Horsing around…

Oh, hello world!  I know this is the traditional opening to all of my most recent blog posts (and I’m using ‘recent’ as a relative term here), but I really am the world’s worst blogger.
Three months. Wow…

On our wedding day - taken by our friend Kate.
On our wedding day – taken by our friend Kate.

I originally intended my next post to be a wedding post.  We got married in July, at a train station, with a steam train! There was Battenberg cake, the dog was there, our photographer was a close friend and the whole day went swimmingly. It was amazing.  I will post about it, when we finally get round to finishing going through the photos. Honestly.

Instead, today I will post about one of the other things which has been occupying my time recently, and for once it’s not work!

Horses.

If you’re reading this there’s a pretty strong chance you already know me (although Hi, random twitter referrals!), and if you know me, particularly if you happen to be friends with me through facebook, you’ll know I like horses.

I first started riding when I was 6, after I told my parents I wanted to give up ballet (I was never a very coordinated or graceful child).  Very sensibly, they said I could, so long as I took up something else.  I told them I wanted to start bull riding.  Thankfully, my mother was more sensible than I, and suggested that I try horse riding instead, as she had a friend whose brother ran a riding school.  I thought this was a reasonable compromise, so I did.  And the rest is history – within a year, my entire family were riding, and not long after that we bought our first pony, Rambo – a young, inexperienced Welsh Section C.

Rambo - aged 28/9
Rambo – aged 28/9

He had no idea what he was doing, and neither did we, but he fit in as one of the family, and now, at the ripe old age of 29 he’s still part of it, and has recently been teaching my two year old nephew to ride.  We were never in the ribbons (unless it was fancy dress), but we were never in it for that.

He did, however, have a bad habit of bucking whenever you asked for canter, which I never learned to sit out.  As a result, I fell off a lot, sometimes spectacularly, and sometimes painfully. Combine this with later experiences of being tanked off with by my mothers cob, and I turned into a reasonably nervous rider (though always too proud to admit it). My nerves never put me off, but with hindsight, they did spoil the enjoyment somewhat.

As a teenager I all but stopped riding. Mum’s cob was too strong, and Rambo too small, and I didn’t really pick it up again until I returned home from university, took up lessons again, and began to ride my Mum’s new highland pony, Zorro.  However, it hasn’t really been until this last year that I’ve properly started to get back into it.

This is down to several factors

  1. No more PhD! I have free time and can do fun stuff without feeling guilty any more!
  2. Joey & Bubbles – Since getting the minis I’ve rediscovered my love of being around horses, and the more time I spent with them the more I wished I had something to ride as well as muck about with on the ground

And, perhaps most importantly 3) Icelandic Horses.

Concidentally, I first heard of Icelandic Horses when I read an article somewhere about an Icelandic Trekking Centre in Shetland, before I had any thought of ever coming here. I remember hearing about their smaller size (typically around 13-14hh) and their power and robustness and thinking, they sound like my kind of horse.  Years later when I first started coming to Shetland, I looked to see if that centre was still running. It isn’t, but Frances still has loads of gorgeous Icelandic Horses (including one very sweet little foal born this year!) and takes amazing photos of them on a regular basis. I’ve already mentioned her blog www.myshetland.co.uk as one of my favourite shetland blogs – go check it out!

My first encounter with Icelandics didn’t come until two years ago, when I got my little baldy mini Joey however.  Joey came to me through the local SSPCA inspector, who told me that her Mum had just bought some Icelandic horses, with the view to starting an Icelandic riding school (Houlls Horses & Hounds), and asked me if I wanted a go.  I said yes.

My first time on an Icelandic - Vaukur. (Please excuse poor seat and posture, I know!)
My first time on an Icelandic – Vaukur. (Please excuse poor seat and posture, I know!)

It was brilliant.

As I’ve already mentioned – I have been a nervous rider.  As soon as I got on and realised that he was little sharper than I’m used to, my instinct was to collect him up, hold him and cling on for dear life.  Big mistake. As I learned, in Icelandic terms, that means ‘go faster’. We span in circles, squirted off and generally got in a bit of a mess. It was quite scary. Then I realised that if I took a deep breath, he slowed down, and slowly, I learned to make myself relax.  Bit by bit, these horses unearthed all the horrible and lazy riding habits I’d ever picked up, and demonstrated them to me, by doing exactly what my riding was asking them, or by getting cross, because my riding wasn’t asking them anything. It was very illuminating.

