Alex Featured

Why I (still) love “Love Actually”

Love Actually seems to be, at this point, a nationwide Christmas tradition. The evenings draw in, the trees and the wreaths and the lights go up, families reunite, and everyone manages to, at some point, get through two hours of festive-ish metropolitan romance (even pushing it into the top 10 on Netflix in the week coming up to the 25th). It’s a film with its fair share of critics and poorly-aged story beats (unnecessary fat jokes, a sprinkle of patriarchy, hints of adultery, an unfortunate lack of diversity especially for a film set in the UK’s least white city), but it remains one that I hold immensely close to my heart.

Hugh Grant as Prime Minister David and Martine McCutcheon as common girl Natalie.

Richard Curtis’ classic is a love letter to London and, to an extent, humanity itself. He masterfully weaves an interconnected series of stories following various residents of the capital, played by what is essentially a who’s-who of British actors at the time, and their pursuit of, well, love. Hugh Grant is a single Prime Minister who falls helplessly (as he so effectively does in most movies he’s in) for his Catering Manager, Liam Neeson is a widower who helps his stepson Thomas Brodie-Sangster (who, fun fact, also voices Ferb) chase his primary school crush, Colin Firth is a writer who, after being cheated on by his wife and running away to France, becomes enamoured with his Portuguese cleaner despite the fact that they understand almost nothing that one another says; the list goes on. Special mention must go to Bill Nighy’s performance as a lewd, aged rocker going for Christmas number one—he is an omnipresent and utterly hysterical presence, marking one of the best outings of one of my favourite actors. As the movie progresses, we slowly see the links between each character grow into a complex web of relationships, adding a sense of unity and connectedness to the whole experience.

Bill Nighy as rockstar and all-around sex icon Billy Mack.

The result is a sort of highlight reel of romance: the first dates, the proposals and the heartbreaks, with the rest of the story having to be left to us to fill in. Love Actually’s wide scope means that unlike most other rom-coms, in which we tend to focus on the exploration and development of one or two relationships, the unlikely couples this movie homes in on get significantly less time and thus tend to be labelled surface-level and incredible by some of Love Actually’s detractors. That’s not how I see it, though: I think its breadth allows the film to cover a whole range of diverse love stories in one tight package. While we aren’t shown the growth of relationships in full, it’s not some compilation of people running into each other, having sex, then suddenly finding happily ever after—although sure, we don’t necessarily see the full build-up of each and every character’s relationships, that doesn’t make them any less believable. Rather than a deep dive into the complications of relationships, then, this film is about expressions of love: I don’t think that comparisons to most other rom-coms really do it justice.

Much like other Curtis screenplays such as Four Weddings and a Funeral, Love Actually’s beauty lies in its honesty. Not all of its stories are perfect—many of them don’t even end happily (which, for a rom-com, is a bold move)—but neither does love in real life. Some explore different types of love to your classic girl-meets-boy: love between friends, siblings, families. The interplay between these and romantic love, often ending in tough and seemingly impossible choices in which our characters have to sacrifice one kind of love for another, leaves us with several bitter, painful and seemingly unjust conclusions interspersed with our feel-good heartwarmers. The thing is, this story doesn’t try to sell you some sort of wildly romantic, intercontinental epic built on impossible coincidences and indescribably instant connections like other seasonal movies might—instead, it tries to provide you a brief window into genuine, human relationships, flawed, raw and dashing though they may be. Yes, there’s cheating and jealousy and death and pain and heartbreak, and the film doesn’t try to hide that from you: those moments of despair are essential elements of its narrative. Above all, though, what Love Actually wants to show us is the scene at its beginning and end, in Arrivals at Heathrow Airport—the joy of seeing those families, friends and loved ones reuniting reminds us that despite all the hardship the world may throw at us, we are all greeted by those same beaming faces once we come home. All of us are loved.

