Tuesday, 30 April 2013

# 57 (2013) The Best Spring Clean

So there it is. I have moved. I have managed to condense my previous existence in a three bedroom house into one room in a house share. It's official. And I am rather chuffed with myself. I have streamlined, downsized, sold and thrown away more junk and unwanted clutter in my life than you can possibly imagine, both physically and metaphorically.

I've moved on yet again. I have learnt the lessons and I am not going to make any of the old mistakes again. This is the beginning of the rest of my life. And it feels like the best spring clean ever. 

As if the week couldn't get any better my six week data entry role in a mind numbingly boring office will also come to an end and I can get back to the studio. Because if there is one thing that's certain, it's that creatives do not belong in office environments.

By the time I leave I will have processed nearly 5000 enrollment forms and stuffed and franked envelopes for almost the same. It's the same thing day in day out but it pays well enough to fill a noticeable gap in my income and for that reason alone it has been worth it.

I shan't be sad to leave however. I won't miss my new routine - dreading Monday mornings, wishing the week away. I liked how it was before when Monday's were happy days and I could get everything done when it needed doing rather than trying to crush everything into Saturday before the banks shut.

I know that ultimately there will be periodic returns to the office. But each one will have an ending in sight which makes them all bearable. For now, I am looking forward to having my creative freedom back again.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

# 56 (2013) Paying Your Way

The expectation that everyone should ‘know their place’ financially may seem absurd but you may have noticed more and more how anyone ‘getting by’ who isn’t the elite in this country is being penalised for it to apparently help reboost our economy. How taking tax paying shoppers off the high street is helping I have no idea.

High tax rates mean that if you are in a low income job, remaining under your personal allowance is imperative if you are to make it worth your while and, crucially, be able to survive off it. Out of the £234 a week I’m currently earning on a six week contract I shell out £47 of it PER WEEK to the tax man and another £10.60 for National Insurance. This, despite not being over my personal allowance. It’s a complicated situation.  

Thankfully I know how to work the system and will be putting in my claim for reimbursement as soon as this contract is over because that tax will amount to more than a week’s pay by the time I’m done and I want it back.

If I was doing this job full time, I would be about £2700 over the personal allowance at the end of the year but after paying tax and NI’s would be back under it by about £250 thus putting me straight back into financially difficult circumstances. To put that into perspective, after paying out for rent, regular bills and a very basic food allowance I’d have about £180 left in ‘spending money’ per month which I essentially put aside for emergencies.

There have recently been calls for pensioners on higher pensions to pay more tax. People who spent their working years carefully saving in boom time to make sure they didn’t have to struggle in their doting years may be put right back with the rest of us on low incomes. Personally I don’t think that’s fair. Pensions seem to have become a bottomless raiding pit for the Government and there seems to be no way to stop them.

Benefits have been slashed for many, often vulnerable recipients. Councils are still having their budgets cut, which it seems only affects the people on the ground who really need the services, hard working, low income, vulnerable people.

And yet still the elite, the politicians and the high flyers seem to be immune. Are they really untouchable or has our Government really not got the balls to make the changes where they really need to be made and where they may have a real effect on the current situation. The reality is that the 200 richest in the UK could dig this country out of debt.

The system has been set up to be abused. Certain changes do address some of these problems such as benefit claimants finding it more lucrative to remain on benefit rather than being in work. I haven’t claimed any benefit since I was 18 and then it was only for a few months, but looking at the figures I would be little worse off signing on than working so I’m not surprised people are working the system. But it seems the obvious targets are being sidelined, no doubt because of precious votes and political influence. I know politicians, I know how it works and how fickle these people can be. It’s all about feathering ‘one’s own nest’.

If anything, doing this 6 week contract has taught me that I need to be careful about remaining inside my personal allowance and not ‘over working’. I am running my own business but things are tough right now and I am doing a juggling act between honouring my business commitments when they are there and doing temp contracts to keep enough coming in to pay my bills. The system is workable, but you need to keep an eye on the details and know what your limits are. 

Certainly I have found no incentive to go back into work full time and that’s worrying for someone like me who always had a strong work ethic.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

# 55 (2013) Independent Living

Is the goal of a relationship to live together? Once upon a time marriage was the ultimate, and expected, reward of a mutual partnership. But in our modern age where social media makes it easier for us to keep in contact with each other and our increasingly independent and singular existences, is living independently from your chosen partner the new key to staying in a happy relationship? 

