I feel a bit sheepish, like an apologetic boyfriend shuffling back to his furious girlfriend after an argument. Or like when you call your teacher ‘mum’ and everyone laughs while you go a red and feel like a fool for the next hour.
Hi! It’s been a while hasn’t it. How are you? Almost two years is a long time to leave a blog unattended, isn’t it? I can only apologise and offer pitiful excuses. …I was just so busy! And I needed to wash my hair that day.
I’ve just spent the last hour updating almost everything on this site to reflect changes that have happened in the last two years, including my age. It’s weird to think that I’m not 21 anymore. I sometimes have to really concentrate when people ask me how old I am because I can’t quite come to terms with the fact that I’m moving towards the age where people expect you to get your life together. I feel like my life has got even less together over the last two years. 23 isn’t old by any means, but it means that I’m getting closer to the ages where I thought those big life markers might fall. You know, moving into your own place, dream job, meeting that special person, marriage, kids, the whole shebang.
But here I am, resolutely living back at home to finish my Masters degree, with the same job I’ve had since I was 16 that I still think of as my ‘holiday job’, and emerging from (or still wrapped up in?) a heartbreak.
So here I am, typing words on the screen, hoping that self-medication by writing is the answer. Today was just one of those days: too many swirling thoughts and emotions, so my personal Pensieve has been resurrected. Help me through my almost-quarter life crisis won’t you?
Bare with me, we’ll get into the swing of things again soon!
Now playing: Change Your Mind (Stripped) – Jack Vallier
The more I think about it, the more ridiculous it seems that I am 21 years old but have never been on holiday without my family. But within 24 hours, this will have changed. It is time to cast away my cares and dismiss long sleeves! Now that my exams have finished and my year abroad in Strasbourg is technically over, what better way of filling my last few weeks ‘on the continent’ than gallivanting around the south eastern coast of Spain with the gang.
I have packed up my bag, thrown away the shrivelled carrots in the back of my fridge, decanted my shampoo into 100ml and told my boyfriend that he can watch the next 2 episodes of Game of Thrones without me while I’m away which I’m already regretting. Almost as much as I’m regretting my grand plan to spend a night in Basel airport alone. Sometimes I am surprised by my own brilliance at concocting such horrible plans.
My flight out to meet my chums in Alicante is at 6:10 in the morning and so in order to save time and money, I have set up camp in a comfy chair to make the most of the free wifi and warm surroundings.
There’s a man nearby snoring as though his life depends on it and a lady with shoes off, feet on the seats and not a care in the world. The building as a whole is quiet and dark, not too bad a place to get a couple hours of kip before my flight tomorrow morning. I’m going to set a few dozen alarms to make sure that I wake up in time and don’t render this whole exercise a waste. I know some people sleep in airports fairly frequently, but this is new territory to me, as is mainland Spain – I have never experienced either and I’m excited to get this first objective done and move onto the next one!
Strasbourg has become an entirely different city during the last few weeks. The biting cold that set in during December began to wither away during March. These months were freezing and dark, and I kept my gloves with me at all times just in case. But recently there has been somewhat of a renaissance. Where there was once the overwhelming brown of bare branches, there is now refreshing green and sometimes candy floss pink. The lifeless, weed-infested grass is now freshly cut and holds promises of sunbathing and daisy chains.
Today was glorious. After 11 hours of exams this week, I decided I was allowed to sleep in late. When I opened my blinds, the sky was perfection: brilliant and endless blue with an insignificant smudge of white cloud here and there. Definitely not coat weather, heck, it wasn’t even jacket weather. I opted for a cardigan which also proved unnecessary and I stuck it in my bag.
I love travelling around Strasbourg. The bus route to the university campus takes me down a long, straight boulevard lined with embassy buildings, the Council of Europe and the Parc de l’Orangerie. Then on towards the river and through the smaller streets where cafés spill onto the streets and small shops sell vintage clothing or old leather-bound books.
