Category Archives: adulthood

Working Without Pay

Far be it from me to wax negative on the unemployment situation in the UK, but the more I see of this sh*tstorm about job seekers having to stack shelves in supermarkets to earn their benefits, the more I want to eat my own eyes.

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Sad Day for Hyperlocal Edinburgh

Everyone has a paper, don’t they.  I don’t mean the local one that you sort of have to get, for births and marriages and news of jumble sales, I mean the national one that you actually choose to read.

In my house, it’s always been The Guardian.

I appreciate it’s crap for news of stuff that’s going on in Scotland, but the Graun has always been good for features.  I’ve found tons of columnists there whose styles I admire and would like to emulate – Charlie Brooker, Grace Dent, Jim Shelley, Alexis Petridis, Hadley Freeman, Lucy Mangan, Zoe Williams, Stuart Heritage, Tim Dowling, John Crace and Mil Millington, to name several completely off the top of my head.

They also seem quite willing to do things that other nationals don’t – support the Liberal Democrats, for example, or pioneer hyperlocal news websites.

I’ve wanted to work for them since I decided I was interested in journalism about a decade ago, and the closest I’ve got thus far was being interviewed for the job of the Edinburgh Beatblogger on November 27 2009.

I remember I got there ridiculously early (I was worried about going to the wrong place) – early enough to see the candidate before me leaving, actually.  It was a man, a bit older than me maybe, with brownish cords and reddish hair.  I was later able to identify him as Tom Allan, and it was he who got the job.  I did however receive easily the nicest rejection letter I’ve ever had from Launch Editor Sarah Hartley; commending my community knowledge and saying she was hopeful there would be ways we could work together in the future.

I’ve followed the project with interest since that point – or rather, since the site was formally launched in early March 2010.  Whilst the Leeds and Cardiff pages remained in the hands of John Baron and Hannah Waldram throughout, the Edinburgh page was curated first by Tom, then for a few weeks by Nick Eardley (who I believe was just finishing a journalism degree before taking on a job at The Scotsman), and finally by Michael MacLeod, who opened up the page far more and made it many people’s first port of call for local news every day.

I say finally, because as you’ve probably already heard, The Guardian has decided to wind the project down.

According to the paper’s Head of Social Media Development Meg Pickard (who lulled me in to a false sense of security by complimenting my shoes at interview, the cad), “the project is unsustainable in its current form.”

On one level this is understandable.  The pages are free for the public to access, but the paper still has to pay three hacks and an editor to maintain them.  Although one wonders whether they looked at advertising in any serious way – using the notice board on the page is £10 for a week, but the likes of Facebook charge more like $20 a day for an advert the same size.  And inevitably the decision prompted mutterings that if the paper can afford to expand into America, surely it could find a bit of cash for this.

Pickard also pointed out that the project was always experimental.  Now, I knew that, and the people doing the blogs presumably knew it too – but I don’t think it was explicitly stated to the general public.  Which is a little bit insensitive, given those were the people using the service. 

Still, you can’t argue with fact, and these are the notes I wrote after the interview:

As you can see in the middle, I wrote “they have no idea how it would progress – ttl speriment (‘total experiment’ for those who can’t grasp my shorthand!).”

Unfortunately, it seems like they didn’t really take into account the fact that the experiment might work, and that people might be really upset that The Guardian would start up this great resource with amazing potential, then take it away again without warning.  Several readers commented that this would stop them reading the main site again and I can’t say I blame them.  The success of the project has encouraged several other groups to throw their hyperlocal hat into the ring too, supported and publicized by the Guardian bloggers, so it’d make sense to decamp to them.

The page has been used in a variety of ways; from publicising campaigns to save Blindcraft and The Forest Cafe to covering council meetings and student protests.  It’s acted as an umbrella linking to many local sites, including Greener Leith, the blogs of local councillors, The Broughton Spurtle, Tales of One City, Edinburgh Spotlight, ReelScotland, Song by Toad and countless others.  It has given a platform for local authors, journalists and campaigners to get their voices heard in the form of guest posts.  Rather than trying to do everything alone, it has very much been used as a community resource, signposting existing articles, events and experts rather than rewriting stories in a slightly different way. 

