Sunday, 26 April 2015

Dialogue in the Dark

This weekend my boyfriend visited me in Hamburg, and we had quite a unique experience which I was saving for when he was here. Those of you who have visited or lived in Hamburg may have already heard of Dialog im Dunkeln, an exhibition which is completely in the dark. The idea is to experience a day in the life of a blind person, and, if you'll excuse the pun, the 90 minutes spent in the exhibition was truly eye-opening.

I first heard about the exhibition from a friend, and it sounded so unique and exciting that I knew I had to do it before I leave Hamburg. But I never imagined it would be difficult. At the start of the tour, for which we were put into a group of eight, we were given blindmen's sticks and told the rules. We were to be led through a series of completely dark rooms by a blind or partially sighted person, and each room represented a scenario one would encounter from day to day. And when I say dark, I mean dark. We couldn't even see our hands in front of our eyes.

Our guide was a lovely partially sighted lady called Friederike, who nine times out of ten knew who we were, either by smell or sound. We exchanged names in the dark, and then we were led into the first room which was laid out like a park. I didn't expect the panic during my first five or ten minutes in the dark, and I can now understand why not everyone can go through with it. With my sight removed, my senses took a few minutes to adjust, and I was terrified of tripping or walking into something, or else hurting someone with my stick. True, we all walked into each other at some point or other, and I even wound up walking into someone's back nose-first, but I gradually got used to using the stick and my free arm effectively, and especially my hearing. After the park, in which we had to cross a bridge (more difficult than I could have ever imagined), we passed through a coffee storeroom, a market place, crossed a road and even rode on a ferry. My favourite part was the market place, in which we were allowed to pick up and smell various fruit and vegetables and guess what they were.

At the end of the tour, we were led into a bar where we could buy a drink or some sweets. The barman who served me knew exactly what change to give me, and he even gave me the right colour straw I asked for (it was red, and I kept it to make sure, in case you were wondering!) Then Friederike led us to a table and we were all allowed to ask her questions. I was most impressed at the end, however, when my boyfriend and I managed to lose our group amongst the rest of the tour groups who had accumulated in the bar. We could both tell that the voices around us did not belong to our group, and we recognised Friederike immediately when she came back to collect us. It's amazing how much sharper our remaining senses became after just 90 minutes in the dark!

I knew that re-entering the light would be painful, but despite the gradual lighting, the sensation was much more uncomfortable than I had expected. But thankfully, after a few minutes, we were able to see normally again and signed the guest book. It was also nice to put faces to the names and the voices of the rest of our group, as we had introduced ourselves in the dark!

If you are ever in Hamburg or somewhere with a similar exhibition, I definitely recommend this amazing experience. I have such an improved understanding of what blind and partially sighted people go through that I will never take my sight, nor any other of my senses for granted again.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Photography: what does it take?

What does it take nowadays to be a photographer? Is some special talent required to take great pictures, or can anyone with a good quality camera and basic editing software call themselves a photographer nowadays?

This question first came to me a few months back, when, for the first time in my life, I was in possession of a phone with a surprisingly decent camera. I love travelling and I love capturing moments which I find particularly beautiful, so you can imagine how overjoyed I was to have a reliable camera at my fingertips whenever I needed it. In the past my photos had mostly been grainy or too dark, and don't get me started on that one camera with which I always had to take duplicate photos in case the first came out blurry. I had resigned myself to buying postcards on my travels to make up for my poor photography, but it's just not the same.

So I finally got a posh new phone with a posh camera, and, of course, my photos got better. I would proudly display them on Facebook, even the arty ones that perhaps no one would care about. But all the same, I wasn't sure what to think when someone asked if I was a professional photographer. "They're just tourist photos" I replied, but it got me thinking. I had never intended to be a photographer. To me, a photographer is someone like my cousin, who takes beautiful photographs and went to college to learn how to use a camera properly. But I do enjoy taking photographs as a hobby. And if I ever had 500 quid to spend on a hobby I would certainly buy a posh Canon or Nikon, the sort with the huge lense and special features, and ask my cousin to show me how to use it. But here's the thing: is a decent camera all it takes? There are so many people calling themselves photographers these days. Most of the people I follow on Instagram post gorgeous, HD photos that I, even with my posh new camera phone, envy. I used to see the transition in people from amateur to professional. Now I see amazing photography everywhere, all it seems to take is the money to buy an expensive camera (or camera phone).

My own Instagram photos aren't that special, and the ability to take selfies seems to have eluded me since I turned twenty (perhaps I just need more make up and better lighting...?), but my "tourist photos", as I call them, have certainly improved. My host was pretty impressed. So, by the sound of it, was her photographer husband.

