Sharing things

Transcript for 1.9 Beth and Catherine

In this episode, Beth Fellows and Catherine Wilson talk about winning, empowerment, challenges and more.

Amalie: You're listening to Sharing things, a new University of Edinburgh podcast from the Alumni Relations team about the University community, which we want to get to know a little better.

[Sharing things theme music]

Amalie: Hi, I'm Amalie, I'm a 4th year student and I'm the host of this podcast. In Sharing things I talk to alumni, staff and students about their stories. Guests have all been asked to bring an object as a starting point for discussion and the object can be anything important or significant. It can represent an event, person, decision, experience or it can just remind them of something. Let's see where this takes us.

Amalie: In this episode you will meet Catherine Wilson and Beth Fellows.

Catherine is a poet, writer and performer. She has a degree in philosophy and literature from the University, and in 2018 she was selected as one of YMCA's 30 under 30 women in Scotland.

Beth is the Vice-President of Activities and Services for Edinburgh University Students’ Association. She graduated with a degree in ancient history and classical archaeology in 2019 and enjoys media producing and sports.

In this episode we talk about winning, empowerment, challenges, and more.

[Sharing things theme music]

Amalie: So, welcome to sharing things Catherine and Beth, how are you today?

Beth: Great, how are you?

Amalie: I'm good.

Catherine: Yeah, not too bad, thank you.

Amalie: Yeah. So I'm going to start by asking what you've brought to the studio today and why?

Beth: Yeah, so I brought in my troll called Ragna, who is probably larger than most people are imaging right now. He is just the typical cartoon troll, but the original not the new film, with bright orange hair, spiky, which we sometimes plait and do stuff with. But yeah, he is called Ragna ‘cause my troll’s originally Norwegian and my flatmate at uni was Norwegian and she named him for me. And Ragna's a very Norwegian name, which I'm probably obliterating the pronunciation of it.

Amalie: Ragna.

Beth: Ragna.

Amalie: Ragna.

Catherine: Like Ragna rock?

Beth: Yeah.

Amalie: Ohhh.

Beth: That's what my head’s doing.

Amalie: Yes, Vikings.

Beth: So it's a bit of a random object, but he does have a story behind him.

Amalie: You mention that he was really big, I feel you need to clarify exactly how big he is so that listeners…

Beth: I think he is about 20 centimetres.

Catherine: Yeah about the same as the water bottle I've brought in, which is like a 500ml water bottle.

Beth: Like a Chilly or a S’well water bottle, these very fashionable water bottles.

Amalie: Quite big.

Beth: So he's quite tall and he looks quite cute. But yeah, he sits on my desk at work.

Amalie: And he's naked.

Catherine: Yeah I was just staring at his butt there for quite a long time.

Beth: He does need some clothes [laughter].

Amalie: So what does Ragna mean to you?

Beth: Ragna was bought alongside my campaign that I ran to run as my current job, which is Vice-President Activities and Services for the Student’s Association, which I ran for in February.

Ironically I bought him off eBay because he was the icon for my campaign and I ran it alongside the ‘find your happy place’, which is the catch line for the troll film. It just fitted perfectly in with my manifesto points and what I wanted to do this year, if I got elected, but I suppose ironically he didn't actually arrive until the end of election week, so he was on my doorstep when all the votes had closed and I was like, “This is either a very good sign or a very bad sign.” Fortunately it was a good sign, so he stayed, otherwise he would have been sold again on eBay.

Catherine: I was gonna say, it does make you sad just looking at him like, “I didn't win and you’re the symbol of that.” [laughs]

Beth: So he stayed and he's now at work to be my kind of constant motivation behind why I'm doing this job, and he's quite cute to look at, and I think he makes people smile, which is always nice in the workplace.

Amalie: What did you bring?

Catherine: So I wish I brought my actual object but my actual object is, I believe, in the loft of my parents' house and they are currently moving at the moment so I didn't want to disturb that.

So it's a photograph of a trophy that I won at the Edinburgh Fringe, three years ago now, when I had not long started doing poetry. I was in a poetry show at the time and just after I finished my show, which was finishing about 10/10:30, someone I was working with at the time told me that they were going to a poetry slam that was being held at Apex Hotel in the Grassmarket, and that they needed more poets to enter, so I was like, “The night is young, I might as well.”  So I ran along down and as soon as I saw the trophy I knew that I was very, very desperate to win this competition.

