Graduaines

The day is done and what a day it was. After three years of study and a summer of uncertainty, I finally graduated yesterday.

The chap and I arrived at the Guildhall in Winchester in good time to collect my rental gown. My parents arrived just before, having driven all the way from Glastonbury for the occasion. A flurry of forms and photographs ensued so that I could have the immortal picture of me and the scroll.

We swept along in procession to the Cathedral, a magnificent venue. As my friend sidestepped puddles and slippery paving stones, I secretly felt relieved at my choice of flat shows. Less glamour, more security, especially when I knew there would be steps to climb later. We took our seats; my parents and the chap had a splendid view of the proceedings, thanks to the chap venturing into a different seating area. They could have been stuck at the back, and as you can imagine in a cathedral, that would have been a very different experience.

The excitement and anticipation bubbled through me as my row of seats awaited our turn. It was nothing more than a couple of handshakes and a posh certificate. But no, it wasn’t just that really. It was the hours of effort poured into a single dream. It was a culmination of hard work during my school years that led me to attending University in the first place. It was recognition of every story I struggled over, every word I wrote. I took a deep breath before stepping on to the stage. As I left, I let out a sigh of satisfaction and pride.

We left via the main doors of the cathedral, a true honour. More photographs – every parent in the land was trying to capture the essence of the day. Soon it was time to hang up the infamous hat and return home. We dined on a feast of smoked salmon, carvery ham, steamed potatoes, salad, crudités, dips, hummus, savoury rice, coleslaw, crackers, cheese and Prosecco. The celebratory meal was paid for by my parents, who also gifted me with a delightful bunch of roses. It was my supper of choice, much more personal than a hurried meal in an overcrowded restaurant.

The day ran so smoothly, I couldn’t have wished for it to be any better. I’m pleased to close the chapter on full-time education now. Who knows if I will return to University in the future, but for now, I’m a graduate with big dreams and big ideas. Thank you Winchester, for lighting the fire.

IMG_0558

A new frugal challenge

Oh boy, I’m excited about this one! It feels great to have a distinct purpose, a tangible goal to work towards. This is much preferable to my previous state of anxiety about the future.

Leaving University will be cutting the final string. My balloon will float away and it terrified me that I had no control over its path. But then I spoke to some friends. And then I cried my heart out to my family. And then I had a little chat with myself. I now have something to aim at, the anchor I’ve been looking for.

I have applied for my dream job. I hesitate to expand on the details, in case it all falls through. But this job would help all other areas in my life slot into place. It would be close to The Chap, which would allow us to spend more time in each other’s company. I could start looking for a suitable apartment to set up home. This is the career that would make me happy, which is what everyone keeps telling me to do.

But, if I do get this job, it will incur unavoidable expenses. Not just big things like rent deposits and furniture, but commuting costs from Winchester before I am able to move closer. Yes, I will be earning, but there will be a void between starting work and my first pay day. The bottom line is simple; I’m going to need money, for this year, and beyond. There is talk of more travelling and a whisper about Asia. For me, this is worth being thrifty for.

So, for the month of May, hopefully my last month in limbo, I will be spending as little as possible. No extras or treats, just the basics for healthy living. I learnt my lesson on my last attempt at a budget lifestyle that cutting fresh fruit and vegetables is not an option. They are essential. But I can purchase cheaper options, such as frozen berries and loose carrots. I want all my meals to be as healthy and as cost efficient as today’s lunch.

IMG_0098

Salad sandwich; two slices of GF bread (reduced bargain!), spread with red pepper houmous (currently on offer for £1), carrots, cucumber and spinach.

            Since the start of the challenge, I have spent only £9.60 on food. I was lucky enough to come back with a few supplies from Glastonbury, so the stocks are good at the moment. You can bet I’ll be stretching every last penny because I’ve got a major incentive for doing so. My future happiness depends on budgeting successfully, and I don’t believe that’s an over exaggeration.

