Sunday, 3 March 2013

How a tiny instrument taught me that life begins the moment you let it.


http://www.moorebettahukes.com

I’ve done a lot of stuff. Like, serious amounts of stuff. I’ve been places and seen things and met people, all in the space of a decade that’s gone skidding past so quickly I can barely see for all the dust. Most people would tell me that these years were the best years of my life; no job, no kids, no responsibility. I could become anything I wanted, take up any new skills, learn something new every day. Well, to those people I say: yeah, you’re probably right. BUT the question I would like to ask them is, why does that all have to stop? I mean, obviously having less time to yourself is a huge factor, and thinking of the welfare of others over your own is a big deal. But I refuse to believe that job + kids + getting older = not learning anything new. No thanks.

It’s tempting to think that the set of skills you have by the age of 18 are your lot. I mean, yeah, it’s unlikely that somebody who has never sat at a piano in their 30 years of life will ever be the next Mozart but it doesn’t mean they can’t try. And it certainly doesn’t mean they can’t get enjoyment out of learning to play. We are only really told about the amazing people with talent who were child prodigies, who had some natural ability as a toddler etc. But what about the people who got good at stuff later in life, not dependent on the choices of their parents?

Among an extensive list of totally awesome late bloomers, we have GB Gold winning rower Helen Glover, who only got into a boat for the first time at 23. Yeah, ok that’s pretty young but consider how most sports stars are created: pushy parents, hyper competitive, “do you love me yet, mummy/daddy?” attitude and not a lot of free time, soundtracked by lots of sobbing and shouting. By most sport standards, starting out at 23 without a tyrannical parent breathing down your neck is practically unheard of.  But 23 isn’t the oldest on my list! Oohhh no. What about Leonard Cohen, whose first album came out when he was 32?  Or Stan Lee, who only sat down and started doodling comics in his 40s? Or, even older, Frank McCourt, who wrote Angela’s Ashes (his first book) at 66? I mean, even Jesus was 30 when he gave up the carpentry and started performing miracles. Talk about a career change.

But thinking about learning new things does get harder the more we narrow down our skill set to the bare minimum needed to get by with our lives and our jobs. How many people can remember a single word of GCSE French after dropping it at age 16? Not many. How many people genuinely remember how to do long division? You get the point. Why bother learning new stuff when we have everything we need, to such an extent that we are actively forgetting previously learned information?

I thought the same thing, until very recently. Because I have essentially carved out my own path in life by choosing to study certain things and work particular jobs, I can be quite certain now that I will never become a doctor, an engineer or a hairdresser, or anything other than an educational professional of some sort. But that doesn’t mean I can’t have other interests, and this is where I was getting it all wrong. 

I always thought to myself as a teenager that because I didn’t have some sort of “secret” awesome talent by now, I probably would never have one. I had friends who, outside of any school environment, were seriously talented pianists, violinists, cellists, gymnasts, rugby players, artists, poets, swimmers, actors, climbers. It seemed like everyone had a secret talent or hobby that they were AMAZING at, and I didn’t. I did a lot of activities and dabbled with a lot of things, mostly music related, but never in my 18 years of childhood and schooling did I ever master anything. And obviously since I was surrounded by what I now understand was an exceptional group of people, I figured that since they all had this stuff down by their teens that there was no time left for me. I could never pick up the saxophone now, not if people were already busking at open mic jazz nights by age 17 and I would just be starting. No way! Too late.

But then I got a job. I know, right, a full time job is pretty much the absolute polar opposite to most people’s ticket into rediscovering themselves. But it’s true. Before I moved to the Midlands to start a new chapter of my life last September, I panicked. What was I thinking? 23 years old, curious, educated and pretty much totally free, and I was choosing to move to the suburbs of a city I wasn’t keen on, trapped right in the centre of a country I spent my teenage years yearning to get out of.  I had nightmares of dinners as beige as the curtains; Saturday nights organised entirely around the ITV programming schedule; evenings spent paying bills or talking about paying bills; MAGNOLIA. Not to mention I was totally unemployed.

How is this all linked, you ask? Well. From the first week I started working at a school, I noticed a change. My job requires me to cover any lesson, regardless of my own specialities. So I meet a lot of kids, and I have to introduce myself a shitload of times every single day. There are still kids now, 5 months in, whom I’ve never even laid eyes on before. So I felt that I needed a way to break the ice with everyone and show a bit of my personality. It started with origami; I covered almost an entire week of art lessons, and once the kids started to get bored of the set tasks, I showed a couple of them how to make some models out of paper. They responded really well, so I brought it into the learning support room and the EAL room, where I was spending a lot of time. Again, the kids loved it; I could make them little paper trinkets at virtually no cost, without a huge amount of skill. I now run origami club one lunchtime a week and it’s lovely.

Then, one Friday evening before Christmas I was sitting at my desk and suddenly had the urge to pick up my guitar. I was rubbish. I always had been, really. Never got the hang of it, there were too many strings and the damn thing was just too BIG. Then suddenly I remembered the tiny adorable ukulele Matt had bought me a year or so earlier that I had never really found the time to learn to play. So I picked it up and it was a bit awkward to play due to it having been put together quite badly. I watched a couple of videos online and then was swept up into a sea of ukulele inspiration. I HAD TO HAVE ONE. Well, a better one. So I decided to upgrade the next day, and the rest is history. I haven’t put the thing down yet.

