Monday, 18 August 2014

Decisions, Decisions: Choosing what I like (and dislike) the most

It's about time that I've let you in on a little secret which, depending on whether you ever pay attention to what I say, might come across as the most well-known fact in the world. My so-called 'secret'? I can never make a decision. Indecisive, particular and somewhat confused are among the words which describe me fittingly, and even I don't possess the power to deny what many would deem to be a famous truth. 

For example, I was torn between which treat to go for after dinner. Courtesy of the monthly curse, my sweet cravings had kicked in, which then provoked me to scour almost all the kitchen cupboards in search of a treat that would truly hit the spot. I was ravenous with hunger, drool literally spilling out my lips as the cravings grew stronger and stronger. But, despite checking through the cupboards at least fifty times, I was nowhere near towards satisfying my cravings. 

The reason why? I didn't know what to choose, even though I was spoilt for choice. From dark chocolate KitKats to indulgent Magnums, the world was my oyster within the kitchen - yet I turned my nose up at almost all the available choices. After being reminded about it by my mum, I ended up scoffing the remains of the Christmas Cake of 2013, which later left the lingering flavour of brandy in my mouth. All in all, I was pleased with my decision - one bite automatically calmed my insatiable sweet tooth - but the problem still exists: why does it pain me to make one simple decision?

Everybody knows that every one of us has our good and our bad points, but we literally devote most of our time to focusing on the positives - as if we have the guts to face up to the negatives! However, which course of action would we take if we wanted to turn a negative - like my indecisiveness - into a smiley-faced positive? 

  1. First of all, I would have to take a long hard look at myself (in perhaps the cleanest mirror on the planet which, to my horror, shows up all my glaring spots), and come to terms with the fact that I have a dilemma with making decisions. Letting go of your pride and allowing it to receive a slight blow is sometimes necessary if you wish to get an important message across - even if it relates to an insignificant matter like mine! 
  2. Afterwards, the hardest stage begins: gaining experience. If you're experienced in making decisions, surely you won't struggle with indecisiveness very often, will you? I need to get used to being in a position where decision-making is an acquaintance, and is rarely avoided. It doesn't matter whether the decision relates to which clothes to buy or a place to visit - all experience is priceless! 
  3. And, finally, don't panic. When your brain has turned to mush, how do you expect to be in a good state of mind to make a decision? Relax, breath and, if luck allows it, take a break. Shame that I wasn't thinking straight at times, otherwise decisions would never have become my enemy!
Believe it or not, I do know how to make some decisions when it comes to certain interests of mine. These ones are definitely in my comfort zone and I can answer them without a moment's hesitation which, after last night's treat fiasco, makes a change!

Dark Chocolate vs. Milk Chocolate

My early years of childhood were partly defined by a treat which I lovingly call a friend: chocolate. Creamy and temptingly moreish, I realized early on in life that chocolate was special and that, whatever happens, I had to have it. I just had to, OK? 
When my love of chocolate was at its height of popularity several years ago, milk chocolate ruled the reign. Galaxy was my favourite brand, partly due to its creaminess which tasted and even felt like silk, and it always cheered me up when I was in need of a mood boost. 
Then, along came dark chocolate. Rich, bitter and oh-so-chocolatey, I was sent into a spin from the moment I first tasted it. All the sweetness had been zapped out of it and the colour - which was as dark as a midnight black Friesian horse - looked nothing like the soft brown milk chocolate I had always adored.
But maybe fate had other plans in store for me. Who was to know that I would eventually be drawn to the dark side - and leave my bars of Galaxy forever? Within weeks, Cadbury's, Galaxy and my once-delectable Mars bars seized to exist in the kitchen cupboard, replaced with luxurious dark chocolate. 
And, a year on, I haven't turned back.
Winner: Dark chocolate.

Jeans vs. Skirts
Jeans, jeans, jeans. Where would I be without you? You not only cover up my legs which, when overgrown with stubby hairs, have seen better days, but you keep me warm during the long cold months. You give my legs a lovely figure and are a wardrobe staple. I'm even wearing a pair right now - in fact, I probably wear jeans at least 90% of the time!
But skirts? Since I slipped into my first pair of skinny jeans several years ago, skirts have almost been abandoned. Unless I've got a pair of tights on, I would never consider wearing a skirt or, at times, a dress because I don't always like to expose my bare (need-to-be-shaved) legs. Besides, the skirt that I have to wear is for school which, as it is knee-length, disguises the greatest asset of being a teenager - where is the fun in that?
Winner: Jeans. 

Eyeliner vs. Lipstick
After growing bored of lip gloss, my attention turned to lipstick - the greatest beauty staple that women could ever have. Creamy, long-lasting and downright beautiful, I needn't explain my attraction towards lipstick which has never left my side, as my ever-growing collection suggests.
I have lipsticks in almost every colour of the rainbow - nude, fuchsia, plum, red, you name it - and applying it on my lips every day is a routine that I have never tired of; whatever your age, a love of make-up is as long-lasting as the cosmetics you wear! A little dab of red or pink here and there not only brightens my face, but perks me up; lipstick is one of the many things which makes me proud to be a girl. It's no wonder that it looks so bad on boys!
As for eyeliner, you can be so imaginative as to how you want to wear it. You can wear it smoky, add a subtle touch or be as playful as you wish - nothing is holding you back! From one single line, eyeliner can alter your face and make-up which, whilst making a big statement, isn't glaringly obvious. It's stylish, yet minimal, and oh-so-chic. Believe me, it would be a crime to not have one in your make-up kit!
Winner: Tie (both are equally loved!).

Saturday, 16 August 2014

What I've Learnt This Summer

Despite the final bell ringing throughout school almost a month ago and summer has since taken control of daily life, my ambition to learn has not diminished in any way whatsoever, but has instead grown stronger.

As many people possibly believe, urges to have fun from day to night are literally installed in the teenage mind from the minute we hit our adolescent years - life would be a drag without the ultimate playlist, right? As much as I cannot resist singing along to the hottest dance tracks (more often than not in my bedroom which, going from my family's comments, is not soundproof), I would quickly get bored if enjoying myself was the sole activity for the entire summer.

