Thursday, 13 February 2014

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue...

...Ahhh, yes. It's Valentine's Day tomorrow (in case you hadn't spotted).

If I'm honest, I almost didn't spot it: I had a big work event on Saturday (the 8th), that put blinkers on me to anything else that was happening in the world in the run up to it. But, I emerged happily on the other side, to realise that Valentine's Day was only six days away. I think only having six days' notice is quite a blessing - normally the mental torment begins almost as soon as people have forgone their new years' resolutions (so, the second week of January, then...)

Taken from Buzzfeed's 'emotionally repressed
Valentine's cards for British people'
It was drawn to my attention by this Buzzfeed article of 'emotionally repressed cards for British people'. I can't say that I laughed at all of them *ahem*, but there's a certain excellence in some of their sentiments. If I were to send Valentine's cards, they may well be somewhat like that. (Especially 'You make tea properly'. Who could ask for higher praise?!)

In reality, in all my twentythree and five-sixths years, the extent of my true Valentinian exchanges amounts to two: one in either direction. Sure, I've sent cute cards and pidged little chocolates to my friends...but I'm talking genuine emotional reality here:

1. Sent: one, hand-drawn Valentine's card, 2004, aged 14, to the boy I had the biggest crush on in the entire world. It was anonymous, but he knew it was me because I was about as subtle as..well, as subtle as a 14 year old girl who has a crush. Well done, teenage Emily.
One Rose

2. Received: one red rose, 2010, pidged anonymously to me. Sender identified 18 months later.

Good. A potted history of not very much romantic action.

The thing is with Valentine's Day, is that it can be cruel in its very existence. For many people who receive Valentine's cards and gifts, those things will be entirely expected, as part of a loving relationship. But for people who have no other half, and are not expecting anything, there's still the idea that there just might be someone out there (perhaps a particular someone) who would think to send you something lovely to express the sentiment of their feelings towards you. And that brings a little spark of hope. 

I've written about hope before: it's such a powerful thing. 

There's that little thought in the back of your mind, just to check the doormat for post when you get home from work... Just to check your messages again... Just to wonder if anyone actually has your address? 

I even had a worry today at work, because I'd sent a hand-written piece of post to someone, that I knew would arrive in their pidge tomorrow morning. I know what catching a glimpse of personal mail on Valentine's day does - and the disappointment when it's something completely other. I was worried I would stir up hope there, where there was only work-related admin. (So, I'm sorry, if you read this!)

In the film of the Hunger Games, when President Snow is trying to curtail the ambitions of some of the plucky competitors, he comments: 

"Hope, it is the only thing stronger than fear. A little hope is effective, a lot of hope is dangerous. A spark is fine, as long as it's contained."

I'm sure there's a lot of reality in what he says. Maybe for some of us this reflects in our Valentine's expectations? The little spark of excitement and looking forward to the 'perhaps' is ok - but piling too much hope there leads to pity and self-doubt.  It's very true that a lot of hope in something uncertain is a dangerous thing.  How many girls have joked about, if not actually acted out, the classic Bridget Jones 'All by myself' scene, especially when contemplating another Valentine's day alone?

It's funny, but in a 'because it's true' way...

One of my favourite proverbs is: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life" (Prov 13:12)

Hope deferred makes the heart sick.
Hope deferred makes the heart drink red wine alone in pyjamas
Hope deferred makes the heart sing 'all by myself', and play air-drums, because there are no messages.

I guess, on reflecting on this, I have to return to the second half of the proverb...but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life. I'm sure when Solomon wrote all those proverbs, he probably wasn't specifically thinking of romance and Valentine's day. But. Maybe we have to think about where our hopes and dreams really lie, and where we're seeing fulfillment of our dreams...and where that tree of life is growing

Hoping in a Valentine's affirmation can be exciting flicker of hope, but hoping in it solely for justification is dangerous way to make the heart sick. Our hopes aren't in flowers and chocolates and affectionate sentiments, even though they are lovely. Our value and worth does not come from another person's gestures. Where we find our value is a huge topic, and I won't try to delve into it now - but know for sure that it isn't found in one, a dozen, or a thousand red roses.

So. Tomorrow. Check the doormat for post. Let your heart rate rise a fraction when the DHL man arrives to deliver a parcel (it'll be that thing you ordered from Amazon a few days ago, remember?), and don't squash the flicker of hope; because who knows, tomorrow might be the day the red rose arrives.

But. If it isn't, don't let your heart grow sick, because there is always more hope. Different hope. Bigger hope. And your extraordinary value is not diminished by a lack of roses, not one tiny bit.

So I'll leave you now and head to bed to build up some energy for tomorrow - y'know, just in case a huge bouquet of flowers arrives that I have to lug home across town...

Monday, 30 September 2013

Can we stop for a corner?

The first time I had the joy of going to the Isle of Lewis and Harris, in the Outer Hebrides, I was fifteen. This story happened on this first visit (the first of four so far, but believe me, I'll be back again. And then probably again after that).

We were on a youth residential, and there were about 15 or so of us young people doing all sorts of wonderful outdoor activities over two weeks on the island. On this particular day, we went on a 'hill walk' - I seem to remember the walk was about three miles long: half a mile on the flat, one mile down a gorge to a beach cove, one mile up the other side of the gorge, then another half a mile's walk on the flat to where the mini-buses were going to pick us up. In the bottom of the gorge was a scrummy and isolated little beach, where we sat and had lunch, skimmed stones, and enjoyed the wondrousness of being in the Outer Hebrides.
The view before the descent down to the beach
I went on the trip with my best friend, Mica, and we made friends with two guys from another local youth group. We were quickly an inseparable four (I'm sure you can't imagine why), and on this walk we stuck together for pretty much the whole way. 

