2013: The year my feet barely touched the ground

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Every year since I was about 16 I’ve written a bit of a review of my year, to remind myself of what I’ve done and to reflect on the things which happened. It’s usually been something of a blow by blow account with barely any details left out (yes, even those kind of details) and by rights shouldn’t have been something I shared with the world. This year I’ve decided to do a slightly more family friendly account of the year, skimming over some details with a heap more reflection. 2013 was a very exciting and changeable year for me and although it’s self-indulgent of me to write this sort of blog post, I find writing things down helps me to process things. And hey, it’s not like I’ve blogged very much recently (the reasons why will become rather apparent!).

So I started the year in Brighton, a place I’d moved away from a mere 7 months before, although it felt a lot longer. I had a lovely time going to the pub with my friend and then I went to a party where it seemed that my friends of the academic year before were getting on just fine without me. I enjoyed the party to some extent, but it somewhat put the nail in the coffin of my university years in the way that graduating should have done six months before. I lived in a different world now, and it was time to get on with life outside of university.

Which I suppose I did, spending January working as a filing clerk for a security firm, a job which mostly involved photocopying documents and putting them in boxes. I can’t even begin to tell you how fulfilling this work was (sarcasm). It was during this time that I was dumped by somebody I’d been seeing for just a month and the combination of this and the monotony of filling boxes with files caused me to realise that I was pretty much free to do whatever I wanted. So I began researching holiday work abroad, but it was a little advert for outdoor learning instructors that caught my eye. I sent in my application the evening before the deadline, and four days later I found myself on a train to Swanage.

As readers may know, I was offered a job, and so in mid-February I packed up brand new outdoor clothing and a small box of things I felt I’d need for six months away from home. It was time to start a new life by the sea.

Moving into the outdoor centre was fantastic. The place I worked wasn’t your average outdoor centre; it was comprised of 5 converted houses on a normal street with a tarmac playground and a small swimming pool at the back. But I loved it. I spent three months being trained in teaching a number of programmes to a range of age groups, some who came for environmental education, some who came for outdoor adventure. During this time we began teaching children and not a week went by without a long walk along the downs to see old harry or corfe castle. I told stories about bad kings and brave women; I played games on the beach and in the woods. I taught children the things that just can’t be taught in the classroom. Most of all, I surprised myself. I’ve never been sporty or particularly fond of physical exercise, but I came to love the walking and enjoyed teaching outdoor activities like archery and teambuilding, even if climbing was never to be my forte. Even though we taught similar things each week, every day was different and even in the busiest times I loved my job.

Most of all however, I loved living near the sea. Living in a sleepy, out of season seaside town may not be to everyone’s taste, but it suited me. I loved the way the weather hit Swanage in ways you never experienced away from the coast, and living five minutes away from the beach meant I could be there whenever I wanted. It was a place of childhood seaside holidays and I came to know it intimately. I miss beach combing on the way back from the supermarket, perhaps stopping for an ice cream. I miss the countryside and the views a short walk from where I lived. I even miss going on the sandbanks ferry on the bus to Bournemouth. It still comes as a surprise this won’t be my reality again.

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Of course, my time in Swanage wasn’t perfect. Concerns were raised by my employers about my low self-esteem, something which has plagued me for many years. The problem is, I’m excruciatingly honest, and I’m not very good at hiding my emotions. If I’m worried about things, I like to say. Unfortunately, those who do well in the outdoor industry are often rather arrogant and are good at putting on a smiley face even if that’s not how they’re feeling. Irritatingly, these things being pointed out increased my self-doubt, and although I still enjoyed my job, I never had much faith that I was actually good at it. It has to be said that sharing a room when you’re in your twenties isn’t much fun either!

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Sometime around May, during my time in Swanage, I started talking to someone online. I know he won’t want me to talk about it much, but we had some lovely times camping in Swanage and in Bath during this year’s gloriously hot weather, and I can happily report that we’re still together now. I also went to Glastonbury and that was rather fun, seeing the rolling stones and turning 22 on the last day.

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In July, work at the outdoor centre slowed and slowed and eventually came to a stop. With just small numbers of French children to teach we spent the last month doing anything that needed doing around the centre, with the sun seemingly ever present and hot. I began to be a little worried about my future, but not as much as I could have been. I’d been set, earlier on, on working a second season the year after and travelling in between, but somewhere along the line I changed my mind. I didn’t get a chance to work an extra few months at the centre and I began applying for jobs in the West Country. I’d always wanted to live there and it felt like there was no time like the present.

Come early August and I went to Paris on my own, suffering 10 hours of trains and coaches to bring me to the sweltering hot city. I had a great time wandering around, visiting the tourist attractions and art galleries. I especially liked Monmartre and the canal. Exploring cities by myself remains one of my favourite activities, which is slightly odd for somebody so prone to loneliness.

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Not long after it was time to say goodbye to Swanage. I was sad, but was caught up in all manner of things in my last week, not least my relatively new relationship. There was gig rowing and a barbeque, one last walk to Old Harry’s Rocks and Studland, and then it was over and I was being driven back to Essex.

I don’t remember feeling that sad at the time, perhaps because I had a job interview with a council a couple of weeks later. The interview was coincidentally in Bath, the city I had visited during the summer. I’d been aiming for Bristol but I liked Bath well enough and the prospect of living there was exciting. I went to the job interview and came out feeling that it really hadn’t gone well. The presentation I’d given was very nervous and I didn’t think I’d come across very well. But by some strange miracle, I got the job and became an environmental planning intern. Quite a departure from the job I’d had previously, but I felt it was the field I was actually supposed to be working in.

First though, I had to find somewhere to live, and endured a stressful couple of weeks trying to sort out house viewings and going to Bath to look at houses. I found lodgings in a house, and there, I suppose, are where my troubles began.

My mum waved me off at the station as I set off with a huge rucksack, an even huger suitcase and a rucksack on my front, being met at the other end by my boyfriend. I felt oddly melancholy on the train, I supposed that this time I really was moving out, and even though it was what I wanted, it felt like a big step.

I arrived in Bath and went to my lodgings, and lying on my bed I had never felt so lonely. I suppose it hit me that I’d upped and moved to a city where I knew nobody and very little, and I had to carve a life out for myself. When I’d moved to Brighton I’d had freshers week, when I moved to Swanage I lived with the people I worked with. But in Bath, I had none of this and it was petrifying.

I started my new job the day after I moved and I liked it well enough. I still do. It was something of a shock to go from a job where I was outside ninety percent of the time to one where I was sat in an office all day, but it wasn’t so terrible. I became quite skilled at making maps and settled in to the council offices, quite enjoying working in the centre of a city and quickly getting to know my new home. I went to Alchemy Festival in September too, and that was great, a really vintage year.

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Things were going ok, I didn’t really know anybody, but I started volunteering as a cub leader on a Wednesday night, and I had a social life of sorts with the friends of my boyfriend. And then in October my landlady, who had never been particularly hospitable, became incredibly hard to live with. I was told off for shutting doors too loudly and for daring to cook a meal on a Sunday night. In that moment it became clear that I had to move out. The thin, fragile life I’d started to pull together was again coming unravelled. I didn’t know where I’d live, or how I’d move, I was really scared.

Some of my boyfriend’s friends were keen to find an extra housemate in order to find a house. I’d said no in the weeks previously, but suddenly I realised that this could actually work out for me. I looked at a house with them and by a stroke of luck we got it. Cue weeks of worrying about furniture and the logistics of moving. I didn’t even have a bed; we’d have nowhere to sit. To say I was a little anxious was an understatement.

