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

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.

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.


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

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

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.

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.

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.

Eva Pryce: Twin

I sit poised on the edge of my seat, my hand twitching towards my foot, where painful blisters are appearing. I hate high heels. My auburn hair has been dragged up into an excruciatingly tight bun and I can’t help but rearrange the slightly baggy, dark skirt, over my slim long legs. I turn and see my features slightly distorted in the glass pane of a door. A small smirk appears on my reflection: I knew she was bigger than me.

Two minutes later, an officer arrives and I follow him downstairs, into the depths of a building I will never see again (hopefully). The officer can’t help but glance back at me. Over. And over. And over again. I’m used to this. “The price of good looks is prying eyes,” my mother used to say. All of a sudden, my thoughts drift to home and to a garden I know every inch of. Across the garden, I see my reflection waving and smiling and I can’t help but beam back at her. She runs towards me in her fairy costume, with a beautiful, neat bun and tiny silver heels (some things never change). I adored my twin. We were inseparable. I see 3-year-old us, dancing in our horrendously pink room. Flash forward and I see us standing hand in hand, as we enter our new high school for the first time. Flash forward again and I see her, hand in hand. But not with me. With a stranger. She beams up at him, as she leaves me standing all alone, for the first time.

I feel a hand brush my shoulder and almost jump out of my skin. The officer signals to the door in front of me and I take a deep breath and step through it. The smell of bleach stings my eyes and throat and I pray I can leave as soon as possible. Unfortunately for me, I don’t think I’m in God’s good books at the moment.

The morgue attendant rushes over to me. On cue, his wrinkles form perfectly into a solemn expression and I wonder if it is simply a trick he has perfected over time, or if he is truly sad every time a body comes through his morgue. I decide to choose the latter. This is unlike me. I am normally cold and unforgiving, like the place where I stand just now but something about this man tells me to trust him. It could be his kind eyes or simply that I haven’t trusted someone in so long, that my mind aches for someone to talk to. To tell my secrets to. To believe in. I hope this feeling goes as quickly as it came.

My steps echo. The silence breaking with every clack of a high heel on a tile floor. Then I see her. I stop. Even across the morgue, I can recognise those features, so very like my own. My face slips into what I think is the correct expression for this kind of occasion. The perfect mixture of sadness and confusion. I step closer but with every step another image rushes through my head. Rushes. A river. Trees. Darkness. Wind blowing my hair all across my face. My palms clammy despite the cold. A twig snaps under my feet. And. And……

I gaze up and see a bright light. It hurts my eyes. I squint and role onto my side. The sterile smell brings me straight back to reality and I began to stand up. The morgue attendant forces a glass of water into my hand. The light glints off the edge of the glass and I see stars. I stumble back but the ever-watching officer reaches out a hand and stabilises me. The morgue attendant smiles weakly, “You’ve fainted dear.” I mumble a few sorries and I hear him say something along the lines of “happens more than you’d think”. I nod and step towards the body.

Every feature is mine. The full lips, the sharp jaw, the large eyes and the slender limbs. Not as thin as me, I think. I can’t help it. But then I see the differences. Her lips are blue where mine are warm and pink. Her eyes are shut tightly and her limbs, stiff and still.

The officer steps forward, “Please state your name for the record.” I open my mouth but have to stop myself. No, I think. Slow down. I allow some time to pass and then say in my quietest voice, “Jac Bright”. It has the desired effect. The morgue attendant gives me an encouraging smile and the officer asks me to identify the body. “Julie Bright,” I say.

I step away from the table and shut my eyes. I hear the officer tell the attendant that a man has already been arrested, and I feel the colour return to my cheeks. Part of me is slightly shocked when the officer says that he can take me back upstairs now. I had expected paperwork and interviews. This seems too easy. However, given that they have made an arrest, I must be nothing more than a grieving relative. This comforts me. I say goodbye to the morgue attendant, whose name I never really caught and follow the officer back out and up the stairs. The place seems obnoxiously loud after the silence of the morgue. High heels clack. Officers laugh raucously and some man is making a scene in the reception.

