Brass Monkeys

In the past week or so, it’s suddenly become rather cold. I hasten to use the word “very” in front of cold, because in truth we Brits don’t really know what “cold” means; suffice it to say that anything around zero degrees Celsius is not good. I would never survive in Canada, the north of the USA or Russia, for example. So let’s just say that it’s too cold for me.

My tolerance for cold seems to have waned with every passing year. I don’t know whether that’s because these days I seem to be lighter than ever. My current weight is 65kg, and while I’m not underweight, I am moving towards the bottom end of the BMI scale. I don’t really know why this should be. I seem to be eating about the same amount of stuff I always have done. I do a little bit more exercise than I used to, but I wouldn’t have thought it was making me lose weight. I really ought to patent my diet, because to me it’s 80% junk, 20% good with only mild exercise and yet the kilos are disappearing…

But because of my low weight, and presumably low body fat, I am feeling the cold more than I’ve ever done. I can’t bear to be outside in the cold. On Tuesday I was outside helping with my team’s football training, and the wind and the driving rain would have been enough to make a grown man weep. Well, I nearly did. But it was just so horrific that I don’t think I’ve ever felt so bad in my life.

The situation is now being exacerbated by the fact that I am essentially sleeping outside. My new bedroom, the converted loft space, is, to put it bluntly, fucking freezing. I took a thermometer up there and at the moment daytime room temperature doesn’t go above 12°C. At night, it drops to 8°C. I have been assured that there is insulation in the loft, both below the floor, in the roof, and the windows are double glazed, but there is a ferocious draught that brings in the outside cold air with consumate ease. Let this serve as a warning to others wanting to get their lofts converted – you’re exposed to the weather on more than one side, unlike a normal room, the draughts are ridiculous, and in order to keep the room warm you need to have the central heating or other electric/gas heater on constantly. Meanwhile, in the summer, the heat is outrageous.

Basically, it’s uninhabitable right now. Even with serious jumpers on. I haven’t switched my computer on up there since Monday, so I’m doing all my computer use downstairs where there is at least some degree of warmth. All I’m doing up there at the moment is using it for sleep. Which is bad enough. Even a thick duvet doesn’t keep the cold out. I wake up several times a night at the moment shivering with cold. I think I’m going to have to get an electric blanket, and some more blankets in general.

But do you know what the worst thing about all this is?

It’s not even winter yet.

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Whither Degree?

In the past few days I’ve been thinking of things I can do with my life. The problem with every single one of them is that invariably my first doubt is, “Well, what was the point of the degree then?”

This is the question that, to me, killed off the prospects of the job I had an interview for. It was the question that said to my prospective employer that here is someone who doesn’t know what they want, has no focus and is indecisive.

But every time I think of the things I might want to do to get me out of this rut, my brain is very concerned about the wasted last four years. Because what was the point of my degree otherwise? Herein lies the warning to all future students: be wary of generic degrees if you’re only doing them because you don’t know what you want to do in life. The only purpose is certainly to delay taking a decision, and get away from parents, but at the end of it, when you’re trying to convince employers that your degree is relevant to them, you’ll regret the choice. And worse, when you finally get the job, you’ll probably think that you could have got the same job several years earlier, and be both without debt and several thousand pounds better off.

The only people who say, “We’ll take any degree” are the often suspiciously dodgy graduate programmes that some companies and the civil service run. I have friends and relatives in the civil service who say that the whole thing is shambolic at best, an exercise in avoiding responsibility by taking no decisions, usually because the senior managers are hopeless. And where do most of the senior managers come from? The graduate fast track programme, people with little to no experience of the real world.

But all of this feeling sorry for myself really has to come to an end soon. I’m trying, I really am, but it’s hard when you pick up the jobs section of the local paper every week, dismiss virtually all of them as being irrelevant (no experience, no qualification, no interest, poor pay, not enough hours), and in the final few that I could do I say, “Well, you could have done that job straight after A-Levels!”. I apply for them and get rejected… perhaps because of overqualification. And even if I managed to get one, they aren’t jobs with logical career progressions. I really don’t know anymore. Why take a job that I’ll want to leave within a few years, one that doesn’t lead me anywhere?

