Saturday, 24 September 2011

September 24th 2011

Today has not been the most satisfying day. I woke up early to commandeer the DVD player in the TV room so we could watch The Thick Of It; that was good. We had lunch and coffee in the bar. I then left some of my friends to watch F1 while I tidied up the room a bit, then thought I'd try to do some writing. Nothing. Read for a bit, had some sleep. Still nothing.

My shoes, purse, favourite bracelet and most of my books were gifts from friends. I'm very quiet, because I've been surrounded by fascinating and clever people my whole life and I figured out early on that if I just shut up for a minute, I'll learn something. I always cover my ears with my hair before I sleep because of something that happened in a TV show I saw when I was a kid. I can handle drinking spirits a million times better than I can wine or beer, due to working at TGI Friday's when I was a student the first time round and putting many, many hours into exhaustive cocktail research. I'm terrified of guns and feel uncomfortable if they're referred to even in jest, because I grew up in a place where something horrific involving a gun happened.

In short, we are products of our environment. So what do we do if our environment feels...unproductive?

I've been lucky in that inspiration has often come to me. I haven't had to think about forcing it, because it's never that long before it strikes again. My situations and homes have usually been in lovely places with interesting people. Now I'm in a place that (although beautiful if you look in the right direction) feels slightly oppressed, rigid and bland, and I have to figure out how to change my mindset so as to be more productive. The reason I'm here is nothing to do with it - I love the work, and I'm excited beyond belief about getting out there and doing it properly. But when I want to think about something else, nothing happens. 

So this week I will be working on feeling inspired. Working out a different way to approach things will be inspiring in itself, but I hope I can regain some productivity along with it. Wish me luck.

Friday, 16 September 2011

In the middle of the night, the fire alarm of my building went off. We duly went outside to wait for it to be switched off. Some of us were considerably less dressed than others, and we were all pissed off. Turns out someone had smashed the glass in one of those boxed wall alarms. Lovely. To be fair to the culprit, he confessed immediately (otherwise ten millionish firemen would have turned up. Shame), but it meant an extended wait outside while they located the smashed box and sorted it out. 

He's been given a final warning. I'm surprised he wasn't fired/expelled. Hopefully that will ensure it doesn't happen again. By the time we all got back in, I was wide awake again and so haven't had much sleep. Very glad it's the weekend now.

It's my birthday on Tuesday so I'm going to London tomorrow to see some friends and get my first tattoo as a birthday present to myself, a little treble clef on my spine to mark a definite end to the music-focused bit of my life. Maybe when I finish my current career I'll get a little anchor or boat...

I've been sent an application to be a Junior Associate of the Honorable Company of Master Mariners. If you want to have a look at what they do, visit HCMM's website. I also have an interview for that library ambassador job next week, so things are starting to get a bit busier.

Next week I'll blog a bit more about what we're actually learning, as it's really interesting. For now, have a good weekend!

Thursday, 15 September 2011

September 15th 2011

The realities of being away from everything I know are starting to set in now. All around me after the weekend I could hear fellow cadets talking about missing their families/partners/pets; it’s all still new and exciting, for most, but doesn’t stop you wishing for a second that you were among old friends again. It’s a different thing to being at sea; on a ship there’s no option, you’re literally disconnected from loved ones. Here we’re just quite far away, and the theoretical possibility that you could get to someone if you had to makes not being allowed all the worse.

The lack of facilities and space is still getting to me a little. I want a kitchen; I like to cook and don’t want to queue up with a plastic tray for three meals a day that I don’t want, or feel guilty for not doing so because it’s already paid for. I want a room of my own; my roommate is lovely and considerate but there’s nowhere at all where one is guaranteed to have peace and quiet, especially with echoey corridors. But these are little gripes, only thought about when I have nothing else to do. To be honest we’re well looked after and have everything we need, if not everything we want. I’m sure if I were 18 I’d have no complaints.

Having said that, the lectures are getting good now we’re over the initial stages. Maths especially is coming on at a fair pace – we’ve got an excellent lecturer who knows what she’s doing and does it efficiently. Any problems which occur there are entirely our own fault, such as yesterday when I and another cadet were stumped for at least ten minutes, baffled as to why our answers were so close but not quite right. It turns out that 365 is the number of days in a year and definitely not the number of degrees in a circle. At least it wasn’t just me...

I’m getting on with my writing, or at least tidied up my brain and computer a bit so I know what needs to be done. I’m hoping I can get the “main” novel/book/story (never quite sure what to call it) finished by Christmas, so I can use my sea time for another - which gives me about three months to do 40,000 words. Easy, right? Easy. Yeah.

The uniform is starting to feel more comfortable, although I reckon I look like a policewoman. Maybe I’ll get my roommate to take a picture soon for me to share with you all.