The campus looks so much more attractive in this weather too. Even the ugly law school building with its blue and red panelling looks oddly charming in the sun. Students are outside socialising. Someone cracks out an acoustic guitar. Maybe they play ‘Wonderwall’, or maybe there’s a French equivalent.
It’s so nice outside that I stick on The Maine, my go-to good-weather band, and start walking the nearly 2 miles home. Then I remember that I have hay fever and I sniff my way to the tram stop instead.
The route home on the tram is excellent, particularly now. Les tricolors around Place de la République are an injection of primary colours that stand out against the greenery and the sand coloured buildings. The European Parliament glints as the light hits its glass exterior. Do you remember having a see through plastic pencil case when you were younger? Do you remember turning it inside out so the seams were on the outside? That’s sort of what the European Parliament looks like, an inside out pencil case – thanks Ollie for that perfect analogy!
The flags of all the EU member countries are displayed in two ordered lines, including that of the UK. The warm breeze toys with them delicately and they flutter in unison. It’s a pleasant sight. I ponder that if the flag of my homeland was not there, my process of living abroad may have been much more difficult, or may not have even happened at all…but that’s none of my business. I know very little about politics and would be a truly horrible politician. I know how I’m voting though. I’ll stop now.
When the weather is good, everything is transformed. People are walking, running, cycling, chatting, chilling, laughing. They seem happier. I too am happier in the sun. I fall a little bit more in love with this city through this enchanting golden filter.
I have to leave soon. I need to get a bit more vitamin D before I can be okay with that fact.
Last Saturday night was a miserable and rainy autumn one in Canterbury. The wind was howling and soggy leaves were strewn across the pavements. Dodging puddles became a necessity every few steps. It was the kind of night where you’d much rather stay in with a pizza and a Marvel film than go out.
However, for those of us who braved these bitter conditions, there was a treat in store at The Lounge Bar and Kitchen. This venue is the Student Union for one of the main universities in Canterbury and on this night in particular (Saturday 14th November) played host to Late & Live Sessions, a new live music event which prides itself on showcasing the best live music offerings from around the Canterbury and Whitstable area. Last week, the event had 4 sets from exciting artists such as Standard Lamps (who have opened for The Who), Hey Maggie (Late & Live veterans and crowd favourites), Noble Jacks (giving off splendid Mumford and Sons vibes) and solo artist Sam Brothers (the guy can play the harmonica and the guitar at the same time…need I say more?) Sounds exciting, right?
I arrived at the venue about an hour before kick-off and the room was thrumming with activity. Cases containing unidentifiable pieces of sound and lighting equipment were being brought in and hooked up; the stage was empty but for a few microphone stands and bundles of wires; the bar was being stocked and was emitting a tempting warm light. But I was not to be distracted, I was there to meet with Chris Monti who is, alongside his father Carlo, co-founder of Late & Live Sessions to talk about how this exciting project came about.
“We started the Late & Live Sessions with our launch event on July 5th 2015 based in a venue in Canterbury called Lifestyle Fitness, a 1000 capacity venue,” he says. “We launched it to showcase up-and-coming talent from the UK live music scene. We were really interested in Canterbury with the buskers, the small venue performers, anyone we’ve seen and wanted to give an opportunity to showcase their music. That was the initial strategy because we felt that in Canterbury, there is a big clubbing scene, a lot of house music and really great event companies, but there wasn’t as much offering within the live music scene, so it’s a sort of gap in the market and an opportunity to show that there’s a lot of talent out there and so we brought it all together.”
So that’s how it came about, you wanted to plug this gap? “Well no it actually came about because we often come through Canterbury high street and see a lot of buskers (like Hey Maggie) performing and we wanted to put on a big show where we could showcase their talent. And that was how it sparked the interest. It was something we’ve always planned to do, but we were looking for the right time and the right venue to do it. Lifestyle Fitness gave us the opportunity to do it and it’s sort of kicked off from there.”
