SLEEPWALKING THE MINEFIELD

I bet you liked the seesaw when you were a kid. Remember the pleasure of riding up and down, up and down, but only enjoying it if your friend on the other side was of similar size and weight? Well, the seesaw in relationships between Albanian and Serb communities has never been much fun because one party always had the upper hand at one time or another. Pent-up emotions and inter-ethnic tensions have been a reality in Serbia’s (ex-) southern province of Kosovo for as long as I can remember.

Kosovo.PNG

Fast backward. The late 1960s witnessed first protests by the Albanians who felt downtrodden as Islam had been repressed and the government, security forces, and industrial employment largely dominated by Serbs and Montenegrins. After a demand that Kosovo be made a republic, it gained major autonomy by the mid 70s, that is ‘its own administration, assembly, and judiciary, along with the membership in the collective presidency and the Yugoslav parliament’ and recognition of a Muslim Yugoslav nationality in Yugoslavia. As a result, ‘there was a massive overhaul of Kosovo’s nomenclature and police that shifted from being Serb-dominated to ethnic Albanian-dominated,’ which now meant harassing and firing Serbs big time. Our parents slept tight, sleepwalking without waking up.

The turning point in the relationship between Serbs and Albanians in Kosovo occurred in March 1981 when Albanian students organized protests seeking that Kosovo become a republic within Yugoslavia. The University of Priština, in Kosovo’s capital of Priština, was the starting point of the protests. Kosovo’s cultural isolation within Yugoslavia and its endemic poverty resulted in the province having the highest ratio of illiterates in the country. What’s more, university education was no guarantee of getting a job and the prospects of a promising future remained bleak. Unemployment grew and so did nationalist sentiment. The demands of the Albanian students were both nationalist and egalitarianist. They wanted a different kind of socialism than the Yugoslav one, marked by semi-confederalism and workers’ self-management. However, the unrest was brutally suppressed by the police and army, with many protesters arrested and killed, which was followed by a period of political repression. As many as 226 people were put on trial, including students, convicted of ‘separatism’ and sentenced to up to 15 years in prison. Many Albanians, including deans, were fired, our parents stuck between illusion and denial. Politically speaking, the demand that Kosovo become the seventh republic of Yugoslavia was unacceptable to Serbia and Macedonia that saw a ‘Greater Albania’ in the making, encompassing parts of Montenegro, Macedonia and Kosovo itself.

Repression was present on both sides in 1981. Some 4,000 Serbs were reported to have moved from the province to central Serbia after the riots that resulted in several Serb deaths and the desecration of Serbian Orthodox architecture and graveyards. In short, the demonstrations in Kosovo were the beginning of a deep crisis in Yugoslavia that led to its dissolution a decade later. The government’s response to the protests sure changed the political discourse in the country in a way that significantly impaired its ability to sustain itself in the future. By the 1980s, the Kosovo Albanians constituted a majority in Kosovo and ethnic tensions continued with frequent violent outbreaks against Yugoslav state authorities. During the 1970s and 1980s, thousands of Serbs and Montenegrins left Kosovo, largely due to unfavorable economic conditions, and ethnic discrimination by the Kosovo Albanian government and population. ’57,000 Serbs have left Kosovo in the last decade,’ wrote the New York Times in 1982. According to Noam Chomsky (source: A Review of NATO’s War over Kosovo), “after the death of Tito, nationalist forces undertook to create an ‘ethnically clean Albanian republic,’ taking over Serb lands, attacking churches, and engaging in ‘protracted violence’ to attain the goal of an ‘ethnically pure’ Albanian region, with ‘almost weekly incidents of rape, arson, pillage and industrial sabotage, most seemingly designed to drive Kosovo’s remaining indigenous Slavs out of the province.” At the same time, an atmosphere that Serbs were the only jeopardized ones was being created in the rest of Serbia. We were panned out, snoring.

