A level results day: Why my best lessons at uni had nothing to do with my degree

Image credit: PA / Daily Mail (obvs)

Today is A-Level results day, and apart from the mandatory media photos of pretty 18-year-olds jumping up and down clutching their results (above), there will also be many looking ahead to university and wondering what the future holds.

I’ll be the first to admit that my university experience maybe didn’t look that similar to most people’s.

Like it or not, there is a stereotype that students spend most of their time at uni doing as little work as possible, and drinking more on a Wednesday (and Thursday, and Friday, and Saturday) than most people do in a month.

But not only did I not drink alcohol at university (no real reason, just was never that bothered – although all my friends drank, and I do drink now) I also went to Cambridge, which meant that the apparently-usual tactic of doing absolutely sod all until deadline day every three months wouldn’t quite have worked…

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“Self-care” – 2. & 3. Going the hell to sleep

In another post in my “self-care” series, after I wrote last week that although the term “self-care” wasn’t in my childhood or teenage vocabulary, it’s become something I’ve learned is crucial, from listening to wonderful podcasts and reading great blogs on “lifestyle design”, mental health issues, and figuring out how to live and breathe in today’s changing and demanding world.

For the next week or so, I’m going to share some of the best things I do to give myself a little space, even when I’m so busy or anxious I feel like I barely have time to pause. Today, sleep.

2. Using a relaxing sheet spray before bed


And, breathe (Molton Brown)

One of the single biggest things I’ve started doing to really wind down. Spraying my bed sheets and pillows with a gorgeous-smelling, relaxing spray is such a simple thing but feels so indulgent. Plus, the smell really helps me chill out, like I’m at an expensive spa or something. I spray it when everything is done, when I can finally get into bed, when all is quiet.

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Vagenda: There’s hope for women’s magazines yet

If there’s something my ‘I’m Loving’ category was made for, it’s new ‘blog’ magazine (would we say ‘blogazine’? Pushing it slightly, perhaps? Hmm), Vagendamag.blogspot.com.

Vagenda screenshot

Vagenda..."Like King Lear...but for girls"

A hilarious and pithy array of comments, features, rants, letters, satire and spoofs, it sends up the stupidest, most nonsensical, hypocritical elements of the women’s magazine industry and all its friends, with special emphasis on the surreptitious ways in which it sets back the cause of feminism by several decades every single month.

Don’t get me wrong, I myself want to work in magazines, and I don’t want to tar them all with the same brush, or say that absolutely everything held within their covers is complete rubbish. While I am a deeply committed follower of the gloriousness that is Psychologies Magazine, I will happily admit that an evening in with Glamour (which, despite its title, in this country delivers a less-shallow or aggravating read than competitor Marie Claire, which has gone seriously downhill into shameless fashion-adoration in recent years) can be a light, if intellectually unchallenging, way to unwind.

As has been said at length already by many others more skilled with a keyboard than me, being a feminist doesn’t mean rejecting all the trappings of womanhood, and never appreciating the relevance of stories on PMS, dating, which mascara will help you look less shattered of a morning, methods of contraception, whether to have kids now or later, and bemoaning the shit boys do while looking heart-meltingly hot in jeans*.

But a passing appreciation for all that jazz doesn’t mean that I don’t share the Vagenda writers’ deep disdain for the ridiculously patronising way certain publications talk to their readers: the shameless advertising that goes against all the ‘love yourself’ messages that the editorials ostensibly proclaim; the sycophantic celebrity interviews or the constant ‘diet’ advice. The often-demeaning and simplistic suggestions dished out as a response to ‘women’s problems’; the token ‘politics and investigative journalism’ features that get a grand total of one-to-two pages sandwiched between the never-ending fashion ‘must-haves’ ‒ and above all, the slightly unhinged obsession with beauty, makeup and clothes that cost more than the average person’s living wage, which for some ridiculous reason have been deemed as only looking worthwhile on a size 6, five foot eleven model (or, worse, some ‘curvy’ woman held up for all as having the new ‘perfect body’ ideal, each time as unattainable for millions of women than the last).

