Pigeon Post not as by Arthur Ransome

Oh happy days, Pigeon Post days, when I read everything Arthur Ransome had ever written and Titty was still called Titty and hadn’t had her name changed to Tatty or Kitty for the sake of…something or other, I suppose political correctness.220px-Pigeon_Post_cover

And this is the RIGHT cover.

But this blog isn’t about Pigeon Post by Arthur Ransome. It’s not about Pigeon Post either, for your information. I can’t even say, ‘Those were the days!’ because, in all honesty, it WAS before my time. Honestly.Junge_Frau_mit_Taubenpost

(But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we still had pigeon post?)

I’ve told you what this blog is NOT so now I’d better tell you what it IS. It’s about my pigeons and doves. I say pigeons and doves as though they’re different beings. They’re not.

“There is no strict division between pigeons and doves, which share certain features, including small, rounded heads, small, slim bills with a small fleshy patch at the base, rounded bodies with dense, soft feathers, tapered wings and short, scaly legs, and cooing or crooning calls,” says the RSPB. Generally, people called those feral birds you see in cities pigeons and the white peace-type birds doves. Then there are wood pigeons and collared doves…

This is me: (ish)

I feed the birds, and I can tell you it costs more than tuppence a bag. At the moment, I’m hand-rearing a pair of doves whose mother was killed by a cat and whose dad gave up on them, quite understandably, on Day 2 of their tiny lives.  They (Fish and Chips) are now about three weeks old and doing well. I kept them warm in my bra when they were very, very small. Really. And, no, they didn’t poo when in residence in my lingerie.

I love my birds. They light up my life. It’s been hard coming to terms with the cruelty of Mother Nature, who gives joy and heartbreak in approximately equal measures.

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Eggs are laid, eggs hatch, little birds grow, oh joy. Then along comes a sparrowhawk or the neighbours’ cat and kills one…or more…with such savagery, and sometimes for no reason apart from the sport.

By Greg Poole

                By Greg Poole

Heartbreak for me, at least, though I have learned stoicism from the pigeons, who regroup and carry on. What else is there to do?

Or, perhaps there’s this…
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I certainly am at the moment. Being mother to pigeon twins.

 

The rest cure

Do you know what? I didn’t realise the rest cure was an actual thing? I imagined it was just a generic term for enforced taking it easy, which is what’s happened to me since early January, thanks to an operation. I say thanks and I really mean thanks. And no, I haven’t got Munchausen’s Syndrome, “a psychiatric factitious disorder wherein those affected feign disease, illness, or psychological trauma to draw attention, sympathy, or reassurance to themselves.”

(Factitious? A new adjective for Donald Trump? No, too kind.)

Here’s me at the moment:

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Why the thanks for a (painful) operation? (Is there any other sort?) Because I am completely hopeless about stepping back and saying no to commitments. It’s harder for me, takes more discipline for me, to take a rest cure than it is to carry on. I’m always telling myself I should do it – but never quite seem to manage it.

I spend money on self-help books like:

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…which I never quite seem to have the time to read…

 

For years, YEARS, I have been schedule-driven in a crazy way, thinking I must adhere to a timetable in order to get everything done. My alarm is set for the following times: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday: 6.15 am. Friday – 5.15 am. Sunday – the Big Lie In – 7.15 am.

I leap out of bed (or crawl out of bed) and start on a list of tasks too many and too mundane to mention here involving family, dogs, horses, chickens, pigeons and doves, work, domestic duties, networking, writing, university, seminars, activism of various sorts. Just a normal sort of schedule really BUT…

  • I’m tired all the time
  • Joy has gone out of my life
  • Creativity? What creativity?
  • Things I enjoy doing have become a chore
  • I can’t be that pleasant to be around

Here’s something Maya Angelou wrote in Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now:

“Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us.” 

Here’s something I wrote:

“One day is not enough.”

