celebrations comes a great number of chocolate and mince pies. Also known as weight gain… and whatever emotions accompany that.

Having said that, maybe some people have self restraint! Do not worry, there is something else to bring you too- the general moodiness that winter can bring to those in the gloomier countries, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in its most extreme cases. It doesn’t help when everyone, be it in the family or at work, is crammed into a room together and everyone is tired. So arguments or sly comments can ensue: resulting in a generally negative atmosphere. Therefore by the time Christmas itself comes around, you are probably regretting buying a present for Brenda after she told Kathy last week that you are always late handing in news reports, even though that’s not true. And now, you are wondering if it’s too late to stay with your sister, because you accidentally told your boyfriend that his parents were the worst at Christmas, except you haven’t bought her anything yet. Or spoken to her in half a year. You see how it goes. By  New Year’s, some relationships can become patchier than the elbows of your favourite jumper. Have you even seen When Harry Met Sally?

So there will be some regret by the time the 1st of January comes around, and the subsequent resolutions can be split into 2 main categories:

Self-improvement and relationships

In the self-improvement area, it will most likely be joining a new gym, or becoming a bikram yoga instructor after that semi-delirious chat the night before (I was joking about the first one, no one ever seriously commits to joining a new gym.)

In terms of relationships, it could be anything from: I will call my family once a week, to meeting up with old friends more frequently.

You get the gist. There are however issues arising with New Year’s Resolutions. The first one in the lack of realism. Most people do not suddenly lose all their fitness in the 14 day festive period. The mince pies did not magically eat your six pack and leave behind many evenings of mulled wine regret. Oh no. Many of the problems that people have been facing, like estrangement from family, or an unhealthy regime, have existed long before December (and eventually themselves) rolls around. So there a magical idea called


This means writing all your New Year’s Resolutions now. Right now. Why are you still reading this- you are meant to be writing! Yes, you write them now, and then you start doing them straight away. Want to go for a run everyday- there is some daylight left, so get going. All the things you want your future self to do should simply be enacted today, before the Christmas/ New Year lethargy gets into full force. This way, even if you slip up once or twice, not only will you be generally making a step in the right direction (i.e if you only eat one mince pie at every party, instead of the usual three, plus brandy, plus eggnog, candy canes, christmas pudding and the sad crusty gingerbread of regret at 1 AM when only your boss is left, swaying in the corner). Another benefit is that many people have a “do or fail” mentality, like: “I will not eat chocolate this entire year”. And then on the fourth day they accidentally eat some, and that is it for them, because the streak of 365 without chocolate is now ruined so they might as well go back to their old habits. No, Pre-Year’s Resolutions allows you not only to ease into your habits, so that you don’t go cold turkey (as it does on by roughly 5:53pm on Christmas day), but so that you can spot flaws in your plan so that when the New Year does come around you have a plan which you can feasibly stick to.

Then again, vive la gluttony! What is not love about the self-loathing that inevitably comes with the cold, harsh light of January anyway…

We Just Did What Needed To Be Done

Since it’s Sunday and it’s stopped raining, I think I’ll take a bouquet of roses to my grave. It’s been a while, and that mound of earth, crowned with a slate of grey and my name, is looking a little drab without them. Why pick roses themselves? They are a tradition. And traditions must be kept, at all costs. Even if the others, mourning, see that spill of white on my grave and disapprove. We all know that somebody will disapprove, at whatever you do; it is just who is doing the disapproving, you see, which is the crucial part.

As for me: I died 2 years ago. Some people disapproved of my existence far too much, I am afraid to say. It was better to be dead, though. For myself, for my family -for everybody. It gave the newspapers something to chew on for a while, something for people to riot about, and then they all spat me out and I was happily forgotten. When I had just been killed, I was worried about the amount of time I would have to stay in my flat. How pale I would become. Everyone knows my face and I face charges for violations of international human rights, and somehow I still managed to be vain. Worrying about being pale, when lifetime imprisonment could lay before! I made sure to sit near the kitchen window everyday, though. The blinds were closed, obviously, but sunlight would  still seep through the corners and douse my skin. Because although venturing outside would be an unnecessary risk, I would rather not look like corpse if I could help it. Even though I was to meant be one; my funeral was on national television, after all. Out of spite, not because they wanted to commemorate me, but let’s not dwell on that. Little old me on the BBC; my mum would not have believed it. She would not believe that I was not really in that casket, either, but that it was actually waxy version of myself. Nobody checks corpses anyway. And it helps to still have political supporters on the inside, to orchestrate the fake funeral. They were hoping, I am sure, that by helping me I would come back and revive the Revolution again. I am not so sure.

Now that I was dead, I could do what I wanted, as long as it was inside my flat, and I did not use the internet or the phone. I found letters to be best, actually, to communicate with my family. Whilst the time passed, I read all the books that were in my living room. Until the day of my death, it had been at least two years since I had any free time. So I departed, intellectually ravenous, for those bookshelves. I found my old medical notes, from University, and looked over them. Rubbed my chin. It was coming, like a winter storm. Like a flurry of snowflakes, soft white hair was erupting onto my skin. Soon, I would be safe. Soon. But whilst that beard came, I memorised everything I had forgotten between going to University, becoming a failed medic, then a failure of a son and soon after a failed businessman. And then, as you all know, a failed revolutionist. In all honesty, I think my last career did not end abominably. I was martyr, after all, and that is better than dying slowly into oblivion. If celebrities die young, then everyone weeps for the talent that is now decaying in a box under the ground, and they are forever remembered as being “stolen by time”. But when artists grow old in the public eye, and cannot maintain that talent, that vigour, that beauty- that is when people mock them.

