‘Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.’ – C.S Lewis
This is a post about Harry Potter, and, more specifically, why pop culture is so important to dorky teenagers (and the dorky adults they become). I’ve met a few adults who don’t ‘get’ Potter – ‘why are all these grown people obsessed with a children’s book? Shouldn’t you be reading War and Peace or something?’ – so, hopefully, this post might make them see.
I started re-reading the Potter series recently, ahead of our trip to the Warner Brother Studios. I haven’t read them for a good few years. I used to read them at least once a year, but new books are coming into my life at a rapid pace and I haven’t had time for them. What’s amazed me, in opening them again as a thirty year old, is how much they still feel like home.
Now, the context at the start of my obsession. I’d just started secondary school. An all-girls school. I’m not exaggerating when I say I hated it. Every day it felt like going to prison. A grey, blocky prison, where they made me wear a skirt and uncomfortable tights, and the hallways smelled like hairspray and Impulse and sweat. I was a loser. (I don’t particularly feel the need to sugar-coat this.) Every other girl in my year seemed prepared for Year Seven: they wore bras already, shaved their legs, read Bliss magazine, and talked a lot about snogging. I, on the other hand, was a ridiculously small, flat-chested, frizzy-ginger-haired, short-sighted, pale, freckly Mizz reader (and to be frank, I already yearned for my Girl Talk days). I also collected Pokemon cards in secret. And I still slept with Beanie Babies on my bed.
Just imagine that for a moment.
The only subject I really liked was English, because that was the only thing I was good at. We used to have free reading periods, which were my favourite: to sit in a chilly, silent classroom and read for an hour. My friend Rachel and I would sometimes swap books. One day I handed her something (probably by Jacqueline Wilson, knowing me) and she handed me a hardback copy of The Prisoner of Azkaban.
I’m not a huge New Year’s Resolution person, but this year, in the throes of exhaustion just after Christmas, I picked a theme for 2019:
At the time I was feeling very drained, and I had an image of my ideal self in my head: not super-fit, but fitter. Stronger. I wanted to push my body with exercise to make it better, more able to fight off illness, strong enough to keep going even when things get tough. I also wanted to make myself stronger mentally. I felt anxious and stressed most of the time. What could I do to make myself stronger? Other people depend on me – how can I strengthen myself to deal with that?
And then I came down with pleurisy (which if you don’t know, is inflammation of the lining around the lungs, and no, I don’t smoke and I don’t really know how I got it).
It happened quite quickly, really: one moment I felt alright, the next, I had a weird, burning pain in my chest. Every time I inhaled, it hurt, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe properly. The doctor initially diagnosed me with flu. I went to work, like an idiot, because it was my last week there and I didn’t want to let them down.
This time last year I set myself a Goodreads Challenge to read 40 books. I didn’t think I’d manage it with the kids, studying, etc. But I did. I read 52! It was actually a bit crazy, and was mostly because I joined NetGalley, which meant I got to read some really brilliant new books for free. Here’s some highlights from my reading year:
I don’t even know what to say. It’s been a long time. Sorry if I’m a bit rusty. If you’re reading this you’re either a) nosy or b) committed to me in the sense of being a friend or family member and therefore feel an obligation to read my blog even if it’s just waffle and nonsense.
I’ll split this post into three parts to try and keep some kind of vague structure going, but I’m not gonna lie, this is going to be long. Here’s how I’ve been:
I’m going to start a new series on the blog called the O.U diaries – a kind of reflection on how studying is going. Obviously this is going to be more useful to some people than others, but if you want to follow me along, keep reading! ❤
Chances are if you’ve clicked on this, you’re thinking about studying with the Open University. (Unless you’re one of my seven dedicated blog readers, in which case: hey guys). To fill you in: I’m Meg. I’m a stay at home Mum to a five year old girl and a two year old boy. I haven’t slept in approximately two years (see previous sentence). And I’m about 80% through my first proper year of study at the Open University.
I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. I was tentatively Googling it during the early days with my daughter, a period of great joy, and moderate discombobulation. I had a feeling I wanted to do something new, but wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to studying for six years (well, more like seven, with the Access course).
