Ketchup, Skinny-Dipping and Knock and Run: How the last day of my twenties turned into a challenge…

Two days before I turned thirty, I made the mistake of reading an article on how life changes in your thirties. It was full of predictions of having early nights, of patronising gloom about hangovers and not understanding popular music, and of not particularly funny anecdotes about choosing furniture. In short, it was all the stuff that is Only Allowed To Happen To Other People.

In a mixture of gloom and annoyance, I decided that I’d better make pretty darn sure I had enough fun whilst still in my twenties to last the whole of the next decade. This was clearly the only mature and rational response to a fear of becoming boring. But I only had 24 hours and 9 hours of childcare. What to do…?

I did as any sensible-thinking person would do, and opened the debate up to everyone on facebook. I asked for extremely childish challenges I could complete in that last day, and promised to actually do all the ones that looked like fun.

My lovely facebook friends came up with a list, and I figured I’d list here all the ones I didn’t in fact choose for various reasons…

  • Ask if there’s pudding between every mouthful  – I didn’t have anyone to ask for most meals.
  • Put on a hoodie and hang around a shopping-centre food court, ignoring the sterile artificial consumerism of the environment – Lack of hoodie a problem here. (Doesn’t make me old.)
  • Spend 5 hours in your room playing Minecraft and grunt in response to any question – I was supposed to ENJOY the challenges. Who has 5 hours to waste on their last day being 20-something?!
  • Skip all the way to the shops – I hate looking like a girl. Unless it’s like the sort of girl your mother warned you about. Then, it’s clearly fine. (If not always appropriate or appreciated.)
  • Stand outside and sing at the top of your voice – I only got this one late in the evening, and having not that long before treated much of the village to my singing at the panto, I figured they deserved a break… (Social conscience doesn’t make me old either.)
  • Build a fort out of cushions and fall asleep in it – This was one of my absolute favourites. Frustratingly, I fell asleep BEFORE building the fort. But in fairness, that was down to one of the other suggestions. (Still doesn’t make me old.)

You can tell a lot about the people involved from this list. None of it is good…

Unfortunately, you can probably tell more by the list of challenges I actually accepted.

The Accepted Challenges

The day dawned, and with it began the Eight Tasks of Lodge. My first challenge proved to be a little tough around lunchtime:

  • Eat ketchup with everything

It went fine with a fake-ham bagel, but having squeezed a liberal snake of the stuff onto my mango yoghurt, I felt a little bit ill. But a challenge is a challenge, and I started spooning it in and swallowing it quickly. It only hit me halfway through that there was actually no discernible difference between tangy mango and tangy ketchup. Got to prove that I have no adult taste-buds yet, surely?

Childishness score of 8.

(NB – ketchup on banana turned out to be just disgusting. Learn from my suffering.)

  • Do a head stand

This was a tough one, since I’d decided to photograph all my exploits. Headstand selfies are tricky, and generally seemed to involve taking pictures of the sky or a super close-up of my armpit. So I dragooned my sister into taking a picture at a safe distance. Various items of furniture came off less well from the leg flailing.

Childishness score of 6.

  • Lick the road

This was the most absurd of all the challenges. I still wasn’t sure I got it by the time I did it. But obviously, given the first challenge, I had to lick it with ketchup on. I also needed another photographer, and this time my Dad actually volunteered to help out. You’ve got to respect a parent who wants to see their child achieve their dreams.

I waited until no traffic was coming and then poured a liberal pile of the stuff on the (wet, muddy) road near my house, just next to the white line. In all honesty, it looked like nothing so much as a giant, red turd done by something suffering from food poisoning. But I gamely licked it up, and it was harder than I’d thought to taste the tarmac.

Childishness score of 7

  • Go skinny dipping in the Cam

The biggest mission of the lot – this involved waiting till it was dark (I’m childish, not a flasher) and then driving to Grantchester, where I trekked across a really squishy field in the dark (and ruined my trainers – rage) until I got to the riverbank.

At this point, I realised that it wasn’t just muddy on the ground. The whole river was a giant, swollen brown sludge. It looked about as appetising as sinking my feet into the footwell of my car*.

It was also pretty darn cold. I did a pathetic, squealing strip-off into a towel whilst dancing around on my trainers to avoid getting my feet muddy. Afterwards, it occurred to me that this was pretty stupid given the state of the river, so I gave up, squelched over to the edge (after taking a pic, obviously) and then from a sitting position squelched into the disgusting oozing mud of the river-bed.

The worst part over, immersing myself in it actually wasn’t too bad. Obviously it was horribly cold, but the moment I jumped back out, the comparably warm night air felt toasty.

