Emma is currently...

  • Addicted to: Fruit and nut mix
  • Listening to: Band of Joy - Robert Plant
  • Reading: Naples '44 - Norman Lewis

Wednesday, 23 December 2009


You may have noticed that it's almost Christmas. I certainly have. For one thing, it's been snowing, and as usual the country has gone AGHIUHEHOIHHHAAAHHHHHHH SNOW and everything has ceased to function. The roads are like ice rinks, no one can get anywhere, it takes everyone five hours to get home from work, our driveway (which is a massive hill) becomes a death trap. On the plus side, everything looks pretty. Here is our garden:

The second one is smoky because our neighbour likes to have massive bonfires for no apparent reason. Ironically, it has been snowing almost every day, but it is forecast not to snow on Christmas Day. Pah. I'm hoping that at least some of the existing snow will remain on the ground so it still looks nice.

Our house is looking pretty too. We really go to town at Christmas...lights, decorations, Christmas scented air fresheners, little bowls of nuts all around the house, and my mum has even made an amazing Christmas cake this year. Here is the tree, with some of the presents already under it (more to come though, yay!):

Doesn't it look lovely? I have also been doing lots of Christmassy things. The day after I came home from uni my mum and I went to Cologne (in Germany in case you didn't know!). They have a famous Christmas market there - lots of little stalls selling handmade gifts, food and
Gluehwein (mulled wine, of which a lot was drunk). It was great fun and it even snowed. On the first day we did loads of Christmas shopping, and on the second day we went on an excursion: a boat trip down the Rhine, and then we went to a picturesque little village on the side of the river and did some wine tasting.

Here's a picture of the Christmas market in Cologne:

On Sunday I went to a lovely candlelit carol service. On Monday my friend and I went to London for what has become our yearly tradition: we get pizza, then we go to Harrods and pretend to be posh, then we go ice-skating outside the Natural History Museum. We then usually go back to mine or hers to drink hot chocolate and watch Love Actually, but we couldn't do that this year since it took us two hours to make the fifteen minute drive home from the train station (because of the snow). The drive was actually quite fun though, because we played Christmas songs very loudly and had a singalong. I'm not ashamed to say that I love Christmas songs!

I've basically been doing anything I can to avoid the two beastly assessed essays I have to write for next term: one on Andrew Marvell and the other on Jane Eyre and Rebecca. I've been ploughing through my reading though! I've recently read Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood, Germinal by Emile Zola, the first Lord of the Rings book (that was for fun, not for uni), Possession by A.S. Byatt (brilliant, I'd really recommend it), and The Atom Station by Halldor Laxness...now I'm reading The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (it's a lesbian novel I am reading for my Feminism module...it's pretty dull to be honest!).

Tonight is the Wednesday reunion. When everyone from my school comes back from university for the holidays, everyone goes to the local pub on a Wednesday. The evening consists of people hugging and exclaiming, "HOW ARE YOU? IT'S BEEN SO LONG! I LOVE YOUR HAIR!" before retreating into a corner with their close friends and muttering, "Well he's put on weight! Eurgh, she's changed so much...ever since she went to uni she thinks she's so cool," and the like. It's a bit awkward really, but it will be great to see my close group of friends, many of whom I haven't had the chance to see yet.

Christmas Day aside, I'm really looking forward to Boxing Day. There's a tradition in a nearby village where they close all the roads and hold a race/pub crawl. Basically people get into teams and choose a theme; they then dress up in costumes and make a "pram" relating to that theme. The teams have to race their pram between the various pubs in the village, buying a drink in each one. People get drunk in the morning and fun is had by all. This year our theme is safari: our pram is a jeep and we're all dressing like different animals. I'm the antelope and have spent most of today making a pair of paper mache horns. I forgot how fun paper mache was!

Anyway, I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful Christmas and New Year (if I don't update before then) filled with much loveliness, hot chocolate, mince pies and tacky straight-to-DVD Christmas movies. :)

Thursday, 17 December 2009

The little black book.

I've recently taken to carrying a little black leather book with me everywhere I go. Every time I have a random interesting thought, or I want to remind myself to do something later, or I am struck by something I see or hear and what to put it into a story, I scribble it down in my book. Horribly pretentious, I know, but I think it's a great idea for every writer to have one. How many times have you felt inspired but had nowhere to capture the feeling? This way I never forget the ideas I have for my stories. On top of that, it's entertaining to flick back through the book and recall how I felt at a certain time.

I suppose it's similiar to the commonplace books we learnt about in our Seventeenth Century module. Writers used them to jot down interesting pieces of rhetoric they learnt, or quotes they liked, or facts that could be useful to them. Some of these commonplace books still exist. This, for example, is John Milton's:

It's fascinating to see his actual writing (the fact I don't particularly like Milton aside). However, I think his book is possibly a little more...academic than mine is. When people see me in the library hunched over my book, scrawling things very quickly, they must think I'm a really deep and artistic person and that I'm wrtiting down something profound and intense. This is not the case. Here is a quote from my book, and it's pretty representative of the whole:
The man sitting across the aisle from me on the train is wearing my nerves down the threads and writing in this book is all I can do to stop myself from leaping across the gap, tearing the phone from his hand and jumping up and down on it repeatedly whilst screaming for him to SHUT UP. Admittedly he is speaking in a language I do not understand but this makes it even worse because he keeps laughing every few seconds and I HAVE NO IDEA WHAT IS SO FUNNY!!!
Hm, profound. I wonder if Milton has any angry rants in his book? I doubt it.

Anyway, I think that every writer should have a book like this. We let so much of life pass us by, as if we're sitting on a bus and everything is just a blurred scenery that passes us by. We should be taking snapshots of it, even the mundane things, to look back on later. Synecdoche is the technique of describing the whole by reference to smaller parts of it - you can create the feel of a whole crowd just by describing the hats people are wearing or the sound of their voices. In the same way, the little details of life, the things we barely look twice at, can be used to create something really vivid and realistic. But we need to capture them before they slip away and we forget them forever.

Sunday, 15 November 2009


You know when you have one of those moments that are so intensely humiliating you can't stop thinking about it for days afterwards and cringe every time you think about it? Yeah, those ones. The last time I had one was in Year 12 when I got onto the bus without realising I had stepped in dog poo, then realised by the time it was too late and the whole bus was full except for the seats in front of and behind mine because it stank so much, and I had to endure the whole journey with everyone laughing at me.

Well, I had another one of those moments today.

After a few days at home I came back to uni today. I'm at the train station, about 30 seconds away from missing my train, wearing heeled boots and carrying a heavy bag, my laptop and a suitcase. And I have to run. So I stagger to the escalator in my heels, and the escalator is full of people. I realise with delight that it is my chance to be like one of those busy and important-looking people you get in Waterloo station who run down the left of the escalator going "sorry, sorry, excuse me" while everyone else stands on the right like a lemming.

So I hoist up my suitcase, say "EXCUSE ME!" in my most busy-and-important voice, and begin to run down the left of the escalator. Then I trip, wobble in agonising slow motion for what seems like an eternity, before tumbling down the escalator in the most spectacular fall anyone has ever seen. I sort of crumple like a rag-doll against my suitcase, limbs sprawled everywhere, and then roll down the handrail of the escalator until the moving steps deliver me in a heap to the bottom. I look to see the other people on the escalator watching me with blank, dead eyes. I then have to endure the further humiliation of scrabbling around on the floor to find my ticket, which I discover I have somehow managed to tear in half on my way down.

