Sunday, 20 December 2015

A Year in Norwich: Marzipan and Mass

A very warm welcome to a new series I'm beginning as part of the "My Secret Diary" section of my blog. Boring as I am, small extracts from my life seem to go down well. So as part of a bigger project entitled "A Year in Norwich", I've decided to offer small snapshots of diary entries to readers of my blog over the coming year. After all, you never know when something interesting might happen and I've always had the ambition to record my life, or at least the funny parts. Here's a snapshot of yesterday:


Saturday 19th December


Marzipanning Christmas cake while trying not to gag at smell of brandy. Flashback to a week ago with copious vomit, blackout periods and a lost debit card. Worst, most ill (alcoholically induced) I have ever felt in my life. 2/10 would (WILL) never do again. Panic at blackout moments (a first and, vow to self, a last), not for own welfare but that of others, though was assured by housemate several times nothing offensive was done/said, and by others that everyone found events resulting in vomit-covered coat and various bruises funny and not at all an inconvenience. Anyway, the cake. Rolling out the most b***d-thin marzipan which won't stop sticking to the bloody sideboard however much cornflour separates the two. Eventually cover cake with nauseating brandy-apricot glaze (appealing in previous years) and fix on patchy at best layer of  marzipan. Hate marzipan, but much like all other Christmas traditions personal preference must take a backseat to tings without which Christmas would be well and truly ruined. At one point, after ten minutes, Mother is banished from kitchen with door shut behind her as overbearing  helicopter-parenting of a nineteen year old WOMAN who has been on cake duty for years is found to be unneeded, unwarranted and quite frankly irritating.

Cover botched yellow mess with tinfoil just in time to usher parents out door for six o'clock Mass. Listen at Mass to sermon about danger of rattling off prayers paying no heed to their meaning, and proceed to rattle off prayers with rest of congregation. Come up with two blog ideas and apologise for sins, though not out loud to priest at confession (opportunity for which was rather sprung upon one). I have no objection to confession--incredibly cleansing experience at times-- but personally feel I would need about a week to prepare. Not, I hope, because have overwhelming amount of sins which need organising chronologically or alphabetically, but simply because confession is, in addition to ever-popular "sign of peace" during mass, one of many awkward social interactions Catholics partake in. No wonder congregation attendance seems higher in Ireland than England. Many of the symbols used as part of Catholic Mass present social issues of inherent un-Britishness. 

At one point we are told to shake hands with our "neighbours", which begs the question first posed to Christ himself: Who is our neighbour? Do we firmly restrict ourselves to those either side of us in the pew, thus ending the madness soon after it begins, or do we turn to shake hands and command that "peace be with you" to those sitting behind us as well? What about those across the aisle whose mothers were friends with our grandmothers? And you never know if the crowd in front of you will turn round and offer their hands. In addition, there always seems to be one eejit who feels his neighbour is halfway across the church and thinks they'll be known as the most Christian of Christians if they make the treacherous journey to as many people as possible--all of whom are convinced the whole Church is looking at them and just wish it would end so everyone can continue fixing their eyes firmly on the floor, or the wall, or indeed anywhere that isn't another human being. At this point, after the shaking of hands, my mind begins to leap to what exactly my hands had been seen to be doingbefore the Dreaded Incident. Had I been scratching my head? Biting my nails? Oh GOD, what if the people I shook hands with saw me biting my nails? What if they had been biting their nails? Or something even more unsavoury? Then the arguably more serious dread creeps in: What if stoic insistence upon limiting handshaking to three or four people was taken as a snub by other, left-out members of the congregation? What if whisper is currently going round church about my limited ungenerous handshaking? Or weakness of said handshake? Social life within parish will be over forever. Nobody will ask me to bake for charity cake sale ever again. Might as well leave now and never return.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

On the lighter side: the roommate tag


This is a roommate tag list of questions I found on Youtube. I have tried to write serious blog post after serious blog post, but nothing else will come out of my brain as the Week 9 blues, essay plans and presentation traumas swirl in my head.

I’ve therefore poured myself some wine, wrapped myself in a blanket, and called on my housemate to help answer these questions…



Me and Jay

 
Me and Abi

 

1)      Did you know each other before you lived together?

We did before this year, because we were in the same halls last year. Before that though, we had never met.

2)      What did you guys think of each other initially when you first met?

Me: You were inebriated when we first met, so I thought you were quite silly but also very… worldly. Over the few days I saw you were quite independent.  

Abi: When I first met you I thought you were really nice and Catholic, and a lot more serious than you are. Before we actually met, you’d commented a lot on group facebook posts for Uni. You told me that you weren’t an axe murderer which made me think you were an axe murderer. You never baked us the cake you promised.

3)      How long did it take until you guys became friends?

Me: Most people in the flat were quite good friends within the first few weeks. I take a while to open up to people and you gave me space which I think made me want to be friends with you more. We had some nice late-night chats in the kitchen and hall, and I think we knew each other pretty well by the first couple of months.

Abi: We must have known each other pretty well by December because we agreed we would live together.

4)      What do you guys usually argue about?

Me: I don’t think we argue much really, because we respect each other’s space and can both sort of do our own thing. Abi does sometimes tell people secrets by accident when drunk, but I’ve not been annoyed because there’s not usually any harm done.

Abi: Um…nothing.

5)      What is the one thing that really bothers you that your roommate does?

