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On getting a job part four: the Dispatches episode and me.

Not long before Christmas last year, around that period when it snowed heavily, I had gone to Birmingham to do some final Christmas shopping. I can’t remember what I bought that day, most likely tat, but it was six bags worth of tat. The day I went to Birmingham also coincided with my appointment to sign on at the JobCentre: planning things for the days when I’ll know I have bus-fare is how I have to do things now. I might not be able to remember what gifts I purchased that day, but I can remember it was bitterly, bitterly cold. Like freezing cold. Like I wished I hadn’t forgotten my gloves because my hands were hard and beetroot red cold. The boots I had worn that day – too small for me – had rubbed a hole into the back of my left foot. I was cold, I was tired, and I was pretty sure at least one foot was sporting a blister the size of a newborn baby’s head. 16:15: I arrived at the JobCentre. 16:30 was the time of my appointment. Now, the JobCentre have a rule which states you are only allowed inside the building ten minutes prior to your appointment. I can see why this rule is in place: JobCentre’s aren’t places you want to be and overcrowded ones are even worse. But I figured five minutes couldn’t hurt, what with it snowing and all. But it did hurt. Even though JobCentre staff were preparing to close for the day, even though there were only between eight and ten Jobseekers inside, even though it was one of the coldest days of the year I wasn’t allowed inside. I was too early. So, after a small amount of protest, I trotted back outside and stood in the snow for five minutes. And five minutes turned to ten, because this, in my experience, is largely what it’s like dealing with the JobCentre, every small thing becomes a battle, every battle a game of oneupmanship. Sometimes you lose; sometimes you win.

I could tell you other stories – the one where I was thrown off for something I said being misconstrued, or the one where someone sat me down to tell me my CV was too well written – and more in further detail, but they all end in the same way: me wondering if I’m dealing with people who think and feel; me more bewildered by job-searching than I was before I signed on; me disillusioned.

And, because they’re my stories, with me as the wronged victim.

But I know I’ve been a dickhead too. Take, for example, my last signing on. Appointments are now given within half-hour time-frames, so if your appointment is scheduled for 1:00-1:30 you will be seen between those times. Except last time I wasn’t. I sat out the half-hour, watched people who came in after me leave before me, collared a man to complain, and got needlessly angry with him. He got flustered, said some things about the system and quickly walked off. I sat back down and bitched about it with the person next to me. And I’m sorry about that because I appreciate working in a JobCentre is difficult, that dealing with scores of people five days a week is a challenge, and me being angry about it isn’t going to help anybody.

But there’s something about the place that, as soon as I walk in there, makes me feel like it’s us versus them. The security, the chairs stuck to the floor, and the fact that I can never quite tell whether half the people who work in there are impersonal because they haven’t got the time or because they just plain despise us. I’m lucky that I now have an adviser who it feels like I have some sort of relationship with, who I can talk to and joke with, but as nice as she is, I hope to not be seeing her for too long.

. . .

Bits of what you’ve read there – if you’re still with me? – have been knocking around on my laptop for a while. I’ve been thinking of writing about unemployment for some time, but every time I get so many words in I balk – everything seems a bit woe is me. I thought it was worth compiling, though, and sticking bits together as best I could, if only to give you some idea of the experiences of an unemployed person, and to also show the position from which I watched Channel 4’s recent Dispatches documentary, Tricks of the Dole Cheats.

 As I creep into long-term unemployment, I was expecting the worst. People, especially those who have been consistently employed for all of their lives, struggle with empathy when you’re unemployed. There are things you could do, they say, you could take your life by the scruff of the neck and shake it until it rights itself. I’m used to being bashed, to being labelled a scrounger – and I’m used to people quickly backtracking when I’m around them, saying, I didn’t mean you. I know you’re looking for work. But am I? Every day? No, I’m not. Some days I haven’t got the patience for it. There are some days I want to do other things that interest me more than asking a question I already know the answer to. So I prepared myself to hear similar stories, to see all of us labelled as lazy and work-shy once more. So I was pleasantly surprised to see Tricks of the Dole Cheats seemed to be on our side. No resolutions to problems were offered – either by the documentary makers or the JobCentre – but it seemed to be saying the lazy and work-shy deserve better; they are lazy and work-shy because that’s how the JobCentre is making them. If Tricks… didn’t teach us jobseekers anything we didn’t already know, maybe it showed others what we’re sometimes up against.

