“You look better with straight hair!”

Growing up I absolutely fell in love with chick flick cinema. Chick flicks are films that are aimed at younger women. The protagonist who starts the film as a ‘loser’ or a ‘nerd’ with an aesthetic that consists of the reoccurring curly hair, glasses, and braces and mid show there’s a major makeover montage where the protagonist has straightened their hair, the glasses have been replaced by contacts and braces have been removed and her ‘true’ beauty is revealed.

The Princess Diaries is a perfect example of this, yet it was and still is one of my favourite films. It was an emotional moment for us and rewatching the film I can’t help but feel that it is a reminder of the insecurities I felt at the time. The frizzy hair was no fit for a future princess of Genovia so Mia – played by Anne Hathaway – left her curls which did nothing but invite ridicule behind.

“I take ‘This!’ and ‘This!’ and I give you – a princess.” were the words of Paolo – played by Larry Miller – during Mia’s makeover moment.

So, there are actually a couple of options here; one is straight hair which allows you to climb the social ladder at the expense of damaging your hair, or two keeping the frizz and being labeled a freak or nerd. Surely, for a young girl the answer is clear?

I found myself stuck to my screen nodding my head in agreement and believing this is what it took to be beautiful or attractive. And as a young teen you’re vulnerable to the images exposed to you. I have been guilty of straightening my hair to the point of nearly permanently damaging it.

I’m pretty sure, fellow curl heads have at least at one point in their life have been there. From blow drying and using excessive heat, to keratin treatments, and even trying permanent techniques which damage the roots and leads to the hair grow back horribly damaged. I’ve untagged myself from many photographs on Facebook, and even begged my family to take certain photographs down.

Screenshot from the film princess diaries. Image credit WALT DISNEY PICTURES
 Screenshot from the film princess diaries. Image credit WALT DISNEY PICTURES

In the film, The Princess Diaries, Mia’s best friend criticises her new smooth soft hair, “You used to care more about what was inside your head instead of on it.”

Though, this can even be seen in the real world where curly hair has often has had a stigma tied to it for being ‘messy’, ‘unruly’ and even in some cases ‘unprofessional’. Although, I must admit, curly hair is hard to maintain and depending on the size of your curls it can even be difficult to keep tied up and even keep in a symmetrical style compared to straight hair.

Even working somewhere as informal as a pub, I’ve had occasional moments where customers would make remarks about my hair, ‘oh you should straighten your hair’, ‘it will look better straight’, and even comments such as ‘messy barnet [cockney rhyming slang for hair] you have there’.

It felt humiliating, but I knew I could not react to people who came from a complete different generation and who did not understand my personal experiences.

The work environment is not the only place this can be seen. Attending secondary school, nearly 70% of the students there were of black ethnicity, and the school regulations were that the girls had to tie their hair in a single pony tail. Majority of my black friends found this absurdly frustrating as they had to straighten their hair regularly to be able to maintain it in a ponytail style suitable for the schools regulations.

I’m pretty sure my secondary school was not the only one, there are many schools across the UK with similar and maybe even the same regulations. It often raised the question why did curly hair ever need ‘fixing’ in the first place? Or whether people with straight hair were asked to curl theirs?

Boys, I hate to break it to you but no matter how innocent your intentions may be, telling someone with naturally curly hair they look better with straight hair is – and I cannot argue this enough – not a compliment. This, in a way, can be rooted back to media representation or in fact the lack of representation for curly hair.

Growing up I saw more and more curls on screen, and made me want to embrace my own. A part of growing up is also accepting who you are as a whole, including our ‘frizzy’, ‘unprofessional’, ‘messy’ hair. I think it’s about time we stop straightening and damaging it our hair and we start wearing our manes with pride and challenge the standards that tell us that curly hair is unattractive.

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THE NETFLIX EFFECT: THE RESURGENCE OF CHESS

Since it first screened on Netflix, the mini-series The Queen’s Gambit has been a huge hit. The show is based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel of the same name which is an American period, a coming-of-age drama.

The series was released on October 23, 2020, and after just four weeks, it became Netflix’s most-watched mini-series.

While a few outlets declared the show to be an “unlikely success,” only a month later, Netflix proudly announced that 62 million households were glued to their screens to watch the series, which made it “Netflix’s biggest scripted limited series to date.” The director Scott Frank said he was “delighted and dazed by the response.”

The Netflix logo [Wikimedia Commons]

The Netflix logo [Wikimedia Commons]Elizabeth, who goes by the name Beth, ends up in an orphanage at the age of eight, where she finds two ways to escape her reality; first through the game of chess which is taught to her by a creepy janitor in a dark basement, and second, taking some little green pills (Librium) given to her and all the orphans, which helps keep the children sedated, but which opens her mind and allows her to play chess games in her head.

It doesn’t take long before her genius mind is discovered while playing a game of chess. She wins her way up the rankings, earning money, beating grandmasters. Her fashion sense is to die for, and her big brown eyes have captivated the hearts of millions across the globe.

However, the series is not the only thing that has grown in popularity, and some may even argue that it has surpassed the lead actor herself – it’s the board game itself. Chess.

As well as Taylor-Joy’s phenomenal performance and Netflix’s depiction of the competitive game, chess is once again popular. It’s trendy, and it’s the perfect way to show your braininess to your friends.

In the same week that The Queen’s Gambit was released on Netflix, there was a significant rise in people searching for the term “chess” on Google’s search engine in the United Kingdom and many other countries.

It’s an important time for chess. This unexpected and instant rise in popularity tracks back to Netflix’s successful series. The UK’s Metro newspaper reported that the search for chess sets have increased by 273% on eBay just after ten days the show was launched.

Chess.com, the most popular chess website and app with more than 50 million participants, has had several million new members join since the show’s release, while app downloads of Chess on the iPhone have leapt to number three in the United States and number two in the United Kingdom.

Covid-19 also has a role in this rise in popularity, having more free time and hit by boredom, it is the perfect time to give your attention to a new sport.

Covid-19 also has a role in this rise in popularity, having more free time and hit by boredom, it is the perfect time to give your attention to a new sport.

“Since the release of The Queen’s Gambit we have seen roughly 2.5 million new members join,” the director of business development of chess.com, Nick Barton told AFP.

Having millions of subscribers, Netflix does not rely on advertising, nor do they intend to; however, many marketing companies visualise a massive opportunity.

Netflix, already loosely work with advertisers via brand partnerships. An example is a deal between Coca-Cola and Netflix show Stranger Things. Therefore, the question rises about whether Netflix could become a potential advertising powerhouse?

There is no doubt that Netflix is officially a definitive modern media company, almost a symbol for the 21st Century technologies. It has changed the way we consume films television shows in society, and it is now one of the most crucial providers of digitally delivered media content. The number of subscribers on Netflix is growing each year by around 10%.

There are 12.4 million subscribers in the United Kingdom according to the latest figures and 59 million in the United States. It is safe to say that Netflix is the new media, and its influence is undoubtedly recognisable in various industries.

Experts call it ‘The Netflix Effect’, and according to Forbes magazine this phrase is referred to as “when a new series catapults and unknown actor to fame overnight. As a result of millions of people binge-watching a show.”

