Posts Tagged ‘school’

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the importance of being artistic.

February 10, 2013

Something I didn’t list in my aims for 2013, but that has become a focus for me early on in the year, is to reintroduce art back into my life. This stems initially from a throwaway comment Toby’s father made, asking me what hobbies I had. Generally, I don’t talk about my musical pursuits or my blogging with my family, because I would find it embarrassing to explain exactly what I do, or even worse, give examples of them to people who feel they have the right to judge and criticise you simply because they are related to you (which is not the same as having a close connection with someone. Some relatives we also enjoy a feeling of closeness and confidence with – for me, my mum, dad and grandmother; otherwise I tend to feel that my partner and my friends constitute the bulk of my “family”. If that makes sense.). It’s a similar thing about maintaining a boundary between your professional and personal life when you’re getting to know colleagues. Some colleagues may become friends, but I tend to be very careful and cautious about how much I let people know about me.

So through no fault of his own, Toby’s father has been shielded from the majority of my hobbies and personal pursuits, and is not aware of what I do outside of cleaning and maintaining the house. I dropped the word “blogging” with no further elaboration, and swiftly moved on to focus on my Italian classes. Unlike me, Toby is admirably open about his creative skills: he’s actually created a new blog dedicated to his knitting and culinary creations, which you should all check out. And so, in kind, I have decided to reactivate my drawing skills. I used to love Art at school, but I wanted to study languages and so I had to make the choice not to continue with Art after Year 9. I also was fairly decent at it, but after so long I wasn’t confident that I would be able to draw or sketch anything. I had made a few attempts during the less interesting lectures of my postgrad, but nothing more serious than preliminary tattoo designs (and we all know those turned out well enough anyway!). So after Toby gave me a pristine sketchbook he had never used, I decided to jump-start the year by buying a nice set of sketching pencils, one of those lovely tablet rubbers, and get drawing. My first attempt (sketching a white rose I found online) turned out like this:

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It would appear that I still know how to draw! Since then I’ve done a couple of other things which I am really pleased with, and perhaps I’ll share some of them on here in time.

For my leaving present from Southbank, my colleagues bought my a Kindle, which was extremely touching. I am already a huge fan of it, because I do most of my reading when I’m on the tube or the bus, and my bag is now both less heavy and more roomy. I’ve also enjoyed browsing the online books in both the Amazon Kindle store and on Project Gutenberg. I’ve now read The Life of Pi (which I think is still available for a bargainous 20p), The Turn of the Screw and am currently starting Wuthering Heights. It’s wonderful that books published 100+ years ago are free to download, and I am taking the opportunity to enrich myself with classics I otherwise probably wouldn’t bother to read. Hannah sent me a great link to Stylist’s page on the best free books, which is a wonderful list to help get started on the Kindle (especially if you don’t want to spend too much money on brand new books at first).

Finally, another way I am seeking to enrich my life is through perhaps Toby and I attending some evening lectures. Over the past couple of years, we’ve been to the occasional talk, but as we are getting older, we haven’t got the energy to be out drinking every night (actually, I’m not certain we ever did!) but neither do we want to spend all of our evenings in. So in order to enrich ourselves, we could either do some exercise (I don’t know how successful that would be), or visit some exhibits, attend some lectures and listen to some interesting people. I have found a London Lecture List and already I’ve got some ideas for things that might be interesting. There’s also the second Vogue Festival in April, and I am certain that this year I’ll budget for it in advance and try to attend 🙂 If I indeed make it, I’m sure that I’ll cover the event on HOMME FATAL. It seems silly to stick to the TED app (which is an amazing resource) when we’re living in London and could go and see inspiring speakers in the flesh. This whole post is about jump-starting the year and seeking out new sources of inspiration in order to enrich and culture myself.

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hidden memories.

January 22, 2012

Lately I have been in situations which have triggered me to remember things that were long buried in my childhood and adolescence. These are things that I had basically forgotten about, and aren’t really important but they make me pause and think “did I really do those things? I was evidently such a different person back then!”

Toby recently bought a book about fonts called Just My Type, and he has really been enjoying it (I might be borrowing it from him afterwards, though I have two books queued up to finish first!) and we have been noticing the uses of Century Gothic (our favourite), Helvetica and so on in the public domain and media. We were in Starbucks in Richmond yesterday and Toby observed the use of various fonts on the menu boards, napkins and articles on the walls – it was a little bit random and I think that it is probably down to different things being created at different times. I subsequently remembered that in Year 7, I had an IT lesson where we actually created our own font and we had to engineer the spaces around the letters so that words didn’t look too spaced apart etc. It was interesting, but not really anything in itself to write about. The thing that interested me is that I was 12 years old when this had happened, and yet it felt buried in my past and when remembering it, it was dim and cloudy like I was remembering the life of another person.

