Cat Mac in the Castle


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The Bader Bucket List

“I should have taken you down to the lighthouse”, Mitch had said to Nick and I, as we wandered along Beachy Head, a chalk headland just outside of coastal town Eastbourne.

“No worries, we’ve got a whole 6 months ahead of us”, I had replied. “Plenty of time”.

beachy head. jan 2014.

beachy head. jan 2014.

6 months later. Where did the time go?

As the excitement of a new job surrounded me last Monday, the realisation that my time at the castle was coming to an abrupt end began to sink in. Had I taken my castle location for granted? Definitely. Inspired by the student life coordinators’ recommendation to students to make bucket lists before they left the castle, I decided to do the same. Presenting my Bader Bucket list. 2014.

bader bucket list 2014

bader bucket list 2014

Cat: “Guys, I really don’t like camping, I won’t sleep. I can’t sleep anywhere that’s not a bed”.

Nick & Erin: “But it’s on your bucket list! You have to do it!”

But how did it make it onto my bucket list? In my handwriting? I don’t quite understand, I must have been in a state of hypnosis or something. Determined to assist me in living my supposed dreams, Nick and Erin took it upon themselves to set up camp. In my living room.

the wild nature of bader hall room A96

the wild nature of bader hall room A96

I almost left them to it. My bed was in the next room after all. But for the sake of the bucket list, and for the bonding experience with my two best friends, I embraced the indoor camping. And fell asleep immediately, note, not in a bed! Amazing. (However, I did wake up at 2am and retreated swiftly to the comfort of my own bed). Camping, tick. Sleepover, tick. Two for the price of one!

~ ~ ~

This term, the castle ran a 6 week archaeology programme for which Erin came over from Canada to work as an assistant. As part of the programme, students searched for treasure on real life digs. At least, this is how Nick and I liked to summarise their activity. One morning we went along to see what it was all about and got stuck into some serious trowelling.

cat: nick let's look hilarious!! nick: sighhhhh

trowel war!!! note my arm: solid tan much.

No, but we actually did do something. And we found some ribs! Ribs. Treasure. Same thing.

archaeologists in the making

archaeologists in the making

After one morning of digging, we were ready for bed. Utterly. Exhausted. That afternoon, we retreated to the comfort of our office for some hardcore administration  with a new found respect for our archaeology pals.

~~~

“Just to check, this castle that you’re referring to, is that where you’re currently working?”.

Ah yes, my castle. I’ve perhaps become a bit blasé and casual about the whole working in a castle thing.

At the end of each term, students are given the opportunity to go up to the battlements of the castle and gain a birds-eye-esque perspective of the castle and its grounds.

“Fancy giving us a tour?”, I asked Joe, the man in charge. An hour later, my colleagues and I were up on the battlements, living the dream. During my last week at the castle, I had several opportunities to truly appreciate the castle and this was one of them. Got to love a view that looks like this, especially when it’s so marvellously sunny.

view from above. #hellolaw

view from above. #hellolaw

~~~
Late in my Herstmonceux hibernation, I discovered Limecross Nursery, a garden nursery complete with epic café, located on the outskirts of the village, a cheeky half hour wander from the castle. My love of cafés is up there with my love of Andy Murray, so I was delighted to make the discovery, especially when I learned about their wine bar Friday event. Who doesn’t want to spend their Friday evening eating artisan bread and locally-sourced cheese, accompanied by wine? What a fine, inspired idea. A few weeks before departing from the castle, a few of us embraced the wine bar Friday concept and had a delightful evening.

happiness

happiness

The castle has its very own café called Chestnuts, which provides all sorts of delightful treats, including the well-known English cream tea. Before departing, I had intended to gorge myself in this treat-tastic English invention, as well as drag best buddy Nick along to the wine bar event at Limecross. Circumstances meant neither of these dreams were quite lived out but I did succeed in having multiple coffees at Chestnuts, and also managed to persuade Nick to come to Limecross for lunch, with Erin and uni-pal Sara. So… half a bucket list dream + half a bucket list dream = a whole bucket list dream!

