Saturday, 16 May 2015

Father Figure

My grandad is sick. 

My mother and father had broken up before I was even born. He had always been a waste of space really, so no surprise when he turned up five hours late to take my mum to the hospital. What's the rush? She was only in labour. He then spent most of my arrival on the phone to his new girlfriend, and made the birth of my mother's first born to suck a lot more than it could have done. 

A few years later, he decided he did want a stab at being a father after all and that's why we all had to start going to contact centres. And why I got called out of my primary school class to speak to a kind man in a suit, a child psychiatrist of some sort, about how I felt about my parents. I remember so clearly pointing to a picture of a sad face when asked how I felt when in my father's company. I then pointed to a happy face to describe how I felt when he left. At five years old, I was kept out of the loop during the court proceedings, but my mother has since filled me in. Essentially, my father cocked it up. He thought the best way to win a custody battle was by attacking the competency of my mother's parenting, rather than actually trying to build a relationship with his daughter. It was apparent to anyone that my mum adored me, and that I adored her. Attempting to fault her capabilities was fruitless and after a lengthy battle, my father was allowed to see me once every fortnight for just an hour. Luckily for me, fathers did not enjoy the same custody rights that they do today, and his poor effort in getting to know me was reflected in this measly visiting allowance. 

Up until six months ago, I had seen my father every other Friday without fault. Despite the seemingly insignificant amount of time I had to endure of his company, I dreaded his visits, but I was obligated to be there. It's not like he's a particularly bad man. Most people find him witty, he has many friends and enjoys part time extra work in crumby tea-time dramas - Holby City was one of his most recent. It's just that we never gelled, he never tried to get to know me and I didn't him. You can't force a relationship, despite his quite gallant attempts by the end of it.

Despite this, I did have a father figure. My grandfather. I have seen him most days since I was born. He practically raised me, alongside my mother. He attended all my school plays, paid for my piano lessons and chauffeured me to friends' houses. But more than that, we spent mornings before school together writing court-room dramas that we would later act out, he spent hours helping me master fractions and perfect my homework. We would go on adventures; finding pretend castles near the beach, and pick blackberries for our picnics. When my Granny died, a few years back, I went round his house for tea every Tuesday evening and we would discuss Hitler's speeches over our pasta and do the crossword over dessert. My grandad is the best man I will ever know. Second to none. 

My grandad is sick. I mean, he's been sick for a long time now. He had his first heart attack when I was two years old (I'm nineteen now). I should probably mention that my grandad has always been a very active man; his walks were always marches, his dabbling in DIY saw no limits, from plumbing to electricity to building extensions, his garden was always alive and growing. Thus, the heart attack came as a blow for him, but slowly he and my mum built up his strength and he was back to being himself, if a little slower. I was thirteen when he had his second heart attack. This time, he was older. He didn't bounce back as well. A significant part of his heart died the second time, and he was diagnosed with heart failure, which means there is no getting better. There is only 'making you feel comfortable'. Palliative care. It felt like a death sentence. Since that second heart attack, my grandad has fought to re-build himself. He is slower, weaker and less capable than he was before, but, six years on and he has defied his prognosis. He's weaker and his lungs are beginning to fail - he was diagnosed with chronic obtrusive pulmonary disease a couple of years ago, the very disease my Granny, his wife, died of - but he's still here, he's still alive. Something we didn't imagine six years ago. 

My grandad is a wonderfully, inspiringly strong man. Which makes the condition I saw him in tonight particularly hard to take in. Grandad was diagnosed yesterday with pancreatitis, caused by a cluster of gallstones. The treatment ultimately involves the removal of his gallbladder and would ordinarily be a non life-threatening condition. But the pancreatitis has caused my grandad's organs to inflame, putting significant pressure on his heart and lungs, meaning his heart is struggling to cope with the stress. The doctors are unable to relieve the pain he is in at the normal rate because his heart cannot cope with the needed drugs. The surgery that is required for the gallbladder removal carries a significant risk; he has a much greater chance of his heart stopping when under anaesthesia. He may not survive it. And if he does, his quality of life will be worsened because of the pressure on his heart. Disability is not an option for my grandad. He wouldn't want to live if he couldn't live independently. 

Despite pancreatitis being a significantly better cause for a stay in hospital than his other episodes, I'm still very scared. My grandad is a pivotal part of my life and, selfishly, I need him to get better. I need him to come home. 

Sunday, 10 May 2015

I Make Lists


1. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Recommended to me by my grandad, this was the first 'classic' literature I ever read, and Austen's wit taught me a great deal about irony and subtlety in novels - particularly the opening paragraph, which I have had memorised since I was ten.  Despite my copy being well thumbed and the BBC adaptation watched many times, I think it will always be my favourite story. 
"She had a lively, playful disposition, that delighted in anything ridiculous" 

2. The Fault in Our Stars - John Green
TFIOS may seem like a staple on a list of a teenage girl's favourite books, however, it's not only Green's beautiful narrative that caused it to make mine. I read this book at a time when my enjoyment of life had been sucked out of me, including my enjoyment of reading. Reading, and finishing, TFIOS gave me hope and, for that, I will forever think fondly of this book. 
"My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations."

3. Looking for Alaska - John Green
Another magnificent work from John Green, coming a very close second to TFIOS. Don't be deterred by the thirteen-year-old-fangirl hype around young adult novels, LFA is well worth reading. Every page is quote-worthy.
"So I walked back to my room and collapsed on the bottom bunk thinking that if people were rain, I was drizzle and she was a hurricane."

