Like a bat of hell…

It's hard not to have a grin plastered to your face as you drive along to this.

You know how I am going to mark the fact that I have not updated my blog for an awfully long time?

By ignoring that fact and only updating you folks on the latest news from the countryside.

So, how is this for OHMYFREAKINGGOD news?

Apart from the picture, name, address and all personal data, this is what my licence looks like

I actually passed the driver’s test!

Like, properly! With only 3 minors, when I was terrified I would end up having to cry and beg to the driving instructor to get my grown up licence.

On the day, I woke up feeling a bit sick, not wanting to even look myself in the mirror in case it was bad luck of some kind. However, my nerves faded when I heard that my brother had passed his degree. Suddenly, my psychology changed. After all, if my brother could do so well, anything I did wouldn’t so bad on that day.

I think it was the good news that relaxed me enough to not give a fig about the busy friday traffic, or the inane chatter of the examiner. Judging by my response to some of his questions, I’m surprised I did not get a minor for ‘sass’ when I asked what girly hobbies he did (from what I gather, being a knitter makes you a ‘Ponce’ to Yorkshiremen).

Thankfully, I got to drive a spare car the next day, after my dad stunned the insurance company. Driving a car for the first time by yourself is rather strange.

Meet Bo, my car (which is actually not this picture as Bo is blue, scratched, dented, got the kind of mileage you would expect of a train/jeep in a warzone, and is covered in at least 6 months of muck).

*pootling down the A road, listening to Meatloaf thanks to jelbytoad*

Me: (suddenly realising just what I am doing) “OHMYGOD! I’m driving a car by myself!”

*panic*

My subconsious: (in a voice that I am imagine the Samaritans phoneline uses) “Yes you are. You passed yesterday, remember?”

Me: “Oh yes, I can do this by myself now. I’m a real grown up.”

*pootles along for another five minutes*

Me: “Oh my god! I’m driving a car by myself!”

This happened at least 5 times on the way to work, and 3 times on the way back. Thankfully, I discovered that expensive Cava is a real pick-me-up/headache inducer once I got home.

Now it’s been a few weeks, I have been on the motorway, to the seaside, to my first pay and display car park, to the pub, to the shops, to have my ears pierced, to the cinema, in the dark, with lights, without lights and have taken corners at speed. I have even been inducted into the mysterious world of waving at fellow drivers when they let me pull out at junctions/roundabouts. My life has changed immensely, as I no longer have to rely on the world’s most expensive local taxi service/my folks to get everywhere. Even with petrol, I’m saving myself a good £30-£40 a month (taxis were costing me £80 a week at one point, for a 10 minute journey). The novelty of driving to the library or picking up a sibling has yet to rub off and become routine. The only thing that is slightly annoying is the way that randomly, bits of plastic seem to come off the car.

Life, is good.

It may look like I had terrible, British teeth here, but my smile came out like thanks to the webcam setting.

Now, all that is happening is my wrapping up of my life in the sticks, and I’m starting to think about just how many boxes I will need to move my stuff back in to University accommodation (as a general rule: plastic bags are roomier, you don’t need too many tupperware boxes, and any stuff you need will inevitably be thrown out in a skip somewhere, so you can go looking for spare furniture that way…).

It feels sad to leave the school for the last time, but to sum up the children that I helped for the year, I will submit this piece of evidence to the jury.

Child: “Miss, you are a ‘Miss’, aren’t you?”

Me: “Yes.”

Child: ” So, you’re not a Mrs then?”

Me: “No, I’m not.”

Child: “So, you’re not married then?”

Me: (wondering where this questioning is going) “No…”

Child: “So, no-one loves you then, Miss?”

Me: *at least 2 seconds of stunned silence* “Well, that’s not true… my Mum and Dad  love me…”

Child: *gives look of ‘yeah, right’ and carries on writing*

I will miss my Owls. It was a bit more of a mixed bunch this year, with some loud, some quiet and at least one who had an encyclopedic knowledge when it came to any jokes from Harry Hill’s Tv Burp, but I enjoyed their company. Plus, I even had one child who said he would miss me as I left, passing by the dinner queue. I could feel my lower lip wobble as I walked out for the last time.

