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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Facing the Future

It’s been something of a whirlwind few weeks. Actually, it’s been something of a whirlwind year!

July 2nd was the anniversary of Naomi and I meeting. It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year, and hard to believe that it’s only been a year. So much has happened, some of which I’ve blogged about, and we both feel that in many ways it has accelerated our relationship by testing it in nearly every conceivable way.

More tests loom: in August, we will be moving house. Not only will this be the first time we’ve lived together, we’re also moving over 100 miles (or 135, depending whether or not you can fly) to a place where neither of us knows anyone yet. The process of finding ourselves somewhere to live has felt little short of miraculous. Only a few days after I had posted a desperate plea for ideas as we were struggling to find anywhere suitable in East Sussex, we received an email responding to our similar plea on Gumtree. The sender had a cottage in East Sussex, and she was moving for work. The bathroom was on the ground floor and she would be very happy for a cat and even a dog to live with us there. Were we interested in renting it? Continue reading


Planning for Success

Planner 2014-15

I’m a sucker for new beginnings. New calendar year, new academic year, any other kind of fresh start and I sit down with my pen, diary and pad of paper to make a plan, set some goals, generally get my life in order.

I’m not naturally well-organised. The default state for my flat is cluttered, I am almost invariably late to things, I only remember the birthdays of my closest relatives and sometimes not even them, and I frequently find myself frantic at the very last minute trying to meet a deadline. But I don’t want to be like this! I’m too busy to let my life organise itself, for a start. And I genuinely enjoy making a good plan and sticking to it. Continue reading

Live Below the Line Challenge

I’m cross-posting today from my food blog because I want as many people as possible to see this post.

Now that National Vegetarian Week is over, I’m looking ahead to next month. Specifically, to the 23rd-27th June. During these five days I will be taking part in the Live Below the Line challenge, spending no more than £5 on food in total with a maximum budget of £1 per day.

It was quite hard choosing the right time to do the challenge. I heard about it in early May through A Girl Called Jack and was interested, but knew I needed to wait until after my exams. When I flicked through my diary, I was horrified to discover that after the end of my exams I didn’t have a single stretch of five days without a scheduled dinner, ball, garden party, wedding or other meal until after the end of June. The challenge officially ends on June 30th, but even if it didn’t my summer job requires me to eat in the dining hall with the summer school participants every day, so the earliest I could take part would be August. Eventually I worked out that if I took a packed breakfast with me to the wedding, for the morning after, I could fit it in between that and my graduation dinner.

How awful, to “fit in” a challenge to raise money for a food poverty-related charity (I have chosen Health Poverty Action due to their focus on health and sustainability) between extravagent dinners and events which will waste far more food that some families see in a month. It was that realisation more than anything else that made me determined to do this. And how incredibly fortunate I am that my regular, day-to-day life includes so much easily accessible, healthy, delicious food.

I have already drawn up a shopping list, attempting to balance nutrition with cost in a way that won’t leave me climbing the walls for something sweet (I’ve accounted for my dessert-cravings with some fruit yoghurts and a jar of jam). It wasn’t easy to make the list either – I had a perfectly balanced shopping basket on Sainsbury’s Online and I was feeling a little smug, until I realised that I hadn’t got any kind of fat to cook my vegetables with, or to fry or scramble eggs in, or to spread on my toast. Even the cheapest butter cost £1.20, way more than the 21p I had left over in my budget. Back to the drawing board.

In the end I sacrificed vegetable stock cubes, natural yoghurt and pasta in order to have butter. It seems almost inconceivable that I would have to ditch a 15p packet of stock cubes so that I could fry an onion but that’s the sort of decision that people have to make every day.

Please, help me to actually have an impact through this challenge by sponsoring me. A few people pretending to be living in poverty for a few days isn’t going to solve anyone’s genuine poverty, but donating to Health Poverty Action will have a real impact.

Making Plans

Revision for my exams, which start in just under three weeks, is pottering along not quite as quickly as I might hope, but at least it is happening. Inbetweentimes, I am making plans. It’s one of my hobbies. I’ve tracked down farmers’ markets, leisure centres, parks and shops near to my new flat, discovered interesting events happening over the summer and written them in my diary, checked out the cycle routes to places I’ll need to visit, and of course begun writing a shopping list.

Thanks to a generous gift from my grandmother, I have a budget of £500 to equip myself with everything I need for the new flat and the course: books, shoes, clothes, the sorts of random items that you need when you move into your own home. After four years in halls, it’s the little things I’m scared of forgetting: toilet paper, cleaning products, spare light bulbs.

