How many words did you write last week?

I probably shouldn’t be posting anything until I’ve had a good night’s sleep and can therefore regulate what’s coming out of my brain but I haven’t posted in over a week and this time I have a really good reason!

At the start of February I signed up to volunteer with the White Water Writers Project. And all of last week I was getting up at stupid o’clock to get the train into London (commuting like an actual responsible adult, aaah!) and working with a group of schoolchildren to write a book.

Not ‘conceptualise a book’. Not ‘draft a book’. Not ‘edit a book’. Conceptualise, draft and edit (more than once) a completely original novel which is set for publication sometime this week.

We had twelve/thirteen people in the group (one dropped out two days in, unfortunately) and their average age was twelve. None of them are classed as ‘gifted and talented’ and none of them had English as their favourite subject (we asked). And yet, in five days, with five and a half hours a day of writing, they’d produced a 25,000 word novel with a complex plot, character development, backstories and multiple subplots.

In fact, they produced three novels.

I should explain: the guy who came up with the project, Dr Joe Reddington, had the wonderful idea of increasing their output by getting them to write a ‘template’ novel that could have specific scenes relating to one of three particular themes switched in and out as necessary. It meant a little extra work for the kids, who had to write each theme-specific scene on top of the novel, but it seems to have worked.

While this is definitely a writing project, it’s also computer science and teamwork and a fascinating social experiment. All too often, adults will try to shelter children from the harsh realities of the world, and yet when you get a group of children together and have them think of a plotline, the first thing that comes up is death. (In this case, the very first idea that was put forth was ‘apocalypse’, followed shortly by ‘bomb plots’, ‘murder, ‘kidnapping’ and ‘crime lords’.)

At the start of the week, the kids organised themselves into small social groups which pretty much ignored each other. By Friday, they were sitting in a large group all talking about their book. On Monday morning, all of them were a little shy about putting forth ideas; by Monday afternoon they were coming up with so many ideas we had to rein them back (lest the book end up like Game of Thrones! lengthwise!).

What’s very interesting to note is that none of them said ‘that’s a stupid idea’ about anything, or shot down anyone else. They discussed each idea as it was proposed and either gave a reason why it couldn’t fit in the book or said how much they liked it and this is how it might work. It’s how we ended up with a plot that involved a teenaged serial killer who could be hired through the internet (tell me that doesn’t sound at least a little bit interesting to the thirteen year old that lives inside all of us).

During this week, not one adult wrote a word, put forward an idea, or did anything other than organise which sections of the book needed writing and assigning jobs to the writers as necessary. This book came entirely from a group of ordinary schoolchildren, and they kept their focus nearly all week (the odd one or two didn’t really take to proofreading the third and fourth edition). Teachers who put their heads round the door kept commenting on how hard they were concentrating and how quiet the room was. We didn’t have to police the kids to keep them on task; the one time we were asked if someone could be excused for something other than a toilet break, it was to fetch a dictionary. They refused to go home the one time we said they could go home early if they liked, they even asked to work through breaks!

I’m now a fully-trained camp leader, meaning that I can set up and run my own camps now. I can’t wait!*

 

*If anyone’s interested in participating in a camp (anyone can do them), find nine other interested people and comment, because the more camps we can run, the better! Bonus points if we’re in different time-zones, because that’s something the project would really like to try and coordinate.

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Picture Post #2: Rainbow

I’m definitely an amateur when it comes to photography, but it’s less about the picture quality for me and more about the reasons behind the picture. Without further ado, here’s the second picture post:

Rainbow

Nothing in this picture is inherently special (besides the view). It was taken on a phone and edited on Instagram because Instagram is good for boring, slightly colourless photos.

This was a May afternoon in France. We’d just got back from doing the shopping and this rainbow was sitting smack in the middle of the hillside. What I like about this picture is how utterly peaceful it is; just looking at it reminds me of how still and cool the air was, and how there was nothing I had to do that day except sit on the wall outside the house and stare at that rainbow (and put the shopping away at some point). It was a high point, weather-wise, in an otherwise fairly bland holiday.

Make up at the gym: who is it really for?

I’m a horrible judgemental person who looks down on the girls who show up to the gym with a full smoky eye and/or  flawless red lipstick. I’m a hypocrite. I will say that right now.

I don’t like having nothing to do on the weekends and also I don’t like doing anything on the weekends. I’m a contrary person. Honestly, my favourite thing to do is go for a walk with a friend or sit in a café and while away the hours being ‘active’ without really doing anything.

Last weekend was a particularly lazy weekend. I did basically nothing and relaxed on my bed for most of it. Sunday in particular I pretty much stared at Netflix and worked on this blog (I find it very therapeutic. The Netflix, not the blog. Kidding). So when the time came to go to the gym, I was quite relieved to get out.

