2

Outsider.

Again, he stumbled into the person in front as people drove into him from behind. Corridors between classes at college were always solid with the traffic of students making their way to next lesson and he looked apologetically at the back of the person in front’s head. The head never turned round. Nobody ever turned round, they never noticed he was there. He’d grown used to being invisible since he first started school, soon learning that making friends was a hopeless task; somebody more interesting always came along for the other person to talk to. And that was why nobody would notice him slip into the sports store room away from the bustle of the corridor that morning.

He had planned it all out in the last week, impressed with himself. Now in the darkness of the sports cupboard, he started to feel shaky excitement. Never before had he done something that would make people stop and take notice. If being friendly and polite wasn’t enough, there was no doubt in his mind that what he was about to carry out would be. He had considered taking his life in here last week as he sat alone and ate his lunch as always. The thought of people crying at his tragic and unexpected death gave him a sense of elation. Maybe people would care about him once it was too late, perhaps that was the way to make people notice him. But then he had realised that he would never know whether people were crying for him or at the shock of a suicide in college. That was when it hit him. The realisation of what he had to do instead. Yes. He had seen ‘Bowling for Columbine’ and read the news articles and decided it was to be done that Wednesday morning when he had a free period.

Getting hold of a gun had been easier than he’d imagined. He’d visited the fire arms shop at the bottom of town and no questions were raised as to whether he had a license or proof of age. The shop owner looked as though he was always only just on the right side of the law. The gun was kept under his pillow when he was at home and in his coat pocket whilst he was out. He felt safe as long as he knew where it was. He took it from inside his coat now and felt a buzz. He couldn’t remember feeling this high in his entire life. He felt…powerful, something he had never experienced. It rippled through him, electric.

And then he left the sports cupboard, back into the daylight, gun in hand. He was going to make headlines. The world would notice him. He saw it now ‘Quiet Student Turns Killing Machine’. The busy receptionist missed the CCTV image of the teenage boy walking past lockers with the black gun in his hand looking directly into the camera and laughing to himself.

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2

Aftershock

Fake car accident. The vehicle on the picture ... Image via Wikipedia

I can’t sleep. Again. It’s 3 am and I’ll be going to work in the morning over tired as always because I can never sleep anymore. The worst thing about being awake in the unearthly hours of the morning is the restlessness. I become fidgety and often end up waking my wife Jenny next to me, creating two irritable adults at the breakfast table. Holding my breath, I roll over away from her to face the rest of the room. He’s there.

He’s always there and yet I’m never ready for it. I have to cover my mouth with my hand as I gasp and all the air is taken out of me. I enter a state of paralysis, unable to look away. There he is, curled up and pale on the rug in front of the door. For someone who didn’t know he could be sleeping comfortably. But I know. I know because I see him everywhere; in the mirror on the bathroom cabinet while I’m brushing my teeth, at the kitchen table when I’m eating my porridge and Jenny’s still doing her make-up in the bedroom. He dips in and out of all my day to day scenarios and there’s one place I can always be certain he’ll be waiting without fail. The very same place he was the first time. At the end of the drive at 8 am on a Monday morning when the shutters are still pulled down over my eyes and the coffee’s only just starting to kick in. I roll down the drive slowly and start to turn. There he is. Running into the road just as I pull out, we see each other too late. He looks directly into my eyes the moment he collides with the bonnet and he opens his mouth to scream. It only rings in my ears after he’s been knocked down, a piercing, haunting scream. Every Monday morning he runs into the road and I have to stop the car, get out and check even though I know he won’t be there. That was only the first time. Now it’s just my brain playing tricks and taunting me, a prisoner of my own guilt. So I get back behind the wheel and cry into my hands, shoulders shaking with the sobs and wondering whether it will ever end. All my life consists of is him unexpectedly appearing, reminding me of what I did whether he’s at the coffee machine in the office or on the opposite escalator at the mall and I don’t know how much more of it I can take. Then I think of Jenny and I know I have to pull myself together and drive, act like nothing is wrong or I’ll be late for work. I have to clear my head of the little boy I killed with my car bonnet three months ago on his way to school as always, carefree and not looking where he was going.

