Regression

Nearly ten years ago, my mother was offered a posting in the Falkland Islands. We came very close to uprooting the whole family and spending a year there. I would have finished my last year of primary school at the island school, which had a grand total of twenty pupils. We could have seen the penguins.

In the end, it all fell through because there simply wasn’t a house available near the RAF base.

In the end, it turned out for the best because six months later my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

One failed lumpectomy, six months of chemotherapy, a combined mastectomy and reconstruction, and a year of herceptin later, she was cancer-free and we could move on with our lives.

She retired from the RAF, we bought a house, I went to secondary school, I grew up.

But cancer left its scars on all of us. In my case, the sight of my mother enduring chemotherapy triggered extreme anxiety and panic attacks that kept me prisoner in my bedroom for years afterwards.

I sought help for the anxiety, I made it through my exams, despite the panic attacks that still occur every time I get into an exam room. I went to university and I’m living away from home and the safe space that is my bedroom and I’m surviving.

I’ve grown up.

Earlier this week, I felt so grown up that I started to research the possibility of spending a year out from my studies somewhere I can push my limits and see just how much I can do. I was thinking Tasmania, or New Zealand.

And last night my parents came to see me so my dad could see my new, grown up house that I live in like the adult that I am.

And last night my mother stood in my kitchen and told me that the cancer is back.

And now I feel ten years old all over again.

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Escape from the mud hut is imminent

I took a bit of a break from posting over the summer, in part because I had various things going on for several weeks at a time, but also because I’m lazy and the internet connection at the mud hut I call home barely qualifies as such.

But I’m back now and it’s barely two weeks until I move back to Royal Holloway and my new student house. I’m lucky enough to be living with two absolutely awesome people who are both just as crazy as I am so I’d like to apologise in advance to all the neighbours for the all the upcoming wild and spontaneous Shakira dance parties.

I last saw the house in November, which was the only time we were able to view it as our attempts to book a second viewing were thwarted by the estate agents, who ‘forgot to give the tenants notice that we would be visiting’. It was inhabited by three boys. It was a Saturday morning.

They were still in bed.

Let me tell you now, it is surprisingly difficult to make cool judgements about the house in which you will potentially spend the next two years when three out of the five total rooms in the house (it is a small house) are occupied by nearly-naked, comatose people.

It is also difficult to focus on assessing the qualities of an open plan kitchen/living room when said open plan kitchen/living room features Kelly Brook in various states of undress on every wall and the entire room is so covered with bottles, pizza boxes and dirty plates that, to quote one of my housemates, “the whole room looked like it was going to get up and crawl away”. I have never actually seen so much mess. It put normal levels of student mess to shame. It was the Schwarzenegger of mess, and then some.

Nonetheless, the house was the most suitable one we viewed by far. And by that I mean that it wasn’t going to be £600 each per month (not including bills), and we were actually able to go inside the house (the next house we saw entirely from the outside as the tenants didn’t bother answering the door to the estate agent).

Thus, in two weeks my life as a bill-paying, joint-bank-account-having, hoover-owning adult begins and I even have the job to go with it! I am now a student ambassador for Royal Holloway, which means that I get paid to talk about university. Not really a struggle for me. Although I have some opinions about the colour scheme of our t shirts. Principally: in a university with strong ties to feminism, and therefore a colour scheme of purple/green/white, WHY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DO YOU MAKE ALL STUDENT AMBASSADORS WEAR FLUORESCENT ORANGE?!

Rant over.

Kidding, the t shirts are fine…ish. They’re visible, at any rate, which is presumably the effect you were aiming for.

I also (somehow) scraped a pass in every course this year, which is more than can be said for quite a few people on my course. I hadn’t discovered the delights of public pass/fail lists before now. They are the brainchild of Satan.

Reacting to responsibility the same way cavemen respond to fire.

Once again, I’ve been rubbish at posting for the last few weeks. I’ll give you three guesses as to why:

1. My social life is thriving and I don’t return to my room unless it’s to sleep.

2. Exams are coming up so I’ve been revising every spare minute of the day.

3. I’ve been binge-watching Doctor Who on Netflix and eating my feelings.

(If you guessed 1 or 2, I’m extremely flattered that you think so highly of me. Please feel free to continue thinking highly of me.)

That’s not to say I don’t have news. Several months ago I applied for an editorial position with The Scientists’ Scribe, Royal Holloway’s Biosciences magazine. It was only started last year, so this year was the first time they’ve recruited for editorial positions…and I got one! You are looking at (the words of) an assistant editor and the website manager for The Scientists’ Scribe.

I say ‘website manager’…we haven’t actually got a website yet. Guess what my first major job is?

Getting a role like this so early in my university career is a pretty big deal for me, because if my research career goals fall through my next choice (at the moment) is science journalism. Right now I can write for the magazine and help influence its design, which basically amounts to half my dream job ideas in one go!

I’ll leave it there for the time being; this was just a short post to let you all know I haven’t fallen off the face of the Earth. Also because I’ve been telling everyone about getting this position and this is another outlet to announce that I’m an editor of something!

Now to actually go and build the website…

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.

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.