Mistletoe

‘And a reminder of this morning’s top story – there are reports across the globe of people waking up with what can only be described as super powers. The official notice at this present time is not to be concerned, and to visit your local authorities if you or someone you know is showing signs of something out of the ordinary.’

I yawned, covering my mouth with one hand as I grabbed a bowl and a box of shreddies with the other. The final week of uni was hitting me like a rubber mallet, and I was so happy that I only had to get through two more days before I was free for Christmas. My housemate Jo was sprawled over the sofa, still in her pyjamas, and had the news turned up at full volume.

‘Can you believe this? I want to have super powers!’

‘Ah, but with great power comes great responsibility,’ came the voice of my other housemate, Freddie, from the stairs. She was already dressed, had her backpack on and was wearing bright yellow gloves and a bright yellow scarf to match. ‘Anyway, I’m off, keep me updated if you guys get super powers!’

‘Freddie, it’s 9am. You’re not going to the library already are you?’ I asked through a mouthful of shreddies, incredulous.

‘Yup, gotta get some work done, bye!’

‘You make me sick!’ Jo called after her before flopping over and screaming into the sofa cushions. She lifted her head an inch and turned to me. ‘How come it’s Christmas time and all I can think about is uni work?’

‘Because lecturers are sadistic.’ As I spoke, a tiny drop of milk dribbled out of my mouth and hit my t-shirt. I swore and put my bowl on the countertop, looking around for a cloth. I froze as I noticed a blue and white striped jay-cloth hanging in mid-air next to me. I reached out and poked it, and it span in place. ‘Jo…’

‘What?’ she groaned as she turned over. I could tell that I wasn’t hallucinating by the way she screamed, ‘Holy shit!’ and jumped up to stand next to me. She stared at the jay cloth, and poked it herself. It span more.

I reached out and grabbed it out of mid-air – it was slightly damp. I sponged away the milk on my t-shirt. As soon as all evidence of my disgusting dribble was gone, the cloth vanished.

‘What. The. Fuck,’ Jo whispered, ‘you have super powers.’

‘Alright, let’s not get too over-excited, for all we know I could be Cloth Woman.’

Jo thought for a moment. ‘Well, what happened before the cloth appeared?’

‘I dribbled milk on myself.’

Jo narrowed her eyes, grabbed the spoon out of my bowl and flicked shreddies on to me.

‘What the hell?’ I went to grab the dishcloth off of the side when I noticed another cloth hanging in the air. I grabbed it and started sponging myself down again. ‘Quite a useful super power to be honest.’

Jo’s eyes glinted with mischief. ‘We need to test the limits of it though.’ As soon as the second cloth vanished, she tipped some of the now very soggy cereal onto the floor in front of me. This time, a mop appeared in front of me. She tried to grab it, but as soon as she tried to pull it from the air, she shrieked and pulled away. ‘It shocked me!’

I grabbed it and pulled it towards me. ‘It feels like a normal mop to me.’ I offered it to her, and she warily poked it before taking the handle again. Just like before, as soon as she moved it, she yelped and dropped it.

‘Guess it’s only for you to use.’

I shrugged and mopped up the milk, and just like the cloth, the mop disappeared. ‘So I’m now Cleaning Lady.’

‘It would appear so.’ Jo shrugged. ‘Still pretty cool though.’ She picked up her phone.

‘You better not tell anyone until I have this figured out.’

‘Relax, I’m just telling Freddie. And anyway, if Twitter is to be believed, there’s no point “going to the authorities” or whatever that newsreader was saying. They’re swamped.’ She turned round the screen to show me the pictures of the police stations, a queue that looped right around the building filling most of the screen.

‘Fuck that, I have a seminar to go to.’ I handed Jo back her phone and took mine out of my pocket to check the time. As I unlocked the screen, the ‘low battery’ notice appeared and my phone turned off. ‘Great.’ I walked towards the stairs, and heard a thunk behind me.

A charging pack with a cable to charge my phone floated in the air behind the bannister. It was slightly dented, presumably where it had hit the bannister, but as soon as I plugged in my phone it came back to life.

‘Maybe it’s just anything that I need, it provides me with?’ I wondered aloud.

‘Whatever it is, I’m very jealous,’ Jo replied, scrolling through Twitter.

