So, I don’t do these much – a solid year has passed since the last one. Well, here I am, giving you my less-than-wise perspective on how I found the last few months. So, it’s rumoured Term 1 of Year 2 is objectively the most leisurely time of your entire medical school experience in Bristol, to which is a statement I do not object – but it’s not saying much compared to everything else.
Let’s skip over explaining all that standard lecture curriculum stuff you can read on the website; what’s differed from Year 1 is that after finishing a lecture-based teaching block studying a particular system in the body (i.e. respiratory, gastrointestinal, renal) lasting between two to three weeks, we all get placed into a hospital in or around Bristol. Our stethoscopes slung proudly around our necks (£90 worth of the hypocritical attitude “Just don’t ask us to properly use it”), it’s the ultimate committal point-of-no-return investment.
I’d really like to point out how it positively warms my heart to watch my medic colleagues take a history and do clinical examinations on actual patients – everybody slowly emerges with their little personality quirks. Like that intimidatingly buff dude who got in Clicendales last year who is actually adorably soft-spoken and displays great open body language. Or that girl always rocking denim overalls you’ve never really properly talked towho unconsciously leans very far forward, engaging far more with the patient. Or the legend card guy on nights out, who consistently makes sure to repeat back the information to put the patient at ease she/he is being actively understood. I’ll even say it’s humbling to being a part of the beginnings of my peers’ medical career – sappy? Yep.
Aside from that, you’d think medical students would find the clinical environment extremely exciting; and don’t get me wrong, we did desperately yearn for those hospital placements after living in E29 (groggily waiting as the clock ticks a few minutes after the scheduled hour before somebody shouts “LECTURE CANCELLED, CHECK YO EMAILS!” which unfortunately happened far too often). However, there was a surprising collective thought a few of my fellow colleagues had about the 3-day formalities:
“I’ve realised people are just…so tiring. Is that bad?”
We’re still figuring it out. Even myself, I found the weekend leading up to ICS Placement was a bit of a dreaded countdown – it’s the culmination of having not finished going through the Respiratory Element and then we’re expected to know Gastrointestinal pathologies for the following Monday; exhaustion from everything else in our lives not medically-related; fear of the much-too-real insight into the lives we will lead in the many years ahead…
I guess it’s some mild form of empathetic burnout – honestly, actually sitting down with patients is always incredibly humbling and we would never be insincere about it. And yet, at the end of the day, you flop onto your bed in bare-below-the-elbows attire with the lanyard uneven around your neck, utterly exhausted. And I swear, if I met somebody new during that period, I would’ve immediately blurted out the preprogrammed “Hi-my-name-is-Holly-I’m-a-second-year-medical-student-etc-etc-etc”
Anatomy was chill as always. Top tip: no matter how weird your question, ask. Really. As long as you use anatomical terms, you can practically ask anything whilst sounding vaguely intellectual – the demonstrators will possibly be the more openminded people you’ll meet, given the niche nature of their job. And even though your friends (you know who you are) are cackling at your sincere curiosity of the science behind certain, ahem, activities, you’ll certainly thank yourself for not needing to do an uncomfortable Google deep-dive without UV protection from the bare exposure to everything but the science.
And now, January exams have ended (before I hightailed into London – what is it with me escaping to that city after tests?) and Term 2 has begun with the highly anticipated neuro (negatively rumour-drenched from older years). A brief review of Week 1 so far? Let’s just say, I’m seriously enticed to do work rather than celebrate my birthday next week.
From the 4-year-old boy singing “We Are The Champions” karaoke in France to being one of BBC Music’s Sound of 2018 longlisted acts following staggering success in the past few months, Lewis Capaldi is indefinitely one of the most extraordinary talents of this generation. With two sold-out headline tours and the recent release of his gorgeous EP “Bloom”, I had the privilege to explore the mind behind the authentically cathartic voice himself.
Lewis & I sat down in an empty VIP room above the main stage where we could hear Freya Riding’s angelic voice subtly interlacing the air – wearing a navy blue hoodie with the strings tied in a bow, he commented on how much bigger the venue was than he anticipated. Legs dangling over the couch, we began a dynamic conversation about the wildly fast-paced year that has gone by. Lewis still finds the astronomical success surreal following the release of his first single “Bruises”, a tune penned with James Earp whilst in London: “That shouldn’t have done as well as it did – best-case scenario, we were thinking somewhere in the 3 million mark.”
“Bruises” was simply a last-minute addition to the setlist when Lewis performed at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut earlier in January, one of the most celebrated music venues in the world. Truly proof of the saying “Last but not least”, somebody filmed the performance and posted it on Twitter – it went mini-viral with thousands of retweets, and it was only then when Lewis changed a few of the lyrics and released the final version in late March. The ballad subsequently destroyed Spotify, and it has also just been featured on the TV show, “Riverdale”.
“More people have listened to that song [Bruises] than there are people in Scotland”
“It feels like somebody’s gonna realise one day, like, “Oh shit, that wee boy shouldn’t be like, how did you manage to…” and then someone’s gonna tap me on the shoulder and go, “Right, you almost slipped through the cracks there, but get back to Scotland!” “
Millennials, like Lewis himself, are at the forefront in shattering the stereotype – that is, self-entitled, lazy, and useless – imposed on our generation through this kind of hard work and humility.
“I hate the fact we’re seen as the lazy, whiny generation, which is not the case at all. There are so many young people out there now doing such amazing things, and I think it’s just bubbling under a little bit. And in the next 2 to 3 years, we’ll really see our generation properly come into the room and do all these amazing things – I think it’ll push it out of the mainstream a bit more that millennials are useless.”
“I hate the fact we’re seen as the lazy, whiny generation, which is not the case at all – there are so many young people out there now, doing such amazing things”
We began discussing his incredible EP, “Bloom”, which consists of four beautiful compositions – predominantly (though unintentionally) piano-based despite being a guitarist, Lewis explains how hearing the blend of his voice with the keys “really stirred something in me”, and that “…the fact I don’t play it, that I don’t feel I have an understanding of the chords and stuff, makes it more interesting.” He describes how fulfilling and integral it is to progress as a songwriter, irrespective of external validation; exploration of instrumentation offers this individual path of discovery. And his favourite chords and/or chord progressions? Amy Winehouse’s “Addicted”, and the F major to F minor transition in the chorus of his own song, “Fade”.