How do you go about setting up an event like this? “In some of our venues, we will put the whole production on, so we work with local suppliers, in terms of the staging, equipment and sound systems and then work with local security teams like Akon Security. We actively go round to bars in the high street and meet the bands or solo performers face to face, speak to them and share what we’re trying to do, our vision, and get them on board. It’s a lot of background work trying to liaise with everyone to get it right. Each one of the performers who comes to our venue gets paid and then we’ll run all the marketing and promotion on our side, all the staging, the lighting and the venue. We do all of the logistical side, we just want to let them perform.”
What are there certain steps you’ve got to go through before you can put on such an event? “Yeah there’s a lot of planning that goes on behind the scenes. Depending on what venue we’re using or the size capacity, it could be up to 3 months planning or a month. This one was quite a quick turnaround and because we’ve worked with suppliers on a frequent basis, we sort of understand the set up better now to when we initially started. Our first launch in July was about 3 months planning of trying to find the right suppliers who could work with us and be our partners and finding the right bands to do our launch event who were actively on board with what our vision was. From there, it’s just grown and we’ve actually got bands approaching us and saying they want to perform in our events, it’s great! We now work with 3 venues. Alongside Lifestyle Fitness, we’ve got the Umbrella Centre in Whitstable, now we’ve luckily got an opportunity to work here with The Lounge Bar and Kitchen.”
Who’s involved in your team to help set this all up? “My father obviously [Chris’ father Carlo Monti who is also co-founder of the Late & Live Sessions], and my brother who helps with all the designs, he’s a graphic designer which is very lucky [for us]. He does all the posters we’ve got, all the marketing material for us, and all the social media designs. I run the social media pages, plus do a lot of the logistical operations. My dad runs the business from the Kent side. We’ve got people who promote our events, we’ve got bands who work closely with us, we’ve got some suppliers we’ve worked with for an ongoing basis, and so once we’ve got that structure in place it’s easy to move our set-up to each venue. Hopefully we’ll be able to grow eventually to London.”
What is your vision for L&L? Would a move to London be part of that? “The vision is to build our brand in the Kent area. To carry on introducing amazing bands. What really stood out to me after our first event was that we had Hey Maggie performing at our first event and they’ve come back to us again now. The amount of feedback I’ve had from people who have said “Hey, I’ve never heard of this band before, they’re amazing” is amazing and we’ve got people coming this evening just to see this band again that they hadn’t previously heard about. So that’s what we try and do. We try and get a whole mix of different genres and different live music from the scene, so people who might actually watch rock or go to rock nights or go to house music events see a different genre and absolutely love it.”
What are some of the drawbacks or difficulties of trying to start an event like this? “There’s a number of things that happen behind the scenes: it could be bands pulling out at the last minute, it could be trying to get the right mix of music in the venues sorted. Some of the events aren’t always commercially viable but we want to put on an event that we’re proud of and that people really want to come to. I’d rather spend money and give a really good show than spend less money and have a poor quality show that people don’t want to come back to.”
Who are some of your favourite acts that you’ve had perform at Late & Live? “Everyone!”
You must have a favourite though? “It’s hard to choose because I like all music. I like the clubbing scene, I like going to live music, and there’s some [we’ve had perform] that I wouldn’t actively put on my Spotify playlist or listen to on YouTube, but it’s a completely different atmosphere when you see them live. And there’s some that I’d listen to on a playlist on the tube and then if I go to their show, the performance they put on is outstanding and that’s the most important thing about live music – it’s about really giving the energy, the atmosphere, and everyone getting together. That’s what live music is about.”
Before we met tonight you were out promoting the event, who are the L&L Sessions aimed at? “Canterbury is a student area, there’s 2 big universities, so obviously there’s a student demographic and we’re here [tonight] at a student lounge. But not necessarily just students, we sometimes have families attend our events, especially in Whitstable a lot of families come because they love what we’re doing. There’s a lot of clubbing here, but there’s not so much for all age groups: you could go to the Marlow Theatre, but in terms of just purely live music, there’s nothing really on offer. Really we’re looking at every opportunity to really grow the live scene here and make sure it’s around.”
