London

How to be British

Frankly, I’m an anglophile, which is rather convenient seeing as I was born in England, I live in England, I acquired my degree in England, and I’ve spent the vast majority of my twenty-two years in England. If there is one thing that I have noticed throughout Europe, it’s that being British is very much the ‘in thing’. Americans love us, Australians love us, most Europeans have a love-hate thing for us. Everyone thinks we have the sexiest accents, the sexiest male actors, the most adorable Queen. Yes, there are some down sides to being British; the terrible weather, our emotional constipation, our politicians… people complain about our food, but personally I find that it’s so bad, that it’s the best diet ever created, despite the obesity crisis, but for the most part, being British is great, and so I wanted to take a moment to share my expertise on how to be British. Well… I suppose I should say, how to be an honourary British citizen. If you want to legalise matters, you’re on your own, I’m afraid.

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1. First thing’s first, drink tea.

My friends will laugh at this, as I spent the first twenty-two years, nine months, three weeks and two days of my life professing my deep dislike for tea (and you should note, that I am as of today, twenty-two years and ten months old). However, this isn’t a post about how British I am, but rather, how to be British, and so let’s just brush that small matter aside, shall we?

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Tea and Britain go hand in hand. If you’re sad, drink tea, if you’re happy, celebrate with tea, if you’re gathered for a chin wag, a book club, a funeral or a wedding breakfast, drink tea. Relish in the ongoing debates as to the best tea blend: Earl Grey, English Breakfast or Yorkshire, milk or lemon (the snobbiest Britains will claim that milk in tea is scandalously common, but this rule has all but disappeared now days), and if you do prefer milk, is it added before or after tea? Biscuits are recommended for dunking, most common preferences being digestives, rich tea or nice. Biscuits and instant coffee is also a very British snack of choice… perhaps partly to make the terrible taste of instant tea more bearable.

You can also drink as much coffee as you want (something that I take full advantage of), as long as you also drink tea.

Especially welcome in the afternoon, with little cakes and still more biscuits – and a circle of friends to gossip with.

2. Unofficially adopt the Queen as a third grandmother/fifth great-grandmother.

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Because she’s adorable, she jumped out of a helicopter with James Bond (that was actually real, you know. James Bond is real, the jump was real, there was no stunt doubles, anyone who says otherwise is a blasphemous fool guilty of treason), and she’s probably the only woman going on ninety who can still ride around on a horse without it resulting in two hip replacements. She’s also really stylish. I can’t help but wonder if she has that generic old woman smell that all grandmothers seem to have. Seriously, what is with that?

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3. Following the same royalist strand, grow up with a crush on either Wills or Harry

This one applies mostly to people of my generation, who remember a time before Prince William lost his hair and when Prince Harry was still ginger. Personally, I always preferred Wills; he always seemed to be the gent, while Harry is the cheeky chappy. Basically, everyone has a favourite. It’s a British generation Y requirement.

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4. Besides our two charming princes, we’re fortunate enough to have a bevvy of beautiful male actors to swoon over whenever we turn on the television. Common traits of British male actors being razor-sharp cheekbones, beautiful southern accents (with a few notable exceptions, such as David Tennant, for example.. but he can fool anyone when adopting an English accent) and velvety voices, and foppish hair, our actors have taken the world by storm, each with their own fanatic dedicated fandom: Benedict Cumberbatch (my crush of choice), and the Cumberbitches Cumberbabes, Tom Hiddleston and the Hiddlestoners, David ‘Ten-inch’ and his… well, I’m not really sure what his fans call themselves, if I’m honest… Tennantiers, Tennanterinos… the Ten-inchers? Then there’s Matt Smith, Matthew MacFadyen, James McAvoy, Eddie Regmayne, Colin Firth, Robert Pattinson, Martin Freeman, Tom Hardy, Andrew Lincoln, Ben Barnes, Jonny Lee Miller.. not to mention every actor of the Harry Potter series… five minutes on Tumblr or Pinterest will show you just how many British actors have reached a sex-god status, though frankly, if you need to take the time to visit either site to check that claim, you must have spent the last decade impersonating a cowardly ostrich.

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5. Fictional British characters from period novels are also acceptable dream men.

Darcy, Heathcliff, Rochester, we have so much to thank Austen and the Bronte sisters for. But equally, they promised us so much, while life delivers so little. I strongly believe that an introductory warning as to the downsides of dating a Byronic bad boy in the real world should  included at the front of the likes of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. What has happened to literature now days? Why are all of the crush-worthy heroes from books penned two centuries ago?

