Things that you appreciate more at the end of an Undergraduate Degree

I feel bad that I’ve gone through another 6 month blogging hiatus. However, in that time I have written 18,000 words of assessed essays, sat 3 exams constituting 20% of my degree within 3 days… and completed my undergraduate degree at the University of Warwick. Cut me some slack! Still, I wanted to get back on the blogging wagon, so here I am, even if it has taken me a few weeks of hitting the reset switch since my final exam to get around to doing it. This post is all about things which I have come to appreciate more now that my undergraduate degree is over. They are either things I missed because I was away at university, or, long for now that I am back home in Norfolk and removed from The Bubble. Personally, I have been glad to have certain things back in my life. But, simultaneously, I feel there are things I enjoyed at university, perhaps without realising it, that I am missing already. As I said, they are all things I appreciate more at the end of my degree. Things I appreciate having back

  • Reading for pleasure 

When you’re in the study zone, revising for hours of the day, trudging through notes and scribbling onto flashcards indefinitely, is it surprising when reading for pleasure takes a backseat? For me it certainly did. I’d been pouring over words all day, I didn’t want to add more onto my plate for these past few months! Moreover, it isn’t just the weariness of reading all day that put me off the pursuit of fiction in my spare time… it’s the way you think about what you read which put me off as well. Studying for humanities essays and exams, you critically analyse sources as a fundamental part of your higher education. At the end of my exams, I tried reading to wind down soon after. But I found no enjoyment or relaxation therein. I was over-thinking and critically interpreting the novels. My brain hadn’t switched back from exam/essay mode. And it sucked. It killed the reading experience for me. Gradually reading for pleasure came back to me. I don’t know what triggered it, but it probably came with activities which helped put a distance between me and my exams: watching crap TV, heading to the pub, going on long bike rides and eagerly returning to exercise. Since the end of my exams I have read hungrily, and it has felt amazing to read for pleasure once again.

  • Access to a dishwasher

Living with 12 people and sharing a kitchen with them hasn’t changed much since first year (I lived in the same campus accommodation in final year as I did as a fresher… made for some very strange deja vu moments). People don’t clean up after themselves, leave dirty dishes in the sink for days on end, and shared spaces deteriorate very quickly with only 2/3 inconsiderate people in a group of 12. As a bit of a clean freak, I found this particularly hard. But whatever- it’s over now, and I feel that I kept myself (relatively) in check… Although some of my housemates may disagree. Borderline psychotic Facebook group posts aside… I think I kept it together pretty well! Anyway, getting back home and having access to that magical machine known as a dishwasher was fantastic. No dreading the end of a meal because you have to stand and wash all the utensils, pots and pans. Honestly, they make life so much simpler and it’s easy to take this everyday appliance for granted.

  • Being back in the countryside

This is a matter of personal taste, of course. But as a guy from the sticks, I certainly missed big open spaces, rural quiet, and being so close to the beach. I know rural life isn’t for everyone, and living nearer to urban areas has its benefits as well… But at several times during my final year at Warwick I longed for the big skies, fresh air, scenery, and quiet that comes with living in rural East Norfolk. Even in Norwich, you’re never more than 10-15 minutes from fields and countryside! Best of both worlds if you ask me. And the beaches. Seriously, Norfolk’s beaches are so underrated. Holkham, Wells, Winterton, Sea Palling all have golden soft sand, beautiful dunes and all the makings of a sterling beach holiday destination. I think coming back from uni after my final exams made me appreciate home even more. Side note: The Telegraph recently named Noroflk the classiest county to live in! I’m glad my home county is being taken a bit more seriously, and receiving more positive, balanced press. I may be biased but I think it’s deserved!