I practically sprint out of the station and into the taxi that is waiting for me. I arrive at my house remarkably quickly and take my time walking up the stairs to the front door. I want to take it all in. There is a beautiful hydrangea beside the front door. That will have to go. I step inside the house and stop. A wonderful wooden staircase lies before me. Her husband’s death made her rich. Well, my husband now. I sigh and stroll into the main lounge. I throw myself on a plush sofa and let my mind wander.

I think of her. I feel the cold blade in my hand and shudder. I look around her house and absorb the life that is now mine. I have taken her life but I feel no remorse. She left me. She abandoned me. I was her twin. Her soul reflected. I banish thoughts of her and turn to see my 65-inch television. In it my reflection smiles. There are advantages to being a twin.

Arran – Charlie McCallum

Sun glitters across blue waves.

A flamboyant tail of clouds follows

An aeroplane across the blue summer sky;

A soft balmy breeze of cool air brushes

Against your cheeks.

The potent heat of the sun vibrates on your shoulders.


As you sit on the moist hill which lays host

To millions of summer’s green grasses,

Clouds of white merriment drift past.

The opera sounds of the sea

Enchant the mind into a solitude of euphoria.


In the sea, seals dance around in a glorious blaze

Beneath the sun, who casts her summer warmth

Across the isle of Arran,

And into the cool waters of the Firth of Clyde.


How is it that a landscape next to a village in Scotland

Can dispense such bewitching sensation,

Like falling asleep on a bed of satin?


Another hour goes by.

The once radiant heat on your shoulders develops

Into a breeze, a flurry of ocean air.

Like a dragon scorching an army of ten thousand,

The once blue sapphire summer sky has evolved

Into a dark red crimson.


The omnipotent sun falls over the Irish Sea,

And is slowly pulled under the awful waters

Of the Universe.


The day draws closer to a finish;

The sun is submerged under the world

As she explodes into

A halo of wonder and alleviation.


What a day of bliss

To make your eyes drunk with beauty and magic

That your mind could never have dreamed of.


The Cadaverous Carnival – Sophie Paterson

It was on a Thursday that the circus came. Preceded by nothing more than the quiet murmur of a restless town, it arrived shrouded in mystery. The canopies flew into the azure sky where clouds twisted peacefully overhead and ropes clawed the ground of the swampy fields just beyond the furthest houses. Brightly coloured stalls littered like exotic flowers, draping the area with a suffocating promise of euphoria. The murmur grew into a buzz and for a few precious moments, the town forgot its problems.

Night fell. A sheet of stars accompanied by a deafening silence cocooned the deserted streets, only broken by the crisp crackle of her boots on the frosted grass. It was a short walk to the fields, through the maze of houses and past the sleeping occupants but the journey felt like an eternity. Soon enough, the oily glow of the golden lamps shone out in front of her but there was something amiss. This was not the circus she had spied being constructed only hours previously.

Bunting lay trodden in the mud-soaked field and the tents bore gashes bleeding out the flickering, dying light from within. Broken stalls lay haphazardly around, surrounded by gaudily wrapped prizes, mutilated and mangled. Popcorn was trodden into the ground at her feet and above her the entrance sign hung from a single cable from which occasionally erupted a shower of sparks like frantic fireflies.

Enslaved, she felt her feet drag her towards the torn opening of the tent. Hesitantly, she pulled aside the curtain and peered through. Her eyes tracked the path of drying blood painting the floor. Laughter, drowned by the broken sound of circus music, hung chillingly in the arid air. The eerie tune writhed its way into her mind as she craned her neck up to look at the disjointed trapeze artists who performed to the music as if they were rag dolls being thrown into the air. The large stage spanned the majority of the room and there were but a few upturned and empty chairs scattered around. The paint on the side of the wooden ladders and platforms was peeling and faded, like a memory long forgotten. Her breath lurched as she watched as one of the artists plummeted through the air like a ribbon. Her body slammed into the ground with a sickening crack; legs bent at unnatural angles and eyes glassy and unfocussed. Mere moments later, the body twisted and convulsed and the doll-like creature stood up again and walked back to the ladder humming the demented tune, whilst the others sat perched on the platforms like vultures.

