Saturday, 24 December 2016

Christmas Time in Ireland: The Rounds

Thursday, 22nd December.

I've been back in Ireland for a week at this point, and still have yet to finish my Medieval literature essay. It's due on the 5th January but I want to finish by Christmas day in order to prepare for next year's Egg Box publishing projects and my new academic modules as well as my dissertation. These will include the publication of an anthology, prospective talks by professionals in various areas of publishing, learning about Tudor rebellions and death in the Middle Ages, doing more research on midwives and hopefully finding someone foolish enough to employ me on a full-time basis.

For now, though, I have a horrendous cold. Getting up in the morning is a struggle and I make it out of my cow pyjamas by about eleven. I am on holiday so this is absolutely fine, and my parents are actually quite good advocates of people getting lots of sleep in the holidays - term time, however, is a different story: they have been known to cajole me into lectures via Skype. Some medicine revives me and I talk to dad at length about all the things I need to do, adding to the list as I speak and increasing in panic with the realisation that I need to do all these things but I want to be able to do nothing like other people seem to sometimes.

I panic and faff about bookmarking job applications after lunch - which myself, mum and dad all sit down at the dinner table for as I gather is their habit as retirees - and mum and dad go into town to buy some presents. On their return we all begin doing "the rounds." The rounds are common in our community and among our family in the days leading up to Christmas. They are basically piling into a car loaded with presents and calling to the extended family, staying up to a few hours in each house and drinking copious amounts of tea but behaving each time as if it is one's first cup. Pretty much everyone does it - but our family has decreased from six to three (as I'm the last without a partner which is FINE) so we're slightly less of an imposition now.

"Family" in this case actually consists of a man dad went to primary school with and his wife, and dad's childhood next-door neighbour and his wife and daughter. We are out for around four or five hours in total, which is quite brief by our standards. We have some nice chats about things like hearing aids, and when my dad's older brother first brought his fiancée home fifty odd years ago ("We had to get our faces washed and we were only the neighbours!")It's nice visiting the relative at this time of year, for me particularly as they are generally very pleased and proud that I am doing well in my degree and happy with my job - it makes an interesting change from mum, well-intentioned as always, asking me why I don't have a deposit and three months' rent for a flat saved up, and informing me that when she was at college she had her own car and no parental support or loans. Somehow. Was it like this for everyone in 1974 or am I just being crap in 2016? More distant relatives are just happy that you are doing well, and in further "rounds" I am told by elderly relatives that, in fact, I needn't worry about not being engaged yet - thank Goodness.

We will visit a lot more people in the next few days - obligation is a big thing in my family, though maybe "obligation" sounds like a less pleasant task. In fact, we enjoy it. It's important and heartening to call round to so many friends and family members, and everyone makes the effort at Christmas especially. Cars pass each other filled with selection boxes, potted plants and biscuit tins, our own being no exception, and it's not uncommon that you'll "call" for a particular family while they are "calling" for you. As Christmas Day draws closer and things become slightly more frantic, some of us will pray that at least one person won't be in, just to save time - we'll catch up with them after Christmas, of course.

We then nip home to put some potatoes in the oven - all we eat is potatoes - and then set out to give my cousin her birthday and Christmas presents, as well as presents for her kids, who are my age. My family is a bit of an anomoly like that. As we are pulling out of the drive, another first cousin pulls into it. The latter cousin informs us he has just been to the former cousin's house, and she wasn't in, so he'll leave his presents for her with us. The logistics of Christmas never cease to amaze. We have a cup of tea with my cousin - we are his third to last stop before being back to Dublin by the evening. We chat about family and his PhD.

After he leaves, it's pretty much television, tea and bed. At some point I bring up the hatred of millenials on social media with mum, and she asks what a millenial is, and what she is if she isn't a baby boomer like dad or a millenial like me. This takes some time to decipher and discuss, as well as some Wikipedia searches, but eventually mum decides I shouldn't listen to people who scorn millenials or Uiveristy students - we briefly mention civil rights for Catholics in Northern Ireland and then go to bed before we're up another hour talking.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

A Year in Norwich: A Week in the Life (UEA) IV

Thursday, 20th October 

It is the eve of Libby's birthday so the first thing I do that morning is nip into town to get something for her. I get her a bath bomb and bath melt from Lush, going on the idea that we are all in third year and need to relax, and thinking these fit neatly with what I know she's getting from other people. I then go to Tesco to get some ingredients for her cake, which I'd hoped to make this morning but am running a bit too late.

I get the bus from town to campus, do some last minute reading and head to my seminar, which lasts no less than three hours. These are my only timetabled hours of the week - hence the lack of organisation. I really love my module however and the seminar goes well. We learn, among other things, that a "gentle cock" is in fact a "gentile cock." Not just your common or garden cock, a posh one. Posh enough to write a poem about. There's a break for sustenance halfway through. I eat a caramel square and then we discuss Chaucer's Wife of Bath which we'll be reading next week. 

The concepts are all fascinating but I begin to worry about how this will all actually be assessed, as I want to start planning whatever essay I have to write ASAP. There's an option to do a creative or critical assessment and while the creative intrigues me, I think the latter will be a much safer option - especially as it'll be worth 25% of my final year, and therefore 15% of my degree. There's a lot of focus on context in this module as well as close reading, which as a historian I really enjoy, but I think the others would prefer more literary reading. I think this will develop as the weeks go on. We're a week behind as one seminar got cancelled, so we're only in week 4 confusion rather than week 5 panic right now. 