What’s the point? The point is, that even though I should be at a stage in life where all my learning is done and I’m happy with my lot in life when it comes to skills and friends and opportunities that I may or may not have taken, this little ukulele has opened up a lot of doors. Firstly it’s made me realise that like it or not, I am, actually, a musical person; the moment I tuned it up and played my first chord, it did something to me. Playing it came so naturally and sounded so beautiful that I couldn’t stop. It didn’t matter that I was almost a total beginner or that I totally sucked at the guitar. Then, I started posting videos online. Not because I want to “get noticed” or be the next big thing or anything like that, but because I feel so happy and peaceful making music on this thing that I wanted to share it with my friends. As far as I can tell, nobody’s hated it yet… Then I heard that a music teacher had used ukuleles on a music day at school. We had a chat and I found out that there were some other teachers who were keen players or keen to learn. So I started the Ukulele Club. We meet a few times a week to sing, play, laugh and learn.

So basically, since I started working full-time, I’ve done more in 5 months than I ever did in my years as a student or unemployed person. Yes, I lived abroad, and I still see that as the most important, formative year of my life but when I was living in those two big, beautiful capital cities, I spent 90% of my free time drinking wine, eating pasta, writing my blog and chatting with friends both in real life and on Facebook. Nothing particularly special about that, except that the backdrop was a stunning view over either Paris or Moscow.

Since I started working, I feel like I have those coveted “secret talents”, because not everyone is actually like my old friends were. A lot of people actually can’t play a scale on the piano, or speak Russian, or sing in tune. The ukulele is only small, but its impact has been huge. In the 3 months I’ve been playing, it’s made me rediscover the piano, given me the confidence to sing in front of my parents for the first time, and the self-esteem to get into a studio and record my first track (massive kudos to Mr Myers and his awesome A Level production students). Not only that, it’s made me at least 5 new friends at a brand new workplace, made even the naughtiest kids in school smile, and infected an entire year 11 science class with Bieber Fever.

Yeah, I could have sacked off this grown up life and travelled the world, meeting new people here and there, never really settling down until I absolutely had to. But I really don’t think I would ever have felt this alive.

So yeah, if you made it to the end of this illogical, meandering essay of a post, here is what you should take from all this:

1- The ukulele may be small, but its powers are mighty. Just try looking at one without smiling, go on. I dare you.

2- Never stop learning. The reason people think young ‘uns are much better at learning new stuff is because THEY ARE. If a regular jogger stopped for 20 years do you think they’d be able to suddenly run a marathon? Um, no. Your brain is the same. If you learn nothing new for 20 years you will definitely be out of practice, so don’t stop.

3- But even more importantly, just because you didn’t do something as a teenager, it doesn’t mean you will never be able to do it. Didn’t get a tattoo as a teen but always wanted to? Get one now! Didn’t ever learn a language at school but wish you had? Get out there and do it. Suck at maths? Grab a revision guide and see how much you can remember. Always dreamed of playing the piano? Go and buy a keyboard and a beginners’ guide, see how much fun you can have. Want to travel? Book your time off work NOW and go for it.


I’m not saying everyone should play the ukulele, or that everyone should work in a school. However, we all deserve to feel proud of our own abilities and nobody should go through life wishing they’d learned how to do something. So, I hope after all this at least one person might be inspired to go out and do whatever it is that they always wanted to do. You never know, it could change your life.

Peace x

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Celebrity Skin


I am so sick of hearing opinions of famous people who literally have nothing of any value to offer the public other than the fact that they are celebrities; who cares what they think about anything? We always have some socialite or other in magazines saying their bit about fashion, health, confidence or, god forbid, politics, and generally when it comes to models or socialites or other female “celebrities” it’s made even worse by a sycophantic journalist, sickeningly fawning all over them and decreeing all their statements as gospel. I have found that fashion journalists are usually the worst for this (although I have heard a very serious radio 4 journalist go all mushy in the presence of Debbie Harry...).


I read an article in Vogue about Alexa Chung a few days ago. Now, before people start to get angry, I know she was a model, I know she was, like, on T4 (wow, so inspirational), I know she is (was? Who knows/cares) going out with that tosser from the Arctic Monkeys and I know she was made into a handbag or whatever. But what I don’t know is why anybody gives a shit what she thinks about the world. The way this article was written it was as if Chung was some sort of goddess, a martyr or saviour, sent to earth to impart great knowledge and wisdom on us all, based purely on her own ability to successfully dress herself. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to criticise Miss Chung at all. There is nothing wrong with being a model or a TV presenter; she’s clearly a successful young woman so fair play to her. What I do want to criticise is the way the fashion and lifestyle media have made her, and others, out to be some kind of prophet. 


And it’s not just her- Coleen Rooney, Cheryl Cole and goodness knows how many random catwalk models are cooed over in so many articles describing their personal views on music, film, fashion and family life. Now Coleen Rooney is probably a lovely woman, with a nice personality and a lot of patience. But a few years ago she was just a 16 year old chav going out with an equally chavvy (but much uglier) 16 year old who just happened to prefer moving a ball with his feet than reading or learning things. Let’s be honest now, how many Vouge journalists are falling over themselves at the gates of inner-city schools to quiz teenage girls about fashion and family life in order to then publish their findings in butt-licking articles peppered with their own obsequious commentary? None, that’s how many.


Before I continue, and before people start throwing out the “omg you are clearly just jealous” card, let me say this. Of course I am. Everybody is, on some level, jealous of somebody who can make thousands or even millions by simply wearing someone else’s clothing and walking in a straight line or lounging in front of a camera. However, I’m not jealous of the eating disorders, or the state of the backstage bathrooms after 100 laxative-addicted stick insects just used them. Similarly, I’m not jealous of how thin they are- I’m a size 6 for goodness’ sake; if I was any thinner I’d slip through cracks in the pavement. And of course I’m jealous of Alexa Chung- she’s pretty, rich, and presumably fairly content. Who wouldn’t want that? 