Shock! Horror! Incredulous stare! Just explain why boredom would rob me of all enthusiasm if I were to have fun 24/7? For one thing, fun only has a limited life span and has reached its peak from the moment it begins, then goes downhill as time goes on. The more you have of it, the less you appreciate the enjoyment it brings, and that lack of appreciation can eventually lead to a spell in the land of boredom. In simpler words, if you get too much of a good thing, there is a risk that overexposure could potentially harm your enjoyment in the long run.

Therefore, it is wise to distance yourself from what you enjoy every now and then, so those moments in which you immerse yourself in a fun activity are cherished, otherwise they will lose that once special feeling that you used to feel. Sometimes, we don't know when to stop before things spiral out of control - in that sense, releasing your inner party animal should be kept to an absolute minimum!

We learn more about what does and does not work for us during adolescence, partly due to exposing ourselves to different activities and figuring out our interests. At this point, we have to gain control with our actions because, unlike the first few years in childhood, our parents cannot be held responsible for good or bad things we get up to - despite yearning for freedom, being given responsibility is still spine-tinging to say the least!

From what I've picked up in the past and this summer alone, I feel more in touch with my emotions and what makes me happy. All the testing times I've gone through have definitely not equated to nothing, but indeed my on-going journey to become a wiser person!

But what has had a great impact on me and has changed my perspective on life? Which lesson has forever remained stuck in my mind, constantly on rewind? Is there something which took me years to discover, despite staring back at me?

Nothing comes easy, let me say, but it's like a burst of sunshine whenever you make a discovery, whether it is big or small. It all adds up to the final result: you.

Let your guard down (sometimes)
Although it feels brilliant to believe that you are as strong as steel, there are moments when rock solid strength does not have to be a compulsory presence.
From personal experience, being on your guard does protect you and acts like a shield against the horrible things living in the world, offensive schoolkids alone. Yet it is often too easy to forget that not only will a shield block the nasties lurking in the shadows, but those kind-hearted souls whose intentions are only to make you feel welcome.
Perhaps my first weeks at secondary school were a great struggle because I was on the lookout for any nasty comments or mean-spirited people, which prevented me from seeing the good in some decent students. A few upsetting incidents in my first month or so had truly hit a nerve, which then sparked a fear of looking vulnerable whilst in the company of other pupils. All I wanted was to survive each day without being run over by another sarcastic comment or patronizing confrontation.
In the final week of term, my guard - which, at point, I'd maintained - suddenly slipped, in the form of silent tears streaming down my face. The cause? Watching Life of Pi during class. Although I didn't let on why my emotions had gotten the better of me, I felt that displaying an unseen side of me gave my classmates a different glimpse into who I am as a person.
Until then, I had never shed a tear in front of anybody, in case my make-up started to streak like badly applied fake tan down my face.
Since that moment in class several weeks ago, I learnt something valuable: it is okay to cry in public sometimes. After all, we are only human - what would be the point of having emotions if we never expressed them? Girls in particular are more vulnerable to letting their feelings go, and feel like absolute fools if they do - perhaps that explains why they don't always like those who, on the surface, seem much stronger than them. I am strong, but not to the extent that I'm at a loss as to how I feel deep inside. If I want shed a few tears, I prefer to be alone because it is only my company that I seek, but letting go (in such a manner that the cute boys will be asking whether you're alright) in public is hardly the crime of the century.

Don't try too hard
To this day, I'm doing the absolute opposite of this example - I try too hard. In lessons. At making friends. At baking batches of biscuits which even cookery queen Mary Berry would be proud of. And my efforts to throw myself into everything creates a harmful side effect: pressure.
Like a storm which may or may not prevent me from using the Sky box, I can sense pressure from miles away, its nearby presence sending shivers of fear down my spine. Yet pressure would never have been born if it were not for my ambition to be perfect.
But perfection is an unrealistic dream and stands no chance of ever being achieved - unless you sacrifice your sanity for the sake of keeping the kitchen floor permanently clean. Therefore, our efforts should never go to the extent that happiness is no longer present and we struggle to see beyond our actions - and how we must rein in the control that trying hard has over our lives.
Besides, trying too hard in a test or anything which would mean a great deal to you does not automatically mean that success will follow. Is there anything more crushing than getting a bad grade in a test which you sacrificed a weekend marathon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer to study and revise for? Disappointment is all too familiar if you develop an obsession with trying too hard - and it is the cruelest enemy you will ever make.

Accept that life is not always great 
No matter how hell-bent you are on having a great time, don't beat yourself up if life takes a different turn, or fails to live up to your expectation. From money troubles to the teenage blues, we would be living in a false reality if life was as perfect as a dream because it shouldn't be like that.
It's a horrible truth and I wish that it wasn't true, but that's the way that life is. Bad things happen. Switch on the news and you will be surrounded by reports on wars, strikes and grizzly crimes which create a lump in your throat. Like many people, it is an aspect of life which I completely and will forever detest because bad stuff shouldn't plague society, but are we able to control it? No.
On the other hand, we can influence our actions and make the most of what we have, so it truly matters to grab opportunities. Doing otherwise might cause us to live in a permanent state of regret. Life isn't about thinking about what we should have done in the past, or regretting mistakes that we have made. Our time on this planet would be wasted if residing in our memories was our only purpose in life.
Remember, however difficult your life might currently be, somebody out there - maybe thousands of miles away, or just down the road - is facing a harder struggle, and is putting on an admirably brave face. Health, money, success, love and happiness are important when it comes to having a good life - that's why you feel like you've hit rock bottom if you are lacking just one of these essentials.
Appreciate what you do have and cherish it. Life isn't guaranteed to be an easy ride, but it certainly seems easier if you hang onto what puts a smile on your face!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Who Am I?