On the plus side, I make my train with about five seconds to spare. Red-faced and wheezing, I collapse in a seat after staggering down the aisle like a drunk person, rolling over several people's feet with my suitcase on the way. When the inspector comes to check my ticket, he laughs and says, "This one's seen better days, hasn't it?"

I laugh myself every time I think back on it, even though it was humiliating at the time. That's why I thought I'd share it with you all.

Saturday, 14 November 2009


Just a quick update on everything...

NaNoWriMo is not going well. Oh, I'm keeping up to speed with my word count. But I realised, about four or five days in, that my novel is painfully bad. I'm going to keep on writing it, because that's the point of NaNo, but it really is painfully, painfully bad. For one thing, I wanted the allegory to be subtle. It is not. It is a massive saucepan-in-your-face allegory. It's like using...I don't know, a banana for a phallic symbol. Everyone gets it instantly. It is not subtle or clever or funny. It is just awful.

And it's boring too. I know the point of literary fiction is that nothing happens. But good literary fiction makes the things that do happen so intense that the reader doesn't get bored. In mine, it's just that nothing happens. I just spent about five pages describing my narrator sitting at the kitchen table drawing a picture of a car. This event had no significance whatsoever. I just wanted to reach my daily word quota so I padded it out with as much suffocating flowery description as my poor fingers could muster.

Oh gosh, I feel so sorry for whoever insists on reading this. I hope that will be no-one, but every time I have to explain how I can't have a social life because of NaNo to one of my friends, he or she will say, "Oh, you have to let me read your novel when it's done!"

I dread writing it every day. It's like a fat, ugly, screaming child that demands my attention, and the more I feed it the fatter and uglier it gets and the more it screams and wails and bangs its fists against the table. I can't wait until November 30th when it finally shuts up!

I haven't done my writing yet today. The fun is still to come. Today I've been busy spending some quality time with John Donne, writing an essay about his Holy Sonnets using what is quite possibly the oldest, dustiest, most obscure book the university library possesses. It was the last relevant book left on the shelf and I'm pretty sure dead moths fell out when I picked it up and prised open its withered, yellow pages. It appears to be covered in the elaborately cursive inscriptions of the last person to read it, who must have studied at the university sometime in the 70s, or possibly the Dark Ages. This was my fault for waiting until the last possible moment to crawl out of my bedroom and drag myself to the library, by which time all the decent books were taken by keen people. Now I've got to make the best of what I've got.

It is 5pm and I have written an epic 421 words. I am now going to take a break and maybe have some tea. Life is good.

Friday, 30 October 2009


I have two essays of two thousand words each to write for Tuesday. I have completed zero words. Therefore I have decided, in true student style, that the best course of action is to sit here drinking coffee, eating a raisin and cinnamon bagel, and talking about NaNoWriMo on my blog.

For those of you who don't know what NaNoWriMo is, it's National Novel Writing Month - a competition that challenges you to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. The website is www.nanowrimo.org. And I am doing it this year...

Wahey! I didn't exactly intend to sign up for NaNo this year. I was very tempted, because I did it in '06 and found it was a great way to force me to write when I didn't really want to, and I managed to produce something vaguely readable out of it. However, I knew this year was probably the worst year ever to do it because my degree actually counts this year. Anyway, I signed into my '06 account just to see if it still existed - and was told that I was now an offical participant! Well, that was that decided then.

My NaNo this year is called Bethany's Tree. It's a weird sort of spiritual/fantasy/literary mess of a novel which I have barely planned. I'm a bit worried that the idea just isn't going to work and it'll all be a massive disaster. The basic premise is that my protagonist, Bethany, is mentally handicapped and trapped in this drab middle-class life in the country. While everyone assumes she is stupid, dim-witted and trapped inside her own restrictive mind, she actually has an incredible imagination, and the novel is about her journeys into a beautiful fantasy world reached by a tree in her garden (whether this world is real or imagined by her, even I don't know). Each chapter will switch between the real world, where her family are preparing for the Dinner Party, the biggest social event of the year, and her adventures in the tree world. And then at the end everything goes horribly wrong, but I won't reveal too much.

Yeah, it sounds weird. I have no idea whether I will pull it off. I've never been that into planning, as anyone who has read Storm Awakened will know, and I just intend to wing it as I go along. But I guess that's what NaNoWriMo is all about, isn't it?

The competition starts on Sunday. There's still time to sign up. It's hard but very fun, and if you have lots of coffee and chocolate to help you out it's very possible too. I'd recommend it to anyone who has always fancied writing a novel but never got around to it!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Brecht and Einaudi!

Oh gosh, I'm already failing at blogging. It just seems like not a lot worth blogging about happens in my life. However, I had a wonderful day on Saturday and thought I would share its events with you.

I went home for the weekend and my family and I went to London together. My mum and I went shopping, then we had lunch, then my brother and dad joined us and we went to a play, then we had dinner, and then we went to a concert. Music, literature, food and clothes...ah, it was almost a perfect day.

I'll tell you about the play first. It was Brecht's Mother Courage and her Children at the National Theatre. I wasn't sure how much I would enjoy it, as almost all the plays I go to see are by Shakespeare, but I thought it was brilliant. Mother Courage is, to describe it very basically, a condemnation of war, which is portrayed as a never-ending cycle that produces nothing but death and misery. Courage, with her three children in tow, follows the army in a wagon in the hope to profit from the war by selling them provisions. She is determined to see the war through the eyes of a businesswoman and never to be caught up emotionally in its atrocities. Throughout the course of the play all of her children are lost to the war. Though of course any mother would be traumatised by this, Courage refuses to give up after each loss and continues to drag her wagon around Poland until all her children are gone. After she sings a lullaby to the corpse of Kattrin, her final child, her final words are, "I've got to get back into business."

Then she hauls her wagon around the stage all by herself, representing the endless and futile cycle of war.

Brecht makes a point of making his plays very self-referential - as in, making it obvious it's a play - which he calls the Verfremdungseffekt ("alienation effect"). In Mother Courage there isn't really a set, just big banners with the setting scrawled across them. There are no lighting effects, just cold, harsh white light; you can see the tech crew as they move around props to change the scene; the actors change costume in front of your eyes. This didn't really stop me from feeling involved in the events of the play, but I felt I was being invited to be an objective spectator, to evaluate whether I thought what Courage was doing was right or not. It's hard to consider war without being emotionally involved, which is why I think Brecht tries to alienate us.

The play is also frequently broken up by musical numbers. I didn't realise Brecht actually intended music to be a part of the play until afterwards - I thought the director had just randomly shoved it in to make it more entertaining. Anyway, the music was excellent. They got a guy named Duke Special to compose it; a funny little Irish guy with dreadlocks and eyeliner. He and his band would suddenly appear on stage and begin to sing. I'd never heard of him before, but he was actually very talented (he played loads of instruments), and I thought his voice was beautiful. At the end, after Courage had dragged the wagon offstage, all that remained was Duke Special banging a drum and singing. I can't remember what the song was called, but in it he sung about war. The final few lines really resonated with me. The exact words escape me but he sung something about how at least when we die we will finally be free from war.

And then he sung the final line: Unless the war goes on in hell. And then the lights went out. Amaaaaaaaazing.


