“A is for Appendectomy, B is for Barium, C’s for Cystitis, Defibrillate is for D…”

Today I decided I would ride for first time since my op; I found some oversized jods and headed out to find my tack. Seeing it in a pristine state; freshly cleaned, with my show bridle assembled and placed neatly on top of my saddle seemed so sad. My boots and hat in their show bag, with my newly acquired gloves and a couple of dressage tests rammed in with them. It seemed very poignant that I had to take it all apart to ride today. Normally, it would be slightly cruddy after a day’s competition and then it would be cleaned and put away again. This time, we didn’t get to the competition.

Anyone who has the misfortune of following me on facebook or twitter, will probably be fully aware of what happened, but they say you have to write about what you know and this is all I’ve done of late, so here goes!

Just two weeks ago, I was busy preparing for a dressage qualifier and with the exception of a bit of a sore belly, I was completely oblivious to what was about to hit me. I woke up on the Saturday with a bit of a stomach ache, but I didn’t think too much of it. I spent the day doing all those mind numbing tasks you do in the run up to a competition; cleaning my tack, scrubbing and re-scrubbing Bea, plaiting her up and desperately learning my dressage tests. If I’d have known I wasn’t going to be competing, I wouldn’t have bothered putting all that effort in, quite frankly!

I started to feel quite under the weather when I was getting Bea ready and by the time I got in at 5pm, for a quick turn around to go out again for the evening, I knew something wasn’t quite right. I sat on the kitchen floor feeling sorry for myself and rang my friends, explaining that I wasn’t feeling 100% and I was just going to crash in bed. I was sure if I could just go to sleep, it would all go away and everything would be hunky dory. Sadly, Total Wipeout, a Top Gear repeat and Casualty came and went with me fully conscious. I had a tiny cheese sandwich and then set about feeling sorry for myself again.

I just didn’t really understand it – there seemed to be no position that I could get myself comfortable in. Every way I tried to lie down it hurt and then by about nine o clock, the pain really put it’s foot down. I have no experience in the baby department, but this felt like how I imagine the onset of labour to be. The pain rolled over me in waves, leaving me gasping for breath. I couldn’t breathe, without having to attempt deep breathing as my body gave in to my stomach. And whilst the cramps rocked along, I felt increasingly bloated and pained. I must have looked such a sorry sight; sitting on the bathroom floor, crying and gasping, whingeing that it hurt and I didn’t know what to do. My mum, bless her, half heartedly suggested NHS Direct, who told me that it could be serious, they would get a doctor to call me within six hours.

My mum decided that we should just have done with it and head off to A&E. Sadly the government cut Wycombe Hospital’s A&E department, so we trotted off to their “drop in clinic”. We didn’t make it in before the drunks started filtering through and if I were feeling in a better frame of mind, the collection of casualties would have been pretty hilarious. Starting with the gang of about thirty who were there to support someone who’d been punched by an ex boyfriend. All of her friends and family were there, being guarded by two pre-school aged policemen. Then, we had the girl who walked in claiming to have broken her leg. (Go figure!) And then the girl who was PFO, possibly PGT. (I love medical acronyms – Pissed, Fell Over, could be a candidate for Pissed, Got Thumped.) Anyway, her mates had dragged her to A&E and were trying to tell her that if she went home, she would almost certainly drop dead. However, she didn’t want mummy and daddy finding out what she’d been up to, so decided, very wisely, to refuse to give anyone her name or details and threatened any member of staff who tried to help. Eventually after plenty of swearing and an argument  between the girls, she was taken straight through to be treated. Her mates turned on a lad minding his own business in the waiting room and thankfully, he was sober enough to catch her fists as they flew towards his head. So then, they were kicked out and we were back to a bit of sanity again.

I was taken through and made to do the obligatory pregnancy and blood tests. I was told that I wouldn’t be treated until the bloods came back, which could be several hours. Working in the job I do, I found it mildly distressing that it could take so long to provide my results, but powerless, I went back out to the waiting room. My stomach wasn’t content that I was in enough distress, so then I started sweating, shaking profusely and being violently sick. I spent the next hour or so between the floor of the toilets and the front desk, begging for them to hurry up. After what felt like an age, but was a mere 2 and a half hours, I was given a bed and left for another half an hour, before I finally saw the SHO, who wasn’t very sure about anything in particular, but joyously sent a nurse in with two humongous syringes of drugs and another with a chalky drink to settle my stomach. So now I’ve been sick and sick and sick, followed by the world’s most disgusting drink of chalk. They then decided it would be best if I were nil by mouth in case they had to operate that evening. I wasn’t even allowed a sip of water to clear my mouth out. After being left for another hour, in which time the drugs kicked in, I began working out how to get to the dressage in the morning. By this point, it was 2am and my first test was 9.15 in Leighton Buzzard. I began to think that perhaps I could just do my qualifier test and then we would get an extra hour’s sleep, but it still didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t make it.

