Ink and Blood

A Poem by Anushka Dey

Let my blood and flesh be replaced by metal and ink

On and on I shall write and never swink

Holds such power the swipe of a simple pen

Commands the swords of a hundred mighty men

The Doctor’s nib announces alike death and birth

Brings in terrible grief or glee and mirth

The glow of literature overshadows time and tides

Unshed tears in sad ballads the author skilfully hides

Discover and invent the scientists , new terms are coined

Legislation to execution all the work of a petty ball point

Declaration of war make battle cries ring, while peace the treaties bring

The stories of brave hearts the quill is assigned to sing

Silent companion when you write letters to dearest

The pen and diary are world’s secret keeper the best

Ink blotches on desk one can wipe

But bloodshed the human heart cannot survive

The countdown to Watersprite Film Festival 2022 has begun!

The festival will take place in less than 2 weeks, from 4th-6th March, and it promises to be a weekend packed with exciting workshops, speeches and masterclasses from leading voices in the film and TV industry. These range from talks with Kate Herron, director of Loki and Sex Education, and Akua Gyamfi, the founder of the British Blacklist; to a panel event on the ethics of documentary-making; to a masterclass in sound design from Oscar-nominated Theo Green, the sound designer for Dune and Blade Runner 2049. If all of that is not enough to entice you, tickets for the weekend are completely free!

Ticket links are available for online attendance here:

https://registration.socio.events/e/waterspritefilmfestival2022

In person events will be available on the Watersprite Eventbrite Page:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/watersprite-film-festival-16680038630

Watersprite is the UK’s largest international student festival. It takes place in Cambridge every March – since its inception in 2009 – and is run by students at both Cambridge University and Anglia Ruskin University. Student film festival are unique in providing a platform for building young filmmakers to showcase their creativity an talent. Further, there are so many opportunities to get involved in the Watersprite committee – from organising events to judging submissions to designing posters, the opportunities are endless! Watersprite’s key value is that it is a festival run by students, for students.

This year stands out in Watersprite history – for the first time ever it will be a hybrid festival! It is also a biggest and most international year thus far: we have received over 1,400 submissions from exactly 100 countries! During the weekend itself, we will be screening the 44 nominated short-films and the long-awaited Awards Ceremony will take place on the evening of Saturday 5th. It is sure to be a magnificent celebration of young talent from across the globe!

Watersprite will also be holding a pre-festival Launch Event titled Fighting For Our Craft: A Panel with Female Filmmakers from Afghanistan. It will be an illuminating event, held in collaboration with the Afghanistan Working Group Student Society, and led by three of Afghanistan’s leading female filmmakers and journalist, in support of the Yalda Hakim Foundation. This foundation raises money to send young Afghan women to prestigious educational institutions around the world and is currently building supplemental education institutions t provide girls with the necessary education the Taliban have deprived them of.

I was able to catch an exclusive interview with Amber Hyams, Watersprite’s Festival Director this year!

What’s it been like being the festival director this year?

It’s amazing! I have met so many incredibly hard working and talented people and it has been a real pleasure being part of the Watersprite family. As with everything else, it has been a strange year to put on an international festival and I cannot thank the team enough for everything they have done.

What’s special about a student film festival?

As a festival run by young people for young people, Watersprite is always changing and growing in the most exciting ways. We work with what is currently happening and how people are currently feeling. Our Head of Awards this year, for example, wanted to celebrate experimental film and we now have an award dedicated to this part of cinema which has led to an amazing array of entries. You can also really the love and energy that young people have for film, as they play with all the industry has to offer and we try and reflect this breadth of possibilities throughout the festival weekend.

Where do you see Watersprite going in the future? What changes do you hope to see?

This year, as the first hybrid festival, we are sharing Watersprite with the world, allowing people from all over to tune in and engage with the opportunities we have on offer. We reached 100 countries this year, making it our most sure that student filmmakers support one another and that they have the space to do so, sharing ideas and experiences and proving the strength of young voices in the industry. I know that Waterprite will continue to grow, reaching even more corners of the world and nurturing future talent.

Do you have any advice for students who want to submit a film/take in the committee next year?

If you are at either Anglia Ruskin or Cambridge University and are interested in film, in any capacity, I cannot recommend joining the Watersprite Team enough. It has been the highlight of my university experience and I have forged such an amazing network with some of the brightest, most talented filmmakers, as well as meeting some outstanding industry professionals. If you would like to take part, you definitely do not need any prior experience but I would strongly recommend volunteering at the festival this year to get a taste of what Watersprite is about. I volunteered in my first year and it truly opened my eyes to all of the brilliant things going on.

If you are a filmmaker and are thinking about submitting to Watersprite 2023, I only have very simple advice: make sure you know exactly what you want your film to feel like. Do you want it to scare your audience? Make them cry? Make them smile? Do all you can to achieve this effect and my personal advice would always be to focus on an emotional response over everything else. Don’t waste time with beautiful shots if they do but show a leaf failing from a branch. And, please, make sure you spend enough time thinking about sound because nothing is more distracting than a bad crackle or the muffled cry of a director shouting “cut”, unless, of course, it’s experimental.

Exit Stage Left – Part 1 / Chapter 6

By C Parke

Image: Wesley Pribadi

By the time March rolled around, business was really slow, especially during the midweek. On one hand, I liked it as I only had to do a single performance each day, plus with all the fatigue and muscle cramps I was having at the time, it was a needed rest, but on the other hand, it was never as exciting as performing in front of an audience that filled only half of the seats. The lustre of theatre life was gone. During peak season, before the show began, we would excitedly and nervously scurry into our places, waiting to greet the hundreds of adoring fans. Now we would only perform for the handful of spectators only there because of the mid-week 20% off price cuts. With all this downtime, I started to think about the busiest time of the year for an actor like me, Boxing Day to New Year’s Eve.

During that period, I would perform four times a day. Each performance was two hours long, including the fifteen-minute interval. Despite how tiring performing could be, the director would constantly remind us to give each show our all; there’s no room for laziness in musical theatre, he always reminded us. As an actor, you were allowed to get up in the mid-morning, around 9:00 am, which also meant working late into the evening, so I would often arrive home well after midnight. While most people were sound asleep in their beds, I was sweating buckets flinging myself across the stage doing all the flips and parkour being the lead role demanded from me. After being subject to blinding stage lights and blaring music, it was normal for me to wander home half asleep, stumbling along like a zombie. I would complain about this to Mum, and she would always say that it could always be worse and that I should just suck it up.

Mum prided herself on being a hard-working woman. When she was eleven, her mother died giving birth to her sister Grace (the grandmother we talk to on Skype is my paternal grandmother). After that, , she assumed the role of mother of the household. When my grandad was at work, he’d hire a carer to look after Grace, but when Mum got home from school, the carer left and now it was her responsibility to look after the baby, she would change her nappies, feed her bottle milk, cook dinner and wash the dishes. Even though Mum had a lot on her plate, she was extremely bright and took almost every opportunity to study that she could. Her favourite subject was biology. She was very studious and eventually got accepted into Cambridge University without the help of tutors or private school.

At Cambridge, she studied Medicine for three years, and it was there where she met my dad, who was studying law. Mum nowadays is a surgeon who performs organ transplants, she takes much pride in her work and achievements, and she wants me and Gabriel to be just as successful. There were times when I felt guilty that Mum went through so much, and at such a young age, it made me wonder if I deserved any of my good fortunes. I didn’t have to work for my wealth; I was born with it, and she would have never had the option of taking up a career like mine; it would be too much of a risk, sometimes I wonder if she even respected me, her son who was given everything on a silver platter. Mum would tell me stories about how she and her family had to rely on food banks, and her father would frequently work overtime just tom make ends meet. I would look at everything I had , a nice car, a large house, the ability to go on holidays every year and I would feel ashamed that I had all this and yet this was the most frustrating thing about my mother, she would speak to Gabriel and I as if we’ve never known and never will know hard times. Still, I can’t help the fact that O was born wealthy. No one can control the circumstances of their birth.

I remember when I was a teenager and started to demonstrate a talent for performing, I participated in the school play each year, I had regular singing lessons and taught myself how to dance, the problem cam when after GCSE’s I decided that I didn’t want to do A-levels like she had hoped. I wanted to go to a performing arts school. we had a massive argument over this. She said it was a waste of time and that I should be studying proper subjects like English and Maths, she rolled “We paid for all your tutors, books and your laptop and now you want to be an actor. Half of those performing arts students end up on the streets dancing for fucking pennies!”. I screamed that my life was mine, and she couldn’t dictate it. Eventually, Dad broke it up and told her that the decision was ultimately mine. After a while, she mellowed out and came to accept my choice begrudgingly, though sometimes I think she still feared something would go terrible wrong for me like the theatre would close or an economic crash would happen, and then I’d be left with nothing.

(I think she was right.)

Reflection Of An Entrepreneur

By The Ferzona Group

Image: Rohan Maknecha

Five – That’s the number. And I am still totally amazed that I have been able to do this. 5+ total brands I have been able to build and develop in a total of just about 3 years – Incredible!

Brief History:

I started the Ferzona brand in about 2018 when I was at university with a very peculiar offering – Mobile Phone Repair service aimed exclusively at the student population. It gained a little traction with my circle of friends and just a little bit wider than that to include their friends as well. It wasn’t anything serious until I got sponsored by my university (Anglia Ruskin University) in 2019, to build a fully-fledged operating business after participating in their business idea competition twice – The Big Pitch. I was excited, surprised and delighted. Having just graduated, I had the time to focus on growing the business without any other major commitment. Immediately after starting, I faced a few issues, such as the shutdown of the Start-up Lab within my university that led me on a little journey supporting the #ARUInnovation campaign. Fast forward from 2019 to 2022, my business has morphed and changed shapes a few times; overcoming adversity, facing tough business decisions while trying to keep up with the times, establishing great positioning and deflect imminent competition.

Throughout these years, my business has gone through many phases and produced a few brands that a total of about 13,000+ people combined, at various stages have come to love and be familiar with: AfroFiesta, Ferzona Events, FerzonaBlog, CambridgeQTV, a character named “Veronica”, #CambridgeNextUp, TGIMCambridge, etc… It has been incredible!

This article is about the last few years in review, my HOTTEST takeaways (tips), and going forward, what 2022 holds for me and these brands.

2019/2020

When I started about 3 years ago, little did I know about what my entrepreneurial journey would entail. I had always anticipated “interesting” and “challenging” simply because I had a dogmatic desire to build a business around my passions/predilections and I was certain that much learning/unlearning would be heavily involved within the process.

I met my first business-related problem in late 2019 with an issue related to marketing the phone repair business. After some thought, I resorted to go with Events Marketing. I had enough knowledge and involvement within the industry to know it would work but limited practical experience to know I would need some help in getting it started. The idea was a no brainer; I would reach my intended audience on a wide scale while at the same time providing for them a form of desired value (entertainment). A huge win-win!

Right off the bat, I faced some very surprising roadblocks that I did not expect. I ended up having to ‘go-it-alone’ and figure it out myself. It wasn’t easy. There were many trials and errors, disappointments, low spirits, etc. but out of the whole saga, Ferzona On Events and AfroFiesta were born. We went on to hold a total of 4 events within various venues in Cambridge. Two of those turned out to be very successful and I was amazed. Mainly because I had to figure out how to do many of the processes entirely by myself and I wasn’t too sure that my methods were right. It however, turned out to be a major win; a nice smile to end the year and I was proud of it.