Love, life, isn’t perfect. But that’s what makes it worth living—we need to get through the tough times to reach the good ones. Though Love Actually doesn’t mince its words, its overall message is one of hope: that if we look hard enough, love really is everywhere. Christmas is all about reminding us of that, I think, and few pieces of art are able to express it better. That’s why I come back to it every year—I absolutely adore this film, and I’ll tire of it once I tire of life itself.

For some actual critics who I used as negative references for this piece, look at these:

Image sources in order of use:


What I Read This Summer

Summer is always the part of the year where I really get the time to sit down and tear through some books. This time, though, I thought I’d do something a bit different, and get you lot involved in the process; so, I made an Instagram story asking for recommendations. I was honestly blown away by the response—I got about 60 different people with suggestions of what to pick up (Images below). It has made it even more clear to me how much books matter to people; after the response, I wanted to share my very quick thoughts on what I did get through in June and July here (and might start doing this kind of thing a bit more in future). It’s in order of when I read and there are a lot of words here, so just click over to what you’re interested in. As for the ones I haven’t got to yet, I haven’t forgotten you; a guy can only get through so many books at a time. Watch this space. If anyone else has or wants any recommendations, get in touch!
–AB, 1/9/2021 x

Full list of reviews:

Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappé, Frank Barat: “On Palestine”
Khaled Hosseini: “The Kite Runner”
Patrick Ness: “A Monster Calls”
Adam Kay: “This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor”
Stieg Larsson: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
Haruki Murakami- “Norwegian Wood”
Madeleine Miller- “The Song of Achilles”
Claudia Rankine- “Citizen”

Noam Chomsky, Ilan Pappé, Frank Barat: “On Palestine”

In May, the world’s headlines (and everyone’s Instagram stories) blew up once again with displays of the atrocities committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. This was one of those issues that I was aware of at the periphery, but had not fully explored, so I decided to educate myself; I came across this on a visit to Lighthouse Books in Edinburgh, and having wanted to read some Chomsky for a while, picked it up.
Chomsky is one of the most important thinkers of our time, with work covering Linguistics, History and Philosophy, while Pappé is an Israeli historian who is extremely critical of the state and its occupation of Palestine. This book was an incredibly interesting read as, though it was written in 2014, gave me massive insight into the situation today (as, honestly, not very much has changed). The book consists of a conversation between the two, led by activist Frank Barat, which covers the past, present and potential future of the Israeli state’s occupation and abuse of Palestine and its people, as well as various articles and speeches by both figures from other sources at the end. It is obviously very biased against Israel (who wants to support a violent settler/colonialist state anyway?) but has provided me with a decent starting point to learn more about the topic. If you want to actually look into and understand the context of one of the most crucial and important conflicts of our time, this is an excellent place to start.

Buy “On Palestine” at Lighthouse Books on West Nicolson Street in Edinburgh or here:

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Khaled Hosseini: “The Kite Runner”

When I put up my Instagram poll in June, this was one of the most popular recommendations I got. I managed to find it on a bookshelf at home, and got to work.
The best way I could describe this story is one of humanity. The human that the story follows Amir, a child growing up in 1970s Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, as well as his life as a refugee in the USA after the Soviet occupation sent the country spiralling into decline. Amir is a deeply flawed protagonist; much of the story is driven by his mistakes as much as his successes. This means that you both root for and sometimes hate the narrator of the book—but ultimately, that’s the same as any person. Amir’s sort of reverse foil is his best friend and servant, Hassan; an innocent, pure yet fearlessly loyal sidekick. The story follows their relationship as it is tested and changed by time. The book is likely heavily inspired by the author’s own experience—Hosseini himself fled from Afghanistan from the USA at the same time—but it is this detail that gives the it its riveting authenticity; its descriptions of a prospering Kabul, free of the unbearable heat, violence, and poverty of today, are vivid and captivating—it’s a world I wish I could never leave. This window into the beauty of the past only makes it more heartbreaking as we watch, through Amir’s eyes, the city we have come to love be corrupted and destroyed by people who are, in many ways, as flawed and scared as our imperfect narrator. While this story shows humanities at its best and its worst, its most important takeaway is a glimmer of hope—that of redemption. This is one of my favourite books ever; please read it.
I read and wrote this in June, but I am adding an addendum now given all that’s happened in Afghanistan since. Above all, this book is a love letter by the author to his home: a country he once knew so well but would barely recognise now. The Afghan people have endured forty years of pain and suffering, watching the community, culture and country they love be repeatedly ripped to shreds by insurgents hellbent on destroying it; this book passed onto me the tiniest piece of their immense longing. They deserve a chance to find that home again; I will support them in any way I can.

