Ad Lib House Move

Gosh, has it really been seven months since I wrote a blog post? Part of me can’t believe it’s been such a long time, and another part of me can’t believe it’s only been seven months. It’s been a busy summer and I’ve crossed more than one thing off my bucket list!

So last time I checked in, it was February and I had just had my 26th birthday. I’d recently started a Masters course in Child Welfare, we’d had our anxious rescue dog for six months, and I was rehearsing for the local light opera group’s spring production. We were settled into the cottage and Naomi was in the swing of her clinical psychology training. Paige was still wary of the dog, but we’d put up baby gates and everyone was fairly comfortable. I even remember musing that it would be nice to have a period of stability where I could catch my breath and put down roots after several years of constant change.

But of course such a state of stability could not last! In April, we were visiting Naomi’s parents for Easter when we got a slightly odd text message from our landlady, asking where we were thinking would be a more suitable place for us to live long-term. I assumed this was something to do with the conversation I’d had with her about how we’d like to make the front garden a bit more wheelchair-accessible by returning what had once been a gate but had been blocked up by a trellis to its former state, and a passing comment I’d made about living somewhere less hilly. Naomi wasn’t so sure. Either way, we didn’t reply immediately as we were on holiday.

Two days later we got another text: the landlady had decided to sell the house. She wasn’t going to renew our tenancy and we would have to move out.

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On seams, songs and serial studenting

Everyone needs a hobby. I have some which have endured for decades – singing, reading, getting excited whenever I see a dog, a cat or a baby – and some which are more recently acquired – sewing, accidentally trespassing in pursuit of public footpaths, putting little jumpers onto the dog. And, it would appear, studying.

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What Are We Going to Do?

I slept well last night, surprisingly enough. In 2008 I struggled to sleep, wondering what was happening across the pond and whether I’d wake up in a world where the most powerful person on the planet was a man who approved of the death penalty but not contraception, opposes abortion but supports embryonic stem cell research, doesn’t believe my marriage will be valid before God, and thinks autism is caused by vaccines. A world of inconsistency, illogical reasoning, ignorance to facts and the imposition of beliefs on others. Thankfully, the morning brought a different result. My sleepless night had been for naught.

Last year I went to sleep on the night of the UK general election cautiously optimistic that I would wake to negotiations between the left-leaning parties with a view to forming a coalition government. I actually woke up to discover almost the opposite. A frighteningly high number of people had voted for a party with openly racist policies. A majority of this country had voted for a party which not only admits to but prides itself on prioritising economic value above all else, including the inherent value of human life. It would be irrational (and we know how I feel about irrationality!) to suggest that the result might have been different had I kept an anxious vigil. At least I was well-rested when I had to face the horrible truth.

Over the last year the consequences of that decision by this country, my country, Britain, a country and a people with whom I have had a very complicated relationship most of my life, have become starkly clear. I was still working in the NHS when the 2015 election results were published, and the mood in the hospital was grim. We could all see the writing on the wall: funding cuts, not just to the NHS but to the social care institutions that kept people out of hospital, benefit cuts to the already-struggling families trying to overcome generations of class discrimination and income inequality, an indefinite period in which we would be “all in this together” in much the same way that all animals are equal on Manor Farm. I was in shock. I really had thought that we had started to wake up to the fact that you can’t make decisions about people’s lives based on purely economic measures. I was wrong.

Yesterday I went to sleep believing that despite the fear-mongering, the inaccurate “facts”, the enthusiastic dividing of camps and the alarming rhetoric, the knowledge that we have more in common would win out. I thought about how much of the food in supermarkets comes from Spain, France and Portugal, and how EU export laws have made lower food prices possible. I’m in favour of buying locally, and personally I try to avoid produce that’s crossed oceans to reach my basket, but not everyone has the luxury of being able to afford that choice. Without the EU, food is going to cost more.

I fell asleep after an evening during which I read over the introductory chapter of my friend’s book, about feminism in Germany since the 1970s. She’s German, but she’s lived in this country for years and worked not only in academia but also in activism, striving for peace, unity and a fairer system which treats everyone with respect. She is just one of dozens of Europeans I know who live in the UK, work here, pay income tax and VAT and council tax and contribute to the British economy just as much as if they had been born here. They didn’t get to vote yesterday, but it is not an exaggeration to say that the vote they were excluded from was crucial to the structure of the lives. Britain leaves the EU and they may have to leave Britain.

You know the punchline already: I woke up and the fear had won. That vile serpent Niggle Farridge is all over the news, brandishing his passport and crowing about independence. I wonder what his German wife feels about that? The £350,000,000 that supposedly was being sucked into Brussels out of the desperate fingers of the NHS has evaporated into the puff of hot air it always was and I want to run into the street screaming “WE TOLD YOU IT WAS A LIE!” but I can’t bring myself to get dressed and face the day. Maybe if I stay inside, in my bedroom, with my blissfully-unaware cat purring happily on my lap, I can avoid having to fully accept what has happened.

