Prescription: A New Outlook on Life

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It’s that time of year when we all need a little medecine. This time… it’s literary 

Doctors are mythical creatures. You go to them, bleary eyed and aching, and somehow they know precisely what’s wrong. With a tap of their fingers, a magical remedy is conjured up and soon you feel in fine fettle. Said no one ever. Particularly Adam Kay, a former junior doctor, who wrote about his experience in This Is Going To Hurt. 

From the opening, he reveals his own apparent ineptitude when he was starting out as a medical student thrust straight onto the ward. But not only that, his book is revolutionary because it tells the hidden story of the NHS. Everyone hears about how it’s a dying beast; that funds are being cut and staffing is down.

NHS bill rally at Westminster

But then we scroll down to the next news story. But what does that mean in reality? Through his talk about triple shifts, more time spent working than not and even catching sleep in hospital beds, Kay does not paint an optimistic, nor reassuring, picture of the state of our National Service.

You would know. It’s like when you went to A&E with a bleeding leg, or broken arm, or a fever. Then you complained because you’d been waiting for 4 hours. Well, as it turns out, actually the medical staff weren’t punishing you by keeping you waiting. No, they were punishing themselves, relentlessly working, and if you were being pushed to the back of the queue, it should have been a relief because that meant that your problems weren’t as serious compared to those around you.

As written in the book:

“Medicine is the host who manages to keep you at their party hours after you first think about leaving.”

Perhaps that was something we all secretly knew inside us, though. That we’re never kept waiting out of spite, but due to staff shortage. But it’s like how many of life’s greatest messages aren’t surprising; it’s just that we need someone to tell us. And that’s exactly what This is Going to Hurt does. Trust me, you’ll never look at a doctor the same way again.

He also writes how the training, rigorous though it was, didn’t quite prepare Kay for the massive responsibility bestowed upon him from the outset, like having to deal with: gruesome ailments, unheard of sicknesses, births and even death. To sum it up, he said:

“It’s funny – you don’t think of doctors getting ill.’ It’s true, and I think it’s part of something bigger: patients don’t actually think of doctors as being human. It’s why they’re so quick to complain if we make a mistake or if we get cross. It’s why they’ll bite our heads off when we finally call them into our over-running clinic room at 7 p.m., not thinking that we also have homes we’d rather be at. But it’s the flip side of not wanting your doctor to be fallible, capable of getting your diagnosis wrong. They don’t want to think of medicine as a subject that anyone on the planet can learn, a career choice their mouth-breathing cousin could have made.”

You have to admit he’s onto something there.

There are of course hilarious anecdotes- of patients who enter the hospital for rather embarrassing reasons- and then somewhat inherently sad ones too. Like how the hospital staff have to pay extortionate parking prices. That sounds minor and trivial, but it meant that their losing 50% of their wage to a machine which, at the end of the day, would earn more than even them. And that machine doesn’t even know which way to put on hospital scrubs.

Oh, and a final thing I learnt from the book? Thanks to Kay’s detailed descriptions from his time working at Obstetrics and Gynaecology: that childbirth is brutal and somewhat disgusting.

 

Liebster Award 2018

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Right, I’m starting this thread of the Liebster Award, (find out more about it here,) so I don’t have anyone to thank for nominating me, but I’m going to give a nod of recognition to a blog called  A Guy Called Bloke  because I found the awesome questions (which I answered below,) from there.

Why I’m passionate about blogging:

For me, blogging all started because I wanted a platform to record how many books I had read, and what I thought of them. Soon it became my own corner of the internet and somewhere I knew that I could voice my thoughts and opinions- just for my own satisfaction. This was mainly because when I started the blog there were no English societies or book clubs for me attend, and most young teens don’t find a rendition of The Secret History that attractive a prospect. Fast forward a few years, and I am part of all sort of literature related activities, but I also love to keep my blog alongside to record reads, reach out to others and review current affairs through the lens of my personal opinion.

10 Random Facts about Me

1. I have fenced foil for the England team.

2. I was once the part of a tree in a German play.

3. I own three pairs of Doc Martens.

4. I bake a wonderful chocolate chip banana bread.

5. I played Grade 5 piano until I was 13.

6. I visited Ranthambore national park in India, which is a tiger sanctuary, stayed there for a week and didn’t see a single cat.

7. I don’t like sandwiches.

8. I am proficient in 5 languages: English, German, Ancient Greek, Latin and French

9. I wrote an entire novel when I was 14.

10. I can lucid dream!

Question Time!

1)What was the last movie you can recall that actually really made you laugh as in splitting sides kind of movies?

Hot Fuzz! Basically anything with Simon Pegg…

2] The last book you read that made you stop in your tracks and think about life?

The book that I’m reading right now (stay tuned for a review 🙂  called “All that Remains” by Sue Black. Of course I’ll go into this later, but it’s about Death and how humans really are just an amalgamation of cells and organs. When you examine humans just as another species you realise how personally insignificant you are…which actually quite liberating.

3] What is a piece of music that can make you smile and cry inside at the same time?

Liability by Lorde

4] An event in history that changed your perspective on how we live as a society?

Definitely the Enabling Act in 1933 Germany. It represented the loss of liberty in the German population and signalled that Hitler was starting his dictatorship. With the SS and an ultimate grip on judiciary system, this event proved that the public weren’t complicit in his rise power but simply tried to live their lives and follow along.

This changed my perspective on society because it illustrates that people aren’t inherently evil and that they don’t set out to do bad things. Not all the millions of Germans, for example, even voted him into the government and even if they did, it was his financial policies that were attractive and they tended to ‘overlook’ everything else. People saw strength in Hitler’s passionate speeches, and he represented the strong leader they needed moving on from the Wall Street Crash. No one could see what was coming- if Nigel Farage wrote a massive manifesto, who would bother reading it or even taking it seriously? Yet, if he ends up Prime Minister and initiates outrageously xenophobic policies, then people can say these beliefs were even in his writing all along, and shame on you for missing them. So basically that lots of terrible things happen because of the short-sightedness, and not necessarily maliciousness, of the majority. Like Brexit.

5] Frankenstein or Dracula – who would win that fight and why?

Dracula, because Frankenstein (read my review of it, here) is more emotional and so would unlikely have the capacity to brutally murder Dracula (unless there was a sound reason). Frankenstein wouldn’t fight for the sake of power, whereas Dracula definitely would, because he’s sneaky like that. Frankenstein may have brute strength, but psychologically he is unstable and therefore would struggle with the final blow when not unduly antagonised. Dracula, as we know, is more conniving and thus would win.

6] You only have £5 in your pocket and a homeless person has asked you to spare some change – what do you do? Answer honestly here from your heart – and not what you expect other readers to expect of your answer.

Honestly, if I had spare time for a conversation, I would ask the person what they needed, like if they needed a toothbrush or a sandwich. If they then said that they were hungry, maybe I would buy them a meal from a local supermarket, but if they asked for just money I would walk away, because clearly if they don’t ask for something specific then the money would be going towards something dubious.

7] Which flower or herb do you find startlingly attractive and why?

Lavender… I mean look at this and you’ll see what I mean:

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lavender

8] What is your favourite pastel colour?

Apart from lavender? This:

pantone

9] You have the chance to have a dinner party with five of the Harry Potter characters – who would you invite [Dead or Alive]

Ron Weasley

Dobby!

Hagrid

Hermione Granger

Cho Chang

10] In a hundred years what will society miss from our today? 

Society will miss the amount of forest and natural habitat that is somewhat in abundance today, but is slowly being destroyed by deforestation.

11] If you had the ability to stop planet earth right now and start afresh – which would mean that you would cease to exist – would you perform the action?

