Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Ten years ago - what have I learned?

Ten years ago - February 2001 - and I was in my second year at university. I'd come out of 4 months with the women's lightweight rowing squad and was back in my college crew, as a 53kg powerhouse (!). I was the college welfare officer - in charge of coffee, condoms and chat. I was very into my boyfriend. And I was studying hard - a fortnightly translation from French to English and weekly translations the other way; and 3 essays a fortnight on 'general history' and 'nineteenth century French' with loads of library time. 

Ten years on - February 2011 - and I'm in my eighth year at work. I'm nothing like as fit as I was, and do much less condom distribution - but I still am often a source of coffee and chat. I'm very into my man. And I work pretty hard, although now it's about slide packs, submissions and evidence... 

What've I learned?
  1. I've learned about who I am and got comfy being myself in my own skin. I'm still not fully there - faced with some people and places I find myself distinctly out of my saucer - but I'm much better at knowing and being myself, including my dorky bits. I know what I think is important - in my life and in my morals. And I'm a lot happier and healthier for it.
  2. I've learned to to read for pleasure again - it took me a while to get back into books after 4 years of serious immersion and 'doing' an author each week (3-6 novels plus biography and plenty of lit crit) - but I can't imagine a life without books, or a week without fiction. And though I know some of its rusty, I know that everything I did at uni has helped me to appreciate better, deeper and more richly the books that I read now.
  3. I've learned what it's like to think in another language - I couldn't do it until my year abroad, but the moment I caught myself dreaming in French, or walking down the street thinking about a conversation and realising it was in French was amazing. It comes less easily now, but listening to a French podcast or reading an easy novel and it can take me a few seconds to emerge and switch back into English.
  4. I've learned a lot of natural history-related facts - and developed a taste for classy programmes in the David Attenborough mode, rather than cheaper programmes in which animals are given names and personalities (gah) or where the time is filled with the presenter driving around, talking about the difficulties of making a programme. I don't want to be shown the workings - just show me the glories of nature!
  5. I've learned about politics - I'm shocked at the naivete of my ten-years-ago self. Although my politics haven't changed much, I've become more informed and more cynical, I see both the complexity of issues and the deliberate strategies more clearly - but I still don't understand why we aren't better at talking openly with the public about the options, issues and tradeoffs.
  6. I've learned just how amazing Radio 4 is - my time at university was the period that I switched from Key 103 (local commercial pop) to R4, and I've never looked back. I'm still too young for the Archers, Gardeners' Question Time, Money Box Undead, You and Yours, Counterpoint and the Round Britain Quiz. But I cannot get enough of news, plays, books, culture and comedy. I wish it was less London-centric (bring on the move to Salford) and a bit more international (like the World Service I tuned into in Brussels). But still I love it - for its constancy and intellectualism and the superb creativity of eg History of the World in 100 objects. The only thing I've ever found like it is the NPR 'This American Life'.
  7. I've learned to embrace technology - ten years ago I was a late adopter for mobile phones and when I left university I was really not at all convinced about why anyone would want a camera on their phone. Now I feel like a fool - my iphone gives me the entire internet in my hand with access to so much information, and the ability to do all sorts of clever things matching information to my geographical location. I don't read books on my phone but it does let me read news, keep up with friends, follow blogs with an rss etc. It is transformative and while I'm never going to be cutting edge, I don't think I'll ever be a luddite again...
  8. I've learned to drink nice wine - I really am no expert, but I can tell nice from normal wine and enjoy the tastes and variation between different types. I wonder whether becoming an expert would reduce my enjoyment - if I compare it to reading books, there are benefits to being able to think clearly and understand why and how different things affect me, but getting into literature means that I'll never enjoy chick-lit. Then again - who wants to enjoy chick-lit? And who really wants to get drunk on wine that doesn't taste good? 
  9. I've learned how important relationships are - with my friends, with my family and with my man. I'm lucky enough to know and love some brilliant people - best friends who've seen me through my best and worst, and a wider group of friends I like so much that I sometimes feel like a child in my anticipation of seeing them again. I've grown into an adult relationships with my mum. And I've learned about the excitement as well as the stability of a long-term partnership, and the moments of glee and intimacy of knowing and being known so well.
  10. I've learned - and kept learning - how amazing life is, and how much more I want to do.


  1. That's a great list! Another Radio 4 lover here :-) Although I don't get to listen to it that much anymore, it's comforting to know it's there when you need it.

  2. Goodness. I've known you for eight of those ten years - can you believe it? That's a great idea for a list - I may steal it.

    And I listen to Gardeners' Question Time, so less of the 'too young for', thank you.

  3. So true what you say about learning to read for pleasure after time spent in academia.

    I'm fond of Radio 4, too, especially Women's Hour.

  4. Yay for life lessons. I've learned to appreciate wine, but just recently. It's nice to be able to tell the difference from good and bad bottles.

    Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog!