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Last night Ivan Ukhov (Russian competitor and overall winner of the men’s high jump) almost missed one of his jumping opportunities because he had mislaid his vest…it is heartening to know that even gold-medal winning Olympians are capable of such ‘Miranda-moments’…and at least my ‘graduation-cap-debarcle’ wasn’t witnessed by millions of people!

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                Last night, whilst planning for my holiday, I began thinking about having ‘my bags packed and ready to go’ and this triggered a series of memories which resulted in me excavating my John Denver CD from the bottom of the storage boxes in the living room. Having triumphantly retrieved it, and using the stool in the kitchen to reach the top of the dresser, I popped the CD into my ancient ‘ghetto blaster’. Soon I was singing along whilst doing the washing up, and smiling to myself remembering my ‘big John Denver phase’ of about 10 years ago – when I even thought about setting up a fan-website, which I would wittily call ‘Rocky Mountain high’ – until a quick search revealed that several others had beaten me to it! John Denver, it seemed, was a much bigger star than I had first thought – probably because his music is very much about country life in America, whereas here in the UK, especially in people my generation, his music is more of a specialist niche.

               Cringing, I remembered the time when John (Hanlon) and I were giving an introductory talk to the new intake of international students – we were sabbatical officers in the students’ union at the time. Most of the students were from the 18 – 21 bracket, from Spain, Germany or Malaysia, and so the talk was mostly all about student life in Limestone City – the bars, student nights, coach trips etc. When we’d finished and most of the students were filing out of the large committee room, we got talking to a mature student from America. He said he was from West Virginia, so naturally I, quite excitedly, asked if he had heard of John Denver. John scoffed and the student laughed heartily, nodding. I instantly realised my faux pas and felt mightily embarrassed, and mumbled something about very much liking the song ‘Country roads’.

               But it wasn’t all bad, because upon hearing this the student then got a misty look in his eyes and said that it brought back a memory from a few months before, when he and his friends were in a bar (back in West Virginia) and Country Roads had come on the juke box, and the whole bar had started singing along. This was a really nice shared moment and only a minimal-Miranda-moment on my part, of which I can now see the funny side and which all ended well, probably spreading some happiness in the process.

             On a slightly more melancholy note, as the album played out, I was thinking about the part of The John Denver Story (bio-pic) when his wife is counselling a client, and they tell her how Poems, Prayers and Promises came on the radio, just as they were considering ending it all, and that it convinced them not to. Although it’s a gentle little song, the words are strangely apt for convincing someone that life is precious and that it ends too soon anyway – with added poignancy since John’s own story ended too soon, heddwch ei lwch.

                It then occurred to me that this would be a nice song for my funeral…since it combines many of the elements that are important to me – poems and rural life generally; then I had to smile at myself as I started bringing in associated rural life details, including a patchwork quilt over my coffin, where some people would have a flag. Anyway, hopefully this will not be for a long time yet, at least so that there’s plenty of time for me to learn how to ‘quilt’ properly, and fashion something suitable…

          At the moment I am bat’leth-ing my way through the research ethics process for the study I am currently working on. Whilst the study is exciting and the process necessary, it…well…isn’t the most exhilarating part of the research; in fact, it is the part of the research which makes you remember that you are working. Combine this with a hotter-than-hell office, a sunny afternoon you are missing by being in said office, and unexplained symptoms of extreme fatigue, and you have a tough day ahead.

          However, most of us develop little perks which can help take the sting out of the tail (battle the humdrum etc). Mine are as follows:

  • Glass of ginger ale, whilst pretending it is champagne (and thus it is important that it is ginger ale not beer – my preference is for ‘Canadian dry’…with a slice of lime)
  • Running down the stairs, from the 4th floor, right the way to the posh sitting area on the ground floor, with plush red seats and lots of dark wood…like I expected all Universities to look like when I was young and impressionable…I just like looking at it and the exercise wakes me up a bit!
  • Rooibos tea (most permutations of)
  • Unusual fruit – today it was lychees
  • Making Star Trek references – even if this is to myself, as shown here!
  • Knowing that I have a fridge full of Marks & Spencer’s, delicious Demi-cooking at waiting for me at home, from which I can prepare an appetising evening meal later, without zapping all of my energy
  • Looking forward to watching The Walking Dead on my comfy new couch, with my husband, without feeling like I should offer to join the cast…
  • Daydreaming about writing my own ‘Zombie apocalypse’, set in the UK, and being offered a book deal, and then a TV series option, and its being revered…and all of the exciting things I could buy with the money – including a Fiat 500 (in cream with leather seats)

