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 D of E Experience – Part 2: Mountain Rescue Edition

Before you go on a DofE expedition, one of the key skills you have to learn is map-reading.

Learning how to map read is important because you are not allowed access to your smart phone during the expedition and if you get lost you can’t just Google Maps your way out of the situation.

In my opinion, giving a teenager a map and expecting them to know which direction to go in is a dubious concept. I didn’t even know who I was back then, let alone where I was going.

Despite this, I somehow managed to make it through my Bronze expedition without getting lost.

My Silver practice expedition, however, was a different story.

On the trip, I was in a group with three other girls; Emma, Anita and Nashwa.

The first two days of the expedition had gone quite well. We had not been chased by cows or any other types of agricultural livestock and I had only fallen head first into a bog once.

However, on the penultimate day, we were walking down a steep hill into a valley and, when we reached the bottom, it dawned upon us that we had absolutely no clue where we were.

We had been concentrating so hard on not decking it and sliding down the hill on our backsides, that we hadn’t really been concentrating on where we were going.

Now, the smartest thing to do at this point would have been to retrace our steps, walk back up the hill and try to get our bearings from a higher vantage point. But we’d already walked up several hills that day and, quite frankly, couldn’t be arsed walking back up another one.

We knew that when we had started descending, we had been going in the right direction so we assumed that if we carried on walking in that direction, we would eventually arrive somewhere vaguely near the campsite.

After around two hours of walking, the sky was getting a bit murky and we were becoming increasingly concerned. We were in a pretty remote area and hadn’t seen a road or village for several hours and there was nobody we could see to ask for help or directions.  

At the beginning of the expedition, we had been given an old brick phone to use in emergencies so we rang one of the teachers and told her that we were lost. She then replied with what remains to this day one of the most useless responses I have ever received:

Considering that the very nature of being lost means you tend to have no idea where you are, this question was pretty hard to answer.

We tried to describe our surroundings on the off-chance that this would help her to pinpoint our location.

However, it turned out that finding a location in the Peak District on the basis of that it had some trees and some grass was the equivalent of finding a specific place in the city with some cars, a lot of concrete and a few mad-looking pigeons.

Eventually, we gave our teacher the coordinates of our last checkpoint and she told us to stay where we were and set up camp.

She reassured us that we couldn’t have gone that far and told us that some of the expedition leaders had set out to look for us so we would probably be found by the end of the day.

Feeling somewhat reassured, we set up one of our tents and tried our best to relax and get some sleep.

However, when we woke up the next morning, we still hadn’t been found.

To make things worse, a thick layer of cloud had come down into the valley, restricting visibility and, for some reason, we no longer had any signal on our phone.

Logically, we should have known that teachers had a safeguarding responsibility not to leave any students stranded in some random remote area of the Lake District and remained calm.

However, as we were four teenagers, we immediately over-dramaticised the whole situation and freaked out.

After several minutes of catastrophising, we exhausted ourselves and stood looking at the cloud that created a slightly ethereal atmosphere around us.

‘Maybe we’ve died and gone to heaven,’ Emma said quietly.

‘No if this was heaven then there wouldn’t be so much sheep poo everywhere,’ I replied, more to reassure myself than anything else.

After a while, the cloud transformed into a fine drizzle and we decided to pack up our tent and gear and start walking in order to warm ourselves up.  

We set our compasses in the general direction we were supposed to be heading in but, other than that, we had absolutely no idea where we were going.

To make things worse, around twenty minutes into the walk we came across a sheep skull lying on a rock in a small stream. Of course, our brains immediately rocketed into over-analytic panic.  

After we had been walking for what seemed like an age, we finally came across a sheep shed which was extremely exciting as it was the first thing we had seen in over 24 hours that remotely resembled civilisation.

We rushed inside, relieved to have found some shelter from the rain that was slowly soaking through our waterproofs.

Once inside, we unpacked our rucksacks and got into our sleeping bags.

As it was the last day of our expedition, we were running low on supplies. In terms of food, we had half a packet of Tangfastics, a Cuppa Soup and two special K bars between us.

Assuming we were miles from civilisation, we immediately put a rationing system into place, reasoning that if we all limited ourselves to one Tangfastic a day, we would maybe be able to last for a week before we starved to death.

Although it was nice to be out of the rain, the fact that we were no longer walking gave our minds space to ruminate and it wasn’t long before our thoughts started to spiral.

We continued on this train for several minutes, digging ourselves deeper into a pit of hyperbolic despair until:

We all fell silent, somewhat consoled by this thought.

We had been sitting in the shed for around 30 minutes when Nashwa noticed that a bar of signal had returned to the phone and we briefly considered calling our mums with our last words.

Then, worried that this oasis of signal would be temporary state of affairs, we thought it was best to try and call for help. We decided to bypass ringing the teachers and go straight for the big guns and call Mountain Rescue.

When Mountain Rescue picked up the phone, it turned out that they were already looking for us. They’d been contacted by our teachers and had already been out searching for several hours.  

Once we hung up the phone, we were beside ourselves with relief and excitement. Everything was fine! The teachers hadn’t left us for dead and Mountain Rescue were out looking for us! We were saved!

Then a disturbing thought started to dawn on us. If Mountain Rescue had been out looking for us for hours, why hadn’t they found us yet? Were we so lost that we couldn’t be found even by Mountain Rescue? Had we accidentally walked through a wardrobe and had ended in some Narnia-like alternate universe?

Over the course of the next hour, Nashwa called Mountain Rescue several times for reassurance. Eventually, it got to the point where the operator didn’t even bother asking who was on the end of the line and just simply said the words ‘Is this Nashwa again?’ whenever he picked up the phone.

Around two hours after our initial phone call, we heard the sound of an engine. Assuming that Mountain Rescue had finally arrived to rescue us, we ran estatically out of the shed, unaware that the person who was approaching the shed was in fact just a farmer on a quadbike.

Imagine if you will, that you are a farmer going about his business in the peace and quiet of the English countryside when suddenly four semi-traumatised girls gone feral burst out of your shed manically blowing their whistles and yelling ‘Mountain Rescue’ at you.

Needless to say, the poor farmer dude crapped himself.

‘It’s me, Nashwa!’ Nashwa yelled in his face, obviously still convinced that he was part of the search team. We all waited for him to react but he just started at us, completely bewildered.

‘It’s Nashwa,’ Emma shouted, pointing at Nashwa only to be met with more confused silence.

‘Nashwa,’ I added unhelpfully.

A pause.

‘Wait are you not Mountain Rescue?’ Anita asked.

‘No. I’m just a farmer. I live in the house just down there.’

We stared at him disbelievingly. ‘There’s a house here?’

‘Yes, it’s only a two minute walk away. You’ll be able to see it when the cloud lifts.’

We stared at him and then we stared at each other, trying to process the fact that we had been sitting in a cold windswept shed for hours, convinced that we were miles from civilisation and beyond hope of rescue when, in fact, civilisation had only been 500 metres away all along.

I reckon that the Duke of Edinburgh would have been proud of us…

To read Part 1 of my DofE experience, click here. If you enjoyed this post, feel free to visit the ‘All Blog Posts’ tab at the top of the page for more. For more blog posts and drawings, you can also follow me on Instagram and Facebook .