Don’t Blame Each Other

I have been thinking a lot about education recently.

So much so that I just sent an impromptu email to my old high school with the hope of thanking my English teacher for putting up with the amount of crap me and my teenage group of friends caused her, and for getting us to actually learn something.

I wanted to thank her for encouraging me to stick with English (which I really enjoyed, but wasn’t a ‘cool’ interest to have at the time) something that, among other things resulted in me going to university and led me to pursue a career in writing.

And it wasn’t an easy job I’ll bet.

The school I attended was a pretty good one for the county. And I remember clearly kicking up hell when my parents suggested I attend.

I was leaving all my friends, who were going to the comprehensive in the village.

However, I thank them greatly for it now – despite feeling at the time out of place in a ‘posh’ girl’s grammar.

The thing is, there were plenty of those friends I left whose parents did not suggest they do anything out of the norm. And I’m not saying they necessarily should have, simply that the educational standard provided should be good for everyone, no matter what school they attend.

I know that sounds idealistic, but I believe it is an attainable goal.

But only if people really want that to be the case.

I genuinely believe that it is that desire to give kids from all backgrounds an equal chance that is severely lacking. In the government, and consequently in many members of society who have bought into the blame culture both the government and the media foster.

After reading SecEd’s article, The Postcode Lottery Laid Bare, which confirmed many of the views I have held for a long time concerning education (some of which I have written about on this blog) I started thinking about my own education, which is what led me to try and get in touch with my old teacher, and to write this post. (If you’re reading this Mrs Perry – drop me an email!)

Despite growing up in a small village in the North East (which I’m sure falls into the lower average bracket concerning educational attainment), I did get good A-Levels and go to university. And I now, after many years doing menial and terribly paid jobs, have a job I enjoy.

But it was bloody hard work, and no doubt some of it was luck.

Firstly, I managed to get into a decent school without having to pay to do so as good old-fashioned Lincolnshire still had the 11+ system in place when I was 10 years old.

This was a system which meant that being the youngest in my year, I got good enough grades to get in, despite some of the older students who got the same grade failing to meet the required level.

This in itself made no sense to me, even as a child. However, similar tests are the basis for entry to many ‘higher class schools’ to this day. And I know many parents who pay for extra tutoring so their children will do well in these tests.

Not only do the parents who enter their kids for this kind of obligatory and meaningless testing believe in it, they often by default raise kids who continue the believe those who fail at this early stage are below them intellectually.

Even at ten years old I was confused by this. We had all been taught the same curriculum, so what on earth did a few months difference in age make?

Secondly, as I said, I had parents who really (and immovably) encouraged me attend.

Also, I did go to university, but it was really was difficult, and that was before the government in their infinite classist wisdom decided to raise tuition fees to a level that only the best off could afford.

I worked throughout my degree in pub and service industry jobs. I also worked for free for breakfast radio shows, newspapers and local magazines to gain experience.  And I think it was that experience that allowed me to be considered for the kind of work I wanted, not the degree.

Despite the wonderful job prospects the university promised me when I was thinking about enrolling, and signing myself up for the following debt plagued years.

I’m sure I would have got a better grade if I hadn’t had to do some much work outside my course. If the work experience roles paid even a little. If I had parents who could afford to pay my rent.

I realise it’s much easier to say this is a resentment issue than admit there is a fundamental inequality in opportunity here.

But it’s not.

If I had the money, I would most likely pay my children’s way if it meant better opportunities and prospects for them, despite my moral objection to situation. But not everyone does have the money. And it is no way fair to penalise those poorer kids who have aspiration for their parent’s economic failings. It’s not fair to blame those parents either.

Poor kids aren’t stupid. They are no less deserving of a good education. They are no less hard working. In fact, in all likelihood  many are more so, despite the current government trying its damndest to convince the better off that the poor have brought it on themselves.

Where would this government be if they hadn’t happened to have had parents with money?

People often state that we shouldn’t resent them for having a great education – after all, you want someone with a great education to be in charge of the country, it makes sense.

But what is to say these privileged politicians are right for the job? There could be many people, far smarter and more capable given the chance.

Maybe that is what scares them.

If everyone had a genuinely equal chance to gain access to educational attainment – to the level they had so easily bestowed upon them – I’d bet my student debt that they would come up short.

So go ahead students.

March. Protest.

Why the hell should a rational, intelligent person fork out nine thousand a year that they don’t have, without even the guarantee of a job at the end of it?

I finished university in 2008, and only this year found a job that I enjoy or has anything to do with my degree.

And again, this involved an element of luck.

I started in my current position as a part time administrator on minimum wage.

I worked my ass off to incorporate some of my writing skills into the role, and I am now working as a full time copywriter.

