Candles

“What is it with Christians and their obsession with feet?” Kane asks me.

Surrounding us in a neat semi-circle are a range of framed photographs of people washing other people’s feet. It looks like these photos are from some kind of evangelical mission to various countries around the world.

“I think it’s a Jesus thing”, I say. “I remember somewhere in the Bible that he washed people’s feet, to get the dust of the road off the travellers or something. Maybe that’s why this young lady loves washing so many feet.”

“Either way, this is the weirdest photo gallery I’ve ever seen.”

We move past a large rack of coat hangers into the cathedral’s small courtyard again. A slight cold breeze whistles in between the stone arches to greet us. Kane, wearing a grey track suit (or, the Jeremy Kyle tuxedo) wanders off to a discreet corner where a family are placing candlesticks in a pot filled with sand. He asks me if you have to, like, donate to the cathedral or something if you want a candle. I shrug and drop the only coin I had with me, a shiny 50 pence piece, into a small wooden box secured with a padlock.

“This can represent our love for each other”, Kane says after he digs his candle into the very centre of the pile. “I’m not gay, though.”

Hmmm. I light my candle on one of the outside ones and add it to the collection, making sure it doesn’t fall over. I step back and admire my handiwork – my candle becoming swallowed up in a sea of other white candles the further we get from the display.

Outside, we have a look at the food on offer. I would buy something, but I seem to have spent my last 50p.

My Unlikely Pilgrimage

“I’m going for a walk,” I say to my flatmates. It’s the first truly sunny day of the year, and it has driven everyone in the city insane. Outside my flat, I pass a group of people playing cricket with a bat smaller than a rolling pin, the batter clumsily stumbling after a tennis ball when she inevitably misses it. She’d have better luck hitting it with a toothpick. The strain of running is taking its toll on her denim shorts, which are being slowly devoured by her body folds.

My original intention is to go to town and wander around aimlessly by myself, but as I reach the high street, a bizarre sensation comes over me. I’m not satisfied with simply walking to town. I’ll go up to that arch over there.

Yet as I get to it, I still feel like it’s not enough. Now, I’ll walk to that post box, and if that isn’t enough, I’ll go to that shop over there. Soon, the little way-points I set for myself meld into a pointless journey. I begin making my way up further, thinking only of walking; no real direction or destination, just making it up as I went along.

The warm sun is shining in my face, so I make a right after this junction, another right later to put it behind me. The road begins to slope uphill, gradually at first, then increasing sharply. The sun is setting and the air is getting colder when I finally stop after hours of walking. I find myself on a small green in the shadow of the cathedral, without really meaning to.

I’ve picked a spot on a wall to perch myself on to observe the world. My journalism lecturers always say to be constantly vigilant of everything happening around you – which is difficult for someone like me, who finds the view of my tan shoes a far more attractive option than eye contact.

Well, it’s never too late to try.

A group of children near the wall seem to be enjoying a game of pelt-grass-at-your-face, yanking clumps of it out of the ground as if they were making snowballs. One of them spits out a lump of grass and rescinds the offender’s right to cookies. I chuckle at their blissful ignorance, longing to return to a time where my needs were as simple as theirs. Now, the surface area of my tiny brain is constantly occupied by various and meaningless worries, prejudices and concerns – which makes for great paranoid writing, but isn’t exactly stellar to live with.

When I finally returned to the flat that night, no one was in, leaving the living area in a state of eerie silence. Just the way I like it.

P.W. Elverum & Sun

Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me

Picture a warm log cabin. A fire is crackling away, and you are sitting in a comfortable leather armchair drinking some exotic kind of tea, all while a winter’s storm rages outside the window. This is the kind of sonic landscape that singer/songwriter Phil Elverum has woven throughout most of his projects, letting the instrumentation do the talking in most cases; warm string cuts punctuated by harsh and raspy lo-fi electric guitars and drums.

However, on his latest release, a deeply moving and personal conceptual album following the death of Elverum’s wife, the instrumentation is far more stripped back, leaving the listener at the mercy of the brutally sad lyrics.

In the spring of 2015, Elverum’s wife, Geneviève, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Not many people survive this kind of cancer, and Geneviève suddenly died three months after her 35th birthday. Death is a subject oft explored, but never in such raw depth as this.

Each track is more painfully heartbreaking than the last, offering a series of vignettes on the vocalist’s grief and sense of loss, as well as the lamentation on having to raise a motherless child.

The lyrics themselves are harsh, avoiding euphemism and getting straight to the point. It’s rare to see music this blunt and straightforward achieve such raw emotion, but I think the fearless way in which Elverum tackles his own feelings make this record something special, and something I won’t forget about.

The Historical Battle You’ve Never Heard Of

“What you’re standing in right now is effectively the kill zone.” Graham pauses for a moment for dramatic effect. Coincidentally, the cobbles he is standing on are coloured red, a detail which hasn’t escaped him. He gives a wry smirk, creasing his lined face into something warm and friendly.

