Are You Ready For This?

It’s the day before the day before Christmas and after a last minute lunchtime dash into the shops, I have nearly purchased all my Christmas presents. They are not wrapped however, and in a desperate bid to eschew the duties of wrapping up, I felt that my blog was long overdue. Actually, scratch all of that, I eventually gave in to the guilt and moved on to my wrapping up. It’s now Christmas Day and as the rest of the family are passed out in a blissful and drunken slumber, I feel it’s time to write. It’s been a week or so since I saw you last and my, how things have rattled along. I wanted to write a little letter to you last week, but I was so busy I just didn’t have time.

So, what was I up to? First of all, I faced my biggest fear and went to visit Libby the hygienist. All was going well. I made it to the appointment without cancelling it. I controlled my shaking in the waiting room. I made it through the appointment without ripping my hand from it’s clenched position on the chair to hit her. It was nearly over, she’d done the drilling and the water spraying and the rasping. All she had to do was floss me. So what did she do? I have one wisdom tooth left, which is under the surface and perfectly happy. It was anyway, until she caught the floss with it and ripped a lump of my gum off, at which point, I nearly hit the ceiling. She smiled apologetically and carried on. I thought nothing more of it until I woke up on Saturday morning to find that one half of my face was twice the size that it used to be and it was throbbing.

The pain was severe enough that I wanted to go back to the dentist to get it sorted out. I rang them up to ask for an emergency appointment, which they happily gave me. On Monday afternoon. So, a weekend of severe agony later, I ran back to the dentist barely able to open my mouth. He barely needed to look in my mouth to see what the problem was. I had an infection from her instrument. A hefty prescription later, I found myself with horse strength co-codamol in one hand and Metronidazole in the other. Now for those not in the know, Metronidazole is often prescribed for MRSA and given how I got the infection, I wasn’t best pleased. Anyhow, best take the tablets and be done with it. Except, you can’t drink with Metronidazole, or for ten days after, which was going to run up to Christmas. Everyone told me to ignore it, but I had done my research and if you so much as sniffed alcohol, you were violently sick, so I wasn’t going there.

The pain carried on for a few more days – I could only drink through a straw and even that hurt, but the pills made me mega thirsty, so I was drinking by the bucket. I stumbled on through the agony to pop over to East London to see Tim Minchin performing at the 02 and boy, I’m glad I did. I officially love the man. Well, I did anyway, but the combination of a beautiful orchestra, Tim’s amazing piano skills and his fantasically hilarious songs made it an amazing evening. Opening the show with a song proclaiming that “nothing ruins comedy like arenas” and “my ego is all you can see from the back”, I was glad to see that Tim was pretty aware of how hideous massive gigs can be.

It was a pretty amazing evening; I know nothing about music, but he seems like a pretty amazing pianist to me and his songs are fantastic. He played a combination of old classics including Rock and Roll Nerd, Prejudice and If I Didn’t Have You, and new songs. I always remember him saying “if you adhere to any of the major monotheist doctrines, you might wanna pop out for about five minutes” and it’s true, he is a fundamentalist atheist (if that isn’t a contradiction in itself). But what he picks apart is the blind faith people have and the refusal of institutions to move forward. To this end, one of the best new songs was about Sam’s Mum who was diagnosed with a degenerative eye condition and after praying at her church, it seemed to disappear. Tim’s way with words was just magnificent, claiming that God wasn’t going to focus on third world poverty, but fix the eyes of one woman, afterall he is an “omnipotent opthalmologist”.

Anyhow the reviews speak for themselves and you don’t want to read my ramblings about a show you didn’t go to. Rest assured it was a fabulous night, quickly followed by day at Olympia Horse Show with work, giving 75 customers a day of lectures and horsey stuff. The day was spent on fast forward rushing from place to place, but we did see Clare Balding and Stuart, the really young annoying bloke from The Apprentice.

Since then, I’ve been pretty snowed in, so have been rushing around to buy my presents in my lunch breaks and as such, will be baking a cake on Boxing Day for the kiddlywinks coming to stay the day after. As if we won’t have enough food.

Enough of my ramblings, there are plenty of leftovers downstairs that need seeing to. Plus, I must go and wake my mother up. She insisted on watching Tim Minchin – yes, on Christmas Day. Any Christians in the room may be close to having kittens at that thought, but it’s what she wanted. It doesn’t matter anyway, she feel asleep about half an hour in. It’s not quite an insult, she said “I’m listening to the words, which is easier with my eyes closed.” I don’t believe her though. Sorry Tim!
Anyway, happy holidays to you all. Just think, only three more days to spend in confinement with the family before we get to go back to work.  I realise that this blog has been all over the place and crap in so many ways, but I just wanted to drop in with a couple of updates. (My mouth is all healed now by the way, thanks for asking.) I will be back before the year end with a traditional end of year cop out compilation blog! Until then, eat, drink, pass out!

