Monday, 21 December 2015

Our Changing Climate - Jacksgap

As someone who has a keen interest in the environment and climate change and having studied Geography throughout my entire academic life, I've seen a fair share of documentaries, books, articles and opinions on climate change in the 21st Century. Jack Harries, one of my favourite film makers, just released a short documentary/video about climate change and I thought I'd share it here as it's well worth a watch, even if you feel indifferent towards climate change (shame on you!).


Enjoy!

xx



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Monday, 30 November 2015

November: Studying Abroad

I honestly don't know where November went. It came and went in a series of flashes.

Flash, I'm sitting in the lounge with my guy friends playing cards.
Flash, I'm sat at my computer, frantically writing lab reports.
Flash, I'm making notes for my exams.
Flash, I'm researching for reports and tearing my hair out from the stress.
Flash, I'm going to the gym everyday with Sarah.
Flash, I'm having dinner my roommate and talking about life.
Flash, I'm watching a film with my girl friends.
Flash, I'm picking my parents up from the airport.
Flash, I'm watching a Calgary Flames Game.
Flash, I'm dividing my time between everyone unevenly.
Flash, I'm in the car with my mum and dad.
Flash, I'm driving up to Jasper on a road of pure ice for 290km.
Flash, I'm having snowball fights and laughing.
Flash, I'm sitting watching a Christmas movie by the fire.
Flash, I'm snuggled up with my mum.
Flash, I'm grabbing late night supplies from the grocery store with my dad.
Flash, I'm walking knee deep through the snow.
Flash, I'm studying again.
Flash, I'm saying goodbye.
Flash, I'm stressed out beyond belief.
Flash, I'm lying on my bed listening to Christmas songs.
Flash, I'm watching Spectre at the cinema with my friends.
Flash, I'm playing cards again.
Flash, I'm skyping.
Flash, I'm writing lab reports again.
Flash, I'm taking exams.
Flash, I'm Christmas shopping.
Flash, I'm singing and dancing with friends.
Flash, I'm playing cards.
Flash, I'm studying again.
Flash, December's here.

Here area few of my favourite photo's from the past month:

Mum and Dad chillin in Jasper

Lake Louise on the verge of Winter

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Sorry this post is a bit incoherent... November has been a bit of a blur!
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Sunday, 1 November 2015

October: Studying Abroad

I realise that this update is a little late... but it's been another whirlwind of a month. As time seems to be sweeping by, I feel as though I've truly begun to settle into some kind of routine here in Calgary, albeit an extremely busy one.


October began with me sitting with a group of my closest friends here, talking and laughing, lounging around and really getting to know each other. The theme of friendship has been strong this month, with the strengthening and the weeding out of those relationships made in the first week and the beginning of even more new friendships in classes. With the increase in workload, everyone's schedules get busier and you find yourself spending more time with certain people and less time with others, and I feel like this has been instrumental in making true friends.


Our first weekend had us driving further than anticipated to Dinosaur Provincial Park but I'm glad we did. The scene before us was unlike anything I'd ever seen before. A stark contrast to the mountains only a week earlier. The badlands went on forever it seemed. The car journey back was a load of fun, singing and playing silly games that left us in fits of laughter.


The next weekend was a girls trip up to Edmonton. I experienced firsthand the realisation why my friend from Calgary called it 'Deadmonton'. There wasn't much to see there. So instead we went to the mega shopping mall and did a bit of retail therapy. It felt good. But the thing that felt the best was realising that I had some really good friends here in Calgary and I had some fake friends too. But it made it easy to differentiate and for that, I was really grateful.


The next day was Thanksgiving. We went to Walmart first thing to grab supplies and I spent most of the day cooking for 6 of us. It felt so homey and cosy. I think it made me finally feel at home here. We sat around our too small table, chatting, laughing, eating, thankful and happy. It was a special moment, and a special weekend of friendship. It's nice to have an occasion to give thanks. And at that moment I was thankful for the people around me who had made me feel so welcome and at home here.


Two weeks later and a small group of us drove up to the Kananaskis/ Canmore area to take a hike up the aptly named 'Tent ridge'. After a calf burning trip up the mountain, we set our eyes upon the best view I've seen since I arrived in Canada. It was breathtaking, and that was nothing to do with the amount of exercise I'd just done. It was the most amazing spot to sit and have lunch. We all felt extremely accomplished.


I swear, you don't even have to be a good photographer in order to take great photos in Canada. Nature does all the hard work for you. From this view you can see Spray lakes below, where we then hiked down to after this shot was taken. It was a long hike, but completely worth it. My brain just about exploded with awe at the world we live in. It's amazing just how beautiful it can be.


Then all too soon it was Halloween and me and my friend Sarah went all out our costumes. It was super fun. We finally ended up going to a frat party and playing beer pong. I feel like I have now been initiated into the typical North American lifestyle. Slowly but surely, I am on my way to becoming a true Canadian... Haha, not quite. October ended on a drunken blast, with some happy drunk friends celebrating good ol' drunken halloween.


However, sometimes you can't have the highlights without the lowlights... This month has been a struggle in terms of homesickness. In those moments where you aren't doing the exciting things; when you're not hanging out with your friends or focusing on your deadlines. When you're sat by yourself and you feel the distance between yourself and home like a physical pain. The time difference makes it even worse. I'd be lying if I said I haven't been down. Most evenings were spent curled up in bed feeling really sad and emotional. This month has been full of extreme ups and downs and no in betweens, which has been somewhat draining but I've continued to have an incredible experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. My dad told me to remember that homesickness is just like any other sickness, it passes with time. And he's right. Although I miss my family, my friends and the UK, Canada is only temporary, so I may as well enjoy as much of it as possible in the now. I see some people here spending most of their time missing home and I feel sad for them. Because soon it will be over and I have a feeling that they'll regret wasting their exchange thinking that the grass is greener. It's okay to feel sad, but it's a shame to let that stop you from doing great things on your study abroad experience.