And so we keep on writing

I have attended my last formal class at University. In truth, it was a tad disappointing. My lecturer was forced to cover another class, so we were permitted to leave after only half an hour. A shame, but I did spend the next couple of hours chatting with dear friends.

Although classes have finished, my University experience isn’t over yet. I have two assignments to be submitted after the Easter break. This period after Easter will also be filled with lots of social events. Graduation takes place in October, so it will be autumn by the time I close this particular chapter.

But, until then, I have plenty to be getting on with. Now we are on holidays, I can increase the intensity of my job search. I need to have the guarantee of secure employment before I can commit to a new home. I can admit, I’m very much looking forward to living by myself for awhile. As much as I adore my housemates, the thought of having an entire kitchen to myself can only be compared to paradise. I cannot comment on long term plans, as there are too many ifs and buts to contend with. As it stands currently, I’m seeking a suitable job and flat to allow me to remain close to the chap. Yes, moving to the parental home is the most lucrative option, financially. But I know in my heart of hearts that such living arrangements would make me miserable.

So I’m taking the difficult route, but this path isn’t foreign to me. I know I can take all of the knowledge I’ve gathered at University, academic and domestic, and employ it correctly during the next stage. The margins and budget might be smaller, but hopefully, my happiness should be greater. I plan on making the next chapter just as successful as its predecessor.

The best course of action.

Important decisions are not easy to make. If something’s worth doing, it’s going to take both time and effort to complete it properly. The art of balancing is what I think University life is all about. It’s a complex period of negotiating your time between work, play, family and friends. The past two and a half years of my learning here at Winchester all culminate in a final assignment that is worth the biggest proportion of the final grade. The dreaded d-word: dissertation.

For my creative writing degree, this takes the form of the opening chapters of a novel, alongside an essay describing your own writing process. It matters, this piece of writing. It’s a daunting prospect to a novice writer like myself. 10,000 words seems impossible right now. So I’ve made the decision to focus entirely on my dissertation. I need to put in 100% effort if I want to achieve the grades I think I’m capable of.

I will be taking a blogging break commencing now. I shall hopefully return by mid-March, once the dissertation deadline has passed. I hope my kind followers will stick with me through this break. I’m not leaving my blog permanently, just for a short time to concentrate solely on my degree. I’m sure you understand.

Best wishes to you all.

Double sixes

For this, my very first post of 2014, I have to share my latest venture. This is no whimsical experiment. This is a life-changing type of mission.

In six months time, I will leave the sanctuary of University life. It will be up to me to navigate a path of my own in the big wide world. To do this successfully, I feel I will need as much financial aid as possible. In order to secure such a sum for my future, I need to be thrifty in the present. So, the challenge is as follows. Six months. Six hundred pounds. £100 a month.

Can it be done? Do you know, I truly believe it to be possible. With careful planning and resourcefulness, I think I can achieve my goal. £25 a week is not generous, but nor is it terribly meagre. I’m pushing myself to do this to take control of what lies ahead. I don’t want my parents to prop me up. It’s not fair on them. It was my decision to come to University in the first place. So it’s up to me to take responsibility for my own welfare when I leave.

Christmas gave me a good head start. Not only did I receive some perfectly practical gifts that will keep on giving throughout the year, but I also had Christmas money. This went towards purchasing some store cupboard staples whilst I was in Glastonbury. The price of their organic foodstuffs is much cheaper than Winchester.

DSCN2383

Three days in and I’ve already spent £60. That doesn’t look good I’ll admit, but I have restocked my stores. I have also had certain expenses that won’t be present in future months, like school books for example. My cupboards are brimming, so I’m fairly confident that I can get through the rest of January on £40.

Already, I’m starting to feel that when you have so little, you appreciate it much more.

Crossing the bridge

Forgive me for the self-indulgent post I published yesterday. I do realise I am in a very fortunate position and realistically, I don’t have much to grumble about. But sometimes factors in life do build up and become overwhelming. I feel better that I addressed them, contained them within a blog post and now I can move past them.