 And what are we up against? Tricks… showed hidden camera footage of one jobseeker not having his job-search booklet checked. I feel I should point out that my booklet has always been checked, but nothing more. A check to see if I or someone else have filled their quota of looking-for-work activity for the week is all well and good. But I can’t help but feel that more than a check should be done. Jobs should be noted and put into a system whereby jobseekers can be matched with similar jobs to the ones they’ve recently applied for. The SOC code system is unreliable and never, ever works. Some SOC codes are in such a state of disarray that a job search for positions in the field of journalism can turn up available positions as an embalmer. If our booklets were taken better notice of advisers would see patterns and could then stop wasting their time sending information about the wrong jobs to the wrong people.

 An example: some of the last activities I filled into my booklet include applications for a call-centre position, an admin role, a notetaker position, a study support worker, and news of an interview for a minor editorial role. This would suggest I have an interest in working in either some sort of office-based job, or in an education-based job. The latest job given to me by the JobCentre? A position working in a lingerie shop. Now, I can provide you with an illustrated example of why I would never IN A MILLION YEARS get this job. After some extensive research, Facebook reliably informs me that these are the faces of men that make women feel sexy:

 Here is my face:

 

 As the foremost expert in my own face, let me assure you it is not the sort of face that makes women feel sexy. Look at me. I always look that thrilled. I don’t even think working in a lingerie shop could make me look any happier.

 Seriously, if our booklets were taken more notice of the JobCentre would learn more useful information about the people they’re charged with getting back into work. We shouldn’t be defined by the first three jobs we give you – most of those are probably off the top of our heads. I know I can’t remember mine.

 Tricks… then went onto interview an ex-JobCentre employee – a ridiculously small sample size for a documentary, but here the show is restricted by its half-hour format rather than being wilfully picky. (I hope.) The employee could remember little or no training received with regards to improving jobseekers’ employability; he could, however, recall training in how to keep themselves safe. I know staff at the JobCentre have to deal with some pretty unpleasant people, and I’m not saying they shouldn’t be trained in order to protect themselves. What I am saying, if what this ex-employee suggests is true, is don’t just be scared of us. Know how to help us as well as how to get us removed from the building.

 But as much as Tricks… was on our side, the one thing I couldn’t get on board with was their impromptu recruitment/careers advice session. And why I couldn’t get on board with it is for the very simple reason that most careers advice is shit. And I mean utter toilet. Not just bad, but condescending and preachy and unhelpful. There are many things that can drive you crazy as an unemployed person, but my biggest gripe is careers advice. And suddenly everyone’s a careers expert. Everyone thinks they know how to navigate the job market, that their situation is the same as yours, when most times they don’t know how to navigate the market and their situation is nowhere near the same as yours. Careers advice doesn’t just need a rethink, it needs a whole new model.

. . .

This post was originally intended as a response to this blog by my friend, Ewar. It’s morphed into something a little more and a little longer than a response. It probably isn’t even a response as I don’t disagree with anything he states. How do you deal with two million people? I’m fucked if I know. But I thought it might be interesting to have a post written by a relatively new jobseeker (him) and one written by a long-in-the-tooth jobseeker (me). The tone of each piece is a little different; he’s more hopeful than I am: ‘when I’m away from that hellhole.’ When not if. I remember the first few times I signed on, when I was sure I wouldn’t be there for long, when I was confident in my chances of getting a job. I don’t feel that way anymore.

.

If you want to watch the episode click through here.

Image credits: http://scallywagandvagabond.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/robert-pattinson-hot1.jpg; http://www.usmagazine.com/uploads/assets/celebrities/10853-david-beckham/1251225681_david_beckham_290x402.jpg

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Moneyball and the overbearing sadness of sport

“It’s not about the winning; it’s the taking part that counts.”