I hate change. I hate uncertainty. Even if I strongly believed that remaining in the EU was a bad idea, I would have found a Leave vote difficult to deal with. The fear and anxiety is magnified a thousand-fold by the fact that the uncertain changes that we are facing are a consequence of thousands, millions, of people making a choice based on inaccurate figures, simplistic divisions and xenophobic prophesying. Not everyone who wants to leave the EU is motivated by racism, but a frighteningly high number of them are. There’s no way to parse “Britain first” that doesn’t imply that everyone else, all those Others, come last. The UK must “take care of its own”, an alarming concept for anyone who identifies with any group that hasn’t always been embraced as part of the family: people with mental health problems, people with disabilities, people of colour, queer people, poor people… anyone, in short, who is too different from those glorious patterns of Britishness, Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and our dear friend Niggle. A Turkish-Swiss American, an adopted Scot who turned his back on the Labour party, and single-issue rich boy with a German wife, German ancestry and a spectacular ability to spin reality into a tissue of deceit.

I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what is going to happen and I don’t know how we can cope. Things are going to get worse, and I don’t know if they can get better. How have we reached this point, where people genuinely believe that arbitrary lines on a map have more bearing on people’s worth than anything else?

I’ve never been proud to be English. For a start, that would be a betrayal of my Scottish heritage which has shaped my identity a dozen ways. I think “English” and I see drunk football thugs throwing bottles, skinheads hurling abuse and talking about racial purity, red-coated aristocrats galloping across fields to slaughter animals for sport. But I did used to be proud to be British. I grew up in the north of England, where immigration is a decades-old tradition which has enriched the culture, boosted the economy and broadened the minds of generations. My best friends, the three women who were designated my bridesmaids long before I knew the name of the bride, are all the children of immigrants. I speak three European languages, understand a smattering of three more, have lived in and visited a dozen countries and can’t think of a single area of my life which hasn’t been improved by people making use of the freedom of movement. Now that is in jeopardy.

This is a rambling post and I don’t really know how to end it, because this is only the start. No one knows what is going to happen next, but I predict it won’t be a sudden upswing in the welfare and prospects of the British people. Whoever they are. It won’t be a better-funded NHS, lower unemployment, cheaper food, fewer terrorist threats. I’m scared.

The Trials and Tribulations of Moving with Wheels

So we’re pretty much up to date around here: Naomi’s got a place on a doctorate, we’re moving in together for the first time, and we’re moving aaalllll the way south. Great!

Sadly not currently available to rent

Except not quite so straight forward as that, of course. I’ve been incredibly fortunate when looking for places to live in the past. I took the first place I saw (twice!) in Birmingham, and then did have a bit of trouble finding somewhere in Cambridge until my school-friend popped up and said, “Hey! Fancy living in our spare bedroom and paying a frankly ridiculously low rent and we’ll feed your cat on the numerous occasions you’re away and not complain too much about the smelly litter tray?”. Turns out this isn’t because I’m an expert flat-hunter. It’s because until now, I have been incredibly uncomplicated to house. One room, running water, a roof, electricity and heating, I was good to go. Not any more! Continue reading

Boing, boing, boing, bouncing around the country!

Greetings from… Cambridge, again! A lot has happened since my last post. First, the family who I had been nannying for all year decided to fire me for reasons I continue to think were unfair and baseless (I won’t go into details, but I felt very hurt and betrayed about it for quite a long time). Then the nanny share fell through, as the first family decided to send their child to nursery instead and the second family, after initially wanting to continue without a share, eventually backtracked and found a childminder.

I carried on looking for nannying work but I also started looking at other jobs, mainly along the lines of being a family support worker. I hadn’t known this kind of job existed! Essentially it combines what I most loved about midwifery (working in the community to support families) with a lot of the skills I’ve gained through nannying, and also uses my law degree a little bit and essentially sounds like my ideal job.

At the start of July, I went down to Cambridge with my friend Nicola to help her get her electric wheelchair serviced, and she invited a few friends to dinner while we were there. One was a woman called Naomi, who Nicola had mentioned she thought I would get along well with. Continue reading

Another New Direction

I really wanted to be a midwife. As soon as I stumbled across the idea, I knew it ticked all the boxes for what I wanted to achieve and what skills I had. My plan was to complete my degree, and either work a few years as a midwife or go straight into a health visiting course.

The problem is that I am not good at hospitals. The NHS, at least from the perspective of someone who works on the ground as it were, is run as a tight ship with strict hierarchy, lots of policies and guidelines, and shifts that seem specially designed to make it almost impossible to live a normal life. Perhaps some people thrive in an environment like that. In fact I know they do – I met dozens of them on placement; women (mostly women, although some men) who breeze through a thirteen hour shift giving endless amounts of energy and care and achieving more than would seem possible without ever complaining, and then coming back in 10 hours later to do it all again.