One of my favourite mottos is “little and often” and it applies to most areas in life. You’ve got lots of cleaning to do; just start with one room. You have five books to read in a fortnight; start with the largest one and work your way down. You have three assignments due; write little and often each day. I like to remind myself of this whenever I feel daunted by the bigger picture. It’s a helpful tool for me to keep moving forwards.

I went to a talk by Sarah Lean last night, a masters graduate from University of Winchester who is now a published author. She was very easy to listen to and I felt pleased that many things she spoke about, I was already aware of. But also, she confirmed for me what I’ve been learning throughout this year. Writing is less about one spark of talent. It’s about the effort and graft you put in day after day to create a text that is edited, rewritten and revisited hundreds of times. That’s what writing and authors are about in this day and age. I find that to be a real comfort, that you get out what you put in. It ties in nicely with another favourite motto of mine; hard work reaps rewards.

One pound coin

I’m sure a few of you probably saw this coming. In my everlasting goal to save money, I’m going to take up the one pound per day challenge. I have seen variations across the blogosphere (Thrifty Lesley and One Pound Per Day, to name a couple) and have been truly inspired. I like the structure that comes along with this form of spending.

I have thought of a way to tailor this challenge to suit me personally. I will have £1 to spend each day that will go in my purse that morning. Any change left over can be carried across to the next day, but I cannot “borrow” from the future. I will accept free food, because I always have done! But I will not use the challenge to take advantage of generosity.

The £1 budget will include:

All food.

All drink.

All non-essential items.

All entertainment.

The £1 budget will not include:

Travel expenses to see the Chap or my family.

Medicine, if I ever need it.

Occasional nights out with friends/Chap (still keeping to a low budget though!)

Essential toiletries.

I plan on using every inch of my store cupboard. I think it will really teach me the value of the stock I’ve built up over time. I’m looking forward to testing my creative cooking skills. I think this particular challenge will work better than previous rationing challenges, because I can buy what I want, as long as I’m within budget. I think this will help me sustain the challenge, instead of feeling deprived. We shall have to wait and see.

I decided to start the challenge immediately, so I would have no chance to fill the shelves, consciously or unconsciously. After the November NaBloPoMo is up, I shall update my progress on this challenge every Monday. My motivation for attempting this challenge is to save money for my future. I’m more than willing to have a lean year, so that I can stand on my own two feet when I leave the sanctuary of University. I think it’s a goal worth fighting for.

So far today, I have spent 52p on 500ml of semi-skimmed milk. At least then, no matter what happens with actual food, I can always have a nice cup of tea.

No snakes, just ladders

On Monday morning, I have my Creative Vigilance and Metafictions class. My lecturer (who also happens to be head of the programme) is fond of reminding us that we’re third year students. Very soon, he says, we will be leaving the comfort blanket of University life. This never fails to prompt a groan from several students.

But for me, I see no reason to grumble. On one hand, I am lucky. I know exactly what career I want to move into and the active steps to take to get there. My various tutors have been invaluable in sharing their knowledge about the publishing world. I’ve had kindly advice in abundance and even an offer to set up a work experience placement. But I don’t believe it’s just luck that has set me on this path.

You see, on the other hand, I’m a stubborn hard worker. Even going right back, I had to work for my A-levels to get onto my chosen degree course in the first place. Now that I’m in my final year, I attend every single one of my lectures. I complete the additional reading and homework tasks. The library has become my second home. I know I’m not the only one that has adopted this intense working ethic, and we’re the ones who don’t moan. We’ve used the opportunity of higher education to its full advantage and are prepared for the world outside. Personally, I’m not only prepared, I’m excited for it! Having a clear view at the mountain in front of me makes me feel content.