So. In the evening we went to a piano concert at the Barbican: Ludovico Einaudi performing songs from his new album, Nightbook. I'd never been to a classical concert before so I didn't know what to expect, but it was amazing. Einaudi's music is contemporary and minimalist. He blends the piano with strings, percussion and also live electronics, and though he repeats the same motifs a lot, it just sounds amazing. When I sat in there and closed my eyes, it sounded like I was listening to a CD - then I opened my eyes and saw that there were actual people making these beautiful sounds, and more astonishingly, they weren't messing up. I can't even play two bars in front of my mum without hitting the wrong key, crying out in frustration/embarrassment and giving up. Oh, and there was this guy who had some serious skills on the tambourine. He was going mental. It was incredible.

I often use Einaudi as a backing track for my writing. I wish more people could appreciate classical music. It really annoys me how Cheryl Cole can whine 'we gotta fightFIGHTfightFIGHTfight for this love!' over a synthesized beat and everyone will buy it and it will get to number one, and yet incredibly talented people like Einaudi are stuck in this niche. People say they find classical music 'boring', which usually means they can't dance to it in a club. I understand that people connect music to memories, such as a good night in a club. But classical music is so atmospheric. Add a classical soundtrack to a film and it makes it ten times better...I mean, listen to the soundtracks for the Lord of the Rings films, for example. They are amazing. People don't even realise that when they enjoy these films they are appreciating classical music. They call it boring. Grr.

Anyway, check out this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OB3wgiaOOvA. It's Nightbook, probably my favourite song from Einaudi's album so far, though I haven't fully listened to all the tracks yet. The song just conjures so many beautiful images in my mind. I don't need to connect it to a concrete event in my life because it inspires my imagination. That's what crap people like Cheryl Cole and Tinchey Strider and whoever else fail to do. They make songs that drunk people can dance to in clubs but that's about it. Sorry, bit of an angry, 'the young people are rotting their minds! Get off the grass!' diatribe there.

Hmm, okay. Time to do work now!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Back at uni.

I've been living in my student house for a week and although term doesn't technically start until tomorrow, I have been so busy that I haven't been able to write or update my blog. Now is the first chance I have had to sit down properly.

I'm not doing brilliantly on the resolutions, but not for want of trying. I applied for a job but they never got back to me about interviews, which took place yesterday with a few more this evening. I am not joining the gym because they have put the price up and it's too expensive for me. However, I will be doing a lot of tap dancing this year, which will be good exercise. I haven't been able to write every day but I plan on starting tomorrow.

On the plus side, I enrolled in German classes and have been put in the advanced class! It's two hours a week. I'm a bit concerned because I haven't spoken the language in so long, but the tutor said I would be surprised at how quickly I will pick it up again. I have been eating much healthier - no pizza, pasta or frozen chicken kievs yet! I made an immense toad in the hole yesterday. As for being nicer to people, that is going very well. We had a house party last night which I will tell you about now.

If you've come here from my FictionPress profile, you might have read my story the Healing Properties of Tea. In one of the chapters I describe the 'typical' student house party, in which people dance with kettles on their heads, punch holes in the walls and fall asleep on piles of shoes covered in ketchup. This, I admit, was a bit of an exaggeration for the purpose of humour. Things like that happen sometimes, but when they do it's a big deal, and everyone laughs at the person involved for about a month afterwards. It's not the norm.

Our house party was very busy: my housemate O invited a lot of people (it was her birthday), and it turned out to be a lot more than our little house could actually hold! We tried to herd people down to our creepy cellar, which we decorated with cheap Ikea rugs (now ruined) and fairy lights, but it was too damp and cold and no one liked to stay down there. Instead everyone tried to cram into the living room and kitchen, to the extent that you basically couldn't see the floor/move, and there was a massive queue for the toilet. Most people just chatted, so drunken antics were to a minimum. There was only one horrendously drunk boy who stumbled in uninvited, already pretty much gone, and proceeded to spend most of the night standing in the kitchen with his torso slumped across the kitchen worktop, throwing up in our sink every ten minutes. I honestly have no idea how so much sick can come out of one person. His shirt was covered in stains - it was so humiliating. Why would you let yourself get like that? Even worse, we couldn't find anyone who knew him. At about 2am one of his housemates appeared and dragged him out of the house, at which point everyone cheered. He's not invited back, that's for sure.

Nothing much else happened, but I talked to so many new people, where usually I would have sat in a corner with people I already knew. You find yourself getting into such strange conversations ("Yeah, my friend's cat has cat AIDs, it's not allowed out the house!" and "I dropped my phone down the toilet...PRE-FLUSH!") but it's very entertaining. We invented a new code which enables you to talk about someone at the party without them realising, basically by referring to them as Frank Sinatra the whole time. I have no idea how this came about, but I must have received some strange looks when people overheard me saying, "Guys, Frank Sinatra fancies me but I don't fancy him back, what do I do?" They must have thought I was delusional. Oh my gosh, the aftermath though. We had three friends from home over to stay, and this morning I was the only person who woke up in the correct bed, in my pajamas; everyone else fell asleep fully clothed. There were bottles, cans and popped balloons everywhere, and our kitchen floor was black with dirt. We put on S Club 7 and danced around cleaning, and now our house looks presentable again.

Overall, I've been at uni for a week and it feels like so much longer. Already I've made several new friends, caught up with old ones and grown closer to people I didn't know that well last year. My housemates and I (O, M and A, the only boy) have become like a family. We'll huddle in my double bed watching TV, sit around the table eating fajitas, pop down to the shops or even go ice-skating together. I hope this continues throughout the year, even when people start to get bogged down by lectures and workloads, because it's really helping me to come out of my shell. At school I was basically the Invisible Girl, but uni is really starting to change that. It's an amazing experience.

Well, I have to go, because I'm going to see Fame with my friend from tap. I'll update this blog with something writing-related soon - and hopefully get around to some writing too!

Friday, 25 September 2009

New Term Resolutions!

Summer is well and truly over now. We never have great summer weather in England, but now the weather really is herald to the autumn: every day is of the kind I love, chill and crisp with blue skies and sunshine. It's cold enough to wrap up in boots and jackets and scarves and go for long walks preceded by hot chocolate, but it's warm if you find a patch of sunlight and huddle in it.

The other exciting thing about autumn is that I start university again. I'm moving into my house the day after tomorrow. I will then spend a week sorting things out for the new term/going to house parties/sleeping until midday, and then lectures start the next week. I have such good intentions for this year, and plan to better myself in many ways. Of course, I know we all think like this, and that after about two weeks all our plans to transform ourselves into lifestyle gurus with superhero-like powers of organisation and infallible work ethics fall down in a pile of cataclysmic smoking ruin - but there's no harm in trying, is there?