So there are two choices here:

1) Resume applying for jobs that are relevant to the politics degree
2) Give very, very serious consideration to the self-employment options available to me. I would love working for myself…

One day I’ll be able to report good news on here, that the cycle has finally been broken. But on the day the economy took its first step towards official recession, I don’t think it’s likely to be any time soon.

One Step Forward

In the past week or so I have been fortunate enough to have been kept occupied with at least some work. It’s not work I love getting up for in the morning, but it is still nice to have something to do.

And yet, it’s work that I have always been able to do, that I have done since I could do it, and at one point thought that it was going to be the right choice for me as a career.

Computers. Love ’em or hate ’em, they have a terrible habit of breaking. And even more so now than ever, thanks to the internet, insecure operating systems and web browsers, and generally more and more clueless people using them.

The thing is, now that computers are so easy to use, it means that people with less computing knowledge and getting stuck into the wild, virus laden world of the internet. Generally, people click on links with reckless abandon. And it is the links saying “Your computer is infected! Click here to install Honest Dave’s Spyware Annihilator!”

Naturally, these programs are all fakes and just excuses to put tonnes of tracking software on your computer that serve up ads, hijack search engines and generally fill the computer with nastiness. But people install them anyway. How are they to know that they are rubbish? In fairness, some of these things are very hard to spot, whether you’re a seasoned computer pro or a complete novice. They use pretty vicious tactics to fool you into downloading their malware.

It is because of these that I’ve had something to do lately. Two separate instances, each of which netting me some cash, which have required serious intervention by me to rescue their computers. They have been extremely frustrating, because generally with computers every time you think you’re making progress you suddenly reach the next brick wall which then leads to a further complication, and so on. One step forward, two steps back.

And that is generally the way I feel about computers. For all my life people have always said to me that I should run my own computer fixing business. Even when I was 12, family members used to say to me when I’d go with my dad to fix their computer that the both of us should have our own business. I had grown up thinking that this was a great idea and that I should do ICT for a GCSE, an A-Level and then a degree.

Somewhere along the way that plan went AWOL. I think I decided that I spend so much time on computers already that I didn’t want to do it as a career as well. But this was before computers became essential for virtually every job in existence, making my previous argument redundant. Now there is no escape, I might as well have studied the very thing that I’m very good at, mildly enjoy and could have made me a decent career, whether that’s working for myself or working for any organisation that needs IT support.

So while I work away running spyware scan after virus check, my mind can’t help but wonder if there has been a seriously missed opportunity in my life. Did I pursue the thing I enjoyed but with no obvious career path over the thing that had serious and obvious uses in the modern world?

At this point, as things go from bad to worse in my life, I would say the only answer to that question is yes.

Retread

In a working life, the old adage is “Never go back”. The reasoning is obvious: if you’re having to go back, then it means you’re not going forward!

Unfortunately, it seems that, in desperation, it might well be something I will have to do. There are no prospects for employment right now, it seems. Seven applications, six outright rejections, one interview, followed by a rejection. I think someone’s trying to tell me something. From the interview I had, I’m certain it’s because everyone is wondering “Why is someone with a politics degree applying for this job?”.

In truth, it’s a damn good question, and the one I struggled to answer when it was put to me this time a week ago. It’s making me wonder what the point of doing a generic degree was. Everyone said “It’s better to do a degree that keeps your options open”. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, I couldn’t disagree more. In fact, it’s bloody useless. If I apply for a political job, it will be useful. But for anything else, people are suspicious. They wonder whether they can trust that level of wayward judgement. And so I’m found wanting, time after time.

The delay in finding a job has now reached such a level that earlier on I visited somewhere I used to work and asked if they have any Christmas temporary jobs coming up. The answer was yes, and, assuming they have the hours to spare, they will probably offer me the job.

So the retread is very much on the cards. But for me, it seems the only option. The jobs section in the local paper is getting shorter and shorter as the economy contracts and wallets tighten. Getting this job would give me a couple of months to weather the storm, earn some money while I’m at it, get me out of the house and maybe make me feel a little better about myself. Because, in all honesty, I’m getting quite desperate now. Serious depression is round the corner, and I haven’t felt like that in a long time.

It seems like the obvious solution to me. It will buy me some time to give this whole situation a bit more thought. Because I bloody need it. If I don’t have a job, there’s no way I’ll be able to afford a nice Christmas with my family. I can’t even afford some new clothes right now. Having to make the old ones last a little longer.

