Green Fingers – Has decreasing farm industry increased the Cannabis trade in the Caribbean?

A while ago I interviewed a couple of dealers about the difference between the drug trade in the north, dealing in the south, and about the scene in good old Brizzle town. Although the towns varied, the reasoning behind dealers entering their particular trade was similar – as was their attitude toward dealing as not differing much from any legal business transaction. When I got the opportunity to interview a dealer in the Caribbean who briefly worked in New York but had to return for ‘business reasons’ I was intrigued. Turns out, we may be miles apart, but people’s motivations are similar the world over.

Bit of background – I met Jason in Trinidad. He lives with his girlfriend, (who he met in Queens, New York) and their two year old son. Jason grew up in Rio Claro, on the less wealthy agricultural side of the island. The divide between rich and poor in Trinidad is huge, and obvious. The housing ranges very visibly from traditional shanty accommodation on one side to Americanised gated communities on the other.

Jason moved to New York after getting into trouble with the Trinidad for growing and selling cannabis, and was told to either leave the country or face charges. He returned after getting into an altercation with dealers in Queens which ended in hospitalisation after a knife fight. Due to his girlfriend falling pregnant, he hoped to start a new life in Trinidad, free from the drug trade.

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Sign in a typical trini rum shop – one of the bars in Rio Claro

This is what Jason told me about his experiences and motivations for getting in to the trade to begin with, and why he remains in the trade now despite the trouble it has caused him.

“It first occurred to me that I could make a bit of cash selling [cannabis] because I was around it with my family all the time. They didn’t sell, but they smoked a lot, and bought from friends who came round to chill lout, have a beer and a smoke. It always seemed pretty normal and relaxed to me. The main trade by us was growing sugar cane but that all went, so it was just growing peppers and avocadoes and whatever you had space for in the end. It’s really easy to grow good stuff here, and when I planted a couple of seeds from some weed my parents bought it was really easy to get a good plant”.

“We never had any money, but we did have a lot of space, so it seemed kind of stupid scraping by trying to make money growing peppers to sell, which everyone can grow themselves in their gardens anyway. You can make so much more money growing weed in the same space. From one seed you can grow about a quarter of Mary Jane, and it’s so easy to get hold of, so it just made sense”.

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Weed grown from a couple of seeds – rather than grinding weed, Trinis’ smoke it pure, wrapped in a rizla and added to the top of a straight cigarette.

“Most of the police here smoke too, and the government and police make a lot of money off the sale of weed and coke. As long as you aren’t causing them trouble, they pretty much stay out of your way. I don’t really see what I’m doing as wrong. I’m not hurting anyone. I have a field out in the middle of nowhere, and people want to buy what I’m selling. I feel like it’s a pretty honest job. There are so few jobs available over here unless you can afford and education. It’s either selling stuff you grow at market, or trimming weeds or filling pot holes in the roads. I do that too in the mornings, before it gets too hot and so do most of my friends, but the money is bad and you can only do it when you’re young really. It’s really manual tiring work”.

“I have family now and I want them to have a nice home and look after them. I bought the house with the money I made selling and I couldn’t ever have bought it otherwise. Most people in their twenties are still living with their parents, the girls get married young so they get a house. If you are a man you need to have your own home or they won’t be interested. That’s what got me in trouble over here. One side of the island is still really poor, and no one wants to look worse than anyone. I couldn’t get a house over on the San Fernando side – that’s where all the educated people with the oil money go (oil has replaced growing sugar cane as the islands main export, and many of the men now work out at sea on the rigs). I wouldn’t fit in. But the guy with the pepper field next to mine got jealous that I was making money”.

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A traditional Trinidad market selling a variety of goods grown locally on the island

“People here hate seeing other people do well as most of the island is so poor. They don’t think it’s fair, and it’s not. It’s really hard for people here to get out of their situation because there’s so little else to do unless you leave the country. It’s getting better, and more people are getting educated now, but the island is small, and the inequality is so easy to see every day. It makes people angry and jealous”.

