Beginning Again

My school career is over. Crikey, that’s a surreal thing to write!

But it’s true – last week I finished my exams, gave in my textbooks, asked a few people to stay in touch and left my high school. Sure, I have graduation this week, but the crux of it – hilarious lessons, sharing memes with my favourite teachers, long conversations on the hill, knocking on the staff room door for anything really – that’s all over.

And so, the revolution of adult life, into which I’m diving head first without any real understanding of what lies ahead, begins. It’s rather exciting really!

As a future English Literature student (minoring in History, fear not), I’ve decided to open this new chapter of my life (pun intended) by compiling all the books I have been forced to leave by the wayside due to piles and piles of school books. So, to begin – and his really is just the beginning – —

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (DM – this one’s for you!)

A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel (thanks TJ for the recommendation – nothing like a bit of historical fiction!)

On the Road by Jack Kerouac.

For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway (again – finally!) 

Palmeras en la Nieve by Luz Gábas.

El Tiempo Entre Costuras by María Dueñas (again – por siempre!)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr .

So. June 27. Let’s begin… N

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Continued Illumination.

Tonight, I was torn between topics for writing. On the one hand, I wanted to write about the tremendous experience of the March4Women held in London over the weekend (5/3), of which I relished every moment, but I also wanted to write about the beautiful words of Jonathan Safran Foer in his outstanding debut novel Everything Is Illuminated, which I read again, and not for the last time, yesterday.

I decided that I would write about both, because something can be said about solidarity in love and beauty, of living in a world which falls short of what we hope for, but in which we fight for what we believe in.


March4Women – March 5, 2017 – Tower Bridge

In Everything Is Illuminated, JSF as I will proceed to call him, talks about a young woman named Brod, who is apparently born from the river by the shtetl (village) of his own grandfather’s birth, Trachimbrod in Ukraine. He describes Brod as a young woman of extreme potential, of unprecedented intellect and beauty, and a young woman who possesses the great sadness which allows her to persevere in the way she does. In many ways, the following quote sums up her character perfectly, and I have often returned to it.

“She loved herself in love, she loved loving love, as love loves loving, and was able, in that way, to reconcile herself with a world that fell so short of what she would have hoped for. It was not the world that was the great and saving lie, but her willingness to make it beautiful and fair, to live a once-removed life, in a world once-removed from the one in which everyone else seemed to exist.”

Throughout the novel, we learn that Brod perseveres no matter what. She fights against the injustices that are dealt to her, to her husband, and JSF ultimately sheds light on the contrast of her actions and those of another, who betrayed his best friend and handed him to the Nazis and a burning synagogue in which he, along with the souls of so many others across Eastern Europe, would burn.

Reading those words yesterday, with the tears unashamedly embroidering my face with the invisible paint which etches itself into one’s soul when one reads such beauty, I did not expect that I would feel as Brod does in Everything Is Illuminated when walking across Tower Bridge in weather that would frequent both torrential rain and cold sunshine. But I did, and it was unprecedented. Chanting, laughing, smiling with my friends and with my fellow human beings as we walked through the streets of London, holding our statements and our heads high, I felt that perseverance, that drive to fight against the “once-removed” world we live in. In order to succeed, to achieve, we must fight for what we believe in. We must appreciate every human being for who they are, for what they stand for, and we must work within ourselves and without in order to make the world that which we hope for.

We are human beings, and we deserve truth, equality, happiness and humanity. We deserve enough. And I’m proud to continue to fight for that everyday, and to bring about continued illumination. Are you?

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The Objects.

“We are the shoes, we are the last witnesses.

We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers

From Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam,

And because we are only made of fabric and leather

And not of blood and flesh, each of us avoided the hellfire.”

Yiddish Poet Moses Schulstein (1913 – 1981)

There is a room in Washington D.C. in which this is written, set in stone upon the wall. These words preside over a multitude of shoes, a multitude of memories, of those who tread this Earth in those shoes, and who met their deaths in those shoes. As Schulstein writes, they were the last witnesses to the attempted destruction of a race who merely lived in peace among their fellow human being.

