September! This time of year has always felt more like the start of a new year to me than January ever does, perhaps because January is so dark and miserable that it’s hard to feel optimistic about the future. Or perhaps because I’ve only spent one year in the last 23 not in education, one way or another. At any rate, September is always my fresh start.
I’ve been terrible at blogging for the last couple of years! I’ve been keeping a sort of journal elsewhere on the Internet but I do miss my little blog, and have still been reading other blogs when I have time.
In my last post, from September 2017, I said that there was another post “coming soon” with details of the important things that happened during our six weeks living in a caravan. Well, that was clearly inaccurate, but I have returned to update you. I’m sure the suspense has been agonising.
We moved into the caravan on June 30th. And on July 8th, we got married!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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