A Good Week For Some

This time last week I was writing about my concerns over my brother. During the time I was home, those concerns widened to encompass not just that one brother, but the other brother as well, and my younger sister. They are all reaching that awkward stage of life where they still don’t know what it is they’d like to do with their lives, but worse still have absolutely no ideas at all.

Yet, I fully sympathise with them. When I was 22, my older-younger brother’s age, I had decided what I wanted to do with life. A year later, I had totally reversed my position. So I cannot say anything. And as far as my 17 year old brother and 16 year old sister go, I had no idea at their ages either. Who does?

But in those days it seemed less pressured. Back then, the economy was good, life was relatively stable and there was no reason to take an early decision. Why close doors when you’re so young? Why not just keep getting educated and give yourself room to breathe and think things through properly when you’re older and wiser?

That was always my plan. It didn’t really work, because it encouraged me to take a decision in panic. I am still glad I changed my mind about becoming a teacher. I don’t think I could have ever survived the pressure of the job, and children deserve better than that. But by not having any clue about what to do, I jumped at the first idea that came into my head. A wrong idea that could have led to me wasting two more years of my life – a life that is far too short already.

As such, I am not in any position to lecture my 22 year old brother. He too doesn’t have a clue, but has fewer options open to him due to a) lack of qualifications; b) lack of experience; c) lack of savings. Since returning from Australia in June, he has drifted aimlessly, with no job, no prospects, and an economy that has turned its back on people like him. But at the same time, he appeared unbothered by this, and happy to just let it all happen. The virtues of living off someone else’s back, perhaps. But that is a mean thing to say.

Fortunately, there has been some relief. Last week, on his birthday no less, there was a phone call from my uncle, telling us that his employer was recruiting staff on three-month contracts to work in a major bank. My brother, being the desperately unmotivated person he is, decided he was going to leave the phone call until the next day. My other brother, being somewhat different, decided to call right after he got home from college. 5 minutes later, he had an interview for the following day.

After much persuasion (and anger), Older Younger Brother took to the phone and secured an interview too.

To cut a tedious story short, they now both have jobs. They are short-term, but they could easily be renewed and there’s a very good chance that if they both show up on time, are diligent and hard-working, they will get permanent positions.

I am really pleased for them, but I remain concerned. Older Younger Brother has always been unwilling to engage with normality. He gets up when he pleases in the late afternoon. Fortunately for him, he has been landed with the afternoon shift, though he will still need to at least join the land of the living by midday. I really wanted him to get normal hours 9-5, so that he would finally join us in the Real World. But it is a very good start. I just hope he can find the motivation and self-discipline required, because if he doesn’t it will soon turn into yet another pressure on my parents.

As for Younger Younger Brother, my concerns are different. He is still in college. He is reaching a critical time when exams and the teaching are coming to a crescendo. I too had a job at his age, but only two shifts on Saturday and Sunday mornings. He, instead, will be working the evening shift every day. He is not an organised person, so I’m not sure how he will cope with having to spend Saturday and Sunday doing his college work – days (and nights…) when he normally does his own thing, off my parents’ expense, of course. I have a feeling he just won’t bother, and will end up with poor A-Levels, ruining any chance of going to university, and getting out of the trap that is home family life. I believe he’d be secretly happy with that, because I’m convinced he doesn’t want to go to university anyway.

No one should be forced into education, but I’m of the view that during these terrible economic times, the more you can do to not have to participate in this dreadful job market, the better. He is intelligent enough to go, but lacks the belief that it is “for him”. I understand as I felt the same way. But in the end, it really did do me the world of good as a person.

So it’s typical really. This has been a good week for them, and yet we (as in me and my parents) are still worried for them. The ball is in their court, and I’m glad they’ve had a bit of luck, but they need a lot more.

Bomb Site

It’s not been a particularly exciting week. What, you expected me to report something else? Don’t forget we’re in a recession. This could carry on for years.

And maybe it really is a recession after all. I have long doubted that this particular recession, the first I have ever lived through with any kind of sentience (the last recession in the early 90s I was too young for), was actually causing harm to real people. After all, mortgage rates couldn’t be any lower. Unless you’d been made unemployed, the vast majority of people seem to be enjoying “a good recession”.

With interest rates so low, there is no incentive to save. That is deliberate. Even the VAT cut, though only a small amount, was an indication that the government wants us mere citizens to spend.

But none of that seems to be filtering through to me. I get visitors to my site, but they tend to disappear as quickly as they arrive. Some of these visitors have been enticed to my site via Google Scamwords, which costs me in a region of 10 to 40p per visitor. But I can safely say that not a single one of these people have been converted into a sale. That’s a very poor return.

Meanwhile, I am running a classified ad in the local papers again. And once more, not a sausage. Do you think someone is trying to tell me something?