                              A dickhead (some time after a defeat)

Jimmy Grimble got to play; the kid in Air Bud scored the winning basket; Scott Hatteberg, taking to the plate in the top of the ninth, against a Royals team that had rallied from 11-0 down to 11-11, hit a home run that won the Oakland A’s a 20th game in a row. That night they tied a record. The film in my head ended. They’d done it; they’d achieved something, not necessarily what they’d set out to, but a remarkable feat nonetheless. This 20 game streak – the players hugged it between themselves, high fived it back and forth to one another, jumped up and down at home plate to the sound of it. Every hallmark of a sports film came into one. I almost picked up my coat and made for the exit. The film carried on.

They’d won, what else is there to know, to want to know? But Moneyball isn’t one of those Sport films, nor is it about wanting to play Sport; it’s about how Sport is always trying to rip your heart out, about how Sport needs you as much as you need it. There’s a scene early in the film, where Billy Beane (Brad Pitt), with the game he’s listening to not going his team’s way, throws a transistor radio out the window of his car, and then, when it still continues to emit the play-by-play, he gets out the car and stamps on it. He stamps it more than once. That’s what Sport wants to do to your heart: throw it out your ribcage into the street somewhere and pound it, more than once, ’til it stops.

And Billy is more than aware of that. He knows it more than most. Exposed in the Major League’s as a player, not hitting, not catching, not running, not being able to do what he was taught, he became lost and angry and frustrated. What made not being able to do what he was taught worse was the fact that he could’ve been taught more things, different things at Stanford1. It’s because of this that he needs Sport. What can he do outside of the clubhouse, or, later, the front office? He’s a forty year old with a high-school diploma. He’s shit-scared about being that person out in the beyond baseball world. At some point, Sport probably did rip his heart out and probably did pound on it, ’til Sport realised Billy’s heart wasn’t going to stop. His ability to hit the ball into play might’ve failed, but his spirit wasn’t about to extinguish on him.

But the mark of Sport has not been left solely on Billy. Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is upset about his contract, annoyed about the way the A’s treat him like shit, sad that his methods of how to field a team count for shit. David Justice (Stephen Bishop) is old – enough to make any athlete despair. He’s sad because he can’t see himself as he is now; he prefers the star he was at teams before the Oakland A’s, teams that played different baseball to the A’s. Scott Hatteberg (Chris Pratt) is sad about his arm being fucked, about not being able to throw the ball any more. Scott Hatteberg is, like Billy, shit-scared, but of first base (first base! Catcher’s don’t play first base!2) rather than beyond baseball. The scouts are mad. Who the fuck is this kid, they ask, with his computer and his numbers and his “Bill James bullshit?” They’re old too, but not David Justice old. The season prior to joining the A’s, Justice wore stripes; the stripes the scouts have run horizontally across their foreheads. Grady speaks for all of them when he fuck you’s Billy. But Grady is less fuck you-ing Billy, more Sport, really. Fuck you, Sport. Fuck you, and fuck becoming obsolete/old/injured/ignored.

Peter Brand (Jonah Hill) isn’t sad, at least not that in the sense that he’s upset over something. He’s sad in the sense that he hunches himself over his computer, where he pours over his numbers, where he finds the players that will lead Oakland to their historic 20 game streak. He’s new, he’s young, he went to Yale, what is there to be unhappy about? Peter’s fuck you-ing Sport, too – just in a different, less traditional way. The scouts screw up their faces, chew on tobacco and stick their two fingers up; Peter, with a smug look on his face, uses a laconic middle finger.

Part of why, in fact, most of why Sport’s overbearingly sad moments are so overbearingly sad is because the brilliant moments are so beautiful. Sport itself is a microcosm of life: life is about enjoying yourself, about pleasing other people, about, by and large, playing by the rules. Life in this way will produce beautiful moments. At the same time, life is as much about sacrificing opportunities, letting people down and disregarding rules. Life in this way will produce messy, unattractive moments. Sport produced the time Manchester United came from a goal down to beat Bayern Munich in the closing minutes of the Champions League final. More personally, Sport produced the time West Bromwich Albion were promoted to the Premier League for the first time after catching their bitter rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers, who at one stage were an almost nailed-on ten points ahead. In the film, the A’s win their twentieth game, Hatteberg plucking a home run from nowhere. Sport also produced the time Manchester United lost to a rampant Barcelona in the final of the same competition; the time WBA were promptly relegated the following season ; the Minnesota Twins clinching the Division series from the A’s. After the beautiful moments have been and gone, the ugly moments seem to matter more. An awful team or individual can go on being awful , so long as they’ve always been awful. Success doesn’t afford teams that taste it that opportunity. “I remember that time when we were good,” the fans’ll say. “When I played, we won something,” the ex-player’ll say. “I told you about Geronimo. Now look at him,” the scout’ll say. Sport, more often than not, has history on it’s side, and history is where these moments get assigned.

