Monthly Archives: January 2011

Draft: Feet in the Dirt, Head in the Sky

There’s a lot of stuff in my Drafts folder. Some of it is there simply because – as in this case – I have no idea if there’s a point I’m trying to make, or not. This, to me, is just a piece of writing, a random piece of exposition about myself, with nothing to grab hold of, nothing to query or debate or add to in any real way. But if you’ve got a comment you’d like to make, knock yourself out, I’m not saying don’t comment! I suppose what I’m saying is that this – and probably the entries to follow – are drafts not because they’re incomplete pieces of writing as such, but because I don’t really know that they have a real place here or anywhere, but I would quite like to post them simply because I like them.

I’ve always had a ‘vivid imagination’. When I was little, my best friend and I spent weeks ‘running away’ from our ‘evil step-parents’. I wrote a whole book about the story, and could see it all in my head, the places where we slept rough, the beach where we were eventually rescued, the nice people that took us in (they were always different people – families, a single woman – but the woman in this role was always something like Miss Honey in Matilda.

Then there was the magical world we designed where there was a room full of doors and each door led to a different world, with its own perils and challenges. That was more a sort of action game, like a video game played out in real life, one of those games aimed at children, Crash Bandicoot or something, except that I didn’t know what video games really were then. My sister and I would run down to the woods and spend hours if not days being witches and feisty warrior princesses and wise old gypsy women. Single mothers with umpteen children and neat little council flats (we did spend the first few years of our lives in Tottenham, after all). I tried – but couldn’t remember how – to pin a sari around myself as I’d been taught by our old neighbours at one point.

Another friend of my sister’s and mine, B – and his brother and sister – used to join in our games as well. We were aliens in one of these games and would spend weeks in character whenever we were in one anothers’ company. We built up a whole complex society with its own rules, customs, conventions and necessities. We were trying to acclimatise to biomes on earth where we could live in peace with humanity but were very wary of the Scientists who had brought us there. We were also, in another game, a band of princes and princesses, somewhat like the Pevensie siblings out of Narnia I suppose, each with our own weapons, our own characters, our own skills and specialisations. And yes, I did go through a phase of being injured-limpy-princess with a staff to lean on and an impressive memory, as it happened, (at least for someone with no natural sense of ‘left’ and ‘right’) for which was my ‘bad’ leg.

All of our games were like this. Our Playmobil house was populated by a cast of characters every bit as rich and well-rounded as the occupants of Downton Abbey or the cast of Upstairs, Downstairs. We carried on playing these imaginary games together even into (very) young adolescence. As we got older, of course, we would act less, climb fewer trees, and describe more. Our games, I suppose, got more like radio plays, as we went on family walks and so on. Or we’d reclothe them as ‘drama exercises’ like the improvisation games we were taught in drama classes at school.

The first time I truly fancied a guy it was because he reminded me a bit of James Bond when he got into a scrap with another lad in the playground. The second boy I fancied reminded me strongly (for no other reason than that I am a crazy fantasist) of Will in the His Dark Materials trilogy – and tell me, what eleven-year-old girl, on reading that book, hasn’t spent a while wanting to be Lyra and fancying the tall, dark and mysterious Will?

I still imagine things now. When I can’t get to sleep, I’ll pretend I’m Scheherezade, telling stories full of cliffhangers so that I get to keep my own life when I wake up in the morning. I’ll pretend I’m a character from a Jane Austen novel, I’ll narrate to myself (in my head) lengthy letters to a darling sister spending the Season back at home in the country, whilst I am in Town; but I spend so long deciding on what my ballgown looks like, and what flowers are in my hair, and what the hero’s name is going to be, that I’m asleep before I’ve even got in the carriage to go to the ball.

I’m not sure why I’m writing all this except to say that this whole world inside my head amazes me. When real life is frankly dull – the house is cold, I’ve eaten too much today, and all I have to look forward to, seemingly, is exams, for the entire forseeable future – when I go to bed and turn out the light, if I can’t sleep, I can be anyone I want to be. I can work in the White House (I’ve been watching too much West Wing), go to a ball, cycle around Sixties London, be a millionaire in the most beautiful apartment in Paris and buy Phoebe Philo clothes and cute little pumps to go with them. I can struggle through mountains, be horribly patronising to poor people in villages in the outback, pretend I’m a vicar with three children and a strong, handsome, quiet and brilliant husband, pretend I’m picking up my Nobel prize or making a charming, witty speech at my sister’s wedding.

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Some Assorted Things Including Shortbread

This blog may soon be moving back to https://standingonthebrink.wordpress.com. I’m not sure when, and what with exams taking up all of my time, I don’t know if I’ll be able to warn you, but if you find that you can’t find On The Brink where you expect to find it, that’s the link to follow. Or, well, memorise, to be honest. Leave a comment if you want me to email you that link again when the time comes and I’ll do my best. This is because the wonderful man whose server this blog is run from has other, better things to do with said server. Which is fine by me :).

