Education

Doing Exams? Don’t Panic If You’re Not Perfect

Right now, kids in the UK are undergoing their GCSE exams. Every year around this time, I shudder a little inside and thank every deity going that I’m now a full grown ass adult who only has to do exams again if she chooses. I choose not to. Exams are a specific kind of hell that I choose never to repeat again.

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As someone with no formal understanding of the education system, even I can see that it’s not designed for kids like the kid I was. If you succeed, that’s because you have the support of your parents behind you, and you’re the kind of learner who does well in exams and tests.

I was not that kid.

I loved learning, loved ploughing my way through books that were too ‘old’ for me, loved finding out new facts. When I first started school, that all worked out really well. I was lucky to have an amazing reception teacher, who cared about every kid in her class. She’d look for the talents those kids had and nurtured them. I loved drawing, and had a sense of perspective and style that wasn’t common in five year olds. I’d be given felt pens (pens! At school! The LUXURY) and be asked to draw pictures for display. I drew a picture that hung in the school assembly hall, and I’m still not sure that I’ve ever topped that accomplishment. I’m still chasing that sense of accomplishment to this day.

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As I got older though, I found school fit me less and less. Teachers would get frustrated with me because I struggled to grasp mathematical concepts. I’d be left to get on with it, rather than helped with it. When I tried to be creative with school projects, I was scolded for not sticking to the rules. I soon learned that I wasn’t fitting in, wasn’t getting it.

This was especially apparent when I started taking exams. I took my first SATS exam as a small child and heard my mum boasting about the scores I got. That meant the next time I did an exam, I had to get the same results or I’d failed. As I got older and took more complex exams, it was clear that my brain wasn’t built for it. I could turn in amazing coursework, but I couldn’t recall information in an exam hall to save my life.

My GCSEs were OK, but my A Level results were less than ideal. Because I’d been told over and over I HAD to go to university, I saw this as a huge failing. I’d messed up, and now my future was ruined. In fact, everything was fine. I worked a couple of crappy jobs after school, then went to work in a children’s retreat centre for a year, and then went on to university when I discovered my grades and experience could get me in.

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University didn’t directly help me find work (and graduating slap bang in the middle of the recession, I didn’t really have a hope in hell anyway), but it gave me the confidence I needed to see what I was really good. I eventually went self employed, and I could finally work the way I wanted. Alone, in my pyjamas, listening to video game soundtracks.

What am I getting at? The fact is, school isn’t set up to help every kid succeed. If you’re not hugely academic, you’re just set up to fail. If you’re like me and love learning, but you don’t do well with being hemmed in, then you’re not going to get what you need from school.

I was told that I was building up to secondary school, to sixth form, to university. Teachers tried to change my subjects around as ‘Universities want a well rounded student’. I’d never even shown an interest in going to university. It was decided for me, and when I didn’t go when I was 18 it was treated like a huge failure.

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If you’re a school kid reading this now, let me put this up in huge flashing letters: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO GO TO UNIVERSITY AS SOON AS YOU LEAVE SCHOOL. You don’t have to go right away, or at all. Take a few years out and go when you’re older. (I went when I was 21 and it was one of the best decisions I’d ever made). Go get an apprenticeship. Get out of school as soon as possible if you hate it, and better yourself another way.

Education is important. It’s vital. But it’s not doing anyone any good if it’s not taking every child’s needs into account. If you’re doing your exams right now, please don’t worry about them. Work hard, obviously. But don’t overstretch yourself. Otherwise, you’ll be like me, crying and having a panic attack in the RE office. It’s not a good look.

School isn’t everything. If you fail your exams, you’ll live. If you don’t go to university, you haven’t ruined your future. Schools are still telling their students this, and it’s dangerous and utter bullshit. You know yourself best. Do what you need to do to get ahead.

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Video games

The Best Video Game Dogs (According To Me)

The world can be divided into two camps: Dog people, and cat people. While I do love our furry kitty friends, I’m a dog person through and through. Many game developers seem to be on the same wavelength, which is why good puppies show up in so many of our favourite games. Here’s a short and not at all biased list of some of the absolute best good doggos in video gaming.

