Friday, 28 May 2010

A Short Interlude

Oh Spud! How you have kept me in suspense today, frantically tapping away at the computer an hour before your deadline... And now you are at college, handing your work in with just minutes to go...

While Spud was working away, I've been doing all the practical tasks that lie between us and our holiday. I finished and posted application form number 10. I emptied the dishwasher solo, and filled it again, normally Spud's job which we do together when I'm around. Because we neglected to do it yesterday, forty-eight hours worth of washing up had accumulated across most of the work surfaces. It's surprising just how much a household of eight can get through in two days! I did some laundry, and then hung my socks up to dry. And now I have just finished packing. 

We are off to the Lake District for a week and leave bright and early tomorrow morning. The trip will give me the opportunity to do some research for my long-neglected novel, because the protagonist lives in Carlisle. I want to see if I can spot the school she attended during her youth, and the second hand bookshop where she works. I want to walk along the battlements of Carlisle Castle with Spud, as my protagonist does with her love interest. I want to see the world through her eyes, and reignite my vigour for writing her story again, now that I have the time and freedom to do this. 

I don't think there is a wireless connection where we're staying, which means I will be absent for the week. I know some of you will be disappointed. Some of you might be relieved because I have been blogging quite obsessively recently! Lol. I'm going to miss you all, but I will be back soon so don't go anywhere! 

Living in a Suitcase

The novelty of living in a suitcase wears off quickly. At least, it does for me. I like my belongings to be tidy, organised and accessible, and when you're rummaging through a suitcase every time you need something, they don't stay that way for long. Also, not everything fits in a suitcase, so you inevitably leave something behind that you'll need at some point. Things also get misplaced, and you end up tipping your suitcase upside down in order to find that object lodged right at the bottom the whole time. There's barely space in Spud's room for my suitcase, not because he has an especially small room, but because it's very untidy. The only floor I can see is about half a metre by the door! Apparently this is a norm with men. 

I've got five more weeks of living in a suitcase. I will be going home twice during that time, but even when I'm home I will be living in a suitcase because I won't be there long enough to unpack and put my belongings away. I love being here with Spud, but when I move into my own accommodation in July I will appreciate the advantages of having my own space. I am also looking forward to spending more time with him, although hopefully this will begin later this afternoon. 

Spud hands in his work today. We haven't spent that much time together this week because he's been so busy working towards the deadline, and when he's been physically present he's been concentrating so hard on his work and spending hours on end on the computer. I helped him a bit last night by proof-reading two of his assignments, forty pages in all. He found out the other day that he hadn't got onto the PGCE course he applied for, so at least once this assignment is over he won't have to study any more. Studying is not a strong point of his. Neither is writing assignments. 

Thursday, 27 May 2010

The Great Careers Advisor in the Sky

Prepare yourselves for a bit of a rant. You have been warned (lol)...

For the last three years I've dreaded that inevitable question: What do you want to do (when you grow up)? It is a question that people ask more and more consistently, the nearer you get towards the end of studenthood. Unfortunately, I am now grown up and still don't know what I want to do, apart from write, and very few writers earn enough to make writing a livelihood. I haven't known for the last three years when I realised I didn't want to be a teacher any more. 

Having no direction has always filled me with moments of panic, and now that I've completed my degree I've never felt more unqualified in my life! I'm applying for various jobs at the moment and the advertisements are filled with requests for NVQs I don't have, previous experience I don't have... Picky or what? I mean, I'm fresh out of university, fifteen grand in debt, and I'm now saving up for a wedding and a house. I don't have the time or money to faff around, filling a voluntary position and working my way up from there. In July I will need to start paying for my own food and accommodation, and my savings will dwindle from there if I don't have a job under my belt. 

I'm applying for my ninth job and so far haven't even been short-listed. Okay, I probably sound more panicked than I really am. I am actually fairly chilled out now, but I do think about the future a lot, and it would be nice to start getting somewhere, sometime soon. The last few jobs I've applied for have been quite varied (while the first few were all in the care line). I've applied for an admin post, a clerical assistant post, and lastly, (don't laugh) a caretaker job! I'm up for trying something new, and maybe I'll find out what I'm meant to do if I apply for a variety. 

All I can do is keep applying, keep hoping and praying, and trust that God will find the right job for me at the right time. He is, after all, the great careers advisor in the sky, amongst many other things of course!

Comfort and Joy

I was thinking about the things that comfort me just now, and decided that it would make a good subject for a post. As Spud is still up, I thought I would make up for lost time and post again before I go to bed. Obviously, I don't know for certain whether I will still have an internet connection when I wake up. So I'd better post now. 