I go home immediately after my seminar, make myself some food and start on Libby's cake - double chocolate. While it's cooling, I unwind in the shower and then Skype my parents. Libby and Issy (who she used to live with) arrive and I hear them notice the cake. I decide not to worry about it being a surprise and ice it standing beside Libby as she makes her dinner. "You know you're getting a cake," I tell her bluntly, but I still hide it in my room when it's time to get ready for her party - partly because I want at least the decoration to be a surprise and partly to protect it from hungry dunk people. I have been one of those.           

That evening people arrive for pre-drinks. We have already warned the neighbors so as not to be the Hated Student Layabouts on the street and have promised to be out by eleven. With much herding, this does happen. Earlier in the evening, lots of people mill about around the house, and we try to make sure we talk to everyone as even in a student house, there is such thing as the pressure of entertaining.  I realise I've had too many Woo Woos from my new cocktail collection and have to go up to my room, sit down and have a quiet word with myself. I probably send a lot of Snapchats at this point - or so I am told.

I can't recall who I end up walking with but we seem to arrive at our chosen club in no time at all - the drinks are cheap, the music is good and the atmosphere is decidedly less threatening than many other establishments. As we go through the doors I recall the occasion when I let several people in to the club for free by accident and hurry past in case I'm recognised from this incident. Not that I would be. 

I've said I'll only stay for a couple of hours, for Libby's sake... I shouldn't be out at all as I've got work at 10.30 and if loss of limb will not excuse me, then a hangover certainly won't. At some point in the evening we are all dancing in a circle - there are maybe seven or eight of us - with Libby in the middle and, at Abi and Sam's request, the DJ wishes her a happy birthday and plays a song by Sean Paul. I feel proud because I learned who Sean Paul was earlier this week, and it is probably the happiest moment of Libby's life so far - or that's what she assures us of, both while drunk and the next day while sober. Therefore, it must be true.

A couple of epic karaoke performances later, I have spent much longer here than intended - but how can I deprive people of my angelic voice? As we leave - separately but somehow ending up together when we reach the main street: this defies all logic and reason - I feebly suggest my favourite fast food vendor, but Libby already knows where she is going. With a determination not often seen in her eyes - or in anyone's eyes, for that matter - she marches us up the street to a place with indoor seating. On the journey, hand outstretched like a single beacon of hope in an apocalyptic world, she mumbles "cheesy chips" half a dozen times. When we get there, the seating is a blessing because there are so many people it appears to have a kind of ticket system. They must have heard about the chips. I order a cheese burger and stand for perhaps fifteen minutes - or was it a fortnight - waiting for my food as everyone finds a table and sings Libby "Happy Birthday." It is probably louder than any of us remember.

At the end of the night, I am eating a cheeseburger at 4.30 am, Libby is entering her twenty-first year, and I don't think Abi or I can actually walk properly so we decide on a taxi for what would only have been a fifteen minute walk. It is the best £3 I spend all evening. My four and a half hours of sleep before work are not enough.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

A Year In Norwich: A Week in the Life (UEA) III

Here are my last Tuesday and Wednesday... they're not as immediate as the others were but I think I've remembered most things! 

Tuesday, 18th October 

I don't get to uni until about 12 noon today, but since I will have to be on camps til about 9pm I feel this is OK. The morning is a rush as I am keen to get going but oversleep. I end up spilling some coffee on my bed and hoping it doesn't stain too permanently. This sets a precedent for the day. I get the bus to Uni and manage to get my printing done at the library - at last. I read my medieval gender and sexuality literature for a few hours, during which I am sent a text informing me I've been rota'd in to work at a pub I've done a couple of shifts for at 5pm. I won't be there, as I'm working my calling job from 6-9pm. And also, said pub may or may not be the pace beer goes to die.

All this, coupled with the fact that in attempting the simple feat of crossing one leg over the other, I tear a ladder in my tights, prompts minor library breakdown. The library breakdown is interesting in that of course, you have to be very quiet. Heavy breathing sometimes permitted. Head in hands. But absolutely no crying. I get over it in a matter of moments, enough at least to read more medieval literature.

I nip out to take a break and when I'm back I move on totally to work on my dissertation instead - it's nice that I love both of my academic focuses at the moment so can alternate when it all gets too much. I find several new exciting sources and this cheers me up. I then decide to watch some vidoes online about the campaign I'm going to be calling about today. Come 5.30 when we all meet for tea and biscuits before the calling shift, I do not feel any more prepared.

The shift goes well. it's most people's first time so we're all a bit nervous but this dissipates as predicted after the first dozen or so answer machines. I speak to maybe four people properly in three hours and am flustered but they are kind. I just need to remember to follow the script, a necessity which I struggle with somewhat.

After my calling job I go home, noting how cold it gets now after 9pm, and finally get to chill out somewhat and enjoy life, and contemplate the fact that work/academic/society/social/love/sex lives are going to have to be neatly timetabled and colour-coordinated from now on, or else something will have to give.

