Dystopia! Writing Challenge.

– As a new blogger, I am still finding my pathway as a writer. Therefore, I thought I would attempt this weeks ‘Weekly Writing Challenge, with the inspiration as Dystopia! My extract of writing is set in the monotonous future. I have thoroughly enjoyed writing this piece this week, so I may continue to write short extracts throughout my blog. If you would like to take part visit http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/02/25/writing-challenge-dystopia/ and enjoy! –

Right on time. Five o’clock. The air-raid siren screeched, again, just like it does every Monday and every Friday without fail. Lord knows why they choose these days to attack; Lord knows why they attack at all, it is not like anyone gets hurt. I say, ‘Lord knows’  like I know who ‘Lord’ is, or what he did to make everyone think he knows so much, but it is a force of habit. I heard my Grandpa say it once and thought it sounded like a cool, ancient bourgeois phrase so tried it out and now it is stuck.  Lord.

I found a quicker exit to the air-raid shelter last week. It involves climbing through a window and skulking across a roof, but it gets me there before the others. It’s not the bombs that make me want to arrive first, no; I’m not fussed about them. There is this one seat in the corner of the shelter, it looks proper regal. It is made out of some sort of soft material; I don’t know what they would call it. This seat though, it is the only seat in the shelter that has access to this magnificently small stream of sunlight; the cause of a design flaw in the shelter. This is the reason I must act like a male-youth on Speed to get there, I need that seat.

You are not allowed to enter the shelter unless you have your tin-lunchbox. They say they are produced from tin because not even a bomb could destroy tin. I do not know if this is true; but I do know that the higher ones have special lunchboxes made of titanium. Whatever that is, it looks a hell of a lot more expensive than the one I am carrying so I choose to assume there is quite a difference in their infallibleness.  Inside your standard lunchbox you can find; a gas mask, a flare, a grenade and this slight thin vial labelled ‘Liquid Cyanide: Emergencies Only’. I was asked if I wanted to upgrade once, for five sterling pounds of my monthly twelve euro salary. I respectfully declined; I doubted the necessity of an extra grenade and strobe-torch. In my opinion, they would be better putting food in my lunchbox. I don’t half get hungry sat down there.

So the air-raid siren does not stop until there has been no sighting of a bomber plane for twelve minutes exactly. When it stops, this timer starts in the shelters counting down from two minutes. Once that has finished the door gets unlocked and the shelter-captives may leave. There is never a particular rush to leave the shelter, just like there is never a particular rush to get in it. What is waiting for us back on the outside is just as unexciting as in the shelter I suppose.

Those two waiting minutes are particularly odd. There is rarely the sound of a siren or a great tragedy. Not for years I don’t think. The attackers are quite predictable. They follow an unfailingly repetitive pattern. Bomb hospital, bomb factory, bomb important-looking parliamentary building. Somebody, probably a higher one, got pretty wise to this common procedure and started painting red crosses on the tops of empty warehouses and reinforced the walls of the important-looking buildings. They didn’t bother protecting the factories because we employees are so in demand, we could easily get another factory job the day after ours got bombed away.

You see a lot of scuttler’s when you come out of the shelter. Those who like to tempt fate and scuttle round the streets looking for a bargain-snatch. This paranoid old man once told me the higher ones were actually the scuttler’s. He said they take our proudest belongings whilst we fear for our lives. He disappeared soon after that, probably too paranoid for his own good. I didn’t believe what he said, the higher ones protect us. That’s what the posters say. And the billboards. And the radio show. And the chants they play to us. ‘You people are our power’ they say. We are their power. We control them. They protect us.

They protect us…

“He who controls the past controls the future. He who controls the present controls the past.”

George Orwell, 1984

How I Feel About Huckleberry Finn …

So, you want to read a nice adventure story about a restless pre-adolescent and his companion? Then this is not the novel for you. You want to read about a scandalous adventure exposing you to lying, drunkenness, prostitution, violence, racism, blasphemy and the distortion of high society? Then you have found the right book.

The story of Huckleberry Finn is, in its simplest form, the tale of a 12 year old boy who fakes his own death, runs away from town and travels down the river on a raft with his companion, Jim. On this journey, they are intercepted by a number of interesting and depraved people; however they finally find their happy ending after a confusing and unnecessary dispute at the Phelp’s farm (coincidentally Huck’s best friend’s family).

The difficulty of Huckleberry Finn does not lie in understanding the storyline; it lies predominately in the racial aspect of the novel. Jim is a black slave and evidently in the novel, society does not deem it worthy for him to be a ‘friend’ to Huck. It is often the case that Huck must lie about Jim’s background and social position to avoid both characters falling victim to this discrimination. One instance in the novel depicts men from a steamboat wishing to search the raft for slaves, quick-thinking Huck however, proclaims that his father is on board with the contagious disease smallpox and so the men abandon their plan. Instances that leave Jim fearing for his freedom are not rare and far between in the novel. Mark Twain does not allow the reader to forget the risky expedition that he is embarking upon. This uneasy racism is at the forefront of the readers mind for the majority of the novel.

