Now We Are 28: A Sense of Belonging

Last weekend marked the ten year anniversary of my first week at Durham University and thus it is also ten years since I left home for the first time. In the intervening decade I’ve lived in five different cities, six houses, seven flats, and packed my entire life into boxes at least 15 times. I still live more than 100 miles from my entire family, most of my friends and the town I grew up in.

Much in the same way as I love the feeling of travelling I love the possibilities of living somewhere new but I don’t think I’ve ever felt I “belonged” somewhere as much as I did when I first moved to Durham. I was terrified when we first arrived of course, for some reason I spent most of the journey panicking that I would be ostracised for bringing too much stuff with me (I needn’t have worried) and that I wouldn’t make any friends (ditto). But within two weeks, once I’d survived fresher’s flu and navigated a nightmarish train journey back to Wales, I felt more at home in Durham than I’d ever felt anywhere in my life. This wasn’t an indictment on my much-loved family and friends, just a reflection on how much of a fish out of water I’d been. Leaving Durham three years later was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done – and remains so, seven years of difficult decisions later.

By now, almost everyone I know is pretty settled – most people seem to pick a place and stay put, whether by birth or by choice. That happened pretty quickly with a lot of my friends – people dispersed to various locations once we left university and then seem to have remained there. People often look at me strangely when I talk about moving around the country or when I happily travel 100 miles for a night out with friends. It’s odd because I don’t consider myself particularly well travelled. The wanderlust is unintentional, I like to arrive at new places but I also like to leave – if you’ve ever met my dog Roscoe you’ll know he is also very much of this persuasion!

So, true to form the latest move – to Nottingham, a mere four months ago – was decided pretty much on the spur of the moment, I’d been offered a job and the boy had been made redundant so we thought we’d try a change of scenery. Unexpectedly it was a bigger adjustment than I’d been expecting, somehow I’d become settled whilst I wasn’t looking. The job I left behind was one I loved and only left because it was made very clear to me that, however hard I worked and whatever additional responsibilities I took on, I’d never be able to earn a promotion. Actually leaving was heartbreaking but after months of frustration it was the only choice. Similarly, I cried the day we left our little house in Leamington – it may have been too small and possessed of an extremely irritating landlord but it was the boy and my first home together. For someone who claims to thrive on change all of this upheaval was harder to deal with than I remembered…

I feel like I belong everywhere and nowhere all at once – home is where my boyfriend and my dog are, where my family are, where my friends are. I could be happy anywhere – a big city, a small town, the side of a mountain – which is a blessing in many ways. At the same time part of me wants to find a place where I can put down roots, knowing that I’m not going to have to pack my life into boxes and deconstruct all my bookcases yet again. Is that part of getting older or will I still get the urge to gallivant around the country when I’m 60?

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School Reunion

A few weeks ago someone posted an old school photograph on facebook. I looked at it briefly, showed Andy my terrible haircut and went off and did something else. In the meantime the photograph of me got tagged as someone else (!) and everyone I went to school with crawled out of the woodwork to reminisce about how wonderful school was and how we should have a reunion.

I’ve found a number of things about this whole situation utterly baffling, the first being how many children my former classmates have accumulated between them! This shouldn’t be a surprise given that at least one girl in my year was pregnant before we took our GCSEs but somehow it is. 

The second thing that confounded me was the amount of nostalgia for high school. I’m the first one to stand up and say I loathed almost every minute of my time there but I cannot believe that none of these people have done anything more enjoyable with their lives in the past twelve years. That bunking off school, bullying anyone who looked at you the wrong way and possessing a vastly inflated sense of your own importance for a few years over a decade is actually all some people can pinpoint as the high point of nearly three decades on this planet. I’m not claiming my life is any kind of glittering trail of achievements but everything I’m proud of I achieved once I left school…

The final thing was how irrelevant my school days now seem to me. It used to be a big deal that I hated school but as I’ve got older I realised that most people had a horrific high school experience. I literally never think about it these days, there are no repressed memories – it just has absolutely no relevance to my life. 