Wednesday, 19th October 

I feel a lot more relaxed today. I get up at about ten, shower and then clean down the bathroom because our house will be inspected by the landlord today or tomorrow and my housemates cleaned everywhere else last night. I quickly gather my materials together for the workshop I'm running in the Hive I need to be on campus before noon to secure a table because delays with forms and the union mean one mightn't have been booked. I arrive, grab a coffee and panini from the café and commandeer a table which is promptly filled with people working on a group project of some sort or another. I use my limited artistic ability to make signs for the workshop: it's a zine-making session based around Asexuality and Aromanticism. I am straight, romantically and sexually, so am not an expert on this, but I know my way around a zine and have run lots of workshops before so this shouldn't be a problem. Also, to use a common privileged phrase: actually, I have friends who are Ace/Aro. at 12, I'm joined by Eliott and the lovely Juliet and Sharmin, who commandeer a proper table (and chairs, if you don't mind) for me and help to set it up with pride flags, flyers for the week and flyers for UEA Pride. It's a slow start, but I use the time to think about things like equality and diversity training and how best to put together this publication. We decide on twelve pages and I get everyone to make a nameplate, with their preferred pronouns and also why they are interested in coming to the workshop. from this, we gather some ideas. The centre spread is a series of hearts upon which we write about what we love in non sexual or romantic ways. Mine reads: "I don't know if I'll ever love anyone as much as my mum." It's a constant worry of mine.

As the workshop progresses, around seven people show up. Some are from Pride, some from Egg Box publishing, and some who are just interested in what's going on. It's a good number to work with. I make the cover, Amelia (my former flatmate who first introduced me to asexuality as a thing) makes some maps to show the spectrums (spectri??), and people submit pieces about how they were first aware of Asexuality or Aromanticism. We also make a back cover and by the end of the workshop have about 8 pages sorted out. I'll finish it at the weekend.

I find out from Abi that the landlord has indeed come round, looked round the house, set a timer so the heating is on for ten hours a day - ridiculously hot when I get home - and left.

I'm meant to meet my friend Kat at 3pm to talk about our medieval literature reading but instead I push this back an hour and go to get some food with Eliott. It's the first time we've sat down together properly since the summer holidays so there's a lot to catch up on and it's much needed. we reassure each other over left-behind coursework and he tells me not to panic too much about my dissertation, as I will inevitably end up with some days of zero productivity followed by huge bursts. These are wise words indeed.

It's about 3.45 by the time Kat and I get together to discuss such raunchy verses as "I have a gentle cock" and a story on "the meaning of marriage" about a medieval priest who decides the only way to spice up a woman's marriage is to have sex with her himself. Obviously. Afterwards, I pop to the library, message my sisters-in-law and look up some more information about the call campaign, which I still somehow don't feel versed in. At 5.30, I head over to start my shift with some tea and biscuits.

Today goes slightly better than the previous day, I'm more in the swing of things and am having much longer conversations with people who are both interesting and interested. However I feel more rehearsal is needed and I need to memorise some more information on the campaign. I just need a bit more practise . I talk to some people who've done or gone on to do similar things to me, and they seem really happy to give advice and chat. Nobody, however, can afford to donate as many are students or have just graduated. All the rich people are out earning their money, it seems.

I finish at nine again, chat with a new friend on the way home, and make a curry using quorn instead of chicken. It is not the worst. I then catch up on the Bake Off with Sam, put on my electric blanket and sit in bed to write about the last two days, which I now realise have become a little muddled in my head...

Monday, 17 October 2016

A Year in Norwich: A Week in the Life (UEA) II

Monday, 17th October 

I give myself a lie-in, half by accident and half because when I notice how late it is I just accept that this is a thing that needs to happen in my life. I get up about 11.30, make some coffee and start on my to-do list for the day - this while still in my pyjamas. My "personal admin" includes sending a picture of damage to my wall from before I moved in to my letting agent, filling in a slightly late council tax certificate, and filling details of work and meetings into my handwritten diary, which seems the only way I can keep track. I also email my dissertation supervisor to explain I've been ill for the past couple of weeks and to arrange a meeting. We are expected to meet with them 5 times before the April deadline, I suspect I'll meet mine slightly more as she's very helpful and I'm very stressy. Jess, Libby and I discuss options for energy bills which we are finally getting sorted. When my admin's done I get the bus to uni and print some reading out along with my tax certificate.

On the way to the library, I run into my friend Eliott. It's Asexual Awareness week so he's running a stall. I buy a cake to show support - but I end up accidentally buying two cakes because there are two stalls and I purchase a brownie at the wrong one first. These things happen. Although when I spot the guys from the first stall trying to sell their cakes in the library I regret my purchase - this simply isn't on in my book. I also elect to "give a squashie to my squish" as part of the campaign which is when you give a squashie sweet to your platonic crush. Obviously, mine goes to Eliott. After I've done my printing the library is pretty crowded so I sit in the "Hive" and read some of my medieval literature for a gender and sexuality module. At some point a handsome French man asks me for directions but sadly the conversation progresses any further. At 3pm I'm joined by Sophie and Hugo from my Egg Box publishing committee and two members of Octarine, a magazine at UEA. We plan deadlines, ideas and format for our new project, "Prompt", which will result in a zine made by both of our societies. It's a successful meeting and we realise they know lots about print which we'll find really useful.

