Open Windows

‘Ugh.’ I barely notice the complaint leaving my mouth, possibly because complaining is becoming like breathing at the moment. A wasp is buzzing on the wrong side of the window, and I barely have it in me to care anymore. I shift in my seat, wincing at the harsh lines of the chair tattooing itself onto my skin. A thin layer of sweat seems to cover me completely, and I pause in my gloom to consider the fact that I’m possibly the most disgusting human being in the world at this current moment. I look out the window to return the harsh glare the sun is sending my way, and mutter to myself again, attempting to conjure up the strength to deal with the wasp before it comes any closer to my done-with-summer self.

The wasp itself seems tired, the journey through the open window an exhausting adventure it regrets now as it bashes itself against the glass. I should deal with it before it stings me, I think, but considering this is the third time it’s happened today, it’s hard to find the motivation. Maybe I should just close the window?

I turn back to my book, remembering the darkness of winter. I remember candles, woolly jumpers…happier times, one could say.

IMG_3261The ever present mocking voice in my head chooses now to remind me that, actually, winter wasn’t all that great either – in fact, for most of it I was desperate for Summer to reappear.

Typically, now that it’s here, I’d rather it was anywhere else. I try and cast my mind back to winter, to re-embrace the rose tint that blurred my outlook.

Summer days start early, even though university is finished and I can sleep all I want. Habit tends to take over, and I wake up early (though I don’t get up early). My window is constantly open, and the summer air creeps in and wakes me with a maternal call. It’s the smell of freshly mown grass and summer mixed into a cocktail of warmth. It wakes me in a slow, contented start to the day – until the screech from somewhere far too near indicates that the baby birds who appear to be sharing a bed with me have decided they’re hungry.

Points if you can see the baby starling that’s been my alarm clock recently

But I can still wake up slowly. All I really need to do today are the projects I’ve decided I want to work on. I’ll write, I’ll maybe go for a run, I’ll read some trashy books, some quality books, I’ll try and sort out my basic grammar knowledge (which is abysmal), I’ll message friends I’ve lost contact with during term time. I’ll organise, I’ll tidy, I’ll do all the things I can’t do when I’m drowning in uni.

But I don’t even need to think about uni. All I need to think about is what I’m doing now, in a way which is refreshing to an alarming degree – the previously constant worry about exams and assignments and lectures is a not unwelcome, but bewildering absence in my mind and my projects seem to be a way to keep it stimulated so that it has something to worry about.

If I get up early enough the sunshine has a slightly different glow to it, and the air has a different feel to it, like the day is just starting up, ready and waiting. There’s something about it that’s so refreshing: the commuters in the train seem a little less muted, the scenery around me doesn’t need a filter to be instagram worthy, the birds seem louder, happier. Even rain in the summer is beautiful – it sounds like it’s pattering down on a tent, reminding me of camp, of adventure, of other places.


As I rise to greet the day, I realise I can wear what I want without really having to worry. Suddenly my hair is in fashion again – that messy beach look that I rock all year round is cool, my freckles are back, and I’m a little less pale than I normally am.

IMG_3325I turn to open the window wider. Open windows are surely the most wonderful part of summer. Driving with the windows down, letting the world breathe through into the house throughout the night, a cool breeze welcomed in when the heat is unbearable.

IMG_3079.JPGSummer in itself is a bit of an open window, I realise. Any other time of the year, the window remains closed and I’m left with one objective: to work on my degree, to pass, to succeed. During summer that’s not the case. I can drop everything and go to the beach. I can go away for a couple of weeks to do camps without worrying about missing things. I can visit friends who live far away. I can spend days writing. I can spend days reading. All these things are available to me in a way that they never are during term time…all because the window is suddenly open and I’m not confined to this one thing I have to do.

Summer is freedom and beauty. Summer is being away from the norm…but I get bored easily. There comes a day when summer becomes normal, when it becomes boring. When that comes, I’ll be wishing for the confines and boundaries of winter again. For schedule, for deadlines, for a closed window because there’s just too much air. I need focus, I need limits. IMG_3379

Nothing can stay perfect and free forever. But for a few months, before the wasps and spiders and moths decide to invade, an open window is exactly what I need.



