Saint Jean

Since dropping the subject at GCSE, my French is restricted to ordering cakes and saying what is in my school bag. So whenever my bilingual father tells me and my mum that a festival with the locals ‘will be fun’, we usually brace for the worst with our catchphrase: “let’s hope the food is good”.

We spent 10 days in the south of France on holiday with plans to bathe in the sun, read books, and eat copious amounts of bread and cheese. We’ve stayed in the same area for several years so know some of the locals, who invited us to celebrate with them in the festival for Saint Jean.

We knew very little about this particular festival and, after a quick conversation with a rare English-speaker, we discover that it is a summer festival where you light a bonfire to fend off the storms. There was some sort of legend of a priest coming to stop the revelry one year, only for a storm to arrive once he had done so. We so left, expecting to stand around, eat some food, listen to a french band play music, and watch as the countryside men of the town light a large pile of sticks on fire. We got much more than we bargained for.

On arrival, we found our way to the food stand which consists of chips and sausages, only to note that the stage area is on the other side of the field – the large pile of sticks, which will be our bonfire, is far closer to the small tent that is set up over a long table, and it is far larger than we expected. Still, we muse over why the staging is so far away as we receive a plastic cup of grapefruit rosé.

Our questions are answered, perhaps unintentionally, when the first singer takes the stage. ‘Singer’ is perhaps too kind of a word for the man, who was more like a tone-deaf drunkard in a karaoke bar. It sounds harsh, but trust me, my ears still hurt. We worried for a while that everyone else was enjoying it (we had a bad evening several years ago which consisted of poetry read over some random guitar plucking which the locals all adored), but everyone else winced as much as we did. There was some jeering, lots of painful glances, and awed laughter that someone so bad had somehow got a slot for the night.

Next up were five women, ranging in age from what looked like mid twenties to early forties, who decided that staging, microphones, and shoes weren’t for them, as they made their way right to the middle of the gathering. They looked like someone’s poor execution of a ‘boho chic’ look, or like they were part of a low budget movie where the costume designer had a poor knowledge of a stereotypical ‘gypsy’ look. They so began to sing, better than the man before but still slightly off key, trying to sing harmonies that might have worked if they had some more practice. Then again, it was hard to hear without any kind of microphone, standing in an open space.

It was sometime after the boho band but definitely before the fire was lit that clouds suddenly came and the rain started to come down. Perhaps if the fire had begun earlier, it would have warded off this particular storm, but we will never know.

Light rain soon became a steady downpour, which meant everyone gathered had to crowd together under the pre-mentioned tent which really wasn’t designed to withstand rain. Large pools would gather on top, so a couple of people would walk around pushing on the collected water with a wine bottle so that the roof didn’t cave in. We squashed together, trying to fight off the cold, whilst some people smoked and one woman handed round homemade pizza.

Finally three men went to light the fire, getting soaked in the process, and constantly having to double back to light their large ‘fire sticks’ as the rain kept putting them out. Somehow, the bonfire started to take life, but instead of warding off the storm the rain turned torrential and there was thunder and lightning.

I should probably also mention at this point that the weather during this week had been between 27 and 33 degrees, so everyone was in sandles, shorts and light t-shirts. This does not mix well with rain, cold, and mud.

Of course this didn’t truly stop the revelry, as shown by one man who looked to be in his seventies dancing around with a large, rainbow umbrella, singing the classic line “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain, da da glorious feeling ba ba”. It seemed that was the extent of the English they knew, but everyone joined in.

With storms come wind, which blew the sparks and ashes from the bonfire towards us and the trees – so really it was very lucky that we had the rain, otherwise we would have had a forest fire as well.

At the end of the night, there was a mad dash to the car, although we still got drenched, and laughter all the way home. It was definitely the best way to experience such a fantastic summer storm.

On Being Happy: Home

On hearing the news of the EU referendum, and being part of the 48% who wanted to remain in the EU, I need to remind myself of something that makes me happy.

Home.