I get the bus home with Sophie and we chat about more ideas. We started a publishing society last year and in September, we rebranded as Egg Box, and took over the running of the UEA-based publishing press of the same name. Egg Box was run by lecturers and publishes the annual Creative Writing anthologies, but this year it's going to be run by us. Er, me. My co-president who oversaw the anthologies last year has resigned and the other night I realised that basically I am now president of a real-live printing press as well as a society. Feeling slightly like a grenade has been left in my lap. I express this to Sophie on the bus and she reassures me a lot.

When I get home I go to my room and do some dissertation research for a couple of hours, which means I can colour in two circles on the "dissertation reading wall chart" I've made, because I am that person. At 6pm I Skype my brother and sister-in-law, Rhodri and Julie, in California. It's the first time I've Skyped them since they moved last year and we talk up until I have to go for dinner. Libby and Sam have made bolognese  (meat and vegetarian respectively... Sam is a "fair weather vegetarian") and we eat it together with Abi. I don't mean we eat Abi. I mean Abi is also there. After dinner I actually wash some things up and we play a new game we're obsessed with called "Quip Lash" in Abi's room. Sam goes to do some reading and I say I'm going to but end up watching Friends.

I write today's blog post on Abi's bed with Libby constantly asking me if I've finished writing and potentially go upstairs to read, but there is also talk of watching The Holiday.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

A Year in Norwich: A Week in the Life (UEA)

A breakdown of a week in the life of a student in Norwich. Might be of interest to you if you're planning on going to Uni, are looking at UEA, are moving to Norwich or are my parents and want to make sure I'm eating properly. 

Sunday, 16th October 

I oversleep immensely so the morning begins in a panic. Yesterday, I worked 9.30am-4.30pm doing training for a new job on campus, and then worked 6pm-1.30am in the pub where I bartend, so this probably explains why I was deaf to the 7.45am alarm this morning. I have the training again for the same time today, but when I do wake up it's a couple of minutes after nine. I  decide forking out for a taxi is my only option, especially considering Sunday buses (I've been stung before), so I call for one while I'm pulling on my jeans with one hand and somehow, miraculously, I arrive on campus at 9.27am. The taxi driver does not chat. I have not showered.

Training is more interactive than the previous day- it's for a telephone campaign to raise funds from alumni, which appears to be a more ethical, less soul-destroying version of what I've done before, with shorter shifts and better pay. We do role-plays and a quiz so it's easier to stay awake than yesterday when I found myself flagging around the 2.30pm mark. It's in the council chambers for the most part, in a ridiculously warm room with ridiculously comfy chairs, and I worry that my eyes will slide shut as they are wont to do and Kelly, the lovely lady running the session, will think I am bored of her. However, lunch is provided and this is done in style with a very nice buffet which includes all the usual suspects plus some plastic pots of fruit salad. I put one in my handbag.

We get off a little early, at about 3.30, and I bus home after figuring out there is a knack to not getting trapped in the Arts building on a Sunday. When I arrive, my old housemate Jay is visiting Abi (housemate of two years and counting), so a few of us have a cup of tea together. Jay goes home, Abi leaves for work and I have lots of food in so I make my oven-baked version of a ratatouille. Libby (housemate) gets back from campus and we have the ratatouille with some cous cous. At some point Jess (housemate) gets back from work and goes to lie down as she still appears to have the plague we thought had finally left the house. Sam (housemate) returns from wherever he has been with Alex (friend) in tow, and we drink more tea. I inform Alex he will have to go to a committee meeting to represent our course (Literature and History) as my new work hours mean I won't be able to make it.

I shower away the sticky beer and regret of the past 48 hours' work and get into my pyjamas while the others watch a documentary together. I then answer some emails, forward some info to various people who've asked for it, and catch up via Facebook chat with my sister-in-law Julie in California and my schoolfriend Rebekah in Spain. I begin the draft of this blog post, and watch some YouTube videos from my laptop. I decide The Apprentice on iPlayer is too much effort and to watch it another time when I'm less tired, so I switch on Gossip Girl instead as I tidy up my room. I'm on season 4 and still can't decide whether I like it.   

Friday, 19 August 2016

Results Week and the Positive Fresher

Disclamer: the following is totally unsolicited advice based solely upon my own experiences and mistakes, and therefore I accept no liability for the effect it might have on your life. Unless that effect is positive, in which case: you're welcome. 

Hello! I currently have about two hours to go before I miss the self-imposed deadline of “well at least I’ve posted twice in two weeks this time”, and while I was trying to get creative and express my excitement about and on behalf of those who’ve received their A-level results… alas, that post shall have to wait.

Today, here are five tips on boosting and maintaining positivity as you move into the world of University – or if you’re already there, and need some help. This blog post is going to form the basis of a zine and video based around looking after your mental health at university – so watch this space and hopefully there’ll be a few tips you can pick up.

Look after your physical health

Physical health doesn’t always = sexual health (which is often shoved down one’s throat at uni – if you’ll pardon the pun), but of course, trying not to get pregnant or catch an STI will probably have quite a positive impact on mental health over all. One less thing to worry about, and all that. If you are, or think there is a chance you may become, sexually active then it’s worth thinking about various methods of contraception, and protection from STI’s (condoms condoms condoms, they are everywhere at uni and they’re free, you could probably bury a body under the amount you’ll be given) – and you’d be frightened to discover how many people just don’t seem to think about this. Take advantage of the fact that you’re away from parents who make you cringe over the topic and find out as much info as you can about your sexual health. Chat to a nurse, have an STI screening, go and do a chlamydia test just for fun – you get a free pen sometimes. Just make sure when you’re “finding out” this information, it comes from a doctor or reliable online resource like the NHS website: not from your hallmates who might think they know everything.