Who would think that three words would stop you in your tracks? On paper, they don't look like an explosion of words in an Oxford dictionary, not anything particularly important but, like the saying goes, looks can be deceiving. If you look beyond the surface and dig a bit deeper than usual, perhaps my question will strike a chord with you. Not only am I questioning who I am, but you will also ask yourself the same question. What are all the wonderful things which add up to the final result - you? Your quirks, interests and secret passion for teddy bears all count towards the uniqueness which produces such a fascinating person like yourself. However, the question still intrigues me and has yet to be answered: who am I?

Think about it this way: if I were to lose fifteen years of memories tomorrow, what would I know about myself? On the surface, absolutely nothing. Any indicators of myself would neither stand out as extremely obvious, nor give me an insight in who I was. But, like a jigsaw puzzle, I slowly - at the pace of a turtle - piece together parts of myself who add up to me. Yet what would those pieces be? 

A glance around my bedroom would suggest several things about myself as a person, like:
  • An oh-so-obvious passion for books which even aliens from Mars could see
  • Decent taste in modern and old-fashioned paintings (the kitten stuck in a teacup being my favourite)
  • A fondness for well-groomed collectors teddy bears 
Like a foundation, that is all that you see on top of the surface which, despite indicating several interests, doesn't give the full picture. Yes, I might have confessed time and time again my secret status as a bookworm, but which books do I like? Unless you delved into my bookshelf and took out every single book, you wouldn't know that I was obsessed with buying cookery books whose fattening recipes I would never dream of making, or having a full-blown love affair with vampires as pale as my porcelain complexion! Despite the thought of outdoor activities sending alarm bells ringing in my ears, digging a hole like an experienced gardener is essential towards uncovering yourself - and, unlike planting some soon-to-be-bug-infested vegetables, I can assure you that you won't get muddy fingers!

When I was little, there were several adjectives I used to say in reference to my personality. The typical ones - sweet, funny, clever - tended to be used if I ever described myself but, needless to say, my knowledge of descriptive words has noticeably expanded since I was seven years old. Yet, to this day, I ask myself: are those words still true? Am I still as clever as I used to think I was, or as sweet as a sugar-loaded chocolate bar? Perhaps, after years of wondering, it is time to find out. 

Sweet: Typically a word I avoid whilst analyzing a food packet, sweet is a relatively accurate description of me, but only to a certain degree. When meeting people, I'm as pleasant and, indeed, sweet as you can expect; my instinct to be polite overrides all other feelings. However, adolescence sometimes gets the better of me which, rather unfortunately, makes me anything but sweet! Moodiness gains more and more momentum while a desire to be all sweetness and lightness dies away; my sweet personality is pushed aside if the Moaner is unleashed! Perhaps I was sweeter as a little girl because, back then, I'd never gotten in touch with my grouchier side. Oh well, you can only enjoy so much sweetness without being sickened by an overload of it!

Funny: If there was a word which would be standing side by side with my best descriptions, funny would definitely be the one. But, rather embarrassingly for me, there are plenty of times when I'm not making an effort to be funny - it simply happens! Usually, my brother (who, once he is 18, should change his name to The Joker by deed poll) picks up on any scenarios in which I've supposedly been 'funny', and makes a huge deal about it, typically by giving a more amusing account. I hardly have any opportunity to laugh about it because my brother is getting on my nerves within no time! 
Nowadays, my so-called 'natural' funniness has been transformed into a new form: sarcasm. Funny without the big 'haha', I can remain true to my inner comedienne without becoming a laughing stock, or so I hope! 

Clever: Even from a young age, clever was my favourite word and, to this day, remains so. Why? Although being praised for your beauty never fails to please you, I'd rather be complimented on my intelligence which, unlike a wrinkle-free face, lasts forever - and gets better as time passes. 
Having studied a while ago, I've been pulling out all the stops to keep myself entertained this summer - by learning. If it wasn't for my reluctance to get wet, I'd constantly be immersed in a bucket of water because I absorb information like a sponge! Learning fills me with bucket loads of confidence which, years on, excites me more than anything. 
Above the other two words, I think that clever describes me best. Complimenting yourself with such a word might seem quite selfish but, if my dedication to learning counts as proof, it is the truth. But I no longer use clever because I discovered another word long ago: intelligent!

Some words remain as accurate as they were - or so you believed - when I said them at a young age, whereas others have since been replaced with other ones. At this point in my life, I feel more in touch with my feelings and thoughts which, when united, provide me with the knowledge I need to know about myself. 

Unless you've already figured it out or found out ages before I did, there are some things which, unlike a book or trophy, cannot be discovered in your bedroom or anywhere apart from inside of you. Nobody can influence the way that you think, and only you have the right to determine your interests and opinions. Your mind is as precious as a treasure chest and, when at the height of its beauty, is filled with gorgeous gems which you can forever cherish. 

For example, only I know that
  • Sad-looking tigers in films fill my eyes with tears, and I can never watch the end of Life of Pi without teardrops (and make-up) streaming down my cheeks
  • As soon as Paramore's Decode ends, I'm desperate to listen to it on constant, non-stop repeat for the rest of my life
  • Despite my pledge to swap it in favour of the healthier stuff, I crave Dairy Milk at all hours of the day, occasionally giving in with a Freddy the Frog bar
  • Spelling catastrophe (which I only managed to spell thanks to Google) has never been my strongest point
  • Straightening my naturally thick hair into thin strands is the worst crime ever known to man (or should I say hair?) kind
Insignificant these facts might be to you, but they are a part of me. Would I be quite the same without One Born Every Minute being my guilty pleasure? No way. Whether anybody likes it or not, my quirks are staying and will exist for as long as I want. Saying that, though, perhaps I should get rid of my milk chocolate cravings for good...

As for the rest of my description, it needn't be said. From nearly a year's worth of blog entries, you already know that cats are my most trustworthy friends, the word journalism has been on my tongue since my dream was discovered at the age of eleven and Twilight will never go out of fashion. 