Monday, 12 September 2011

September 12th 2011

We had our first classes today. Predictably, as we hadn’t met most of the lecturers before, it was yet more introductions and general course descriptions – but the very fact we’re in timetabled lectures makes me feel like I’m actually doing something, which is good. I’ll describe the subjects in more detail as we go on, as I’m still not sure exactly what comes under which title. We got straight into maths. All very basic but probably for the best considering how long it’s been since I’ve done it! Looking forward to it getting more complex though, and the lecturer seems like the type to want us to move on quickly, instead of going over and over topics until they’ve lost all meaning. All in all, a good first day. Especially since I had a parcel arrive full of Tunnock's goodies and a boat drawing from some friends in Edinburgh!

I couldn’t sleep last night. Maybe the coffee I had after dinner (I’ve cut down dramatically on my normal intake since being here, partly due to the lack of close-to-desk facilities) or maybe excitement about lectures starting, maybe just too much sleep the night before. Either way, I started composing some piano music in my head. Inspiration only hits sporadically so it was nice to be thinking in a different way to my recent mental state – although it did make me pine for the days when I could get out of bed at 2am and go and play the piano. Ah, for a home of my own... Today, one of my classmates heard in our oft-repeated introductions that I used to study music, and told me that he and some others were planning to visit a practice space soon, so fingers crossed I’ll be able to join them and actually play something.

On Saturday, a group of us visited Greenwich as a “school trip”, which was amazing fun. We went to the Observatory and Planetarium – WELL worth a visit if you haven’t before, and even if you have, as their recent photography competition winners are being exhibited – and then the Maritime Museum (very cool especially if you like poring over ancient brass navigation instruments like I do) and a wander round Greenwich Market, which has the most incredible smells from its food stalls! We found out at the Planetarium that the next big meteor shower is on 21st October, so maybe I’ll gather some folks to sit and have a midnight picnic outside while we watch.

Friday, 9 September 2011

September 9th 2011

Today was the last day of our first week. We spent it firing pellets of paint at each other in a woodland.

Paintball isn’t that enjoyable, in my experience. I’d never done it before, and – as was pointed out to me by a fellow cadet – there aren’t that many activities which can include 200 people at the same time in the “teambuilding” sort of vein. So paintball it was. We were given camouflage to wear, and heavy plastic masks which made breathing a bit of a chore. Split up into groups of 50, we then went through the gun/paintball explanations and began our first game. I’ll be honest, I’m not much interested in running around and being fired at with little balls of paint. It’s just not my idea of a good time. I have trouble seeing anything to do with any kind of gun as a pleasurable activity. I made it through two games, during the second of which I was hit on the back of my head by a member of my own team (it happens – armbands can be hard to make out – but it doesn’t make it any less painful), and thought maybe that was enough. I sat with a few others of the same mindset who I hadn’t spoken to previously, so that was nice. All that running around is a bit tiring, so when we got back in the middle of the afternoon, my roommate and I and no doubt several others went straight to sleep for a while.

I’ve had a quiet evening – washing uniform, watching Superbad in the TV room – but it’s probably just as well as I have an early morning tomorrow for this Greenwich trip. I’ll report back on Monday, after my first class!

Thursday, 8 September 2011

September 8th 2011

And so the last day of welcome presentations has come to an end. Tomorrow we have a team building event, and then proper classes start on Monday. I’ve got a trip to Greenwich on Saturday and a parental visit on Sunday (they’re bringing me a few more of my belongings, which I hope will brighten up my room a bit). No time to rest! I’m planning to work a bit on my writing over the weekend too, that is if I’m not distracted by Co-op visits and walks along the beach...which may surprisingly end up in a pub.

Some of the presentations today were really interesting – notably one from a captain about his entire career at sea, which involved some cracking photos of 90s attire, and one from a couple of Police Community Support Officers. For non-Brits, these are people who work closely with the police and are supposed to be a more visible local presence. They have some powers but are mainly around to try to keep the peace. We all assumed the presentation would be along the lines of “don’t drink in public, don’t cycle on the pavement, don’t annoy the neighbours” which was of course included, but we were also warned about alcohol, rape and their consequences and made to listen to a 999 call from a girl who’d been assaulted and didn’t have a clue where she was. I think many of us were slightly taken aback at the seriousness, but it was pointed out to us that their examples were all things which had happened to cadets and locals recently, so... fair enough, I guess. Alarming to hear the statistics, to say the least, and it does make me worry about the young age of some cadets and what they’re being exposed to by being away from home for extended periods. By no means do I want to think or act like a parent but when I was sixteen – even eighteen - although I thought I could handle everything fine, I was so unaware of (or unconcerned about) my own limits when it came to things such as alcohol. You can’t help but hope they’ll realise that just because something’s available, it isn’t necessary.

Onto brighter things. Tomorrow’s team building event is paintballing, which I’ve never done before. Those who have are warning everyone that it hurts, so I’m planning to have no bare flesh! I’m sure it will be fun, and it sounds like a nice (?) end to a week of meeting lots of new people. Although I can’t remember most of their names.