Dogmeat (Fallout 4)

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Dogmeat’s been knocking around since the very first Fallout game came out in, what, 1862? I first met him in Fallout 4 though, and instantly fell in love with him. In game, he’s meant to be an important ally. When you have him as your companion, he’ll happily jump into the fray and bite bad guys, holding them down so you can pick them off. He’ll also bark when he finds anything useful, and carry anything that you don’t want to carry yourself.

In practice, he’s not as useful as he should be. He’ll dive into the path of your grenades, blowing himself up in the process, and is forever bounding off, barking that he’s found yet another piece of junk that you don’t need. Then there’s the infamous Bethesda bugs, that have him happily floating down after you whenever you jump off a ledge. Plus, he LOVES getting in your way. Having been a dog owner, I can with authority call Fallout 4 an accurate dog simulator.

Hewie (Haunting Ground)

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I missed Haunting Ground when it first came out, but now that I’ve seen it I can confidently declare Howie, the white dog that accompanies protagonist Fiona as she attempts to escape Belli Castle, a good boy.

The game requires you to actively develop your relationship with Hewie, on order for him to protect you properly. When you order him to do something, whether that’s collecting items or attacking Fiona’s enemies, you’re required to praise him to make him more likely to do it again in the future. You’ll also need to heal him when he’s injured. You build up a partnership that’s genuinely moving, and you’ll want to look after Hewie throughout the game. He’s a brave dog, diving in and attacking monsters with ease, and generally being very cool.

Dog (Fable 2)

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The Fable games have their fair share of problems, but one of the best things about them is the dog companion your character has. Throughout the game he’s always by your side, helping you out and protecting you. He’s also good at sniffing out chests that are filled with treasure.

What’s really interesting about him though, is that he’s directly influenced by your actions. If you’re good, he’ll gain a pure white coat, and children will love him and want to pet him. If you’re evil, he develops glowing red eyes and people will be scared of him.

Whatever you do though, you probably won’t want to do the final mission in the game if you love your Dog. Just, trust me on this. No, I’m not ok.

Amaterasu (Okami)

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Okami is probably one of my favourite games of all time. It centres around Amaterasu, the Japanese sun god that’s come back to Nippon in order to defeat the big bad that’s ruining everyone’s lives. She’s come back as a white wolf, and she travels the world with her little bug friend Issun, solving problems and fighting bad guys. She uses shields, swords and more to beat them up and make the land safe again.

When she’s not fighting, she’s talking to the locals. She takes a lot of crap from them, as almost no one recognises her as the goddess she is. She’ll even fall asleep if they go on and on in classic JRPG style. She goes around collecting Praise, which restores the land in a rush of colour and floral explosions.

What’s great about Amaterasu and Okami in general is that the game is GORGEOUS. It uses a watercolour style that you just won’t find anywhere else, and looks incredible. It’s a game that you’ve just got to see for yourself.

Koromaru (Persona 3)

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Now I’m biased, as I’ve just finished Persona 3 (yes, I’m playing though the Persona games backwards, sue me), and I think Koromaru may be my favourite video game dog ever. He finds his way into your team when he fights Shadows, the enemies of the Persona series, at the shrine where his master used to live before he died to them. The team quickly discover he can summon his very own Persona, and so add him to the team and let him live in the dorm with them.

Koromaru is brilliant in so many ways. In battle, he not only summon magic via his Persona, but attacks directly with a knife clamped between his teeth. When he initiates an All Out Attack, his text box literally just reads ‘Woof, woof!’ He’s just as intelligent as a human though, as evidenced when robot girl Aigis translates for him. Plus, he’s just adorable! Look at his little armband!

That’s my list of best video game doggos. Is there anyone I missed? Let me know!

Body image, Life

‘Body Neutrality’ And Escaping The Hate Surrounding Your Body

It’s no secret that experiences in your childhood shape the way you grow up into an adult. There’s one experience I had that’s seared into my brain. It happened when I was 11 years old, at secondary school, where everything was new and frightening. At that time the uniform hadn’t been updated to let girls wear trousers, something that put me on the back foot as a then tomboyish kid. As we were lined up on the stairs one say, waiting to get into our form room, a kid turned around to me and commented ‘You’ve got legs like tree trunks.’

