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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.