So for the moment, Jason is back in the drug scene but he is he is keeping that fact from his family. He hopes to find better work, and would like his son to get a better education than he did and stay living on the island.

The issue in this case is the cost of education and the limited number of jobs available. The culture on the island is changing fast and traditional Trini ways of life are being rapidly replaced by American values. With the biggest of those values being capitalist and material ideals – which are incredibly at odds with the islands traditional Hindu values – the wealth divide is an uneasy one. Combine that with a very public knowledge of a corrupt policing system, and it seem for now at least that illegal trades will take a lot to reform. There is currently government debate about legalising sale of the drug, and whether this will limit the problems that arise from widespread illegal trade.

<p><a href=”https://plus.google.com/112871526562974380630″ rel=”author”>Natalie</a></p>

How to make your employees love appraisals – and their HR department!

Appraisal feedback and the HR department can often fill employees with fear – but that needn’t be the case!

I wrote this 10 step guide on how to make appraisal feedback positive, and how to show employees that the HR department aren’t that scary after all – they’re here to help! Written for Carbon360.

How Good Goal Setting can Support Teachers and Boost Morale

There have been many reports in the press recently about teacher morale being at an all time low, and about many teachers leaving the profession all together. I wrote this article which looks at the ways in which good performance management could help boost morale and help teachers. You can read my article here – written for Carbon360 who provide a great goal setting package for schools. 

HR & Hospitality can mix – I just wish I’d known that when I started in the pub trade!

Strangely, this approach to management doesn’t work.

As I have previously mentioned on this blog, I am currently working for Carbon360, in a role which requires that I do a lot of research and reading about the world of HR; whether that be news, best practice, emerging trends or employment statistics. I also do a lot of research into company missions and goal setting in order to see what is working best for various organisations. I read an awful lot about what it means to be a leader, to manage effectively, to get the best out of, and respect from, your colleagues and peers.

What occurred to me today was just how useful this information would have been a year or so ago. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I used to manage a pub where I was responsible for around twenty or so employees, mainly men. And they weren’t an easy bunch to be responsible for.

I took the job on after having worked there as a barmaid for a few years, as a way to (partially) pay my way through university, and was suddenly landed in the position of managing around thirty staff who had previously been friends.

The trouble with the pub trade (and this I’m sure is less true in the larger chain pubs) is that there is no established process, no mention of HR (that in itself would be laughable) and a lot of sexism. And the hours are long. Any trade that regularly uses AFD (All Fucking Day, if you haven’t worked the trade before) as a regular acronym on a rota should give you an idea.

When I accepted the role, I really did work incredibly hard. I thought it would be a bonus to work with friends – after all, they liked me and would know I was trying hard and try to help me out.

Naively, I assumed I wouldn’t have to shout at them as they would want the business to work – after all, it was their job too, and we all needed the money. But that was not the case at all.

I can see now that despite good intentions, in many ways I was a terrible manager. I simply didn’t know how to go about being a leader from the start, I had never tried before, and there was no one to back me up. I also put a lot of faith in people wanting me, (and the business) to do well, but who were in fact were rooting for me to fail, and fail I did.

By the time I handed in my notice, I was exhausted, and utterly depressed after just over a year in the position. Towards the end of that year there were screaming rows with staff, and their lack of faith in me had really worn me down. Customer and cash-flow-wise the pub did fine, I was still on top of that side of the business, but behind the scenes and despite smiling throughout, I was a frazzled mess.

I tried to do everything myself – I didn’t want the staff to think I expected them to do anything I wouldn’t do. But I couldn’t do it all. Yet I tried, and ended up doing it badly. Rather than chastising people when a job wasn’t done, or wasn’t done correctly, I would simply sort it out myself in order to avoid an unpleasant altercation.

