Friday, 29 June 2012

Just checking in :)

So I’m slowly getting over my fear of driving, have stopped getting lost and am not as scared of merging onto motorways. As I said the other day, it’s all learn by doing, so I have been doing it a lot and driving all over the place and often. I even went for completely pointless 20 mile drive at 11pm that ended in a trip to Tesco for hay fever tablets and a bottle of water. Marc’s eyes suddenly looked like he was infected with some kind of zombie virus, but typically by the time we got to a 24 hour supermarket, it had cleared up.

It has been a pretty uneventful two days for doing things that scare me, so this will be quite short and I'm mainly only writing to keep up to date and not neglect any regular readers. I actually care about you lot and LOVE that I'm getting views from as far away as Malaysia and USA, so keep it up and tell your friends and get me more readers. Obviously tell them that I'm normally more interesting than this.

 But I did have a small hour of panic yesterday about the way things are going. As I said in a previous post, all of a sudden, everything is going right, but all of a sudden I have adult things to worry about. Now I have money and a car, I have to save for car insurance, worry about adult things like having loose change to park, where am I going to park? When should I start saving for Christmas and should I have some kind of back up fund in case I’m horrible at being a barmaid and get sacked?

Now I don’t know the answer to any of those, but I do know that I owe my parents around £500 for car insurance as I only had three quarters of it saved and I should start paying them back. If I work 16 hours in a week, I can earn £100, and this means that I need to start managing my money again and learn to save and accommodate, instead of living in an overdraft and squandering student loans.

Part of me missed the simplicity of being a student, but then I remembered that for most of it, I felt stuck in a rut and couldn’t wait to start being more independent and move on. So I am. I have ambition, I have responsibilities that will help things move forward in whatever direction I decide upon, and little inconveniences like parking and the change required for parking meters are just an annoying part of growing up.

So I have found out the dates for my insurance and MOT, will find my tax expiry date tomorrow and will look into breakdown cover with my dad. I will stop seeing work as the downfall of the social life I never actually really had and see it as a way of making more money than I currently need. So I will budget and start saving three ways: Car stuff, Christmas and spending money for a holiday next year.
How very adult of me!

I’ve also had to learn to prioritise. I got offered a three day school placement, but having already cancelled one, I’ve also cancelled this one. While my long term aims are the most important, I need money to make them happen and can’t really afford to annoy my boss with days off just yet. That can wait till September when hopefully, I’ll have another one day a week 6 hour placement.

For now, I have my weekly workshop and I love it, I have this and I have my writing which I need get back into. I have a supportive family, boyfriend and friends, a fat pony that makes me laugh, a job and a car. For the first time since finishing uni, I feel calm and able to count my blessings and enjoy my year out. I’ve stopped waking up feeling nervous, and instead wake up feeling content. At the moment, things are great.

I apologise that tonight’s post is just me rambling! Sorry that it’s been boring, but things never stay quiet for long. I can almost guarantee that the crazy will resume shortly. Probably before the weekend is out! 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Work, driving and crying in a car park

It’s almost midnight. My feet ache, I’m sweaty and I stink of beer.

This scenario isn’t as fun as it sounds. I’ve been to my first real shift at work. Since I quit the job I had in sixth form (I worked in a pound shop. It was a hell hole,) Paid positions, or indeed, reasons to be on my feet for six hours at a time have been few and far between.

So this is a bit of a shock to the system. This whole week has been a shock to the system. I’ve gone from a degree to barmaid and waitressing and from public transport to a car. Do something that scares me? I’ve been a nervous wreck! I know I’m a very anxious person to the point where it’s unhealthy, and I know that I have recently been trying to immerse myself in stressful situations that I have to force myself to keep calm in, but this week has been daunting to say the least.

My life has changed for the better. I have gone from spending my year out on benefits to having a job, and from everything taking an hour longer than it should on the rickety rackety bus to being able to jump in my car. But these are both huge changes and I have spent all week waking up with butterflies and every day fighting through them. I am getting through work okay, even though I got a bit nervous before my shift, but driving is a whole other issue.

To say I’m not a natural at driving would be an understatement. It took me almost eighteen months and four tests to get a licence and on the first day I had my car, I stalled it 12 times. I’ve now had it for five days and while I am getting much better, the stalls are still daily. Yesterday, I needed to drive out of town to get to placement and had to go via Middlesbrough town centre to pick up the girl I work with at placement. I got on and off the A19 without incident; however, the A66 was a different story. I went in the wrong lane and ended up at some massive roundabout with many lanes and traffic lights and loads of lorries, and again, realised I was in the wrong lane and wanted to move over. I got beeped at and my driving was unsafe at best.

The rest of it was okay, apart from when we got to placement and it had been cancelled. But I got back to Middlesbrough okay and then set off for my boyfriend’s and got back onto the A19 and to his really easily. I even drove him to the supermarket later.

So what difference can 24 hours make? Lots. In a fit of cockiness, I agreed this morning to drive him to work, back in the dreaded Middlesbrough that has no easy way of getting into it. We went a different way to what I had, again because of a lane cock up. So I ended up at another terrifyingly huge roundabout with loads of lanes and ended up crossing them at last minute and received lots of angry beeps. Do these people not know I’m lost?!

It got much worse. On the way back to the A19, that yesterday I found very easily, I found myself sailing past my turn off. I kept calm for now and decided to carry on towards Stockton, hoping I could find my way home from there. I got more and more lost to the point where my driving was a mess and people were beeping and I ended up trapped in a car park in my panic. I actually parked up so that I could have a little cry. I couldn’t believe how lost I had ended up, I was scared and sweating and generally worked up.
Then I remembered the sat nav and felt incredibly stupid. Getting home with the sat nav was the easiest thing in the world.

So lesson learned. Until I get more confident, use a sat nav. I mean, at work or uni, I wouldn’t just carry on doing something I knew was wrong and let it get out of hand and even more of a problem, I’d ask for help. So for the foreseeable future, even to go places that in theory I know how to get to, I will be using the sat nav.

