Category Archives: Qualifications

Learning Archery – 21st February 2015


I have always fancied taking up archery, so when my friend RJ invited me to come up to our local sports centre and shoot with her, I gladly accepted. It quickly became evident that it would be a good idea to take some sort of lessons, so I signed up for a six week beginner’s course.

28. 49. Learn Archery

Me and RJ

Here are some of the things I learnt:

  • Even though I am right-handed, I am a left-handed archer, because apparently I aim entirely with my left eye.
  • This makes it awkward in several respects, because it means I have to fasten my arm guard and nock arrows on my bow with my non-dominant hand.
  • I also feel really puny because my left arm is only strong enough to manage a 14lb draw.
  • Although I love the idea of the horse bow, it is much easier to sort out components for a 14lb draw, left-handed recurve when you are having to borrow equipment.
  • Getting hit by the bow string hurts.
  • I have a terrible habit of sticking my elbow up in the air instead of keeping it level which may be throwing off my aim.
  • Every time you think you are getting the hang of it, you change something (smaller target or new sight) and you are back at square one.
  • Archery can be very frustrating but nonetheless really enjoyable.
28. 49. Learn Archery (3)

My favourite one of me

Well, since I found out I’m pregnant I have not been shooting (I’ve stopped all my sports over the pregnancy as they became harder to manage or just unsuitable) but I will go back to it when I can. In the meantime, I’ll just enjoy the pretty pictures RJ and I took of each other (I borrowed a horse bow from someone since I don’t own my own bow. I don’t know if you can tell but I actually couldn’t bring it to full draw.)

I may not be able to go back to it any time soon (it’s money and child-care dependent) but I can be very patient (about some things, anyway.) Once I can take it up again, my next plan is buy my own bow and start thinking about competitions.


2013 to 2014: Get at least a B in G.C.S.E. Mathematics

stock image from PIXABY

stock image from PIXABY

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the English educational system, G.C.S.E.s (General Certificate of Secondary Education) are taken at or around the age of 16 and are the qualifications with which you leave secondary school and move onto college. Ideally you should leave school with a minimum of five G.C.S.E.s; I left with eleven. So, you might be wondering why, nine years later, I decided to retake my Mathematics G.C.S.E, when I already had a perfectly acceptable C grade. The answer is; I like tornadoes.

Non-sequitur? Maybe. Backtrack a little and we’ll find out why. I have loved tornadoes ever since I saw Twister. One day I was thinking about people who had careers in fields that they were passionate about and I thought (as you do), maybe I should study meteorology. Except, to take a Meteorology degree in England, first you have to have A-levels in Maths and Physics. I don’t have those. Okay, I thought, let’s look at getting them first. Well, to study Maths or Physics at A-level, you need a B grade or higher in G.C.S.E. Maths or Physics. I took Combined Sciences and as I’ve said, got a C in Maths. So clearly, if I wanted to study weather science, first I was going to have to take the Maths G.C.S.E higher paper.


stock image from PIXABY

I’m going to come clean now and say that a few months into studying for the maths exam, I decided that I didn’t want to be a meteorologist (I subscribed to the International Journal of Meteorology because I thought it might be useful but I found it really boring. I like watching weather more than I like crunching numbers about it.) I decided to carry on with the maths though, because to my great surprise, I was really enjoying it. If you had told me in school that I would one day consider maths to be fun, I would have laughed in your face. Mind you, I would have done that if you’d told me I would one day voluntarily complete a half-marathon, so clearly my sixteen-year old self didn’t know me very well.

