The One With The Passing of an Old Friend

This is a story about a dog.

She wasn’t a particularly notable dog in the traditional sense; she wasn’t tiny, cutesy or adorable, neither was she big, or a particularly impressive example of her breed. She was a smallish, chocolate labrador, the only female in her litter, bred to be a working animal, though in reality her favourite past-time in her later years was traipsing around the house, finding the sunny spots throughout the day to nap.

Her fur never quite made up its mind about what it was doing; on her back it was thick and wavy, around her chest, fluffy and sticking up in all directions, and on her ears velvet soft. She went grey at a young age, around her chin and her eyebrows, and had a little bump in the middle of her head that we always joked was the home to her three lone brain cells. She certainly wasn’t daft however, and she had beautiful golden-y eyes, that always looked a little bit like they were judging you.

Her name was Wispa (like the chocolate bar) and though she wasn’t cute and adorable, or a majestic, working animal, she was our family dog.

There are dog-people in this world, and then there are dog-people. Mum is determinedly a member of the latter category. Raised around gentle labradors as a baby, then brought up in house with a sassy dachshund and a doleful ex-gun dog afraid of guns, it was inevitable that when she grew up, she’d want a dog of her own. My brother and I nagged her about one for years. What kind we’d get, whether it would be a boy or a girl, what the name would be, who would get to hold the lead on walks. Finally, eventually, we got our pup. An adorable, pudgy bundle of fluff with too-big feet to call our very own.

The early years were not easy. Her first night she cried constantly, and I remember standing in the landing in the dark, listening to her, before going to wake up Mum. The next morning we came down to Mum asleep on the sofa, the puppy curled up in her dressing gown on her chest. The troubles didn’t stop there however; Wispa had been raised in a barn with her brothers, rough and tumble play was all she knew, and she took time to feel at home with us. I wept over several destroyed toys and odd shoes that I was sentimentally attached to, and that she had decimated in her puppy teething phase. On one occasion I even asked Mum if we could take her back, and swap her for a ‘nice dog’ instead. We tried puppy training class, which while my brother and I had intitally been excited to attend with her, rapidly came to dread. Wispa was continually the worst performing dog there, and while we were embarrassed on her behalf, she apparently couldn’t care less. On ‘graduating’ the class she received a certificate of participation, which she promptly chewed up on the drive home.

But over time she settled. She began to be not just our dog, the excitable puppy who yanked on her lead and could not, would not retrieve, but a part of the family. She came on holiday with us to the coast, to Devon, to Norfolk, to a little village in the North of Wales. She swam in the sea with my brother and I, jumped over streams and off groins with us, clambered through trees and along shorelines, constantly wanting to keep up with our adventures, to be a part of the gang. She joined us on our first excursions without Mum and Dad, wagging her tail so hard we couldn’t clip her lead to her collar she was moving so much. She dug holes in the beach to keep cool and rolled in them, covering her dark coat in a thick layer of sand, and swam and swam after thrown sticks through the waves. 

She became a part of our routine. Our Sunday tradition was observed not in church but in the Leicestershire hills on dog walks, at woods and county parks, hiking through fields and wading in streams. She would run until she could run no more, chasing after sticks that we never got back, playing hide and seek with my brother and I in the bracken, and then she’d zonk out in her bed, snoring loudly all afternoon. But no matter how tired she was, every day, no matter where you were in the house, she would come and find you at 4:45, to give you a nudge, a Look; a gentle reminder that her 5pm dinner time was drawing close, and that we had better be ready for it.