I have since driven to work to check if the folder I was meant to take home was there, back home to get changed, back to work for my shift and back home again with no dramas. Like a lot of things, driving is learn by doing, and when the idea of doing scares me, I just have to man up and do it anyway and eventually, I’ll be able to do it without thinking about it and will wonder what all the fuss was about and hopefully won’t have need to cry in car parks. 

Monday, 25 June 2012

New car and new job

Sorry for the disappearance again. I did give a brief explanation on Twitter, but I doubt everyone who reads this follows it on Twitter! (you totally should - @ThePositiveFear)

Basically, within the space of a few days, everything has suddenly come together. After my visit to the nice lady at the job centre, but still no thanks to the job centre, I had an interview at the village pub that turned me down about a month ago. All of a sudden, I was offered a trial shift on Saturday night, probably its busiest time apart from occasions like Mother’s Day or Christmas parties and such.

I’d like to say I was scared about trying to learn a new job and impress the boss at the same time, but I honestly have something much more nerve wracking going on.

I got my new car on Friday and it wasn’t insured for me to drive until Saturday, so the first place I drove it alone was to work. There are two problems. One is that I can’t reverse out of spaces or into them to save my life. The second is that whenever I stop for junctions, traffic lights or roundabouts, I stall, sometimes in dangerous places. I stalled four times on the way to work before I even left my street. Four. I know it’s because I’m not used to the car, but seriously?

So by the time I got to work, I was just relieved to have got there alive. Everyone is really friendly, we were pretty busy and I spent most of my time either trying to help without getting in the way, learning how the tills work, taking orders and clearing plates and learning to pull pints. I wasn’t actually meant to know until today whether I had got the job, but at the end of the shift, my new manager told me she would be happy to have me, and gave me my shifts for this week.

Of course, with every set of problems solved, a new set arises. I pass my driving test, now I feel like I’m starting all over again in a car that I am admittedly starting to stall less in, but am slightly terrified of parking or stopping in. I mean, my dad took me down the motorway last night as I’ll have to drive out of town to placement tomorrow (a whole new set of issues) and I was actually fine. It literally is stopping and starting in busy places.

With the job, I moaned consistently about not having a job, and now I have one, I’m busy and have to rely on mad organisation skills that are a little rusty since starting University and only having to be there for about six hours a week. How on earth did I cope at school and college when I was there for six hours a day? At Sixth Form I was there five or six hours a day yet still had time for a boyfriend, my friends, hobbies, a weekend job and I was relying on public transport. I’m sure I can handle this, I just need to get used to it again!

This is why I’ve been busy in a nutshell. And all of it is quite frankly a little bit scary. However, I’m currently sat with butterflies the size of seagulls as I dare myself to drive to the jobcentre to sign off, after my grand total of 5 days on the dole, and to pick my mam up from work while I’m in town. Then I have to drive for an hours training and paperwork at my new job.

Right now, I’m going to have to keep this short. I’ve been procrastinating with the blog, mainly because any chance I’ve had to write it, something sociable has come up, or I find that I’d rather lay in bed and watch Scrubs then FaceTime Marc. I need to throw together an activity for placement tomorrow, and I need to do it now as I’d quite like to use tonight for meeting up with two old friends, giving the A19 another attempt with my dad supervising, and then writing all about my vaguely terrifying day!

Also, I’ve had a massive jump in page views. Thanks to all you regular readers and newbies, thanks to you too and welcome to my world of crazy.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Placement, job center and everything in between

I posted the other night about gritting my teeth and getting on with my creative writing. Well I haven’t. For two reasons mainly, the first being that I simply haven’t had time, and the other because every time I try, I have my old tutor’s voice saying ‘naff’ in my head. ‘Naff’ isn’t a very technical term, but who am I to ignore someone who has ‘Dr’ in front of their name?

I do need to get on with it, but I have been busy with placement and such.

Normally I’d be terrified before starting a new placement, but the 5.30 start and being in Middlesbrough for 7.30 meant it was too early for fear. I dragged myself to Starbucks as it opened and waited for the girl I’m working with, looked over our plan and went to the school.

After a confusing moment where we were asked if we were from the Red Cross, to which we looked blankly and mumbled ‘no… the university… the workshop,’ we were given our photo ID’s, introduced to the teacher, taken to the classroom and then left with four rather intimidated, awkward looking 13 year olds. There was absolutely no time to panic.

It’s meant to be a group of eight, but most were on a school trip. They’re such intelligent kids and we persevered, mainly talking about ourselves and what we want to do and jumping from activity to activity, hoping to promote group discussion. This only worked when we left them alone. Or sat at the desk and pretended to leave them alone. Things soon picked up when we started playing ‘career charades’ and that game where you have a famous person on a sticky label on your head and have to ask the other’s questions about who it is. Only they did it with jobs and careers.

At this point they actually started laughing and talking to us and I’m really pleased that we couldn’t have had a better behaved group of kids. Things might liven up next week when we have eight, but the 90 minutes were fun. Me and Helen paired up for an example for a ‘getting to know you’ activity, and hearing her say it, it sounded like it was coming from someone else.

‘This is Rachel, she’s got a BA in English and Creative Writing. She hopes to either be a teacher or a writer of some sort and is taking a year out to gain as much experience as possible. She has a fat horse and has been riding for 14 years, obviously likes to read and write and goes running and to the gym and also likes clothes. She has a blog, is working on a creative writing project and has previously worked in retail.’

She made me sound so much more experienced than I often feel! She stated the facts, nothing about my uncertainty and panic, and I realised that no amount of uncertainty or panic can take away what I’ve done, do and am yet to do. This sudden confidence came in useful when I went to the job centre.