By the time I got to uni and realised that I had forgotten my pencil case, I almost expected a pen to be floating next to me. I grabbed it before anyone could notice and got my paper out ready for the seminar to begin, tapping my newly acquired pen on my paper. All that anyone was talking about was the super powers news, and I noticed a few people absent from the seminar. I began wondering what super powers they’d woken up with, whether we were all the same or whether they were sending tornadoes tearing through campus as we sat there.

My seminar tutor, Rachel, had just begun speaking when Claire, my only friend in my seminar, and the girl I had had a crush on since the day I met her, squeezed through the door, mumbling apologies about her tardiness. She sat down next to me and I smiled and said hi, trying to appear calm whilst I focused all my energy on not making anything appear. I’d been trying to find away to tell her that I liked her for weeks, so god only knows what this newfound power was going to make me do.

‘As you all should know, there’s a pair presentation next semester, in which you have to analyse one of the texts we’ve studied using one of the theorists’ essays that we’ve looked at so far. I thought I would put you all in your pairs now so you can start researching over Christmas. So if you could all find a pair… ’ Rachel looked around at all of us, looking ready to leap in and force any stragglers together at a moment’s notice.

‘You want to be partners?’ Claire turned to me, beaming, and raising an eyebrow.

‘Sure – what shall we do our presentation on?’

‘I think we’re assigned topics.’

I made a face. ‘Hopefully we get a good one. I’ve got enough work I don’t want to do over Christmas already, I don’t want something else to add to that.’ I leant back in my chair to scoop my hair into a ponytail, and it was then that I noticed it, growing from the ceiling.

Mistletoe.

I didn’t have time to wonder why this wasn’t floating like everything else had, I just willed it to go away with all my might. It stayed there. I risked a glance around; it appeared that no-one else had noticed it. I was just going to have to pretend it wasn’t there.

‘So, got any plans for the Christmas holidays?’ I asked Claire, trying to look as nonchalant as possible.

‘After all this news this morning, I’m going to try and see if I have super powers.’ She wiggled her eyebrows at me. ‘Want to help in my experiments?’

‘I would have to travel for like an hour and a half.’ I tried to pretend that I hadn’t already worked it out in the hope that she would ask me to visit her.

‘I hope you’re more dedicated to our presentation than that – besides, I could come to you. Or we could meet in the middle.’

‘Right, are you all in pairs? Good. So I’ll go round and assign you each a topic – Claire and Stevie, you have the Judith Butler essay…’ I tuned out of what Rachel was saying as I scanned over the handout with the task on it again.

‘This is going to be interesting,’ Claire said, reading through the list of texts we had to choose from.

No-one seemed to notice the mistletoe in the rest of the seminar, everyone too busy brainstorming with their partners. As I was packing up, I looked up and was relieved to see it was gone. I started to walk out of the room, but Claire caught my arm as we stood in the doorway. ‘Hey, I just wanted to ask you something.’

I bit my lip as the mistletoe respawned in the doorway just above our heads. ‘Mmm-hmm.’

‘I was wondering if – sorry, let’s move out of the doorway.’ As she turned, I took the opportunity to leave before she noticed the mistletoe.

‘I have to run, actually, I have to meet my friend, but message me, okay?’ I took off down the corridor, moving as fast as I could without it being suspicious.

 

‘Hey super girl, how’s it going?’ Freddie asked me as I walked through the front door.

‘The worst. You know I told you about Claire? Well, my super powers decided to give me a helping hand today.’

I heard Jo’s voice as she stampeded down the stairs. ‘Oh my god, what happened?’

‘Mistletoe happened.’

‘How festive, I love it.’ Freddie smiled wistfully.

‘You wouldn’t if you were me. At least she didn’t notice it on the ceiling, but in the doorway was almost an entirely different story.’

‘I think you should just tell her,’ Jo said, folding her arms, ‘I, at least, have listened to you whine on about this girl for months. Just tell her you like her.’

‘A little late now, don’t you think? “Oh, don’t mind this mistletoe floating between us, it’s just because I suddenly have super powers and I really want to kiss you” doesn’t sound weird at all.’

‘You said it was on the ceiling and in the doorway, so it won’t float.’

‘She has a point.’ Freddie smiled.