I must have done something right.

Hopefully.

The thought of being responsible for a class by myself scares me a bit at the moment, but in a ‘slight shiver on a warm day’ than ‘running screaming from the room’.

There’s so much to think about, but there is one big difference from when I was preparing for being an Undergraduate (by trying to damage my liver as much as possible before I arrived, checking the history department website everyday and watch a lot of films so I had stuff to talk about): I’m not nervous. If anything, I’m excited at the prospect at moving back into halls and meeting new people and having a social life (when not burying my head in a book or smelling of wax crayons) and actually having a proper career and knowing what I’m doing. It’s the whole ‘waiting for things to happen’ thing that I’m not so good at. That, and not going overboard with highlighting.

If you need me, I’ll be reading the kid’s literature at the library.

My past few weeks

Wake up. Chris Evans. Running about trying to find name badge. Breakfast. Read yesterday’s newspaper. Drive.

Work. Ring customers. Do Field’s Tests. Help people choose glasses. Secretly try on glasses. Laugh at how I look in the ‘granny’ frames. Notice customers looking at me. Blush. Angry Phone Call. Herbal Tea. Feel slightly smug that I have avoided caffiene at work for almost three weeks (between the hours of 9-5, I’m trying to resist the urge to pass it by nearly climbing up the walls). Smell the coffee pot anyway. Feel slightly guilty.

Lunch. Walk around shops. Take off name badge.

Work. Put on name badge. Herbal Tea. Angry customers mis-informed about the availablility of contact lenses when your sight test is out of date (I’m saving up the anger of this rant for one when more than 2 people outside of my work actually care). Come back to cold herbal tea. Clean new pairs of shiny glasses. Go home. Shower. Computer. Tea. Computer. Tv. Read until I can’t concentrate on words. Asleep.

*yawn*

Of course, this was a bit different a few weeks ago. I went to London to stay a few nights with a friend, and lie to myself about being a student. It involved not much sleep, good food and drinking in such a way that my liver sulked and wouldn’t speak to me (though my stomach did after a very brief session with my head in the loo). I was also kicked in the chest at 7.15 in the morning after sleeping at the end of a bed.

This is not a rant about me hating work. While I do sometimes appear to be wearing a sign that says “Are you mental? Come and chat to me about the size of your ears in agonsing detail” that only  the mad, sad and bad can see, the people I work with are great. It’s the whole 9-5 aspect that kills me. That, and the hectoring my certain members of the public.

It’s probably me, but I was raised to believe that if you wanted to complain, you wrote a stinky yet polite letter to who was concerned (because that way you could edit what you say, yet still sign off as ‘Yours, disgustedly’. Whenever I have had bad service in a shop, it has always been with greatest reluctance that I complain about shoddy service, as I understand how rubbish certain jobs are. There is also the fact that I’m too nice for my own good, and will empathise with the shy lass who has been stuck in till hell for the past few hours, but I’m one who would rather say ‘thanks for your help’ than ‘well, that was a bit crap, wasn’t it?’.

Call it the Primary school teacher in me, but I like to think that others are trying their best. This means that when customers lose it at me, and start complaining that me not allowing them  to have a packet of contact lenses without a valid test, or that I couldn’t get them booked in at the time they chose, or making out that I’m trying to price them blind, that my first reaction is shock, and then the second one can be ‘But, by shouting at me when I’m doing the right thing, what are you trying to prove?’

In other news? I have finally ordered the books for my course. Now all they have to do is arrive so I can read them before the course begins….

It’s hard to concentrate with all of the fluffy kittens, and the sandwich making and all

You know what would be absolutely hilarious about this? If I did not meet old men who were convinced that this has a grain of truth in it. I actually had an old man who would not let me fix his glasses today, as ‘a woman did it last time and women are just rubbish with using tools!’

Honest to god, after spending all day thinking about my hair, fluffy animals and flower arranging, it’s amazing how us ladies are able to think, breathe and walk all at the same time.

