2012 – What a year it’s been!

What a great image from the 2012 London Olympic Games!

What a great image from the 2012 London Olympic Games!

I can’t quite believe that it’s New Year’s Eve already, the year has seemed to fly by faster than any other year! I’ve had many ups, and a few downs but I’m definitely happy to be moving forward to 2013.

Thinking back to January, I can’t believe how much has changed since then. Back in January I was still at my Sixth form getting ready to spend the last few months on my A Levels, and I remember thinking that they were the hardest things I have ever done! After getting through them and starting university they seem a lifetime away. It was sad to say goodbye to lots of friends at my sixth form as my last year there ended, but it has been great to catch up with so many people over Christmas.

I had a great summer with friends and family. I enjoyed visiting Italy with my dad in May, going to Barcelona with my close friends in August as well as enjoying the Olympics and Paralympics in London with my family.

Starting university has made me more independent, given me the chance to have so much fun, as well as being tough at times. I love being at Royal Holloway, spending more time in London and having a good time there.

Although the year ended for me on a sad note – we sadly lost my grandfather, Nonno Carmine after a long battle with illness – I am so grateful for the time we did get to spend with him and I hope this will give me the strength to make 2013 a positive year for me and my family.

Overall I can say that 2012 has been a year of many new beginnings for me, I’m grateful for everything it has bought me and I hope 2013 is a great year too.

Have a very happy New Year everyone, stay safe and have a lot of fun!

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Warhol.

 

I’ve always liked Andy Warhol’s art but I’ve been learning more about him lately by reading his some of his writings, including his autobiography. Its a really interesting view into the the mind of the great artist, with lots of philosophical thoughts and advice which certainly shows his peculiar sense of the world. I wanted to share some of his quotes with you and I found these great pictures, I hope you like them.

Also, I must add that Warhol had great taste in sunglasses.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting Uni and Other Excuses for Not Blogging in a While

This is the main building at my uni, and yes I admit I have pretended in my head that I’m at Hogwarts

Well it’s been well over a month since my last blog post and whilst I’ve never posted terribly frequently I don’t think I’ve ever left it this long between posts. The last few weeks have flown by and have been so busy that I haven’t even had time to think about sitting at a computer and typing.

That’s going to have to change very soon, as I started university two weeks ago and I have no doubt that deadlines for essays will soon be set! I’m studying Geography at Royal Holloway so if anyone has studied it before or you have any general tips for studying at uni they will be greatly appreciated.

I’ve had the most amazing time at fresher’s week, I’ve enjoyed it so much, and I’m pleased to be living in halls with a group of friendly, interesting and fun loving people. It’s my first time living away from home, which is a bit strange after living with only my mum, dad and my brother for my whole life but we are all getting along famously (at the moment! Haha!) and so far no food’s gone missing from the fridge and more importantly neither has the vodka!

The best moment for me so far has been the night of my 20th birthday (no, I can’t believe I’m 20 either). My flatmates, who I had only known for a few days, ordered in some pizza’s and decorated the kitchen which was fantastic and made me really feel at home in our flat. That’s in stark contrast to our weekly early morning fire alarms, but its swings and roundabouts I suppose.

I’ve also discovered the wonders of Skype, which is where I can be found when I’m not at a lecture, or a party, or reading as many geographical papers as possible. It’s allowed me to keep in contact with my family and friends at other universities and at home, which makes settling in here in Egham so much easier.

So that’s briefly what I’ve been up to in the last few weeks since I blogged, and my excuses for not posting in such a long time.  Hopefully I’ll get some more posts done soon, I hope everyone who read’s this is well too!

Prince Harry Naked Pictures: There IS an issue with this…

Prince Harry, pictured here not partying in Las Vegas

…but it’s not what you might already be thinking.

If you haven’t heard about Prince Harry’s party in Vegas by now, where on Earth have you been for two days? Articles about his partying in Vegas, pictures of him naked and partying in Vegas and articles about the pictures of him partying in Vegas have been available to anyone who can buy a newspaper or operate Google.

Today, after much debate the Sun has decided to print the pictures which were first released by the trashy gossip site TMZ.com. My personal view is that Harry has done nothing wrong. He hasn’t cheated on anyone, hurt anyone or done something illegal. In fact, the pictures seem to have been a good PR event for him and the Royal Family, which many have seen as outdated and conservative.

