Saturday, 30 January 2016

Reuse your Food

Now when it comes to eating, small helpings are not something I take notice of. In most cases, when I cook something, even if it seems like I have prepared a lot of food, I will always find myself hungry and able enough to consume the entire saucepans worth...with room for a chocolate something or another for afters, of course. However, since I have started living by myself more and with the mindset of a student but without the loan, I am trying to save more on my food shopping. Trying to be more inventive with my recipes and doing my best to leave leftovers. Yesterday was probably my first successful attempt so I thought I would just pop it here. It's not experimental, not new and creative but whoever said that was part of the judging criteria?

Note: These recipes are based on me cooking for myself and myself only but as I mention above, for some that may mean these feed an army. Feel free to be flexible.

Beef Burgers, Potatoes and Spinach (basically a list of food but simply stating the truth)

Beef Mince (500g)
1 large Onion (any colour, I chose white)
A dash of milk (or some other binding agent e.g. breadcrumbs or flour)
Seasoning: Salt, Pepper, Garlic Granules and Mixed Herbs
Olive Oil (for cooking)
Potatoes (duh!)...I used baby salad potatoes, don't ask why, just get the little ones
Olive Oil
Garlic Granules (yes, I do have a bit of an obsession with garlic, I know)
Mixed herbs (optional)
Garlic Gra...only kidding, I think that's quite enough garlic for one meal

1. To make the burgers, chop up the onion into small cubes/pieces and throw into a bowel with the mince meat
2. Chuck in the seasoning and a dash of milk (other binding agents are available) and then get your hands in there! Squidge it all together, break up the mince and make sure all the seasoning is mixed into every corner (curve? bowls don't have corners...)
3. Tada! You have yourself some lovely flavoursome Mince. Now here is where you transform them into the delicious burgeriness that we want for our dinner. Take a handful (as big as you wish your burger to be) and mold it into a round patty shape.  You can make as many as you like but since my point of this post is to give ideas for leftovers, try and leave a little over)
4. Heat the oil in a frying pan allowing it time to get pretty hot...don't touch it to test..bad plan. Once hot enough, put your burger(s) - I made 2 - into the pan and allow to cook, turning after a 2 minutes or so to stop burning. If you allow both sides to brown and then reduce the heat, you can leave the burgers to slowly cook through to the middle while you prepare the veg.
5. For the potatoes, take 5 or 6 and place them in a pan of cold water, bring them to the boil and allow to cook until poking them with a knife shows that they are softish
6. Once cooked, remove from the heat, drain and rinse with cold water to make them easier to handle without crying. Place them on a chopping surface and halve each small potato.
7. Heat some more olive oil in a frying pan and chuck in the potatoes. You can then add the garlic or herbs or whatever flavouring you wish and some simple salt and pepper. 
8. Meanwhile, steam/cook however you wish, some spinach (other vegetables are available) and season
9. Once the burgers are cooked to your preferred level, you have the option to tip the par-fried potatoes into the frying pan to allow them to absorb some of those yummy burger juices. 
10. Serve neatly and prettily (of course) onto a plate and..breathe!

Ta da!


We ain't done yet! If you followed my little line of instruction, you will have left some of your raw mince mix over for another day, to save on the pennies and all that. 
note: don't leave the mince more than 24 hours otherwise it might not taste very nice and could lead to an unhappy tum

Ellie-May's Pasta Bolognese 

Leftover Mince Meat (already seasoned and all)
Olive Oil
3 Small Tomatoes 
One Oxo Beef cube (or other beef stock)
Mushrooms (optional)
More Seasoning 
Pasta (of your shape choice, I personally chose Fusilli)
Parmesan Cheese


