Month: September 2014

My niece is considering Exeter. She is in the upper sixth (Year 13 in new money). I am a former student of that University so she was happy for me to join her and my sister on the open day. As I had been there 1990-1994 I was eager to go with her and visit the city I had lived in for three years of my life.  Living quite a long way from Exeter now, I don’t get many chances to visit.

Before going, I hadn’t quite expected to feel as much emotion as I did at seeing the University grounds. I had made some visits to parts of the University since leaving but only for short periods, usually en route from the seaside resorts of Devon to back home. This was the first time in twenty years I’d had the chance to walk all over campus, mingle with people of student age, visit the shop, smell the library (yes, it really does smell the same), wander around halls of residence dwellings and walk up the hill to the gym.

Me in 1990 (Can you spot Radio 5's Russell Fuller in the background?)

Me in 1990 (Can you spot Radio 5’s Russell Fuller in the background?)

When I was young, as most people when they are young, I thought nostalgia was a little bit sad in the pathetic sense. To me back then, nostalgia meant parents and friends’ parents putting on records from the 1960s and looking wistfully into each other’s eyes, perhaps doing a little bit of embarrassing dancing around the sitting room. It was eye-rollingly cringey. Somehow, I, along with my contemporaries, thought I’d be immune to nostalgia. Then a few years passed. I got a proper job, got married, had children and sprouted a few grey hairs. The 1990s turned into the new century, and time didn’t stop there. It kept going. Suddenly, I found myself in the year 2014.

This is what nostalgia makes me think of: parents dancing

This is what nostalgia makes me think of: parents dancing

Nostalgia has finally caught up with me now at the age of forty-two. Perhaps at a certain age this is inevitable. I am starting to think that this is true.

Walking around the main campus at Exeter evoked strong memories of my time as a student there: Friday Night Lemmy, cider in plastic pint cups, coffee in DH, withdrawing £5 from the Midland Bank machine, walking up cardiac hill and mutant baked beans in Hope Hall. Visiting the accommodation block I stayed in during my final year, I turned into gibbering sad old almost-middle-aged wreck. Meandering from the main campus to the house I lived in for my first year brought forth the strongest memories of all. As I did that walk, as a forty-something year old with three children, I saw the eighteen-year-old me walking with dread, clutching my folder, to the weekly mathematics for economists lecture, hoping that there might be a letter from my best friend in the pigeon hole in the main dining hall waiting for me.

Me and three handsome young men eating huge pizzas

Me and three handsome young men eating huge pizzas

I told almost everyone we came across at that open day: ‘I came to Exeter in the early 1990s!’ I would have thought me very sad twenty years ago. I knew I was being sad yet I couldn’t stop myself, I couldn’t contain my excitement. I saw myself through my niece’s seventeen-year-old eyes and I cringed.

Just before we left, I bought an Exeter University lanyard, an Exeter University mug and an Exeter University bag. I am sad and I don’t care. I like nostalgia.

My Exeter souvenirs

My Exeter souvenirs

Now time to put on some Stone Roses, an old pair of DMs and dance around the sitting room. Perhaps my three children will be suitably embarrassed, thinking that they are immune to nostalgia too.

These guys were very present during my university days

These guys were very present during my university days


Weird thoughts about travelling by plane

I’ve recently made a return seven-hour flight and this has provoked a number of weird thoughts while in the facilities on board (which in themselves have the potential to provoke many weird thoughts but that’s another blog).


Flying gives you wind

There are a number of reasons for this.

  • Higher levels of anxiety (I’m sure flying for most people entails a slightly heightened sense of nervousness) leads to more air being swallowed.
  • Air in the intestines expands as one attains height. When altitude goes up, pressure goes down. According to the thermodynamic principal known as the ‘ideal gas law,’ as pressure decreases, volume increases, hence: more wind.
  • Food is generally dished up and eaten in a hurry resulting in even more air being swallowed.
Wind helps the plane go faster

Wind helps the plane go faster

I don’t find this increase in in-body air painful, but I do worry about the effect it has on my neighbouring passengers. However, scientists believe that we should let loose on this ailment and not try to hold back. I’m just glad that planes are noisy.