I suppose this is proof for the fact that at 12 years old, although we feel like young adults and don’t want to be referred to as ‘children’, we still have a lot of growing up to do and by the time we are fully-formed adults, we have changed a lot. Recently I was working on some lyrics for some new songs, and I remembered that when I was a teenager (12-14 years old), I spent quite a lot of time on the internet writing poems and sharing my poetry on forums. Now, these poems were probably frequently bad, but it didn’t matter – at the time when I was still only allowed on dial-up internet for half an hour each night (remember the days?!), it was the most important way for me to express my innermost thoughts and creativity, and read others’ as well. As I shared things that I had written, I made friends and ended up being invited to another forum where I would contribute regularly, and I also remember most of these people being quite Christian and I believe from the southern USA. At a time when I was still questioning my own beliefs as well as discovering my own sexuality, there were certain things I could talk about and others that I couldn’t, and from a place where I had been granted freedom of expression without judgement, I found myself (even at 15 years old) being careful about what I could and couldn’t say for fear of backlash from people I didn’t know that well and yet knew intimately. I didn’t stay on the forums for much longer after that (although I wrote poetry infrequently and headed up the St Anne’s Creative Writing Society with my friend Daria in my second year of university) because I could tell that I was headed on a different path to the other people on the forum, who were all adults and knew themselves already. I didn’t leave on bad terms, and I think that the forum fizzled out naturally shortly afterwards, but to think that for a substantial period of my teenage years this was one of my main hobbies, and yet now I barely remember it and it feels like I am looking at my adolescence backwards through a telescope. How far I have come is a very good thing, but it’s something that I can only really appreciate when I compare it to where I started from.

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Learning to cook – the journey begins…

January 4, 2012

In my New Year resolutions for 2012, my first resolution was to learn to cook a new dish every month. Now, I haven’t decided what the month of January will hold yet, but just to give you an idea of what starting point I’m at… it’s basic. Things that I can cook include lasagne, mushroom risotto, pasta, a range of ready meals, sandwiches and toast, and combinations of microwaveable foods. I’ve never been very inspired to cook anything more complicated than this because a) I find the process of creating a meal frequently tries my patience, and b) why should I cook a meal for one which takes longer to make than it does to eat?

I am in the very lucky position of being in a relationship with a fantastic cook. He is in the equally lucky position of being in a relationship with someone who enjoys cleaning and household chores. So why should I even bother learning to cook? Well, I’m an adult now – no longer a student, or living at home; Toby comes round my place nearly as often as I stay at his, and I want to be able to make meals that are tasty, interesting and also occasionally healthy. Eating out is expensive, and eating takeaways can get unhealthy and uninspiring. Perhaps I’ll lose some weight and get healthier along the way? I also want to add to my skill set, and I kind of feel that cooking is something I really ought to learn, as a worthwhile (and sociable) human being.

I’m not a natural chef (see: lack of patience; lack of understanding what foods go together; issues around eating and weight), but I did have some cookery lessons at school. I made things like pasta carbonara, quiche, bread, triple chocolate upside-down cake, and they always turned out well – however, I might attribute some of this to my desire to succeed in a classroom setting, rather than any potential I had as a cook. The only thing I ever did mess up was crème caramel, because I burned the caramel in the oven. (I later found out that I didn’t really like crème caramel anyway.) But for the most part, I had a recipe which I always followed to the letter, and things always turned out fine. However, Toby has discovered that there are some basic things that I didn’t know. For example, don’t lick your fingers when you have been handling raw chicken or raw egg – this is bad for you. He asked me, “didn’t you have food technology lessons at school?!?” To which my reply was “No, we studied Latin instead.” I think I was due to have 6 weeks of cookery lessons in 6th form, but instead I was chosen to be a peer mentor and had 30 hours of training in mentoring and listening skills from a psychologist.

Moving on… Last month, I made a lovely meal of honey and mustard roast chicken breast (courtesy of Waitrose), with chips, salad and croutons with caesar dressing. I was pleased with this meal because I picked the ingredients in the supermarket myself and created the dish in my head as I walked through the aisles. It was delicious. Tonight (and this is not counting towards my dish per month resolution), I had a go at making steak pie (courtesy of Sainsburys) with steamed baby corn, beans and boiled potatoes. This presented some challenges to me as I have never steamed vegetables, and I have never boiled potatoes.

