Monday, 4 January 2016

30 is the I guess

At roughly 4:15 am this morning I turned 30. When I turned 21 I had a bit of a freak out. Before my 25th birthday I wondered what I'd done with my life and vowed to make the final 5 years memorable.

Now I turn 30, a time when I have seen other people get reflective, or sad, or emotional in some way. I don't really feel much, beyond excitement for what is hopefully going to be a lovely evening. I've been looking forward to 30. I've noticed a trend in my 20's: the older I get the less I worry or care about things out of my control.

I've seen a fair few people attempting to complete a list of 30 things before they are 30, aptly called 30 before 30. When I first saw such a thing a few years ago I contemplated making a list of my own. However, I've become a lot more self aware in my 20's, too. I realised pretty quickly that I'd make a list, focus on it, perhaps achieve a few things, be unable to achieve others due to finances, time or circumstances, and then forget about it until just before my birthday. At that point I would look at the list and wonder what I'd done with my life.

Instead I've decided I'm going to list 30 things I've done this decade, some of which are small, some are big.

So, here goes:

  1. I had my first kiss.
  2. I got my first boyfriend (is there a better way of saying this? I got someone just sounds a little odd and possessive to me...anyway, I digress)
  3. My boyfriend and I managed to make it through 18 months apart, whereby we were in two different continents, dealing with terrible internet connections and often a 12 hour time difference
  4. I moved in with my boyfriend, 
  5. We got engaged. 
  6. We got married.
    This is pretty much the sum total of all photographs of us together. I've resolved to take more pictures of the two of us.

    Brilliant photograph by Amy at Take Aim Photography
  7. I completed my LLB (International). 
  8. Oh, yeah, I studied abroad for a year, hence Corey and I spending 18 months apart. 
  9. I took a gap year to save and earn enough money in order to complete a masters. 
  10. In January 2012 I graduated for the second time, with a Human Rights LLM
  11. I made some wonderful friends in my 20's first at university, then through work, and finally through the internet. 
  12. A few years ago I got on a train to Manchester, then one to London, to meet people I'd only ever talked to over blogs and twitter. Some of those people were at my wedding. One was my bridesmaid. 
  13. I've learnt to let go of friendships, for one reason or the other. I discovered that, even when necessary, this can cause a lot of pain, and the grief of friendships lost can last for years,
  14. I did Belly Dancing classes, and would like to start them up again if I can only find where the person teaching the classes has set up her studio. 
  15. I took Burlesque classes, and was disappointed to have to miss the last few - they involved the popping of strategically placed balloons. 
  16. I learnt to run again. Of course this is a skill that we all have, but instead of running a few metres and having to stop because my heart was pounding and I was out of breath, I learnt how to run for half an hour at a time. 
  17. I completed a race for life. Granted I walked for most of it, but I had worked the 6 days previously, plus it was a pretty hot day...ok, fine, whatever, I wasn't fit enough to run it. However....
  18. A year after the Race for Life I completed my first 10k obstacle course run. I completed a second WOLF run 3 months later. 
  19. I went to Rome twice, a place I had wanted to visit since I first learnt about the Romans. 
  20. Corey and I had two holidays in Edale, where I discovered I quite like hiking. 
  21. We took a trip to Norfolk during the month of February - I learnt that winter camping is not for me. 
  22. We went to the Isle of Skye - a place I longed to return to. I vaguely remembered the first trip there with my family, although my memory was only of torrential rain and very deep puddles on the road. My second holiday there with Corey was far less rainy and a lot more memorable. 
  23. After 9 years together I finally took Corey to South Africa and showed him a few of the places of my childhood. 
  24. We honeymooned in the Lake District - a place I had wanted to visit for years. Although we spent most of our time napping, we managed to complete one of the walks that was in a book I had given to Corey - 50 walking routes to Britain's most spectacular views. 
  25. I learnt how to crochet and knit. Apologies to anyone who has ever had my handmade goods thrust upon them. 
  26. I bought a DSLR and have started to learn how to take good photographs. 
  27. I began German lessons in the hopes that maybe one day I will be proficient in a second language. 
  28. I attempted to lose weight and discovered something. I discovered that when your body is capable of running 10k, of pulling itself over walls and dragging itself through mud, that actually weight loss wasn't going to make me like my body more. Using it in various different ways, pushing it, discovering its capabilities was. 
  29. I learnt how to let go - this is a skill I will need to continue to build on as I still find it difficult. However, this is probably the most important skill I've learnt over the past 10 years. There are things I can control and things I can't. Sometimes even the things I can control are only controllable to a certain level. I learnt to try to focus on the controllable. 
  30. I have begun to realise that failure isn't really the terrifying thing I was brought up to believe. I'm slowly learning that it's important to try in order to discover what you want, who you are, and how to make yourself happy. 
Perhaps the most important thing I have done and I have learnt over the past 10 years, though, is that I am not responsible for the happiness of other people. It is up to me to be the best person I can be, to ensure I don't hurt other people, and that I look after those around me as much as I can. However, I can only control my own happiness. While I can certainly help to make others happy, their happiness is not my responsibility,. It's been the most difficult lesson. It's been difficult to break free of living my life in a way that was aimed at making others happy and proud, often at the expense of my happiness. It's been difficult to realise that I am not here to live up to the expectations of others. But it's been a lesson that's very much been worth learning. 

