Coping with night shifts

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Sometimes, I wish the world would shut down overnight. Everything would pause, as if in a real-life mannequin challenge, only to resume upon the sunrise. The times I wish this is before, after and especially during a night shift at the Beeb, because unfortunately, life doesn’t stop and news keeps coming from around the world, so once a month I do a string of them to cover shows across the World Service. It’s amazing what can be achieved with a constant supply of caffeine.

I’ve just finished my fourth run of nights since I started my job, and they are not getting any easier. I had plenty of prior warning about the difficulties of getting through them, but I still didn’t fully appreciate the challenge until the first batch arrived. Granted, most graduates end up as night owls in their final year of university, and I’ve even worked a job that was permanently on late shifts, not finishing till 1 in the morning. But all the way through till dawn? That’s another thing entirely.

Yet the whole issue of catching every one of your forty winks isn’t consigned purely to those who work night shifts. Sleep has been the casualty of a world that refuses to shut down and embraces the 24/7 mentality from all angles. This is rather alarming, considering that rest is a necessity as fundamental as food and drink. For me, the moments of exhaustion in the early hours, counting down the minutes to the end of your shift, do occasionally cause me to worry about the long term effects.

Then again, I am not permanently on nights, and I am also lucky enough to love my job to bits, so at least I am enjoying my work whilst fighting to keep my eyes open. In a way, there is something quite peaceful about the deserted office, only broken when you wander into a darkened room and encounter the deep rumbles of someone snoring through an early morning nap. Then when I work regular hours, I try getting the Underground at half eight- the curse of the commuters- and wonder how anyone can do it Monday to Friday.

One of the main things I’ve learned is that everyone copes with night shifts differently; they’re such an unusual and daunting beast, that you have to develop your own strategy of dealing with them. But over the last few months, I’ve picked up a few techniques that help me prepare for and cope with them better- not so much completely removing the impact, but softening the blow at least. I thought I’d share them below:

  • If you work blocks of shifts like me, staying up late the night before yours first shift works wonders in moving your body clock forward. I usually stay up till around 2 and then sleep in most of the morning, to make the first great push less of a challenge. Remember being a kid and staying up late was the coolest thing in the world? How times change.
  • For me, the hardest part of nights is coming off them the other end. There are a few options: the first is get a few hours sleep, rise around the start of the afternoon, to get your body clock back to normal. The second is to stay up all day and go to sleep in the early evening- quite an endurance as you’ll be up for over 24 hours! The final option is to stretch the process over a couple of days (so you go to bed in the early morning after your first day off, and gradually push your sleeping pattern back a few hours at a time). What you actually do depends on your immediate plans after your last night shift- I prefer the latter option, but usually end up with the first!
  • The F word- no not that one, food. Some swear by not eating at all, and I don’t blame them: your metabolism is greatly reduced during the wee hours, so it’s generally not a great idea to binge overnight. I tend to follow the breakfast-dinner-lunch plan: have my main meal before getting in to work, and then a sandwich in the early hours to keep me sustained. Just be aware of how your body processes food at a slower rate.
  • Pace the caffeine! I try and stay off coffee for the second half of my shift- although I do still have tea, because little else will make me feel warm and comforted at that time in the morning- so that there is nothing to stop me falling asleep the moment I get home.
  • Invest in some decent ear plugs and an eye mask. Trust me, you’re going to want to get as much rest as possible, and the best way to achieve this is to limit factors that can force you awake. Shutting off any sound and light is guaranteed to keep you sound asleep.
  • Try to avoid making plans during the day. Sleep needs to be prioritized! In between nights, I never plan to do anything that can’t be done within the parameters of my flat, or even better, my bedroom (don’t give me that look…) Having said that, I would recommend getting some decent exercise before your shift. I find an evening run is brilliant for waking yourself up for the night ahead. You’d think it would only make you more tired, but actually it’s an ideal way to de-stress.
  • Keep your workplace brightly lit during your shift. It can be tempting to keep them dimmed but in fact, your body reacts to the light and makes you feel more alert. That’s why you can end up staying awake for hours from staring at your phone in bed, because the bright light causes your body to think it’s daytime and you should be awake. Use this during night shifts to your advantage to give yourself an attentiveness boost.

Hopefully these tips will help! If you are tackling night shifts in the future, and reading this article has sent you into a sleepless panic about the consequences, then just remember this: as poor souls drag themselves out of bed for another day at the office, it’s the former that YOU will be going home to. Forget the rest, for your rest will come soon after.

