Sunday, 21 April 2013

Not quite living up to your hero

It's probably not entirely normal to say this, but Samuel Pepys is my hero.

I have a deep and abiding fascination with Restoration London, perhaps in no small part to his descriptions... but then, perhaps I have the interest in Pepys because he happened to be there are a fascinating time in history. I have yet to work this part out. Either way, when I moved to London I was delighted to find out my workplace was within easy wandering distance of a lot of the places he lived and worked, and I have spent quite a few happy lunch hours wandering around, looking at St Brides and Seething Lane and St Pauls. It has, if anything, possibly heightened my interest in Pepys.

I would like to be like Pepys, except perhaps without the copious extra-marital affairs or that time he was locked in the Tower. I identify with him, too – he came from a humble background, got a leg up due to cleverness honed with education, and was a skilled and talented administrator. I'd like to be like that, ideally with some of the massive success that is due at about this age, actually.

One of reasons Pepys and I differ, however, is that Pepys was an amazing diarist. We all know this. The plaque on the site of his birth saddens me, as I don't think that's now he would want to be remembered, but his skills of observation are unsurpassed. I'm managing to blog about twice a month, although my excuse is that Pepys didn't have interesting stuff to watch on the telly to distract him.

Anyway, Pepys would often go and have a nosey at interesting sights on London streets. Imagine my opportunity when they announced the route for Thatcher's funeral going more or less past my work? I could blog about that!

In the end, though,I didn't watch the funeral. There are two reasons for that: firstly, I had no desire to actually get involved in the thing, as I dislike the woman thoroughly and didn't want to be seen praising her, but I also had no desire to get involved in the protesting as I do think it was a little distasteful. Also, it was my turn to look after the switchboard.

Instead, on my walk to work from the Tube, I took a detour along some of the route. I lost count of police at 52, and to my secret gratification I saw Jon Snow, although not in a jolly tie for obvious reasons. More confusing was the large amount of quite jolly people out, taking the day as another cheery day in London, posing for foreign reporters. It all contrasted a little with the scary signs of the state -all of the Boris bikes were gone, no traffic on normally busy roads, police everywhere, and vehicle blocking equipment down every side street. It was quite good to get into work, in the end.

Where I sit in work I have no view of the main streets, but I could hear the noise in the backgrounds. Military bands played, and more ominously the helicopters roared over constantly for a good few hours. BBC News 24 was on the office TV and it was weird to see the streets we worked on full of all the fanfare. (A waste of public money, might I add.)

On my lunch, after the funeral was over, I had a wander up to St Pauls. The streets were still very busy, and I was mystified by the amount of people with sandwiches and little folding chairs. This was the funeral of someone who was – at the end of the day and indeed her life – a public citizen. It shouldn't have been a national event, and I'm a little bemused that it was. Still, at St Pauls I was pleased to see someone giving a lecture that sounded a lot like one of the lectures from The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist. More alarming was all of the police going off duty in the direction of Old Bailey – I have literally never seen so many in one place.

It was, basically, a weird day. In the end I went out for a drink after work – and why not? It was remarkably quiet, given the amount of office workers who had the day off. That's a fair indictment of Thatcher right there – given I work in one of the few areas she wasn't having a good go at crushing, it's ironic a lot of us got some time off, therefore reducing productivity.

This write up has mostly convinced me that I am no Pepys – so now to bedd, for my head is aking.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Milk snatcher

Margaret Thatcher died today.

Let's get a few things out of the way: I feel sorry for her family's loss, and also a lingering set of twilight years with dementia followed by a stroke is an unpleasant way to go. And yes, she was the first female Prime Minister.

Right. Now we have said that, let's say some other things.

I will not mourn the end of a woman who is responsible for some fucking awful things in our country, and is still responsible now. I don't have a full set of all the awful things she did, but during her time as Prime Minister the working classes of this country were ground down into worklessness, entire communities made into poverty-ridden ghost towns. Those cities haven't recovered yey. Those cities in the north, in Scotland, in Wales, may never recover because the poisonous politics that started with her still tell them that they're wastrels, that they're not worth anything. The problems we have now still continue, and her political descendents are destroying what is left in some of those communities.

