Friday, 28 December 2018

on finding a good cuppa in norwich: episode 1

exhibit a: the kind of horrific cup of tea that haunts my dreams. I long to forget.

Over the Christmas holidays I've spent a lot of time thinking about what it is that I want from university, and how best to go about making sure I make the most of the experience. During this thinking I came to an astounding conclusion: I simply must spend the next three years on a quest to seek out the best brew Norwich can offer me. The tea to end all teas, the strongest steaming mug of nectar to ever grace my lips.

I drink a lot of tea and like to think my years of experience mean my tastebuds are pretty attuned to what's hot and what's not in tea-terms. Upon entering my little student room in halls you are almost immediately greeted by a beautiful sight: a selection of teas, stacked and organised in an aesthetically pleasing pyramid. This is my pride and joy, my stash, my lifeblood.

The selection consists of as follows:

1. a jumbo box of Yorkshire tea bags, purchased from the motherland: Farmfoods. There is also a jumbo pack of Fruit Shoots stashed beneath my desk but we won't talk about that. Side note here, Yorkshire tea is the best tea for excessive daily drinking. It catches you in your throat immediately causing you to sigh with pleasure after the first gulp. There is no arguing about this fact: Yorkshire tea is simply the best tea.

2. an old biscuit tin which houses my 'extra strong' Twinings everyday brew. This is just a back-up, though a very important back-up nonetheless, for when my Yorkshire tea stash inevitably depletes into nothingness, just crumby teabag residue left behind when I've ploughed through what is supposed to last the average family months.

3. a very small box of posh tea for special occasions (at uni, special occasions are: when I'm feeling sad/anxious/hormonal/stressed and want to treat myself to a fancy cuppa). The posh tea in question is Newby English breakfast blend. You know these babies are posh for two reasons. 1: you get a meagre 15 in one pack. Daylight robbery. 2: 'teabags' has been translated as 'silken pyramids'. When these run out I'll have to consult my student loan to see if I can treat myself to a box of Teapigs - another excellent choice when one is after a posh tea.

4. a box of Clipper Green tea, the only green tea worth buying after M&S' Green tea with jasmine (NOT only because of the pretty packaging - it's also a green tea which doesn't taste like glorified swamp water.) I only drink this stuff when I'm in an exceptional mood or (never and/or) feeling bloated.

However, these supplies are just for when I'm cooped up. Doing an English degree means I have a lot of time where I'm left to my own devices, and since there are only so many hours one can spend looking out from the library onto the university, I often make treks into coffee shops in Norwich itself, or the couple of cafes UEA has scattered across campus. It seems only fair I take you on my journey of discovery into where I can get the best tea in Norwich, hopefully in a place that also doubles up as a good place to study/ a good place to put on Instagram/ or a nice place to take a break from the ceaseless stream of reading I endure. 

I will be back soon with the first instalment in what is sure to be an endlessly exciting rollercoaster ride of a series. 

Thursday, 27 December 2018

on childhood films


I often think about the strange character films loved in childhood possess when re-encountered later in life. Watching them again, as a self vastly different from the self that loved them years ago, it is as if we are watching memories of the past play out on the screen alongside, behind and through the narrative of the film itself.

The strange character emanating from this childhood romance is difficult to extract, difficult to put into words. Film and memory of the film become inextricable. We remember our feelings associated with encountering something we feel an affinity with so that the story of the film itself bears the imprints of these moments of love. I suppose this strange character is a feeling then, rather than a quality. Art and feeling melt into one force, so that films are bound up with our selfhood, unable to be detached from the fundamental structure of our being formed in childhood.

Films then, those things we reel off effortlessly in lists, as likes and dislikes shoved into Tinder bios, are not empty commodities but appendages of our being. I've written elsewhere about my love affair with Wes Anderson films and the close link with memory they have in my mind - my love for them upon first encountering them settling itself in my memory as temporal events complete with setting and feeling of the moment they took part in - and I think the same goes for childhood films. Things loved in childhood are an altogether different kind of romance than things loved later in life. These things are what you grow with, in your formative years, accompanying you as identity is shaped. They never leave you.

It seems a little reductionist to just say these films are a part of you, but I think it captures the feeling quite accurately. The essence of the film lingers in the crevices of your identity and you carry it with you. The point is that the memory of the first encounter and the subsequent relationship is always there, coalescing with the existence of the film itself, we are unable to untether it from the relationship and structures we build up around it. I cannot watch Matilda without thinking about lying sprawled on the old yellow and green rug at the house I grew up in. A rug which housed at-least 10 years of crumbs within its fibres and displayed a fair few stains of which the origins were disputable.  I think about how awestruck I felt as a child watching a character who, like me, devoured book after book. On that rug, I was surrounded by the comforts of my world, but transported through story into another, into possibility.

Then there's the other layer which comes into play: the memory of the object itself, something loved being something we held, something clutched onto, something we owned. I can picture now my Matilda DVD watched on a daily basis. A garish yellow spine looking out at me from our small selection of DVDs shoved between books and VHS' on the shelf. I watched it so much the thing was most likely worn down, perpetually on its last legs. I can similarly picture my VHS' of the 90s sitcom 2Point4Children. A niche reference, I'm sure, but a show I continued to watch year after year as I grew up, each rewatching rewarding me with jokes I was too young to understand the last time round.

