A Collection of Top Whatever Lists I Could Write About 2016 But Won’t

Mental Illness, Ira Glass, and Me: A Love Letter to Podcasts

There’s nothing more narcissistic than anxiety. I was sixteen, and I had been to a birthday party. I had felt anxious and silly all night, a spare part, like me and everyone there were sharing this silent joke that I probably shouldn’t be there but, like, okay. Lying in bed afterwards, I was listening to Radio 4 as I tried to sleep. (Radio 4: home to The Archers, the shipping forecast, plays that feature the sound of footsteps more heavily than you’d expect.) It had been my lullaby for years – the Book at Bedtime into the news into whatever feature they had at 11pm, not boring, just reliable, polite.

So – Radio 4, me in bed, facing the wall but antsy and panicking, the kind of panic that can grow big and then fall in on itself. There was a poetry programme on. The presenter read out an email or something from a listener. He wanted, the presenter said, a certain poem to be read. It would make his day if they would read out this poem. Continue reading “Mental Illness, Ira Glass, and Me: A Love Letter to Podcasts”

All I Want for Christmas

Remember going through Argos when you were a kid, putting together a Christmas list that grew and grew until you could basically open your own Animal Hospital with the amount of merchandise you were going to get? It’s very stark when, as an adult, you have to interact with Argos – it’s not magical at all. The last thing I bought from Argos was an expensive laptop charger that didn’t work. It just doesn’t compare to writing those tiny numbers next to your request for a Barbie Jeep and then handing it to your parents as politely as possible.

The truth is I’m not feeling very Christmassy this year. And more – I don’t think I really care? Last year I know I wasn’t getting into the spirit of it, and I think that I was upset and unnerved by that. There’s things I do like about Christmas: the amount of effort my family put into decorating the house and sending off cards to everyone on a list and putting all our presents into big sacks that go in the living room on Christmas morning. And I like the songs. But it’s the same way I like World Cup songs (I hate football) – you’ll catch me listening to I Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day the way I listen to This Time for Africa or Three Lions which incidentally are absolute tunes. Continue reading “All I Want for Christmas”

A Love Letter to ‘A Little Life’

I’ve had so many books that have been dear to me – the sort of book that you read and read, for comfort, mainly; the sort of book that would unravel and skip if it was a tape, that would fray if it was a warm jumper. The Harry Potters, the first two Bridget Jones books, ‘The Goldfinch’ by Donna Tartt were all small homes that could be entered at any time. They were comfortable, even though there were parts of them that weren’t comforting. None of them, though, were as uncomforting yet somehow homely as Hanya Yanagihara’s ‘A Little Life’ – a book which, tonight, is in with a strong chance of winning the Man Booker prize. This is my love letter to it.

Since finishing it two weeks ago, I’ve had it on my bedside every night; I’ve filled up with tears thinking about it in places as diverse as Sainsbury’s and a club and almost every room in my flat; I think about it when I listen to songs on the bus. It’s a big book, but even bigger are the tendrils it extends into all parts of your life. And for all of the literary merit the Man Booker panel have evidently recognised (precise, beautiful sentences; a structure that allows secrets to be revealed as carefully as in a thriller; settings that are as vivid and lush as a painting) there’s a lot of things that truly pack a punch because of the context. Rich, layered, complex gay characters; mental illness presented unflinchingly; a horrific focus on child abuse, the sort of focus that understandably leads to many people choosing not to read the book. Yanagihara not only creates a world – she represents one. For anyone who sees themself in her New York, the detail with which she writes her characters is something close to love. Almost honour.

Continue reading “A Love Letter to ‘A Little Life’”

10 Reasons Why I Loved Binge-Watching Every Tarantino Film and Would Do It Again If I Didn’t Have Any Responsibilities

I am the sort of person who will get some perfume as a gift, smell it once, and then decide: this is my signature scent. I will wear it every day for the rest of my life. It’s what my children will grow up thinking is the scent of home; it’s what people will smell in empty rooms after I die and get freaked out because I’m haunting them. I will be “the person who always wears [scent]”, part of my definition. This is a ridiculous way to live. I know this. It is silly and inappropriate and I will never, ever stop.

