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Two Weeks in Paris: My goldfish saw me naked (Day 6)

I’ve never really considered myself an arty person, and if anything the last week has proved this undoubtably. Then I discovered art with saws and polystyrene.

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Today (well, last Friday, but let’s not talk about my inadequacies with timing) was quite possibly the best and most intellectually stimulating day I’ve had all year.  No one tell the CfJ please.

If anyone had told me a few days ago that animal studies was well interesting, yo, let alone it even being a thing in the first place, I would probably have sniggered politely and gone back to my gin. How wrong can a gin-oholic journalist be. Derek Ryan, you’ve changed my life.

For all of you still puzzling over the idea, Animal Studies (it’s so cool it deserves to be capped up, trust me) is an interdisciplinary subject that explores the way humans interact with animals and the relationships we have with them.

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Animals at the Jardin des Plantes

If you think this all sounds a bit bizarre, it gets worse. Some dude called Derrida kind of kick-started the whole thing by questioning his relationship with his cat, after it saw him naked. Which is totally an odd experience I’ve had with my goldfish once.

Do animals notice when we’re naked? Do they even know what naked is? Do animals have language? Should we be eating them or putting them in zoos? Aren’t we really just the same at them?

SO MANY QUESTIONS. SO MUCH DEBATE.

I love it when a seminar just descends in a good and honest debate, so was so pleased when this was today’s outcome. I can’t even tell you what I think about zoos or veganism anymore, but I sure enjoyed trying to work it out.

Following the debate of the century we went for a class trip to the Jardin des Plantes, which was the first civil zoo in the world and ever so slightly uncomfortable following the ethical debate we’d just had.

We also experienced the Grand Galerie de l’Evolution where Gill and I spent a long time trying to work out exactly what the children’s learning screens said in French.

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I think we need to learn French

Never did I ever think I’d be Paris trying to work out to play evolutionary spot the different with plants in a foreign language. You live and learn.

Today was also the day of the social event where you don’t actually know anyone, as we greeted some runners from the University of Kent.

Yep you read that right. They actually ran all the way from Canterbury to Paris. And there was me feeling exhausted after taking the Eurostar.

Finally, in the evening we made our way to the Palais de Tokyo where there was an art exhibition going on. And €1 drinks.

I’ve got to be honest, I was dubious. I’ve had some amazing art based experiences this week, but I can’t help feeling that I’m beginning to become “arted-out”.

I’m not, as is obvious, a visual arty type in any way shape or form and I tend to spend a lot of time walking around exhibitions pretending to see meaning in something I don’t or using up a lot of brain energy that could be used for gin consumption.

But, this exhibition had saws, polystyrene, printers, pens and pretty much everything you could ask for to run around and be like a child again.

The whole concept of the do-dah was that it was a free space. You were free to add, choose or destroy as you please, or just sit down and watch a weird video about red, green and blue colours.

I know some of the group got a bit agitated when they discovered there were in fact rules in this “free land” (no writing on the banners or standing on the chairs you wild kids), but for me, I think it just helped reaffirmed my views on art.

I think, if anything, I’ve learnt this week that art is something that can only be appreciated when it sparks an emotion or though in you or you can interact with it. And, for me, running around with a saw is interacting. Looking at some modern art is not. #revelation

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At the Palais de Tokyo

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Eiffel up close

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Eiffel selfie

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Let’s hit this joint

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Promo!

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DESTROY

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Fire

Two Weeks in Paris: Penises are everywhere (Day 4)

Yes, you read the title correctly and yes I’m talking about a part of the male body that’s most commonly associated with urinating and having sex.

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Once again I’m writing this blog a day late – but not a buck short – (get me for cultural references), so hopefully you’ll join me in my self-indulgent quest of food and deep and meaningful ponderings.

If you’re looking to catch up you can also read my Paris back catalogue too. It’s great fun, comes with free cookies and will definitely move you to tears. Sadly I’m unable to offer a money back guarantee at this time.

To return swiftly to my click bait title, today will always be seared in my mind as the day of the penises. Luckily enough – or not depending on your perspective – these weren’t real in the flesh erections, but part of an exhibition of the work of American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.

As a photography novice (you’ll notice that novice and uneducated is a recurring theme of mine at this summer school), I had no idea what to expect from his work, except our lecturer had said we might find some things “uncomfortable”.

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The exhibition was held at the Grand Palais

As it turns out, a lot of Mapplethorpe’s work focuses on exploring the photography of the body and pushing the limits of pornography. Which means a lot of naked people and a lot of fetish gear.