What I find troubling was that the pictures were able to be taken at all. Harry travelled to Vegas reportedly with six taxpayer-funded security guards, who were there protect Harry not only from physical harm but press intrusion.

To me, the fact that a woman was able to have a camera in Harry’s private room and sell the pictures shows that security around the royal was not strong enough. This is particularly dangerous considering the Harry’s high profile in America, a country suffering a recent wave in gun crime, as seen with the Arizona massacre last month. Surely if an individual was able to have a camera in the room, it wouldn’t have been much harder for them to sneak a gun in there, especially in the US, where gun control laws seem to be non-existent. Moreover, several of the Prince’s family members have suffered assassination attempts which could suggest there is a real threat.

To be fair, it would probably be unlikely that anyone at the party would have been able to conceal a weapon, but I do think it’s bad that Harry’s security team allowed this to happen. Other than this, Harry can do what he likes in his private life, but maybe the people being paid to protect him from media intrusion and other threats should something from this whole story.

What’s your opinion about the Prince’s partying? Leave a comment below or on this blog’s facebook page!

Barcelona – The Best of Spain

Barcelona is one of Spain’s most beautiful and most cosmopolitan cities. Designed by Antoni Gaudi, bathed in Mediterranean sun and right on the coast, the city makes for a fantastic place to visit. Last week I went back to stay in Barcelona with two friends after visiting the city last year with my family, though this time I stayed for slightly longer.

We stayed in the fantastic Casa Gracia, a hostel located on the Passeig de Gracia, which is in central Barcelona and is scattered with designer shops such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Valentino and D&G. The wonderfully unique hostel provided so much more than we expected – we had a private three-bed room with an ensuite, which was immaculately clean and spacious. The hostel owner’s organised great evening’s out in Barcelona, offering free entry to the coolest bars and clubs in the city. The best feature though was the sangria and paella nights. For just €8 you could enjoy a hearty meal of paella, salad and tapas as well as jugs of sangria! Also, the staff could not have been more helpful with advising us on the best bars to go to, supermarkets to buy food as well as getting around Barcelona.

We made the most of our Hostel’s central location by buying a T-10 metro ticket. This allowed us ten stops on Barcelona’s easy to use metro system, making it easy to explore the city. On our first day, we covered La Ramblas, the equivalent of Oxford Street and the amazing La Boqueria market. The historic market is fully functional with fantastic displays of fresh fruit, the region’s finest Iberico hams and chorizos as well as an interesting, yet odorous, fish section. I’d fully recommend a visit, is a beautiful place!

Fish at La Boqueria

We all enjoyed wandering around the streets of the Barri Gotic, the older quarter of Barcelona. At its centre is the magnificent Barcelona Cathedral (not to be confused with the even more spectacular Sagrada Familia) a tourist hotspot. The backstreets here are filled with independent clothes shops, vintage and second hand stores and well as excellent Tapas bars.  We really enjoyed Bilbao Berria, a fantastic bar which offers a buffet style selection of tapas treats, including traditional Serrano hams, quail’s eggs with chorizo, padron pepper amongst modern foods such as the mini-burger’s. What’s more, the prices offer excellent value for the great quality food you get.

A small selection of tapas available at Bilbao Berria

In contrast for with our typical tourist days of exploring the sights of Barcelona, we spent one day on Mount Tibidabo, which has a great theme park! We got the bus directly there from Placa de Catalunya, the central hub of Barcelona which was only a short walk from Casa Gracia. When we arrived at Tibidabo we discovered that not only could we get to spend the day enjoying a series of white-knuckle rides, we had also found the most spectacular panoramic view of Barcelona! The view could be enjoyed with your feet safely on the ground, as well as being hoisted into the air on a rickety contraption where you stood in a basket.

Our last full day in Barcelona was spent on Barceloneta Beach, a short metro ride from our hostel and central Barcelona. The golden-sanded beach was packed with local people and tourists, and we may have arrived too late in the day judging by our difficulty in finding an umbrella to sit under! However, we managed to keep cool by enjoying lunch and an iced drink at one of the beaches many café’s and lounges.