My Little Jar of Happy Things

On my bookshelf sits a little, inconspicuous jar. It’s surrounded by beautiful books, make up brushes, box sets, study equipment and a little bit of mess. It’s quiet, it doesn’t shout out to anyone who sees it, other than it being a little bit hipster becauIMG_3166se of the blackboard sticker stuck on top. Even now, after having it for so long, it’s strange to me that such a little, seemingly meaningless jar can hold so much joy.

What this little jar is, in reality, is just a jar. But if you were to come and open it up, other than this being a bit of an invasion of privacy (what are you doing in my room anyway??), you would discover it’s basically fit to bursting with little bits of paper.

When I was in fifth or sixth year of high school (which is getting worryingly long ago now) I decided to write down little things that made me happy for a year and put them in a jar, to cheer me up wheneverIMG_3161 I was feeling down. And like most good ideas I have, I was sure it was probably going to be exciting for a month or so and then ultimately teeter out.

But as you can probably guess, it didn’t. Over the past 4/5 years, I’ve been writing down things that have made me happy and putting them in that jar. And this morning I looked back in that jar for the first time in a few months, and the warm feeling I felt in my stomach was enough to dispel the anxiety that has been rumbling away there for the past few days (exam problems, amiright).

IMG_3153What I didn’t realise when I first wrote down something like ‘I passed my prelims!’ was that I was about to start collecting little forgotten moments of joy in my life, moments that time extinguishes with bigger things and new challenges. Little moments of joy are, I think, what get us through life, and without them I don’t really know where I’d be. A good book on a cold night, making a new friend, laughing with my family – lots of tiny things that are forgotten within even a few weeks. But I wrote so many of them down, and now I might never forget them.

IMG_3146Looking back was honestly like reading a book of my last few years. I found excitement over being accepted into Glasgow Uni of all places, but then even more excitement about accepting my place at Strathclyde. I suddenly remembered the absolute horror of waiting for replies from unis, and the ultimate excitement in realising that yes – I was in, and four years of my life were now planned.

I found the excitement in friendships developing that I had thought would never happen – friendships which, even though I am incredibly thankful for, I do take for granted because they’ve become just like breathing to me. I forget that there was a time when I didn’t know these people, or that I was worried we wouldn’t still be friends when I got to this stage in my life – and the utter joy on those tiny bits of paper at the realisation that I was getting somewhere helps me to relive and re-appreciate the people in my life.

IMG_3155There are moments that I don’t remember, but bits of paper celebrating God’s provision and plan for my life, and though I don’t know why I was celebrating that at the time, it’s beautiful to see that God was working then, as He is now.

I found moments in Daniel and Nathan’s lives which were massive milestones tIMG_3147.JPGo me – the first time Daniel giggled at me, the first time Nathan smiled when I sung to him. Things that now happen every time I see them, but then were new and big and exciting.

And there are things I’ve taken out of the jar. Plans I had which were never going to happen, some friendships which naturally drifted apart, futures I saw for myself which I know now weren’t what was best for me – but instead of just putting them in the bin, I replace them with the lessons I’ve learned, with what I’ve been taught from the bad times, and what I have now that can go and be remembered in such a happy little jar.IMG_3151.JPG

I forget to look in it often when I am feeling down – typical really, but sometimes all I want is to feel a bit sad, and have a good cry. But on a morning like this morning, when all I feel is that studying is never going to end, that I’ll never reach where I want to be – it’s amazing to see the little things that used to make me happy that are now just life to me. It makes me wonder what, in a few years, I’ll be reading from today in my little jar and going…’Oh yeah, that was such a big deal to me back then? That’s normal now.’ There’s something so beautiful to me about the happy things in life becoming the normal things.


An Early Morning Ramble

I slam the door and then regret it, knowing I’ve not just broken but shattered the quiet that was both inside and out the house. It’s still dark out here, but I can see a faint gradient on the skyline, an ombre of different shades of dark navy. Through it I’m able to see the beginnings of something, of the sun rising on a new week.


I’m holding toast in my hands, the 6:30am leaving time being too much for my body to handle – something had to be sacrificed, and breakfast was that something. The need for food overpowers the cold and my hands are left bare to the elements as I eat as quickly as I can. Cold captures them with alarming speed. I swap my toast between hands, giving each hand precious seconds in my warm-ish pockets. My mind flits to the book I’ve just finished: Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, and I wonder if I can get frostbite on a morning as cold as this. I have to remind myself that I’m in Clarkston, not on the risky heights of Mount Everest.