All I can hope for is that this economic problem is temporary. There are jobs out there, of course there are. But, when you’ve got a degree, you really feel like you shouldn’t have to do them. 20 years of study and I could be a cleaner? I could have done that leaving school at 16. That’s what’s annoying about all this. You raise your expectations, you put in years of effort, you dare to dream about the future and what you might be able to achieve. And then you arrive at the promised land and find that really it just looks the same as it would have done anyway.

What I’m suffering is not unique. I know friends who are in the same position, doing jobs that they didn’t need a degree for, one they’ve studied hard for and got the debt to prove it. Now they’re cast aside and forced to set fire to all their hopes and dreams, stuck living in their parents houses until they can get out of the rut.

If the education system can’t deliver on its promises, then what is the point?

Watford Gap

On Thursday I had my interview in Harrow. It was the first interview I’ve managed to land in all the applications I’ve sent out. It was nice to at least be considered.

I’m using the past tense here because I sense that the opportunity has closed itself to me. I thought I did well in the interview – I’d prepared answers to almost all the questions they asked. Except one – how will I deal with the relocation if offered the job?

I had done some basic research. I knew how much it was going to be to live in the area. Plus, there is the fact that the transport links are excellent in almost every direction in London. I would be fine, I said. I could live in a cheaper area and just travel more. Bad answer: cos, of course, travel costs would then increase to compensate.

But, in truth, the salary is probably not enough to live in London from the job. £19k a year is only £14.5k net. Rent at £800/month is nearly 2/3rds of my income gone. This was what got me. I felt a bit stupid. I blustered with excuses that I could carry on with freelance work that I get from time-to-time from a friend, and also that I could referee to earn a little extra, but I think the damage had already been done. I looked like I hadn’t done my research properly, and that’s fatal.

The daft thing is that the salary for the job is actually better than what I would get if I chose to pursue the London MP assistant career. Which is such a bad choice anyway because the progression route is so badly defined. The miserable pay is a result of the huge demand: everyone wants to work there so they reduce the wage. Only the most desperate apply. Am I that desperate?

Anyway, they said I would hear either Friday or Monday. Friday went without a call, but at least I have the weekend off from worrying about it now. In any case, there’s nothing I can do. I guess I have to keep looking. There can’t be many people who get their job at their first interview, anyway. I knew I wouldn’t be that lucky. I never am.

The day itself was actually a lot of fun. Travelling by train is always something I enjoy (as long as I get a seat!), especially now I’ve got an MP3 player. The time just flies by. The weather was excellent, and I even got a chance to sit in the park for a little while before hand to prepare myself for the interview. It’s a very nice area. I really would have liked the job – it would have suited me perfectly, I think.

If I don’t get it, I’m going to have to reassess my position. Maybe my experience is just not good enough to apply for these kinds of jobs. I feel like I’m trapped in the old circular logic: to get experience you need experience. No one advertises their post saying “Inexperienced PA required immediately!”.

In any case, if I don’t get it I don’t think I’ll be doing any more applying for jobs a long way away unless they offer to reimburse my expense. It cost me £70 in total, train fares, taxi fares. And I did a lot of walking. It was a nice little adventure, a nice break from sitting here all day, but I could do that anywhere and it wouldn’t cost me so much money.

The waiting game is on hold until Monday. I’m sure I’ll be put out of my misery then.

UPDATE: A few minutes after writing this post a rejection letter turned up. Oh well – at least I didn’t have to wait all weekend after all!

IOU

Yesterday came accompanied by some rather startling news. Though I feared it would come, I did nothing about it. Primarily because I couldn’t.

As the Icelandic bank Icesave was put into receivership, bang went the money I had invested in their financial products. We’re not talking about very small sums here. Let’s just say I’m a pretty good saver. Plus, all those extra student loans had to go somewhere.

Yesterday things were looking pretty grim. Although there are compensation schemes which should have gave me reassurance that I would get all my money back (eventually), there was a lot of talk that the Icelandic scheme had no money to pay. And so, there was a distinct possibility that I could lose a small fortune.

This morning, the government have rode to the rescue. They didn’t have to. All of a sudden I’m feeling slightly more warm towards our politicians. I have never voted Labour (or Conservative, for that matter) and, in truth, am not likely to start now, even after this. But… (assuming all goes well) I do owe them a debt of gratitude for rescuing me and 300,000 other customers from this position.