Our short stay in Barcelona was packed with seeing sights, the most awe-inspiring being the uncompleted Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s masterpiece of a church. The beautiful architecture on every street of Barcelona is no match to the Sagrada Familia, and I don’t think I’m capable of describing it in a way that will do it justice. I’ll say this much, you must see it once in your lifetime!

We could have spent more time in Barcelona, we didn’t get to see Parc Guell, another Gaudi designed attraction or the Olympic Village, built for the 1992 Games which regenerated the city. I’d recommend a 5 night stay in Barcelona to see the best of this beautiful city.

Churros are to die for! You dip these sweet pastries into warm melted chocolate

More Information:

We would have been lost in Barcelona without the Dorling Kindersley and Lonely Planet Guides to Barcelona, as well as the extremely helpful Tourist Information kiosks on Placa de Catalunya, and the concierge at Casa Gracia.

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50 Shades of Grey: A Male Response

It’s the most talked about book of the year, it’s sold 20 million copies since April and it’s made its unpublished fan-fic author, E L James, a multimillionaire. So what is all the fuss about?  This week my curiosity got the better of me and I downloaded Fifty Shades Of Grey onto my iPod.

I have to say, as I read it I was really underwhelmed by it. Linguistically, the book bored me. It’s crudely written, and the use of clichés is repetitive, even during the steamier parts of the novel. If you missed Anastasia, the protagonist, saying that she “blushed crimson” the first time, you certainly would read it again. In fact, the novel as a whole is repetitive. Each of its 26 chapters involves some angst on Anastasia’s part, a new sexual revelation from Christian Grey, and a not so exciting sex scene. I would have been fine with only fifty pages of Grey.  This is the first time that an erotica novel has entered the mainstream market, and it would have been excellent to see the author experiment with the language she used, as well as sexual element of the book. In fact, after hearing the hype about the novel’s graphic sex scenes, I actually felt that they weren’t as graphic as I believed they would be (or possibly hoped!)

Moreover, the storyline is very unoriginal. Anybody familiar with Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series will notice the undoubted similarities, thought E L James herself has said that these books inspired her. I also couldn’t help thinking “what’s actually happening here?”  Ana and Christian are having a lot of sex and they seem to be enjoying it, but there was no movement in the rest of the story.

But something about the book made me carrying on reading.  I wanted to know if Anastasia would submit to Christian Grey and sign his bizarre sex contract.  I began to be interested in the psychological theme of the novel, which hints at Christian Grey’s traumatic childhood. Was I going to find out what created this darkly unique character? This enigma, like many others,  was left unresolved, maybe to entice readers to buy the second and third novels in the series.

However, it’s clear that Christian Grey is the sole reason for the book’s success. He’s the stereotype of the “perfect” man. He’s the man that every woman wants, and as a guy, I can say he’s the man every man would like to be. Christian Grey is extremely wealthy in money as well as good looks, and he’s completely irresistible to women. Which guy doesn’t want all of those things? This fantasy is what has made the book successful, as readers are allowed to bring their own imagination to it. (Though, it does lead me to question why so many women in the post-liberal world are happy to read a novel about female submission to men.)

I find it hard to see much success for a film version of the Fifty Shades. It will be difficult for a director not to disappoint when so many readers have a vivid image of what the scenes look like. (Especially female readers, Christian Grey is not real!)And it will be almost impossible to create a good plot out of the book’s limited storyline. Moreover, as graphic sex scenes are integral to the novel, it’s hard to see mainstream cinema’s playing what will essentially be porn.

So to summarise, Fifty Shades of Grey is hardly the most impressive book I’ve read. I can see why they have been particularly successful, and I’d probably read the other books just to see how the rest of the story pans out, but for now I only give it two stars out of five.

Wireless 2012: Rihanna, Jessie J and MUD!

 

Jessie J’s set was one of the festival’s highlights

I’m not one to use awful clichés, but the rain couldn’t dampen our spirits at Wireless Festival in Hyde Park yesterday. Despite being rained on and caked in mud, we had a fantastic day watching Rizzle Kicks, Labrinth, Pitbull, Jessie J and the Queen, Rihanna!

I was pretty impressed with all the acts but Jessie J really stood out for me. Always professional, in tune, charismatic and energetic, her performance of hits such as Do It Like a Dude and her finale Domino really got the crowd going. She even picked an audience member to sing with her on stage during Price Tag, and she stayed up there looking rather bemused for the rest of the set.

