How not to do New Year’s resolutions

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Why do so many people think that the New Year equates to a new start? Everyone starts with good intentions: join a gym, start a diet, sign up to online dating.

But by February, most people have been to the gym twice, devoured left over mince pies along with that tub of Quality Street their auntie gave them for Christmas and not bothered to renew their dating site subscription when the initial free month was up.

New year’s resolutions are great if you can stick to them, but resolutions do not mean a revolution. Yes, after the festive season of indulgence, it is a good idea to lay off the grub and move off the sofa once you’ve finished your boxset binge. However, it’s unrealistic to set unattainable targets that you will inevitably give up on after a couple of months.

I know someone who once said they weren’t going to drink any alcohol for a whole year. This actually put me out a bit as I enjoyed sharing a nice bottle of wine with them. What’s wrong with doing things in moderation anyway? The only reason the resolution was made was because the person didn’t like how they behaved when they were really drunk and was trying to save money. They lasted until April and then went on a massive bender.

It is more attainable and more rewarding to set definitive goals. So, instead of declaring to simply ‘get fit’, why not sign up to an event like a 5k fun run in the Spring? Or really go for it and sign up for a half marathon in September and gradually build your fitness up to meet that target.

I am not against new year’s resolutions as such, in fact I am all for self-improvement; nobody wants to stagnate. My issue is: why do people feel they can only make these resolutions in the new year? Why not just make a new month resolution? You could choose to start doing things to benefit your life at any time. Monday is a new week, make a change then. Tomorrow is a new day, make a change then.

There are things I want to change in my life, but I’m implementing these changes at times that are good for me, not waiting until the new year rolls around. Although, I am putting off my running training until the weather gets a bit nicer. That can be my new month resolution for March. I am running a Tough Mudder obstacle course in May, so I have already started my strength training in preparation. Feel free to join me!

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 – film review

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Mockingjay is the first instalment of the Hunger Games trilogy which doesn’t have an eponymous game in the arena. I felt the film was lacking something and maybe that was it.

The final book in this dystopian trilogy has been split into two films, and having read the books, it seems that most of the major plot points and events have been held back for the film finale. It reminded me of the penultimate Harry Potter film, which was the first half of the Deathly Hallows book – a solid film, but not very satisfying as all the best bits are saved for the last instalment.

That’s not to say that Part 1 wasn’t action-packed. The film sees our heroine Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) awake in District 13 after being airlifted in a rescue from the Quarter Quell Hunger Games arena, along with her ally Finick Odair (Sam Claflin). It was believed that Panem only consisted of 12 districts after 13 was bombed flat for rebelling. But the district has gone underground, literally, and is growing in strength and numbers as more people turn against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) and the Capitol.

Also joining the rebels in District 13 are Gale (Liam Hemsworth), Haymitch (Woody Harrelson), Katniss’s mother and sister, and Effie (Elizabeth Banks) – who is feeling bereft without her makeup, wigs and fabulous clothes. Seeing her try to adapt to the impoverished living conditions was one the highlights of the film, as Banks plays her with such humour and sensitivity.

It was also nice to see more of Hemsworth as the love triangle between Gale, Katniss and Peeta had seemed somewhat two-sided with the previous films focused on ‘lovers’ Katniss and Peeta in the arenas.

Leading the rebels and all-star cast is President Coin (Julianne Moore swapping her trademark luscious red locks for salt and pepper hair) and former Game Maker Plutarch Havensbee (the late Philip Seymour Hoffman in his final performance). They want to use Katniss as propaganda in her mockingjay form, which has already sparked riots, to prompt the other districts to join the fight against the Capitol.

Katniss reluctantly agrees, so long as Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) and the other tributes who are still being held captive by the Capitol, are rescued. But it seems that Peeta has been brainwashed and is, in turn, being used by Snow as propaganda against the mockingjay movement.