2020/2021

After the second successful AfroFiesta event, I set up this blog (Ferzona Blog) to document the PRACTICAL realities (emphasis on practical) of what it takes as a first-timer to set up a successful business. I wrote about how I had managed to set up Ferzona Events as a business; this was the first blog post. The response was insane; It had over 400 reads! A few people contacted me as commendation, some other readers sought business relationships. Things were going relatively smooth.

Twists, turns and surprises were always a part of the package and I knew this, but 2020/21 was just a whole different box of unfamiliar chocolates – the whole world came crashing down! #CovidPandemic. Everyone (from governments to schools to local corner shops) was left to figure out what they would have to do within the next day, talk less of planning for weeks or months in advance. With everyone dealing with rules that seemed to change by the hour and on a whim, chaos was the order of the day!

What irked me during this time was keeping my brands alive. Everyone knows that consistent value creation around ideals you stand for is exactly how you build a brand. The problem is this – the value my brands [AfroFiesta and Ferzona Events] was offering to the world – Strict AfroBeat parties to be held monthly for the students within Cambridge – was directly affected by the pandemic; I could not hold parties anymore. And at that time, I knew nothing about brand extension. Sitting back and doing nothing wasn’t an option either. I had to stay relevant within the pandemic – not just to maintain brand equity, but also to provide a platform to promote my business while events couldn’t be held. I tried a few successful stunts, such as the Ferzona – Quarantine Gym Challenge, which saw over 30 people participate in a purely social media-driven 30-day push-up challenge. But all of the stunts were short-lived. I always had to go back into thinking and executing the next stunt, and the next, before all of a sudden…

Boom!…. CambridgeQTV was born! It was a total off the cuff idea. Through social media and content creation, Cambridge Quarantine TV was created solely to poke fun at the strangeness of the pandemic. It turned out to be a brilliant idea and had significant momentum. A content combination of memes and funny video entertainment was curated and saw the account grow to about 2,500 in a very short period. The quirky Veronica character that “manned” the account seemed to have gotten the buzz going. The audience loved it, and positive relationships were built through this channel. It was incredible! I was loving it, the audience were loving it, and everyone was happy. I woke up every morning sourcing and sifting through a load of content while posting about 4 times a day to keep the channel going. I remember thinking to myself, ‘now I have a taste of what the guys in the media industry – news, TV, tabloids, etc. go through before the approval and release of content’… Interesting.

By this time, a few entities were already spawning out the business: Ferzona Events, AfroFiesta, QTV, #FerzonaFiLM, ‘Veronica’, Ferzona Blog, etc. Juggling all of these balls at once did get a bit messy, and was prone to spiralling a few times. I resorted to grouping them under a brand umbrella – The Ferzona Group to maintain coherence and keep one brand voice.

ARUINNOVATION

It was also around this time that the #ARUInnovation campaign was kicking off. The new VP Business and Law had agreed to spearhead a campaign for a coworking space within the Cambridge campus. His visions were big – a fully-fledged Incubation centre! To be honest, all I had wanted was to #BringBackTheLab because I knew that The Lab had played an excellent role in helping me set up my business at the very beginning of my start-up journey. However, anything was better than nothing. If the incubation centre project can come through, I will be able to conveniently work on my ideas and grow my business within its’ walls. Working with him, I took it upon myself to get the necessary student and alumni engagement crucial to get the project off the ground. Many things ensued: We had various meetings, a focus group was developed, blog posts were written – one by the VP himself and another gathering alumni opinion; a promotional and campaign-style video was produced, and a Facebook group was set up. All of these were done, to get the momentum for the project up and gather the necessary student support.

The campaign did see some positive feedback, and the work and momentum we had garnered did not go in vain. To follow how this journey is going ahead and at what point it is at, contact the Enterprise Innovation Student Liaison Officer within ARU – who you wouldn’t be surprised to know this is the same VP we have been talking about.

2021/2022

Sanity, it’s said, lasts but for a little while. Well, 2021 came with a little bit of sanity for the entire world. The pandemic-induced lockdown was gradually rolling away, and the time for events to come back was seemingly drawing very near. Announcements were made, excitement was everywhere, and I was getting ready to bounce back stronger with the Ferzona Events brand. If I did not tell you by now, all of the events business equity (value) I had been able to build – From the brands, to the relationships, to the deals that had been made was attached to one venue – Ballare. This venue was one of the biggest and greatest in the whole of Cambridge. I knew the managers, we had great working relationships, they understood my capability, and everything was smooth. However, during the pandemic, the almighty Ballare closed down! [I wrote an article about it] I still don’t know exactly why – whether it was because of the pandemic itself or landlord issues. It wasn’t too clear.

Well, it meant I had to go scramble up my pitch deck and pitch my event ideas to new venues that did not know what Ferzona/AfroFiesta means, nor had even heard the names. A recommendation can be everything, but nothing beats the experience of actually working together. It was a race for time; market competitions were already ringing bells and alarms were blaring. Will Ferzona – the brand many has come to love – will Ferzona be left behind in this comeback race, the race to host an event after almost 14 months of a lockdown? Cambridge is quite a small town. There is almost nothing that goes unnoticed, especially by its’ student population. Eventually, I had to ditch the AfroFiesta brand because of certain delivery complications. But thankfully, the Ferzona Events name lived on. Morphing into what many of you now know today as TGIM – Thank God it’s Monday. TGIM went on to have two successful events in 2021, at Ferzona Events new home – Revolution Cambridge. We were able to shoot an impressive video for the last event we held; it was especially exhilarating [View Here]. After all the hard work, we ended 2021 with another triumphant bang in the bag. I totally loved it!

Special Shout to Karim, to Jamie, Una, to DJ Special Edd, MCI, Mallana, Mixdat Squad, Omkar, and to a whole host of other peoples that I have worked together closely with throughout these years….and to Ciera and the entire team at the Ruskin Journal as well, they did us a huge favour, and I will always remember that. It has been an honour and a serious pleasure working with everyone, and I won’t forget it!

HIGHLIGHTS

Here is an overview of these last few years and what I think 2022 holds in stock for me and these awesome Ferzona brands:

2019/2020 – These were the years that got me started with everything. Adrenaline, emotions and energy were at an all-time high. Confidence was definitely not lacking, and I pressed ahead with full force.

2020/2021 – These years, were the ones that really beat me into it. They were absolutely the peak of the last three years. How many things could I take on? How well could I handle business operations through unpleasant situations? i.e. the pandemic; and how resilient could I be in the face of adversity? Most of the Ferzona brands were built within these two years. It was also during these years that the #ARUInnovation project kicked off. From QTV to #CambridgeNextUp to Campaign Support… many things were operating simultaneously during this time. Physically, intellectually and creativity wise… These years really pushed my limits and gently built my resilience.

2022 – January 1st… You wouldn’t believe it! I still did not know what my plans were, going into the new year – I did not have a clear way forward. I had many options that had developed in front of me, with each of them having many advantages (and disadvantages) that all felt very good, whichever I chose. I froze up and faced a classic example of over-analysing. This happened for many months before January 1st 2022. I did end up, eventually, choosing one of these options. And it will kind of (maybe fundamentally) change business operations going forward (at least for a while) … I am not too sure yet, let’s see what happens.

POSTSCRIPT

All the Ferzona Brands: AfroFiesta, Ferzona Events, Ferzona Blog, CambridgeQTV, Veronica (The Character), Ferzona FiLM, The Ferzona Group, CambridgeNextUp, Thank God It’s Monday (TGIM)

Special Mention – The Ferzona Himself brand came up when I realised the brand (Ferzona) kind of needed a figure for public relations. Ultimately, people buy from people; the brand needed a face.

“Sometimes you make the right decision. Sometimes you make the decision right” – Phillip C. McGraw.

I feel this year, is going to be all about learning the sweet art of practical patience – taking a step back to take two steps forward. The last few years have taught me a lot about myself and how willing I am to at least try bigly in developing ideas I have when my passions are involved.

I thought I would, but I kind of don’t mind the intermission. We (The Ferzona Group) have got so many entities floating around and so many directions we could go. It is now time to consolidate and go back to the roots of where everything started – the desire to build something valuable and long-lasting coupled with a strong appetite for learning.

I’ve had the opportunity for the better part of 2 years to experiment and dig deeper than the surface of where my passions lie – I think I know them quite well now. This year will be focused on consolidating, reflecting through these years, identifying recurring themes and setting a goal. Developing a strategy to reach that goal will also be key.

Many thanks to Anglia Ruskin University, friends and family and everyone else for putting up with me throughout these years. It has been a JOURNEY! And I don’t regret it.

My next posts will contain the BEST (I’ll try) the best practical and applicable lessons I have learned throughout the last few years, what we will be doing once the short intermission is over, and some flashback (exposé) stories that happened in 2021, 2019 and the beginning of 2018…Stay Tuned!

Thank you for reading.

I am so glad that I’m back to writing. (Boy, did this piece take me a while!) I better get the habit back up to speed.

Love,

The Ferzona Group.

Contact Me Here;

LinkedIn | FaceBook | Twitter

I build Brands, Businesses and I am passionate about Enterprise Education…

“Chasing a mirage”

By Anushka Dey

Image: Heather Shevlin

Whenever I see you, my heart skips a beat

A single glance is all I try to steal

But the glory of sun and all other stars

are meant to be admired from afar

My heart threatens to explode from unspent love and emotion

Ink comes to rescue, turns this poison to potion.

Well sometimes fate is simply unfair

But I am chasing a mirage, I am well aware.

Handwritten love letters to you remain in closet, my feelings forever untold

So on this scroll the story of my unrequited love I unfold

The words that are locked behind my lips

Ooze out on paper through my fingertips

My pen praises and my poetry paints you

Gold for soul, the heart in red blue and all shades of you.

You may say this is just a castle in the air

But I am chasing a mirage, I am well aware.

Here, I set you free and yet with my words I bind you

I lose you forever, but for eternity I find you

Here, I both enjoy and miss you

Through my verses I kiss you

I immortalise my love in a rhyme

So, generations to come will read that once upon a time…

That’s how I find delight in my despair

I am chasing a mirage, I am well aware.

Exit Stage Left – chapter 4 & 5

By C Parke

Image: Gwen King

Chapter 4

The following two days were weird. On Monday, I was at rehearsals since we had some new cast members that needed to learn the dance routines and introduce themselves to the rest of us. This is a typical scene for me a large, empty room packed to the brim with performers moving in unison, with a giant mirror in front of us that took up the entirety of the left-hand wall. The director asked me to help out one of the new crew members struggling with the steps to the ending song. Wanting to be of assistance, I took her into a separate room for private coaching while having some small talk. “So, what’s your name?” I begin with, “Anna, and you are?” “Daniel,” I inform her. She shakes my hand and says, “It’s nice to meet you, Daniel.”

Anna seemed like the shy type; she was shorter than me with pale skin, emerald green eyes and red hair. She wore grey tracksuit bottoms and a purple exercise t-shirt, typical attire for rehearsals. Anna appeared to be an amiable and polite person, but I already knew why she was cast as an extra. She didn’t have the stage presence needed for the leading role. People used to say that I was pretentious about this sort of thing, but it’s true, to make it in show business, you need a certain kind of aura, one of confidence and ambition, take Lucy, for example, she exudes an outgoing and self-assured nature, she’s a natural fit for the leading lady. Anna, however, didn’t strike me as someone who could handle the pressure of being the main character.