Childishness score of 8 (hard one to judge, but it was pretty hardcore so I’m giving myself points for that)

  • Doing a knock-and-run

I was back in my well-to-do village by this point, and the person who suggested it happened to live there. It made total sense to make him the victim of it, and I headed over to his house laughing gleefully to myself.

I then crept up to the door, and pressed the bell – which turned out not to work. But hearing movement inside, I legged it and only just managed to hide behind the family car in time for the door to open.

Instead of my equally immature contemporary-ish (25, so obviously on the younger, less enlightened side) I had done a knock-and-run on his long-suffering Dad. Who then discussed the fact that he’d seen someone for a while before, mercifully, going back inside.

If nothing else, the exercise got my adrenaline going. I’m hoping the concerned person did not let on to his parents that it was me. Either way, I’ve not brought it up since – and I ran most of the way home.

Childishness rating: 9.5

  • Having a midnight feast – and making a cocktail out of all the really gross stuff in the drinks’ cupboard

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s actually pretty hard to mess up a cocktail. Even the worst once conceivable seem to come out tasting like vimto. I just tried not to look at this one too closely, as the congealed creamy ones floating around in the fruity or coffee-based ones were just not appetising.

For the midnight feast element, I added in a couple of cakes appropriately raided from my parents’ supply, and settled down to scarf it all in bed.

Unfortunately, the main effect of the cocktail was to knock me out in about 20 minutes, so I didn’t get to post photos on Facebook. But darn it, did it remind me of being a child. (And in particular, of that family BBQ where a load of us made a disgusting concoction out of all the drinks we could find and christened it Thames Water, after which one of our number was violently sick into the corner of the gazebo.)

Childishness rating: 7

All in all, the day of challenges did exactly the best thing possible. It made me feel like a massive child, and got me through until the 30-years-old morning when I realised that I hadn’t grown up in the slightest.

Originally, I left it there. But I’ve since realised that doing things that are challenging, silly and childish are actually utterly empowering** – which is why I’ve decided to do a day of challenges each month of the Year of 30.

I want everyone who reads to get involved. Post your suggestions below – and make them silly! I’ll do everything that isn’t either dangerous or really expensive (I also draw the line at actually hurting other people. Unless it’s really, really funny and they’ll laugh afterwards… :-D) – and since I missed the 8th, I’m going to do Thirty-Going-On-Twelve day this Thursday the 27th of February.

There’ll be photos, and havoc, and I promise you a good laugh if you check back…

Gytha Lodge is an award-winning writer and director, as well as a single parent of one totally nuts three-year-old.

She has a hit online fantasy series for young adults (and grown-ups) on Wattpad, the first book of which is the Watty Award nominated The Fragile Tower.

You can follow her on Wattpad, Facebook and Twitter. Image

How I Made Paxman Blush (and coincidentally lost University Challenge…)

With Pete Stevens’ rather successful article letting the cat partially out of the bag, I concluded that the time was ripe to tell the story of one nineteen-year-old university contestant, a load of questions she couldn’t answer, and a daring outfit…

In 2002, I began an English degree at the extremely tiny Corpus Christi College in Cambridge, which hadn’t seen a team on University Challenge in anyone’s memory – though I hear another team is at last going on the show this year, so watch this space.

Contrary to what I thought before we applied, you can’t just put a team in for the show and immediately get on TV. So when four of us with very little background in quizzing except a few school competitions and Christmas games of Trivial Pursuit decided to enter, We had to go through a series of tests to get there. The first hurdle was a general knowledge test we completed in our own time which was said to be all but impossible to google (yes, they did have google when I was 19. And computers and mobiles and things. But it was, of course, marginal, and the phones were approximately the same size as my entire handbag.). I’m not sure if this was true. I didn’t try the googling tactic as my slightly paranoid thinking about the power of Jeremy Paxman made me afraid that if I tried, he would Find Out Somehow.

We sent off our efforts and waited, and to our mild surprise, found that we had made it to the next round. This was an altogether more complex procedure. We had to sit in a room with a TV person, and prove that we could actually communicate in the English language when faced with stressful circumstances (this is harder than it sounds). Thereafter we filled in a series of questions as a team, where we scored as long as one of us answered a question right, and we had to fill in our availability for the show itself. Oddly enough, I did better at the former than the latter, since my “I think I’m busy” for the week of the most important rowing races of the term didn’t get logged somewhere, and when we did get our place, it was to find that I was filming over the top of the last day of racing. Not so great when you’re the boat club captain and your college has put your exams over the other remaining days…

But that’s a less significant story for another day. On with University Challenge. We arrived late on Friday evening, exhausted after a long train journey to Manchester (all of us) and a really crazy week of trying to sit exams and organise a crew to make it out to race without me (just me). On Saturday, we made our way to the studio, where we had the first actual argument we had ever had as a team.

