Monday, August 28, 2006

Debt and Danger

IT'S BEEN more years than I care to remember since I left school and started my university career.

I remember my first day very well. I packed up my newly purchased kettle and hairdryer, threw them in the back of my parents' car and we set off for Jordanstown where I moved into the small, freezing cold cell that would become my home for the next nine months.
My surroundings at the Halls of Residence where far from luxurious, but I suppose I was lucky in that they were clean and cheap enough for me to be able to afford to pay for them with my meagre student grant.
Yes, I was one of the lucky ones who still got a grant. If I remember properly it wasn't an awful lot, but it covered the rent and books and left a few quid over to buy essentials like food and West Coast Coolers in the Students' Union (I was never a trendy drinker- while my cohorts sipped beer or cider I was the nerd in the corner with the fruit flavoured drink).
I got a couple of Student Loans out in my time- small amounts I used to fund end of term trips to visit my sister in London but I didn't leave university shackled with enormous debts.
I'm not showing off about that because I have no doubt that if I was just starting out I would be facing thousands of pounds in debt all in the name of gaining an education.
I read on the BBC website yesterday that students packing up and heading off to the likes Magee, Coleraine, Queens or Jordanstown can realistically expect to end up more than £22,000 in debt at the end of your average three year course. And if the people doing the sums are right, your average student may not even have had a single West Coast Cooler to show for it.
Fees for entry to most university courses are £3,000 per year, add to that the cost of living at what will still be a subsistence level and you don't need to be a mathematical genius to work out that the graduates of 2009 will be starting work knowing that a large portion of their pitiful graduate wages will be going directly back to the Student Loans Company.
I have to say that in the same position I would be questioning whether or not a university education was worth the inevitable financial burden.
Being out the other side I know how enjoyable it can be. My three years at Jordanstown where not only years in which I learned bucketloads about ethics, philosophy and- weirdly- what the lyrics to 'American Pie' really meant, but I also had a genuinely enjoyable time outside of the classroom.
Everyone should have the chance- if they want it- to sink a few drinks (cool or not) in the Students' Union. We should all have the chance to live in substandard accommodation with poor heating to 'toughen us up' and everyone should spend at least one night in said house with 20 other students drinking to the wee hours and using a space hopper up and down the street.
We should all have the right to fight with another student for the last edition of that much coveted text book in the library and we should all have the chance to sit nursing a fry in the cafeteria on the morning after the night before.

Letting loose
Having settled down all too soon into adult life I can look back on my uni years and realise they were the nearest I ever got to be being wild and letting loose. I studied hard and played harder and I can honestly look back on those years (with the exception of the freezing cold of our house which was decorated primarily in brown and my finals) with fondness. They really were among the best of my life.
A university education is about much more than book-learning and getting good grades. Of course that is a major part of it and the ultimate reason for going, but your three years should be about finding yourself, becoming an adult and- if we are being honest here- having a degree (geddit?) of fun before you settle down to the nine to five of the rest of your working life. (Even saying that depresses me).
Students should not have worry about the debts they will face or work their fingers to the bone in menial jobs to try and prevent them accumulating in the first place. Time spent mopping floors in McDonalds should be spent studying, relaxing and enjoying life.
Without starting to sound too much like a new age leftie here, an education should be a right and not a privilege and I think it is a damned disgrace that people are starting out in their working lives with a massive debt hanging over their head.
I dread to think what it might all cost by the time my wee man (just two-and-a half and so obviously a child prodigy already) reaches university age. I have friends who are already saving huge amounts to ensure they have enough in the pot to put their toddlers and babies through college.
Not everyone can afford to have that much forward planning however and I think we will have a generation of young people who miss out on education simply due to the prohibitive expense.
It's about time those in power re-examined their priorities and stopped making a good education simply available to the wealthy.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Month 30- How could I love you more?