Objects played a large part in the Holocaust. The yellow stars bearing the word “Jude” marked those of Jewish descent out from their fellow man, belittling them and condemning them to persecution. Children as young as 3, forced to vacate their homes in order to escape to Germany on the Kindertransport, had to pack a suitcase, choosing from various personal belongings a handful of treasured items to bring with them. Jews across Germany and Poland, including my own family, gave their possessions – sacred cups, books, candlesticks – to their non-Jewish neighbors, in the hope that one day they would return from the hell they were destined for and retrieve them. They smuggled religious items, books, photographs and so much more, in their shoes, in their skirts, in their own bodies. These items all held sentimental value, symbolised their religious belief, and, in some cases, served as motivation to survive.


The Tower of Photographs in the United States Holocaust Museum, Washington D.C.

The Holocaust was an attempted destruction not just of human beings, but of a culture and a nation that has lived, and will live, for thousands of years. And an episode of the British daytime show Antiques Roadshow, shown on January 16, attempted to show the important role these objects play in our remembrance of the Holocaust. Because, in a sense, these objects were the last witnesses: the last witnesses to a life that has been lost in so many ways, a society that is no longer. To the 6 million we know of and more who lost their lives in the hell that took Eastern Europe during the years 1933 – 1945.

And so we must remember, and teach those who come after us of the destruction, the hope held, and of the importance of the words “never again”.


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The Revolution

The 1960s and early 1970s has always been an era of fascination and enthrallment for me. As a child my parents would play the thought-provoking and brilliant music of artists like The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and others. I have always been spellbound by the writing, both in terms of novels and music, and am forever drawn to the fashion and lifestyle of the era. In short, as many have put it, I was born in the wrong generation.

You Say You Want a Revolution? Records and Rebels 1966 – 1970, which I visited last week and is currently visit-able at the V&A, dedicates itself to the era I so adore. To the music, the writing, the fashion, the lifestyle, and most importantly, the revolution of the 1960s. The fight for freedom in essentially every aspect of human life, the fight for freedom of sexuality, freedom of speech, freedom from discrimination, freedom from war, freedom of expression… freedom. “Swinging London” led this beautiful revolution, growing discontent with the status quo manifesting itself in new writing, political activism, music, art, fashion and satire. The imagining of new worlds, Oscar Wilde writing in The Soul of Man Under Socialism that “progress is the realisation of Utopias”.


Musicians such as the Beatles, the Who, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones, models like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton, photographers such as David Bailey, writers like Ken Kesey, Jack Kerouac. These people are icons of the era, and along with so many others they revolutionised our world. Music became the most vital form of communication and identification, the central theme of most literature and music reflecting the multi-faceted fight for diversity and freedom. People began to feel music in a way which wasn’t possible before.

Psychedelics, like LSD (which was only discovered in 1943), allowed us to access an entirely new dimension to human thought, making our mundane world sublime, allowing people to break the mould, break from conformity and becoming their own. Bob Dylan famously said “all I can do is be me, whoever that is”, and to me that really encompasses the feeling of the 1960s: unity and freedom to be whomever you wanted to be, with whatever views you believed in.

“Our culture, our art, our music, our books, our posters, our clothing… it’s all one message – the message is freedom.” John Sinclair

Revolution was not refined to the arts alone, oh no. Commerce, for one, grew: international travel became common place, the ‘mad men’ of advertising, as they were dubbed in the late 1950s, shaped our understanding and relationships with invention and growing industry. The film industry also went above and beyond the conventions of Hollywood, content and concepts becoming a lot more abstract, especially visually, as can be seen with some of the Beatles’s later films, such as Magical Mystery Tour. We made some of the biggest revolutionary strides in every aspect of society in the 1960s. And perhaps the biggest, although the least successful in many ways, was the quest for peace.


Arlington, October 26 1967

France, China, America, Vietnam. Conflict was widespread, and the ability to express new ideas allowed the people to oppose war in a way they hadn’t been able to before. Thanks to television, for the first time young people were seeing history made before it could be censored by their elders. There was suddenly an understanding of the horrors of war, of what it meant to send young men of the next generation, mainly, to their deaths. A sense of unity grew, the Moon Landing in 1969 showing that human ingenuity could achieve the seemingly impossible, and this was reflected in the non violent fight for peace, which emerged in the late 1960s.