The point is, pretty and rich is all some of these people are, and that’s what they should stay. What’s the difference between Coleen Rooney and you or me? Moolah, Deutschmark, Dollar: MONEY. (About £10 million). Yet for some reason, magazines and papers are clamouring for her to give her own wise opinions about fashion and life. She’s an ordinary girl who got lucky (financially, anyway- not sure if even that much dollah is worth having to get into bed with Shrek every night...). Cheryl Cole is the same- an average girl who could sing reasonably well (not that her Jubilee performance was anything less than SHOCKINGLY BAD) and then got a shitload of money. Who decided that these women now have authority to tell us what to wear or what to eat? If I want fashion advice, I’ll go to a fashion designer or somebody I think looks nice. If I want music advice, I’ll go to a musician. If I want help with my relationships, I’ll go to a friend or a counsellor, not a rich stranger whose husband has publicly cheated on her at least once. 


Magazines need to stop feeding us the notion that celebrity (and skinny) = important. If some sickening journalist is sitting there going all gooey as soon as a person richer/thinner than themselves walks into the office, that’s their problem and frankly I think it’s a little pathetic. What I don’t understand is why they think that the world wants to read about how casually stunning someone was sitting across from you, and how you could just see why so-and-so wanted her as their muse blah blah. We need to just take a step back and remove ourselves from this obsession with celebrity. Does anybody really care that much about Kate Moss that they need to see 100 photographs of her carefully styled wedding? She’s an underweight, middle-aged, single (ish) mother who smokes, drinks and indulges in recreational cocaine use. She rarely brushes her hair, and despite her picture being in the press most days, she is never photographed spending time with her daughter. Yet somehow Vogue, the world’s most influential fashion magazine, treats her like royalty and implies that she is somebody young women should be looking up to. 


I want to see more articles about inspirational women and men who don’t have handbags named after them, who aren’t married to footballers, who were never on fucking Big Brother or the X Factor, and who are actually worth idolising. Why can’t some designer design a bag for a human rights activist, or a doctor, or a charity worker? What about for a single mother who successfully raised 3 kids? Why do fashion - and other - journalists look down their noses at anybody who doesn’t have at least six zeros in their bank balance and one zero on their jeans label,most likely with their own clothing line somewhere? Why is it that only those who can afford a personal stylist are described as “stunning”?


I bewail the way in which young women with no redeeming talents other than the ability to somehow successfully stand and walk in a straight line whilst being 2 feet too tall and 2 stone too light are suddenly looked to for answers about the best music or the best holiday destinations. I mean, they aren’t even really qualified to give fashion advice since their entire career revolves around other people physically attaching clothing to their freakishly thin bodies. The only time I would go to a model for advice would be if I was really interested in becoming anorexic or if I needed some help walking in ridiculous shoes.


 Why does anyone give a shit what some model thinks about films and music? Why does anyone give a shit what anybody thinks about films and music? Why can’t we just make up our own minds? Why do we assume that just because Alexa Chung wore a tuxedo this one time that suddenly that is the best thing anybody can wear ever? Fashion is clothes. Fashion is the way people look. Models are moving picture frames whose bodies are deliberately kept as un-feminine as possible in order to not detract attention from the creations they are wearing (let’s face it, if Beyoncé were to walk down a catwalk, nobody would be looking at her outfit). Fashion is clothes in the same way that music is noise that makes sense, football is people moving a ball into a net, and reality TV is idiots doing idiotic things in front of cameras. Fashion journalism has turned into sycophantic women finding out the deepest desires and wishes of a picture frame. Kate Moss is not an inspirational woman. Alexa Chung is not a guru, and Coleen Rooney is not a counsellor. The sooner we start to realise who these people actually are and what, if anything, they are actually qualified to do, the better.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Sugar And Spice And All Things Nice