enjoying one of many chestnut coffees in the castle gardens

enjoying one of many chestnut coffees in the castle gardens

lunchin' chez limecross

lunchin’ chez limecross

~~~
I can’t swim. There once was a day that I could but that day has long gone. And for the record, it’s not the same as riding a bike; you do forget. However, I still love the water. My favourite cities in the world are those beside expanses of water, whether that be Barcelona, Kagoshima or Sydney. One of the local seaside cities in East Sussex is Brighton which, over the six months, continued to win me over. Inspired by Nick and Erin’s trip to the beach the previous weekend, we decided to journey to Brighton on my last full day.

There I was, perfectly content just dipping my feet in the water, whilst I watched my friends splash about in the sea.

“Have you got your phone on you?”, Nick asked.
“Nope”, I replied. I had stored my iPhone in the depths of my bag, far away from the sand and the water.

“Good!”, he responded before running out, picking me up and throwing me into the water, fully ignoring my high-pitched screams.”Now you can really tick it off your bucket list!”.

After a lot of screaming, splashing and swallowing of salt water, I returned to the safety of the beach, surprised but delighted to have survived the ordeal, although on reflection, the water really wasn’t that deep.

a wee bit wet

a wee bit wet

~~~
Lewes is a nearby village, known for its wealth and its quirk. I’d always wanted to go but had failed to live the dream, despite some valid attempts.

“Is everyone ok with us taking a detour via Lewes?”, Adam, the minibus driver had asked, as we made our return trip back from Brighton.

Despite shivering from our previous water adventures, everyone agreed and off we went. I’ll definitely have to return to the village for some quality shop and café time, but I can now say I’ve been there – and even have a jumping photo to prove it!

look at nick go!

jumping at lewes castle! there is a castle behind us, honest. somewhere.

~~~
It was my last night at the castle. Christina, a PHD student at the castle, had suggested we had a potluck meal where she would make pizzas from scratch. Having heard her talk about her favourite recipes, I knew this could only be a good thing. And that it was. I didn’t have to do much to live out this final bucket list dream, other than hang out with friends, watch some dramatic football on TV, and consume a lot of very good food. It was the perfect end to my six-month stint.

food + friends = perfect

food + friends = perfect

~~~

Ok, so I didn’t make a musical with Rob, nor did I watch the sunrise from Beachy Head. But I believe I made a valiant effort of tackling the bucket list, together with the assistance of my friends. I guess it just means I’ll have to go back.

Back to my castle.

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It’s Over and Done With

Last night, after a final rendition of Timber, a flashback to the glory days of Destiny’s Child, and a very appropriately-timed singing of ‘It’s Over and Done With’ by Sunshine on Leith’s biggest fans, we hugged and said our goodbyes to the students of the winter term 2014. This morning, the majority of the students departed on coaches, most of whom will never return to the castle again.

last night in the pub

last night in the pub

It’s been a mixed couple of weeks. Classes ended for the students and we had a very swish Gatsby-themed end of term celebration. Cue me discovering the wonders of Ebay and just how easy it is to keep on bidding. Yes, I will wear my gold feather hairband every day thanks, it accidentally cost me 16 quid.

with kaitlin and the castle. spot the gold, feather hairband.

with kaitlin and the castle. spot the feather hairband, it’s there, honest.

The following day, our chamber choir performed at St Nicolas’ church in Pevensey. After a series of performances from the extremely talented choir members, we launched into our 30 minute rendition of Handel’s Gloria, a piece that I’d grown to love despite being initially skeptical of the potential-for-enjoyment factor. Unfortunately, I have no photographic evidence to document this event but scroll down my Facebook wall and see video coverage of a cheeky sample we performed as part of the end of term celebrations.

Exams followed for the students whilst I launched my tennis career in the hidden tennis court of the castle grounds. See you at Wimbledon, Andy. Not really, but I am enjoying the benefits of having castle grounds at my disposal and longer evenings with which to enjoy them. Cheers daylight savings, you’re da best.

the castle meets starry night

the castle meets starry night

When I returned from the pub last night, I was presented with a watercolour painting by one of the students. There had been a charity auction earlier in the term and my bid of £25 had won me a watercolour painting of a subject of my choice. I asked for a painting of the castle, featuring a sole bagpiper, the student suggested a Van Gogh inspired starry-night sky, and my friend Mitch kindly donated his canvas to the cause. The picture above shows the end result #epic I’m so chuffed with it, hence me taking the canvas down to the castle earlier this evening for a wee photo shoot.

