Richard II in the House of Commons

Last weekend I was lucky enough to have won two of only 100 available tickets to see a special performance of Shakespeare’s Richard II in the House of Commons.

And lucky is definitely the word.

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For those who don’t know, Saturday 23rd April marked 400 years of Shakespeare. Events all over the country, in indie bookstores, in arts centres and on the streets of the capital itself, all marked a celebration of William Shakespeare.

Seeing Richard II in Parliament was not just a performance of Shakespeare, but an experience.

From the moment we walked through security into Westminster, through the unusually quiet halls, we were part of the experience and the atmosphere.

The performance itself was brilliant, the production successfully maintains the original script and language of Shakespeare whilst supplanting it into a world of 21st Century politics using BBC breaking news headlines and smart technology.

You never lost the precarious feeling of the balance of power constantly shifting, and the unravelling of the characters and their diminishing political power was something you could only dream of witnessing in the real world of Westminster!

The cast of this production not only portrayed the characters but also their intricacies and the intricate power that Shakespeare’s play was exposing and unravelling.

A brilliant way to celebrate Shakespeare and a brilliant showcase of talent that I hope will transfer just as well to its run at the Arcola Theatre. Because the magic of this performance was that props and scenery were not as necessary when we were already sitting in and experiencing the setting of the original play.

I hope, and I’m sure, the performance at the Arcola Theatre will continue to do the play as much justice as the spectacular Westminster did.

Commuter Reads: All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

[possible spoilers]

“Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.”

With the winners of the Pulitzer prize having been unveiled this week, it seems only appropriate that I post my review of last year’s Fiction winner, Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See.

This book is completely mesmerising, captivating and beautiful.

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Being an historical fiction, it feels like more than just your average easy-going read. It has so much substance and is simultaneously on a macro level of the second World War and a micro level of specific people’s very individual lives.

Although I love reading and being part of the lives and emotions of characters in books, rarely do I feel like I’m experiencing those emotions too; I felt like I could have cried several times in this book, either from despair, beauty, hope or loss. And anyone who knows me, knows crying is not something I give in to easily!

By far my favourite character in this book is Marie-Laure.

Blind from the age of six, the way she sees the world is more vivid and vibrant and beautiful than anyone with their sight fully intact.

So how, children, does the brain, which lives without a spark of light, build for us a world full of light?

Through her, you experience the world through the heightened versions of her other senses: sound, touch, taste, and smell. The deafening sensory experience of war in France is separated and felt and experienced by Marie-Laure, one exquisite and beautifully described sensation at a time.

Her all too brief overlap of her life story with the other young protagonist, Werner, leaves you begging for more interaction and more storyline between them. But the briefness of their encounter and the fleeting, but lasting, impact they have on each others lives speaks of the war and the way it touched so many across so many countries in a similar way, in a similar place, but only for a second.

“Don’t you want to be alive before you die?”

Regardless of sides or political allegiance, the book says more about human nature and the beauty in the ways we can choose to treat each other, even in the midst of something as ugly as war.

This book should not be picked up to read lightly, but it is a beautiful piece that you need to give yourself time to enjoy. I can recommend it to everyone.

Asking For It – Louise O’Neill

[spoilers and tw: rape, victim blaming]

Everyone needs to read this book.

For anyone who doesn’t know or understand rape culture or victim blaming, or doesn’t believe it exists: read this book.

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Not only is the book based on O’Neill’s research of true events, but the identifiable nature of high school cliques, popularity contests, laddish boys egging each other on and bitchy girls all wrapped up in a world of social media interactions makes this book all too realistic.

Emma is a popular girl, everyone wants to be her friend, she knows she’s hot and boys want to date her. But after a night out she doesn’t remember, she finds pictures of herself all over Facebook on a page called ‘Easy Emma’. In the pictures she is being abused and raped by four different guys.

Instead of being supported and defended by her friends and family, her dad is so disgraced he can’t look at her. Her mother is terrified of the way it will damage her ‘perfect family’ image. Emma’s friends refuse to talk to her, they blame her and call her a slut, despite the fact she is clearly unconscious in the photos.