And then, in mid-November, I fell off my bike. My brakes failed on a steep, Bath hill, and faced with a bollard and a busy road, I chose the bollard. I flew over my handlebars and fell, rather unfortunately, onto my mouth. In the shock of the accident all I could think about was how I would get my teeth fixed; one had come out completely and I’d broken another two. I also fell rather painfully onto my knee. I was taken to hospital in an ambulance and had X rays and emergency dental work. I was ridiculously lucky. The worst of the accident were my broken teeth as the one I knocked out was replaced, and my helmet saved me from any serious injury. I spent a couple of days in bed recovering (with a rather nastily bashed up face), and then I went back to work, because really I was fine.

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Time rolled on and at the end of November we moved into the house. I did have a bed, and we did eventually get a sofa, we even have a dining table. I finally lived somewhere where I could move around freely, in my lodgings this had been impossibility. My house is still fairly new to me, but I like it so far. The best bit is the view of Solsbury Hill from my window, reminding me that Bath is a curiously rural city.

And so December passed with dental visits and Christmas activities at work, and ice skating and christmas markets and the American museum. Then I came home for Christmas and that brings me to where I am today.

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I feel 2013 was probably a fairly pivotal time in my life, and my hope for 2014 is that the same is not true. Whilst I currently have a job and something of a life in Bath, this is all far from permanent. The contract on my internship runs out next September and it seems unlikely I will get another job off the back of it. People just aren’t recruiting. And this is making it hard to feel settled in Bath, because it feels as though everything could be snatched away from me. Bath is not the centre of environmental jobs and I worry that I will, again, have to move away. It sort of feels like every time I settle somewhere and make friends eventually comes to an end, and I then lose those friends and have to start over again. Just once I’d like some permanence to my decisions, to be able to make long term plans in a geographical location, but with a permanent job ever elusive, and a reluctance to plump for a job just to stay in the same place, I can’t help but worry. Sometimes I worry so much about the future that I forget to enjoy the present, and I need to start living in this present again. Certainly finding my own friends in Bath would be a start, but this is proving harder than I thought.

It’s been a good year, although slightly marred by worry and self-doubt. I can proudly say, however, that I achieved a lot in my first full year out of university, and I wouldn’t swap any of the experiences I had. I feel that 2013 will stick in my memory for some years to come.

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Paris part 2: High places, museum-y places and a very vibrant canal

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On my second full day in Paris I ate my small but perfectly adequate breakfast of a baguette, butter and a coffee at my hostel, AIJ Hostel in Bastille, and then decided that rather than getting the metro from the nearest metro station I would walk down to Bastille station instead. This walk was extremely pleasant; the main thing I noticed about the area was that every other shop seemed to be selling shoes! Perhaps Bastille is the shoe district of Paris, I don’t know.

Anyway, I got to Place de Bastille, which has an opera house and a monument and, oddly, the canal seems to go underground here. But more on the canal later. I boarded a metro train and headed to my first stop of the day: the Eiffel Tower.

I sort of felt like I had to see the Eiffel Tower, being in Paris, and a tourist. I had a little bit of trouble getting to the famous tower as one of the RER lines was completely close  for what appeared to be an entire month (just think, it’s only weekends on the underground!) but with a bit of faffing around I got to Trocadero metro station. And there in front of me was La Tour Eiffel. And what was the first thing I did at the site of this famous landmark? Well I sat in the shade by the aquarium and read; you see I’d got to this really good bit in my book…

After a while I thought I should go and have a look at the tower. It is… very tall, that’s for sure. I walked up to it, dodging people hawking miniature versions, and then ducked and dived through the crowds to stand underneath it. The thing about the Eiffel Tower is that whilst it’s completely as it is in pictures itself, the setting of it seems quite different. I’m not entirely sure how the surroundings of the Eiffel Tower would look, but I was just a little bit overwhelmed really. The queues to go up it were enormous; I’d tried to buy a ticket the day before I travelled but it was fully booked, and in hindsight I’m quite glad I didn’t. And really that’s all I have to say about the Eiffel Tower I’m afraid.

I knew that I could go to the top of the Arc de Triomphe for free, so this was my second famous landmark goal of the day. Peering at my map I realised the arch was completely walkable from the Eiffel Tower, so I set off across the river, trying to avoid the hundreds of petition people who kept accosting me with a disability petition. I’d already signed this petition, possibly unwisely, at the Pompidou the day before, but it was now that it struck me that the fact they were seemingly trying to get English people to sign it and nobody else, even though it was a French petition, was a little odd. Further research revealed this to be a scam of some description, but whether it’s a pickpocketing scam or a donation scam seems to be under hot debate. I fortunately survived without having anything stolen, but the density of this clipboard wavers at the Eiffel Tower was fully ridiculous. In the end I just pretended I couldn’t speak English or French and fought my way out. I have a feeling this was a pickpocketing “pinch point”, but my system of knotting the drawstring on my rucksack at least 5 times and keeping my real valuables in a bag around my body seemed to work.

Oh look, it looks just like it does in the photos!

Oh look, it looks just like it does in the photos!

Having escaped this, I crossed the Seine, as I said before, and headed up a very posh street with classy hotels and designer shops, and then, there I was, on Champs-Elysees. This is another place that was very different to how I imagined it; really it’s like Paris’s Oxford Street, I suppose my images of it have only ever come from the Tour de France. After buying some postcards I walked towards the impressive arch, which is actually pretty cool.

Actually, so does the Arc de Triomphe

Actually, so does the Arc de Triomphe

It’s on a roundabout in the middle of what is known as Charles de Gaulle Etoile, a group of roads which come away from the arch in a sort of rough star shape. Approaching the Arc de Triomphe I couldn’t seem to work out how to get across to it. I saw some people holding hands and running across the road, pretty much risking their lives, but I figured there must be a way of crossing somewhere…

I crossed pretty much every road of the etoile in my quest to avoid getting run over, and about halfway round I spotted the opening of an underpass on the other side. You’d think this would have made it easier to find the entrance, as now I was looking for an underpass, but still it evaded me. I even went down into the metro station, in case this was the entrance, but it was not. Finally, after I’d walked a full circle, I spotted the matching underpass entrance and walked down underneath the road.

I presumed the queue in the underpass was for tickets to go up the arch, so I joined the queue just ahead of a group who I assumed were Americans. I think it must have been the McDonalds cups. But as I eavesdropped on their conversation (I presume every lone traveller is a terrible eavesdropper) I realised that they weren’t American at all, but Northern Irish, and as their conversation turned to entry fees I realised I could help and told them it was free for under 25s from the EU. This started off a flurry of searching for ID, but nobody in the group had any on them, so instead they decided to pass off as many people as possible as under 18s. When we reached the ticket office they pushed an actual under 18 towards the window, and an adult was asked for. One of the older members of the group stepped forward and the ticket seller asked them if they were together.

“Well we’re not together, like” said the older Northern Irish bloke, to which there was quite a lot of laughter from the queue. He turned round, grinning “a lot of you understood that, didn’t you?”

I got my free ticket and headed up the steps, onto the sort of glorified roundabout. And then, after queuing again for a short time, I got to walk up what seemed to be an absolutely never ending staircase. Honestly, I nearly died (I didn’t, but I like to exaggerate) and by the top I was out of breath and cursing all the people who told me I’d get really fit working as an outdoor instructor. But, beyond one more set of steps, was Paris, all of it.

The view was stunning. I’d seen my first glimpse of Paris’s skyline from the Pompidou the day before, but this was stunning. I picked out the landmarks I recognised: the Eiffel Tower, of course, Notre Dame nestled down by the Seine and in the distance, standing proudly on its hill, the Sacre-Coeur. I walked around, taking rubbish photos on my phone, all the time seeming to be in the way of other people’s photos. I had this quite a bit in Paris, everywhere I stood I seemed to be in the way of a photo, but I’ll write about the worst instances of this tomorrow.