So – back to the rest cure. It was devised in the late 1800s by Silas Weir Mitchell, an American neurologist, to treat hysteria, neurasthenia and other nervous illnesses. (Yes, I often descend into hysteria.) Since my operation, until recently I’ve been (mostly) confined to bed; I’m not allowed to do anything at all strenuous, like lifting a kettle (ha!) and I’m not allowed to drive. If following Weir Mitchell’s rest cure regime to the letter, I would be fed “a fatty, milk-based diet, force-fed if necessary – effectively reduced to the dependency of an infant.” Thank goodness husband Peter didn’t read that bit! He’s been absolutely tremendous.

I HAVE RESTED. What’s more, my mind has rested, for the first time in forever. It was actually quite scary at first, not being able to do all those distraction activities that kept me from…thinking too much? There was a massive hole where chaotic mind used to live.

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The Chaotic Mind by MDK-Fractal (Deviant Art)

Hello, zen-like calm. Hello creativity. Thank you, operation. Thank you, rest cure.

My final words:

“Stay alert at all times, alert to any opportunity for rest.” (As miaowed by Ulysses Brave in The Wit and Wisdom of Cats and Kittens)

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Pigeons’ Pride

Hot on the heels of Pride Brighton & Hove, my pigeons are celebrating in their own way in the garden. It’s official – well, has been for some time – Angel and Daemon, females, are in a loving partnership. It’s beautiful.

 

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Pigeons are notoriously difficult to sex. Even experts will admit that. Young pigeons are pretty much impossible to sex, though I’m sure they know quite well themselves! For us mere mortals, we have to rely, largely, on observing their behaviour. Male pigeons tend – note the modifier – TEND – to strut about a lot, with chests puffed out, making what I can only describe as growly coo noises like avian Tarzans.

Hence, the pigeon who started life with me, fondly called Penelope, with pink ring on one leg in pure gender stereotyping, is now Mr. Penelope.

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Except…who knows?

I very much want my pigeons to breed. I’ve always wanted to be a pigeon granny, she says without a hint of anthropomorphism. Imagine my delight when Angel and Daemon indulged in a lot of billing and cooing and then one of them laid two eggs. (Pigeons only ever lay two eggs, about 48 hours apart so when they hatch, after 17 days, the necessarily intense period of care is staggered).

They were devoted parents-to-be, never leaving the eggs unattended, taking it in turns to sit, one taking the day shift, the other taking the night shift. Time passed…much more than 17 days…

One day they were both out together and Daemon, the one I thought was the male, was displaying again. The eggs were abandoned. Infertile. “Ah well,” I thought. “Young birds. Perhaps this was a trial run? Maybe next time.”

Next time happened very quickly. Another two eggs. Then…ANOTHER two eggs as well. FOUR eggs. Whoaaaaaah!

Research revealed that this only happens when two females pair up and both lay.

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It’s very sweet. They are devoted to each other but, sadly (for me?), their eggs will never be fertile.

It happens, apparently, when there is an odd number of pigeons in a group. My pigeons and doves have always been bought in pairs – which is to say, two at a time, not pairs as in a male and a female. Sadly, again, predators or other natural causes have meant that I’ve lost some. Which breaks my heart.

Interestingly, and I’m not sure what I feel about this, at Lancaster University scientists have managed to breed a strain of gay pigeons. This is in order to reduce the pigeon population. Less fertile eggs. Less pigeons.

Well, Angel and Daemon are happy. I have NOT, as pigeon breeders suggest, removed their eggs each time they lay. I just let them do what they do.

My white doves, Una, Paloma and Blanca (Faith disappeared – so three again)… Una and Paloma have paired up. I’m waiting for them to lay.

Then I’ll be waiting to see what happens next.

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Life is so joyful.

 

 

Palm oil perfidy

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear…

If I thought finding ethical dairy milk substitutes was tricky – well, don’t get me started on dairy-free margarines to replace butter.

Two words. Palm oil.

