Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Ashcroft Prom 2014



"That girl you were just talking to? Becky."


"She's my date for Prom."

"WHAT? Becky!"

So I have a confession to make.

In this trilogy (and actually, possible quadrilogy) of blog posts documenting my last days at Ashcroft, I omitted one small detail from the first post.

Before heading off to the picnic, there was one thing I felt I still needed to do - especially as it was the last day.

I've known Becky Davies on and off for quite some time. We first met probably about 9 or 10 years ago, doing a holiday project at Group 64. We got on quite well - not exceptionally, but we definitely had a scene or two together in the 'Play in a week' that we put together that half term, and had a lot of fun doing it.

I then didn't see Becky again - that is, until, I went to the open evening for Ashcroft (or as it was then, ADT College).

After a brief bit of "Didn't we meet a few years ago at such-and-such", and a "Nice to see you again", we were both on our way.

The years went by, until finally, in Year 12 (a full 6 years later), our paths crossed for the third time. Having not gone to Ashcroft in Year 7, Becky had gone to Ricards Lodge High School, but decided she wanted to do the IB (International Baccalaureate) in Sixth Form, and so had come to Ashcroft.

Once again, there was the initial not-being-sure-is-that-that-person-I-met-at-that-thing-donkey's-years-ago, but we soon realised that our paths had crossed a third time, and became quite good friends over the following two years.

I hadn't gone to Prom 'with' anyone back in Year 11 - I hadn't really felt the need to. But Year 13 felt...different somehow. It felt a more momentous occasion.

It wasn't just celebrating the end of an era - it was celebrating the last time that many of us would all be in the one place, as a year group, and potentially the last time a lot of us saw each other (at least for a while).

I've never been very good at asking people out. I still don't really know what the right etiquette is (but then, does anyone? I sometimes wonder...)

But that day, on the last day of school, dressed head to toe in my Cat In The Hat costume...

I didn't strike this pose before talking to her, before you ask...
...still covered in white face paint, I bounded up to Becky, and attempted not to stumble over my words into an incoherent mess.

I can't remember exactly how the conversation went - it's a bit of a blur. But it was something along the lines of:

"Becky, can I ask you something?"

"Yeah, sure!"

"Would you go to Prom with me?" (Which, let's be honest, could've sounded more like 'Wooble-yaruff-leek....teebibble-gotwonga-Proomitawee')

Nevertheless, Becky seemed to make some sort of sense out of it. She thanked me, said it was very sweet of me, and yes, she would.

"Great..." I sighed, grinning from ear to ear, a combination of relief and elation that it had been a positive answer. "Well, I'll text you, nearer the time, and we can work out what we're doing!"

I then immediately felt the urge to tell someone, and luckily, saw Mÿca just behind me. I went over to her, and like the schoolgirl that I am, told her I had a date to Prom. Mÿca squealed with delight - she was so happy for me.

Truth be told, I'd wanted to ask Becky to Prom for a while. Meesh knew this - I'd confided in her about it a few weeks before. As I say, Year 13 Prom felt different, really. I wanted to go with someone, and I wanted to go with someone that meant something special.

Becky is a girl I've known for much of my life. She represents two worlds - the world of Group 64 that I have loved and adored so much, and the world of Ashcroft which I grew to love, too.

It felt right, fitting, and special that I was going to Prom with her.

The day arrives. Mum drives me to Becky's house (she had offered us both a lift), I ring the bell, and go upstairs to collect her.

Her parents recognised me, it seemed, from our various encounters over the years.

Now, one could argue it's simply terrible form not to compliment one's date to Prom on how they look - I would certainly agree. But when Becky stepped out of her room looking like this...

I couldn't help but exclaim, 'Wow...'.

I mean seriously, there's no denying it - she looked absolutely beautiful.

I gave Becky a corsage that I'd bought her (which her Mum rather liked too!) and we then all walked downstairs and out to the front of the house.

This is the only picture I can really find of the corsage - it unfortunately doesn't quite do it justice (given that you can't see it from the front) but it gives you some idea!

Mum and her parents took a few photos, and then we set of for Auriol Kensington Rowing Club (in Hammersmith, just to confuse things...)

We arrived at the venue, and spotted my old mate Jonathan on the way - Jono had been away in New Zealand on a gap year, and I'd not seen much of him in that time, so it was great to have him back with us that evening. He was helping the rest of the Prom committee with the last-minute bits of organisation!

We walked into the venue, running into Mÿca, Cathie and Holly on the way. When we finally got up to the top of the building, where the dancefloor and balcony was, we ran into Bear and Philippa:

Lovely to see them both as always. Bear, in fact, had actually arrived back in London the week before, and hung out with me not long after arriving. So where with most of his former Ashcroft classmates he was saying 'I haven't seen you in ages/2 years', with me he was saying 'I haven't seen you since...what, last week?'

I introduced Becky to Bear and we hung out together. Cathie arrived and said hi and more and more people started heading to the dancefloor...

After a little dancing and gazing at the wonderful view out over the Thames...

We went back downstairs to the main bar. Jodyann arrived and received a warm welcome from us.

We all just basically began enjoying our evening. Me and Becky hung out a lot, but allowed each other some space too - naturally she was closer to her fellow IB friends than some others, and danced with them quite a bit too. But that isn't to say I didn't also enjoy hanging out with them... :)

More and more people arrived over the course of the evening. Jono got to finally join us, as did Michael (who had a prior engagement before he could come.)