Paris is massive!

Paris is massive!

From the Arc de Triomphe you can see right up to a second arch at La Defense, which is Paris’s business district, and there’s a third arch down by the Louvre but I missed that one completely. La Defense, with its sky scrapers, surprised me quite a lot, as did Tour Montparnasse. I’m not sure why I imagined Paris wouldn’t have tall, modern buildings really! Really though, Paris is laid out fascinatingly, it makes London look quite random in comparison.

I wrote a postcard at the top of the arch, and then I walked back down the spiralling staircase and sat at the bottom of the arch whilst mad motorists drove their cars at clearly irresponsible speeds around me. I’m certainly starting to wonder, from my limited experience, if the British are the most sensible drivers in Europe… After writing two more postcards, it was time to travel back under the underpass and decide what to do with the rest of my day. It was getting on a little bit but I fancied going to Musée d’Orsay so I, for some strange reason as it’s so close, got on the metro and popped out by Jardin des Tuileries, which is a very nice garden between the Louvre, the Seine and Place de la Concord. I was feeling pretty tired, as it was still quite hot, so I took some time to put my feet into the pond and to read a bit, and then headed off to the art gallery I intended to go to.

On my way round to Musée d’Orsay I passed some boys wearing beanies (in thirty degree heat!). They looked lost, and sure enough they asked me where the Louvre was. I knew the answer to this:

“You’re looking at it, it’s over there” I said, and they shuffled off looking rather embarrassed. As I got to the side of the museum, which is rather stunning as it is a converted disused train station, a woman next to me appeared to pick up nothing from the ground next to me. She then came over to me proffering a ring and asking if it was gold. I told her it could be and she forced it into my hand.

“You must have. Lucky day!” she said. Then: “Lucky for you, lucky for me”, gesturing towards her mouth with her hand. She kept saying this, and I realised she was expecting me to give her money because she’d given me the ring. This stunk of “scam” and I tried really hard to give the ring back to her but she wouldn’t take it. In the end I put it on the railings by the side of the road and walked off, and it was no surprise that she went over and picked it up immediately. I later read that this was a popular scam using brass rings. I’d been subjected to two scams in the same day, how lucky was I?

Pretty cool building!

Pretty cool building!

Anyhow, I went into the art gallery about half an hour before it shut, which was poor planning on my part I’ll admit. I saw some Picassos and some post-impressionism and some jolly large paintings, but as much as I’m probably a philistine for admitting this, I sort of like modern art a lot more than I like, er, not modern art. Sorry. It would have been nice to have a bit more time to explore, but I found myself back out in the Paris sun all too soon.

After this I sat in the grounds of the Louvre for a bit, as I thought I should even though I had no plans to go in, and then I got the metro back to the hostel, stopping to buy a spinach and goats cheese ready meal from monoprix as I just didn’t think I could cope with wandering the cafes that night.

After a revitalising shower and internet-using session at the hostel I decided to do something a bit different with my evening and walk to the Canal. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but being near water is usually a good place to be, so once again I got the metro from Bastille.

When I got off the metro I had a small walk along a boulevard with a park in the middle and after purchasing a beer from a monop’ (do you see what they did there?), I found said boulevard and walked along it. I was accosted by a very rude French boy in French about something, I think it was a lighter, but as I can’t really speak French he got very aggressive and I had to walk off at quite a pace. Aside from this there were a number of French youths playing petanque and table tennis on the boulevard; indeed I’d noticed that in the evenings any vaguely sandy patch of ground was used by petanque. We just don’t have an equivalent of that in the UK, except for perhaps football. I think I’d rather like to have an evening game of French boules in the street.

Eventually I came out at the point where the canal re-emerges from where it dips underground at Bastille, and to my surprise, as far as the eye could see, there were people. I sat at the closest end of the canal for a bit, sipping my beer, and then I decided to wander up it. There were people having picnics, drinking wine from plastic cups, mostly younger people but many were a little older. It was all terribly civilised. I walked along, taking in all the sites as people around me talked and laughed and just seemed to be having a lovely time. Until I reached a young man sitting on the barrier by the canal, headphones in, staring straight ahead with his back to the canal. He looked as though he might be about to cry and was in such very stark contrast to the other people sitting by the canal that it was actually him who inspired me to start writing down what I saw. I wondered what his trouble was, why he was here amongst all these jovial people. But it’s perfectly possible that was just his normal face and he was waiting for somebody.

Vibrant!

Vibrant!

As I continued along the canal, I sat down to write in my notebook and once again a French boy started talking to me. I sort of looked at him with an “I have no idea what the hell you’re going on about” look on my face, so he asked me in English if I could move to my left. Which I did, but still, bit rude. Especially as people were fishing to my left, you see, the canal is very diverse.

There seemed to be a masquerade party going on, with masks ranging from traditional eye masks to all out creepy V for Vendetta masks. I wondered why the canal was such a party hot spot, but it certainly seemed to have a good vibe.

I crossed over the canal and on this side a boy was strumming a guitar whilst is friend flicked a lighter in accompaniment. On this side it smelt quite strongly of weed, although the civilised, chilled out picnic vibes were still in existence (probably because of this actually). There was another boy strumming a guitar further up who had the most bizarre skull tattoo, I definitely hope it had just been scribbled on in marker pen.

I spotted a sign asking people to respect the tranquillity of the canal and not play music. The guitars and the ipod docks tunefully disobeyed this rule, and I don’t think it really think it spoilt the ambience at all. A girl leaned back, laughing, and nearly fell into the canal, but fortunately she realised in time, next to her was a man in flashing glasses. A man walked by with a large rucksack selling “boissons fraiches”, clearly the canal is a renowned Saturday night hotspot.

It was very late, midnight in fact, by the time I decided to head back to the hostel. On my way back I saw a whole family asleep in the street, it was not the first.

OLO goes to Paris! Part one

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About a month ago (yes I’ve really been procrastinating about writing) I went to Paris. It was really lovely, and whilst I was there I wrote down some of the things I saw and heard. So I thought it was high time those scribbled notes became some words. Here is my account of my first full day in Paris, for whilst it may be about the journey rather than the arriving for some, I just don’t think I can make seven hours on a megabus sound quite so interesting…

Day one: Paris is Overwhelming!

On my first morning in Paris I stood in the lobby of the hostel looking at a map with absolutely no idea where I was going. I’d been really busy with work so I hadn’t had much time to decide on where I was going or to discover what was worth seeing. I did have an idea that I might like to go to the Centre Pompidou, mostly, I’m ashamed to say, because of a song by Art Brut called Modern Art, in which it is mentioned. Alongside the fact I do actually like modern art. Have a listen, you’ll get the idea.

So as I gazed perplexedly at the vast map, I decided the Pompidou was as good a place to start as any. Except I couldn’t find it, I looked and looked it but it just wasn’t appearing to me. Finally, in frustration, I turned over the map. And there was a list of popular attractions and co-ordinates. Oh.

So I took a Metro ticket from my carnet and headed to the Pompidou, and when I emerged, there it was in all its colourful piped glory. I later learnt that the different coloured pipes each served different functions within the building, but overall it is quite a thing to look at.