Buy “The Kite Runner” at Lighthouse Books on West Nicolson Street in Edinburgh or here:

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Patrick Ness: “A Monster Calls”

Despite adoring the movie and owning several other Patrick Ness books, I don’t think I’d ever actually read this in the past. I got through it in a single sitting (it’s only 250 or so pages) and, though I knew how it would end all along, still teared up a bit by the time I’d finished. This book was actually originally a concept by the author Siobhan Dowd that she never got to write before her death; it was posthumously given to Ness to write. I think he did a fantastic job.
The story follows Conor O’Malley, a thirteen-year-old boy living alone with his terminally-ill mother. In the night, he is visited by a monster who emerges from the yew tree outside his window and arrives to tell him stories. It’s hard to talk about this book without spoiling it too much, but the result is a gut-wrenching tale of a boy trying to find peace in the inevitable and, ultimately, with himself. I find Conor so enthralling as a protagonist because of how much of oneself I think you can see in him; deep down, I think we sometimes all feel like a hurt, confused and lost thirteen-year-old, and Ness captures this sense of hopeless immaturity beautifully. This book didn’t win the Carnegie medal for nothing.

Buy “A Monster Calls” at Topping and Co. on Blenheim Place in Edinburgh or here:

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Adam Kay: “This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor”

I’d known about this book for a while now; my parents read it a few years ago, and I always see posters for Kay’s sold-out show on the Fringe. We had this lying around at home, so I picked it up.
Speaking to my friend who’s applying for a medicine degree, I was told that everyone even dreaming of being a medic has read this book. Having read half of the book at this point, I went on to ask why on earth they still wanted to apply, knowing full well the world they were signing up for; they replied that the scariest and most important part about is that despite the fact that they all read this book, they still choose the degree anyway.
This book is a red flag: it is a warning sign to those who dare follow its path, and an SOS to everyone else, who will never truly understand what our friends are going through. It consists of an edited eight-year diary of Kay’s daily life as he worked as a Junior Doctor—the highs and the many lows that come with the job. He guides us through a pain of hundreds of unpaid hours and ridiculous bureaucracy and the joy of saving lives, as well as the toll taken on his personal life and relationships as a result of it all. All of this is delivered with Kay’s touch of sarcastic brilliance, explaining away impossible-sounding medical terms and the intricacies of the NHS’ system with quips ranging from fiddling priests to Ryman’s stationery to Lego Star Wars. You never know whether to cry at a tragedy or to laugh at Kay’s hilarious jokes about it—regardless, I could read Kay’s entries forever (though I doubt he’d like to go back to the NHS in order to make them). The main thing I’ve taken away, though, is never to underestimate a doctor—they’ve been through more than you know.

Buy “This is Going to Hurt” at Lighthouse Books on West Nicolson Street in Edinburgh or here:

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Stieg Larsson: “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”

This was another one recommended to me from my Instagram; it’s in about every charity shop ever, so I picked up a copy in Rugeley, where I was living at the start of summer. Everyone knows what the deal is with this one, and most of you have probably read it already.
Ignoring the fact that this world is literally just the author creating a projected reality in which he is a master journalist/detective and all women have an inexplicable urge to have sex with him, this was a really good read. The book follows Mikael Blomkvist, a disgraced journalist who is hired to investigate a 40-year-old murder case, and how, along with the enigmatic investigator Lisbeth Salander, his ghost hunt uncovers armies of skeletons in the closet of his employer’s family. It is equal parts mystery and thriller, and has a million aces up its sleeve; as soon as you think you’ve solved one of its mysteries, another twist leaps out at you. This story thrives on the contrast between its uncertainty and intrigue, its gore and violence, and its occasionally profound emotional depth. Its characters are as human as they are unrealistic, its world as understandable as it is complex, and its conclusion is both predictable and shocking. Several times while reading this, I genuinely sat up and shouted “What?!?!”, which should probably tell you enough about how invested I was in the story. At over 500 pages, this isn’t a mild undertaking, but this book lived up to its reputation. I determined I’d read the second in the trilogy as soon as I came across it.