I’m standing with my other potential raiders outside the gates. It’s a day so crisp that my fingers are having trouble gripping the pen which I’m using to write down what was just said. At least it’s not raining, although the sky looks threateningly dark and overcast. He says that where we are stood would have been the most well-defended place all around the walls, which is why most attacks came from the complete opposite direction.

I squint at the top of the dusty, faded yellow arch that belongs to Lincoln Castle, picturing it not with the red and white of the Saint George Cross proudly standing to attention in the wind, but instead bristling with sharp metal, envisioning arrows and crossbow bolts hissing down at me.

As the rest of the tour group and I make our way inside the walls, a chill breeze rolls in past the courthouse, making me draw my coat around myself tighter. Graham Line will say to me later after the tour that the walls of the arch are eight feet thick, and I will ask where the Normans got so much stone from, to which the answer is simply: “from the quarry.” Right, of course. He represents the Friends of Lincoln Castle charity, which organises events based on Lincoln’s history. “On special days, they let us dress up and you can be prisoners,” he says as we approach the building.

The Australian couple to my right make a joke about people from their country being descended from criminals. “You might feel very comfortable in our Victorian prison then,” says Graham, and we all laugh, our breath turning to steam in the air.
Lincoln Castle was ordered to be built by William the Conqueror in 1068, after he invaded England, but it wasn’t finished until the 1200’s. The first keep was built near old Roman fortifications, in a motte-and-bailey style. More refined defences stemmed from the original, eventually forming the castle seen today. However, 800 years ago this year, a battle was fought that played a pivotal role in the history of England.

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An illustration that accompanied an account of the battle

In October 1216, nine-year-old Henry III became King of England. Almost immediately, his rule was threatened by civil war. His father John was a deeply unpopular king, causing rebellious barons to invite foreign armies into the country. A combined force of rebel English and French armies had taken hold of much of the country by May, only a handful of months into the boy king’s reign. One of the captured cities was Lincoln, however, the castle was still in the control of England, and under siege.

70-year-old William Marshal, regent to the king and first Earl of Pembroke, was tasked with leading the Royalist forces to break the siege. On May 20 1217, fierce fighting broke out near the castle’s East gate, opposite the cathedral, where I would come to stand freezing my extremities off hundreds of years later.

The French Comté-du-Perche (commander) had ordered an assault on the castle. Not long after the attack began, William Marshal arrived with the Royalists, smashing against the rebel forces and ending the fight for Lincoln that morning.

“It was common at that time to take hostages rather than killing, so you could trade them away for some of your own hostages or other things, such as gold,” Graham tells me. We have moved inside to the small room that precedes the gift shop, with polished miniature suits of armour glinting on a table next to us. Going inside was a mutual agreement judging by the redness of his nose. I’m thankful for the chance to massage my fingers back to life again. He peers at me over the top of the collar of his black waterproof coat, which is zipped up to the very top. A black hat sits atop his head. He smiles again. I motion for him to continue.

“The French commander was very valuable, but he just wouldn’t surrender at all – he kept fighting even though his men were almost all gone, and fought fearlessly. He got a dagger in the eye.” On asking him what happened after the battle, he says that the remaining French soldiers went back to their ships and sailed back to France. The battle was the turning point in what came to be known as the First Barons War, “and it’s the reason I’m not speaking French right now,” Graham attested.

Intrigue and a love for history compel me to investigate this battle further. Why do so few people know about it, if it is such a pivotal battle? I decide to visit the beautiful Tudor-style tourist information building after thanking Graham for his time. Inside the quaint crooked white walls lies a brightly lit room filled with patriotic knick knacks, as well as functional relics such as an A-Z road map.

“We asked ourselves about this, actually. One reason I think most people don’t know about the battle is that it isn’t really taught in schools,” Sarah Corrigan, who supplies tourist information, tells me. I reason that the First Barons’ War is a relatively unknown conflict in English history, therefore the Battle of Lincoln has a lower chance of being common knowledge. This might be due to the fact that it is simply overshadowed by more famous and romanticised wars.

As I step outside again, I take one final look at the castle. I have heard rumours that the French army is marching on Lincoln Castle again, on May 20. A defending force is being amassed as I write to throw them back. What’s unusual about this battle, is that there won’t be any casualties and anyone in the public can watch.

The Spice Guys Make Their Debut

I’ve just received a call for someone who represents Madison Square Garden – they want to book the Spice Guys to perform live after listening to our performance live on radio.

It’s comic relief week at Siren FM, which has prompted the breakfast team to get together and form the greatest Spice Girls tribute band in history. On a cold Monday evening, we prepare to make our debut to raise money for charity.

Ginger Spice looks less ‘ginger’ and more like the victim of blunt force trauma due to a red hair spray mishap, causing it to stain his face more than his hair. He has told me (Baby Spice) to bring something baby-related to dress up as. The only problem is, he has assumed that I’m some kind of fetishist who just happens to have some nappies lying around. I make do with a piece of tinsel, fashioning it into a necklace.

