Allow me to begin by saying I’ve never been to London. As much as I love travelling, culture, politics and beautiful places in general, I’ve never been to my countries own capital city. The opportunity that is allowing this to change is called the ‘NCS Leaders 2015/16’, a programme given to only one hundred National Citizen Service graduates over the past year. To put that into perspective, there were eighty thousand graduates this year alone. One hundred people out of that many graduates is a mere puddle next to an expansive ocean. It goes without saying that this opportunity is one I’m both proud of, and excited to be able to partake in. I should explain how I got into this position, amongst 100 strangers in a city I’ve never been in before. Well it all started when I graduated NCS a few weeks ago. I received an email notifying me that I had been nominated for the position of ‘NCS Leader’, along with a link to click on and fill out a questionnaire type interview thing. Amongst the questions were such things as, “what would you say to someone looking to do NCS?” and “what’s your most memorable moment from NCS?” or other such similar questions. Being the word geek I am, I thrived on this section. I poured my words out as much as I could, possibly digressing often, and giving whomever read it a likely headache (sorry, Monique, Joe or Martin!) After being accepted for that round, I had to record a video ‘vlog’ of myself explaining my ‘NCS Yes’ moment; the one moment in NCS that changed me as a person. Being a word geek, this part didn’t initially appeal to me. I thought I would be awkward, stammering and lispy, but I turned out to like it. Speaking about something I was so passionate about seemed second nature, so I think it went well. Evidently it did, as I got accepted to be a leader!
Anyway, as I was saying above, I’ve never been to London. With that, of course, I’ve never taken a train down to London. As I made my way to my Virgin train half an hour early, I was pleasantly surprised to note it was completely quiet. Not one person. This shocked me a bit, considering out of all the hundreds of trains I’d been on, this one that supposedly has the major route to London was the quietest. I didn’t complain though, who doesn’t like peace and quiet at 8:30am! However, the only downside to the situation was my reserved seat – it didn’t have a plug socket. Sad times for a teenager who can’t peel himself from his laptop or his phone screen.
Another thing that stole my attention was the menu – or the fact I couldn’t really buy anything from it. Sure, I could afford them, but £1.60 for a drink I could buy for 40p from my local shop seemed a bit steep. The four pack of beer also stole my attention, but yet again, the price didn’t. £12. At Tesco, you could probably get twelve for that price. Anyway, I couldn’t buy those as I’m 1) “too young” (haha) and 2) not prepared to offer such a stupid price for a little bit of liquid. I’m assuming being locked inside a speeding tin can for a number of hours could cause someone to lose all common sense and be willing to splurge such an amount on a little bit of lukewarm beer.
The train ride itself was rather enjoyable, if different. I’ve never taken a Virgin train-line so the self-tilting feature both freaked me out and knocked me into awe on every corner turned. The seats were also fairly comfortable; minus the leg cramp I got half way through my journey and suffered for the other one and a half hours. I couldn’t fail to notice the overhead baggage area by where I was sat, or the pseudo-baggage area. I’d be lucky if I could fit my thumb in that area, never mind an entire bag or backpack. I too humour in the fact that a small Coke bottle had become wedged in there (to put it into perspective of how tiny and stupid it looked)
Upon arrival at London Euston, my inner tourist took to flourish. I made a dash for the nearest ‘LONDON EUSTON’ sign in sight, took photos and uploaded one to Facebook with the witty caption, “Euston, we have landed.” Absolute gold. I then made way to our little meet-up area by some information point and mingled with some other NCS Leaders. I also bought a meal from WHSmiths which cost me a ridiculous amount. The sandwich wasn’t even that good (never buy a tuna, sweetcorn and mayo sandwich from there, if you’re wondering!)
Once everyone had been gathered, the 26 of us headed to the underground. Of course I’d never ridden this either, so I was extremely excited (as was my inner tourist.) With ticket in one hand, luggage in the other and the advice in mind of “move fast and don’t get in anyone’s way”, we made our way to our first train. I say first because we ended up on the wrong one. So we had to get one back. To cut a long story short, we arrived at Sevenoaks train station, be it with 3 people missing (they made it eventually) and myself only being called a “fu**ing Northerner” only once.