Tea is my biggest comfort, although it has to be a good cup of tea! Another comfort for me in the food line is smooth strawberry yoghurt, although that is something I've only rediscovered recently. I will sometimes get really strong cravings for it, and I think if you gave me the choice between chocolate and strawberry yoghurt, I would opt for the latter on most occasions. Well, I suppose it depends on the chocolate bar on offer ;)

I also derive comfort from wearing my pyjamas, particularly my favourite fleecy pair, but I find wearing my dressing gown over my clothing can produce the same effect. I hate feeling cold, and so wearing my dressing gown is an effective method of warming up without even turning the heat on! If that fails, then the next step is to curl up under the duvet. 

I also find prayer such a comfort and I have found recently that it can be a good cure for resentfulness and bitterness, feelings which often take root in our hearts and cannot be shaken off all that easily. Recently I have felt very bitter towards someone due to a slight of theirs towards me. The person is not close to me, but I still feel hurt and confused, and often very bitter and resentful towards them. I'm afraid I cannot be any more specific than that. So I have taken it upon myself to pray for them every time those feelings of bitterness take root. I pray for God's blessing to be upon that person and that he will cleanse me of my bitterness, and I always come out of prayer feeling more positive about the situation. 

I also find that prayer can help with minor things too. Like today, for example, I felt rather cross with Spud over a choice he made without consulting me, and on later reflection, realised how petty my irritation had been over a very little 'crime'. All I'll say is that it concerned his choice of evening meal which, without going into the specifics, excluded me. It's funny how PMT can blow even the smallest things out of proportion! I was a little off with him as he was leaving for Boy's Brigade, and felt bad once he'd gone so I prayed about it, and felt better afterwards. Guess you could call it spiritual 'venting'. God is a very patient and sympathetic listener. Spud must have felt rather remorseful afterwards as he more than made up for it by preparing me a very special supper! :-)

And now, before I hit the hay, I have a question for you: What brings you comfort and joy?

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

The Secret Life of Bees

Spud's internet connection has been a little temperamental recently, and refused to work at all today. At least up until now. I just wanted to authorise any further absences and let y'all know I'm still alive. I also need to inform you that I will be absent all next week because I will be away on holiday. Spud and I are driving six hours northward to a very beautiful part of England. I'll tell you more about it when I return, complete with holiday snaps. 

I've spent the last 48 hours applying for jobs and reading The Secret Life of Bees which I will now review.

Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees is a real page-turner, and a book I could hardly put down. The novel follows the life of fourteen year old Lily, who lives on a farm in South Carolina with her abusive father, and surrogate mother, a black servant called Rosaleen. After a run in with the law, Lily and Rosaleen take to flight, and are welcomed into the home of three black women: May, June and August. But Lily's bright new life is shadowed by her earliest memory, a dark secret that she has harboured for all her conscious life...

The book was a lot better than the film, which I watched before I read the book (not a usual habit of mine). While the film stays fairly true to the book, I think one of its failures is the loss of Lily's narrative voice. Lily's narrative is compelling and one of the attractions of the novel. It made her a believable character, and I warmed to her instantly. I loved the descriptions, and the abundant imagery in the novel. I particularly liked the lines:

Sunset is the saddest light there is. We rode a long time in the glow of it, everything silent except for the crickets and the frogs who were revving up for twilight, I stared through the windshield as the burned lights took over the sky.

I would like to thank Anna for her recommendation. The Secret Life of Bees was a novel I thoroughly enjoyed, and I think you will too!

Monday, 24 May 2010

The Red Tent

Because Spud's still working on his assignments, I've had plenty of time for reading for pleasure. Anita Diamant's The Red Tent is the story of a Biblical figure often overlooked, Dinah. I don't know how well you know the Bible, but for those of you who don't know Dinah is the only daughter of Jacob mentioned, and little is said about her other than her rape, and the murder of her husband at the hands of her own flesh and blood. A lot more is said about her brothers, the twelve sons of Jacob, especially Joseph, whose story is probably one of the most famous accounts in the Bible! 

The moment I read the blurb I knew it was a book I wanted to read as I have always wondered about Dinah; wondered what happen to the woman who existed not all that long after the dawn of time. This is an interesting retelling, combining the book of Genesis with the author's vibrant spin on the original telling. Told from Dinah's point of view, The Red Tent is a gripping read about family, love and midwifery.