Me: Nothing really roommate-wise, she’s quite tidy and pays bills on time etc. She did become a bit of a militant washing-up-supervisor, but that was pretty needed if I’m being honest.

Abi: It’s annoying that she encourages me to sit in the living room until 2am every night. However, the same could be said for me.

Me: Actually, she does eat a lot and stay thin, and this makes me eat a lot… without the thin part.

6)      Do you guys both have the same passion for makeup?

Me: I don’t tend to be that passionate about makeup but I like the fact that I live with a girl so we can dress up and prepare for nights out together when I do happen to be in a girly mood.

Abi: I think I’m slightly more passionate, and I wear more but think she has better skin. And she doesn’t have an eyeshadow pallette and makeup brushes on her Christmas list like I do.

 

7)      What does she think of your blog.

Abi: I like her blog. I wish she updated it more.

8)      Who spends the most time getting ready in the morning?

We’re both pretty quick actually, though I guess having separate bathrooms does help.

9)      What was something you didn’t know about each other until you became roommates?

Me: I hadn’t realised how tidy Abi was and how much she liked things being clean, because all we had last year were our bedrooms and communal areas and Abi’s room was always a bit of a pit.

Abi:  She actually has a really busy life. I don’t think she did as much last year but at the same time there were so many people in the flat we wouldn’t have known anyway. But now she’s not here except at night time. Sometimes not even at night time.

Jay (our other housemate): I didn’t realise how much Abi left her work to the last minute.

Abi: My essay plan that was due yesterday I started last week!

Jay: OK I’ll amend that. You do your work at really odd times and in odd places. Olivia does that too. Like in the kitchen

Abi: How much time Jay spends with his boyfriend.

Jay: Can I get out that wine from the kitchen? It’s been there ages.

Abi: No they’re all disgusting and half open.

Me: Jay I feel like… I don’t know, it’s Wednesday night and I have a presentation tomorrow. I feel like we shouldn’t get “pissed”.

10)   Do you guys sometimes get fed up of each other by seeing each other too often?

Jay: I feel like I need to make time for you guys, because I don’t see you all that often. I look forward to coming home to spend time with you.

This wine smells worse than it tastes…maybe.  

It just… stinks.

Abi: Oh my God.

Jay: It smells like mould doesn’t it?

Me: Can I smell the wine please? I’m wrting all this down by the way. This has turned into a script—

Abi: NO. It’s MY buzzfeed quiz.

Me: So do you get sick of us Abi?

Abi: I’m doing so badly at this... Er, no. I don’t not at all.

Me: Yeah, I’m not sick of you guys. I feel like none of us are here enough. Which is nice.  

 

11)   How do you avoid tension while living together?

Me: There’s not too much tension. By now

Abi: I got 8! Em, we… um, we just sit. And don’t really do much. Is this doing much? I don’t know.

Jay: We make cups of tea for each other.

Abi: Yeah, offer each other tea. That’s how you know you’re on good terms.

Jay: Like Olivia made a cup of tea earlier and didn’t offer us one.

Me: Oh my god that did happen!

Abi: Yeah.

Me: I’m so sorry…

12)   What’s one rule you guys have while living together?

Me: The washing up jar. 20p for every dish left for 24 hours.

Abi: We don’t have any other rules, except alternating who puts money on the heating and writing it down.

Me: We’re not like regular mums, we’re cool mums.

 

13)   How do you deal with sharing a bathroom?

Me: Well Abi has her own downstairs.

Abi: I’m fine with that except when SOMEONE blocks it and doen’t unblock it.

Me: I do blame assorted boys for all the skidmarks on the toilet.

14)   Do you make separate dinners at night?

We usually eat separately but if we’re both home at the same time we might cook together/cook for each other. We’ve had three or four house dinners so far this year.

15)   Nationalities?

Me: Do you remember when a potential landlord asked this?  Don’t think that’s legal. Well anyway I’m Irish and everyone else is English.

16)   Do you use your roommate’s things without asking?

Abi: Yes. Although not yours. Actually there was something of yours that I used but I can’t remember what it was.

Me: Fair enough. I think I do if people have said that I can use it in the past.

17)   What are your favourite things to do with each other?

Me: Hm?

Abi: This. (Sit and watch TV).

18)   What happens when one person gets sick?

Me: I don’t know, I guess they get sick. Maybe I’ll make them a cup of tea or see if they want me to get them anything. Mostly I’ll just assume they want some peace and quiet.

Abi: We all forget.

19)   Have you thought about having a pet or pets?

Abi: Yes we’ve thought about it. I want a cat but we’ve just never done anything about it.

Me: I’m worried about a) getting permission from the landlady and b) how to divide up the cat when we leave.

Abi: It would be mine.

20)   What is the funniest thing you’ve done together?

Me: This year a nice roommate moment was when Abi and I removed that weird cocoon thing from the bathroom wall.

Abi: Putting the drying rack in the attic.

Jay: What?  

Abi: Other housemate had a drying rack in the room (which we’re not allowed) so we hid it in the attic. You can’t tell him what we did. It was really scary.

Me: Jay?

Jay: Em, I know it’s not really house-related, but just you dancing on a table in spoons.


21)   Has being roommates helped or hurt your relationship?

Me: Well if we hadn’t lived together last year we wouldn’t really have a relationship.

Abi: Helped.