She became a part of our happiness. An enormous part of it. She was the first thing anyone saw on coming through the front door, wagging her tail a little, coming to say hello. She greeted me after school every day, and when the exams built up and the stress got too much, she did more than that. Sometimes I’d come home, sit down on the kitchen sofa and cry, anxious and sad and tired from the day. On those days, she’d always come over, ears flat, eyes concerned, nudging my hands away from my face with her nose, climbing up onto the sofa next to me, even though she knew she shouldn’t, licking away my tears. She was my respite, stroking her fur, listening to her huff and puff. And when we were happy, she was happy. Nothing made her more happy than Mum or Dad chasing her round the garden, when she’d hunker down low, tail between her legs, and whizz through the trees and bushes, uncontrollably excited. At Christmas she tolerated the tinsel we wrapped in her collar for the scraps in her bowl, and the fact she loved discarded wrapping paper, which she always enjoyed far more than any new toy we’d bought for her. 

She became a part of our stories. All her funny quirks and habits and bad things she did developed into more family myths and legends than we know what to do with. Like the time she went into Granny’s handbag looking for dog treats, and then paraded through the living room, oblivious of the fact the handbag had caught around her neck. Or the time she licked the meringue off the top of the lemon meringue pie, and Nana scraped off the dog-licked part and served it all the same. Or all the times she would get up and demand to be let out of the room if pans were clashed too loudly, or voices raised in lively debate, because no one hated anger as much as her. Or the few (very, very few) times we’d give her something in her bowl she didn’t like, like raw carrot or rhubarb, and she’d try a mouthful or so and then look up at you, expression disdaining. Whenever she did anything bad, you would know instantly. She’d skulk in, looking acutely guilty, trying to apologise before we even found the evidence, and the sight was so entertaining we’d inviariably forgive her on the spot but keep up the pretence of anger for our own amusement.

She became a part of our lives. She was just always there – lying deliberately in the path of the hoover when we vacuumed so you’d have to ask her to move, and she could fix you with a mortally offended look. Lurking in the kitchen when anyone was cooking, hoping for the odd titbit. Getting in the way and jumping in the boot of the car when we were packing to go anywhere, desperate to not be left behind. The few times she accidentally got shut out of the front door, she would wander around to say hello to the neighbour’s dog and her best friend, but eventually wander right back and sit patiently in the drive, waiting to be let back in. She always loved home. 

She was sassy, sweet and more emotionally in-tune than any other dog I’ve ever met. She never learnt to retrieve, and never, until her final hours, stopped being hungry and willing to eat more food than she could ever feasibly manage. She charmed family and friends with her sweet nature and colourful character. She was our routine, our frustration, our joy, our family; she was my brother and my best friend, and a huge part of our most precious childhood years. And I will miss her more than I can say.

As her health declined, Wispa became a bit doddery and confused, bumping into things and taking more naps than not. On walks, she’d start pottering after small children in the park – thinking they were my brother and I. Even in her worst years, she was reliving her best. 

You had nearly 14 wonderful years Wispa. Thank you for cementing our family as a nuclear unit, and for filling that time with laughter and love. 

The One With a Thought-Provoking Throwback

November last year, at a time when I was really, really struggling here in Ottawa and confiding in very few people as to just how much that was the case, I wrote a post that I never ended up publishing. Fear of being too personal, and honestly a sense of shame as well, meant that it sat in my drafts, gathering dust. The only explicit mention of me feeling ‘down’ on this blog while I’ve been abroad was in another post, The One That’s a Bit of Downer,  and even in that I injected as much optimism and enthusiasm as I could muster. That was at the end of September, around week 5, when the honeymoon glow of Moving to Canada had started to dim and I was beginning to feel a bit homesick. From mid-October into early December however, as the nights grew colder and the days shorter, I began to feel honestly pretty shit.

Okay, ‘shit’ is an understatement. I felt terrible.

This was not a consistent emotion throughout this period of course; I had an amazing trip to Algonquin, a fabulous long weekend in Québec City, and plenty to write home about and share on social media. But nonetheless, for a good stretch of time, my mental health was not doing so great. I would have successive days where I’d wake up, stare at my ceiling and think to myself, “what the hell do I think I am I doing here?”. Days when I missed my family and dog and friends back home so acutely I would literally cry; days when I wanted nothing more than to quit basketball, call it a day with what felt like the constant upward struggle to try and make friends and just curl up in bed alone; days when Emily would invite me for a walk or a stroll into town and I’d drag myself out, acutely aware of the poor company I was providing. Days when I’d cry not simply because I was sad, but because I was sad on my year abroad. This was supposed to be fun. 