  • Access to a car

When studying at Warwick, it was impractical and unnecessary for me to have a car. I share my Mum’s car anyway (haven’t needed my own, so never saw the point in buying one for the sake of it), so couldn’t bring it even if I desperately wanted to. However, linked to the above point about being back in the countryside, you certainly need a vehicle here to get around and enjoy things. But the ability to head off and visit friends, places or the city, in private transport, on your own time, is great to have back. I don’t really mind buses, but you have to plan your time better, and it isn’t as flexible. Moreover, especially in Noroflk, there are just some places you cannot get to because there are no public transport options which reach them! Or, they exist, but they’re so convoluted and time-consuming the impracticality makes them nigh on impossible anyway.

Things I miss having 

  • Omnipresent coffee vendors

Instant coffee does a job. But then again, so does ITV’s coverage of the World Cup… But it’s not the real mccoy. Give me coffees based on espressos and the glory of the BBC any day of the week. On campus, I was never more than a 5 minute walk from a cafe which sold proper coffee. In the foray of dissertation writing and exam revision, I came to depend slightly on the boost a strong cup of coffee in one form or another. Still, I took it for granted. Now I am back home, in a village with no coffee shops of any description, and there is an espresso cup-shaped hole in my life. Admittedly, where there’s a will there’s a way, and some of the nearby pubs or cafes must serve proper coffee. But, with the ease and low cost of campus coffee, they don’t really compare.

  • Gym access

I need fitness in my life in one form or another, and the gym is my preferred outlet for physical exercise by a long stretch. On campus I lived within sight of a very decent gym facility, had access at an extremely reasonable student rate, and enjoyed a diverse range of equipment and free weights to support whatever fitness regime I chose. Now I am back home, I do so miss the equipment required for squats, deadlifts, bench presses and so on. I looked into gym membership here but I balked at £25-40 monthly membership fees, limited equipment, and up to 40 minute drives to even reach them. I most definitely took the university gym for granted, and miss having access to it. The silver lining is I have altered my workout routine, and I am focusing on classic bodyweight exercises like pushups, pullups and dips. It’s very beneficial to change it up with exercise routines every few weeks, so in a way the lack of a gym has forced my hand here, but to my own benefit. I will be writing a separate post all about this shortly, because I really have felt the bodyweight shift has been a positive change.

  • Student Immersion

I love my family and friends back home, and the following does not detract from that at all. BUT, as a student you get used to living and working on campus, surrounded by thousands of people who are working towards similar goals as you, that are like-minded and approach life in comparable ways to you. This is not to say that there are not people like this back home, of course there are. There just isn’t a comparable concentration or volume of these people. Again, this is possibly due to living in the sticks. But as a student, I love being surrounded by other students. Being able to drift unexpectedly to a pub on a Tuesday afternoon, and for it to still have a decent amount of people and hubub going on despite the random timing makes the experience that much better. Bumping into a classmate in Tesco’s and nattering as you do your grocery shopping makes the essential but dull activity much more bearable. I’m ever so grateful to be home, but I do miss the student community.

All is not lost…. Overall, there are several things that I have come to appreciate more now that I have finished my undergraduate degree. I’m sure there are many more that I could talk about, but these were the things which came to my mind first. But, as to the things I miss having as part of student life… I’m not losing them completely, just because I’m done at Warwick. Since my last blog post I applied for post graduate study and funding in the USA. I am very pleased and excited to be undertaking an MA in Public History at New Mexico State University! This is subject to a Visa meeting at the US embassy but hopefully that will go smoothly. Otherwise everything else is pretty much in place! I cannot wait to undertake this next step, further my education, get to know a new area and new people, and study abroad all over again.

Prepare yourself USA, the Wandering Canary is coming back!

(^ Visa pending, haha!!!)

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Latitude 2012

Before you read any further, I have a quick request- please open up a new tab and watch this video as you read this post. It’s a song called “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. It’s one of my songs-of-the-festival, and what makes it even better is that I had NEVER HEARD OF THIS BAND BEFORE LATITUDE. I was persuaded to see it by two very keen friends, Lily and Anna. I turned up knowing literally nothing about them, what to expect, and they were fantastic. So, for me, this is going to become one of those tracks that whenever I hear it from now on, I will be whisked back to Henham Park, Southwold, and the Latitude Festival 2012. Which was amazing. I hope you enjoy the song, and can imagine the whole description a bit more readily with their gorgeous folky charm playing along in the background. I won’t do a journal-type entry.. it would take far too long. Instead, I want to try and give you a taster of the weekend.

