It wasn’t until March of twenty-fifteen that I found myself ready to say goodbye to the previous year with an in review post. This year things are a little different; instead of the fear I felt this time last January, today I am filled with a knowing excitement at what the next twelve months with bring. Last year was full of change, its main challenge being holding on to myself as everything around me was suddenly different and new. I know that my non-stop twenty-fifteen will ultimately be a year I fondly look back on, but that isn’t to say it’s been without its difficulties. I hope that twenty-sixteen might be a little less chaotic, but in the meantime here’s my illustrated look back over the last twelve months and the new people, experiences, and lessons they brought with them.
I spend New Year’s Eve with G at his parents’ house, quietly fearful of the changes I know the next year will bring. At Christmas I was gifted the majority of the reading list for my first term at university along with various items of kitchenware, and the fear is so overwhelming that I’ve hidden it all away. G and I take a trip to Holkham in his parents’ Morris Minor, which requires two jumpstarts, a new battery and head-gasket in the space of one journey; G drives back using his arms to indicate. Later I find myself making my way up to Rugby for our second Team v residential where our next campaign, Do You Care? is revealed. It’s a joy to be back with my wonderful Team v family again, and within hours of the campaign announcement the next seven weeks begin to take shape. Towards the end of the month I write a very angry blogpost regarding Page 3 which garners a lot of traction, and I am awarded a place on the Young Norfolk Daily Press team, creating two supplements for the Eastern Daily Press during the Young Norfolk Arts Festival.
Mum and I are planning our Do You Care? campaign; within days our discussion about young carers in her school has evolved into a network of seven schools across the county, all committed to improving provision for young carers. I want to do more of this. I visit London for the News Academy‘s first birthday celebrations; the majority of the Shift team is reunited, and the keynote speaker is Michael Gove MP. I force myself to shake his hand and pray that Dad doesn’t disown me when he sees the photograph. G and I continue our weekend outings to various places, along with riding lessons and regular gym sessions. He cooks for us on Valentine’s Day and we plan our next Team v pop-up event in March, and a holiday in June. Spring doesn’t seem so far away.
Jack comes to help us hold our Do You Care? pop-up event; we are visited by two MPs, the EDP and Mustard TV in the space of a couple of hours. In schools the first Network meeting is held and filmed for Team v’s campaign video, and I speak to headteachers from across Norfolk at the Norfolk Secondary Education Leaders conference about our work before leaving Do You Care? behind in the hands of the new Network. Our final Team v resi takes place and we are introduced to our third campaign, Swing the Vote, but the initial thrill turns sour when the news is announced that Team v is ending for good. We’re fired up for the last-ever campaign, but there’s a great sense of sadness and loss as we leave. I also photograph the Women Reaching Women event for International Women’s Day which is fascinating and invigorating. There I am introduced to a man from the Council who knows my name; “I hear you’re the person to talk to about social action,” he tells me. This is the biggest compliment I have ever received.
I turn nineteen on Easter Sunday, celebrating with an Easter egg hunt and a riding lesson. We kick off Swing the Vote but I’m a bit stuck for ideas; my strong political allegiances make a politically neutral campaign difficult, and my mind is somewhere beyond May. I shadow a reporter at the Burnham Market International Horse Trials for a day, and attend my last-ever Norfolk County Youth Orchestra residential. It’s a beautiful week full of laughter. Billie, Dom and I effectively bridge the gap between students and staff, spending our days together with the other members of the orchestra and the evenings at the bar with the adults. I get to sit on the front desk with Billie as we play one of my favourite concert programmes I’ve performed – ‘A Night in America’. There is real sadness as we leave Belsey Bridge Conference Centre for the last time, but we look forward to our tour to Germany in July. I begin to think a lot about ‘lasts’, and anxiety for university starts to build ever stronger in my mind. G arrives at my house with a “late birthday present” – he’s bought me my own kayak.
My grandmother is very ill; my mother’s strength has astonished me all year, but we all need it now.
I ask all main-party candidates the same three questions about engaging the youth vote, as well as three young people, and publish the results on my blog. I don’t think it’s enough, but on the morning of the election I receive a message from a College acquaintance telling me that the posts helped to consolidate her vote. She reminds me that an impact on one person is still an impact, and shows me that there may well have been others engaged by my efforts. At home the election ruins us for a few hours, but by mid-morning Billy Bragg’s Waiting for the Great Leap Forward is blasting out of three separate sound systems across the house. Louis and I hear Jake Humphrey speak about journalism at Radio One’s Academy ahead of the Big Weekend in Norwich; G and I are fuming that we didn’t manage to get tickets, so instead we spend a day at the Gressenhall Vintage Fair. We drool over beautiful cars before looking around the museum which holds such strong childhood memories for me; these are more important than ever to me nowadays. He turns twenty-two on the last day of the month.