Thus I present:

Emma's list of New Term Resolutions
  1. Get a term-time job. Progress: I have managed to force myself to download and look at the application form for waitressing at the on-campus bistro. This was very mentally taxing, which leads me to wonder how I will cope with 10-12 hours a week minimum serving people ciabattas and freshly squeezed orange juice, but all I need do to negate such lazy feelings is to look at the moth-balls and spiderwebs currently gathering in my purse/bank account.
  2. Get German lessons. Yes, I already speak German, but I have forgotten most of it in the past year, and if I went to Germany pretty much the only thing I'd be able to do is wander around panic-stricken accosting strangers with generic phrases such as, "Could you help me please, my camera is broken!" and "Excuse me, where is the youth hostel?" which would not get me very far. Progress: I have discovered that I must go to the Language Centre on a certain date to speak to a tutor about which class to be put in. I also have to pay about £150, thus increasing the necessity of Resolution 1. The biggest task, however, is not being too pathetic and shy to actually turn up at the Language Centre.
  3. Write every day. Even if it's just for half an hour. Even if all I can manage is to write the words "Chapter Seven" and then stare mindlessly at the screen for twenty-nine more minutes. Blogging, Facebook and creating abusive signs to stick on my housemates' doors do not count as 'writing'.
  4. Successfully complete NaNoWriMo. I did in in 2006 so I know it's possible. This is probably the worst year ever to start doing it again, since this year actually counts towards my degree, but I've made an account now and am an 'official participant' so I've already signed my own death warrant, really.
  5. Work harder. Progress: I have got off to a good start because I have read several of my course books over the summer. This year I am going to read all my books, do all my work, actually speak in seminars, spend time in the library, and attend lectures and seminars rather than deciding I have a cold and then going into town to buy cookies and milkshakes.
  6. Be nicer to people. I have been described as an ice queen far too many times in the past few years. This is, in fact, just a front I put on to hide my crippling shyness; I'd rather people think I don't want to talk to them than have them realise I am boring and have nothing to say to them. Well, I do have things to say, as this blog proves, but I assume they won't be interested. This year I am going to be open and friendly to everyone and if they aren't interested it doesn't matter. In particular I will be nicer to random strangers who approach me in bars/clubs. I always assume that if a guy approaches me he must be a sleaze. Well, my housemate O talks to loads of random people when we're out, and though they do sometimes turn out to be not very nice, she has met plenty of perfectly normal people and made some great friends. I must follow her example.
  7. Eat healthy food. No more surviving on a diet of soup, toast, baked beans and cereal, thus giving myself scurvy and rickets. I play to buy loads of interesting fruit and vegetables so I can make myself smoothies and casseroles and be a domestic goddess in general.
  8. Go to the gym regularly. Is three times a week too ambitious? Probably. My friend Pip and I have decided we are going to run a marathon (Is the London Marathon too ambitious? Probably.) which means I need to hit the running machine hard.
I will update you on the progress of these resolutions as term begins. Hopefully lots of interesting things will happen to me and I will be able to update this blog more frequently. I will also have lots of interesting literary things to talk about - since that was the original purpose of this blog I should really include some of it. English is, after all, awesome.

To the new term!

Tuesday, 1 September 2009


I haven't had time to post in a while because I have been insanely busy. I haven't been doing anything that important; just lots of mundane little things, which I will now relate to you, because I'm in that kind of mood.

I went to see We Will Rock You for the third time with my parents and aunt. We saw it in Birmingham because it's easier for my aunt to get there. Birmingham has almost become a home-from-home city for me, what with it being so easy to get to from university. It was nice to go back there and reminisce about university times: shopping trips, eating cake in Druckers, haggling with a very insistent man in the market over the sale of eight umbrellas (don't ask). It was nice to see my aunt, whom I haven't seen in years. We're very different: she lives in the country, where she has no car, computer, satellite TV or even a shower, while I'm a suburbs girl a stone's throw from London. So we don't have a lot in common, and I was worried it would be awkward, but it wasn't. She was lovely and she bought me a top with a big shiny gold owl on it I have been coveting for ages. Score. WWRY was good as always.

What else? I went to see a dance show in London with a friend. I also hung out with my friend who's just come back from travelling in Asia, and we chatted for ages. She had some pretty scary experiences, including being bitten by a venomous spider about the size of my head (I am still traumatized from the photos).

We also drew up The Oath. We both want to get fit before we go back to university, so we decided that for three weeks and three days we're going to do exercise every day and only eat healthy food. It's pretty strict: forbidden items include alcohol, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, sweets, crisps, white bread, cheese, coffee, potatoes, pasta, rice and any snacks between meals. If we eat any of these we have to do double the exercise. When I tell people about it I always hear cries of, "What? But you're so skinny!", but it's not about losing weight. It's just about being healthy. When I stuff my face with cake and drink about four cups of tea a day, as I usually do, I always feel tired and sluggish. It's been five days and I'm already feeling more alive.

I did have a nasty run-in with a bar of chocolate at my friend's house on day three, though. It literally shoved itself in my mouth. I don't know how that happened! Anyway, I did the forfeit, so it's fine.

My friend from university came to stay the next day and I showed her the joys of my village. We went to the park and had a picnic on one of the piers overlooking the lake. The weather was beautiful and the geese didn't try to kill us for our food. Then we watched an entire series of Peep Show and two movies. It was a lovely day! On Sunday I had a very successful shopping trip with my mum. We got a load of CDs, including a Rachmaninov CD for me, which made me very happy. Then I got some boots that I am so pleased with. I have been looking for some good quality leather black ankle boots, as well as some brown mid-calf ones with buckles, for ages, and then they both came along at once. They are gorgeous, and they were both bargains! The black ankle boots were £15 down from £100. I am actually in love with the brown boots. They are Kurt Geiger, originally £230, down to £71! It was still a lot of money but considering what good quality they are I am really pleased. Especially since I can never find shoes to fit my ridiculously small feet.

That probably bored the life out of you, didn't it?

Amongst doing all this stuff, I have just realised how much I need to do before returning to university, and it's making me panic a bit. I have a pile of at least fifteen books on my shelf, all of which need to be read at some point in the next three weeks. I just finished Anita and Me by Meera Syal (very good), The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe (unremarkable), and have managed to plough most of the way through Flaubert's Madame Bovary. Next up is Scarlet and Black by Stendhal, which looks like the most unexciting read ever. I really don't think I'm going to get through all these books.

On top of that I'm trying to write two stories, and my friends keep phoning me and asking me to do things in the little free time I have left. I know it's terrible, but sometimes I feel almost resentful when people snap up all of my free time. I should be grateful that I have wonderful friends who want to spend time with me, and I love spending time with them, but often all I want to do is turn off my phone and curl up in bed with a book. I get really stressed. It's a weird metaphor, but this is how I feel when there are too many things demanding my time and attention: I feel like the centrepiece of a Sunday roast. I'm sitting there in the middle of the table, trying to mind my own business, but people keep on tearing strips off me until I'm just a pile of bones.

Is that too melancholy?

Ah well, I'm off to Portugal with some friends from university in two weeks. Three girls, three guys and one undoubtedly very messy apartment. Most importantly, a beach and a swimming pool. There will be plenty of time to relax there!

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Crime and Punishment.

So I just finished reading Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Wow, that was heavy going.

I know pretty much nothing about Russian literature. I read Tolstoy's Anna Karenin and then I read this, and that's the extent of my reading in that particular area. I have to read War and Peace for one of my modules next year, but I probably won't be conscious after finishing that, one so I thought I'd better write a blog entry now.

I'm not going to even attempt to adopt a scholarly tone for this, so here we go: Crime and Punishment is absolutely mental.

Seriously. Not a single character in the book is sane. Where do I begin? There's the main character, Raskolnikov, who murders an old woman with an axe, the reason given to justify this deed being that he thinks he's some kind of revolutionary Napoleon, from what I gather. He's poor and wanders around in filthy rags and lives in a cupboard which he can't pay the rent for, and this woman is wealthy due to being a greedy old witch, and yet he doesn't kill her for the money. He hides everything he steals from her under a rock. Oh, and when people give him money, which they do quite often, he either gives it to someone else or throws it off a bridge. I wanted to yell at him to keep the money and go buy himself a nice meal, since he never seems to eat anything, leaving me to wonder how he survives to the end of the book. He gets very ill, raves deliriously in his bed, broods a lot, wanders around the slums falling asleep in bushes, abuses all his friends and family, and then finally turns himself in to the police. Then he goes to jail, decides he's in love with a prostitute, and that's the happy ending.

