Posts Tagged ‘university’

The story of the wooden spoon

This is a story. A story about a wooden spoon. I have had this wooden spoon for almost ten years. We have been through a lot together. There have been ups. There have been downs. But through it all, we have remained together.

When I was little, we used to walk to my Nana’s house every Sunday and she would make us lunch. She always made mince and something. I think it was potatoes and other vegetables. I wasn’t really paying attention. I just loved the mince. Maybe she cooked it especially well. I don’t know. I just know that my brother and I were obsessed with it, couldn’t get enough of it.

When she died, I was on my gap year in Africa and my dad and brother did all the sorting out of her stuff. When I got back from my gap year, I was immediately packing up my life again to move to university and my dad gave me my Nana’s cutlery to take. Amongst it all was a wooden spoon. One of the spoons she probably used when making our Sunday lunches of mince. It was sturdy and served me for almost anything I decided to cook (mostly pasta and sauces, as I was an unimaginative student).

When I left university for the summer and then actually ended up running away back to Africa and then coming back and going to a different university, again the wooden spoon and I found each other and made the journey to London together.

We survived halls of residence in tact and we moved into a flat just over the road from uni (the ‘lazy’ in my name becomes clear now) and lived with one close friend and two strangers. We found them on Facebook. They seemed fab. In fact, one of them disappeared and his room started to smell and his parents had to come and clean it out. And the other was nice but buggered off after a month or so.

I was not there the day she left but she obviously packed in a bit of a hurry. Or she intentionally broke my heart. Whichever it is, I have not forgiven her.

I came home that day and did not notice anything amiss. I hadn’t suspected she had a cruel heart made of stone. A few days later, I wanted to cook. I chopped something, I diced something else, I warmed some oil in a pan, I reached for my wooden spoon…. And it was not there. Panic swept over me. I looked around but it was not there. I realised where it must be but had no idea where it’s new home was.

Coincidentally, a girl I had lived in halls with in my first year at uni came over to say hi one day. She was still living in halls and mentioned that the girl who had moved out of our flat had moved in with one of her boyfriend’s friends, also in halls.

And so, the plan was put in place. They would wait until she had gone out one evening then sneak in, find my Nana’s wooden spoon and sneak back out, returning the wooden spoon to me asap.

And they did battle valiantly. They entered the battlefield, used their skills of stealth and sneakiness and retrieved the wooden spoon! Hoo! Rah!

Since then, I have guarded the wooden spoon carefully, not letting another silly careless mistake happen again. When I moved into a lovely massive converted coach house, it came with me. When I moved out a little while later, I carried in my backpack as I cycled to my new destination.

And now it sits happily in the utensil pot thing with the other utensils. It sometimes feels a little threatened by the presence of two other wooden spoons. Yes, two! But it knows those are but small wooden spoons, not comparable to it’s relative long-handled glory. It is the most useful when making things in a big pot, where the other wooden spoons, short-handled as they are, would fall into the food below.

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Here’s to my Nana’s wooden spoon!

Meritocracy, privilege or equality?

Good morning all. Wednesday brings my guest blogger, Rambler5319, and his post prompting by a certain new arrival on the UK scene…

 

Last week LLM mentioned the birth of a certain baby: George Alexander Louis – one who is now 3rd in line to the throne here in the UK. (According to the statistics he is just one of 14,000 babies born in the UK last week.) The birth has stirred up interest in a particular area over the past week or so – privilege and the benefits it confers on later generations. Some people are not happy about those who simply inherit a pot of money or land or a title, and don’t have to work for it; others are quite content to live in a society where there will always be inequalities. My reason for writing about the subject is that the BBC dedicated a whole programme on the radio to a discussion on the subject. They have a discussion series called The Moral Maze and it tries to tackle controversial issues; it uses the format of a panel who question “witnesses” (3 or 4 on each prog) who come to state their case on the subject for the week.

