Thursday, June 11, 2015

Somewhere Only We Know - Review

Somewhere Only We Know - Review

There's a saying that true friends leave a mark on your heart and stay with you forever. I believe the same can be said of great characters and a good book. With this latest offering, Lawless' presents a unique twist to the conventional romance novel, and enables her protagonists, Alex and Nadia, to leave an indelible mark.

From the moment Nadia's and Alex's lives collide, I was captured by them and couldn't put the book down. By the end, I felt I was a part of this group of friends and their London. (I want to go with Nadia and Alex to a night at Bodeans!)

Although the central story is about boy meets girl, there's so much more to Somewhere Only We Know. Once again, Lawless has written a believable love story that isn't just about the two central characters falling for each other; it is also about their friends and the challenges they have - because when you fall in love, everyone else's drama is still going down. It is this, that, for me, makes her latest book so relatable and enjoyable.

I loved being part of the emotion and adventure - discovering London through the eyes of Alex and Nadia, and ticking off points on Nadia's Bucket List; all the while experiencing the same moments of trepidation and anxiousness for Nadia's impending deportation appeal. Lawless did an expert job of letting her characters get on with life and love, leaving you to forget the problems of the future until something bought it crashing back into the fore.

With summer fast approaching, this is a great holiday read to pop on your Kindle or e-reader and enjoy by the poolside. Go get it today!

Rating: 5/5

You can order it on Amazon  now!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

The Trials of an Expat Voter #GE2015

 In a few short hours, millions of people in the United Kingdom will be taking to the polls to (hopefully) decide who will be in charge of their country for the next five years. Except for perhaps some of the most astute political analysts, no one really knows what to expect tomorrow. Will Cameron be out? Will Clegg collapse? Will Ed form a coalition with Russell Brand?

But while various pundits will be focussed on voter turnouts and the overall result, thousands of eligible voters won't be putting that all important X where it matters at all. Not because they don't want to. Not because they forgot to turn up.  And not even because they're disenfranchised, don't care and think their voice won't count.

No, on May 7th potentially thousands will be left without the chance or choice to make their voice heard simply because they're expats. Citizens of the United Kingdom, with UK passports, but not currently residing in the UK. And it's that which will cost them their democratic voice come polling day. But not for the reasons you might think.

Computer Says No

The UK Government barraged me with endless targeted Facebook ads during the months of March and April 2015 with the cheery promise that it takes less than 5 minutes to register to vote. It actually took me almost SIX MONTHS of correspondence, phone calls and three separate attempts to register online before my name was successfully added to the electoral register. The cause of this problem? Apparently "I don't know where I was last registered to vote" was not a valid option on the online registration, especially when trying to procure a postal vote as an expat.

The simple truth was, due to having been a student for a rather large chunk of the last decade and having moved house every 9 months or so during that time, I couldn't actually remember where I had last been listed on the electoral register. Add the fact that my parents, who kindly provide me with a fixed UK address and a bed to stay in when I pop back, moved house last year and subsequently moved constituency. Together, these problems somewhat hindered my application. Eventually, with mere weeks until the last possible chance to register, my only option was a sudden "return" to the UK from being abroad before promptly "leaving" once again and applying for a postal vote registered to the address my parents now call home.

But I wasn't alone in my struggle. British expats experience an array of challenges to be able to claim what is legally still their right up to 15 years of living outside of the UK. Some simply can't register because they were never registered when they lived in the UK. Now I understand that if a person in their 40s suddenly decides that, despite never voting when living in the UK, they now want to do so, it could create a bit of an ethical dilemma. But what about the young 19 year old who wants to exercise his right to vote but whose family left the UK when he was 15 and thus he had not been on the electoral register before he left? Is he simply not allowed to vote? The chances are he can't vote in the country he lives in either and so we create another disenfranchised youth who now may never vote.

Oh Where Is My Ballot Paper? 

If you think that once registered all your problems as an expat attempting to vote in a General Election at home are over, think again. Once you've jumped the registration hurdle, you fall straight into the mercy of the postal service.

In the last seven days my Facebook newsfeed has been inundated with posts from British friends and acquaintances who, for various reasons, find themselves currently living outside of UK shores. Being, mostly, young, active, politically aware types, they were actually organised. They've registered their desire to vote and secured their postal vote application. It's at this point they hit a problem. A problem I call "Oh Where Is My Ballot Paper?".

