Fluctuating Fortunes

And so the second phase of the exam period comes to an end. For this entire week and beyond, the discourse of study has switched from economics to Japanese ahead of three more exams, two of which came this week. It was a week that started bright, but towards the end evoked a big spike in misfortunes.

There are problems to address, but also laugh at. I’m in a hilariously strange situation now compared to seven days ago, and looking ahead, well we’ve got it all to gain.

First of all, the run-up to this week’s exams. On Thursday was a 3 hour Japanese language exam, and then on Friday came the first half of the Aspects of Japanese Culture module. With my exam plans in place, revising was a much less hectic affair. With the abundance of time available for the whole week, I thought I’d use my spare moments for building more muscle at the gym, and chasing up my tutors who finished their coursework marking strike two weeks ago, yet still had not returned any grades.

The latter issue was resolved in strange circumstances. On Wednesday morning all it took was one email to each department, and then all of a sudden my economics marks were published and two announcements were beamed out to the entire undergraduate address list. SOAS works in strange ways, but surely I couldn’t have been the only one emailing to enquire. Either way, I’m still expecting feedback on one assignment, due to be published today, but the wait seemingly continues.

Waiting; the gym is a great remedy for those quiet and anxious days before each exam. This week I went in each day with intent, and came out gulping down a protein shake. The early results are looking promising, and certainly an intense workout in the morning puts the mind and body at rest later in the afternoon.

Another positive aspect of these ventures to the gym is you never know who you’ll bump into along the way, and to my sheer amazement I fatefully encountered Emilio one evening just outside SOAS. It was a dramatic meeting, I came around the corner, he was at the other end of the road, and the lack of dialogue had all the markings for a dramatic film scene. What a great encounter it was though. The man’s effictively working 25 hours a day, 8 days a week, and we haven’t had a good chat in ages. It was a short walk to St Pancras, but we still had a good Medway-esque ramble, which is always good for the soul when it’s had months of city fumes. I’ll be seeing him more often in the now not too distant summer, and of course next year, when he drops back in to university.

The subsequent walk back from the gym is always pleasant regardless of the weather, and this week we’ve seen both extremes; cloudless sunny skies and heavy rain, either way Russell Square Gardens always remains scenic.

Despite the weather constantly changing, the atmosphere outside the new room for the rest of my exams remained tense. Ahead of both exams, I would arrive an hour early, and study my notes one last time.

On Thursday, I was pleasantly surprised by the questions in the language exam being just the kind for which I had prepared. So far, this exam period has consisted of dodgy questions which easily repelled any kind of preparation I had attempted prior, although this time I managed to use the teacher’s various hints throughout the year and get the questions spot on. I managed to guess the long reading topic and the short essay topic, and so the specific preparation put in the day before really did pay off. There’s no guarantee that I’ll have done well on this paper, but admittedly there is a sense of relief that this time, my revision wasn’t quite so wasted.

If only such fortune could’ve continued.

With the third exam out of the way, the remaining two Japanese culture exams would last a minuscule two hours compared to the gruelling three hour papers I had endured before. I had studied previous papers; I had noted the small changes the questions undergo each year, the variance in topics, and the content each question demands. The general trends revealed at least six topics were bound to come up each year, in a paper which is structured by answering three questions from a choice of eight. I based my revision around these six, adding in extra content for any potential variance on these topics. I had prepared substantially for what it was safe to expect, and entered that exam room ready to execute each extensively devised plan.

10 minutes in, and I’m turning the question paper back over to check I’m doing the right exam.

Never before have I ever sat an exam where absolutely nothing I revised had appeared. This wasn’t just different content, these questions were new topics pulled from whatever murky depths of the course guide no one had ever thought to check, and variation on topics that presented them in an entirely new light. I sat there for ten minutes looking at each question while almost pulling my hair out wondering where I could salvage any marks. They might as well have just printed one massive middle finger on the page.

So I quickly knew it would be an uphill task, and proceeded to try and cleverly link in what I could use. This would work to a questionable extent, as all three of my answers seemed to be based around religion; I hope the course convener is feeling holy.

It was an awful couple of hours, the exam looked so different to previous versions. The results on these culture modules will be very difficult to stomach, but perhaps it’s best that this harsh learning curve is conquered in the first year, rather than later years when it really will matter.

In fact, just as I type this now, my final grade that I had been awaiting has finally been released. While I have so far secured firsts in all economics assignments, this essay for the second part to my Japanese culture module resulted in an infuriating 67; another 2:1. Looking at the feedback, it appears there’s an untaught formula to these Japan department essays which only now do I realise. Again, it’s good that I realise this now, as the exam for this module is still a couple of weeks away, so there’s a small chance to make amends.

The Japan department works very differently to economics, and that’s one of the challenges of doing a dual-honours degree. The differences are profound, and the marks are awarded very differently. Alongside the 67, generally my marks are not as high as I want them to be. I’ve taken big strides this year and improved drastically, but I want the numbers to climb with me. I know what I need to do for these culture-based academic essays now, although it’s half a shame and a relief that I won’t be taking any similar modules until the fourth year.

