New Year New Thing

The customary way to kick off a new update to this blog is to apologise for my lack of input over the last few months. To sum up in a way that won't take up too much of your precious time, life happened. I am heartily sorry for neglecting my little corner of the internet here. I hope that this thing I'm doing will make these updates more regular and less apologetic. 2016 was a tough old year, wasn't it? It was a year when a lot of stuff happened to me, both good and bad, that made me slightly re-adjust my focus in life (to put it oh so dramatically. It's not that bad I promise.) I started a new job back in September. New-ish, anyway. Still the same company. I was with Waitrose and now I'm at John Lewis. It's been a change for the better, I'm far less stressed and anxious now (that's a whole other rabbit hole of my psyche I don't want to extract into a Word Document right now.) I also increased my hours with my new job, which partly accounts for the lack of cricket updates across my range of social media. The summer was a rough time, I won't go into it, but I stopped thinking about cricket for a few months until the waters calmed and I could think a bit clearer. I'm still at Weight Watchers, still ploughing on with getting healthier and better, just before Christmas I was at 2.5 stone lighter than when I started in September 2015. I know I can push on and get even further. Just don't mention all the cheese and chocolates and biscuits I ate over Christmas. As for 2017? It'll be better and brighter. I'm in a happier place, I've worked out what the hell to do with myself, and I'm taking those steps one day at a time. As part of that, I'm forcing myself to write a weekly update with this blog in the form of a challenge I've set myself. Read 52 books in 52 weeks. Yup, really. Set the bar a little higher, Duncalf. It's a big one, I know, but its achievable. I read a lot when I was a kid, at school and at home, I'd read whenever I could. I fell off that wagon a long time ago, and still read occasionally but I've definitely slipped since I was at school. I own a Kindle, I was given one for my birthday a few years ago, and I found it last week in a box with a critical battery warning on it that required a hard reset and a few hours plugged in to the wall to fix. My house is basically a library, and I'm slightly ashamed that the books contained within it that I've actually read is just a drop in the ocean. I know I can read more, and this is a perfect way to make me do it and stick to a system. I've already told all of social media about it anyway, and as we know that stuff lasts forever. Reading is fun, reading is therapeutic, reading broadens the mind and exercises the imagination. Why on earth wouldn't I read a book every week for a year? I've set myself the following rules. 1) It must be a book I haven't read before. 2).....that's pretty much it. I don't want to cheat and take the easy option of reading a book for the second or multiple time. Which takes series like Harry Potter, HitchHikers and Lord of the Rings out of the question. However I'm not averse to reading other books by the same authors. Which probably means I'll try and read The Silmarillion at some point. We'll see about that. Handily, I started reading a new book last week, which I enjoyed so much I'm treating it as the first book in the 52 week odyssey I'm putting myself on. Don't laugh, but I read the novelisation of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I saw the film a week before Christmas and I came out of the cinema in an awestruck daze (NO SPOILERS) and in this daze I wandered into Waterstones and saw the novelisation lying there in front of me, Felicity Jones' face staring back at me. I pulled my phone out, decided to spend an Amazon voucher on the Kindle version, and after the post-Christmas/New Year madness at work died down, I sat down to read it. (I'll try to not give too much away about the plot from here on in, but maaaaaybe watch the film first...) I really enjoyed it. Being a "weird nerd" (thanks Mum) I naturally gravitate to that sort of thing anyway. Star Wars was one of the first big movie franchises I ever saw. I have clear memories of being taken to the cinema to watch the 20th Anniversary cinematic rerelease of A New Hope in 1997, at the tender age of 8. I remember being so absorbed by the universe, the characters and the love grew from there and stuck with me all my life. If there's a New Star Wars Thing in the cinema, you can bet I'll be there. I have the kind of imagination where I like to explore around the subject at hand, thinking of how things happened, "behind the scenes" in the sense of the story. What events led to the sequence in this film, where was so-and-so when this was happening. Rogue One satisfied this appetite, filling in how the Death Star plans came to be in the hands of the rebels, an event so briefly mentioned in the title crawl of Episode IV. The post film awestruck buzz made me buy the book, and it wasn't disappointing. Alexander Freed captured the universe perfectly, delving further into the characters thoughts and motives behind their actions. Orson Krennic, in particular, is written in a wonderful way. Believing he's the bees knees in the building of the Death Star, convincing himself  that he's untouchable and the next big thing in the Imperial Military, his thoughts and feelings written on the page added to the snarling and egotistical character portrayed on the screen so well by Ben Mendelsohn. The way he absolutely believes he is the next major player in the Empire, with the knowledge in the readers mind that he isn't (thanks Episode IV!) is superbly done. The man is aspirational, power hungry, and clearly delusional. The film hints at this, the book expands and explores this more. Krennic is by no means the only character to receive this treatment, but his was one that stood out to me in particular. A nice touch of the novelisation is including short Supplemental Data "chapters" of correspondence between characters, often related to intelligence updates or back and forth discussions of the building of the Death Star between particular characters. For those weirdo nerds like me, I really enjoyed reading these, adding even more to development of characters, places and things in the story. Overall a very enjoyable read, enhancing and expanding small details in the already enjoyable film. So there we have it. The first of hopefully 52 updates on books I'm reading. Who knows what I'll be reading next week?   ....I do. I'm going to read Ben Aaronovitch The Rivers of London. See you next week. (Supplemental data - for those of you who've known me for long enough and remember me writing a post about Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice is on the list. Now you know I'm serious.)