Without making it its overriding theme, Moneyball makes, or shows, subtle references to history. The Cleveland Indians have a black and white photo in their waiting room. The Cleveland Indians haven’t won a World Series since before technicolor. Towards the end of the film, Billy tells John Henry he can destroy the Boston Red Sox’s Curse of the Bambino with the stats-potion he’s been brewing at Oakland. The Red Sox hadn’t won a World Series in technicolor. A stats-potion brewed in Oakland got them within reach of two. Peter Brand would “amen” that; Scouts would squirm at it.

And then there is, as Michael Lewis put it, The Human Element. Committed and dedicated individuals make Sport their lives. Most of us get found out young, fall by the wayside and realise we were never good enough. But there are a few who got there, or got near, but were not quite good enough. Players leave, players have to be cut, traded, or sent on assignment (cutting someone the nice way). Peter Brand doesn’t amen this; he most definitely squirms. People find it much harder to let go of Sport, than Sport does of them. Yet sadder than being cut, or traded, or cut the nice way, is what happens after: the struggles, the slumps, the adjustments. Bye Mags. Bye Pena. Bye Giambi. Close the door on your way out. Sports are much harder to replace than people. The entrance door opens and the future of the kid who used to be out in right field is forgotten. Hey Ricardo. We’re sure happy to have you on board. Take a seat. It’s a sort of fuck you/thank you thing.

With it’s use of televised game footage, the film plays like a documentary. The slightly saturated look of the print suggests we’re already watching a fond, if painful, memory. “Do you remember that time Billy Beane nearly overhauled the entire world of baseball with no money, with maimed players, and nearly did it?” the cinema-goers’ll say. And then at some point they’ll go to a game, see their team, and feel sport attacking at their heart, leaving enough of itself inside to not be forgotten. “I remember,” they’ll start, telling a story to cope with the sadness. And someone who hasn’t had their heart ripped out, hasn’t been infected by the Sport disease will say, “It’s only a game.” Or they’ll huff out, “ah well.” Or, worse still, they’ll say, “it’s not about the winning; it’s the taking part that counts.” To which the reply will be –

FUCK YOU

An overbearingly sad person (after agitation).

——————————————————————————————————————————————————————-

1This reminds me of the story of Oliver Gill, son of Manchester United Chief Executive David Gill, who chose attending University over a professional football contract. The story of Billy Beane makes this look like a wise decision.

2Unless you’re Carlos Santana.

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On a magazine pipe-dream.

Pipe-dream alert: I am thinking of setting up a magazine for writers. I’ve thought along similar lines before – I probably first had this idea on a journalism module but it grew more into a ‘what’s going on’ kind of thing – but now I have the time, if not the money, to dedicate to it, if things transpire.

First things first, it’s going to be solely for writers based in Midlands. I haven’t quite drawn up an outline of what is and what isn’t the Midlands – safe to say if you live on the Isle of Mull, I’m afraid it’s a no – but I’m searching for an archaic map of Albion where I can draw perimeters based on history. Why Midlands writers? Because I notice when I’m flicking through opportunities for writers sometimes distinctions are drawn: so and so want an authentic northern voice, somebody else want a true southern voice. It seems rare that anyone ever wants a Midland voice (I’m sure there are such outlets, just I haven’t come across them yes. If you know any, do share. They could come in handy.) Where can submissions come from? Writers based in the Midlands would be preferable, but exceptions could be made for Midlanders who have left for pastures new. One key area that I want to try and target are students from Midland Universities (BCU, Birmingham, Coventry, Staffordshire, Wolverhampton – forgive me if I’ve left anywhere out), particularly, but not solely, those on Creative Writing/English courses. People like me.