However, the term has grown to refer to several factors: curating the content, the content itself and its social and economic influence, and different representation. Due to lockdown and everyone being stuck indoors, the Netflix Effect has reached a new high.

An important theme the series tackles is sexism, and with a female protagonist, it challenges the rarity of female players in the competitive world of chess.

David Llada, chief marketing officer of the International Chess Federation said that only 16% of the country’s licensed players are in fact female in the United Kingdom. The effect of The Queen’s Gambithas created a shift for women in chess.

Chess is a cool game, now thanks to the Netflix Effect, more and more people are coming to realise that and have decided to be a part of the chess community.

Nona Gaprindashvili, a Georgian grandmaster, said “You have to be psychologically and physically strong, and have a drive for excellence.”

Artefact link

Book review: Normal People by Sally Rooney

Book: Normal People
Author: Sally Rooney
Genre: Fiction, psychological fiction
Rating: 5/5 
Published: 2018

Sally Rooney has a way with her straight-to-the-point style of words captivated by steadiness, but it still does not fail to draw you in. The book Normal People concentrates on the lives of two ordinary individuals (Connell and Marianne) who are discovering love, lust, loneliness, depression, trauma and overall, their path in transitioning into adulthood. Something we all can relate to. 

The story follows Connell and Marianne from their school days where they begin a secret affair. At school they pretend to not know of each other. Connell is popular at school, well liked, and an athlete who plays for the soccer team but as for Marianne she’s quiet, private, lonely, vulnerable and proud. Connell’s mother works as a cleaner at Marianne’s house. The two’s connection starts when Connell comes to pick his mother up. Their social and socio-economic backgrounds could not be further apart, but that does not stop the sparks happening between them. Events of betrayal happen and the two drift apart only to be brought back together at Trinity College in Dublin, where they both attend.

This is a story about two characters who are desperately in love and find their way back to each other, each time they drift apart. This is a story that goes well beyond lust and sexual awakening, two normal people who have a sense of innocence to them. Something we rarely see nowadays, where there are no drugs involved nor are, they criminals, which makes this book ever more interesting.

Sally Rooney, a young Irish author born in 1991. Her previous work consists of Conversation with Friendswhich was published in 2017, only a year before her book Normal People, which also gave a name for her. The book, Normal People, has won the 2018 Costa Novel Award, the Novel of the Year Award at the Irish Book Awards, and was Waterstones Fiction Book of the Year 2018. The book has also been adapted into a series on Hulu. 

Rooney’s writing style is simple but sharp like a knife, which leaves words bleeding inside of your head for days. While reading this novel myself I felt that I reached a level of epiphany in my young adult life, things became clearer almost. How miscommunication and misunderstandings can lead to failure in relationships and how subtle these miscommunications can be at times.

The book makes you not only think but also feel the realities of ordinary people. Rooney’s coming of age tale tackles why and how people interact in a unique way. Connell wonders, “Is the world such an evil place, that love should be indistinguishable from the basest and most abusive forms of violence?” Connell grows and slowly adjusts to the world around him, whereas Marianne relapses, often finding herself in abusive relationships, yet they still seem to be rooted to each other even though they drift apart. It’s almost frustrating that Rooney keeps these two characters apart. 

Rooney is a young and original writer, and she is only just getting started.

Book review: The Runaway by Martina Cole

Book: The Runaway
Author: Martina Cole
Genre: Fiction, crime, thriller
Rating: 4/5

Published: 1997

The Runaway is a novel by The Sunday Times number one bestselling author Martina Cole. If you have read any of Cole’s crime novels, then you are well aware it is not suitable for the faint-hearted, as it can be hard to stomach the brutality of it. A book which is gritty and graphic, it portrays the merciless gangs and harsh lives of Londoners between the years 1960 to 1980, in its rawest form. Where the characters such as Eamonn Docherty play god and decides who should live or die, making a name for himself an heartless villain in London and New York. 

The story follows Cathy Connor and Eamonn Docherty living together as children: Cathy’s mother, Madge, is a prostitute and her husband Eamonn’s father, Eamonn senior lives off his wife’s wages. They all live in poverty in the slums of the East End of London, but this does not stop the two kids from dreaming about a better life with each other. These dreams however, are shattered following a series of events which push Eamonn to move to New York leaving Cathy behind and fighting for herself. After ending up in care, Cathy has no choice but to become a runaway and finds herself at the doors of Soho, where she makes herself a friend, a transvestite by the name Desrae. However, It’s only a matter of time before, the two sweet childhood lovers’ paths crosses again. This time Cathy is not a weak little girl anymore, she’s grown, strong, beautiful and clever.

If you have read Cole’s other books, you will realise that the drill is pretty much similar in terms of the characters and theme of the plot; men who are hungry for power, money and women who are either used and abused or break the traditional norms of the ideology that women are inferior, are powerful in their own way. Don’t let the thickness of the book intimidate you, because it’s a real page turner. It’s highly gripping, and throws you into a rollercoaster of emotions with love, betrayal, loss and gang violence. The brutality of the book can be frightening, and the love between Cathy and Eamonn shows us how deep love can run even if you spend years apart, and even when they are not deserving of that love. With gang violence follows death and as Cole accurately describes in the book, “no matter what happened to you personally, life went on for everyone.”

A fiction book which allows you to reflect on your own life nonetheless, with quotes such as, “Oscar Wilde said that youth was wasted on the young, and he was right. When you were young you wasted not only your own life, but usually someone else’s as well.” Although, as amazing the book may be, I can’t ignore the book’s repetitiveness. A well written, engaging story, yet, a story filled with prostitutes, women who are used, abused and who believe they need a powerful, handsome, rich man to survive the harsh world of their reality. If you are getting tired of this theme, then I must say that this book is not for you.  However, if it’s your first time reading from this author, it will not disappoint. 

You can buy your own copy from Amazon here.

Book review: The queen’s gambit by Walter Tevis

Book: The Queen's Gambit
Author: Walter Tevis
Genre: Fiction, psychological thriller
Rating: 5/5 
Published: 1983

From the moment I picked up Walter Tevis’ amazing novel The Queen’s Gambit, I struggled to put it back down, and ended up finishing the book in just two days, 243 pages of it. The Queen’s Gambit is a novel first published in 1983 following the life of a chess prodigy. As boring as that may sound, the words that tell the story between the front and back cover begs to differ. The novel takes place in 1950 where women are still considered to be intellectually inferior to men. Elizabeth Harmon, is both young and also female, challenging the traditional norms of society. We are first introduced to Beth at the age of eight as an orphan with the first sentence, “Beth learned of her mother’s death from a woman with a clipboard.”

