Tuesday, 24 January 2012

In search of an Aurora...

Hello all.

So as to not set myself up for failure, I have decided to post these only when I feel I have something to say. This will hopefully be multiple times a week, but not always, as I don't want it to become even more boring than it already is.

Not much has happened so far this week; we had my Stepsisters down this weekend (they come on alternate weekends) which is always fun. We played Monopoly, which is an annual event, if that, because it's only me and Bryony who like to play board games, and it was only after much nagging on Bryony's part that anyone else agreed to play. We have the weird 'World Edition' now, where it's not just London and you play with credit cards. I prefer it, but my parents the purists think it's just odd. It's not very often that I win at games, especially ones that require a certain amount of skill (I'm not the most logical person), but due to a lot of luck, and a tiny bit of planning, I trounced everyone! My one triumph thus far this week.

On the job front, many more rejections, and a slightly odd 'phone interview' from somebody who claimed to be a graduate recruitment agency, who want me to go to an assessment day on Thursday, in Sale (Manchester-ish). I'm reluctant to go, because I don't want to work in IT, and all the jobs are in Cheshire or down South, which I obviously don't want to relocate to, but there's something inside me saying that beggars can't be choosers, so I'll probably go. Maybe. I just don't see the point in spending over a tenner in travel when I'm probably going to get very little out of it; they probably won't employ me anyway because, although I know my way around a computer, I don't have any qualifications which prove it. Grrr. Stupid, pointless history degree.

I also got rejected from a job that I kind of wanted, but knew I'd get rejected from. The Cancer Research graduate scheme. I have no chance with most graduate schemes, because I don't have a 2:1 (got a 2:2 by a couple of marks, very annoying, especially because I messed up because I was working full time as well as trying to study. The perils of being a low-income student). The only graduate scheme I've found which accepts 2:2s is the one for National Rail, which I'm also in the middle of applying for. Because my God if I can help to improve the rail system in this country, I'll at least have done a tiny bit of good in a corporate environment (but more on that later). I applied anyway to the Cancer Research grad. scheme, because it's one of the few charity jobs that are aimed specifically at graduates. I got rejected last year, even before I'd got the results of my degree, but I have quite a bit more experience this time around, and thought I'd try again. Unfortunately I was unsuccessful, and the Cancer Research team delighted in sending me three emails at hourly intervals to inform me of the fact, lest I forget. Thanks.

Today, the situation has become so dire, that when I went into Halifax to post some stuff I'd sold on eBay for my Mum, I noticed that Subway was hiring. In a stroke of good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) luck, the store here is owned by the same franchisee as the one I worked at in York, and the manager ran the York store for a while. Therefore, I stand a pretty good chance of getting a job there. I was however, undecided as to whether to apply. I liked my job in York, but that was because of the people, not because of the work. It's crap money and I have no idea what the people are like there, or even if there'll be enough hours available to make it work it. I also don't want to get stuck in a rut. I escaped Subway, and I don't especially want to go back. I have a friend who works at the store in York, who's a brilliant guy, really nice, bright and talented. He has a degree, and worked in Subway after he qualified just as an end to a means for a while. This was about 8 years ago now. He's still there, stuck. Unable to afford to quit and look for other jobs, or move away for the time being. Alright he's the manager now, but he still earns less money per hour than my 19 year old brother who works in Aldi, and it was a long, hard struggle to get there (he was working on the same money as me for a while, yet doing at least three times the work and getting no recognition at all, in fact quite the opposite). So is that something I really want to get stuck with? But then if I don't, what's the alternative? Live on Jobseekers for months on end, hoping something I actually want to do will come along? If I get the job at Subway, and work there for a bit, I might be able to do the internship at the NSPCC as well, if the hours are right. I'll be working 60 hours weeks for 6 months, but it will hopefully get me a career at the end of it.

To be honest, this isn't how I pictured life at the end of University. I knew it would be tough, as it's a crap economy out there, but I didn't think I'd be struggling to get even a minimum-wage admin job. I'm bored of working in retail, and I want to challenge myself and do something new, but I can't afford to.

