Undergrad Review: History BA (Hons), Oxford Brookes University

A question I have been asked a lot recently is “What did you think of your Undergrad and was it worth it?” so I thought I’d write a post about it.

Firstly I think it’s really weird that reviews on university courses are not more readily available. It’s probably one of the most important/expensive decisions you can make at 17 – what to study and where to go? Yet little actual student-based information is available.

Now I have to warn you that this post may be a little out-dated in terms of the current course, as I graduated in 2016, nevertheless, there may be something useful to someone in it.

My choice was to read for a BA Hons in History at Oxford Brookes University. Mainly as it was my only option, but nevertheless I was happy with it.

LOCATION

  
I rather naively had no idea about the location, as I had never even been to Oxford before I the day I arrived at halls. That said I was more than impressed with Oxford over my three years and it holds a very special place in my heart.

Despite being expensive for pretty much everything, there was never a dull moment.

The city famed for the “Other” university is a wonderful place to be a student. Brookes students stake their claims on the East side of the city, with Cowley and Headington being firm favourites. As these areas are slightly outside the city centre the Brookes Key is the most important thing at a students disposal – £1 bus travel you cannot go wrong, plus the free Brookes Campus buses!

ACCOMMODATION

  
Do not, I repeat, do not underestimate the significance of where you live! For a History student, this is key, as although the contact time is minimal the reading time is astronomically high, thus proximity to the library is crucial. Plus you want somewhere you enjoy coming home to from all those all-nighters.

There is a wide variety of accommodation on offer at Brookes, from shared bathroom to en suite, off to on campus and even fully catered!

My advice would be to work out who you are and what is most important to you. In my first year, it was an en suite, even though that meant I was 30 minutes away from campus. In my third year, it was being as close to the library as possible. Not that that made me go!

SOCIETIES

Societies and activities were a lifeline for me, when I arrived I was overwhelmed by the whole thing, despite having been at boarding school since the age of 11. I missed home, the people I’d grown up with and the atmosphere of a school that I was perhaps institutionalised in.

One thing I had learnt at an early age was the need to try new things and keep busy. So, I signed up to almost 30 things at the Freshers Fayre, from there I whittled it down into a core three, fencing, mentoring and the University Royal Naval Unit (URNU).

These three I knew I would commit to for my entire course. I loved them all and the people I met through them are the people I most identified with and remain close friends with until this day.

NIGHTLIFE

Sadly the nightlife in Oxford has greatly declined since I left. What with the closing of Purple Turtle a few months ago, sending shockwaves through generations of patrons who reminisced about drinking Hulk’s and the dungeon-like effect we all loved.

Wahoo was loveable rogue, with its awkward dance space and cramped smoking area. Skint Monday’s were not to be missed – £1 VK’s and £2.50 double Vodka Mixers – it was every student’s dream.

In my time Fuzzy Ducks was held at Wahoo and was akin to a pilgrimage for any Brookes Students, dress code creativity was a must. Though Wahoo has sadly passed on and an Entrepreneurial Hub for the other University stands in its place. It is survived by Fuzzy Ducks who is something of a club night nomad, having settled at Emporium for now.

Café Baba’s on the Cowley Road has to be my favourite bar in Oxford with its £4 cocktails or 2 for £6 between 17:00-20:00, my personal favourite has to be the Lemony Snicket, closely followed by the Moroccan Mule.

The number 1 pub spot has to go to The Library on the Cowley Road for its Hipster vibe and a great choice of beer.

COURSE

On to the main reason I was there…

I choose Oxford Brookes because the course seemed so flexible and offered the option to do Independent Research Modules in 2nd and 3rd year. I did mine in the 2nd year and thoroughly enjoyed it though I did wish I’d known that the topic you choose couldn’t be used for your dissertation.

Another great thing about Brookes was that it only has 2 Semesters and for my course, all of the assessments were done during those weeks, so there was no holiday revision! Also, the length of those semesters meant we were only actually in lectures for 6 months of the year.

All 8 modules were compulsory in the first year with topics ranging from Historiography, Early Modern History, French Revolution, the building of Great Britain, the Cold War.

For my second and third year, there was a broad and interesting range of modules to choose from, outside of the compulsory Historiography modules, including History of Medicine, History of Childhood and the History of Crime, Early Modern History, plus many more.

My dissertation was 10,000 words and the support given by my supervisor was fantastic. Though I would say I never met my Personal Tutor, as he never turned up to scheduled meetings!

The range of assessment was engaging, from essays to presentations, I only sat 2 exams in my first year, but we did also have a hybrid 24-hour exam – where they release the question and you then have to research and write up an essay in 24-hours! You were only meant to spend an hour on the essay, but inevitably you used all the time you had. It also caused chaos in the library as everyone was waiting there to grab the books from the shelves and go home.