I am a happier, more confident person than I was 10 years ago. The next 10 years will bring with it its own challenges. I may end the first year of my 30's in a new country. I very much hope to be able to purchase a house this decade, have children and finally get a few pets. These are all uncertainties at the moment, though. 

One thing I know is, there will be no 40 before 40 list. However, I'm pretty sure I'll still do plenty of things, learn plenty of lessons and try plenty of things in the coming years. 

Monday, 28 September 2015

Surely you can't have a wedding with 120 guests for £4,000!

In case you haven't heard (although I'm sure you all have by now!), I got married in May. It's been a big reason why I've been so quiet on the blog this year. The engagement was short, which I am very glad about for many reasons. One side effect of this was that it took a lot of time and energy, both physical and emotional. That plus a very intense month at work straight afterwards has meant that I've been unusually tired. Whenever I recover a bit of energy I try to do all the things, leading to me getting tired again. I'm trying to use the last quarter of this year to break that cycle, be kind to myself and realise that sometimes plans and ambitions need to be postponed for the greater good. A clear sign that I need to be kinder to myself is that I've been ill twice this year with colds. I'm lucky enough to have a very good immune system, so getting ill at all is an unusual occurrence.

We had a relatively inexpensive wedding, although spending £4,000 on one day was a fair bit of money for the two of us! I thought I'd write this post because not only did we only spend that much, but we did it while having nearly 120 guests. Pretty much any blog post or wedding article about spending less on your wedding was all about how you absolutely have to cut the guest list. Those who didn't have to cut their list down usually had a reception venue they could use for free or for a very low cost. Our initial guest list was just over 200, we cut it down to around 150, but that was essentially as far as we were willing to go.

So how can it be done?

  1. Make a list of the non-negotiables. What do you absolutely need and want on your wedding day. Then get a rough idea of what these will cost. At this point you may discover you can't fit it all into your budget. We had a second list of things we'd like to have at the wedding if we had money left over - some of the non-negotiables might actually fit on this second list. Be realistic. If you absolutely must have your wedding in a castle or stately home, it's not going to come cheap. 
  2. DIY what you can. I made the bouquets, grew the table centrepieces (although I wish I'd grown something else as I think the cornflowers didn't work!), we bought the salads for our hog roast from Waitrose and Marks and Spencers, my Dad DJed using a Spotify playlist, and my parents, uncle and aunt sorted out the drinks for the bar. They then ran it on the night. 
  3. If people offer to help, or to pay for things as a wedding gift, say yes. This does come with a few provisions: if you suspect they may not fulfil their offer, if you want that specific thing done a certain way, or if you think the fact they're helping you out will cause issues after the wedding, try and find a polite way to say no. We were very lucky and got a lot of help with things, significantly reducing our costs. We got help with:
    1. Our photography. I was lucky enough to have a friend just starting out whose prices at the time were a lot less than she's worth. One of my bridesmaids offered to pay for her to be our photographer. Our budget would have been £5,000 if we'd been paying for that. 
    2. My aunt sorted out our wedding cake and paid for that as a wedding gift. 
    3. My other bridesmaid did our invitations and order of services for us, again as a wedding gift. 
    4. Many of the decorations were made and bought by both bridesmaids. I'm very lucky to have some very talented, knowledgeable and creative people in my life!
    5. My parents paid for the alcohol for the bar (which was a pay bar, but at significantly reduced prices), the table cloths and the chair covers. 
    6. People were absolutely wonderful in helping us source suppliers. Often they'd here the resigned exhaustion in our tone of voice or typed words and offer to take the weight off for a while. It was a huge help and allowed us to have a few evenings off from wedding related stuff.
  4. Beg, borrow and steal what you can. Ok, don't steal, but borrowing things is great if you can. You may know friends who are already married who have a load of props for a photobooth, or who have things you can use as centre pieces. Ask them if you can maybe use their stuff. As an aside, I have many, many meters of bunting I'd be happy to lend to anyone!
  5. Let go of any expectations you or others might have about what a wedding needs or must look like. This was the most difficult part for me. All around there were pictures of beautifully designed and decorated weddings, in lovely reception venues. We had a venue that was high on the practical, low on the pretty. I kept tallying up how much people were spending to attend our wedding vs how much we were spending per head. I had to stop myself from mentally apologising to our guests because our wedding wasn't value for money. I felt guilty because we couldn't afford to spend much. I felt guilty because people were doing so much to help us out, buying things I felt we should be buying. I've since realised that:
    1. Weddings are not about 'value for money'. No one tallies up the what the wedding costs vs what they spend. They're there because they love you and want to spend the day celebrating with you. After the fact we were told by several people they had a lot of fun. We were asked if we could please do it again sometime soon. One of Corey's friends came up to him and said this is the exact kind of wedding he'd like to have (his girlfriend politely reminded him this requires a proposal of some kind first...). 
    2. People offer to buy things and help because they love you, because they know you don't have money to spare, and because they want you to have the best day you can have. I had two meltdowns during the engagement process, and one was because I didn't realise how much people loved the two of us. If you saw that blurting out of emotions and words on twitter a few months ago, I apologise...
I can't imagine that sticking to any kind of wedding budget is particularly easy. There will always be things that you want to do or buy that you can't. It is particularly difficult when you have such a tight budget, but it is doable. Think outside the box where you can. Our hog roast was supplied by a local butchers. The only reason we found him was because Corey's parents rung him up. Pintrest has plenty of ideas for how to decorate a room on the cheap. Decorations can be bought on Ebay. Expect to spend a lot of time sending emails and ringing people to find out the cost, only to say no thank you when it's too much. 

