Monday, 29 April 2013

Childhood Heroes: Boudicca

Time for the second of my childhood heroes series! I'm going to start by sharing a secret with you: I love fierce warrior queens. Cannot get enough of them. So it seems fitting that this weeks hero should be one of the earliest warrior queens I encountered: Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni tribe.

HBIC would be an accurate description

Okay so I think we can all agree that Boudicca is one hell of a woman. Her husband dies, defies the typical practise of leaving the kingdom to the Romans and instead leaves it to Boudicca. The Romans then just essentially ignore this, decide to collect their debts from the clan and in the process flog and rape Boudicca and her daughters. And rather than just bowing down and accepting Roman rule, they decide that they are having none of that. So instead she rises up and leads a rebellion, both as a wronged Queen and a wronged woman. She proved herself to be incredibly strong and intelligent, her downfall being that the army just couldn't win against the advanced battle techniques of the Romans. Depending which source you read she either decided to poison herself rather than be taken prisoner, or she died from illness (I tend to lean towards the first option seeing as Tacitus was actually a contemporary writer etc). 


As a child, we went to lots of battle enactments and one of my most memorable was the recreation of the battle between Boudicca's army and the Romans. In typical childish fashion I always loved history to do with the Celts as I felt connected to them through my ginger hair! Discovering Boudicca was like discovering a goldmine. I think because I discovered her through these means I have never particularly loved the Victorian portrayal of her, like the picture above. I totally get why Queen Victoria would draw upon Boudicca as a namesake, but I feel paintings such as the one above don't capture the way I always viewed her. The woman in the painting looks like she's connecting with images of Britannia, an idea that is fundamentally Roman. A portrayal of Boudicca that resonated better with me was the ITV film. I think I was about 10 when I saw the film and suffice to say it had a big impact! Alex Kingston is one of those actresses that because she was in a childhood favourite film she now has my eternal love (other examples include Heath Ledger for A Knight's Tale, Sophia Myles for Tristain and Isolde and essentially all of the cast of the 1998 mini series of Merlin). Despite the graphic nature of some of the scenes I just loved the film. It made me cry my eyes out and gave me a slight hatred for Nero that has mildly lasted til this day. I haven't watched the film for quite a few years so I can't attest to how good quality it would be now! 

Another awesome lady being an awesome lady ;)

I'm not going to lie, as a child I definitely romanticised the idea of her in my head. In real life, it's not as if the Romans were the devil incarnate whereas the Celts were friendly peace loving care bears. They were brutal in their attacks and took no prisoners. But I do still look on Boudicca as an inspirational woman and one whose strength I still admire.

Are there any historical figures that you guys feel particularly attached to? Let me know in the comments!

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Review: Tegan and Sara- Heartthrob

This is officially my new sunshine album!

I had heard of Tegan and Sara before, but for some reason I can’t explain I thought they were associated with the Disney channel? If anyone can explain to me why I was under this impression please leave a comment below! However, my first actual experience of them was on The Graham Norton Show performing ‘Closer’. I absolutely loved it! I do quite like pop music but it’s not my go-to for listening. However, this single really appealed to me. It is upbeat, catchy and I loved the chorus. It perfectly captures that feeling you get when you meet someone you like and relish every moment that you can see them. I felt myself reliving the butterflies in the stomach excitement of just looking forward to the next time you can see them and get closer. Just the one listen was enough to make me want to hear more. However, I was aware there is always the chance of it just being a one-hit wonder. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of loving a song, checking out more of the band and then being disappointed that it doesn't live up to your expectations. Luckily, I was not disappointed by the rest of the album. In my opinion, it’s one of those albums where every song ends up being your favourite at one point or another. First it was Closer, then I Was A Fool, moving to I’m Not Your Hero, and currently standing at Love They Say. The whole album just is jam-packed full of catchy, really enjoyable tunes. With the sun starting to pop out (grand total of 5 days of heat so far, woo!) it just absolutely fitted the music. I can already see myself sitting in the sunshine, glass of Pimms in hand and this album playing in the background.

I would thoroughly recommend you all give this a listen! I’m aware it’s very different from their older stuff- are any of you long-time fans? If so, how do you feel about this new direction? I have every intention of youtubing their older stuff so can’t give an opinion just yet. Also, what are your must have summer albums? I am always open to music recommendations!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Author Appreciation: Constantine P. Cavafy

This is the start of another new series! I'm not going to lie, it's essentially just a celebration of writers that I think are brilliant. Generally, I'm going to stick to talking about authors that I have actually read a fair amount of, just so I can give a really good explanation as to why they are so great. I will try to give you legitimate reasons as to why you should read them, rather than it just being me gushing about how wonderful they are! So, first up we have Constantine P. Cavafy.

