I last blogged in January. Rather than letting 2022 quietly enter the room, I’m pretty convinced that someone squared up to it and challenged it to do its worse.
When blogging, I am self-deprecating and sarcastic. My default mode is to look for the humour in life, particularly when writing about myself. I just don’t know how to write about my life, work and research right now because that voice, that tone, would be inappropriate. I am well aware that the terrible things which are a constant backdrop in my head at the moment are front and centre for millions of people. Who cares if I am navigating how to do a PhD, renovate a house, recover from a car collision and juggle work at the same time? I mean, could I display my privilege any more prominently? Oh, how awful for me trying to study whilst different trades-people are working on my new house… How terrible it is to wonder how to break up my day so I concentrate on data analysis (my PhD) and recruitment (the project I’m working on)… What rotten luck that I went without a car for a week because my insurer is less than helpful…
Can you hear yourself, Jo?
People are dead. Displaced. Under attack. In financial crisis and unable to heat their homes. Being let down by their leaders. Unsure of their futures. Scared for their children.
And now I’m meta-analysing whether this will be perceived as some ridiculous plea for permission or absolution. It isn’t. It’s just an explanation of why the blog has been quiet.
I am sorry to the authors who have shared pre-publications with me. I will make time to read and review as soon as possible.
…with 2022. No sudden movements or loud noises, in case we spook it. Shhhhh, tiptoe gently into January, please.
This blog was going to be a reflection of the year, using our family Jar of Happiness as an aide memoire, like I wrote last year. But we’ve been pretty remiss with the jar since the start of the autumn so that’s not possible. Despite the fact that 2021 felt like the longest year ever, this will be the shortest round up and you’ll be pleased to note that most of it is in picture format.
A surprising number of things brought me happiness this year. Pre-summer, when we were still under Covid-house arrest because of my vulnerable wife, lots of this happiness was food based! We had a meal dropped off by a private chef, a local curry chef and a baker have both delivered to our door (dangerous discoveries), our neighbour has kept us stocked up on cake (which she bakes but doesn’t eat herself) and we’ve even had fun doing a few online cook-a-longs.
One of the best things about this year, compared to 2020, has been our ability to actually see friends and family. Sure, it basically has to be outdoors no matter the weather but it has been such a joy to see actual faces and not just through ZoomTeamsMessengerSkypeHangoutsFacetimeWhatsapp. I’ve been hanging out online and studying with the best group of people since September 2020: The PhD Forum. Being able to meet many of them in person this year has been magical. We’ve also been blessed with the opening of The Crate Café in Bosham (check them out here), which has meant we can meet up with local friends and family in an outdoor space with food, coffee, heaters and shelter.
Our dear Maggie also turned 13. Despite scaring us back in March with rapidly declining health, she’s bounced back and made it to another Christmas.
THE NOT SO BAD
Achievements wise, a few not too shabby things have happened this year. I’ve finished the data collection aspect of my PhD so now it’s all in my hands to finish 🤢. I managed to pick up some work at the University, doing GTA (graduate teaching assistant) bits – and I’ve secured some work for 2022 in terms of marking and RA stuff (research assistant).
I built several Lego sets this year, completed a paint by numbers and a diamond art doodah, and learned how to make sushi.
The biggest accomplishment of the year, if you speak to my wife, is probably my creation of The Wonky Bar: our at home pub complete with a cinema-style entertainment space.
We also got a new car – sounds fancy but it was a downsizing situation to save money. We managed to do a lot of the DIY projects we’d been putting off… and then promptly sold our house! It was on the market for 9 days and had 9 viewings before it was snapped up.
My reading challenge this year, set on Goodreads, was 36 books – I was aiming for an average of three a month. Managed to just nip over the line with 40 and there have been some crackers.
To clarify, I don’t mean my wife is ugly just that the ugliest thing to happen this year was in relation to her. Her asthma tried to take her from me back in July/August. An 8 day hospital stay, resuscitation, new meds and treatment plan, and 6 months of recuperation mean she’s still here. But, bloody hell, that was close.
We also said goodbye to Pinch, the last of our cat tribe. She was 14, dinky and incredibly opinionated. The house is definitely a lot quieter without her.