What do you hope that L&L can achieve in the future? “Next year, I want to do an outdoor, 4 stages, full live production. Time will tell if we can do that next year or the following year. We also want to branch, to London and hit that scene as well. I live in London and the live music scene is fantastic and there’s a lot of amazing bands and logistically it’s a lot harder to bring them down to Kent and make it commercially viable, but if we can branch to London, we could bring Kent bands to London and that would be a fantastic opportunity for everyone.”
What’s coming up next? “December 12th should be our next event and then following that, in the New Year, we plan on going big, but plans are still pending!”
Can we expect more of the same in December as you’ve provided tonight? “December will have 3 sets, and a completely different mix of genres, but we’re going to hold that back until next week!”
Haha fine! So people need to keep an eye on social media to wait for these announcements then. “Yes, the best way for people to find out about our new events is through our website lateandlivesessions.com. We’ve got a Facebook page (Late & Live Sessions), and we are actively trying to push our Instagram page (Late & Live) which shows images from the events. But probably the best one is our Facebook page which features our venues that we’re working with, where we’re going to be next, what the bands are and what we actually want to do is promote the bands themselves, so you can check out their latest videos and click on their pages. It’s not just about Late & Live the brand, we want to share the live music scene too.”
In a world where the words ‘selling out’ and ‘just in it for the money’ are frequently heard, Late & Live is a refreshing break from that and signals that there is life for UK music outside of the commercial, label-backed offerings currently circling the airwaves. They care about putting on a great show for people who love live music. Simple as that. Their vision is infectious and Chris’s enthusiasm for what he and his father are putting together is amazing. For them, the music and the experience of the night trumps all else. They deserve all the support they can get for championing live music – get on their Facebook page, smash that ‘Like’ button and get to the next event. You won’t regret it. Pinkie promise.
As the dust of the admin storm fades, I now find myself on the road to becoming settled and actually working out how to live in a foreign country. Culture shock is definitely a thing. Geographically, England is so close to France, but culturally it’s a million miles away.
I sat on the tram yesterday evening, baguette under my arm, pondering how I was one string of onions away from becoming a walking stereotype. Genuinely, I carried a baguette around with me for about half an hour. Then, due to the new-found bravery and ‘don’t give a shit’ attitude that I have developed from living here, I started to eat my baguette. Yes, I sat on the tram eating a fresh baguette not caring about the h8rs. That in itself is very French: they don’t give a damn and do what they want. It’s admirable, but was alien and scary at the start for a timid anglaise.
I got to thinking about other aspects of French life that are surprising for a non-francophone and these are my best offerings, friends. If any of my fellow intrepid explorers of French life have any other suggestions then feel free to get involved!
Trying to cross the road and being almost hit by a car, tram, bike or another person every time because you haven’t yet worked out which way to look. Add to that the fact that French drivers do not seem to play by the universal ‘green man means it’s my turn’ rule makes for some interesting crossing situations.
There is graffiti everywhere. It ranges from single French words scratched into the tram window, to random English nouns (I’ve seen the word ‘tumour’ painted under a bridge), to proclamations of love tippexed on the desks in lecture theatres. Yesterday I saw this absolute belter and thought it was too good to not share.
French teenagers LOVE their Nikes. I’ve never seen so many pairs of Jordans in my life! Everyone has really snazzy trainers and the majority of these are Nikes…we can deduce from this that French kids get too much pocket money. Cool it, maman et papa!
Walking past a boulangerie or patisserie it’s impossible to not stop and steam up the window with a hungry gaze. Man, it all looks so good, I do my strange pastry glance dance – walk past the window, glance at the calorific delights laid out for all to see, stop walking past, go back, eat it all with my eyes, carry on my merry way. I want to eat it all.
The police officers are armed. There are soldiers with gurt off assault rifles who take a turn about the town centre every now and again and armed guards positioned outside the synagogue I pass every day. They are conspicuous and no one bats an eyelid.