1. Cut a slit in each of the tomatoes and place in a bowl of hot water, from the tap or (if you really wish) from the kettle. Wait a few minutes for the tomatoes to start peeling from the slits. Remove from the bowl and peel each tomato as much as you can (whatever you do DO NOT PANIC if not all of the skin..or any in my case..comes off, some people just like their tomatoes peeled. Chop them into quarters and each quarter into halves and each half into...halves (is that 8ths?...) and leave aside for a minute.
2. Heat some olive oil in a big(ish) pan and wait until hot. Tip the Beef mix into the pan and break up with the back of a wooden spoon or spatula. You can keep mixing as it browns to stop anything from becoming stuck to the bottom of the pan.
3. Meanwhile heat up some water in a saucepan with a dash of salt and, once boiling, add the pasta and reduce the heat.
4. Returning to the Bolognese, now the beef has browned a little, add the chopped tomatoes and give the saucepan a stir. Reduce the heat and allow the tomatoes to soften and the juices to leek into the mix. You can break the pieces up further with the back of a spoon or with a knife if you wish.
5. It is at this point that you can then add some additional ingredients if you wish. I love mushrooms so chopped 3 up small button mushrooms up and threw them in, allowing them to cook through. Other ingredients could be some cubed carrot pieces, some chopped spinach, perhaps some celery slice? Be creative. 
6. Finally, crumble up your beef stock oxo cube into the pan (or pour in your stock) and give it a stir allowing the flavours to be absorbed. Grab a teaspoon and have a taste. If you feel it needs more seasoning, chuck it in! Drain the pasta, pour it into the pan with the mince, toss it around and serve with some Parmesan on top. 


Remember! Cheap Eats = Tasty Treats...or something equally cheesy


Monday, 25 January 2016

Dear Grandpa

Dear Grandpa,

I’m just writing to check that you received the Fruit Pastels Darryl left for you. Gabby said she thought those would be appreciated, perhaps a little more than another pile of earth – not that those weren’t sweet too, it’s just you can’t eat the earth and we all know how much you love those rainbow chews. Only a couple of days before we said our final goodbye to you, I was sitting watching ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ on the sofa with dad, Grandma pottering around filling her hot water bottle and talking to mum, when I remembered your secret (don’t worry, I won’t tell) stash of Fruit Pastels hidden in the draw of that smart wooden side table by the door. In one draw, old photographs, bits of important looking paper in another, in the third and fourth…sweets: those bulk buy boxes stashed away for a sneaky treat when no one is looking. I knew though…I won’t lie…and I did check with dad…but I may have taken a pack…they weren’t the best. They’d lost their juiciness but the chew was most definitely there, I’m just surprised I got through them without losing a tooth. You were always a card (as my lovely mum, your daughter, would say) and your sweet tooth will never be forgotten.

I hope that you’re behaving and that you’ve found enough things to complain about. It’s been a couple of days so I’m expecting you to have written at least two letters expressing your disappointment in the way things are run, or perhaps a refusal to pay the speeding ticket for leaving us too quickly but they do have a point grandpa, you could have left a little later, gone a little slower, taken more time before you headed off for good. I hope that you’re talking a lot, entertaining people with your stories of all the things that have happened to you over the years. There’s been a lot.

Your upbringing is a story that needs to be written. The family twists and turns, parents, aunts, cousins, brothers, escapes and discovery. A tale of secrets and surprises but one that ended happily. You leave behind such an amazing legacy. Four wonderful, incredibly wacky, and highly entertaining and loveable children, 17 loved, loving and equally mad Grandchildren and three adorable and beautiful Great-Grandchildren with many more to come I’m sure. The family you created and that has grown from its beginning is one that I feel so lucky to be a part of. The closeness that we share is amazing and the memories I have and will continue to make with all of my aunts, my uncle, all of the cousins and, of course, Grandma, are something I will treasure forever. Christmases, family gatherings, Sunday lunches, days at Moulsford, Beenham, Malborough and in London, all of them hilarious fun, not to mention filled with delicious food.

I will keep with me for as long as I live the memory of the last family day out I spent with you; the boat trip. That day that I and the lucky few others who joined, were able to spend doing something you’ve always loved, travelling via your second home - a boat - down the Thames and with such beautiful views, was a really wonderful occasion. You had a final chance to steer us down the river, and ignoring the fact we almost hit a tree, I’m so pleased that you saw in that day.