The JHB Building was still under construction when I arrived, but luckily it had opened by the second semester of my first year. This building was fabulous it had quiet areas and silent rooms all the way to the buzzing forum, plus it was also open 24 hours a day so it catered for my all-nighters!

  
There was a wide range of resources from online databases to print material. You could loan up to 12 books for a week at a time, with a 50p a day fine for ordinary non-returns and 50p per hour for short loans– it’s now up to £1 respectively. Also, they prevented you from graduating if you have not paid your fines!

Rather fittingly Brookes is home to the National Brewing Library, with the archive housed in the basement of the JHB Building! I never had a need to access this resource, but I’m sure it was a paradise for some.

WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?

In a heartbeat, there are some things I would do very differently. I wouldn’t have used my dissertation topic for my Independent Research Module, I would have used my spare time in a more productive way and I would have learnt to cook. Overall though, I had the time of my life and desperately miss those carefree days where I could study what I loved full time and had no adult responsibilities.

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Did you know Churchill planned to be present during D-Day?

No, me neither, until I wrote my last essay. But he did, Churchill raised the notion with the King whilst he and George VI had lunch on 30th May 1944. He also convinced the king that he should go too!

Apparently, the King’s Private Secretary Alan “Tommy” Lascelles had to talk George VI out of it. No easy feat, to convince a Monarch they cannot do as they desire! Lascelles cannily appealed to Albert the father not George VI by explaining the stress he would be putting his family through. Also, playing on the awful place he would put Princess Elizabeth in, should “her father and Winston being sent to the bottom of the English Channel”.

Incidentally, when I watched The Crown I didn’t like Tommy Lascelles much – I found him somewhat of a weasel, but spending an afternoon at the British Library reading his diary, I warmed to him. His diary entries were detailed but brief and highly entertaining. Well worth a read if you have the time and want to find out some juicy royal gossip!

Letter 1 – 31st May 1944

Letter Written by King George VI to Winston Churchill 31st May 1944
Letter Written by King George VI to Winston Churchill 31st May 1944 accessed from https://www.rct.uk/sites/royalcollection.org.uk/files/ra_ps_pso_gvi_c_069_43-5.pdf

Whilst rooting around in the Churchill Archives online (definitely worth a look if you’re interested in World War Two), I happened upon a letter addressed to Churchill from George VI on 31st May 1944, asking him not to attend D-Day. Churchill intended to watch the landings from HMS Belfast alongside the King. George VI tried to appeal to Churchill’s sense of responsibility to “remain at home & wait” and not take the risk of being struck by an enemy “bomb, torpedo or even a mine”.

Churchill was well known for his ego and an endless pursuit of personal glory and George VI used this to his advantage, by telling the Prime Minister of the personal “anxiety” he would feel at the risk of losing his “help & guidance”. As well as the psychological and physical effects it would have on the chain of command during the operation!

Interestingly the King asks Churchill to give him his response the next day, at a briefing they were both attending in the Cabinet Office.

Cabinet Office Briefing – 1st June 1944

Lascelles noted that on 1st June 1944 that during this meeting the King and Churchill further discussed their attendance. The King backed down and agreed to stay at home after some persuasion, but Churchill was undeterred. The ingenuity of Churchill can be seen in his response to Lascelles emphasis that the King needed to approve the absence from the country of any “Minister of the Crown”. Churchill simply pointed out that as he would be on board HMS Belfast he technically remained on Sovereign Territory!

Letter 2 – 2nd June 1944

Letter Written by King George VI to Winston Churchill 2nd June 1944
Letter Written by King George VI to Winston Churchill 2nd June 1944 accessed from https://www.rct.uk/sites/royalcollection.org.uk/files/ra_ps_pso_gvi_c_069_43-5.pdf

On 2nd June 1944, the King felt the need to write Churchill a second letter making “one more appeal” to the Prime Minister and give him a “graceful excuse for changing his mind”. However, the personal nature of this note is damaged by Lascelles diary entry in which he confirms that he drafted the letter for the King.

Here the King’s tried to explain to Churchill that he was out of line to suggest the Prime Minister should be present during the landings and was undermining the position of the monarchy by attending when he knew George VI could not! This point the King and Lascelles knew would hang heavy over Churchill’s immense sense of public duty.

As well as appealing to Churchill’s need for control, by emphasising he may be uncontactable during the operation and would not have a wider grip on the situation at crucial points. Also, emphasised in this letter is the worry the King had over Churchill’s notion that he could go without Cabinet approval! Lascelles later confirmed with the Cabinet Office that Churchill was wrong to suggest he could attend without notifying them.

