bad weather, bored couples, and mushy peas…

For me, Martin Parr captures all that is great about the British. His photographs are bold and unashamedly honest; a far cry from the edited and posed photos that grace most glossy magazines (and let’s face it, most of our Facebook pages). His pictures are a believable and comical view of Britain as it really is. We can see ourselves in his work; we were the children with ice-cream all over our faces, we are the ravenous beach goers fighting over the tomato ketchup…and we’ve all been the bored and awkward couple.

Parr’s work is a refreshing take on what it is to be British – wobbly bits and all. He treasures the mundane and the ordinary; capturing our eccentricities with an affectionate touch.

This is no perfect postcard. This is the cricket tea, the WI, and the British summer at its most honest. And somehow, in spite of his sometimes gross and garish portraits, Parr’s colour saturated, paint-box pictures still make me feel oddly patriotic.

Let’s don our baggy swimming costumes, tie handkerchiefs on our sunburnt heads, and go and shiver on the beach…

To see more of Martin Parr’s work, visit his website

[all images copyright to Martin Parr]


Published on on November 8th 2010.




is romance dead?

Deceiving others. That is what the world calls a romance” – Oscar Wilde

I grew up believing that girls should sit with their legs crossed, politely ask to “excuse” themselves, and never EVER burp. Girls are supposed to be elusive and mysterious because, as Peter Andre so eloquently put it (oh oh oh mysterious girl, I want to get close to you), men like mysterious girls.

As a generation, we are much more straight-talking than our parents and grandparents ever were; the unmentionables in society twenty years ago are now common place in conversation. We talk about our problems and our medical histories; we’ll candidly discuss sex, love, and even the inner workings of our digestive systems. However, I am a firm believer that there are certain things you should never share and that with certain people you should share even less… When it comes to relationships, some things should stay mysterious.

My love of books and romcoms has only perpetuated my belief that in relationships you should be spared the unsavoury details. My housemates’ collective assortment of DVDs all have the same conclusion; boys always wear Calvin Klein boxers and smell forever fragrant, whilst girls wake up with a full face of makeup and perfectly blow dried hair. These rose-tinted, butterflies-in-your-stomach moments have cemented (in my mind at least) what romance should aspire to be. Plenty of my friends have refused to take their makeup off for months at the beginning of a new relationship, trying to preserve the image of their feminine perfection. Of course we all relax as relationships progress, but why do we purposefully ruin the illusion?

Those of you who are familiar with BBC3’s Him and Her will understand what has prompted me to write this post. Unashamedly called an “unromantic comedy” and described by the British Comedy Guide as a “forensically honest…comedy about what really goes on behind the bedroom doors of today’s 20-somethings”, Him and Her portrays a relationship proud of its imperfections. Becky and Steve’s relationship centres around their unmade bed where they eat, have sex, and fart in front of each other. I won’t deny that the frank portrayal of a relationship free of pretence is funny, but it is at times stomach turning (and this time not in a good way)

When Steve declares his love for Becky over an unflushed toilet, is it even romantic? Could that situation ever be? I think not. Maybe Him and Her does actually paint a more realistic picture of our relationships (Men don’t always change their pants and our hair, shock horror, does get greasy) but is their attitude really the grubby fate of all modern sexual relationships? Because I’m not seized by desire when I hear a man fart, and I certainly wouldn’t expect a man to fancy me while I was sat on the loo with the door open.

Some people might argue that it’s healthier for us to watch more realistic relationships…but I disagree. If all our relationships are doomed to this unpleasantness, then why portray it on TV too? I’d rather BBC3 just kept up the illusion and let me pretend.

Published on on November 16th 2010.

from classics to crime fiction…

Alongside much bubble bath, many pairs of socks, and some obligatory chocolate coins, I received two very pleasing gifts this Christmas. The first was a teapot; a replacement for the ill fated blue spotty one that met it’s sticky end somewhere in Reed Hall gardens during the Alice in Wonderland shoot for Flights and Fantasy. (This new shiny one, I hasten to add, will most definately not be accompanying me on any future Razz shoots.)

The second was a set of ‘Postcards from Penguin‘ – One hundred iconic book covers in a box. Of all the Penguin book designs, I personally have a soft spot for the orange covers. With hopes of one day having my own library (or perhaps, more realistically, a shelf), filled with those three bold stripes, I’ve started my own collection of the design classic. I’ve begun scouring charity shops and book sales for them and as far as I’m concerned, the crumblier they are the better.

“over seventy years of quintessentially British design in one box.”

Over the summer, I did a couple of weeks work experience for Pearson Group, the publishing house which owns Penguin. As part of my placement, I was shown the Pearson distribution centre where, to my delight, there is an archive of every Penguin book ever published – everything from the original paperbacks published in 1935 to the new (RED) Penguin classics.