Then my health took a hit when I was diagnosed with an incurable nerve pain disorder. And we had our son, because it felt like a ‘now or never’ type situation with having another baby. Looking back on it, I think my health problems were really the final push to get the degree I’d been wanting for years, too. I don’t know how I will feel in ten years time. My pain levels might get better, or remain the same, or get significantly worse. Life seems that little bit more precious to me than it did before. And something about pain makes me feel less afraid.
Anyway, I took the plunge and applied, and now I’m taking a study break to chat about it, because that is one of the many perks of studying from home.
Here are some of the things I was worried about before taking the plunge and applying for the Access course:
I don’t have enough time. I don’t have much time to study in the day. I have two kids. Although one of them is at school, the other has only just settled into a decent nap routine. They both wake between 5 and 6am, bright and perky and loud, and they keep going, relentlessly, until they crash into bed at 7pm. At which point my studying begins.The Access course takes around 9-10 hours of study a week, and the actual degree, 16 hours. At times, I am so efficient that I end up two weeks ahead of myself. At other times, we have busy weeks, or I have bad pain, or my kids get ill, and I find myself scrambling a bit to catch up. At all points so far, it has been doable.
Also if you do decide to do this: be prepared for guilty feelings when you decide to binge-watch Glow of an evening instead of cracking out the books. Just a warning.
I’m too tired. I have the Worlds Worst Sleeper in the form of our son. (I mean he’s probably in the top ten at least. In the entire world, I mean. Not exaggerating.) If I’m honest, my husband takes his share of the night wakings and a fair chunk of mine, too, but I’m still tired. A lot.
To my surprise, I still enjoy studying, even when I’m bone-tired. I’m passionate about what I’m learning – and about my end goal – so I push through. There are nights where I am just too exhausted to continue, however, and when I hit that wall I call it a day and go to bed, guilt-free, knowing I can catch up the next day. That’s the good thing about studying flexibly: there are deadlines, but you can manage yourself and make it work for you
I’m not smart enough. At one point I felt fairly confident in being a Clever Person, and then I lost that confidence somewhere over the years. But now I’m here, and I’ve realised that intelligence is not fixed: it’s all about growth, and pushing yourself, and being willing to work hard. The people getting the best grades might be naturally self-assured and confident, but a huge part of their success will stem from how hard they work.
Honestly, I do feel more clever now, but not in a smug way. It’s more that I can feel my mind slowly opening up, and my world view shifting slightly as I go. It’s awesome, and challenging, and yes, at times, it’s overwhelming. But it’s good.
I want to be perfect. I could talk more about this – in fact I probably will in another post – but I had this idea in my mind that I would be the best student. The one that makes flashcards and reads around the subject and does further research and aces all the assessments. But let’s be real: I’m not eighteen anymore. I’m thirty, and some days whilst studying, I have to stop myself from thinking about the kids or worrying about money or planning what we’re going to eat for tea tomorrow. Sometimes my notes are unintelligible. I’m not the perfect student – but that’s not the point, is it? Perfection isn’t what I’m aiming for. Good enough is what I’m aiming for.
It’s self-indulgent. This was the hardest thing, I think. The feeling of utter selfishness. Of devoting myself to something that is, ultimately, just for my own benefit and enjoyment. This is obviously problematic. For one thing, I’m hoping that my degree will not only get me a career that I really want to be in, but a career that pays better than minimum wage, thus allowing my children a slightly easier time, financially, as teenagers and young adults. So, you know. They won’t be complaining when I’m paying for their phone contracts.
But also: so what if I want something that’s just for me? Am I not allowed to have anything just for me? Since when has that been a bad thing? What a ridiculous idea, to think that because I am now a mother I have to lay down every moment of my waking life (and sleeping life, too) in case they, you know, need me or something.
Education is worth something in itself. Not just for the end goal of a piece of paper, but for the challenge and the fun of it.
I completed the Access course with a distinction (94% on my EMA! Sorry. That’s the last time I’ll brag about it). Despite having a lot going on elsewhere. If you really want to do it: you make time for it.
I hope that this helps someone who is wondering whether or not to make the commitment. If you need more information about Access, click here.
Next time I’ll talk a bit more about how it actually works to study with the O.U. I’ll see you then!