You’d think I’d have more to say about the job centre but I don’t. It was dull if nothing else. I don’t get why people hang about there all day. The woman I saw was lovely, but she knows my mam’s friend so I quickly got the impression that the entire job centre staff body will soon know who I am! I have to go back to an advisor tomorrow and talk to her about my career aspirations and things. Who knows, I may come back enlightened. I’m actually grateful for the opportunity to talk to someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Also, I have a job interview for a retail position on Saturday morning. I rang up about it last week and totally forgot about it, and while it’s probably not going to figure in my long term goals and aspirations, it certainly fulfils the short term one of making money and getting used to the work environment and new situations again, and will still let me have that year out of sorting my head out, gaining other experience and working on my writing. I’ve found myself thinking about other projects that interest me and feel more enthusiastic about everything in general.

What with passing my driving test, it seems like things are on the up. Fingers crossed for the interview!

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

Criticism isn't personal!

While I'm here, I just read my feedback from my creative writing project. I was aware that it got a 2:1, however while it is 'promising,' apparently page 10 is a bit 'naff.'

My main beef with this is that 'naff' isn't a very scholarly way of putting it, however it probably is accurate. But I don't know how to make it not 'naff.' I just tried to go correct it and saw it was a part that I struggled with and cringed, closing the document. This is something I need to get over and quickly, it's just hard to take criticism about something so personal.

So here's my options: give it a few days and go back to it, do some editing and some planning when I'm more alert and carry on, or get a cup of tea, take a deep breath and edit that page right now. Either sound find, but it needs doing, and I've done more daunting things today, so I shall make a cup of tea and try and work up the courage to read it over and make changes. Objectively and without feeling like the 'naff' is a reflection on me in general.

I know all writers go through this, but it's an important process, because only through horrible comments do you know where you can improve and what people want to read. I've had just as many compliments as I have criticisms, so I need to stop taking the criticism so personally and see it as just something else I need to work on.

After all, it was only one page of 24 he said was 'naff.' I would have been much more worried had it been all of them!

Driving Test Attempt Four

Not really a lot to write about today, or at least not at great length, but I finally passed my driving test! Fourth attempt and I have passed with six minors.

I was an absolute wreck. I said I wanted to do something that scares me to some degree every day, but I didn’t really mean fear to the point of feeling sick, shaking and wanting to quit!

But that’s what driving is. It’s like everything worth having. Getting to it is terrifying, stressful, emotional, and isn’t necessarily going to happen first time. I know a few days ago I would have scoffed at this advice, but the only thing you can really do is keeping going and remember what you’re aiming for. It would have been so much easier to quit, but then I wouldn’t have passed and passing will give me so much more independence and time and so many less strange people showing me their pet mice on the bus.

So now I get to car hunt. Unfortunately, I won’t have a car by tomorrow, so I still have to get up at 5.30 to make it to work experience that would take 40 minutes to drive to by 8.30. Two busses and a taxi that will take me two hours, I bet there are people in the world that could run there in better time. I’m only getting up that early so I have time for breakfast, a shower and a coffee, the basics to feel human!

I won’t get to write tomorrow as my day is quite hectic, going something like home-placement-job centre-home-Marc’s house, but I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to write about on Friday after all this. I do have a placement and a dole appointment, both of which are terrifying. I may even be closer to having a car by Friday!

So for now, I’m going to bask in my relief, maybe write some of my creative writing for a bit or read, then go for another early night.

Sorry for being boring this week! But hard work and persistence does pay off, which is something I’ll have to remember at the job centre tomorrow. 

Monday, 18 June 2012

On a different and much shorter note

I have my driving test again tomorrow and I'm terrified. However instead of sitting here panicking, trying to think of a positive spin to put on it and how to tell the world I've failed, I'm going to do something that seems completely impossible but will ultimately be the best possible course of action. I'm going to go paint my nails, download a new book, read a little, have a good night's sleep and go for a run first thing to clear my head.

Whatever will happen will happen. Now, after watching both films should I finally read Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or should I jump on the Fifty Shades of Grey bandwagon? Still not ready for Song of Ice and Fire book 3!

Worrying about my driving test won't help. I've done it three times. If I'm going to fail again, it's just bad luck and staying on my laptop trying to Google stress busting techniques will not give me the luck and skill needed to pass. However feeling good and not thinking about it may calm my nerves and even improve my confidence. The worst has already happened 3 times. If it happens again, well there isn't a whole lot I can do about it but try again and try not to care that people will judge me as a dreadful driver!

Let's not get embarrassed

For months I’ve not quite been myself. I have blamed it on stress, uni and even thought it was all in my head. I’ve been suffering horrific mood swings. One moment I could be happy, the next I could be in tears and want to just sleep. My skin has been prone to break outs and even after training to run 5km and eating relatively healthy, I’ve gained a stone over a year.

And no, it’s not pregnancy as has previously been speculated on Twitter. Children don’t really figure in my life plan and I’m not good with under 10’s anyway, so I’m very conscientious about contraception and can predict my periods, often to the hour. I realised I was due to go for my six monthly pill check-up and that’s when it dawned on me. All of my symptoms are hormonal, the pill is hormonal, and I changed pill about 9 months ago.

All week I’ve been annoying myself. I rang the clinic I normally go for a check- up and booked in there, but then decided that it might be an issue for my doctor to solve so booked in there too. The clinic meant speaking to women about this sensitive subject and would be a much more pleasant experience, but my male doctor has always been reassuring, especially when I was recently paranoid about my moles, and I thought he might be able to give more of a knowledgeable insight and tell me if my problems were the result of something else.

So many people are reluctant to go to the doctor about feminine or sexual issues and they really should. I reasoned that this is what the doctor is there for and decided to pull myself together and go see him and he was incredibly understanding, talked me through my options, took my blood pressure and decided that a progesterone only pill may be better for me and advised a low fat and low salt diet, three months on my new pill when the current one ends and then to go back for another check-up.

I often got the feeling at the clinic that they would just give you what- ever contraception was available and was definitely not aware of the side-effects. I know a lot of people just dismiss them as it’s hard to believe that one pill a day could have such negative side effects such as depression, weight gain, recurrent thrush, migraines or high blood pressure. How many women have been diagnosed with something without even considering the possibility that the pill may be the cause?

