At first glance, A Monster Calls appeared to me a sentimental fantasy film about the charming friendship between a boy and a fantastical monster. And honestly, if it weren’t for the incredible animation, I probably never would have watched it. But I’m glad that I did.
Because what A Monster Calls really is, is a heart-rending and compelling story about coping with grief and learning to let go. It stars Lewis MacDougall as 12-year-old Conor, a creative young boy caught between school bullies, an indifferent grandmother and his mother’s terminal illness. It is only when he begins to realise that he may be losing his mother – the only person he has to turn to – that he finds an unlikely friend in the Monster (Liam Neeson).
MacDougall shows a remarkable sensibility for his age and is a remarkable talent, a real credit to the film. He tackles some truly difficult subjects and handles them with incredible maturity, resulting in a thoroughly believable and raw performance. But I think what strikes viewers the most is the woeful honesty that he brings out of the character. And this is not only down to MacDougall’s impressive acting, but also the astonishing writing of Patrick Ness.
Having never read the novel, I can’t compare how it translates to the screen. However, as a movie the story is flawlessly carried through, with moments of unbelievable tension and some very poignant scenes. Although the writing has been said to be too dark by some, to take that away would remove the rare honesty that these scenes give. And overall, the message of the film is one that, although not altogether lighthearted, is powerful. But where it falls in terms of recommended audience is difficult to distinguish. Too dark for younger audiences and perhaps too rooted in fantasy for adults, it falls in a strange in-between.
What it is, however, is an extremely tough watch at times. Although there are some heartwarming and charming moments, the overall themes of the film are a lot more sensitive than they first appear. And while it is a highly recommendable film – despite its lack of huge success – it is still to be viewed with discretion.
Having said this, A Monster Calls is a stunningly beautiful film. It shows us familiar relationships, problems and hardships through a unique friendship and a world of fantastical stories. It is emotionally charged and in many ways inspiring.
With Valentine’s Day coming up, it can be difficult looking for gifts for the person you love. And when that person lives far away, it opens up a whole other abundance of problems – what if it’s too big or too heavy to send? Are these classed as a prohibited item? What if this doesn’t fit them?
After nearly three years in a long-distance relationship and with plenty of Pinterest boards, previously sent and received presents and potential future ideas, I decided to share some of my ideas with you. So I have compiled a list of either presents that me and my boyfriend have sent each other, or ideas that I myself have come up with or like the sound of.
This idea is incredibly simple, but can be really sweet if done right. Perhaps you could find matching keyrings that hold some significance to the two of you, such as a quote that means something to your relationship, or with your names or cities on them. This makes what can sometimes be a bit of an ordinary gift into something more personal and meaningful.
For a couple that spends a lot of time apart, a scrapbook is a perfect reminder of your time spent together and can feel a lot more satisfying than just flicking through pictures on your phone, as you can see the amount of effort that your significant other has put into it. And for the person making it, it can serve as an enjoyable project that can take your mind off the distance and allow you to reflect on some of your best memories.
However, if you and your significant other have not met yet, you don’t necessarily have to rule this out as a potential gift. Instead of filling the scrapbook with your pictures together, perhaps you could fill it with places that you want to go together, or hobbies that you share. You could also maybe combine individual pictures of the two of you, to see what it will be like when you do finally meet.
A book of things that you love about them
If you wanted to make a more personal gift, then this idea would be great. You could either buy a blank notebook and fill it will things that you love about the other person, or if you wanted a little prompting you could buy a book that gives you topics and questions to answer about your significant other.
Both these ideas can be equally as fun and will show the other person their lovable qualities.
Now this may sound cliche, but can actually be sweet when it’s done right. Rather than buying the terrifying “boyfriend pillow” that no doubt every person in a long-distance relationship has had suggested to them at some point, perhaps you could find two pillowcases that when put together, make a picture? That way you will each have one half of the picture and something that will remind you of the other person.
Both pillowcases seen here, and others, can be purchased from BOLDLOFT’s Etsy page.
Similarly to the last suggestion, matching drawings or pictures that when put together make a whole picture can also be a nice gift idea. Having something that can be completed when put together makes you look forward to when you and your significant other will be reunited, whilst also giving the two of you something to share.
A message in a bottle
These can be purchased online from multiple sites, and are an affordable gift that is easily sendable through the post. You can write a heartfelt message for your significant other on a piece of paper, which is then sealed in beautifully crafted bottle ready for them to open whenever they need to read your words.
And if you’re feeling particularly creative, you could even make your own adjustments to this gift, by buying some decorative ribbon or glitter to make the bottle itself more attractive. Although what really matters is what’s written inside, of course.