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6. Master the British humour. It’s sarcastic, self-deprecating, dry, witty and intellectual, if I say so myself. Tread with caution, as it can be misunderstood for being rude when used abroad. Rein it in when travelling so as not to cause offence.

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7. There are only two British accents that are recognizably British worldwide; Queen’s English and Cockney. If, like 95% of the population, you have one of Britain’s other 1000000003 accents, you will have to endure being constantly asked if you are Australian… usually by Americans. No one will understand you if you speak with a Scottish accent, including most English people, and there is something ever hilarious about the Welsh accent.

8. It is practically a legal requirement to read the entire Harry Potter series religiously. At least twice. While drinking tea. There will be tests in the forms of debates, reminisces and fanatic fandom fantasies. for the remains of your life in England. Harry Potter is everywhere, there is no escaping. Just accept it.

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The movies are also a requirement, as long as you immediately accept that, while the movies have their brilliant points (such as Dame Maggie Smith making the perfect Professor McGonagall, Alan Rickman making the perfect Severus Snape, and the generally awesome special effects – at present – of the later movies), the books will always be unbeatable in their perfection, and we will, as a nation, mourn the end of the series and live in longing of a revival from JK Rowling.

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9. Daily conversation requirements:

– The weather.

– The traffic.

– Endless menial complaints.

– An offering of tea.

10. Curtains are there, not to afford us privacy, but to allow us a hiding place while we spy on our neighbours’ privacy.

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11. Equally, garden fences are not there for privacy, but rather, they are there for gossiping over.

Because apparently we’re too lazy to step outside and knock on our neighbour’s front door. Neighbours aren’t neighbours without an almost-daily chin wag in the back garden while putting the washing out. With British weather being as it is, this habit does tend to go into hibernation for the winter, however.

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12. The great scone pronunciation debate.

Scone as in gone, or scone as in cone. Some will settle for a happy medium by using scone as in cone before eating the scone (with a pot of tea and lashings of jam and clotted cream… or butter if in the privacy of your home where no one can judge you), and switching to scone as in gone once devoured.

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13. If it’s sunny, it’s time for Pimms and a BBQ.

No excuses.

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14. Forget your social skills and swallow your emotions.

The stiff upper lip is not only a trait of Victorian England; it is very much alive and kicking. The most emotional we ever get is our daily list of complaints (see point 9), but when faced with anything that requires us delving into the depths of our emotions, we’re stumped. Dating can be tricky when neither party is willing to ever confess how we are feeling towards the other,

We are also polite to a fault. It’s practically law to begin every conversation with ‘sorry’, we will always refuse any offering of food regardless as to how hungry we are, if we don’t catch your name, we therefore can never speak again (though that one isn’t about politeness, but rather… what shall we call it? Shyness? I don’t know what it is, but it’s weird and yet unavoidable), we’ll jog across zebra crossings while throwing an apologetic wave at each driver, who will then usually throw a reassuring wave back. It’s almost impossible to tell our hairdresser that they are firstly scalding our scalp during washing, and secondly, giving us a look that is more Simon Cowell than pixie chic. Everything is fine, dandy, lovely. Then we go home and sob – and complain – and comfort ourselves with tea. I’ve known my Dad sample ale in the pub, order a full pint, only to then tell me that it tasted disgusting but he felt too awkward to tell the barman as such. Now that’s a british problem, if ever I saw one.

15. There is no sitting on the fence in regards to marmite.

One cannot simply be indifferent to marmite. It’s pretty much served up at customs for all newcomers to our country to sample and therefore acquire an opinion of. Personally, I hate, loathe, and despise marmite (though changing your mind with age is allowed, as I am told that I would have happily devoured it by the gallon as a toddler), but those who I know who like it, do not simply like it… they live on it.

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16. Hide from window cleaners… Jehovah’s Witnesses, salesmen… anyone who dares come to the door.. or window.

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We would rather dive gracelessly behind the sofa/under the dining table/into the laundry hamper then have to sit, watching television and drinking tea while the window cleaner gawps at us through the window, each refusing to make eye contact with the other, while we nervously sip our tea and wonder whether we ought to offer the window cleaner a cuppa. We’d much rather endure bruises from our swan dive then face house arrest because, frankly, if a Jehovah’s Witness spots us, they will simply never, ever leave. They work in pairs for a reason – so that one of them can always sit vigil on our doorsteps while the other nips to Tesco to stock up on supplies. As for salesmen… they’re just really, really irritating.

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However, I think, if our window cleaner looked like this, we’d be dragging him behind the sofa with us.