So in something of a war of attrition, the film sees Katniss venture out to a destroyed district 12 with film maker Cressida (Natalie Dormer) and then further afield to try to help those who are suffering. All while avoiding bomb dropped by the Capitol, before retaliating with their own explosives.

It’s nice to see some females packing a punch in the film, obviously Katniss, and Lawrence herself, are great feminist role models, but there’s also Coin who is a strong and stoic leader, Cressida is a kick-ass rebel (just look at the shaved head and tattoos) and even Katniss’s little sister Primose is intelligent, loving and brave – training as a doctor and risking her life to save her cat.

The scenes where Katniss, Cressida and co venture out to shoot the propaganda videos were composed well, with Lawrence once again proving her acting chops; the despair is etched across her face when she sees her old hometown reduced to rubble and dead bodies.

The film was well shot in general, with sturdy but agile camera work following the propaganda team and the dark lighting setting the mood for the dinghy underground scenes in District 13. The only real scenes of light and colour are through the television when we have a glimpse of the Capitol during Peeta’s interviews. Without the glistening wealth of the Capitol, Panem is a dark place.

Mockingjay was an enjoyable film, but I left feeling like I wanted more; the fire didn’t quite catch. Perhaps as I have read the books, I knew what to expect and so was over-anticipating acts that are being saved for part two. It can’t come soon enough.

What makes an idol?

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The word idol is overused in today’s society: Pop Idol, fashion idol, Instagram idol – all linked with pop culture. It used to be that an idol was defined as someone you look up to and admire.

Some religions ban worshiping idols because they believe that it distracts from God – you are worshipping the idea of God, not God himself. It’s much the same in today’s culture; people confuse fame for idols, often thanks to shows like American Idol or The X Factor.

So I got thinking about who my idols are and why. The three people I have chosen all possess qualities I admire; strong work ethics, with careers and success I would like to emulate. They are also caring people with families who have given back to charity after their success.

1. Fearne Cotton
fearne-cottonI have always looked up to Fearne Cotton, ever since I watched her on Saturday morning television from a young age. Back then I just thought she was cool, and as I grew older, I began to wish I had her job, then I admired her for it. I have since followed her career up to being the leading female presenter on BBC Radio One and one of the go-to presenters for BBC television.

She is my idol because she has worked hard from an early age to get where she is. She could easily have been a flash in the pan, a child star of days gone by, but she has staying power because she has a good work ethic and has gained respect from the industry. And that in itself is a hard thing to do. I have so much admiration for anyone at any level in the media industry; people think it’s easy and glamorous, but speaking from experience, I can tell you it is not: it is ruthless and hard.

Not content with just being a leading presenter, she has also launched her own fashion, makeup and interior lines. She has become Terry Wogan’s right hand woman on Children In Need, as well as the face of CoppaFeel – a breast cancer charity which encourages women to check their breasts for lumps. And she has a beautiful family since marrying Jesse Wood, practically rock ‘n’ roll royalty as he is Ronnie Wood’s son, which is so apt for Fearne. She also has her gorgeous son Rex, as well as being a great stepmother to Jesse’s children from his first marriage. Most importantly, she doesn’t take herself too seriously; and I love her for it.

2. Caitlin Moran

caitlin-moran---credit-adam-lawrenceCaitlin Moran is the journalist I want to be – she speaks her mind and doesn’t give a damn about what other people think. She sticks up for what she believes in and writes honestly about her own experiences while being relatable, funny and insightful about the world around her.

I dipped in and out of her columns and loved her style, it was something I longed to emulate, along with her success – she has been named Columnist and Journalist of the Year by several institutions. Her Twitter is always so on point as well. Her reaction to the video for Lily Allen’s feminist anthem Hard Out Here was perfect and she tackled the trolls with gusto.

But I really put her up on a pedestal after reading her book How to be a Woman, an insightful look at how the media portrays women and what it means to be a feminist today, interspersed with her own stories of growing up and coming to terms with her own womanhood. Not only did the book make me laugh, it taught me a lot, developing my own feminist views, and it inspired me to continue writing myself.

