Shay Hughes: The Day I Got My Big Break

I still remember the incident clear as day…

I was only 6 at the time, and I was eagerly waiting for the bell to ring so I could go outside and run about. The clock struck 12 and the bell rang through the empty halls, causing children to start pouring out of the classrooms. I shot up out my chair, grabbed my packed lunch and pushed open the classroom door. The noise was overwhelming. I gradually pushed my way through the enormous crowd of people as I looked for my friends, but it was like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Eventually we all found each other and walked outside. Instantly the blistering hot rays of Texas weather shone off my sunscreen glazed neck. I loved the heat. The air conditioning in my classroom was malfunctioning, so it was always freezing. We leisurely strolled to a seat in the shade and opened our lunches as we began to talk. We chatted for a bit as we ravenously munched down on our sandwiches and then a lively athletic boy named Pelayo asked if we would like to play tag. Of course, we were all brimming with energy after being locked in the classroom all morning and so we all jumped at the chance to run around.

After a while of running around in the heat I was exhausted and decided to stand in the shade of the climbing frame for a minute to get my breath back. While taking long, deep breaths, I glanced up and saw the chaser sprinting towards me. I frantically looked around and decided my only option for escape was the climbing frame towering above me. Panting, I hurriedly made my way over to the frame and started to clamber up the rope to the top. I looked back and my pursuer was right behind me, his outstretched hands barely missing my feet as I scrambled up to the peak. I reached the top and quickly realised I was trapped, as all the exits were blocked by the other children playing.

Panicked, I looked at the boy who was chasing me as he pulled himself up to the top of the climbing frame, stood up and started walking towards me. The only thing I could think about was not getting tug and so as I backed away, my eyes fixed on the boy as he stalked towards me, I didn’t see the railing and I slowly toppled over it.

For a moment everything slowed. It took me a second to process what was happening, as the air brushed my skin. For a fleeting second, I felt almost graceful, floating through the air. Then, my body cracked against the ground and a sharp pain jolted through my body. I tasted the blood in my mouth as a sea of faces swam above me. I felt dizzy and tried to sit up but as I did so it felt like someone had hit my arm with a hammer. I excruciatingly rolled my head to face my left arm and in horror looked upon a completely disfigured mess.

I laid there as two nurses came and cautiously lifted me and took me back into the eerily quiet school. They laid me down on a table in the medical room as one rushed to get bandages and the other rained questions I couldn’t answer down upon me. I flicked my eyes around the room at the torn wallpaper and messy floors. The nurse returned with bandages, and I howled in agony as my arm was shifted around and wrapped up. In the distance, I heard someone talking about ambulances and broken arms.

After what felt like hours of laying on the table feeling helpless, I heard sirens outside and my mum tumbled through the door, a worried expression on her face. I heard my dad talking with someone outside the door and then paramedics came in and gave me strong painkillers before uncomfortably hauling me on to a stretcher. One paramedic tried to comfort me telling me it was all going to be fine as I was loaded into the back of the waiting ambulance.

Blissfully, the medication took hold and I fell into a restless sleep as the ambulance roared through the busy streets.

I awoke in a strange room with beeping noises all around me. The air smelled unsettlingly clean and as I grudgingly opened my weary eyes, I saw people wearing doctor’s uniforms rushing in and out. I recognised that I was wearing different clothes, as I was now lying on a stiff mattress in a soft silky robe. I noticed that the salty taste of blood in my mouth was gone and as I curiously looked at my previously disfigured arm, I saw that it was strapped to a table in a big bulky cast.

Straight away, I broke out of my medicine-induced daze and started to panic and cry. A nurse bolted into the room and started to calm me down as she called someone from a phone mounted to the wall behind me. I heard her talking to someone, telling them that I was awake and that I seemed fine.

A few minutes passed, and I heard footsteps near the door and in came a doctor followed by my mum and dad, tears in their eyes. I started to shout in delight as I could not have been more overjoyed to see them. I started trying to get up, but as I did so I felt as if my arm had been stabbed with a dagger, and I let out a yelp of pain.

The doctor that had entered with my mum and dad walked over to me, crouched down and began to carefully explain to me that I had broken my arm and had to have an operation where they put pins in it. He informed me that I would have to stay at the hospital overnight. He must have seen the sadness growing in my eyes because he quickly told me it would be an exciting adventure. I perked up a bit when he told me that I would have to wear the cast for a while, but that all my friends could draw on it and sign it. I thought about how cool it would be to show my new cast to my friends and so I nervously agreed to stay.

A day and lots of X-rays and checkups later I was released from the hospital, and as I walked out I took a deep breath of fresh air and let out a sigh of relief. The following weeks at school were some of the most interesting I’ve ever had, as they were filled with classmates surrounding me, hammering me with questions and teachers pampering me. I was a celebrity.

6 years later, I am still having problems with my arm due to a rare condition I have been diagnosed with named “necrosis of the radial head”. (At the central hospital in Texas, only 8 people have been diagnosed with this condition.) This makes me severely regret not paying attention to my surroundings at the time and it constantly annoys me that all the constant pain and discomfort I feel in my arm could’ve been avoided if I hadn’t played that game of tag. This incident was my first big learning experience and since then I have become a lot warier of my surroundings and learned to take precautions, because safety is not a joke and you should always listen to warnings. However, I did get one good memory out of it all: I got to ride in an ambulance.

Louise Jones: The Cracked Mirror

She started applying her makeup, pressing the fine powder onto her flawless skin, scraping the dregs from the pallet. Her lady’s maid began pulling at her hair in all directions, rushing her along.

“He’ll be waiting on you, ma’am,” she said, grabbing Clara’s dress. “The tailor has been working on your dress all night: he thinks it’s his best yet.”

Clara took the dress and felt the silk slip through her fingers. Her lady’s maid helped her slip into her petticoat before helping her into the dress.

She looked at herself in her mirror, and the crack made the green shimmer and her look beautiful.

The ballroom was larger and grander than anything she’d seen before. It was lit by rows and rows of chandeliers, and was full of crowds of people drinking and dancing to the sounds of the orchestra. The gowns, the jewels, the crystals dripping from the chandeliers, even the floor beneath her feet appeared to sparkle.

He was mingling with royalty from far-off countries. But when he saw her, they seemed to disappear. Everyone else around him was like a blur; he was the only thing to make sense.

His hair had fallen into his face, hiding his emerald eyes. Her favourite colour. His blood-red suit stood out among the black and white. The crown on his head shimmered like the chandeliers.

She watched him from the other side of the ballroom. He looked naturally like a Prince.

She was wearing a green dress that night. No, she was wearing a red dress. The one her mother said makes the boys in the village stop to get a second look. The one that transformed her into a different person.

Clara knew her biggest challenge of the night would be not to make a fool of herself, but a part of her knew that wouldn’t happen. She felt a new confidence in herself; she guessed the thought of him being finally near her again calmed her nerves, but obviously that was all in her head. What if he didn’t even remember her? That was a possibility. As much as her mother said ‘she’s a catch’, somehow she had not been able to believe that. Yet.

The nerves were biting at her stomach as she stood waiting. Every possible outcome of the night was darting around her head. Why would he remember her? He was a prince, for crying out loud. She’s made a mistake. This whole night was a mistake. She should just have stayed and watched the village performance, at least they’d have a-


That voice. She turned around and there he was. He’d pushed his hair out of his eyes, allowing the emerald to be seen. His crown sat slightly slanted on his head. And his suit matched her dress. It was meant to be.

He took her hand in his and bowed. She giggled and wrapped her arms around him.

“I missed you,” she mumbled.

“I missed you too, my love,” he smiled.

“Shall we dance?

They fell in step, letting the rhythm control their movements. All the scenery and people around dissolved. It was him and her, alone.

His emerald eyes glistened, and a smile spread across his face.

Uncontrollable feelings surged through Clara’s body. As if she was dreaming, her body was acting on its own, no chains to hold her back from this pure paradise.

“I was waiting on you,” he said, spinning her around.

“My carriage took longer than expected.”

“Well, you’re here now” The most perfect smile spread across his face. She couldn’t help herself, and soon her face mirrored his.

They danced, they laughed, it was perfect. She’d never be able to describe this feeling to anyone. The feeling of love and being free.

Before she knew it, they were sitting by a fire, drinks in hand, laughing about an old family portrait.

“I wasn’t ready,” he said rolling his eyes.

“I don’t think it’s awful,” she lied.

“It’s bad.”


Clara placed her head on his shoulder. She wished they could stay like this forever.

“What time will your mother be wanting you home?” he mumbled.

“She wanted me home before ten,” she said, looking up at the clock, “but I think I’ve missed that.”

“Well, one more dance shouldn’t hurt.”

They made their way back to the ballroom, just in time for the final dance. He took Clara’s hands in his and swept her across the floor. When the music began slowing down, he cupped her face in his hands.

His hand felt cold on her cheek. When she met his gaze, his eyes were no longer emerald but blue, like her own. The guests around them started shrinking. His hand no longer looked like his, but smaller and more petite, like her own. A shiver ran down her spine as the chandeliers began cracking, splintering into the rotten wood of her floor. The gowns, the jewels were just attached to her dolls, sitting as they always were in their dollhouse. Playing make believe. The floor beneath her only sparkled with the glass from her mirror. Clara felt tugging at her hair, her little sister was pulling at it in all directions, rushing her along.

“Mum’s waiting. The production is about to start,” she complained. “And she said you’ve to get your mirror fixed.”

Eilish Harkins: Black and White Hawk-Eagle

“Late again, I jumped out of my bed. I put bird fat in my hair and slicked it back into the regulation bun. I quickly ran across the metal landing and down the stairs to the flyers’ room. There was no time for breakfast, which was a shame because balut was on. The texture of the squishy surprise inside! Nothing can top it.

The flyers’ room was the loudest of them all, as you could hear the last call of the bird before darkness embraced it. Not to mention the slice of the quick metal sliding down the wooden guides. I was at station 7 today. It was a big upgrade: I was usually in charge of the flightless birds, but today Ines was ill so I got to fill in for her.

They delivered my first bird. I’d never really done this before. It was a black and white hawk-eagle: it had bright, yellow claws and a sharp, curved, beak of a vibrant orange. It must have come all the way from Argentina; wasn’t I in for a treat? Usually they only give this type of bird to the experts, as they are extremely strong flyers. The strong flyers are normally put at the front of the pack.

The bird was locked in a plastic box, with its head poked through a hole created to hold it in place. It looked up at the blade, begging it not to fall. Then it looked to me, with a glimmer of despair in its eyes. They were striking, a piercing yellow surrounded by black plumage.

A strident call shattered the air, louder and more desperate than the others. That’s when I let the blade drop. With a satisfying thud the bird’s head fell on the table. I unlocked the plastic box and removed the body, which was enveloped in a thin layer of sticky blood.

I picked the carcass up by the neck and took a plastic tube. I threaded it right into the jugular vein and took a blowtorch to it. The plastic melted right in, sealing the wound.

The tube delivers blood to the body to make the wings flap. The head is cut off to remove any chance of rebellion, to take away the bird’s autonomy, thoughts and power. It was then time to fuse the legs. Having both legs moving separately can sometimes scratch the tubing, so to avoid that, we bond both of the legs together to create one limb. We pull the claws off and make a cut on the inside of both legs, creating two wounds which we then sew together to form one leg.

Bird after bird I got, head after head I chopped.

Before I knew it, it was feeding time. We all gathered in the feeding hall. We were having whatever birds had passed that morning.

After afternoon feeding I was back on the flightless birds. I was assigned to hook up a cassowary. I was in the blood chamber in the belly of the aeroplane; the cassowary was sedated on a roll-away table. I took the butterfly needle and inserted it into its throat. The tube was connected to the churners, two cylinders attached to every aeroplane that hold the blood. The churners are spun by owls: their heads are attached into a mechanism where they turn them from side to side to side. They spin it so that it doesn’t clot. Whenever it does clot, however, we all get bird blood clot soup for lunch. It has a funny texture: it’s very slimy yet not cold in the slightest, as they heat it up beforehand.

I locked the cassowary in one of the plastic-screened boxes lining the wall of the blood chamber. The door had a hole in it for the bird’s neck, in order to ensure that the tubing isn’t ripped out. It woke up half an hour later and panicked, as expected. It banged its body against the walls, twisting back and forth. This part was critical. I had to make sure that the tubing remained intact and that it couldn’t retract its head back into the box.

It started to growl. The cassowary has a strange call, a sort of dinosaur-esque growl. It sounded like a song of sorrow. No matter; its blood will fuel the plane for at least 30 years. Usually they live to about 60, but fuelling really sucks the life out of the birds, causing them to age faster.

I then went to the blood chamber in the next aeroplane, as there was a problem with the tubing. A rook had escaped and chewed through a quarter of all of the tubing. I had never heard of this happening before; a bird has never gotten out in the 5 years that I’ve been here. There was blood everywhere, birds squawking and screeching but worst of all, a ton of work to do. The rook was nowhere to be found. Probably dead somewhere. We sent out squadrons to capture it.

A team of three in my squadron and I rewired the blood chamber. It took hours. Thirty of the birds were dead, the rest were nowhere to be seen. Most of them flew out the second we opened the doors; the others bled out on the floor. I had never seen anything like it. By the time we were finished, I was starving and exhausted. I went straight to the feeding hall and got my portion of chicken broth with a side of talons. I was surrounded by hushed, curious conversations. Everyone was in shock; nothing like this had ever happened at the factory before.

How on earth had that rook escaped? We tested the cages so many times. They were supposed to be proofed against this.

As my head hit the pillow that night, I couldn’t help but think about where that rook had flown off to. I wonder if it knew how much chaos it caused? Of course it didn’t; it’s just a bird. A few hours later, I finally fell asleep.”

Their mother puffed out her chest, put the book down and sighed. She was wearing a pigeon-breasted blouse, with an impeccably-made skirt. On the tip of her hooked nose, balanced very delicately, were a pair of pince-nez glasses.

 ‘And that, my nestlings, is how the Great War began,’ she said softly. ‘This diary entry was taken by one of the Great Master of Espionage’s closest friends. The Master of Espionage was captured after his wrongful exile by the jealous King. The humans bundled him away and tried to make him work on the aeroplanes. They locked him in a cage and stole his blood. He was stuck there along with many other brethren.’

She continued, ‘Then he escaped: he destroyed the wiring in the aeroplane, taking with him countless others. He flew all the way to the Great Assembly, he pulled the sheep out from our eyes, allowing us to see again. He explained to us all the atrocities he saw there; he wanted to take action. However, the King and Queen were cowards, so he killed them.’

She spoke with a rush of pride: ‘He took over as our leader and led us into war. He created not only a united population but also an army! He gave us all tasks and duties, he made a place for us all.’ Then her voice took on a tone of warning: ‘One thing you need to learn, my nestlings, is that humans are never satisfied. They have legs, they walk. Then they want to swim, because walking isn’t enough. After swimming, they want to fly, so they steal that. They tried to strip us of our flight, but we will not have that. We will drop our droppings on many a human to come. We will grab garnets by the thousands and we will devour doughnuts aplenty! Because that means war.’

Vhairi Mulgrew: From Me (You) to You (Me)

The 8th of April, 2000. 20:22, precisely.

Mina was waiting beside the grandfather clock, like she did every year. Except this year, she was all alone.

With each year that passed, her birthday had slowly dwindled to become a party of one. First, her cat died, then her dog, then her grandmother, then her other dog, her father, then, in January, her mother. Not to mention that her grandfather was in the hospice and her sister was in a boarding school in Germany.

As in many aspects of life, she was totally alone. Sad, but at least the fact that she was used to it softened the blow.

Mina had given up on wishing. Specifically, blowing out her candles and hoping upon a miracle that this year wouldn’t be as bad as the previous one. Instead she had resorted to a scornful remark as every year she grew older. Eventually the birthdays seemed to blend together, and she wasn’t sure if it was her twelfth or twenty first.

Mina saw that the sun had begun to make its sad journey to the bottom of the hills, signalling the end of another day. To the majority of the seven billion other people out there, it was just another Thursday. They didn’t even think it was someone’s birthday today, and they probably couldn’t care less if it was. Taking an opportunity to bathe in her own pity, Mina decided she would blow her candles out while enjoying the slow sunset, acting as though she were the only person alive. So, she stepped outside, laying her cake on the patio and sitting down next to it, waiting a few moments, allowing herself to take in the cool breeze which was painting her face.

Then she brought the cake closer to her face, and without thinking too much about it, stated her wish out loud.

‘I wish this year… I had someone to spend it with.’ That was it; that was the wish she made, as her weary breath dissipated the lonesome flame into the atmosphere, her hope subsiding with every particle which vanished before her eyes.

As she walked back into her house, carefully ascending the steps so as to not drop the only thing she had, she found humour in her statement. What was she thinking? She was perfectly fine by herself. She didn’t need someone at her party. Just her, and her cake. That was fine. She liked cake.

Just as Mina set her cake on the kitchen counter, there was a vigorous knock at the door. And that was odd; she had a doorbell. Even more odd, there was someone at her door. That only settled in Mina’s head as her feet shuffled along the hallway and her hand reached for the handle of the door. Gently, she pulled it open and was surprised to see a girl standing there.

She had a poorly-wrapped box in her hand, and as Mina scanned her face, she realised she had no clue who this was. However, what struck her was the remarkable resemblance this stranger bore to her own features. In fact, her entire body was almost a mirror image of Mina’s own. But something was older in her face. More mature. The girl spoke, without any prompt from Mina.

‘I’m here to hang out.’ The girl walked in without invitation, her expression mostly unmoving, totally calm, with just a slight essence of a smile on her face. Mina was rather taken aback; who was this person and why had she walked into her house? Finally, she had to say something, after she was taken out of her state of shock.

‘I’m sorry, who are you?’ The girl turned on her heel and for the first time, the two really shared eye contact.

‘That’s a good question. But it has a very long story to go along with it.’ The mystery woman waltzed nonchalantly through the house, as though it was her own. Then she paused suddenly and pushed the gift towards Mina.

‘Oh, I almost forgot. This is for you. Happy birthday, kid.’

Mina’s brows knitted and her mind filled with questions.

‘Me? How do you know me?’

‘I’m still trying to decide how to phrase that.’ The girl responded to Mina’s confused expression with an even more perplexing answer.

She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it, second guessing herself. Finally she said,

‘You’ll understand one day.’ She glanced around the kitchen before speaking once more. ‘Well look. I’d love to stay for cake, but I’m not a big fan.’.

‘Wait, but what was your name?’

The girl sighed inwardly, not answering, then produced a crumpled piece of paper from her jacket. She handed it hurriedly to Mina, whose eyes widened with confusion at the object.

‘Don’t open this until I’m gone. Or ever really, you don’t need to. Just, it’s important: don’t open it until I’ve left.’

And with that, the second Mina glanced at the gift, she had left, ambling out the door, prompting Mina to follow. She called after her, desperately not wanting to be alone again. Mina stopped at the door frame, staring longingly at the girl who now stood outside in the middle of the road, waving with an almost disappointed disposition.

Then, Mina blinked, and the girl had gone. Her mind’s creation had vanished before her very eyes, just like those flames did. Gone, almost in an instant. As the lonely feeling sunk in, Mina felt her eyes prick with tears, but she didn’t let any come out. It was her birthday after all. No one should be crying.

But she began to. Without her consent, tears came trickling down and soon her cheeks were stained and her eyes were blotchy and itchy. That feeling of loneliness was even more heart wrenching. It had more impact, the absence of someone.

At least, she thought, still blinking at the spot in the road she had just watched the female disappear from, at least she had gotten her birthday wish.

It was then her memory sparked, and she remembered the note the girl had given her and told her not to open until she had left. Mina rushed back inside and found it. She unfolded it gently, revealing the text across it:

‘You’re going to be fine. Ana will come back from Germany, bearing good news that she’s coming back to the US permanently. Sadly, grandpa doesn’t make it. He died peacefully, in his sleep, and you at least get to visit him one more time before he passes. This is your last lonesome birthday, I promise.

See you soon (literally). From Mina (you).’

Richard Lenehan: The Need to Atone

In 1929, the G’psgolox totem pole was taken, without consent, from a First Nations community in Canada to Stockholm’s Museum of Ethnography.  The settlers that took it did not understand, or did not care to understand, this artefact’s socio-cultural importance to that community.   A totem pole is carved from wood to commemorate death: as the wood rots and becomes one with the earth, so too do the souls of the deceased.  In its ignorance, the Museum preserved the totem pole indoors in storage, thereby “trapping” the souls that it commemorated by not allowing it to rot.  Only when a replica was supplied in 1991 was the totem pole finally repatriated, allowing the community to heal in the knowledge that its dead were finally at peace.

This incident illustrates how significant cultural property is to communities, and why we need to address the colonial history of such artefacts in our museums.    Taking a totem pole from its community was akin to stealing a gravestone from this country – an action that we would see as clearly wrong.   Hearing about this made me think about cultural artefacts we have “collected” from other countries, and this essay will argue that these should be repatriated.  It is clear that these artefacts have stories to tell.  We should consider who has the right to keep these objects, and to tell their stories.

Our museums are filled with spoils from our imperial and colonial past.  Not only that, these objects tend to be displayed in ways intended to vindicate the actions of our ancestors in returning from overseas with the cultural property of others, and to tell the stories of these objects from the collector’s point of view, rather than in a cultural context.  This is wrong.  These items would be enriched if seen in the context of the place of their origin.  I am not arguing that we have inherited guilt for looting by our forebears.  I am however arguing that we have inherited responsibility for their actions, and that it is up to us to make things right.

Standard arguments in support of not repatriating artefacts include that they should be displayed in central western locations where they are accessible to the largest number of people, that they will be better looked after in our museums, that they contribute to our knowledge and understanding, and that they may never have been found if it were not for the “collectors”.

Museums are curated to elicit a particular emotional and intellectual response to the objects they display.  Their curators are, however, conditioned to view history from their privileged perspective.   It can therefore be argued that the true historical and cultural context, and the importance of looted artefacts, not only cannot be appreciated here, but is also denied to their rightful owners.

In my opinion, another important reason for returning artefacts is that taking them without permission was stealing.  The stripping of relief sculptures from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin in the 1880s is an example of this.  At that time, the Ottomans occupying Greece gave him permission to take small artefacts from the building, but not to interfere with its “walls or works”.  Removal of what became known as “the Elgin Marbles” was in contravention of his permit, which was, in any event, issued by those without cultural rights to the site.  This can only be described as theft.   A modern-day analogy would be if the United Nations, who had temporary charge of parts of Glasgow during COP26, had allowed delegates to take home historical Glasgow artefacts as souvenirs.  There is no doubt that this would have caused an outcry, and justifiable demand for their immediate return.  

This theft was compounded by the mistreatment of the Marbles under British care.  During their time in the British Museum, the Marbles were cleaned with a metal wire brush to make them look whiter, thereby destroying a lot of fine detail, such as muscles and sinews.  It is therefore hypocritical to suggest that they are better protected here.  In fact, the artefacts would have been better left in situ.  Indeed, at the time they were stolen, accurate casts of the Marbles had already been made, meaning that replicas could have been enjoyed in Britain, with the originals remaining in place to be viewed in their historical and cultural context. This is another situation that should be addressed by repatriation and apology.

There are also clear moral arguments for the return of artefacts.  There was an element of control in taking them from a territory in the first place – it was symbolic of taking control of the territory itself too.  These artefacts are not now easily accessible to the peoples from whom they were taken, and for whom they have cultural significance. 

Moreover, there are clear economic arguments for the return of artefacts.  Items of historical interest frequently come from less developed countries.  There is a real possibility that returned artefacts could be the form the basis of a tourist trade.  You can draw analogies with how Scotland has benefited so much from cultural tourism in recent years, and it would be unjust if other nations could not benefit from their cultural heritage due to the misappropriation of symbols of that heritage.

In wake of recent consciousness-raising events such as the Black Lives Matter campaign, I believe that the fact that artefacts serve as reminder of past oppression is also important when coming to a decision on this point.  The shackles and yokes used on slaves in the 1880s in the southern United States of America are reminders of the atrocious acts committed, and the complete lack of freedom of the stolen people from the southern continents.  We acknowledge that cultural appropriation is wrong, and that dominant cultures should not appropriate from minority cultures.  This should be as true in relation to artefacts as it is in relation to behaviours, rituals or attire.

Museums need to review their acquisitions, and to ask critically whether they need to reframe the context in which they are seen.  They should also be asking whether the items belong with them, or whether they rightfully belong elsewhere.  If they belong elsewhere, then they need to start the process of repatriation, apology and healing.  This last year has shown us that people are questioning this country’s imperial and colonial past, and wanting to make some reparation.  To date this has taken the form of the removal of statues and monuments, but the return of looted artefacts to their communities seems like the logical next step to explore.


Juliet McKay: Black and White Films are Superior to Films in Colour

“The first knee jerk reaction of my kids is that they don’t want to see a black and white movie… 10 minutes into the picture, they don’t know whether it’s black and white or in colour.” (Steven Spielberg)

For many, black and white (B&W) films belong firmly in the past. This is understandable; 1961 was the last year in which the majority of films released were B&W. Despite this, two B&W films still grace IMDb’s list of the top ten greatest films as voted by users.  One from 1957, despite colour becoming more commonplace, the other from 1993, which was a very clear, conscious, stylistic decision. These are Sidney Lumet’s “12 Angry Men” and Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List”. This suggests that there’s still an audience capable of appreciating black and white films as some of the best movies ever. Yet, inexplicably, many younger viewers refuse to watch anything in B&W, some of my friends and Spielberg’s own children included. I personally much prefer the look and feel of B&W and believe monochrome to be far superior to movies shot in colour for aesthetic, historic and genre related reasons.

Nowadays colour is often assumed to be the more interesting and realistic option; however, popularity seldom equals greatness. B&W provides a simplistic, beautiful quality that colour is unable to replicate or replace. Over time, B&W has been overtaken by colour and now remains a rare artistic choice. Since most of the content I consume daily is in colour, I pause when I see something in monochrome because it allows me to dive into a whole other reality. Films aren’t real. We use them as an escape to another world, not simply a reflection of our own, and B&W enhances the experience. We live in a world full of colour; why would you want to watch something so familiar? It can be utilised as a tool to embrace the distinction between the real world and the fictional place the medium transports us to. Frank Darabont, celebrated director of “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), believes that this unique view of the world “is what makes black and white so very cool.”

Remarkably, B&W films are also able to achieve the very opposite and make a film feel even more real, director/screenwriter Samuel Fuller said, “Life is in colour, but black and white is more realistic.” This can be done by giving it a serious, gritty documentary tone – “La Haine” (1995), or by making it feel authentic to the time period – “The Elephant Man” (1980).

B&W can place a movie in a specific time period by creating a link to the past; “Ida” (2013) succeeds beautifully in establishing its setting as bleak, post war Poland. It can also be used to pay homage to certain genres or film techniques. Noah Baumbach chose to shoot his film “Frances Ha” (2012) in monochrome to mimic the French New Wave movement from the late fifties and sixties. They were usually B&W, used low budget, simple techniques and rejected typical film conventions. I really love that B&W is still being used to pay tribute to some of the most influential periods of cinema and is often the perfect choice.

Classic Hollywood, a time rightfully referred to as ‘The Golden Age’ catapulted stars such as Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn to icon status and was a hugely influential era of cinema. The grayscale glitz and glamour of this era in cinema history I believe is unmatched. B&W is an integral and iconic feature of films made in this period. Classics like “Casablanca” (1942) and “Citizen Kane” (1941) were colourised and rereleased during a failed attempt to attract viewers by Ted Turner of Turner Classic Movies proving only that films intentionally shot in black and white should be left that way. The Golden Age of Hollywood was an important time that revolutionised many aspects of the film industry, these films remain essential watches. Monochrome is perfectly suited to this era because so many of the popular themes are enhanced by the lack of colour and the contrast between black and white: paranoia, suspense, morally ambiguous characters, good versus evil and their often-cynical view of the world.

Furthermore, film noir, one of this period’s most iconic genres as well as my personal favourite, would not exist without B&W. The monochrome enhances every aspect of these films that includes “Double Indemnity” (1944) or “The Big Heat” (1953), from their dark atmospheres to the figures that emerge from the shadows, cigarette in one hand and pistol clutched in the other. “The Man Who Wasn’t There”, the Coen Brothers’ 2001 film, mimics the style of film noir through use of B&W. Other neo-noirs, filmed in colour, for example “LA Confidential” (1997), use popular film noir tropes yet, along with the loss of B&W, the essential noir atmosphere and look is also lost. In this movie, when audience and protagonist are introduced to Kim Basinger’s femme fatale, she is dressed head to toe in black and white, paying homage to its inspiration and suggesting the director would prefer it to be monochrome. Guillermo del Toro has a star-studded neo-noir coming out next January in colour. Although I am looking forward to this, would it be better in B&W? Obviously, the answer is yes.