Then the SHO reappeared with a spot of bad news; “I think you have signs of appendicitis, so I’ve referred you to Stoke Mandeville. They are expecting you imminently.” Hmm, well a friend from work went through all of this, including being referred to Stoke Mandeville only to be told it was just a niggling appendix and they didn’t plan to operate. I couldn’t think of anything worse than trekking over to Aylesbury to be sent home again, but off we trotted. I was still pretty sure I would be doing the dressage on Sunday, albeit quite tired! We got back in the car and headed across country to Stoke Mandeville, only to be re-admitted into A&E. I had a letter that would bypass me through the queues, but I still had to see the triage nurse, to have another pregnancy test. Now even without severe stomach pain, I’m not sure I could get myself knocked up between Wycombe and Aylesbury hospitals!

After a short wait whilst Stoke Mandeville found some staff to open the Surgical Admissions ward up for me, I was off to another hospital bed and being faced with another quality gown. I don’t understand hospital gowns, why do they not do up further down the back? No one needs to see that! It was now 3.30am and the surgical registrar was fussing aroung doing everything, but examining me. The nurse swabbed me for MRSA and then gave me my wristbands. It was at this point that it started to occur to me that they might not be going to let me go. I asked, very gingerly, if I was to be staying the night, which the nurse quickly confirmed. Suddenly it hit me that I wouldn’t be competing later in the morning and my mum, taken over with tiredness, headed off home for a few hours kip. Sadly, I wasn’t to be allowed such a privilege. The SHO eventually saw me and she decided that it was my appendix causing the pain, but I would have to see the registrar before she knew what they would do to me, which wouldn’t be until the ward round. In the meantime, I was best to stay nil by mouth, just in case.

The pain started to kick in once again and after a bit of to do, the registrar was called down and he decided to examine me on the spot. There is nothing quite like a hospital trip to rob you of all dignity; I didn’t know which was worse, having to breathe into his face with my minging cocktail of sick and chalk breath or suddenly realising how hairy my legs were when he went to examine my ankles! Still, I made light of the situation and told him just how mortified I was; my nan was a Ward Sister – back when they were scary – and she always told me I should wear nice underwear and have shaved legs in case I was hit by a bus. I’m not sure how much the doctor wanted to know that though, to be honest. Another round of belly tapping, wobbling, smacking and poking later, he confirmed that my appendicitis was pretty textbook – being with a generalised high pain turning into a severe localised pain, exacerbated by being hit and followed up with a fever and sickness. It was decided that I would be operated on later in the day, but for now, I should rest. Easy for him to say, but I was still nil by mouth and I was in a brightly lit ward, there was no chance I would sleep.

At around 5am, they decided to move me into another ward, which was dark and quiet so I could rest up. Sadly by the time I had done my third pregnancy test, had my blood pressure double checked and had my drip fitted, it was 5.30 in the morning and I was just nodding off when the nurses turned the lights on to get everyone up at 6am. That is another thing I just don’t understand about hospitals; why on earth do they get the patients up at 6am? It’s hardly like the patients have a lot to fit into the day! I wasn’t expecting to go into hospital, so I had nothing with me except a phone to keep my amused. Thankfully, the lovely women in the beds around me donated me some magazines to keep me amused until my mum arrived with some goodies. When I saw the consultant (and his hoarde of students) I was due another round of poking and smacking before being told that they were hoping to do keyhole surgery and “it’s most likely to be your appendix, but this way we can whip anything problematic out”. Reassuring, huh? I was then asked to sign my consent forms after being told that laparoscopic surgery has the highest risk for bowel perforation. Again, thanks doc! They told me that there were a couple of paediatric emergencies that would push their op time into the afternoon, but I was on their list for the day.