Speaking of, “Fade” is Lewis’s favourite track off his EP – but not in terms of being better than the others. “It was the whole kind of: when it was written, who it was written with, how quick it was written…it was just all very indicative of how mad these past 6 months have been.” He draws out a mental timeline for me – age 12: walking. Teenage years: a gradual, slow jog. The period between 17 to 19 years old: running. Finally, hitting the age of 20: full-on hyper speed. Everything beforehand was merely a transitional warmup to implement all the knowledge learnt into the greatest showtime of his life, and he hasn’t slowed down ever since. I inquired how school fit into this chaotic schedule, and Lewis explained that before going to college for a couple years to study music, he was planning to study sound production, which required a B in Higher Mathematics.
“I was fucking shit at Maths; excuse my French. I was awful at it. So, I had a tutor.” Lewis goes on to explain the one time they had a lesson, and he had incorrectly answered what was supposed to be a simple calculation question. “…he [tutor] just lost the plot: “Look, if you’re going to be an idiot, I’m not gonna teach you anymore!” And just got up, and walked out my house!”
Even if Mathematics isn’t his forte, Lewis excels at consistently making time to interact with people who enjoy his music on Instagram & Twitter – scroll through his page, and the genuine gratitude radiates unmistakably clear.
“…even just a thanks or cheers, it really pays off in terms of the community you build“
“When I started out, one of my managers said, “Look, you should reply to these people.” To begin with, I was a bit like, “That’s gonna take ages to reply to everybody.” But once you start doing it, you get these comments back and you’re reading through all the comments and they’re all amazing – you feel great by the end of it, you feel you’re having conversations with like-minded people, it feels like having conversation with your friends. It just seems a positive situation for everybody, to just kind of chat and talk.”
He also adds, “I don’t like the terms “fans”; I think it’s a bit…like putting yourself above. So I just say: people who listen to my music.”
“I don’t like the terms “fans”; I think it’s a bit…like putting yourself above. So I just say: people who listen to my music”
So, if I were to hand you a list of highly recommended texts to read, it would include: “The Thing Around Your Neck” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, “Endurance” by Scott Kelly…and Lewis’s Twitter feed.
Naturally, I asked about the tweets regarding his pubes. Yes, that is plural.
“I was in with my label the next day, and I was thinking, “Oh no, they’re gonna be so raging because I’ve talked about my pubes!”, but they all loved it. It’s good to have people around you as crass as you are,” he says before bursting out laughing. But Lewis continues to explain the seriousness of being lighthearted and a bit absurd on social media platforms like Twitter.
“There is so much shite on Twitter; there is so much horrible, horrible stuff on Twitter. I think in some cases, like right now with the slave trade in Libya, it’s great to use Twitter to shine a light on that. But I’m talking about fucking Trump being a knob, and people arguing all the fucking time on Twitter. I don’t care about your politics, so long as you’re an alright person.
“I don’t care about your politics, so long as you’re an alright person”
“Everyone’s so serious on Twitter, and then you forget there’s 280 characters. You’re not really going to really solve the world’s problems in 280 characters. You can shine the light on important things like the Libyan situation, but it’s not the place for mass political debate. And I think it’s just good too start a conversation, but not end a conversation.”
“You’re not really going to really solve the world’s problems in 280 characters”
And this value Lewis so accurately describes translates into his music – contrary to the vast depths of his songs, he doesn’t take his music too seriously: “I’ve got a really weird thing referring to myself as an artist, or refer to what I’m doing as art. Those words carry a lot of weight, I think, and it makes it seem more very serious. And I’m just making my tunes, that’s all I’m doing. I’m a singer that makes tunes – that’s it for me. The main thing is that it should always be fun.”
Lewis eagerly leans in and quickly adds, “I should say, I do have happy songs. I have a lot of happy songs! I don’t want that to be indicative of me; “Oh, Lewis sings sad songs.” “
Finally, I asked him about a beautiful (and simultaneously frightening) metaphorical lyric in “Fade”: It ain’t no wonder why we lose control/When we’re always heart attack away from falling in love.
“For me, it’s being so close to the edge of losing it all, that makes it so fucking exciting. Because I think as soon as you realise how much you’ve fallen for someone, immediately, that’s the moment you also realise that if you lose them, it’s gonna be fucking horrible. That precise moment when you realise, “Fuck, I’m in love with this person!” is also the moment you think, “Fuck! I’m in love with this person…””
“Because I think as soon as you realise how much you’ve fallen for someone, immediately, that’s the moment you also realise that if you lose them, it’s gonna be fucking horrible”
Lewis performed an incredible setlist later that night; interjected with witty lines and little anecdotes, the overpowering atmosphere was unlike any other – his visceral voice translated deeply personal experiences into this extraordinarily communal phenomenon; reading a powerful bedtime story for both the hopeful and the broken.
I cannot even begin to describe how incredibly humble and kind Lewis is. Like his voice, his sophisticated insight is full of strength, grit and resilience; so, here is a colossal thank you to Lewis for sharing your vulnerability, ultimately reminding us of the moments we live for: to celebrate, to forget, and to remember.
My best pal and I stood in front of “The Exchange” in St. Nick’s Market, staring at the heavily barred doors.
“Google Maps said it’s here?”
One unanswered phone call and quick Google search later, we were frantically running at a 4:00 min/km pace through the dimly lit Castle Park to “Exchange”, the concert venue with a distinctly omitted “The” that almost cost me the night. We made it 8 minutes earlier.
“Is this interview going to be video or audio?” Tom inquires as he pulls out a chair, sweeping some papers on the table into a vague pile.
“Audio, so don’t worry about cleaning up. I’ll be using the iPhone voice memo app – very millennial-style.” He laughs before I press record, and we begin talking about the immense success he has had this year, from releasing his EP “Blessings”,touring the USA with The Script in a jam-packed leg covering 7000 miles in 22 days, and his smashing success across all social media platforms.