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Coffee Shop Gestures, or Random Acts of Kindness

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Why obsess over constructing a perfect moment, when true surprise comes from sudden spontaneity? A few weeks ago, I found myself at an Italian cafe near Trafalgar Square with an absolute gem of a girl. My mind was poring over how to make our weekend unforgettable in every detail, when the waiter approached us out of the blue. I assumed he would offer to take our plates, but instead he crouched down and mentioned that the lady next to us had just paid our bill.

You may be aware of these so-called “random acts of kindness,” such as the Free Hugs campaign, a social movement based on selfless compassion for one another. There’s also the Jewish concept of “mitzvah,” the secondary meaning of which denotes to a moral deed performed as a religious duty; colloquially, a deed done out of generosity. You see these random acts dotted throughout the headlines of news sites, as if such selflessness is a real rarity in this day and age.

Now, it’s impossible to analyse the act without considering the lady in question, who we had no prior connection with. She was by herself, with a programme for the West End production of The Lion King- perhaps she noticed the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory programme on our table, and saw some of her in us? That would mean the act was not truly “random” (the only reason the waiter could provide for the act was that the lady thought we looked like a lovely couple)- yet does that mean it is any less of a selfless act?

The biggest question we had to answer, startled as we were, was whether to acknowledge the lady as she made her way out of the restaurant. Our minds went back and forth, but the waiter had also mentioned that she wished to remain anonymous, so eventually, when the lady did emerge, we decided not to thank her. Sometimes it is nice to have your gestures shrouded in anonymity. Even so, we couldn’t help glancing in her direction as she left, our minds

In truth, random acts of kindness in this day and age really do take you aback. Unfortunately, we are often suspicious of anything being offered to us freely; we always expect to have to do something in return. Furthermore, we all like to think we’d do something selfless on instinct, expecting the best of ourselves on instinct, but how often does that actually happen? When was the last time you did something truly selfless?

Think about it, because honestly, those random acts have such an incredible impact on the bestowed. Our conversations kept going back over it throughout the evening, but it also put us more at ease with one another, as if the lady’s deed was a blessing on our blossoming relationship. So next time you’re struck by inspiration, be it in an Italian café or wherever you are, don’t let it fizzle away; just take it and go with it. It’s amazing how something so random can end up having so much meaning.

My thoughts on Bestival 2016

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What would be your response to seeing the Chuckle Brothers playing the main stage of a major music festival? Given the crowd’s rapturous response to their seasoned shambolics (complete with Barry miming on the drums), it was a mix of triumph and humored bemusement. This was my second time at Bestival which, ever eclectic, had proposed a “future” theme.  Admittedly the brothers were early on in the day, but the heart-warming nostalgia guaranteed by a set chock full of “to me, to you” and “no slacking” was almost at loggerheads with this.

Oh dear oh dear, you might think. But actually, among a sea of futuristic artwork, glossy spaced-out costumes and (perhaps most importantly) a whole host of new talent, the odd dot of reminiscence in the form of legendary performers- be they acclaimed artists or the silliest of children’s entertainers- was much needed. Heck, 2016 has been a tough year, particularly in popular culture; we need a slice of sentimentality every now and then- not just to remind us of what has been, but of what can be done.

Despite me and James getting there quite late on Friday, we were still able to find space for our tent without having to walk too far into the festival. However, if you go down with more than one after the first day… well, I crave your confidence, your optimistic outlook on the ways of music festivals. Forcing ourselves to set things up properly rather than just dash off to enjoy the music was probably the toughest part of the whole weekend, even more than packing everything up on Sunday morning in the early, hungover stages of a post festival comedown. AND it was a pop up tent.

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Bestival, Chuckle style.

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Bestival and chill.

Maybe my regular attendance of Glastonbury has warped my expectations of other festivals, but the main stage certainly seemed small. For reference, it was on par with the Park stage at the aforementioned Somerset series, and it was much smaller than the main stage at, say, Reading or Leeds. In a way though, you can argue that this puts it on more level footing with the other stages of the festival; that it is on par with the rest, rather than trying to stand out.

