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Explore: The Astronomers' Ball - Royal Observatory, 22/10/11

Last Saturday night I spent my evening at the beautiful Royal Observatory in Greenwich for the science-based geekery fest that is the Astronomer's Ball. Set on top of a hill in Greenwich park, the observatory overlooks amazing views of London, with a clear view of the City with the O2 to the right and St Paul's to the left.

The Royal Observatory

The view from the Observatory

The Astronomer's Ball was essentially a way for adults to run around the observatory like children, without having to be graceful and let the little ones touch all the exhibits before them. There were stalls around the venue to get people involved such as Guerilla Science's 'Space Travel Bureau' which was fantastic - the actress behind the stall asked us all sorts of questions to tailor our space trip for us, and was hilarious to the end. I even got to send a free postcard from the Sun (which my mum received yesterday!) There was also 'Send Your Message to Space', where they were projecting everyone's messages into space. Here's mine:

My message to send into space!

There were talks, presentations and shows. We went to two shows in the planetarium, the first called 'We Are Astronomers' narrated by David Tennant, which told us all what an astronomer actually does. The second was 'Tonight's Sky' which told us what we could see in the night sky if we managed to escape the light pollution of London. And just an FYI: going in a planetarium after drinking can be VERY disorientating! One of the live narrators of the second show was comedian Robin Ince, co-presenter of the Infinite Monkey Cage on Radio 4 with Prof Brian Cox. He also did a short stand-up set as well, in the foyer where a jazz band had been playing for most of the night.

Comedian Robin Ince 

There were also tours of the various areas of the observatory, where we were shown around by people in period costume who told us of how they had discovered various planets or stars. We also got to see the meridian line which separates the east and west hempispheres; it's shown by a green laser beam that goes as far as the eye can see.

The green laser that shows GMT

The event was a fantastic way of being able to learn amazing facts and figures and see science at work with the added bonus of interactivity, comedy and a bar! And to finish it off, we got dropped back to the other side of the river by boat! Although it was dark we could still see the sights of London, and went under all the bridges including Tower Bridge which is always beautiful.

Tower Bridge from the boat

I'll definitely be going back to this event next year. I recommend it if you're like me and a secret nerd! 

Music: Yann Tiersen - Roundhouse, 20/10/11

Yann Tiersen isn't really a household name (not in England anyway), so I always introduce him with the same question:
Me: "Have you seen 'Amelie'?"
You: "Yes/No."
Me: "He did the music for that."

This is indeed how I came across his music. The soundtrack for Amelie if you haven't seen it (although there's no excuse if you haven't!) is beautifully French. Full of accordion and piano gorgeousness, it's perfect at telling the beautiful story of quirky Amelie and her search for love.

However, there was basically no point in listening to all of that for this performance. Yann and his band knocked subdued out of the water, and totally shocked me with a frantic and fast-paced performance. The music went on an electronic twist with quite dark and deep undertones; the energy raged between manic to excitable. I'm making it sound like they were jumping around the stage, smashing their instruments and spitting at the crowd; they weren't and it wasn't a rock gig, it was inherently avant-garde til the end, and that's what made me stand, pretty much open-mouthed for the majority. Tapping unknowingly to beats where I could keep up, I was caught in a trance!

Yann Tiersen on stage
The highlight of the evening was Yann's violin solo. Simply AMAZING. I absolutely adore going to see a band or musician and they play a variety of instruments themselves, not relying on a band (Patrick Wolf does this, and The Cooper Temple Clause were the kings of instrument swapping). I do believe that the better the musician overall, the better the music, and Yann Tiersen totally proves that theory.

Yann Tiersen with his band
As a friend said to me: 'I was expecting more accordions." But despite that, I was surprisingly impressed and entranced by this incarnation of Yann, and I'd expect to see something completely different next time too.

Life: What is the Value of a Degree?

The title of this post is a question that seems to be getting flung around a lot in the media recently, and was also the topic of debate of an episode of 'Up For Hire' I was in the audience for on Tuesday evening. This is a subject I feel so passionately about that it's difficult not to just rant but I'll try and structure this post so you can hopefully understand my point of view!

My Background

My home for 3 years!
I studied English Language and Linguistics at the University of York from 2007 - 2010 with the initial intention of wanting to go into Etymology (that's History of Words for dictionaries etc) after graduation. Like many people, after 3 years of that subject I actually realised that a career in Linguistics probably wasn't for me, but luckily I'd made the most of my uni years. I was involved in University Radio York, campus magazines, sports societies (well, aerobics anyway!), volunteer work, unpaid work experience and held down a part-time job. After graduating I continued to work in retail for 5 months before I started a Marketing internship at a law firm for 9 months and 2 months ago started my job at a digital marketing agency as a Social Media Specialist.

