As dusk falls, city lights emerge

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A return to London.  After a long stint at home, it’s always a little difficult in the first few days and weeks to fall into that London routine, where queueing, long commutes and spending over five pounds for a pint are a daily occurrence.
I always end up inexplicably missing the comfort of the hills and the sea. They are a constant when everything thing is in momentum, a steady reminder of home and of things bigger than myself. I always crave the presence of the horizon, of sunsets and sunrises framing the day, of seeing more than just a thin strand of sky.
In London, you can only see the horizon if you are on the river, the thin winding ribbon that threads itself through the blocky patchwork of houses and offices of the city. It’s at night, while walking back from work, that I can remember what I love about the city… London at night.

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New Years Resolution: Improve Photography

So, I am trying to learn how to take better photographs.

I’ve always been interested in photography, in fact, when I was younger, I hoarded all my money for years so that I could buy a good camera, (the same camera I use today in fact) so that I could learn the tricks of the trade. However, it has taken me over nine years to really understand that photography is more than just pointing and clicking.

For me, learning something new is both exciting and extremely frustrating. I am guilty of giving up new hobbies or skills just because i’m not automatically fantastic at it, but there isn’t much point in being able to sort of play 5 instruments instead of being good at 1 (I reached a new point when I tried to learn the accordion.) Like a magpie I have gathered an array of half hobbies over the years, from gardening to rock polishing, and knitting to learning to play the trumpet.

Like many others, at New Year I try to gather all the things I would like to change about myself (lose weight, get a job, become more assertive, learn a language. The list goes on and on) and make it a goal to completely change myself at the stroke of midnight. Alas, this year is no different, and once again, on the final week of 2015 I  began to compile the list of traits I would like to change, or the ones I would like to have and wish that the power of hope would magic me into another person, fairy god mother style. However, given the lack of  success in the previous 21 years, I have decided to stick with one: improve a skill. And that skill….photography.

I started this blog with the hopes of doing just that, and while I can’t see any progress yet, I will continue to try as I have certainly enjoyed it so far. I got a subscription to Adobe Photoshop for my Birthday/Christmas and I hope that I can learn to shoot and edit my pictures with more skill than I have previously.

These pictures were taken on the beach of my hometown Broughty Ferry, on possibly the only sunny day of the entire three weeks I was there. The editing is a little bit funny in parts, but I’m still trying to learn! Hope you all have a great New Year and that your lists are a little bit shorter!

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The Power of Stories

My life has always revolved around stories. Coming from an Irish family, stories are what I was brought up on. I was fed them as I was spooned my morning porridge and honey each morning, as my hair was combed in preparation for school, before I went to sleep at night. I would close my eyes and the tales would echo around in my brain, until they dimmed and melted into my own narrative. Then, I would finally sleep. Each story would be presented without much introduction, but rather as an organic part of daily life which tinted the mundane brighter and more colourful. They were placed alongside food, water and a healthy dosage of self deprecation in my parents order of things necessary for life.

My close family was and is, the least argumentative family I have ever come across. As children we would have the occasional tiff, but it would be over in a matter of a few hours, to be forgotten alongside the frogspawn we spooned from the ponds and left drying in the sun. The placidity of our daily life made room for fantasy, for the everyday to be transformed into the spectacular or the hilarious. 

My best friend’s family is gigantic, and habitually in conflict with one another. Arriving on my doorstep without advanced warning, she came to escape the drama which clung to her home life. Following routine, we would cocoon ourselves in a nest of blankets and gather various food supplies to in preparation for the night.  We would watch a movie as was tradition, usually consisting of a sappy romance we both mocked and secretly wished for. It was a necessity, even if we didn’t listen to a word. It granted space for confession, the words on the screen allowing room for those feelings we couldn’t admit in the stark, unsympathetic silence. A place for eyes to look.

I remember the feeling of the confessional box I was forced to visit as a child. The wood was dark and varnished, my bare knees sticking to the red leather cushion on which I knelt. Both intensely intimate and equally alienating, any words choked, thick in my throat. I had no idea what I was meant to confess, I mean, at the age of seven the worst thing I had done was purposefully spit chewing gum in my sisters long, thick hair.