Now that I've answered my question, let me ask: who are you?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Halfway Through the Summer

As we near the middle of August at record-breaking speed, it has suddenly occurred to me that summer won't last forever. Sure, I've only been a squeal away from losing my temper with the many flies, bugs and insects which descend upon us year after year, but summer represents much more than a kitten's bite-sized treat, doesn't it?

In my opinion, summer represents the freedom which, as soon as the school year has drawn to a close, you automatically gain and are able to use to your advantage for six school-free weeks. Indeed, neither exasperated teachers nor hyper classmates on a chocolate-induced sugar rush will be popping up for a few weeks yet, and I'm cherishing each moment I spend at home, because the craving to return to its warmth and sense of safety often grew too strong to handle during the past term.

But, deep inside, a clock has already begun to tick. Tick, tock, tick, tock. The countdown towards September - and the eventual new school year - has crept upon me with my knowing it, its shadow remaining in the darkness as it appeared out of nowhere and took me by surprise. Time can be such a despicable sneak when, out of the blue, it reminds you that the clock is ticking - and you are running out of the precious seconds and minutes that you have grown to cherish like a best friend.

Unlike other problems that you might face in life, no cures are available when it comes to battling the speed at which time passes; however much you begrudge it, time has to be accepted for what it is, even if offers no condolences to your frustrated self. At the moment, frustration is growing on me like a desire to indulge on all the Magnums in the world - and it is not a joyous feeling. I'm frustrated that, in less than a month's time, I will be back at a school whose pupils and teachers simply contribute to this growing hole inside of me.

Deep down, the fact couldn't be more honest and downright true: I don't want to go. Neither do I wish that summer will end, despite the heat which drains me of energy like a hole drilled into a bottle of water. But, in order to make my dreams of GCSE success come true in hopelessly less than two years' time, there is no question about: I have to go. No consideration can be given to how I feel about it because, when it comes to the matter of education, I will have to gain it somehow - and school is now the only option.

Since school broke up towards the end of last month, each day has either been dedicated to studying religion and French (for I intend to take a foreign language GCSE next summer), producing mouth-watering baked goods or writing on my blog. Those three activities might strike you as the most oh-so-boring thing that you have ever heard, but developing a routine is miles better than staying in bed until twilight every evening. Even while I was home-schooled, my life was subject to a routine which, from Monday to Friday, consisted of studying, reading and catching snippets of The Jeremy Kyle Show during study time.

Establishing a regular routine to which I adhere has long been a reliable source of happiness for me because, without it, life suddenly strikes me as extremely unorganized. Of course, an exception was made when I moved house earlier this year because there was no way around it - for several chaotic weeks, the routine had to be thrown out of the window. But you know what? To hell with it! As I was given a break from a usual routine for a while, I instantly fell in love with things which were only enjoyed on a rare occasion, and were therefore appreciated at the time. Having a lie-in several hours longer than usual, exploring the county for the whole day and eating the worst-ever chips from a fish and chip shop around the corner on the first night in our new home... Who needed a routine if fun times were here to stay?

However, with all great things, the pleasure you used to seek slowly dies away, and loses that special sparkle they used to have. Once you've tried something once, it becomes way too easy to give it a go again, again and again - by then you would have definitely had more than your fair share. Throughout my life, I've always looked forward to being treated with opportunities or gifts which were only handed out once in a while, as they meant a greater deal to me. Ever wondered why people who, on the surface, have bank accounts bulging with millions of pounds worth of cash sometimes give the impression of being spoilt brats? From the moment that they can buy whatever they want with ease, appreciation fades into the shadows... and, until you get in touch with your appreciative side, it will never reappear.

Right now, I feel that the time has come to settle back in a stable routine - or at least make a few adjustments, for life cannot progress further if every single thing remains the same - before I grow resentful of the 'treats' which, if indulged on too heavily, will lose what made them so special in the first place. And, as I ease into a routine, satisfaction throbs in my veins. Now that I've decided what I want to do this summer, moments of boredom will be few and far between because I'll be doing some productive work instead - and hopefully will hopefully gain more knowledge (if not a few IQ points) by next month!

Yet this work, in my mind, should have been done during the school term, but I ignore this voice in my head because being productive with my time isn't harming me at all. In fact, I feel more confident about my abilities and cannot resist curving my lips into a smug smile after finishing an essay. Once you lose track of your studies, nothing can prevent your confidence from plummeting to an all-time low. Until you find yourself in that position, you might not necessarily realize how important studying is when confidence is involved - without that spark of courage, learning can become a full-blown nightmare. Needless to say, my studying demons have retreated to their hideout since I started some coursework this summer - and long shall they stay there!

Returning to the subject of school, it is worth going there for one sole reason: to learn, learn and learn. I cannot use the word 'learn' enough because, if lessons were drawn back to an absolute minimum, I wouldn't bother attending. My school looks like a school with a couple of workbooks (which are seldom used during lessons) and tools but, beneath the disguise, is a social hangout. Kicking footballs into the dyke (which, despite carrying a risk of falling and drowning, are then retrieved), getting too touchy-feely with your boyfriend or girlfriend in public view and giving sordid details about your, um, personal engagements are among the activities on offer at the school.

Fun certainly awaits me when I return there in the first week of September, but by 'fun', I'm referring to the work that I will be getting myself knee-deep into. Due to going back a year, next month will mark the beginning of the first of two years solely dedicated to GCSE coursework which, had I remained with my natural age group, I would have been taking next summer. This time is highly important to me but, despite the hard work ahead, I'm raring to get on with it. Then, two years down the line, I hope to be studying at a great sixth form before moving onto studying for a diploma in journalism (which is called an NCTJ) and beyond!

For the meantime, a few more weeks of studying, reading and 24/7 access to the fridge are for the taking, and not a moment will go by without it being used for my advantage.

Seize the day, otherwise you might regret not making the most of it!

