The Next Stage

As David Nicholls so rightly puts it, “the notion that you can somehow quantify intelligence by some ridiculous, antiquated system of written examinations is obviously specious.” Unfortunately for us, there’s not a lot we can do about that and we’re forced to go through the stress of increasingly harder exams year upon year in order to decide for us whether we are destined to be neurosurgeons or dustbinmen for the rest of our lives. As I’m sure most of you will have guessed, I talk about this because of the dreaded day that has been looming ever closer since the start of summer and is now but two days away; the day on which dreams are realised and crushed- and trust me, that’s no exaggeration.

Luckily for me, I’ve only got my AS results to collect which, whilst still worth half my A level and therefore clearly important, fade into insignificance when stood next to those in the year above whose envelope contains the answer to possibly what their life will look like for the next few years. And that’s pretty terrifying. I know that each year group has a tendency to downplay the importance of the stages which they’ve already experienced, but I would seriously give anything to be back in GCSE and only having to worry about getting my 4 B’s and 2 C’s to get into sixth form, rather than needing ridiculously unlikely high grades to have a chance of getting into any of the universities I want to end up at.

I write this sat on my bed with a mug of tea in hand and university prospectuses spread out in front of me, trying to differentiate between the accommodation prices at this university and the contact hours at that university and entrance grades and module choices and league table rankings and nightlife and things that I never thought I would have to think about for years to come. I still feel about 12 years old even though I turn 18 in less than four weeks, and that’s terrifying. The idea that what I decide in the next few months dictates pretty much what I’ll be doing for the rest of my life is overwhelming to say the least, and no number of open days or prospectuses or “useful” school assemblies on UCAS is going to change that. But whilst it may be terrifying and overwhelming and quite frankly incomprehensible at times, it’s also so bloody exciting. As much as I will miss my school, I can’t wait to get out into the world and experience somewhere a bit more diverse and real than the ‘bubble’ of where I live, which to be honest is pretty much anywhere. I want to get to a big city and meet interesting people and do interesting things in interesting places, and more than the worry or stress, I can’t wait for the future and so should you – it’s an exciting place.


Eton State of Mind

So I’m back. Three weeks later and I’ve returned from possibly the most incredible ten days at what I previously thought to be the most stuck-up and judgmental establishment in the whole of the United Kingdom, but which turned out to be not only full of beautiful red brick buildings and endless traditions, but of inspiring beaks (Etonian slang for teachers) and once in a lifetime opportunities. When my mum and I first drove up to the school, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon and Eton could not have looked more breathtaking.. or more imposing for that matter. One hundred and thirty 17 year old strangers thrown into three larges houses for ten days sounds like the synopsis for a bad television show, but it soon proved to be not only bearable but actually the best experience of my life. Right from the offset, as we all mingled awkwardly drinking our orange squash, I was overwhelmed by how friendly everyone was and also how diverse the group was- there were people from as close as London, as far as Ireland and everywhere in between.

I’m not going to pretend that it was a relaxing ten days in the slightest- with three lessons a day on top of tutorial, lectures, recreation and endless tea breaks, the days were ridiculously long and many nights were spent staying up until 3am finishing that essay or this book. We were of course given some time off, with a barbeque and disco at Dorney Lake, departmental drinks at our teachers’ houses (it was unanimously agreed that the English one was of course the best), a hilarious talent show (called Speeches and based on an old Etonian tradition), and a multitude of sporting events- from netball and dodgeball tournaments to the not-so-convetional Wall Game. On top of that, us English students spent a day in London in order to see Julius Caesar at the Globe Theatre, which was an incredible experience that I’ll definitely be repeating.

The experience I had is a hard thing to describe- hence why I have taken so long to write this post- as the thing that really made it so great was the people and the atmosphere and just the aura of intelligence and interest that surrounded you. The lessons were nothing like those back home, with the idea of geeking out over original Shakespeare texts or Shelley’s diary in Eton’s library being completely normal, and the discussions being so rich and challenging in the best possible way. Being in a room surrounded by people who are just as passionate about the same things as you are is unbeatable and incredibly stimulating- my English teacher said to me that I wouldn’t want to go back to my English lessons at school, and I fear she may have been right.

I honestly can’t recommend applying for this enough for anyone who is considering applying to the likes of Oxbridge and wants to spend an intensive ten days with like-minded individuals. I met some of the most amazing people there who I could go from having deep intellectual discussions with to being in fits of giggles over the stupidest things, and isn’t that really the best kind of friendships to have? The leavers’ dinner ended in plenty of hugs and tears from everyone there- I am honestly not the kind of person to usually get emotional, but even I was a blubbering mess by the time my mum picked me up. That’s what Eton does to you, and I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

And Finally It’s Over

Yes, I’m talking about the seemingly never-ending exam season that everyone else seems to have finished weeks ago. As of Thursday, I’m free of exams for another year and it’s the best feeling in the world! As much as it sucks that I am already back at school and starting my A2 courses, I’m basically pretending it’s already the summer and this one is going to be a good ‘un- hectic but incredible.