*Incidental disclaimer: if you are likely to be rendered uncomfortable by the mention of lady bits, man bits, the words “period”, “orgasm” or “poo”, then you should probably click the little cross in the corner of the window and read something less offensive. But thank you; by doing so, you will have proved my point very nicely.*
What’s the least sexy thing a girl has ever said to you?
Good question. Not too difficult to think of the possible answers, either. Imagining myself as a young male, I would suggest that in the midst of a sexy encounter, some of the most viciously “unsexy” conversation topics would probably have to include an in-depth account of a yeast infection, some talk of capital punishment or religion, and perhaps endless talk about how sexy your ex-boyfriend was/how much you miss him. Of the forty young men asked this question by More! magazine, only two mentioned the fact that perhaps talking about an ex could be a bit of a mood-killer. Apart from another two men who claimed that nothing was unsexy: “even toilet talk is funny”, all the rest had very strong views on what girls should not discuss if they want to be attractive to men. 
Number one on the list? Go on, guess. I’ll give you a clue: it’s brown and sticky. You got it, a stick! No, no. It’s poo. Now, before y’all get your knickers in a twist let me just add that I don’t personally find poo sexy. Got that? Good. Nor do I judge these men for suggesting that poop talk is not exactly the way into their boxers. However, I wonder if they genuinely find poo and farts revolting and obscene and unsexy, or just women talking about it? Perhaps both. But the way their responses to the question are worded, it suggests that they really believe that this is not something women should discuss (or even do!?) if they want to be attractive, even if the setting is not necessarily sexy in the first place. Let me give you some examples:
What’s the least sexy thing a girl has ever said to you? 
“I really want to fart”. That’s bloke’s talk, not girl’s.
Any mention of going to the toilet is just horrible.
“I need a poo”. Even hearing “I need a wee” is gross.
“do you mind if I fart in front of you?” I was horrified.
“I don’t feel too great after that curry.” No need to tell me!
Anything to do with pooing is just disgusting. Sorry!
I heard a girl say “I need a poo” once. That was awful.
Now, it hasn’t been specified exactly in what situation the men in question have heard these things, but I don’t really think it matters when we read the responses above. Sure, I mean if you’ve just met someone and you are trying to be all alluring and mysterious and sexy and then suddenly start discussing your bowel movements, it’s probably not going to go down too well, but that is a specifically “sexy” situation, and I don’t think many of these men were actually describing this kind of first date encounter. Especially these in particular:
‘any mention of going to the toilet is just horrible’
‘I heard a girl say “I need a poo once”. That was awful’
Well, in what context? If a platonic female friend mentions that she’s just going to the loo for a wee is she suddenly repulsive? If a girl comes to your place and asks you where the toilet is are you going to ask her to leave? If your girlfriend has a serious issue that just happens to be bum related, should she keep quiet in case she repulses you? Did the guy who heard a girl say she needed a poo even know her? Or did he just hear a random girl say it and decide she was repulsive even though he had no intention of sleeping with her in the first place? Because I get it, poo talk isn’t the best way to get ‘the mood’ going, but to accuse a random girl of being unsexy and gross and awful just for mentioning a natural bodily function is pretty extreme.
So, lesson one on how to attract a male: no poos or wees or farts. Got that? Ok moving on. 
Number two (tehe) on the list of the ultimate ways to turn off a man was, you, guessed it, the P word. You know, PERIODS. Menstruation, menses, Aunt Flo, the decorators, mes règles, meine Tage. Feeling uncomfortable yet? Well you should be, apparently this is totally risqué, X-rated stuff. Turns out any mention of the red stuff, euphemistic or not, is not to be tolerated. 
‘No man wants to hear “it’s that time of the month”’.
No man? Not a single man? If he’d said “the thought of a woman bleeding from the womb doesn’t turn me on at all.” I would have probably agreed. Whilst I despise how “the curse” has been used against women for centuries, I don’t necessarily find it to be erotic. But no man wants to be informed at all? I mean, really? So the message here is “if we are planning on having sex at some point, please don’t tell me that you are menstruating because it’s just so damn gross. Just let me stick it in and find out for myself. K?” Better? 
‘any chat about their periods. I really don’t want to know’. 
Again, it’s not that in the heat of the moment this guy doesn’t want to hear about womb cramps, it’s that he does not want to know. Ever. About any of it. In any context. Because it’s gross and dirty. Even if you have no intention of being sexy for this man, you will be repulsive in his eyes if you so much as mention your womb lining.
The same goes for body hair; several of the men suggest that “I haven’t shaved my legs” or words to that effect are utterly revolting. “you don’t want to undress her when you hear that!” Brilliant. One guy even suggested that a woman talking about having her baby was the most unsexy thing he’d ever heard. Again, this makes me wonder about the context of some of these interactions. If you’re on a date with the intention of sleeping with a man, I probably wouldn’t bring up childbirth, periods, poo, wee, religion, abortion, star trek, twilight or kittens. But if you’re not trying to get a guy into bed, you should be able to talk about any of this stuff without being deemed “gross” or “unsexy”. If I told my closest male friend that I needed a poo I would hope that he wouldn’t be utterly repulsed, mostly because I have no desire to be sexy for him in the first place. Similarly, I can’t picture many of these conversations happening immediately pre-(or mid-)coitus, but rather in casual mixed company or simply in earshot of these young, judgemental men. 
