Why I am Accepting Minimalism

I am currently in the process of pruning down the number of things I own, to the point where I can fit everything in 3 rucksacks and a briefcase. The list is as follows:

  • Laptop 
  • Smartphone
  • Adaptors 
  • Kindle
  • Camera 
  • titanium pan 
  • Knife – buy
  • 1 set of cutlery
  • Bowl
  • Sleeping bag 
  • Bivy bag 
  • Camping mat
  • big rucksack
  • small rucksack
  • Daypack 
  • Briefcase 
  • drybags
  • travel towel 
  • 5 blouses 
  • 2 bras 
  • 10 pairs of socks (inc. walking socks)
  • 10 pairs of underwear
  • Trainers
  • formal shoes
  • Hiking boots
  • Sandals 
  • Flipflops 
  • 2 pairs of shorts 
  • Waterproof jacket
  • Waterproof trousers
  • Pyjamas x2 
  • Outdoor seat
  • Outdoor fleece
  • Walking trousers
  • shell coat 
  • 2 t-shirts
  • 1 dress
  • 1 scarf
  • Winter coat
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 1 jumper
  • Suit jacket
  • Nylon tights
  • Work skirt
  • Nail scissors
  • Water bottles and flasks
  • Tarpaulin sheet x 2 
  • Whistle, compass, map case
  • Sheewee 
  • Trowel
  • Diary
  • Pen
  • Notebooks
  • Folder with important documents (passport etc)
  • Duct tape 
  • Water purification tablets 
  • Inflatable pillow 
  • Eye masks and earplugs 
  • books
  • Swimsuit 
  • Goggles
  • washcloth
  • first aid and toiletries
  • insect repellent/suncream

The list reflects my interest in outdoor activities and hopefully will cover all eventualities. I hope that this project will help me keep track of what I own and what I have with me.

The choice of the word “accepting” in my title is deliberate; I am not choosing or seeking minimalism, and in many respects I feel it is something put upon me. Most importantly, I am doing it to make my life less stressful.

In the last 5 years I have moved 6 times. This does not include the ends and beginnings of my terms at Oxford where I have had to move all of my stuff out of my room and then back in again after the vacation. I am about to move again at the end of this month, and will make a further move at the end of August, to Germany.

It has got easier with time, but there is always a sense of dislocation, of scatteredness, of things slipping out of your reach. Things get lost and damaged. It becomes physically draining to carry and move things, unless you are willing to pay through the nose for help. It is not surprising that most people try to avoid having to move more than a few times in a lifetime. A minimalist approach offers at least some sense of control over what you possess; though it is marketed at the middle class as offering some kind of freedom or transcendence of the need for material possessions.

For my generation, who are trapped in a cycle of precarious jobs, contract based work and renting, this approach to life seems more a necessity to cope rather than a conscious lifestyle choice. Moving every year or second year has started to seem inevitable; I do not see how I could avoid it even if I did jump into the rat race in London or Bristol like most of my friends seem to be doing.

I find the one-upmanship that surrounds “minimalism” in travel forums and among bloggers totally baffling. The ultimate point of it is convenience, practicality and saving money. Let’s stop kidding ourselves.

Deutsche Sprache, Schwere Sprache

I am asked often, when I tell people that I am moving to Germany in August, whether I speak German.  My response is always a kind of “Er…a bit”, and a swift change of topic. In truth, I have made a lot of effort to learn the language, but it presents a lot of its own challenges, particularly with speaking. I started learning German in earnest last summer, driven in part by the realization that I needed to read German for my thesis, and also by infatuation with my Luxembourgian boyfriend (who then dumped me in January).

The British council job I applied for only specified the need for B1 level German, which, to the uninitiated, means, “lower intermediate”, or a level approximating AS level in the British system. This I achieved, but my progress has been stalled by finals. It was hard to justify spending an hour a day on German when I could be putting the time into study for my exams. Similarly, right now, my progress is hindered by the long and irregular hours of my summer job, though that will come to an end soon.