At this point, I would’ve loved to have caught up on some sleep, but with obs every thirty minutes and having a wailer in the bed opposite me, there was no chance! I soon discovered that the ward I’d been put on was a Gynae ward, which made me feel better as some half hour earlier, one of the nurses asked me if I was in my first trimester. I knew my belly was big and I was holding it protectively, but I thought that was quite cruel! The day crawled by in a cycle of pain, drugs and blood pressure readings and in the early afternoon, I was moved into a general surgery ward, where I found a veritable bunch of lunatics to share my afternoon with! Next to me was a 94 year old lady who was selectively blind and deaf, whom I kept opening my eyes to find praying over my bed. She spent her time offering us all chocolate biscuits; “Sorry Hilda, I’m nil by mouth,” That’s a shame duck, are you sure you couldn’t have a sneaky biccie?” Then there was Elsa, the feisty smoker, opposite me, who went and told the nurses “I know it’s changeover, but our beds are right next to the nurses station, so please keep your voices down. We are trying to sleep!” and they listened! She was a wiley old stick who wouldn’t take any aggro, but was hilarious. When it got to 8pm and I still hadn’t heard anything about my op, she made her way over to my bed with a butter knife from dinner offering to lend me a hand!

Finally at 9pm, the anaesthetist came round to tell me that I would be next and he would come to get me in about an hour. It got to 10.30pm and we were all having a good chin wag about nothing when the nurse in charge of our bay came in and exclaimed that she was having problems with the computer, was I any good in Excel? I made my way out to the nurses station, flashing my underwear at all and sundry through my useless hospital gown. It was soon clear that the nurses station wasn’t designed for patients to go behind with their drip stand, but she hoisted it over the desk and set me to work. It was at that moment the anaesthetist came back to collect me. He said to the nurse, “I need one Bryony Harper”, to which I looked up from the desk and said “Yay! That’s me.” He looked a little confused to say the least; “are you meant to be sitting there?!”

The operation itself was a breeze. Well, what would I know? I was unconscious and happily came round at 3.30am in recovery. I was slightly concerned that my bandages appeared to be on the left side of my stomach and more upsettingly, they had fitted me with a catheter, but I was alive and vaguely kicking. To perform laparoscopic surgery, they inflate your body with carbon dioxide to open your cavities, so I awoke feeling a little like a helium balloon, inflated up to the nth degree, but I was barely back in the ward before I was asleep. I managed to only wake briefly for my hourly obs, but then they got me up again at 6am for drugs.

By 8am, they were trying desperately to get me out of bed; it was only when I pointed out that I wasn’t being lazy, but the drip was tied to one side of the bed and the catheter to the other, that the nurse saw my point of view. Thankfully, they whipped the catheter straight out and told me that as long as I behaved, I could go home. The conditions were that I had to eat 1 sandwich, have 3 wees and see the consultant. I was dressed and ready to go by 10am, but by midday, the pharmacy had yet to send my drugs up and I was awaiting a sick note. I fell asleep for the first time all weekend, to be woken at 2pm, by the pharmacy and then my mum.

Granted, the hospital wouldn’t let me take the lovely intravenous flow of drugs home, but my doggy bag was in impressive haul of metronidazole, tramadole, paractemol, ciprofloxacin and clarithromycin. My experiences at Stoke Mandeville were excellent; the staff were so patient and friendly, but I was ready to go home and sleep for a week. The first week was rough; I spent most of it with a fever and high temperature, sleeping fitfully and waking up in a cold sweat, but that has passed. Now, you will quite possibly hear me coming before you see me,with my wheelbarrow to carry my big swollen, muscle-less post op belly! I’m just desperate to get back to normality. Sadly my body isn’t quite ready as my mind and I suffered today after being a bit too active yesterday when I had a visit from Florrie and Rhys. Tomorrow I expect I’ll be sore after my little ride this afternoon, but I’m getting there.

It struck me that walking back into the garage to see my tack in it’s pristine pre-competition state was quite a sweet metaphor. Today I was walking back into my life back again after a very brief pause.

“There are only two emotions in a plane: boredom and terror.”

