Monday, 30 April 2012

"You've Changed" II: The University Effect.

It struck me tonight, as I was singing Nicki Minaj's classic Super Bass on karaoke, and then later as I walked through my student village in pyjamas and bare feet, that since coming to university not only has my life changed (for the better), but also I have done a great deal of things that I never thought I would do.

I never thought I would let my flatmates see me without makeup, 
I never thought I would be living off crackers and toast for weeks on end, I never thought I would stay up until 3am every night (including the nights when I wasn't even going out), I never thought I would have sex with someone during Freshers' Fortnight, I never thought I would walk back to my flat at 8am wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown, I never thought I would spend my entire overdraft, I never thought I'd buy a pair of handcuffs, and I never thought I would spend a night out wearing head-to-toe leopard print, or smeared in camoflauge paint, or covered in highlighter pen scribbles.

Before university, I had never worn a onesie. I now not only own one, but have worn one on a night out. If you don't own a onesie at university, you are socially awkward. Before university, I had never streamed movies or TV shows online. Now I'm doing it every day. Before university, I had never shared a bed with someone all night. Now I love it more than I imagined I would, but also have grown to appreciate having a bed to myself every now and again.
Before university, I had never had any decent drunken stories to tell. Now I am overflowing with anecdotes; the time I got kicked out of the SU, the time I gave my bra to a friend (as part of a dare), the time I sat down at the top of the high street and refused to move, the time I demolished an entire Dominos large pizza in a three-minute taxi ride home...

I never thought I would meet such a wonderful group of people and gain lifelong friends. I never thought I would lose the people I was closest to at home. I never thought I would fall for someone. I never thought I would fit in as well as I have. I never thought I would learn to appreciate my family so much. And I definitely never thought I would be homesick for university during the holidays; so homesick that I came back to Winchester nearly two weeks early.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

McFlying in London.

Last night I revisited my pre- and early teen years by going to see McFly live at their penultimate show on their Keep Calm and Play Louder tour at the HMV Hammersmith Apollo, London.

I am a fully-fledged Galaxy Defender. I dragged my little sister along to the show, who is a more recent fan after seeing Just My Luck and following Harry Judd on Strictly Come Dancing 2011, and spent the two weeks leading up to the show educating her in all things McFly. We downloaded songs, first those included in the setlist and then eventually every other song from every other album ever. So when the day of the show came around, we were word-perfect and ready to go crazy.

We stood in the stalls frantically checking Tom Fletcher's Twitter updates, wondering how McFly would make their entrance and speculating as to what the boys were doing right now... After playing a series of cheesy 80s/90s tunes through the speakers, including the YMCA (which true fans will know is the song they always play right before they come onstage) the beautiful boys came out at last. They played their first three songs without stopping; Nowhere Left To Run (amazing opener!), One For The Radio, and Star Girl. The girls all around me were going wild; some of them were wearing tour T-shirts from the Noughties, and some had even painted little stars on their faces. Everyone wants to be Tom's Star Girl, myself included.

I thought to myself several times as I watched them, it's hard to believe that these are the same skinny lads with ironed hair who just 9 years ago were gracing my television and radio every day with their pretty, poppy music and cheeky ways. Now, Danny is far (for lack of a better word) hunkier, and seems taller somehow. Harry is mullet-less, chiseled and strides about the stage like a gorgeous caged animal, that is when he's allowed out from behind his drum kit. Tom has undergone the most drastic transformation, having lost all his trademark puppy fat to reveal a genuinely beautiful face and enviably toned body. Dougie, thank goodness, is still Dougie, looking gorgeously scruffy and being teased by the other guys for being "the slow one".
Dougie shouts "are you ready to have a bitchin' good time?" into his microphone, Tom does a naughty bum-wiggle when singing the lyrics "I fell in love with Uranus", Danny licks his microphone stand and flirts with the fans in the front row, Harry flexes and poses between solos. The boys have grown up, but not too much. And bless them for it.

I have always thought of Tom Fletcher as the lead singer of McFly, although over the years he and Danny have shared the spotlight equally. However, last night Danny Jones established himself as a contender for lead singer. His voice rang out with a rich throaty quality, and his range had me floored. One of the highlights of the night for me was the medley of Living On A Prayer / We Found Love / What Makes You Beautiful / Somebody That I Used To Know / I Wanna Dance With Somebody... Danny drove the audience insane.