For me, and I’m sure for a lot of others, summer is exciting not just for the warmer weather and lack of school, but for the huge expanse of free time that you can fill with exciting experiences. I’m the kind of person that is easily bored by routine and monotony in my life, and summer is the perfect time to be completely free to eradicate this… even if my tendency to love my bed and the internet too much can often lead to me not sufficiently appreciating it!

Summer is almost like another New Year, with my list-loving self writing resolutions about what I am determined to achieve by the time September rolls back around. As I’m sure you may have already guessed, this- as resolutions notoriously do- often fails to actually translate into reality and I’m left spending two weeks solid watching all 62 episodes of Breaking Bad (also known as my post-GCSE summer). I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve said this previously; but this year is going to be different.

A lot of my list includes things from my bucket list, but I know that  a lot of these aren’t really realistic at  this point in time. However, I do have a few things on  the cards; from skydiving to possible wing-walking and bungee jumping, as well as holidays and Reading Festival, it should be a good summer. On top of that, I’ve managed to somehow get into a two week summer school at Eton College to study English at the start of July, which I am excessively excited about, and also have work experience at a big PR company in London.

Just to clarify, I’m not trying to show off here about all the great things I’m getting to do this summer- almost everything on there is being paid for by myself with money I’ve saved up over the past two years from my job. There’s nothing more important to me than to experience as much as is possible and to miss as little of the world as I am physically capable of. I’m not going to lie, I have been so inspired by people like Louis Cole, who is one of my favourite youtubers of all time, and who has the most incredibly open outlook on life and seems to get so much out of it in return (he’s buying a plane to turn into a house for christ’s sake). I know a lot of people really won’t care about this, and are perfectly happy to spend their lives solely in contact with the ordinary, but annoyingly (for both my brain and my bank balance) I just can’t be content like that.


Book Launch: Popular by Maya Van Wagenen

On Wednesday night, I was lucky enough to go to the launch for the book that’s causing a storm both in the US and here in England. Written by 15-year-old Maya Van Wagenen, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek is an eighth-grader’s memoir about her extraordinary journey from social outcast to daring 1950’s lookalike in pearls- something that was simply not done in her small middle school on the Mexican border.

IMG_1995The story is basically about her discovery of a book written by Betty Cornell in the 50’s all about teenage popularity. Maya decided it would be interesting to follow the advice given in the book to the letter as a sort of social experiment, and see if it could translate into the modern day- as, in her own words, she had “nothing to lose”. From girdles to gloves and hats, the next year of her life was an interesting one to say the least, from materialistic things, to mannerisms and confidence tests.

IMG_2107The book launch was held on the tenth floor of the Penguin offices on the strand, with a breath-taking view over London, especially late at night. The reason I was lucky enough to go was because my parents run a vintage clothing and homewares business and were invited to come along with some of their stock, so I joined them to help out. After getting dolled up by the 50’s hair and makeup pop-up salon that came along, we spent the evening chatting to various bloggers and people from Penguin, before going to hear Maya herself speak.

IMG_2006The evening was hosted by the editor of Glamour magazine, Jo Elvin, who interviewed Maya and then opened it up to us to ask questions. I can honestly say I was blown away by how eloquent and insightful she was for a girl of fifteen, there were definitely strong feelings of inadequacy within me  when hearing her speak! She talked about the project, which she described as her hunt for the true meaning of popularity. When asked if she had managed to find the answer, she smiled and said simply that there was no true definition. She knew only what it wasn’t; it wasn’t the clothes you wore or the way you walked, or having everyone know your name. It’s about realising that there is no difference between those at the top and the bottom; they both have the same worries, the same fears, and the same hopes. It’s about being able to put that to one side, put yourself out there and treat people as your equal, and they will reciprocate.

IMG_1957Maya is by no means your average high school ‘popular’ girl, but she’s happy. Whilst the book puts across this message skilfully, and if definitely a must-read- especially for pre-teens- it’s not until you meet her in person that you realise what an inspirational person she is and how much we could truly learn from her. At fifteen, with a movie already in the works and a best-selling book, I feel this is nowhere near the last we are going to see of Maya Van Wagenen.

So Let’s Talk About Exams

There’s no point avoiding the subject and pretending that they aren’t coming anymore, I hate to say. With GCSE and AS exams starting tomorrow, and A2s only a few weeks away, it’s fair to say that the general atmosphere at the moment is one of high stress levels, short tempers,  and over-eating. I’ve seen millions of articles floating around, and plenty of presentations at school, about how to control the stress and actually motivate yourself to revise, but I’m yet to find one that really helps.

I’ll be the first to put my hands up and say I am truly awful at motivating myself to revise. I’m one of those people that managed to get through GCSEs by revising the night before and partially winging it, then got to A level and realised that just wasn’t going to cut it. It’s impossible to get even half-decent marks with no work at this stage, so I’ve had to completely rethink my way of working. In a way it’s a whole lot better than last year in that you are only taking subjects that you enjoy (hopefully) so the work is more enjoyable, but even someone who loves literature as much as I do can get fed up analysing WW1 poetry to death for hours on end.