It concerned the top I wanted to wear, which was in fact the same zippy number you can see in the picture at the top of this blog. The one male member of our team felt that the way I was wearing it was somewhat too revealing.  I was unwilling to sacrifice my very carefully chosen zip position in order to keep him happy. It might have turned nasty if it hadn’t been for the revelation that the light-up surname that was going to be in front of me actually covered up the problem entirely. Instead of a potentially over-revealing line of cleavage, what the viewer would see was in fact “LODGE” in capital letters.

And then the competition began. Among other things that it would be useful to know at this point were the following: 1) We were all 18 or 19 years old, except for our History of Art student who I think might have been 21; 2) We were up against the Royal Northern College of Music, which we thought was a win, as they’d only know about music; 3) It turned out that our opposition were in fact all about 35, and had previously taken multiple other degrees in variously chemistry, world literature, classical sculpture, astrophysics and trivial pursuit.*

All the apparent disadvantages would have been insignificant, however, against the one really significant unfairness of the show. The other team had a really not-cricket tactic where they kept buzzing in and answering the questions correctly.

Put simply, we sucked. I specifically sucked. I only answered three questions, and the one redeeming feature of the show for me (where I insulted the other team’s dress sense) didn’t make it to the final cut. There was little to shout about – and little did I know that I was about to experience my one Claim to Fame that I would be able to look back on and laugh to myself over.

We made our dolorous way backstage to sit around with the other teams, drinking tea and commiserating with the unsuccessful, and covertly flicking sugar and biscuit crumbs at the winners. At this point, none other than question-master Jeremy Paxman generously joined us. He made charming conversation about getting ahead, about choice of career, and about university life.

The part where I come in is when I sat at the opposite side of the table from him, with my name no longer emblazoned in lighted letters in front of me. For five solid minutes, dear, impressionable Mr. Paxman conversed with the chap from the Royal Northern College of Music who was sitting next to him. And in all that time, his eyes never once left the point where my zip ended and my cleavage began.

Obviously, I wasn’t going to get too angry about this. My nineteen-year-old self had worn said top for a reason. However, when Jeremy eventually happened to glance six inches higher and caught my eye, I wasn’t above giving him a look that I think could be best described with the acronym “WTF”?

And then it happened, that famous moment that was to shape my early career** – Jeremy Paxman, the scourge of politicians and theorists alike, blushed. It was one of those really wonderful blushes that starts at the collar and works its way right up to the hairline.

So in reality, you could say that Jeremy made himself blush. But I’ve still got it on my (non-work-related) CV, because who wouldn’t want to feel like they’d got a rather strangely non-feminist one over on a chap like Paxman?

I hope that Jeremy remembers the incident, although it might be that such things are more common than I think. Perhaps, off-screen, Mr. Paxman is a blushing English rose. Either way, it’s an incident I could hardly fail to write up.

 

*This might be a little exaggerated

**This is definitely exaggerated

 

Gytha Lodge is an award-winning theatrical writer and director, as well as a single parent of one totally nuts three-year-old.

She has a hit online fantasy series for young adults (and grown-ups) on Wattpad, the first book of which is the Watty Award nominated The Fragile Tower.

You can follow her on Wattpad, Facebook and Twitter.

Cyber Bullying: Why the law needs to keep up with virtual reality

The Labour Party’s call for a “proper legal framework” to tackle cyber bullying is only surprising in that it has taken this long to be voiced.

Cyber bullying has been a serious problem for some time. It is two years since the 2012 Virtual Violence II: Progress and Challenges in the Fight against Cyberbullying report which revealed that 1 in 13 children experienced long-term cyber-bullying, with 5% of those self-harming, and a terrible 3% of them attempting suicide. At the stage this report was created, 52% of that bullying happened on Facebook. It is only more recently that ask.fm – a site where users can post with complete anonymity – has come onto the scene, and since its creation there have been four teenage suicides in the UK alone related to bullying on the site.

The UK is not alone in its experiences of teenage suicide related to internet abuse. High profile cases in the US include the appallingly misogynistic attitudes towards Amanda Todd and Retaeh Parsons – both of whom were vilified for sexual activity (in one case, being raped by her school-friends) and ended up committing suicide.