“Going on tour with The Script was absolutely amazing – they are proper gentlemen, and everybody was just so nice. I could have done that for a whole year, just on tour with them”
Tom is currently working on his new upcoming album with Jim Abbiss, renowned music producer who has worked on multiple smashing record successes including Arctic Monkeys’ “Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not” and Adele’s “19” & “21”. With nothing but praise for Jim, Tom gushed, “He’s a hero of mine…it’s nice to do things properly with loads of loud guitars and real drum kits.” Further emphasising the incredible musical journey he has made, Tom added on, “One of my first tunes, “Fly Away With Me”, I made in my bedroom on my computer in a basement!”
The discussion naturally lead into his songwriting process – like many songwriters today, the nifty iPhone voice memo app comes in handy. “I record loads of voice memos. Normally, I just leave it on in the car just while I’m driving about, and if something comes into my mind, I’ll sing something into it. So, they’re all really sporadic and when I go back and listen to them I’m like, “What the fuck is that?” “So, does that mean he has a lot of awful songs he will never make public? “Yeah, loads, I got loads. I kind of think that 1 in every 10 songs is good, and the rest are just…*laughs*”
“He’s [Jim Abbiss] a hero of mine…it’s nice to do things properly with loads of loud guitars and real drum kits. One of my first tunes, “Fly Away With Me”, I made in my bedroom on my computer in a basement”
One must always wonder: chords or melody first? “I don’t start writing lyrics without a melody…I’ll always try to do the lyrics whilst doing the melody. So I’ll start with a little melodic idea, then try to fill that in as quickly as possible even if I change the words later, so I’ve got an idea of the structure and rhythm.” And even if Tom does dabble in jazz chords, it’s unintentional – “I did do music theory at uni, but I don’t really know what I’m doing. It’s just all shapes to me on the guitar.” Tom further emphasises it is “all based on sound” using the unorthodox guitar tuning C#/A/E/E/A/C# in his gorgeous song “Just You & I”as a prime example. Because of his interesting chord usages in his songs, I inquired his opinion on mainstream pop music nowadays using the standard I/vi/IV/V (or some mechanical variation of that). Needless to say, it was fantastic to meet somebody with the same opinion on the issue – “It feels like a product,” Tom said. “Not something you’d invest in, like “Oh, look at the lyrics, they’re so sick!”“
Tom went on to talk about how often creative exhaustion hits; “All the time. You run out of things to talk about, especially if you’re doing loads of music and loads of fun things, you need something fucked to happen to really write a good song.” And of course, a lot of his songwriting draws upon his personal life experiences – “Most of my songs are about something that has personally happened to me – either a really good situation or a really bad one. You can’t write a song about something being medium; it doesn’t really work. “Oh, I’ve had a very average day today and everything was really average.” It’s not really a great song.”
“You need something fucked to happen to really write a good song”
His most recent single,“Leave A Light On”,which has already amassed an astounding 3.3 million views on YouTube within 2 months, is one of many fantastic examples of Tom’s ability to turn the personal into universal –an incredibly hard-hitting song, he dedicated it to his family & friends, explaining, “If everything’s going down the toilet and it’s all fucked, then you can talk to me.” Upon inquiring who his light was, Tom immediately replied his girlfriend, Annie.
On Thanksgiving Day, he very appropriately performed in his hometown, Manchester, performing a sold-out show – “I actually went for my first ever legal beer in there when I was 18 with my friends, so to sell it out was fucking cool.” This nostalgia burrowed back into the beginnings of his musical journey, from his first ever record, “Bob the Builder” (what a classic), and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” as the first song he remembered ever listening to, remarking: “It was spooky as fuck listening to it as a kid! It’s really, really eerie…especially the guy laughing at the end…”
However, Tom’s musical journey all began with a violin. “I always had a really shit acoustic when I was a kid, but I didn’t know what I was doing with it,” Tom reminisced. “I then went to this primary school music open day, and I wanted a guitar but my Mum wouldn’t let me have one. And they were like, “Oh, you should play the violin ’cause he’s tiny and his hands would fit on a violin!” And I was like, “Nah, I want to play guitar!” I played violin for 2 years, and then eventually, my Dad bought me a guitar for Christmas one year, brought that home, and I completely stopped playing the violin.”
His determination to pursue music only grew exponentially – purchasing a drum kit (“I became the next annoying neighbour”), a bass with an amp for £50 (“I’ve still got it, it still works, it’s fucking unbelievable!”), and a mini keyboard. Tom had to become the whole band himself as a kid, tediously recording tracks separately. Surprisingly, he didn’t begin singing until 18 years old – “I didn’t think I could sing. Ah, fuck, I couldn’t sing. It was 3 years of me being like, “Yep, definitely not singing.”And then I just kept going and going and going. Then one day, it was all good.” It sure was, Tom.
“My parents are super awesome, they definitely helped me out – they would never buy me a PlayStation, or an Xbox, or anything really, apart from music equipment; it was sweet”
So, how about music theory? I used Sibelius as a passing example, but the frustrations that arose with the mention of the software on Tom’s face was hilarious. “I can’t tell you how much I fucking hate Sibelius. I did 3 years of fucking composition, I still don’t know music theory, I just did it at the time, and never put it on my instrument; I just did it in my head. I can tell you the notes and scales, but it means nothing – just shapes on my guitar.”
Nonetheless, he expressed mad respect for those who are adept at music composition, wishing he perhaps paid more attention but simultaneously emphasised , “You just gotta pick what you want to do, and just do it – you can’t be doing everything, it’s impossible”, and Tom being the more “sit-down-and-jam-out-on-the-guitar kind of guy.” He does a lot of improvisation on stage with the same spontaneity vibe, “If it sounds good, then buzzin’ – if it doesn’t, then lose it”, but upon asking if he passes the solos around to the rest of the band, “If I asked my bass player to do a solo, he’d be like, “No.” If I asked my drummer to do a solo, he’d be like, “No.” *laughs*”
“I’m more of the sit-down-and-jam-out-on-the-guitar kind of guy”
Talking about his collaboration with Kogey Radicalon their song “Sun Goes Down”,Tom profusely compliments how wickedly talented he is, and how much respect he has for the independent pathway Kogey is blazing in the music industry. “He’s sick, he’s a next-level guy who’s making a proper go at music exactly how he wants to do it and I just have so much respect for that.”
