a fond farewell to exeter

So, after three years, nine semesters, and more deadlines than we’d care to remember, for us third years the university experience is almost over. But before we pack up our belongings, burn our course notes and throw our graduation hats in the air, we’ve got a few weeks of studenthood left, and we should really make the most of them…

This beautiful little city has seen us through the good times and the bad so appreciate your last moments with it. Visit Exeter’s most well loved establishments: eat at Boston Tea Party, have a Firehouse pizza (there is nowhere else that you can eat so well in the company of a stuffed crow), visit Book Cycle and shop at the Real McCoy. To feel like a proper Devonian, you should probably treat yourself to a cream tea and drink a pint or two of cider as well.

Conform to the Exeter stereotype and spend one full day on campus. Mooch around campus in flip flops and your pyjama bottoms. Though it is unrecognisable from the university that welcomed us as timid freshers three years ago it will always have a special place in our hearts, forum project and all. While you are there, visit the Guild Shop. If you’ve been secretly eyeing up a pair of Exeter flip-flops or a frisbee, give in. If you don’t do it now you never will.

Go to Arena as many times as you can bear. Where else can you dance like an idiot, scream along to Buck Rogers and publically strip to the Baywatch theme tune? I know it’s small, a little bit smelly, and unreasonably expensive past 11pm, but, trust me, you’ll miss it when it’s gone.

While you are at it, take a final trip to the Lemmy. It’s even worse and for some inexplicable reason most nights spent within its echoey walls end in tears, but it’s our student “night club” and we should try and love it in spite of its flaws.

Have a school themed night out. I’m pretty sure dressing up as a school girl is no longer acceptable outside the protective walls of university.

Crack out your student card. After the 22nd of July we’ll have to relinquish our student discount so if you think about it, spending the rest of your overdraft  in Topshop is really just good sense!

Get horrifically drunk on Sunday night. Once we start working 9-5s (well, we can dream), Sunday night booze ups are a no-no.

Embrace your cravings. If you fancy eating cheese and nutella on toast for your dinner, don’t worry. Yes it is disgusting… but your housemates won’t judge you half as much as your parents will.

Fight the urge to clean the bathroom. It’s okay. We students are supposed to live in our own filth and there will come a time in the all too near future when keeping your slowly moulding tea cups beside the toilet is frowned upon. Similarly, when it comes to washing up, from now until we graduate, rinsing is just fine.

Published in Exeposè, The University of Exeter’s student newspaper, on June 6th 2011. 

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review: the hand that first held mine

Moving and bitterly sweet, The Hand That First Held Mine is Maggie O’Farrell’s fifth novel and winner of the 2010 Costa novel award. Exposing the fragile nature of our human relationships, O’Farrell’s novel paints two compelling portraits of women separated by fifty years.

O’Farrell’s novel cuts between two timelines; following the life of beautiful and headstrong Lexie as she struggles to find her place in 1950’s Soho alongside a haunting depiction of Elina’s attempts to cope after the traumatic birth of her first child. Effortlessly constructing the tales of these two women, O’Farrell calls into question the relationship we assume to be the most stable of all, that of mother and child. Although the connection between the two women isn’t revealed until the very end, these two storylines are seamlessly sewn together throughout. Whilst Lexie falls helplessly in love, Elina battles with the bumpy terrain of motherhood. Lexie’s chapters are dynamic whilst Elina’s sections, though intensely absorbing, are disorientating; as Elina cautiously navigates the first few weeks with her child, O’Farrell creates gaps in the narrative which leave us reeling. As Lexie’s life and loves are told in fast forward, her vibrancy set against the static nature of Elina’s chapters, with painful empathy we, like Elina, feel confused and overwhelmed.

O’Farrell’s honest depictions of life’s darknesses and pleasures are at times almost too poignant to read (her depiction of Lexie’s suffocation after returning from university verges on painful for a soon-to-be graduate!) We are led through Ted and Elina’s story at the same pace as they are, acutely aware of the gaps in our own knowledge. But in Lexie’s chapters the narrator intriguingly hints at her fate. Leaving us uncomfortably more knowledgeable than our loveable protagonist, we know from the beginning that she is heading for disaster: “She has no idea that she will die young, that she does not have as much time as she thinks. For now she has just discovered the love of her life, and death couldn’t be further from her mind”.