My generation was growing up and didn’t know or understand much of what was going on there in the 80s. We were sleepwalking through the Kosovo crisis, at least those who didn’t know anybody affected by it. We were busy putting out fires at home, looking for four-leaf clovers, and chasing the rainbow, busy blowing out candles on birthday cakes, busy being footloose, busy jumping rope, playing with marbles, building a house of cards and sandcastles, throwing snowballs at each other and eggs and sticky coal tar pitch on passers-by from the terrace, busy flying kites, riding bikes, roller skating, discovering and exploring caves, busy climbing cherry trees, writing to pen pals, sledding, organizing tennis tournaments, putting stars on top of Christmas trees, collecting napkins, badges, shells and memories. The whole country was busy leading its life, sleeping like a baby and dreaming. Nobody heard or wanted to hear the nightmares of those deprived of sleep.

With his visits to Kosovo, Serbian President Milošević will ‘upset the delicate balance that Tito so carefully sought.’ The incapacity to control Albanian separatist unrest in the province will prove detrimental in the long run, ending in a massacre on both sides, and the mass desertion of Kosovo. Under Tito, Kosovars had had a considerable measure of self-rule until 1989 when Milošević, who gained political power by pledging to discontinue the repression, responded brutally by abolishing Kosovo’s autonomy and establishing direct Serbian rule. ‘With his rise to power, the Albanians started boycotting state institutions and ignoring the laws of the Republic of Serbia, culminating in the creation of the Republic of Kosova, a self-declared proto-state in 1992, which received diplomatic recognition from neighboring Albania. Kosovo Albanians organized a separatist movement, creating what Chomsky calls ‘a parallel civil society,’ that is a number of parallel structures in education, medical care, and taxation (source: Crisis in the Balkans). Needless to say, they had all the encouragement from Western governments they needed. The ultimate goal of such civil disobedience was achieving the independence of Kosovo. It’s as if we had been sleeping all along and suddenly woken to find ourselves among a jaw-dropping horror film.

Like Serbia, I had always been a sound sleeper and used to fall asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. Sleepless nights and restlessness set in when I moved away from my parents and swallowing sleeping pills became customary when reality knocked on the door. I used to be a sleepwalker and the memories of this phase, which lasted throughout my childhood and ended at some point in high school, are pretty vivid. When it comes to sleep talking, my recollections are mostly non-existent. Those who had a chance to peek at the workings of my brain in the middle of the night reacted differently. My mom had an awful time with me sleepwalking, often glancing into my sister’s and my room to check everything was alright. She used to picture me falling down the stairs, unknowingly hurting myself or leaving the house, though not always through the front door. Although I had the habit of saying I was going for a walk, luckily for everybody, I didn’t hallucinate of being Batman and kicking ass. I never did anything terribly wrong while walking in my sleep, but, now that I think of it, it might have been a solid defense if I had. Anyway, my mom was worried shitless, my dad mostly slept through the night and sis got a kick out of chatting with me and asking me questions. Interestingly, when I mumbled something nonsensically, I wouldn’t remember anything the following day. When you talk gibberish like that, rarely anyone in your proximity is able to make out what you’re saying so there’s no worry about accidentally revealing any dark secret while you snooze. But then, on and off, I’d talk in coherent sentences, answering questions, and actually having a dialogue. Most of the time, I’d just sit up, babble for a few seconds and then go back to sleep when told to. Sometimes, I’d wander around the house for a bit, open and close doors and closets or rearrange things before being walked back to bed. I recall waking everyone up in a hotel room in Slovenia, after colliding with the closet. I was scared, confused and disoriented as I couldn’t find the door, thinking we were at home. No wonder everything seemed uncomfortably unfamiliar.

Serbia, in union with Montenegro as the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia as of 1992, was groping in the dark, trying to maintain its political control over the province. With the formation of the separatist Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), ‘an ethnic Albanian paramilitary organization,’ receiving large funds from Albanian Diaspora, and including many foreign volunteers from West Europe and ethnic Albanians from the U.S., a great number of the Kosovo Albanians became radicalized. Needless to say, the States informally backed the guerrilla KLA in order to destabilize Milošević. In 1997, the organization acquired a large amount of arms through weapons smuggling from Albania, following a rebellion which saw large numbers of weapons looted from the country’s police and army posts.’ The Serbian police and Yugoslav army response was brutal. In ‘97, international sanctions were once again imposed on FR Yugoslavia, this time because of the persecution of Kosovo’s Albanians by Yugoslav security forces. The whole nation had been sleepless and restless after years of crisis.