But for a moment, let’s put chess aside, and look at the story through Beth’s eyes, an eight-year-old orphan girl from Kentucky. The chaotic battlefield here, in this story is her mind. Ending up in an orphanage at the age of eight, Beth finds two ways to escape her reality; first chess which is taught to her by a creepy janitor in a dark basement, and second, taking the little green pills given to her and also the other orphans, which helps keep the children tranquilized. It doesn’t take long before her genius mind is discovered while playing a game of chess. She wins her way up the rankings, earning money, beating grandmasters. Beth is smart, maybe even too smart for her own good. In a society where women are considered inferior, she doesn’t see gender, and is often frustrated about articles written about her, focusing more on her being a young woman rather than her successful chess wins. But all that aside something is missing in her life, which leaves her mind in a state of loneliness. Leading her to swallow more green pills and drink more alcohol.

There are many quotes in this book I enjoyed and choosing a favourite is difficult, however, if I was forced to choose it would be the quote where Beth said, “It’s an entire world of just 64 squares. I feel safe in it. I can control it; I can dominate it. And it’s predictable. So, if I get hurt, I only have myself to blame.”

To those who are thinking, “do I need to be a chess fan to read this book?” The answer is no. Although, the plot takes place with a girl rising up the ranks playing chess, it is also much more than that. It is also about loss, death, rejection, addiction, and even sexism. Ergo, if you believe you can relate to even one of those emotions listed, this book is for you. That’s not to say that chess is boring. It may be for some, however Tevis brings out the excitement and dramatics of chess into this book.

The book is engaging and easy to follow with the author’s straight to the point writing, “it was six days until Thursday.” It’s a book I read once and will happily go back and read again. I enjoyed The Queen’s Gambit to the point where I turned a blind eye to Beth’s gloomy future at the end of the novel. The little orphan grew up to outgrow the one thing that made her name. We may not be a prodigy but we can still understand and relate to Beth Harmon in more ways than one, which is the core of what makes this book engaging. 

You can buy your own copy on Amazon.

The odd things you remember when you’re watching someone die.

Photo credit: manyfires 

‘It’s odd, the things you remember when you’re watching someone die.’ I thought to myself, as I looked at his grey face in sorrow. His expression was confused, and his face was thin. There was no trace left from his once red cheeks. It almost felt like I was staring at a zombie with the eyes of a dead fish. Cancer is a dreadful disease. It robs you of your beauty, energy, youth, time, and your life.

I was so lost in my chain of thoughts, that his rough husky voice had to bring me back to reality. I apologised. “I remembered the time you taught me how to make a swing for my toys as a kid.” I said as an explanation to where my mind had drifted off to.

We sat together side by side in peaceful silence, both reminiscing my childhood mainly. The room was bright and white, just like any other ordinary hospital room. It was a bitter sweet moment. As we knew the sense of defeat was knocking on his door. There’s no cure for death, so we should in reality just accept it and welcome it.

Death is a part of life. Often, we are taught that it’s the opposite of life, but they could not be further from the truth. I always wondered why we are never taught to get ready for something which every soul will taste at one point. Then, it occurred to me that humans have a tendency to avoid what they do not understand and what they fear. As if avoiding something and merely pretending the lack of its existence will lead it to go away. It’s a hard reality to get used to, that the world does not wait for anyone. That it will simply continue to turn with or without you and no pain nor yearn will stop it. 

We fear death for its unknown future, it’s such a complex topic to be able to comprehend. Thinking about it can even alter your reality. Ergo, its understandable why we choose to avoid the subject instead. However, acceptance of a matter or event which you do not possess the power to change, can and will reduce suffering. As it allows you to look fear itself in the eyes without flinching.

I believe once you are face to face with death, all your worries, ego and petty dramas are dropped into the depths of the ocean. It humbles you almost, and stops you to end up with piles of regrets of things that needed to be said and people to be loved, things to be done. 

We all know who alexander the great is, what you may not know is after conquering many kingdoms, he was finally returning home. On his journey he became unwell and this illness dragged him to his death bed. With death staring him in the face, he realised how his conquests, his great army, his sword and all his wealth were of no consequence. He now longed to reach home to see his mother’s face and bid her his last adieu. But he had to accept the fact that his sinking health would not permit him to reach his homeland. So, the mighty conqueror lay prostrate and pale, helplessly waiting to breathe his last. 

He called his generals and said, “I will depart from this world soon, I have three wishes, please carry them without fail.” With tears flowing down their cheeks, the generals agreed to abide by their king’s last wishes. 

“my first desire is that, my physicians alone must carry my coffin. Secondly, I desire that when my coffin is being carried to the grave the path leading to the graveyard be strewn with gold, silver and precious stones which I have collected in my treasury.” After a moment of pause due to exhaustion he continued. “My third and last wish is that both my hand be kept dangling out of my coffin.”

The people who had gathered there wondered at the king’s strong wishes. But no one dared bring the question to their lips.  Alexander’s favourite general kissed his hand and pressed it to his heart. “Oh king, we assure you that all your wishes will be fulfilled. But tell us why do you make such strange wishes?”

At this alexander took a deep breath and said, “I would like the world to know the three lessons I have just learnt. I want my physicians to carry my coffin because people should realise no doctor on this earth can cure death. They are powerless when it comes to saving someone from the clutches of death. The second wish of strewing riches on the path to the graveyard is to tell people that no amount of wealth will save me nor come with mw. I spent my life with the greed of power earning fortune but I cannot take it with me. Let people realise it is a waste of time to chase wealth. About my third wish of having my hands dangling out of the coffin, I wish people to know that I came to this world empty handed and empty handed I shall go.” With these words the king closed his eyes, soon he let death conquer him and breathed his last.

With this story I want to add that there is birth which is the beginning and there is death, the end but we often forget there is also everything that happens in between, and that is life. Time is precious and death is inevitable. Yet, death is easy and, in some cases, pretty rapid, the main challenge is to live. To live life without fear and accepting death as a part of life.  

As a society we need to stop sweeping the topic of death under a rug. No one wants to think about it now. Why? I would even go as far as to argue it’s one of the most important things to think about.

The talk of religion has been a debate for centuries and probably will be for centuries to come. However, there is no real evidence of an afterlife realistically. There is however, only faith. I sure am one of them who believes in an afterlife. The idea of imaging yourself to never exist and simply rotting six feet underground is scary. But, rather the idea of never existing is difficult for me to fully comprehend. 

One day, you too will close your eyes to this world. All your belongings, possessions and even your last pennies in your bank will no longer matter. It will not exist. It may pass down to your next of kin, you will no longer own them nor will you really be needing them.

Yet, the scariest aspect of death for me is all your memories and knowledge fading. The thought of this truly breaks my heart. It makes you ask the oldest question known to humanity, “what is the meaning of life.”

From the beginning of time, every event that happened, every moment that occurred from the speed of the wind to the rain falling from the sky, happened and it brought you into existence. The butterfly effect. Did it all happen by chance or on purpose? Will you ever be able to find the answer to these questions? Probably not, but the journey to finding these answers will be a hell of an adventure.

“The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” – Mark Twain.

Vegan romance: how the vegan dating scene has evolved

Photograph credit: Ian Howorth

Dating a vegan may come with negative stereotypes and a bad rap. From being ‘too annoying’, to having a ‘dull diet’. Veganism can be a restrictive diet, not only in the sense of meat but also dairy, eggs etc., as all animal products are off limits. However, veganism has been on the rise and within the last decade is has grown 360 per cent in the UK alone.