Who else is there? He has this friend, Razumikhin, who's also completely off his rocker. He's basically permanantly excited and follows Raskolnikov around like an overexcited spaniel, despite the fact Raskolnikov tells him to get lost on numerous occasions. Then there's Svidrigailov, this weird old lecher who has a creepy obsession with Raskolnikov's sister and flings money at everyone who comes within ten metres of him, before announcing he's going to America and then shooting himself in the head. Porfiry is the clever detective who knows that Raskolnikov murdered the old woman, but he never tells anyone because he has no concrete evidence. Instead he constantly torments Raskolnikov and makes long rambling speeches in which he says "tee-hee-hee!" a lot. There are lots of other characters, but it would take too long to go through them all, and I can't pronounce let alone remember any of their names.

I'll briefly mention the female characters though, because they don't fare much better. Sonya is the prostitute who 'offers Raskolnikov redemption'. I think this is because she is the only person he feels able to confess the murder to. And she loves him and he loves her and she gives him the New Testament and at the end he considers maybe thinking about reading it. Which is good, I guess. Anyway, Sonya spends most of the book trembling and crying and wailing, "Oh merciful Lord!" which was very sweet at first but just got a bit pathetic after a while. The other woman worth mentioning is Katerina Ivanova, Sonya's stepmother, who is consumptive and runs around going "cahuh-cahuh-cahuh!" a lot, and thinks she is a noblewoman despite living in absolute squalor, and goes raving mad when her permanently drunk husband dies, and then forces her children to wear ridiculous hats and dance in the streets. And then dies. Yeah. I do feel a bit sorry for her, but she is mental like the rest of them.

So you've got all these crazy characters wandering around St. Petersburg trying to have conversations with each other, but failing since none of them is on the same page as any of the others. Most of them spout two-page long monologues in which there is no logical line of thought, and which are usually misunderstood by the other characters. Everything is so...disconnected. I suppose it's the real world seen through a framework of poverty and exggerated ten times over. It's a grotesque, gloomy, clownish fantasy world, full of charicatured figures, where nothing feels real and nothing quite makes sense. It completely threw me out of my prim and proper middle-class English Home Counties comfort zone. No one did what I expected them to do, what I would have done, and it frustrated me a lot. By the end of it, I'd stopped expecting anything to make sense.

But then, there was a suggestion at the end that order might be restored - that Raskolnikov will repent of his crime and lead a happy life with Sonya when he is released from jail. Wikipedia tells me that Dostoyevsky was an Orthodox Christian (though I suspect it's more complicated than Wikipedia suggests), which I suppose makes sense of that.

Anyway, I know I have spoken irreverently about Crime and Punishment and its general craziness. But you know what? I thought it was brilliant. Who says literature has to make sense?

Friday, 14 August 2009

I love Hamlet.

If it were possible to marry an inanimate object, I would probably marry a copy of Hamlet. I love Hamlet to the point that it is almost disturbing.

I am obsessed with it: it is one of the very few things in this world that make me cry every time without fail (the other things being Rachmaninov's 2nd piano concerto and Norrington's death in the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie - I have a devastatingly massive crush on Jack Davenport) and I consider it to be the best thing ever written EVER. I can't explain why I love it so much. There's a huge debate about whether Hamlet is feigning madness or whether he is actually mad, but I think that even in his madness he is the sanest character in any play. The way he responds to his tragic circumstances is so convincing - I think I'd go crazy if my uncle killed my father and then married my mother. All of the other characters (except Horatio) betray or totally misunderstand Hamlet, but as the audience you feel like the only people who see who he really is. Every time I watch it I feel like I go a bit mad with him.

I was obviously delighted when my friend offered me very cheap tickets to see Jude Law play Hamlet in London last night. I'm not such a big fan of Law, but I thought it would be interesting to see him attempt the ultimate role when I'm accustomed to seing him in awful romcoms. I mean, The Holiday is pretty much the Bad Movie I compare all other bad movies to. That one really set the bar. My friends and I watched it last Christmas and we rewinded back to the bit where the little girl looks at Cameron Diaz and goes YOU SMELL LOVELY...I LIKE YOUR LIPS! about five times because at the time it was the funniest thing we'd ever seen. Anyway, I'm off on another tangent. Sorry.

Last year I was also lucky enough to get tickets to see David Tennant in the Royal Shakespeare Company production. We drove up to Stratford-upon-Avon and combined it with a visit to Shakespeare's birthplace. Tennant was so good that I left fancying him a bit, despite his not being particularly attractive and my not being a fan of Doctor Who. I didn't expect Law to better his performance and I was right. So now, like everyone else who has had the good fortune to see both productions, I am going to compare them.

Tennant was far more witty and charismatic. He was excellent at being mad, which isn't surprising considering the quirky, barmy way he played Doctor Who. However, when it came to the soliloquys, the moments when Hamlet is consumed by grief and the desire for revenge, he was surprisingly touching. One minute I was laughing, the next I had to hide the fact my eyes were watering pathetically from the people sitting around me. Law on the other hand went down the angry, brooding, shouty route, which he did pull off well, but at times I felt it lacked any emotional content and he was just speaking lines. He substitued emotion for over-the-top hand gestures, such as pointing to the sky when he said the word 'sky'. Thanks, Jude, I had no idea in which direction the sky was located. At points he was very over the top...but I feel I'm being a bit mean to him. He spoke the lines very well whereas Tennant had a tendency to garble, and he grated on me a lot less in the second half. His portrayal was consistent, he drew laughter from the audience in all the right places, and by the end he had really pulled me into the story.

Hm, what else? My friend and I both agreed that Ophelia in last night's production was unbearable. I just read a review that described her as 'touching'. Ugh. The only thing she touched was my suppressed desire to scream and break things. She was stiff and dull and just reeled off the lines robotically. Her version of madness was wandering around the stage singing in a pretty voice. In the Tennant production Ophelia was running around the stage, shouting, flinging flowers at people, tearing off her clothes. The ghost wasn't, er, ghost-like enough for me last night, and Horatio didn't really do it for me. It's not Hamlet's actual death that always sends me into floods of tears, it's when Horatio says "Now cracks a noble heart. Goodnight, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest" that I begin to bawl like a five-year-old, because Horatio loves Hamlet and stays loyal to him to the end. But this Horatio didn't particularly seem to care, and I only experienced a bit of mild eye-watering (and for some reason nose running, which was very attractive).

Both productions went for the whole gloomy set, everyone wears dark colours vibe, which is probably the best way to go with Hamlet. In the Tennant production it was chilling and atmospheric, but last night's set was a bit...blah. When Law spoke the "to be or not to be" line he was standing in the snow framed by a set of massive doors. I suppose it was a little hackneyed but I quite liked it. Oh, and the scene of Polonius' death was excellent. Hamlet and Gertrude were behind a sheer curtain and Polonius was on the side of the audience listening. Hamlet then stabbed him through the curtain and he tore it down as he died. He ruined this a bit by falling onto his front and then suddenly flopping over onto his back with a massive thud. It made me laugh but no one else found it funny. It was like one of those moments when someone sneezes in a silent exam hall and you are the only person trying to hold back hysterical laughter.

