Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The Ghost of Student Future

Mr DG and I headed up to St Andrews last weekend for various reasons. It was Freshers Week in the town, and I felt a strong sense of nostalgia. The feeling in the town on Freshers Week is a very special one. St Andrews is small, and with so many activities on, and halls spread around town, the place buzzes with life and fear and quite a lot of alcohol. I listened to the voices passing me, and read the posters, and saw the new bar list for the Union. It was intoxicating, and all I wanted to do was dive back into that life for a week, where everything was new and exciting.

Then I remembered that I really, really didn't want to be eighteen again.

After going for a meal with friends, we headed back to their flat, past a group of young men smoking outside of hall of residence. It definitely wasn't cigarettes they were smoking.

“Yeah, man,” I heard one of them brag in a strong RP accent, “this is the good stuff, I brought it from home, you know?”

I took a slightly deeper smell, and was overwhelmed with the smell of oregano. It could be of course that 'the good stuff' was in reference to a quiche they'd made earlier that night, of which the young gent was particularly proud. Either way, I had a very quiet snicker to myself.

I also found myself curled up on the living floor on a student flat at an airbed at 10.20pm, and fast asleep approximately 30 seconds later. On a normal Friday night in Freshers Week, I would have just been leaving the house in my glamrags at that point.

Whilst I may miss my student days, I think this weekend fairly comprehensively proved that I will never be returning to those days. Plus, there is something lovely about the awed look of terror wit which final year students regard graduates, as we return in the guise of the Ghost Of Christmas Corporate Student Future, telling terrifying tales of council tax, water rates and full time employment.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Graduate Myth #5: Culture

It was assumed by my parents that by the time I came out of university I would an utterly unbearable cultural snob. This is not an unfair reflection on them, or indeed on me. When I was seventeen, I went to The Theatre. I watched ballet on the telly at Christmas. They felt that in some way this meant I would go to university and the last of my working-class credentials would be wiped away, and I would never watch the Big Brother finale with my mother ever again.

Quietly, I thought this might be the case as well. I hoped I would come out a witty urbanite who could appreciate cutting edge music, jazz, art, theatre, and all kinds of literature. I was seventeen. You show me people who aren't utterly unbearable at seventeen.

Now I am a graduate, and although I have made the effort to read some Classic Literature, I've only been to any kind of theatre to see Russell Howard perform live, the only classical music I've got around to appreciating recently was the Horrible Histories prom and last year I watched Josie Gibson triumph in the Big Brother finale. (I didn't even have to Google her name there.) Ironically, my mum was at a donkey festival in Spain at the time. There's a moral there, but I'm not sure what.

What I should have taken more notice of when I was seventeen is that what I really liked to read was Terry Pratchett, and thought Doctor Who was the best thing on telly. Crucially, this is still the case.

Unless what you're studying at university is “Cultural Stuff To Annoy Your Parents”, chances are your personality won't radically change in the few years you faff about at university. If you are a budding witty urbanite, university will give you the opportunity to indulge this. If you want to watch plays, learn about opera and attend free jazz concerts, then chances are this is the best time to do so. And why not? It's a wonderful opportunity that, if you were a slightly odd sururbanite like myself, you wouldn't have received otherwise. In university, I did go to some plays, acted in one, and took the time to go to some live music performances, but that was about it. I was and am frankly indifferent to things like art and opera, although I do enjoy a musical here and there.

The thing university did give me was the opportunity to be more well-rounded in my reading, because this was something I already enjoyed doing. To be honest, though, I mostly watch TV. True Blood and The Great British Bake-Off tonight, for those interested.

The thing university really taught me, at the end of the day, was to skim read enough broadsheets to blag my way through most topics. Secretly, I think that's the key to being really cultured.

Which leads on to my final point. Whilst wandering through SeasideTown on yet another fruitless quest to find a greengrocer in walking distance (see what I did there?) I saw this little piece of art. “Ooooh,” I thought, and snapped a picture on my phone. I know enough to work out that this is either a Banksy, or someone inspired by him.

So? What do you think? Or have you all been faking culture too?