I’m finding this entry a bit of a struggle to be honest, because I feel it's boring and not something people want to read about, however it’s something they should read and shouldn’t be worried or ashamed to discuss. If you have an awkward or ‘inappropriate’ problem, the worst thing you can do is sweep it under the rug. We should talk about contraception and similar issues; it’s not a big dirty secret. It’s sensible and we need to know our options, possible side effects and that it’s perfectly normal and acceptable to talk about.

Perhaps all of that talking about swan rape, incest and other taboo and often sick topics in literature seminars has made me unshockable, but I truly believe that women need to not just speak to their partners, but their friends and their doctors in order to get all the facts and make the right choices regarding sexual health and contraception. I’ve said previously that the same needs to be done with mental health. Let’s stop whispering about it and let’s talk about it like adults. It’s nothing out of the ordinary, we’re all human and part of that is that we have different experiences and therefore side effects. If we don’t talk about it, how will we know what works for us? 

So I shall give this a go, happy that I’ve had someone to discuss it with and that I may finally have an answer to the puberty like symptoms I have been experiencing!   

Saturday, 16 June 2012

New Placement and the Race for Life

Yesterday was crazy. I’m still trying to recover now! After two months off from my formerly hectic life, all of a sudden, starting on Thursday, all kinds happened.

I was feeling a bit hacked off and rejected because the job search is actually going nowhere. I had heard nothing from the card shop, nothing more from the village pub and generally nothing from anything I’ve applied to. I went for a walk to the corner shop and they said there were no vacancies, so I just bought a lottery ticket and walked to the local pub to see if they needed barmaids or waitresses even for the summer. Again, the answer was no, but they took my CV, probably just to be polite. However on the way home, my phone started going mental with emails. I had a placement confirmed. Five 90 minute sessions over the next five weeks at a school in Ormesby, the activities planned are from a scheme called Aim Higher, basically trying to inspire and encourage teenagers to think about higher education or their ambitions. Considering I actually went ahead and applied for Job Seekers Allowance, it’s all a bit ironic. Best not mention that to the pupils.

I was asked to an interview that would be two days later at 4pm. It had to be this soon as we were going to the school next Wednesday. Immediately, there was a schedule problem. I was due to run the Race for Life at 7.30 and it would be impossible to get from Middlesbrough, to Hartlepool and back to Ormesby within two hours. So I asked for it to be rearranged, got no reply until the next day when I was already at my boyfriend’s for the night. It was asking me to go to the meeting at 12 instead.

So without time to go home and fuelled only by an apple, I left Marc’s and went straight to uni thoroughly unprepared. Literally, the most useful things in my bag were probably Clinique foundation, my phone and some tampons. No CRB form, no pens or notebooks, just nothing.

Luckily it didn’t matter. I met the girl I’m going to be working with and the organiser and they are both lovely and massively helpful. I’m being thrown in at the deep end a little as my last placement was mainly observation based with only bits and pieces of actual teaching or mentoring. This is us actually running the session and all of its content. But they are massively helpful and I left after a cup of tea and some a quick coffee feeling inspired, wired, hungry and with very little time to go home and prepare for the Race for Life.

I managed to grab some food and get ready on time and still caffeine fuelled, we got there on time. Like most things, if you don’t have time to be nervous, you perform better. We didn’t have time to think about the torrential rain or the fact we have only ran 5KM once before, we just went and did it. The atmosphere is fantastic and it’s a great cause, but next time I’m going in the runner’s group. The majority of ‘joggers’ actually walked around the course. This meant that we had to run around them as well as the muddy puddles. Because of the earlier thunder storms, 1km of the course was so slippery and dangerous that we were forced to walk it, but we managed the rest and completed it in around 30 minutes and really enjoyed it. The spectators and the man on the microphone really do spur you on and it was nice to do something different for a good cause. I mean, everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer, so Cancer Research is one of the most worthwhile charities I can think of.

If this entry feels rushed, it’s because the day was a blur. A caffeine fuelled blur that gave me a lot to do and a lot to think about, so it’s little wonder that I got home, peeled off my muddy clothes, had a shower and slept.

 Despite the rush, it was the most worthwhile day I have had in a while, where I actually made some kind of difference. I also had to rush to the jobcentre to change my interview time, but that was just another obstacle and not very productive or enjoyable! I can’t wait to start my placement and I’m proud to say that I ran the Race for Life. Two things that I was hesitant about signing up for and worried I wouldn’t be able to do. Well, I succeeded in my 5km, met a new friend and I’m genuinely excited to start working with the group alongside the other volunteer next week. Good things happen when you start to let them. 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Letting go of uni

Okay, here’s that entry I promised a few days ago. Basically, we found ourselves sitting talking about whether uni had been worth it or not last Friday night, (we had been to the pub for curry night, but other than that, yes, we really do not have better things to do) and came up with a list of pros and cons about the whole experience. This was meant to be a huge retelling of the list and for prospective and current students, a funny guide, and for graduates; a look back at the lessons learnt other than the academic. However, I attempted it and it didn’t really read well as a piece of writing and was far too long, so I thought I’d focus on the first and most important part of the list: The people.

One of the first things you get told in those higher education days at school and from proper adults is that uni is where you will meet life- long friends. I walked into my new home in Newcastle three years ago, all ready to become best friends, bonding over cheap drink so that we could live like a little student family of stereotypical quirkiness. It didn’t quite work like that. I was the only ‘working class’ northerner in the flat, and although it shouldn’t be a problem, a divide between me and the rest of the girls quickly formed. I tried to make an effort with them, but they had more money to be going out together more often and seemed to be nocturnal. They slept all day, partied all night and made as much noise as humanly possible doing so. They just stopped inviting me anywhere and one of them seemed to blatantly hate me to the point of ignoring me unless it was to make a snide remark. I asked her what her problem was, and she denied that there was one. The dirty looks said otherwise.