Neither a borrower nor a lender be, for loan oft loses both itself and friend.

Just over five years ago, I was heading off to university for the first time. If I’m being honest, I hadn’t given it that much thought. Some had been dreaming of going away to uni for years. Others had a job that they were desperate to do and they had to have the academic qualifications to get there. Me? I took everything one day at a time and hadn’t considered uni until I got to sixth form really. I applied (more because everyone was, rather than out of great want.) What was I to study? I wanted to study English, but fearing I wouldn’t be good enough, I applied to do Sociology, which had a much lower entrance grade.

I think to do English at Reading, I would have needed BBB, whereas for Sociology, I only needed BCC. Needless to say, I got the necessary grades to study English anyway. I studied English and Sociology in my first year and after my exams, I decided that English was the choice for me.

How did I chose what university to study at? Well, I knew I wanted to stay at home. This wasn’t because I was shy or scared  to leave home, but it was a selfish desire to have my metaphorical cake and eat it. I didn’t want to give my horses up for three years. If I lived away at university, then I couldn’t have afforded to do that and keep my horses. Simples as the meerkats say.

I wasn’t too sure whether university was the right option for me, so I planned to defer for a year to see how I felt. It was simply the threats about the hikes in tuition fees that sent me to uni so quickly. When we went, it cost £1050 a year. The year after us, paid around £3000. I couldn’t afford to pay £3000 a year, let alone the £9000 a year that is being threatened now. I left university with about £10,000 worth of debt. I had around half of that money sitting in an ISA, but as it was an interest free loan, I used it to buy a (nearly) brand new car. With pink flowers on.

It’s quite scary that I am 23 years old, have no house or anything of great ownership to speak of, but I have a £10k debt. Yet, one of the girls I work with, did not go to uni and at 21, she has bought her first house and is getting married in four months. I’m not saying that I should have done that, but I have achieved nothing compared to her, which is most unfair.

It’s difficult to say whether going to university has helped me in the world of work. I’m not sure I would have got the job I’ve got as my first job, without the aid of a degree, but I would have had three years of income to build up to it. Regardless of that, I loved my three years at uni and without it, I feel that I would be a very different person.

So where does my experience fit in with the current student protests? I don’t think the education I received was worthy of paying £9000 a year. For those not familiar with the university calendar; the year is made up of three ten week terms. Each term has one “reading week”, which has no lectures or seminars to allow you to complete your assigned essays. You rarely had lectures or seminars in the final week of term either. Then, the summer term was mainly made up of revision time and exams. So in my first year, I had a pretty full on schedule, with at least three or four hours of contact time a day. But by the second year, that had dropped to 3 lecture hours and 3 seminar hours a week. And by my final year, I had a couple of 2 hour seminars a week. Now I don’t want to sound fussy, but is 8 hours of contact time a term really worth £9000? That means that every hour long seminar in my final year was worth about £600. Absolutely absurd.

I find it deeply upsetting that the politicians that are bringing about these changes were all educated in the countries finest universities without paying a single penny. In fact, a lot of them were given grants to go. And now they are pulling up the rope ladder behind them. It’s disgusting. I have thought about this all week, trying to work out why it changed so much and I think I finally have the answer. The Labour Party has spent the last ten years encouraging absolutely everybody to go to university, which has not only devalued the degree but also means that the country can no longer afford to pay for all of the futures doctors, nurses and lawyers.

The problem I see with the huge hike in tuition fees is that you are just as likely to put off the future doctors and lawyers as you are those who are studying for the sake of studying. I don’t have a perfect solution and I don’t know what to do for the best, but I think you have to distinguish between those studying for a vocation and those not. We are always complaining that we are perilously low in teachers, doctors and other key skills. So why not make their fees lower? Or offer generous grants? After all, they are going to be contributing enormously to the economy.

Having said all this, the loan repayments are taken out of your pay before you even see it and you pay so little back each month, that you will never really notice it. In fact, in 18 months of full time employment, I think I have paid off about £750. Assuming that I will have paid off £1000 by the time I hit the 2 year mark, then I will have paid off my debt in another 18 years. Then if we assume that sometime during the next 18 years, I may get married and have children, I will pause paying it back for a year or so. So, now I’ll be in my mid fifties and paying it back. Scary.