To me, it would have been funnier to talk about things which totally kill the mood as it’s happening, such as “oh no, I’ve got my ankle caught in the bedframe!” or “ahhh! Toe cramp!” or, as one man suggested: “we can’t do it, we’ll wake the baby”. All of these are totally unsexy moments, but in a genuine sexy context. All the rest of the responses were just men saying that women in general should not have any bodily functions, all their bodily fluids are shameful, and the way that they single-handedly hold the key to and suffer monthly for the continuation our species is absolutely unmentionable. Yes yes I know men have a role too, but let’s be realistic here: unbelievable abdominal pain, bloating, anxiety and extra laundry vs. orgasm after orgasm after orgasm? Honestly, I don’t know how you boys have managed to carry on! Thanks for playing your part so bravely, I know it must be hard for you. 
I’m not some sort of crazy poo-covered menstruation activist, but I feel that these magazines are really just promoting the idea that all women should be Barbie. No nipples, no genitals, permanent makeup and that frozen, submissive smile. Even the ones which actively seek to promote natural beauty just end up having a size-zero model with the inner leg measurement of a giraffe on the next page selling us perfume. Some people would like to blame men. I don’t. I have never actually met a man who is more judgemental about women than other women. Women and women’s magazines and other media are single-handedly (I like that word) chipping away at female self esteem every day. Think about it, would it actually matter what those men in the survey thought if it wasn’t published in a magazine for women to read?
It’s difficult to work out who started it all. Let’s imagine it all started with a few men deciding that it would be better for a woman to be totally hair-free all over her body. After a few girlfriends they would probably realise that this was totally unreasonable because no woman was actually going to bother shaving off all her body hair. But as soon as women themselves start to create these “rules”, they become their own downfall. If me and my best girlfriends happened to think that men were only sexy with no body hair, we would probably start to realise over time that it probably wasn’t going to happen for us. I imagine we would eventually settle for hairy men and get over it. The poor men that we attempted to coerce into the waxing salon would get sick of our nagging, leave us, and we would probably have to move on and accept that men just don’t want to be hairless and not everybody can conform to our exact idea of aesthetic perfection. 
Now let’s assume that me and my best girlfriends happen to work in the advertising sector. We have influences in all the top products for men and male magazines. Imagine we decided that all the models in our next ad campaign would be totally hair free, legs and all. The magazines would publish articles about women who are utterly repulsed by body hair, and how the most revolting thing in the world would be to take off a man’s shirt and find a furry chest. Ick. Sports players would be totally smooth from the eyebrows down, TV shows like top gear would not feature any men with hairy legs, arms, chest or face, and men’s body razors and back/sack/crack waxing kits would be shoved in the faces of every unsuspecting male. Teenage boys who forgot to shave their armpits would be ridiculed in P.E. lessons. Then, slowly, ever so subtly, even the most self-assured, hairy-chested alpha male might start to feel a little bit unattractive. Suddenly women too would start to see male body hair as taboo, even if they had previously not had a problem with it at all. The sight of a man’s hairy leg in the summer would be met with giggles and repulsion. I could go on.
Now I’m not saying this is how it happened for women, (almost, though; thanks for nothing, Gillette) but the point I’m attempting to get across is that it doesn’t really matter what men think about women, what matters is how women themselves respond to that information. If your boyfriend said to you that he found girls with a shaved head really really sexy and was actually a little bit grossed out by head hair, would you shave your head? I doubt it. If young girls ignored all the absolutely shameless peer pressure from the media, eventually young boys would start to realise that porn stars and models aren’t the norm. If girls stopped making up new, gross defects about other female classmates in order to give themselves some sort of ego boost, things like bigger than “average” (read: normal) nipples, “unusual” labia, birthmarks, stretch marks and cellulite would not be such a big deal. I bet a lot of fourteen-year old boys don’t even know what cellulite is, but as soon as a gaggle of girls start spreading the news that so-and-so is totally gross because of [cellulite/weird birthmark/different sized boobs], the boys will start believing it themselves and so the vicious cycle begins. 
It would be nice if I could finish up with a wise, logical solution to all this, but I honestly don’t have one. It’s in the hands of the media and the young people. I suppose the only way of breaking the cycle would be to ban all the porn and ban all the media which really only serves to tell women in new, ingenious ways that we are shit. When we women expose ourselves to the media we find out that we are ugly; we are fat; we are flawed; we can’t embrace the very things which make us female; uniqueness is hideous; imperfection is the devil, and no men will ever love us unless we do our best to make him happy and prevent him from cheating on us. Oh but also be yourself! Big is beautiful! Curves are in! (but LOOK at the cellulite on that! Eww!). Mixed messages, anyone? 
I usually quite enjoy More! Magazine but I don’t think I’ll be buying it again in a hurry. So, young people, I’m afraid this might all be down to you. Girls, next time you look in the mirror and feel like a piece of shit, switch off your TV, don’t buy any magazines, and for the love of god don’t watch any porn. You never know, after a day or two you might just start to feel a bit better about yourself. And boys, I’m all for having individual preferences when it comes to finding people attractive, but next time you think a girl is revolting for not shaving her legs/mentioning that she has her period/having stretch marks, just think to yourself why that particular thing is such a big deal to you. If you can’t come up with any other reason than “well it’s just gross!” or, “everybody knows girls don’t do that” or something similar, you should also probably switch off your TV and move your mouse away from the bookmarked porn sites on your internet browser. 
Bodies are like personalities; every single one is different, so just chill out and enjoy being alive. You’ll have plenty of time to be miserable when you’re dead.
 :D
"...you can shave your whole body bald……it ain’t the shape baby, it’s the integrity.
All hail the freak flag."
(Amanda Palmer)

