Wednesday, 22 June 2016

How to make yourself at home in your dorm room

After three years at university, two of which I spent living in the same room, I finally packed up all my things and left my accommodation empty for the final time last week. It was not as emotional as one might expect, owing to the fact that I've been moving out at the end of every term and then moving back in again, so I had by this point cleared the room five times. Nevertheless, before I packed up (and by 'packed up' I mean unceremoniously shovelled my belongings into crates) I had time to reflect on how I had slowly adapted the small space to my own needs, and by my sixth term I had it all pretty much figured out.

So I wanted to write this post for my student readers, especially those of you heading to university for the first time this year. While your accommodation/dorm/digs/halls will not be the same size or shape as mine, there are some general rules which I learned by trial and error. These I pass on to you now, and hope they can be of some use to you in an exciting and stressful time.

Box everything up

The boxes and cases in which you cart all your stuff to your new home need not cease to be useful once you arrive. Chances are, your furniture will be sparse, and the storage units not ideally placed or shaped. Your own boxes, both large and small, can double as a shoe holder (above), a make-up organiser, or a spare table. Plus they will make packing everything away much easier at the end of your residence. Ikea is always good for this type of thing, but if you're after a pretty suitcase, Sass and Belle have some reasonably priced items; I like this world map one.

Display favourite objects

Posters are the obvious choice for injecting your room with a little personality. But if you want to break the mould or, like me, you are not actually allowed to use Blu-Tak on your walls, the alternative is to display your possessions. I adorned my walls with strings of bunting, a rotating display of favourite clothes (conveniently hung from an exposed piece of piping) and all the postcards I received during my time there. You could also try taking an ornament for your desk, a plant for the windowsill, or a much-loved teddy bear to be propped up against your pillows.

Keep bedside reading handy

During my three years, I have hardly ever had time to read for pleasure. That time which I did spend leafing through magazines or, in my first year, devouring The Goldfinch, ought really to have been spent more intently reading for my subject - a literature student's work is never done. Nonetheless, I would have been miserable if I had never allowed myself these indulgences. Whatsmore I would have got even less sleep: the best cure for my anxious mind was always a few pages of Oh Comely magazine or an excerpt from the Lunch With the FT collection. Get yourself something you can enjoy without analysing, and keep it nearby - just in case.

Be selective about clothes and shoes

I know, I know - easier said than done. When you are preparing to leave home for the first time, you have no idea how everyone else will dress, and how many different occasions you ought to pack for. My advice is to seek as much information as you can about the social and daily life of students at your university - the best place to start will be on the website of the student newspaper. Plan a couple of outfits for specific activities - a formal drinks event, going out clubbing, coffee with classmates, attending a lecture - then build a core wardrobe around that. This will make it easier to keep your room tidy, and if you stick with a few key colours, it will also look better when hung up in your wardrobe. 

Put work away when you're done

You should be able to relax in your room, and the best way to do that is to assign a place where your work materials can be put away for the night. Some people even restrict working to the library, keeping their room as a sanctuary of leisure time. This is not always possible if you live far from the library, and even with a library on my doorstep, I often don't fancy getting out of my pyjamas on days with heavy workloads. So I made a big effort in the run-up to exams to clear away what I was doing by putting it in a drawer, placing my laptop on a shelf, and collecting the folders you see above in a little basket. This is actually the front basket from my bike, but you can get similar products. It allows you to chill out a lot more when your notes are no longer glaring at you from the desk.

Bring cushions

As you can see, I was very lucky to have this huge windowseat, which doubled as a guest bed. I would still urge anyone to bring cushions with them, no matter what your room contains. They are useful both for making things more comfortable and for adding your own taste to the surroundings. If you have space, any extra bedding, like a cosy blanket, can really make a difference in helping you to settle in and will be useful any time you want to put a friend up for the night. If you're not sure what kind to get, try something in a classic Laura Ashley or Emma Bridgwater design. Any clothing chain with a home section will also have pretty ranges available - I like this lovely gold-dotted cushion from Primark.

Good luck with moving into your new homes! And enjoy your first few days - it's a cliché, but it really is over before you know it.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Florence Foster Jenkins Review

New York in the 1930s and 40s is fruitful ground for films about the arts scene. Like beachgoers expecting rain later in the day, the city represents a centre of enjoyment and frenzied innovation as war looms on the horizon. Bookending the period, we’ve lately had Me and Orson Welles (2008) and Kill Your Darlings (2008), both concerned with the emergence of new kinds of art, be it minimalist Shakespeare or Beat poetry. But in Florence Foster Jenkins we get a glimpse into the world of old art, and how it was maintained by the loyal music fans of New York, even in the face of disaster.

The eponymous Florence (Meryl Streep) was a real woman, whose love of music and inherited wealth combined in her support for the arts scene and founding of the Verdi Club. It is at this club that Stephen Frears’s new film opens, taking us backstage as Florence is nervously arrayed as various operatic figures, while her failed actor partner St. Clair (Hugh Grant) compeers.  From this point, it takes the film a little while to warm up. Having heard the premise of a famous singer with a lack of singing talent before attending the cinema, the audience is made to wait rather a long time to hear her sing at all. Fortunately, when this moment arrives it is hot on the heels of the entry of Simon Helberg as Cosmé McMoon, Florence’s somewhat overwhelmed but ultimately faithful pianist. Helberg completes a triumvirate of accomplished central actors, and we feel in safe hands from this point on.