But mental health doesn’t pay mind to things like ‘once in a lifetime opportunities’ and ‘moving 5,000 km away from all your established support networks’. When it wants to shit all over your carefully constructed plans and dreams, it will do just that.

Now, in the present moment, that time isn’t much fun to think about it. It happened, it sucked, it’s over. I’ve absolutely loved my second semester here, and with the benefit of several months distance, I can now appreciate how that trying time in late fall made my successes and enjoyable experiences more recently all the more powerful. With a summer chock-a-full of travelling and the prospect of reunions with family and friends, right now, even if it’s currently snowing outside (it’s MAY CANADA, M A Y I TELL YOU), I feel on top of the world. I’ve made it through this year, and it’s been one of the most challenging and formative experiences of my life.  Continue reading

The One With No More ‘Studying’ on This Study Abroad

Summer, metaphorically at least, is finally here.

I started writing this blog post on my last official day of studying. Last Monday, I swung by the library for the final time, waited an eon for a computer to boot up, and sent all 29 pages of my take-home essays to the printer. Then, I took the lift to the 9th floor of Desmarais, and handed everything in, with no small amount of joy. I also got back my two major research papers, and did better than I’d expected on both; double-joy.

“You’ve been a pleasure to teach these past two semesters Tessa,” said My Number 1 Bae Heather as she accepted my exam paper, “if you ever need a reference or recommendation let me know. Hell, if you ever come back to Canada let me know. I’d love to supervise you if decided to return for a Masters.”

To which I answered, “Honestly Heather, at this point I’m not ruling it out.”

Because I’m really not ruling it out, returning to Canada for further education that is.

But that’s a topic for another blog post.

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The face of double-joy

Continue reading

The One With Ramblings About the Future

Alright, so this isn’t exactly year abroad related as such, but hey, it’s been something on my mind as a student approaching final year, so I figured it deserved a place on this blog.

I am currently in the midst of exam season and so naturally, during a time I should be heart, mind and soul focused on my current academics, I am thinking of just about anything but. Today especially, I’ve felt uneasy – distracted. Distracted in a way in which my mind keeps circulating back to one question, regardless of what I’m trying to focus on:

What am I doing this for?

What are these exams for? These grades? This degree? Where will they take me, if anywhere? Where am I going with it all, where should I be looking? What experience outside of my degree do I need to get there? What do I want to do, what am I supposed to do? What am I meant to be?

Funny that, how the feeling of “meh, I really don’t fancy getting started on this essay, let’s make a cup of tea instead” descends into a minor existential crisis about my purpose on this earth, but there you go. Continue reading

The One With Some Things I’m Going to Miss

Today is Monday and I have two weeks left of classes this semester. Two weeks left of classes this year.

Two weeks left of Canadian education.

(Well, after that we have exams, but technically all my exams are take-home essays so I’m slightly in denial about the whole thing counting as ‘term time’.)

Obviously Me Being Me and the End Being Nigh I’ve gotten hopelessly introspective about this whole year. Inevitably, I started on a post-it on my desktop with a list of all the things I could think of that I’m going to miss leaving behind. Right at the start of this year I published a post about culture shock  detailing some of the most striking differences between Canada and the UK. I remember asking my Mum what she thought of it, and she laughed and said, “it’s a bit negative isn’t it Tess?”

And looking back on it, although I was exaggerating a bit to add humour, it is a bit negative. It sort of reads like a list of complaints actually, and I don’t think in that post I made clear that those differences, no matter how bizarre or inconvenient, were my motivation for taking on a year abroad. I wanted to be in a new culture, one that made me think about things differently, that challenged my expectations, that made me appreciate my home and education back in the UK. And this year has definitely done that.