Two years on, I’m still riding at Houlls, but something has changed. If they nap, or shoot off, or get confused and throw a tantrum (which they sometimes do – my riding still needs work, I still send mixed messages, and these horses have brains and like to see what they can get away with sometimes!), I no longer freeze or panic. I laugh. I am no longer  a nervous rider (although I’m nowhere near as ‘yeeha!’ as some!).

It’s hard to explain to someone who has never ridden an Icelandic what the appeal of these horses is. As well as the usual walk, trot, canter & gallop, Icelandics have two extra gaits. Tolt – a four beat travelling gate, which can be fast or slow, and is the most comfortable thing to ride ever, and Pace – a two beat lateral gate, just about as close to flying as you’ll get on a horse (I’ve not tried this yet, and as I’m not a speed merchant, I doubt I ever will!)  The extra gaits make them great fun to ride, but there is something else too.  Icelandics (or at least all the ones I’ve met) are generally very forward, willing horses, with a great deal of ‘go’, and yet they are not silly, flightly or precious. They are little solid tanks, and they have very sensible heads on their shoulders. Even when messing about, they somehow feel safe.  Once you’ve ridden an Icelandic, it’s quite hard to imagine never doing it again. It’s a bit addictive.

Hordur is not a morning horse...
Hordur is not a morning horse…

This year I’m over -wintering Hordur, one of the Houlls horses.  Hordur is 8 years old, and is worth his weight in gold  A truer gentleman you will never meet. If I could clone him I would. I’m really looking forward to spending more time with him, and carrying out whatever homework our instructor Bjorn gives us to work on. I’m hooked. It’s only a matter of time before I get one of my own now (I hope that time is short). They’ll have some big shoes to fill after these guys, but I’m confident that there’s an icey out there with my name on it.

If you fancy trying out an Icelandic for yourself, Houlls Horses and Hounds offer lessons and hacks. The school is based on the beautiful island of Burra, and they probably have some of the best views from a riding arena in the world.  I’d highly recommend it. For more info about Icelandics check out the Icelandic Horse Society of Great Britain too..

Two weeks to go!

Oh Hello Blog!  I bet you thought I’d forgotten about you?

Actually, truth be told, I had. When I started this blog back in February I thought it would be a great way for me to maintain my writing process, whilst working in jobs that required me to do relatively little writing.  I write better if I keep up a routine, and I thought a blog, where people (ok, when I say people, I mean one or two members of my immediate family and a couple of close friends!) will be waiting to see updates, would give me the push I need to keep doing it.  That way, when I needed to sit down and write something else (such as those journal articles I’ve been putting off for months now!), I’d be in the zone, so to speak.

Of course, what I didn’t anticipate was that within a matter of weeks I’d be working in role that requires LOTS of writing. Lots of writing, and lots of deadlines.  Now spend my days writing & editing media releases, social media posts, strategy documents, advertising copy and a whole host of other things.  Suddenly I don’t need so much practise at making myself write any more.

I still love the idea of writing a blog though. I read plenty of blogs.  There are some particularly good Shetland bloggers who I follow regularly.  My favourites are My Shetland, a blog by local photographer and all round horse nut Frances Taylor, Elizabeth’s Kitchen Diary, a local foodie blog, and Ella Gordon’s textile blog (Ella shares my fetish for vintage knitwear, and makes beautiful knitted stuff which turns me green with envy)  – but there are hundreds of other local photography, craft and lifestyle blogs which I love too.  I fully intend to carry on with this site, once my life returns to some semblance of normality, whatever that may be.

The thing which is currently occupying all my time at present is not work, however. It is THE WEDDING.  We’ve been engaged since the end of my first year at university. That’s 13 years. This wedding has been a LONG time coming, and I can’t quite believe it’s just around the corner.  I’ve gotten used to thinking of the wedding as something that will happen ‘one day’ and suddenly it’s less than two weeks away. Everything is pretty much planned and ready to go. It hasn’t turned out to be the wedding I thought we would have when we first got engaged – it’s 100 times more awesome and just a little bit bonkers. I absolutely cannot wait for the day to come around now – I may be biased, but I think it will be, hands down, the best wedding EVER.  I will, of course, be blogging about it once we get back from honeymoon. I’ve had that particular post (or series of posts!) planned out for quite some time now.