In this letter, the King tactfully pointed out to Churchill that in pursuing this course of action he was putting his ego above his “duty to the State”.

Letter 3 – 3rd June 1944

Letter Written by Winston Churchill to King George VI 3rd June 1944
Letter Written by Winston Churchill to King George VI 3rd June 1944 accessed from https://www.rct.uk/sites/royalcollection.org.uk/files/ra_ps_pso_gvi_c_069_43-5.pdf

We know from Lascelles diary, the King was eager to receive a response to his letter and chased Lascelles to contact Churchill that evening. Thus the King knew the Prime Minister’s response that “in deference to the King’s wishes, he would abandon his plans of going to sea”, before he had composed his response letter on 3rd June 1944.

Churchill’s letter differs from the King’s in many ways, first, it was typed not handwritten and second the tone is not of friendship but of a servant writing to their master. However, the Prime Minister clearly wants to set the record straight.

Churchill re-iterates that he the Prime Minister could never take the place of the Monarch in the eyes of the people. The King’s attendance would have needed Cabinet approval, which most sensibly would not have been granted. And, most importantly to Churchill that his movements were not to be curtailed by the Cabinet or Monarch and that he needed to be trusted to act in the nations best interest.

The Prime Minister closed the letter by noting his appreciation of the Monarch’s concerns for him. This letter is interesting as it shows the Sovereign as the only authority Churchill would listen too on the matter. As he had ignored the attempts of others, such President of the United States (F.D. Roosevelt), Supreme Allied Commander (General and later President Eisenhower), Admiral of the Fleet, Naval Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Naval Expeditionary Force and the list goes on to pretty much anyone aware of his intentions.

Closing Thoughts

So there you go, a brief look at the letters and events that persuaded Churchill to remain at home instead of following his ego and heading to the front during D-Day. Personally, I think Churchill wanted to witness this landings because of the personal guilt he felt about the failed Gallipoli landings in 1915-1916, but that’s a debate for another time.

These three letters give an interesting glimpse into the relationship that developed between George VI and Winston Churchill. Initially, the King did not like Churchill and took him as his Prime Minister as there was no better option, but as time went on they developed a deep and lasting friendship.

The consequences should the King’s appeals have failed and the worst happened do not bear thinking about. One of the greatest statesmen that ever lived and guiding force of Britain through the war lost at sea!

Did you know Churchill wanted to attend D-Day? Or do you know of any other interesting historical turns of events? Let me know in the comments.

Bibliography & Further Reading

The Royal Collection Trust has produced a PDF containing the whole correspondence here. Alternatively, scanned copies of the original letters can be found on the Churchill Archive, however, you will need to sign in for access, with a further explanation to the 2nd letter here.

Lascelles, Sir Alan. King’s Counsellor: Abdication and War – The diaries of Sir Alan Lascelles, edited Duff Hart-Davis. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006.

 

Round Up of 2018 Goals & 19 in 2019

Happy New year Friends! We officially have almost survived month one of 2019, how does it feel? Same old, same old here, tinged with a bit of the January Blues!

Yet again I have fallen below the mark, managing a total of 3 out of 15! Hey, ho, at least it’s better than last years 2 out of 15!

As always here is a little “wash up”/list of excuses for why I haven’t done them or a little bit of context for those that I have….

2018

Career:

  • Apply to join the Royal Navy – Never happened, because I’m a scaredy cat!
  • Achieve some professional qualifications – This is one I have achieved, I am currently studying for a Masters in Naval History so that will keep me busy for the next 18 months.

Fitness:

  • Get back into Fencing – Still not done this one, I do need to get back into it, but have not found the time, plus it is expensive!
  • Get into yoga – this did not happen, I’m not even sure it happened once!
  • Run my mile and a half in under 12 minutes – well this was a lovely idea, but in reality, I sporadically went running, when I felt the urge.

Lifestyle:

  • Have a morning routine – I’m not counting this one, as my morning routine is still wake up 15 mins before I need to leave the house then run around like a mad woman until I will most definitely be late for work!
  • Be more organised – I guess I am more organised, in that I know what I need to do each day, but I spend most of the time procrastinating from doing it, so this one does not count!
  • Be better at keeping in touch with people – This is one I have achieved. I have managed to keep in touch with people more and even brave sending random messages to old acquaintances, to catch up on their lives.
  • Read 15 books – I still did not achieve this, I think I read 3 from cover to cover, but I started about 10…
  • Learn to do crosswords – I have started doing this, but I still struggle and am going to have to get better before this one can count.

