2020 Calling 2010

Dear Lauren, aged 11 years and 8 months

It’s Lauren, aged 21 years and 8 months here! I can happily report that the next (last?) ten years look nothing like The Hunger Games, or any of those other post-apocalyptic books you’re obsessing over. 

I don’t want to give you any spoilers, but I know you’re a worrier, so I thought some advice might come in handy as you navigate the next (last?) decade. Some of it is silly, some of it is serious, all of it is important – so grab a plate of BN biscuits, curl up in a corner and read on…

  1. First things first: the teeth will (almost) get sorted. The punched bunny look will disappear, but only through years of braces and retainers. You’ll still worry about them in ten years time – but at least by then  you can find gumshields that fit.
  1. So, secondary school. Bad news – exams never get easier or less nerve-wracking. Good news – you seem to do quite well in them. You might not ever grow to love secondary school (hard to believe now I know, you goody-two-shoes) but stick with it.  You will make gorgeous friends and find phenomenal teachers (keep hanging around Politics and English). You will also miss every single deadline, have several panic attacks in the loos and really have to grit your teeth to get through sixth form. Keep at it. The hockey, laughter and cookies are worth it.
  1. Speaking of hockey – grab that stick and don’t let go. You won’t swim for Great Britain, and you’re unlikely to be the next big thing in lacrosse, but you’re alright at hockey. The confidence you feel on the pitch will begin to seep into other areas of life, and it will keep you going when the proverbial hits the fan. Which brings me nicely onto a crucial life lesson you repeatedly ignore…
  1. OTHER PEOPLE’S EMOTIONS ARE NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. Countless therapists will tell you this in countless ways – I’m not sure you will ever listen, but its worth a try. 
  1. Spoiler alert – you’re not married. Your failure to secure a date to the Year Six PGL disco was a sign of things to come. But, you’ll hone the art of third wheeling, and will dish out relationship advice left right and centre despite having no experience whatsoever. Maybe start listening to some of it yourself?
2010 – Always the bridesmaid, never the bride
  1. You are not Hermione Granger, and you never will be. Get over it.
  1. I know you think you hate parties and social events that involve more than five people, but I promise they can be fun. However – for the love of God, learn to handle your drink. Stop when you get giggly; by time you’re on a table, things have gone too far. Water is your friend. Anyone offering you vodka is not.
  1. Your body is not a representation of your worth. Don’t delete the pictures from that America holiday because you think you ate too many pancakes; don’t obsess over other pictures when you didn’t eat enough of anything. Eat the pancakes. Enjoy the pictures. Move on.
  1. Write things down. Write passionately, write angrily, write gloriously. It doesn’t have to leave your bedroom, and a lot of it will be drivel, but it will help you make sense of a nonsensical world. It might even be the answer to ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ (assuming the clarinet CDs/ swimming medals/ fairy cake business fail to provide a sensible income.)
  1. The next decade will be pretty rough, but it will also be pretty magnificent. Grab hold of the things that matter. Strive to be a better feminist, environmentalist, sister and friend, but forgive yourself when you slip up. Forgive others for their slip ups, but don’t worry about leaving those behind who can’t do the same. Wear big hoops, stay firm in your beliefs and don’t stop eating chocolate, no matter how hard it might sometimes seem.

Love you Loz. 

From, Lauren x

Puppy lovin’

I recently carried out a very brief experiment to see how many times in a day I could give my money or time a cause. On my walk to university, I passed four charity shops, all of which permanently need money and volunteers; I received an average of two emails a day asking me to donate or sign a petition; Facebook and Twitter were full of individuals doing incredible fundraising events with links to a JustGiving page. I have been one of those trying desperately to find the happy medium of raising as much money as possible while not annoying those around me – it is an infuriating and rewarding process that was almost as tricky as the marathon itself (#humblebrag).

With so many opportunities to give to good causes, it is easy to feel overwhelmed. As a nation, we are pretty good at giving money to charity, but less generous with our time. According to the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), the amount of money donated in 2017 increased, but the number of people giving has fallen, and generally less than 20% of us have volunteered at some point in the last 12 months. In our online world, it is easy to donate online or sign a quick petition. This online activism, or clicktivism, is often scoffed at but it is a crucial part of modern activism – Gina Martin’s upskirting campaign is a brilliant demonstration of how effective it can be. But there is still a need for good, old-fashioned volunteering. A donation cannot lobby MPs. A petition cannot run a shop. A hashtag cannot train as a coastguard.

Apart from a brief stint at the National Trust to get my Bronze DofE – which I am still yet to complete – I am as idle as the next woman when it comes to volunteering. But five months ago, a tiny bundle arrived in my life which convinced me that I can no longer get away with signing the occasional petition. After a bout of Multiple Sclerosis that led to substantial sight loss, my mum has always been interested in training guide dogs. This April that abstract interest materialised into a very real black and gold ball of fluff called Zoe, who collects dirty socks, can never refuse a puddle and patiently waits at the top of stairs. She bops smaller dogs on the nose, inhales her food and is learning to guide someone along a street. My mum walks her every day in her very important blue coat and we all take great delight in explaining that she is a guide dog puppy, and can therefore go wherever she damn well pleases.

Zoe at eight weeks

For a whole year, the Woodhead world will be controlled by the demands of a creature who barks at her own reflection, before she hopefully goes to continue her training at Guide Dog school. Of course we will miss her more than I ever thought possible. Of course there is a chance that she won’t make it – guide dogs fail for all sorts of reasons. The hours of work that my mum has spent teaching her, worrying about her and loving her may result instead in a gorgeous therapy dog or even just an adoring addition to another family. But a couple of months ago, a partially sighted little boy and his mum stopped us in the street to enquire about the process and say hello to Zoe. Tiny hands followed the curve of her spine, prodded her oversized paws and brushed her mad-professor eyebrows, building a picture of Zoe through touch instead of sight. As they left, his mum explained to him that one day, he would get a dog like that. A dog who could lead him through life, explore countless opportunities with him and anchor him in a world that is constantly unfamiliar and hostile to those without sight.

Zoe’s ‘Guide Dog Puppy in Training’ coat

It is encounters like this that have convinced me that by helping to train Zoe, my mum is contributing something immeasurable to society. Volunteering takes time, it can be boring and unrewarding. It is easy to feel that a day spent behind the counter of a charity shop, a weekend spent sweeping leaves, or a year spent walking a dog is only a drop in an enormous pond. We are constantly asking ourselves ‘what about x cause, what about y cause’ and it can stop us from committing to anything. But by committing to Zoe we have made a definitive impact. We are all able to make a difference, and Zoe has shown me that however small the drop is, you are still a part of that pond.

You can help support Guide Dogs UK here or search for other volunteering opportunities near you on the Do-it Database