Leaving the nightmare of the stage behind her, she slithered around the edge of the arena and made her way through the corridors, the music continuing to play in her head; a compulsive, conniving echo.

Time seemed irrelevant as she made her way through the labyrinth; her route random and careless, occasionally glimpsing disturbing scenes such as the ballerina who pirouetted mindlessly on a miniscule box, eyes hauntingly blank. She stumbled on, her hand finding purchase on an obsolete light switch, which illuminated the wall ahead.

The wall seemed to span a thousand feet in the seemingly impossible nothingness of the tent, a collage of monochromatic faces and a flurry of words. She ran her hand along the wall of youthful expressions until she stopped at a random poster pasted over several others. Missing. A boy. He was called Jonathan. His picture embodied the innocence of his youth; she imagined his mother’s desperation at the loss of her son.

She emerged into an unfathomably large room full of cracked and broken mirrors, their jagged blooded shards like predatory teeth. Coaxed into the dark by the sound of muffled screams, choked sobs and high pitched giggles, she stepped through the mirrors’ frames, oblivious to the myriad of small cuts which the remnants inflicted.

An imposing spotlight shone onto the act that stood in the middle of a desolate stage therein. She peered from behind the wooden, supporting beam, swinging her body to gain a better view. The light bounced off the bars of a cage, illuminating the faces of petrified children within who cowered into the corners and shrank in on themselves. Clowns in dirtied silk costumes crawled over the entirety of the enclosure, their bloodied, crimson claws tearing at the children’s skin as they cried out in terror. As the face paint melted off the clowns’ faces revealing mouths of needles and sinister grins, one child grabbed at the bars and tried to squeeze his skeletal frame out of the cage but to no avail. His clothes were dirtied and there was a deep cut over one cheek but his face was the embodiment of innocence. Jonathan.

All those faces, all those posters; it was as if the final piece of the jigsaw was in place.

Marching on, she found herself to be in a dressing room. The make up splayed over the rusty table was bright and bold; behind her lay rails upon rails of silk clothing. Stepping closer to the table, her eyes fell upon the worn leather whip, its tail curling like a snake onto the floor. She tentatively grasped the handle raising it to eye level before gazing in the dirtied mirror, gazing detachedly towards her reflection.

Her dark figure was clothed in a bloody, torn crimson tailcoat, which brushed past her long, worn black boots. A dirtied white cotton shirt flared from beneath the jacket and blood seeped through a rip in her black fitted trousers. She observed the ruby liquid with idle curiosity before drawing her eyes up to her face.  Her breath was even and her expression blank as paper.  The harlequin diamonds and white face paint was flaking off, revealing the rotting flesh and snake like eyes hidden beneath. She tilted her head to the side as she regarded her reflection. With a sharp grin and crack of her whip she twisted brokenly towards the door, the tears in her clothes sewing themselves seamlessly together as she sauntered towards the arena.

The air grew heavy with the electric hum of jewelled tents snapping to attention, hypnotic with colours of crimson red and emerald green.

As she moved forward, the glowing lights grew impossibly golden and all around there was music, warm and irresistible.

Now she is centre stage in a circus alive and intoxicating in its seduction.

She has a show to give. And it will be perfect.

The Pill That Opens the Gates to Heaven – Joshua Edwardson

Recreational drugs and their effects are usually split into three categories: depressants, which relax and calm the user, stimulants, which provide alertness and energy to the user, and psychedelic drugs, which cause hallucinations and distort the user’s perspective of reality. The most popular and commonly used recreational drugs are alcohol, marijuana and hashish, but there is a new kid in town, taking it by storm.

Polyphasidine is the latest recreational substance to seize the imaginations of the Americas’ drug-using populations. It kills the user, eliminating all of their vital signs, but only for a short while. Why people would ever want to achieve this is a commonly-asked question, and those who have experienced this strange high have answered by trying to convince the public that there is an afterlife that anyone can witness. Some of the users have admitted to meeting deceased relatives and friends. Some have even said they were in the presence of great historical figures. The majority of scientific minds are still questioning the legitimacy of these sources and the University of Michigan has begun to investigate the substance.