The first half of the journey was great - full of beans, fresh feet, and just the slightly awkward feeling of a scrabbly descent. Do you know what I mean? When you're using your knees and the muscles in the front of your legs in a way you never normally do. Your footing is a bit uncertain, but gravity helps the excursion and you make it down to the bottom roughly in one piece.

Sian at the beach at the bottom
The ascent, however, was a different story. Because of how steep the gradient was, the path zig-zagged up the side of the gorge, meaning you had to walk at least twice as far as the actual distance to the top. And even with the zig-zagged path, the incline was still pretty vicious. About half way up the side, we ran out of breath - almost all of the others had marched on ahead. When we reached the corner of one of the zig-zags we all paused for a few moments to recover before we tackled the next zig (or zag, I can't remember which one we were on...). I think as we carried on we got further and further behind. We were determined to get there, but every so often one of us would cave again: 'can we stop at the next corner?!' we'd desperately ask...

Having arrived at the top on the other side
Eventually, we made it through all the zig-zags to the top of the gorge, where all the others were waiting for us, before the last stretch of the walk. Then came the awful moment: everyone's been waiting for us, sat there having a break and regaining their strength, and you huff and puff and haul your way up to the last bit of the incline towards them. 'Well done, you're here! Right, let's carry on, last bit!' And off we went for the last bit, with only a moment's pause.

Yeah. It was one of those moments when you're bringing up the rear, you arrive, everyone else is rested, and you just have to carry on for that last stretch without stopping. Subsequently, as we carried on for the last half mile or so at the top of the gorge, we were still absolutely shattered. After about ten minutes of walking along a gently meandering path (without a zig or zag to be seen), one of us caved again. 'OK, I know we're on a straight path, but can we stop for a 'corner'?' We all agreed that was a great idea - and the phrase stuck: for all other activities we did that fortnight it mattered not if there was a physical corner to be seen. The request to 'stop for a corner' became synonymous with needing to slow the pace.

Forgive the quality of these - they are WAY pre-DSLR. In fact, they're film, printed, and scanned into the computer. Do you even *remember* that level of old-school-ness?!
I was reminded of this story recently when I realised that all of the school kids were going back to school at the start of September, and I hadn't finished my Masters course, having worked straight through the summer. And then again, when I realised that we were preparing for the uni students to come back to start their new terms...and I still hadn't finished my Masters course. It was like everyone had reached the top of the gorge, and was resting, a long time before me and I still was nowhere near the top. In fact, towards the end of the course I hit such a point that I genuinely had to 'stop for a corner', as my doctor signed me off for a couple of weeks with exhaustion. I think if it had been a mile's walk up a gorge I probably could have managed it, but it seemed the relentless work placement was too much for me to take. 

The whole course felt analogous to the hill walk, in reality: six months of something that was for the main part hugely enjoyable, but made you ache because you were using unusual muscles (the 'commuting' and 'being a post-grad' muscles); followed by a brief but beautiful break (aka 'Christmas week'); then a long old uphill slog that was satisfying to get done and very worthwhile, but blooming exhausting, and requiring more breaks than were technically on offer (aka, 'six solid months on placement').

I finished my Masters exactly a fortnight ago - mid September - just as Brookes students were starting to arrive in Oxford. At the beginning I had that awful feeling of having to start again straight away, without a break. It was just like arriving at the top of the gorge and everyone saying 'Well done, you're here! Right, let's carry on, last bit!' again. How could I crack on with everything that a new term brings (even if I'm not studying any more) when I hadn't even finished my term, let alone had chance to recover? If I didn't get a chance to catch my breath, wouldn't I just spend the next stretch of the journey (which just happens to be starting a new job) searching for a corner even though we were on a straight path?

Thankfully, life doesn't always hold to analogy. I have had a few weeks to recover, but they weren't all down time - I had a conference to prepare for which needed me to create a presentation on whether Evolution disproves God; as well as chasing estate agents for money and doing all sorts of life admin I'd put on hold while I was studying. But, despite being quite a busy bee, rest has come. I feel rested. I am not *not tired*, but I am now excited to start my new job which is invigorating just of itself. I'm pretty sure I won't be begging to stop for a corner once I get going, because new good things have a way of making time fly.

I'm excited by the next step, with or without corners, but I'm glad I'm not walking uphill. I'm really excited about engaging my brain in something new, getting some routine back, not having to leave Oxford every day, and managing my own routine again. I'm not sure I've reached a 'flat bit' on the walk, necessarily; but perhaps I've changed into a wetsuit and gone and jumped into the sea - entirely different, entirely refreshing.

In the style of old, I will leave you with something that has fully entertained me recently, that is entirely unrelated. I've been loving both 8 Out of 10 Cats does Countdown (amazing combo) and the fact that The IT Crowd came back to do a final episode, so what else can I offer you than a smash-up of the three? 
Until next time (and who knows what exciting new jobby things will spark bloggy things?), much love x

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Where There's Tea, There's Hope.

