Thursday, 21 February 2013

This is precisely why I don't write topical stuff...

This post constitutes my application to one day appear on Have I Got News For You. I have a major soft spot for Ian Hislop, and no, I don't know why. He just looks sort of cuddly. Just me? Yeah, thought so.

It's all been kicking off recently, hasn't it? The news has been better than a particularly tense episode of Homeland over the last couple of weeks or so. The Pope's resigned, Oscar Pistorius is on trial for murder, people are bridling at horsemeat making it into the food chain, and Iain Duncan Smith has put his foot in it rather spectacularly. All we need now is a meteor to - oh, hang on.

I'm usually kind of loath to write news-centred posts - I'm not great with politics, and as His Lordship Dylan Moran puts it, there's nothing like the news for both enraging and boring you. Simultaneously. Like most people (I'm guessing; maybe you're not all as relentlessly self-involved as I am), I'm really only interested when it's directly relevant to me. So when I heard that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, had been generally quite insensitive and ignorant about people on Jobseeker's Allowance (it involved Cait Reilly), I was intrigued.

I'm not going to go into the details now - partly because I am in the middle of a very hectic week and am too tired, and partly because I'm presuming you know how to use the internet - but it's at the end of this interview here that Duncan Smith comes across as a callous Tory knob. A Times journo - can't remember his name, sorry - subsequently wrote a piece that was admittedly pretty tongue-in-cheek, but also reasonably supportive of IDS, detailing all the menial jobs he'd done in his time, and what he'd learned from them. His overarching point was that if nothing else, you soon learn that you don't want to be stuck doing menial, badly-paid jobs for the rest of your life.

The point that callous Tory knobs and their supporters seem to be missing - and you'd think they'd have noticed this one, being the ones in charge of the country, and the economy, and whatnot - is that shit still needs to be paid for. Take both freshly-hatched graduates with not enough work experience, and those who aren't super-educated and therefore have perhaps a more limited set of career prospects available to them - these people still need to eat. They still need something to put on in the morning, they still need transport, they still need to be able to let off steam, and try to have some fun so that the tedium and sheer bloody frustration of being turned down for the umpteenth job doesn't drive them mad and/or kill them. And those things cost money - it doesn't matter where you shop. It's not the government's responsibility to provide their people with clothes, food, transport, et cetera, but it is their responsibility to ensure that everyone can afford the basics. Yes, this is where benefits come in. But to use the case of Cait Reilly, making someone work for free while threatening to cut their benefits if they don't comply, when they're already doing relevant voluntary work they've sorted out themselves, doesn't. Make. Much. Fucking. Sense.

I'm one of the lucky ones, I know. On good days, I manage to remember this. I live in a nice bit of the country, my parents don't mind having a [massively-opinionated, overly-fond-of-wine, convinced-she-will-one-day-change-the-world-with-her-words] 22-year-old living with them. They make it very easy for me. I have two part-time jobs that occupy nearly as much time as a full-time one. I could jack them both in, sign on for JSA and devote all of the resulting free time to looking for that elusive career-starting job, but it would drive me insane. I still take "not tonight, wench, I'm knackered" as personal physical rejection, so I'd hazard a guess I'm not much fun after rejected job application number 15. Or 56, or 435. So I'm going to carry on as I am - working the two jobs, fitting applications for "proper" jobs into the slivers of free time around them, and trying not to get dragged down into the mire of doom and gloom that tells me I'll be proofreading and tanning-salon-minding for the rest of my life and won't be moving out of my parents' place until I'm well into my forties. Not that there's anything wrong with either of these jobs, I hasten to add, they're just not central  to my ultimate life plan.

About the worst thing you can do in life is decide you're too good for something, or indeed someone. That tends to be when life decides to take a run-up and kick your arse back into touch. So I repeat, I know that I'm lucky. Some very clever, able, wonderfully-qualified people I know are struggling to find any work whatsoever. I'm not expecting anyone to hand me a nice little writing job on a platter (though that would be awesome, world, if you could? I'd be ever so grateful).