Saturday, 9 August 2014

The Ultimate 501 Films (Or So My New Book Thinks)

Like food, books is my means of survival. While a glass of milk provides bone-strengthening vitamins and protein, reading a chapter in a novel supplies the excitement and entertainment which I constantly crave. Without books, my life would be as lonely and miserable as Madonna's gloomy Frozen music video (no association with record-breaking Disney animations or cute snowmen). 

Although this summer has been enjoyable - despite the blistering heat, TV programmes as trashy as a recycling centre and so on - I probably would not be enjoying it as much if my trustworthy pal, le livre, wasn't around to spend six weeks of school-free holiday with me. I've just begun to read the classic 1967 novel, The Outsiders, and feel at ease whilst I'm learning about the hard-going lives of 'greaser' Ponyboy and his friends. 

The humidity might be bringing out all the flies and insects from their hiding places at the moment and, if my brother is correct, the best programme shown at the moment is Power Rangers, but summer is as heavenly as I imagined several weeks ago - and even more so because books are only a reach away.

When I travelled to the nearest town yesterday afternoon, I decided to head to the high street and visit a bookshop which, despite being one of the handful left, will be closing down next month. As most shops hold big sales before they finally get the chop, I was keen to pop in there for a while and have a look around - an ideal opportunity for my inner bookworm and bargainista to unite in search of a discounted book!

By the time that I'd left, I had picked up four different books - two novels by Jane Austen, a teen vampire novel and an encyclopedia whose hefty weight was as heavy as my annual horde of Christmas chocolates. And the whole purchase only set me back £8 or so; I doubt that even Amazon would have beaten it! 

But, once I got home (as rain splashed onto my just-washed hair), I wasn't thinking about Jane Austen or a quick-witted teenage vampire; it was the encyclopedia which had definitely caught my eye. Unlike most encyclopedias I see, this one was guaranteed to not bore me to sleep way before my bedtime nor be added to the family's collection of unsellable junk several years later. It is, indeed, a dream come true for an arts lover like myself... because the book is all about the best 501 films ever made. 

Even my dad, who was in the bookshop at the time, was taken aback when I picked up the encyclopedia and announced my intention to purchase it. As my younger brother has long been renowned as a film buff, Dad thought that the book would be better suited to his interests but, like the saying goes, I proved him wrong! A week or two before, I'd received an encyclopedia titled 501 Must-Read Books which I have so far liked, yet the film-themed one stood out to me as soon as I saw it. 

Whether the picture of Spanish beauty Penelope Cruz (who I personally believe is the most beautiful woman in the world) on the cover influenced my decision to buy it or not, I'm not incredibly sure, but the front cover lured me into hundreds of pages of professional film reviews. From romance to horror, the encyclopedia covers almost every genre that you know off heart and features a broad mixture of old and modern day films. 

What I'm now trying to figure out is how many of the listed films I have watched - with five hundred and one mentioned in the book, I can only assume that I've watched a fraction of the figure! With two chapters focused on wars and westerns (in a blazing desert, otherwise my land of nightmares), exploring Clint Eastwood's filmography in a rodeo club is unnecessary, as I have no desire to watch films of that genre at any age. As for the rest of the book, I will have to analyze each film in order to find out whether I've seen it or not. Here goes!

1. Speed (1994) 
2. Crank (2006)
3. Some Like It Hot (1959)
4. Animal House (1978)
5. Airplane! (1980)
6. Trading Places (1983 - only saw it last week!)
7. This is Spinal Tap (1984)
8. The Breakfast Club (1985)
9. Ferris Bueller's Day Off (1986)
10. The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad (1988)
11. Groundhog Day (1993)
12. Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997)
13. There's Something About Mary (1998)
14. Amelie (2001)
15. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
16. Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
17. Juno (2007)
18. Carrie (1976)
19. The Shining (1980)
20. The Others (2001)
21. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)
22. Funny Face (1957)
23. Hello, Dolly! (1969)
24. The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975)
25. Grease (1978)
26. Fame (1980)
27. Little Shop of Horrors (1986)
28. Moulin Rouge (2001)
29. Chicago (2002)
30. High School Musical 3: Senior Year (2008 - how did this reach the list?!)
31. Mamma Mia! (2008)
32. Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961)
33. Dirty Dancing (1987)
34. Romeo + Juliet (1996)
35. Alien (1979)
36. Ghostbusters (1984)
37. Back to the Future (1984)
38. Aliens (1986)
39. X-Men (2000)
40. Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (2001)
41. Witness (1985)
42. Leon (1994)
43. City of God (2002)
44. Casino Royale (2006)

Forty four films later, I've reached the end of an oh-so-long tunnel. In all honesty, I'm surprised that, over a period of several years, I've seen so many critically acclaimed films. When I watched them, it didn't occur to me that, in an encyclopedia somewhere, they would be listed as all-time greats... imagine my shock when I came across the third High School Musical film! Being short-sighted, I honestly believed that my eyes were playing tricks on me and I needed new glasses, yet some things - as crazy as it might seem - are often true! 

Despite viewing just under a tenth of the listed films, that doesn't automatically mean that I liked every single one. For example, I will never regain the two hours it took to watch The Others which, unlike its description, didn't feature much action or variety in settings; until then, I had never realized how boring life would be if it was spent at an isolated country house in the middle of nowhere. Even my village looks like London compared to the dull and cloudy countryside featured in The Hours

Apart from that one in particular, the rest were perfect examples of how to spend my time wisely - in fact, I have either bought or re-watched most of them! For years, I've regarded Breakfast at Tiffany's as my all-time favourite films because it ticks all the boxes:

a) One of the most iconic actresses of all time, Audrey Hepburn, is playing the lead role, whom she transformed into such an entertaining character, whose actions and behaviour were constantly unmissable. 

b) Considering that it was indeed a romantic film, the oh-so-lovely parts weren't as dramatic (or, in today's world, extremely amusing) as some of the other films at the time, which made the film more believable and realistic to its audience. And, throughout the film, I was kept on my toes whilst waiting for that kiss - the one which sets off the fireworks and is permanently inscribed in your memory - which didn't come until the very end...

c) Was I in fashion heaven or not? Audrey's clothes - all of which were supplied by Givenchy - were to die for, but it was the little black dress which truly defined fashion. Over fifty years later, women (and me!) all over the world are grateful for Audrey introducing a wardrobe staple - and turning us green with envy!