“He’s [Kogey Radical] sick, he’s a next-level guy who’s making a proper go at music exactly how he wants to do it and I just have so much respect for that”
Tom goes on to talk about the ease in discovering new artists nowadays, but the relatable inevitability of lacking investment into the songwriters themselves – “I love Spotify because you find loads of new stuff each week, but I’m kind of guilty of listening to new stuff and adding it to a playlist but not really diving into what the artist is about. Whereas back when I was growing up when it was CDs, you’d open up the CD and look in the contents page – I know that’s super outdated, but I kind of miss getting really invested into artists.” I commented on how the number of plays on his Spotify is the same as the population of my hometown, Thailand; “Big shoutout to Spotify!” Tom added on with a laugh. We ended the interview discussing the eclectic mix of sounds in his upcoming album, and he hints he’s got two songs left up his sleeve (“I don’t know what they fuck they are”).
I stopped recording, and we talked for a bit about the opening act, Tors, performing tonight. And my +1, who also hails from Manchester, made great conversation with Tom about their hometown (“It’s nice to meet somebody from up North down here”), before he turns to me and asks,
“Whereabouts are you from? You are obviously from America!”
“No, I’m actually from Thailand!”
“Thailand? Wow, I would’ve never guessed!”
We talked for a bit longer, and then wished him best of luck with the show before heading downstairs to the bar.
Needless to say, the concert was insanely electric. The opening act, Tors, performed such uniquely written songs with an immaculate three-part harmony, including a beautiful composition dedicated to their grandfather who has dementia. Needless to say, I was enraptured by their talent – Matthew’s ability to seamlessly transition between low and high notes; Jack simultaneously playing the electric guitar, the drum pads and sing into the microphone; Theo’s wicked guitar riffs combined with the flawless higher harmony vocals. Before playing “Seventeen”, Matthew asked if anybody was in love – the silence was devastatingly loud albeit two measly cheers, to which he responded, “Fuck me, only two people!?” They ended with charming humbleness, and I immediately proceeded to download their music straightaway.
And then, Tom Walker came on – his set was stunningly powerful; his voice is one you cannot forget. With the brilliant opening line, “Bristol, fuck me, it’s hot up here!”, his band proceeded to perform. And boy, did they deliver – beginning with “Fly Away With Me”and the iconic finger-picking guitar intro, he followed it with his gorgeous song “Just You & I”,and it was no surprise when the crowd knew every word to“Blessings”.He then performed his new song, “Angels”,which really got the bassist grooving along, before the masterfully vengeful “Karma”with some seriously edgy glissandos strewn in there. “Heartland”was an incredible crowd-pleaser that showcased his uniquely husky voice, and Tom got a little therapy session going with the feisty “Rapture”; Tom did this awesome guitar solo, the drummer went fanatical, and the entire audience went ballistic with the band. And finally, Tom ended with his most recent single, “Leave A Light On” –and in that moment, we were all just screwed-up misfits banded with hope in this screwed-up world.
The show left us in a daze, and we went first to directly thank Tors for an amazing performance. Upon asking how old they were, Jack casually replied, “I’m 22, and Matthew here is 87.” Theo joined in, and began chatting about how they were on tour with Clean Bandit before.
“Yeah, they were sick, it was really great!” Theo enthusiastically described; we asked what being on the road was like. “Imagine being on a tour bus with four other dudes – it was gross,” he remarked whilst scrunching his nose, before adding on, “And sad.”
“Story of my life,” I said, which elicited an initially polite laugh followed by one of full comprehension of the statement. After saying our goodbyes, we then went out to see Tom Walker holding a beer, and complimented him on such a fantastic performance to which he immediately replied, “The flu fucked me!” before laughing.
Tom Walker & Tors are all such ridiculously talented musicians – I highly admire how exceptionally humbling and down-to-earth they all were, which radiated profoundly through their songs and just as people in general. It was a massive privilege to have met them all, and I cannot urge you more to check out their music. Thank you so much, Tom Walker & Tors – until next time.
Cian Ducrot is a 20-year-old singer-songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist from Cork, Ireland. He started uploading covers & original music on YouTube in 2013, and released his debut EP, “Words I Never Spoke”, earlier in January this year. Presently, Cian has an incredible following of over 50,000 people online, and I had the opportunity to have a chat with him about his greatest influences, auditioning for “The Voice”, and the direction of his musical career.
Where did your love of music come from?
My love of music came from my family (mother and brother). I started at a very young age studying classical music and theory when I was 4 years old, but also did musical theatre. I then taught myself guitar and piano further on when I began to songwrite. I’m currently studying at the Royal Academy of Music in London.
Which musicians & songwriters have been your greatest influence?
I’m hugely inspired by artists like Michael Jackson, John Mayer, Shawn Mendes, Justin Timberlake, a lot of classical & jazz influences and smaller scale songwriters & musicians, such as Bruno Major and YEBBA.
I must ask: favourite chord or chord progression?
My approach to chords changed once I opened up to blues and jazz and from there I took a lot of new influences. I don’t think I have a favourite chord progression, it all depends on the emotion and situation.
Jazz, huh? You must do a lot of improv.
I love to do improv, yes, everyday!
So, you auditioned for “The Voice” about a year ago; you then released a video a while after, revealing the realities of the auditions and what really goes on behind-the-scenes. It was quite astonishing – what compelled you to make that video?
My video about “The Voice” was only to raise awareness about what goes on behind these shows. They are full of good intentions and I was treated kindly, but sometimes I feel the public isn’t fully aware of how these things really work.
Let’s look to future. What current music projects are you working on that we could look forward to, and what are your plans for the times ahead?
Currently I am writing LOADS of new original material. I’ve been working closely with the incredible Eddy Ruyter who is a tremendous songwriter and musician currently touring as Shawn Mendes’s piano player. Eddy has thought me a lot about songwriting and about my own musical style so I am incredibly grateful. I think in the last 2 months I’ve written 10 of my favourite songs and I’ve really started to find myself in terms of writing. I am working towards some London shows and I am very excited to perform live and get my new music heard and hopefully online soon also!
Well, I’m extremely excited, too – I can’t wait to hear your new music, and working with Eddy must’ve been an incredible experience. What was the best advice you got from him about songwriting?
I think something he helped me with a lot is making sure every lyric I write really ties back to the meaning of the song and makes sense to the listener.
And finally, when times get difficult, what motivates you to keep going?
My goals keep me going – the will to succeed and do the best I can.
