Saturday, 21 July 2012

all frat-boy and chipper

In my life, I've probably applied to somewhere in the region of 200 jobs. Despite this, I haven't had that many interviews. Maybe about 10. Most of the jobs I've had did not involve interviews, but merely asking for a job (I have had a lot of very low status jobs). My first interviews were disastrous. The very first, was for a Kent County Council placement scheme and I was asked to describe my course. I just couldn't. No, I could not describe the university course that I had sat through hours of lectures for, spent somewhere in the region of £6000 for, and read pages and pages of course texts for. The nerves just wiped my brain entirely clean.

Of course, years have made me somewhat wiser and now I have prepared answers I can recite to every single genericy interview question I can possibly apprehend. Examples of teamwork, an example of this, an example of that, blah blah blah. If you have no answer, saying nothing is not an option, they just force you to just spit out buzzwords that both you and the interviewer(s) know really mean nothing but, for some reason, are like secret passwords to get past the force-field which guards the world of employment. In Microserfs by Douglas Coupland, the protagonist expresses his distaste for marketing meetings, and I think the way he describes them is also my opinion of interviews - "I think everyone hates and dreads Marketing's meetings because of how these meetings alter your personality. At meetings you have to explain what you've accomplished, so naturally you fluff up your work a bit, like pillows on a couch. You end up becoming this perky, gung-ho version of yourself that you know is just revolting. I have noticed that everybody looks down upon the gung-ho type people at Microsoft, but nobody considers themselves gung-ho. They should just see themselves at these meetings, all frat-boy and chipper."

Anyway....I got through an interview the other day and I have a new job as a filing monkey for an MEP in the South West of England, though I do believe the official job title is "Constituency Administrator". The job, part-time, involves "ensuring the office supply of refreshments is kept topped up, buying anything as and when needed" as well as other exciting duties. I have heard people twenty years my senior complain that too many young people have degrees and that we're all overqualified idiots, but even though you obviously do NOT need a degree to file, enter data and make the tea, would I have got the job without it? In the email informing me that the job was mine, and I copy and paste; "We were very impressed with your interest in the role, in politics and the quality of the test you undertook." Yes, that's the job market we are in, a degree is merely one pokemon badge towards the pokemon league. At this point I would like to point out I do indeed realise how lucky I am to have a job and I'm sure when I start it, it will be great.

BUT MAN, climbing the greasy pole is so hard, you better believe that when I'm an MP I'm going to fiddle the hell out of my expenses. Screw that Tory who used expenses for his duck house, my pond is going to have a mini theme park for my wildlife.*

Now I am going to go outside and do some gardening. I bet you are all jealous of my super exciting life.

Ps. I really don't like the distinct lack of pictures in this entry and the last, please accept this picture of my dog without much explanation.

*I don't expect I will ever be an MP, nor is it something that I aim for. Furthermore I would not fiddle my expenses, probably.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

don't worry money, your money's happiness is all that money

Recently, I read an article entitled Why Women Have No Opinions. Of course, the author is not actually suggesting that women do not have opinions, she is merely addressing the fact that less than a fifth of op-ed articles in major newspapers are written by women. The reason, she says, is that women won't usually write about something unless they feel extremely qualified to do so, as opposed to men, who feel comfortable blathering out a load of hot air whenever given the opportunity.

Well as a female I've taken note and produced my own "dinner party" piece, I've read a little bit on the subject and I'd like to give you my non-expert thoughts on the wage subsidy, a topic I feel goes nicely with the (un)employment theme of my blog.

As you may be aware, youth unemployment is a big ol' problem in this country. When us young people (hey I count, I'm still in the 18-24 bracket for another 9 months and 1 day dammit) are not hanging around street corners in our hoodies or drinking cheap cider in parks, we're failing to find jobs, presumably due to employers thinking us younglings are useless, stupid and incompetent due to our lack of life experience.

So what is Britain's coalition government doing about it?