It seems odd to me to close the project on grounds of unsustainability, given that so much content has been generated for free via networking and goodwill.  I also can’t help thinking that they knew from the beginning that they were putting money into a model that wasn’t going to make a return. 

I can’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the advertising world, but surely the logical thing to do would have been to employ a marketing person from the start, whose job it would be to generate income from local advertising?  And it wouldn’t have hurt for the blogs themselves to get a bit of promotion – on the Guardian’s main page, at the very least.  There certainly weren’t any posters or bus shelters or events publicizing the thing in Edinburgh, so the success of the site was pretty much entirely down to the networking skills of the individual journalists.

And yet the site was and is known and popular, a testament to the tenacity of those involved (she said, alliteratively).

But even more than making me and other residents aware of a whole host of events, resources and websites across the city, Guardian Edinburgh has helped me develop on a professional level.  Being re-tweeted on Twitter and included in the morning roundup of what’s going on has raised my profile and generated traffic for my own sites, as well as introducing me to other contacts.

It was an RT by Guardian Edinburgh that put me in touch with The Edinburgh Reporter, and contributing to that has given me the opportunity to attend the Film and Television Festivals, to interview a whole host of interesting people, and to help cover an historic election.

My inclusion in the Literary Blogosphere, whilst slightly baffling at the time, was hugely flattering and gave me the impetus to concentrate more on fiction and features – so maybe some of the blame for 12 Books in 12 Months even lies there!

And it was Michael from Guardian Edinburgh who encouraged me to write guest posts, which means I can tell people “I write for The Guardian” just like I wanted when I was a teenager.

It was, from my point of view, a very successful experiment – good enough to continue, in fact.  Hyperlocal Edinburgh, saturated with content though it may be, will be a darker place without it.

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Filed under 12booksin12months, adolescence, adulthood, Community News, Edinburgh, edinburghreporter, EIFF2010, GuardianEdinburgh, limitlesspotential, scotland

Let’s Get Lyrical #34 – last.fm

To wind down my lyrical posts, I thought I might have a look at snippets of lyrics from each of my top 10 most listened to tracks on last.fm. These are the songs I have listened to most over the past four years.  A lot of them are ones I had on repeat during my last couple of years at university.

1. stellastarr* – My Coco (203 listens)

This is a bittersweet song of love lost, which is great to dance to. There aren’t any lyrical zingers, but I quite like the notion that the singer is upset but not angry about the enigmatic Coco vanishing without a trace.

You were gone when I came through, and I’ll remember you oh oh oh!
Well some day I’ll dance with you
When I’m dreaming, my Cococo.

2. Modest Mouse – Float On (193 listens)

Float On is good because it’s chilled.  It reminds me of indie nights at the student’s union in St Andrews.

I drove my car into a cop car, the other day.
Well he just drove off – sometimes life’s OK.

What a nice sentiment.

3. Aereogramme – I Don’t Need Your Love (149 listens)

See previous post for thoughts on this!

4. The Postal Service – Such Great Heights (146 listens)

This is just a nice love song.

I am thinking it’s a sign
That the freckles in our eyes
Are mirror images, and when we kiss
They’re perfectly aligned.

Aw.

5. Aereogramme – Inkwell (144 listens)

Humble, callous one
I call you Inkwell

He isn’t the best in the world at nicknaming, clearly.

6. Hefner – The Day That Thatcher Dies (116 listens)

This is out and out brilliant, but my two favourite bits are:

It was love, but Tories don’t know what that means (IFBIT, LOL)

and

The playground taught her how to be cruel,
I talked politics and she called me a fool,
She wrapped her ankle chain round my left wing heart.

For some reason this puts me in mind of Adrian Mole.  Not sure why exactly.

7. Aereogramme – Barriers (115 listens)

See previous post again!

8. Idlewild – El Capitan (110 listens)

I hope you take your camera
To photograph my tears as they hit the ground

What an emo tastic notion!  A good tune though.

9. Arcade Fire – Crown of Love (108 listens)

I carved your name across my eyelids
You pray for rain, I pray for blindness

Violent, but it stays with you.