Joshua, 24, decided to become a vegan for moral and health reasons after watching a lecture by Gary Yourofsky called the most important speech you will ever hear. “I decided to be vegan in 2015, my family from Brazil they showed me the lecture and by the end of it I was like why am I eating meat?” says Joshua. The lecture covers ‘everything’ and gives an insight on the benefits of being vegan not only environmentally but also for personal health.

“It’s now common knowledge that there’s a certain amount of pus and blood allowed in milk.”, he then adds. According to the Animal Aid, a litre of milk can have up to 400,000,000 somatic cells (pus cells) before it is considered unfit for people to drink.

However, it is not necessarily easy to just switch to veganism overnight. It can for some be a challenge. Especially for someone like Joshua, whose family is Brazilian, where their food culture is heavily meat based. “I grew up in south London and chicken is a massive part of that culture, so my diet was chicken and chips for my whole up until to that point, and then one day I was okay I’m not going to eat meat anymore.”

If Joshua was more ‘introverted’, he would have struggled in the dating scene as a vegan but he was verbal about his dietary and his views. “When I first became vegan, I was vocal but I was also vocal about a lot of my views, whereas now I’ve just hit the point where I’m aware that people can be stubborn and really set in their ways.”, he says.

A vegan chicken restaurant’s Instagram page; Temple of Seitan.

With the rise of vegans in the UK, meeting people who are vegan or even vegetarian has become more common compared to 2015 when Joshua first became vegan. “A lot more people in our generation are becoming vegetarian and vegan, so the people I’m meeting tend to be vegetarians.” However, for someone who’s more of a shy vegan would be the ‘altercations’ or the ‘backlash’ they would face. “It’s a fun talking point for some people. It can get tiring.”

According to a study done by EliteSingles vegans are more likely to go on a date with a meat-eater with the figures showing 82% and with 72% would begin a serious relationship with a meat-eater. Whereas, when the tables are turned only 69% of meat-eaters would be willing to go on a first date with a vegan and 61% will be open to a serious relationship.

Although Joshua’s girlfriend is a vegetarian, he is a part of the 72% who will still be happy to be in a relationship if she were to be a meat-eater. “The main issue with dating a meat-eater would be to do with morals. The big thing for veganism is you have certain morals with how people are treating animals and the whole industry. Where a meat-eater may not be aware of those things or doesn’t care so then it becomes a whole thing of having severely different morals and that could become and issue.” Joshua says.

From the old ages to our modern-day society, the dating scene has revolved around eating out; dinner dates, chocolates, coffee in the morning or even brunch. Finding a partner who has similar values or even finding a place to eat together can be a challenge for vegan couples.  “Before we go and sit down anywhere, we have to look at the menu and make sure there are vegan options”, says Joshua.

Compared to when Joshua first became a vegan, restaurants and eating out places have evolved in regards to having vegan options on their menus. In those five years alone, veganism has impacted the food industry. “There are now places which are specifically catering to veganism, or restaurants are at least adding a few vegan options on their menus.”

However, dinner dates are not the only thing that change after you become vegan, chocolate is also a massive part of the dating culture. “Now there is an alternative to chocolate, there is a bar called Vego Bar and it tastes like Nutella in a chocolate bar, but it’s completely vegan and it’s incredible.” Dark chocolates are also an option where it’s just naturally vegan.

London in general has a massive chicken culture, however, the impact veganism had on the food industry speaks volume as now there are multiple chicken shops which are primarily aimed for vegans. Some of the restaurants are: Temple of Seitan which known to be one of London’s vegan fast food restaurant, and another popular restaurant is the Chick’nrestaurant on Baker Street.

There aren’t drastic changes to the dating scene regardless if you’re a meat-eater or a vegan. However, with food playing a big role within the dating scene it can still be an obstacle. “Only thing that has changed is food really. Going to restaurant, just making sure there are vegan options. I wouldn’t say being a vegan has a massive impact on your dating life any more than it does on your personal life.”

Creatives reacting to the government telling them to ‘reskill’

Photo credit: Dazed Magazine

“People participate in arts by going to galleries, listening to music, watching movies but refuse to recognise the extent of the importance of the arts sector. They want to consume it; however, they don’t want to fund it because they believe it’s not really needed.” Says Amy, 21, a fine arts student from London. 

Earlier this month Rishi Sunak appeared on ITV New saying “I can’t pretend that everyone can do exactly the same job that they were doing at the beginning of this crisis”, showing no regard to UK night life and arts. A government-backed advert was trending on social media, where it was encouraging creatives to ‘rethink and reskill’ and take a new career path in cybersecurity. The ad has since been removed after the arts world was shaken with backlash by many creatives and criticism by the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, who labelled it as ‘crass’ and distanced his department from the campaign. 

The CyberFirst campaign ad which promotes cyber security jobs for young people around the ages 11 to 17. The ad illustrates a ballet dancer named ‘Fatima’ with the text reading; “Fatima’s next job could be in cyber (she just doesn’t know it yet),” Followed with the slogan “Rethink. Reskill. Reboot.” However, it instead set off a series of backlash by creatives. Many who felt ‘angry’ and ‘frustrated’ with the governments’ stance on the arts industry. 

‘#Fatima’ was trending on twitter, with people defending the arts and suggesting the government should instead support the art industry and creatives to follow their talent and dreams. 

Night time economy adviser for greater Manchester also portrayed his criticism on twitter reading; “Today, the Chancellor has said musicians and others in the arts industry should look for another job. That includes your favourite DJ… If you like to go to nightclubs/events/festivals, just remember this when we are through it. They are killing off our scene.”

Kema, 26, a youth worker from oxford, “it just shows how detached they [the government] are if they can’t recognise the importance of arts. Not only as an industry but also for people’s mental health. I work with kids and teach them rap, and I can say to them ‘hey look you’re not doing well in school but we can put you on this rap programme, with an alternative education’ because the education system doesn’t fit and work for everyone. This is a way for the kids to express themselves, be heard and earn money.”

“It’s horrible, you work so hard towards something and it’s not like it’s a hobby where you just stop playing video games.” Says Harvey, 25, a musician from Brighton. “Working in the arts and putting on events is so much more than just a livelihood, this is what you want to do, you work hard for it and being told to rethink your whole life is absurd.”

“I spelt FUDGE with my GCSE’s, I got F in English, U in another exam, D in science, G in drama and E in PE, so my parents were well proud.” He said jokingly. “But my parents were proud when I was playing on stages at festivals in Croatia. I do something I love.” 

Dowden tweeted; “I want to save jobs in the arts which is why we are investing £1.57bn” This will include theatres, museums, orchestras and music venues to help reopen. However, the UK’s music industry is worth £5.2 billion a year and the nightlife bring £66 billion for the country.  The art industry contributes to the country’s economy more than automotive, aerospace, life sciences and oil and gas industries combined. 

Freelancers and independent creatives struggled to sustain themselves even before Covid-19, and post lockdown their livelihood has not been ‘taken seriously’ by the government. Freelancers and independent creatives feel like they’ve been ‘thrown under the bus’, where in some cases, had to move out due to being unable to pay for rent. 