Jono: "That's the money shot, right there!"

Soon things really started to kick off. While Cathie's sister Gemma and her boyfriend Ben were snapping photos (you can just about see them in the back of the shot above), many of us took to the dancefloor as some big hits were played...

Unfortunately, despite our enthusiasm for it, me and Bear narrowly missed Dizzee Rascal's Bassline Junkie...

We danced the night away - I Jumped Around to House Of Pain with Michael, skanked (as the young 'uns say these days) to H Town (Dizzee again) with Michael, Shaq and Jhaleel, and we all went mental (including Jodyann and Philippa!) to German Whip.

Certain Cha Cha Slide related injuries were had, and then it was time for the awards:

Zak and Waqas, 'Best Bromance'

Abdi and Anjimae, Prom King & Queen...

And Michael, 'Class Clown'

After the awards, I basically spent a lot of the rest of the evening taking photos with as many people as I could. Here's a selection of those:

 ^ With Oumesh, my primary school buddy - we've known each other since Sellincourt days, and like me and Becky, were reunited for Sixth Form!

It's difficult to sum up that night. So many emotions - it was SO much fun, and I got to see all these people, some of them for what could be the last time, others at least for a while. I danced with Becky, Bear, Jodyann, Michael...everyone, really.

This was the true end to the era - and yet it was a happy one. In my personal opinion, it was even better than the one in Year 11 - perhaps because I cut loose a lot more!

I'm not sure how I can wind up this post, I'll leave you with what I posted to facebook, once Becky's Dad had very kindly driven me home!


PART 1 - "The 'Last' Day at Ashcroft...":

PART 2 - "Category Busy Bees..."

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Where The Heart Is...

I'm loving uni. Really, I am. I'm loving learning about a subject I love in all this detail, and the challenges that come with that, I'm loving being a part of the community here at Kent - the societies, the people, the events.

But on Saturday, I was back.

Just for one night.

Back in London.

Back in Tooting.

It wasn't heavily planned - something had come up that meant Mum couldn't go to Tooting Arts Club's production of Sweeney Todd (that's a story for another post!) and since I had nothing on this weekend I was going to go instead.

But as I sat on that coach - as we slowly came into more familiar, metropolitan surroundings, I felt this warm feeling wash over me - the kind of warmth one associates with a return to somewhere familiar after significant time away.

Tall buildings. Red buses and bus stops. The familiar comforting shape of the London Underground sign.

And the faces. The seas of faces of all different races and nationalities - Kent may be the UK's European university, and definitely has a diverse student body, but Canterbury as a whole still looks very different to London.

It might be a tad more friendly, that bit smaller, and have a lot more grass and greenery, but it's got nothing on London in terms of multiculturalism - not really.

I walked through the streets of London with a spring in my step and a smile on my face - I felt the city was practically embracing me. It was a lovely day, Victoria Station was bustling with activity, and I was on my way back to ol' Tooters - just like old times.

I got on the Tube. I sat there and took it all in again. The dark blue chairs, the orange text that scrolled across the screens, the anti-social commuters (who could probably sense my happiness and were significantly disturbed by it).

I got off the tube, and I walked back to the family house. I felt the ground beneath my feet, I passed the McDonald's, the Library, the Bingo Hall, my Primary School...

And the front door of my house. I was warmly welcomed by Dad, Ruby and George. We all chatted and caught up. Me and Dad went out for an amazing piece of community theatre (at West End standard!) practically on the doorstep. We came home, we watched some TV, and I went to sleep in my own bed.

I didn't see all my friends. I didn't even see Mum face-to-face (she was over at my Grannie's in Somerset). I didn't go to Putney - probably the next most familiar place in London to me after Tooting.

But just for one night. I got a piece of that old life again - one that, thankfully, will be waiting for me in full at Christmas.

I've probably said this saying dozens of times over the years, but never have I meant it as much as with regard to this weekend just gone...

There's No Place Like Home. :)

Monday, 8 September 2014

Category Busy Bees...

Given that there were points last year where our teachers were practically running group therapy sessions with us, it's perhaps unsurprising that the road to our BTEC Performing Arts Final Major Performance (or just 'Final Major', for short) was a long and tense one.

We had warned Miss Smith and Miss Clarke about the dangers of just leaving us to devise a project, given the stress and annoyance it had caused us the previous year. (High School Panto, Mac Ops and our T.I.E. performances had all been devised pieces). The trouble is, allowing at least some free rein for our devising is what often brought out some of the best work in us - Mogadishu, which we had done most recently in front of an audience, was evidence of that.

Miss Smith's suggestion was to devise a "Mogadishu Part 2", which, although there were points where we were all tempted, I am certainly glad now that we stuck to our guns and said we didn't want to do it. We had only done one project since Mogadishu - Auditions For Actors, and the only audience for that had been Miss and Miss themselves.

I think there was an element of not wanting to revisit the show and the characters at that point. I mean, I'd do it now, I think - but at that point, for me personally anyway, I wanted a fresh challenge - a script, preferably - as I wasn't so sure about doing a devised piece - and a new story that gripped me in some way.

We did eventually decide on doing a wholly devised piece.

Not such a good idea...