10. The Rapture – Whoo! Alright – Yeah… Uh Huh. (105 listens)

People don’t dance no more
They just stand there like this
They cross their arms and stare you down
And drink and moan and diss

It’s true.  Not like the old days when people broke out in dance at the drop of a hat.

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Let’s Get Lyrical #32 – Heat Magazine, and she loves Smash Hits

I can’t believe I forgot about this when I was talking about lyrics that tell a storyKid Canaveral‘s first single, Smash Hits.  It’s literally the lead singer telling an anecdote.

You met her at the 13th Note
She was there to see her brother’s band
I saw you try to chat her up
I even saw you try to take her hand
I just laughed to myself
Stood at the back and I had a drink
That’s when you staggered up,
Said “She’s fit but her music taste’s shite”
And
When I telt you it didn’t matter
You tell me
She likes the McFly
And you like Erase Errata

[chorus]

You saw her for a second time
You took her out to the UGC
You thought it would shut her up
The conversation turned musically
You’d called her an idiot
She showered you in her popcorn
She said
“Stick it up your arse, I don’t care if you think my music taste’s shite!”
And
when I tell you it didn’t matter
You remind me that you like John Martyn
And she hearts Neil Sedaka

[chorus/claps]

I don’t really know what to tell you about this song.

– It piqued my curiosity about Erase Errata, and I own their album Other Animals as a direct result.  It’s alright.

– “Stick it up your arse, I don’t care if you think my music taste’s shite,” encapsulates the end result of countless arguments I have been involved in/witnessed over the years. 

– I actually think that a degree of overlap in musical taste is a pretty useful thing in relationships – although it seems that this girl was nothing if not eclectic in her listening choices, so she might’ve been open to John Martyn and Erase Errata.  If only the subject of the story had made her a mixtape, how different things might have been.

– Hand claps are an excellent addition to any song.

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Let’s Get Lyrical #30 – Unrequited Lurve

A lot of the lyrics I’ve written about come from songs that I don’t have a particular emotional connection to. This is probably because I’ve always found it harder to write about music I like than music I hate. I tend to worry that being effusive or sycophantic makes for dull reading, whereas pointing out the shortcomings of Paul McCartney and Wings is of course hi-larious.

But Let’s Get Lyrical is kind of meant to be about the lyrics that you love, so I think it’s time to post a few of those bad boys on here.

One of my favourite songs at university was Aereogramme’s I Dont Need Your Love, which was my companion during a period of unrequited love.  Specifically I like the part that goes:

Honestly?
We shouldn’t be
Here.

‘Here’ for me at the time was the awkward phase after confessing my feelings and being told they were not reciprocated, thank you very much, and don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

Honestly?
We shouldn’t be
Here.

We were good friends, and got on really well with one another, and I was a bit concerned I had ruined it.

We should be dancing

Not on our own, particularly, but as part of a big group of mates at the alternative music society’s bi-weekly club nights (at which we were both DJs).

We should be friends
Celebrate our victory
All over

We weren’t not friends, but it felt a little strained for a while.

Maybe time will tell
Only time will tell

It did – we’ve now been together for nearly three years.  Even though my favourite part was:

But I know
I don’t need your love
I don’t need your conscience
To base my life upon

I was very conscious at the time that I didn’t want to be one of those girls that wasted time by pining for some guy when they could be doing something constructive, like drinking gin and writing satirical news stories.  I was – and am – a strong and independent woman.  I didn’t need his love to validate me!  And anyway, I had love from all kinds of sources.

Perhaps I had a small case of ‘the lady doth protest too much’, but it’s a lovely song regardless.

I also found ‘Barriers‘ pertinent to my situation, particularly:

‘let me tell the truth/let me come alive/let me build bridges/into your life’.

Listening to these songs now makes me feel very nostalgic for my bench looking out over St Andrew’s East Sands on a starry night.  How pretentious of me.  But it made me happy.

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Let’s Get Lyrical

On this very day in 2007, I posted on my old blog asking people if they had any requests/suggestions from people on things to write about.  One of my friends commented saying, “You should analyse song lyrics and music in a geeky type fashion and then write extensive journal entries about your findings.”