I’m starting to wonder if my toddler is a bit of an evil genius. This morning a row erupted over who was going to play with the tablet (Jellybean had it first). I thought he got over it quickly, but clearly not. Later Jellybean came over to give me a cuddle, and he intervened ‘NO I GIVE CUDDLE!’ and in the ruckus (during which I got elbowed in the boob an unreasonable amount of times), he quickly scrambled down and grabbed the tablet, catching my eye as he pottered away with a giant grin on his face.
I think he plotted the whole thing.
He then lost it (the plot) when I told him that he isn’t allowed to watch Peppa Pig on YouTube (because of all those ‘Peppa Pig Kills George/Evil Doctor Gives Peppa Injections’ videos that are uploaded by weirdos). ‘Come on, let’s put it on Netflix instead.’
To which he dropped to the floor, looked at the ceiling and screamed ‘NOOOOOOO!’. As you do.
He’s also developed a clever technique. He knows that people tend to repeat what he says in order to clarify what he means (reasonable given that a) he is two and b) he sometimes makes up words, like calling ‘deer’ ‘kangawoowaas’). So a conversation with a well-meaning but unknowing person might go like this:
Him: ‘Umm … chocolate?’
Them: ‘Did you say chocolate?’
Him: (tone of pleasant surprise) ‘Oh, chocolate, okay!’
Thus making it appear as though having chocolate is the grown-ups idea and he would therefore be totally justified to have a mega tantrum if they say no. Chris and I are wise to this technique and make sure we never repeat any word he says but instead ask ‘what did you say?’ and he always looks annoyed about it.
He also spends a good amount of time working out ways to bother his sister, like noticing she is setting up a farm and quickly putting all the animals away when her back is turned. They also argue a lot over silly things. Now, for example, they are playing with a box of my old toys (mostly horses and Puppy In My Pockets). They both wanted the same cat.
‘Why,’ I said (over the screaming) ‘Do you both want that one? There are fifty other cats in there!’
It’s not even the cutest cat. There is no reasoning with them sometimes.
Having said all this, they are both very loving. The other day I got stuck in a tunnel and The Boy suddenly went all Knight In Shining Armour on me. ‘Don’t worry Mummy! I GOTCHOO!’ he shouted, whilst pulling me through the tunnel (by my face). Afterwards, satisfied I was safe in the play tent, he patted me on my (scratched) face and said, ‘Ahhh … loveyoo Mummy.’
Jellybean occasionally writes me little notes that say ‘ I ❤ Mummy’. (Or sometimes ‘I am sorry for arguing Mummy’). Which I keep and makes up for all the paper she uses, and the arguing.
I wrote back in February that I was poorly and it was driving me up the wall. Well, it continued! To cut a long story short I’ve been ill in some way, shape or form from January-mid March.
Now my husband and kids are ill and I doing my best to not catch it by avoiding them/washing my hands frantically/drinking smoothies with things that internet people said will ward off sickness. Echniacea is a thing apparently? So I’m drinking it in tea form every day. Deep down I don’t think it helps, but I like to imagine it does.
My Good Friend Tom
I’ve mentioned this on my Instagram (multiple times) but during my Harry Potter re-readathon I got into Binge Mode, which is a hilarious and super-geeky podcast where the hosts Jason and Mal go deep (deep!) into the Harry Potter universe, book-by-book. (They did Game of Thrones first and I am seriously considering getting into it just so I can listen to the old episodes of the podcast). I can highly recommend it (if you don’t mind swearing). There’s also an amazing Facebook group for it, which has helped me with my sad feelings when I got to the end of Binge Mode Harry Potter.
Books I’ve Read
Here’s a wrap up of what I read in March:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Excellent as usual, made me cry
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Excellent as usual, made me cry more
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: My exasperation with Voldy the 2nd and the (flipping) Time-Turners only alleviated by the excellent Scorpius Malfoy
Saffy’s Angel: favourite family in kid’s literature, I love them and would happily spend a day with them
Where Am I Now?: I always wondered what happened to Mara Wilson. Now I know. Really good and thought-provoking
Little Fires Everywhere: long review on my Instagram – perfect suburban neighbourhood unravelled by arrival of artsy (and slightly neglectful one might argue) mother and a complicated, emotional custody battle. Couldn’t put it down
So there we go. Goodbye March. Enjoy your April everyone and don’t forget to bring your jackets.