On Ditching University

I attended two semesters of university before calling it a day and starting a ‘proper’ job – one with an office and a monthly salary. Not only did I save myself an estimated £8,000,000 in debt, I started my career about three years before everyone else my age. This has obvious benefits, such as:

NickiGIF

But, now I’m nearing the other side of my twenties, I’m starting to wonder if I have made A Huge Mistake.

Because uni isn’t about the degree, is it? Not entirely anyway. It’s about being thrown into a tight space with literally hundreds of new people your own age, equally as clueless and excited about life as you. It’s about trying ungodly booze combinations, exploring new ideologies (“Humanist Society? Where do I sign up!”), getting the stupid out of your system and maybe, just maybe, figuring out what the hell you want from life. 

My 18 year-old self couldn’t have imagined anything more terrifying*.

Tracy

Still, it hasn’t been all spreadsheets and desk drudgery for the past five years. I really love what I do for a living. I’ve met interesting people, made dozens of mistakes and become a more capable person. I can totally cook a roast dinner from scratch! And one thing is true: I’m a helluva lot more confident/brave/sure about myself now compared to when I stepped off the train at King’s Cross five years ago. 

But I can’t help thinking there’s loads I’ve missed by ditching uni - formative experiences like sleeping in questionable foreign hostels, working in a sticky-floored bar or making life-long bonds forged by living in a damp-infested house with seven others.  As I get older, the likelihood of living in a random European city for the summer diminishes. I got bills to pay. 

I’m so grateful for all the experiences that my career has enabled me to have. I am very lucky. But the feeling that I’ve missed out on something essential and wonderful and awful persists. 

*I’m an out-and-proud introvert. And when I first started uni, I took my interaction avoidance skills to the next-level. I was persistently stubborn in my resistance to making friends and generally an all-round poo bum. But that’s a story for another post. 

 

Taxidermy, Crack Pie & Art Fairs: What I got up to in November

First post in six weeks… Oh dear. So here’s an update of the things that I’ve been up to, just so I can keep my blogger badge. Done something that you think I’d like? Tell me about it so I’m not spending the weekends watching DVDs in bed. 

Rihanna Loud Tour

Image by xo-megane-xo

Rihanna!

I’m not the biggest Rihanna fan (confession: I booked these tickets on the strength of last year’s X Factor performance) but she did put on an excellent show complete with levitating pianos, a pink army truck and those trousers that rip off mid-song.

I do think Ri-Ri needs to take a lesson from Destiny’s Child though, but maybe that’s another blog post altogether. To paraphrase: girl, put some clothes on.

A jar of moles and squirrel lamps

As part of my ongoing birthday celebrations – I managed to eke them out for five days! – my lovely housemate took me to the Grant Museum of Zoology in Bloomsbury. It’s been on my list for ages but thanks to awkward opening hours, I’ve never had a chance to go. If skeletons, preserved animals and taxidermy are your thing, then you will love it.

My favourite? The jar of moles, which looks like something from the world’s worst pick ‘n’ mix shop:

Grant Museum moles

Image by @sianysianysiany

Accidentally continuing the taxidermy theme, we stopped by Riding House Café – home to the famous squirrel lamps – for tea. And cheese. And gingerbread with ice cream and poached pears. Shut up, it was my birthday.

Anyway Riding House Café is beyond gorgeous. I haven’t heard fantastic things about the food (I don’t understand London’s love affair with small plates) but thought has been put into every inch of the décor. I’m already in love with the tomato red banquettes and bathrooms that manage to look shabby and luxurious at the same time.

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Frugal February: Week One

No fudge for me :-(

Wondering what on this earth Frugal February is? Don’t fret, it’s all explained here.

So far, this February has remained frugal. I’m quite proud of myself, mostly because this week involved an afternoon trip spent in the shops of Wonderful Brighton. And I didn’t buy anything! Not a bag of fudge from The Lanes, not a vintage milk bottle (been after one of those for ages) from the cavernous Snooper’s Paradise and not a Rob Ryan mug.

Actually, if it wasn’t for Frugal Feb, goodness knows what useless tat I would’ve picked up in Brighton. I try to think that every cute poster or packet of artisan fudge I deny myself is another dollar in the pot for my trip to NYC this summer.