By “start afresh” I presume a Noah’s Ark type scenario? No, I wouldn’t, because then humanity would be back to square one, without the knowledge which they had gained over the past centuries. Humanity would be so primitive that slavery, homophobia and  misogyny would normal again- society wouldn’t have gone through that learning curve of realising that equality is necessary, so what would essentially happen is that all those groups of people would be targeted again. The minorities would have to suffer for many millennia more because of the archaic power structure that would form again. These people have waited long enough for equality, I’m not going to let them wait anymore by going through the same cycle. People don’t learn from their past mistakes as it is, and with starting afresh these mistakes won’t even be in their memory and so history really would repeat itself. And history is not a nice place to be if you’re a straight white male. No one wants to go back there.

5 blogs that I’m nominating for this award:

11 Random questions for these blogs:

  1. If you were a type of instrument, what type of instrument would you be?
  2.  If you had the attention of the government of your country for a single hour, what would you say to them and why?
  3.  What is more significant, art which makes us laugh, or art which makes us cry?
  4.  What is the one meal that you think everyone should know how to cook?
  5.  If you could do an “exchange” with a person in the past for a year (ignoring the fact you can’t speak the language of the time), who would it be and why. (i.e swap with Julius Caesar for one year, and he would live in your house.)
  6.  What is more important- utilitarianism, or aesthetics?
  7.  If you had the chance to meet Death in person for dinner- without dying because of the encounter- what would you do?
  8.  What is your favourite word?
  9.  Do you think it’s acceptable to take the last slice of pizza? Why/not?
  10.  If after you died you were incarnated into a household object (until it broke/ ran out of battery) which one would you choose to be?
  11. If you had the power to bring back a fad, which one would it be?

List the rules:

Display the picture of the award

  • Thank the person who has nominated you and link to their blog
  • Write a small post about what makes you passionate about blog posting.
  • Write 10 random facts about yourself
  • Answer the questions I’ve asked
  • Nominate blogs that you like and inform them that you have
  • Ask random questions for them
  • List the rules

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars”

SEPTEMBER BOOK OF THE BOOK

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When prisoners were asked to rate themselves in terms of how moral, trustworthy, honest, dependable, compassionate, law-abiding, self-controlled, kind to others and generous they were, they said that they were better than average at 8 out of the 9 traits. Let’s read that again. Prisoners charged with violence and theft thought that they were more compassionate than the rest of the population. And had more self-controlled. Right, yes, that totally makes sense.

In fact, the only trait where they didn’t supposedly surpass  the rest of the population with was in ‘law-abidingness’, where they “rated themselves as equally law-abiding”. Which is ironic, as they were the ones behind bars. This phenomenon of wanting to elevate your own status is not new, and the vast majority of people when asked these very questions thought that they too are better than average at practically everything. Yes… I know, the maths for everyone being better than average doesn’t quite add up, does it?

So humanity are keen to establish their superiority over others. But who really are the best, the so-called superhumans of our race, and can we become like them? As Oscar Wilde once famously said:

oscar wilde gutter.jpg

 

No one likes the thought of being sub-par: yes, people are lazy and do things against their self-interest, but there is always a part of them that wants greatness. Fame, money, social recognition. It’s the way contemporary society works, and I am no different. The Ink Cloud hit the Fringe this past August, and during my free time I wandered into Waterstones (surprise surprise) with about £100 worth of book tokens to spend. As some readers may have gathered from my reading choices, I’m extremely interested in sport (namely triathlon). I will be the first to say that I am ambitious person whose overwhelming confidence in certain situations is almost laughable (as you can also probably tell from my posts). Unashamedly, I do want to succeed, especially in triathlon which I train a lot for. So it’s no wonder that Rowan Hooper’s book Superhuman captured my attention. I was drawn to the title and blurb, because I wanted to find out how I too can be like them: there was an attraction finally hearing the secret of how to be superior. It sounds unattractive perhaps, but I bet you feel the same way, too. Deep down. Don’t deny it.

In the book, Hooper finds those who excel in various walks in life, whether it’s their ability to be supremely intelligent, fast, resilient or even happy. There are many interviews and scientific studies, as well as witty quips. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for well-designed book cover, and the sprinter on the front really did it for me. Because if I’m going to part with £20 for a book, it may as well look classy. Right? Anyway, I was hoping to come to Superhuman to find some secret, some little insight into how I could reach the level of sporting success that I crave. Maybe ‘crave’ is the wrong word, because I train copiously everyday, so it’s not like I just sit in bed and hope for it. But you see what I mean.

Thus the main message behind Superhuman, I can exclusively reveal, is that genetics is at play. A could be called a useful catalyst. Nice to have, sure, but not essential. This is because time and time again it was actually hard work that was the driving force the success people experienced. Yes, elite runners with innate talent may have learnt to walk a little faster, but talent hadn’t woken them up at 5AM so that they can go to a pre-school training. What I took away from it all was:

1-hard-work-beats-talent-when-talent-doesnt-work-wam

But I knew that anyway, and you probably did too. Yet reading this book was nevertheless genuinely enjoyable and hearing about all these successful people truly drove that message home.

Cycle of lies: should Armstrong have been condemned?

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*Opinion formed from the excellent Cycle of Lies by Juliet Macur*

As a society we fundamentally value those who persevere in the face of adversity with unparalleled guile and strength. Think of people revered today: Usain Bolt, Steve Jobs, Hilary Mantel, Emmeline Pankhurst and Albert Einstein. They all had to push past some sort of boundary to become renowned in their field, and each thus achieved success in their own right; whether it was a world record, a Man Booker prize or a ground-breaking mathematics theory.

So, it makes sense that Lance Armstrong would be seen as the embodiment of the American dream and that he would take the world by storm with a never-ending list of cycling wins – including seven Tour de France titles. Take his domination in the sport and couple it with his cancer survival story (and the Livestrong charity that followed), and it should come as no surprise that he was embraced by the world. And if his success was unbelievable, then his fall was even more inconceivable.

At the time of his (in)famous Oprah Winfrey interview, there were media outbursts, there are news-grabbing headlines and there were far, far too many rumours. Reams of people ripped off their yellow Livestrong wristbands that were as ubiquitous amongst the public as drugs were in cycling. Everybody was shocked and all they knew was that Armstrong had cheated the public of their dream. The masses had relied on him, with posters above their office desk, to make incredible feats seem achievable for people with mundane lives like them. To lose that credulity cut them deep, and no-one was interested to hear the whole story. This was because it was so easy to condemn Armstrong. To point the finger and say that he was the evil, malicious ring-leader who shoved EPO into people’s veins. Problem solved, turn your back in shame at the lie you had so carelessly bought into.  But of course, it is never as simple as that. Nothing ever is.

To realise the intricacies of cycling at that time and Armstrong’s career, it is crucial to realise just how systemic drug use was. Everyone was on it. Everyone. The most impactful part of a book that I read on Armstrong (Cycle of Lies, Juliet Macur) is when Armstrong had been accused of cheating. That he had cheated the world of their dream and the other cyclists of a fair competition. Armstrong subsequently looked up the word “cheating” and saw that it meant getting an ‘unfair advantage’ over other competitors. He shook his head; he couldn’t believe his legal sentence. Doping wasn’t unfair, and it certainly wasn’t an advantage. As drugs become more prolific in the sport,  it became more a leveler than anything else. People didn’t inject themselves with brightly coloured liquids to guarantee victory; it was to ensure that they could just keep up.

This is where opinion comes in. To simplify the process, consider that you were a professional endurance runner. Imagine that there is a pair of shoes that can make any runner instantly 20% faster. The authorities are looking for the shoes, yet struggle to identify them despite the fact that all your competitors are wearing them. Without them, you are getting left behind because suddenly the whole field is miles ahead. What do you do? Do you sit in the dust, crying? Or do you pick yourself up, find yourself the shoes and know that the next time you toe the line, the best runner will win, because now everyone is faster, it makes no difference?

Because when everyone has drugs, there is no advantage.