Last November, they announced a £1bn "Youth Contract" to tackle record youth unemployment and most recently, plans for a wage subsidy have moved forward. Now from what I understand about the wage subsidy with my feeble female brain, it provides a subsidy to firms taking on young workers to the tune of £2,275 per person, or the equivalent of three months pay at minimum wage. Basically, the government pays firms to employ people. The wage subsidy will now be available to firms in the "top 20" most god-foresaken hell-holes disadvatanged areas, such as Hartlepool, Dudley, Sunderland, etc. The idea of course, is that employers have an extra incentive to take a chance and hire an 18-24 year old, enough money to hopefully make up for their assumed incompetence, giving those youths crucial opportunities to gain experience so they can finally put something on their CVs.

So will this work? As the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion (CESI) point out "general wage subsidies have two big problems: low take-up by employers; and a large amount of paying for what would have happened anyway (so-called “deadweight”).." CESI further point out that similar schemes in the UK that have been tried and scrapped were not all that successful, Workstart, the “National Insurance Contributions holiday”, The New Deal Employment Option, and the £1,000 Six Month Offer. Furthermore, critics of such schemes often point out that such subsidies, if taken up, create jobs that do not really exist, or "non-jobs" (see here).

CESI have their own suggestions for improving/simplifying the scheme, but is there any other solutions for youth unemployment? Some suggest scrapping the minimum wage. Several economists/misers argue that the minimum wage is a bad thing because some businesses cannot afford to hire as many people; and particularly inexperienced, young, are simply not "worth" minimum wage and are priced out of the market.

Of course this paints an extremely bleak picture, a world where some people are somewhat comparable to the "epsilon semi-morons" in Brave New World (see here if you haven't read it). Not to mention the fact that it seems extremely unpalatable and exploitative to not pay someone a fair wage. Anyway, a recent study by the Low Pay Commission concludes that a fair wage is actually economically beneficial; as firms and sectors most affected by the introduction of a minimum wage actually experienced significant increases in productivity as a result.

So now that we've learned its important to pay people the minimum wage, you got any other suggestions? I'm not entirely sure. Economics is a tricky area for me, in first year of university I took a module called Introduction to Economics which consisted largely of me sitting in the back of the lecture hall playing Tetris and Rainbow Islands on my phone (yes my phone was that awesome) whilst acronyms such as "GDP" flew straight over my head. I was thrilled to get 45 on the exam, as merely passing seemed somewhat miraculous. That summer I decided it would probably be a good idea to actually learn some basics, and took to reading Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science by Charles Wheelan. Now, Wheelan too suggests scrapping the minimum wage, but advocates compensating workers through the systems not unlike the USA's Earned Income Tax Credit system, which he claims is “one of the biggest poverty-fighting tools in recent years”. The EITC uses the income tax system to subsidize low-wage workers to raise their total income above the poverty line. A worker getting $11,000 a year, for example, could possibly get an additional $8,000 through the EITC. In the UK, we have the Working Tax Credit; but it's over complicated, difficult to understand and of course, not available to under 25s.

Taking lessons from Wheelan, I suggest we pay the wage subsidy directly to the workers, like a tax credit, and allow firms to pay workers below minimum wage for a limited period only. Example: a company pays a worker £3.20 an hour and for every hour worked, the public purse compensates an extra £3, for say 3-4 months, after which the "minimum wage exemption period" elapses and firms will be expected to pay a full wage. By expecting the firms to foot some of the costs, less money is lost through "deadweight" and there is an incentive to give employees proper training and have the chance to gain some valuable skills rather than just doing "non-jobs", but the decreased labour costs mean they still have an incentive to hire young people. Furthermore, I'd argue that the "minimum wage exemption period" should only be available to smaller businesses to help them to flourish; and prevent corporate giants cashing in on cheap labour, as the "we can't afford to pay the full wage!" argument doesn't sound so believable coming from Tesco or Asda.

