An Introvert’s Guide to a Night Out

It’s Friday night and you have two options: a night on the sofa with a glass of wine, your favourite movie and your comfiest sweatpants, OR reply to that text inviting you to head into town for the sesh.
(NB: ‘sesh’ is a word I haven’t nor ever will use seriously, don’t worry)

Don’t get me wrong, I love a drink as much as the next girl, particularly a good gin and tonic. Some of my best nights have been dancing until the early hours, or making my way down the cocktail menu in a bar until I can barely stand in my heels. However, I’m always an advocate for getting a few bottles in from Tesco, calling round some friends, and being able to have a proper laugh when we can actually hear each other.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I’m a twenty year old grandma. That means I also have no issue getting into a bubble bath with a good book and a glass of prosecco – in fact, I’ll go one step further and say I actually enjoy spending the occasional Friday night in with myself.

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So when I’m really not in the mood to go out, taking off my sweatpants to squeeze into my jeans is already an unappealing idea. Add in the prospect of queuing to get into a sweaty club full of drunk strangers spilling their drinks on the floor and bumping into me, and I’m already considering retreating to my duvet.

My understanding of introversion, at least for the purpose of this post, is that feeling of being drained by social situations, even if you do have fun, and just needing to take the time out for yourself. Put that in the context of university, where the student lifestyle almost demands regular three-day benders. There is so much pressure to drink until you forget your name, then drink some more. If you don’t go out more than twice a week, it’s like there’s something wrong with you.

Fear not, my fellow introverts. 

Whether it’s a birthday, work do or some other unavoidable night out, it is possible to have a good time rather than intensely staring at the clock until it’s an acceptable time to scarper. One of my biggest worries is that I’ll disappoint my friends or dampen the mood if I don’t seem to be having as much fun as them.

cocktails-1149171_960_720Think about where exactly you’re going. Pubs and bars are always so much more low-key than clubs. You can grab a drink, head to a table and it’s all very relaxed because there’s no pressure beyond having a catch up with your friends.

If the plan is to head to a club though, I like to suggest somewhere that plays the kind of music I’m into. Personally, house bores me to tears, whereas I love funk, soul or R’n’B. I’m lucky that in Newcastle there’s so much choice for different music tastes, and I’ve quickly found my favourite places to go to now. Ignoring the crowds of dancing drunk people is pretty easy when the playlist makes you want to join in with them.

Once you start looking, you’ll start to notice other introverts cropping up too. We’ll be in the toilets taking a minute to recollect, or at the bar ordering a drink just for something to hold. Although it goes against the nature of introversion, these are the people I like to get to know on a night out. No one else will understand how uncomfortable, shy or exhausted you feel.

Even simply acknowledging one another lets us know we’re not alone in the way we’re feeling. I don’t know about anyone but I’ve always presumed I’m just boring because sometimes I want to be by myself instead of surrounded by people. It’s okay though – some of us feed off being around others, and some of us have to recharge on our own before we’re back to our usual selves. Extroverts, please bear with us whilst we grab a cup of tea and some much-needed me-time.

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Any other introverts out there? How do you cope on a night out? 

Best wishes,

Siobhán

What Do We Do When Our Own Government Puts Us In Danger

For anyone who hasn’t seen the headlines, just after midnight on Wednesday 14 June a 24-storey tower block in North Kensington went up in flames. The BBC have a live update as the events unfold but I just wanted to share my initial response. Events, investigations and news stories are unfolding as I type but this was my first reaction to the whole disaster.

Over 200 firefighters rushed to the scene, spending the next twenty-four hours trying to get it under control. They were incredibly responsive, diligent and brave; they are a testament to our emergency services. The death toll is thirty so far (but it’s still uncertain) and 74 people were treated in various hospitals in the hours after the fire started.

The reason for the fire? It’s unknown where the fire started exactly so of course everything that’s been reported thus far is just speculation.