I’m waiting until I have actually started to buy the things that people on the internet have assured me are essential: fifteen million black ballpoint pens, a fancy diary with wipe-clean meal planner, my own stethoscope, some Lots to Remember cards (I have looked at them and decided I can make my own for 1/10th of the price) and half a dozen other things I can probably do without. But I was very excited today when four new textbooks arrived – a midwifery dictionary, a core text, and two anatomy and physiology books. A&P is what I’m most concerned about, so I bought a workbook to get a head start over the summer.

Weirdly, it’s the academic side of the course I’m most excited about. I think that’s probably because I just can’t picture what it will be like to be on placement. My time volunteering on the ward wasn’t really the same, but I know what it feels like to attend classes and lectures, make notes and write essays. The university also provides a virtual tour of the facilities on its website, so I’ve been exploring that and picturing myself at one of the desks in the library. In case it wasn’t already obvious, I like to live in the near future – imagining how things will feel, what they’ll look like, what the structure of my days will be. I can’t wait until we start and I can find out for real!

A Basket of Apples

This time of year is my favourite season, and we are in the middle of my favourite academic term. When I said that to another student they said “it’s the furthest we are from exams” but that isn’t really the reason for me, although it helps. I love the anticipation of a new year; I enjoy starting my new subjects and meeting my new supervisors. The weather isn’t perfect, but it is still light in the early evenings and the air is crisp. I like scuffling through fallen leaves and walking along in my new winter coat, enjoying the warmth compared to the chill of the air. I like the slowly-building excitement as we move towards Halloween, Bonfire Night, Advent and Christmas. November is probably my favourite month ever – even though it is often my busiest, as the writing group I run kicks up a gear for NaNoWriMo and my academic work continues to roll along. Choir gets more demanding with carol services and extra rehearsals, and the days get shorter.

Next week British summertime officially ends. My summer ended the day I landed back in the UK and walked off the plane into my favourite season: autumn. I don’t miss the hot days and the bright sunshine at all. Instead of air conditioning and camping I have fruitful harvest of the choir’s annual apple-picking expedition, ready for an industrious morning tomorrow of quince jam-making and apple-crumble baking. Friends come to visit: this weekend it was KT, and in a few weeks I will be heading off for the weekend myself, to spend some time with my mum and her almost-unbroken wrist. I’ve already got the Christmas vacation almost planned, with train tickets booked back north and a definitive date for my Norwegian friend Jens to arrive for Christmas itself. In a fortnight I will pack up a picnic lunch, find my bike helmet and cycle off with Heidi, another chapel warden, to visit a National Trust property on its last open Saturday of the season. The week after I will dig out my waterproof trousers and help to preserve some of the local fens. The last Saturday of term heralds what might be the most peculiar choir commitment of the year: a wedding followed by a trip to Brighton beach for fish and chips, almost certainly in the pouring rain. And then term will end and it hardly feels as though it has started.

Autumn does have its downsides. I don’t enjoy the dark evenings, or walking through a mist so heavy it might as well be raining. I have to dither every morning over whether or not to wear my coat for the two-minute walk to the faculty building, and I suddenly seem to need even more sleep than usual. But there is so much to look forward to, and so many things which are just on the horizon that I’m constantly feeling anticipatory. It feels as though the world is holding its breath, ready for winter.

It’s Summer, Apparently

It really does feel like the summer vacation now. Despite the fact that I finished exams almost two weeks ago, I wasn’t really in the holiday mood until I went away for the weekend. When I got back, everyone else had finished their exams too and suddenly the university was in party mode. I fell asleep last night to the faint strains of a party taking place at a college five minutes’ walk away. I feel slightly sorry for anyone who lives in this town and isn’t a student, at this time of year. It’s a noisy week.

I’ve done a whole bunch of things in the last ten days. The day after I wrote my last exam, I went off to a National Trust property for the day (preceeded by a delicious breakfast at a cafe I had never been to before – the best French toast I have ever tasted!). I wandered round for several hours, took lots of photos with my not very good phone camera, because I never remember to take my actual camera anywhere, and ate lunch sitting on a damp bench in a constant drizzle. A man came past and joked that I was determined to have a good time whatever happened, but he was right. This was my celebration of freedom day, I had been planning it for weeks, and I was determined that a bit of rain wouldn’t ruin it. And it didn’t!

Anglesey Abbey
Apologies for the awful photo quality, I did my best!