Next on my agenda is Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees as recommended by my good friend Anna

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Practising for Parenthood

Spud's parents went away on a well deserved break for a couple of nights, so Spud and I were the responsible adults in their place. This wasn't too strenuous a role. All we had to do was ensure there was a meal on the table each night, and look after Spud's youngest brother, known here as Little One. Little One is not quite three, and insists upon being independent, although this is not always very practical! He does not always understand that he is too little to do some things. 

Little One is so photogenic!

He doesn't like to sit still to have his picture taken though!

Do we look like we could be a young family?

Little One looks on in wonder!

The red squirrels were my favourite feature of the conservation area we visited yesterday. 

I like the shadow on the swan's back. 

Some of the conservation area's residents:

Spud taught me how to take some artistic shots on my new camera. His attempt (below). 

And mine:

The last few days have been so warm and sunny. Summer seems to have arrived at last!

Saturday, 22 May 2010


What can I say? I've read this book three times and gotten so much out of it on each occasion. When BookSneeze offered me the chance to review the revised and expanded edition I leapt at the opportunity. 

This is a book for every woman, Christian or not. According to John and Stasi Eldredge, the question at the heart of every woman is, am I lovely? This is a question which so often goes unanswered during childhood, with devastating results. In Captivating, John and Stasi go right to the depths of womanhood and explore what it means to be a woman. They identify the three desires that lie at the heart of every woman: to have an irreplaceable role, to be romanced, and to be beautiful. They also expose the lies that have deceived and wounded women to the very core, leaving these desires unfulfilled. John and Stasi provide the necessary guidance and healing, enabling us to move on and be the women God intended us to be. 

I am still astounded by how much I can identify with Captivating. It is a book that has touched the hearts of so many women and continues to do so. Captivating is no more a self-help book than it is a celebration of the complexity and diversity of womanhood. This is a book I'd recommend to men and women alike: women, because I can guarantee it will touch your heart; men, because this book really enlightens the mysteries at the very core of a woman's soul. Read this book!

I review for BookSneeze

Thursday, 20 May 2010

The Next Chapter

Caught by the tumult of emotions, I felt numb. My mother prayed for me in the car when she dropped me off at the bus station and that helped. Neither of my parents cried when they said goodbye to me, something I am immensely thankful for, but I could still read the sorrow in their faces as I walked away. When I embraced them one last time I didn't want to let go. 

I spent most of the journey immersed in the pages of a book, but occasionally broke off, mid sentence, gazing out of the window at the familiar scenery. I've done this journey so many times now that I recognise the landscape. It wasn't busy, and both my coaches were far from full. We ran on time the whole way. 

We arrived fifteen minutes early. It was another ten minutes before Spud showed up, but the wait provided me with the opportunity to text my parents and let them know I'd arrived safely (I don't have mobile signal at Spud's). Spud stepped out of the car and presented me with a bunch of red carnations. He bought me flowers! I thought, because it was the first time he'd made this gesture. They nearly got crushed between us, but I had the foresight to hold them to one side when Spud took me into his arms. I memorised his face once more, although I no longer have cause too. The long separations are behind us. This is the beginning of the next chapter. 

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Growing Up

I feel like I truly found myself today... Today was a warm and sunny day... Sometimes, in sunny weather everything looks beautiful and I sang my heart out this morning... Mum decided we'd go out for a family walk after church as we haven't in a long while. At first I wasn't going to go... I was aware of my family getting ready around me and something inside of me compelled me to go. Something inside of me said 'Just get out of here!' So I seized the moment... and told my family I was coming after all...

At my suggestion we went to [the common]... It is such a scenic and atmospheric place. We walked along together, crossing soft marshy ground and springing over patches of mud and puddles. My brothers were irritating me slightly, and suddenly I yearned for solitude, just a few minutes of peace so that I could enjoy the landscape in a meditative silence rather than listening to them go on about completely irrelevant topics... With a sudden burst of energy I broke away from my family and for two minutes ran across the path. I'm not a good runner (in fact, I hated cross country at school) but I love running for short bursts. Today I was a streak of red upon the brown and green common, the wind blowing my long hair and my bag jostling rhythmically against my leg. When I slowed to a walking pace, my family were out of sight. I walked alone in the blissful silence for five minutes or so before waiting for them to catch up. The whole act seemed symbolic and I'd almost say... that in that moment I grew up. It just happened. I suddenly realised, here I am, eighteen years old. I'm an adult. I am unique. And people love me for who I am...

From my diary - Sunday 11th March 2007. It just seemed relevant to my current circumstances. 