Jay: *nods vaguely*

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Writing about not writing: The Now

This blog is for writing. And for the past while, not much of that has been going on. I am reminded of this every time I check Facebook which informs me "Your fans are missing you, Catherine Ann Minnock." Well I'm sorry, fans, such as you are. In addition, Twitter--where only my penname resides--became rather panicked and asked me if I had changed emails, which I'd imagine is the social media version of British Gas sending you angry bills and trying to confirm you are "still at this address".

 Like much of the internet, this blog is not a true reflection of my life but rather a mere fragment of a fragment of a pen-name. In actual fact, there has been rather a lot of writing going on.

Writing of emails. To my Student's Union about the society of which I appear to have become co-founder and co-president. Less interestingly but no less frustratingly, to HMRC about changing my tax code.

Writing of essays. Formative work that is supposed to "form" and shape my further, important work, but for which I am not allowed to use anything related to my further work, because Literature is helpful like that.

Writing and editing and correcting of articles upon articles for my student's newspaper. Tentatively, I wrote my true opinions last week and tried to incorporate everyone's view and not just the most popular at University in my piece. As a result, there wasn't the angry onslaught I'd expected (or hasn't been as of yet), just a lot of people with various viewpoints congratulating me on my balanced, "forward-thinking" writing. One more step toward the whole thing becoming a bit less scary, I feel.

All in all, creativity and quality of writing are becoming less curtailed by an innate need to be liked. Not because I no longer have that need (though as I grow past adolescence into the pseudo-adulthood that is student life, it has begun to wane somewhat), but because I am more open to writing and creating what others may not necessarily agree with or enjoy. I no longer feel that one blog post, article or  indeed essay gone awry (like an example described by my seminar leader last year as "borderline offensive") isn't going to ruin my entire life or career.

Art grows and changes just as people grow and change. What I write now will probably not reflect who I am in five years' time--in fact, I very much hope that it will not. But I feel at this stage I am old enough and unwise enough to be able to look at things I have made and think, "I do not feel this now. But I felt it legitimately and completely at the time, and it was recorded and shared... and if just one person identified with it or took something from it, then that means at the time those feelings were worth writing down. They were relevant and worthwhile."

I probably won't say that. I'll probably just say, "Oh, God, CRINGE...", or whatever else passes for appropriate slang in 2020, when I no doubt will be just as down with the kids as I am this very day.

To dismiss things now because I may regret them, or not feel them again, or change my mind, would be like burning every photo of myself in case I later decide I don't like the haircut I have, the clothes I am wearing, or the friends I am with. For better or worse, we cannot just burn experiences.

So there's much more honesty now in everything I write: every email, every newspaper feature, and every zine produced as part of my publishing society. In fact it's toward zines (printed prose and pictures for me, all sorts for everyone else) that a lot of focus from this blog is sadly being diverted.

My current project is an interesting one. It's about my body and how I have felt toward it--and in a way you can't get more honest than that. However, note that I use the words "have felt". There's a lot of emotion in this project, from being persuaded to think negatively about my appearance at quite a young age, to being alarmed about what my body can go through, to a rude awakening that when it comes to what I should and shouldn't do with my body, sexism and oppression are alive and well.

I'm finding writing what I felt rather than feel is quite a difficult thing to do. It's hard to remember sensations along with events, hard to remember quite how affecting everything was when "grown-up" me inevitably plays it down. Which is why I suppose this is important: me, writing, now. Whether it's just a Facebook message to a friend after a long day, an article I felt apprehensive about publishing or even this rather chaotic blog update, it is all mine. It is how I am feeling. Now.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Call Me Old Fashioned (A Short Story)

Not something I usually upload nowadays...written at bedtime and uploaded in haste during a brief period of access to WiFi.



Frank’s knees would be giving him trouble by the time they landed. Ryanair was great—it had allowed the last two generations of Ireland to travel far and wide, explore a rake of new opportunities and cultures at a pittance… but nevertheless you got what you paid for, and they were always stingy with their leg room. He could feel his joints groaning in anticipation at the hour ahead. He placed The Independent across his knees and tried to distract himself from what was going on around him with the assurances that the economy was on the up, but we were all still justified in being cross with the people that had allowed it to fall in the first place. The trouble was, nobody was exactly sure who those people were.

This was not the first time Frank had travelled alone—he flew at least once a year, and this would be the sixth year (he couldn’t quite believe it) that he’d be making the trip, as he now did everything, without Margaret. His elderly posterior in fact spent much more than its fair share in the blue and yellow plasticky seat now that Amanda was in England with her job, her husband, a grandchild Frank had vowed to see at least twice a year, and another on the way. He didn’t know how she’d cope with it, especially abroad. Margaret hadn’t worked once they’d started a family, yet had always seemed so busy with one thing and another. He mused that the only good thing about it was that Amanda had stayed relatively close to home. Her friend Laura from up the road was now a year in Sydney, and her parents were still worrying about what dangers might befall her “Down Under”, even at thirty years of age.

As the plane began to move rather too audibly on the runway, Frank placed a hand on his St. Christopher medal. He wasn’t backward, was no stranger to modern life—the iPad Amanda had given him for Christmas actually got a fair bit of use now and again—but there was still something about a plane that made him wary… it all still seemed a little unnatural, and every time he flew the medal under his shirt served almost as a talisman to reassure him. Some people asked why didn’t he have St. Francis instead, his namesake. He’d never really thought about it.

As the overtly cheerful cabin crew members went over the safety procedures for the flight, Frank tuned out. Partly because he knew it so well by heart he probably could have performed the thing by himself for anyone who cared to watch, and partly because hearing the words “unlikely event of landing in water” always made that sort of thing spring to the forefront of the mind and appear just a small bit too likely.

