Hypervigilance

Saturday morning rattlehead – jeans ripped
At knee, laces half-tied, young blood scurried
Down the small streets. Eyes darted, thoughts scary,
Noted the strangers that loomed as I rapped
On the only door I knew could be rapped
Safely. Check the exits. Not safe, not sound.
My heart is in my ears. My mouth is sand.
I’m jagged. Wash hands. Flick switch. Rinse. Repeat.

With my forehead pressed against the front door,
I swear your eyes are burning through my skull.
I check the lock again – one, two, three, four,
Five. You’re smiling, and the smile is a lull:
Warm fire in winter… or unknown danger –

Windows, the dark – and my head’s loud once more.


Well, it’s Day 1 of NaPoWriMo 2015 and yes, I have already failed to follow the prompt – start as you mean to go on, eh? Honestly, I gave the prompt a go, but I was just drawing absolute blanks all day. So here is a rough sort of sonnet-ish yoke I wrote instead. I’ll try harder tomorrow, I promise!

Normal Service to Resume as Soon as Possible

Hello hello hello hello hello!

I’m back, at last, for the first time since September! Hello! How are you all?

I’m super sorry for neglecting my blog for a whole 6 months. The past while has been crazily hectic, and I somehow haven’t had a moment to spare. I’m back now because April is coming, and April is my favourite month there is: NaPoWriMo!

So I’m going to be farting around writing poetry for the next month or so, and then I should hopefully be back to regular blogging after that! Hooray!

Summer in the City

Well, September is here at last and summer is officially over. I haven’t really blogged as much as I hoped to (I just didn’t get the chance) but that’s something that will change now – promise!

Just like every other year, I had grand plans for this summer. I was going to learn how to juggle, pick up bass guitar again (it’s the one instrument I’ve been fairly consistently neglecting since about two months after I started to play – oops), play endless guitar, teach my scouts as much as possible, paint the house, write some letters, maybe learn to swim – a whole heap of stuff. Admittedly, I never ACTUALLY do all of the things I plan to do over summer. If half of my plans happen, I’m doing pretty damned well. This summer, however, I got absolutely none of these things done.

“Why?!” come the cries of my hundreds of concerned readers. (only not really)

Here’s the thing.

A couple of years ago, it became clear to me that my original home back in Donegal was not overly safe for me. I’m not going to get caught up in the details of it because these things happen, but basically when I moved out last year at the ripe old age of 17, that was me out for good. This didn’t pose too much of an issue to me for the first while as I was working on starting a new and improved life on this side of the border. In fact, it didn’t really become a problem at all until May, when I discovered that the lease for my current flat wouldn’t begin until September, while I would have to move out of my room in Elms Village in early June.

So my summer didn’t exactly go according to plan: while nothing terrible happened (like being disowned by my family or, you know, death or something), and while I still had regular online contact with plenty of loving relatives, this summer marked my first true experience of what could turn out to be my life once again when this lease runs out: moving from place to place, sleeping on mattresses, sofas and kitchen floors, in baths and hedges and pretty much anywhere where I wouldn’t get attacked or soaked in the rain. This summer, I spent time in my sister’s spare room, but I also spent time walking through Belfast with a bundle of blankets and no idea where I was meant to be going. I’ve been hired and fired, stuffed and starving, and have been in WAY too many conversations which started with the words “I don’t want to kick you out, BUT…”

The lowest point of my summer was walking out on the last day of my second job in 2 months and realising that I had no job, only 40p to my name which I couldn’t even access because it was in the bank, and no idea where I was going to sleep that night.

The past few months could easily be interpreted as one great kick in the teeth after the next, but I don’t regret anything that I did over the past year. I feel like the whole experience has taught me the true meaning of “it gets better”. Less than a month ago, I was sitting under a bridge on a rolled-up blanket and hoping that someone would call me up to offer me a bed for the night. Today, I am sitting writing this in my new bedroom, in my new flat. I can hear my friends and new flatmates laughing and chattering in the next room. Tonight, I will have a hot meal for dinner. Tomorrow, I will get up and go to work at one of my new jobs and when I finish work, I will return to MY flat and go to sleep in MY bed.

And you know what? This summer has probably been the best summer of my life so far. It’s been unpredictable and stressful and extremely unstable, but I have never felt so free. In the space of a year, I went from this stuttering little punchbag to a king with a key to the city. So much went wrong this year. If I had seen it coming, I probably would have given up because I wouldn’t have believed that I could deal with so much all at once. With the summer behind me, however, and with it the uncertainty, the sickness and the cold, I will look you in the eyes and tell you that this is my year. 2014 is Tab’s year, and it is only going to get better from here.

Just you watch this space.

Belfast Pride 2014

Belfast Pride finally took place on Saturday, quite some time after Pride Week for some reason! It was my first ever pride, and I had the pleasure of volunteering at it. One thing I’d say to anyone else who gets the opportunity to be in or volunteer at a parade: Do it.