I'm literally so bored at the moment it's untrue. I'm constantly watching documentaries such as Stephen Fry's Planet Word, or anything by Professor Brian Cox, and then doing my own research, and taking notes, just to give me something to do; a purpose in life. I don't understand how people cannot work for a living - I'd go insane! I keep torturing myself with books/films/tv/magazines about travel, planning my next adventure, when really I can't afford to go to the next city at the moment, let alone another country. My Everest Base Camp trek will have to stay in my head for the moment.

One day, I'll travel to these places and get paid for writing about them. That's what I love to do. I'm so annoyed with myself because I bought the National Geographic Traveller magazine today as a treat to myself, to try and cheer myself up, and found a competition to send an travel article to the magazine as part of a competition. Turns out the deadline was yesterday. I'm failing at everything at the moment, but things can only get better, hey? I'm going to keep on writing, trying to improve all the time, and start sending pieces into smaller magazine, see where I get with that. Even being published somewhere would be a huge achievement for me. Being concise isn't my strongest point as you'll have noticed!

One of the first things I'm going to buy when I can afford to is a new camera. Mine broke when I threw it on the floor (dropped it) on a night out back at Uni, and I miss it. I love photos - I love the memories they bring, and the imagination they can provoke. I got a few pictures through the post today (taking advantage of the 50 free prints offer on the major photo websites) and spent an hour just looking at them. My walls in my room are covered with photos so that I smile every time I walk in there. I was out walking the dog today, and, as I live in the middle of the Pennines, I see some stunning views everyday. Today's was extra-special though. It was from the top of one of the hills, looking out over the valley. There were a roost of birds huddled together on a telegraph pole, with clouds of fog rolling through the valley and it was amazing. My old camera would have captured the essence of the whole thing, but it was a bit fuzzy on my phone unfortunately.

As you can see, you can't really see very much on there!

Whilst we're on the topic of clouds and fog, I've never been so unhappy to see them as I was tonight. Last night was freezing cold and crystal clear, and from my living room I could spot Orion's belt, and Beetlejuice (there's a more sophisticated way of spelling it but I can't be bothered to Google I'm afraid), the Red Dwarf star that's really close to us, and our best chance of a Supernova within our life time. (I hated physics at school, but I can't not pay attention to Brian Cox, he's too attractive. I hope he's proud of the knowledge he's imparted ha).
Tonight however, is the biggest electro-magnetic storm since 2003, and thus a magnificent chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis - or Northern Lights - throughout the UK. As I live in a quite little village with little light pollution and lots of hills to climb with good vantage points, and I'm in the north of the UK, I stood a bloody good chance of seeing it. It's been my dream for a while now to see this phenomenon, and thought I was going to have to save up and go to Norway or Iceland or somewhere, so was VERY excited when I heard that I'd be able to see it from my own house! Unfortunately, we live in the UK, and more specifically in the North of the UK. So despite staying up very late last night, and constantly being on Twitter and nipping outside tonight, it is foggy. And raining. And so I won't be able to see it, unless we get a miraculous break in the clouds in an hour or so. If this is the case, I'm going for a walk, and if you never hear from me again, I'll have been murdered or something whilst in the depths of the countryside. But I don't care, because this is something that I have to see. Stupid clouds.

(Just checked again on Twitter. Beautiful images in Scandinavia. Some viewings in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Nothing here. Gutted. It was seen in North Yorkshire a couple of nights ago so had high hopes).

Picture from the live webcam somewhere in Scandinavia (at this link: http://www.auroraskystation.com/live-camera/9) *Jealous*

So if this has been a week of failures, then the only way is up. My friend Mel is coming to see me all the way from Birmingham at the weekend, and although I'm too skint to do too much, I'm sure we'll have fun anyway, and I'm looking forward to seeing her, it's been far too long! That brings me briefly to my earlier point about the train systems by the way. I live in Ripponden, West Yorkshire, which is on the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire. I live equidistant (give or take a bit) between two train stations - Littleborough and Sowerby Bridge, both about 3 miles away from me, but I normally use Sowerby Bridge, just because it's a tiny bit closer. I was checking train tickets for her however, and it would have cost her an extra TWENTY POUNDS to go to that train station, because she would have had to come through Leeds rather than Manchester. TWENT POUNDS. It costs me £3 on a bus in between the two, so of course she's coming there instead, but how ridiculous is that??