What I really want to talk about regarding physical health, however, is how much it can affect your outlook on life when you’re a fresher. You will get fresher’s ‘flu and you will try to treat it with copious amounts of vodka and a couple of paracetamol, but this won’t work. Make sure you take a few days off after fresher’s to wind down and treat your symptoms with a cough bottle before the onslaught of course work begins – powering through for the fresher’s week/fortnight is, in most cases, fine.

Diet is super-duper important in ways we forget about. What you put into your body can have a massive impact on how you feel, and though many students feel duty bound to survive on instant noodles and maybe the occasional pasta and tomato sauce culinary trainwreck creation, it’s actually incredibly important to make sure you’re eating right. This sounds like a simple one, but reminding yourself of the impact the right food can have on positivity is important – if your weight fluctuates massively during term time, this might impact your self-esteem – no matter how much we wish it didn’t – and feeling sluggish after eating junk does not bode well when you’re expected to be on top form and getting involved in everything under the sun for weeks on end.

Register at your local doctor’s. Say it with me. Do this in the first week. The first day. Do it while your parents are still there so your mum can fill in the paperwork. Getting the relevant jabs should also be a no-brainer, though easy to forget. Just register and don’t say I, or the barrage of emails from your Uni, never told you so.

Get some exercise. As someone who gets most of their exercise on dancefloors, probably not even burning off the calories from the alcohol that got me there in the first place, I’m not gonna preach on this for very long. Just exercise, ‘kay? Try out a new sport or roll out the yoga mat in your room. Explore your new location on walks or jogs. This not only looks after your physical health but can be a great opportunity to ponder what on earth you are doing with your life

Basically, major or minor health problems can affect every aspect of your life at Uni, including relationships with other people, the way you view the world and how well you get on with your course (mustn’t forget your course!). So looking after your physical health by eating right, going to the doctors, exercising and looking after yourself can make you feel a lot more positive and nip a lot of problems in the bud.  

Get a job!

Not only can getting a part-time job supplement your student loan – or lack thereof- and thus help to combat the stresses and strains that will inevitably come with having to manage your own finances for the first time, but for me, having something else to do and somewhere ese to go outside of Uni has been invaluable. A part-time job can create a whole new social circle and I’ve made some great friends since I started working at a bar last year. It might take some time out of your studies, but one or two shifts can give your week structure where you might just be watching Netflix, napping, or multi-tasking at both. In short, bitching about Uni to people at work and bitching about work to people at Uni is what makes the world go round, and it certainly helps keep me positive.

Cleanse your social media

I’m going to offer a general step-by-step for this in a later post, but keeping your social media on the positive side is a really useful thing to do. Particularly when you begin Uni, all your information about events, your new halls and even your course will be online and for the most part on social media. Therefore, the last thing you need is a barrage of negativity each time you log on to Facebook.
This is an ideal time to “cleanse” your social media from a lot of the people and things that make you go “grrr” as you scroll. I’m not saying be that person who deletes everyone from school on Facebook because they’ve hashtag “moved on”, but getting rid of some people’s negativity from your online life can be good. If you’re not ready for unfriending and potential offending, Facebook’s “unfollow” button is key here.

During freshers’, you’ll probably add everyone you meet on Facebook: perhaps because you can’t pronounce or spell their name so handing them your phone might be easier, or perhaps because you just drunkenly “click” and are convinced you’ll be at each other’s weddings. A month or so in, however, it might be a good idea to do a cull of people you only ever spoke to the once. Likewise, unlike and unfollow pages or accounts whose views really incense, offend or bore the bejaysus out of you – there’ll be enough of that in lectures or round the dinner table.

Hang with different crowds

Similar to the whole social circle thing I mentioned above, it’s really important to not just make one group of friends from your flat, course, or society. Try to spend time with a mix of people. Friend-making can be exhausting, and yes, once you’ve realised you get on so well with everyone on your corridor or you click with all the other Bio students, it feels like a huge relief and you might not see the point any more. Unfortunately these social circles can get bogged down by similar things. Instead, try to have a few solid mates who aren’t all doing exams the same week as you, or who don’t all have a disgusting kitchen to battle with that Tuesday night. In addition, remember that while freshers’ is definitely one of the easiest times to make friends, it’s not the only time. People are pretty open to a new friend, generally speaking. So if you find you’ve become a bit insular or you and your gang are grinding each other’s gears (I’ve never said that before… who am I?), maybe it’s time to try out a new society or text that person you barely see to invite them for a coffee. It can open up lots of new doors and make those negative “suffocated” vibes disappear. (I don’t think I say “vibes” either, really).