If I could write half as candidly, comically and successfully as Caitlin, I would be a very happy woman.

3. David McMullan
You may not be so familiar with this name, unless you live in Gerrards Cross, where he is a pillar of the community. David is a successful businessman, does great work for charity and is a wonderful family man. He is also my Grandad.

He regales me with stories of his life, which has varied from growing up in troubled Belfast, to moving to Australia to work for Beechams and then travelling the world as head of international sales for the pharmaceutical giant before settling in England. In his entrepreneurial wisdom, he helped sports pundit David Coleman develop a company to provide filming of football matches and chaired start-up companies, including the Queen’s Award for Enterprise-winning hospital services company, Cableflow.

He is now in his 80s and despite retiring several years ago, he keeps active by being the chairman of an employment charity, he has volunteered there for 20 years, helping people with their job hunt. He has also been involved with St Tiggywinkles animal charity, is secretary of our church, has been captain of his local golf club and generally helps out where he can.

I look up to my Grandad because he has always been a hard worker, showing me that if you put time and effort into what you do, you will reap the benefits. His charity work is also admirable, teaching me the importance of giving back. I want to emulate his success so I can make him proud and hopefully one day my grandchildren will look up to me, too.

Shakespeare in Love – play review

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Shakespeare in Love is one of my favourite films, so I had very high hopes for the stage production at London’s Noël Coward theatre. Thankfully, the play met, and even exceeded, my expectations. It embodies everything that theatre is about.

The play is well-adapted and sticks closely to the film, thanks to Tom Stoppard’s writing. It is also beautifully staged, with scenery working well to incorporate the surrounding theatre and show the audience both sides of the stage within the performance, which is important in a play about theatre. The stage itself acts as the stage in the play, with the rafters built up around it providing the viewing circle for actors and extras who aren’t acting in scenes to stand and spectate, so there is always an audience both on and off the stage.

The cast is excellent. I almost preferred Tom Bateman’s Will Shakespeare to Joseph Fiennes in the big screen version. He really shows his passion for Viola and his artistic temperament. Lucy Briggs-Owen also gave a great performance as the female lead, with her gravelly voice perfect for Viola: ‘None of your twittering larks,’ as Shakespeare describes her. I had seen her earlier this year in Fortune’s Fool at The Old Vic, and I thought she gave suited the role of Viola better than that of Olga Petrovna, although I am not her biggest fan. She often overemphasises, which makes for great dramatic effect in stage, though I personally find it slightly grating.

David Oakes has a brilliant turn as Christopher Marlowe, Shakespeare’s friend, but writing rival. He has a bigger role in the play than Rupert Everett did in the film, and I think it’s a brilliant move. Their friendship is really played up and the banter between the two writers is fantastic, as is the balcony scene, which Marlowe has been written into; feeding Will lines to speak to Viola as he tries to woo her with his poetry.

Mr Henslowe is another great character. He professes that the audience wants love, comedy and a bit with a dog. Which is exactly what this play is. The romance is sweeping and there are laughs a-plenty, especially thanks to Mr Henslowe and the dog.

The music is also very well done, with a four-piece band, including the all-important lute, providing most the music, much like wondering minstrels – strolling about the stage and lurking in the rafters to accompany the players at the Rose theatre.

I can honestly say, Shakespeare in Love is one of the best plays I have ever seen at the theatre. If you enjoyed the film,you will love this stage production. It will make you want to fall in love all over again.

Struggles of a baby-faced 20-something

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“Can I see some ID, please?” Most people are familiar with this question from the age of fifteen or so when they start going to see rated films at the cinema and then when they start buying alcohol and [trying to] get into pubs and clubs.

I am (nearly) 25 years-old and I still get IDed all the time. Not just buying a drink or going into a bar, but for all manner of things. I was asked for ID going to see a certificate 15 film a few months ago; it was half term and apparently pesky kids were trying to sneak in. It’s so embarrassing.