Many folks consider life (in general) is unfair: those with money and privilege seem to get access to jobs, education and many other opportunities, those without don’t. The difficulty comes when we or the state take the view that the “playing field” should be levelled so that all have an equal opportunity to get the position under consideration be it a place at university, a job or membership of a club or team. How can it be done? Some would say we already have that in that anyone can apply but that it’s an equality of outcome that would be the best solution. For that to happen though certain things would have to be put in place which might seem unfair to those who do not get what they believed they deserved.

First principle to think about is – do we believe in the idea that if you work hard and get the results you need in exams for instance you should get the place that was offered? However if we then have a situation, as has happened in the UK in recent years, that for example the government wants more people from, as they put it, poorer sections of society to go to university how can that be achieved? Their answer is that you help them with maybe some extra teaching or finance or bursary payment. This though puts the university admission system under great strain because how do they decide between two candidates applying for say one place? Do they admit a person from a poor background who needs financial aid or say a middle class person who can afford to go because their parents simply have more money than the poorer person? Do you see the problem? Yes, they can admit say 10 people from poorer backgrounds to various courses but in order to do that 10 people from what is considered a higher social group have to be excluded. Is that fair or is it simply what we would call social engineering – making a university population a cross section of the wider society in terms of its social & financial groupings? Is that more morally right? Shouldn’t the emphasis be on the academic achievements of the candidates for the places and other factors come in afterwards? If the grade required in a particular subject is for example a “C” and there are two applicants – one has an “A” and one a “B”. Suppose the B grade applicant is from the poorer background – can you see the problem? Why should one way be more right than another? How many students from poor backgrounds would we expect to find in say some of the top universities like Oxford or Cambridge? It is not simply a case of grades it is also one of expense once you’re there. A further problem arises if, as history tends to confirm, that the people from the poorer social grouping, for one reason or another, don’t do as well academically as those from the more affluent neighbourhoods. Again this is not necessarily down to the child. It may be that the school itself has a poor record and one of the reasons for that might be due to poorer quality teachers ending up in say schools in poorer areas. The child may have come from a family in which education was not valued & books were not read. It could even be that the parents were just not interested in the child; perhaps it was not even wanted. There are a number of possible reasons and we can’t just blame or highlight one.

Second principle to think about is that of inheritance. Is it morally right that you or I as a parent should seek to do our best for our children? Do we believe that if we work hard and accumulate wealth during our lives that we have the right to pass it on to our children? In other words should you get what are called your “just deserts”? I think most people would say that this system seems fair – if you work hard, you get the rewards. Again we can do this in a number of ways but in the final analysis a big question is about what we leave behind for them. Suppose the parents “work their socks off” so they can pay off their mortgage so that their children can inherit their house and not be in debt. Should those parents be penalised for having worked really hard to be able to leave their children money or property or whatever? One speaker in the programme suggested that those who leave “excessive wealth” should have it taken off them. When challenged by the panel as to what he would define as excessive of course he couldn’t and also couldn’t say who should do the defining. The panel’s conclusion was quite simply that his idea amounted to straightforward theft!

Another speaker used the phrase when speaking of the opportunities that it was “unacceptably unfair” to those at the bottom of the social scale. As with the previous point, he was unable to properly define “unacceptably”. In the end he went down the route of saying that some things were unacceptably unfair but not all. He then went on to discuss the idea of rewarding those who “fulfil their potential”. In other words if you are not so clever academically and are expected to attain a grade C and you then do or perhaps achieve even higher, say a B you should be rewarded. This is a nice idea but think about this – suppose a student who was expected to achieve an A just misses it and gets a B. If both are applying to the same university, who is more deserving of the place? – Both have got B grades but to whom would you give the place if you had to make the decision? And why?

The last speaker came up with another generalisation: it’s unfair that bright kids from poor working class backgrounds are losing out to middle class kids who are less bright. I’m not sure how you could prove that. Surely I’d be just as “right” to say that bright middle class kids are losing out to bright working class kids because the latter are being favoured by the social engineering going on in higher education entrance procedures.