Thanks so much for taking the time to have a chat, Cian!
In typical fashion, I had overslept a nap – rushing up the steps inside Will’s Memorial, I made it inside the Big Hall just in time to attend an event I had been looking forward to for months. Titled “Once Explorers, Always Explorers – Europe’s Role in Space Exploration”,it is part of a lecture series established by the Pillinger family in 2015 in memory of Colin Pillinger. Born in Bristol, he attended Kingswood Grammar school (now King’s Oak Academy), and graduated with a BSc and PhD in Chemistry from University College of Swansea and was a post-doctoral fellow in the University of Bristol School of Chemistry, Organic Geochemistry Unit from 1968 to 1974. A pioneering figure with an illustrious career in instrument development and analysis of extra-terrestrial samples at the University of Cambridge, and later at the Open University where he founded the Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute, he is probably best known as the leader of the Beagle 2 Mars mission. His legacy lives on, and as Dr David Parker so perfectly summarised, Colin possessed “sheer bloody mindedness”.
That being said, the main speaker of the night was the fantastic Dr David Parker himself, Director of Human and Robotic Exploration in the European Space Agency. With fervent passion, he delivered such engaging insight into what projects are currently being undertaken, and where we are going in Europe’s space exploration. He began with highlighting the many successes of ESA, including the Cassini-Huygens mission exploring the Saturnian system, the historical Rosetta mission gathering data surrounding the Jupiter-family comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and of course, the huge international collaboration of the ISS itself. Attempting to be discreet as I hastily scribbled notes in my battered notebook, Dr Parker zoomed ahead to talk about the challenges space exploration still currently presents, analogs here on Earth, and potentially going back to the Moon (build a base, anyone?). My favourite analogy of the night was that if Earth were the size of his hands balled together, the distance to Mars would be the equivalent to the distance between Will’s Memorial and IKEA (1:12,133,333 km scale). Love me some #justbristolthings geography.
Then we got to watch some amazing videos of Tim Peake and Thomas Pesquet,emphasising the overview effect and how “…it takes all of this technology to allow us to understand the simplicity of us.” It was only then appropriate for Dr Parker to now look to the future – more than ever, international cooperation is required for ambitious projects like the ExoMars programme to put the 2020 rover on Mawrth Vallis, planning the first roundtrip to Mars, and hopefully, undertaking the proposed Deep Space Gateway. You should’ve seen number of jaw drops around the room.
After Dr Parker’s compelling talk, there was a Q&A hosted by Tim Gregory – you may know him as the finalist on BBC Two’s riveting program, Astronauts: Do You Have What It Takes?, but he is also currently completing his PhD in cosmochemistry right here at the University of Bristol. The selected audience members had intriguing questions, including the future of planetary protection and how investment into the space program compares with current pressing issues today (e.g. poverty and famine). I especially loved Dr Parker’s answer to the age-old question “Are we alone?”, which was that either way – whether yes, there are other species out there, or no, humans are a unique entity – both answers will be just as extraordinary as the other. Tim ended the event with, “I hope you all have a safe journey back home…and beyond!” and the claps were thunderous.
Before I could talk myself out of it, I beelined towards the front and went up to Dr David Parker – surrounded by a huddle of middle-aged people discussing the technical aspects of spaceflight, I kept thinking to myself, “I am definitely not intelligent enough to talk to these people.” And at that point, Dr Parker looked at me expectantly during a lull in the conversation. So, I thanked him for the awesome talk, introduced myself, and began rambling on about Beth Healey, space medicine and the Concordia Station since he mentioned it during the lecture – he replied with a chuckle, “Oh, you probably know much more about this stuff than I do!” to which I promptly disagreed with a smile. I then quickly asked him, “Do you think one day we’re going to have to genetically modify the perfect astronaut?”, to which Dr Parker threw his head back in laughter, and responded, “Well, isn’t that the question!? I think we’ll all be walking around more cyborg than human, and that’s something I can’t quite wrap my head around!”
I then turned around, and spotted Tim Gregory – we immediately geeked over the lecture for a bit, before I told him I attempted to read his publication “Geochemistry and petrology of howardite Miller Range 11100”(to which I confessed a single sentence took me an unfortunate amount of time to understand). Thirty seconds into the conversation, and I already understood why Tim was nothing short of extraordinary – with such powerful maturity simultaneously coupled with an endearing child-like enthusiasm, he spoke about the psychological impact going through vigorous astronaut training, the importance of keeping up your hobbies, and how Will’s Memorial can be slightly unsettling in the wee hours of the morning (there is no denying the paranormal activity).
I finally asked him, “What’s your motivation when you’re completely down?”, and without any hesitation, he looked me straight in the eye before replying, “Just always remember why you began in the first place.”Incredibly optimistic, humble and kind-hearted, I cannot wait to see what other fantastic contributions Tim will make for science in the future.And then as we said our goodbyes, he enthused about how we could one day be working together on the Moon, as geologist and doctor – needless to say, describing my elation as ‘over the moon’ seems paradoxically unbefitting.
Throughout the night, I remember feeling a little out of place – bustling with an older generation, it could’ve been mistaken for just another humdrum event. But instead, looking around, I did not just see an audience – I was looking at the spirits of restless kids staying up way past their bedtime; I was looking at the wide-eyed children lying much too closely to the grainy television, chins resting on palms and legs swinging back & forth; I was looking at the generation of children who, united together on that one Sunday evening in 1969, witnessed the history-defining moment when Armstrong stepped down off that pad onto the Moon.
And even though I couldn’t join in to fondly chuckle at the memories of “Space: 1999” or reminisce back to collecting Brooke Bond & Company’s “The Race to Space” tea card set in 1971, there was something universally compelling about the night’s events – this powerful hope that united every single one of us, rooted back in time to the ancient dreamers who looked up at the night-sky all the way to the tinkerers of the future, is what eventually got us from “I wonder…”to“What next?”.We’re going to keep innovating as long as we remain curious, and as Queen perfectly summarises, I don’t want to stop at all.
Thank you to the beautiful Amy for nominating me – I’m currently giving you a virtual bearhug. She writes about empowerment, inspiration and change; blooming with resilience, check out her blog here for some real talk. God bless you, Amy!
