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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Painting lyrics: On loneliness, solitude, and hells YEAH, SILVER PENS

Whenever I listen to music, I always pick up on some lyrics more than others, and imagine those snippets as paintings. It can be any kind of music, but there are inevitably certain lyrics that resonate more than others, that I long to put down on paper as a backdrop for trying out a new technique, or a new mixture of colours.

Although it’s not exactly from the most sophisticated song I know (early 2000s, hello), I do love this lyric from Pink – Your Whole Life Waiting on a Ring to Prove You’re Not Alone. I especially like the dual meaning. There’s something very sad about the song (Glitter in the Air, above), but this line particularly speaks to me about the idea of loneliness vs solitude. After all, being “alone” is a state of mind, right? If you’re happy with your own space, and enjoying it (as I very often do), then you’re not really alone. Or lonely.

It’s only when you reflect on what else you might be doing, who might have called but didn’t, that you start to feel differently. It’s only when you consider that other people might be calling each other up to go out and do what your paranoid head thinks are impossibly-cool things, that you start to feel alone, when you were 100% fine before.

I’ve always enjoyed my own company, but I find this lyric interesting because it’s talking about “proving” that you’re not alone. It’s looking at it from the outside, from other people’s perceptions of your own loneliness. It’s not a coincidence that being called a “loser”, or “no mates” is such an apparently cutting insult.

People who like their own space and don’t care about being out at every latest thing, are often at risk from people who assume they must be sad and lonely, and missing something. It’s always an interesting balance between making the effort to go out and do things, realising that social interaction can be a wonderful tonic to life, and feeling comfortable enough in your own skin to be at home, alone, singing to your own hymn sheet, doing whatever you feel like, no matter who knows or cares. The latter is one of the upsides of being single, I think, but the wider perception is often more “cat lady” than “alone and happy”. Nice.

Equally, this lyric’s other meaning is clearly that of a “wedding ring”, and society’s still-prevalent perception that if you can’t find someone to marry you by a certain age then you’re probably a bit of an anti-social loser. (Again, that word loser. SIGH.) If you’re single (or simply alone for whatever reason) it can seem like the world is made for two – restaurant tables, hotel deals, double-your-income house prices.

People with the confidence – or shall we say, the don’t give a fuck-ness, to just walk into a restaurant or cinema, by themselves, often have to defend their actions to other people, like: “oh, it’s OK, I take a book,” or “It’s nice not to be distracted, ahem”. In a duo, or a big group of friends, people don’t question you. As one, you’re often seen as a odd, slightly weird, a bit of a loner.

Incidentally, on a slightly different point, I’ve never been one of those people to have a huge group of friends. My whole life, I have never felt comfortable in one of those big, loud, colourful gangs of impossibly-glamorous women, laughing over their cocktails at the hilarious, wild and varied lives they all do lead. I’ve always been a bit envious of people who can affect such insouciance with glorious abandon. I always feel like I’m the one at the back, pretending to have a great time but surreptitiously pulling up my tights, feeling like my hair needs a good brush, and wishing I could just talk to a few of my closest mates over a quieter drink.

[Katzp on DeviantArt – click for credit].

I’m pretty extroverted, but still much better in small groups – or even better – in a trio or duo. Or as a couple, say. There are advantages to being single, but the world likes pairs. It’s easier. It’s cheaper. It’s understood. People know what box to put you in if you’re part of a couple. If you’re not, you’re either probably looking to be in one, or you’re a bit dark and complicated and y’know, probably lonely as fuck.

There’s a balance to be had here – after all, it’s a famous saying that you can feel lonely as part of a crowd, and I can’t imagine anywhere more lonely than as one half of a bad relationship. Sometimes your own company is the best, other times, it can feel like your heart is literally bleeding out into your chest with the loneliness of it all.

In these days of Facebook weddings and holidays and updates from your most sociable friends, it can feel like as everyone else pairs up and hangs out, you’re even more alone. If you only had that ring – the phone call, or the sparkly left-hand diamond – you could “prove” that you’re not alone, that someone loves you. After all, right, if it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen. Because no-one posts a photo or status of themselves having a genuinely fantastic night in, painting, watching movies and drinking whisky-tinged hot chocolate, on a WEEKEND (cough). That would be like, so weird, or protesting just WAY too much.