Seeing you in Hospital the week that you left was the saddest I’ve ever felt. Mum had warned me that it would be a shock but I still didn’t expect you to look so different. The man that I saw was not the man I’d seen even a month or two before when you were still at home, wobbling across the room to your favourite armchair. This man was small, tiny, a skeleton beneath his hospital clothes. Your face was the oldest and thinnest I’d ever seen and I never knew what a difference a set of teeth could make to a face. You said they were too big now, your face had shrunk so much and mum and I struggled to hear a word you said. Eventually removing them was the only option and you instantly aged a decade. You were no longer my nimble old grandpa but a little old man sucking on orange segments and being asked to wiggle your toes. The one thing I can say about that day that made me smile, was witnessing you meet your new great-grandson Mo for the first time. I could see how happy you were as you watched Ted bring him up out of his carrier and towards your bed. You didn’t hold him but seeing him was enough. Half an hour later, we left, I waved goodbye and said I’d see you soon.

You would have loved the tent at your house on Wednesday. Everyone you loved and who loved you was there and the corners were filled with photos of your life from the 1930’s until this year. Some people even looked at photos of young you and said how much you resembled my brother. It’s true. You did. I went to your room with mum. All your clothes are still there and they smell like you. We spent a while there, just looking at and touching the clothes you once wore. You’ll be pleased to hear that Grandma was ok. I took her to the sofa when we got home, she settled down, made her hot water bottle and put on her slippers. People came in and out, friends, relatives, young, old. She came outside and walked around your tent, looking at the pictures, the memories and greeting people. Music played, food was eaten, tea was drunk…the best thing there though? Jimmy’s Iced Coffee. Cartons and cartons of it being picked up and gulped back by everyone. That man, that whole story about you and Jimmy and the video, was one that became a big part of your day. As people drank your drink and watched the video but even more, when I got in the car to go home and saw a post on Facebook. A message from Jimmy on his page, remembering the day he met you, ‘most badass drinker of our stuff to date’. It wasn’t just his message though that made us smile but the number of people who responded. Strangers writing words of kindness to a family they don’t know for a man who’s story will keep being told.

It was a laugh. You were a laugh. It was a celebration. A day to remember a wonderful man.

My Grandpa.   
Love you always,


P.S. Here's the link to Jimmy's video just in case you want to see my Grandpa at his best:

Lovely post dedicated to my wonderful grandpa and a great memory ❤

Leeky Carrots

Are you one of those, like my mother, brother and myself who groan a little internally when presented with a dish of carrots as the accompaniment to a meal? Do you look at those orange sticks/cubes/disks and think: 'What are you here for? What do you want with me?'. Well, your troubles are over my friend (as long as you don't feel the same about leeks, but c'mon, who does?? Leeks are wonderful. They also changed my view of carrots entirely, so here you go):

Serves about 3 people but, once again, it depends on your appetite and quanitites can always be changed.
4 large carrots - sometimes I've had the luck of finding carrots in a local market of various colours, including purple (they were normal I swear) making for a very bright and colourful dish
3 large(ish) leeks - with the (flarey) ends chopped off
Salted butter

Cook in a saucepan with a lid that fits (it seems obvious but if you've seen our collection, you'd understand this does need emphasising)
1. Chop the leeks and carrots Julienne style - now I shall explain this further because I had no clue when I first did this and I did just have to google the term when writing this to check:
Leeks: for each leek, cut along it lengthways so that both halves have a flat side and a cuved side. Place each half flat side down and chop each length in half to make them easier to deal with. Now, chopping lengthways, and with each chop as close to the last one as possible, create mathstick (or very thin) pieces of leek,
Carrot: As with the leek, it is easier if you chop each carrot along it's length and put it flat side down on the surface. If they are quite large, you can then chop them in half the other way to make them easier to deal with. Following the above method, start from one of the longer edges and chop the carrot into fine matchstick pieces (if easier, you can chop the carrot into batons and then slice them into thinner pieces from this position). 
2. Place a reasonably large knob of butter in the saucepan over a medium heat and allow to melt. Add the carrots and leeks.
3. Place the lid on the saucepan and allow to cook for approximately 15 minutes checking the vegetables occasionally and stirring to make sure no bits get burnt on the bottom of the pan - try to minimise this activity though as you don't want the lid to be removed too often.
4. Once the carrots and leaks have cooked and softened, you can remove from the heat and season more to your tasting