A little description of the trophy for people who are listening. So the base is… when you go to a hotel and they have glasses in the bathroom but not made of glass, made of paper, like a paper kind of cup. I don't know why I didn't just say a paper cup? It's one of those, so a paper cup upside down, which someone has coloured in yellow and written 'Slam 2015' on in red pen, then stuck into that glass-not-glass is a coffee stirrer, also coloured in yellow, held into the cup with some Blu Tack, and on top of that coffee stirrer is an Apex Hotel purple rubber duck.

So this was made by the guy who was running the poetry slam, and the photograph is actually a picture of it sitting on my, I want to say mantel piece, but I don’t feel like students are fancy enough to have a mantel piece.  Shelf. Shelf of my flat when I was in my second year at uni so behind it is also a picture of me when I was in Prague, where someone cut out my silhouette on the street.

But yeah the trophy was made by my now good friend Tyler, who was tasked with running a poetry slam very last minute. I believe four poets competed. I believe there were six people in the audience, probably including the four poets and a lost couple, and I won and I think it was the second poetry slam I ever won, but the reason that I picked it and it means so much to me is it kind of really symbolises why I got into poetry so much when I was at Edinburgh Uni, which is that I come from a very rural town, where the provision for children outside of school was either sports based, and actually that was very much just for the boys, or a little bit musical theatre, and I couldn't sing or dance, and also the production that my school did was 'Hairspray' in my all-white rural Scottish school, so you know I was like, “Hmm maybe not.”

So I didn't really feel like I had a place, but I was always interested in speaking publicly and I liked writing and I didn't really realise that I could combine the two until I came to Edinburgh.

I think like the reason I love this trophy is poetry for me, it’ll let anybody in, you showed up to an open mic and two weeks later you could be booked for a very high profile event, and that's not to suggest people don't work hard at poetry as they obviously very much do. But the student poetry nights where it all was a little bit last minute and a little bit kind of homemade, but full of love and I think that's what that trophy is for me [laughter].

Amalie: So nice.

Beth: So wholesome.

Amalie: So both of your objects kind of have to do with winning something, so I want to ask what did it feel like when you won your election, and also when you won your poetry slam?

Beth: So I'd say I remember head-to-toe shaking, because it was election night, the big thing in the venue at Potterrow. I had my two closest friends from my course there, who bless them came along.

I was just so, so nervous that a lot of work I'd been flat out just doing this for the last two weeks, I was worried that I was going to have a knock-on effect on my degree. I was in my 4th year and my dissertation was going to get the marks docked, and I was in a complete blind panic, and then obviously it got announced and I burst into tears, and I'm not a crier at all, so like this was such an odd emotion that I was literally shaking head to toe and I didn't know what to do.

I kind of went up on stage to get this big board and they were like, “Oh do you want to do a speech” and I was like just shook my head, I couldn't possibly and it was a complete flood of emotion which I don't often experience as a person because I'm not a big crier at all so yeah that was very odd. But yeah an amazing feeling and I was definitely on a high for, I'm still on a high, I mean I love it, I absolutely love it.

Catherine: I was going to say that I think our objects are linked in another way because you're motto of… the idea that universities are kind of that space to find your happy place, I think that poetry was very much that for me.

But I guess like winning that poetry slam, I mean there was only three other poets, so it wasn't that same triumphant moment of ‘oh my god I'm going to cry’, it was kind of like alright okay, yeah, this feels legit, this feels right.

I did win another poetry competition at one point very early into writing, honestly, I started performing in something like the September, and I won this poetry slam, I think in the January or February, and I was considered quite a fresh face, and I was very young in the kind of poetry scene that I was in - a lot of people, who are much older, cooler, tattooed students, who wrote much cooler poems about hooking up, drugs, and I'd show up and I'd be like, “Here's a poem about [puts on a voice] when you really fancy someone but you just can't say it cause you're an idiot.” Or, “Here is my poem about how I'm just so clumsy and I just keep dropping things and it's a metaphor for my life.”

Yeah, I don't know maybe that's why I wasn't invited to the cool after parties when I first started poetry. They just knew that I would not know what to do with myself there, but yeah I think winning poetry competitions for me felt like such a massive, massive deal, winning poetry slam because part of it is decided by audience vote so you're judged on three things: the content of your poem, the performance of your poem, and the audience reaction. Which means a third of it, is you know, democratic, right?