Friday, 2 December 2011

Don't Worry, Be Happy. Oh wait...



I tend to only post on here when I am angry or excited about something, so the fact that I haven’t written anything for at least 10 months definitely proves how utterly uninspiring my life has been. After a whirlwind couple of months filled with graduations, grad balls, costume parties and a very unexpected offer of teaching work at a summer school, I didn’t really have a lot else going on.
Perhaps the most exciting thing is that I am now a qualified EFL (English as a Foreign Language) teacher; I worked my butt off for five weeks and prepared a LOT of lessons and ended up doing rather well. So now not only am I ready and willing to serve all your English language needs, but my nice, shiny, Cambridge-issued certificate is also a legitimate license to become a total grammar nazi. Look out, Facebook users! Aside from being actually quite enjoyable and rewarding, the best thing about being an actual teacher is that I now have a PROFESSION. A proper one. So, I spent twelve years studying reasonably hardcore languages, spent a jaw-achingly large amount of dollar on higher education and survived RUSSIA for half a year, and what has that got me? Piss all. (I mean, apart from the obvious social and personal development and the hideous debt). I have not been able to find a single job based on, around, in, under, over, or behind my degree. 
Now before everybody starts bleating about translating and interpreting etc etc etc, let me just stop you there. Just because somebody can speak a second language doesn’t mean they can translate or interpret in or out of it easy peasy lemon squeezy. Just like somebody can’t suddenly become the next Gordon Ramsay and cater for hundreds of people a night in a fancy restaurant just because they can make a half decent Sunday roast for their family of four. It takes training, people. And money. Lots of money. If I wanted to be a real interpreter or translator (just to clarify: translating = writing, interpreting = speaking) I would have to spend at least £4000 on masters course fees + more on rent + even more on living in order to even get recognised for work, and even then I wouldn’t be guaranteed a job.
Yes, after almost thirteen years of studying it, I have finally allowed myself to say that I am “fluent” in French but I’m still not a native speaker. I still make mistakes and I don’t know all the words that a French person my age would know. So even if I spent the moneys, did RLY well and became a qualified interpreter/translator, I would still be competing with the jammy bi-lingual bastards who just popped out of the womb with a perfect knowledge of both languages. In today’s hard times, even those lucky few with international parents, who didn’t originally want anything to do with the language world are starting to realise that there is shit all else and that £30 (at least) an hour for doing work (aka. having a chat) which they were literally born qualified for isn’t looking so bad any more. Me, bitter? Never!  Ahem. 
So, moving on, I don’t think I will become an interpreter or a translator. Similarly, the thought of teaching French, German or Russian to reluctant teens in a British state school is enough to make me run, crying and screaming, right back into the open arms of the job centre. 
And this is the biggest disappointment about university, really. Aside from the brutal fees and living costs which have made my bank balance look as depressing as Greece’s (ooh, topical humour!), the fact is, I am actually LESS employable than the kids from my area who decided to stay at home and do apprenticeships instead of pissing about with higher education. I can’t even secure work in a bloody pub because for some reason or other I don’t quite fit their specifications (i.e. I don’t show enough boob and make all the men feel manly and powerful by laughing at all their sexist/racist jokes). Of all the recent graduates I know, only 2 have jobs which can be described as anything other than menial, and even those jobs have literally nothing to do with their degrees. The rest are either unemployed, doing volunteer work or working shifts in bars/shops/[insert other shit place here] to get a bit of pocket money whilst listlessly completing application after application, cover letter after cover letter, only to receive NOTHING in return except a generic refusal email. 
So maybe those kids who decided to stick it to the government that peer pressured us all to go to uni and get a bright, well-paid future are actually having the last laugh after all. The government goes on and on about how we need an educated population in order to function and that graduates are the most important people in society etc etc “spend loads of money, go on, you’ll get it back immediately with the awesome job that’ll be handed to you on a silver platter as soon as you step out of your graduation ceremony!” well, last time I checked, over the last 4 years I was not helped out in crisis situations by academics. When my car broke down, I didn’t immediately call the local university so they could send me a phd student who had read loads of books on engines and written their thesis on the socio-economic effects of roadside breakdowns on women. No. I called my mechanic. A man who probably doesn’t even have A Levels. He has saved the day, and perhaps my life on countless occasions by making my car safe and reliable. The woman who waxes my legs (and elsewhere) didn’t go to university, yet her services have done more for my self esteem than anybody I know with a degree. 
What I’m trying to say here is not that all academics are pointless, but that the people who really make a lot of our lives function the way we want them to did not spend thousands and thousands on a university education, and the people who did spend thousands and thousands on a university education in order to differentiate themselves from those who did not are finding themselves worse off. If you want instant employment, look for employment. University was a wonderful experience, but I would be totally inaccurate if I said that I would have gone so willingly knowing that my likelihood of finding work afterwards would be pitiful. 
I know people who didn’t go to university and looked for work straight from school. They sent off all their applications and moved up through companies slowly, often starting right from the bottom. Now, 5 years later, many of them have very respectable positions in retail, estate agencies, security services and bars. Admittedly, if any of them wanted to become lawyers, doctors, dentists, bankers or accountants they would be at a disadvantage due to their lack of a degree, but similarly, I don’t know any graduates (bar medics, obviously) who have landed decent jobs as lawyers, dentists, bankers or accountants and even if I did, I am sure I would know an equal amount who had studied something relevant to the above professions but were refused work due to lack of experience or the competition being to high or [insert common grounds for refusal]. Essentially, after 4 years and many pounds (did I mention that university is expensive? Good.) I am currently finding myself in the exact same position the kids who didn’t go were in 4 years ago. They are earning more than me, they have homes, some have families, and whilst I was writing essays, citing books which were seemingly written just for university essay-writers to quote, they were getting a 4-year head start on applying for all the jobs which I am now applying for myself. 
Experience is everything. But in order to get experience, one needs to actually be employed by somebody first. It’s a vicious cycle, and it brings to mind the phrase “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” because if companies only want experienced employees, how does any newbie get experience in the first place? Ah, an internship with a bank that my cousin just happens to work in! Ooh, some part-time office clerical work at the law firm that my parents’ friend happens to own! 
But whatever. I’m very aware that I have barely managed to make a single coherent point here, but I haven’t written in a long time so forgive me for this unnecessarily long, rambling post. Also, I’m not a student any more, so making a balanced, rational, neutral argument which is adequately referenced (Dawson, S. 2011, Living Room) is not required, hurrah! It really just sums up all the unrelated thoughts I’ve had over the last 10 months. 
If there is anything that I would really hope people might gather from this outburst of verbal diarrhoea it's this: if you’re 16/17 and you’re not sure what to do with your life, for the love of god at least consider getting a profession. If that means getting a degree then great, even better. But please, if you want a job in the future (prognosis of which is bleak at best, impossible at worst) you will have at least maybe a tiny little chance in hell if you get an actual useful profession. The thing I wish I had known at school was that a non-specific arts-ish degree does not = a profession. I have managed to get more work from a 5-week vocational course at a local, average university and a little bit of teaching experience than I will probably ever get from my degree, over the course of which I learned to speak an entirely new language, became fluent in another and spent a year living away from my family and my home. Worth it? Probably. Increased employability? Clearly not. 
Ok I’ll stop now. Happy thoughts, people, happy thoughts!
Ps: Recent graduates: do feel free to prove me wrong and report back to me with tales of your wonderful, highly paid, rewarding, fulfilling, satisfying, secure jobs and I will gladly take it aaaallll back and assume that it’s just me that has a problem… 

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

This is me NOT doing work on my dissertation.


So I came into the library after my class to do work, but I feel I have to rage first. Ready? Ok.

 Anyone who knows me well may be aware of how I feel about homelessness and how I like to help out a little when I can; I haven’t got involved with any organisations yet, but once the stress of final year is over it is something I plan to do. So basically I don’t want to make it sound like I’m some sort of activist or super amazing, world saving good Samaritan, but if I come across a homeless person and I’ve got a few minutes to spare I will offer them a hot drink or some food. Nothing amazing, I’m not changing the world, but it makes me happy to know that even though I’m in no way qualified to cure someone’s alcohol or drug dependency or psychological or emotional problems, I can still make them a bit warmer or less hungry for a few minutes. 