It's no secret that my favourite member of McFly is Harry Judd. Ever since the beginning, Danny and Harry have fought for my affections, while Dougie was somewhat overlooked (also, my best friend had dibs'd him) and Tom seemed like my ideal husband personality-wise but put me off with his bleached hair. Harry won over my entire family last year as we all sat down every Saturday night to watch Strictly Come Dancing, and we may have jumped off the sofa and done a lot of screaming and crying when he won. So when the McFly lads walked onstage last night, it was Harry who I was screaming for. His drumming was pretty incredible, too.

Say what you will about McFly (the most common reaction to telling my friends I was going to see them live was: "what are you, fourteen?!"), the boys know how to put on a good show. They put everything they've got into their performance, and then some. There was real heart in their voices, and you could see the pure joy they felt while playing onstage. Tom was spinning around and headbanging while playing guitar, Danny did the classic rock 'n' roll playing guitar behind his head move... One of my pet peeves is artists being way too "celebrity" and shouting "hello London!", "this song is dedicated to each and every one of you!" or "you all look so beautiful!" in between songs. I find it a little too much, too cocky... But when it's Danny Jones, somehow I don't mind so much.

Another lovely touch was the amount of audience participation involved; every now and again the lights on the audience would come up and Danny or Tom would tell us they needed our help singing, and the Galaxy Defenders were more than happy to oblige. We sang the entire chorus of Obviously, clapped along to Everybody Knows, and held our hands up and jumped while they performed their new song Do What You Want (Danny Jones holding up his hands and singing "do what you want, do what you want to me"... The sixteen year-old girl inside me was very happy).

I also loved their sudden mood change halfway through the show, effortlessly moving away from electric guitar rock and into chilled acoustic loveliness. "This is the intimate section," Danny whispered, shushing the audience. They played No Worries, a personal favourite of mine originally intended to be a B-side single, recommended to me several weeks before the show by a fellow fangirl and friend who also sent me the setlist. The song is sweet and was beautifully sung, each lyric melting the hearts of every girl in the room.The show ended with Five Colours In Her Hair, of course, to the delight of the crowd. They then performed an encore; Walk In The Sun, sung only by Danny accompanied by a guitar, and then Shine A Light, another crowd favourite.

The outstanding songs were broken up by banter between the boys. The four McFly lads communicate with such ease, throwing cheeky barbs at one another and providing plenty of laughs. Dougie explained to us all that Tom must now be referred to as Teabag, Danny declared Harry a Dancing Queen, and Dougie had himself re-crowned onstage as King of the Jungle. They ended the show with a series of thank yous; to those who voted for both Harry and Dougie on Strictly and I'm A Celebrity, to Tom's  Twitter followers for wishing his cat better, and to everyone who has been with the band for the past nine years ("that's me, Danny! That's me!").

The boys' friendship is really what makes the band so special, and it is glaringly apparent both onstage and off. I also feel as though I know each of them personally, as I follow/stalk them all on Twitter. It's that personal touch, the love they have for their fans, and their undeniable musical talent, that makes McFly so special. To me, and to Galaxy Defenders everywhere.

"Another year over, and we're still together.
It's not always easy... But McFly's here forever."


Hi, my name's Gracie. My pre-drink of choice is Palm Beach, I am borderline obsessed with The Hunger Games, the Durex adverts make me giggle, I fancy Plan B, my hair is plum purple, I'm at home for Easter and missing university more than I expected, I am constantly going back and forth between nose ring and nose stud, I might be a jealous person, a guy who can sing is always welcome in my bed, a cup of tea always makes me super-chilled and slightly spaced out, I write long love letters in my spare time, most of my friends are convinced I'm a lesbian, Irish and Australian accents make me melt, I can only ever have skimmed milk, if you've never seen The Princess Bride then we simply cannot be friends, I'm not a normal girl, and I'm okay with that.

I do one of these posts every month. x

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Growing up through conversation.

Last night, I was reunited with my best friend from primary school. We spent the evening eating apple pie, drinking Screwdrivers, watching The Boat That Rocked, and talking.

I couldn't help but notice that over the years, our conversations have changed and evolved as we've changed and evolved.
Once upon a time, we were sitting on the Lower Juniors playground watching the cool kids play football on the field and writing our names in chalk on the hopscotch grid, talking about how nasty the skinny blonde girls were to us.

We'd spend our weekends delving into the fancy dress hamper, baking Fimo animals in the oven, playing Digimon on the Playstation 1, setting up Playmobil worlds and talking about how we never wanted to grow up.
A few short years later we were reading Harry Potter, watching Monty Python, practicing kissing on marshmallows, listening to The Goon Show and talking about how badly we wanted to grow up.