It wasn’t just a bit of rain though; there were gale-force gusts of wind blowing from the moment I woke up, so I decided not to risk trying to cycle. Instead I caught the bus, which I haven’t done for a long time here. There’s no need for buses when you have a bike, so I hadn’t realised that bus fares had gone up. I was 40p short of the price of a day return, so I got a single and simply assumed that I would find a cash machine later. I didn’t. But in order to strengthen my faith in the goodness of humanity, the women working in the National Trust gift shop gave me £2 out of the petty cash in order to cover the cost of a single ticket back into town. I popped the same amount back into an NT donation box the next day and was very grateful not to have had to walk 8 miles in the rain.

When I got home I snuggled up with a DVD and some toffee-coated popcorn and white chocolate. Bad move; at least, the snacks were a bad move. I have finally started to come to terms with the fact that processed sugar makes me ill. I don’t know why, I don’t know the technical medical details, but eating too much chocolate, toffee, cake, even fruit at particularly bad times, makes my stomach cry. An extra level of motivation to eat more healthily, I suppose.

On Saturday I hadn’t got much planned, but a friend invited me out for breakfast and another invited me to her recital that evening. In the middle I spent an hour or so chatting to a very hung-over friend who was sheltering in her dark cave of the-morning-after, and then spontanously went out for coffee with yet another friend. It felt very odd, but also wonderful, to be able to say “sure, I’ll come into town with you!” and not have to worry about an essay I should be writing or a book I was meant to have read.

Just to top off my day of spontaneous socialising, I decided to go to a party I had initially thought I would miss. I’m glad I did, it was great fun and I met a bunch of new people. We sang karaoke (appallingly badly) and I had my first taste of vodka (also appalling, I won’t be trying that again). My plan to head home at 11 didn’t work out and I ended up only getting about four hours sleep.

Sunday was spent with the choir, with a very unfortunately early start, singing at a flower festival in a lovely local parish church. The flower displays were beautiful, the sermon was entertaining and thought-provoking, and they plied us with piles of delicious food to keep us going. Nevertheless, I was glad to get back home at lunchtime in order to grab a couple of hours of sleep before heading back to chapel for the usual Sunday routine.

Monday decided to get itself off to a good start by pouring with rain. I still decided to haul myself into town for a special morning prayer service, in Latin. Apparently it is illegal to read the daily offices in Latin anywhere else in the country, but we have special dispensation which is exercised occasionally. I spent the middle of the day with a friend who had finally, after a long and tiring haul, finished her last exam of her degree, and then taught my usual english lesson before coming back to go for a run, watch a film and eat dinner with the same friends. In case you’re wondering, The Princess and the Frog is the best Disney film I have ever seen. Also Indian food is delicious.

On Tuesday yet another friend decided to claim my company for the day. Initially we were simply going to go into town to buy some shoes, but somehow it spiralled into spending the entire day together, having lunch and chatting and wandering around a whole lot. I had to dash off briefly in the morning to meet with one of my supervisors for some advice about my dissertation, and to send several rather panicked emails in response to a message from the course organiser basically telling me that I would not be able to write the dissertation unless I went to the meeting on Thursday – which I couldn’t attend. Thankfully it seems to be sorted now, and I’m hoping I’ll be fine.

Same friend, different spontaneous day out.

We’re getting close to the end of the week now, don’t worry! Wednesday heralded the taster lectures for the papers available next year. I was fairly certain which papers I was going to choose, but I went along to three of the lectures just to be sure. Next year I will be studying for six papers; five exams (two of them half papers, which are apparently more like 2/3 papers in terms of exam questions but only 1/2 the content to learn) and hopefully a dissertation. I’m excited, but I’m also nervous. The half papers are not supervised, and the dissertation is not lectured, so I will have to be extremely organised about working on each subject without being given a list of things to read and write about.

I also went to the cinema to see What to Expect When You’re Expecting, which I enjoyed but which wasn’t funny enough for my friend – too much sentimentality, I think. It wasn’t as funny as I had thought either, but it was full of cute babies and that is enough for me. Then a mad dash evening of tutoring, curry with the choir and choral compline, before packing up some clothes ready for the next morning.

This chicken is wearing glasses & a fake nose.

I spent Thursday on a coach to Eastbourne. It was a long and not particularly interesting journey, and I was glad to arrive despite the inevitable drizzle and strong winds. My hotel was a bit scuzzy – the curtains were inexplicably made of pale blue fur, as was the base of the bed, and after walking into the bathroom barefoot once I decided not to take my shoes off again. But it was cheap and extremely convenient for the course I was there to attend, which was taking place just downstairs. I ate a packet of instant cous cous and watched documentaries until 10pm, at which point I gave up and went to sleep.