Bus Stop Blues

How long would you wait for a bus that's not on time? Would you wait ten minutes? Twenty? Thirty?

In case you haven't already guessed, I didn't have the best of starts to my day. 

I had planned my day carefully to ensure there was no chance of arriving late. The exam started at 0930 and the 0545 bus would get me there an hour and a half beforehand, allowing me plenty of time to locate the room, do some last minute revision, and enjoy a cup of tea. Sadly it was not to be. 

I arrived at the bus stop five minutes before the bus was due, to discover a small, dark shape lying still on the ground.  As I took in the shape and the prominent golden eyes, now lifeless and glassy, I identified it as the body of a dead blackbird. The cause of death was difficult to discern, but there were no traces of blood, and nothing to indicate that it had been killed by a cat or fox. I suspect that it may have flown into the glass wall of the bus shelter and had its neck broken by the impact. I considered moving the body to one side, but didn't like to disturb it, even though there was no sign of life and it had clearly been dead for a while. 

The 0545 is often late, so I wasn't too concerned when I was still waiting at 0555. The road was quiet, the silence disrupted only by the occasional passing car. By 0605 I was aware of the first stirrings of anxiety, and I began to pray fervently under my breath. At 0620, after waiting for half an hour, I made a decision. Unfortunately it was the wrong one. 

I decided that the bus wasn't coming, and that waiting was a waste of time. I opted to return home, have a quick cup of tea, and return to the bus stop in time for the next bus which would still get me to my exam on time (although it would be cutting things fine). I had just begun to walk away when I heard the rumbling of a large vehicle, and turned to see my bus pass me by. I automatically took a few steps towards the road, although I was separated by a stretch of grass, and even though I raised my hands, waving frantically, the driver did not see me. 

If I was just going in for a lecture it would not have bothered me, but I was anxious about missing my exam. I balled my fists in frustration and let rip an uncontrollable sob. My tears were more out of frustration than anything, and due to lack of sleep. 

I returned home resignedly, trying to pull myself together. The majority of my family were awake when I let myself in, despite the early hour. My loss of composure was blatant, and my parents began to form a contingency plan which would require my mother getting a lift to work, and make my father late. I ensured them that, kind as this was, it wasn't necessary, although if my second bus was didn't show up I would need them to be on stand by. My father made me a cup of tea and gave me a hug, both of which were more than welcome. Once I had drunk my tea it was time to return to the bus stop. 

The blackbird was still there, and this time I waited with my back to it, so that I could not see it. There were more cars on the road by now, and more people around, mostly dog walkers. This time my wait was not in vain. The bus arrived right on time, and the traffic wasn't too heavy when we reached our destination, as it sometimes is. 

I made it to university with twenty-five minutes to spare, and had already found a class mate to accompany me to the designated room. The exam itself wasn't too bad, but I'm pushing it to the back of my mind now. It's all over and I'm no longer a student any more! Now I need to tie up all lose ends here and start packing because I'm leaving home tomorrow! And best of all Second Lent is over and I get to see Spud! The Next Phase Begins!

Monday, 17 May 2010


In 24 hours my last exam will be behind me. 

In 24 hours I will no longer be a student.

In just under 48 hours I leave home!

I am mostly excited. 

Went back home again
This sucks gotta pack up and leave again
Say goodbye to all my friends
Can't say when I'll be there again
It's time now to turn around
Turn my back on everything
Turn my back on everything

Everything's changing when I turn around
All out of my control, I'm a mobile
Everything's changing when I turn around
All out of my control, I'm a mobile

- Avril Lavigne 'Mobile' -

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Counting my Blessings

She is my blessing:

(the girl on the right)

As are they:

As are they:

(although not sure about the guy on the right - sticking out his tongue - whom I met for the first time last night - and probably won't see again)

They are my blessings:

He is definitely a blessing:

All my uni friends, all my work colleagues, all my church acquaintances, all my facebook friends...

They are all blessings. 

And you, dear reader, you are a blessing to me...

I am so thankful for all these people. I am a very blessed woman. 

This is the song in my heart today:

Blessed be Your name
In a land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
When I'm found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in Lord
Still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

Blessed be Your name
When the sun's shining down on me
When the world's all as it should be
Blessed be Your name

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there's pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

Every blessing You pour out
I'll turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in Lord
Still I will say:

Blessed be the name of the Lord...

You give and take away
You give and take away
My heart will choose to say
Lord, blessed be your name

Blessed be the name of the Lord...