Back down to earth – I must finish this section today or I’ll lose my thread and tomorrow will feel like groundhog day...so I’ll just make a cup of Rooibos breakfast tea, and then I’ll get on with it!

Glossary of terms:

* Bat’leth (Sword of honour) = a traditional Klingon blade weapon.

I have just read this on the University of Manchester website:

 

On the day of your Graduation Ceremony you are also invited to a Graduation Reception hosted by the School of Social Sciences. This takes place in a Marquee located at the side of University Square after the degree ceremony. There will be scones with jam and cream and fizz and pimms.

Well…humph!

                             Ever since I learned what ‘trousseau’ meant (I was about 7 as I recall) I have dreamed about what my smartly-packed trunk would contain; this list often resembled the one Jean describes in the ‘Black exercise books‘, with its many different coloured dresses and gloves and hats.

                             It’s funny how I had taken everything for granted back then: I would no doubt find a suitor; definitely get married; and there would be no problem at all with buying a whole new set of special clothes for our honeymoon – a long holiday (a month or so according to dictionary definitions) that would begin just after the wedding, where our entire focus would be on each other.

                             The reality these days though is that, sadly, many never find the love of their lives, and even if they do they might not get married (and that’s sad assuming, of course, that they want to get married, and that it isn’t against their feminist principles etc.). Now since I’m a traditional sort of girl, as I approached 30 I had a definite quarter-life-crisis, the full wobble, and even penned a Welsh-language poem about reaching this age and having achieved so little…and to cap it all off, I was not even married!

                              But then all of my dreams did come true, and I did get married, to the love of my life, the year that I turned 30, and we had a lovely wedding in a splendid old hall – complete with poufy-gold, Mrs Anna-style dress, a chocolate fountain and a Band gwerin; my inner-Cinderella was well and truly exorcised! We did have a honeymoon and it was very appropriate – 2 days in Portmeirion, the perfect combination of Sci fi and Welshness. But I was in the middle of the PhD and I even took a copy of Byrne and Long’s ‘Doctors talking to patients’ with me! Then we were back to work/ PhD…and I hadn’t even had time to consider a trousseau.

                              Happily, three years later, with the PhD safely behind me, I am looking forward to an idyllic snorkelling trip in the Maldives at the end of the month – and I see this very much as our PhD-delayed honeymoon and am hugging myself with delight at the prospect.

                              There won’t be much call for fancy hats, gloves and dresses where we’re going (is there ever, really, these days?) but I am amassing a nice collection of bikinis and water-proof flip-flops for strolling along the beach; and whilst I absolutely cannot afford to buy anything post-laptop-purchase…I may just have to justify one final, black, Oakley bikini from Surfdome…on grounds that this is, after all, my trousseau!

                    It all started when I decided to buy my cap and gown in preparation for the July ceremony – and this was back in February…I know, I know, how smug?! But I justified it to myself by thinking that, if I am successful in my bid to build a career in academia (and obviously I’m putting my eggs in this particular basket) then I will in fact have cause to use my outfit year after year…and then of course I’ll need it for my professorial lecture (my new long-term goal…more smugness!)