Buy “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” at almost any charity shop (apparently), at Topping and Co. on Blenheim Place in Edinburgh or here:

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Haruki Murakami- “Norwegian Wood”

After being told to read this book by about the whole world (I got recommended Murakami by no less than seven different people on Instagram) I borrowed this one off of my friend, who herself had been trying to get me to read this for ages (although she does prefer the Wind-up Bird Chronicle. Maybe I’ll hit that next?)
I think my favourite stories aren’t ones that focus on superhuman power, flawless heroes and battles to save the world, but the ones about emotions, imperfect protagonists and battles to save themselves (usually from problems of their own causing). There’s beauty in simplicity and relatability, and while a superhero or an apocalypse is great every now and again, the stories that stay with me are those that are seen through the eyes of normal people in our very normal world—a snapshot of the human experience. That’s what Norwegian Wood represents, to me; it’s a tale of love, loss, and growing up that grabs you by the heart and refuses to let go. It follows Toru Watanabe, a university student who has just moved from Kobe (near Osaka in central Japan) to Tokyo in search of a new life, and his relationship with Naoko, his best friend’s girlfriend from home who represents everything from his past that he is trying to escape. Murakami has this beautiful way of writing, too; the indifferent flair to his narration vividly reflects both Watanabe and the world of 1960s Japan, lending the story an irresistible character that I couldn’t put down. This is one of those books where you can see the conclusion coming from a mile away, I think, yet still find impossible to pray that the inevitable won’t happen; it’s utterly immersive and gut-wrenching, and makes you nostalgic for a youth, country and time that you have never experienced yet come to fall in love with. What’s good enough for Harry Styles, Andrew Yang and half of my Instagram followers (apparently) is more than good enough for me; I believe the hype on this one.

Buy “Norwegian Wood” at Lighthouse Books on West Nicolson Street in Edinburgh or here:

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Madeleine Miller- “The Song of Achilles”

This is another one that got recommended to me a good few times, so I grabbed it while down in Bath at the lovely Topping and Co. outpost there (there’s also one in Edinburgh, just on Leith Walk, which you must visit if you haven’t).
Quite the opposite from Norwegian Wood, The Song of Achilles is the story of the mythical hero, told through the lens of his close friend and eventual lover, Patroclus. This is a world of legend; Gods walk among men, mighty kingdoms with lauded leaders wage war and settle for peace, and homosexuality is even mostly accepted (Maybe things were better in 2000BC after all?). Our protagonist Patroclus is an exiled prince who, after being taken under the wing of Achilles’ father, Peleus, develops a lifelong relationship with the boy, following him from the palace of Phthia to the gates of Troy. Despite the far-flung setting, the lens that is provided by Patroclus, a weak, clumsy and decidedly non-legendary man, grounds the story and allows us to feel, through him, at home in this land of Gods and Kings. Miller masterfully reinterprets and bends the legend of Achilles, relying heavily on Homer’s Iliad, into a tale that feels exciting, fresh and poignant, while still remaining faithful to the source material. Making Achilles and Patroclus openly gay, too, is something I have to touch on entirely because of how natural it feels; not only does it fit with the story, but the addition of this profound emotional relationship with his canonical best friend provides a level of depth and humanity to Achilles that no other version of him properly manages to provide. That’s serious testament to this story, and Miller’s telling of it. Though this book didn’t touch me emotionally in a way that many of the other ones I’ve read have, I am still really glad I picked it up; if you liked Percy Jackson, especially, I think this pulls off what that tries to do far better.