This last week I have been away camping with my church family, down on a site in Evesham, Worcestershire. For those not familiar with the eccentric sub-culture of church summer camps, they entail big celebration meetings of worship and teaching, seminars, eating together, time to catch up with extended church family, lots of fun, and a week away in a tent (or a caravan if you're posh). There's a fair few different camps out there, and they all vary slightly, but the one I went to (Transform) was specifically for our network  of churches in the UK, Salt & Light. [I actually just typed newtwork, which says a lot about what the last five months of my life have looked like]. Honestly, this week away, despite being in a tent, was exactly what I needed. Actually, perhaps part of what I needed was to be in a tent, out with the elements, back to basics. It was good. Mmmm.

However, one thing that is always tricky when you are camping but not 'glamping' (or, you don't have a big enough car to bring lots of equipment, or you're not a proper grown-up who has actually accrued lots of equipment) is food and drink. Nothing stays cold and fresh, so you have to live hand-to-mouth. You have to make dinner in one saucepan over a single burner. Doing the washing up feels like a task that could take weeks. Making tea can take up to half an hour (especially if your sister decides the kettle needs 1.5l of water in it to make two cups of tea).

With a single burner, a single whistling kettle, four plastic cups and a cool-box that was cool for approximately three hours of the five days we were there, my sister and I attempted to navigate the minefield that is staying caffeinated while you are camping. Friends of mine who were camping in the tent next to us revealed on the first day that they didn't have a burner or a kettle. 'How on earth are you going to drink tea?!' was my initial, outraged, response. Thankfully, surrounding us were friends who understand the need for tea, and were able to fill that essential void. But it is an important one - navigating life on much less sleep and with a lot more mental stimulation without tea is incredibly tricky. 

A lovely course-mate of mine from Reading Uni gave me a most-excellent Secret Santa present last year: it's a mug that says 'Where there's tea, there's hope'. It's one of those mantras that I genuinely find reassuring. Especially when it's 5am and you only have time to put clothes on, drink a cuppa and grab a cereal bar before you drive for three hours to a building site. Or when you get home after a long week of looking for bats that aren't there. Or when you've spent a whole evening looking for jobs and not finding anything (I am glad that particular phase is over). Having a cup of tea in a comfortingly shaped mug, being sat up in your bedroom or in the living room with housemates - it means all the other stuff of life can be forgotten for a few minutes and you can relax and recharge. Mmm, warmth. Mmm, caffeine. Mmm, things are actually ok. Mmm, Hope. 

Where there's tea there's HOPE.

Today at church, Jeremy spoke excellently out of Romans 5:1-11 (it's a corker, have a look). Some of the general points he made were about what each of the the aspects of the passage give us hope for. He quoted Elvis Costello (I hope I've remembered that right?) as having said in an interview that the worst thing you could do to someone was murder them. But after that, the worst thing you could do was take away their hope. It's so true - what is life without hope? How would you carry on without hope for something more? Hope for a future?

We all have hopes for our lives, and I find myself at that stage when you really think about what your hopes actually are. What kind of career am I hoping for? What kind of lifestyle do I want to have? Am I hoping for a husband and children? What things am I hoping will happen in the exciting black hole of uncertainty that sits ahead of me, that likes to call itself my future? Will I be the kind of person who grabs a home made muffin out of their Cath Kidston polka dot biscuit tin and heads to work, wearing trainers at the bottom of a skirt suit...? (OK, I may be having someone else's fantasy there...)

Actually, if I'm honest, my hopes for my life keep changing. I just don't know what it's going to look like. But, my hope for life is unchanging. 'My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus' blood and righteousness. I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly trust in Jesus' name'. This song was a favourite at Transform this week:

Where there is tea, there is hope. And where there is salvation, there is hope. And where there is love, there is hope. 

And with that, I'll sign off, and pack my bags for another week of ecologising. But please don't forget that there is always hope, even if it's just where the tea is. 

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

I don't know where I am.

'I don't know where I am?'

Anyone who's watched this series of Doctor Who will recognise this refrain. 'I don't know where I am, I don't know where I am...' - it begins in the first episode of the series as members of the public get sucked into their wifi, and is repeated as Clara spins through time in the series finale. 

It's a state I hate being in, not knowing where I am. I am someone who is unfortunately graced with a horrendous sense of direction. If I walk into a shop that has more than one entrance and exit I'm done for when I then try to leave - I could be anywhere! (Why do they do that?!) When I passed my driving test and was allowed out in the car, I remember my mum being amazed at how little I knew of navigating my way around the town I'd lived in for eighteen years - it just isn't how my brain works. I don't retain direction, unlike my big sister, who could navigate to my grandparents' house when she was three, or something. We really are wired quite differently. 
Even when we were squee she concentrated on the road while I just waved at passers by. (I don't think I was doing any of this driving, despite having a wheel.)

So in my current role on placement with an ecological consultancy firm, being sent all around the country in a van on my own, I am my own worst nightmare. Not only do I have the problem of waking up in the morning and having to work out which region of the country I am in (trying to decipher which bit of the 6:45am weather report applied to me this morning was genuinely impossible), but I have to find my way there: to sites, to hotels, to places to eat. I rely heavily on the sat nav software on my phone, but that in itself isn't always enough. As we know, a bad workman blames his tools, and a bad workman in the craft of navigation, I surely am. 