Being in France, means that it’s much more difficult to eavesdrop and hear about the mundane aspects of people’s lives which on boring days can be a wonderful distraction. Hearing a snapshot of a stranger’s life is surprisingly therapeutic, but the rapid-fire casual slang of colloquial French is proving difficult to understand. It may sound strange, but this makes me long for England, where I can listen to people planning evenings out and discussions with their parents. My French is improving though, soon I’ll be able to tell you all about Mathilde’s date with Jean-Claude.
They’re mad about recycling. People have knocked on my door twice to tell me about recycling and given me a little bag for separating my waste. On all bins, you’re encouraged to think of ‘le tri’ (sorting). I haven’t yet found out if there are any consequences of not sorting your bins but I hope not because as much as I love recycling, my French isn’t up to asking for directions to the nearest food waste disposal unit or if I can put my paper waste in with the tins, which it seems like they want me to do…I’ll get the hang of it, just not right now, okay?
Finally, number 9 – if they’re rude to you, it’s not because they hate you or because you’re being targeted, that’s just what they’re like as a populace. Don’t get offended, that’s just what they can be like.
As of tomorrow, I will have been living in Strasbourg for 7 weeks, if my maths is right. A scary and exciting 7 weeks. I’m sure the French culture will reveal to me more of its secrets, but for now I have mid-terms and then half term next week which will be a blessing – time to go home, unwind, forget all about the ordering of personal pronouns and how to use the subjunctive tense in real life and eat some proper cheddar.
I believe a month ago today, I first arrived in Strasbourg. A month which has been exciting and terrifying and painful and thrilling in equal measure. The systems of administration and the hoops we have had to jump through have been atrocious but the city itself is gorgeous and makes up for the lack of clarity in these situations and the lack of toilet seats in France in general. Concerning, I know.
I will not be pretentious and say that ‘I discovered myself and who I REALLY am on my year abroad’ because let’s be honest a) I have been here only a month and b) no one likes that kid. But I have found some of the most excellent friends I could possibly imagine and in my book that’s even better.
The following was written when I got in from a night out this morning at around 6am and I think perfectly demonstrates the fun that has been had with these exceptional people so far in Strasbourg. Sorry if this is one of those ‘you had to be there, man, it was hilarious!!!’ moments. Spell-check can wait another couple of hours. Read on, dear friend, read on!
The time is 05:42. I have been awake for 23 hours. I have only just returned from a night out. My limbs are like ice poles and I can’t feel my fingers; typing is a struggle and the coldest setting on my tap feels pleasantly tepid.
Everything about the night I just experienced just seems completely absurd looking back on it now…yes! That’s it, it all seems absurd!
The night started innocently enough: I was my standard half an hour late for pre-drinks because that’s generally who I am (sorry) and after several minutes, me and the other excellent attendees were passing around a large bottle of grass flavoured vodka…not drinking it…just smelling it. The smells registered ranged from “cinnamon” to “pain”. There was also a large blade of grass in the bottle…what’s up with that?!
After many jokes and laughs, we had found the ideal balance between being raucous and having a laugh while still being able to walk in a reasonably straight line.
We found the bar easily and ‘bon soir’ed and smiled dopily at the bouncer while he checked our ID and walked in…only to find the room dark and loud but almost totally devoid of patrons. But as the enterprising students we are, we immediately marched across to the bar and ordered a round of jagerbombs.
In the UK, jagerbombs (a shot of jager in about half a can of Red Bull so it’s the perfect volume for downing all in one swift action) are a staple of every night out because they’re so cheap. You can often buy 4 for £10 which pleases me and many other penniless students greatly. In France however, we have discovered that they are too big, too cold and too expensive. If you can drink a French jagerbomb in one go, you are a champ.
The bar filled up and our night continued. We danced, we got lost on the way to the loo, we laughed, we tried to understand what the French people were saying to us and we somehow gained lots of glowsticks.