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Palm oil is in EVERYTHING. One of Caroline’s exaggerations, of course, but it IS in a whole lot of things apart from margarines. It’s in cream cheese, biscuits, oven chips, cakes, chocolate – in fact, about half of all packaged products sold in the supermarket. It’s in lipsticks, detergent, soaps, shampoo and let’s not forget biodiesel.

So what?

Here’s an extract from Say No To Palm Oil

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“The industry is linked to major issues such as deforestation, habitat degradation, climate change, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in the countries where it is produced, as the land and forests must be cleared for the development of the oil palm plantations. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rainforest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production. This large-scale deforestation is pushing many species to extinction, and findings show that if nothing changes, species like the orangutan could become extinct in the wild within the next 5-10 years, and Sumatran tigers less than 3 years.”

So – irresponsible cultivation of palm oil has a detrimental impact on the environment, on wildlife and on indigenous people.

When I began my dairy-free life I started off feeling very virtuous, using a product called Pure.

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Pure! Brilliant marketing, eh? I was taken in by it, less conscientious about checking content in the early days of upping my ethical game. Strangely enough, if you look at their very fine website, it doesn’t list the ingredients of the products.

It does on the packaging, though, in teensy-weensy writing:

Water, Sunflower Oil (35%), Vegetable Oils (Palm Oil, Linseed Oil), Salt (0.75%), Flavouring, Vitamin E, Vitamin A & D, Colour (Carotenes), Vitamin B12

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I’ve started making my own spread now. Here’s a link to the recipe: Homemade Artisan Vegan Butter by Miyoko Schinner. (I adapt it slightly, definitely NOT using almond milk, but using a mixture of oat milk and single soya cream). It’s delicious – as long as you don’t mind a slightly coconutty taste.

 

And now there’s Flora Freedom, which claims it uses SUSTAINABLE palm oil. Well, good for Unilever for making an effort. I’d love to believe it. On the website they say they are ‘committed to using sustainable palm oil’. Annoying Caroline contacted them and said that ‘being committed to’ is not the same as ‘actually doing something’…

Their reply:

“Our vision is that in 2020, the whole industry will move to 100% sustainable palm oil. Our commitment to sustainable palm oil is not new. In the mid-1990s, we started developing Good Agricultural Practice Guidelines for palm oil.

And in 2004 we, together with WWF, became a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the objective of which is to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through global standards and stakeholder engagement. By the end of 2012 we reached our target of 100% certified sustainable palm oil, three years ahead of schedule.”

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The slight doubt in my mind, after all my research, is that the supply chains are so very complex that it’s hard to know if they can be absolutely one hundred percent sure that their palm oil is responsibly sourced.

But…at least they are trying.

And so am I.

 

 

 

It’s not easy being green -ish

Not, here, referring to my newly-achieved membership of the Green Party, you’ll be relieved to hear – that’s incredibly easy.

No, I’m referring to living a green lifestyle. Not in a Jolly Green Giant sense…or in a Kermit the Frog sense…

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More a dietary sense.

For for several months now, for reasons of conscience, primarily, but also for the sake of my health, I have chosen not to eat any meat or dairy products.

“The average British carnivore eats more than 11,000 animals in their lifetime, each requiring vast amounts of land, fuel and water to reach the plate.”

“On the ethical side, many dairy cows are never allowed to graze outdoors; they are confined to cramped stalls on factory farms. Although a cow can live twenty years, practically all dairy cows are slaughtered before before they turn five, as the milk production of ageing cows can’t match that of younger animals. Modern dairy cows are impregnated each year in order to maximise their milk yields, and their calves are often sold to the veal industry…”

That.

(While I DO realise that there are plenty of cows who live a long and happy life on grass, it’s somehow easier to be an all or nothing sort of gal).

Actually, the not-eating-meat side of being green-ish is easy. People understand it. It’s the dairy-free that causes me the most difficulty.

Three things.

The first to be covered in this blog.

Hoorah. I shall not use animal milk of any sort. I shall instead be very green and use such products as almond milk.

