Category Archives: university

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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Linked In

This evening I have done a bit of housekeeping.  You may notice that the appearance of this blog has changed, for example.  And I have joined Linkedin.

It’s one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for ages, for no very concrete reason other than the fact that people keep telling me to.  I fully expect to wake up to an inbox full of job offers tomorrow.  If you want to connect with me (and I’m sure you do), you can find me here.

Thus far I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time trying to persuade the site to let me upload my CV, but it keeps telling me that I need to try in a PDF or Word format.  I have of course tried both, and sacrificed quality resolution to shrink it down to less than 500KB… but it’s not happening.  If I wasn’t so tired, I would almost certainly commit violence of some sort.  As it is, I’ve made it available on this page again.  Take that, bandwidth.

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Let’s Get Lyrical #34 –

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 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.


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)


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 #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:

We shouldn’t be

‘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.

We shouldn’t be

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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I Invented The Moon

You may be shocked to learn that I’m not the only one who has found it hard to obtain fulfilling / paid work since leaving university.  Surfing the web today I came across this echo of my graduate sentiments by London based Emma Hyatt, who is having a pretty rough time.  And yesterday this was doing the rounds on Twitter – again, I completely empathise.

On the plus side though, at least I got uni over and done with before the coalition happened.  And live in Scotland.  Our jobs market may be markedly more tumbleweedy than England’s, but the Graduate Endowment was scrapped when I was in third year and my debt is considerably lower than the students of the future as a result.  I count myself lucky on that point, even if it is a moot one.  I’m never going to be earning enough to pay anything back.

Unless of course I miraculously make it as an SEO writer as per the many emails I keep getting from the long distance journalism course I signed up to.  No, twinkly Australian man, I do not want to spend $17 on your ebook about how to write content for the types of site most internet users try to avoid.  I do not have $17 to spare, certainly not on the dubious pastime of buzzwording morons into buying enough green tea to sink Boston. Those dollars are going to be 18 gold ingots in British currency soon, and I’ll need them all to swap for powdered eggs and tripe when a birthday comes round.  #BigSociety

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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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Jobless Students

Mr Jobless Graduate was texting me at my temp job earlier today to register his disgust at the way the press have covered the London student protests.  Prior to hearing from him, all I’d read was part of a statement from the head of the MET describing  the trouble makers as “a small but significant” minority, although the attack on the royals had filtered through my caffeine deprived senses to a certain extent.

“What are they saying,” I texted back, looking through old biology papers to see if the diagram I needed to do had been drawn before.  It had not.

“Mainly banging on about the desecration of war memorials and attacks on the royal family.  Nothing about the people stuck on the bridge.”

It transpired that one of Mr JG’s friends, currently studying in London, had gone along to the protest at 3pm but on seeing the violence he decided to leave.  He was prevented from doing so, detained on Westminster Bridge for over four hours without access to food, water, or the other accoutrements to which he has become accustomed.

read the rest of this post here.

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Protest Power

Student protests against the education cuts are right up there with the snow in the news this week, although the former is decidedly more interesting to me as a jobless graduate.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make the Edinburgh protest today because I had a couple of deadlines (one successfully met, the other less so) but I was able to follow the action in real time on Twitter.  Here’s how it went down…

Around noon:

@tomallan : Not many protesters here at Bristo Square…plenty of police –

@EdJournal : Protestors starting to gather in Bristo Square @UniofEdinburgh #Edinburgh #dayx2 #demo2010 (via @thistlejohn)

Nobody tweets about leaving Bristo Square, but they presumably did as:

@GdnEdinburgh : Student rally against education cuts has stopped outside Edinburgh council chambers. #demo2010


@tomallan : Student protest heads to Scottish Parliament. –

@GdnEdinburgh : Students carrying a DIY coffin down the Royal Mile with “RIP education” on the sides. #demo2010

@GdnEdinburgh : As the rally goes down the Royal Mile, the chanting is very much aimed at the Lib Dems today. #demo2010

@tomallan : #demo2010 Protesters on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile –

@viceuk : What’s everyone having for lunch?

@tomallan : #demo2010 #edinburgh Protesters arrive at an ice bound Scottish Parliament

@GdnEdinburgh : Student protesters are singing the Darth Vader tune as police move in to guard the door at the Scottish Parliament. #demo2010

@GdnEdinburgh : Protesters using the megaphone to read out Lib Dem phone nos outside the Scottish Parliament #demo2010

@DeadlineClare : Edinburgh Protesters now shouting “come outside” at doors of Scottish Parliament at Holyrood.

@GdnEdinburgh : #demo2010 police guard the doors of the Scottish Parliament during student cuts demo.

@thistlejohn : Protestors have effectively blocked the public entrance to Scottish Parliament #demo2010 #dayx2 #Edinburgh

@GdnEdinburgh : Students chanting outside Scottish parliament “Let us lobby let us in” #demo2010

@Subchimp : Student #protest at Scottish parliament. St Andrew’s Day is a holiday. So they’re chanting “come outside” to an empty building. Fuckwits


@GdnEdinburgh : Snowballs hitting the Scottish parliament #demo2010

@ClareCarswell : #edinburgh anti-education cuts protest poster

@impworks : Hark I hear the dulcet tones of a Student protest…

@GdnEdinburgh : #demo2010 student protest now moving to Dynamic Earth, where they seem to think Nick Clegg is “hiding”…

…. 20 minutes later….