Whilst the castle experience may be over and done with for the students, my castle adventure is only midway, with the new group of students due to arrive at the beginning of May. In the meantime though, I’m all set for a break.

6 days until take-off, CatMac is returning to Japan!


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Running With Gribben

As if being silent for an entire day hadn’t been enough of a challenge, that same week I found myself standing at a specially created starting line outside the castle, ready to embark on a one mile run around the grounds.

we're not really going to do this, are we?

we’re not really going to do this, are we?

Who is this person posing as Cat Mac? I hear you query. Believe me, I’m not sure how it happened either. In the space of a 30 second conversation I seemed to change my mind from ‘There’s no way I’m going to run’ to ‘Let’s run! And make a team! And raise £500!’ Bizarre. But it happened. Together with members of staff and faculty from the castle, as well as special guest James Gribben of Edinburgh/Japan/Brussels fame, we raised £607.88 for Sport Relief, with the whole team completing the run under ten minutes. Not bad for a Sunday morning, right? Not that I’ll be making a habit of it – I had to return home from work the following day due to sheer exhaustion. Lol. CLEARLY running is not for me!

oh yes. we ran a whole mile!

oh yes. we ran a whole mile!

Do not fear, potential visitors, it’s unlikely that I’ll be able to rustle up such fun on future weekends. Nor can I promise that the guy you met in Tokyo will meet your sister (just you, Silvia!). But I can offer selfies and kilts – what more could you possibly want?

sunsine selfie as per the tropical south

sunsine selfie as per the tropical south

'we must document the fact that nina met james'

‘we must document the fact that nina met james’


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The Day I Didn’t Speak

20/3/14. The day I didn’t speak.

Somehow, in my 26 years of wandering the planet, I’d never partaken in a sponsored silence. Why would you want to mute the beautiful Scottish accent after all? That must have been the reason why such events never happened at my schools. When you sound this good, you should just speak all of the time.

We Are Silent is an initiative of Free The Children (FTC), a rapidly growing Canadian charity which has recently been introduced into the UK. Together with the rest of the FTC crew at the castle, I attended We Day in London at the beginning of March (see A Not-So-Wee We Day). As a follow-up, we decided to run the We Are Silent initiative before the departure of the student population at the beginning of April.

The aim of the We Are Silent campaign is to provoke both interest and awareness for young people in the world whose voices cannot be heard, whilst showing solidarity in silence. Who am I referring to? So many people: those who are bullied; victims of domestic violence; children living in poverty or suffering from discrimination; those without the opportunity for education or basic amenities like clean water. All of these people exist in our local communities, not just in distant countries on the other side of the world. By being silent, we wanted to show that silence can be just as effective as speech, if not more so, as a tool for putting a point across.

Wouldn’t it be better to use your political voice to make a stand? I was asked. Not necessarily. Of course, in the long run, verbal communication is required for change. But that wasn’t really the point of the campaign. Raising awareness was the aim whilst representing the people who essentially, we are trying to ‘free’. We all talk. That’s considered normal. Choosing not to talk causes intrigue and provokes questions.

Do I feel like the campaign was successful? Yes and no. Many of my colleagues were intrigued as to why I had taken on a vow of silence and questions were asked to find out. But beyond that, it was a long day of jokes, wind-ups and controversial comments. And a lot of dodgy penmanship (I’m sure I used to win awards for the beauty of my handwriting). However, I do feel like I gained a new understanding of how it feels to be voiceless, though I admit, to a very limited extent as I was writing down the majority of what I wanted to say for others to read.

Though it was a long day which I’m in no hurry to repeat, it was definitely amusing to communicate alongside colleagues and students who were also taking part in the silence. Cue a very odd pub gathering and a confusing taxi ride back to our residences. Oh, you know, that 30 second journey can be tough.

Campaigns like these play a very small part in a much larger picture. But you’ve got to start somewhere. And if nothing else, our group raised a sum of money which will go towards helping those whose voices are silenced. We have so much freedom with what we can say and do. It’s on us to use it.

this is what silent pubbing looks like

this is what silent pubbing looks like


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A Not-So-Wee We Day

Last week, fellow intern Nick, told me I had an obsessive personality. Gosh Nick, just because I’ve made you listen to the Sunshine on Leith soundtrack continuously for the past two months does not mean I’m obsessed. Honestly. So rude.