That’s the first time that someone ever openly commented on my body, but it wasn’t the last. My family despaired of me as I hit puberty and was no longer a stick thin kid (thanks to growing nearly a whole head taller than my classmates in a short space of time), and put on weight. I started getting the arseholes who felt the need to beep their horns and wolf whistle at me as I walked home from school, in my school uniform. Suddenly, my body was everyone else’s property, and it wasn’t good enough.

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It’s no wonder then, that I spent my 20’s feeling that my body was too fat and just not good enough. I was never going to look as good as my friends, because I couldn’t lose the weight. I went on holiday and felt self conscious in every picture that was taken of me, because I felt I didn’t look good enough. I was hyper critical of my teeth, my arms, my hair. Nothing looked the way I thought it should.

You know what the stupid thing was? There was nothing wrong with the way I looked at all. When I was moving house I found some old photos from when I used to go clubbing, around the age of 18/19. Looking at those pictures, I was perfectly normal looking. I wasn’t a whale, or disturbingly ugly, as I had been lead to believe. I looked fine.

I did start to realise this around the time I turned 30, and at this time I was watching the body positivity movement blow up. Everywhere, women are being told that they’re beautiful, that they should love themselves. On the surface, that’s a great thing. It’s time for women to start ignoring what the media has been telling them, and embrace the way they look, ‘flaws’ and all.

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Image from https://www.sayfc.org/body-image

No matter how hard I tried though, I couldn’t actually ‘love’ my body. Being a UK size 16 and having a couple of ongoing health issues, I couldn’t get onboard with ‘loving’ my body. At best, I’m pretty much irritated by it. There are parts that don’t work properly and I can’t make it fit into a lot of high street clothes, no matter what size I buy. Am I failing at feminism because I can’t love my body the way it is?

That’s why it’s a huge relief to see people like Sofie Hagen calling out this movement as bullshit recently. She’s written a book, Happy Fat, about why it’s ok to be fat, and why the narrative around women’s bodies is all geared towards making money out of you. It makes sense. If you’re made to feel bad about your body, then you’re going to spend money on fixing it. You’ll buy diet foods, gym memberships, ‘slimming’ items that are never going to work. It’s a fact that diets are almost totally ineffective, but we keep buying into it anyway.

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The same goes for the body positive movement. When you’re looking to ‘love’ your body, you’re going to spend. That could be on new clothes, trying to find a style that lets you love the way you look, or on any other items that are being sold to you through the movement.

Sofie Hagen has been doing interviews, pointing out that ‘fat’ is a neutral term, a descriptor rather than a good or bad thing. It isn’t anything, it just is. What she’s aiming for is ‘body neutrality’, or just being ok with your body. It’s just your body, after all, just the thing that you’re piloting around during your very short time on this earth.

I like this. It’s not asking for me to starve myself to make myself more palatable in skimpy clothing, or to declare love for my own body if I’m not even sure I like it yet. I’m actually going to see Sofie Hagen at the end of the month, doing her Bubble Wrap/Happy Fat tour, where she’ll be reading from her book. I’m very excited to see what she has to say.

Social Media, Technology

Facebook Is A Hellscape, But I Can’t Leave

I think we can all agree that social media is a hellscape. Twitter is full of Nazis, Instagram is a one track path to making you feel bad about yourself, and Reddit… we should just burn down Reddit and never look back. But the grandaddy of them all, Facebook, is the platform that I have the most beef with. Just why is it so consistently awful?

On the face of it, Facebook isn’t that bad. There’s the odd racist rant from that one uncle you avoid at parties, and sometimes there’s pictures of your friends’ babies. What’s wrong with it?

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My problem is that I’m so tied into Facebook that I feel like I can’t leave. I’ve been on it since I was 21, and I’m 33 now. That’s insane. I’ve never known an online service last so long. At first, I didn’t want to leave MySpace for Facebook, and now… I wish I’d gone down with that ship, honestly.