 I walked into the kitchen one day and heard them saying how all northerners ‘thought they were hard and a bit rough’ and were apparently racist. It really hurt me that I had been nothing but nice to these girls, treat them all equally, and yet had been stereotyped as some sort of ‘rough’ (or just more working class than them) racist. The ‘why don’t they like me?’ quickly turned into ‘those bitches!’ especially when I decided I was going to move home. Everything they did angered me to the point that when I left, I stabbed the inflatable snowman and left the freezer door open. Yes. That was me. 

That was my first real lesson of grown up life. People can be awful and there comes a point where you have to stop trying to change them, stop being hurt by it and rise above it. In the mean time I made other friends, one of which helped me throw a very rowdy St Patrick’s Day party in my kitchen without informing the flatmates first. This girl helped me to enjoy running again, made me feel like part of her flatmate community and took me to the casino for the first and to this date, last time. We partied in a 90’s dive bar, wrote horrific poetry about pineapples and other things to annoy our poetry tutor and she had the most distinctive Yorkshire/Lancashire accent ever. This was at a time when I was gradually growing more distant from my friends from home as they too stopped inviting me anywhere because I was ‘too busy with my boyfriend’ (I wasn’t- if they had made plans earlier than the problem could have been solved) and I since found out that the fact I pulled out of a house for second year was actually a bigger deal to our friendship than she’d let on.

So that was the second lesson. People change. You find out who your friends are when you go to university. Loyalties change and people change. I mean, who hasn’t had a friend that went to a prestigious uni or lived in halls with people from elsewhere, and then when you see them at Christmas, they have the poshest accent ever and have developed a fondness for brie and current political affairs? Or say words like 'craic,''banter' and 'lashed.' 

Luckily, I got talking to a girl who I had been friends with since music class when we were 11. We’d not really been in touch much and she too was moving back home and changing uni for similar reasons to me. To this day, she is one of my best friends and I will always remember the ‘map’ she drew on the last day of school when people wrote good luck messages in each other’s notebooks. She wrote ‘here is a map to my house. Now you have no excuse not to see me.’ She lives round the corner. We even contemplated opening our windows and screaming to see if the other could hear. She’s been there for every drama and road trip and her 21st weekend in Edinburgh was probably one of the funniest of my life. Another friend came to Edinburgh, and this one was from Teesside.
Regressing to the 11 year olds we knew each other as!

I went to Teesside expecting pretty much the same 18-21 year old crowd as Northumbria. Instead, for some reason English Literature at Teesside University is filled with the most diverse selection of people I have ever encountered. I spent my first few months learning that the Angry Mothers knew everything about anything because they have children and it’s so difficult, therefore are just better. Who the potential sociopaths where and wondering what on earth was in one guy’s bag that looked suspiciously like a body bag. I learnt that putting angry mothers, ex drug addicts and all manner of other people into a seminar group resulted in something more like group therapy than literary discussion. (To be fair, De Quincy’s Confessions of an English Opium Eater was one of the saner seminar discussions when you compare it to the one about penis puppetry!)

I soon made friends though. It was quite easy because a couple of girls seemed obviously my age and easy to talk to. I knew I was on to a winner when I was asked ‘how are you?’ instead of being told about their suicidal urges or pending divorce. These were easy to talk to girls who seemed to be having the same problem as me; making friends that you actually felt like you could be friends with outside of uni. The group gradually grew as we introduced each other to our old friends or other people on the course that we just hadn’t met yet. We’re still quite a motley crew. In our list, we described it as the uni transfer girl, a functioning alcoholic, the fashion graduate with a passionate hate for the job centre, a hair extension enthusiast and animal lover and a Facebook pervert who regularly laughed so loud that we got kicked out of the silent floor of the library. That’s not even counting the friends we made through old friends and the fun we had dancing in cages dressed as super heroes and singing show tunes through the streets of Newcastle, or just sitting in The Dickens drinking Pimms before Creative Writing.

The super hero night. Before the cage and show tunes. 
Even the odd or disagreeable people I’ve met are part of the experience and we find ourselves laughing about the general deviance of our course and the amazing dynamic it had because of it. The people that seem odd, scary and intimidating are more often than not, engaging, fascinating and genuinely nice people, even if they are annoying or strange at times. Tolerance is probably one of the most important lessons you can ever learn from uni.

Even though we’re busy and stressed about unemployment, the people I’ve met or re-formed friendships with, I’m incredibly lucky to have and wouldn’t if I hadn’t been to uni. And despite our differences, it’s easy to make common ground through shared experience, or just giving someone a chance. I may not have an abundance of ‘mad’ night out pictures, but that’s because I learnt early on that that’s not me. I like a good drink occasionally, and a good party, but there’s no need to be an arse about it. Everything in moderation and studies come first, I mean, that’s what you pay to be there for!

The friends you make should be the kind of people you can get in touch with at unreasonable times to talk about anything, cry and swear and rage at over assignments with, make study groups with but still be able to crack each other up in an Edinburgh Travel Lodge making shadow puppets with LED lights. People you can celebrate your differences with over a weird flavoured tea, not shun them and be suspicious of them.  Unlike a lot of students, I have memories a lot more substantial than hazy nights and shoes covered in sick, and I’m certain I’ll be making a lot more with these amazing people for years to come. This entry was to allow me to do something scary: to remember the good times I had at uni and move on. Moving on to the rest of my life is terrifying, but my friends will help me through it. 

Edinburgh 2011. The LED lights came from these balloons. 

Sunday, 10 June 2012


I must apologise to Clare again, I still haven’t wrote the blog entry I said I would.

For those of you wondering, it was meant to be a funny look at the pros and cons of going to uni, or at least the pros and cons of our experience. We wanted to write it to remind those like us that even though they might be struggling with work and money, the whole thing had been worthwhile and an unforgettable experience.