The Origin Story of “That Med Kid”
I like writing. In fact, I like writing so much, I wrote a 80,000 word novel in middle school.It begins with an obscure legend that has it said a girl touched a stone that was the colour of a million dimensions, causing the destruction of Atlantis in one day and one night. In present day, the story follows the protagonist who possesses a beautiful jade necklace, and secrets begin to unravel when she moves to Canary Islands. Needless to say, it was *this* close to potential publication, but crippling self-doubt, irritating perfectionism and losing updated drafts, hindered that from ever happening.
It was in middle school where I discovered my best writing pieces came out of being in an extraordinarily dark headspace. Thus, I always went hardcore on creative writing assignments in school – murder, self-harm, teen pregnancy, depression, and so on. Fun fact: my submission for the school writing magazine got rejected because it was “too dark and intense”.
So, I began a blog back in middle school (which is now very hidden) – it was a bit of a diary where I could lay down unedited, imperfect thoughts without having to double-space or set to font type Arial size 12. No obligations, no outside standards; great. But like any other New Year hype, I eventually let academics override and blogging dormancy settled in. This isn’t to say I stopped writing, because I didn’t.
And guess what? In the summer of 2016, I tutored Mathematics and Chemistry like crazy, scraped every last bit of money I could, and used it to self-publish my very own book, titled “The Danger Of Not Trying”.The little blurb is below:
In the past few years, I realized: we are all actors. We rehearse who we want to be, we perform who we want to be, and hope it is convincing enough for everybody else to believe. We cannot stop being actors, and that’s fine. What isn’t, is if you try not to be – the danger lies here, because genuine happiness doesn’t come from a scripted truth.
The book explores this thinking throughout a compilation of quotes; each one holds a backstory, whether it be fictitious, anecdotal, or both. The lessons underlying them are all very real and I hope they can help you get through life like it did for me.
No, I didn’t have an editor; no, I didn’t have a cover designer; no, the only application I used was Microsoft Word. It was a creatively exhausting process, both very primitive and very organic, that I can wholeheartedly say is one of my proudest achievements in life. I donated all the profits to Rejoice Foundation, a HIV Foundation in Northern Thailand, where I did work experience for one summer – they continuously stun me with how dedicated they are to the duty of care they voluntary committed their life to, and are one of the reasons why I want to become a doctor. And thus, I am so incredibly humbled by everybody who supported the book, because all I did was put the inspirational words of people on page. It’s a book I wrote as a homage to everybody in my life.
Yes, it is a real recording of me saying something…
Anyway, let’s fast-forward a few months to the first frigid night of December when I was listening to the “Life of Pi” soundtrack. It was a Thursday, and mindlessly scrolling through my iPhone Notes app, I found random ‘poems’ I wrote. On a whim, I created this blog, and that was the day of my first post.And why “That Med Kid”? Because it embodies exactly how I perceive myself. Just another no-name, anonymous “Ah, she’s just this random med kid” person. Just like my first ever blog in middle school, this is a bit of a diary for me – thus, I was very hesitant to share this blog until, gosh, five months in?
Goodness me, I apologise for the long-winded writing biography. Hardly Marvel Hero origin story standard, but there you go. I’ve never written this much information about myself before, so this is probably the most personal post I’ve written by far. Don’t worry, this doesn’t happen often.
To sum up, I like writing, but I’m not a writer.I hardly have any knowledge about anything, but if there’s one thing I can do, it is being honest. So if you’ve read my blog, be it one post or one word, thank you so much – the gratitude I have is indescribable.
Advice For New Bloggers
Write, not “create content”. By “content”, I mean the one that gets Reddit users all irked, and what ex-Viners do in desperate need for a career on YouTube (there are exceptions, of course). Don’t try creating this commodity of value as a superficial distraction from reality, but simply write about reality. Did that make any sense to you? Yeah, me neither.
You probably expect me to say consistency, but I’m a big fan of spontaneity. Blogging is time-consuming, difficult and can drain into this sewage of obligation. And if it ever gets that far, perhaps rethink your priorities with a blog. Am I just saying that because of my inconsistency and recent hiatus of three odd weeks? Maybe. But would I ever want you to stick two fingers in and painfully force content out just for the quota of “New post every Thursday!”? Absolutely not. The Quality > Quantity phrase is very applicable.
Blogger Recognition Award: Rules of Acceptance
• Take the time to thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog
• Write a post to show your award
• Give a brief story how your blog started
• Give pieces of advice to new bloggers
• Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to
• Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them, provide the link to the post you created
I still yet have to finalise Part 2: Science of Superfoods of “The Dirt On Clean Eating”series I began (Part 1 here!) – apologies for the incredibly long delay. Med school life has begun, and there is much I have to update you all on, but let’s save that for another post. Hope you are all doing incredible. Stay motivated, pals.
“I’m eating clean,” the postgrad says, not for the first time that week. Six of us are crammed around this tiny three-person IKEA table in the Chulalongkorn Biomedical Laboratory, eating a spread of grilled fishballs, red pork covered with gravy, and spicy somtam. I slurp a mouthful of tom yum noodles, briefly tasting the phrase before moving on. She proceeds to enviously eye the others eating blissfully carefree, but not before she pulls out a homemade salad, completely drenched in Caesar salad dressing. The overwhelming stench of mayo made me nauseous; I had to hold back a gag.
“Yeah, you guys should try clean eating,” she says with this smug expression, popping open a can of Diet Coke; it froths over slightly and trickles down lazily. “Like, I feel so much healthier, instead of putting junk in my body.”
Perhaps my mind was completely enraptured on my lovely E. coli battlefields holding little wars between the awesome antioxidants and the feisty free radicals, but I didn’t realise at the time “clean eating” would soon be taking over the minds of millennials in years to come. Fast forward, shall we?
Year 2 has begun, and consequently, so have the diets.
Besides all the How Was Your Summer?’s, It’s So Nice To See You!’s, Did You Do Anything Cool?’s talk that becomes heavily saturated between lectures, I see a bunch of loaded veggie wraps, skinny lattes, and quivering self-control. And if this was the scenario a few months ago, my mind would’ve crumbled from the toxicity my relationship with food was creating.
I’m all for eating clean. I’m happy that people are striving to nourish their bodies with nutritious ingredients and are spending a little longer looking at supermarket food labels. This is an awareness I admire, but “clean eating” is a little different from your quack conspiracy-theory-like diets; it has challenged mainstream ways of eating, powered by the ever so convenient social media, and has become absolutist in its claims.