You should find that the flavour of the leeks has leeked (ha!) into the carrots producing a delicious (and much less carroty) taste. 



This is one of my favourite dishes to make. This one also happens to be vegetarian but that's just a coincidence. I'm often asked to whip this one up when my dad is doing a roast or we've got a veggie coming over for dinner. I could happily eat this as a dish on it's own. It's flavoursome, healthy and fun to make.

Quantities can be altered depending on the number of people being served

Serves about 4 people (depending on the size of your appetite)
3 medium courgettes 
Half a cabbage and/or some spinach or chard
1 large onion (white preferably)
2 garlic cloves
2/3 eggs
2/3 slices of bread or a leftover end of a loaf and one more slice
Cheese (preferably chedder or gruyere but anything similar - a hard cheese - is good)
Nutmeg, salt and pepper for seasoning

Prepare in a heavy bottomed saucepan and cook in a vegetable dish

These are the dishes I have but a large saucepan is perfect and
any sort of ovenproof round or square dish for cooking

Preheat oven to 175C
1. Grate the courgettes - either by hand or in a food processor or magi-mix with grater attachment if you have such a thing. Place in a sieve or on some paper towel to drain the water out - I sprinkle some salt on at this point (although I've got to the point where it's automatic now and I can't remember why I do it)
2. Place the courgette/spinach/chard/other green vegetable of choice in a pan or steam to cook while preparing the other ingredients.
3. Chop the onion and garlic finely (crush the garlic if you prefer) and place in a heavy bottomed saucepan with some olive oil to soften but not brown. Keep stirring to stop any burning or food becoming stuck to the bottom of the pan.
4. Add the grated courgette to the onions and garlic and the other greens when they are ready (note: nothing needs to be completely cooked through or soft as you will be cooking the dish in the oven later to cook further)
5. Stir the vegetable mix allowing everything to cook for around 5 minutes before removing from the heat and breaking the eggs into the dish. Continue to stir, binding the ingredients.
6. Season with salt and pepper and some grated nutmeg (flavouring to taste)
7. Make some breadcrumbs by placing the bread slices into a food processor and allowing them to break down into fine pieces. 
8. Add some grated cheese to the breadcrumbs or place some cheese in the mixer with the bread and mix further. Feel free to add some mixed herbs to this mixture.
9. Finally, pour the vegetable mix from the saucepan into the oven dish and scatter the breadcrumbs on top, spreading evenly across the surface. Place in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes or until golden on top.

Bon Appetit!

My Vegetarian Adventures

In my brief stint at university, I befriended a lovely girl. She helped me when I was stressed and she offered me numerous cups of tea when needed. Her only downfall*: She's a vegetarian...actually, as I write this, she has decided to become vegan but that is by the by.

As a result of this life decision, I have found myself recently put in the position of having to experiment in creating tasty vegetable dishes that I can provide when my friend comes to stay. Now, I am not a professional and these dishes were certainly not created with elegance in mind. They were made simply to taste good, to provide a warm meal after trecking from the underground in this frequently cold and rainy English weather and to fill any hole that may be present in the tummy.

When I cook, I tend to just experiment and 'go with the flow' so specific quantities and such are not something I focus on. I just go ahead and chop and throw and mix and serve, cross my fingers and hope for the best.

Feel free to give this one a go and tell me what you think:

Tomatoey, Soupy (not really but sort of) Goodness

Note: The tomatoes are a must to make the tomatoey goodness and onions are always good but when it comes to the greens or other veg, feel free to experiment. I've been known to chuck in some cubed courgette pieces (wild! I know!)