Other ugly things: I turned 40. FORTY?! Although, as it happened mid-pandemic and I couldn’t see anyone, I’ve grandly declared that I’m going to remain 39 until it’s safe to party. I also had a kidney stone removed just days before, so spent my birthday enjoying a series of infections, alarming reactions to medications and a very slow recovery. Multiple courses of antibiotics basically meant the universe gifted me my first ever experience of thrush, just in time for my 40th birthday. Joy.
I can’t end a blog post on the topic of thrush so, instead, there’s lots on the horizon for 2022. I should be turning 40 again and celebrating by popping across to Northern Ireland for a PhD Forum / postponed birthday get-together. I should be getting my other kidney stone removed at some point. We should be moving house. I should be completing the PhD 🤢 and maybe even popping up to Sheffield before I submit. Note the choice of modal verbs… two years into plague living, I think I’ve got the hang of avoiding firm plans.
This post was written in 2021. Maggie gifted us another year of cuddles, walks and love before we had to say goodbye (19/01/2022).
Our eldest canine child, Maggie, is 13 on the 11th May. A beautiful English Springer Spaniel. She is seriously slowing down: her arthritis is getting to her, her eyesight is failing and she frequently forgets why she’s entered a room. A couple of recent incidents – where she’s clearly been in acute pain – have us worried that our time together is rapidly running out. She didn’t want to stand up this weekend so we had another trip to the vets who adjusted her pain meds. We’re actually grateful for the year+ stuck at home because it has meant uninterrupted time with her.
(You can’t see on a post blog but there was an hour’s break here so I could snuggle her and cry. Pets really do break your heart).
Anyway, I don’t want to write Maggie a eulogy after she’s gone; I’d much rather write her very own acknowledgements page whilst she’s still here and I can read it to her.
We got Maggie back in 2008. Helen (my wife) had been through a major health scare, serious surgery and subsequent emergency surgeries to stem internal bleeding. Afterwards, we got the puppy we had always said we’d have one day because we realised we didn’t want to put things off when tomorrow can be so uncertain. Maggie is our yay-Helen-didn’t-die dog. When we arrived to pick up 8 week old Maggie, we realised it was not a good breeder – the conditions weren’t awful but they weren’t great either. And the pups had been docked. We couldn’t leave her there because we were immediately in love.
Helen wanted to call her Cat – she thought it would be hilarious on dog walks. It was vetoed. She also suggested She-Ra, Mumm-Ra and Moog. All also vetoed. Although I conceded and allowed Moog as her middle name: Maggie Moog. It’s the origin of her nickname, Maggie Moo Moo, which was inevitably shortened to Moo or MooMoos.
Thank you, Maggie, for giving us a much better routine. We were both prone to working 16+ hours a day in the office / at school; once you were part of our family, one of us would be sure to get back early to be with you. I mean, the work continued but at least we were doing it at home.
Thank you not only for the interesting walks but also for the holidays. I know Helen likes to travel abroad but I’m happiest when you’re with us on a holiday… and that means exploring the UK. We’ve stayed in some lovely spots and visited loads of beaches. You haven’t once caught a bird but that hasn’t stopped you trying.
Thank you for being my insomnia buddy. I think my night time shenanigans are probably why you’re so good at your daytime naps. It doesn’t matter whether I’m powering through the night for a deadline, up as a slave to my bladder or just having an existential crisis… you’re there with a tail wag and a snuggle.
Thank you for being such an empathetic soul. You can’t bear it if we’re ill, if we’re sad, if we’re bickering or even if we’re just retelling tales from work with Oscar-worthy performances. You’re straight in there with a nose boop and a cuddle to make it all better. For five years, we tried to have a family. You saw us through all of those painful, failed attempts, the constant stress and the miscarriage that took me years to get over. I’m no good at speaking about how I feel but it has always been easy to speak to you. You’re the best listener, even though you always express your opinion very clearly with a trademark snort.
Thank you for being an absolute trooper. I’ve lost count of the surgeries you’ve had: neutered, cut paw (not your fault), knee reconstruction (not your fault), bladder operation (not your fault) and stitches for a barbed wire incident (that one was probably your fault). You’ve been the goodest doggo with all of those recoveries, even though you’ve wanted to spring and bounce because it’s in your nature. I’m pretty sure our insurance company isn’t your biggest fan. The bladder operation was scary: we were told it was cancer and you might not make it through the operation if the vet decided it was too much to cut away. It had all happened so fast and I was away for work. I insisted that Helen brought you home – the surgery was due to be the next day – so I could drive back from Sheffield (250 miles ish) to spend that night with you in case it was our last. Not a chance that I would miss a snuggle and a goodbye. Turned out not to be cancer and we’ve had many more years with you since.