This sort of silliness does not go down well in hospitals
This sort of silliness does not go down well in hospitals

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My Top Productivity Tools

Strangely, I seem to have acquired a reputation for being organised. I say strangely because I am really not naturally organised at all. To keep my life running at least semi-smoothly I have a whole raft of strategies and tricks that I’m constantly tweaking and adding to. Here are the ones I use daily or almost daily.

1. My Planner

My trusty planner
My trusty planner

Simply put, I live out of this thing. I never leave the house without it, and selecting a new one each year is a process that takes weeks or sometimes even months because it has to be perfect. I don’t just write down appointments, lectures, shifts and reminders but also to-do lists, shopping lists, my three MITs (most important tasks) for each day, topics for self-directed study, online courses running during that particular week… The list goes on. At the back there’s a four-page spread with an overview of 2014 and 2015 where I record the shape of the academic year so I can see exactly what I’ll be doing at a given time. I make a note of assignment deadlines so that I don’t overschedule around those times, and also whether I’m on placement, in university or on vacation. Being able to see it all laid out makes it a lot easier to identify weeks when I’ll be more or less stressed and schedule holidays and visits to family accordingly. I designed it myself on the best website I’ve ever seen for this sort of thing! Continue reading

In September, Birmingham is where it’s at!

This time last year almost to the day, I commented on how much was happening in Birmingham at that time – the Library of Birmingham had its gala opening, the FourSquares weekend took place across the city, I volunteered at a literary festival… it seemed like every week there was something new going on.

The city is a work of art
Certainly true of Birmingham!

Two years does not a representative sample make, but this September has turned out to be even more eventful. I finished my final placement of first year in the first week of the month and since then I’ve been busy almost every day. Continue reading

Punctuated by Punctures

Last week was my reading week from university, which I spent at my mum’s house. We visited my brother and my mum’s sister, went to a circuits training session (goodness me, my arms are puny!) and I got a fair amount of work done as well as snuggling my cats, petting the dog and helping my stepdad locate and recapture a cow which had escaped from the farm next door.

The week before, I’d been late to university most days so when I started back this Monday morning I decided I would set off early and make certain I was on time for a change.

Well, that didn’t work out well. I got about ten minutes down the canal towpath, just before an exit from the path, and had a puncture. A passing man lent me his bike pump (actually, he pumped the tire for me) but it was clear I had no hope – it went flat again straight away. So I pushed my bike to the conveniently-nearby train station, locked it up and caught the train. I was only fifteen minutes late, amazingly.

In the afternoon I took my bike to Halfords, and left it with them overnight to get the inner tube and back brake cable replaced. The brake’s needed doing for ages, so it seemed like a good opportunity. On Tuesday afternoon I went back to collect it. Naturally it wasn’t ready yet, but the girl on the desk assured me it would only be half an hour or so. I kicked around the shop looking at things and eventually was able to set off with my new inner tube just in time to get home for my Skype date with KT before leaving for my writing group.

Except that when I was about 500m from home, the same tire went flat again. It was a different section of the canal, but just as rapid and just as complete. I heaved a sigh, pushed my bike to the train station near my flat, and went back to Halfords. The manager on the desk saw me and his expression said exactly the same as I was feeling!

He got the girl from earlier to replace the inner tube for me again, and we chatted while she did it. I asked her to advise me on new bike lights, since it seemed I might as well get everything sorted in one go, and once it was all ready I set off for home again.

This time I got back without a puncture, but too late to get to the writing group. Frustrating, but that’s how life goes.

And then this morning I got up and went down to my bike to set off for uni for my regular study day. The back tire was flat again.

At this point all I could do was laugh! My poor crippled bike and I caught the train again and limped into Halfords for the fourth time in three days. The same manager was working, although not the girl, and he sent the wheel off up to the mechanic who very kindly replaced both the inner tube and the tire – I assume on the basis that one tire was probably cheaper than a constant stream of inner tubes!

Fingers crossed the new tire seems to have done the trick. I suspect the front one is likely to do precisely the same thing soon enough, so I am planning on replacing that tire once I can afford it. It’s a bit odd adjusting to budgeting on a monthly basis rather than a termly one!

It was fairly fortunate that due to the puncture I had to cancel the appointment I had at university, because it meant I had plenty of time to get to the hospital for my blood donor session. Except that the blood donation centre is not at the hospital! The woman in the reception of the blood transplant building gave me directions to the centre in the city, which I had passed a few times without realising it. I arrived early there too, so spent a bit of time in the library looking at the temporary exhibition.

Today was the first time I’d given blood since I became vegan, so I was relieved that my iron count was high enough. I’m also looking into becoming a platelet donor, although I might well not weigh enough. I’m not sure why my weight affects my platelets but them’s the rules!