In the meantime I will be frantically trying to finish off last minute bits of wedding crafting (our house is an explosion of buttons, lace & hot glue at the moment), whilst trying to cram a whole months worth of work into two weeks before we go away (Adam & I work in the same department now, which means that when we go away, we take most the dept with us, oops!)  So – to make up for my three month blogging hiatus, and general online ineptitude – here are some gratuitous photos of ponies and the dog.

See you all on the other side folks!

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Fork in the road.

Fork in the road (nabbed from EW)

OK. I am a terrible blogger. It has actually been an entire month since I last posted an update.  This is not the post I intended to put up next. I actually started writing a post about the end of Up Helly Aa season, but given that that too happened several weeks ago now, perhaps I will save that one for next year when I will (hopefully) have got my shit together!  I wasn’t going to blog about work again. I never intended this to be that kind of blog, but given that the time in between this post and the previous one has been all about work, I suppose it is kind of fitting that I write this now. If nothing else it should get it out of my system.

Remember that crossroads I mentioned that I felt I might have been approaching in the last post?  Turns out my map reading skills are pretty good! I’m pleased to say I was able to successfully navigate it, and I now have a brand spanking new job. When I wrote the first post on this blog I was a professional archaeologist. By some strange twist of fate, I am now working in arts marketing.  I also have the word ‘manager’ in my job title. It feels strangely grown up.

There is a not insignificant part of me that feels rather sad about having given up the job title ‘Archaeologist’. I have to admit, I was kind of looking forward to declaring that on my marriage certificate (do you even have to do that? Or is it just the job title of your father they make note of?) in July.  However, the new job is extremely exciting, and I am very pleased (and somewhat surprised) that things have taken the direction they have.  I’m still finding my feet at the moment ( I started the new post on April 1st, no jokes please), but I’m really looking forward to getting my teeth into it, learning new stuff (I am a learning/skills development junkie) and am excited about the opportunities ahead.

I have not given up archaeology.  I don’t think I could if I wanted to to be honest. After over 10 years of archaeological conditioning it has become more a way of life than an occupation. I’m looking forward to dedicating a significant chunk of my free time to ‘fun’ archaeological projects now (the chunk left over from other projects I have on the go at the moment that is- more another time!), and already have one or two plans at the conceptual stage. Oh, and I should also probably publish some of the stuff from my thesis.  So, plenty to be getting on with!

Spring is (sort of) springing here in Shetland now too. The ponies have been out in the field 24/7 for the past week (although gales and wintry showers are forecast for the weekend), the nights are lightening quickly, and I am looking forward to being able to get out and about at the weekends (did I mention I get weekends now too? WEEKENDS!).  I recently bought a cheap second hand digital SLR camera body, so you can look forward to me filling up future blog posts with horrifically framed, slightly out of focus and over-exposed pictures of the dog, ponies and hens.

That – I think, is about it for now. This is, perhaps, not so much a blog post as an apology. I’m not dead yet. STUFF has happened, and I will return very soon to write posts about those things which I actually intended to post about when I started this blog (and will spend less time whinging about work & being tired!)

In the meantime I shall leave you with this image of Princess Unikitty, which, I think, pretty much sums up what I have been up to since you last heard from me…

(http://artsycolor.deviantart.com)

Workin’ 9-5 (or 11-5, or 12-9, or 5 -1.30, or just anything I can really!)

Blimey! Has it really been three weeks since I last posted? How did that happen?

It’s been a bonkers few weeks, and I’m not honestly sure what I have been doing for most of it.  Working, I think…

For the last year or so I’ve been working on a watching brief for a large oil related development here in Shetland.  Just before Christmas things sort of fizzled out on the work front. The site when into hibernation for the winter and myself an my archaeological colleagues found ourselves at a bit of a loss as to what to do.  Luckily I have been able to pick up work at our local cinema and arts venue, so we’ve not felt it too terribly financially, but I have been throwing myself at whatever work comes my way, so it’s been a little exhausting.  I’m currently writing this on my first day off in 11 days (which, actually, is nothing much given I’m used to 3 week rotations, but somehow these 11 days have been more tiring).