Today was a bad one. Due to a complicated survey arrangement, where I essentially had been booked in to be in two places at 8am at the same time (which were an hour apart, I might add), I was meeting some other ecologists onsite, having already started. I rang one of them when I was nearby, on a fuzzy, middle of the countryside-style phone line: 'Meet us at Crockham Hill!' she said. Fabulous, I thought to myself, type that into the sat nav and off we go.

Twenty minutes later, I'm in the village of Crockenhill. No, that's not a typo, genuinely there are two villages within 17 miles of each other, one called Crockham Hill, the other Crockenhill. When she'd spelled it out over the crackly phone-line, I'd got the wrong one. So there I was, trying to be guided through a village both by a colleague on the phone and by a sat nav, who were clearly at odds with one another, while I, merely the hands and feet that move the little white van, try to work out the discrepancy between the two.

I don't know where I am.

Even with maps, I said this several times today. Trying to find Crockham Hill. Trying to find a supermarket. Trying to find my hotel. Thinking about what I'm going to do when my placement ends...

Not knowing where you are is fundamentally disorientating. I realise that while for many people there is excitement and adventure in exploring a new place - uncharted territory - for me there is an underlying unease about being somewhere I genuinely don't know. For several weeks in the last month or so I have been out on surveys in Leicestershire, which despite being tiring for all sorts of reasons, was great for me because a. I went back to the sites several times, so became very familiar with them; but also b. Leicestershire is a county which borders my home county, Northamptonshire. My Granny lives in one of the villages there, the scenery is familiar, I know the names on the signs, it's all within my extended territory. But here? Here is uncharted for me. It's only Surrey and Kent, but still. 

But unsurprisingly, where I am going with this is that this is not just a physical and geographic principle. Not knowing where you are is frustrating and disorientating when it refers to the rest of life too. Increasingly, at the moment, I am saying perhaps not 'I don't know where I am', but 'I don't know where I'm going', or 'I don't know where I'm going to be'. Welcome to your post-graduate twenties, eh?

I still have three and a half months of this placement, and therefore my masters, left to go. Mid-September it all rounds off. And at the point of writing, beyond that point I don't know where I am. Oxford: that's about as far as I've got. Oxford is home now, so living in Oxford is the only thing that's vaguely firm. However. Thankfully, I am repeating to myself, I don't have to be worried, because I can trust in God who does know where I am. He knows where I've been, where I am, and where I'm going, all at once.

Being a Christian in the workplace is genuinely not very straightforward. In my old office, it was fine: you had a problem, you prayed about it together. But here, out on placement, I swear when I'm lost just like everyone else, I get groggy when I'm tired and hungry just like everyone else, and I find some people difficult to be gracious to, just like everyone else. Turns out being a Christian does not make you a perfect colleague. (Ha, who knew?) But. It does give me hope. 

There are phenomenal verses like:
'The Lord directs our steps, so why try to understand everything along the way?' Proverbs 20:24, 

'The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry, and restoring your strength. You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring.' Isaiah 58:11,

'The Sovereign Lord is my strength! He makes me as surefooted as a deer, able to tread upon the heights [and not slip on your bum as you cross a stream]' [Emily paraphrased] Habbakuk 3:19

and, one of my favourites 'No-one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame.' Psalm 25:2.

So. I don't know where I am. But, thankfully I don't have to fret while I work it out. Phew. Feel free to remind me of that when I'm fretting, ok?

Sorry this is such a long one - you may have noticed it's been a long time since I last blogged, and I've got lots of words in a backlog, it seems. I shall sign off now, from my little hotel room in Godstone, with a song that gave me hope yesterday morning when I was stuck on the M40. 

Hopefully I'll see you soon :)

Saturday, 19 January 2013

How my Masters is Ruining my Life

Ooh, a big title today. 

Before we begin, no, don't worry, this is not going to be a big rant about how going back into studying has stolen all of my socialising time, and I can't do anything but work, and it's ruining my life. Definitely not, because that is categorically [untrue]. And the reason it is untrue is that my undergrad degree was so often fraught with the tension of work vs play that I knew I had to be better this time, and not let my studying stress out my entire life again. Praise the Lord, it isn't nearly so bad this time. :)

How could this guy being in your life stress you out? He couldn't. He's too lush.
No, what I mean by my masters ruining my life is more to do with how what I'm learning is affecting how I look at the world. 'Ruining' is probably also somewhat hyperbollic (maybe I exaggerate too much...?), but bear with...

There's something funny about knowledge that is un-doable. Once you know certain things you can't look at life in the same way - it's the same with people: I'm sure we've all got people that we wish we hadn't found particular things out about, because it just changes how we see them, and the attitude we approach them with. I'm finding this with my Masters, that the more I learn what things are, the more I'm encouraged to 'engage with nature', and the more skills I'm taught about how to notice particular things, the more I can't just ignore them and enjoy nature at face value any more. It's not that any of this makes me enjoy nature less, quite the opposite, in fact; but I cannot shut it off.

Flowery Fireworks
Way back at the  beginning of November (how time flies!), I went to the fireworks display at South Parks in Oxford. I say 'I went to' - I went and stood outside the gate to the park, along with the rest of Oxford's cheapskates who don't pay to go in to the fair, but freeload the fireworks from outside. 

I just love fireworks: I love the fact that they overwhelm your senses with light and sound and the feel of the explosion - they're just wonderful. It's the only thing that makes me think going to the South Bank for new years would be worthwhile. So I'm there, all snuggled up in my gloves and scarf, with my housemate Lizzie, and my brain goes 'That firework looks like an Apiaceae's umbellifer infloresence. And that next one looks like an Asteraceae...' [the one pictured to the left]. 

