The new University Mental Health Charter lands

University Mental Health Charter 2019

The New Mental Health Charter

I was thrilled to see yesterday that the University Mental Health Charter was released. It brings together a set of principles that would make mental health a priority in all universities. I saw in a Guardian article back in September, entitled, ‘The way universities are run is making us ill’: inside the student mental health crisis’, that universities have seen a surge in referrals for anxiety and depression. It reported that in the 12 months ending July 2017, the rate of suicide for university students in England and Wales was 4.7 deaths per 100,000 students, which equates to 95 suicides or about 1 death every four days. You can read the full article here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/sep/27/anxiety-mental-breakdowns-depression-uk-students

It seems timely then that the University Mental Health Charter has landed after mounting concerns over student mental health. So, what’s it all about? Well for starters, it’s a voluntary scheme that awards those universities that make huge strides in mental health support. The Charter aims to support change by providing a reference point for staff and students to understand what good practice looks like in improving mental health and wellbeing, which can only be a positive step.

A large part of this will come down ultimately, to the University Leadership teams and how seriously they decide to take the Charter. With it not being legally binding, they have no real obligation to get involved with the Charter. However, what I do like about it, is it’s attempts to encourage innovation and the development of good practice. It is not based on targets or box ticking, but challenges universities to continually improve, which can’t be a bad thing. It recognises that there isn’t a one size fits all solutions to this problem.

Third-Sector Led

It’s also interesting to see that this is a Third Sector rather than Government led initiative,  from Student Minds a charity that has been working towards improving the mental health and wellbeing of students and university communities since 2008. They now work with over 120 universities across the UK, supported by national research, policy and campaigning work.

What’s in the Charter?

The Charter takes it’s starting point from the notion of what an ideal approach to improve the mental health outcomes for the whole university community look like? It’s purpose is to offer clarity based on an evidence informed framework. Lets look at the details. The framework is composed of 18 themes mapped across 4 areas such as learn, support, work and live. Within each of the themes, it lays out what each theme covers, evidence supporting why it is important and what matters within this theme and finally the principles of good practice.

Key Points

Some of the key points I noticed include the following:

  • It talks a lot about the importance of supporting transitions whether that be from full-time education into higher education or progression post-degree, which are notoriously stressful times for students
  • It specifically looks at the role teaching and learning support staff can play in supporting mental health and wellbeing through good pedagogic practice as well as training to assess risk and alert services
  • That the necessary services are resourced which is ultimately what this all comes down to
  • The need for a more collaborative approach between Universities, the NHS, Social Care and third sector agencies including information sharing
  • Interestingly it also highlights staff wellbeing a the need to enable staff to discuss their own mental health by offering proactive interventions
  • The need for Universities to be proactive in promoting mental health starting with cultural changes
  • It specifically talks about University/Residential accommodation and the importance of having arrangements in place to recognise poor mental health and refer students

In order for this to work there needs to be clear leadership when it comes to strategy and policy with a whole university approach adopted in order for it to work. The Charter recognises that student voice and participation is vital and that without cohesiveness of support this will be hard to achieve. Finally, it recognises the need for inclusivity and intersectionality in mental health to address barriers to those seeking support.

If you’d like to read the full charter or even just the highlights then head over to: https://www.studentminds.org.uk/charter.html

Introducing my newly revamped blog – The Counselling Foodie

A big welcome from The Counselling Foodie

Welcome

When I first started this blog, I was a stranger in a new city. I didn’t know anyone or anywhere and I thought a food, arts and culture blog would be a great way to sample its flourishing food scene and explore all the art and culture the city had to offer. I joined a blogging group and met many inspiring people, mostly women, who all shared a love of blogging.

Then life got in the way, as it has a habit of doing, and I had to put this blog on hold. I needed time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life so I took some time away from the glare of social media. In that time I thought long and hard about my passions, the things that fire me up and make getting up every morning a joy.

I discovered that my love of food; talking about it, eating it, writing about it, has never waned but I was frustrated by the diet culture I saw going on around me and was even something I was temporarily a part of. So, I decided that the first thing I wanted to get more involved in was the anti-diet, body positivity work that’s going on all around me by writing more about it here on this blog.

A change of direction

Secondly, I decided that I wanted to be a counsellor. I’ve always been drawn to care-giving roles so I enrolled in a 10 week Level 2 counselling course to see if it was the right thing for me and I found myself loving it. With that in mind, I shall we using this blog to write about and share articles and information on mental health and mental wellbeing until I start the next Level 3 counselling course next September, when I’ll write about that too.

Finally, I love reviewing books so I intend to combine all of my passions by reviewing books on feminist, body positivity, counselling and psychology. I want this blog to be a safe space where anyone can read about my experiences, find new resources and talk about their own experiences.

If there is anything else you would still like to know about then do feel free to send me a message or leave a comment. 

Stockport Food & Drink Festival

Yesterday I stopped by the Stockport Food and Drink festival. This blog has taken something of a backseat recently and I decided the food festival would be a great way to get back into blogging and rediscover my love of writing. Plus, the festival was right on my doorstep so I had no excuse for not getting myself out there.

The Stockport Food and Drink Festival is a three day event from Friday 6th – Sunday 8th September. It’s Stockport’s first ever food and drink festival and I was keen to see how it faired compared to many of the other’s I’ve been to.

Sunday Brunch’s Simon Rimmer

The highlight of the festival was watching a cookery demonstration from Sunday Brunch’s Simon Rimmer onstage in Mersey Square. He cooked gnocchi and made the demonstration both engaging and mouth-watering.