Allowing his eyes to wander away from the morning’s headlines, Frank caught sight of a cheerful couple across the aisle. They must have been off on a special trip somewhere: one perused the alcoholic drinks on the in-flight menu while the other was cheerfully blathering on about the hotel they were staying in having a pool and would it even stretch to a sauna? Frank could be desperately nosy, and longed to ask whether they were off on a honeymoon or simply a romantic weekend, and where would their trip take them once they’d landed at East Midlands? Would they be anywhere near where his daughter and her family were based, by any chance? If so, he’d be able to recommend them a few nice restaurants he’d been to, and some Irish pubs which weren’t really very Irish, but still nice enough establishments.

Every word was on the tip of his tongue, but Frank couldn’t bring himself to say it. It would be interrupting, and they’d turn and chat to him, when he wanted them to stay talking inanely to one another, sharing kisses on jawlines and the odd squeeze of a hand, touch of an arm. He didn’t want to disturb their peace: it reminded him so of the way he and Margaret used to look at one another.

When you’ve been married forty-five, Frank thought, six years is really nothing at all. It wasn’t as though he thought of Maggie constantly as he had done for months on end when he’d met her, but she was always there: her presence in the back of his mind, the empty space on the electric blanket beside him, her cooking he could no longer taste and just the general assumption that if he could ask her a question when he wasn’t sure of something, she’d know exactly what to do. She’d always had an answer or a way round whatever Frank was struggling with. She was very… resourceful, he supposed. Clever. Quick.

He realised he was still staring at the couple as hot, babyish tears threatened to spill past his glasses and give the game away to everyone that he would never look at anyone again the way that couple were looking at each other. The tears would reveal to anyone who cared to watch that no, he couldn’t cope, no, he wasn’t moving along so nicely and enjoying an active social life, and that no… time didn’t completely heal all. Whoever had told him that at the newsagent’s three weeks after Maggie’s death had perhaps been under the impression that she wasn’t his wife, but rather a beloved family pet.

The plane gave a small, unfriendly jolt as it began to shift into take-off. Frank blinked hard and the tears left him, thank God. The journey did seem a little shorter and safer if he could visualise Amanda, Tom and their daughter Sinead waiting at the airport. It always brightened a journey knowing you were going to be met at the other end. Frank would swing cheerfully through Arrivals with his cabin-sized bag and raincoat over his arm. Tom would take the bag so Frank could pick Sinead up—now seven and getting fairly big—and Amanda would kiss his cheek, her hands proudly folded over the swell of her pregnant belly, stages of which he had only seen thus far on the iPad.

The thought of the cup of tea, the boisterous family home, the warm bed and the chat gave him a much more settled feeling for the journey ahead. Somewhere behind him a voice like chalk was whispering “What is that aul’ fella starin’ at?”

Frank wrinkled his brow. Dublin South, talking about… him?

He glanced round, craning his neck slightly, and a young woman with poorly-dyed red hair and several pieces of metal attached at various points to her ears was sitting back in her seat across the aisle and eyeing him beadily. Quickly, Frank turned, not wanting to engage the screechy voice in conversation. She called out to him anyway:

“What’s the problem, haven’t seen people in love before? It’s natural, nothing to stare at, no matter who they are.”

Another voice replied to her, slightly less harsh but just as obvious: “The older generation don’t understand. Leave him be. They don’t see many gay couples out and about probably.”

It was only then that Frank realised why he’d caused such a ruckus. It wasn’t because he’d been staring—though, granted, that was a rather stupidly rude thing to be doing at a pair of strangers on a plane—but because the couple he’d been staring at were two men.

He wondered that it hadn’t occurred to him before. Perhaps because his neighbours were two men who had recently become civil partners and Frank often called round for some tea… perhaps spending so long in the company of that particular couple, and not having Maggie around for so many years, had made him forget that two men on a romantic trip together wasn’t what the world might call “the norm”. Or maybe it was because, in Frank’s defence, neither of the men had looked especially masculine or feminine one way or the other. But Frank thought that the overriding element in the whole sorry saga was perhaps that he hadn’t bothered to look at the couple properly, wholly… he’d been looking at their eyes as they gazed at one another, their lips as they smiled secretively, and their hands as they touched one other with such gentleness they might have been handling Maggie’s willow pattern tea set.

If he’d looked at the wider picture, rather than just the love element, of course he’d have seen straight away. And he’d have realised his staring might have been deemed offensive. He wanted to correct his fellow passengers, explain what he’d really been looking at, even perhaps mention, though he didn’t want to be that sort of person and always kept politics to himself, that he had of course voted “Yes” in the referendum. But in the end, he kept his mouth shut. Unlike his wife of forty-five years (fifty-one if you counted the last six, and he did count them), Frank was sometimes at a loss of what to say and worried it might all come out wrong and make the situation worse.

In any case, he thought with relief, the couple hadn’t noticed. They were too wrapped up in each other with all the wonder and excitement of first love he remembered himself over fifty years later.

Friday, 31 July 2015

A Summer Quite Alone


Don’t be put off by the title—this isn’t a post about breaking up, losing a loved one, or being depressed. It’s about the fact that I’ve decided to live in Norwich, where I study, for the next couple of months on my own before term starts in September. The reasons for this are threefold: I love the city a lot and there’s not much going in rural Ireland, my other option, plus I was paying rent for a lease that began 1st July so decided to get my money’s worth, and finally… I have never had a job before and thought it was high time I got stuck into finding one.

