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Trying a hand a gig photography

I am not a natural photographer in the slightest. But photographing live music is challenging to the highest end of the photography scale. The low lighting, the fast movement, not wanting to distract the performers all culminates in a seemingly impossible project. I have seen many incredible gig photographs, but this quality comes with practice that I just don’t have. So when my friend asked me to be photographer at the gig she was hosting, I felt the pressure.

Looking through the photographs I did manage to take, I feel quite proud. Despite forgetting all I had learnt on my camera about aptitude, shutter speed and ISO, I think I did an ok job.

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Uncategorized

Vegetarian myths and realities

Mid way through 2015, my newfound awareness of the meat industry began in the area of animal cruelty; as I discovered the inhumane methods used to bring animals from being full of life, to simply an ingredient on your plate. I saw graphic videos of cattle being slit at the throat, wriggling in pain as a last movement before death. I thought of a beef stew my mum used to make, I thought of pork chops and cottage pie, all the meals I didn’t fully enjoy, and the numerous times I had left my meat on my plate. That simple act to me now symbolised a life going to waste. My conscious was filled with guilt, I couldn’t see meat the same again. For some reason my brain had short-circuited all my life. I had never fully made the connection before that what was on my plate, used to be alive. I felt especial guilty towards cows. Cows are mammals. Humans are mammals. Their experience of pain is recognised in the same way ours is. Putting yourself in the mind of the suffering animal is heartbreaking.

It was at this point my learning on the topic expanded further afield than simply aspects of cruelty. Once you delve into the world against consuming animal products, you can find so much information that most people simply do not have any awareness of. The meat industry is inherently profit-driven, reliant upon consumers, so a lot of the truths behind its impacts are not desired to be discussed in popular discourse. One of these aspects is the affect of meat-eating on the environment.

I discovered some shocking facts, two of which really stuck in my mind.

  1. The meat industry produces more emissions and greenhouse gasses than all the worlds transport combined
  2. If all the land used for feeding and rearing livestock for meat and animal products was used for growth of human food, theoretically there would be no world hunger

Everybody talks about the environmental effects of transport. London has introduced low emission zones, car pooling is being encouraged, expansion at Heathrow has caused environmental outrage, all these things have appeared in  the news over recent years, yet I had never heard about the damage that meat was causing.

Cowspiracy, released in 2014, gained popularity as an educational insight into the devastating effects of meat consumption on the environment, particularly from cattle. This was a shocking new discovery for many people, pushing the idea that ‘meat = environmentally bad’ into common thought.

Quartz recently discussed this, presenting the idea that veganism as the most environmentally sustainable diet could actually be a myth, in the article “Do the math: Being vegan isn’t as good for humanity as you think”.

The article refers to a study conducted on various diets, from unrestricted to completely plant-based to determine what actually uses land in the most sustainable ways. “When applied to an entire global population, the vegan diet wastes available land that could otherwise feed more people”. Purdy, the writer, elaborates on this by explaining about land use. This perspective is something I had not read about, or really even thought about before. It seemed to make sense to see the idea ‘meat = environmentally bad’ as an absolute, without looking into the complexities.

Purdy cuts through the verbiage and lays out the types of land use, and the facts I had not seen become instantly clear – of course, not all land is suitable for arable use. Its not like we could magically turn all grazing land into fields yielding masses of crops to feed the nations. Land, and nature, simply doesn’t work that way. Using technology is an option, but ultimately in order to use land for food production, we need to adapt techniques to suit the land itself, not force the land to function exactly how we demand it to. In order to grow only the food that we can directly digest, to support a world of humans leading a plant-based diet, it is likely that more land would have to be found to support demand – leading to other troublesome problems such as deforestation.

It is difficult to predict how theoretical diets could make a difference to the world, and though the article outlines the negatives in going “whole-hog vegan”, it would almost never be the case that every person in the world would suddenly become vegan, rendering this theoretical situation almost irrelevant to an individual and their personal choice to go plant-based. When I became more aware of all these negatives of a meat filled diet, I felt it necessary to cut down on meat. But I then thought about this lax rule I was so near setting myself, and saw its lack of concreteness. If I was to give up meat entirely, this would give the benefits of about 4 people just cutting down. So though the Quartz article raises some extremely important points, using a reliable study to show an alternative to general belief; I wouldn’t take a message of ‘don’t become vegan’ or ‘veganism is bad’ away from it. Purdy does point this out, writing “of course, this is not an argument to embrace a meaty diet”. He simply is providing a fresh perspective on a repeatedly discussed topic, which I have noticed Quartz often do.