4

I’m not a pigeon. Don’t pigeon hole me.

After reading an article today called ‘I hate indie people’ and since starting college, I can’t help but notice how easy it is to label everybody. We all do it, I’m guilty of it myself. If you listen to obscure bands that aren’t on the radio everyday you’re indie, if you love Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter you’re a geek. That’s not true, of course it’s not. Yet all we seem to do is put labels on people just because of what they’re wearing or the music they listen to and I have to admit, it’s all left me rather confused.

My iTunes library is filled with music that’s never in the Top 40 so I’m indie.

I watch QI, University Challenge and Only Connect so I’m a geek.

I’m an atheist so I’m a pessimist.

I’m young so I must go around rioting and have a low IQ.

I eat what I want and don’t cake up in make-up so I dont look like a model everyday.

That’s what society says.

My iTunes library is filled with music that makes me want to dance, cry and sing from the rooftops. I don’t listen to any of it because I want to rebel against popular music, I listen to it because I like it.

I watch QI, University Challenge and Only Connect because my family watch them and I like spend time with them. I don’t watch these programmes because I’m a ‘mega-brain’, I watch them because they’re witty and intellectual.

I’m an atheist, optimist and open to all beliefs. I don’t think all religious people are crazy delusionals.

I’m young, the only breaking and entering I’ve ever done is into a pack of biscuits.

I eat what I want because I love food and it tastes good. I don’t wear lots of make-up, not because I’m confident in my looks. I’m still insecure but I’m not completely driven by my appearance.

That’s the truth. People aren’t pigeons, so let’s stop trying to put them in a pigeon hole.

6

If you don’t eat your crusts, your hair won’t curl

That’s what my Mum always told me. However, as I grew older my hair grew wilder and indeed curlier without me going anywhere near crusts. Maybe I would have eaten them more if the eight year old me had been told this:

At 16, I still avoid my crusts but shhhh, don’t tell my Mum!

What did your parents tell you to make you do things you didn’t particularly want to do? Leave a comment 🙂

0

Education, education, blarg.

English: Michael Gove speaking at the Conserva...

Delighted to have a week’s work experience at The Independent head quarters in London in June, I’ve been reading the online headlines recently. Imagine how as a current A-level student, the very cockels of my heart warmed at the title, ‘Michael Gove: Get set for new age of exam failure’. Already not much of a Conservative party fan, the education secretary has made my dislike for the party all the more solid. Apparently at A-level, it has been easier to achieve an A grade in recent years and the national average has grown to more than a quarter in the past 27 years. Easy? Two months of hardcore revision going back over nine topics all in depth is easy? What a load of bollocks Mr ‘I-did-my-A-levels-29-years-ago-and-know-bugger-all-about-how-stressful-they-are-nowadays’.

Gove suddenly decided students can all spin plates whilst taking their exam because the average of students gaining As has slowly risen and schools are using vocational qualifications to boost their past rates. As far as the vocational qualifications are concerned, make them count as one qualification instead of four. That problem was solved pretty easily. When it comes to the pass percentage rate, I am stumped. Stumped out of sheer frustration that all this country seems to think about when it comes to education is its statistics. Fair enough our progression rate is slower than other countries in the education department but suddenly making more people fail is certainly not going to help the situtation.

When I was at high school, three times a year we had something called the ‘Jesson Conference’, or as I like to call it the ‘Feel Crap About Your Grades Conference’. During every term we would file into the main hall and listen to the same mind-numbingly boring presentation about Dr Jesson and his statistical system that would predict our final GCSE grades. Then, we would go on to look at our personal grade sheets and work out our ‘potential pass-rates’. So how did Dr Jesson come up with these grade predictions? No, surprisingly he didn’t look into his magical crystal ball of educational wisdom. Instead, he used the point scores from our SATs exams which we took aged eleven to forecast what we would achieve aged sixteen. Where do I start with the flaws in this system?

