Why the Beekeeper of Aleppo may be the most important book you read in 2019

2010: President Bashar Al Assad succeeds his father as ruler. 2011: Peaceful protests and opposition groups are met with violent crackdowns by Syrian security forces. 2012: As the Syrian government commit war crimes, refugees overwhelm temporary camps at the Lebanon and Jordan border. 2013: Syrian refugees increase from 1 million to 2 million as President Assad is accused of chemical attacks. 2014: A humanitarian crisis emerges as 3 million Syrian refugees seek sanctuary in neighbouring countries and 100,000 have reached Europe. 2015: Europe retracts from humanitarian duties as demand thickens, with Hungary closing its border and the World Food Programme cuts rations to refugees with a funding shortfall; one million refugees reach Greece. 2016: Years of war takes its toll on Syria, the US and Russia negotiate a ceasefire to send aid to hard to reach populations; ten of thousands of refugees are trapped in a No Man’s Land as Jordan closes its border; civilians are caught in the crossfire as Syria retakes Aleppo from rebels. 2017: Over 5 million have fled Syria and at the G20 conference a ceasefire for south-west Syria is brokered. 2018: Nevertheless, fighting continues and more than 2.9 million cannot regularly be sent aid due to their difficult position. 2019: Syrians undergo new hardships as a bad winter batters camps at Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey; and increased conflict in northwest Syria destroys healthcare facilities and displaces a further 100,000 people.

We’re all familiar with the story. But what we are most familiar with is the fear, the anger and the public stirrings of discontent. The word ‘migrant’ has been a powerful political spark in recent Populist movements. Therefore, Christy Lefteri’s 2019 ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ comes at a time when we should be reminded of the need for humanity; compassion.

Lefteri uses her experiences as a volunteer at a UNICEF-supported refugee camp at Athens to craft this heart-wrenching story of Nuri and Afra: a normal, easy-living couple who have their family torn apart. We see them battle to keep hope, and to love again as adversity is thrown at them from all angles. Nuri’s protagonist perspective celebrates all the reasons why we should care about Syrian refugees. It dispels all the negatives tossed at us over the past five years. This book strips back the headlines and shows everyone the truthful hardships migrants are almost silently battling against. We suffer with Nuri, and we are allowed to care about him.

I listened to this book on audible, taking in the beautiful voice of Art Malik, as I was sorting through and organising Roman animal bones. Looking back through time, it really reinforced how connected we once were to the East. And now how far away it is considered today.

So if you are looking to have a story stick with you, to learn some compassion, and to see the world through another lens: I’d advise you to pick up ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’.


Keeping Healthy When You’re Busy

We all know how it is: Waking up at the crack of dawn, the commute at rush hour, long working days, busy afternoons, evening spent recuperating and repeat. An all too familar story. By the number of days since my last post, you may be able to guess that this has happened to me too. Indeed, I have been cramming in placements, work experiences and paid work into my summer; turning my holiday much more hectic than term time. But I have stuck to ‘keeping healthy’, whatever that may mean.

With the rise of Instagram idealism of perfect bodies, holidays, workout routines and diets, there is a pressure to keep healthy more than ever. Taking pictures of our food has become all too present in Millennial culture. We have to be at our best ready for any click of a camera. However this is not reality. And that isn’t a bad thing either. As Oscar Wilde said, “only dull people are brilliant at breakfast”. Keeping healthy isn’t always instagramable, neither does it necessarily fit into the idealisation of oat breakfast bowls or beautiful lycra clad people. The real kind of keeping healthy can be messy. And that’s okay.

The secret of keeping healthy when you’re busy, tired and exhausted is to keep to a routine as best as you can, and to grab any opportunity to do something for yourself when you cannot. It is okay to miss a gym session because you’re too tired; or to demolish that chocolate sitting in the cupboard. Listening to yourself is the most important thing you can do when you’re stretched at all angles. For example, when I had to work out of town, and away from my gym, I took to walking arounf the local area. However, I usually go to the gym late in the evening after a few hours recharging (as an introvert) after finishing my work experience for the day. Some days I have to miss out because I have evening shifts, but that’s okay. Missing sessions at first seemed like a mortal sin, but slowly I have found that it only makes me more determined to go the next day: or to find another way to get those endorphins flowing.