In fact, victim blaming is so normalised that Emma actually tries to contact her rapists to apologise.

Because that’s what rape culture is. It’s the culture where any excuse is looked for to place the blame on the victim: the alcohol consumed, the way they’re dressed, the type of person they are.

It’s the culture that doubts the truth of a girl’s story in order to protect the perpetrators.

It’s the culture that mourns the impact of rape accusations on the male because “they had such a bright future ahead of them and she’s ruined it”, rather than the impact the actual rape has on the victim.

People are quicker to believe and assume a woman is lying when she says she has been raped.

All of a sudden, the fundamental justice of “innocent until proven guilty” applies to the perpetrator,  but not to the woman. She is “guilty until proven innocent”. Guilty of “asking for it” or of false accusations, until evidence can prove her veracity.

Rape culture accepts men at their word when they say they didn’t do it. A woman’s word that she was raped is not accepted until proven.

I won’t spoil the ending of Asking For It, but it is heartbreaking in its inevitability.

Victim blaming and rape culture won’t stop existing until everyone acknowledges that they exist in the first place. This book will help people to see and understand that.

Top tips for Iceland

So I’ve already posted my itinerary of how I packed all my activities into my trip to Iceland and while it was only a short trip, it still wasn’t a cheap break like the many city breaks you see advertised.

I’m a firm believer that if you travel and there are things that you really want to do then money shouldn’t stop you, it is completely possible to budget for those more expensive aspects because the way I see it, the experience is worth it if it’s something you really want to do.  So whilst I am willing to spend money to do and see the things I want, there are still some handy tips I found especially useful to save money and make the most out of the money I did spend.

  1. Shop at the store
  2. This was an absolute lifesaver. Food and drink is super expensive to buy from restaurants and cafés in Iceland, but supermarket bought food is significantly cheaper. On the first day I went to the supermarket nearest our hotel and bought bread, cheese and tomatoes to make sandwiches, some fresh fruit, crisps, nuts and some chocolate. These lasted us the 3 days we were there as handy packed lunches that we took with us every day instead of buying meals at the expensive rest stop cafés.

  3. Look for deals
  4. This is also linked to the food and drink. We had a deal where one evening’s meal was included in the cost of our hotel stay and that was really handy. For our other evening meals we looked for Happy Hours and these are everywhere in the city. Generally between 5pm-7pm but sometimes longer, food and drink is all around half price. You’re looking at £25 for two to eat, rather than £50. Also beers half in price from around 900kr (£5) to 400kr (£2.50).

  5. Use public transport
  6. I try to do this in every country I go to just because I feel like you get more of a sense of the city and the people and see more of communities on local transport rather than sitting on an air-conditioned tourist coach. We paid 500kr (£2.80) for a return ticket which took us the 40 minute journey into the city and back. Also, their buses are super punctual, even in heavy snowfall, 10/10.

  7. Stay outside the city
  8. This was probably our biggest money saver of the trip. We stayed in a lovely, well-catered for, well-located hotel with lovely staff, with all the tourism and transfer links to the city, airport and tours. It probably cost us less than half the price of staying in central Reykjavik. We were 20 minutes out of Reykjavik on the direct motorway route, or a 40 minute public bus journey. It also meant we were nicely situated half way between the airport and Reykjavik as Keflavik airport is 40 minutes from the city. So we were first drop off and last pick up for airport transfers. Same for Blue Lagoon trips which is out towards the airport too.

  9. Look for multi-trip deals with excursion companies
  10. Lifesaver. It was so much quicker and easier to book through one company too. Often if you book one or two tours with them you can get other offers. We used Reykjavik Excursions. They also have a policy where if you don’t see the Northern Lights on your excursion then you can go again for free the following night, or every night for the rest of your trip, until you see them.

  11. Hopper bus
  12. We used the city sightseeing bus which I really think is underestimated for travellers just because it seems touristy. But, for the equivalent of £25 it takes you to see all the main sights of the city, you can get off and spend as long as you like at each one, and the ticket is valid for 24 hours, so if you buy the ticket at 12 noon, you can use it just as a transport facility to get around the city until midday the following day too.

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