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Saturday, 3 October 2015

Month Update: Studying Abroad


Good Morning from rainy Calgary. It's been a whole month since I arrived in Canada, a bundle of nervous energy and excitement, completely overwhelmed with emotions. It feels like only yesterday yet a lifetime ago, so much has happened since then. Instead of giving a chronological account of everything that I've got up to over the past month, I'm going to write a list of useful information I wished I'd had before arriving in Calgary and realisations that I've had whilst being here:

Now, before we get onto anything else, the most important info you will need as a British person living abroad in Canada is... where to get your hands on some good ol' tea, you know, just a regular pack of tea bags. It's actually surprisingly easy. I didn't know this at first but your average tea bag full of black tea is called Orange Pekoe here. So to save yourself the confusion when trying to find some tea to make you feel at home, just look for Orange Pekoe and you'll most probably be okay. Luckily for me, my favourite brand of tea, Tetley, is quite popular here so I'm all set.
Now that I can rest easy knowing that everyone can get their tea fix, let's move onto the perhaps more... important issues:

Be sure to go to orientation events. I cannot recommend this enough. Through these events you get to meet a tonne of people and get to know your way around campus, two things that are essential for getting on well on your exchange. On International Orientation Day, I was tired, jet lagged and feeling pretty homesick and anxious. The last thing I wanted to do was go out and have to talk to people, I just wanted to curl up in bed with Netflix and sleep away the next 8 months. But, of course I didn't do that. I made myself get up, get dressed and go. I didn't even walk two metres from my door when I bumped into two girls also on their way to orientation, and little did I know then, but these two girls would be some of the best friends I have at Calgary so far. Through talking to them, I got to know some other people and within a few days, we'd formed an amazing group of friends from all over the world. The Netherlands, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Australia and America, oh and me from the UK of course. The great thing about making friends with other international students is that they tend to have similar goals and similar attitudes to life, they are for the most part, the adventurers. Having a group of international friends makes exploring your new home a whole lot easier. Which brings me onto my next point nicely:


Say 'yes' to as much as possible. Be a tourist. Go travelling. The first month is such a great time to get things done as classes haven't truly got into full swing and assignments aren't impending. Hiring a Car is super easy and I wholeheartedly recommend going on road trips. The first weekend here, a group of us went up to Banff National Park and camped out. It snowed. In September. Not only was it incredible up in the mountains; camping and road tripping with a group of new friends was a great bonding experience. The weekend after was a complete change of weather, it was beautiful clear skies and 25 degrees. Another camping trip ensued, with more people this time and we had such a laugh and it was great fun. At one point in the evening, we were all lying down looking up at the millions of stars and talking about life, the universe and everything and I had one of those moments of true clarity. This is what life was really about: exploring beautiful places, trying new things and connecting with people from so many different backgrounds. It was incredible. Each weekend has been full of another adventure and I have loved every minute. Whatever happens from here on out, my experiences so far have been more than enough to make this exchange worth every bit of time, money and effort taken to get here.


That being said, moving to Canada and saying 'yes' to new experiences and adventures is an exceptional drain on the finances. More than I ever anticipated. Be prepared to fork out for the unforeseen costs, kitchenware, homeware, bathroom supplies, insurances, transport passes, road trips, food, winter clothing, it felt neverending at times. Be smart about where you're spending your money and you'll most probably be fine.


With all the new experiences and the want to fill all your spare time with fun things, it's easy to put studying at the bottom of the priority list. Try not to do this! In Canada, opposed to in the UK, the work is generally easier (in my opinion so far) but the workload far more constant. There are more assignments and smaller tests that require a consistent amount of time dedicated to studying a week. Cramming is far less important here it seems and already I've had 4 assignments and tests handed in and put towards my final grades. Get into a good routine and don't be afraid of spending a few nights in occasionally to get some work done, contrary to what I said before, you don't have to necessarily say yes to everything! Remember: it is called studying abroad for a reason...


And last but not least, keep in contact with home. This one is maybe just a personal one but I tend to feel a lot less homesick when I keep up regular contact with everyone I'm missing. The internet is a beautiful thing when studying abroad. I was feeling a bit sad one day and I was sat in between lectures in the library when all of a sudden I got a message from two of my good friends back home and instead we chatted and messaged each other for the next hour and it felt just like I was back home. This month has been full of extreme ups and downs. I've had some of the most fantastic experiences and I have met and become friends with more amazing people than I could ever have imagined but no matter how wonderful my time has been here so far, there's no replacement for hugs with my parents, play fights with my brother, snuggles with my nieces and nephew, cups of tea with my grandparents, hanging out with my best friends who know me inside out and knowing that I'm only a train ride away from the people you love the most. A lot of homesickness comes from the perception of distance. Knowing that I can't just pop back for a weekend if I need to. It's been hard at times but I'm confident that as time goes on it will get easier, I just have to keep doing awesome things and making memories to last a lifetime.


So as we get full swing into autumn (or fall as they call it in Canada) here in Calgary, I'm excited to see where this next month takes me...