Oh, and apparently Kevin R. Mcnally played Claudius, and I had absolutely no idea until I got home and looked it up online! I didn't recognise him because the only thing I've seen him in is Pirates of the Caribbean as Gibbs, and so I always picture him covered in muck and swigging a bottle of rum (Pirates is another one of my obsessions if you hadn't guessed).

Overall it was a very good performance and I now have a lot more respect for Jude Law - he did very well, though not as well as David Tennant, who is awesome. Law proved that he can act more than one type of character. I read somewhere that Tennant and co. are going to create a film version of the RSC performance to release on DVD, which I am so buying and watching over and over again (and you should too). I suppose the point of this massive blog post is to say that if you've never seen or read Hamlet, please do so. It will make your life better. It might even make you sob like a baby. Then again, that might just be me.

Saturday, 1 August 2009


Okay, so I don't expect much from Fictionpress. It is a site predominantly for angsty pre-teens, and at nineteen years old I am basically a veteran. But here's what baffles and angers me about it: it's supposed to be a site for people who love writing. How can you love writing and yet have no knowledge, let alone respect, for the very basics of the English language? I know grammar at nineteen years old, and I knew it when I was thirteen years old, too. Age is no excuse. I am appalled by the quite frankly embarrassing butchering of English I see on Fictionpress on a daily basis.

Here is a guide to grammar for idiots. I know that the people who read my blog are generally lovely, intelligent people who can spell, and so this is not directed at you. It is more of a generic angry rant.

Emma's guide to basic grammar for idiots

  1. "It's" is a contraction. It means IT IS. If you write, "the cat licked it's paw", you are in fact saying, "the cat licked it is paw". THIS MAKES NO SENSE.
  2. On a similar note, you can't just shove apostrophes into random plurals. Egg's. Dvd's. Pillow's. Sorry, the pillow's what? These are the only two functions of an apostrophe: to signify a contraction, or to denote possession. Stop using them for other things. Apostrophes are not like sugar, which you can sprinkle randomly all over something to make it nicer.
  3. You're = YOU ARE. Your = POSSESSIVE PRONOUN. Learn the difference. It's really not hard. I'm not asking you to memorise the periodic table here.
  4. Capitalising Every Word In a Sentence Does Not Constitute Formal Writing. It Is In Fact Incredibly Irritating And Makes You Sound Like You Are Talking Like a Robot. Please Stop it Now.
  5. You must always capitalise 'I'. I learnt this in Year One. If you are still writing "and then i went to the shops", I think you have a lot of catching up to do and perhaps need to be demoted to aforementioned year. In fact, please remember to start your sentences with capital letters in general.
  6. You can't just randomly change tenses halfway through a paragraph or sentence. If you don't understand why this is, I wash my hands of you, but let me get the ball rolling by telling you that we do not live in a completely incoherent time-warped world where the present can become the past in an instant. This is one of the basic facts of existence, let alone grammar.
  7. Why do some people not realise that if you pose a question you must end it with a question mark or else it will sound like you are an unbearable person who talks in a monotone all the time.
  8. I don't understand why people seem to hate question marks, and yet they love exclamation marks - so much that they deem it acceptable to either make every sentence an exclamatory one, or to use six all in one go. You cannot write, "And I couldn't believe how handsome he was!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" without sounding like a squealing fangirl at her very first boyband concert.
Breathe, Emma, breathe...

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Yes Girl!

You may have read the book Yes Man by Danny Wallace. If not, you may have seen the Jim Carrey film adaptation, which contains almost nothing that happens in the book and destroys all the humour by Americanising everything (no offence, guys), but nonetheless makes the same basic point. The point is this: Danny Wallace realises his life is going nowhere and so decides he is going to say Yes to every proposition made to him. He gets into lots of bizarre situations and, long story short, concludes that while it is good to open yourself up to more opportunities, there are times when you have to draw the line and say No.

I am a Yes Girl, but not in the good way; rather, in the pathetic way. I always say No to the things that might make a difference - for example, I will never go to a social event where I won't know many people, and so I never meet anyone new. But I say Yes to pretty much everything else, only because I am too timid and polite to say No. I will pay money to see a film I've already seen because my friend wants to see it; I will pretend to like food I hate because everyone else is eating it; I will buy a hideous jacket because the salesperson is so persistent.

I'll give you one recent example of this.

So I'm walking down Oxford Street in London. For any readers who aren't familiar with London, let me say that Oxford Street is busy, particularly on a Saturday in the summer. I'm walking along, when I see a man standing in the middle of the street. This man looks fairly ordinary, except he is scanning the crowds with a scary glint in his eye as if he is looking for someone. As soon as his eyes fall on me, it is apparent that I am THE CHOSEN ONE. I try the old 'head down, eyes on the ground, walk as fast as possible' manoeuvre, but he forms a human blockade in the street and I am forced to stop and listen to him. He shoves something into my hand, which I take, assuming it's a leaflet, and then try to continue my peaceful walk. But the man won't let this happen.

"You speak Russian?" he asks me.

I don't know why, out of everyone on Oxford Street, he decided I was the most Russian-looking person. I also don't know how exactly you can tell a Russian speaker from their general appearance, but apparently they all look like me.

"Er, no," I say.

"Have you heard of Hare Krishna?" he asks.

Oh dear. I look down at the leaflet in my hand and discover it is, in fact, a book. A book about meditation. I make an ineffectual attempt to shove it back into his hands and do a runner, but he looks so excited about the fact I have actually stopped to listen to him that I don't have the heart.

"Er, yes," I say.

He starts going on about meditation and yoga and how I should come down to this hall somewhere and take part in some class on something or other, and I smile and nod and try to conceal the sheer panic in my eyes. I keep repeating the word "cool" over and over again for lack of anything else to say. Passers-by eye me with sympathy, but their eyes seem to say "you got yourself into this one!" and none of them tries to rescue me by pretending to mug me or kidnap me or something.

Eventually he finishes his speech. "I give you this book," he says. "But it is not free. We ask for a small donation...eighty pence? One, two pounds?"

And I give him the money. That is how pathetic I am. I am so pathetic and incapable of saying No that I bought a book on spiritual meditation off a Hare Krishna in the middle of Oxford Street, despite a) having no money and b) being a Christian. That is probably the silliest thing about this whole affair. I bought a book about something that conflicts with my own beliefs, and then threw it away as soon as I got home.

I need to stop being a Yes Girl. Once, I went on a date with this guy I was not attracted to in any way whatsoever because I felt bad for him and couldn't say No. The date went okay, until he told me that he thought Eragon was an amazing book and Christopher Paolini was a really talented author. That was the death knell, really. The next time I saw him I pretended I didn't know who he was, and I never saw him again. I am not joking.

Anyone have any tips about how I can be less pathetic? Thanks.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Musings on a wedding.

Yesterday I attended the wedding of a girl who was in my year at school. The ceremony was beautiful, but I also found it very strange. I remember when she first met this boy, in our local nightclub, which is basically a glorified sweaty shoebox with a sticky floor and a terrible DJ. Now they're going to spend the rest of their lives together. It restores my faith in nightclubs a little. Ninety-nine out of a hundred times, the guy who catches your eye across the dancefloor probably just wants to shove his tongue down your throat - but he might just turn out to be the love of your life.

A lot of my friends were shocked when they heard she was engaged at nineteen. "Trust me," I told them, "if you saw them together you'd know it was right." Normally I would say that marrying at such a young age is a mistake, but they make a perfect couple and I know they are going to be happy together.

