The truth:

While I’ve phrased this as the truth, it is my experience and perhaps only that. Or maybe thousands of other people feel the same and aren’t able to share it. Writing here feels a little like screeching into the void right now, but hopefully this message will speak to someone.

It isn’t intended to be counter-elitist, or reverse classist, it’s just how I found my second year at university. Sometimes I feel like I’m floundering, standing in the midst of people with all of the experiences and confidence that Daddy’s (or Mummy’s, or Aunty’s, or Grandpa’s, ad nauseum) can grant.

Instead, I’m only at this university because of a bursary. It’s the only reason I can afford to be here, especially since my disability means I can’t work and study at the same time. I’m sure you’ll have heard of spoons theory, and that means I have limited energy for the things that matter to me. My room can be a little messy, but the choice between exhausting myself trying to succeed at university, or being happy with the effect of my lowest efforts is a difficult one.

I’m writing this in January, so perhaps things have changed, but if not, then this is still the case. A limited amount of energy will grant me a 60 average. Right now I’m at 68.5 and that figure is meaningless. Because it’s either a 2:1 or a First, right? A dichotomy between good and excellent, between doing ok and the pinnacle of undergrad achievement.

So I have a choice to make, at this moment, as to how much effort I put into my degree. I’m sitting in a house that I’ve had to call out Pest Control to see if it is causing the insect bites on my legs that because of my connective tissue disorder are currently developing a purple tinge and are on their way to being some pretty sexy bite scars. Not in a vampire way. More of a fleas or bedbugs way but y’know,  I can at least try and dress it up a little.

I’m sitting in a house that costs only a little less per room than my home back home for the entire house; with the knowledge that money breeds money and if only I had the ability to hold in my hands enough money to be able to say that a degree is not what I need.

But I don’t have that. Nor do I have perfect health. Or an ‘Evening Guv’nor’ Received Pronunciation accent. Or the ability to say any more than ‘un peu’ (and that’s always gonna be a lie. I don’t speak a little French, I don’t want only a little chocolate – I want it all, etc) in French or to be able to read Latin.

I’ll tell you a secret, all three readers of this blog. Sometimes I look at the Middle English of the poems for one of my modules and it gives me a yearning deep inside for home. The words in Middle English are so close to Geordie that it hurts, right down to the dialect spellings.

But that’s a story for another time, right. Because the important thing here is this:

I don’t belong here. It’s not my home, it’s an oasis of Sussex brought into the North. Sometimes I wonder what life will be like after uni and I fear the choices I’ll have to make when I leave Durham.

Will I decide to travel to London to exhaust myself trying to find a job in a field I want that won’t totally exhaust me? Or will I stay in the North East wondering what I could have had or what I could have been if I’d been brave enough to leave.

I look at Wilfred Owen poem that my sister is studying for her GCSE and cast my mind back to Dulce Et Decorum Est. Because the Old Lie isn’t that it is good and right to die for your country, no, it’s that social mobility exists.

Social mobility is a lie, because inside your heart you are always trapped between the people that you left behind and those you are surrounded by. It is possible to feel wholly and utterly alone in a room of people.

The only thing I have is my words and my family and the friends I’ve made here – I don’t have the certainty that my time here in Durham will have been well spent.

I’ve learnt a few things though. The grammar lessons that state schools never taught me, the ability to moderate my accent just enough to squeak by and the fact that sometimes the most wonderful people are those most different from yourself.

It hurts though. When something goes wrong and you just want to let lose and sometimes I speak with such a strong Geordie accent or so fast that it sounds like another language and I luxuriate in the sound and feel of the words on my tongue; the ability to lose myself in home as I hear it in my voice.

The rest of the time Durham leeches it away, as is needed to feel I fit in, but then I wonder. How many of the people here grew up in council houses spending car rides listening to music that told of running away, of escaping, and the desperation to run from a school that was known as Cardboard City and the teacher who hid in cupboards as teaching was too painful.

Or the other school where a friend’s brother carried a knife and drug deals happened by the train tracks and lessons were disrupted so that a teacher could stop someone who had climbed the fence to escape the horrible horrible trappings of the pretence that we all have the same chances in life.

People argue for the quality of state education, say that it is a gift or that it is good or righteous or whatever else. No, the fact of the matter is: it is not. I know people who can barely read or write, who live in another world to the majority here. Who cannot express themselves, because they were let down by the state system.

What is a gift, despite being wholly flawed and damaged, is the NHS. The NHS has saved my life and I will always be grateful to them for that.

I’m getting away from myself here, allowing this to fall into the dubious length rants that some people post without thinking. I’m typing without thinking, my touch typing skills coming into play.

Thirty years ago I would have made a wonderful secretary. But now I see my mother, her joints crippled with arthritis, her spine and fingers crooked, and see that is not my path. My health is not the best and I need to be careful with my joints. I don’t think I’m brave enough to live the way she has had to these last years.

So I will study, and I will write, and I’ll hope that at least one of them pays off in the end.