Not to sound like a total alcoholic, but I’m also finding that using holiday cocktails as currency is more effective than boring old pounds and pence. For example, a Sunday newspaper or pot of Barry M nail polish is about half a cocktail. A dress in the sale that I don’t really need? 3-4 cocktails. Season 3 of ER on DVD? Well that’s my bar tab for the evening covered. Unorthodox yes, but it’s a technique that has worked out so far.

That said, there have been a few things that I’ve had to buy that don’t strictly fall under the label of Essential (as in, I could just about survive without them):

  • Scrivener (£25ish). I’m writing a book at the minute and this web app is about as indispensable as my laptop. It’s a tool of immense beauty and I love love love it.
  • Spotify Premium (£10). If I’m awake then there’s an 85% chance I’m using Spotify. For ten English pounds, I get to avoid having my playlists interrupted by poorly-targeted adverts. The Spotify subscription stays.
  • Hairdresser appointment (Undisclosed amount). Sorry, did you say something? I was too busy sniffing my delicious hair. Money well spent.
  • Replacement Kettle (£15). Boiling water for tea on the stove seems quaint for a while (“It’s just like in the olden days!”) but soon becomes tiresome.

Are you taking part in Frugal Feb? How are you finding it so far?

Flickr image from biscuitsmlp’s photostream

Frugal February: Introduction

Piggy bank awaits March

Because I’m a challenge-loving masochist, this month I’ll be taking part in Frugal February with a few other bloggers. As Gemma outlines in her post on Big Girls Browse, we vow to avoid shopping for anything other than essentials.

Here’s a quick breakdown of what I’ll not be buying in February:

  • Books – this includes the books I’ve been buying as research for my novel. I’ll have to use the internet or (gasp!) join the library.
  • DVDs – TV boxsets are my weakness but perving on Noah Wyle in ER season three will just have to wait until March.
  • Cosmetics – No buying a new Barry M nail polish just because they’ve introduced a new ice-cream shade. Even if they are only £2.99 a pop.
  • Hair – I have a hairdressers appointment on Saturday which I’ve had booked for three weeks. And it won’t be cheap. I’m not cancelling but I can vow not to be seduced by a £18 tub of wonder conditioner.
  • Clothes/Shoes/Accessories – None at all, except for this one dress I’ve had my eye on. And I’m buying it on eBay for under £15 so it barely counts. As for everything else, I’ll have to make do with what I have.
  • Magazines/Newspapers – This means no weekend papers, which I can cope with really as I can find everything online. But I’ll miss Black Hair & Beauty :-(
  • Eating Out - None, apart from plans I’ve made well before February. And absolutely no buying lunch from sandwich shops because I couldn’t be bothered to make one the night before.
  • Food – I’m not going to stop eating obvs, but I will make an effort to buy less meat and avoid silly ingredients. Nobody needs avocado pesto.
  • Home Things – New bedding, curtains and a rug will just have to wait until after Frugal February. Sigh.
  • Fun Stuff – No booking tickets for concerts, exhibitions, shows, the cinema or the theatre.

So why am I doing this to myself? Well, frankly I could do with the extra cash. My trip to New York isn’t going to pay for itself, and I don’t mind going without a few little luxuries in order to have more fun in what is my spiritual home (no, I haven’t been before).

I can’t imagine I’ll save a great deal of money anyway – it’s not as though I live decadently in the first place. I pride myself on the fact I don’t buy random shit and I abhor waste to a psychotic degree. Chucking away food causes me a little bit of pain (in short, I’d have been an excellent housewife during WWII).

But I suck at keeping track of what I buy and where my money goes. And that isn’t a good habit.

Expect updates over the next 28 days. I think I’ll do okay, but we’ll see – not being able to buy vanilla pods for my latest culinary experiment might just tip me over the edge…

Flickr image from bradipo’s photostream

Happy Valentine’s Day!

WIBBLE!

WIBBLE!

There’s nothing sarcastic about this blog title, I genuinely mean it. Really.

If you read this blog last year, you might have noticed me being a little grouchy over V-Day. You can read that post again if you like. See what I mean? What a GRUMP.