Other personal favourites include the The Breakfast Club (which I mentioned in a post a week or two ago), French modern classic Amelie and Leon. Even X-Men gets my vote - I'm still feeling sore about missing out on seeing Days of Future Past at the cinema! Alien remains my favourite horror film which, coincidently, was my first 18-rated film. An eleven year old never forgets her first 18 film nor, for that matter, the sight of a wormlike newborn alien! 

I hope that my film journey continues for many years to come and, if Sky bothers to add more legendary films to its On Demand feature, I might be able to tick more films off the list!  

Thursday, 7 August 2014

A Teenager's Guide to Revising (and Loving It!)

Okay, you caught me red-handed. No half-believable excuses can erase the truth which has just been uncovered to your eyes, like a mask being taken off one's previously disguised face. The truth is hard-hitting and, at first, difficult to digest, but it isn't always so? My palms moist as fear takes control of my sweat glands, the moment of spilling the beans (and the oh-so-juicy truth) has arrived. Great, this going to be absolute hell -

Simply because I love revising. There, I've said it. The words tumbled out of my mouth before my mind could comprehend what I was saying, but it was going to come out in a second or so. And, now that it is out in the open, the truth doesn't seem so bad. Well, knuckling down with some work isn't unlikely to be the cause of criminal activity, is it?

Whether you've experienced it or not (if so, how my heart seethes with jealousy), parents seek pleasure in nagging at us to get on with homework which should've been completed a week ago. Hearing their aggravated tone of voice is annoying still, but we are driven by the bend because of being forced to work hard. As fun-seekers, we teenagers put our hands up if attending a party or hanging out at a cool place is on the cards; having a good time is an unsaid guarantee, isn't it? Enjoying ourselves is a basic right for people of our age because we are young and old enough to be fearless and granted freedom to do (almost) whatever we wish. And, if we had our own way, end-of-year exams and assessments - which, unlike what its title suggests, is an exam in disguise - would cease to exist, whereas parties and fun times would be instated as a full-time duty for all teenagers. What a glorious moment it would be if Parliament passed such a law, but never mind...

For those who have a library of ultra-sharp comebacks and the guts to say them out loud, words tossed towards our parents can ease our irritation as we 'fight' back against their studying ethos. Unlike some teens, my body would quiver like an earthquake at the thought of making smart remarks towards my parents, even if it was to prove a valid point. Personally, I think that using your intelligence for the wrong things is a waste of time - and the ultimate distraction from what needs to be done. Like revising for exams and school work. Yeah, don't even bother telling me - I know how boring that sounds!

However, it doesn't matter whether the truth is as harsh as a cleaver or will eventually bore you to death - it is a truth regardless, and must be accepted! My words are: revision is essential. And, before the questions are tossed in my corner, I will answer them for you!

  1. In order to succeed and gain the greatest results in your exams, revision will provide a comfort blanket and keep your brain active beyond the classroom. If you don't achieve your preferred grades because of not revising, how would you feel? Depressed? Annoyed? Disappointed with yourself? At least you are making an effort to do well by revising - which is the whole point of taking exams! 
  2. Exams are tough whatever age you are, but scare you to death once they become the most defining moments in your education. GCSE fever is rife from April to June, and is to blame for very jittery nerves. But why? By doing well, your future shall have bright prospects and many doors to future success - and countless possibilities - are opened. If you don't pass enough exams, your future plans could be thrown into jeopardy. Good GCSEs will help you enrol in university, find decent employment and have a successful career and, even before you start studying for the courses you intend to take, it doesn't harm you whatsoever to get some revision done!
  3. If you are unsure about something which has been taught at school and need to research it further, revising will help you gain some clarity over what has landed you in a pickle. It saves plenty of awkward questions and irritating glares from your teacher, and one cherry red blush too many from yourself - making your revision worthwhile!
Need I tell you how essential revision is, or will I have to say it all over again? 

Now is time to banish some myths about revision - which, if you choose to listen and follow it, actually prevents you from revising at all! But I think that why so many people believe these myths is that they don't want to revise, and referring to the myth can be accepted as an excuse. Yet when has any excuse been acceptable? Never. Excuses are pointless for everything, let alone for learning purposes! 

Myth: Why bother revising if I have a great memory?
Fact: You might soak words and facts up like a sponge whilst in the classroom, a gift of which many people would love to have (including myself), but it doesn't mean that your memory will be up to scratch come exam season. Most GCSE and A-Level exams take place in the Spring and the work leading up to it can take up to two years to complete. One unit studied at the beginning of the academic year could have slipped from your mind by the time you take an exam; who is to say that you will remember all the things that you will need to know? Unless you have an IQ to rival Einstein, I reckon that revising will do you the world of good, in sense that you will be fully equipped with what might lie ahead. And here's another thing: don't take chances. Only if you have the confidence and the ability to pull it off, and a fuzzy mind will only complicate matters!

Myth: Everybody isn't revising yet it does them no harm. Who is to say that a lack of revision will harm me?
Fact: Remember my reluctance to admit the truth about my love of revision at the beginning? I was reluctant because, as I've experienced at school, kids think that learning is seriously uncool - and confessing to it would be the height of embarrassment! I personally believe that such views are pathetic and allow stupid people to cover up their, um, stupidity by mocking the focused ones, but that is unfortunately playground politics. Like declaring who they've kissed or going out with, people are free to say whatever they like, whether their words are truthful or not. So, they might say that they aren't revising in order to not become the laughing stock, but nobody knows for sure whether it is the truth! 
As for the 'no harm' part, some people are blessed with the ability to succeed without lifting a finger. Or so it seems. Those words are the jealousy within you talking and, as an occasional green-eyed beauty (for I am sulker who pulls sadness off in style), it is normal when stress is a huge weight on your shoulders. Of course it is true that some people don't bother revising yet still get good results - if so, good luck to them! 
But if you are considering to abstain from revision because a lack of it works for others, take a long hard look at yourself. Is following the crowd such a wise idea when your future - and academic prospects - are at stake? We shouldn't fall prey to peer pressure at any time in our lives, yet we ought to know better if exams are involved. 
Nobody can know for sure how your refusal to revise will reflect on your grades until you find out - and there is always the chance that you might not like the truth on that piece of paper. 