Image courtesy of http://www.midaspr.co.uk/

Intro

As I mentioned in the last post, this past weekend was my first festival, and I was very excited to see what it was all about. I was going with a very close friend of mine, who I have known for very many years, called Fred.He had asked me to come along weeks ago, as a kind of wave off before I abandon him for sunny California. It was going to be his car, his tent and his company that I would benefit from over the weekend. Fred was meeting up with his girlfriend Lauren and three of their uni friends there as well. Moreover, a girl I have lived with for the first two years of uni, Lily, was there with her bestie Anna, who we would also share the festival with. I bumped into many more people besides, which is one of the good things about a local festival which can still pull in people you know at university because the line-up is so strong.

The festival actually began with shopping: Fred went and bought the tent on Thursday morning before picking me up. Typical of us in all honesty. We then had a bit of a fiasco gathering last minute purchases from Tescos and Argos-

  • baby wipes (SO glad these were included, they are invaluable during festivals),
  • chewing gum
  • the infamous “jizzy” doughnuts that Fred managed to smear all over himself within about 10 minutes of purchasing, covering himself in stains that would eventually look like… you get the picture
  • some cheap watches that we could use over the weekend if our phones ran out of battery

After gathering all these we belatedly left for Southwold. Before beginning properly, apologies in advance, but there will be very few, if any, of my own photographs of this weekend. I didn’t dare take my camera with such a bad weather forecast! Fortunately, Anna did take her SLR and captured some great snaps of the weekend, which will be dotted throughout this post. All credit is due to her for them though. Disclaimer done.

The buffoons Ben and Fred (Anna’s photo)

The considerably more photogenic Lily and Anna (Anna’s photo)

Arrival

We parked up in an expansive field, and committed to doing only one trip with ALL our possessions and supplies. We had all our gear, a brand spanking new 6-man tent (yes, for two of us, we planned to live like Kings and it’s lucky we did, as will become apparent!), and a chair. My own personal booze stash included two crates of Budweiser (the lager of the Kings in my opinion, so fitting for the high hopes we’d invested in our palace-like tent) and a bottle of vodka. Heavy stuff for a 30-40 minute walk/shuffle to the campsite. We found a spot near some food vans, a water station, and toilets- very convenient. OR so it seemed…

The Night of the Living Rain

The first night was wet. VERY wet. We awoke to a river of mud outside our tent. We had set up at the edge of the block of tents, and the path to the toilets was right past our tent. We were not to know this when setting up, as it had been lush, green grass when we’d assembled the tent. It was fine, but we did suffer people tripping over our guy lines and stepping on the edges of the tent until the early hours as they fumbled their way to the toilet. However, waking up to a river of mud OUTSIDE your tent isn’t so bad… waking up to a pool of water INSIDE your tent is just plain horrendous… as poor Lily and Anna were to find out after the the Night of the Living Rain. So I awoke to a river of mud, and a very early text from the girls, asking to be rescued! Fred was good enough to take them into our tent-palace, so our little group doubled after one day!

The river that appeared outside our tent (Anna’s photo)

What became of the Tent from Hell, which flooded poor Lily and Anna: a diversion to stop muppets standing on our bloody tent (Anna’s photo)

Music

Highlights-

  • Bon Iver

Magical performance, voice and atmosphere. Simple but effective stage set-up, moody lighting, and all round a brilliant show. ‘Skinny Love’ and ‘Flume’ were, of course, particularly good. Goosebump-inducing in fact.

  • Elbow

They played some absolute anthems, my favourite of which had to be ‘Grounds for Divorce’, followed by ‘One Day Like This’. They got the crowd to sing along and were very involved with the crowd, which was good to see. Their sound is well-suited to large arenas and festivals, and their performance was probably the second highest attended overall (Bon Iver being first I think).