I kinda feel I need to atone for that. I was a bit miserable and should have kept my mardy bum attitude to myself. So, inspired by Bangs and a Bun, I’ll be sending a Valentine’s card to anyone who wants one. A real paper card you can hold, not an e-card. I’ve never sent a Valentine’s card before and I imagine the whole process will fill me with warm fuzzies. Mmm, fuzzies.

Want a Valentine’s card? Just email me a postal address to alexsheppardsb@googlemail.com before 14th February for your very own card. Warning: I will pick the tackiest, sparkliest, most teddy bear-est card in the whole of Clinton’s.

Yeah, I’m going to Clinton’s. May as well do things proper.

Flickr image from Karen Horton’s photostream.

New Year Resolutions

Boring January Skies

D
id you do the whole New Year resolutions this year? Course you did. “New Year, New You” is what they say.

Now nearly a month into the new year, how many of you are still keeping your resolutions? How many of you lasted a week? Don’t be ashamed. The reason why you didn’t last isn’t because you’re pathetic, but because it’s January.

January is unremittingly bleak; that 3.34pm-on-a-thursday feeling every sodding day. Also everyone is broke, feeling a bit tubby and pining for the days when it was normal to start the morning with a mug of Bailey’s and a handful of Quality Street. To explode into January 1st with crazy resolutions that are completely outside of your character just doesn’t make any sense.

It’d be like me swearing off inappropriate nail polish (BARRY M MINT GREEN 4 LIFE) or deciding to cut down on my Dreamgirls intake. Utter madness.

In my opinion January should be spent easing into the New Year. Stay in, make vegetarian chilli and spend the month planning stuff. So what if the highlight of my month was discovering Misfits series one on 4OD? I’ve booked tickets to see lots of fun things, written the first chapter of my novel (more on that later) and nearly finished planning my trip to NYC in the summer.

I’m definitely not against the concept of New Year resolutions – I just don’t think that January is the best time to start them. Which is why I’m starting my NWRs in February. Controversial, I know.

Here what they be:

1. Write 300 words daily of the aforementioned novel. Even if it is crap, it’s something. I’m not in any hurry, but hopefully I’ll have the first draft ready by autumn.

2. Cook one new thing a week. I don’t care if it makes me sound like a massive girly-girl, but I really enjoy cooking. I might not be that good at it (we no longer talk about the Cinnamon Roll Incident) but I enjoy it.

3. Take better care of myself. Just general body admin really – drink more water, try not to sleep in my make-up and limit my consumption of Sicilian Meatball sandwiches from Nani’s Cafe.

Wish me luck!

Flickr image from damo1977′s photostream

2010: How was it for you?

If the main theme of last year was meeting new people, then 2010 was all about being an adult. Not only did I discover the existence of standing orders and make my first solo trip abroad, the word ‘intern’ is no longer present in my job title and (*drumroll*) I moved out of my dad’s flat. If paying bills electronically and not having to let your parents know when you’ll be back in doesn’t make you a grown-up, then I don’t know what does.

Unfortunately I feel that a spot of writer’s block has held me back. Though 2010 has been fantastic, I wonder how much more I’d have achieved if I had not suddenly lost all confidence with my writing. It’s frustrating to say the least, and I’m still not quite over it.

Still, there was plenty in 2010 to keep me busy. Here’s what I got up to:

January

If I’d have had my way, January would have been written off as a non-month. It was just too cold to function. But somehow I managed to drag myself away from my electric blanket to go on a few dates, work on secret Domestic Sluttery projects and see Caitlin Moran, who I kinda adore, discuss porn culture.

February

I went to Paris for the weekend! Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time and drinking wine by the Louvre certainly brightened up a miserable month. As did a spot of cupcake decorating and cocktails with Gail.

March

It was around March that the bone-crushing cold decided to let up a bit. I found myself at the glorious 40 Winks, the dinky boutique hotel in Mile End (yes, really), for an afternoon of girly girlishness. Insanely enjoyable despite my evil hangover, courtesy of Shoreditch Twit.

When not nosying about other people’s homes for blogging purposes, I managed to get my face on a Henry Holland scarf and a second job as Community Intern at Qype. I was thrilled. But to be fair, I’d had a stalky crush on that company for some time – they had to hire me at some point.

The picture above (via Orbyn.co.uk) shows me, Robyn and Gail doing what we do best – karaokeing to Teenage Dirtbag.