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Eighteen

Day 18: A Song You Wish You Heard On The Radio

What a strange question. As per the last post I’m not a big radio person at the moment – it’s good for driving and waking up but that’s about it. I used to find Radio One a reasonable source of “new music” but unless you like autotuned rubbish then it doesn’t even do that any more. If I was serious about wanting to hear obscure things on the radio then I’d probably have bought a digital radio and become a Six Music groupie by now – but I’m not that organised! However, it’s pretty hard not to listen to the music you like as long as you have a computer and an internet connection!
However it is easy to forget about music you love – particularly when the song in question was released in 2002. In 2002 I was very busy being 17 – essentially fretting about my appearance, lack of boyfriend and whether I’d ever get into university/move away from home/do anything with my life. As I was blonde, very thin and reasonably bright that level of angst was utterly uncalled for but I suppose I wasn’t to know that! I also was perpetually broke – all the money I managed to earn was spent on partying or driving lessons – so I could never afford to buy any music, even when I really loved a song. That was the case with this particular song – I heard it on the radio about three times in 2002, adored it and then didn’t hear it again until about two months ago when the lovely Mr Cowley reminded me of its brilliance. I promptly acquired the album for about three quid and listened to it on repeat for several weeks… So yes, if I ran a radio station one of the songs I’d play a lot would be Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots by the Flaming Lips – probably followed by Nice Weather for Ducks by Lemon Jelly if you’re at all interested!
Her name is Yoshimi
she’s a black belt in karate
working for the city
she has to discipline her body

‘Cause she knows that
it’s demanding
to defeat those evil machines
I know she can beat them

Oh Yoshimi, they don’t believe me
but you won’t let those robots eat me
Yoshimi, they don’t believe me
but you won’t let those robots defeat me”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Thirteen

Day Thirteen: A Song That Is A Guilty Pleasure

This question made me laugh out loud – as hard as I try to expand my musical horizons a lot of my music collection is made up of guilty pleasures! do like to listen to a lot of rubbish music – it ranges from 80’s cheese to 90’s dance to Lady Gaga. And although I say rubbish I don’t mean it – in my opinion there’s actually a lot of room in the world for bouncy, happy mainstream pop. For example, my friend Ness wrote a brilliant post yesterday about S-Club 7’s Reach – a song which I defy anyone not to sing and dance along to, however much of a hipster they think they are! 
This leads into a more important theme actually and one of the most useful things I discovered when I went to uni was that being “cool” didn’t matter anymore. I’ve never been that sort of girl anyway – at secondary school I sported braces and a haircut which made me look like a boy… Even when I lost the braces and discovered a decent hairdresser I never particularly fit in. Then I went to Durham and fitting in ceased to matter – being myself was just fine! Dancing to S-Club 7 one night and Metallica the next night was perfectly acceptable along with dressing like the abominable snowman, getting over-excited about castles and not doing sport. 
Being an adult (supposedly) and living in the real world isn’t the same – people are ridiculously judgemental about other people’s appearances, taste in music or political views but I do find it a lot easier not to care these days. The benefits of a liberal education perhaps? Or just that I am lucky enough to still have a lot of people in my life who are good enough to love me the way I am – and who will still talk to me when I admit to still liking Britney Spears. Perhaps that’s appropriate actually – Britney is a prime example of the damage that our image-obsessed society can cause however I can’t help but like her music. So have a little bit of Stronger as my guilty pleasure du jour
“You might think that
I won’t make it on my own
But now I’m

Stronger than yesterday
Now it’s nothing but my way
My loneliness ain’t killing me no more
I am stronger

Than I ever thought
That I could be, baby”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Eleven

Day Eleven: A Song From Your Favourite Band

These questions are getting difficult again – my favourite band?! I don’t have a favourite band!  According to last.fm – which scrobbles with my iTunes and therefore counts everything I’ve listed to since the dawn of the MP3 format – my most listened to artist is Robbie Williams. Which is odd because I don’t ever recall listening to him that much. So clearly I’m going to have to put a bit more thought into this! Over the years my favourite bands have been many and varied – for a start I used to be obsessed with Boyzone and had a mahoosive poster of Ronan Keating on my wall for more years than I care to remember… Then it was Linkin Park who used to be brilliant but don’t get included on the grounds that their latest album is criminally awful.  After that my favourite band has changed even more frequently than my hair colour! 
I’m inclined to pick a band that I’ve seen live – some of the gigs I’ve been to in the past year have been truly amazing. I fulfilled a lifetime ambition by seeing Muse at Old Trafford Cricket Ground last September having wanted to see them for over ten years and seeing Matt Bellamy sing Plug In Baby live was absolutely one of the highlights of my life. Having said that seeing (some of) Thin Lizzy in January this year was also one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to and I listen to a lot more Thin Lizzy on a day to day basis than I do Muse… But the band I’ve gone for is actually a completely different band, one I’ve never seen live (although I am reliably informed they’re awesome) – Paramore. Reasons I love this band are multiple: I’d love to have hair the same colour as Hayley Williams,  I own all their albums and I could probably choose a song from their backcatalogue for just about any moment in my life. I wouldn’t say they’re the most unique or exciting band around but something about their music speaks to my heart whether I’m sad, angry or happy. 
The song I’ve eventually gone for is The Only Exception which is from Brand New Eyes and, despite the characteristic angst, manages to be a really beautiful love song. Perfect for a sunny Friday afternoon. 
“I’ve always lived like this
Keeping a comfortable, distance
And up until now
I had sworn to myself that I’m
Content with loneliness