In the past I have moved in with most of my partners pretty fast for a variety of reasons. Doing so immediately put the relationship in jeopardy. Even though most of them did turn out to be long term situations, I’m sure that moving in at such speed had a detrimental effect on their longevity. Had I not moved in most of them would have ended a lot sooner.

Firstly, moving in fast doesn’t give you time to work out if you really like the person. Secondly living with someone all the time isn’t easy if you are naturally independent and have your own agenda. What if your needs within the relationship aren’t compatible with the other person? What if you’re just fine with your own company? What if you want to work and be out all the time and they are a stay at home?

Not moving in with someone straight away gives you time to work out if you are actually compatible. Moving in is also invariably an unnecessary commitment since although most people can’t afford to live in their own accommodation, house shares of all kinds are common throughout the land. 

Despite the cost of living in the UK continuing to rise, about 7.6 million people live alone, 4.2 million of them working age adults. But how many of them are in relationships whilst still thriving on their independence? Incidentally cohabitation for both straight and gay couples has doubled in the last 6 years to just under 6 million couples, suggesting that to many people marriage is no longer the final stage of a happy union.

Living apart means you will probably only see the side of your partner that they want you to see. But maybe that’s just fine. Maybe you don’t want to see them in all their ‘first thing in the morning’, ‘man-flu’ or ‘Sunday afternoon’ glory. And maybe you don’t want them seeing you like that either. Sometimes we all need space. It’s nice to be able to kick back with a good film, get on with work in the evening or sleep star fish style in your own bed with no one to fight with over the duvet.

Maybe we are less tolerant of each other but at least we are dealing with it and it’s probably making our relationships stronger. Isn’t it more fun to gear up to a ‘weekend together’ than come home to the same face every day after work or wake up in the morning grumpy and wishing you didn’t have to engage in conversation? It doesn’t mean you have any less of a bond with the other person.

Not all of us are made for cohabitation. I don’t know if I’m one of them or not. I've seen it from both sides. But this time around we have taken things slowly and it’s made for a better, more interesting and more rewarding relationship. And whilst nothing has been ruled out, no one seems to be in any rush to make things official with a matching set of house keys.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

# 54 (2013) The Thatcher Years

Every politician has his or her supporters and haters. The news of Baroness Thatcher’s death on Monday provoked responses at every end of the emotional scale. Whilst many mourn her passing and have reflected on the good work she has done during her time in power, it was probably at least equalled by the number of revellers partying in the streets in celebration at her demise. 

Troops in the Falklands (source)
I chose to avoid the news in the days immediately following her death. I grew up under Thatcher rule. I won’t lament her passing. 
But not many politicians can say they have instilled such strong feelings in the country as our only female Prime Minister. Perhaps that is why we haven’t had one since? Those that truly prospered during the 1980s were fewer by comparison and no doubt some of them are now feeling the pinch in austere times.
Many more will be glad she is gone because of the profound effect she had on the lives of the working classes. In many ways we are still paying the price for some of her decisions and those of her cabinet. Those of us who lived through the 1980s will remember the poll tax, privatisation, power cuts, the miners strikes, how she crushed the unions and the irreparable damage that has been done to our manufacturing industry. It is a legacy that has never been rebalanced. And whilst the Falklands War may be seen to be in her favour, some questioned her methods.
Miners strikes (source)
 The country suffered both recession and boom during Thatcher rule. But long term we are paying the price for many of her decisions. Home grown industry is still at an all-time low and we are very reliant on imports. This is a precarious position to be forced into given everyone’s current economic state and has seen the demise of many of our UK brands. Unemployment is still high and housing is an ever growing problem thanks to right to buy and the selling off of council housing which has in turn had a detrimental effect on housing prices and housing availability. We may blame this on the Labour Government but it stems back further. Every ruling party is trying to undo the damage of its predecessor.
Even in death Margaret Thatcher is still a controversial figure. The taxpayer, whether it likes it or not, will be settling at least part of her £10million funeral bill. Apparently, we can afford it. It is the last bitter taste of a divisive rule.

Monday, 8 April 2013

# 53 (2013) Temper temper

I first started temping in London in the late 1990s when it was lucrative and you could get some very interesting assignments. It wasn't always like that but generally once you'd got yourself into a big company and proved your worth they were reluctant to let you go and you could bounce from one short term position to another for years.

You felt valued for it because you were filling in an important gap in the machinery, quickly and with little stress. Because hiring someone, asking them to sit at a desk and do a job with no training other than 'this is who you are working for, this is your computer and this is your phone' was a standard introduction. And if you could instantly become good at your job based on that, you were in luck. I made it a specialty of mine and it kept me in work for years.