In the weeks previously I’ve walked this path before the sun nears the world, silence and darkness making it so solitary that reaching the train station is like being reintroduced into society after months of retreat. I remember this feeling now, aware of the lack of humans around me. No cars pant past, no mothers or prams or dogs or teenagers run around me. I’m completely and utterly alone.

Unless you count the birds, which I do. Because welcoming in the day around me is birdsong. They call to each other and to me, singing and chirping and rejoicing. Unseen but not unheard. It’s all I can hear and as I finish my toast and lock my freezing hands in my jacket I feel glad that I’m here to witness this moment.

As I pass houses, lights switch on and off within them, but the people remain inside. The streetlights block out natural light and darkness alike and I wonder to myself what the world would look like without them. I want to switch them off but the birds remind me that focusing on that is wasting my time. The cold caresses my cheeks to pink and bites my hands to red. I put my hood up, appreciating the warmth that the fur lining provides.

When I reach the main road, I see my first cars of the day. They hum by me, the passing roar dimming the noise of the bird song. I hasten across the road and away from it, not wanting to lose the precious stories they have to tell. With them again, I wonder what they would be singing if I weren’t here. Have I somehow disturbed the natural sound of the birds with my lame attempt at getting up early? Or am I privy to a beautiful insight into their natural world that most people pass by in an attempt to doze in a cocoon of warmth?

I feel like I am in a IMG_1914special moment. I want to believe these birds trust me with this insight into their world. I have interrupted their routine, but they seem to have gladly welcomed me in as a passerby, an observer. As I walk closer to the station other birds join in, the magpies, the pigeons, all of them singing in a cacophony of noise that is so natural I wonder why I have never really heard it.

As I get closer to the train station, other noises creep in. The sound of the motorway sighing in my direction, a long breath of sadness at the start of a new week…‘the next train at platform 2 is the 7:08 train to Glasgow Central’…the builders at the new health centre hollering at each other to get started. The floodlights from the train station illuminate everything, except the birds, and I realise I can’t hear them anymore. I wonder absently if I can’t hear them because they aren’t there, or if I can’t hear them because the rest of the world is too loud now?

A week later, they’re still here.  In fact, every Monday morning I note their presence as the sun climbs closer to the horizon. It leaves me wondering what other beautiful, natural things I’m missing as the noise and busy world block them out. What’s being hidden from me? Is there something in the quietness of the world that reminds us that no we don’t need to be running around all the time? Maybe moments of quiet are important, essential even, to surviving on this world – whether that’s in the form of a 6:30am walk or in a book in the corner of the library. Or maybe I’m talking rubbish, most likely due to the fact I was out of my house at such a ridiculous hour in the morning.

The thing about the quiet though is that we can’t normally hear it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there to find.



2006: The mega-bus sits in front of us, waiting. I shoulder my bag, my brother, Alistair, at my side. Hours of Alistair’s car sickness, my boredom, and our freedom await us. The road ahead is long, the longest we’ve travelled without our parents. We’re going to visit our sister, Fiona, who lives in a little cottage in Nethy Bridge. With a population of just over 500, it isn’t the biggest of places. It’s a snow-centred, ski-loving, cold, wet village. Fiona works as the head cook at an outdoor centre in the area, and the cottage is part of her salary. Typical of houses that are part of a salary, it’s not in the best condition. It is deceptively small, with high ceilings that hide the lack of room, mouldy areas, draughts that give you frostbite and spiders galore, but Alistair and I are excited to visit because we’re going on our own. There are two things I will learn from this trip: firstly, peppermint creams are difficult to make; and secondly, mice are not allowed indoors.

As I enter the little cottage after our tortuous journey, the smell of peppermint is a wave of powerful scent that renders me unable to smell much else for days. It’s the pleasant, yet strong, result of a peppermint cream recipe gone wrong. It’s the type of smell that’s so evocative of a certain place or time that when smelt in the future I imagine I’ll immediately be lost in a daze of memories. It surrounds the holiday in a Christmas-like feeling of warmth and good will.