Now there isn’t time to go into all the arguments for & against but it seems clear to me that it will be incredibly difficult to move from our present position. Consider this – those who say the present system is unfair because a certain person only “got in” or “got the job” because they were born into a higher income family, than those who did not, haven’t got a practical alternative. If the current system is deemed unfair then how can you replace it with one which bestows favour on lower income groups in order to level things up a little? That just means there will be similar cries of unfairness by those who qualified but were discriminated against in the interests of some social policy either by the state or the institution concerned. You will simply be replacing one unfair system with another unfair one. So can anything help? Do we just have to accept that, as has been the case throughout history, in a society where money buys things those with the most can buy the most of whatever it is – material possessions or access to jobs & education? Is it unfair that one is born into a rich family and one into a poor?

I’ve got a confession to make

I should have spoken about this years ago. It’s been weighing on my mind and it’s time to finally just say it.

When I was 19, I went to university in Glasgow for a year. I was one of those excitable students who joined every club and society going and spent many evenings practising strange sports or discussing books no-one had heard of. I was a member of the Ultimate Frisbee club, the Glasgow University Skydive Club, etc etc etc.

Oddly enough, though, I wasn’t that close to the three girls I lived with. In between all the societies and fun, I was quite studious so didn’t invite interaction when I was in the flat because I was mostly in my room, writing essays and what have you. This confession hinges on that fact.

Now I don’t remember exactly how it went but I was cooking something in a saucepan one evening when no-one else was home and didn’t have a lid so I looked into the big drawer where two of the other girls kept their stuff together. Bingo! They had a lid! I whipped it off, put it on my pan and proceeded to make dinner. Afterwards, I washed up the saucepan and lid and must have forgotten it wasn’t mine and put it away in my drawer.

When the two girls who shared the big drawer next went to cook something in a saucepan, they obviously noticed the missing lid. There was a big hunt for the lid and if they ever looked in my cupboard, they will have just seen my saucepan and a lid and not realised it was their lid.

I didn’t realise any of this was going on (because I was busy being antisocial, remember?) and had long forgotten about the lid. About a week later, I heard them talking about it but it had gone too far by that point. It had turned into an apartment-block-wide search for the lid and conspiracy theories abounded. Because of my antisocialness, I also didn’t feel relaxed and friendly enough to go, “O, I’m so sorry. That was me last week. Here you go, have it back. My bad!”

So I listened to them talk about The Missing Lid and went, “Hmm, yeh. That is wierd. Where can it be?” All the while The Missing Lid burned a hole in my cupboard and I dreaded being found out.

All that week, I listened at my door until I finally found a moment when they were all out. I scurried into the kitchen, took the lid from my pan and put it back in it’s rightful place in their drawer.

A few nights later, the next time they were using a saucepan, they discovered the lid and were astounded. How had it found it’s way back in to the drawer? As no-one else apart from us four could get in the flat, and we all appeared to be as confused as anyone by the returned lid, there was only one other person with access to the flats. In each block, there was one student representative, who was there for emergencies, etc, and had keys to all the flats. His name was Anand.

It had to be Anand. It had to be. There was no other explanation. None.

By total coincidence, a few days later, the cleaner must have left the hoover in the end cupboard in our flat then come and got it a few days later. Because the girls had checked the end cupboard when looking for The Missing Lid and seen the hoover, then went to cupboard for something else a few days later and noticed it had gone, they concluded it was the same person who had stolen, then replaced, The Missing Lid.

This coincidence saved me. It looked like the work of Anand yet again – sneaking in without a trace and simply taking or replacing things to confuse us. Or, we concluded, to use for himself. He borrowed the saucepan lid to make his dinner and then hoovered up after making a bit of a mess.

This went on for the whole year. They’d joke about Anand. If someone left a book or their cutlery out in the kitchen, we’d say “Oo, you’d better put that away in case Anand comes round tonight to borrow them!”

And I played along. I laughed and joked and made up a few of my own. In fact, considering I have lots of memories of being alone in my room writing essays or studying, joking about the Anand thing is one of the few memories I have of actually coming out of my room to socialise with the other girls.