MasterChef 2015 winner Simon Wood

This was followed by a demonstration by 2015 Masterchef winner Simon Wood who own restaurant Woods on First Street in Manchester city centre. He also chose to cook a mushroom pasta dish which unfortunately I didn’t have time to stay for.

New York cheesecake

There were traders extending all the way from Merseyway right up to the Market Place. The traders offered everything from wood fired pizzas, cheeses, Greek Souvlaki, New York cheesecakes, warm cookie dough to Continental meats, olives, macaroons, Chinese rice and noodle dishes and exotic gourmet burgers, .

French breads on offer

The French breads, tarts and pastries which were the highlight for me. I went for their 3 for £5.00 offer and bought a French baguette, a cheese loaf and one of the apply tarts, all of which I’ve now tried and all I can confirm were fresh and delicious.

This seemed to be a very popular stand because by the time I came back a few hours later, they appeared to have all but sold out.

Another trader that seemed to be doing particularly well was the cheese toastie stand. Being practically a cheese addict there was no way I was passing this one without stopping.

Grilled cheese toastie trader

I opted for one called ‘Ham About Town’ which consisted of ham, mozzarella, an onion chutney and mustard and I can confirm that I polished off every mouthful.

Ham About Town toastie

My friend went for the veggie option. This included goats cheese, spinach, grilled peppers and caramlised onions. For research purposes I also tried some of theirs and this was equally as good as mine.

Vegie toastie

You’d think by this point that I’d be fed up of food but no, I couldn’t leave without tasting one of my all-time favourite street food snacks, and that’s churros. I kept it relatively simple and opted for just Nutella sauce but there were a wealth of options from strawberries to Daim bar, marshmallows and everything in between.

Churros proved a crowd pleaser

The whole festival had a great atmosphere and I was pleased to see just how busy it was, especially since this is it’s first year. I think the good weather helped on the day but based on the crowds there, I’m certain we’ll see another one next year.

GIG REVIEW: Chvrches – Love Is Dead Tour at 02 Victoria Warehouse

Chvrches blew up onto the dance/electronic/synth-pop scene in 2012 with the track “Lies” which went onto feature in their debut album, the Bones of What You Believe.

Chvrches performing at Victoria Warehouse

Even if you’ve never heard of the band, chances are you’ve heard their music. Fronted by lead singer Lauren Mayberry, with Martin Dougherty on synthesizers and leading vocals and Ian Cook on guitar and base, this synth-pop band has been a favourite of mine for a while.

Now touring with their third album, Love is Dead, released in May 2018, I managed to get a ticket for their 02 Victoria Warehouse gig, the second of two nights in Manchester. Victoria Warehouse is a disused warehouse near Old Trafford that was renovated in 2009. I’d been there once before for a Rum Festival and thought it would make the perfect music venue. The band played in the main auditorium space, a perfect setting for Mayberry’s ethereal voice.

The support act, Let’s Eat Grandma, left a lot to be desired, despite being tipped for great things by cooler people than me. I found them slightly amateurish. At one point they did a school-girl clapping routine that left me slightly puzzled, as did their rolling around on the floor. Sorry ladies, not to my taste.

Let’s Eat Grandma at the 02 Victoria Warehouse

The band opened with “Graffiti” the first track on the Love is Dead album, and went onto perform a mixture of tracks both from their most recent album and from the Bones of What You Believe. It was the songs from that album which were received with the loudest reception, a testament perhaps to its enduring strength and appeal. For me, their third album lacked some of the stand out tracks of the first, and this came across in the gig, with a reliance on older tracks to really get the crowd going.

Early on in the set, a technical hitch meant that Mayberry didn’t make it to the mike for the start of the next song and had to apologise to the crowd whilst she adjusted the sound. However, her chat with the crowd as she was untangling herself simply made her more personable and I felt she handled it well, referring to the likes of Maria Carey’s technical glitch at the Times Square New Years Eve performance in 2017 to show it happens even to the best and most established of acts.

Mayberry’s voice was able to carry throughout the building and yet despite this, during the track, “Miracle”, Mayberry’s vocals seemed to be drowned out by the base.

Lauren Mayberry belting out “Miracle”

Half-way through the set, Martin Doherty took over vocals, for tracks
Songs like Under the Tide and God’s Plan and his charismatic presence lit up the stage, bringing real energy and variety. Though he hardly needed help lighting up the stage, with the amazing lighting production that flooded the stage. It was really quite mesmerising to watch.

Martin Doherty taking over on lead vocals

The auditorium was also noticeably filled with couples, no doubt out celebrating a late Valentines day. This gave the place a much more romantic, laid-back feel, despite the Love is Dead title of the tour. I was also delighted to see a real mix of age-ranges attending from students to older couples. It certainly made me feel less like the uncool chick and the cool kids party.

Me on a rare night out at the Chvrches gig

There’s still a chance to catch the band touring. They’ll be playing in Newcastle tomorrow at the 02 Academy, then at Ulster Hall, Belfast on the 19th February and the Olympia, Dublin on the 21st and 22nd

A full list of future tour dates can be found here: https://chvrch.es/

BOOK REVIEW: Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson

Without realizing it, I had spent the end of 2018 working my way through some of the novels shortlisted and longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. You can find a link below to my review of Sophie Mackintosh’s novel, The Water Cure, one such work longlisted.  I followed this up by reading, Everything Under by Daisy Johnson, which was shortlisted for the prize, which eventually went to Anna Burns’ Milkman.