Is it worth it? Who knows. I stand by my decision to go to university, but realistically, I’m not sure it’s worth all that money. It took me a good 9 months trying to get a job when I graduated. Even for the most basic job, I would get turned down because they had chosen to take on the graduate with the years experience already. There was no way to distinguish between people as everyone seems to have a degree. It’s not what it used to be. Perhaps the government need to work harder on introducing more vocational and training courses, without trying to get everyone to go through the university system. That way, prospective employers can begin to distinguish between candidates once more.

I’m not even going to start on the rent -a- mob and the violent protests that are going on. I respect what they are trying to achieve, but you won’t get your own way by throwing your toys out of the pram.

I stressed, I worried, I won!

I have had a little leave of absence from you, my lovely blogees. I wasn’t off sick, I just went AWOL for a little while as my brain found a new project to be excited and immersed in. The clocks changed at the end of October and I was left pretty much unable to ride for most of the week. It was then that it dawned on me that I would soon have to start doing some fitness work, using my Wii and going running like a good, healthy and conscientious girl. I wasn’t sure that I was quite ready for it and I went off in search of another method of procrastination. One of my lovely twitter friends suggested something, which seemed so strange and foreign that it didn’t even seem like a word. It went by the term NaNoWriMo, which I think is solely created to make the person saying it, feel ridiculous.

So what is NaNoWriMo? Well, it is a writing project, which asks you to do nothing until the 1st November and then you must write a 50,000 word piece of fiction by November 30th. You are not meant to plan or even think about your story until the 1st November and then, from the 1st to the 30th, you spew out around 2000 words a day, to get to your target. I didn’t decide to join until around the 4th, which doesn’t sound like a long time after kick off, but in laymen terms, it was 8000 words later. So, whilst I was hitting my first thousand, some were already at the 10,000 word mark.

Nevertheless, I struggled on and somehow fitted in writing 50,000 words around a 48 hour week and numerous social occasions. It wasn’t always easy, but the excitement I felt on writing my fifty thousandth word was immense. I was leaping about the house as though I had been elected as Prime Minister. All I had done was throw together 100 pages of random words, strung together in what one could very loosely describe as sentences.

The one thing that every writer has in common is the haunting feeling that they aren’t good enough, that their work isn’t clever, meaningful or witty enough. Everyone wants to be good at something, but to write is to lay yourself bare. It is not quite like playing a game of football, after all, if you aren’t playing too well, there will be other members of the team to pull you out of the quagmire and see you through the match. Neither is it like a runner, who has spent months training and is racing with the sole intention to win. Everyone can recognise who the best runner is without any knowledge of the sport. We all know, put simply, that the first to cross the line wins the medals. (As long as they haven’t been pretending to be a woman or taking drugs anyway.) Writing is much more subjective than that. Even if you enjoy your own writing, and chances are you will as no one else writes with such like-minded opinions as yourself, there’s no telling who else will enjoy it. Plus, nearly everyone can write in some form or another, so it makes it very hard to distinguish yourself as someone who enjoys writing or is even any good at it. These are the kind of neuroses that a writer suffers from and what makes it so hard to let anybody read what you have written.

The idea of the NaNoWriMo concept is that you write, without pausing to think or worry about what you are writing. You don’t have time to worry about the crippling doubts and worries that normally stop a project before it has even got off the ground. Anyone who has written anything – especially something like an essay – knows that planning is key. I constantly have so many great ideas to start a story or a script off with, but I get so bogged down in the planning, that I end up hating it before I’ve even written it. Hence, you never start writing it. With NaNoWriMo, you have very little choice; I hated my story pretty early on, but I kept going through the hate and although it has elements of the terrible about it, there are some promising moments. If I so wanted, I could edit it all the way through December and I would have the beginnings of quite a fun story.

I have written more this year than I have at any other time and that’s through NaNoWriMo (50,011 words doncha know) and my weekly blog. I’ve always wanted to be paid to write, but actually, what would I do as a hobby then? Writing a blog can involve agonising over the slightest changes of words, which I’m sure the reader would never notice. It is that attention to detail that you have to forget all about in NaNoWriMo and I did it. Ok, I wrote some absurd things, like “she sat in a quiet silence”, but I wrote 50,000 bloody words with no sign of a plot whatsoever. If I can do that, I could write something decent with a plot and it could only take a few months. It was immensely liberating and as such, I know that I am much better to get some writing done, so that when I’m in the death by planning stage, I haven’t got to start with a blank page and I can just leave the planning to write the story. Ok, it might not be used in the end, but you learn a lot more about your characters by letting your fingers think for you.