I consider myself very lucky to be able to work in the heritage & culture sector.  I never intended to become a field archaeologist.  Well, I might have when I first started out with my undergrad, but I think I lost that ambition pretty quickly.  In fact, I’ve never really intended to do anything. Before moving to Shetland I worked the odd job in bars and restaurants, and spent three years in sales working for a large telecommunications company. I sort of fell into my first job in the heritage sector, working on the Shetland Place Names Project and THING Project (a networking/heritage tourism and marketing project focussing on norse assembly sites). When I applied for that job I felt fairly sure that I wasn’t going to get it, and so when I did, I spent the entire three years feeling a bit like I’d won the job lottery.  It was a brilliant job, which really allowed me to find my niche and interest within the sector.  Turns out I really enjoy fiddling with websites, databases, GIS (who knew!), and most importantly getting the public engaged with and excited about heritage & culture.  The funding ran out after three years, and I was gutted that I had to leave, but it was just at the point when budgets were being slashed left right and centre, and finding money for anything was really tight.

After that I drifted into a general admin job – I got it when I interviewed for another general adminy job, for which I wasn’t successful. Somehow jobs just tend to find me – it was a bit strange. It wasn’t the most challenging role (which was no bad thing, given I was in the last few months of a PhD at the time!), but I did get more of a sense of the commercial business world, and I got to hone my spreadsheet making talents to a fine art!  I also got introduced to the weird and wonderful world of health and safety. I have no idea how H&S reps get through the day – those guys see impending death EVERYWHERE.

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Peat People – an example of dark brown, plastic peat…

Then, just as I handed my PhD in I got a call asking me if I wanted archaeological work. Again, I didn’t look for it. It found me. This is my first commercial archaeology job (although I’ve done a fair bit of grunt work on research digs before).  I seem to have spent a lot of it sitting in 4WD vehicles, reading books and waiting for machines to turn up so I can watch them. There has been a fair bit of standing outside in the cold and wind, getting soaked to the skin too, mind.  Since I started on the job we have had very little archaeology, and I’ve become particularly skilful at finding creative ways to describe peat deposits (black-brown, orange-brown, yellow-brown, fibrous, plastic, smelly, oily, silty, rooty, spongy, with sandy inclusions, stony inclusions, even preserved wood – you name it, I’ve seen it!) Once again, it’s not been the most challenging job I’ve ever done – although I’ve certainly learned a lot while I’ve been doing it, but I feel an immense sense of pride whenever I tell people what I do, or who I work for.  It is a job that is worth doing.

Now, with the development work in Shetland seemingly winding to a close, I find myself once again reconsidering my job prospects and the direction of my career. I am aware that, realistically, I cannot expect to be employed in commercial archaeology indefinitely, and remain in Shetland. It’s too small a place. This December, during a session on Students in Archaeology at TAG I found myself reflecting on the nature of archaeology (and this applies to academic as well as commercial archaeology) as a job.  You have to be willing to go where the work is. If you want it, there is work, but you have to run around after it. To be perfectly honest, I’m not entirely sure that is what I want from my life…

As I mentioned above, I have recently been working at our local cinema and arts venue. I’ve been doing a bit of work in the marketing dept, which is brilliant, and I’ve enjoyed being able to get back into a role where I speak to people, use my brain, and have to think creatively (who knew when I was slogging away in a phone shop that the sales skills I was learning would actually be so useful to me in later life?) – but mostly I’ve been working in the bars and cafe side of things.  Lets face it. When you’re the wrong side of 30, and have recently obtained a PhD, working in a bar is never going to be the most fulfilling of career choices.  I spend a lot of my time running up and down the cafe stairs with precariously laden trays, scraping other people’s uneaten food of their plates, and pouring beers for people who are having much more fun than I am. I am exhausted, and quite often I am splattered with milk, beer and other unidentified foodstuffs.  It can be a bit grim.  However, this is all balanced out by the fact that I am lucky enough to be working in a bar housed inside an awesome building, and run by an organisation whose work I fully support (and also working with some amazing people!).  I’ve found myself flicking through the jobs pages of the local paper recently looking at what is available, and although many of the jobs I see in there have better pay, or less strange hours than the one I currently work, I’d still rather be a bar monkey for an organisation I believe in, than work somewhere else.