Amidst all this wreckage of a failing business, I still do have the odd bit of work. Fortunately, I still have some friends (much to my amazement), and word of mouth is the best form of advertising after all. So this week, I spent my time building a computer for one such friend. It was an entertaining experience, filled with my usual mistakes and cut hands from cheap PC cases and badly soldered motherboards. But the net result is indeed a small profit, one which helps make up for the tremendous failure that is classified advertising.

In the midst of this work, however, my room, which doubles as my “business” “office”, was total carnage. I should have taken a photo when I had the chance to illustrate what I mean, but it was a significant mess. Tools everywhere, screws all over the place, wires, boxes, components, and me kneeling in the middle of it all trying to make sense of what I was doing wrong. The misery was nearly compounded when my computer, that’s this one I’m on now, decided to freeze when I opened the case to test a fan. I must have knocked something, and then it wouldn’t boot, freezing at the BIOS test stage. Fortunately, it came back to life for no apparent reason.

But, when you’re building a computer, it is a necessary evil. I am certain there’s nothing I can do about it, because I’m normally such an organised and disciplined person. The wreckage was such that I had to leave it there overnight, which nearly caused a disaster when I stumbled from the lightswitch to my bed in total darkness…

Fortunately, it’s gone now, and in its place is a completed machine, one that I’m very impressed with. Frankly, I should be given the price my friend was willing to pay for a top-spec computer, but still I can’t help but suffer a pang of guilt about making money out of my friends…

Here’s hoping for a better week to come.

That Was The Year That Was

It’s customary around these parts to review the year when I finally reach the fag-end of it. And sure enough, today seems the most opportune moment to do so. 

The beauty of this exercise is that I am aided in my assessment by looking back to the post I made on January 1st in which I set down what I expected to happen this year.

This year started coldly, in the same way as it’s finishing coldly. The weather made me dread going back to Hull after Christmas, and it was even worse this year because I had exams awaiting me there. But back I went, nailing the buggers, and getting on with the rest of university life. 

The months ticked by, not a lot happened with me other than ploughing on with my university work. After all, it was my final year and I had a dissertation to write, an absolute monster spanning 15,000 words. But I did it…

Winter gave way to Spring, and yet more exams appeared over the horizon. But all of a sudden I had a new goal. Away had went my previous expectations of being able to get a 2:1. All of a sudden I’d done so well in my previous exams, essays and the dissertation to know that I could, if I pushed myself, get a First. 

The exam revision was hellish. It would be another two months before I finally got the answer I was hoping for.

In the meantime, I moved back home and began preparing for life doing a PGCE. My plan was to become a primary school teacher, as it was something I had found interesting when I did lots of work experience for them. But as the months went by, I found myself backtracking from this commitment. Somehow, it just didn’t seem right any more. Each day another seed of doubt was sewn. I felt like I was just doing it because I didn’t have any other plans.

Days later there was the joy of the graduation result, a First, and the day itself, which was a very happy moment. Then my brain began to think up alternatives. If not teaching, what else? 

Unfortunately, to this day there is no answer to that question, made worse by the fact that the recession seems to be seriously damaging my prospects. I tried and tried, but ratcheted up just two interviews, one of which was a disaster not worth repeating, and the other was a long journey to London which ended with the same result. In any event, I soon learned that a First in politics is not really that useful. 

And so the remaining months of the year have been spent here, where I’ve lived out a rather odd existence as a houseson, spending my time looking after the house while my parents aren’t here, helping my brother and sister with their homework, and generally mooching around watching DVDs or reading books. 

Not good, basically. 

Because of all this, I am, for the first time in a while, not going to label this as a Good Year. Though it started well, and the middle bit was pretty sweet, the end has been a disaster. So this is a Neutral Year. 

For the rest of my family, I have been fortune that the sadness I feared was going to happen with my grandparents has not yet arrived. In fact, things are pretty much as they were at the start of the year. So that is some comfort. But I am still worried about what might happen in the near future. 

Meanwhile, my younger but elder of my brothers has gone to university, and seems to be enjoying it. The other brother has begun his GCSEs and is turning into a right scally. But he’s still my brother, and as amusing as ever. And my sister has gone all girly-girly, but has turned into a massive couch potato, watching soaps, reality TV and endless Nickelodeon shows. Not good at all.

My elder sister didn’t keep up with her nurse training, but now has a job for the first time in a long time. Her son, my nephew, has, unfortunately, become very naughty and very thick, a change which has upset me a lot. I suspect it’s related to the beginnings of a long and tedious legal battle that will kick off in 2009 as his useless father tries to score some points over my sister. 

As for my parents, well, I can’t help but feel that living here has changed the dynamic of their relationship. Some times I feel like I’m the referee of their silly conflicts, like they appeal to me for a judgement on who is to blame for things. I don’t like it, and hope I don’t have to put up with it for much longer. 

So, sorry 2008, but I’ll be glad to see the back of you. Things just haven’t gone anywhere near the way I thought they would. A shame, but we move on…

Mishmash

It’s been a bit of a nothingness over the past few days. After all the turbulence hinted at in my last post, since then very little seems to have happened. 