Now, I have wide and meandering musical tastes, and being geeky about it isn’t my style.  There are too many bands and genres, and not enough time for me to learn the intimate details of them all, what with writing 12 books in 12 months and working and sleeping and all.  However I do love taking apart lyrics and poking fun at them, and I have sporadically done so ever since.

In related news, you may be aware that this year, UNESCO’s annual literary campaign is taking the form ‘Let’s Get Lyrical’.  They want YOU to tell them about the lyrics you love, thus combining reading and music into one almighty celebration.  There is an extensive programme of events running throughout February to support this, with lots of local authors and musicians getting involved.

I think it’s a fantastic idea, and to show my support I plan to conduct a comical dissection of a song every day from now until the end of February.  To start us off, here is that first example from way back in the mists of 2007.

The Smiths’ 1984 top ten single, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, is lyrically one of my favourite songs ever.  It makes me laugh every time, although I appreciate that might be missing the point to some extent.

I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows I’m miserable now

OMG, HOW TROOOOO!!!! It’s like, you’re happily sitting in the Union quaffing pitchers of Purple Cheeky Sex On The Swings or whatever with your best girls, and it’s all Vaseline round the edges, everybody laughing, then a few hours later you’re all alone with a beast of a sugar come-down and the skin of a 13-year-old. It’s only a few short steps to injecting lambrini and secreting strawberry bon bons about your person.

I was looking for a job, and then I found a job
And heaven knows I’m miserable now

It’s like, you look on the interwebnet and in the paper and all that and it seems like you’re qualified for bugger all, then you find one, and apply, and get it, and you’re all woo, and then you work in it for three months and they STILL DON’T PAY YOU but you can’t stamp on your line manager’s head cause she’s heavily pregnant and that’d be pretty poor form.

In my life
Why do I give valuable time
To people who don’t care if I live or die?

Well, there’s a question. It’s something about the human compulsion to do stupid things, such as fall desperately in love with people who don’t know you exist, or to ski jump off the edges of cliffs (which is sort of a physical equivalent). There’s also the fact that we’re always wasting time, playing solitaire or watching telly or whatever, it’s not till you look back that you consider time a valuable commodity, and that’s only because it’s now unobtainable and therefore has a mysterious allure.

Two lovers entwined pass me by
And heaven knows I’m miserable now

Pfft. Doesn’t bother me, he’s probably given her chlamydia.

(I was looking for a job, and then I found a job/…/To people who don’t care if I live or die?)

What she asked of me at the end of the day
Caligula would have blushed

That must have been some question. This is a guy who is meant to have had incestuous relationships with his sisters after all. Amongst other crazy people pastimes, such as tyranny, nicking shells to annoy Neptune, making his horse a priest, and declaring himself a god. What makes such a person blush? Maybe he farted…

“You’ve been in the house too long” she said
And I naturally fled.

Mmm. If you’re especially flatulent and you’ve been in the house for ages, I guess it is a pretty natural reaction to do a runner when someone else gets back home and forces a confession. Very insightful.

In my life
Why do I smile
At people who I’d much rather kick in the eye?

Possibly my favourite line, not least because he somehow tricks the listener into thinking that the words ‘eye’ and ‘smile’ rhyme. I would love to be able to kick anyone in the eye; it should be an accepted social thing. People who blank you, for example, ought to be punishable by a kick in the eye. But yes, why do we smile at them? Is it a case of simple good breeding? Or perhaps it’s a defence mechanism – if we smile, they won’t kick us in the eye? I personally do it to freak them out. Muhahaha.

I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour
But heaven knows I’m miserable now
“You’ve been in the house too long” she said
And I naturally fled.
In my life
Why do I give valuable time
To people who don’t care if I live or die?

The vocal inflections on ‘live or die’ by the way, very silly. Hooray!

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#demo2010 – The Scottish Solution

According to BBC Reporting Scotland, students protested in Edinburgh on Thursday to send a message to Holyrood not to follow the lead of MPs in Westminster on tuition fees.

Via SSYP website

The twitter hashtag #solidarity suggested a more general motive of support in my eyes, but what do I know.  Watching the rest of the beeb’s report, I couldn’t help thinking they haven’t bothered to get the full story at either side of the border.