Something I felt when I finished University was that I’d become a better writer, but I hadn’t become any more of a connected writer. I could write the stories but I didn’t know where to send those stories to. Such a magazine would become a place where we’d encourage students from the establishments listed above to submit work, hopefully with the backing of the Universities. Even more hopefully, for a bit of free advertising the Universities could maybe subsidise printing costs for a limited run? I am the least moneyed-up person on Earth so help with this part would be greatly appreciated.

That’s the vague(r) stuff out of the way. The more concrete stuff is what a magazine would need: contributors, people familiar formatting and designing magazines, illustrators. There are doubtless more that I haven’t thought of. Unfortunately, I’d be asking people to give their time for free, as I wouldn’t be able afford to pay anyone – including myself – and any money the magazine would make, if it was sold, would go straight back into the magazine for printing costs etc. A website or a blog would be much easier, I know. But a) there are more than plenty of those and b) I prefer the product you can hold in your hands and turn the pages, rather than scrolling down an eye-popping screen. Of course there’d be a web presence so people could get in touch and know where to submit to, though that would be it’s main use.

I realise how few specifics there are to this at the minute and how very stream-of-consciousness it all sounds. But with a little advice and help I’m hoping it could be knocked into some shape. That’s where you come in. Tell me what you know and what you think, what works and what doesn’t. Ask questions if you need more information, I’ll be happy to answer them if I can.

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On graduating into the future: a commencement address

Tomorrow – Tuesday – I am graduating. With this is mind I’ve written a commencement speech. Commencement speeches are full of wise words and sage advice, lessons from those who’ve learnt and parables from those who haven’t. Essentially, they are go-get-em’s filled with encouraging words. I’ve tried to adhere to that form while swearing. You don’t hear enough swearing in commencement speeches.

NB: I am available to perform this for a reasonable fee if Tessa Sanderson or Joanne Latham fail to turn up. Other universities: commissions can be left as comments.

***

The people that sit before me now are changed. They may not know it, or think of themselves as being irrevocable but they have transformed, whether it be to adults, to academics, to advocates of education; they are all now graduates, and they still will be once they de-robe themselves. Congratulations. You have succeeded. You have made your parents proud, to the point where they are fit to burst.

There will be photographs and celebrations and further congratulations after this, ones that will probably mean more to you than what I say here. Take them, they are yours to collect.

But first: Turn to your left. Look at the person sitting next to you. You may not know their name, but in twenty years time when you think back to this moment, possibly when your packing your own children off to Universities, their face will be all you can recall. And that’s not a bad thing, no matter how awkward you feel now. The person sitting next to you may have taken a different path to get here. In front of me, the fuck ups sit next to the drifters, the drifters sit next to the choosers, who, heaven forbid, chose to attend. And yet, now there are no barriers between you. Just the arms of slightly worn chairs that have seen better days. One and the same, all of you.

Before you all head off in different directions there are some things worth knowing first. You have changed, some of you in major ways, some of you in less significant ways. A University education has brought you out a different person to what you were before. Now you must continue to evolve. Realising what you want to be, what you want to do is the first step. Some of you will have already decided, some of you will have already achieved, or be on your way to achieving , this. Great. But it’s not enough any more. You have to figure out not just where you fit in but how to fit in. Stand out, push boundaries, don’t be afraid to fail. Failing’s okay, some of us do it all the time.

University isn’t the ending, it’s the beginning. The beginding. Now is not the time to stop because you have graduated. Push on, be educated some more, drive determined towards what you really want to do, build yourselves an imaginary pedestal, better still a plinth in your mind and put yourself on it. Be brash, be bold, be confident but not arrogant. If three years ago you were eager to be better than you were then, now you should be striving to become better than you are right now at this very moment.

In daydreaming moments you may see your future as rosy, but getting to where you want will be anything but. You will be rejected, told you are under-qualified, told you are overqualified, told you just aren’t good enough. Tell them bollocks. With a capital B. Bollocks. You are a graduate from the University of [insert whichever institution you went to here], damnit! Don’t let them get in your way. The only person in your way is yourself, and only then it should be at the mercy of others. You are unstoppable, baby. Don’t you ever forget that.