Blog:

  • Publish 1 blog post a week – hahahahahaha… this never happened, let’s see if 2019 is any better!
  • Better Twitter Interaction – This didn’t start off very well but it did get better towards the end of the year… long may it continue.
  • Instagram – This is one I would say I did achieve, I fell in love with Instagram and use it regularly now.
  • Bloglovin – This never happened either, for no other reason than I am lazy.
  • Improve my blog photos – I guess they did improve in that I took more, but they still are not where I want them.

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So, seen as my current way of doing things is not working I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and write my 19 for 2019, in the hope that by setting more specific goals, I may actually hit 100%!

VISIT THE GYM 2 X PER WEEK

This is a biggie for me as I desperately want to get fit, but we all know the story it’s much easier to watch Netflix and eat your own body weight in biscuits! This is the year this changes… I’ve signed up to a gym. It’s expensive, but I can go with my boyfriend and even when it was rammed last night it was still a great place to work out, plus it is not as cold as outside! So, twice a week is the aim, then hopefully I might be able to fit back into my wardrobe!

JOIN A FENCING CLUB

I desperately need to get back into my favourite sport, so hopefully, after a few months in the gym, I will have the confidence to don my breaches once more. Oh and a reduction in waist size to make sure I fit in them!

READ 15 BOOKS

Seen as this didn’t work out very well last year I thought I wouldn’t up it, let’s see how I get on this time!

AVERAGE A 2:1 FOR MY MASTERS THIS YEAR

This one might be a long shot, as my first essay was terrible, however, I have partially redeemed myself with my second. So let’s hope I continue this way. Fingers crossed this works out!

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USE MY ORGANISER TO MAXIMUM CAPACITY

Every year I buy myself a planner and every year, around March I bail on the idea. However, with a course, gym and an ever busy social calendar to keep up with, I’m going to need one more than ever!

CLEAR OUT 2000 THINGS FROM MY FLAT

It is confirmed I am very much a maximalist and I am fine with that. However, living in a one bed flat in London does not support that lifestyle very freely. So, a change has got to come, this clear out will more than likely be replaced by 2000 new things, but you’ve got to make space for new things! Wish me luck!

LEARN TO DO CROSSWORDS

I love a good crossword and used to help my granddad with the answers, but the time has come where I want to be able to answer one without having to cheat, so this year I am going to really work on honing this skill.

PUBLISH 52 BLOG PHOTOS

I am so useless at this blogging malarky, so rather than committing to one a week or some form of schedule I am just going to post when I get the inspiration and commit to 52 posts.

MAINTAIN INTERACTION ON TWITTER

I’m not sure what happened with Twitter it used to be my go to social media hang out, but somewhere along the lines, I fell out of love with it. This year I’m going to change this and hopefully grow my following along the way.

HIT 200 POSTS ON INSTAGRAM

2018 was the year I fell in love with Instagram, I love taking photos and creating content for this platform and long may it continue. However, my usage is still sporadic so, in an attempt to be better at posting, I want to have hit 200 posts by the end of 2019.

SAVE £1,500

I am terrible at saving, everyday I buy myself a little present and this has to mount up… so this is going to be the year I curtail this down to only buying what I need. I’m a sucker for a sale and there really is no need for it! Hopefully, limiting what is coming in will also help with my clear out. I’m not sure what I will put the money towards yet, but I’m sure I’ll find something I want!

VISIT CAMBRIDGE

This is something I have wanted to do for a while, having spent my uni days at Brookes gazing at the spires of Oxford, I’d love to spend a day exploring the famous “other one”!

VISIT VERSAILLES

I have always wanted to visit Versailles, last time I went to Paris I never had time. I’ve visited plenty of European palaces inspired by it, but never the real deal. I’d love to see the Hall of Mirrors and the Grand Trianon. Plus it’s the place where a treaty was signed to end the war of all wars!

DONATE BLOOD

I’ve never done this and thankfully I’ve never had to use any either, but that most certainly is not the attitude I’d like to take on it. I’d actually for my own self-gratification (as Joey once wisely said “There’s no unselfish good deeds”) in the hope that one day when a family is going through the worst day of their life, I may actually be able to help in some small way.

COOK 1 THING EACH WEEK FROM SCRATCH

As anyone who knows me will tell you I can’t cook, that’s not to say I won’t cook, but more that, everything I do looks like it has been on the BBQ for the last 4 years. As my boyfriend will gleefully tell you I can burn water! So, this year is the year I stop getting distracted when I cook and actually watch what I am doing, once a week.

GO TO AN OPERA

I love musical theatre and the ballet so here’s hoping I love something equally as sophisticated. I’ve always said I’d love to go to the opera. I know I’ll love the glamour, even if I struggle with the storyline!

IF IT TAKES LESS THAN 5 MINUTES DO IT RIGHT AWAY

This is the big one for me, I am forever tied up in single tasking and trying to finish whatever I am working on. That I put off quick and easy tasks as they arrive, then rather than being a quick 5-minute task they end up being a 15-minute task, while I remember what I needed to do!