17. Never turn on the street without first checking your phone.

This one is so ingrained in all of us that it’s not even a conscious decision. We don’t walk down the street and think, ‘oh shit, I’m lost, I need to turn around and walk back the way I came, but if I do that, I’ll look like a twat, so I best check my phone and pretend to have an important text or call that changes my plans suddenly’. It’s more along the lines of ‘oh, shit, I’m lost, I need to turn around and walk back the way I came… oh, look at that, my phone is suddenly in my hand, and now I’m therefore looking at it… how convenient… andddd turn!

It goes hand-in-hand with the pride of never asking for directions.

18. For British men, Sundays are for washing the car and mowing the lawn.

I’m not one for gender stereotypes as such, but I must admit, I’m yet to see a woman either washing a car or mowing a lawn on a Sunday afternoon. Men do it themselves, and women rope in a friend. Why waste our time washing our car or mowing our lawn when our Sundays are dedicated to our weekly beauty overhaul, after all?

19. Accept that we are only good at one thing: being creative.

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Our food is terrible, most of the British industries (cars, trains etc) that once dominated the world have died out, and our tourism is focused far too much on London, Stratford upon Avon, Edinburgh and, for stay-cationers, the south coast or Wales. We do, however, know where our strengths lie; we’re rubbish at sports, and only a fool would go into any sporting event with anything more than doubtful hope, but most sports are in fact British ‘inventions’. We have a strong creative industry; our television is golden, our movies are timeless, our radio is entertaining, our comedy shows are golden and our writers are masters of intertwining their words to create beautiful prose. I mean, we have Shakespeare, Austen, the Bronte sisters, Dickens, Woolf, Conan Doyle… Not to mention, our music scene; The Beatles, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Elton John, The Stone Roses, Pink Floyd, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, David Bowie, The Smiths, The Who, Tom Jones, and most recently, Oasis, The Arctic Monkeys, Amy Winehouse, Coldplay (somewhat debatable), Radiohead… the list of musical greats born and bred in the UK is endless, and it’s where our talents really lie, I think – our creativity.

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20. Obsess over class.

I find that the British class system is the hardest thing for most of my friends abroad struggle to get their heads around. It’s not just a case of rich or poor, royalty, nobility and commoner. It’s so much more complex, and is very much still active in our society. The class system comes down to career, education (not just how far you took your studies, but which school you attended), pedigree, accent, hobbies and past times, where you live, how much disposable income you have (or pretend to have), your social circle… class will subtly affect all aspects of life.

The upper class are snobby towards the middle and working classes, the middle class are suspicious of the upper class and snobby towards the working class, while the working class are weirdly snobbish towards the middle and upper classes. No, I’m exaggerating, things are not that extreme, but naturally, as a general rule, classes don’t tend to mix, and where they do, it will be working/middle classes or upper/middle class line blurring. We’re all snobs, or snobby anti-snobs. I think it may be the biggest British trait of all.

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Looking back over this, it’s quite possible that I’ve drawn up a very (and mostly, maybe, quite possibly, extremely serious) post on how to be English, rather than British… some of these points of course count in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, but personally, I don’t think that the small matter of the 300-year old United Kingdom has done much to wear away the distinct personalities, traditions and quirks of each, so, as someone who was born and bred in England, here is a post on how to be very English, and more-or-less British, in a general sense. That would be a rather long title though, don’t you think…

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Oscars Behind the Scenes

After the fashion, I love seeing the BTS antics of the Oscars. Celebs and their camera phones never fail to amuse me, but mostly I’m just really drawn to candid photography.

Firstly, there’s the Oscar selfie that has been all over twitter, because of course, with Ellen Degeneres as host, the night was going to consist of about 75% Ellen antics. Such as group selfies, ordering pizza, and dressing as Glinda the good witch.

Best selfie ever? Ellen DeGeneres took a moment out from hosting duties to grab this selfie with some of her favourite celebrities

Making them jealous: Ireland will be the envy of her friends after being smooched by hunk Pharrell Williams

The really Wilde show: She seemed to have a great time posing up with Olivia and her fiance Jason Sudeikis

How is Olivia Wilde so beautiful as to look great even when awkwardly posing is such a shoulder-jerking, bump-squashing, heel-teetering way?

Starting Rumers: Willis made sure she gave her fans a thrill by posting this 'sneak peek' pic of her dress

Exit stage right: Emma Roberts and Joseph Gordon Levitt did not have far to run if they had a panic attack backstage

At least she won't get slated: Her Fashion Police star daughter Kelly would know better than to poke fun at Sharon Osbourne's outfit

I am in love with Sharon Osbourne’s Oscar outfit.

