Monthly Archives: August 2013

27th October 2010 – No.63: Go Abseiling

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Having finished my National Diploma in Business with such good grades, the next logical step was to apply to a university and carry on my education. This was never originally my plan (hence not being a list item) but everyone else was doing it (worst reason to do something, ever), so I applied for and was accepted onto a degree in International Business at Brighton University. Living with my flatmate at the time was making my life rather difficult so in-between finishing college and starting uni, Emiko and I moved to a small flat on the other side of town. As you can imagine, my bad habit of moving house right before or during big life events did make things rather stressful, especially since I now had further to travel to get Emiko to nursery before the 70 minute commute to Brighton. So, long story short, before the first semester was up, I knew that course was not the right course for me and that it was not the right time in my life to go to university.

I could have left right there and then. I would have, if not for one thing…we were shortly to be taking part in Team Skills Day, a day when students from similar courses are randomly grouped together with each other and then expected to learn to work as a team whilst competing various mental and physical tasks, one of which was abseiling. Abseiling had been on my list for a while and I hadn’t had any opportunities before, so I leapt at the chance, even if it meant putting up with uni for a little longer.

Me and the guys I wnet with for Team Skills Day

Me and the guys I went with for Team Skills Day

Team Skills Day dawned and I dressed in sensible clothing and shoes, packed myself a hearty lunch and made sure I had my camera. The coach journey was actually not too bad; I have largely outgrown my travel sickness although it does come back sometimes. On arrival, we were sorted into random groups. I only knew one person in my group and I was actually quite upset not to be teamed with my friends because I knew I was never going to see them again. Each group was assigned a leader and told we would be competing as teams for points for each activity we completed. I disliked our leader fairly quickly, especially when he told us that because he doesn’t think winning is important, his teams usually come last. I like winning and I didn’t want to miss out on activities because this guy wasn’t bothered. The first activity we tackled was belly crawling through what some people might consider claustrophobicly small concrete pipes. They were kind of wet and consequently we spent the rest of the day covered in mud. One of our group refused point blank to go through the tunnels even though it lost our team a huge number of points, so I was actually really glad when we got around to abseiling.

My peers watching me descend the 30ft tower

My peers watching me descend the 30ft tower

I wasn’t first up, so I got to watch a couple of other people do it before me. I was excited and I had that funny tingly feeling you get that’s half adrenaline and half nerves. When it was my turn, I left my camera with my group so they could take pictures and climbed the several flights of wooden stairs that led to the top. Part way up, it felt as if the tower was shaking. I was a little bit thrown and wondered what the hell was going on. Arriving at the top, I could see our group leader jumping around and shaking the stair rail. Maybe he thought it would add atmosphere; maybe he was just bored. Whichever it was, I really didn’t like our leader now. And there I was, about to dangle myself off a 30ft drop with only him to hold the other end of the rope. I looked him dead in the eye.

“You’re not going to drop me,” I said. It was a statement, not a question but I guess he thought it was because he started spouting semi-comforting stuff about how he would lose his job if he did. While he talked, he set up the rope through the karabinas in my harness and then began instructing me on how to descend. The most important things seemed to be keep your feet level with or higher than your hips and not to let go of the rope. Following his instructions, I put my feet on the edge and started leaning backwards out over the drop. This is the scariest part of abseiling. Once you’re in the right position, you just kind of half walk, half hop backwards. I actually did feel quite secure and was enjoying the treetop view immensely. It turns out, it doesn’t take very long to climb down 30ft. I felt like I had only just got the hang of it when I reached the bottom and I immediately resolved to abseil down something bigger one day.

The first time I went abseiling

The first time I went abseiling

And, yes, our team did come last in the points competition but even though we didn’t get to do all the things the other teams did, some of them didn’t get to go abseiling so I was glad I’d had the opportunity.  I now plan to wait until St. Michael’s Hospice has their next abseiling challenge to raise funds and take part in that (they get people to raise sponsorship by abseiling down a 13-story office block). Ultimately, while the day didn’t go exactly the way I was hoping it would, overall I did have fun and I was happy to have a new experience under my belt.