In the mood for getting jobs done, I went off to NatWest to tell them that I’m still a student and get my student account extended for another three years. I was surprised to hear that I couldn’t do that – apparently you can only have a student account for five years in total, so I could extend it for six months more. The railcard I’ve had through the bank account for free expires in three weeks so I will have to buy a new one, and learn to live without an overdraft once the graduate account overdraft dries up in two years. I suppose it had to happen eventually!

And one final thing: I’m taking part in NaNoWriMo this year, so most of my writing energy is going towards my novel rather than my blogs. I didn’t get anything written yesterday but I’m confident I’ll catch back up soon enough. Wish me luck!

How I Spent My Last Days of Freedom

That title sounds a bit like a tabloid headline for an article about being sent to prison, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, it’s nothing as alarming as that! It’s just that I realised today was my last completely free day, possibly for the next three years, since tomorrow I’m volunteering at the PowWow Literary Festival all day (if you live in the West Midlands you might have spotted the item about it on Midlands Today last night, although I wasn’t there when they were doing the filming as I was off having another cookery lesson) and then on Monday I start my new degree!

I finally got sight of the timetable for Freshers’ Week today. We’ve had the timetable for the term for a couple of weeks but Freshers’ Week was left blank. Now I know that I’m in every day except Wednesday, which is the Freshers’ Fair. Since I have no intention of or time to join any societies and clubs, and no need for five dozen free pens and a mountain of flyers, I won’t be going to that.

I’ll probably have to spend Wednesday attempting to rescue my undelivered post; on the Wednesday just gone, I was in the city centre showing my brother the new library and missed a letter which needed to be signed for. I’m very much hoping that it’s the Disclosure and Barring Certificate which I need for university enrollment, although it’s not a lot of use to me sitting in a sorting office somewhere and I’ve managed to mislay the Something for You non-delivery notification. I rang up and the helpful man told me that although I couldn’t collect it without the piece of paper, he would contact the delivery office and see if it could be redelivered. He promised to ring me back this morning. He did not. I wasn’t expecting that he would.

So, what genuinely exciting things have I been up to? As I said, on Wednesday my brother came to visit. I met him at the train station and dragged him off to my new favourite eatery, The Warehouse Cafe, which offers lots of delicious vegetarian and vegan food. We had lunch – he kindly paid for it, which is an idea I’m going to have to adjust to: my little brother is earning more money than me! He has a real proper grown up person job! – and then went to my second favourite place in the city centre, the Library of Birmingham. I gave him the full tour, and we tested out every style of seating we could find (my favourite were the swivelly winged arm chairs in the Book Browse section). Then I loaded myself up with reading material and we came home to tidy up my flat and cook dinner.

On Thursday I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed (I’m still working on getting my sleep schedule diurnal again, although it’s much better now!) and we headed off to Birmingham Nature Centre which involved a ridiculous amount of faffing in order to obtain the precisely correct change for the bus fare.

The nature centre gate with its elaborate sign
The nature centre gate with its elaborate sign

I had high hopes for the Nature Centre, because I had seen internet rumours that there was a petting zoo! Alas, alack, no petting zoo could we find, but we saw lots of adorable animals including baby meerkats born just a couple of months ago. They were practising the classic meerkat lookout pose, and frequently falling over in the process. (I do have a video of this, but I can’t work out how on earth to upload it!)

Lemurs having a hug!
Lemurs having a hug!

I also liked the many different tiny monkeys, although Xander was most taken by the sugar gliders which were hidden away in a darkened section of the centre. Once we’d eaten our packed lunches next to the lemur enclosure and seen everything there was to see, we caught the bus back to my flat – passing a rather exciting hedge fire on the way.

After a short tour of the village and an early meal of leftovers from my cooking class on Tuesday, my brother set off back up north on the train and I failed miserably to go out for running club. I did manage to trick myself into going for a run on my own today though; I told myself and indeed a friend on Skype that I was not going, but then got changed into my running gear and decided not to waste all that effort. I’m finding it tricky to motivate myself to train for this half marathon now that the weather is getting miserable, but there’s not long to go now! I made the unexpected discovery today that I’ve lost 3kg since I last weighed myself, which means I’ve lost 7kg (more than 1 stone) overall in the last 18 months just by exercising regularly and eating more healthily. I’m quite pleased with that; it puts me comfortably in a healthy weight range and I don’t feel that I’m doing anything other than making a few lifestyle changes.

Yesterday and today I spent mostly lounging around, with a bit of tidying, washing and cooking in between. The flat is looking almost how I imagined it – I’ve finally unpacked the last suitcase of clothes, and now all I have to do is move a few boxes to their permanent homes out of the way, figure out where on earth I’m going to keep my KitchenAid, and maintain the tidyness!