It makes sense that Armstrong still considers himself the winner of the 7 Tour de France titles he originally won, even after he was officially stripped of them. Who else could they have actually gone to instead? Who wasn’t cheating? This isn’t like one outlier in the Olympic Games, where medals are re-awarded years later.

Of course, his attitude towards his teammates and the media was at times horrendous and outrageous. Often, the way he acted was absolutely horrific and no-one can condone that kind of behaviour. But that is not the point; the point is whether in a culture of doping, are there any real victims? Once it is omnipresent (and by the sound of it, it was) then doesn’t it just become another tool, like a streamline swimsuit in swimming or a type of aero-dynamic helmet in cycling? Another thing to make you faster?

A debate has existed in this vain for a long time. As we reach the limits of what humans are physically capable of, the question arises of whether drugs should become legal in sport, so that records can be crushed once more, and excitement injected into sport again. This was even discussed on the renowned BBC podcast “A Running Joke, with Rutherford and Fry”. But the problem with drugs is that unlike creating a lighter hockey stick, these substances alter the human body in ways which are unnatural to the extreme, and therefore highly dangerous. Athletes are the most motivated and competitive people on Earth; they already do shocking things to their body to win, so doping would pose no health-related qualms for them. And with all the sports competitions now being televised, athletes are quickly becoming accessible role-models and icons. Children should not in the future be looking up to steroid filled sprinters, wanting to be artificially muscular like them, if you see what I mean. And with the athlete’s health in mind, too, there is no way that the IOC could condone doping, given how risky and experimental it can be.

So, once the cycle of doping had started, it was difficult not to be sucked in as a pro. It’s easy to understand how it turned into another piece of tech, to be used alongside careful nutrition and training. But the UCI needed a figurehead, someone to take down publicly to prove to the rest of the world that doping could not continue. It is unfair that Armstrong was targeted when many of his contemporaries basically got amnesty. There was no uniform punishment, and when you are the one suffering the most from a policy, naturally it’s going to hurt.

But the most important thing is that cycling is clean again. (Supposedly just look at recent allegations around Froome.) Armstrong’s forceful condemnation did indeed allow a new generation of cyclists to enter the sport without the fear of being pressured into blood transfusions and backroom injections. And that cannot be a bad thing.

It’s time to rebut, refute and refine

This is a ridiculously long and detailed response to the ridiculously problematic “The New Narcissism” article by Lara Prendergast in the 11/08/18 edition of the Spectator. This post will only make sense if you read the other article first. The issues that tackled throughout the post are structured to mirror the loose order that they are found in the original article. Any quotations from ‘The New Narcissism” are underlined for ease of recognition.

The date that went wrong

Perhaps the biting anger and resentment that Prendergast exudes throughout stems from the rejection and confusion her friend feels on a date because his partner “didn’t eat”. Of course, it is a bit embarrassing to be the only person chewing, to have every mouthful watched and to try and eat whilst maintaining a meaningful conversation. But if she must take her friend’s emotions to heart, then maybe next time Prendergast should just colour in some nice mandalas instead and not channel that negative emotion into a poorly structured article.

Huel, narcissists and fads

The offered notion that Huel (a company that primarily offers nutritionally-complete food in powdered form) is a “fad” is one which is deeply misguided. It is an idea that appears to be thrown into the article to be more inflammatory and flippant than actually useful. A fad is something people quickly latch onto, something that becomes a craze before it is carelessly discarded to make way for the next trend. Fidget spinners was a fad. As were loom bands.

Huel, on the other hand, was launched three years ago, and is one of the fastest growing companies in the UK. It earned over £14m in 2017 alone. So assuming Prendergast is correct, Huel is not only one of the most prosperous and popular but also one of the longest-lived fads ever. Thereby undermining its epithet.

However, perhaps the reason that the journalist thinks that Huel’s stellar success is fleeting is because she believes that the trend of caring for future generations and the planet is short-lived? Either way, she isn’t correct, because she rightly notes that the “world’s population is growing”, suggesting that she realises that with the population increase there follows consequences that require increasingly complex solutions. Huel is one of those solutions. There is no doubt that as resources become rapidly more limited, its role (along with similar companies) in preventing world hunger in a “post-apocalypse” environment will become more prominent.

But we are luckily not there yet. In fact, one of the actual main aims of Huel is to have  “minimum impact on animals and the environment”. This sounds a lot more virtuous than many other companies in this day and age, where the urge for a profit no matter the environmental cost is the only driving force.  Bearing this in mind, it seems strange that this so-called fad can be attributed to a “new sort of narcissism”. Narcissists are, as Prendergast correctly notes, interested in the “self all-round”. But buying from a sustainable brand is the least narcissist thing one can do. After all, no one today will be alive to see the truly catastrophic effects of global warming, and yet here are so-called self-obsessed consumers investing in a future they won’t see. Funny that.

New Narcissism?

A narcissist is someone who has an “exaggerated sense of self-importance” and is “extremely self-centred”. It is very clear that no one, least of all a narcissist, can be  “vain and virtuous at the same time”. With only one pair of eyes, humans cannot look outwards to help and inwards to indulge in self-obsession simultaneously. I understand that perhaps Prendergast was trying to comment on society today and contemporary morality, but that’s not how psychology works. Psychology does not change even when theories are dressed up in a satirical and biting way. Science sends you their sincerest apologies. Now that the entire premise of “New Narcissism” has been thoroughly destroyed, let’s pretend that this is possible so that the rest of the article is not just dismissed as they all rely on this central theme.

The supposed death of masculinity?

One of my favourite parts from this article is this: ‘Traditional masculine pursuits are being abandoned in favour of more ethical ones. Pubs are closing down and gyms are opening up.” Oh no. Not the slow death of typically patriarchal activities. Save us at least that. Bring back the leering men! Bring back the 11AM drunks! Bring back- and this has been the patriarchy’s firm favourite for millenia- more lazy afternoons where subservient housewives do the chores as (some) men sprawl in dimly light pubs.

The demonisation, firstly, of gyms over pubs is laughable, because Prendergast is suggesting that this is a symptom of nation-wide narcissism, where “more ethical pursuits” are becoming more common as beer pong slowly fades out of fashion. What a pity. I don’t need to tell you that it gyms are hardly the cause for pubs being wiped out of the high street. If that were true, which, as we are taking Prendergast’s word for it (without so much as an anecdote for evidence) I don’t believe is. You can barely take a step in London without seeing a hand-painted pub sign. Now even if pubs are closing, it’s more likely because of driving rent prices than anything else, and even if gyms are directly taking their place, this will be because of gyms are more profitable. Obviously they charge obscene prices and a large percentage of people let their gym membership go to waste, giving the gym free money. Pubs, on the other hand, have to make a product for every transaction, so their profit margin is always set. Anyway, over recent years there has been a backlash against extortionate gyms, as the Guardian in this article points out.

But anyway. Now that we know that society is being slowly destroyed by the dalek like intrusion of gyms everywhere we look, we are then told that men caring about their health is “all the rage” which makes them “almost as boring as women”. Thank God they’re not at female-levels of caring though. I don’t think the world could handle anymore people in the world who are trying not obese on the BMI scale. Want to go to Park-Run this weekend? Stop it, I prefer men with Type 2 diabetes. As for the comment on self-improvement, well, the thought that health-concious men are now considering supporting farmers at local markets, not only to be more ‘ethical’, as Prendergast points out they aim to be, but also to better their appearance by avoiding additives, is terrible. Men should be buying more Tesco Meal-Deals. They need more hydro-xenon and maltocryolites their system (or whatever new substance it is they put in food these days). Okay, I might be a tad sarcastic here, but you understand what I’m getting at. Why would you condemn the pursuit of healthiness in a society facing an obesity epidemic? Let’s get our priorities straight. 

