642 Things to Write About – #18

Angus-Thongs-And-Perfect-Snogging-georgia-nicolson-1984007-800-533You realise your crush is following you home. What do you do?

Oh God.

How do I escape? Think. Damn it, think!

My unreasonable options: I’m walking past a very convenient bush. Could I just jump in?  He’s far back enough that I don’t think he would notice…

-Oh God, just run. Genuinely, just run, he’s getting closer! I could pass it off at school tomorrow. I wanted to start exercising, I was in my own world and never saw him behind me but just saw the walk home as an opportunity to get started. Surely that would work… wouldn’t it?

Think better!

My reasonable options: Walk slower – we could have a chat, that would be nice – oh, but what if we have nothing to say?!

– Okay something different. Maybe I could walk a different way, as if I’d always planned to. Maybe I needed an extra long walk today. And there’s a shop on the way, he would never guess.

-Or maybe he would. I could call a friend. That would definitely look normal. Or Gran – I’d said I would call this week anyway. What better time to choose than when being hunted by my Mr Chiseled Jaw? Sigh, it is such a beautifully chiseled jaw. I’m distracted.

-Maybe I should confront him? Following is creepy. He’s definitely following me. He never walks this way — trust me I would have noticed. Usually we walk the same way until I branch off, taking the quieter back streets towards my house.

I choose slowing and chatting. The one least likely to have repercussions at school tomorrow.

Okay, stay cool. We can do this. No Georgia Nicholson crap here, please. Please.

He approaches. Very chill, calm and collected. As if this was the easiest thing in the world – ahh, if only. How are some people blessed with an inexplicable ability to talk to people they’re attracted to?

A smile, toothy and white, spreads across his face. There’s a sparkle in his brown eyes, and a hint of humour – not mocking but friendly, approachable. I relax a little.

We talk. The conversation is stunted at times, yes. And I won’t lie we talk about some weird crap, filling the voids of silence in a hurry and rushing on to each new subject in fear that we’ll run out of things to say about each thing. Driving theory tests, our Maths homework, people from school, even Downton Abbey makes an appearance in that short 15 minute walk.

And it was short, in the end. I like to think we both wanted it to continue longer. Especially taking that good-bye kiss into account.

My heart had raced as he leant in. My eyes fluttered closed and that moment I’d been dreaming of for so long I’m embarrassed to admit it – it happened. Finally!

“No way!”

The moment was interrupted. I was a little dazed, but aware enough to notice Ellie across the road. She was staring at us, fingers moving about her phone screen meanwhile. Quite a skill really.

I knew the kiss wasn’t a secret even as it happened, and so I leaned in again. Making the most of the moment while I still could.

As I did, it seemed Ellie had already called another of the girls from school.

“Hannah, you will NEVER guess what I’ve just seen…”

I could vaguely hear her voice as it disappeared down the road. But honestly I was a bit distracted. I’m sure I would care in the morning. Right now, though, I was perfectly happy getting on exactly as I was.

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642 Things to Write About – #17

There are pancakes everywhere.Pancake

Imagine Privet Drive, circa 1990s. Vernon Dursley is purple with anger, but not for the sake of a million letters pouring into his Surrey home. No, no. This time it’s pancakes. Pancakes everywhere. We can probably assume Harry Potter has been denied that treat for yet another pancake day, despite having made 40 for Dudley. Hagrid would have heard, of course, and reported to Dumbledore. We can guess the joke from there.

Separately from this scene, there are stacks of pancakes in every home across the world. American style made with buttermilk, delicate crepes, kaiserschmarrn, little pikelets. Uttapam, okonomiyaki, apam balik, hotcakes, olady, Scottish pancakes, English lemon and sugar.

Each are folded or cut, a multitude of fillings added according to the eater’s favourite tastes.

