Escapism: through books, #spon content and meditation apps

I read an article about anxiety among pop stars in the social media generation last week. You can read it here. I liked it cause I think it accurately captures the zeitgeist (wow, I sound like my old drama teacher) in that yes, we’re all conscious of having a political and #woke conscience, just as those generations did before us with punk and whatnot. But social media – for teenagers coming of age now – has formed part of their identity, and we’re now starting to see that in the pop landscape.

In the piece, the writer identifies two types of Gen-Z’ers on social media, the ‘fame-hungry narcissists’ and the ‘hyper-aware over-thinkers’. If like me, you strongly identify with both, how do you find your place on the internet? If you’re aware that having a presence on social media will do wonders for your ‘brand’, but also know that spending too much time trying to expand this network isn’t something that comes too naturally (preferring to spend your free time reading or mastering the art of a paper aeroplane), do you decide to take steps away from this dopamine-fuelled activity and ditch the smartphone altogether? (This is clearly the the hyper-aware over-thinker stepping up the mic.) I’ve had a dream twice within the past week or so where I snap my phone in half and it crumbles into ash. I then wake up and reach for my phone to see if anybody’s texted me.

Something that intrigues me is the increasing number of people monetising their lives by just, like, travelling around the world. I’m fascinated with travel bloggers and how they use social media (yes, that thing you just tweeted a pic of your Wetherspoons round on) to fund their ‘adventures’. I wish it was as blissful as it looks but I don’t buy into it. Even more so after I watched this Vice News clip about these total #vanlife phoneys (please watch it if you have 10 mins and marvel in how messed up reality can be faked online). Millennials are more into travelling and ‘experiences’ than buying a tonne of nice stuff, apparently, so travelling the world as an influencer and getting paid for it seems like a pretty obvious way to do life, and with the inclusivity of the internet (so long as you have a Wi-Fi connection and, surely, a senior figure in your life who can bail you out of bad situations) it seems more possible than ever.

But is the content the top travel bloggers are making really that interesting? I’m always trying to find interesting things to read about travel, as everyone’s travel daddy Bill Bryson once said  in an interview: “A basic error with travel writing is assuming everybody’s interested. You have to work from exactly the opposite assumption: nobody is interested. Even your wife is not interested. You have to somehow make it so that they become interested.”

When I read that, I laughed out loud. I felt like I’d just been given the best advice about writing about holidays or trips, in that no-one cares about the ‘Today I visited this church. Wow, it was so pretty!’ kind of vibe. I’m not slating enjoying a holiday and writing about it (obviously!) but my favourite pieces about travelling are always the ones that show travelling for what it can be: rare moments of wonder and feelings of unbelievable freedom – interspersed between long bus journeys, waiting in stuffy airport lounges, finding your companion unbelievably tiresome (even if you’re travelling solo) and maybe – just maybe – small pangs of homesickness (…you can take the girl out of Peterborough). That’s why I could read Bill Bryson’s books over and over, his petty moans about the irks of travelling make the experience so much more enjoyable to read (and sure as hell beat the #spon posts from the #vanlife elite).

I am so close to finishing reading John Waters’ travelogue about hitchhiking from his native Baltimore to San Francisco, and it’s one of the most original book structures I’ve ever come across. Before he ventured off on his trip, he spent a few months imagining the best possible thing that could happen – and the worst case scenario – which form the first two-thirds of the book. So, the first 200 pages give the weird and wonderful Pope of Trash – director of cult films Hairspray and Pink Flamingos – the ability to show off his endless, no-holds-barred imagination (the ‘Best Trip’ is so heartwarming because you’re so happy everything’s worked out so well for him, and the ‘Worst Trip’ actually made me retch while eating a mushroom omelette as we meet a gruesome character who picks up near-dead roadkill and collects the creatures in her car). It makes for such a hoot of book! Here’s the link to buy it. Or watch this video. (Or ask your local library to order it in!) Also, while I’m talking about holidays and trips, our next Girl Chat episode (landing next Wednesday, April 18) is about holiday romances. Check out the all the ones preceding it here.

I’ve digressed hugely: back to the phoney #vanlife-rs. Perhaps it’s the cynicism of the person typing, but I’m sceptical of influencers and wonder how satisfying their ‘jobs’ really are. This, by the maker of parody Instagram account Deliciously Stella is interesting – as it was her idea to satirise the whole movement, but she still got sucked into the allure of free stuff anyway. I would love to think that I could travel the world on an all-expenses-paid trip as a travel blogger with #hashtag revenue streaming in, but not at the expense of missing all of the opportunities immersing yourself in another culture brings by having my head glued to my phone. Bryson again, in Neither Her Nor There: “I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything. Suddenly you are five years old again. You can’t read anything, you have only the most rudimentary sense of how things work, you can’t even reliably cross a street without endangering your life. Your whole existence becomes a series of interesting guesses.”