Buy “The Song of Achilles” at Topping and Co. on Blenheim Place in Edinburgh or here:

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Claudia Rankine- “Citizen”

A year ago, affected especially by the death of George Floyd, I, like just about everyone else, read a copy of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. That book is an incredibly common choice for a reason; it offers a comprehensive introduction to the academic side of modern racial inequality in the UK, from slavery, to education, and with some intersectionality thrown in there as well. It actually set me up for my study of Politics at university much more than I ever expected, and had a decided impact on my worldview today.
Citizen, though, takes a very different lens to the problem—Rankine here attempts to convey the emotional side of the Black female experience, how it feels rather than what it objectively is. This essentially takes shape as a long-form poem, split up into several sections, each covering a certain part of the “othering” faced by people of colour in the West, how they are constantly made to feel like they don’t belong by people who barely seem to realise or care about the fact that they’re doing it—as she puts it, a stark reminder of being coloured person against a white background. At about 200 usually half-empty pages, this was a super quick read, which only leads me to recommend this even more. I am never quite sure how to react to books such as this; it was something that I absolutely adored reading, yes, but the issues that it covers are so incredibly unjust that it almost feels wrong to say that I loved this as a whole. I did, though; this does an incredible job at capturing this facet of humanity, as unfair and horrible as it is—it is an extremely powerful read. Though as a white person living in a white world, the experiences Rankine outlines so impactfully here are ones that I won’t ever be able to fully understand, I now feel that I am that slight bit closer. This is one of those books that I think almost anyone should read (in fact, I gave it to my Mum almost immediately after finishing it). This is one of the most impactful books I have read in a long time, and I wish I could write with the raw yet sophisticated emotional efficacy that Rankine has.

Buy “Citizen” at Topping and Co. on Blenheim Place in Edinburgh or here:

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Alex Archive

Archive: Life After King’s

A few months ago, my school got in touch with me asking me to write a piece for their newsletter about what I’d been up to since leaving last June; this is what I came up with. There’s a bit of life updating and a lot of reflection on how Covid has (somewhat) changed my life trajectory, similar to earlier pieces I wrote while I was still at school. If you’re reading this when it drops, make sure read my new piece too; otherwise, enjoy, I guess.

A lot can change in a year.

I am sat writing this on a cold Edinburgh evening, watching the snow melt outside the window of my university accommodation. I am eternally envious of my friends on the floors above me, who get views of city rooftops on one side and the familiar silhouette of Arthur’s Seat on the other, while I spend my nights looking out into the street and the block of flats opposite. Even though it’s not quite as idyllic as my friends’, or even as Bruton, it’s something that, for the time being, has quickly become home; if nothing else, watching the vast array of random passers-by on the street is an everyday reminder that I’m not alone.

A year ago, I left King’s for the February half-term having had a whirlwind of a month, from the House Music to the rapidly-approaching debate final to my 18th birthday just a few days before. Covid-19 was still confined to the backs of minds and jokes on the Internet. Unbeknownst to most, it was about to send most of our lives upside down—mine especially since I was about to be taking my A levels and leaving school. As far as I was aware at the time, I was headed for a pretty normal future. I was still waiting on my offer from Edinburgh, where I already had my heart set on going to study Politics, Philosophy and Economics, and was anxious to do as well as I could in my exams to ensure that I met the requirements. I was terrified by but looking forward to my last term at school and the chance to conclusively close five years of dedication to its community. What I did not happen to expect at the time was that that all would disappear within a number of weeks.

March 18th, the day A levels and GCSEs were cancelled, remains clear in my head; I remember watching the press conference in the Lyon House common room and feeling the whole room be struck by a wave of uncertainty (on top of our admitted elation). The subsequent months of the first lockdown are, I think, going to be ones we reflect on a lot in years to come. What struck me most about them was how they granted the world a time to press pause, and reflect on where we all were, what we were doing, and where we were going. Perhaps, as someone caught between two such important points, this effect was more prevalent for me; despite its obvious major impacts on me in that light, I was anxious to see that those whose livelihoods had been seriously adversely affected were supported through it all. Otherwise, I spent my copious amounts of new-found free time over summer playing American Football with my brother, reading to prepare for my university course, and writing articles for my blog. I also got a buzzcut, which I am sure would’ve been to Mrs Grant’s utter dismay (she will be relieved to know that my normal hair has subsequently grown back, however).