@GdnEdinburgh : #demo2010 protesters in Edinburgh heading back to Appleton Tower after seeing Nick Clegg on tv in Westminster.

@thesimonevans : Students are a bit like yamaha electronic keyboards. At their most impressive when in Demo mode.

Twitter then panicked and went over capacity, which was conducive to my finishing a What’s On column for The Broughton Spurtle, but sort of disappointing.

However, you can now see a slideshow of photos over at Deadline News, or read articles about it on STV (worth a look at the picture they use) or Guardian Edinburgh.  The Guardian’s video features an interview with Patrick Harvie MSP and footage of student chants, some of which were more realistic than others… worth a look.

I found it interesting to note that none of the Edinburgh protests have descended into kettling yet, especially after watching Coppers last night.  Even though students were chucking snowballs at them, they seemed to remain quite calm.  Are our police more tolerant than those in London, Manchester and other larger UK cities?  Or are our protesters better behaved than those down south?!  And does a genuinely peaceful peaceful protest publicise the cause as effectively?

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Class War

I am researching an article about the status of vocational training as opposed to the university education that we’re apparently all meant to aspire to.

In 2002, Chris Woodhead wrote:

“If the Government pursues its policy of expansion the consequences will be dire… for the thousands of students who will find themselves locked into three years of sub-degree study that is unlikely to bring any real intellectual satisfaction, and may well not lead to worthwhile employment.”

I was doing standard grades when he wrote that, and had no intention of going to university.  (I was destined to be a writer and thought practical experience would serve me better than studying other people’s books to death.)  But just a few years later I was swept along in the expansionist tide, giving in and applying on the grounds that everyone else was going and it probably wouldn’t do any harm.

In fact, this choice led me to become yet another one of the over-educated in a jobs market that needs practical skills far more than the kind of knowledge and attitudes studying for a degree gives you.

He went on to say:

“The Government talks endlessly about the need for graduates in the Knowledge Economy, but the ‘dirty little secret’, remember, ‘is the scarcity of jobs that require more advanced skills.’  We need plumbers and electricians, not, to take the letter C at random, graduates in Caribbean Studies, Caring Services, Childhood Studies, Chiropractice, Cinematics, Clothing Studies, Combined Studies, Communication Studies, Cosmetics, Contemporary Studies, Creative Therapies and Critical Theory.”

The idea of getting everyone to go to uni, irrespective of whether it’s relevant to what they want to do or if it’s even a real subject (sorry, but ‘contemporary studies’?), was apparently justified at the time as being positive for the economy.  Even though the Centre for Economic Performance was saying that 30% of British adults were ‘over-educated’ (ie more qualified than they need to be in order to do the job they were in.)  I can’t imagine that statistic has improved, based on the number of people I graduated with who have in jobs in admin, retail, call centres etc.

He continued,

Margaret Hodge is quite simply wrong.  ‘Promoting an ambitious increase in the number of young people in higher education’ is not necessarily ‘an economic imperative’.  It could be a waste of everyone’s time and money.”

I really think that this view has been proved correct, less than a decade later.  So many spend years of time and thousands of pounds on going to university, and what are they then qualified to do?  Study more.  Entry level jobs in any field of vague interest are so amazingly competitive that it almost doesn’t matter how good you are, certainly North of the border.  You are one of probably 40 or 50 really good, degree wielding candidates.  And before whittling you into that pile, the prospective employer had to wade through another 100 or so pretty poor applications.

What university helped me to do was decide that I definitely wanted to write for a living.  What graduating into a recession did was help me to hone this a bit more.  I was surprised to discover that I still wanted to be a journalist, just like when I was sixteen.  University (and DC Thomson rejections) had made me widen my horizons, looking at communications and marketing quite seriously because after all, this would involve writing copy for a living – so what if the content wasn’t quite mine?

But now, having been rejected by far more than merely DC (The Evening News, The Herald, Deadline News, and The Guardian to name but a few), I know I want to write my own stuff.  And more than that, I have confidence that some of my ideas are quite good.

On the way towards this realization I discovered that I really should have done vocational journalist training somewhere like Napier, because skills alone do not make up for lack of contacts, NCTJ approved qualifications and a heady mixture of old-skool skillz like shorthand and new media ones like podcasting.  So now I am building up my knowledge base in a haphazard sort of a way, and freelancing – invariably for free.

I will get there eventually.  But I think I would have even if I hadn’t gone to St Andrews.  I was already blogging constantly and writing reviews for local papers in Perthshire before my third knock-back bounced me across the Tay to sunny Fife.

But what of the people I graduated with?  Those who got their 2:1 in whatever and then said well, that box is ticked.  Now what?  Some have traveled.  Some went into jobs in offices or retail.  And a worrying number went straight back into education again.

I can genuinely only bring to mind about 3 people who went and got ‘graduate’ level jobs.  For which you may read ‘went through 8 rounds of interviewing with one of the companies on Milkround, and after a great deal of stress in their final year attained high-paid jobs in London which they don’t particularly enjoy.’

Does anyone really gain from even higher percentages of young people going to university ‘cuz thats what you do’?  Education for its own sake is a wonderful, interesting thing, but I don’t think it suits everyone.  The reason I went is because I wasn’t sure I was cut out for what I wanted to do.  That’s a hell of a reason to run up several thousand pounds worth of debt.

The book I was quoting from is ‘Class War’ by Chris Woodhead, published by Little, Brown in 2002 and available to purchase here.

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