There is a kg tub of Nutella on an ugly dark green, plastic counter. An overly chocolaty knife pokes from the top. It had fallen in a minute before and been scooped out by seven year old Isabella. Scooped in the most literal sense. While the knife is overly chocolaty, Isabella’s hand is another level entirely. She has used her small hand as a spoon. Thick droops of chocolaty spread extend in desperation towards the floor, preferring the prospect of the cold wood floor to Isabella’s stomach.

At a pancake stall, some very attractive twins cook crepes in front of buyers. The flat circles are so hot the twins must work quickly. They ask each customer: “What’s your filling of choice?” Creamy white chocolate, with sour, fresh raspberries adding a crunch of juicy seeds? Or maple syrup? Add a splodge of white cream, light and airy against the thick syrup? Ahh, the chocolate orange, a popular choice. With blonde hair just long enough to flop slightly as they bend forwards, they use their muscular arms to stir the pancake mixture, whisking the ingredients together. The ladle sinks deep into the bowl and lifts the liquid mixture out, expertly dropping it onto the hot circle. They are dexterous in spreading the pancake puddles into thin, deliciously crispy, yet soft crepes. Five segments of Terry’s chocolate orange are placed around the edge once the crepe has been quartered. Further folding it into a triangle and pressing down to fully melt the chocolate, the crepe is finally slipped into a flat cone.

The first reaction: Holy crap, yum.

The second: How do I eat this!?

My Disastrous Oxbridge Interview

A few years ago, in the Winter of 2013 I had an interview at Cambridge, Clare Clare College Cambridge
College. Here, now, in 2016 I’m staring wide eyed at my laptop screen, unable to believe how long ago this actually was.

A young 18 year old, I was pretty naive and not really aware of what I was getting myself into. Oxbridge were famous uni names in a mass I’d barely, if ever heard of. And Cambridge has a nicer sound to it than Oxford. Yes I’ll apply there.

Unlike Oxford, where they test you before whittling applicants down for interviews, most of those who apply to Cambridge get interviewed. Around 80%. The exam for Cambridge is on the day of the interview.

They asked for a list of books I’d be happy to discuss. I plumped for a few impressive-sounding titles: The Mill on the Floss, A Tale of Two Cities, Les Miserables. Then added The Book Thief and The Kite Runner. God knows why I thought it was okay to list The Fault in Our Stars. It’s taking a lot of restraint to not physically cringe as I sit here writing this.

My cousin had talked me through a couple of pointers for how to impress – my only question? What’s an alumni?

Other than that I had one 15 minute practice interview with a teacher. I remember just one of his questions: What do we mean by English Literature?

Obviously my answer was: Umm… books! Written… in… English?

……….

So now we’ve reached Interview day!

Besides starting the day realising I’d left my top at home (I had to borrow one of my Mum’s that was clearly too small), it didn’t take too long to see that this day wasn’t going to go as planned.

I was the first to arrive to the exam. The entrance room was cylindrical and all the lights were off. Dark, with cold stone jutting from the walls, apparently forming some approximation of seats. I perched on one of these and, unable to find a light switch, the darkness remained until a student turned up and brought the light.

People came rapidly then.

The lasting memory of those other hopefuls was one pompous, arrogant, clearly privately educated but sheltered boy. He had a snooty face.  His first words to all of us were Hello.

No, just kidding.

They were actually: “Not to intimidate any of you, but I’ve read the full works of Marlowe”.

Slow clap.

Ahh, who am I kidding, he probably got in.

I overheard  him telling someone that was a tactic passed on by his teachers to “unsettle the competition”. Well, it didn’t unsettle me but it was a hint that this was not really the kind of place I wanted to spend three years.

Introductions over, the exam came next. I based the argument of my essay on the fact the poem was written in half rhyme. It showed an unmistakable instability, both heard and seen, despite the poetic voice attempting to fit in with the crowd.

Yeah, the poem wasn’t in half-rhyme.

Let the exams go. The interviews were a fresh start; a new hope for success. I’ve always been better at presenting myself in person than on paper. I’m clumsy but endearingly so.