I groaned. ‘Fine. I’ll talk to her. But not under the mistletoe – only somewhere with a high ceiling.’

 

The next day, Claire messaged me.

‘Hey, don’t know if you’re free but wondered if you wanted to go through some of the presentation some time today? x’

I looked up to check the ceilings at my spot in the library – they were certainly high enough. I’d managed to avoid suspicion thus far, snatching the sandwich out of the air before anyone could notice after my stomach grumbled. The only use of my newfound super power other than that had been performing the same demonstration for Freddie that Jo and I had used as an experiment the previous morning. I was taking advantage of people randomly developing super powers and everyone else being scared of people with super powers by spreading out in the library, so I already had a double desk space. I typed a response to Claire and hit send:

‘Sure, I’m in the library and was going to be here all afternoon. Second floor, let me know when you get here x’

A minute passed and the chair beside me scraped back. I was about to tell whoever it was that it was occupied when I saw Claire’s dark curls and stopped myself. ‘I was about to yell at you for taking that seat.’

Claire laughed as she pulled out her notes. I glanced upwards and there it was, on the ceiling a floor up, the mistletoe. I had a sudden rush of gratitude for the weird open-plan design of the library, and turned back to Claire.

We spent the next hour working on our presentation, interspersed with many tangents and a lot of chatting. The topic of super powers came up again, and I changed the subject by shrugging and saying that I didn’t think that it was that much of a big deal. Claire looked at me like I was crazy, but I stopped her from saying anything by going back to talking about the presentation.

‘I’m getting kind of thirsty, you want to go get some coffee?’

I looked at my water bottle on the table, which I didn’t even bring with me, that had refilled every time I felt thirsty. ‘Sure, I could do with a coffee.’

We packed everything up and headed down to the café in the library. I swore under my breath as I noticed that all of the tables had low hanging lights above them. I ordered a coffee and realised I’d forgotten my purse. I held my hand in the air next to me and the exact change fell into it. I made a mental note never to take money out with me again, picked up my coffee and followed Claire to a table.

Claire was talking about the super powers that she’d heard that people had got, and how amazing it all was, and I tried to focus on what she was saying, but my eyes kept returning to the mistletoe growing from the lamp between us.

‘Are you alright?’ Claire asked, putting her hand on my wrist on the table.

‘Yeah, sorry, just-’

‘Oh, I hadn’t even noticed that, sorry…’ Claire didn’t meet my eyes, pulling her hand back and folding both her hands in her lap. ‘Now it looks like I picked the table with the mistletoe and I didn’t, I’m sorry, I find mistletoe really weirdly pressuring, I didn’t mean to-’

‘Sorry, it’s my fault, and anyway, just because it’s there I don’t think we have to-’

‘What do you mean, it’s your fault?’ Claire looked up at me, eyes narrowing, frowning.

I sighed, my heart thudding. ‘Um, I meant… I-’

‘You don’t have weird powers that make mistletoe appear, do you?’ she said, laughing.

‘Not… specifically mistletoe.’

‘Wait, what? You have super powers?’

‘I think so.’ I bit my lip, now taking my turn to avoid eye contact. ‘I seem to be able to make things appear when I need them.’

‘Why would you need mistletoe?’ Claire’s voice wavered as she spoke.

I wished in that moment for a time machine so that I could avoid this situation and say no to coffee, but I couldn’t avoid telling her at that moment. Besides, she already knew, I could tell as it hung in the air between us, unsaid and unrecognised. ‘Because I like you. And I guess my subconscious, or whatever force controls this dumb power, thinks that this is the way to acknowledge that, I guess. Sorry, I didn’t mean to make things awkward, I just…’

I looked up, fearing the worst. Claire was smiling. ‘So you didn’t run away from me earlier because you were scared I was going to ask you out?’

‘You were going to ask me out?’ My voice squeaked with surprise.

‘Yeah, but you ran away so I thought you just were too polite to say no.’

I laughed. ‘No, I ran away because this happened.’ I pointed at the mistletoe, and she laughed too.

‘I must be the most unobservant girl ever.’ She picked up my hand that still rested on the table, holding it with hers. She leant across the table, so she was directly under the mistletoe ‘So, Stevie, did you want to go out with me?’

‘I would love to.’ I leant forward just far enough to close the space between us.