Between the two cubicles there was a mesh window where I could see the profile of my priest. A man I loathed and who was singularly the most sinfully dull person I had ever met. I remember hearing him clear his throat, an ugly wet, mucusy sound, and the heavy silence evaporated. What came spilling forth was a story I had heard the week before about a girl who stole everything she could, cramming sweets, toys, money into her pockets at every opportunity.

I was told to recite Hail Mary and Our Father over and over, the words a meaningless chant to my ears, a punishment I couldn’t understand. Instead I recounted the story I would tell my friends once I left, knowing to describe the priest in full, to evoke empathy and laughter. The rosary beads were smooth and round as I rolled them between my fingers.   

Films and books are the place where I recede to when things become too hard to take. The stories of others, better or worse, soothe in a way that nothing else can. An escape for the mind. After the deaths of our grandparents, my family would always spend the next few months watching movies. They gave us permission to feel. Every night we would sit, cocooned in the velvety dark with our eyes pinned to the screen. Tears were attributed to the characters on screen rather than our own feelings, the choked sound of crying was stifled behind sleeves. After the movie ended we would clear our throats and pretend not to have noticed the outburst of emotion. When I was three years old, I watched ‘Black Beauty’ and cried for hours. My mother always said it was the most emotional I have ever been and notes that, ever since, I rarely cry at anything at all. It was then, aged three that I realised what another narrative could teach me. Stories have since become the media through which I learn, the thing I go to when I cannot understand. An idea, an emotion a viewpoint. If a story about horses can teach me about death and friendship, then the power of other narratives is seemingly indefinite.

Home is the cup of tea at the end of a long day presented to you without word from your mother, the comforting feel of fur through your fingertips, the soothing sound of a familiar voice in the dark, the smell of woodsmoke on a cold day, lying in your own bed with all its familiar bumps and springs after being gone for weeks. The small stories that only mean something to you. Intimate. Wherever I am, whatever stage I progress through, the stories I have been told anchor me to a place I at times lose sight of. More than a material space, it is where stories bind me to others, to land, to history. Memories. Home for me is a place of stories,  whether they be my own, works of literature or other people’s recollections. A fabric, untouchable but eternal, a tapestry of life.

Heartbeat: a short story

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Outside, the iron sky was a colourless canopy, crossed only by the trails of planes. The womblike interior of the room was situated so that the outside world seemed inconsequential. The dim lustre of the stained-glass, that chronicled the lives of men who had achieved great things or been attributed glory through time, the only marker of life outside.

It seemed a relic of a time that had been lost in the process of modernity. The roof curved like the bones of a longship, an immensity of noise reverberating at the slightest movement. An imposing statue of christ on the cross hung above the alter. His face peaceful. Rose had always imagined that it would have been an anguished grimace and was taken aback at its expression. A shaft of light from a domed skylight shone on it, dust particles moving in waves, only seen in the narrow beam.  It was a room that demanded reverence. More and more these days, she felt that reverence was dangerous. She had worshipped people, ideas, abstract notions she barely understood, for the majority of her life. Life seemed too scattered, imperfect, nihilistic, to have the potential for something to have such worth. The more you looked, modernity had indeed taken hold. Awe and beauty obscure, but clear enough, markers of time were apparent: glowing fire safety signs and clumsy extinguishers sat alongside plastic the electric candles that had replaced votives. They seemed lost in the mass of wood and marble, dressed in their gaudy colours. 

Her palms were sticky. A salty residue that she wiped against the material of her jeans in rough strokes. It seemed to cling, like the guilt she vainly attempted to wash away in the shower. After is happened, she felt so sick with shame that she showered five times in one day. Yet, in the dark, she could smell it, musky and rank, mingling with her damp breath, her skin, her hair. She had been sitting on the bench for close to an hour, back collapsing as she she rested her head in her hands. Palms cradling her jaw, fingers reaching and smoothing under the thick heavy hair, to were the bottom of the cranium dips and meets the sensitive spot at the back of the neck. Her fingers restlessly soothing the skin. Countless times she had been told she was lovely in the past. But recently, she had to taken to standing at the mirror, searching for clues that she in any way resembled who she knew. Herself. Her hair, usually obsessively straightened, hung bedraggled. Crimson lipstick had run to the lines of her mouth, bleeding into the white of her skin.  