I guided Anna into the changing room for a bit of privacy, and I asked her, “So what part are you struggling on?” she replied, “You know that bit with the spinning jump?” “Oh yeah, that, don’t worry, it’s a synch once you get the hang of it,” I assure her. I then ready myself. “First of all, Anna, just stand there and watch me do it.” I take a few breaths, and then I leap like a rocket into the air doing two twirls but instead of landing on my feet like I usually do, as soon as my right leg hits the ground, it suddenly spasms, and I land face-first on the floor. “Ow…Shit,” I mumble, “Oh God, are you okay?!” she yells, crouching down next to me. “Yeah… Fine, thanks.” I get up rather embarrassed and with my head slightly bruised.

“You hit your head pretty bad there. Are you sure you’re alright?” she persists. I get back on my feet and say to Anna, “Don’t worry, I’m okay, just ignore that, this is how you properly do it,” I tell her quickly, wanting the moment to pass I try again and do it perfectly this time, but with my confidence shaken a little bit. “Now follow my movements, and we’ll do it together, don’t worry, you’ll learn it soon enough” after about fifteen minutes, she was able to get the hang of the twirling jump and afterwards, I sent her on her way “We probably should get back to the others but great job. Take a few minutes each day to practice that, and it will become second nature soon enough.” She smiles and says, “Thanks Daniel, but be careful next time you don’t wanna hurt yourself in front of the audience” “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine, just don’t mention that little incident to the others.” I was pretty embarrassed. This was one of the new crew. She looks at me for guidance, and our first interaction has me tripping over like a bumbling fool, but never mind, she’s gotten the hang of it now. I’ve done my good deed for today. That spasm was strange though I had never felt anything like it before. It was like my leg had a mind of its own.

The next day, I tried to forget about that minor incident as I was performing on stage, but I had this sudden urge to urinate as soon as we reached the interval. My pelvis seized up as I bolted for the toilets dashing through the hallway. But while I was running my vision suddenly became blurry, like when you emerge from the water after opening your eyes. Because of this, I stumble into a box full of props on my way there, probably looking like a complete idiot. When I reached the toilets, I made my way immediately to the middle urinal despite two other people already being to my left and right. I felt humiliated about this, Lucy and the others must have thought I was mad dashing off the stage at a breakneck pace, but I couldn’t hold it any longer. Not only that, but I felt far more tired than I usually do. After all the time I’ve been doing this, I hardly break a sweat after Act 1. Now it’s like I had just completed half a marathon. I wondered what was going on but not for long because I was soon needed back on stage.

I was worried on the ride back home but ultimately dismissed both of these incidents as nothing. Unfortunately, it was only the start of something terrible.

 (Funny how easily we trick ourselves with comforting lies)

Chapter 5

I tried to dismiss the fatigue and the spasms as a one-time thing over the coming days. One evening Lucy and I were riding back home on the train while telling me about her first time babysitting her nephew. “So my sister Ruby asked me to look after Thomas on Sunday while she and Nick had a day out. She usually trusts Thomas with Mum when she’s away. Ruby knows I’ve never looked after a child before.” I was surprised by this Lucy always seemed like the mothering type “I reckon you’d be good at that sort of thing, you’re always on people’s cases about arriving on stage on time and giving them an earful when their costumes are dirty, just like any pain in the ass mother!”

Lucy didn’t find that comment particularly funny she just rolled her eyes and said, “Anyway, she’s right I’ve never really done anything like this before, I’ve always been the youngest sister, the youngest cousin, the other kids of my neighbourhood were mostly older than me, so I wanted to make sure Ruby knew I could be a responsible child-carer, so I baby proofed my whole apartment!” I was a bit confused, so I asked, “Wait, how old is he?” she paused for a moment looking a bit guilty and muttered, “He’s nine.” “Nine?!” I exclaimed. “He’s nine years old, and you baby proofed your whole apartment, that’s ridiculous!”.

“Daniel, be quiet. Besides, you don’t realise how dangerous a home is until there’s someone vulnerable in it, so I removed all the heavy things from the shelves, cleaned everything up off the floor and kept the cleaning detergent far out of his reach.” I furrowed my brow. “Really? Four-year-olds would drink cleaning products. That’s just excessive. He’s not stupid.” Lucy was getting flustered. “Well…Well, I was doing it for his safety.” Finally ending the sarcasm, I responded, “You panic too much, Lucy if you keep on fearing about what could happen, you’ll forget to enjoy life, besides when you’re worried about something, you need to figure out in your head whether the thing, you’re worrying over could probably happen or possibly happen, if you keep on thinking about the terrible things that might occur, well that’s no way to live at all.”

She sighed and said, “You’re probably right. I think I was getting on his nerves. I offered to cut up his food for him at dinnertime, and he said he could do it himself. I took him to the park in the afternoon, and whenever we would cross the road, I made sure to hold his hand, but he always looked both ways before we crossed without me telling him to. He seems like a sensible lad.” “See? You’re making mountains out of molehills if you dote on him too much. He won’t want to spend time with you anymore.” I affirm. Lucy seemed frustrated with herself. “It’s just… I want to be a mother someday, so I was really excited but also really nervous about looking after Thomas.” I can be kind of a dick sometimes (especially back then), so I decided to comfort her. “Thomas is lucky to have such a kind person like you as an aunt, but you need to know when to give people space and when to respect their intelligence.”

She sat back, realising how irritating she must have come across and asked, “What is it like having a little brother?” I tell her, “It’s… Nice, I mean when Gabriel was young, I teased him a lot, telling him ghost stories that would keep him up all night and threatening to reveal his secret that he practised kissing on Barbie dolls to his friends, but on the other hand, it was fun having someone to play football with and watch movies together.” Lucy stared at her reflection in the train’s window. She said, “Ruby and I never had a lot in common she enjoyed drawing and fashion while I was the extrovert,  always going outside running around and getting dirty, we didn’t connect then, and I still feel a little distant towards her now, it might be because she’s twelve years older.” “Well, what can I say, Lucy? No one can choose their family.” Lucy turned her head to me and said, “No, they can’t, Daniel.”

The train arrived at my station, so Lucy and I said our goodbyes. I was having a good day and mostly forgot about the leg spasm incident and the toilet emergency, but as I was walking through the station all of a sudden, my vision became blurry again, and I found myself bumping into an older man. “Hey, watch where you’re going!” he yelled. “Uh, sorry,” I mumbled in response. I had to sit down for a minute to regain my sight, and with another concerning symptom, I carried on home.

(It was yet another sign of the catastrophe soon to come)

To be continued…

The Girl With A Pink Finger

By Nusrat Ahmed

Image: Jessie McCall

She is known by the name Anna. She lives in a gigantic mansion. Her great grandfather left that. Anna is a little girl for her mother and a big girl for her Dad. One day, she squeezed her left eye with her fingers by standing in front of the mirror. Suddenly, she saw her baby pink finger glowing in the mirror!

After a long observation of herself through the mirror, she tucked herself in the comfy, cosy blanket. She kept thinking about why was her index finger glowing Infront of the mirror. Then she realised her grandma once mentioned to her that, It wasn’t an ordinary mirror; it was a magical mirror! And she went back to sleep in her little bedroom.

As Christmas was around the corner. God’s hand-made snowflakes fell from the miserable, dark sky shrouded in pregnant clouds. She gazed outside at the wooden enchanted pine tree.

The grandfather clock made a loud noise at12 am. It was midnight.

Anna woke up from sleep by her wildest dream. She rushed to her storyteller grandmother to find her answers to the wildest imagination.

She desperately wanted to know why an angelic girl with “pink fingers” had this monstrous and mysterious dream!

There was a big creaking noise at the door of her grandma…

“What happened, Anna?”

Anna replied in her baby, trembling voice. “Why does an angelic girl like me have this scary dream?”

Her Grand maa took her close to her heart made her head lay on her chest. She could feel the warmth coming from the white sweater of her grandma. A sweet scent of vanilla essence was coming from her body. Ouch, Anna cried.

“Your wool sweater has stung my pink figures.”

Just a whisper for the audience (Anna has an allergic reaction to wool).

“OH, apologies for the accidental inconvenience”, grandma uttered. “Now, tell me what you’ve seen.”

Anna explained, with fascinated and sparkling eyes,  “I had seen some naughty elves who had disrupted and stolen my essential ingredients when I  was making a sweet potion for myself to turn myself into a “pink fairy”.” “To be approximate, there were three elves together—one with a long-nosed elf,  with a red hat. The second has a long moustache and wears a blue hat. The third was the most hideous and frightening, wearing a bottle-green cloth and the world’s most extended hat.  And “My lavender sticks were stolen by the elf with the red capstone, and the elf with the blue hat stole my cinnamon stick”. The third elf with the most extended bottle green cloth. He got too close to me and hurt my baby index pink finger, where my secret magic lies in. By making a howling sound, he trapped me in a golden cage. He snatched the power from my finger, and he slammed the old antique door, leaving me to starve in the golden suffocating cage.”

“And I woke up, grandma.” Anna took a deep breath.

Her Grandma said that they all are the causes of your “food digestion” and your faith that your pink index figure has magic

“My little sweetheart, please do not get scared. Would you like to sleep with me, Anna?”, She reached for Anna’s eyes.

“Okay, grandma”, Anna whispered.

She sighed and tried to fall asleep in the cloud-like bed of her grandmother. But she couldn’t.

After so many twists and turns in the bed, she heard an unusual noise upstairs. She held her breath, took her teddy bear, and tiptoed toward upstairs very cautiously.

She peeked through the door hole of her bedroom and saw her room was turned shimmery golden yellow with amusing, glowy lights. On the right-hand side of her bedroom, dinner was being cooked by one of the Elves!

“An Elf!” She screamed.

The chef elf with a red apron looked for the baby voice that was heard a few seconds ago. After a few stern gazes, he got busy cooking for tonight’s “Christmas dinner.”

The smell of the flavourful turkey lured her inside the bedroom, which is not her bedroom anymore! Suddenly, the room got darker.

Human-like trees were moving fast as if a storm had arrived. Little Anna was shivering with the cold wind, tightly hugging her teddy bear.

“GLOWING”, she said.

Her index pink figure was glowing again, and it was not pink in colour now. It was bright yellow, just like fireflies hovering through her index finger. As soon as she touched her index finger, a voice appeared behind her back.

“OH, HELLO! Little munchkin.”

Anna turned back with a shivering fear to find the voice was coming from.

“I AM AN ELF! My mates call me Mr Dumpling.”

“So listen to me carefully, let me clear things for you.”, Mr Dumpling continued, According to the human dictionary. “An elf is a mythical creature that lives alongside humans. The only problem is that humans “can’t see us with naked eyes, People who can see us are the people who have some special power in them”.

“But my grandma says elves are evil!” Anna suggested.

“Yes, to some extent, she is right. To some, she is not”! Mr Dumpling paused, “Let me explain”. Ahem. I’m sorry. Please allow me to clear my throat. Bahahaha, my voice is quite husky. So initially,  we have the reputation of being evil and scaring misbehaved children. “We are often considered as a dwarf. We are often mistaken for gnomes, goblins, fairies, and dwarfs due to poorly translated tales”.  We are indeed mischievous, but only to naughty children, but you are a very magical child with the gifted pink index finger.”

“Do you know anything?” the elf stopped and looked at Anna.

“Know what, Mr Dumpling?” Anna looked at him back.