                    I was also quite taken with the romantic notion that the outfit I’d be wearing throughout my illustrious career would be the one I’d worn on my ‘special day’; it would somehow retain the ‘essence’ of the occasion. And this was to be a momentous occasion for me – the girl who used to write her d’s and b’s the wrong way around, struggled to learn to read and to tell the time on an analogue watch (actually this is something I still struggle with!) Yes, despite starting out like Benjamin Bashir prior to genetic re-sequencing, against all the odds, I had succeeded; I was about to join the elite club, become an Inklingette for real (if someone would kindly give me a book deal!)…so actually, damn it, I had a right to me smug…and to revel in my brilliance…

                    I made a big fuss about how to store the precious items securely – I bought two hat boxes from the hat shop in Sandstone City – one big enough to fit a Trilby, the other so enormous you could fit JR’s Stetson in it! But when they arrived, the outfit and hat were all compressed into a less-than-impressively-sized-box, and after a while I put the whole lot into the Stetson-box, stored in the spare room, and just peeked in at them from time to time. Meanwhile, I have just started a new job in Limestone University and am thus back in the big city, with an office, parking pass – the whole caboodle! So I had brought the Stetson-box with precious cargo in, prior to the big day, and stored it in my office.

                  The day of the graduation I got up early, showered, and tried to replicate the ‘big-hair’ blow dry my hairdresser made seem so effortless. I failed and my hair just ended up feeling dry-to-the-touch and pointing in random directions, instead of smooth and silky as it usually is; brain-wave – I set about wrapping my thin, brown hair around some massive, Velcro rollers. Quick look at the clock – 7.15am, just 15 minutes before I’d miss the window and get caught in the bottle-neck of rush-hour for the tunnel; the rollers would have to stay there for the drive in (not too bad since this is surprisingly a common look in Limestone city).

                   Since I was planning to pose for lots of photos during the course of the day, and I didn’t want a shiny face, I conceded that I would have to wear make-up (a bit risky since I was anticipating being nervous, which tends to make my skin sensitive). I pulled out my trusty Guerlain powder compact and very much enjoyed the scent of violets as I lightly powdered my Orchidee-smooth skin. I felt a bit calmer and chirpier now, especially as I reached for my precious-Christmas-present bottle of L’heure bleue, dabbing the tiny glass stopper behind my ears and across my throat and wrists. Then, as I smoothed the matching lait parfume pour le corps into my hands, a quick check in the mirror confirmed that I was a fabulous thirty-something and certainly an attractive graduand…why had I been thinking I was all washed up lately? What nonsense, as Jean would say, I wasn’t finished, far from it (again with the smugness).

                  After a too-leisurely breakfast I jumped in my forlorn Clio and started the engine, after a fashion – well, a heart-stopping few seconds actually, where it seemed she had finally given up the ghost! Mercifully the engine finally, begrudgingly, growled into action (well, maybe I should say wheezed?) We stumbled down the pebble-track together, did the 180 onto Farm lane, and then hit the trail bound for the city. The traffic was predictably hectic and heaps of people cut me up – oh for a Range Rover…people think twice before cutting up someone in a vehicle like that…or perhaps one of those big American pick-ups, with lots of chrome and massive wheels that scream “respect my authorit-a”!

                 It was about 8.15am when I drove onto campus, but I was out of luck today as all the parking specs were taken, so I wasted precious minutes of my ‘special day’ driving over to the other car park (just around the corner)…I’d have to walk an extra 50 yards or so with my Velcro-roller-hair. My parents rang me to say they were just parking up at the venue and needed cups of tea badly. At this point this seemed perfectly sensible since I still had to get ‘robed up’, combed out and didn’t need to be in my seat at the other end of Peace Street for another hour yet.

                   By the time I got up to my office on the 4th floor I was sweating profusely – it was a clammy day and my anxious anticipation was not helping matters. I stripped out the rollers and started organising my hair…concluded I should have practiced the rollers thing because my hair now resembled the coat of a rosette Guinea pig! Okay, so I was slightly irritated now, but it was no matter since my hat would cover the worst. Ah, the big moment, I could remove the plastic, shake out my gown and don it for the first time!

                 Wait a minute…where was the cap? It must have fallen out? Furious arm gestures and spinning around to locate it followed…but my search was in vain; was it really possible that I had not transferred the cap into the Stetson-box after all? Which would mean it would still be in the trilby-box…in the spare room…back in my house in Fennland? Nooooooooooo, the house was 30 minutes away, minimum (with my driving) it was now 8.30am, I had to be in my seat by 9.15am sharp, said the programme, or I’d be denied the right to graduate today…and what was more, I MUST be wearing the proper attire for Limestone University and my level of study etc.