When we broke apart, I looked up to see that the mistletoe had disappeared.

 

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Under the customer service smile

The clock on my car

(which is always seven minutes fast)

tells me that I am three minutes late

and I sigh

the click of my seatbelt unfastening

making my heart flutter and thrum. A new day

in this hellscape begins.

The next time I get in this car, I will be

exhausted, probably

will not have eaten for ten hours,

and have been standing up for

just as long, and unless

my boss has had her 9am pinot grigio,

will probably have been yelled at at least twice.

The gravel slips under my feet

I sneak a glance through the window,

I don’t see them,

I am relieved, for a second.

I greet my colleague, who is clearly high, again,

greet the chef, already busy chopping –

he inhales his way to an early grave regularly

in pursuit of five minutes of peace.

We all brace when the boss walks in,

wanting to be a victim of just a patronising word

and a smile, rather than face her full wrath.

I give a rueful smile to the regulars in for lunch who say ‘it must be wonderful

to work here.’ I clock out

at half past six, stomach growling, head misting,

and drive home along roads stained with tears.

© Alyx Hurst 2017

My favourite books: The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller was recommended to me by many people before I actually read it. If I’m completely honest, I only got round to it because it was on the reading list for one of my modules this year (it was subsequently removed, much to my dismay, but that’s another story). I don’t know why it took me so much convincing – I love Greek and Roman mythology, I love the Iliad, and I’m always excited to read books with LGBTQ+ representation, and this book ticks all of those boxes. No wonder then that before I had even finished it, it had made it into the list of my favourite books.

This book is just beautiful. I cried throughout the book – I started bookmarking every time the book made me cry, which considering I knew the ending, and how Miller consistently foreshadows the ending through Achilles’ happy arrogance and Patroclus’ reluctant happiness, was a lot. I ran out of post-it-note bookmarks. This, coupled with the gorgeous poetic descriptions of the landscapes and events of the novel, makes it into one of those books I stayed up until 2.30am to finish, at which time I messaged my friend in tears and she immediately knew what I had just finished reading.

I don’t feel that my love of the Iliad was a necessary pre-requisite for reading and loving Miller’s novel either. Most of my friends that have read the book and love it had no idea what was going to happen, giving them a completely different experience of reading the book. Either way, I do not know a single person who has read The Song of Achilles and not enjoyed it.

This book is the book that I always recommend to people without exception when they ask me for book recommendations, so I felt it most remiss not to mention it here on my blog when I have this favourite books series. If you haven’t yet read it, do so. I sincerely promise you that you will love it.

Surrounding yourself with creativity

Recently, I found myself in a creative slump. I wasn’t motivated to write anything – the ideas for the novel I’m working on were still ticking over in my brain, but I wasn’t actually writing, and I hadn’t even considered writing a poem for months, other than those I had to write for my seminars, and they were turning out flat and lifeless. I lacked motivation, I lacked inspiration, I lacked drive.

And then I went to my local poetry night at the local pub.

It was like a switch was flipped; I got home and immediately wrote two (admittedly godawful) first drafts of poems, and I wrote two more today. Just being in a creative atmosphere made me want to write again. I got my drive back.

It’s worth noting as well that I think it was partially that I was so invested in writing this novel. Not that I don’t want to write it, but I think after being so focused on one thing – especially when it’s taking so long to write given my lack of free time – I needed a little break from it to allow some of the other ideas I’d had in the mean time to work their way out.

So if you’re feeling like you’re in a bit of a writing funk, all I’m saying is that it might be worth stepping back from what you’re working on, and surrounding yourself with people who inspire you with their creativity. Easier said than done sometimes, I know, but it just might be what you need.

My favourite books: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 

As I haven’t been able to read many new releases recently owing to my rather extensive university reading lists, I thought I could start a series this week, talking about my favourite books, in both my experience with them and why I love them so much. So this week: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

The Night Circus is the book I say in response to the ‘What is your favourite book?’ question from anyone, and though there are many books I enjoyed and appreciate just as much as The Night Circus, so few people I know have read it that I can’t resist the possibility of telling someone about it so they may read and enjoy it too.