REACH THE GLORY LAND THAT IS INBOX 0

I want to be the smug bastard who sits there with the smile of an empty inbox, casually spurting out “my inbox is clear”. I know this is not going to happen overnight, but this is definitely something to keep chipping away at.

How did you get on with your 2018 goals? What new ones have you set for 2019?

How to Enjoy Driving Home For Christmas (as much as possible)

Those 4 words spark ideas of joy my mind, especially when sang in the dreamy voice of Chris Rea!

However, the reality is far from joyous I know the drive from our flat to my nan’s house in Cardiff is going to be hell on earth. As every man and his dog will be trying to leave London, the M25 will be a car park – standard, but frustratingly so will the M4 and the M40. Then when I think the hell is over there will be traffic entering Cardiff. I just know there will be tears!

There is one blessing in that the Severn Bridge will be free by then, though my mum assures me there are nine hundred and one speed cameras on the approach now, so “they’ll still make their money off you!”

I intend to drive over night in an feeble attempt to avoid as much traffic as possible. So, in anticipation of the delays I intend to make my solo journey as pleasurable as possible, while I was writing down my plans I had a quick google and could not find all that much.  The key is being prepared! So here’s a few tips and tricks I have learnt over the years that have helped me:

Week Before

  • Check the front and back lights work
  • Check my windscreen wipers
  • Write my packing list
  • Begin packing my presents and other things that I won’t need in the interim

Day before

Car

  • Remove anything I don’t need to take with me
  • Full up my fuel tank
  • Check my tire pressure
  • Check my water
  • Check my anti-freeze
  • Check my lights work again
  • Check my windscreen wipers again

Me

  • Make sure I’m well rested – early to bed for me!
  • Make sure I have packed plenty of layers in the car and they are accessible
  • Make sure I have a range of in car snacks
  • Make sure there is lots of water in the car

On the Day

Car

  • Pack the car – making sure I am happy that it is safe, also try to make sure as little as possible is on show

Me

  • Make sure I have a flask of coffee at the ready
  • Make sure my snacks are open and easy to access
  • Apply my favourite face oil so it can be doing its magic while I travel
  • Wear comfy clothing

Journey

  • Check the route I intend to take is as clear as possible
  • Make sure I have turned on TA radio traffic updates
  • Make sure I have my AA card with me
  • Download an audio book before I go
  • Download a back up playlist incase I finish the book
  • Make sure my favourite radio stations are selected before I go
  • Take regular breaks – as if I needed an extra excuse to cram in a Gingerbread Latte!

Another important thing to remember is not to stress too much, so what if your late for Grandma’s Christmas Cocktail Hour, as long as you get there safely!

When you get there, make sure you empty the car before you hit the bottle – as tempting as it is – because you don’t want to have gone through the stress of driving all that way only to have you sleigh emptied on your doorstep!

Once the car is sorted then it is time to crack open the bubbly in your honour!

What do you do to prep for a long drive? Any tips on how to make my journey more enjoyable?

My Favourite Time of Year in London

London is pretty clinical most of the year, it’s unlikely you’ll crack a smile out of a commuter, or even more unlikely stop one in their tracks and force them too look up. These are the hard and fast rules of London, but come the 1st December every year it is as if the annual supply of de-icer has been found and everyone is embracing the festivities.

There’s your standard trips to Winter Wonderland, ice skating at Somerset House or the Natural History Museum, Christmas lights on Oxford and Regent Street, viewing the decorations at Covent Garden, etc.

So here’s a list of the things you can go and do/see that are a little bit further away from the crowds and hopefully just as enjoyable:

Visit the Christmas Tree at Trafalgar Square

This is something I have done every year I’ve found myself in London around Christmas. The tree has been gifted to London by Norway every year for the last 72 years, as a token of appreciation for Britain’s support during World War II. It really is a sight to behold, dressed solely in lights. There will be carol singing at it’s base every day from 4pm – 7pm on week days and 2pm – 5pm on weekends, a full programme of those singing can be found here.

Sip Mulled Wine/Cider at the Broadgate Winter Forest

I have to pass this amazing enchanted forest on my way home each night and I have to tell you it takes every fibre of my being not to enter it! I have on many occasion so far this winter slipped in for one and ended up leaving at closing, after a pizza at Franco Manca’s and a testing the each bar in the Circle. It’s the perfect place for winter drinking al fresco. Don’t even attempt it on a Thursday or Friday as it is rammed. I’d head there on a Monday for their weekly quiz night.