Due to the rule of not sending out postal ballots until 20 days before the Election and the fact that they have to be returned by 10pm on polling day, friends in various locations around the globe didn't receive their postal ballots until the chance to post it back to the UK in time had long since passed. Several friends in the States reportedly didn't receive their ballots until the possibility of returning it in time was long gone. But it's not limited to those facing a long haul flight to return home. Another acquaintance, this time in the Czech Republic, is still to receive her postal ballot. In fact, her outburst on social media to this affect a few short days ago bought forward several others, also living in Europe, also without their ballots.

Surely, when we're considering something as important as the voting right of citizens, creating such a tight turnaround is placing rather too much faith in the world's postal services? I mean I have friends who still haven't received Christmas gifts I posted months ago.* And don't even get me started on the wondering whether my postal vote will actually arrive back in the UK in time.

*that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

Polling Day

So now, as Polling Day dawns, anyone who knows even the tiniest bit about British Politics right now, knows that 2015 is going to be close.

But one thing's for sure, thousands of expats will anxiously watch the results, frustrated, angry or just despondent that, despite their best efforts, this time their voice won't be heard. And the money the UK Government/electoral office spent on targeted Facebook ads to encourage British Expats to register was, it would seem, a little bit redundant.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Nobody wants to see your sex trophy before breakfast (Reposted)

A couple of months ago, in between late nights at the office and learning German, I wrote a guest piece for my friend and fabulous author (yes, I'm biased), Erin Lawless. It's about parents who post every nanosecond of their newborn's life on social media. It was/is, perhaps, a little controversial, but I quite enjoyed it all the same and so I'm posting it here as well.

I hope you enjoy it! 
You can view the original post here: No one wants to see your sex trophy before breakfast or read it below.

“Would you all please stop! I don’t care anymore.”
I recently muttered these exact words at my phone one morning while absent-mindedly scrolling through Instagram instead of getting up.
You see, it appears that whenever I open Instagram, check Facebook, pull up Twitter or even get round to pinning something on my (admittedly neglected) Pinterest, there’s inevitably a baby picture staring back at me. If it’s not a baby picture it’s a “Week 34!” or a “This one doesn’t want to come out” pregnancy shot.
Alright, I get it. You’re pregnant / newly with-child / hanging out with your adorable newborn. And that’s cute. Once or twice. But there’s a limit to how many “Look at my amazing partner/husband/wife/baby and our cute new family” I can take (especially before breakfast).
Here’s one where it’s hiding from the ultrasound. #growingahuman
Isn’t he/she/it so cute?! #adorbs #lookslikedaddy
4am feed time. #tired #butshescute #mumlife
ENOUGH. I do not want to see swollen ankles or large bellies. I am bored of babies in onesies sprawled across a bed. And I’ve seen enough ultrasounds to be able to tell you that, it’s ok, you’re not going to have an alien.
But before you write me off as a callous, cold-hearted, childless bitch; hear me out.
I’m in my late 20s. I actively use social media. I have a wealth of friends and family with newborn kids (and judging by the number of pregnancy announcement Instagrams; it’s about to boom). My friends are having babies and that IS exciting. Some of my closest friends, ones I’ve known for over a decade, are making little copies of themselves. We’ve navigated first dates, first kisses, break ups, fan girl obsessions, proposals and weddings together. It’s only natural our lives have reached the point where we’re now being responsible for another life; be it human or cat.
And yes, announcing on social media is a quick and fast way to communicate the news of “Hey guys, we made an us!” (Alternatively: “We’ve been having lots of sex!!”) to as many people as possible with as little effort as possible. It’s especially useful when the people you want to inform are scattered around the globe. But – and here’s where I get up on my soapbox – I do not need you to document EVERY SECOND of your pregnancy. Believe it or not, once you’ve seen one pregnant woman, you’ve pretty much seen them all. They don’t vary wildly in form. It may surprise you, but I don’t particularly want to see your enlarged stomach. I don’t need to watch a time lapse of your body swelling up. And I really don’t want to see a labour shot(!).
It doesn’t end there either. Once baby has screamed their way into the world, my social media feed is plagued with shots, taken from multiple angles, in an array of microfashion, and filtered with Valencia. I don’t know how to tell you this but, I’m not especially bothered about seeing the 157th picture of your baby trying to smile (/fart).
I don’t want to banish infants from Instagram or free Facebook of baby farting faces (they can actually be quite hilarious). My simple plea is just that there’s a few less babies staring back at me when I log in. Your child is adorable but I don’t need to witness its every nanosecond. Just a small update now and then is fine. Especially if it’s funny – like they try to say “banana” and it comes out as a swear word, or you just happened to film them doing the most fantastic accidental forward roll into the cat while they tried to stand. I welcome those posts with open arms. (Mostly because they will keep me entertained during long and tedious days at work.) But please, stop clogging my newsfeed with your sex trophy.
If you really must broadcast every tiny development of your newborn (perhaps you have family/friends abroad who want to keep up with progress), consider creating a private Instagram account you share only with those who you know want to see every detail of your baby’s life or creating a Facebook list that you share only baby updates with. Spare the rest of us (ok, only the lonely, single, bitter ones of us) from having to trawl through numerous “Just too cute” and endless “Look at this beautiful bundle” moments. After all, I don’t fill your newsfeed with sunsets, cocktails, cats and epic holiday photos do I? Oh… Right.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