So when I watched and enjoyed Reservoir Dogs a couple of months ago, I decided I would watch every Tarantino film. I told everyone, repeatedly. It turns out that preparing for a movie marathon isn’t the same as preparing for an actual marathon, ie. no one cares. I complained about it like was something someone had forced me to do, despite no one ever giving me any more encouragement than “oh, okay!” when I told them my plans. However, even though no one asked me to do this, I finished. Even Four Rooms. I’m a hero. Continue reading “10 Reasons Why I Loved Binge-Watching Every Tarantino Film and Would Do It Again If I Didn’t Have Any Responsibilities”

“So what are you going to do with your English degree?”


  • Sit quietly and patiently by Shakespeare’s grave for two thousand years, like the little boy in A.I., until he rises again and we just have a proper laugh together, and possibly solve crimes in a sort of Mulder-and-Scully set-up
  • Become a local “character” who sits in Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, drunk, telling everyone who sits nearby about that one essay I was really proud of. I will become an expert at delivering an abstract while simultaneously signalling for the bartender to fill up my glass
  • (loudly and cheerfully) “What WON’T I do?!” Continue reading ““So what are you going to do with your English degree?””

Weird Imaginary Stuff I Used To Do As A Kid

Present TV shows.

I was convinced an audience would be really interested in the “potions” I made in the bath by squashing bubbles until they turned almost-liquid and packaging them in the cup I used to rinse my hair. I knew I had to be subtle about it, though, because once I was doing a TV show about schoolwork (this was before I started school, which is definitely the best time to broadcast your advice about how to handle it) while my mum was hoovering and she heard me loudly declare “AND YOU MAKE SURE TO DO YOUR HOMEWORK EVERY DAY,” and she turned the hoover off and said “What?” and I said “Nothing.”

My facility in the field of imaginary television is not something I can put on a CV, but back then I truly thought I was really, really good at it. Continue reading “Weird Imaginary Stuff I Used To Do As A Kid”

From Ophelia to Rae Earl, via Blanche DuBois: Mentally Ill Women in the Media

‘Hamlet’ is a crash-course in depression. Existential nausea has never been summed up so well as by Hamlet’s yearning repetition of too too solid flesh. His frustration at not being able to act, at being paralysed and then frantically doing the wrong thing just to do something, is a look at the sort of ugly, sort of dull side of mental illness. He talks about bad dreams. He repeats to die, to sleep like a lullaby. We follow his reasoning through, watching where it veers down wrong or illogical paths, but always understanding.

What does Ophelia do? She exits one scene stable and enters another as what Margaret Atwood, in her lecture Ophelia Has A Lot to Answer For, calls ‘winsomely bonkers’. She sings rude songs. She hands out flowers. And then she drowns, beautifully: her clothes spread wide and mermaid-like, surrounded by crow-flowers, nettle, daisies and long purples. Her sweet, lyrical madness is followed by death. Continue reading “From Ophelia to Rae Earl, via Blanche DuBois: Mentally Ill Women in the Media”

7 Things I Learned From Binge-Watching ‘House of Cards’ Season 3

[This post contains spoilers for House of Cards Season 3.]

Friday was a big day. I bought all the foods you’d associate with a very small and not very fun party (chocolate fingers, big bags of crisps, cake, a bottle of Coke) and once my housemate got back from her lectures to join me, I slipped into that Netflix-drunk feeling, that sort of limbo where it gets dark without you realising and your emotions go up and down with the plot. And I learned stuff. Sat there for thirteen episodes – six on Friday, seven on Saturday – ‘House of Cards’ quietly kidnapped me, and returned me a pound or two heavier and with eyeballs that feel like they’ve been rolled in sand. Continue reading “7 Things I Learned From Binge-Watching ‘House of Cards’ Season 3”

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