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Reaching the Pot of Gold by Jess Calcutt

An incredibly reflective post, from an incredibly tough cookie..

2018, however dramatic this following statement seems (trust me I am aware), was, to date, the best year of my life.

On the 10th January, my grandmother’s 82nd birthday, I flew to the other side of the world to pursue my very stereotypical, ex-independent schoolgirl gap yah. The flight to New Zealand was stressful, it was my first experience, not only flying on my own, but flying long-haul and having to transfer at different airports. I was a nervous wreck, constantly checking the time, checking for any delays and constantly interrupting whatever film I was watching to look at the map of where we currently were. All of which was made worse by being trapped to my window seat by the fat elderly couples I seemed to always get sat beside me. But despite this, my biggest regret of that flight is not taking advantage of the free booze and this remains to be the only regret I have of my whole 5 months away.

‘I really felt genuinely happy.’

The feeling of being trapped did not last for long and on arriving in New Zealand not only did I feel free and relaxed for the first time in months, I really felt genuinely happy. It wasn’t that I hadn’t been happy before, I had been, but before it was a happiness in anticipation, always waiting for something better, and now it had. New Zealand and my brief stay in Sydney was, without a doubt, incredible. I had the odd day when I felt homesick but I feel lucky in saying these were few and far between and I don’t think I ever once felt lonely.

Those of you who have travelled on your own staying in hostels, will know that not only is being alone a physical impossibility, unless you can somehow afford a private room (in which case, I’m sorry, but you’re not doing it right), but also from the moment you have the balls to approach someone they instantly become your friend. I think it’s to do with everyone being in the same boat, everyone is there for the same reason, to travel, to meet people, to experience a new place but most importantly to have fun.

Part 2.

This concept very much follows on to the second part of “the best year of my life”: starting uni. After returning back from travelling, I was broke, so there ensued the longest summer of my life (although I’m sure this Corona summer is going to beat that) working at a golf club. I won’t lie, it was painful and in summary I don’t like (the majority of) golfers. Needless to say when September came around and therefore the start of term and moving to uni, I was 100% ready to take everything it had to offer. However, on arriving at my halls, not only was I terrified but I was also slightly concerned about the close similarity my room had, with what I would imagine, a prison cell to look like.

Once I had got over this initial shock of now having to live in a prison cell for a year, in a flat where two people couldn’t actually physically pass each other in the corridor, I quickly settled into the normal freshers’ antics. As I said about travelling and meeting people, I was very lucky in the fact that the other 11 (yes 11!) people in my flat were all just as open to meeting new people and having fun as I was. In all honesty I don’t remember the first few weeks of uni very well, first impressions are all blurred into one, not just because of excessive alcohol consumption, but I think because of the nerves of experiencing something so new and it all being quite overwhelming. However, that first term at uni was and think still is the best term I’ve had at university.

Happy new Year!

With the best year of my life over, I was anxious to see what 2019 had to offer me and whilst it started by working at the golf club on NYE, I was optimistic that uni would continue to provide the good times and that it did. This is where it gets slightly harder to write. My Dad has MS and in April 2019 it started to become apparent that after 17 odd years of having it and being basically fine, he was starting to go downhill quite rapidly. So we started looking into the treatment of HSCT or stem-cell transplant in an attempt to, if not stop the MS, buy us some time. At around the same time my grandmother, now 83, got diagnosed with cancer. Despite this, life continued as normal, just about. A trip to Moscow for dad to receive this treatment was arranged for August and with the clock ticking on that and my granny receiving chemo we continued on with our busy lives, and actually everything was fine up until July 22nd. The reason for the specificity of this is that it was my 20th birthday on July 21st and up until then the countdown on Russia had been on pause so that we could all enjoy it. When my birthday had passed the real stress began.

After a week in Moscow, settling my dad in at the hospital, my mum and I returned home to find that my granny had deteriorated massively and was now in hospital. It unfortunately was not a good prognosis and so we attempted to balance travelling up to Essex multiple times a week to visit her and my granddad, with talking to dad over facetime multiple times a day, to both my mum and I attempting to work. And it really wasn’t fun, I was sad and scared constantly, not only about my granny but about how dad was responding to the actually quite dangerous treatment he was receiving in Russia. I didn’t know what to do about it and so I resorted to distracting myself in any possible way.

Unfortunately, my granny passed away at the end of August and her funeral was held just a couple of days before dad returned from Russia. Singing ‘Supermarket Flowers’ by Ed Sheeran at her funeral, will continue to be one of the proudest and saddest moments of my life.

Since then and dads return from Russia, life has slowly but surely been getting back to normal. After ending the year as a bit of a mess, I had high hopes that 2020, the year I turned 21, was going to be the new 2018. Unfortunately, due to corona virus this hasn’t been the case, and whilst this global pandemic engulfs our lives, it has got me thinking. It has made me realise how fortunate I was to have such an incredible gap year and first term at uni, which now some people won’t even have the chance to experience. It has made me grateful that I was able to visit my granny, even though she was so sick. That I had the opportunity to say goodbye, I had the chance to celebrate her life at her funeral. My Dad had the opportunity to travel to Russia to receive what has been a life changing treatment. There are so many people this year, who will be in the same situation I was in, in either 2018 or 2019, but won’t have the opportunity for the same first experiences travelling or at uni, or who won’t even be able to say goodbye to their loved ones in their final moments; the virus has taken that from them.

Despite the dramatic ups and downs that the past two years have given me, I’m grateful for them, as I was able to experience them to the full. Corona Virus taking over our lives was never in anyone’s plan and it is quite understandable that we can feel a bit lost at this difficult time, particularly if life wasn’t that easy before. But if I have learnt anything from the last two years, it is this: you can’t give up, things will always get better however bleak they seem and it is these ups and downs of life that will eventually define you and make yourself a person to be proud of.

Jess Calcutt

When you live with someone for 2 years, you know them in a really particular way. You see them at their literal highs and lows and Jess and I have seen our fair share of each others. The respect I have for the woman is astounding – not for a moment did she let the ball drop and the strength and stability she procured is Herculean and it’s a pleasure to have seen her grow up all too quickly these past two years. When she’s not riding horses, Jess is studying Art History & Visual Culture at the University of Exeter. (or online shopping)


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