Take a moment to admire that damn fine moustache!

A bit of context- I study English Literature and Classical Studies at university and one of my modules this year kind of combines the two by focusing on modern Greek literature. Our group is tiny (there is literally four of us including the lecturer!) which has been nice, we've really been able to talk a lot about the texts. It has essentially been a five week blipvert of modern Greek history and author study. My favourite writer we've looked at has been Cavafy. I'm actually currently in the middle of my independent study of him aka reading everything ever written about his work in an attempt to narrow down what I'm going to focus on. Anyway enough of a geek-out about my course and onto the actual content!

First off, POETRY. That's what we're talking about ;) But it's really interesting poetry. It kind of confounds your expectation of what poetry should be. He's very sparse with his use of adjectives which is pretty unusual. I guess sparse is also the perfect way to describe his poems as well. These aren't long descriptive poems like Wordsworth, instead they tend toward being short and use a lot of verbs. You can split his poetry into three catagories; erotic, historical and philosophical. My favourites are the historical ones and this is what I'll be talking about, but I absolutely recommend you read all his different types as they are so beautiful. Cavafy has this way of drawing on the historical figures that are usually pushed to the sidelines and rescuing them from the obscurity of official history. You get the sense that he found a figure in a foot-note and then the imagined a scene of their life from there. The last lines of his poems are always so powerful in their simplicity, it really blows me away. The first of his poems that I really connected with is The God Abandons Antony, and one of the reasons I like it so much is the ending. It just captures the absolute hopelessness of the situation (Antony knowing he is losing Alexandria) but it has a courageous nobility to it. Accept the situation, don't deceive yourself, but also don't lose your dignity, time always ticks on. I don't know if I'm really being clear here, but I think if you read his work you will understand. There is this essence of undescribability to his work (I don't care if this isn't a word, it is now!). No matter how hard you try it is so hard to pin down the exact way his work makes you feel, it just does. He is capable of making you feel emotion in a few sparse sentences that other writers take pages to build up. I just really find his work very affecting. He has a really interesting and unique approach to history, rescuing figures that have been condemned or hidden by official records. He somehow manages to make them timeless. His poetry has such an element of catharsis to it, as if we and the figure have emerged salvaged and redeemed from the experience. 

I am entirely capable of filling pages with my thoughts on this poet, but I'll stop here before this feels too much like an essay! I hope I have encouraged at least one person to explore Cavafy's work. If any of you are familiar with him please leave a comment, I would love to be able to chat to someone about his work! Let me know what some of your favourite poets are and I'll give them a try :)

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Tiny Thoughts on Goblin Market!

I have had this poem running round my head all day so I thought I should just make a quick little post about it! It is an absolute delight. I'm currently studying it for my Women's Writing and Feminist Theory module, so whilst I could go off on one about theories to do with that I am actually going to just keep this a short little appreciation of its delightfulness. Because it is just such fun to read aloud! It has this wonderful rhythm to it that builds as the poem progresses, but especially in the first listing of the fruit. I like that the rhyme scheme is not regular but mixes it up a bit, it really creates a wonderful tongue-twisting effect that challenges you to get through without stumbling (I am yet to do so...).   The bit that has been stuck circling round my head is obviously "come buy, come buy". There's a playful sneakiness to the poem in that it tricks you into wanting the forbidden fruit. No one can deny that the descriptions of the fruit are mouth-watering, so you find yourself in the same situation as the girls, being tempted to taste it! Also, someone in my seminar pointed out the interesting fact that as you speak the list of fruit out loud your mouth actually mimics the action of eating. So, you are physically tricked into consuming the fruit along with Laura! Sneaky Rossetti...
I know there are so many interpretations of the poem, but that would really fit another post. This was just a quick little expression of my delight, but now I really should get back to actually revising the text for the exam. Exciting times ;)
Do you guys have any poems that get stuck in your head? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, 15 April 2013

What Agatha Christie Means to Me

The first Agatha Christie I read was Evil Under The Sun. One of my most wonderful friends is an avid Christie fan and this is his absolute favourite of her books. He lent it to me and I absolutely loved it! I’ve always been a fan of murder mysteries and I don’t need to tell you that Christie is an absolute master. As it turns out, both my Mum and my Nan are big Christie fans. My mum had a massive collection of her books that she kept at Nan’s and it turns out that for years I’d been walking past the collection every time I visited! It was about three years ago now that I went and raided the collection for a handful to start with. I went off Nan’s recommendation so started off with the classics, Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express etc. Like so many others I found myself loving the unpredictability of the plot; it was always impossible to guess who-dunnit. It was only recently I learnt that Christie used to write the books so that every character had a motive, and then decided at the end who she wanted to be responsible, which explains why I never guess the murderer right! I’d like to say I’ve gotten better at guessing but I could just be lying to myself…