Of course, this would probably still suffer the same problems as the wage subsidy proposed by our government, including low take-up; and even though workers would be compensated I'm sure a bad taste will still be left in the mouth of many if firms are allowed exemption from minimum wage guidelines. C'mon people, comment, let's turn my blog into a thinktank and solve youth unemployment.....oops, getting ahead of myself here.

Anyway, that was my non-expert view on something I don't really know that much about but still have an opinion on. To summarise, I'm not sure the wage subsidy will be that helpful and could be implemented better, but it's probably better than nothing.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

i've learned that life is just.... crushing defeat after the other until you just wish Flanders was dead.

Blogging is a lot (well a moderate amount) of effort for what feels like not much reward. Waaaaaaaaaa.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

san miguel primavera sound

So after one whole week of working, I decided that I already needed a holiday and jetted off to Barcelona for San Miguel Primavera Sound, a music festival held at Parc Del Forum along the seafront. Among the hugely overpriced tourist-trap bars and restaurants, the large amount of sunburnt butt-cheeks I saw sticking out of too-small hotpants, and shifty looking Spanish men peddling a concoction of crushed headache pills and flour as MDMA and coke, I had an absolutely wonderful time.

Musical highlights for me included Shellac, who as well as bloody smashing it with incredibly coarse minimalism and effortless vocals, made the audience stand on one leg and pretend to be planes, Atlas Sound, who provided shoegaze so wonderfully beautiful it made the audience gaze dreamily at him as opposed to their shoes, and Wavves, who, for a man just droning about how bored he is over some fairly simple chord progressions played with such fantastic raw energy.

That's enough about my loser music taste, it's time to talk about the city. Aesthetically, Barcelona is very pretty. A notable highlight includes the Parc de la Ciutadella which features a picturesque lake for boating and a waterfall with meticulous details and sculptures, featured below.

The polaroid I'm taking in the above picture is here. I shoot using film made by The Impossible Project, because, as you may or may not know, Polaroid stopped making instant film. What is pretty irksome about this film is that you cannot expose it to light within the first 4 minutes of shooting, hence why in the above picture I have a box taped over where the camera spits out the photos, but I have a sneaking suspicion my taping wasn't quite thorough enough 'cause that shot is fucked.

After spending three months in the Maldives, I can't say Barcelona had the most beautiful beach I have ever been on, but it was lovely and in Spain it's actually legal to wear swimwear, so that's definitely a plus. A personal highlight of mine was the amount of men selling beer on the beach; now I am aware that they purchased them for 75c and then double the price for idiot tourists like me, but the joke is on them because I am more than happy to pay an extra 75c for straight-to-beach delivery for an ice cold brewski whilst I work on my tan.

Shopping is probably great too, I saw many interesting boutiquey looking shops down windy streets slightly reminiscent of Brighton's Laines, although having spent in the region of £600 on hostel, flights, festival ticket and spending money I wasn't in any position to be bringing home souvenirs for anyone. £600 may seem pricey for a week's holiday but it could probably be done significantly cheaper if organised further in advance, maybe around £400-£450. The price means that the average age is somewhat older than you'd expect at UK festivals such as the Carling Weekend (thank fuck, pesky children!) and it's only full of serious music lovers as opposed to people who heard it was well kewl to go to Glasto and be just like a T4 presenter!!1one

The festival site itself is, as already mentioned, along the seafront which is pretty cool. The food stands are vast and rich in variety, catering more than just adequately for fussy-eaters and hippie vegetarians like me, offering falafel, paella, burritos, kebabs and all sorts of wonderful edibles. A beer will set you back three euros, but it is pretty easy to smuggle in alcohol to the site if you're that way inclined. A nice touch for me was that most of the stages are adequately kitted out with seating areas at the side for when you're only moderately up for partying or just plain lazy. And of course, the lineup is way better than any other music festival I've ever witnessed.

Overall, would I go next year? Yes. Definitely. Best festival ever.