The great thing about The Man Booker Prize is that it brings both new and established authors to a worldwide readership, something not many book prizes are able to do. Daisy Johnson, like Sophie Mackintosh, were both writers that were new to me, and I’m certain I wouldn’t have come across their novels had it not been for the publicity around this prize.

Daisy Johnson’s Everything Under comes on the heels of her debut work Fen, a magical realist collection of short stories. Johnson continues with the theme of nature, setting Everything Under on a houseboat. It is a tale of a difficult and strained mother-daughter relationship, made all the more poignant by the narrator, Gretel’s mother’s deepening dementia.

The narrative jumps from past to present and from alternating points of view. This isn’t always easy to follow but it is a risk that eventually pays off when the lose narrative ends start to tie together. The Oedipal myth is used as a framework for the novel and themes of incest, gender-swapping and cross-dressing loom large. The character of Fiona, a woman who appears from no where and is seemingly able to predict the future, is left underdeveloped, which is a shame because she is one of the more fascinating characters in the novel. 

The tale of the feared river-dwelling creature, ‘the Bonak’, that punctuates the narrative,  I found less convincing. In fact, this was a novel that generally left me feeling unconvinced by what I was reading. I always ask myself once I’ve finished a book it it’s one I’m likely to pick up and ever reread and with Everything Under, I highly doubt it. There simply wasn’t enough there to grip or intrigue me. For all the talk of what lays beneath the surface in this novel, I found it actually didn’t delve deep enough. It meandered along without really exploring it’s themes in any real depth.

My review of The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh can be found here: http://simmyandherlife.co.uk/book-review/book-review-the-water-cure-by-sophie-mackintosh/

Restaurant Review: Lunya Manchester

Lunya is one of those places I’d passed hundreds of times of my way to somewhere else, alays thinking how nice it looked but never visiting. Well last weekend I decided to finally see if the food was as good as everyone said.

Lunya is a Spanish and Catalonian tapas restaurant tucked away inside Barton Arcade in Manchester’s city centre. The top floor holds the main eating area and downstairs are the bar and deli areas. 

Chorizo

First impressions

Downstairs was busy when we arrived and it was some time before we were asked to go upstairs where someone would seat us. The restaurant was full with people, who likes ourselves, had been visiting the Christmas markets and were looking for a place to unwind.

Since it was our first visit the waiter talked us through how much we should order, (3 dishes each) and told us that they’d arrived as and when they were ready. We settled on 5 dishes in total with a side order of sourdough bread.

Seabass sliders

The pan fried chorizo arrived with the bread first which meant we were both initials fighting over the chunks of chorizo and dipping our bread in the delicious white wine and fennel seed sauce.

Then all the rest of the dishes arrived at once. There were the seabass sliders, deep fried in beer batter on a mini brioche bun with tartare sauce. The bread did seem to swamp the seabass in size and from all the dishes we ordered, was probably the one I’d be least likely to chose again.

Monte Enebro deep fried
Monte Enebro deep fried

Then there was the deep fried Monte Enebro, a goats cheese drizzled with Alemany orange blossom honey and beetroot crisps. This was a favourite with my fellow diner and as you know, anything with cheese is fine by me. This was very strong and rich tasting so I’d definetly accompany this with something lighter next time.

Crispy chicken with broken tortillas

My absolute favourite of all the dishes, and the one our waiter recommended was the crispy chicken; their signature chicken strips coated in broken tortilla chips with a Catalan dip. I could have eaten a plate full of these alone dunking them in the smoky Catalan dip which was heavenly.

Finally, there was the Albondigas, pork and beef meatballs in a rich tomato sauce. These were sumptuous and warming on a cold evening and complemented the rest of the dishes we ordered well. We tried to chose a mixture of meat, fish and veggie options and the great thing is that there’s sill plenty more dishes left to try.

Overall impressions

Whilst it did take us some time to be seated, the quality of the food was great, there was a large range of options to chose from and our waiter was incredibly friendly and helpful. The deli downstairs, whilst a little on the pricey side, is worth a visit, especially if you’re looking to a cook something a little special. I’d certainly be recommending this place and I for one am looking forward to going back for more.

And, if you enjoyed this review then you might like to read about my visit to The Botanist restaurant in Manchester here: http://simmyandherlife.co.uk/manchester-restaurants/restaurant-review-the-botanist-manchester/

 

Lunya Manchester

Barton Arcade

Deansgate

Manchester

M3 2BB

https://lunya.co.uk/manchester/

BOOK REVIEW: The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

39335566

Winner of the 2016 White Review short-story prize as well as the Virago/Stylist short-story competition for her previous collection of short stories, Mackintosh also recently found herself longlisted for the 2018 Man Booker Prize for her debut novel The Water Cure.

Raised in isolation by their parents, Mother and King, on an island, sisters Grace, Lia and Sky are taught that the world beyond the island is dangerous and that any contact with men is toxic. Through the so-called ‘rituals’ or ‘cures’, of which the water cure is but one, the girls are taught to ways to control their bodies and emotions by purifying them. These cult-like rituals lead the girls to essentially hate their bodies and view them with suspicion.

Both Mother and King believe they are creating a utopia of sorts on the island, away from the influence of men. We learn that the oldest of the girls, Grace. was exposed young, “when any trace of toxin would cause immeasurable harm, whether or not she remembered it.” They believe they are trying to protect the girls from this “contamination” but unknown toxins.

