Putting Down Roots Down South

I bet you’re all on tenterhooks to find out how the move went! I’ve been online a lot less frequently than before we moved, simply because there’s so much else to do (and also because we didn’t actually have internet in the cottage for the first two weeks). However, this evening it is raining outside, Naomi is studying statistics, the cat is in the garden, the dog is asleep and I am catching up on blogging.

That sentence gives you a peek into some of the things I’ve been busy with: we’ve got a garden! And a dog! Both of those are worthy of their own introduction, so I will write proper posts on each, but for now let’s recap how the move went. Continue reading


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

Moving… again

When I first moved into this flat, I wrote about how excited I was that I wouldn’t have to move house for at least the next three years. I was really looking forward to having my own space, and knowing that it would be mine until I chose to move. I knew it was possible I might decide to move on sooner than three years, but I didn’t have to.

It was lovely, and I have enjoyed living in my tiny flat. It’s a bit like living in a dolls’ house, but a rather noisy dolls’ house with not quite enough space. Eventually, I decided it was probably time to look for somewhere bigger. Continue reading

(Probably) My Last CD Recording

This week, we’ve been recording a CD of generally excellent music in the Lady Chapel of Ely cathedral. It’s meant long days – rehearsals in the afternoon, a journey on a packed commuter train, and then four hours of recording before catching the train back and falling into bed just before midnight. In the mornings I’ve been attempting to pack, tutoring, taking school group tours and cooking my meagre lunches.

Last night was the last night of the recording, and also the last of the choir commitments which I 100% knew I would be able to attend. There’s a wedding and a Commemoration service at the start of July but I can’t say for sure that my summer job won’t need me, so it’s rather up in the air at the moment.

Recording is very hard work. We try to sing well all the time, but when you’re being recorded everything has to be perfect. Each piece is sung over and over, sometimes in full and sometimes in short segments, to ensure that every last note is precisely in tune, in time, at the right speed, with the right tone. Occasionally we had to retake a section because a crow had cawed in a quiet moment, or a light fitting had clicked loudly. Sometimes someone involuntarily coughed, or rustled their music, and we would have to start again.

It’s physically challenging, because we’re on our feet for hours at a time and using our entire bodies to create the right sound. Singing loudly requires every muscle in the body to contract. Singing quietly needs strict control and concentration. For the last three nights I’ve been extremely glad to get home and roll into bed.

I’ve also found it harder than most because of the Live Below the Line challenge. Part of the challenge is that you can’t accept food from anyone else – all you can eat during the five days is the food you bought with your £1 per day. Because recording is so strenuous, and because we had two choir birthdays and one boy who came third in his year for his subject, people brought in cakes, brownies, cookies, wine and other snacks every day. Watching all my friends eating delicious home baking and having to refuse it when I was actually quite hungry was a serious test of my willpower. On any other week, I’d have found the challenge fairly simple. This week was a bad week to choose – but when is there a good week to deliberately go hungry?

Last night the CD producer and his assistant brought a video camera into the chapel and recorded us rehearsing for the first take. I’m not sure how usuable the footage will be, because the entire choir kept collapsing into giggles: an epidemic of onesies had broken out, and we had girls in a pink polka dot cupcake onesie, a pig onesie, a crocodile onesie (complete with tail and teeth), a white snowflake onesie, a tiger onesie, and a boy in a black skeleton onesie. Several other people were wearing pyjamas, including one notable outfit of shirt, blazer and snakes-and-ladders pyjama trousers. Almost everyone was wearing fluffy socks or slippers. When you’re standing up for four hours, you want to be comfortable!

I’m going to miss the choir. One of the girls who was celebrating her birthday last night was a guest in the choir, borrowed from the Masters music course to bolster the alto section, and she was amazed that we brought her a birthday cake and sang to her. She also commented that we found something to celebrate every night, which is quite true. Despite any individual differences, on the whole the choir is a tight-knit group of friends who know each other’s lives inside out and celebrate and commiserate together. I don’t know that I’ll ever find a group quite like it again.

And now, far sooner than I would have chosen, I have to finish the mammoth task of packing and moving out that I have to admit I have barely had time to start. I’ve emptied my kitchen cupboard and packed almost all my utensils, and filled two boxes with books and knick-knacks, but essentially my room looks the same as ever. This morning, late this evening and tomorrow morning I will have to focus. Pile things in, wrap up the crockery, pad the kitchen boxes with towels, take old books to the recycling point, figure out what needs to be accessible and what can be safely submerged under mountains of other things. I hate packing. Every year, I hate it more. But this year, finally, I am not facing the prospect of having to repeat the whole operation in twelve months. Pending unexpected disaster, this is the last time for at least three years.

The End of the Line – for now

Today, I had the last exam of my law degree. I have finished my finals. I graduate in two and a half weeks. I’m almost a graduate. I can’t quite get my head around it.

I was the first person out of the exam hall, partly because of where I was seated and also because I didn’t take a bag, so didn’t have to go and collect it after we were released. I walked out of the doors of the faculty building and was confronted by a bank of people (at least twice as many as had sat the exam) waiting with bottles of champagne and sparkling wine to celebrate with their friends. We were the very last exam for Finalist law students, so most of the rest of the year were there.