Forgetting. Forgetting is for when you’re old, when you don’t know what the fuck you’re doing. Now that you’re in the prime of your lives the time is ripe for amassing, for knowing, for learning, for growing. You have learnt some great things here, don’t forget them. Sadly, you’re young over-active memories mean you won’t be able to forget that time Roger got his arse out but file it away somewhere behind Peter Elbow and Steve Neale but just in front of Laura Mulvey. You can forget when you’re old and you’re all lightyears away from that yet. Even you, Post Grads.

They say age is just a number, which is just a clever way of saying a number is just a number. Like a 2:1 or 2:2 or a 1st. They are just numbers squashed together or with sts or nds after them . See? A degree has not been wasted on me. What your degree boils down to, though, is just a nice bit of letter-headed paper that your mischievous little niece will crayon a picture of a horse with wings over. It is not you. It will not make you and it should not become you. Don’t let your degree, and whichever bracket you fell into, define you. Your degree might feel like the proudest achievement in the world today and you’d be right to feel that way, just don’t think of it as your future written down. Other things will come along: achievements will be bigger and better and, hopefully, more frequent; pride will manifest itself in events that will humble this one. Today is today. Be proud now, it is your right. But the tomorrows that come have the potential to bring more. Invest in them, it might be worth it.

To end, there is only one thing I can ask of you. Graduates: give life Hell. Make the most of it. If you’re only here once I implore you to give it your best shot. It is yours to do with what you will. See the dreams and chase them. Fruition will bring success, but the chase will bring fervour, passion, excitement and maybe even happiness. Surely there’s no better way to live a life?

To quote the Mamas & the Papas song, go where you wanna go and do what you wanna do.

Once more, congratulations.

For proper words of encouragement written and spoken by people with status rather than an egomaniac like me, click through

For the best commencement speech on the internet scroll back up. The video below comes a close second.

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On Getting a Job Part Two: The Football Commentary Episode

Twat in the Gantry

I have not realised the dream of supping on fine ales with men in crisp white shirts, ties Ramboed around their head after a long, arduous shift, quite yet. The closest I have got to a true experience of a working life is a Kombat Opera song. In the wilderness of the job market, I am still the ill-experienced youth, weapon in hand, chasing after the boar I’m not 100% sure I want to skin.

However, I thought I’d struck gold when a friend, via a social networking site, shared an opportunity to be a football commentator. I was in a confident enough mood to think I could take this on. Even the man at the JobCentre encouraged me. So, with no previous experience apart from a small part in a radio play as someone being sick, I began to record myself.

But before I could properly record myself there were things to consider. I needed a format that would make me stand out above the hordes of other entries. The job was with a local radio station where most of the coverage is Wolves and Albion, so in my infinite wisdom I opted for the five best goals scored by Wolves or Albion players since I was born (June 1990, fact fans). From fifth to first they were the following:

Kevin Muscat – Wolves vs Ipswich December 1998; Artim Sakiri – West Brom vs Burnley August 2003; Andy Thompson – Wolves vs Birmingham sometime in 1995; Darren Bradley – West Brom vs Wolves September 1993; Kevin Phillips – West Brom vs Wolves May 2007.

Apart from the obvious bias included in the last two goals I was pretty happy with that list. Kevin Muscat even made it into the list without GBHing anyone. Once this aspect was sorted I began to record.

Watching the goals back on youtube, I tried to synchronise my monosyllabic screams and grunts with the actions taking place. But it wasn’t working. I needed a script. The need of a script worried me though, because I knew the greats like Steve Bower and Jim Proudfoot don’t work from scripts. A reaction to a goal can’t be prompted. It’s instinctive. But sitting in my bedroom, waiting for cars to drive past so my phone didn’t pick them up, I had too much time to think about it. Words would make me feel better about it. They weren’t going to know I’d prompted myself as much as I was planning on. Until I turned up to a broadcast of Wolves vs Blackburn with every feasible outcome scripted.

Off I went again, more shouting into a phone but this time with a little more focus and less swearing.