Or I always thought so, until I sat in a room with some of the most judgmental people in university circles – believe me, that is saying something.

I sat down on the lumpy, pink flowered sofa. The floor sloped diagonally and I could feel my body weight bending me sideways along that line, sucking me towards the floor before we’d even started.

“So, what do you think of the representation of colour in The Book Thief?”

“Ohhh, my God, The Book Thief, I really love that book”.

The teenage fangirl in me hadn’t yet died. My half-squeal seemed to fill the small room. Silence followed for a few seconds. Between my wanting to express appreciation for the book and stalling for time because I couldn’t remember when colour was used, the two interviewers couldn’t help but exchange a questioning glance. If eyes could speak, these two were clearly, wildly asking “Who is this girl – and why has she been let into our office”

Something about the Nazi flag escaped me and I moved on quickly with a desperate – “So yeah…”

The other interview was worse. We were given a poem to look at just before the interview – of which I totally didn’t get the message. Luckily they explained it to me step by step. I chose to ignore the exasperated voices.

Needless to say, my rejection letter followed not many weeks later. A very thin envelope – they didn’t have much left to say to me.

Or, apparently they did. I wish that’s where they’d stopped.

I’m pretty good with feedback, I seek it out and look for creative ways to improve all the time at uni and work. However, when feedback isn’t asked for, and more than that is rude, it can come as a very real kick to the heart.

Cambridge told me two things. I am

Number One: Weak.

Number Two: Too emotionally involved in the books I read.

I made many, many mistakes in those interviews, but I only have one real regret. I wish I’d kept that rejection letter. Because one day I will have a successful career, and one day next year I will graduate with a top degree. You can count on that.

One day I would have hung that rejection letter on my office wall to show exactly what the non-constructive criticism of strangers means: Fuck. All.

 

 

**(No but really, if you are going for uni interviews next year, please prepare better than I did and be prepared for tricky questions. Above all, though, remember that your interview is as much to see how much you like the university as it is for them to see how much they like you. Keep your chin up and your head down and damn well keep swimming. We’ll all get there eventually)**

642 Things to Write About – #16

The cardboard box took up half of the room…

single-wall-boxes

This is not just any cardboard box. It’s a castle. A cardboard, kind of flimsy castle.

When we were young, me and my brother built (with the help of our Grandpa and Great Aunt) the best cardboard castle-fort you’ve ever seen.

It was painted with gold and silver sparkly paint, bought especially.

Thick black lines covered this paint at intervals, creating what, as a child, I would call “arrow holes”.

There was a drawbridge!

I’m not kidding, an actual, working drawbridge.

The rectangle of cardboard would lower, with a light tap against the long grass below. I say lower, but it would be more accurate to say fell. It was tied to the castle with thick rope that pulled tight when the drawbridge reached the floor. A gate into the cardboard box of dreams.

I remember a corridor. It was narrow and low. I ran my finger tips along the rough walls, here and there encountering bumps where each box was joined with slippery masking tape. Those sections emitted a small squeak as my fingers passed by.

It was narrow in those corridors, but not dark. We weren’t quite advanced enough to make ceilings.

I imagined I was a Princess from ancient myths. Wearing one of those pointed hats, with the whisps of material sewn from the top.

Now, my imagination would take that hat off as I walked between the cardboard walls, grass underfoot. This little girl would embrace the feminine when she wanted to, moving slowly towards the handsome but imaginary knight waiting for her within.

But when my brother called to have a pretend sword fight, the gender binaries of Arthurian legend were eclipsed easily by a child’s imagination. Leaped over, even.

I ran from the cardboard castle of dreams, out the drawbridge to the grass in front. With more cardboard, me and my brother echoed the pretend sword fights of millions of children before us.

Clang,

clang,

our imaginations were relentless, back then. That castle was more than just cardboard, then. To us, that was a real castle – brick, mortar, a place of real danger and intrigue. Even now, my imagination is tempted to agree.