Myth: I will have no spare time if I revise. 
Fact: Depending on your dedication to studying, you will have spare time, but less of it if you spend a considerable amount of it revising. Yet, like the many generations before, what do you honestly expect when mega-important exams are on the way?
My idea of spare time is being able to write on my blog, engage in a hobby (e.g. baking, exercising) and relax at home which, unlike some activities, don't take up half an afternoon in my schedule. All of us use our spare time differently, but, if needs must, we might have to reevaluate the most important things in our lives - for, what I stress, a short while. Going to the gym once or twice a week is not only beneficial to your health, but keeps you productive, but is going to see the latest film at the cinema as important as revising? 
Some things might be sacrificed for the sake of taking part in other activities, yet the myth remains untrue: you won't be spending every waking moment in front of a revision guide. But, on top of what you are already studying for, you will learn a precious lesson: time is a gift. Don't waste yours!

More often than not, myths can be slayed and banished with the assistance of common sense, as shown with the above slayings. Although it can be easy to start believing these myths when the truth becomes a struggle to believe, it doesn't help you at all. Myths won't alter what is going to come in the near future - those perilous exams. And, with each second you spend thinking about those myths, precious moments of revision are being lost!

Finally, I've reached the final hurdle: my advice. I might have dished out enough tips to publish a self-help book, yet the ways of an agony aunt-in-training are endless. Wherever you are and whatever you are doing, I wish you the best of luck in your exams - hopefully some wisdom from a revision-loving teenager might assist you in your most frustrating moments!

Take your time
If the thought of staying up all night to analyze Romeo and Juliet has crossed your mind, ignore it as quickly as it occurred to you. Studies have proven that cramming too much information before taking an exam isn't a useful way of learning, because your brain is not given enough time to allow the facts to sink in. 
Smoothing out your study schedule and processing one topic at a time will let the words truly stick in your mind, whereas reading a whole revision guide in one sitting will be too much to process. If you feel the need to cram because there is not much time left before the exam, let it be a reminder in the future: revise in advance. That way, you can learn at your own pace without the pressure to learn everything becoming too suffocating!

Separate yourself from revision
Contrary to what most teenagers are accustomed to when the most unpleasant spring arrives, separating yourself from revision can really make a difference to not only your attitudes, but potentially to your exam results. Why? While studying in the weeks leading up to exams stresses you out, taking a break here and there renews you with energy and enthusiasm (or perhaps that would be a little too far!) when you do return to revision. Don't force yourself to revise to such an extent that you begrudge every single moment of it; you are compelled to read science notes at every single possibility. And maybe your aggrieved family might sigh with relief - believe me, living with a panicked teenager throws everything up in the air!

Sleep, sleep, sleep!
Why do your parents nag at you to go to bed on time each evening? They don't moan for no apparent reason, you know; sleep is essential to being in good health, which is an absolute-must when you are pushed to your limits in an exam. Would you feel capable of sitting in a hall full of anxious teenagers for several hours if the sandman hadn't turned up the night before? Not at all. Staying up all night to learn the lines to your drama play might be a bigger priority compared to catching up on your sleep, but there are only so many things you can sacrifice: and sleep definitely isn't one of them. 

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Skincare Beauties Review

There are days when all is well in my world and happiness is radiating like an inner light within me. It doesn't matter whether the sunshine fails to make an appearance because I'm glowing as brightly as an August afternoon sky; warmth surrounds all who are within my circle of light.

Then, within a blink of an eye, a single grey cloud suddenly appears among the pure white variety, with an intention to unleash misery upon the world below. Seconds later, light loses its grip on the sky as the darkness takes over and pulls the once-glorious array of sunshine to pieces. The first spots of rain pelt down from the heavens above the angered clouds, giving an indicator to what lies ahead - and is destined to cause catastrophe after catastrophe to those inflicted by the impending storm.

And, at last, what the world has been dreading and waiting for within an impatient ache arrives: a storm. Rain falls like tears onto the ground, soaking it beyond what even the most weather-mad could predict, as a rumble erupts from the sky. Whether you have been caught unaware outdoors or are hidden in the safest corner of your house, no place could offer shelter from the anger being lit alight many colourless clouds away. All previous traces of light and happiness have melted into the darkness which rages on, making us wonder when its unforgivable reign will come to an end.

Or, if such a theory was applied to more understandable scenarios, when will my spotty nightmares have its final laugh?

On the off-chance that you are clueless as to why I liken a touch of the spotty blues to atrocious weather, please don't feel afraid about stepping back in time to your teenage days - or giving more thought to what it feels like to be a teenager in this modern era! While I am now legally allowed to get my hands on more 15-rated films than I ever dreamt of, drawbacks still exist when it comes to my skin in general.

Keeping my skin in all areas under school occupies me as heavily as a full-time job which, if it wasn't for my obligation to attend school, would be classified as my working occupation. From milk-free diets to basic cleansers, I've tried my hand at various diets and products on the market, yet it has often resulted in bucket loads of disappointment (and, if precious luck wishes to push me over the edge, another spot to complete the prized collection).

If spots and oily/dry patches of skin ceased to exist right now, my teenage years would be a dream come true; growing up, gaining independence and learning tons of new things are among the most exciting aspects of being a teen! But, unsurprisingly for girls, I take a keen interest in my appearance and have a duty to take care of myself, a job of which extends to my skincare regime. Imagine my facial expression (and the red bumps covering it) whenever my skin is having a bad day - needless to say, all hell breaks loose!