However, this supposed utopia is thrown into chaos with the arrival of 2 men and young boy who wash up on the island.

The novel explores, amongst other things, the meaning of family and particularly sisterly love in this dysfunctional family.

The claustrophobia the sister’s feel on the island is translated onto the page. The novel is divided into 3 parts entitled I. Father, II Men and III Sisters but the chapters are short and punctured by quotes from, I assume, women who had previously visited the island to escape whatever real or imagined catastrophe was plaguing the world beyond the island.

The Water Cure’s lyrical style may be off-putting to some and for a slim read, it took me some time to get through because of this. The narrative is told from each of the sister’s perspectives, though at times its all three girls or more than one and this I found confusing. Grace’s is the first distinct voice we hear and after re-reading the novel for a second time, I began to find new meaning in her narrative.

As a symbol, water fills the novel and like the water they continually delve into, this book is as much about what lays beneath the surface as the things that are said and done. The novel resists the big reveal which will feel unsatisfying for some but I loved that this was a female-centred novel, focusing on these girls experiences.

Trauma is evident throughout no more so than when Lia says, “trauma is a toxin that hooks into our hair and organs and blood and becomes part of us, the way heavy metals do, our bodies nothing more than a layering of flesh around everything ingested and experienced. These things sit inside us like the misshapen pearls we sometimes prise from oysters.” The truth of Lia’s word carry greater weight as the novel unfolds and overt and covert examples of violence reveal themselves.

The novel also raises questions about whether it is ever truly possible to resist patriarchy. Their father, King, controls and manipulates the lives of the girls with the help of their mother. His influence over the girls lives is never really shaken off.

For example, the novel opens with, “once we have a father, but our father dies without us noticing.” However, the male father figure is never absent from the novel. The girls recognise this when they state, “the father shape he leaves behind quickly becomes a hollow that we can put our grief into, which is an improvement in a way.” One can’t help but wonder, an improvement from what?

As you can probably tell from my review, I have mixed feelings about this novel. It was sold as a feminist novel but that certainly wasn’t how I read it. The men were as much victims in the novel as the women were. In the case of the girls, the strength of the novels lays in its description of trauma, abuse and the effects of isolation.

The problem I had was that I wasn’t sure, what I was meant to take away from this novel. The women/girls were no better than the men and the ‘cures’ didn’t fully explain their later behaviour. The message felt confused and never fully realised.  Based on Mackintosh’s writing style along, it’s clear that she’s talented and I do think that she will go on to produce something that is far more developed than this is in her future novels.

Altrincham’s Food Market

Altrincham’s vibrant food scene

I’ve lived in Manchester for just over 2 years. I spent a year of that working in Altrincham and in all that time I never once visited Altrincham’s famous market. So a few weeks ago I decided it was time to combine a little Christmas shopping, a visit to a new cheese shop I’d heard had recently opened ,with a visit to Altrincham’s food market. I wasn’t disappointed as the market was busy and bustling.

Fresh bread at Altrincham Market

The market sells everything from flowers, jewellery, candles and arts and crafts as well as food and drink.  As you can see I was particularly drawn to the delicious fresh breads on offer, one of which I bought to accompany the cheese I picked up.

Can you tell I have a thing about bread?

Tables inside and out were full despite the bitter cold day and to warm ourselves up we decided to try the infamous Great Northern Pie Company’s Pie, Mash and Gravy. We opted for the Swaledale Beef mince and onion pie. The pie contained Swale rare breed beef mince, roast onion puree, ale gravy, peas, redcurrant jelly, Worcestershire sauce, cinnamon and white pepper.  The menu also included Classic Lancashire cheese and onion, Roast Chicken and Ham and finally a Spinach and Cheese filling.


Turtle Bay Table Service – The Wait Is Over!

Are you sick of spending half your night out queuing at the bar for a drink? Well, you no longer need to as Turtle Bay have come up with the answer, a table service where cocktails are delivered to your own personal table all night. That’s right, you’ll waited on hand and foot and all you need do is decide which of their delicious cocktails you’ll have first.

Cocktails at Turtle Bay, Manchester

A fortnight ago I was invited to along to Turtle Bay on Manchester’s Oxford Street, courteously of We Blog North, to see for myself what they had to offer. 

If you’re unfamiliar with Turtle Bay, then let me explain. They are Caribbean bar and restaurant chain with two in Manchester alone, one in the Northern Quarter and the other not far from St Peter’s Square tram stop. They serve Caribbean food inspired by beach shack and street vendors as well as cocktails, with rum making a frequent appearance.   

Y
ou notice straight away as you walk in, the chilled, laid-back vibe. We were there on a Thursday night and there was a good mix of people, some for after-work drinks and others just relaxing in booths. 


What is great about Turtle Bay’s table service is that not only don’t you have to rugby tackle your way to the bar but it also means you’re guaranteed a table, perfect for resting those tired, high-heeled feet after a good bogey on the dance floor. And I don’t know about it, but whenever I go on a night out, I always like to have somewhere to keep my bag and coat if I do hit the dancefloor without worrying whether they’re going to be safe.

Obviously, this table service would be perfect if you’re out on a hen-night or planning a birthday get-together. Why not feel like a VIP for the night?

Passionfruit rum cocktail

Cocktail time!

As for the cocktails, I can personally verify that they are delicious, especially if, like me, you’re partial to a bit of rum. 