Cheerio!

xx



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Thursday, 1 October 2015

Becoming a Vegan

The decision to become vegan was one that I never thought I'd make. In fact, growing up, I'd always had a strange aversion to vegans and veganism. For whatever reason, when someone mentioned that they were a vegan, I would instinctively roll my eyes and wonder how I managed to bag the hippy. Maybe it's because society places a stigma on veganism, but I associated vegans with those seeking attention, making a statement not of compassion, but of judgement. I believed that vegans were people who sat on their high moral ground and judged those who didn't follow their own ideals. How hilariously ironic. I used to think to myself, 'Why would anyone be vegan? You're not killing the animal to get its produce, what's the big deal?' That thought process is unfortunately very common, and along with it, there are many others, a big one is the belief that being a vegan is unhealthy for your immune system and makes you weak. These beliefs are borne from pure and simple ignorance. I don't say that in a judgemental way, I just say that out of truth. If you take the time to research into veganism, you'll soon understand that it isn't just about whether an animal lives or dies, and you'll soon realise that there are many ways to get every bit of nutrient that you need, that doesn't require animal meat or produce, in order to be healthy and strong.

The main reason for my decision to become a vegan is the environment. For years I've learnt about the effects we as humans are having on the environment, about climate change and the general degradation of the earth around us. It's difficult to know much about this when standing in a well developed country that reaps the rewards of this massive exploitation of the world's resources. But just because I can't see it from where I'm standing, it doesn't mean that it's not happening. Being a geographer has become part of my identity, my love of the natural environment and of sustainability, of leaving the wo
rld as I want my children and grandchildren to see it, it is all a part of who I am and what I deeply care about. One day I came to the realisation that I was a hypocrite. Talking my friends and family's ears off about how we as human beings are destroying this beautiful planet that we live on, all the while enjoying my cheeseburger. It's an oxymoron. The older I get and the more I learn about the planet, the more conscious I am of change. Geographers are often found banging their heads against walls at the pure greed and ignorance of many towards the limitations of the earth's resources. We are constantly talking about how things have to change. Nothing will get better unless something changes. Well, I've always been told that change starts from within so how can I expect others to make changes unless I make those changes myself?

Although my care for the environment has been instrumental in taking this step, it's not the only reason. Cruelty to animals is just another reason becoming a vegan feels completely right. I started off with a vegetarian diet and to my utmost surprise I didn't miss meat in the slightest. I decided to become a vegetarian for the environmental reasons that I mentioned above but at some point I found myself unable to justify killing so many animals for my own benefit. Everytime I ate meat, I began to imagine having to kill and prepare the animal beforehand and it seemed so unnecessary to have so many animals die for my sake. Becoming a vegetarian opened up discussions with so many people. You don't realise it when you're not a vegan or vegetarian, but it's a big conversation starter when people hear you going for the veggie option or when you mention that you're a vegetarian/vegan. Through these discussions, I had another one of those realisations. I am still a hypocrite. I say I care about the environment and animals, but i'm still drinking cow's milk, eating cheese, yoghurt, ice cream. All of these things are fueling an industry that, when on a large scale, treats animals with absolutely no compassion. I realised how stupid I'd been in my view towards veganism. There is indeed a fate worse than death, and that is a life of torture. How can I feel at ease, knowing that I'm just another person investing in an industry that does the most abominable things to animals. Not only that, but how can I consider myself an environmentalist when I am creating demand for dairy, which incidentally creates demand for cattle and intensive cattle farming continues. It's not just the meat production that is harmful to the environment, it's the amount of animals themselves and this issue will still be an issue if everyone became a vegetarian tomorrow, there would just be a lot more wasted, rotting flesh around.


I'm not going to say that I'll never eat meat or animal products again. If we lived in a world where everyone ate animals/animal products sustainably and in moderation, I would too enjoy the occasional piece of meat. But unfortunately we don't. We live in a world that consumes way too much meat in a very unsustainable way and the only way I know how to try and change that is to change my own lifestyle first and allow others in on my views. A lot of people don't take the time to understand, and I can't blame them really, it took me a while to really get a hold on what I believe and what that is is still changing even now. But if you've got to this point, I thank you for taking the time to listen and I urge that you spend just a bit more researching into this issue.

One source I would completely and utterly recommend watching is the documentary 'Cowspiracy' as it's truly an eye opener and it's easier to feel a connection to something you can see with your own eyes.


Oh, and one more thing. Being a vegan is not necessarily unhealthy. Just like being a meat eater is not necessarily healthy. If you take the time to buy the right food, it's surprisingly easy to hit those macro and micronutrient goals. As with any big change, it takes a lot of perseverance and motivation. It's up to you.

xx

Useful Resources:
Cowspiracy (Also available on Netflix)
The Vegan Society
Meat Free Monday Campaign
Graham Hill's Ted Talk
Mark Bittman's Ted Talk 


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Monday, 7 September 2015

Crazy Dreams

"You have brains in your head, you have feet in your shoes, you can steer yourself in any direction you choose."

You know that moment you have when you're reaching some kind of stress threshold, you're getting fed up with life and your current situation and you say, in a kind of jokey, offhanded manner that you're going to throw the towel in and pursue a crazy dream that lurks in the back of the mind? I was sitting at my desk a while back, inundated with coursework, behind on other work, missing family, close friends and feeling very much alone when I had the sudden thought, 'Sod it! I'm going to leave uni and go and live and work at Turtle Island', then I had a little laugh at myself and continued on with my work feeling miserable. Then I had another thought not too long after, a realisation if you will. Not enough people actually take those moments seriously.