But it was not simply my skill or hard work that got me there. I have been lucky enough to find a company that dares to employ non-graduates, and people with proven, not paid for, skill.

They also encourage and train their staff, and give opportunity and promotion where it is due.

But I was lucky to get them to take me on in the first place. Having spoken to my boss since, he admitted that he was genuinely surprised and a little depressed by the number of graduate applicants applying for such a menial and lowly paid role.

I am still hugely in debt, not just from the fees, but because in addition, despite having worked as much as I could during study, I had to take out student credit cards and student overdrafts to get through.

And with no guarantee of a job afterwards, that’s a heavy burden – even more so now.

I would like to make clear I am not putting people off gaining a degree.

That is what the government is doing, and very well I might add. Anyone with an ounce of sense would think it is a good thing to have an educated nation.

But not if you are scared of a real democracy, not if you are protecting your own privileged position. And, as is the case with the current government, certainly not if your only strength lies in having PR skills barely able to hide your lack of strength in leadership.

Making education unobtainable to the majority simply demonstrates that the small elite are sacred they will be shown up for the ignorant, selfish charlatans they are if they were to award everyone equally that privilege.

And this (as ever) is only my opinion, but these aren’t the sort of people I would trust to run a country, or represent the requirements of the majority.

Michael Chessum wrote in the Guardian about the student protests this week;

“It is becoming increasingly clear that this situation is fundamentally about class. The system being designed by the coalition – which rewards prestige, high tuition fees and research concentration – will strip funding away from universities that are disproportionately populated by working class students, forcing them to close and cut student numbers”.

And I couldn’t agree more.

Students can’t let the government continue to crush the ambition and prospects of the less well-off and unfairly reward privilege.

Surely they are too intelligent to believe that, after having been denied the opportunity to gain a degree, and consequently failing to find work that they deserve to be branded as lazy, or scroungers when they have to claim benefits as a result.

No matter how little or how much money we have, and despite what the government and media tell us to believe, we can’t blame each other.

We must blame them, and hold them accountable.

Otherwise the potential talent that could change the situation will remain in the gutter, and the pool we have to fish in for the next leader will be a shallow one indeed.

Natalie

My humblest apologies

Mischief. The dippy rabbit I mentioned.

I would like to apologise and explain my absolute slack lack of effort in blogging of late (I know, it’s a sin. Be consistent. I know the rules.) but I have a number of reasons.

No, wait.

Don’t go.

Just listen a minute… OK, they are pretty lame reasons, but I’ll tell you anyway.

Firstly, and try not to gag…I’m happy.

And we all know contentment is the enemy of invention.

Secondly, I work in a job where I look at a computer screen all day and I can’t bare to get my face back at the screen when I get home. My evenings of late have been spent with a glass of wine, in the garden watching Mischief, my pet rabbit run about with the same docile content look on her face as I have.

Yes, I told you, try not to gag. Or laugh.

OK, well maybe laugh. Scoff, if you will. I would.

However, it gets worse. Oh Yes. This happiness thing, as someone British, (and not just your average British malcontent, but one who actively enjoys ranting, complaining and getting on my high horse about all sorts of things, from the mundane to the politically and socially infuriating) has perplexed me.

I did the two bad things. I fell in love…heave, gag, vomit…and I like my job.

I’m so ashamed.

That’s probably the problem with politicians.

Not the love part, obviously, I assume that’s all for show to win votes in the main (have you watched Mitt Romney and the missus lately), but the content part.

They like power. They have it. They like money. The current crew has it in spades. And therefore fuck the rest of us.

That’s at home and abroad.

In fact that’s pretty much anywhere outside their own home.

Ah, hang on… maybe the writer’s block is lifting after all. This feels more comfy, now maybe just another glass of wine and a ponder. I mean this fuzzy cheerful nonsense can’t last, it wouldn’t be right.

It’s not natural. In summary, apologies again.

God, I’m as crap at apologies in writing as I am in person. Interesting.

In defence of trying to understand

I have a friend who I love dearly. Not that I would ever tell him so to his face, I don’t need to.

Our friendship is one that is hard to explain, and I sense often confuses people who witness it from the outside. In fact it often perplexes me myself. You see we irritate each other more than most of the people who regularly cross paths and resign themselves to agreeing to tolerate each other for the sake of convenience.

Most of our conversations consist of bickering, bossing each other around, talking over each other or full on shouting, and if not shouting, at least taking the piss with just a hint of cruelty. This person is over thirty years my senior, and I think a lot of people suspect there is something slightly bizarre about our friendship. But there isn’t.

The thing is, we both irritate and love each other so fully because we have many of the same faults, and the same defences. This is also the reason that we feel we need to look out for each other, as we can both see the motivations behind acting the way we do.