The easy part – I shoved the steak pie in the oven for 35 minutes. This gave me 35 minutes to:

  • discover that one of the hob rings on my mini oven doesn’t work when the oven is on;
  • boil the potatoes on the other hob;
  • realise that supermarket estimates for cooking are not always to be trusted;
  • learn how to steam vegetables in the microwave (thank you Google);
  • find out that it’s not worth using tablespoons to measure out water.

After accumulating all of this knowledge, dinner was served:

steak pie, potatoes and steamed vegetables

It was yummy! The pie and potatoes (after the initial panic that they weren’t cooking on the hob) turned out very well. If I could do it again, I would have steamed the vegetables for longer in the microwave, as the beans were quite crisp and fresh-tasting; but the vegetables were still perfectly edible. The whole point of this, and my cookery journey, is that I am going to learn skills I didn’t know (however basic they might be) and improve my culinary capabilities. I am not ashamed of being such a novice cook, because I am doing something about it. And if you are reading this and thinking that you can’t cook either, then let’s take this journey together. I will be completely honest about my failures and lack of knowledge, and hopefully the fact that I will be able to make successful dishes in spite of these will be proof that even though we aren’t all born chefs, we can all learn to cook something simple, yet tasty and interesting.

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my robot is better than your robot…?

August 16, 2011

Check out the new video from www.iamfirst.com, an American initiative to encourage more students to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects at school and beyond. It features various celebrities highlighting the importance of science, including Justin Timberlake, Steven Tyler, will.i.am, Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus and Jack Black.

While I think that trying to engage young people in STEM subjects (or any academic subjects at school) can only be a good thing, this video is all wrong for several reasons – which are outlined in my resulting questions from the video, listed below.

  • Why is will.i.am wearing a blood pressure cuff?
  • Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber don’t even go to school!
  • Reciting names of elements does not make one a scientist.
  • What is a Doctor of Thinkology, and what scientific careers value this qualification?
  • Phones and pianos are made of science! Ergo geeks are great and you should become one!
  • WHERE ARE THE ROBOTS? I certainly don’t have a robot. I didn’t see any of these celebrities’ robots!? So how can their robots be better than my robot?
  • I am quite confident that Einstein was not a rockstar.
  • How shiny is will.i.am’s chest? Surely that’s not natural. Perhaps HE is the robot?
  • So people should take jobs in science, engineering, maths and robotics because there are more jobs there than in basketball (which I thought was obvious)? Not because they might be any good at science, or want to study it further? Surely we should be encouraging young people to follow their dreams and make use of their talents and aptitudes, not just advise them to choose careers based on which sectors have more jobs?
  • Robotics and science is the future, because robots are all futuristic and shit… yeah.

I agree with will.i.am that if every school has a basketball court, then they should also have a science programme. That is perhaps one of the few sensible suggestions to come out of this video. Also, he says that educating our youth and getting them equipped for tomorrow is important, and I wholeheartedly agree. My issue is that this video is not educational – they have basically thrown a bunch of celebrities at the screen, told them to say “Science is cool!” and hope that kids buy it. How does this equip them? What concrete knowledge does this video share? Our youth is surely not naive enough to buy into something without concrete reasoning of why science is important – saying that scientists made an iPhone is not enough! I would suggest that emphasising the importance of STEM subjects in order to go into a range of careers, increasing earning prospects, mentioning specific job fields where vacancies and progression are available would have been the way to go. Young people need and crave this kind of information when they’re making their subject choices, university and college applications, and so on. This video is a bit nothing-y, at the end of the day.

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community.