Until I found myself in the bathroom, putting on make up.

Leaving the house with make up on is second nature to me. I pick at my skin, which isn’t something I’ve mentioned here before, and it’s not a thing I talk about very often at all. The compulsion is called dermatillomania, and I’ve never been officially diagnosed but the collection of scars that spread across my face and down my arms and back are a pretty clear indication that this is more than the odd squeeze here and there.

I don’t hate my skin, I hate myself for not being kinder to my skin. When I was fourteen or so I had lovely, clear skin. There’s no history of acne in my family and I can’t say I’ve ever actually noticed more than one or two actual, real spots at a time on my face. But every time I see (or imagine) a blemish, I have to get rid of it. I have to get it out of my skin. It’s a release, and particularly when I was going through a rediscovered fear of bathrooms (yay, emetophobia!) I found it comforting to focus on the mirror rather than the toilet. As a result, my face is pocked and marked and normally has several oozy scabs that I just can’t leave alone.

So despite telling myself repeatedly that it was stupid to put make up on at 7pm on a Sunday evening just to go to the gym where I would sweat it all off again, I still went ahead and tried to cover my face up.

Cliché though it may be, I use make up as a mask. I’m ashamed of the scars on my face. They don’t fit my image. I’ve cultivated a confident, capable personality when I’m in public or around people I don’t know. If there is a question to be asked in my tutorials, I’ll ask it. I’ll speak to strangers. I’ll give presentations. And the whole time the real me will be cowering inside going “don’t let them in, don’t let them in”.

It’s utterly terrifying for me to let people see who I really am. People often tell me that I’m confident and strong and independent and I don’t need no man but the truth is I’m constantly fighting to keep them from seeing that the real me is a needy, vulnerable, insecure person who can be irritating as hell and who certainly wants nothing to do with any public speaking.

I grew up in a household where weakness is not an option. My mother forced herself to get over her arachnophobia the day I was born because she didn’t want me to grow up with a learned fear of spiders (though I’m still a bit iffy with the big ones). Going through chemotherapy, my mother was suffering from the most horrendous nausea (oh hey again, emetophobia, I wonder how you got in?) and nothing anyone did worked until the day she told herself to stop throwing up. And she stopped throwing up. No, seriously, my mother kicked chemo in the nuts when she was at her weakest because she was sick and tired (geddit) of always being sick and tired (double geddit?) and being bedridden didn’t suit her. She is currently using her downtime in her new job to teach herself French, and when she’s not at work she’s running the house and running a semi-professional bakery service for close family and friends and a few of their close family and friends who’ve heard of her.

My father has taught himself just about every skill you could possibly need in life (and a few you don’t). Aside from being an engineer by trade, he has taught himself French, basic building skills, advanced building skills, plumbing, decorating, mechanics, landscaping, the basic aspects of AQA Psychology A Level because I was struggling to understand some of it, and he correctly diagnosed a pony with fibrotic myopathy when the vets were stumped.

And people wonder why I go around constantly needing to be good at whatever I do. Don’t get me wrong: my parents are the exact opposite of pushy. Their attitude is ‘be the best that you want to be’ and so they don’t interfere if I want to stay in bed all day or do no work or eat myself into a chocolate coma. They just like my brother and I to figure things out for ourselves. There is no room for whining or complaints in our household: if you can’t do something, double check you’ve tried as hard as you can to do it. If you really can’t do something, come up with a suggestion for how it might be done, then go and tell Dad and he’ll help you with it. Nine times out of ten, you’ll be perfectly capable of figuring it out for yourself and he’ll just watch you fix your car/computer/hovercraft (my family is weird, OK) with a knowing smile that is just so irritating.

So it’s little surprise to me that, while I may have failed at many things in my life, none of the things I’ve actually tried to do have gone wrong. As long as I try, I can’t fail and that seems to have held pretty true for most of my life.

So here’s how I go about my daily life: if I try my hardest to put on my big-girl clothes and my big-girl face and shield myself with my big-girl attitude, I’ll be fine. I’ll do great. And my make up is a part of that. If I pretend hard enough that my face is beautiful, one day it’ll become true. If I make every effort to be the person I want to be on the outside, it’ll filter through to the inside.

Right?

3 Ways To Get Rid Of That Person You Don’t Want To Speak To Any More

Is there someone in your life you don’t want to speak to? Have you got an admirer you don’t particularly want? Did you go on one date and did they not make the cut but you couldn’t quite bring yourself to let them know that you aren’t interested and now they’re hinting they might like to go on a second date and you have no idea how to let them down?

Fret no more! The COMPLETE step-by-step guide on letting down that not-so-special someone is here to help you make sure they never contact you again! There are three methods you can use, ranked in order from least to most effort required.