On a similar note, my Stepdad commutes to Reading from Manchester every Monday, and returns every Friday. He normally drives, but we're selling the van so now he's going to get the train. Which, no matter how far in advance he books, is £140!! Now, because I'm a jobless bum with a lot of time on my hands, we adhered by Martin Lewis' advice, and worked out separate train ticket prices, as they can work out a bit cheaper. The cheapest I can get it, is £99 return (which is a fairly good saving of £40/week, just about cheaper than driving), but to do this, he has to buy 7 separate tickets. For one journey. The system is just messed up! Instead of spending billions of pounds on the new HS2 railway, which will mess up the countryside, for the sake of cutting the journey to London by about 20 minutes for the very rich people that will be able to afford to use said train, why not put those billions of pounds into improving said train system Mr. Cameron? My Stepdad is right when he says that the Tories want to leave a legacy, but surely it would be a better legacy to leave a much, much improved, quicker, more reliable and more affordable railway system? But of course, with that they can't have flashy banners and photos and press. So what's the point?  My Stepdad used to work in Germany during the week and they (apart from maybe the Japanese) are the King's of public transport. It's quick, clean, easy, reliable and affordable. Why can't we do the same??

Think that's my rants over for now; time to have another quick check of Twitter and the weather, although I doubt much will have changed. I don't know who's reading this, and if they'll be back, but if you are, feel free to share the blog or comment, even anonymously with a load of criticism, telling me to grow a pair. It's nice to hear something from someone and not feel like you're talking to myself, which I do most of the time anyway (I don't think it really counts if it's to my dog). Maybe I'll just stick some Take That on, that normally works :)

Bye! xx

Saturday, 21 January 2012

A new dawn, a new day...

Hello again.

Well I've already failed on one of my NY Resolutions, as I haven't posted in this every day. To be fair though, it's because the charger for my laptop had broken, and the new one only came through the post today (£6.95 on eBay, got to love the bargains!)

I have just been doing some research into the internships that I was on about last time; at the moment I'm on Jobseeker's Allowance - a pitiful £50/week - so £200/month of which £120 goes on bills such as rent, phone bill and my credit card which I stupidly took out in my First Year at University, haven't spent anything on since, yet am still trying to pay the damn thing off. So I'm left with £80/month - or £20/week (though it doesn't usually work out like this because all the bills come out round about the same time) to spend on bus fares to and from the job centre, or to see family and friends, or God-forbid, actually buy myself some shampoo or some other necessity. This is the government deems how much you need to live on, and they're probably about right. I can't afford to buy any of the books or DVDs I want, and haven't had a haircut in six months, but this isn't the kind of thing I should be spending government money on - I cannot complain about the benefits system in this country because, although as we know, some people use and abuse it, we're very lucky to even have anything of the kind.

However, the internships that I would love to apply for are all pretty much full-time work. I asked at the job centre if I could still claim JSA whilst working on one of these because, although I am loathe to be on the dole, it's the only way I can afford to do one of these brilliant schemes that would help me so much in getting a job. Either that, or I'd have to work part-time as well (providing I can actually get a job), and instead work 70+ hour weeks in order to keep my head above water. This is an option that I might have to take, but it's not one that I relish the thought of. Both times I asked at the job centre, I have told that I cannot claim JSA whilst on an internship because technically I would not be available to be looking for full-time work. Ok, fair point, but it might be the only way I can actually get a job in the first place. Would they rather pay me £50/week for 3 months, or even 6 months, during which time I'm gaining essential skills, out of the house all day, and greatly increasing the chance of me gaining employment at the end of it, or would they rather pay me £50/week for sitting on my arse all day, trawling through job websites on the computer, and generally achieving nothing?

Since my return from Africa, just over a month ago, I have applied for 129 jobs. I counted. Now these aren't jobs in which I'm punching above my weight; these are jobs with titles such as 'Administrator,' 'Telesales,' 'Customer Service Advisor.' All minimum wage jobs. I am also not lacking in experience - I have six years in retail - both catering and shops - in which I have worked on all levels, on the bottom rung doing the washing up for £3/hour in a restaurant, to training and supervising employees in my last job, albeit still for minimum wage. I have had no break in employment, have references, have multiple skills - even administrative skills - and have a list of voluntary work as long as my arm, which proves I can organise events, lead a team, work in a team and anything else you can possibly think of. I have not discriminated in the jobs I have applied for; I've been  on all the agency websites and applied for anything and everything I am qualified for, no matter how crap the job.