“I have received a letter from one of the dwarfs from snow white. He has been secretly noticing you through the tall mirror glass that every day you stand in.”, Mr Dumpling chirped.  

Anna was quiet for a moment. Her little brain could not comprehend the miracle that had unfolded in her bedroom. She looked at her finger; it was still glowing.

Mr. dumpling exclaimed, “OH, look at that. It has changed its colour now! It is pink and shimmery again….”

“Would you want to join our Christmas meal tonight?” He added.

“But today is not Christmas”, Anna replied.

 “Yes, indeed, our Christmas happens just the night before yours. Oh! Look new pair of blue glass shoes I just hired from Cinderella. Are you serious, Mr. dumpling? Yes, my dear.”

Moments later, Mr Dumpling had transformed Anna’s room into a fantasy world that resembled a woodland at night.

The grouchy chef began baking the red cherry cake with crunchy caramel and lemon zest on the top.

A far some thin glowy bodies fireflies started dancing around green bushes. She begins walking with Mr Dumpling by holding his hands.

Suddenly She saw a big, burgundy flower with a reddish tint peeping through the bushy plants. She uncovered and saw the whole flower; the flower was decorated with fine thin golden wires.

“By night, it sings”, Mr. dumpling added, “ but it sings only at night and sleeps throughout the day. Strange.”

“Sir, dinner is ready!” The elf chef shouted in the background.

The rosemary and garlic were finely garnished on the turkey and chicken. She ate them cautiously, nervously shredding the meats with a fork and knife she had never seen before.

“Let me assist you in shredding them.” Mr Dumpling cut a piece of meat with his fork and put it in her mouth”.

“Mmm, yummy!”, My mother never served me turkey or chicken.

The elves laughed, “No! who said that?” You eat them every day, but your mother mixes them and blends them in the blender, and unfortunately, you don’t know what secret ingredients get added to your food.”

“But that’s a crime!” Little Anna screamed,  

“There is no such thing as approval these days, Huh!” Mr Dumpling rubbed a pink blusher into her cheeks and carefully brushed her angry, frowning eyebrows with his fingertips.

She became concerned after her finger began to leak honey. She shouted as it fell in the soil and blossomed into a giant pink bloom. “Pink blossom!”

“Yes, you are a gifted child, as I previously told you”, said the elf.

“You are a little girl with big and good powers who helps anyone heal from deadly diseases. Come in to see what I’m talking about.” When the elf king was sleeping, Mr Dumpling took her to a cottage. He had a pale face.

 Mr Dumpling explained to her that…

Only the juices of the flower that your pink index finger has produced will restore his health”.

 Anna was both amused and delighted at the prospect of saving lives.

“Could you please help him to save his life?” She said.

“Only if you permit, Anna?” Mr Dumpling said.

“Yes, of course”, she replied.

 Other elves put a pot underneath her squeezing flower juices, and she crushed the flower with her tiny fingers.

“Now, take the jug and pour the juices into his mouth and lips. You can save lives, do you know that? BUT…” Mr Dumpling added.

“But what?” she exclaimed.

His pale face came to life. The king of the Elves woke up, took Anna on his lap and kissed her hand. “Thank you, my loving child. For saving my life from this deadly disease.”

Mr Dumpling led her to a nearby oak tree’s corner.

“Let me respond to you, BUT it is now the end of the night, and the sun will rise soon. You will save lives but till a certain age”. When you turn 17, you will lose your supernatural abilities, and your magical pink flower can only flourish on the side of a mountain just north of town. And it’s a long and challenging journey. And now I have to vanish.” Mr Dumpling said that and disappeared in the air, followed by his voice.

Her bed space was transformed back into a regular room.

Tick, tock, tick, tock. 

The grandfather clock struck 6 a.m., still dark outside. She hurriedly slid into her grandma’s lap, securely tucked herself in, and was quietly thinking about what had happened. Her eye moved, revealing something gleaming.

A PINK flower was left and a note on the corner bed table! When she placed her index finger on those letters,  they illuminated the light and produced the most melodious sound, leaving a heavy fragrance of the pink flower she had created with her pink index finger. But Sadly, Anna never understood the language; the letters of the note was written in elves’ language. Regrettably, Anna could not grasp the elves language. She embraced the flower and the message and drifted off to sleep peacefully…

  The Boy and His Ribbon by Pepper Winters – book review

“Humans were complicated creatures, and smiles were full of poison.”

Image: Jeswin Thomas

Let me briefly mention what my initial reaction was after reading the blurb. It was November of 2019, and I wanted some excellent angsty romances to devour quickly. When I found one that sounded good, I was hoping to find some of the significant clichés in the romance genre that we usually see (which I dearly love; some tropes never get old no matter how many variations of the same plot you’ve read), but holy hells, this was not what I came looking for. I mean that in the best way possible. There is so much adventure in it, so many journeys, so many small stories inside one giant web of memories. Still, even more so, it is an emotional journey (more like an emotionally-gruelling journey, but yeah, you get the gist). You’ll be forced to feel all the emotions that exist under the sun as you go through the story, word after word, page after page, chapter after chapter (as well as book after book). Lovers of fatalistic stories who enjoy getting their hearts wrenched out thoroughly and exhaustively will have some of the best times of their lives with this one here. Buckle up to get absolutely annihilated and exhausted mentally by the time you finish the book(s).

Before I delve into it, I must mention this forthright that this book, or rather, series, is not for everyone. Some might describe the plot’s pacing as snaily, but it just adds to the slow-burn appeal for me. The book starts darkly but doesn’t have many dark concepts (fans of dark romance must not forget to check out the author’s other works; they are some of the best I’ve read). The central trope we find is forbidden romance, with a sizeable age gap and other factors that add to the plot’s ‘conflict’, which is ongoing for probably half the book. With all that in mind, one needs to be extremely open-minded about unconventional relationships to enjoy the beauty of this book properly. It kind of toys with the fine line between what is acceptable and what is taboo, but overthinking about it will take all the goodness away. You just got to feel it.

“What do you do when you meet your soul mate? No, wait… that’s too easy. What do you do when you meet your soul mate and have to spend a lifetime loving him in secret? I’ll tell you what you do. You lie.”

The chapters are narrated in Ren and Della’s POVs – they’re the protagonists. Ren’s POVs are always from the past, the beginning of their story progressing chronologically, while Della’s chapters are a mix of POVs from the past and present. The premise is that Della is given a creative writing assignment at high school to write a non-fiction piece about her life that reads like fiction. So she decides to narrate her life story, filled with untold secrets and unrequited feelings. With a non-existent fourth wall, she chooses to tell the past both in the present time while also using POVs from the past. I’ll add here that the mix of POVs is used effectively to propel the reader ahead. Like, I wouldn’t say each chapter ends with a cliff-hanger; it’s more like an ominous prediction that happens later in the future. Riveting, isn’t it?

The beginning of the book introduces us to a ten-year-old boy with nine fingers and hatred in his heart, sold to slavery, running away from his enslavers with a barely-a-year-old stowaway girl hiding in his backpack unknown to him. Ren, and Della. Della McClary, the daughter of the McClarys who had bought Ren two years ago and countless other children to make them labour worse than animals.

“I wanted twigs cracking beneath my shoes and grass swaying around my legs. I wanted the reward of hard living because every day was sweeter for having survived with no one and nothing.”

Ren was a child of the wilderness, whose heartbeat for that feral contentment the forest provided, the serene calmness the bustling cities couldn’t. His heart was infiltrated entirely by ice and fire for his tormentors. Yet, when faced with the decision to kill their natural-born child and run away without an additional burden and danger or let her live and sacrifice a part of his freedom for a life of obligation, commitment, and responsibility, he chose the kinder path, our Ren Wild.

The story unravels itself as we slowly glean how Ren survived in the wild. Ren never faltered even with the added duty of having to bring up a child while being a child himself. Though he deeply detested her for shitting all over his plans of a perfect future, quite literally during those initial weeks, he managed a feat impossible for most of his peers. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the tenacity and determination Ren possessed to stay away from civilisation, bring up a baby all on his own, and manage to keep both of them alive for years, and still retain his inherent kindness and compassion (though those were only limited to Della and no other human beings).

Throughout, the profound unfairness of the lives they’ve had, especially Ren, kept gutting me at random moments out of the blue, as it will, you. Reading about how Ren never really let go of his guardedness, paranoia, and suspicion even when pushing his thirties will get you right in the heart and squeeze it painfully until you’re left breathless. Far too old and mature for his age, I marvel at his resourcefulness and prowess. All the things he achieved and did in his life make me feel like a proud mama; that’s often what happens when you read about characters from childhood to their… let’s say adulthood (totally not hinting at a spoiler there).

“I’m actually excited to relive the past. To smile at happy times. To flinch at the hard. To cry at the sad.”

I’ll talk about their childhood now.  Even if I say this number of times, it’ll never be enough: what a damn fantastic job Ren did in bringing her up. He never sugar-coated things, told things as they were, taught her practical stuff one needed to survive independently. To him, she was his best friend, his little sister, and his penance in real life. But to her? She hero-worshipped him and loved him with all her little heart. That pure love and affection stemmed from the feeling of dependency they learnt to have on each other growing up with no one around and nothing to their name. Some light-hearted parts were peppered at one point or two to keep things nice and well; it was amusing when Della tried to understand what the whole birds and bees shebang was and how Ren tried to manoeuvre through his puberty with no one to guide him.

It was always the both of them against the world. Witnessing both of their respective growths from children to adults will take you through a rollercoaster of contrasting emotions. If I had to describe it all with a word, I’d say ‘intense’ would probably do it accurately. I’d mention all the tiniest details that were so heart-touching and the heart-wrenching ones, but all of that will be better felt when you read it yourself. The dynamic between them, while it was completely platonic, was just so powerful that now, I think that any normal upbringing for either of them would have turned out for the worse. I mean to say, they complemented each other perfectly, and intrinsic factors played significant roles in how they have grown to be.

Since it was always just them, it meant Della was used to being Ren’s centre of affection. When a series of events lands them at a family’s doorstep, who end up taking them in and become their only family for years, it is hard for Della to deal with the fact that she had to share her Ren with other people. She slowly learnt to hide her emotions, though I’ll talk later about how it blew up in their faces. The duo was caught hiding from the winter in said family’s barn because of Ren’s pneumonia. Spoiler alert: I’ll ask first-time readers of this series to keep that time of sickness and incessant coughing and every similar future event in mind carefully to not suffer from debilitating heartbreak when the true villain of the series is revealed in the next book. I wish I had read this sort of spoiler when I read the earlier books; I wouldn’t have felt so cheated.

Among all the sacrifices Ren has made in the course of his life for the well-being of Della, I’d say the most significant ones were all the years he traded in his heart’s desire to live in the wilderness and be free, with working, to earn enough money to fund Della’s education. It was a significant component of the story, Della’s education. Ren put so much stress on it that she got a proper education just made him more endearing. He, who did not have the privilege of literacy, knew what life was without it and, therefore, ensuring that Della had the best life he could provide, which he did.

When Della was all grown up and just a few years shy of adulthood, Ren watching her drift away from him, making new friends and wanting to be with them instead of him, was bittersweet, wildly as the early years of their lives flashed through Ren’s mind. It’s been almost a year, and yet I still can’t begin to find appropriate words to describe the agonising ache I get in my heart when I compare those lovely, simpler days of their childhood to their present (as in both at the end of this book, as well as that of the series, as a re-reader).