For one thing, they branded every one of the London protestors with a hood up as being a troublemaker. Watching the footage back that was evidently not the case – some were undoubtedly just a bit cold. It is winter, you know.  I’d have been more inclined to judge that bunch of reprobates who were all dressed in black and wearing masks whilst they smashed the windows of the Treasury.

Anyway, back to my point. Are Edinburgh students genuinely worried that the Scottish government will renege on one of the key issues of devolution and suddenly start charging people £9,000 to go to university where at the moment it’s free to Scottish students?  They only scrapped the graduate endowment when I was in fourth year, a mere three years ago.  Surely politicians are not so fickle?! *cough* Clegg *cough*.

MSPs are all swearing blind this will not happen, although nobody has been particularly forthcoming on an alternative funding model as yet.  There will be a green paper released on the subject next week, and in a chilling piece to camera on STV, president of NUS Scotland Liam Burns warned that he WOULD BE WATCHING.

But if Scottish students do continue to study for free (excepting of course their cost of living, books and actual graduation after four years), what does that mean in terms of finances for our universities?

MP for Edinburgh East Sheila Gilmore has been quoted this week as being concerned that universities, who have struggled with some fairly brutal cuts over the past few years, may take higher quotas of fee-paying students from England and abroad to try and raise some money, to the detriment of bright and able young Scots.

Taking this to the logical conclusion, we’ll still be churning out graduates, but they’ll presumably decamp back down south after graduation and the Scottish economy will see none of the benefits of their (alleged) higher earning power. Meanwhile we’ll have a larger number of unqualified natives working three or four menial jobs to try and make ends meet.
Sorry, but this smacks of scaremongering, and xenophobic scaremongering at that.  Whilst there are a lot of English students in Scotland, there would need to be an exponential surge in numbers for them to overtake the levels of Scottish students.  According to data collected by The Higher Education Statistics Agency in 2006-2007, out of 223, 532 people studying for their degrees in Scotland, 21,514 were from England, whilst there were 158 983 Scots.

However, the nationality of our students seems irrelevant given that the chance of anyone getting a decent job after graduation is fast becoming an urban myth.  The jobs market in Scotland is a barren wasteland, littered with the dead aspirations of graduates who wanted to do something interesting and found instead that it was bottom rung data entry, retail or dole.  One of my friends tells a story of how last year he attended a training session in an Edinburgh branch of Waterstones where one St Andrews graduate (who also had an MLitt from Edinburgh University) taught four other recent graduates how to lift a box.

We don’t have to start paying back our SAAS loans until we’re earning more than 15k, and I only know about three people who have got to that stage.  I graduated in 2008.  Meanwhile the new legislation from Westminster gives people till 21k before they have to start paying things back.  It could take years to get to that stage.  The way things look right now, it might never happen.
In that case, what is the point of getting a degree in the first place? You’d be as well doing your 6 months on the dole straight from school, then getting on the career ladder ASAP.  Except that when you then want to go for those middle management, 20k promotions in your late twenties or early thirties, they turn round and tell you that you do need a degree after all.  Not because you can’t do the job, particularly, but because all the other candidates have one.  It denotes a particular aptitude for handing in paperwork that you may not have as someone who came to work straight from school.

Furthermore, according to a Universities Scotland report, employment growth will continue to be concentrated at graduate level over the next few years.  Although as far as I can gather, ‘graduate level work’ almost exclusively involves moving to London and working for companies like Deloitte doing something you have no real interest in.

This is probably a product of my arts degree.  I didn’t go to university to become an historian; I went to work on the student press as part of my quest to become a journalist.  Whilst the experience has done nothing to get me work paying more than 13.5k pa; it was a valuable and worthwhile experience which taught me to think and communicate in a number of different ways.

As a result, I do think that people ought to have the option to go and on a personal level I’m open to the idea of a graduate contribution to facilitate this.  Who can really argue against putting something back into a system that enabled you to go as far as you could intellectually and financially?

I don’t know what our ‘Scottish Solution’ to the problem of Higher Education is going to be, but I do think that a graduate contribution of some kind makes sense.  Just as long as the Scottish Government don’t present it in the same cack-handed way as Clegg and the coalition, because that makes people angry.  And people put their hoods up when they’re angry.

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