Category Archives: Work

Elite Pastry

I tried to call this post “cake or death?” but it turns out I’ve used that one before. The problem with writing a sporadic blog over an 8 year period is that occasionally you have the same thoughts twice.

Also 8 years. Let’s just all take that in a bit shall we. I have been wittering on the internet for 8 years, and people have been reading it. I had 18 views today. From who? Who knows? It’s all very exciting.

The length of time I’ve spent writing this blog was highlighted to me today because one of my former colleagues graduated from her undergraduate English degree today, and it reminded me that I graduated from my first degree five years ago. Which feels like a mix of no time and just a huge expansive amount of time ago.

But Sally, wasn’t this going to be about cake?

Yes it was, but I sidetracked myself with nostalgia, you’re welcome.

For the uninitiated, I love baking. One of the greatest joys of owning a house has been the ability to bake almost every weekend, and sometimes mid-week as well. I bake cakes mostly, and buns, sometimes scones. I’ve yet to do bread, but have big plans for later in the summer.

I am ashamed to say I have not seen the most recent season of GBBO Professionals (I have sworn off normal GBBO since the Channel 4 move, but Creme de la creme was too good to miss) but I do plan on going back to it. I’ve seen all of Nailed It (if you haven’t then get yourself over to Netflix NOW).

But my new hobby and secret passion is watching baking montage videos on Instagram. In particular I’m a fan of an account called pastry_academy_of_elite (and no, not just for the name). The account reposts the most amazing baking, stunning mirror glazes, and just insanely detailed and beautiful pastries. As you’d probably expect really. I find myself just scrolling through on autopilot now, admiring all their beautiful creations.

As for me – some of my baking is moderately pretty, but there’s a way to go. All tastes nice though.

Twenty Eighteen

What can I say about 2017. It has been a horrible year. Not all of it, of course, in fact a great deal of it has been wonderful. Sometimes it just feels like the bad overshadows the good. I’m very optimistic that 2018 will go the other way.

I don’t *do* New Years’ resolutions, because I fundamentally disbelieve the idea that you can begin new things in January. It’s cold, and horrible, and all normal people should want to be constantly wrapped in blankets and fed cheese.

That therefore means that these aren’t resolutions, they are just aspirations for my 2018.

  • I would like to smile more. I am irrepressibly optimistic (it’s frankly quite annoying) but I am not sure I really smile very often. This year I’d like to smile more, and find lots of reasons to smile.
  • I’d like to improve my overall health. I’m still very prone to illness (misc) and I still have achey joints, and I definitely believe these are fixable things, with a little work.
  • For years I’ve been trying to learn German, and Greek, and a whole variety of other languages. I’m not sure I’ll ever really learn them (despite the 6 years of university, I’m not a natural linguist) but I would like to try and use them, by going to more places.
  • Lastly, I’d like to learn how to rest. It seems so easy when other people do it, but my brain just buzzes away and won’t let me stop, and actually that’s probably causing the lack of smiling, and the illness, and probably the inability to focus on learning a language to be quite honest. So learning to rest is my final aspiration.

Resolutions are a lot of pressure. It’s ok to leave them for a while (I totally stand by April Resolutions) and just begin the year with a few nice aspirations.

After all, the one big positive of having a horrible time is that from here, the only way is up.

Next Steps

I’m going to get a promotion and buy a house.

Easy to say when it’s just in letters, on a back-end-of-the-internet blog. But that is what I’m going to do.

The promotion is already happening, a bit. Not in a permanent way, but in a very definite we-can-work-on-this way. In a moving forward productively way.

The house thing is happening as well, in that I have looked at a lot of houses on the internet, and one in person, and I’ve talked to an adviser about mortgages, and googled “the best place to live in Leeds”.

It’s all terrifying.

I’ve made a bit of a significance out of always moving forward, and always bettering myself in small ways every day. Right now I have a lot of times where I feel like there is no possible way of climbing the enormous mountain of life, or even the enormous mountain of getting out of bed in the morning. But I also have a few times where all these things feel achievable, and like things that I have watched other people do with great success.

And like things that will not end the world even if they don’t pan out perfectly.

So here I go, taking steps.

Brave New World

(Two asides to begin with – If you haven’t read the book ‘Brave New World’ I really recommend it. Also this is my 497th post, and since I’ll totally miss whenever I hit 500 I’m celebrating now. Look at me and all my fancy internet writing)

Anyone who read my last post, or who knows me, or really has interacted with me in the vaguest way, knows I am a nerd through and through. So it is of no surprise that I’m very excited about Leeds Digital Festival. Aside from anything, I know it is happening, which is often a challenge for me – I hear about all the most exciting theatre shows as they close, or academic talks just the final ticket sells. I’m generally bad at “keeping up”.