Above, was the first of the cocktails we tried, full of passionfruit and rum. Unfortunately, it was so delicious it went down rather too quickly and we moved onto the next of the cocktails. This cocktail was one of the strongest and included Wray and Nephew overproof rum. It certainly had a kick to it . I’d say it was more of a sipping cocktail, I guess in the same way as you’d drink a martini. 

The third cocktail we sampled was a Marley Mojito named after Bob Marley himself. Since mojitos are usually my good-to cocktail, this was always going to be an easy sell.  

Marley Mojito

We were also treated to their new food menu with a selection of sharing platters with meat, fish and veggie options. These were the Just Jerk Platter, Vital Veggie Platter and finally the Seafood platter. 

A selection of Turtle Bay sharing platters

Just Jerk Platter

The Just Jerk Platter featured marinated jerk wings, glazed pork ribs, beef patty, jerk chicken flatbread, sweet corn fritters with a super green salad.

Just Jerk Platter

Vital Veggie Platter

On the Vital Veggie Platter you will find sweetcorn fritters, crispy okra, jerk pit grilled mushroom and peppers with spicy jerk, halloumi and mango flatbread, plantain and again, a super green salad.

Seafood Platter

Finally, if neither of those take your fancy there’s the Seafood platter. There’s curried roti flatbread, chilli squid, crispy panko whitebait, the sweetcorn fritters again make another appearance with a mango mole, herb mayo and yes you guessed it, the super green salad. 

Seafood platter

If I’ve managed to wet your appetite then feel free to head over and book yourself a table online: Turtlebay Manchester Oxford Street

ART REVIEW: Isaac Julien – Ten Thousand Waves

Ten Thousand Waves

Isaac Julien’s installation Ten Thousand Waves combines documentary, fantasy and film essay elements to explore issues surrounding labour migration and landscape and is part of a series of moving image acquisitions by The Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester.

Julien is a Turner-Prize nominated filmmaker and installation artist from London who specialises in multi-screen installations. His other notable works include the 1989 documentary-drama about the life of writer Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance. He quickly developed a cult following which continues today. His website also showcases the amazing breadth of this previous as well as current works :www.isaacjulien.com/

The Whitworth Art Gallery

The three screen installation has been on exhibition since the 10th March 2018. The film runs for just under 50 minutes and features the likes of Maggie Cheung and Zhao Tao. Video artist Yang Fudong and poet Wang Ping also appear on-screen.

Morecambe Bay

It opens with the Morecambe rescue mission of 23 Chinese cockle-pickers who drowned in Morecambe Bay in February 2004. The workers were from the Fujian province and had been brought to the UK illegally.

The film stitches together Chinese history, custom and legend and central to the film is the ancient Chinese myth of Mazu the Sea Goddess, the protector of seafarers, ‘alongside scenes of the Ghangxi province where the cockle-pickers’ spirits journeyed back to the ‘middle kingdom”.

What was really interesting about the film was the way it showed scenes of both past and present-day Shanghai, a city that’s the site for the flow of capital into China.

Zhao Tao as the heroine in The Goddess

The Goddess

Running alongside this is the restaging of scenes from the 1934 film The Goddess about the tragic plight of a mother who turns to prostitution to fund her son’s education.

As you can probably tell from my description. there was a lot going on which made it, at times, difficult to keep up with. However, it does feel like an immersive experience. Your bombarded with imagery as you try to keep up with what’s going on across the 3 screens through the corresponding 3 interwoven narratives on-screen.

The musical score to the film is by Jah Wobble and the Chinese Dub Orchestra, thereby merging both the traditional and the modern as well as the work of composer Maria de Alvear.

Maggie Cheung as Mazu

Maiden of Silence & Yishuan Island, Dreaming


The exhibition also features 2 large-format photographs entitled, Maiden of Silence and Yishuan Island, Dreaming. Both are visually striking and line the entrance to the film viewing space. At first I wasn’t sure how the  image of the men dreaming in the shade fit with the overall concept, but the more I thought about it the more I realised that perhaps Julien was using it to show the boundaries between fiction, dream and reality. It also made me think about the nature of Western-style cultural globalization which seeps in through the whole exhibition.

Yishuan Island, Dreaming


The second image was that of a stunning actress Maggie Cheung playing the Maiden of Silence with her dress sleeves draped like angels wings, greeting you on the far wall as you enter. This one I found mesmerizing.

Maiden of Silence


The exhibition runs until August 2019 so you have plenty of time to catch it if you’ve not done so already. You can find out more here: What’s On at The Whitworth

BOOK REVIEW: Lulllaby by Leila Slimani

I first saw Lullaby by Leila Slimani being talked about as part of Erica Davis’ book club. (There’s more here if you’re interested in seeing the other books she’s reading  Edited Recommends) All I knew about it was that it has won the Prix Goncourt in France and was being labelled a ‘nanny killer’ novel.

Lullaby, or The Nanny as it’s titled outside the UK, is the story of a middle-class Parisian family who decide to hire a nanny for their three young children when their mother, Myriam, decides to return to work as a lawyer. Louise seems like the perfect nanny complete with stellar references. Before long she becomes an indispensable part of the family much to both the joy and also resentment of Myriam and her husband Paul. The more she tries to help the family, the more Myriam and Paul begin to despise her.

Lullaby by Leila Slimani
Leila Slimani’s, Lullaby

This is very much a whydoneit rather than a whodoneit and the ‘why’ is the driving force behind the novel. The ‘why’ is plain to see if you look closely.