Mice are also a feature in this holiday. Like a sort of comical pantomime villain, they lurk in the shadows and only come out when our backs are turned. The only experience I have of them before now is seeing them in a cage at the pet shop, or hiding behind the unused sun bed in the garden. I know very little about them, other than that they are very small, very cute and that I’m not allowed one for a pet. Biologically, mice are an important part of the food chain in that they hunt and are hunted. While pet mice eat mainly seed (and cheese), in the wild they eat insects like worms and snails. They are eaten by snakes, owls, birds of prey. But somewhere in that process of surviving side by side, their lives and ours cross over.

I’m lying on my front on the couch with my legs bent in the air, playing with the frays on the mud-brown carpet below. The cold sinks into the cushions. It’s a constant presence, the chill: the house has a distinctive coldness about it in the way some houses have a distinctive smell. As my siblings attempt a half-hearted game of cards, my eyes focus on the little black dots on the carpet. ‘Fiona,’ I ask with a childhood curiosity that would be considered rude in any self-respecting adult, ‘What are those?’

She explains that they are mouse droppings, and that a result of living in the countryside is that mice are bound to pop up in every household in Nethy Bridge once or twice. The village’s history is centred in the forestry industry.  That is, it was, until other areas brought in more advanced technology and could provide more and better wood. As a result tourism became a more popular aspect of the area: with bridges built in Victorian times of progress, a proximity to the Cairngorms, and the historic steam railway, it became more like a tourist trap during the summer. Forestry remains as a tourist attraction, but of course, with forestry comes lots and lots of trees. And with lots of trees come lots and lots of mice.

I freeze at the realisation of this plague on the house. Fiona smiles as if the matter is of no consequence, and so I pretend I’m perfectly comfortable in the cottage, even though the couch seems lumpy and uncomfortable now. There are mice in the house and although they’ve been in the house for the entirety of the holiday I know they’re here now and that changes everything.

At night, I lie in my bed, unable to sleep. Alistair is on the couch and I’ve been given a blow-up bed, in contact with the floor’s hardness due to the bed’s inability to hold in any air, but also in direct contact with any wandering mice. My eyes are tightly closed against the darkness characteristic of the countryside. With no light pollution, the darkness is so swallowing that I wouldn’t be able to see my hand in front of my face. I also wouldn’t be able to see a mouse if it sat in front of me. I picture them scurrying around me, crawling over me, nibbling at my fingers and toes. I hear scuffles and snuffles and squeaks. Terrified of the now malicious animal, sleep evades me as I lie with a posture so tense I know I’ll ache the next day. And then – SNAP.

I jump, the blow up mattress wobbles, and all is quiet in the oppressive darkness of the cottage. More terrified than ever, I lie still as if to compensate for the sudden movement of before. I listen for the sound of the mice that I can sense surrounding me.


‘When the little mouse, which was loved as none other was in the mouse-world, got into a trap one night and with a shrill scream forfeited its life for the sight of the bacon, all the mice in the district, in their holes were overcome by trembling and shaking; with eyes blinking uncontrollably they gazed at each other one by one, while their tails scraped the ground busily and senselessly.’ – Franz Kafka.


The fear I felt in the darkness of the night is inexplicable to me in the light of the day. I like mice, I’ve seen them in the pet shop and thought them exceedingly cute. But that was on my terms, while here is an unknown, unseen beast. It is uninvited, unwelcome, and yet it has come in anyway.

The next day, Fiona sends for help in the form of my future brother-in-law to empty the mouse trap.

‘Don’t look, Catherine,’ Fiona tells me, as she too hides from the coffin constructed of a plastic bag. She has killed this unwelcome visitor, this thief in the night.  It has eaten her cereal, gnawed at her cupboard, left droppings on her carpet. So why does she feel so sad? Why do I feel so sad?


2009: I’m lying in bed when I hear the scratching. Like the monster under the bed, mice always come out at night. Spooked, I sit up and flick the switch of my lamp. I stand and prod at the roof, determined to give whatever is hiding in the attic above a fright. But it doesn’t stop, if anything it gets louder. I cower back into my duvet, terrified of this creature of the night. In the darkness, it grows and grows to the size of a dragon, merely here to tear the structure of our home down from the inside out.