Not something you read everyday.

Whitehaven, on a greyer than usual day.

Last Wednesday, a taxi driver  known as ‘Birdy’ calmly took his rifle with him in his car, and went on a rampage around the North West of England. In total, he killed 13 people in and around Whitehaven, a large town in Cumbria.

While it is no longer the first item on the news, the horror of hearing about the event has not left me yet. I sat riveted, as the news constantly updated itself about the number of injured, who was shot and where Derrick Bird was thought to be.

If you are not sure of how large the area that Bird was in, I will give you a rule of thumb. Think of the biggest town/small city in your local area, and make it a third bigger/double the size. Imagine the carnage if a taxi driver went on the rampage in that town, and then drove through every small town and village on the main routes, shooting randomly. He then takes a turning off into the countryside, using the back roads he knows (and, as everyone knows, there are lots of backroads in the countryside), and starts appearing in small villages. He then dies in a local village. That is what happened last week.

Where Whitehaven is, so you know.

While my family ties to the area are, sadly, faded (I have few living relatives in the area, and a few in other parts of the country, but many are no longer with us), Whitehaven is an area I know reasonably well. My Dad grew up in the town, and left just before he met my Mum. While my own visits were usually on rainy Lake District days (of which there has been many), I have always enjoyed the visits.

Over the years, Whitehaven became a bit of an in joke to the family. It was far away, and it rained a lot, and so it became known for being the ‘back of the beyond’. In fact, a long-lasting friendship within my family began with the words “He’s from Whitehaven, the land that time forgot!”

Whitehaven in my family became shorthand for a place that was far away, but also for a town that had seen better days. It’s an affectionate knocking, as my Dad will be the first to tell you that it isn’t that bad, particularly after you repeat to him the joke about the town only receiving electricity in 1978. I know what he means. Over time I have created my own personal connection with the area. My Dissertation, which was fascinating until the moment when I had to write it all up, has made me a bit of a local history bore with mining in the area.

After undertaking a 50 year study of a particular immigrant community in the area (the Cornish if you are looking to read my self penned attempt at academia), I look at the area with affection as I understand how it came to be, and I can only hope for the local population that there will be new employment opportunities. I miss Northern England for its friendliness and openness, and I was touched by the manner that Michael Moon and the Whitehaven Record Library were very patient with my persistent questioning.

After the shootings, I looked at the names of the towns, and realised that I had studied their populations. I found myself hoping that none of their relations had been caught up in it, as Whitehaven is the type of place where people have lived for generations and never left.

In the immediate aftermath, I felt irked at the reporting, but couldn’t put my finger on why. Now, as the communities begin to grieve for their loss, and the media retreats, I can understand what is wrong with the reporting. It is the representation of Whitehaven and Cumbria.

Why yes, this is just down the road...

Now, before last week, if you had not known the area, Whitehaven sounds like somewhere in the Channel Islands. I accept that unless you are knowledgeable about the Lakes, or you know all about Seascale and Sellafield, Whitehaven was a blank in your knowledge. While it is a bit of a drive to get to, and the countryside is ‘sleepy’ around it, to describe it as a rural idyll is a bit hard to swallow. The loss of the North West Industry near Carlisle is not as sexy as the loss of Leyland and the Cotton Mills (unless it is deep sea mining and subsequent disasters that float your boat), but Whitehaven is a post industrial area. Living in a community where public transport is subject to the whims of local Gods is a rural backwater. A town like Whitehaven can be described as a significant local town.

Would you describe an urbanised environment like Barrow in Furness as sleepy? No?  Then find a new adjective.

I am suprised that no-one in the media has mentioned the economic fortunes of Whitehaven and the local area. It has it’s pride, but even my Dad was shocked by the loss of the local soap factory. There is little work there, and is crying out for regeneration.