The trouble with devising so totally from scratch is that you've no idea where to start. You need an idea or a theme, or to know what it is you want your audience to feel when they leave the room. Some of us wanted something really thought-provoking - others wanted something that was just a bit of fun and a good laugh. Although we began to find compromises, our initial ideas - ranging from court room dramas based around domestic abuse, to criminals who represent each of the seven deadly sins and crash land on an island that turns out to be hell (I know - cheery, right?) we eventually had to come to an agreement for a show we could settle on.

We had been back and forth with the aforementioned ideas, but would keep getting stuck at certain points - the former was really hard to sort out the story in a believable way and agree on plot points and characters, and some of us were also just beginning to find the concept really grim. For the latter, while I think the basic premise of doing something based around the Seven Deadly Sins appealed to all of us (especially as there were seven of us), then in terms of devising ideas, once we got to the point of our  characters crashing on this island, we didn't really know where to go from there to get us to the big reveal at the end.

Eventually, aware that time was beginning to run short and we really needed to start rehearsing something, we finally agreed to start looking for and choosing some scripts. The one we eventually settled on was Category B, by Roy Williams.

We weren't strangers to Williams' work - Ahmed, Jhaleel, and Shaq had acted in Fallout as part of the Directors Project the previous year, and the year before Michael, Jhaleel and Ahmed had done Days Of Significance for their GCSE performance.

Donte, Michael, Jhaleel and Ahmed in Roy Williams' Days Of Significance
Jhaleel, Angel & Shaquille in Roy Williams' Fallout

We sat down and read through the script. Category B is named after a certain type of prison in the UK - prisoners being held there don't exactly need maximum security, but escape should still be made difficult. Category prisoners are often in for drugs or violent offences, as is the case in the play.

The characters in Category B included Angela, Andy and David - prison guards, Riz, Rio, Saul and Errol (inmates), and Chandra - Rio's Mum and Errol's ex of some years before.

Apart from Rio - an 18 year-old in for rape (although he denies it), the other prisoners' convictions aren't made entirely clear. Saul is clearly the leader of the pack - he appears to run the prison. Though Angela and Andy are in charge, they turn blind eyes to the occasional thing that Saul does (him and Riz sell drugs to the other prisoners, among other things) and in return he keeps the rest of the prisoners in line. Why it is that the other prisoners seem scared of him, or he appears to have one over on them, isn't made entirely clear in the script.
Errol is clearly one of the toughest inmates and it's implied that he killed a man. Chandra visits him during the course of the play and asks that she look after her son, Rio.
Riz has a weird obsession with films and seems to be mostly there for light relief. He is however, clearly tough enough to hold his own in a fight.
Angela gets on relatively well with the prisoners, but is determined to lay down the law. Andy is a gambling addict and is having an on-off affair with Angela.
David, being the new boy on the job, is obviously keen to work by the book and struggles to get used to Angela and Andy's more unorthodox methods.

We read the script together - alternating characters as we went. The intention was we would read it through and start to get some idea as to the characters we liked and would later audition.

Having read through it, we discussed the characters we wanted to be and who we could see playing the various roles. Ahmed seemed like a very obvious choice for Riz - he played him at points during the readthrough and the character was obviously well suited to him - not to mention Ahmed seemed to enjoy it. Michael was after Errol, Jhaleel was keen on Andy, and Holly was after Angela. Shaquille was off sick at the time but we thought he would probably be quite well-suited to Rio.

That left me and Cathie. The more obvious choices for both of us that people picked up on in the script were Chandra for Cathie and David for me. However, both were considerably smaller parts in the play, with not a lot of meat to them (at least not in comparison to the others), and neither me nor Cathie were particularly keen on the idea of playing them. Cathie wasn't wholly on board with the idea of a prison-based play anyway - she felt it was a little cliché for a school performance. Ashcroft had done prison-related productions before; Cathie had even been in one of them, Blackout, two years earlier for her GCSE performance. She agreed that Chandra was probably the character best suited to her, but it was a much smaller part, and being our Final Major, we naturally all wanted a little chance to shine and  challenge ourselves.

I liked the idea of doing the play, but wasn't keen on playing David - I wanted to try and stretch myself more, and had taken a liking to the character of Saul.
At first, there was a bit of resistance to the idea - Saul is the hard man, the ring leader - and for anyone who knows me personally, let alone the sorts of roles I normally play, they'll know I'm miles away from both.

But I wanted that challenge - I found him much more interesting as a character, and wanted a character with a bigger part - in a lot of the previous productions I'd done with the rest of the group, despite enjoying them, my characters (Barquisha in High School Panto, or MacDuff's Lietennant in Mac Ops, for example) had been smaller parts or sidekicks to one of the main characters. David, coming in as the new boy and learning from Angela, once again fitted this mould.

It was Miss Smith and Michael in particular who stuck their necks out for me, and said I should be given a go, and sure enough, once I auditioned, I did get the part.

Most of the rest of the cast also got what they wanted - for Cathie, we changed Chandra's name to Chloe, and heavily expanded on her character in our devising process. (We made sure to devise new scenes and backstories for the characters, as well as following the script). Chloe was no longer stuck on the sidelines on the outside - it was gradually revealed that there was more to her than meets the eye, and she was pulling the strings to influence certain characters' lives without them even realising it...