Almost a decade of angst and build-up when finally exploded in their faces. It had to be cataclysmic. Ren’s decision to eventually leave… I completely understand his reasons and why he couldn’t stand being around her anymore, but from Della’s perspective, I’m getting second-hand hurt here, dammit! She’d finally begun to find her place in the world, but he had to abandon her right at that turn. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming either of them. I’m just lamenting the way things turned out.

If I sit and think where things went wrong or what exactly was the beginning of the end, just so many things come to mind that don’t make sense in some way or another; like there isn’t any particular thing or event that could’ve made them avoid their bleak future if it hadn’t occurred.  It’s as if it was doomed to be so since the beginning of time. “This boy and the baby were never meant to be together.” Now that I think of it, this specific line will hold more significance than ever if you consider a very important event in the third and final book from the series.

I’ll mention something unique for me while reading this series. I generally don’t prefer listening to music while reading because I enjoy music almost as much I like books, which is why it’s not fair if I divert any of my attention away from the books. But this series was perhaps one of the first series for which I found a soundtrack I thought suited it ideally. Although I love the playlist the author has mentioned at the end, I usually can’t enjoy those with the book, and that’s why it’s a big deal for me to find a whole another song that I could mix with my reading and enhance both of those experiences at the same time. It had these magical vibes to it with a perfect blend of innocent joy and soulful sorrow that flawlessly encompassed the mood of the series as a whole for me.

This book, or rather, this series as a whole, doesn’t have any fantastical feels or concepts; it’s just another coming-of-age, contemporary romance, if you look at it that way, yet it’s one of my favourite series of books ever (I generally don’t tend to favourite romance books purely as compared to their fantasy counterparts since they hit harder). The root of all the angst, the wrongness of Ren and Della’s supposed non-platonic relationship that they both feel is the best and worst part. Worst because, well, all the conflicts and arguments and heartache wouldn’t be there if they just accepted their feelings and got together, but the best because things like that don’t happen in real life. Both of them, but mostly Ren, stuck so loyally to his morals and honour that he denied himself of harbouring any feelings for Della and kept hurting both of them with his words. Della being a child at first and then a teenager did stupid stuff that set in motion more than half the ‘bad things in the plot, if you will. It’s not a love story; it’s a life story. It is realistic to the point that it hurts. They made mistakes but which weren’t smoothed over unrealistically. They had real consequences that strained their relationship and general dynamic forever. Even if it’s fiction, the stark element of reality is what makes it so sweetly painful. Lines get blurred, and conflicting emotions rage on like a storm: inside of Ren, inside of Della, inside of you, inside of me.

At around 80%, you’ll realise that the ending isn’t happy at all; Ren isn’t with Della anymore. He’s gone, and he’s not coming back, as Della has worded. Another arrow to the already decapitated, mewling heart. In earlier chapters, Della says that they have been separated all four times in their entire lives. I remember my first run of this series; I dreaded it so much when the next separation scene came up. That was so horrible, yikes. One moment you’re sighing with relief, the other you’re teetering on the edge of your seat, hoping things don’t take a turn for the worse, which they eventually do end up taking.

“It was heart-soaring and soul-crushing all at the same time.”

Reading their story was like being the sole witness to a catastrophe unfurling. At the same time, you stand there helplessly unable to do anything, unable to peel your eyes away from the devastation waiting to happen, especially when, as a re-reader, you take note of all the little things that slowly contributed to the worst ending imaginable for them (it comes later in the series, as I keep repeating). It’s a chilling sensation, to say the very least.

To look at it from a distance, the plot might seem like a description of all the consequences of the mistakes a bratty teenager committed. Still, once you get into it (which you will, after reading the first few chapters), you’ll end up caring for Ren and Della so deeply that you’ll feel the undeniable need to know what happens next, how their story ends. It confused me this time just as much as it had the first time I’d read it, but that doesn’t mean I enjoyed it any less. Well, at least unlike last time, I didn’t bawl my eyes out wishing for them to be somehow, miraculously, magically together (since yes, after an entire book and almost eighteen years, they still aren’t together, albeit for valid reasons). To my relief and chagrin both, the problems that’ll arise in the next book make their separation seem like silly first-world problems. I’ll save my tank-full of tears for the real bullets for my heart that I’ll face in the next two books.

To sum it all up, I’ll say that this book is brutal. It’s going to destroy you. That fact doesn’t get any better with the next book(s) either, but do I regret making myself go through it not once but twice? You bet your derrière I don’t.

By Soyeenka Mishra

How has COVID-19 impacted me?

By Ikelda Bani

Image: Michael Amadeus

Get Info About COVID-19 Here

‘GET BOOSTED NOW’ – those were the three words shown boldly in my notifications tab. Ah, great, I thought to myself, another COVID-19 vaccine dose as if we already haven’t had enough of hearing the words vaccination, COVID and self-isolation these past two years.

I am pro-vaccines and believe the scientific evidence for vaccines; for example, in an article assessing the differences between the COVID-19 vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine is 91.3% effective against COVID-19 based on preventing the disease after the second dose. The AstraZeneca vaccine is 85% effective in preventing COVID-19 in those older than 85. However, despite understanding the importance of vaccines and their effectiveness in achieving herd immunity, I am still so tired of COVID-19 being so rooted in our daily lives, whether it’s wearing a mandatory face mask and stressing over messages like ‘GET BOOSTED NOW’.

As a student, coronavirus has deeply impacted me in several ways, including affecting my physical, psychological, mental, and emotional state. During the first lockdown, I didn’t understand what was entirely happening. For example, I knew that COVID-19 was a deadly disease. Still, there was so much uncertainty regarding exams and the government plans for the future that I was genuinely oblivious to reality. This uncertainty was heightened by anxiety levels and made it difficult to concentrate on my studies. I guess I was always quite anxious; however, the lockdowns accentuated my anxiety and made me more introverted. After taking the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, I physically experienced side effects such as feeling weak and tired all the time as well as occasional headaches. This made me feel incompetent during my first trimester at university as I was tired and could not function to my full capacity. Nonetheless, determination and perseverance got me through the first trimester. The vaccine side effects only lasted around a week; therefore, it didn’t take too much of a toll on me during my first trimester.

Another thing that has annoyed me is the travel restrictions because I love travelling and have travelled to Albania, Macedonia, Italy, Germany, and Hungary. Now when I consider travelling and creating the holiday budget, I must consider money for COVID tests and potential living costs if I test positive and must self-isolate in a hotel, which is ridiculous because all these testing companies are doing is profiting from the pandemic. The average cost for a PCR test is £92 in the UK.

I’m not sure what the future holds for us regarding COVID-19 and vaccines- there could be up to 10 booster vaccines! There could be more virus variants, just as the Omicron variant has shown us. At this point, all I want is for life to revert to pre-COVID-19 lockdowns; however, when thinking about it now, I have developed and learned so much from these past two years that if I was to become the person I was before, I don’t think I’d be as strong-willed and determined as I am now to persevere through difficult situations. One thing is for sure, though – the government will never know what they are doing, and the Tories know how to party amidst a pandemic!

Exit Stage Left – chapter 2 & 3

by C Parke

The extract contains language that readers may find offensive.

Image: Hulki Okan Tabak

Chapter 2

I exit out of the back entrance to avoid the mass of people leaving the theatre through the front. I walked quickly along the pavement due to the heavy rain whilst avoiding the rowdy groups of drunk partygoers; it was Saturday night, after all. I was drenched but still happy listening to the ambient sounds of my home city. As the rain got heavier, I decided to take shelter underneath a bus stop; I was bound to arrive home late anyway, so an extra five minutes wouldn’t hurt. As I sat there at that bus stop, watching the rain pummel the streets, I started to wonder about the lives of the strangers passing me by, wondering about what they’ve been through and who they were, “Everyone has their own stories”, my dad used to say.

Anyway, soon, the rain cleared up a little, and I continued. After turning a corner, I saw a homeless man sitting on top of a piece of cardboard. Brown hair was hanging down each side of his head. His clothes were encrusted in the dirt, and sitting next to him was a plastic cup with a few coins inside it. I pitied him, and all these gits were walking past him like he didn’t exist. I couldn’t just do anything, so I pulled out my wallet and grabbed a spare ten-pound note, I handed it to him, and he said “Thank you, God bless you” in a thick foreign accent, and after that, I pressed onwards hoping he’d spend the money on food and not alcohol.

Whilst I was walking along, I became a bit peckish, dancing and singing for two hours straight will do that to you, I suppose. Thankfully, I stumbled across a kebab shop, so I ventured inside and ordered a doner kebab with beef, sour cream, onions, lettuce, and tomato, then scoff it down as soon as I get my hands it. The man serving me looked very solemn. I try not to judge him, in any case. He struck me as someone who worked long hours in a job. He finds it incredibly boring and probably had to deal with far too many rude, impatient customers and to be honest, I’d hate working at a kebab shop all day as well.

As I arrived at the train station, I tapped my oyster to get through the gate and noticed how I only had three pounds left, I knew I was due for a top-up, but I was too tired and too lazy to solve the problem now and resolved to do it the following day. By this point, I had walked through this particular station dozens of times and knew I could walk through it blindfolded. I heard the sound of the central line train arriving and dashed it, hopping on board just in time.

My phone was almost dead while on the cramped train, so I had nothing to amuse myself with. For some reason, I always end up on trains with assholes on them, a giant of a man behind me didn’t know that civilised people breath through their noses, so this man’s gross, warm breath for half an hour tickle the back of my neck. But I’m used to all this, being trapped in a metal snake crammed up against sweaty strangers, it’s a part of modern life in London, I suppose.

I get off the train, and after another fifteen minutes of walking, taking a shortcut through a muddy park, I finally arrive home. All the lights are off. My family are asleep. Indeed, I produce my keys from my pocket about and fiddle with the keyhole in the dark. I enter and then nimbly sneak up to my room, toss my clothes off then plummet into my bed, falling instantly asleep.

Chapter 3

I woke up around 10 am, but for about thirty minutes, I just lay in bed, unable to summon the energy to start the day, so instead, my eyes began to scan across the room. To my left is a poster of Muhammed Ali with the tagline at the bottom “Float like a butterfly sting like a bee, that’s why they call me Muhammed Ali!” In front of me resting against the wall was a guitar I had gotten for my birthday last year, which I’ve been practising on routinely for months, and yet I can only play about three songs to an acceptable degree. To my right is an oak cabinet plus a small TV. The room is painted a deep red, whilst my closets and shelves are a blistering white. Once I’m done lounging about, I force myself to head downstairs and make myself a bowl of chocolate Weetabix when Mum comes in to greet me.

“Morning, pet.” She says.

“Morning,” I say back.

“How was work yesterday, Daniel?”

“Same as usual, exhausting.”

“Fancy a cup of tea?” She asks.

“Yeah, thanks”, I answer. She heads on over to the cupboard, turns on the kettle and says, “But you know Daniel, I wanted to say you came in with muddy shoes again last night.” I roll my eyes and tell her, “Well, Mum, it’s not the end of the world, honestly.”

“Well, I bloody cleaned the floor yesterday and woke up this morning to find it ruined all over again. So, listen, if you do that again, it’ll be you cleaning it up, got it?” she threatens.

“Okay, fine, sorry it won’t happen again.” I apologise in defeat. “Good, here’s your tea, oh and by the way, don’t forget we’re having that skype call with Granny tonight. She needs the company.”