Annabel’s Christmas Tree

Okay so this one isn’t so odd the beaten track, but I have been in awe of this Christmas tree display since it started popping up all over my instagram, I can’t wait to go visit this festive paradise in the flesh, Gingerbread latte in hand for ultimate basic gal points!

The Greatest Snowman

This is an immersive theatre experience run from Pedley Street Station near to Bethnal Green Overground Station which looks amazing. The food is created by the MasterChef: The Professionals Finalist 2017 – Louisa Ellis. While you wait for your food the story unfolds around you. I went on The Murdér Express, earlier this summer and absolutely loved it! This is a must do and the perfect alternative gift!

Pop Up Screens Festive Film Festival

Pop Up Screens are hosting a vast array of film showings in Hackney over the course of December, from Love Actually to The Holiday, Home Alone to Its a Wonderful Life. To get to your seats in a snowy wonderland you have to hot foot it like Lucy, Susan, Peter and Edmund, through the wardrobe into Narnia.

City point Christmas Igloo Screenings

This is another pop up cinema, this time in the City, Moorgate to be specific. I really want to go to this one, especially as it is all in the name of a good cause, with all of the ticket revenue going to charity. For as little as £13.50 you can watch a film on a bean bag in a PVC igloo and do some good, what more could you want.

Pop in for a Pint at The Churchill Arms

Another one that is slowly popping up everywhere on instagram is the magnificent display of Christmas trees at this pub. So pop in and support their electricity bill, being a stone’s throw away from Kensington Palace, you never know who will drop in, seen as Princess Charlotte had to down emergency loo stop at a local pub in Stockwell the other week!

Keeping it Local

I also love keeping it local at Christmas, as London can sometimes feel like a commercialised minefield with everyone jumping on the band wagon in an effort to get you to part with your cash!

Explore these quirky and little known places for unique things to do, I took a walk down out local hughstreet in Loughton and found the most wonderful Christmas Prayer Tree inspired by Dickins’ A Christmas Carol.

Look out for festive carol service and theatre productions and when it comes to mulled wine and mince pies follow your nose, you never know what hidden gems you could find. Just around the corner.

Let me know in the comments, what you go and visit, as well as any local gems you find.

Why I Will Alway Mark a Christmas Drinks Invite as Tentative

Like many of you I find Christmas a bit of a minefield, dofn’t get me wrong I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Christmas, the visiting friends, the impromptu nights out that turn out to be the best ever and of course the spirit of giving.

However, said season can be a minefield. From the bombardment of emails for drinks, to the thinking of what to get aunt Mildred who criticises everything and only ever gets me socks!

I’m 2 weeks into the festivities already, I’ve visited a Christmas Market, drank some mulled wine, visited a winter grotto, attended a Christmas Party and my first Faux Christmas Dinner.

None of which have gone off without a hitch, including the zip breaking on my dress at my boyfriend Christmas Dinner. And there is no let up in my calendar next week either!

So the pressure continues, with some of the biggest events happening next week:

Work Christmas Party

Firstly, it’s the annual work’s Christmas Party this Wednesday, which I’m approaching with mixed emotions. The dread that comes with the potential for judgment, should I get too drunk or something disastrous happen to my dress, again! But equally the joy of a night of jubilant celebration with my colleagues and a good old boogie!

The same emotions come to mind when I think about all of the casual after works drinks invites that are in my inbox, also currently marked tentative. 

Luckily for me I am in no way involved in any of the organising of the formal party, so at lease I am fully available to enjoy the night. 

However, I do have an intense amount of work politics to navigate through and that is before ensuring the dreaded BREXIT it not brought up in conversation!

Starting with: what to wear?

Every year I have this dilemma and every time I change my mind on the day! Luckily with my boyfriend’s Christmas party a dress code of “Black Tie” was given. Fortunately for me, this is a dress code I often face so I have an extensive choice of ASOS Outlet and other sale pieces to choose from. So that was safe, or so I naively thought!

However for my work’s party no dress code has been provided, which lead to a number of furious IM’s to my colleagues of:

Katie: Are you going to the Christmas Party?

Pal: Yes, not sure what I am going to wear though…

Katie: I know, there isn’t a dress code! 

Pal: No, I mean do I choose between this Jumpsuit or this dress?

Which left me even more bamboozled as to what that means the dress code is – “Smart” or lI forgot to change after work casual”… Also how much are you getting paid that you have the disposable income for a £150 dress!

In the end, I’ve gone with this dress I bought last year, but haven’t gotten around to wearing yet, with my trusty Next snakeskin espadrilles (to be tagged out by my red trainers by drink number 4!), my black velvet bag and most likely my leather jacket. All of which were already in my wardrobe – so who’s winning here! 

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I know its not that dressy, but it will do and I may add a gold belt and likely my favourite rings. For some extra glamour.

