The Perils of Retail Therapy

A memo to the wise; if you do too much of this:

…you’ll end up with an ankle looking like this:

Ok, granted I wasn’t posing in that exact same fashion when my ankle went, but when it started to ache during a shopping trip I decided to ignore the pain and carry on walking on it. I’d decided to venture to the fair Welsh capital of Cardiff and I didn’t want to turn back before I’d even got properly stuck into my needed dose of retail therapy.

As well as the blinking obvious (walking on a duff ankle) there were other things I didn’t fully factor in whilst hobbling around the city centre on a Sunday in mid-late October. These ‘things’ feel into three categories:

  1. The impact of a particularly bad cold virus.
  2. Excitable children on school holidays, pumped up on sugar and in want of Halloween ‘stuff’.
  3. Super eager women, pumped up on caffeine and hell-bent on obtaining Christmas wares before anyone else.

The result was pure shopping chaos, particularly when I became caught up in the shopping centre at peak time. Quickly I found myself bent and morphed into shapes usually reserved only for the most brutal of Twister games. Grunting the pain away like a reindeer on Christmas Eve, I kept my eyes straight and aimed my cold-filled, Rudolf Red, nose towards the nearest exit.

Out of nowhere they came. Turning out of a shop and charging toward me at speed came a group of teenage girls. Dressed in clothes that liberated their pre-pubescent figures, the young women clutched their semi-empty milkshakes in one hand with a firmness that was nearly as strong as their grip on the pre-ripped, bloodied, shirts that were slung over their backs.

“We’ve got the dead look covered this year girls!” One of the party exclaimed triumphantly, as she pored over a small bag of purchased make up. The others nodded in mild agreement, slupping on their milkshakes and scrolling through void blocks of information. At the command of their leader, the group circulated around a black screen to appease the tiny dot before them. The first snap failing to satisfy, they posed for another photo, and another. The look of death had a time and a place, and as far as the camera holder was concerned Snapchat wasn’t one of them.

Upon realising that my collision with the party was both inevitable and likely to write off my foot (for which I felt quite sure the girls lacked any sympathetic insurance), I decided to change my path. Like a Shakespearian character my persona as flipped into a Hellish beast as I gritted my teeth and turned on the sore ankle to walk around the female cluster.

As I hobbled on, dragging my bad leg behind me, I saw bitter sweet irony reflected in the eyes of all the ghoul clad staff who regarded me with confusion and unease. Coffee stands decorated with bloodied bandages and skulls, shops festooned with beaming figurines and tinsel, each environment looked down at me with a soulless attitude that clung onto those who dwelled beneath. Of all the shopper types it was only the husbands and boyfriends that took the crown for being more out of place than I. Loaded like a Biblical Donkey, acting like a Hollywood Zombie, the men of the city took pity and avoided my half dead shape, whilst their respective partners walked in window-display bedazzlement across my path. I gave a half smile of encouragement to these brave men and pressed onwards.

It was a circular pattern of discomfort and disinterest that punctuated the day. The simple pleasures; the reading of a book undisturbed, discovering a nicely styled boot, these glimmers of joy were hard won and so easily lost. A noisy patron in the neighbouring seat, a swollen foot rebelling against a test environment. A reminder perhaps that no one can be a God in the world of the Godless. This thought whispered around my brain in mockery as I slowly staggered towards the bus station. A hissing that ended with the slamming of doors and screeching of the brakes as I departed the capital once again for English soil.

Life, sore ankles and seasonal shoppers; nothing lasts forever.

North Korea – a Very British Take

I don’t know about you, but I aren’t half irritated by all this talk of North Korea and the like.

There’s no easy way of addressing the rather sticky topic of a country that has barely two sticks to rub together but a tonne of bombs ready to light. Even the utterance of the word ‘Kim’ nowadays makes people shudder. (I feel for anyone of the same name, it must make office discussions a nightmare.) No longer is “Hitler” deemed the ultimate buzz kill of conversations, no, that title now falls to the bomb-drop (pun not intended) of “so…North Korea, eh?”

Drop the mic and never pick it up.

Maybe the dictator is threatening to blow us all up because he tried Instagram and realised that he’s not Kim Kardashian?

 

hgf
You’re a strong, independent man Jong-un, you don’t need no followers…or human rights or peace talks…

 

Me personally I’ve got to a point where I’m a bit fed up of hearing all about it. Personally I always considered myself to be akin to Cypher in The Matrix. Sod all the misery and slavery in the real world, give me an amazing life in the fake one. As such it doesn’t half frustrate me when I keep having to watch news about increasing tensions, followed by relaxations, then changed up to tensions again. If I wanted to watch a little fat man in a suit I’d have put on Thomas the Tank Engine.

(And we can all get covered in falling pails of milk and it’ll be hilarious and harmless in equal measure.)