Saturday, 17 September 2011


At work, I picked up the phone. This is not unusual, as a lot of my job pertains to customer care. The chap on the other end of the phone wanted to be put through to my colleague, however.

“Okay!” I said cheerfully, finger heading towards the 'hold' button on the phone. “Bear with me!”

“I'll bear with you any time, darling,” he purred, in the most lecherous voice imaginable.

I put him on hold and died a little bit inside.

For the record: I had never met or spoken to this man before. He was simply a customer checking on some delivery details, it turned out. He probably imagined he was paying me a compliment.

I didn't feel especially complimented. When I am at work, I am at work. I am a professional, I am not an object, and to be treated as such by a complete stranger is an insult at best.


Saturday, 10 September 2011


If one more person tells me that renting a house is 'dead money' I swear, I will scream. In fact, I reached this point quite a while ago, but it seemed impolitic to start shrieking at the downstairs neighbour, particularly because I had just hit his car and we had arranged matters fairly convivially up until that point.

When you come out of university, you are almost certainly without money. You are without money in exactly the same way that someone who left school at eighteen is without money. To buy a property is inordinately expensive, tens of hundreds of thousands of pounds. As such, it's frankly bizarre to expect someone in their early twenties to afford a house.

And yet renting is considered by anyone about ten years older than you to be the worst decision you could possibly make. “It's dead money!” they will cry. “Save up for a deposit! Find the money! It will be your PENSION!”

So as I sit here paying my rent, I would like to take a moment to take you through why the above statements are a lie, difficult, impossible, and a downright evil lie, in that order.

1. 'Dead money' is a phrase I particularly loathe. It's that weird, Thatcherite fetishism of money, that money should in some way be doing something. The money IS doing something, and that something is putting a roof over my head. You tell me that's dead money and I'll invite you to sleep outside.

A lot of people choose to live with their parents in order to save up for a mortgage. That's fine. That's your funeral. I lived with my parents for a year, until my sister and I were having daily screaming arguments and I spiralled into what I now realise was the beginnings of a bad bout of... I don't know what, exactly, as I don't wish to be too dramatic, but I think I may have cracked if I'd stayed much longer. It was the point I realised I was crying into some toast on a daily basis that I knew something had to give. I houseshared for a time, and now I'm sharing with Mr DG. I couldn't afford to live by myself, and neither could the majority of people I know. I found the method that worked for me.

This method keeps me with a remarkable sense of self-worth and also means that I am now of much better terms with my family. My parents are even coming for tea tomorrow. That is a healthy parent-child relationship, aged 24. My mother still desperately trying to iron my shirts was really not that good.

2. That said, saving up for a deposit is a jolly good idea. I am all in favour of savings. I really, really am. Mr DG and I try to squirrel away what we can every month, admittedly currently towards The Great Social Event Of 2012 i.e. our wedding, but it means we know we can do it. We don't go out a great deal. We eat cheaply. Buying new clothes are a distant world. Savings are a priority, for us.

However. You need approximately 10-20% of the worth of a house to get a mortgage. An average house around here is £100,000 pounds. That's £10-20,000. My annual salary is somewhere between those two figures. So that's at least a year of saving, even if I somehow managed to spend £0 in that year. So, er, where is my deposit meant to have come from between then and now?

Before any smartarse points it out, I am aware that at the moment it tends to be cheaper in terms of monthly payments when you compare mortgage vs. rent. However, I refer you to the £20,000 deposit above.

3. 'Finding the money is entirely possible'. Unfortunately, none of my wealthy relatives have yet revealed themselves. Bastards. I have also failed to find an old map with an 'X' marked on a treasure island, win the lottery, or worked out a way to rob a bank that is morally correct and 100% likely not to get myself caught.

4. A pension?! MY PENSION?!! What? The money is LOCKED WITHIN THE HOUSE. Locked there UNTO FOREVER. That's like saying that my rather lovely pair of Converse (three years old this year!) is a pension plan. That's not how it works at all. I have bought the shoes, I own the shoes, I will not somehow miraculously get the money back from the shoes. It is money invested, yes. It is a sensible investment, as they go. However, your pension is your pension and your house is your house. Telling people their house was their pension is the reason why we are about to have a whacking great pensions crisis. (Guess what generation is paying for that one, too?)