Do I wish we had a little bit more in the bank? Of course I do, but I don't regret doing things the way we did. We could have had a two year engagement where we saved for one year and planned for the other, but we'd rather put that money aside for a house. Besides, it was absolutely lovely to be able to look around the room on our wedding day and know that it was a real community effort. 

Photo taken by Take Aim Photography
That's my manager with the pint in his hand in the background. He bought me my first Jager Bomb that night. It will also be my last...

Saturday, 1 August 2015

"That was awfully nice of you"

It turns out that a 6 month engagement is not conducive to blogging. I've got a lot of things I want to share from that time. I've got holiday photos from last year I'd like to talk about. I've got the actual wedding weekend itself, with hints and tips for anyone wanting a wedding with lots of guests (we had just under 120 people), with a small budget (ours was £4,000 and we came in at just under that).

I also have a flat to clean today, but I'm ignoring that fact, because I've spent 3 hours posting our professional wedding photos to Facebook and now I can't be bothered to clean. Plus it's made me feel a little mushy. While I don't have time to properly talk about the day, I can quickly share for you Corey's wedding gift to me.

A few months before the wedding I asked him if we were doing wedding gifts, if so whether we were going to have a budget for it. He was rather non committal until just before when he said of course. I bought him a wallet with his initials on, as his wallet had just broken. I wrote him a card rather quickly. I think I'd run out of emotional energy just before the wedding and wasn't at my best when writing the cards (or giving my speech!). I thought his gift would be something he'd bought quickly in the weeks before as it had initially sounded like he wasn't that enthusiastic about wedding gifts. I'm using this as an excuse for my uninspired gift to him. I'm usually a great gift giver, but only if I have the time to think up something good!

It turns out I was wrong. He'd been thinking about his wedding gift for as long as he'd been thinking about proposing. Which makes it even more unfair as that was nearly a whole year before our wedding date...

Anyone who has read Any Other Women over the years may know that the West Wing has played a big part in our relationship. If you haven't, here's a link to where I talk about it, if you're interested. I was desperate to include something West Wing related in our wedding. A quote, a line, a piece of music, anything. It didn't work out. Then I opened his card. This is what he'd written (there is one minor spoiler in this. I've blanked out the second slightly bigger spoiler, hence the gaps in the writing! Any spelling or grammatical mistakes are his).

"Just a little message for you whilst you get ready.

Once again this present is result of an idea I have had since last summer when I chose the ring It is a simple gift but one I hope takes you back to the start of our relationship - those long nights of watching TV together, the day when you were exhausted/ill laying in bed whilst I played football manager. Then the long wait you had to watch the final series; to the geeking out we can now do together. 

Must like the symbolism of the show, this present represents the belief I have in us too. We are '9 Seasons' (10), stronger than ever (and well into the ____ ____ [ed: the gaps are the post Jed Bartlet President & Vice-President] Premiership). We have something that works exceptionally well, and like the show, something that has evolved and gone through several stages. From the early hope and insecurity which bloomed in confidence, followed by loss in faith, tension and arguments (without the shootout), the rediscovery and strengthening. Sure our plans have had to be modified, but I feel that we have the foundation for a strong future. Thank you for being my rock and support, I love you with all my heart and can't wait to spent the rest of my life with you"

Below is his gift to me.

Photo by the talented Take Aim Photography

If you've seen the West Wing you'll know what episode this is from. You'll know what it symbolises to the character it's given to, how important it is and how it gives him strength. It hangs above my side of the bed, where it will probably always remain, for me to look at in times when times are good and for those times when we might struggle. It's not just Corey giving me something he knew I'd geek out about. It's about him showing me that after 9 years he still believes in us and he always will.

This looks like a paper napkin in a frame which, essentially, it is. Here's the one from the show:

From the episode: Bartlet for America season 3 episode 10 of the West Wing.
Picture Source: West Wing Moments
Corey had researched the picture. He found the closest frame to the one that was used in the show. He matched his handwriting to it. He didn't go as far as scrunching it up, but I kind of like that he didn't. The one on the show was meant to be years old, it was meant to show that it had been carried around and looked at often. My one is new. Over time its age will show in a different way. It'll evolve and change. Just like we will.