If the ideal diet for environmental efficiency, and the best for humanity in the long term is plant-based with a bit of meat on the side, then a combination of meat eaters restricting nothing, and whole-hog vegans is actually the ideal situation when thinking on a large scale. And with more and more discussion of vegan and vegetarian diets in popular discourse (see figure 1), and more plant-based alternatives on offer to buy, I can assume this is actually the direction in which we are heading. The world needs a level of pro-vegan awareness for various improvements including sustainability, but unfortunately, for a variety of reasons including many outside their control, this mentality is unlikely going to be adopted by every single person on the planet.

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Figure 1: Google trends search on the words ‘vegan’, ‘vegetarian’ and ‘plant based’

Back to me. I have recently realise that what I believed to be simply a love of cheese, is more of a dependancy. I find it difficult to comprehend how a meal could taste good without some cheesy element to it. The image I have included shows some of my recent favourite vegetarian meals, of which only 2 out of 9 escaped the grasp of my cheese addiction. Like they say however, the first step towards recovery is recognising the problem… so I intend, to an extent, to faze cheese out of my diet. It is unhealthy, and I need to get rid of my reliance to begin to explore and enjoy new flavours, particularly by consuming more vegetables. I have already eliminated milk from my diet, so cheese is the majority of the dairy I eat. If I cut this down I would be almost totally plant-based, with a few exceptions such as eggs and butter, just to make student life a little easier and cheaper. Living that lifestyle for me feels like the ideal – the best way I can be good to my body, to animals and to the environment. However, if everyone suddenly adopted these restrictions, it would certainly not be the most sustainable act for the environment.

There is so much to learn in exploring diets across the spectrum, each individual food, each ingredient has its own nutritional and environmental effects, and many foods can in some way be considered ‘cruel’. It is difficult to determine what exactly is the ideal diet, as years of various traditions, cultural changes health benefit rumours, marketing, trends and technological developments have caused constant changes to how different people view foods. I certainly would recommend a step towards the plant-based end of the spectrum. Vegetarianism for me has had a wealth of benefits, and I do feel like by cutting out some cruel food products, I am doing something good.

 

Chase Purdys article for Quartz: https://qz.com/749443/being-vegan-isnt-as-environmentally-friendly-as-you-think/

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Travel

The red run

It feels as though there is some level of agreement between people on the difference between skiing and snowboarding. That is; skiing is easy to begin, but difficult to get good at, while snowboarding is difficult to get the hang of initially, but progression comes more quickly after the initial challenge. Skiing, due to this opinion, often lulls you into a false sense of ability, which seems to be what came over me, when I thought it was a wise idea to explore the red run.

In terms of my past skiing experience, the field is pretty empty; a couple of trips to the artificial slope at the ‘snow dome’, and a week long school trip to Colorado back in 2010 where I was in the beginners group. I remember skiing a red run then, but only on one occasion, at the end of a whole week of build up. 7 years later, and no additional skiing experience, I would certainly be categorised under-qualified for the task of skiing down a red after only a couple of hours of getting back into the sport.

This story takes place in Oslo Vinterpark. I would not be exaggerating by saying that everyone there was great at skiing. Children, older people, locals, tourists, people hiring equipment… I felt like they were all better than me. I didn’t feel threatened, as I had come for fun, but I did feel a tone of intimidation when trying to take time on the slope, and others come wizzing past you left right and centre.

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Oslo Vinterpark, or Tryvann Ski Resort was unusual because of its size. As a city-based ski resort it was not filled with options of different runs, it was there for days out, instead of lengthy stays. As you can see from the map, there was only one apparent main green, many intertwining blues and reds in the same area, and one huge long black, which I would be going no where near. When we arrived at the ski park, attempting to relate the map to what was really in front of us was like trying to teach a frog latin, we simply could not understand which runs were which. The choices of slopes to ski down essentially boiled down to two options, what we thought must be the green (though it was the steepness of a normal blue) and another path, with a colour we were not quite sure of. Though it looked like it followed into the direction of the red, the map lead us to believe it must be a blue. We should have known then, that making this spontaneous decision to ski down the mystery slope was perhaps something we should have thought over a little more, as by this point we were aware that our understanding of this ski map was completely skew whiff.