Other reasons for my excitement about the Digital Festival revolve around the thrilling world of data protection law, and data in general. Not to mention WordPress, cybersecurity, and people doing cool things with code. I’m a big fan all round to be honest.

My previous job was heavily involved in digital, from web content and plugins through to data processing and SEO. I fell into it (as one does), and for me it’s been down the rabbit-hole of digital ever since. It’s a brand new language to explore, not just in terms of actual coding languages (which are a mystery to me, just like most other languages, see the origins of this blog for context) but in terms of the entire world of digital culture. Timeframes are different, the landscape is new, and the risks and rewards are somewhat crazy, but diverse and exciting.

I’m lucky, because I’ve managed to take a passing interest in digital and turn it into something that impacts my whole life, from this blog (which needs a new theme, I know, I know) through to embedding data analysis into my job (where it probably never belonged, but hey ho). And so the idea of getting together with the other digital nerds who like pretty graphs and confusing algorithms and the whole of our brave new world of digital, is slightly my idea of heaven.

Only friendly nerd comments welcome today, please and thankyou.

Know Your Limits

What a tightrope of a phrase.

There’s a big difference between knowing your limits and never pushing your limits. But there’s a very small difference between pushing your limits and breaking them, and as we know from *the law*, breaking limits is never good.

Yesterday I learnt a little more about my own limits when I went to the OperaSoc fundraiser. My limits include not being capable of reaching the bar spend on my own, though apparently I tried. I’m very thankful for my good friend, without whom I honestly think I might not have made it home.

[Incidentally, OperaSoc are performing Don Giovanni next week. It’s the first opera I took part in at Leeds, and I absolutely urge anyone local to go and check it out because it’s set to be A-M-A-Z-I-N-G]

To return to the point, learning that personal limit was a good experience, even though it didn’t necessarily feel like it at the time. I know a new thing, and I can manage myself better now in that knowledge. That’s the thing about knowing your limits. It doesn’t have to be limiting unless you let it be. Knowing your limits means you know when you can push harder and achieve greater things, but it also helps you know when something is out of reach, or might harm you more than do you good (see: bottles of white wine and me in the example above)

What I’m trying to say, because everything has a moral except when it doesn’t, is that you should push your boundaries without pushing yourself. Broaden your horizons.

Maybe go see your first opera? Just a suggestion.

When I grow up

The great thing about not being a student any more, is that I can do what I like with my spare time. Where I used to spend my extra hours reading, or writing my thesis, or hating everything and guilt eating to try and distract myself, now I spend hours and hours playing computer games and that’s totally fine, because I’m a grown up.

Today I made candles.

I’m not really sure what all of that means, because I had a lot of visions of what I would be when I grew up, but none of them involved coffee, ripped jeans, Skyrim, 30 Rock, and incense, which have been the main themes of today. I wanted to be a doctor, and own a shop, and paint. Then when I got older I wanted to be a traveller, and a writer. Now, I think I might want to learn loads about charity governance and manage a team of people. At any rate, I’m not quite there with what being a grown up means to me.

I also get the impression that very few people do. We go through childhood revering adults as these amazing beings who have life totally figured out, and at times I trick myself into thinking that my friends and colleagues are like that. And maybe some of them are, but the majority still don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, and like me, will spend a day eating sweets for lunch and not wearing a bra whenever they can get away with it.

There isn’t really a point to this except to share that it’s fine (I think) to not know exactly how you want to be when you’re grown up.

Though one thing I do know is that when I grow up, I’m going to arrange to go see Matilda (finally).

Let it Be

Yesterday my friend had her leaving party before embarking on a whole new adventure. There were presents and tears and gifts and hugs, and it was all pretty lovely.

Yesterday, I was just excited for her, and happy that we managed to send her off smiling and laughing. Today, it dawned on me that she has really left, and that is a little bit terrifying. She made my job not only easier, but a whole lot more fun, and I’m not sure I’m ready for an office without her.

But then I thought some more about it. People leave and move on all through our lives, and I think learning to be ok with that is a true skill. All too often it can feel like being dropped or left behind, overtaken, or forgotten about. The truth is, it’s none of those things. Others aren’t beholden to us, and in the words of tumblr (paragon of all great quotes) “their success is not your failure”.

It’s important not to see yourself as the protagonist every time, and that has to be balanced with not seeing yourself as a supporting character either. You are the centre of your own  story, and it’s right to let other people be part of that. But they are also the centre of their own stories, and sometimes paths diverge. It is never a reflection on you when they do, just a part of another really big story (a lá “A Song of Ice and Fire”, the perfect example of interwoven narrative. Or any epic really. I just happen to like George RR Martin).

The point is (friends), learn to let people go and be happy for them when they do. And try to keep in touch so you can still see their story unfold.