Now, instead of cleaning the flat, I think I'll watch the West Wing instead.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A standard New Years Eve post

This is where I'm supposed to recap what I did last year and look forward to the next. If I were to continue a tradition I quite like, one I started two years ago and continued last year, I would pick a word for the year and tell you why. I would talk about the word I chose last year and how I embraced it.

I'm not going to pick a word of the year. I've also decided that I will try and recap last year, since I barely posted about it, in a once a week post throughout January. I promised Amy that I would edit and post pictures on here and I haven't. I still need to finish my book that isn't a novel and post the rest of that on here. Again, I plan on that being a once a week post until it's done.

December kind of ran away with me a little. It started off as I expected it to, then Corey proposed and, instead of my evenings being spent editing photo's, crocheting and writing blog posts, it was spent catching up on things I couldn't do during the weekend. Weekends were filled with meeting family and friends. The first week after the proposal was spent calling people to tell them the news. It became rather busy, but not in the way that I expected, although it was all very lovely.

Through December I've discovered we have some very lovely people in our lives. Our wall is filled with well wishes and congratulations. We've had offers of help, offers to contribute to our wedding by paying for certain things, organising others and doing things on the day. Vouchers, cheques and money have fallen out of cards as we've opened them, leaving us bewildered but very grateful. Others have given me so much support already on Twitter. The generosity of people has been completely overwhelming at times in the best possible way. People who know we don't have much to spend on this are trying their very best to help us pull together a day that will be special.

Next year is going to be an interesting one. We've got a holiday to South Africa in March, a friends wedding in April, followed by ours in May and two on the same day in July. I'll be going to one, Corey to the other. It's going to be busy. It's going to be exciting, I hope. But it's also looking to be very difficult in many ways.

I'm currently not excited about our wedding. I'm not enjoying many aspects of the planning process. We have a small budget, but are expected to invite around 200 people, although only around 160 - 180 will be able to attend. So we are stuck with a conundrum: how to you get a reception venue that's cheap and will take up to 200 people? How will we feed these people? The place must be within a 15 minute drive of the church, for reasons I can't go into on here. It needs to have disabled access and level floors. If possible, I would like it to look vaguely nice and be easily decorated.

As you can tell, the venue is the biggest worry at the moment. Once we have that sorted we can get the food sorted. I can then sit down with my crochet hook and knitting needles and hopefully enjoy the rest of the time before the wedding.

I know I used the word hopefully there. Just to make it clear, I do very much want to marry Corey. However, there are things going on behind the scenes, things I wish I could talk about on here, but can't, that are stopping me from looking forward to our wedding day. This is unlikely to go away, but I hope will be not as full on than they have been in recent days.

And so, I cannot chose a word for 2015. There are so many to choose from, how can one reflect what I hope to achieve, what I want to focus on and the challenges that I may face along the way? All I'm going to do is try and not neglect this blog as much as I did last year, improve upon the skills I want to focus on, learn new things and try and enjoy the process as much as possible. I have promised myself that I am going to dip my toes into something new next year, in order to see if I'm good enough to take the leap into the unknown in 2016.

Cryptic, I know.

Most importantly, though, I'm going to learn to spend more time on myself this year. I'm going to learn to say no a bit more often, to step aside for a bit when I've taken on too much, just in order to take a few deep breaths, as and when I need it.

I shall end this rather rambling, cryptic, not all that optimistic post now. To those to whom 2014 wasn't kind to, I hope you have a much better 2015. And to everyone else,  I hope the next year brings you plenty of joy and minimal sorrow.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

8pm on some idle Tuesday

I didn't realise I could get attached to something so quickly.

The idea of you, the concept, the whole tradition that surrounds you wasn't important to me, so I didn't expect you to become so important to me in such a short space of time. I didn't expect to be reluctant to take you off at night or watch you anxiously as I wash my hands, worried that somehow I will knock you off your safe perch and you will be lost forever.

You are not what I would have chosen. The jewellery he chooses is never something I would pick for myself. Yet he always manages to pick something I love. It's always delicate and beautiful, something to be treasured. I wonder if he sees that in me. I always pick something pretty but hard wearing, capable of withstanding the abuse that comes with being worn by a clumsy person. But here we are, me with my scarred, imperfect hands, nails trimmed as short as possible, you with your delicate band of diamonds, perfectly miniature flower holding the shiniest stone I've ever seen.

Perhaps it's the story attached with you. Not the one that started on Tuesday, nor the one that started three months ago, on an August evening as he searched the internet for you. It's a story that started 9 years and two months ago. Where a boy met a girl, girl fell in love with boy, boy eventually felt the same and took his precious sweet time about doing something about it.

It's the nearly 9 years in between, filled with joy, laughter and fun. The year and a half of long distance, very long distance, and all the pain and problems associated with that. The year or so after that getting to know each other again, adapting to being in the same country, learning to love the people we had become in the months we were apart.