I wasn’t considered good at maths in school (I was predicted an E grade in my exams, so Lord knows how I got a C), and because of that I hated it. It turns out, having one-to-one tuition with a teacher who gets excited about his subject matter and actively cares about your success, makes learning a lot more enjoyable. That teacher was Be, who is my husband Elliot’s cousin. He has a degree in accounting and is training to be a maths teacher, so he was quite pleased to have a guinea pig student. At the same time, my husband (who was still my fiance at this point) was taking his Mathematics G.C.S.E for the first time (he didn’t have any English qualifications, being American, and it was an issue for a different course he wanted to take) at our local college. Elliot’s teacher was none other than Be’s dad (the maths brain runs in their family.) So, Elliot and I revised together, sat our exam together and anxiously awaited our results together.

stock image from PIXABY

stock image from PIXABY

Finally, about two months after our exams, we got our results; both of us passed -with a B grade! So now I have an A, five B’s and five C’s for my G.C.S.E.s, which is great. I am happy with my result, I worked really hard for it. I liked trigonometry the best because it makes sense to me, lovely geometrical puzzles that are so applicable to real-life situations (try designing a house without it!). I even made up a song to remember the sin and cosine rules. I think I enjoyed simultaneous equations the least because I find the process difficult.  I liked maths with Be so much I even have plans to study the A-level with him (I may not want it for a meteorology degree but it’s useful for a lot), although not just yet because private tuition and examining as an external candidate is EXPENSIVE. I will have to come back to it later. All in all, I feel pretty good about myself. I like to push my boundaries and challenge my preconceptions of myself and I reckon I did just that. 🙂

24.56. Maths

Me and Be

13th November 2013 – No.44b: Learn to Play the Flute; Grade Two Exam


Flute Grade 2

I began studying for my Grade 2 flute exam shortly after I completed the first. Like last time, I chopped and changed the tunes I was learning, as I found some more or less enjoyable to play than others; but eventually I ended up with this selection: ‘Marche Militaire’ by (Franz Schubert), ‘The Liberty Bell’ (J.P. Sousa) and ‘Humoreske’ (Michael Rose), the last being my unaccompanied piece.  I also had two new scales, in addition to the ones from last time; A minor (harmonic or melodic at my choice) and D major (2 octaves)

I booked my exam for the 13th November, and once again booked my pianist Rebecca to accompany me in the exams. The day of, I went to rehearse at her house. Marche Militaire, I was pretty satisfied with; having practised it the most as it was the first in the book. The Liberty Bell, I had practised the least, as it was one I’d switched to later. Humoreske was always going to worry me, as it was the solo piece. Other than that I felt prepared. As per the plan, we then piled into Rebecca’s car and drove to Bexhill.

About five minutes before we arrived at the exam hall, Rebecca suddenly shouted ‘F*CK!…I’ve forgotten the music.” There was no time to go back, and my copy of the sheet music didn’t have the piano accompaniment on it, so there was no choice but to carry on to the hall and explain. Fortunately, someone had cancelled their exam later in the day, so they let me have that time slot instead and we went back to Rebecca’s house again. A quick cup of Earl Grey and another practise later, we tried again, this time arriving with no problem.

Most components of the exam went pretty well, although I once again flaked on the arpeggios (especially E minor), which is ridiculous really because I know them so well. I played D major perfectly on one breath, which I had never been able to do before. I thought my unaccompanied piece was alright. ‘Marche Militaire’ went great. The only blip other than my E minor arpeggio was ‘The Liberty Bell’. It was all going swimmingly, then in the fourth from last bar, I missed a note and blanked. I didn’t manage to come in again until the last note. Now I only missed three or four notes and Rebecca said it was the best she’d heard me play it, so I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

It was agonizing having to wait three weeks for my results. It was even more agonizing to check the ABRSM website and see my result – Pass. This is going to sound stupid, but I was devastated. I really wanted a Merit, I was sure I’d done enough to earn one, and so had Rebecca been. The worst part, was I couldn’t find out what went wrong until the breakdown arrived in the mail. It was nearly a week later that I finally got the breakdown of my results.

First, the bad news. For ‘The Liberty Bell’, I received 19/30 – a FAIL. Despite my performance having, and I quote, ‘rhythmic performance with clarity of articulation’, those last two bars I missed cost me dearly. Why am I being dramatic about this? Because there’s a really good chance not failing this segment would have got me the overall merit I was after.