I’ve lived rurally since I was twelve, in a country where for most of that time 1 in 3 people was unemployed, so it was a disheartening thought to even look for work there… and besides, I’m lucky enough that most of the time, I was in a position where it wasn’t essential for me to work. As I’ve always worked very hard at school, and homework and revision as well as other commitments like theatre productions took up most of my time, I didn’t really even notice that I didn’t have the sort of part-time job many of my UK peers would have looked for since the age of sixteen.

By the end of First Year, however, and going on nineteen years of age, it was high time I looked for some employment. This was not only to help me fund my next year at Uni a bit more comfortably, taking at least some of the pressure off my parents—and yes, those of you who think middle-class students don’t need financial aid… it is pressure for the parents, particularly those on pensions as it is. So I made it my goal for the following year that when my dad asked if I needed any money, I’d be able to say—truthfully—that I was fine, I was looking after myself.

Secondly, things on my CV were beginning to look a little bleak. It’s chock-a-block, more so than most people, but I suppose being in films and plays, having an online writing portfolio and running small businesses, however successfully, is not the sort of paid, nine-to-five experience many employers I’ve come into contact with are looking for.  


After countless phonecalls, CV printing and re-printing with the correct phone number, trailing the streets of Norwich, attending recruitment days and interviews, and filling in countless online applications with bizarre personality quizzes only increasing in their intrusiveness, I finally found something that I could do, and that all my experience could actually help me with. Thus, I have found my calling. I am a charity telesales advisor. This was possibly the best interview I have had in my life: my years of improvising, learning scripts, selling products and generally communicating with people of all ages and backgrounds, finally paid off, and I was telephoned about an hour after the interview informing me I could begin training on Monday.

So in the past three weeks, I have gone from never having had a job in my life, to having two—I had my first shift at a local pub last weekend. Since my primary job is as someone a large proportion of people across the UK hate, doing bar work comes as a blessed relief: I am actually selling people things they want to buy, and however many stupid questions I asked or foam I wiped on my skirt throughout the first day, customers were alarmingly patient and helpful…and I survived.  

Training at the call centre went fairly quickly. We built up pitches, reeled off our compliance, practised using the computer system and learned tremendous facts about the charities we work on behalf of. It all came fairly naturally to me during the training, and I got to know some really lovely colleagues who helped me survive the training week.

 

Nothing, however, could have prepared me for my first few days on “the floor”. The countless answer-machines, those who sigh and hang up as soon as they hear the word “charity”, those who ask to be called back and don’t pick up the phone, others who demand to know how you got their number and insist they are being “hounded” as they have to deal with at least three calls a year. I’ve had people tell me the charities I try to fundraise for are fighting a losing battle, providing help to those who don’t deserve it, and neglecting those who do. I’ve been told my facts are wrong by people claiming to be experts—only to find that I was right all along, but because I sound young and perhaps female, I am not taken seriously by those with professional careers. However, I’ve found being female does make people slightly less aggressive towards one. So that’s something at least.

I’ve also been brought close to tears by people with stories of losing loved ones to some of the things my charities try to prevent. I’ve been told that I am doing a wonderful job, a hard job, and that even though some people can’t afford to give, they will do the best they can and pray for me. I have laughed through conversations about sponsored swims, vegetable gardens, charity shops and an elderly lady’s warring cats. I have empathised with lonely people who just need a chat about how much we miss our families who live far away. Most importantly I have been afforded a rare glimpse into people’s lives. For every rude, hard-done-by person recipient, for every hang-up or answerphone, it only takes one pleasant conversation to make the day go that much quicker.


So at present, the majority of my time is taken up by speaking into a headset and processing calls, or being told by people that it’s fairly obvious I’ve never worked behind a bar before but that’s totally OK, I’m picking things up very quickly, and that the gin is usually kept on the left shelf… yes, just there. Apart from that, and apart from the occasional visit from my boyfriend and skype conversation with my parents, I have been living quite alone.

Normally I adore being alone, but this time it has taken quite some time to get used to. When exhausted for work sometimes it would be preferable to have someone else make me a cup of tea, listen to my complaints and give me a hug. And yes, sometimes it’s scary being on my own and when the central heating makes an odd noise in the middle of the night, it’s easier to deal with if someone else is there. Especially when where I’m living is so unfamiliar and new.

 

For the most part, however, being alone is as I remember it. Time to read books—whichever books I choose, more on that later, and process my thoughts to their full capacity. Time to get back in touch with friends and family I haven’t spoken to in a while. Time to cook all by myself, exactly what I like to eat. Time to focus on my own body, health and exercise routine without worrying about looking silly in front of other people. And time to make a start on all those things I’ve been planning for ages but have yet to put into action. Yes, I am so looking forward to a full house, to my friends returning as a welcome “swarm” into town for the new semester, to noise and activity everywhere and so many people to catch up with. But for now, I’m enjoying keeping all this to myself.

 

This summer, there will also be plenty of time to get to know Norwich a little better, this city I look at from the bus and smile to myself because I feel so happy and at home here. With this in mind, the next posts I write will probably be centred around enjoying summer in the city and all there is to behold.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Comfort Food: Creamy Chicken and Coconut Curry...