Matt, 34, music producer from Brighton says, “With sports nothing has happened to it, people can’t go and watch football, but it’s still carrying on and they are still playing in the premiership but no one has asked them to retrain.”

“I’ve always worked and balanced myself as an artist, and it can become extremely demanding.”  

“Artists who do commissions have a fixed hourly rate and then there are people who beg them to do it for a lower price. It’s actually humiliating to artists, no one sees the time, effort and amount of work that actually goes into what we do. It shows ignorance towards the art sector.” Says Amy.

“Other people whose jobs are in jeopardy are not being told to rethink, they can treat it as an important job as anyone else’s job, show some respect. It is mainly focused on people who are in the arts.” Says Harvey.

The Dizzying Final Photos Taken by a Free Runner Who Fell to His Death

Johnny Turner fell tragically while climbing a block of flats in central London. He was 23, and leaves behind an impressive body of photography.

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PHOTOS BY JOHNNY TURNER.
FEATURED IMAGE BY Craig Atkinson

Johnny Turner was a talented free runner and photographer. He had a special “touch” when landing his jumps, balancing elegantly on thin rails or walls almost without making a sound. He also loved London’s architecture – from train lines to abandoned construction sites to tower blocks and housing estates – and photographed it obsessively. Johnny was able to combine these two passions in urban exploration, an activity that took him to parts of the capital most people never see.

“He was the type of person who would just ride his bike and do parkour so naturally, he came across these environments from an early age,” says Will, a friend of Johnny’s. “He grew up in Balham in south London, so he’s always been around places like Stockwell, Brixton, Clapham. I think that’s why he drew a connection with this type of architecture.”

In September 2019, Johnny fell to his death when climbing a block of flats in Waterloo. He was 23 years old.

urban-exploring-london-uk

Urban exploration, also referred to as “urbex”, is the practice of entering or climbing a city’s uncharted buildings. It could be the top of a block of flats, an abandoned building site or in the case of Bradley L Garrett, who scaled the Shard in 2012 and brought the often nocturnal activity into the spotlight, one of its most iconic skyscrapers. Many “explorers” take photos of the views they encounter, often sharing on social media. London-based urban explorer Harry Gallagher, also known as @night.scape, has more than 240k followers on Instagram and posts shots from the sides of buildings and inside tunnels. Ally Law has earned over 3 million subscribers on Youtube with his urbex videos, and once broke into the Big Brother house. Viral videos of urban climbers like Vadim Makhorov and Vitaliy Raskalov, who run the YouTube channel On The Roofs, have also brought the activity to the mainstream. The hashtag “urbex” now has over 7.5 million entries on Instagram.

Like any extreme sport, urban exploration carries certain risks. Depending on the kind of building an explorer decides to climb, floors can be unsafe or even collapse, while bad weather conditions leave scaffolding wet and slippery. Abandoned buildings are littered with trip hazards that may be impossible to see in the dark, when many urban exploration missions take place. Entering a building without permission can also be considered trespassing, and in some cases punishable by law.

Roman, another of Johnny’s friends, says that he knew the risks involved with urban exploration and was respected within the community. “If you do it [urban exploring], it’s not necessarily dangerous, because with everything you do, there’s always calculated risks,” he says. “You’re not going to take a risk you know you’re not ready for.”

urban-exploration-londonTWO TOWER BLOCKS IN STOCKWELL, SOUTH WEST LONDON, NEAR WHERE JOHNNY GREW UP.

Johnny leaves behind a fascinating body of photography that shows London from a completely new perspective. One photo centres on two tower blocks in Stockwell, not far from where Johnny grew up. Another was taken on the Golden Lane housing estate, which he used to describe as the “hat” on top of the block. He also photographed the Wyndham and Comber estate in Camberwell, a popular training spot for parkour that featured in the music video for Goldie’s “Inner City Life” – his favourite song.

“Johnny found beauty in the grittiness of tower blocks,” says Will.

Johnny’s goal was to document these buildings before they disappeared. According to a study from the London Assembly, redevelopment projects between the years 2004 to 2014 led to a drop in social housing, and a huge increase in private housing. Many council estates and tower blocks that were not listed buildings were demolished. The most famous of these is the Heygate Estate, a housing estate in south London made up of more than 1,200 homes that was demolished between 2011 and 2014 as a part of a redevelopment plan for the Elephant and Castle area.

london-urban-explorerTHE “HAT” JOHNNY DESCRIBED ON THE TOP OF THE GOLDEN LANE HOUSING ESTATE.

“Johnny loved seeing the world from up there,” Roman says. “Maybe not 24/7 but 23/6, he was out there [exploring].”

It wouldn’t be unusual for Roman’s phone to ring at 2 AM and for it to be Johnny’s number. He would answer and listen to his friend enthuse about cycling to east London to “check out a new spot.” Sometimes, though, it was a struggle for Roman to keep up with Johnny. “He was the king of the blocks,” he says. Johnny’s friends hope to one day show his photos in an exhibition.

Johnny loved urban exploration despite the risks. But what is it about seeing London from often dangerous viewpoints that can be so inspiring? “For different people, it’s different reasons but the biggest one is simply that they are extremely beautiful and striking and carry a very powerful aesthetic experience,” says Barnabas Calder, an architecture historian from the University of Liverpool and author of the book Raw Concrete: The Beauty of Brutalism.

urban-exploring-johnny

Calder adds that London’s council housing is also interesting from a social history point of view. “Its [aim] was to improve the housing of ordinary people, and bring up the lowest standard of housing to the highest quality, in terms of technical performance and quantity of housing available.”

For Roman, urbex is about more than just a beautiful photo or even a building’s purpose. “As much as it’s about getting the view and sights it’s also a mission,” he says. “It’s a journey.”

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Pedro, another friend of Johnny’s, sums up why he thinks Johnny loved urban exploration.

“For Johnny, it wasn’t about being on a roof and doing dangerous things – despite what people may think,” he says. “It wasn’t even close to that. His passion was to document the constantly changing city.”

Originally article link: Vice Magazine

Behind the eyes of a refugee.

Words: Melissa Johnson
Photography: Pinterest

The British media continues to be unsuccessful with the representation of migrants, and one main reason behind this failure is the lack of diversity within the industry. Many journalists will and have agreed that the media industry is middle-class white male orientated and it’s one of the biggest issues of our generation, that needs to be tackled.

The majority of British media are white males. The figures shows that 94% of journalists are white, 86% of journalists have attended university, and 80% of editors were privately educated. More than half of leading journalists went to a private school making the figures 51%. Most ironically, 46% of bosses in the industry are uncomfortable with the level of diversity in their own news rooms.

Only 37% of senior radio roles are held by women and only 11% of journalists come from a working class background. However, the most upsetting figures show that only a small faction of 0.4% of journalists are muslim. It’s coming up to a new decade and these figures show that there needs to be drastic change very soon.

Many migrants, regardless if they are born and raised in the UK, or are here to seek asylum, find the representation of migrants somewhat inaccurate, non-existing or even in some cases offensive.