But it was all lies, readers! All lies! It was me! I took the lid! Me! It was my fault! I took the lid and put it in my cupboard by accident and then it was too late! It wasn’t Anand. Poor Anand was just a good guy doing his student rep thing.

I’ve carried that secret with me for 9 years and never told a soul.

It was time.

The time I made a speech

A few months ago, I got an email from my old tutor at the university where I did my undergraduate degree. It was an invitation to an end-of-year event for the current students studying at the school of social sciences, where I also studied.

After seeing it was an invite, I skim-read the rest then scrolled down to the details about where and when. I booked the day off work and made a mental note to figure out how to make my post-university life seem way interesting to my old tutor, who had had such high hopes for me.

On the day, I turned up a little bit late, thanks to public transport, so everyone was already inside the lecture hall sitting down. I sneaked in at the back and just leaned against a table. In the first tea break, I found my way over to my tutor and said hi.

“O! Hi, Laura. Have you seen Jenny yet?” he asked.

Puzzled at this, I mumbled that I hadn’t and wondered who ‘Jenny’ was.

“Come on, let’s go and find her,” he said, signalling that I should follow. I did, slightly confused.

We found Jenny and my tutor said, “Jenny, this is Laura.”

“O, hi Laura,” she said. “Come with me.”

Again, I followed, wondering what all this was about. We went down to the front row of seats as everyone started to file back in after their tea break. Jenny briefly introduced me to another girl but things were getting going again and I had barely said hi before we had to be quiet. I still wasn’t sure why I was sitting at the front.

Some students got up and did a little talk about their dissertation subjects and a few were really interesting. As I listened, Jenny turned towards me and said, “You two will be up after this one finishes.”

Oops! This is what comes of not reading emails properly! I quickly got Facebook up on my phone and found the message and sure enough, there was the request for me to give a 10 minute talk about life since graduation!

Ha! I thought, cynically. You do degrees upon degrees then come out and realise everyone else has loads of them as well and so you all end up waiting tables and making coffee!

But I did not say this. Instead, when we got up, I stood behind the other girl, waiting to see what she said and planning to take my lead from her. But she had forward planned, hadn’t she? She had made a PowerPoint presentation. O yes, she had. And the computer was having problems. So she said to me, “Do you want to go first while I sort this out?”

And there I was, no excuses, no way out, no preparation, looking at a lecture hall full of faces, all silent and waiting. And I gave the most shambles speech ever. It went roughly like this.

“While I was at university, I did my dissertation about how the quality of your lawyer at a capital trial affects the likelihood of you getting the death penalty. I interviewed two men on death row and one of them has an execution date next month. I volunteered with a legal charity for a few years and graduated from law school last year. There’s still a long way to go but I’m getting there.”

And then I just walked off and sat down. I didn’t mention the coffee, nor the long years of working in menial task jobs for companies who don’t care about me. I didn’t mention how much I love cooking and that I’m thinking of a career in food. I didn’t mention how I secretly want to be a farmer and have even considered becoming a lady of leisure (with what financial backing, I don’t know). I didn’t say that I often feel I’ll never use my degrees and that I think, unfortunately, we have become an overeducated generation without the job opportunities to use the education we have accumulated. No, I didn’t say that.

I stood up, said three sentences in a panic then sat back down! And of course, of course the other girl gave a well thought-out, PowerPoint assisted, interesting speech. She made a pack up about job opportunities in the charity sector. And she was fab.

I was a shambles.

And that’s what happens when you don’t read emails properly.

Figure this one out!

I had a slightly mental dream again, everyone. Get your dream analysis heads on and figure this one out.

So I was doing a dissertation in the dream. It was about migration and what encourages it, or something like that. I had printed the subject of the dissertation in big purple letters then cellotaped it into a lined pad that I was taking notes on.

Somehow, by who-knows-what genius on my part, I had organised an interview with Prince William and Prince Harry for my research. I met them in a little pub somewhere with one of my friends, I don’t know who. This friend had brought along one of her friends who just wouldn’t shut up, basically. She was rabbiting on about the environment and the state of the country and what were the princes going to do about it and didn’t they have a responsibility and blah blah blah.