My point is, if this had happened down in the south of England, it would have had better researched coverage. Because Whitehaven is far away, and many journalists were going up for the first time to this community, they used inaccurate descriptions for this area of the country. It was far easier to paint the picture of a Jekyll and Hyde character who decided to do do the unthinkable, and make out that a local police unit were out of their depth (when dealing with 30 separate crime scenes) than actually do any analysis of the lives of the people tragically cut short.

There have a lot of excuses given by the media for Bird’s behaviour, which I don’t buy. Claiming ignorance of psychology is never an excuse, but the theories given don’t wash with me. He may have been in debt, there were family feuds that can only develop when siblings live close by to each other (not to mention the lack of employment in the area), but it’s blasé and vague to state that everyone in that situation thinks about ‘Going Postal’. This is someone, as far as I am concerned, that has done something so unspeakable, that it defies explanation. Consequently, it makes me uncomfortable that people are explaining it as though it was almost a matter of time. This was not a rational human response. This was inhuman, no matter what pain he was in.

My heartfelt sympathies go towards the communities involved, the families affected and Derek Bird’s family (who I count as victims too).

***

The government have announced more cuts. This is just what my brother needs after Graduating from University, and after I finish my PGCE course in 2011. Because everyone is only talking about what could happen, and is acting like an expert, I am now a tad worried. It must be bad if everyone suddenly has an opinion and is looking at the finance pages.

***

Last night, after I came in from work, my phone rang. It was the Graduate Talent Pool, ringing regarding the questionnaire I filled out about my (lack of) help from them. At the time, I had felt so annoyed by a service that promised to deliever so much for students like me, I had just given up and continued using Milkround and Guardian Jobs.

The interview in total was about half an hour long, and easily could have gone on for another hour. In it, she asked for my work experience and why I didn’t like the website so much. I suddenly felt all angry again, as she remarked that I obviously had a lot of work experience, and she was very suprised at the numbers I gave her.

Lady “So, since January 2009, how many jobs did you apply for?”

Me “About 75-80, in between Jan ’09, and Jan ’10.”

*the lady paused*

“But, how many interviews did you get?”

“Four.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yes.”

It occurred to me just then that these kind of figures were unexpected for those who didn’t have this experience . Considering I was speaking to (what sounded like)  a Civil Servant, I had expected someone to notice that applications were going to be high for everyone concerned. She then also sounded suprise when I said I was willing at the time to work anywhere in the country for no money. I look back and think ‘that would have been fairly pointless’, but I know I would have gone anywhere for some kind of work experience, even if I got no money. Sleeping on the floor ultimately meant a change of scenery.

At the end, she said she was sorry for what I had gone through. Because I suddenly felt a bit uncomfortable about explaining why I struggled to find a job (the figures make it sound like I am serially crap at finding a job, rather than the fact I applied for a shitload and felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall for a few months), I instead said that I didn’t want to be sorry for myself. I was lucky in that I had supportive folks, and I knew so many friends who had gone through worse than me, so I had nothing to complain about. I now have a job and I have a plan. I coped, and I have done okay. If you strip everything away, that’s what I learnt, and that’s what I took away from the experience. The lady said I sounded resilient with what I had gone through, and she wished me all the best.

There are lots of nice compliments, but being called resilient is one of the nicest.

Ugh.

Not dead. Just busy.

Apart from the fact I'm usually holding a plastic guitar, this is me.

Job Centre Lowdown

A good friend of mine has become ‘involved’ with the job centre (because any other word gives the impression that she would like to spend time there). Like many of my other friends, and myself, who have had to throw themselves upon the bosom of a faceless bureaucracy, I hated every single moment of the experience, and want to stop from other people from making the same mistakes I did.

Because I have now got rid of almost every facet of my experience (apart from a dry mouth whenever I pass the place and a deep-seated fear of brown Revenue and Customs envelopes) , I have decided to put up a friendly, cut out and keep notice of what to expect for newbies to that particular circle of hell.

The only reason my local job centre did not have a queue outside of it, was because it was A PIT OF DESPAIR!!!