Much like some of Frears’ other work – The Queen comes to mind – it is not immediately clear what the overarching plot will be. Instead we are presented with a series of vignettes which go deep into Florence and St Clair’s marriage, and her desire to sing. These, however, lend richness to the arc when it does come to fruition in Florence’s concert at Carnegie Hall. No doubt I will not be the first or last to compare Streep’s performance to another of her roles as a 20th Century American woman with a happy relationship but no children: Julia Child in Julie & Julia. However if we are making this comparison, it must be said that Julie & Julia delves, I feel, a little deeper into the central character. That is not to Florence Foster Jenkins’s disadvantage though, for the slight distance from Florence herself enhances our impression of the bubble she lives in. We are privy to all the secret activities and conversations of Cosmé and St. Clair as they contrive not to let Florence realise how ridiculous her singing voice really is.

Now for a word on the costumes. What struck me most was that the range of characters, some fictional and some real, allows for a full range of 1940s fashions. Florence’s own wardrobe seems more like a call back to the late Edwardian age and 1920s, all loose shapes and beading, with a good helping of feathers. Her friends and members of the Verdi club follow suit, in similar frocks and strict black tie. Yet in a totally contrasting scene, possibly my favourite in the film, St. Clair’s lover Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson) throws a party in their apartment. Thus a whole different sector of New York society emerges. Kathleen herself, a teacher, sports the kind of simple tea dresses and tailored trousers which we associate most often with this period, while Agnes (Nina Arianda), lowbrow girlfriend of a Verdi club member, flies the flag for vampy dresses and big hair. The scene is a heady mix of Hugh Grant throwing shapes to Benny Goodman, mismatching fashions, and Cosmé’s endearing obliviousness to the fact that some of the male guests are flirting with him.

If you want a film that is equal parts uplifting, funny, and heart-rending, it’s all piled in here. The world of 1944 is brought beautifully to life, and at its core, Florence Foster Jenkins boasts three very strong performances. Simon Helberg, who you may only know from The Big Bang Theory (a personal favourite of mine, though I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea) deserves a special mention. Though understated, his portrayal of Cosmé shows his ability for delicate emotion as well as the impeccable comic timing he is already known for.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

What's In My Bag? Job interview

I went for an interview on Monday. After a lot of preparation and agonising over what to wear, the whole thing took less than half an hour, was very friendly and helpful, and I left with an offer of work experience in the summer. It got me thinking how much we over-prepare for things which we really can't anticipate fully. I'm very glad I prepared thoroughly, but in the event I barely needed any of it. Nevertheless, I found blog posts about what people wore and took with them to interviews extremely helpful in making me feel like I was ready, so I wanted to share the basics of what I had with me, even if not all of them were necessary.

Vintage handbag - An old purchase from Oxford's Ballroom Emporium. If you're after something with a similar look, I can recommend Oxbridge satchels who have a pretty little cream satchel, or this John Rocha clutch which is quite small but has a handy shoulder strap.

Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami - One must always have something sensational to read on the train, though this Japanese novel is less sensational, and more conversational. It is a quiet but deeply engaging book, which gives you a little flavour of modern Japanese life alongside a slow-burning love story. It was a good short read to have with me whenever I needed to calm my nerves, as I could lose myself in a chapter for a while.

Pink exercise book - Part of a set from Tesco. I used this to write down all my preparatory notes, anticipating potential questions and making notes on the company. It was doubly useful, as by the time I got the train back I had finished reading the novel, so I turned to the notebook to jot down a few of my impressions of the day; London is always full of moments worth recording.

Orla Kiely document file - I bought this from Waterstones but it is available here and if you like the pattern there are other items on the Orla Kiely website, (just search "pear"). This obviously didn't fit in my hadbag so I carried it separately. Inside I had a couple of examples of my work and an updated CV, all of which were kept nice and flat. There's enough room in this one to slip a notebook and pen too, so it's useful for carrying around any stationery.

Gold accessories - I wore a blue suit with a chiffon white and gold shirt and these gold accessories. The purse is from Accessorize, though I'm fairly certain I got it second hand. They no longer stock this style, but do have a couple of gold purses like this one in at the moment, and here's a similar one from another brand. The shoes are from H&M, and are still available now if you like the look of them. A word of warning though - try out new shoes several days before an interview! I made the mistake of testing these the day before, and they rubbed my feet to pieces. I managed, but it was painful!

Eat Natural bar - Never a good idea to be too hungry. As well as supplementing my appetite with this, I stopped at a Benugo half an hour before the interview to have a peppermint tea (soothing, but also less likely to make my breath smell bad!) and check over my notes.

Cosmetics - I kept these to a minimum, and also put on minimal makeup when heading out. It was a hot and muggy day, so I just did the basics, then used these to freshen up: And Other Stories Moroccan Tea body spray, Miss Sporty So Clear powder and Liz Earle Instant Boost Skin Tonic. I'm no beauty expert but these are all products I can heartily recommend if you, like me, have sensitive skin and don't like to wear anything too heavy.