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Archive for the ‘Thinking’ Category

This evening, I stumbled upon this article by a criminologist who claims that no one has heard of serial killer Mary Ann Cotton. It’s true of course, that she isn’t as famous as Jack the Ripper and certainly isn’t the first who pops to mind when you consider serial killers. Nevertheless, I immediately knew her name.

It only took me a minute to realise why: “Mary Ann Cotton was ever so rotten.” Or perhaps: “Mary Ann Cotton, she’s dead and she’s rotten.”

Those who know the name Terry Deary and are familiar with the Horrible History books may recognise those rhymes instantly. They come from ‘The Vile Victorians’.

What interests me is not that this criminologist has wrong asserted that no one knows who this woman is. It is the fact that her name has stayed in my head, even though it was about ten years ago that I last read a Horrible History book.

It isn’t the name Mary Ann Cotton that has stayed in my head. I am admittedly awful with names, and only remember them after repeating them constantly in my head. I am a face person. It was the Horrible Histories rhyme that has stayed with me, and proves just how rhyme – and song – can last in your head.

A friend of mine recently visited an old person’s home, many of whom are suffering with a form of dementia. They don’t always remember where they are, the fact that their parents have been long gone, and wander around in circles trying to get somewhere. And yet, they remember the really old songs they used to listen to as teenagers and adults.

There must be many scientific studies that explain why people remember songs and poems throughout their lives, but all I can offer is that it’s very useful to remember rhymes.

It can be useful when remembering dates or names or places.

And songs can trigger memories in the way very few other things can. I can’t listen to Stacie Orrico without thinking about playing The Sims on my Playstation, because I always had her CD on for background noise whenever I played it.

It’s nice to think that even if my brain turns to mush, there may always be something that links me to myself and my personality. Or at least, I can hope so.

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The BBC published an article suggesting that students’ mental health is ‘at risk’ because of concerns over finances and future job prospects, among other things.

I can’t speak for previous generations, but I can definitely understand why there are concerns.

There are more reasons beside those stated in the article too.

It was hard going to university having been top of the class at most things both in high school and sixth form. I achieved 100% in most of my A Level Law papers, and went to university feeling as though I couldn’t fail at anything.

The first grades at university were hard to take. A 55, meaning a 2:2, wasn’t fun. It felt like a complete failure. Thankfully, it didn’t count and I have improved, which is always a good thing. But there is a problem. I don’t know where my current grades stand against everyone else in the year. I don’t know if I’m terrible in reality, good or just average. No idea whatsoever. And I can’t ask random people their grades – that’s just mean.

I cried when I got that 55. Just alone in my room. I loved university though. I still do. I loved the people I lived with, I loved my course, I loved the amazing nights out, I loved the new boyfriend I unexpectedly acquired. But I found it hard to get used to no longer being ‘top of the class’.

There are probably numerous reasons why I feel more apprehensive than I ever have before. On October 12th, I start my third year. I have a vague idea of what I’d like to do when I finish, but believe I came up with these plans too late to get a job in that industry when I leave. The media has filled me with horror stories about employment. In my head, it feels like I’ll never get a job. Too educated for a shop, not enough experience for anything else. And I can’t afford a Postgrad. But I’ll probably need those qualifications to get into journalism. So I’d have to get some sort of job to fund it. But what to do?

But I can’t live with my parents. I need to move out. I do like living here over the summer, don’t get me wrong. It’s secure and happy. But I miss the independence I get back at uni. I miss cooking my own meals, eating them when I like, eating what I like. I haven’t had one of my yummy Thai curries in ages.

I have bouts of anxiety now. Not diagnosed anxiety, but just feelings of being totally overwhelmed. Sometimes, daydreaming, I imagine some nice future with a job I love and a really pretty little flat in London. But then reality strikes – I have no idea how to get there. The media makes me feel as though it is unachievable; the economy too poor, there are no jobs. And who would want me anyway? I just come with a mismatch of work experience placements.

If students are suffering with their mental health more than ever before, I can believe it. Every time I think about leaving education, it makes me feel a little bit ill. I don’t know what I’m actually good for. And I do know I can’t live with my parents for more than a year. But I’d need money to move out. Therefore, a job. But it won’t be easy to get one of those, supposedly.

Most students will feel the same as I do. But the truth is, many of us find it too horrible to think about. So, we don’t discuss it that much. I think if we did, I’d probably spend more time in tears than I’d like, and I refuse to cry in public. So I just quite feel alone.

