The World According To Fred is my blog, although no, my name is not Fred - but don't worry, that's a common misconception... My posts are a compilation of all the things that pass through my mind - a running commentary of my view of the world. Please feel free to comment and please say if there are any subjects you would like Fred to take a view on - I really do want to know!!!! In the meanwhile enjoy:
The World According To Fred

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Loser Like Me: Glee Live! Tour 2011

“I am like Tinker Bell Finn: I need applause to live” Well, it can’t be denied that Lea Michele (Rachel Berry) and the rest of her fellow Glee cast certainly got their applause when I went to see them perform at the O2 Arena last weekend. Walking out of the stadium in a wave of people after the show had finished, I knew that I had just seen something unforgettable.

Introduced via VT by a hysterically funny Jane Lynch (Sue Sylvester), she – alongside Matthew Morrison (Will Schuester) – popped in and out to talk to both the audience and the performers as their characters throughout the evening. The artists then opened with their most famous song, Don’t Stop Believin’ to tumultuous applause which continued right through to their cover of Queen’s Somebody To Love with which they finished. The concert included an appearance from competing show choir the Warblers, with Darren Criss (Blaine Anderson, only called Blaine Warbler by everyone else), singing three of their songs from the TV show.

It is undeniable that the most entertaining actor of the night was Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel) – in between amazing solos, he performed hilarious skits with Criss and Heather Morris (Brittany Pierce) as well as dancing to Single Ladies as like in season one’s ‘Preggers’. However, the best act of the night was Amber Riley (Mercedes Jones); her voice is ten times as powerful and beautiful live than any recording equipment can convey, without any background performers or flashing lights needed to impress. Kevin McHale (Artie Abrams) staged the first season phenomenon Safety Dance, including him leaving behind his beloved wheelchair behind in order to dance. Morris also soloed, with her cover of the real Britney Spears’ Slave 4 U, stunning the entire audience with her incredible dancing and scant clothing. As for Cory Monteith (Finn Hudson) and his rendition of Jessie’s Girl: well, I may seem relatively well controlled, but I was willing – and about to – jump on to the stage (from my very high seat) in order to get closer.

Though the performance itself was incredible, certain aspects were a definite let down. Although I knew what to expect price wise after having seen Paramore in concert last November, I was shocked by both the lack of variety and lack of stock with the merchandise. After the monumental amount of costume changes present in the show, I anticipated a vaster amount of T-shirts available to buy; but aside from the minimal amount of “Glee Live Tour 2011” tees there were only the Born This Way shirts. Yet even then they stocked only a few of the original ones, so that instead of Finn’s “Can’t Dance” tee, I chose to have Kurt’s “Likes Boys”, which needless to say, doesn’t have exactly the same affect. However, they were selling the “^ I’m With Stoopid”, so my companion was satisfied at least. Yet once we had decided on which ones we wanted, they were out of any of the smaller sizes. I had hoped that with such a large scale tour – internationally known – that they would be better prepared, but evidently not. My only other criticisms of the actual tour were that we saw neither enough of Michele or Monteith nor were there enough entries from season one. Thankfully however, we were spared the agony of having to listen to any Justin Bieber covers: the Glee cast are highly talented, but I’m afraid one song alone would’ve been far too much to bear.

Glee in itself is an amazing contradiction to so many popular TV shows airing at the moment. A rant on other programmes shall be saved for another occasion, but Glee brings a welcome change to the idea installed by other shows that happiness blooms from beauty and popularity; it does not pretend that bullying doesn’t exist but accepts that it is a part of life that needs to be dealt with, not ignored; it represents nearly every culture, religion and sexuality and all the difficulties that accompany every aspect of being different, but still fights to tell you that that is perfection. Most importantly, it tells you that your dreams are only just out of grasp: all you have to do is reach. Oh, and that if you can sing, belt it out to a Wicked number.

A Question Answered

As I sat in my final science module exam of the year, I began to be nervous; but not for the reasons you may expect. I was scared not that I would be disappointed in my results or run out of time, nor was I worried that I would entirely lose my head, freak out, hit head on my desk and end up in a twelve year self-induced coma. No, I was worried that after months of hard effort, thanks to AQA I would open up my paper and see unanswerable questions and have to re-sit the exam months later.