642 Things to Write About – #15

astronomers-see-the-universe-dying-all-around-us-489041-2You meet a girl who, when she closes her eyes, can see the entire universe. Tell us about this girl.

“There’s a girl in this town that people just can’t comprehend, she can’t help transcending what is normal. She works unlike anything that anyone has seen and they’re scared when she’s there now that they’re aware…Her hands could hold infinity inside them to revere, but all they do is fear. They’d give in to new till it was known, treading the untrodden, making foreign home, everything she wanted. Show them strange, offer them the odd. Give them river crossings, watch them leap and run…There’s none as blind as those who close their eyes to change, there’s none as deaf as those who will not hear. Her hands could hold infinity inside them”.

This really quite long quote is part of a beautiful song called “What Matters” from The Clockmaker’s Daughter

The girl who can see the entire universe when she closes her eyes would be of the unusual type. A geeky girl at school. Not necessarily lonely, she would have a lot of close friends. Still, not part of the popular set though.

Just like the girl in The Clockmaker’s Daughter, this girl has a passion for life. She lives life like they do in books and movies. You know, when they use words like leap, run, verve, energy and seize.  This character takes every opportunity and creates opportunities for herself.

And then, when she closes her eyes, she can see the whole universe because that’s what she explores in her waking hours.

Her imagination adds the bits that are beyond the earth’s bounds. But adds them with the expectation that she’ll get there, too. One day. She explores an endless what if in her dreams. She wakes and those dreams become reality, even on the most mundane of days.

This girl gets tired and this girl has obstacles. But she climbs up and over them to stand on top and see the world that was hidden behind. (Shall we ignore the similarity of that image to Satan entering Eden? Good – right).

This girl sounds like a myth.

But you know what? If we work hard, I think we might just make our own myths reality. And oh, what then.

642 Things to Write About – #14

All the glass in the world has disappeared.Reef-shark

Laura jumped awake with cold. It was September and the slight Summer heat that now and again blesses Great Britain had faded without a trace. Dead winter already.

Her blind was bumping gently against the books piled on her windowsill. Glancing with daunted eyes past the unopened copy of Paradise Lost, Laura turns towards the mirror leaning against the wall at the foot of her bed.

A tired face and dull skin. But refreshed eyes looking back.

That’s what she expects to see.

But see this she does not.

The bare board that usually supports the glass stares back instead. Curious, and suddenly remembering that she had closed her window very tightly the night before, to keep out the cold late-Autumn air, Laura raises her blind. Her window was there. Window-frame, at least. Utterly glassless.

On a train to London, Will and Sarah are standing. Uncomfortably. Will is squashed against the side, trying his best not to lean on the emergency don’t-break-me glass. Suddenly they’re hit by a cold wind. Chilling them through.

Hair blown all around. Noses very cold and very red, very quickly. Commuters are looking about in confusion. A man with grey hair in an old-fashioned pin striped suit is moving his hand towards the window. Those watching expect the hand to hit the glass. But it doesn’t. On it travels. Outside the bounds of the metal train, that hand discovers to all that the double layer of glass has disappeared.

The wheels of the train grind against the tracks, sending visible sparks into the air. Will looks behind him to see the glass from the emergency break has disappeared.

At the London Aquarium, an early morning  tour for school children has reached the middle and most exciting section – the shark tank! The shark fins are cutting through the water, tails flipping from side to side. The fish seem so close!

No one has time to notice that the glass disappears before water floods out of the tank. Luckily these fish are tame. (You can even pay to swim in the large tank if you’re mad enough). Lucky because this isn’t Jaws. More like Finding Nemo,the intelligent fish seize their opportunity for escape.

Launching themselves with the water, through the holes in the wall where glass windows once sat, the fish aim for the Thames. Screams follow the sharks, particularly, as they fly through the air and hit the water by the street below. It’s a big leap for the fish to make. But, by and large, make it they do.