***

Before entering, Rose paused, gulping in air to brace herself against the weight of the shame that pressed against her skin like lead paint. A girl of seventeen, tired and bloated, lounged against the rough pebbledash. Arm bent, wrist tight, she grasped a burning cigarette and pressed it against her lips. Her mouth was filled with smoke. Her gaze flickered over, and their eyes caught. Neither speaking, nor evoking any expression, a shared understanding that they, in many ways were on the same path exchanged in the black space of their pupils. The same path neither had wished to consider. Looking away, she drew a final gasp of smoke and dashed the cigarette against the concrete, orange sparks a forming miniature firework display before dissolving into ash. Continue reading

Grød: Copenhagen

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So we arrived in Copenhagen in the middle of a snowstorm. Underdressed, freezing, soaked through to the skin, and with three hours before we received the keys to our airbnb, we wandered round the city dreaming of warm beds and cups of tea. Thankfully Copenhagen has no lack of coffee shops and in true Danish style, they all looked cosy and welcoming.

We stumbled upon Torvehallerne, an (indoor, thank god) farmers market next to Nørrebro metro station. It consists of two glass and steel constructions filled with various stalls selling food from artisanal chocolates to Spanish tapas. The venue has a fantastic feel about it, something that can be found all over Copenhagen. It’s light, stylish and contemporary, and while busy, there is little pushing or rushing, just a chilled out atmosphere to enjoy while sipping a coffee (I recommend Coffee Collective, the smell of the shop is enough to entice you in!)

It was only 10:00 so breakfast was the order of the hour. While the various incredible pastries and baked goods were a very close order, we decided on porridge at Grød, and we were certainly weren’t disappointed! (I did go back for a Kanelsnegle later though, because I have no food limits.)

Grød, as noted in its name, only sells porridge. Porridge never sounds like the most appealing food to eat and often stirs up memories of bland, grey, lumpy mush, but Grød takes it to its rightful level. While we went for the classic breakfast options, they also sell food that caters to lunch and dinner appetites such as risotto, dahl and asian rice porridge.

I ordered a classic oat porridge, topped with homemade dulche de leche, fresh apple & roasted almonds and it was possibly the best porridge I’ve ever had. It was warm, flavourful, and a had great blend of textures.

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oat porridge

However, my boyfriend ordered Risengrød, a traditional danish rice porridge, topped with cinnamon sugar and butter. He’s Finnish, and rice porridge is a food traditionally eaten during Christmas in both Finland and many Scandinavian countries. He has often spoken about craving it, so finding it on the menu was very exciting!

The only problem was, after having a spoon of his I immediately regretted my order, because wow, it was absolutely phenomenal. It tasted like christmas, childhood and what I presume ambrosia tastes like (not the custard) all rolled into one warm hug. I do have an unnatural obsession with cinnamon though, so this was right up my street. Isn’t it the worst when someone else orders something better than you? I may have eaten most of his in retaliation.

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Danish rice porridge with cinnamon sugar and butter

There are now three Grød stores in Copenhagen: Jægersborrgade, Torvehallerne, and Guldberg Gade. We visited ended up also visiting the Guldberg Gade shop also as we found it round the corner from our apartment and couldn’t help but buy another bowl of Risengrød!

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Looking very happy with his bowl of Risengrød!

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The Opposite of Loneliness in St Andrews

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The Opposite of Loneliness in St Andrews

University life, especially in St Andrews, while exciting and completely varied, can often lead to extreme cases of cabin fever. In a town so small, the feeling of being stuck in a bubble can be intense, and this feeling is especially concentrated in between the load of coursework and the onslaught of exams. I would spend many an evening stuck in the tiny cinderblock library listening to the soundtrack of frantic typing and surrounded by an air so thick with apprehension it could practically choke you. My favourite desk (only available if you arrived before 9) overlooked West Sands, a long stretch of sand bordered by the Old Course and fringed by tall pine trees. I would sit with my head in my hands and just stare out at the North Sea, in all its turbulent glory.

Throughout my time at St Andrews, the sea was my hook, the place I would go alone or with friends when we were stressed. We would stare out and talk, or not talk, and when we returned to the nests we would build ourselves during exams and essays, things would feel different, our perspectives readjusted. Continue reading