I could go on: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (the nostalgia I feel upon watching this is so strong I constantly want to cry); Mary Poppins; a whole string of Nickelodeon television shows; the lesser known corners of CBBC; Mean Girls; The Princess Diaries, and so on. These are not just things I reel off thoughtlessly but encompass feeling and memory within themselves. They've shaped me, and so I understand them in this sense, as shaping forces as opposed to mere stories I watch and then forget. Films are presences in our lives, ineffably bound up with memories and feelings and objects, caught in romance and becoming pieces of identity.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

on university

Over the last two years I have been to two different universities but remain curiously unable to express my feelings about my experiences without the urge to justify myself. My thoughts continually resort to comparison against the mythical definitive 'university experience', and I shape them in accordance with how they appear against this concept. My university experience is not a recognisable narrative and in some ways I feel like a failure. After attending university once before and giving it another go, I'm beginning to understand that university is not a drama I play a role in, but a script I am able to write for myself.

My first attempt at university took place in 2017 in London. It was a dark place, a busy place, a place that introduced me to a depression I hadn't encountered before. I left after struggling through nearly two terms. Looking back now, I probably should have realised something was wrong when I stopped leaving the house, stopped eating properly and developed an unhealthy taste for pesto paninis and large cups of tea purchased from the university cafe and consumed after every lecture or seminar. In this state of complete ignorance, lying to myself to cope, it took my mum suggesting I might actually be depressed for me to break down in the Tottenham branch of IKEA and admit that this university wasn't right for me at all.

Trying to communicate afterwards how utterly empty I felt to friends and family via metaphor or comparison always felt, and continues to feel, clumsy. I'd hear myself utter yet again that London was a 'bubble' I couldn't handle. All the cliches spilling out my mouth seemed performed, spoken by a disembodied voice that didn't belong to me. I felt distant from my own communication of the experience, unable really to capture it and so resorting to images which didn't truly serve my purpose faithfully. Lacking the tools of language to shape a narrative to be told, I felt denied of a sense of ownership. I didn't feel I was telling anything sincere, my experience reduced to this dark mass I couldn't get a hold of; a force which rendered me devoid of energy and happiness and to a certain degree, self hood.

Months passed and I tried to get on with my life. I got a job. I met a boy. I made friends. I reflected. I was reunited with home comforts. I fell back into the routine of family life. Parts of me were growing and parts of me were happily reacquainting themselves with the self I left behind when I moved to London, a place where I lived in a state of constant emptiness, surrounded by the feeling that this city and this university wanted nothing more than to spit me out. A pervasive fear of this emptiness haunted me. However much I struggled for it, my motivation for engaging with culture, with music, books, podcasts, with things I loved before, was nonexistent. Amidst the trauma of losing myself in a place where happiness was a rarity, I continued to feel as if that part of myself that was capable of happiness was gone, irretrievably left behind in memory, belonging now to the summer of 2017, a pre-university world.

In other spheres of my life I was happy, but there were aspects of me which didn't seem to have recovered. I went to therapy. I went to work. I tried to move on. I spent a lot of time thinking returning to a new university better suited to me would cure me. An instant remedy of sorts. When I arrived, ready to tackle it all once again, it was different. I was different. In the struggle of attempting to return to a self I once was I had become an altogether different person. Through working and encountering new people and navigating the world outside of university I had grown. Being thrown into a world full of 18 year-olds fully intent on getting drunk and not turning up to lectures put this into perspective. I was so utterly pissed off at all this around me. What I wanted from university was not the narrative everyone else seemed to be living. University was not going to cure me or help me find myself when I felt so distant and detached from the world everyone perceived it to be.

I'm in Norwich now. I live in a flat with 12 people and only really get on slightly (and that is putting it kindly) with one girl. On my course I don't click with anyone. I've had coffees and gone for food with a handful of students, but never anyone I'm enamoured by. I find it difficult to get on with people who do English, despite the fact we may share an obvious common interest. I work hard, perhaps too hard, and put my all into my degree. I'm home a lot, visiting my boyfriend and don't get involved with a lot in terms of university life. Societies are full of people that want a very different experience. I want a degree, I want a new city, but I don't want the university world.

Whenever I reel off facts like these I have a tendency to over-compensate for things, feeling I have to justify the fact that I'm home so much, or that I don't go out-out and dislike the alcohol culture, or that I spend a lot of time focusing solely on my degree. I feel as if because I am going about a university experience that isn't part of public discourse, I'm doing something wrong, or I'm failing, or I somehow deserve the anxiety I sometimes get about feeling lonely. I expect only choruses of 'You don't help yourself Imogen'. It's hard to put into words that I'm not necessarily not helping myself when I don't throw myself into the university bubble. I don't really want to be a part of it. It's not what I want from my university experience.

I'm learning that it's okay to feel out of place at 19, surrounded by students younger than me going about things differently. It's okay that my party-animal flatmates probably bitch about the fact I sometimes keep myself to myself, only seeing me when I emerge from my room to collect my second Deliveroo of the week. It's okay that I've become known as the elderly 19 year old at the end of the corridor with a penchant for doing jigsaw puzzles. It's okay that I'm there for the degree rather than the life experience. I have a life at home, I have friends here and I'm incredibly close with my family, and university is just something I happen to also do.

© musethings
Maira Gall