Life Updates

I have just finished the first draft of my History dissertation.  This, along with drama rehearsals, is the reason I’ve been rather quiet over the last week.  I’ll hopefully upload it alongside my English dissertation in August, once I have the results (my fear is always that the examiner will do that magical process they have to search for plagiarism, and accuse me of plagiarising myself if they find anything online).

Next week might also be rather dull for this blog.  I’ll be performing in the Shetland Country Drama Festival (a play called Audience by playwright Michael Frayn), while joining the actual audience for two other nights.  I will also hopefully sign up to do some work with Norwegian students visiting our islands in coming weeks in a ‘tall ship’ – being a kind of ambassador would be incredible – and participating in a video conference with a school in South Africa, organised through our history class.  I generally take my excitement for occasions such as these as proof that I could probably cope with working as a journalist.

Oh, and I also recently received an offer from Edinburgh University to study ‘English Literature and History’, which is the course I’ve really been after – although I won’t know for sure until I’ve visited the universities later this month.

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My Varied Week

Warning: this post goes into detail about the ups and downs of my past week.  May involve mild feelings.  If you’re of the irritating belief that we should all be living ice people with stiff lips then you may find this vaguely offensive, though there’s nothing too obscene.

One word: Prelims.  If you know what this means I expect you to be recoiling in horror right now and if you don’t, well, you are envied by many.  Basically, preliminary examinations which act as a kind of practice run before the final exams.  They do count for getting into courses which start before you get results for the final exams, and can also be used in appeals, but I’m in the fortunate position of relying on neither since I already have the grades I need.

So, why was it so Hellish?  Simply, all four of my exams were scheduled between four days of one another.  I am, of course, grateful that I have the opportunity to sit any exams – but did it have to be so stressful?  I’ve spent most of the last month either doing research for my history dissertation (“How great an effect did the pressures of foreign countries have on Apartheid policies between 1960 and 1984?”) and NABs (other horrific ‘unit passes’, which you need to pass in order to sit the final exam).  So basically, I had no time to revise for the exams.

Then I caught a cold.  And snow swept across the island.  It’s as if the world has been conspiring to make me perform as badly as possible in the Prelims!  It’s fair to say this past week wasn’t an enjoyable experience – particularly the three hour Advanced Higher history exam… I still shudder at the thought.  But, somehow, I managed to get to all four of my exams and actually seemed to do alright.  Not had any of the results yet – not that they’re very important at this stage – but I performed as well as I could have hoped.

The most varied day of all was Wednesday, the Hellish history exam.  I genuinely felt in a state of mild shock afterwards, consumed by numbness, unable to get my head out of Apartheid South Africa (not the nicest of places).  A couple of people described me as ‘shell-shocked’, amusingly.  I guess the length of the exam, the longest I’ve ever sat, took it out of me.  I hear exams at university typically last three hours… *another shudder*.  Interestingly, St. Andrews chose that day to let me know they’d offered me an unconditional place to study English.

I HAVE A PLACE AT ST. ANDREWS!!  How did that happen?  That’s so amazing!  I’m so lucky!

And I’m probably going to turn it down.  Hah.  I’m not sure yet, and wouldn’t like to say anything for sure.  I guess, having grown up on a remote island, I’d prefer to live somewhere well connected like a city.  And St. Andrews, for all its prestige, has a very negative reputation of royalty and privilege – neither of which I’m a great fan of!  I’ll have to visit, of course.  It’s exciting to tell people I’ve been offered a place, anyway.  Someone told me I would be ‘mad’ to turn it down.  Am I?

So yeah, that was my dramatic week.  How was yours?

Travelling The World

I have a confession to make…  I have never in my life left the UK.  This usually is greeted with shock and pity whenever I admit it, but that’s the tragic truth.  In my and my family’s defence, I’ve seen an awful lot of the UK: I’ve at least passed through most major cities, seen a massive amount of the Scottish highlands and made a few ventures into Wales – though I’ve yet to tackle Northern Ireland.  (I suppose that would be another benefit to Scotland becoming independent – these places would suddenly count as ‘abroad’!)  But with respect to all the individual cultures within our country,and I know personally how far these can differ, what I really want is to explore the cultures, landscapes, wildlife and history of other countries.

So I’ve compiled a list of the countries in the world I would like to visit, presented in map form:

Places I Want to Visit

Okay, I appreciate there are problems here…  North Korea and Iran would be challenging to get into, and since I don’t have a death wish countries like Syria, Mali and Afghanistan may have to wait.   I may voluntarily miss out the Vatican.