But wait a minute… each almond requires 1.1 gallons of water to produce and most almonds are grown in often drought-ravaged parts of California. Water diverted to almond farms threatens salmon in northern California etc. etc. etc… Damn.

I know. Soya milk. Phew.

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“Conversion of High Conservation Value Areas and other critical habitats for soybean cultivation is unacceptable as it threatens biodiversity, endangered species and the livelihoods of local people. The expansion of soybean plantations into forests is also contributing to climate change. Deforestation is responsible for about 15% of all the global greenhouse gas emissions caused by people.” (from vegan.com)

I now drink oat milk.  Oatly. (Other brands available but I like the packaging and branding. Go figure).

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Is that okay? I hardly dare investigate.

Making a meal of a diet

Not so much a diet but a lifestyle. Diet implies the desire to lose weight. I’m fortunate in that I’ve never really had to struggle with that particular issue.

SO…

Hi, my name is Caroline and I’m a dairy-free ovo-pescatarian.

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Oh, did you not realise?

Dairy-free ovo-pescatarian. Well, it has a certain pretentious ring to it, doesn’t it? Even if it’s not very apparent exactly what it means. So, this diet. It means that I don’t eat meat, I don’t eat dairy products – so that’s no milk, butter, cheese (now that IS a struggle, because I love cheese – and don’t talk to me about vegan cheese!) No croissants. No Cadbury’s Giant Chocolate Buttons either. Pretty scary stuff.

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I do eat eggs (from my own much-loved and well-cared for chickens) and I do eat fish.  And I do, of course eat plants. Not geraniums. Not dandelions. Plant-based foods. Including prosecco.

‘Pescatarian? Peskytarian, more like,’ mutter some people, rolling their eyes heavenwards. Bloody nuisance. Faddy eater. Crank. It won’t last. Here she goes again. Well, that’s the last time I invite her round for a meal. You ARE joking, aren’t you? Don’t you know plants have feelings too? (ha ha ha)

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Why, why, WHY? Why this irksome, annoying, inconvenient diet?

Because.

It started when my boy Laurie announced he was becoming vegan, just before we went over to Canada to spend 10 days there following the birth of Number One Grandson, Walter Bear Coxon. I wanted to support Laurie and I was also interested to try it for myself. Health reasons (general fatigue, high cholesterol) and ethical reasons (feeling like a hypocrite endorsing animal welfare causes then tucking into roast lamb for Sunday lunch).

So I did. Didn’t falter once. It was quite easy in Whistler, it being a bit of a hippy-dippy town,  so well set up for People With Alternative Eating Requirements. I lost 8 pounds in weight in the ten days, just for information’s sake.

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I felt…in good shape. No headaches. No congestion. No need for painkillers, which I took a lot of just to keep going when I had headaches caused by congestion. Plenty of energy. Sleeping well. The only thing was, on this diet my tummy felt gassy and empty a lot of the time and there were some important vegan protein sources I simply didn’t enjoy – tofu and too many pulse foods. SO…

I took the decision to eat fish, for protein. Sorry, fish.

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And eggs from my chickens.

And there you are. Caroline the dairy-free ovo-pescatarian. Doing well. Not finding it hard (very often). No intention of reverting.

My next blog will be full of tales of the difficulties I have encountered in my efforts to stick to the diet. It can be very amusing…

I’m trying to overcome my OCD…

by replacing my neurosis with three other letters…

(Thanks again, Jarod Kintz – a quote for every occasion and none).

For the record, I absolutely DON’T make light of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I know that, in some cases, “OCD is not a disease that bothers; it is a disease that tortures.” This from J.J. Keeler, I Hardly Ever Wash My Hands: The Other Side of OCD

In its own way OCD sometimes tortures me. Not badly. I can still function. It seems at odds with the scatty, disorganised side of me. You only have to observe my desk, my in-box, my invoicing processes, the inside of my head BUT there are certain things about which I’m obsessive and when they’re not right, it does my head in.

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It seems to be to do with symmetry, in my case.

Look at this example – one of my most frequent meltdowns.