Up For Hire

This show is on Mon-Fri this week (17-21 Oct 2011) live at 9pm on BBC3. It's addressing the current unemployment problems in the UK, focusing particularly on the fact that many young people are struggling to get work. Yesterday I was in the audience (catch me on BBC iPlayer while you can!!), and the debate was on the value of a degree. 

I'm of the opinion that a degree is the most valuable thing a young person looking for employment can own. A degree shows 3 years of commitment, dedication and hard work, regardless of the subject you take. The audience of the show I was in was predominantly full of people who were shockingly anti-university. Now don't get me wrong, I don't think everybody should go to university. It's definitely not for everyone, and many people want to pursue other paths. However, what really got me was the vilifying of graduates at last nights show - people were essentially saying that graduates had wasted their time and money and that employers no longer look for degrees.

How is a 3/4/5 year commitment to something a bad idea?! As I've said, my degree isn't directly related to my career path, however without it there is no way I would be where I am now, just a mere year after graduation. It may sound like a cliche, but university really does provide important life lessons to young people: you mature and become an adult at a steady pace without the forceful jump of a full time job or parenthood. You meet a HUGE variety of people, you have to learn to manage a home and finances with the nice comfort blanket of a student loan. 

Yes, the student loan of course is a bug bear in itself. I myself am in a debt sum of 5 figures (not to mention the money my parents forked out to help me with rent) which won't be paid off for many many years, but you don't get something for nothing. As much as I disagree with the simply ridiculous tuition fees Ham-faced Cameron has allowed, it's not like you don't get anything for your money! You get an education, you get experience, you get friends, you get a whole new path to start your life on.

Feeling very proud at graduation
I think there are many people who do assume that once they have their degree they should just get a job. But that just isn't the case. However, non-grads are making similarly silly assumptions. The girl sat next to me in yesterday's audience stated she'd got A*A*AB in her A Levels but had chosen to 'abstain from university' as she believes she can get the experience she needs to get into talent production and management elsewhere. I had to jump in and tell her otherwise, because this, to be honest, is a stupid thing to think. Nobody, no matter what your background, academic or otherwise, should assume they will be able to get work experience any easier than they could get a job. Entry level roles in every sector are packed with applications from talented individuals, and even though some employers may consider you without a degree, they will not consider you without experience. And the work experience employers will not take you on without a degree! 

In competitive markets such as the one the 'abstainer' wants to go into like talent management people are chomping at the bit to get on the ladder. I know this as Marketing is just as hard to get into. I learnt that employers are looking for a couple of things:

a) a 2.1 or above (often in a well rounded subject from a redbrick university)
b) excellent range of extra-curricular activities while at uni and since graduating
c) at least 6 months - 1 year of relevant work experience

It took me 5 months of solid applications and interviews before I managed to land just an internship! And I know that there is no way that without that internship AND my degree that I would have got the amazing job I have now.

So yes, university isn't for everybody, and of course there are many employers that will consider those without a degree. BUT to think that NOT going to university will make you more attractive to employers is wrong; you'll have to work just as hard to prove yourself, still start from the bottom and get a ton of experience first.

Let's not attack peoples' desire to be educated. A degree IS valuable and I will never regret studying for mine.

Watch me stick my oar in on Tuesday's episode here

Books: I Heart My Kindle!

One of the downsides about where I currently live is the lack of storage space. I've utilised every bit of space above, underneath and within each piece of furniture; I've got boots crammed down the side of the bed and clothes piled in front of the wardrobe. The worst thing though is that I have no room for new books. The bookcase is fit to burst with old favourites that I can't bear to store with my other crap in my parents' loft until I can afford somewhere bigger, as well as my slight obsession with recipe books which I have to say is starting to get out of control. So this year for my birthday I was so so excited to get an Amazon Kindle

Me and my mum with our Kindles for our birthday

It's amazing though that something that positively encourages people to read by getting them excited through technology seems to be a bit of a sore point with many of my friends and peers. "But I love real books!" they cry. Well yeah, so do I! I also love real CDs but I still have an iPod! Here's why getting an e-reader is a good idea:

  • It's so much lighter than loads of books. Ever tried ramming Catch 22 into your clutch bag for some 'light' reading on the tube? It's not easy!
  • Saves on storage space (as noted above).
  • You can download a sample of any book for free, so you don't waste your money. A way of testing out a book without getting dirty looks from the staff in Waterstones.
  • You can get some amazing bargains. Many of the classics are free or really cheap. I got the complete chronicles of Sherlock Holmes for 89p!
A Kindle doesn't mean you don't enjoy reading or appreciate books - on the contrary! It means that you want to read so many books you can't feasibly store them anymore! 