I will not mourn Section 28, a legacy I was still dealing with when I was in comprehensive education, a time when queer kids and adults were given no support by public funds. By 'no support' this meant no protection of homophobic bullying, amongst a raft of other things. This still continues.

I will not mourn someone who supported apartheid in South Africa.

I will not mourn someone who sank the Belgrano when it was retreating.

I will not mourn privatisation of vital services. I will not mourn the idea that it's somehow okay for people to make profit off the back of heating, light and clean water.

I will not mourn someone who kickstarted the excesses of our financial markets.

I am the daughter of working class parents. I grew up on the edge of one of those decimated communities. So you'll forgive me, right now, if I am having a drink. I'm not doing it to celebrate her death, but I am doing it to remember all of the tragedy and horror she caused, and her legacy is still causing.

Over dramatic? Yeah, probably. Depending on when the funeral is, though, it may well block my ability to get into work as the cortege will be going very near my offices. I have a long weekend coming up, but unless the funeral is on Friday or Monday it will directly affect my ability to get into work. Whether I want to or not, it's being put directly in my way.

Those are my thoughts. I appreciate you may have different ones. I don't pretend to understand them, if I'm honest.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Graduate recruitment: trainee vurglesplatters needed!

So, in a hilarious turn for the weird, in my new job one of my responsibilities in graduate recruitment.

“Do you know anything about graduate issues?” they asked me, and I sort of burbled a bit and then got afraid they'd seen my blog. (IF SO: HI GUYS.)

I actually really enjoy my job. People are still nice, I'm getting more responsibilities, I don't have horrible jaggy days where I hate myself and my job so much I just want to cry or burn down the office or possibly both. Okay, I still occasionally think 'Is this it?' and the Circle line is the bane of my life, but things are on the up.

My job has also opened my eyes about graduate recruitment. Now, I've actually been part of several recruitment drives before, and I've also a few years now of HR and employment law and all that stuff. All the things I've said previously remain valid. However, never before had I seen specific graduate recruitment. Sure, I've seen the other side of it as an applicant, but this is new to me.

And finally! it means I have something relevant for blogging about. My reflections on London, whilst fascinating to myself, are a wee bit off message, and a lot of the other stuff is difficult to write about in a sufficiently anonymous way.

So, for future reference, I work in a company that specialises in providing vurglesplat experts to the wider world. What's vurglesplat, you say. Well, bluntly, it's a small industry full of nerds and I'm not being specific. Crucially, I work in the HR department. The technological people may as well be doing vurglesplat for all I understand of it. It makes for an entertaining night at the pub, where they talk about their projects and then look at me expectedly.

Anyway, we are now looking for junior vurglesplatters. Vurglesplat is something you can study at uni in modules and in specific postgrad courses, and even if your interest is only peripheral then it's okay, because lots of training is provided. Good degree in something vaguely relevant – business! maths! IT! engineering! all elements towards vurglesplat! - and perhaps some work in the field, ish, and that's all we're asking.

Stupidly, I thought this would be easy.

Here are some of the reasons why graduate recruitment is harder than it needs to be.

1. Vurglesplatters are really, really bad at explaining their job. You have no idea how long it took to come up with a job advertisement. “No,” I had to keep on gently saying, “two years industry experience is not a reasonably request.”

2. Once that's done, have you ANY IDEA how terrible university job centre websites are? UNIMAGINABLY AWFUL that's what. As all sensible students and graduates now, they are a great resource for looking up jobs that are specifically hiring from their particular institution. I did hours of research about universities that offered vurglesplat and did a good course using similar vurglesplat theories. I looked up league tables. Careers Centre, I want to hire YOUR students. WHY OH WHY do you have websites that are nigh on impossible to use and why do you staff not reply to emails?

(Although I'd like to take a moment to big up my alma mater St Andrews for its swift response within 20 minutes to my query. Knew I could trust you, guys! Some other institutions, that will remain nameless, have stayed quiet for a WEEK now.)

In all seriousness, a job that should have taken perhaps an afternoon at best – simply uploaded a job specification to 25+ institutions, how hard can that be? - took me three days. I do have other work to do, you know.