The first year of living together, where I went from being incredibly happy to desperately wanting to be married to the man I loved. The years after that, where I learnt to let go and roll with it, as he coped with being unable to find work in the field he so desperately wants to be a part of. He was my rock for years, I became his rock for a while until we both stabilised to where we are now.

Yes, it is also the story of August, when I went off to Italy on holiday while he stayed in England. When he took the opportunity to search for a ring while I was out of the country and unable to guess or see what was going on. He found you in an evening, on Etsy. He's not one to hang about and dither about his choice.

I hate that he got sucked in to an industry that uses manipulative techniques to try and get people to spend more money. Part of your story is that he almost didn't choose you. He almost went for something that cost more, something more big, more flashy because that's what he was 'supposed' to do. His father put him to rights, but I hate that he felt his choice was inadequate, even for a while.

He met you in September. You were sent to his parents in order to prevent any risk of me finding you. His father helped him out when he was hit with a load of extra cost due to him purchasing jewellery from abroad, and so his father has known for two and a half months, keeping it quiet. A gift swap occurred while we were at a wedding. I noticed nothing. You were the gift swap.

And so you've sat in the back of his wardrobe since then. I've seen the parcel you came in, actually, as I rummaged around looking for an elusive pillow case. I understand now why he made sure the bedding was no longer kept in there.

I guessed you were on your way to me at some point soon. I've told friends to expect an announcement, but I honestly thought I was going to be asked on my birthday. Not Christmas or New Years, as, while there's nothing wrong with that, he doesn't tend to go for the cliché.

I made him an advent calendar of activities and ideas for us to do together over the festive period. On Monday we bought and decorated the tree while watching Nightmare Before Christmas. On Tuesday the 2nd December we were making snowflakes and putting them up as we watched Muppets Christmas Carol. The film ended. I was still kneeling down on the floor as I strung the snowflakes up. He asked me if I wanted my other Advent gift. I said ok, thinking it was going to be something small, like the Advent Calendar I had gotten on the 1st from his parents.

He handed me a gift bag. There was tissue paper covering something. I think I told him there had better be a rabbit in there and not a rock this time (long story). Instead there was a white box. In the white box there was black a jewellery box. I thought I knew it all with regards jewellers boxes. A couple of weeks previously I told him, after we saw a picture on a friends Facebook page of a bottle of champagne and a box, that that box did not contain a ring. It was too big. I was right, they contained chocolates.

I was wrong, though, that ring boxes come in a standard size. I opened the box. You were sitting there. I didn't really know what it meant. While I hadn't had an idea of how I wanted to get engaged (although on top of Table Mountain would probably have been the dream), I didn't expect it to happen on a Tuesday evening as I knelt on the floor in my pyjamas. I didn't want to presume anything, either. I'd presumed things before, and it always ended in me crying and him confused. So I looked at him, puzzled.

"I've been trying to think of the words to say, but I can't come up with anything good, so I just want to say that you've been the best thing to happen to me. Will you marry me?"

I didn't cry. I didn't explode with excitement. I saw this coming, although not at the time or manner it did. I did cry when he showed me that he'd worked out his guest list, that he had written down the big things we need to sort out for the wedding (he's left out some of the smaller stuff, probably not realising they might be needed!) and that the Spotify playlist he had started compiling was actually him putting together the start of a wedding playlist. We've enjoyed listening to the excitement of others as we've told them our news, particularly the friend who didn't believe him at first, and then froze with happiness when he did.

It has been a wonderful story so far. Soon we will have to start planning properly. Soon we will have to set a date and arrange things, and get bogged down by costings and planning and family politics. But for now I sit with you on my finger with the sun streaming through the living room windows, lighting up the snowflakes I never finished putting up.

Life is rather good sometimes, isn't it?

I have been told a picture of it on my hands is required. I don't really like my hands, but I shall comply with the request.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

#NaNoWriMo - Chapter 6

All of this had to do with our lessons of how South Africa was ‘discovered’, first by the Portuguese, then by the Dutch and how it became an important part of the spice trade. It took until I was older to realise that a country that already had several different tribes living off the land can’t really have been discovered, but at the time it was all pretty fascinating. We hadn’t yet gotten to the part where the English got involved, but learning about Vasco de Garma, how he was the first European to reach India by sea and his realisation that South Africa was the perfect place to stop on the journey was very interesting. My love of history increased with every story about his travels and the difficulties faced by those who traded in spices.

The trips were different in England. Gone were the visits to friend’s farms and nature reserves with hippos. Instead I got to go to places I dreamed of visiting when I first read that history book.  When I told friends about my school trips, their eyes open wide and they sound envious. Yet they don’t realise how exciting it was for me to go on the trips I did over here. The first one I remember was a trip to a Victorian school. We all had to dress up in that style, we were taught as if we were of that era (although obviously minus the caning) and ate a standard lunch at the time. Other children may have thought it was boring. I loved every single minute of it. The building was so incredibly old and held so many stories. For a day I got to live like the children in one of the books I read. It was fascinating and made me want to learn more. They joked that we might have been allowed up the chimney’s to try and be a chimneysweep if we’d been a few years younger. I left there wishing that I was a few years younger, or just a little bit smaller in order to have a go and climbing the chimney.