Thank you for the many, many, many wonderful memories. Your willingness to dress in clothes and pose for a photograph. Your love of our (now diminished) cat clan. Your apathy towards poor Edith who we thought would be good company for you in your elder years (hahahahaha). Your sweet tooth*, which we discovered after you stole a dozen donuts when we were asleep and had to deal with a hyper-sugar-rush version of an already springy Springer for 48 hours.
Thank you for being the absolute best girl. You’ve done so much for us.
* we do not enable her sweet tooth but it doesn’t stop her hopelessly begging if we have cake.
First of all, I’ve decided to put my hat in the ring and have a go at winning some funding for the PhD. I’ve spent quite some time on the phone to SFE (they’re really nice to you once you’re a postgraduate borrower of money, it transpires) who assure me that this is all above board and won’t leave me out of pocket if I win the funds. Yes, I’ll not receive any more student loan payments but, no, I won’t suddenly have to stump up thousands to pay them back instantaneously. This is a moot point anyway as the funding is damn hard to get – they even call it an “open competition,” which sounds a little Hunger-Games-esque to me. First to the cornucopia gets the funding?! The White Rose College of Arts and Humanities is a federation of the Universities of Sheffield, York and Leeds; the funding is open to PhD students in multiple schools / faculties across all three and only 40 people are awarded the funding. My guess is that the majority of it will go to 2020 first year students, not those of us who are beginning our second year, because it’s a good marketing tool.
In the first instance, I’ve had to apply to the Information School to get their go ahead to then apply to WRoCaH. Yup, that’s its acronym and it’s pronounced rocker. Whilst I’m very unlikely to win the funds, it is good practice at writing bid-like things and explaining what it is I’m trying to achieve.
Second of all, it is time to euthanise my laptop. I’m hoping it isn’t self-aware enough to read that last sentence and that our Alexa device hasn’t given it a heads up. It is slow and clunky; it basically takes longer than me to warm up in the mornings. Once you have more than two tabs open on t’internet, it grinds to a halt. And multiple applications gives it a stroke. In my head, it’s a relatively new and powerful laptop but, in actual fact, I bought it in 2012. That’s probably geriatric in laptop terms, right? I have to turn my simple needs (fast, number pad for data entry, not too heavy) into technical specifications. And I don’t even know the difference between memory and storage. Plus I’m on a poor-student-budget. Nevertheless, I am committed to spending my loan (after fees) on this endeavour at the end of the month and to ensuring I don’t choose whimsically because I like the colour. I’ll keep this laptop because the man-child will need something for university and it will do until he saves for better.
Finally – and I guess I buried the lead – I’ve resigned from my job. Big, difficult, unwanted decision. It turns out that studying for a PhD full time – and remotely – isn’t conducive to holding down a job, even part time. I knew that the PhD would require self-motivation and discipline but I truly thought that I was enough of a workaholic that I could do it all. I can’t. It’s a very hard pill to swallow.
Currently, I am not in a productive routine and I’m jumping from deadline to deadline. Also, I need the flexibility to engage with the brilliant doctoral programme and academic development opportunities. Not only that, the man-child has hit the needs-me-but-doesn’t-want-me stage of his development (Nanny McPhee reference) and is taking up an inordinate proportion of my time… I won’t go into details because it wouldn’t be fair to share his life. I will say it’s exhausting and I also don’t want to unintentionally let him down because I am spinning too many casserole dishes (bigger and more awkward than plates). Essentially, life, wife, teenager and PhD are all plates that I cannot and would not drop, meaning I had to turn my attention to the work plate. One influential factor is financial stability: I am fortunate and grateful that my wonderful wife has landed an impressive new job and has offered to solely shoulder the burden of the household income.
I am gutted to be leaving my job for so many reasons. I have an excellent boss, who is a perfect mentor and coach for me: supportive and challenging in equal measures. Plus, she lets me flex my initiative. Any Sunday night blues are banished because working with her is a dream. The whole College Group was supportive of my MA, dissertation and research. The campus is so unique with cracking students and staff. It’s going to be a wrench to leave and I am not enjoying the countdown to the end of February.