                  In a state of shocked panic I rang my Mum who said I should come to meet them, with my keys, and my Dad would go to my house and fetch the cap. Okay, a plan. Not an excellent plan given the timeframe and the fact that the car was near the venue at the other end of Peace Street, but it beat standing in my office berating myself. I picked up my briefcase with the tickets on it, awkwardly rolled my precious robe and hood up ready to carry and flew out of the door. I ran the entire length of Peace Street, which is about a mile I’d say and arrived outside the venue. No sign. Rang my mum.

“Hey, I’m here, where are you”
“We’re having our breakfast”
“But Dad needs to go now…”
“Dad says there’s no way he’ll be able to make it there and back again in time”
“But you said to come and bring my keys”
“Last night you put on Facebook ‘Cap – check, robe – check…’ so you must have it mustn’t you, if you’ve checked – I think you should have another look”
“I was saying that I had them, as in I’d bought them – I definitely haven’t got them here with me today”
“Well you’ll just have to talk to them then, explain…”
“No, you don’t understand, I can’t graduate without the full outfit, they’re really strict about these things…bah, I’m coming over to The Pantry

                    I stormed into the bohemian eatery and found my parents and my Aunty calmly eating buttered toast and sipping tea…my Mum even tried to convince me that I should relax and join them for a few minutes. I resolved to leave them their tickets (which would apparently be strictly checked and you couldn’t get in without them) and then I’d double back on myself to the students’ union building where all the sensible people, who had rented their gowns and caps, would be queuing and having their outfits put on for them. Maybe the robe people would have a spare cap? Or maybe they could make a call?…I had nothing to lose. I rummaged in my briefcase…no pink Lyreco wallet with the tickets in…where was it, oh no, no, no, no…I recalled taking the wallet out in the office as I’d decided I didn’t need the briefcase!

                    Wailing an exacerbated explanation I charged back out of The Pantry door and found myself running through the droves of graduands who had begun to gather outside the venue – all smartly decked out in their appropriate attire, basking in the sun which had seen fit to put in a rare appearance, and chatting away with course buddies they hadn’t seen since the end of term/ their viva etc. This just wasn’t fair – I should be standing amongst them, feeling supremely smug…instead I found myself pushing my way through them – like a ghost; this was just like an anxiety nightmare, which I have a lot of, except that this was really happening. The journey back to the office seemed epic – I dropped my outfit more than once and I was sure it would be drenched in sweat by the time I came to put it on.

                   Back in the office, sure enough, there were the tickets on my desk. Okay, onto the students’ union. Far less of a queue now, and they had usher-style people browsing the queue for those stragglers for the morning graduation ceremony (I should have been in my seat by now). They were stringently checking everyone’s paperwork, which of course I had never had since I had bought my outfit rather than renting. I knew I must look bad when I began my breathless explanation and the stern look on the lady’s face vanished, replaced by the kind of look you encounter if you have a large, bleeding wound on your forehead and people are wondering whether or not they should take you to the Emergency room.

                     Mercifully the good people of Ede and Ravenscroft had plenty of spare hats, and even helped me on with my robe – which frankly I would never have managed myself, the state I was in. Such lovely, lovely people they were – hats off to you (if you’ll pardon the pun). Suited and capped I made a dash for the venue – Miranda Hart couldn’t have seemed more buffoon-like…even if she was pulling out all the stops for comic effect!

                     In the doorway I rang my Mum to say I was here with their tickets – but they’d already been shown to their seats…it was fine apparently because the ushers had looked them up on the list, tsk! Meanwhile an usher approached me and told me sternly that I should put away my phone and go to my seat. I began explaining…wildly…and I was greeted with the same expression as in the student’s union – he quickly resolved to saying soothing things instead, pointing out that there was still at least 20 minutes before the ceremony would begin. Okay, I realised I must look even worse than I felt.