Those of us who cook—or should I say, those of us who find intense love and joy in cooking—are incredibly lucky. We have the privilege of being able to seek solace in something so everyday. It means you have something special. It means that when you’re having the worst few days in the world, you can lie in bed listening to the Bridesmaids soundtrack having done and eaten barely anything the day before, and just before you switch to Will Young you drag yourself up, take a shower, and announce that “I’m going to cook.”

And when it’s raining outside even though it promised to be summer and copious cups of tea don’t seem to be cutting it, you want to create something wholesome and warming that will fill your empty hole, even if only temporarily.

Cooking can combine comforting methodical acts: calmly chopping and slicing, stirring, experiencing familiar sounds and smells… but it can also allow you to become creative even when you feel absolutely useless. It reminds you that no matter how bad things seem, you can always create something beautiful.

Today, my something beautiful happened to be a sweet potato, chicken and coconut curry. Creamy, comforting, gently spiced and delicious.


Serves 3—4

INGREDIENTS:

Hot chilli powder (2 tsp)

Cumin (3 tsp)

Ground coriander (1 tsp)

Ground ginger (1 tsp)

Salt and pepper if desired

A clove of garlic

1 large chicken breast

2 medium onions

1 cup dessicated coconut

2 cups hot water

3 tablespoons of lentils

500ml chicken stock

Milk or cream (optional)

Olive oil

1 tablespoon flour


METHOD:


1)      Begin by adding the hot water to the dessicated coconut, and leaving aside in a jug or bowl. The water will be absorbed which will both soften the coconut and also produce a milky liquid, both of which will be added to the curry.

2)      Add the spices and garlic to some oil in a roomy pan.

3)      Dice the chicken and add it to the pan. I suppose at this point you could set aside as a marinade, but I was in no mood for marinating today, I can tell you.

4)      Heat the pan, occasionally stirring, until the chicken is white through and fully covered in spices.

5)      Meanwhile, peel and dice the sweet potato and onions.

6)      Add the vegetables to the chicken along with a spoonful of flour. Stir and allow to sweat for a few minutes.

7)      Add the chicken stock and lentils and bring to the boil. Simmer for fifteen minutes.

8)      Squeeze down the coconut with a spoon so you can pour all the liquid into the pot. Then stir in the coconut itself.

9)      Allow the curry to simmer until the lentils are absorbed and the chicken and sweet potatoes are tender.

10)   Add some milk or cream just before serving if desired. Try this recipe with boiled white or brown rice or naan bread and your favourite chutney.







This ought to warm one up on a miserable day, inside or out…

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Good Things In: Wholemeal Banana Pancakes

In an effort to put good things into my body which will show on the outside, here's a recipe I came up with the other day for a healthy brunch.

These pancakes include protein, fibre, calcium, D vitamins, potassium, many more good things and, if you're careful with your oil in the pan, not a lot of fat. Such a simple recipe proves that including these things in your diet needn't be overly complicated!


INGREDIENTS:

1 banana (preferably soft)
1 egg
A small cup of coarse wholemeal flour
A small cup of  plain flour
A cup of milk
A teaspoon of oil per pancake

(Proportions intentionally vague depending on the desired thickness of your pancakes)


METHOD:

1) Mash the banana thoroughly with a fork in a roomy bowl or jug. Then beat in the egg.

2) Stir some flour into the banana/egg mixture and then alternately add milk and flour, using  fork to beat this.

3) Keep incorporating milk until the batter is as thin or thick as you'd like.

4) Heat a spoon of oil in a frying pan (preferably non-stick). I used sunflower oil as I find olive oil leaves a funny taste in sweet dishes, though it is considered healthiest for the heart! As long as you stay away from animal fats however, you should be fine.

5) Cook the pancakes til brown on both sides.

6) I squeezed some lemon juice on to mine. There was no need for sugar or sweetener since the banana made the pancakes themselves quite sweet-tasting.

7) I also served with some natural yoghurt (Glenisk, as I always have when I'm in Ireland) which contains, among other body-loving things, bacteria to aid digestion.




Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Back in the Kitchen: Checkerboard Chic





Oh how I have missed having a roomy kitchen to myself, my favourite ingredients at my fingertips and a fully-functioning oven!

As soon as I got home I was excited to bake something again. I've loved food and cooking for as long as I can remember, and when someone at Uni recently said to me "Oh so you quite like cooking?" I was shocked. It has always been something known about me, one of my biggest characteristics, but of course I haven't been able to show off my enthusiasm and love for all things culinary for a long time, save for the odd lemon drizzle cake constructed using only a microwave and the power of prayer.

Once this wish was expressed, mum spent days suggesting her old favourite cakes, pies, biscuits and buns... my "standbys", if you will. But I was in the mood for something a tad more adventurous.

I decided to make a chocolate and vanilla "chessboard" cake, with buttercream icing and chocolate decorations.

The chessboard effect was a fiddly one to get right, and I think it is testament to maturity that I only recall swearing once or twice during its construction.

The baking itself was incredibly simple. I made two small vanilla sponges and two chocolate sponges with a hint of coffee to both darken the colour and bring out the flavour of the chocolate. I then left the sponges to cool and firm up overnight.

I then took a template from this website which helped me figure out the construction. It was a lot simpler than I'd imagined. I placed the sponges one on top of the other, used cookie cutters as templates, and cut two circles from each. They were all a little lopsided, but equally so so it didn't matter too much.

It was then simply a case of alternating the circles, as the website shows.