Matt Redman - Blessed be Your Name

Saturday, 15 May 2010

So Long, Farewell

Last night I attended my leavers' meal, along with two hundred or so of my peers. It was an opportunity for staff to wish us third years well, and to enjoy one last night with the people we've known and worked with for the last three years. Here are a few photographs from the evening:

The awesome table one!

Hannah and I have always been on the same wavelength. We met by chance the morning after our first night in halls, and kept each other sane during our first year! 

Devilishly rich chocolate torte.

Smiles :-)

Creative writing group shot. We were joined by our two creative writing lecturers too!

I have had an unforgettable three years at university, and I think both staff and students have made the experience worthwhile. 

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Laurence Sterne knows how to Ramble

I am sick to the back of my teeth of revision and it's only day two. I feel I've done enough for today but decided to finish with a blog post that is effectively revision in itself. On Sunday night, I finally finished Laurence Sterne's gruelling novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. Some of you will know that I gave up on it one hundred pages in back at Easter, and then gave it another go recently. 

I have to admit, Tristram Shandy did grow on me, although it was a book that I tuned in and out of. At times I took nothing in for many pages, but I mostly grasped the plot (if you can call it a plot). Stylistically, it's a fascinating read, and in some ways the visual, textual devices tell you more than the fragmented narrative itself, from the dramatic double-sided black page and marble page, to the blank page upon which he invites the reader to draw a picture of the character he describes. The novel is pure filth and full of double meanings, although Sterne attributes these to the reader's dirty mind. Our lecturer said that the two main elements of the novel are sex and death. If you grasp this, then you can pretty well grasp the novel. 

The narrator himself, Tristram Shandy, consistently digresses and consequently never gets very far with the storyline, although that seems to be the whole point of the text, which is intended to reflect the formlessness of life and the impossibility of mapping it out and documenting it fully. When you embark on the novel, you effectively embark on a journey with the narrator. For all his annoying habits you can't help but grow quite fond of Tristram Shandy, even though at times he bores you to tears! I'm really glad I persevered with the novel and made it to the end. 

Monday, 10 May 2010

Elements of a Good Cup of Tea

Firstly, brand of tea will have a significant impact on both strength and flavour. The best teabags are aromatic, by which I mean that when you waft a teabag before your nose you should be able to smell it (this is actually one of my all time favourite scents), and without straining for the scent. If you can't smell the teabag at all then chances are that your cup of tea will be tasteless, little more than boiled water with a trickle of milk. If flavour is the key for you, then you can't afford to stint yourself. My favourite brand of tea is Fairtrade, not cheap by any means, but the main everyday luxury I allow myself. The scent meets the requirements above. 

Tea is best made in a teapot, rather than a cup. In my opinion, a teapot must have personality, whether due to the design, pattern, or accessories (i.e. tea cosy). My teapot only has capacity for one cup of tea, but it is duck egg blue (blue is my favourite colour). I also own a bigger, square teapot to match the square teacups Spud and I bought from a car boot sale: definitely unique! A teapot doesn't need to be unique or pretty in order to make a good cup of tea, but it does effect the presentation - likewise, the mugs or teacups. 

When the tea has been made, it should be left for five minutes, with the tea cosy in place. If the tea is still weak when it's ready to be poured, stir the pot with a teaspoon as required. Always add the tea to the milk rather than vice-versa. I don't know why but it always tastes better this way. Don't let it get too cold before drinking, but start the sipping process shortly after pouring. Tea is always good with cake or biscuits. Happy tea drinking! How do you like your tea?

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The May Ball

Last night I attended the annual May Ball with a group of friends from university. We spent almost the whole day getting ourselves ready, but it was worth it; we all looked stunning! There was just enough time to pose for a few photographs before our taxi arrived:

My fellow creative writers and I

My hostesses (they put up with me up for the night!)

We were the first guests to arrive! Lol. The marquee looked amazing!

The entertainment was first class!

There was a bit of waiting around to begin with, before the party got under way, but there was a chocolate fountain and candy floss to keep us entertained!

It was very cold. The dancing helped us to warm up!

There were plenty of photo opportunities throughout the night:

By midnight none of us were drunk and we were all dying for a cup of tea! We were able to purchase our desired beverage from one of the catering trucks. 

By one-thirty we were ready to retire and caught the taxi back, although it was another hour or so before we hit the hay. We changed into our pyjamas and talked over one last cup of tea. It was an excellent night!

(All of the photographs are mine apart from 7, 9 & 10, which are Alice's; 16, which is Kelly's; and 18 & 19, which are Nick's).