My experience at university so far has obviously been pretty different than your usual. My room is my new library, my computer screen my lecture hall, and my kitchen my nightclub. I think it would be pretty easy to get bogged down in the negatives of how impacted and changed my life has been by this new world we’re living in, but I have tried my utmost not to; honestly, I am still loving every second of my time here. I really miss King’s in so many ways, but the move up here has been a refreshing change of scene; being able to live independently, especially in this beautiful city with which I am already in love, is a dream come true. I’ve even managed to cook for myself, something which I strongly doubted I’d be able to manage (but trust me when I tell you that I miss the King’s catering department more than ever). I love my course, and I find myself more excited to learn every day than I’ve ever been before; despite the fact that I dream of in-person lectures, I am reassured that they will one day be a reality (although preferably sooner rather than later).

In May, I wrote a piece for the Dolphin about lockdown, and how it had flipped the world on its head, but more importantly about how it had brought everyone together; there was a certain nationwide atmosphere of solidarity, and a common belief in embracing the hand we’d all been dealt. If I’ve learned anything since leaving King’s, it’s that—though on my last day at school I could never have seen this year going the way it has, the best thing I can do now is to make the most of what I’ve got. Life doesn’t always go the way that you’d hope or expect; sometimes, the only thing you can really do is just live it, and know that that’s enough.

The Meadows. Edinburgh, February 11th, 2021. Photo taken by me (for once).
Alex Featured


Today, I turn nineteen.

It isn’t a particularly important age for most people, I imagine; the afterburn of an eighteenth year full of change, from school to the real world (or halfway there, at least), from a child to something resembling an adult. I guess that turning this age also holds a lot of that for me—more than anything, Covid has led to this year being an even harsher cacophony of ups and downs, often in quick succession, and my birthday marks nearly a year since it all started. In my case, though, nineteen holds a certain significance. To explain that, I’ll need to tell a story about a friend of mine.

Lyon House, 12/02/2019.

A lot of you will know his name, but that’s not important: for the purposes of this, I’ll just call him J. By all means, I never actually knew J very well; when I joined my senior school aged thirteen, he was in his final year there. He seemed to have everything: he was Head Boy, captain of the school’s first-ever undefeated rugby team, and a living legend around campus. But what always stuck out to me was how despite all of his achievements, he was incredibly humble and down-to-earth—seeing him daily in our close-knit boarding house, he would never look down on us, the youngest in school (as most older kids, out of pride or perhaps insecurity, tended to). Sure, we never felt like equals, exactly, but more importantly he made us feel like we mattered; knowing he’d been at the forefront of pushing greater mental health awareness in school over the years, we all knew that if we ever had a problem, he would always be there to listen.

My memories of the guy are mostly pretty positive: I remember watching him charge down the rugby pitch in the final match of the season, fearlessly acting as an Eastern European maid in our house play (though the cast’s abilities were questionable, you will never see as many penis jokes in a single 90 minutes in your entire life) and screaming at the latest twist on Game of Thrones on a Monday night. As a kid, I never really got to see the other side of him: I am not sure that many did (though looking back, most of our house, at least, seemed to somewhat know). Hearing about his death, then, came to me as an incredible shock.

It’s as if it were last week, or maybe a month ago: the afternoon remains crystal clear, imprinted in my mind. It had been announced in the morning that the whole school was meant to meet later in the day: which, for a Thursday, happened to be pretty odd. I knew it was serious, obviously (this kind of thing hasn’t occurred before or since), but had absolutely no idea what was coming. At athletics that afternoon, I discussed the affair with my mates while (pretending to be) training our triple jump in the lazy, English summer sun: we decided another friend of ours had probably been busted for drugs (he’d been searched that morning and, turns out, had somehow managed to get away with it). Nonetheless, we thought, a whole school meeting would be a bit overkill, and so nobody was really sure what was going on—we should have taken the news that one of his teachers had been seen in tears that morning as a warning sign.