Perfect the art of “sorry”

There’s probably something about you that really gets on someone else’s nerves. And that’s if you’re perfect. If you’re normal, there’ll be a lot of things about you that get on a lot of people’s nerves, and they’ll probably be living under the same roof as you. Particularly in your accommodation, you might end up clashing with someone, whether it’s about social or political ideals, or people leaving too many pans in the sink. Whatever it might be, it’s not worth hiding in your room for weeks over – trust me. The key to a harmonious environment, or at least one where nobody murders anyone, in your flat or seminar, is to clear the air and say sorry. Even if you don’t mean it ad even if you think you’re totally in the right, just say “sorry” and drop it, because after all, we’re supposed to be adults now and you might as well start practising. Be prepared to apologise for views you feel are totally reasonable or things that’d be totally OK among your “home friends”, because you’ve been shoved together with people from different environments with wildly varying values. You don’t have to be best friends with the person afterward, but creating an atmosphere can be really damaging particularly when it’s in your own home. You might even get an apology back – or at least you won’t be the flat misery. 

Friday, 5 August 2016

A Year in Norwich: Yoga at the Buddhist Centre

As I now realise, six months after deciding to write a year's worth of posts about Norwich and for many personal reasons (genuinely a bit more than laziness) not actually writing them, I now officially only have a year left in Norwich... as an Undergraduate, at least. As all the adults in my life are currently proselytising, "who knows where you'll be a year from now?"

I am uneasy about this. At school, I couldn't wait to leave from about five years before the event and had decided my university plans about three years before they happened. Now, however, I don't quite want to leave. I like my life in Norwich. I like being a student. I adore learning about history. For the next year, my last in this current state, there will no doubt be overwhelming pressure to decide, or discover, who or what I want to be. What sort of person am I, and how will my future employment prospects reflect this? Who do I want to be on a daily basis: a continuation, development, or total re-invention of what I am now? Even though a new academic term beckons, something which may only happen once more in my life, I feel at twenty I am too old and decrepit for a back-to-school reinvention. Not that this should or will stop me.

One thing that keeps coming back with alarming clarity, however, is to enjoy Norwich, the place I am currently fortunate enough to live. "Enjoy where you are" was in fact the theme of a yoga class I recently attended at the local Buddhist Centre. Perhaps availing of such resources - which are harder to come by in the Irish midlands, for sure - should be part of me enjoying where I am, geographically speaking, for the next year.

Yoga came about when a friend I was staying with suggested it. It was to take place at the ungodly hour of ten in the morning. At 9.50, because at the time we were living at a ridiculously convenient location, we made our way there in our "exercise gear" (maybe) pretty half awake.

The bright and airy room with a high ceiling, fresh wooden beams and light streaming through the Velux windows was certainly a pleasant enough place to lie on a yoga mat. When we arrived people were already lying down with their eyes closed, in what I would later learn to be called corpse pose (maybe). We joined them with minimal fuss - there were only about six of us in the class in total, and when the instructor entered we would learn the purpose of the mysterious "blocks" which accompanied the laid-out yoga mats. Did you know there were blocks?

The instructor, whose patience with my total lack of knowledge let alone suppleness was second to none, began by getting us to breathe a lot - which I had expected - and while we were all breathing away – quite often, sometimes in, sometimes out - he spoke to us about a book on Buddhism he'd been reading before the lesson. It had featured the key phrase: "enjoy where you are." I hadn't expected yoga to cover mental or emotional well-being as much, but this was like getting a workout and a sermon at once – in the best possible sense. Of course, yoga is about not only physical stretching and movement but the harnessing of energy to bring positivity, vitality or relaxation to life. It’s very complicated; you wouldn’t understand.

So instead of focussing on where we’d like to be after lesson one, and feeling put out that others were ahead of us, our instructor advised us to enjoy what our body could currently do before we worked on making it better. He must have been reading my mind as I glanced jealously at the woman on my right who not only seemed to have harnessed more than her fair share of positive energy, but could more than likely put both legs behind her head. But for the rest of the ninety minutes, I looked to her only for guidance and not out of jealousy.

As it turned out, “where I was” proved not only enjoyable but useful. I was concentrating so hard on what my body was doing at the time that I didn’t get a chance to think of much else.  I experienced each stretch and ache of my muscles and had to concentrate on the basic instinct of breathing. I was giving my body attention it hadn’t seen in a while (for want of a more appropriate phrase), and as such the rest of my life didn’t really factor in for that hour and a half.

Lying flat on my back at the end of the session, relaxing my breathing, feeling my muscles nicely stretched as strains of Killing Me Softly floated in through the window, it would be incorrect to say that I totally forgot my worries. For me, the phrase “forget your worries” will inevitably bring a dozen or so of them to mind. It was more that in that moment, focused on what was happening now and, yes, enjoying where I was, those worries didn’t seem to have as much significance. I had better things to think about: an awareness and appreciation of my physical self.  

Having undergone major surgery in 2012 and another minor procedure in 2014, I have sometimes felt connected to my body on a slightly higher level –often whilst on a lot of painkillers, but still. It’s happened. I’ve often remarked that one thing my surgery taught me is that our bodies know best – they know what they need to do to heal, and how much rest will be necessary, as well as using pain to warn us when we mightn’t realise we’ve gone too far. Yoga gave me a sense of my body, too – what it could and couldn’t do, its comforts and limits. I discovered weak points I could work on and, surprisingly, there things my body could do that others found difficult. Such awareness is important, and deserves more focus. This awareness also led to an appreciation we often omit.