The set of postcards I was given this Christmas is a hand picked selection of the most loved of the Penguin covers. The collection is a celebration of the book designs that have defined the literary world and graced our shops’ shelves over the last century. Ever since the creation of the first Penguin paperbacks 75 years ago, their jackets have been a constantly evolving part of Britain’s culture, creativity, and literary history. Showcasing influential writers and designers, Penguin covers have reflected the changing face of British design over the decades.

In fact, the publishing giant has recently published a range of decade inspired book covers.  The Penguin Decades collection consists of five ground-breaking, generation-defining novels from the 50′s, 60′s, 70′s and 80′s. Each cover has been re-designed by a distinguished artist (the 70’s set by fashion icon Zandra Rhodes).

Pleasingly, the inside of my postcards’ box informed me that, all those years ago, Allen Lane decided to found Penguin Books whilst waiting for a train back to London from our own beloved Exeter (admittedly because he was disappointed with the poor selection of reading material on offer, but still!) Next time you are standing at St David’s station faced with a gruelling train journey home be thankful that nowadays, because in 1935 Allen Lane launched the now internationally loved brand that to this day provides us with affordable and beautifully designed paperbacks, unlike him, we’ve got plenty of good books to read!

So, although my poor primary school teacher spent years telling me not to, I’m going to continue judging these books by their postcard-worthy covers. I think it is safe to assume that the care and quality that goes into Penguin’s book covers continues past the front cover.

Published on on December 29th 2010.

a problem shared is a problem halved?

Having read about it recently in the news (okay, the BT Yahoo home page), I was drawn with unnatural curiosity to The Museum of Broken Relationships. A collection revealed to the public in Croatia just last month, the museum’s assortment of heartbreak memorabilia boasts a variety of sweet to out-and-out strange exhibits; you can view anything from fluffy handcuffs and wedding dresses, to prosthetic legs, sex toys, and revenge-bent axes.

The founders of Croatia’s newest museum say the aim behind their venture was to offer a way of overcoming “an emotional collapse through creation”. Giving away the poignant remnants of a breakup is definitely an original, and perhaps even a healthy, way of dealing with and expressing suffering and upset. Let’s face it – it’s probably better than clinging onto an ex’s fluffy handcuffs just so you can snivel into them whenever a melancholic mood strikes.

Each artefact is accompanied by a short statement, a sentiment explaining the importance of the item to its reluctant owner. Some are short and reflective, whilst some are still littered with bitterness and pain; “I love you“ – WHAT A LIE! LIES, DAMN LIES!”  I wondered what reasons people had for wanting to donate their painful memories to the museum…and it got me thinking about why we want to visit.

I can see the appeal of sharing the history of objects. I like old things: Books, clothes, china, photographs…even written on postcards. I enjoy reading scrawled inscriptions at the front of second-hand books and wondering where my charity shop dresses have been worn before. I like the idea that an object that seems meaningless can be teeming with emotion for someone else. But painful emotion? Not so much.

Why are we poring over the failed relationships of our fellow human beings? Is it simply irrepressible curiosity, or do we really revel in each other’s misery?

Has our Facebook culture gone too far? Do we really need to show the world our holiday photos and the intimate relics of our devastating heartbreak?

I’m not sure even I’d have anything interesting enough to share: at a push maybe a couple of borrowed books and a solitary sock….

Published on on November 28th 2010.

what, more arts cuts?

Save our libraries protests took place up and down the country yesterday. Protesters, reacting against yet more arts funding cuts, staged mass ‘shh-ins’ and flashmob book readings to express their support for Britain’s libraries. Appealing against 400 planned library closures, authors, artists, and readers alike joined forces to protect our library system.

Many protesters entered libraries and took out the maximum they were allowed. The theory being that libraries cannot be labelled underused, or indeed closed, when most of the books are out on loan. Authors such as Philip Pullman, Mark Haddon, and Kate Mosse made appearances yesterday to lead protests against the cuts and support is even being expressed across the Atlantic by international authors like Margaret Atwood.

Only 160 years after the passing of the Public Libraries Act, an initiative that aimed to raise educational standards and make literature available for all, our libraries are under threat. They are being targeted for cuts because they are unprofitable. But surely there are other measures of success?

Newspapers like The Guardian and The Independent have been covering the fight against library closures and interviewing those who will be affected:

Isabel Anderson, nine, suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome and has been off school for over a year. Her local library in Wiveliscombe, Somerset, has helped her not to fall behind in her school work. She is too tired to travel further away. “I use my library two or three times a week for books, DVDs and story tapes. When I was really ill, libraries provided me with something to do and helped me to keep up with school.”