I was 20, and my sleep had been broken by my ‘night shifts,’ that is burning the midnight oil before exams. My favorite sleep talking story occurred around this time. My sister namely woke me up in the middle of the night during one of my monologues and I began to scream since I thought she was a wolf. Go figure. When I realized she wasn’t, I flopped back down and returned to sleep as if nothing had happened. I must have dreamed of being chased by wolves. In case you’re wondering, I sleep-pissed in bed once only while at university (you heard me right!) apparently while dreaming of taking a leak. They said my eyes were commonly open, or half open, whether I was sleepwalking or sleep talking, and my glassy ‘look right through you’ appearance must have seemed as if I had been haunted by a spooky ghost. Had my family made a video with a shaky cam (with me as the actress in a leading role) and added some special effects, post-production modifications and creepy music to it, we might have had a decent trailer for a genuinely disturbing horror film. No advancement in technology and quality though could have helped make a scarier movie than the one we were about to watch.

MORALITY PARK

I bet you liked the seesaw when you were a kid. Remember the pleasure of riding up and down, up and down, but only enjoying it if your friend on the other side was of similar size and weight? Well, the seesaw in relationships between Albanian and Serb communities has never been much fun because one party always had the upper hand at one time or another. Pent-up emotions and inter-ethnic tensions have been a reality in Serbia’s (ex-) southern province of Kosovo for as long as I can remember.

Kosovo pic.PNG

Fast backward. The late 1960s witnessed first protests by the Albanians who felt downtrodden as Islam had been repressed and the government, security forces, and industrial employment largely dominated by Serbs and Montenegrins. After a demand that Kosovo be made a republic, it gained major autonomy by the mid 70s, that is ‘its own administration, assembly, and judiciary, along with…

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THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE UGLY

Bojana, are you ready to go on? Alright.

I want you to focus again and try to remember everything, even things you forgot, wanted to forget and think you don’t remember. You limbs are getting heavy…heavier. It feels as if your hands and fingers were made of lead…You are sinking into perfect relaxation. I’ll count backwards now. 10, 9, 8…Inhale. Exhale.7….deeper still…6…let it all go now…5. Still drifting down…4, 3, 2…You feel this heavy relaxation in all parts of your body…deep and misty…Allow yourself to relax. Open your mind and your heart. Unburden…1.

Tell me what’s going on.

 

It’s Sunday afternoon, May 4, 1980 and we’re enjoying our weekend. The TV screen goes black for a few seconds. A statement is read live on national TV:

Comrade Tito has died. His great heart stopped beating at 3:05 PM.’

I’m 3. ‘Mom, why are you crying? Mom, don’t be sad. Is it me? Did I do something wrong?’ I’m too little to understand, too little to remember. Scenes of mass crying in the streets and during the live broadcast of a soccer match. The whole country is mourning Tito’s demise, expressing numbed disbelief and promising to remain loyal to his policy. He is buried in Belgrade, Serbia, in the House of Flowers a few days later, in the presence of 209 delegations from 127 countries, 700,000 people and a direct television broadcast of the funeral procession in 58 states. Tito’s funeral is noted as the most attended presidential funeral in the history of mankind to that time. To date, 17.5 million people have visited the Mausoleum.

Tito’s regime outlives him by as many as 10 years. An average Yugoslav lives in blissful ignorance throughout the 80s, that is the one who has a job. Life is comfortable. My family travels a lot: France, Italy, Spain, Bulgaria, Greece, Egypt. Little do we know that in a few years from now everything will fall apart. No one sees an economic collapse and civil unrest on the horizon. Nobody could have predicted such a downfall, really.

The mid 80s are challenging time for a country poising precariously between economic welfare and social catastrophe. Yugoslavia is falling into heavy IMF debt due to the large number of loans taken out by the regime. Another concern is the unemployment rate, severely aggravating in the second half of the decade.  Self-management ultimately drops the ball by the end of the 80s because of its bureaucratic degeneration and authoritarian political structure, where the seemingly autonomous working class has always played second fiddle to strong leaders, accepting their decisions uncritically. Basically, CEOs have been responsible to higher CEOs, instead of workers’ councils, and have as a rule had strong political ties. Knowing that the party has been god of all gods there, I’m sure you get the picture. What is more, after Tito’s death, political elites promote the idea of republican or ethnic working classes, as opposed to the united Yugoslav working class advocated by the late president. In other words, republics and autonomous provinces favorize their own working class by for example giving their workers inordinate wage increases, which creates even a bigger gap between the more developed and underdeveloped republics. The regional inequalities result in an economic crisis which further leads to a deterioration of the living standard. Let me put it into perspective for you. The scope of work is decreasing, companies are becoming insolvent, low wages, unsteady paychecks, lower wages, minimum wages, no paychecks AT ALL, millions are behind on bills, workers’ motivation is non-existent, work discipline zero, efficiency fictional. The outcome: the end of the movie for self-management. It was nice while it lasted. Two thumbs up for workers’ councils that survived for 40 years. Wow. Honestly. No kidding. I guess it would have been too much to ask…