The problem started with a few unanswerable questions in an A Level paper, and then progressed to the June GCSE Foundation Maths paper where although the start and end of the paper had the correct June questions, the middle section of the exam contained questions from the March test: an entirely different module. As it is, one of the science papers sat this week at my school (although not mine) had several misleading spelling mistakes; and if this were not frustrating enough, those of us who were fortunate to have a correct paper were left to watch those with issues “turn to the correct page only” to edit the mistake. However, I myself saw several people glancing through the entire piece, gaining a slight yet undeniable advantage, whilst we had to sit with our papers and our mouths tightly shut.

So why is it happening? I mean, of all the details to get sloppy over (and let’s face it, they’re getting sloppy over a lot of things), can it please not be something as important as education? Some may say that everything is equally important in its own way, but without intention to offend: is the select time-tabling of bin collection really more important than the education of the next generation? It may not be lack of spending but lack of care that has resulted in these slip-ups. Unless only one person checks the questions before they are printed – which I highly doubt – then I cannot fathom how these mistakes have slipped through so many supposedly tight nets. Maybe we’re looking at it all wrong: maybe the government and AQA have deliberately placed these mistakes as a new GCSE of detective work, and we are all secretly being trained as an elite society of agents. As intriguing an idea as this may be, I doubt that this is actually happening; instead we are the collateral damage of a badly done job.

Yet maybe these mistakes are guaranteed to keep happening if the exams are changed as frequently as they are currently. Next year, they are getting rid of multiple choice answers in science, as they think it is “too easy” (I’d like to thank anyone and everyone who made it possible for me not to be just one year younger) and as of 2013 all subjects will be non-modular, meaning that all exams will be taken at the end of year eleven. For some this may mean that they have two years to learn everything they need to and will supposedly be at the top of their game at this point; for others this means that they have a few weeks of stress with more exams than could be prevented and hours spent trying to remember something they were taught two years ago and was left without assessment at the time where it was best known. And how will these modifications affect the new English GCSE, which was only changed at the beginning of this (nearly finished) school year. Many are anxious to know whether this will remain the same or whether they will be expected to write essays on half a dozen texts, as well as an anthology exam in the same time frame. These quick changes impact the teachers just as bad: at least the students only have to understand and cope with the system they are sitting, whereas their teachers have to deal with the structure just gone, the one coming in and the one that is most likely to change it all again in a few years’ time.

It seems foolish to think that my opinions will alter the government’s upcoming policies or even the way in which AQA works. The best we can do is hope that in the future they are a little more careful, both with what they choose to keep the same in unchecked papers and with what they choose to change in a process that may already be as good as anything else.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

There's No Such Thing As Waterproof

Whilst watching the news in the morning a few days ago, I saw an interesting segment on the Ordnance Survey maps and their history. Created in 1791, the government –fearing a French invasion - wanted to map the south coast of England. Although the maps are no longer used for the singular military function, the organisation is still in practice. However, what I found most interesting about the report was its inability to reflect on the fact that sometimes these OS maps are mistaken, misleading and always awkward to use.

Having done my overnight Duke of Edinburgh assessed expedition only recently, I am fully aware of the fact that the maps – even the most updated ones – seem to be lacking in the basic necessities. For example, having pre-planned our route down what was seemingly a large, public path, it took us until we reached the large house and the sign saying “Private Property, Guard Dogs Around” that we realised we needed to leave, ASAP. As amusing or dangerous this incident may be it highlights the fact that these maps aren’t just getting it right. My team and I had a lucky escape, but someone else could easily have walked down there unknowing and been attacked by several  vicious guard dogs. Or Chihuahuas. The sign may also have been just as erroneous. 

What the map makers also seem to fail to realise is that these maps are not waterproof. Some of you may be thinking that this is relatively obvious, as paper isn’t waterproof, but you’d expect some form of keeping these tools dry, considering the modern technology at our fingertips and the fact that this is England. England that has an annual average of 57cm of rain, meaning that paper maps are highly unlikely to survive any month of the year. There is of course the solution of a “waterproof” map case. But the truth is that there is no such thing in existence as waterproof. Showerproof maybe, but torrential, unavoidable, drenched-to-the-skin English downpour proof? You’re as likely to find this in a shop as you are to bump into Hermione Granger in the street and she is kind enough to cast Impervious over you and everything you own. Despite the fact that neither our economic climate nor our global emissions are in any desirable state, we are wasting money on so many other pointless things, I don’t see why we can’t invest money in creating a waterproof material; it would certainly make me a lot happier.