Delays on entering the festival meant that we missed Skepta, much to my annoyance and James’s jubilation, but Major Lazer were satisfying Friday night headliners. From the first bounce of “Pon De Floor”, we were treated to all manner of shapes and speeds; even gimmicks like Diplo zorbing across the crowd were enjoyable enough. The only big let-down was the short, acoustic version of “Cold Water,” courtesy of MO, who had played the Big Top earlier. As one of the late contenders for summer anthem, I felt this was a missed opportunity.

After enduring the rain for Chuckle Brothers,  me and James escaped Saturday’s awful weather with a few hours in the Big Top; this is Bestival’s second stage, so more musical tricks than circus treats. My highlight was Beaty Heart, one of the first band’s I’ve heard who truly consider the texture of their innovative electropop, with “Flora” prompting swathes of slow grooves across the tent. Then the rain faded away for Craig David, his comeback continuing to catapult him further into our consciousness with his lively, pure feel-good R’n’B. Another mix of past and future that you can’t explain, but it works.

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The Cure’s Bestival set: “Just Like Heaven,” you may well say.

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The People’s Front Room, Bestival’s best kept secret.

Now, some bands yearn to make their festival slot a special occasion in some way, such as celebrating an album anniversary by playing it from start to finish. Instead, The Cure embraced the best of their back catalog- nearly three hours of it in fact- and delivered a spectacular set that took in all corners of alternative, from psych to disco to indie and back again. From the impassioned jangle pop of “Friday I’m In Love” to the sludgy bass intro of “Just Like Heaven” sending up wistful cheers, the highlights were predictable, but no less enjoyable for being so.

Sunday meanwhile, in the grand festival tradition, was a bit of a blur. Me and James spent lots of it exploring the less-trodden western corners of the festival, wandering through the Ambient Forest to the top of the site to take it all in. Pick of the day had to go to Will Varley on the Magic Meadow’s Invaders of the Future stage. It was a slightly difficult set in a sense because of its close proximity to the main stage, but Varley’s folk was equally rowdy and enthusiastic, doing very well in keeping the crowd with him throughout.

Coming back on the ferry late that evening, drifting in and out of sleep and reveling in the foul-language nostalgia of Teesside Tintin, I reflected that Bestival does feel a bit like a holiday getaway, bowing out the summer in spectacular style. Granted, it WAS slightly smaller this year (as festival organizers openly admitted on social media afterwards), but the festival still felt like it was giving its all throughout. Although I will admit there was a particular hideaway that underlined most of the fun across the weekend: The People’s Front Room.

Fashioned as an otherworldly nineteenth century salon, this tucked-away gem offers a heap of talent across funk, jazz, and all manner of genres for that matter, to be enjoyed from one of the plush armchairs or the Persian-style carpets. Leave your wellies at the door and immerse yourself. Being so close to the artist, it offers an unparalleled level of intimacy- despite the venue doubling in size since last year’s Bestival. It’s easily my favourite find from the fields. For me, festivals are about the hidden delights you stumble into; maybe Bestival is right in pointing to the future, to see what you come across next.

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My Harry Potter Cursed Child Book Review

It’s official: Harry Potter is Lord Voldemort. His soul split into many pieces and hidden into books, theme parks and now a West End show, he will never die. But can the script alone do the show justice, and is it a worthy successor to the seven stories that preceded it?

I dissected this and a whole lot more in my Cursed Child book review on my YouTube channel. Give it a watch and see what you think!

 

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The art of walking in London

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Trains, escalators, discarded Evening Standards; London is just the time from one underground station to another. You spend so much time checking what line you’re getting onto, you rarely have the chance to consider what’s going on up above. But London is restless. There is just too much activity to spend most of your time travelling underground. Admittedly, I am incredibly lucky that I live within walking distance of my work in Oxford Circus… well, if you classify an hour as being “walking distance.” For me? That’s the perfect excuse to put on my headphones and stroll through the city centre.

Lunchtime at Tachbook Street Market, ten minutes north of where I live, is bustling with activity, offering food from every culinary corner. As I make it through to the other side, I spot a group of identikit businessmen all in dark navy suits, clutching a white plastic bag in their right hands with whatever delicacy they’ve opted for from the market. The bags mirror each other as they jostle, the group moving in a uniform formation almost eerie to the eye. Only one is without a blazer; it’s nice to see someone who dares to stand out from the crowd, even if it just with your items of clothing for a midday meal.