Black and white films should not become a thing of the past. They have captivated audiences for over one hundred years and I hope that they continue to do so for another hundred. I would love to see more films make this stylistic choice in modern cinema but I also think it’s very important to continue to watch classics. Glorious technicolour was a revelation when the world was first introduced to it but now, films in colour just feel too ordinary. Even some of my favourite films in colour are ones made by directors like Alfred Hitchcock who started in black and white and continued to use it when colour became available, only using colour if it was to play a significant role in storytelling. Through perfecting the craft of making films without colour, he shows that you can tell a story flawlessly without it. However, recently an article by Variety predicted that the cinematography category at the 2022 Oscars may be dominated by B&W, including films such as ‘Belfast’ and ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’ showing that monochrome might be making a well-deserved comeback.  While some may still disagree, for me, colour has never moved from beyond the gigantic shadow cast by black and white cinema.

And cut!


Sidney Lumet: Interviews by Sidney Lumet

Steven Spielberg on the Importance of Studying Classic Films – AFI

Cara Boyce: Rainbow Connection

Growing up, I never really understood the fascination with rainbows. Yes, it was cool that there were different colours in the sky but my mum had explained the science behind rainbows and it made perfect sense to me. Light enters a water droplet, slows down, bends from air to dense water, light reflects inside the droplet separating into component wavelengths that form into colours. Simple enough to understand. So why was everyone so interested in them? It wasn’t until I was 13 in an S2 physics class that I found out that rainbows have more than two colours. That there was more to rainbows than just blue and yellow. Obviously I knew the colours of the rainbow, learning ROYGBIV in primary school of course, but I never really made the connection that rainbows were supposed to look like that. I was nine years old when I found out why I didn’t see rainbows the same as everyone else.

In Primary Five, my teacher noticed that I was struggling to read certain things. I was smart but was getting really low marks in the classes weekly spelling tests and I struggled sometimes when reading, despite the fact that I loved to read and did so frequently. So my teacher suggested that I be tested for a number of different learning disabilities including dyslexia and colour blindness. It turns out I have both of them. Two very simple diagnoses that changed the rest of my life. My big brother was also tested, as these things are often genetic, and it turns out he is colourblind as well. We found out that we both had inherited red-green colourblindness, deuteranopia, from our dad. Along with that I had also inherited my dad’s dyslexia. I found out that it was pretty common for men to be colourblind however it’s quite rare in girls. 1 in 12 men are colourblind which is around 8% of the population. However only 1 in 200 women are colourblind which is only 0.5% of the population. This means that my diagnosis is very rare. At the time of my diagnosis my optometrist told me he only knew one other woman in Britain who was colourblind. Since I was diagnosed in 2013 I’ve met countless men who were colourblind but to this day I don’t know any other women with the same deficiency as me. While I do have my brother and dad to relate to, I’m quite isolated when it comes to day to day life. It’s difficult to relate to my male family, when they simply don’t experience being colourblind the same way I do.

Although colour blindness has obviously been around since the beginning of time, the very first scientific research of colour blindness was conducted in 1803 by John Dalton. Dalton himself was the first documentation of colour blindness in 1764. Dalton’s research stemmed from him and his brother both being colour blind. His suggestion was that there was a shortage in the colour perception due to discolouration of the liquid in the eyeball called aqueous humour. Dalton believed that the aqueous humour was bluish and therefore filled out all the colours. When John Dalton was alive he became a respected physicist and chemist. In his will he stated that there was to be an autopsy of his eyes after his death to determine if there was bluish in the human eye. Unfortunately there wasn’t any bluish liquid found, disproving his theory. Despite this he has become somewhat the father of colourblind research. Sometime after his death it was discovered that in the eye there are three types of cone cells and each type has a different sensitivity to light wavelengths. One type of cone perceives blue light, another green and the third and final perceive red. When looking at a colourful object light enters your eye and stimulates the cone cells. Your brain then interrupts the singles from the cone cells allowing you to see the colour. The red, green and blue cones all work together to allow you to see the whole spectrum of colours. For example, when the red and blue cones are stimulated in a certain way you will see the colour purple. However someone is colour blind when you don’t have one of these types of cone cells or they don’t work properly. In my case they don’t work properly. 

2.7 million people all over the world are colourblind. The red-green colourblindness is usually passed down from the parents, the genre responsible for this is carried on the X chromosome. The vast majority of those that are colourblind inherited the condition from their mother who is normally a ‘carrier’ but not colour blind herself. However if a woman is red-green colourblind then all her sons will be as well. Which means all my sons will be colourblind. 

Like most things related to being a woman I face an insane amount of discrimination because of my colour blindness. Although it might seem surprising, several people have told me that I am faking it. I’ve been told that women can’t be colourblind. That I am simply lying to get attention. I’ve been told that I am pretending just so I can get more ‘attention’ from teachers in school or from boys. When I mentioned this to my brother he told me no one has ever questioned his deficiency. People just accept that he is what he is saying. That he isn’t lying for attention. It’s heartbreaking when you are told that you love attention simply by asking someone if they know what colour something is, when in actual fact you just want help. Asking for help has always been incredibly difficult for me, particularly when it comes to colours. Asking someone at 17 what colour a pencil is gets you some strange looks. People look at me like I’m an idiot when I ask if I’m using a blue or purple pencil. Being someone who wears makeup I find it nearly impossible to find the correct colour. As I am so pale I’m able to just use the lightest shade of foundation or concealer and it works perfectly fine. But when it comes to eyeshadow and nail polishes. Well, I am completely lost. If you’ve ever owned or even looked at a nail polish bottle the ‘names’ of the colours are on the bottle. And believe me, they are insane. I own a nail polish called “Pillow Talk”. I could not figure out what colour this is but this is obviously blue. Obviously. The only way I am able to tell this is my mum. If i want to buy makeup I have to force my mum, who is the only person in my household that isn’t colourblind, to come shopping with me and get her to follow me around the shop and let me ask her what colour certain makeup colours are as I hold them up. On more than one occasion I have turned round and am showing eye shadow thin air. I am then required to walk around aimlessly looking for her. It is so incredibly frustrating not being able to choose things without someone else’s help, it forces me to rely on people and even if it is my mum it is extremely discouraging. 

With three colour blinds under one roof there’s always something entertaining going on. We all loved to follow my mum around asking her what colour things are. However, when she leaves us home alone, we fall into a slight disorder. Three years ago my dad and I were left home alone and we made lunch. Just some simple schnitzel from Costco. After 30 minutes in the oven we checked to see if it was cooked. It seemed like it was fully cooked but we still don’t know if it was cooked or not. It seemed hot enough but we couldn’t quite tell, even when it was cut open we didn’t know. With mum being out and i being braver than my dad i tested it out. The texture seemed fine and it tasted fine and was hot enough. So we dug in. When my mum came home she saw the leftover chicken we hadn’t eaten and freaked out. Apparently it was pink. Almost entirely pink and raw. Miraculously we were not ill. There was only one other time when I ate somewhat raw (according to my mum) chicken and I was quite ill that time. This is so incredibly frustrating not being able to cook alone without fear of accidentally poisoning myself. My mum teased us about this for weeks. My dad and I are quite an iconic duo when it comes to being colourblind. When I was 15 I decided that I wanted to repaint my room all by myself so we went off to B&Q and came home with a yellow and paint called ‘cornfield white’. It wasn’t until i put it on my walls my mum realised that the colours were not yellow and white but in fact were yellow and BLUE. The cornfield ‘white’ was really cornfield blue. How stupid is that? So I’ve been relentlessly teased by my family and friends over our unfortunate colour mix up. Thankfully blue and yellow pair nicely together.

While being colourblind can seem like a source of entertainment and jokes, there are surprising difficulties, small things that in the grand scheme of things greatly affect me every single day. One thing that might not seem so serious is my difficulty distinguishing between red and brown. Unless it’s a bright bright red I can’t really tell the difference. One of the most frustrating things is not being able to tell what’s happening in my own body. On more than one occasion I’ve been brushing my teeth when I spit red or brown. I can never tell if it’s simply chocolate or coffee or blood. I know it doesn’t seem like a big thing but it’s terrifying to not know what’s going on in my own body, not being able to figure out if your gums are bleeding simply because of your eyesight. However, by far the worst thing about my colourblindness is my inability to read red. Mixed with my dyslexia I find it nearly impossible to focus on any letter in the colour red. My dad however does not have this, despite our colour blindness being almost identical there are still some differences in the way the cone in my eye is shaped. This means that red is completely off the table. Because of my dyslexia every word moves but in red it’s the worst thing in the world. Even if I try to focus on them I end up straining my eyes and getting a splitting headache for the rest of the day. School is especially hard, with teachers making almost entirely in red and writing on the board in red to spice up their work and make it more engaging for everyone else but me. So the easiest thing for me to do is just tell my teachers at the start of the year that I cannot read red. However, teachers teach plenty of classes a year so it makes sense that they might forget. But, for two years straight, every single day I had to tell my maths teacher that I couldn’t read red and every single day she would huff and puff as if it was my fault. To top it all off, at the end of the year she gave me a supposedly very nice card that I couldn’t read as she had written it in red. How thoughtful of her. Still this has made for some very fun birthday cards, my friends LOVE to write in red or dark pink pens. 

My colour blindness has always been and always will be a big part of who I am. It is how I see the world and how I communicate with those around me. Not only that but it connects me to my brother and dad in a biological way but it has also brought me closer to the both of them as we relate; with the issues we’ve navigated, silly things people say to us when we tell then we’re colourblind and knowing that the three of us see the world the exact same way. Because of this minor disability we all have a strong connection with each other and with the world around us. Being colourblind can be a challenge. But I am glad I have my brother and dad to help me through it even if they can’t help me choose the right paint colour.

Olivia Ritchie: Talking to Someone: A Cliché That Works

When reflecting on our lives to better know who we are, we see the moment, or moments, that changed or shaped us; and the people who had the biggest effect on us whether that be for the better or the worse.

I was chosen to be a leader for a school retreat and doing this has been the most rewarding thing in my life as it enabled me to break through my barriers and talk to someone. As a leader, you have to give a talk to everyone about a certain topic. As I stood in front of a room, of relative strangers and told them things my best friend and my mum don’t even know, I was the most nervous I had ever been. Those who know me, know I like to talk a lot, but I don’t like talking about myself. Why would I dare to openly tell a sea of younger pupils things about me – things I had never said out loud before? Because in a few words: this experience saved my life. 

From a young age, I bottled up what I felt. I bottled up everything that was going on in my life, and my mind, and told no one. Until recently. It’s a long story as to how that happened and the journey, to me bettering myself through opening up to people I trust, is a long one. I’m going to tell you my story of how simply talking to a teacher that I trusted, not only made me feel more comfortable giving my retreat talk, but impacted me immensely, and I assume, will do for the rest of my life.

The things I’ve been through have shaped and affected me my whole life. There are numerous moments that all contributed to me not talking to people about what I was going through. So to fully understand why, sitting across from Mr Ferrie, in a surprisingly comfortable seat, in an office that wasn’t his, talking to him about my life, about things I’ve never told anyone and him listening, was such an impactful moment in my life. You need to first know the moments leading up to that. There is a moment in everyone’s life, most likely a few, where their spirituality has been shaken; where they’ve begun to question the world.

This moment for me didn’t come when, at 5 years old, my nan died but rather a few months later when my dad left me and my mum. Or I guess it’s more accurate to say that my mum kicked him out. I don’t remember much leading up to the day my dad left in a lot of detail. I remember my mum and dad fighting and looking back I must have known something was wrong because I remember on the day he left I wasn’t surprised. It felt like the day I had been dreading for months had finally come.

No matter how much time passed, or how unlikely it was, there was always a little part of me that hoped that they would make up and I could have that picture-perfect family that I had always seen in the movies and TV shows. But that’s unrealistic. Now that I’m older, I know that you don’t need two parents to be happy, you don’t need a dad or a father figure in your life to be complete or to be normal. But when I was a little girl, I didn’t know that. All I wanted was to have my dad. I simply wanted to have what all my friends had.

I know it’s a cliché, and people say all the time that when parents leave it’s not the kids’ fault, but when my dad left I felt like it was my fault. For the next two years, I hardly saw him and to this day I don’t know how much of that was my mum pushing him away or how much was him staying away. All I knew was that he was never there.

Society tells you that your parents are supposed to love you unconditionally and I couldn’t understand why my dad didn’t love me enough to stay. I concluded that it was because I wasn’t good enough. That thought, that I wasn’t good enough, followed me for the next ten years. My dad leaving hasn’t only affected my spirituality but it has affected every other relationship I have ever had. My dad then started a whole other family and I felt left behind. It was like if we were characters in A Christmas Carol he was Marley and I was the shackle weighing him down. On so many sleepless nights the same thought ran through my mind: if my dad can stay with his other family; if he can love and not leave his other kids, why couldn’t he do that for me? I spent every day after he left wondering what I did wrong because he was capable of staying, so it must’ve been me. The only logical explanation was that I must’ve been the problem.

When my dad got married I was around 8 and I wasn’t invited to the wedding, He never even told me they had gotten married. The way that I found out was that I saw their wedding photo on the mantelpiece in my nan’s house. I don’t know why I wasn’t invited. I don’t know if he was trying to protect me, or if it was easier for him, but whatever the reason was it will never be justification enough. He never once addressed it. I was eight years old. I wasn’t invited to my own dad’s wedding. So, no matter how logical the reason might have been, he never told me and at that age, all I was going to comprehend was the hurt.

I was beyond upset and angry at him, not only because of the wedding but for all the days he wasn’t there, all the times he didn’t show up. I struggled with self-worth issues and still do. They stem from my Dad and him leaving. So even though I was upset and angry with my dad, as I had a right to be, the main thing I felt was that it must’ve been my fault.

I spent about six years of my life desperately wanting and waiting for my dad to show up. Be the dad that I always wanted him to be. I spent so long watching the door to see if he’d come walking back through it and a little part of me always thought he’d come back, but he never did. After a while, I stopped waiting for my dad to show up and I started wanting anyone to. I had a hole in my life that my dad created which resulted in me searching for a father figure relentlessly. Like I said before after my dad left I constantly felt like I wasn’t good enough and that affected everything in my life after that. It affected my relationships with others and my relationship with myself. For most of my life, I’ve been so concerned with everyone liking me because I’m so paranoid that one day they will realise that they don’t like me and leave. Those abandonment issues clearly stem from my dad, but because I was desperate for everyone to like me, I would change who I was to become the version of myself I thought they’d like the best. I wore masks around everyone and different ones around different people. I had probably 10 distinct, different personalities that I would rotate between and after a while I didn’t know where the masks ended and I began. I didn’t know who I was anymore and I blamed what my dad did and what he didn’t do.

 At this point in my life, I didn’t believe in people anymore and I had no faith in the world or the future. I lost faith in other people when my dad left and over the next couple of years after that, I lost faith in myself. However, despite that, I still had faith that there was a higher power somewhere. I believed that God had a plan and eventually the scales would even out and all of the hard times would count towards something; it would all balance out and the good times were sure to come soon.

There come moments that make it hard to believe in a greater power, that makes it hard to be hopeful, to not be selfish and sometimes hard to forgive.

When I was 11, I came home one day and there was a letter from my nan saying to call her right away. So my mum did. At that moment I got that feeling you get in the pit of your stomach, where you just know, you don’t know how you know or really what it is that you know, but you just know something is wrong. I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach as my mum was on the phone with my nan. My mum then came in and told me that my dad had died.

The first thing I did was laugh because I thought it was a joke. In hindsight, if it was a joke, it’s a pretty bad one and to give my mum some credit she’s a little funnier than that. But in that first second, I laughed, because it didn’t feel real, but then the next second came and it hit me. It was real. I remember running out of the living room and into my bedroom. I sat on my bed. I was frozen for about 5 seconds and then I just burst into tears. My dad had been away on a business trip to Africa and he suffocated in his sleep. That was on Saturday. I found out on Sunday; the 19th of June 2016 – Father’s Day. My dad wasn’t sick, I didn’t have any kind of pre-warning, and I didn’t get to say goodbye.

The main thing I remember during that summer after my dad died was not that he was gone but that everyone around me changed; they changed how they treated me, what they said around me. They treated me like I was made of glass and because of that I felt isolated by the grief I was going through. That summer I was treated like a fragile Christmas decoration and shut away in my very own terrarium of grief. Left to grow but isolated from the rest of the world; made to watch everyone else through the thick pane of glass whilst they never even saw me. I was made to feel that grief is only supposed to be sadness and it’s not, because if it was there wouldn’t be another word for it. Grief is different for every single person. I was sad, I was distraught, but I wasn’t just sad. I was confused; I didn’t understand how, if there was a God, why he would take my dad when he was so young.

I was also angry. I had hated my dad for 6 years and that didn’t just go away because he died. In the last few months before he passed away, he had started to step up more, he had started beginning to be the dad I wanted him to be. He came to my primary 7 school show; he came to my interview for St Aloysius; they were moving house and he told me how I was going to get my own room. Things started to look like he might actually start finally being a Dad.

Then he died. He never got the chance to do the work for me to forgive him. I’ll never know if the months before my Dad died were just filled with the same empty promises he had given me all my life. What I do know is that I still was angry with him, but now he wasn’t here, and the only person I was hurting was myself. Despite the number of times he let me down, the number of promises he broke, no matter how many times he broke my heart, I still loved him. I wouldn’t show it because I felt like he didn’t love me. Not only do I not remember the last time I told my dad I loved him, but I can’t remember a single time. Likewise, I can’t remember a single time he told me. I remember that after my dad died people treated me like they were thinking, ‘She must be so sad because she doesn’t have a dad anymore’, but the truth is, I never felt like I had one. I had always gotten uncomfortable when a conversation switched to the topic of people’s dads; I had always only written Mum when writing school Christmas cards home; I had always only had one parental signature on consent forms. I never had a dad. So when he died I grieved, not just him, but more the possibility of what I could’ve had. I’ll never have a dad or a real father figure, and it took me a long time to come to terms with that and realise that it doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. I thought that everyone would judge me if they knew I was still angry with him but I was just self-projecting because I felt guilty about still being angry. I’ve forgiven my dad now, not for him but for me. I had to let go of that hate and anger I had held in my heart since I was 5. He didn’t, and doesn’t, deserve it but I do.

Most of my problems opening up to people, and asking for help when I need it, are all tangled up in my Dad. I’ve had to go through a lot of self-reflection to be at this point. The point where I can identify the moments and people in my life that affect the way I am today.

I struggled with, and still do, self-loathing. I don’t know when it started but I know for definite that from 1st to 5th year, I hated myself. Everything there was about me that you could have an opinion on, I hated it. I hated how I looked, what I did, what I said, what I didn’t do, what I didn’t say. I wouldn’t get any sleep at night because I would be up all night overthinking every little thing that I did. I had a compulsive and addictive need for everyone to like me, so much so that I wore metaphorical masks around everyone. For a few years, I was simultaneously overcome with emotion and at the same time completely numb. Looking back, I can see that I was most likely struggling with some form of depression. Around the beginning of 4th year, I don’t know how or why, but I realised that how I was living wasn’t healthy and I needed to make a change. So I actively tried to get better and slowly but surely I was getting there.

Then COVID happened. We went into the first of many lockdowns and I was isolated from everyone. It wrecked me. I had, what I guess I could most accurately call, a relapse. I fell straight back into my self-hating ways, but this time it was worse. Not only because I was aware of my problem now, so my self-hating tendencies were just another thing for me to dislike about myself, but also because I didn’t see other people that much anymore. I realised that I might’ve been getting better but I was getting better in the wrong way. I was getting all my self-worth from other people and their opinions of me and that shouldn’t be where you get that from. You should like yourself because you do, not because other people do.

At one point during the second lockdown in 5th year, I hit rock bottom. I hit the lowest low ever in my life. For a long time before that, I had been having the same thought every day, that I didn’t want to not be alive anymore. I just didn’t want to be me anymore. Getting out of bed every morning felt like tearing my skin off. However, no matter how bad it got, I never told anyone. I would drag myself out of those dark moments.

I have never talked about any of this to anyone before. My sixth year so far has been pretty stressful and at times I didn’t think I would make it through, carrying on the way I was. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have been able to have the experience leading the retreat that changed the trajectory of my life, without a teacher who I trusted and who was willing to listen. It wouldn’t be apt to owe all my self-improvement to Mr Ferrie and my retreat experience, but I now can see that I owe a lot to myself.

My role as retreat leader didn’t just make me talk about things I had never before, but it made me think and confront things I had long since buried. It made me realise my self-worth and how much I am capable of. It sounds cheesy to say that this experience has enabled to follow my dreams, but it has. All my life I’ve been so scared that I’ll fail, that I’d never try. I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to or good enough to do what I wanted. I want to be a film director but for so long I wouldn’t let myself think I was capable of doing it, and right up until my leadership role I wasn’t going to because I didn’t think I could.  My friends and family have always been there for me and I now realise despite all that I’ve been through, all that I don’t have and all that I’ve lost, how much I do have and the privilege that I have.

Talking to someone. A cliché that’s been used time and time again, but that doesn’t undermine its importance. There are people in your life that you know you’ll always remember. I will never forget Mr Ferrie and the group of people I was with on retreat for helping me break away from being that girl helplessly tapping on the glass of her own grief terrarium, waiting for someone to come and save her.  They helped me become this version of myself, where I can hold my head up high, and be proud of who I am.

Gemma White: Why Vinyl Is Better Than Spotify

What comes to mind when you think of a record? For some, it could be the signature crackly sound, for others, old 60’s music playing on a dusty shelf. Perhaps you or your parents may have owned some? Maybe you’ve walked past some niche record shop with rows of untouched vinyl? Or, if you are part of the younger generation, you may recognise them from the single “You Spin Me Round”, which has been re-recorded by many different artists. Many people don’t understand the fuss around vinyl records as technology has advanced since then, so why do so many people, to this day, still use them? In this essay I will explain how vinyl is actually better than online digital streaming.

To start with the most obvious one, the quality of the sound. It’s hard to argue that vinyl has better sound quality than digital streaming; it’s simply a fact. Some believe that listening to a song through the vinyl medium is the best way to hear that song. Of course, this would be affected by the quality of the record player itself, but for the most part, they would be correct. Due to the way vinyl records are created (they are made up of small grooves which the needle is lowered onto and spun on) every single part of the song’s analogue sound-waves is captured in the grooves. This makes them the only true lossless format of music. Whereas with digital music, a digital kit is unable to read analogue sound-waves. This means that they have to translate the waves into a digital signal and back again into sound-waves. This leaves some information lost or changed in the process, not giving the listener the true sound. For a personal experience, I remember playing a record for my brother and his reaction to a song that he had only previously heard digitally. He was taken aback by how you could hear every instrument more clearly and the vocals were smoother. Then he proceeded to ask me, “Why does it not sound crackly?” This crackly sound which many people prefer when listening to music on vinyl, occurs when dust and dirt accumulate in the grooves, causing the needle to jump and produce the noise.

Another reason why there is a buzz around vinyl is not to do with the music itself, but with the experience of buying the records. When you walk into a record shop you can expect to find a few old men looking at classic rock or jazz and possibly some hippie art students flipping through 60s psychedelic pop, but you are guaranteed to fall in love with the atmosphere. Spending hours flipping through rows of old and new records just simply cannot be compared to staring at a screen to select what song to listen to. The rush of dopamine you get when you find an album you like among hundreds of mediocre ones, going out with friends and spending a day looking at music, bringing a parent along and watching their face light up when they find something they “haven’t heard since they were your age,” are just a few of the great parts about going record shopping. Of course, if you are not into the whole social aspect of going out to buy a record, then you can find virtually any record online begging to be part of your collection.

The main reason so many people love vinyl records, including myself, is that they are a physical representation of the music. They can last decades while remaining in a relatively good state. This means that vinyl tends to be an investment for many people and that second-hand records are also very popular. With digital music, there is, of course, no physical representation of what you are listening to. You cannot buy music that someone has already listened to online, but when you buy a used record, you are physically passing music from one person to another. As they are physical, they can make great gifts for people. I have bought many people a vinyl record as a present as it is an easy option and always goes down well. Not to mention, the connection you build with the music while gently putting it onto the table, placing the needle down, and eventually flipping the side over is just far superior to simply clicking a button to play a song online. When I first got my record player my mum looked out a box of her old collection and passed them onto me, thankfully we share a similar music taste, so to my delight I found many albums I enjoyed that were still in good condition such as ‘A Tango in the Night’ by Fleetwood Mac and Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ and of course no vinyl collection is truly complete without ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order, but not only did I enjoy listening to these, it was also the connection I had while listening to the same vinyls my mum would’ve at my age that simply could not be replicated if I played them digitally.

If a problem you face while listening to music is figuring out what to play next, then you are not alone. When listening to music on streaming services such as Spotify, sometimes the endless options available can feel daunting, and often you spend more time looking for something to play than actually listening to the music. This is where I feel like the saying “less is more” can be applied, with many people nowadays not fully listening to an album and liking to jump between artists. This is harder to do so with vinyl, as the format forces you to listen to the majority of the songs on the album. This can be good for expanding your music taste by allowing you to listen to more from the same artist. Also, it relieves you of the pressure of, “What should I play next?” as another song will play automatically after the next. This way of listening to music can help you appreciate the effort some artists put into their work, as the arrangement of the songs can play a crucial part in making the music flow well together. Actually sitting down and engrossing yourself in what you’re currently playing is a much different experience than the casual way of playing something through Spotify.

However, many people argue against the use of vinyl. One viewpoint is that they are very fragile and can be easily ruined. Therefore, why would you want to spend money on something that could be rendered worthless so easily? While they are correct in some aspects, I believe that it doesn’t hold enough weight to deter vinyl lovers. Vinyls do need to be stored correctly to be kept in good condition such as; keeping covers on them, keeping them upright, making sure dust doesn’t get collected in the grooves, and the list goes on. Then, while you are listening to them, you should be careful not to make any movement that could cause the needle to jump and create a scratch, as that will lead to the record skipping and being unplayable. Similar to how you will find book lovers that scoff at the idea of downloading a novel on a Kindle as it doesn’t give the same experience as flipping the pages, the same principle can be applied to vinyls. Ultimately, you cannot create the same experience with technology. Taking all of this into account, the fragility of the vinyls adds to their value and makes you appreciate them more.

In conclusion, I believe vinyl is better than digital streaming, such as Spotify. You can find practically any album or song you like in vinyl format, meaning it is an option open to anyone who really enjoys music. Furthermore, the physical aspect of records helps create a deeper connection between the listener and the artist, and the casualness of digital music has, in some ways, watered down the potential impact music can have on people.


Callum Thomas: Primal Instincts

A subtle wind blew through the forest, the blazing spring dawn light penetrating through the leaves. A dappled green glow lit up the forest floor like a flame, dancing with the swaying of the branches overhead. Pebbles and stones littered the ground as he silently stepped into the babbling brook, almost spilling up over the top of his boots, quiver on his back.

Over the songs of the larks and rush of the stream, he could faintly hear his prey, one which he had been stalking since the break of dawn. A stag.

Stood proudly with its illustrious pelt shining in the sunlight. Its be-speckled coat was gorgeous, matched only by the nobility and beauty of the animal which bore it, with antlers which spread from its head like well-groomed branches of a tree.

Disappointed would he be if this was not a successful hunt and yet, something stirred inside him as he edged ever nearer to it. How sad it would be to see that creature mottled by the blood from its very heart. Such a majestic animal to be taken so cruelty by the need of his for food. But he did not have any other choice.

He walked as softly as he could, the twigs on the floor proving to be his biggest enemy, one wrong step and he would go without dinner for the fourth night on the trot. As it happened it was only a matter of time, soon his foot fell, and, crunch. He had not stepped on a twig but a branch and the sound shattered the silence of the wood like cannon fire. Slicing through the tranquility of morning. It was almost deafening, and it did not fall on deaf ears. No. The stag lifted its head cautiously, and looked around like he was trying to find someone in a crowd. And in the crowd of trees he spotted the boy rooted to the spot.