So, without much further ado:

1. The Job Centre does not care who you are.

Shut up. The Job Centre does not care if you are young, old, white, an ethnic minority, a drop out, a Graduate, a young mother, coming up to retirement age, a grandparent, or someone who has built up your own business from scratch using only your blood, sweat, tears and the Prince’s Trust (I did actually hear someone who was that last one. She was in tears). Don’t think that you are going to find the place tolerable, the workers human, or have anything useful happen to you while you are in the building. You, the bubbly personality and hard worker that you are, are now a personified National Insurance number.

2. Pay Attention.

That unemployed friend of yours has been bitching for a few weeks now about how much the Job Centre sucks, haven’t they? It’s bad enough hearing their tales of woe about the tables, the rude people and having to ask for the money for the bus ride home, without knowing that you are going to hear about it every. single. week. Maybe if you block them off and instead concentrate on that fine waiter’s arse they will finish soon. After all, it can’t surely be THAT bad…

Take the advice of Mr T; Don’t be a fool. Listen and pay attention, as these stories will give you valuable information when you are handing in your employment information.

Oh, and they are as rude as you heard they were. Expect your name, qualifications and your being to be subject to snarky comments at all times of the day.

3. No-one will remember who you are.

Even if you see the same person, while you are signing on, every two weeks for 3 months, don’t expect to ever remember your name without looking down at your booklet. In truth, this cannot be helped. Speaking as a till lady who could easily serve provide the change for around 100 people in a hour, when you deal with a lot of people, and are saying the same things every time, they become an undistinguishable  blur. However, this makes it all the more important for you to remember their names, or at least something noticable about them. You are more likely to win arguments if you state that “That is not what the Belfast sounding/thick glasses/ginger/bald/thin guy told me!”

4. Try to get them on your side.

There will be lots of pointless arguments about traveling abroad for interviews, when you can attend, and what they want you to apply for. I advise to act reasonable. Do not go off the deep end for pointless causes. If you don’t give them a single thing to complain about , then they are more likely to help you win the big battles, such as getting money back.

4. Keep every single bit of paper.

Sign on book. Letters that read like they were spell-checked, translated from Czechoslovakian and have had vital words removed. Copies of anything you have been made to sign. It may look like landfill, but you will have to refer to it at some point.

5. Expect the worst.

It just saves you time, and saves you using up your valuable energy by thinking things are going un-naturally well when you are signing on.

6. The ‘diary thing’

When you start to sign on, you will given a diary. This diary is split into three bits, in which you write down what you did, what this led to, and what you will do next (i.e: went on website, saw interesting looking job, applied for it). My advice? Give too much detail. I’m not talking about a detailed essay on the questions that the company has asked you, but write a note (in different coloured pens every couple of days or so) about what you did, and make it a bit long-winded. All the staff do is look and sign, not read. The more gubbins you write, the less awkward questions will be asked (such as ‘had any interviews yet?’), and the quicker you can go back to skulking in the news agents by the magazines you cannot afford.

Me? Bitter? Nooooo…

Feel free to add any more advice to people here. The more tear stained and angry, the better.

Faster than the speed of ‘Oh Bugger, that’s not supposed to happen’

Lalalalalala! I'm not listening! (or: 'Oh my god, are my arms that chubby in real life?')

Since Tuesday, I have been in a personal race to get to Sunday without going around the twist. There was no FAILboat of an event. Even the Tories getting into power with the help of the Cleggster hasn’t bothered me too much. The Tories have got in to government, which is slightly annoying, but in a ‘I wonder if Cameron will unzip his forehead and reveal a Slitheen’ kinda way.

It hasn’t helped failing the Driving Test again (5th time!), dealing with annoying/angry customers and just coping with other types of bad news in local or conversational form. It’s led to a feeling of just wanting to run full pelt to the weekend, to not stop for any other bad feeling or news, and to just hide until next week. It means I’m dreaming about running again, which only happens when I want to hide under the duvet.

Ugh. It’s at times like this, you download Mumford and Sons and listen to an avalanche of sad music until it puts a stupid grin on your face.

I’m sure it will happen eventually. Until then, I put ‘the cave’ on until I feel capable of being able to converse with something beyond text message.

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