  • Lana Del Rey

She blew my mind, as I knew she would. Excuse the brief descent into pure, unadulterated adoration, but she was nothing but gorgeous. In terms of voice AND appearance. She’s had a lot of criticism for being immobile on stage, particularly after her performance on Saturday Night Live. However, this was an ungrounded accusation based on her Latitude performance. Her music isn’t exactly “lets all jump up and down, dance around and mosh” anyway. But she did dance, in a sultry, sexy, very 50s kind of way, fitting for her music. She also got off the stage to get up close and personal with the crowd. At one point, as the stage was outside but covered by a circus-style tent, she lit up a cigarette and trailed it behind her in a graceful manner similar to Marilyn Monroe or Audrey Hepburn. It was a great performance because she captured such nostalgia and beauty in a relatively short set. ‘Video Games’, ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘This is what makes us girls’ were excellent.

Lana’s performance that attracted criticisms. I just think she was nervous, bless her. Leave her alone.
  • Alabama Shakes

I’ve got a soft spot for most things Southern from the US, and Alabama Shakes are definitely one of them. Think Kings of Leon, with a very powerful (more comprehensible), soul/blues-influenced, female lead singer. Her energy and aggression were astonishing, verging on the psychotic. The Southern rock sound was lush, with fuzzy guitar distortion and blues riffs. A perfect festival sound. Standing there with my Budweiser, it was one of the best times of the weekend and the inner American studies student in me was loving it. “Hold on” was an absolute corker.

Pleasant surprises-

  • Lianne La Havas

I hadn’t heard any of her music before Latitude, but her voice was terrific. Her joy at playing in front of what was clearly her largest gig so far was plain to see. This really enhanced the performance as she was in that lovely stage of her career where she’s not yet become a massive name, and she’s still a bit overwhelmed by it all, or so it seemed from her performance.

  • Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros

As I mentioned in the Intro, these were one of the best parts of the weekend. The band has 10 members, and can loosely be described as a very folky, up-beat, indie rock band. They’re not Southern, but they sounded Southern-influenced to me. What made them so memorable was the manic, Jesus-like lead singer, who seemed off his face on something as soon as he came onto the stage. He was shaking all over the stage, climbing up on rails, dancing with us in the crowd (I looked into his eyes from about a foot away), and occasionally muttering something completely incomprehensible between songs. But another memorable aspect was his relationship to the secondary singer, whom he is actually in a relationship with. Her voice was also very strong. Their on-stage performance was overflowing with the emotion between them ,and the whole band seemed like a large group of very close friends performing together, rather than the slightly more formal performances of other, big-name bands like Elbow or Bon Iver.

Disappointments-

  • Laura Marling

I had quite high hopes for Laura Marling, as many people had really praised her music, but I felt a bit let down. She didn’t really seem to make much effort, or appear to be that bothered. Moreover, whilst she definitely has a good voice, personally I’m not sure it was that memorable or unique. Particularly in comparison to Alabama Shakes, Bon Iver or Lianne La Havas.

  • Paul Weller

Bear in mind this man had been given the glory spot- last day, last performance, main stage. The moody, arrogant, obnoxious swine didn’t even say hello to the crowd as he came on stage, not deeming the communication worthy of one so legendary as himself. Additionally, he hardly spoke to the crowd in between songs. In my opinion, I think he’s got a serious ego problem, because in all honesty he’s just a teeny tiny bit irrelevant nowadays, truth be told. Finally, whilst he is definitely a tight musician, and his band were also good musicians, his own new stuff was incredibly generic and uninspiring. I think the festival could have done with a more fitting farewell, because Paul Weller did not do the rest of the talent that had preceded him justice AT ALL.