Abdulwahab Tahhan is a 31-year-old Syrian refugee who is now living in the UK. He’s currently studying media studies at UAL (London College of Communication) and has previous experience in media such as working as a researcher for NGOs and more. However, with his background and lack of ‘western qualifications’ he struggles to find a job in the UK in the media industry.

His story began in Dubai where he was born, but not long after his birth his family moved backed to Aleppo, Syria – his home country.

“There are no borders and people can cross if they wanted.”

Towards the end of 2012 Abdul left Syria permanently. By that time, it was about two years into the war, and he went to Turkey which is not too far from the boarder of Aleppo. “While we were filming the documentary called The Suffering Grasses in 2012, we interviewed a Turkish government official, where he explained with a map that there are no borders and people can cross if they wanted” said Abdul with a calm expression.

Watching the documentary and visually seeing Abdul talk about the war on screen which was supported with footage of civilians being attacked, gives you a good idea as to why Abdul felt like he needed to leave his home. However, his calm expression suggests that he has made peace with this decision.

“I felt like my views were not welcome, I’m against armed opposition. I’m pro peaceful resistance, pro peaceful protesting, I was protesting on the streets, I was filming too. I was against arming the uprising. It came to a point where I had to either carry a weapon and stand against what I believed in and become one of those who carried weapons, or become a media activist for one of those armed factions and I didn’t want to, or I had to leave.

It came to a point where I had to either carry a weapon and stand against what I believed in and become one of those who carried weapons, or become a media activist for one of those armed factions and I didn’t want to, or I had to leave.

Living in the Assad controlled area was not an option because I was wanted by the Assad government. I didn’t have many choices; Turkey seemed like the best option” he explains.

“If you’re rich you can bring your loved ones, if you’re not forget about it.”

The immigration laws are not friendly either, unless you come from a wealthy background, you are welcomed with open arms and pink flowers. However, in contrary to that if you do not, the door is shut. “If you’re rich you can bring your loved ones, but if you’re not, you can just forget about it.” Abdul was able to come to the UK through a student visa with a deposit of £2,500, once he arrived, he applied for asylum and was able to receive it.

Moving and settling down in the UK was a big step towards a war-free and safe future for Abdul, and there are expectations in regards to the people and the country itself. “The first thing that I noticed from the plane was, it was very green compared to Syria.”

The people however, were indifferent and slightly ignorant to the war that was happening in his homeland. “I remember meeting an Asian girl and she asked me where I was from and I said Syria, she asked where is Syria? I said it is next to Italy it’s very beautiful there, it has a lot of beautiful beaches. She wanted to go there but I hope she didn’t” he said as he nervously laughed.

People were not aware of the horrible war in Syria, and that a lot of refugees were putting their whole life on the line to make their way to Europe.

However, once the media started reporting and covering stories in regards to the amount of refugees trying to cross the borders, it was only then people became more aware. They started paying attention, but even so the only reason people decided to pay attention is because the situation involved them, on a now, more personal level.

“You either make it or you die trying.”

When Abdul wanted to have conversations and debates on the Syrian war he noticed a lot of people avoided the topic, or perhaps did not want to talk to him about it. He assumed that the reason behind people choosing not to talk to him about the war, maybe had to do with the fact that he was Syrian, and the other party was afraid to offend him in any way.

Although Abdul was not one of them, there are still many people who try to cross the border illegally. They risk their lives because they are desperate and are simply looking for a way out. They have no other option and don’t want to go back into a war zone. “You either make it or you die trying.”

Abdul has family members and friends who were not as lucky to be able to find a job and attempt to escape the war in a safer or legal way, illegal border crossing was their only option. “Some were successful, one person drowned in the ocean, most got caught.”

If Abdul was unable to find a job in Turkey, which then allowed him to come to the UK to seek Asylum, he says he would have taken the same drastic measures and would try crossing illegally to either go to Sweden or Germany.

Abdul has close to ginger short hair, light brown hazel eyes and a pale peachy skin tone. A stereotypical ‘European’ look, as he claims. When asked about if he was ever a victim of racism when he arrived in the UK, he said he wasn’t as people thought he was European and did not think he was Syrian. “A lot of people thought I was Italian, and have said I don’t look Syrian, some people even thought I was Jewish here.”

A friend has even said to him “you look European Maa sha’Allah”, – for those who do not know the meaning of Maa sha’Allah it is a term used in Arabic and Islam where it means ‘god has willed it’ to express appreciation, joy or praise – Abdul questions the reason as to why his friend would think looking European is something that should be praised.

Although Abdul was lucky enough not receive racism personally, he has witnessed that some of his friends and even students were not treated the same way. He’s even had an incident where one of his students was thrown food at.

“I remember I wanted to cross the road, I was living in Southampton with a guy, he was Mauritius and he was dark, I said let’s cross there are no cars, he said no we have to cross from the traffic lights, you can cross but people will shout at me because they see me as an immigrant.”

The media plays a huge role on people’s opinions on refugees, and depending on which news publication you choose to receive your news from it can impact your thoughts on refugees drastically. With tabloid publications, the readers pay to read it and live on it.

In some situations, the media can also lead to unrealistic expectations due to the coverage of rare exceptions. Most non-British people who live in the UK to seek asylum such as Abdul cannot find the stories covered relatable when that’s the exact purpose it should be.

According to Abdul and many like himself, what they’ve witnessed is the fixation of two extremes on opposite end of the spectrum and nothing in between. A story about a very successful immigrant or a child getting bullied. Although the stories about the successful immigrants are tend to be used for inspiration among a lot of people, but there is still lack of representation within the media.

“What I saw on the media is the fixation on the incredibly successful people, who for example a 13-year-old girl who speaks seven languages and has a double PhD from Cambridge and oxford who was a refugee, or someone who’s bullied.” For Abdul as a refugee even though he feels happy for those who have become successful, and sends out his thoughts and prayers for the bullied victims, he says he doesn’t see his story represented and for a lot of other refugees it’s the same situation. They fall in the middle of the two opposite extreme spectrums.

This is only when individuals are being reported on however, when it comes to the middle east and Syria for example, as someone who’s Syrian and have lived through the war in Syria, Abdul has noticed that the only two narratives that is portrayed is either ISIS or Assad. This is due to a lack of diversity within the media industry.

Working within the media industry in the past Abdul has realised that it’s not well structured, and believes the model of journalism in the UK is not fit for purpose anymore. As he disagrees with neutrality. “If you know for a fact that something is a lie you should be able to say they lied instead of they claimed. Once you keep repeating that then you’re just a parrot.” He says while portraying his frustration.

This situation makes him feel upset, and witnessed first-hand what happened in his home land, he watched as the Assad regime killed his friends and neighbours but only being able to report on it using the word ‘allegedly’ when he knows first-hand it has happened upsets him.

To be able to structure the media industry for the better, one thing that Abdul strongly believes that should change is the lack of diversity within the media, and journalists, reporters being able to report about their own home lands or people.