We had seen the red run when we ascended the slopes on the ski lift. It was insanely steep. We had seen the brave skiiers that tackled this run, and the slalom next to it, and how brilliant they were at zipping down in record time, but with full control of their balance, direction and technique. A simple snow-plougher-attempting-parallel-skiing-sometimes wouldn’t be seen dead in a place like this. My skills were no match for the beast of a hill.

But there we stood, at the top of the mountain, deciding to follow the mystery path. It began with quite a sudden steep section, but after that the ground became flatter. It was then a gentle downward slope with little hills here and there and we began to think… wait, could this be the green run we have been looking for? It was the same slope level I remember from greens in Colorado; gentle, where you can parallel straight down without feeling like you’re losing control.

We enjoyed this relieving feeling skiing down, having a great time. The slope was narrow, packed in with tall snowy trees. After a few minuets however, the trees parted to reveal the true nature of the mystery slope, it was in fact the red run.

We approached with caution, and as we got closer more and more of what the slope had in for us was revealed. Ahead of us was the steepest, longest and scariest looking slope. It looked so much worse than it had on the ascent, and there it had looked terrifying. It would be an understatement to say those expert skiiers conquering the slope earlier made it look easy. Me and my friend both looked at the slope, looked at each-other with concern and had the same thought in our mind – there was no other option but to ski down.

I didn’t want to pause for too long before the challenge began, for fear of overthinking and working myself up. So we began the ascent. We took it slowly, in sections. As the expert of our amateurish duo, my friend went first. She then had the ability to warn me when the ground was icy, and could advise me on less steep routes to take. We were doing well, aside from feeling embarrassingly under-qualified for the slope, being miles behind the speed and skill of other skiiers, and throwing all technique practice out the window and snowploughing all the way.

Around 3/4 of the way down, we hit the most dramatic part of the slope, what at the time felt like a huge blizzard, but was in reality just a hearty dose of icy wind. It was a scary moment at the time however, due to it being coupled with icy ground. It was at this point I felt myself slipping down the mountain and made the executive decision to fall. Thats right I chose to, it was definitely not an accident. Getting up from a fall on a mountain in skiis is not an easy task, I’m sure anyone who has skiied is aware of this, even if you have since mastered the art. Yet, I finally managed to turn my skiis towards a part of the slope where I wouldn’t immediately start tumbling down and then wobble myself up to get ready to have my second attempt at the slope.

I managed it, I made it to the bottom with no injuries, little stress, but a lot relaxation. Even though I had originally said I would not be happy to do a red slope at the beginning of the day, and the act of skiing one happened completely by accident, as I flopped onto the floor after reaching the end I let out a sigh of relief. I challenged myself to do something out of my comfort zone and I was proud. Though I completed the slope in likely the most ungracious manner, including a little lie down mid way, I was impressed with myself. The worry of injury can often hold people back from taking on challenges like this, but the fear, followed by the euphoric feeling after conquering it, makes it such a valuable experience.

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Lifestyle

Living in Oslo

The members of my student house took part in a £5 secret santa last Christmas, and my secret santa surprised me with the most ridiculous gift, a one way ticket to Oslo. Not being one to pass up an opportunity, and being a lover of Norway, I promptly enlisted my friend and began to plan our trip.

Norway is an expensive place. Everything costs much more than it does in the UK. I didn’t exactly know why this was except for what I had briefly learned about Norway and Scandinavia in human Geography, that the standard of living is extremely high, and this is achieved by an expensive lifestyle with high taxes to fund reduction of crime, affordable healthcare, environmental protection and other things that contribute to a high quality of life. Norway is not part of the European Union, so is able to have a much more expensive system without being liable to keep prices similar to how countries that use the euro operate. Without being part of this group, prices for Norways consumers are also raised because of tariffs on imports, which need to be evened out at some point in the chain of buying and selling.

We stayed in the spare room of a flat within walking distance of the city centre of Oslo, with a host who taught us a lot about the lifestyle in Norways capital, and how it can be difficult to sustain, especially in terms of costs. Often for many young people, affording rent can be challenging, and home-ownership is out of the question.