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My role as a volunteer consisted of walking alongside the parade and making sure nobody was drinking or doing anything which would hurt themselves, somebody else, or pride as a whole. I was also instructed to try and prevent conflict with protesters by advising people to avoid them where necessary. To be absolutely honest, I’m almost glad it rained as much as it did because while I’m definitely improving my interpersonal skills in social and professional situations, I don’t know how I’d react when faced with conflict and potential violence. My guess is “not very well” but it turned out not to matter as the miserable weather meant that fewer protesters bothered to turn up, so there were no major problems.

While the rain seemed to have an effect on the number of spectators that turned up, it didn’t change the bright colours and high spirits of the parade. Scantily clad angels and cowboys roamed the square, rainbow-coloured capes were visible in every direction and when the rain came down, the rainbow umbrellas went up.

Ponchos. Ponchos everywhere.
Ponchos. Ponchos everywhere.

I ended up walking next to my university’s LGBT Society, which was an odd bonus to my day, and got to catch up with a couple of members of the society afterwards. The entire society seems to be lovely, and I’m definitely going to make an attempt to go to more than 5 meetings next year! Another upside to this position in the parade was that it meant I spotted the president of our Student’s Union marching in the parade, strengthening my belief that I voted for the right guy – long live Cap’n Gallagher!

To sum up an already short post, Belfast Pride was fantastic. I can’t wait until next year, when I will hopefully go to more events and will definitely volunteer again. Here’s hoping that it’s a little drier next time, though!

Damp.
Damp.

Welcome to the Job Market

Hello, readers! It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything here because I haven’t had access to my computer, but I’m going to try and start posting regularly again.

Summer is here, and I am broke. I’m desperately searching for a job, but nobody seems to want to employ me. NOBODY! I’ve discovered that the “job market” is less like a market and more like a void into which you throw all of your hopes and dreams (and countless copies of your CV) and pray for a positive outcome. And, to be frank, there has been no positive outcome to speak of.

I’m currently living between sofas, which is a new experience. Officially, I am living with my sister in her flat but as I have no money to help out with rent, I don’t stay there every night. That’s fair enough, I think – if I’m not paying rent, I have no claim to the flat. She’d have every right to kick me out fully if she wanted to, but I can trust her not to do that! I just hope that I manage to find something by September, when the lease to my own flat begins! (Eek!)

All is not lost, however. In late June/early July, I managed to get a short job working at the summer graduations for my university. It earned me about £130(ish) which I have pretty much spent at this stage, but also earned me some all-important experience in the field of events catering. The job consisted of setting up for graduation garden parties, plating the food, directing guests, handing out platters (I didn’t know it was possible to get stressed out about strawberries and cream!), making tea and coffee, asking guests not to pick at food from the platters on the table when it was very clear that they were to take one platter each, cleaning equipment, litter-picking, fetching, scrubbing, tidying and just generally running around following orders – and it was fantastic! I was always worried that I wouldn’t be any good at that sort of job, since before then I’d only worked in a hospital and a newspaper, but I actually did really well!

Rocking the work clothes!
Rocking the work clothes!

So, not to blow my own trumpet, I actually rock at catering jobs. I am the queen of systems and orders. When I’m around people I don’t really know, I automatically become extremely polite, which is exactly what is required when you’re working with the public. When I eventually get a job, I might be a little wobbly for the first day but after that, I will absolutely own it. The problem is, my potential employers don’t know that. I look horrific on paper – unexperienced and therefore unskilled. There are people also looking for jobs in this city who have years and years of experience in establishments exactly the same as the ones I’m applying to, so who could blame the business owners for choosing them over me? Not me, that’s for sure.

I’m afraid that this is just another pointless ramble with no conclusion.

If you want a conclusion, I guess it’ll have to be “I’m probably not going to be employed any time soon” or something along those lines. But oh well. It’s the business owners’ loss – they don’t know what they’re missing out on!

But hey, if one of you happens to own a business in Belfast, feel free to employ me. I won’t let you down!

Keep smiling, posting will return to normal very soon.

Monksilver Scouts

Taking a break from study for an hour or so, I’m currently working on a set of badges for my scouts for when they injure themselves on trips. Sort of like a Purple Heart that recognises grazed knees. Only now I realise that I haven’t actually written about that (fairly major) aspect of my life on this blog, so I’m going to back up a little bit.

For a while now, I’ve been involved with a project called Monksilver Scouts. Monksilver is a very small village which does not have a scout group of its own, so if the children of the village wanted to join scouts it would have involved their parents driving for about an hour each week, which isn’t really an option when you take into consideration long school runs, low incomes, rising fuel prices and full-time jobs. So what we’ve done is set up a small, independent scouting group which at present has only five members (not including myself) but has attracted interest from other families in the village.

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The plan for the group was that it would be an organisation run for kids, by kids. This is where I come in: I have been in the village for long enough to be friends with the families of the kids that are involved in the group. This means that I’m friendly enough with the kids that they consider me to be a “kid”, like them, while still being considered an adult by the adults of the village. By this reasoning, all of the scouts are equal and there is no “leader”, per se, but I am still old enough to be the “responsible adult” of the group (until more members join, at which point I may need a second adult).