Countless things happened at once; the stag’s ears perked up, and the next thing that the boy knew it had turned tail and took flight. Simultaneously he had broken into a sprint in hot pursuit. All that he was thinking was that he had to chase this stag. He had to catch this stag. But then in the back of his mind he thought, ‘Why can I not let this beautiful creature go, I need not kill it, I’m sure I will find another.’ Quickly though, the part of his brain which was embittered by hunger and exhaustion quashed this thought, thinking only – I need food. Those primal survival instincts kicking in.

He thundered through the forest, his heart pounding in his ears, trampling small shrubs and the twigs which had first scared off the stag and leaping over the bigger logs. He fixated his eyes on the stag, though they were fleeting glances blocked by trees and boulders. Soon enough though it seemed hopeless, he had lost it. But spurred on by his hunger he kept running, following the tracks, which, with him, had left far behind by the gorgeous beast . Until suddenly he tripped. Falling for what seemed like a life time until finally he hit the ground. Then all went black.

He came to, but after hours, he could tell because the sun was now beating down directly over head. Dazed, he simply lay there, with a trickle of warmth dripping down his face, and falling into the pool of blood in which he lay. Tentatively he raised his hand to the side of his head. A throbbing pain coursing through his temple. As he took his hand away he saw to his horror, a hand covered in blood.

Despite this minor inconvenience he gritted his teeth and, with his resolution set, stood up. Then the world flipped upside down and then back, spinning like a top. He staggered maybe ten yards and then reached out for a nearby tree, missed and then fell to the ground again. But this did not deter him, he got back up and noticed where he was. A waterfall was draped down a cliff like a cloak into the shimmering pool in the valley. Water. That is all that went through his mind. He began to tentatively creep down the hill, grasping at anything he could for support.

His mind suddenly became clear, however, as he saw in the reflection of the pool that beautiful creature.  One with a be-speckled coat and sculpted antlers rising elegantly from its head. Bent down and taking a long drink. The very stag which he had stalked this morning. This was the very stag which he had foolishly scared away. This was the very stag which he had chased this very morning. This was the very stag which was the last thing he saw before all went black this morning.

He dropped to the ground, his view only obstructed by the shoots of flowers penetrating through the hard ground. He took his bow from his back and an arrow from the quiver. He cocked the arrow and waited. He could feel his heart trying to burst through his ribcage it was pounding so intensely. He attempted to judge the distance, forty yards. Easy shot.

He took a moment and looked at the stag, gaining his composure. He really didn’t need to kill it did he? The battle in his head between the admiration for the beauty of this stag, and his own primal instincts as old as the Earth which he stood on. He needed food and yet he couldn’t bring himself to kill this creature, such a crime to nature would leave a deep and indelible mark on his soul.

This stag was ultimately just the same as him though, a stranger going through life. It seemed so human in its actions, drinking as he would from that pool.  But the cave man inside of him longed for food. It longed for nourishment. And it beat back his instinct to let this magnificent stag go.

Resigned to his fate, he drew back the arrow until the cord was as tight as he could make it. And in that instant, for the second time that day it looked up and locked eyes with him. But it did not run; it too seemed resigned to its fate. Its big doleful eyes made a last plea to the boy. But he simply ignored it.

He breathed in, deeply. And then out again, and just as there was no air left to exhale, he released the arrow.

Joseph Green: Time to Knock Down Our Dark Past

The purpose of a statue is to honour greatness. Yet, Britain is peppered with statues to those who have harmed people, such as slave traders and colonialists. Events in the summer of 2020 sharpened the focus as the world reeled in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death. This was a symbolic catalyst. Since then, an incredible seventy UK statues, dedicated to slave traders, colonialists and racists, have been removed. But, far too many still remain. Dismantling such symbols of oppression is, in my opinion, entirely justified. Why on earth would we glorify those who wronged and harmed people?

Statues celebrate the glorious, so why keep the inglorious on display? Statues usually commemorate the honourable. Surely then, it is contradictory to keep those commemorating dishonourable slave traders. Who wants to immortalise those who traded in human misery? Until June 2020, Bristol city centre was dominated by the towering bronze figure of 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston. From the 16th century to the 19th century, an estimated 10 to 20 million slaves left Africa. Forced from their homes, and families, they were transported to the Americas to work in plantations. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most horrific stains on our humanity. Why then do we continue to accept the presence of statues to these ogres? And big names are among them: there is the famous explorer, and murderous slave trader, Sir Francis Drake; then there is Henry Dundas, a Scottish politician, who prevented the abolition of the slave trade for fifteen years after it should have been eradicated in 1792, which ultimately led to 630,000 slaves having to wait more than a decade for their freedom. After all, in other contexts, in other places, statues of the shameful have been toppled. Take the tearing down of a monument to Saddam Hussein, in 2003. Iraqi strongman, Kadhem Sharif “al-Yabani” Hussen took a sledgehammer and smashed the statue of the shamed dictator known as the ‘Butcher of Baghdad’. Obviously, he understood the contradiction of a statue celebrating a disgraceful man.

Moreover, since the UK is more multicultural than ever before, many are offended by the continued presence of statues celebrating colonialists. With changing attitudes, a large chunk of society now sees the British Empire as pernicious; yet, statues glorifying colonialists remain. Modern-day Britain is struggling with racial tensions, much of which springs from colonialism. These tensions are heightened by the myriad colonialist statues that still stand. Take the statue of Cecil Rhodes. Standing proudly outside Oriel College, Oxford, Rhodes is a controversial figure. Today, many view him as the 19th century poster-boy for everything that is disgusting about Empire. He epitomises white supremacy, colonialism and unalloyed racism. In 1895, his British South Africa Company established the southern African territory of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, as a British colony. In 2015, a protest group called Rhodes Must Fall, started at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, which also has a Rhodes statue. The movement insisted that it was not targeting Rhodes himself. Rather, that by continuing to prominently display the statue, it legitimises the colonialism he stood for. Surely, that is indisputable. His will leaves no doubt of this. In it, he admits that his, “… true aim and object whereof shall be for the extension of British rule throughout the world…” Surely, leaving Rhodes’ statue standing outside one of the most prestigious UK universities suggests that those in power still harbour visions of racial superiority.

Undoubtedly, many of our inherited statues are no longer compatible with today’s progressive values and so should be removed. They should be replaced with structures that are truly representative of contemporary Britain. According to the 2011 Census of England and Wales, out of a population of over 56.1 million people, 14% identified their ethnicity as non-White European. That’s 7 million people. Yet, out of the 950 UK statues standing today, a mere 16 are of black people. This is wrong. We need statues to represent who we are in today’s society. We need statues that represent how we want the rest of the world to view us. And surely that is not as a country where being white, being a man and being privileged is truly representative of the population as a whole. Therefore, it should be celebrated that in September 2021, a public statue was raised in Cardiff to Betty Campbell. Notably, she was not male, or white or posh. During the 1970s, she was the first black, working-class woman to reach the position of headteacher in a Welsh school. Just as notably, her statue was erected as a result of a public vote. Her school, Mount Stuart Primary in Butetown, Cardiff, was an example of, “…best practice in equality and multicultural education throughout the UK”. Therefore, the Welsh people who voted to commemorate her, in a statue, are sending out a vision of themselves as inclusive. And she is not the only person to have done good for their community. There are many people who could better represent our society. Marcus Rashford is a good candidate. There is already a mural to him in Manchester, which states underneath: ‘Take pride in knowing that your struggle will play the biggest part in your purpose’. In the summer of 2020, Rashford campaigned successfully for the continuation of free school meal provision for underprivileged children. Despite his wealth and fame, he exemplifies social conscience. Certainly, this is the image of the UK that should proudly beamed out – not that of a disgusting, colonial past.

However, the British Government does not wish to see such statues dismantled as it believes that they are part of our history. The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has stated that, “To tear [statues] down, is to lie about our history”. In fact, the Government is so concerned that it has brought in new laws to protect statues. These will ensure that historic memorials are ‘retained and explained.’ They think that it is a better to keep statues and have a plaque nearby to explain the actions – good and bad – of the person honoured.

If the UK Government believes statues to murderous slave traders must be preserved, why did Spain, Germany, Ukraine and Georgia, amongst others, tear down statues of equally murderous men like Franco and Stalin? For example, in 2007, Spain’s Historical Memory Law, demanded, “the removal of all Francoera symbols from streets and buildings”. In 2010, a statue of Stalin was removed from Gori, Georgia. Did these nations not care about history as much as Boris Johnson does? More likely, they wished to signal how much they disapproved of what these men did. The UK Government’s failure to recognise that the continued presence of statues, like that of Edward Colston, was offensive suggests that it does not wholly disapprove of how Britain’s wealth was built off the backs of enslaved people. Ben Luke, editor of the Art Newspaper agrees that, “Statues are not history; often they are impediments to truth because they are erected to glorify the powerful as a fig leaf for their flaws and iniquities.” Edward Colston was a powerful man who had many such flaws and iniquities, most prominently the enslavement of human beings. What is his statue if not a glorification of the slave trade?

Ultimately, no matter how greatly a city, or country, benefited, in the past, from evildoers’ contributions, this is nullified by the fact that they made that contribution at the cost of human lives. Statues to such individuals are an eyesore. They misrepresent what Britain wants to be today. Instead, we must strive to be what Robert Louis Stevenson described as an inclusive, non-exploitative community of, ‘multifarious, incongruous, and independent denizens’. And the statues erected must reflect this.

Bibliography: colonialists-removedacross-uk christophercolumbus-his-men-could-not-annihilate/ notable-women-inthe-us-180958237/ (David Olusoga historian) (,and%20explained’%20for%20future%20generations.&text=Historic%20England%20and%20the%20Secretary,in%20the%20most%20exceptional%20circumstances.

Peter Inglis: The Food Trolley Lady

‘It’s that time again’ she thought to herself, while tearing off a piece of some sort of stale bread to dip into her soup in the Hogwarts staff room. She slipped on her red cotton tank top and headed to the secret nook she had found a few years ago. This was her place, where she did it every year. She swished her wand a few times at a large silver trolley as blue and pink sparks spewed out of it and just like that the trolley was filled to the brim with every kind of magical sweet you could imagine, with a little tray on the side for the money.

The small, old lady hobbled along to Dumbledore’s office to say she was off. After a brisk and painful walk to the train station she made it just in time for the departure to Kings Cross, platform nine and three quarters. She was hoping there weren’t any nasty first years this time. She looked back into the past when Fred and George had joined Hogwarts and played a nasty trick on her by giving her the teeth of a rabbit, meaning that every carriage she went to she got lots of strange looks and sniggers.

The train had arrived and crowds of children with all sorts of things with them piled in, looking for sweets and seats. After a while of confusion and tearful goodbyes, the great steam-powered beast started to move again, letting out a blood-curdling scream of the whistle as first years scurried to try and find somewhere to sit. It was her time.

She went around all of the little pockets in the steam engine, saying the same thing every time in her soft old voice: ‘Anything from the trolley, dears?’ Usually people would just buy a few chocolate frogs or some Berty Bots jelly beans for a joke, or a group of Slytherins would rudely tell her to buzz off.  She didn’t like most Slytherins, because they were like spiders waiting to catch someone in their web of mischief.

As she made it to the final seating area and opened the slightly rickety door she immediately recognised a face she thought she would never in her lifetime see in person… Harry Potter. This was nerve-racking, as she thought he would be a mean, lean, cocky machine, but to her surprise, he seemed very timid compared to what she’d heard. She said her line and all he replied with was ‘We’ll take the lot,’ handing her a big pile of money. This obviously surprised the Weasley who was sitting across from him as well, with his bright ginger hair and many freckles.

And that was her shift for another year, and it was a good one at that.

Eva McGhee: The Food Trolley Lady

I love my job. The kids are so nice, apart from a few who I won’t go into much detail about! If you didn’t already know, I’m the lady who sells sweets off the trolley on the Hogwarts Express. Now, I know you’re probably thinking that you don’t care and that this is going to be some boring story about my job because the kids don’t think much of me. I mean don’t get me wrong, they’re nice enough, they know their manners and thank me when they buy sweets off the trolley, but they definitely don’t think much of me. I’d be surprised if they even remembered what I look like! For example, not one of them said to me ‘good to see you’ or ‘how are you?’ But I’m used to it by now, I’ve been doing my job for years. Now, enough of me complaining! Let me tell you my story.

A long time ago, I went to Hogwarts myself. I was a pretty good student, straight A’s and generally good reports but I had this one teacher who hated my guts! Professor Dolicrumus. Stupid name, I know, sums up his stupid personality! I’ve heard some of the kids talking about Professor Snape and thought he sounds a lot like Dolicrumus. Although that’s just from what I’ve heard, he could be a perfectly nice man for all I know! But anyway, back to the point. Dolicrumus hated me and my best friend Lilly Potter. Her name wasn’t actually Potter, I just called her that because she had the hugest crush on James Potter and I knew he liked her too and I always knew that they were going to get married! Dolicrumus would always give us extra homework and random detentions for not knowing answers to really hard questions and would make us write lines which took hours, or at least felt like it! Lilly was a good student as well, we didn’t know why Dolicrumus hated us so much. Lilly said it was probably because she was in Griffindor, but I was in Hufflepuff but there was no excuse for me! He was the head of Slytherin, of course, with platinum blonde hair, and he kind of looked like a rude year 7 boy I served on the train a couple of days ago. Would be a coincidence if he gets Slytherin too!

Anyway, there was this girl, Estella who bullied me for not having enough money, for having hand-me-down robes and not living in a big mansion like hers. Although it bothered me, Lilly always stood up for me. She was very confident but I was very quiet and easy to pick on, so how we became friends, I don’t know! One day while Lilly was sick and was staying at the Griffindor dorms, Estella was horrible to me again. This had been going on for about a year now so I just FREAKED OUT, stood up and punched her. She was taken aback, especially since Lilly wasn’t there so there was no way she could back me up now. I was scared of what Estella was going to do to me. But she didn’t hit me back; she just fake-cried and screamed ‘in pain’. I didn’t know what to do. ‘Should I run?’ ‘Should I hide?’ Thoughts came rushing into my head but there was no chance: Professor Dolicrumus ran out of his office as if he had been waiting for this moment his whole life.

“I should have known it would be you.”

And with that, he grabbed me by the scruff of my collar and dragged me along the corridor, up the moving staircases and to the headmaster’s office. I remember crying because I felt so sorry for myself and because Dolicrumus was holding me so tight and it hurt!

And that was it. My Hogwarts journey over, and only in year 11… What were my parents going to think? Were they going to think I was a disappointment? What about Lilly? She wouldn’t know what had happened to me. I cried and cried. The saddest part was, I never got to see Lilly again.

I didn’t know what to do for a job since I couldn’t just get a normal job in the muggle world, since I’m a witch of course! So I begged the headmaster for a job at Hogwarts. I was willing to do anything! But he said no. So I finally found a job here. A train worker. Pathetic, right?!

I always wondered what happened to Lilly, and if Dolicrumus was still nasty, but that was an obvious! Then 11 years ago, I heard the news… Lilly was dead. It broke my heart. I cried for weeks and despite me having been her best friend up to year 11, I couldn’t go to her funeral since I had been expelled from the school. What if I could have helped? What if I could have been there? I really regret punching Estella. I wish I could have said goodbye to Lilly.

Then, on the train, I heard the kids whispering ‘Lilly and James’ kid’… ‘Yes, yes Harry Potter’. My eyes lit up but then again, I thought it must be a joke until I went into a carriage and saw him. Those eyes. That scar. Definitely Lilly & James’ kid. I asked him if he wanted anything off the trolley and he replied “We’ll take the lot”. I thought he was joking until he pulled out so much money! It was more than I’d ever seen in my life all at once! It was crazy! Exactly what Lilly would have done, I thought. I gave him the sweets and left. I didn’t want to embarrass him.

Besides, he probably doesn’t know who I am because after all, I am just a failure who was expelled from Hogwarts…

Aoife Toner: Gorilla

He’s built like a ten-storey building

Eyes like two glowing full moons

Muscles like a seven-foot bodybuilder

Pupils like lumps of coal from Santa’s naughty list.

He lumps along like man and load,

Swings through the trees like Tarzan himself,

Or glides through the jungle like a jet-ski on waves

Gobbling up everything in his way.

He lives in the jungle with trees so high,

Rivers flowing fast to cool him down.

Treetop platforms make for great naps,

Sun blazing warm all day,

Until it sets at dusk

And he begins to snooze,

Snoring like a grandad in a deep sleep.

Darcey Kerr: Panther

Fur as dark as midnight’s sky,

Eyes as orange as summer’s first dawn.

With a calls that could break the deepest of sleeps,

And stride so strong and powerful.

The panther darts and dances and dives

Gliding along the damp forest floor

He cries with the might of a million years,

Alive in the buzz of the deep green maze.

He will sing his song of hope and glory,

And speak his words with tenderness and love.

Yet the panther is watched by the animal kingdom,

As they gaze at the creature with a fearful stare.

Rory Conway: Tomorrow

Mr. Sweeney sat alone on the fourth floor of the library almost directly underneath the sign for the expired books that read ‘PUBLIC DOMAIN’. He sat with his legs crossed and the lid of his pen between his teeth. His hair was overgrown and the humble beginnings of a poorly-kept beard were visible. Outside it was warm. Inside he wore a dark tweed jacket and trousers that rested on him loosely. The sun was bright and illuminated the threadbare carpet. It glared on the dust that came from the carpet with every step.

         “Good afternoon”, the librarian said. The wrinkles around her eyes smiled at him. He had known her for years but didn’t bother to learn her name. He had no reason to.

         “Is it?” he replied. The librarian tensed quickly and returned to her screen. She should be used to him by now. The ageing woman addressed him slyly. “You should be out, no? You’re wasting a day like this.”

         He glanced at her as she spoke mindlessly at him. He hadn’t ever looked at her long enough to see past her tired blue eyes. She had a face that seemed to fade as quickly as the cries of a hungry child. Her fingers were long and told of her age. She wore a modest ring, likely engagement, but had no wedding band. He got back to his work.

Some time had passed. He had flicked through a number of children’s novels before returning ‘We’re going on a Bear Hunt’ and deciding to leave. His eyes pointed from person to person. Students sat, just as countless others had for years, studying for the same exams that occur each year. ‘Why them?’ he thought. A life so easily replicated. He stopped himself. He didn’t want to think this way during the day. They shifted in their seats as he passed them like a cold breeze from the warmth of outside. He noticed but did not care. The door before him opened politely but he didn’t move. He heard a shyly muttered apology and saw the reflection of a young woman in the door. His breath shortened. She seemed just years younger than him but he felt decades older. Her hair was long, like her’s was. Like her’s, her hair was perfectly curled at the bottom to rest just above her waist. He remembered that day they came home from the library together. She wasn’t behaving like herself this day. Her steps were nervous and her eyes wandered from him tentatively. It was the day she decided to abandon their studies and it was the last time they would see each other. She announced with ease her departure.

         “What?” he muttered.

         She repeated herself. His jaw tightened as he shrunk under the weight of the news.

         “I’m leaving,” she said coldly. She explained how she couldn’t ‘fix’ him and that he needed help.

         “I’ll call you,” she promised. He waited for her to call but she never did.

         His feet remained still as he stared blankly at the woman in front of him, trying to swallow the lump building in his throat. She had crossed her arms before reaching into her bag. She seemed awkward and wanted to look busy. She excused herself and he kept moving, but his mind stayed right where she left him.

His head hung low as he walked home against strong winds. Leaden clouds were moving above the trees that lined the pavement. It had gotten dark and he could not escape the echo of her final words to him. The streetlight was very bright in the darkness of his cul-de-sac. It cast light on the impressive home he occupied, and the dignity that he had lost. It was once a fine home. It hosted respectable parties. The walls, plastered blue, had heard the sound of first words and honest laughter. His car that sat parked across the street wasn’t always that dirty. The ivy growing over his windows was once kept at a careful length. The grass outside his home hadn’t always crept up beyond the windows of his front room. The nursery, now with four yellowed walls, was once home to teddy bears and tired eyes at 3 A.M. awake for feeding.        

         He knew he had veered off course but didn’t bother to straighten himself out. What was the point? He never stopped going to the library, but he would sit at night alone. The TV would play something he wasn’t interested in. His books would collect dust and lay untouched. Sometimes, looking at the dull cards that had sat for years on the mantelpiece, he would think. Initially, he would think of the gifts of clothes that would “fit when he’s a bit older” that went to waste. He would think of the money innocent relatives spent on a life never to be lived. He would blame himself for not thinking to donate what was left. And then, he would blame himself for not being the one that was taken. They called it ‘survivor’s guilt’. But he was only a child. He was so harmless and vulnerable, yet so overlooked. How could he be wrong for wishing it was him instead?

The evening had passed and with it the winds grew fiercer. By now he had drunk so much that he didn’t know if he was sweating or crying. The winds on the door grew into a knock and he struggled to his feet. It was his sister. She tried to see him often but he rarely complied.

         “Hi, Jill,” he said. She immediately embraced him and his attempts to forget the significance of the next day failed. She welcomed herself into his home and handed him flowers from the nearest shop and a small card. A cartoon bear held a sign that reminded him she was “Thinking of you!” They sat together for some time but he could never recall what they were talking about. He could tell she was growing frustrated but hid it well.

         “Do you want anything to eat?” He realised he hadn’t offered her anything yet. She followed him into the kitchen.

         “I’ll help myself. Sit down, will you?” She replied as she rummaged through his cabinets. She was wearing an expression that told him she had news she didn’t want to share with him. He was right.

         “I’ve met someone. Finally.” she confessed. “I’ll be moving again. Further, this time. I’ll come and visit when I can, but it won’t be as often. I – I’m sorry.” Her words trailed off as he tried to find something to say. He gave a slight, involuntary sigh. He had the urge to tell her all that he was feeling. He wanted to make a joke of it, lighten the mood, prove to her that he was better. But he would never get better, nor would he ever want to be, he thought. What was the point?

At last, she left. As she floated out the door she rhymed off that he could “call me if you ever need anything” and that he was “doing him proud”. He heard her car door slam shut as the headlights of her car beamed in to his front room. As her engine roared into the distance the silence returned and once again engulfed his home. As he shut the door he threw the supermarket flowers away. But he couldn’t bring himself to toss the card. He read it over and over. Eventually he sat down again and reached under his sofa for the only toy he kept. He held the old teddy for a moment. Its glossy eyes seemed to stare at him and he could see his reflection. He thought of all the toy bears he had been given since he passed. With every one, he was told it would get better with time, but he knew it would never really leave him. He knew in that moment that people would leave and find happiness, something he couldn’t provide, and no one would really stay. But, at least, this would.

He lay alone with the stuffed bear by his side. It had gotten cold but he hadn’t bothered to pull up a blanket. He looked at his alarm clock, whose red lights read 02:36. The cold night breeze outside rattled onto the windows of his bedroom as his mind drifted. He thought of the bear that comforted his chest, moving as he breathed. He marvelled at how animals of such force had been reduced to this. How his son’s life had been reduced to this. He thought of their struggle, always alone and never settling down, but always ready to escape. He thought of how they were lured in with promises, only to be shot down. His chest swelled as he imagined their helpless defeat displayed as a human victory. Like them, he lay exiled from the peace and life he longed for as he submitted to the fatal listlessness that would consume his tomorrow.

Arianna Connelly: Bassiano’s Monologue

Gold. Silver. And lead. Hmm, which I shall I choose? Gold, a beautiful metal, would symbolise materialistic and valuable possessions; however, a sense of greed…  Silver, despite its preciousness, it’s not as quite luxurious as gold – perhaps displaying a cautious greed… At last, lead. Lead? I wonder why lead is present within the range of these caskets. Lead portrays warning and danger; if so, I’d risk anything for my beloved Portia – in spite of the consequences. I have nothing to offer but my love for her, I don’t own anything as exquisite as gold nor silver which is why I’ve made my decision to settle with the lead casket. Portia is more than a priceless necklace or a shimmering crown. She needs someone who would risk everything for her, a brave and courageous man like me! However, I can’t stop contradicting myself. I couldn’t bear the thought of some disgustingly rich prince stealing Portia away as some type of reward or to boost his ego even more plus benefiting his wealth.

The lead casket is calling to me. I can hear the words, “Open me, open me” repetitively spiralling in my head. The words get gradually louder and louder- until I reach my hand out.

I examine the casket carefully, the chest is made from a humble metal, and within the chest, I encounter a picture as well as a poem of Portia. I glance at the poem, scanning every cursive word. And just in that moment, I realise that I have opened the correct one! I’m still in disbelief that I have obtained the fairest woman within the land. Oh, my sweet Portia! Even the moment I laid my eyes on her I was captivated by her enchantress; her long, luscious hair as it glistened in the sun and her angelic ocean eyes hypnotising me into an extraordinary spell.

Nonetheless, the lead casket recognises Portia as herself. Portia won’t remain young and beautiful forever. Eventually she’ll grow to be old and plain – despite it, her inner beauty will last for eternity, furthermore my unconditional love.

*  *  *

Finally, the day arrived when I married my true love. I felt superior as numerous amounts of maids were either polishing my shoes, delicately washing my suit or fixing my hair with many applications of gel. I already felt one step closer to being a king. I was escorted to my bedroom, the maids insisted of cleaning my room before my arrival. As I entered the room I was continuously gazing at the magnificent golden decorations throughout the room, appreciating every amount of detail. Most importantly a gigantic bed full of soft clouds – it was very tempting to lay amongst it, however I managed to resist the urge. I was startled by the loud knock from the door; it was Portia’s lady in waiting, Nerissa? I’m positive that was her name. She led me to the church, to end up discovering that the whole nation was invited! A wave of terror washed over me. My heart was pounding. Palms sweaty. Knees trembling. Nevertheless, I managed to relax myself – breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out. Slowly, step-by-step, I made my way towards the altar, patiently waiting for Portia. As the doors slowly opened, an elegant melody began playing – and as they widened, Portia finally appeared. As she walked along the aisle the church began to brighten in her presence. She was breathtaking, radiant, glamorous – no possible words could describe how perfect she looked. I held her hand tightly, with a beaming smile upon my face. I looked deeply into her eyes and said…

“I do…”

Tom Ralph: Maria Antonia

This feeling.

I wouldn’t call it shock, we all knew this was coming.

Maybe a twisted sense of relief. Relief that the wait is finally over. That the blade hanging over my neck has finally dropped.

I know what’s coming. I’ve seen what they write about me; how I plunged the nation into poverty, how I have no understanding of the real issues the people face. They see me as a monster, some kind of beast whose only goal is to ruin the lives of my countrymen. They turn those who wronged me into heroes and those who helped into demons. It seems they want nothing more than for this country to fall into ruin, as long as it is at my hands.

Who blames the naive king when there is an evil queen?

I am told Louis is trying his best to calm the mob. He has invited some of those desperate enough to march on the palace to negotiate, meanwhile – much like the rest of my life – I am kept in a bedchamber and told to look wait and pray for the best. Just like a butterfly, I always thought, admired for its beauty but caught, killed and displayed if the chance arises.

What these revolutionaries fail to see is that I tried to help, but I am always dismissed. Louis doesn’t acknowledge my solutions, in fact, he doesn’t acknowledge me much either, I think he’d rather have married a lock and key than me. After all, he’s always made it clear his only true passion is locksmithing. Sometimes it seems I spend more time fretting over the economic crisis than he does. I tried so hard to be the perfect wife, but instead of praise my efforts were met with rumours of affairs and scandal, and there was a time I had to accept my tastes are not those of the king.


It takes me a moment to realise that the noise is coming from the door rather than outside.

The children. The thought I’ve been trying to ignore for the past however-many-hours comes before I can stop it. I see my knuckles whiten as my fist tightens around the door handle.

“Now is not the time for rage, Maria” I tell myself softly, “It is not just your life that depends on it.” And with that, I reluctantly open the door.

I breathe a sigh of relief when I am met with the timid face of a servant rather than one of those grotesquely distorted by rage banging on the palace walls.

 “Sorry to disturb Mademoiselle, but the King requests that you ensure you are proper in case your presence is needed,” she said. Of course, even in the face of death, the King does not trust me to handle myself.

“Merci, there is no need to continue. You can be assured that I need no one’s guidance in anything concerning propriety.” I watch as she scurries away, clearly relieved to no longer be addressing me, and that never stops being painful. I turn around and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Louis was correct. If I am to appear, even for my death, I must look proper and now I look anything but it.