Young adults today are so often told how hard it is in the “real world” that they’re giving up before they’ve even had a chance. Sadly, they think that because there are no easy options, that must mean that there are no options at all. This is not the case. I’m not going to take the smooth route and move back in with my parents next summer. I’m going to take the rocky path, budgeting my life in order to live in my very own home. I will work long hours in a low wage job in order to get a foot in the door to be on track for the career of my dreams. It’s not luck that will make me Head Editor one day, it will be rolling-your-sleeves-up hard work. Something, I fear, that is drifting further and further away with every escaping moan in the classroom.

Lucky Stars

I’m refusing to succumb to “Fresher’s flu”. I’m no Fresher. I haven’t been to a single Student Union event, although I don’t feel like I’m missing out on much. I did my time, dancing on that dance floor. I’m twenty one now, a grown up don’t you know. My dry, scratchy throat just needs soup to comfort it. I’m sneezing due to the shift to cooler temperatures. This headache is because I’m run down after a hectic fortnight returning to University. It’s certainly been manic. But I love every single second of it.

Nothing affects me like writing. It occupies all possible time and space. My room is filled with notebooks and reading books. My head is filled with settings and characters. I think I’m very lucky to be able to say, hand on heart, I adore my degree. The tutors are vastly knowledgeable and friendly to boot. I learn so much every time they speak. We discuss the Sims and other computer games. I did my homework this week on how chocolate is made. I am actively encouraged to sit around and day dream in order to generate new ideas. What’s not to love?

Well, it is an awful lot of hard work. There is always reading to be done, and being forced to read specific texts does sap a certain amount of enjoyment from it. There is also a presence of expectation in every classroom. You are sitting amongst pupils who have the same dreams as you. Only a certain number of these dreams will come true. You listen to tutors who have been published many times over, and you can’t help but wonder, “Am I good enough?”

But as one of my favourite tutors said this week, “we all deserve to be writers!” Since being given the gift of time, I’m feeling confident about all of my modules for this year. I feel ready to succeed. This achievement does not come lightly. At present, a social life seems a small sacrifice for setting up the foundations of my future career. My family and the chap remain of the utmost importance, naturally. But if I do disappear from time to time (read: Monday’s nonexistent post), you can be sure I’ll be buried in a story. Stories of a queen and a teleport. Stories of witches and precious stones. The story of the Rambling Man. Oops, I’ve said too much.

A new definition

My blog reader has been filled with posts about bountiful harvests and the goodies that are created from them. Rows of jars in jewel tones have turned me green with envy. I had to get involved, so I baked an apple and blackberry crumble this afternoon. The apples were from my parents’ tree, and the blackberries were picked just around the corner. It makes me feel accomplished to have made something using free ingredients. Simplicity has always appealed to me, as has a self-sufficient lifestyle.

In tune with this, I have been thinking about jobs this week. I’ve been ploughing through my final weeks at Cath Kidston and I’m about to start a long stretch of working days. I started to think that I would hope never to return to the constraints of a “proper” job. My life would not be divided into “at work” or “day off”. I wouldn’t be waiting on the next payday. I wouldn’t have to squeeze in seeing my family when the omniscient Rota allows it. It’s not that I don’t want to work, far from it. I just wish to work in a different environment that grants me more freedom.

However, money needs to be made so I can sleep, eat and live well. I will not have a student loan for much longer. But it struck me this week that being a writer is, in a sense, being self-sufficient. A new method for a self-sustaining existence. You have to rely on your own motivation to consistently sit down to write. You are responsible for nurturing the seeds of ideas so that they blossom and become valuable. Much like traditional self-sufficiency, the fate of your life lies on your own back. I like that. I like the notion of putting your own hard work to reap the rewards.

I wish to earn enough to fund a simple, comfortable lifestyle. I am not seeking a huge fortune. But I do wish to earn some money by committing myself to my calling in life. I am under no illusion that this will be easy. But to be free from the rules and restrictions of a 9 to 5 job sounds like a life worth living.