In other news, I’m in a bad mood. Our boiler is going mad, and us all with it. I’ve given up alcohol while I revise, I’m hooked on caffeine, completely cabin-fevered, and craving a night off, a night out, a few hours where I don’t have to worry. No-one’s around – we’re all busy, after all – and our house is cold and I am lonely and grumpy and generally dissatisfied. Standard revision-time blues, I guess.

On the upside, this will pass, spring will occur, and I made millionaire shortbread the other day. Revision is a brilliant excuse for eating the most disgustingly unhealthy stuff.

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Feigning Insanity Gets You Everywhere.

So. Taxes on more or less everything are going up, and subsidies are going down. We have Cameron, not Mussolini (which is largely a good thing), so our trains are constantly late, and privatisation has mainly achieved just making the whole getting-around thing shinier, more expensive, and an awful lot more confusing.

Which is why I present to you, as a veteran of the British long-distance public-transport system, my guide to getting around in the UK. Mainly this is a rant about trains. In fact that’s entirely what it is. It’s bad enough already – or rather, we’re overcharged, and underserved. Privatisation simply means that the upholstery is prettier, as far as I can see, and the doors are electronic, and the train toilet cubicles are futuristically circular. The reason why (as I can understand it) it’s so expensive to get about by train in the UK is simply because different companies each own the tracks, the rolling stock (the carriages), and actually organise the running of the trains. Several different companies own bits of each of these ideas, and so obviously you’ve got a whole chain of people charging for services and making a profit each time and all of this gets passed onto the consumer. I don’t know what trains used to be like before privatisation, but I really can’t see why this is the ‘best’ way of doing it. So, yes. Despite all this, it’s still possible to make your journey not entirely unpleasant if you follow the advice I set out here.

Firstly, your ticket. It will almost invariably be invalid for at least one leg of the journey, partly because the regulations change completely arbitrarily depending on (as far as I can make out) how much the CEO at Megabus needs a cigarette. So carry enough cash not to end  up stranded in Slough or somewhere. If you’re crossing London (and you don’t live there), you will need at least as many bits of paper and cardboard as you have bags with you. Furthermore, the more cases you’re carrying, the more lines in Central London will be closed that day.

Secondly, seats are probably the most vital thing about your entire journey. If you’re lucky enough to get on near the start of a route, be that on a coach or on a train, find your ideal seat, and sit in it. Put your bags next to you. Not in a way that implies you’re actually taking up residence, that’s just rude, everyone hates a seat hogger, but not in a way that moving them isn’t going to be at least a bit annoying for you. When the train stops to take on more passengers – now, listen carefully, because this bit is crucial if you wish to maintain your sanity for the next five hours – stare out of the window. Do not look at anyone. Under no circumstances should you make eye contact. Cultivate an expression of distant hauteur. Hopefully this will be enough – the bag, that awkward moment where they have to get your attention in order to beg you for that seat beside you, the even more awkward bit where they have to watch you sigh and pack up your belongings underneath your feet – that they won’t even chance it. However whilst looking haughtily and threateningly at the charming vista that is industrial Basingstoke, you must keep an eye on the numbers. If it looks like you’re going to have to share your seat, try and look less threatening when being approached by thin, small, shy people. People who don’t take up much space and are not likely to attempt to strike up conversation with you. If you’re very lucky, the effort of constantly changing your expression to convey different levels of threat will be enough to make you look completely insane, and then everyone will choose to avoid sitting next to you. Problem solved. This advice applies equally well on coaches, with the added extra worry that the sorts of people who travel by megabus have to be strange enough or poor enough that the idea of spending six hours on a motorway in the small hours with your knees around you ears doesn’t immediately send you to the brink of madness. And they never turn the air conditioning off, and simply turning off your personal vent makes about as much difference to the ambient temperature as turning on all the bunsen burners and huddling around them used to make to our school science labs.

However, let’s be honest, you probably won’t get a seat. And if you do, someone older or more frail than you is almost bound to turn up and look sweetly and expectantly at you until you stand up and give your seat to them – as, of course, you should. So let’s assume the worst. For some reason it seems to me that it’s more likely to happen on a Friday than on any other day that train companies will, for no reason whatsoever, decide to halve the number of carriages they’re going to allocate to your train. This will also automatically invalidate your seat reservation unless you’re wearing a suit and called Brian which somehow gives you a special licence to bully random passengers until they let you sit in ‘your’ seat. This special licence applies whether or not you have in fact made a seat reservation.

Someone will probably start something with the guard of the train at this point as he tries to get through to check your tickets, and some idiot tries to blame the frankly irresponsible lack of carriages on your guard, who probably actually finds it more annoying than you do, because not only does he now have to spend the entire journey climbing over suitcases, bikes and buggies and jostling irate passengers, but everything he has to do between here and Newport is going to take three times as long and he definitely won’t get to sit down. And everyone’s mad at him.