“Yes, I know I always remember.” Mum left the kitchen as I finished my breakfast.

I head into the dining room, where my younger brother Gabriel is busy doing his maths homework. I feel sorry for him as he goes to this prestigious private school that sets him a lot of essays and practice papers to do at home. Mum makes him do a further five hours of studying a week, but the thing is, he’s only a kid. He’s twelve. When Dad talks to Mum about putting too much pressure on him, she always responds, “Well, you and I pay a fortune to send him to that school, so he better makes damn good use of it!”

At the same time, he’s been rather annoying recently; he talks about wanting to be treated as more of an adult since he’s going to be thirteen years old soon, and yet he’s still unable to finish his broccoli at dinner and still can’t go to bed without a nightlight.

As I walk by, he asks, “Hey Daniel. How do you calculate the area of a circle?” I pause for a moment, and after digging through the recesses of my mind, I respond, “Pi times the radius squared.”

“How much is pi worth again?” Gabriel also inquires. After another moment of brainstorming, I tell him, “It’s worth 3.14.”

Finally satisfied, he says, “Oh, thanks.”

Pleased that I still remember my maths lessons from my teenage years, I keep walking, but Gabriel also asks me, “Hey Daniel? Do you want to play PS4 later?”

“Yeah, sure, why not? Finish your homework first, though, or Mum will give you hell for it.”

“Yeah, I know. Stupid bloody maths,” he mumbles.

I leave Gabriel to his own devices and see my dad sitting on his sofa chair reading the newspaper with his favourite mug at his side, the one that says Man of the house. (A mug that he doesn’t let any else use.)

“Morning Son, did you sleep well?” he greets me

“Okay, I suppose. Hey, did you record the Vargas vs Miura last night?” (Vargas and Miura are two professional boxers.)

Dad affirms, “I did, with the pre-fight discussion and all, I accidentally saw who won in this newspaper, but we’re still gonna watch it. I’ll put it on around 3 o’clock once I’m done with all my paperwork. Sound good?” I nod and say, “Sounds great, Dad.”

I sit down to watch the morning news on the telly when Dad informs me, “Oh Daniel, I was looking online the other day for any potential new homes for you, and I found this lovely studio flat in Epping, it’s the perfect size for someone living on their own. I bookmarked the page on the computer if you want to have a look later.”

My parents and I have been talking recently about my moving out. I suggested it to them because I want to be more independent, I’ve never lived on my own before so it would be a new experience plus it’s a bit embarrassing when I tell people I’m still living with my parents when I earn so much money for my age.

I’ve been to Epping before, and it’s a lovely town, so I tell my dad, “Oh really? Thanks.”

Dad puts down his newspaper and requests, “Daniel, I nearly forgot, my knee’s playing up again, so could you be a pal and go to the store to pick up my medication for me?”

“Sure. I’ll get it now, so I won’t forget later,” I tell him as I’m putting on my shoes.

“Cheers, buddy.”

I grab my coat and hop on my bike to hit the road. I decided to take the long, scenic route to enjoy the ride thoroughly. I arrive at the pharmacy and pick up Dad’s pills; I see one lady wearing a face mask inside, which is weird. It’s not like she’s performing surgery. She must be paranoid of bacteria or something. Anyway, I leave the store and promptly head back home.

Nothing much happened in the afternoon aside from playing video games with Gabriel, watching the boxing with Dad, and mowing the lawn for Mum. It was an uneventful day, but it was exactly what I needed after the past few weeks.

After dinner that night, we had the skype call with Grandma that Mum mentioned earlier. Grandma developed multiple sclerosis or MS many years ago. She struggles to walk and finds it difficult to speak. She often slurs her words. I remember Mum explained to me once that MS is a condition where your body’s immune system attacks the myelin sheath of your nerves, meaning they can’t transmit signals correctly, leading to symptoms like spasms, strokes, and the inability to use specific muscles. Mum’s also been insistent we call her regularly as Grandad passed away from cancer last Christmas. This might sound a bit horrible, but I have to smile, nod, and pretend to know what she’s talking about whenever I don’t understand her. The five of us talked about the usual, the weather, how big Gabriel’s gotten, how things are in Ireland. We said our goodbyes, and after, I immediately called it a day since I had work tomorrow.

To be continued…

We Still Deserve The No Detriment Policy

By Ciéra Cree

Image: Anna Tarazevich

Disclaimer: This is an opinion piece. No slander towards ARU is intended, only gratitude and the desire to be the best that we can be.

You may remember me as the writer of two prior pieces on this topic, Why No Detriment Should Still Apply (2020) and NO DETRIMENT POLICY: WHERE ARE YOU? (2021). I am highly grateful to the staff and students who have listened to and shared my voice so far, but the conversation is not yet over.

As I write this it is the end of September 2021, around a year since I released my first publication about the topic of the No Detriment Policy. “No Detriment” is a policy that is put into place to assist the performance of students among unforeseen difficult circumstances. The policy does this by taking into account the circumstance that students were positioned in when calculating their final academic grades, pushing their achieved grade up to that of a combined or historical average.

In March 2020, when the pandemic was first soaring, the policy was triggered right before students were due to finish classes and produce their final assignments. Then, in the following academic year (2020-21), the policy was triggered again in consideration of the fact that the world had still not returned to a reasonable “normal”.

Back in July 2021 the so-called “freedom day” was announced, nuanced by a lifting of various restrictions and many people choosing to abandon wearing masks for any longer. The COVID-19 vaccines have also been rolled out on a large scale, offering its takers some protection and comfort from the world around them which has been turned upside down now for almost two years.

The reason for writing this third edition of my No Detriment trilogy is that I strongly believe that the No Detriment Policy should still be applied. Yes, we now have vaccines. Yes, the grip of restrictions has loosened. And yes, the general rules surrounding masks and distancing have become less harsh. But the truth of the matter is that the virus has not ceased to exist and, if anything, it is evolving. New variants of the virus are being discovered from all over the world on a relatively frequent basis, and according to sources, these different strains may even be failing to show up as positives when people issue swab tests.

With vaccines that aren’t 100% effective, new variants that can get past their protection, and the colder months of the year waiting just around the corner, I believe that there is far too much uncertainty to be saying that the pandemic is ending. And with all of this uncertainty about the state of the world and our safety, how can students be expected to perform at their best?

One point arising from staff when I last questioned why the policy remained inactive was the fear of the integrity of ARU’s degrees depleting. To this, I responded by stating that the way a university supports and protects its students is ultimately what matters the most to students, both current and prospective, which is something that I still stand by. We, as a student collective, are here at university because we want to better ourselves and our future. The majority of us did not apply to embark on this journey with the knowledge that the pandemic would hit (hence, it is still unforeseen), but we are trying our best to go on as if the world is not in crisis around us. As someone who was in their first year at Anglia Ruskin when the pandemic hit, every single year of my degree has been affected by the virus. My “university experience”, in a sense, has been ruined.

The care and consideration taken by ARU so far to protect their students have been admirable. From the sanitiser stations to one-way systems and study preferences that can be altered to a student’s choice as to whether to study in person or online, I and many others are grateful for the effort and time put in to make things the best that they can currently be. None of what I am saying comes from a place lacking gratitude, but rather from a place of wanting to uphold the standards of care that ARU should and can be known for.

We want to be the best that we can be but to do that we need maximum support. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, the pandemic does not stop considering our mental health. Although ARU’s Wellbeing Services have been incredible with their support, it remains true that such services are vastly overrun. Many students are left on waiting lists or feel unable to ask for help at all due to availability for counselling being scarce. Implementing the No Detriment Policy again would provide all students with an umbrella of support which would assist in relieving some study-related stresses.

The pandemic also does not pause for our education. When applying for an extension to deadlines I personally believe that the impact of COVID-19 should still be enough of a reason. We are surrounded by negative news, recovering from vaccine after-effects, and we do not know whether a new variant or regulation could be sprung on us tomorrow. And in some cases, for international students, we still may not know if and when we can safely travel home.

We deserve the No Detriment Policy in its active state. The pandemic has not ended but we are here trying to learn, paying the same fees as we would do if everything was face-to-face. This is not optimal for performing well, and even if many students may be performing well despite the circumstances, implementing a safety net that some people do not end up using is better than not having the assistance there at all.

This is the students’ voice. We need to be heard.

‘Me Before You’ by Jojo Moyes – a book review

By Soyeenka Mishra

Image: Alisa Anton

‘Live boldly. Push yourself. Don’t settle.’

I cannot discern whether I finished reading this book or the book ended me way before. Probably both. But the reason why that so comes later, doesn’t it? Riiight, on to the beginning…I wish I could tell you that I read this book with an unbiased mind without comparing it to its charming movie adaptation, but I can’t, considering how the latter is something quite close to my heart. I chose Me Before You as my next read after a good long bout of trepidation for mainly two reasons: the first being the fact that I tried reading it a couple of years back when I first watched and fell in love with the movie, but couldn’t read past a few dozen pages owing to all the differences; and the question of if I’d begin liking the movie less after reading the entire ‘story’, so to speak, being the second. Suffice to say, my decision was a great one, and I rewatched the movie to see it in a new – better – light, with more depth now that I was privy to further information, and naturally, some parts felt lacking and diminished, but there’s no love lost here. A little advice: better be prepared to find me comparing the adaptation to the source more than a few times in here; it might save you some frustration.

‘It is funny. In a crappy sort of way.’

Diving right away into the actual book, I sort of didn’t like Lou’s family straight away. Maybe, just maybe, I should’ve been a tad more understanding about this, but after reading most of the book from Lou’s POV, I can’t help but resent some of the members, Treena especially, to be specific. She meant well mostly, but she just rubbed me the wrong way – there were little things that one’s probably overlooked while looking through far lenses that enraged me irrationally half the time. All the sacrifices Lou had to make in ways big or small, the constant taunts and jabs from her father that became grating after a few times, the nutjob that Patrick seemed to be – all of it; I clearly see why Will Traynor wanted her out of that tiny little town and finally live her life, widen her horizons, reach her full potential, to use the wording from the book. The bright light that burns inside her would’ve been suffocated to death if her life hadn’t taken a turn for the best the day she took up the job to be Will’s caretaker. Moreover, since we’re on the topic of suffocation, let me express how happy I was when Lou finally split up with Pat. Even before Will’s entered into their lives, their soggy-potato-soup-like relationship was not it, man; it should’ve ended way before. But, voila, those jealous Will moments were oh-so-worth-it!

If I had to choose a single word to describe the book, it’d be ‘comfortable‘. Maybe it’s because I’ve watched the movie so often that I virtually have all the dialogues memorised. Still, throughout my read, I had this constant sensation of warmth and cosiness – a comfort – in the company of those characters. Excluding the ending and certain sad-cup-of-coffee (read as despresso) moments, all those familiar characters, familiar settings, familiar talks, but with new information left to be uncovered made a very heady combination that had me right in all the feels. It’s not a story you’d want to read lightly to breeze through; you’ll want to drink in all those precious little exchanges and quips among the characters, the quirky actions and endless badgering. You’ll want to cherish and savour all those moments, not just because of what is inevitably to come later, but also because they’re that magnetic and unforgettable. You’ll be roped in so fast that before you know it, you’ll have fallen in love with the characters.