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In the dark: Jamie Foxx stood backstage before presenting the Oscar for best original score

Speaking of teen idols: Zac Efron looked handsome as ever in his black suit as he waited to present backstage

Winner all around: Jennifer, Cate, Matthew and Daniel got together backstage

Photo bomb: Benedict Cumberbatch jumped high and pulled a face as U2 posed for a photo op on the red carpet ahead of their touching Oscars performance of Ordinary Love

I laughed way too much at Mr Cumberbatch’s photobomb, I must admit. So much, it hurts. Am I supposed to refer to it as a Cumberstitch? I don’t know, I’ve just noticed that it’s common when talking about Mr C to add literally any and every relevant word of the conversation to ‘Cumber’.

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The 3 L's

My Secret Weapon.. Mind Palace

Firstly, HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

This is a bit of a random post, I suppose. It’s a topic that came up recently and it surprised me as to how many people think that the idea of a mind palace is something that was invented by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for the Sherlock Holmes stories, or worse, some thought that the mind palace was created specifically by BBC Sherlock’s writers… FYI, several Sherlock novels are available at the Kindle store for free! ♥

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Sherlock gifs from here

So no, the mind palace technique is not an invention of Conan Doyle or the BBC Sherlock team. Otherwise known as the Method of Loci, it’s a method that has been used since ancient times. I started building mine when I was about 13, and I can honestly say that it has helped me sail through every exam I’ve ever taken since then. Never mind the fact that my last exam was five and a half years ago (Photography courses.. practical assignments.. lucky me!). That just meant that I could dedicate my palace to topics that generally interest me rather than things that I had to study, such as algebra, the very mention of which still makes me shudder to this day.

And it’s not just me and a fictional character that has a mind palace. Derren Brown has one, in fact he’s written a book about it, Simonides had one. In fact I think he developed the idea, or is credited with having done so, at least, back in the 5th/6th century. They’re commonly used by memory champions, and apparently they’re also common among revising students. Yet, despite that, on mentioning that I have a mind palace, rather than hearing the expected ‘sure, me too’ around the room, I was instead met with blank looks. Hence this blog post.

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It’s really not difficult to build a mind palace, even if you feel that you’re not a particularly creative person or you don’t have a strong imagination, or a bad memory, because building a mind palace in itself is a super-workout for the mind that will quickly start improving your memory, expand your knowledge, increase your creativity, awareness and observation of the world. Or so I’ve found.

No, elaborate gesticulations such as those shown in the gifs above are not necessary. I’d be lying if I said that when alone I didn’t point or mime the opening of a door or something small like that when alone, but I am perfectly capable of walking around in public while simultaneously storing new information or refreshing old information without closing my eyes, flailing my arms and muttering to myself. Sometimes it does help to close your eyes and block out the world around you, though.

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I’m not about to say ‘so this is how you build a mind palace’, because what works for me might not work for others. I just wanted to share how I’ve gone about it. I started small, and I think that’s the most recommended tip of all in the various books and previous blog posts across the internet. Start with your bedroom, your apartment, your house. A place that is familiar to you. The main building of my ‘mind palace’.. which is all accuracy is more a ‘mind city’ now days from years of expansion, is a combination of three houses that I have lived in, merged into one. They were all a similar size and with a similar layout, (hence the merging of three), but I’ve stripped down all decor to make it a blank canvas, a unique space in my mind. White walls, bare wooden floorboards, with just a few items of furniture to distinguish each room: a sofa in the lounge, a fridge and oven in the kitchen, etc.

After making my layout, each room was assigned with a subject. Baring in mind that I was still in school when this started, my front lounge is for English, the dining room is Math, the kitchen is Science, and my bedroom, being my favourite room in the house (obviously), held my memory triggers for my favourite school subject – history. Etc, etc. I’ve never lived in a mansion, so needless to say I eventually had to start adding extensions. Another room for when I started learning Italian, for example.

Another important point is to always follow the same route through your house. I started by drawing a map of my mind-house, and drawing the route that I would follow. That again is just a personal quirk of mine; I write down my memory triggers too. I think it stems from years of filling notebooks with stories as a kid, I can be typing away on my laptop, and then I’ll suddenly get this compulsive urge to copy whatever I’ve just typed onto paper. Just the last few sentences. Or vice versa; I’ll write something down on paper just to immediately type it up and throw away the scrap of paper anyway. I just don’t feel like I’ve recorded something properly until my hand has literally formed each letter itself.