“I am a world citizen. All human history is mine. My roots cover the earth. I believe we should know each other. After all, our lives are all connected.” Jim Haynes

These demonstrations for peace, I believe, are truly embodied by the mystical, “mythical” event that was Woodstock 1967. Although it was only expected to draw in 50,000 people, the festival drew over 1 million. Incredible and (I know I’ve said it a lot, but) revolutionary artists performed, like The Who, Joe Cocker and Jimi Hendrix, uniting the audience in something so beautiful. Hendrix’s rendition of Star Spangled Banner was described as “the most electrifying moment of Woodstock, and… probably the single greatest moment of the Sixties”, his use of feedback and distortion to emulate the war-like sounds of rockets and bombs transforming music and our ability to relate to war.


Woodstock, 1967

Coming out of this wonderful exhibition, I felt inspired, and not just to go home and put on my Beatles and Who records. The message of the 1960s, that of progression and revolution, has not, and will never die out. We can go on living with our eyes closed, “misunderstanding all (we) see”, but the fact is, the words of John Lennon’s Imagine remain pertinent today. The need for revolution remains: gender equality, an end to aimless death. Peace is patriotic. And we all have a responsibility to unite together in our diversity, in our eccentricities. In our humanity.

When you make progress, you can’t just sit down and think it’s over. You must pursue it.

Hang in there.


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The List

Yesterday I was at an English Literature Conference at UCL, London. Among the many incredible lectures, spanning subjects such as temporality across literature, sourcing Shakespeare and imagery in performance (with two actors from Shakespeare’s Globe, no less!), there was a panel, with the title “Read this NOW!”.

Each participant had been given a ‘section’ of literature, such as 21st Century (post-modernism) and Young Adult, and was asked to compile a list of 10 novels they recommend. The suggestions ranged from Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Jane Austen’s Emma and Pride and Prejudice and Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, to the poetry of Sylvia Plath, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel and JG Ballard’s High Rise. The diversity of these lists excited me, and caused me to think: have I read as widely as I think? If not, how shall I begin?

Apart from inspiring me to get going with my own writing, which has, extremely unfortunately, been put on the back burner to give way to the heaps of reading I have to do for my courses, this particular section of the conference led me to write my own list of the novels that I would (and generally have) recommended to others. Fair warning though, I have omitted poetry and plays from this list; these will most likely come later…

(Another fair warning – this was incredibly difficult to do.)

In no particular order…

war-and-peace-lt disgrace-jmc tkam-hl tp-ws twm-ma bop-sz gatsby-fsf fwtbt-eh stoner-jw

And, last but not least… The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, which I could not find an adequate picture for.

Happy reading!


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“To sleep: perchance to dream…”

Dear my wonderfully persistent and patient (!!!) readers,…

First off, an apology. I haven’t written in a while. A long, long while. So, I’m sorry, truly I am – between studying and exams and trying to grapple with freedom, I’ve lost sight of what I love doing – writing this blog. So hi. I’m back!

So, a couple of weeks ago, at about 0300am GMT+1, I was wide awake and, truth be told, a little lonely, so I decided to write a little something down in my writing book (Keep Calm and Carry On Writing!), about daydreams. I don’t know about you, but daydreams plague my every waking moment. I let my imagination run wild, inventing all sorts of weird and wonderful scenarios that I wish could become true, and sometimes scenarios that I definitely don’t. To celebrate my return to this dear blog of mine, I thought that I would share that with you…

Daydreams, for a while now, have captured my every waking moment. They cloud my vision, replacing reality with a magnificent scenario that my heart longs for. Strives for, and hopes hard for. Daydreams flood your heart with warmth and a sort of strangling feeling which feels like the greatest thing in the world. It changes your view of the world for a few minutes, a few precious minutes which make you smile, maybe even laugh, and become embedded in your memory for the rest of your time on this glorious and terrifying earth we call our home.

And I love that feeling. For a while. Let’s talk about that while:

Sometimes daydreams, my daydreams anyway, consist of dancing. Dancing, and smiling, and laughing. And being absorbed in a pair of eyes so deep and intellectual and textured and wonderful. I imagine the moves, the sway, the music.

I am immersed.

Sometimes, my daydreams consist of silence. Dreamy silence in which the touch of a human being is enough. Tingles travel the spine, the vision understanding what you want, how you feel, what your eyes betray when you look around you, what your heartbeat deals with every second of the day. It just… is. Words are not enough to convey what is.

But the mist soon descends. Yes, your heart continues to deal that beat, your eyes still hold the universe within them, but life continues and you are plunged into a reality that, let’s be honest, whatever the daydream is, stings.