As O’Farrell herself has recognised, there are more than just our two female protagonists in this tale. The Hand That First Held Mine constructs a picture of bohemian Soho as vivid as the John Deakin images that initially inspired O’Farrell to write. Connecting these characters through the streets they walk on and the buildings they enter, London acts as a reminder of the stability of stone and the fleeting nature of our human existence. As Ted goes for coffee in the very same building where Lexie works we are reminded of the way in which each building must house the imprint of its past. The nostalgic portrayal of London is tainted by our knowledge of Lexie’s fate and O’Farrell’s focus on how our capital city has itself changed beyond recognition in a mere fifty years.

Elina’s visit to a John Deakin exhibition cleverly exposes both the connection between O’Farrell’s two main characters and the ultimate reason why this tale is at times so uncomfortable to read. As we see Lexie, our bright and vibrant protagonist, transform into an unidentified woman in a black and white photograph, we are reminded of the inevitable passing of time. Elina describes Deakin’s photography of 1950’s Soho as being “kind of melancholy…because they capture something that’s gone” and I think that O’Farrell’s novel could be described in the same way. Littered with references to loss and the unreliability of memory, The Hand That First Held Mine forces us to question our own fragile existence. Just as Lexie’s ghost haunts Elina’s London, this novel will stay with you long after you have finished its last page.

The Hand that First Held Mine is published by Headline Review, RRP £7.99

Published on May 18 2011 on www.litro.co.uk. and in Exeposé, The University of Exeter’s student newspaper, on May 22 2011.

back to britain

Visiting the unspoilt town of Alresford, surrounded by undulating Hampshire countryside, is a bit like stepping back in time. Celebrated for its watercress, the traditional market town is situated in between Alton and Winchester, England’s ancient capital. Rows of pastel coloured Georgian houses, quaint shop fronts, and postcard-perfect views make Alresford an ideal day-trip destination.

Boasting a mix of modern up-market boutiques and an array of quirky gift shops, Alresford would please any shop lover. Retail highlights include the designer clothes stockist Moda Rosa (recently graced by none other than Kate Middleton), the country chic Susie Watson Interiors, and a gloriously dusty second hand book shop. If you are searching for something to satisfy your taste buds, Alresford offers a selection of high quality traditional stores including a patisserie, a bakers, two butchers, a greengrocers and a fishmongers. As well as this, there are two sophisticated and irresistible delicatessens selling locally sourced treats. The weekly farmers market also sells fresh local produce and, if you’re lucky, you could catch the WI selling homemade cakes and jams in the town hall. If it’s a return to nature you seek, the popular millennium trail is a must; the walk guides you through Alresford’s famous watercress beds and along the sparklingly clear river Arle where you can feed the ducks (let’s face it, you are never too old!) If after all this you need a rest, as well as hosting an impressive six pubs, Alresford has a number of classic English tearooms; the quirky Tiffin Tearoom, currently the proud recipient of a Tea Guild Award for excellence, is the perfect place for a clotted cream tea or a spot of lunch.

If you were to visit Alresford in May, you might witness the annual watercress festival; an eccentric event which attracts thousands of tourists, along with the odd celebrity. This popular day boasts a watercress parade, Morris dancers and an eclectic mix of stalls. Here you can sample various watercress themed culinary delights such as the strangely popular watercress chocolate. During September, the town plays host to the Alresford Show; boasting vintage tractors, livestock parades, over 150 trade stands, and a spot of ferret racing, the day is the highlight of the South’s farming calendar. Other autumnal musts are the old-fashioned one-night street fair, held at Michaelmas when the town’s roads are closed and everything comes to a standstill, and the annual torch light procession on November the 5th. Visit in December to see the streets lit up by individual Christmas trees and you might even see Santa when late night shopping; this popular evening brings the locals out to sing carols around the Christmas tree and sample the free mulled wine offered by the local independent wine stockist The Naked Grape. One of Alresford’s year round attractions is the Watercress Railway line, starting at the charmingly time-warped station in the heart of the town and ending in the nearby Alton. Lovingly preserved steam trains (including the famous Thomas the Tank Engine) take tourists between the two towns. The nostalgic Watercress line holds various themed days, including a 1940’s day where people from across the country travel to Alresford, with WW2 tanks and vintage buses, for a day of costume, drama, and war themed fun.