I begin a new summer onehundred, perhaps slightly against my better judgement, and G and I spend the first five days in the Lake District. We walk before breakfast, ride horses above Ullswater, kayak all morning on Derwentwater and then spend the afternoon climbing to the summit of Kings How. I wake up at four-am every morning with no alarm clock, and play harp at my grandmother’s funeral the day after we get back.
G and I spend much of the month together; our shoulders burn at the Euston Rally and we have a long, honest talk on an overcast day at Blickling Hall. We pick strawberries and bake and take the kayaks out. Dad and I drive around the county looking for history, and tour around Castle Rising castle and church. I play my last concert with Norfolk County Strings, and return to my very first orchestra, Dereham Training Strings, to bid farewell to their conductor of ten years.
My anxiousness is getting worse, but I don’t know what to do about it. Young Norfolk Daily Press assignments continue; Kate and I visit the Norfolk Children’s Book Festival where we interview staff, students and authors, and we take a team trip to the Jeff Koons exhibition at the Castle. I spend a day with the News Academy at the Broxbourne Print Site, producing content for News UK’s internal paper. It stretches, challenges and excites me; I forget how much I love journalism until I’m back doing it.
G and I head to the Royal Norfolk Show. It’s sweltering, and when we’ve finished at the Showground we drive to Mundesley beach. We visit Southwold and Castle Acre later in the month, take the steam train to Wymondham and back, and spend days on the Waveney with a picnic basket strapped to G’s kayak and swimwear under our clothes. My sister graduates from the University of Kent with First Class Honours, along with the Rotary Prize for gaining one of the highest marks in her year. I am immeasurably proud to watch her receive her degree in Canterbury Cathedral after all she has been through.
July is punctuated by music. For our second YNDP supplement I review a wonderful concert by the Britten Sinfonia Academy. Some of my friends from orchestra are part of this prestigious group. I have my last rehearsal with County Strings and am grateful for the opportunity to say a proper thank-you. The Norfolk County Youth Orchestra holds its summer concert at the Forum in Norwich, though it’s less successful than I’d hoped, and along with some other NCYO players I am invited to perform with the prestigious European Union Chamber Orchestra to premiere a new piece by a local composer.
The month ends with NCYO’s tour to Wernigerode in Germany. We are reunited with Irena to play the Elgar Cello Concerto; it’s a hard week but ends on a bigger high than we could have imagined. I am devastated to be leaving. Fear for university really starts to take hold, reaching its peak on the last day of the month, the day of my Team v graduation ceremony. I nearly miss the train, and when I do get to the station I find myself unable to move for anxiety. Dad has to take me home again, and I find myself wondering how I will ever cope when I move away.
I spend a lot of time with my parents. We take a guided tour around Cley marshes early one morning, learning about the landscape and thatch crop. Abby, Rosa’s wonderful friend from California, comes to stay, and when they spend a day at the beach Mum and I explore ruined churches along the north Norfolk coast. In the middle of the month I am allocated my university accommodation in Langwith College; I accept immediately and set about finding my future housemates on social media. We seem to get on well, and I start to feel a little better about the prospect of moving now that I know who I will be living with.
One memorable week G and I spend a few days camping in Bungay. He cooks breakfast in the mornings on the trangia and we spend an entire day on the river. We spot four kingfishers, avoid a run-in with over fifty swans, and meet fewer than ten people; G films it all on a little camera he’s fixed to his kayak. When we get back we are invited to Heather’s for a night with my orchestra friends; it’s filled with laughter, drink, and Cards Against Humanity. Although we’ve not quite recovered the next evening we are back out again at the Masquerade Ball to celebrate Matthew and Gina‘s homecoming from their Project Trust projects in India and Malawi respectively. It’s a beautiful evening spent renewing old friendships and consolidating newer ones.
On the very last day of the month, Emily, Dom, Jas and I accompany a wedding ceremony and reception with music we have prepared ourselves. The last couple of months have been spent rehearsing at Jas’ parents’ workplace and busking on the streets; it’s been hard but a lot of fun, and is worth it all in the end.
