My Work Experience Experience.

When I was 15 years old, I had to complete a week of work experience as part of my school’s ‘student enrichment’ programme.

Initially, the prospect of doing work experience excited me.

I was eager to temporarily escape the classroom and enter into professional environment for the first time.

I envisioned myself working for the local news station or a cool hipster tech company where employees sat in bean bags instead of desk chairs.

However, my enthusiasm reduced significantly when I was placed at my local Garden Centre.

My supervisor at the Garden Centre was a guy called Alan who was relatively new to the world of work himself.

Alan was seventeen years old, had zero managerial experience and had absolutely no idea what to do with me.

After giving me some brief instructions, he handed me a t-shirt with the words ‘You Plant A Question, We’ll Grow You An Answer’ printed on the back and then made himself scarce.

I went to the bathroom, changed into the shirt and walked back out onto the shop floor.

Before long, customers that had previously been ignoring me started approaching me and asking me questions, clearly assuming that I was now a font of horticultural knowledge.

This wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d known a single thing about plants.

However, the sum total of my gardening knowledge came from an episode of The Teletubbies I’d seen as a kid where I’d watched a man tend to his allotment through the telly in LaLa’s stomach.

As a result, I was completely unprepared to answer any of the customer’s questions.

For the first three days of my work experience, I stood awkwardly on the shop floor, dishing out dubious horticultural advice to a series of confused and dissatisfied customers.

Eventually, on Thursday, one of the managers on shift took pity on me and took me off the shop floor.

She handed me a batch of Yankee Candles that had just been delivered and asked me to arrange them into a display.

After three days of talking to customers, I relished the opportunity to do something vaguely creative so I sat happily in my own little world, experimenting with different colour arrangements and taking the lids off the candles to smell the different scents inside. 

However, after a couple of hours, I was approached by an old lady who had been browsing nearby. I braced myself, expecting her to ask me a question that I didn’t know the answer to.

I was relieved, therefore, when she asked me to help her retrieve a trowel from a high shelf. Finally, I thought. A task that is within my capabilities. I can actually be useful and help this old lady fulfill her trowel-based needs.

I picked up a step-ladder and placed it next to the shelf. However, as I climbed up the ladder, I suddenly felt a bit lightheaded.

All the candle sniffing had obviously gone to my head and I swayed slightly, causing the ladder to rock dangerously.

I waved my arms about, desperately attempting to restore my balance, but to no avail.

As a result, I tipped backwards and fell directly onto a nearby cactus.

To cut a long story short, I essentially flattened a cactus with my arse.

Just in case you have never fallen off a ladder onto a cactus before, let me tell you, it is a pretty painful experience.

After I had gotten over the initial shock of the impact, I tentatively raised myself to my feet and, for a few moments, stared blankly at the plant that I had obliterated with my butt cheeks.

I wasn’t sure what to do about the state of the cactus or, for that matter, my arse.

I remembered the adverts that I’d seen on TV offering compensation for people who had had an accident at work but I’d never seen one featuring someone falling onto a cactus. I wasn’t sure if it even counted as an ‘accident at work’ but I reckoned it would be worth looking into.

At the very least, I thought I should probably report the incident to my supervisor so I handed the trowel to the old lady and went looking for Alan.

When I found him, I was still slightly traumatised by the incident. My brain wasn’t functioning properly and I couldn’t think clearly about what I was saying.

As a result, I ran up to him and the words, ‘Alan, I’ve got some pricks in my bum!’ just fell out of my mouth.

Alan was, understandably, quite taken back.

Alan gasped and looked quite worried.

I was initially quite touched by this. I thought that maybe I had underestimated him as a manager. It seemed that he really cared about my wellbeing after all…

Despite my unfortunate encounter with the cactus (RIP), I managed to get through the rest of my work experience unscathed.

The following week, me and the rest of my year group returned to school where we were asked to write a reflection about our experience in the world of work.

Needless to say, mine turned out a bit different to most other peoples’.

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This Is Why I’m Not Very Good At Clubbing.

I went clubbing for the first time since lockdown last month.