I made vanilla buttercream (1 part butter, 2 parts icing sugar, a splash of milk and Madagascan vanilla extract), and spread it thinly between each layer before using it to cover the whole cake (and fill any unsightly gaps!)


As you can see, the icing was far from perfect, but I had plans for decoration anyway.

With melted chocolate on greaseproof paper, I made some hearts and other designs to harden in the fridge, peeling off the paper when set and placing them on top of the cake.

I then made some simple biscuits (recipe here, one use fairly regularly), and half-covered each with more chocolate. I did this by using the edge of some normal printer paper to cover half of each biscuit.



The heart shapes were cut freehand.

I'd highly recommend the "Fin Carré" cooking chocolate I used, which was 55% cocoa and is available in Lidl. It melted and set divinely, was lovely and smooth, and actually tasted like real chocolate! (I haven't even been paid to say this, but that said if Lidl care to reimburse me I would be most interested).

The biscuits were then stuck round the edge of the cake with a dab of chocolate, et voila!



This recipe wasn't actually too complex, just took a little time, patience and planning. Nonetheless, it still had the "wow" factor when I invited the neighbours round to help eat it as I attempt to reduce my waistline!

Next week I'm going to make a simple Victoria sponge with cream by special request for Father's Day.




Monday, 15 June 2015

Busy Little Life: Bigger and Busier


About halfway through February, I came to the mini heart-attack inducing realisation that I had only planned my life up until 2014. Since then, I appear to have been coasting along, which for an avid list-maker who likes to have everything planned days if not weeks in advance, can be rather disconcerting.

Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed my “time off” immensely. Knowing that if I spend a whole day doing nothing, or whatever I choose, it won’t have a huge impact on my life, can be a comforting feeling. As can learning to be a bit more spontaneous, throwing the bare essentials into a bag and jumping on a train at five minutes’ notice… it can, of course, be fun to live with fewer responsibilities. In fact, having to learn to “adult” has gone hand in hand with cutting down on my other concerns. It means that, in between frustrated phone calls with Student Finance, five different attempts to register to vote in two different countries, and numerous hours of job-hunting, I have been able to relax, which is something I’ve often been known to neglect.

I can’t deny, however, that I have missed being the “yes”, the “I can do that” person. And while I don’t regret or feel guilty about my comparatively un-busy year, there remains a niggling feeling that perhaps I could have been more involved in that society, or put more effort into this area (yes, my blog and its readers come into that category).

While things felt a little dire a couple of years ago when I would set my alarm clock before I went to bed to go off about six hours later, I miss being the person who was working on two drama productions, doing all my schoolwork to the best of my ability, running a successful blog, trying to write a “book” and starting my own mini-business with a friend. I did on many occasions feel run off my feet, find it hard to switch off my mind… but I felt so productive.

When I got into revision for my one exam—life’s beautiful—in May, I am ashamed to say that I rather enjoyed myself. I’ve always been a bit of a nerd when it comes to school, and as I sat at my desk contentedly highlighting, drawing arrows and scribbling key words on my freshly-printed sheets of notes, I felt oddly at peace with the world. In my revision, unlike in most other areas of my life, I was completely in control. It’s hard to admit for someone who tries to exude a cool, calm exterior and puts forward the idea that they are a relaxed, rational human being, but there is definitely some sort of gremlin in my brain that thrives from being in control.

I make lists, I timetable myself, I prioritise, I have a compulsive need to get things done. And it’s awful. And it feels amazing.

I have therefore set myself a seemingly impossible mountain of tasks for next year outside my degree which, while open to failures and missed targets, should just about keep me satisfied.

I’m co-editor of a section of my student newspaper. I’m starting my own society within the university. I’m going to try and produce my own show for the university’s TV society. I’m taking an online TEFL course so I can teach English abroad next summer. I’m trying to get through as many books as possible to review for this very blog. I’m also going to write a big block of posts I can share with you all over the coming months, because I never want to neglect this website again. For the summer, I’m going to try and improve my health and fitness after a crazy year as a lazy fresher, and practise making some more vlogs which I hope to share if they go any way other than terribly. There’s also a chance that I will go from having no proper job to one if not two.

I’m going to be grabbing life with both hands like I used to. And to be honest, I’m a bit scared about it.  

First things first, however, I need to ice the cake I’ve just made. Such a thrill seeker, I am…

Sunday, 7 June 2015

My First Troll and My Thick Skin


A while ago I achieved what can only be described as a milestone for any writer… my first ever internet troll. It was a comment on an article I’d written which had been published online, and made various points which suggested my article hadn’t been fully understood—perhaps my fault as a writer, perhaps theirs as a reader—as well as the inevitable attack on myself as a person by a complete stranger.

I wasn’t really surprised by the troll’s comments, the internet being what it is, but what did surprise me was that, with total honesty toward myself, I didn’t care. In fact, I felt rather important. Maybe it was to do with the fact that I read the comment while relaxing with a coffee in a sunny conservatory with someone who doesn’t agree with such aggressive opinions, but I think that apart from being in quite a good place in life, it’s also due to developing a bit of a thick skin in my old age—after all, I’ll be nineteen in a few weeks.

My first semester at University seemed rather idyllic after a very trying year. I loved almost every sngle moment, and felt I’d finally broken out of the funk I’d been in when finishing school. However during the second semester, no longer shiny and new and exciting, the cracks began to show. Still having by and large a lovely time, things began to happen that brought me down from the incredible high I’d been on for months. More recently, I began to panic as my present began to resemble my past. Was I simply going round in circles? And if so, what was the point?