All photos taken by my beautiful friend, Nichol Callaghan.

some blathering about unpaid work

I haven't updated in a while, so I thought I would provide an update as to where I am on my adventure from unemployed loser to employed high-flier. Well, reader, I've taken the first step towards success, I can't tell you how many steps there are left; it's a poorly lit staircase, so we'll see. Anyway using a giant shoehorn-like implement, I prized myself away from the sofa, lest my body become part of the cushioning which I sunk into whilst watching utter shite such as Dating in the Dark and Man V Food. Seems everyone loved me so much at my old job I was asked to go back there, so for 22 hours a week I am a data-monkey for the local council yet again. With the typical working week being 37.5 hours, your GCSE maths qualification is probably telling you that 37.5 - 22 = 15.5, and you'd be correct. What do I do with the left-over time?

Currently, I've decided to get gripping the greasy pole. Not an actual greasy pole of course, the thought of someone with my balance, strength and overall climbing ability doing that sure is a comical thought. No, reader, I have not lost the dream of gaining a degree-relevant job, and have decided to "volunteer" in my local constituency's office in order to try and make my CV a tad less pathetic, and a tad more political. Many of the most competitive industries now require experience before you can even start drawing a salary in them, and it seems politics is no exception, even for a job as a constituency assistant with a measly £16k salary. Doing work for free to gain skills is a highly contentious issue, from unpaid internships to the controversial workfare programme introduced by David Cameron's government towards the end of 2011, both of which seem to side-step minimum wage laws. Proponents of extreme laissez faire economics would argue that the most unskilled and uneducated people price themselves out of the market by expecting to work for at least minimum wage, but is anyone so bloody useless they don't deserve £6.19 an hour to perform menial tasks? Then again, I have seen The Jeremy Kyle Show.

Of course the things that fresh-faced graduates will to do gain "valuable employment skills" are hardly comparable to fully grown adults stacking shelves in Asda with the threat of otherwise losing their benefits. You will no doubt have seen in the news the poor unemployed souls who were bussed into London facing horrific conditions to work on a Jubilee Pageant, and if you haven't you can read more about it here. Who do the proponents of this scheme think they are fooling when they claim such work is actually useful to the individual?

However, unpaid work from a young graduate's point of view can be quite different. My own experience has involved constituency casework, political research and writing summaries of legislation, all at a comfortable pace which would in no way would replace the work of a paid individual. Trying to stay positive, I'm viewing this as free training, as opposed to doing a Master's Degree to bulk up the ol' CV where I would be paying an institution to learn more to become overqualified and still probably unemployed. Obviously not being a total moron I already know how to write letters and google things, but I think it has been useful to learn a certain style of writing and get used to using certain sources and overall I have a great time working there, the people are great. I know my experience is not typical of unpaid internships - I went for one interview for an unpaid internship with a certain frontbencher where just the interview involved writing a press release, letter to a constituent, 3 questions to ask the prime minister to elicit statistics regarding job centre closures which could then be attacked, a quote summarising the state of the economy, and a tweet about something happening in the constituency in just one hour. Sounds difficult, doesn't it? I didn't get the gig, but I assume the job I would have been doing constituted a large portion of an MP's work who gets paid £70k a year to do it whilst I would have got a measly £6 a day for tube journeys (whilst I slept on my friend's sofa for three months as I don't live in London). But then, why would she have paid someone to do it when there are those willing to do it for free? It's just fiscally irresponsible. Unpaid internships like this have become an uncomfortable reality, and even those who champion meritocracy are doing it - I'm looking at you left-wing thinktank Demos and certain Liberal Democrat and Labour MPs!