The phrase “clean eating” must’ve began with good intentions;to eat fresh, natural, whole foods minimally processed – vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, animal & plant-based protein, oils, nuts, pulses. Eating as close to nature as possible; cooking at home and seeking high-quality ingredients for your own health. This healthy approach towards nutrition is fantastic. Eating clean sounds modest, almost like Mum’s cooking – no calorie calculators, but simply eating as much nutritious home-cooked substances as possible.
So, #eatingclean, #eatclean, #clean – what the heck happened?
This definition has become incredibly misguided and misconstrued. It’s clear “clean eating” is more than a diet; it’s a belief system. That if you’re not “eating clean”, you’re the very opposite – sloppy, careless, and damaging your body. And that’s when this becomes a dangerous game to play. It’s morphed into a beneficial sense of awareness of food into this diet-driven caste system. Not only is “clean eating” establishing a hierarchical model for eating healthily, but it is yet another bolstering means for food-shaming. And just to make it all worse, its taking over the entire Instagram platform, shovelled into the mouths of millennials, resulting in a heightened paranoia about the foods we eat consequently falling onto an obsession with the way we look.It’s the latest fad to prompt nationwide lack of self-acceptance in this millennial generation. I miss the days when “eating clean” simply meant not getting nachos down your front (napkin, miss?).
What I realised from my personal experience – the hours and hours of searching up vegan burrito bowls on Pinterest and anxiously scrolling through the infinite #cleaneatinginspo thread – is that this whole “eat clean” culture disregards the lack of access, both in time AND money. Not all of us can find the little organic farmer’s market; not all of us can afford dried gogi berries, a kilo of coconut sugar and cacao nibs on the daily. The surge in #avocadotoast aesthetic, Amazon searches for spiralisers and cauliflower pizza bases. Frankly, it’s elitist – this isn’t food education or nutritional economic awareness. This is buying into the attempt to be, let’s face it, media-skinny; the fat-burning green juice, protein powder lovin’ pictures of health. This isn’t the “eating clean” I signed up for, but a movement I unfortunately became a part of.
In addition, the phrase “clean eating” misrepresents scientific evidence of food ingredients – more and more food products begin boasting a “clean ingredient” label. But how could it be, if your product is mostly filled with a trendier version of oil and not providing consumers with educated choices? Kale is no better than good ol’ spinach; coconut oil is high in LDL cholesterol; commericalized cold-pressed juice is essentially a bottle of expensive sugar. And like with any revolution, “clean eating” has its hardcore leaders. I know you know them.
The trend claims to be easy, but just like every YouTuber who attempts the Pinterest Challenge, it is always much more complicated than that. The rules are endless, and you have the power to choose which one to adhere to – you can begin with the vegetarian diet, pescatarian diet or vegan diet. Pretty harmless, huh? Well, let’s go further – the Atkins diet, juice cleanse diet, paleo diet, carb-free diet, gluten-free diet, dairy-free diet, or the sugar-free diet. Oh, but it doesn’t even stop there – how about the anything-cooked-above-a-certain-temperature diet, or the raw food diet? What’s next, food-free diet? Breathing-free diet? If that sounds extremist, you bet your fancy pants it is.
Unsurprisingly, this philosophy birthed unrealistic, guilt-inducing fads – and falling down to our knees, we pursue its promised attractive outcome despite its disguise as an instructional guide to becoming unhealthy obsessive and/or feeling ultimately terrible about ourselves with failure. If any kind of diet whispers into your ear, “Hey, food is the enemy. Take it down.”, drop the weapons of restriction, because there is something very wrong. Don’t you ever view your food choices as sources of guilt and shame. This war makes you delusional, and it has consequences.
An award? Um, I did not expect this at all…I’m kind of flabbergasted.
So, I’ve been nominated for the Liebster Award; it was created to discover, recognise and welcome new bloggers to this incredibly supportive blogging community. Thank you so much to the lovely Kristie for nominating me – check out her blog for hilarious, straightforward Mum-talk: https://onmumdaysi.wordpress.com. It just goes to show what a great community blogging brings about, to be nominated by somebody with an entirely different niche from mine. Anyways, the official rules of the Liebster Award can be found here – and as part of accepting this award, I’ve received 8 questions by Kristie to be answered. Hence, 8 will be the number I use throughout.
The 8 Answers
What is your goal?
To do my duty, even if it means sacrifice.
Did blogging come naturally for you?
It has to, or I’d just be fooling myself.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?
Revising for an exam in a badly lit room, whilst yet another friend is getting married. Life.
If you could have dinner with anyone – dead or alive – who would it be?
Nikola Tesla. What a guy.
Who is your inspiration?
My extraordinary parents, for sure. I can only strive to be half as great as them.
Would you ever step out of your comfort zone?
100%. I believe it is essential to do so everyday.
Would you collab with another blogger?
Of course! But I think the real question here is if any blogger would like to collaborate with me…
Do you VLOG on YouTube? If so how many followers do you have?
I do have a YouTube channel where I post music covers for a proud 24 subscribers (huge, I know). But, vlogging? We’ll see.
The 8 Random Facts (Nothing Too Scandalous)
I do not watch any TV shows. And no matter how many times people try to convince me to watch Game of Thrones, I just probably won’t ever get around to it.
The last movie I watched was “What Happened To Monday”, and I’ve been falling asleep thinking about the conundrums of overpopulation ever since. Also, just the eerie parallels the movie drew with the day you were born on…
Speaking of, I was born on a Friday.
Cody Simpson follows me on Twitter (it has been many years since it has happened, and I still don’t know why).
Tom Holland. Just, Tom Holland.
I love running. It makes me less tired.
….but I sprained my ankle a few weeks ago training for the half-marathon in Bristol this coming weekend. Sigh.
And lastly, I’m starting second year of med school next week.
Rules & Nominees
Alright, so that’s enough of me. To my fellow nominees, congratulations! And here is what you gotta do next:
Answer the following 8 questions below, and write a blog post including the link to the blog that nominated you (i.e. me!).
Write 8 random facts about you.
Nominate 8-10 other blogs (see, I chose 8 because I was asked 8 questions, but it’s completely up to you).