What do you think about Kindles? Book-killer or book-saver?

Explore: Glamour of the Gods Exhibition

I was so excited to see this exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery. The exhibition is a beautiful set of photographs from the archive of the John Kobal Foundation of the stars of the golden age of cinema. Those featured in the portraits are the legends of the big screen, famous not just for their acting but for their glamorous images and lifestyles, all of them retaining a myth and aura about them that most actors today could never achieve.

The beautiful black and white photos  included promotional shots from famous films, like the Marx Brothers for Duck Soup and Boris Karloff for The Mask of Fu Manchu, and the classic beauty shots of stunners like Rita Hayworth and even a nude of Marilyn Monroe. All radiated the sheen of perfection and elegance, which is why I love watching films from that era anyway! My friend Ms O who came with me is a huge Vivien Leigh fan, and I have a small (possibly medium, maybe verging on large) obsession with Audrey Hepburn and we both found photos that that played to our adorations.

The exhibition also had a small display on how photos were retouched by hand. I'm really naive as I thought that this only started happening much later in time, and was kind of disappointed to know that it wasn't just soft focus creating beautiful portraits. Not that that change my opinion of the stars, in my eyes they're effortlessly fabulous. People like Grace Kelly, Buster Keaton and James Stewart have created some of the best films ever made and they deserved to be appreciated in such a fitting setting.

It turns out that the whole Gallery was open late so we got to have a quick look at other portraits as well. There was a great section featuring portraits of the some of the most famous comedians which allowed Ms O and I to reminisce and quote all our favourites (which included myself having to fend off a laughing fit just thinking about Les Dawson's rendition of 'Feelings' - watch it here if you've never seen it!). We also saw the bizarre self portrait 3D sculpture by Marc Quinn that's made from his own blood (yes, really), a fabulous painting of Anna Wintour that made her look a lot more soft than she comes across in the media (!), and a small exhibition of Julian Opie works. He's the guy who did the famous Blur: Best Of front cover, and also has a self portrait that blinks and breathes on a TV screen. It all looks like it should be in A Scanner Darkly; very strange.

To top it off, we went for a quick drink in a pub opposite called The Chandos, and discovered it was a Sam Smith's pub! For those who don't know, I used to work in a Sam Smith's pub during my student days and it's a great chain that provides nice beer at much cheaper prices than a crappy Wetherspoons or another chain. They're very basic, but definitely worth a try! 

Glamour of the Gods is on until 23rd October.
*All photos featured belong to me. Please do not reproduce without my permission!

Life: October Sunshine

I'm sure you're sick to death of reading the words 'Indian Summer' and 'hottest October on record', or if you're really odd you're probably sick of the ongoing heatwave we've been experiencing in the UK. Let's be honest, whatever type of weather we have people will complain but I refuse to moan about this glorious sunshine! England barely had a summer this year, and I haven't been out of the country at all as all my money was spent on moving house, so despite having to stay in the office for most of this mini Summer I've tried my hardest to make the most of it.

I work in beautiful Chiswick, and took the opportunity to sit out on Turnham Green with Pink Julep and Pauper Princess to take in the rays and look angrily at the unemployed young people who could sit there for longer than us. Check us out being summery!

Pic by Pauper Princess

We also had a great opportunity while scoping out places for an event to sit on a gorgeous terrace at a private members club in the sunshine with a complimentary drink and a gorgeous view over Covent Garden where we could see the London Eye and Parliament in the distance (the pic doesn't do it justice!).

The view over London in the sunshine

'Working' in the sunshine - lovely!

And of course there have been BBQs and a lot of sitting about in the garden reading copious amounts of trashy magazines. Bliss!

Apparently there's going to be snow in the next few weeks. I won't complain then either as it means I'll be able to wear my big lovely parka which I've missed. I'm British, I can deal with any weather!
As of 20th November 2014, any products marked with an asterisk (*) have been provided as a sample for unbiased review