It's too easy, in the society that we live in, to shut down an idea or dream simply because it doesn't fit with the life that gets set out for you. It's too easy to laugh it away as 'crazy' or 'silly' because it seems like an impossibility, too out there for you, too much of a hassle. Not to mention, how on earth are you going to justify yourself to the people around you, when they all seem to be doing the respectable 'adult' thing of settling down with a good job, a new car, a mortgage, a retirement fund, savings for their unborn children, a TV license and annual all inclusive holidays. It seems to me that our society measures success based upon material possessions and I find it hard to justify living with less so that I can experience more, when I feel this ingrained pressure to do the opposite of what I want to do, when I feel like a failure for not wanting to get that graduate job but instead I want to float around, untied for a while. 

Yet despite that worry of being a disappointment, never have I felt more alive than when I'm going places and working hard and following those crazy dreams. And although it's hard to accept sometimes, the people who really matter will see that and will understand that it's your life and only you can choose how you live it. So the next time that seemingly impossible dream makes its way to the front of your mind, take it a little more seriously and do something about it.
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Friday, 28 August 2015

The Journey Begins


So this is it. Tomorrow I get on a plane to Calgary where I'll be living and studying for the next 9 months. It feels strange writing that. Even now, with my visa ready, my boarding pass printed, my bags packed, my place ready for me when I arrive and everything pretty much in order, it still hasn't quite sunk in that I am leaving the safe, secure comfort zone of the UK and venturing out to a place that's 4,384 miles away from home. Wowee, that sounds scary.

I plan on keeping this blog updated during the next 9 months, so when the reality of this whole experience hits me, I can give you a full account of 'my study abroad experience'. 

So for now, all I have to say is...

Cheerio, England!

xx
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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Homesickness

When applying to universities, distance wasn't something I gave much consideration. I mean, it was a slight factor in my choices but ultimately, I cared about going to a good university, somewhere fairly nice and where I really liked the course. Looking back over my time at university so far, I don't regret my choice. In fact, I couldn't be happier being in the North West; going to a university with an amazing geography department; being somewhere new where I can explore great places like the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, Arnside and Silverdale, the Fylde Coast. But something I didn't anticipate when I applied was how homesick I would feel.

It’s a strange thing leaving home. Some of us can't wait for the day, others dread it. I seemed to swing between the two, staying for longer periods of time on the latter the closer it came to the day itself. As a young teen and even up to age 17 or so, I'd always dreamed of that time I could be independent, live by myself away from my dad. Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love my dad to pieces but he can be somewhat difficult to live with at times. During those times, I'd get comfort from the idea of moving out but as I got older, those times seemed to become less frequent, maybe because I stopped being a grumpy hormonal teenager, maybe because my dad got a little better or maybe a mix of both. So when fresher’s hit, I was apprehensive to say the least.

The first term of University was a whirlwind of blurred new faces, nights out, trying out various societies and sports, going to lectures, tutorials, balancing the budget to allow a somewhat healthy lifestyle yet also to accommodate all other expenses. My brain was constantly overwhelmed by new new new so I didn't have time to feel homesick. The next thing I knew it was time to go home for Christmas and see the family, the friends and generally catch up with everyone I'd not seen for months.

It wasn't until second term hit that things changed. The newness of everything faded and deadlines piled up, friends true colours began to shine, time became a limited resource and I dedicated myself to one club only,, and no longer accepted every request for a night out. It was during this period of second term when I finally had some time to think and I realised that who I'd been during the first term hadn't truly been myself, who I'd made friends with weren't really people I could trust, I'd barely visited any of the places I'd promised myself I would and I'd been doing things that weren't giving me any fulfilment. It was at this point that the homesickness struck. I missed my family and their unwavering support. I missed my true friends, the ones who really knew me and liked me for me, not some version of myself that I'd felt pressured to be. I also missed the feeling of having a life that exists in one place. Neither university nor my family home truly felt like home, I was a split person who felt like she was living a split life.

So I felt alone, and sad, and slightly stressed but luckily I had Skype so I could keep in contact with the people I was missing. Things weren't so bad but I kept myself holed up in my room, avoiding people as much as I could and that too didn't feel right. So I decided it was time to redo myself. Make some new friends, focus on those who I felt comfortable to be myself around, do things I enjoyed, visit places I've always wanted to go that were nearby and focus more on studying and learning. And also importantly, keep in regular contact with those I really missed. Things finally started to look up and for the most part, they stayed that way.

Being homesick is a natural part of moving away and starting somewhere new. Homesickness can manifest itself in all sorts of ways and that’s okay. Recognise it, take steps to manage it and most importantly, don't let it prevent you from doing the things that you love. Use it as an encouragement to do great things that will fulfil you and make you happy as ultimately, your happiness is a big factor in determining your level of homesickness.







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Monday, 6 July 2015

10 Years

"Where do you see yourself in 10 years time?"
It's these kind of questions that I hate with a passion. In 10 years time I will be 29. 10 years ago I was 9. Going by how much my life has changed in the last 10 years, it seems inconceivable to me to be able to know what I want in the next 10 years. When I was 9 I wanted to be an actress or an artist. Or maybe I was going to open up my own restaurant with my best friend Charlie. We were going to have cornflakes with maple syrup as our speciality dessert. Today, I am no longer friends with Charlie. I no longer want to open up my own restaurant. I no longer want to be an artist. I no longer want to be an actress, although there is a part of me that does occasionally fantasise about being in a huge theatre production of Les Miserables, but that's besides the point.


Today I'm 19 years old. Today I'm studying for a degree in Geography. Today I fantasise about living somewhere like a farm in the middle of nowhere, being as self sufficient as I can possibly be, doing things I love. But still, I'm at university, studying towards a degree that I love, getting ready for my exams and getting prepared to study abroad for a year. Who knows where I'll be in 2 years time? Who know's how my experiences will change what I want in life, where I see myself?

