Tuesday, 3 November 2009


I have, it would appear, remained lyrically challenged over the past month. I put this down to being consumed by the sensation that I’m actually, properly working again – you know, like, in a real-life office, instead of my makeshift kitchen bureau.

Unfortunately, yesterday it dawned on me that the solution to my career hiatus remains, of course, a temporary one – a thought that brought with it a cold, November wave of fresh depression. Urgh.

I proceeded to embark on a very strenuous sobbing session, which was made somewhat comical as it occurred whilst I simultaneously attempted to make a fish soup. At times I couldn’t tell if the damp sensation on my face was soup spray flying up from my hand blender or streams of tears.

Anyway, I wisely decided it was time to take solace in the television, and flicked onto these amazing images of bright blue and red sea dragons – think Dior versions of seahorses. Turns out I was watching BBC1’s Life, and this particular episode was all about fish.

I was particularly impressed by the clown fish – it's the males who look after all the eggs until they are born and if they don’t do a good enough job the female will tell them to hop it and find a better option. Clown fish are on to something there.

But the star of these ocean creatures, in my opinion, was the humble mudskipper. They have a remarkable Pixar-like appearance and at fist glance simply lollop about, chilling in slimy mud all day. But these unassuming creatures basically toil every hour god sends to eat, copulate and out-smart predators. They create these intricate underground tunnels, which every day get flooded and filled with sludgy mud, so the process of clearing them is never ending. Then they lay all their eggs in these chambers, which eventually will run out of oxygen, so they travel from one end of a tunnel to the other gasping in air and depositing it in the egg chamber. Day in day out. And they don’t complain, they just get on with the job. OK I don’t know this for sure, but it’s unlikely.

It was bizarrely inspiring – made all the more so (bizarre, that is) by the aforementioned fish soup I somehow managed to finish cooking and eat during the programme.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Hired! Sort of.

I know, I know, it’s been ages again and I’m sorry. But I’ve been very busy attempting to seem like I know a thing about style (i.e. disguising Primark/charity shop/ boarding-on-antique-they-are-so-old purchases as high-end fashion), learning to wear my hair in a very high chignon and desperately trying to not get caught eating cake or chocolate in the presence of eternal dieters. Women’s magazines are exhausting places to be sometimes. The pressure to wear augmented shoulders and bejewelled ballet flats was immense, I can tell you.

Anyway, that stint over, I have decided that the only way to get myself back into this godforsaken game of life is to employ myself. So I have and am now officially my own boss! I’ll spend three days a week in an office and two working from my own kitchen, and will be endeavouring to write a huge variety of articles on subjects ranging from dairy farms and legends of rural churches to the latest hire at a really obscure law firm in Uzbekistan. No, really.

But fret not! Under no circumstances does this mean the end of Employ-a-Bull, goodness no, what blasphemy! It will keep going just as long as this impious recession is around plaguing our lives, and who knows, maybe even beyond. Because recession or not, maximising skills, considering different options and learning new talents in order to further our careers will always be relevant – and that’s pretty much where this blog finds it heart.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I just have to go and give myself a health and safety briefing and not tell myself off for checking Facebook during office hours.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Blogging it about a bit

Below is a link to a little something I knocked up for a bloomin' great blog-style website called The London Word. Apologies in advance for always ranting about employment. Must try to diversify.

Click on me please!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Virtually my new BFF

I have a new love in my life. No, no, it’s not a man, it isn’t even a new pair of shoes, it’s a games console.

Now, if two weeks ago you’d said to me, “Rachel, I can see into the future and yours heavily features a certain computer game”, I’d have laughed you right outta town. I don’t do computer games. Then the Wii came into my life. Now I do.

I’ve blogged in the past about the loneliness of working from home, and how a lack of commuting risks serious pound gainage if you’re not careful. The Wii solves both these problems, and is oh so much more.

To be clear, I’m talking in the main about the Wii Fit.

Honestly, it’s like having a new BFF. Whenever I turn it on it converses with me quite spontaneously and even encourages me to take breaks every 20 minutes, for which I am grateful.

It is brutally truthful with me – again, another quality of a true friend. The other day it told me I had put on two pounds since the last time we met, and it made me think about the possible reasons for my weight gain. This came as quite a shock and was perhaps a step too far in our relatively green relationship, but regardless I chose “drinking too much”, and repented my actions.

It also has a built-in sense of humour. After a brief few days of non-interaction between us, it pretended to have forgotten my name – the kidder!

And it gives you credit where its due. I am currently the reigning champion of Hula Hoop and Super Hula Hoop, and for this my Mii gets to wear a crown!

What more could you possibly want from a daytime companion?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Back to school

Ok, no more excuses. The schools have gone back, green batches of freshers are about to embark on a year of testing their livers to the limit, and WHSmith’s has slashed 50% off its stationary prices. All the signs are there; we’re in September.
As a consequence, I must accept that my summer recess has come to an end. Such is the reason behind my blogging hiatus – well, that and an abundant dollop of anxiety caused by a serious state of employment limbo (what else?), but there’ll be time to go into that later.
For now, how about some News in Briefs chronicling my first week of term.