The film was 22 Jump Street, not exactly Scarface, is it? I am older than the number on the poster, nearly a decade older than the age you need to be to see it. Do I really have to prove I’m not a 14 year-old trying to sneak into a film to perhaps catch a glimpse of some nudity and laugh and the F word? <sigh>

ID mclovinI understand that these people are just doing their job, but when you get asked for ID to buy ibuprofen when you are actually old enough to have a mortgage, it does get frustrating. It’s worse since the ‘Think 21’ scheme was upgraded to ‘Think 25’. I am going to be IDed until I’m 40 at this rate.

“You’ll appreciate it when you’re older,” everyone tells me. Well, they’ve been saying that since I was 18. It is six years later and it’s still more of a hindrance than a blessing. You would think that at least I could get student discount or a teenage ticket. But no, apparently you need ID for that too, which I sadly no longer possess. Bye bye 10% Topshop discount.

My baby-face is made even worse by the fact that my younger sister, age 19, not only looks her age, but actually looks older than me. Whenever we are out together, people always think she is the older sibling. I went out with her and my 18 year-old cousin this month and we asked two people who didn’t know us to rank us in age order. They said we all looked alike, good start. Then proceeded to guess the 18 year-old was the eldest, then the 19 year-old, then 24 year-old me. Here’s hoping they look older when we hit 40 and I still look 25!

It doesn’t help by the fact I have naturally light blonde hair, the hair that most people have until the age of about three, and I am quite petite so could probably still fit into the age 14-15 clothes if I so desired. But I have enough trouble looking like a teenager as it is without dressing like one.

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My idol Fearne Cotton suffers the same baby-face struggles as me. I remember her saying that she was still IDed when she was 30. And hey, she’s now 33 and looks bloody fantastic. I’m just looking forward to the time when someone asks me for ID and I take it as a compliment, not an insult.

Can Victoria’s Secret be feminist?

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This week saw the Victoria’s Secret Angels return to the catwalk for their annual show. This is now not so much a catwalk event, but a highlight of the fashion and social calendar, with fireworks and A list pop stars accompanying the Angels as they strut their stuff wearing, well, not very much.

Some would argue that these women being paraded in their underwear for the world to ogle is anti-feminist. The likes of Cara Delevingne, Doutzen Kroes and Alessandra Ambrosio being turned into sex objects as they parade about van minuscule knickers with giant angel wings strapped to their backs.

This year, one reporter from The Independent was even banned from asking the models any questions about their own feminist views. Despite this being a show made up nearly entirely of women (lucky Ed Sheeran) and marketing underwear for women, there is still an air of anti-feminism about the whole thing. It’s because sex is involved.

The lingerie is inherently sexy, as are the gorgeous ladies wearing it. But sex sells. That’s why the show has got so big – it’s decadent, sexy and smouldering. As is much of the underwear, but most of it – jewel encrusted bras aside, is affordable. It’s a bedroom fantasy that is attainable.

And what’s wrong with that? Women should be allowed to feel sexy, whether it’s on the bedroom, or under their clothes just to give them a secret boost, maybe literally in a push-up bra, when walking down the street. Being a feminist shouldn’t be synonymous with Granny wearing Doc Martins and Granny pants. Women can still be feminists in killer heels and sexy lingerie.

jourdan dunnSome argue that while the underwear is attainable, looking like the Angels who model it is not. But these girls work hard. Victoria’s Secret models do not just starve themselves, they are all put on rigorous exercise routines. While we can’t all look like Miranda Kerr, I think it’s healthy to show that exercising and eating healthily can give you a good figure.

Having said that, British model Jourdan Dunn was looking particularly thin this year, but it was noticeable next to the more athletic figures of the likes of Adriana Lima, which proves that these girls, while thin, are in fact healthy. Too often is it assumed that because a girl is thin, she has starved herself. But that’s another issue altogether.