And then your train will be delayed. It’s just how it goes. It’s most likely to happen when you really do have to make a connection, or your ticket was super cheap but is only valid on this one specific train; when it’s late at night, and raining, and really bloody cold, and everyone else is already at the pub. This bit I can’t really tell you how to survive. Take a book. Buy a paper. I always find myself listening to music and then suddenly realise I’m actually dancing or singing along or, worse, conducting. And then you realise you’ve got to stand on a platform with all of these people for at least forty minutes because there aren’t any trains before yours, and they all think you’re mad.

Still, it might help you get a seat.

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Resolution

I finally thought of one. This may be exam panic-induced, but nonetheless my resolution is still, simply, to just work harder – and to be more hard on myself, pure and simple. I give up too easily, I give myself too many excuses to take a break or go and do something more fun, and I need to knuckle down far sooner and with far less fuss than is currently the case.

So this blog may continue to be somewhat unloved for a while.

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I Can't Really Think Of Any Good Way Of Introducing This…

…except to say, this is so completely not the kind of Christian I am. I’ve got a hideous feeling that if the woman whose blog this is follows my link to her back here, I’m going to get horribly flamed (in the internetty, angry-comment sense, not the Dante burned-in-hell sense). But it’s probably worth it because, worrying as this whole blog is, it’s also kind of hilarious.

Yes, I’m revising. So it’s Trash From The Internet time again.

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Strange Analogy

You know how when you’re playing a multiplayer video game or whatever (I have very rarely done this so can’t give any real examples) so it’s a bit like a race or something, and you’re bumping along your track, and then a shadow version of someone you’re playing with goes speeding past you?

In my life I feel something like that.

There are some good reasons, and some bad reasons, for all this, but one way or another, this is how it is. I am an intelligent, attractive, socially competent woman. Competent, actually, in a number of senses. I am a good person and a good friend, by and large, and no more or less annoying than the next person. And so I rather feel like my shadow-version self, somewhere out there, has graduated, or at least is in her third year. Perhaps she even got into medicine and completely in spite of my current feelings on the subject is rather enjoying it. There is no reason why she hasn’t, isn’t, or doesn’t, wherever she is, get a first or at least a 2:1 whether that’s in biomedical sciences or medicine. If she split off even earlier from me, perhaps she graduated last year from Cambridge in Philosophy, or became an engineer or something. Who knows.

Meanwhile, she learnt to drive at a normal kind of a time, simply because she, unlike me, was far more proactive about organising finding a teacher and getting lessons. Perhaps she was more sorted about getting a job and therefore has more money than me. With her greater success at university she quite probably has had work placements every summer and probably has a good deal more in savings than I do. Perhaps she has her own car. And with these savings, perhaps she’s going to go travelling for a week or two this summer. Not longer, because after all she’s got that work placement, or perhaps even a real job. She’s going to go with a steady group of friends, perhaps she’s actually friends with roughly the same people that I am, and anyway, she’s organised them all into going gallivanting round eastern Europe or northern Africa or something. Furthermore, she’s probably had a steady boyfriend for well over a year now, he’s equally nice to her parents and to her cats, lives in Uni Town rather than at home, because that’s where her life is now after all, and it’s all rather grown-up and casually, subtly serious.

I’m not drifting at random into some beautiful fantasy world. I do have a point. And that point is, frustratingly, that there is very little reason why these things could not be true of me, except that things just haven’t turned out like that. Because I was ill, because I am disorganised, because picking up the pieces and learning how to be that person, whatever your potential, takes longer than you’d think.

And so this summer I may well have the brilliant work placement (fingers crossed). If I get off this blog now and go and do some work, I might well get that degree classification, not this semester, probably not next semester either, but in the end. And if I hadn’t left my driving licence in Uni Town I might also be driving by the time the new semester starts. I will get there, in the end. It’s just annoying because wherever ‘there’ is, I rather feel like that is where I should be already.

Oh well, as I would say if I were speaking this out loud, crack on. It’ll all be fine.

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Happy New Year

This xkcd strip is my current favourite thing.

In other news, I’m sorry I haven’t posted in ages. Seem to have a severe case of writer’s block – or extreme laziness blogwise, I’m not sure which.

IRL I am being pretty busy at the moment, what with the usual Christmas round of relatives and friends and social events, not to mention revision.

Anyway, people who only got two hours sleep the last time it was dark shouldn’t really be allowed to compose sentences, let alone paragraphs, so I’m going to go and watch West Wing and knit in a deeply sleepy but thankfully unhungover fashion.

In other news: I lit a firework last night! For the first time ever. Honestly, it was deeply exciting, I’m not going to lie. However I have also used up my mental exclamation mark quotient for this paragraph.

Good night, my dears…!

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