            I ran to the toilet (since it seemed I was no longer capable of any other form of movement). I Looked in the mirror; oh dear lord. My face had the dappled appearance of corned beef hash, with particularly pale potatoes. This appealing complexion was not helped at all by the fact that my face was wet with sweat, as was my hair. My face was beyond what powder could achieve so I just dabbed it with a tissue before hurrying to my seat.

                    Isle C, Isle D, Isle E, here we go, this should be me on the end. There appeared to be a small group of ushers blocking access to my seat. I waited patiently – but then I heard the usher I’d spoken to at the doorway say:
“There’s no E1? Well if she’s not here in the next 5 minutes…”
I realised they were talking about me, and about how they weren’t going to let me sit there unless I arrived right now.
“Erm excuse me, I think this is my seat?”

                  The usher from the doorway turned with a stern look and began speaking but abruptly stopped. He recognised me, good, so no need for me to start bumbling an explanation then. He explained to the others and they dispersed, ushering others to their seats. I collapsed in the chair, exhausted and no longer even interested in the ceremony. At that moment I would have preferred to go home and take a shower, watch some Next Gen – forget the whole sorry business.

                  After a while, since nothing was happening and we weren’t allowed to move, I turned to the girl next to me and gave her a summary of my morning-from-hell. She was very sweet and sympathetic. She was exactly how I would have liked to have been – calm, serene and proud. I turned to look for my family, who were seated in a box nearby, which was nice. The University had organised two BSL interpreters for my Aunty and she seemed to be having a fine time chatting with them. She would also be close enough to see the proceedings so I was well pleased.

                     We were sent to the stage in batches and our names read out and then we took a few steps across the stage with everyone’s attention on us until we reached the Chancellor, who shook hands with everyone, and then we were off the stage and receiving our punch-pocket with our degree certificate in it. My turn and, predictably, my name was read out slightly wrongly. Damn it! In every language in the world, apart from English, my version of the name is the most popular. But I was in England, so I got the anglicised version. I had made a call to the graduation team months ago to try to ensure my name was pronounced properly, but it had been surprisingly difficult to describe (more difficult than all the Chinese names apparently).

           I didn’t envy the task of trying to get all the names right, I’m sure I would have got some of them horribly wrong, but this tiny detail was the last straw on a very tired camel’s back. I trudged across the stage, completely forgetting to smile for the Ede & Ravenscroft camera, froze whilst shaking hands with the Chancellor, who also called me by my anglicised name – because, in fairness, why wouldn’t he? And then it was all over and I was back in my seat.

                   After a short speech from the Chancellor we all filed out of the building and I bumped into a couple of others from my department and they asked me if I was going to the departmental drinks reception, which had been advertised as 12pm – 2pm (it was currently 11.30am). I was definitely going – I had even printed out the invitation – but after all that running about I was very hungry and couldn’t rely on the ‘snacks’ at such an event, which for all I knew could be banana chips (we served them once at an alumni event when I worked in the trust office). So I said I would probably see them later and we headed back to The Pantry for food – which of course was not exactly high on my family’s agenda since they hadn’t long had a hearty breakfast.

                      After lunch I shepherded my family over to the department building for the drinks reception…which we found had just finished – everyone had gone straight from the ceremony and they’d had muffins (nice ones by the looks of things). I decided to take my family round to my office and pack my gown away. However, having shown them my place of work, and having removed my gown, I decided to put it back on whilst we visited the students’ union to return the cap; I was feeling oddly bereft – this couldn’t be it for me and the gown, could it?

                  The fellas who’d sorted out my cap fiasco were still there and graciously accepted the cap back. I thanked them profusely for rescuing me and made my way to the alumni stall where I picked up my free University pin and signed up to stay in touch (not that I’d be much use to them for a good few years yet). Moving swiftly to the graduation rings stall, I loitered about, eying up the rose-gold, red brick graduation ring that I’d been hankering after over the internet.