Unpaid internships have been criticised as barriers to social mobility, especially in politics where so many jobs already belong to male, rich, white guys who were probably privately educated, leaving the povvos of our nation unrepresented in parliament. I'm not rich or privately educated (or male, or even technically "white"- I am one eighth black, true story) and I'm still hoping to get some sort of vaguely political work eventually, even if it means living with my parents like a total loser for the foreseeable future, so we'll see if it really is possible. My advice is not to shy away from unpaid work and try and find some that does not take the absolute piss, which does not expect too much from you and can fit around part-time work. If you really want it, you may as well try. Of course, in six months time when I'm still working for free and eating out of bins we'll see what I have to say about unpaid work then, but at this time I'm feeling rather positive. If anyone reading this would like to share thoughts/experiences, I would love to hear from you.

Join me next time for more adventures in (un)employment!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

unemployment, books, wookey hole

One boring afternoon in April 2011, I was writing an essay about post-communist economic reform of the Eastern Bloc. Not for fun of course, I'm not mad, it was for a university course I was taking. Anyway, whilst researching for this essay, one particular book mentioned that "Looking for a job, particularly if you are already out of work, is one of the more stressful, frustrating and potentially demeaning tasks that accompanies life in a Western market economy". I had a three month stint as a finance monkey for Somerset County Council before I left to volunteer in the Maldives, and now I'm unemployed again I gotta say I agree.

Or maybe unemployment perhaps isn't all bad - I try to steer clear of Jeremy Kyle though I will be guilty of occasionally watching The Wright Stuff. I'm trying to read more, currently I'm halfway through Dostoevsky's Brothers Karamazov and have been reading it for like, forever. It would be a total lie to say its unputdownable, its incredibly difficult to read - but some bits have been utterly stunning, I particularly enjoyed the way it deals with the ethical debates concerning the existence of God in "The Grand Inquisitor" bit. Secondly I found a pristine copy of Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife For a Hat in the Blue Cross charity shop and foolishly I started to read it before finishing the former book and it is about ten times more readable. The book, which details the world famous neurologist's experiences with various patients who had bizarre neurological disorders, such as people who have lost their memories or are no longer able to recognise people and common objects, is pretty great so far. The book is so much more than just medical notes, its beautifully written and somehow incredibly sad and hilarious all at the same time. You must read this book.

Let's not exaggerate the time I spend reading, I'm not some sort of egghead genius here. So that I don't get some sort of stay-at-home cabin fever I try to leave the house too, y'know, dog-walking, bike rides, going to Morrisons way more than is strictly necessary and maybe even deliberately "forgetting" to buy something just so I have an excuse to go back there. Yesterday was my brother's birthday and of course, my unemployed self was free to celebrate with him by going on a day trip to tourist attraction Wookey Hole Caves, a delight he could also afford being self-employed. The Caves are "formed through erosion of the limestone hills by the River Axe" and are noted "for the Witch of Wookey Hole – a roughly human shaped rock outcrop, reputedly turned to stone by a monk from Glastonbury" - thanks Wikipedia. Of course there isn't just caves at Wookey Hole Caves, that would be too simple. Other features include a fairy garden, big fibreglass animals (including dinosaurs), a house of mirrors and a circus exhibition.

On a side note - I cannot get over film photography, I am stupidly addicted to what is essentially a dead art-form which confuses many of my peers who seem to think that I am so stupid I have just neglected to notice that digital cameras have been invented. Anyway, I bought some faulty polaroid film for an eye-watering price, especially for an unemployed loser like me and Wookey Hole seemed like the perfect place to test it out - results below.

These are pictures of my favourite attractions - the fibreglass animals and most amazingly, fully functioning machines at the Victorian Penny Arcade. You can change your money up and £1 buys you exactly ten Victorian pennies to use on penny falls, grab machines, fruit machines and various arcade games and even fortune tellers, one of which "read" my palm and told me that my hand denotes that I have a great ability for business details and lots of other nice things which are "definitely" true.