But today, I’d like to talk about self-promotion. I’m not very good at it; I normally worry what people will think. It may be quite a British thing, but we’re generally too polite, too apologetic and too self-deprecating. Probably because growing up, no one wanted to be the ‘swot,’ the ‘show off’ or a ‘bad winner.’ No one wants to feel like they’re ‘up themselves’ or waving their achievements in the face of others. However, with the rise of Facebook and Twitter, people constantly wave their achievements and adventures in the face of others. So why can’t I?

Well, mainly because Facebook in particular, makes you feel as if you’re not good enough if you pay too much attention to the ‘look at my amazing life statuses.’ And because of all of those scary people you know who will judge if you do the same. As I’ve said previously, everyone has people on Facebook that they would rather not.

I wanted to get this blog out there. My page views have been dwindling a little bit, and I’m actually really enjoying writing it and thinking of new things to write every couple of days. From the bits and pieces of feedback I’ve received, the reception has mainly been a positive one and I have a couple of regular readers who enjoy what I do. So, if I want to further my writing, and even become a better writer, I need feedback, and to get feedback, I need to reach a wider audience.

No one wants to read something that the writer doesn’t believe in. I believe in this, and even if there are some who don’t enjoy it, they just won’t read it! So I decided to promote myself on Twitter. I’ve set up a new email account and a Twitter account, gone on a following spree and have been very slowly building a modest following.

It is hard and it is intimidating to commit to a Twitter account that potentially millions of people could see, and in return, those people could read my blog. It’s basically saying, ‘this is my writing, enjoy it.’ And there’s nothing wrong with that. No shame at all in that and we should be quicker to revel in each other’s achievements rather than dismiss them or be bitter about them. I’m following a lot of positive thinking and positive quotes Twitters and although this isn’t always positive, it’s about celebrating the little things and knowing that sometimes before things get better, we have to work and endure. It’s about celebrating that journey of taking the good with the bad and never expecting all of either all of the time. In short, it’s about being honest.

So I’ll be honest. I would love more people to share this journey, more people to relate it to their own and enjoy or understand what I have to say. So whether you love it or hate it, I’m here to stay and would love for you lovely lot to stick around too!

So a bit more self- promotion, follow me on Twitter and tell me what you think. Do you find sharing your work or achievements hard or scary, or do you like to blow your trumpet with pride? Share your thoughts on this, or any of my other posts. All followers welcome. Apart from trolls. No one likes a troll.

The uni post will come later in the week when I’ve gathered mine and Clare’s pros and cons lists and stopped laughing at the con that involves sociopaths and those who admire what comes out of their own nose. Intrigued? Then check back over the next few days, or wait for the link in a tweet.


Saturday, 9 June 2012

Why I'm not going to Prague

While I’m messing on trying to locate the 637 songs missing from my new phone, I’ll try and explain why on earth I just passed up the most spontaneous opportunity that has ever come my way. Why when something finally could happen to me, I didn’t go with it.

I met up with four of my closest friends yesterday for fruity teas and scones because we’re ladies of leisure now. Putting a positive spin on unemployment I suppose. We had a great time and I had a good night in and the longest chat in ages with one of them. We even planned my next blog entry, and this isn’t it. Sorry Clare, I’ll do that next time. On my way home this morning I received a text from one of the girls:

‘I know this is a bit impromptu, but are you free to go to Prague Monday-Friday? It’s from Leeds and £250.’ I wanted to scream ‘YES!’ in the middle of the bus station. I wanted to run to the bank, withdraw money from my ISA and find my passport. I replied asking for the afternoon to think about it, because the first problem I thought of was the fact that my health insurance card expired a year ago. Then I remembered the Race for Life next Friday. Then I remembered that I’m still holding out for a job.

These seemed like such lame reasons to turn it down. Despite myself, I began Googling the weather in Prague and wondering what to wear. I wondered if I needed sunglasses or my leather jacket and began a list of things I needed to sort out:

-Converting currency
-Health Insurance (Even possible in two days?!)
-Data turned off my phone so I don’t get charged a fortune
-How to get to Leeds on Monday
-Race for life
-What shoes would I take?

These seem like such trivial things, but the health insurance would probably have been impossible to fix in two days. I thought about the job, I thought that on my death bed, I’ll never think ‘I wish I hadn’t been to Prague.’ The dole seemed worth it.

But would I still say that in say, four months’ time? In four months when I had missed the phone call about the job because I was in Prague. When I didn’t have money for nice Christmas presents and was still sitting on the sofa bored out of my mind wishing I hadn’t wasted my time.

No. I’d say the same thing I say now about Leeds Festival 2008 when I booked tickets just after my 17th birthday. ‘I wish I’d learnt to drive instead. I’d be so much better off now.’

While scared of missing out, regretting passing up the opportunity and no adventures ever happening, I don’t want any trip to Prague, or anywhere for that matter to be tainted with the feeling of ‘I shouldn’t have done that.’ Not guilty pleasure, but guilt that it was actually detrimental to my future ambitions. Potentially this job is my money to support the luxury of gaining voluntary work experience, meaning I don’t have to settle for any job or career I don’t want to do just yet. I want to teach, and I want to write, and before I can do either, I need a part time job.

If I don’t get the job… well. I should have gone to Prague, but didn’t, so I guess I’ll have to just resolve to go next time and not dwell on it.

The weather forecast for next week is dreadful anyway. And the third person who was meant to be going doesn’t have a valid passport. It wasn’t really a definite no - I’d love to go to Prague. Just not on Monday. 


Thursday, 7 June 2012

Acknowledging Problems

Sorry for the small absence. My boyfriend’s parents are away so I thought I’d go play house and help him do his weekly shop and then veg on the couch watching Dumb and Dumber (can you believe that neither of us had ever seen it?) and eating terribly. I also found out that I had got a high 2:1 for the Feminism essay that I was worried about as well as the 2:1 for my dissertation, so he bought me a ‘2:1 cake’ and we got a few beers in, even though there is one module left to be graded that will determine my degree.

I’ve had a really fun couple of days, but today I checked my bank balance, and yet again I’m overdrawn. This is nothing new, but this time, I have no student loan to look forward to and I’m not sure when my student account ceases being a student account and starts charging me interest.