Friday was great! I was in Eastbourne to attend a training course for applying to midwifery, which was really helpful and reignited my enthusiasm which had been waning a little lately. It was lovely to be with a group of women who understood why I’m interested in midwifery, and who all had passion and drive towards the career. The two women running the course were incredibly informative and really supportive. I’m looking forwards to re-writing my personal statement after hearing their advice, and my confidence has rocketed.

Then I had to run to catch a train, because I had a long journey north to my dad’s house. It took six hours, but the journey was blissfully uncomplicated and other than an obnoxious little boy and his drunk dad making a rucus on the platform it was quite enjoyable. My dad and Gill  picked me up from the tiny little train station and we sat up chatting for a while, but sleep was calling our names.

Saturday morning was another early start, because I needed to get to a university open day in time for a midday talk on midwifery. I arrived in the town thinking I was not at all sure about applying to live here, and got to the university campus with an even more certain no in my mind. The talk did little to convince me otherwise; it wasn’t until I reached the clinical skills teaching classroom and saw the incredible facilities they have that I started to change my mind. After chatting to three of the lecturers and also talking to the accommodation team about my chances of getting a flat to myself (pretty good!), it shot up the list to take first place. So it just goes to show that you shouldn’t be convinced by first impressions, I suppose!

Back to my dad’s house again and it was really nice to sit around the kitchen table with my family, chatting and eating Gill’s amazing soup and bread. They have an Aga at the new house, which means that the kitchen is always warm and Gill is always cooking something delicious. I have added an Aga to my dream kitchen. I spent the rest of the evening looking at photos of the university accommodation and exclaiming over how cheap it was – I can get a self-contained single flat for less than I’m currently paying for one room with a shared kitchen and bathroom – and making everyone else look too. It felt so odd that I would be back at uni twenty-four hours later. I’m glad I managed to spend that time there, though: I won’t be able to visit again until at least the end of September.

He’s the Best Dog, and I miss him

A very early start on Sunday morning to get back in time for choir at 1pm, although I got stuck in Stevenage (of all the places to be stuck…) for over half an hour, before being held up further down the line for some unexplained reason. I felt fortunate compared to the people whose train to Leeds was cancelled outright. The poor railway man was still fielding panic and anger when the south-bound train finally arrived, and I managed to get to choir only fifteen minutes late.

After the service we had the chapel garden party, which was a nice relaxed affair full of cake and strawberries. I finally came home in the early evening and watched another film before becoming suddenly inspired to go to the library and fetch some summer reading. My bureau is now full of 8kg of textbooks. I think I might have to return one or two of them, or my suitcase to America will not have any space for clothes.

Finally, we’ve reached today. I slept in with some difficulty, waking up three times before finally getting out of bed at half past nine. Today I’m tackling the mountain of washing up, as well as attending an orchestra rehearsal for a concert on Thursday, and tutoring as usual. The reality that I am moving out a week tomorrow and must have everything packed away and ready to go into storage has fully hit me, and I think that is my cue to get back to the washing up. Wish me luck, there’s a whole term’s worth of crockery to wash…

Third Week of the Running Madness

I’ve hit week three of my running programme, which is apparently the week that most people quit due to boredom, injury or burnout. Although I did manage to injure my shoulder on Sunday (no idea how, it happened mid-run and was sufficiently bad that I spent evensong with my arm in a sling and the last two days taking Ibuprofen with breakfast, which is very rare for me), it is a lot better today and I decided it wouldn’t stop me from running. Apathy very nearly did – I reached the last possible point at which I could go out without ending up finishing my run after sunset and decided not to go. Then I looked at my diary which happened to be in front of me, and realised that if I didn’t I wouldn’t manage three runs this week. So I went and it was great!

Honestly, I don’t know what has happened to me. I was feeling a bit trepidatious about this week because it involves longer runs with fewer intervals of walking, but the time flew and my legs weren’t aching anything like as much as I expected. When the podcast ended I felt as though I must have somehow skipped ahead on the recording, because it didn’t feel like twenty minutes at all. The clock assures me it was, though. I’m raring to go on the rest of the week, and here’s to the next six weeks as well.

Today is a generally positive day because my exam this morning went excellently, possibly even better than last Tuesday’s. I’m hoping the next two (tomorrow and Thursday) will go as smoothly, and then the slight blip last Wednesday won’t be as much of a problem. I’ve also decided to treat myself to a day out on Friday, so I’m taking myself to a new cafe for breakfast after morning prayer, then going to a National Trust property for the day. Then I’ll head home and curl up with some popcorn to watch Potiche, my latest LoveFilm acquisition. It’ll be great. Saturday will be spent beginning my clearing out and packing mission (I’m starting early as I have serious doubts about whether all my stuff will fit into the 2m cubed storage unit I’ve rented, so I need time to find alternatives), and then on Sunday I’m going to some mystery village with the choir for the day. It wouldn’t be a mystery if I just googled the name of the place, but I rather like mysteries.