Grenfell Tower had up to 600 residents, of which many had flagged concerns about the risks of the building. They were completely disregarded and ignored. Some of their complaints were about basic healthy and safety violations, such as how there was only one narrow staircase to serve as their escape route. Is it a coincidence that the people who lived there were predominantly working-class?

The first victim to be named was Mohammed Alhajali, a Syrian refugee, and this morning I woke up to a BBC News notification that announced the view that many of the people who have died won’t be able to be identified. My heart dropped when I read that. They had been overlooked as individuals before the fire, and now they don’t even have their names to differentiate between them a death toll statistic.

A stone’s throw away are the streets of Chelsea. I don’t imagine the council cut any corners during the construction of their buildings, but perhaps I’m just cynical about the value placed upon certain neighbourhoods.

Obviously there are huge discussions to be had about funding, class and who’s life is worth more which I feel are too overwhelming to tackle in one post.

What hit me hardest was the image that has been plastered across our TVs, phones and newspapers over the past few days. A tall column of smoke, a building engulfed in uncontrollable flames. 

My initial thoughts couldn’t help but liken it to the same iconic imagery from 9/11.

Except this time, it’s not an outsider trying to attack a country or a way of life. No one was making a religious or political statement on Wednesday. Instead, it was the people who are supposed to be looking out for us who put those residents in danger, in their own homes. They weren’t individuals that had been targeted, but victims of neglect.

What do you think about the fire in London? 

Best wishes,

Siobhán

Lord Buckethead: The Hero We’ve All Been Waiting For

Who, you might ask, is Lord Buckethead?

Dressed in all black, he’s a figure that would be hard to miss. Think Darth Vader with a bucket instead of a helmet. He is also the candidate who won 249 votes in the General Election last week in Maidenhead – the same constituency as Theresa May.

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Obviously he is a satirical politician, designed to ridicule the system and the individuals who run our country. However, I had a read of the manifesto on his website, Buckethead4Maidenhead, and I think he’s onto something. 

Okay, so the nationalisation of Adele and the banishment of Katie Hopkins to the “Phantom Zone” aren’t policies we could implement (I wish!). But I quite like the idea of “free bikes for everyone, to help combat obesity, traffic congestion and bike theft.” It’s logical, simple and the Boris Bike initiative is something I was already on board with.

There seems to be an underlying social commentary to some of them though. Bear with me on this one. Not making facial coverings illegal? A nod to ethnic minorities and the controversies

surround hijabs, burkhas and the like. Hunting fox-hunters? It suggests a stance against the hunting and culling of certain wild animals in Britain that is still being (unnecessarily) debated. And by not building Heathrow’s third runway, public funding can be spent elsewhere – how about education or the NHS?

I realise that I’m making a lot of assumptions based upon something clearly intended to be ironic, but you have to admit that the position that the manifesto seems to take is pretty in line with what a lot of people have been asking the government for: fighting discrimination, a lower voting age of 16, and to stop getting involved in wars in the Middle East.

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And the fact that 249 people would rather vote for a man with a bucket on his head than for our current Prime Minister not only supports his standpoint, but also raises questions about who the hell we’ve put in charge of our country.

Lord Buckethead, the genius himself, said it best: “If Mrs May cannot even defend her own social care policies just days after they are launched, how can she possibly cope against a Space Lord?”

Which policy on the 15-point manifesto is your favourite? 

Best wishes,

Siobhán

 

Embarking On An Internship

It dawned on me recently that this time next year I’ll have to find an actual job and that just having a degree is not enough to guarantee me a career anymore. My CV is fine – it’s got all my work experience since I was sixteen, all my extra-curricular activities, all my volunteer work… But when it comes down to it, a few years in a bookshop, some office skills and an interest in dance aren’t really applicable to the kind of job I want. Of course they’re great things to include because they show all the usual requirements that employers look for, like organisation, time management, enthusiasm and so on. However, it’s pretty much shoved down our throats now that students just can’t seem to get jobs.