Funnily enough, one of Prendergast’s key examples to illustrate in ethical pursuits is the rise in bodybuilding. She laments the increase in “male self-improvement” and how bodybuilding is suddenly a “very ordinary hobby”. Actually, though, it is unclear how this isn’t a magnification of masculinity. I do agree that narcissism is linked to a concerning with physical appearance. Fine. But she argues that masculine activities are being replaced by bodybuilding. Because that is a new phenomenon and very emasculating. No, men throughout history have always tried to show-off their power and strength. At least as far back as the first Olympics  in 776BC, wrestling and boxing have regularly featured in society. Accentuating physical features has always been on the human agenda too, and if you think about it, stems from an evolutionary point of view . Survival of the fittest is hardly a new concept, so it’s no wonder that this has filtered down into 21st century life. It seemed a queer line of argument for Prendergast to take, as it directly contradicted her. Oh well.

Back to the original quote, it’s not a bad thing that “traditional masculine pursuits” are fading away. They have never served anyone apart from straight white males in any useful capacity. Those pursuits only favoured those on the top of the power structure. Somewhat randomly and ironically, in the same breath Prendergast even refers to #Metoo. The shining symbol of backlash against the film industry that had allowed toxic “masculine pursuits”  to persist for too long. So am I sad to see the back of that particular “pursuit”? No.

 

Veganism

The article noted that veganism is on the rise because it is “slimming and ethical- never mind it makes you a bore at parties”. This suggests that the only thing Prendergast talks about at parties is food, so anger behind this article is probably stemming from her social rejection than anything else (if not the awful date her friend had):

At your typical house party, music pumping.

  • “Damn Daniel, I’m sorry, now I’m a vegan we can’t have a long conversation about our favourite types of cheese sandwich. As you know, I don’t have opinions on anything else apart from cheese and animal rights, so I guess that’s goodbye to our friendship.”

 

  • “Sorry Sarah, I’ve gone plant-based so we’ll have to shelf our barbecue-ribs conversation for now. You want to talk about Brexit? Not to be insensitive, but I prefer to chat about tofu recipes instead if that’s ok. Brexit is so last year.”

 

  • “Apologies Andrew, as I don’t eat animal products, I don’t want to talk about your favourite Burger King meal. I don’t even want to be with you because you’re a dirty meat eater. We have absolutely nothing in common. What? No, it doesn’t matter that we’ve been married for 15 years.”

 

So don’t bash veganism, ok? Anyway, although some vegans may have gained a reputation opposite to the Fight Club (telling everyone about it in the first 30 seconds of an introduction), most are now so embarrassed to mention it, that when pressed they simply say that they are plant-based. I wish there was a good example this… oh wait Prendergast has already included it with her inclusion of Lewis Hamilton, continuing to prove that she undermines herself at every turn.

As for the relationship of veganism to her ‘New Narcissism’ theory, well, the vast majority of people turn vegan out of concerns for the animal welfare. THEY CARE ABOUT OTHER LIVING BEINGS. The next lump of people turn plant-based because they are concerned about the environment, which yet again DOES NOT CONCERN THEM because they’ll be dead by the time this generation’s harmful actions fully come into fruition. So I don’t see how self-interest comes into it.

21st Century Ascetism

This links on nicely to Prendergast’s comment of the supposed “21st Century Asceticism”,  where “no real sacrifice” is involved, just an “exciting set of powders and pills to order on Amazon”. Where do I start? The phrase “no real sacrifice” and “asceticism” cannot juxtapose each other more. Like, they are actual antonyms Prendergast, that means opposite, just in case you weren’t sure, because you’ve been fumbling with word choices quite a lot so far.

Bodybuilding clearly requires sacrifice, because one has to leave the safety of the comfort zone to get to a state where muscle fibres are damaged, but even more so it’s the whole process of bulking/ cutting which is heavily antisocial, as you’re so busy counting macros that end up missing Pizza Night with your mates. I mean I guess you’d miss it anyway because all pubs in world had been shut down by this point. Following that… veganism can be incredibly isolating- friends and family might not tolerate or understand it and end up just you giving you a limp iceberg salad. Many restaurants and cafes don’t cater for the diet, so you either have to pack snacks ahead or risk going hungry. You also have to sacrifice certain foods, too, like Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough and Mac ‘n’ Cheese. So, Prendergast, the examples you provided yourself are perfect examples of actual sacrifice. No pills included.

Why are young men narcissists?

Prendergast mentions that “young men (are) turning into narcissists”. Which young men? What proportion of them? All of them in the UK, the West, or the entire world? Even that guy on his gap year in Antarctica who now can only eat hand-caught squid because he didn’t pack enough food? Are you including him too? You would think a journalist from somewhere respectable like the Spectator would realise that you can’t make sweeping statements like that without evidence. Simple references to Lewis Hamilton and the bodybuilding trend does not qualify as acceptable when saying a large proportion of the population has a severe personality disorder. And apparently this supposed narcissism is caused by Trump and Weinstein?  What is puzzling in itself though is the tone that Prendergast writes about their actions, as if these men have in some way been wronged. Yes, the “rapacious pursuit of (their own) pleasure” has indeed “damaged the world around them”.  This shouldn’t be contentious. Men who decide to prioritise their animalistic desires and end up scaring people for the rest of their lives, (giving many disorders like  PTSD), do damage society. Again, I don’t see why Prendergast has written that in such a snarky tone. You would think that in such a competitive and male dominated industry like journalism, she would of all people appreciate this change in attitude.

Then there is the weird phrase about men trying to  “‘detox’ their masculinity”. As I said earlier, I would hardly say that aforementioned bodybuilding is emasculating. Nor is sharing “#gymselfies”. I understand that men want to “distance themselves from monster”‘, but this is hardly revolutionary investigative journalism; no one is currently cosying up to mass murderers or bank robbers, either, so why would rapists be any different?

The inclusion of a hero?

Then, having just mentioned detoxing masculinity, Prendergast suddenly notes that there are “heroes to emulate” too. Presumably a hero for all the skinny vegan man-haters she speaks of? No, she’s completely changing topic and taking about someone at the opposite end of the spectrum, a “hero” whose message includes the “demolition of various feminists”. But I thought Prendergast said that all young men were “vain and virtuous”. So this breed of misogynistic men that in the last paragraph she said were practically extinct -outcompeted by a more conscious kind- (until that day, we can only hope) now do have a massive community, role models and all? The article goes from anti-veganism, to lamenting the supposed loss of the masculinity of modern men, to talking about how, no, the community of feminist haters is still thriving?

Unfortunately, Prendergast’s article has no structure, because now the rest of the article is just to do with nutrition. How apparently even though John Peterson, the aforementioned “hero”, is not virtuous, he still speaks of “restricted consumption and fewer carbs”. Like, he almost qualifies for new narcissism, but he’s not quite ethical enough, oh well I’ll just shove this example in anyway because I can write whatever I want as long as I get a reaction out of people.

Silicon valley- a “natural” link

Prendergast then speaks of the leaders of massive Silicon Valley companies, like Steve Jobs and Peter Thiel, who are “intoxicated only by abstemiousness and their own carefully structured diets.” Sorry, but a link is missing here. Those billionaires are obsessed with success, not food. They do not have time to be obsessed by anything other than their jobs. Eating is only utilitarian for them. They eat in that extreme way because it allows them to be highly productive, not because they are hapless control freaks. They cannot dedicate massive chunks of their day to heavily complex meals, unless someone else prepares it for them, because they actually- surprise surprise- have very busy jobs which require their full attention. They are most likely on these ultra-healthy diets because it allows them to function at their best and become the “powerful”  “supermen” that they are. They didn’t earn their fortune by sitting and cutting fruit in their kitchen.

