6 months in…

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This is not just any ice cream. This is the ice cream I was eating when I made the big decision. The date on the photo is 28th June 2012, at 12.38pm.

I was sitting by the pond at Lake Meadows in Billericay, 5 minutes away from my old office where I had worked pretty much 6 years to the day (with a short interlude where I worked somewhere else). I was about ready to scream out loud in the office, so took myself off for a little outside lunch break.

I’ve never been one for Pros and Cons lists but I was really wrestling with a huge decision and only I could make it. I had nothing to lose so started writing.

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I’d applied to study at the RCS in Glasgow, on a 4 year BMus degree course. I’d survived the audition and been offered a place. It was drastic, but with various personal disasters in tow (to quote Ray from the Mary Whitehouse Experience), my friend Liena’s advice had stuck with me – sometimes you need to move country to leave things behind.

The decision was made. The only real problematic negative was the issue of selling my house, but I’d worked out some numbers and figured I could stay afloat for a little while, and after what felt like a lifetime of my mortgage dictating every decision I made, I figured it was time to make the break. I’d read an excellent book on a harp workshop the year before, about how things often seem to fall into place when you are on the right path, and having had definite experience of this, and knowing that when I trust my gut instinct things generally work out, I accepted my place at the RCS.

I arrived in Scotland exactly 6 months today. Life is very different. It hasn’t been an easy time, but I made the right decision and even if things go bang on the finance front, I will have completed a year of my course and my life has changed forever.

The first few weeks were quite tough and I have to admit to being in a severe advanced state of weather shock. Not so much with the rain, or the cold – I’d lived in Manchester for a long time so am no stranger to rain, and East Anglia is unbelievably cold in the winter – but with the utter greyness of the days. It didn’t help that winter was drawing in, so the days were also getting shorter. My previous house was in a very sunny part of England and the climate is dry – in fact, just a stone’s throw from my old house is Beth Chatto’s Garden, dedicated to growing plants in a very dry, coastal environment.

My biggest worry had been fitting in with the people on my course – since you can start university at 17 in Scotland, and you can start the Ballet degree at the RCS at 16, I would be spending my days with people young enough to be my own children. One of my friends’ mums is only a couple of years older than me.

I needn’t have worried – I’ve met people from a range of ages and backgrounds and have made firm friends on my course, and via the power of the internet, I’ve met up with some people who I have known online for years and who know some of my deepest darkest secrets and all the ins and outs of the journey that I’m on. I am glad to count them among my closest friends too.

It was hard to explain why I was doing what I was doing – why was I going back to studying when I was already working semi-professionally as a harpist, why was I leaving a job I’d worked hard at for years and was successful at, why did I need to study as an undergrad. The Olympics last summer helped – it helped to explain in terms of an athlete who is training in the evenings and weekends while holding down a full time job, while knowing that to make the next step you need to give up the job and train full time.

Truthfully I was working far more than full time. Between March and October for the last 3 years, I’ve worked pretty much every Saturday and some Sundays playing for weddings and local orchestras, travelling between 3-5 hours each time and playing for 1-4 hours on top of that. In September 2011 I agreed to cover some teaching for a colleague in Cambridge, 80 miles away, so gave up my Sundays as well as my Saturdays. At the height of the craziness, I had 5 pupils of my own and was teaching 6 of someone else’s, working 7 days a week and driving for a minimum of 2 hours/80 miles per day. This isn’t a woe-is-me tale, but sometimes I have to write it down to remind myself how hectic things were. I loved the bones off 10 of my 11 pupils. But I almost fell asleep while driving on 3 occasions and had a lot of sick days from my full time job, I was ill all the time. I picked up a bad injury through playing my harp, made worse by driving long distances and sitting scrunched up over a computer all day. It was all cyclical – I needed the accountancy job to pay the mortgage, and I needed the weekend work to pay for the harp. If I gave up anything, everything would fall.

The best way I can explain my decision, and in some ways it’s terribly cheesy, is that I feel like I have something to say to the world, and the only way I can say it is using music. I’m not sure what I want to say, or how I will say it, in fact I might spend a lifetime working those out. But various things have happened over the last few years or so, and the concept of what a lifetime is becomes shorter and more precious.

So what’s normal now….

I still get up at 6am every day, although some days I go back to bed after I’ve fed and watered my dogs.

Bank notes are funny colours.

People talk different, no two ways about it. There are new words to learn, sometimes I can’t understand people and they can’t understand me.

I’ve given up proper gin.

My food budget has shrunk from the already miniscule to the ridiculously small.

I eat porridge for breakfast every day – something about the climate up here made me crave it on my first day here.

Running uphill is normal, in fact it’s required if you want to run anywhere round here.

Every day I see big hills and often there is snow on top.

Even at stupid o’clock while walking the dogs, I get a cheery “how ye do’in” from almost every dog walker I meet.

Every pub I see has a big red T outside.

I am often asked what I want to do when I finish.

Part of the agreement with myself when I decided to study was that I would ban myself from thinking of the outcome at the end of my course. I genuinely have no idea, and I am looking forward to spending 4 years (well, actually now 3 1/2 already!) exploring.

Sometimes I feel like I haven’t really achieved anything concrete yet, apart from a few grades on a bit of paper (which actually I am incredibly proud of!). But lots of things are bubbling away.

However last week, I took part in a concert and here is a clip. This is the final bit of the concert.

I’m playing the second harp from the right, just in front of the conductor.

I also learnt what a shout chorus was, because I happened to be sitting right in front of that too….I’ve just about recovered my hearing but it was worth it.

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