When I am studying, I try to put an hour or so into it every day. There are a couple of tools I find really useful, which I’ll outline below:

1. Duolingo and memrise: grammar and vocabulary drilling tools
2. lang-8.com – a writing website where one can submit a few paragraphs of writing and have it corrected by native speakers
3. Teach Yourself German – I find it really helpful to also work through a structured course
4. Hammer’s German Grammar (and the accompanying workbook) – massively useful resources for learning German Grammar
5. bliubliu.com – a website which will massively improve your reading fluency by teaching vocabulary in context
6. Deutsche Welle learn German – a treasure trove of German learning resources at all levels
7. Easy Readers – books produced in German (along with most other European languages) graded A1, A2, B1 and B2. I am about to start a B2 graded book.

I hope, that once my job is finished, I can return to this with my full energy with attention, as well as the other languages I have dabbled in previously (Russian, Spanish, Italian), and those I’ve studied a bit more seriously (French and Irish). But, right now, German will be a priority!


July update: work, results and thinking about the future

This month has been extremely busy. For the last two and a half weeks I have been working as residential pastoral staff on a summer course in Oxford, which has been hectic and challenging, but has also had its rewarding moments. I have also been trying to sort out various aspects of my life and do some planning for the future, with mixed success, in part because of the long hours I’ve been working. Today, however, makes it exactly three weeks since I last smoked a cigarette, which I think is a very good sign.

Last week, I also received the results of my degree: a 2.i.
After all that stress and worry, it has turned out fine. Not that there weren’t any hitches:
Screenshot 2017-07-12 at 9.07.33 AM

After my job finishes, which will be on the 22nd July, I will have to spend a bit of time getting ready to move out of my student flat, and then I will be graduating, before heading home to Ireland soon after. For the first time in a while, I am very excited about the future and how my life is going, and I’m very much looking forward to the change of scenery that will come in August when I move to Germany. On that front, I have just one more piece of preliminary paperwork to complete, and need to find a flatshare (Wohngemeinschaft).

6 Steps to Surviving a Job at a Summer Camp

It’s that time of the year, and like many university students I have found myself once again in a camp counselling role, for the third year running, for four weeks this summer. Here are some of my tips on getting through it (some of which were lessons learned the hard way!)

1.Know what to expect

Summer schools and camps often come with brutal schedules. Split shifts, overnight shifts, and overtime are common. It’s really important to discuss how much you will be expected to work during your time at the camp and how much time off you can expect with your employer in advance. If your employer will not guarantee any time off, it is a bad signs. It is also useful to keep a time sheet to keep track of your hours once working, which will help you to make sure you are being paid above the national minimum wage.

2. Get enough sleep

Sleep is necessary. You do not want to be looking after 20 teenagers while tired. If you don’t get enough sleep, it will also get progressively worse over the course of the camp. Don’t do it to yourself!

3. Use your time off wisely

Often in a camp environment you can become very close to your colleagues, due to the closeness in age as well as the nature of the work. There will often be occasions for drinking alcohol. You may also take the opportunity of time off to go drinking with other friends. This will never end well; ultimately it is unprofessional and means that you are not able to give the kids the support they need, especially in an emergency situation. This goes double if you are residential.

4. Be Prepared!

Always plan the day ahead in advance, and try to find out what is happening before it does. Know where you are supposed to be, what you are supposed to be doing and who you are supposed to be doing it with. This is vital to ensuring that summer camps run smoothly.

5. Keep professional boundaries with your colleagues

This is a very tricky one, and relates closely to point (3). There can be a high degree of cabin fever, especially in a residential setting, and it’s important to give each other enough space and time to oneself, even when you get on with them. Apologize for mistakes and say thank you for any help your colleagues provide. Remember, however, that even if  you get on well, you are still colleagues and there needs to be certain boundaries in place. Be mindful of how you behave, how you speak to them and what you tell them.

6. Take a step back

Working at a summer camp can be extremely stressful. It can also be exhilarating and an opportunity for a lot of personal growth. It can make you feel anxious and burnt out, and other days can be absolutely wonderful. In the midst of this it is important sometimes to get out of the camp environment and find things to do which take your mind off of work and the things going on at the site. This is a very important part of ensuring your emotional well-being and helping you to make it through your contract.