I never would have experienced a trip like the one I did to Sherringham in Norfolk. It was a standard trip that all year 6’s took for a week, before school broke up and we all went off to sixth form. We headed up to Sherringham, partially to learn about coastal erosion, but also in order to experience a few days doing different things. While we were there we got to go on an assault course and do an obstacle course. We learnt archery and shooting. In the evening’s we played games in the woods surrounding the place we stayed at. I learnt orienteering and how to climb and abseil down. In between all that we walked around Cromer. We learnt about coastal erosion and how the seaside communities were formed. We were shown how the houses were built with local stone, and I took some time touching the different stones bumping out from the houses, admiring how smoothed with age they were. I absolutely hated my primary school. I couldn’t wait to leave it, but that week was probably my favourite week at school ever.

At secondary school the trips were mostly for history. I went to an inter-church comprehensive, so there were also a few religious based trips and days away, as well as the occasional history trip and exchange trip. I loved the history trips. One of my favourite was to Stansted Moutfitched, where we were able to walk around the model of a motte and bailey castle. Looking around all the houses, it almost felt as if we’d been taken back in time. I found it incredible how houses had changed and adapted over the centuries. They had models of some of the people who would have worked in the village situated in some of the houses. Some of them had recorded voices, which was hilarious. I still remember the farmer like accents of one as he yelled out “I’m Percy Potter” at us at regular intervals. We were able to put someone in the stocks for a bit, which was brilliant fun.

There is such a depth of historical buildings in this country. After seeing a replica of what castles would have looked like we were able to go around Wimpole Hall and Home Farm and see how the estate developed and changed over the years. On another trip we learnt about Audley End and walked around the grounds. For a child and teenager with love of history and a thirst for knowledge, I always wished that we could have gone around more country houses. My parents couldn’t afford to take all five of us on daytrips like that on a regular basis, so these school trips enabled me to experience things I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. It was always fun to escape from everyday school trips for a while, but I’m sure for a lot of children it’s also just wonderful to be able to experience things they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to experience.

In year 9 we learnt about the First World War. As part of our studies we went on a daytrip to France to go to the Somme and Vimy Ridge. It was a very early start to the day as we had to be on the coach at 4 am in order to get across on the ferry at a decent time. It was the start to a pretty eventful day, truth be told. I had handed my passport to my teacher the week before. At this time I only had South African citizenship, but had a permanent residency stamp in my passport to show that I had the right to stay. The trip across was beautiful. At that time, beyond that one day in Paris when we’d emigrated, I’d never been to France. I was vaguely disappointed when the scenery didn’t change after we got off the ferry, but knew that that made sense. I can’t really remember too much of the trip to the Somme as I was absolutely exhausted. I do remember when we reached the fields and we were being told about the battles fought there and the history of the trenches.

History books are wonderful things, when they’re written correctly. They can allow you to feel as if you are there alongside those going through the events unfolding. They can make you feel some of the emotions and feelings that must have been felt by those people. Nothing makes what happened in World War One more clear than standing on one side of a field and being able to see across to the trenches on the other side. The trenches seemed both very deep and very shallow at the same time. It was hard to understand how they were supposed to protect those young men from gunfire and shelling. I couldn’t comprehend just how horrible it must have been to have had to live in one of those trenches for days, weeks, months on end, hoping beyond hope that you weren’t going to be sent over the top, that the war was going to end and that you were going to be allowed home. I stood there next to my friends and classmates and wondered how horrible it would be if I had to watch them be injured or even killed. It was a beautiful late summers day. The sun was shining, the fields were green and gold and the birds were singing loudly in the trees nearby. I could hear the birds because for once my class was quiet. They became absolutely silent when we walked towards the gravestones in the graveyard nearby. Seeing how many of those graves were shared, how many of those graves had Unknown Soldier on it, it didn’t seem right to keep talking about our mundane lives. The sheep in the fields nearby were a constant reminder that the scars of that war are still there. We were told that there are still unexploded mines in those fields. Those mines would explode if a human stood on them, but sheep are able to graze with no incident.

Vimy Ridge was a slightly different matter. I don’t know if it was because we’d been so serious at the Somme, but the atmosphere wasn’t quite as sombre there as it had been. We saw the massive craters caused by the explosives put in the mineshafts. Some people took this as an opportunity to roll down them, much to our teacher’s annoyance. We swiftly moved amongst the trenches, trenches that had been rebuilt to look as they did in World War One. Our legs needed stretching and, while we were conscious of remaining respectful (apart from those few rolling down the shell holes), we couldn’t remain sad for long. It was a beautiful day and it’s hard to stay serious when you’re 14 years old. When we got to the memorial, though, and saw the beautiful, cold looking structure, we fell silent. The statues around it depicted grief so perfectly we couldn’t help but be moved by it.

The trip back was initially uneventful until we got back to England. It was 10pm by this time. We were due back at school by midnight and some of us had been up since 2 am. Our buss was stopped by customs officials, as per usual, and my teacher took out my passport and the passport of one other student. His was fine. Mine was not. My teacher motioned towards me and I got off the bus.