Tomatoes (classic medium round jobbies)
1 large onion (white or red, whatever floats your boat) finely chopped
Mushrooms cut as small as you like 
Spinach (steamed or however you normally cook it - I just like to steam personally)
Pak Choi leaves (torn in half if very big e.g. the outside leaves)
One vegetable stock cube
Garlic (1 clove) or Garlic Powder
Optional: chopped tomatoes or whole tinned plum tomatoes

1. Cut a small slit from top to bottom in each tomato and place in a bowl of boiling water. Leave to soak for a few minutes.
2. Throw the onions into a deep pan or casserole dish with a dash of olive oil on a medium/low heat to soften (don't let them burn)
3. Add the mushrooms, then pack choi and spinach and allow the vegetables to cook and soften to personal preference
4. Meanwhile, remove the tomatoes from the boiling water and you should see the skin has started to peel. Where easiest, use these areas to peel the tomatoes as much as possible (don't worry if it get's tricky, it's not the end of the world)
5. Chop the peeled (or not) tomatoes into quarters and then into thirds to produce smallish pieces and throw these into the pot with the vegetables allowing them time to soften and the juices to run (why not give it a stir too)
6. Grab your vegetable stock cube and drop into the pot pouring some boiling or warm water (not much but enough to cover the stock cube) and allow the stock to dissolve.
7. Stir and check the consistency of the mix. If you wish to add some tinned tomatoes or more stock, you can.
8. Finally, just add some crushed garlic or a dash or garlic powder, some salt and pepper and any other herbs you may like, give it a mix, a taste and ta daaa.

*Not to be taken literally/seriously, I have nothing against vegetarians, it's simply a joke from someone with a great appreciation for a good steak or a rasher or three of bacon.

With a grumbly tummy,

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Dear Weird and Wacky People of the World

Dear Weird and Wacky People of the World,

I’m shy and I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell you because I feel as if people think I’m more confident than I am. By thinking this, when they get me on a particularly shy day or see me avoiding a person or group of people, they might believe I’m being grumpy, or perhaps that I’m sad. The likelihood is that I’m just not feeling up to making the approach: to making those few steps across the room and introducing myself. Why? You ask. I don’t think I even know the specific reasons but I know it’s related to how I feel about myself. It sounds sad but I’ve always felt like everyone I see around me is judging me. Whether it was at school, parties, having people over for lunch, university, jobs – I’d always walk into each situation with butterflies in my tummy and the strong feeling that I was doing, or was going to do, something wrong. I am always confident that I am wearing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing, asking silly questions, looking stupid. It happens most frequently around people closer to my own age, a little bit younger, a tad older and PING! My confidence has gone. Just like that. In my head, i’m standing before a group of people who are all wondering what I’m doing there: ‘she’s not good enough, clever enough, pretty enough, what is she wearing? Did she really just say that?’

The thing is, I’m pretty sure this isn’t true. It may be true on occasion but it’s probably not a whole room full of people questioning my existence, and these thoughts probably don’t last. Yet, I still can’t help believing it. Any time I say something and I feel like whoever I’m talking to isn’t being very responsive, or doesn’t seem to be listening, or doesn’t seem interested, I instantly jump to: ‘Stop talking Ellie! Just stop! They’re clearly not interested and it’s probably because what you’re saying is really, really, really stupid. You’re not making sense and you certainly don’t sound cool. So. Just. Stop.’ So I tail off and walk away feigning a sudden interest in the scenery outside the window or something fascinating on the floor on the far, far, far side of the room. Never again will I speak to that person. They definitely think I’m mad.