Seeing Red
There are plenty of people who would kill to be in my position, I know. A month’s placement with the features team on Red magazine is nothing to be sniffed at. But Oh. My. God. I am so over sorting post and photocopying. It’s my first day, so I know I’ll have to bide my time before I get to do any of the juicier stuff, but let me ask you this. Is it wrong that I want to stick a big fat sign to my head that reads I’M 27, HAVE HAD SEVERAL FULL-TIME JOBS AND AM A GOOD WRITER! Is it?

A lifeline
Waaahoooo! The day the workie got a by-line in a national newspaper! How often do people get to say that? I must say this brightened up the daily cuttings task no end. Because on page 22 of the Daily Mail was none other than the article I’d written on, well, on urine actually! To be more precise, it’s about a website called RunPee, that can conveniently tell you exactly when the best moments are in a movie to go to the loo. Genius. The piece was published as part of a regular slot called Lifelines. Apt. But I only discovered just how much the following day.

An aptly timed rejection
This morning brought a call I had been dreading for approximately three weeks. The terrifying rejection from a job I honestly, dangerously, believed was mine. I was shaking terrifically when I took the call – is this the end of my frugal months of job hunting? I knew instantly from the tone of voice on the other end that it was not. But instead of collapsing in uncontrollable despair, I was actually ok. This came as such a shock to me, that it made me feel even better about the whole situation, to the point where I decided I had something to celebrate and spent the evening drinking fizzy wine with a good friend. Why? It may seem like nonsense to so many of you who have been telling me this for the past few months, but I simply realised that the situation I find myself in has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a crap journalist. On the contrary; it’s because of our crap economy. So I made a decision. I’m going to carry on. I’m going to manage this situation the best I can and one day, maybe next month, maybe next year, I’ll be back in the job I really want. Until then, look out nationals – here I come!

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Desperate times call for creative measures

One thing I’m loving about this recession, (and there isn't a lot) is that it’s really bringing out the imagination in people. Sure, jobs are scarce and competition for them is ruthless, so making yourself stand out of the crowd has possibly never been more important.

Say hello to Peter Barlow. An unemployed, disillusioned accountant and my new favourite person of the week. (Never thought I’d see the day!)

With the help of a big white sign and his best business suit, this guy stood on London Bridge during rush hour every day for a week, asking city workers for a job .


For one thing, this proves that accountants have personalities. But, and lets be serious here for a second, it is also very courageous and inspiring.

He did as we jobless all do and applied for countless jobs (150 in total, or so says the Standard) through the regular, monotonous channels. When that proved fruitless, he took matters into his own number-crunching hands and advertised himself in a way that even M&C Saatchi would envy. He was successful too, going home with a pocket full of business cards and, here’s hoping, a renewed spirit.

It’s certainly given me food for thought. I mean, if this triggers an uprising against the damned covering letter, I’m there with bells on! Credit to you, Peter, and good luck.

Friday, 17 July 2009

Box-set repercussions

I am forever berating myself for not getting enough done in a day. It was bad enough when I had a regular structure and real-life objectives immortalised in my monthly appraisals. These days I generally force myself to get up – no one’s going to fire me if I don’t – and make an improbably long ‘To Do’ list in order to assure self that I’m putting every last second of my abundant free time to good use. Never works. Never end up ticking everything off said list and consequently feel perpetually angered for not working quicker. And I fear I have discovered the root cause of this problem: The Complete Seven Series of the West Wing.

I became a West Wing aficionado late in life – only last December did I begin to flirt with the idea of US politics after the boy bought the entire seven series on DVD – but oh my, I’m four and a half series in and am wholly converted.

President Bartlett and his loyal team of fast-talking, implausibly efficient and oh so beautiful advisors (Rob Lowe is almost indecently attractive) are my heroes. I want to be able to argue my case with the deputy chief of staff, citing a ridiculous amount of legal and political knowledge purely from memory; I want to read an amendment paper and digest the entire thing in two minutes before advising the President on foreign policy; and I want to speak really, really fast using complicated words while walking down White House corridors, and I want to do all this before I have eaten breakfast.

And herein lies the predicament. Every day I am subconsciously trying to emulate these characters. These FICTIONAL characters who deliver their lines to a FICTIONAL President and were created for a FICTIONAL US drama series about the White House and, importantly, get A LOT done in a single day.

Do I need a reality check?

But surely if I’m going to be influenced by any work ethic it should be that of senior White House staff? I mean, is there really anything wrong with imagining that one day I’ll be addressing a room of journalists on the President’s re-election campaign, before influencing a very important decision on international relations with the Middle East? Nah.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

What to take away from interviews

A job interview is a very stressful experience. It requires a lot of preparation and, if at the end of it you are not offered the position, often results in that empty, desolate feeling of disappointment, not to mention an empty wallet thanks to the train fare you’ll never get back.

People harp on about them “all being good experience”. Well cheers, but my interview experience bank is pretty full to bursting right now, it’s my monitory bank that could benefit from a serious credit injection.