My body really is a tremendous thing – as is yours. Mine underwent spinal surgery and has recovered with the help of all kinds of surgical steel it carries around every day. It can dance – all be it poorly and mostly in the shower. It can give the most amazing hugs. It is admired - maybe, once or twice. And potentially, at-some-point-fingers-crossed-not-at-the-moment, it could grow a human being inside it and give birth to that person. Or people – but let’s not get too ambitious.

I’ve been very unappreciative of my body in the past. I’ve wished it was slimmer, had less spots, grew less hair – a lot less hair – and hadn’t required screws and rods to work properly. I’ve also wished it would be more co-ordinated and fit, although fitness is certainly not something you could wish for. I’ve been so unappreciative, that I’ve forgotten all the things it could do.

Appreciating your body is so important – especially at a time when for reasons unbeknown to me, women like myself are still being judged every day for what we do or don’t do with our bodies. The human body might be leered at, taken ownership of, assaulted and abused by our fellow humans, and any time we decide to do as we please with it, we run the risk of being labelled or shamed. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been made to feel as though every single decision I’ve taken about my own body has been the wrong one.

Bodies are a hassle: they cause a lot of undue stress. But they are also a source of wonder, and I’d strongly advise anyone with low body confidence or otherwise to take some time to regularly think about their body. Enjoy where you are with it. What can it do – what are its strengths? What does it need? Should we be feeding it or watering it? Giving it an airing? Allowing it room to stretch and breathe? Sheltering it or letting it out to enjoy the world?

I’m not going to turn this into a pledge to do lots and lots of exercise, as that will inevitably fall through much like my pledge to update this blog more frequently, but I think a change in mind set and more attention and focus on my body can lead to many improvements and accomplishments. Once I love where I am, then I can start setting goals. I always see the phrase “don’t exercise because you hate your body: exercise because you love it.”  Maybe I won’t be running any marathons quite yet, but perhaps more yoga sessions will remind me of the importance of my body and that it needs to be appreciated and looked after.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Uni Life: The Personal Statement, or "Bane of my Existence."

A friend contacted me recently about writing a UCAS personal statement. She's beginning her final year of secondary school this September, and lives in Ireland where applications through UCAS aren't exactly the norm: she's therefore turned to me and no doubt her older sister who studies in Northampton for some advice on how to go about applying.

I was really excited to hear from her and learn the plans she's making for her future - she's going to learn a million things (probably not much related to her course) in that first year, and make friends and memories she'll keep for a long time. It prompted me to begin writing a series of posts about the thing many of us probably googled feverishly in the year leading up to this huge change: what university is "really like." Of course the answer is different for everyone, but when I decided (about three or four years before the event) that I was dramatically going to "get out of this hell-hole" and study in a different country, the more opinions I could find on this the better.

I'm hoping to create an interesting log of my experiences as well as finding out about what going to Uni - whether at home or abroad - has done for those around me too, in an effort to add to the resources upcoming nervous Freshers will be feverishly studying, probably harder than their A level notes.

But I realise I'm getting way ahead of myself. If my younger friend is to experience any of this, first she will need to get in. And that means writing a personal statement.

When you live in Ireland, and go to a school where maybe just yourself, or one or two other people, will be applying to study in the UK, this is no mean feat. Most of the careers advice (and one uses the term loosely) is centred around applying through the CAO system of points, in which references and statements, and usually interviews too, are completely irrelevant. In my experience, I was given limited help from a few teachers happy to look at my statement, but my predicted grades were actually left largely up to me - tracking and predicting final grades being a bit less of a familiar concept   - whether or not this was technically "allowed." Nevertheless, I actually predicted them lower than was the outcome, wrote a personal statement that got me an early offer from my ideal university, and managed to worm a glowing reference out of my careers teacher.

So, on to the personal statement. It may sound obvious, but the main thing you should centre your statement around is a genuine desire to study your chosen subject(s). Mine actually began with what I now deem to be a pretty awful cliché: I wanted to study Literature and History, so I started by talking about a series of historical fiction books I'd read as a child (teenager) (young adult) and how it had made me see the way the two subjects could intertwine. Looking back, it was actually quite cingeworthy but it was my way of showing that I hadn't just suddenly decided on two subjects - this was a path I'd been following for years.

It's also a good idea to show how other aspects of your life have highlighted and developed the interest - I talked about how my Irish course (that is, learning the Irish language which is compulsory for most Irish schoolchildren) helped me link the two subjects as we had studied language and literature as well as the history behind it all, which I had obviously taken a particular interest in.I even worked in an Irish proverb, but that's probably something a limited number of you will be able to do.

This is then your chance to show off about your achievements, first and foremost the ones that highlight your interest in your chosen field. I mentioned a prize won for historical fiction work, and blogging I had done to develop writing skills - this was backed up by examples to show it wasn't just the one private site I'd worked on. This method, I found, made for a seamless development within the statement from my interests to my skills and experiences.

Another good piece of advice is one various teachers have given me for job interviews: "Not if I were, I would, but when I was, I did..." Basically, you can talk about what you'd like to at university and why you're looking forward to the experience - but only do this after you talk about what you have already done, or else why would anyone believe you? We've all used Point-Evidence-Explanation in our coursework and exams - it's important here, too.