It seems this year that my results are going to be disappointing, but above all, they will reveal what I need to do in order to get it right when it matters. Fortunate has eluded me this exam period, and many key areas have also gone untaught in a couple of assignments. It’s a rough start, but I know what I need to do to get better. Not every exam period will be as unorthodox as this one, and while the content of each essay may increase in difficulty as time goes on, the fundamentals behind what is necessary for a first remain the same.

So there’s the academic side to my dwindling fortunes this week, but little did I know the worst was yet to come.

It’s Saturday, and even though my exam season has paused until June, I’m once again up at 7:30am, because there is still a stint of mystery shopping left to do before I can officially set my sights on next week’s marathon.

I had thirteen sites to cover this time, and unfortunately they spanned three different postcodes, all originating from a trip on the Met line to Wembley Park. It just so happened to be the day that Millwall were facing Bradford for the League One Play-Off Final, so you can imagine my claret and blue blood felt comfortable.

I knew it was going to do be a long day, so I took a fair bit of lunch as I ventured around the whole of north-west London.

Or so I had planned.

After two hours of travelling around printing off documents and jumping on the tube, I complete one visit, the classic ID test at a Coral betting shop, and immediately head next door to the Tesco where I shall be carrying out a cash only, non-ID test. I need to draw out a tenner, and luckily the shop has a free cash machine attached to it. It’s the standard procedure; card in, and hunch over the machine while I cup my entire arm around the buttons to ensure no one’s having my PIN.

It turns out what I actually did was part with my card for the last time, because after a solid two minutes of malfunctioning, the transaction had failed, and the machine was shooing me off for the next customer.

The sound it was making as it tried to return my card was painful. It’s like when a bit of saliva goes down the wrong hole, and no matter how much you feel yourself suffocating to death you cannot regurgitate anything. It was that sort of situation, and naturally I started whacking four barrels out of the machine, a bit like when I was once choking on an orange as a kid, and my dad suddenly woke up and started slapping my spine so hard I almost coughed it out of my body.

My card had been swallowed; it was lost. And funnily enough so was I. Without any credit, and hardly any cash, I was almost stranded ten miles away from my flat. So I had to make the unfortunate call to abandon my visits, and use the few pounds left to get the early train home.

This was of course after I frantically warded off anyone from using the machine while my card sat in it, and hastily cancelled the card once I was told by the Tesco workers to just “call da bank”.

I did indeed call Barclays while I watched people then attempt to use the cash machine. Their cards were returned to them (what a luxury), but they couldn’t retrieve any cash. It was then I hung up on the confusing automated service, and threw all of my dignity out of the window to trouble an Arabian man and his family to check that the Barclays card he was holding was definitely his own. He had every right to be suspicious of some bloke who looked about 12 years old having shaved his beard off asking about his debit card, but it’s still always a burning memory thinking about how ready he was to knock me out clean.

I had cancelled my card, so I was safe from losing any money. In hindsight however, maybe I did have the time to order my ticket to Gravesend for Wednesday, and also put some money on my laundry account. I was now without any money, and needed a card quick. I needed to change my address to my London flat, and hope that their 2-3 days arrival time was correct. They say that when it rains, it pours, and on the two mile trek to the nearest Barclays branch, it absolutely hammered it down.

I will have to draw some cash out on Monday, because otherwise I’ll have no choice but to break in to my emergency stash of instant noodles, and become carb-deprived on the week of the marathon.

The marathon. At least I could relax ahead of it now though, right?

There’s another twist in the tale.

Over the past few days, walking has not been as comfortable as usual. There’s been a small, but stabbing pain on the outer region of my left ankle, so nothing’s wrong with the medial side, which was injured in January. Once I completed my final long run on Saturday, a nice confidence-boosting 8 miles, it only confirmed that I have an aggravated tendon; specifically, it seems to be Peroneal Tendonitis.

Now I am going to be clear and say that I am not declaring this my third great injury of the year. I’ve had a sore ankle many times, and it always does heal. I suspect this aggravation originated after an intense half hour on the rowing machine, followed by my weekly training run, followed by swimming, followed by the infamous Leg Day.

… Yeah, I could have probably taken this “tapering period” a lot easier.

A typical day of “relaxing”

Regardless, today I have had one glorious rest. For the first time in weeks I’ve had a little lie-in, and cherished the brief day of freedom before preparation for my final exam begins. Of course, my sights are officially set on the marathon at this point, albeit I won’t feel properly focused until my debit card is sorted, and I can walk properly.

Rest is all that is needed though. Until the marathon is run, no more time in the gym, and gentle exercise is all that is required. To make it to the start line while injury-free is an achievement in itself, and that is the first objective to fulfil next week.

But for now, it’s important to accept that we’ve had a tough week. We had good moments aplenty in the early days at the gym, and the Japanese language exam, but most prominently we are now faced with a number of challenges that are going to make the marathon so much more of an achievement should we complete it. Even when I thought training was over, difficulties persist, and crop up in many unexpected ways.

We have to be patient, take it easy, and whatever fate still awaits, keep moving forward regardless. It’s time to taunt these final challenges. It’s time to fight our fortunes.


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