Tag: Exeter

Little pieces scattered around – with some left to spare

I have just four days left to live. At least, that is, to live in Shrewsbury. I’ve lived here for over eight years. I’m really quite very sad to be leaving. I have just returned from a trip around town, buying parting gifts and paying in cheques and other such errands. As I was walking around, after a lovely coffee in my current favourite coffee shop, I felt that sudden, yet familiar pang of melancholy that comes with endings. My weird thought is related to that feeling (a feeling I have had before). It seems that every where I have lived, I have left a tiny piece of myself behind. That piece of me can be imagined as a big ball of emotions and memories (as opposed to, say, an arm or a leg). Most of that piece will of course remain in me but some of that will stay in the place I am leaving behind. It feels almost as if I am leaving it there so that I must return to check it is still there and it is ok.

The coffee I have just drunk

The coffee I have just drunk

This means that there is a little bit of me in Stafford (probably lurking around Walton High School or the swings on Weeping Cross). There is also a tiny piece of me in Exeter (in the Lemon Grove drinking a Diamond White – note, not in the library or in the lecture theatre in the Amory Building). And another piece of me lives in Japan (this piece is most definitely in the staff room at Iwatsuki High School eating Hershey’s kisses). Yet another lives in Oxford and another in the lovely village of Charlbury, where I lived before coming to Shrewsbury. And now I must leave another piece of me here in Shrewsbury. What remains of me, will have to travel to Muxton and then on to Newport after that. Will I need to make sure I have more pieces after that for future moves? I don’t know.

My favourite street in Shrewsbury

My favourite street in Shrewsbury

But as I say goodbye to my Shrewsbury piece, I will do so with a heavy heart. The good thing is that I won’t be too far away. I know I will be back to visit myself many, many times from this weekend onwards. I need to check that my Shrewsbury ball of emotions and memories is doing ok. I’m sure it will be.

Doesn’t everyone have a favourite motorway services?

A while ago, I wrote about my collection of roundabouts. I have roundabouts that I am fond of. I even have a favourite roundabout. I also have a favourite motorway service station (and a number of runners up). So my weird thought is: doesn’t everyone?

My favourite motorway station is Michael Wood services in Gloucestershire. I’ve just been told, by someone more aware of his surroundings than me, that Michael Wood services is actually  Michaelwood services and that Michael Wood isn’t a person, Michaelwood is a place. This has shattered my twenty-five-year-long image of my favourite services being named by some local celebrity chap called Michael. I’m not the only one who was under this illusion. Gyles Brandreth also posed this question.

The best university in the world

The best university in the world

There are a just two Michael Woods who it could have been named after (even though it isn’t): Michael Wood historian and Michael Wood Professor of Arts, Languages and Cultures at Manchester University. Sadly, though, it isn’t named after either of them. And also, even more sadly, they are one and the same person. There is only one Michael Wood. And he has no connection with Gloucestershire at all.

I wonder how often he gets asked about his motorway station?

I wonder how often he gets asked about his motorway station?

These services mark the half-way point between Stafford and Exeter on the M5 and so was a frequent stopping place for me when I was at university. I am therefore very fond of the place. My dad used to treat me to a cup of coffee and a jam doughnut there on our way to and from Exeter.

Time for a coffee?

Time for a coffee?

However, reviewers on trip advisor do not share my love for this west-country service stop:

‘I’m sorry for being negative but there is little to tempt the weary traveller here at Michaelwood services.’

‘We stopped at this services before reaching Exeter and wished we had carried on. The place is a mess.’

‘Oh dear the place looks shabby and run down.’

I haven’t been there for a while so perhaps standards have slipped. But until I do, it remains my favourite.

 

 

Why I love Facebook

I was having a debate with my husband yesterday about a mutual friend of ours who has given up Facebook. She gave it up for one month to see if she missed it. As the month ended, she decided that she hadn’t missed it and has now given it up entirely.

I argued with my husband that I couldn’t imagine giving up Facebook. There is a lot of debate in the world today about the evils of Facebook but I see it as a good friend in my life. Facebook does a number of things for me: it replaces my need for soap operas (I can’t remember the last episode of EastEnders I saw), it has brought me back in touch with friends who before Facebook I had lost (and for that I am extremely grateful) and it works to amuse and entertain me and, I hope, allows me to amuse and entertain in return. I also use it to promote my art, gain feedback on my art and annoy friends with my art. Finally, I also use it for news (the ‘end of the news’ type news, that is).