For those of you who have wondered why I have been uncharacteristically quiet this week, I will proffer a small explanation. No, no one got to me with the duck tape, I went away with work. One thing became apparent during my week in Tenerife. No matter what embarrassing situation I was in or what stupid thing I was saying, there was always one thing that remained the same. I could guarantee someone (mentioning no names) would say “gonna blog about that, are you?” So it appears that even my colleagues know I’m a sad old git. As such, I am not going to blog about any of those ridiculous things and the reason why? Not because I look like a total moron and lousy drunk in most of the tales, but out of principle. I am more than happy to make myself look like an idiot if it will make people laugh, but I don’t want to suddenly seem predictable.

There is one thing that really bothered me during the trip and that was my flight. The last couple of flights I’ve taken have been with EasyJet – it hasn’t been a personal choice, it just happens that they are the only buggers that fly where I want to go! As they have taken me on my last 3 trips, I don’t know if this phenomenon that I experienced is a SleazyJet speciality or something that happens across the board. I shall endeavour to explain to you good tweeple what happened.

Our flight left Gatwick at 7am and I plugged my earphones in and tried my hardest to sleep for as long as possible before giving in to the boredom of the plane. I am not complaining about the flight in general; I mean sure, the orange seat covers were a little bright at 7am and it would have been nice if the seats tilted from the upright position, but beggars can’t be choosers. My biggest issue was ignoring the ludicrously chirpy colleagues scattered about the plane after all, they don’t deserve the pain of seeing me at 7am. The journey continued fairly much as normal. I didn’t buy a coffee for £8 or a box of crisps for £4. I did man up a little and brave it into the toilets, which was something I regretted fairly quickly.

Eventually, the seatbelt lights flashed back on and it was time to begin our descent. It was not a challenging landing; there were no gale force winds throwing us off course or gremlins dancing where the plane was due to land. We touched down in a fairly normal way. I didn’t recognise it as an especially smooth or special landing, which made the next event very curious. Over half the aircraft burst into cheers and were clapping heartily.

Where does one even begin with behaviour like that?! The captain was on the other side of a thick door, hopefully concentrating on more important things than his customers heaping adulation onto him. He wouldn’t have been able to hear or appreciate their praise. I thought this was quite odd, but perhaps people were just in high spirits because they had reached their holiday destination. Until I cast my mind back to my flights in and out of Montpellier in September and then back even further to Innsbruck in March. It seems that it is an EasyJet trend. Is flying with SleazyJet so high risk that you are, quite frankly, simply thankful to be alive at the end of it? If I had known this, I might have considered alternative transport; perhaps swimming or cycling my way there.

I am not saying that pilots have an easy job; they train very hard to do what they do, but they are also remunerated generously for that job. I am pretty sure that landing the plane safely falls well inside their job description and their remit. It isn’t an added extra. It’s not as though he said on the loudspeaker: “Good morning ladies and gentleman. Soon we’ll be touching down Tenerife South, but in the meantime, I’m going to treat you to a loop the loop. I’m not really meant to do it, but I thought it would be nice to welcome you in style.” If he carried that off, I would have applauded him. But he didn’t, he simply did what he was paid to do.

No one applauds me at the end of a day in the office. In fact, some days it is quite the opposite. Nobody congratulates me on shutting down my computer correctly and surely this is the same thing? Yes, I don’t kill hundreds of people if I don’t do it correctly, but I’m not trained or paid for that level of responsibility.

I would love to do some kind of test and find out if this phenomenon has spread to other carriers; I cannot imagine a British Airways flight landing from Schipol at 7pm on a Friday full of weary businessmen and women bursting into spontaneous applause. Why not? Because they are fully aware that the pilot is paid to fly AND LAND the plane. It is not an add on, it is not something we should be grateful for, it is something we should expect as normal.

“Take your canvas bags to the supermarket…”

Everyone sing along now; “take your canvas bags when you go to the supermarket”. Oh, just me? Don’t you know that one? Ok, well I’ll stop the hippy love-in sing along and get on with the task in hand.

I went to Budgens to get my lunch today, as I do every day, and bought all the things I buy, every day. One Muller light yogurt for tomorrow’s breakfast, check. One Plum Tomato and Basil New Covent Garden Soup, check. Two Cox’s apples, check. I went to the same till and was served by the same, weird socially inept boy. As I was paying, he asked me if I wanted a bag. I thought for a milisecond and replied “no, they drive me insane.”

Without a second thought, he said “oh, because they are so bad for the environment?”

Now at this point, I could have left the conversation with a scrap of dignity. Instead, I chose to do the Bryony thing of digging a hole and jumping head first in. “Phh, middle class guilt” I mock, before saying “my desk drawer is full of Budgens bags. It’s driving me insane.”