The thing is, I don’t really know why I care. I’ve always been one of the odd ones. I’ve never been part of the ever-expanding “Popular Crowd”. My friendship groups over the years have always consisted of the loveliest bunch of wonderful nutters I have the privilege of calling my friends. If you’re ever looking for us, we’re probably sitting around a table or on a sofa, with cups or tea, showing off our various different senses of style – if you get me in the summer, you have the joy of seeing my various pairs of Harem pants that I alternate each day of the week. We’re probably discussing something brilliantly weird to those on the outside and we’re probably laughing quite a bit. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yet I still can’t help but want to stay away from those I don’t know. Or more importantly, from those who don’t know me. When I am forced into a situation where meeting and greeting peers is a must, I will cross my fingers the entire time in the hope that one of these young adults will connect with my weirdness. That some invisible message will be passed across from them to me signalling: ‘Yes! I’m one of you!’.

Sometimes I do find someone. At university, I definitely met a couple of people on my wavelength but even that was terrifying. The idea of having to approach someone new and introduce myself, in my case with a tin of brownies in the hope that, if nothing else, this would be an icebreaker, was awful. I mean, what if it all goes wrong and everyone just thinks you’re strange and no one wants to be your friend?

This doesn’t happen. Wherever you go in life, you’re bound to find people that you click with. I know this because, so far, I have and although I fear it, I tell myself it’s pretty unlikely all the wonderfully weird of the world are going to just disappear once I pass a certain point in life.

They’ll always be there, somewhere and wherever that may be I plan to take a deep breath, walk up to them and just say…

Um…………..*trips over my own foot and feels my face go the colour of a tomato*……..hi

Yours Confidently (perhaps…or.......we'll see)

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Dear Lady on the Tube

Dear Lady on the Tube,

You left your umbrella behind. I don’t think you noticed at the time but you did. A purple umbrella, decorated with what looked like flowers. A pretty umbrella. Now forgotten.

Meanwhile the man sitting next to you saw you leave it. He saw you leap up and rush for the doors, he reached for the umbrella, he shouted after you. You didn’t hear. He jumped up and pushed through to the platform, another shout, some waving but you’d gone. He looked down at the purple patterned accessory in his hand and sat down. For the rest of that journey I watched as he just sat with the umbrella on his lap and I couldn’t help imagining what could happen. The story that could develop. What would happen if this was a tv show or perhaps a book? Where would the narrative lead? As I sat on that central line train, passing through station after station, I began to create your story in my mind. I mean, what else was I expected to do on a rainy Thursday morning on the central line at rush hour?

I pictured you pushing through the people on the platform late for your first meeting of the day…again. You rush to the top of the escalators, smile sweetly to the bundle of school children in front of you who are all trying, and failing, to get through two of the 5 available gates all in one go. You rush up the steps, see the first drops of rain ahead and reach into your bag.


Did I leave it at home? No, I definitely had it when I left Starbucks with my grande Caffe Misto and fruit and nut bar. And I certainly had it when I checked my watch and realised I only had 2 minutes to get to the tube before I was bound to be late. I definitely had it when I got onto the central line and sat down next to that gentleman with the hoola hoops in his pocket. I could have sworn I had it when……….


Meanwhile: The man on the tube still has the umbrella. He’s twiddling the rope that hangs from the handle around and around his fingers. He’s trying to see how fast he can get the umbrella to spin if he wraps the rope all around his fingers as tight as he can, round and round and then…..whoops! Sorry…apologetic head bob to the man next door that he just hit with this damp purple piece of lost property. Eye roll from the man next door. Those trousers were new, bought at the weekend and not cheap at that! He’ll have to use the hand dryer at work if they’re not dry by his coffee break that he’s due to have the moment he walks into the office. The coffee break he religiously takes at 10:30 even if that does mean it’s the first task of the day.

The man with the umbrella subtly places it in the plastic carrier bag that contains his lunch: a banana he grabbed from Starbucks that morning and a giant cookie…the fruit balances it all out, right? As long as his suit looks smart and he has his briefcase, no one needs to know that he still hasn’t worked out how the microwave works at the office or that he secretly has a bag of hoola hoops in his pocket.

The next stop is Liverpool Street, change here for the Hammersmith and City, Circle and Metropolitan lines and National Rail Services. Alight here if you’re wearing a suit and are still sitting on this train.