Telling a student what they are going to get at the end of year eleven from their results five years before is absolutely ridiculous. Not only are they doing far more specific subjects to a far higher level which they may either struggle with, five years is plenty of time for things to affect someone. A family bereavement or the splitting of parents and speaking from personal experience, a loss of interest in certain subjects. Of course I had motivation to do well but if the focus isn’t there, a subject is much harder to grab by the balls. Take physics as an example. Probably my least favourite subject and every time my teacher began to talk, it was like somebody had shoved cotton wool in my ears and put me in a state of daydream. At GCSE level I managed to gain 14 A*-Cs, something I felt quite proud of but according to Jesson I failed massively. My Jesson stats were a white wash of A*s. The idea that I was capable of getting straight A*s should have been a real kick and something to motivate me, right? Wrong. I sat and cried after my first Jesson conference feeling totally deflated at the fact that I was supposed to get a set of results which I would never achieve. I wasn’t the only one feeling like giving up on the hopes of college and university and preparing to wave hello to a life of stacking shelves. A whole bunch of my friends – whom I would like to add at this point walked away on results day with miles more than the college entry requirements of 5 Cs – had been predicted no higher than Cs and Ds. One of my friends was even predicted an array of just Ds and Es. She’s now at college and loving it having gained results far beyond what she was predicted. Telling someone that they are going to get a certain grade because of how they performed when they were eleven is demeaning, upsetting and ludicrous. I do not know one person who has a good word to say about Jesson conference, teachers and students alike. So why is it still in place? The government is obssessed with the statistics of education and this pressure has spread to schools.

There are two key element to the education system which are being completely ignored. Firstly, the people who translate what exam boards are looking for straight to the students. Teachers are constantly glossed over. The ‘Jesson Conference’ is a perfect example. ‘Oh I know’ somebody said, ‘let’s not ask the teachers first to come up with grades for their student to aim for. Instead we’ll make predictions from outdated information and make the student feel like a piece of dog poop on the heel of someone’s shoe. Yes, that’ll be much more accurate than asking the people who experience first hand the work and abilities of the student’. Only after the Jesson Conference could a teacher agree a predicted grade with students. Why? It baffles me.

The second ignored factor is the students’ feelings. Yes, shockingly we do have those little things called feelings despite all being labelled as ‘hard, rioting thugs’ these days. I have already talked about how it feels to be squished by predicted grades that may as well be guessed by a cat doing a head stand and now, it is the turn of exam stress. Recently I took January exams in Psychology and Philosophy. I was so stressed I cried the night before each exam and felt completely overwhelmed by the idea of failing my first AS Level exams. As an A grade student I felt like I couldn’t keep all the information in my brain no matter how detailed or lengthly my revision was. Still waiting for the results I have yet to see how I performed. The January exams were the most stressful period of my life to date and that was just two exams. I look forward to the summer exam period which consists of 5 exams not including potential resits with total dread. Some of my friends who did not strike lucky with having January exams have as many as 9 exams in summer. For some, it is too many. People I know with good grades and motivation have dropped out of college, unable to cope with the workload and stress. Forgive me, but when someone comes along in the middle of this and says that our exams need to be made harder, I struggle to understand let alone agree.

So Mr Gove, unless you are planning to undergo the experience of sitting A-levels as they are today before deciding that they are too easy, you are about as useful to education as a McDonalds cheeseburger is to someone on the Atkins diet. The jar of nutella in my cupboard appears to have better ideas about education.

2

Careers? I haven’t even decided which KitKat Chunky flavour I like best.