So I think that's probably the part that's always stuck out at meaning the most to me because when I win it's like a whole audience was kind of behind that decision and when I don't win, I kind of go, well this particular group of people weren't feeling you tonight, and that's fine, but when they do, you can feel it, you can really feel them going on that journey with you as cliché as that sounds.

Beth: It's kind of an overarching theme of democracy, winning and democracy [laughs].

Catherine: It's just really reminded me of one of my very early lectures when I was at a Edinburgh Uni, and I had just switched into doing philosophy as part of my joint degree, and the lecturer said one of the funniest things that I still remember when he said: “Yeah in Socrates’ time, ancient Greece was a democracy, except you couldn't vote if you were a woman or a slave.” So I was like, “So…”

Amalie: Not a democracy. [laughter]

[Sharing things theme music]

Amalie: What are some other things that you have won or given you a feeling of like empowerment?

Catherine: Another thing I did when I was at uni was I helped organise a team of poets from Edinburgh Uni to go down to a big competition in Leicester which is called 'Uni Slam', which is still going.

So there was five of us who went down to Leicester and we did this competition and I think there was like 25 other teams, at this time, I think it was 2016, we were the only team from Scotland. One team from Wales, one team from Scotland, and all the others from England, and actually more teams from London than the rest of the UK put together, and we won, and not only that we won for the third time in a row, so Edinburgh actually used to be, from Uni Slams conception, we won every single year for three years in a row, and I don't think Edinburgh Uni actually really realised that their team just kept going down to Uni Slam, winning very victoriously and being really excited and then coming back and being really quiet about it.

And actually it was the last year, the year that I went, was the last year that we did it because we thought I kind of don't want to go down and either keep winning and look like we're assholes or not win and it be really, really embarrassing.

Also I think we were slightly afraid because Glasgow University was putting a team forward and we were like if Glasgow University beat us, we are never going to hear the end of it, the rival is going to be too strong. So yeah we won that competition in Leicester in 2016, and from that we actually got to go to America to compete in a huge poetry competition that they have their which I think is something like 86 universities from across the US. We were the first team to have ever gone who were not from the US, which was great because it meant that people kept going, [American accent] “Where's that, where's that little Scottish team?” We were like, “Hello, hello everybody, we are over here.” [laughter]

The men in our team suddenly attracting all these American women who are like, “Oh my goodness, these hot, attractive Scottish men.” And I was like, “Eh, no this is not, this is not, James McAvoy, this is…”

Amalie: Ewan McGregor.  

Catherine: No hun, save yourself. Wow, I just massively burned three of my closest friends, that's fine I'm going to keep going and when we were in America we won this award called 'The Spirit of the Slam'. We did not win any of our heats, by a long shot. I think it was a total tone change and the American audiences were a bit like, is this, is this poetry, what are they doing?

But the spirit of the slam award that we won, was basically, the people who ran the slam, pick a team that is like this is what poetry slams are about and that team receives the Spirit of the Slam award. And part of the motivation for giving it to us, is they were like, we've seen them work really, really hard to get here, they've won a competition to get here, they fundraised to get here, we were supported by the uni a little bit to get there. I would occasionally send an email into the ether to someone quite high up in Edinburgh Uni and say we're doing this thing, and they'd go yeah ok, we can give you some money, and then that was it. So they gave us this award.

The other reason they gave us this award, is they were like, they are the friendliest team you ever meet, they go up to every team and tell them how well they did, they ask how people are, other teams aren't doing that. So I think that's one of my proudest achievements particularly at uni. I thought that was quite nice.

Amalie: Yeah, a 100%.

Catherine: I would rather… well, would I rather win the very big prize money or would I rather get the certificate that tells me I'm a nice person? Hmm, I'm going to say the nice person one.

Amalie: Always.

Catherine: Yeah that filled me with the same sense of achievement because it was actually being awarded for who I was as a person rather than the art I was making, which is quite nice.

Amalie: When was the last time you won something besides from or proudest achievement?

Beth: There's a mix, so obviously I play netball for a league called 'Go Mammoth' with actually isn't a University league, it’s… we kind of play it at George Heriot’s, just along the road. It's just a complete mix of like professionals, couple students, couple of staff at the University, a lot of medics actually play, like doctors and stuff, and it's just in the evenings. So it's a complete recreational league, and we got to the final of that, and we honestly battled it out for ages, and we won it, and we got this little medal with a little mammoth on it saying 'Go Mammoth'. I don't know, that was really sweet cause this is, kind of, I'm very competitive but I don't obviously, I'm not good enough to play for the University netball teams, but like it's a really nice community and like they were like oh well done, and it was really like because it was a recreational league, yes it's not all about winning, it's just about getting out there and exercising a bit more, but yeah it was quite a proud moment.