Something not totally evil about technology though: I’ve used the Headspace mediation app every day for the past three weeks (21-day streak, holla!) and it’s already made a huge difference to how I deal with my often extremely busy mind. There have only been benefits so far, which have weasled their way into all aspects of my everyday mundanity: dealing with 3,000 unread emails at 9am, coping with the petty but way valid stresses of sharing a house (and kitchen) with several people and, well, getting back into the habit of writing again.

At the time of writing this, it’s 8:30am and I’ve managed to write almost 1,000 words already – before my ‘working day’ has even begun. I woke up in a rotten-as-hell mood this morning (disclaimer: there’s a 90% chance I have glandular fever, sigh) but I took 10 minutes to listen to the Headspace dudes’s familiar tones, grabbed my laptop, and wrote the post you’ve just read.

For those who deal with anxiety as frequently as you brush your teeth, clarity of mind is not to be scoffed at. There are 10 free days before you have to subscribe: something I got way too pissed off about (capitalising on meditation seemed as icky to me as, like, the standard £15-a-session yoga classes everywhere in central London) but after four or five days of not subscribing in protest after my trial, I felt myself spiralling back into a pattern of negative thoughts. I was curious to see if the next 10 days would feel as good as the first did. In fact, they got even better, so now I’m telling you about it.

If you’re a student, you can get Spotify Premium and Headspace for £5 a month, (sign me up to a degree course already, purely for the discount). Btw, although it might seem it, this is definitely not #spon content.

Anyway, I’m all out. Until next time!

Follow me on Twitter @taralepore

“Under the iron bridge we kissed/and although I ended up with sore lips…” – a weekend spent in Manchester

I’m writing this as my computer slowly dies, as it downloads a virus or something. Forever finding something less productive to do, I began scrolling through Instagram on my phone realising the reason I’d fired up this old machine was to write, so I really had no excuses.(I am on WordPad! There’s no spell check here. Forgive my errors but no-one should have to do this much work on a Sunday.) 

  

I went to Manchester a week or so ago to visit my boyfriend who’s recently moved there. His flat lies right near the Northern Quarter, so I got to see LOTS of hipsters all the time and ended up feeling really-not-at-all hip (I had brought doc Martens but mainly walked around in neon blue Nikes because blisters.) (I think Nike is deemed quite cool these days but I got mine from a bargain bucket at Sports Direct, and from the eyes I get from passers-by, there is just something that tells me they’re not fashion-approved.) I never really got what made trainers cool and I don’t think it will ever click. Trainers used to solely mean P.E lessons and now mean being able to walk around a city without stopping at every bench just for some relief, you know? Who cares if they stop traffic in the worst way possible?

It’s hard to say if the city was what I expected it to be like, as it always is – remembering your initial preconceptions after you visit a place. It was flashier than I thought, but then again my previous images of the place were just that everywhere looked like Coronation Street. Cobbled streets and Rovers Return, but hopefully no melodramatic, multiple-life-taking tram crashes. Anyway.

I was expecting all the industrial architecture, thanks to Morrissey’s depictions of the town in his Autobiography, and I was pleasantly surprised with how gorgeous those buildings looked against the Gothic cathedral and medieval library. 

  

 Jack was working during the first two days of my visit, so after locating where the nearest takeaway was, just in case (downstairs! Korean! Delicious seafood soup!) I set off on my own – in my Nikes – to see what the place could offer me.

I do this horrendously pretentious thing when exploring a city solo, where at every sign which points one way (towards the shopping centre, towards the cathedral) I go the other way. Usually, this winds me up in a multi-storey car park and unusually, it did this time too – I ended up walking alongside a motorway that led me into Salford. I was like, OMG! Salford Lads Club! (I’m painfully Smiths-conscious. I later found out ‘The Symths’ played in Peterborough during this weekend and I would have given up a weekend in Manchester to see them – nothing like the authenticity of a really, really decent tribute band. Faux-authenticity, it’s the next big thing) 

My life-threatening walk down this very dangerous road could now be classed as an altruistic pilgrimage. Who knows what I could discover? What indie pop gems lay ahead? What I did discover was that my blisters were worse than I thought, Google Maps wasn’t entirely sure where this place was, and like always – my truest daily struggle – I was hungry.