3. Yes, yes, it's probably easier to advertise on Milkround and Prospects. They cost a lot of money, did you know that?

So, all of those things are an issue and a barrier between graduates and soon-to-be gradautes getting a job.

I can't talk much about the process, because it's only just got started. However, we have started to get some applications through. We don't have an application form with lots of silly questions, because no one wants to write it, bluntly. All we ask for is a CV. Here are The Disorientated Graduate's hints and tips to get through the screening process (i.e., er, me):

1. We are asking for people to be vurglesplatters. Sure, trainee vurglesplatters, but it's still a specific role. DO NOT tell me about how much you're enjoying training to be an English teacher. Seriously, though, did you even read the job specification? DO YOU KNOW HOW LONG IT TOOK TO UPLOAD IT TO YOUR INSTITUTION?

2. Grammar and spelling are your friend! So, it must be said, is a covering letter. They're not essential, but it's a good way of listing your 'soft skills'.

3. You may not have relevant industry experience. When I left uni, my industry experience was to be a cleaner, a care home assistant or a shop worker. So I sympathise with you, particularly if you have a good academic background and have passed the first two stages of my checklist. So, as a hint, turn your part time job into an example of how good you are at the world of work based on the job specification. Does the job want good time management? Well, you need that if you work in a shop because of the different tasks that need doing WHILST still being able to drop everything and serve a customer! Teamwork? Well, being a waiter involves being part of a chain of people involved in one single aim! Think outside of the box, a bit. Personally I'm deeply sympathetic but there's only so much I can to make other people look at your CV.

4. To return to point 1, seriously, do look at the job you're applying for though, yes? I am fed up of logging POINTLESS applications.

That's the only experience I have thus far. We've barely started shifting through applications, let alone interviewing and that. Still, it's interesting and also GOOD BLOG MATERIAL.

Now if you'll excuse me I have a stinking cold and need to return to curling up in a blanket.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

It's been a good news sort of two weeks, with Gove u-turning on his bloody stupid Ebacc scheme and now this.

I've said before and I've said again that everything in the world is wrong with the government work experience schemes, taking paid jobs out of the economy and forcing people to work with ridiculous penalties. Good, I say. This ruling is not on moral issues, but simply on legal ones, but if this makes this stupid scheme go away and be properly rethought then I say that this is a good day for all out of work people – in particular, graduates.

I wrote about this in rather more details about a year ago: "Flaws in government work experience" My feelings are the same nowas they were then, with a sense of cheerful contentment I have been proved right.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Richard III

I blog and I did a history degree (half medieval and half modern history, fact fans) so I think I am morally obligated to comment on the Richard III news story.

First: from a historical perspective, this isn't big news. It fills in a little information on Richard III in terms of where he was buried, and some more details on his death and his scoliosis, but that's really it. We learn nothing about the society of the time from it, and attention on kings and queens takes away from the real unexplored avenues of history.

Now that the boring bit is over - and can I just say that I am a terrible history student because I have always found biographical history fascinting and my love for Charles II knows no bounds - I would like it to be known that this is a really, really cool news story. I very quietly read a liveblog on my phone for the announcement yesterday.

And if it means that a few more people pick history to study, a little more funding goes towards archeology and medieval history studies then I say hurrah for Richard III.

Finally: if you would like more information on Richard III (and if I see the phrase 'Tudor propaganda' again I will scream, what a TERRIBLE anachronism and don't get me started) then please see this helpful and informative video:

(Ignore the bit about his not having a curved spine, turns out that was true.)

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Dealing with weird hobbies

I used to work in a relatively small workplace with what I now realise was a reasonably homogeneous workplace. As long as you could talk about the football you were generally okay – we all came from roughly the same place and the same background. Hell, three of us had history degrees. On one notable afternoon we discussed Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. We discussed minor character plot points. This was considered normal.

I now work in a significantly bigger workplace which is a bit of a surprise and has a lot of stuff I wasn't quite expecting. I was prepared for the fact there would be people from a wider variety of cultures, and I'm enjoying that. I'm not the only northerner but I'm the only recent one, so I quite enjoyed telling the sales team what the term 'reet' meant. (Translation: “Right” or in context “Alright,” so you might say in response to a query “Nah, I'm reet ta!” which is a sentence that really puzzles my Scottish inlaws.) People bring in food on national festivals, for example, so whilst I am getting fatter I am at least becoming more enlightened. All of that is good.