We began the rehearsal process, devising and writing new scenes and dialogue as we went, cutting other bits where we felt necessary. David's character was entirely written out, some of the lines being given to Rio (as he was the new inmate), and some of the more tough ones towards the end were given to Andy.

We added many more elements - a physical theatre piece to represent the scene of the rape Rio allegedly took part in, a more abstract choreographed sequence for the prisoners to do prior to visits, and the expansion of Chloe and Andy's characters and backstories.

Tensions were high at points - we would worry about certain scenes working and others not, there were logistics to worry about - how many performances could we do, how many audience members could we fit in the drama studio? How big would the prison cells be, and where should they be placed?

We all desperately wanted it to be the best show it could be, as always - especially as it would be the last one we did at Ashcroft. We had essentially achieved all we needed for our BTECs bar some coursework, but that was besides the point - this was (yet another) end of an era being marked.

True to form, having only just got the whole show together, teched, and essentially finalised with days to spare, we performed, on the 24th June 2014.

The room was packed out - friends and fellow students, current and previous, family and teachers, all came to see us do our last show.

Without wanting to sound immodest, I think we did ourselves proud in the end. The feedback we received was pretty great - people were perhaps surprised to see me as a character like Saul, but I had grown out some stubble, worked on a bit of a cockney accent, and put a lot of work into my performance - as did everyone - and it all went down pretty well.

There were tears all around at the end. Miss Smith and Miss Clarke, having only been with us for that academic year, said a few words and set quite a few of us off.

This was it. After all the arguments, the shows, the laughs, the tensions, the worries and stresses, we'd made it to the end. That was the last show we would ever put on as a group.

Perhaps one of the reasons we sometimes found it so difficult working with each other at points in the ladt two years, is we really are all friends. Friends with big personalities prone to clashing, but friends nonetheless.

Despite all the hard work it took to get there, we produced a hell of a lot of good shows over the past two years. The Director's Project showcase: A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg, 'C', Fallout, Mr. Nobody, Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, The World's Biggest Diamond.

After that, High School Panto, Mac Ops.
Our two very distinct T.I.E. projects featuring wizards, dragons, school kids and Egyptian Gods (we were nothing if not ambitious!).
The Goodbye devised solo performances and Auditions For Actors showcases, which we only saw ourselves. Penny For Your Thoughts, Mogadishu. Eleven Vests and The Waiting Room in Theatre Studies, and last but not least, Category B.

We went off to Nando's that night - a Performing Arts Dinner with us Performing Arts people (and one of my best non-drama mates, Luciano):

Cathie, Holly and Jhaleel enjoy their dinner
As do Ahmed and Luciano...

And of course, it wouldn't be a Performing Arts dinner without a bunch of actors dramatically staring off into the distance ;)

Thanks for all the memories, guys. 2 years of GCSE. 2 years of BTEC/A Level.
As I said at the time, we've had a lot of ups and downs. These years have been a rollercoaster, but all in all, it has been a pleasure working with you guys - all the very best to you in future. Til we meet again :)


With thanks to the many, many brilliant teachers we've had in the Performing Arts Department over the years, who had such influence on us in so many ways:

Mrs Smith, Miss Goodall, Miss Beadle, Miss Murphy, Miss Kirton, Miss Cunnigham (Drama), Miss Hickman, Mr. Hawkes, Mr 'Lippy' Lipscombe...

And the wonderful team that came in in Year 13, and saw us through our final year. We've only known them a year, but my goodness, they were brilliant - great to have the Department back on track.
Mr Chadda, Miss Clarke, Miss Smith, Miss Di Bartolo and Mr Nicholls :)


PART 1 - "The 'Last' Day at Ashcroft...":

PART 3 - "Ashcroft Prom 2014":

Friday, 29 August 2014

Some thoughts on the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

Benedict Cumberbatch doing the #IceBucketChallenge. Now that I have your attention...
Unless you've been living under a rock, or do not use any form of social media at all (in which case I'm wondering how you've found your way onto this page), you'll probably have heard of the latest internet craze sweeping the inter-nation. (Is that a word? Inter-nation? Meant to imply international rather than just national. Probably also works given it's internet-related. Might use that in future :P )

Yes, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) is a neurodegenerative disease. Without getting too science-y and technical about it, essentially what happens is you gradually become trapped within your own body. Your muscles tighten up - stiffening and weakening, and everyday tasks or bodily functions such as speaking, swallowing and breathing become incredibly difficult. It is therefore unsurprising that it is responsible for 2 deaths per 100,000 people per year, and the median survival time from onset to death is 39 months. Only 4% survive longer than 10 years - most die from respiratory failure (resulting from the breathing problems.)

The challenge dares nominated participants to be filmed having a bucket of ice water poured on their heads, and then nominating others to do the same. The idea behind it is that it raises awareness of the disease and encourages donations into research for finding a cure - for example, in America these donations tend to go to the ALS association, while in the UK they tend to go to the MND Association (ALS being a form of Motor Neurone Disease).

Now, as I'm sure you'll be aware if you're reading this, the campaign has gone viral - people all over the world are taking part. Not just ordinary people, but celebrities, politicians, you name it.

Unsurprisingly for a campaign with so much media and online attention, it has come in for its fair share of criticism. Some of it fair, some of it....not so much.