Dear Joseph,
If this were an ordinary relationship and you were just some random little creature I let crawl out of my uterus two and a half years ago I would be thinking the appeal should be wearing off by now.
I can't imagine I'd have put off with tantrums so loud and public as I do with you and I imagine had you just been "some guy" I would be kicking you to the curb right now.
But you aren't just some guy. You are my boy and tantrums and all aside I love you now more than I ever have done. Each days brings a new joy, a new thing to laugh at, a new smile, a new word and new moment of heart-stopping pride.
Month 30 will go down in the history books as the month you asked "Why do my have to go to sleep?"- Daddy was amazed, and so was I but then we've always known you were by far the most clever boy in the history of the world.
From the moment I see you each day- when you bark hello- I want to spend so much time just drinking in your babyness, revelling in your innocence. It blows my mind that just 3o months ago you were as much a part of me as my own heart. It feels now as if you are my heart and I love you so fiercely.
Stay precious my gorgeous big and beautiful boy.
Mammy loves you.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Operation Bridesmaid

In precisely 47 weeks and one day my sister will be traipsing down the aisle to marry the man she loves. I am very worried.

You see I'm going to be a bridesmaid- a chief one if you must know- and unless I take some drastic action in the very near future it's just not going to be pretty.
For the last two and half years- indeed since my son made his grand appearance into this world- I have been vowing to lose some weight and gain some self esteem.
To be fair to me I have lost about three stone- sadly it has been in half stone bursts and I've managed to put the same half stone back on between each attempt.
I've tried Rosemary Conley, Weight Watchers, Paul McKenna, going it alone and a half hearted attempt at Slimming World.
I improved my fitness levels so that I could swim 50 lengths without getting dramatically out of breath but then the winter hit and I'm afraid climbing into the paddling pool leaves me out of puff these days.
And of course in this time I've also managed to pass my driving test and much as that has changed my life in 101 positive ways it certainly has done nothing to improve the girth of my rear end or my cardiovascular fitness. (I'm not quite as bad as my husband who has been known to drive to the corner shop- but I'm not far off).
So I'm faced with a dilemma. I want and need to slim down and get fit but no matter how hard and fast I have looked for my willpower I have been unable to find the blighter. (Admittedly if I looked in the right places and not in the vending machine at work or through the pizza takeaway menu I might get a bit further with things).
On Saturday I accompanied my sister (aka Bridezilla) to Direct Dresses in Springtown to have a lookie at bridesmaid dresses for myself and my two fellow maids. Somehow it all seems to have become a lot more complicated in the years between my own wedding and Bridezilla's forthcoming nuptials.
First we had to design on straps (wide, spaghetti or not at all) length (long, ballet or Tea- which was new to me) and material (Satin, silk or taffeta). Once that was sorted and we spotted a dress (strapless, satin and tea-length so you know) that we liked, the assistant muttered the dreaded words "Would you like to try it on?".

Size matters
I knew from looking at it that it wasn't in my size. When she handed it to me and I straddled my wide hips into the skirt I knew for definite it wasn't my size and it was only made worse as I struggled (in vain) to try and zip it up at the back.
My sister, God love her, did her best not to look overly alarmed but I can assure you that the sight of me in a dress three sizes too small with legs that had not seen a razor in a week and back fat spilling between the seems is not for the faint hearted. No amount of breathing in was going to make this a pretty sight- it would take liposuction and a bout of gastric banding.
That said, I knew the dress could look stunning in the proper size but I made a resolution that I don't want my current size to be that right size.
So I'm joining the hordes of women who each day/ week/ year/ month decide they are going to do something about their appearance in advance of a big occasion.
The only problem is, I'm not quite sure what that something is going to be. I don't do so well at calorie counting and my current work pattern means it is difficult to fit in exercise or indeed keep to a healthy eating regime. When I get through the door at 7pm, and once I've deposited the wee man in his bed and cleaned up Thomas, Percy and James from the floor the last thing I crave is salad and grilled chicken.
The strange thing I know I feel better when I do eat salad and grilled chicken. I have more energy, feel less bloated and my skin takes on the glowing hue of a baby's bottom and yet I still can't seem to get that message into my thick head in anything other than three week bursts.
I know I don't want to look like a green Mr. Blobby in my sister's wedding photographs. I want to be able to walk down the aisle with my son (who will be page boy) by my side and not trailing three foot behind me because my rump takes up too much space.
But I'm open to suggestions. I'm willing to try almost anything- from Weight Watchers (again) to dysentery, I'm not fussy. All I know is that I have reached the point of no return.
So if you see me heading for the sweetie machine, or giving into temptation in Thorntons- then I'm pleading with you to hit me a quick skite across the head and remind me that in 47 weeks and one day I'll be a bridesmaid for the first time ever- and it would be nice if I managed to fit into one dress and not two sewn together.

On a lighter note, (no pun intended) I'm off on my holidays for two weeks so this column will be taking a short break.
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