Time at home, and coming back to Oxford to work

After my trip to Scotland, I flew from Glasgow airport directly to Derry, in order to spend a few days at home with my family. My mother picked me up from the airport, and I was quickly at home. In all honestly, I found the time at home very relaxing. It was a relief to be able to spend some time back in a place where everything was taken care of for me. I didn’t do too much while I was there, though I did go out for a drink and listen to Irish traditional music with my mother, and later in the week we went for a day out in Donegal.

First of all, we drove to Glenveagh National Park and had a walk around the grounds of the castle. I have been to Glenveagh many times before in my life, and the peacefulness of the place is always striking, as is the sheer beauty of the dramatic landscape.

After this we drove down into the Dunlewey Gaeltacht (an area of the country where Irish is used as the primary language) and had a coffee in the Ionad Cois Locha. However, this wasn’t before stopping off at the Poisoned Glen, a breathtakingly beautiful place.

I flew back to England on the Friday, and the events which followed are recounted in the post I made a few days ago.

That Saturday I started my summer job, which I am now nearly two weeks into. I will post an update on that very soon.

Police harassment at Stansted?

I feel strange about writing this, though remembering what happened causes a surge of differing emotions to rise in me; I think putting down my thoughts might be cathartic. I remind myself that it could have been worse: I am white, Oxford-educated, financially secure and so on, and yet I still feel I have a right to feel a degree of anger and unease.

It started last Friday morning, when, having got an early flight from Derry to London Stansted, I went to wait in the bus station attached the airport for my coach back to Oxford. This was a four hour wait, so I sat there reading a book while waiting for the coach to come.

About 45 minutes before my coach was due to come, a police sniffer dog jumped on me, and two police officers who had appeared out of nowhere immediately began questioning me. I was asked to empty my pockets, my ID was checked against the police computer, and I was asked repeatedly the same questions (where I had come from, where I was going, why, and so on and so on). This went on for about 20 minutes. Eventually they were satisfied that I had done nothing wrong, and they left me alone.

Or so I thought. Next two more officers approach me, purely on the basis that I looked nervous and “frightened” after this experience. What followed here was another 25 minutes of questioning, demands to see my passports, my boarding passes and coach tickets and so on, as well as questions about my personal life and family, and my profession.

The longer this went on, the more nervous and frightened I became. I was worried, too, about missing my coach (which was due to leave at 12). I was asked repeatedly why I was shaking, to which I gave an answer about being tired. I realized that simply saying, “I am frightened because you are harassing me”, would be taken as antagonistic, which one ought to avoid in an airport. It was equally discomforting that the officers insisted that they were working as part of a new programme to keep Stansted airport safe, and that they applied a veneer of friendliness of their actions, as if it could disguise how fundamentally aggressive what they were doing was.

Thankfully I managed to catch the bus, feeling exhausted and uneasy. Should I avoid Stansted airport in future, even though it’s the most convenient location to travel to for me when coming to England? Was it because of how I was dressed, with the Metallica t-shirt and coat with fur-lined hood and boots? Was it because I was so spaced out because of tiredness? Was it the Irish accent? How much worse would it have been if I were Muslim and/or black?

Why was my fear taken as some sort of admission of guilt? Not content with policing my actions, they felt the need to also police my emotions?




Two days in Glasgow

Day 1

I left Edinburgh on the Sunday, taking the train from Edinburgh Waverly station to Glasgow central, before grabbing a quick lunch then heading out to try to find my hostel. This took longer than I had anticipated. Although I followed the directions given on the booking email, it turned out that the signage wasn’t as clear as they made it out to be, and moreover, the check-in was later than they had advised. Getting to the hostel also involved walking up a massive hill…

That night I decided to take things easy, though I did go out for a walk in the Kelvingrove park which is just adjacent to the hostel I stayed in.


Day 2

On the second day I took the subway into central Glasgow to have a look at some of the sights, having spent a few hours in the Kelvingrove museum in the morning, including Glasgow university and the modern art museum, before ending the day with a cream tea in the Botanic Gardens.


I didn’t do much socializing when I was in Glasgow, in part because the hostel I stayed in had a strangely anti-social atmosphere, though I did have some interesting conversations with an elderly lady (!) who was staying there. I think if I ever return to Glasgow, I might try to stay somewhere else.

The following day I took a taxi to the airport to travel home to Northern Ireland…