I was genuinely surprised how much I enjoyed the exhibition. Partly because I don’t really get art and really struggled with Monday’s modern art and conceptual architecture and partly because a lot of people’s reaction of penis pictures is understandably YUCK EW BLERGH.

Firstly, I seem to have learnt that obscene pictures of genitals really don’t phase me and secondly good art, for me, is something that sparks a discussion.

I am looking for perfection in form. I do that with portraits. I do it with cocks, I do it with flowers.

(Mapplethorpe, 1985)

While I appreciate the idea behind some of Mapplethorpe’s work; that beauty and perfection can found just as readily in the human body as in a flower, I had some inherent uneasiness with his work, and not just because someone was sticking a finger up their penis for the sake of art.

Mapplethorpe says he’s looking for perfection in the human form, which is just as easily found in sexual photos as pretty daisies, but why is this perfection only found in slender woman or big-cocked, toned men?

If we can find perfection anywhere surely it’s just as easily found in a someone whose boobs are slightly sagging, are older, or just so happen to have a few lumps and bumps.

I took solace in the fact his pictures of woman did show them with pubic hair, which SHOCK HORROR isn’t an abomination, but I couldn’t help but think his definition of perfection was somewhat different to mine.

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Food came with the friendliest service and freebies at the end!

 

To see me ramble on for half a page on penises you would probably think I spent my whole day looking at them but that actually couldn’t be further from the truth.

Other exploits included a creative writing seminar, a wander around Paris encompassing the lovelock bridge and the Louvre, a fantastic gourmet burger bar, a trip to the British Ambassador’s residence and a book launch at Shakespeare and Co.

I really felt like today was the best day I’ve had yet. I appear to have actually connected with people on more of a true friendship level, going beyond the mere “what do you study and you live where” and even broaching the holy grail of hugs and dropping my faux posh accent.

I also felt I connected much more with the lecture of creative writing; much like journalism it’s a way of channeling people’s stories and telling them to the world, something I’m truly passionate about and came with some interesting ideas such as the Metro Poem where you compose a poem on your journey.

You may only compose when the train is in motion and scribe when it’s at a station and sounds like the best way to spend a tube journey in rush hour.

The desk at Shakespeare and Company

The desk at Shakespeare and Company

The same lecturer also happened to be launching a book that evening in Shakespeare and Co, where he also spoke extensively about his work as a reviewer.

As part of this he explained about how he would always strive for positivity in reviews, and would turn down books he felt were not for him.

I couldn’t help but felt this defeated the point of an honest review and was a deception to the reader.

Surely reviewers should undertake all work they are qualified to do (bar conflicts of interest) in an objective and constructive manner, not present a happy “EVERYTHING IS ACE” ideal?

We also stopped for tea at the British Ambassador’s residence, which was a privileged experience. I even braved a cup of tea, despite the yuck as it’s not every day you get invited in to the ambassador’s house.

I also stole some wifi and took a selfie in the toilet, but we won’t talk about that.

Toilet selfie

Toilet selfie

The Louvre

The Louvre

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Housey House

Housey House

Happy Faces

Happy Faces

Mango!

Mango!

Two Weeks in Paris: I don’t want a job, so I won’t get one (Day 3)

Sometimes I worry that my thighs are getting too fat or my stomach jiggles a bit too much for comfort. Then I remember that food is really fucking awesome. Especially food in Paris.

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I’ll be straight with you; this blog post is going to focus entirely on amazing food you don’t have and self-indulgent realisations I’ve had about myself in the last twenty-four hours. I know this kinda deal isn’t for everyone so take this as your exit clause if you’re looking for super cute cats.

Alternatively, if you’re wondering who the hell I am, what I’m doing and why I’m writing this, you should probably head on over to the first of this series, which I started the other day.  The crash course version, however, is that I’m a journalism student who is spending two weeks in Paris, and the food here is insane.

Lunch today consisted entirely of things I would never order separately, or indeed together if I was ordering for myself. Yet, even for a person who doesn’t really like cheese, I must confess the goat’s cheese and bacon salad I had today was possibly one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

It was followed by two macaroons,IMG_0567 again something I would never bother to order at home as they’re quite small and have a low chocolate content. Turns out I’ve just been eating really shit macaroons before.

Aside from fine dining, which is especially fine when you’re not paying for it, I’ve also had to time to reflect on a couple of truths about myself. You know the sort; you knew it anyway deep down, but you never actually admitted them to yourself. Deep man.