Having my cake and eating it in moderation.

Well, today has been an interesting day. Twitter quite often goes into a red hot fiery rage when a new piece of guidance on body image gets published in the Daily Mail, and it has happened again today. Which is what prompted me to dig out last year’s minor rant about someone calling me fat, and the page view stats went a bit mad. If you’re here because of that, welcome, and thank you for your kind words. 

I wrote that piece nearly a year ago, and I am pleased to report I have had no more accusations or criticisms about my appearance of that nature in that time. I don’t think it is reflective of any changing societal views, certainly not ones brought about by readership of national newspapers anyway, but it’s a step in the right direction.

It’s at this point that I admit I have recently taken serious steps to improve my health, and this does mean I have lost some weight. I haven’t done it because of pressure to do so, or the rationale put forward by the Mail that I might magically turn my life around by halving my weight overnight and becoming an instant success and bring all the boys to the yard, I did it because I woke up one morning and stood on the scales and realised this wasn't doing my health any good. I am now 23 years old and for purely selfish reasons, I didn't want to cause myself any lingering health problems. I have a bad knee from an injury a few years ago, a chronically aching back and I can’t really run anywhere without needing a lie down afterwards. It was a bolt from the blue, and I decided to change. After I’d had a biscuit, of course.

So, on 12th February 2013 I gave up cheese and alcohol. Cut it all right out, under the pretence of giving something up for Lent. I am someone who loves indulging in good food, as my cake baking habits will tell you, and I've never knowingly turned down a Full English Breakfast in my life. I’m sure everyone, at one time or other, has had moments where all you can think of doing is eating vast amounts of bad food and a few too many glasses of wine at the end of a long day. I have nothing against this, I have done the same. One of my good friends once bought me a greasy cheeseburger and chips from the joint round the corner from my house in York because, in the space of 24 hours, I’d lost a place on a University Masters programme and broken my hand (it was a really bad day…) We are human, we have moments of weakness, and even though I've now been off cheese and alcohol for 2 months I have fallen off the wagon a couple of times.

But in those 2 months, through being careful and eating a banana instead of a slice of cheese and being stone cold sober, I've lost nearly a stone and it’s wonderful. I haven’t noticed where on me it’s gone from, but it’s definitely gone. I have a graph and everything. I will keep going too, I want this to work.

So that’s just me. I have my own reasons for doing this, and I don’t give a hoot what people think. I'm not sure what kind of point I want to make from this, but I am probably around 80% happy with the way I look at the moment, and I hope by taking the steps outlined above that this will improve. I don’t even especially care whether my body image happiness changes or not, because that isn't the reason why I'm doing it. I'm doing it because I don’t want to be told I have a medical problem stemming from comfort eating my way through secondary school. I will hopefully have a career and achieve lifetime happiness whether I'm a size 8 or 18, eating a steak or eating a salad.