In conclusion: your average graduate cannot and does not have a mortgage. Your average graduate spends the first few years of post-graduate life doing doggy paddle to keep above water. If you can afford, and want, an aspire to a house then please, go for it! If you can't, though, don't go insane trying to get one. Don't make yourself ill. Try not to encourage any more recessions in terms of becoming over-stretched in your borrowing. (Think of the next generation of graduates there, perhaps.) Try to remember that having a roof over your head is good and safe money, and that our communal fetishism over property-owning as a nation is just plain weird.

And don't ever, ever tell me again that renting is 'dead money' because so help me I will not be responsible for my actions.

There is a Graduate Myth post here, somewhere, but I felt a bit of rage was possibly the way forward.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Some mildly bright news

Occasionally - very occasionally - there is a bright chink of light in the doom and gloom of professional graduate life. I've recently managed to secure a paying - paying! - writing and editing job. It's not very well paying, admittedly, but since it's my first paid gig outside of my job, I am ecstatically happy.

On the plus side, it's something for the portfolio (if I had one) and it's also something to throw into the gaping maw of my overdraft. It's also evidence that no matter how ambivalent your feelings towards your place on employment might be, some people turn out to be unexpectedly useful.

On the negative side, it's editing a re-wording a website that's in the exact same industry I already work in. (No conflict of interest, luckily, that would be a fun one to explain to my actual boss.) It's also effectively a second job, in between working, commuting, blogging, wedding planning and every so often sleeping.

... I, er, wait, why was I pleased about this again?

Friday, 2 September 2011

Standing on a chair, shouting

You know what's awesome? Feminism, that's what.

I've self-identified as a feminist since I was about two, according to my parents. I didn't know the word, but I was perfectly convinced that boys and girls were equal and that was the end of it. It's been the same ever since, really. I have always found myself getting wound up at injustice in the world, and inequality.

That might not be immediately obvious from this blog. Although I'm aiming to make something of a political point in regards of the somewhat mundane reality of being a graduate (you will probably work! it will be mostly uninspiring!) my personal politics haven't really come through too much.

However, here is a relevant point I realised in the office today – I have become significantly more interested in feminism since I graduated, rather than becoming heavily politicised in university itself.

This is, I suspect, not the usual position, and I'm hardly claiming that St Andrews is a den of feminist outrage. It's a famously apathetic university in terms of politics; a recent protest involved someone throwing a key lime pie at a Conservative politician. It's hardly the singing of the Red Flag. However, I work in a male dominated workplace in a male dominated industry and if one more person tells me to make the tea, calls me 'sweetheart' or asks me to go and get a man to check my figures I will explode. In fact, I have exploded. Several times.

However, although I knew the implicit wrongness in everything I've just described there, I couldn't articulate it. As such, I've been quietly self-educating myself on theories of feminism, and working out what I agree with, and what I don't. I went to the library and scared the living daylights of the librarian there. And most recently I read Caitlin Moran's book How To Be A Woman where she advises readers to stand on a chair and declare “I AM A FEMINIST!”

I am not standing on a chair. I am standing on the internet and declaring it instead. That's nearly as good, right?

I'm still trying to educate myself on this, so I don't think now is the time for the super-intelligent analysis. I'm also painfully aware that as a middle-class white graduate type, I'm still doing fairly well in terms of privilege. However, the idea that the graduate world is full of bright and lovely people who are 100% up to equality is completely and utterly wrong, because the world is full of people with meaning and unmeaning biases and we all have to fight against them on a daily basis. It's important to highlight that sometimes.

So the next time someone tells me to 'make a cup of tea, love, I'm parched' in a workplace context, I will put down what is no doubt the quite important work I'm actually doing and make a cup of tea compliantly, but I will think of some feminist outrage and I may even mention it here. All names changed, of course.