Something people don’t understand about being a queen, dressing is a difficult task.  Of course, I usually have people to help but I think being alone is the best thing for everyone right now. I look past my most extravagant wigs; now isn’t the time, the people will be angered enough by my presence alone, they don’t need any more fuel for their hate. It may sound ridiculous but knowing what to wear isn’t easy, you have to balance showing no weakness; your allies and enemies can’t see us as any weaker, but dressing lavishly will make the poor hate us. It seems everything I do as Queen is unnecessarily complicated. It’s certainly not what I had in mind when I was told at 12 that I was going to be whisked off to France to marry some prince. It sounded like a fairy tale: too good to be true and quite obviously it was.

I decide on a rather simple pouf style, something more humble while still showing a sense of power. Looking for a necklace, I reach out for a larger diamond one, but I think better of it. It was only a few years ago the ordeal now referred to as the affair of the diamond necklace took place, while some may think nothing of it I have been told the woman who masqueraded as my friend has been turned into somewhat of a hero. It’s utterly ridiculous, that swindler is being praised for breaking laws while I am made into some sort of puppet master of the crimes.

Now I can hear the hustle from outside the palace walls, it appears that this is indeed the end of this fateful facade of power which has been rather pitiful of late. That seems to be a common theme in my life recently, everything around me decaying while we simply watch, doing nothing to stop the now-recurring pattern of a rich man’s disregard leaving destruction and dolour in his path. Often it feels as if no matter how many homes for mothers I open or royal property I sell to help the poor there will always be a rich man, emblazoned by a life of privilege, willing to send men to their deaths and empty our treasury rather than bruising his already undeserved ego.

Now I can hear footsteps coming down the hall. I edge slightly closer to the door to listen for any clues to my fate. There are voices. Even from a distance, I can tell they don’t belong to the servants.

Louis failed.

Instead of panicking, I do what I must. I must be a queen. I return to my seat and wait. It’s rather poetic is it not, the people were made to wait to gain their power, and now I must wait to lose it.

I watch the door handle as it is pushed down, such a mundane thing turned into a death sentence, the reality that there is no escape. The man swings it open and says two words. The two words that have haunted me for the past twenty years.

The words which marked the end of my life in Austria.

The words which now mark the end of my life in France. “Marie Antionette.”

Ruaridh Kelly: Norse mythology

It was calm for once near the cliffs of Midgard, the Centre of the Universe. The winds were gentle and somewhat quiet, so you could hear the waves smashing themselves on the rocks below. The waves punched and crashed into the stones hard, over and over again, making the rocks shine black as the waves drenched them. Rising above the water, on top of the cliff was a beautiful patch of greenery stretching as far as the eye could see. The grass was as green as the most prestigious of emeralds; the bluebells as cool in colour as ice and the daises as white as the snow on the high mountain tops overlooking the meadow. There was a single flower however that captured the most attention. A scarlet rose lay in the middle of this majestic meadow. There was no other flower like it. The rose stood near a large stone facing the sea, as if it was guarding this stone. Suddenly the winds began to change. They became heavier and more violent and the waves too became almost angry. Then, as if nothing had happened, back to calm. Someone had arrived at the meadow. That someone, was a god to the mortals of Midgard. His name was Thor, the God of Thunder.

Thor was taller than most of the men of Midgard and struggled to fit through most doors. He was stronger than any wild beast that wandered the land and could cause the trees to fall with his fists alone. He had a magnificent flowing red beard and hair. The colour was similar to that of a dragon’s fiery breath. His garment was an earthy brown with a fur shoulder wrapped around him to protect him from the bitter cold mountains. The helmet he wore was gold plated with two large antlers sticking out. His whole presence was menacing to every enemy he faced. As he walked he put his left hand out to feel the breeze and the long stems of grass. In his right he wielded his mystical weapon, Mjolnir.  It was grey like the rocks of the cliff and was in the shape of a blacksmith’s hammer. It was immensely powerful as it could summon lightning strikes and storms with a simple command.

Thor wandered through a plethora of beautiful violets and lilies until he reached the tall stone and the rose at the meadow’s heart. He sat before it, placing his hammer on the earth. Carved into the stone was the name of a woman who had been close to him. He looked at the date. He had actually forgotten how long ago it was. He had been on this Earth for more than 500 generations. Thor knew she was mortal and so it was inevitable she would grow old and wither. He missed her. Perhaps he had even felt what she had described as love.

As Thor pondered, he began to feel a cold sensation slither down his back. He looked to the sky to see it had turned to a white blanket, completely enveloping the once clear blue sky. He then felt snow fall on him, getting heavier and heavier, until it quickly completely covered the meadow. Thor in confusion looked to the distant mountains, and there he saw the behemoth. A Frost giant.

The frozen colossus marched through the high mountains and hill tops. The juggernaut’s footsteps obliterated everything in its path. Trees and boulders were destroyed in an instant. The size of the creature was unmatched to any other being Thor had seen. The beast was so large that it was almost touching the snowy clouds. No hair could be found on the frosty monster as every aspect of its body was completely frozen. Its eyes were as blue as the frozen sea. The teeth were jagged like chunks of broken glass. Its shoulders were wide and appeared to have sharp glaciers protruding from all over its body. A tunic that was old and withered attached to the giant but was full of holes and gaps. The creature grasped at what appeared to be a large rime axe which was almost as big as the ice giant itself. As Thor continued to gaze upon the beast, it seemed that it was also looking back at Thor. For a brief moment the being looked confused and even frightened, as if it knew what the Thunder God was capable of. The giant tried to flee from the mountains. The god knew he would have to act swiftly in order to stop this monster from escaping. He rose like an arrow above the bed of snow and into the clouds which darkened as he did so.

With the clouds turning as dark as night, Thor struck. The Thunder God was like an ant compared to this icy Goliath but carried on with a smirk on his face. He raised his hammer to the sky and soon enough heavy rain fell upon on the land and washed away the snow that had gathered by the colossus. Thunder boomed from the sky and could be heard by every living being in Midgard. With all this power granted to him, Thor gave a cry of attack and launched himself at the beast. As he did so, a lightning bolt struck the giant with a mighty crackle. Thor then slammed his hammer into the forehead of the frost giant. Cracks appeared across its skull and the lightning strike had blinded it in one eye. This juggernaut, although fatigued, did not give up and attempted to hit the Thunder God back with its ferocious axe. Thor, with his quick reflexes, managed to swiftly evade this deadly attack, and again flew to his opponent and flung his hammer. Thor had demolished the teeth of the beast. One more hit and it would not get back up. One more hit and it could not return to the home it was trying so desperately to reach again. For a final time, the giant lifted its weapon to try and defeat its foe. Thor was ready. The giant looked up to see a flash of light and could only hear the roaring of the thunder. The forks of the lightning strike had pierced through its cold heart, and then the all-powerful Thor smashed open the giant skull causing ice to splinter in all directions.

The giant crashed to the ground causing a shockwave through the earth when it fell. Its pain was relentless. It had never felt such a feeling as this before. It did not want to fight anymore, only to rest. The sad creature looked to the sky to see an evening sun shining upon the frozen behemoth one last time. And with that the giant closed its eyes to sleep and never again wake. Thor glided down to the corpse of the colossus. He then in surprise saw that a single tear drop had frozen on the cheek of the giant. Thor began to feel a sense of guilt and even felt pity for this fallen creature. Maybe he did not have to kill the wandering giant. Maybe there had been another way. Thor returned to the now dry meadow, and as he approached he could immediately smell ash and cinder. Thor found a crater where the flowers and stone once stood. A stray lightning bolt had destroyed the meadow, destroying the violets, the daisies and the once magnificent scarlet rose, as well as burning everything left. The centre of the stone had split in two and the name upon it could now hardly be read. This grave had belonged to someone. Thor turned his back and began to walk. That mortal being was no longer of any importance to a thunder god.

Orla Keenan: What Happened Next?

Lieutenant Kotler made his way into the trench, allowing his legs to collapse beneath him. The distant sounds of weapons being fired were slowly merging with a ringing noise that was growing louder by the minute. He had been here for so long that he was losing sight of who he was before. He could remember snippets, of a Bruno? or maybe a Gretel? He shook his head; he was being silly.

He slumped against the hard trench wall, knocking blades of grass over the edge of the trench as he slid down onto the floor. He found a ragged blanket to shield his clothes from the dirty floor. The ringing was becoming deafening. He looked up into the grey sky and pondered… where did he desperately want to be? He wanted to be back at the manor, being ordered around but warm and full. What did he want the most? To see his father again, he

He awoke with a gasp as rain hurled down on him. The trench floor had become somewhat of a mud bath and the mud was seeping through the rag. Though… something was missing… something he’d been listening to for what felt like years. The noises had stopped. It was eerily quiet. He reached out for a stray weed hanging out of the wall and used it to pull himself up. He peered above the wall. Just as he thought. No guns were being fired.

He slow rose out of the trench, stumbling over the loose dirt on the edge. His head pounded, his eyes couldn’t focus and it was just so hard to walk.

He reached the barbed wire, hesitating to look around. His hands automatically latched around the wire, he hissed through gritted teeth as he quickly pulled them back as the spikes dug into his skin. A mist hung over no-man’s land, helping the droplets of rain to blind him further. He clambered over the barbed wire, lodging a sliver of wood into his palm, but that didn’t matter. He was going to get into the Allies’ trench and stop the war and –


Jane Eadie: Twice Upon a Time in Hollywood

British singer Adele is set to star in a remake of Jonathan Demme’s classic psychological thriller The Silence of the Lambs. No, of course she’s not: if she were, you would not have been able to avoid the adverts in magazines and on the sides of buses for the last three months. But if she had been cast in such a role, would you have been surprised? You could see it happening, couldn’t you? Any film studio on the planet would love to make this scenario a reality but why should they jump at the chance to have Adele as the headline star in such a reboot? Is it because she has a proven track record as an actor? Is it because such a talented singer is likely to be able to mine their emotions to turn out a brilliant acting performance? Or might it just be because, with 60 million worldwide album sales to her name and a voracious fanbase, anything she is associated with is a sure-fire hit? 

The fact of the matter is that, regardless of how much of a dud your script might be, or how appalling an actor Adele ends up being, the chances are your movie will attract a huge audience and earn loads of pounds before the penny drops. It’s a scenario we see all too often: David Baddiel- comedian turned children’s author, James Corden- British comedy actor turned US chat show host, Madonna- pop mega star turned Golden Raspberry award-winning worst actress, or even Rylan Clark- talent show wannabe turned surprisingly credible presenter. 

My point is not whether these conversions are a critical success or failure (chances are they’ll at least make money), nor is it a criticism of these people themselves (who wouldn’t seize the opportunity if offered?). It’s that for every lazy decision to overextend and exploit the already famous, to bank on the bankable, there is the likelihood that a truly original, unique and as yet unheard voice gets stifled. 

There’s a laziness too in the assumption by Hollywood producers that the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio’s yet to be born son will grow to become a world-renowned actor. But it’s the same lazy assumption that fuelled the careers of Dakota Johnson, Jayden and Willow Smith, Lily-Rose Depp and many others who through no fault of their own, got their foot in the door. Would Lottie Moss ever have graced a catwalk if she had a different surname? Or Miley Cyrus have got a record deal? Of course, it’s not just in the entertainment business that nepotism flourishes but it’s somehow a bigger injustice, where there is such huge fame and money at stake, that someone should get their lucky break on the strength of their surname rather than their sheer talent and drive. Then again, does it not stand to reason that children who are brought up surrounded by famous parents, steeped in the world of show business, would not be attracted by the allure of the same career? And what’s to say that when a famous parent passes their surname to their son or daughter, that they don’t also pass down some of the genes that made them the stars in the first place? Who’s to say that Kaia Gerber wouldn’t have made it as a supermodel even if she hadn’t been the daughter of Cindy Crawford? And then there’s the fact that some famous offspring take a very different path than their parent: it seems difficult to believe that Stella McCartney could credit her ability to design a handbag from the fact that her dad was one of the Beatles. 

But my point here is that I’m not blaming the children or the parents, or denying that the former might be brilliants talents in their own right. My issue is with those in the entertainment industry who always seem too willing to default to the easy option – the lazy option – of trying to get ever more mileage from a limited pool rather than go to the effort of spreading the net that bit further and seeing what treasures lie in uncharted waters. 

It’s the same laziness that seems to prevail when it comes to the actual product: be it an album, a musical or a film. Whether it’s a reboot, a remake, a sequel or a translation of a foreign film, how often do we see valuable funding and studio production time given over to seemingly endless rehashes of previously successful books, films and music, leaving little room for nurturing newer talent with fresher ideas. A successful movie franchise like James Bond or Star Wars is one thing but at least there is a vague attempt to switch up the storylines each time. But does the world really need another adaptation of Little Women? Having had two BBC versions in the 1950s and in the 1970s and two animated series in the 1980s, as well as film versions in 1917, 1918, 1933, 1949, and 1978, there was arguably a case for there to be a slightly more contemporary version.  Having had that as relatively recently as 1994, however, why was there felt the need to churn out yet another mini series in 2017 followed by a seventh film adaptation in 2019. Let’s face it, the story was set in the early 1860s and it hasn’t really changed! 

With the recent release of the latest instalment of the current Spiderman franchise, featuring Tom Holland’s incarnation of the friendly neighbourhood superhero, we start to wonder how long it will be before he is ditched in favour of another series reboot featuring an even fresher face, like Andrew Garfield and Tony Maguire were before him. Since 2002, we’ve had 3 remakes of a series of 3 movies telling essentially the same clearly money-spinning story to 3 successive audiences. That’s not to say that there’s not an appetite for this type of stuff – I speak as someone who’s seen all 9 and counting! – but it’s so obviously driven by money over original creativity and the laziness of Hollywood producers turning out batch after batch of a winning formula rather than experimenting with some new ingredients.

If that’s not lazy enough, did the producers of the 2021 reboot of the 6 season 2007-2012 phenomenon that was Gossip Girl even get out of bed to decide that a remake was a good idea? With the original cast still young enough to play themselves and the still teenage audience getting a strong sense of deja-vu, how long will it be before we see a series starting to be remade before the original version has even finished its run? 

If there can be any legitimate justification for this for this lazy approach to producing works of entertainment it’s that audiences feel comfortable with names and faces, characters, scenarios and even plots they’ve grown familiar with. Just about everyone on the planet must’ve tuned in, whether by accident or design, to an episode of Friends that they’ve already seen but that hasn’t stopped them continuing to watch to the end. Perhaps the laziness of the producers, agents and promoters is fuelled by the fact that they’ve recognised that audiences are lazy too!

Ultimately though, the pursuit of art and entertainment relies on new faces, original ideas and unique talents. Classical music would never have moved on without Mozart. Art would never have moved on without Picasso. Bob Dylan moved the dial, not his son, Jakob. It was the original Star Wars in 1977 that really pushed the boundaries, rather than the concluding chapter in 2019. It’s the original raw talent that needs to be sought out and given a break. That’s where the creative and entertainment industries ought to be channelling their not inconsiderable energy and resources. Although there’s a cosy satisfaction to be had in reading a novel written by a familiar name, watching a tv series with a well-known actor or seeing a film adaptation of a much-loved classic, it’s time to wake up and realise that the truly thrilling and rewarding is only to be found in encountering a piece of art, literature, film or music that is utterly groundbreaking. Whether it’s the talent spotters that discover, the agents and producers that nurture or the audiences that consume, it would be refreshing to see a bit more effort. Let’s stop being lazy and clinging to what we know already. Let’s embrace the new.


Louise McFadden: Unhappily Ever After: The Harmful Effects of Traditional Fairy Tales on Children

Once upon a time there lived a little girl who was captivated by fairy tales. At bedtime, she listened carefully to her mother’s voice reading the stories aloud, and gazed at the colourful illustrations which brought them to life. Every night, disturbing thoughts of wicked stepmothers, children abandoned in forests and wolves devouring grannies swirled around her young, innocent mind. Such cruelty and brutality are common themes in traditional fairy tales, leaving many children terrified and anxious. Considering this, as well as the sexism, lack of diversity and questionable morals displayed, is it any wonder that little Louise grew up and felt the need to write an essay condemning these damaging and outdated stories?

Murder, kidnapping, mutilation and cannibalism: these are just some of the atrocities that make traditional fairy tales inappropriate for children. According to the historian and mythographer Professor Dame Marina Warner, as well as the fairy tale expert Professor Jack Zipes, many stories were not originally intended for children, but for adults. This includes the popular Brothers Grimm stories of the 1800s, such as ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, ‘Snow White’ and ‘Cinderella’. The earliest adult versions of ‘Cinderella’ contain gruesome details – the ugly stepsisters amputate their own toes to fit into the glass slipper, and later their eyes are pecked out by birds. Originally, in ‘Snow White’, the wicked stepmother is made to dance in red-hot iron shoes until death. Lovely. While some stories have been rewritten over the years in an attempt to make them more child-friendly, a disturbing amount of death, brutality and abuse remains. For example, do you think a story about abandoned children being lured into a cannibal’s house sounds appropriate for a four-year-old? It sounds like the plot of a horror movie. According to Reader’s Digest, ‘Hansel and Gretel’ was one of the nine most popular fairy tales in 2021. What makes this worse is that, like many other fairy tales, it was based on horrendous true events. Many real-life children were abandoned, some even eaten, during the Great Famine of 1314 to 1322. Many parents don’t know the origins of these stories. If they did, perhaps they’d think twice about sharing them with their children. Some, however, do realise the anxiety caused by the cruelty and gore. A OnePoll study in Britain in 2018 revealed that a third of parents said their kids cried at Little Red Riding Hood being eaten by the wolf, and over a quarter change the stories they read to their children. It goes without saying that parents shouldn’t have to adjust the barbarity in their children’s stories – there should be no barbarity to begin with.

As well as the wicked violence of the stories, the endemic sexism also has a damagingly corrosive effect on children. Hundreds of years ago, fairy tales were intended to teach boys and girls their roles. According to Liz Grauerholz, former Professor of Sociology at Purdue University, and Lori Baker-Sperry, Professor of Women’s Studies at Western Illinois University, in their study of Grimm’s fairy tales titled ‘The Pervasiveness and Persistence of the Feminine Beauty Ideal in Children’s Fairy Tales’ (2003), young women were to be “domesticated, respectable, and attractive to a marriage partner”. Why are we still indoctrinating children with outdated gender roles in 2022? Princesses in traditional fairy tales typically do housework all day, lack ambition and have zero independence. They have very shiny hair, though. In fact, the disturbing emphasis on feminine beauty is highlighted by the well-known quote from ‘Snow White’: “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” Grauerholz and Baker-Sperry’s study states that 94% of Grimm’s fairy tales mention beauty or ugliness. Pressuring young girls to meet impossible beauty standards is unethical and brainwashes them to believe that their appearance is their most important trait. It is not. Seriously, what sort of message are we sending our daughters? That they should sit looking pretty, waiting for a man to save them? Four of the most famous traditional fairy tales follow the recipe of the passive princess waiting to be rescued by the powerful prince – ‘Cinderella’, ‘Snow White’, ‘Rapunzel’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’. Girls can be so much more than this. They can provide for themselves. They can be the heroines of their own stories. Should parents really be creating a situation where young girls idolise princesses like the Little Mermaid, who sacrificed her voice for a man? As for boys, toxic masculinity is encouraged. Princes in the aforementioned fairy tales tend to have very little characterisation other than being the tough, heroic rescuers and protectors of women. We must stop teaching boys to be strong all the time and show no weakness, emotion or vulnerability. It’s unfair to weigh these restrictions and expectations on anyone, let alone a child.

Traditional fairy tales have a lack of diversity. If I asked you to imagine some characters from fairy tales, you would most likely picture young, white, able-bodied princesses with clear skin and twenty-inch waists. Princes tall and muscly, witches old and wrinkly. Where is the representation for children of colour, disabled children and the LGBT community? There’s no excuse not to include characters that these children could relate to. It’s extremely important to have racial diversity in children’s stories for children of colour to feel included and represented, and to prevent racism developing from a young age. Additionally, there is no body diversity. All characters (except villains because everyone knows that a character’s goodness is directly related to their physical attractiveness) are thin and good-looking. One exception is Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Ugly Duckling’ … who eventually turns out alright on the basis that he becomes a beautiful swan. Consequently, some children struggle with low self-esteem, continuing throughout adulthood. What harm would having some more inclusive stories with diverse characters possibly do to our children? Apart from making them happier and more empathetic?

The tales are crammed with bad morals and messages – poisoned apples, corrupting children’s minds, and giving them a twisted perception of good and evil. Every detail from the stories plants a seed in their heads. For instance, stealing and greed are condoned in ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ and ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’. When you see the Prince harmlessly kissing Sleeping Beauty to wake her from the evil fairy’s spell, your six-year-old sees that it’s okay to kiss people when they are asleep. Is it really true love’s kiss or is it sexual assault? Another example of an insidious message is in ‘Beauty and the Beast’. While there is some debate over whether Belle suffers from Stockholm Syndrome (a psychological condition causing hostages to develop positive feelings towards their captor), the story is nonetheless problematic. Belle changes the Beast, teaching him kindness and eventually transforming him back into a prince. Stop teaching young girls that it’s their responsibility to fix men who abuse them. In addition, distorted messages about romantic relationships create unrealistic expectations for children. Fairy tale couples are usually adolescent, implying that love is found easily and quickly, and is only for young people. This can lead to anxiety and depression even when the child is grown up, still looking for “the one”. Moreover, the fact that many tales end with a magnificent wedding insinuates that marriage is the ultimate prize and sign of success. This isn’t true. Love and success can come in many forms and it’s important to teach our kids different happy endings.

I’m aware of the argument that fairy tales improve children’s imaginations. However, they often simply can’t tell the difference between magic and reality. Over fifty American youngsters who kissed frogs hoping for a real-life prince to appear (after watching the Disney film ‘The Princess and the Frog’) certainly didn’t gain a better imagination – they gained salmonella poisoning. And to those who argue that the stories are entertaining – no one is saying that children shouldn’t be told stories, just that there are more suitable ones which could aid childhood development.

Traditional fairy tales do more harm than good. Perhaps if we replace these traumatic stories with ones that are enjoyable, while also being more up-to-date, ethical, inspiring and inclusive, we can all live happily ever after.




Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Fairy Tales

The Usborne Fairy Tale Treasury by Rosie Dickens

Zoe McGinley: Should Chocolate be kept in the Fridge or the Cupboard?

It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t like chocolate: we are a race of chocolate connoisseurs. There is no argument that the feel-good chemicals released from its consumption play a massive part in how so many of us find chocolate so delightfully irresistible. But the real debate is not about which satisfies the palate more between a Snickers or a Mars Bar, or even how each of us prefer to eat our Creme Egg? The much less documented but highly contested argument which has been splitting opinion between families and friend groups is… should chocolate be eaten straight from the fridge or not? Of course it should! There are simply no words in the English language that can fully describe the euphoric sensations of a cold Cadbury’s Marvellous Creations sweetly and tantalisingly caressing the taste buds.

Chocolate is a renowned and popular household treat today but, surprisingly, many people today aren’t completely familiar with the full history of chocolate. It is thought that chocolate originates back to the Olmecs in Latin America around 4000 years ago, who picked the fruit (pods) of cocoa trees, dried and roasted the beans and then used them to create a chocolatey liquid. There is some further evidence, centuries later of the Mayans who had created a warm ‘brew’ of ground cocoa seeds, chillies, water and cornmeal which they named ‘xocolatl’. By the 15th century, the Aztecs believed that chocolate was a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl and, realising its widespread demand and use as an aphrodisiac, used the cocoa beans as currency. 

Of course, overtime things like sugar and honey were used to sweeten the bitter taste of chocolate, which ultimately, led us to the birth of a new method where the cocoa butter was squeezed from the beans to make a powder which was mixed with liquid and then poured into moulds. Thus, chocolate had evolved from a tangy and presumably unpleasant drink into the sweet, deliciously indulgent confectionery we know and love today through the added genius of master chocolatiers.

When Swiss chocolatiers, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestle added a little milk powder into their cocoa mixture, this opened the floodgates for companies like Cadbury’s who had absolutely mastered the art of chocolate making by producing, in my somewhat connoisseur opinion, the best milk chocolate on the planet. Of course, others may contest that opinion but that’s not the issue I want to debate here – the real argument is whether chocolate tastes better straight from the fridge? Yes, we all purchase our daily or weekly (ok, sometimes monthly) indulgent supply straight off a room-temperature shop shelf, but I think that there is simply no better way to eat chocolate than straight from the fridge! Some agree, some disagree, and some just don’t want to admit that they agree. I fully understand that taste is subjective and this is all just a matter of opinion, however there is in fact scientific evidence to back up this delicious preference. An article from 2012 by Chemistry Matters states the reasons why chocolate does indeed taste better from the fridge. This is all to do with polymorphism which has the ability to form a solid to exist in more than one crystal structure. These structures are called polymorphs. It’s all a bit too technical to explain in scientific detail but, essentially, the ingredients in chocolate have numerous properties that react in different temperatures. Ok, you must be thinking what does this have to do with why we should store chocolate in the fridge? Well, in a nutshell (a Fruit n Nutshell) some polymorphs are too bland and too brittle on their own to act as chocolate and some other properties can change if left at room temperature therefore creating a distinct change in taste but, by storing chocolate in the fridge (a stage known as crystallisation) it prevents the polymorphs from changing as it would whilst sitting in a cupboard at room temperature. Basically, when chocolate is stored in a fridge it is of course colder which adds and an additional level of flavour to release tantalisingly over the taste buds as it melts in the mouth. 

This whole debate has proven to be somewhat contentious with a hugely divided opinion over the issue and not least within my own household. Yes, there are some ‘non-fridger’ members of my family who are brave enough to risk my wrath by having the nerve to remove our chocolate stash from the fridge by citing that it should indeed be enjoyed at room temperature. As a more heated debate ensued, we all agreed that the only way to settle the argument was to find some official conclusion from the big confectionery companies as they’re the experts, right? Wrong! In reply to a recent online blog which asked readers whether chocolate should be kept in the fridge or pantry, Cadbury’s themselves had indeed waded into the matter to state “Chocolate should always be stored in a slightly cool, dry, dark place such as a cupboard or pantry at temperatures less than 21C to ensure the quality isn’t compromised”. So who do we trust – those who spend years in university to become scientists or those who work in the factories watching the machines do the chocolate making? 

But what about melted chocolate? Well, that argument I understand, there’s nothing better than the experience of coming home to make a cup of hot chocolate after a long winter’s day or the texture of biting into a perfectly melted chocolate cookie straight from the oven. My question is, who would want a room temperature chocolate bar melting into your hands on a hot summer’s day?

Who are these “experts” to tell us the “correct” way to eat our chocolate when really, it all comes down to preference? Should we consider the claim from Cadbury’s that they know the perfect chocolate storage conditions for ultimate flavour when, in reference to their Crème Egg, they have devoted a whole advertising slogan offered back to consumer choice when they ask ‘how do you eat yours’? It’s also a safe assumption that the Aztecs would not have just believed their chocolate drink to have come from one god, but rather the ultimate gift from all the gods had they only had access to a fridge!

So now, I encourage you, stick your favourite chocolate bar in the fridge and tell me I’m wrong.


Niamh Graham: Is a University Degree a Requirement for Career Success?

Is it the end of the world if you don’t go to university after school? Most people’s immediate answer to this question will be, ‘Yes, of course you need to go to university if you want to succeed in life and get a good job.’ In fact, this is not true: you don’t need a university degree. There are other ways to go about getting your dream job. In fact, many people that have become successful have never even set foot in a university; many more dropped out, having not lasted long enough to get their degree. This essay will explore the reasons why not going to university may be better than wasting four more years of your life stuck in a classroom. 

One of the main problems for people thinking of attending university is whether or not they can afford it and whether the cost is really worth it. To answer the question – spoiler! – it’s probably not. With maintenance loans and tuition fees to pay, graduates are finding themselves in thousands of pounds of debt before they have even applied for their first job. In 2021, students graduating from English universities will have incurred an average student loan debt of over £45k, compared to almost £28k in Wales, over £24k in Northern Ireland and just over £15k in Scotland. So, you really need to ask yourself: is the money you’re willing to spend going to be worth it? Even after the financial risk there is still no guarantee that you will get a good, well-paying job. In fact, only 59% of those who qualified from Higher Education went on to full time employment. If the job you think you want to do does not require a university degree and further education, the solution is simple: don’t go. It’s not worth the time, the money or the stress.