There are a couple of things wrong with this conversation. Firstly and most importantly, I think, my desk drawer is not full of Budgens bags. What on earth possessed me to say it was? I think I thought it would be entertaining, but I didn’t allow myself long enough to work it out in my head. My second issue with my response is that no matter how much I bash the Daily Mail and the Express, I do think that by my parentage, I am unmistakably middle class.

Now is that what I really think? Am I really a heartless, uncaring bastard who throws life away without a second thought? I hope not. I get a little bit wound up when people say “I would recycle, but my efforts alone are worthless” or something to that effect. If we all think that, then nothing would ever change. Having said that, I’m not as good as I could be. Typical of the casual lunch-time shopper, I forget to take canvas (or other bags) with me when I buy my lunch. The problem is, there are so many things that we have to remember in life and this one isn’t one that pains me enough to remind me to change my lifestyle.

I have no idea what the size of my carbon footprint is, but in the modern age it seems so hard to change that. I make an effort to unplug my phone charger when I’m not using it and I turn my laptop off. Thing is, I can’t see that that makes a huge difference. I work for a company that employs over 5000 people and we don’t even recycle our paper. I worked for Tesco and we lectured our customers to recycle when we threw away reams and reams of plastic. The big fat cats need to take some responsibility as well as us. I’m more than happy to try my best, but my efforts are nothing compared to them.

Alone, our attempts are futile, but perhaps it’s time to remember that we aren’t alone. We are all taking a small step to change the world and as such, we are together. We are making a difference. So next time, don’t be like me and use that excuse as thinly veiled disguise for your laziness.

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language and next year’s words await another voice.

Well here we are, just three hundred and sixty five days after I began this blog. It may be a new year, but I don’t want to fall out of the habit of blogging. So here I am, on the brink of going back to work, thinking I should get back to writing before I’m too busy being a grown up once again.

So, what do I want to get out of 2011? Everyone keeps asking me about my bloody resolutions and I just can’t be bothered with them. It’ll only be something I fail to do later in the year. Having said that, there are always things I want to change. I need to go on my usual post Christmas diet, which is really dull and so I won’t bore you with the details. I need to start running again, afterall, I’m doing the Rat Race Soldier Challenge at the end of March and that will require a certain level of fitness. I did a Green Belter last June and I’m hoping that the Soldier Challenge will have more soldier-y men and slightly less excersion. I think that that is a great reason to do something. These aren’t really resolutions, just ongoing internal conversations I have with myself.

If I sat down at the beginning of each year and listed what I wanted to achieve, I would only end up disappointing myself. The minute you set yourself these silly expectations, you don’t go a day without letting yourself down. It’s much better to consider everything you have done, which you weren’t planning/thinking you’d be able to do, as a bonus. You can’t say things like “this year, I am going to get a promotion” because it is outside your control. Of course, you can try and increase the probability of one of those things happening by working towards it, but don’t set your sights on it. You will inevitably get disappointed. I know that fate is a pretty flawed notion, but there is no point worrying about things, they will happen whenever they happen. There will be thousands of opportunities to do the things you want to do, you just need to have the sense to grab one and stick with it.

All in all, 2010 hasn’t been a bad year. Sure, it’s had it’s fair share of rough moments, but it’s also had some really lovely moments. I’ve spent a good deal of the year being really selfish, doing all the things I love. Comedy. Horses. Comedy. Horses. And a few other bits too. I’ve had some brilliant times along the way with friends, both new and old. Those two passions send me all around the country and they aren’t something I want to lose. I plan to see and experience as much as I can, whilst I can. I don’t think it’ll be too difficult. My mum bought me a series of tickets for shows at the Swan for Christmas including Jimmy Carr and Ed Byrne. Plus, I know that my comedy loving friends won’t take no for an answer easily, so I suppose I ought to show willing and drag myself down to the Comedy Store every now and then. (That is how it is. I’m not delusional or anything.)

A colleague told me to put all the things I can change close to me and draw a line around them. Anything outside of that line is not worth worrying about because there is very little you can do about it. I laughed when she told me, but on closer inspection it does hold up. So here is a toast for 2011 and whatever the hell it will bring! I know that I’ll love the good and cherish the memories forever and the bad? Well, hopefully my delightful friends and family will help me to weather the storm.

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.

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