I may have three exams this week (it’s not actually a question of “may”. I do) but I am still celebrating the jubilee! Mostly by listening to BBC coverage and feeling a mixture of gladness and disappointment that I couldn’t get down to London to see the flotilla and the concert.

The pageant was great, even on a little tiny laptop screen over video link. I’m a fan of the Thames and I love watching boats – a month or so ago I went down to London to see a Gilbert and Sullivan semi-staged performance and insisted on visiting HMS Belfast afterwards – but I’m not a fan of enormous crowds so perhaps it was best that I had to stay home with my textbooks.

The concert is… well. I think I was rather spoiled by being brought up in the folk world, where people sing in tune during their live performances and don’t use autotune on their recordings. I’m sure the crowd are having a lot of fun but good grief are some of the acts out of tune. Poor Queenie. There are some nice moments interspersed though – the classical performers, even classical performers singing the sort of cliched Classic FM highlights that have been selected for tonight, tend to be a bit more technically adept than pop stars who build their careers on flashy outfits and television interviewers.

Anyway. It is a nice distraction from international law revision. I feel as though I haven’t done much revision for this subject, but I realised when I looked over the syllabus that I’ve actually covered every topic in a reasonable amount of detail. I began revising quite early for this one, on the grounds that I didn’t understand anything at all, so hopefully tomorrow’s exam will go well. Two more after that, and then I’m finally free!

Now seems as good a time as any to write about Friday’s trip to see Singing in the Rain. It was a late birthday gift from Sarah, Henry and Stumo. Friday happened to be the only day we could all go, thanks to Sarah and Henry’s Real Person jobs, my gallivanting off to America for the summer, and everyone’s general commitments, so I put down my flashcards and went. Stumo and I grabbed some dinner from Maoz, which was totally delicious, then met the others at the theatre.

The show was completely new to me, other than the signature song. It took me a few minutes to work out what was going on, and we had fairly terrible seats – not so much a problem with the seats themselves, to be honest, although there was an inherent problem with the forestage disappearing underneath the edge of the balcony, but more a problem with the woman sat in front of me with enormous fluffy white hair. Eventually we shuffled around sufficiently that we could all see properly (fortunately there were spare seats on our row) and I could see the amazing dancing and the gorgeous costumes as well as hearing the singing.

I remain unconvinced as to the plot merits of the show, but it’s not really a plot-based musical. It was basically a dance extravaganza with an incredible rainstorm at the end of each act. I was wearing my stage manager hat trying to imagine how on earth they got away with the risk assessment for the ankle-deep water during the titular dance and song number, and we were all very impressed with the efficient and thorough (but rather incongrously plastic) mopping by members of the crew in full costume. It put to shame the trials that we had with the canal we built for a production of the Gondoliers a couple of years ago.

Going to see the show was the first thing on my list of “Things to Look Forwards To” (genuinely – it’s stuck to the top of my desk as a motivator). The rest of the list runs though a bunch of special choir events, garden parties, trips to various parts of the country, a few days at my mum’s, my friends’ graduation ceremony, a friend’s wedding, and finally the tour in America. It’s rather alarming to think that it’s already June. In just over five weeks I’ll be in the States, and in just under seven weeks I’ll be heading over to Indiana for the summer, armed with a sheaf of contacts for my dissertation research and a calendar of exciting things to do.

Exciting Times Up Ahead

I don’t usually post twice in one day, but I don’t usually get this excited about my academic work so it felt worthy of documentation!

Tomorrow’s exam will either be fine, or a total disaster because the subjects I care about are not the ones that come up on the paper. The latter is unlikely, and even if my pet topics don’t come up I should be able to get through on the rote learning I did in lectures and reading. So that will be ok. I’m looking forwards to the chance to expostulate on my views on land law a bit; I enjoyed doing that for contract today.

The other academic excitement is related to next year. Third years get the option to write a dissertation instead of taking one of the exams, and I’ve decided to do that. My very broad topic area is “women and the law” and I realised that I could be eligible for more travel funding this summer if I could relate my American jaunts to my dissertation. It has rather snowballed from there, and today two different people contacted me to say they had three different and useful contacts to correction facilities. Amazingly, all three are in places I will be visiting during the trip anyway – close to friends who we’ll be going to see, or in the state I’m staying in. It rather feels like fate.