Louise is a woman who has dedicated her entire life to other people and their children. When it starts to appear as if the family no longer needs her, she takes drastic action. How believable you find this is up for debate. For her, the realisation that the family may no longer need her is devastating, especially since she no longer has any real family of her own. She lives her life through the families she works for and enjoys the praise she receives from being good at her jo,

What the writer does is to leave just enough room for the reader to understand that whilst there’s never any justification for the murder of a child, their parents aren’t entirely blameless either in their treatment of the nanny. In this way, Lullaby explores what might lead an individual to the point of murder, a psychological thriller, but one far less dramatic than the nanny-killer label the novel’s been given. This is far too simplistic a label and ignores the subtle way that Slimani tackles issues of class and race in contemporary French society. Louise, unlike many of the other nannies she meets, is white and French working for a woman from an immigrant background. Much of the tension between the two women stems from feelings of humiliation and not being ‘good enough’.

Slimani also choses to use the issue of class to bring to the forefront the stories of women who work to enable other women to succeed. We see this both with Louise and with the other nannies that she meets in the part including her friend Wafa. She does this in such a nuanced way that it packs a stronger punch. For example, she contrasts the two women’s appearance, their homes and the obsession with cleanliness.

It’s also the way that the issue of gender is tackled in the novel, that makes it so relevant. This is a female-led novel, one that questions what it means to be a women, a wife, a mother and successful in today’s society. This is something many women struggle with especially the guilt of trying to have it all. Here, we have contrasted in the characters of Louise and Myriam, the traditional female caregiving role with that of the modern woman. The lack of male child-rearing in the novel is also notable.

Slimani’s writing style is one that draws you in by offering alternating viewpoints from the two women. This gives the novel a layered feel, adding depth and opening up a contrast in how we feel towards Louise and Myriam.

For some people this novel may seem at first glance like an unpalatable read and the premise may put a great many off. Some have questioned whether the murder of children should be used for entertainment purposes but the same could be said for just about any other art form that deals with issue. But that’s not how I approached or read this novel, and I applaud the writer for daring to tackle the issue. I understand that a novel like this may be a difficult read for many people especially those who have experienced the loss of a child but I think when we start to tell people what they should or shouldn’t read and what they can and can’t write about, then we’re heading into dangerous territory. Instead, I recommend you decide for yourself.

Rating: 4/5

 

BOOK REVIEW: Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

“It was an ordinary spring day in Istanbul, a long and leaden afternoon like so many others, when she discovered, with a hollowness in her stomach, that she was capable of killing someone.”

Three Daughter’s of Eve by Elif Shafak

These are the opening lines of Elif Shafak’s latest novel Three Daughters of Eve. The story begins with a robbery. As Peri sits in busy Istanbul city traffic, her bag is stolen from the passenger seat of her car by a homeless man. Without thinking she gives chase and what follows leads to a chain of events that force Peri’s to reflect back on her childhood memories of growing up in Istanbul, strained family relationships and her time spent studying at Oxford University under the tutelage of a controversial teacher in the shape of Professor Azur. As the novel progresses, we see Peri attending a dinner party hosted in a wealthy suburb, which only serves to reinforce Peri’s sense of disconnect from everything going on around, as the past invades the present. ‘A long-dormant part of memory’ is awakened and we go with her in her journey back through old memories.  

Peri is such a well-written, fully-fleshed out character. We all know the kind of woman Shafak is writing about, when she says that she leads, ‘a decent life supporting charities, raising her children, volunteering at retirement homes.’ She’s 35 years old, established and respected and yet she finds herself, “staring at the void in her soul’. It’s telling when she adds that, “she could no longer tell how much of each day was defined by what was wished upon her and how much of I was what she really wanted.” We’re told that she feels like a fine citizen and a fine modern Muslim but what’s noteworthy is that the robbery causes the foundations of this belief to shake, more so as we learn about her past. 

The protagonists potential for darkness as we read in the opening lines, is intertwined with Turkeys potential for the same kind of darkness. I found the incident with her brother particularly harrowing and was a period in Turkish history that I knew little about. 

The relationship between Peri and her father is also an interesting and acts a mode through which the writer explores the clash between secularism and conservatism in Turkish society as represented by her a mother, an extremely religious woman. The vast majority of people who live in Istanbul are Muslim but in the novel, Shafak also explores those that are from the Westernized middle-classes. 

The culture shock for Peri really begins in Part Two, which for me is where the novel really picks up as Peri leaves the bustle of Istanbul for quiet of Oxford. There she again meets two young women, Shirin and Mona, who once again act as opposite poles of the debate around faith and religious, as Peri stands on the fence in-between. These thee women make up the titles ‘three daughters of Eve’; Mona the Believer, Shirin the Sinner and Peri herself, the Confused. The group is rounded off by a man, Prof Azur who Peri is introduced to by Shirin. His unorthodox methods of teaching make him stand out at the University and he quickly take Peri under his wing.

Three Daughters of Eve feels like a novel that speaks to the times we live in. The writer deals with the themes of religion, faith, identity, especially Turkish identity, female friendships and sexuality. Shafak has also been hailed as the female Orhan Pamuk but I don’t think is necessarily a helpful comparison. Yes, both authors write about Turkey but they approach it in very different ways. Shafak’s is concentrated on the role of women. Her writing style is very different from that of Pamuks but her real strength lays in her storytelling abilities. Three Daughter’s of Eve is full of stories within stories and it is with delight that we get to peel back layer after layer to get to the real truth of the novel. 

Reading Three Daughter’s of Eve has inspired me to seek out more of Shafak’s work, as her storytelling abilities alone make her well worth a read.   