All I'd like, really, is those in power - specifically, the man in charge of Work and Pensions - to apply a little understanding, and to look at the finer details, instead of dismissing people as "job snobs" or "workshy" or whatever else, because they simply can't afford to work for free. Especially if they are already working for free, as I might have mentioned. It applies to unpaid internships as well - if you want to get into a certain field but the only "in" is an unpaid internship, then seriously, what are you supposed to do? I don't know exact benefit figures but they're probably not going to cover much more than say, two-thirds of the transport, if current train fares are anything to go by. Oh hell, I don't have any answers - I don't know if you'd guessed - and I'm not looking for sympathy, a pat on the back, or anything more than blog page-views, if I'm honest. Frankly, I think we need a few more Cait Reillys - people who are quietly unafraid to say to those in charge, "what you're doing isn't helping. We'll work with you, but we need to know that you understand what's really going on here". Right now, that doesn't seem to be happening. Which is a worry.

On a brighter note, I bloody love this song.

And this one.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Bloody Valentines...

I am a hopeless romantic. Really. Under this cynical, twisted, borderline-misanthropic, Bernard-Black-lite facade, there beats a heart as mushy as melting cheesecake. I am absolutely powerless in the face of a romantic gesture, no matter how big or small. I love seeing old couples walking along hand-in-hand*; I think airports are romantic places, because of all the lovers' reunions potentially happening in them, and I find it hard to stay dry-eyed at weddings.

But I really, really couldn't give half a damn about Valentine's Day.

*PDAs from young couples are unnecessary, however - on the train the other evening, The Best-Dressed Couple Ever were literally entwined around each other, all the way from London Bridge to Crawley. Eww. And don't even get me started on sixth-formers who think they're in love. Until you've spent a day bringing them tea and toast while listening to them hack up bits of lung, in the grip of a filthy, snotty cold, it's probably not love. Until you've heard them chuck up badly-made Pina Coladas and then nursed them through the ensuing hangover, it's probably not love.

It's not as if I once had a bad Valentine's experience; I don't need to go to a support group (Valentine Victims Anonymous, slogan: "one rose petal at a time"), I just absolutely and emphatically could not care less if I tried about February 14th.

And I'm allowed to say this, because I'm not single and bitter. (Just bitter.)

Fortunately, this wasn't really an issue for me until I was nineteen (at which point I found myself a nice Chemistry student from Birmingham and my mother breathed a "phew, she's not a lesbian" sigh of relief. Not that there's anything wrong with being a lesbian, it's just my mother reads the Daily Mail on a regular basis, and well, y'know...). One day in early February 2010, the aforementioned Chemistry student bounded into my room and sighed, "The dreaded day's coming up. What do you want?" as if I were dragging the words out of him with rusty pliers. I was momentarily confused - "The dreaded day? My birthday's not for another six weeks. Oh, Valentine's Day. Oh, riiiight. Well, no. Nothing. Couldn't give a shit." He too looked confused, then relieved, then positively thrilled. He may have stammered something along the lines of "but, but you're a woman", so I had to elaborate thus.

The thing is, it's bollocks. I think I've made that much quite clear. People like to say "oh, it's just a Hallmark holiday", but it does have quite a long history - according to Wikipedia, at least. My main problem with V-Day is that if you're in a relationship, you should be doing nice, romantic things for each other anyway. Not all the time - you need to bitch and bicker sometimes, keep them on their toes - but essentially that's the point of being in a relationship in the first place. The difference between that and a friends-with-benefits arrangement tends to be the romantic element. The "I'll cook you your favourite dinner" evenings. The "I got us gig tickets because I thought you might like them" times. The "yeah I'll come and see that weird indie film with you" times. But you shouldn't need a designated day for that. There's nothing special about calendar-scheduled romance. My line on Valentine's Day used to be "if you're in a relationship, it's pressure to do something special, and if you're single, it makes you feel like you shouldn't be". Now, I take that back, because the sensible people, of both the single and coupled variety, know that it can be ignored altogether.

Don't get me wrong, if someone did take a notion to rock up to my house on Thursday holding a massive bunch of tulips, I'd hardly be churlish enough to turn them away. But that has more to do with the fact that I've never been bought/sent/randomly presented with a bunch of flowers in all my 23-ish years. That's not even a veiled hint; a) flowers are such an easy, obvious choice when a man is trying to find something Valentiney for his lady, and b) I'd rather be given flowers on a day that's not specifically earmarked "BE ROMANTIC OR ELSE".

The most romantic moments tend to be the ones you don't see coming - for instance, you might find yourself on a bridge with someone, looking at a spectacular view and realising that suddenly a few things are making an awful lot of sense.Which I hope goes some way to hint at why there's a picture of Clifton Suspension Bridge at the beginning of the post. I'm saying no more.

A cautionary tale, by one of the best songwriters there has ever been.

And this band are my current guilty pleasure, and this song of theirs has been getting me through a lot of early mornings.