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NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Different coloured pegs used on one pillowcase. I simply CANNOT leave that be. I feel panic. Truly. I must put it right.

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The relief is palpable.

This is from OCDUK‘s website, explaining some of the forms of OCD:

“Symmetry and Orderliness – the need to have everything lined up symmetrically just ‘right’ is the compulsion, the obsessive fear might be to ensure everything feels ‘just right’ to prevent discomfort or sometimes to prevent harm occurring.”

Yes, to preventing discomfort. No, to preventing harm from occurring.

And, YES, before anyone says it or even thinks it, what completely inconsequential, rubbishy, pathetic things to worry about and haven’t I something better to occupy my brain with than this? Of course I have but a compulsion doesn’t take any notice of anything else. It’s a compulsion.

Don’t even get me started on a missing piece in a jigsaw puzzle.

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What would I do? I’d throw the whole puzzle in the bin rather than have to see it incomplete.

And yes, I spent a VERY long time, while staying with my beloved Whistler family, searching and searching and SEARCHING for number 2 and number 4, missing from Tilly’s counting biscuits, all the while chanting under my breath, ‘It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter.’

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BUT IT DID!

“We all have our routines,” he said softly.”But they must have a purpose and provide an outcome that we can see and take some comfort from, or else they have no use at all. Without that, they are like the endless pacings of a caged animal. If they are not madness itself, then they are a prelude to it.” ― John Connolly, The Book of Lost Things

But wait, there is some scientific explanation to account for the love of symmetry – this, particularly regarding the human face, but see point (ii).

“Two explanations have been proposed to account for symmetry preferences: (i) the evolutionary advantage view, which posits that symmetry advertises mate quality and (ii) the perceptual bias view, which posits that symmetry preferences are a consequence of greater ease of processing symmetrical images in the visual system.”

So perhaps I’m just lazy?

But beware…just in case…OCD me!

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Essay submission time. Brings it all back.

Brings it all back? You mean, my breakfast? Not quite.

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Essay writing. For the MA. First paper due in today, taking us hard-working students neatly right over Christmas and the New Year. Please don’t laugh.

“The love of learning, the sequestered nooks,
And all the sweet serenity of books”

That’s from Longfellow, and no he didn’t appear in my essay. Freud and D.H. Lawrence did. Modesty forbids me from revealing the title. Suffice to say…no, that’s all I’m going to say. Except, it was about horses. Loosely.

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I DID actually thoroughly enjoy both the research and the writing of it, although, at times I thought my head might explode. Voltaire wasn’t in my essay either – but he might have been: “The more I read, the more I acquire, the more certain I am that I know nothing.”

However, one of the questions  we were required to address in our essay-writing endeavours was this: “Have I succeeded in having a good time (or can I fool the reader into thinking I have)?” What a brilliant, absolutely BRILLIANT way to think about academic writing! I did have a good time, but whether or not that’s evident in the essay remains to be seen.

I finished before the deadline, which was good, but then I found myself having all sorts of irrational panic attacks, as if, in the grand scheme of things, it mattered one jot. Nothing seemed to help…

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Silly concerns:

Is it the right font and is the font the right size?

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That should do, right?

Do I have to number the pages and should my name be on it? Is the paper I used too thin? Have I printed off all the pages? How many copies do I need? Have I remembered to put the essay in my bag now I’m heading towards the university? Was the deadline REALLY 4 p.m.? Was the deadline really TODAY, in fact?

Low down on my list of worries this morning: Is it any good?

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That’s what I’m worrying about now.

Yes, brings it all back. I was exactly the same when I did my first degree at the University of Liverpool. I’ve only had, let me see, (maths never was my strong point) – thirty-nine years to develop a better attitude.

Essay DOES mean ‘attempt or effort’ as well as ‘a short piece of writing on a particular subject.’

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Pretentious? Moi?