In his long life, he has had some truly amazing experiences, and some truly tragic ones. He is still single, and has three children, the eldest being in his forties and the youngest, seventeen. We have known each other for about five years. Raising teenage kids in your sixties must be hard enough, but I can only hazard a guess at how uniquely bemusing it must be if you are a single man in your sixties who has, by choice, and for numerous reasons, not contact with their mother. The eldest child’s mother is no longer alive.

However, I have huge respect, and a strange understanding of this person, despite knowing little about and having no experience of the vast majority of his life. I think it is because I can see the ease with which things have just happened.

And somehow he makes it tangibly apparent, without really explaining anything, how things just happen to everyone. How despite planning, and all the things that people my age do to map out and envision their future, that things will just occur. And those are the things that make up the majority of someone’s life.

I hadn’t seen this man for a while, and I popped in after work a few days ago for a glass of wine. His eldest son was there, and I soon as I came in there was an odd atmosphere. However, we all sat down for a drink, when out of nowhere, a row broke out between the two of them. It was the kind of row that I felt I shouldn’t witness, but there really wasn’t anything else to do.

When it ended, and the son had left, strangely there wasn’t any awkwardness. Unlike the reaction most people would have had, an embarrassment followed by stream of apology for behavior, or my having to have witnessed it, we just both sat and drank our wine.

I could sense something strange, and despite the lack of context I had to the argument, I felt no need to ask. There was just a feeling of the years of history behind it. An inexplicable glimpse into so many years of someone’s life that had all simultaneously been apparent in that short exchange of heated words. The look of a frustrated teenager on a forty-year old man’s face, and the look of confusion, hurt and lack of understanding on the face of a man of sixty.

It wasn’t awkward because my friend is much like me. We find it difficult to, and are often unwilling to explain our situation, and this experience had done the explaining for him.

I suddenly realized from that look that despite age and experience, there is so much that is out of our control. There is so much that happens, despite what we intend, that we are unable to change. And no matter what face we put on to encounter the world, there is so much about life that we will always be at a loss to, or loathe to understand.

But the reason I wanted to share this is that there was something positive about the whole experience. A feeling simply in a look and sharing a drink, that we are all in it together, and that both the arrogance of youth or the sometimes condescending facade of old age are misplaced.

It is easy to judge, but it is impossible not to make mistakes. And it is often equally impossible to explain those mistakes to anyone else. That is why we should be alert, and make it our business to look after each other, no matter whether you can understand the motivations of others or not. A life is a difficult thing to manage.

Fancier Porridge – Same Knowledge.

Hello there!

I have spent a good old while messing about and have finally made this lovely new site.

It’s pretty simple, but I’m not that techno savvy I’m afraid! I’m very pleased with it, as it’s the first time I’ve tried to use (or heard of) many computer based things like ‘side bar’, ‘widget’, ‘search spiders’ (scary) and ‘tag clouds’ (nice).

So here it is, including my favourite bit, the headline banner photo, which I took on my way home from work; it’s the wall next to my local, The Bell in Stokes Croft.

So same nonsense, jazzier format. Please don’t judge my efforts too harshly, as I said, I’m new to this techy thing.

Thanks for visiting!

Event Review – Ladies That Tweet…may want to think about it first.

Last Tuesday I attended an event in Bristol Called ‘Ladies that Tweet’ – one of those networking evenings for women who use social media in business to meet, discuss, be inspired and learn some helpful tips about the use of social media in business and marketing.

Obviously, being a women’s event, there was bound to be some talk of the difficulties women face in the workplace, and I realise there are many. There are still huge pay differences between men and women, there is also an enormous difference between the number of men and women in managerial and directorial positions – and this is especially true in the world of marketing.

Before attending the event, I had been reading a report by McKinsey & Company entitled ‘Women at the Top of Corporations: Making it Happen’ (available online) which found, among many worrying statistics regarding employment for women that ‘women are still underrepresented in corporate boards and barely present in executive communities’. Having previously worked for the Equality and Human Rights commission, I have read many such reports.

The issue of gender inequality is a troubling one, not just in management and marketing, but across many career sectors, right across Europe. After the networking (and cocktails – always a bonus!) there were three female speakers from various media backgrounds; an email marketer who runs workshops about online marketing and social media, a sex blogger turned novelist who had been horribly and unfairly hounded and bullied by the press after they publicly revealed her identity, and a woman who had recently started a company to try and change the male dominated marketing world, after being inspired by the hit series, Mad Men (which I am currently obsessed with by the way, and has raised many a gender related debate between me and my partner).

So far, so good.

The email marketer and blogger were both eloquent, professional, and raised some valid points for debate, as well as giving some great advice about handling the media, and making the most out of social media in the world of business, which is, after all, what the event was all about.