However, there’s another problem. Besides the financial crisis, there’s also the crisis of system legitimacy after Tito’s death, with the long-simmering revival of nationalism coming to a boil by the end of the 80s. The introduction of self-management and decentralization was meant to encourage the liberalization and democratization of the mutual space. However, market competition turned the companies and republics into competitors, which then made republics’ party oligarchies act first as the guardians of republic interests and then the nationalist ones in the 80s.

With Tito’s death, Yugoslavia’s 6 constituent republics gain more autonomy, with a rotating presidency. The main issues troubling the elites in the post-Tito era turn primarily into a Serbian-Slovenian debate, marked by a growing divergence in the ‘national question.’ Confusing time. Before long, the fragile union he held together starts to unravel. The forces of nationalism he kept under control are unleashed, culminating in a brutal three-sided civil war hard to imagine in 20th century Europe. The outbreak of nationalism is followed by the awakening of patriarchal values, as is often the case. Sure there are civil initiatives, organizations and groups in all republics warning of the rapid militarization of society, nationalist mobilization and consequences they might have. Unfortunately, none of these anti-war movements is strong enough to prevent or stop the war. The end result: over 100,000 people killed (and God knows how many missing), 2 million driven from their homes, and Yugoslavia disintegrated.

The Croats and Slovenes, always reserved about Yugoslav unity, decide to secede. The latter try to avoid warfare, suggesting a plan for a loosely united country, based on the Swiss model of independent yet confederated cantons. The proposal is however turned down by other parties wanting full autonomy. Slovenia is the first Yugoslav republic to hold multi-party elections in the spring of 1990, which comes as no surprise. It is the most western-oriented, prosperous and ethnically homogeneous. Tensions are growing. The future of the country is at stake. We are cool…or just pretending. I’m an 8th grader about to take the grammar school entrance exam in Serbian (easy peasy) and math (ouch). My parents are panic-stricken and worried about my future. She’ll never make it. She sucks. Yeah, I know. But I’m cool (for real, not pretending). I rarely study.

Croatia is next to request more autonomy. First armed incidents begin, with open hostilities escalating in the majority-Serb populated areas in March/April 1991. Practice questions and tests, exam registration information, FAQs, tips, prep books, workbooks, study guides…not for me though, for my sister. She’s ready (read: if she’s ready, I’m ready too). I walk into the big room full of students and teachers, cool as ice. A kick-ass cheater, Tito’s school. Slovenia declares independence on June 25, 1991. Belgrade sends the Yugoslav People’s Army (JNA) to take control of its borders with Italy and Austria. Fighting breaks out on June 27, which will last 10 days. A total of 47 JNA soldiers are killed, aged between 18 and 22 from all the ethnic groups of Yugoslavia. The whole nation is shocked. I pass the exam with honors by applying the infamous partner (sister)-cheating method, that is copying down the answers sissy wrote on a ruler, and disposing of the evidence without getting caught. I’m shocked. I knew I’d pass but never thought my test scores would show such brilliant performance. I’m 14 and happy. I’ve got a crush on an out-of-towner. In September, the Republic of Macedonia gains its independence from Yugoslavia. My freshman year in high school may officially begin.

As violence erupts in Slovenia and Croatia, predominately Muslim Bosnia and Herzegovina (43% of the population) is ominously quiet until the fall of ‘91, when President Izetbegović starts to pursue independence. Bosnian Serbs (31%) oppose, creating their own ‘state’ and enjoying military support of Serbian President Milošević and JNA. The stage for a bloody secession is set. On the first school day, I sit down at a random empty desk in the third row by the window, where I remain till the end of high school. By the time I become a senior, it’ll be full of scribbles, hard to decipher by anyone but me.