For ‘Marche Militaire’, I got 23/30, a pass. While the character of the march was ’emphasised in (my) clear tonguing and rhythmic control’, the ‘repeated notes were not clear’. Ok, not bad, moving on. Unaccompanied piece, ‘Humoreske’ – 26/30, a merit! Yippee! The tone was ‘well-supported’ and the notes ‘confidently conveyed’, it was ‘a stable and effective performance’.

I also got a pass for my sight-reading (it’s not my strongest skill), a merit for my scales and (get this) a DISTINCTION for my aural test, 17/18! Who’d have thought it? All together, a respectable 116/150, exactly what I got last time, 4 marks off a merit. Well, it took me over a week to stop being pissed off that a relatively tiny mistake cost me my goal and to see that a pass at Grade 2 is still better than a pass at Grade 1 (I did, at least, get better. And in truth, I did pass two graded music exams in the same calendar year, so I did well.)

I can be very hard on myself and hold myself to high standards but that’s probably why even when I fail to achieve my goal, what I’m left with is still a good result. And hey, this is just an incentive to try EVEN HARDER next time to get what I want. Next step, Grade 3….

Yes, I'm wearing purple fluffy slippers :)

Yes, I’m wearing purple fluffy slippers 🙂


27th March 2013 – No.44a: Learn to Play the Flute; Grade One Exam


I have always wanted to play the flute. There is just something about the instrument which appeals to me. As a child, of course I asked my mother for lessons but money was tight and in the end my mum signed us up for keyboard lessons from a friend, which was considerably cheaper. My twin sister Roisin immediately took to it and still plays the piano now. I did not enjoy it. No one wants to be forced into doing the same thing as their twin, especially when that twin is better at it than you!  In secondary school I tried again. This time I got saddled with bassoon lessons. A bassoon is about as far away from a flute as you can get. It’s enormous, heavy, cumbersome and sounds (to quote my youngest brother) “like a dinosaur in pain”.

It's not easy to take a picture of yourself playing the flute...:)

It’s not easy to take a picture of yourself playing the flute…:)

I resigned myself to waiting until I could sort it out myself. Then in the summer of 2011, my friend Ivan introduced me to Rosie, who plays flute at a grade 6 level.  Rosie heard that I wanted to learn how to play and offered to teach me for free; we have been friends ever since. She even found me a website where I could rent a flute for six months and then buy it from the company; I would have struggled to afford one upfront.    I worked hard learning basic pieces, until one day Rosie said she thought I was ready for my Grade 1 exam. I booked it with ABRSM for the 27th of March.

I spent the morning of the 27th practising hard, before meeting up with Rosie and heading to my pianist’s house so she could drive us to the exam centre in the nearby town of Bexhill. As the exam drew closer, I still felt fine, perhaps distracted by the company. It wasn’t until my pianist was parking the car that I began to feel somewhat nauseated, however I passed it off as travel sickness and it soon faded. My nerves, on the other hand, were beginning to appear. I sat in the waiting room, filling out the slip of paper that I would hand to the examiner; detailing which tunes I was playing and the order in which I would be performing them. My fingertips began to sweat. My hands were slightly shaking. I could feel adrenaline rising in my stomach. I tried to persuade myself that this was no different to the excitement one might feel before boarding a rollercoaster. As I silently practised the fingering for the trickiest parts of my pieces, I was summoned to the exam room. This was it, the culmination of a year’s preparation, twelve minutes that would determine if I was capable not just of playing my instrument but of performing with it too. I handed my slip to the examiner and set up my music.