Ultimately, everyone’s ability to keep healthy is dependent on their individual schedules. Yet whether they are after a changed diet or more active lifestyle, there are small, personal changes that can be made whether or not that conform to social media standards. We should remember that keeping healthy is allowed to include sweat, messy hair and often taking time for yourself.


The Reality of Teaching

Whilst I am approaching my final year of my degree, the sudden reality that all too soon I will be working in a ‘real’ job contributing to a ‘real’ career is striking me. Therefore, I organised a few days experience at a school in order to grapple with what it would mean to be teacher. I observed a variety of ages and abilities facing internal end of year exams and looking towards the next new year of school. It was a fantastic experience and gave me hope that this might be the route for me. However, it stirred something in me. Something underlying in the teaching profession that never seems to be fully acknowledged: strap your seat belts in, I feel a rant brewing…

“Don’t go into teaching for the money”. “Think of the holidays”. “It’s the only route for humanity degrees”. These are all preconceptions that have been blasted at me everytime I mention going into teaching. So when I found myself in an English staffroom listening to a lunchtime discussion on how it would take 15 years to save up for a house deposit on teachers wages, the reality of this beautiful, nurturing and under-appreciated profession hit me. ‘Skilled’ jobs are defined as paying over £30,000 per annum. The starting salary of a teacher is £23,000: which would only just cover the cost of the tuition fees and maintenance loan required for a degree over a year. Teachers (on the traditional PGCE route) spend a minimum of four years at university. And for what? An ‘unskilled’ job?

With the recent revelation that headteachers have to reduce the number of teachers in a school to breaking point in order to pay for basic equipment, such as tables and chairs, it is evident that schools are in a crisis. This comes after schools have been flogged off to businesses and other companies to become academies. Giving hope for improvement and survival of OFSTED inspections. This may seem a dramatic view; an exaggerated reality, however I, myself, saw the reality of this firsthand as a student. My secondary school was a failing institution placed in special measures for a number of years, spot inspections happening every few months. But nothing ever changed. Even with a proactive new headteacher who pushed the school to the national list of top ten most improved schools, the school remained in special measures. Only when it was converted to an academy that any real change happened. Through a series of harsh but necessary changes to secure a sustainable future for the school, it made a ‘good’ OFSTED rating.

So what does this say about the state of state schools? Is it condemned by its limited financial resources, like the NHS? Maybe. Undeniably, schools reaching out to former pupils with lists of what donations of well over £1,000 could buy for the school, such as interactive whiteboards and library computers, sounds too much like charity fundraising for crisises in other countries. But the issue is very much present in our local communities.

So where does this place teaching? From what I learnt at my invaluable few days placed in the heart of a growing academy trust that aims to expand into a cluster of local schools over the area, teaching is a necessary and potent career that will enrich your life by inspiring others. The teachers I had growing up caught my respect because of how hard they worked to make a difference to our lives. The tireless nights, the lesson plans, the unseen ‘behind-the-scenes’ work that goes into each lesson; the years of study prior to even setting foot into the classroom. It all contributes towards something significant and under-appreciated in not only pay but the overall system of things.

Perhaps it is true that teaching is more than a pay check, but why should the two be so dramatically separated? Certainly, impacting on young people’s lives in a classroom every day beats sitting at a desk in an office; so why can’t that be celebrated in the way it should be? It would change the negative perception that for humanity students particula rly, teaching is an inevitability. Something drastically needs to change for schools. As a prospective teacher facing a world where academies are breaking finanical constraints, I want to ride the wave to creating something better.


Being Vegetarian

News headlines of late have been littered with Extinction Rebellion, air quality, electric cars, the reduction of coal powering power stations and the latest David Attenborough environmental programme. At a time when climate change is converging ever more into the public eye, conversation about the vegetarian diet has never been more topical.

Almost three years ago I made the switch. I cut out bacon, sausages, Sunday roasts. But it’s all been worth it. Before, I would go piscetarian over the lent period. It makes you think about your food differently, question what’s in it, where it came from, who might have handled it. I came to realise that generally, I did not consume an awful amount of meat anyway. But that didn’t stop the cravings for pork scratchings during the early stages!

It was a particularly inspiring philosophy lecture that prompted me to go veggie: on Peter Singer’s personhood. He carries the pioneering view that animals have personhood, even going as far to say that they have more personhood than newborn babies and people in comas. This goes against Aristotle, Plato and Descartes who deny that animals have spirits. He’s actually convinced Richard Dawkins too! As funny cat videos and animal rescue centres take social media by storm, I don’t think we have ever cared more about animals more.