Flying gives you the snots

At least it does for me.

See second point above, as altitude increases, pressure decreases and volume increases.

Don't pick it just because you are 3,000 feet up

Don’t pick it just because you are 3,000 feet up


Flying makes you fat

When you take a flight anywhere further away than London to Paris, you will find yourself being constantly dished up with meals whether you like it or not. On the flight out of the journey I’ve just taken we started off with a mini bag of crisps and a drink, then we were fed a three-course meal, then three hours later we were given afternoon tea. On the way home, we only got two main meals but the breakfast came at what our body clocks felt was 2.30am. I do not want breakfast at 2.30am, ever.

The food is good, and gives you wind

The food is good, and gives you wind

Flying makes you fat also because you are strapped into a chair for seven hours plus at a stretch. They need to start making larger chairs or run some sort of in-flight sitting exercise class.

This was the menu on the way home

This was the menu on the way home


In-flight attendants should be allowed to wear jogging bottoms and t-shirts, albeit stylish ones

I really felt for the Virgin Atlantic cabin crew on my recent journey having to totter up and down the aisles in their high heals, tight jackets and even tighter pencil skirts. They did not look comfortable. They also wear figure-hugging white blouses and are immaculately made up. Their hair is pristine. This is all well and good if you live in the 1950s but really, give these girls a break! Let them wear jogging bottoms.

There's no way I could fly wearing this outfit

There’s no way I could fly wearing this outfit

I may moan but secretly although I find flying a little anxiety inducing, I quite like the chance to sit for seven hours and DO NOTHING beyond watching films, eating, sleeping, reading, botty burping and people watching.

I have a worm in my head

This is the weird thought of today. I really do have an evil worm living in my head.

I woke up today with a Zumba tune in my head. It was this one. This is one of the songs we dance to at Zumba on a Monday night. Even though yesterday was Tuesday, I woke up today (Wednesday) with this playing vividly in my brain. Even my legs were trying to do the moves under the duvet. Why did my brain store this tune in my head for over 24 hours before deciding to press play? What does it all mean? It is still playing now, 14 hours since I woke up.

My earworm likes Zumba for the catchy tunes

My earworm likes Zumba for the catchy tunes

I have read about this phenomenon. I can’t remember what the book in which I read about it was called but I think it was by Oliver Sachs. The Germans have a word for this phenomenon: ohrwurm. The best translation in English would be ‘earworm’ (there is even a website which collects people’s earworms). I like this idea. The image of a parasite in my head replaying the music of my waking hours appeals to me. It is a little creepy. It is slightly akin to madness, something I feel I teeter on the edge of most of the time. But it also puts the endless music playing out of my control. It’s not me, it’s my earworm.

I think I am very vulnerable to the evil of my earworm. I’ve spent quite a few sleepless nights thanks to my earworm’s antics. Memorably one night it played this song at me until 3am. At which point I was ready to pay good money to get some peace.

This lady's catchy song gave me insomnia

This lady’s catchy song gave me insomnia

I also remember one night, circa 1983, spending a few hours hitting my head with a pillow in an attempt to get this song out of my head.

Let me sleep, Billy!

Let me sleep, Billy!

The earworm is cruel. It rarely plays the whole song. More often than not it just plays one or two lines or just the chorus.

There are a number of theories about the earworm. Researchers at Dartmouth University in the US discovered that when they played part of a familiar song to people, their auditory cortex automatically continued to play the song.  Playing the song in your head is a bit like scratching a mosquito bite, the more you play (or scratch) the worse the itch is. Another theory is that the brain likes to replay songs when it’s left idle for too long. That is all well and good but when I’m asleep or trying to sleep I want my brain to be idle not playing One Direction at me.

The best song ever? At 3am? Not thanks

The best song ever? At 3am? No thanks

James Kellaris from the University of Cincinnati College of Business Administration reckons that women, musicians and people who are neurotic, tired or stressed are the most prone to their earworms. That’s me doomed then.