This is my cue, as a natural stress-head, to go into panic mode.

I’ll never get a job. I’ll end up going back home. I’ll be sponging off my parents. My degree is a waste. I’ll never succeed.

Etcetera etcetera.

I realise I am catastrophising but this is where my train of thought ends up if I don’t stop it. Instead of dwelling on worst case scenarios, I channelled this into productivity and applied for thirty summer jobs and internships in one go. Clearly I go from one extreme to the other but at least this time, I was doing something productive, right?

Surprisingly, I got an interview. And then I was offered the only placement on a really exciting internship. So instead of spending my summer doing shifts in a shop, or slogging it out at in 9-5 admin role (not that there is anything wrong with these, but I’ve done both and they’re just not for me), I’m going to be working in events communication and PR on a project that I am genuinely excited by, and could potentially be the area I’m looking into post-graduation.

Interning has a reputation for reducing desperate students to the “office coffee bitch” but do you know what? If that’s what happens, then that’s okay. It’s only four months and if I walk away having learnt anything, it’s much better than having sat on my arse and binge-watching Love Island all summer. Speaking from experience, the novelty of lazy days really starts to wear off after a week of wearing nothing but old sweatpants.

Being able to turn that period of self-doubt into something positive was not something I could have predicted at all but I am so glad I did. I’m not usually one to put myself out there and just go for something out of my comfort zone but I’ve proved to myself that when I do, sometimes it can develop into a really great opportunity.

I start tomorrow – even writing that is a bit nerve-wracking – and I definitely want to keep updating what I’m doing and how it’s going. Knowing that I’ve got this experience coming up makes the prospect of having to go out into the real world in a year’s time a little less daunting.

What are your plans this summer? Are you working, travelling or having a well-deserved break?

Best wishes,

Siobhán

The Election Results: What Happens When People Actually Turn Up

I have already noted my lack of knowledge in a previous post, but just to reiterate, all of my opinions are as a result of educating myself about politics recently so I’ll most likely say something a bit stupid. Please bear with me if I do. Also, these are just a few scattered  but salient thoughts I’ve been having all morning, so I’m not covering everything I would want to, otherwise this would end up being an even longer and more convoluted ramble.

I’ve been awake since 5am, partly because I usually wake up around that time anyway, partly because I drank more than I intended last night, and partly because I wanted to find out the results of the election. I know, I woke up early for politics. That probably makes me the dullest twenty year old you’ll ever meet.

It was almost certain by that point that it was going to be a hung parliament, which means that no one had won the majority. I don’t want to discuss whether or not I’m happy with the result because I think there are plenty of angry voices out there already who can probably articulate it better than I can.

Instead, I worry about how this will impact the image Britain is presenting to the rest of the world. We look like we’ve been crudely split down the middle, choosing between left or right, and even then we can’t decide what we want. The Conservatives have lost seats, which doesn’t exactly portray the “strong and stable” politics that Theresa May was pushing for. Britain’s future is already looking pretty uncertain as we cut our ties with the EU – now we have a government without a majority influence or a clear direction, and are unable to agree on how to go forward. I can’t say I’m hopeful for our Brexit negotiations when we’ve clearly got internal issues. How can other world leaders take us seriously if our parliament is as divided and unbalanced as it is after this election?

So what has this election has told us about the British population? In my opinion, it’s revealed that when we really want to, we can change things. It’s just that most of the time people can’t be bothered.

There has been a huge push for the younger generation to register to vote which has clearly succeeded. Almost three million people registered in the short time between the announcement and the deadline, of which there was a huge increase in the number of 18-25 year-olds. Recently, my Twitter and Facebook feeds have been inundated with people who are around my age, sharing their support for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. It followed a similar pattern to the way they responded to the Brexit results, except a good portion of them hadn’t bothered to vote then. BBC News have covered the role that students have played in this election much better than I could, but it basically shows how influential our votes are.