Prices are so high because everything is taxed so much, especially alcohol and cigarettes, which, if this is a major part of your lifestyle your life will be much harder to afford. Our host described when she used to drink, and how this would simply not be a viable option for her now. We also learned that for any alcohol over 3.5%, consumers must be above the age of 20 to purchase. On the way to Norway we bought a bottle of vodka for £11 in duty free because I had heard that alcohol is so expensive, ranging on average from around £7 to £10 for a pint of beer. Our host told us that this bottle would have cost 3 times that amount in Oslo. The massive tax on alcohol was made even more evident in the airport on the way home to England. In the Norwegian duty free area bottles of vodka were substantially cheaper, quality bottles being as low as 109 NOK (around £10.50), which really revealed to me the extent to which items in Norway are taxed, especially alcohol.

The cost of living is generally defined by necessary purchases like food and drink, but a major part of a persons ability to live in a place is the cost of housing, which in Oslo, is huge, and apparently rising, making it unaffordable for many young people to base themselves in major cities in Scandinavia. Our host felt it necessary to rent out her spare room in order to cover her rent, as it was not easy for her to afford to live in such an expensive place, yet was one of the few options that accommodated for her needs.

The justification of all this cost is theoretically in the benefits citizens receive from the government, such as healthcare. I believed I had heard that healthcare in Scandinavia was based on a brilliant system, but hearing a first person perspective from our host opened our eyes to firstly, how the system is not even in terms of costs and benefits for most people and secondly, how important it is that our NHS continues, and how lucky we are to have access to free healthcare. The Norwegian healthcare system is theoretically ‘free’, yet when health issues are encountered, there is usually an initial payment necessary to be seen by a doctor, of around £100, before being allowed to enjoy free treatment for alignments. Other areas of healthcare have costs attached also, such as medicine payments.

Norway is still adapting away from a more communist style of living. Not too long ago, supermarkets were packed with one brand for each product, no choice, little allowance for unusual dietary requirements. Our host even told us that not too long ago there would only be a choice between 2 pizzas. Catering for diets such as gluten free has improved, and a much wider choice (including many imported goods) is evident, however we did notice when walking around the city there were not many options for places to eat, aside from the same chains appearing again and again, McDonalds, Expresso House and supermarket serving hot food, 7 Eleven.

The streets of Oslo are brilliantly safe. Walking home at night is hardly a worry for central dwellers, however our host told us she felt safer still when walking with her big dog, describing the experience as “it must be what it feels like to walk down the street as a man”. The biggest crimes in the city are thefts and robberies, however often this is small scale such as supermarket shoplifting, as opposed to more violent versions of these crimes, like mugging. Rape is also prevalent in Oslo, but more often as a private occurrence, at parties or within relationships, instead of on the streets.

Norway is a beautiful country, people are fit and outdoorsy, they are friendly, trusting and there is a real feeling of politeness, safety and respect evident when out in public areas. However, living there and accommodating lifestyles without a heavy extent of sacrifice seems unlikely, and for me, as a young person, I would not be able to consider affording to live in Oslo post-graduation.

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Circuits

Reading this title makes me wish I was about to write a philosophical entry on the subject of how life experiences happen in circuits, bad times and good times come and go… That kind of thing. Unfortunately I am not feeling quite that insightful today. This post is about the exercise class, circuit training.

As we are nearing the end of January, I hope my words provide some kind of motivation to those who are somewhat lagging with their new years fitness resolutions. I feel that circuits, despite its difficulty, is an inclusive class, and its widespread popularity means it will surely be offered nearby.

The name of the class refers to the rotation between stations of different exercises, with the general format of the class being a warm up including running, jumping and other simple cardio followed by roughly minute at each station in the venue. Station exercises vary from more cardio like skipping and box jumps, dynamic weighted or unweighted moves like squats, lunges, air cycles or tricep dips, through to weight lifting moves like bench press or clean and press.

These aspects of the class, its accessibility and its variety, are two of the reasons I would recommend it to anyone.

For people with gym memberships, I have noticed that only some of you explore the area of exercise classes. For those that don’t, many classes, especially popular ones like circuits are available at many sports halls with one off costs. Another great thing about circuit training, and this is the same for other classes, is that they teach you. I for one often feel too self conscious to do independent free weights moves in the gym, and am envious of those who have the confidence to blast out various moves taking advantage of all the equipment. However, the exercises on offer at circuits teach you. You learn which moves target which areas, the weights you can handle for different moves, you better your technique and you can move all this learnt information into the gym or home environment to achieve your own personal goals. In my experience of at least 7 different circuit training classes, often they can include a spot of personal training. When the instructor sees you looking a bit clueless and confused, or using an incorrect technique, they will come over and offer help. It feels like a little [less-than-minute-long] personal training session, and really aids memory and motivation. Exercising next to someone so fit and strong just makes you want to push even harder and trust me you do feel the rewards.