The methods used by Croatian President Tuđman are extreme, invoking the spirit of the fascist and ultra-nationalist past. Its more than half-million Serb residents see the writing on the wall and begin to rise up, declaring independence from Croatia. JNA, now dominated by Serbs, sweeps in to put down the Croat rebellion and keep the nation together. The standoff lasts from 1991 to 1995, throughout my high school, and is full of scribbles, hard to decipher by anyone to date, let alone me. The now well-equipped Croatian army retakes the Serb-occupied areas in two offensives, retaliating for earlier ethnic cleansing by doing pretty much the same: torturing and murdering people, and destroying their homes. Scenes of warplanes opening fire on refugees. An eye for an eye. Most of remaining 300,000 Croatian Serbs, many of whom have been killed, are forced into Serbia. Up to now, few have returned. Croatia immediately establishes the borders that exist today.

In spring 1992, the Serb take control of a strip of Muslim-majority towns, also invading numerous mixed-ethnicity towns and villages, executing, and arresting thousands of Bosniaks and Croats (17% of the population), many of whom are taken to concentration or rape camps, while the remaining ones are forced to leave their homes. Bosnia, with its gruesome attacks and unthinkable atrocities, is torn apart, along with many families forced to choose sides. Absurd time. I now live in the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro, created from the two remaining federal republics of Yugoslavia after its breakup in ‘92. Cut-off phone lines between post-Yugoslav republics become an everyday reality. The best is yet to come. In the beginning, Bosniaks and Croats fight together against Serbs but, once tensions increase, the former allies engage in open conflict. There’s the so-called Croat–Bosniak war, or ‘war within a war,’ part of the larger Bosnian war, lasting from Oct 1992 to Feb 1994. Bellum omnium contra omnes (the war of all against all). Violent time.

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My generation is coming of age, watching the war live in neighboring Croatia and Bosnia, with its unspeakable cruelties, monstrosities, sieges, shelling, mass murders, mass rapes, mass graves, attacks and counter-attacks, led by regular and paramilitary armies, with thousands of soldiers and civilians killed, displaced and disappeared on all three sides. The world loathes it, the world is disgusted, the world is watching in discomfort, the world condemns it. The world is sending over ‘the Smurfs’ (UN Protection Force). They have the best seats in the theater, sitting in the first row. They are watching. The world pays no mind.

We’re boisterous, feisty and tough, my friends and I, or just play tough. We don’t suck up to upperclassmen. We’re no underdogs. We’re the intolerant and contemptuous ones. There are no cuties to crush on either so we might as well hate their guts. Eventually, we decide to pursue a middle way. We’re sort of on speaking terms, but I can’t say we’re friends either. Befriending refugees with a suitcase full of memories. We hate rules and being told what to do. We hate things that are compulsory. We defy authority. The principal’s a jerk. Teachers too (with a couple of exceptions). Many look down on us, so how can we look up to them?! We are smartasses with superior intellect, perception and wit, beating them so easily that it hurts.

don't listen to your teachers.PNG

No one gets suspended or expelled. It’s not that kind of school. There’s nothing much they can do, which annoys the hell out of them. We’re unbearable. When a teacher starts asking too many questions, we sneak off for a quick grope in one of the empty classrooms on the 3rd floor. Experimental time sharing. The remains of soldiers are shipped like parcels back home on a daily basis. When we’re bored or restless, we play hooky. We hate kissasses. Currying favor with teachers is a big no-no, inconsistency, reluctance and fear being punished in not so subtle ways. Truancy is always intentional, though unjustified, and unauthorized. So, we show up every now and then, which in our world means attending school but not going to class that often. Skipping. Yes, we stay away from school without explanation (or with a lousy one), we are absent without permission, we shirk work, and evade duty. I study only the things I’m interested it, in which case I’m enthusiastic, pro-active, resourceful, detailed, alert, studious, meticulous and nerdy. I dodge the stuff I find utterly unappealing and pointless for that matter, in which case I’m idle, lazy, sluggish, passive and neglectful. I’m pretty good at it. Packed orphanages and shabby refugee centers wherever you turn. I don’t move in a girl pack only nor do I need at least two besties with me at all times when entering the school, going to the bathroom, or walking to class. We attend funerals, walk behind coffins and listen to funeral speeches, saying a last goodbye to those killed in war, ‘too young to reason and too grown up to dream.’ I shave my head, and have different-colored socks on, along with my grandpa’s funky ties which I love cutting off. I wear a Sex Pistols sweatshirt/T-shirt, cuffed pants or worn out jeans with frayed edges and big holes at the knee and black boots that I never ever take off.