Therefore, as I caved into the fact I might spend the whole day turning my GPS on and off, I decided to take the plunge and go to the ‘People’s History Museum’ across the road and ask them where to find it. Upon entering, I became very shy and embarassed to ask (ironically ‘If there’s something you’d like to try/ Ask me I won’t say no/How could I?’ didn’t apply to this situation) so I stayed put and walked around this wonderfully executed and well laid out museum. 

 The People’s History Museum is essentially about society post-1819 in the city (and nationwide), the importance of the Labour Party after the war (welfare etc) and the value of the vote. There was a great section about the suffragettes which I permenantly smiled at, although with my irrational fear of mannequins the entire event became a bit of an ordeal. Usually I am alright in museums if there is someone with me to look around corners first, or if there are lots of people around. The place was unusually quiet, so I quickly paced around it, taking a few pictures, and finally breathed when I got back to the shop at the end. The fear is long-lived and TOTALLY justifiable OK. All of my worst nightmares take place in Madame Tussauds. Literally never take me there. Ever. Please. 

  

     

The People’s History Museum was a great place to visit in the run-up to the election. As I’ve said, it was well curated and actually mannequin-free (excepting a part-whimsical part-terrifying puppet of Harold Wilson that needs to just GO.)

Next, I walked along the Salford Quays and noted in my head that, in the cities I’ve visited recently, the first step of regeneration in a big city is at the docks. They (London, Dublin, Manchester) all seem to have these huge office spaces with top floor gyms, Zizzi’s and Pret’s aplenty. I like to imagine what the docklands might have been like 150 years ago and think I may have preferred it.

I stumbled on the John Ryland’s library – which I thought was the functional central library – but the reality actually made me gasp and say ‘Oh my!’ in true Dorothy style. It was beautiful (I didn’t pick up any historical or factual info to bore you with but it was well pretty with WINDOWS.)  

   

   

Then, I found the real library which was a gorgeous dome building based on the Pantheon in Rome! I know! Italian! This place was great with BFI film archive booths and tonnes and tonnes of useful things and so so busy which was great to see. 

  

The Manchester Art Gallery was well worth my visit, with a National Trust botanic display upon entrance that was lovely in a city of concrete. There was a display of dresses commissioned by the Manchester-based Cotton Board of purely French-designers, using Manchester-made cotton and designed by, uh, French designers. Pierre Cardin, Carven – and all so West Side Story-worthy. 

  

 This painting by Andrew MacCallum is called ‘Oak Trees in Sherwood Forest’ and shows oak trees in Sherwood Forest.

  

 His mission was to educate working people and said:

“Show people the best pictures you can get of beautiful common things,

make them notice the beauty of form…of colour…

and when they next see the thing which the picture represented,

they will see in it beauty,

which, but for the picture, they would not see.”

I don’t know much about art, but I think that’s quite lovely for its simplicity.

I also found a Grayson Perry vase, made in 2009 called ‘Jane Austen in E17.’ 

  

He links past and present in the work, saying: “I think of Jane Austen as the touchstone of a polite, middle-class culture in Britain. These ladies in Georgian dress represent that comfortable, bourgeois mindset – conservative – yet heavily laced with an arch humour.”

With this, there are cut-outs from gossip magazines as well as photos he took around his studio in Walthamstow (London, E17.) They are supposedly ‘symbols of how far and yet how near East London now is from Hampsire two centuries ago.’

I then moved on to see the Royal Exchange Theatre which was totally beautiful and I hope to see a play there when I go down again this weekend. Photographic evidence: 

  

 There was the obligatory visit to the Hard Rock Café, of course: 2 pints of Budweiser, 2 hamburgers, extra bacon on one. 

   

 

We went to an indie night at The Deaf Institute – achingly trendly place – called ‘I am the Resurrection’, on Easter Sunday! Oh, the pun. I insisted we went for the pun. Also drank at the ‘smallest pub in Europe’ (I’m certain every touristy city has one of these) – but George Best drank there AND a Manchester-born-and-bred woman from the ‘scum of the city’ (her words not mine) said ‘Fuck you, cunt!’ to Jack when he said he didn’t really like football. I love Manchester! 

Totally heartbroken that he’s moved up there, but very excited to visit every fortnight or so. I lost my phone and card in a club, realised two drinks later in a different bar, and went back to find it STILL THERE! Let’s just say this sort of stuff wouldn’t happen in London.