Then it’s through Victoria, nowhere near as manic as when swamped with miserable Monday morning commuters. There’s a pub advertising afternoon tea, “elegantly served with Pimm’s.” I can’t help but wonder, what makes the service so elegant? The fact that it’s Pimms, or do the bar staff twirl their way across the room like ballerinas, pirouetting as they pour the jugs from a great height and creating a red, fruit filled waterfall? So many questions, creating another of London’s little mysteries.

It might be the middle of the day- one of the better times for commuting in London- but it’s also the school holidays, and there’s a huge queue for tours of Buckingham Palace that stretches round to the front of the building itself. Tourists strain against the railings, scanning the soldiers for the slightest movement. There’s always people there, but in the middle of August, there are a LOT of them. In Liverpool, they’ve introduced “fast walking lanes” for those who are on a mission, not in the mood to dawdle; London could certainly use some of those at the prime camera-clicking locations.

Green Park is equally manic, a mix of lunching workers, fitness fanatics fitting in an afternoon run and school groups stampeding along the paths; the only oddity is a patch of barren earth where a tree used to be, now roped off but full of pigeons. The Pokemon Go craze has slowed down now, but before there were huge swathes of individuals dotted across the green, staring at their phones and occasionally looking up to where they imagined their target to be.

There’s a bloke fixing some kind of box near Berkeley Square, and what you may ascertain to be true workman fashion, there’s a plumber’s crack for all to see. An elderly gent in a suit has slowed his pace to fully take in the sight before him, gazing with an intensity that is bemusing to the point of almost amusing. Maybe he’s gay? Maybe he’s taken with buttocks in an entirely heterosexual way that is just aroused by curiosity? Maybe he also finds it funny? What I’d give for him to laugh out loud right now.

As I near Oxford Circus, there’s a tourist taking a picture of an ice cream advert on the side of a bus. I shouldn’t judge, but an ice cream advert? Tourists seem to take pictures of anything these days; the bus wasn’t even particularly red. And those are just some of the sights that caught my attention on the way to work; palaces, parks, posterior. Maybe I watch others a little too intently, but given the fact that the sheer number of people can be a negative for some- and it can be an annoyance at times for most- you have to find some quality to it.

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I Can’t Give Everything Away: The Art Collection of David Bowie

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Musician, actor, curator.  Artist, icon, Bowie. There is no one word that defines him other than his name; such was the broadness of his interests, his pursuits, his (sound and) vision. Certainly, he will be mostly remembered for his music, and not everyone will have fond memories of the Goblin King, but to encapsulate what a pioneering, influential figure he was, there really is no other option in terms of providing an explanation.

It’s half a year since he’s gone and there’s no sign of his spirit disappearing. The Aladdin Sane lightning bolt atop the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury; a box set “Who Can I Be Now?” featuring songs from his “American phase,” out this Autumn; even a musical based on “The Man Who Fell To Earth,” coming to London in October (although admittedly Bowie co-wrote the show before his death). But his art collection? That truly is a new side to him, one that has only been hinted at before.

This November, Sotheby’s will be auctioning over 400 pieces of work from Bowie’s collection, many by some of the most celebrated British artists of the twentieth century. Before that, it will tour Los Angeles, New York and Hong Kong before a full exhibition in London in the week leading up to the grand sale, which is expected to bring in a cool £10 million- and that’s just the value of the paintings, before you take into account the previous owner.

For now, a preview of the exhibition has opened in the art business’s Mayfair branch, and with the luck of the draw giving me a day off on its opening morning, me and my housemate decided to head down. Thankfully, it wasn’t too packed- this is after all, only a preview, with just over two dozen pieces on display from the full collection- but there was still an excitable buzz as we meandered the halls checking out the pieces.

Not surprisingly, one of the highlights is Damien Hurst’s “Beautiful, shattering, slashing, violent, pinky, hacking, sphincter painting,” what I now know to be one of his trademark “spin” paintings. The vibrancy of so many colours, twisting around the circle in such a wild, enigmatic manner, made it impossible to miss this piece, an explosion of unrestrained creativity.

I also greatly enjoyed Ettore Sottsass’s ‘Casablanca’ Sideboard, another piece that refuses to blend into the background- except that this was a piece of furniture. So often now we pick out sets of matching chest of drawers, bedside tables and the like, almost for want of uniformity and order, but the jutting shapes and bold colours of this piece are entertaining to behold.