I have been discussing these criticisms with people as of late, and have been meaning to write this post for some time. I've found it increasingly frustrating to read some of these criticisms, so here it is: my analysis of some of the main ones, and how fair (or not) they are on the Ice Bucket Challenge and the campaign itself.

It's just dumping a bucket of ice water on your head. How does that raise awareness? The message has been lost:

Well, I consider this criticism wholly unfair. Prior to this challenge, I had no idea what ALS/MND even was, and nor did many of my peers. It's through this challenge becoming a worldwide sensation that I have learned what the condition is and decided it's a worthy cause.
As for the dumping the ice on your head as a method of raising that awareness, it's not pointless - dumping freezing cold water over yourself (if it's cold enough) sends your body into shock - you go into a state of paralysis for a split second, and it gives you just the tiniest taste of what an ALS sufferer has to go through. It's not just being pouring ice on your head and causing discomfort for the sake of it, it is related.

Also, I don't know about anyone else, but for me at least, I feel like for every 10 videos I see simply of people pouring ice water on their heads, I see another one or two that includes the celebrity or member of the public concerned explaining more about the condition, offering a personal story or even an information video or image explaining about the condition being shared on facebook. Therefore, I hardly think the message has been lost - and those that fear it has often end up rectifying this, because they will post more links that explain the message.

It's a waste of ice/water! California/places in Africa have water shortages/droughts, the Ice Bucket Challenge is irresponsible!

Okay, I'll admit, if you live in one of the places where there is a heavy drought or water shortage, then yes, it is irresponsible to be
wasting that water by dumping it on your head rather than sharing it out for drinking or washing purposes.

However, a lot of the people I'm seeing that criticism come from are people in the UK, or parts of the world where we are not in drought. For these places, the argument holds about as much weight as:
'There are starving children in Africa, finish your dinner'.
Or even, 'There are children who'd give anything for the education you have, sit up and pay attention'.
These sorts of arguments can be used to make you feel guilty about anything. If there are children in Africa who'd want my food that I'm too full to eat, why not bring them more food rather than trying to persuade me to eat 'til I'm sick?
With regard to education, you go and tell a kid happily playing football without a care in the world that you're going to build him a school, and see if the expression on his face is really one of glee...

Obviously, thirst is an entirely different thing, but I don't think it's good enough reason to condemn a campaign like this - for the places that are not in short supply of water, we're not going to lose any. If you want to help countries in drought, donate or help a charity like Water Aid -  help a campaign or charity to provide clean water to those places, but don't rain on everyone else's parade (no pun intended).

Also, for the countries that are in drought or have a shortage of water, they've found alternatives - Neil Gaiman's Ice Bucket Challenge, for example, uses sea water, because of California's drought. In Gaza, they have created the 'Rubble Bucket Challenge' for their own purposes because of the lack of water, much less ice, available to them.

People aren't actually donating - they're just tipping the ice buckets on their head to increase their social media standing/popularity:

Really? Because most of the charities relating to ALS have reported a soar in public awareness and donations since the campaign began a few months ago. The New York Times reported that the ALS Association had received $41.8 million in donations from July 29 until August 21, and more than 739,000 new donors have given money to the association. That's more than double the $19.4 million in total contributions they received during the year that ended 31st January, 2013.

If people aren't actually donating as well as doing the videos, where's all this money coming from?

Pretty much every Ice Bucket Challenge I see on my Facebook news feed, or Twitter timeline, or on YouTube, encourages people to donate, often with a list of ways you can do so, either in the video itself, the video description, or both.

Now, I don't personally believe that people are doing it to increase their own social media standing - let's face it, you'd have to be pretty desperate for that to be your main reason, especially as you have to dump a bucket of freezing cold water on your head just for this to potentially help your social status.

But even if we do assume that's what people are doing it what? Celebrities do it practically every year on Children in Need, Comic Relief or Sport Relief as forms of self-promotion, and I don't see nearly as many complaints about that!
Let's face it, at the end of the day, money is money - charities know that. Yes, it would be lovely if everyone was doing it for the right reasons; out of the compassion of their hearts rather than it also involving some selfish desire, but, as a wise supermarket chain once said, 'Every little helps.'
Unless we're going to have a deeper moral debate about virtue, (and I was an A Level Religious Studies student - believe me, I'm capable) why people are donating shouldn't matter - the great thing is people are donating, and it's for a worthy cause.
Same goes for people complaining that the focus is too much on fun and not enough on genuine charitable activity; people are giving, what's the harm in having fun while doing it?

There are other worthy charities too:

Yes, there are, and you are right to support them. Many people have taken to doing the challenge in the name of charities of their choice, which is great, and should be encouraged. The Ice Bucket Challenge happens to have captured people's imaginations and brought about a lot of helpful donations, and more should be done for these other equally worthy charities - let's hope that this starts a trend of similar viral campaigns in future!

Half the money donated goes to the CEO of the ALS Association - $355,000 - and his staff.

Or so I hear. Sorry, but that's the way charities work - it costs money to raise money. Find me a charitable campaign where people who work for or with he charity don't get a cut. Maybe it's an unfair amount for them to get, but I suspect probably not if they're suitably trained or experienced, and in this case I should think many people in the company either have been diagnosed with ALS or know people or are close to people who have. Particularly when you think about the above point - the $355,000 figure, that is presumably being divided up between him and the people that work for the charity (or other ALS charities). 