Me playing the flute

Me playing the flute

“Begin whenever you’re ready.” She waved her hand casually, not even looking.  I glanced at my pianist, who nodded to show she was ready, took a deep breath and began ‘Shepherd, Shepherd.’ It went perfectly, just as we had rehearsed. Too early, my body relaxed and sent floods of ‘it’s over’ adrenaline, causing my knees to wobble and my arms to shake. I felt sick. I barely managed to perform ‘Vielle Chanson’ and it was not without error –to raise notes an octave on the flute, frequently the technique is the same fingering and simply an alteration in the way you breathe; a feat difficult to accomplish when your mouth has gone dry.
After my accompanied pieces, my pianist left the room and I played ‘Study in F’, my solo piece. Fortunately, this went off without a hitch. I performed my scales with less confidence than I ought to have, making a couple of elementary mistakes which resulted in me asking if I could have a second try, which I was granted. Then the sight-reading component, which for those of you who have never taken a graded music exam, comprises a short piece of music you have thirty seconds to read and must then perform. This I thought went well and then it was onto the aural section, a variety of short tunes played by the examiner, who requested me to clap the rhythm, sing sections back and answer a few queries as to the content of the pieces. This is something I am reasonably comfortable with, due to having been a member of my secondary schools chamber choir.
And that was it, the exam was over. About three weeks later, I received my certificate in the mail, I passed!

Rosie and me with my Grade One certificate

Rosie and me with my Grade One certificate

24th February 2013 – No.70: Become a Girlguiding Leader

Lou (Purple Bird) and me (Blue Bird)

Lou (Purple Bird) and me (Blue Bird)

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a Brownie. My mother was a Brownie and my grandmother was a Brown Owl. My mother always said that when I was old enough I could join Brownies but when I actually turned 7, she said I couldn’t. We couldn’t afford for both myself and my twin sister to go and it wouldn’t be fair for one of us to go and not the other.

When I grew up and had my daughter, I pictured her being a part of Girlguiding. It’s a lovely way for girls to socialise and to learn new skills. Because of her diagnosis of autism, her father and I enrolled her in a school for children with autism and/or speech and language disorders. It became even more important to me that she learn how to socialise with non-autistic children, since the majority of people she meets in her life will not have ASD.  I put her on the waiting list for Rainbows, which is Girlguiding for 5-7 year-olds.

When Emiko turned 5, she joined the 15th St.Leonard’s Rainbows, run by my friend Lou. I spent several weeks sitting at the side of hall observing her sessions, during which time I slowly reached the conclusion that I still wanted to be part of Girlguiding, even as an adult. So, I volunteered to be a Leader, adding it to my list. I handed in my application, completed my CRB check, bought my t-shirt and picked out my Rainbow name. All the Leaders take on a nickname for the kids to call them by; in my unit there is: Purple Bird and Orange Bird (Adult Leaders) and Piglet and Tigger (Young Leaders). I decided to be Blue Bird.


Purple Bird, Me, Woodpecker (Brownie Young Leader) and Piglet

To become a full Leader, you must complete a qualification, although you are referred to as Leader even before you have finished it, as long as you have made your Promise. Whenever anyone joins Girlguiding and on various other occasions, you make a Promise. The wording differs slightly for Rainbows, Brownies, Guides, Senior Section and Leaders but essentially carries the same meaning.

I made my Promise on the 24th of February 2013, four days after my 25th birthday, on World Thinking Day, a day when different units of the local area come together and participate in various fun activities. At the end of the event, everyone remakes their Promise together and anyone who is making it for the first time comes to the front of the group and says it before everyone. There was another woman making her Promise, so we stood and recited it together. When I joined, the Promise was:

I promise that I will do my best to love my God, to serve the Queen and my country, to help other people and to keep the Guide Law.

Although now the promise is:

I promise that I will do my best to be true to myself and develop my beliefs, to serve the Queen and my community, to help other people and to keep the Guide Law.

Having completed my promise, I received my necker (triangular scarf), woggle (ring to hold ends of scarf together) and tabard (thing you pin badges on).  I should have got a promise badge too (to show that I had done it) but I had to wait a bit for that because the guide shop had run out and were ordering more in.

Now, in September 2013, I have been involved in Girlguiding for a year. I have nearly finished the qualification. Recently, I started helping in our Brownie unit too, where I am called Sunflower. Next year Emiko will move up to this unit and she can’t wait to be a Brownie. She is fourth generation Girlguiding (even though she was the third of us to join, me being the last) and she loves it. We both do. I may not have got to experience guiding as a child but I get to experience it with my child and that is so much better.


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

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