In my rush to get my passport to my teacher, I had picked up the wrong one. My passport had been renewed recently and that one had my Schengen visa in and my right to remain in the UK stamped on it. My previous passport didn’t have that. Prior to getting my passport renewed I had to travel either with my father or his passport, as he had the residency permit with my name, his name and my brother’s name on. I had grabbed the old passport. In this passport there was an expired Schengen visa and no sign that I was actually allowed to stay in the UK. My teacher and I were taken into the main waiting room. It looked a little like an airport waiting room. It was empty. Then the questions started.

“Why are your parents here?”
“We emigrated in 1995, my mother is British, my father South African”
“Why is your father here?”
“He wanted to move over to England for years and we moved as soon as we could”
“How long have your parents been married?”
“16 years”
“How long were they married before they emigrated?”
“Well, like I said, we emigrated in 1995, and they’ve been married 16 years, so…” (luckily they didn’t leave me to do the maths and realised they were married before I was born and long before we left South Africa).

They had taken my parents phone number. I honestly thought that someone was calling my parents to let them know what had happened. I explained I took the wrong passport. My teacher explained that I had been at the school for 3 years. I was questioned for half an hour. My school bus was kept waiting for half an hour. I felt like an idiot for delaying everyone. I was terrified I’d caused trouble for my teacher and my family. Behind all of this I was incredibly worried that they might keep me detained until my parents could get there, that I was going to be left behind by my school that I might not be able to get home for a while. My teacher remained calm, and, while I was calm on the outside, she talked to me to reassure me that everything would be fine. After the interrogation they came up to me, handed my teacher my passport and told me I could go. There was no explanation, no telling me why everything was ok, we were just left.

#NaNoWriMo - Chapter 6

*NaNoWriMo has finished. I reached my 50k words (yay!), but I still have lots of posts as well as a few more chapters to write. I won't be writing every day. Instead I think I'll write lots on the weekend, then post it during the weekday, while working on other things during the week, such as photo editing. I want to post pictures of some of the stuff I've been getting up to this year, since I have been rather lax in that area...I'll also write about NaNo itself. It's taught me a lot about what I can and can't do, as well as the fact I don't know the definitions of certain words. But more on that later*

Lessons were much the same. Beyond the fact that when the register was taken we had to say “Present please” and curtsy when our teacher first came into the room, there wasn’t much difference at all. We learnt how to read, write, do maths etc. The only difference was that we started learning a language in our second year at school. When we left I had started learning a second language. Had I stayed in South Africa I would probably be fluent in two languages. I find it very, very strange that primary school children don’t learn a language soon after they start to learn to read and write. Other countries are so much better at this than the UK is, and I honestly wish the UK was better. I’d like to have a second language. It’s so much easier to learn when you’re younger than it is when you’re older.

School started at 8:20 and ended at just past 3. I would be picked up from school in my first two years of school, but once I was deemed old enough to walk to my mother’s work I did. I very quickly learnt how to read while walking. I loved reading. It was quite possibly the best thing I was taught how to do. Reading opened up new worlds, magical worlds that just didn’t exist on the TV or in films. I read anything I could get my hands on. We would be given chapters of books to read for school the next day and I’d then read the whole book that evening. It was through books that I got a love of history. We were asked to read a story from a book of short stories. While reading the whole book I read about Anne Boleyn and her execution. The story didn’t go into the history much, but talked about how her ghost is said to haunt the Tower to this day, rushing towards the place where Henry spent the night praying, then sobbing outside his door for a reprieve. It was my first taste of history and I wanted to know more. I was so excited to be moving to a place of castles and so many old houses to visit.

Reading also lead to me reading things I perhaps I shouldn’t have read. In one of my classrooms there was a set of bookshelves arranged in such a way that it felt like we had a miniature library in our class. We were allowed to pick out books from the shelves and read what we liked during reading time. I discovered a book that was all about how babies were made. I was 7 years old at the time and very curious about everything. In fact, I still am very curious. I read the book and asked my teacher what it meant. She told me she would explain it to me at the end of the year. I then went home and told my parents.

“I know how babies are made.”
“Oh yes”, they said, expecting me to tell them a typical playground story of how the stork comes or something like that.
“Yes. The man puts his penis (pronounced pen iss) into a woman’s vagina (hard g, the i pronounced as it is in in) and the sperm meets the egg and it becomes a baby”

My parent’s jaws had dropped. I don’t remember asking them what it meant. I think I’d decided that I was already going to be told about it, so there was no point asking my parents as well. I didn’t really know what a penis or vagina was but I knew that babies didn’t come from the stork. They came from some strange act that my teacher would explain later in the year. My parents then told me that I really shouldn’t talk to the other children in my class about this as their parents wouldn’t like it. So I shelved the knowledge into the back of my head and carried on. Parts of the book I still remember. Thanks to that book I know that the egg is about the size of a pencil dot on a page and that you can’t see sperm without a microscope. At the end of that school year my mother walked me out of class. I turned to her and said “She never did explain the book to me”. My parents won’t let me forget my mispronunciations of the male and female genitalia.