A lot of the problems with Facebook are the same problems that other social media sites have, in fairness. It doesn’t feel the need to weed out hate speech or threatening behaviour on it’s site, much like Twitter. It has a strange need to censor female chests, much like Instagram and Tumblr, with its fear of ‘female presenting nipples’ (no I’m not letting that go, I mean, WTF Tumblr). It also thinks nothing of OWNING everything you post onto the site, and selling on your data if it suits them. So what makes it worse than those sites?

I think there’s a couple of things that make it awful. First, there’s the technical workings of the site. Basically, it’s a garbage fire. It’s an absolute nightmare to actually use. It’s grown and warped over the years, making it unwieldy and irritating to try and navigate. Then there’s the actual workings of the site. If you want to see a chronological feed on your phone, you need to head to the menu and then pick ‘Most Recent’, and it might work. Some of the time. On my desktop, I have to use a plug in called ‘FB Purity’ to force it into chronological order. That plug in also tells me when someone unfriended me, so it’s kind of nervewracking to use.

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There’s that, then there’s the way Facebook is used. As it’s such an ‘old’ social media site, it’s full of 30 somethings and older, whinging about their lives. I’m not immune to it. I realised what I was doing, and so made an effort to stop posting such bollocks. The upshot? I barely post anymore. Teenagers aren’t using it because their parents are on it, and they’re sick of being told to mind their language when they use it. Because of that, it’s stagnating as a platform. We’re seeing all kinds of funny and exciting posts on Tumblr, but on Facebook it’s all older folk whining that the bins haven’t been collected.

What I’d really like to do is just quit Facebook. Just log off and leave. I’d love to do that, I honestly desperately want to do that, but I can’t. Why? Because Facebook has an iron grip on my social life.

If I want to go to an event, I have to find the Facebook group and ‘like’ or ‘follow’ it. This is where I’ll get the updates about it. Several conventions I follow all update primarily via Facebook, so if I want to keep up, that’s where I need to be.

Then there’s using the internet elsewhere. Even if I’m not on Facebook, I’m on Facebook. Over the years, I’ve been incredibly lazy and used Facebook to log into sites, because I didn’t need to type in all my details to create an account. That means that I’ve been using it to log in everywhere, and I don’t even know how many sites have my Facebook data now. If I delete my account, I pretty much screw myself.

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Finally, there’s the photos. There’s photos from over a decade of my life on Facebook. There’s photos from when I was a teenager and I used to go clubbing. There’s photos of my wedding. There’s pictures of holidays I went on. I don’t want to lose those. I can download my own pictures, but others belong to other people, and so I can’t easily download the albums. It sucks.

There’s a myriad of other reasons, but basically I feel as though I’m stuck in a toxic relationship with Facebook. I don’t feel capable of unpicking it without upending my life at this point. What do I do? For now, I’m going to delete as much info as I can and keep it just as a communication point, in case people what to talk to me. Until then? We’re stuck together, sadly.

Life

What Happened To Manners?

This week I did something very unBritish and unlike me: I got some noisy kids kicked out of the cinema.

Now, I hadn’t meant to get them kicked out. They’d wandered into our showing of Shazam, waving their phone lights around and chatting away as they found their seats. I gave them the benefit of the doubt as they’d come in late, so they couldn’t see the way to their seating. When they wouldn’t shut up, though, I did something I’ve only ever done once before and yelled ‘SHUT UP!’ at them. It died down for a bit, and then they started chittering again. My husband this time yelled at them, but they wouldn’t give in. Again, I yelled ‘SHUT UP, NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR IT’, but to no avail. In the end, I gave up and found a staff member, who I asked ‘Could you just get them to be quiet please?’

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They came in just after I got back to my seat, and they somehow got the group to actually quietly leave. There was a tense moment where I could see them peering up, clearly trying to see who’d grassed them up, but then they left. Victory!

To me though, I spent the rest of the film seething. I like to think I’m quite a polite person. I was brought up to say please and thank you, to hold doors open, to stay quiet when I needed to be quiet. When I see bad manners in others, it makes me see red. Why wander into a film screening to just talk all the way over of it? What’s the point? You can do that outside the cinema for free, and that way you won’t bother anybody.

If I’d been yelled at to shut up in a cinema, I’d have died of shame. It’s unthinkable to me that I’d have to be yelled at three times, and I could still ignore it. How can people be so inconsiderate to others, when it’s so easy to be polite?