Things I Probably Won’t Miss

  • The little girl I share a wall with in my apartment building crying at 2am. Thank god for earplugs.
  • The fact the tipping option appears on the card machine whenever you try to pay at a restaurant and you’re left awkwardly navigating around avoiding giving a 25% tip. (I’m sorry but the GDP/dollar exchange rate is just not the one.)
  • Canada isn’t very cash-heavy as a nation which is fortunate because all the small change is basically indistinguishable silver. Why are the 5s bigger than the 10s, Canada? And why are the 25s about the same size as the 5s? I’ve been here 9 months and I still can’t tell the difference.
  • Cheese costing $12.99. And not even good cheese.
  • The sassy ladies at the bakery in the Social Sciences building who refuse to speak English to you (it’s a biliNGUAL UNIVERSITY LADIES WE DON’T ALL SPEAK FRENCH.)
  • Thursday AM basketball practice; my alarm going off at 5:25am, and making the trek to Montpetit sports hall through the silent and frigid pitch black of a January morning.
  • The 6-month-long-winter I have endured. Never again.
  • Lonely Sunday afternoons killing time, missing my UK housemates like hell, and watching Star Trek before the week starts again.
  • uOttawa’s never-ending concrete complex of a campus. I’m sorry, but you’re kinda fugly.
  • Glitchy Skype calls home awkwardly in the middle of the afternoon because Time Difference Woes.
  • Seeing my dog on Skype and not being able to pet my dog 😦
  • Relying on Facebook messenger to keep in touch with the majority of my friends, and the pressure of the ‘Read’ notification and ‘Last Active’ feature (it’s better than nothing but lord it’s just not the same as catching up in person.)
  • Weather notifications cheerily informing me it’s going to feel like -27 today. (Bearing in mind I got one of those notifications last week. In March.)
  • Prescription costs, and that faff of reimbursing healthcare on insurance (I miss you NHS and I’ll never take you for granted again.)

 

Things I Definitely Will Miss Continue reading

The One With My Ottawa Playlist

Hey hey, we’re 5 days away from the official start of spring and I walked to campus today through a blizzard! Get with the programme North America, winter is old news now! I won’t lie, although I really have loved my winter experience here, there is a little part of me that is missing the crocuses and daffodils of English springs. Canada doesn’t seem to be that fussed about the leaves and general greenery making a return any time soon though, it’s instead a bit preoccupied with dumping a foot of snow on us overnight. Sigh. I’m sure I’ll miss this… one day.

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What is this

The past couple of weeks have been pretty busy. Even though I now don’t have the insane basketball training schedule keeping me occupied (note: there is still training available every day of course, it’s just more chill), the deadlines have been piling up, my goodness me. I’m feeling the brunt of 3 third year classes for sure at the minute. I’ve just handed in a big term paper for my Atheism class, alongside proposals for my Holocaust and American Intellectual Thought research essays. On top of that, Emily and I have been Stressing. Mainly, about final year. There’s so much to think about; dissertation, special module selections, internships, career options, society commitments, applying for Welcome Team – it’s a lot to consider. This being said, I’m trying desperately hard not to live too much in the future, because the present is pretty cool. Actually, I’ve recently been realising just how much of my experience here I am going to miss. This has been compounded by the fact I’ve also recently realised I have less than four weeks of class left. What. the. hell. Where has this semester gone.

In the meantime, I thought I’d give myself a break from essays for the evening and write something a bit different for this blog. Mainly, a rundown on the songs and music that have been getting me through this year abroad. The conversation started when Emily and I were discussing choosing a track to accompany our One Second Everyday videos, and how hard it was going to be picking just one to sum up our year. Fortunately, I had a ready-made shortlist to hand to cover all scenarios… Continue reading

The One With a Reading Week in Boston

It’s been just over two weeks since Emily and I ran away from our reading and responsibilities for a 5 day trip to the states and I am here to tell you was it EVER worth it.