I don’t think I’m pretentious, but some may disagree. Some DO disagree. Okay, perhaps I was pretentious when I was a child. Not many 13-year-olds ask for a copy of War and Peace when required to choose a school prize.  (In my defence, I did actually read it. All of it.) I really can’t remember what motivated me at the time, but I was going through a phase of reading a lot of Russian literature.

See,  now I’m thinking, aaaargh, I really AM pretentious. Then, my second thought is, why should anyone be ashamed of reading classic literature.

I recall that one of my (unkindly-meant) nicknames was Swotty. Maybe I could regard that as a badge of honour?

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This position of self-respect is not helped by people like musician Moby, who freely admits, “When I was growing up, I was the most pretentious person I have ever met. I only read obscure books and watched obscure movies and only listened to obscure music.” 

THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Don’t call yourself pretentious.

Pete Townshend had more of an idea. He couldn’t believe that, “30 years later we’re still looking at people who are supposed to write little 2-minute pop songs and when they actually try to do something that’s a little bit more, they regard it as pretentious.”

He is so right. Why shouldn’t people move on and be proud of it? Let’s praise this evolution, not sneer at it.

So what has brought about this sudden self-examination about my so-called pretensions? I’ll tell you, shall I? For my Creative and Critical Writing MA, we were advised to watch Melancholia, the Lars von Trier film. I rented it online, but loved it so much I ordered a DVD from Amazon. Not new, admittedly,  but I thought, what could possibly go wrong? I bravely fended off the comment from nearest and dearest – ‘You’re so ****ing pretentious!’ Everyone’s at it.

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Beautiful, yes?

So it arrived. I couldn’t wait to open it and watch it again.

Inside…a DVD of…

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Oh, how I laughed! Actually I DID laugh. A lot. I was thinking, ‘Serves me right for being so pretentious…’

Then I stopped myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Students, eh? Love ’em or hate ’em, you can’t hit them with a shovel!”

Terry Pratchett said that. I’m not sure in what context, but it’s a cheerful enough thought to start this blog. Better than some profound thing.

So here I am. A student. One of those Masters students. At the University of Sussex. Not to be confused with the University of Brighton.

RIDICULOUSLY proud of my student card.

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I can even get students’ discounts in shops and everything, even if I couldn’t get discounts because of my age. Well, I think I should probably get double discount.

I am firmly resisting the temptation — there IS no temptation actually, so I’m not firmly resisting it — to buy one of those hoodies…do they sell them even? Here’s something I found online:

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Simply not my style. Never in the never ever. But I am proud to be there at that university and want everyone to know it.

The thought did cross my mind, before the first seminar — would I feel dreadfully old and uncomfortable with those bright young things?

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The answer? Nope. Thank you, people. Not even a glimmer. Mature student? Moi? Hardly…

So now I have studying to do. Homework. The stuff that students do when they’re not in the Union bar, so I’m told.

I was struggling a bit the other evening, not wanting to shut myself away in anti-social isolation from Peter, so trying to master Freud on the settee in front of the TV. (Freud would surely have something to say about some of that sentence?)

Peter was watching Master and Commander (again). It was Very Loud. It was, though, one of those annoying soundtracks where if you turn down the volume to mitigate the ear-blasting SFX, you can’t hear the dialogue. My solution? Earphones in. Music on, even louder. I may go deaf.

The album that I came upon, quite randomly, was Supertramp’s Crime of the Century. Dated 1974, when I was at university the first time around. The University of Liverpool, reading English and Philosophy. I was transported back to my carefree youth when life was so uncomplicated. I was transported to a state of bliss. Study came easily after that.

Don’t arrange to have me sent to no asylum. I’m just as sane as anyone. It’s a just a game I play for fun…for fun.

This will be the students’ soundtrack, along with:

  • Selling England By the Pound – Genesis
  • Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
  • Blue – and – Court and Spark –  Joni Mitchell
  • The Yes Album – Yes

Oh, and when I’m feeling particularly mournful in an emo student sort of way: The Songs of Leonard Cohen

Happy days!

I love my life. My life will love me back.