*All methods are based on the assumption that you are not communicating face-to-face. Feel free to use these methods in an actual conversation, but we accept no responsibility for any bodily harm that may occur.*

Method 1: Ghost them

Ghosting

This method is for those who just can’t be bothered any more. It requires little to no effort on your part. Be warned: the success rate here depends on the tenacity of the person you’re interacting with.

Step 1: Continue a conversation until the person you are talking to replies with a sentence that doesn’t have a question mark on the end. This is your cue.

Step 2: Do not respond to their last message. If you’re feeling bold, you can ‘see’ it, but otherwise ignore it forever and ever and ever.

Step 3: They may send a message along the lines of: “Hey”, “Everything OK?” or “Oh my god, are you dead?” You can either let them know that you are, in fact, dead by continuing to ignore them, or you can send one more reply. It should read: “Sorry, been busy.”

**BONUS POINTS – let the person know before you strike up a conversation with them in the first place that you’re “rubbish at conversations”. They will then be forced to second-guess themselves every time they dissolve into a rant about how rude some people are and does it really take a week to respond to “how are you”?**

Method 2: Vaguely imply you are no longer interested.

No comment on whether I actually sent a response along these lines once...
No comment on whether I actually sent a response along these lines once…

This method will sow enough doubt in the other person’s mind that they may well just give up on the whole thing. It still requires talking to them and can take a few days/weeks to get the message across, so it needs a bit more dedication than the first method.

Step 1: Slow down your responses to the person’s messages. Start with a few hours in between replies, and stretch it out to up to a week. In extreme cases, a month between messages should send the right signals.

Step 2: Indicate to the other person that you’re a little busy with life and may be away. Reassure them that you’re not a mean person for ignoring them, and you still care about their feelings.

Step 3: Let them know that there’s actually another person in the picture and “you’re really good friends, maybe more, and you really don’t want to mess things up with said person so maybe we should just leave things for a while. Xx.”

Step 4: Know that you are an arsehole, but not as much of an arsehole as if you’d just ghosted them. Feel self-righteous because you let them know that things weren’t going to work out and you were completely, 100% truthful about everything.

Method 3: ‘It’s not me, it’s you’.

You suck

This method requires dedication to the cause and quite possibly some mild character defamation, but it is by far the most effective method on this list and will almost certainly get rid of any pesky self-respecting person.

Step 1: Continue the conversation as normal. Wait for something that you can use as ammunition against the person. If you are lucky, the person will get drunk one night and say something they maybe didn’t mean but which you can get righteously affronted about.

Step 2: Get righteously affronted. Drunken booty calls are not to be tolerated in this relationship, no sir!

Step 3: Allow them to apologise. Graciously accept their apology.

Step 4: Wait a few days and then tell them that they are a terrible person. Make sure to include a reason, and make sure that reason is as convoluted as possible. For example: “You refused to sleep with me on the first date, and I respect that but now I feel like you’re going too fast asking for a second date on top of that drunken booty call last week and that makes you a slut.”

Step 5: Rebuff all their explanations and insist that you will have nothing to do with people who expect dates instead of one night stands, and that you wouldn’t touch them with a bargepole because although the idea of a one night stand is not heinous to them, they still expected you to talk to them in the morning. Bonus points if they claim not to understand your argument. Double bonus points if they get angry. Triple bonus points if they call you a child because now they’re just insulting you ad hominem, so you can feel vindicated in your self-righteous anger.

Now there’s no excuse to be talking to people you don’t want to know! These methods are quick. easy, and guaranteed to work* on any self respecting** human being!

*We accept no responsibility for any physical damage or nasty, vicious rumours that occur after use of these methods.

**This guide may not work on people with standards that are below a certain level.

On Nights Out At The Students Union

So, I’ve mentioned going out to the Students’ Union several times, but I don’t think I’ve ever really covered what that entails.

My university doesn’t really have what you’d call a thriving social scene. Unless you want to head out to Liquid Windsor (referred to by some people as ‘Shitquid’) or pay the exorbitant train/taxi fees to get into London and then have to make it home again, your best options for a night out are one of the local pubs (all three of them), the on-campus strip club night club/bar/pub, or the Students’ Union on a Wednesday or Friday night.

Let me just diverge a little bit here. What utter genius came up with the idea of holding all the biggest student nights on a Wednesday? The logic is just so sound. After all, who really needs to go to lectures on a Thursday? And who has such a busy weekend that they desperately need that early night on Friday or Saturday, so no major events can be held on those days? Obviously there must be a very sound and well-thought-out reason that I just cannot seem to think of right now.