I’ve ended up working my way through quite a chunk of the collection now and have yet to read one I haven’t enjoyed. The one that made the biggest impression on me was And Then There Where None. All of the family were out when I was finishing the book and I was so creeped out that I ended up staying up to 3am because I couldn’t sleep without finishing it. I just desperately needed to know who the murderer was or I wouldn’t be able to sleep! It has become tradition for me to treat myself to an Agatha Christie after I finish my end of term essays. It’s a great way to get my mind out of all of the work and just relax after an intensive bout of essay writing. On a more personal note, Christie’s books have a sentimental value to me now. My Nan passed away about 5 months ago now so I always feel like every time I pick up one of Christie’s books I’m connecting with her again. It’s such a simple thing but it’s nice to have that association, just adds an extra layer to something I enjoy.

Do you guys enjoy Agatha Christie? Any particular favourites? Or are there some other murder mystery writers that you prefer? Do any writers hold a special place in your heart due to being associated with people?

Friday, 12 April 2013

Childhood Heroes: Marion of Leaford

This is the first of a series of posts about both fictional characters and real people that were inspirations to me as a child. I think it's quite fun to look back at the people who influenced me as a child and think about why I was drawn to them. As will become apparent, quite a few of them are fellow redheads. This is definitely one reason why I was drawn to them, but ultimately I think they are all really interesting and worth a revisit! Many of the people in this list still inspire me to this day, but all of them have definitely shaped who I am. 
Our Merry Men!

First up, we have Maid Marian. To be a bit more specific, we have Judi Trott's Marion of Leaford from Robin of Sherwood
Let's just take a moment to be awed by her flawlessness.

I absolutely loved this show when I was little! (Still do actually...) Our holidays consisted of visiting castles and battle re-enactments, meaning I tended to gravitate towards stories that were to do with Medieval times so this show was absolutely perfect. There really are so many things about it that I love. The music was just perfect; to this day I get emotional hearing Marian's Theme. It has that nice mix of embracing the pagan elements but also seeming to have more of a realistic medieval feel than other adaptations have. Ray Winstone as Will Scarlett lead to the realisation that my first baby photo looks eerily like him (maybe one day you will get to experience the horror that is that photo, I don't feel like we know each other well enough yet!). Michael Praed was my favourite Robin, but I feel like they handled the transition to Jason Connery really well. And the line "nothing is forgotten, nothing is ever forgotten" kills me. EVERY.TIME.

My Queen!

But most of all, I loved Marion. The first thing that made an impact on me was obviously her pro-active nature. When she joins the merry men, she is part of them. She wields a bow, she fights, she steals, she is fully and completely one of them. But through all of this she is still feminine. She is this beautiful, red-headed woman who wears gorgeous dresses and is still very much a woman, but she can kick-ass and take care of herself. Bearing in mind I used to run round wearing a princess dress and conical hat but yielding a sword this really appealed to me. (Can we also take a moment to just look in awe at how gob-smackingly beautiful Judi Trott is? SERIOUSLY). It would have been very easy for her to be a passive character who is defined by her love for Robin and stays on the sidelines. But instead she was a full character with skills of her own. ( FYI- One of those skills being bee-keeping. Who doesn't like honey I ask you?) In fact, she often subverts the Damsel in Distress trope by being the decoy and tricking their opponents into underestimating the situation. That's not to say this is a completely unproblematic female character. There are quite a lot of instances where she is tied up, brainwashed etc. However, these are more things that I've noticed as I've re-watched the series. At the time, I think these aspects went over my head slightly. She still remained this awesome, strong woman that inspired me to go running around the garden with my bow and arrows (shout out to the parents for buying such great toys!). 
Merida eat your heart out, Marion is my original ginger archer!

Sadly the show had to end as the production company ran out of money :( However, with hindsight I actually quite liked the way Marion's story ended with her rejecting Robert's proposal and deciding to be a nun. I like that she was making choices for herself. Especially seeing as the potential storyline for the next series involved [spoiler?] Guy of Gisburne trying to rape Marion and mistakenly killing her, leading to half-brother Robert hunting him down and killing him. I honestly don't think I would have coped if that had happened!So instead I am very happy with it ending with her making decisions for herself and deciding the route her life will go down. I also liked that she wasn't too feisty a character. Don't get me wrong, I love my feisty ladies! But being a more easy-going person myself, I think it made me connect with her even more. Even with her easy-going nature she still stands up for herself and is assertive (punching Owen of Clun in the face after he forcibly tries to kiss her anyone?). As a child, I wasn't overly concerned with romantic relationships, but I do like the one between Marion and Robin. There is a potential argument that Michael Praed has contributed to my love of tall, dark-haired men... WHAT.