Ruth Corboy, 42, is a mother from Milton Keynes and a regular user of Stony Stratford Library, where members have emptied the shelves in protest. “Our library is one of the few community spaces that mothers still feel safe sending their children. It has been critical to my daughter’s education, and she frequently uses it. Visits from authors and teachers provide entertainment and inspiration that supplements their schooling.”

(taken from an article by The Independent)

Bettie Wighting, who refuses to reveal her age but is, whispers someone who knows, past 90. ”I live right near,” she says, “so I come three times a week. I read two or three books in a week, you see. Non-fiction mostly, history, biographies. But it’s not just books, it’s information; knowing what’s going on. Like when they change the bin times at Christmas.”
She gestures at a steady flow of visitors, each greeted (often by name, frequently first) by two librarians. This library, Bettie says, is friends. And knowledge, of course: “My children, when they were young, they were in here all the time. If Mr Snow doesn’t know the answer, I’d say – he was librarian here for 30 years – well he’ll find you a book that does.”

(taken from an article by The Guardian)

I personally have fond memories of hours spent pouring over books in the library as a child. We would go once a week, take out three books each and enter drawing competitions or read-a-thons. It wasn’t just a library, it was a community centre and a place for people of all ages to meet. My local library was an exciting place to go and fuelled my love of books… and it’s probably partly the reason why I am now studying English at university.

Our library service is invaluable and needs protecting. Images from the Guardian website are drawing on war propaganda to inspire the masses to stand up for our libraries, questioning our individual responsibility and promoting a collective and national effort. I would imagine that this propaganda-esque campaign feels especially poignant for those who recall that Britain’s libraries were not even shut during the world wars.

The reason that libraries were created is still a valid one. An article from the Guardian website outlines how one library in  nearby Somerset, where 20 out of 34 libraries are under threat of closure, tried to illustrate this point: “a hooded “book snatcher” will descend on the library, stealing books from children and the elderly inside, and leaving them instead with signs that say “illiteracy”, “poor life chances”, and “social isolation”.” Free reading material is a right and one that future generations should not be deprived of. In our increasingly digital and anonymous society, our country needs more, not less, public spaces. Libraries build communities, they are a place of learning, fun, and interaction.

Watch Somerset’s ‘We Love Libraries’ video here.

Are YOU guilty of neglecting your local library?

Exeter Central Library, for example, offers children’s, teen, and adult fiction and non-fiction, study materials, local information, printers, photocopiers, internet access, audio books, CD’s, DVD’s, language courses, reading groups, a training centre, computer taster sessions, and wi fi.

Show your support for Britain’s libraries! Rather than finding a cheap copy on Amazon or succumbing to the pull of cheap e-books, go to your local library instead.  Whether you borrow one book or take out your full allowance, taking advantage of our libraries while we still can might just make a difference to their future.

Published on February 6th 2011.

do you have a favourite?

With the tag line ‘Do you love a book so much you want everyone to read it?’, last Saturday’s World Book Night got me thinking. Are there any books that you love so much you want everyone else to read them?

As an English Literature student, it is worrying that it hasn’t happened to me in a while. Most of the books that I loved before uni have been picked apart in seminars and now mean something completely different to me. Now, on the odd occasion that I actually love a book, I’m strangely possessive over it.

Emma suggested earlier that when you really truly love a book you want to keep it to yourself in case other people spoil it by not liking it as much. So maybe I keep the books I love to myself for sentimental reasons…or maybe I’m just a selfish and horrible person. I guess we will never know!

Either way, I thought I’d risk it and share my favourite book with you all. If you read it and don’t like it though…please don’t tell me.

I love Dodie Smith’s novel, I Capture the Castle. Tenderly narrated by Cassandra, the daughter of an eccentric and occasionally violent genius suffering from writers block, I Capture the Castle paints a rose-tinted picture of 1930′s rural England. The bittersweet coming-of-age tale is set in a tumbledown castle (with a suitably romantic moat) where, alongside her father, Cassandra lives with her frustrated sister Rose, her step mother (who has a penchant for getting naked in the rain), her little brother, and a desperately good looking gardener.

Nostalgic, wonderfully written, and littered with endearing characters, Smith’s novel leaves you longing for a tea-dress clad, poverty-stricken life in a freezing cold castle.

Published on on March 8th 2011.

“Cosy, comforting and heartwarmingly romantic,  I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith captures everything I love about England – from Cassie’s wonderfully eccentric family to their beautiful crumbling castle.”

Published in The University of Exeter’s student newspaper, Exepose, on March 9th 2009.