We may well be going back to work on site soon. The job is not yet finished – but it will be soon, and after that I am not sure what will happen. I will probably need to look for a new job, and, much as I love working for the organisations which I currently do, pragmatism will have to win sooner or later. I cannot afford to be out of work for months of the year, and really, I need to be earning more than I can get behind a bar.  I sense my career is either at a crossroads, or rapidly approaching one again. I’m not sure where I will end up going next, or how I will get there, and that is kind of scary.  But, when I look back at the strange turns my employment has taken thus far, it’s also kind of exciting. I’ve worked in a variety of places, and done a variety of things, and somehow, each and every one of them has allowed me to build on the other.  There are days when I think that in spending so long focussing on Archaeology and my PhD I’ve limited myself, but then there are others when I think that as a result of what I have done there is very little I couldn’t tackle.  I guess you’ll just have to watch this space…

Academia and Mental Health.

http://www.mind.org.uk

I wasn’t planning to write about this so soon, but apparently today is University Mental Health Day, so it seems appropriate.

Here are a couple of facts I have picked up, just by following the twitter stream about this topic today.  1 in 5 students have some form of mental health problem.  However, only 1 in 125 choose to disclose this to the university. That’s a lot of people suffering in silence.

Studying at university can be liberating, exhilarating and inspiring, however it can also be extremely stressful, isolating and scary at times.  I consider myself very lucky to have gotten through over ten years in academia without encountering any major issues with my mental health. However I know many other students who have not been so lucky, and who have had to juggle the pressures of a high workload, short finances, and multiple deadlines with the added burden of suffering from mental health problems.

In my first blog post I wrote about how I had previously suffered from writers block, and how this made the process of writing my thesis, (and other things related to my thesis) very difficult. The truth of the matter is that that block was brought about by the stress and anxiety of having to perform in an academic context, and the constant feeling that I might not be up to scratch.  This is not uncommon in academia, and certainly not among students, particularly research students, who are struggling to make a name for themselves in the field. For me, my writers block was compounded a level of perfectionism which would not allow me to put words on the page until I was absolutely sure I was right in what I was saying, and a fear of letting people down with my work.  The longer I struggled with my writing, the more I worried that unless I produced high quality results, and quickly, I might not complete my task, and thus would be seen as a failure, and a disappointment.

Eventually, it transpired that I had to take 6 months off study for another reason, entirely unrelated to mental health. I had already recognised that I was developing a problem with my writing, and that if left untackled this could build to bigger issues with stress and anxiety, and so I used this opportunity to seek help with finding my writing mojo. I booked myself in for some appointments with a local stress management consultant and motivational coach. I’ll be honest, as I did this I felt like a bit of a fraud, and incredibly foolish.  I felt like there was nothing wrong with me, and that I was just being lazy and procrastinating. Mostly though I just felt embarrassed about having to admit that I was struggling. Our sessions worked on relaxation techniques, and an emotional freedom technique commonly known as ‘tapping’ (see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IWu3rSEddZI if you’re wondering what I’m on about).  As I sat there in her consulting room, gently bashing myself on various parts of my body with my fingertips, whist repeating phrases like ‘I worry about getting things wrong and making an idiot of myself,’ I really did feel like an idiot.  Not just because I was doing something so strange as talking to myself while hitting myself over the head, but also because when I listened to myself say the things that were worrying me out loud, I could hear how much unnecessary pressure I was putting on myself.  Quite simply, the very act of saying these things out loud helped me rationalise and overcome them.

I was also fortunate enough to find a close friend who was also completing a PhD, and was going through similar problems. Having someone to talk these issues through with allowed me to realise that I was not alone in feeling the way I did, and in realising this I was able to work through the fear of failure, and actually allow myself to complete the work I had set out to do. Of course part of me still worried that my work might not be good enough, and that at any moment someone might expose me for the fraud I was, but being able to share these problems prevented them from becoming overwhelming, and crippling my ability to perform. Having a support network that I could share these anxieties with allowed me to keep moving forward.