I’m still yet to hear any news on that job or any placements and no one got back to me after my scary email offering to blog for the Get into Teaching page. Looking at my -£1.59 balance upset me and I couldn’t quite get out of it. I felt like all of the progress I thought I had made with proactivity, ambition and positive thinking had gotten me nowhere. This annoyed my boyfriend as he just thought I was bored and got annoyed, even asking if I wanted to go home early because I wasn’t enjoying myself. He said I’ve often seemed a bit off lately.

I was hurt by this. I didn’t realise how much I was still struggling, but I have nothing to gain by covering it up so I told him that my current situation does get me down. I admitted that sometimes, the thought of coming home and spending a full day doing nothing and the prospect of many more days like that fills me with dread. I told him that I get upset and haven’t brought myself to ‘sign on’ yet because I’m too proud and have worked too hard. I feel like I can do better than my current situation, but am stuck in it despite my best efforts. I also told him that I had no idea what to write about tonight because I just don’t feel positive, like I have nothing to contribute.

It rattled me a bit also because a few months ago I ran a Word Press blog called ‘Tea with Rachel.’ It was on a whim, disorganised and didn’t have a point and I didn’t have time to do it. I checked my emails the other day to find someone’s comment saying ‘most boring blog ever.’ Yes, it was boring, and I mentally thanked the person who left it for reminding me that it needed deleting, else it would reflect badly on this blog. But then I started worrying about my declining views on this page and the lack of feedback for my creative writing and convinced myself that the one thing I thought I was good at was also a waste of time.

Maybe I’m just having a few off days, but its okay to realise you’re not okay. It was perceptive of Marc to realise because I’ve been putting in the effort to get by and be okay and independent. He was glad I told him, because he’d been feeling like I was just bored in his company or upset with him and he didn’t want me to feel like I should keep how I’m feeling from him. He told me that I can’t dwell on things else I’m just going to depress myself. He’s right, I know he’s right and I know it will do me no good to dwell. I know this blog is meant to be a positive thing of moving forward even if it is scary, but today I still did something scary. I admitted that I struggle, and that sometimes, I just feel completely lost.

But he also reminded me I’m not alone, which reminded me of this blog’s audience, if it has one. He went through it last year and thousands, if not millions of graduates are in the same boat as me career and emotions wise, and with the current state of the economy and unemployment, untold millions of people of all walks of life are suffering financially, emotionally and in every other way possible. We’re not on our own, so we need to talk about it. Ignoring our problems won’t make them go away.

So as a temporary solution, I’m moving enough money to last me four weeks from my savings to my current account to get me out of the red. If I don’t have a job in three, I seek help. And I have all kinds of fun things planned. I’ve had an awesome time with Marc, I see my friends tomorrow so probably won’t be blogging, get to experience my first driving lesson since test fail number three, go riding, go running and next week run the Race for Life.

If there’s one thing the last month has taught me, it’s that more things will come my way, things will get better, and in the meantime, I just have to be open about my problems and enjoy the company of those I love, and just keep doing the things I love. I have faith that things will work out eventually, but life can’t always be mapped out and it doesn’t pay much attention to plans. I just have to enjoy the scenic route, and even if I end up somewhere different, it’s probably a better place anyway.

Sorry for ending on such a horrific cliché! But it was a reassuring thought all the same. Here's a picture of my 2:1 essay celebrations and lets just focus on the positive. 

I say beer, but the cider's mine. I need to man up. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Asking for Feedback

I’m about to send my creative writing work to one of my old Sixth Form tutors.

I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but unless you’re one of those cocky types that believe they’ve written the next Da Vinci Code, or have so few social skills that you don’t recognise a crap response from your audience, no unprofessional creative writer likes to have their stories read. They don’t even like to read them aloud. Not even to family, and definitely not to an eagerly awaiting, readily judging Creative Writing seminar. Having completed my first year of uni at Northumbria, and the second and third at Teesside, I can tell you that all CW seminars are the same.

A Creative Writing seminar is a strange mixture of group therapy and a practice of tolerance and nerve. They’re made up of strange groups of individuals such as the two I mentioned above and your usual assortment of student types, mostly sitting in awkward silence, trying to ignore the fact that their voice is shaking, hands are sweating and they would rather claw their own face off than read out their own writing to the rest of the group. The silence that follows a reading is profound. You know what you thought about it, but even if the reception is good, no one wants to gush in case everyone else is silently thinking ‘wow, that was crap,’ and no one wants to say ‘wow, that was crap’ because we know how painful it would be to hear that about our own work. English students are often a pretentious bunch, and no one wants to admit to liking crap literature, I mean, God forbid that a lit student would like Twilight. Occasionally, a seminar will turn into a group therapy session when one of the more, let’s call them unusual members reveal a shocking, personal detail about themselves that leads to a silence even more awkward than when someone else’s story involves elves.

One to one meetings with my tutor (who was also my dissertation tutor) were even more awkward. This was the man who would be the first marker for not just one 40 credit module, but BOTH of them. I had to make a good impression. So I avoided the subject of Creative Writing and focused on my dissertation that he was a great help with. Then finally, a week before my CW portfolio was due and after a year of avoiding reading in class, I presented him with four chapters of the beginning of a fantasy fiction novel.

In hindsight, this wasn’t my wisest move. This was the man who had seen me cry with frustration, mutter  ‘s***, f***, oh s***!’ repeatedly when told that my referencing was a mess six weeks before deadline. One time, I got distracted during a conversation about the philosophy of space and after a year of trying to ignore it, grabbed the Angry Bird toy from his desk and hit it to make the Angry Bird noise. After displaying my innermost crazy to him for over a year, I don’t really know what I expected of him, but I didn’t expect the reaction I got:

‘I’ve never really been a huge fan of the fantasy genre.’