“When I was in Syria, I too thought that the BBC was the holy grail of journalism”

One issue this could lead to is the news story turning into a bias report, however Abdul explains in a calmly manner that it will be more quality reporting because you’ll send someone out there who knows the locals or at least understand them, understands the language and understands the culture. “What annoys me the most is I know a lot about my country and I’m really informed. But I’m not able to write or report about it because no one would hire me.”

The reason behind the unemployment of journalists who are refugees is seen to be the lack of ‘western qualifications’. It is seen by employers that western qualifications are ‘superior’ to eastern qualifications, therefore employers believe the journalist is not qualified enough. “When I was in Syria, I too thought that the BBC was the holy grail of journalism” says Abdul while laughing at his past self.

This is why the Refugee Journalism Project started, to help change the quality and diversity of reporting, there are not only journalists from Syria but also from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Africa and a lot of different places. It’s a project to help journalists who have immigrated to the UK for whatever reason and help them find a job in the media industry in the UK.

“But instead they have this celebrity war reporter who’s white, who knows nothing about the locals, nothing about the language and absolutely nothing about the culture.”

The BBC released a Panorama episode about ISIS brides and the person who was reporting on the topic in Syria was the journalist Stacey Dooley, she referred to the Islamic prayer gesture as the ‘ISIS salute’ even though the BBC later apologised for the mistake, and even deleted that section from the episode, Dooley herself has not apologised.

“The media industry needs diversity, people who are from different religions, cultures, background, so mistakes like Stacey Dooley’s doesn’t repeat itself,” explains Abdul with his brows crossed and serious face.

If the roles were to be switched around and a non-English speaker in an Arabic country was to report on Brexit, and if that journalist was to only interview Arabic speakers the quality of the reporting would be, in Abduls words, ‘utterly awful’.

The only people who can bring a change to this issue are the people in the decision rooms and they need to understand why diversity is important. Everyone thinks differently and everyone have their own way of approaching certain situations or issues.

Journalists from different backgrounds have different understandings, opinions and also connections to the world, and therefore there are stories they would want to cover where the audience would very much want to read about. This is why we need diversity within the new rooms.

Melissa Johnson.

The fear of race within the music industry, most importantly – Grime.

Photo credit: Chloe Sheppard

“I’ve had more hate from my own race rather than I did from black people,” says 22-year-old Connor Cuttress, a grime artist who goes by his stage name, C Two. The musician is a mere part of a now huge mainstream industry, and has been making music for over a decade, he talks about his struggles and what it is like being a white grime artist within the grime industry. He often reflects this struggle in his own lyrics, such as the song ‘Big for your Boots’ where the lyrics say, ‘C Two’s this, C Two’s that, C Two’s shit, he thinks he’s black.”

“The go to hate speech of white people is C two you’re white, so why are you making black music, why do you believe you’re black. Keeping in mind I actually grew up in a very African orientated community I believe I’m a cultured white man, but my point is I acknowledge grime is black music but that does not mean if you’re a different race and have talent you’re not allowed to make this music, grime is an open, free for all.” The young artist who’s based in Liverpool was raised in a very African populated area, thus having a lot of black friends growing up is what influenced his journey in grime, “it was the year 2008 and I remember we were in the music room in school with my friend and he showed a track on his phone, it was a grime tune and I liked it a lot, the lyrics touched me, when I asked him who it was he said it was him, and then I thought to myself, if he could do it why can’t I? My journey pretty much started there.”

Born in East London from a mixture of Garage, Dancehall and Drum & Bass music, and entire new genre was created. Grime. When talking about Grime, the idea of Black British culture is a somewhat relative definition. It was a new sound, and the lyrics was influenced purely on self-experience of the artist. Other music that is considered as ‘black music’ such as Hip Hop, Reggae, jazz and blues share similar or even the same elements of grime, so how can we not say that Grime does not belong to the category of ‘black music’. It started off with young boys growing up in tower blocks and rusty council estates. However, since then it certainly has evolved from London pirate radios to the mainstream pop culture of London, reaching a wider audience. But does this mean Caucasian grime artists cannot further their careers within the industry, or is there a stereotype going around as to they’re less likely to be as successful as a black artist. But the main issue is, we are well aware of this topic yet are scared to talk about it. However, as Dan Hancox argues in his book ‘Inner City Pressures the Story of Grime’, “Grime is black music, even if it’s not always made by black people.”

C Two is only a part time artist who is making the most out of his talent, “I am confident in my talent, and I am only doing what I’m good at and that it making beats, making music.” Labelling a music genre as black music certainly does not mean it is purely for black people and blacks only, this is where a lot of people get confused and misunderstand the term, it is simply referring to the fact that people should acknowledge the genres origins, and it does not prohibit anyone from enjoying it or even taking part in it. Children from a very young age are exposed to pop culture, and parents unaware of how it programs them through race and even gender to embed the idea of the role they should play within society. “There’s an idea in society where people assume just because grime is black music that it’s for black people, and I have had more racism from my own race than any other, I’ve had knives pulled at me for just making black music. I am white as snow there’s no denying that, I do look in the mirror, but I certainly do not fit in with them because of the type of music I produce and make.” Says C Two.

Talking about race, and talking about the issues within the music industry that involves race is not something we should avoid but quite the contrary, we should not be afraid of it as it is not racist to argue about race.

London’s outlawed explorers.

Words: Myself
Photo credit: Pinterest

In London it’s that time of the night. Even in a city that never sleeps there is a loophole time when young explorers can camouflage themselves within the shadows to avoid being spotted by passers-by. It’s bitterly cold and wet, but harsh weather is not a reason to pass up the chance to explore the rooftop of a block at the Barbican Centre. It hasn’t been explored before, untouched and waiting for an adventure to happen, it’s an opportunity which rarely comes around.

The outlawed explorers usually wear colourful Nike shoes with a good grip, to climb the rusty ladders, black balaclavas which are nearly as good a mask and black Nike hoodies that cover pretty much everything above shoulders except the eyes, blend in with the darkness but still look stylish for that perfect shot.

Maybe someone who lives in one of the nearby tower blocks near the Barbican woke up for a glass of water at night and, gazing out of their window, glimpsed a figure in black standing on the edge of a nearby building. Maybe they thought little of it, putting it down to an overactive imagination or simple tiredness. However, that crazy figure in black standing on the edge of a building very much exists, and there are more like them. They are ordinary people living double lives – normal nine-to-five worker during the day and an adrenaline lover, urban explorer by night.

Urban exploring – urbex for short – is the exploration of abandoned man-made structures, locations to which the general public would not have access. Climbing rooftops of famous buildings or even something as common as tower blocks is also a part of the game, and photographing and documenting these places plays a crucial role. As an urban explorer myself, believe me when I say that urbexing is a lot more than simply just a hobby. It is an escape, a way of life for those involved.

People have long been attracted and drawn to the mystery behind abandoned places and locations which are not easy to access. The origins of urban exploring date back to the 1970s with a group known as the Suicide Club in San Francisco, who are commonly accepted as the progenitors of modern urban exploration. Over recent years urbex has crept its way up to be one of London’s most desired and appealing mainstream pop culture.