Friends lost and regained thanks to Facebook

Friends lost and regained thanks to Facebook

Then I had a a weird thought: Facebook is like university. Facebook is everything I loved about university. Being at university for me was like living in a non-virtual social network (weirdly ironic, I know), particularly when living in halls of residence. What I enjoyed about the university experience was the instant access I had to friends – I could pop into their rooms for a quick chat (instant messaging), leave a note on their door (leave a note on their wall) or just go to to student bar for half a cider and a packet of wheat crunches and listen to, and perhaps join in on, the conversations of acquaintances (scroll down my news feed).

The joy of finding a phone message left on your door at University - are those days now long gone?

The joy of finding a phone message left on your door at university – are those days now long gone?

Living in halls is a sociable experience, Facebook is a sociable experience. You don’t have to make a huge effort to be sociable in either location. It is there, omnipresent. Access is instant. When I think of the gulf of time between leaving university and logging on to Facebook for the first time I think of a time of relative solitude.

Too much time on our hands (perhas the time we'd spent on twitter now) - hand-written silliness from 1993

Too much time on our hands (perhaps the time we’d spend on twitter now) – hand-written silliness from 1993

I have no doubts, however, that the university experience is very different now to how it was in 1990. Perhaps now the virtual and real world are so close as to be almost identical.

My first year halls

My first year halls

In 1990, we had one phone between 20-odd people (a Mercury phonecard was a prized possession). We hand-wrote our essays. We read books in the library. Parties were organized by word of mouth. TV was viewed in a ‘TV room’ (and Twin Peaks enticed forth a large audience – the student bar was always empty on Twin Peaks night).

Prized possessions in the early 1990s - where are my Mercury phone cards now

Prized possessions in the early 1990s – where are my Mercury phone cards now

Facebook fills that need in me for instant friendly ‘banter’ or ‘bantaaaar‘ as the youngsters of today would say.

I could never  be like my friend, I could never give it up.

Nobody can escape nostalgia, however hard they try

This weird thought actually occurred to me three weeks ago but I haven’t had a moment spare since then in which to share my weird thought, that is until now.

Three weeks ago I joined my sister and niece on a trip to Exeter University for the open day for prospective students.

This is what Exeter University campus looks like now

This is what Exeter University campus looks like now

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

 

It’s unfair that I can’t just travel back in time…

…to spend just one day at a previous time in my life, whenever I get the urge. And I get the urge a lot. I’d only want a day, that’s not much to ask, is it?

This was the weird thought I had the other day while watching LA Story, a film I hadn’t seen for 20 years. Naturally watching this film got me reminiscing about the last time I’d watched the film (or last approx. thirty times, to be more accurate).

The film with the talking signs

The film with the talking signs

In my final year at University I lived in a flat with five friends.

Me and four of my five flatmates

Me and four of my five flatmates

Me and four of my five flamates (spot the one missing from the previous, and the extra one here)

Me and four of my five flatmates (spot the one missing from the previous, and the extra one here)

The flat had a video recorder. In those days, 1993, this was a rare treasure. However, we owned no videos between us, being the impoverished students that we were. So a friend lent us three videos to watch sporadically during the year. They were: The Life of Brian, LA Story and one other I can’t remember. We watched them all many times over during the year. We would regard watching one of these videos as a ‘special treat’. I hadn’t watched LA Story since that time (having got to the stage of knowing it line-for-line) until two nights’ ago. So that is why watching it after such a gap made me desperately wanted to go back to an evening of watching it with my flatmates.

Rowe House, Exeter, where we had access to modern technology

Rowe House, Exeter, where we had access to modern technology

My current book is a translation of a Japanese novel about two people (a student and a teacher) who meet many years after first knowing each other. They enter into a strange relationship based on their mutual disconnection from society. This relationship is largely carried out in Japanese eateries and bars, and partly on a mountain trek looking for mushrooms. There is a lot of imagery in the book of the Japanese eateries they meet in, the food they eat and the beer and sake they drink.