My favourite song is 'There's a Worm at the Bottom of My Garden'.

My favourite song is ‘There’s a Worm at the Bottom of My Garden’.

I wonder what my earworm will play tonight?

What white cats think during adolescence

Last night I was watching my cat, who is ginger, black and white, washing herself on the sofa. It is very relaxing watching my cat. She seems to have such a simple life. All she does is eat, sleep, wash herself and wonder around the garden admiring the bird life.

The most chilled cat in Shrewsbury

The most chilled cat in Shrewsbury

I find her washing herself mesmerizing. She seems to know exactly what she needs to do. She spends the right amount of time and effort washing each part of her: left paw, right paw, neck, nethers, tail, stomach, ears, nose, stomach and sides. She seems to have the right amount of spit for the job. And she always looks clean to me. She always smells of clean cat. I like the smell of clean cat. (Incidentally, f it wasn’t for the smell of clean cat then we wouldn’t even have cats as pets. Its a long story, but basically because the Romans decided that cats were better than weasels as pest controllers on account of the fact that they smelt nicer, and then brought them over to Britain when they conquered our lands, we have the lovely cute, cuddly cats as we know them today.)

A Roman Cat

A Roman Cat

Then I had a weird thought. Do all white kittens, as they grow up and they learn that they have to groom themselves, come to the sudden realisation that being born a white kitten is actually a bit of a bummer in the washing department? Surely they have to spend longer than the average cat on washing and grooming? If you are a white cat, everyone can see the dirt. So you must wash, and keep washing, all day every day.

Like the Forth Bridge, once you finish, you have to start at the beginning

Like the Forth Bridge, once you finish, you have to start at the beginning

Do they therefore feel jealously for their more multi-coloured brothers and sisters?

The solution to arduous cat cleaning - don't try this at home

The solution to arduous cat cleaning – don’t try this at home

White cats may take better selfies than black cats (or so some believe, I don’t share this belief), they still lose out because they have to spend much longer than black cats washing themselves in preparation for their amazing selfies. What sort of cat would you rather be? I think I know what I’d like to be.

Takes me ten minutes to get this look - and I take brilliant selfies

Takes me ten minutes to get this look – and I take brilliant selfies


Why do parents often feel more anxious about the first day of school than their children?

This was today’s thought after I dropped off my three children at school for their first day back (so before I even had the chance to visit the usual place). My stomach was in knots, my eyes tingly and the thought of returning to an empty house was almost (not quite almost) unbearable. I’d had a bad night’s sleep interrupted by a banging headache, a churning stomach and a restless cat. Was I ill? No, I was suffering from first day back nerves.

So why, when I was not doing anything much different from yesterday except getting dressed before 11am, was I feeling so anxious? I know that I am not alone in my first day back anxiety. Facebook has been littered with emotional statuses from parents about children starting infants, juniors, Year 5, secondary school, Year 8, Year 10 or whatever.

Three boys feeling relaxed about school today

Three boys feeling relaxed about school today

I wonder how nervous the children feel? I’m sure some feel nervous. My eldest gets a bit worried after the long break. My youngest, who was starting school today, seemed nonplussed about the significance of today. As far as he was concerned, he was just going back to the same building as where nursery is, albeit in a different classroom.

Perhaps it is partly the memory of how I used to feel going back to school that makes me feel the anxiety of new starts for my children. I used to get very anxious as a child. Maybe it is the smell of new school uniforms, or the way my children look so clean and shiny (incidentally, teachers, please note my great idea of the day: arrange for school photos to be taken on the first day back as that is when the children are at their smartest).

My youngest about to go to school for the first time

My youngest about to go to school for the first time

I vividly remember that ‘first day’ feeling of being in a different classroom and being expected to act more grown up, having a new teacher and having to do more challenging work, and worrying about whether everyone would be nice to you or mean to you.

Whatever the reason for my nerves,  I found today quite tough. The house was too quiet with just the cat for company. I just hope tomorrow feels a little more normal.


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