Before long we were at "big school", wearing ties and blazers, having sleepovers, dyeing our hair and talking about the cute boys in our classes.
Then suddenly, we were both at separate colleges and meeting up maybe once in a blue moon. One of the precious few times we actually got to see each other, we sat on a bench in the middle of town talking about old times for about five minutes before moving on to talk about losing our virginities. This was the first time we'd talked seriously about such personal things, and over the following years this personal talk became habitual.
We saw each other maybe one more time before leaving college and moving on to university. We spent a whole day playing the Sims 2, playing each other new music we'd recently discovered, and talking about relationships.

For the time between September and last night, we had an exclusively Facebook relationship, if that... It consisted of seeing each others' updates and photos, maybe commenting on the occasional post. It's always a shame when friendships are reduced to this, especially with someone you were once so close to, someone you grew up with. So when I had the chance to meet up with her in person last night, of course I said yes.

Our conversations last night were definitely the most evolved and personal yet, and also the best. Actually, second best to our conversations about Lord of the Rings when we were nine years old...
We discussed university, our work, plans for next year... And sex. We clinked our glasses "to fuck buddies!" and inquired as to each others' "magic numbers". (I can honestly tell you that there is nothing more trippy than learning that your sweet, innocent and naive friend from primary school has slept with exactly twice as many people as you). Then we drank some more and talked some more, and I wondered to myself what we'll be talking about in a few years' time.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Innocent things.

So here I am, back at home for the holidays and already missing university more than I probably should.
Maybe it's because I'm back to sleeping in the bedroom where my more innocent years were spent, but over the past few days I've found myself in a much more... Innocent mood. I've started thinking about things differently, or things that I haven't thought about in a very long time. For example, kisses. Those sweet, innocent little iotas of affection that were so desperately sought after a few years ago, but nowadays seem to mean very little.

I remember being fourteen, and discussing boys at school with my friends during lunchtime. Back then, the biggest thing that could happen to you was being kissed. A year later we started playing Spin The Bottle at house parties, and you'd think this would cheapen and demean the whole concept of kissing, but somehow the beauty and perfection of a kiss remained intact... At least for one more year.

Sixteen was the year when all hell broke loose. Kissing wasn't enough any more. Suddenly we were tossing each other off in tents, undoing bras and being slammed against walls. By seventeen, most of us were having sex. By eighteen, all of us were having sex. And suddenly, kissing wasn't so important any more.

Nowadays, if someone asks you about your night, you would respond by saying something like: "I slept with
____". You wouldn't think to mention that person you kissed earlier on that night, because that wouldn't be worth mentioning. A few years ago, is you were asked the same question, you'd say "ohmygosh ____ kissed me!" Like it was the most exciting thing to happen, ever. Of course, every now and again you'll hear people say "yeah, I got with ___ many people", but even that isn't the same. "Got with", as I've tried to explain unsuccessfully to my parents several times, can mean anything from a series of kisses to a passionate groping session on the dancefloor. There's no expression for just one kiss. In fact, I told my friend just the other day that a certain someone (who shall, of course, remain completely anonymous) kissed me, and she responded with: "what? He kissed you? Like, just the one kiss? That's new..."

Kisses still mean something to me. I used to kiss a friend goodnight after walking him partway home, and for me, that was exciting. It felt much more meaningful than a make out session; it left something to the imagination, and made me want more without overdoing it.

I'm not saying I'm unhappy with what constitutes good gossip and excitement nowadays (c'mon, sex is pretty awesome), but sometimes I do get a little sad that we've lost the value of a kiss. 

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Did you know I write? (III)

As most of you will know I am currently studying for a degree in Creative Writing (combined with Drama). This week is the big week: Semester 2 assignments are due. So, I was wondering if anyone would indulge me by commenting/rating/criticizing my latest piece for my Creative Non-Fiction module...? Any comments would be appreciated. Thank you!

Mr & Mrs. Al Cohol.

Ever since starting at university, I have also started an inevitable, epic and enduring relationship with alcohol. The honeymoon period lasted a long time, involving plenty of good nights spent talking, dancing, and having sex. However, this sadly ended not so long ago, and as all relationships do, ours has gone sour. The honeymoon is over.

Now, my nights with my former paramour alcohol are becoming unpleasant and dark. They all start promisingly, with laughter and happy banter, but before long I take it too far and anger the beast within. I lose my balance and the world starts spinning. I shout, rather than speak, and I'm shouting things I would normally never dream of saying. I'm doing things I shouldn't, and setting myself up for all kinds of falls.