Also, Prendergast takes a quote by Zoltan Istvan completely out of context. He says that “The less you eat, the better. You’re better off being borderline starving to live longer” because studies have illustrated that being in a calorie deficit increases lifespan (of rats). He doesn’t say starve yourself so that you almost die, which is why it is confusing when Prendergast also notes that some “transhumanists fantasise about cutting out food and sex entirely”. So I’ve already proved that the evidence behind the claim that some people want to cut out food entirely is incorrect in every sense of the word- how Istvan actually has a point that limiting food can be beneficial- whilst she gives absolutely no example at all for people wanting to cut out sex from their lives. What I am meant to do- take your word for it? Yeah, like that’s worked out well for the rest of your article.

Then she includes the example of Istvan eating “artificial eggs made out of peas and beans”, like that automatically proves to the reader that he’s a freak. I eat artificial burgers made from spices and chickpeas- does that qualify me as a weird space-age transhumanist? Even M&S now have a line of so-called ‘artificial foods’. If that applied, someone at every barbecue ever would have to be ostracised from society, simply because they chose a veggie sausage over the real thing.

Food substitutes 

Prendergast clearly has failed to properly do her research here. The motivation behind the  “food substitute” industry is not that the “male body should be purged and perfected”. Going back to Huel: not only are they not gender-orientated (what a gross idea), but they are also specifically not about “sci-fi whimsy” but for busy, everyday people, so that they can eat healthily when they are time poor. The point behind Huel is not to replace food- Huel is a food (as it’s nutritionally complete). It’s just meant to be used when a whole food dinner can’t be made. As for the claim that “male anorexia (‘manorexia’) is now sold as an advanced high-tech ‘disruptive’ diet” – that is absolutely baseless and ridiculous. It’s like saying that small packets of crisps help to contribute to anorexia because they can now eat in smaller portions. People can eat less than the pack, one whole pack, or two packs of crisps and eat an amount of calories accordingly. The same applies to so called “food substitutes”– you can choose to lose, maintain or even gain weight  with Soylent, Feeder or Huel.

Technology and narcissism 

Whilst it is true that Instagram does encourage people to take an extraordinary amount of selfies, the claim that Love Island “makes it easy to participate in the new narcissism” is confusing. I thought that New Narcissism was meant to be ethical, but there’s nothing ethical about watching reality TV. What about vanity? Well, people are putting an hour of their evening aside everyday for 8 weeks to watch others go about their day. It’s an activity revolving entirely around the minuscule details of the lives of strangers. It’s incredibly social, too, as anyone who has seen the Love Island online community and meme pages will know. People love to chat about the antics of those in the villa. It is a decidedly unvain activity.

Now onto another flippant statement made by Prendergast. That “All-male beauty salons are now a common sight on the high street” is one of the most sweeping that I have ever heard. I haven’t even heard of them before- I mean, I’m sure they exist but to say that they’re a common sight requires some evidence, please. I know what barbers are, sure, but I would hardly say they are beauty salons. I may be wrong, but in order for me to realise my mistake, I do need to see some statistics. Anything, really, at this point.

Gender stereotypes

Eric Anderson said that men indulge in “self-care” because of a “softening of men and their gender more broadly”. Apparently, the fact that men can now become stay-at-home fathers and are sometimes allowed to cry in public means that “women now feel comfortable commenting on male bodies, while the opposite is frowned upon.” Then Prendergast includes what I presume is her most outrageous example yet- that Anna Murphy from The Times said that men who do yoga are  “stronger, leaner and a lot sexier” ‘. This apparently shows double-standards in our society, because “what man would now dare to say such a thing about women’s bodies” asks Prendergast. None, I imagine, just because typically that kind of compliment has not been in their vocabulary. In the past many men speaking to the media have not been commenting on how strong women are, and how that because they are empowered by their strength, they are sexy. No. That would be fine. In fact, a lack of comments like that is what has made women afraid to enter the weights section, because strength was seen as unattractive. Instead typically in the past men have been saying things about women’s’ bodies, like how they want to “grab them by the pussy”. Not that anyone in power would actually say that…

So that’s why the double standards don’t actually exist. When some men in power speak about women, there is objectification and it is highly disrespectful. Saying that by exercising a man is aesthetically pleasing because he has a low percentage body fat with toned muscles, thus making them attractive, is hardly the same. You can’t exactly compare that to the ruthless female objectification that has for so long dominated the media.

Finally Prendergast blames a rise in eating disorders on “ethical dieting”. Last year, the “NHS reported a 70 per cent rise in adult men being reported to hospital with an eating disorder”. Now, there is a certain stigma currently about men and eating disorders, which should never be overlooked, but (and this is not to diminish male sufferers,) let’s not forget that eating disorders impact women/girls more severely and thus the number of female inpatients is much higher. Also, awareness around eating disorder has risen massively recently, and the correlation between the growth in ED and “ethical dieting” is not necessarily causational. If that were true, then someone should look into the fact that the more films Nicholas Cage appears in, the more people that drown by falling into a pool. Has it not occurred to Prendergast that perhaps the number of men with eating disorder could be more or less the same, but that more are admitting themselves/ being admitted by family to hospitals because they realise they have a problem? They go on social media and realise that they are seriously ill, whereas before they suffered in silence because there was no content out there illustrating what the symptoms were? No: I thought not.

Final thoughts 

Apparently “Huel-slurping puritans, the Silicon Valley transhumanists and the hairless gym bunnies” all want to the push the “limits of their bodies”. I have already explained this so many times, but Huel/Soylent etc. etc. are not made for extremists. They’re about fitting in a healthy meal when you would’ve gone to a Drive-Thru instead. As for Silicon Valley workers and transhumanists; they can come across as manic, but that’s just because they have to work an extreme amount, and want their body to function as well as possible so that they continue to work so hard. They shouldn’t be put down for wanting to work as efficiently as possible. Sure, they’re interested in immortality, but who isn’t? As for the ‘gym bunnies’, well if people are getting fitter instead of chugging beers, then, unlike this article, I don’t find it problematic.

9 phrases to use when discussing the 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner

There comes a point in our lives, when despite our best intentions, time has crumbled away from underneath our feet to land us too far ahead in the future than we had accounted for.

The activities that we had penciled in for ourselves were seemingly swallowed up by other commitments, and although your companions are equally busy, they seem to handle this precarious game of balancing work and “life” rather well. Understandably, you’re still trying to veer your life back onto its original track: so there was no time to read the Pulitzer winner this year. But to make it look like you did (I fully expect you read it in the meantime though out of principle,) here are 10 phrases to help you hold your own in a conversation at a fabulously grand dinner party. You are trying to stitch your social life back together after all, and the invite has been sitting on your coffee table for weeks…

  1. (You walk into a grand room, a minor royal by your side who is trying to avoid the pearls of sweat glimmering on your forehead.)  

    “I say, Viscount of Prumfbørg, don’t you think that the mysterious narrator in Less who slowly reveals themselves throughout the novel is no surprise by the denouement? Weren’t you a little confused by the reveal, as Greer made him refer himself in third person to try to prolong the tension?”

    A solid start. He did avoid eye contact though, so clearly your tone of voice was a little too keen. A rookie error. Anyway, it is clear that Greer was attempting to create mystery around the narrator’s identity, but he undermined this goal by making Freddy omnipotent. This did dull the credulity of the narrator as an actual person. On the other hand, if Greer was switching from Freddy to a third person narrator throughout the novel, then this was never signalled nor made clear, and thus was poor writing on his behalf either way.

2. (Whilst unironically eating a smoked salmon canapé, circling the masses, as you hone in on a lone socialite scrolling through memes.)

“Excuse me, ahem, whilst you look at Kermit memes, (a bit inappropriate for such a fine event, don’t you think?) but don’t you think Greer truly inverts the metric of loneliness in society, during the scene with Lewis and Less in Marrakech?”

She tried to grimace a smile, but the Botox was stopping her. You tried. That’s the main thing. You also had a good point! The poignancy is almost crushing; to realise that you have been looking at life through the wrong lens the entire time, and that when you remove that lens for the first time, you’ve realised all you’ve ever known is a world tinted with blue.

” ‘But you broke up with him. Something’s wrong. Something failed.’