April

My favourite evening in April had to be the Jim Haynes and Fernandez & Leluu’s Supper Club event, organised by Qype. Twenty or so people gathered in Uyen’s (one half of F&L) Hackney flat to eat fantastic food – including the most amazing bread pudding, above – and far too many cocktails. It was brilliant.

Incidentally, if you ever get the chance to visit Fernandez & Leluu’s Supper Club then do. They are tremendous cooks, incredibly warm and you’re bound to have a fantastic time.

May

Another quiet month thanks to our non-existent summer, but I managed to sneak in a trip to Chicago (the musical, not the city or band) and my first ever burlesque show. Me and Domestic Slut Frances ate scones while corseted ladies stripped to their suspenders and nipple tassels. Lovely.

The above snap was taken at the end of yet another cocktail-y Qype event. Yes, that’s chocolate fondue and no, we weren’t meant to drink it through a straw. But we ran out of strawberries.

June

Running around Embankment filming a remake of Ghostbusters with the Webjam crew – most bizarre team-building day ever, but the finished films were the funniest things I’d ever seen. Can totally recommend the team at Videopia. And no, I’m not linking to the video (but I will say that I played Venkman).

But most excitingly, I met Zadie Smith at a Q&A (which I reviewed on For Books’ Sake). That’s actually a life goal fulfilled, so it’s pretty damn special. Even tops the excitement of meeting Mayer Hawthorne last summer.

July

July saw a long weekend in Tallinn, Estonia with travelling buddy Sian. We discovered underground wine bars, Medieval-themed restaurants and the best hot chocolate known to man. We also had early nights with Rocky II and room service tea in our perfect (and very reasonably priced) hotel. Lovely little weekend.

August

I moved out! For the first time, I was living with housemates and paying rent (the three months I spent at uni doesn’t count). Here are my house keys, which my delightful new housemate put on an Eiffel Tower keyring for me. It’s the perfect pitstop while I plan my move back to North London.

September

Thanks to the magic of Twitter, I’ve managed to make a few friends with kindly Manchester folk. The incredibly lovely Cris invited me up for a weekend of tequila, dancing until 4am, a perfect hangover-y Saturday and a tour of Manchester’s city centre. I’m a bit in love with the place.

The pic shows me, Jane and the rest of our team at the FBS Ladyfest Quiz. Thankfully there are no photos of the carnage that ensued.

Snap by Sam Evaskitas.

October

In a bid to get out of my London bubble, I’ve been trying to visit somewhere new every month. October saw me day-tripping to Oxford with Gary, for an exhibition at the stunning Ashmolean. I bought a Michael Caine poster and drank in a pub straight out of Harry Potter. In fact, the whole town is too picturesque to be true. Beautiful, but I’ve never felt more like a tourist in my own country.

Despite writer’s block being all up in my grill, I managed to knock out a piece for The Tip Online on why I chose to leave uni. Some lovely supportive comments there, always welcome.

Not very often my job involves me posing as a Charlie’s Angel, but I’ll go along with it. The fantastic piece of Photoshop art above was taken for Rob’s (aka Mr. Qype UK) leaving do. Also sad to report that Rachelle and Susana are no longer fighting on the Qype Community Front Line :-(

November

Novembers are always busy – a lot of my friends (and me!) have birthdays this month so it’s usually a hungover blur. But it was also the month I joined Qype full-time. For the first time, my job is no longer defined as an internship and I have a pretty fantastic team too. Couldn’t really ask for more than that right now.

As well as volunteering at Ladyfest Ten, taking a solo day trip to Paris (for Mona Lisa and hot chocolate) and a girly weekend in the Cotswolds, I had the best birthday party ever. Followed by the type of hangover that makes it painful to speak. But a night dancing to Elvis, meeting lovely people and drinking cocktails topped with flaming limes was fully worth it. And! Special guest Wibbs turned up for a drink and dance. Totally my favourite plush pig.

December

Honestly? I’ve done nothing exciting this month. Just counting down the days until the Christmas break and enjoying the snow.

And beyond…

So very excited about 2011. Not just because it includes a trip to New York City and a Rihanna concert, but because I really don’t have a clue about what it will hold. Will I move back to North London? Dye my hair Jessica Rabbit Red? Be whisked away to a romantic retro cottage in Wales? Who knows!