I’ve never been a massive fan of clubbing.

I once got spiked in a club and spent most of the night clinging onto the wall for dear life whilst everything spun around me like some sort of intoxicated gecko.

I’m not sure at what point humanity decided that being in a darkened room, breathing in the sweat and germs of strangers whilst listening to deafening music was a recipe for a good time.

I guess the whole idea originated in those 18th century dances you see in shows like Pride & Prejudice and Poldark where the youth of the day used to go to the local manor house and have a boogie to whatever music was top of the charts back in Jane Austen times.

Back then, the whole purpose of these dances was to help eligible bachelors meet young ladies and, in that regard, I guess things haven’t changed too much, although the whole ‘courting’ aspect tends to be slightly less sophisticated nowadays…

THEN:

NOW:

I’ve never been massively into dancing either which doesn’t really do much to improve my clubbing experience.

Even as a child, I wasn’t keen on it. 

I have vivid memories of being forced to do a school performance of Saturday Night in Year 4 and wishing it actually was Saturday night and I wasn’t in school being forced to dance to Wigfield.

I’m also not a very rhythmically coordinated person so dancing makes me feel quite awkward and self-conscious.

This awkwardness translates itself to my physical movements. If I had to choose, I’d say my go-to dance move is the robot and, when I say ‘the robot’, I mean a robot that’s malfunctioned and is just jerking around randomly. 

The only way I can get myself past this state of crippling self-consciousness is to drink a load of alcohol.

Unfortunately, drinking a load of alcohol tends to propel me to the opposite end of the spectrum, filling me with the sudden and certain belief that I can dance incredibly well.

This is unfortunate as the effects of the alcohol tend to mean that my bodily coordination is, in fact, even worse.

Let’s put it this way, if anyone is getting down on the dance floor with me it’s because I’ve inadvertently sent them flying with a flailing limb whilst doing my best impression of John Travolta in Night Fever.

To make things worse, I am a massive lightweight and, as a result, my metabolism tends to burn through alcohol quite quickly.

Therefore, after a couple of hours of manic dancing, I tend to get quite sleepy.

At this point, I normally apologise to anyone who I may have inadvertently injured and head home to crash, although I have been known to fall asleep on the club toilet after popping in for one last end of the night pee.

Speaking of toilets, if there’s one thing I’ve missed about a night out, it’s making friends with random girls whilst waiting in the queue for the bathroom.

Now, people say a lot of things about the toxic nature of female relationships. However, as far as I’m concerned, these people haven’t experienced the sense of camaraderie that exists between girls in a nightclub toilet.

Whenever I have doubts about the nature of mankind, I sometimes think about interactions I’ve had with other girls on a night out and it helps to restore my faith in humanity.

You could come out of a cubicle, having spent the last twenty minutes leaning over the toilet, alternately spewing up the contents of your stomach and crying over the state of your love life, and you will most likely find yourself surrounded by women who still consider you to be a radiant goddess.

Let’s face it, clubbing may be pretty shit but at least you can always rely on other women to have your back when you’ve had one too many on a night out.

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My Worst Holiday Ever.

When I was 10 years old, my parents took me and my brothers away to the Isle of Mull for a week.

The Isle of Mull is a remote island off the coast of Scotland renowned for its wide range of wildlife and breath-taking scenery.

My mum, in particular, was very excited about going to the Isle of Mull, seeing it as an opportunity to get away from the hustle and bustle of civilisation and immerse herself in nature.

So, in the last week of July, my parents bundled us all into the car and we set off for Scotland and, after a day of travelling, we arrived at the cottage where we were staying for the week.

Around ten minutes later, as we were unpacking the car and moving our stuff inside, it started to rain. At the time, my parents shrugged this off, assuming the rain would pass overnight.

Five days later, it was still raining.

My mum had structured the week’s activities under the assumption that we would be outside 90% of the time. However, the torrential rain made this pretty much impossible.

To make things worse, we were in a remote area and there was little to do in the nearby village. As a result, we had no option but to sit inside the cottage and wait for the rain to stop.