Ok, not that last bit but they might as well say it. Suddenly everyone in suits begins to gather their suitcases (because let’s admit, they all have them) and as the doors open, the speed walk race begins. The man with the umbrella strides down the platform swinging his suitcase in a very professional looking manner from his right hand and clutching his carrier bag protectively with his left. Up the escalators, through the barriers, up the stairs, through the station, across the road and into that big glass building he calls work. No, not the one you’re thinking of, the other one…the one to the left…yes, that one. 10 minutes later he’s sitting at his desk trying to work out how to make it look like he knows what he’s doing while he stares at his blank computer screen for as long as his can before he stops for lunch at 1. Then repeat. Home at 5.

The umbrella is still there. In the plastic bag, waiting to be claimed, waiting to be found. He’s still got it the next day when he walks out of his flat, down the stairs, out of the door, sees the rain, looks in his bag, sees the umbrella and puts it up. He still has it when he walks past the Costa Coffee on his left and the RBS on his right and turns the corner towards the underground. He still has it when he walks into Starbucks, shakes out the purple flowers, and rolls it up. He still has it when he feels a hand on his arm and the gentlest and loveliest voice he’s ever heard says:

‘Excuse me, but where did you find that umbrella?’

Yours day-dreamingly,

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Dear Friend

Dear Friend,

I want to talk about growing up. I want to explain to you how I wish it was explained to me when I was younger. To avoid misunderstanding or a sudden surprise when it doesn’t quite happen as you thought it would. Most importantly, I want to get the message across that there isn’t just one path in life. We are not toys on a conveyor belt simply passing through the same building stages as the one in front, yet sometimes it can feel that way.

Starting school is that first step in the beginning of really growing up. Once we put that baby foot in front of the other, it can feel like there’s no getting off. This isn’t perhaps a feeling felt so much when you’re five or six or even ten or twelve because at that point it’s a part of life that just happens. It’s expected and understood: you follow these systems, learn these subjects set out just so for us all to learn, to memorize, to be tested on. At 14 these become the basis for GCSE’s and at 16 they become A-levels. We keep passing through these rooms of education on our treadmill, learning and testing. 

Then suddenly it all becomes about the next step: university. I cannot recall a time when anyone explained that there was any other direction off this path and when I was younger I didn’t think about it. When I was at school and none of these exam years had begun, I looked up at the ‘grown ups’ ahead of me and thought: “I can’t wait until I can be like them”. These grown ups were anyone over the age of 16 in my eyes. They were the 6th formers at school and then even they got older and suddenly they were the university students and the full blown adults with a job or…something. I say that because I don’t really know what I thought. I think I just believed that everyone ahead knew exactly what they were doing and that at some point I would get to this age when a magic light would appear and so would I. One day, I would just transform from the schoolgirl into an independent adult and everything would just happen. No one ever tells you any different – not when you’re young at least.

So now I’m here and I’ve just turned 20. I struggled through 4 years of GCSE’s and A-levels filled with anxiety and frustration that I was stuck doing these subjects I didn’t really want to do or being made to do ones I did enjoy just to pass a specific exam or two. I had lots of help to get through it and I did it and I’m proud. It’s not that I’m not clever or that I didn’t have the ability but somewhere inside me, I was just filled with these butterflies, this anxiety that wouldn’t let me go. I felt stuck because I knew I had to do what I was doing and that no amount of unhappiness or stress was going to get me out of it. The light at the end of the tunnel? Once I left school, there was no more compulsory education. I could go into the real world and actually start the whole ‘life’ thing (whatever I thought that might be). What happened though? I got stuck on the treadmill. That path that I was put on when I was 3 years old and starting nursery was still stretched out ahead and I couldn’t see any junctions. Signs flashed ahead and they all said the same things: UCAS, University, Where will you go? What will you study? Will you have a gap year? What career….? Hang on…back up. Did someone say Gap year? What’s that? That sounds like my kind of year. A year where I jump off the treadmill! A year where I can look at the other signposts and hopefully take another path and leave the studying one behind? Yes please! Apply for university first and defer? You know, just in case your year makes you realize how much you really do want to go? This year is just a blip really, so many years of school and anxiety and your body just needs a break, so have that break and then you’ll see the light…..wait? what? You’re saying I still have to hop back on the treadmill in a year? You’re saying there’s no other option? People must sometimes do something else, right? I mean surely not everyone does this. Silence.