Personally, I can't even comprehend getting married now. I'm not sure I can comprehend getting married ever, though I hope it will happen one day. Maybe that's just because I haven't been in love. There's just something about the thought of getting into the dress, walking slowly down the aisle with everyone staring at me, speaking the vows into the silence, that absolutely terrifies me. "If it were me I'd do a runner!" I exclaimed (just as the church went silent, because that's the sort of thing that always happens to me). My friend couldn't imagine not spending the rest of her life with the boy she loved. That's the difference between me and her; that's why she is married and I can't even get into a relationship because I'm such a commitmentophobe.

As someone who cannot write a single story without romance in it, you'd think I was a hopeless romantic. And I am. But the romance I write about is all about the pursuit: that exciting period when you first meet someone, when you start to develop feelings for them but you have no idea how it's going to turn out, when one minute you hate them and the next you miss them, when everything goes by in a big confusing dramatic blur. Then you finally end up together - and then the story ends. I don't want to know what happens after that, because that's the part that scares me. What happens when the excitement dies down? What if everything just becomes...mundane?

The pastor at the wedding read a quote from Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Searching for it just now, the first page that came up on Google was a page that contained all of the exact readings he did. How funny. I can imagine him sitting down panic-stricken half an hour before the wedding and typing, "WEDDING READINGS PLZ!!!" into the search box. Anyway, I digress. This quote, which is apparently quite an overdone wedding quote, describes love as "what is left over when being in love has burned away". I know that this is the truth for many married couples who are still in love after many years, but it is a calm and steady love rather than an exciting and passionate one. I hope everyone manages to find this.

As for me? I'm just too much of a free spirit...

Monday, 6 July 2009

The adventures of Rolo, Jack and Max.

Yesterday I decided to clear out my wardrobe so that I could accommodate the various junk I accumulated whilst at uni. At the back of the very top shelf I discovered a folder of short stories I wrote when I was little. It's nice to unearth a piece of nostalgia like that, but at the same time they make me cringe.

I used to have these three toy dogs called Rolo, Jack and Max. Every now and then I would brave the three hours it took to load up our fridge-sized grey beast of a computer so that I could happily type up stories about their various canine adventures on MS Word '97. Some of the stories are quite short, but I'm not going to recite any of them to you. Instead, here are some of my favourite literary gems, complete with butchered grammar:

"Yikes" shouted Max. " I hate spiders, unless they are grilled with cinnamon and garlic... Yum, yum ! ". (Presumably that was a combination of flavours I considered normal...)

"What's going on around here?" the puppies asked Calico, who was promptly sick all over them.

"Ho ! Ho! didn't you know? I do birthdays as well", chuckled Father Christmas.

Rolo suddenly rushed in,followed by a fat ghost smoking a pipe."Hi doods" said the ghost ."Would you like to hear a joke".He diddent wait for a repley."What do cats use to fight?" "catapolts!"."Shut up ghost your annoying me"said Jack.

I don't know where I got the subject matter for these stories. One is about a tortoise called Christopher Columbus that wears its shell upside down so that people mistake it for a bowl. Another is about a giant dog biscuit that chases the puppies around at night. In another they get detention with Mr. Dread, who proceeds to shout "LET'S PLAY BALL!" and lob a baseball at them. This last one is called "Detention is BRILLIANT!!!!!"

My mum has decided that these stories are proof that I am destined to be a writer. She thinks I should rewrite the stories and get them illustrated. "Seriously, I think you have a future in writing children's books," she says. "Children would love to read about Rolo, Jack and Max."

I know I'm lucky that I have a parent who supports my desire to follow a career that will probably see me living in a box on the street offering to write witty verbal vignettes of passers by for small change. At the same time, it can be a bit overbearing, because she expects me to write a bestseller and I don't know whether I can achieve that. Despite having praise lavished on me by my English teacher at school I have never actually won a competition, had anything published, or generally done anything to prove I have talent. I was rejected for the highly in-demand creative writing module at university and instead ended up with my last choice, feminist literature (joy). And yet she still thinks I'm a genius.

So it's dinner-time and my mum is telling my dad about our discovery. They start to discuss this new plan for my life as a children's writer in detail, while I sit and wonder why they don't plan my wedding and funeral too while they're at it.

"Of course, you're going to have to change the name Rolo," Mum says. "Copyright issues and all. Jack, Max, and...Rollo?"

"Why not introduce some diversity?" says Dad. "Jack, Max and Iqbal!"

"She can't do that! They're brothers. That would suggest they have a mother who is promiscuous."

"It would suggest they have a mother who enjoys celebrating diversity!"

I feel like burying my face in my chicken. The joys of witty dinner-time banter.

Friday, 26 June 2009

The end is nigh!

Tomorrow I leave university and go home for the summer. Today people are starting to leave, and the atmopshere is melancholy. The last few weeks have seen everyone finishing their exams and campus has been buzzing: groups of people sprawled across the fields in clouds of barbecue smoke, music blaring from bedroom windows, queues outside the ice cream van parked in the piazza, the pub packed out with people who have been in there six hours straight and are starting to teeter on their stools.

For many people, post-exam life has been one big sleep-deprived party. Now, everything is starting to wind down. Rooms are bare, the walls stripped of posters and the hideous pastel-coloured and questionably stained university bedcovers returned to the beds. The abusive signs we pin up on each others' doors (I woke up one morning to find one that said I'M GONNA CREEP INSIDE YO LIKE A WARM KITTEN! with accompanying illustration, inspired by the Mighty Boosh) have been taken down. People stagger up and down the corridors with suitcases that look like they're about to explode. Even the sight of the empty fridge makes me a little sad, and I miss having to delve through piles of gone-off vegetables, pizza boxes and bottles of vodka in order to locate my milk for a cup of tea.

I can't believe my year as a fresher is over. It seems like only last week I first walked into my room, nervous, excited and friendless, ready to introduce myself to the strangers in the rooms around me. Those strangers are now my best friends. This year has been so surreal: existing in a little bubble world populated entirely by fellow students, and living side-by-side with them too, cooking and sharing a bathroom. Our first year results don't count towards our degree, so it has basically been like a year-long holiday to the Land of Irresponsibility, going out three or four times a week, sleeping until stupid o' clock in the afternoon. Next year won't be the same. We will actually have to do work, a thing most of us have forgotten how to do.

Since I'm in a nostalgic mood, I'd like to share a few things I have learnt in the first year of university, because I believe I've become a completely different person over the months I have spent here - hopefully in a good way.