Because none of it was ever worth the risk
Well, You, are, the only exception”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Seven

Day Seven: A Song That Reminds You of A Certain Event

I wrote something for this post a few days ago and decided that whilst the song was ace the event I was writing about really wasn’t. So you may or may not get that post rehashed later on… In the meantime I have thought of both a song and an event that pleases me so on with the show!

One of the things that sometimes surprises people about me is that I’m a big football fan. It doesn’t happen so often these days but certainly when I was younger I think it was less common for women to be football supporters. These days I think the sport is much more inclusive, Andy Gray and Richard Keys aside, and some of the most passionate football fans I know are women. I even used to play football when I was at school, even though I was absolutely useless and only ever started one real game. These days I stick purely to watching it, which often ends up with me sitting in bars full of shouty men who are normally supporting the other team and then suffering incredible amounts of stick about my choice of team from most of the men I know. Because I am, of course, a Manchester United fan.
Sadly this means I get accused of being a glory hunter a lot. And a plastic Manc – although as I grew up 45 minutes outside Manchester I’m not sure that’s fair! The reason I support MU however has nothing to do with trophies – we’re just good, deal with it – it’s because they’re my Dad’s team. Dad started taking me to watch United matches at the pub across the road from the age of about 7 (this was in the days before we had Sky) and I used to have to stand by the door so I didn’t inhale too much smoke. This coincided neatly with the end of United’s wilderness years so I can only really remember them winning things, particularly the Double in 1994! However, as any United supporter will tell you, winning the Treble in 1999 was just an unbelievable experience. Watching the Champion’s League final against Bayern Munich must have been one of the most stressful moments of my life – after Sheringham equalised in the 91st minute I literally couldn’t watch the rest of the match. When Solskjaer scored in the 93rd minute to win the game my Dad, my brother and I cheered so loudly that I’m sure it was heard across the other side of Wrexham! A few days later the team returned from Barcelona for a open-top bus ride through Manchester with their three trophies – Dad picked me up from school and we hotfooted it down the M56 to join the crowds on Deansgate.  It was a beautiful June day and the atmosphere was electric, like being at a carnival! The one song that was everywhere was “We Are The Champions” by Queen – for most of my lifetime always a fitting song for Manchester United. Queen also happen to be one of my all-time favourite bands but maybe that’s due to over-exposure to this song from an early age…
“We are the champions – my friends
And we’ll keep on fighting – till the end 
We are the champions
We are the champions
No time for losers
‘Cause we are the champions – of the world”

30 Day Music Challenge: Day Six

Day Six: A Song That Reminds You of Somewhere

I’m cheating slightly because this song reminds me of a school trip *to* somewhere rather than the actual place itself. However this is my music challenge and I can cheat if I want to so there!

When I was in Year 10 – so approximately 14 – I, along with a bus load of my classmates, went on a GCSE History trip to Belgium. This was a memorable trip for many reasons: it was my first trip overseas without my parents and one of the most effective ways of demonstrating the futility of war to a bunch of adolescents that I can think of. The First World War cemeteries of Belgium and Northern France are one of the saddest sights I have ever seen and even the coolest kids on the trip cried at headstones dedicated to boys barely older than us who had lied about their ages just to go to war. I’ve never forgotten the sight of those graveyards and as an outstandingly privileged generation we should never forget the sacrifices that our grandparents and great-grandparents generation made so that we could be free.

However, despite the fact that it was a very emotional trip, we were all still a bunch of silly teenagers who spent their evenings sneaking into one another’s rooms and trying to work out how to sneak out of the hotel. We also listened to Belgian MTV a lot which was a mixed blessing because it only played about four songs including Oops I Did It Again by Britney and Freestyler by Bomfunk MCs amongst other hideousness – but luckily it also played All the Small Things by Blink-182. I’m a huge fan of pop-punk, I might even go so far as to say it’s my favourite genre of music but when I was 14 I neither knew nor cared – I just loved this song and it still reminds me of that trip to Belgium every time I hear it!

“Late night, come home
Work sucks, I know
She left me roses by the stairs
Surprises let me know she cares

Say it ain’t so, I will not go

Turn the lights off, carry me home 
Na na na na na na…