‘No! No, Arthur, no, it’s the opposite! I’m saying it’s a success. Twenty years of joy and support and friendship, that’s a success. Twenty years of anything with another person is a success If a band stays together for twenty years, it’s a miracle. If a comedy duo stays together twenty years, they’re a triumph. Is this night a failure because it will end in an hour? Is the sun a failure because it\s going to end in a billion years? No, it’s the fucking sun. Why does a marriage not count? It isn’t in us, it isn’t in human beings, to be tied to one person forever. Siamese twins are a tragedy. Twenty years and one last happy road trip. And I thought, Well, that was nice. Let’s end on success.

People often consider things which end sourly a failure, ignoring that the longevity of the success itself is a win in its own right, regardless of the eventual outcome. Take Mo Farah’s career, for example. He finished second at 5000m track event at the World Championships, where he (and his fan base) were bitterly disappointed. That didn’t make his entire career- the double Olympic golds- worthless though, did it? It’s an interesting perspective to consider, because sometimes fond memories with people can be ruined after they in some way wrong you, but at the time the memory was formed you were having a fantastic day. Thus Greer presents happiness as something that can be crystallised and kept, not ruined in hindsight.

3. (Attempting to make a good impression on a legal giant who is sat next to you at a ridiculously long dinner table. She hasn’t even read the book because she’s reading Anna Karenina in the original Russian. But you don’t know that. You forgot to ask.)

“So… (squints, reading name card above her plate) Ms Artle, wouldn’t you agree that Greer is like Less himself during the Indian retreat considering his own novel? He must have, after all, ultimately realised that Less with the ‘best life of anyone I know’ was not likeable enough. That Less was not unfortunate enough on his own, so the inclusion of the failure of Swift (the protagonist of Less’ own novel) serves as his foil, and ultimately draws sympathy?”    

She offers a flashing smile, then gestures to the door and stands up to leave. Damn, gastrointestinal problems? She nods. Or just rejection? What a mood killer. It’s true, though. There is nothing particularly awful happening in Less’ life; he can even travel around the world. Greer just about manages to save himself from catastrophe though, and conjures a meagre amount of emotion up when his includes Less’ failed book deal.

4. (The main is being served; duck and orange blossom. You speak as you wait for the dishes to be placed on the table. To yourself, of course, as everyone else in is their own fascinating conversation. You hope that someone will overhear your wittering and ask more.)

Yeah, yeah so the tension built up over the course of the novel, the large question mark over the wedding of Freddy Pelu, was hardly as dramatic as Greer had built it up to be. One could only find it moving if they were as weak as a limp cabbage.” 

Now I can only take you so far with these phrases. I cannot conjure up social interaction, but really, no one wants to be involved with people talking to themselves. You should know better, even if the entire purpose of the book is for Less to find some resolve for the fact that Freddy is getting married. Unfortunately for Greer, in the end it boils down to the fact that, actually, nobody is particularly concerned that Less is morose. Let Freddy have a wonderful evening; you seem to have no issue manifesting an impression that you have moved on, illustrating by the amount of people you mysteriously managed to pick up during your travels.

5. (A passing waiter has stopped to fill up your Merlot from Petrus, Pomerol, France careful not to spill it at over £3,000 a bottle.)

“Thank you, thank you. A little bit more- stop there, yes. And isn’t funny, and rather prophetic in a way, that Greer himself becomes a Pulitzer Prize winner? There’s irony in that. The question is, will he also become an unbearable genius like Robert? What-“

(The answer is no, because the book really isn’t that revolutionary in any sense of the word.) Also, the waiter has moved on, unaware that you were trying to engage them in this frivolous talk. And as a PPE student at Oxford, this being their weekend job to get the cash rolling in to fund their chalet, their taste is a bit more highbrow than yours anyway.

6. (Raunchily to the Art Gallery owner next to you, as the jazz band begins to play.)

“I don’t understand art. You know? How it can be judged to be billions and squillions of pounds. Like the award of the Pulitzer prize to a comic novel is unheard of. Of course, this illustrates how the modern media is becoming more open-minded, and not in the least because of the gay protagonist. Yeah?”

He nods appreciatively. Then goes on in great detail to talk about his own failing art career for the next 25 minutes and how biased the industry is. You mention that Greer’s success signals a change in writing industry at least? He shakes his head. You mention that now not only has a comic novel won for the first time, but Less is gay, which indicates to the world that Pulitzer is still a “forwarding thinking” prize that embraces diversity. He pouts. Personally, he says, what is better than forward thinking is awarding prizes to books which genuinely deserve the accolade. Fair enough.

7. (On the balcony, gazing soulfully into the stars as the hedged garden spans out before you as you talk to the lead singer now having a smoke.)

“Lovely, lovely voice I daresay. We’re so lucky to be here, no? This beautiful garden. This privilege of ours. I’ve read the Pulitzer Prize winner don’t you know? Yes, and Greer unfortunately fails to capitalise on Less’ own privilege, which would not only add a more contemporary dimension to the story, but make it more relatable. Also, do you have a business card?”

(She doesn’t, and begins to chain-smoke.) As for the whole privilege issue, this is because it feels like at times Less’ only challenge is that faced by his failing romantic life. He is a white middle-aged man with lots of money, and his sexuality does not take away from his this particularly because he has found himself a welcoming environment, so the internal conflict we see is at best transparent and at worst remarkably unoriginal.

8. (Holding a champagne glass, slightly tipsy but still remarkably in control of advanced thought. There is a tired 10 year old who is sitting in an antique chair. You join them.)

“Tired? Me too. I’m tired that the relationship upon which Less rests upon (the name of big book these days, Frederic) the one with him and Freddy, is so hurriedly done that is makes it equally unbelievable and unmoving. Fancy a game of rock, paper, scissors?”

As you are gripped in your game, though, you realise that the Freddy/ Less relationship really is rough around the edges and quickly presented to the reader after the opening. This is a fatal flaw in the novel because this is where the entirety of the protagonist’s drive comes from. After all this is where the grief and regret centering around Freddy’s wedding directly stems from. The relationship needs to be more developed than a few simple scene with bed sheets, because we have to see why Freddy is such an incredible character that losing him would be catastrophic for Less, much in the same way someone would have to be persuaded that a £200 wine bottle is quite worth the expense when it tastes the same as a £30 one.

9. (You’ve collapsed on the croquet lawn: drunk again, talking to a retired surgeon who’s ironically passed out next to you.)

“Hello? Old chap? Don’t you, don’t think that maybe Greer frames an unusual debate about the le-legitimacy of those superior in intelligence to have the right to be unashamedly self-centred? My, I can talk sloshed! What. Yeah, yes, yes! ONLY they, after all, can create mahsterpieces that few other human minds are capable of compre-comprehend- understanding. Yesh.” 

“What was it like to live with genius?
Like living alone.
Like living alone with a tiger.
Everything had to be sacrificed for the work. Plans had to be canceled, meals had to be delayed; liquor had to be bought, as soon as possible, or else all poured into the sink. Money had to be rationed or spent lavishly, changing daily. The sleep schedule was the poet’s to make, and it was as often late nights as it was early mornings. The habit was the demon pet in the house; the habit, the habit, the habit; the morning coffee and books and poetry, the silence until noon. Could he be tempted by a morning stroll? He could, he always could; it was the only addiction where the sufferer longed for anything but the desired; but a morning walk meant work undone, and suffering, suffering, suffering. Keep the habit, help the habit; lay out the coffee and poetry; keep the silence; smile when he walked sulkily out of his office to the bathroom. Taking nothing personally. And did you sometimes leave an art book around with a thought that it would be the key to his mind? And did you sometimes put on music that might unlock the doubt and fear? Did you love it, the rain dance every day? Only when it rained.”