There have been arguments – notably from the mother of ask.fm’s founders – that parents are responsible for letting their children online too often, and with too little supervision. Many schools have recommended that students simply be kept away from the sites, but this is equivalent to telling children to stay off the playground. And having experienced the real-life kind of bullying for a short while in primary school, I can tell you that staying home from school or claiming you’re too ill to go out into the playground does not help your case. It gives the bullies more cannon-fodder, and pushes you apart from the friends who might have stood up to protect you. In my case, the bullying only stopped when I deliberately goaded the group of older girls into a physical attack in view of my then teacher, who entered the fray like nemesis itself and scared the living daylights out of them. But where are the people like her on ask.fm? Where are they on facebook, on MSN, on Twitter?

The internet, and in particular social networking sites, are where teenagers are these days. Attempting to keep the victims from these sites is further isolating them, and is ignoring the problem of the bullying itself. The internet is not going to go away. What needs to leave the party is this sense that it is an anonymised, consequence-free realm in which the angry, spiteful or unhappy can make themselves feel better by destroying the confidence of others.

Some fingers have been pointed at the site providers. In the case of ask.fm, which came under fire after 15-year-old Hannah Smith killed herself after being told to “die of cancer” and various other forms of abuse, the site responded by putting in place some easier ways of blocking users and of reporting them. But in the aftermath of those site changes, users complain that no action is taken after individuals are reported, and Hannah’s father is amongst those who feel that the changes are nowhere near good enough.

It is easy to see where these complaints are coming from. Making it easier to block users is not doing anything to affect the lack of accountability of the individuals who troll others, and they are able to simply create another anonymous account and keep going. The lack of any fear of consequences was clear when a tribute site to Hannah was trolled in its turn.

It is clear that the victims of these attacks need protecting, but more than that, the bullies themselves need some kind of system of action and reaction. Most of the trolls are teenagers, and when they are caught, they frequently claim that they never thought it would have that effect. The Belgian 16-year-old who hounded Hannah Smith the day before her death tweeted directly afterwards about his fear, claiming he “never thought it would go that far.”

There are very few arrests made of trolls, thanks to our muddy laws on what is and isn’t legal. And this only encourages the feeling of unreality and total unresponsibility of those who troll online. What kind of learning is it that it is possible to hound someone to either suicidal depression or to death, and to escape all consequences? What world is it that lets them voice attitudes that are at odds with every humanitarian or equality-based principle of the countries in which they live, and gives no comeback? At least if they were to say these things in public, there would be some kind of argument. But anonymously, online, they are safe in their bigotry or – perhaps worse – in their deliberate adoption of appalling attitudes in order to hurt.

It was in many respects encouraging to see that, in the US, Rebecca Sedwick’s tormenters were arrested after her suicide http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2013/1121/Charges-dropped-in-Rebecca-Sedwick-suicide-case.-Did-the-system-work-video – before the charges were dropped. Whether the charges ultimately being dropped was a good thing or a bad thing is unclear. It is possible that the arrest might have been enough to scare a girl who felt free enough of guilt that she tweeted: ‘Yes IK [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd [sic] she killed her self but IDGAF [I don’t give a f***]’, and that in not actually charging her, the justice system has made it possible for the two particular girls who bullied her to have some kind of normal future. But for the rest of the world, the case probably stands as a sad indictment of the process of law. Katelyn Roman was able to stand behind a defence that her Facebook account was “hacked” and she did not make the comments urging Rebecca to drink bleach, etc. And if you’ve been a member of any social networking site, you’ll probably have seen this excuse used time and time again once the trolls have been caught.

So the bullies need accountability as much as the victims do, as a warning that their actions have real consequences. There have too many high-profile cases of teenage suicide after cyber bullying, and not enough cases of high-profile prosecutions.

Reading all this as an online user, I desperately want the sites that I use to stay free of this kind of trolling. Even as a self-confident 30-year-old, I find positive contact on sites such as Wattpad or Facebook (the latter generally with people I know well, but not always) really motivating and warming. It gives me a little glow every time someone makes a nice comment about a post or a book or a story; even about a photo. And having once been the victim of a very inept attempt at trolling from the boyfriend of someone I disagreed with, I can tell you that I am still annoyed about it to this day. It may be virtual, but there is nothing unreal about the effects of online interactions.

And reading as a parent, I’d hope that these measures might be in place long before my three-year-old son becomes embroiled in the world of social networking. I wince thinking about him being subjected to the kind of attitudes expressed in trolling posts. But changes in the law still can’t happen soon enough, because there are teenagers now being undermined; being attacked; and being driven to feel that this bullying is so inescapable that they can only escape it by committing suicide. It’s desperately sad, and heart-breakingly avoidable.

Gytha Lodge is an award-winning theatrical writer and director, as well as a single parent of one totally nuts three-year-old.

She has a hit online fantasy series for young adults (and grown-ups) on Wattpad, the first book of which is the Watty Award nominated The Fragile Tower.

You can follow her on Wattpad, Facebook and Twitter.