No, the real surprise is what a wide variety of people I work with and trying to find common ground. I am a fairly quiet geeky sort. I work in a geeky, male-dominated industry so I assumed that I would fit right in with a bit of Star Trek, but this doesn't appear to be the case thus far.

Firstly, I appear to have arrived in the middle of a baby boom. I am mildly childphobic, or at least in term of actually sprogging up myself, so to be constantly surrounded by people who are pregnant/have partners who are pregnant/be just back from maternity/paternity leave is a very bizarre experience. I'm fairly good at expressing interest in other people's kids. My cheery excuse of “I live in a one bedroom flat in Walthamstow!” means that I can put off the 'when are you going to have kids?' question for now, but I do idly wonder how I will deal with the same question in my thirties.

Also, other people's hobbies are really weird. I'm quite good at deflecting football questions, but I have no idea how to discuss one colleague's deep and abiding interest in Rolls Royces. That said, no one appears to share my passion for London restoration architecture – I got very excited about a Wren church near my work and everyone else was baffled.

Also, I would be posting more often but I must confess to being sort of constantly exhausted at the moment. I have lots of fascinating stuff to write about, but finding the time to do so is a little tricky. When you spend all day learning about classic cars (despite your personal inclinations of 'you're a nice guy, but I really don't care, please be quiet') I think the brain shuts down a little. 

Alas, no one in my work practises extreme ironing. I think.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Shock: you deserve to not hate your job

One of the really weird things about my new job is that I don't hate it.

Now, that might sound like boasting, but it's mostly given me so much-needed perspective about my old job, my first real 'graduate' job. I was there for three years, and it's very weird the awful, awful things you start to take as being both normal and entirely acceptable. It wasn't quite full on Stockholm Syndrome, but there was an element of pushing things to the back of my mind and pretending that they were a-okay.

You see – and I speak for a lot of graduates, I think, of the last five years or so – is that we have been made to feel quietly worthless. Not being NEETs, generally speaking being childless, having a public perception (whether true or not) that we have parents to fall back on and not having mortgages, etc, there was a sense that we were constantly at the back of the queue. We're all useless, with our silly degrees and no hard experience, expecting to walk into an amazing job. We should be grateful for any kind of paid employment we should have because we deserve no better.

Which has led to some employers, frankly, taking the piss.

I'm not going to go too far into details, mostly because my old employer is litigation-happy and liable to withhold references, but basically I put up with a long list of crap. I casually mentioned in my newest job that there was CCTV at my old work, which took in our computers and the boss would occasionally watch it on his laptop at home if he was running late. Stunned horror met this statement. I... sort of didn't realise that wasn't normal? There's CCTV in many workplaces, I realise that, but in an office was that strictly necessary?

That's just one example, and a rather specific and non-graduate one at that. The point is that I was willing to put up with everything, despite the fact that I was deeply unhappy and often fantasised about somehow crashing my car in a non-fatal way in order to miss work that day.

Graduates, you will have to put up with some crap in your working lives. My last job had some good things about it, and got me some much-needed office experience, but in the end I was too scared by the economy to move on.

Let's get some things straight: my new job isn't perfect by a long stretch. New people are scary, and these are a lot of new people in a very technical field that I mostly don't understand yet. Some of the work is a bit monotonous. The Tube is still a challenge most day, and the day is a significantly longer one. I don't look good in proper office clothes, either. But I don't wake up unhappy, and I've remembered that actually I am a rather intelligent human being, I have worked hard, and I deserve a job where I can proudly say: “I've earned this.”

Graduates: you will almost certainly have to put up with crappy jobs, but don't stay with them forever because you think you should, because you think you're no better, because you're scared. My new job is not a perfect job, but it's a damn sight better and life feels like a better place.

Most of the above is not particularly enthralling blog material, which is why it's been a few weeks to put together. However, I think I may be getting some more material together soon, and you can always rely on the government to say some face-gnawingly stupid things before too long. So there's something to look forward to.