I first read it as a loan from my uncle, who gave it to me as a book he’d read, mildly enjoyed, and thought I might like. I will admit, it took me a while to get into. When I boarded the plane for a family holiday to Barcelona in 2014, I was around 40 pages in. A day and a half into the holiday and I had finished it. I got swept up into the story, invested in every character, unsure of what was going to happen, that I could barely put it down. I have since forced many of my friends to read it, and I still live in hope that the production company that bought the rights will make the film someday.

The premise sounds strange when described, and it is so difficult to describe. There’s a circus that ‘appears without warning’, is only open at night, and disappears again. The Circus is in fact a stage for a duel between Marcus and Celia, both bound at birth to be engaged in a duel of magic until one of them wins. And every character within the Circus has a role to play.

One of the key reasons I love this book so much is its characters. You care about every single one, no matter how many are introduced as the story progresses. I think one of the reasons this is is Morgenstern’s masterful use of a non-chronological narrative – the story leaps forwards and backwards in time, with headings on each chapter to tell you where and when you are each time. Through this, you see the world of the circus introduced to the different characters, and see how they fit it in with the wider narrative.

The premise of the novel seemed so unique to me as well. The idea of young and old arguing as to whose way is better is obviously ages old, but the framing of the Night Circus, open only for a few days, arriving unannounced, was just so enticing. As a reader, you are like one of the many normal visitors to the circus who are described in a few vague chapters dotted throughout the novel. You walk around with the other people, admiring these things that you could never dream of appearing so vividly in front of your eyes as Morgenstern’s words come to life.

The ending of the book also worked really well – it did not feel forced, it was very satisfying, and it still left me in tears.

The Night Circus is almost as magical as its namesake circus is itself, and that’s why it remains firmly in my list of my favourite books.

Reflecting on my first year at uni

Having just finished my first year at university, I thought it might be good to reflect on it and share some of my tips for people who are in the position that I was last year – terrified, excited, and almost completely clueless as to what they’re going to face come September.

There’s not much that I can say in terms of workload that hasn’t already been said a million times over – university learning is self motivated. No-one is going to chase you up if you don’t do it, it’s your loss, so discipline is super important – although the occasional nap (or daily in my case) won’t hurt you. At least it won’t if you do a low contact hour subject like I do!

Also, if you do the reading for the lectures, you will understand them far better. Granted, there is some reading that is a little redundant, but it is far better to do it if you have the time to start off with, and then later use your time doing more useful things. Just try to do the reading – you don’t want to be the person that turns up to the first seminar absolutely clueless. Like I said before, university is self-lead teaching to an extent, so get as much out of it as you can by doing the reading.

Realise you’re not necessarily going to get a first. I have a lot of friends who were very high achieving students at school, and they got to uni, got a 2:1 for a piece of work, and were really upset. I’m not saying you’re not going to get a first, you might do, and well done you if you do, but a first is not the be all and end all, and even if you don’t do so well in first year, learn from it. You’re there to learn, after all, so see a lower grade a chance to improve yourself. Go and ask for help if you don’t understand your marker’s comments, and if you need it, ask for help with your essays from the services that are available at your uni. Friends can be invaluable for this, especially with creative writing. Exchanging work and reading through each other’s helps both of you, both in proofreading and in seeing how they responded to the same prompt.

Make sure that you know where you can go if you need help – I have been in the fortunate position not to need any help this year, but knowing where those services are can be really helpful in those times of stress and panic, so you – or someone else – can do something about it.

Here comes another cliché – don’t be afraid to try new things. I started Ballroom and Latin American Dance this year through university, and it has honestly been one of the best experiences of my first year at uni. You don’t have to commit to everything that you sign up for – I signed up for four or five societies after my uni’s societies fair, but I now only regularly attend two of them. And the societies expect this dropout – it’s far better to try these new things and then decide you don’t like them than to not try anything at all and wish that you had come March. Most societies even offer a free trial session, or don’t require you to pay membership until a few weeks in, so you might as well give them a whirl. Societies are also one of the best places to meet people, as you’ll be with people with similar interests to you, and you’ll meet people from across the uni, across departments, across years, postgrads, undergrads… Basically, socieites are great, so sign up for them if you can.