50 Shades of No Way

Unless you've been stranded somewhere devoid of internet and social contact for some time, you're probably aware that this Saturday is Valentine's Day. And you probably also know that it marks the release of a highly controversial "love story" - 50 Shades of Grey.

More like 50 Shades of No Way. 

Admittedly, I've not read the books. But then, I've never had a desire to pick up something that I have been advised is, essentially, badly written erotica. When E L James' paperback trilogy first hit bookshelves it was billed as "mummy porn". Despite this, it was still possible to find it on store shelves not too far from kids' magazines and young adult fiction. Before long it had become a worldwide phenomenon and then someone had the "brilliant" idea to turn it into a film. (As we seem to do with any wonderfully successful book appealing to women/young adults: cf Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, Gone Girl). 

I chose not to read the books and, unsurprisingly, I will be choosing not to see the film too. I'm not here to tell you why you shouldn't see it but I am here to tell you that this is not the love story it is being billed to be. And I don't understand why anyone would think it's a great romantic Valentine's Day treat. 

It seems strange to me that, in a world currently fighting for gender equality, bridging the pay gap and getting outraged that women can still be labelled as "asking for a rape attack", we're signing up to watch a movie, which, just from my reading of reviews and watching one trailer, glamourises sexual abuse. Double standards much?

This is not ok.


Not. Ok.

It astounds me that things like the wonderful #HeforShe campaign is juxtaposed with the ludicrous advertising for 50 Shades of Grey. This movie is not about sexual or gender liberation, it's about sexual exploitation. It's not about love, it's about power (and patriarchal power at that). And in a time where we are so obsessed with fighting for equality and giving people (women) a voice, how on earth did this piece of explicit exploitation creep past our checks and balances? If this Mr Grey character was an impoverished man, scraping together pennies here and there, I can't help but feel there would be an entirely different story. Not just in the novel and film, but also in the media.

And yet, the media would have us believe that women everywhere are eagerly awaiting Saturday's release. Amongst my peers, at least, opinion is (mildly) divided. However, most appear to lean on the side of "not interested". Whether that's because they don't agree with it or just don't think a movie could live up to a book (I've seen a few clips and it makes Twilight look like a brilliantly acted franchise) I couldn't say. What I can tell you though is, personally, I'd rather watch grey paint drying than watch 50 Shades of Grey this weekend. Or, in fact, ever.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Proceed with Caution: Your Facebook Newsfeed indicates you are entering "Real Adulthood".

I have somewhat been neglecting my own blog of late. It is time to jump back in and put fingers to keyboard once again!

[I promise I haven't been slacking! A little while ago I wrote a guest post for Erin Lawless, (if you're into books, writing or historical figures take a read of Erin's blog) and I've been writing online content for other organisations. While it's (usually) fun, it does slightly zap the desire to come home and write in my own blog after a long day. And moving on...]

Is it me or is EVERYONE getting married/having babies/moving in with their long-term partners?! Over the last five years or so it seems that all my Facebook newsfeed has been filled with is engagement/wedding announcements, hospital scans - and later photos - of babies and cliche photos of friends sat on the floor with takeaway and wine surrounded by boxes celebrating their successful first step on to the elusive property ladder. (I thought there was a recession?)