Home is the smell of that particular washing powder. It’s the endless supply of apricot jam and toast. It’s having a garden and living on more than one floor. It’s having neighbours who chat to you over the fence about weeds.

Home is where my Mum cooks wonderful food seemingly without effort. Home is my Dad making jokes that are sometimes terrible, usually inappropriate, but always making me at least smile. Home is where I can cry one minute over silly things and smile the next because the dog farted himself awake.

Home is that peacefulness walking on the beach. It’s also the chaos of wind tangling hair and salt on your skin, so when you lick your lips later they taste like the sea.

Home is where I feel safe, and happy, and warm. It’s where the nemesis is a squirrel that eats the strawberries and outsmarts the dog and the Dad. Home is where my Mum manages to somehow keep up with my mood swings on bad days and find ways to make me laugh despite them. Home is where my Dad can fix anything, even my broken boot which he once fixed by lighting on fire – intentionally.

Home is where my dog sleeps on my bed and keeps me cosy, even if he smells and hogs the duvet. It’s where my brother will talk and talk and talk and never run out of stories or tales or important sounding words that I may or may not use in books I hope to write one day.

Home makes me happy. It’s where I feel grounded, where I feel I can breathe a sigh of relief as soon as I step off the train. It’s where I’ll probably always be told to get to bed early but also where my washing will also magically get done. It’s the sound of seagulls that I love and hate and hate and love. It’s the place I regroup, re-centre myself, charge up for the time I’m away, because when I’m away I don’t feel the same as I do at home.

On bad days, I think of home and count down the days I’ll be back, because for me, home is happiness.

On Turning 20

Whenever someone has a birthday, we always ask ‘do you feel any different?’ even though almost every single time we know their response will be ‘no’. I turned 20 this week, and still I’m waiting for some kind of knowledge or wisdom or somethiing to suddenly snap into place as if reaching that age is like unlocking a level, the reward some sort of ‘welcome to adulthood’ package which includes the skill to change tires, pay taxes, knowledge on the economic markets, and the ability to talk about politics in every conversation.

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So it’s not the day of your birth, the day you turn 18 or 20 or 30 or 100 that everything clicks in. It’s the years of mistakes and successes and pain and happiness that you actually learn. Which, really, is more difficult to digest. We say ‘you’ll understand when you’re older’, not because you’ll be a different age but because the experiences you’ve had and been through teach you. Those disney movies which nice messages may set a foundation, but it’s only through your own trials and tribulations that you actually figure things out on your own.

But it’s hard, learning things, because you start to form opinions and, as it seems, not everyone learns or thinks the same things. So it’s worse, when tragedies such as those that have happened all over the world in the past few days, that people never seem to be able to agree on what is ‘right’ and ‘wrong’.

Christina Grimmie’s death felt personal to me, as I remember watching her Youtube videos when I was younger. One in particular, her cover of ‘Titanium‘ by David guetta ft.Sia, was one that I obsessed over. I remember listening to it over and over again, trying to sing along but really just appreciating how wonderful I thought Christina’s voice was. Through her I discovered new artists and new songs and a better appreciation of music, especially in the Youtube community. So it felt worse, to go through the comment section on her videos – although comment sections are always dangerous – when people were justifying the thing that killed her. Saying that it wouldn’t have happened if she’d been armed and able to defend herself. It felt worse, because I wanted to scream my opinion at everyone that clearly something is disgustingly wrong in the world if we’re standing up for a weapon, where maybe if we just made access to that weapon much harder could have prevented it. It’s hard, because now I’m older, and I think I know what is right. But other people think they’re right, and why should they think we know better? Why should we think that we know better?

Then the tragedy in the Orlando club shooting, and although there were tributes and devastation, the debates erupted. Was it a terrorist attack? An attack on the LGBTQ+ community? Both? Then it turns back to gun control, and everyone arguing and calling each other names – and they start to forget, that in all the arguing and debating, lives have been lost. And it hurts to think about these things. It hurts to feel like you’re older and feel like you should know what to do and feel that maybe you’re powerless and you want to just leave it to someone else who knows what they’re doing to just stop it.