Added to this is the fact that these maps are gigantic, inflexible and costly. I understand that if you go for longer walks then you don’t want to keep changing maps and buying more to simply cover your area. But when the map itself just about takes up the entire room you’re planning in, so that you can’t actually see half of it; or when in order to fit it into said un-waterproof map case you have to fold it over and over in so many awkward places that you can no longer close the map case: well that’s when I think we need to find the happy middle ground. As well as this is the fact that if you are trying to get the whole map out to try and find where you are amongst several trees, a bush and some grass, you stand there with your arms wide open like a penguin trying to fly whilst the flimsy yet awkward piece of paper flaps around refusing to behave. I never thought that paper could be so infuriatingly impossible to handle, yet OS maps seem to do everything except what they’re supposed to. To top it all, despite the fact that these charts are not waterproof, flexible or made to a sensible size that satisfies everyone, they are extortionately priced. Around about £5-£8, OS maps are apparently determined to make you pay ridiculous prices for something that is likely to only last once if you go out walking in England. Perhaps if they were made of this seemingly invincible material then this pricing would be appropriate; then again with the usurious valuing of everything now a days, anything as valuable as that would be available only to lottery winners.

Hopefully Ordnance Survey will attempt to create better maps at a more acceptable amount; if not, they should expect their sales to fall in favour of people walking around on Google Street View from the comfort of their own, dry home. 

Sunday, 5 June 2011

An Ode To A Cherry Bakewell

As I sit on a long-distance train on my way home from Somerset, I truly begin to understand the stigma attached to public transport. Overheated, over-crowded and dirty, trains and a selection of their passengers epitomise why people have, for as long as the option was available, preferred private travel.

After struggling aboard the vessel, we made our way to our seats with bags that contained way too much for a double-overnight stay (what can you really expect? It’s the unstated rules of holiday packing – for every night or day, twice as much as necessary must be squashed in, as well as an ridiculous amount of shoes of which only one pair will be worn). Needless to say, even when the seats were marked with unavoidable ‘RESERVED’ signs, they were filled with people who point blanked refused to move, despite our proof of several pieces of paper, tickets and our names on the seats. Having evicted them mumbling from our rightful chairs, the next challenge was to place – or should I say forcefully and mercilessly ram – our suitcases in the overhead compartments. Train-competent readers are likely to question our actions, puzzling as to why we did not just place it at the end of the carriage with most people’s possessions. Well, having discovered the pram, several guitars and what resembled a small lion’s cage (contents included) in this afore mentioned section, we decided that the overhead unit probably was the more sensible option. And yet despite the obvious struggles I was having in getting our luggage settled (My travel partner was – how to say? – at a disadvantage when concerning lifting objects onto higher shelves), not one person offered any form of assistance. I wasn’t exactly expecting some knight in shining armour to appear and profess with many ‘thou’s that I should not be attempting such laborious work unaccompanied; but some help would not have gone amiss. Instead I received several demeaning looks from surrounding passengers over whose heads my bags’ straps dangled (well. Serves them right really); shoves and bustles from people behind who were eager to help my head gain contact with the overhead section, but not so much my baggage; and an impatient ticket collector who seemed frustrated at  my inability to multi-task like Wonder Woman. After reprimanding my companion in her attempt to place a glacé cherry on top of the head of one of my not-so-ardent admirers (it’s really best not to ask), we settled down for what we hoped would be relaxing train ride home.

However, for such a long-distance train, this was not to be. A few seats down a rather large family (in both senses) had an unfortunate incident including baby vomit, no wipes and a lack of nearby toilet facilities, providing the entire carriage with the privilege of that most delightful smell. Meanwhile at the opposite end of the coach was a child that decided that now was evidently a good time to explore the capacity of one’s lungs, and screamed at optimum volume and pitch the entire hour and thirty minutes that we were on the train. Despite the fact that this may seem like some scene from a comedy, I was – and still am – convinced that this is a conspiracy to see which snapped first: my patience or my sanity. The surrounding passengers were as equally delightful: in an attempt to outdo each other in how loud and irritating their laptops and TV screens could be, I was caught listening to a bizarre combination of Winnie the Pooh firing a shotgun and singing show tunes. These TV screens managed to land themselves on my bad side alongside their viewers. Tantalisingly filled with a variety of my favourite programmes and films, it decided that it would wait until I had gone through the painstaking selection process and arrived at my favourite Glee episode of the second season (“Britney/Brittany” undoubtedly) before it decided to tell me that I couldn’t in fact watch this without paying extortionate prices. Disgusted, disappointed and distressed, I turned my attention instead to writing “An Ode To A Cherry Bakewell” in order to disgrace public transport and its facilities.