I think as a society we get too caught up in the long term plans. It's good to have them, don't get me wrong. It's good to have goals and to think about the steps to achieve them but at the same time I think it's unfair to put so much pressure on people to know these things. And frankly, I think it's naive to put much weight on the answers to these questions as so much can happen and change in 10 years. Especially at the age that I am, it seems that everyone is expected to know what they want to do, know how they're going to achieve it despite having a limited experience of what the world is actually like outside of the realm of home. Everyday I learn something new and every year I feel like I grow and change. I believe that it's okay not to know what you want to do in 10 years time or at least feel like it can be changed. The amount of pressure put on people to stay on the path you choose at 16, 17, 18 is crazy. Everyone should be made to feel that it's acceptable to change your mind. There is no way that the person you are now is going to be the exact same person you'll be in 10 years time and sometimes that means your dreams and passions change. It's okay to not have a long term plan and it's okay to have one, just make sure you know that you should do what you want to do. You shouldn't ever be made to feel like a failure for changing your mind.

-x-
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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Geography

I was asked recently by my old school to write to a few of the current students a bit about why I took Geography at GCSE and A-Level so I thought I'd transfer that to this blog in case any of you reading this are uncertain about whether Geography is the right subject for you and for your future.

http://www.educationquizzes.com/
I'm not going to pretend that I have always been a lover of Geography because that would simply be a lie. When I started out at senior school, there were only two subjects I freely admitted that I hated, and both in equal measures; Geography and Drama. Why did I hate geography so much? Well, I think it was a mixture of things. I came from primary school having a limited experience of what geography entailed, hazy memories of sitting in a classroom learning about rivers and oxbow lakes that made my eyes heavy with boredom. I don't think I really gave Geography much of a chance when joining senior school, my teachers were irritating and all we seemed to do was crafts and look at maps. I have never been the type of person who enjoys doing crafts, so spending most of my time making sheep farms, rainforests and volcanoes was not my thing. I'm someone who likes to learn by reading, listening or discussing, not by using my hands and imagination.  So, in the first two years of secondary school, from age 11-13, I counted the days til I could drop Geography and say goodbye forever. Luckily for me, in hindsight at least, we weren't allowed to decide our GCSE subjects until mid year 9, ages 13/14, and by that time we'd moved away from the Pre-GCSE course and started the GCSE course and that was the point at which I started to learn just how vast Geography is as a subject.

Although I write this now from somewhat of a physical Geography standpoint, it was in fact human geography that got me interested at first. I don't remember much of the pre-GCSE course, only that I hated it with a passion, but moving into GCSE level, with a teacher who was passionate and knowledgeable, I seemed to learn so much about the world in such a short space of time. It felt like Geography finally began to click. Geography wasn't just about Oxbow lakes and cutting and sticking, Geography was actually about all elements of the world. Finally I began to relate what I learnt to things going on around me and understand so much more about the world we live in and the processes and flows that link everyone together globally, from the way in which big companies (TNC's) influence the world, to immigration and emigration, the issues of an ageing population, the make up of cities and rural spaces, all of these issues and problems that I'd heard about or seen with my own eyes but never really thought about or questioned before and problems that I had never heard about before. I decided to continue Geography for GCSE and as my perception of geography changed, my interest in the physical side of Geography began to increase. We started to learn about things I could relate to my own experiences of the world around me, like Coasts and Biodiversity and other that I'd only heard about like Volcanoes and Earthquakes but were still interesting to know about. The mix of physical Geography and human Geography kept me intrigued and consistently learning so much. Even still, despite taking A-Level and having finished my first year at university, there are things that I learnt at GCSE that come up time and time again in the news, conversation and generally just life.

Taking Geography at A-Level was hands down one of the best decisions I have ever made. At the time it meant very little. I took Geography as my filler subject, the one that didn't really have much to do with my future plans but the one that I wanted to take simply because I enjoyed it. It should have clicked then that taking subjects you don't particularly love in order to get a job that you think you might enjoy wasn't exactly a recipe for success in terms of the future but you live and learn. It shouldn't have come as a surprise really when the subject I took purely because of enjoyment, ended up being the subject I wanted to study at university. Even if I had decided not to continue it further after A-Levels, the knowledge and skills base that I have acquired from Geography will be some of the most important I will ever gain. Geography broadens the horizons and changes your perspective on the world, helping you to be far more critical and informed in your decisions. There is no doubt that wherever you go and whatever you do later in life, the skills you learn and the knowledge you acquire in Geography will always stand you in good stead.

That's enough Geography love for today,

Take Geography. You won't regret it (most probably).

xx
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Friday, 5 June 2015

Books


I absolutely adore reading. I know not how to describe the feeling that encompasses me when opening a book. To escape into a world created entirely through the imagination of another seems somehow intimate, yet how that world is perceived is entirely up to the imagination of the reader. Books are my constant, a place to escape when the burdens of life are too great, when the desire to feel less alone overwhelms me, when the want to learn something new surfaces, or just simply when I need to sit back and relax. Reading is my strength, my passion, my thing.

Books are always there. People can chop and change, life can take unexpected turns but there will always be a book that I can relate to. There will always be characters to love and characters to hate. There will always be places to explore. There will always be things to learn. Horizons to expand, vocabulary to be stretched, discussions to be had. I find a great comfort in knowing that.