So I would definitely recommend a day out at Wookey Hole, with a quick stop-over in Wells on the way back for a visit to the biggest fuckin' cathedral I have ever seen. I'll leave you with a picture of this nice cat who seemed to live at Wookey Hole. End.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

pretentiouslittlefuck's volunteering experience

Who hasn’t wanted to volunteer abroad at some point? It’s a chance to justify the self-indulgence of travel by saying “I want to help the developing world.” I kid, I kid - regardless of motivations, volunteering abroad is surely a good thing, although Daily Mail “journalists” might try and have you believe otherwise.

However, when we think of people volunteering abroad, we think of super gung-ho, over privileged “gap yah” style early twenty-somethings. “Giving something back” is a luxury that the rest of us can’t usually afford and so we feel doomed to be uncultured philistines forever more. Well this isn’t always the case - I secured a place on the now defunct International Volunteer Programme co-ordinated by the “Friends of Maldives” (also now defunct) which I didn’t have to pay for and actually provided a living allowance to twenty or so volunteers to travel to the beautiful archipelago to teach and “get involved with local projects”.

I arrived in the Maldives on the 29th December 2011 after the longest flight I’ve ever been on to see a country which was like nothing I’d ever seen before. Maldivian school term started on the 8th of January and we were advised to arrive a few days early for a poorly organized “orientation” consisting of, among other things, a Dhivehi literacy class (where we learned nothing) and attempting to open a bank account (we didn't manage it). On the itinerary was a meeting with the president, yes, the president! Boasting on their blogs and facebook statuses, the other volunteers were clearly super stoked to have met the president; but whilst we may have felt like great big British diplomat superstars the Maldives has a population of 300,000, which makes our Maldivian political engagement somewhat comparable to meeting the mayor of Scunthorpe. Oh. He did promise us a trip to his island where we could utilize a variety of luxury facilities, but it turned out just to be president talk.

I’ll be the first to admit that I had never considered teaching before, nor did I think I would be any good at it. But this was volunteering abroad, I thought it wouldn’t matter that I was unqualified and hated school myself when I was in it, these children would love us; we have come a very long way to help them learn a useful language! However, they hated school just like British kids and I’m sure I’ll remember for a long time a 10 year-old child giggling and saying to me “You’re going to hell” in response to “Will you get back in your seat, please?” The other teachers were generally not too welcoming, with the exception of the other expat teachers who were generally from India and Sri Lanka, who also suffered from some degree of ostracism from the Maldivian people. When being interviewed for the position, the interviewers lit up when I mentioned I play guitar saying that the kids would love it – but I did not bother presenting my would-be rockstar self to these children as it would have no doubt produced cringe-worthy moments and confirm that I am nowhere near as cool as I appear in my head. Although, I doled out high fives to some of the younger children when they got correct answers and on the way out of class, sometimes there would be a small queue forming to slap my hand, which definitely felt kinda awesome.

One notable point about the Maldives is that the religion is pervasive in politics, which had an influence on a variety of factors but most relevant for young people is the legal status of alcohol. Initially I had planned to brew some prison wine or “pruno”, which I thought was worth making just to follow this hilarious write-up alone. However, I realized that lucidity is not the horrible nightmare we might believe it is, although a gin and tonic upon my eventual return to the UK was greatly received. Lo and behold, good conversation outside of the pub does exist.

There were some good moments. Some children were just great with such fantastic imaginations and I probably would have left after a week of volunteering if it hadn’t been for them. It certainly was an experience and I’m glad I did it. And of course, the Maldives is an absolutely beautiful country with the most amazing beaches I have ever seen. The sad thing was that I didn’t feel like most of the children had been taught to respect foreigners or women and that my volunteering was lost on them. And so I left an 11 month placement 3 months in not only because I did not find teaching in the Maldives a particularly pleasant experience, but also because of an unstable political situation, feeling unsafe generally (we were broken into twice), and because I felt like there wasn’t room for an English volunteer in the Maldivian school system, especially as the International Volunteer Programme is no more since political changes.

Unfortunately we don’t even get to say we met the president since he was forced to resign, allegedly by gunpoint, just “former president Nasheed” which sounds nowhere near as good in conversation. But I did get a killer tan.