On the other end of the spectrum, I have applied for some jobs that I actually want. Some of these, I am punching above my weight, but if you don't ask, you don't get. I have a degree - albeit not a very good one - I have managed a team of volunteers, I have worked for DFID (technically) and I have tons of experience in working for a charity. I might be punching above my weight, but it's not like I have no experience at all - I can at the very least be an administrator in a charity. Unfortunately, I think to get a job like this, I'd have to do an internship, which I can't afford, because no-one will employ me in an even minimum-wage job, and I can't claim JSA whilst interning.

So what're my options? Well I'm going to temp agencies in Leeds and Manchester next week (using up a precious amount of my £20/week budget), but I'm fairly sure they're going to tell me that, because I've already applied online, I just have to stick with that because it's the same thing. So I'm stuck in a rut, applying for more of the same until somebody, somewhere might decide that they like me. What then though? If it's a minimum-wage job, will I get stuck in that environment for good, unable to afford to quit and go on adventures, or look for other jobs? Who knows. Such is the life of a graduate. I'm certain I'm not alone, and I apologise for sounding like a right whinge-bag, but this is the life for a lot of people now, so somebody ought to document the reality.

Of course it's not all doom and gloom. I have a roof over my head, and a loving family who charge me very cheap rent, so it's all good in that respect. I'm more fortunate than most people! In fact, we've just been out for lunch at the farm shop near us - they have vacancies there, and I'd be more than willing to work for them, but unfortunately I live in a very remote part of Yorkshire. It's literally just 20 minutes down the road in the car, but although I've passed my test, I cannot afford to drive or to insure a car. So instead I'd have to take a bus in the opposite direction, and then a second bus back again because the public transport system round here is dire (also, only one bus an hour so if I missed it I'd be screwed, and they're not the most reliable of things). So again, another catch-22 situation. I need a car to get to some jobs, but can't afford a car until I get a job. Argh!

As I've proved by applying for so many, it's not that there are no jobs out there nowadays, it's just that more people, and a wider range of people are applying for them. People with 10-15 years of experience in a professional job are applying for the same jobs as recent graduates because they have been made redundant, or their business has gone under. In the same respect, there are more graduates leaving University unemployed, and so a wider pool of people to choose from.

Anyway, enough of that ranting now. This afternoon I'm going to take the dog for a walk and potentially watch a film. I have to take a day off job-hunting or I'll go raving mad. I need to think of a new hobby to take up (besides blogging) to pass the time. I'm currently attempting to teach myself HTML, which is going fairly well, and I've also just discovered the iTunes U app on my phone, and so am currently taking (a very passive) astronomy course (i.e. watching videos of lectures at Yale and trying to understand them).

I'm not normally this boring I promise...well maybe I am, but I usually talk about more than jobs and silly computer stuff. For example, I watched Room 101 last night, and Danny Baker suggested that we put comedy panel shows into it! I was horrified - they are the only reason I watch TV most days! I understand his general point - that there are loads of them nowadays, and some of them aren't that great. But most of them are! My favourite programme in the whole world is 'Would I Lie to You.' Mainly because I love David Mitchell, and also think that Rob Brydon and Lee Mack are hilarious; 8 Out of 10 Cats; QI; HIGNFY - all brilliant! My mind imploded with happiness the other week when I watched a re-run of QI that I missed whilst I was in Africa, with Prof. Brian Cox. Brian and Stephen Fry in the same room is the most amazing thing in the history of the world, and it wouldn't have happened without comedy panel shows. I'll take his point to some extent, because, as much as I love Mock the Week, I think it has gone dramatically downhill since it began, and not just because of Frankie Boyle (who by the way, I do not find funny on anything else but that programme). If you take Dara O'Briain and Hugh Dennis away from that programme (and occasionally Chris Addison), it would just be a big mess and ramble of un-funniness. They're the only people who save it and it makes me sad. I even like Argumental (on Dave), which I hated when it first came out. The only panel show (and I'm not sure if it really falls into the same category) is Celebrity Juice, because it just annoys me, no matter how much I love Rufus Hound and Fearne Cotton.

Room 101 is also not as good as it used to be. It's got technological, and Frank Skinner is just not as funny as Paul Merton was on it. Still good TV though (mainly because it had Robert Webb on it, yay!)