We could have had it aaaaaalllllllllllll!

Have any of you seen this series? Or have I managed to tempt some of you to give it a go! Do you have a different favourite Marian? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. One particular holiday highlight included visiting Chepstow, castle of Simon de Belleme from the first episode. Not that I got overexcited or anything...And yes, I am listening to Clannad writing this. THERE WAS NO OTHER OPTION!

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Review: Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas

[Spoilers await, proceed with care!]

I was recommended this book by one of my friends from university. Like me, she studies both English and classical studies. I remember vividly the moment when I knew we would be good friends; we were sat in the campus café drinking large hot chocolates (with plenty of whipped cream of course) and I asked her about her favourite books. Cue a long, very excitable conversation where we realised that we both loved the same books, plus many recommendations of future reads. Flash forward a year and we’re sat in the same café catching up after the summer holiday and she tells me about a book that made her think of me, Our Tragic Universe by Scarlett Thomas. It goes without saying that I forgot the name and had to ask her two more times before I finally bought it on kindle. At the end of every term I always treat myself to about three books that are completely unrelated to anything I am studying, so this Easter I decided to finally give it a read.
And I had mixed feelings about it.

On the one hand found myself frustrated by the characters. Meg is a genre writer living in Dartmouth. She wants to write a novel but is constantly changing her mind on the focus. This is a theme echoed throughout her life; countless ideas and intentions with very little follow through. This is one of the elements that grated on me. I tend to take the view that if a decision needs making, I’ll do it. It’s not possible to avoid making decisions so it’s best to make the best you can in the situation. Therefore, the absolute stagnant nature of Meg and her life (and seemingly the lives of everyone around her) grated on me. She’s aware that her relationship has clearly run its course and yet she does nothing to change things. Similarly, she is bored of genre writing but doesn’t have the follow through to commit to the ideas for her novel. However, as the novel progressed I found myself enjoying it more.

Due to the wonders of the kindle I can tell you that it was 77% through the book that I decided I was enjoying it. Granted, Meg started making positive changes to her life which automatically increased my enjoyment, but I feel like I settled in the further I went. Throughout the book the characters are constantly having discussions about a wide range of ideas and writers, from Plato to Tolstoy. Particularly prominent is fictional Kelsey Newman’s book about the Omega point and the nature of the universe. At first, I found this less enjoyable and felt I was wading through the mass of information in the sections. This is probably to do with general fatigue after the end of Spring term, it did seem to contradict my mantra to read books completely unrelated to university when they were constantly referencing things I was studying! I definitely settled into this and by the end was thoroughly enjoying the discourses on tarot cards and Russian literature. There was also a mix of scientific ideas and an open ended mystical element that I found mixed quite interestingly. Also, just to clarify whilst certain characters did irritate me (my God that boyfriend of hers is just a massively annoying character!) there were many that I found interesting and engaging, Libby and Vi to name names!

I don’t want to completely ruin the book for you so I won’t expand any further on plot details. I can definitely appreciate why my friend loved it so much. Peppered throughout there are lots of interesting ideas that I really liked. Many of Meg’s ideas for her novel were actually really interesting, and I particularly loved the shawl knitted by Libby dubbed ‘the fabric of the universe’. In fact it was this element that made my friend think of me! Ultimately, I would definitely recommend this book as an interesting read but it wasn’t quite my cup of tea. I do however have another of Thomas’s novels, Bright Young Things, and based on this book I am looking forward to giving it a try.

So, what do you guys think? If you’ve read the book, did you like it? If not, would you read it based on this? Let me know and hopefully we can get a conversation going in the comments!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

An Introduction:

Exhibit A- A Portrait of the Author as a Young Woman
Proof that I am not imaginary

Exhibit B- A Greeting From Aforementioned Definitely-Not-Imaginary Girl

Hello there! My name is Sophie and I am a 19 year old uni student, studying Classical Studies and English Literature. Unfortunately I am not the same ginger-haired Sophie from the BFG.
Let's not pretend none of us are disappointed by this information.

 Like most human-beans I enjoy a mixture of reading, listening to music and having fun days out. Coincidently, these activities relate to topics that shall be covered on this very blog. I know you are all shocked to your core at this controversial information. I'll give you a moment to compose yourself. 
This blog will document all ramblings on books, music, daytrips, exhibitions, and essentially stuff about my life. Hopefully you shall not only read and enjoy this, but maybe we could have conversations about said topics? Forge friendships? Get matching tattoos? (Too far? Yes I do believe so...) And maybe this could start right now! Introduce yourself in the comments, I'm more than happy to check out any blogs or recommendations :)
So for now, I bid thee a fond farwell!