I tried to keep all the staff happy, but that meant agreeing to all their (often daft and selfish) requests, which I never should have done. I should have listened to them, decided what was best, and stuck to it, rather than trying to please everyone. I was just so worried that they would grow to dislike me.

I should have stepped back, and made clear that I was the boss. That sounds as if I am being awful, but I’m not.

What I mean is that I learned a lot about the way people work, and the way they respond to being led. Some people work creatively, and are at their best when you give them the space and freedom to use their initiative to see what needs to be done, and let them get on and do it. And some of my staff were like that, and with them, things worked brilliantly.

However, some people need to be micro-managed. And they respond best to having distance placed between them and their boss, as whoever that boss is, they will want to complain about them. They need to be told what to do in a structured way, without any room for initiative.

At the end of the day, I should have accepted that as a manager, people were obviously going to complain about me, and I should have not let it get to me. It isn’t personal, it is just part of the job.

Communication with your staff is very important, but a leader makes sure that communication is professional and that while they listen, they make clear that they are still in charge. A manager should never raise their voice, and if a member of staff treats you in an inappropriate way, you should deal with it immediately, or the situation will snowball.

Shortly after I left, the pub was sold to a chain, and new managers came in. The staff who worked best under micro-management remained, and although they obviously still moan about the long hours and the bosses, they would never dream of doing it to their face. And I’m sure the managers are aware of it, but don’t let it worry them in the way I did. Those staff, to their credit, have also apologised to me numerous times for various behaviour, but only after I left.

I ended up quitting after sister’s boyfriend found me crying in the back office with a glass of wine (although despite various male staff shouting at me, and throwing things at me a couple of times, I never did cry in front of them!) and realised I had had enough. Once I had got to that point, there was no way to go back. The thing is, it needn’t have got so bad. If I had known some of this HR best practice then, I would have done things very differently.

Obviously, having previously been friends with the staff made it difficult, but the principals are still relevant. And I genuinely believe if I were put in the same situation again, I could see the signs and handle it. The hospitality trade is notoriously bad in terms of things like political correctness, gender equality, reasonable working hours and pay – and also with things like performance management. These things simply aren’t a consideration. However, they could really make a difference, without changing the trade.

So if you are working in the trade (and especially if you’re a woman) and you take on the position of manager, here’s some advice, combining what I leaned in that role, and what I know now.  I hope it helps, because I really is a fun job if you do it properly!

  • Let them know who is boss. And quickly. I don’t mean be a bitch, but look uncertain at the start, and they wont forget it.
  • You’re not their mate. You can be friends outside of work, and friendly at work, but basically, it’s an extension of number 1. Buy them a drink as a boss, they’ll be grateful. Don’t buy them a drink as a mate and they’ll pinch one anyway, and moan about you while they’re at it.
  • You don’t owe them anything – except to be a fair boss. They should know you will assess the situation and reward them time off/ extra hours/expect you to tell them when they have worked hard and deserve any bonus. They should not have any expectations to ask for/demand it.
  • They should speak to you like a boss. Despite it being a pub, swearing at you or treating you with any less respect then they would a man/a boss in any other profession is not acceptable
  • Never let them see you sweat. Even if you are unsure, don’t let it show. They won’t help, they’ll see it as a weakness, and despite no evidence, will assume they can do the job better. Again, I think this applies especially if you are a woman.
  • Stick to warnings and keep your temper. Verbal, written then final. Then out. Do not deviate from this rule. And gross misconduct is as it sounds. No excuses.
  • Be professional. And this is a really tricky one in this trade. You will regularly work 15-hour shifts, and you will always have to be sociable. The customers will want you to sit and drink with them. Fine. Just don’t do it with your staff. Again, especially if you are a woman. A man gets really chatty after a few beers, he’s sound. A woman does it after more than 2 glasses of wine, she’s either looking for a man/has a drinking problem. Sorry girls, it’s true (in most, obviously not all, men’s minds).
  • Do not listen to gossip. Again, very difficult in the pub trade. You made a decision, you made it for a reason. Stick to it, despite what anyone says (think it through first, obviously). Punters are fickle, and staff are quick to criticise. This also applies in your favour. They’ll get used to that ‘terrible’ thing you changed, and fast. They’ll forget it was ever any other way. It’s just often they don’t like change.
  • Say little. It’s a sociable job, and everyone who has ever drunk in a pub thinks they can run one. Don’t defend what you do, or try to explain it. Just do it.
  • Most importantly, remember that you have the job because you deserve it. Men especially in this trade will assume they can do better. As will the regulars who will remind you, repeatedly, that when they first started drinking here/when John used to run it etc. etc., they did things another way. But that’s why they aren’t managers anymore, and that’s why you were hired. If the people who make sarcastic comments could do the job, they would. But it’s much easier to hang back and criticise.