Speaking of stress, a Uni Health study found that 80% of those studying in Higher Education reported symptoms of stress or anxiety, while NUS surveys found that nine in ten students experienced stress. Would you want to be spending an extra four years (minimum) doing more assignments and exams when it’s not entirely necessary? I wouldn’t. Taking work home is a fundamental part of university life. You are never finished. You always have something you should be doing instead of relaxing, taking a break or seeing friends and family. This results in feeling that, in those moments when you’re not working towards your degree, you feel like you should be.

Nowadays, after you finish university the likelihood of you getting your desired career from the course you took is diminishing. The job prospects for grad students is decreasing at quite a significant rate. Average student satisfaction rates (which take into account factors like support from university, quality of teaching/tutoring, course structure and, crucially, career prospects after graduating) have fallen consistently over the last few years. Last year, the government released sets of data about the career prospects of a degree, broken down by subject or institution of study. While some courses have great earning potential, the data showed that a large number of courses don’t lead to well-paid employment afterwards, which is why the majority of people chose to go to university in the first place. This is leading to an increasing amount of people who are realising that they don’t need a degree to secure the jobs and careers they want.

Lastly, it is a well-known fact that some of the wealthiest and most influential entrepreneurs in the world dropped out of college and university. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg are some people who left college before they could collect their diplomas. Lesson: you are still able to get a well-paying job without a degree. Here are some of the highest paid jobs in the UK that you can get without going to university: air traffic controller, digital marketing, SEO expert, white hat hacker, firefighter, offshore energy jobs, game developer, translator, police constable and entrepreneur. All of these jobs still pay a handsome amount of money and you can start them straight out of school. Your level of education does not need to define your career or your success. Just because you’ve got a degree doesn’t automatically mean that you are entitled to a higher salary: you have to earn respect in the workplace by showing what you can actually do and, of course, in some cases you learn much more on the job.

But I do also understand why some people choose to go to university. It gives you time to explore different career options and experience a taste of the different courses available if you haven’t decided what you want to do with the rest of your life. Going to university also gives you the chance to learn and obtain some very valuable life skills that you can take with you after you leave. Many of the people who go to university leave it blessed with long-lasting relationships with the people they met while they were there. The academic aspect is a big part of attending but it also gives you the chance to bond and connect with people who are likeminded and who enjoy the same interests that you do. And yes, there are of course a number of professions where you are required to have certain degrees before starting on the job.

In today’s world, there are so many more options and career routes that are available to ambitious individuals who are willing to roll up their sleeves and work hard. In fact, many of the professions that traditionally require a degree are now reassessing their requirements and route to qualification. The key to success is about having a focused approach to what you want to do and finding out as much as you can about that career. Speak to people who already do the job and be prepared to be flexible and to have the ability to adapt to circumstances and take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. More often than not, these characteristics make for a much more employable candidate than one who has a certain combination of letters after their name.


Philippa Keenan: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not.

He loves me.

‘How to know that you are in love’.

 ‘You can’t stop staring at them.’

Check. When I see him, everything else in that room goes dark, it’s like he’s the only thing that matters, he is the only thing that matters.

‘Time flies by when you’re together.’

Check. I’ve known him for eleven years, it feels like it’s all gone by in a couple of seconds.

‘You want to touch and kiss them.’

Check. The way he holds me in his arms makes me feel on top of the world, I never want it to stop. And when he kisses me, it feels like gold dust falling on my lips.

See, I am in love. It’s normal to get cold feet before your wedding, right? It’s normal to feel like your life is ending, right? I love him. I’ve loved him since we were sixteen. We grew up together. We got each other through the end of high school, college, my mom dying, his dad leaving. He’s the only boy I’ve ever loved.

Which makes me wonder; what if I had never met him? Maybe I would’ve became a doctor like I’ve always wanted to, and not a useless girl with a useless degree because, ‘why should you need a job if I can provide for us?’ Or maybe I would have travelled the world, gone to all the places I’ve always wanted to go to but ‘I have to finish my law degree, maybe we can travel another time’. I never planned on being the ‘trophy wife’, but here we are.

Its not like he isn’t good to me; anything I want I always get. Whether it’s a Chanel bag, or Dior perfume, or this massive rock on my finger. He ‘provides’ for me, we live in a big penthouse apartment overlooking Central Park. It’s a dream. We have five bedrooms, one for me and him, three for our future kids and a guest bedroom. It always feels cold in the house, he’s never home, just me in a big house myself. Maybe it will feel like a home when we have kids.

He loves me, he always tells me that. But sometimes, sometimes I don’t feel like he does. It didn’t use to be that way. But once he started working, he became angrier. He wasn’t the sweet boy I fell in love with anymore. Then it got worse: one day after a long day in the office he came home, dinner had taken a bit longer than usual and wasn’t ready. I’ve never seen him get so mad. It took me a while to cover the bruise, slowly I got better at covering them. No one knew, no one knows.

I’m getting married in an hour. I need to decide, do I go to the wedding, get married, have kids, grow old with the ‘love of my life’? Or do I run away, start fresh, travel, become a doctor? But who am I without him? The only ‘friends’ I have are the wives of his friends. The only source of money is from his pay check. The only life I’ve ever had is with him.

Suddenly I’m back in the room; I must’ve spaced out because now my hair and makeup are done. I wanted to wear my hair up, but he prefers it down. The room is in panic, we must be running late. I have 3 bridesmaids; my little sister, his big sister and my best friend. His mom is here running the show. Thank God for her, because she basically planned the entire wedding, apart from my dress.

My dress. It’s the dress I’ve dreamed of ever since I was a little girl. It’s slim fitting, mermaid shape, with a long train. It has white roses patterned all the way down it, it’s perfect. It’s the perfect dress, for the perfect wedding, for the ‘perfect’ marriage. ‘We’ve got to go! We’re running so late!’ I hear his mom shouting from down the stairs. We rush out of my room, down the stairs and into the limo.  

My hands are shaking. I’m really doing this. I’m signing myself away to this man, this life. Cooking dinner, gossiping with other wives, waiting for him to come home at night. Or finding out about his mistresses, covering bruises, convincing myself that he loves me. We are almost outside the church, the girls have music on, champagne is in everyone’s hands.

‘Why is everyone standing outside the church?’


Every head turns and looks towards the church. I can hear my heart pounding. My legs are shaking. Every girl is looking at me for answers, I am looking at his mom. We link eyes; she looks as worried as I am.

His mom orders the limo driver to stop. ‘Wait here I’ll find out what is happening.’ She opens the door and gets out.

The chat between the girls continues, more champagne is poured, more gossip is spilt. I don’t join in, however; I watch his mother as she approaches one of the ushers. The usher puts one hand on her shoulder, pulls her in and whispers in her ear. She looks at the limo and looks back at him.

Slowly she walks towards the limo and opens the door. ‘Can you all get out, please?’

She sounds pleading; something bad has happened.

The girls are slowly budging out and taking their champagne with them. It’s just me and his mom sitting there now.

She is upset, she’s crying.  

‘He’s not here, they can’t find him anywhere’.

He loves me not.

Niamh Jackson: The Butterfly Pin

Have you ever seen a pin, dropped in a crowded room? That was my life, a bustling room. Hundreds of things going on all at once. Until at one point everything stopped. Why did it stop? Well, that’s because somewhere along the line, somebody made the mistake of treading on that pin. The pin that I fatefully stepped on was Alma. It was my decision to do stupid things for love. But just like finding a pin in your foot, there was going to be blood. Blood that I had to live with, which stained my life forever. In that moment I didn’t care about the boy staring daggers at me. I didn’t care that hours later I had assignments due. I wanted to be with her. I shouldn’t have gone out that night. I didn’t think of the blood.

The investigation began on the 2nd of February. When interrogated, both suspects seemed to distance themselves from the victim.

3rd February – Interrogation Room: Suspect One

Oh yeah, Alma. That girl from art? She’s confident, way more confident than me at least. Maybe that’s why we didn’t get along. But what happened to her was a step too far. Listen, just because we weren’t ‘best mates’ doesn’t mean I’d do something like that to her. The night she went missing, I was home alone. 11 Priestly Gardens. We’ve never spoken outside of school, there was no reason for me to be with her that night. I don’t know why I’m here, my parents are going to kill me if they find out that I’ve been brought in by the cops. I don’t know what you want to do with me. I’m no expert, but you could try your luck with that girl from art class. She’s always had some obsession with Alma. Since day dot. Always staring at her. But what do I know, huh? I just want to get outta here. So if that’s all you wanted to get out of me, I’ll be on my way home.

3rd February

I couldn’t tell them the truth. My mouth was coated in the metallic taste of my blood. I’d been slowly nibbling at my lips as I was sat in front of the officer. I’d been summoned to the station earlier in the morning. I knew that they’d found out. I couldn’t tell them that this was all my fault. I couldn’t tell them that I was the one who had said she should go for a walk to clear her head. I couldn’t tell them that I was jealous of the girl in our art class. I couldn’t tell them that I was going to meet Alma the same night she went missing. I was going to meet her. I swear I was. I kept telling myself that she’d never want me. So I sat in my hallway. While she was pacing down the street, waiting for me to show up. I sat there, staring at the rough soles of my shoes. Eventually I shook off my nerves and left to catch up with her. I was too late. I should’ve gone. I should’ve been there. Those few minutes of contemplation would make the difference of whether or not she was alive right now; I think. I can’t forgive myself for that.

3rd February – Interrogation Room: Suspect Two

Alma. I’d heard of her. I’d talk to her in art, period five on a Tuesday. I didn’t know much about her but her art was beautiful. She’d use colours to communicate animals. Butterflies. She’d paint hundreds at a time. I’d never admit it, but I watched her from the corner of my eye. I couldn’t help it. She was mesmerising. I got lost watching her delicately swipe at her canvas. Each stroke led to another array of bright butterflies scattering across her work. I couldn’t imagine what she’s going through, but I’d never hurt her. She was perfect. Everything about her. On January 31st  I was starting my art project, due the following day. The only communication I had with her was that I tried contacting her about what pastels she’d use for her realism portrait. I didn’t get a reply. You can check my phone. I had run out of charcoal and it was late so all the craft stores would be closed. It sounds awful, but I wandered through her location on Snapchat. I had seen that she wasn’t home. She was near this address that I’d never heard of. It was called Priestly Gardens or something. I didn’t pay much attention to it. A few hours later I got a message. Through Instagram a guy from my art class who I’d never talked to before. I can show you the text, but from what I can remember he asked if Alma was with me. That’s when I knew something was wrong. I would never have spoken to him but he seemed really worried. I said I hadn’t heard from her but if I could help, I would. I’ve not heard from him since.

3rd February

She had called me that same night. She was alone. She was going to meet the guy from art. Apparently she hadn’t heard from him. He’s always hated me. I could see him scowling at me whenever I got too close to Alma. His eyes would burn into the back of my head. Especially in Tuesday art. I said that I was free if she needed a rebound. I could tell she was upset. When she agreed I quickly packed up some of my dad’s half empty gin and slipped out into the bitter night air. Christ, I wish I hadn’t been so eager. I’m the reason she was wasted and out of control. I should’ve stayed with her. Made sure she got home safe. I didn’t though. I met with her and we went out to the park. She was wearing nothing but a butterfly patterned dress. I offered her my jumper and she took it. That’s most likely how I ended up interrogated by the cops. The girl that went missing was last seen wearing my clothes. I couldn’t tell them that I left her crying for help.

19th July

I still think about her. I think about how I got jealous of anyone she spoke to. That guy from art class? I never spoke to him again, we occasionally catch each other’s eye. I can’t hate him, I can’t bring myself to. We’ve both lost someone we loved. Alma. God, Alma. I like to think of her as one of her butterflies from her paintings. Beautiful, bright wings sprouting from her back. Unlike her paintings that are now hung next to a memorial of her in the art classroom. She’s free, and she is as perfect as ever.

Finbar McGinn: Coronavirus and the Framing of War

“We are engaged in a war against the disease which we have to win.” – Boris Johnson 3/17/20

Anyone who has been paying attention to the news in the past year, no doubt, has been battered over the head with an excess of militaristic images and jargon, from Donald Trump declaring himself a ‘War Time President’ to the images conjured up in the mind of the ‘NHS frontline soldiers’ battling heroically against the ‘invisible enemy’ and the countless other expressions used endlessly. This incessant use of militaristic language and imagery by the government and the BBC has prompted a chain reaction of artists and public figures declaring N.H.S workers as ‘saints’ and even one image depicting them as blue-suited mask wearing angels with big fluffy rainbow wings and a glimmering halo. Anyone visiting from a year ago would be slightly baffled by the present canonisation of all NHS workers and the deification of the NHS, so what has prompted the shift in language and this drastic new appreciation of the NHS and those involved in the ‘fight’ against coronavirus?

Simply put, it is a popular method that governments across the world use to strengthen public belief in government policy by conveying a sense of urgency and emergency to the public through use of language and metaphors of war. Through the power of rhetoric and propaganda the public are led to believe that civil liberties must be curbed in order to ensure security or, in our case, health security; this process is also referred to as securitisation[1]. However, it is not by sheer rhetoric and propaganda alone that the government enacts its policy; it also employs the use of ritual. This is seen by how the framing of ‘war’ to the British Public is reinforced by the war-like rituals that the public participate in like, clapping for essential workers at 8pm weekly along with the pinning of rainbows on windows across the U.K to show solidarity and support for the ‘frontline’ workers. And of course, it wouldn’t be a true war without the essential war-time speech from the Queen in which she even went so far as to reference the classic WWII song, ‘We’ll Meet Again’ written for Soldiers leaving their families, drawing a tenuous analogy to their sacrifice to our own by our acceptance of Lockdown.

However, historically this is not the first time and only time this linguistic trick has been pulled and in fact, it has been quite popular outside the U.K. Like the U.K, the U.S too has had its fair share of attempts to ‘wage war’ on different issues; the ‘War on Terror’ and the ‘War on Drugs’ both come to mind. The U.S government’s attempt to use the language of war to strengthen public support in its varied political struggles against drugs, crime and terrorism seem to have failed miserably. Public support for both the United States Government’s attempt to crack down on these issues is at an all-time low and in the case of the ‘War on Drugs’ the Government seems to be effectively reversing its policy by gradual relaxation of rules surrounding softer drugs across a third of the U.S as well as some states like Oregon even going so far as to decriminalise all hard drugs. Despite its later failure the initial effectiveness of this policy was quite astounding. Take for example the so called ‘War on Terror’, which caused a significant and permanent expansion to security in Airports and resulted in what many people now deem excessive curbs to civil liberties. To show one of the ways in which the Government used the framing of ‘war’ to their advantage you need look no further than the now infamous Patriot Act. The supposed ‘Patriot Act’ was passed shortly after 9/11 by the Bush Administration in an attempt to crack down on terror by introducing extensions to legal privileges on wiretapping, enhanced surveillance and further loss to civil liberties. The importance of language is emphasised by the government’s decision to use the name ‘Patriot Act’ which obviously suggests that the bill is being passed by sheer patriotic good will. The War effort against Terror become patriotic, and skeptics are deemed as unpatriotic deserters. This is a great case study of how the language of war is used to enable government policy, but also shows one of the ways in which this method can often be dangerous as it permanently reduced civil liberties of Americans and empowered government surveillance of private citizens.

The question then arises, could the War against Covid incur a 9/11 of Health Security and of Security in general – a major health crisis that allows a government to implement sweeping curbs on civil liberties? Such an example of exploitation of a crisis occurred under Viktor Orban’s quasi-fascistic government in Hungary where ‘Orban seized wide-ranging emergency powers and the ability to rule by decree’ according to the Conversation. This clearly shows how the governments often uses issues of ‘National Security’ and the framing of war to expand its power in this one particular example. The results of military rhetoric can also be seen with Donald Trump declaring his campaign against the ‘foreign virus’ from China and even Xi Jinping, himself, calling for a ‘people’s war’ against the virus. What unites these two men in their choice of language is their use of ‘the war against the virus’ for political gain. Trump declaring the virus to be ‘foreign’ and from China simultaneously allows him to take a jab at the rising Chinese Communist Party as well as further raise fear about immigrant populations within the U.S. Although, Xi Jinping’s government has also made equally outrageous claims that the virus originates from the U.S to further hatred towards America and the Western World and expectedly, fixates his language around the ideology of Communism with talks of a ‘people’s war’ against the virus. This highlights one of the central problems of ‘waging war against coronavirus’; that the government can often use the language of war nefariously to gain and expand political power by any means necessary. President Trump’s framing of the enemy as foreign and from China unfortunately resulted in a sharp rise in anti-Chinese attacks across America, showcasing blatantly the potential harm of war rhetoric.

However, more consequential examples across Europe occurred when the different Nations collectively decided that the appropriate response to ‘the threat of the invisible enemy’ was to impose exceptional measures such as lockdown and other general restrictions. Thus, issues of freedom of movement and decisions to open shops became matters of national security and subsequently were decided and policed by a new unrestricted government, a situation unthinkable a year ago. And still at the end of lockdown, as the public desperately cry out for freedom by any means, the government seeks to maintain the securitization of basic civil liberties through use of vaccine passports and even facial recognition to potentially limit your vaccine skeptical uncle from ever entering a pub again in his life. Once again, the process of securitisation and the government’s use of the language of war to facilitate this process highlights the importance of rhetoric and language of ‘war’ in producing a less tempered acceptable attitude towards difficult but important decisions in the public made by the government. The ability to make going to the pub or attending a public event an uncontroversial matter of health security truly speaks to the supreme power of rhetoric and propaganda.

Because of the media and government’s use of ‘war’ rhetoric and the subsequent securitisation of civil liberties, my generation has never known a world without barriers at Christmas markets, machine-gun wielding police at airports and mass government surveillance of private citizens and it now seems that our children will never know a world without vaccine passports at pubs and facial recognition at football games.

[1] This is not to make a statement on whether or not it is justified in each instance to curb civil liberties in the name of security.

Alexandra Carson: Her Muse

The light peeks shyly through the curtains, diamonds sunlight flows, glowing rainbow hues onto the walls and illuminating the French flat, revealing the chic interior that matches the Parisian streets. Hundreds of similar canvases, each with their expressive colours, a wooden easel with slight stains of red and the light slithers across the floor and climbs up the beige walls, the purple curtains and into the bedroom. It is the stage on which her ideas perform. Arisen from her slumber, the dark bobbed woman opens her eyes to the warmth masking her face. Her silk pyjamas slide across the bed as she slithers off to her feet. She makes contact with the freezing floor, silently stepping to her wardrobe, floating, to grab her light brown trench coat. She walks through the open space admiring her quirky furniture and her exciting art. Her portal of inspiration. From her window comes a refreshing gust of air, enlivening the senses and relaxing breath.

The city has a heart, a rhythm and a beat, its blood is its people, and its beat is the people walking, and she can feel this from her balcony. Her eyes are diligently watching over her city, her eyes moving from one person to another, examining each one. Who will be her next victim? She has never painted a boring person. Luckily the streets of Paris cannot produce one. Everyone flows with such grace, each with their own quirky style, not afraid to be an individual and yet fitting the aesthetic of her city. Walking across the road is an elderly lady with her silver hair shimmering in the suit, oversized sunglass making it seem as if she is some Hollywood actress and a monochrome pink outfit. A young blonde woman with a scarf tied into her hair, a dress overall layering her striped shirt ridding her green-blue bike with a wooden basket in the front containing some beautiful flowers; or the elderly gentleman walking with a skip in his step in his bright shirt and tie, beret, dark emerald suit and same coloured trousers that are short enough to show his brightly coloured socks that are long enough to reach into his trousers. Or the young man, she has seen him before; he walks past her flat every morning in his expensive suits, shined shoes and slicked-back hair. Like every other morning, he opens the door to the beautiful bakery; when looking, you’d think the glow was coming from the pastries. She should probably go there one day.

She remembers her first; it was where she gained her passion. It was like love at first sight. She met her first muse years ago when she was a starving artist on the streets of Paris, not a penny to her name, trying to make something of herself. Then he came to her; he saw her talent, and he pushed her to be more. He promised her all the fame in the world she’d be up there with Van Gogh and Picasso; people would flock to get a glimpse of the colour she used. But it never came. Their perfect little life was crumbling in front of them, was nothing they could do. The successes soon seemed so far away, and he blamed her. During the countless nights of arguing, he shouted and screamed insults to her face. To him, her talent disappeared. There was nothing to set her apart; she wasn’t an artist. She just painted.  And he just kept pushing her and pushing her and pushing her until she reached her limit; she hated painting. So the screaming stopped; he was gone. And so she dedicated the last picture to him. However, as it turned out, this was just the first of many. This painting helped her find her eccentric style and the obsession with putting life in her paintings.

The soul in her paintings caught the eye of many, and she was finally recognised for her talents in galleries; critics and fans herded around her artwork to just get a glimpse of the ruby red that characterised her canvas. The fame came at once, and she had the desire to recreate the success and feeling that came as a result of the first, but she was apprehensive. There was no way passion came from her unique process. She was terrified at the thought. And so she made recreations using different methods, and she hated it plain and simple. It wasn’t the same; there was no life in the photos, and models were terrible to work with. They thought they could manipulate her. What did they know about art? Nothing. It was easier this way. Her passion had returned, and the flame only grew brighter with her painting thrown on.

She stops her reminiscing and realises her coffee mug is empty, and so are the streets. It is time to return to the inside of her chamber to continue her work. The painting is always satisfying for her, it is like a form of meditation, and the end product is always worth it. The end product is beautiful, the satisfaction of creating something with her own two hands, everything from the brush strokes to the paint. Every person she paints is personal; she never uses the same paint twice; they are individuals with a story and a part in hers. Every time she picks up her paintbrush, she becomes part of it. She dips her brush in the sweet red sap, thin and flowing, as she circles the brush around. Slowly sliding her hand to the blank canvas, she begins the journey. Sliding her brush from one side to another feels like an elegant dance. She can do it so quickly now; she feels as if she knew this person. She did, but they did not. They were a young woman, tho older than her, with dark hair much like her own. She brings her hand down and round to show her long and thin face. She moves the dark gushing red to contour the face of her muse, her hooked nose and sunken, light eyes.

Stepping back, she admires her work, her eyes following every stroke. She has red paint all over her clothing and face; she loves how it feels, connecting with her artwork as one. The face is exactly as she remembers as if she was alive next to her as if it could speak to her.

She has a spot for her newest creation, and so she carefully hangs it up. She never waits for her paintings to dry. She loves how the red drips down as if it is the blood that flows in the body. She stares at it for a good few minutes; she feels like crying. Instead, she turns around to her workspace behind her and realises it’s time to clean up; the part she hates the most is when she realises the mess in her apartment. She grabs her pots brushes and walks back into the kitchen to grab her mortar and pestle filled with white powder she had ground previously and heads toward the bathroom. She always keeps it locked, and so while balancing the pots, brushes and mortar and pestle, she reaches into her trench coat pocket and brings out an old looking key; it is beautiful and intricate, much like her work. She slides the thin key into the keyhole and turns. Walking into the heavenly white bathroom in front of her is the sink and an antique mirror. She looks at herself, her pale skin, black eyes, and red over her face as if it was her blood. Bending down to the sink, she places everything that is in her hands in the basin. Watching as the water slowly purifies the deep red and black, her sins washed away, baptised into a new life. After cleaning, she sets them to her right to let them dry and then turns to her left. And to her left is her bath and in her bath is a body. A woman with dark hair, a hooked nose, dark and sunken eyes, the same red on her canvas, covered her walls and the woman. She bends down to her bath to ensure her dark eyes are in line with the lifeless ones in front of her, and in her sweet voice, she whispers, “I’m making you immortal, my muse.”

Helen Findlater: Let’s Fix This!

It is 2012, and in a clean, clinical room in Denmark, Angelea smokes crack cocaine to aid chronic pain in her left leg – the result of a serious car accident.  She brings her drugs to the smoking room; they are tested for purity under a microscope.  Constantly supervised by nurses, Angelea feels safe, dignified and respected.  Most importantly, she is given further resources to help; she has greater control over her future.

Mention the subject of drug addiction and most people think criminals.  Me?  I think victims: people with a medical condition that needs properly cared for.  Until we accept this definition the problem will only get worse.  So, how can we make it better?  How can we fix this?  One possibility, already having dramatic results on the continent, is fix-rooms, properly known as consumption rooms.  Fix-rooms are safe spaces where users can take illegal narcotics under supervision.  Fix-rooms already exist in Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Canada.  Fix-rooms could help fix problems here in the UK.

The facility where we met Angelea earlier is called Skyen and it accommodates between 500 and 700 drug intakes per day.  This project has quite literally changed the way of life for over 5000 drug addicts in Denmark.  I would love to see similar projects running in the UK and I hope to convince you of the benefits of fix-rooms for the good of all.

Fix-rooms are safe and hygienic spaces for victims of drug addiction.  In the UK, in litter-strewn back streets and grubby hostels, addicts share drugs and needles.  The use of a fix-room gives drug addicts a haven, free from disease and infection.  By providing clean facilities and clean equipment (e.g. syringes), fix-rooms reduce injecting-risk behaviour (syringe sharing), ultimately reducing the risk of HIV transmission and fatal overdoses.

The UK now has the worst drug mortality rate in Europe: in 2017 Denmark recorded 237 overdose deaths whereas the UK recorded 3,256 – an unacceptable and avoidable loss of 3019 lives.  Scotland holds the unenviable prize of first place for the highest drug mortality rate in Europe – that’s a scandal of epic proportions and the fact that our UK neighbours, England and Wales, share third place is no consolation.  We are clearly getting our approach to drugs wrong in the UK.

Fix-rooms would be a step in the right direction for us since there has never been a recorded death in any of the 78 fix-rooms that exist on the continent!  They employ highly trained medical staff who care for the needs and the safety of the victims of drug addiction.  If something goes wrong they are there to administer antidotes and immediately resuscitate the patients.  Surely in Scotland, with its harsher climates and notoriously poorer diet (which contribute to our poor health), there is an even greater need for facilities like these to help reduce our drug deaths?

Many would argue that fix-rooms encourage illegal drug use but this is nonsensical since no one (except a drug user) would appear at the door of what is effectively a clinic seeking to become a drug user!  Views like that are symptomatic of the failures in drug policy that fix-rooms would go a long way to repairing!  If we stopped criminalising addicts and increased their access to health and social care services then we might just start to get things fixed.

According to a survey conducted by the International Network of Drug Consumption, 78% of professional groups represented in fix-room teams are social workers.  A Canadian cohort study showed that the use of a Vancouver fix-room was associated with increased rates of people referred to addiction care centres and increased rate of the uptake of detoxification treatments.  Fix-rooms don’t take away the significance of addiction aid; they support, promote and provide care.

Wouldn’t you like to walk into the city centre or a park without worrying about discarded syringes?  Introducing fix-rooms significantly reduces public drug use, discarded syringes and wider societal impact.  Before Skyen opened as many as 10,000 syringes were found on the streets of Vesterbro – this significantly decreased to 1000 after a year of its opening.  Not only would our streets be safer for everyone, but we would also significantly reduce the pressure on our emergency services.  There would be fewer calls to the police regarding public drug use, and fewer ambulance call-outs related to overdoses.  Fix-rooms have proven that their use can significantly reduce the financial and social burden on society associated with drug addiction.

To addicts, fix-rooms are a god-send, however many in power believe they aren’t of any use despite the clear evidence to the contrary.  The Home Office has dismissed the positive prospects of fix-rooms and parroted the old lies about them becoming a focus ‘of crimes’ and are intent on continuing their plans for more treatment facilities and more focus on disrupting drug supplies – the much-fabled war on drugs that has failed time and time again!  Their words are also quite hollow since they have repeatedly cut treatment budgets causing a 26% rise in drug-related deaths in England (2013-2016).  Steve Rolles, a senior policy analyst at the Transform Drug Policy Foundation, which campaigns for the legalisation and Government regulation of drugs, said: “The idea that eradication or a drug free society can be achieved through enforcement is clearly ridiculous.”  The harsh reality is that the government are blind to the real problems of addicts and are determined to criminalise and demonise them rather than assist them in combating their conditions. Short-sighted government policies that continue to criminalise drug addicts and condemn them to suffer in the crippling conditions associated with dependence mean that we will never solve the problem.  We need to change the focus from criminal to care.

By accepting the need for health services to be the lead focus in drug addiction and funding fix-rooms we could dramatically reduce the number of fatal overdoses, discarded syringes and reduce the risk of HIV among vulnerable and desperate people in need of our support.  We could decrease the number of drug-related emergency call outs and increase the number of addicts referred to treatment facilities.  I accept that there is no magic-bullet solution to fix this but fix-rooms are a positive step in the right direction and they would, most certainly, dramatically reduce drug-related crime and drug-related deaths . . . and surely that’s worth fixing!