However, the speaker from the world of marketing, for want of a better word, shocked me. As did the reactions from other attendees on Twitter after the event, although, given we had just been told about the pitfalls of non-polite social media interaction, maybe they were simply worried about the repercussions of critical comment - as in fact I am in publishing this piece on-line.

I did pause to think about it, especially after the advice given in the event about the dangers of opinion pieces on the web. Also, as it was a networking function, I suppose it would be safer and less hassle to keep my opinion to myself.

However, I am a writer, and the issues raised by this speaker really did both trouble and anger me. I fully expect that many people will disagree, which they are completely free to do, in the same way that I am free to express my opinion. So here it is.

In a word, this woman was simply sexist. Initially, I could see her point. She had worked in marketing companies that were male dominated, and where, as in many marketing agencies, the content produced had been decided, in the main, by men. And regarding Mad Men, I have read some genuinely interesting and well researched discussions on the topic surrounding whether the world of advertising has really changed since Don Draper’s (the main character, if you haven’t seen it, and I recommend you do!) day, i.e., the early sixties.

As a topic of discussion, it was potentially an interesting one. But researched and structured debate this was not.

She opened by asking everyone in the room to raise their hand if they were a feminist. Bearing in mind this is a bunch of women who have come straight from work, who don’t know each other, and, if they were anything like me, currently quite focussed on the bowls of sweets on the table, (I would like to point out the event was brilliantly organised, the venue was lovely, and the other speakers, as well as the attendees were very interesting. It was largely a great event) so, for whatever reason you care to choose, only half the room put their hands up.

Thus began the casual sexism, man bashing, bad research and patronising of women. In my view anyway, as I said, many of the comments on twitter implied that lots of the attendees agreed, and didn’t have a problem with it at all.

The half of the room who didn’t raise a hand were met with the comment; ‘Well that’s just sad. Didn’t you want us to get the vote?’ The speaker then proceeded to profess the freedom of modern women to shout C***, which yes, is true, but totally inappropriate in a meeting about social media, as it would have been if a man had said the same thing.

She also showed a succession of slides which patronised the crap out of men in the same way that she complains they do to women. You know the type of thing, the funny pictures people post of Facebook, like a man has one button you push to get all his behaviours, we have lots. Wonderfully illustrated with a photo of one button, with the word ‘Man’ under it, and a photo of lots of buttons, with the word ‘Woman’ under it. Hilarious and informative, right?

She continued to speak about the way we should market to women because when a man goes in a shop, it’s to get one item, but women like to go with their friends, wander around in a haphazard fashion, like some neon-light befuzzled moth with a credit card, and always ‘with friends so they can ask each other, does my bum look big in this?’

This was illustrated with a floor-plan of a shop and a straight line mapping a man’s linear movement towards his item of choice, juxtaposed with a big wobbly squiggle to illustrate a woman wandering here there and everywhere, distracted, presumably by all the bags, shoes and other pretty, irresistible trinkets.

I’m sure there is some truth to this, but how can you moan about sexist stereotypes and put that up?

This was followed by an image of Mel Gibson shaving his legs in the film ‘What Women Want’. Another great and reliable source to illustrate the real problems women face concerning inequality.

There was also scientific reference, again backed up with a lovely illustration. ‘Men and women use different parts of their brain’.
So far so psychologically tested to be true, in some ways.
‘Men use the right side, and women use the whole thing’.

Hmm, not so well researched.

The problem I had with this whole discussion, and the reason why I felt the need to write something about it, is that it was badly researched, totally contradictory, and belittled the genuine inequality that both women and men face at the hands of sexist, capitalist marketing structures.

In my opinion, many women have an aversion to shouting about being a feminist because it conjures up this sort of thing. Angry, irrational women shouting, stereotyping and man bashing. There is no reasoned debate, little research and a lot of sexism and female chauvinism. And that hurts the cause of real feminists.

I understand feminism to be the desire for equality. And whatever your gender, and however passionate you are about a topic, you should be fair, and assess the evidence. Then you should rationally go about solving the problem.

Marketing is always going to portray people, men and women, in an unrealistic light because it aims to sell you a lifestyle you don’t already have. It also aims to sell you things you don’t need and an image of someone else, who’s prettier/thinner/ healthier/more organised/more stylish/whatever.

That’s capitalism for you.

It also sells to you in the same way this woman did, so I guess judging from the many positive reactions afterward, she’s very good at her job. It bombards you with pictures, distractions, half-baked studies and fictional or misrepresented statistics presented as ‘proper’ science. It also sells you things using catchy little hooks - like calling your company MadWomen, and offering to measure market trends with the patronisingly named ‘Femometer’.