As excellent as the characters appear in the movie, the book was better by a landslide. Of course, it was! But my exclamation doesn’t end there. There was just so much more banter in the book, swearing included, which is always a good thing in my dictionary, ha! Lou’s delightful humour, Will’s hilarious but borderline rude sass, the familiarity and ease between them, the friendship and feelings, their relationship as a whole and the both of them as individuals. It’s as if we’ve been provided with a magnified view of all these. Stating all that must sound funny because, again, the book would comprise more details than its movie. Still, it’s like a huge novelty for me to finally know all of that. In a similar vein, we got to explore a more humane side of Mama Traynor (including a significantly stricter and nearly snobby side) which was refreshing yet sad. Patrick was still as insufferable as he always had been, if not more, though Treena’s character was slightly trickier.

‘Some mistakes… have greater consequences than others. But you don’t have to let that night be the thing that defines you.’

Now I’ll talk about Will and Lou exclusively. It gave me no small amount of pleasure whenever I took a hiatus from reading to think about how long these two had come from their initial, unpleasant beginning. As much I loved the back-and-forth wisecrack-spouting sessions they had, their deep conversations were equally riveting. I always knew about Will’s difficulties and the reasoning behind his decisions. Still, we never got to see any natural background behind Lou, the reason why she wasn’t the most enthusiastic about trying new stuff and chasing after new experiences and, like spreading her wings in general. Even if her traumatic past was present in the book for shock factor, it did its job very well. Will comforting Lou after her break down and opening up was so tender and wholesome; I loved it. The ridiculous debacle with the drunk dudes at the horseracing event, the beautiful concert, Mary Rawlinson and her fruity language got fruitier with every fruity drink at Rupert and Alicia’s wedding, Will and Lou’s tattoos out of all things. After witnessing the fun times such as these, the periods of Will being sick in any way, his ‘difficult’ days, him being down and irritated and uncomfortable. Those portions were patches of dull grey in the journey of reading the book in colour with all its brightness if it makes sense. Likewise, when Lou was running out of time and worked day and night to schedule all their trips and adventure – something, anything – in her effort to change Will’s mind possibly, her desperation was felt by me through osmosis. I’m never going to be able to read that word without thinking of the penultimate chapter now as I raced to turn page after another, impatient to know what happens next yet dreading the end with all my heart.

‘You are scored on my heart, Clark. You were from the first day you walked in, with your ridiculous clothes and your complete inability ever to hide a single thing you felt.’

 Knowing full well I can’t just run away forever from having to write about the ending, let’s broach that subject as if having one character named ‘Will’ die on me wasn’t anywhere near painful enough that there was the need for another. Since I already had more than a pretty good idea of what was to come, I had naïvely thought that mayhaps it wouldn’t be too much of a shock to traumatise one for the rest of their life, but man was I wrong. I must’ve taken at least a dozen breaks within the last sixth of the book to be stable enough to continue. The last few chapters, especially the last two, were hard, to put lightly. It was more so because of the parts where their trip is described. That. Last. Trip. To Mauritius, of course. The vibrant description of Will’s brightening spirit was as beautiful as it was deceiving. Far from home, he looked and felt truly at home, that he was enjoying himself so thoroughly, his improving complexion, disposition, and his general health, experiencing things to a limited point that his ‘old’ self loved to do. That after such a horridly long time, he could feel some real semblance of independence, being among friendly people with genuinely generous hearts who treated him like he’d wanted to be perhaps, after his accident. All of this had me in a trance, lulling me into a false sense of security, so when the ground would finally slip from under my feet, it’d have the desired effect. That’s why right after the penultimate chapter – which ended in Dignitas, with Will asking Lou to call in his parents, for it was time, there was no proper explicit closure about Will’s death, but just a report of a sort from the authorities regarding the legal and moral issues raised due to his act; it was jarring. Just like that, in the blink of an eye, he was gone. That cold transition from the very heart-touching and heart-rending last few moments of Will with Lou, with them spending those precious moments in each other’s arms, not talking, trying to take in and memorise each other’s features for the rest of their lives, respectively. That report talked about the incident in such a clinical and indifferent voice as if he was just another person as if he hadn’t just changed the reader’s life forever, as if he was just another body. It was disconcerting, if I were to name the exact thing I felt.

‘…music could unlock things in you, could transport you to somewhere even the composer hadn’t predicted. It left an imprint in the air around you as if you carried its remnants with you when you went.’

That brings me to the writing of the book. The language used was very flowy, for lack of a better word. I mean, when the paper isn’t embellished with heavy or esoteric words, I feel like I home in on the writing only when I’m not completely immersed in the plot. So, in that sense, apart from a few exceptions where I stumbled upon lexicons that I don’t come across too often, the words flowed smoothly enough that I kept on reading without a hitch. Talking of dictionaries, thanks to the movie, it’s perhaps one of those rare times when I read the characters’ dialogues in their canonical accents instead of a random one inside my head, which tickled me pink, I tell you. Also, I got two great movie recommendations from a book for this first time, the first being an anime and the other a biographical movie about paralysis. An online comrade warned Lou to ensure Will never watches, so naturally, I had to find out what it was about. I must say both of them were worthwhile. Throughout my reading, I had also mentally accumulated a lot of fun and hilarious moments, which I wanted to mention here, still, with the ending that careened me into an existential crisis, the grief has been overshadowed. My mind is completely blank right now. I can’t recall much of those optimistic and carefree times, which now feel like they went by in a flash.

‘I will never, ever regret the things I’ve done. Because most days, all you have are places in your memory that you can go to.’

Towards the end, we shall agonisingly move over to the epilogue. Reading Will’s letter to Lou at the end was, tenderly, bittersweet. Experiencing his presence after six long months of his death, the same cheeky humour, the overbearing sass yet poorly veiled affection was exhilarating. But then, after getting to know what all he’d done for her?! It made him the sweetest person. He’d already won hearts when he kept agreeing to do all those events Lou organised even though he was never going to change his mind to make her happy. And now, after what he did, he earned himself a permanent presence in the hearts of a lot of people, I’d bet, mine included.

The point where this book comes to a close seemed very apt to me. Though, I would like to mention here that Lou’s mum putting her foot down and barring Lou from returning home isn’t necessarily an out-of-the-blue act considering the circumstances and the moral issues surrounding euthanasia and all. What made it seem a bit weird to me is that before that scene, her mum had never really stood out as a character? To me, she’d always been a part of the background, so her sudden entrance to the spotlight felt odd, somehow. As I say, at the beginning of this paragraph, it was a nice end to the story. Lou had managed to make those last six months the best six months of his life, in Will’s own words, which considering his ‘old’ life, may come off as surprising, but isn’t really if you think about it; Lou was just so full of spirit that one can’t help but go along. And in return, Will had bought Lou her freedom. I loved that particular element so much because he knew that the tiny dull town they both called home would trample Lou and her liveliness under the mountains of responsibilities and obligations. He thought far ahead. He was keeping in mind Lou’s budding ambitions and her best interests. It was beautiful how he gave her a chance at independence in her seemingly hopeless situation. Her character development alone proves what amazing things are to come her way henceforth, albeit with some ‘maudlin’ memories, as Will so condescendingly put it.

At last, the question arises: am I going to continue the series and read the following two books? Hmm, no, not at all, never planning on it. For one thing, from the synopses of the later books, it seems like the plot gets messier, and I do not want to taint my memories and sully the experience of Lou and Will and the first book in general. I make this very educated decision considering one experience with a trilogy already where books 2 and 3 were just unnecessary additions to the plot and didn’t enhance or add anything, on the contrary, even. And well, I’d like to believe that Will and Lou were the OTP, you know, meant for each other but destined to be apart, that type of couple. This way, what happens after the epilogue is up for my interpretation, and I am pretty content with it. I wouldn’t mind giving this book a re-read some time since I repeat myself, it’s got all those comfy vibes to it, and the general dynamic between Will and Lou was just hearty and witty. All in all, it was a lovely read, and everyone who is an absolute sucker for tearjerkers, such as yours truly, mustn’t miss it.

‘A Christmas Carol’ (2009) by Robert Lee Zemeckis – a movie review

By Beatrice Cargnelutti

Аs the Christmas season has begun, among the several tales defined as ‘timeless’, it is impossible not to mention Charles Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ (1843). Its storyline reaches the soul and warms the heart, and because of its strong impact on the public, it has been adapted into numerous films. This review is on Disney’s animated movie adaptation of 2009, ‘A Christmas Carol’ by Robert Lee Zemeckis.

The plot of the novel the movie is based on is a known to most “evergreen”, but in a nutshell: the old miser and heartless usurer Ebenezer Scrooge, after being visited by three Spirits of Christmas, understands the true essence of Christmas and the importance of doing good to others.

Disturbing and dark, this version of the original novel is not characterized by the usual Christmas idyllic mood, being entirely permeated by the gruesome, with features of a horror film. Victorian London is where the events take place, twisting and stretching its setting to reflect the macabre atmosphere. Therefore, many viewers probably could feel it as being too frightening for a Christmas movie, especially if animated and aimed at a younger audience. But the extreme fidelity to the novel with which the characters and dialogues are portrayed makes it a very successful work, suitable for viewers of all ages, from children who are entering the literary world for the first time to adults nostalgic to see a new adaptation of a classic.

In fact, the movie captures in some ways the essence of Dickens as he merrily exaggerates. He often begins with brave young heroes, surrounding them with a sequence of characters and caricatures. In this case the main character is the caricature himself of the story as Ebenezer Scrooge’s thinness, stooping and bitterness are preponderantly accentuated and emphasized.

In a twinkling part of casting, Jim Carrey animates Scrooge taking on the archetypal role of the latter, serving up a really grumpy and emotional old type, not offering a foregone cartoonish performance at all.

Zemeckis’ film is rich of innumerable details; the soundtrack is touching and overwhelming, the tone is convincing, and the pacing pleasant. The balanced rhythm alternates between the strenuous slowness of some scenes and an intriguing virtuosic dynamism, guiding the viewer through extremely diverse sequences without overly clashing with each other. The film does not fail in the intent it sets out to perpetuate.

The use of the technique of Performance Capture translated into 3-D animation provides a sensational visual experience, with an extremely realistic representation of the different characters, some of whom are performed by the same actor. In fact, Carrey played not only the role of Scrooge but also of all three Christmas ghosts and Gary Oldman acted as Bob Cratchit, Marley and Tiny Tim. The actors are there beneath the performance-capture animation; it is possible to recognize their expressions, but in general the Zemeckis characters don’t resemble their originals excessively, as their facial features are effectively modified and adapted to the characters they perform.

“A Christmas Carol” is a famous classic that is re-proposed countless times each year at this festive season through its many different film adaptations. The 2009 version is one of the most recent and successful, faithfully evoking the atmosphere of Dickens’ novel, allowing the spectators to cathartically identify with the story and make them feel the pure spirit of Christmas.

Ella and her Mother’s Green Lime Tree

By Nusrat Ahmed

Image: Valeria Boltneva

Part 1

On that night, electricity was out, and so 3 candles had been lit in Ella’s room. She has been strictly told to memorize the 9 times table by her maths teacher. As a result, the pressure was high for her at home. Ella hated maths! She would think to herself, how does this have anything to do with her future?

So, she started sketching a baby elephant. Her paintbrush was just about to hit the trunk of the little elephant when,

“Ella! What on earth are you doing?

“Nothing mum, I was just trying to draw my kidnapped baby elephant which has been taken by your sister’s son.”

“Behave yourself! Is this how you address your elders these days? Sarah is your aunt and Toto is your cousin brother. Start showing them some respect.”