But also remember that it is okay to say no. I was feeling a bit rough the first few weeks of uni, especially in Freshers’ Week, so I went to two quiz nights and one night out. My flatmates asked me if I wanted to go out every night, but as I don’t drink I was quite daunted by the prospect of going out with a large group of complete strangers, so I stayed in my room instead, and I was far happier for it (as was my bank account!). I’m not saying don’t go out, all I’m saying is that if you really don’t want to do something, you don’t have to do it. Try to do new things, but if you’re really not feeling it, no-one is going to hate you for saying no. I’m still good friends with my flatmates, so if my experience is anything to go by, there’s nothing to be feared in saying no.

On the topic of flatmates, remember that you need a little give and take, but at the same time you can’t be a doormat. If you have a 9am you have to get to, or like me have to get up at 4am to get ready for a dance competition, and they’re hosting pres, blasting music and yelling at the top of their voices, just go in and talk to them. If they’re decent people, they will offer to move pres (it’s not like there’s likely to be a shortage of accomodation in walking distance that they can use). If they don’t, just remember to make as much noise as you can getting ready in the morning. (I joke, of course). Do your washing up, tidy and clean up after yourself, take the bin out, but don’t let your flatmates leave you to sort the state of the kitchen or any other shared areas in the flat. I was really fortunate with my flatmates, we’re all quite clean and tidy people. I do, however, have friends who live with flatmates who use their stuff and leave it disgustingly dirty, ruin it, or (the worst flatmates I’ve heard of) don’t take out the bin, rather taking out the full bin liner and leaving it on the floor until it spawns maggots. So basically, good luck with flatmates, and try to be a good flatmate yourself.

Chat to people. There is never an easier time to meet people than the first few weeks of uni – everyone is out to make friends, no-one knows each other. I walked up to someone because I saw them wearing a Welcome to Night Vale t-shirt in freshers’ week, and we’re now really good friends. Granted, some people I spoke to in freshers’ week I now only see on occasion when scrolling through Facebook, but I didn’t lose anything in talking to them. And if you aren’t making that many people during Freshers’ Week, it’s not an issue. It becomes so much easier to meet people once term properly starts, and you have lectures and seminars that force you with groups of people.

Don’t try to pretend to be someone you’re not. The best way to make the best friends is to be yourself, as you’ll end up with friends who are like you. That’s kind of general life advice, but from what I’ve experienced, it’s especially true at uni.

My biggest piece of advice to anyone who isn’t enjoying uni within the first couple of weeks is to at least stick it out until Christmas. What will you lose by staying at uni for a few extra months that you would gain by dropping out after a few weeks? It’s a rollercoaster of emotions – you’ll feel fine for a bit, then you’ll feel a bit wobbly, then awful, and fine again – not necessarily in that order. As I said in my previous post on change, I would quite happily have not gone to university the morning of travelling up, and I would have quite happily gone home many a time during the first few weeks. But now I’m home for the summer, I miss uni terribly. I miss my friends, I miss the city, I even miss my lectures and seminars. So give it your best shot, it can feel really hard at times, but before you know it, it will be the Christmas holidays, and if you don’t feel better by then, then uni probably isn’t for you. Which there is no shame in, uni definitely isn’t for everyone. But at least you would have given it a good go, and you know for sure.

On a more practical note: budget. I sat down with my mum a few weeks before uni started and we worked out what allowance I would need on top of my maintenance loan and the savings I had from working over the summer. I opted for uni accomodation with an en suite, which was expensive, I’m not going to lie (it worked out ~£700 a month, bills included, on an 8 month contract), but I am personally glad I did. I then had to budget a lot, because my loan didn’t even cover my accomodation, so I had to watch my pennies. My recommendation would be to cook as much as you can, if you’re going to be on campus all day, take a packed lunch with you, and find the cheapest place to shop locally. I’m lucky in the sense that I am a vegetarian, and vegetarian food from the supermarket is so much cheaper than meat in my experience. I didn’t go out very much, and when I have gone out I’ve never paid more than £5 for a ticket to get in, and never buy any drinks once I’m out. I also don’t drink alcohol (a personal choice), so I didn’t have that to pay for either. I would add at this point that you don’t have to drink if you don’t want to, you can drink occasionally, no-one really cares. I was convinced prior to going to uni that there’s a massive drinking culture at uni, everyone drinks, and you’re considered weird if you don’t drink, and whilst yes, there are a lot of people who like to drink a lot at uni, they don’t care if you drink or not. It’s your business. And, at least at my uni, there are a lot of societies opting for more non-drinking events – laser tag, bowling, and trampolining, to name but a few. So if that’s a concern of yours, don’t worry.