Researchers offered volunteers $200 to take the drug in pill form, so that their experiences could be documented. The experiment started as they knew it would; with 10 dead twentysomethings sitting in reclining chairs. However, within 15 minutes, the first subject had awoken from beyond reality and was immediately taken to another room for questioning. The time taken to wake up ranged from about 15 minutes to about 35 minutes, with each volunteer being questioned after their resurrection from the dead. Each of them witnessed some sort of heaven, telling the professors that they had re-lived a forgotten memory or that they had had conversations with dead family members. It was clearly a very moving and emotional experience for everyone who had taken the drug; however this encapsulates the greatest risk of polyphasidine.

For some, the drug helps them to truly appreciate life on Earth, while others find it difficult to transition from death to reality, with some becoming addicted to the drug or, if they can’t reunite themselves with it, committing suicide so they can go back. The rise in popularity of polyphasidine has been directly proportional to an increase of suicide rates in the United States, Australia and Denmark. This, however is not the only risk of ingestion. In some cases, people have gone into a coma-like state after use, taking as long as two days to wake up. Whenever this has happened, the patient requires constant monitoring because of the nature to the drug. This has led to a grave concern over the widening use of the substance in the medical community as hospital beds are often occupied by users of the drug for days at a time. Ironically, the drug itself was initially created for medical use.

Polyphasidine was originally created in Columbia for use in euthanasia. For about 15 minutes, it was thought to be functional, until the subject woke up again. The hospital workers tried to dispose of the drug but, it was picked up by a drug cartel who, after realising its effect and apparently managing to source and co-opt chemists involved in its production, began selling and distributing it. The drug spread though South America and Central America before inevitably breaking out in the USA. It gained media attention when pictures and news emerged that Keith Richards had overdosed and died while using polyphasidine, but was seen wandering the streets of London just days later. He then began to describe the high as “literally heaven”, a phrase only other users of the drug could truly appreciate.

In a recent interview, Keith Richards explained he had been introduced to the drug when the Rolling Stones had been touring South America for the first time. He recalled he was the only member of the band willing to experiment with it, but cannot remember actually having taken it, only his own afterlife experience and the commotion after he woke up. “They had phoned an ambulance and when I awoke I was lying in hospital. I have to compliment the ambulance service and everyone present, as there was only about 20 minutes between me taking the drug and then waking up in hospital,” said Keith. “But that was the first and last time for me. You just can’t put the people around you in that sort of situation.”

Despite the many risks, there are substantial communities based in South, Central and North America who are all campaigning to have this drug legalised. They are trying to win over the population with a strongly theological argument. They are telling people that by taking the drug, they can spend time with those they neglected when they were alive. In an attempt to convert those from different faith communities who are the most prominent.  The leader of the Arkansas community, Timothy Whitmann, appealed to religious listeners in a radio interview saying, “There is finally a way to speak to your God face-to-face. There is finally a way to thank your parents for everything. And there is finally a way to relive your favourite memories.” In many of his speeches and protests he has quoted the Bible, Torah and Koran, desperately looking for acceptance from those who disagree with him. He urges all to disregard the risks, throw caution to the wind and try it, so that they can make their minds up for themselves.

As the cult of polyphasidine grows, we may stand at the cusp of a crisis in human history. Could the usage of this type of substance lead to an epidemic of suicides? Is there anything the world’s governments can do to prevent or at least control the polyphasidine intake in their respective countries?

An Imaginary Family – Aidan Murray

Some people have imaginary friends; he didn’t. I didn’t. Some people have a family. He did once. Not anymore. I did once. Not anymore. We were best friends. We were. He had no-one. No-one but his imaginary family.

Aiden and I were best friends; we even had the same name… well, kind of. Each day when we walked into the jail cell called primary school, we always had each other’s backs. Beating up the baddies that came in our way using our heat vision, frosty touch, superpowers only we knew. We loved the same things, especially Pokémon cards! We would battle them as if it was a life or death situation, putting every last bit of breath into shouting out words on the card that we could barely read. We would brag for days about who would be getting pocket money first just so we could get the next Pikachu card. But that all changed. On the 35th of July, a day we said was real, just hidden by aliens, Aiden was diagnosed with a life-draining spell. One that was cast by the evil witch that is fate. Each day he would come into school slightly later than usual. He sat next to me, smiling the broadest smile that anyone has ever seen, but slouching nervously at the corners. I, at that time, didn’t know of his diagnosis.