I tell my parents. It is to be expected, they say, because of the field near our house. The field my siblings and I used to go to sledge, the field I now jog past on my morning run. The field belongs to Flenders farm, a farm housing all kinds of sheep, horses and cows. It’s big, the farmer’s nice, but it appears to have been the cause of our current troubles. The traps are put out, the mice are eradicated and we are safe for a while.


2015: I go to the kitchen for a drink. It’s late, and mum’s just picked me up from the station after a late library session. She’s tired, irritable and ready for bed. So am I. I wander into the kitchen and pour myself a glass of milk. Going through the motions, but comfortable in my own home. Safe. Until, in the shadows, a shape darts across the room. I scream.

Mum comes running. I turn red.

‘Mouse!’ I say, my voice resembling the mouse’s own with its high pitched squeaks.

‘You’re joking,’ she says. I shake my head. She sighs. ‘I’ll tell your father.’


2005: ‘It’s so cute!’ I screech, pointing (and subsequently terrifying) the little furry creature hiding under the sun bed in the garden. ‘Oh, look at it!’

Mum nods, her nose turned up. She softens at my gaze. ‘I suppose it is quite cute.’ She says, then glances behind her at the open back door. ‘As long as it doesn’t get inside.’


2006: The dead mouse isn’t cute. I get a glance of it, despite Fiona telling me not to. Its eyes are wide, blank, staring. Its mouth is gaping, revealing long fangs, un-blunted from the hard work it has done on Fiona’s table leg. It stares and stares and stares and I want to cry.


‘”The mice think they are right, but my cat eats them anyways.”

“This is the point, reality is nothing, perception is everything.”’ –Terry Goodkind


‘Why did you have to kill it?’ I ask my sister.

She is silent for a minute. ‘It doesn’t belong in the house, does it?’ she says, ‘It eats all our food, it bites my carpet and table legs.’

‘Why couldn’t you just catch it and release it somewhere else?’ I say.

‘Well, it would just come back, wouldn’t it?’ she says.

As I look at the dead creature, I wonder how true that is. Either way, it doesn’t look so scary like this, despite the wide staring eyes and the sharp fangs. It just looks small.


2015: I watch my dad fish out forgotten mouse traps from the attic. We’re redoing it as an unofficial guest bedroom so that when the family come to stay they won’t have to sleep on the floor. He picks up the mouse traps and sets them in various places around the house. I want to protest, but I don’t.

‘Why do we kill the mice?’ I ask him, with the curiosity of a ten year old coming from my twenty year old mouth.

He shrugs, spreading peanut butter on the traps. ‘They eat our food, do structural damage. Why do you kill spiders?’

Spiders, I tell him, are a whole different story. But at his unconvinced gaze I back down, because they’re not so different. I hate spiders because I hate them. We hate mice because we hate them. Looking back to my first mouse encounter, I remember the smell of peppermint permeating every inch of the holiday. I remember that warm feeling of protection while we sheltered from the cold outside. The house was warm, and so were we…But the house was cold. In fact, in the height of winter, the house was freezing. While I did feel safe, maybe this was a manufactured feeling. When mice enter our houses, why do we always kill them? Is it because, like my sister and dad both argued, they enter our house maliciously, eating our food and harming our furniture? Is it because we perceive them to be more like monsters than they actually are? Or is it just because they are out of our control, and as a result, we feel unsafe?

For some reason, humans feel more comfortable when mice are not in the house. Under our control, they’re fine, but out with it they must be killed. My dad’s currently setting traps for the winter when they’ll undoubtedly seek shelter from the cold. Their home has been attacked by cold and wind and snow and ours is safe and warm… But they don’t belong here. Humans, like me when I was ten years old, lying on a blow up bed terrified to sleep, need a sense of safety and ownership in our homes. And so, as a result, we take control, and mice are not under that control. So we kill them all until we feel safe again.


2015: We’re watching the news. Scenes of refugees desperate to enter our country cover the screen. We watch with straight faces, desensitised to these images.

‘Do you think we should allow refugees into the country?’ the journalist asks a passerby on the streets of Glasgow.

‘Definitely not,’ he says, ‘I just wouldn’t feel safe with them here.’