There’s also that idea that unless you’re part of that perfect group – be it a firm Sex-and-the-City friendship circle, or a solid couple – that your life can’t really begin. Like everything before is just a perpetual, temporary adolescence (wtf?). It’s why people have wedding lists, even if they ostensibly have all the things on it already – NOT because they’re out for all they can get, apparently – but because they’re supposed to be “starting life” together. It’s An Established Thing.

And that, my friends, is why I decided to paint this lyric. It made me think of all that, and it’s just one sodding line. It also gave me a chance to mess around with colours, and use my silver metallic pens, and that, we all know, is a glorious chance just FAR TOO GOOD to pass up.

Your whole life waiting

Acrylics with metallic pen… 🙂

“Less bullshit, more awesome”: In homage to A Life Less Bullshit

A Life Less Bullshit. The dream...

A Life Less Bullshit. The dream…

Just a quick homage to the inspirational powerhouse that is Nicole Antoinette, over at the does-what-it-says-on-the-tin blog A Life Less Bullshit. One of my all-time favourite blogs ever (thanks to one of my other all-time favourites, Superlatively Rude, who told me about it), it basically provides you with periodic pep-talks about going out, getting off your butt, and putting the work in (however small or weak or rubbish you think the first step) to get what you want for your own life.

Its writer, Nicole Antoinette, doesn’t do things half-arsed. Not only has she become a runner from scratch – when once, by her own admission, she much preferred sitting on the sofa eating cookies – but she is planning to RUN ACROSS AMERICA. Seriously. It’s like, what the ACTUAL hell? If she can do that then I can probably manage a jog around the park, or whatever else I want to do.

Yeah, sometimes it feels easier said than done, but generally, her message is – just get out there and do it, and you’ll feel a whole lot better than if you sat there just thinking of excuses why you can’t do it.

As that other inspirational wonder, Jillian Michaels, says in the endless fitness DVDs I do of hers: JUST SHOW UP. Get out there with your trainers on, put on that sports bra, sit down at your writing desk – wherever you need to go – and just show up.

Looking through some of Life Less Bullshit’s tweets, I saw that she had had a canvas bag made with the motto “less bullshit, more awesome”. Well, I WANT ONE. Not sure how to get one (cheeky tweet about it, perhaps!) but wow. And also because you can never have enough canvas bags. RIGHT? Right 🙂


Happiness through colour

This week’s been really quite dreary – the kind where you sort of start hoping it’s going to miraculously become Saturday mid-morning by about…erm, Tuesday lunchtime.

Not sure why, I think it’s because I had such a fab weekend (wedding dress fitting for one of my best friends, a walk and ice-cream by a West Country beach, barbecue with the boyfriend), that the commute and eight-to-ten-hours-a-day-in-front-of-a-screen was always going to seem dull in comparison.

I’ve also been feeling slightly overwhelmed by everything I want to achieve, career-wise, health-wise…just, life-wise, and wondering why I always seem to have to overthink everything instead of just letting it “flow”…the constant self-bashing internal monologue on everything I haven’t done yet doesn’t exactly help.

To try and combat this feeling, I’m going all out on colour today. My dress is a mishmash of pink and greens, but it’s the desk furniture, nails and lipstick that’s really giving me a kick.

The lipstick isn’t that new, but I decided it needed some nails to match. The daffodils are just because it’s spring, the clocks went forward last weekend, the days are longer, and because why the heck not.

Not the most original idea in the book, but it seems to be helping slightly so far… 🙂

25 reasons NOT to freak out about turning 25

Everyone else is writing these big age-conscious lists, so I thought I’d add my nice two pence (Hey, listicles, if you can’t beat them, join them. Um, *that* sounds dodgier than intended.)

It’s true that when I was 17 – hell, even 21 ‒ I definitely thought I’d have my shit a bit more together by now, when it comes to all those traditional markers of “growing up”. Not sure how, but I did.