Back in sixth form when I needed to get fitter for an expedition, I chose circuits as the class that would aid these goals, which it did. In September I returned to my old friend in a bid to get in better shape after a summer of road-tripping and drinking far too much beer. I have not been let down this time around either, finding my favourite of all of the classes I’ve ever tried, while also being the hardest (but most rewarding). I personally lack quite a lot of coordination, so following an instructors routine with the rest of the class all in sync just doesn’t quite agree with me. Isolating certain areas and working my whole body in a variety of moves though, that sounds much more appealing.

Circuit training moves quickly, your moves are constantly changing so boredom is not allowed. It proves you don’t need a gym membership to exercise, it tests your physical and also mental ability, teaches you and ultimately is a lot of fun. I would urge anyone on a fitness journey to give it a try, theres a reason its a classic.

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Wild Swimming 2016

At this time in early January, we love to discuss our resolutions, goals and plans for the year ahead. We avoid talking about the failed attempts of this time last year.. But we do feel a certain pride when something we set ourselves a year ago was achieved. I love wild swimming, in lakes, rivers and the sea. I was excited at the beginning of 2016 for the weather to warm and the season for optimum swimming opportunities to begin again. I wanted to explore many new swimming spots, including areas around the new city I was living in, Leeds. Over the year I took a lot of dips across England and further afield, which when I look at on a map I feel quite proud of, as I made special efforts to take part in an activity that makes me happy. Here are all of the ‘wild’ swims I did in 2016.

Hathersage Swimming Pool 

The wild swimming year began at the same time as the year itself for me, as some crazy people at Hathersage lido in the Peak District had organised a ‘new years dip’. Whilst all my friends were suffering from deathly hangovers in bed, I awoke fresh faced and ready for the blitzing cold that awaited us. Even though the pool temperature was 7° and the air temperature was barely above freezing, me and my friend braved the cold and shocked our bodies jumping into the cold water. With no wetsuits it was certainly a plunge experience for me, though I did manage to swim a few lengths. Plunging your body into cold water like that brings some kind of thrill, and even though it took us a hot shower, a good few hours, a lot of car heater and a fast paced walk on the hills to warm up; it was worth it for our brief ridiculous moment.

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January 1st 2016: water temperature 7 degrees.

Porth Beach

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This was my first sea swim of the year. It was early April and though the weather looks beautiful here, the water was freezing, which badly affected certain friends testicles… Porth beach is along the Newquay coastline in Cornwall. Newquay has a north-facing coastline which is a rougher sea than the southern coastline. Excellent for surfing, but not so great for us swimmers. Porth however, I would say is the best beach around Newquay for swimming. Its long headland shelters it from larger waves, and when the tide is in the water is calm, and you can swim to different rocky or sandy areas on either side of the beach. Thats on maybe a warmer day though. When we swam we couldn’t endure much more than a few minutes in the cold Atlantic ocean.

Carolines Lake, RSPB St Aidans

Now this swimming experience is a story in itself. When I first moved to Leeds I looked up close by wild swimming locations, and was waiting for the season to come about so I could visit a place that I’d been aware of since September 2015, Carolines Lake. It had a few reviews on wildswim.com so I knew it was legit, I even looked up the location on instagram to confirm that others had swum there, which they had. What I didn’t take note of was the dates of these posts…

I told my friends for my birthday I wanted to go swimming. I thought it would be really fun for everyone to do something unusual, since we spent most of our time playing pool or down the pub, (of course, the plan was to go to the pub afterwards – I didn’t want to go crazy with the unusual activities!). When we arrived at the lake however, we were greeted with this lovely message.

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This sign was swiftly torn from the gate it was weakly attached to and hidden from the rest of the group, not by myself I must add. No, we did inform everyone what the noticed had warned, but we took it as more of a ‘rumour’, than a serious message. People had swam here before right? It must be safe. I called up the RSPB st aidens (the nature reserve where the lake was located) and was greeted by an extemely confused lady at the other end of the phone.

“I’m at Carolines lake” I said. “Carolines who?” the woman responded. “The lake! Your lake Carolines lake”. “My mate who??”.