Published by Penguin, 2017
@Elif_Shafak
www.eifshafak.com

I’d also recommend giving this TED talk a watch if you’d like to hear more from the writer.

ART REVIEW: Alison Wilding at The Whitworth Art Gallery

Of all this summer’s exhibitions at the Whitworth Art Gallery, with the exception of Isaac Julien’s, this was the one I was most interested in seeing. I knew nothing about Alison Wilding’s work but I was keen on expanding my knowledge of sculpture, an art form I feel I know the least about. I’m always keen to educate myself about new artists so whenever I hear about an exhibition by an artist I’m unfamiliar with I try to make the time to see them. One thing I always refrain from doing is any research on them beforehand, preferring instead to experience their wok without any context or preconceptions. I like the work alone to guide me.

Wildings pieces in the exhibition span the past 20 years of her career and mix materials such as wood, metal, stone and steel to create some incredibly striking sculpture.  

Disposition (author’s own image)

The first piece you see as you enter is her 1999 piece called Disposition, a circular piece of concrete perched precariously on its side in front of a carpet of pieces of rubber jutting from the ground. At any moment the concrete could topple and flatten it. There’s a real contrast in colour and texture.  

In a Dark Wood (author’s image)

I was completely mesmerised by her second work entitled In a Dark Wood (2012), the title of which is taken from the opening lines of Dante’s Inferno. In the middle of the sculpture we see something is either trapped or concealed amongst the reclaimed laminated iroko wood. This is the first time In a Dark Wood has been displayed publicity and was my favourite from this exhibition. What is revealed here is just as important as what is concealed. 

Largo (2002), her third sculpture in the exhibition displayed a series of flowers, the delicacy we associate with them turned on its head by the fact they are made of concrete. Yet again Wilding is offering us a view of nature through it’s contrasts. Yes, they’re abstract and unusual but also visually interesting to look at and examine. This one in particular made me reconsider the world around me and look at it in a different way. 

Largo (author’s image)

After I went away I did some research on the artist, I learnt that Wilding is currently one of the most prominent sculptors in Britain. She’s been nominated for the Turner Prize and is a member of the Royal Academy. It’s not difficult to see why her work has become so popular.  

Alison Wilding’s exhibition has been showing at The Whitworth gallery since 16th February and will be on display until the 12th August 2018. Entry is free and to find out more head over to The Whitworth Art Gallery’s page: www.whitworth.manchester.ac.uk/

If you enjoyed this review then you might like to read my recent review of another Turner Prize nominated artist’s exhibition that’s currently showing at HOME in Manchester. The artist is Phil Collins and the exhibition is called, Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong: Art Review: Phil Collins at HOME

ART REVIEW: Phil Collins – Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong

For those that don’t know and until today I’d count myself as one of those people, Phil Collins is a Turner Prize nominated visual artist (not to be mistaken with the singer) who lives in Berlin.

I’d visited HOME last week to watch a film called Pin Cushion and whilst I was there I noticed that they also had a solo exhibition in their gallery space, by Phil Collins. Knowing nothing about him but intrigued by the concept of mixing digital and analogue technologies I decided to go along and find out more.

This was my first experience of the HOME gallery space and of Phil Collins’ work. One of the first things that struck me as I walked in was his use of space. You’re greeted by a large collage-like display that’s the focal point of the entrance.

The entrance to Phil Collins’ exhibition ‘Can’t Do Right For Doing Wrong’

This gives way to a short corridor that feels claustrophobic and slightly unnerving. This leads to a row of self-contained booths that are transparent both for those outside the booths so you can watch those inside and once inside you’re able to see the adjoining space and by extension they can also watch and see you.

Listening booths

This installation is called, ‘my heart’s in my hand, and my hand is pierced, and my hand’s in the bag, and the bag is shut, and my heart is caught.’ Not the catchiest of titles but the project was developed with guests of GULLIVER Survival Station for the Homeless in Cologne. The material comes from anonymised phone calls recorded at the facility and sent to musicians to be turned into vinyl. These vinyl records can be played in the listening booths. I selected a few to listen to and was surprised at how uninteresting I found them to be. I couldn’t engage with it perhaps because it was a little too experimental for my taste.

Just some of the vinyl recordings you can listen to

As you work your way around the exhibition you come upon another room with a large screen in front of you. The space is filled to look like a waste-land full of barrels and mounds of dirt. This installation is called Delete Beach and shows an anime film set in the future.  The lead character joins an anti-capitalist resistance group (though I only knew this from reading the leaflet) though the actual storyline itself was hard to make out, if there was one.

Delete Beach

I know that anime has a popular following especially in Japan and I could appreciate the art work and the strong female lead in the film. But cartoons more generally and specifically anime isn’t something I enjoy (though I can appreciate why others do) and with nowhere to sit and watch the film, you find yourself lingering in a apocalyptic wasteland not knowing what to do with yourself.

I also found the space itself disorientating and uncomfortable. It’s not easy to get your baring’s and it takes a steward to direct you away from something you might trip over and into the next room.

Ceremony

This final room is an auditorium with a raised seating area showing a video entitled ‘Ceremony’. Again this is a dimly lit room though not quite as dark as the previous one and only the small exit signs indicates where you can leave (down a red-light corridor). This final installation was the one I got the most from. I suspect this might have been because it was the most conventional of all the installations.