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As we are an independent group, we have no funding, and I do not like asking parents for money unless it is completely unavoidable. For this reason, I took it upon myself to make all uniforms (so far consisting of a t-shirt with our logo on it and a neckerchief) and achievement badges. I also plan our outings and activities. The troop has a weekly newsletter, “The Monksilver Paper Scouts Weekly” (named by one of the kids), which everyone takes it in turns to write. The general format is a lowdown on the week’s activities, a section of a running short story, an idea for an activity we can do, a recipe and a puzzle.

So far, we have had camping trips, a journey on a steam train, a day of orienteering, and a mock-survival mission. I’m currently working on plans for a “Survival Grade 2” badge, which will involve all the normal things like building a shelter, lighting a fire and cooking something, but also a rescue mission (with a doll, not an actual person) and possibly some first-aid practice. I’m also trying to make plans for our (hopefully) annual day out, which will probably be a picnic on the beach or something like that – nothing too extravagant.

My scout troop is absolutely fantastic, a real mix of characters. Some are mostly interested in fire and rough-housing, some are genuinely interested in learning as much stuff as possible, and some simply want to get as many badges as humanly possible (“If I do X, will you make me such-and-such-a-badge?”). They’re a pleasure to sort-of-work with, and I hope that we can keep it running for a few years to come!

For Want of a Better Blog: Talking to Strangers

For reasons unknown (though most likely due to the fact that I currently have guilt-free free time for the first time in 7 months), I have had no motivation to write this week, and no inspiration when it comes to what I should write, so this week’s post comes from my trusty little green book of blog topics!

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Pardon the hair!

In an attempt to improve my communication skills to increase my likelihood of actually getting a job this year, I have been working on that impossible task, that scourge of the socially anxious: Talking to strangers. It’s a seemingly simple task which many people take for granted but for some, it is something to be dreaded and avoided at all costs.

Some things were pretty obvious. For instance, it is much, much easier to talk to people online than in person. It’s not a matter of being able to lie about yourself and pretend to be someone you’re not. For me, my main fears when it comes to talking to people face-to-face are making eye contact, stuttering, and the ever-terrifying risk of the person stabbing me, punching me, or worse. The last one isn’t all that likely, I’ll give you that, but it’s still something I struggle with every time I talk to someone, in many cases even if I know the person. Talking online solves all of these problems: There is no eye-contact to be made, the closest thing to a stutter is a typo, which everyone makes, and it’s pretty difficult to stab someone via the internet. I’m not talking about Omegle or any of those websites, I’m just talking about talking to people (even those that I meet every day) on Facebook or Twitter. Little smiley faces are an added bonus 🙂 🙂 🙂 😦 🙂 >:)

Surprisingly, in my case, talking to people over the phone is the most stressful experience. One would expect that the removal of eye contact and of the possibility of being murdered would be cause for celebration, but telephone conversations freak me out. The only person I can comfortably talk to on the phone is my mother, and this is a very rare occasion because it costs an arm and a leg to call the UK from Ireland, or vice versa. Sorting out bank details over the phone? Horrific. Student loans? Even worse. Take-away? Near impossible. The upside of this, of course, is that it means I don’t follow the student tradition of endless take-aways because for me, cooking a meal from scratch is much, much less stressful that calling for a Chinese or a pizza. Sadly, talking to shopkeepers is not much better for some reason. If I’m ordering something, I have to clarify with whoever I’m with exactly what it is I have to say, word-for-word. If I’m buying something, I am in a horrific state of panic until I’ve purchased the goods and received my change, because for some reason not having quite enough money and having to choose what to put back is a fate worse than death. And don’t even get me started on Subway. 

A shocking discovery I have made, however, is that I can talk to people in pubs and clubs (without even drinking). While many people who go out stick to one extreme or the other – either staying glued to their friends and pretending nobody exists or else actively going in search for an attractive young man or woman whose throat is ready and willing to have a stranger’s tongue thrust down it in an act of pure romance – I seem to just go out and make friends. I think the reason I can talk to these people is that even if I’m entirely sober, the chances are that they are not and as a result will not be in a fit state to scrutinize and judge what I say. There are even people who I’ve met on nights out who I talk with on Facebook, or bump into time and time again in my more regular haunts and continue the conversation. Somehow, it’s a stress-free method of socialising which is not entirely centered around a screen. 

The only other thing I’ve learned in my adventures is that when it comes to people with whom you will be in regular contact whether you like it or not, first impressions mean little or nothing. I made a pretty terrible first impression when I first met my flatmates back at the start of university, but they don’t hate me (I hope). While I’m sure many of them still think that I’m strange, or awkward, or backward, I have some very close friends among my flatmates, friends who probably did not expect to get along with me when we first met. I hope that with this knowledge, I will get over my fear of talking to people. Someday. Possibly.