I think what I’ve found to be the most important thing is to go into revision with a positive attitude, or else you’ll simply get nothing done. I’ve spent countless evenings at my desk with books spread out, beating myself up about how I should be revising and refusing to move from that spot, but not actually being able to work up the motivation to do it. It took me surprisingly long to realise that if you don’t feel like revising at all, then don’t. Put it out of your mind for a bit, do something proactive like going on a walk or meeting some friends for an hour or so, then come back to it when you’re in a more positive frame of mind.

Of course, this can easily lead to continuous procrastination meaning you never actually get round to revising, so make sure you keep what you have to do, and how long you have to do it, in perspective. I’ve tried countless revision timetables, but never stuck to them so I gave that idea up a long time ago. Sure, everyone is different so it might work for some people and it’s a great way of staying on track. Instead though, I’ve found a better method is to write down the things you need to do in order to revise for each subject in the order of importance, then simply work down the lists and tick them off as you go. This means you still stay focused on what needs to be done, but leaves it flexible and stops you getting stressed if you’re behind on your schedule.

Often the simplest things are the most effective, so don’t underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. I am completely guilty of staying up until the early hours watching whole series of shows far too many times, but needless to say this does not put you in the right frame of mind to work. One of the biggest favours you can do your mind is to switch off electronics at least half an hour before you sleep; if you find you aren’t tired then try reading or listening to soothing music to help switch your brain off.

Other than that, just try not to stress too much, although I am well aware that that’s much easier said than done. Also try and put it into perspective- the grades you achieve now are unlikely to affect your life in the long run anywhere near as much as it may seem now. Do your best for yourself and be happy with that, as cheesy as that may sound. I know that I’m no expert, but this is something that I know is on a lot of people’s minds at the moment and I just want to wish everyone good luck in their exams- just try your best and it’ll all be okay in the end. Now I’ve just got to follow my own advice..

Less Talk, More Action Please

If I asked people my age which political party they supported, I can pretty much guarantee that the vast majority would have no idea how to answer. To tell you the truth, up until a year ago I’d have struggled myself to tell you more than the surface differences between them. So no wonder the media complains about a lack of youth engagement in politics.

On Thursday of last week, my politics teacher organised a question time at my school, with local members of the five most prominent parties- from Green to UKIP. One of the many issues raised was the question of how the parties planned to combat the ever-increasing political disengagement, particularly in youths.  It’s funny because all of the parties got pretty excited over this question, insisting that “something must be done about it” and “my party will take measures to combat this problem”, yet not a single one cared to explain exactly how they planned on doing this.

How can you blame people for not trusting politicians, when this is a clear example of a promise with no real substance. The only redeeming one of the bunch was Chris Watts (the Labour candidate in my constituency in the 2015 election), who was completely honest in plainly admitting that the parties simply don’t do much to appeal to youths because they know that the so-called “grey vote” is the one that really matters.

Is that really an excuse though? Do they expect it to just fix itself? It’s clear that voting turnouts are just going to decrease in a society which no longer has politics ingrained into its core; in which young people grow up not even having any clue  how our government works. And I fail to see any real efforts to prevent this.

This wasn’t the first time I’ve had this discussion though- I was lucky enough to meet with my local MP Claire Perry a couple of months ago and we talked about this exact issue. What’s ridiculous is that that when you talk to the individual members, they all seem to get it. They understand the importance of this issue and they really want ideas and advice on how we, the youths, believe it can be improved. Yet this never seems to to translate to a national level.. nothing is ever actually done, and talking about it doesn’t solve anything.

Whilst many politicians have argued that the fact that people like me are talking about this issue shows that not everyone is politically apathetic, and that events like the question time at school and meeting with Claire are great ways of widening interest. But to be completely honest, they are just preaching to the choir. The only people that attend these kind of events are those who care in the first place; what really needs doing is to target the youth population as a whole, and the only way of doing this is through education.

I have friends that live in America, and they are so shocked that we have no form of compulsory politics taught in school, accept for a tiny module in year 11 Philosophy & Religion that even the teachers seemed to show no interest in. Whilst there were people at question time that proposed compulsory voting as a way of forcing people to educate themselves, I see that  the best way surely is to just make it the norm to vote, as was the case when we had voting turnouts of 75-80%. If we introduced politics into the mandatory curriculum, then maybe people would actually be vaguely interested in voting. I’m not talking about in-depth analysis of parties and government as I do now in A Level Politics, but just a basic level of understanding is all I feel is needed to combat this youth disengagement in politics, which is a real problem.

I know this is unlikely to change anytime soon, but  I think it’s about time politicians were honest about what they are actually going to do to prevent the next generation from not even knowing the Prime Minister’s name. So less talk, more action please.