This prejudice that the contemporary readership would be so accustomed to, aids the growth of the most psychologically interesting character in the novel – Huck himself. He is a young pre-teenage boy who sees no value or worth in table manners, education or religion. As a narrator however, he is plainly honest and highly rational. He is sympathetic, genuine and caring and shows his loyalty to Jim repeatedly regardless of the consequences. Huck’s morality is far above many other characters in the novel. Yes, he is a thief and a very accomplished liar however these sins are trivial in comparison to what is going on around him.

It seems Twain purposely wrote Huck as the centre of morality in the novel and every other character is judged in comparison to him. Furthermore, rather controversially, it seems the people Huck meets that are more advanced on the social scale than him, have a much lower sense of morality than him. In other words, the most refined people in the novel are in actual fact, the most violent. Take the Grangerfords family for example. They are one of the most powerful families in the area, yet they engage in an irrational and outlandish feud with another family in which there had been many victims. Climbing further up the social ladder, the ‘King’ and the ‘Duke’ scam an abundance of money out of small villages and towns. This is obviously a social statement from Twain, arguably about slave-owners and their morality.  It seems the point Twain is trying to declare is that the equation of social hierarchy and morality is deluded in the novel definitely, but also in real life.

The one criticism I have of this novel, which does not detract from my love of it, is the voice with which Twain provides Jim with. Written in the vernacular and focusing heavily on the race dispute it is evident that Twain feels that black people deserve a voice. Yet, my question is, if Twain is trying to expose the psychology of black people to white Americans, then why does he still take away the voice of the black people? Jim says very little throughout the novel and is also portrayed in a submissive and quiet role. Granted, this allows the audience to sympathise with him however, I would like to have seen Jim not as a pawn in somebodies game but with a glimmer of confidence and power about him.

Overall, it is obvious why this is one of the most canonical novels in American literature. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and regardless of whether you want to interpret the social statements or not, it is easily accessible to everyone. If you are more of an audiobook listener or struggling with the vernacular accent, I would also recommend the Loudlit.org podcast which has a brilliant narrator and makes it a very enjoyable listen.

 

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Ernest Hemingway, This is Risky.

 

This is risky. There is a chance of misspelling. There is a chance of grammatical errors and most importantly, there is a chance that I will discuss an issue that I cannot readily conclude.

Ernest Hemingway, a brilliant author, once stated ‘Write drunk; Edit sober’.

So, like the true experimentalist that I am, I thought why not give it a go. Therefore, I have been out tonight for a friend’s birthday and had a couple of drinks (Jägerbombs, Sambuca shots, double Vodka’s, you name it…), and now I have returned home I am frantically typing into my laptop praying genius will come out of my hazy state.

Let me tell you about my night.

I saw three people declined from the club for intoxication. I saw people buy shots that could barely stand, and I saw an infinite number of people (myself included) embarrass themselves from over-confidence on the dance floor. We will never learn that regardless of who you are, it is near impossible to look attractive dancing having consumed an unholy amount of alcohol. Apart from Beyoncé, did you see her at the Superbowl?

So if the outcome is public humiliation converged with blistered feet and pneumonia caused by a desperate lack of clothing, why is it that we (generalising the student community) drink until we ‘chunder?’

Well, this is how my all-female household justify it.

  1. In these cold winter months, our favourite accessory to take out is our ‘alcohol-blanket’. This is a make-believe cloak and the product of many alcoholic drinks, that protects us from the evils of the icy wind-chill of winter and keeps us warm and safe whilst wearing it. The theory being that if you can make yourself warm enough to walk home, you can save money on a taxi.
  2. The phrase ‘if you can feel your feet, then you have not drunk enough’ is a common, practically ‘biblical’ commandment for a female student. It is chanted in reference to the completely impractical and painful act of wearing killer heels on a night out. Any girl will know there comes that point in the night when all you need to do is sit down and rub your feet better. Hence, you numb the pain with countless drinks and continue the night as if you are wearing slippers.
  3. Finally, Social pressures. Everybody has that crazy, drunk friend. The one that gets arrested for drunk and disorderly. The one that gets all the attention the morning after because smashing that window last night was SO COOL; or throwing up on the curb outside the club was SO REBELLIOUS; and getting in that strangers car for a free lift home was SO BRAVE. And so, some drink so they can attempt to reach that sort of free-spirited ‘coolness’ that their friends are so impressed by.

It’s not very ‘cool’ though is it? I know somebody that got so drunk they destroyed a couple of cars. Yes, they paid for it, a night in the cells and an amount of money that I dared not ask how much, but do you not think they woke up in the morning with that awful sinking feeling upon remembering what they had done?

Student culture is renown for its over-excitable drinking habits. Fresher’s week is popularised for the crazy memories and alcohol induced friendships. University, for some, is a blur of forgotten nights out. Do not get me wrong, I am not suggesting a drinking ban, in fact this blog is turning pretty hypocritical taking into account the difficultly I just had making it up the stairs. I am just purely pondering or musing into why we attack ourselves with alcohol like this. Is the expensive and potentially dangerous night out worth losing a whole day which you will spend praying to God to make you feel better?