The point I am trying to make is that academia is stressful, and hard work, and there is a constant pressure to perform, to prove yourself and to appear strong and confident. Sometimes this is so drilled into us, that we are afraid to show weakness, to admit that we are finding things difficult, or that we might need help.  It doesn’t matter how small your problems may seem, finding someone to talk to about them can help relieve that sense of isolation and fear, and set you on the path to finding the help that you need.  That help might just be a really good moan with a friend over coffee & cake, a meeting with your supervisor, or an appointment with your GP. Whatever it is though, make sure you find it when you need it.

For me, I was lucky, all I suffered from was very mild stress and anxiety – but even that interfered with my productivity. According to a Time To Change survey 9 in 10 people who have mental health problems have experienced some kind of stigma. With that kind of statistic it is no wonder people are reluctant to disclose this kind of information. We need to be more open in talking about this kind of thing, which is why events like University Mental Health Day are so important, and why I have felt compelled to share my little story, no matter how trivial it may appear.

More info on coping with stress, anxiety or other mental health problems can be found here at www.mind.org.uk or www.studentminds.co.uk

The Thesis – one year on.

So, here it is at last. My first blog post.  This is not so much of a late new years resolution, as a very very late new years resolution. About 5 years late to be precise.  In January 2010 I moved to Shetland to take up a new job, and decided that it might be a good idea to start a blog, partly to update folk back home about what I was up to all the way up here, and partly to act as documentation for my ongoing PhD research.  Given that I was moving so far away from my home university, I thought a blog might be a good way to keep in touch with the research community, and give me a sense of involvement with the wider academic world. I also thought that it might provide some accountability in relation to my work. If I was going to publish a blog for the whole world to see, I’d make sure I’d done some work to talk about, see?  Except it didn’t work out quite like that after all.

http://invisiblebread.com/2014/07/procrastinator/

Firstly, it turns out that trying to work part time, and write a PhD part time is quite a lot of hard work, and leaves precious little time for things like blog writing (or a social life, or hobbies, or many other things for that matter – perhaps more on this another time though!)  Secondly, I suffer from writers block.  Apparently I am unable to produce anything meaningful unless it is prompted by deadline induced panic.  Now, actually what I mean to say by this is that unbeknownst to me at the time, I had developed a bit of a complex about my work, and became unable to commit anything to paper until I was absolutely certain that I knew what I was talking about.  Those who have completed a PhD, or who are in the process of completing one now, (or any other large piece of research for that matter) are probably laughing to themselves right now.  You NEVER feel certain about what you are talking about. Or at least I didn’t. I still don’t. It’s called ‘The Impostor Syndrome’ – look it up, it’s a thing. I’ll probably write something about that later on too.  The result was that not only did it take me a painfully long amount of time to complete writing the thesis, but this spilled over into other things too. I started a blog. I started several blogs. But, whether through lack of time, lack of confidence, or lack of actual things to talk about, I never actually got round to pushing that ‘publish’ button.

Light at the end of the tunnel

So, there you go. That is why I never ended up writing a blog.  So why am I blogging now?  Well, tomorrow marks exactly one year to the day that I submitted my thesis. I mentioned this to a friend earlier today. Her response was ‘Have you recovered yet?’  Honestly, I don’t think I have, but I think I am beginning to.  One year on, I am starting to plan things that I have meant to do for years. I am working full time (well, I am when there is work to be had, perhaps more on that later too!) We have just bought a house. We will be getting married in almost exactly 6 months time.  It feels a little like a new chapter of my life.  So, what better time to fulfil an old resolution? What will I be blogging about? Who knows. I will probably write a bit about the process of doing a PhD.  I will almost certainly write a bit about the aftermath of doing a PhD. I have articles and other projects I need to start/finish. I am working on a book with a local history group. I also design and make traditional jointed mohair teddybears. I will definitely write about that.  Mostly though, I am blessed with living in one of the most beautiful places in the world.  Not everybody’s PhD journey ends with them settling down on a remote island in the north sea. I certainly didn’t expect mine to. There is something unique about living in this location, and it is this that inspires me on a day to day basis, so probably, I will mostly write about that. To be honest, I don’t know. But I am looking forward to finding out.

Oh – there is also these guys… I expect I’ll write about them quite a bit too…

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