So with this in mind, let me explain the class I just had and why it made me totally despair at our society. The class was a French oral class, and the topic this week was homelessness, mainly with information we had found about France, but as usual once all our facts and figures were worn out we started on the more general idea of homelessness and how it should be solved, and we all agreed that more housing is an important thing. When I suggested that actually there could be more important things than just providing a roof for somebody I was met with some quiet opposition. But when I mentioned that actually, law enforcement bodies are much more lenient with homeless people in Paris than in England, I had a fight on my hands. And we all know how much I love a fight. 

So basically this is how it went: I said that based on my own experiences I felt that in Paris, people and police were much more likely to just let homeless people get on with it; no unnecessary moving them around, arresting them for simply being homeless or making them leave the metro platforms and sit in the cold. I only ever saw police escorting homeless men away when they had been aggressive or drunk and disorderly (this is also the case in Moscow, but I didn’t have time to mention it). The guys who were just sleeping on the platforms were left alone, nobody made them get up and go into the rain or snow, regardless of which laws are actually in place. 

In Coventry, however, I got to know a guy who was sleeping in one of the underpasses (incidentally, this information was met with utter shock and disgust from my classmates) and he had been arrested, beaten up and was awaiting a court hearing when I last spoke to him. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe every word he said, but as far as I could tell he wasn’t in any way intoxicated, and if he had psychological problems they were very well disguised. From the time I spent with him, all I could assume was that he was a young misunderstood guy who had major issues and no family or friends to help him when he got into this mess. Maybe he was a crack addict, maybe he killed his whole family, maybe he has horrific schizophrenia. I don’t know. But whatever the reason for him being on the street, it didn’t change the fact that he was there over one of the coldest winters the UK has ever seen or that he was arrested for simply being homeless. The police had arrested him because essentially it’s illegal to be on the streets and beg, but I had never once heard him ask anyone for money and he never once asked me. 

When I explained this to my class (all girls, by the way) their argument was that it’s not up to the police to help homeless people, and they have a duty to protect the public. This is undoubtedly true but the fact is, whilst it’s not their job to help homeless people out it’s also not their job to make life even harder for homeless people who are not criminals at all. Arresting a guy and making him go to court for living on the street when there is nowhere else for him to go is cruel, especially when he was often the victim of violent crimes. If he was a threat to the city then fine, take him away, but telling him he’ll be taken to court if they find him on the streets again and then not caring whether or not he has the means to go elsewhere is unnecessary. How can this man ever get his life back if he has not only been homeless, but also has a potential prison sentence? 

Anyway, the main point that my opponents were making was that basically, all homeless people are criminals, and that the police are doing the right thing by arresting them because people who walk past will be scared of them. I’m sorry but that is just ridiculous. And then when I said I had bought him food and hot drinks, they said that ‘oooh noo but I couldn’t do that, when I see a homeless person I’m scared and I would never go over and help them. I mean, if you say you’re going to the shop to buy them food, they know that you’ll be in the shop with your money out and then they could rob you’. Really? No, really? Has that ever happened? If a homeless guy really wants to steal a wallet, why wait until someone offers him food? Why not just pounce on anybody who walks past? Basically they were trying to tell me that there was no way a (young) woman should ever help a homeless man because they are clearly ALL dangerous. So by this logic, then, we shouldn’t help people just in case they might maybe possibly turn out to be aggressive? What about people with severe schizophrenia who aren’t homeless? There have been cases where people with severe personality disorders have committed horrendous crimes, but that doesn’t mean we should arrest all people with schizophrenia ‘just in case’. 

I’m not going to deny that there is a risk of theft and all that when you are dealing with somebody who is in a desperate situation, but the way I see it is it’s no different to talking to anybody else. Anybody, homeless or not, has the potential to be dangerous, but if we all took that attitude then we would never leave our houses. Yes it could be a risk to go and sit with a homeless guy and chat with him but it’s also a risk to go to a nightclub and leave your drink unattended, walk home alone at night or meet up with people you met on the internet. The biggest risk we take is getting into a car. Right or wrong, I’ve done all these things, and let’s face it, nobody has ever told me not to drive because I might possibly die. It’s all just lame excuses to cover up guilt.

The fact is, they were disgustingly prejudiced about the ‘dirty, smelly’ homeless people, and were trying to justify their own squeamish aversion by making out like helping them was the most dangerous thing a young woman could do. I’m sorry, but asking a guy sitting in a busy underpass at 2pm in a big city if he’d like a hot chocolate is hardly the most risky thing I’ve ever done. They are still people, drunk, drugged or psychologically damaged and even if the guy rushes off to shoot some heroin after I buy him a drink, does that mean he deserves that drink any less? I don’t think so. 

They used the excuse that some homeless people ‘don’t want your help and get aggressive when you give it’. Really? Have they ever tried? I’ve met homeless people who have politely turned down my offer of food, but I’ve never had anyone get angry at me. And if they did, so what? Just because one person doesn’t want your help doesn’t mean you should never help anyone else. The reason homeless people face so many problems today is because of people like these girls, who see nothing but grey blobs on the street, that are dangerous and scary and mean and addicted to drugs and smelly, when really they are JUST PEOPLE LIKE US. They are people, they may have made poor decisions that have resulted in their current situation, but they are not to be ignored. If someone asks you if you want to buy the big issue, you can always say “no thank you” with a smile. Ignoring them is insulting, and at the end of the day if someone asked you to buy something in any other situation you wouldn’t run off and hide, you’d politely decline. 