I don’t get the urge to do that for every single little thought that enters my mind though, luckily, so most of my memory triggers are recorded in a digital format. I have an Evernote Notebook dedicated to my mind palace, with a specific note for each room, and then I just list and describe each memory trigger. And every evening before I fall asleep, I’ll walk through my mind-house, following the same route, and I’ll just go over everything, keeping it all fresh in my mind until it becomes so deeply engraved that when I’m old and living in an old people’s home, they’ll all presume I’m mad because I’ll barely be able to remember my name or where I live, but I’ll know that Big Bird in a tux shouting ‘wazzappp’ reminds me of the correct pronunciation of ‘oiseau’. I won’t bother to break that memory trigger down. You can figure it out for yourselves. Mostly I don’t need Evernote, but it’s there just in case – especially if for whatever reason, I’ve had to add 100 memory triggers to my mind palace at once. Then it’s definitely needed to help it all sink in.

That’s the thing about memory triggers: the crazier the better. I tend to follow the same rules for creating memory triggers. If I have to remember something that I find tedious and boring (again, algebra springs to mind), I’ll try and think of a crazy, funny trigger, whereas if I want to remember something that I’m genuinely interested in, I lean more towards creating logical leaps, because I don’t need to find something to entertain me regarding that topic in the first place.

Again, this is where creativity really comes in handy. An example of one of the triggers lurking in the corners of my mind palace… I was struggling to remember the word for ‘cat’ in Italian: gatto. On hearing the word out loud, my mind immediately springs to my favourite dessert: black forest gateau, and so I placed a gateau on a table in my ‘Italian room’ – a spare bedroom. From there I began thinking about the colours of the berries: purples and, once they begin to mix with the cream, pinks, from which my mind leaped to the Cheshire Cat in the Disney animated version of Alice in Wonderland. Purple/pink berries, purple/pink striped cat. Suddenly this gateau was shaped as the Cheshire cat’s face, grinning up at me, the berries and cream forming its colourful stripes.

Gif from here.

One last detail for this memory trigger; the word for cat in Italian is pronounced more as g-Ah-tto. Having at this point recently watched Singing in the Rain, I remembered those Vowel prints in the Moses Supposes scene. Bam, my Italian room suddenly has the ‘A’ print hanging on the wall behind the Cheshire cat gateau, and there you go, I suddenly remember to think about the pronunciation of the a when saying cat in Italian. Yes, I know that technically, the print in that movie is representing A rather than Ah, but it works for me.

Over the years, adding to the mind palace has become a habit. I have this personal rule, because I’m one of those people who has a tendency to obsess over intelligence; I just never feel like I’m never smart enough, so every day, I add three things to my palace, as a minimum. Just to keep my mind steadily expanding, keep things sharp, and so on. That’s just me though. I like to think that I’m always growing smarter, even if it’s at the glacial pace of three facts a day. You can see why it’s no longer just a house with several extensions, but a full-blown city. Well, not an entire city, but rather, the well-trodden route that I have covered about a hundred times in Rome, walking from Vatican City to Trevi Fountain, via Castel Saint Angelo, the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. It’s quite a recent addition, having happened only in December, while I was in Rome. It just seemed like an obvious step to me; I was walking that same route most days, often acting as an amateur tour guide for my new friends who had never been to Rome before, so adding the route to my mind-map engraves the city in my mind for future visits, while also giving me plenty of space for future memory triggers. I also have the Eiffel Tower thrown in there as a memory trigger of its own. Because of course, a personal mind house/palace/city doesn’t have to make sense.

It’s proven to be such an essential and useful part of my life, it’s helped me remember shopping lists, learn languages, remember film/book recommendations, and generally just learn useful/useless facts. I’m not saying it’s given me memory super powers.. I can sense certain friends reading this and saying ‘oh but what about that time I asked you to buy milk/pick up my order/etc and you forgot?’ That comes down more to my bad listening skills, so I’m sorry, lovelies, but using a mind palace will not get my head out of the clouds when you’re talking to me. Apologies.

I hope this hasn’t come across as arrogant, and ‘oooo, I have a mind city so I’m therefore better and smarter than youuuu’, I just thought it’s something I’d share. I’m definitely not some sort of genius. I’m not even that bright. I’m just a little bit of a narcissistic perfectionist about my intelligence. Maybe.

Basically, just because Sherlock Holmes is a fictional character doesn’t mean that mind palaces are only found in fiction!

Finally, there is a brilliant list of memory books here.
I especially recommend this one.

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