More than protecting animals, we are being encouraged to cut down on meat in order to reduce carbon emissions: Whether that might mean only having meat dishes on weekends. You can cut down nearly a quarter of your carbon footprint by simply cutting down on red meats, such as beef and lamb. Being carbon conscious is increasingly trendy, with vegetarian menus cropping up (shout out to Wetherspoons who do a fantastic veggie breakfast!) and vegan cafés.

However this brings into question the farming industry. And a dilemma. Is it better to let these slaughterhous animals to die out so they no longer suffer but do not exist? It would affect biodiversity for one thing. We have breed cows so much that the Chillingham Wild Cattle in Northumberland are one of a few natural cattle left in the world. Check out Bong Joon-ho’s Okja on Netflix for a vivid dystopian view of meat farming.

Ultimately, I enjoy being veggie. It’s a challenge to minimise the suffering of animals I respect as possessing personhood; and it reduces my footprint. Although I am not entirely sure I could commit to being vegan (and I have full respect to anyone who does!), maybe one day I will take that extra step. For now though (without coming across as an angry radical vegetarian!), I would encourage anyone looking to contributing a small change for the wider good to look into flexitarianism!


The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

It has been 10 days since my last post. A longer period than I would usually go without posting another eclectic blog instalment. These past few days have made me pause, and think about what I take for granted. As you might guess, this post may a little more personal than usual (whatever usual may be). But I think a transparent blog should not only celebrate the good, but the bad and the downright ugly in equal measure.

This will not be a rant reeling off complaints about how terrible my first world white girl problems are (which all have happy endings *spoilers*). Instead, this is more a contemplation of three specific areas of my life that I have changed perspective on and how you, as a reader, might consider them too.

Consider your path
  • Love thy neighbour, but lock your backdoor

My student house was broken into and technically robbed.*

*If robbery counts as all the items being found by police on the drive with the net gain of a bicycle.

Not a tragedy at all, and incomparable to proper burglar victims. I had only been in the house during the day and had driven home by evening. My housemates were understandably spooked and confounded by the series of events (if you have any ideas please air them to me!! Creative writing inspo?). But it made me reconsider my entire presence around the area that day. Had they been watching? Where had they been looking out from? Would things have been different if I had changed my plans? Of course, this is self-centred. Student houses are easier targets for theft. It is harder to keep a track of people coming and going. To anyone in this position, click here for a nifty list of simple tips to avoid anything happening to you.

  • Take advantage of good health

This bullet point is at most risk of sound patronising to those who actually suffer from something serious. To those people, I can only take my hat off to you. I had less than two weeks of essentially (wo)man flu: dry eye syndrome playing up, jaw ache, headaches, nausea and a cold. Absolutely nothing consequential in the grand scheme of things. Nothing chronic (except perhaps the dry eyes!). But I crumbled.

As soon as I get over this silly blip of wellness, I am going to take full advantage of sunlight, breathing and exceeding the radius of 10 metres from a tissue. My eyes have been opened as to how lucky I am not to have any serious health struggles right now. That could all change in a heartbeat so why waste good health? Make yourself stronger to be your best self to cope when things do go pear shaped. Take that hike you’ve been meaning to go on, try a new sport, break the cycle of not doing that morning gym session you promised yourself the night before. Exercising will give you that release of endorphines. It may not change your life, but big things start with small changes, right?

  • Make that call

I won’t go into details on this one. A few days ago I almost lost someone very important. I was so sure April would hold a funeral no one was really ready for. Seeing how quickly things can change reiterates my second point: make the most of the good times because they will sweeten the bad. Call that friend you haven’t heard from for a while, visit your family, check in on your closest. Carpe diem and all the fridge magnet philosophy.

However with that in mind, learn to except the bad. When I first heard the news, I bitterly tried to hold it all in until I was alone. Fortunately, I failed miserably and had the best moral support through it all. Talking therapy has always worked for me. Letting out my fears extinguishes them to an extent. Hearing someone else’s experiences with a similar situation can invaluable and reassuring. Even so, I did take some time to be alone for a little while. Of course, how a person takes bad news is highly individualistic and only they know how to handle it best. My only suggestion would be to not be afraid to reach out. I did, and it helped enormously. Accepting the bad news and letting myself be sad made me much stronger. Incredibly fortunately, the critical situation became uncritical, and I now have the opportunity to do all the things I regretted not doing.