Rather than buying couples coupons from a shop or online that may include things that you and your significant other are unable to do due to distance, maybe you could make your own? Writing your own coupons makes it more personal, and also more fun. However, if you know that you and your significant other are going to be seeing each other soon, perhaps buying a regular couples coupon book would still be a good gift, as it gives you both things to look forward to.
Whether it’s a slideshow of pictures or videos of the two of you, or a video message recorded for your significant other, although this gift effectively costs you nothing, it requires an immense amount of effort, and – like the scrapbook idea – serves as a mini-project to distract you from the distance. You could play a song in the background that has some meaning to your relationship, making it more personal.
And if you happen to be particularly talented, perhaps you could incorporate this into your video. You could sing and/or write a song for your significant other, draw an animation for them or play an instrument for them. Using your talents to show them how much you love them is incredibly special, as they will no doubt be supportive of your talents already and will see the amount of effort that you have put in.
‘Open when’ envelopes
These are becoming increasingly popular online and are especially nice gifts to give in a long-distance relationship, as time zone differences may often mean that you are unable to always be there for your significant other. However, if they have access to your words when they are feeling upset or even when they want to celebrate something, then it can bring the two of you closer.
You can buy a selection of these envelopes to put your own letters in if you’re short of ideas, or write your own if you’re feeling more creative. It might be a nice idea to also put other things in the envelope with the letters, such as nice pictures or small gifts to cheer them up.
Here are some of my ideas for “open when” envelopes:
- Open when you’re feeling sad.
- Open when you’re missing me.
- Open when you need to celebrate.
- Open when you need to laugh.
- Open when you’re bored.
- Open when you’re feeling happy.
- Open when you’re mad at me.
- Open when you just want to talk.
Your favourite book
Although not an expensive gift, it can still be nice to share your favourite things with your significant other. Since you’re apart and can’t participate in your favourite activities and hobbies together, a nice idea would be to share things you enjoy with them in any way that you can. Sending them a copy of your favourite book is a very personal thing and will help you to learn more about each other. Perhaps you could even underline or point out your favourite quotes, or even reading the book together, a chapter a day and then discussing it with each other.
Other possible ideas:
- Personalised jewellery
- A dual time-zone necklace.
- A promise ring.
- A personalised jigsaw.
- A heartbeat or sound wave necklace/bracelet.
- A custom notebook.
- Get flowers delivered to their house.
- Name a star after them.
- A pair of matching/personalised mugs.
- A jar of love-notes.
- A mix CD.
- A collage.
- Mini love-letters.
- A custom phone case.
- A care package.
Picture: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time© Brinkoff – Moegenburg
Normally, I’d be the first person to say that New Year’s resolutions are pointless. Why should another turn of the earth around the sun change who you are as a person, or how much you exercise, or whether or not you’re allowed to eat a bar of chocolate? This year’s no different from the last, so why the need to make any great change? You can start a resolution at any time of year, you don’t need to start being nice to people or eating better just because another year has passed.
And really, it doesn’t matter when you decide to make that positive change in your life, whether it’s a rainy September afternoon at home, or the turn of the New Year, surrounded by celebrations. But for me, 2017 just felt like the right time. It’s my last year at college, my first year at university and I learned a lot of things in 2016 that I wanted to carry with me into 2017. However, there’s one thing that I’ve decided to leave behind – insecurity.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve been insecure, whether it’s about the way that I look, the way my voice sounds, my talents, my relationship or anything in between. And it’s caused so many problems not just within my friendships and relationships, but also just within myself. It’s exhausting to always worry about what other people think and whether or not people are being honest with you.
And it’s taken me up until now to realise that the majority of my insecurities stem purely from off-hand comments that somebody has made to me, some even going back to primary school. And while to them it may only have been a passing comment for them, I have carried them with me for years. “You look weird with your hair tied up”, “she has a great body but her face doesn’t suit it”, “your boyfriend’s probably cheating on you”, “your voice is boring”, “girls don’t have body hair”.
All of those comments adding up to a swirling mass of insecurity that lasted for years.But when I thought about it – what did any of those people really mean to me? The only people that had ever made these sorts of comments were friends of friends or people that I only had to see a few times a week because we went to the same school. Why should their insubstantial comments and snide remarks affect how I felt about myself, when in my mind they themselves were little more than names to attach to derogatory words?
I spent so long wishing that I could be other people, unable to see the things in them that so many other people seemed to see in me. They didn’t have weird hands, or messy hair. They didn’t have bushy eyebrows or ill-fitting clothes that didn’t suit them. People didn’t criticise them or make comments that made them feel insecure. Or so I thought.
But in reality, everybody gets criticsed and everybody has things said about them that are hurtful or embarrassing. However, it’s where you choose to go from there that’s important.