By comparison, my own appearances in friends newsfeeds consist mostly (I assume) of pictures I've liked (often content I was responsible for creating at work so it doesn't really count), videos, dreams and wishes for job contracts and holidays and the odd tale about life in a foreign country building a church. Plus the most appalling photos that I've had the misfortune to be tagged in. While my friends lives seem to be progressing quite nicely and as expected for a *deepbreath* still-clinging-on-to-mid-twentysomething, my life seems not so far removed (and simultaneously worlds apart) from the life I lived as a 22-year-old student in England. My life is hurtling towards 30 with complete disregard of the fact I'm missing vital components of being a REAL PROPER ADULT (which, I assume is what I become in a couple of years time when I hit the big three-oh).

What's bought this on? Mostly the fact that one of my oldest, bestest friends has just announced, via Facebook, the impending arrival of pitter patter feet later this year and the (unrelated) fact that I am going to be an aunty in a matter of weeks.

I know every generation goes through that moment of sudden realisation that, contrary to their belief, they are not so much "getting" as are "actually" old. I'd like to throw it out there that coming of age is not turning 18 or 21. Coming of age is really when you realise you and your friends have responsibilities that, until recently, were the domain of "proper adults", an area that was once only occupied by your parents.

However, this moment of revelation is happening somewhat differently for my generation than it did for the generation before us. My generation, which seems to be somewhere inbetween Generation Y and the Millennial Generation, are playing out their life events through social media in a big way (and the Millennial Generation are doing this on an even larger scale). Facebook has a lot to answer to for making me feel older than my 27 years.

There's the obligatory "OMG!! WE'RE ENGAGED!!!! OMG!!" status updates (ok yes, when they're from people that I didn't even know were dating someone perhaps that is a sign I need to cull my Facebook of people I clearly never speak to) which make me question whether I should be looking for the love of my life rather than bumbling along merrily. The engagement announcement is often swiftly followed by the endless wedding planning updates (to a wedding I'm probably not invited to because actually we haven't spoken to each other since that night in the Union bar where we met and discovered a mutual love of, heck I don't even remember now).

Then I have friends who are parents. They update, tweet and blog about everyday life with their kids. It's kinda cute and I guess it's the modern day equivalent to the Baby Books our parents kept (well actually, mine didn't keep a book for any of us). But honestly, it's been about 5 years since my newsfeed started to get clogged with baby tales and frankly I'm a little bored of them all now. (No offence, I've just seen enough baby photos this year to last me into 2015.)

But here's the thing - what if I wasn't on Facebook/Twitter etc, would I even know half of these people are engaged/married/pregnant/living with children? Would I even care? Surely the ones that mattered I'd be in regular contact with and would know at least the expected trajectory of their lives. And I would hope that if I was in England and was really as close as I think I am to some of the friends I've stayed in contact with, I'd get a text or a call or even a letter/email informing me of the news before the whole world is told on Facebook. (NB to friends reading this, 1. if you have ever informed everyone of your big announcement via social media this isn't actually a stab at you, I promise and 2. please don't judge me if I do a similar thing at some point. I know social media is an easy way to contact a lot of people in one go and disseminate your news while trying to avoid the awkwardness created by people who think they are the last to be told these things.)

While social media has been great for me to keep in touch with good friends (especially since I upped and left my home country), it has also kept me in the lives of those with whom I am not so close. And I think it is this that has given increased emphasis on what my life at 27 (almost 28) years of age should look like and how it should measure up. I should, according to the people Facebook shares in my newsfeed, actually be in a career by now, earning a packet, paying off my student loan, married or with a long term partner or at least dating someone, thinking about children, travelling the world etc.

Theses are all things, if I go by social media updates, that, as a person in my mid-to-late-20s, I should be doing. Only for some time, about the only one of those I was actually doing was experiencing foreign climes. Now I can probably just about tick off 'in a career'. The rest, not really happening.

But while my newsfeed is regularly full of this wedding or that baby or this family yes, that is the fuel for this rant, it is also filled with other news from other friends who are still single, still unbabied or still trying to figure out what they want to do with life. So actually I'm not alone and, no, not EVERYONE is doing responsible grown up things yet, even if they probably should be.

The question is, 20 years from now when my friends' children are growing up, getting married and having babies of their own, will their parents - my friends - be instagramming Jessica as she walks down the aisle, tagging their children's friends in a million photographs or tweeting about the absolutely brilliant Father of the Bride speech they just gave? Is it just that we are a generation obsessed with documenting everything online?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A German New Year

With the first day of 2013 in its final hour (at least it is if you live on CET) it seems like the perfect time to share my experiences of my very first German New Year.