I find that books are a gateway for me. The gateway to many an opportunity as a result of a common love of a book. Many a conversation has been started. Many a friendship has been made. Many a time have books been my saviour. If you know me, you'll know that books are the key to my heart. Nothing is as certain to get me animated than an extremely good or bad book. I never travel without one. To me they are a necessity. They are fantastic. I am in heaven when I am surrounded by them. It's for this reason that I could never have chosen to do a degree in English Literature. Books are my means for escape. The day that I need to escape from books is a day that I hope to never experience.


xx
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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Being Single

Being single can often be underrated. It's easy to fall into that trap of feeling that a relationship will fix all of your heart's problems. But then something happens to make you realise just how awful being in a relationship can be sometimes, and you're happy just to be single for a little while, even if that little while doesn't last very long. So today, as I'm feeling the true, undiluted pleasure of not being romantically involved with anyone I thought I'd share with you my reasons why.

Number One on the list is FREEDOM.
I'm not trying to imply that being in a relationship is like having shackles tied round your wrists, but, being in a relationship can... limit, or restrict, you in various ways. Being single comes with the ability to grab opportunities that may otherwise have involved serious consideration and compromise. You want to go and work abroad for 6 months? Great. You don't have to sit down with your other half and have that big conversation about your relationship, the risks, the heartache. Phew. Another example, going out. When you're single, you can go out with whoever you like, whenever you like (for the most part) and you don't have to incur the wrath of a potentially jealous boyfriend or girlfriend. You can be spontaneous and you can do what you want. Pure bliss!

Number Two on the list is Personal Space.
As someone who likes to spend time alone without talking to anyone but myself (yes, I do talk to myself) being single is perfect. Sometimes you just need your own space, to get to know who you really are. Being in a relationship often involves being around that person constantly. Spending lots of time with that person and even when you're not together, talking to that person on the phone, via text, email, Facebook, whatever social media you have. I don't do to well with being around the same person for too long, I get easily annoyed by people when I spend over a certain amount of time with them. Which is why I tend to have a lot of friends and not many close friends. So when I'm in a relationship, or when I get close to being in a relationship, I feel really claustrophobic. I don't know why, I get this feeling that I just want to switch my phone off and be by myself for a few days until it passes. And... most people don't tend to understand that about me, so it tends to piss people off. Having personal space ties in well with the freedom of being single. Sometimes you just need to do what you want and be who you are, without having to think about being a part of a relationship. Go on a date with yourself and figure out how to love yourself before someone else falls in love with you.

Number Three is the lack of arguments.
Being single involves fewer arguments. You don't tend to spend enough time with people to get pissed off with them as much as when you're in a relationship. Simple as that. When two people decide to spend their life with one another or at least be in a committed relationship, it is the beginning of combining two people into one unit. And that isn't always easy, so just be glad when you're single that you don't have to deal with the less than rosy side of being in a relationship.

That's about it. Being in a relationship is a wonderful thing, but it doesn't have to define who you are and it won't solve all of your problems. So, try and be happy being single, make the most of it and when you feel good about yourself and ready to be in a relationship, go for it and you'll experiences all those different joys that don't come with being single. And, when I'm in that frame of mind, I'll write another blog post on the delights of being in a relationship.

xx

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Thursday, 28 May 2015

Exams

When you're slap bang in the middle of exams, its difficult to keep a level head. One minute you're shouting 'F*** YOU EXAMS, I DON'T NEED YOU ANYWAY!' in a fit of despair and the next, you're sobbing into your pillow about the inevitability of your failure. Well, that's how it was for me at least.

But the thing is, despite all the anxiety and emotion, it never truly occurred to me to start planning for the eventuality in which all my nightmares came true, the what if I don't actually do well in my exams scenario. Having done well consistently throughout school, I have to admit, I got a little cocky. And this cockiness led to a results day that came as a complete and utter shock to the system. Not a particularly nice shock either. But a shock that was well and truly needed. I didn't even do that badly, when I think about it, I got good grades. But, they weren't great. They were grades that made me need to reconsider the path I wanted to take in life. Anyway, blah blah woe is me... The moral of this sob story is that I really started to think about what I was going to do if the same thing happened again and exams results failed me (or vice versa - whatever). That was when I came to the realisation that WOW! Exams aren't everything! Crazy, who knew?!

I'm not sure if it's because, going to an all girls grammar school, I've been conditioned to believe that BAD GRADES = FAILURE AT LIFE or if it's just that I'd been surrounded by high achievers academically, but whatever it was, I'm surprised it took me so long to figure out that yes, exams are important, but they are not the be all and end all of life. It's extremely likely that what you aspire to do aged 15-18 will change anyway, so doing badly in your exams does not mean that you're throwing away your future, it just means that your future will be slightly different than initially thought. Okay, I admit, failing your exams may mean you're never going to become a world class surgeon, but it doesn't mean you can't go into a medical profession, just have a look. Plus, if you truly believe that being a world class surgeon is what you're supposed to do, then resit those exams until you get the grades you deserve. But whatever you decide, just remember that there are plenty different paths to take.In the end, the only person who will stop you from succeeding is yourself, by believing that you're not good enough. 

Which is complete and utter bull crap, if you ask me (which I know you didn't but, tough). You can move mountains if you put your mind to it. What really counts in life is determination, passion and an ability to pick yourself up again when everything seems to knock you down. In all honesty, I think exams are ridiculous. Testing an individual on their ability to regurgitate 1-2 years worth of information in an exam that lasts up to 3 hours, paying no heed to how that individual has worked up until that point, how that individual feels on the day or how that individual responds to the tense environment of exam conditions, well it's unfair. But unfortunately, or fortunately, I am not the Education Minister, and that is the way things are currently. Eventually measuring ability in schools will change, but for now, if you're doing exams, you just have to suck it up and give it your best. But if all does not go according to plan, don't let it kick you too hard. Remember that you are so much better than a sheet of paper can give you credit for, because knowing that only you can dictate which direction you choose to go is all you need to keep putting one foot in front of the other. 