These girls are flirty and fun, and the catwalk show is just that. This year saw the likes of Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift singing musical accompaniment for the Angels as they walked. Swift herself is a self-proclaimed feminist. She has spoken put before about how many young girls are afraid to call themselves feminists because it has become seen as a negative thing, related to being disgruntles and angry, much like the point Emma Watson raised in her He For She speech at the UN earlier this year.

Taylor Swift is currently the biggest female pop star on the planet. And while she indulged in wearing a skimpy number for the Victoria’s Secrets show to enter into the spirit of things alongside her friend Karlie Kloss, she tends to keep her clothes on while she performs, unlike many other strumpet signers in the charts today.

Well then, why is it ok for ttaylor karliehe models to take their clothes off and not the pop stars I hear you ask? Because the models’ job is to sell and display underwear, which is pretty hard to do with your clothes on. A pop star’s job is to sell music; you don’t need to take your clothes off to do that. But this brings us back to that point that has resonated throughout the last century of culture: sex sells.

But what’s wrong with feeling sexy anyway. It can be very empowering. You can still be a feminist while you wear sexy underwear. Yes, feel free to pull on  a pair of Bridget Jones knickers every now and then, but there’s nothing wrong with wanting equal gender rights while wearing a push up bra and pretty pants.

The gay issue in The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing with Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke in The Imitation Game.

After watching The Imitation Game, I left the cinema slightly teary and emotional. As the film comes to a close, facts roll up on the screen about how the film’s hero Allan Turing was driven to suicide at the age of just 41 after being outcast by the country he helped to save.

The film has been criticised for not being entirely accurate, particularly when it came to Turing’s personal life. But the facts speak for themselves: between 1885 and 1967, 41,000 men were chemically castrated, like Turing for being gay.

When convicted for homosexuality, Turing was given the choice of going to jail or being castrated in an attempt to quell his gay desires. He chose the latter because it meant he could continue his work. It’s deeply tragic.

I also think it’s tragic that more people don’t know Alan’s story. Yes, Bletchley Park was classified information for 50 years, but people should know what a hero this man is. He broke the Enigma code, something that the Allies had been working on for years and thought to be near impossible to do. This essentially won World War Two thanks to being able to decrypt German communications and use the intelligence against them.

I only found out about Turing last year, and that was simply because I was working for a technology publication and was tasked with writing about him and Bletchley Park. It was only in 2013 when he received a posthumous pardon from the Queen. Turing has since been included in British schools’ curriculum, and rightly so. It may inspire more children to get interested in mathematics, and more importantly, encourage children to stand up to adversity and be who they are now that this country has recognised that being gay is not a crime.

It saddens me that homosexuality was only legalised less than 50 years ago. I think about my friends who are gay and able to live their lives fully and love who they wish openly today, and imagine who tragic it would be if they were born a mere generation earlier.

My best friend at university is gay and he was the brightest person on our course, and is one of the wittiest and most intelligent people I know. He won the course award for being the student of the year, was one of just two to graduate with a first and is now great at his job. Had things not changed in 1967, he would have to live his life a totally different way or even have been persecuted just for loving men not women. It makes me sad just to consider it.

But even today, the gay community still faces discriminations and struggles. The word ‘gay’ has become synonymous with ‘bad’ and ‘loser’ when it used to mean ‘happy’. Even more upsettingly, the number of reported attacks on gay people has risen to an all-time high. While some say this is good because they are being reported, it is still shocking that so many attacks occur in our supposedly progressive society.

It’s much the same with rape. People feel like they can’t report these attacks because they don’t think they will be taken seriously by the police, or are too scared or ashamed to come forward for something that wasn’t even their fault. As shown in The Imitation Game, 60 years ago, it was the police themselves who were pulling people into the station and questioning them for ‘indecent’ behaviour if they were suspected of being gay. Supposedly, some poetic license was used in the film here as Turing was not under investigation for being a soviet spy, but went to the police himself to report a theft, but after the police saw through the lie he told to cover for a man he was seeing, they began to snoop.