The wait was excruciatingly long, probably two hours, waiting for our minibus to take us to the boarding school where the Leaders event was staging. The wait was made worse by noticing the mixture of hyper, energetic and bubbly personalities mixed with the exhausted, dead and tired people slumped on the seats (myself included.) Finally the minibus came, and after a little mad dash back to the station to pick up my forgotten bag, I was sat down on my way to Sevenoaks. I think it was due to my prior NCS that I didn’t feel anxious or nervous for this, instead embracing and serene.
Upon arrival, we placed our bags into selected areas and then went to collect a dashing little canvas bag, our lanyard and name badge and our NCS Leaders hoodie. As always, I chose the very largest size because I prefer baggy clothes, and I guess it would keep me warmer; pays to hold attention to the weather forecast for London and Kent for the week. After hugging a few people and a ridiculous amount of people saying, “It’s great to finally meet you” (bear in mind I didn’t recognise ¾ of those who said this) we went to our first ‘ice breaker’ of sorts. We all gathered into a circle in one of the courtyards and arranged ourselves into height order and then into order of who travelled the furthest. Some people travelled all the way from Northern Ireland…that takes commitment!
After that, we set off to a presentation sort of thing. That sounds boring, and it probably was to some people, but I appreciated it. They kept it engaging and enjoyable, so kudos to that. With the golden rules drilled in, our teams assigned and boundaries set, we went off with our little ‘sub-group’ of about ten. Here, we played a few name memory games, including a ridiculously hard one I suggested. I’m not going to explain how it works because of how stupidly dull it is. Despite it’s boring nature, it DOES work.
Once our little team bonding was sorted, we dug into dinner. We had, on offer, rice and either vegetarian curry or chicken curry. Of course I chose the chicken; just what I needed after a day of travelling and new experiences. It was ‘okay’, I guess. For some reason my appetite faded after a few fork-fulls, but it was nice nonetheless. We then had a little bit of free time, where I hunted down my little friend group from the train fiasco and Facebook chat, and just chilled for a bit.
We then went back into our little groups and set about learning about each other and their NCS stories. I really enjoyed this because everyone in my group seemed passionate about their journeys. Of course they would all have spectacular stories to be in this situation, but it was great to hear it from them personally. There was one story in particular given by an individual with a disability, and how NCS originally tuned him down due to it, but he persevered and found one he could partake in. He then campaigned about access to Sheffield for less abled body persons. That story really touched home with me. It was wonderful to see him here, as well. If ever NCS had to explain its policy on diversity and inclusion, this was the golden example.
Once again we had a short assembly explaining the sleeping arrangements, WiFi password (of course that had to be in there somewhere) and the evening’s activities. We were then sent off to have some more free time. We were given the choice of either settling into our rooms (which we didn’t know about, in terms of who we may be sharing a room with or what the rooms were like) or staying put with our newfound friends. I chose to stay put, and we just generally mingled for an hour, specifically speaking to a few of the NCS staff and Alumni from the previous year. If there’s one thing that NCS does stronger than all others, it’s picking staff and representatives who have golden personalities. That has resonated throughout all stages of my journey.
After an hour of chatting, we dispersed to our rooms. I was extremely pleasantly surprised to find I had my own room. Of course this meant I could just throw off my socks and not care about what anyone thought. I also began to unpack and set out my desk; laptop on charge, Beats on the side, camera on the table, notepad out, etc etc. It vaguely reminded me of my week two journey which I wrote about HERE.
At 10pm we were called to the common room to set through fire exits, rules and other such boring stuff like where the toilets where, then allowed our own free time. We stayed put in the common room for half an hour, then all went to bed. I stayed up much of the night typing the summary of day one, only to wake up and find it had been deleted following a windows update.
Following that horrific detail, I spent much of the next morning – from 5am to 7am to be precise – retyping the day one summary. I didn’t mind it, after all, I had awoken refreshed and somewhat happy following an amazing night’s sleep. The only downside was the headboard, which for some reason rattled whenever the pillow touched it. I don’t know how that works, but whatever.