Today’s lecture was on the changing nature of elite’s in France during the era of the revolution and while history is far from my specialist subject, I felt much more comfortable than attempting to find meaning in modern art or conceptual architecture.

One of the points which most resonated with me was the question of how to make a new, shiny and better future, without looking also at the past and understanding what went wrong.

Yet while looking at the splendour on show at the following visit to the Legion of Honour Museum, I couldn’t help but feel there is a fine line between an appreciation of the past and simply stagnating in it.

I’ve spent my whole academic career with people who want to devote their lives to their studies and I’ve always felt like I should keep up the pretence of wanting to do the same. Yet, while I do genuinely enjoy reading for pleasure, seminars such as these and learning as much as possible I’m overwhelmingly driven by a desire to go out and do things, as opposed to trying to answer the bigger (or smaller) questions out there.

I’ve always known I’m tied to my work, but I’ve always tried to pretend I’m a secret academic too. And, in those weird, frank conversations you have with near strangers, I’ve today accepted that I’m not, but that that’s also totally okay.

Looking at rows and rows of beautiful robes and ornate medals also makes me feel a little sad inside.  There’s so much beauty, and so much time invested in their creation, and all for the sake of elitism or religion. I wish people would just want to make beautiful things for the sake of making beautiful things, or to share beautiful things with world. Surely that’s an incentive in itself?

Finally, continuing my frank conversation with my newfound stranger-friend, the conversation inevitably turned to what I want to do next. “I don’t want to get a job yet”, came my standard, well-rehearsed reply, “I want to do exciting things.” To which my stranger-friend simply said “well don’t then”. And perhaps in order to be happy, it really is that simple.

Eiffel Tower at night

Eiffel Tower at night

Hi, I’m a journalist…

If you want to get specific I’m a journalist with a passion for all things as yet uncovered, with bonus points for a hint of danger.

Whether it’s an investigation into the culture of illegal raves, an interview with Arthur Brown or the living wage at universities, I’m on it.

I’ve a wealth of experience, including at Sky News, The Independent and The Daily Mail and even run my own media company, The Medwire.

So, come and have a look around. You know you want to.

Forget the party politics, yesterday’s result was great.

Lords Reform. The European Union. Gay Marriage. Divisions within the coalition, and even within the Tory party itself, have been hitting the headlines before David Cameron even had time to move his furniture into number ten. It’s easy to get caught up in the implications of yesterday’s vote for both Cameron’s party and his leadership, especially when almost half of his party shunned the bill, but it is important to remember yesterday for its real value in history.

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Though the bill must still undergo more detailed parliamentary scrutiny and will soon face the House of Lords, an overwhelming majority of 225 MPs voted to approve the notion of gay marriage in principle, on a free vote, without party whips and without party pressure. We are only a few steps away from joining the other fourteen countries that allow gay marriage in some form and this is a fantastic thing.

Cameron, who has kept decidedly quiet on the issue over the last few weeks, today announced during  Prime Minister’s questions his pride that love between a same-sex couple will now “count the same” as that of a man and women.  He expressed admiration for those who had campaigned for “many years” and at the “moving” speeches made by MPs during the marathon six hour debate. And whilst there were impassioned pleas on both sides, from Mike Freer “simply asking for equal treatment” to Roger Gale slamming the move as “Alice in Wonderland territory, Orwellian even” attempt at “rewriting the lexicon”, the end result still stands.

Reading into the Conservative’s 127 noes, 35 who did not vote and five abstentions, is tempting. What does it mean for Cameron’s leadership and authority? How will it affect the results in 2015? But the fact remains that 400 MPs voted for the bill, a reflection of how our society has progressed in recent years. In a generation or two we’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about, just as we do with 1949’s changes to the marriage age and 1969’s changes to divorce. So, let us just sit back for a moment and appreciate this for how god damn amazing it really is.

 

Cynicism

The other day someone told me I’d changed. I’d become harder, colder, more cynical. It’s been gnawing away at my conscience ever since. I’ve always myself on finding the good in people, relentlessly pouring time into them in the hope they’ll all flourish as gems. In a sense it’s also my greatest downfall.

I’m constantly surrounded by torrents of people I hold no real affection for: arrogant people, stupid people, vicious people and those whose company I find just a bit dull. I’m a continual melting pot of confidences, as a seemingly endless parade of acquaintances confess all their deepest, darkest horrors. But for all the time I invest into other people, it seems few are willing to make a return deal.