On the one hand, it’s great that my generation are taking note of what’s happening in parliament and engaging in the politics that will inevitably affect us. On the other hand, what if the percentage of new voters for this election had voted on Brexit? Would we be in a completely different position as a country?

Obviously there is no way of knowing but I can’t help wondering if it’s just a bit late to suddenly gain an interest in our futures. This may seem hypocritical coming from someone who has only become politically informed in the past year, but the reason I didn’t vote in the referendum is because Manx citizens weren’t allowed to (again, the relationship between the Isle of Man and the UK is all in that post from a week or so ago). It’s like when I was a kid and refused to wear a helmet until I fell off my bike and whacked my head; I knew to wear a helmet from then on but I could have avoided the whole thing if I had done from the start.

Okay, that was an awful analogy but forgive me, I’m hungover tired from all that thinking and being politically engaged and stuff. I think what frustrates me most is that a lot of people were saying it wouldn’t have mattered if they had voted because what will one person’s ballot do, which is quite frankly idiotic. You only need to look at how close the voting has been to see that it matters a hell of a lot.

In fact, near my neck of the woods, Newcastle-Under-Lyme’s seat was held by Labour by 0.1%. 30 voters determined which party represented their constituency. And people think it doesn’t make a difference if they don’t show up? I don’t want to be preachy at all, political apathy just baffles me.

In all seriousness, where do we go from here? Theresa May’s decision to form a government with the Democratic Unionist Party seems like a last-ditch attempt at pretending she’s got a plan. Also, can’t say I’m a huge fan of the DUP’s policies considering how they are against same-sex marriage and take an anti-abortionist stance. I don’t know what’s going to happen following these results, and I doubt anyone else does either.

What are your thoughts on the election results? 

Best wishes,

Siobhán

Review | Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction WINNER

The Power by Naomi Alderman was announced as the overall winner for the 2017 prize tonight and luckily for me, it’s the only one from the shortlist that I actually read. Whoops.baileys-logo

I was watching Lauren Whitehead’s live Instagram feed when it was announced and everyone seemed really surprised this one won over Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing or Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s Stay With Me, which suggests to me that I at least need to give these two a read at some point. Despite not being able to review it in comparison to the rest of the shortlist, The Power is undoubtedly a book I would recommend, regardless of whether it had won or not. (The other three were First Love by Gwendoline RileyThe Sport of Kings by C. E. Morgan, and The Dark Circle by Linda Grant)

The basic premise is a novel set in the future and presented like a history. Young girls start to involuntarily unleash an ancient electrical power, making them physically stronger than men. What ensues is a complete 180 on how society is structured and an examination of what would happen if women had (quite literally) the power in the world.

Starting with the only real issue I had with it was that some of the scenes were described in graphic detail. I’m not sure if it’s just my personal reaction but I did squirm a few times and feel pretty uncomfortable. However, with a story like this, that’s probably what the author wanted – I mean, it’s not supposed to be a fluffy, comforting read.9780670919963

It’s been compared to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and I guess I can see why in how it explores feminism through dystopia. The idea of physicality determining who controls society is an interesting suggestion; it implies that the reason we live in a patriarchy harks back to animalistic qualities such as strength rather than abstract, ‘civilised’ notions like money or education. I’m not sure if I agree with that being the only factor but it certainly made me consider exactly what defines power dynamics in modern day life.

You make think this seems like an awful lot to cover in just one novel and I’d agree with you there. The pacing was fast and we’re only offered snippets of the characters’ lives over a long period of time which I know a lot of reviewers have criticised. I actually thought this was incredibly clever of Alderman, as it meant she was able to cover the effects of the phenomenon in both individual communities and globally. Different societies react in different ways, from trying to tame the power in schools to a complete political breakdown. Once women are given a tool to fight with, the way they respond based upon their various life experiences was fascinating, and I don’t think the novel could have achieved that scope without shifting between narratives. The fact that I was thrown from perspective to perspective actually added to the escalating nature of the power, and flung me straight into the action. It was a smart stylistic device rather than a fault in pacing for me.

