Hard Times

In the summer of 2011, everything changed.

Guy was working for Royal Mail in Oxford, but he saw this as a filler job whilst he was staying with me and was keen to start looking for programming work in a bigger city. I looked at several universities for an applied, environmental solid state chemistry PhD, and eventually found what we were looking for at Birmingham.

We had already visited the city the previous winter, for two of Guy’s friends had moved there. Here we (Brian, Kay and the Cherubs) are at the German Christmas market – it snowed very heavily that winter.

I applied to Birmingham, was accepted, and we began looking for housing. This turned out to be a terrible faff, but after one abortive visit where all our estate agents let us down and we didn’t see any houses, we managed to get in touch with some of the more upmarket ones and chose between five properties. We stayed with Caz (Guy’s best woman) and Kay, a Somerville friend, whilst we were there.

This is Damogran. Damogran the hot; Damogran the remote; Damogran the almost totally unheard of. Damogran, secret home of the Heart of Gold.

But before we moved, we had one more important thing to do. Holiday. We went to Split and Zagreb in Croatia

Ljubiana in Slovenia

And Budapest in Hungary

This was our first trip abroad together, and also very important because it set the tone for the rest of our holidays together. We like travelling (despite the fact that I am car, bus and coachsick) – and constantly moving from place to place, being busy. Relaxing on a beach dayvafter day is not our idea of fun!

We travelled between cities by train – including two sleeper trains: one of them we paid for a cabin and the other we made do with seats, just to see how much difference it made! It turned out quite a lot because we went through two passport controls, and if you’re in seating you have to wake up to show your passport (whilst the nice Deutchebahn man takes your ID and sorts this for you if you’re in a cabin). The seats weren’t bad – it was only the passport control that was a problem!

We returned in early September, in time for my birthday (Guy took me to Mrs Tiggywinkles’!) and then a massively busy period:

On the 23rd September I graduated from my degree.

On the 24th/25th we were in Bristol to celebrate Guy’s mother’s birthday. And from there I went straight to Birmingham, where I began my course on the 26th. Luckily we had moved most of our stuff a week before! But I still had a house full of boxes!

Guy joined me a little later. With no Royal Mail centre to transfer to in Birmingham, he quit his job, finished up the contract, and moved.He had been able to walk into a job in Oxford. We expected him to do the same in Birmingham. But no such luck. As the depression worsened, the job market plummeted, and the Birmingham scene was much worse than the Oxford one. He couldn’t get anything – not in a shop, not on the phones, nothing. Twenty-four years old, with working experience and a science degree from Oxford, and he couldn’t get work. It is the same for people all round the country.

Not for everyone though, and during the months that followed I would occasionally get very depressed reading about women on the forum who got sick or bored of their job, saw an advert for their dream job, applied idly, got it, and moved seamlessly from job to job. I was unable to be enthusiastic on their behalves. It all seemed horribly unfair.

Although he didn’t have a job, Guy still had to pay council tax. We had a 25% discount because I am a student, but if you’re unemployed you have to prove that you are signed on in order to receive exemption. You cannot sign on if your joint income exceeds a certain value – which my tax-free student stipend exceeds. So we paid council tax on a stipend that was exempt. And every month we were losing money. And we had just been on holiday and moved house. And the wedding was approaching…

We also had a cat. Whilst we were away on holiday, Rupert, my childhood cat and now my mum’s, was put down. We had been meaning to get a cat ourselves when we moved to Birmingham (and that factor had been instrumental in our choice of house).



We got on to Cats’ Protection, bought a basket, food bowls, 15kg of Science Plan and had Cats’ Protection visit and check out our house. We took the (£15) return bus journey to the centre and told them we wanted a young adult cat whom we could take that day.


When I chose Rupert, years ago when I was seven, he was the third cat we saw. Once again, the cat we took home was the third we saw (have you ever heard ‘third time luckiest’?). Iris chose us. She made it quite clear that she would be coming home with us, and after we’d left to sort out the paperwork, silent miaowed and scrabbled against the door upon seeing me again! Guy was immediately struck by her beautiful eyes.

Iris when we first got her (just one year old and very little):

Iris moves in:

(actually that was her ‘helping’ me with the wedding packing)

In February 2012, Guy did get some work. He did part-time counting people on trains for the company Peeping which, though erratic and not full time, paid okay and kept us going. I got a student (I do a bit of private tutoring on the side) and some demonstrating with the university.

On top of this, our families decided to be very generous. We had meant to pay for the wedding all on our own, but with their eagerness to contribute, high expectations and our financial situation, it endedup very much a joint project. My grandparents decided on an amount they wished to contribute to the wedding, and when we only took half of it (such that they paid for half of the catering), they gave us the other half as a wedding gift! My mum also contributed, and Guy’s parents paid for all our drinks on the day.

Getting started on my PhD wasn’t easy. The year before, I’d found the project hard to be enthusiastic about early on and unfulfilling for a long time. Once again, I experienced this, and the slow initial progress of the project, retarded by vast quantities of unnecessary paperwork and the gradual acquisition of materials and equipment I needed in order to start my lab work left me feeling frustrated and useless. Friends and family unintentionally made me feel more depressed about it by continually asking eagerly how it was going, as though they expected exciting discoveries monthly, whilst the truth was that pretty much nothing was different from the last month, and my greatest triumph was fixing the photocopier.

I was determined to battle through to the time when the project would pick up – as I knew it must. But it was the harder for knowing that I didn’t have a choice. With Guy’s situation, I couldn’t not continue with my PhD – we needed the money for our house, our cat and our wedding. The wedding. And so, in this mood, I distracted myself by plunging into wedding planning.


About RowenaFW

I am a Fish. But you wouldn't know it just from looking at me. View all posts by RowenaFW

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