Great. So after being told my work was slightly phallic (apparently the fact the men carry swords is sexually implicit. I truly didn’t mean it like that, but now cringe whenever my character ‘raises his sword.’) And asked why I killed a character by having him shot with an arrow to which without thinking, I answered ‘I’ve been watching Game of Thrones… Have you?’ Then told that my writing was clichéd (what fantasy writing isn’t?) I have realised that the grade it will ultimately receive, won’t necessarily be reflective of how enjoyable it would be to fans of the genre or just general readers who aren’t paid to see implicit imagery of willies or question the notion of space.

While the idea of sending my writing to someone else terrifies me, I know that it’s the only way I will get any real feedback. While if it’s bad I will be a bit upset, by writing this I have remembered that over the past year, the worst has already been said and if anything, it’s just made me more aware of my writing style and how to adapt it. So I’m about to send that email. I only have to attach, send and wait for a response. How bad can it be?

Also, a quick and unrelated update on things in general. I may have a job working in a greetings card shop. My friend who works there says I do. While I refuse to get excited until I hear it from the boss herself, I am massively relieved that I don’t have to return to the website just yet. 

Friday, 1 June 2012

Getting in another thing that scares me before bedtime

And no, it's not checking the wardrobe for monsters!

I’m writing this very shortly after my last blog  mainly because my mind is all over the place and writing is the perfect outlet before I go to bed, and also because I know I probably won’t blog tomorrow.

I really did just do something spontaneous and intimidating. I was looking at the Get into Teaching Facebook page, and I saw an opportunity to blog about your experience either in voluntary placements, teacher training or actual teaching.

It seemed perfect, I want to teach, and I love to write, so I went ahead and emailed the address provided, stating how my initial application was rejected and I would love to blog about my resulting experiences on placement, trying to find voluntary opportunities and the challenges arising from it as well as the prospect of reapplying. I thought it would be interesting for myself to document the process as well as it being helpful to others who want to teach and will read it.

And now it’s quarter to midnight and even if this comes to nothing, I took the opportunity spontaneously, without over analysing it, and knew 100% that if my email is successful, I could make a valuable contribution to the Get Into Teaching blog and I could do it well.

Fingers crossed! Now it's bed time. 

Bad day turned good and a terrifying email.

Today was another one of those days where I was just bored. Mind numbingly bored. I’d mucked out the horse, I’d written 1000 words of my writing project, I even finished reading Less Than Zero at long last and thinking about it, quite enjoyed it. But I just could not shake off the boredom.

I tried to apply for part time jobs, but typically, there weren’t any suitable ones to apply for. I opened up the Job Seeker’s Allowance part of the website. Nothing good comes of The tedious ineptitude of student finance and my resulting student debt, the gut wrenching moment of booking a fourth driving test and now this. Good GCSE results, outstanding A Levels, a predicted 2:1 in English Literature and here I was, staring at the dole application, wondering what the hell I did wrong. I closed the application and curled up in a ball on the couch, convinced that I might as well have just not bothered. In sixth form, I worked in Poundland at weekends and remember one of the chavs from school coming to my till, recognising me and saying ‘Eee Rachel, you were dead clever in school and now you’re working here.’

That has haunted me since. I can see it now, going to the job centre and running into the people who bullied me at school and that I thought I had beaten and had achieved more than, and them seeing how I’m just the same as them. That it all got me nowhere.  I’m not going to lie, I thought of this blog and tried to think positively, but just couldn’t see the bright side. Where had it got me so far? I wanted to announce that this was all a big façade and that life was horrible and delete the full thing.

Luckily my sister came by and reminded me that we were meant to be going for a run. With her sarcastic ‘you’re in a good mood today’ I just ran ahead, because it was either that or break down, and I felt like if I broke down, I wouldn’t be able to pull myself together again.

I didn’t realise how fast or how far I’d gone until I stopped in the dene feeling peaceful and energetic and saw her red in the face trying to catch up. I felt a bit guilty then.

I’d advise anyone who is out of work, or feeling low to take up exercise. I came back feeling calmer and more focused. As I said before, you never regret going. The situation hadn’t changed, I’m still unemployed, poor and facing sucking up my pride and going on the dole until I find a part time job, but I could see the bright side again. I’m healthy, I have hobbies, and I have friends, a boyfriend and a supportive family. And a horse that likes to try and eat my phone. I have intelligence and I am employable. I can’t let my enthusiasm die, else everything I’ve worked for will all go to nothing. Okay, so I’m unemployed, but at least I have time to do what I love, and I can gain work experience. I’m volunteering at a summer school with Year 6’s in July, and there is a chance I might be selected to do Aim Higher workshops with Year 8’s one day a week for 6 weeks. I’m focusing on my writing, and I feel good about it. Really, the possibilities are endless.

I returned from my run and checked my phone to see the scariest email I have ever read.

‘Your dissertation feedback is available to view online.’

I had waited for this day, and now that it was here.  I couldn’t bring myself to open up Blackboard and look. I’d worked harder on this than on anything, yet I still knew it wasn’t perfect. I knew it could have been better. I just needed it to be a 2:1.

And it was. I have two more modules left to be graded, and then I’ll know my overall result, but so far this year, my average is a solid 2:1. I’d done it, I’d written a successful dissertation. It wasn’t the miraculous 1st I’d dreamed about, but it was a 2:1 and a good effort. I may have felt this morning like it was all for nothing, but I stayed up late, had sleepless nights and early mornings, stole library journals and cried about my references. I sent panicked emails to my tutor and taught myself philosophy and metaphysics and ruined His Dark Materials for myself forever, but it was worth it. If I hadn’t done that, it wouldn’t have happened.

A year ago, it seemed impossible, but I’ve gone and done it. Right now, being accepted on to a teaching course or making a success of my writing seems impossible, even getting a part time job or passing my driving test seems impossible, but this time next year, everything will be completely different. Nothing is impossible. 

So my 'thing that scares me' for today? Accepting that yes I've had a bad day, but facing up to the fact that only I can do something about it, and choosing to endure rather than to just give up. Oh, and opening that email was pretty terrifying!