“Down it, Fresher!” the Vice Captain shouts, howling with laughter as I hoist the wellington boot into the air and touch it to my lips. I close my eyes tightly, knowing I mustn’t look inside. I can hear the sloshing of all the different kinds of alcohol inside; the dirty pint assigned to me for being Dick of the Week. Beer, wine, vodka, schnapps and goodness knows what else are all slapping angrily against the rubber inside the boot, incredulous that they have been forced to mingle with one another and disgusted with the manner in which they are being consumed. I open one eye just a tiny fraction, and see a few blades of grass floating in murky boozy pond water. That was a classic Fresher mistake. You never ask, you never peek, you just do. Why? Because the Third Years say so. And how do you expect them to take you seriously and to respect you, unless you swallow all kinds of poison and make a fool of yourself on a weekly basis? So I bite my tongue, I tilt the boot, and I drink.

I wake up the next morning, and patches of memory are missing. Oh, but not to worry, they will be filled in. Either when my flatmates and friends recount certain events from the night before, or just when I'm sitting around doing nothing, suddenly a memory comes flying back. I walk down to campus, and on my way I am stopped by several people saying: "How are you feeling today?", "Oh my God you were so bad last night..." or "Hey, drink much?" By the afternoon, the dreaded moment arrives when the photos are uploaded online. You find yourself in a photo with a handful of people you claim to hate when sober, with a traffic cone on your head (a university cliché), kissing a complete stranger (or worse, someone you see every day), with numerous drinks in your hand and straws in your mouth.

Carpet is imprinting an ugly pattern onto my cheek and the taste of cigarettes, toast and possibly a hint of absinthe is lingering in my mouth. I open my eyes, and see the legs of a desk and an arm dangling above my head. I seem to be lying on my friend’s floor. I’m wearing her pyjama trousers and my butterfly crop top from the night before, plus a flower headband and a pair of wellies. I vaguely recall my friend rescuing me last night after I locked myself out of my halls. Going into my 9am lecture with fuzzy unwashed hair and wearing last night’s fancy dress clothes is surely the worst Walk of Shame yet... 

Three weeks later, at precisely 8:30am, I am walking up the busy main road adjacent to the university and hospital, from one set of halls to another. I am sporting flattened hair and the remains of yesterday’s makeup, wearing my pyjamas and someone else’s hoody. Cars drive past slowly to get a good look, elderly couples enjoying the morning sunshine are visibly appalled and offended, and students are cackling as they pass me on their way to lectures. Several of them recognize me... And the name on the back of the hoody.

We giggle about drunken adventures and conversations, joking about how we "ruined our lives", making light of it all. After a few days of initial panic and regret, the drunken moments become happy memories. We stick the photos on our walls, and store the anecdotes away for the future. We collect all the bottles we've gone through in the past few months and stack them up in our windows, so everyone can see how fun we are.

There was a time when drinking was a fun optional activity; something we school kids would do for fun on the weekends, enjoying that rush of breaking the rules and having new stories to tell during Maths on a Monday morning. Then as we moved on to college, we spent two years sneaking into clubs, perfecting the poker face when illegally buying alcohol, and tampering with the birth date on our provisional driving licenses. We had lengthy conversations about the local clubs and bars, pretending to know what we were talking about.

“Mate, did you go TJ’s on Monday night?” 
“Yeah I went for, like, two minutes... It was fucking dead.”
“Same. Kings is so much better anyway.”
“Really, Kings? It’s so cheesy and the drinks are poor.”
“At least it’s better than Atlantis. Oh my god, did you see Vicki dancing in the cage last week?”
“Such a slag. The music’s shit in Atlantis anyway.”

By summer, when everyone was of legal age and able to walk confidently into Wetherspoons and order a cocktail pitcher, we had lost interest. The thrill of living outside the law was gone. Something needed to be done to spice it up again.

   Then, mercifully, came the university era. The exciting prospect of three years away from home, living with people our own age, with absolutely no rules... And an undeniable drinking culture. At university, it seems, drinking is not a fun weekly option; it’s a mandatory nightly occupation. There is a sacred unspoken rule that one cannot enter the Student Union sober.

   With university also came a ground-breaking revelation: drinking games. Pre-drinking was already a done thing, but before university this was simply sitting in a friend’s living room drinking a few glasses of Lambrini before getting a lift into town at 9pm from their mum. At university, the kitchen table is invisible under an abundance of bottles, cans, shot glasses and playing cards. The games begin; starting with clever and challenging tricks and tasks, slowly deviating into easier territories as the volume in the bottles lowers, and so do our inhibitions. We go from sophisticated games such as betting fingers on playing cards and chanting complicated songs until we catch someone out, to simply mixing all our drinks together in one wicked concoction and forcing it upon one another. This part of the night ends in linking arms with friends and staggering from halls to the town centre at 11pm, when the real night out begins.