I couldn't believe it. 'Brain!' I said to my brain. 'Brain - what are you doing?! It's Saturday night! Chill out!' But did it listen to me? No, it did not. Similarly, as I sit on the train in the mornings watching the Oxfordshire/Berkshire countryside roll past, each day I'm spotting different things (when I'm not snoozing, that is), identifying different birds as they fly past, seeing different plant assemblages, wondering how I'd map out that piece of land if I had to survey it. My brain has been tuned into a new way of thinking that means that things I used to see passively I now see actively, and things I'd just look at before, I now study. Before, I would photograph things because I loved the way they look - now I do it because I want to know what it is too. Grass is the worst - having done some grassland surveys I now can't even walk over a patch of grass without my brain trying to categorise it into a specific type of grassland, or revising the latin names of the different species that I can see. (I can 'Achillea millifolium' at you 'til the cows come home...)

But it's how brains learn, isn't it? You become hypersensitive to the things you're learning, and can't switch off from them, can't go back, can't unlearn. It happens to medics who suddenly 'have' the diseases they're learning about, and psychologists who start to analyse themselves in terms of each new theory they learn. Life certainly isn't ruined, not in a bad way, but becomes so changed in outlook and perspective because of what you know that you almost can't remember how you managed to look at life in any other way.

I've been thinking about this a lot over the last little while, and thinking about how many times I've heard people say that becoming a Christian 'ruined' their life. It sounds crazy, especially when you're a Christian yourself, but I can totally see what they mean. You're cruising along happily with your life, doing your own happy thing in your own strength, with your own motives, and in your own abilities; and then suddenly your life is turned upside down by this revelation, or an encounter. Like a middle-aged woman who's just discovered, life will never be the same, in an empowering and potentially dangerous way.

You're called to live differently from how you have before: something different flows out of you, and somehow the things that seem important aren't what they were before. But it's all because you can't see things how you used to any more, everything has a new light. In the light of who Jesus is, and what relationship with him feels like, and the salvation you have that you know you don't deserve, you can't switch off and return to your old life, and can no longer just do things by yourself. It can be hard work and self-sacrificial, and a huge commitment, yet there's so much life there.

It feels like this same type of learning, where you get attuned to new things and you simply can't switch them off.

It's exciting and terrifying at the same time.

Recently I've had a bit of an awakening of that feeling. I think at points during last term I'd slipped from going to God and doing life in his strength rather than my own. I mean, I was doing alright, all of my work was getting done and everything was ok, but there was just something missing; things felt laborious and tiring and stressful, even though they shouldn't have. God has blessed me with a good portion of capability, so I very often forget that it was him who gave it to me, and just try and power on with my own capability and little more. But once you know what living in the grace of God and in his strength feels like, you just can't settle for the old life anymore. I can't settle for stretches of time without God's input, knowing what life with God looks like. I joke about not being able to switch this new engagement with nature off, but now I'm there, if someone took my field guides away from me and told me I wasn't allowed to find any more out I'd be gutted. And there's always so much more to learn too - the more you know, the more you love it, and the more you realise there's still so much more to know. Living life awakened to God is the same - once you see it you can never settle with going back, and can never stop finding out more what he is really like.

I've been listening to Rend Collective Experiment a lot recently, and LOVE this song. Thank goodness that every time we forget, or think we've un-learnt, what it is to live life with him, he welcomes us back. Again. And again. And again. Countless second chances :)

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Silent Spring

At Christmas this year, it was abundantly clear that I was back studying the environmental sciences: my presents included a swish pair of binoculars, some wellie stickers, wellie socks, wellie holders (I know, I didn't know they existed either), and the book Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson.

I'd asked for this book from my grandparents. It's one of those juggernauts of a book that was hugely influential when it was written, changing a lot of people's ideas about agriculture, ecology and conservation. It riffs on the idea of spring falling silent, as hundreds of birds die during the late 50s and early 60s, from poisining due to accumulations of pesticides in the food chain. I guess as an environmental student, not having read it is a bit like a biological sciences student not having read The Origin of Species (*gulp* I've read most of it, I promise...), or a Literature student never having read any Shakespeare. Needless to say, I hadn't read it; hence why I asked for it for Christmas. To appease the guilt. 

Owning it is, at least, a step in the right direction, right?

Rachel Carson is my kind of writer - she writes about scientific things in a wonderfully descriptive way - waffly, almost - but poetic and emotive. In the first year of my undergrad degree, my college tutor told me that I was getting the right points into my essays, but the language was too poetic for scientific writing. I know that that was true for those essays, but it's nice to see that other writers write Biology poetically and from the heart too. Thankfully, in a more recent assignment for my masters, that was self-reflective and about our personal conservation philosophy, this waffly tone found its place!

As I read the book (I have started - but I'm only a short way into it!), I stumble upon quotes that I love on almost every page. My favourite so far is thus:

"Have we fallen into a mesmerized state that makes us accept as inevitable that which is inferior or detrimental, as though having lost the will or the vision to demand that which is good?"

She is speaking here of people's acceptance of the deterioration of the environment due to overexploitation and excessive pesticide use, as if it were a matter of course: as if it were the only way, just because that is how it is. Which, of course, it is not -  we are beginning to see that now, some fifty years on from the writing of this book. 
Beautiful British Countryside :)

That quote inspires me, as someone who's hoping to make a career in this sector; but also for life, in general. [What a broad statement.] Does it you? 