The lady did seem to say no swimming, but it was more for the reason of ‘why on earth do they want to do that’ than with any toxicity issues. After attempting to explain our predicament I came to the conclusion that I was going down a blind alley and we should just brave the waters, avoid the algae and not put our heads in the water. Plan. Its my birthday, everyone is in a good mood. If we get ill, thats a problem for tomorrow to handle.

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Spiritual

Aside from quite a generous helping of floating pond slime (possibly toxic algae), the water was quite nice. Most of the group went in, one with his iPhone still in his trunks. It was cold, but we had an adventure. And we really did deserve those pub drinks later.

Oh yes, I should also mention that though we didn’t necessarily make the most sensible decision, all my fellow lake swimmers and I suffered no health issues after out dip in the toxic lake.

Ilkley – River Wharfe, Illey Pool and Lido

I drove some friends up to Ilkley in the early part of the summer to go swimming. They have a pool and lido with a backdrop of the hills of Ilkley moor which looked like an ideal place to spend a summers day. There was also a river swim extremely close by, on a bend of the river Wharfe. I wanted to try both places while we were making the journey, so we started off at the river, then planned to head to the lido for another swim and shower after. The river ended up being our favourite. The day wasn’t quite as warm as we’d hoped, it even began to drizzle with cold rain as we walked to the spot, so we weren’t expecting a luxurious experience in the river. The water was a pleasant surprise though. It was quite shallow, enough to make it a manageable temperature, and after getting through a current part of the river (which was strong enough to stop a labrador from moving) there was a deep area to swim, between two shingle banks, like little river beaches. The river ended up being such a nice experience that it outdid the lido. Don’t get me wrong, the lido was fun, we had a beachball, we did penguin dives, and the lifeguard forgave me for going on the slide meant for children because I shouted ‘I don’t pay taxes I’m not a real adult!’. But its depth and size meant it was very cold, and as students, we all of course prefer a free experience, which the river of course was. I will definitely be returning there this summer for another river swim.

Scheveningen Beach, The Hague

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Seeing paragliders and clouds while walking along the beach

During a roadtrip we coined ‘Euro 2k16’, visiting various places in Belgium and The Netherlands, we took a detour en route from Amsterdam to Bruges in The Hague. We knew there was a beach, so we had a little investigate. The beach was massive, long and flat, so it was windy. This meant the sea was cold and the waves were big, so not ideal for swimming, but a worthy experience to have swam somewhere other than in England. I think we enjoyed sandcastle building more than the swimming, but again, braving the cold gives me a proud feeling, kind of like I just conquered a fear. Scheveningen reminded me of cross between how I imagine Los Angeles, and Skegness. I hope thats not taken as an insult though… I thought this place was extremely peaceful, and enjoyed seeing all the paragliders – maybe I should return and try paragliding next.

Cley next the Sea

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Blakeney estuary

I went on a weekend holiday to Blakeney in Norfolk with my family, during which the weather was amazing. This, combined with the sea air, made me want to go swimming so badly, but the estuary in Blakeney was just too shallow for a swim. Instead, one afternoon some of us drove to the nearest official beach, Cley next the sea, for a swim, while the others stayed in the hotel to watch the Wimbledon final. The beach was shingle like others in the area in Norfolk, which meant the water was quite clear for the English sea. Small waves made the water good for swimming, and the long flat beach seemed like it went on for miles. While staring into the distance of the coastline, we spotted a looming grey raincloud, which sure enough was over our heads just at the point we were getting out. In typical British weather fashion, the sky over the hotel about 2 miles down the road was crystal clear, blue, with not a spot of rain in sight.

The Latitude lake

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In potentially the hottest temperatures of the year, swimming in the lake at Latitude festival was the most refreshing feeling. To get in the water you had to jump off a platform, but that was just what we needed. I think they were holding swimming lessons too.

Loch Ness

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Check out my wingspan duuude

Okay.. I just dipped a toe. But the intentions were there and it was awesome to see. I believe its worth noting because seeing Loch Ness was part of my first ever visit to Scotland. Loch Ness is so deep you could fit the empire state building in it, lengthways. Learnt that from a real scotsman I did; accent and all.