Comedy

  • Phill Jupitus

A regular captain on the excellent “Never Mind the Buzzcocks” show, he was hilarious at Latitude. His show was largely based on being a 50 year old father, dealing with a 16 year old daughter bringing home her boyfriend for the first time. For a “sleep-over”… It was a very funny sketch, but I have to admit he did cut pretty close to the wire with some of the gags! I found them very funny, but I could see some younger families slowly, but determinedly edging out of the Comedy Tent. They had fair warning before the performance, so it was on their own heads really. He came across as brutally honest, stating himself that at 50, he no longer really gave a toss how he was received. This shouldn’t be mistaken for arrogance at all- I just think his philosophy was: “you guys have came to see me, I’m here to say what I’ve got to say, like it or lump it amigos”. Which I actually admired if I’m honest.

  • Doc Brown

Ex-rapper and comedian Doc Brown was also very funny. He was very clever in swapping smoothly between spoken comedy and raps. His ‘My Proppa Tea’ sketch/rant was excellent, even if I had caught it on Youtube before. Anyone who can rap about a cupper, and make it that funny, is a very gifted comedian.

Festival Living

I’m a bit wary at how long this post is becoming, but there was so much going on over the four days that I want to get as much of it off my chest as possible. Here are some factors to the four days which stick out in my mind:

  1. Toilets: nobody expects great things from festival toilets, I certainly didn’t. But actually, they were better (in a very loose sense of the word) than I expected. What made them better than my previous assumptions were basically that they actually flushed, and weren’t those horrendous portaloos which come with the risk of being tipped over, onto the door if you’re exceptionally unlucky.
  2. Showers: again, my expectations weren’t high, but they were warm and that’s all that mattered really. They were long metal stalls, and the initial image which popped into my head is probably the most fitting description of them: being disinfected during the Foot and Mouth epidemic that hit us a few years ago.
  3. Food: there was a real range of foods available at Latitude, which was brilliant. My favourite meal was a delicious pie with mash and gravy, proper stuff that was perfect for filling you up. Otherwise, the variety went from oysters and bowls of steamed mussels, through burritos and chilli con carne, all the way to chinese takeaway and the standard burger/hot dog and chips! The only slight downside was the price… you could expect to fork over £6-£9 per meal. I got around this by limiting myself to one decent evening meal per day, and sticking to Pringles and a tin of soup/spaghetti hoops and sausages for lunch, which I had brought myself.
  4. Alcohol: Again, this was very expensive, and the choice was nowhere near as ripe as with the food. The only two drinks I reluctantly paid for were Tuborg lager and Magners Cider. They cost about £4.40 for the pint… with an extra £3 deposit for the plastic glass! Over £7 for your initial pint was a bit steep. My advice would be to bring as much as you can yourself, and develop a way of smuggling stuff into the main arena. My smuggling technique of choice involved the causal anorak-round-the-waist with as many Buds as possible in the pockets/ tucked into the back of my shorts. Worked a charm for me!
  5. Zany: This was Fred’s most frequently used word over the four days, and it always came with mild to overt sarcasm and a smirk. But it is probably the best word for all the wackyness that emerged at the festival. I’m pretty sure I witnessed one guy wrapped up and sewn into a tapestry at one point, which had to be the height of zany over the weekend. But the fashion is exactly what you’d expect, if you’ve ever caught glimpses of Glastonbury highlights etc. I think it’s cool to see all the individuality and creativity though.
  6. Cleanliness: One thing which astounded me was just how good some people managed to look on the penultimate and last days. I felt I did alright for the weekend, and still felt relatively human at the end of it. This was despite the mud and single, mid-weekend shower (grim, but realistic guys- some people didn’t even bother with the one!) However, some people looked positively angelic during it all, and I’ll be damned if I know how they managed it! Maybe it’s because a large amount of people around us suffered the mud and lack of hygiene worse than others, making those weathering it well seem even cleaner, but still! Kudos to those who managed it, boys and girls alike! However, as far as photos go, I liked this one a lot, and think we did ok by the looks of it!

Anna, me and Lily (Anna’s photo)

So all in all, I had a fantastic time, and am very glad that I chose to attend Latitude 2012. I would even dare to say that I’d go again! The music, the people, the atmosphere and everything are all so enjoyable, I think everyone should at least try it once. Now I’m going to head off and wash my hiking boots for the fourth time… in two days!