Are we in a state that accepts that which is inferior, having lost the will or vision to demand that which is good? It makes me sad to think of how many of us live like this, and how often I do too. We so easily accept what is in the world, the circumstances around us, regardless of what they are. 

Perhaps it's because we don't think we can do anything about them.
Perhaps we are apathetic.
Perhaps we don't think we deserve any better.
Or perhaps it's easier to accept circumstances without thought, than face up to their reality.

Recently I've been thinking about fear and anxiety. Without going into too much of a sad diary entry, I struggled with anxiety and fear in my late teens, which was triggered by one reasonably trivial incident, but exacerbated by doing too much, not having time to process life, putting too much pressure on myself, and being bathed in the anxiety of several friends who had real depressive and axious tendencies. Fear and anxiety are the kind of things that creep into life without you noticing. 'Through the back door", a wise friend of mine described it as. And before you know it, you are coping with living through anxiety. 

But life in that state is both inferior and detrimental. 

And somehow, among all that, I lost the vision to demand that which is good. Anxiety was what I saw around me in others, it was what that portion of my life looked like, I just accepted it as normal. A bugger, but normal.

Jesus had so much to say on this issue. He said that he came to give us life, and life to the fullest (John 10:10);  that we shouldn't worry because God provides for us (Matthew 6:25-34); and that when we ask from God he will give us good things (Matthew 7:9-11). 

Life, and life to the fullest.

I guess it feels to me like it's time for some people to demand life to the fullest, instead of the fear and anxiety that they live in. And time for us, like Rachel Carson, to see the world around us and realise that it is in an inferior and detrimental state. To demand better. To intercede for people and situations that fall below what they deserve. To understand that God loves us, and wants good things for us, deems us deserving of it. Because it is 'for freedom that Christ set us free'.

One person who certainly embraces life to the fullest is the current joy of my life: Miranda. Last week's episode was all about her not conforming to what other people think she should be doing, but chosing to embrace joy. Here's a trailer for next week's. I love her. 

Enjoy :)


Saturday, 29 December 2012

2012 - an Updated Year

As 2012 draws to a close, once again I can hardly believe how quickly another year has gone. I was contemplating how best to reflect on a year gone by, and thought what documents all I'm up to, in time capsule-fashion, better than Facebook status updates and photos!?

So here is my year - documenting office-lols, BSL lessons, multiple weddings,the Masters journey (from writing the personal statement to completing the first term), summer holidays, and two house-moves - *Phew!*


Seeing in the New Year with Hayley (and Amanda!)

Congratulations to Jack and Claire on their utterly beautiful and wonderfully great wedding yesterday :) :)

When being a biology graduate becomes uncool: correcting people in sign language classes because they're describing animals wrong.

Today learnt useful phrases at BSL like 'please don't interrupt me',give me the orange pen', 'don't understand? I'll explain', 'call me tomorrow' and 'will you get the bill or me?'. I feel I am now well equipped for life in a deaf school, or on the deaf dating scene. Splendid.

Lesson learned over dinner: conserve energy, there's no need to respond to random words in other people's conversations that aren't *actually* your name. My name's not 'envelope'.

Due to the electricty outage this morning I opted to plait my hair to keep it all under control. This was a largely successful venture, but I did twice during the day make myself jump because there was something resting on my shoulder, and had also forgotten the joy of post plaited-wet-hair hair. Afro is my evening look tonight. Suave.


Going for dinner for Sam's Birthday
Clarissa and Charlotte

Thank you, landlady, for finally sending me a blind for my freezing window. Hurrah! You're right, it does look *really* easy to install myself! All I need is to be 6 inches taller, have a set of screw-drivers, the ability to screw into wood frames, and to have a clue what I'm doing! Excellent. Landlady, do you not realise *I am not my Dad*?!

The awkward moment when all the snow melts and it's revealed that you hadn't actually parked in a parking space, and you've actually just abandoned your car in the middle of the car park...

What a great weekend! So good to see Mike and Liz Sturgess, and Debbie Gliddon; and to have Mary Catelyn to stay - and such a privilege to get teaching and inspiration from such wonderful people, meet with God, and allllll that jazzzzz. Time for a nap.

Dear BBC, thank you (most ardently) for making so many awesome period dramas, then selling them in one almighty box set, and making days off so mightily scrummy. MIGHTILY SCRUMMY. Sincerest regards, Miss Emily.

Unseasonally beautiful March weather,
and I almost die in a horsey stampede

Can really only apologise to the other participants on the health and safety training today for completely derailing the focus for so long by answering the question 'what hazards are associated with vehicles in the work place?' with 'them potentially being Transformers'. I think I'd had too many biscuits

Oh spring,I do enjoy your arrival,and your diminishing requirement for bike lights :)

Great Exchange with Dylan this evening... 
D: Em, I'm pressing you! Look, Em, pressing, I'm pressing you like a BUTTON! 
E: Dyls, when it's people you usually call it 'poking'. 
D: ...Poking you like a BUTTON!! :D

Considering changing my name to Emaily. Emaily by name, Emaily by nature, and only one letter's addition.