At first I let her go on and on because I was hoping she’d give me a go. Eventually I just stopped her and got all stroppy. I was like, “Ok, could you give it a rest? I don’t know if you realise but I arranged this meeting. I’ve got a dissertation due and I need to interview them as part of my research. I mean, these guys don’t have very much time so could you let me get on with my stuff now, please?!”

Suitably admonished, she stopped talking but laughed at me a bit. The princes looked a bit surprised at my outburst but told me to start with my questions.

So I flipped to the page in my notepad where I had cellotaped the title of the dissertation and I couldn’t find it! It was my turn to talk and I couldn’t find, nor remember, the dissertation title! I knew it was something about migration.

I kept trying to ask them stuff from memory, I was going, “O, it’s about migration and how we encourage it in this country.”

They were going, “Immigration? O yeh, and the benefit system?” The loud mouth sitting next to me kept saying things about immigration and immigrants.

I was getting all annoyed but trying to be polite about it, given that I was chatting to the princes. I was going, “No. Not immigration. Migration. It’s not about immigrants as such, it’s slightly different.”

The princes were waiting for me to tell them what it was about but I was flipping through and through my notepad and couldn’t find the dissertation title.

Then they had to go and Prince William took out a notepad and jotted down his expenses, paying for everyone’s drinks, then they left.

And then, on the floor, in a pile of papers, I found the dissertation title and I realised it wasn’t specific enough. It didn’t really have a clear focus. I started to worry about the deadline being in April as it’s March now and there’s not much time and I didn’t have anything written yet.

I text my friend Sophie (who was in the last crazy dream) to ask the due date then I heard someone calling my name and it was another friend Bianca, by some chairs. She waved me over and everyone I went to uni with was there, plus one girl I went to school with. Everyone looked a bit upset and sniffly as it was our last day at university but I just kept thinking about how my dissertation didn’t have a focus and what on earth could I write about.

By the chairs but a little way off was a policeman looking stressed. I started imagining his thought process and decided to write my dissertation like a diary of the policeman’s thoughts. Then I realised that’s more a story than a factual investigation. I played with a few more ideas but couldn’t settle on any.

Then my alarm went off. For the first few seconds, I thought about what I could write for my dissertation. Then I remembered I finished studying last year, there was no dissertation. Phew!

Wierd.

Any ideas, people?

Trying to be useful

Ok, everyone. It’s time for me to admit something. I’ve been living selfishly. It is the first time I have done so since deciding a while ago, that I was going to live unselfishly. I did my undergraduate degree in Human Rights and officially have letters that I can put after my name to prove I have some knowledge in this area. I became very interested in the issue of capital punishment and went to law school with this in mind.

…And then the law degree was long… And difficult…. And dry…. And not so interesting…. Which took me by surprise. I also wasn’t very good at it. No matter how much I studied and prepared and did masses of extra reading, I’d go to tutorials and the tutors would ask a question. As the excitable student I am, I’d be there, hand in the air going “Me! Me! Pick me! I know!” Then I’d say something like, “Fisher v Bell.” And the tutor would go, “No.”

….Ah. Um. Ok.

My exams last May were tough. My brain almost caved in. I needed a break. I liked people and I wanted to do good things with my life. But I needed to retreat and recoup.

My operation midway through the degree also didn’t help. I know it’s illogical and I know there is no answer to it but I felt annoyed and wanted to know why. Why had it happened to me? I wasn’t annoyed actually, I was pissed off. Really pissed off. Retreating and recovering was a way for me to also process what had happened. There’s nothing like a brush with death to clarify the important things in life!

So since May I have been doing things I like, to kind of shake everything off and make myself a blank page again. To start from scratch and remember what it is want to do. So I have been blogging, baking, eating, writing, reading, walking, seeing friends. And it is lovely. I like my life and I like how I spend my time.

But now I’m ready to get involved again. I want to do useful things with my time again. I watched Cloud Atlas tonight and someone said there is no point joining a cause you believe in as it will just be a drop in the ocean. The reply was that yes, it is just a drop in the ocean but the ocean is made up of drops.