That, considering Christmas is around the corner, is a Bad Thing. I still have no idea what presents I’m going to get the members of my family, especially as everyone wants gifts that are too expensive for me. I normally spend an average of about £15 per person… meaning the whole shebang costs about £100 for me. 

This year everyone seems to want computer games or computer peripherals which generally cost small fortunes. Xbox 360 games in particular always cost loads of money. I sometimes con my brothers by buying a joint present as a 360 game, but that is never that well received because they are so hard to please. There aren’t many games that they both want… and I doubt it’s going to work that way this year.

But there was one bright spot last week. Though my self-employment ideas still rumble on, there’s no real reason for me to believe that I’m ready to go. I don’t have a toolkit for starters. And my website that I’ve made needs some photos to break up the text. Stuff for me to work on this week.

Anyway, the bright spot came from an unexpected phone call from my friend who occasionally sends me freelance work. It seems that he actually has something for me to do. Some paid work! Wow, I might actually get some money from somewhere. It’s writing some reviews of games, music and books for a website, so nothing too arduous… and I even get some free stuff out of it. Unfortunately most of it comes daubed with “Promotional Copy – Do Not Resell”… but maybe some of it will pass as a present.

In any event, it will be nice to get some cash. At least I’m going to be able to afford Christmas without spending my savings. Instead, the savings have finally made their way to a high interest fixed rate account, which seems sensible given the fact that by next year I’m likely to be getting absolutely no return on my money. No great loss really… nothing compared to what others are suffering during this recession anyway. Life goes on for me in much the same way as it’s always done, recession or no recession. No job, no prospects. Woo! 

I sit here at the moment next to the Christmas tree, which magically appeared over the weekend. My brother’s birthday was the other day too… it only seems five minutes ago since the last one. 2008 has absolutely flown by. Worse is the fact that this second half of the year, since I left university, has been a case of “busy doing nothing, working the whole day through” as my mum says. And yet the time has zoomed ever faster forward.

I’ve got to sort myself out very soon. But how many times have I said that now?

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.

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?

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.

Working It Out

There is a problem brewing.

Time is running out for me to make a decision. All of a sudden, we are in August. Not only am I annoyed by the fact that, so far, summer seems to have consisted of a couple of nice days in June and no more than a week of good weather in July; but I am also increasingly frustrated by my lack of progress in making a decision about where to take my life.

I probably have only a week or so left of reasonable time to decide what to do. I need to leave myself enough time to actually put the plan into action. But right now, it just seems so easy to not decide. For ages now I’ve been saying “You’ve got loads of time”. Which I had. But, what with this being the first of August, it has suddenly dawned upon me that I really haven’t.

I have dismissed one possible route that I was considering, doing further study to gain a company secretarial qualification. Or doing anything in this direction. It really isn’t me. I may have found it interesting, because I have quite an analytical head on my shoulders, but I could exercise that skill in other careers. It just wouldn’t be stimulating enough overall. I would find it very very dull after a time, I’m sure of it.

I have been scouring job websites for some time now, and also looking at the various graduate career options that there are from the big companies who recruit graduates once a year. Some of them look mildly interesting, but at the same time I am really not certain I can be bothered with it. I would probably have to apply to lots of them simultaneously, going through the process for most of them, which would entail endless interviews, tests, presentations, travel all round the country… for the simple reason that if I only apply to one I’m putting all my eggs in one basket. Worse, most of them don’t start the process until November onwards. That would result in unacceptable delay.

So I’m increasingly left with a smaller number of choices. The first, the bog standard, do the PGCE. Then decide what to do after that. This may or may not be teaching. But I’m really not sure I can bring myself to do the work for the PGCE now. The motivation has gone.

The second option is to start applying for political jobs. This will mean a move to London is inevitable. But it probably won’t happen quickly, leading to a small time delay. It also presents the risk that my chances of being able to emigrate are lessened considerably, but I am every day coming to the opinion that I really won’t be able to do this after all. The opportunities just aren’t there with the degree I’ve got. If I had a degree that lent itself to an obvious profession (e.g. medicine, architecture, law) then it would definitely be possible. But I might have to resign myself to defeat here.

The third option is to try as hard as I can to find a job in this area, all the while looking for a better option (which could even be the graduate employers I’ve thought about). This would at least give me money right now. It would also mean I wouldn’t feel as guilty abandoning home when my parents have spent so much money on this loft conversion. But there are very few reasonable job opportunities in this area for a graduate.

Above all though, my main annoyance is that It’s just typical that I’ve graduated at just the moment the economy is turning to shit. Great timing, dude.

Meanwhile, I am yet again left in charge around here as my mum and dad have gone away for a few days to celebrate their anniversary. Last night I made everyone curried beans and rice. Still feeling the after effects this morning…