I went in, figured out how to get my free ticket (hooray for being under 25 and a European citizen) and went to look at the art. Which was pretty damn cool actually. Highlights included Shadow Play (Paris) by Hans Peter Feldman, which consisted of rotating platforms of traditionally Parisian knick knacks lit by lamps that threw dramatic, ever changing shadows onto the wall. And upstairs in the modern art gallery I saw one of Marcel Duchamp’s Fountains, a signed urinal, thought to be the first “readymade” and integral to the Dadaist movement. I was, however, rather perplexed by a video of a DJ playing records to nobody on a rooftop in the rain on New Year’s Eve whilst photoshopped fireworks exploded in the rain. The sign said the artist claims that there is no meaning to the work. Quite.

Shadow Play

Shadow Play

As you can maybe tell, I like my modern/contemporary art. But apologies, Art Brut, it didn’t make me want to rock out.

And with that the Pompidou was ticked off the list, and so I found myself once again out of the air conditioned halls and onto the humid streets of Paris. It was about two in the afternoon and I was starving so I headed into Dia, which is sort of like a French Lidl and bought myself a baguette and some boursin-style cheese, which came to less than two euros. And then I had to decide where to eat it. Once again my map, which makes you look so embarrassingly like a tourist, came out and I had a look at what was nearby. I worked out that I wasn’t that far from Notre Dame, so quite literally stuffing my baguette into my bag, I set off in what I thought might be the right direction.

After a few false starts I found myself down streets of tourist shops, and it was at this point I realised that my head was really rather hot. It seems that I arrived in Paris in the midst of a heat wave. So I perused these shops with their berets and their variously sized Eiffel Towers and found a straw hat that I thought was quite nice, so I bought it. And then I tried to wear it. It might have been humid in Paris, but it was still windy, and it seemed nothing short of constantly holding onto the hat would keep it on my head. As I approached the very large Notre Dame, crossing the road to get to it, a large gust of wind picked up the hat and blew it up the road. Fortunately I was able to grab it before it went too far, but that was all I could take with the hat and it spent the rest of the day tied to my bag by its ribbon.

Notre Dame was big and cathedrally and incredibly hard to take photos of even from the wooden steps that had been placed in front of it for people to sit and admire the view, and to listen to concerts in the evening. It was nice, I suppose, and quite different from English cathedrals, but I couldn’t be tempted to join the incredibly large queue to go in, even if I could have a tour for free.

Really hard to photograph!

Really hard to photograph!

I walked around it and sat in the gardens that sat in the shadows to eat a little bit of baguette and to consider my next move as surreptitiously as possible, once again pulling out my blatantly touristy map. I spied Jardin de Luxembourg, which a friend had recommended to me, and realised a short walk past the Sorbonne would take me there. So I walked past the impressive university, had a bit of an incident with a button on a pedestrian crossing (turns out they are for blind people and a highly annoying French woman will tell you the name of the street you’re crossing until it’s safe to cross. I think I’d prefer the spinning knob we have in the UK if I was blind). And then I walked into Jardin de Luxembourg, which was lovely and allowed me to finally eat my baguette and cheese and to read Trainspotting sitting in one of the portable seats with my feet on a bench. Around me several people slept.

Model BoatsWhen I’d had my fill of the Edinburgh accent, and garlicky cheese, I promenaded around the gardens and sat with my feet in some very dirty water idly watching small, French children pushing model boats around with wooden sticks. The boats were all assigned a country and at first I couldn’t work out why so many French children owned such similar boats. But then I spotted the stall hiring the model boats, which were powered only by the wind, and I understood. I wonder if British children would enjoy such a simple pleasure.

I returned to the hostel to have a shower and upload some photographs, and then I decided to walk back to the so-called university district where I had been told that food was cheap. Walking along the Seine I was briefly accosted by a French boy on a bike, who alerted me to the fact my laces were undone and then proceeded to follow me down to the banks of the Seine and to ask me lots of questions. This was just a little creepy so after telling him my name was Isobel (which, in case you didn’t know, is not my name) and that my French was “tres mal” I saw my escape up some steps, which he would not be able to navigate on his bike. I was then asked for directions in French from a car, at least I think that’s what I was being asked, but having such little French I just shouted “Je ne comprends pas!” and walked off, which was terribly rude really.

I crossed a bridge and spotted a sign on a shop at the end of it advertising “padlock engraving”. I turned back to look at the bridge, and sure enough it was covered in padlocks! I’d read about the relatively new European tradition of couples writing their names on padlocks, locking them to bridges and throwing the key into a river,  but I’d forgotten it took place in Paris. It was quite a sight to see the padlocks fighting for space on an overcrowded bridge, and interesting to later read that many Parisians thought this went against the French idea of love. Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre would certainly not have “locked themselves together”; indeed they did not even live in the same house. But they were certainly still very much in love, despite not following a life of monogamy.

Padlocks

I struggled with finding somewhere cheap to eat as I found reading menus quite hard. My comprehension of written French really isn’t that bad at all, but there were certain words that I thought might mean “meat product” and so I didn’t really like to risk it. In the end I plumped for pizza, a tartilette de pommes and a can of beer for twelve euros, which I took with me to the banks of the Seine, where I passed a nice half an hour eating and people watching as tour boats sailed past. And then I walked back past a man playing guitar at Notre Dame, and daring tricks performed on roller blades and felt a little less overwhelmed by everything.

Tomorrow: The underwhelming Eiffel Tower, Northern Irish humour at the arc de triomphe and the perfect Paris-ness of the canal.

Finishing uni, just over a year on

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Loads of people are just finishing uni and taking their first proper steps into the big, wide world this month. I’ve decided to be rather self-centred and to collate my experiences since leaving uni, just in case this is of any use to anyone.

So on the 7th of June 2012 I walked out of Brighton University as a student for the last time. On 7th June 2013 I received am email from my past self sent a year prior. I won’t quote it here, but the main things I was worried about were finding a job, having friends and moving back in with my family. So how did these things go?

Moving back with my family was never a prospect I relished, indeed my mum always thought I’d move out at 18 for uni and then not return. Unfortunately uni has a very draining effect on your finances and most people have no choice but to move back home after studying, unless they’re in the fortunate position of having their life subsidised from somewhere. I am not one of those people, so home I trotted. To be honest, it wasn’t that bad, I had my own room, I started getting on with my step-father (except for a few incidents), my family situation calmed down generally and being in close proximity to London and Cambridge meant that although I knew nobody where I lived, people I did know or got to know weren’t that far away. More on the friend situation later actually. The main problem with moving home for me now, in hindsight, is that “home” for me is in Essex. And after Brighton, Essex doesn’t seem so fabulous. I’m not looking forward to having to move back there after living in the rural seaside paradise that is Swanage, although “the Essex Newport” does have good transport links at least. Anyway, the gist is, I shouldn’t have dreaded it as much as I did.

And then there’s the job thing. I was really fortunate to get a job as a mentor for the National Citizen Service in Slough almost straight out of uni, which you can read about here. Unfortunately this meant commuting to Slough every Monday for a month very early in the morning (which actually I didn’t mind so much), and also it was only for a month. I picked up some absolutely vital experience from it though, and it helped me to realise that my future definitely involves working with children and young people. So my advice would be to take temporary jobs in areas that interest you, even if they are for a month. Treat them as paid work experience, better than unpaid at the end of the day!

And then, in August, I became unemployed properly for the first time in my life. Which meant frequent, incredibly patronising jobcentre visits and a sort of depression that caused me to become quite worried about myself. I managed to get a brief job as a litter picker at Leeds Festival, which was, well, fairly gross really, and then it was back to unemployment. I found myself being judged for not getting a job straight away by more people than I expected, a notable example being when my step-dad (and this is the first time I’ve publicly called him that) had a very long rant at me about spending all my time sitting on the sofa on my laptop when I should be looking for jobs. I’m not entirely sure what he thought I was doing, because in the 21st century “sitting on the sofa on a laptop” is the way you apply for jobs, it’s certainly more effective than “going out to look for one and not coming back until you’ve found one”. Certainly I had much more luck with applying online than handing CVs out, as most jobs you hand CVs to want retail or catering experience, of which I have neither. But despite applying for several jobs, I had two months of just the litter picking job and nothing else.