Finally, and the bit that really made me angry in the Mail article - if anyone ever tells me to stay thin or stay single, as I said in the last blog; they are not worth my time or effort.

Hand me another slice of pie.

Ivy-covered professors in ivy-covered halls

The eager eyed amongst you will have noticed that the blurb for this blog title has changed. It reflects my new status as a graduand, which I will be for the next few weeks at least. I am still calling myself a student until the last possible moment, however, which will be when my ability to abuse a 20% student discount at New Look ceases to be. So that’s the end of August when my NUS card runs out. I imagine my Uni card will be prised out of my hands as well. I wanted to keep it, it has a duck on it. My results come out on Friday. Eek.

So here I am, three years older and £9000 poorer, on the other side of what is in my opinion the best three years and £9000 I’ve ever spent. University has been an eye opening experience and I will never forget any of it (although some things have been forgotten, like Roses Weekend 2009, but that wasn’t my fault) and I could not have asked for a more helpful and inspiring department to have been a part of. I have been incredibly lucky with the people who have taught me and the people I’ve met. I have made friends for life. University of York, Archaeology Class of 2011, I salute you. Whenever I see a group of archaeologists being made to dig through piles of mud I will think of you. And laugh a little too.

However, for some who read this blog, they will graduate from University a lot poorer than this and despite the governments best efforts to convince us otherwise, will also be unemployed. The Powers That Be seem to think they can decide what constitutes a useful degree or not, which makes me unbelievably angry. I chose my degree because I enjoy it, and having spent three years studying it I’ve now decided that I hate digging and feel slightly ill when I see a Harris Matrix, and this has ultimately led to my desire to pursue a career in heritage and museums. I think a lot of people see a degree as being a single, lonely road you must follow forever and never stray from it, but in my case and certainly a lot of people see that this is not the case and is almost impossible. I will take archaeology as a case study, because I have been through the system. A well paid job in archaeology is like the gold we allegedly dig for every day. Looking at the figures from last year’s National Student Survey, of the graduates in Archaeology from the University of York, 75% of them are in a “non-graduate job”, which apparently equates to “sales assistants and retail cashiers”. Taking another subject, such as Aerospace Engineering at Liverpool (which is what my brother did), 20% of the final year students in the survey are in a “non-graduate job”. It is no reflection on the degree or the subject. Archaeology and the historical arts is such a wide ranging subject that many use the degree as a stepping stone to another job, because we are taught vital transferable skills that let us do this.

For example, I remember in First Year being told about our assessed lecture/viva and feeling sick from fear of standing in front of a group of people and speaking about something for 15 minutes. I have now done this, and wasn’t nearly as fearful and I thought it would be, because we have learnt and grown over the three years that 15 minutes of talking about a subject we wrote 10,000 words about was nothing. I am working in a museum over the summer and leading tour groups around a site, and I can do this without any fear because I’ve done something like it before as part of my degree. My writing even now is more slick and understandable than my A Level work, and my computer skills have only improved since sitting through a whole two terms of computing and learning to use Access databases.

Any degree teaches you the values of teamwork. The literal practice of archaeology is teamwork in itself, and the reason why my year group bonded so well. You learn to work with people in difficult circumstances, and if you can come out of that experience at the end with a smile and a good feeling, you can work in a team. Participating well with others will get you a long way. All these skills I have learnt doing a degree which people immediately associate with miserable West Country people with stupid hats digging up Roman artefacts under the watchful eye of a TV personality. I may not be pursuing a career in archaeology in its purest form, but I’ve learnt a lot from it that can take me anywhere. I have confidence in talking to people, my research skills have improved significantly (beyond just Googling it) and I can argue pretty well. So, in my new status as a soon-to-be-graduate with that massive sticker of UNEMPLOYED PLEB stuck on my forehead I go into the big wide world and try to find someone who’ll employ me, and fend off the thought of jacking it all in and going on Time Team. Does this mean my degree is useless, David Willetts? ‘Cos I don’t think so. It was worth every penny.