My current book

My current book

It is a lovely little book and vividly takes me back to my two years living in Japan (1995 to 1997). Reading this (not at the same time as watching LA Story) makes me long to step back to a day in 1995 and walk around Iwatsuki, a small town (officially a city, the city of dolls) north of Tokyo, where I lived.

Bad photo of a photo - my local video shop in Iwatsuki 'Big 10 Video'

Bad photo of a photo – my local video shop in Iwatsuki ‘Big 10 Video’

If I could go back it would be a Sunday and I’d simply walk around town and visit all my favourite places: the Big 10 Video Store (possibly to browse the Julia Roberts shelf, or the Bruce Willis shelf), the ‘philosophy’ shop (to buy milk with a straw) and Saty the department store (to take ‘puri kuraa’ (print club) photos).

Would I have time for a quick bowl of raamen before coming home? I hope so.

A very yummy bowl of raamen

A very yummy bowl of raamen

Why do I like charity shops so much?

I am back at home now and yesterday on the way home from West Wales while we were on our lunch stop I dragged my family around the charity shops of Machynlleth. Every city we go to I drag them around charity shops: Edinburgh, Plymouth, and Aberystwyth to name just three. They are used to it now. They are very tolerant.

I had to take a trip to the local public conveniences shortly after our lunch stop in Machynlleth and while there I pondered: why am I so obsessed with charity shops?

I think the answer is partly genetic, partly historical and partly nostalgia.

These books make me feel nostalgic

These books make me feel nostalgic

My family are a family of charity shop lovers. We are bargain hunters. We don’t go to ‘normal’ shops very often (unless there is a sale on). However, cheap we like but we’d rather find something of value second hand that something cheaply made selling at a low price. We favour Severn Hospice over George at Asda.

Cheap and cheerful?

Cheap and cheerful?

I’d say that about half of my clothes are second hand. I own some lovely items from Coast, Jigsaw, Mexx, Boden and White Stuff. Most of them pre-owned.I am sure my friends think I have lots of clothes (I do). I’m sure they think I am frivolous with my money (I am, but only in Oxfam).

One of my favourites in Shrewbsury

One of my favourites in Shrewbsury

My mum, sister and I meet regularly to mooch around the local charity shops. So I blame them for the genetic and historic reasons for my love of charity shops. I remember going around charity shops and factory shops as a child (being dragged around to some extent). Then I remember going through a period of rebellion against charity shops from the age of about 14 to 18, believing that charity clothes were ‘cuffy‘. Later, while living in Exeter during my degree years, I re-discovered my love of second hand, when I discovered the most amazing vintage / second-hand clothes shop called The Real McCoy (and it is still there). Shopping by myself, I’d visit that shop to feel the fabrics, try on the ball gowns, and image myself in the vintage 1960s and 1970s dresses.

Next came a few years living in Oxford and Oxford town center is weirdly devoid of charity shops. Moving to Shrewsbury was a blessing in this respect, there are lots of charity shops here and I love them all. It felt like coming home.

Where are the charity shops?

Where are the charity shops?

The final reason for my love of charity shops I think comes from my craving for nostalgia and my love of the past. I think I am secretly looking to get that feeling of nostalgia, or the uncanny as Freud would call it, that we get from finding an object that reminds us of something or somewhere else (in time or space). I love to find objects that remind me of my past. I enjoy that warm, comforting feeling of recognition (such as I had from finding the ‘rock concert‘ in New Quay). A year ago I found an ornament in Oxfam in Shrewsbury that we had had in the house when I was a child. I bought it, even though it is really quite unattractive. I had to have it. I had no need for it. But the feeling of nostalgia that seeing it had engendered in me was something I wanted to keep.

This was one of a pair of statues we owned

This was one of a pair of statues we owned

I like to browse the children’s books to find old Beanos, Blue Peter annuals or The Bash Street Kids annuals that I owned for that same reason. Looking through the pages of these books takes me straight back to my childhood. Watch out, Proust is about to rear his head again.

And here he is. I’m sure he’d be a big fan of charity shops had they had them in 19th-century France (perhaps they did).

This man again?

This man again?