It was when I was on the way home from Alchemy Festival (which I was reviewing and so got into for free, in case you’re going to accuse me of wasting my benefits) that I received a phone call out of the blue from an agency offering me a data entry job for three weeks at Stansted Airport. I actually ended up in that job for two months, working for the company that does the facilities maintenance for FedEx. It wasn’t a bad experience; I was relatively well paid and worked with nice people, but it was fairly obvious my future definitely wasn’t in admin. However, at this time I was convinced I was going to do a masters in Environmental Health the next September and was prepared to do any job I could to save the money. This job got me out of my overdraft and little else. And as December rolled round and my employment ceased, I realised that doing the masters might not actually be feasible.

So I was unemployed again, and just as miserable as all sorts of realisations hit me. Alongside the masters realisation was the “I’ve still not had a full time, permanent job” realisation and the “I can’t get work experience in my chosen field” realisation. I handed out CVs, which was miserable as it was clear that I didn’t have the experience they required, and I went to visit an admin agency who told me two months in a data entry job meant I didn’t have anything like the skills I was looking for. That old catch-22 about not getting work without experience/not getting experience without a job began to hit. And then I got an interview with a charity and an interview for a one month temporary job at a security firm. The short and short of it is that I got the latter job and spent January as a filing clerk.

It was at the beginning of January that I was messed around a bit by someone and once that finished I began to re-evaluate my life. I realised I had no ties to anyone or anything and that I could do pretty much anything I wanted anywhere I wanted. So I applied to PGL and an outdoor centre in Swanage, as well as a library job back home. I got a job at PGL, and still set on doing my masters at this point, I realised that on an apprentice wage I would earn next to nothing. So I waited hopefully for an interview with the outdoor centre, and I got one. It meant having to travel to Dorset with only four days notice, but I did it and after a fortnight of nervous waiting I got that all important phone call and moved to Swanage three weeks later.

So I’m an outdoor learning tutor until August. I’ve talked about my job before, but the gist is that I teach geography in action and outdoor adventurous activities to children and GCSE students. And mostly it’s absolutely great and I love my job. But it’s also really, really hard work, especially at present as we have several groups in and we’re all very busy, although I do tend to thrive off hard work. I thought I had it all planned, I was going to work here until August, go travelling and then come next February I would work here again.

Then I had my appraisal and was told my low self-esteem was stopping me from doing a good job, and surprise, surprise this made me lose all confidence in my abilities. Which I have subsequently clawed back, but only just. And then it hit me that I’d have no idea if I was able to return here until January next year. And maybe having that much uncertainty in employment wasn’t a good thing. And somewhere in the midst of this I decided I was going to do a PGCE.

Yes, “those that can, do…” etc. But I don’t think there’s much shame in turning to teaching, and in my case I don’t plan to stay in the classroom very long. My current plan is to do a primary PGCE, maybe with a specialism, and then look for work in LEA outdoor centres or for an environmental education charity like Groundwork. I feel having a teaching qualification would improve my chances at these jobs, and also ensure that I do have something to fall back on. Besides, as it turns out, I really love to teach. However I don’t plan to do this until September 2014, and I have no idea what I’m doing in the mean time.

That leaves the friendship situation. I have many wonderful friends up and down the country, unfortunately none of them live particularly near me. And when I finished uni having made good, close by friends I knew I’d miss that. What I didn’t anticipate was not talking to my university friends properly ever again, but that’s a different, far more whiny story. My time at home was pretty lonely, I saw friends in London now and again but that was it. My social life was saved by the Cambridge National Novel Writing Month group, which I met with in the pub and in a cafe throughout November whilst I attempted to write a novel in a month. Which I sort of did. The novel is awful but at least I had a social event to attend; after November we met in the pub every second and fourth Wednesday of the month and I’m convinced it was these gatherings that kept me sane. It’s hard trying to make friends in a new area, especially when you’re out of education, so I really struck it lucky. So many interest groups are aimed at retired people, I wish this wasn’t the case. Then I moved to Swanage and now I have my house/workmates to drink with, so that’s OK.

So, in all, it hasn’t been the terrible year I envisioned it being, but it hasn’t been easy. It’s definitely getting that first foothold on the career ladder that’s the tricky bit, and that’s really hard for graduates. My sister was fortunate enough to get a job straight out of FE college, so I feel this has probably made it look like I wasn’t looking hard enough or something. I looked bloody hard, and I explored every avenue. It’s just sad it’s such a disheartening process, and people will tell you not to be downhearted but that’s so difficult.

Now I have to think about what I want from my second year as a graduate. This is difficult because there are so many pathways and options I can take. The two main ones are either to move back home for a year (not the greatest prospect on either mine or my mum’s part) and work and learn to drive and then do my PGCE. The other is to look for a job I want in a place I want and use the money I put away for saving to move to where a job is. Everything is very uncertain, and crunch time will be August. The unfortunate thing about the job I do is that it is seasonal and there is no work in the industry in winter, so I will have to get a job in any old field. I am looking very closely at teaching assistant jobs at the moment but I’m not convinced they’ll have me as I lack school experience completely.

I’m sure things will come out in the wash, indeed they always seem to. I may find myself back here in February, or maybe even on the Isle of Wight. I may find myself working another job that I actually want to do in the West Country (which is definitely the best scenario). Or I may find myself back home, temping and trying not to feel sorry for myself. Who knows.

I do know that the past year has been invaluable. I know what I want to do, where I want to do it and how I’m going to get there. It’s just that intervening year that may be tricky, but it’s only a year, just like the one that has passed.

So to those finishing uni now, don’t panic. You may have plans, but don’t be afraid to change them. You may have no idea what you want to do, and that’s actually fine. You may even find yourself missing writing essays and reminiscing about your dissertation (guilty as charged). If you are free from ties, then this is probably the best time to explore what you do want to do, and where you want to do it as well. So little emphasis is put on choosing where you want to live, I suppose most people choose either their university town or where they grew up. But what of those of us who want to live in neither place?

I suppose you may be lucky, or you may not be. But the next year is just that, a year. Everything can change, and actually that can be quite exciting. Just got to ride it out.

We might be young, but we weren’t born yesterday

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I’ll be honest. I’ve been getting pretty tired of two things since Margaret Thatcher died on Monday. The first is people saying that anybody who wasn’t born when Thatcher was in power has no right to an opinion. The second is people feeling the need to tell me that celebrating people’s deaths isn’t nice if I even so much as mention her her name in any kind of context. So to all of you, this is my reply. And I’m going to do the unthinkable and bring my emotions into political debate. Try as you might, you can’t get away from the fact that the personal is actually political. This is the story as I have been told it by my parents over the years, and like any broken home, I may not have all the pieces. So bear with me.

I am 21. When Thatcher left power in 1990 I was just a mass of cells floating around. When I was 6 our house was repossessed and I was made homeless. My family were given two rooms, one living room, one bedroom in a council-run hostel whilst we were on the list for a council house. We shared a kitchen and a bathroom. My mum was pregnant with my youngest sister at the time and my other sister was 3 years old. We all became very ill with cryptosporidium, which is a nasty water borne disease which leads to severe diarrhoea and vomiting. When we stopped drinking the water in the hostel we became well again, but not everybody in the hostel realised this. The whole hostel reeked of vomit and disinfectant, any time I walk down a carpeted corridor the smell takes me back to living there. The neighbours would have noisy rows, there was a lot of drug use, although I did not realise it at the time. It was 6 months of my life when I was 6 years old but I remember it probably more than I remember some of my happier childhood memories.