Reading weeks are an important time for the year-abroader. There are a treasured week or so of scheduled freedom, a break from classes and deadlines and readings, where our fellow Canadians go home to see family or go camp-out in the library while our fellow internationals (at least in our case) jet off to Cuba or New York. Emily and I are both due to go to New York and Washington later on this year, but were keen to plan something fun to keep us motivated through the dreariness that is January. Last semester saw us taking a 5 hour train up to Quebec City which we loved, and we wanted another city break but perhaps one that was a little more ambitious. With Toronto and Montreal under our belt, we stretched our horizons to across the border.

Boston, which looks deceptively close on Google Maps, seemed like a good option. A busy, cultural, historical and Instagram-worthy city, that could be properly explored in several days and wasn’t too far. Plus, it seemed like a ‘gentle’ enough American city for a good first experience for me in the U S of A. BONUS PLUS: it just so happened my very, very good friend Ellie (who I coincidentally met on her year abroad in Exeter in my first year) would be in Boston too for some of the days, and bearing in mind I hadn’t seen her for over two years, this seemed like a fantastic opportunity to do so.

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And here she is! It’s been far too long Ellie ❤

With all this Valid Reasoning justifying us depleting our savings accounts yet again, we booked our flights and hostel before Christmas, and put the date on our countdown apps. The trip served as a great motivator through the stress of deadlines and midterms, and honestly, the fact we’re no longer working and that the weather was so gorgeous would probably have been enough for us. But as it was, Boston is also a very cool city, and I thought I’d give a rundown of our highlights and thoughts here:  Continue reading

The One With Some Realisations

Well hey there. It’s 10:30pm on an exceptionally snowy Sunday and the only time I ventured outside today in the blizzard was to buy some bran flakes because I’m sorry, Canadian weather alert or not, nothing is keeping me from my cereal. Breakfast is serious business as far as I’m concerned, especially before a Monday morning 8:30am lecture. Tess 1, Snowstorm nil.

It’s been a tough week. Probably one of the toughest weeks I’ve had here in months, and I’ve felt a little bit ‘out of it’ for the past few days. I won’t go into details as it’s not my story to share on the internet, but let it be said I cried quite a lot initially on finding out some sad news, have not been sleeping great, and have had an awful lot of time to Think About Things.

I’m alright now, and will keep getting better, but it’s unfortunately one of those situations which really hits home on a very personal and emotional level and you can’t snap back from immediately.

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Location of said-instagram but mid-snowstorm instead

This post was inspired by a) an instagram caption I was very proud of (tragic I know) and b) a realisation I had the other day about one of my blog posts I wrote before I came to Canada. It was way back last summer during the time I was housebound with my busted ankle, and I was beginning to Fret. So naturally, in true Tess Fashion, I wrote a list, The One With a List of Fears, and felt better about things.

Reading that post back now is strangely surreal; I was amped up with so many expectations and and so much excitement, so much fear for the unknown and anticipation about how things would turn out. I was also, despite my best intentions and best stalking of year abroad blogs, hopelessly naive about what this year would be like.

It was on reading through my checklist of worries however, that I realised something. Every single one of my main fears about this year abroad has come true, in some way or another. Continue reading

The One With Keeping On and Making the Most of Winter

Alternatively titled: The One With An Escape to the Country, A Trip to the Theatre and a Whole Lot of Free Cheese