              I’d had great thoughts of buying one and having Ŵynarydolyddibrancio engraved on the inside – the perfect message and the perfect fit in terms of character numbers: it was a line from my favourite Welsh song meaning “The lambs in the meadow will prance”. I felt it was the perfect fresh start message, from a song all about good times following the bad times. I loved the ring’s play on the ‘red-brick’ idea, and rose gold is my favourite and it would go with the rest of my jewellery.

         However these great thoughts had all been before I’d realised that my ancient laptop couldn’t keep up with SPSS 20, which I needed for my new job if I was to keep pace and be able to work from home sometimes. One trip to the John Lewis’ store with John Hanlon (my best friend) later and I was the proud new owner of a splendid ultra-book…and was 800 quid or so down…a big blow to my already fragile finances. I fondled the precious item, tried it on and felt my heart sink as it fit perfectly and looked sooooo good; but at £300, I just couldn’t justify it. Sulked.

                    Okay, over to the general merchandise stall then. Teddies, dressed in caps and gowns, surely I could have one of these? But actually, cute though they were, the outfits did not resemble the University of Limestone’s gowns at all – and certainly they weren’t red and black like my doctoral robe. My aunty (who makes things out of fabric and is a bit of a genius) picked one up and turned it over in her hands, looking distinctly nonplussed. She would make one (and she said this whilst eyeing my outfit, checking the hood etc.). Okay, that would be hilarious and better than buying one of these phoney-graduate bears anyway.

                  There then followed a sub-plot palaver of trying to have coffee (okay, tea – we’re Welsh after all) in the late afternoon in Limestone City. The Gallery, our venue of choice, had closed the iconic restaurant area for a private function and were only serving coffees on the couched area near the entrance; a quick glance and we could see that the area was crammed with people perched uncomfortably on the couches. So it was back to the students’ union, where surely they had a nice coffee bar? No, not so much; we ended up sitting near the gown stalls, drinking tea from paper cups – a far cry from the bubbly wine and canapés I’d envisioned!

          There didn’t seem anything left to do now except go home. I bade my family farewell and trudged back to the office to tuck my gown into the Stetson-box….and promptly cried all over one of my colleagues, spilling forth details of my woes. She was very understanding and said all the right things about how nice I looked in my gown, how the gown was a vibrant red where some of the rented ones were faded, and how at least I still had the gown and could pose for some photos when I was feeling better. Okay, feeling much better already. I drove home with an air of nonchalance and had a shower as soon as I got in, which felt sooo good. I put my pyjamas on and lolled around on the sofa eating king prawns I’d forgotten I had in the fridge, excellent.

                     I used the IPad to go on youtube and played Elvis’ “Didja ever get one of them days”(where nothing is right/ from morning ‘til night) over and over again. Finally I posted the link to my Facebook page, as well as the link to “Jam Side Down” by Status Quo, and commented that they helped me see the funny side to ‘Surely my biggest Miranda moment of all time’. Far funnier though was when my brother commented that surely it should be Paul Young’s “Wherever I left my hat, that’s at home”, acknowledging that this was not quite the correct title but that this was funnier. And indeed it was, I did actually laugh then – it was a ridiculous day, and I was a ridiculous woman, with a silly name! Well at least it was over, I thought, but not quite – I was awake most of the night having apparently poisoned myself with the prawns!

Epilogue: Hopefully I will have no more days like this, which will require such a lengthy explanation. I am determined not to dwell on the debacle; I’ve drawn a line. The future does start here and the lambs in the meadow will prance – and I still have my precious outfit, safely stored in its Stetson-box, reunited with the not-yet-worn-cap!

                    It didn’t go according to plan…at all – and I’d done LOTS of planning! Everything that could go wrong did, to the point where I felt like I was in an episode of Dr Who and could expect to see the ‘reapers’ flying in at any second, come to sterilize the wound in time because, somehow, I had caused a paradox by attempting to graduate on this day, at this time, ignoring all signs that this was not what the universe had in mind!

                    No really – it sounds dramatic, but it really was that bad! I don’t feel quite ready to go into the details just yet, but, suffice to say that, never before has Elvis’ ‘Didja ever have one of them days’ made so much sense to me!