My parents bought into a part-mortgage, part-rental scheme in about 1990 and we lived in a small, two bedroom new build house. This seemed like a good option to them as neither had well paid jobs, my dad worked in a tyre warehouse and my mum in credit control for red star. Even with their combined incomes there was no way they could get a foot on the housing ladder with a full mortgage. In 1996 the interest rate on the part mortgage they took out became so high that the Citizens Advice Bureau advised my parents that the only thing they could do was to stop paying the mortgage and wait for the house to be repossessed. So they did.

So where does Mrs. Thatcher come into this? Well she was very keen for everybody to own their own house, so she brought in the Right to Buy scheme. There was a housing crisis in the 80s and she decided to solve it by selling off the country’s council housing. OK then. With everybody attempting to buy houses and the banks in crisis, mortgage interest rates were pushed higher and higher well into the 90s, and long after Thatcher was forced from her position as prime minister. I was made homeless after I was born, after she’d left power, but it was her legacy and her policies which forced us from our home.

I remember the hostel, but I also remember the arguments, the early morning phone calls from Abbey National during which the caller would shout at my mum down the phone and reduce her to tears as they demanded money for mortgage arrears that we just didn’t have. These lasted until at least the year 2000. Thatcher’s legacy.

I could be the granddaughter of a miner, the daughter of a banking chief, I could be 15 or 25. I’ve still got every right to be angry at the things Thatcher’s government did to ordinary people whilst rewarding the rich. The miners, the steelworkers, the working families like my own. The railways, the energy companies, the roads. She sowed the seeds for the privatisation of the NHS. Her rhetoric planted people on benefits firmly into the British psyche as scroungers. Her legacy very much lives on. She may be dead, but Thatcherism is still alive and well in the UK.

I wasn’t born during the second world war, but I am angry that millions of Jews died in concentration camps. Closer to home I am angry that my gran has suffered from anxiety and depression all her life due to being evacuated. I suspect you have a thing or two to say about the war or Churchill or Hitler. Are only those over the age of 75 allowed to comment?

So to my second point. Am I happy that she’s dead? Well no, I’m not happy she’s dead. I’m not happy when anyone dies. I hate her and I hate what she did, I’m not celebrating her death, I’m angry at her life. And in dying she has brought the underlying anger that has been bubbling inside those affected by her policies and her legacies to a head. And when people are angry, they sometimes aren’t very nice. They sometimes need to release this anger in some way. And in this case, some people are celebrating her death, so to speak.

But it’s not a celebration, it’s a protest. It’s a protest about her legacy, about families torn apart, about people who haven’t worked since she took their jobs away from them. Ask anybody seemingly celebrating and you will find that actually they are angry. I actually neither condone nor reject somebody’s right to celebrate her death, personally I will not be celebrating but I fully understand why others would.

If you see it as disrespectful, then ask someone who is celebrating what Thatcher did to them or their families. You’ll see that, actually, she was pretty damn disrespectful to them. Again, I don’t really condone dancing on her grave, but I understand why. I have a lot of empathy for those who suffered under Thatcher, just as I empathise and try my hardest to support those affected by the coalition’s welfare reforms. Again it is the weakest in society being affected, the disabled, the mentally ill, the long term unemployed, the working classes.

So please, when I bring up Thatcher to you, you don’t have to tell me how disrespectful it is to her family to celebrate her death as people seem to keep doing. I am aware of this, but it is actually the media who will harm the family by publicly broadcasting the discontent. I don’t expect the Thatchers will be picking up a newspaper or watching the news at the moment, and I think they know all too well the effect Margaret’s legacy has had on the public. Just because someone dies that doesn’t cleanse them of everything they did in life. Should we never speak a bad word about anyone else who harmed the lives of people and then subsequently died? Because she did harm people with her policies.

I know people will find this controversial, and I’m not really sure why I’m posting it as I am feeling far too tired with arguing to argue any more. But this is just my viewpoint and it is deeply rooted from my childhood and from the stories those older than me have told me. I am unlikely to change my mind. And for the first time in my life I’m going to say this: if you think I’m a bad person for having these views, then so be it.

On teaching, schools and why this is a hard decision to make

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So I’m almost 6 weeks into my new job and I’m really enjoying it, it is without a doubt the best thing I have ever done. It’s hard work and I don’t have very much free time, but I seem to get bored when I do have it these days! So what better to do than to put some thoughts onto paper. And today I’m writing about teaching.

I really like teaching, I sort of knew that already but this past couple of weeks have been the first time I’ve actually had groups of children and teenagers to teach things to. And it’s great, I get to be passionate about what I’m teaching and I get to engage children in learning outside. But I fear the latter point there may be the operative part. I like teaching outside and I like teaching geography and local history and playing games, and that means working in the outdoor learning industry. And here lies the problem, the truth is that teaching outdoors is seasonal and often these days focussed on the adventure side, rock climbing and kayaking and all those things I’m really quite rubbish at. And it’s low paid, PGL and Kingswood offer a wage of £2.40 an hour and that’s before accommodation is deducted. Here I get minimum wage but also cheap accommodation so it balances out, however I’m living in a flat of 10 in shared rooms and that is, let me tell you, far from ideal. Fact of the matter is, though, here is probably the best I will get in this industry, but in such a small company working your way up to becoming a year round tutor is reliant on other people leaving. And whilst seasonal tutors leave all the time, the senior staff rarely do. Why would they? They pretty much have the best job in the world.

I’m fine here for the moment, I can see myself doing this for a few years if they’ll have me. But I’m an anxious person and that means living in the future, and I know I’m going to get to a point in life where I’ll want to settle down, live in a place of my own, not go crawling back to my parents’ house every winter.

So I’ve discovered I love teaching and I like working with children and young people. The answer seems to be obvious: Go and be a teacher! But I always said I wouldn’t, and for good reason.

I hated school, it was certainly not the best years of my life. I was bullied, I had an undiagnosed specific learning difficulty and whilst I did well I really didn’t enjoy myself. Do I really want to purposefully put myself back into an environment I found so hostile? Maybe I could be like the teachers who made school worthwhile, but I’m also worried that I’d be like those teachers that we were downright awful to. Now I think about this, however, this was mostly secondary school, and I did enjoy working with the year 4s we had in last week. So, primary teaching perhaps? I’d like the variety, but I’m not sure I’m ready to stop clinging to the geography I love, and the prospect of teaching numeracy doesn’t really feel too fantastic. I suppose the other thing, other than the teaching and the children that I’d enjoy is the freedom to work in a school anywhere in the country, because everywhere has schools at the end of the day. I’d like the flexibility of that.

Having thought about it though, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot, I think if I was a teacher I’d like to have a focus on children with additional needs, and there’s not really a PGCE you can do which sets you up for teaching in SEN schools. There is clearly a way into doing it without doing another undergraduate degree, but the lack of this provision is fairly mind-boggling. I think I find SEN teaching attractive because it’s far more tailored on a child to child basis than mainstream teaching, which assumes that all children learn in the same way and want to learn the same things. I find the Montessori and Steiner methods intriguing, but my personal views would prevent me teaching in a private school. It’s tough to support a system that fails a lot of children, but the fact only private schools offer an alternative that is out of the grasp of many parents makes me cross. It’s massively unfair. Here we use Cornell’s flow learning method, which is a great common sense way of teaching.