I have Twitter. I deleted the app years and years ago on my iPhone, but once in a blue moon, I’ll open up my laptop and type in the embarrassing password my best friend & I devotedly created in our fangirling tween years. You’ll be greatly relieved to know my priorities on Twitter have swung around wildly; I go on to see what my favourite authors, astronauts, and scientists are up to in life (amongst all the irritating weight loss detox tea giveaways). No more broody, vague two-word tweets and a very carefully crafted emoji triad. Just full-on stalking now…
Man, that doesn’t sound much better.
What was I trying to get at? Oh, right – my Twitter bio. It’s one of my favourite quotes, one from Cassandra Clare’s “City of Bones” by the witty Jace Herondale: “…declarations of love amuse me. Especially when unrequited.”Yes, yes, I know; riding the cynical high horse. But just like Jace, it’s with a saddle of irony…and this leads me to my cover of Dodie Clark’s adorable song, “Would You Be So Kind?”Even though I haven’t properly played the ukulele since Year 9 or so, it’s one of those instruments that go easy on you. On a random note (F# minor haha ha ha get it, because it’s not a chord in the song, I swear I have friends), I really like Tom Holland’s dog, Stella. Anyways. I hope you have a beautiful day!
I’ve never tried laughing gas. Just never felt the need to; I’ve seen some of my friends intoxicated with the substance, and that’s enough entertainment in itself. But, the history of this party drug is a pretty incredible one – you’ll realise a lot of great inventors are elite masters of self-experimentation (yeah, not me) and this guy is no exception. Let’s get to it.
It began in 1772, when Joseph Priestly first discovered nitrous oxide, and he successfully synthesised it in 1775. Then came along young English chemist and inventor (plus, future president of the Royal Society), Humphry Davy.In October 1798, he joined the Pneumatic Institution in Bristol as the laboratory operator, and for you Bristolians out there, you’ll be extremely proud to know it was there where Davy played around with stoichiometry and delivered the laughing gas of your parties today! Oh, and just for your interest, this organisation was formed to exploit usage of recently discovered respiratory gases for medical practice – thus, the date 1798 is a pretty vital marker for the rapid progress in the discovery of respiratory gas for times to come.
Davy was dead keen on determining the effects of inhaling nitrous oxide (“…I resolved to breathe the gas for such a time and in such quantities, as to produce excitement equal in duration and superior in intensity to that occasioned by high intoxication from opium or alcohol.”)With the aid of his assistant, Dr Kinglake, during his first few experiments, he described “a slight degree of giddiness”, “pleasurable feelings” and “sublime emotions connected with highly vivid ideas”.So, Davy began increasing both the dosage and the frequency of the experiments over the next couple months, and he does allude to a potential medical use of nitrous oxide, “The power of the immediate operation of the gas in removing intense physical pain, I had a very good opportunity of ascertaining.”
Ya boi began inhaling the gas in out-of-work hours by December, and “felt very great pleasure when breathing it alone, in darkness and silence, occupied only by ideal existence”,though remained incredibly diligent in logging his scientific entries. Ugh, nothing sounds more tempting than a long session of optimistic nihilism, ammirite?
Later, he constructed an “air-tight breathing box” where he would sit for hours and hours, inhaling way too much of that addicting gas, and nearly died on several occasions. He began allowing others to partake (what a selfless man) and I highly recommend you read all the entertaining experiences of his acquaintances, friends & family getting high on this hippy crack. All for science, of course. For example, you know talented poet Robert Southney? Dude who wrote “Goldilocks and the Three Bears”, and the epic 1796 poem “Joan of Arc”?Oh yes, he tried out this gas and stated it “excites all possible mental and muscular energy and induces almost a delirium of pleasurable sensations without any subsequent dejection”. Ayyy, a delirium of pleasurable sensations leading to talking bears who eat porridge! (Jk I don’t want to assume anything, but who knows…)
I know I’m making it sound like Davy was a sneak who used the excuse of science as a coverup to enjoy the bouts of pleasure – but honestly, he really did bear medical intentions in mind and was an intelligent guy. Davy was close to recognizing that inhaled nitrous oxide could be valuable for anaesthesia; however, the usage of nitrous oxide at upper class parties and fairs only increased its reputation as a novelty and decreased its respectability as a medical tool.
So lets just skip ahead and head across the pond to meet our next figure, Horace Wells, who saw the gas as a way of reliving the pain of dentistry in 1844. In fact, he had such great success he got a chance to perform it for a crowd at Harvard Medical School…and no, they weren’t a friendly bunch. Wells extracted the tooth of a complying patient, and there definitely was a lot less pain than usual, but the patient mentioned still feeling some pain – this was enough for the judgemental physicians to boo Wells off the stage, and Wells committed suicide a few years later. Wow, doctors, way to go – what’s the purpose of your occupation, again?
Two more decades until nitrous oxide was used again publicly. Two! Okay, we’re almost there. Well, its reintroduction around 1870 was somewhat permanent, and remained the golden dental anaesthesia until the 1960s. It kept its position in anaesthetics, though not at the forefront; although plenty of physicians use it in their practice to this day, it isn’t really something anyone would admit to because even medical grade nitrous oxide can leave people anaemic and are potentially lethal even in the right amounts. Eek.
Nitrous gas has its iffy reputation, but the fact euphoria is mentioned on labels today endures its original recreational usage from over 200 years ago. So, next time, when you’re buying a canister of this stuff at some awesome party, give thanks to your 20-year-old pal Davy doing exactly the same thing 219 years ago.
Aaaaaaand I’m back. I’m so incredibly sorry for the hiatus…again. It’s just been such a beautiful summer, and I definitely enjoyed getting lost in it. Get ready for a bunch of posts next week!
So, you may know I really appreciate the work of Shawn Mendes – so much so I hightailed it as soon as we left the exam room to go into London to watch him. Hence, it should be of no surprise that my extremely talented friend and I decided to do our rendition of his song, “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back”. If you roam through my YouTube channel, you may see we’ve done past covers together, filming with an iPhone propped up on an old music stand. To have her amazing cousin come film & edit such a crazily high quality production was thus a bewildering privilege we were not used to – check out his blog: https://mathmasonfilm.wordpress.com. Anyways, we truly hope you enjoy!