You're being a sheep/just following the crowd to take part:

Maybe you are, maybe your aren't - but again, it's charity. Charities make their money by people following suit in donations.

You can still donate without tipping a bucket of water on your head:

Absolutely, and I feel this is actually one of the most legitimate arguments for not taking part in the Ice Bucket Challenge. Part of the point of it is that if you choose not to tip a bucket of ice water on your head, you can just do the donation - you might not be getting that experience of the shock and paralysis as mentioned earlier, but you're still giving money - there should be no shame in that.

But if I don't do the challenge, it makes me seem churlish: 

I've been thinking a lot about this one in the past few days, and again, it's one of the most legitimate points raised. You are perfectly free to not accept the nomination, but there is arguably, intentionally or not, an awful lot of pressure put on nominees to be 'good sports' and to take part, even if they don't want to.
They shouldn't be made to feel guilty for breaking the chain, nor for not wanting to pour a bucket of freezing cold water on their heads. They shouldn't feel obliged to put it on camera if they're camera-shy, or donate to a charity they wouldn't otherwise be supporting - if they don't want to.

I admit, some people (myself included) have engaged in some light-hearted prodding: 'Oh, go on, it's just a bit of fun', we say. Except what if it isn't? What if people feel really uncomfortable about any of the above aspects of the challenge? Is it really that fair to force them?

Don't get me wrong -  I think it's important that people sometimes do things they're not so comfortable with in the name of charity - it can be enriching for you as a person as much as doing something for a good cause, and will often entertain others, or at the very least, they'll be proud of or impressed with you for leaving your comfort zone.

But if you're so averse to it that the thought of it makes you really uncomfortable, for any of those reasons, I think it's probably right that you don't, and you shouldn't be judged, or made to feel guilty for that.


There we are. That's my analysis or take on some of the more prevalent critiques of the Ice Bucket Challenge.

Fundamentally, this campaign is raising money for a good cause while having fun - we watch our friends or favourite (or least favourite) celebrities get ice tipped on their heads, have a laugh, donate and/or spread the word. The only particularly bad thing about it the way I see it is the aforementioned pressure, which is an issue regardless of where the challenges take place.

However, at the end of the day, no campaign's perfect, and this one seems to be doing a better job of raising awareness than others I've previously mentioned. While it may get a bit boring for some people to repeatedly see on their news feeds, it's still raising a hell of a lot of money for a worthy cause.

If I were to recommend some changes going forward, I would say that perhaps people should be a bit more conscious of who they nominate, or leave nominations open (so saying, 'anyone who wants to take part, do'!). If people want to donate to a different charity instead, let them. If people desperately don't want to film it, we shouldn't condemn that. If people would rather donate more quietly than pour a bucket of ice water on their head, we should support that.

I have taken part in the Ice Bucket Challenge, and donated, and am proud to say I did so. I have enjoyed (and am still enjoying) my friends, family, and favourite and least favourite celebrities, do the same. The way I see it, it's taken the modern-day viral internet craze of viral videos of things that are so popular these days, and given it a purpose - turned it into something good.

Not only is it raising a lot of awareness and money for a good cause, it is, I believe, an essentially harmless bit of fun, that the world over is taking part in.

And that, in my view, is pretty great :)

If you'd like to donate to the ALS or MND Associations, click the links below:

ALS Association (USA)

MND Association (UK) 
Or text  'ICED55 £5' (or other amount) to 70070 (UK only)

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Deep Breath...

Hello, I'm a Whovian. If you don't mind, and you're not too busy, do you have a few minutes to discuss the (Time) Lord...known as The Doctor?

Okay, okay, before you give me a polite 'no' or shut the front door in my face, or invite me in for a cup of tea and say 'Well?' hoping I respond with 'I never thought I'd get this far...' (Spoiler Alert: I won't), just hear me out.

For anyone who's known me for much time at all, or has seen me on social media, you'll know I'm a pretty big Doctor Who fan. We're talking queue-up-early-in-the-morning-to-get-tickets-to-an-exclusive-screening big. I love this show, and I could write countless blog posts in a futile attempt to explain why.

For those who really know very little (or maybe nothing, though I'd find that hard to believe), I'll give you a quick video, from a YouTuber you may be aware of, explaining his love of the show, who gives a very quick and simple summary of the premise. If you are aware of the basic concepts of Doctor Who, you needn't feel obliged to watch this - I just thought this video was quite simple, to the point, non-intimidating, yada yada yada...:

There we are - now those who have no idea what I'm even on about should be vaguely up to speed.

But what I'm really attempting with this blog - which I try not to do too often - is to persuade you why you should watch the show - when it returns this Saturday, on the 23rd August (I am so excited I'm finding it difficult to contain myself gaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh.....)

This Saturday is the start of Series 8 (the eighth series since it was revived in 2005). The first episode is called Deep Breath and stars a new actor, Peter Capaldi, in the title role. If ever there was a time to come aboard the Time-Ship, it's this week.