  • Your mum (or dad, let's not stereotype) is pretty much the best person in the world. It's only when you're kicking the broken change machine in the laundrette, moving aside mountains of scabby plates and pans covered in month-old congealed food to find enough room to eat your dinner off the kitchen table, or filing outside at 4am in tiny pajama shorts in the rain because some drunken idiot has failed to accomplish the simple task of making toast without setting off the fire alarm, that you truly appreciate what an amazing job your mum does.
  • In the first year of university, your sense of humour recedes to what it was when you were about twelve. Since you're not required to be a responsible adult anymore the most juvenile things become funny again: unpicking the lock and bursting in to the bathroom cheering when someone else is having a shower, jumping on top of someone who has for no reason just jumped spreadeagle into a bush, waiting until your friend has left his door open with his laptop on and then changing his Facebook status to "just wet himself in Tesco, how embarrassing!" and his profile picture to a really, really fat person. The other day my dad asked me how we made each other laugh at uni in the absence of unfunny Dad Jokes. "By throwing each others' mattresses out of the top story window," I replied. He thought I was joking.
  • If you thought you were clever, university soon teaches you that are in fact irrevocably stupid. There are many, many, people who are cleverer than you. You will probably end up in a small room with five of these people listening to them hotly debate, in a deeply philosophical way, whether the bloke who decides what font to print a book in is in fact an artist. You will stare at your shoes and slowly lose consciousness.
  • On a more serious note, you must study a subject that you love. Never choose a subject for its academic prestige, because if you secretly hate it, it will show in your work. Even if you love a subject, when you study nothing else except it, it becomes a bit like a black hole that mercilessly feeds on your enthusiasm and turns you into a bored, cynical wreck. Honestly, I already feel like I've read enough Chaucer to last me a lifetime, and if I ever hear anyone open a friendly anecdote with the line "Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote" I think I will snap and transform into some kind of bizarre literary version of the Incredible Hulk, destroying all in my path. If this is what has happened to me, think what would happen to you if you hated your subject to start with.
  • You'd think that, with only a few hours of lectures and seminars a week, you would have plenty of time to pursue hobbies and spend your time productively. Not so. You will find that you never get anything done, ever. This is because you will spend most of your time doing things necessary to being a respectable human being such as washing, feeding and cleaning up after yourself; when you are not doing these things you will be too lazy to do anything else. Hence you will lie on your back on a field trying to find pretty shapes in the clouds, watch three series of one TV show in a week, take two naps every day, tape over your door with newspaper and then burst through in a dramatic fashion - anything except the work you are supposed to be doing.
  • Friendship is totally different at university. You probably know the feeling when you spend all day with a friend, and then sleep over at their house; by the next morning you are fed up with each other and can't wait to be alone. Well, at uni you spend every day and every night with your friends, but you don't get fed up with them. Instead they become like a second family. You miss them a ridiculous amount when you are split up from them, as I am now split up with my friends for three months, and you can't pop over to see them because they come from all over the country, and often from other countries too. I grew so used to being around them constantly that now I am home alone I am bored senseless. I don't know what to do with myself. Which is mostly why I'm writing this blog.
Anyway, that's all I've got for now. I learnt many more important things whilst at university but I don't remember most of them, meaning most of them probably weren't all that important anyway.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Traumatic bus experience

I have to start blogging now because already strange things are happening to me.

I'm not sure what it is about me, public transport and crazy people, but they seem to come together far too often. I was once stuck on a train next to a man who gave me a very loud half hour lecture on particle physics and the nature of the electron before telling me that the tarot cards had predicted his life and did I know that CHILDREN HAVE AURAS! At least that man was harmless - just a little, er, off his rocker. Today, however, I had a truly traumatic experience on a bus to the effect that I am never going to sit on the top deck ever again, even though when I sit at the very front with the big window it feels a bit like I'm flying.

So there are five of us sitting on the top deck. We'd been out for my friend M's birthday and we were all pretty tired, just minding our own business. Then...she comes. I try not to judge by appearances but there are a few little things that suggest she might not be the most desirable bus buddy: the shabby clothes and hair, the stumbling and screeching, the faint stench of illegal substances, the obscenities. She is followed by her children and they sit right next to us.

She picks up a piece of rubbish someone has left on the bus and, casting us a dirty look, announces that "students are ****ing tramps". I'll add here that I hate swearing and am not going to repeat the words she used here, but suffice to say she would have made Gordon Ramsay look like he belonged on Ceebeebies. She produces a Tesco bag that has definitely seen better days and kindly offers it to us so that we can "shove all our rubbish in here because no one wants to see it."

None of us points out that the rubbish isn't ours. As someone towards whom crazies seem to gravitate, mainly because I am very shy and socially awkward and try my hardest to avoid crazies, I know the golden rule: never make eye contact. It provokes them. So I stare out of the window as if the view outside is the most interesting thing I've ever seen, and the rest of the group follow suit. Crazy lady calms a little, and soon she and her children are lighting up together in some kind of bizarre family bonding experience. On a bus. In a few minutes I am engulfed in a cloud of smoke and am feeling a bit sick.

Soon, the bus driver pulls over, comes up onto the top deck, and tells them to stop. The lady stands up, all in his face, shouting that "It weren't me, it weren't me, you won't find no cigarettes on me, why are you complaining anyway, all you have to do is drive a bus and get paid for it," and so on. She doesn't seem to realise that the driver could see her smoking thanks to this newfangled invention called mirrors, not to mention the fact she stinks of smoke and has yellow teeth and nails. To her, this is DISCRIMINATION! He's picking on her because she's not a student and she doesn't have a "rich daddy" to send her to university. Discrimination, I say! Speaking of discrimination, apparently it's still okay for her to racially abuse the driver. The poor guy obviously gets intimidated and goes back downstairs, leaving us to be on the receiving end of her torrent of drunken spite and malice.

Crazy lady now takes offence at my friend O because O has taken her shoes off on the bus; she jabs a finger at her and shouts, "Her feet are discriminating against me, no one wants to smell her feet, that's just dirty innit! I didn't ask to smell her feet, she didn't ask to smell my smoke! That little ***** thinks she can get anything she wants just because daddy pays for her bus pass, isn't that right, didn't daddy pay for yer bus pass?" I'm pretty terrified to be honest, but O isn't disturbed by this at all, and is in fact staring at the lady like she is some kind of fascinating animal in a zoo. She offers to put her shoes back on but the lady hasn't quite satisfied her daily quota of innocent stranger abuse yet so continues.

"You're really bugging me, you know what? You're really bugging me. Looking at me like a right snob coz of your rich mummy and daddy. You know what, I might live on a council estate, but I'm loving it! I work hard to get on the dole while your mum goes sleeping with the boss for £20. I raised my kids of the dole and it aint done them no harm!"

Oh no she didn't...she didn't just go there....she insulted my mum. NO ONE insults my mum. It was like a "your mum" joke except actually offensive. I know it wasn't personally directed towards my mum, but it still offended me because I have MASSIVE respect for my mum. How dare you, I wanted to say. My mum grew up on a council estate too (I've been there and it's awful, people had just randomly poured milk all over the pavement and it had gone sour and stunk) and she started out with all the same opportunities as you, but she didn't go on the dole and get drunk and abuse people instead of making an effort to find work. She worked in the same job for years and years, in the same office five days a week, completely monotonous, before coming home and then having to feed and look after her family, and she never complained, not once. And now she has made something of herself and has a nice house in a nice area and she and my dad can afford to send me to university so that I can make something of myself too. You clearly didn't care enough about your kids to do the same thing.

Of course, I say none of this. I cower in my seat and continue to stare out of the window as if none of this is actually happening.

I feel sorry for the daughter. She's actually trying to stick up for us, albeit in a scary shouty sort of way, and when the woman threatens to trip O up as she gets off the bus the daughter says don't worry, she won't let her lay a finger on O. I think it was only because of the daughter that crazy lady didn't physically start on us, so I'm very thankful for that. This girl clearly has the potential to be a really smart, but she's never going to be given the opportunity by her mother. What can you do? So we get off the bus, leaving crazy to her own devices. Hopefully she didn't begin abusing any of the other students on the bus, since she seems to have a vendetta against us.

Anyway, that was my traumatic bus experience. In a way I'm glad it happened because looking back it was kind of funny, and it has also made me very grateful that my parents have been so amazing, and that they are happy to spend ridiculous amounts of money on my education to give me good opportunities in life. They also taught me personal hygiene and didn't encourage me to smoke spliffs on public transport, which is also good times. Good times all around.