Next, there’s the dread that you could get stuck with someone you have nothing in common with/ worse still don’t like! This is my worst nightmare, as I am the terrible at exiting a conversation.

So I always make sure I have a few handy cues at hand: 

  • “I’m going to get another drink?”
  • “Do you know where the loo is?”
  • “I just need to go an check on X.”

They’re not the best in the world but 9 times out of 10 they work or at least introduce (trap) someone else in the conversation! If these don’t work and I haven’t gotten away, I often just resign myself to my fate.

Finally, there’s the dreaded “Christmas Party Drunk” I’m the worst for this, because I think I am the world’s biggest heavy weight, when in reality 3 pints and I’m gone! For this reason I do always try (when I remember) to have a glass of water between each drink. I often forget, especially the more drunk I get.

Just remember the golden rule, if you start to feel drunk get a cab home! It’s always better to be labelled a flake and still have a job the next day, than stay to the end – telling people some home truths and being unemployed the next day.

Another tip is to make sure your next day is easy, our dos are always in the week so the next day is a bit of a survivors parade. I try to make sure I’ve drafted a few emails to send the day before, so I appear to be more alive than I am, as well as using the day for an admin clear up.

Casual After-Work Drinks

Secondly, there’s the casual work drinks, which, I always mark as tentative. Mainly because I never know how I am going to be feeling that night. Whether I’ll still be hungover, just fancy a night watching Home Alone or will need to do some last minute christmas shopping!

So, tentative is the way to go, this way you’re not saying no and the organiser cancels the night due to poor response, but are not 100% committed to go and have to flake after 1 drink.

As with the formal Christmas Party the dilemma’s remains the same, what to wear, who to chat to and drinking too much…

My outfit choice is dependent on a number of things, the venue, how sure I am that I will go and how hungover I am from the night before.

For a night down the pub I’m likely to stay in what I wore to work or maybe even dress-down further, for a fancy venue I am likely to wear something a bit more glamorous to work and wear it all day, maybe dressing it up slightly with accessories, if I’m uber keen. If I’m hungover I will be in a jersey swing dress and possibly even a grandma cardigan!

Seen as these events are more casual, but often mean more chatting I do tend to make sure I’ve looked at the news that day and maybe have one or two other interesting topic up my sleeve, to fill up those empty voids of conversation and make the night more fun.

I apply the same drinking rules here as at the formal party, but allow for a few shots to sneak in later in the night!

Formal Dinner with Friends

Finally, the formal dinner with friends, I always have at least one of these type of events in the festive season. Whether it is a ball, dinner or cocktail party, this is where the finery is dragged out and all levels of pretension are let loose!

This year it is a White Tie Dinner in Clubland, which I just know will be exquisite in every way, from the food to the company, the wine to the venue, this is the host who always pulls out all of the stops. 

However the same 3 dilemma’s pop up…

Thankfully, again this is a dress code I have covered in my wardrobe from previous events. So I will be wearing this dress, which I’ve worn once before and cost me £48. So, all things considered it was a bargain. With my trusty Topshop silver Mary Jane shoes, which are the non-glider version of these. Accessorised with some of my favourite pieces of family jewellery. 

However, I am currently facing the dilema of whether or not to buy Opera gloves for the occasion, as tradition states that they are worn, but then there is the whole etiquette of gloves to be learnt! Aggghhhh… First world problems, right!

Here I’m not worried about being stuck with someone I don’t like, as everyone is wonderful. Although, I am sacred of feeling inferior, as everyone there is so wonderful and hugely brainy. However, in a positive way, this fear forces me to learn more and in the preceding weeks to attending one of these parties I find myself reading more and absorbing everything around me.

Again, this is another event where I am plagued by my love of alcohol. Here I need to remember to pace myself as last time I was somewhat of a mess, especially when I was shouting at a doorman – for not letting me into the Ritz hotel at 4am! So the water rule will have to be implicated here and I may even have to up the rations.

So, there you have it, the reasons I always put tentative to attending an event are due to the other stresses and strains involved. From the pre-event prep, whether that be in the form of what to wear, what to say or what to drink! All of it adds up and takes its strain. 

Let me know in the comments what you find stressful about attending festive events? Or if you have nay tips and tricks to help me?

 

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I picked this classic up, back when I was in school and sadly, did not enjoy it as much as I wanted to. So, I thought it might be worth letting you know why.

Northanger Abbey is the first and only book of Austen’s I have read to date. I choose it because I wanted to explore more of the literature classics.

Naturally, Jane Austen needs no introduction, as one of England’s best and brightest novelists and if your unsure what she looks like you need only to whip out 10 fine English pounds to find her portrait.