Of course, teaching isn’t the only way I could work with children. I like the idea of youth work and helping some of the more vulnerable children in society. But again jobs in this field are few and far between and I don’t really have the experience they want, or the qualifications.

I could get lucky, there are jobs in environmental education which are well paid and full time, and hopefully sticking around here and getting an institute of outdoor learning qualification would assist me in this. Maybe I’m worrying too much, over-thinking things, maybe I should just be happy with my lot. But the old me was always so certain about what I wanted to do with my future, and I’ll be honest, not having a long term plan scares me. I know people will tell me that if I’m deliberating this much about teaching in schools then it’s not for me. But I think I knew that already. For now I’ll just take great joy in showing children the natural world and the things and places I love and helping them to enjoy their school trips. Maybe taking children away from the school environment is what I find most rewarding of all.

A good old ramble down one of those paths

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“I still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild”

Now most of you have me on facebook or follow me on twitter. So most of you will have noticed something quite unusual of late. I’m, well…I’m happy. There, I said it. In my last blog post, written a little over a month ago, I was feeling very uncertain about all aspects of my life, where I was going, which path I was going to take. And then a personal rejection that already feels insignificant pushed me down a path I was surprised to be taking. I applied for a job as an outdoor learning tutor. I went to Swanage in Dorset for an interview. I waited nervously for two weeks. And then I got the job.

Sorry, I think there needs to be a bit more fanfare to that. I GOT THE JOB! So in less than a week I will be moving to Swanage and in just over a week I will start my training. I’m going to be teaching children on school trips about the coast and all aspects of the outdoors. I’m going to face my fears of climbing and kayaking. I’m going to be the person I always wanted to be, and I know I can do that because I convinced some people to give me a job. Me, the girl who’s never got a job through competitive interview before, persuaded a company to give her the best job in the world. I still haven’t quite got over that. I probably never will.

Of course I worry. I worry that I won’t like it, that I won’t be very good at the job, that sharing a room will be horrible. That I’ll miss out on Glastonbury, although I think that’s just part of becoming a grown up.

And I think I kind of did that. I accidentally grew up, I took that maturity that people have always told me I have and I put it to good use. I took a risk and it paid off. I’m still taking a risk by having taken the job, but I’m trying to convince myself it’ll all be fine. And I’m not the only one doing so. But it isn’t just having taken a risk that makes me feel like I’ve grown up. I decided that after twenty one years of it that I’d had enough of being bullied and being put down. The internet shouldn’t be a place I don’t want to be, I shouldn’t be scared to post online simply because a few people feel the need to say horrible things. So I got rid of the anonymous question site, I blocked the people from twitter, I left the forum where I’d only ever really been treated as an outsider. And I took some control.

I think I feel more in control of my life and my “destiny'” than I ever have done before, although now I have no idea where I will be in five years time. Oh go on then Noah and the Whale:

It’s true though, I don’t. I know where I’ll be in three months time though, I’ll be working as an Outdoor Learning Tutor. In six? Returning from work to move home for a while, plan some travelling. Oh and in nine months? Travelling. A year? Well, I guess we’ll see. Taking the decision to go travelling, and I mean proper, gap yah travelling, is probably the most excited and wanted choice I have made ever. And I should be able to afford it too if everything goes to plan. The problem quite simply is: where do I go? There’s a whole lot of world out there, a whole lot of options. And I feel quite selfish for just wanting to travel, not necessarily to go and volunteer somewhere, although this may change. Even leaving Europe would be amazing to begin with.

And so to what I’m leaving behind. My student days, my old life. Friends I have made not so long ago. Someone I’ve only just started getting to know. But this is what social media is for, and whilst the world may be big, the UK is quite small. As for my student days and the temping and the poor decisions, well I’m not so sad to be leaving those. Memories travel with you, they don’t disappear so easily. Thankfully. And I’ve made some good ones over the past three, four, five years in this process of growing up.

I sometimes feel guilty for feeling happy, but in the dark times and the sad times this is all I craved. So the next task on this big long list of changes is to learn to chill out. But really guys, can you see that happening any time soon?

One more song. A very wise man with awful politics once said:

“Saddle up your horses now and keep your powder dry

Cos the truth is you won’t be here long,

Yeah soon you’re gonna die.

To the heart, to the heart, there’s no time for you to waste

You won’t find your precious answers now by staying in one place”

Too true.

In the thick of the (metaphorical) forest

Look, second blog post in 3 days, I must be ill or something. But this had to go somewhere.

People talk about coming to a crossroads in their lives, I feel like I’ve wandered into a forest with hundreds of paths leading out of it, each different. Some are smooth, easy-going, ultimately boring. Others lead exciting places but there’s obstacles in the way. Some are completely blocked. Some are all up hill, some go down. And then there’s the small matter of the things tying me down.

The smooth paths are the easy routes, carrying on as I am is one of these. Temping is not exactly the smoothest of paths to take, but I don’t seem to struggle too hard for placements, and it’s all stuff I can do. However, there is only so far I can travel down this path before I become bored, or stuck in a rut.

My previous path, to becoming an environmental health officer, has become more overgrown and obstacled as time has passed, at first it looked fairly simple, just small hills in the need to make money. But money has been harder to make than I expected and this hills have become mountains I have to climb. And even if I do the masters, I’ve been told the path may be just as difficult on the other side.

So I must, for a while, turn my attentions to other paths. These too are overgrown, with potholes and barriers. I want to work with children, specifically “difficult” or troubled ones, but I need NVQs for that. I could go into teaching but that path looks terribly unattractive.

Other paths can only be taken by car, and for that I need to learn to drive, and for that I need to follow other paths first, riddled with difficulties and that old friend the money mountain.

Behind a huge one of these mountains along a long and winding path is the world. I want to see it, but I have a long way to go before I’m allowed to.

I’m trying new paths, applying to be a volunteer befriender for children in care, and being interviewed for a job in my local library, but I worry these will ultimately become blocked as I travel a little way down them.

And I look up and I see a net, formed only by my mind, ready to fall and pin me where I am. I’m not happy, I don’t think I can progress down any of the paths before I traverse that one first. But until I am out the forest I’m not sure my mental health will improve, if it’s not all, ha, in my head that these issues exist.

I need to seek help and guidance to get out of the forest and remove the net from above my head, but I have no idea which path to take first, where to begin, or where things will end.

OLO’s listening list: Indie bands and singer songwriters

Those who follow me on twitter/have bothered to ask me will know I’m not having the greatest time at the moment for various reasons, most of those in my head. So I’m not really in the right head space to be writing anything proper as it will just turn into a long diatribe entitled “why I feel rubbish”. So instead I am going to list the bands I am listening to lots at the moment, and hopefully introduce people to some different music, although nothing I listen to is especially groundbreaking.

6. Those Dancing Days

I am really, really late to the party when it comes to Those Dancing Days, given they went on hiatus back in 2011, and I only really got into them this week, but I think they are great. There are not enough female bands in the world, especially not ones that are as cool as this lot. They formed at school in Sweden and make some of the nicest indie pop with some of the happiest videos. They’ve certainly been cheering me up recently. Most bands on Wichita Recordings are pretty awesome, but I may just have a bit of a thing for Swedish bands which aren’t Abba (who are, of course, in a league of their own). As a feminist I feel it’s so important to include female lead music in my listening repertoire, so I am so pleased this lot popped into my consciousness.

See also: Peter, Bjorn and John (also on Wichita Recordings and so much more than Young Folks) and Billie the Vision and The Dancers (also Swedish, twee as you can possibly get without being sick making).