The slow paced Georgian town of Alresford is undoubtedly one of Hampshire’s prettiest; voted Country Life’s favourite market town in the south-east, whatever time of year you visit, a trip to Alresford is sure to be a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Published in the Travel section of The University of Exeter’s student newspaper, Exepose, on March 9th 2009.
(re-edited in 2011)

quick thinking, award winning, and knicker-wettingly funny

Quick thinking, award winning, and knicker-wettingly funny; the cast of Showstopper never perform the same musical twice. Each night this talented group of all singing, all dancing actors and comedians carefully concoct a brand new musical. Led by both shout outs from the audience and an innovatively interrupting director, the actors flawlessly piece together a performance of comic and musical genius; with the cast having little or no control over the storyline’s direction, the possibilities are limitless. Fuelled by the audiences’ ridiculous suggestions, Exeter’s being a sisterly struggle over a handsome archaeologist set in a deathly-curse and lustful-Arabic-tourist plagued Egyptian tomb, each performance is unlike the one before.

Prompted by a telephone call from the show’s fictional producer at the beginning of each performance, Showstopper director, either Sean McCann or Dylan Emery, ask the excitable audience for a setting, a title, and a number of musical styles. Shouts from the audience determine which direction the performance will take (in Exeter’s case the cry “Yes! Exeter says yes!”), a raucous concept saved from mayhem only by the quick wittedness of the director and the cast. Not even when the shouting is over and the action is underway are the Showstoppers in command of their own musical. Just as the cast get into their stride, somehow turning the audience’s absurd suggestions into a feasible plot, the ingenious director will stand and house lights will come up. With a mischievous grin he will halt the performance, instructing the actors to embellish, rewind, or redo something in the style of, say…Lion King the Musical. After a brief pause for the inevitable giggles, the Showstoppers propel the musical on, never faltering in spite of the undeniable potential to; moments of tension transform into glorious moments of inspired creation.

The Showstoppers didn’t disappoint when they graced our very own Exeter Northcott last week, impressively managing to seamlessly incorporate an ABBA themed wedding, the body of a (questionably) dead explorer, a spaghetti western-esque harem and a religious-proverb spouting camel into an hour and a half of improvised triumph. Complemented by resourceful and imaginative musicians, the award-winning cast’s wit, skill, and wholehearted enthusiasm undoubtedly leaves each member of the audience with a grin on their face and the persistent urge to break into improvised song.

Published in  the Arts section of The University of Exeter’s student newspaper, Exeposé, on February 21st 2011.

eleven characters, two men: kupenga kwa hamlet

 

Everyone thinks that they know Hamlet, but no one knows it like this. Hamlet is probably the most produced (and most quoted) of Shakespeare’s plays. It is the archetypal tragedy, covering all bases: murder, revenge, potential incest, doomed romance, and of course a climax which results in the demise of pretty much the entire cast.

The latest offering from Two Gents Productions is the clever and captivating Kupenga Kwa Hamlet. The name fittingly translates as ‘the madness of Hamlet’; theirs is certainly a unique take on the Shakespearean classic. Performed in a tiny space with only a musical instrument and a mat as props, this Hamlet adaptation is staged by two orange-jumpsuit clad Zimbabwean actors. Between them, Denton Chikura and Tonderai Munyevu share all the roles, seamlessly flitting between playful and grief stricken. Although the ratio of eleven characters to two actors should be confusing, their energy, alongside a simple hand gesture which indicates a change in character, is more than sufficient. Their performance is both amusing and engaging – most so for the unsuspecting audience members who are dragged up on stage during the infamous play within a play (thank god I didn’t sit on the end of the row). The tiny Ustinov theatre has an intimate feel which effortlessly involves the audience; we become the missing characters, the blanks in the conversation, and part of the play itself.

Somehow, from the doom and gloom of Hamlet’s story, they manage to pull out some humour. As well as their giggle-worthy depictions of a sassy Ophelia, and inspired re-imagining of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as witch doctors, the introduction of African rhythm and song makes theirs a lively production of this tragic tale.

The final scene is handled skilfully; the action being retold by the gravediggers as the actors fall in and out of character, killing each other in succession to the soundtrack of a catchy African song (four days later, it’s still stuck in my head).

The ‘two gents’ perform the first quarto version, cutting the running time down to just under an hour and a half. Whilst losing a lot of the dialogue, this actually makes sitting through Hamlet a much more enjoyable experience! Kupenga Kwa Hamlet is an original and thoroughly enjoyable play; the actors’ faultless and charismatic performance left me wondering why you would ever need more than two actors.

Published in the Arts section of The University of Exeter’s student newspaper, Exeposé, on November 22nd 2010.