4. Atonement - Ian McEwan
McEwan is a favourite author of mine, with Atonement being the best of his work I have read so far. With multiple narratives and the book being split into two halves, there is much to follow and the reader is able to view the situation (the key event of the fountain undressing) from different angles and cringe for naive Briony's mistake. A good film, an even better book. 
"How guilt refined the methods of self-torture, threading the beads of detail into an eternal loop, a rosary to be fingered for a lifetime."

5. About a Boy - Nick Hornby
I saw the film first (mainly because I have a thing for middle aged men with posh British accents and Hugh Grant falls definitely under that category) and read the book a few years later. A lovely story about grasping life. 
"It happens, and I wish it didn't, but that's life, isn't it?"

6. The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
I usually enjoy books far less when I'm obligated to read them. So it's quite unusual that this novel makes the list since it was part of my A Level Literature reading list. A brilliant dysoptian - a favourite genre of mine - centring around Offred's struggle to maintain her identity in a class-driven, patriarchal world where she is known only as a reproductive vessel.
"Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. Don't let the bastards grind you down."

7. It's a Kind of Funny Story - Ned Vizzini 
Another young adult fiction novel, who's storyline follows 16 year old Craig's admittance into a psychiatric ward, after a suicide attempt. The novel is given more poignancy to me since Vizzini's own suicide just a few years ago. Despite the heavy subject matter, Craig's journey is humorous and uplifting - definitely a worthwhile read. 
"People are screwed up in this world. I'd rather be with someone screwed up and open about it than somebody perfect and ready to explode."


1. Twin Atantic 
Sparkly Touch, Oceans, Crash Land, A Guidance From Colour, The Ones That I Love 
"I'm obsessed with the feeling that I want to fly with you"

2. Lower Than Atlantis
Criminal, Here We Go, Words Don't Come So Easily, Go On Strike, Love Someone Else, Another Sad Song
"Don't cry, we all make mistakes from time to time. Unfortunately, for me, being me, was mine." 

3. Mayday Parade
Terrible Things, Miserable At Best, Walk On Water Or Drown, Kids in Love, Stay, Three Cheers for Five Years 
"Don't fall in love, there's just too much to lose, if you're given the choice then I beg you to choose, to walk away."

4. Ben Howard
Diamonds, Keep Your Head Up, Black Flies, Conrad, I Forget Where We Were, Bones
"Maybe you were the ocean, when I was just a stone."

5. Bon Iver
The Wolves, Skinny Love, re:stacks, Holocene, I Can't Make You Love Me
"And at once I knew I was not magnificent."

6. Go Radio
Goodnight Moon, Go To Hell, I Won't Lie, Any Other Heart, Thanks For Nothing
"Our hearts are heavy burdens, we shouldn't have to bear alone."

(I own no rights to these images - all rights belong to the owners bla bla)

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


The education system.

It's a bizarre arrangement really. You get carted off to reception at age five, in your little dungarees or your check pinafore, velcro shoes and a pink or blue lunch box in hand (depending on your gender - we Western societies like to start the gender stereotyping process early). Primary school is all fun and games - quite literally, from kiss-chase to tamagotchi's to slime covered aliens that give birth in the fridge (90's born)- and then ten years later you're fifteen, flagging in the social department of high school culture and resenting your very existence. Okay, maybe for some high school life didn't result in endless amounts of mental torment, but mine certainly did. Man, I abhorred it. I found out which college the majority of my peers were enrolling to the following year, and chose the other one. I couldn't wait to be rid of the toxicity.
Four years later, at nineteen, I'm nearing my final term of sixth form college and although I'm more secure with my social situation - dire, but I have a wonderful boyfriend and a sane friend or two - the upcoming examination period is taking its toll.

It was never the plan to spend three years at sixth form college, the standard two year stay seemed long enough for me, particularly at my college; where privacy is non-existent and students are treated as commodities. But health issues prevailed and disrupted my arrangements. There's no denying that it was a blow at first. To accept that I wasn't going to be the same as my peers, that a condition out of my control had prevented me from being their equal, I felt inferior and weak. Though, I can't complain too much , I'm applying to university this year with better grade prospects than I would have had last year, plus I got to spend more time living in the same town as my Jonathon. Swings and roundabouts. 

Achieved - English literature: B. History: B. AS Geography: B. AS Mathematics: C.
Predicted - English Language: A. Government and Politics: A. 

Remember I said that students are treated as commodities? This is why. 
Being a student, this is how I'm viewed. I am not Beth. I'm not creative, organised, driven or depressed. I'm not a teenager, a girl or a person. I am an accumulation of written examinations. I am mediocre A level grades. I am something to be improved, not guided. To be judged, not inspired. I am a statistic for league tables. The current education system strips any shred of identity from vulnerable teenagers, who are searching for belonging. We are vessels of regurgitated information. Our sole purpose to memorise a syllabus created by forty-something year old men wholly out of touch with our generation. 

Alas, in order to get out of the education system, I need to stick with it. Adhere to it's outdated ways and bitterly accept the fact that the outcome of June's exams will be a literal representation of my worth for years to come. It will determine my university place, my life for the foreseeable future and my career prospects. 

No pressure, huh? Wish me luck.