Consistently fair market research should look at and measure the audience over-all  and use those stats to target efficiently.  However, a biased marketer will be able to sell just as well with this kind of quirky crap.

You can’t condemn one kind of sexist selling and simultaneously replace it with another and expound it as moral and a push for equality.

It is this kind of thing that ensures the difficulties women encounter due to gender stay as they are, or swing entirely the other way so we take over and gain the unfair advantage in the workplace that men currently occupy.

And neither of those options is good enough.

I hope Ladies that Tweet enjoys much future success, as there really were some interesting points raised. I just think they should be careful who they put up to speak, or what was otherwise an interesting evening full of intelligent, interesting and talented women will descend into nonsense.

And that would really be a shame.

Sorry Ma…

I just wanted to make a quick comment about my previous post – ‘Come on Gove – Give the Poor Kids a Chance’, June 18th 2012. Apparently I offended my Mother, so I’m sorry Mum! And I would like to make clear that I would not change my wonderful, mad family for the world.

Knickers Nicked! The sorry state of modern Britain.

What is the world coming to when you can’t dry your washing in the safety of your own garden?

I know we’re in a recession and shopping for luxury items, like, erm, underwear is more difficult than it used to be, but seriously.

Last week I had one of those lovely days where you have the morning off work, the sun was out for about the first time this year, and it was properly warm. If you sat directly in the sun that is (this is Britain after all) and that is precisely where I thought I would sit my laundry.

I got up early, ate some breakfast, re-potted my plants, and hung two lots of laundry out before my friend arrived for lunch, and being such a sunny day we decided to go to the pub. I nearly put said laundry back in the house before we left. Not for fear of theft you understand, but simply because, as I said, this is Britain, and sods law, it would probably rain. But no. I was in a good mood, and in a wild gesture of optimism I decided to risk it, the lot would be dry by the time we got back.

However, this is how optimism is rewarded. I returned to find the lot gone. Drying racks and all.

One of my lovely housemates, I thought, must have put it away for me. Bless them. I scanned the house, no sign. After confirming that neither housemate had seen it, I was mystified. My garden is walled in. The walls are pretty high. And the racks are pretty big. And the clothes were really cheap. Had I been drying a collection of Chanel suits, Vera Wang dresses and the like, unlikely as it may be I thought, a passing fashionista with a penchant for slightly risky theft may have happened by, and that I could sort of understand. They could flog it on Ebay. However, the logic behind scaling a wall in pursuit of faded Primark pants baffles me.

For a start, surely you would need to have been in a position to look over the wall in the first place in order to spot said pants.

Secondly, my housemate and neighbours own some pretty nice bikes, none of which were securely stored, except obviously behind the big bloody wall, which presumably they deemed to be safe enough. None of them were touched.

And they would have to have been quick, because there are four houses contained behind the wall, and it was the middle of the day on a Tuesday. The likeliness of one of the neighbours, or the person who hung the laundry out in the first place seeing you out of the window is pretty high.

Is this how people get their kicks nowadays? A high octane top speed knicker theft? Are these the people who used to go on snowboarding holidays to get their adrenaline rush, but now the recession has hit they need a cheaper fear fix? Or are junkies now looking to dress better, but still need to spunk their spare cash on skag? Maybe there is a black market value to cheap used underwear. However, I always understood ‘used’ to mean dirty, not just faded and losing their structural integrity. Maybe it was just someone who really loves ironing and folding clothes, but they had done all the stuff at home and just needed a quick sock-pairing hit.

The questions are many. The answers are few. Maybe there has been a spate of this kind of thing. Maybe it was a one off (any information welcome). But be warned dear reader, the days of hanging your stuff out to dry are over. That nice British image of neighbours pegging up their sheets while having a nice chat over the fence in the summer is shattered.

People are weird. Stranger than I ever imagined. And if I see anyone wearing a slightly coffee satined Hello Kitty T-Shirt wandering around my neighbourhood, they had better be afraid. I don’t mean that in an ‘I’ll knock you spark out, love’ kind of way, but I will recognise the grubby thing and follow them down the road with relentless questions about what the the hell is the matter with them until I get some kind of explanation.

Because I’m mystified. And if this is a spate, not an isolated incident, somebody please let me know. I don’t think I want to live in a world where a girl can’t hang her pants out without fear. And by the way, cheap as the clothes were, it’s going to cost me a sodding wedge to replace most of a wardrobe’s worth of stuff. Maybe I should just keep my eye open for some poor bugger hanging their laundry out…

Visit Prague!

Tim Burton must have pinched ideas from this. And Poe. And… well, if you’re a fan of the Gothic, just see for yourself!

I don’t think it’s possible to dislike Prague. Whether you are a fan of sightseeing, art, music, or simply want an affordable weekend break drinking with friends somewhere out of the norm, Prague has it all.