No, logic would suggest it is not. However, should the age of alcoholic consumption be increased like the USA to 21? No, definitely not. If you like it, then drinking, arguably, is a contemporary ‘rite of passage’. Drinking, drinking too much and then learning your limits is a process of maturation; you need to embarrass yourself, you need to be get a little ill and you need to forget some nights to learn to control yourself.

In summary, I may not remember tonight’s events when I wake up tomorrow and I may feel a little unstable and not move for a good couple of hours, but if this happens very sporadically, then why not? As long as you and your friends look out for one another and you are aware and safe in your surroundings, then go and spend your money on 5 shots for £5, go and buy a bottle of champagne in the club and go make memories that you will probably forget. After all, ‘you’re only young once’.

The morning after…

It is 11.25am and I have just stood vertical for the first time this morning. I did not post this blog at 4am when it was written last night for fear of what I had written in it, but it seems spell checker has aided me in grammatical writing. I have not changed anything I have written and although I am clutching water like it is a magical cure, I do not disagree with any of it.

I do understand that this blog is generalising student culture being derived mainly from the stereotype of a student lifestyle, however it is also my truthful experience. I also know people who choose  not to drink at University and have just as much fun and are most probably a damn sight healthier.

So Ernest, this probably is not what you had in mind, but I hope you approve.

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Raising Mum…

“How do you cook leeks mum?” I yelled down the phone from my hectic university kitchen last week, (as I am certainly not a natural cook). After ascertaining that there are many ways to cook a leek and deciding I’ll leave that project for another day, I escaped the smoke ridden fire hazard that is my kitchen and continued my conversation.

“The irony” my Mother proclaimed in a melodramatic lament.

It turns out my Grandma, her mother, had just been on the phone asking for a similar culinary solution: “Do I make toast in the microwave?”

My Grandma is a beautiful woman; she was bright, witty and undeniably active. She was that sort of person who was firm but fair; she employed tough love and could be quite stubborn. As a child, I would never eat my vegetables (an amusing coincidence now that I am a vegetarian) and one of my most vivid memories is her being the nagging persistent voice across the dinner table that would force me to eat every last carrot and every last sprout until my plate was clear. “You should not leave a saucy dish” She would declare on repeat.

She had so many wonderful characteristics and quirks to her personality, that it seems unfair to have added Alzheimer’s disease to this list. Arguably, maybe it’s not right, for the last six years to categorise Alzheimer’s as a characteristic of my Grandma. Maybe it should not fall into the same sentence as funny, kind and intelligent. Maybe the hurtful disease should not function as an adjective of which to describe my relation. Yet, I cannot see how it could be detached from this occupation.

Alzheimer’s is this demon-like shadow that stalks its prey. As time progresses, it moves closer and closer to its victim, slowly consuming them and simultaneously feeding off of their personality. It becomes a part of them. As a family, you must watch the inventory of characteristics you previously associated with them, diminish rapidly; until it is the only one left.

The biggest confusion I am currently facing when describing my grandma is which tense to use. ‘She was bright and witty’ or ‘She is bright and witty’. I think this is synonymous with one of the toughest challenges a family faces in these circumstances. Obviously, families will handle the affliction of this degenerate disease discordantly, but for my family, the only way to protect ourselves was to acknowledge that my Grandma is not the same person she used to be. She is no longer the bright, witty, vegetable-loving woman we knew. For that reason, I’ll have to describe her in the past tense.

A friend told me recently that 1 in 4 people in the UK are affected by Alzheimer’s, either directly or indirectly. I suppose that’s why I wrote this blog. Before she disappears entirely, I want a place where I can intermittently record my memories of her as she was and my experiences caring for an Alzheimer’s sufferer. Whether it’s recalling her meeting with the Queen, or the time she walked to France (both of which are a fictional product of her memory confusion), I want people to see an honest view of how a normal family deals with the stresses and troubles that the disease creates.

“It is funny” my Mum said finishing our conversation, “at the same time I am raising you and your brother Tess, I am also raising my mum.”

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Hi, I’m Tess and I’m a blogger.

So let us get to know each other.
I’ll go first…

I am on the left in the picture beneath. I like dancing to the early hours of the morning. I like coming home from dancing and realising I have lost my voice. I like having the sorts of debates with friends that get you all irate and worked up. I would LOVE to work in the media, preferably journalism. I need a career in which I can interact with a large variety of people. I like hats, but I do not wear them often. I prefer Tesco’s to Morrison’s and Asda to Tesco’s. I wear contact lenses, I am left-handed and more importantly I am a vegetarian. I do not try to convert people, although I may make ‘meat eater’ jokes sometimes. I love people, I love talking and I love making friends.

In this blog I hope to discuss issues which as a 20-year-old woman are relevant to myself and my peers, but would also like to touch upon a wider range of issues which are culturally and socially significant, which I will try to do justice. I love fashion, so I will attempt to dissect the world of style and may also sneak in a few creative writing projects I have worked on. All in the hope that Alan Rusbridger or Jo Elvin will accidentally stumble across this blog and immediately offer me a reporters position (I can dream).

Feel free to follow me on twitter at @TessaDeaks :).

…So how are you?