6th of August 2010 – No.27a: Get One or More Guinness World Records (Pirate Day)

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My friends and me on one of the Pirate Days.

My friends and me on one of the Pirate Days.

I have always wanted to have a Guinness World Record, whether individually or as part of a group. It was one of the earlier additions to my list and I had just been waiting for the opportunity to present itself; so when it came along, I was excited. ‘Pirate Day’, brainchild of a Hastings resident, was an annual event that had started the year before. This year, on the 6th of August 2010, there was going to be an attempt to beat the Guinness World Record for the Largest Gathering of Pirates. At this time the record was held by Portland, Oregon and stood at 1,878.

The townsfolk of Hastings have ever been game for a bit of dressing up (google ‘Hastings Jack in the Green’ and you’ll see what I mean) and it seemed as if everyone I knew was going, so hopes were high for us beating the record.  On the day of the event, I dressed Emiko in one of my shirts and a pair of leggings, added a bandana and put an eyepatch on her bear. I was already wearing my carefully planned outfit of a raggedy black skirt, black corset top and New Rocks along with a multitude of belts and bangles and my wooden cap gun. I added my hat and set off to find our friends.

We found several of them already in the enclosure of fencing into which participants were being herded whilst the total was being counted. We found a good spot, laid down our things and sat and talked and looked at other people’s outfits. Some people had clearly put an enormous amount of effort into their costumes, others less so.  Rum and mead were shared amongst the grown-ups and we listened to the pirate-themed bands and sea shanties. While the judgement was being made, a Jack Sparrow lookalike entertained us, accompanied by lookalikes resembling other of the films characters. Finally, with much ceremony, it was announced that the town of Hastings had beaten the Guinness World Record for the Largest Gathering of Pirates, with 6,166 pirates counted! The certificate, when it arrived, was for a while displayed in the Town Hall, where people who had participated could have their photo taken with it. I took Emiko (after all, she’s a world record holder too!)

Emiko and me with the Guinness World Record certificate, in the Town Hall.

Emiko and me with the Guinness World Record certificate, in the Town Hall.

2008-2010 – No.60: Get Distinctions in my National Diploma in Business

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My classmates, tutor and me in front of Windsor Castle.

My classmates, tutor and me in front of Windsor Castle. I am the one with purple hair.

As my daughter Emiko reached the age of one, I made the decision to go back to college. The first time I went to college I made bad course choices; Archaeology (not as interesting as Tony Robinson makes it out to be), Psychology (not as helpful as you’d think when suffering from mental health issues), Photography (waste of time, spent most of it in a friend’s Graphics class) and English Lit (lost interest when I found out we were studying exactly the same books I had just done for GCSE, which might not have been so bad if I hadn’t thrown out all my GCSE coursework over the summer holidays). At the end of the year I sat in my exams feeling depressed and not really caring if I failed. Success would only mean another year of it. Needless to say, I failed. My final grades were U,U,U and E (in Photography, I actually did some of the coursework for that one).

This time, I was planning to study Business, on the basis that I could then run my own business from home. I didn’t know what exactly (in fact, I’ve only just figured it out this year) but I thought it would be a good place to start. Having a one-year old child turned out not to be the setback one might imagine, in fact, it was rather a boon. It meant I qualified for funding from Sussex Coast College Hastings for not only the course costs and materials but childcare as well.

Although I was excited at returning to education, things didn’t begin well. Somewhat foolishly, I had overloaded myself. In the run up to the start of term, I was co-hosting a charity Burlesque show with my friend Severine at which I was to debut my first (and only) Burlesque routine, in addition to modeling two outfits. Added to that, I was also moving to a new house with a friend of mine, on the basis that having someone to pay half the bills and do half the housework would make life easier while I was studying. Plus, she had a car, so shopping would be easier. Sadly, it was too much to take on. The strain of coping with all this and a small child burst like a dam one day when Sev phoned to tell me she thought it would be best if I backed out and allowed her to run the show by herself. I was devastated. I felt abandoned. I had a bit of a mental breakdown.