Chilling out in this lovely weather with Just a Minute, waiting for the famalam to arrive. I think this is the Birthday version of #livingthedream :)


The beautiful spread at
Mica's hen-do
For those of you who this means anything to, Tim Jupp of Delirious? fame was in the office this morning. I made him tea. Was one of only two people who understood how cool he is!

Hen night win :D exhausted now. Hooray Mica!

I'm in love with the laminator.

When asking Bry what I should write about myself as good traits I possess in my personal statement she suggested 'witty banter' and 'good at making portmanteau words'. I reckon alongside my suggestion of 'looks great in wellies' we're really getting somewhere...

Entertained by how conservative M&S are in their descriptions. Just bought a skirt for graduation which they describe as a 'black jersey mini-skirt.' It comes down to my knees.

Well, graduation next weekend, Mica and Samuel's wedding the weekend after - life's all kicking off and getting exciting now! Lots of monumental moments - I'm excited :)


My oldest friend, Meesh,
as a beautiful bride
Ok, ok, I got second wind after laughing at BBT for 40 minutes. More has been done. This is it. Clicking submit...eeshk. [that was my masters application!]

I've graduated! :D and just had graduation lunch as a guest of Lord Krebs at high table...I'm not sure why,but it was lovely and I'm both honoured and full of great food :)

Just putting it out there: I'm worried about Andrew. He's tidied his desk.

Had a completely wonderful day at Mica and Samuel Gill's wedding yesterday - everything absolutely beautiful. Can't believe you're actually married, Meesh! Thanks for letting me be a part of it :) and me and Leanne made it up and down the aisle in our heels without falling over = Success!

So, this new weather: great, BUT, could it like, rain torrentially and abrasively overnight? A bird's done a mahusive poo on my skylight and I'm concerned it's just going to get sun-baked on

Me and Emma with Heth on our graduation
(photo taken by Jenni G)
Remember how I fell in love with the laminator a few weeks ago? Well. I've just discovered...the LABEL MAKER. :-O *LABELALLTHETHINGS!*

Discovered today that watching a video of yourself signing is MUCH less mortifying than a video of yourself talking. My guess is this is because you can't realise that you sign in a posher accent than you'd previously thought...

BIG CONGRATULATIONS to Emma for winning the Guild of Food Writers Award for best Food Blog for poiresauchocolat :) :) So proud of you!


Andrew: "I like Manchester's graphics and layout, but I don't think a tag-line should end with a preposition." 
Me:"What, so instead of 'not just a service, but a family to belong to', it's 'not just a service, but a family to which you belong'?" 
Andrew: Exactly. This is Oxford, not, y'know, Manchester...

Stephen Mangan replied to my tweet today. I've made it in life. :D

Cute things Dylan does #a-bajillion: Tucking my fringe behind my ear when I'm reading him and Phoebs a bedtime story 'cos it's 'in the way and he can't see my face'. :) (Also sign I need my hair cut #a-bajillion.)

Jubilee lols with Oliver (aka Loliver)
What an excellent weekend :) Debs Smith, you are a stunningly beautiful bride. And Suzi Smith, you are a stunningly beautiful bridesmaid; and I love you both.

a very excellent evening, though very sad to have closed Flat 5/6. I guess it's actually the end now. *sniff* :(

Nisa came back to work today after a month away. She brought me back a scarf from Pakistan, and told me I'd lost weight. It's nice to have her back :)

Has the patience of a saint. Except, one of those saints where when they check their emails and still haven't got the email they're after, they get frustrated again and have to screw up pieces of paper and breathe deeply. That kinda saint.

I am Pooped. But I love getting to see Anna Robinson! :) Where the love of her life may keep her in France, at least the Hen Party brings her back ;) x


The 2012 rings at the Olympic Opening Ceremony
That was the last day of Juu-uuune, and this is the First of July.

The Opening Ceremony Industrial Revolution
This morning I accidentally dismissed rather than snoozed my alarm. However, at the moment I needed to have woken up, a crow landed on my roof outside my open skylight and cawwed *really* loudly to wake me up. Thanks nature! I feel like Snow White.

"No, you're fine!", sayeth the sky, "honestly, you'll make it, I won't rain, you're fine. Honest, get on your bike!...Yeah, JOKING!" *KER-SPLOSH* This is the conversation we've had every day this week. *sigh*

It's official - my life will look very different come October: I got a place on my Masters course! :D

in the 20minute cycle home from work, I've just gotten more cold and wet than I have done in months. Did anyone keep the receipt, I think this July is faulty...?


Discussing whether the tooth:money exchange rate in the toothfairy economy is actually viable,with an actual member of The actual treasury. Loving graduate life :D — with Tom Wickersham and Sarah Marchant at St James's Park.


The mountains of Verbier
I am home, and provided with tea! :D Great time away - An *excellent* opening ceremony, and an *amazing* five days of catching up with friends, looking after babies and toddlers, drinking wine and laughing with CCN, catching a few rays and dodging a few raindrops, learning new things and having a great time with God. Now, to move house. Maybe I'll wait til tomorrow to start on that...

Right. To the last little bit of packing. And moving out. *sniff*

It seems like there's a negative correlation between how clean the old house is and how clean I am. Shower time. 'Eau de Oven-Cleaner and anti-bac' isn't the most attractive fragrance.