Take that hike you’ve been meaning to go on

In conclusion, be secure, carpe diem, you don’t have be perfect 100% of the time. I won’t waffle on at risk of sounding too sickening. But essentially, here is my #nomakeup blog. I do hope you didn’t cringe too much.


In a Man’s World

Hearing Caroline Criado Perez on the radio this week (yes, Radio 4, because I am essentially an old lady) has opened my eyes to the world in a way I would never have expected. Her book, Invisible Women, exposes subtle ways First World countries have permitted a startling gender bias to lie dormant: in plain sight.

50% of women in car accidents are more likely to sustain serious injury

Perez throws a splash of realism onto the world, revealing to what extent female needs have been overlooked. Her study of data bias reveals to what extent the world is designed for men: how phones are too big for women’s hands, fundamental army equipment being unsuitable for women, and even office environments being tailored to the male metabolic resting rate. But perhaps most concerning is her research into car crash dummies. European regulations require only the ‘Reference Man’ dummy to be used in simulated crash tests in order to determine the safety rating of a car. ‘Female’ dummies are merely scaled down male ones; an inadequate representation of the female physiology. Moreover, this scaled-down dummy is only required to be used once in the passenger seat in five tests. This exposes an invisible world of ‘gender-blind’ policy. Alarmingly, as a result 47% of women in car accidents are more likely to sustain serious injury. What does this imply? Decision-makers do not agree with female drivers and are secretly killing them off? Women are less valuable than men? It is a hard fact to swallow when you consider its implications.

And there is more. Medical trials misrepresent the female body. Specifically heart failure trials tend to use male participants. Resultingly, women are 50% more likely to be misdiagonised following a heart attack. This ‘one-size-fits-men’ approach, Perez describes, has even taken a hold of technology. The emblem of the future. VR headsets are more likely to make women sick; speech-recognition software is 70% more likely to recognise the male voice; and most prevailently, smartphones are too long for the female hand span.

This is a world where we are in the Third Wave of feminism and the Me Too movement. In December 2018, a record-breaking 71.4% of women in employment. However:

  • 41% of employed women are part-time compared to 13% of men.
  • On average, full-time women earned £509 a week, whilst full-time men earned £100 more.
  • 17.9% gender pay gap is indicative of the higher proportion of female part-time workers.
  • The gap between full-time men and women was only 8.6%.
The Ford sewing-machinist strike of 1968 over unequal pay whereby women effectively worked unpaid for two months a year

Compared to the conditions that led to the 1968 women’s strike at Dagenham’s Ford factory (which I can proudly say my great-grandmother participated in!), we have much improved. Nevertheless, there is very much still room to do better. Overwhelmingly, women choose to go part-time. Often, it takes an empowering decision to juggle child-care with maintaining a career. Yet, I wonder whether if more men stepped up to the mark, how things might be different. I appreciate that gender bias of part-time work will never be 50-50. But if more men were to balance their work life with their family life, perhaps more women in work to represent the female voice would transform the inequalities Perez has unveiled.

I am not a strongly politically opinionated person. Looking at this issue with an inquisitive mind has stretched my view of the data bias against women on this matter. However you stand on feminism: whether you believe it’s gone too far or equality has already been reached, the Invisible Women book starkly outlines issues that need to be addressed. Out of basic humanity, why should one half of the population have better survival rates in a car crash or after a heart attack?


Women’s Clothing

Today, International Women’s Day, I read a Guardian article about the latest fashion sensation, the ‘micro handbag’ smaller than a credit card. And it got me thinking.

On one of my first days starting at my sixth form college, a girl walked into a class wearing a beautiful floral summer dress. When a friend said she liked it, the girl exclaimed, ‘It has pockets!’ all the girls in the classroom jumped around to look in amazement. This led me to conclude that women’s clothing really is not made for women if finding pockets is something to be excited about. And it has a lot to answer for, including sexual assault apparently. 

How has the industry been allowed to filter high fashion down to such a poor quality range of clothing? From being see-through half of the time, impractical, and uncomfortable not just to move (I’m looking at you long-sleeved tops!), but to wear. I am sure most women can relate to taking off bras and seeing red imprints, the tight red rings of tights and seams and waistbands and suffocating skinny jeans: just to feel relaxed and unwind. I vividly remember being a young adolescent searching and searching for an appropriate dress to wear that didn’t have a ridiculously high hem and showed anything if you bent down; or you know, moved. Needless to say, this small endeavour genuinely took years, and made me feel very uncomfortable as a result.