The assumption is that i will have my year, and that I will become so bored or lonely with everyone else off studying that I will become really excited about September. In my head, the assumption is different. I think that during that entire 365+ days that I have ahead to explore this world that has sat outside the classroom for the last 14 years, I will pass through that ‘growing up’ door and suddenly find exactly what I want to do and I will do it. It won’t require university and it will be right up my street. This did not happen. I had a year, I lost my balance, plans were made and cancelled, a car was crashed, a brain was injured, concentration was lost, work experience was done, holidays were had and a stint in hospital was a must with the delight of an operation at the end. Ta da!! My Gap Year: my year of life off piste. Now what? Well…I guess…I guess…university it is then. The planning was fun, the shopping was great, I even made some friends before I started but as soon as it began I knew it was wrong. Everything felt uncomfortable, like a piece of a jigsaw but it doesn’t fit in my life puzzle. Every day was tears and panic attacks, anxiety and fear. Now I think back, I know some of the reasons:

  1.     .    I chose the wrong subject for the wrong reason: I chose English Literature because I thought I needed to choose something. At school it was the subject I found easiest and I loved to do it because of that. I mistook this love for love of the subject, for love of analyzing books and writing essays. Really, it was a love of being able to do something well without feeling stressed. If I’d thought about it and I’d wanted to, I probably should have chosen psychology: a subject I found really fun and interesting but I sometimes struggled with. The idea of struggling over a subject for three more years of school was not something I liked the sound of so I took the ‘easy’ route…I was wrong.
  2.            I was doing it because I hadn’t found anything else. I’d spent a year hoping to discover something new and better and it didn’t happen. If I was struggling so much doing it and I wanted to stop, I felt I couldn’t because I’d had my year! I’d taken my break from the treadmill and now I have to just keep going. There isn’t a second pit stop.

That first one is true. Studying something because it’s easy is not a good reason. Largely because the other thing I learnt from school was that everything you learn there is nothing like what it’s like anywhere else. English Literature at University felt like an entirely new subject and it wasn’t the one I thought I had chosen. It certainly wasn’t easy. Not for me anyway.

The second one isn’t true and this is where I get to the crux of the matter. Yes, I spent a year trying to explore other options and hoping to find a different path and yes, I failed. Does that mean I have to hop back on the treadmill and push myself through something straight away? No. The fact that I have learnt over the last few months in particular is that really there is no one path. When I looked up at those older ‘grown ups’ and saw people like I am now seeming so confident and understanding of how to ‘do life’, I didn’t really know. Now I am those people and I’m hearing everywhere about people I know or even people I don’t who are older than me and only a few years ago were in exactly my position. Some are still in it now. My parents go through it, my parents friends go through it. It’s life. Life has its ups and downs, it’s bumps in the road. Decision making is everywhere. The point is, however hard all this feels when it happens (and trust me, I know, I’m there and I’m living it), I now know that there are other people out there. Some may be better at dealing with the anxiety of it than others but some, like me, may find it that bit harder.

I’ve left university now, I gave it a go but it wasn’t for me and now I’m having to work out what to do next. That’s scary and I’m very anxious but I know there are people around me who care. I have friends and family and I’m lucky. I know others may not feel this way. For those people, I hope that this letter helps you understand that even if it may feel like you’re stuck on a conveyor belt and you can’t get off, you can. You can stop, look around and breathe and remember that somewhere, probably very near by and where you least expect it, there are people who can help you to keep going with a smile.

Chase those butterflies away and

Lots of love,