So good luck in your exams! Whatever the outcome, I wish you all the best. As I love a good cheesy quote, I'll leave you with this:

"When one door closes, another door opens. But we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us." - Alexander Graham Bell

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Thursday, 7 May 2015

Blue Lagoon

As you may or may not already know, in April last year I had the fantastic opportunity to go to Iceland, which I wrote about here. As soon as we were through customs, we were taken by our guide from Discover the World to the Blue Lagoon, a stunning picture of dazzling blue nestled among the grey lava fields. The photo's that I took don't really do it justice, but I'll include them anyway.


Once we finally stopped gawping at the water and went into the building, we rushed off to the changing room. And boy oh boy were we in for a shock. Little did we know that the Icelandic are very particular about their pre-swimming routines. Everyone must shower without their swimming costumes beforehand and private cubicles are scarce. Not only are there pool police standing guard to ensure that this was the case, even the locals were particularly stern. We even had one woman, completely starkers, aggressively reminding us that 'you must take your bathing suits off!' It was enough to make me hysterical. It was an experience to say the least and almost liberating in a way, standing there naked with a load of unabashed women. Plus, they even provided free conditioner! The Blue Lagoon, not the women.


It's the most bizarre experience, standing outside wearing next to nothing in barely 5 degrees Celsius, and wading into hot water that is naturally heated by geothermal energy. The hours we spent swimming and relaxing in the water were some of the most peaceful and rejuvenating I've ever had. In some parts it was like stepping into a hot bath, except there were mountains in the background. There was a sauna, a hot waterfall and pots of natural silica face mask too. Absolute bliss. I would have stayed there all day if I could.

It was most definitely worth the money and I whole heartedly recommend going. Despite the changing room fiasco and the fact that it took several hair washes later to get my hair feeling remotely normal, at the Blue Lagoon, I had one of those moments when everything feels good with the world and that feeling lasted for a long time afterwards.

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Saturday, 11 April 2015

BBC Top 200 Books

As I love a good book, one of my reading challenges is to read over 100 books on this list of 200 books to read before you die made by the BBC. Those highlighted grey are books I have read so far. If you're a massive book fan and an avid reader, I challenge you to join in too!

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman
4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis

10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott
19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher
51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl

82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot

100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie
101. Three Men In A Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
102. Small Gods, Terry Pratchett
103. The Beach, Alex Garland
104. Dracula, Bram Stoker
105. Point Blanc, Anthony Horowitz
106. The Pickwick Papers, Charles Dickens
107. Stormbreaker, Anthony Horowitz
108. The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
109. The Day Of The Jackal, Frederick Forsyth
110. The Illustrated Mum, Jacqueline Wilson
111. Jude The Obscure, Thomas Hardy
112. The Secret Diary Of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾, Sue Townsend
113. The Cruel Sea, Nicholas Monsarrat
114. Les Misérables, Victor Hugo
115. The Mayor Of Casterbridge, Thomas Hardy
116. The Dare Game, Jacqueline Wilson
117. Bad Girls, Jacqueline Wilson

118. The Picture Of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
119. Shogun, James Clavell
120. The Day Of The Triffids, John Wyndham
121. Lola Rose, Jacqueline Wilson
122. Vanity Fair, William Makepeace Thackeray
123. The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy
124. House Of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski
125. The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
126. Reaper Man, Terry Pratchett
127. Angus, Thongs And Full-Frontal Snogging, Louise Rennison
128. The Hound Of The Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
129. Possession, A. S. Byatt
130. The Master And Margarita, Mikhail Bulgakov
131. The Handmaid's Tale, Margaret Atwood
132. Danny The Champion Of The World, Roald Dahl
133. East Of Eden, John Steinbeck
134. George's Marvellous Medicine, Roald Dahl
135. Wyrd Sisters, Terry Pratchett
136. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
137. Hogfather, Terry Pratchett
138. The Thirty-Nine Steps, John Buchan
139. Girls In Tears, Jacqueline Wilson
140. Sleepovers, Jacqueline Wilson
141. All Quiet On The Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque

142. Behind The Scenes At The Museum, Kate Atkinson
143. High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
144. It, Stephen King
145. James And The Giant Peach, Roald Dahl
146. The Green Mile, Stephen King
147. Papillon, Henri Charriere
148. Men At Arms, Terry Pratchett
149. Master And Commander, Patrick O'Brian
150. Skeleton Key, Anthony Horowitz
151. Soul Music, Terry Pratchett
152. Thief Of Time, Terry Pratchett
153. The Fifth Elephant, Terry Pratchett
154. Atonement, Ian McEwan
155. Secrets, Jacqueline Wilson
156. The Silver Sword, Ian Serraillier
157. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
158. Heart Of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
159. Kim, Rudyard Kipling
160. Cross Stitch, Diana Gabaldon
161. Moby Dick, Herman Melville
162. River God, Wilbur Smith
163. Sunset Song, Lewis Grassic Gibbon
164. The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
165. The World According To Garp, John Irving
166. Lorna Doone, R. D. Blackmore
167. Girls Out Late, Jacqueline Wilson
168. The Far Pavilions, M. M. Kaye
169. The Witches, Roald Dahl
170. Charlotte's Web, E. B. White
171. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
172. They Used To Play On Grass, Terry Venables and Gordon Williams
173. The Old Man And The Sea, Ernest Hemingway
174. The Name Of The Rose, Umberto Eco
175. Sophie's World, Jostein Gaarder
176. Dustbin Baby, Jacqueline Wilson
177. Fantastic Mr Fox, Roald Dahl

178. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
179. Jonathan Livingstone Seagull, Richard Bach
180. The Little Prince, Antoine De Saint-Exupery
181. The Suitcase Kid, Jacqueline Wilson
182. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
183. The Power Of One, Bryce Courtenay
184. Silas Marner, George Eliot
185. American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
186. The Diary Of A Nobody, George and Weedon Grossmith
187. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
188. Goosebumps, R. L. Stine
189. Heidi, Johanna Spyri
190. Sons And Lovers, D. H. LawrenceLife of Lawrence
191. The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Milan Kundera
192. Man And Boy, Tony Parsons
193. The Truth, Terry Pratchett
194. The War Of The Worlds, H. G. Wells
195. The Horse Whisperer, Nicholas Evans
196. A Fine Balance, Rohinton Mistry
197. Witches Abroad, Terry Pratchett
198. The Once And Future King, T. H. White
199. The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle
200. Flowers In The Attic, Virginia Andrews

47/200
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Saturday, 14 March 2015

Joe

So today I thought it was time to start writing about something, or rather someone, who I feel I have been overdue in talking about. That somebody is my cousin Joe. It's been 3 years since he died and I still find it difficult to get my head around how someone you spent time with, someone who's this big part of your childhood, is now gone. Sometimes I say it out loud just to try and make it sink in. Even now, when I've had a fair bit of time to adjust, there are days when it still doesn't feel real. I suppose I would say that the pain isn't as raw anymore, and although I still have those moments when I can't stop myself from crying when I think about him, they're not as frequent as they used to be. It's easier to focus on the happy memories now and be thankful for the fact that he was and still is a big part of my life rather than feel sick to my stomach from the hollowness I get when I think about the fact that I'll no longer hear his voice or spend summers with him at my Nana and Grandad's. I'll never again hear him laugh or hear him talk. It's hard to always focus on the happy things. The fact that I got to share some of my best childhood memories with him and got to know this amazing person who was in many cases more of a brother figure than my oldest brother ever was. It's hard not to feel angry and heart broken that there won't be any new memories. That he won't grow up and experience some of the greatest joys of life. That he won't be there to tell when I experience them too. That I became older than he ever will be and the amount of time since I last saw him will only ever be an increasing number. It's hard not to miss having him around. I'm not sure how long it will take before it doesn't feel like there's a gaping hole when I see family. We all miss him and we all would give anything to get to spend just one more minute with him.

One of the most overwhelming things about Joe dying was this sense of responsibility. A responsibility to keep our memories safe, to remember all the things we did together as I'm the only one here to remember them now. I couldn't bear the thought of them being lost forever. So the day he died, and the weeks proceeding, I made a list. A list of memories. And whenever I have a particularly hard say, I sit down and pick a memory and write it in as much detail as I can remember. The memories I found most precious and most sad were surprisingly the little things that you take for granted and never even think about. The day when I first properly began to realise that he wasn't going to make it, I went to bed in the evening and as I was standing, brushing my teeth in the bathroom, I broke down in tears because I realised that we were never going to brush our teeth together again. It seems like such a strange thing to miss but it was suddenly one of the things I was going to miss the most. That normality. That routine. 

Death always taints memory. It makes you more inclined to make a saint out of a person. The thing is, for me, Joe was and always will be seen through rose tinted glasses. He was a year older than me and had such a way about him, a charisma and a genuineness that is rare to find. And there I was, lucky enough to have him as my cousin. When I was younger, when my brother still spent summers at my Nana and Grandads with me and Joe, he was just like an older brother to me, except infinitely cooler because I never spent too much time with him so I was never mad at him. Although he did come close a few times when I got incessant teasing from both him and my brother. But then when it was just me and him, he would always treat me with respect and we had our own jokes together. I always treasured those moments and for a long part of my childhood I absolutely idolised him. Any time I got to see him was a good time for me. Even when the childish adoration faded, there was always that deep rooted excitement whenever I knew I was going to see him and when my brother stopped spending summer holidays at my Nana's and it was just me and Joe, I couldn't have been happier. Joe was always a highlight in my life. I used to get so upset and angry if I thought we weren't going to see each other in the summer. Because it was always a treat to spend any time with him and never a disappointment. That was one of the bonuses of living so far away from each other, although I wish I could've seen him more often, when we did see each other, we wasted no time in feeling upset with each other. Besides, I can't imagine ever being angry with him. We got on so well and had such a great time together. I'm just so thankful that my childhood and part of my teenage years were filled with such wonderful memories with him, my Nana, my Grandad and sometimes other family. What I'm trying to get at is that seeing Joe was one of those things that was always good, and from early on I learnt not to take it for granted. I used to cry when we had to say goodbye, and that only stopped when I was old enough to keep my own contact with him between visits.

I was planning on writing out some of the memories that I've kept in a notebook but if I did I'd be here for ages, and this post would go on for a while. That fact alone makes me smile, that we had enough memories that i've still not written them all down. The one regret I have is that I never really took any photos or videos when we were together. My Nana and Grandad weren't exactly tech savvy and I was too busy enjoying myself to even pull out the camera. So, without going into detail of memories, I'll just say this. I love you so much Joe, I miss you so much, I can't believe that 3 years ago today you left a massive hole in our lives. I really hope that I'll get to see you again someday and if not, if death really is the end then I thank you for all of the happy times we had, all of the laughter where you can't breathe and for being such an amazing person. I really am so lucky that you are a part of my life at all. 

xx


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