Steeped in history, legend and vibrant bohemian vitality, Prague will make a memorable trip no matter how long or short your stay. And the best thing is that no matter what your budget, there are so many things to see and do, you can easily tailor your holiday to suit your own interests and wallet.

Known as ‘the city with a thousand spires’, Prague’s architectural diversity is amazing, beautiful and enchanting. The city is a magical fusion of the old and the new, of beautifully preserved ancient architecture from the Gothic, the Neo-Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque combined with Modernist, and Art-Nouveau, complete with Post Communist architectural facelifts and Post-Revolutionary spirit. The whole city is unique in it’s vibrancy and acceptance of ideas. The home of the Bohemian revolution, the end of communism lends a kind of newly found embrace of liberal thinking which mean the city buzzes with energy.

Bohemia takes up the western two-thirds of the Czech Republic – the term now applies to anyone living an unconventional lifestyle after being adopted in Paris following Puccini’s opera La Boheme about a group of poverty stricken Parisian artists. Lack of convention and a love of art and music is a huge part of Prague’s appeal. Whether you are an art enthusiast and are interested in visiting one of the cities eclectic galleries (many of which are Free Entry) or you are a classical music fan and wish to visit the Mozart museum (Prague was one of the Viennese composers favourite cities, and he performed there many times, as well as completing Don Giovanni in the city) or attend one of Prague’s many classical symphony performances, the city is an amazing playground for anyone with a romantic or artistic soul. And if you aren’t a huge fan of the traditional cultural pursuits, the city is packed full of amazing basement bars and coffee houses with very reasonably priced and lovely Czech beers where you can while away the hours and immerse yourself in the whole bohemian vibe.

Simply walking around the city is amazing – cobbled streets, numerous cafes, bars and restaurants – however there are some things you simply have to see. There are so many beautiful cathedrals and castles in the city, but two things really took my breath away. The first being the St. Vitus Catherdral, a massive ornate gothic structure which looms over the pastel buildings in the cities central square like an ominous Burtonesque apparition. The building is even more beautiful inside than it is out, covered in sparkling jasper and amethyst and decorated with 14th to 16th century frescos depicting scenes from the passion of the Christ. It is also the place where Wenceslas (Václav in Czech) duke of Bohemia – the good King Wenceslas of the popular carol – is buried.

Thanks to a good industrial standing and a thriving tourist industry, Prague is better off than the rest of the Czech Republic, and has undergone a lot of modern architectural improvement since the overthrow of the Communist regime in 1989. Since the Iron curtain fell, the city is clearly hugely happy that it is able to show its many crowning jewels to the rest of the world. However, this means that Prague is not as cheap as it used to be. As with all cities that rely on tourism as a large part of their bread and butter, if you visit predominately the tourist areas, things can be overpriced. Avoid the areas aimed solely at tourists, and not only will you find a wealth of amazing and much more interesting pursuits, but you can spread your own wealth a whole lot further. Outside the tourist zones, the basics like food and drink are still remarkably cheap, and the great thing about the city is that you don’t need to stray far, also it’s a very safe place to have a roam. Simply navigate away from the central areas down one of the many winding cobbled streets and you can bag yourself a cheap meal and a lovely view, as well as very friendly service. The other great thing if you are a fan of the Bohemian spirit (not Absinthe you understand, I mean it abstractly) is that unlike the UK, there is no horrendous pub kicking out time. Bars serve well into the wee small hours, and you can happily find yourself some interesting locals who, as with all of Europe, can happily converse with you in English and drink beer or coffee with you all night – and the city at night is really magical. That brings me to the other not-to-be-missed part of Prague.

In Orloj, one of the cities oldest areas, you can visit the famous astronomical clock which dates back to 1410 and was made by clockmaker Mikulas of Kadan and Jan Sindel, a professor of mathematics and astronomy. The clock is ornate, beautiful and fascinating, and the location magically lit at night. There really is something enchanting and mystical about the city – but a word of warning. If you are scrimping on the pennies (and who isn’t at the moment?) avoid visiting during Christmas, Easter and New Year. Although if you do have a bit of cash, the city hosts some spectacular markets where you can but traditional Czech food, drinks and craft items, hotel prices tend to rise by around 20% during these times and the city is packed full of travellers from all around Europe, so it is very busy. Obviously, this too is a wonderful experience, but there is so much beauty, life and personality to the city the whole year round that for much less money, you will have a fantastic experience off peak too.

For more information you can visit www.czechtourism.com and search Prague.

I Quit. So what now? The Fear!

There comes a point (based on no scientific research whatsoever, it seems to me to occur in your late twenties if you’re a woman, and mid thirties when you’re a bloke) when you suddenly get the fear.