5. Kimya Dawson

I’m sorry for the video. Even I can’t really stomach interpretive dance (sorry interpretive dancers!). Anyway, I recently got back into Kimya Dawson having been completely obsessed with her after discovering the soundtrack to Juno. I’m not going to pretend I was all cool and heard of Kimya before Juno, but I’m forever grateful to that film for introducing me to such an amazing female singer, songwriter. OK, so she only seems to know about 3 guitar chords, but her music seems to transcend that completely (in a different way to Status Quo too). Her lyrics are beautiful and powerful, and they make you think. I Like Giants is a good example of this, making a story a friend told her into a song about weight issues, giants and why we should all feel small in the best possible way, and it’s ok to be terrified by that. Actually, just listen to the song, she explains it better than I ever will.

I saw Kimya Dawson once at the Union Chapel in Islington and she was really amazing, singing us her simple songs, telling us stories and just looking like the most approachable person you’ve ever met. She spreads a lot of love through her music, and that inspires me to do the same through my writing.

See also: The Moldy Peaches (Kimya Dawson and Adam Green’s old band. So different to Kimya’s solo stuff, but just oddly fantastic. Just don’t put Steak for Chicken on during private moments. Trust me on that one.)

4. Art Brut

Art Brut are another band I recently got back into in a big way, having read about them in the NME and seeing them at Glastonbury one hungover Saturday(?) morning in 2009. They’re pretentious, they’re art schooled, they’re wonderfully self-aware and I am in no way ashamed to love them. Eddie Argos explains his talk singing in “Formed a Band” as his way of “talking to the kids”, but it really adds to them as a band, with their un-embarrassed songs about getting excited in art galleries, still being in love with your girlfriend from when you were 15 (Emily Kane) and how much they love using public transport (The Passenger). It’s worth seeing them live for the stories behind the songs and just the energy of their performances.

I chose Modern Art because I just love the idea of going to an art gallery and acting as though you’re at a concert. I have to admit, and I am very sorry if you had higher ideas of me, that I actually really like modern art. The Tate Modern is one of my favourite places, I like working out the meanings behind things, and the nihilism of art which has no meaning. I know I’m pretentious, I know I’m a cliché, but that’s kind of why I love this band so much.

See also: Oh god, this is difficult. Wikipedia tells me The Rakes and Franz Ferdinand are part of the same “art rock” movement, so maybe given them a listen.

3. Frank Turner

I love Frank Turner’s music more than I love most things, except perhaps my cats. For all his terrible politics (he’s an ex-“anarchist” turned Libertarian Party UK member, which is quite the turn around) he makes some of the most relatable, shout along-able music I’ve heard. Going to a Frank Turner gig is a really special experience, everyone sings along, everyone smiles at each other, and when he headlined Wembley Arena he got a tattoo on stage. Fabulous.

I chose I Am Disappeared here as its a very underrated song of his, and also probably my favourite ever. The lyrics take us on a journey through the dreams of two people, the drudgery of daily life, how we all long to get away when it all gets on top of us. Of not communicating well in a relationship, of just one day taking off. And of hitch hiking and being picked up by Bob Dylan. But it’s just gorgeous. I take great pleasure in singing along to it, and somehow it always makes me feel a little less alone in feeling “like life weighs 10,000 tonnes” as the song goes.

I could have picked loads of songs here, I recommend the whole of England Keep My Bones, all of Love, Ire and Song (especially Substitute, Photosynthesis and Long  Live the Queen) and from his other albums The Ballad of Me and My friends, The Road and A Decent Cup of Tea. Hell, just listen to him.

See also: Beans on Toast (He crowd surfed across the whole of Wembley Arena, what a dude) and Million Dead (Back when Frank was an anarchist)

2. Arcade Fire

I really hope you’re already familiar with Arcade Fire. They are, in my opinion of course, one of the best bands of the 21st Century, with their big indie rock sound comprised of more instruments than you can name in a minute and band members who can all play several each. They are another great band to watch live, with real energy and stage presence and just amazing music. I admit, than when I am home alone I sometimes like to pretend I am Regine Chaussagne. Who wouldn’t want to be, she’s married to Win Butler, can play loads of instruments and gets to go on stage and be her own, quirky self in pretty dresses.

I chose Neighbourhood #2 (Laika) because I think its great. I don’t think its their best song, that accolade would have to go to Wake Up or No Cars Go, but there’s just something about the shouted vocals, the story of the difficult sibling who’s problems lead him to leave his family that just gets to me. There’s a lot of historical and cultural references: “Alexander”, almost definitely Alexander the Great, and “Laika”, the first dog in space. It’s more intelligent than your average indie song, and I enjoy intelligence in my music as much as I enjoy it in other aspects of life.

If you’re new to Arcade Fire, let funeral alternately lift and break your heart. Get angry with religion with Neon Bible, restore your utmost faith in the band and feel the suffocation of suburbia with The Suburbs. You won’t regret it.

See also: Yeah, I can’t.

1. Belle and Sebastian

I’ve been obsessed by Belle and Sebastian for a couple of years now, they are another band Juno introduced me to, but I think I was always destined to like them. Hailing from Scotland they have a song for any occasion you could think of, any thought or feeling, and they just feel like a lazy Sunday. Their music is all in the same vein, it’s twee indie pop at the end of day, but it’s also fairly wide ranging, from the upbeat, happiness of I’m a Cuckoo and Another Sunny Day to the more reflective Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying and Sleep the Clock Around.

It was really hard for me to choose a song to put here, I just love so many that they’ve done and change favourite albums on a weekly basis (this week it’s probably The Boy With the Arab Strap). They have put out some slightly dodgy albums (yes Fold Your Hands Child You Walk Like a Peasant, I’m looking at you), but there are just so many gems on so many of their other albums that it is completely made up for. I ended up with Asleep On a Sunbeam because it’s January and we all need a summery boost of campfires and bare feet on grass in these dark times.

If you’re new to Belle and Sebastian, then please start with Tigermilk, it is an utterly beautiful album from start to finish, and then go where the mood takes you through the rest of their back catalogue. If you’re like me, you will fall in love with The Life Pursuit and then play it to death. When I first started listening to Belle and Sebastian someone told me they were jealous because I had so many happy times ahead of me. They were so right.

See also: Arab Strap (Yes the band from song mentioned in 500 Days of Summer)

That’s probably enough to be getting on with for the moment, I may do a folk and a ska one of these one day because I don’t just enjoy indie bands, twee or otherwise. I’d like it if I bought some new people to this music, but as I say, this is probably nothing new. These bands are helping me feel better, I can only hope they make someone else feel the same.

I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo

Hullo,

I’ve been a bit quiet for the past few weeks, mainly because I’ve been trying to write 50,000 words before next Friday. I am currently on 37,372 and thus on the home strait, and no I probably won’t let you read my novel, sorry (not until it’s heavily, heavily edited anyway).

Hmm, other news. I’m about to lose my job, which is not fantastic. If anyone needs a data enterer, filer or general administrator (or, y’know, a geography graduate with a keen interest in water quality and environmental health) in the Cambridge area please send me their way.

Also, in other writing related news, I write for a music website called Louder Than War. I don’t have a lot of faith in my music journalism skills so feedback would be lovely. You can see the sort of thing I write here: http://louderthanwar.com/author/nyika-suttie/

I think one of the most important discoveries of 2012 for me was the discovery that I am, believe it or not, a writer. See I’ve actually always known this, English having been my best subject for many years, but this year has just been the biggest confidence boost. People enjoying what I write on this blog has been probably the biggest contributor to this, and I’m so proud of myself for having kept this up for nearly a year, even though I haven’t managed hundreds of blog posts in that time. So I guess I just wanted to say Thank You, really.

I suppose I’d better get back to writing that last ~13k of my novel now.