So I hope that helps, and I must stress, bar (ahem, no pun intended) the last couple of months when I had really lost my enthusiasm, I really enjoyed it. So good luck, and believe in yourself. It really can be a fun job when you’ve got the hang of it. Honest!

Event Review – Voices from Another Part of Town: Celebrating 50 years of Caribbean Independence @Watershed Bristol

Bunny Marret – What a Legend.

I had a great time last night at Watershed’s ‘Voices from Another Part of Town’ event!

The evening was organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Trinidad, Tobago and Jamaica’s Independence, and comprised of extracts from a documentary film about St. Pauls – ‘Voices from Another Part of Town’, produced for the BBC by Gavin Barrie in 1981 following the infamous St. Pauls Riots. The documentary recorded the thoughts and opinions of both young and old Caribbean residents in the area.

My Mother came over to England from Trinidad in the seventies, like many other women, to train as a nurse. I now live in St. Pauls, and it was really fascinating to see just how far the area has come since the eighties.

It was also really interesting to see how attitudes have changed, and how Caribbean culture has infiltrated Bristol’s urban culture and been adopted by the city’s young people, down to the many white youths who live in the area that have adopted a sort of amalgam of Caribbean and British accents. The arrival of Cabot Circus has also made a difference to the area in recent years, which has done a lot for the housing prices and the desirability of the area.

There were numerous complaints from the older generation in the film about the difficulty for Caribbean residents in finding work, and the assertion that putting your address down as St. Pauls on job applications was inclined to lead to immediate rejection.

This situation has no doubt improved in St. Pauls, and attitudes towards Caribbean immigrants have changed. The film made me realise just how difficult it must have been for my mother when she first came to England, being in a completely foreign country, initially without friends or family. You can see why St. Pauls is still such a predominantly Caribbean area; it’s nice to feel at home, and it’s easiest to do that if you are with people who share similar experiences and backgrounds. It was very moving to hear fathers speaking of the dream that maybe their children could one day have a job in the area, and employ some of their friends.

The documentary showed a garage in St. Pauls, run by Caribbean residents, which was, at the time, the only business of its kind in the area. It is still there, and running as such, but thankfully there are now many businesses run by, and for, the areas Caribbean residents.

The other amazing part of the documentary was the musical performances by Bunny Marrett (whose launch party for his new record ‘I’m Free’ followed the event) and the spoken word performances by some of the youth in the area.

It was the passion and frustration about their inability to find work, and the judgements passed on them by British residents following the riots that I found really interesting. The anger that drove the improvisation and beat spoke volumes, and spoken word is now something that has passed well into the Bristol underground music scene, with English youths mimicking the accent and style in performances all around the city. The purpose of the genre is still to vent frustrations and anger towards society and it is fitting that this accent and performance style has now been picked up by youth from other cultures in the UK. With recession, cuts to benefits, youth advice centres and facilities as well as high levels of unemployment, their frustrations are very similar to those experienced by Caribbean residents in St. Pauls 30 years ago.