Eventually it was time to leave and due to the fact that I live so far out from the centre of town, we needed kill time before the trams (which don’t run between 00:30 and 04:00). We walked our very drunk friend home and probably woke up all her flatmates as we sat in her room and stole all her food while she almost fell asleep on her bed.
She’d bought the most disgusting flavoured Pringles you could imagine and we ate them all. If you ever see the emmental ones for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS HOLY do not buy them. They taste of socks and get progressively worse with every bite. They were just completely awful.
We ate them all, raided her fridge and made our exit. On the way to the tram, we encountered a group of boys and the most bizarre situation. They were standing around a silver Renault Clio which was at 45 degrees to the parking space it was meant to be in which piqued our curiosity. They gave a cry of “un, deux, trois!” and heaved the rear end of the car back towards the space. But this was not enough and my two male friends were enlisted to haul again, the rear of the car into the space.
Why the car was sticking out of its original space by 45 degrees at 4 in the morning is beyond me. Why they felt the need to move it baffles me. I just don’t understand it and it confuses me still as I remember doubling over in hysterical laughter at the expressions on my mates’ faces as they gathered around the car.
We had a fantastic night and all of these events of the night may not seem funny at all when I wake up, but the words of my friend Phil of “is that even their car?!” just contributed the excellence of the night and provided a well-deserved break from reality. I can’t wait to see what the following months bring us here in Strasbourg.
I’m folded into the passenger seat of our family’s car. My dad is in the driver’s seat and the sun is shining down on us and making me wish I didn’t choose to wear my blackest jeans and winteriest boots today. We are sitting in a companionable quiet, lost in thoughts or in my case, a blog post.
20kg of my life is packed into a suitcase and sitting in the boot, daring me to take a look inside and realise I’ve forgotten something crucial.
Passport? Check. Health insurance card? Check. Raincoat? Check. Gym kit? Check. Slightly too big to fit stuffed animal of Toothless the dragon from that Dreamworks film ‘How To Train Your Dragon’? Check.
These are the more mobile of my possessions, the ones that would fit in a suitcase. Bigger things have been left behind.
Today, I move to Strasbourg, in the north east corner of France. Apparently it’s called the capital of Europe; the European Court of Human Rights is there, along with the European Parliament. And there’s an enormous cathedral too. One could want for nothing more!
I’m going to the university there. For a year. In France. On my own. For a year, did I mention?
I’m terrified, I’m frightened, I’m a ball of anxiety and worry ready to ping and explode at any point like a watermelon with too many elastic bands wrapped around it. All these weeks of burying my head in the sand and ignoring that I had to go away have been for nothing. My plan was foiled again! You know in the Harry Potter series when Dumboedore and everyone else it seems all KNEW that Voldemort was going to come back but did hardly anything to prevent it other than ignore it and have a cracking feast every now and again and play a spot of Quiddich? That’s what I’ve done all summer. And now I have to go and meet Voldemort anyway…ugh! All burying my head did was leave me with a lot of paperwork to sort out last minute! Silly Lizzie, eh?
Underneath the all consuming terror of moving abroad, there’s a glimmer of something golden. If I get out my internal microscope and inspect it further it sparkles and shows me visions of friends yet to be made, smiling faces, improving my language skills and the many people over the last few days who have given me pep talks saying ‘hey Lizzie, you know what? You’re going to do great! This is an adventure, embrace it.’ I am grateful for this small glimmer of hope, it’s the only reason I didn’t leap out of the car this morning and curl up and hide under my duvet for a couple more weeks.
Yes, it’s terrifying and I’ll stumble over all my French verb conjugations and basic vocabulary for several weeks but isn’t that what I’m going over for? To improve and be around those who speak the language much better than I do?
So people, today, on the day I leave for France, I am dreading it slightly less than I have been…which is something at least! I’m being brave and starting my next adventure. Now in the next half an hour I just need to get over my absolute dislike of flying! That’s nothing, I’m about to live in France with all the French people and their berets and baguettes, I can do anything!