Right, Wrong and Poetry

This semester in my creative writing class we’ve been doing a lot of work on poetry and place writing – ie, the effect setting has on place and what happens when you physically put poetry into setting. For example, for an assignment I’ve been writing a group of poems about the sea, so on Thursday afternoon I went to the beach and wrote some of it in the sand. It’s interesting because the writing will all be washed away, and so it says something about the subject of the poem. (If you want to know more about this just ask me, but that’s all I’m going to say about it in this post so I don’t bore you all!)

So Thursday morning (Thursday was a busy day) was our last class, and our tutor thought it would be good to go out and actually write some poetry in a place using chalk. This way we’re not actually doing any real graffiti as it’s non-permanent, but still has the effect of putting poetry somewhere. I just wanted to clarify that because a lot of people seem to think I used paint. I did not. It’s blue chalk. But she thought it would be interesting to take photos, put them on social media and see what happened.

Me and my partner Beth set out into Rottenrow Gardens, chatting about what to write about. With writing often an idea comes to mind and you stick with it, and on both our minds was Syria. The government had just decided to go ahead with the air strikes, which neither of us were happy about, and we were both agreed that we wanted to write something about that. We both liked the hashtag #NotInMyName and thought it would be a really interesting, minimalistic way to show what we were thinking.

I don’t know about Beth, but as we trekked up the hill my main thought wasn’t to make some big point, more that this would be a cool way to do the task and express my thoughts in the only way I know how really. I’m not very vocal with political opinions because I’m really not a big fan of conflict…as you’ll see further on. But this, for me, wasn’t me making a big political stand, it was more me just doing some work for class on the subject of something I care about. There might not seem to be a difference to you, but to me there is.

So we started working, and this was the result:

(You don’t/choose/birth/family/school/war/#notinmyname)

We were just going over our work when a security guard appeared. He asked us if we had permission to do this, to which we explained that it was for a class, we didn’t know if our tutor got permission and asked if they wanted us to rub it off.

Plot twist: They didn’t.

I left feeling like I’d handled the conversation pretty well, walking back to our classroom. As I walked further away from our wee bit of street poetry I immediately began to feel really anxious.

The blue chalk on my hands freaked me out, so in a Lady Macbeth-esque routine, I went to wash my hands of chalk (and, I hoped, this weird anxious feeling in my stomach). The chalk washed off, the feeling did not.

We had a long chat with our tutor about public space and whether it’s actually public, silenced voices and the purpose of poetry. On the way to the train station we peered into Rottenrow to see if anyone was looking at it (they were) and then I went to do some more poetry in the sand.

If you spoke to me at all on Thursday then you’ll know that this anxiety did not disappear. I had this horrible feeling in my stomach, I felt really warm, my hands were shaking, and I was little bit snappy because of how worried I was.

When I voiced these concerns to various people they told me not to worry, because it wasn’t like I was going to get kicked out of uni, I probably wouldn’t even get into trouble about it. That’s not what I was concerned about though, so this didn’t ease my concerns.

What I was concerned about, in hindsight, was this horrible clash of one authority figure telling me to do something and then another telling me not to. In a weird sort of moral dilemma, I suddenly didn’t know whether what I’d done was right or not. Was I in the wrong? Had I done something bad? But I’d been told to do it, so was it bad? But I’d been told not to do it, so it must be wrong?

I’m a bit of a goody-two-shoes (if you hadn’t already analysed that) and so this horrible moral dilemma put me in a sort of turmoil. I was worried what people would think and I kind of blew it out of proportion.  I’m feeling a bit more rational now that I’ve come to the conclusion that I didn’t really do anything wrong (other than not getting permission, but that wasn’t really up to me). I can appreciate now how interesting it is that in a piece about our voices being silenced, we were quite literally silenced by security. Or that in university, a place where we’re supposed to be expanding our opinions, we were told we’re not supposed to have them.

But what this really showed to me, something which I already sort of knew, is that right and wrong are not always obvious black and white ideas. There’s a grey area, but when you put me in that grey area, I don’t cope very well. I think that’s something I’m going to need to work on, because in my life I’m not always going to be doing everything the way people want me to – I don’t want to just be a people pleaser. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to be making a habit of writing political poetry in the street (IN CHALK). And I’m not exactly going to be picking fights everywhere I go. But I like to think now that I’m aware, next time I need to do something that is a more difficult moral grey area, I’ll be able to do it without feeling like I’ve just committed some sort of horrific crime.