Of course, online shopping has revolutionised the way women can dress themselves, with unlimited price ranges and styles available to them. Of course, this is essential for liberating their essential sense of identity: controlling their first impressions to people they meet every day, and expressing their state of mind and feeling. It is almost unsurprising that high street stores are now endangered; perhaps in part due to the restricting range of clothing they have to offer in-store, compared to the expanse online. However, why should women have to scour the internet to find respectable clothing, or pay an arm and a leg for a shirt, and contribute to the critical gender stereotype that women constantly shop? Naturally, there is absolutely nothing wrong with shopping. It is possible for it to be a therapeutic and liberating past time. But we are almost positioned to fill the critical trap laid out for certain mouths to blurt out ‘women are always shopping and incapable of saving money’. 

Additionally, the devastatingly tragic quality of clothing leads, from my own experience, means clothes rarely ever last for a year if I am fortunate enough. Although these are not top designer lines, whether I buy from New Look, Hollister, Jack Wills, Crew Clothing or H&M I have the same issue. Nothing considers longevity. Discussing this issue with my significant other, he was so surprised at this information and said all his clothes survived up to five years. Of course, this is totally individualistic, but the very fact that male clothing has the ability to last so long shocks me. Comparing my clothes to his, (which included ‘borrowing’ shirts and jumpers!), women’s garments are thinner, much less durable, and more prone to visible wearing such as pilling and running thin after a few runs in the wash. Therefore, this leads to a genuine gap in the average expense women have to budget for clothing. And there is often no compensation for this. Women’s clothing is no less cheap than men’s, often more expensive: especially when you consider components of womenswear. Bikinis are sold as two pieces, each alone the cost of a swimsuit: Not as a set of the top and bottom as you would rationally expect. All this for much, much less material, practicality and technology of fabric. 

Fake pockets? Not again!

Furthermore, the lack of pockets, reportedly due to production lines wishing to save material and labour on a basic component you can easily learn to make on YouTube, means women have to carry a bag. For anyone who knows me, I blatantly refuse to carry a purse or a handbag, simply because I cannot abide them (a handbag?!): uncomfortable, a nuisance, easy to leave somewhere. I do hope clothing chains do not see the micro hanndbag as an opportunity to skimp on material costs. But when far too many jeans have only two functioning back pockets, sometimes with the mocking parody of fake pockets (who’s idea was that?!), personal security is a major concern. The most common damage to phones is through dropping them down toilets.

I say all this but seeing stunning outfits on Instagram and perfect styles beautifully put together is something I totally admire. However, I cannot help but wonder whether she’s comfortable.


Diary 2.0: A Fresh Page

Hi! Nice to make your acquaintance! You can call me Captain Hetty. Welcome to my blog.

I am in no sense pretentious

Over the past few years, I have been trying to keep a diary, but between university work, a part-time job and pretending to keep a social life of sorts, I have failed miserably. So what better way to keep up with recording my life than a blog? (Famous last words?)

“Who I am?” I hear you ask! Well, like any other sane being, I am a big fan of cats. And dogs. I grew up with three cats and later a dog. Since our yorkie sadly passed away, I am ‘pet-broody’, so there is a 99% chance I will steal your pets if you’re not careful!

This is Maurice, he will probably crop up now and again

Kidnapping threat aside, I am also from the South West and have moved down even further South to study English and History at undergraduate: Don’t worry though, I am in no sense pretentious. In the same way Hamlet’s inability to act was his fatal flaw, writing is mine. I know, who takes humanities and can’t even write? Well, that would apparently be me. It is true, ever since I first encountered exams, my love for writing and reading has been very much neglected, I am ashamed to say. But have no fear, this semester I am going through a spiritual quest to find my inner writer again.

Talking about my inner writer, this semester I am taking creative writing. By accident. Turns out selecting a ‘Short Stories’ module because you think there will be less reading has its comeuppance when you’re the one writing the stories! As I haven’t done creative writing in half a decade, I need all the practise I can get my hands on. Therefore, I hope to use this blog as a diary, place to air some stories, rants alike. And I hope you will join me on the way!

Short stories? What could go wrong!