Whilst this was boring for us as kids, it was arguably even worse for my parents who were trapped inside with three small humans all under the age of 11.

It wasn’t long until we’d got through the books we had brought with us and were looking for something else to do. Unfortunately, we could find very little to entertain ourselves with.

The only game in the cottage was a tattered old Scrabble set that my brother found under his bed.

Now, considering my brother is dyslexic and I was an insensitive prepubescent Grammar Nazi at the time, this was always going to be a recipe for disaster.

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I really was the worst.

The cottage also had a bulky TV in the corner of the living room. However, there was no satellite disk so we couldn’t get any live channels.

After some searching, we found a grand total of two movies in the cupboard underneath the TV (video cassette tapes of Annie and Alien – apparently, the owner had a niche obsession with films with 5 letter titles beginning with A…)

Our parents immediately confiscated Alien from us on the grounds that it was too scary so we were forced to settle for Annie.  

Over the next three days, we watched Annie six times. After the third screening, we were getting seriously bored of the film and begged our parents to let us watch Alien instead.

Eventually, on the fourth evening, they cracked and allowed me and Robert to watch Alien with them after they had put our younger brother to bed.

Now, you might think that this was quite an irresponsible parenting decision. However, if you consider the nature of our predicament, you can’t really blame my parents for not wanting to listen to the song ‘The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow’ for the seventh time.

As the days passed and we became increasingly bored and frustrated, my Scrabble arguments with Robert continued to intensify.

Eventually, my mum confiscated the board, gave us some pens and paper and told us to play Pictionary instead.

However, this backfired when we ended up channeling our scrabble-fueled contempt for each other into artistic expression.

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Following this, my mum got my dad to supervise our Pictionary games.

However, perhaps because he too was frustrated with the way the holiday was turning out, he ended up getting drawn into the in-game bickering as well.  

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Eventually, after days of being cooped up indoors listening to near-constant squabbling, my mum finally cracked.

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As far as she was concerned, there was only one option. She had come to the Isle of Mull to be outside and have a good time and she was going to do everything in her power to make that dream a reality.

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It soon became apparent that there would be no arguing with my mum so we put on our waterproofs and followed her outside for a walk, regardless of the fact that the intensity of the rain had now reached Biblical Flood levels.

Unsurprisingly, the ground was completely water logged. What had once presumably been a solid footpath, was now a quagmire, filled with mud that slipped beneath our feet and clung onto our shoes.  

Fifteen minutes into the walk, Robert had fallen face first into the mud, I had lost a shoe and all five of us were wet through.

My mum, meanwhile, was desperately trying to keep morale up.

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Ten minutes later, things took a distinct turn for the worse when Robert found a leech on his leg.

Catching sight of the slug-like worm latched onto my brother’s skin, my mind shot back to the parasitic creature I had watched terrorize the space crew in Alien the previous evening. I immediately assumed the worst.

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Naturally, my outburst did little to help the situation.

Eventually, my Dad managed to prise the leech from Robert’s leg (all the while reassuring him that he wasn’t going to suffer the same fate as John Hurt) and threw it back into the bog.

Once the leech had been banished back from whence it came, my mum decided that it probably was best for us to head back and disinfect the bite.

By this point, my younger brother, Will, was getting pretty exhausted so my mum lifted him onto her shoulders as we trudged back towards the cottage.

Due to his extra weight, she walked more slowly and ended up at the back of the group.

After around five minutes of walking, I heard a sudden, sharp yell behind me.

I turned around, searching for the source of the sound.  

I could see Will, lying on the ground, looking slightly shocked and tearful. There was, however, no sign of my mum.

I ran up to Will. ‘Where’s Mummy?’ I asked in a state on semi-panic.

Will pointed to his left, eyes wide and sincere. ‘The bog ate her’.

I followed the direction of his finger and screamed.

Something was pulling itself out of the bog, a tall, groaning figure that bore a strong resemblance to the Mud Monster in Scooby Doo. 

It took me a few seconds to realise that the bog monster was my mum.

She had fallen into a deep ditch and ended up almost completely submerged in the muddy water that filled it.