What was very different were the school trips I went on. I didn’t realise how lucky I was until I tell people about them. One of my first school trips was to a nature reserve that’s situated in Cape Town. I’ve always loved nature reserves and I think my love stems from this trip. Rondevlei Nature Reserve was home to an array of birds and animals, including hippos. We spent the morning learning about the animals and the various birds and plants in the education centre before walking off around the reserve. We learnt about the danger of the hippos, that even though they look heavy and slow moving, when they charge they can be deadly. It wasn’t said in a way to frighten us, but to inform us and to make sure we knew what to do on the very rare chance that there was a hippo out of the water. We watched them in the lake, bobbing along, occasionally they were just shapes bobbing along with just the top of their heads and their nostrils peeking out. At other times it was most of their bodies. For the most part, though, they were just placidly floating in the cool water. It seemed strange that one of these creatures could run faster than we could. We whispered together, wondering whether there were crocodiles in the water too. There weren’t and we were a little disappointed at that.

Another trip was to a farm. We got to see a cow being milked, although we weren’t allowed to have a go ourselves. It had something to do with the risk of being kicked by a cow, but we were hoping they would change their minds, anyway, and let us have a go. We were able to be very hands on during the rest of the day that we couldn’t believe we weren’t allowed to be hands on with this. The farm had a pen of giant turtles. They were absolutely huge. Due to their size we were told that we could sit on them, if we wanted, and have a bit of a ride. The ones that it was ok to do this to were pointed out to us. Their shells felt so hard and smooth under my fingers, their skin was wrinkly and tough. Sitting on the largest one, feeling myself rock from side to side, I felt like I was going to fall off. The ground was so close, though, that it would have been a lot of fun if I had fallen off. In the guinea pig enclosure we were able to pet the soft, furry, friendly creatures. I put one in my straw hat (as demanded by the school uniform) and it fell asleep. I really, really hoped that no one would notice and I’d be able to take it home. They did and I had to put my new friend down. The best thing about that day, though was discovering the most incredibly sour sweets. We were allowed to go to the tuck shop just before we got back on the coach and they had these green sour sweets that a friend and I dared each other to buy. They were amazingly sour and we spent the journey back sucking on them, making the funniest wincing facial expressions.

The biggest difference between the schools I went to in England and the school I went to in South Africa was the second class trip we had to a farm. It was a class mate’s farm. They just had a batch of chicks hatch and she was telling the class and the teacher about it. The teacher decided that it would be a good educational trip for us to go and see the chicks. She very quickly got permission from the headmistress and our parents. Off we went by bus to my friend’s very big farm, swimming costumes in hand because we were promised a dip in the dam if we behaved. The chicks were tiny, but we weren’t allowed to hold them. Partially because they didn’t want us to hurt them, but also because we were told the hen would know they had been touched and they would be killed by her. We wandered around some of her beautiful land before heading to swim in their dam. It looked like a big paddling pool, but we all knew that it wasn’t and was extremely deep. Our teacher knew that we were strong enough swimmers, but made sure we kept to the edge, just in case we got tired. It was a lovely impromptu outing. Had I been older it would have highlighted just how different my life was to some of the other girls I went to school with. My house and the gardens around it would have been dwarfed by her farm. Luckily I was oblivious to it all and just enjoyed the experience.

My favourite trip was to Groot Constantia, a wine estate in the suburb of Constantia in Cape Town. It’s the oldest wine estate in South Africa. At the time we were learning about the Dutch Colonial era and the colonisation of the country. As the manor house on the wine estate is a beautiful example of Dutch colonial architecture, we went to go and look at it. I think we must have been around 8 years old at the time. It’s strange to think now that a group of 8 year olds went on a tour of a wine estate, but it was absolutely fascinating. We learnt about the history of the house and grounds, and then we got taken around the cellars. We were taught how the wine was made, and shown where it was stored. The smell of the cork barrels was so strong, as was the smell of fermenting grapes. After that we went on a walk around the vineyard. The grapes looked luscious and ripe. A parent that was with us picked a bunch and encouraged myself and another classmate to do the same, to taste the grapes, and so I did. As soon as I did that I heard our teacher telling off another child for doing the same thing, saying that it effectively amounted to stealing. I looked at the bunch of grapes in my hands and at the now severed stalk it came from. Knowing I’d get into trouble if my teacher saw me with it I quickly hid it in my lunchbox and carried on with the day.

As part of our history lessons we went on a walk around the area of Cape Town around our school. Springfield was over 100 years old, and so parts of it were historical in its own right. We walked around it and were taught about how and why it was founded by the Dominican nuns back in the 1800’s. We then walked around the area just down the hill from where the school was. One of the first things we were shown was the plaque that is put on any building over a certain number of years old to show that it was an historical building. We were taken around one of these buildings. It was a private residence, so the furniture and fixtures around the place weren’t from that time. However, it was interesting to see the layout of the rooms and imagine what it must have been like.