These tales have been told time and time again which, against all hope, has often left no lasting impression on my skin. Even now, suspicious bumps are found, yet not even the best cleanser on the market could prevent them from popping up - despite the words being unable to console me in my most miserable moments, c'est la vie! Some people get spots worse than others, regardless of their eating habits (whose links to acne were proven long ago) and skincare routine. It feels like a slap in the face when another spot rises to the surface, which makes my efforts to care for my skin absolutely useless. But what can I do? Crying produces germs which, if not wiped away or cleansed afterwards, harvests yet more spots. Stress or throwing the biggest hissy fit of all time don't help your hormones, unless you are keen to produce more pimples - which is the last thing you want!

Anyway, life is not always focused around the amount of whiteheads covering your forehead, though it sometimes requires great effort to pull your head away from the mirror. If you are using products which are cleaning your skin effectively, you won't be tossed like a bag of potatoes (or, as a final resort, some prized chocolate truffles) into the naughty corner for not trying hard enough. Even staying loyal to a product which neither improves nor worsens the condition of your skin is still alright; within time, your skin should hopefully stabilize to a healthier state of its own accord.

This is where the H word enters the equation: hormones mess about with everything when you hit puberty. It just so happens that mine are crazier than my kittens' mischievous antics and, therefore, are the underlying cause of my skincare misery. As I pray for every day, time is a great healer which, as my most testing years as a teen fade further away, will benefit my skin. For now, I don't know when I'll wake up one sunny morning, glance in the mirror and be taken aback by the sight of the clear-skinned girl reflecting back at me. It might be tomorrow, next week or in several years' time, but I know that it will come one way or another. If most teenagers leave acne behind where it rightfully belongs, surely I will do so, too? I have to, or else!

In the meantime, I'd like to introduce you to some skincare beauties, or rather what I regularly use on my skin. Three of the four chosen beauties (what a prestigious honour it is!) are from the same range and contain the same ingredient, whereas the other beauty is specifically a hand cream. Had Bart not been mucking about when I was taking pictures earlier, I might have chosen a few more products, but never mind... Perhaps kittens are equally interested in skincare like we beauty-obsessed girls!

1. The Body Shop Tea Tree Skin Clearing Foaming Cleanser (£5)
As a self-confessed lover of the oil produced from the leaves of melaleuca alternifolia, I was thrilled when I came across this bargain buy on The Body Shop website, who specialise in natural beauty care and are openly against animal testing. I'd previously been using a foam cleanser, so I decided to give this one a go - which, from the onset, greatly improved my skin! 
You just chuck some water onto your face before scrubbing your face with a coin-sized dollop of cleanser, then rinse it off with a facial cloth. From the first use, I noticed a tingling sensation on my face which, unlike the cleanser I'd be using before, was stimulating my skin - and doing much more than just wiping off make-up! At first, I did fly into panic-mode because my face broke out, but it calmed down after a week or so. 
I won't promise a complexion which, from the moment you try it, will be completely banish your spot woes, but it will neither irritate nor worsen your skin. Everybody is different and, for me, I'll be sticking to the Body Shop's range of cleansers! 
Rating: 4/5 (one star lost as I'll be switching to the facial wash once I've run out of the foam cleanser, due to its better value for money).

2. The Body Shop Skin Clearing Lotion (£8 for 50ml)

After rinsing my face with the foam cleanser (above), I apply a lotion depending on what time of day it is. For the morning, I usually wash my face with water - the foam cleanser is only used in the evening, in order to prevent over-stimulating my skin - then I apply a small dab of this clearing lotion over the blemished patches.
When squirted out of its tube, the lotion is quite a thick formula and looks like a gel. However, it blends wonderfully onto your skin and sinks in within no time - the lotion is rather dreamlike!
As for the results, it maintains the condition of my skin and soothes any sore spots, which is great if my skin ever feels a bit sensitive. Since I ran out of it a week or so ago, I've been dabbing some pure tea tree oil (from the Australian Bodycare range) onto my face, a product of which is beneficial for acne-inflamed skin. That works just as well and has such a pleasant scent (which bugs hate!), but I'm definitely sticking with the clearing lotion in the future.
Rating: 5/5

3. The Body Shop Blemish Fade Night Lotion (£9 for 30ml)

Fade, fade, fade away, I whisper under my breath as I take one final glance at myself in the mirror before bedtime. Like the title suggests, this night lotion aims to banish blemishes and aid me in my ambition to make all ugly spots fade away.
Unlike the clearing lotion, this one is creamier and, if it was not for its slight yellowish colour, would resemble a dollop of whipped cream. Only a pea-sized squirt is enough to cover the affected areas, then you blend in it before letting the lotion work its magic.
But is it magical enough to help my spots? As the show-stopping finale after the foam cleanser taking to the spotlight, the night lotion works well with my skin and has benefited my campaign against spots. My skin feels baby smooth after putting on some lotion, and also smells really nice. And, unlike the clearing lotion, it lasted quite a while, despite the small size!
Rating: 5/5

4. Lush Lemony Flutter Cuticle Butter (£6.50 for 50ml)
From the moment that I caught a whiff of its scent, I knew that an eternal love affair had begun. Knocked off my feet by its gorgeous offering of lemony zest, my life would not be complete without a tub of this buttery beauty!
By pure luck, I had encountered it whilst on my last day at school, in which I reported on other pupils' activities. One group were having a Lush party and, to my delight, this cuticle butter was the star of the show! Before leaving the room, I had coated every inch of skin with this butter, and sniffed my fingers at any opportunity - I smelt tastier than the juiciest       lemon drizzle cake! After telling my (lemon-loving) mum about it after coming home, we ordered several tubs and, within days, were getting a burst of lemony goodness at home! Only a tiny amount is needed - hence the relatively small size - then away you go! I love putting it on before going to bed each night, so I wake up smelling fresher than our (lemon-scented) washing up liquid; even sniffing it is a perfect pick-me-up!
Rating: 5/5 (I would go all the way to a million, but five out of five is good enough).