But if it’s strong enough, it lingers. It remains in you. You smile about it, to yourself. Maybe you’ll even talk about it someday in the future. You never know. Daydreams sustain us. They sustain our creative, our inspiration, our lives. Without them, where would we be heading?

Here’s to writing more over the coming months! In fact, I already have something in the pipeline…

Credit to for the featured image!
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Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp Minor.

In my house we have a piano. Well, I say piano. It’s really a keyboard, which, granted, doesn’t have the same feel, or the same touch, or the same sound as a true piano. I often complain about it to my parents; the keys click so you can’t hear the notes, they’re too hard and I can’t play the trills properly. It’s shameful. Because, as I have realised more recently, I am so lucky to have a keyboard, a sudo piano. I am so lucky to be able to read sheet music, to be able to play.

Just over a month ago I visited Poland. I visited Warsaw, Kraków, Tarnów. I visited Łopuchowa, Zbylitowska Góra.  I visited Majdanek, Treblinka, Auschwitz I&II. Each and every one of these places affected me, and others besides; these names are just a few of the many. Today, tonight, I want to talk about the first of those places, Warsaw. It was the first place we visited during the trip, and oddly it was the first place that sparked something in me, a flame that was nurtured and grown as the trip continued. And that is because of one man: Władysław Szpilman.

Władysław Szpilman

Władysław Szpilman, 1941

Many of you may know this name from Roman Polanski’s Oscar winning film, The Pianist, and as such will know that the film was adapted from Szpilman’s book of the same name, first published as Death of a City in 1946; it details the miraculous survival of Mr Szpilman during the Holocaust. He was an accomplished and famous pianist who worked for Polish Radio; he survived the Warsaw Ghetto and its uprising, survived the Umshlagplatz, survived in the ruined city of Warsaw after the rebellion. His is a truly remarkable story, with miracle after miracle, the simple yet complex language he uses describing the horrors of the Ghetto, the tormenting feeling of guilt and grief, the unbelievable and unbreakable will to survive. In fact, the word ‘remarkable’ is utterly, utterly inadequate, even wrong. As the poster for the film says, ‘Music was his passion. Survival was his masterpiece’.

In the book Mr Szpilman talks of the many horrors he saw, one of which was waiting in June, in the stifling heat of summer, in the Umshlagplatz, the ‘Goods Yard’ just outside the boundaries of the Ghetto. He sat there with his family, 80,000 Jews being packed into the tiny space around them to meet the quotas set by the Nazis for deportation. The destination was Treblinka, the infamous death camp. As he and his family were about to be crammed into a cattle cart, one of the Jewish Police officers pulled him out of the throng of desperate human beings, separating him from his family, saving his life.

When I was in Poland, as I sat in the very Umshlagplatz where all this occurred, a shiver crawled menacingly down my spine, hot tears stabbing my eyes in the sub-zero temperatures. I suddenly felt a level of emotion I have never felt before. I was sitting in a place where people’s lives had been torn from them, choked out of them, their livelihoods broken before their eyes. Yet, in the wake of hearing about the horrors of the Ghetto, of the ‘Goods Yard’, I felt this immense sensation, this need to scream ‘I am alive, I am alive!’. And I was itching to get to a piano and play, something I would not do until six days later.

Mr Szpilman writes that the way he remembered his musical repertoire, mainly made up of Chopin’s masterpieces, was by closing his eyes whilst he lay still so as not to make a sound, and went over every piece, bar by bar, note by note. Nocturne in C minor, Nocturne in e Minor, Ballade No.1 in G minor. Some of the most beautiful pieces of classical music ever written. These pieces, his passion, saved his life when a Nazi Officer, Wilm Hosenfield found him in the ruins of Warsaw, and asked him to play the grand piano that stood hauntingly and invitingly in the corner of the room.

“I played Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor. The glassy, tinkling sound of the untuned strings rang through the empty flat and the stairway, floated through the ruins of the villa on the other side of the street and returned as a muted, melancholy echo.”

Coming home from Poland, I have started learning a new piece, Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp Minor. I practice everyday, and every time I do I feel so honoured that I am able to. I feel so privileged to be playing such a magnificent and poignant piece. To me, despite its slightly melancholy tune, it represents survival. Survival and a will to live that carries through anything, even the depths of hell. As my fingers touch the notes that grow ever more familiar, I feel alive.


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