Back to Youtube, one particular video on the shooting got to me (see it here) and, once again, I felt the need to go into the comment section – only to see the same as before. Yet it was made worse by people targeting the person in the video. She’s crying, which makes her argument invalid. She’s an emotional woman, out of control. She’s faking her tears to make people agree with her. Again and again, it seemed like no one else was thinking the same as me. Have they not learned through their years? Have they not started to form the same thoughts as me? Can’t they see her obvious devastation and her plea for action? How can you get angry that she cries? She’s showing emotion, so bloody what?

There’s so much I could say on the subject. Maybe in several years I’ll change my tune, but for now all I can think is that getting older is hard because you have to come to terms with the fact that not everyone gets along. Not everyone thinks the same as you. It doesn’t get easier.

And so I enter my twenties, bracing for what’s going to happen next. My love goes out to everyone affected and hurt by the latest tragedies, and I hope that maybe, one day, we’ll be able to say that the future is brighter.

Quick to Judge

It’s taken me a while to try and gather my thoughts on this particular topic, and I still don’t think I’ve fully committed to one thing or another, but I’m going to try to articulate my warring emotions anyway.

Most of you will have heard in the news about Cincinnati zoo killing a gorilla as a boy fell into the enclosure. There are many opinions flying around, as they are wont to do, and obviously everyone is devastated that the gorilla was killed. People are blaming the zoo, the boy’s guardian, the boy himself – and my main thought coming from this is that everyone is very quick to judge and lay blame on someone. Most claim that the gorilla was protecting the child, as we can see in the video leaked that the gorilla is standing over the boy and keeping him close. I have not yet seen footage of the gorilla moving the boy, as the video shows them in two different sections of the enclosure, so of course I can’t say whether he did drag the child or move him violently.

For me, I think that, yes, the gorilla may well have been protecting the boy, and it is very easy for us to jump to that conclusion. But a very tough decision had to be made. If they tried to tranquillise the gorilla, it would have taken too long to take hold and could have very easily angered the animal, bringing potentially more harm or even killing the child. If someone else tried to enter the enclosure, the gorilla could have harmed them.

There is no black and white clear answer. At the end of the day, a decision had to be made and I think the people who had to make that decision shouldn’t be criticised. In that circumstance, there isn’t much you can do under such pressure and a time limit. They couldn’t leave and come back with clear minds – the life of the boy was in danger, and they had to put him as priority. I don’t know whether we should be trying to find someone to blame. Sure we can blame the parents or guardians, but again for the majority of us we just don’t know what exactly happened.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to judge someone else’s actions. The ‘what ifs’ are dangerous, but understandable. Maybe we should question parenting. Maybe we should question zoo security. Maybe we should question the lives of animals in cages. One thing is for certain though – it’s easy to jump to decisions when you’ve read one article written by one person or heard something through the grapevine. It’s easy to blame someone else and claim that you would have acted differently.

But you probably weren’t there. You weren’t the one who had to make the fast decision between ensuring the child’s life or leaving it at risk. If the child had died instead of the gorilla, what would the headlines say? The zoo would be at fault, a mother with tear-streaked face would be everywhere – and maybe that one thought of animals in cages being wrong would pull through.

I don’t know all the answers. I don’t know what was right or wrong in this situation. Like I’m sure everyone does, I want to think that there was somehow a way to save both the child and the gorilla, but there is no certain way of doing that. So far, no one has offered an option where that would have been possible – yet at the same time, we’ve all had time to think up ways and possibilities and chances and opportunities.

So, I’m sorry, but I don’t know who to blame. I’m devastated that a gorilla had to be killed, but I understand why that decision was made. It’s so easy to judge, and when we can all comment on an article on facebook and voice our opinions to the world it’s tempting to take the superior standing and yell at everyone. However, that doesn’t make it right.