It’s just a shame that my job, in the veterinary industry, doesn’t require badly written stories very often. Afterall, I am the star of them now. Of course, I am no writer. I am not paid to write. But even when I write for my blog, there is a slight inner worry that what I am writing won’t be good enough for my readers. It’s ludicrous, but it’s just the way I am. I hope that people have enjoyed my writing this year and that they haven’t been too angered, or even worse, apathetic, about them.

My blog is like a rash, it’s not going to go away and each week, when you think it’s gone away, you find a new little spot to scratch and it flares up again. I’m going to leave you with that image until next week’s bout of dermatitis.

We are all born right handed; only the best of us can beat it.

Picture the scene; it is a cold, frosty early nineties December morning and you are looking at a small suburban primary school. Moving in closer, you can see the six and seven year olds sitting around the miniature tables and flecks of tissue paper sitting in pools of glue where they are attempting the gargantuan task of creating snowflakes, paper chains and other Christmas decorations. All of which, incidentally, invokes every adult to coo appropriately just before throwing them immediately in the bin. In the midst of the children sits a little girl, whose glitter and glue coated hands are clasped uselessly around some now grubby paper and a pair of safety scissors. The paper has now stuck itself to the little girl’s hands and is now torn and bereft of its decorative beauty. But this doesn’t matter because no matter how hard she tries, she cannot cut that clean, sharp line through the paper, slicing it in neatly in half. She holds the scissors in her left hand, but alas the blade is set upside down this way. She must either get someone else to cut it for her or she will have to suffice with an inferior creation. She cannot join in. A few days later, the class is learning to write and this little girl is struggling no end. She is trying to follow the teachers’ instructions, but she cannot work out how to replicate the letters. She tries turning the paper sideways, which allows her more space to curve her pencil round and craft the letters, but then the teacher comes along, straightens the paper and tells her that she must make her work neater. She looks at the letters earnestly, bites her bottom lip and tries again. This will keep happening to her as she goes through her school life; teachers try desperately to get them to tidy up their writing, but not really knowing how to help. As she moves from the pencil (whose lead is so oft snapped from the heavy pressing from the little girl’s left hand) to the pen, she encounters a whole new set of problems; as she writes, the palm of her hand covers the freshly penned ink. It would take a good few weeks for her to work out how to write without getting ink coated hands and her life’s work illegibly smudged. Eventually, the little girl will establish a writing style and work out how to write in a legible way, but it will take her a great deal more time than the other “normal” boys and girls. As the little girl grows older and she moves to secondary school, she finds herself having to take sports lessons and it is here that she finds more prejudice. She will always have to stand at the far end of the line when throwing the javelin or discus in order to prevent any untimely accidents. Equally, she will have to wait until the end of the lesson before she is allowed to practice a lay-up in basketball as all of the cones have to be changed to the alternate direction. It is tales such as these and many others, which begin to show you how difficult it can be to be different. Most kids would have adapted and given up trying to survive as a leftie in a right-handed world, but this little girl didn’t know how. She wears her watch on her right wrist, plays tennis with her left hand, always has the element of surprise in a game of rounders and her writing is like that of a doctor. She has learnt to cope and has overcome adversity in a way that no right hander has managed – they do not realise the struggles inherent in opening a can of baked beans, of being taught sports and musical instruments by a right handed person or of trying to write a cheque in a normal chequebook. The left handed people of the world have had a lot of stick over the years with many modern languages translating the words wrong or evil as a synonym of left. (I bet David Cameron loved that!) Modern day slang for being left handed is “cack handed”, which sounds fine until you remember that cack basically means shit. They believed that left handedness could cause stuttering, dyslexia and schizophrenia. Some doctors still believe this stuff today; the modern quacks think that we are more likely to get breast cancer and allergies. For years, children were beaten and made to sit on their left hand at school so as to change them to a conventional and “normal” child. It seems strange that people felt so strongly that people should be right handed that they beat it out of our left handed forefathers (and mothers.) So why did they feel so strongly? Were they threatened by us? Damned right they were; people of the left handed persuasion are said to use the artistic side of our brain far more than the rest of you. Not only do we have more access to our creativity, but we are also natural leaders and strive for independence. Only 10% of the population is left handed, yet 4 out of the 5 Apple Mac designers were left handed and 66% of the American Presidents of the past 30 years have been lefties. Most of the best people in the world are left handed; Barack Obama, David Cameron, Rafael Nadal, Dan Aykroyd, Emma Thompson, Sue Perkins, Julian Clary, Jonathan Ross, John McEnroe and most famously, Maradona! As I say, it’s great to be left handed – there aren’t many of us, but most of them have made it to the top of their field. If you are left handed, don’t let the majority oppress you. Don’t let them stop the revolution that us lefties will bring; we are what they fear most and never forget that!