‘Voices from Another Part of Town’ included a very interesting interview with a young man who spoke about the Caribbean community in Bristol feeling like the lowest of the low. He said he felt their only purpose was to make the working -class feel better, mentioning comments by the poorest members of British society at the time that relayed the attitude, ‘well at least we aren’t like these boys’.

Many of those interviewed also felt sure that it was society’s expectations, or lack of, that led to the anger and aggression of the Caribbean youth, and in part, to the riots. It is difficult not to draw a parallel between the situation in St. Pauls in the eighties, and the similar aggression and low expectation of the disenfranchised and often impoverished inner city youth today, (and the nations fear of ‘hoodies’ and the like) which many have implied may have led in part to last year’s riots.

The importance of race in that sentiment may have mellowed, but with unemployment so high, and so many of what were the working class now unable to find work, claiming benefits and living in the cheaper areas of Bristol with a reputation for trouble, the problem itself hasn’t disappeared. British youth are just as angry as the residents of St. Pauls were in the eighties. And with the government continually and increasingly penalising the poorest, the problem is shifting from racism to classism, and that isn’t an improvement at all.

It was great seeing so many people of Caribbean descent in the audience, as well as people of other cultures, all enjoying the film, and the great music afterwards. Bristol is a beautifully multicultural city, and everyone at the event seemed to be having a great time. There was an amazing atmosphere, and it was a wonderful experience to be able to celebrate my culture at such an event. It also reminded me just what an amazing and brave woman my mother is to have taken the leap of faith to come over here forty years ago.

Despite its problems, I am very proud to be British, I’m proud of my Caribbean heritage, and I love the lively, friendly and vibrant atmosphere of St. Pauls. It’s our parent’s determination, optimism, sense of humour and hard work that has made that possible, and had made St. Pauls, and the change in attitudes towards people of Caribbean descent what they are today.

‘Voices from Another Part of Town’ was part of ‘Radical Bristol’, Celebrating Watershed’s  30th Birthday. As ever, there are lots of interesting events on at Watershed, check it out! Visit Watershed Bristol

Education News – Come on Gove, give the poor kids a chance.

Tough luck kids. You can stick your bottom lip out like this, but no one cares. Maybe you should just turn to the bible…

I am having a lovely weekend away in Cambridge, staying with the fella’s parents. I’m currently sitting in his living room drinking red wine and listening to him and his brother talk about philosophy in the garden, which is why I have time to write!

It’s been a good week all in all; work has been hectic, but in a good way.

I started my new job as a part-time administrator at the end of April, but have since been working my arse off to get involved in everything I can within the company in order to prove myself as someone who is useful in areas other than filing.

This has both been great fun, and has gladly paid off. I’ve been doing a lot of writing work for a couple of new campaigns for the company, as well as blog posts, articles and web re-writes, and it’s the first time I have really had the opportunity, thanks to my very supportive bosses, to really get my teeth into a job I enjoy.

I had a meeting on Friday which resulted in me being offered a full-time position. A ‘proper’ grown up job, as it were. So this week, I am very happy. I’ve never been one of those five-year-plan types, but I suppose it’s all about the big three. You know, a flat I like, a bloke I like, and now, a job I really enjoy. And anyone who is a regular reader of this blog (I think I flatter myself there, but self-delusion helps!) will know I have been looking for a job I like for a long time.

As I’m sure is the case for many, many graduates, the search has been interesting. And irritating. And at points downright depressing. However, I am finally working for a lovely company where people actually treat you like you may have a brain in your head. Unlike the various pub jobs I have had over the last ten years, (shit. ten years.) people actually ask your opinion about things, listen to you when you suggest something, and they don’t expect you to flirt with them while they make annoying, and usually crap innuendos in front of their mates. And it’s even paying above the minimum wage, which to me is bloody spectacular!