I hope this has helped someone, and I wish everyone going to uni in September the best of luck, and I hope that you enjoy the experience as much as I do!

The Value of Comedy

After being set yet another text to read on my degree course about dark, depressing topics, I began to wonder why it is that we never study anything happy. This is not the first time I have considered this – my course mates and I actually asked the lecturer we had for the first half of this term whether she would set any short stories with an upbeat tone. She thought about it, and admitted that no, she hadn’t set any happy short stories, and the fact that this was not a conscious decision made me think about it even more.

There is a general trend through the study of literature to study texts that explore darker themes, with sad endings. In my sixth form, I studied a total of twelve texts, and one of them – The Importance of Being Earnest – was a comedy. The rest consisted of five tragic plays, two novels with murder as a central, recurring action, two poetry collections exploring the futility of life and the sad state of society today, and one graphic novel about the Holocaust. Delightful. Then at GCSE, it was Of Mice and Men and An Inspector Calls that we studied, To Kill a Mockingbird before that, etcetera, etcetera. But why is this? It seems as if we almost give texts that are tragic a higher value, but why?

It could be considered that texts that are comedies are seen as having less value, as they aren’t necessarily texts that we think about afterwards. When the curtain goes down at the end of All My Sons after the gunshot, the audience are left thinking about the morality of the characters’ actions, and how they could have reached a less tragic conclusion to the one that they have seen. But when the curtain goes down at the end of The Importance of Being Earnest, the audience are left smiling, maybe talking with the people that they are with about the hilarity of some of the scenes. This difference does not mean that Wilde’s play does not include explorations of themes related to humanity, but instead that these explorations are not as often noticed. In this instance, the only way to give more value to comedies is to give them literary value, in a sense, by studying them more widely.

Do we feel that if we take simple enjoyment from a piece of art, it is worth less than something that leaves us churned up inside? This idea could be less wacky than it sounds – think of popular fiction. More often than not now, a text being ‘popular’ means that it is less valuable, ‘popular fiction’ is used as a derogatory term by some literary scholars and snobs. But how does that make any sense – surely a text being more popular means that it’s better?

Or is it simply that we view comedy as trivial? To do this would in itself be stupid – it will be the comedy produced now that will clearly portray to people of the future the attitude towards politicians, celebrities, and culture at large. Think of the representations of Donald Trump seen on Saturday Night Live and the Tonight Show in the USA, and how so many of our most famous comedians have used Brexit and the US Election as fuel for their latest routines. It is this that are the clearest representation of the populous’ current opinion of the state of the world, and whilst that can be taken from tragedy, comedy, at least today, has more immediacy than its counterpart.

One of the comments that I remember in our lectures on Shakespeare last term was made by our lecturer comparing A Midsummer Night’s Dream to other Shakespeare plays. She pointed out how cleverly crafted the whole play is, how the characters have to be on and off stage at just the right times for the doubling of roles that more often than not occurred. It was clear how planned the play was, and how it also made points about members of Shakespearean society. Hamlet, by contrast, is a train wreck. There is no way that Shakespeare started off with a plan in writing it, better to just kill everyone off. Now whilst I’m not in anyway saying that Hamlet is not a good play (I love it and the characters more than you can know) it is strange that it is studied so much more than the masterpiece that is A Midsummer Night’s Dream – the latter is more of an ‘introduction to Shakespeare’ play that you study in year seven and never consider again, moving on as you mature to the more ‘serious’ topics.

Whilst I don’t deny that the darker themes explored within a lot of tragedy need to be shown to the world, it would be strange to say that comedy cannot also explore these themes, and sometimes in a very interesting way. Why not study a tragedy, and compare it with a comedy that contains the same themes, and see how the two different genres explore the themes differently? Surely that’s more interesting that comparing two explorations of a theme from the same genre – but I may be speaking too subjectively.

My brother actually gave up studying English Literature at A Level because ‘everything was too depressing’. I’m not saying that we should completely cut out the tragedy, but some variety would be nice.

And hey, as a writer, I know how difficult good comedy is to write. So can we please just give it a bit more of a chance?