      We should make an effort to help others regardless of the stigma surrounding them, and using stereotypes and fear as an excuse is pathetic. We should all just use our common sense, let go of our prejudices and not be too proud to go out of our way to make someone’s day a little bit nicer. That is all. Phew.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

What's the time? Ah yes, rant o'clock.

Came home from 7 hours in the library today to find this charming letter outside my door. 
“Dear Resident, 
Following the recent flat inspection, I must inform you that your room has failed to meet the standard required. 
The reason for the failure is:
Study bedroom untidy.
I would be grateful if you would ensure that the item(s) above are corrected so that you can pass the re-inspection on Friday November 12th. 
Etc.”
Three words. What. The. Fuck?
Ok firstly it doesn’t even say “dirty”, which I could understand there being a problem with; if the room wasn’t clean, then it could be gross and difficult to clean later. But no, it is simply “untidy”. As in, “there are a few bits and pieces on the floor and the bed’s not been made”. 
Secondly, I know when my rooms gets untidy and yesterday at 2pm it was not untidy. Not by my standards anyway. There are books all over my desk, but that is because I am STUDYING for my final year and I need books. There are also cables all over my desk. This is because first of all, they only provided me with 4 plug sockets in the whole room, and second of all, because this is 2010 and EVERY FUCKING THING HAS A CABLE. 
I can tell you exactly what was on the floor/against the wall yesterday at 2pm as well:
  • One small laundry bag with undies and other clothes in it
  • One cardboard box with a few things in it that I brought up from home last week
  • Two shopping bags and a briefcase, because I use them most days and can’t be bothered to store them because they are big
  • One bag full of books from the last 3 years of my course that won’t fit anywhere but on the floor next to my desk. (There is also currently a Hello Kitty advent calendar in it as well.)
  • One bin, with rubbish in it (duh)
  • One big paper bag from a clothes shop that is empty and usually hiding behind the door
  • Two posters, rolled up and again, usually hidden behind the door
  • A photo album 
  • Probably a pair of boots that had snuck out from under my bed.


That is all. None of this was in any way blocking any escape, and the main floor area was pretty much clear when I got in at 10:30 last night. As a female living alone in university halls, that is not bad. Seriously. There weren’t even any clothes on the floor.
Yeah my bed definitely wasn’t made but why does that matter at all? How dare they come in here and tell me to make my bed? My own parents never told me to make my bed,and I certainly wasn’t paying over £400 a month to live with them. Making a bed is so totally pointless if all you have is one duvet. If you have sheets and ten pillows and blankets and people are going to be looking at your room all the time then yes, making a bed might be useful (but still probably not), but in my room it should be up to ME when I make it, not some random who busted in yesterday and decided that I was untidy.
What frustrates me even more is that how can they expect me to put tidiness at the top of my priority list? Ok, they might not know that I’m actually in my final and most important year, but they knew my name to write on the envelope that was so kindly placed outside my door this afternoon. But if you’re reading, Mr Singh, Team Leader and Assistant Accommodation Manager, this is why keeping my room tidy isn’t really my first concern right now:
For the last 6 weeks I have been spending every day on campus, either in lectures/seminars or at the library. I don’t come home during the day. Generally I am out of the flat from 10am - 8pm For the last 3 days, as it’s reading week, I have been out from 1pm - 10:30pm working on my dissertation and catching up with other work. When I do finally come home, I cook, eat, go on facebook/youtube/msn/watch family guy and go to bed. I don’t hang all my clothes back up when I throw them off and I don’t move things from the floor. I don’t have time to organise all my books and cables, and I DON’T HAVE THE SPACE to put all my books “away” somewhere. 
Also, the dog I’ve had for 12 years got put down on Saturday, and I recently learned that my grandparents might not live to see me graduate. This Monday I had to waste 4 hours (including a 1:30h round trip and and hour worth of phonecalls) to pick up a laptop that John Lewis totally fucked up the repair for, and I still didn’t get it sorted and will have to go back again some time soon. My car wouldn’t start on the way home. My accommodation money failed to go through twice, so I’ve had to call banks and accommodation services to get it sorted, and my course IS REALLY FUCKING HARD. Not to mention I’ve got to actually start looking for a job and get some applications finished before Christmas. 
I’m tired, I barely have time to eat all day, and all my socks have holes in them. Literally all of them. 
So yeah, maybe I’ve been a little lax with the whole “tidying up” thing. But really, does it matter? Surely there are rooms which are more “untidy” than mine was yesterday? 
Tomorrow I will try to find the infamous Mr Singh to ask him exactly what constitutes as “untidy” in his opinion, and I will also be wanting to know the following things:
  • Is anything in my room a fire hazard?
  • Is anything in my room damaged, permanently or otherwise?
  • Is anything in my room dangerous for me or any other student living here?


If the answer to any of these is “no”, then I am going to explain to him exactly what I have just written and then kick him in the face. (ok maybe not the last bit). I don’t give a fuck what the “contract” says, I’ve never even been anywhere near anything so much as resembling one anyway. They keep referencing “our contract” but where is it? Does anyone have a copy I can study just in case I accidentally drop a sock in the corridor on my way back from doing my laundry and everyone gets a £50 fine?
The main issue I have with this is that I am pretty much an adult now, so I am reasonable about tidying up after myself and I know what untidy is. Just ask my parents or go to my sister’s bedroom at uni (sorry Collette but you know it’s true :p). I know that nothing in my room is flammable, dangerous or damaged. I also know that I am paying £1,242 per semester for the privilege of living in this small single room, and I don’t need this kind of petty crap. However, I don’t know what I have to do to “rectify the problem” by Friday; as far as I’m aware my room is as tidy as it’s going to get...
So the moral of this story is, if it’s not relevant to my degree, it can suck my left one. Deal with it, petty authorities.

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