Over time he disappeared; his smile, his passion, his enthusiasm. It was my quest to bring all that back. Aiden hadn’t been in school but that didn’t stop us from playing together in the different regions of the estate. Area 51 was where the park was. There was a den that we built from which we would gaze for hours and hours up at the multiverse, waiting for a sign that Mrs Blake – our horrible teacher –  really was just a ‘strange beast’ in disguise. Other than searching for extra-terrestrial life, Aiden and I would ride our bikes for ages, as if we were Chris Hoy or Michael Murray – that’s my dad, he says he could beat anyone in a race easily – I still have the scars on my left hand, either side of my middle finger at the knuckle, from when we fell off our bikes!

The week after that he was taken for good, captured, locked in a dungeon far away from any of the regions. I wondered where he had gone.

There’s shouting. There’s sirens. Panic rushes to greet paranoia in my mind with open arms. Red light. “Doctor.” Blue light. “Doctor!” Red light. “We’re losing him!” Darkness, I’m not the same. As the miniature glass stars brought me back to a state of consciousness. People. Do I know them? How do they know me? I walked up to the window in the four-walled labyrinth – ‘mint secret’ in colour, just like Aidan’s bedroom. Murmurs. What’s happening?

A note came from the hospital, signed by Aiden. His hand must have been shaking like Scooby Doo as he wrote it.

Letters to me, to you, from you, to me. It’s as if we were the Chuckle Brothers but the irony in saying that is that the letters weren’t full of joy and laughter but the complete opposite. Aiden was telling me of the people who zoomed past him, not noticing his cries for help; the doctors that talked about ‘Alan Pecia’ and how he would be seeing Aiden soon. He was also talking about his loneliness while being kept caged, like a neglected house pet. I reassured him that his family would surely be coming to see him soon. The next letter came. It consisted of four words scribbled onto a piece of paper. “I don’t have one.”

And many messages later I realised that after all this time my best friend – a person about whom I thought I knew everything – was an orphan.

His parents died when he was very young. Unsure of the cause of death, he grew up curious yet saddened living in Rosslyn Children’s Home. “Do what any kid would do. Imagine them. We are pretty awesome at that anyway!” I responded, aiming to get his hopes back up. The doctor, a woman – the parents who he thought were his, in disguise. Two children – in his imagination, his younger brothers that he always wanted yet were never born. And myself. We are Aiden’s family now.

From Pallet Town, to the Rainbow Tulip Fields in the Netherlands, to the Hitachi Seaside Park in Japan. Anywhere which Aiden and I had either seen on TV or read in a book or played in a game, was an adventure. He would write for hours and hours, telling me about the trip that I had experienced. We had experienced. Aiden, myself, and the imaginary family.

More letters came flooding in. ‘Alan Pecia’ had arrived. He was a man of evil, more evil than Mrs Blake. He came in, shaved Aiden’s head and moved on, presumably to his next victim. For this man stole children’s hair and then stuck it on his own head to fulfil the hairless void that he had lived with all his life.

One letter came into school that morning. Just for me, no-one else. It was from Aiden. He thanked me for all the things I’d helped him do; like rob a bank in Central Canada; scale Mount Everest; perform a magic show in which he travelled to the moon and back; run faster than the Flash. All events which I had no memory of, yet he remembered them as if it were yesterday. He told me not to fear or be sad, as he was going off to college to become an author, and his imaginary family and I waved him off.

Before he went off to college, two letters were exchanged. One containing a single Pokémon card – a Pikachu one, the same one which we had always talked about. The other describing how the recipient had beamed with joy as he discovered the card that he always dreamed of, and that same card returned to the original owner with a message on the back. “You and I have had some times together. When I see you again we’ll have some more. I promise!” A smiley face was drawn right next to it; as the swoop of the happy mouth arced back up, it plummeted again in one straight line. One. Straight. Flat line.