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.

Studying English at Queen’s University Belfast

What’s it like, being a student? An English student? An English student at Queen’s?

Simple answer: It’s brilliant.

I hear people complaining about their courses all the time – too many hours, the lectures are boring, the lecturers are bad, etc etc etc. I’m happy to report that I have NO complaints about the English course. It is interesting, very interesting. We get to look at the subject from all angles – literature, linguistics and writing. 

I have learned about the history and origins of the English language. I have learned about child language acquisition. I have learned how it is possible to change wording so that the exact same story can make any character sound like the guilty party. I’ve studied poetry, plays, prose and novels. I’ve studied Shakespeare, which is only to be expected on this course, and then gone on to study David Nicholls’ “One Day”. 

At the moment, for the course, I am reading two novels a week. Depending on what sort of reader you are, that will sound like a lot or a little. But one thing is for sure, it is very doable if you manage your time properly. This week, I have read Philip Pullman’s “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ” and Owen McCafferty’s “Scenes from the Big Picture” (a nice wee break from the full novels). Both are just fantastic, but so different from each other.

The lectures are great. Lecturers explain everything so well, and point out things that you might not notice when reading books for the first time. A lecture is a serious, formal, informative session, but it is not unusual for lecturers to make little jokes that have the whole hall laughing (yes, you’re allowed to laugh, good grief!). 

My decision to study English at Queen’s was one of the best I have made. I’ve learned so much, met a load of great people (both through living arrangements and through classes), and it has definitely helped me come out of my shell a little bit, even if it took a while.

To summarise: University is yes. Let’s university. 

Tx

Weekly Photo Challenge: Street Life

Image

This (somewhat blurred) photo was my attempt at capturing Belfast’s City Centre in the run up to Christmas. It was dark out, but people were still bustling about, trying to secure those last few Christmas presents before heading home. 

Until September, I had only ever spent any real amount of time in the countryside in Donegal and Somerset. There’s such a massive difference between living in a city like Belfast and living in the countryside. That may seem like a fairly obvious observation, but I simply could not believe just how different it was. 

It’s not just the size of the place, although that did take some getting used to. It’s not just the vast amount of people, even though that still does cause some problems. The biggest difference is the way the people are. In Donegal, if you walk past someone, you say “Hi” or “How are you?” even if you don’t know the person. Even in Monksilver, people might not say hello to you when you walk past, but they at least smile or nod in recognition of your presence. Here, it seems that everyone makes it their responsibility to pretend that there is nobody else on the street. It’s bizarre. At first, this made me feel incredibly lonely. It felt like nobody knew or cared that I was here. Now that I’m used to it, I find it almost comforting. I know that nobody knows or cares that I’m here, but there’s a sort of safety in that invisibility. 

So here is a photo of Belfast, and the people in it. And we can see all of the people in the photo, but it seems that the people in the photo can only see themselves. It’s very odd, but I guess that’s just city life.

Tx