An ominous mood hung over the school as the Headmaster stood up to speak. He kept it brief: he announced that earlier that morning, he had heard of J’s death while on a gap year in Vietnam. He didn’t tell us how it happened: my naïve, fifteen-year-old mind wouldn’t fill that bit in until later. While I don’t recall his exact words, I can still feel the punch to the gut that I sensed the whole room, especially our house, most of whom had been living with him less than a year before, take as the news hit us; I remember the eerily silent, ten-minute walk back to our boarding house, as sixty boys tried to come to terms with their friend’s death; and I remember us getting back, collapsing onto the various benches that had been assembled outside to greet us, and crying, unable to believe that someone we looked up to and cared about like a brother could be so suddenly and unexpectedly gone.

He was nineteen years old.

Lyon House, 27/5/2016.

I mentioned before that me and J didn’t have a very close relationship. Given our ages, that was inevitable, really; while being in his house meant I knew him better than most, it’s not like we were best mates. What he did represent for me, though, was a role model. When he was at my school and in the years after he left, I looked up to him immensely; when I was that age, I thought, I wanted to be something like him. Sure, I never made Head Boy, and I was nowhere near captaining any rugby teams (never mind an undefeated season). But before and especially after what happened I was always determined to, if nothing else, try to live up to the way he inspired me, and instil that same inspiration in the kids who came after me. Because more tragic than the fact that I knew he would never be able to play another game of rugby, or see the end of Game of Thrones (although that was almost definitely for the best), was the fact that his memory would one day fade. I wanted to be a part of keeping it alive somehow, even if indirectly.

Looking up at J aged thirteen, I saw someone with the world at his feet. At nineteen, I feel just about as directionless now as I did then and I’m sure he felt nearly 4 years ago. But what’s changed is that we finally are, in a way, equals; today will be as close as I’ll ever get to seeing the world through his eyes. And in that respect, I think that my vision of his story, too, needs to change. After all, I’ve grown out of my school: my time at university has already had a huge effect on me, and starting to grow up has given me the chance to take a new perspective on the childhood I’ve left behind. Maybe now, the best way to keep his memory alive is not within some tiny country school, but beyond, in the world, by trying to change what led to his tragedy in the first place. By encouraging conversations about mental health. By deconstructing the toxic masculinity behind the struggles of him and those close to him in accepting his sexuality. By reminding people that any life, especially one as bright and inspirational as his, never deserves to be thrown away. While that’s a big ask, one I could dedicate my entire life to and still not achieve, making a difference starts with the small things; I guess that this piece is one of those.

Today I turn nineteen, and as I grow older, I realise that his is a story that I don’t need to hide behind anymore (people who have known me long enough are sick and tired of it, at this point). Nineteen is where his story ended. But mine hasn’t: I am determined to make it a force for good, in the memory of him and so many, too many, other victims of male suicide. Being a man is more than simply masculinity: looking back, I see that J carried that message, from the rugby field to the boarding house to the stage and beyond, and if nothing else, he passed it on to me. I intend to live by it. If you’ve made it this far, the most important step that any of us can take is simply to check on your mates. We, I, don’t do it enough; it’s always “what’s going on?” and never really “how are you?” And even if they’re fine, I promise that even being asked can make a world of difference—knowing someone cares about your problems does so much to lighten their load. Again, it starts with the small things; but if we can change even one person’s day for the better, every day, it stacks up. When you feel totally alone in the world, the reminder that even one other person is there with you can be all that you need.

Like all of us, J faced many challenges in his life; though he responded to all of them valiantly, in the end it was the battles inside of him that became too much to bear. I can never fully understand, but today marks the closest I’ll ever get to it—I want his memory to help me make change, however small. And I know that if I, or you, can make a difference in at least one story like his, he will be looking down with pride.

Lyon House, 10/06/2016.