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At the end of the day, I guess my mum got what she wanted out of the holiday – she achieved her wish to be immersed in nature.

It just didn’t manifest itself in the way she had hoped…

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Things My Parents Argue About Now That They’re Retired

Like every couple who have been together for a significant amount of time, my parents are prone to the occasional argument.

I don’t think that this is particularly their fault. They have been together for thirty years now and being with same person for three decades has its challenges.

In addition, two years ago, my mum joined my dad in the realms of retirement and, as a result, the two of them have been spending more time at home together than they did previously.

Before they both retired, they spent long hours apart working shifts which provided them with a healthy break from each other. As the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder but presence does a frictionless relationship squander (not sure that this is an actual saying, not even sure that frictionless is a word tbh..)

Like most people, my parent’s never fight about the actual emotional tensions in their relationship.

Instead, they tend to use everyday items and mundane issues as proxies for the underlying problems that they are attempting to address. For example, they recently had an argument over a jar of jam which they insisted was ‘about the jam and nothing but the jam’. However, I personally think it was about my Dad’s percieved lack of emotional transparency.

Like most couples who have enjoyed many years of marriage, my parents have an unparalleled ability to create an argument out of just about anything, including the process of arguing itself. One of their favourite arguments is the ‘We’re Not Having an Argument’ argument in which each of them tries to convince the other that they are not pissed off whilst progressively becoming increasingly pissed off.

This argument, which sometimes feels like an infinite loop of disagreement, can basically be summed up as the following.

The pandemic has also put a lot of additional tension on my parent’s relationship.

Being together for thirty years is challenging.

Being together for thirty years and then retiring and living together in the same house is even more challenging.

Being together for thirty years, retiring and living together in the same house WITH NO FORM OF ESCAPE is another thing altogether.

I first realised that my parent’s relationship was suffering from pandemic pressure a few months ago when they had a full-on meltdown argument over a towel.

The argument started when my dad made the grave mistake of disrupting a towel washing system that my mum had put into place during the first lockdown.

I’m not totally clear on the intricate details of my mum’s towel washing system (something to do with keeping light and dark towels separate) but I assume she made it in an attempt to create some sort of order for herself in the middle of the coronavirus chaos.

Therefore, when my dad tampered with the system, he was messing with one of the things that was helping my mum cling to some semblance of control; this is the only thing I can think of to explain the ferocity of her reaction.

My dad bore the brunt of my mum’s towel-fuelled wrath for around fifteen minutes, making several further impassioned comparisons between her domestic activities and Orwell’s 1984 in the meantime.

The argument eventually climaxed when my dad stormed out of the house in order to get some ‘freedom from oppression’ time and threatened that he might not come back. However, his rebellious resolve didn’t last long as, ten minutes later, he returned home because he needed a wee.

Now, I don’t want you to get the impression that my parents have an awful relationship; they don’t. Obviously, things have been very stressful and uncertain over the last year and a half and this manifests itself in tension and outbursts of rage over insignificant things.

I’ve heard that it is important to look for small blessings in times of hardship and, as far as my parent’s relationship is concerned, I guess one of the small blessings is they haven’t been going on as many car journeys together as they would have done in the before times.

The car is probably one of the worst places to have a squabbling match as it physically impossible to take a time out unless you do a Ladybird and lob yourself into the road. Therefore, any argument that my parents enter into the car tends to escalate and become quite heated.

Obviously having an impassioned argument isn’t one of the things that driving instructors tend to focus on when teaching people to drive safely.

Maybe then, it is a small solace that my parents have been stuck in the house together because at least then I don’t have to worry about them inadvertently crashing because they’ve been fighting about towels.

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My Journey To Find My Inner Self Didn’t Turn Out As I Was Expecting…

In 2016, I spent six months working on an outdoor education camp in Canada.

In the Spring season, the site was often rented out by various groups of people who wanted to use the camp’s natural beauty as the backdrop for their events.

As a result, in May, I found myself working on a weekend Yoga Retreat full of people who had found their chackras and could bend their bodies into a variety of complex positions.