Right, I'm off to discover my new hobby now - if you can think of anything, answers on a postcard!

Oh, and my interesting thing for today? It will start being photos next week, but this week it's the iTunes U app - if you have a smartphone, download it, you won't regret it, it's incredible!!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Cliché #1 - A New Year, A New Start.

Hello to anyone who might be reading this blog; well done in persevering so much with your procrastination from whatever you should be doing. This is basically just the ramblings of my life, which is dull as dishwater at the moment, so your revision/essay/homework/housework/whatever else you should be doing must be boring if you'd rather read this instead!

I'm Soph, 21, recent graduate, unemployed. Love comedy, panel shows, Take That, walking and adventures in equal measures, and am trying to find something productive to do.


Basically, at New Year, I decided that I was terrified. This was the first year in my life I had not had some kind of set plan as to what was to happen throughout the course of the twelve months. Previously, I always had school/University to fall back on, and even when I left Uni I went straight into a three month placement, which I returned from in December. This year, I can do anything, which is equal parts terrifying and exciting. Except, as I've found in the past few weeks, this is not entirely true. In my job search I have found that I am underqualified for a lot of things, ranging from call centre and admin jobs (not enough experience, despite having six years of retail work and a lot of voluntary work under my belt), to Graduate Schemes (not a high enough degree, despite the fact that I went to a good University, and it was through gaining my work experience that I messed up said degree). 10 years ago, walking out of the University of York with a 2:2 in History BA (Hons) would at least have been enough to get me into an entry level job somewhere. Doing something. Now, they don't exist; entry-level jobs have now become unpaid internships, usually in London. Despite having worked many hours to keep afloat at Uni, I have no savings to fall back on, and am in a reasonable amount of debt, and so cannot afford to either move to London, or indeed do an unpaid internship. Without said internship, I cannot get a job well-paid enough to be able to afford to do an internship. Along the same line of reasoning, I have no admin experience, and so cannot get a job as a Receptionist, or filing, or anything. Therefore, I am struggling to find a job at all. I could probably find a job in retail in Leeds or Manchester, but the way things are looking at the moment, every high street store is set to go into administration, and I'd like a job with a tad of stability. Also, I can't find one. Yet.

Therefore, I decided to start this blog. It will mainly be ramblings about my life, but will also describe the life of an unemployed graduate, so that if David Cameron (*coughtwatcough*) should ever see this, well, he still won't change his policies, and he won't ever see it because he's a knob. But if another unemployed graduate should happen to stumble across this, it will perhaps give them hope that there is another person in the same boat, because it can get a bit soul-destroying receiving rejection upon rejection for minimum-wage call centre jobs. It's also to keep a record, so that I can (hopefully) one day look back at this period of my life and laugh. Or cry at my hopeless optimism that someday I would get a job that is fairly well paid and that I would hopefully enjoy. Or something. My dream job would be to work for a charity, or in the international development sector. Or travel writing. So this is a forum for me to ramble, try and improve my writing, and basically just vent my frustrations, so I apologise in advance!

Another one of my NY Resolutions, is to make life an adventure. I love adventures; have been to Africa twice and plan to travel the world. Unfortunately, funds are limiting my opportunities at the moment, meaning that it's exciting to be able to travel outside of Ripponden. Therefore, my aim is to find something interesting/exciting every day, be it in the house, or out on a walk with the dog, and document it. That means, taking a picture or describing it. So there will be regular updates on this thing, even if it's just a photo, or something completely random!

My third and final resolution, is to be happy with myself. Another cliché, but this means losing weight, getting off my bum to do more with my life, and generally just improving life. At the moment, me and my Mum have started WeightWatchers, and are doing awfully, so if I document my progress on here, maybe it will give me more incentive to actually achieve something. When I do go on my adventures, I want to be fit enough to trek up mountains, and do exciting things, so that's my main aim in life at the moment.

I'm going to leave it here, because I'm sure there are more productive things I could be doing, such as filling out application forms or walking the dog. But fear not procrastination lovers, there will be another post tomorrow!

First interesting thing: a video montage that I recently created of my three month placement in Mali, West Africa. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10151173549060484
(Songs: Copy-write: Miike Snow; Amadou and Mariam; Toto)