If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

-Rudyard Kipling

All images used are from the King’s Bruton Flickr, where they can still be accessed:
Though they feature my likeness (go have a look if you missed me), they are not owned by me. All credit goes to King’s, their rightful owner.

Alex Archive

Archive: “A Generation, Lost in Space”

I thought I’d take a minute to backlog a few pieces I had written earlier this year for my school magazine. This one is about lockdown and its effects on the teenage generation; it’s a bit sappy (it was a school magazine, alright) but it was a fun one to write. See if you can spot all the references (they took a lot of effort to fit in). The other archive piece should follow tomorrow; I’ll try and get some new main articles out soon.

Call it the day our music died; on March 20th, 2020, in a move not made in over 130 years, the UK government cancelled all GCSE and A level exams for this summer. The news was hardly unexpected; the exponential spread of covid-19 had already caused the government to shut all schools as potential viral hotbeds that Wednesday, and most universities had already closed their doors. But what this move effectively did is leave hundreds of thousands of teenagers and schoolchildren totally aimless— the focus of their lives, the goal of years of their work, had been swept from underneath their feet.

But though our summer swelter will be endured, for the most part, indoors and separated from our friends, we haven’t let that crush our spirit. Facing indefinite months in isolation, I spoke to my friends about how they were going to pass the time; I was shocked to find many already had plans in place, from learning Chinese flutes, to picking up new languages or running every day. I resolved to attempt to emerge from lockdown somewhat prepared for University and learn to cook (I can report that so far, zero kitchens have been destroyed in the process). I’d honestly expected most people to give up and sunbathe (an equally tempting option), so seeing them plan to put their time to good use was heartening.

But not only have we bettered ourselves; many have made efforts to emerge from their fallout shelters to better their community, too. Within days of lockdown beginning, teenagers (and even some teachers) had banded together through social media to nominate each other for a “Run 5, Donate 5” campaign where over £5.6 million was raised for NHS charities. And this was only the start; through making masks, social media campaigns, and volunteering to deliver shopping or even just call those who are, unfortunately, spending these months alone, our weeks divided as a school community have been spent making a difference at home, wherever we may be.

And though we’re split apart, these events have brought our nation, and our world, closer together. I now speak to my grandparents and cousins more than I ever did before (for the most part through the now-ubiquitous online quiz); neighbours seem friendlier, and my friends less far away. I suppose that lockdown, more than anything, has brought us all together, because we’re all in it together. In a way, right now we all are in one place, facing the problems of social isolation, economic insecurity, and fear of the virus; but in sharing that experience, we’ve all become that bit closer to one another. Of course, those of us who go to King’s are in a much more privileged and safe position than most in the midst of lockdown; but I think that this situation has given us space to reflect and build empathy and awareness for those less fortunate than us. I hope that this crisis will indeed give us time to start again, as a generation and as a country, and build a more understanding and united world.

For many of us, lockdown has taken away the ends of our school careers, and some of the most important summers of our lives; holidays and gap years have been postponed, and any whiskey (and indeed rye) and singing will have to be enjoyed with our parents, not our friends. In March, when this all began, I was worried a community usually so active and connected would end up becoming isolated, depressed and broken. Yet what the past few months have created is a sense of unity and responsibility; though our exams and our school, for the moment, may be gone, we have found new meaning in embracing the situation we’ve been placed in. And though the courtroom is indeed adjourned as to when we will be able to see each other again, and our music may have gone quiet for now, it is anything but dead; to hear that, you only need listen every Thursday.


Alex’s Blog

I’m Alex, and I study PPE; that’s Philosophy, Politics and Economics. I like to think it’s how the world works, with each part representing a part of how businesses and governments think:

  • Philosophy: The vision, the ideology behind every decision,
  • Politics: The idea, how that vision is going to be realised,
  • Economics: The process, how that idea is going to be brought into the world.

It fascinates me so much because it gives me the chance to understand and learn from so many other people’s perspective on the world and what’s going on in it.

I guess I’m making this blog as somewhere to add my own.

-AB, 13/01/20