At one point, I remember talking to a man who informed me that setting time aside time to connect with his inner self had enabled him to gain control of his mind and banish negativity from his life – or, as he put it, to ‘tell all that sadness and self-doubt crap to piss off’.

The man in question had dreadlocks and was wearing a ‘Live, Breath, Yoga’ singlet so I decided that he was probably a reliable source of wisdom.

I’ve never really been the kind of person who particularly likes spending time with myself but, like most people, I’ve had significantly more free time in 2020 and I thought that it might be useful to spend some of that time attempting to improve my connection with my inner spiritual world.

So I started meditating in April, full-on expecting to have some sort of transcendent experience where I would suddenly feel at one with myself and the universe.

However, my first few meditation sessions were quite underwhelming – as far as I was aware, nothing happened.

I felt slightly disheartened – I had actively attempted to get in touch with my inner self and it seemed I had been put on hold.

This feeling wasn’t helped by the fact that the meditation music I was listening to sounded a lot like the sort of music that often plays when you’re put on hold in what I can only imagine is a vain attempt to make you less likely to get stressed and swear down the phone.

Despite this, I decided to push onwards with meditation, reasoning to myself that nothing worthwhile is ever easy and that the transcendent joy of being at one with my inner self would be worth it in the end.

I guess I assumed that my inner self would be this wise oracle who, once found, would help me transcend above the concerns and stresses of everyday life into a state of zen-like peace.

A few weeks into lockdown, I started to become aware of a part of myself that I hadn’t noticed before.

I was initially excited and intrigued, thinking that I had finally got in contact with my inner self.

However, if I had, she was in no way the peaceful oracle-like being I was expecting her to be.

In fact, if anything my inner self more closely resembled a moody teenager who wholeheartedly resented living under my roof and, needless to say, wasn’t as sold on the concept of working towards meditative enlightenment as I was.

Although my spiritual awakening wasn’t going as smoothly as I had hoped, I kept trying to get in touch with my inner self, thinking that eventually she would open up to me.

However, the more I tried to connect with her, the more I irritated she became.

I had dragged her out of my subconscious against her will and she was NOT happy with it.

As lockdown dragged on and I spent more and more time with my inner self, our relationship started to feel quite tense and I noticed that I was reacting to setbacks in an emotionally dramatic way.

Anything, from receiving a job rejection to dropping a piece of toast butter side down, would make me irrationally upset.

I felt like I starting to lose control over my inner self.

It is strange and unsettling to feel like you are being bossed around by a grumpy teenage version of yourself but I tried my best to be mindful about the whole situation.

I decided that I would sit quietly with my inner self and try and have a calm, logical conversation about how she was feeling.

It soon became apparent that maintaining any form of calm logical dialogue with my inner self was going to be a near impossibility.

Instead, I thought that I would try strengthening my connection with her by engaging in a variety of relaxing hobbies.

Unfortunately, she didn’t seem as committed to the activities as I was.

Dragging my inner self through a series of mindfulness activities made me feel inauthentic and, as a result, my ability to reach a state of meditative calmness was compromised.

Eventually, I decided to leave my inner self to her own devices and instead tried to focus on everyday practicalities.

I thought that if I tried to get on with my life in the way that I had before, she would eventually calm down and my mental state would return to normal

However, as soon as I tried to concentrate on anything, she seemed to experience an inexplicable urge to hang out with me, distracting me from whatever I was doing with a seemingly endless stream of irrelevant and anxiety provoking information.

All things considered, spending more time with my inner self this year hasn’t been the easiest thing in the world.

Just as spend you can only spend so much time in another person’s company before you start to get on each others nerves, spending too much time with yourself can cause things to become a bit tense.

Being a human is complex, confusing and not always comfortable, especially this year and, for me, things became a bit easier when I stopped trying so hard to force my inner self to behave and communicate with me in the zen-like way I expected her to.

Maybe being in touch with your inner self isn’t about achieving a state of eternal chackric calm; maybe it is more about accepting your inner self exactly as they turn up, no matter how annoying they may be.

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