– – – –

Apologies for the sad tone. I’m actually quite upbeat generally. But the BBC article struck me somehow. It’s a tough year ahead, and I hate not knowing where it’s going. But bear with me. I’m sure I’ll figure something out eventually.

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While procrastinating on Twitter, I came across the profile of a reasonably well-known BBC sports presenter. Not so well-known that I recognise him, but some people would. He described himself thus: “Cake lover, Christian, husband of 1 & father of 3”, after describing his occupation.

It got me wondering about what people use to define themselves. In this case, I supposed it was his job, his religion, his family and his love of cake, which he probably includes on Twitter as many people do also love cake. (Though I don’t actually ‘love cake’ myself).

I use Twitter to talk mostly, and unashamedly, about sport, and so my profile says: “Athletics aficionado. Hampshire supporter. Loyal Luton. Cricket nut. I am a sports addict with a passion for sport writing.” Is this how I define myself? As someone who likes sport a lot and also happens to enjoy writing? The man’s profile seems much more personal, and yet, I don’t really care that much that he loves cake. I wouldn’t follow someone on the basis of their food preferences after all.

In this man’s profile, it was the use of ‘Christian’ that intrigued me the most. I wondered how much of a difference that would make to his potential followers. Do people choose to follow him because he says he is a Christian? Would they therefore believe he has a strong moral code?

I’m happy for anyone to be whatever religion they want, as long as it’s not some sort of kitten slaughtering religion, but it surprised me that someone would use it so openly on a social networking site. I’ll admit now, I struggle with religion. It isn’t because  I’m waging a big war in my head between myself and God/s about  whether to believe in him/her/them/it or not. (I use ‘it’ because as a child I genuinely believed God was a turtle). I am just not religious at all. And I will openly admit that I don’t understand it. Not one single aspect of it.

I understand that religion plays a massive role in many people’s lives, but their religious beliefs (aside from kitten slaughter) would not have a bearing on whether or not I would follow them  on Twitter, or indeed, whether I would befriend them in real life.

That was why this man’s openness about his religion surprised me so much. Does he believe that his religion defines him just as much as his job and his family life?

I did wonder about what does actually define a person.

I decided to use his criteria to make a profile for myself: Occupation, something I like, beliefs and something that means a lot to me.

I came up with this: Student, sport lover, agnostic/atheist, hopefully good friend, daughter and girlfriend (though not to the same person. Obviously.)

I don’t like it, though. Maybe it’s different when you’re married and have children? And maybe it’s different when you actually have a religion. Indeed, I feel kind of odd about broadcasting my non-religious beliefs, in part because I feel as though I have no right to discuss religion. Does somebody with no religious beliefs have a right to talk about it? And indeed, I’m not sure I can talk about it without being offensive. On Facebook for a long time, my religion was cricket. It is now listed as pastafarianism because I think the whole thing is hysterical (and agree that creationism should not be taught alongside evolution).

Maybe it’s my lack of belief that makes me feel uneasy about people that do define themselves by their religion, as if their being was purely to be good in the eyes of God/Gods/turtles.

I suppose, because I don’t define myself by religion (and don’t really intend to), I just have to define myself by other means. I don’t really have anything to prove to anyone except myself, and and if I am a horrible person, ultimately I am only letting myself down because I don’t believe that I will go to heaven or hell for my wrongdoings.

But if I can’t define myself by my religion, nor by my family since I have no children, do I by default have no definition?

Perhaps it is better to be just a person? After all, nobody would write a rambling, nonsensical blog like I have just done about a person with nothing really to define them.

Or maybe I can be defined by my love of sport, my generally cheerful self and my enthusiasm for writing?

Any thoughts? Reply here, or send me a message on Twitter. 

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Mini milks were my favourite ice cream treat. All creamy and tasty. I think I liked the strawberry ones best. But now, they don’t seem to taste quite the same. Has my palette changed or have they adjusted the ingredients?

Smarties, soured cream and chive Pringles, Oasis drinks don’t quite taste the same. In our health conscious age, has flavour been lost in favour of less fat?

Okay, obesity rates are astronomical and childhood obesity is a national crisis. But I miss the days when Smarties actually had a taste and were actually a good pick-me-up. Children of today don’t realise the sweetness they are missing out on.

Can they not produce flavoursome Smarties especially for adults who are aware of the health risks but are prepared to lay this to one side for one taste of sugary, e-number filled goodness? I would definitely support it.