Careers. The future. Scary words that have made me cringe and feel panicky for a long time. How the hell is a teenage girl who doesn’t know what she’s buying for her lunch supposed to know what she’s going to do with the rest of her life? She’s not.

With all the pressing questions a school/college/uni student gets about where they’re going next, it is so easy to get stressed out and overwhelmed by the prospect of having to immediately plan out their entire life. What students – and to be honest anybody – need to know is that “I don’t have a clue” is a perfectly acceptable answer. It’s how I’ve responded to career questions ever since I can remember being asked. You don’t know what you want to do with your life until one thing grabs you and you just have to pursue it. For some people, its playing an instrument, for others its teaching. Your friend might have known since she was at primary school whilst your other friend might not decide until she starts her third job and loves it. There is no deadline for deciding on your career. I would just like to add here that for medical students, I understand that to you my argument is flawed. However, if you’re struggling and worrying about where your life is going to go, focus on your talents and passions. For me its writing. It wasn’t until about a month ago that I suddenly thought “I have to write for the rest of my life”. I’ve certainly had a change of heart when it comes to careers many times, dabbling with the ideas of acting and being a psychologist, only realising now it was because I felt obliged to give a definite answer to any career questions thrown at me.

We had to decide on a profession area for our work experience placement, so I picked Media, still pretty clueless on the career front. I decided it was time for a meeting with the college careers advisor. Choosing English as my favourite subject led to looking at English degrees, then journalism as a potential career followed by English and Journalism joint honours degree. From this, starting a blog was suggested by my careers advisor to enhance my writing CV and experience. I’d never shared my writing before – except in my English class when we had to read out our work – and starting out on the blogging scene, I never expected such a wonderful response. Sharing my articles and short stories on Facebook and Twitter, I expected maybe two people to read each one. My most popular piece had more than fifty views on its first day of being published. People at college tell me how they’ve enjoyed my last entry. I’ve had a few inboxes from friends asking me what I think to their new blog and I’ve seen more blogs popping up. It really is amazing. Suddenly here I am, Khadija the clueless with a goal, a life ambition, all sparked from a little hobby of mine. I urge you to do the same. If you have a talent or a passion, get it out there. Maybe you’ll realise what you want to do for the rest of your life. You might even inspire somebody.

2

If you’re single and you know it, clap your hands.

A Love Heart

Saint Valentine’s Day, February 14th. The day that makes every singleton want to pull the covers over their head whilst crying into their pot of Ben and Jerrys. As a fellow singleton, I would like to ask why for this one day of the year, we allow ourselves to wallow in self pity about not having found ‘The One’ to share it with? Not once have I turned the page of the calendar to February and groaned with dread at what is coming in fourteen days. The day for happy couples. If you’re not part of a happy couple, then just because you can’t accept a box of chocolates from your soulmate doesn’t mean you have to hide away Bridget Jones style drinking shots of vodka and screaming the lyrics to ‘All By Myself’.

The day is supposed to celebrate love, right? We all love somebody; our friends, our family, our pet dog even if he does poo in our slippers now and again. Why then, do we not celebrate these other people that we love if we are single? Are we really that pathetic and miserable? No. We have just been watching too much ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and need to realise that there is more to life on this heart-filled day than going to a crowded restaurant to chow down and receiving a generic fluffy teddy bear holding a love heart saying “I Love You”. If you are in a relationship and happen to have reservations at a fancy restaurant and have just bought your girlfriend a teddy bear from Clintons then wonderful, I am not saying it is not allowed. I am in fact saying that if you don’t have plans like these, don’t get downhearted. Enjoy time with people you love.

Two years ago I went to the cinema with my two friends, watched a comedy and had an amazing day. My friend still gets a card in the post every year from his Nan and he loves it. On Tuesday, I’m spending Valentine’s Day 2012 with one of my closest friends eating Ben and Jerry’s (not because we’re single but because it’s tastebud heaven in a pot) and watching Tenacious D ‘Pick of Destiny’. What are you doing?