This novel was posthumously published by her brother Henry Austen, in 1817. Henry also took the liberty of renaming it Northanger Abbey, Austen herself originally chose Susan after the heroine, but later changed her name to Catherine and so the title change too.

Austen was, and still is, famous for her criticism of the popular romantic and sentimental authors of her day. Often creating heroines who are demure and naive to which Catherine is no exception. Austen is able to show Catherine is no fool, by making her tomboyish and practical, intimated with young goofiness and juxtaposes against the very feminine and fickle Isabella.

This novel is a satirical romance, mocking both the format of society and its obsession with gothic literature.

Due to the heavy focus on gothic literature, having read The Mysteries of Udolpho and The Monk before Northanger Abbey, would have proved very useful. As I have not read either, I struggled even with the extensive footnotes and explanations my copy had.

I feel the book itself was a bit “meh” as not all that much happens and so much detail is described. It seemed like so much effort was put into linking the gothic novels of the time that some of the characters and events went a little under developed.

I don’t think I am alone in this view as to date the book has only achieved a 3.81/5 on Goodreads.

An essay written by Joan Aiken published for the Jane Austen Society of North America entitled “How might Jane Austen of revised Northanger Abbey?”, explains how Susan was bought by the publisher Crosby in 1803 and shelved for 13 years. Until her brother Henry Austen re-purchased it. So perhaps even contemporary opinion thought it was mediocre.

We know Austen made some adjustments to the text and in her advertisement for the book she explains her frustration that Crosby had not published the work earlier. She was clearly worried that the gap between writing and publication had rendered the text irrelevant and implored readers, “to bear in mind that 13 years have passed since it was finished, many more since it was began.” (The full advertisement can be found here, along with further information about the novel and author).

Even then Austen delayed publication – so perhaps she never felt it was quite finished or the moment for publication had passed? Unfortunately, we will never know.

When it was finally published in 1817, Henry wrote a touching and heartfelt forward to the book, explaining for the first time that she was the author behind Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park and Emma. Previously she had only been named as “By a Lady” or her previous work.

Narrated in the 3rd person, Catherine’s plain life is laid bare and our heroine is born along the way. The narrator is quite critical of her simplicity and ordinary nature introducing Catherine in the first line saying:

No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine.

The story then moves to Bath and the adventures of entering high society for the winter season, sometime in the New Year. Catherine makes acquaintance with Henry Tilney and his sister Eleanor, whom she becomes very fond of.

As well as, Isabella and John Thorpe, children of Mrs Allen’s old school chum. Catherine seems to enjoy the excitement of Bath, but is overjoyed when Henry and Eleanor invite her to their country pile – Northanger Abbey.

The novel has 4 key themes:

  • Fear of social rejection – in particular the need to select a good spouse
  • Societies gothic obsession
  • Coming of age/maturing
  • The importance of reading

Marriage is the central focus of the story. It is the reason for the season at Bath, the sole aim of Isabella and John Thorpe. Also, the source for General Tilney’s interest in Catherine, followed by his wrath, the cause of Eleanor Tilney’s sadness and most importantly the anticipated link between our hero and heroine.

Marriage is inextricably linked to social rejection, as that would be the result of failure to secure a good match. Henry is often seen mocking the ways of society, by saying things like, “Now I must give one smirk and then we may be rational again.”

The gothic obsession is explored through Catherine’s currently reading list (side note she’d have a fleek Instagram!). Then in greater and more dangerous depth when she is convinced General Tilney murdered his wife. Austen show’s the danger that longing for high drama can bring to society, especially when gossip can lead to ruin at an alarming pace, even in the absence of social media.

This mistake leads to Catherine’s sharp coming of age and fast lesson in the dislocation of fact and fantasy.

The importance of reading is addressed both indirectly through the references to other novels and directly through Henry Tilney when he states, “The person, be it a gentleman or a lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

This English Classic has been adapted in many different ways – be that TV, plays, radio, film and even a Marvel graphic novel!

The only one of these I have seen is the 2007 film by ITV, staring Felicity Jones and Carey Mullingan. I love this film, its is perfect for a rainy day when you fancy watching a period drama.

I found the book hard going and quite frankly a waste of time. I like the story, but the continuous gothic references are a bit too much. They broke the flow of the story up and sadly it never got exciting in the way I had hoped. I was even able to put it down during the supposed high drama scenes!

However,  if I was reading it as a contemporary at the time, I probably would have understood it better and even loved it – in fact as I was coming of age at the time it may have even resonated with me.

So, I would not recommend reading the book, but I would however implore you to seek out the story in whatever other medium takes your fancy. As it is a good tale, but not worth the time and prep work it takes to read it in its original format.

Have you read Northanger Abbey – what did you think? What Jane Austen book would you recommend I read next?