July 5, 2010

When I am on my driving lessons, my driving instructor (who lives around the corner from me and has done for the whole of my lifetime and probably many years prior to that) often points out people who he knows, chats about the various people who have lived and continue to live in certain houses and streets, and talks about life in Kingswood in general.  Most of the time, I can only nod my assent because I have no idea whom or what he is talking about; I only know the names and faces of the people who live within 3 doors of our house and across the road from it.  On the odd occasion that I am walking around the local area, I could quite happily walk past people who live on my street without recognising them.  This street is not and has never been a community to me; my town is just a place I live, and although it’s adequate (I like the fact that unlike other, more wealthy areas of the city, it doesn’t have a ‘grey’ atmosphere and I can see the sky – I’m not a total urbanite then!), I don’t feel any sense of community with the other people who live there; in fact, I feel like more of an alien (and with my dress sense, I look like one too).  I must add that I will stick up for where I come from, despite its chavvy, slightly dangerous reputation; I did get slightly offended by a comment made by one of the people on my careers guidance course at UWE; being a graduate of Spanish and French, I was asked “But in Kingswood, you don’t get an opportunity to practise your languages, do you?” This comment was accompanied by a smirk; I took slight offence because although it’s true that where I live is not a cultural hub and I don’t meet many people who are multi-lingual there, Kingswood is not formative of who I am.  Moreover, it’s not a bad place, and given that the area of Bristol that this person comes from is more renowned for crime and poverty than mine, it’s somewhat hypocritical and condescending.

Anyway, I went to Peterborough to spend the weekend with Toby last weekend, and I had a wonderful time, but I noticed that for him, life and his sense of community is different: he knows all of the people who live in his close and a lot of those who live in his village.  He went to school up the road from his house; he can point out many people in the photographs included in the local Parish News (I am unaware of Kingswood having a Parish News leaflet, or any kind of worthwhile community publication). It is interesting that I cannot do this.  I always went to school on the other side of the city, because my parents paid for my education and decided to send me to those schools (and based on my subsequent track record and academic success, I can’t quibble with their decision – it was pretty wise and with hindsight I would now have done the exact same thing).  When I went through a brief phase of playing with the family of girls who were my age and lived across the road from me, they had a group of kids who lived in the neighbouring streets as their friends: I knew none of these people because they all went to the same school down the road from our house; I went to a private school across the city.  We had different school holidays, different teachers, different friendship groups, different subjects.  In retrospect, that was most definitely for the best but at the time it felt like I had to work extra hard to fit in with them.  Despite living across the street, it was like I was visiting another world, their world, every time we would play together, and after a couple of years the visit wouldn’t be worth it, and we would just say hi without animosity as we occasionally passed each other on the street.

However, whereas Toby can name all of his neighbours and various people who live in his village (and I also understand that part of this is the difference between city / country-ish mentalities), I enjoy my popularity when I wander round the Bristol city centre – Mike commented once on a shopping excursion that it seemed as if I knew at least one person in every single shop (and there are a lot of shops).  This is an exaggeration of course, but not a massive one; I like shopping and I used to work in retail in that area, therefore my face is recognised in the area and I can recognise acquaintances who work there too. An amusing story is the Guess Boutique – whenever I go in the staff are extra-happy to see me because they still remember the time Toby & I went in and I fell in love with a bag that I could not afford; Toby & I left and I spent the whole of that Friday night babbling about the bag. Saturday lunchtime we returned to the store and I bought not only that bag that I had originally claimed was “too expensive” but also a hoodie to boot (it was on sale, there was only one and it was in my size, it was black and gold which are my colours – it was obviously fate so who am I to stand against destiny?). I don’t know if the staff there work on commission but I think that that day, they were very happy!  So I make friends in shops.  My friends who live in Bristol may have gone to school or university with me, but we came from all different parts of Bristol (and their experiences of commuting to find a community may be quite similar to mine) so urban centres, shopping districts, cafés and cinemas are our meeting points.

My point is, I have my own community of people whom I call my friends; friends are the family you can choose, as they say.  However, my friends are all dotted about the city (and beyond that, the country); the way we keep in touch is via telephone, email and internet most of the time; and when we want to meet in person, it’s got to be an arranged thing rather than a spontaneous wander down the road.  Although it can feel slightly isolating living where you have no real connection to anyone else in the immediate vicinity, it’s made irrelevant by the fact that I can speak to and arrange to see a lot of my friends within very little time; and that my friends are so, so good to me.  I think that having my own space is something that I value too; at the end of the day, I can retreat to my home and have a little time for me, safe in the knowledge that I’m not going to bump into or be harassed by anyone who knows me.  I can be anonymous, think independently, live as I choose without any fear of anyone whom I care about judging me. I know that in Kingswood, I dress differently, I wear different clothes, I speak and think differently to the majority.  I would never change that; I like being my own person and I won’t ever change to conform (a hard lesson that built my character during my school years). But it’s made easier when I’m surrounded by people with whom I have absolutely no desire to fit in. My community, the people whom I love and value, are my friends; my community is not local but instead city-wide, national, and one day I hope it will be global.