Short answer: yes. Life is full of circles. You will meet versions of people and experience versions of events for pretty much your entire life: the good and the bad. Life can go absolutely swimmingly and then turn a little sour, but by the very nature of a circle, tends to pick up again after a time. Everything can seem much the same, and life doesn’t seem to have undergone as dramatic a change as you first thought.

As it turns out, it’s not really “life” that’s supposed to change. It’s you. And I have. The way I deal with problems that are thrown up has improved as I grow, and each time I become more confident and optimistic about my ability to deal with being scared and brought down.

The key (cue that unsolicited advice I so love to give in my writing, for better or for worse), I have found, is to retain focus on yourself and remember that no matter what goes on around you, you do not become a different person. If I tell you something bad about yourself, does this necessarily make it true? Similarly, if you’re feeling left out by one or two friends, does this mean everyone else in your life loves you any less? Focusing on my own qualities has helped me realise that even when things aren’t going to plan, this does not impact on who I am as a person. I become no less intelligent, hardworking, or kind-hearted. I do not let these things change me, except when I choose to learn from them. I am still myself, and for the most part I am much cared for and loved by those that know me (Good for me, right?).

Take my lovely troll as an example: it’s one person’s opinion against at least a hundred. Why on earth should it matter? It’s also worth mentioning that the article I wrote was more opinionated than I would have dared to have published a year ago.

So much like the hopeless-at-first female in a generic rom-com, I have gone through my own little “emotional arc” and recognised, with the greatest of cheese*, that it’s not my situation that needs to change all the time, merely my attitude toward myself and the durability of my skin.

So right now, things have been better, but things have definitely been a lot worse. And that’s probably quite a good mindset to have…

...until the next time…

 
 

 Here is a picture of my smile from when I took part in #100happydays on Instagram (only reaching day 50 because I became a lazy student) almost a year ago. The smile sometimes goes away for a while, but comes back quicker each time. Circles, innit…

(Instagram @catherineannmk)


*Edit: Or rather, the "grate-est" of cheese... pun courtesy of Eliott Simpson (http://sockcrumbs.tumblr.com)

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Follow me on Bloglovin'!

<a href="http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/12787829/?claim=577gz9kkuy3">Follow my blog with Bloglovin</a>


H everyone,

Just a quick note to let you know that you can now follow "Catherine Ann Minnock" on a site called Bloglovin', where you can essentially create a feed of our favourite writers and blogs. I use it all the time to keep up to date with various categories of website.

If you have a blog you think I'd be interested in, please let me know so I can give you a follow!

All the best,

Catherine Ann x

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

From the Previous Occupant

Although we've still got a month left in halls here at University, organising travel plans and figuring out what to do with all my worldly possessions has made me think about what it will be like to leave the room I've lived in since September. Here's a letter I've written to the next occupant.
 
Dear Occupant,
Wardrobe slightly unstable. Rail liable to collapse leaving clothes all over floor. If occurs, pick up clothes and slide the rail back in from the LEFT, not the right. Desk fine. Bed uncomfortable—recommend mattress protector or purchase of new spine. If room too hot as is often case—halfway between menopause and Mordor on occasional mornings—open door and window to allow cross-breeze. Fan often works. No central light but lamp blindingly powerful. V. noisy room as next to the kitchen. Possibility of broken nights on Tues, Wed, Thurs, Fri, Sat. Recommend acquiring friends/partner(s) with quieter flats. Pin board functional for all your pinning needs. Storage good for clothes, food stashes and miscellaneous fancy dress items e.g. tutus, assorted hats.

Internet connection fairly reliable and may be used for tearful Skype conversations to mum and dad, or best friend from home who is only one that understands. Bed, if duvet appropriate, possible to lay on and break down after particularly tough day/week/month. Door locks against undesirable visitors who desire to know all secrets, and refuse to leave until they have found them out.

Enjoy this room. Arguments may take place in this room. High likelihood you will cry in this room, or sit still and think about decisions made in this room. You may shut windows, doors and curtains against the world and hide in this room. You may have days when you resent this room, its dingy carpet and tasteless curtains, and wish that you were, perhaps not at home, but at least somewhere else entirely. Momentary panics will take place within this room that everything is swirling into reverse and this is just like secondary school all over again. But it won’t be.

This room will cater for funny moments, you-had-to-be-there moments, sensitive moments, sad moments, ecstatic moments, and oh-my-god-never-again moments. It will cater for firsts, for lasts, for good and bad decisions, and for one-offs.

This room is ideal for leaning on the shoulder of a new best friend and talking about all the changes that are happening around you. For eventually falling into a tipsy sleep while sharing, not exactly secrets, but things you never thought about telling anyone. For scrawling notes and plans for coursework and life before bolting out the door in the vague direction of fun. For putting on lipstick in front of the mirror which will make your whole day a little brighter. For the loud. For the quiet. For a private moment with friends in the midst of a party. For talking over a film and then telling each other off for talking over it. For telling your worries to a neighbour and hearing about theirs. For endless cups of tea and glasses of wine. For getting to know people that little bit better. For half-remembered incidents when everyone barely knew everyone else. For sitting, talking, waiting, and a first kiss.

Make the most of this room. Because though I am ready to move on to a world of working ovens, washing machines, one or two peaceful nights’ sleep and moments of privacy, I know that I will miss this room. This room is where it all began.

Yours,

The Previous Occupant.