However, I can maybe see where his idea stemmed from. It’s true that if I like something, everyone generally knows about it. Or at least those that have the fortune/misfortune of being in my company for extended periods of time. This leads me in very nicely to writing about one of my more recent ‘non-obsessive’ obsessions.

Last summer, whilst I was looking for jobs at the end of my spell in Brussels, I discovered Canadian charity, Free The Children. As I navigated through their super swish website, I became extremely excited at the prospect of working for the organisation. Free The Children started back in 1995, when 12 year old Craig Kielburger read about the murder of Iqbal Masih, a child slave, also aged 12, who had stood up against child labour. Craig was horrified by what he read and wanted to do something about it. After rallying together some of his classmates, Free The Children was born. The story of how the charity has grown since then is inspiring in itself and I suggest you watch one of the many videos which are available on the website. But in short, the aim of the charity is to give young people both home and abroad the belief that they can be agents of change for the better, regardless of their age.

So that’s the background story. Since 1995, the charity has grown throughout Canada and the US and in the past five years, it has expanded across the Atlantic Ocean to the shores of the UK. The charity’s  ‘We’ concept is an inspiring initiative, launched with the idea that more can be achieved by working together. As part of this, there are various ‘we’ campaigns that students can take part in throughout the year to raise both awareness and money which goes towards supporting peers both at home and abroad. Students involved with the charity then have the opportunity to attend their local ‘We Day’, a one-day event filled with speakers, testimonies and music designed to encourage and inspire the students to strive forward in their endeavours and continue believing that they can ‘be the change’.

Although the opportunity to work for Free The Children has yet to arise, I was delighted to discover that some of the students at the castle are avid supporters and have formed a club in order to continue supporting the charity’s work during their time studying in the UK. The first ever UK ‘We Day’ took place on March 7th in Wembley Arena, London. The students were able to get tickets and though I’m relatively new to the charity and thoroughly undeserving, I had the opportunity to join them in their attending of the event.

Cue an epic 9-3 screaming fest as the audience showed their support for speakers such as former US vice president Al Gore, women-education activist Malala Yousafzai, and the one, the only Prince Harry. Music from Ellie Goulding, Jennifer Hudson and Dizzie Rascal amongst others ensured the energy levels of the 12, 000 mad crowd stayed sky-high. Students were encouraged to find their passion and work at that passion to make a difference in the lives of those around them. I’m so excited the charity is working in the UK and I was particularly thrilled to see students as young as 10 years old at the event – and lots of them. If their generation grows up believing they can change the world, as Ellie Goulding’s ridiculously catchy song repeats, really, anything could happen.

al gore, spencer west, cheryl and a few thousand other people

al gore, spencer west, cheryl and a few thousand other people

my face. prince harry's face. same photo.

my face. prince harry’s face. same photo.

Quotes from the day

  • Let’s not focus on the can’ts and the won’ts but let’s focus on the hows. Spencer West.
  • Some people don’t think helping others is cool. Personally, I think it’s the coolest thing in the world. Prince Harry.
  • It always seems impossible until it’s done. Nelson Mandela.
  • Education is the most powerful weapon in the world. Nelson Mandela.
  • We need to stop standing by and start standing up. Evanna Lynch. 
  • Be a believer. Be a leader. Be a true seeker. A guy that had something to do with Ben and Jerry’s.

***Credit to Mitch for inspiring the exceptionally catchy blog title for this post.


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An English Mac Attack

One of the advantages of living (relatively) so close to home is that travel plans back to the homeland and vice versa can be made almost spontaneously, without the risk of incurring drastic cost. Commonwealth Games volunteer training saw me return to Scotland again at the weekend, the flights for which I only booked a week in advance. Similarly, my sister decided a couple of weeks ago that she fancied popping down to the tropical south to check out the hipster region that was dominating her wee sister’s Instagram photos. A couple of cheap flight bookings later, she had made her plans and stocked up on CatMac contact lens solution. Cue a Mac Attack chez Brighton, followed by a cheeky wee sister visit to the home I like to call ‘My Castle’.