The children still inside the aquarium are drenched but grin broadly. Gradually, they let go of the side bars each had grabbed, attempting to prevent injury. Like Doctor Who and Rose, not wanting to get sucked into a parallel world, they had clung on.

They watch as shark fins, poking from the murky water of the Thames, head in threes away from London and out to sea.

Memories

I’m going to tell you a story.memories

Well, three stories actually, but don’t worry they’re only little. I also hope they’re not too self-indulgent. I promise, there’s a point to this.

The news broke this week that Vitamin D can help prevent dementia. We all know dementia sucks. Really, genuinely – it sucks. But just admitting that isn’t enough. That’s not news. Prevention needs to be our priority.

So what about those three stories? It would probably help to tell you that I have known three grandparents in my twenty years. All three have forgotten me.

My Grandpa died of Alzheimer’s the day after my 18th birthday. (Sidenote: his funeral was the day before my Cambridge interview. They told me I was “weak” and “too emotionally involved”  – but that is a post for another day). His illness was quick. So quick it ended almost before it began. That’s how it felt anyway. I’ve found that the brain takes a little while to catch up with life sometimes.

That’s how Alzheimer’s works. It’s so fast. One minute that person is present, themselves, they know you when you walk in the room. And when their eyes settle on you there’s that look of recognition. Followed by warmth and a smile.

Next minute they’re gone.

Well, no that’s not quite true. Alzheimer’s is unlike any other disease because the person you once knew and loved, their personality is gone. I don’t know where but like steam from a kettle it disappears into the air. Yet their body remains.

My Grandpa fell over, half in the street – half in the road (another side note: not one person helped him). After that, it all went down hill. He forgot who we were. I won’t share what I saw in the hospital, of any of my grandparents, because it wasn’t nice and I don’t want that to be my lasting memory of them that I share.

I said Alzheimer’s is unlike any other disease, but it is, of course, a branch of dementia. Only, dementia works much, much slower.

My Grandad had dementia for seven years before he died.

It’s strange how normal it can become. For your grandparents not to know you, I mean. After I while we’d stop going to see them. Maybe twice a year. I don’t know if that makes us bad people, but it was difficult. Not just for us, either.

Try to imagine living sat in the same chair every day (not that you’d remember day on day, I suppose, but stay with me). These people come and visit you. people who seem to know you, but they’re strangers. You have to sit and have tea with them as they desperately try to rustle up a conversation.

This is all doom and gloom. Honestly, sometimes there would be a little light of humour. If you looked at things differently. Like when my Grandad told us about how he’d won the 100m at the Olympic Games the day before we visited.

These stories were rare, though, and they depend on the character of the patient.

The drawn out nature of dementia means that you get used to the monotony of it. Almost fall into the trap of expecting the sufferer to be there all the time. That’s why, the week before I heard the news that my Grandad had died I was making plans to visit with my Dad and brother when I returned home from uni. Then the phone call came.

It was at that funeral that my Gran looked at me and my brother and said words I’ll never forget.

“Who are these two then?”

That was almost two years ago now. My Gran’s in a home now, more forgetful each day. Anyone with old relations will know that infections, while they leave our loved ones alive, always make things a whole lot worse. My Gran can’t remember my Grandad anymore. I always knew that when I heard that news, things would have reached their worst point.

I don’t know when to mourn. What’s coming is inevitable, but to an extent it’s already happened. My Gran isn’t my Gran anymore. But we just keep on, trying to pretend that she is.

And that’s why I’m writing this post. Because right now I need you all to go and do a sudoku puzzle and get yourselves some vitamin D. You’re all strangers but I need you to do that. One day, I guess, strangers might just be our families. And I like to think that we all have something in common as humans anyway.

So. Go and do a puzzle, eat a fish – a whole fish. Never regret any memories that you have. No matter how cringey, never regret them. They are memories, at least.

Please, just do those things. Do those things and you’ll be grand.