Finally, it wouldn’t be the most astonishing revelation that Bowie had an unusual record player, but the sleek, insatiably stylish Brionvega Radiophonograph by Pier Giacomo and Achille Castiglioni was something to behold. Accompanying it was a list of “25 Albums that could “Change Your Reputation,” according to David Bowie,” originally from a Vanity Fair article in 2013. I’m ashamed (but also not surprised, if I’m honest) that I did not have any on the list, but that will also make for interesting listening at some point in the future.

And there, in among the displays, are striking poses of the man himself- constantly reminding you that these particular pieces of art will forever be embedded with a unique context. Why did he buy them? How did they fit into his collection, his style, and his overall outlook on life? The further you look into these things, the more they befuddle you; at its simplest, it offers another definition of Bowie for us to ponder over.

Bowie me

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My first time at the Proms

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A man reaches for a Tupperware of grapes during the interval, as the smell of wine hangs thick in the air. It’s my first time at the Proms- officially as a “Prommer” too- and of all the concerts, gigs, live events that I’ve been to, this is one in particular that is unavoidably informed by the atmosphere. Of course, classical music can be enjoyed anywhere- and maybe likening it to the grandiose architecture of tonight’s venue plays into a certain snooty stereotype – but the ambiance of the Royal Albert Hall really lends to the feeling of the Proms as an occasion, one to celebrate.

And yet, here I am with my flatmate Gavin for the cost of seven pounds. Yes we’re technically standing (though many choose to sit down even during the recitals), but in terms of encouraging people from all backgrounds to experience classical music, the cheap price of the tickets is really promising. There was no queuing for hours either- this is the first year the Proms have started selling these tickets online, on the day of the prom itself. Granted, you can only buy one each, but if you organise it in advance it’s a relatively straightforward process; you really haven’t got an excuse not to give it a go.

The main difference here is that Gavin really knows his classical; he was so determined to hear two of the pieces at this particular prom that he was originally planning to go by himself until I jumped at the chance. I really enjoy classical, but I suffer from a naivety about the different composers, pieces and periods. Sure, I could throw a handful of names at you, but I wouldn’t feel confident debating it. However, your own experience can surprise you at times, and I was happy to find I actually knew the first piece on the bill, Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero;” I just wasn’t aware of its name. Gavin wasn’t a huge fan of its repetitive nature, but I liked the way it built with the number of instruments throughout.

After this came Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Piano Concerto No 3 in D minor,” an early twentieth century composition with the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging of its kind. As the grand piano was wheeled out, Gavin was craning to see who would be rising to the challenge, and was taken aback by the youthful appearance of Behzod Abduraimov. For such a complex composition, it soared and shimmered throughout its forty two minutes, with an abundance of keys giving the effect of a waterfall. Only the back of Abduraimov’s shirt at the end betrayed how difficult it must have been; the fact he returned for an encore was even more commendable.

Neither of us were aware of Ustvolskaya’s third symphony “Jesus Messiah, Save Us!” but given the uplifting nature of the previous two pieces, it bought a curtain of melancholy that felt out of place; sometimes formidable, sometimes sombre, never really welcomed.  It was intriguing, but fell to Rachmaninov’s shadow. But the fourth! It was a suite from Richard Strauss’s opera “Der Rosenkavalier,” which revived the merrier mood that had started the night. The melodies swelled and dived at such a pace, accelerating up to the gallery before crashing down again, without ever jerking out of place, that it all flowed rather beautifully.

Somehow, I had not comprehended the notion of an encore at the Proms, but after some frenzied foot stomping from the concertgoers, we were treated to two additional pieces. The first neither of us knew, but the second was an unexpected treat that again I knew by ear and not by name- Bach’s “Air on a G String.” Seeing as I have been trying to find the name of this for quite a while, I was rather chuffed to be able to experience it. For me, it’s always felt like a piece of reflection, a time to consider the events that have just occurred. Somehow I got caught up in the notion of an aftermath of a furious battle; quite a contrast to the gentle, contemplative ending it provided to a fine, varied evening of music.

The main thing that I took away from my first night at the Proms is that, because of a lack of lyrics (well, mostly), classical music is something you feel- there were plenty around us, sitting or standing, with their eyes closed as in meditation, just letting the music flow through them. It provokes such a wide range of emotions, that if you’ve not given it a chance before, I reckon you’ll be surprised. After all, movements, keys and composers are just names- the most basic instinct is whether you enjoy it. I can honestly say, as a Prommer, there’s nothing like it.