But, at this point in the night, you think that you’re a genius too. You forget Less, and start wildly planning your own novel. And then you begin to write your Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

Some books are a joy; a mere afternoon of reading and in a flash the paperback has been read. This is not one of these novels. At 460 pages with miniscule font, I can hardly say that there was much ebullience ignited by this classic.

True: there were complex (and contemporarily speaking) risqué issues handled. It is unsurprising that in a harsh and patriarchal 19th Century society that Hardy’s piece caused quite a stir amongst those lucky enough to be able to read.

I did get a sense from the novel that it was far too long, simply because half the content was unuseful. Tess D’urberville is defintely a book that can be skimmed through, as the pace is slower than a hungover sloth, so if you’re reading and miss a line, any overlooked information will be repeated at least three times before it is somewhat relevant.

The climax of the novel is in the last twenty or so pages (Hardy, you kept me waiting a long time!) and even then it was so awkward that it can be hard to give it merit. It seems out of character for Tess to stab Alec, even if he did anger her greatly. Hardy always presented Tess as a maternal figure, caring not only for her siblings but for Sorrow too. She was mainly meek and obeyed orders, being careful to avoid (where controllable) shame upon her family.

For Tess to murder another man seems contradictory on two accounts: although this was an impulsive act, Tess is firstly rarely impulsive herself (she didn’t marry Angel straight away, and deliberated about telling him her secret, as well as hiding from Angel’s brothers instead of suddenly facing them), so the murder- as it wasn’t premeditated- is unusual. Then Tess must have known she’d be caught, meaning death and therefore one less source of income for her poverty stricken family. Seeing as Liza-Lu was held with the utmost respect by Tess, so much so that Tess suggested her marriage, it seems unlikely that Tess was seeking ‘revenge’ on her family by depriving them of her presence/income.

As for the effect on Angel; Tess knew that she was already outcast by Angel, but still hoped with relentless optimism for his forgiveness. Morales dictate that murder is a gruesome crime, so it is strange that Tess should murder Alec and still hope to be liked that Angel. How could she expect this death to be forgiven, particularly when after the stabbing she purposefully seeks out Angel to tell him. Of course, contemporarily the death of the father allowed the widow to move onto another man, although cold murder does seem to be drastic as it limits the longevity of her relationship with Angel, if it was going to happen at all. Didn’t it occur to Tess that he may be repulsed by her brutishness, even if it was to cut off this societal tie?

The language was more like a desert than flowery, although there were a few buds here and there to brighten up the barren language. There were some interesting motifs and symbols, too: the mention of birds frequently throughout the novel were a thought provoking motif of the freedom of characters. The strong theme of freedom and freewill tie strongly into birds; as the Mrs D’Urberville’s finches could fly around the room, they were free. But the mess they created had to be cleaned up by Tess, so the freedom of one creates hardship for the other. This of course is somewhat ironic as nothing but difficulty stems from Tess’ work there, particularly because Alec’s feeling of entitlement to Tess’ body and the consequences of these interactions ultimately leads to Tess suffering throughout the rest of her life.

Many would even say that the peasants that Tess encounters on a particular walk are a metaphor for herself, because although pheasants (and all birds) are synonymous with beauty, grace and freedom, these pheasants can never fly again due to violence, condemned to suffering for as long as their lives may last.

Phasianus_colchicus_2_tom_(Lukasz_Lukasik).jpg
A rather more cheerful looking pheasant 

Thus Tess is sentenced to a life as an outcast after her encounter with Alec and then Sorrow, and her wings are clipped as she suffers everyday as she cannot truly be with Angel.

Another interesting motif to touch upon is that of the Bible and the story of Adam and Eve. Even though Adam and Eve are directly mentioned in some imagery by Hardy, the comparisons run much deeper than that. Tess is Eve whilst the serpent is Alec, because whilst he doesn’t necessarily tempt her, he takes her to the realms which society cannot forgive, just like God could not forgive Eve for taking the apple, even if the serpent led her there, like Alec led Tess to her downfall. The guilt imposed upon Tess after Alec’s seduction (which was under a tree like in the Book of Genesis) never leaves Tess throughout the novel (although maybe it does after his murder at the end…). Either way, this guilt can be drawn back to the original sin which all of the human race now have within them, and are what caused Adam and Eve to be exiled from Eden, just like how Tess and her family were exiled from their home.

Lastly is the symbol of Prince and inherent suffering. Prince is of course a name with a royal link, just like the D’Urberville name is, and yet Prince toils away his entire life with no pampering or luxury, just like Tess’ family continue to suffer even though they have royal heritage. The death of Prince is unusual, because of the piece of metal driven into him, which is reminiscent of a wound sustained by jousting, which is a sport that only the highest in society could partake in. As Prince dies because Tess fell asleep, dreaming about knights and royalty, it suggests that dreaming and hoping for a better life ultimately leads to loss and suffering. Prince was the ultimate resource for her family, and now gone, the Durbeyfields must live in deeper poverty once more thanks to Tess’ fantasising, even if it was subconsciously. This links into the overarching theme of inherent suffering. Tess didn’t intend for any relationship with Alec, and yet it was imposed upon her, whilst she never meant for Prince to die. Yet these events, entirely out of her control, govern her livelihood and happiness, and so Hardy emphasises that the state of our existence is completely at odds with the notion of self-determination.

nike-just-do-it-swoosh-neon-5-
Nike’s JUST DO IT campaign suggests that circumstances are entirely irrelevant to achieving any goals

This theme is the most engaging in a modern context, more so perhaps that the commentary of a patriarchal society or the mobility throughout social class, because luckily it seems that in the centuries since publication the ability to change social class is much easier, and only recently has an idea of the strength of the patriarchy and the need to deconstruct been discussed. But the concept of self-determination is often left astray, because of millennial parenting techniques and corporations. The idea that ‘because you want it, you can have it’ is incredibly damaging long term (watch Simon Sinek’s excellent talk on this here), whilst companies cash in on this idea. Think of Nike’s JUST DO IT and of all the millions of self-help books written that sell out even though they’re written by people with no education on the subject. This idea of meritocracy at all costs is dangerous, as proven by Hardy, and needs to be looked at through a larger lens more as we progress.

 

 

This is Why Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter

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Yes, sometimes people with questionable opinions get into power. Luckily, this won’t apply to most people. Probably you, too.

I’ve said it. The words that millions of people across the world have been waiting for. In an age of social media where you can directly contact the President of the United States through a tweet, it’s easy to feel like your voice matters and that your voice is powerful. Which is true: in a way. Activism is a necessary and intrinsic part of society, ensuring that negative aspects are tackled but that in particular is not what I’m discussing when it comes to opinions. It’s those of individual people on an individual level.

This concept (jarring in the optimism of the 21st century) came to me as I was reading Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half Formed Thing. The book didn’t appeal to me; there were odd loop-holes in the plot (such as if the boy was to die of a brain tumour why weren’t there trained nurses looking after him- why was he abandoned by the doctors to the care of his psychotic family? Or how could the protagonist even afford to be at home all the time without a job when their family were desperate for money, and then suddenly said finicial problems were never mentioned?) Anyway, these critical thoughts were tumbling through my mind when I realised that all this was irrelevant. Absolutely and utterly irrelevant. It’s not to say that I’m writing off all my past book reviews, but I just thought- who cares? As in, this is my opinion, and in the end if McBride is satisfied with her work, does it matter what I think?

Part of me thinks of course it does. I am a reader and therefore a customer and therefore someone who could pay her for future books. On the other hand, my opinion is formed due to billions of experiences and interactions that have happened up to over a decade ago which dictate my preferences and standings on all conceivable topics. Ultimately, even I cannot control what I enjoy, so are ‘my’ opinions even really my own? Even if McBride read my feedback on a hypothetical review, should or would she change her work just because I asked her to?

I hope not.