A King means you have to add your drink to the pint, a Queen means you have to ask questions, a Jack means you have to make a rule, 10 is Thumb Master, 9 is the Toilet Card, 8 is Mate, 7 is Heaven, 6 is Dicks, 5 is Story Time, 4 is Whores, 3 is Choose, 2 is Kiss, Ace is Waterfall. Don’t worry, you’ll get it eventually.

I can’t help but wonder if your early experiences with alcohol decide your future encounters with this wicked substance. I decided to interview a couple of individuals about their first ever experience with alcohol, and how it compares to their most recent experiences.

I asked my friend Rikki about his first encounter with drink, compared to his most recent experience.

   “I was fourteen. It was the last night of our holiday in Cyprus, and this older guy I knew was like “we’re gonna get wasted”. He used a fake ID. Bright red and blue Aftershock. I liked the colours. We all went down to the beach and sat around on sun loungers, had the red shots... I just remember, like, fire going down my throat. And my eyes went like, WHOOSH... It was like being physically hit. It burned slightly in the back of my throat. After it went away I did a blue shot, and that wasn’t as bad. After that, we strolled back to the hotel and sat in the elevator for hours, going up and down. My dad saw me crawl out of the elevator at the bottom, and I was like “oh heyyyy”...”

   “The other day was my 19th birthday and I was down the pub after lectures with friends, being bought birthday drinks. Mostly beer. I’d finish one pint, then my friend would slam another down on the table for me. It was cool.”

So, it seems his earlier experience with Mr Al Cohol was a somewhat intense one, thrown in at the deep end, while a few years on his experiences are mostly positive, probably due to years of learning lessons and limits. Surely that is true for everyone who has had a relationship with alcohol spanning over a few years.
I also talked to my friend Georgia about her drinking adventures, to see if gender affected the experience.

“I associate drinking with regret. The first time I got drunk, I played Spin The Bottle and had to kiss a lot of ugly boys... My most recent drunk experiences have been similar in some ways, but better. I like to think I’ve learned my limits. I think drinking is easier and more fun for a girl. People buy you drinks, and it’s just generally easier to get drunk. Boys have to commit to it.”

So, what about the older generation? Does my dad have anything different to offer? In his younger days, a pint was 62p. I can’t help but wonder how different the drinking experience was back then...

First time I was actually drunk, I was sixteen, on holiday in Gurnsey. The people I was staying with were in their mid-twenties, and seemed much older than my friend and I. Being sixteen meant freedom. We cycled to the pub and back, falling off our bikes on the way home...   When I’m drunk, it’s all great for a while, then it hits me like a ton of bricks. I was sick in my lap while sitting in my friends’ lounge.”

“The most recent time I was drunk... My mate’s stag ‘do. I drank a lot in a short space of time. I was sick on the train home, in the toilet... And I’ve never told anyone that before. I was trying to concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other. The next morning was dreadful, and I was playing golf! My friends were having bacon butties and coffee at the club, and I had to sit with my head on the table because I couldn’t bear to look at their food. I received a text from one of
my mates: c’mon gayboy, let’s play golf."

“And my last drinking experience: a glass of wine with dinner, and a few pints a week. Not overdoing it. I hate that feeling the next morning so much. I usually know when to stop, because it always catches up with me. It’s such a waste of time as well... You can’t enjoy anything. Spending time with your family at the weekend is meant to be precious, and if you’re hungover then it’s wasted.”

That seems to be crucial when getting into a long-term relationship with alcohol: making sure no time is wasted. Not letting Al own you. Not letting this frivolous and toxic relationship take over your life.

It’s my best friend’s sixteenth birthday. Where’s my drink gone? I put it down a few seconds ago, it’s the cup with the bright red WKD in... I look across the vast expanse of kitchen counter before me, every inch covered with plastic cups containing a cornucopia of alcopops; every single colour of the rainbow is laid out before me, in varying volumes, the surfaces trembling with the bass and straws drooping, exhausted and abused. Several Haribo gummy bears have ventured into the depths of the alcopop ocean. They’re sitting patiently on the ocean floor, talking amongst themselves as their colours are ebbing away. I slap the counter in blurry frustration, and watch the pools of colour tremble. I grab the drink nearest to me, bright sugary blue of course, and stumble back to my friends on the dance floor, also known as the conservatory. I know this song, I’m sure I do... I just can’t remember the lyrics right now. So I’m going to put my hands up in the air, jump up and down and mouth along... Nobody will ever know.

Suddenly I’m at the bottom of the garden, with a bottle in my hand and mud all over my shoes. I rolled all the way down the lawn, apparently. My friend offers me a drink as a prize for making it this far.

Am I drunk?

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