Whipsiderry Beach

After spending a long weekend volunteering with Oxfam at Boardmasters festival in Newquay, we were all feeling a bit groggy. It was hot, I was annoyed at having to do everyones washing up. But the thing that would make me feel better was right outside the flat we were staying in. The cool ocean of Whipsiderry Beach, another one of Newquays finest beaches. Again, the boys who accompanied were not happy about the temperature of the water, so they went to do some on-land cave exploring while I did some water based exploring of my own. I came across a couple of jellyfish, but on the whole that swim was lovely. And I was out for ages, so felt like a badass for enduring the cold.

RaceHub at Six Hills

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Sunset and friends

Six Hills golf club is a spot in Leicestershire I first visited the year before. Its purposely used for triathlon training, so you don’t get any funny looks for swimming. Everyones really nice, they have facilities, and its also a really beautiful place. The lake is designed to be swum in circuits around the central island, but we just lazed around in the water for the most part, followed by watching a beautiful sunset over the lake.

King Lears lake, Watermead country park

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Happy place

The problem with Six Hills is that its only open for swimming at certain times on certain days of the week. One day it was boiling hot and I was lying in the garden thinking I just had to find a place to swim. Honestly I thought I would’t find anywhere spontaneously because where I live I usually have to travel for a while to get to a good spot, but I got lucky finding this place. In Leicestershire again, this lake is in Watermead country park, close to Six Hills. Going there on a sunny afternoon alone was so peaceful. There were other swimmers in the water, the water was calm and warm enough to stay in a long time, I swam from the jetty area to the statue of King Lear and back again. The next week I took my mum, who also liked it. Also here is the place I swam with ducks. They are so much faster than they look. I couldn’t keep up. I think this spot is one of my new favourite places, even took the lilo out for a spin.

Szechenyi Thermal Baths, Budapest

After years of wanting to go to Budapest, I finally persuaded someone to go with me. We visited these baths on a winter holiday, which made the thermal aspect all the most luxurious. Szechenyi were the ones we chose to visit because of the huge range of pools and the outdoor area, which had jacuzzi jets and fountains amidst the almost freezing outdoor temperatures. It was a brilliant end to the wild swimming year – on a much more relaxing note than how it started. Hungary is famed for its natural thermal waters, theres a whole load of interesting history about it, which we unfortunately did not pay enough attention to on the boat tour we went on the previous day. Too busy drinking cheap beer and living the life.

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I often find places to swim on wildswim.com, so massive shoutout to the people who run that site – I wouldn’t have found half these places without the wildswim map. The concept behind the site is basically a community of swimmers who plot places to swim on a map and describe their experiences in these places, with warnings and other advice. These descriptions are so useful, so hopefully me writing my experiences with some of the spots I have swam in will be of use in helping others who love wild swimming find cool swim spots too. I’ve had a lot of fun dragging my friends to these weird and wonderful places in 2016 and I look forward to more of the same this year.

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A moment to remember John Berger

I write this with full awareness that I am not the most knowledgable of all Berger’s work. But I do study him. In fact, he is the most discussed cultural theorist in my university course. His book, Ways of Seeing, is referenced in almost all of my academic writing. His work is relevant to so many areas I have interest in within my university course. I also believe his work is interesting, and relevant to the mainstream, and worth reading from many perspectives.

Involved in the movement of redefining our understandings of ‘culture’, and other concepts not seen as important in society before him, Berger was a radical thinker. He rejected culture as ‘high brow’. He drew attention to things no one else had the confidence to think. The female nude is used as a sales technique. Ownership of oil paintings was to demonstrate wealth and any waffle about wisdom behind them was used to cover up this fact. The reproduction and accessibility of paintings changes their meaning; they are no longer wondrous and unobtainable when they are sitting on your television screen in the comfort of your living room.

He brought new arguments to art, modern arguments, questioning what no one else had, making ordinary what no one had dared do before.

What I have studied most in Berger’s work is his thoughts on seeing, gaze, reading our surroundings. An artists perception can be seen in his work, “every image embodies a way of seeing”, and this is altered further by our own perception, our own way of seeing. These thoughts on seeing in different contexts, how what we see is influenced by assumptions have somehow crept their way into many of my essays. But for good reason.

Feminism, photography and art are among topics Berger opened up debate to. His inspiring new ideas, however radical, will continue to influence many. For as long as these topics are studied, his work will continue to have a place. I have only been studying cultural studies for just over a year, and Berger has already influenced my thoughts greatly. I hope to continue to learn from him, and I hope others get to do the same.

A great mind was sadly lost today. Rest in peace John Berger.

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