How ‘fixing rooms’ are saving the lives of drug addicts | Mattha … › world › commentisfree › nov › fixing-rooms…

Why ‘fix rooms’ might be an answer to Scotland’s drug … › politics › 1437423-drug-fix-rooms-should-be-introduce…

UK government rejecting ‘fix rooms’ in Glasgow ‘stands in the … › News › Scottish News › Drugs

Nina Snedden: Tyler, The Creator – Flower Boy or Goblin?

Flashing the words ‘Flower Boy’ on screens behind him, the artist, Tyler, the Creator appears determined to embody this title. Dressed in a pair of yellow shorts, a blue printed shirt and neon pink cap, he seems to be blooming; his goofy allure evident from the boldness of his choice of attire. There is a certain warmth which radiates from the strength of his presence: zany, eccentric and unpredictable. Lounging across his vibrant stage set, with its certain dream-like quality, Tyler offers refuge from the band of drugged-up, monotonous mumble rappers which headlined Longitude 2018. The screens go black. A cluster of rainbow lights pulsate before an idyllic scene appears; a light blue sky, flecked with the palest of candy pink clouds, an assortment of large and assertive trees and him. A single flower.

Hardly the archetypal criminal… yet in the summer of 2015, whilst attempting to enter the UK for a run of festival performances, despite being in the country just 7 weeks earlier, Tyler was turned away at the border and banned from Britain for 3 to 5 years by then-Home Secretary, Theresa May. Government documents specifically cite lyrics from five songs – ‘Tron Cat’, ‘Blow’, ‘VCR’, ‘Sarah’ and ‘French’ – from Tyler’s first two projects and explain that he was banned under the terms of Home Office policy on ‘behaviours unacceptable in the UK’ – a set of guidelines formed in 2005 to try to prevent suspected terrorists from entering Britain. Tyler is said to have been banned for ‘unacceptable behaviour by making statements that foster hatred, which might lead to inter community violence in the UK’, with his albums B******, in 2009, and Goblin, in 2011, labelled in documentation justifying the ban as ‘based on the premise of adopting a mentally unstable alter ego who describes violent physical abuse, rape and murder in graphic terms which appears to glamorise this behaviour’ and seeming to encourage ‘violence and intolerance of homosexuality’. This wasn’t the first time Tyler has had trouble entering a country. In 2014, he was banned from New Zealand for posing a ‘threat to the public order and the public interest’, and in early 2015 he became the subject of a large public campaign by Australian feminist group ‘Collective Shout’, who referenced early song lyrics in an effort to ban him from entering the country, leading to Tyler’s Australian tour being derailed. Is there any truth to the claims of the supposed ‘threat’ which Tyler poses? How can two such contrasting images of the same artist co-exist?

In an interview with The Guardian in September 2015, Tyler himself admitted that much of the work in question was written when he was ‘super-young’ when ‘no one was listening’. It is undoubtedly true that Goblin, and perhaps even more so B****** (Tyler’s first mixtape), upon first listen appear a nauseating stream of gore and horror, created for the sole purpose of shocking the audience. Songs like ‘Sarah’, ‘French’ and ‘VCR/Wheels’, diabolically twisted and loaded with graphic violent references and homophobic slurs – even 10 years after their release – still don’t sit quite right with me. However, it is important to note that these two projects form part of a trilogy. The third project in Tyler’s trilogy, ‘Wolf’, is the key to understanding his early releases. A far more mature Tyler, ever the ‘walking paradox’, grapples with deeply rooted psychological problems on ‘Wolf’ set to smooth dreamy simple beats. On ‘Answer’, Tyler appears more vulnerable than ever before, addressing his estranged father and bragging about all he’s achieved without him, whilst still praying that if he ever calls his father answers. Tyler also explores the loss of his grandmother, rapping on ‘Cowboy’, ‘ain’t been this sick since brain cancer ate my granny up’, before battling issues with fame and wealth on ‘Colossus’ and ‘Cowboy’ when he raps ‘You’d think all this money would make a happy me, but I’m ‘bout as lonely as crackers that supermodels eat.’ On the penultimate track of the album, ‘Lone’, the storylines of B******, Goblin and Wolf finally come together in a therapy session, with alter ego Dr TC asking ‘So, what’s going on, Wolf? Talk to me, man…what’s on your mind?’ It then becomes clear that the graphic violent images portrayed on Tyler’s earlier projects, through the medium of alter egos, have originated from a mentally unstable mind, whilst talking to a therapist. In the video for ‘Sam (is dead)’, we see Tyler shooting himself three times, leaving three dead Tylers on the floor, representing the death of his alter egos, Ace, Tron Cat and Wolf Haley. The track title also suggests Tyler has already killed the alter ego, Sam. In this way, Tyler’s complex concept album, Wolf, explains the inner turmoil which prompted the creation of such dark alter egos on B****** and Goblin, transforming Tyler from villainous brute to misunderstood misfit; whilst the track ‘Sam (is dead)’ shows Tyler maturing and killing off his dark thoughts to allow for his future brighter albums, Cherry Bomb and Flower Boy, on which Tyler eventually transcends his darkness to emerge into the light by coming out as gay. It is clear that this beautiful, intricately constructed exploration of the complexities of the human condition was lost upon Theresa May, and many other detached listeners, as Tyler seems to reflect on the track ‘Glitter’ on his most recent album, which ends ‘we didn’t get your message, either because you were not speaking or because of a bad connection.’

This sort of investigation into our humanity is a commonplace of literature and film, recurrent throughout history, so why is it that when this same topic is approached by a rapper it is immediately attacked? Although not a traditional medium, rap is still a means of expression and art, communicating to a whole new generation; an art form judged by Theresa May, based purely upon presumption and ignorance. Rap is a genre with a long history of positive influence – from the anti-drug message broadcast to millions of youths on ‘Say No Go’ by De La Soul, to the reality of inner-city poverty and crime revealed in ‘The Message’ by Grandmaster Flash – and an even greater potential for influencing the youth of today. Yet it has long been cloaked in the negative guise of a testosterone fuelled bombast by those who do not listen to, or understand, or wish to understand the sentiments expressed in the music. If Tyler’s same concepts had been expressed through the medium of opera, traditionally perceived to be a far more ‘intellectual’ form, would he have been attacked with such fervour? Or would he have been attacked at all? ‘The Rape of Lucretia’, an opera by Benjamin Britten, in which the voice of ‘Sextus Tarquinius’, a rapist, is adopted was not only not banned, but was in fact met with praise from critics. Surely this proves the deeply unjust and snobbish mistreatment of Tyler, and more broadly of rap as an art form. Art should be provocative and controversial. It is a means of pushing boundaries and re-defining societal norms. Why should this responsibility be reserved solely for orthodox mediums? Tyler himself queried ‘Why don’t they ban authors? Writers who write these mystery books about people getting raped and sabotaged and murdered and brainwashed – why don’t they ban them?’ Marquis de Sade’s books, notorious for their misogyny, sadism and gruesome details, are still widely available for consumers. Yet Tyler was detained for a piece of art, a dissection of human nature. It is undoubtedly wrong to restrain an artist’s expression in this manner. Tyler himself reflects this, stating ‘Now freedom of art and speech are at hand.’ In our current political climate, surely there are larger threats to British peace than a young artist’s means of self-expression, discovery and acceptance?

There is a particular, inane irony that it should have been Theresa May who made this ‘moral judgement’ on behalf of the country. This is a woman who, since becoming Prime Minister, has cowered to the will of Donald Trump, proclaiming her faith in her ‘special relationship’ with a man who actively facilitates hate. If May’s desire to protect LGBTQ rights is so strong, why is it that she prances about with Trump, whose transgender military ban does anything but offer support for the community? The implications of Tyler’s homophobia appear even more comical following his own ‘coming-out’, made explicit on his recent album Flower Boy. Yet, even prior to this, these accusations were largely nonsensical, clearly coming from a place of blatant ignorance. OFWGKTA, a hip-hop collective founded in 2007 by Tyler, himself, boasts notable LGBTQ alumni, Frank Ocean and Syd, with whom Tyler has repeatedly collaborated closely and undoubtedly regards as close friends. The profound hypocrisy of Theresa May’s stance becomes clear given the fact that her own past concerning LGBTQ issues is partially marred with murk. In 2010, May’s first act as Home Secretary was to ensure that public bodies did not have to actively try to reduce inequality. Whilst just last year, May hosted Ugandan MP, Jovah Kamateeka, who hopes to pass an anti-homosexuality law in Uganda which would introduce life-long imprisonment for gay and lesbian couples. Tyler, based on deliberately provocative acts of rebellion and artistic expression from his teenage years, which, unlike those of most teens, were lived under the microscope of the media, has been identified, targeted and morphed by May into a scapegoat for societal evils which he does not, and has not ever represented. May’s eagerness to seize the opportunity to vilify a young black gay artist, who is in fact blooming into an ironic gay icon for this generation, may be evidence of her ongoing, innate discomfort with the LGBTQ community.

May’s chequered past with LGBTQ issues – voting in 1998 against the reduction of the age of consent for homosexual acts from eighteen to sixteen to bring equality to the law affecting heterosexual and homosexual acts, voting against a Bill allowing gay couples to adopt in 2002 and remaining absent from four votes on the Gender Recognition Bill in 2004, before finally voting to introduce Civil Partnerships for LGBT couples in 2004 – suggests her act was a means of disguising her past disapproval of homosexuality. With the drastic evolution of May’s own stance, her decision to deprive an artist, who carries the possibility of creating a massive positive influence upon the youth of today, from the opportunity of sharing his own evolution with the public, is baffling. Was this evolution simply a convenient mask which May wore to fit in with David Cameron’s more ‘inclusive’ brand of Conservatism? Was her ban an act of good will or merely a quest for a tangible villain? May’s actions seem likely to have been a means of ‘proving’ her progressive thinking on LGBTQ issues to the world by banning someone who seemed to be attacking the community; an act which she undertook without bothering to take into account the whole truth behind Tyler’s body of work, and an act which, in fact, ironically ended in attacking a member of the LGBTQ community.

Was the decision to ban Tyler from the UK ultimately a reflection of an ultra-sensitive, overly-prescribed society, in which influential people keen to be seen to be doing the ‘right thing’ act on knee-jerk reactions and superficial interpretations rather than really listening to what ‘provocative’ artists are trying to say? Tyler conveys this himself, explaining, ‘It’s like the world is scared of everything. I feel like everyone is so sensitive to everything, and if they don’t like something it’s like: Oh my God, I don’t like the colour yellow – let’s get yellow banned from every country, let’s sign a petition – let’s start a hashtag to make sure this colour is never seen, because I don’t like it and I don’t understand it.’ And this is what Tyler wants to do – paint the world yellow, inspire and excite fans. From the nauseating darkness of his Goblin days, to the brightness and optimism of Flower Boy, his evolution is a potent one, reflecting the reality of the vagaries of life, and the struggle with acceptance of one’s sexuality. Who would’ve thought that the obscenity-filled works of B****** and Goblin would plant the seeds for Flower Boy to grow? Whether it be telling ‘black kids they can be who they are’ on ‘Where This Flower Blooms’ or supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement on ‘Foreword’, Tyler truly has bloomed into a role model for his fans.

2127 Words


Niamh Stevenson: Project – Afton

Tam was in the back of the van with nothing to keep him company but his thoughts. He knew he should have snuck out the back door, but there were police at every exit, so maybe he would have been caught either way. He had messed it up nonetheless, and now he was going to have to face the consequences.


Tam was jolted from his thoughts and thrown from his seat. He was lying on the ceiling of the dingy police van, looking out of an open door. This was his last chance to complete his unfinished business, before he was confined to a cell for the next 10 years.

He got up, stumbling. The blood was pouring down his face and he felt dizzy, but that didn’t stop him. Without thinking, he sprang over the barrier on the motorway and dashed towards the wooded area on the other side of the road. It was barely bright enough to see and the tall, thick trees only made it worse. The cold chill down his spine made him nervous. Tam knew that the police weren’t far behind him: they were bound to spot him at some point.

A few metres ahead, he ducked behind a thick tree and held his breath. ‘Where’d he go?’ He heard footsteps gradually getting quieter and he sunk down onto the ground: his breath was sharp and the sweat was dripping profusely down his face. When the coast was clear, he got up and ran away.

The sun was starting to come up, which made him hotter and sweatier than he already was, but the trees blocked out the light and occasionally he would trip over his own feet, or a large twig. Worst of all, his stomach was beginning to growl like a lion, and his throat was as rough as sandpaper. He hadn’t eaten since the night before.

He kept going for what seemed like hours until he came to a large town. He began to look around and found what he was looking for: “The O’Shanter Medical Research Laboratory”. Tam’s face was glowing. He snuck into the medical lab to the left of the main entrance.

It was nowhere to be seen. In a few hours, he would be too late. Then he spotted a clear bottle at the back of the cabinet containing a green liquid. The label on the front read: “Sweet Afton”. Tam picked up the bottle cautiously, examining the label: “Warning: still to be tested, only to be handled under supervision, can kill”. This was what he had been looking for. From the desk drawer, Tam removed a syringe and began to transfer the liquid. Once it was full, he put it in his pocket and dashed out of the front door. When he got outside, he tried to figure out which direction he had to travel in. He prayed that he was going the right way and hurried off.

He was almost there and started looking for number 34. He was on the right side of the street. 28…30…32…34! He ran up the stone path and stood in front of the wooden door. Tam removed keys from under the mat, but couldn’t find the right one. Everything seemed to be delaying him.

He burst through the door and bolted it shut. A tall, thin lady came running into the hall and pointed at a door to the right of the stairs. She looked frightened, but also relieved to see him. There was a banging on the front door and the hinges and locks were wailing with the strain. Tam hurried into the small room and headed towards a little girl lying in bed. He whispered under his breath, “Don’t be too late, don’t be too late.”

He took the syringe out of his pocket and rolled up one of the little girl’s sleeves. The front door gave in and two officers stumbled in just as Tam injected the liquid into the girl. The officers raced into the bedroom: one snatched the syringe and examined it while the other forced Tam’s hands behind his back.

‘We’re too late,’ the officer said, shaking his head. Then he turned to Tam and said, ‘what did you do?’

As he was led reluctantly away, Tam could hear the creaking of the bed as the girl sat up. ‘Dad?’

He spun around, a mixed look of disbelief and the beginning of hope on his face. The girl continued to speak. ‘How did you get the medicine? Mum told me the police caught you.’ ‘Dad? Medicine? What is this?’ the officer cried out, turning to look at the other in confusion. His partner displayed an equally confused expression on his face. ‘She was ill, really ill,’ began Tam, ‘but we didn’t have enough money to get the medication she needed to survive.

Both officers were now wearing looks of guilt on their faces, having realised the true motive of Tam’s escape.

‘Give us a moment’ one said and they began whispering to one another. Eventually, they turned around. ‘You need to come with us.’

Tam was in the back of the van, again, with nothing to keep him company but his thoughts. But this time, he was content in the knowledge that he had saved his daughter.

Juliet McKay: The Striped Paper Bag

The taxi pulled up as the rain poured down. The door slid open and a spindly woman was helped out by the disheveled driver. It was cold yet she was wearing a thin dress and was dressed entirely in black. She opened a large umbrella which I didn’t think necessary as her wide brimmed hat caught every water droplet that fell from the sky. None of the woman’s skin was showing including her face which was shrouded by a black veil.

The woman’s head turned towards me. Although I couldn’t see her eyes I knew she was staring right at me. Her hand reached down into her deep pocket reappearing holding a red and white striped paper bag. Peppermints. They were my favourite and they always had been. She held out the bag. As I reached forward I noticed that her sleeve had slightly pushed back and I peeked at the first visible bit of her skin. It looked grey and lifeless, how you imagine the skin of a rotting corpse. Something felt terribly wrong yet I still reached out for the sweets.

The woman bent her long legs to be down at the same height as me. If it weren’t for the veil we would be eye to eye. She dropped her umbrella which clattered as it hit the wet pavement. Still crouching, she lifted her free arm and gripped my shoulder. I looked down at her wrist. On it was a wristwatch. The glass was smashed and the hands weren’t moving yet it still made a small ticking sound.

She dangled the bag between my eyes. I grabbed it. For a brief moment our hands brushed against each other and my hand was filled with a cold sensation that spread up my arm. I took a step back, shaking her bony grasp off my shoulder. I took another step then another, then I turned and started to run as fast as I could. The rain got heavier as I ran and I could almost see the fog appear. The mist grew so thick in a matter of minutes that I could no longer see the paper bag of sweets I held in front of me. Then out of the fog I heard my name being shouted. I followed the disembodied voice through the thick grey clouds. As I blindly walked further I seemed to hear more voices. I walked backwards hands over my ears. The voices were deep inside my head and I couldn’t get them out. I could hear them closing in on me. I sprinted.

I blindly turned down random streets and quietly searched for my own house. I finally got there and slammed the door behind me. I stood, back hard against the wood, for a second steadying my breathing, still in shock and disbelief.

“Are you ok sweetie?”

I looked up and saw my concerned mum standing in the hall. She then glanced down at my right hand.

“Where did you get that bag of peppermints?”

“What? How did you know what was in here?”

“Who gave these to you?” she said her face a mixture of anger and worry.

“Just this nice woman in town..”

“Wearing all black?” My mum interrupted.

I nodded slowly still confused.

“Upstairs, now!” She said snatching the striped bag from my hand.

“Lock the door and do not let anyone in! I will tell you when it’s safe.”

I did as she said, frightened and confused. All of a sudden the temperature in my room dropped. It felt like a gust of freezing air had passed right through. I checked the windows but they were tightly shut. I went into my drawers to get a blanket and noticed a familiar leather strap. I lifted it and saw the dreaded cracked face and unmoving hands. I heard the strangely innocent ticking of the wristwatch. I shook the broken watch in a feeble attempt at getting it to work. A small bit of paper fell out of the back. Once unfolded it seemed to be a letter.

‘She’s coming for me and if you are reading this she’s coming for you too. I took her peppermints. She is sure to be here soon. You are in grave danger, it is too late for but I wish you the best of luck. Please keep in mind that if she can help it Zakara never loses a victim. Remember, no matter how tempted do not open the door. The letter worried me and left me with many questions. Who was Zakara? I went over to the window to close the curtains. She was there. The veil had been lifted and her grey skin was pressed right up against the glass. Her white eyes stared right into mine. I quickly closed the curtains. Shocked and dazed I sat on my bed. Then the thumping started. It began quietly and got louder as it continued. The window panes shook with every thud. I covered my ears and hid under my covers. I felt a single droplet of salty water run down my cheek. The tears rolled faster as I sobbed harder into my pillow.

I didn’t remember falling asleep but when I woke up the thumps had stopped. The silence was comforting. Then there was a knock at my door.

“Sweetie, come out, its all safe now!” My mum’s voice called out. I was relieved and walked towards the towards the door. As I walked closer the letter on the floor caught my eye. “Remember, do not open the door” I looked through the keyhole to see the abnormally slim waist of a woman wearing all black. I took a step back. Behind the door was some scratching and a single peppermint slid under the door. The door handle started to turn. There was no escape.

Elise Keenan: Meat is Murder

Douglas was an ordinary lad, who lived in Aberdeen with his dad Hamish, who was a pig farmer. As for his mum Morag, she and Hamish argued constantly. Morag was vegan, she would rant about how animals will one day take revenge. Douglas and his dad often ignored what she was saying, which had caused many of their arguments. Deep down Douglas knew they weren’t right for each other. They argued over the littlest things: who would get the groceries? Who drank all of the soy milk? One day the arguing stopped. She was gone by the time Douglas had woken up. Douglas and his dad were distraught for a while but they quickly adjusted to being a family of two. The one thing Douglas hated about his mother going away was having to meet all the women his dad had met on

Tomorrow was the day that the pigs were scheduled to go to the slaughterhouse all ready for the market season. Douglas hated the slaughterhouse almost as much as the pigs. The outside was black like death; inside it was empty except for the ‘slicer’ and the ‘mincer’ in the corner. ‘Drip, drip,’ the blood splattered all over the walls, occasionally fell into a puddle on the floor. If you listened closely you could hear the past shrieks of all the pigs as they were brutally sliced into bacon and sausage.

Although the pigs couldn’t speak Douglas believed that they knew how their ancestors had been brutally killed and how they were going to meet their end. Douglas thought of last year; he remembered one of the pigs more than the others: that pig was trembling with fear, as it got closer he could see water pouring out of its head almost like sweat.

That night Douglas had a peculiar dream, he dreamt that he was at his annual school fair, but he had no control over his legs. He felt bewitched. They led him over to a small black stall; from within some kind of green smoke seemed to be drifting out in clumps. He wanted to stop, his legs kept moving, and as he got closer a large, bony finger grabbed the back of his neck. His brain was telling him to scream and kick his captor, but his body failed to move. It was pitch black and silent except for the slight thud that the captor’s feet made and he dragged Douglas. Two seconds later he was falling down some kind of black tunnel, falling until he landed with a bang. He seemed to be in a witch’s lair, an enormous cauldron completely black except for the slimy green goo frothing out of it. There was something wrong with his body; again it seemed totally under a spell, forcing him to walk towards the cauldron, bend down and take a huge gulp of the liquid inside. It tasted like acid, surely burning his insides.

Suddenly he noticed he was shrinking rapidly. His hands turned into trotters; he was turning pink. Seconds later he had completely turned into a pig. Douglas awoke with a jump. ‘It was only a dream, it was only a dream’, he told himself. But it wasn’t. He rolled out of bed, and fell onto all fours, he tried to scream but all that came out was ‘Oink’.

It must have been a very loud ‘oink’ as his father had woken up quite startled, he was now standing outside Douglas’s room. He opened the door; at once he saw the pig, and not knowing it was Douglas, he grabbed it and put it outside in the barn with the other pigs, who were sleeping peacefully. Douglas tried to attract his father’s attention, but he couldn’t speak; all he could do was ‘oink’ hysterically.

Although he was a pig he had a human brain, so you could say he was the smartest pig in the world. Then it dawned on him: tomorrow was slaughter day for the pigs, and more importantly him. He was going to die. Yet there were 12 other pigs and he was the skinniest; maybe they’ll kill the fatter ones, he thought. At the back of his head he stopped fooling himself: he knew that there was no chance of his life being spared. He thought about running, but his trotters were no running material and although the skinniest of the pigs, he was still heavy. He managed to fall into a light sleep but still dreaded the next day. His mind was filled with possibilities: maybe his father would realise he was gone and would remember the pig he found in his room. Maybe he would recognise his bright blue eyes, different from all the brown-eyed pigs. Maybe he would turn back into a boy after a few hours. He vowed if this happened he would become vegan and never hurt another animal ever again.

The darkness became light; the night was now morning, Douglas was very tired as he hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep. His father came with the last feed for the pigs, he poured it into the trough, then left. Douglas didn’t feel like eating at all: he was far too nervous.

Soon all the pigs were on the conveyor belt that led to the slicer; his father was up above controlling it. Douglas stared up and his eyes met his father’s. Fear took over his body completely: his legs were shaking in terror, sweat was pouring out of his head. How he wished he had sided with his mum, he would be safe then. Douglas was at the end of the line, finally it his turn. He braced himself. ‘Slice.’ Douglas is now bacon and sausage.

Matilde Radice: Untitled


Imagine a world, an alternative universe, where everyone is born with a small tattoo on their ankle; a birth mark if you will. Everyone’s tattoo is unique, no two will ever be the same, and every time you fall in love, the other person’s tattoo appears somewhere on your body. It could appear somewhere easily visible, like below your eye or on your wrist, or, it could appear somewhere hidden like on your rib or foot. It will always be there, permanently inked on your skin, even when you don’t love them anymore. This story will talk about four different people. One who fell in love for the first time, one who’s fallen into a forbidden love, one who’s had their heart broken, and one who believes she’ll never find a love of her own.

First love

“I’ll see you tomorrow then.” “Sure.” They kissed, one of those kisses that left her with a smile on her lips and made her heart skip a beat. He walked up to his house, opened the door, turned around one last time to give a small wave and then went in. Finally she could let that overtaking smile turn into a grin and quickly turned away just in case he could still see her, smiling like an idiot, through his window. It was a cold night, she was still wearing his jacket. She hugged herself at the thought of a part of him still being with her. She couldn’t believe that this was now her second date with Nathan Robinson, the boy she’d had a crush on since primary six. She was rubbing her hands together trying to heat herself up, when she passed under a street light and something caught her eye. A small star-shaped mark had appeared on her index finger. Her eyes glowed as she remembered back to primary seven when she’d noticed this very mark on Nathan’s ankle. Her head started spinning, she stood still in the cold staring at her hand. She always thought it, but here was the proof inked on her skin. She was in love, madly and uncontrollably, with Nathan Robinson. Her first love. She sighed and continued to walk home, not knowing what to expect from the future. All she could hope was that her tattoo was somewhere on his body too.

Forbidden Love

The lady at the till gave him an odd look. He smiled back and tried to ignore the fact he was purchasing several tubes of concealer. “It’s for the wife,” he said. But it wasn’t, it was for him. He left the beauty store and hurried into his car, his heart beat increasing. With a shaking hand he opened the first concealer and applied it over the tattoo of a rose which had he discovered on his wrist the night before. It wasn’t meant to turn into this, Lacey was just someone he’d go to when he was alone, for his wife had been a bit distant, her job beginning to take up her life. Lacey was a friend from work, and she was known for not being interested in serious relationships. She started by asking him to drive her home on rainy days or touching his hand when he walked past. It wasn’t meant to turn into this. He never would’ve thought of himself as the type of man to have an affair and he never thought what he had with Lacey could turn into love. Whilst he knew that he and his wife weren’t what they used to be, he still cared a lot for her and knew he couldn’t break her heart by showing up at home with another woman marked on his wrist. He would tell her, eventually, he knew he had to, but he wasn’t ready. So for now all he could do was cover his arm in concealer, covering up the truth. 

Broken Love

He lay on his bed, staring up at the ceiling, he had nothing in him anymore. No more tears, no more anger, no more of that unbearable pain in his ribs, just nothing. He felt empty and alone, as if any light or happiness in his life had vanished. He moved his hand up to the side of his neck, to touch the cube shaped tattoo. This was Harry’s tattoo. He couldn’t feel it but he still knew it was there, marked on his skin forever. He felt his eyes begin to water again. He’d always been afraid of love, afraid of giving himself completely to someone, afraid that if he put his heart in someone’s hands, they’d easily be able to drop it, until he met Harry. Harry had made him feel safe and feel that it was okay to love another man. He made him feel loved. They’d had a secret story for a few weeks now, neither brave enough to tell the world. But at this party, he’d caught Harry with another girl, Nora. She was Harry’s ex-girlfriend from last year and believed that they were still in love. He couldn’t take in what he saw so he just started running home and eventually he could hear someone trying to catch up with him. Despite the tears blurring his vision, he knew it was Harry, calling out for him to wait and promising he could explain.

He rolled over in his bed and shut his eyes, attempting to forget these events which his mind kept replaying. Eventually he fell asleep, his eyes still wet with tears and his hand still holding his neck.

Impossible Love

She wasn’t a very happy person. From the age of 14 her life consisted mostly of therapy sessions and prescriptions. She hated it, just like she hated everything else; the pills made her feel sick and the therapy made her feel stupid. She hated how she did badly in school, how she never reached her goals, how she’d treated some good people in her life, the way she looked, acted, spoke, how she had no talent. She hated herself. But the worst part was that all this self hatred wasn’t even her fault. She was born like this, set up to fail, the chemicals in her brain constantly imbalanced. She wasn’t very lucky with friends either. Except for Ty. Ty had been her friend since they were 2; 15 years now. She could always count on him, he was loyal and would always make her feel better. She’d call him when she felt sad and he’d come over. Sometimes he’d bring food, sometimes he’d bring a film he knew she loved and sometimes they just sat in silence on the porch, looking out at the world from her backyard. Tonight was one of those times, although Ty seemed a little different.

“What’s up with you”

“What you mean?”

“You just seem…weirder tonight”

Ty looked over to her; something had changed in his eyes. “You have no idea how much I care about you, do you?”

She looked at him oddly, no idea where this conversation was heading. “Last week,” he continued, “when we were watching Notting Hill, you said you’ll never find someone who would look at you the way William looked at Anna.”

“Well yeah, I mean I can’t realistically see anyone falling in love with the mess that is me.”