I feel severely under-dressed next to Nial, who has made the most effort out of all of us, arriving in a full suit and tie for his role as Posh.

After a brief practice of Wannabe, we head into the studio to live our fifteen minutes of fame.

“Who wants to harmonise with me?” I joke.

Ginger introduces us to his listeners halfway into the show. As we stand up for our big moment, I hear muffled giggling coming from outside, as we seem to have attracted a few onlookers. Onlookers with cameras. I’m informed that this will also be broadcast as a video on Facebook Live, as Ginger rushes around frantically trying to sort out our microphones for us. Might as well give them a good performance, then.

The song is over quicker than I anticipated, but I’m satisfied with our efforts. I attempted to lend some of the high-end notes to the song – with mixed results. Hopefully our contribution to the Red Nose Day spirit brought in some donations to the charity.

What to do when your friend wants you to get your face painted

“I dunno, wouldn’t the girls think I’m gay?” I ask.

Kane has been trying to convince me to get my face painted for a few minutes now. We are standing in the sticky foyer of Kasbah Nightclub, Coventry in front of two women perched atop of piles of old brown cushions. Surrounding them are tiny pots of paint and glitter, which they have used to apply a large sparkly blue butterfly to Kane’s angular face. I’m surprised they didn’t cut themselves on those sharp edges.

My efforts to resist a good old face painting are futile, due to the fact that my lanky friend has already bought me fifteen drinks already, I did say that I would get one if he did and most people think I’m gay anyway.

I have to admit, it did make me feel beautiful.

Out of nowhere, my other equally lanky friend appears, having disappeared for a few hours. Kane and I immediately hound him to get a matching butterfly with ours.

“It makes you feel so delicate, Joe. We’ve both got one so you’re basically obligated to get one,” I reason.

Joe is extremely apprehensive, but sits down on the round cushion anyway, shooting us a severe look of distaste. The woman on the left with long blonde curly hair leans into me and whispers: “Shall I do a penis on his face?”

It was a moment so profound it felt like an epiphany, awakening a previously untapped childlike glee at this prospect. Yes, that would be amazing. God has given me my task. I now had the power. This man’s face must become the scrotal Sistine Chapel. I stand back, giggling. How amusing! He thinks he’s having a butterfly, but really he’s having a hilarious practical joke played on him, the fool!

I’m informed that not only will a phallus be drawn, it will also look like a butterfly. Now this stupid joke has actually become interesting.

The result is far better than I could ever have hoped. I marvel at the artistry that went into it; a glorious, veiny, sparkly, blue penis with wings, sketched into the side of Joe’s face. A slow look of realisation dawns on him when he notices everyone’s obsession with his butterfly in particular.

“What have you done?” he says.

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Revisiting Brazil

Film societies seem to have an affinity for cult films; one example of such is Terry Gilliam’s seminal flick Brazil. Its humorous, colourful and surrealistic presentation is one often imitated, but never surpassed.

When the lights were turned off in the lecture theatre where the film was being screened, my friend’s forehead hit the desk in front of us, where he remained asleep for the vast majority of the film.

When an arrest warrant is sent out for Archibald Tuttle, a spelling error instead causes Archibald Buttle to be captured, later dying in custody.  Bureaucrat Sam Lowry (Jonathan Pryce), while attempting to correct the mistake, accidentally becomes an enemy of the state.

Dystopia has become somewhat of a cliché in recent years; however, I think this film has achieved the ever-elusive quality of timelessness, portraying a busy and over-complicated alternative future that manages to still be relevant and fresh even today. Gilliam has described the film’s setting as “neither past nor future, yet a bit of each”. The main character, Sam Lowry is content to simply be a cog in the grand machine, with no real goals or aspirations until by pure happenstance, and the convoluted result of an administrative error, he spots in a crowd the (quite literal) girl of his dreams, Jill. The origins and inner workings of this particular society are never explicitly explained, lending a layer of depth, which meant that I noticed a lot more detail that I missed on previous viewings.

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Katherine Helmond as the image-obsessed Mrs. Lowry

Absurdist humour abounds, such as the now iconic ‘face stretching’ scene, or the commercial for duct wallpaper, with a strong message about the effects of commercialism and corporatism running as an undercurrent throughout. One could easily draw comparisons between Brazil and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, albeit with the former’s world being far more whimsical in nature. This is perhaps most clearly illustrated in the overbearing ‘Ministry of Information’; the ‘Information Retrieval’ sector being comparable to the ‘Ministry of Truth’ described in Orwell’s book.  Yet all this is interspersed with sobering beats of human drama, most notably the effective and memorable ending that had me thinking about it for weeks afterwards.

My friend awoke in time to watch the whole ending sequence, but clearly didn’t understand what was happening, judging by the look on his face. While not a film for everyone, Brazil is still a classic and deeply rewarding experience that really warrants multiple viewings.