September 7th 2011

Only a half day today – we were taken on a little tour of the main Southampton Solent University campus (of which Warsash is a faculty). They seem to offer a big range of things to do in our spare time, including lots of sports. I might have a look at a club or two, although the watersports short courses here at Warsash are a bit more appealing at the moment. We’ll see how I feel when the weather starts getting worse though, a nice game of indoor TV-watching might be a bit more beneficial to my mood... I picked up a leaflet about becoming a course rep as well, which means representing any concerns your class has in monthly university meetings, so I’ll have a think about that.

I’ve signed up for a day trip to Greenwich Observatory on Saturday. We were told to give priority to the people who didn’t know London well, as there were only a limited number of places, but nobody else seemed to be putting their hand up and I absolutely love observatories – so hopefully I’m not doing anyone out of a place. There’s another trip to see a warship and Southampton Boat Show in a couple of weeks with lots more available spaces. Maybe I’ll try to put my name down for that too. Although when am I going to get this lie-in I’ve been promising myself since April?...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

September 6th 2011

We’ve been given loads of information today, and it’s all whirling around in my head. I can’t remember what I’ve been told and what I still need to find out; this is what comes of sitting in lecture halls all day with various people reeling off seemingly unending lists of instructions and suggestions! I do know that I’m very excited about starting the proper lessons. We’ll be learning about ship and port operations, lots of maths, a bit of marine legislation, the actual navigation stuff and plenty of other things. At the end of the term we’ll have to complete a series of short courses including firefighting (genuinely terrified about this) and lifeboat skills. Fun in the December weather! Everything I hear, though, makes me want to do it more, which has to be a good sign.

Our maths assessment was this morning. It wasn’t a pass/fail thing – it was more to determine which of us will need to take extra lessons. I think I did fairly well considering I haven’t done maths properly for about ten years! Not certain when we’re getting the results, but hopefully they’ll decide I’m fine without the extra lessons, as I can pick things up much better by working them out myself than having a teacher try to explain.

Library inductions were also today, and they’re looking for “library ambassadors” to help with later opening hours. I think I might apply, as it’d be (sort of) fulfilling a childhood ambition – I wanted so badly to be a librarian as a kid. I assumed they could sit and read the books all day, which is apparently not what happens, but I’d still like to try it...

We’ve got a pub quiz tonight in the bar. We’re given a dining card with money preloaded for food during the week but it can’t be used for alcohol, which is probably a good thing – I’ll be answering questions fuelled by tea instead of brandy. We can buy drinks ourselves of course, but I’m determined not to spend any unnecessary money this term - it’ll be good practice for when I’m on a ship and not allowed to drink any alcohol at all, at any point!

Monday, 5 September 2011

September 5th 2011

The first day of my new college life is over. Technically, of course, it’s not; this is the Freshers Week, full of tours and presentations and explanations (and one maths exam, tomorrow), so the first proper day of classes will be next Monday. Warsash seems a nice place, we have most of the things we need here and there are few distractions – a gym, a small bar – so it’ll be easy to get my head stuck into studying and assignments and the work I should be doing. I’m nearly 26 and I’ve done the Uni thing, so I don’t feel pressure to be out drinking most nights and all the other things that the kiddies do. On one hand this is great for the aforementioned actual work; on the other it feels a bit isolating, at least at the moment. I’ve got no desire to get drunk or rush around giggling or get up to mischief. I just want a nice quiet place to get my qualifications. Student halls might not be the best place for that – and although Merchant Navy cadets are by nature slightly more staid and appropriate than normal students (we are employees, after all), and they all appear perfectly lovely at this point, I’m fairly certain I won’t want to live with loads of them in the next phase.

For those to whom I haven’t properly explained what the process is, I’m being sponsored by Maersk to study here at Warsash Maritime Academy near Southampton for the first phase of my Deck Cadet training. It lasts a term. From January until next September, I’ll be in a sea phase, so I’ll be assigned to a ship and will do practical training onboard. This cycle repeats itself until three years have passed, and I’ll have gained the right qualifications and enough sea time to get a proper role onboard a seagoing vessel (or a shore based job, if I’d prefer to apply for something on land).

As I explained on Twitter earlier, my room and its posterboard are looking quite sparse and unloved. I came straight from my job on a canal boat to here by public transport so there wasn’t the time or space to gather favourite photos and things. My parents are visiting me this weekend to bring some extra belongings but if you have the inclination to write or draw me something I can put on my wall... I’d bloody love that. Send me a message and I can give you an address.

Like I said, we have a maths exam in the morning, so I’m now going to go and revise. It’s strange coming from my rigidly-structured summer job to being a “normal” person again and having to arrange my own time. Strange but nice.

I’m going to try to blog every day about the things I’m learning and doing – I assume most days will be more eventful than filling in enrolments forms. So: More tomorrow!