Mum, G and I spend a happy (and expensive) day at Burghley Horse Trials to start the month, as per tradition, and Mum heads back to work for the new term. I join her for a couple of days as admin support, and volunteer on a school trip to the Houses of Parliament; her school has been selected as the flagship for the British Youth Council’s new Discovering Democracy Award for democratic schools, so a group of students speak at the launch event. I’ve never been to Parliament before, and I’m moved by the Votes for Women banner thrown on the King’s horse by Emily Davison, now framed on the wall on the way up to the Commons viewing gallery. Two classic Ferraris are displayed outside ready to be auctioned off for charity. I’m not sure how to feel; Jeremy Corbyn’s election has inspired my politics, but there’s a long way to go.
The rest of the month is spent preparing for university. Mum and I buy the last few bits whilst I frantically read. There are things I’m looking forward to, but the month is full of lasts. On my final day in Norfolk G and I go for a hack with Hazel on Sooty and Ed, and that night I can’t stop crying. When I wake up the next morning, everything is suddenly calm. I move in on the 27th, and my world is turned upside-down.
Freshers’ Week passes in a whirlwind blur. There’s drink, but only as much as I want, and so many new people I don’t bother trying to count. One night my housemates go out whilst I stay in my room, sticking photos to my walls and trying to explain everything to G. English students on my campus set up a Facebook chat, and I take bus rides to main campus with Eleni and Charlie to our seminars. In the third week I stumble into the role of Features Editor of Nouse, the University’s original student paper and oldest society. I love this life; euphoria carries me.
Naturally I crash. At first it’s a cold, and then it’s real flu, and I find myself ill both physically and mentally. I go to all my lectures and classes, and do almost all of my reading; the academic side of things keeps me going. But from Thursday to Sunday I have no classes, and I am deep in loneliness. G visits for a weekend and it’s beautiful, but when he leaves I am shattered. I spend a week writing my first essay, on the use of music in Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the focus helps. My housemates drag me out with them on Halloween, which helps too, but this life is unstable.
I hand in my essay and go straight to the Nouse offices where we produce our first edition. There is an enormous amount to learn, but the team are incredible, especially my deputies Charlotte and Becca. Once we’re finished I take three trains back home to surprise my dad for his birthday. I catch up with my sister, who is brave, and G and I go to watch fireworks. Later in the month he is promoted to manager at work.
Back in York I am refreshed and eager to keep going. I send messages and go back to Kitty’s for tea after a lecture; the gesture means more to me than she perhaps knows, after days of feeling alone. I’m assigned a group to perform a scene from A Winter’s Tale with, and through this I meet Jess. At the LitSoc Christmas Ball I realise I have found real friendships away from my house, where I’m having trouble, as Jess, Becca and I share a pitcher and talk for hours. One night when the others have gone out, Tom and I have a long heart-to-heart in the corridor outside our bedrooms until the early hours. Another, Rosa and I watch the Paris attacks unfold on Twitter, on the phone to one another but silent as we try to comprehend what we are seeing. I write a blogpost about International Men’s Day at the University and receive a lovely care package from Mum. Two essays loom towards the end of term, but first there’s the Nouse Christmas Social. I leave thinking These are the people I came to university to meet.
It begins with essays; I hand one in on the first and another on the fourth, which I have finished at six-am after a bottle of wine. Tension in my house reaches a peak whilst I’m out writing in my diary with a hot chocolate in the Waterstones cafe, and the next day my entire perception of some of my housemates changes in the course of a ten-minute bus ride as Becca explains everything. Things are suddenly different and better, all over again.
Mum comes to pick me up; we shop in York before driving home. I walk in the countryside, suddenly more appreciative of home, and G and I spend lots of time together. Having finally finished The West Wing, Rosa and I begin Homeland. G and I celebrate two years together. Mid-month is Mum’s birthday, followed by the build-up to Christmas. It’s our first without Grandma; we watch Star Wars and Rosa finally shows me Alien. Over the break I meet Will for coffee and my orchestra group plus guests – all thirteen of us – for a Christmas meal. I play a lot of harp; everything is joyous.
It’s gone quick, and sometimes it feels as though nothing is the same as it was this time last year. Twenty-fifteen was a year of anxiety and fear, and there were times when I felt I was losing myself. It’s a pretty big world and the only constant is change, but the biggest lesson I’ve learned this year is that I can determine those changes. There’s a lot to come this year and much of it is unknown, from people I’ve not yet met to travel plans not yet made to music not yet heard. But for the foreseeable future there are rocks to keep me stable, both back home in Norfolk and here in York, and possibilities to keep me moving forward – and at the end of the day that’s all we can do. Here’s to twenty-sixteen; if its beginning is anything to go by, I’m in for a beautiful time.