And then the other thing this year, which is just really weird, so this year at University I was a part of the Sports Union media team. So we went and followed some teams, in like the build ups, and actually I was like the sports producer for EUTV, which is a really small society, and we followed a couple of intramural teams because I really wanted to promote intramural sport.

I was just taking photos or filming them, did a couple of interviews, and really got to know these teams and actually some individual athletes and actually when you got to the heart of it, and you really got to know these teams and the individuals involved, and then they won, I actually got that sense of pride for them because they put so much effort in.

Amalie: So you were like a personal cheerleader?

Beth: Yeah kind of.

Catherine: Something that's really just struck me about what you're saying is something that I really particularly enjoyed about Edinburgh Uni, which is that a lot of uni’s you go in and you can get in your little uni bubble a little bit, but I think that Edinburgh, so many people that I knew, and as you were saying now, do activities outside of university, where you know, yes they are a student but they're mixing with people who maybe live in Edinburgh or who are maybe older or might be staff or you know things like that, and I think that was very much my experience doing spoken word but I really like that your team is actually…

Beth: Yeah, completely made up.

Catherine: I just think it's nice that when you go to Edinburgh Uni I think that you've also become an Edinburgh citizen.

I think that when there's like sometimes uni's that are more campus based, I think it's so easy to just wake up, walk the 20 minutes to your lecture and back home again, and go to the one sports club that is, you know, right around the corner. Yeah, I think it's really nice at Edinburgh about much you become really integrated into the city and you don't just meet other students.

Amalie: What I'm getting from this is like a sense of inspiration.

Catherine: Ooooh.

Amalie: What inspires you?

Beth: Hard work.

Amalie: Just hard work in general or someone doing hard work?

Beth: I really respect it when people have a goal and they will tackle obstacles and setbacks and they just keep going at it, but also I suppose people who have just been unlucky ‘cause life can just be fairly cruel to a lot of people, and you can get the nicest person in the world with the most genuine and kind of hardworking spirit, and they can just have every of the worst set of cards given to them, and they're just people who overcome those, I think are really inspirational to me.

Catherine: I think my source of inspiration, I think they are mainly women. I've been reading a book recently and it's basically about how most of the things set up in society are set up in a way that disadvantages women just because, not in a targeted malicious way, but because the way that a lot things have been built, has been built around the white man being the average, your default, so things like learning how bus systems just don't work for 90% of women.

Women are most likely to use buses, but buses are set up in a way that… a bus system normally kind of goes in a in a radial sphere from a central area and it's based on the assumption that you get a bus to work, and a bus home from work and what most women do is they get a bus to their kid's school and the drop the kids at the school, and then they get a bus to work. Then they get a bus on the way home to pick up stuff from the shops, and then they get a bus home to, you know, someone else’s house because they have to go and check on that person, and then they get a bus home.

So they are spending twice as much time and money on the bus just because of the way that most transport systems are built is the kind of the men in the room assume you take your bus to work and your bus home from work, and that's how it works. So the more that I learn stuff like that, I find women more and more inspiring and I work with a lot of women in my office. It has one man in it, and the work I do is in the early years sector so working with people who work in nurseries and in schools, which is very much women. So women's life stories honestly inspire me so much and that could be a five-minute conversation with someone on the phone, who's phoning me and saying my nursery won't let me do this, and I really want to do it because I know it makes the kids happy. Or it could be, I listen to like a lot of audio books and a lot of them are often kind of true life stories, and just hearing how women have turned their lives around against all odds. I'm just like on the bus to work tearing up thinking about how the bus system was built to disadvantage me.

But no like I think my inspiration genuinely is just other people's lives really.

Amalie: On the topic of people who work hard and who are going through a lot, what is the biggest challenge that you've had to overcome?

Catherine: Probably myself, honestly, honestly, probably, I faced a lot of external challenges both within poetry, within jobs, within study, like no matter how well you're doing there's always someone who's a bit of a blockade, right?

I think that often my biggest barrier wasn't just the individual who was, you know, causing me the strife, but actually I put up with it for way too long, and every now and then I look back at something, and I'm like why didn't I leave that situation earlier or why didn't I say, “No actually this isn't ok.”