Anyway, back to nights out at the Students’ Union. We don’t have a horrendously bad SU. We have a good sized space which can be turned into a nightclub. We have two bars (though one only serves VK, so it doesn’t count. No, I don’t care how many colours flavours of VK it serves; they’re all 4% liquid sugar in plastic bottles because no one can be trusted with glass, and they’re only going to wind up being thrown at your legs when people who should really know better than to buy four at a time decide that three times your GDA of sugar mixed with alcohol isn’t actually the brightest idea). We have…music (it’s a lottery when it comes to the standard of music being played, and the quality of the DJ playing said music). We even have a hot dog stand (for when you’re actually that desperate for the guy in the white shirt to notice you so you stand in his general vicinity putting as much decidedly over-broiled sausage smothered in not-really-ketchup into your mouth in one go while not gagging as loudly as possible).

Nights out at the SU normally start around 6pm for me, when I fling half my clothes onto my bed. I extract the ones that I want to be able to wear again, ever, and put them back in my wardrobe, before settling for something that leaves as little as possible to the imagination (the SU is no place for subtlety). I have a shower, not that there’s much point because you’re guaranteed to leave the SU smelling like the unfortunate offspring of a beer barrel and a sweaty cigarette. Makeup is carefully applied until I look nothing like I normally do during the day (it’s actually quite amusing how many people I meet on a night out fail to recognise me during the day).

I then head over to my friend’s flat, where we have maybe a glass of wine or a shot of whisky. I’m not a big drinker, but it helps to assuage the feelings of “Oh god, what am I letting myself in for” that normally hit a sober person when they see the Students’ Union.

By about 10.30pm, we are sufficiently bored with discussing the shortcomings of our coursemates, our respective flatmates and the male population at large and we head over to the SU. It’s usually freezing. I usually don’t bring a jacket (it’s £2 to put a jacket in the coat room and I am a penniless student. Plus, it’s only just up the hill. I’ll be fine. Seriously, it’s not that far. I’ll walk fast).

There’s never a queue at this time, because everyone else is too busy trying to cram as much alcohol in as possible so that a) they don’t have to go to the SU sober, and b) they don’t have to pay the exorbitant prices for plastic bottles of fermented sugar (see the VK rant above). There’s about thirty people inside the entrance, refusing to make eye contact with anyone else and thus be forced to acknowledge that they have nothing better to do with their evening than turn up early to the Students’ Union. Space is usually at a premium next to the sliding doors that separate the main bar from the main dancefloor, because this isn’t opened until about 11pm and you have to be very, very drunk to think that dancing in the entranceway near the fluorescent lights and in full view of the queue is a good idea.

Once the main area of the SU is opened up, it suddenly gets very full very fast. We’ll make our way to halfway between the exit (where there’s the most space for dancing) and the back corner of the auditorium (where the  potentially available males congregate). Our dancing is usually on the extravagant side. On the one hand, we need to attract the boys so we use techniques not dissimilar to the mating rituals of tropical birds; lots of flashy movements and flapping. On the other hand, there is always a plethora of girls whose height doesn’t exceed 5 foot 2 on top of the stilts they’ve strapped to their feet, so threat displays are also necessary. You haven’t seen a threat display until you’ve seen a highly sexualised version of the funky chicken performed directly in front of another girl who’s head is on the same level as your elbows.

We have a specific circuit around the SU. Once we’re bored of dancing/have overheated/have spotted that guy we saw last week heading for the bar/have had it up to here with being bathed in VK and sweat we’ll decide we need a drink of water and make our way to the bar. If it’s busy, we’ll wait for 40 minutes behind an installation called ‘200 Students Jostle For A Space At The Bar That Is Not Forthcoming’. If we’re lucky, a guy at the front will offer to order our drinks. If we’re desperate, we will form a phalanx of elbows and not rest until we’ve got a fingertip firmly lodged on the bar. If we’re fed up, we’ll give in and head outside to the smoking area.

The smoking area is a freezing, fenced off space in front of the SU with three benches and some bike racks for sitting on. The fences are wire mesh, so the queues waiting to get in can enjoy the sight of a cage of drunken students, Studius inebrius, in captivity. My friend and I have our spot to one side, up a slight slope, where we can survey the crowd and quietly judge the girls who’ve succeeded in pulling whichever poor, unfortunate souls we have our eyes on that night. Eventually the cold/sight of someone we have a crush on making out with someone who isn’t us/sight of someone we had a crush on last week and who blew it spectacularly will drive us back inside to dance.

Repeat ad nauseam until one of us makes it into the arms of a guy who will perform a swan dive onto your face and attempt to make off with your tongue, or until both of us are so far beyond sober that we can no longer overlook the fact that the music is rubbish and all the good ones have gone home (usually with the cow in the leather miniskirt). One of us will then dig our phone out from somewhere in the region of an armpit, wipe off the sweat, check the time and then gurn at the other until the other person agrees to go home.

I think it says something about the unavoidable mentality of studenthood that despite all of this, nights out at the SU are still considered a good time.