So, here are some selling points for 5 types of prospective viewers for Saturday's episode. If you don't think a particular bold heading remotely applies to you, feel free to scroll down until you find one that does. But if you're at all out-of-the-loop on where the story of Doctor Who currently is, it might be worth having a quick read of the 'All you might want to know for Deep Breath' section, along with the relative newcomers:

The casual viewer/the one that's not really watched much Doctor Who before:
The whole point of a regeneration story (in this case I mean the first episode that properly stars the new actor) is that the story is meant to be a jumping-on-point. So if you've caught bits and pieces of Doctor Who in the past, but weren't sure about getting into it because it's been running so long (51 years - on-and-off - this November) - it doesn't matter. The opening story for a new Doctor is meant to show you what the show's about, to introduce you to what it is. Because The Doctor has just changed, there'll be some references that'll go over your head, but you should be alright.

If you'd like a little context though, you can find it below - it may just be helpful so that you aren't left wondering what the hell's going on. (Although to be fair, sometimes even us fans are left wondering that... :P )

All you might want to know for Deep Breath is the following: When we last saw The Doctor, he was with his companion, Clara, and had just regenerated from Matt Smith's Doctor:
The Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) pictured here with companion, Clara Oswald (Jenna Coleman)

Into Peter Capaldi's Doctor:

"KIDNEYS! I've got new kidneys...I don't like the colour!" (Yes, that was genuinely his first line)

The TARDIS was last seen crashing, and The Doctor seemed to have, in his post-regenerative confused state, temporarily forgotten how to fly it.

Deep Breath takes place in Victorian London, home of The Doctor's friends, 'The Paternoster Gang':

This consists of Vastra, a Silurian (a lizard-woman from the dawn of time), Jenny, her wife (inter-species same-sex marriage for the win!) and Strax, a Sontaran (Son-TAR-an. Alien clone species bred for war. Yes they all look like potato-heads. Strax has been reduced to being Vastra & Jenny's butler and nurse. Long story.)

That ought to bring you up to speed. Any other long-term references you don't get, it's probably in there for long-term fans, but if you're particularly curious, you're welcome to ask me ;).

Please - give it a go. It's completely mad, but it's great fun, and quality drama. And maybe, just maybe, you'll be hooked and intrigued enough to watch the rest of the series...

You may want to scroll to the end now, if you fit into the above category.

However, for the other prospective viewers:

The Children of The '70s:
Did you watch Doctor Who as a child, but maybe haven't watched it since it came back? Perhaps you've decided that the most recent band of young, attractive-looking and flirty Doctors wasn't for you? Or maybe you just believe that the show just isn't what it was since Jon Pertwee/Tom Baker left.

Have they got a treat for you.

Deep Breath is a return to basics. There's no flirting going on between The Doctor and his companion - not anymore. This is The Doctor who is much more mercurial and alien again - stern like Pertwee. Mad and unpredictable like Baker. And yet very much a new man and new portrayal - Peter Capaldi.
Get ready. Doctor Who may have come back in 2005. But this Saturday: 23rd August 2014 - this is when your Doctor Who comes back!

The Matt Smith haters:
Bit of a strong term this one. Okay, so first off:
 Maybe you didn't hate Matt Smith as The Doctor. Then again, maybe you did. All I know is that his Doctor, and the brand of humour associated with him, was not to everyone's taste, and that's fine. Rest assured, though, Peter has brought back the intensity and darkness that was more present in Tennant and Eccleston's eras, and indeed some of the more alien qualities of earlier years of the show.
Either way, I think you'll like him. If the episode seems a little too silly at first, give it a break - Smith's fans need easing through the transition, so there are some hangover elements. They won't last too long and they certainly won't overshadow Peter's fantastic performance.

Which brings me on to...

The Matt Smith die-hards:
Did you join the show with Matt Smith? Are you still reeling from the departure of your Raggedy-Man? Will you be crying into your Fish Fingers and Custard this Saturday, still wondering why he had to say goodbye?
Don't worry - you're in safe hands. The show's not completely departed from Smith's era yet - Clara, Vastra, Jenny, Strax - they're all still there. Strax is still as hilarious as ever, and yes, The Doctor is still silly. There might be some times where you feel alienated - don't worry. Clara's going on this journey too, and you'll experience it with her. There are even some lines which you might feel are personal attacks on what you loved about Smith or Tennant - the notion of The Doctor looking young and handsome, for example, is perhaps not addressed in the kindest of ways - just stay with it. If you love Doctor Who, you'll still grow to love this version of it. Matt Smith may always be your Doctor, and there's nothing wrong with that - but you'll get used to Peter. Clara's still there - and despite what Deep Breath may suggest to you, romance has not been written out of the show - don't worry.

And if you're really good and make it through the whole episode, there's a little treat for you at the end... ;)

The Peter Capaldi fans:
Let's get one thing clear straight away:
I love Malcolm Tucker as much as you do, but The Doctor does not, nor will he, say "F***ity bye" at any point during the show.

(Well, it is Saturday-night family viewing. What did you expect?)

But Capaldi is intense. Think Malcolm toned down significantly, slightly disorientated and without the swearing, and you're close-ish to Peter's interpretation of The Doctor. You don't necessarily feel completely safe with him. He is going to save people, but there are plenty of moments when you're still not quite as certain...
This Doctor is much more unpredictable and less human than his immediate predecessors. And if you're remotely a fan of anything Peter Capaldi has done previously - The Thick Of It or anything else - you'll like what he's done here.


There you have it. I'm not going to spend time explaining why those who've been watching the series in the long-term, or devoted fans like myself, should watch it - I'd have thought that the fact that they will watch it goes without saying.