If you love feminism and/or speculative fiction, then why haven’t you picked this up already?! It’s a great one to fly through and it’ll keep you on your toes, because I was absorbed from page one to the final chapter.

Have you read any of the Baileys Shortlist? Who do you think should have won?

Best wishes,

Siobhán

Money and Mental Health: A Problem of Privilege

Mental health can affect anyone, regardless of what they earn. That’s not what this post is about. Instead, I’ve come to the realisation that the way we treat mental illness is largely exclusive and the fact that this has only occurred to me now is just proof of how privilege dictates who is helped and who isn’t.

Without going into all of the details, I have been dealing with mental health issues of varying kinds for about seven years. I have spent time on wards, in appointments and recovering at home. And I have noticed more and more that I have been extremely fortunate in the way I’ve been able to deal with my mental illness. Although medical and professional help are available on the NHS, what isn’t accounted for is how valuable time and space are when it comes to learning to cope with whatever problem you are facing.

When things got really difficult for me, both school and university felt like they were too much. I’ve always regarded academia as extremely important to me, so it’s even more disheartening when other parts of my life get in the way of my achievements. Last year I had to leave my first year of university early, missing lectures and having to postpone my exams, but I still got a high 2:1. My tutors and lecturers send me extra material to catch up when I can’t make my seminars and just checking up on me. Not everyone goes to schools, colleges or universities that are so accommodating for people with the same kinds of problems.

I don’t have a part-time job during term-time so I don’t have to worry about extra commitments aside from studying. Some students have to work to pay for the degree, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to afford to go to university in the first place. In fact, a few people I did my A-Levels with didn’t even have that option but had to go straight into a full-time job. Over the past few years, I would not have been able to balance studying, working and recovery, so I am incredibly lucky to be able to afford not to have a job all year round so I can take the time to go to appointments and so on.

Mental health care isn’t as easy as popping a few painkillers and cracking on. There isn’t a magic cure or a foolproof treatment. It’s a lengthy process of trying to find a way to cope, to be able to function on a day-to-day basis. It takes hours and hours of talking and thinking and trying whatever you can in appointments. It takes days of attempting to work through even the smallest tasks when it just gets too much. It’s so time-consuming and, with no guaranteed outcome, who can afford to spend that much of their life dealing with mental health?

It’s a financial drain. If you can afford not to have to work, or to only work part-time, you are able to spend time trying to deal with it.

Some of my appointments take place outside of the city. Not everyone is able to take the time out of their day to get there and back. Not everyone can afford to pay for taxis or public transport every time they need to be seen by a professional. On top of that, prescriptions in the UK for anti-depressants often have to be paid for. Recovery is for those with time, and time is not cheap. How many people are suffering in silence because their mental health is a luxury they can’t afford?

Obviously I am only speaking from my perspective and everyone’s experiences will be different, but if I hadn’t had the opportunity to take days out to focus on my recovery, I think I would be in a much worse state than I am now. I’ve been blind to my privilege until a recent change in personal circumstances (which I won’t go into), and my eyes have been opened to just how different my life could be right now if I hadn’t had the support I’ve been lucky enough to have access to.

How is it fair that mental health is something you have to buy? Like its an indulgence rather than a basic necessity? If you broke your leg, no one would ask you if you really need to get a cast, or if you can really afford to go to A&E.

I don’t know how we fix this. Undoubtedly it’s not a simple solution as the issue itself is so complex, but surely we cannot prioritise one mind over another. Money should not determine whether someone can afford to be healthy, especially in a country that is so proud of its National Health Service.

What has your experience with mental health services been like? Are they easy to access or do you feel they are financially exclusive?

Best wishes,

Siobhán