As a British person I’m presently faced with three equally delightful prospects of the future: a) death by war, b) death by global warming or c) death by lack of French cheese and wine through Brexit. It’s all water off a duck’s back now, in fact I’m probably more likely to complain to the BBC if the news report does not feature at least two of the above. Unless the article features tea, I’m super hopeful that we’ll get all of that tea China promised us some 150 years ago. I’m going to ask Father Christmas for it this year, that or duct tape for Boris Johnson, whichever suits.

In truth I feel more frustration and sadness over the people who live in North Korea. There is nothing for them there but poverty, misery and worse. No one reports on them, no one thinks about how sanctions hit the citizens who have done no wrong. I’m no politician or John Lennon, but it just seems like such a screwed up country and people are treating it, on the surface, like it’s one naughty child and shouting at it for long enough will calm it down. But since when does that work with normal children? Or Trump? You take away their bacon and they get more irritable.

If we learnt from past mistakes I swear the world wouldn’t be in such a mess right now.

People just need to calm down, and someone needs to give Kim a girlfriend or a new hobby. Has anyone thought about introducing the dictator to cross stitch for example? Or maybe the satisfaction of a well maintained allotment? Just thoughts you know (and considerably cheaper than a world war – sign him up for one of those monthly magazine kits for sale in WHSmith.)

The issue of North Korea isn’t great, I get it, but when I get home from a long day at work can you perhaps not tell me I’m going to die from an exploding bomb or the after effects? I’ve just cleared a backlog of admin and health and safety e-learning and with the greatest of respect Trump I really, really, do not want to know right now. Don’t tell me that the hour spent learning how to position my monitor screen is about to go down the drain. Because seriously, I do not have time for it.

In a nutshell then I’ve basically explained the problems in North Kora through use of Instagram, a children’s TV show and a kid with a bacon addiction. I guess some writers are just born with it.

 

*FYI – all views are mine (because what other crazy fool would write the above?)

Our Ancestors Discussed Death – Why Can’t We?

“Rule one of life: we’re all going to die. Accept it and move on.” – our ancestors felt free and informed enough to discuss the topic of death, so why can’t we?

To read my new opinion piece for The National Student, click here:

Our ancestors openly discussed death – we should too

Theatre Review: Titus Andronicus @ The Royal Shakespeare Company

Theatre Review: Titus Andronicus @ The Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford-Upon-Avon

Alice Bennett (for The National Student)

 

In the Royal Shakespeare Company’s recent production of Titus Andronicus (currently showing in Stratford-Upon-Avon) all the foulest deeds of mankind come to roost. Murder, affair, execution, rape and even cannibalism are unashamedly showcased in Shakespeare’s bloodiest play. As I found myself watching execution after execution I found it hard to believe that this play could have possibly been penned by the same great man who also wrote about fairies dancing in the wood and young lovers coming together in merry song.

Titus Andronicus, a great general who has fought greatly and lost much, returns home to much praise from family and supporters. However the decision to refuse his nomination for the throne, coupled with his backing of the weak Saturninus for emperor, starts a chain of uncontainable blood and devastation for all sides. Formerly persecuted by Titus, the empress Tamora and her lover Aaron sees to the destruction of the general by inflicting increasingly gory and brutal punishments on his family. As the bodies started to pile up on stage, I was left on the edge of my seat, wondering not who will survive, but how will they die.

This 21st century adaptation of the Roman-based play sees actors in hoodies climb graffitied fences in the opening scenes, crying out for justice only to be swiftly beaten down by armed police officers. From my comfy seat I was witnessing a society falling apart right in front of me, knowing that there was nothing I could do to stop the pain and misery. It’s that feeling of helplessness, that visualising of a dystopian future that is more relatable now than ever before. That sadness that what I was seeing on stage was, is, happening around the world as I type this very review. The language changes, but the darkness of human nature always prevails.

This classical play is attributed with a suburb acting cast, headed with the great David Troughton. I cried with Titus as he cradled the head of his son, felt rage at the sight of his raped daughter and felt a sick, twisted joy from witnessing the execution of the perpetrators. In under ninety minutes my civil nature was swept away in the rivers of blood that flooded the stage, I was hooked from the very start until the very end.

Forget notions of concealed knives under armpits and melodramatic deaths, watching this adaptation you will be forced to absorb some of the most difficult and painful scenarios known to man. The stage will be covered in more than just the spit of the actors. There’s the closest thing to a real-life public execution, scenes of female empowerment which you’ll loathe and outright racism that you cannot shout out against. Leave your political correctness in the clock room, this is an Elizabethan play like no other. More blood please!