After gathering at a flat in Frankfurt for drinks and nibbles, myself and four friends chose to brave the city centre and head out to the River Main. An uncharacteristically warm (by December standards anyway) winter's night we took the short bus ride into the centre to see what it is that the Germans do to welcome the new year.

Fireworks on the riverside. Frankfurt am Main.
There are few words to describe the atmosphere we experienced as made our tentative way along the riverside. It was one of merriment, awe and high jinx as you might expect on December 31st. It was also one of adrenaline, bangs, whooshes and slight fear.

Apparently, a German New Year's Eve involves explosions and alcohol. Lots of them.

You see, the German law on fireworks and their use in public appear to be somewhat different to that of the UK. While London Borough Council will have, no doubt, meticulously spent months planning the capital's traditional Thames firework display, in Frankfurt firework displays are left to the general public to co-ordinate.

If you turn up to the banks of the River Main at around 11pm on New Year's Eve, or Silvester as the Germans call it, you will be greeted by many a reveler, armed with copious amounts of alcohol and a good handful or five of fireworks.

Midnight celebrations.
As we were cheerily dispatched by the bus driver nowhere near a bus stop, we stepped into the throng. Right next to a taxi parked up at the edge of a cordon, blasting out dance tunes. We walked further down the water's edge and it was at this point we discovered why people had warned us against venturing to the Main on Silvester.

At every step we found ourselves dodging people, discarded bottles and, slightly more worryingly, fireworks.

And this is the thing about New Year's Eve in Frankfurt. There are fireworks everywhere. And the majority of them are in the hands of the inebriated. British heath and safety execs would be having a field day (and the Fire Service would be horrified!) as multiple fireworks are set off far too close to gathered crowds.

This all results in a strange mix up of excitement, celebration and fear as fireworks go off all around you. As you stand there (seeking protection from the nearest tree - because if you're near a tree, you're safer right?) you find yourself trying to figure out where to look - not just because of the spectacular display of fireworks going off at random all over the place, but also because one of those fireworks could be heading straight for you.

All in all though, it was a great night, unlike any other I've ever experienced either in the UK or Germany. And while I'll steer clear of bringing my own fireworks next year (just too much room for error and injury) I still think I'll venture to the Main to see in 2014. Happy New Year!

Friday, September 7, 2012

Music Review: Sam Isaac - When The Lights Went Out

About four years ago, in a dingy pub-cum-gig-venue in Norwich, England (called, if I remember correctly, The Queen Charlotte, located about five minutes from my then front door with a splendid line of Iced Strawberry Daiquiris at £3 per giant-sized pitcher), I saw Sam Isaac for the first time. Squished in between the bar and a sea of punters, mostly students, Sam stood in the dimly lit venue with just a microphone and his acoustic and played his heart out. I was hooked.

I'm not entirely sure how I came to know about Sam Isaac. I think it was a result of many hours listening to the delightful Welsh tones of Radio 1's Huw Stephens on his Introducing... slot. Whatever the story, sitting in The Queen Charlotte, no doubt supping a sugary ice-cold beverage, I found myself tunelessly singing away to a beautiful song that was washing over the crowd. Much to the amusement of my friend Annette. (Or possibly her distress...) Yet I had no idea what it was, or who it was standing mere feet in front of me. (We didn't even realise there was a gig on at the pub to start with). I later came to know that the song was called Sideways (which I thoroughly recommend you get a copy of somehow) and the ginger man with a guitar was called Sam.

Think Ed Sheeran meets Ben Howard via Noah and the Whale and you'll get an idea of what this UK-based singer-songwriter sounds like. But Sam was around long before Ben and Ed and probably Noah really made an impact on the British music scene. Somehow though, the music loving public haven't appeared to be as taken with Sam as with these other singer-songwriters.

Recorded at home, over the course of a year, When The Lights Went Out is a welcome return from Mr Isaac. It's a chilled, beautiful little album, perfect for relaxing in the last of the summer days or for running through parks covered in crisp autumn leaves or for a indie film soundtrack (most suited to films in the vein of Garden State, Once, etc).

It might not be an album to fervently write home about, it might not dramatically change your life, but it will certainly brighten your day as it rotates round to play on your iPod. Well, I like it anyway.