Brighton is my favourite discovery of the tropical south: quirky cafés and random shops galore, coupled with the location of dreams: beside the sea. Our day was spent enjoying the above highlights. I recommend Farm café for lunch and the Little Bird for a 1-hour-later coffee and homemade cake. Nyum nyum nyum.

i heart the sea

i heart the sea

3, 2, 1, selfieeeee

3, 2, 1, selfieeeee

smoothie with a view

smoothie with a view at farm café

The following day, a BISC minibus was sent off to Polegate station to pick up Anna Mac for a very brief castle tour. She is now in the privileged position of being the only person from pre-castle life who has seen where I live, where I work and who my friends are chez castle life, with multiple selfies to prove it!

anna mac chillin' at the castle

anna mac chillin’ at the castle

3, 2, 1, selfieeeee

3, 2, 1, selfieeeee

come! visit! my castle!

come! visit! my castle!


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The International Life of a Palm Tree

Palm trees are such jet-setters. At least the ones I know are.

Introducing Dave, Morag, Sebastian and Lola.

the day the palm tree dream team was born

the day the palm tree dream team was born

Nick and I adopted them as part of a 168 hour film project, introduced at the castle by film professor, Rob. He set a challenge for the mid-term trip in which students (and super keen academic travel interns) were asked to make a 5 minute film in 10 days, which included the plastic animal presented to them (in our case palm trees), a Paris metro sign and an obscure sentence about chickens coming home to roost.

The day before we departed was a long one. I looked up from my desk to discover our plastic adoptees had been given faces, names, identities. I’d never Nick seen work so hard. Next, Lola had a pink bow in her hair. Nick was in his element. As exhaustion set in, we became more and more easily amused as our creative juices flowed and out came a demolition of the English language, tree style. Treep Advisor. Academic Treevel. Love treeangle. I could go on.

The next morning, we parted ways, as did our palm trees: the boys with Nick to France and the girls with me to Belgium. We had no plan, no script. I proceeded to take random photos and movies throughout the Belgian leg, seemingly in the most boring locations I could find. Cue filming with a piece of toast. Cue filming beside a card payment machine. At one point, I was so engrossed with filming the palm trees on the pavement that the students mistook me for some crazy drunken person throwing up on the street. No, no, I’m just lying down so I can get the best shot of the palm trees. Obvs.

morag and lola chilling in ghent

morag and lola chilling in ghent

It was with great excitement that the palm trees were then reunited in Paris. Except they weren’t. Oh no – the girls were lost. I couldn’t believe it. They’d come with me everywhere in Belgium (who needs friends?), I’d been so careful. Thankfully Nick forgave me – phew – and we continued to take ridiculous footage of the remaining palm trees, Dave and Seb.

dave & sebastian jumping/falling at versailles

dave & sebastian jumping/falling at versailles

Imagine my delight when I started packing the night before our return to the UK, only to find… the girls were hiding underneath all my clothes!!! I was tree excited. So much so that I was banging on Nick’s door the next morning, desperate to wake him up and alert him of the good news. Needless to say, he wasn’t amused. Aha. The actual reunion of palm trees took place on the ferry back to the UK. Exhaustion again took over and Nick and I became more and more easily amused as we completed some final footage.

Fast forward one week. It was the night before the deadline. Nick and I had done nothing with our footage since returning to the castle, despite demanding that our corridor buddy Mitch took the palm trees to pose in Moscow, Russia. Seriously, those palm trees. So well travelled.

taking it all in at st basil#s cathedral, moscow

taking it all in at st basil’s cathedral, moscow

In true leave-everything-to-the-last-minute style, out of nowhere, we decided to spend the night frantically rustling something together, shooting some extra footage in the corridor and amusing ourselves silly all over again as we came up with more tree puns. Mitch, our imagination and creative advisor, came up with a script and several hours later – voila. A movie of sorts was born.

The rest of the story is quite beautiful. We submitted the movie the next day and in the evening, our movie debuted to a packed audience, alongside some ridiculously epic movies made by some extremely talented students. Did we win? Well, no. But we did receive a prize for using our plastic elements for the entirety of our movie. It was a proud moment for us all.

the palm trees celebrate with their prize

the palm trees celebrate with their prize

Tree End.