I actually managed to suggest, research and write an article for a HR Magazine (the previous post to this if you’re interested) about appraisal in secondary education. After my meeting on Friday, I headed off to Cambridge to stay with my boyfriend’s parents for the weekend with the intention of picking his Dad’s brain on the subject. He is the headmaster of a very good private school in Cambridge, and I thought he would be a great person to speak to, who was bound to have an interesting and informed perspective. However, it’s been a battle to get up the confidence to even ask.

You see, the thing that I have found, (although I’m slowly getting better at it) is that no matter what job you are doing, or your knowledge of the subject in question, if you’re from a working-class background, academics are intimidating. And it’s frustrating. It’s just that their whole lifestyle, accent, way of speaking to each other (and incalculable other little things) are so different from what I’m used to that I still feel like I’m faking it.

My fella has come home to (among other things, Father’s Day etc.) help his little brother with his A-Level revision. He is about to sit a philosophy exam, and my partner is training to be a Philosophy Lecturer at Bristol University, so it’s good practice for them both.

However, the thing that amazes me every time I venture to Cambridge to meet the family, (who are always lovely and welcoming, by the way) is our irreconcilable difference in attitudes, and consequently, the difference in not just academic attainment, but in the confidence you need in order to feel entitled to it. And this is not just me, it’s a difference in attitude I share with many of the people I know.

Cambridge is an obvious place for educational aspiration, being a world renowned centre for academic pursuit, but it’s not just the setting. All members of the family speak to each other. And I’m not judging my family here, we do speak, but we also shout, disagree, talk over each other, and nine times out of ten, miss the point of what each other are saying. I still don’t think my parents know what job I am doing, or what I did at Uni. And don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t have it any other way. My point is simply that there certainly weren’t any in depth discussions about that sort of thing when I was growing up.

However, in my fella’s family, they sit together – quietly – and read the paper. They have discussions about art, literature, philosophy and politics. And this includes the little brother. I don’t think I really spoke to my parents at all (unless you count numerous arguments, but that’s normal, right?) when I was a teenager, and certainly none of those topics would have even vaguely entered the discussion, but that was normal for most people I knew. But the real difference is in the way they talk. It’s grown up, civilised, encourages debate. The little brother speaks fluently, eloquently, about his subjects, and the rest of the family join in, inviting discussion and consideration.

This is where I struggle. Despite being having started my A – levels ten years ago, and having done a degree since then, I can’t help feeling like a little kid, and totally unable to join in. Because coming from where I did, I never had discussions like that. And in Lincolnshire, if you did it was likely to get you taken the piss out of at the very least. This is something I don’t think I have ever shaken off. If I’m around people who have lots of money and a good education I panic. And I think this is a huge problem, (ignoring money for the moment) with the classist system in British education.

Had I been encouraged to speak like this, to discuss things in this way, at school or at home, I don’t think I would have this problem. I think it is part of the reason I’m a writer (I can’t see the reactions of people if they’re just reading what I’ve written down, and therefore I don’t feel intimidated) and I really believe it’s the reason many less well-off children struggle. I don’t believe that grades reflect the intelligence of an individual in many cases. And they often don’t reflect that person’s ability to perform well in various types of employment. They simply reflect their environment, upbringing and approach to academic work. In the main, they reflect the opportunities people have been given, and the money they have.

The way my partner’s little brother talks, even at eighteen, is bound to gain him an exam pass, as long as he can articulate himself the same way in writing. But it’s the confidence behind his speech that surprises me. It is the confidence of someone who has always been encouraged to express his opinion, and to discuss his knowledge in an adult way. It is the confidence of someone who has been supported to re-think when mistakes are made, rather than encouraged not to try. And this is what money (and good parenting) achieves. But if our education system was truly representative and democratic, this wouldn’t be the case.