How do you play the Game of Life?

One of the things that is definite about modern life is that if you create something that captures the public’s imagination, the remakes, spin offs and franchises will fund you well into your retirement. For some reason, unbeknown to me, the American audiences are unable to watch the original British version of something; they need it to be remade especially for them. Do they not know how much we lived off American sitcoms as teenagers? Watching the new series of Friends was such a ritual – it was played on Sky a month or so earlier than it was on Channel 4. I clearly remember that Hannah’s next door neighbours had Sky, so they would record it onto a video for Hannah and then we would all borrow it after her. Sure, there were some jokes that we wouldn’t fully appreciate because they mentioned places in America that we may not know, but it was all about watching people from a different culture. We were able to believe that six friends could live this affluent lifestyle and do nothing but drink coffee in America. Had it been in England, we may not have believed it. Anyhow, many tv shows have been remade: The Office, Teachers, Life on Mars and very nearly, Spaced.

Some of our best loved stories have been remade for film; I ask you, how many more remakes of Sherlock Holmes do we need? It has nearly caught up with Robin Hood now. We saw how mad Simon Pegg and Jessica Hynes (nee Stevenson) got when they thought their beloved baby was being pilfered from under their noses, so think how old Shakespeare must feel. His plots have been used from here to Kingdom come in stories, plays, films and songs; Westside Story and Ten Things I Hate about You to name but two. Of course, Shakespeare didn’t have the ideas first; he nicked them off some other bugger first. Stealing and “redefining” stuff is a great part of our culture; it always has been and it always will be.

Bearing this in mind, I started to think about our childhood games. They modernized Austen’s Emma into Clueless to appeal to the kids, Pride and Prejudice became Bridget Jones Diary, so why can’t we rework our board games? Think about it logically. Cluedo was quite ahead of it’s time in some ways; it had respected members of society accused of murder. I’m not sure that there are many games designed today that would accuse a Reverend of murder. There are other parts of the game that need modernizing though. Have you ever met or read about anyone who has suffered from the menace of the candlestick? Perhaps Chloroform would be a better substitution? Although I’m not quite sure how they would represent that in miniaturized form.

I plan radical changes to the Monopoly set. Instead of collecting all four train stations, perhaps you could buy a parking slot for your bike at each station? Then we could scrap the income tax and replace it with the Congestion Charge. Another thing that would have to be introduced was Community Service; in this day and age, you never get arrested and sent straight to prison, you always get the choice of community service. So, perhaps instead of going to jail, you can miss two goes whilst completing your community service? I think we should scrap the old fashioned ideas like winning a crossword or a beauty contest and replace them with things like “you got through to the second round on X Factor” or “you’ve won Big Brother, lose a life (if you have one) and win £500.” The negative cards could include “you had far too much to drink last night and had your bag stolen last night. Cancel your credit cards, report it to your mobile phone provider and lose £150.” We could compromise with “You have bought a new iPad. Go forward three steps, but lose £300.” Another of my favourites would be “You made the mistake of trying to go down Oxford Street during the Christmas rush, miss a turn”, perhaps followed swiftly by “You were cautioned by a Community Police Officer for aggressive pedestrian activity, pay a fine of £100.”

The Game of Life is another game in drastic need of modernisation. For a start, you could introduce the growth of polytechnics and further education colleges. When you get the choice of which way to go, you could then discover that you thought your university was reputable, but now they are running out of money and have closed your department down; miss two goes whilst you protest and then take a lower paid job at the end. This could carry on with things like “you forget to register your baby for school before it is born, watch it plummet down the social spectrum. You don’t miss a go, but will have a guilt ridden life.”

I get very upset when the things that I love get remade, but I think that board games could be so much more fun this way. Imagine your eight year old son proudly telling you that the murderer was the Reverend with the Cloroform in the loft extension. It would make life so much more entertaining. I’m all for this idea; who is with me? Together we can bring the big companies down and create Tomorr-opoly or Not Got a Fucking Clue-do. Happy days.