Temping isn't quite what it used to be and I've just returned after a nearly four year absence. Maybe it's because I am no longer working in London. Maybe things have just changed. These days you often have to go through an interview post agency sign up and the jobs can be less than challenging.

I'm still trying to work out why I was hired for my present contract. It's a 37 hour week for 4 - 6 weeks but at a push I probably manage to fill the equivalent of just one day a week with useful work. I've not tried to pretend to be busy. I'd rather be doing constructive things than trying to look busy reading the company website for the third time in a day or trying to frank the mail as slowly as possible to make that last hour just a little bit more interesting. I work fast and efficiently. Maybe that is one of my problems.

I am exasperated. I feel like my brain is dying and I am wasting my life. I shouldn't be. I'm earning money and paying bills. That has to count for a lot. And I always say I'd rather be in a job I hate than have no income. BUT when I think of all the other things I need to be doing it pains me. I do hope things improve. I know it's not London, but come on guys. 


Saturday, 6 April 2013

# 52 (2013) Putting Something Back – The National Citizen Service

If there is one thing that worries me, it’s how much reliance we have put on education in our modern age. Many trades have been made relatively extant in this country or are not seen as valued vocations. And yet in many ways these are becoming far more valuable than academic ability as they are themselves now in the minority.

The mentality of staying on in education as long as possible (partly I suppose because of all the problems with employment at the moment) has had a marked effect on our attitude towards further education and the quality of graduates trying to find their way in the world.

Many young people are educationally institutionalised by the time they finish their studies with a growing number not leaving education until their early 20s or even later. It means that very often they lack social skills and the kind of work ethos expected from employers. They sometimes struggle to meet the expectations of companies and make the transition from student to adult. And this has become a major problem in our society today. Equally those students who are less academically able, have struggled and often fall through the net. Not because they cannot learn but because their skillset isn’t suited to an academic environment.

But we are beginning to see signs of change. Students are opting for work experience over qualifications as a valid learning tool. Many are now starting to question university and turning down higher education. Employers too are tired of seeing highly educated applicants with little grasp of the work environment. It’ll be a relief to those non-academic students who flourish in a hands-on capacity but struggle to show their true potential on paper, frustrated by the expectation of peers that you have to climb up through the levels of postgraduate study.

The National Citizen Service was originally trialled as a pilot project in 2011 to get 15 to 17 year olds some experience of the world outside the classroom and inspire them to do more.
The project, which is being run nationally, gives students the chance to get out of the classroom with a set of team building and socially interactive events from raft building and rock climbing to locally based projects that put something back into the community.  It includes two, one week residential team weeks away and two weeks planning and actioning a community based project in the local community. The end result is something on your CV and a graduation certificate.

Team building skills (source)

I have only recently come across this scheme but I can see what it’s trying to do and I think it’s a good idea. Education is all very well but nothing beats experience that shapes an individual and turns them into valued workers and socially confident individuals.

As far as the students are concerned the roll out is being dealt with. But I have discovered that they also need mentors, lead mentors, SEN mentors and volunteers to help lead the small teams of young people through the scheme to a successful conclusion.  You don’t really need any experience, just an interest in young people, an appreciation and understanding of what the project is trying to do and be relatively flexible with your time in the school holidays as the bulk of the week’s run in July. You’ll get full training and even better, mentor jobs are paid which for many of us will be an added bonus.

If you’re interested, take a look at the website and see what you think. Put something back!

Thursday, 4 April 2013

# 51 (2013) The classless society

The idea of a classless society is nothing more than a pipedream and if you believe otherwise then you're kidding yourself. The thing is that, like any animal, mankind has a pecking order and that's the way it is. In nature this order is simplified and sometimes far more brutal. For mankind it involves a whole range of issues both social and economic.  Practically, it is impossible for us to live in a classless society.

Some time ago I read an article about queue jumpers. A clear demonstration that money talks. It's one of the clearest divisions of class because it buys pretty much everything from physical objects to influence.

Queuing - waiting your turn - is a bugbear of many of us but equally jumping the queue is frowned upon and even if done legitimately still gets the angry eye from those around you. Now you can buy your way to the front of the queue - 'priority queuing'. Airline passengers have seen this for years, finding their boarding prioritised according to how much they paid for their ticket. And it's standard practice for many events, theme parks and museums. It's all about money you see.

Making education open to all was another of these great strategies for banishing class. Many complain that rising fees are making education only available to those that can afford it and whilst I would argue this isn't strictly the case since student loans are available to pretty much anyone that needs them, it has brought the classless issue back into the news.