Working class kids, no matter what their level of intelligence, are never encouraged to converse in this way, and this seems to be an area in which schools are failing. I realise that many parents of working class kids don’t have this level of education, and don’t have the knowledge about the subjects their children are learning at school in order to get involved in this way. And that is not a failing on the parent’s part. Neither is it an unfair advantage that parents with better educational attainment encourage their kids in this way. However, what is unfair is that our education system is as such that children from better backgrounds, or those who can afford to attend private schools are being put at an unfair advantage from a very early age.

This is because schools fail to encourage poorer children to think they are capable of learning to converse in a way that encourages debate and that their opinions and knowledge can be of equal value, despite having less money or a different accent. I would like to make clear that I do not think this is the fault of the teachers. It seems to me to be a problem that has arisen because power in schools has been prescriptive and centralised, which limits teacher’s freedom to do their jobs in a way that fits the pupil. And it is certainly not a way that encourages improvement.

That national curriculum is currently being reviewed, and Michael Gove has been advised by an expert panel from some of the country’s top universities, headed by Cambridge University’s Tim Oates. However, Gove seems to be unwilling to take into account their findings and make changes that make the national curriculum fairer for all. Gove wrote in his letter to Oates following the consultation that he aims to;

‘Raise attainment for all children and help the poorest most of all’.

But, like many other decisions under the current government, there seems to be in practice a gap between what they say and what they in fact do. The poorer people in the country, once again seem to be neglected, and are from the start at a disadvantage that the education system seems keen to perpetuate.

Gove proposes to make sure his aims ‘embody our sense of ambition, a love of education for its own sake…[and a] determination to democratise knowledge’. However, he is planning a curriculum that doesn’t really fit in making this the case. Andrew Pollard, one of the four education specialists recruited in the advisory expert panel described Gove’s new curriculum plans as ‘punitive and controlling (Guardian Article, June 17th 2012). So once again the result seems to be saying one thing and actually meaning another.

Gove consistently makes reference to giving schools greater freedoms, both in his academies and in mainstream schooling, but this freedom is yet to materialise. If schools do not give teachers the freedom to teach in a way that is fitting to their pupils, then the system that currently disadvantages those from poorer backgrounds will simply continue.

In his letter to Oates, he proposes that the new curriculum will put a stronger emphasis on ‘reading widely for pleasure’ […] and children will learn to ‘master formal English through poetry recitation’. This is all well and good, but given that the expert panel were assembled in order to advise on the curriculum, and seem to be against these prescriptive measures, it’s odd that he has continued to forge ahead regardless.

Gove mentions in his letter that the new curriculum should allow ‘as many children as possible [to] lay claim to a rich intellectual inheritance’. However, by prescribing the curriculum in this restrictive manner, he assumes all children approach academic pursuits in the same way, and from an equal footing. This simply isn’t the case.

Encouraging children to learn by writ; down to prescribing them a spelling list – is not applicable, or fluid enough to engage pupils from these backgrounds. Neither does it give teachers the freedom to make education and confidence in their own intelligence accessible to working class students. For someone from a poorer background where there is not a culture of ‘reading widely for pleasure’, or reciting poetry, this kind of restrictive teaching makes what children learn inapplicable, outdated and potentially disengaging.

Once children have been put off or alienated by schooling, or taught by teachers who do not have the freedom to engage them in a way that they can really relate to, it is easy for their confidence to be knocked. And in my experience that can last a lifetime.

However, I would like to thank my lovely bloke for giving me the opportunity to meet many people who I would not have otherwise met, attend many academic functions and get involved in discussions that I would not have otherwise had the confidence to enter. Also, for making me realise that people from better backgrounds, with better educations are not as scary and incomprehensible as I thought. They are actually lovely, supportive, and simply often unaware that in the lower classes, any such lack of confidence exists.

Hopefully, if the people employed to improve the situation listen to advice, rather than assuming they are right and asking others simply as a token gesture, confidence will improve. Then whatever their background, children will have a little more faith in their ability.

 

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.