She picked her pencil and eraser up from the floor with a puffy, tear-stained face. Ella old enough to know better, but she still gets really upset and cries like a newborn when she gets yelled at by her mother. She begins to write the pointless 9 times table with her tiny fingers.

“I do not have the whole day for you Ella, just finish writing them, and give me some peace. I need to deal with the cupcakes and mini apple pies, those are waiting for me in the oven, which need to be decorated. Stop obsessing over a toy for goodness sake it’s not helping anyone. I have to deliver these cakes to the customers, as Halloween is just around the corner!” Ella’s mum yelled frantically.

Part 2

On a side note, Ella’s dear uncle John has gone to Australia to finish his PhD and he mentioned in his letter that he would not come back, so instead he sent Ella a baby elephant who would move its trunk when you press a button in his legs.

I hope you can feel the strong sentiments regarding the elephant, and for what reason Ella was so attached to it.

Ella started writing with a heavy sadness in her heart. A drizzle of rain was falling onto the soil, her white curtains were blowing; the scene reminded her of the movie “Casper.”

The candle lights shone onto her paper slightly conflicting with the numbers she wrote, she was still looking at her half-painted baby elephant with her runny nose at this point. As she was about to reach for a tissue, she heard her mother.

“Ella! Could you please go upstairs and bring me some rosemary leaves, and green lemons from the roof garden?”

Now you might be thinking it is Ella’s choice whether she does this or not, but as you can see from the urgency, it was not a request, more so a demand.

By that time the rain had stopped, a light gentle air was blowing outside. With her little feet she climbed up to the rooftop and saw something that she wasn’t prepared to see…

“A baby ghost!”

It  was sitting silently within the lemon tree, smelling the fruit, and munching on them. Such a sight was impossible for Ella to comprehend.

She immediately closed her eyes, tightly gripped her white dress, and started praying…

“Oh, dear God, what I have seen is just my imagination, it is not real, it is not real…”

She tiptoed, approaching her mother’s green lime tree, after regaining her bravery.

The baby ghost was still there…

“Hello, little Ella…”

“What are you doing in my mother’s lemon tree, and who are you?”

“Please accept my apologies; I was simply attracted by the fragrance. Ahhh! So fresh and tangy. Oh! I am Casper the friendly ghost, a movie has been made about me in 1995 directed by Mr. Brad Siberling. Haven’t you seen that movie yet? I am pretty famous, probably the last friendly ghost on earth. Come on everyone on earth knows about me!”

Ella was quiet for a moment.

“Casper…is it really Casper?” She whispered to herself.

She pinched herself to make sure she wasn’t dreaming. She had watched Casper, well 9×2=18 yes, 18 times. But she acted as if she didn’t even know Casper so that she can be hauntingly ignorant about him. Ella didn’t want him to be prouder of his role as a friendly ghost, he had already gained enough attention!

“Stop your movie promotion please! Listen, you Casper or Asper, green lemons should not be eaten in that way! You might be good at acting, but you certainly do not know how to behave with lemons! First, you cut them into pieces and squeeze them into water in a glass, add 2 cubes of sugar, and then you’re done and surprise! Lemonade is ready! Plus, lemons are widely used with cakes, lemon tarts, lemon drizzle cake, roast chicken, and fish. They contain vitamin C which is very essential for a healthy body growth. Hmm, very concerning I can see, since 1995 you were still as little as you are now.”

“Yes, yes but why are you screaming? I can hear you. My mum says, you always, scream to those who enter your roof garden, and eat lemons without any consent.” Casper stared blankly.

“So, Mr. Asper, screaming at you was clearly the right decision then!” Ella pointed out. “And would you kindly climb down from my mother’s tree? I need to get some limes and rosemary, or she’ll swallow me whole with the toasted cinnamon bread she’s preparing for us! Move!”

“Okay, okay you don’t need to be so rude!” Casper complained.

“Hey famous Asper, it is Casper, not Asper okay? Let her collect her lemons and rosemary.” Stated a gasping voice.

When she looked back, she noticed her missing baby elephant waving its trunk and struggling for breath.

“Hi Ella! I was finally able to escape from Toto’s house. He is a very naughty child as he wouldn’t leave me alone! As soon as he fell asleep, I somehow managed to escape from his house!”

“How are you even talking, you couldn’t talk as far as I was concerned?” Ella said in shock.

“I can, but I only speak with people I like. I’m an introverted elephant who attracts like-minded individuals; I can’t be open and chatty with everyone I meet. You are welcome to come down from the lemon tree and sit with us, Mr. excessively friendly ghost, hahaha, and stop biting on them. I just showed you how to eat them, a few minutes ago.

“Please accept my apologies once more.” Casper claimed solemnly.

Part 3

Ella’s eyes gleamed, all the stars above began colliding in her eyes. She started linking the stars together, one by one with her detailed touch in the charcoal black sky. Elephant’s trunk was moving, inviting all the radiant stars with him. Her fingertips traced the outline of a baby elephant.

“Ella!” A booming voice came. “It has been two hours since you came up here! What are you doing?”

Yes, that’s the problem with her mum, whenever she tries to do something attentively, mum has to break her concentration.

“Ugh! Coming, mum! Casper, you have to leave now, and baby elephant you please follow me to my room.”

Ella was found smirking at the dining table while munching on the toasted cinnamon bread and kept thinking about how she had met the famous Casper. As well as scolded him, probably the first person to do so.

She had scolded a Hollywood famous ghost actor! But it’s okay to be a mom sometimes, at least she could feel how her mum feels when she scolds Ella.

That night Ella had a peaceful sleep, affectionately hugging her baby elephant. The heavy, grey clouds drifted away slowly, as the adventurous night passed by…


Exit Stage Left Part 1

By C Parke

Chapter 1

I’m alone in my bedroom. My name is Daniel Warren. In the past twelve months, I’ve been afflicted with a condition that has robbed me of all of my joy and my reason for living. This past year I’ve lost all of my friends as well as my career, and my family now loathe me. I’ve lost the vast majority of my independence and now need a caretaker whenever I leave the house, it’s pathetic. I’m sitting there with the intent to end my life on this day.

It wasn’t always like this however, I once had the job I’d always dreamed of. Hundreds of fans applauding me and a healthy pay-check, but now I’m trapped in my own body and hear nothing but words of pity from those around me. Why did it have to be me?” I sometimes say to myself. Nowadays, I often reminisce about when things were good, the prime of my life.

I was a young performer in London’s West End, brimming with potential. I was the main actor in the romantic musical “A Rose without Thorns,” about a young German girl named Rosa (played by my friend Lucy) who moves to England and meets the handsome Damien, that role being played by myself, who helps her with adjusting to new life as they fall in love. Repeatedly, I find myself mentally reliving those wondrous days of theatre life.

“Daniel Warren needed on stage in five minutes.”

The speakers would call for me, but I was ready long before that, taking great care to comb my hair, brush my teeth and have a close shave. I’m itching to make my entrance, the first song, “A Strange New Place,” was always my favourite song in the performance with its upbeat sound, fast tempo, and the most intricate dance routine in the whole play. I’m there, impatiently tapping my foot against the hard wooden floor whilst some of the extras aren’t even fully dressed yet. I push that frustration out of mind whilst I wait for my cue to come on stage; that cue being when Rosa, sings “I’m lost in this foreign land!” I then rush onto stage to sing my verse and then the chorus. Damien, in the story, is an excellent dancer so I suggested to the director that I should incorporate some front flips and other acrobatics into the routine, even though that isn’t a part of the script. One because I thought it was befitting of Damien’s character and two, I wanted to show off a little. He liked the idea so during the song I do some stunts from different set pieces which would cause the audience to erupt with applause and a wide grin to appear on my face.

The view of the theatre is a memory etched into my brain. Hundreds of audience members would watch in awe as I perform on a stage that bathes in a bright yellow light. The set is modelled from Trafalgar Square, meaning small scale replicas of the four black lions stood in each corner of the stage, as images of the great fountain and the national gallery are projected onto the back wall. Exactly in the centre, is a model of Nelson’s column, shrunken down and hollow of course, so it can be moved around by the stage crew. The set itself is amazing on its own of course but Lucy, the extras and I help fill out the negative space simulating the hustle and bustle of the real thing. During all this, speakers play sounds of traffic and chatter to create the most immersive theatre experience in the West End.

Afterwards there were some story scenes without any songs. I’ve always felt indifferent towards these parts, I prefer dancing and singing over learning dialogue but if you want to be an actor you’ve got to take the good with the bad. I remember rehearsing these scenes in my bedroom. I would pace back and forth repeating the lines over and over again, sometimes visitors would come round our house, where I live with my parents and brother, and they would think I had gone crazy hearing me repeat the same lines over and over again from upstairs.

After Act One ends, I exit stage left and head straight down the hallway to the break room. I turn to the black vending machine, slip in a two-pound coin, and subconsciously punch in the numbers to get myself a bottle of coke. I sit myself down onto the small red settee, and since the lid was being stubborn, I get the bottle open with my teeth. As I gaze around, I reflect on how fond I am of this little room, the cosy red sofa, the cream-brown painted walls, the solid oak table that me and my co-stars would routinely play cards on, and the petit cupboards full of biscuits and treats that remind me of my grandmother’s kitchen in Ireland. It’s the trivial things in life that make me happy.

Whilst I was enjoying my break, Lucy walked up to me and struck up a conversation.

Hey” she said.

“Hey” I responded.

“What’cha up to this weekend?” she asks.

“Not much to be honest, I’m probably just going to chill out, I’ve been knackered these past few weeks with Morgan calling in sick.”

Morgan is the Damien of the blue cast and I’m the Damien of the red cast, the red cast performs four nights out of the week while the blue cast only does three so with Morgan gone, I’ve been having to work much more.

Lucy giggles “Must be tough, knowing Morgan he’s likely got a runny nose and declared he’s far too ill to go to work.” I laugh alongside her as Morgan was always a bit of a melodramatic.

“You’re right, he’s probably tucked up in bed feeling sorry for himself. But anyway, what are you up to this weekend?” I also ask.

“Me? Well, with the new puppy! I’m going to spend it getting him toilet trained, Charlie’s adorable but he’s probably the messiest dog I’ve ever come across.” I chuckle and say, “At least you don’t have our cat Silver, he’s a little devil when he isn’t fed or when we’re about to take him to the vet’s he’ll start tearing and scratching at the pillows and curtains like a maniac, nevertheless Mum still loves him to bits.” Lucy sits down on the sofa with me, “Well, that’s what mums are like, I may have had Charlie for only five weeks but he’s still my furry baby” she said with childish affection, we both smile as we head back ready for Act two. A casual conversation with a friend, I took that for granted.

We performed Act Two which had a scene where Damien, who is also a professional boxer, faces his largest and toughest opponent yet, a man named Trevor. Damien gets battered and bruised, but eventually wins with the power of love (And yes, I know that sounds incredibly cheesy). I remember training for this scene, of course I didn’t actually have to fight someone, but I needed to gain the proper physique. For many weeks, my daily workout routine consisted of a five-kilometre run, forty press ups, a one hundred-second plank, fifty Russian twists and twenty pull ups alongside a diet of mostly fish, nuts and vegetables. As Act 2 ends, I enjoy the sound of applause as the curtains fall, I congratulate and say goodbye to my co-stars, as I grab my coat and prepare to venture home through the rainy London night.