Added to this seems to be the train’s inability to function properly at all. Perhaps it seems too much to expect, but during a boiling hot day on a train stuffed with too many people, I would like to have a little bit of air conditioning; or even a window in the carriage that opens beyond a millimetre. Yet when I located the minimal amount of air right at the end of my journey through the window by the door, I saw the unbelievable sign: “make a small change: Closing the windows saves energy and improves the environment for customers”. Yes I’m sure that an environment with the temperature of the inside of a volcano is perfect ‘for customers’, providing you like Southern Fried Humans. The fact that for some reason we were crawling along at one hundredth of a mile an hour so that we missed the next part of our journey (I’m not a train driving expert, but I know we could’ve have gone faster than that. I saw snails on the ground outside overtaking us) coupled with the suffocating heat managed to set off my previously secluded claustrophobia. This meant that by the time we had come to the end of our journey I was ready to scream and rip the heads off of anyone close enough to me, proving that it was indeed my sanity that snapped first.

Naturally, trains are not the only perpetrators: buses too have wormed there way to the bottom of the list of favourite things, beneath wasps, BO, and the person on the infernal bus itself that takes the last window seat. Reliably late, you pay overpriced fees to ride on a vehicle so covered in bacteria that it’s close to being green with slime, and are bounced around on rock hard seats so that you are forced to hold onto the hand rail that is guaranteed to have been shared by at least ten people who don’t wash their hands after using the toilet. The government are constantly trying new techniques to get the country to ride public transport, from allowing the Mayor to drive a bus to reducing fare prices (but with bizarre timings and conditions) and yet seem oblivious to the fact that no-one wants to use them due to their appalling conditions.

I hope that at some point in the near future, someone will change the way our public transport operates. In the battle against climate change, reduced use of individual vehicles is a key factor; but until better options become more accessible, there is no hope for change.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Badly Rewritten

After spending three quarters of an hour perusing the shelves of the young adult section in Waterstones, I found that the quality of books has really diminished. After the international phenomenon that was The Twilight Saga (made incomprehensibly more popular by the travesty that was the adaptation) everybody with access to Microsoft Word has published some form of vampire romance novels.

Pages and pages of badly-written, ill-conceived and plagiaristic waffling, these latest creations have run the genre into the ground. Like the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest, when nearly every country echoed the memorable winner of the previous year, Lordi, with their heavy metal music, every modern piece of vampire literature is a failed attempt at bygone glory. As with all new crazes, you expect some replication as proof that the series that started it is doing well to influence other writers. But it has been driven to the point of insane extremism where no other type of fantasy story can survive. The same story is repeated over and over in different words, and if a new voice tries to break through the thin veil of fangs, blood and lack of true romance, it is silenced as quickly as a vampire’s victim’s cry for help. Great books like The Chronicles of Ancient Darkness, A Series of Unfortunate Events and Artemis Fowl are swept from the shelves to be replaced with endless duplicates; yet mention the origin of all real vampire horror, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and self-proclaimed lovers of such fiction will look at you as if you are speaking an entirely foreign language. I can only be pleased that for some benign reason the same destructive forces have not attacked the unparalleled masterpiece that is the Harry Potter series; perhaps writers thought that there was no point in even attempting to duplicate the complexity, depth and – if you’ll pardon the pun – the real magic behind the wizarding world.

What I can’t fathom however is the fact that the true masters – or in fact mistresses – are either cast aside or somehow unheard of. The experts in the field, such as Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and J.R.R. Tolkien are ignored, defiled and disgraced in favour of works such as ‘Diaries of a Chav’. The classics seem to be viewed only now as archaic pieces of history rather than the vivid, intriguing and entertaining pieces they still are. These pièces de résistance show more clearly and eloquently the truth of human nature or how an epitome of a fantasy novel should run than fifty different versions of a vegetarian vampire.

However, what I fear the most is that these types of books are not at all encouraging younger children to read chapter books or write any material of their own. Literary works are already competing with computer games and mindless television programmes, and these outside foes are being aided by inner enemies who provided pointless and boring stories which are as likely to encourage children to read as they are to turn into a cat and start cooking a soufflé. The Times acclaimed JK Rowling as having “woken up a whole generation to reading”, but as the series drew to a close a few years ago, neither a writer or a set of books have stepped up to fill the gaping hole left behind. It seems there is no-one talented enough or with an idea genuine and inspiring enough to urge the next generation to use their imagination. Books should transport someone so drastically into another world that leaving it behind makes you feel homesick; nowadays it seems that they are only there to teach new expletives or the dangers and glories of dating a vampire.