Job Interview? Good Luck…

It’s funny because it’s true. And if you haven’t watched this, you should. You’ll feel better.

What happens to logical, otherwise articulate people in job interviews? I assume it isn’t just me that has this problem.

Getting an interview is not the issue. On a CV or covering letter you can sound like a normal, functional person. The same goes for when you actually manage to get the job. Once in, you’re often just as good at it as you said you were in your logical and articulate CV (or pretty damn close). However, no matter how much experience you have, or how capable you know you can be in the role, as soon as you walk through the door and are confronted by a boardroom and a suit, you suddenly transform into some kind of rambling idiot who is more akin to someone who has been let out on day release than a potentially capable member of whatever company it is you’re applying for.

I am still plagued by the ongoing and unsolvable problem that during my day-to-day life, whatever it is I’m doing (be it checking into Hotels or doing the payroll at work) I still feel like a big kid playing at being an adult. However, it’s only when I walk into a job interview that it feels like I’ve truly been rumbled. As soon as I see the suit looking back at me, I get that long forgotten feeling of being hauled into the headmaster’s office. I can already hear the line;

‘We’re very disappointed. Now I’m afraid we’re going to have to call your parents’.

The only upside is now that I’m a proper grown up, I can choose not to inform my mother that I’ve behaved so disappointingly, and can hide the fact that I still have no idea what I want to do with my life, and therefore avoid the lecture about ‘applying yourself and having a little direction’.

This has all sprung freshly into my mind as I recently got an interview for a job a genuinely think I would enjoy, and be very good at, thank you very much. However, the interview was yesterday, and I spent most of yesterday afternoon reliving the horror in those short sharp bursts the re-enter your consciousness like a malicious pixie poking you in the head and laughing, reminding you what a useless berk you are, despite the fact that you’re doing your best to lose yourself in red wine and conversation. The interview was for a part time journalist position with a lovely little company who want to help the community, and when I read the job spec, I was really excited. Not only did it sound like something I could do, but something I would enjoy, whilst simultaneously appeasing my social conscience a bit. The initial panic set in when my interviewer mentioned he was the financial director of a company. There go the alarm bells. I forgot instantly that I am actually a manager, and I can do my own finances responsibly (well, unless I see a really nice dress or something, but hey, I’m female, that’s standard). My first thought was ‘Shit. He’s a proper businessman’. Good start. Second pitfall of the whole debacle was the mention that someone else running for the post was currently working at the BBC.

‘Not the Beeb! I can’t compete with a proper jouro from the Beeb.’

And that was it, thus began the comedy of errors. I proceeded to madly flap my hands about in a show of gesticulation closely resembling semaphore for the alphabetically challenged. The manic nervous laughter kicked in. Closely followed by forgetting my interviewers name shortly after mentioning how good I am at remembering names, which, incidentally was one of the necessities of the role. It is as if your mind has an evil, or at least playful, side with a very bad sense of humour. It’s the side that normally laughs under its breath at other people’s humiliation. I suppose it’s probably karma for laughing at the woman I saw running to catch the bus and who went full pelt into the Perspex bus stop last week. Anyway, I digress.

Basically, the result was that after doing a very convincing impression of someone unable to perform any requirements of the role, a role which I had entered the room thinking I would be perfect for, I left feeling like a small child having who hasn’t worked hard enough, and is letting no one down but themselves. At least I didn’t get a letter home. However, my little sister had informed my mother that I had an interview. She called just I had got to the pub with a consolatory glass of red to see how it went. And the conversation began thus:

‘So it didn’t go very well then?’
‘Well, I’ll wait to hear ma’.
‘You should have done more research’.
‘Yes ma’
‘And where are you? It’s very noisy. Are you in the pub? You’re not drinking at this time of day are you Natalie…’

I might just skip the middleman and say I’m grounded for a week so I don’t have to go outside and deal with anyone. Better luck next time?