It’s really hitting home just how much this financial crisis is impacting on everyone now. Banks disappearing left, right and centre. Money drying up for loans. Have you noticed that there seem to be far fewer of these adverts for easy credit today? That’s definitely a good thing. They were always the worst anyway. “Dad’s found yah scoo’ah!” and all that.

The age of austerity is soon to be open us. This is good. It is time that people tamed their wild and excessive spending. The problem is that people were spending what they didn’t have, thinking that they were rich because their house price was rising. When, of course, the value of your investments may go down as well as up.

And down they have gone. My parents, foolishly, have an endowment mortgage. It’s probably only going to reach about 2/3rds of the target, leaving them with a mega shortfall. They’re likely to have to borrow it off me, assuming I get my money back and still have it in five year’s time. But otherwise, they didn’t take part in the borrowing craze, and so they’re going to be just fine. In some respects, I’m equally glad that I didn’t graduate sooner, because I may have been a house owner by now, and would probably be in negative equity.

All through the system there are huge IOUs, and no one knows whether people will be able to pay them. Another one was created yesterday, and properly reinforced today. In some respects it was slightly amusing to be holding a credit note to the government of Iceland. Today’s it’s not so amusing in that it will be paid by my own government instead.

And then, in the long run, as all this economic turmoil is worked through, it will be me as a member of Generation Y, and the new members of Generation Z who will pick up the tab, through higher taxes, lower spending and the interest on all this huge borrowing. So we will, ultimately, pay the government back all the costs of the financial mismanagement that they’re picking up now.

It’s just such a shame that “we owe government” has a very unfortunate acronym, otherwise the concept might catch on.

A Development

This week has brought with it a few surprises. On Wednesday, I was just randomly surfing around football related websites when I stumbled across a list of job adverts. Expecting not to see anything interesting I didn’t really pay much attention to it.

Scrolling through, they all looked beyond me. Then there was one. I couldn’t believe the luck. A job for a PA and office administrator. Based in London, yes, but no matter. I’m prepared to relocate anyway.

Small problem. The closing date was the same day.

This job, to me, is probably what I’m looking for. I love the work I do for my football club. It is work, but it’s work I really enjoy, so the time just flies by. Now, sure, I won’t be doing the same in this PA job, but the crucial thing is that it is going to combine footballing interests with, I think, my abilities to organise and run things efficiently. I think I’m a pretty good administrator. I demonstrated that when I worked for an MP, and again in all the things I run for my club.

I don’t think there’s a logical job progression from it, but it will put me in a field that, for certain, I want to be involved in. Plus, by moving to London I will be a lot closer to the political world, which may or may not be my next step… but it certainly becomes so much more of an option by being close by.

Anyway, I e-mailed them at 3pm, rushed through the application and got it back to them by 10pm. They said they’d let me off with missing the 5pm deadline because of how late I’d spotted it. And it was just a pure fluke. I wasn’t actually doing my usual daily trawl of the job listings at the time.

Two days later, a phonecall. They want me for interview next Thursday.

Now – my train of thought is that, they know I live a fair distance from London. So I guess that’s why they’re giving me enough notice. But… at the same time, surely they wouldn’t make me travel all the way there if they’ve got no intention of at least hearing me out? Therefore, I must actually be in with a genuine chance. So many times I apply for jobs and just get the feeling that it’s already an internal stitch up, that someone has already been lined up for it but they have to go through the formal process of advertising it, etc.

I’m delighted to finally get this opportunity to put my case to someone. I feel like I get a chance to show that I’m actually a pretty likeable person face-to-face. I will feel fairly confident when I go in there… just as long as I keep control of my nerves.

I don’t want to speculate too much about what happens after that. I just hope it’s a worthwhile use of £70… which is what it’s going to cost me to get there! I’ve had to calculate a very careful plan to get me there on time, but all is reliant upon trains and other connections working perfectly. Please don’t let me down. I don’t want my first impression to be negative – having to call them up to say I’m going to be late. Urgh.

Either way, Thursday is going to be an entertaining day. I’ve got nothing to lose, after all. I would definitely love to get the job – things are starting to get a little too much for me living here – but I must try not to pin too many hopes to it. It would work out very well, but maybe there are other opportunities down the road just in case.

They do have a habit of springing up from nowhere.