Mid way through a night out with mates, drunk and slurring, and dancing with no shoes on – you realise you’ve spent all the money in your wallet and head home, cursing the fact that you’re going to feel like shit at work in the morning – that’s the point when you think ‘it’s time to get serious’. This is usually consolidated by the walk to work in the same £piss-all p/h job you’ve had for the last year or so. You need to sort it out, get a career. You did all that studying at uni, culminating in all that debt you can’t pay off working in a cafe/bar/shop, and aside from that, you’ve got brains in your head. You’ve got an applicable ‘skill set’, ‘commercial awareness’, or whatever it is employers are looking for. And it’s time. The only problem is (well actually, one of many problems is) that you need to find a proper job. But where? The internet is awash with ads for ‘graduate recruitment consultants (Salary £competitive with bonuses – earn 45k in the first year!) but wait. The only jobs available can’t be finding other people jobs, as apparently, they don’t exist. Otherwise they’d be advertised. Surely.

In addition to this, you need to find time to get the skills and experience to get the job you want – if there is indeed one available – but you need to keep your current minimum wage employment in order to pay the rent. And it’s not like going back to uni is an option, unless your parents have a few grand spare they would like to lovingly bestow on you, and even then, it doesn’t seem like those rich kids are doing any better at finding a job anyway. It’s just that they aren’t as under pressure to get one.

The reason I have launched into this frustrated whine is because I have recently done something, which a week ago seemed like a very brave, very sensible option. I quit my job because of all the reasons above, and then some. I had been in the same job for the last five years. Well, I started at the bottom, as part time barmaid to pay my way through uni, and when my perfect job did not, as promised, materialise, I ended up as general manager. For all intents and purposes, I was basically going slightly mad working in a job that I could see carrying on, exactly as it is now, forever and ever until I was one of those old crones, necking G&T’s at ten in the morning and boring the arse off the new twenty something year old barmaids about how it was when I was their age. Also, I was working a roughly seventy hour week (pub management, for all the lack of respect most people give it, requires a lot of hard work) which was giving me no time at all to write – which is what I want to do. So, last week I quit. I handed my notice in, and Monday was my last day. I was so happy about it – it had taken guts and guile. I was out. I had time to find another job, I had gained useful and important skills. I had also found myself a part time job (as a barmaid in another pub, ahem) to tide me over. However, the being-big-and-brave buzz has started to wear off, and now I’m just in a panic.

After getting up the guts to pack the whole thing in, things suddenly seem different. Firstly, I have taken a massive pay cut. Secondly, the manager who hired me has just been fired, and now I don’t know what’s happening, and I’m with a bunch of new people I don’t know. I’m finishing work at one in the morning again, and with a load of new, younger people who want to go out on the lash after their shift while I just want to go to bed. Also, this finding a ‘proper job’ is proving bloody difficult. And depressing. I have been scouring the internet for Journalism jobs. Copywriting jobs. Marketing jobs. Events management jobs. Editorial Jobs. Any job, in fact, that may give me the opportunity to at least get out of the pub trade and onto the right track. Even if it’s only vaguely the right track. And to no avail. In fact, not even the courtesy of a rejection. I know there are hundreds of people applying for most jobs at the moment (I suppose that’s why we need all these recruitment consultants – to spend their eight hour office day shredding seas of unwanted applications) but couldn’t they at least fashion some kind of send-to-all email? ‘We’re sorry – you are one of hundreds of applicants who doesn’t have the skills we’re looking for’. If only so us job seekers don’t keep desperately checking our emails every five minutes in the vain hope someone may have got back to us about, well, anything. More depressingly, just to save time, a lot of the jobs I have applied for pop up with a warning as soon as you press send on the email. A little notice appears before they’ve even cast a casually disapproving eye over your CV saying ‘you probably won’t hear anything from us – everyone is unemployed at the moment, and likely to stay that way. We important lot with a job really don’t have the time to respond to the poor skint masses’. Or words to that effect.

So I suppose it’s time to extend the overdraft again. Dig out the credit card. Although, life’s much easier now Cameron has reminded us to just pay it off. Thanks. I’d forgotten about it, I’ll just grab that spare few hundred quid resting in my account and do it now. Cheers Dave.

The only response I have received so far was a call to say I was not getting a job because I’m ‘overqualified’. Apparently because I have previous media experience, and published work, the risk assessment crew at this particular company decided I would probably leave in six months. Thanks. I wanted to explain that I have had the same rubbish job for the last five years, and if I didn’t leave that, why would I leave this one? I actually wanted this one. I was happy to start at the bottom. I just want to get out! What they told us at uni, while cheerfully lending us thousands of pounds which they are now demanding back was that we would have better prospects. Give us all your cash and at the end you’ll be in a job you love, earning a satisfying living with that most useful of skills for the workplace – knowledge. Well, I’m now back doing what I was doing before uni, for the same wage. The only demonstrable life skill gained being the ability to deftly move debt between bank accounts to keep them off your back.