Ever since then, it’s been dawning on me that I may have been sold a big fat illusion (along with the rest of my “whiny, endlessly-adolescent, poverty-stricken, city-living, responsibility-dodging Millenial” friends, APPARENTLY).

When I graduated from Uni for the first time I quickly descended into a black depression that lasted for months – nay, years ‒ that was only mildly helped by getting my first job after six months’ thankless unpaid internships, and then dramatically worsened by my then-boyfriend deciding to sod off.

The-DebriefBUT then I saw this list, on recently-launched site The Debrief (which seems generally cool), about why everyone should freak out about turning 25. And, instead of nodding along, I had a realisation.

BECAUSE, while everyone’s telling me I should freak out, and for years I’ve kind of BEEN freaking out, I actually realised that I’m 25, and you know what? I’m OK with it!

I KNOW! Imagine!

I had the obligatory middle-class, graduate, privileged quarter-life crisis that rears its ugly head every now and again. BUT, even though most of the things I was worrying about haven’t been resolved – I STILL don’t think I’ll ever be able to afford a flat, I STILL don’t know if my job is what I want to do forever, I STILL haven’t written that bestselling book, and I STILL haven’t got a ring on my finger, or know if I ever will, I STILL haven’t been to Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Fiji or Australia (I know, cry for me, right?) ‒ it’s ACTUALLY TOTALLY FINE.

So here’s my two pence on why I’ve decided there’s REALLY no need to freak out over the big two-five (even if you don’t have a partner, your dream career, any hope of buying a flat, and still find toothpaste on your crumpled shirt three days a week)