Thinking of writing a working class fairytale, because how often do those things come true.





Working Class at An Elite University: My Thoughts


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “No Cliffhangers.”

I’ve been spending a lot of time this summer getting my student house up to standard, which has been one of the less interesting things I’ve done this year! Apart from the lack of joy involved in cleaning out a house and paying for the privilege, it’s been kind of icky.

The black liquid that came out of the carpet cleaner after the cleaning had been done showed just how gross it was possible for a carpet to get when it isn’t cleaned properly every year.

Living in a house knowing that I’m only going to be there for the next nine months or so is a weird concept and one, with move in day only a few weeks off, that I still haven’t got used to.

It seems strange to have been ripped away from the safety blanket of college life and to have been dropped into the Real World. Or at least, as close to reality as a sleepy corner of the student quarter of my city can be.

Paying over the odds for a room in a dingy house not too far shows me what a rip off the student life can be, but I have to understand and respect that for now. It isn’t exactly something that I can do anything about, after all! I just have to learn to deal with it. And deal with it I will.

In the meantime, I’ve been in touch with my letting agency a number of times and after snail trails and insects in the kitchen, I put my foot down. There’s renting a property that is probably substandard and then there is being unfair to the students who have little other choice.

I wrote a letter to the landlord, including a specimen insect (who we nicknamed Bob), and some lovely photos of the place. Maybe I’ll show you some time, but more likely you’d rather not see.

Funnily enough, when a man came to have a look at the kitchen this afternoon he advised that he was going to suggest to the landlord a replacement of the flooring in the kitchen and would take a look at the way the back door was sticking as well.

Sometimes it’s only through perseverance that you can get anywhere at all.

At least something is being done I suppose. And there are a few weeks of university vacation left in which I can make the most of being in a house that isn’t intended to milk as much money out of the cash-cow students for a little longer.

And all was well with the world…

We’ve Got (Woodlice) Babies!


In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Agree to Disagree”.

I know that this is my second post of this type today but I’m procrastinating. I can’t help it. I’ve got two books on 18th century Britain next to me [Baptists and Fifth Monarchy Men and England’s Troubles] to read and I’ve also promised myself that today I might actually do some of the lecture reading. I should probably also read Death of A Salesman so I understand what is happening in my lecture tomorrow. That would help. Of course, all copies of Death of A Salesman are out from the library so I might just watch an adaptation or read a PDF or something.

Right, Agree to Disagree. One thing that came up in conversation yesterday with a friend was that they think that Ian Duncan Smith is a ‘clever’ man  and while I of course respect their opinion, the opposite appears clear to me.

See ATOS and the disabled dying in misery or left financially unsecure because of him. See the poor forced to pay for rooms that they no longer occupy (but unable to move homes). See the abject misery caused by such a man.

He may be intelligent, but in Ian Duncan Smith all I can see is a man with no heart who only looks out for his rich friends.

I won’t normally discuss politics on this blog and this post is a one off.



In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt ‘Pens and Pencils’.

I’ve tried writing by hand over the last few weeks, as the pile of papers in the orange Foolscap box in my room will attest. It has been an interesting experience and one that has been rewarding, wiping away the effects of the longest ‘block’ in my writing I’ve ever had. I finished writing the first draft of Girl With A Thousand Faces in April 2013. In the time between then and now all I’ve written have been a few short stories and some attempts at novels that have all been aborted before they reached the 10,000 word mark. Although attempt to revise a novel that was inherently broken was also an issue, I think the major problem was A-Levels. The soul sucking monster that a large percentage of the teenage population must endure.

It was made harder by two things:
– My school wasn’t the most academic of places. Learning wasn’t the focus and nor was getting good grades. It was like an oasis of teenage misery and time wasting sometimes, counting down the days until freedom could be had.
– The grades I needed to achieve in order to get into my chosen university were considerably lower than their standard offer. Their course for my subject is often ranked in the top three in the country, it’s incredibly hard to get into. My offer was three grades below their standard offer. That meant that the pressure was only on in terms of one of the subjects, especially due to a teaching issue that came up in the final year. But it also meant that I was concerned about feeling like a charity case if I only achieved those lower grades. I worked hard and I did achieve the standard offer and was pretty close to exceeding it — think I would have thrashed it if there hadn’t been those teaching issues and the pesky remoderation of coursework. Anyway, the point is I was in a difficult position as most of the people here at uni went to incredible schools and have had the best chance to achieve academically; I did not.

This has extended into something that isn’t focused on the prompt anymore and I feel like I should quickly apologise for that. Oops, sorry. But the point is that writing by hand, around 80 pages I would imagine, has allowed me to free my muse over the last few weeks. It has been a frankly invaluable experience.

Of course, it does take considerably more time which is an issue. Spending days writing one scene can become frustrating, especially when there is little time for writing. For that reason I’m slowly moving back towards using the computer for writing.

We’ll see how that goes…

Writing By Hand