Could one of the vast army of recruitment consultants help me out please? Let’s just give you an honest covering statement. I’m skint. I’m desperate, and I’m terrified of ending up an old alcoholic spinster landlady. I work hard, and I’ve got brains in my head and a lot of experience. Ah go on – Give us a job!

Would you like some manners with that pint, sir?

And we’re all like this.

Before I say anything else, I would like to make one thing clear. I am not a mad feminist. I am generally concerned about the usual things women have cause to moan about – gender pay gaps, the fact that us ladies are often written off as old and past it much younger than men (I mean look at poor Moira Stewart. They would never have done that to Trevor McDonald), the unfair advantage given to beautiful women (and men for that matter) in most areas of life, that sort of thing.

I also like watching Sex and the City, but despite what most men think, I don’t wish to emulate their shallow consumer driven lifestyle. I’m not even particularly interested in shoes. Wearing sky high heels only means I can’t get as drunk as I would like on nights out, so I’ll stick with flats, thank you very much. However, I do wish to voice a concern that has given me much grief this week. And the concern is men. Not in general you understand, but men in the work place – in my work place to be precise.

This is partly my own fault (and I shouldn’t be the least bit surprised) as I have ended up doing a ‘blokes’ job. I am manager of a group of mainly male employees, which for the most part, they don’t seem to like one bit. I am currently managing a pub, which before me was run by a group of middle aged men who had all known each other for years and who, despite their little fallings out and disagreements, at least all gave each other’s opinions equal weight because for all intents and purposes, they were cut from the same cloth.

The other unhelpful factor in my transition is that before becoming manager I worked in the same pub as a barmaid. And everyone loves a young barmaid.

Barmaids get you drunk, look pretty and pretend to flirt with you a bit. However, if we then end up in charge, in a position to throw you out or make business decisions, apparently we just aren’t fun anymore. Barmaids aren’t supposed to understand anything about business, and as soon as they hint that they do, they aren’t to be trusted.

I have managed to get this attitude from all sides. Customers, workmates, and generally any man who thinks he could do the job better. Which is just about everyone. Because they’ve all been in a pub before. And apparently, that qualifies you to run one.

Didn’t Britain used to be full of landladies? You know, those great British treasures in the vein of Peggy Mitchell, off Eastenders. Bit of a battleaxe, but good fun and took no nonsense, except off those ape-like sons of hers, but at least they could help her lug barrels about. I used to quite like Peggy Mitchell.

But along with numerous other stereotypically British traditions, this one seems to have died. And I suppose I am quite young to be taking on such a job, but give me a bloody break! I have so far been patronised, openly bitched about and argued with, ‘advised’ that I am going about things the wrong way, or simply ignored completely.

I arranged a meeting with an employment lawyer a few days ago, which the bookkeeper (a man in his forties) decided to sit in on. And they were a well-known reputable firm. Did this arsehole look at me once? Did he bollocks. After his initial poorly disguised shock that I was the manager in the first place, he proceeded to give me a fleeting glance every few minutes, and direct all the answers to my questions to the bookkeeper.

I felt like a kid at a grown-ups dinner table, to be seen and not heard. I eventually forced him to direct his attention to me by pointing out that I had called him in, and I was potentially going to hire, and pay him. I had to be downright pushy, which really annoyed me. I did not hire him, by the way.

It’s the same with the assistant manager. Despite reps, delivery men, contractors, accounts people or anyone else knowing I am the manager, and that I am usually the one that arranged the bloody meeting, they will still refer all questions and answers to the assistant, simply because he’s male. And I think I’m picking up some manly aggression due to it.

I now spend practically all my time with men. I work with them and due to most of my friends being connected with work, as most peoples are, I end up spending my free time with them. For Gods sake, I live with two blokes also.

I’m starting to crave a Sex and the City marathon and a night out in high heels.

Despite my horror at the prospect, it seems you can be as ballsy as you like, but the old skills hold true. The quickest way to get men to do anything is the tried and tested trick of flattering their ego, and making them think it was their idea first, whilst batting your eyelashes a bit.

So take note of this fellas. Women are only manipulative because you don’t fucking listen. And, Mr Lawyer, if a woman is potentially paying your wages, look her in the face for Christ’s sake.

Women aren’t stupid, and we are perfectly capable of doing our jobs. And the bits we don’t want to do, we’ll make you do – and we’ll make you think it was your own brilliant idea in the first place.

And you’ll have no one to blame but yourselves.