I hope that writers will put more thought into their latest creations, so that literature becomes less about the money made from the debacle and more about urging young children to dive headfirst into the world that is reading and writing emotive and inspirational pieces themselves.

Blank Book Covers

Stereotype: a set of inaccurate simplistic generalisations about a group that allows others to categorise them and treat them accordingly.

Everyone at some point in their life has been stereotyped by someone, and in turn has unconsciously stereotyped someone else. In a world where everything about your personality is judged from the moment you walk into a room with new people, sometimes a good judge of character will get you out of a potentially awful situation or relationship; but most of the time a determination of someone’s personality can be spiteful, demeaning and mostly inaccurate, whether intentional or not.

The worst perpetrator of wrong, long-lasting and hurtful stereotypes is obviously school life. From an early age, we are sorted and tagged like cattle at a market. Cliques and groups are arranged like a morbid food chain, and once you are placed in a section, there is no hope of escape – unless you move schools, bribe every member of your year or undergo surgery to resurface as entirely different person to start the new school year as a foreign exchange student, which frankly seems like way too much effort. As like in Glee:
Sue Sylvester: “High school is a caste system. Kids fall into certain slots. Your jocks and your popular kids are up in the penthouse. The invisibles and the kids playing live-action out in the forest: bottom floor.”
Will Schuester: “And… where do the Glee kids lie?”
Sue Sylvester: “Sub-basement.”
As much as I love the show, it does nothing to help the suffocating stereotypes that everyone knows about but does nothing to break: that the best looking girls and guys are automatically the popular sect; those in glasses are habitually relocated to the study centre as the high fliers and role-play-computer-games addicts; and them that have long fringes and black clothes are unthinkingly placed in the darkest, most depressing corner of the room to associate with the emos and goths. These sickeningly unbreakable thoughts are the predecessors to a stifling society where early actions will lead to an indestructible division where you must remain for the rest of your life, changed or not. I myself am still stuck with the initial impression that many had of me on my first day of secondary school: a ‘neeky’ (cross between ‘nerd’ and ‘geek’, for those who aren’t sure) little kid, with the overlarge Ruby Gloom rucksack coupled with a strange infatuation for the darker side of human nature, an obsession with Harry Potter and a hatred for anything pink. I was not, as many believed, a masochistic, emotionally unstable child as my appearance was likely to suggest, but I was immediately stereotyped and very few were able – or even willing –to see past this. Years later, although I have changed greatly – and in some ways beyond recognition - people still judge me on that first glance. And yet while I am able to wear my (metaphorical) scars with pride and still stroll around in my black clothes despite the negative, demeaning and sometimes unnecessary comments, others are unable to shake off these early stereotypes and either succumb to the commonly seen attitudes in those that are victims of bullying or try and change these views by becoming someone that deep down they never aspired to be.

In many ways, I am lucky that I am a student of an English institute, where school uniform is mandatory; unlike in America, where individual clothing opens everyone up to deeper stereotypical categorisation. However, like with everything, we find our own way to let the individual flair through, and in my school at least it’s the bags used. Different cliques are defined by the baggage they use, from the hierarchy with their brands like Superdry, Jack Wills and Hollister; then those who have a pack with slogans and bands on; and finally those who have a bag for no more than it should be: practical, attention deflecting and big enough to carry several hefty books rather than a small dog. These items of luggage are also there to display an element of affluence; and of course, for many – if not all, in some sense – material wealth is everything, and the instinct to brag is overwhelming. Acceptable, if not likeable, but when this leads to the stereotyping, ‘bagging and tagging’ of, yes imperfect, but distinguished individuals: then that’s when the bullying and boasting has to stop.

I cannot hope to change stereotypes – they are an abominable part of human life that has wormed itself in way too deep into society. My only aim is for my readers to not just see what happens but properly acknowledge that stereotypes are unjust and choking to the difference that is essentially human; for people to break out of these binds that are placed from early within childhood; and to realise that the small girl with the hefty black rucksack won’t stay that way forever. People shouldn’t be afraid to look past the book’s cover and read the story within.