I’m going to do an experiment for a while. I’ve downloaded two books about small daily actions which can make a little difference. One is about trying to live a more environmentally friendly life. The other is about anything and everything. I’ll post the tips from both books and try to do whichever is most feasible, or both if I can.

Let’s see how being nice goes….

Wish me luck.

The worst landlord ever

When I was in my second year at uni, my friend and I decided to move off campus into our own place. We looked at a few places but settled on a flat on a council estate, mainly because it was over the road from university.

When we looked at it, however, it was a little rough around the edges, to say the least. There were chips in the paintwork in most of the bedrooms. There was a huge hole with piping exposed in the bathroom wall. There were odds and ends of crockery in the cupboards. Nothing had been cleaned. There were no curtains or even a curtain pole in my room.

The estate agent confidently assured us that everything would be sorted by the time we moved in. There would be professional cleaners and builders etc who would get the place ready before we arrived.

We found two flatmates to fill the other rooms and, a week later, my friend picked up the keys and headed there with all her belongings, ready for the exciting new adventure. I was working until early afternoon so it would be a few hours before I got there.

I got a phonecall shortly after she had walked through the door, which I thought would be full of excitement and anticipation. Instead it went something like this:

“It looks exactly the same as when we viewed it the other week. There’s still a big hole in the wall and it’s a mess.”

She called the landlord and said there was still a hole in the bathroom wall and that it wasn’t safe. His response?

“What’s the problem? Are you going to climb into the hole?!” followed by a little chuckle at his own wittiness.

When I got there after work, we donned house clothes and yellow gloves and got to cleaning. We packed up all the bits in the kitchen which had been left and put our own stuff in the cupboards.

When the landlord eventually came round to sort out the hole in the bathroom wall, he brought a man with him who, I got the distinct impression, it seemed he’d picked up randomly on the street while driving to the flat.

At one point, the man was cleaning the oven which, we had insisted, needed a proper industrial clean out as it was so dirty. The man, who spoke no English, just kind of muddled through and my friend had decided to keep an eye on him. This was how she saved our cutlery from destruction as he reached for a knife to start scraping the dirt off the inside of the oven.

“No!” she said, speaking slowly and clearly, as though talking to a child. “We use these to eat with. You need a sponge or a scourer.”

He also tried using the oven cleaner he’d found, on the inside of the bath, which he’d been asked to clean. Again, Sophie stepped in, speaking slowly and clearly and handing him some bathroom detergent spray.

That was just a hint of things to come. He owned the flat upstairs too and the girls living there had some hilariously bad set up where he would pitch up every month and collect the rent in cash, all £1400 of it. We gave him cheques for a while before insisting he give us his bank details so we could pay him properly, by bank transfer. That honestly took about six months from first asking him before he gave us them.

When there was a water leak upstairs because someone left the tap on and water was flooding out through our light switches and down the walls, he said there was no need to get anyone out to look at the damage or fix anything because it would be fine.

He’d show up at odd moments and start talking nonsense. Like the time he turned up at my birthday party and started rambling on about this idea he had to store memories on a computer chip so as not to forget them.

He was from Sri Lanka and would just disappear off there without any forewarning, leaving no-one in charge of his business dealings. So, for no discernible reason, we wouldn’t be able to contact him for a month. He didn’t see what the problem was.

He once threatened to turn up, pack my bags and put them outside. When I pointed out that he needed to go through a court and have a properly authorised eviction notice to do anything at all, he flipped out, said he didn’t care about my ‘rights’, and said we owed him money. It’s all hilarious now, but honestly, it was quite ridiculous.

The more I think about it, the sillier it seems. After we moved out, he insisted two people’s rent hadn’t been paid and so kept the whole deposit (four people’s rent). When I called to ask for the other two people’s rent back, he said he’d ‘told the police on me’. I said the police don’t get involved with rental disputes as it’s not violent crime. He stopped picking the phone up when I called.

And that was my experience with the worst landlord I have ever had. It was like living in a comedy.