It is a funny world.

Which is why I grew a beard and watched films with northern characters. That accent needed to envelope me and become me, for the simple reason that it opposes my natural one entirely. Born in Brighton to poor parents, pretending that I am from Newcastle would be exactly what I needed to stay disguised. My daughter and wife still live there, today. In Brighton, I mean. It would be painfully obvious to stay with them, and I would be sent to the Hague immediately. No, whilst the old adage of hiding things in plain sight may ring true, unfortunately this would be fatal for me. Not too much in plain sight, at least. I was not going to stay in my flat forever. No, that would be a bore. Instead, with a thick white beard, a crown of long hair and a northern accent, I would look entirely different and be able to walk freely in public. I would start a new life, as a doctor. And speaking with hindsight, I can say that the northern accent and large, billowing beard truly did work. They work well enough so that I can put roses on my grave today, at any rate.

Looking back on those days, I am surprised that I even survived. Putting myself under house arrest was more excruciating than deciding the logistics of destroying the House of Commons. However, I did garner much satisfaction from watching the news unfurl on the BBC, months after I had died. The news reporters and their horror, the documentaries about that sacred building being nothing more than ashes and the arguments which ensued about what to do next. In all these things, my face was plastered onto the screen. It was my fault, they would cry. Which is all very ironic, I will have you know, because it was not even my idea. No, after Brexit actually happened in 2021, (pushed back due to negotiation issues), there was civil unrest. Meanwhile I joined the Lazarus Political Party. They believed in radical change; overturning the existing government and creating a fairer society. Not equal, though. This was far from Communism, before you get any ideas. We learnt from Brexit that if you give people a voting slip, all they will do is set it on fire. So the Lazarus meetings started, quietly, in friends’ houses and then town halls as we grew. We decided we needed to remove the current government, because whilst Lazarus expanded, there were no longer bananas in our shops. Or coffee, or chocolate, or oranges or anything else that you could possibly need. Walking into a supermarket was like walking into a joke. You do not understand where you are going, and then when you realise the destination, it is almost laughable. They used have every shelf overflowing, these places. I would think that was impossible until I remembered that it used to be like that all the time when I was a child. It made me realise that Lazarus wanted something genuinely beneficial for the British people. So I joined them. I spoke to their members, and after talking at meeting a few times about the state of affairs, it turned out that I was a great orator. There’s no other way to put it. It became my everything, those weekly party meetings. You must have watched the documentaries about me by now, so you would know that I was failing at my job at this point, too. It was soulless, a simple check-in and check-out every day for six years of my life before I found this party. Lazarus was the spice to the stew of my life. So what else did you expect me to do, other than dedicate my life to it?

Yes, it became a passion of mine. An obsession, even. As the anger of the nation grew greater, as bricks were thrown into buildings because food was running out, nothing brought me more pleasure than being elected party leader. It had been my goal for the past six months since I had joined. And all the senior members agreed that Lazarus should be in power. We all had different ideas how to go from there, though. I had suggested we wait until the next General Election, which was now every 12 years instead of 4, because the Tories realised that they would never be voted into office again and wanted to maintain their current power as long as possible. But every senior member thought, surprisingly unanimously, that this was far too distant a prospect. That action needed to happen. That it needed to happen now, more than anything else. Weeks of debate, arguments, papers scattered onto the floor. We voted as a party. I made them vote twice, actually. Just to be certain that was what they wanted. They decided, and I quit my day job. This was it. I was going all in, because on May 7th the Lazarus party voted to destroy the Houses of Parliament. But not Westminster Abbey, they said. That was too beautiful, even for them. But Parliament would be fine to burn to nothing but a memory.

So during a sudden snowstorm in November, November 23rd, 3pm to be precise, five bombs exploded. My insides flinched slightly, as I looked at my watch and saw a plume of smoke outside my window, several miles away. Our party had gained momentum now: over 1.2 million members. Obviously not that many people knew about this operation, or we would have been arrested. But the devices had our party logo on it, so the police would know who to credit. Such a pity, really, that old architecture crumbling into flames, but I suppose it had to be done. For the good of the people. To make a statement. At the same time, all ordinary members of Lazarus destroyed statues of any person with any political affiliation. At all. If they had gone to a single Labour meeting, then the hammers came out. Or Lib-dem, or anything else. If a marble statue was linked to a political opinion, it had to go. And at 3pm on that same day, a pre-recorded video of myself was released. Pre-recorded and sent from a computer in a derelict building, so we couldn’t be traced. We decided that it would be a neat ribbon to wrap up the day’s momentous events. It was simple; I introduced myself, the party and then my authority over everybody in England. For their own good. It made a lot of sense, actually, because public opinion is a dangerous thing. See the damage and destruction it has caused in the past. Slavery. The oppression of women. Brexit. Without public approval, these things would not have occurred, despite the few enlightened speaking out. Lazarus, the public were informed, is a party of those enlightened and who speak out against the wrong. Suffragettes were not well received at first, but they turned out to be the few right-minded people amongst the nation. That is what Lazarus is. We  can make the right decisions for England, and take the power away from those who can not.

My rule had started so well. I did it for 4 months. More buildings were blown up,  laws passed that were stifled by bureaucracy before, and some people were killed. We just did what needed to be done. Some people hold back society, and they just had to go.

Then they found me, hiding in the countryside at my base. Not everyone was so accepting of my authority, unfortunately. So I faked my own death, and now I walk among you. As a doctor; somebody you trust. It is surprising what a new accent and a full beard can do. Now I walk among you.