Rating: 5 stars

 

For more information, including showing times and tickets, visit the RSC’s website: https://www.rsc.org.uk/titus-andronicus/

Oh My God, I’m Going to Die

Whenever I think of death my first thought is of week one ‘Cities of the Dead: Victorian Death Rituals in Society’. Our lecturer, Dr Jonathan Conlin, silently walked into the lecture room and said “before we start this twelve week course there is something important you need to know”. He pulled down the white board to show in capital black board markers the statement:

WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE

There was a mild chortle in the class (yes, we chortled at my University) before Conlin went to wipe the text off hastily, “that’s been up there since yesterday evening, I hope it didn’t scare the cleaners.”

By broaching this awkward subject in the first five minutes it set the tone for the rest of the module, significantly aided by a lecturer with an informal teaching style (“hey! Guys! I know we’re here to look at headstones, but look what the monks gave me, this granola bar!”) The term ‘you had to be there’ is overused in modern society, but when it comes to the study of morbid subjects you really had to have been there to understand why Victorian Death Rituals was one of my favourite ever courses. By the end of the twelve weeks I actually had a bit of era-envy for the Victorians. They celebrated death in a way that hasn’t really been seen since the start of World War One. Granted, as with everything Victorian, they did on occasion go one stage too far (I don’t think anyone wants to revive the tradition of death photography anytime soon:)

victorian-death-photos

…but ultimately they were not scared of their impending fates, (not as much as we are now). I came away from the overall experience feeling more enlightened about the whole subject.

So all this aside, why do I find myself spending my Tuesday evening on Web MD convincing myself I’m going to die? It started with a slight tooth ache, most likely my wisdoms coming through, which caused me to think “hmm, I wonder how serious this could be?” I go online and bam! I’m told to go see my dentist. In Google terms that means I’m going to die. At this stage I started freaking out that my dentist is a two hour drive away and has a waiting list of ten years. If I’m going to die this would prove to be a slight inconvenience. I then tried to source another, more local dentist, only to find myself treating the search as if I was looking to buy a property. “I won’t go for anything less than four star rated, but then it needs to be in a central location with good access to work and public transport. Is there room in the budget for private? Hah! No chance, NHS only please! Ah, now I’m down to two…located in the next county.” All this stressing over impending death and dentists gave me a slight headache, so I popped in a couple of paracetamol and paused to burn make dinner. Half an hour later I was pleasantly surprised-come-relieved to find both headache and tooth pain had vanished. Guess I wouldn’t be dying today.

Admittedly I was a little bored after the excitement of the above, so I thought “I wonder if there’s new research on dry skin treatments or preventatives?” hit that up into the search engine. Guess what? There isn’t. “See your doctor or dermatologist who will be able to advise further.” So basically my hands are going to fall off. Thought of trying to type up the reports without hands = stress = dry skin = escalating chance of handless working. Isn’t that a paradox or something?

I’ve now started using Web MD symptom checker to see what various illnesses and/or diseases I could be incubating. Turns out there are a lot, all ending in one of three ways: paracetamol, doctor or calling loved ones and an ambulance because you’re stuffed. Overall, if you don’t act you’re going to die. When you think about it, isn’t it a bit alarming how much trust we put into computer software, the most un-human thing there is, to tell us how to deal with our ailments? Computer code informs us whether that sprain is life threatening or can be left alone? Why are we even at this stage when we’re frequently being told our General Practitioner (doctor) service is at the point of collapse? Are these websites fuelling the pressure by playing to innate fear and paranoia or are they reducing it by prescribing us with a couple of aspirins? More likely the former than latter.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that we seem to think ourselves liberated, that we in the Western world can, within our agreed laws, do whatever we want, say whatever we want, think whatever we want. But are we though? It’s funny how we look back on the Victorians as uptight, stiff upper lip sorts that didn’t know the meaning of ‘letting one’s hair down’ and we in the 21st century seem to think ourselves as being more free in comparison. But lets take a closer look at that theory. I mean, when was the last time you frankly talked about death? Not just the existence/non-existence of an afterlife, but everything from how you want to die, how you want the funeral to be conducted, even how long you want to be publically mourned? When was the last time you received a letter with a black border, or saw someone walking down the street dressed head to foot in black crape? Funny how nowadays someone in similar attire may attract stares or verbal abuse. Back then black held a higher regard in society.

Now, when was the last time you talked about that dishy guy on second floor? Or the girl you slept with the other night? Did you watch 50 Shades of Grey or buy some handcuffs from Ann Summers? On the surface it seems weird to think people would have their coffins made whilst they were still alive, or that news of someone ‘dying well’ would draw crowds. I won’t lie, I can think of better ways to spend my Sunday afternoon. But then these people would have equally looked at us as weird backward creatures for discussing such puerile topics on the street for all to hear.

So, to summarise, we’ve gone from one era who celebrated death but was disgusted by sex to another era 150 years later who celebrates sex but refuses to discuss death. And we think of the Victorians as an uptight bunch. Kinda funny, huh?