However, fancy skyscrapers in the city are not the only desirable attraction for explorers who also seek out tower blocks in Hackney, Ladbroke Grove, and normal buildings in Shoreditch and even Camden. The ArcelorMittal Orbit, the 114.5-metre observation tower cum sculpture in the Olympic Park in Stratford has also been hit before, as has the West Ham football stadium.

Regardless of how bad the weather conditions make the view of the skyline look finding beauty in the city during the darkest hour of the night is an undeniable part of an urban explorers’ routine. Photography in a way beautifies what we would normally consider ugly if we saw it with our naked eye, and therefore photography simply frames the subject to beautification, and as Susan Sontag says, “nobody ever discovered ugliness through photographs.” Not many have the perks to experience and see the view of London’s skyline from that high up, thus it something to deeply value.

Urban exploration offers different things to different people. “I always liked photography but once I was introduced to urbex that’s when I truly started enjoying it” says the 19-year-old who goes by his Instagram name, ‘Newnotes’. Newnotes was introduced to urban exploration by a friend from school in October 2016. He has a full-time job and says urbex plays a huge role in his life, as a release from all the stress of work. As well, having access to views of London from a perspective which not many people see is something that he values, as well as the social aspect of king like-minded friends for Newnotes, and sharing with them the experiences and the views they get to see and photograph together.

Urban explorer who also lives a double life goes by his Instagram name ‘Kaizen’, he is a 19-year-old full time student and a part time photographer, he was introduced to urban exploring by a friend which then later on led him to go out in the midst of the night more regularly, he values the excitement of urbex. “The freedom that I get and the adrenaline that comes with it; like will we be caught or will we actually make it. I enjoy the uncertainty. And also looking down on people from above them reminds me just how small the world really, and how unimportant most of our worries are and this mindset helps me to relax.”

London and its burgeoning skyscrapers has been a prime playground for urban explorers. The giant blocks in the Canary Wharf financial district have certainly been a particular attraction and some explorers who were caught by police officers have even been banned from the area from 12 to 24 months and will be arrested if they go there. Urban exploring is not a criminal offence but it is a civil one, under the law of trespass. So explorers in London can explore buildings without the fear of being handcuffed and locked up in a cell. Newnotes says, “Every officer you meet is different, some will want to lock you up some will want to see your shots and then take a selfie on the edge.”

Urbex carries real dangers, particularly for younger people who try to emulate more experienced participants but without a proper understanding of the risks, while filming every step of their journey for to post on Instagram and YouTube.

There have been many deaths of explorers over the years. In 2017 a 44-year-old Eric Paul Janssen fell to his death from a ledge on the 20th floor from a luxury hotel in Chicago, reportedly while taking photographs. Christopher Serrano, a 25-year-old New York based explorer who went by the Instagram name ‘Heavy Mind’, died as he attempted to climb onto the roof of an F line train as it passed through Brooklyn. Jackson Coe, 25 who was known for doing backflips on top of skyscrapers was discovered dead at the back of six-floor building in the West Village in Manhattan, New York.

One of the best-known urban explorers on YouTube is Ally Law who has trespassed into the Big Brother House and Thorpe Park, where he climbed a rollercoaster and has also been banned from TV studios and theme parks across most of the UK. Many explorers have strong opinions on him, Mouse, who goes by his Instagram name ‘mousegreen.art’ believes the social media can encourage inexperienced explorers to take dangerous risks. “Ally Law and anyone who are doing these kinds of videos [Urbex YouTube videos] are fucking it for us. I don’t believe making viral videos with no regards for influencing other people is very sensible.”

As urbex has become more popular, the risk has grown of young and vulnerable people copying what they see on social media. Equally, some argue, the videos can be effectively a hand book on how to break into buildings for real criminals. Experienced explorers fear that this will lead to stricter laws and, perhaps, the criminalisation of their hobby. This has led them to a surprising and perhaps paradoxical understanding of the police and their position. Newnotes says: “It is important to always respect the police not just because they’re doing their job but because they’re normal people as much as us. It’s hard to respect someone who wants to arrest you however if you can you’re likely to walk away without any problems. However, the influx of new explorers who do not have this attitude often make the police’s life very hard making the police make more radical decisions.”

The reality that we don’t know anyone at all

Has it occurred to you that, you may not exactly know the people you hold the dearest to yourself as well as you thought you did? I remember my ex-boyfriend telling me during our third date, “You will never know anyone, not fully.” At the time I got defensive, and took complete offensive to his statement. It made me think, surely if you’ve known someone for all your life or even a long period of time, you must know them inside out? It will be embarrassing not to? Right? Well, wrong. It took me a long time to realise, and I cannot argue this enough, fully realise we do not know anyone at all, not even our dearest ones. The most heart-breaking part of it is that we never really will. 

The Japanese have a proverb which will tell you that people have three masks they wear within their life, sometimes the mask is translated to faces. We have three masks or faces we put on throughout our lives. The first one is the one we show the world, and everyone around us, almost a face in our most perfect form. The second is the face we show to the people closest to us, our loved ones, family, friends. Finally, the third face we dare not show anyone. A face where no one is worthy of seeing and knowing. It is us in our rawest form.

Following this line of thought, these faces or masks are all us, different versions, but still us. The first as I mentioned before is the most perfect, likeable face we portray to the world. We can almost argue that it is also the fakest version. When you think about it, if everyone in the world was to portray only their first face to the world, does that not mean no one has had the courage to show their real face to the world? We can sometimes be conditioned to impress, be likeable, and be forced to be somebody they are simply not. 

With the second face, we believe and trust, thus show a small glimpse of us to our close ones. We like to think they care about us and therefore allow them to stick by us when we have fallen. 

However, these faces the Japanese talk about, for the third mask, is in fact the voice in our head. It is that voice which no one will ever have the privilege to hear, only us. It is us, authentic and Real. This alone, tell us that we never really know what that voice in someone else’s head is saying. They could be plotting a murder for all we know. Unless you possess the power to read minds, you, as much as you wish otherwise, do not know the people around, not fully. 

We are all guilty of putting on a mask every day. Pretending to be that perfect person the world expects us to be. Sometimes, living with the consequences of being authentic can be heavy. Contrary to popular opinion I believe it is an emotional labour to be yourself, showing who you really are to the world. It’s tiring more so than pretending to be someone you’re not. The fear of not being liked once you open yourself, feeling exposed and vulnerable. That is why the first and fakest mask we put on every morning when we stare into our bathroom mirrors with a smile is not an option, but rather a must. We trip, fall, rise, get stuck in limbo every single day. We pass obstacles, we fail them. We are human, yes, but we are also a warrior, a soldier, a fighter. Just like a warrior puts on their armour to face a battle, we put on our masks to face the world.

Poem 26: OBLIVION

A knot so tight,
Stuck in my throat,
Words of delight?
I laugh out of spite.

What do you want?
A familiar face now foreign,
Lost for meaning, judged often
By eyes that see sound, softened.

Mind so clouded,
Thoughts rushing, crowded
A parade of vivid dreams,
Strangely cheerful it seems.

Even maybe strangely sad,
Most considered it tacenda,
Broken sky leaking into meridian,
It fills us, the infinity of oblivion.