Personally I don't think a society with a social and economic structure is a bad thing. And I'm not just saying that because of my own background. Because in some respects I certainly haven't always enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle. In fact, despite my comfortable upbringing and according to a new BBC class calculator I fall into the two lowest classes in the country the 'Precariat' and the 'Emergent Service Worker'.
 This despite having savings and a good level of education. This calculator has quite upset a lot of people. It seems too vague to make a valid decision on your class and has 'downgraded' a lot of people. But is it a mistake or is it to do with our shifting class system? Perhaps having up to £25k in savings does put you in the lowest group because on the flipside you don't go to museums or have solicitors amongst your social group. Maybe that's the new perception of 'poor'.

This calculator may be flawed since it's questions seem very limited but it does suggest class isn't based on the traditional mediums we are used to. Class is shifting in surprising ways.

Where do you fall in the pecking order and does it even bother you?

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

# 50 (2013) Acquisition

What are your material aspirations? What are the things that you wanted to have gathered around you by certain milestone points in your life? Did you have any milestones in the first place or were you content to drift and just enjoy life.

Traditionally (and still for many) aspiration involves progressing up the ladder - owning a house, a car, finding a lifetime partner, having children and job security whilst hopefully squeezing in a few personal indulgences along the way.

But what if you don't want the traditional things? What if home ownership, marriage and children don't figure in your long term plan? What then is the focus of your overall aim. Where do you want to be? You might want a life of indulgence, but how are you going to fund it?

If you're planning to remain relatively single, income is going to feature pretty high on your list since you won't have the opportunities that joint incomes provide. On that basis and depending on your career plans (if you're planning to stay independent you need one right?) you may never have the option to own your own house or car. That may not be a problem for you. Being independent may also mean you can go where work is without having to uproot your nearest and dearest in your quest for careerdom.

I won't deny I tend to do everything in a roundabout way. I went to Uni late and whilst I had lucrative work for many years I am only now taking the early steps into what I would describe as the career I always wanted. But it's taking its time getting off the ground and I feel like I am cutting things a little fine. I have reached a frustrating point in my life where I am having to take two steps back in order to keep on the right track whilst trying my best not to lose sight of my original aim. Because as I very well know you can get very caught up in the heat of the moment and forget what it was you were supposed to be doing.

I am a rolling stone. I have always lived in other people's houses and am generally very happy not putting down roots anywhere for long. For the last 4 and a half years I have been in house shares and not had the option to acquire any significant personal possessions. And I am about to down size yet again in probably my most spectacular de-cluttering exercise to date. By the end of the month everything I own will fit into one very average sized double bedroom except for my car and 3 hens. Yes, the hens have been spared adoption.

A month ago I didn't even own any cutlery since it was unceremoniously snatched out from under me. I do have a limited but practical set of kitchen equipment. But that's pretty much it. And it seems very paltry considering the number of years I have been on this earth.

I am scared that my life is not going to amount to much if I don't get my aspirations on track. My goal since I was a child was to be 'somebody'. I've had to accept temporary defeat yet again just in order to remain in a static position and that doesn't seem very satisfactory at all.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

# 49 (2013) Careless Talk Costs Privacy

Even though privacy settings are there for most of what we do on social media, it certainly doesn't protect you from everything. For instance, I can't stop anyone from reading my blog. In these cases you need to be careful about what you say.

I would never give away anything that I thought would compromise my personal safety, my location or enough about my personal life that would put me at risk from any one individual.

Additionally, I make a point of not mentioning people in my posts and I try not to talk about specific subjects that directly affect friends and family around me in such a way as would compromise their trust in me.

I also prefer not to name companies I am personally connected with and I certainly don't divulge company information. Therefore, my new but temporary place of work will mostly be out of bounds since I deal with information that should not be the subject of idle chatter.

There are of course people that I would rather didn't know my business but I suppose since I talk about many subjects that affect me it's inevitable these individuals will find out what's going on in my life.  So it's a bit creepy when you get a text out of the blue from someone you haven't heard from in a long time saying they're sorry to hear your life has fallen apart.

There are very good reasons I haven't seen this person in some time. All contact has well and truly been severed and I would like it to remain that way. Whether my blog is directly to blame for this response I am not sure. If it is, then perhaps this posting might induce another response and I shall have to think again about how I manage this site. Which would be a shame because I find blogging fun, useful and therapeutic. It really does serve a purpose.

Stop torturing yourself (source)