No one for me, though. I slunk out of the door and slipped round the side to avoid any possible splashing with champagne – a rather wasteful and ridiculous tradition is to spray the examinees who have finished their last paper with wine as they exit, which creates quite a lot of mess. I’ve managed to avoid ever being soaked, partly by always being one of the first out and also by not having the sort of friends who meet me after an exam with a bottle of wine.

Or who meet me at all, actually. I hadn’t expected it to upset me as much as it did, but as l walked back towards college I found myself welling up. It wasn’t just that it was a total anti-climax, it was also the fact that after almost four years I have reached the end of my law degree. This place has been incredibly formative for me, and now I’m facing the very real and immediate prospect of leaving. No matter how excited I am about what the future holds, and I really am excited about it, leaving is scary. Change is scary.

I was just browsing through my blog posts from two years ago, just before and just after I returned from my year of illness, and two things struck me. The first was that I am so much healthier and more physically able to keep up with my life than I was back then. And the second is that I am no longer as thrilled and enthused by studying law. A couple of months ago a friend said something that struck a chord: at this point, we’re nearing the end of the marathon and all we can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope we don’t fall over.

It’s been a long, hard slog, mostly uphill with the occasional brief but exciting downward freestyle. I’ve gone from being a nervous, arrogant, lazy teenager to (hopefully) a slightly more thoughtful, focused adult. I still make bad choices about how to use my time, I still leave piles of dirty dishes sitting around for weeks, I still discover something I didn’t even know I didn’t know every single day, but I’ve done a lot of growing up since I got here at age 18. And now, in just a few days, I’ll be leaving.

Today has been a weird day. Even if I hadn’t woken up in my new flat several hours’ journey away from here, I would have found it strange. I think in a way spending the morning travelling helped to lessen the oddness – instead of sitting at my desk for one last morning of cramming, I reviewed my flash cards on the train and gazed out of the window at the passing scenery. Once I had made it back to my college room I had only half an hour before I needed to be in the exam hall, so I gathered my stuff together and headed over early to collect my thoughts (plugging my ears so I couldn’t hear the other students having last-minute recap discussions of things I haven’t even heard of before – the only thing that causes me to feel panicked before an exam). The exam itself actually started out hilariously, thanks to a minor delay while we waited for some extra copies of the exam materials. The invigilator kept saying things that he didn’t realise were funny; in fact they might very well not have been, but we were all tantalisingly close to finishing and the mood was generally upbeat. When someone asked if it would be possible to move the clock from half way down the side wall, where most people couldn’t see it, the invigilator said he would make an additional time announcement to warn us that we were 45 minutes away from the end – they already always announce 30 and 5 minutes. Someone pointed out that a 40 minute warning would be more useful and we all laughed – in a two hour exam, with three questions to answer, 40 minutes is the golden standard – but he didn’t seem to understand. We eventually started four minutes late, and I gazed at the questions for several minutes before my brain finally engaged and I realised that I could answer them after all.

As I’ve said, once the exam was over it all felt a bit of a let-down. I came back to my room, gathered up my textbooks and returned them to the library. Our librarians are all lovely, and although my particular friend wasn’t there, the woman who took my books was sufficiently nice that I ended up crying all over again.

Fortunately the mood didn’t last long, and although I teared up a couple of times during Evensong (weirdly, when the sermon preacher mentioned the excellent poem Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart, as well as more predictable moments like when it was announced that there are only three more services left this year) I cheered up considerably thanks to the wonderful music we were singing. Only one girl still has exams – I thought I was the last to finish but she is carrying on til the bitter end on Thursday – and the atmosphere was almost party-like. Afterwards most of us went to formal hall together, which was fun if a little overwhelming in terms of noise. I was sitting right at the end of the choir’s section of the table, and I laughed until I cried at overhearing my neighbours’ conversation – they were attempting to teach a girl from Ireland how to pronounce her vowels “properly”, and it just seemed hilarious. They found my hilarity equally amusing, and I made some temporary friends.

Everyone decamped to the bar afterwards but Heidi and I decided to come home instead and spent an hour chatting over cups of tea and reading amusing blog posts and looking at pictures of cats (my favourite social activity). And now I am off to bed, because tomorrow morning Amelia arrives for a 24 hour visit! I’m so glad she’s coming, tomorrow would have felt very flat otherwise until the choir rehearsal in the evening. Thursday will be busy with my last ever singing lesson, babysitting, choir, and another formal meal. And Friday? On Friday I must start packing.

Guess what I’m doing today?


My favourite activity…

I have to be on a train at 3pm on Tuesday. Before then, everything I own must be divided up according to whether I will need it next week, the week after, in America, or not until October. The final category must be put into two 1m cubes of storage space, and the other three packed into various bags and suitcases to be put… I haven’t actually figured that part out yet. Somewhere.