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I can’t lie. No, really, I can’t. Not when it comes to something as serious as this.

I hate spelling mistakes. And I hate reading things with incorrect punctuation. Especially the misuse of the apostrophe. Oh, yes. That apostrophe floating around where it doesn’t belong drives me absolutely crazy. It just hangs there like a little hitchhiker that has escaped its rightful place. It taunts me, waving to me, laughing in my face.

Picture this.

I am walking down the road, minding my own business, reading posters, adverts and road signs, as you do when walking down the road. Then I read something. My eyes get wide. I feel tense inside. My teeth clench tightly together.

“Its the best cake in town,” says the poster.

“IT IS the best cake in town,” I want to scream. IT IS. It’s. There is an apostrophe, damn you!

I am definitely not alone. The raging, roaring, riled Grammar Monster materialises in a lot of people when it comes to incorrect spelling and punctuation. I know plenty of people who would also be driven to the loony bin by that sign.

However, I wonder if I am being unreasonable? After all, not everyone understands it. It can be very complicated. That semi-colon drives a lot of people to distraction, and then there are all those irritating inconsistencies between British and American English. Those confusing differences between ‘affect’ and ‘effect’ and ‘unorganised’ and ‘disorganised’.

But, and this is a big but. People must, must must, read through their advertising and leaflets and signs before they allow the public to read them. If they did, it may solve a lot of problems. I may not have mini fits every time I walk down the road. It would be very good for my stress levels.

– – – –

On a side note, in my local pub, there is an advert for a new selection of cocktails. Unfortunately, Microsoft Word doesn’t recognise the Mojito. This means the poster has bizarrely been printed with red squiggly lines underneath all of the words Word doesn’t understand. Oops.

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I made a basic error last night. While trying to sleep, I had an idea for this blog. I assumed, wrongfully as it conspired, that I would remember what this idea was come the morning without needing to write it down.

The first problem turned out to be that when I woke up, I’d forgotten I’d even had an idea. Then, when I did remember, I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was.

Luckily, scouting the internet is useful, and this BBC article on great artists who were largely neglected gaining recognition sparked my brain into action. (I have this theory that the brain is basically like a chest of drawers. It just takes a while to find the drawer with the relevant information sometimes, but the piece of information is always hiding in there somewhere. For example, you eventually do find the word that was on the tip of your tongue).

The blog article was initially going to be on the extraordinary life of a man called Stan Harris who attended a school quite locally to me. He lived between 1894 and 1973 and his list of achievements is incredible.

He won the waltz section of the World Ballroom Dancing Championships. He was an England rugby union international and also represented the British Lions. He became a national boxing champion. He represented England at water polo. He may have won a Wimbledon title (though there appears to be little evidence of this). Oh, and he turned down an opportunity to represent Great Britain at the Olympics in 1920 in the modern pentathlon. All this between serving in both World Wars.

After re-reading about his life, I realised that Harris’ eventful and fascinating life didn’t quite warrant a piece of his own. After all, if you really want to know about him, just look on his Wikipedia page, the place I found this information.

Comparing his life to the ones we lead now, I did have some thoughts.

One day in the future, and this is really hard to imagine, the life we currently lead with the internet and our iPhones and television is going to be ‘history’. One day, assuming we avoid nuclear war and the biggest meteor space has ever seen and mass pollution and extinction, human beings (or some much more evolutionary advanced form) will write about us. And more than likely, they will view us to be nearly as primitive as the first creature to ever stand up on its hind legs.

Naturally, they will see us as more progressive than the cavemen and the Anglo Saxons and the Tudors, but nonetheless, as a whole society, we will be primitive.

But then I think about Stan Harris and all of his remarkable accomplishments. He served through two World Wars. His generation, more than perhaps any other, contains more fascinating stories and accomplishments than we can imagine. History as a degree takes you through so many interesting time periods and themes, but somehow, they’re never as interesting as the individuals that created that history.

The fact is that our generation – our current generation – provides a lot of interesting and remarkable people, but somehow, I feel they’re lost, obscured by our technology and hidden in the pits of the internet. Our life is less about individuals and more about what we have created; our homes, our technology, our attempts at saving the world from oppression and our addiction to gaming and texting.

Somehow, I feel that when we are ‘history’, it will be the war generation that will continue to provide the most captivating and remarkable people for study. After all, assuming that global war is a thing of the past, how often does the entire world truly suffer and struggle together as it did during World War One and Two? Where are our individual stories now?

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