Also important to remember is that you have a limited number of words and are expected to use them to highlight the absolute best aspects of you as a person. For some reason, both the British and the Irish have such an aversion to boasting that we timidly mention our achievements, and even then apologise for their insignificance. Do not do this in your personal statement. Whoever ends up reading it will have read hundreds of others with just as many if not more achievements and qualities - so don't be shy about stating yours in all their glory. Exaggerate  even (but don't lie), as this will show your ability to reflect upon what you've done and how you've benefited.... and to write an, ahem, creative essay.

Generally, avoid repetition of "I, I, I" and follow other rules your English teachers have given you - this is, after all, an essay. Especially in the arts but by an lagrge for any subject, you should make sure your personal statement is first and foremost a quality piece of writing. It more than likely will sound pretentious - as my housemates and I have discovered by looking back at ours over the past few minutes - so don't worry too much, but at the same time don't "try too hard." Simply put, content-wise you can try as hard as you like, but writing-wise, if you wouldn't use a word in conversation or normal writing, don't use it in your statement as you'll likely sound like a complete idiot even if you don't realise it at the time.

Though mine began with the usual cliché as mentioned, perhaps this is best avoided. Try not to begin it the same was as the previous twelve will have started, though I did get 3/5 offers so really the decision is yours.

In the event you may be interviewed by one of the universities you apply to, remember that the personal statement - along with your reference - will be all that person has to talk to you about. Know your statement inside out and do not include anything you wouldn't be happy to elaborate upon and discuss in an interview with a total stranger. The skill exaggerating without outright lying is to be reiterated here.

Mentioning why you are interested in a particular university is not easy to do, as you will be sending the same statement to up to five different institutions. It's not, however, impossible.. I mentioned an interest in dystopian fiction as well as historical, which meant I could name-drop UEA alum Kazou Ishiguro, for example. For the admissions department of UEA, my first choice, this eant I had researched the University, without telling the likes of Exeter and Edinburgh that I had such a preference.

Finally, a list of your achievements should not constitute a list. A personal statement is an evaluation and personal reflection on what you've done in your life u to this point, and what it means to you. If you can't back up something you've achieved with how it has impacted upon you as a person and made you how you are today, it's probably not worth mentioning.

Friday, 18 March 2016

A taste of early modern midwifery

For my dissertation next year, I've decided to write about midwifery in the early modern era. I'm still fine-tuning the details, but researching and discussing with my supervisor have thrown up some really interesting ideas I'm excited to study about.

As part of my course this year, we were asked to write a short assignment and then "convert" or "translate" it for the everyday reader, who doesn't study history. In the spirit of updating my blog with every single piece of social media I've written (new page here), I thought I may as well share this piece with you all and see if I can get anyone else all fired up about delivering babies in sixteenth-century France. Why wouldn't you?

(Reading age had to be 13 - the frightening national reading age here in the UK - so apologies if some of you find it too simplistic. It's a really interesting challenge if you're a blogger, though. There are lots of online reading age calculators you can use to ensure your writing is as accessible as possible.)

Louise Bourgeois Boursier: what can she teach us about early modern midwifery?

Louise Bourgeois was a midwife in Paris. From 1601-1609 she helped the Queen of France Marie de Medici give birth to her children. She was probably trained by her husband who was a surgeon. She might also have attended a midwifery school in Paris. To get her licence, she had to be examined by a doctor, two surgeons and two other midwives.

Henry IV chose another midwife for the Queen but she wanted Bourgeois instead. It was not uncommon for a woman to choose her own midwife as men were usually left out of birth. She was paid 500 crowns for every boy she delivered and 300 for every girl. When she finished working, she was given 6000 crowns. She asked for a pension of 500 from Henry IV and he gave her 300. This was a large amount considering most midwives earned 50 crowns per delivery.

In 1560, laws were passed in Paris which made it the first state to control midwifery. Before, the Church had been in charge of approving midwives, but now it was the state who would give out licences.  For example, midwives could no longer make a report unless a doctor and two surgeons approved it. These laws put midwives under control of surgeons and showed the tension between female midwives and male doctors. Both sides thought the other less able.

This tension was shown when Princess Marie de Bourbon died in childbirth. Bourgeois was partly blamed but she wrote an apology letter. This included confident information and she mentioned books she had written about midwifery. She said the surgeons who had done the autopsy were wrong. These events damaged her reputation and her career then ended.

Bourgeois is important because she got a pension for her work, which was not common. Her work and apology letter also show the tension between men and women in medicine at the time.

My Writing

If you've enjoyed my blog, here are examples of my writing elsewhere on the web:

When I lived in Ireland, I wrote for two popular Irish teen websites, and Foróige. My writing as a 16-17 year old can be found here:


Creative ways to make money

How to balance your studies with leisure

Making the most of a three-month long summer

On dealing with exam stress one step at a time


On what needs to be done about bullying among young people

Upon moving to Norwich, I began writing for Concrete, UEA's student newspaper. I then became Features editor for the academic year 2015-16. Here's some of my work for UEA:

Concrete Online:

On who should get a say in SU elections (1st year)

On whether TV is to blame for childhood obesity (1st year)

On whether "I was drunk" is a reason or an excuse (1st year)

An interview with Plane Stupid campaigner, Ella Gilbert (2nd year)

On the importance of zines and print culture (2nd year)

On how well our union represents us (2nd year)

On how to bear witness to the holocaust (2nd year)

In my first year, I also wrote an article for UEA's History student chronicle.

History Student Chronicle PDF (I'm on page 7)