Thank goodness for friends, I guess. Stumo has generously agreed to hire and drive a van for me on Tuesday, and a couple of other people have offered to come and entertain me while I pack. Packing might be one of my least favourite activities I have to do on a regular basis (except possibly chasing flies around my room, trying to get them out without killing them, which I have spent more time doing for the last three days than I would care to admit).



Two Weeks in Limbo

I hate packing. I seem to have done quite a lot of it in the last few years but it hasn’t got any more fun.

Packing to go away on holiday, even if it’s several weeks of holiday, is fine. I’m a very efficient clothes-packer and I travel light, so it’s never more than one bag and it’s done in twenty minutes.

But packing to move? Horrible.

At the moment I’m very gradually packing up and moving boxes into the garage, ready for when my dad comes to collect them and take them down to uni. Thankfully I didn’t really unpack most of my stuff when I came back here in November – who needs a second set of saucepans in a house already well stocked with utensils? – but even so, my room is littered with things that will, or might be, essential, or at least useful, when I’m living on my own again.

I feel as though I’ve forgotten what sort of things I’ll need to take. I’d totally forgotten about bedding, which is daft since I change my own bedding whether I’m at home or at uni, and I probably wouldn’t have packed any if my mum hadn’t reminded me. I’ve packed up my kitchen stuff and gathered up towels and stationery, and now I can’t think what else I need to take. I know there’s got to be a lot more, because the car was full when we brought it all home, but I can’t remember what it all was.

Part of the problem is probably that I can’t quite believe I’m going back. I still haven’t heard back from the college about whether or not I’m officially allowed to – it’s getting ridiculous now, I sent the medical forms to them two months ago. I know in theory that there are only ten days left before I get on a coach and head down for Commem, joined a few days later by dad, Gill, and a van full of my possessions, but today feels exactly like all the other days since April. I’ve lost my sense of urgency, because I haven’t had to meet a deadline since November.

On the positive side, repacking the boxes of kitchen things to save space gave me the chance to see what was in them and look forwards to cooking again. When mum and John go away on Friday (yes, they are leaving me and not coming back until I’ve gone), I’m going to have a festival of cooking and try out half a dozen new recipes while there’s no one here to complain about the results. Can’t wait to use my cast-iron skillet and my shiny new kitchen knives.

Too Much Stuff

It’s been a busy few weeks: a week in Bath, which was great but complicated by a sinus infection that left me partially deaf in both ears (not wonderfully beneficial to singing), then a week in Whitby which started out in glorious sunshine and ended in the most torrential rain I can remember in years. Now I’m at dad’s house, slowly making my way through the phenomenal quantities of stuff that clogs up my room.

My room here isn’t very big, but it certainly isn’t unusually small. It contains a single bed, a desk with a small bookcase at one end, a washstand, an old-fashioned dressing table with drawers, and a wardrobe, all of which leave sufficient space to walk around and use the room comfortably. It also contains a folding-leaf table, an extra chest of drawers, a Z-bed, a dozen boxes of university books, kitchen implements, clothes, bedding and other things I’ve accumulated over the last two years, a bean bag, numerous bags filled with clothes and towels, and until yesterday, all my school work since year seven.

It’s the second sentence that’s causing the problems, as you can probably imagine. The door doesn’t open fully, and in order to get to the bed I have to jump over mounds of things and tiptoe carefully in tiny gaps of floor. Xander and I spent three hours yesterday throwing away armfuls of junk and paper, but the room looks no better, probably because most of the rubbish came off the desk or out of the drawers. The floor space is even smaller than before since I’ve arrived with my luggage from the last two weeks.

It’s disheartening to see how much work we need to put in for the room to be usable again, and shocking to see how many useless and unnecessary possessions I’ve got. Other than the bags I arrived with and my university stuff, none of the items in that room are things I need – that’s why they’ve been sitting there, gathering dust, for the past four years. And yet I have never been able to find the time or the motivation to get rid of them, whilst simultaneously Gill has been understandably moving things into my room in order to make the rest of the house more functional, with the net result that even in my absence the mess is steadily growing.

The difficulty is probably threefold. Firstly, I am a terrible hoarder and we moved to this house when I was eleven, so a decade’s worth of junk has made its way into one small room. Secondly, I have no real place of my own at the moment, so even things that are actively useful most of the time still have to spend a proportion of their time being stored there, despite the fact that the room is already full of rubbish. And thirdly, this house was bought as a family home for four people. It now contains at least some of the possessions of eight people. It’s basic maths – there isn’t room for all of it.

This time next year, the house will need to go on the market, because its function has changed and it isn’t really suitable any more. But before that can happen, we need to clear it from top to bottom and that means I have to be ruthless in throwing away things I can’t manage to drag around the country with me, and realistic about what I really need.

So today and tomorrow I’ll be the one in the tiny room, trying desperately to make a discernible difference to the state of my mouse-infested bedroom (I could hear them last night, chewing things and rustling, but I haven’t worked out which things yet – please don’t let it be my newly-purchased clogs or my 1950s sundress). Next week I’ll be the one doing the same thing in the thankfully mouse-free bedroom at mum’s house. And next month I’ll be the one very, very happy to be back in Cambridge where my stuff can sit for at least ten months without being in anyone else’s way.