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I wonder whether I was brought up to be too polite. I admit, I have spent nights lying awake, terrified that I’d been accidentally rude to someone. I’ve apologised to people for the accidental slight I’d made against them, only to hear, ‘Oh, what, that? I’d forgotten all about it.’ I worry so much about upsetting others that it actually affects my own everyday life. Are rude people actually just people that are getting on with their everyday lives?

In some cases I think that’s true, but in others it’s clear that they’ve never learned basic manners. You see it every time you leave the house, whether it’s people queue jumping because they can’t imagine not being the most important person in the store, to standing in the way because they haven’t even thought about how they’re affecting others around them. They just don’t give a single thought to anyone other than themselves.

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I’m not sure whether this has always been a problem, but it’s certainly got worse in the last few years. We’ve all encountered people who can’t conceive of going out of their way to be kind or helpful to others. I remember reading a Charlie Brooker column, where he blamed this outlook on the media and advertising that we’re bombarded with now. The ‘Because you’re worth it’ school of thought that’s used to sell us everything from shampoo to luxury spa treatments.

There’s something to that, but advertising isn’t everything. In a world where it’s so hard to get help when you need it, it’s no wonder that you eventually believe you can only look out for number 1. Why bother going out of your way for someone else? They won’t do it for you. The problem is that leads to horrible manners that leave everyone around that person feeling worse off.

There’s no real cure for this mindset, although I truly believe calling out crappy behaviour when you see it goes a long way. When I was younger, I would ‘keep my head down’ because it was best not to make a fuss. Now, though, I see that allowed people to step all over me, because I wouldn’t fight back. Now, I’ll give out if I, or anyone else, is treated badly.

People don’t like it, as you’d expect. I’ve been called a bitch by a group of school kids who I told to stop being idiots and stop blocking the entrance to a shop. When a guy tried to touch me on my hen do and I yelled at him, I was told, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were a feminist’, in an incredibly sneering tone. It sucks. But the more we let bad behaviour carry on, the worse it gets.

Hopefully, those kids at the cinema learned a lesson. If you can’t be decent human beings, you’re gonna get kicked out of the film that you’d paid to see.

Home, Life

When Does ‘Collecting’ Tip Into ‘Hoarding’?

As I’ve chronicled extensively through the last month or two, I’ve just moved house. Now in my new house, I’m still putting together the last few bits to make the house actually feel like a home. That means lugging my glass cabinets upstairs to the spare room, and starting to redisplay the collections that I’ve been curating over at least the last decade.

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I didn’t think I’d collected that much until I had to pack it all up. It was some of the first things I packed up, as anything decor could easily be thrown in a box and left, without affecting day to day life. (Try packing up a kitchen. You can’t. You need everything still. It is a nightmare). As I packed, I realised just how much stuff I do collect. Here’s a non exhaustive list of the items I collect over time:

 

  • My Little Pony toys
  • Fashion dolls (Barbie, Monster High, Disney dolls, etc.)
  • Terrible fridge magnets (the more ugly and hideous, the better)
  • Enamel pins
  • Artwork
  • Theme park ride photos
  • Empty notebooks (that I will fill one day, I swear)

 

This isn’t even all of it. That’s not including the things my husband collects, such as DVDs and Hatsune Miku figures. There’s a lot of stuff in the house, is what I’m saying.

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Moving house has brought me to realise just how much I collect. Some things don’t take up a lot of room, such as the magnets and pins. Magnets, obviously, live on the fridge, and I display my pins on cork boards so they’re just hanging out on the wall. Other things do take up room though, and it’s a fine balance between things that ‘spark joy’ and just straight up clutter.

There is a small voice in my head that’s screaming about becoming a hoarder, that I’m wasting my time and money on these things as they’re just ‘things’, after all. What are they really? Am I just filling up my house with useless junk?

That’s the question. I do try and keep on top of my collecting, though. I know many people who want to collect full sets of things, such as My Little Pony toys and playsets. As cute as the playsets are, I’ve already made peace with the fact I’ll never have the room for them. I also don’t pick up full sets of the toys, unless I like each one. It’s better for me to have less toys that I love equally, rather than packing the spare room full of every plastic filly Hasbro ever made.