They both smiled at this, and sat it silence for a little longer. Then, he pulled his sleeve, showing a small sparrow marked on his arm. At first she didn’t understand why he was showing her this. Was he trying to rub it in her face that he’d found love, something she never would? And then it hit her. She looked down at her ankle, just to double check, just to make sure that she hadn’t imagined that her tattoo was now permanently on his arm. She couldn’t understand and despite her best efforts, she couldn’t say a word.

“I’m in love with you” he said “and I’m sorry if that hurts you, and I know that you might never love me back, but I just wanted to let you know that just because you don’t see how beautiful you are, doesn’t mean no one else can”.

James Barton: The Strange Tale of Graham McKinnon

The city outside of my window looked cold and grey but the fire in my meagre hearth provided a comforting warmth that allowed me to doze softly. The flames cast dancing shadows over the cluttered office in which I sat dozing, reclined in my chair behind a desk strewn with paraphernalia: a magnifying glass, an empty whisky glass and newspapers. I was dragged suddenly back to reality by a sharp rap on the thin wooden door that led onto the empty corridor outside where any prospective clients would wait. Blinking groggily, I sat up with a groan and rubbed my temples. I’d been having such a strange dream. Only a great uneasiness and an indescribable terror clung to me. Failing to snatch more of the fantasy from my memory, I arranged my hands on the desk, aiming to exude an air of professionalism that was not aided by the state of my office.

I called for the client to come in. The door swung open and a large man entered. He had a long face and a weak chin. His suit was prim and proper and his buttons gleamed. But it wasn’t a client. DCI Crowley greeted me in his usual thin, rasping voice. I, in turn, greeted him and asked how I could be of assistance. He hesitated and licked his lips. He was more nervous than I had ever seen. I gestured to a chair which he gratefully accepted and sat down. An almost palpable silence bloomed. I repeated myself which made Crowley shake himself. He coughed. He asked if I had read about the spate of the, as yet, unresolved disappearances in the Highlands and the police’s lack of leads or evidence. I answered affirmatively. Crowley explained that the detective heading the investigation had now vanished. Perplexed, I inquired as to how this fact related to this consultation. He explained that the missing policeman was my old friend DI David Matthews. Surely David couldn’t be gone?

With great effort, I overcame the oncoming fear and apprehension and asked Crowley if he wanted me to continue the investigation in David’s stead. He nodded appreciatively and coughed violently. It sounded a painful racking cough.

Crowley explained that most of the victims had been from Alt Na Durach, a small village near Loch Ness. He promised that I’d receive all the police had on the case and stood to leave but paused. In a nervous voice, he commented on how strange that place felt. He described a feeling of being watched and of desperate isolation despite the villagers’ presence.

Crowley then left me with that eerie sentiment to ponder. True to his word, I had all the evidence files within a few hours. For once, the media were not exaggerating; the police really hadn’t a clue. There was little to no tangible evidence and what existed was not nearly substantial enough to warrant any more action. The only thing that linked the victims was the same obsession: that of the occult and one entity in particular: Shar-Nargrathoth. The name sent a thrill through me. I was sure that I’d never heard the name before but, at the same time, it sounded inexplicably familiar.

Being unable to glean more from Crowley’s documents, I headed out to catch the next train to Alt Na Durach.

The landscape flew past the window of the train as though it were being chased by some invisible beast. The peace of the train allowed me to mull over the facts: the villagers appeared suspicious; no leads; insubstantial evidence; this link to the occult and Shar-Nargrathoth. That name, so familiar yet alien.

On arrival at the desolate station of this small village, the first thing I noticed was the bitingly cold air. The second was a man standing by a car looking straight at me. There was something distinctly unsettling about his appearance but I couldn’t decide what. He approached and explained that he was a servant of Lord MacAndrew, the local laird and that DCI Crowley had called ahead to say I would continue the investigation. His voice was unsettling too, like a cobra’s hiss before it strikes. I got into the car. He drove us through the village. It was small and eerily quiet. We left the village and drove a short way out to a baronial castle that looked like it had seen centuries rather than decades of inhabitancy. The shadows were long when we reached the edifice.

The snake-man opened the car door for me and we both entered through the heavy oak doors. I was led through the grand hall into a room that seemed part-study, part-library. A writing desk occupied a corner, a table and chairs in the centre, whereas the rest of the room was full of books. Upon closer examination, most appeared to relate to the occult, while others were histories describing creatures and civilisations of such foul and phantasmagorical natures that I couldn’t bear to read further.

Peering out of the frosted window, I saw movement. My poor heart almost stopped at the sight of some form of creature outside. Ages after, I still haven’t the words! Its limbs were inhumanly long and it was staring at me with deep-set white eyes! Behind me, the door burst open! Pain flashed across my skull and the room slipped away from me.

It was the faint chanting, then the sickly scent and the damp air which eventually brought me back to some form of consciousness. Even now as I try to recall these events in this journal they’ve given me, the detail is hazy and too incredible. Like the flashing images from an old projector, I saw myself tearing the ropes that bound me, grappling with Lord MacAndrew and his acolytes, garbed in their flowing white robes. My one and only objective was escape. The cave walls fly past as though yanked from beneath me. The cool Highland air, the birds’ chirp, concerned voices then the stagnant lights of my newest prison.

Even with my failing memory, the followers’ screams of unadulterated terror and the unearthly screeches of the entity they had called forth as it satisfied its blood-lust, being cheated of its victim, will remain with me forever.

* * * * *

Patient: Graham McKinnon

Patient still maintains belief that he was kidnapped by cult. Suggested PTSD.

Dr MacAndrew

Anthony Thompson: More than just a stadium

Some people say I offer guidance. For others I provide hope. For many I am part of a weekly pilgrimage. They are faithful, devoted. I may not offer the healing of Lourdes. I may not offer the suffering of El Camino De Santiago. I may not off the riches of the Vatican. But the community which I provide offers an awe inspiring sense of camaraderie. Transformation: the city, the atmosphere, families, lives … communal, commune, communion.

Art surrounds me. Abstract buildings which lack any kind of symmetry. Every individual curve contributes to the uniqueness of this rare beauty. Construction is constant, changing, a chameleon. Pencil turrets protect the holy family stretching heaven-words. Yet Picasso’s words have never felt so true “every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up”. In this place I call home los niños produce art in the most modern forms. Light and shadow, the modern designs, waves and undulations provide a canvas for new inspiration. Just as the artist flicks paint from the palette vigorously stroking ideas into the fabric, so too do Barcelona’s youths stride through the fiery orange sunset casting shadows and creating reflections on the concrete below. It’s a marriage of old and new and there is old and new art created within me, underneath my halo of light.

Here the canvas is green, organic and the art is created in moments. The physical motions produced are fleeting, not tangible. However the beauty constructed offers memories which last a lifetime. These memories unite people from all aspects of life(an art in itself) in a way that a frame on a wall could never achieve the passive experience of standing in an art gallery allows you to soak in and admire yet the experience here is so much more. It is a family it is synergy, it is adrenaline, it is climax, it is anticipation, it is bitter disappointment, it is art. And it is art which is constantly evolving, adapting to the style of the modern game. The generosity lends itself to the short sharp precision and equality of tiki-taka and still there is delicate weaving fluidity from individuals. The very laws of physics and the universe are called into question when a goal is in sight.

The worshipper strides towards the altar, genuflects then kneels in prayer.

These worshippers burst through the turnstiles, bustle through their row and raise their scarfs to the heavens.

The priest blesses the bread and the wine, creating the body and blood of Christ. Consecration. Genesis.

The player with his back turned to goal, transforms a dead ball, giving it life, creating hope. Magical. Messi.

Their voices chant in praise: “I believe in one God, the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible”.

They chant, reaffirming their belief in this God. “Ole -le ola, ser del Barca ēs el millor que hi ha!”

The priest reads from the book of Genesis. “And on the 7th day God finished his work that he had done and he rested.

In the commentary box they pontificate over the work of this divine player: he had finished the work he had done, now is his time for rest.

I am part of history. This combination of oxymorons are the raw ingredients of the beautiful game.

Pedro Alonso, 96, sits front row with his wife of 70 years. The lines engraved on his warm face represent memories of close to a decade of Catalan history. He remembers the solidarity as the crowd booed de Rivieras dictatorship; he watched idols enlist to fight for the values of their city in the civil war. He helped rebuild the Barcelona stadium after a devastating attack. He remembers the football of old, the slow laboured pace of 11 locals scrambling in defence. Then came the revolution. Short electric bursts from geniuses exploding into attack. These are not just any players, they certainly were not just the 11 best athletes in the city. They have been mined, treasure, from the very ends of the earth. The commitment and longevity towards Pedro’s marriage seems mediocre when compared to his first love, F.C. Barcelona.

Pedro is one of my many thousands of children to whom I provide 90 minutes of pure escapism. I watch over them and follow each story. I have been with them through tragedies, supported through bereavements and have celebrated with them on so many levels.

Rivalry stains the city blood red, it flows through the streets like a Rioja during a fiesta. My greatest rivalry lies less than 5 miles to my east where the red cape billows in the wind striking into the bull. The matador and the bull are sworn enemies; showmanship, skill and sadism are pitted against the innocent angry animal instinct of the bull. It is versus animal, good versus evil, Barcelona versus Real Madrid. The red of the bull fight symbolises dominance, blood, rage. It is time for the cape to be buried in the dust of the arena. This rivalry is slowly dissipating. My spectacle, el Classico, is Barcelona’s main attraction. The red here symbolises the humble benevolent nature of my congregation. The ox blood stripes on the Barcelona kit represents the determined hearts of the players. They play for Catalonia. The cold monochrome of Real Madrid is indicative of their selfish character. This team play for the monarchy, they play for the rich wealth of Madrid. This team is here for themselves not the supporters. They embody the corruption of Spain. They are reckless, careless attackers who will win by any means necessary.

I am a proud father who has nurtured many sons and have been by each of their sides as they achieve greatness. I don’t have favourites, I see their flaws but I celebrate their successes. A few stand out … The eldest, Cruyff, is an innovative genius on and off the pitch. Ok, ok, I know I’m biased though it’s true. The balletic grace of a 180 spin simply just to change direction is a prime example of his practical magic … these seminal movements are unforgettable. Don’t even get me started on Maradona, the mischievous characters that everybody loves to hate. Fiery, feisty, fighty. Maradona done everything to win. It frustrates me that people remember him as a cheat with the “hand of God” but that kid had stunning technical ability. And the baby, my golden child with the golden boots, Messi. Although he is the youngest, Leo is a glittering example of sacrifice. I will never forget the day I welcomed this 13 year old into my home, his home, out home. A child on the cusp of adolescence, an amateur on the cusp of professionalism, an ordinary man on the cusp of becoming a legend. He is eclectic, reliable, inspirational, a leader, magical. They are everything to me. Mi amor por ellos es Infiniti.

On Las Ramblas, sipping Estrella with friends, they prepare. In La Boguiera enjoying cheese, wine and the bustling atmosphere, they prepare. Travelling through the pulsating arteries of Barcelona’s metro, they prepare. The manager delivers his sermon of motivation; the players indulge in last minute superstitions; the noise from the crowd channels hope within the players … they are prepared. It is 7:45. It is Saturday night. It is time. This is not a game, this is a legacy, a community, a family. Because without each other we are nothing. “We are more than just a club”. We are Barcelona

Thomas Gillen: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: How the people alone can’t stop Climate Change

Another doom and gloom headline flashes across your computer screen. The fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse, Climate Change, has trotted into town, cutting down the polar bears, scorching Greece and sunny Siberia, purging the ice sheets and pillaging the coastline, and only one word is left in its wake – you. Global Warming is one of the greatest questions of the 21st Century, threatening the delicate balance of entire weather systems and more as the average global temperature rises – and is constantly spun into the individual’s problem, throwing the public eye away from the politicians and corporations obfuscating the issue in the courts for their own selfish agenda. I feel that the corporatocracy of today is the harbinger of a bleak tomorrow in the face of a worldwide crisis.

The paragons of anti-intellectualism and downright scientific denialism among those able to affect change – the elected – is no small sign of this pervading problem in politics. With very few scientists going into political professions, the parliaments are ruled by those who are poorly informed on crucial climate legislation and basic science – when Scott Pruitt, the current USA Enviromental Protection Agency administrator in a major carbon emissions centre is actively assisting the repeal of important legislation in the crusade against global warming, the environment is not in good hands. I personally feel the lamentable lack of scientific representation in government circles is hindering the ability of key countries to act against man made climate change, and the public’s ability to make waves in these issues wanes because of it.

Not every government is so apathetic towards the world’s plight. But even so, they still engage in debatable practices. Nuclear power is a developing, and very promising, energy industry that is constantly, and regularly, demonised by some in the political sphere. The energy output of 6 grams of uranium-235 is roughly equivalent to a metric tonne of coal – and all you hear is Fukushima, Chernobyl! The European Union (EU) is a leading proponent of the Paris Climate Agreements in 2015, and key members are still skeptical as the world’s hourglass runs ever drier – Germany’s reputation for efficiency is not highlighted by how its renewables and nuclear industry barely covers more than its fossil fuels usage, and there is no clear plan on phasing out the fossil fuels in the near future. For every green glowing France, there is an soot-covered Argentina, and with greenhouse gases flooding from the energy sector I think the nuclear fears being stirred by some political leaders are disingenuous and could have far reaching consequences.

Renewables, such as hydropower, fare somewhat better, with a cleaner past than other alternatives, but even that is fraught with trouble – Scotland is practically a world leader in wind energy (‘Scotland is home to the biggest renewable energy resource in Europe. We will set ambitious renewable energy targets and government funding will support low carbon technologies, energy storage and transport alternatives’) , and the UK recently announced a 56% cut to funding in that sector of the energy industry when renewables are still in dire need of help – which once again reflects a running theme in the climate discourse; The flaunting of progress in favour of short-term economic benefit.

There is, however, a price to all of these potential benefits. The start-up costs of these industries is high and not to be dismissed, with potential billions – trillions, by some estimates – of pounds having to be invested in low carbon methods to make any sort of worthwhile waves. Professor Gordon A. Hughes in Edinburgh painted the ever-so cheery picture of £16 of energy by today’s standards going for £38.50 and more, and that is not even the tip of the iceberg when it comes to funding the ‘cheap’ alternatives – and while both renewables and nuclear are relatively cheap to run once they are set up, they still have their own issues. Nuclear is potentially vulnerable to exploitation by terrorist organisations in both the first and third worlds, with Al-Qaeda allegedly having schematics for various nuclear facilities – the fallout of a dirty bomb alone is a high risk to innocent lives. There is a catch to all of that – the nuclear industry recognises this risk and has made preparations for this scenario, involving military intelligence and more. And fossil fuels, while cheap in the short term, have much larger costs. All of the environmental disasters, from tsunamis to heat waves to harsh winters, will cause much more damage than our worst nightmares – trillions of pounds of property losses, wars over what little scraps of oil can be gathered from depleted sources, and that is not even considering the greatest loss of all – life. When the dust settles, any cost now is going to seem like nothing.

Politicians, however, are not the only ones responsible – moreso a peon of the greater culprit. The corporate impact on the environment is not to be understated – with 71% of all greenhouse gas emissions coming from 100 companies, including the likes of ExxonMobil and Shell, the regular adage of ‘drive less’ and ‘eat less meat’ loses its potency. The unfortunate truth of the matter is that a coordinated effort to phase out staples of society like meat is far down the road, if at all, but the responsibility to reduce their emissions are still there – and while Big Macs are still in high demand, poor infrastructure and lack of subsidization in these industries is going to continue to fester like a tumour, putting profits above improvement. Personally, I’d rather not die to cow farts.

The constant shifting of blame in the climate debate is a terrifying precedent, and it is not being addressed by the top brass in nearly enough force. The public’s responsibility to combat climate change cannot be understated, but the complete lack of a unified vision and focus across the world is a much scarier thought. The Earth will always find a way to continue turning, and another extinct species – humanity – isn’t going to stop it.


Maria McKeown: Untitled

A regular on the 38 bus service, a 15 year old steps on board. ‘Pound please’, she says casually to the driver as she drops a pound into the coin slot in front of him. She proceeds to climb the stairs to the top deck before taking her usual seat towards the back.

A young man ambles up the same stairs and to the middle of the top deck, where he slouches on his seat. He must be in his early or mid twenties, though his youth is hidden by the grey cast on his skin caused by the withering of his face by cigarettes, drugs and alcohol that he has probably been consuming since a too young age. After this journey he will walk briskly home in his matching grey tracksuit and worn out black nike trainers that look ready to forfeit at any moment. Accompanying his brisk pace will be his hands in tight fists switching back and forth nervously from his pockets to his shaved head. His final destination is one of the many neglected high-rise blocks of flats Glasgow so shamefully hosts. The flat where his family are forced to reside. But while he is understandably unsatisfied with his living conditions he is admirably happy, this is what he knows, what he is used to, home, Glasgow.

He watches as a woman tiptoes along the aisle, climbing gently with a nervous giggle over his rucksack that lies limp crossing into the aisle. She perches upright in a clean red coat with short blonde hair, probably dyed and well kept, though coarse, most likely with age. Her clearly expensive black leather bag sits neatly beside her, her with her wrist cautiously though casually rested through the handles, obvious that she is slightly paranoid while she is hesitant to draw attention to it. She answers her phone with an obviously watered down well-spoken Scottish accent and learned vocabulary with a put-on Glaswegian dialect. She’s well off, definitely comfortable with money, working a nine to five job as an accountant. By taking the bus she can feel humble, as though she is just a regular person, one with the less well-off people for whom the bus has unofficially become the typical form of transport for those with a lower income. Even though she knows plain well that in one aspect of life she is above the rest. She survives in the top.

She grins at the parents of two children who run relentlessly up and down the aisle, occasionally knocking into her. Their father, in his mid-30s sits forward, gripping the headrest of the seat in front as his wife seated across from him stares blankly out of the window. They pay no attention to their two children who run endlessly up and down the aisle, pausing to climb onto seats. Married seven years, there isn’t much excitement in their lives these days. At the start of the relationship there was though, spontaneous holidays and trips, nights out, being with friends. They unknowingly surrendered this lifestyle when they had children however. Since then the only excitement comes from the rare night at a restaurant or evening where the children are at sleepovers. The occasional obligatory dinner party with their daughter’s friend-from-school’s parents – and as you would expect these evenings struggle to make for a particularly interesting evening. On this occasion it was an attempt at a fun family day out, taking the kids to the cinema only to find themselves sitting through two hours of Pixar’s finest new animation. Two hours sitting in a room full of other children crying, shouting and screaming as though the end of the world for the duration of the film. And a room full of tens of other parents all enduring the same torture. Now they return home to a nice middle class home, parents exhausted from the frustration of children shouting through the film, children still full of the energy they had before the cinema. Tomorrow they will be straight back into the usual routine: up at seven, breakfast, get dressed, kids to school, get to work, pick children up from school, son to football, daughter to dancing, dinner, bed.

And so it goes.

But don’t believe everything you see- or read, for that matter. For these are merely the observations and assumptions based on stereotypes, created by a 15 year old from the top deck of a 38 bus service from Bath Street as she fills her otherwise boring journey with the stories and lives of those around her. And who knows, maybe the man in the grey tracksuit simply wears it for comfort, and is really just going home to an average household to greet his own family – his wife and two children. Maybe she was just being cynical, and the woman in the red coat takes the bus for practical reasons – it’s cheaper than the train and takes her closer to her house. The bus was not made for one group of people with a specific income. Maybe her well- kept, expensive-looking clothes are simply her work clothes, a set of garments selectively and hesitantly chosen on an otherwise smaller budget. This outfit is nicer than the rest of her wardrobe and only worn to work to fit a more prestigious look required for her average office job. It is entirely possible that the family had just had a very exciting day out, at a museum or another more interesting trip. The girl from the back of the bus will step off soon, and go back to her home where instead of living in other people’s stories, will have to live in her own unfulfilled one.

Callum Thomas: Halloween

A full moon glowed through the mist, chillingly.

The eerie silence pressed in like a heavy blanket.

Pumpkins glared down, the faces of the long forgotten dead;

Ventriloquists’ dummies stared out of shop-fronts, twitching, moving;

A murder of crows huddled in a tree, cloaked, watching.

Rotting tree limbs reached out as if groping blindly for children to catch;

Skeletal figures stood silhouetted against dim flickering street-lamps.

In the cemetery, hunched figures hid watching, listening from the shadows.

Long dark shadows sprawled out, concealing the unknown.

This was a Halloween like no other!

Tiernan Blain: Halloween Poem

All darkness, except for the lights from the houses casting an orange glow down the street.

Silhouetted birds sat in the trees, like death himself.

The wind wailed as the leaves rustled around.

Jack-o-lanterns stared like dead dubious delinquents.

A cold breeze nipped my nose.

A million eyes stared at me.

As I stepped, the mud turned to stone.

Every sound seemed to echo around.

There was a crunch of gravel that I didn’t make; could it have been made by the one I loved?

She will go back to where she belongs

Tomorrow by night.

Liam Kearney: My Journey Through Poetry

I love poetry. I love writing poetry, reciting poetry and listening to poetry. It is like a language of its own. It can capture the most heart-felt emotions, or extraordinary experiences in the finest of details and in the fewest of words, whilst implanting a vision of beauty in the reader’s mind.  At times, the language used may seem incomprehensible, but if conveyed with passion and emotion, it becomes easier for the reader to understand the sentiment of the poem, and so becomes more understandable. Many people who recite or write poetry have a story to tell about how their passion for poetry was first ignited, and how it developed, and so do I.

Four years ago, I was sitting in class reading a book, when suddenly, our poetry and drama teacher burst through the door. With a voice as loud as a foghorn, she announced that “there would be a grand poetry recital competition”. Back then, I was not nearly as confident and as valiant as I am today, and whilst admittedly I thought it sounded rather intriguing, I was ambivalent about whether I should take part or not. However, the choice wasn’t made by me, but rather the drama teacher who automatically nominated me for the competition! Now, I was thinking ‘Say no, just say no and you’ll be fine!’ but for some reason unknown to me, I heard myself say “Yes, I’ll do it.” All the while thinking ‘WHY DID I SAY THAT?!’ In the days that followed I was still bewildered at agreeing to this and assumed it would something I would regret, perhaps for the rest of my life. I thought all my friends would laugh and tease me and consider this an absurd interest as they were all keen on sports, and if it turned out I wasn’t good at reading poetry, I was fearful this would make me look foolish, and that perhaps I would disappoint my family and teacher if I didn’t win the competition. I also feared it may impact my confidence for the future and put me off attempting similar events. However, contrary to those fears, it actually turned out to be something that would change my life, for the better.

Later that day, I received the first piece of poetry I would recite to an audience. It would also be the first piece of poetry that I recited in my life. So when I took a glance at it for the first time, my mouth slightly dropped. All these words in Scots Tongue didn’t look like words to me. It just seemed like a jumble of letters.  Looking at the lines made me sweat with panic. ‘How am I supposed to learn this?’ I thought to myself, with pounding heart.

It was a Robert Burns poem called ‘To a Louse’. And whilst it was only an extract that was 4 verses long, it still was enough to confuse me. A lot. It took me a whole week to learn this extract which was around 30 lines long.   I have since learned poems much longer than this and in far shorter time frames, which reflects how tricky I found it, but also that learning poetry, like so many other things, is a skill that improves with practice.

The competition itself wasn’t very difficult, and not as daunting as first thought.  I recited my poem, following this the adjudicator gave some constructive criticism. I really thought it would be extremely tough, like one of those situations that makes your heart race and your palms sweaty, and has moments of extreme tension throughout, but this was not the case.  

Unfortunately, I didn’t win. So you would think, ‘He tried, and he didn’t succeed. That must be really demotivating. This must be the end of his poetry career.’

Well, you would be wrong.

You see, I am the kind of person that is persistent. I try and try until I succeed. Later in the year, my school held a poetry competition which I entered, coming first place for the class round and securing a place in the finals. I was very presumptuous and designated a spot on my fireplace for my tremendous trophy. However, after hearing some of the other performers, I began to have second thoughts about whether I would win the competition or not.The standard was so high it would have been difficult for the judges to select a winner. So when I performed my poem, and the winners were getting announced, I could almost hear my heart beating, and felt it pound inside my chest. I felt like the room was becoming hotter than a sauna. Then when they announced each place and it wasn’t my name being called, I became slightly apprehensive. As first place was called and I heard “Liam Kearney!” I was both ecstatic and shocked, as it really could have gone either way as the standard was so high.

Shaking my head in disbelief, I saw the whole audience clapping and staring at me as I went up and collected my trophy. All the while I was thinking that perhaps I had been right to be egotistical and have faith in myself; after all as it seemed to have paid off. I felt accomplished, ecstatic, but most importantly, I felt extremely proud of myself.

Recital, of course, isn’t simply about reading words off a page, and I have a strategy that helps the learning and delivery of my poems: First, I learn the words, then I learn the hand gestures and actions that I want to incorporate into my delivery, and finally, I project the tone of my voice to suit the emotion I am trying to convey: In learning the poem I have to understand what it is about so I can deliver it well and this helps my audience understand the poem better. By engaging in poetry competitions it has given me various different opportunities to recite at other events, the most recent being the Linlithgow Folk Festival, an annual event I performed at last week. I was invited to perform two recitals and a song. However, the most enjoyable piece was most definitely the song. It was called the ‘Glesga Budgie’, and it was about a colossal Glasgow budgie. The best part about it was….my aunt was dressed up as the budgie! Everyone in the audience had a good laugh! Even I found myself laughing!

Poetry has changed my life for the better. From starting out as a timid young boy who was nervous to volunteer and participate in competitions, to become what I now believe, a confident individual who thrives in his deliverance of poetry and who now tries to participate in competitions wherever and whenever possible. Poetry has taken me to many different places; I have spoken at many different events, have addressed the Haggis on numerous occasions at different Burns’ nights, and it has made my life more enjoyable. It has also allowed me to meet new people, and participate in events, such as the Robert Burns Summer School hosted at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, which is a truly great event.

Reciting poetry isn’t for everyone, of course; if you have stage fright, and there is a huge audience awaiting an amazing performance, you can be afraid. I have seen this a few times, where the performers see the crowd, and their cheeks go as pink as cherries, but practise makes perfect. I have practised reciting poetry a lot and I never get afraid; nervous is not a word in my dictionary.

I love poetry, and I believe that everyone should too. Famous poets have even inspired me to write my own poems. I believe that poetry will help me with my English literature skills, and give me a greater chance of improving my performing arts.  It also helps me with my writing skills.

You never know, I might even become the next great poet!

Louisa Fenney: Christ

Crown of thorns, bated breath, ragged pulse.

Crown of thorns, bated breath, flowing red.

Should the dial be reversed by command of the sun,

Should it be held high upon the horizon,

thundering would be all that was heard,

The thundering of a whip,

The crack so distinct, so jarring against his flesh

Flesh, which was the very same to be prophesied,

Flesh that was bound to be sacred and chaste.

Now, it holds no such promise,

Now, eyes remain clouded

Now, cheeks are wet

Mutters escape the lips of those who watch,

Mockingly some stare, they snarl and yap like wild wolves as they feast their eyes upon their bloodied meal

His hands fastened with iron

His ravaged limbs twitch beneath the heat of the sky

‘ Christ, what did you die for? ‘

One beast howls from the pack,

Heads snap,

Tongues are held,

Pulses shudder.

They await their answer,

They expect an up rise, They crave the signal from their wretched messiah.

Charlie McCallum: Santorini


In Santorini,

Across the graceful Aegean

Flawless white stone lays submerged

Beneath Royal blue domes,

Branded by the Holy Trinity

One of Nature’s jokes:

A white celestial heaven

Born out of destruction and desolation.

Through a millennium of torture and Ash

Shines sheer perfection in the face of God


Through every narrow winding street

Rugged merchants cry loud

‘Tomatoes, Capers, Chloro, Wine.’

And on every face that wanders by

Marks of desire, Marks of seduction.

As each day passes by

Cruise ships dock and disgorge

An Exodus of hungry consumers

Charging through, like legionnaires,

Stabbing her, tearing out her heart.

While the sinister drone of mopeds run by.

Poisoning her air,

Stealing her virtue.

From all corners of the world,

North to South

East to West

Her superficial purity and innocence

Attracts the fragile minded to her shores.

Shores of a tortured beauty:

Each grain of sand

Black as the ash which gave birth to them.

Her elegance though, compromised,

By those who seek to enslave her.

As Greek masters grow fat

They tighten their grip round the noose of their slaves.

Who function

As bolts on the wheel of capitalism.