I honestly struggled for a title for this, as you can probably tell. ‘Keeping on’ implies a certain mundanity, a dogged day-to-day existence, plowing through the necessities because sometimes that’s what life is; just keeping on. That alone is certainly not a wholly accurate image of how my first month of 2017 in Canada has treated me, but it is partially true. Those January blues? They’ve been tough to shake, and have required some pretty persistence determination to keep on. My classes for the year aren’t nearly as exciting as last semester (more on that later), and as I’m now training 5 times a week with the team for 2-3 hours a day I am shattered too. Emily, bless her, (and I hope she’ll forgive me for sharing this), has had a particular rough time. While I had my real low point last semester, she’s definitely struggled more recently, what with an injury that stops her going out with her lovely Ottawa running group, and having to return to Canada after a family-filled Christmas holiday in the UK. It has been Emily’s turn for the tears, for the hugs (which I am told I am very good at it and am always willing to provide); but she’s getting through. That girl is one tough cookie, and I respect and love her enormously.

All this being said, I have had some truly lovely, exciting and awesome moments over the past month, and in part to remind myself of just how far from merely ‘keeping on’ January has been for me, I thought I’d document them here. They were all a little too small and unrelated in their own right, but they work well as a ‘feel good’ list, as well as proof of what a good job Emily and I have done at maintaining our motivation to get out and do things. Honestly, I’m not the type to blow my own trumpet, but I’m so proud of us. It’s still around 5 months till we’re back home with family, our class assessments are piling on, the winter shows no sign of letting up, there are meals to be made, roommates to be reconciled with; and yet we’re still trying our damnedest to do something ‘touristy’ at least once a week.

We’ve done good Emily, and we’ve had a bloody great time doing so.

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A List Of Cool January Things And Why It Didn’t Totally Suck As A Month

  • An Escape to the Country

The only family I have here in Canada is my Aunt who lives a bit of a way away over on the West Coast near Vancouver. Fortunately, one of my Dad’s good friends through work lives in Ottawa. Even more fortunately, he’s also one of the nicest human beings you’ll ever meet, and that’s by Canadian standards. Andrew and his wife Mary work in Ottawa, but they also are slowly transitioning to their retirement home, a cottage they built from the ground up on Amherst Island, just outside of Kingston. They also have two gorgeous labradors. Me being me, (i.e in a continual state of denial over how much I miss my own dog) I was all too enthusiastic to accept an offer from Andrew a few Fridays ago to go and spend that weekend with them and the dogs. Continue reading

The One With A Bit of a Highlight

This won’t be a particularly long post – I have other more far more lengthy, ‘useful’ and better-prepared posts sitting in my drafts – but I just wanted to take a half hour to sit down and record this moment while it’s still relatively fresh in my mind, this snapshot experience that I think I’ll take away as one of the absolute highlights of this year.

I’ve talked about basketball before, and I’m afraid for those of you who really could not care less, this is going to be another one of those posts. My experience of training with the varsity team here has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, requiring major commitment, insane amounts to learn, and a whole lot of courage and determination to keep at it. It’s quickly become one of the most central aspects of my life here in Ottawa, it’s a daily experience of drills, sprints, shoots and game plays to learn.

And that’s just been the practices. Because for all I’ve talked about basketball, and despite all the assumptions of friends and family back home, I haven’t actually morphed into a sporting superstar over night, making the starting five by week 2 of being in Ottawa. The standard is so much higher here than in the UK, the competition all the more intense; I quickly realised that having no game-time at all for the entire year was a quite feasible reality. And I was totally okay with that. I’ve come to feel such a part of the team that I genuinely want their success far above and beyond my own contribution; these girls work so hard, I want them to do as well as they can, even if that only involves me training with them at practices.

This changed last week however. I was given the heads up, completely out of nowhere it seemed to me, that if I was going to be ‘dressed’ (i.e. put in official kit on the bench), it would be the following week for the Saturday game. This both terrified and absolutely thrilled me. I had initially put ‘Represent the Gee-Gees!’ on my bucket list here on this blog, but after the first month of brutal practices and realising how much I’d have to catch up on, I took it down, thinking it was unrealistic. Now I was being given not just a ‘maybe’ but a ‘potentially’. Wearing the kit was enough of an honour, to get 30 seconds on the court would be amazing. Continue reading