Completion

I began this blog around 6 years ago, when I moved to Morocco. That was my second year of my university career. If you’d asked me then how long I thought I’d stay at uni, I’d probably have said “forever”. Which isn’t exactly untrue – that’s what a career at a students’ union affords you after all.

I doubt I’d have guessed 7 years, because that shouldn’t add up to any appropriate number of degrees (not when you start with a 4 year undergrad, at any rate). But here I am, 7 years later, happy to say that my university career is complete, at least for the moment. It’s not been the smoothest ride, but then I’m not sure that exists for anyone.

masters

The Apathy of Youth

As we know, I work at a Students’ Union, and it’s my decision to regret, so I blame no-one.

This week, unions around the country have been holding their leadership elections. We are no different, and part of being a staff member at an SU is always going to be encouraging moody students to take the power into their hands and vote for someone to represent them for 12 months.

So you can imagine how frustrating it is to as “Have you decided who you’ll vote for?” only to be met with “No, I’m ok thanks”.

"What's that? No no, no representation for me. No thanks. I'm ok. I'll just keep whinging about my course costs, and my living conditions, and my tutors, but I'll not do anything so radical as have a say who represents me when those matters are actually discussed"

I think my issue is clear. It’s symptomatic of my generation to have problems and care more about the catharsis of complaining than actually fixing anything. A mindset which was firmly embedded following the apocalyptic swing to the Conservatives during the General Election earlier this year. As one, the leftie youths stroked their manicured beards and said “stuff it, there’s no point trying. Better just whinge about everything via the medium of BBC3.”

This mentality of inaction annoys me, because the beauty of an SU is that it’s a microcosm of political reality, and change is being made every day. It might not be trashing-9K-fees level change, but it’s taking small steps to make actual members of the student community happy, and it’s getting done because people get out of their seats and do something.

Mahatma Gandhi may or may not have said “be the change you wish to see in the world” (I am never convinced that quotes are really real) and that is the message. We can’t all just fall back into our sofas in pathetic heaps of millennialdom – we probably won’t make it out of this century if we do.

In defence of the modern Students’ Union

I feel like I’ve been waiting to wade into this debate for months, and I’m finally ready. Let’s talk about Students’ Unions and freedom of speech.

Except let’s not. After all, everyone else has had their go. The most recent article I’ve read is this one, from the Guardian, and it got me thinking about my actual views on the matter, which are thusly.

  1. Freedom of speech is important. People died for our right to it, and there are hundreds of thousands of places in the world where it’s still curtailed.
  2. Students are people, and people can be hurt.
  3. Universities are places of learning and should be starting those difficult conversations, and encouraging challenging debate (my views on the education system aside)

Right, so these things keep fighting against each other. Students are humans, so they shouldn’t be subjected to situations which feel threatening to certain humans. But they’ve gone to university to learn, and where else will they be exposed to these views? And where better to encourage free discourse, in a sphere of learning and growth.

Fine.

Let’s just look at the word “union” for a second. A google-define (because I don’t have a paper dictionary to hand, sue me) gives the following definition:

Union

ˈjuːnjən,-ɪən
  1. the action of joining together or the fact of being joined together, especially in a political context
  2. a society or association formed by people with a common interest or purpose

Now. I wasn’t born yesterday. I know that we think of trade unions as empowering movements of positive social change (or maybe an irritating itch in the side of the status quo), and Students’ Unions used to be the home of debate, free thinking, and general sticking-it-to-the-man. But let’s get real, times have changed.

There’s a consistent rhetoric with the anti no-platform brigade. They criticise SUs for creating a nanny state and reducing the exposure of students to radical thought. Seriously though? I have the internet. I’m on it now. The people (quite rightly, in many ways) actively reducing exposure to radical thought, are the government. Many universities are trying to find ways around that, because in the modern world, engagement with radical and broad-ranging thought is key to degree-level discourse. Yes, there are institutions which are falling down, but it is the fundamental role of universities now to encourage freedom of thought and speech.

Where does that leave SUs? No longer the necessary platform for reform and protest, SUs are free to take on a new (and much-needed, in the current student landscape) position as the provider of a support system. With ever-rising fees and ever decreasing job prospects, students are in need of a place they can go for advice, to maintain their personal welfare, and to find a group of people with a common purpose. And they have a right to consider that space “safe”.

It is pertinent to mention, at this point, that my argument covers SUs as individual organisations, and I do understand the argument as it relates to the National Union of Students. Some of their broadcast views do seem to err in favour of preventing an informative and constructive debate. However, every article that has touched on this subject of late has mentioned “banning” certain things, or not allowing speakers into union buildings. That argument is misguided because it ignores the new value of the SU as an institution. No longer do we need a place to vent our revolutionary angst – universities are increasingly better at being a platform for that discourse – but what we do badly need, in the absence of relevant action from the government, are places to feel safe and supported. Why shouldn’t that place be the Students’ Union?