Ethnic hatred grows as various incidents fuel the powerful propaganda machines on all three sides. We’re told who to love, and who to hate. We live in a black and white world in which we’re the good guys fighting the bad ones, that is evil incarnate. Our religion is better than theirs. ‘Our flag is the embodiment of history,’ and OUR leaders the epitome of courage, determination, commitment, principle and vigor. By contrast, THEY are the personification of omnimalevolence: their politicians, their soldiers, their citizens, their males and females, their children, their dogs. Confusing time. 18-year-olds are drafted into the army in the middle of the night and transported to war zones like cattle in trucks to fight for ‘our cause.’ On our way to school and back, my girlfriends and I touch each other’s breasts and send them kisses, waving hello and goodbye, and we can’t help but wonder if that’s the first and last time we’ve seen them. Mixed feelings of desire, lust, sadness, rage, fear and impotence.

 

We’ll call it a day now, alright? In a few moments, I will awaken you. This time much quicker than the last one….more relaxed. I’ll count from 1 to 5. At the count of 5, you will open your eyes. You’re relaxed…1, 2…You’ll feel wonderfully refreshed when you wake up…3, 4…so relaxed, so calm…whole day…5.

How are you feeling?

Like shit.

LOVES ME, LOVES ME NOT…

You know those personality tests we used to do in high school? Well, I did one the other day. Boy, did I enjoy! Stupid and untrue as they may be, I’ve loved doing them for as long as I can remember. We’re on our bench in the schoolyard, my friends and me, giggling, elbowing, poking, nudging, sighing, smoking, puffing, fighting, hugging, kissing, touching, humming, singing, whistling, whispering, confiding, being painfully honest, gossiping, learning, considering 101 off-the-wall places to have sex, bursting into tears, bursting into laughter, yelling at the top of our lungs, laughing our lungs out, living and dying for. We share secrets and same dreams, exchange ideas, glances, clothes, records, teen magazines and books.  We discover sexuality from Erica Jong, INXS, Bukowski, Edward II, older pals and one another. We put pictures of Kim Basinger and Nastassja Kinski on our bedroom walls. We want to talk like Annie Lennox’s lovers do. We want to seduce like Sharon Stone. Loves me, loves me not, only wants to…, really cares about me.

LOVES ME....JPG

6 sure signs to read his mind, 5 practical ways to find out whether someone really loves you, 11 undeniable signals she’s into you, 8 certain things to prove you’ve got a crush, 44 reasons why I love you, 100 reasons why I hate you, 15 best ways to sweet talk to a girl, 25 romantic ideas to make your lover melt, 20 greatest quotes about love, 30 irresistible suggestions on how to write a perfect love message, 8 tips on how to leave him, 8 tips on what to do when his ex-girlfriend won’t leave him, 13 hints on how to turn a girl on, 22 responses to use when turning someone down for a date, 3 questions to ask that will make her want to tear your clothes off, top 14 most sexually charged excerpts from erotica books, endless foreplay, masturbation and sex advice. Plans, designs, schemes, projects, proposals, propositions, recommendations, aims, intentions, objectives, goals, targets. Indications, symptoms, pointers, indicators, marks, manifestations, demonstrations, exhibitions, presentations, displays, illustrations. Proofs, confirmations, affirmations, verifications, validations.

“What are you – optimist or pessimist?” is what the test’s called. I tick I don’t mind the rain. I start planning my next holiday as soon as I arrive home after a great one so as to have something to look forward to. I’m 40 – getting older – so what? A cold is just a cold; it won’t kill me. My partner has ended our relationship – he wasn’t the right for me. I have to make an important life decision – I’m going to take my time to think carefully about it. It’s autumn – a beautiful time of the year. I unexpectedly inherit £5,000 – great! I can buy a few luxuries that I couldn’t afford before.

Up next – how I scored…