They sit on their throne of corruption

In a ‘benevolent’ kingdom

Transcendent to the screams of poverty-stricken Athens.



Atlantis risen from the sea.

She stands today,

A shinning beacon of light.

A glimmer of hope.

In this once noble house,

Known as Greece.

She’s reminiscent,

of the civilisation they once were:

Democracy, Philosophy.

Fallen, decayed into corruption and anarchy.

But no matter how lost,

Or hopeless it may seem.

Her sunset over the Aegean brings forth:

A supreme serenity,

A new dawn of change to come.

Charlie McCallum

Catriona Chong: All Kinds of Beautiful

All Kinds of Beautiful

They say the best things come in small packages:

Far in the west of Scotland is a very little, yet precious, gem.

Often in the business of my city life, my mind wanders

From the hustle and bustle of a loud city Glasgow away

To precious and humble Barra, often wishing that it was summer time,

So I can get on the ferry once again, and travel back to my Hebridean home.

Kishmul Castle stands strong as ever,

Having faced battles against crashing waves and bitter winds

All of whom fail to defeat her.

Proudly welcoming the Cal Mac ferry as it cruises into Castlebay

As a rightful queen in her stunning kingdom.

But she isn’t the only jewel in the treasure chest.

Over the hills past the wiggly one-car roads lies Borve,

Tucked below the road, her deep blue waves peacefully dance together

Pulling back, releasing out. Building, spiralling upward then plunging back in,

Like Mother Nature is directing the most beautiful ballet your eyes have seen.

The sand beneath your feet is like pillows, that cradle every step,

like a mother does her child, making you feel warm and at home.

In Northbay, the fishermen keep their boats anchored.

Our Lady, Star of the Sea up on the hill,

Watches over them while they work,

Along with Saint Barr of Fishing, his church overlooking them as they depart.

Inside, we too pray for them, their families and their health.

Because, although her waters are in all ways breathtaking,

It is a dangerous place to work.

In Ardmhor, however, the waters are tranquil.

The cockle strand, either a vast swathe covered in sandy shells,

or completely filled with her waters, little waves bobbing up and down.

Tiny Barra planes glide in from the clouds soaring down

Onto the runway like a swan onto a lake.

The only airport where you land on the beach, and what a perfect beach to land on.

Behind the airport and over the sand dunes hides the west sands

A real contrast to Traig Mhor on the other side:

The sand, gorgeous pearl white and soft at our feet,

 a small yet beauteous horizon and loud crashing waves spiral in a conch shape

Loud and present, commanding attention.

The strong wind carries the gulls and a little kite, frantically flapping around

Up in the north is Eoligarry beach, a Sandy strip covered in a cyan blanket.

A picture perfect body of water, turquoise which melts into a royal blue in the distance.

Like a pool of diamonds sparkling in the light, hardly any movement except the

Disturbance of a kayak, causing little ripples as they paddle.

A mosaic of crushed shells, blue, purple, pink and orange glistens in the sands.

And best of all the little seals, sticking out their heads and disappearing down again.

The weather changes from

A blue and sunny sky in the morning

To pouring rain in an eyeblink;

Sun, clouds, blue sky and raindrops tossed into a wonderful blender.

Even in showers of rain, the waters are still bonnie,

each drop creating a thousand tiny fountain-like splashes

Like many hands praising god for feeding her fields and keeping her mountains lush.

Barra is a mixture of all kinds of beautiful, each beach, field or mountain

is a snowflake, unique to themselves yet just as sublime as the other.

Michael McDonald: Are Comic Books Just For Kids?

”…this is going to hurt you a lot more than it does me…”

Then the Clown Prince of Crime with a sinister smile on his face beats 15-year-old Jason Todd (Robin) to death with a crowbar as his mother watches on, with no hero to save him. In the decades that have followed this atrocity, Batman has suffered from what we know to be post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Only now after 30 years has he eventually salvaged his sanity, despite still being haunted by the sight of his arch nemesis standing over Jason’s limp and mutilated body. This is just one of the many horrifying moments that have occurred in the so-called ‘child’s entertainment’ industry that is comic books. Now, as a young child you may have read a comic such as The Beano or The Broons. However, now you’re all grown up and are ‘wiser’ in the ways of the world, you probably have this perception that comics are simply for kids, when in actual fact very few are.

I’m guessing you’ve heard of Tony Stark? Iron Man? Most likely you have but what you probably don’t know is that he was an alcoholic in the late 70s. How about Roy Harper? Ever heard of him? He’s Green Arrow’s sidekick and, like the singer-songwriter of the same name, he was suffering from a heroin addiction in 1971. A bit different from CBBC or Disney Channel, wouldn’t you say? I don’t know about you but personally, I wouldn’t exactly regard drug and alcohol abuse as ‘children’s entertainment’; however they do say each to their own. These events are actually what make the characters you know and love, but very few of you will have heard of these darker gritty sides of them as these aspect are only hinted at through their cinematic counterparts to make them more ‘family friendly’ or ‘PG’. Now don’t get me wrong: there are some comics that are aimed at younger readers, but to say that the whole medium is for kids is outrageous. For example, in an article in The Telegraph written by the journalist Rhymer Rigby, simply the headline alone, “No self-respecting adult should buy comics or watch superhero movies”, is preposterous. Take The Walking Dead; that show is well known for being one of the grittiest and most gruesome programmes on television but trust me when I say that it’s mild compared to the horrors printed on the pages of the comic book. In addition to this, you have masterpieces such as Saga, one of the most critically-acclaimed storylines in comic-book history, that is still evolving every month when the next issue appears on shelves. But this comic is far from the world of superheroes. It’s more like our version of Game of Thrones. Violence, sex, racism… it has it all, but not only does it portray these mature subjects, it deals with them in a serious manner by showing the reality of every aspect within these delicate matters. I don’t know any child that would fully understand these subjects, never mind take benefit from the way in which they are explored within the pages of this comic and in fact many other comics like it. 

Everyone assumes that comic books are simply about some witty superhero saving a cat from a tree or a man in spandex foiling a villain’s ‘foolproof’ evil plan to destroy humanity but they’re simply not. Like any other form of entertainment, there are hundreds of different genres and themes: ‘Alex + Ada’, a romantic sci-fi that explores how an artificially intelligent robot could possess emotions; ‘East Of West’, a sci-fi western that depicts a hostile America in the aftermath of the civil war that is segregated into numerous factions; ‘Postal’, a crime thriller that shows a young postman living in a town full of ex-convicts while also having to deal with the effects of Asperger’s disease; ‘Y The Last Man’, a post-outbreak drama where every man on the planet is dead except for one and we see the numerous challenges he faces. Honestly, the list is endless, but people are so naïve that they just stereotype them as being about superheroes. For any comic enthusiast like myself, this is infuriating, as comics contain breathtaking or horrifying tales combined with stunning and jaw-dropping artwork, yet they are still perceived to be on the same level as the Teletubbies or Thomas the Tank Engine. It blows my mind!

From the $2 billion made by Avengers: Infinity War in 2018 to the $380 million made by Batman Begins back in 2005, the comic genre has ruled the cinematic box office for over a decade. Despite this, the stories that made these films a reality are still considered to be for children. If you looked at the revenue these films produce would you think their origins were just for kids? No, of course, you wouldn’t, because how on earth could a multi-billion dollar industry originate from some stories simply for children? The reality is it couldn’t have. These films are so popular because they appeal to people of all ages, whether it’s for the out of this world storylines, the extraordinary characters or even the ground-breaking and innovative CGI (Computer Generated Images) that has changed the world of cinematography forever. These films are being produced year after year in Hollywood due to the fan base continually growing and expanding. This can not only be seen through the money they make but through events such as the San Diego Comic Con where hundreds of thousands of adoring fans dress up as their favourite characters each year and descend on the city’s exhibition centre for all things comics. Nevertheless, our society still maintains the stereotype that comics are just for kids. Why? To be honest, I don’t know. The only difference between the comics and the films (other than the way they are created) is that in actual fact the comics are more complicated to understand and comprehend. Yet our society still believes that they are simply small magazines with a few cartoon pictures and some big speech bubbles with onomatopoeic words emblazoned within them.

Much like with any argument there are always counters and mine is without exception. Many people would say that if you’re an adult or even a teenager why buy what is essentially a magazine when you can buy a fully-fledged book? Well for a start it is not simply a magazine. It is a comic book and it deserves the same respect that is shown to the works of Dickens or Dumas. It contains the same amount of action, excitement, drama, comedy and twists as any other literacy masterpiece. However, as it contains pictures and speech bubbles rather than bland boring pages of text it is believed to be for children. It is honestly astonishing that this is the case, as these pictures and speech bubbles are actually created by award-winning artists and writers such as Frank Miller and Alan Moore, who have both proved themselves in the worlds of art and literature respectively. However, the world sees that as it is not page upon page of endless sentences and paragraphs it must simply be for younger readers. If people were to actually flick through a few pages of a comic they would immediately be drawn into an imaginary world of the author’s choosing, where any number of events could unfold. No different from any other King or Christie creation.

The reality is comics are just the artistic reincarnation of books. They are written by authors but adapted with stunning and scintillating drawings to help enhance the reading experience. Just because they contain pictures doesn’t mean they are just for children: they are for all people, no matter what their age who enjoy both art and storytelling. They are not simply about superheroes: they tackle a wide range of issues across different genres, such as discrimination in space within Saga or the horrors that plague an apocalyptic world within the Walking Dead. There is no limit to what they can express so they simply cannot be limited to children. They are for everyone.


  6. Quote from Batman: A Death In The Family by Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo

Lauren Boyle: Father

The dark, navy sky blankets the huge, thick forest. Silence fills the air. Blackness engulfs the forest: all is eerily still and quiet, as if there is no one alive left in the world. Snow falls heavily now; thick, white snowflakes balance precariously in the fir trees’ branches, creating a perfect Christmas card background. The Russian winter of 1941 has come early.

As the virgin snow drifts in the light wind, untouched by human footfall, the war feels many miles away. A sound breaks the silence. A howl slices through the thick air like ice. A wolf’s howl. The forest hides hundreds of them, waiting, prowling. Another howl, this time more desperate and deafening than the last, echoes into the haunting night sky and seems to rattle the window pane of our wooden cabin nestling in the forest.

I suddenly open my eyes and they are drawn to the rattling window. Another howl echoes through the everlasting night sky, pleading and desperate. In one swift action, my jacket, shoes and hat are on and I’m flinging open the door and stumbling into the darkness. The waiting snow scorns my sensitivity as I yelp in pain at its frozen grip. My legs are immediately immersed in an icy bath up to the knee. Again, a howl engulfs the night. It speaks to me and anticipation ripples through my frigid body like an electric current, warming my bones.

Through the darkness, green, hollow orbs stare me down. Yet, I feel no fear. Instantly, a kaleidoscope of different coloured eyes appear in the darkness, unblinking and unwavering. A smile dances on the edge of my lips. The green-eyed wolf howls as if only to me, slowly and thinly, like a whisper from tree to tree, a sound travelling on the scarce wind. Now, the smile bursts across my face.

Father is back home.

“Tatiana, why are you sleeping here at the front door? Get up!” My eyes open, my vision blurry as a yawn escapes from me. I see my mother standing there. A middle-aged women, hands on hips, wearing a bizarre combination of patterns on her trousers and thick knitted jumper, her face drawn and careworn. She is annoyed that I have fallen asleep on the door step again. “Mother you have to believe me, the wolves were calling me again last night!” I exclaim, scrambling to my feet shaking life back into my numb legs and feet.

Her eye roll is her signature action when I mention the wolves. She opens the dusty curtains, letting the yellow streaks of sunlight dance on the table. “Tatiana, what would your father say? Wolves are vicious animals, you have to stay safe.” The mention of father creates a knot in my stomach. If I close my eyes I can still see him waving goodbye to us, proud to go and fight for Mother Russia and Comrade Stalin. That was over a year ago. Six months later, a pack of wolves arrived, often visiting the cabin at night. “But he’s got father’s eyes,” I say quietly, almost to myself.

Recently, Mother has overheard whispered rumours in the village that the Germans are advancing and the war is not going well for us. The empty shelves in the shops speak of food shortages. The next night the nightmares came. I wake up, lonely and trembling with sweat dripping down my forehead, hands curled into fists with anxiety. The Germans are coming. At least that’s what I heard mother say. They will do terrible things to us, they want to destroy us. Why is your father not here to protect us? She is increasingly anxious for our safety, saying we may need to find another place to live.

As usual my minds racing and my head’s thumping making me unable to sleep. I walk downstairs to find mother sitting at the kitchen table. She looks like she couldn’t sleep either, with a cup of tea nestling between her hands. Suddenly the sound of a window smashing echoes into the living room, I jump in fright, mother’s eyes as wide as saucers. “Tatiana. Don’t. Move,” she hisses at me, her body frozen in terror. I steady my breathing. Have the Germans arrived, is this the end?

The door of my room falls off its hinges and what seems like a hundred wolves stare at us, with teeth bared and mouths dripping with salvia. The green eyed wolf leads the pack. Mother screams, “RUN!”

We sprint through the front door into the knee deep snow and the darkness of the forest beyond. The wolves are chasing, or are they shepherding us to a place within the forest? On and on we go. Mother and I are now far from our cabin, surrounded by snowy fur trees that seem to form a protective blanket around us. I can see a glimpse of our house, in the distance through the trees. “Mother, let’s go back, please!” I’m crying now. About the wolves who I thought were my friends. About father who is not with us. About the Germans destroying our lives. About everything.

Mother is shaking her head, staring into the distance at our cabin. “Tatiana, our house…the Germans have it.” I see in the distance the fire devouring our cabin, the house I’ve lived in all my life. “Mama!” I exclaim. “The wolves saved us! Don’t you see they got us out of the house before we were killed in the fire too! Mama!” The green eyed wolf emerges from the now quiet pack and in the darkness, lit only by the distant flames from the cabin, bows his head slowly.

My mother is silent for a moment. Everything has changed. “We need to go,” she says, a steely edge in her voice. I know it will be a struggle, but I have my mother and the spirit of my father with me. We have survived, we are together and alive.

In Russia, in the terrible winter of 1941, that is enough.

Rachael Eadie: Give it a Rap!

Rap music is everywhere: in the entertainment we consume, as background music in the shops and restaurants in which we go about our daily lives and even in advertising for mainstream brands like Pepsi or Gap. It has become a global phenomenon, one of the most popular and lucrative music genres in the world, creating worldwide superstars and legions of adoring fans. Surely a force for good? Well yes, if your idea of positivity is explicit language, glorification of gang violence, the perpetuation of racial stereotypes, misogyny, drugs and a fixation on money and materialism. Are these values we really want to encourage? If it was just to cater for a minority taste this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but since rap is now the most popular music genre in the United States, part of the mainstream in western culture and is rapidly increasing in popularity around the world, isn’t it time for some types of rap music to change their tune?

It wasn’t always this way. I struggle to understand how something so poetic in origin, rooted in the story telling culture of Africa and often used so successfully by early artists such as Grandmaster Flash, as a vehicle for highlighting issues of injustice, oppression and poverty has to such a large extent become so corrupted in its values, hijacked by the corporates and turned into a global money making machine. Nowadays the mere mention of the words “rap music” conjures up too many negative images.

The objectification of women is a huge issue in some types of rap music, particularly the hardcore and “gangsta” sub genres (which also happen to be the most lucrative ones). To my mind the lyrics and the visual representation of women in these rappers’ videos is more often than not offensive. What kind of example is this setting for young women today? How many rap videos portray a strong, independent, intelligent woman asserting her authority over men? Instead all we ever see is a succession of submissive, scantily clad women portrayed as sex objects. If that’s all you’re exposed to when you’re young, you’ll start to think that it’s normal. In the twenty first century we are surely beyond the point where the sort of goals women set for themselves is to see who can be the most “bootylicous”. Particularly in the wake of the recent Harvey Weinstein scandal, it can only undermine the message of the #MeToo movement to glamourise the exploitation of women. There’s enough misogyny around already: the last thing we need is it being constantly blasted in our ears and shoved in our faces.

I also don’t get how, in a time where we are encouraging tolerance in so many other areas, many rap artists seem to get away with expressing sentiments and using words like, ‘hoe’ and ‘n***a’ which, in any other context, would be considered racist, sexist or offensive to the point of being totally unacceptable.

Another area where some rap music seems to create controversy is the manner in which the lyrics glorify violence and glamourise criminal activity. Think of all the rap songs that latch onto the same depressingly recurring theme of scoring drug deals, knife crimes, drive-by shootings and aspiring to be the next big gang leader. As Eazy-E quotes in his song, Boyz-N-The-Hood; “Little did he know I had a loaded twelve gauge/One sucker dead LA Times front page”. For some artists this does in fact represent the reality of their lives, as a few have found out to their ultimate cost e.g. the east/west coast gang rivalry which claimed the lives of rappers Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. The irony, though, is that other rappers, Drake being one example, will happily create a “gangsta” alter ego for themselves for the purposes of commercial success when in fact they come from backgrounds a million miles removed from the deprived neighbourhoods of South Central LA. What angers me is that this is not only misleading but irresponsible. Many people idolise these artists and see them as role models, thinking that sort of lifestyle is something to aspire to and imitating their behaviour in the belief that it’s the cool thing to do.

So many artists in this genre seem to obsess about appearances and materialism, as if quoting designer brands, high-end luxury goods and top of the range sports cars gives them some sort of kudos. Maybe if more rap was not about getting the latest Rolex and more about getting a decent set of values it would set a better example for its audience. (But then, Kanye West didn’t get to be a billionaire by promoting the values of modesty, selflessness and caring for others: he got to be a billionaire by promoting his music and his trainer brand, Yeezy’s.) Yet this unhealthy fixation on designer “bling” can only serve to emphasise the gulf between rap’s megastars and their audiences, many of whom can’t afford to dream about the luxury Caribbean holidays and endless bling enjoyed by those they idolise. As Chuck D, leader of the group, Public Enemy, and one of the most prominent voices in politically and socially conscious rap music, cleverly observed: it is hardly the stuff of Robin Hood that the route for many of today’s rap stars to achieving success and funding their own lavish lifestyles seems to be to exploit their own fan base, much of which lives in relative poverty.

It would be an over simplification to suggest that all rappers subscribe to the language of crime, violence and misogyny. Yes, there are the socially conscious rappers who denounce violence, whose messages are inspirational and who seek to challenge, instead of perpetuate, the stereotypes. There are those voices promoting a message of love, peace and understanding rather than one of hate, tension and intolerance but they are at risk of being drowned out. If rap is to return to its historical roots as a force for good on its ever growing audience, it’s time to give more airtime to the likes of Frank Ocean and Stormzy and to call time on “gangsta” rap and its negative influences.

Bibliography: websites

Orla Morrow: Debbie Downer

I’ve never liked waiting rooms. The anticipation makes me anxious. I look around, trying to find something positive-colourful to focus on; white-washed walls, polished floor, white vinyl chairs, the kind that squeak when you move. A painful noise. So much for colourful. I hate it. Everything is so clinical.

The door finally opens, I am greeted with a smile. The woman seems friendly. I shuffle into the office. The room is warm, drenched in a sweet perfume of lavender -an attempt to make people feel more relaxed, I guess. Not me. It’s too sweet – turning my stomach to jelly.

I lower myself onto a chair accompanied by a glass of water and a box of Kleenex. What have I gotten myself into?

She sits across from me with welcoming eyes, pen and pad at the ready. We sit in silence. I try to appear calm, deep breaths. Inside I’m screaming.All I can think about is her, about Debbie. I watch her watch me from the corner of the office. I plan out what to say in my head;

‘Debbie’s my best friend, we do everything together. I remember we first met last December. We had so much in common and soon became best friends. Inseparable. She’s always there for me when I’m alone. It’s comforting – to an extent. No one knows me like Debbie does. However, she can be difficult at times. Debbie craves attention. She gets angry if I ignore her for too long. Things get scary when Debbie’s angry.’

I shift uncomfortably and start pulling a thread on my school skirt. Everyone would be in 4th period by now. I wonder if anyone noticed me drive off earlier… I refocus my thoughts;

‘Debbie loves long drives. She insists on choosing the songs, I don’t argue, considering she introduced me to the blues. Debbie has a special connection with music. It’s her way of expression. She sees the sad melody as though it were a river, sloshing over every building, swamping the streets ,one with the rain that cries down the car window. It’s amazing how music can do that. Although, sometimes her pessimism drives me crazy. She has negative opinions about everything and feels I must acknowledge them. Especially when they’re about me. Some days, when she’s round, Debbie sits by the mirror and lists all my mistakes, or sings about my insecurities, or she just attacks my appearance- it varies. ‘It’s all constructive criticism,’ she claims, staring through the glass with a look of disgust. I frown. I drink it all in though. A good friend would only state the facts, right?’

I need a drink. I reach for the water, hands trembling. I take long sips, drowning with every gulp, sinking into the silence as I continue to think;

‘I wish sinking into sleep were that easy. I can’t whenever Debbie sleeps over. Most nights, she forces me to stay awake for hours arguing. It’s become so frequent now that in the mornings, I can’t get up anymore. When Debbie’s around, she scares me.I used to be able to escape her but eventually she overpowered me. Now the only escape is sleep (if I can).’

I feel a yawn coming on. Why am I so tired? Is it the lavender? I can’t be bothered with my plans anymore; A friend’s birthday party. I’ll have to rain check… again. Concentrate now, keep thinking;

‘I’ve been cancelling a lot lately, much to Debbie’s delight. She gets so jealous. Whenever I make plans with friends, she convinces me to stay home with her instead. She loves hearing the disappointment in their voice after my pathetic “I’m sick, sorry” over the phone.

I’m sick of it. She’s distancing me from everyone I care about. ‘They don’t like you anyway,’ she whispers. I hang up, empty guilt in my gut. Why do I listen? I tell myself, ‘maybe it’s time to tell someone what’s going on, I need help.’

‘No one cares.’ ‘You’re just overreacting.’ ‘You’re just seeking attention.’ ‘You’ll just be a burden anyway.’

Why do I believe her every time?

Defeated, I turn the lights off and crawl back to bed. Debbie hugs me, her grasp suffocating. I don’t fight it. Instead, I welcome the blues as I turn on her music, ready to be submerged into the depression of the lyrics again. I feel the hollow numbness, the confusion as to why I’m so… wrong. Why am I so broken? Everyone else is living their life, having fun, and here I am, night after night, lying awake in agony, all hope and joy- dead. Is this how I’ll feel forever? Nothing? It’s petrifying. NO. I don’t want to be like this anymore.

I want help.

I need help.

Suddenly, I feel a painful surge of energy and begin to cry. The first time in weeks. I didn’t think it were possible. Debbie hates emotion. Tears. Real tears. They drip down, like the ones on the car window. Hope.’

I feel a tear escape my eye, then another. A waterfall. I grab the tissues. All this thinking and no speaking. After 45 minutes of silence, I’ve cracked. I can’t bottle this up any longer. Uncontrollable sobs are released. The woman nods, as though she knows, as though she can read minds. Her welcoming eyes unravel me. “It’s smothering me.” I cry. “It feels like a nightmare; one I can’t escape. It’s terrifying.” Debbie sits in the corner, silent. Infuriated. She’s exposed. My ugly secret is out.

The woman simply smiles, speaking gently. Comforting me. She tells me I’m not alone. She’s the only person who understands. At this moment, relief washes over me. I relax. We speak for the remainder of the session. The more we talk the lighter I feel. She gives me advice, reassurance. It feels as though everything could be ok; As Debbie slumps, unwelcome in this space, I think to myself that maybe, things will be ok after all.

That first session was 4 months ago. Debbie stopped tagging along after week 6. She rarely visits nowadays. Now when I look in the mirror, I smile. I sleep well, I go out with my friends. I feel. Debbie isn’t gone completely, it’s impossible to dispose of such a wicked illness – but speaking about it helps. I am aware of her presence when she visits, and sometimes, I can feel her darkness leak in, but I’m learning to find the joy in life to light my path once more, one whiff of lavender at a time.

Thomas Gillen: Panic

It begins with a ringing in my ears, as always.

A fire spreads throughout my body, blazing through my arms, then my legs, a sickness advancing from the deepest reaches of human imagination – the mind at war with matter. I’ve been shaking and writhing quietly for weeks, told my skills were too valuable to get rid of. Work yourself half to death with bones popping out and guts oozing out of the wrong places and the Doctors will chuckle, saying ‘Walk it off, it builds character.’ Losing focus. Shadows blurring together. I would laugh at the Medicals now if I could, through laboured breaths and a cold, piercing sweat, at how I was somehow deemed perfectly healthy; ‘a prime specimen’. A bullet to the leg never hurt a fly. The trenches wash away that kind of naivety.

A faraway banging snaps me back to reality, dreary as it is. Something compels me to put one leg in front of the other, and then the other, until I enter a trembling rhythm, like a stumbling march down a rock-face to certain death. As I limp forward, a cursed stench fills the air, somewhere between blood and the droppings of a cow, accentuated by the rotting of the wood under foot. I wade through mounds of dirt, shaken, shivering, and waterlogged from near constant downpours into His Majesty’s personal sewer. My head pulsates and the dizziness intensifies, and I am left blundering through unfamiliar backdrops, grey outlines in my vision as I tumble from one corner of my foul surroundings to the next – memories and nightmares flooding to me with every waking moment.

Shrill screams and deafening cries ambush me, crimson bleeds into the sky, and the ground itself seems to move as though trying to swallow me whole. My hands begin to convulse uncontrollably, clamming up, and that accursed banging continues in some distant world from mine. I’m reminded of the teacher’s belt clamping down on an unruly child, the scraping sound of leather on flesh echoed through the pounding in the distance. Pain flares up in my palm at the memory. Keep moving. My throat dries up. No water. Bottle empty. Fire and brimstone. Eyes grow from the trees, contorted and weeping, bearing down on me from their perch above me, leering at my very being. A wave of coldness floods over me as I trip into a puddle of muck, and the vision of Hell is briefly replaced with a wall of ice trapping me under the surface, before I am once again sent reeling back into the ground by that damned banging. Slowly getting back up, I begin to trudge forward once again. The walls close in and the shadows seem to whisper of conspiracy. I can hear the maddening tittering of someone nearby, or maybe that’s me, or maybe…

A flash of light brings me hurtling to a stop in a field. Home. The sun inches out from behind the clouds and for a brief moment I’m back where I belong. Where trees do not cry into the soil, where the weary can get their peace. I can smell a fragrant, pleasant scent. Strolling forward, small figures seem to appear in the distance, radiating warmth and with gleaming smiles on their faces, a time before all of the suffering of the present – my family, toiling the fields for what little harvest they can glean, labouring tirelessly, but still… happy. Some way away, I can see my little brothers and sisters out in the garden, playing at soldiers and enjoying the sunshine. As far as the eye can see, pure bliss.

And next to an old tree, her.

Liz, the girl an angel couldn’t hold a candle to. Sweet, smart, funny, beautiful, everything to anyone, able to lift the spirits through the hardest times, always there when you needed her. I’d known her all my life, and from day one she was the sort of person who you loved before you even knew what ‘loved’ even meant; no-one better from here to America.

I walk up to the ash tree where she lies. A grey cloud is suddenly rolling over head, and a light breeze begins to rock through the hills. The hairs on my neck begin to spike up. I square up to her, needing to say something I should’ve really said a long time ago – but I’m stopped by a terrible sight. The corners of her mouth are dried with blood and part of her arm is rotting. The light drizzle transforms into a raging storm, and as the rising gale blasts through, her face starts to peel away, leaving nothing but gore and bone, a sick and wicked sight. I turn around, unable to face what I have just seen, and watch as my little bastion of hope is ripped apart around me as the wind ruptures the very fabric of my world.

I drop onto my knees, breathless. Wrestling myself back up from the ground, a tall spectre of a man slithers into view, here to collect me. I barely hear any of his words, but I make out enough. ‘Is this all the back-up? My God, they ARE trying to get us all killed…’ the vision mutters, spitting venom. ‘It’ll have to do. Alright, boy, if you’ll steady yourself for one moment…’ the rest falls on deaf ears. Something about an attack over the top, the Somme, your bit for king and country. A bang slams down nearby, flaking shrapnel and nearly hitting a few men near the dugout. One of them appears to be shaking.

I’m nudged towards the ladders, and told to take my time with any last prayers before we move out, as if God hadn’t already abandoned me out here. I walk up to my ladder, gripping it unsteadily, and slowly make my way up it.

A bell rings out, and we attack.