Perhaps the film could have had a greater focus on Turing’s sexuality, as it was our country’s ignorant attitude towards to that was ultimately his downfall. The film quietly hints at Turing being gay throughout, particularly in the flashbacks to his childhood, but it is not explicit, it is somewhat sidestepped aside from the 1950s portion when he is under police investigation. In these scenes you see his love for his machine, and his affection for his colleague Joan Clarke, but it is sad he never truly got to love.

Turing proposes to Joan in The Imitation Game because he cares for her and she needs to get married to appease her parents. In real life, Turing did get engaged to Clarke, but was open about being gay.  He could certainly never be with a man he truly loved, so it seemed like a logical and platonic marriage between the two friends. “We would enjoy each other’s minds, that’s more than most couples can say” says Clarke. True though this is, they both deserved better. Nobody should settle when it comes to love, you can’t imitate it.

The Imitation Game film review

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The Imitation Game is no pretender: this film is real. Based on real events and real issues, it has real interest and is truly moving.

The main focus of the film is Bletchley Park from the late 1930s to early 1940s, where a top secret military intelligence operation is being carried out to try to crack the German Enigma code. In doing so, the Allies hope to win World War Two by being able to interpret coded German military messages and beat them to the punch, as it were.

Enter Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) the self-proclaimed best Mathematician in Britain, but not a prodigy in comparison to the likes of Einstein and Newton, according to Alan. The socially inept, but intellectually brilliant man who sets to work on creating a machine, which he names Christopher, to decrypt the German code. He has more of an emotional connection with Christopher than he does with any human, and as his childhood is revealed through flashbacks throughout the film, the reason why is deeply touching.

You may not think that a film essentially about maths equations and cryptology could be described as a thriller, but this film had more suspense and tension than nearly any other film I’ve seen this year. Thanks to brilliant acting from Cumberbatch and Keira Knightley and a great screenplay by Thomas Moore, Turing’s story is brought to life on screen with guts and guile, but also empathy. You can visibly see Turing’s inner struggles written all over Cumberbatch’s face: his frustration and determination not to be beaten, by his colleagues or Enigma.

Turing is reluctantly recruited by Commander Dennis (Charles Dance as a typical Charles Dance character) to the team at Bletchley. Turing loves solving puzzles, and Enigma is the hardest puzzle on the planet. In fact, he uses a crossword puzzle to test new recruits, one of whom is Keira Knightley’s character, Joan Clarke. Although social norms being what they were, it was not approved for her to work alongside men, so Turing sneaks into her room to deliver information for her to decipher between her shifts working on site at Bletchely.

The Imitation Game is great at championing the underdog: Alan; a gay man, Joan ; a woman and to some extent, the. British at that time during the war. There is a great moment when Joan goes to sit the recruitment test for Bletchley cryptologists and the man on the door tried to turn her away. He tries to redirect her to the secretarial interviews, simply because she is a woman. Of course, once she clarifies she is in fact at the right recruitment test, she completes the test faster than every man in the room, and surprises even Turing. Girl power.

Unfortunately, Turing’s sexuality is not championed, as homosexuality was illegal until 1967. The film periodically flashes forward to the 1950s when Alan comes under investigation for his homosexuality while living in Manchester. This segment of the film is shocking and upsetting. It’s horrible to think that until a mere 50 years ago it was illegal to be gay in this country. Despite all Turing’s efforts, which essentially won us the war thanks to intercepting German intelligence via Chrisptopher, he was shunned by his country and pushed to committing suicide. It was only last year he received a posthumous pardon from the Queen.

In fact, the facts about Turing’s legacy that roll at the end of the film, laid over images of Turing celebrating with Judy and his colleagues and accompanied by beautifully moving music (I expect the score will be up for nomination a the Oscars, or at least the BAFTAs) was the most upsetting part of the film.

Alan Turing says, “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine.” Conversely, I imagined this film would reveal great things, but it exceeded how brilliant I imagined it was going to be. Go and see this film, now.