  1. Relationships: You’ve probably had your heart completely obliterated at least once, if not a few times, by now, so even if you’re still not sure what the hell’s going on with your love life, you  at least know more about what NOT to do
  2. Flat-sharing: It can properly suck but you’ve shared enough different houses to know that people (even if it’s your boy/girlfriend) don’t mean to be annoying when they leave the mouldy bath mat on the floor for the twelve- billionth time that week. You know your habit of leaving your dishes till morning makes your flatmate want to nail your head against the wall too, so hey, let’s each just do what we can, OK?
  3. Work: With any luck, even if you’re still doing internships and junior jobs, you’re likely to have a few years’ work experience under your belt. So, even though *certain* people might insist on treating you as if you’re still a new graduate, you’re actually way more likely than ever to have an idea of what’s going on (plus, you’re young enough to actually work the computers)
  4. Pretending to like shit because “everyone else does”: Gone. So you prefer to stay at home in your slippers or go to your favourite pub with your mates or fling oil paint at canvases while drinking tequila and singing along to Magic FM (or whatever else you love to do) rather than rub up against grope-happy strangers in some overpriced club with sticky floors, crap music and flabbergastingly-expensive drinks? Yep, and you don’t care who knows it
  5. Accepting that friends come and go:  Equally, you’ve lost a few friends along the way and realised that it’s sad but hey, you’ve got other mates now who they don’t know either, and these things probably happen for a reason
  6. Keeping better track of your chocolate and cheese and G&T addiction: You know what you can and can’t eat to blow up like a balloon (or fade away like hay in a breeze) and even though you don’t always get it right, you’re getting better at it, and feeling better for it too…sometimes
  7. Getting your butt in gear every now and again: Similarly, you’ve had enough years out of Uni to go through the cycle of feeling crap, joining a gym, getting into it, not going, leaving, re-joining, and actually going, to reach the point where that spin class is becoming least a semi-regular habit – or something that actually, you really kind of love
  8. Surviving harsh words: You’ve probably fallen out – and hopefully made up ‒ with a good friend at least once, and lived to tell the tale, most probably with the help of some frank words, copious amounts of wine and several seriously great hugs
  9. Pay: With any luck you’re making a bit more money than you were at 21, and even if living in the city means saving is nothing more than a mythical theory, you’re likely to have a bit more left over than before – or at the very least, have a few more experiences and nice things to show for what you *did* have
  10. Tolerance levels: You have less and less tolerance for rudeness. Someone being an idiot on the tube or bus? Pushing in front of you at the checkout, making a snide comment or fobbing you off on the phone or email? Er, nope, ain’t nobody got time for that. Kill it with kindness. Or, you know, a four-letter word
  11. On marriage, kids and houses: You’re old enough to know  people who are getting engaged and shacked-up and married and pregnant and mortgaged, and happy for them, but you’re still young enough to feel secretly relieved you’re still young, free and single (legally, at least). I mean, do you really want to spend hundreds of pounds and your weekends on replacing guttering, freaking out about table arrangements, and buying washing machines? No.
  12. Buying a house (LOL): And while you’re more likely to hear some friend of a friend talk about buying a house these days, you’re still young enough to chuckle “Oh yeah, you and whose jackpot lottery ticket?” into your drink without feeling like a pariah
  13. Life isn’t over by 25: Ok, so it’s mildly alarming that Lorde and Cara Delevingne are practically yet to go through puberty and Zadie Smith was writing her first novel while still in nappies, but by now you’ve realised that life isn’t over by 21. Rest assured that AWESOME people like Harrison Ford, Sheryl Crow, Alan Rickman, Vera Wang and Tina Fey were well into their thirties before they had their first big break. Hell, even J K Rowling was 32 before the first Harry Potter book came out
  14. On “travelling”: You’ve probably accepted that even though backpacking for months around South East Asia might no longer be a viable option compared to attempting to get and stay on the career ladder, you’d actually prefer to see countries in easy two-week stints where your clothes are generally washed, you don’t have to carry six months’ worth of stuff in your backpack, and never need to sort out twelve visas in one go
  15. Old and happy: You’re still young enough to feel 21 when you want to, but old enough to know that actual 21 year olds are more irritating than a ladder in your tights and an alarm clock on Sundays
  16. On leaving pop culture behind: You already had your favourite pop stars in place before pretenders like One Direction and Justin Bieber came along. Isn’t Harry Styles like…12? (And even if you do like them, you’re young enough to love it and old enough not to care, hello Taylor Swift, looking at you)
  17. “Crafty” discounts: A “Young Person’s Rail Card” might say 25 and under on it, but you know that if you renew at the right time you can get the discounts well into age 26; plus stuff like European Inter-railing passes actually legit go up to and include age 26
  18. Knowing your mind a teeny bit more: You’ve had quite some time to peruse all those blogs about feminism and/or other issues you find interesting and decided whether to get properly involved or not – or at least, decided what you think enough to have a sort-of discussion about it
  19. Absolutely no desire to relive Uni: You’ve graduated – quite literally – on to other conversations than that HILARIOUS time that Hugo did that vodka thing in “first year” and when Sarah got locked out of her second-year house wearing only a tiara and her pants. First year? That’s seven years ago now. MOVE. ON.
  20. Conversation stopper: No-one really cares about where you went to Uni anymore, and the ones that really do serve as a helpful indicator of whether you can be bothered to get to know them (tip: nope)
  21. Finding your happy limits: You’re getting better at judging when to stop on a night out. Six cocktails down and holding your heels in your hand because you can’t feel your feet anymore? Um, how about some hot-buttered toast, tea and gossip in the kitchen, plus a litre of water and a sensible rehydration salt packet before bed (and if you don’t want to wear high-heels, you just don’t. Fair play to anyone who does but wow, I’m done)?
  22. Respecting yourself…most of the time You’ve got the one-night stand thing down, if you like that sort of thing – you’re either always at yours or at theirs, but you’re big enough to know that whatever you say goes, and if not, you’ll pass thanks. ALSO – smear tests and STI tests, GET THEM DONE. It’s really not a big deal, I promise
  23. Pets: You’ve either bought your own pet or know someone who has, and you get to have dog or cat time without being nagged to go walk it or feed it by your mother
  24. Cooking: You have at least one or two great recipes that come out time and time again, but your friends are still only having “dinner parties” once in a turquoise moon, so it still impresses when you rustle it up instead of ordering pizza
  25. The world is your Oyster (card): You’re still young enough to have A LOAD of stuff left to do and learn and see and achieve which is simultaneously completely terrifying and totally exhilarating.

But the absolute BEST thing!? You’re well on your way to not giving three shits about what anyone else thinks. Remember, the people who mind don’t matter, and the people who matter don’t mind.

Twenty-five. You’re going to love it.