Even with the assistance of words on a page, though, there was one thing I couldn’t shake: feeling like a twat. With every individual recording my voice peaked higher and higher at the sight of a goal. I wasn’t commentating but shrieking. When I tried to calm it down I sounded like I couldn’t give a shit, which for goals 5 and 3 would be a fair assessment. I decided I’d leave it for another day when I felt less self conscious and when the neighbours couldn’t hear me.

The other day never came. I gave up, admitted I wasn’t cut out for football commentary and called it quits. I almost, almost, found a new respect for Peter Drury. One thing I did do, though, was keep the recordings I made. I have posted them below so you can listen and laugh. In this search for any employer that will have me we might as well eke out any humour where possible.

By now someone else will have got this job. If you find this entry congratulations! On getting the job, not finding my blog. You have two things I am envious of: the gig and the ability to to not feel like a twat. But seriously, well done.

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On Getting A Job

When people ask me what I want to do post-Uni – a question people love to ask – I lift my shoulders in a shrug and say “something to do with books or films. Something culturally.”

Culturally as in cultural-y. Cultural would do, I know, but I get embarrassed.

Something to do with books or films. That’s what I want to do. Something.

“Something’s anything” my Mum says. She pulls jobs out of papers and shouts in a fit of excitement “here, you can get a job at the college” as she holds out a scrap of newspaper with advertisements for plumbing apprenticeships on. I explain that I can’t be a tutor at a college, I’d need extra training for that. I’m tired of explaining that I can’t be a tutor or a teacher or a lecturer. I tell her that I can’t do a course in plumbing either as I’m not very good with my hands.

Most of the people who ask me what I want to do aren’t graduates and see University as this mythical place where, once left, doors magically open and corporate types in expensive suits start kissing your feet. This hasn’t happened to me yet. Hopefully it doesn’t either.

I know that with next to nothing on my CV I won’t get a job straight away which is why I’ve applied for internships and sent polite emails off volunteering to help out at places of interest for free. Out of the emails I’ve sent less than half have been replied to. Of the internships I applied for all the places were taken.

Something to do with books or films.

That’s what I like. Books and films. I can’t get a job as a footballer or a baseball player or a musician, so that leaves the other two things I like. Or a job as a crisp tester. There’s a thought.

I did find one job though. The Guardian’s website had a role as a Writer in Residence. Wow, the perfect job, I thought. After a mouse click it turned out that it was Writer in Residence at four different prisons, all at a fair distance from one another. The prison bit scares me, but the travelling makes it impossible. Of course, I could move away to get a job but the travelling for this particular job is still a large amount.

I guess what I’m looking for is something to do with books or films in the West Midlands.

But it seems there isn’t a lot of that round here. Jobsites depict the Midlands, both and East and West, as a cultural wasteland, and yet I know it isn’t which is why I took it upon myself to fire off emails instead of using jobsites because most of them are useless or want me to work in marketing. Nothing against marketing, but nah.

A couple of weeks ago I found an article the Birmingham Post ran on my University. There was a quote about how excellent they [the University] are at finding jobs for students. While I’m sure they are in some cases in mine they palmed me off with an incorrect email and a few volunteering opportunities in third world countries.

As much as I’d love to volunteer in these countries I don’t have a passport yet. I need someone to fill the forms in. Will someone do that for me?

It seems that when faced with a graduate who doesn’t want to work for a giant corporation, who doesn’t want to sell products or policies people don’t need, who doesn’t want to sit in an office picking up phone calls from disgruntled customers then nobody knows quite what to do with them.

Maybe that’s what I’ve got to do.

But I want to do something to do with books or films.

I can do some freelancing for now if I can remember the name of a site I was pointed in the direction of. That’ll tide me over. I wouldn’t mind that. But I want one of those jobs where I can meet people, make friends and make enemies, go drinking with them after a bad day and loosen my tie with a huff when I get home.

I want one of those jobs, just without wearing a tie.

Proofreading. I could do that. Editing. I did quite well at that and got drunk on the power. Writing. I can do a bit of that too, as much as this post disproves it. Films. I’ve watched a few.