I mean when I was starting out in poetry, I accepted a lot of very poor treatment from male bookers, male promoters, who were either just, you know, I was a lot younger and they were very kind of, maybe a little bit creepy. I accepted situations where I was promised payment and then not given it.

I was in situations where I had work that I had written taken away from me and given the credit to, you know, a male writer, and I'm not saying that you know I don't want to like victim blame myself if that's a thing, and say well it was my fault, but looking back on it I think I should have been way more assertive and I think there's a lot of situations where I should of said: “Actually, no.”

I've always been quite pleased by the fact that I am quite, I think I'm quite, a polite person, and I think that I, you know, there's times where someone will be flapping around or being like, “I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry,” and I'll be like, “No totally chill, I will put up with this, I'm totally fine.”

I think that's part of the reason I've been asked back so often in poetry things is not just because I turn up and do the work, and do the work well, but because I'll actually be very polite whilst doing it, but I think there are so many times I wish that I could go back in time and be like no this is not how you treat people.

I should have demanded the money I was promised, I should have demanded my name to be given their rights, I should have been more punchy sometimes, and I don't know if that's entirely something I can chalk up to, it is something that women do a lot more of, and I don't know if I can entirely say it's cause I'm a woman and I was socialised to be polite, I don't know if it's also because you know I'm an anxious little bean just trying to make my way in the world and can be so afraid to ask for anything, and you know would rather die than make a fuss, but I think that persisting challenge has not just been the external forces, but has also been trying to teach myself that I'm worth better situations, and teach myself how to get out of the bad ones.

Amalie: 100%.

Beth: So kind of similar I'd say yes to a lot of things, and I pile things up and they really pile up, and I'll get through to them eventually, but then obviously time is ticking, and you did just run out, and I'm not very good at saying no to things or stopping things at the root of the problem almost.

Like with people I'll always be polite, and there's no need to be rude to anyone or anything like that, but you could just politely say, “Look, I'm really sorry, but actually I've got too much on my plate at the moment and I'm really struggling to get through it all. So I'm going to say no to you for now.”

And actually people more often than not are quite understandable. I've learnt that in the last four years, certainly at university, just to say no, and actually when I think I've learnt keep your mouth shut, sometimes in social situations, and someone who is really irking you, and I just want to turn around and tell them this this and this, and actually, you give yourself half an hour, an hour, you sleep on it, and actually the next morning you’re like, “Actually no.”

Quite often… the one time I did it, it blew up in my face and ended up turning into a massive conflicting argument and it wasn't enjoyable for either party and ended up just not like resolving itself really and it was a real shame.

But I would say like just making sure actually if you're polite about it at the beginning but transparent in like actually I've got a lot on my plate and not having this big brave face being like, “Oh no I'll take that on board,” and then being like, “Oh dear when am I going to find the time to do this and stuff like that.” But yeah, it's kind of similar to what you were saying, tolerating stuff but you don't have to go about it like in a harsh way, you just kind of be like, “Look.”

Catherine: Just being assertive, politely assertive.

Beth: Yeah that's the goal.

Catherine: I had a flat mate the first year I lived in Edinburgh, I had a flat mate and he once said to me, and it still stuck with me, he was like whenever I'm in a situation where I'm really stressed out, I say is this going to matter to me in five years’ time.

And then he would go, if the answer was yes, you know if it was, he had to study for something or someone was treating him in a really bad way that could really, really hurt him and that he was like, that's the time to take action, to stand up for yourself, to get through this, and if it's not going to matter in five years, then stop and just walk away.

No one is going to care in five years whether you did the dishes on this day and you haven't stuck to the hoovering rota, don't sweat the small stuff you know. [laughs]

Beth: Be a nice human being which loops back to the award of being a nice human.

Amalie: Yes.

Catherine: Be excellent to each other.

Amalie: Be excellent to each other and on that note I'm going to ask the last question. So if you could associate your object with one word, what would it be?

Catherine: Spontaneous-ness. Is that a word? Spontaneity is the word I'm looking for [laughs].

Amalie: The poet says.

Catherine: My mum's an English teacher as well, she's going to listen to this and she's going to leap out her chair and immediately text me, and go, “I can't believe you said that!” [laughs]

Beth: My dad's a massive grammar freak, so you can't get my grammar on this so I'm safe. One word - happy. I'm going to stick with happy because it's the find your happy place and I think university for me, it got better as I went along in the four years, but yeah just a lot of happy memories, yeah, really good, good times.

Amalie: Great guys!

[Sharing things theme tune]

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