Throughout life I’ve wandered through; a good friend to many best friend to none. Perhaps most recently I’ve watched friendships grow at university. I talk to people, laugh, hug, cook them dinner. But still we don’t interact quite in the same way other people do. There’s a certain level of comfortability, a relaxed ease with one another, which I never seem to reach.

I come to wonder perhaps, that whilst the good mighty lie in everyone, it might not be worth the bother. The more people I know, it feels like the less people really know me. Perhaps if I skill all the “if, buts and maybe” people I’ll end up with more time to concentrate on the people that matter. Then maybe I won’t just be another person you’re happy to chat to for five minutes.

Maybe I’ve become too cynical, who knows?

Nineteen is far too young. . .

It’s a sad fact of the human condition that we really don’t know how good we’ve got it until it’s gone. I only left school a mere three years ago but many of the faces I saw today I haven’t seen in three long years. It isn’t because I don’t love any of these people just as dearly as I did then; it just seems an inevitable course of life.

Some of us go to university, some of us get a job, some bum around for a while and I, perhaps somewhat disgracefully, haven’t a clue how some of these people have spent the last 1095 days since school. We’ve all slowly disappeared from each other, gone our own separate ways, with no one even realising it’s happened. The efforts of keeping in contact slowly wane and it’s days like this when you realise the people who used to be your entire life are almost strangers, just the same as the ones I’m looking at as I sit on this train.

Nineteen is far too young, and I’m still struggling with the realisation that someone younger than me, someone who so full of life and someone who I spoke to a mere few weeks ago is gone for good. I’m not sure how I feel about the whole religion thing, but if there’s any way you’re reading this Glen, I want you to know you were one of the most beautiful human beings I’ve ever met. You were one of the most genuine and lovable people I’ve ever met and I’m so proud that you achieved your dreams. I just wish it didn’t have to end now.

Even though I spoke to you a few weeks ago, it still feels like I didn’t make enough effort. We all take for granted the fact that we’re all going to be here in the morning and that everyone knows how much we really value them. I like to think you’d be touched to see how many people came back from across the country to send you off today, and that you’re probably wanting us all to cheer the fuck up.

Yet as I see all these faces I feel even guiltier, how many of these people, who I feel my hands slipping into or holding tightly have I made the effort to talk to recently? They’re still the same people they were and I still love them all unrequitedly. No one has the promise of tomorrow. Tiffs and squabbles are so inconsequential I wonder why they even matter now. It’s also a sad fact of the human condition it takes something like this to make us finally realise what’s important in life. It seems even now you’ve got that uncanny ability of bringing everyone back together.

Rest in Peace, Glen James.

All My Love Forever, Jem xxx

Driving in my car at 80. . Madness?

As a learner driver fresh from a move to the chaotic Kent highways, following months of Devon rural roads, I was shaking in my seat even before the news of possible 80mph speed limits emerged on Friday. Thankfully I’m yet to be granted the privilege of driving down motorways, but that doesn’t mean the thought doesn’t want to make me scream with terror.

Yet whilst I may still be petrified of roundabouts and pushing sixty, following a couple of day’s reflection notably out of the front seat, it’s perhaps fair to say we’re probably making a massive fuss about nothing.

Take Germany for example; the limitless Autobahns simultaneously boast the highest speed limit in the world, but also one of the lowest fatalities rates. Even our French and Italian counterparts demand that their residents stick to a comparatively modest 81mph.

Figures from the Department for Transport also show that as many as 49% of drivers already flout the 70mph limit and it’s commonly acknowledged that police will frequently turn a blind eye to those driving up to 10 miles over the limit.

The current speed limit was introduced all the way back in the distant land of 1965, and since then with increase in safety and awareness, road related deaths have fallen by 75%. In an ever changing world of increased safety and awareness surely our speed limits should reflect this? There are of course those who will object, claiming an increase of road-related deaths amid fears that the “unofficial” 80mph limit now, is soon to become 90.

It seems all too easy to simply compare one seemly similar situation with another, but in doing so, we’re ignoring the real reasons behind our current “unofficial” speed limit and undermining the judgement of the majority of Britain’s drivers.  The reason that nearly half of Britain’s motorists choose to speed off at 80mph, and why the police ignore them, is that we’ve all instinctively realised it’s both viable and safe. We also all know that 90mph is not.

Police already focus harshly on those who choose the break the “unofficial” 80mph limit, a practice which is sure to continue even in the face of speed increases. The proposed new speed limit isn’t really anything new or clever; it’s just a simple acknowledgement of what works on Britain’s motorways. Either which way, I had better get practising on my three point turns and those roundabouts.

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