So all those of you reading this who are about to step into the world of University: enjoy it, relish it, drink as much as you want, steal as many traffic cones as you can, and work damn hard. It is worth every penny of the ludicrous amount of money you'll borrow to pay for it. It doesn't matter if Whitehall think your degree isn't worthwhile, they can't stop you enjoying yourself.

An attempt at a book review, followed by a long overdue explanation.

As I’m sure you’re now well aware, I have a fractured wrist, and as my audio post from yesterday will tell you I had to go to hospital for another check-up and cast replacement. In the slight rush to leave the house yesterday afternoon to walk into town I forgot to pick up a book to take with me to while away the inevitable wait to be seen. So, instead, I swung by a bookshop to find something to read and picked up Aggers’ Ashes, which I have been meaning to buy for a while (initially as a birthday present for Dad which I would then later steal and read after he had, a principle that has been in place for many years now). I did indeed have a long wait in York District Hospital fracture clinic, but I quickly realised an hour had gone by between my checking in at the desk and being called by the nurse. I had been so engrossed in the book and reliving the five Ashes tests I hadn’t noticed the time. I am dealt with fairly swiftly at the hospital and am soon on my way home, arm encased in purple, slightly cheesy smelling rubber for another fortnight. I am now writing this less than 12 hours later and I have finished reading the book.

I will now divert from this veiled attempt at a book review to offer you the following, long overdue explanation. As you’ve also probably guessed from reading my various existences online, I am a cricket fan. The humble beginnings of my support of the sport beginning with That Ashes Victory in 2005 when I was just 15 having spent the previous decade and a half of my existence disliking cricket as much as I could. Anyone who knows me and has spoken to me in Real Life since then will testify that this is the polar opposite of my current state of mind. I sleep in my ODI shirt for goodness sake (don’t judge me, it’s comfortable) and I have a summer job at Lord's to look forward to.

And so, when November 2010 rolled around and the start of another Ashes campaign began I was quaking with anticipation. Over the coming weeks I would ruin my sleeping patterns and required extra strong coffee to stay awake in lectures the following morning. Wrapped in my many blankets and wearing a potentially record breaking number of socks, I lay awake at night listening to Test Match Special. I was checking the antics of cricketing personalities on Twitter on my phone, striving to complete chapters of my undergraduate dissertation, and trying to cope with a Yorkshire winter reigning down outside. I’d often fall asleep with the radio on and wake up at odd times to hear the voices of many TMS regulars in my head, which is VERY odd. By the time we won the Ashes in Sydney I was down South (where it wasn’t any warmer) and had access to Sky Sports. I was awake until way past 4am listening to TMS and generally getting excited about the fact we had won The Ashes on Aussie soil for the first time in 24 years. The excitement was similar to Christmas when, on Boxing Day morning, I woke up to the sounds of various family members gleefully exclaiming the words “98 all out!”

So reading Aggers’ Ashes I remembered all the excitement and high points of the 2010/11 Ashes series. From watching Swanny’s Diaries I can recall the moment The Sprinkler was unleashed and giggling like a child when Aggers performed this dance on the radio (John Cleese’s Silly Walk, anyone?) The astonishment and awe of Alastair Cook’s multiple centuries over the course of the 25 days, the disappointment when we lost in Perth and the frequent explanations of “No, we haven’t won them we just can’t lose now” after Melbourne. Reading the chapter on the fifth test and reliving the final day in Sydney brought a tear to the eye, and remembering that at the exact moment Tremlett took the final Aussie wicket, Radio 4 had cut to the Shipping Forecast. I urge all you cricket fans to read this book if you enjoyed the Ashes and the sport as a whole as much as I do. I have read, or plan to read, previous material by Aggers and his TMS collegues and this is as enjoyable as those, and being a penniless student I find myself listening to TMS more often than watching the TV coverage. TMS offers a highly informative and entertaining view on the days play, and Aggers' tour diary as detailed in the book provides some behind the scenes views and antics of the victorious winter in Australia touring with the media teams covering the event and his own valuable views on what's going on. All served with some nice picture pages at regular intervals in the book, incase you forget what The Spinkler looks like.

So thanks, Aggers. Can I get my copy signed at Lord’s in July? I promise to bring cake.