Thankfully, despite the initial destructive impact on our friendship, Sev and I repaired our differences, apologised for various hurts inflicted and are still good friends to this day, despite her relocation to Australia. Our charity show was successful  (and led to Sev running immensly popular Burlesque nights for over two years) and my routine went very well, although I had such severe stagefright I have never repeated the experience. Possibly the nervous breakdown had something to do with it.

When I started at college I was not in a good place. I felt very much like I had the first time I was at college, with the depression and the panic attacks. The only difference was this time I didn’t hate the work I was doing, I loved it! To be honest, I don’t think my classmates liked me very much to begin with and I don’t really blame them. Eventually, however, I pulled myself out of my slump enough to focus and make a couple of friends. I decided I would aim for the highest marks possible, Distinction, Distinction, Distinction. I had to complete 144 pieces of coursework, over the course of the next two years, sometimes as many as 6 or 7 a week.

So, college was going great, if a little exhausting. Each evening, I would work on my assignments, getting up early each morning to get my daughter ready for nursery before I walked the mile to college. At the same time I was juggling housework, motherhood and …my flatmate. As it turned out, moving in with my flatmate was a disaster. A month after we moved in, she told me she didn’t think she could actually afford to live in our new house. She revealed to me the extent of her credit card debts and I agreed to take sole responsibility for the water and TV licence in order to help her out. Two months later, our landlord rang me to ask me why I hadn’t paid my rent. I was very surprised by this as I had paid it. I informed him that it must be my flatmate who hadn’t paid. He informed me I had joint liability and if she couldn’t pay it, I would have to. It turned out she hadn’t paid any rent at all since we moved in – all the money I’d saved up for driving lessons, gone.  The arrival of a court summons clued me in to the fact that she hadn’t paid her share of the council tax bill either. That is the main reason I didn’t do most of the things I had planned during those two years; every time I saved up to do something on my list I had to bail her out.

I couldn’t help thinking I would be better off without her. The only problem was I couldn’t afford to move again so soon. On top of this, my daughter Emiko had, after a long process, been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, which has a tendency to make the Terrible Two’s and Three’s even worse.  Suddenly I was also having to deal with speech therapists, home assessments, hospital visits, a new vocabulary and getting a Statement of Special Educational Needs. Obviously I wasn’t in it alone, her dad Barrie helped, nevertheless, it was hard.  In the meantime, I continued my efforts to achieve highly and enjoy the college experience. I had some really good times with my college friends especially on our class trip to Windsor Castle to learn how it is run as a business. I came to greatly respect one tutor in particular, a little Scottish lady, with whom I still occasionally meet up when she is over from Canada. And before I knew, it was the end of the year and all my hard work had paid off. I had earned my Triple Distinction.

To celebrate, a friend and I put our new found business skills together, got the college to give us some money and threw a graduation event for our classmates. We sent out invitations, had a whip around for money to get gifts for the teachers, sourced and decorated a venue, put together a buffet and since we wouldn’t be getting our actual certificates until some months later in the mail, we printed up certificates commemorating the completion of two years of college. On the day, we seated our fellow students, and each said a few words before inviting others to come and speak. Several people made small speeches about missing the camaraderie in our class and about our success in the future, as many of us had gained places in good universities. One of our classmates sang us all a song in her native Mandarin, called ‘the Moon Represents my Heart’. It was very affectionate and touching. Our Scottish tutor presented our certificates and we presented her with a gift, two champagne flutes engraved with her name and then ” With Thanks, Class of 2010″. We had similarly personalised embossed wallets for our two male tutors. Then we tucked into the buffet, before taking pictures of our friends, together for the last time.

Going back to college to gain my National Diploma in Business was worth every bit of effort and every rough situation I had to go through to get it. I got a second chance to do something I really screwed up once and I proved I could do it. And I surprised even myself by genuinely enjoying the subject matter, when I’d enrolled on the course simply because it seemed like a useful qualification to have.  I still had no idea what I would use it for but I didn’t care. It was enough to have it.

Me with two of my college friends

Me with two of my college friends