I'm not sure I'm built for such back to back excitement - wedding yesterday was WONDERFUL, hen do today was HILARIOUS, and tomorrow I get to do stage one of Swizzventure! How exhausting! :D

Having spent much of the evening poring over finances and loan applications for going into post-graduate studentdom, I think I may have to unsubscribe myself to the fatface emails that are pinging into my inbox. Even the sale ones. SAD DAY.

Hooray! I've officially passed British Sign Language Level 1! :D Hooray again!

Just been rehearsing with David Brennan for Hayley and Oliver's wedding tomorrow - it's all very exciting! Also loving seeing Anandi Brennan too! Joyful Friday. Now, to keep oneself occupied to justify the office needing to be manned...


The students' pre-term weekend
Have literally got the painting & decorating/cleaning bug. This new house WILL BE BEAUTIFUL. If you see paint in my hair/on my glasses/around my nails/all over my face, just humour me.

Andrew's just fired me for about the bazillionth time. Either way, can't quite believe I've only got three more days in the office after today.

Had a great time at the pub after work with the nicest colleagues, who buy the best leaving presents (you know me so well!),say the loveliest things, tease me ridiculously and make me laugh a stupid amount. Thank you - I'm definitely going to miss the kings centre office family *sniff sniff*

I HAVE A NEW BED! IT'S NOT BROKEN! AND IT HAS LEGS SO I CAN PUT THINGS UNDER IT! AND MY WINDOW IS OPEN! EPIC DAY,ALL ROUND! (the sad part is quite how much effort we put in to achieve this mini victory...)

The guy over the road hasn't perfected the art of getting changed far enough from the window that I won't see him if I glance up. Awkward.

Right, I'm going on a reccy to reading. Just to make sure it's actually there...


My classmates at the shoreline,
at Kimmeridge Bay
Right then. Off to be a fresher again. And meet lots of new people. Eek.

Has never been a breakdown rescue service before, but I think team Sturgekins did a great job this evening. — with Helen Jenkins.

Today, Sian Lloyd started following me on Twitter. I'm just not sure what to think about that.

Felt so swanky on the London Paddington commuter train this morning. In my wellies.

On our way down to the south coast for a day at the seaside! I mean, we'll do some shore surveys while we're there,but SEASIDE! :D

As expected, 11o'clock Emily is really not blessed by the state 7:30 Emily left her bed in, having come home from uni. Will she never learn?

Things to do tomorrow: All the things. Things to do now: sleep.

I'm very excited that my binocular delivery service comes with a pub lunch, and a catch up with the rents at the weekend. Now that's service.

Gorgeous Red at the
British Wildlife Centre

Today I got very cold, deliberately fell in a hedge to see how dense it was, and got a stitch from laughing hysterically at grass (or it could have been at Jamie. Or Leah. Or all three...).

I realised this week, in my cake-centric brain, that the phrase 'bats and birds' sounds like 'battenburg'. Consultancy is forever to be cakey.


It's Merlin o'clock. I bloomin' love that time.

Is playing 'are you ill or are you just overtired' roulette tonight. The rules of the game are: go to bed NOW, and get up at 5:45am tomorrow and see if you've died. I'll let you know how I get on.

I FINALLY MADE IT HOME!!! :D and am tempted never to leave ever again.
  So, today I am thankful for: the flood water not having reached our house, the glorious Jessie Hine for her graciousness, my amazing big sib for picking me up from Didcot AGAIN, and payphones when your smart phone has outsmarted itself. Oh, and pizza. Phew.

Just used the phrase 'sodding sod you soddy-sod' in discourse with my printer. Evidently the end of a long day and a long assignment. I think I may have hurt his feelings a little bit though, I doubt he ran out of ink maliciously. Better go and apologise.


Posey Robin at Slimbridge
I've gone from nought to Christmassy overnight! :D

Oi, rappin-blud next door, check this - You rappin your rhymes at these kinda times ain't blessin this girl when she's gotta wake earl(y). Cease and desist now, cheers.

Bag is very heavy, filled with field guides, this morning - nearly took a woman out on the train, trying to hoik it onto my shoulder :s #beatthemwithbotany

Today, Jonathan dressed up, sang a song about grasses to that tune the periodic table song is to, made us sing along, and filmed it to go on YouTube. Life is nothing if not varied. And hilarious.

'Wait, is that...?! Oh no, forget that. Nothing.' 'Is that what, mike?' 'Nothing. I thought it was a rhino. It was just a horse in a rhino coloured jacket.' Brilliant journeys to London with Mike.

Drinks with coursemates, a wonderful party at Emmas with college friends, and a relaxed day chilling in Harlesden with some of the old OCC gang...and for once there's not a photo to prove it, you'll just have to trust me this weekend was the *best* way to end term :)

Today is all about the penultimate episode of Merlin. Let's not pretend it's about anything other. (Unless you're Jamie and it's your birthday, then it can be about that.)

'Twas the night before Christmas, and all through the house, Not a creature was stirring, save chinchillas (like Mouse); The stockings were flung on the sofa (with care...), With hope that gifts, in the morn, would be there. The family were snuggled all warm in their beds, Kings Carols, and Merlin, still fresh in their heads, Sibling's arrived, and Granny's there too, And in the morning, a BIRTHDAY, for our Katie Lou :) Merry Christmas, all! x

Sue Perb.

Right, well - that was my 2012 in status updates and photos! Was actually incredibly nostalgic going through all of that...But anyway. I hope you've all had a wonderful Christmas, have time to reflect on all that 2012 was, and have an excellent New Year :)

Love, as always, E x