Because when you think about how well those people really know you, how much does a passing comment from them really mean?
Although its going to be hard, my new year’s resolution is to shed the insecurities that have held me back for so long. I’ll wear a cute dress every day if I want to, whether it suits me or not. I’ll wear my hair tied up if I want to. I’ll remember that my boyfriend loves me, and that our relationship is our own and not up for the debate of anyone else.
And I’ll do whatever the hell I want to do, without worrying about what others will think. Because despite the past, I love the person that I’ve become. I’ve learned to embrace my body and the way it looks, I’m comfortable in my abilities and happy with my relationship. So why should anyone else make me feel any different?
Sitting in their studio in Stockport Mill, Apex are getting ready to start their next rehearsal. All from in and around Manchester, with music taste that varies from deathcore to rap, they are all aspiring metal artists with a growing online presence.
In Spring 2013, their music teacher, Lee, brought together Isaak Heggs (bass guitar), Emily Greenwood (drums) and Michael Battye (lead guitar) by suggesting that they form a band. Once Isaak managed to get Emily and Michael to actually talk, the group got along well – the only problem being that they didn’t have a vocalist. But after multiple changes (including a vocalist who didn’t want to sing in front of other people), Isaak introduced Rohan McGillivray, who he knew from college. He was exactly what the band was looking for, and they progressed from there.
Nearly three years later, whilst Emily was on holiday, the other members decided to add another guitar player, Connor McGarry (rhythm guitar). She didn’t find out until she got back, but they all agree now that the band has only improved with Connor’s addition. Him joining the band has brought them a better live atmosphere and energy that they didn’t have before, and he is as much a part of the band as the rest of them. The only other thing that’s changed in that time, they say, is that they play better now and Isaak’s cut his hair.
Over time, the biggest challenge they’ve faced is overcoming their difference in music taste, as well as finding promotors to back and support them. They also struggled with the name and the genre of the band. Previously, they used names such as Scar Synposis and Undefined Uz, until Michael suggested Apex Predator and Isaak settled on Apex. The genre, however, is clearly still a fairly debatable subject. Although, they seem comfortably settled on post-hardcore, after Connor and Isaak told enough people that was the genre and it caught on.
Since then, they’ve played multiple gigs, with their most memorable being Academy Three, which they played in February 2015. They have also played in various other venues, such as Retro Bar, Zombie Shack and the Pub/Zoo. After their gigs, they go out together to celebrate, although Emily is often left to pack up (with the occasional help of friends Matty and Cassie).
When asked who was the most committed, there wasn’t much agreement among the group. Isaak suggested that it was he and Connor, although their friend Matty (not a member of the band, but a valuable rehearsal member) suggested it was Emily, to which the majority of the band responded “she just hits stuff”. And when asked who was most often late, Emily’s name was mentioned once again, although Michael pointed out that “you can’t be late if you’re never here”. However, arguably one of the things that makes Apex stand out on the metal scene is the presence of a female drummer. There still aren’t many women in metal, which is something different that Apex brings to the market. Their diverse music tastes and range in personality are also what sets them apart, as well as the combination of the instruments in terms of sound. Michael is the songwriter in the group, with input from the other members, while Isaak and Connor manage the band’s social media presence.
They are influenced by bands such as Being as an Ocean, Architects (although there was some debate about that as well) and While She Sleeps. However, they are individually influenced by different bands and various artists. They have all been deeply invested in music for the last six years or so, although some have been interested for longer than others – with Michael convinced that his mother playing music to him in the womb spiked his interest. They all look up to other bands for inspiration, although Isaak admits that the only reason he even learned to play bass guitar is because he had to pick an instrument at school, though I think it’s safe to say it’s a decision that worked out for him.
When asked what their newest release was, there was some confusion and disagreement among the group, which continued when asked what they were currently working on. But, after some deliberation, it was agreed that their newest release is the remastered version of one of their older songs, Direwolf featuring Will Walkden. Currently, they’re working on a new album, which they are part way through recording.
In terms of the future, the end goal for the band is to have their music appreciated, and to fill venues with people who genuinely enjoy their music. Their intention isn’t to be hugely famous, but simply to be able to make some kind of living from their music. Playing music is massively important to all of them, allowing them to meet new people and discover new bands, and it is something that they want to continue for a long time.
Unfortunately, they don’t have any merchandise available, having recently sold out of t-shirts, but they are hoping to release more soon. But they can be found on Facebook and their music can be accessed through YouTube and Soundcloud. At the moment, they’re taking a break from gigging to work on their next album and a project to celebrate reaching 1,000 likes on Facebook. So there’s definitely more to come from this Manchester band.
Picture: Neil McDermott and the cast of Wind in the Willows
© Marc Brennan