If there aren’t any jobs, or if I end up working in marketing, I’ll go back into Education and do something else I’m interested in or an extension of what I’ve already done. Maybe. But for now on the off-chance someone of some standing sees this…

Have you got a job? Will you give me a job? Will you give me a something to do with books or films job if you’ve got one?

I make a good milky cup of tea.

Alternatively, please accept my resumé in the form of a pop-punk song.

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The Trouble With Essays

This year is my final year of University, my final year of eating a diet consisting solely of noodles ‘cooked’ in mugs with maltesers for dessert and my final year of watching crappy b-movies whilst growing an ironic beard. The last two probably aren’t true, but anyway – to the point.

3rd year requires areas of what are called independent study and this year I’m partaking in two independent studies. Here I want to talk about, as well as gather opinion, on one of those. Currently I am studying a course called Teaching Writing. It’s a varied course illuminating and confusing in equal measure, perhaps reflecting the grey areas of teaching. So far we’ve read people such as Ivanic (and been driven crazy by her use of the word pedagogy as if she were stabbing with a knife) and Peter Elbow with his arguments on the grading/marking systems used in Higher Education.

When asked to think up an independent study for this module in all honesty I was a bit stumped. Teaching people seemed like a nice idea and something mildly interesting and maybe even rewarding, but thinking critically about the practices of it was something I probably wasn’t ideally prepared for. It took a while of thinking and looking back through my own time at University to come up with what I’d like to look at. I hit upon the uselessness of essays.

Throughout this three year period I’ve never much liked writing essays. This isn’t because I can’t do them or am purely against them but because they are generally so uninspiring. Questions are usually dull, stodgy and tepid affairs that fail to spark any original thought. Often they feel like a venture in academic backslapping – citing someone your lecturer continually cites or is even in thrall of.

Everything is so closed. The questions often seem like open ones at first glance, but on closer inspection they’re as closed as the amount of written thought that the student will probably put into them. Let’s take a question, made up, that is likely to crop up in a Film Studies class of mine:

Look at the representation of masculinity in the film Fight Club [Fincher] with close reference to Steve Neale

Within that question the film has been dictated, the angle that the essay takes has pretty much been dictated and the central theorist has been dictated. Let’s say the word limit for this fictional question is 2,500 words – that’s very little room for original ideas. Not many students are going to stray from the essence of that question – and why should they when they could be penalised for such? – and no matter however many books are listed as required reading if lecturers think that many students are rooting through these books on a regular basis for twelve weeks then, frankly, they’re kidding themselves.

In my opinion more control needs to be exerted over the student’s essay by, ultimately, the student. It seems like such a silly and obvious statement, but one that seems to be ignored. As a student specialising in Creative Writing if I write a story, no matter how many edits it goes through, it is still my story whereas when I write an essay I feel like I’m being moulded into a writing about issues and subjects, that no matter how much I read on the subjects, I don’t really care about. Things that I care about are the more off-the-cuff topics that pop up in lectures but are still relevant, something leftfield that hasn’t been written about too often (at our institution at least) [an issue I have here is that most essays are revolved around what has been written about heavily, making essays much easier]. Most topics of interest are, sadly, rushed over in endless powerpoint presentations and are squeezed out in favour of the more careerist taster approach where an essay can eventually be written on something the student has had little time to master but has shown enough comprehension and understanding to muster an essay on it – showing they can cope with the quick pace of a working environment.

Surely, with the rise in the e-tutoring, comprehension and understanding can be shown in less than half that limit without having to raise points that have been raised before?

Apart from more awareness in critical thought and the advantage of being an easier, blanket way of marking and scoring  for lecturers I don’t see much what the essay does for the student, especially when held up against the freedom and originality that papers bring (like I’m doing now).

Maybe I’m looking at this from a writer’s perspective too much, that I feel there’s no integrity in writing something you don’t care about (personally, I write pretty much what I want and get accosted for ‘journalism’ though this tactic fares me better in exams compared to people who hammer points home in list form for an essay with little concern for coherence) is certainly something that could be levelled at me. Ultimately, though, I’m interested to hear from you – whoever you are – lecturer, student, etc and your thoughts on what the essay does or doesn’t do for you.

Feel free to comment below or @ me on twitter @spotify_tapes

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