And don’t even get me started on the slow inexorable slide from initially-ironic usage of words such as ‘OMG!!!!’, to the full-blown daily shitstorm of utterly vacuous, ‘so totes amaze’ bollocks and other linguistic gems designed to reduce the female reader to little more than a well-dressed, simpering creature of consumption with nought but a passing interest in anything remotely meaningful or even mildly grammatical. It started the day Glamour put ‘OMG’ on its front cover, and it’s been on a downward spiral ever since.

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Confessions of an instant coffee drinker

Good advice…..

I have a confession to make. It’s shameful, debasing and goes against my principles. But somehow, it’s happened, it’s real, and I have to admit it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am now a regular drinker of…instant coffee. The realisation hit me slowly, recently, percolating not unlike the better quality of its kind, until I could ignore it no longer. How, I asked myself with growing horror, had this happened?

Coffee. Le café. Il caffè. It seems so simple. So evocative. Ever-present; the first thing I drink in the morning, nice and milky to get the day going. Aromatic and black to wake me up in the mid-afternoon; later skipped in favour of herbal tea to signal the winding down of the working day; smooth and decaffeinated in the evening before bed – and on particularly special occasions, short, strong and full-bodied as a sharp end to a good meal.

Caffeine in the evenings has never seemed to bother me. Maybe my actual sleep is disturbed (who knows?), but basically, I go to sleep as soon as my head hits the pillow (it’s getting into bed in the first place without procrastinating for hours on end beforehand that’s my problem). Coffee presents the punctuation to my life, and, aside from the days when I decide that from here-on-in that I’m a solely-green-tea, holistic, my-body-is-a-temple kinda girl (very short-lived), that’s how I like it. But…instant? Please.

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I, history geek

Gresham College: free public lectures

Gresham College: a veritable treasure trove for the wandering geek

Every Tuesday, on the way to my choir rehearsal, usually late, I hurry past a very intriguing looking sign, pointing to a pleasingly old-looking building, sandwiched slightly less pleasingly just between a Sainsbury’s, a pub and a McDonald’s, advertising lectures and talks at ‘Gresham College‘. The use of the word ‘college’ always alerts my attention in such contexts, as I wonder whether this may have anything to do with my University days – and while in this case the answer appears to be no (founded in 1597, it has given free public lectures in the City of London for over 400 years, named after the son of a one-time Lord Mayor of London), I notice the place each and every time I rush past it – it looks old, but not too old, and interesting. As a History graduate and proud modern history geek, these two words together are usually enough to warm my cultural cockles. However, choir waits, and I walk on by, and forget Gresham College, and my piqued interest, time and time again.

Except, suddenly, last night, as I sat in a sleepy haze next to my computer after a long evening’s choir, the memory popped into my head. I approached the rehearsal venue from another direction yesterday, but the area evidently still reminds me of my hasty scurrying round commuters at bus stops and revellers outside the pub as I try to make it across several thousand pelican crossings without getting run over by the nearest bicycle or speeding cityboy. Suddenly I felt an urge to Google. ‘Lectures history London’ quickly brought me exactly what I was looking for.

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Unpaid internships: An ideal world?

Keri Hudson's victory...the first step on the road to an ideal world?

Keri Hudson's victory...the first step on the road to an ideal world?

The news that an unpaid intern has forced her former ‘employers’ to pay for six weeks’ work has been hailed by some as a ‘court victory’. It seems, at first glance, to point to a new era of would-be interns fighting back against employers who take them for granted and who make them work without pay or prospects. It seems like the step in the right direction, towards a fairer society. But, although that all sounds wonderful in principle, in reality the entire affair actually makes me feel more than a little uneasy.

The successfully-sued company, review website My Village.com, allegedly broke the contract agreed with its intern, Keri Hudson, and expected her to manage interns, while working all day on the firm’s website without training or, so it has been reported, ‘the expected pay’, for six weeks. And while her tenacity at standing up for herself in a situation she deems unfair is admirable, the victory she has apparently scored in taking her former employer to account may, in fact, not be quite so triumphant for the rest of us.

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