Joking aside, I really would like the opportunity to visit as many foreign countries as I can, but I have narrowed them down to places which I shall focus on first:

  1. Canada.  Similar culture, same language, less insane than various elements of the USA – should feel fairly at home here!  I’ve been told Vancouver would be a great place to start, and I would also love to explore some of the more far flung northern provinces.
  2. France.  I speak basic French, though would need to seriously brush up on it.  There are so many parts of France worth visiting, from the typical tourist spots in Paris to the cornfields and castles of Provence, from visiting the fields of the First World War to the Alps.
  3. South Africa.  I still can’t put my finger on why, but I have a slight obsession with this country.  I think I’m in awe of the astounding progress which has been made since Apartheid, despite failings the government may currently have.  Feels like an accessible country to start my explorations of Africa with, due to the use of English and my knowledge of the country.  My only concern is that the country could potentially, in a worst case scenario, slide further and further into corruption and intolerance and may not become the safest place for a European to visit.
  4. Egypt.  There’s so much!  The history angle would dominate, obviously, with the pyramids and tombs and ancient cities.  But also more recent history; how fascinating it would be to walk across Tahrir Square and know the victories which had been won there – a symbol for the ongoing battle for freedom.
  5. Japan.  This would be the most difficult by far.  Completely alien language and script, alien culture, alien social norms, alien technology!  These factors make Japan all the more appealing, but I know I would struggle and definitely could not go alone; the culture shock would be enormous.  Yet Japan seems such a beautifully rich and diverse country, I have to visit it at least once in my lifetime.

One other significant plan I have is to look into the various railway deals offered in Europe which travel through a variety of countries, offering a chance to experience a multitude of cultures and scenery without having to plan each journey individually.  I’m not sure these still exist – I hope so!

If – no, when – I travel to these countries, I hope to update this blog accordingly with my experiences.

ANC Party Congress

The ruling party of South Africa, the African National Congress, is holding a party congress in Manguang, where the party was formed nearly a century ago to oppose segregationist policies introduced by the Union Government.  The ANC would go on to oppose the infamous policy of Apartheid, and rose to power in post-Apartheid South Africa, maintaining political dominance ever since 1994.

In this Congress, the ANC’s leader shall be chosen.  Despite criticisms of being lax on corruption and incompetence, current President Jacob Zuma appears the favourite to win the leadership.  However he is facing a tough challenge from his Vice President, Kgalema Motlanthe, who was the interim President of South Africa from 2008-2009 after the resignation of President Mbeki.  Motlanthe could be putting his career on the line by challenging Zuma, but strong competition is a vital element in democracies and so is an encouraging sign for South Africa’s struggling development and progression from Apartheid.

Of course, competition from a variety of parties is also essential for a democracy, yet, barring any extraordinary events, whoever wins this leadership election will undoubtedly go on to become President in the 2014 General Election.  This is not as of yet down to any dictatorial attempts by the ANC to stay in power, but the fear is that the longer the ANC rules South Africa the further entrenched its power will become, until South Africa and the ANC become inseparable  much like South Africa and the National Party were between 1948 and 1994.

Although the Congress will most likely re-elect Zuma as leader of the ANC, it will be an interesting insight nonetheless on the direction South Africa is heading.  I personally, without knowing a great deal about either man, think Motlanthe appears to be the better to lead the party.

International News Round-Up

Syria

  • After a meeting of the ‘Friends of Syria’ group, the USA has decided to recognise Syria’s opposition as the sole legitimate representative of the Syrian people.  Most of the scores of countries present have at least recognised the opposition as a legitimate representative.  Politically this will be another victory for the opposition, but it may also have an impact ‘on the ground’.  William Hague has discussed the possibility of arming the opposition if President Assad does not strive further for national dialogue.
  • Syria has also been reported to have fired several ‘scud-type’, Soviet-made missiles into opposition-held areas in the north of the country.  This appears to be the next stage of the government’s response.  When repression failed they sent in the army; when they were losing to the opposition’s guerrilla warfare they began shelling cities; when this failed to defeat the rebels they began conducting air raids; and now the opposition are increasingly wielding anti-aircraft weapons it appears the regime has turned to missiles.  They are becoming increasingly backed against the wall.  The next logical stage in this escalation would be chemical weapons, which would essentially be suicide for the regime.

North Korea

  • North Korea has launched a rocket, breaking several United Nations resolutions.  Although North Korea insists that this is for peaceful means, but countries such as the USA, Japan and South Korea believe this is a test for ballistic missiles, which could eventually reach the West coast of the USA.  Despite having the capabilities to bomb any country in the world, the thought of its own territory being under threat terrifies the American government.    Though I don’t think anyone wants to see a nuclear-armed North Korea with the capabilities  to launch inter-continental ballistic missiles.

Venezuela

  • Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, has returned to Cuba for cancer treatment, despite claiming during his election campaign that his cancer had completely been cured.  Cancer can make sudden reappearances so I wouldn’t like to make any assumptions one way or the other.

South Africa

  • In other health-related news, Nelson Mandela, the first black African to be President (from 1994 – 1999) and leader of the anti-Apartheid movement, has been rushed into hospital with a lung infection.  He is apparently doing well, but at the age of 94 his health is bound to be frail.  I think the world is united in hoping he has a full recovery.