But what I hope I've done, is persuade some of you who were maybe on the fence, or weren't even considering watching Doctor Who this weekend, to give it a crack.

Because it's a launch of a new Doctor, because it's Peter Capaldi, because it's the first episode of Doctor Who's 51st year - who knows - they've made this first episode a bumper 75-minutes. Little bit longer than your average drama, shorter than your average film. After that, the next 11 weeks of the show's run will only be 45 minutes, as per usual.

Whether you watch it as it goes out - whether you want to make a trip of seeing Episode 1 in the cinema on Saturday - whether you Sky+ it or catch it on iPlayer, I hope you give this new series of Doctor Who a try - if nothing else just to try and work out what the hell I seem to like about it so much.

Any day now, he's-a-comin....


Saturday, 23rd August, 2014.

Take a Deep Breath, world.

The Doctor is in.

The clock is striking Twelve...

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The 'Last' Day at Ashcroft...

Okay, so the thing about calling it the 'last' day is that it's a bit of a misnomer - we've still got exams ahead and many of us are still going to be going in to school to revise in the run up to them.

Nevertheless, Friday 16th May 2014 was the last day you would have virtually the entire of our year group in one place, and the last day we were sort of obliged to be there. We therefore marked the occasion in style ;)

Back-track a bit. So, for this last day, we were told not to come in before 11.00am. Maybe it was to minimise disruption of school decorum. Maybe it was so the teachers had time to ready everything. Who knows - but most of us were rather grateful for the lie-in.

Or at least, the opportunity for one... after my first chance to be able to stay in bed for a bit longer on a weekday in aaaaaaages, I ended up waking up at 6.00am anyway, unable to get back to sleep. Ho-hum.

I then also had to spend a good few hours waiting around at home doing not-much. To be fair, I was just ready and raring to go - I was excited! It was the chance to be in fancy dress - and I was particularly pleased with my choice of character....

I got on the bus, hat and coat in my bag. (While as I'm sure won't surprise you, I've no shame in wandering around London in a ridiculous costume, my mother quite rightly pointed out that in the day's heat I didn't want to be wearing the coat when it wasn't necessary, and the hat was liable to be taken off my head by some passerby for a laugh). At the bus stop, I ran into Oumesh, my old friend from Sellincourt Primary School, who joined Ashcroft for Sixth Form in Year 12.

As I sat on the bus, making this journey into Wandsworth for what would be my last proper day at school, it felt very fitting that I was making that journey with a friend who I'd known for so many years :)

Fast forward a little more to arriving at school. I met Michael on the hill, who had gone and bought himself a ninja costume along the way - and was coming to the realisation that the amount of black he'd be wearing would cause him to roast (admittedly, I'd be wearing black too, but I had considered this in advance).

Some people were already present in their costumes. Chris in his camouflage morph suit, Philippa as Trinity from The Matrix and Joseph Ruff as "Joseph Ruff-Holding-A-Plant".

Only trouble was - Mÿca (Thing 2) had the white face paint (the plan was to share it between Things 1, 2 and The Cat). So, me (The Cat) and Monet (Thing 1) were left face paint-less for the first part of the morning. Naturally I was concerned - a Cat In The Hat costume without the face paint (or at least, one thrown together in the manner I had done so) looked more like a magician with a stripy top hat than one of the most famous of Dr Seuss' creations. 

The buffet was laid out at 11.00. The Leaver's Assembly was due to start at 11.50. As the clock ticked on, I did begin to get more and more nervous - I knew, obviously, that Mÿca, Cathie and Nicole would be there - but at what time was beginning to be anyone's guess. Eventually, I sent Mÿca a text:

Context: Esther was also dressed as The Cat In The Hat. She had used eye liner for the whiskers. We were planning to do the same when Mÿca got there for mine. If face paint wasn't gonna be available in time, I thought borrowing Esther's eye liner to draw on some whiskers might be an option. 

Yes, out of context it is a lot funnier.

Anyway, shortly after I sent the text, Nicole, Cathie and Mÿca arrived in full costume, looking fantastic, and I hastily borrowed the face paint and some eye liner, before returning looking like this:

Much better. ;)

We then headed to LRC 1, where we were to have our final little presentation from Mr Roberts and Ms Graves.

Mr Roberts' part of the presentation was much more serious (no surprises there), but surprisingly heartfelt in places, and very honest and open.

Ms Graves' presentation was naturally more fun, and included a few notable blasts from the past - photos of our first days in the school back in 2007, mostly (with the odd one from when we were in Year 10, for those who joined the school that bit later) :P

Finally, there was a video that Anjimae had compiled from various people's goodbye messages, and Mr Roberts presented a few awards to a few students - Monet, Deborah, Steven and Shamim. Monet and Deborah even had their awards presented to them by their primary school teachers, and I have to say, though they weren't my teachers, my eyes were glistening at the kind gesture on the school's part.

We then headed off back to G Block to pick up our things, stopping for photos with each other and the odd member of staff, before going for a lovely picnic in Wandsworth Park.

All in all, it was a great last day, and it was lovely to be sat with everyone enjoying the sunshine - and I was very glad people got so much into the spirit of things dressing up.

Now all that remained was for us to do our exams...


PART 2 - "Category Busy Bees..."

PART 3 - "Ashcroft Prom 2014"