The process of editing is laborious, so her book would a product she would have to be absolutely content with, so even if I said I didn’t like certain parts, it wouldn’t matter. There will be other people who do like it. Who don’t mind loopholes. This theory of the devaluing of our opinions comes from the idea that you can say what you want, but that doesn’t mean something will change. There is crucial difference between saying something, people listening, and then something happening in response. People like to think that when they speak, it’s like to a room of open-eared fans, when in reality it’s more like shouting at a few seagulls who just stole your chips and are coming back for the fish later.

A billion people could read this blog post. Imagine. All those people I could reach just through a single post- the influence I could have on the world through my thoughts. But realistically it’s this kind of self-entitled thinking which should be prevented. Not dreams or aspirations, but more people understanding their place and influence in society.

And it’s not just about me. It’s about you, too. Having just watched one of Simon Sineck’s speeches about the millennials, (which you can watch here) it made me realise how people truly do inflate their sense of purpose and self. They are egoistical, some might say, but through no fault of their own; how can we not expect ourselves to achieve great things when “every single one of us is special and can do what we want simply because we believe we can”. This is the type of rhetoric being told to the millennials. It was (and still is) chanted in schools. To the generation who now has the highest rate of depression and suicide ever. It doesn’t quite add up, does it? I won’t paraphrase Sineck’s interview but it linked into my earlier thought about overestimating one’s impact on the world. You are allowed to have opinions, thoughts, stances on things- I just urge you not to expect it to make a difference on a global scale. It’s like being a child and writing to your local MP, adding in the essential drawing of a melancholy polar bear on a lone icecap. Yes, you will receive full marks for initiative, but don’t you think that the Houses of Parliament realise that polar bears are dying and actually yes there is a war on and refugees and protestors outside their door and-

I want to tell people to stop waiting around for modelling agencies or Ivy League universities to magically be attracted to you by your sheer brilliance. That’s what  a lifetime of unfounded but well meaning praise has led them to believe will happen. It may seem like a pessimistic article, but a necessary one. When people (at least those I know) are wracking up thousands of followers on social media it is easy for them to feel powerful; when people don’t immediately reply to emails, or you have to wait to talk to someone as they’re in the middle of a conversation, it’s easy to feel annoyed. To feel like the world isn’t quite functioning as it should. Or is it your mindset which isn’t quite functioning properly to fit into a cohesive society?

We all want a podium to stand-on and whilst a dream is fine if it helps you through the wild current of life, don’t expect it to stop you from drowning.

Distillation of thought

We sit.

We sit and we think.

We sit and we think and we turn a page.

Or we stand in the train, the tears of a child seeping into conciousness

a stranger’s anger twisting

into our minds at the half-line of a phone call,

eyes darting away to avoid the shadow of confrontation-

we grip the book tighter trying not to think about

yesterday or today or the taxes or the work or the-

we mumble excuses, push past other people with other problems,

stepping onto the platform, book still clutched in our hand

like a medicine against the pain of reality,

the page now lost.

 

We sit and we think and we turn a page.

Arrive at bookshops with hours to shed, looking for a book

like we’re looking for a new life

They pile in your mind, the weight of unread masterpieces

dragging down your social confidence, because what if that was

a line of a Wilde novel, slipped into a party conversation to ignite a laugh,

but us being the fool

(always the fools, aren’t we)

we miss the joke because we hadn’t spent enough time alone,

alone with a book

which isn’t the same thing, is it?

 

That time spent thinking about stolen money,

stolen dreams,

stolen people,

the time spent crouched over pieces of paper that spout

lies, glorious lies but lies all the same,

is like a drug for curiosity. We read to escape,

to deduce with Holmes and

make spells with Harry

or ponder with Hamlet

because our world isn’t enough, too cramped

and busy

and stuffy with mortal problems

to be valuable.

 

Instead of searching for a cape of words-

a place to hide whilst problems fester and grow

(the thoughts pushed frantically to the back of the mind)

we should spend more time on returning from our imagination.

Searching for a plan, a solution, a way

instead of the right chapter, because when you return

from altars of blood and planets of moonlight, the problems will still exist.

The father will still be crying in the corner, untouched.

The girl’s fists will still be clenched, blood bursting into her palm

The woman’s face will still be etched into marble, and she won’t speak anymore.

 

 

The world is fractured, humanity splintering

into shards of terror and fear and horror

at it’s ends, but the ends will only become sharper

if we try to hide

behind pieces of paper

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thwaites undergoats an udderly ridiculous joureny

thomas-thwaites-goat-man
Goat and follow your dreams; if a man can become a goat, then you can definitely become a popstar

The concept behind GoatMan is ingenious. It sounds like an invention only someone desperate, determined and open-minded would do. Which is Thomas Thwaites in a nutshell, or should I say, goat’s cheese wheel.

Stumbling along in life, with no job and acting as a unwilling trustafarian, Thwaites decided to turn his life around. Somehow, he thought that becoming an elephant walking across the Alps was the way to do it, with a grant from the Wellcome Trust. Which does still sound decidedly trustafarian-like all things considered, but at least the author wasn’t dog-sitting anymore.

Having trekked to Copenhagen and given some shamanic guidance in a hut, Thwaites realised he should’ve been a goat all along. It would’ve got my goat to say the least if I was part-way through an elephant design project and changed animal, but Thwaites didn’t seem to mind. Throughout the book we are guided through his process of realising his goal: visits to goat farms, creators of prosthetics, animal dissections (ft. snow leopard and an alpaca with practically tuberculosis) and a psychologist all feature. It’s exciting stuff.

Winning the 2016 Ig Nobel Prize for the project, as seen in the book GoatMan by Thomas Thwaites, this goes far deeper than merely thinking ‘goat-like’ thoughts. Impressively, Thwaites commits to the project with a level of dedication seldom seen elsewhere, and the documentation of this is displayed aesthetically, which appears to be the designer of Thwaites coming through, or in any doubt, a great publishing house. For every notable event, there is a technicolour image to boot, my favourite being (not the goat’s rumen spilling everywhere in graphic detail whilst I thought about my last meal, but in fact) Prof. Hutchinson’s freezer. It’s filled with hundreds of plastic bags with mysterious lumps and it’s all rather intriguing. Lumps being dead animals and intriguing meaning including giraffe necks and elephant feet. Check out his blog here: http://www.whatsinjohnsfreezer.com

As a concept it’s fantastic; sometimes it’s wonderful to do something just for the sake of it, not because it will ‘look good on my CV’. I hear this so often, with people wandering off on Duke of Edinburghs (it’s overrated- I ran out of food because my porridge pots broke and I woke up with frost on the inside of my tent), or attending up to 8 hours of extra curricular activities a week in the hope of impressing someone later in life in an application. Whilst pursing interests is important, I find that since the only incentive is to gain a place at an academic institution, it seems like a waste of time. Most people I know don’t even know what they want to do next weekend, let alone for their degree courses. Yet societal values have convinced us that the only path to success is: go to university, have a long working career- establishing yourself as upper middle class whilst you have a family, then retire. That’s the conventional measure of a happy lifestyle today, with the amount of wealth accumulated punctuating that achievement. But what if that isn’t true? There are so many assumptions in there, and now people automatically think they want going to university, but with no real incentive of their own except that that is what everybody else is.

So this book appeals because it is a rebellion of that. Sure, Thwaites did it to drag himself out of a pool of unemployment, but he could have worked as a waiter to do that. He didn’t know that he was going to win the Ig Prize for the Project. He received (and still does probably) uncertain comments from people around him surrounding it, but he preserved because that’s what he wanted to do. To live a simpler life is a noble aim, I suppose. It’s difficult to let go of everything, of contacts, the internet, unnecessary material objects. There’s an underlying fear of making that decision and getting so far behind with the world that if you don’t hurry, it’ll be too late to return.

Yet to take the time out and simply read this project counteracts that. You’ll never put reading this on your CV, and you’ll be so enraptured that you won’t think of your phone. Think of reading this as a little rebellion, your own holiday from being a modern Homo sapiens.