Perhaps it's social media, making it acceptable, even expected, for us to take photos of every single thing we do or see or buy. Perhaps it's the fact that digital cameras have given us the ability to take pictures of trivial and meaningless things without costing the earth. We've all been given the chance to hone our photography skills. This is a massive leap in the documentary of daily lives, but I wonder, where does that leave our talented, traditional photographers?

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Sunday Nights Are For Arts, Crafts and Ben Howard

Those precious last hours of a weekend are always to be spent doing what I love, and that generally involves painting, writing, crafting or else curling up with a book. Sunday night is my wind down time, getting myself ready for a good night's sleep in preparation for a busy week ahead.

Cozy lamplight, a hot cup of tea in hand, and a relaxing soundtrack in the background. And who is my go-to for that soundtrack? Occasionally it's Florence + The Machine, more often it's Paolo Nutini. But most of the time, Ben Howard is my musician of choice.

I first discovered Mr Howard back in the summer of 2012, just as I was graduating from uni and moving out of my student house. If I'm not mistaken, I came across him on Spotify, which I have found to be fantastic for discovering new artists (when it decides to work on my computer, that is). I was stunned by the richness of Ben Howard's voice, the exquisite guitar, the flawless lyrics. His 2011 album Every Kingdom is relaxing but uplifting, maintaining a mostly positive vibe throughout. I listened to it on a loop for months, then went on to discover some of his other work, such as The Burgh Island EP or his BBC Radio 1 Live Lounge covers (I recommend his cover of Carly Rae Jepson's Call Me Maybe or Ellie Goulding's Figure 8 for a truly shivers-down-your-spine experience). My favourite songs of Ben's are Diamonds and Everything from the Every Kingdom album, the two Live Lounge covers mentioned above, and Esmeralda from The Burgh Island EP. His latest album, I Forget Were We Were, has a slightly different sound to it, but it is just as stunning, with some truly haunting tunes. And, following his gig in Hamburg back in November, I can confirm that, impossibly, he sounds even better live.

I have said this before and I'll say it again: in my opinion, Ben Howard is what Heaven must sound like.

Happy Sunday everyone x

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Spring Loves 2015

Spring is a time for new life, changes and lots of time spent outdoors. When spring comes around I love to fill my lunch box with yummy smoothies and salads, get out all my spring clothes and go on lots of walks. Here is a list of some of my favourite things in spring:

- Tulips - especially multicoloured ones, they look like watercolour paintings!
- Bergamot - a lovely scent to lift the mood.
- Bead bracelets (who am I kidding, I always love bead bracelets!)
- Easter chocolate! Especially Cadbury Mini Eggs :)
- Pears. Extremely juicy ones.
- Herbal teas, especially Twinings Orange and Lotus Flower Green Tea
- Sunny skies on my 7am commute!
- Trips to markets.
- Pastel colours.
- Painting time.
- Blossom, not to mention lots of pictures of blossom.
- Walks, especially with best friends and loved ones.

Friday, 3 April 2015

Easter: Being Thankful For New Beginnings

I remember how, when I was a child, my mum and I would make Easter bonnets and enter competitions at my play school. I don't tell her often enough, but my mum is such a creative and artistic woman, and when I look back at the photos I love seeing just how good her Easter bonnets were. My favourite was the bird's nest, complete with those fluffy little yellow ducks and Cadbury Mini Eggs (still a firm Easter favourite with me!)

Easter is certainly a time for new life, for fresh, beautiful flora and fauna, and for looking forward to the spring and summer months ahead. I love hearing about different Easter traditions, both Christian and otherwise, and those involving special Easter breakfasts are my favourites (let's face it, you mention breakfast or brunch to me and you've got my interest). Whether it's silly amounts of chocolate, beautifully painted eggs in the trees in Germany or church bells ringing on Easter Sunday, there is plenty of spring cheer in the air.

This morning, curious about the origin of Easter traditions which seem to have little to do with the crucifixion of Jesus (I mean, I know Jesus is said to have been resurrected on Easter Sunday, but his torture and death leading up to it don't really fit with the celebration of spring and new life), I wound up doing a little research and was pleased with the results of earlier Easter festivals. My favourite was the worship of Ostara (or Eastre), the Germanic goddess of spring and the dawn, in other words, of fertility. And of course, the rabbit and eggs are symbols of this, as are the flowers and bright colours we surround ourselves with around this time. Whether or not you believe in gods, I find these spring celebrations much more cheerful than hearing or watching the Passion of Christ (which, despite Jesus's resurrection, I always found quite upsetting as a child).

So, whether you are celebrating for religious reasons, either Christian or Pagan, or else you just like eating chocolate, I wish you a very happy Easter and give thanks for new beginnings :)