Part documentary, part film, it tells the story of Frederick Engels, his links to Manchester and the events surrounding the statue of Engels arriving in Manchester. The ever-fantastic Maxine Peake acts as the voice of Engels. The aim of the video is to inform viewers about Manchester’s communist roots as well as celebrating Engels, the statue of him that arrived it the city and now sits outside HOME, and his legacy. It draws parallels by the social, economic and political conditions Engels experienced with those we see today.

If you like your art political then this is something worth experiencing, especially if that politics is left-leaning. I would certainly pop in if you’re planning on visiting HOME just to experience Phil Collins’ work.

Phil Collins’ solo exhibition is showing at HOME in Manchester from Saturday 7th July until Sunday 16th September. It’s free and you can find out more here: HOME exhibition Phil Collins

Another Turner-prize nominated artist, Alison Wilding, is also currently showing her work in Manchester this time at the Whitworth Art Gallery. You can read more about her exhibition here: Turner-Prize nominated sculpture Alison Wilding

FILM REVIEW: Pin Cushion

Last Friday I attended a special screening of a new British film called Pin Cushion, courteously of Bird’s Eye View. The movie forms part of their Reclaim the Frame initiative; a series of films highlighting the work of female directors. The screening was followed by a Q&A hosted by Mia Bays founder of Birds Eye view alongside lead actress Joanna Scanlan, producer Gavin Humphries, critic and screenwriter Kate Muir as well as Professor Kathryn Abel from the University of Manchester who specialises in psychological medicine. 


This new British film is written and directed by Deborah Haywood and tells the story of mother Lyn and her daughter Iona who move to new town in the Midlands to start a new life. Despite both being quirky misfits they try in earnest to make the move a success and meet new people. However, it soon becomes clear that reinventing yourself isn’t as easy as it seems and their strong mother-daughter relationship is quickly put to the test.

Pin Cushion tackles big meaty issues such as bullying, living with a disability and female sexuality but at it’s heart lays an incredibly dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship based on lies and fantasy. This is conveyed through gothic and fairy-tale-like elements which are used to deal with some of the more uncomfortable aspects of the film. At first these impressionist-style shifts took some getting to use to but as the film progressed they began to make sense as the magical/fairy-tale imagery took on a greater meaning. I particularly enjoyed the bathroom scene (I won’t say more as I don’t want to ruin it) later on in the film. 
  


What came across really strongly in this powerful film was the voice and behaviours of women, especially young, teenage girls. The bullying scenes were so uncomfortable to watch precisely because they captured exactly what female bullies can be like and female whose experienced bullying will find this even more troublesome.

I don’t thing it does this film a disservice to say that, on screen, this looks like a female-made film visually. For example, I’d be hard pressed to find a male-directed film that uses crocheting and knitting in all it’s glory as this done and if it’s something you are interested in, then you’ll really appreciate the set design, props and costumes in Pin Cushion (it’s very kitsch). 

The main cast members; Iona played by Lily Newark (a star in the making) and Joanne Scanlan who plays mum Lyn are brilliant and there’s even a cameo role from Nadine Coyle from Girls Aloud as well as Bruce Jones from Coronation Street who stars briefly as cringeworthy psychic that induced laughs from the audience.

What I loved about Pin Cushion was that this was a world of females written and directed by a female. The male experience dominates film so to see a film like Pin Cushion shift the focus is fantastic, even more so when you hear the lengths it took to get a film like this made and in cinemas as film executives questioned whether girls really behaved this way (hint, they do). This is partly a testimony to the great work being done by Bird’s Eye View and the BFI in the UK.

They’ve recognised the importance of presenting female voices on screen, ones that are a lot less conventional. Pin Cushions is a movie that’s allows us to step into the minds of the two female characters and this is a rare but challenging move for a British film. It’s also daring because traditionally females about women made by women are belittled and struggle to find funding.  

It’s been praised by critics and rightly so because it’s clear that Deborah Haywood has a real talent for tackling contentious areas and opening up debate. That debate continued on into the Q & A after the screening and really helped me gain a deeper understanding of the film then I would have done otherwise.

Pin Cushion Q&A with (from left to right); Mia Bays, Joanne Scanlon, Gavin Humphries, Kate Muir and Bruce Jones


I found Professor Kathryn Abel’s contributions particularly interesting. As this is a film that tackles the issue of women’s mental health she discussed the presentations of distress in young women as well as the role of the teachers and parents in the movie and particularly the dysfunctional relationship between the mother and her daughter. She asked the questions, “who is parenting whom?” in the movie as both Iona and Lyn routinely lie to one another. The uneasiness we feel comes not just from the bulling but the way it’s dealt with/or not as the case may be. According to Prof. Abel, Iona is missing a parent in her life and the mother is does have behaves in an almost child-like way.

In the end we’re left to judge for ourselves the behaviour of her mother as well as the bullies in the film and I don’t think it’s a real spoiler alert to say that no one comes away unscathed. If this sounds like a hard-going movie, then good, because sometimes films should challenge us. Go see this film if you’re looking for a movie that is different and daring, one that attempts to shine a light on the female experience and shift the male-dominated gaze of so many movies. 

I do hope the film gets a wider release but in the meantime it’ due to be screened in the Midlands Art Centre in Birmingham tonight (16th July), then on the 17th July at Genesis in London followed by the Plymouth Arts Centre on the 19th.

If you have been to see this already or intend to go then do let me know in the comments box as I’m keen to hear what your thoughts are.  

You can find Pin Cushion on:
Twitter: @PinCushionFilm
Facebook: pinCushionfilm
Instagram: @pincushionfilm