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I also regularly go through and clear out my collections. Sometimes you realise you just don’t like something as much anymore. That doll was great when I bought it, but now I just feel rather ‘eh’ about it. These things go on eBay and I send them on to someone who would appreciate them much more than I would.

At the end of the day, collecting is something that makes me happy. I’m not big on makeup, I don’t own a lot of shoes, and I’m not into expensive bling. Instead, I spend my money on plastic toys and little shiny trinkets. As long as I’m not creating hallways in my home from discarded toys and plastic junk, then I think I’m going to be ok.

Life, Shopping

The Rules Of Shopping (As Decided By Me)

Like a lot of millennials, I hate shopping in real life. It’s annoying, busy, and time consuming. Nothing is better than sitting at your laptop and placing orders at a click of a button, and having the parcels sent to you. It’s even better when you shop on places like Wish, that take about a hundred years to get to you. By the time it comes, you’ve forgotten about the order and it’ll like a surprise present, from you to you.

However, sometimes you need to just get out the house, or you need something from a specific store that doesn’t sell online (Yes, they still exist!). Today I had to go out to Birmingham city centre to get some photo frames from Tiger, and so I had to interact with the general public and people at large. It was… not great. Here are some general rules for shopping I came up with while trying to battle my way through Primark.

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Identify If You Are A Slow Walker

Some people power walk as if they are a transplant doctor and they have less than 30 seconds to reach their patient and implant that new heart. Others walk as though they have all the time in the world. Both are fine. You do you.

HOWEVER.

If you are a slow walker, please think about your surroundings. I have a plan when shopping, I want to hit all the right stores and then leave. The amount of times I got stuck behind slow walkers today was, frankly, unacceptable. If you’re a slow walker, MOVE TO THE SIDE. That’s all you have to do. That way you’re not blocking walkways and causing widespread frustration.

Don’t Stop At The End Of An Escalator

I’ve had this happen to me more than once, and it’s beyond baffling. People ride the escalator, get to the end, and then stop dead. They’re stood there rifling through their bag while people are piling up behind them.

Here’s the thing my dude. The idea of an escalator is that it doesn’t stop. That’s how it works. If you stop, no one else behind you can do anything about it. You are a lawsuit waiting to happen. GET OUT OF THE WAY.

Work Out Where The Queue Is

I’m kind of astounded at how many times I’ve been the victim of queue jumping while shopping. I’m stood there waiting my turn, and some ignoramus has waltzed in, taking my place in line and getting served before me. I’ve never had a cashier point out their wrong doing to them, and I can sympathize. It’s a hard job and you spend at least 75% of the day getting yelled at as it is. You’re not sticking your neck out for more punishment.

I’m at the point in my life where I’ve run out of fucks to give, so I’ll just loudly exclaim ‘What, you can’t see me?!’ That’s usually enough to shame them into getting back into the queue. If you do this, know that you are being judged, and everyone in the shop thinks you’re an arsehole.

Use Headphones, For God’s Sake

There is something about shopping centres, and the public transport that gets you there, that brings out the worst in people. Normally, if you want to listen to loud rap music, you’ll put in headphones to enjoy it on your own terms. Instead, people decide that what they should do is belt up the volume on their phone’s crappy speakers and blast whatever godwaful Soundcloud rapper that they’re into right now.

No. Just no. If you do this, you need to stop. You’re not hard, you’re not special, and no one wants to hear it. Plus, your taste in music is absolute shit.

Stop Blocking The Aisles

To be honest, this last one works in supermarkets and the like, too, but it’s very relevant. There’s only so much space in a shop. Even the largest stores pack merchandise in, to entice you to buy. This leaves you very little room to actually walk around.

The problem with this is that some shoppers feel the need to stand in the middle of the aisle, umming and ahing about whether to buy something. Yes, you should consider an item before you purchase it. Can you not do that while blocking everyone’s way, though? It honestly scares me how many people seem to have no awareness of the world around them.

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Ah, that’s better. I’m never going back out again (until the situation demands in person shopping). Back to eBay I go.