As fantastic as Jessie J was, there was only one act we had been standing in the rain for hours to see, and that was Rihanna. Despite some expectations that she would pull out after her grandmother’s funeral this week, as well as having a bit of a shaky start, after warming up she rocked the festival performing hits such as Only Girl in the World, Don’t Stop the Music, and a rather fitting tribute to the festival with Umbrella.

For me the undoubted highlight of the day was Rihanna’s closing performance of We Found Love which got the 65,000 audience wild. It would be fantastic to have a video to show you at this point, and I did think of that yesterday but I jumped too hard, dropped my camera into the mud and the video was lost. Oh well, I think that shows how great the festival was though.

I’ll definitely be looking forward to next year’s festival as well as any other performances by Jessie J and Rihanna!

The ever-beautiful Rihanna bought Wireless Festival 2012 to a spectacular close

During a brief sunny spell

Mac Attack – we came prepared for mud and rain!

How to Speak in Public Without Feeling Stupid

Speaking in public terrifies many people, and it terrified me up until a few years ago when I had to travel Birmingham and deliver a speech to 200 teachers and headteachers. I practised and rehearsed many times with t the people I spoke with, and I found that really helped me. This week I got to take part in a conference aimed at helping students become better learners. I was asked, along with my friend Charlotte, to run a workshop on public speaking.After the workshop this week, we came up with ten top tips for preparing to deliver a speech, and I’ll share them with you today:

1.  Where do you start?

 Start with three broad points you want to get across. This will help you structure your speech or talk. A good structure will ensure that you don’t repeat yourself, will make the speech easy for the audience to follow and will help you remember your speech.

2. When writing your speech, use a simple but standard vocabulary

Using simple but appropriate words will make sure that you don’t over complicate the speech this will help the audience understand your message, and well as making it easy for you to speak.

3. Familiarise yourself with the room you will be delivering your speech in.

When you make your speech you want to be as relaxed and as confident and you can be. By familiarising yourself with the room, you’ll be able to visualize your speech and presentation and this will help with your confidence.

4. Use cue cards.

They make you look professional and prepared, you have something to do with your hands & most importantly they help you remember your speech.

5. Rehearse!

Rehearsal is key. A well-practiced speaker will feel more confident & will speak more fluently and this will help you engage with your audience.

 

Delivery of your speech

6. Talk to the audience rather than read your speech

A good public speaker will give the audience eye contact rather than just reading their speech. This is where rehearsal and cue cards help.

7. Don’t apologize for any nervousness or problems

Since you are the only person who knows how your speech goes, the audience won’t realise if you miss something out.

8. Don’t be afraid to ad-lib

When you’re giving your speech and it feels natural to include something you haven’t written, it most likely will help the speech flow. This makes your speech more conversational, and this will maintain the audience’s attention.

9. Speak Slowly

When you start your speech it is likely that you will be a little nervous, and you may speak quickly to get your speech finished quickly. This won’t help you in the long run, as your audience may struggle to understand you, and you will be more likely to miss things or slip up.

10. Finish by inviting the audience to come and speak to you after the speech

Asking for questions may result in your speech or presentation just fizzling out, as the audience may be nervous to ask a question. A face-to-face conversation with interested audience members will be a more effective finish.

A Taste of Tuscany

I’ve just got back from a short but fantastic trip to Tuscany. I was with my Dad a few other people for some  wine tasting on the Zonin estates, which was a great experience. I’ve been to Tuscany before, but this was the first time learning about wine making and the stories of the historic, mediaeval vineyards. Each wine tasting was accompanied by food which was best suited to the wine; and we got to eat in beautiful homes on the estates such as Castello d’Albolo. We were in the Chianti region of  Tuscany, where the famous Chianti Classico wine is made with San Giovese grapes that have ripened under the Tuscan sun. Here’s a selection of photos which I took on the trip which best represent the beautiful Tuscan countryside.

 

San Giovese vineyards at Castello d’Albolo

 

These scooters can be seen shooting about all over Italy!

 

My favourite pasta dish – Papardelle con Ragu

 

In the gardens at Castello d’Albolo

 

The tourist hotspot of San Gimignano

Vegetable gardens outside Castello d’Albolo