Something I prefer to take from interviews (in addition to the obligatory “what could I have done better” crap) is the amusing anecdotes, which for some reason seem to stick in my mind.

For example, I recently had the good fortune to be interviewed by the most demeaning character I have ever come across. It was a very relaxing experience, as half a minute in I decided there was no way in hell I was going to end up working for the man, and he came out with some pretty corking lines.

An excerpt of dialogue from minute four:

“So, what’s this Global Competition Review then? You weren’t there very long, what was that an internship?”

He was referring to the longest period of employment on my CV, so that was quite heartening.

He went on to describe his publication as “utterly global” – I’m glad I now know things can be semi-global – and then accused me of lying on my CV because I couldn’t fire off 10 QuarkXpress keyboard shortcuts. So that was pleasant.

I’ve tripped up on occasion too, of course. I was once giving a critique of a very serious business newspaper to the editor and publisher, and told them that several sections resembled the terms and conditions of a competition, they were so small and boring, and that they should really consider introducing some colour onto the features pages to lift the words off the page. They laughed. I thought, ‘oh marvellous, at least I’ve made them laugh,’ until mid de-brief, I pretty much realised they were laughing at, and not with, me.

Far and away the best one-liner I’ve come across in an interview though has to be this:

“Country Companion? That sounds like a 70s style porno for countryside dwellers.”

It is in fact a very safe round up of book reviews, readers letters and countryside news regularly published in Country Living magazine. Brilliant.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Is no news really always good news?

Urgh, waiting. I don't like waiting. It's a tedious, tragically necessary pursuit one is forced into practicing at all too-frequent junctures in life. Waiting for the kettle to boil, for example, waiting for exam results, waiting to hear post-interview if you’ve been hired for a job you really want.

Often, in reference to the latter, friends delight in reassuring me that, ‘no news is good news’, to which I shrug and reluctantly agree is probably true. However, in true SATC style, it got me to thinking…

When is no news really not good news?

No news is not good news when a post-first date text message does not receive a response within 24 hours.

No news is never good news for relatives of those involved in any kind of crash/natural disaster/general emergency situation, no sir.

No news is also not good news in a hostage situation, but let’s move away from such gloomy examples.

No news is the worst news ever for a 24-hour news channel.

No news probably isn’t the best news for newspapers either, but as long as Jordan and Kerry Katona are still alive and debauched, they’ll at least be able to fill a few column inches.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

How to have a giggle and be a bit naughty at a wedding

I love weddings. Free booze, free food, everyone's happy (well, after the speeches are over) and you get to admire a lot of nice shoes. Such occasions do, however, invariably include a certain amount of hanging around, waiting for the bride to appear after being papped for the millionth time or metamorphosing into "Evening Bride", waiting for the speeches to be over, etc.

Anyway, it is at these junctures that you can indulge in what I like to refer to as 'fake careering'. The clue is in the name.

This is an especially fun pursuit if you hate your job (or indeed, wish you had one). Some people might call it lying. I prefer to think of it as creative research and an excellent tool of self-amusement.

To illustrate: More often than not, the seating plan will reveal you have been placed between two complete strangers, and it is very unlikely your paths will cross ever again. The champers is flowing and before you know it you're a make-up artist to the cast of Madame Butterfly at London's Coliseum theatre.

This is exactly what happened to me last Saturday at a friend's wedding where I knew precisely 1% of the other guests.

But I didn't stay a make-up artist all night - mais non! During the course of the evening I was a midwife, a set designer and a bonsai tree surgeon. Granted, the latter was at the height of inebriation, and whether the guy I was harping on to believed me, I doubt it, but at least it was a tad more interesting than answering “I’m unemployed” to the “so what do you do?” opening gambit, which inevitably sparks furious chatter about the severity of the recession. And honestly, who wants to talk about that at a wedding?

Weddings are meant to be dreamy occasions, so I reckon using them for a bit of personal escapism is allowed.

NB: Practice caution if it is a small gathering, or if you know over 6% of the other guests.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Hang Loose

I have a confession to make. I have become a closet fan of Loose Women. Well, closet until now I guess. How did this come about?

As a student, my daytime TV ritual started with The Wright Stuff, incorporated Trisha and This Morning, and ended with the lunchtime edition of Neighbours. It categorically did not include Loose Women, which I frivolously wrote off as a bunch of past it personalities moaning about the early onset of menopause and talking in cringe-worthy fashion about sex. No ta.

Imagine my astonishment when I tuned in – by accident – a few weeks ago only to see a glamorous new presenter, find myself laughing at Coleen Nolan’s jokes, and see that Carol-mayor of moansville-McGiffan had gone blond and bagged a toy boy! I was even giggling at the cheeky Malteser ads that appear before and after every break. When did all this happen?! I was hooked until the end of the show, and the next day a tiny bit annoyed when I saw it was 1pm and that I’d missed the first half hour.

I now make sure I have a really early breakfast so as to be sufficiently hungry to eat my lunch at 12:30pm whilst indulging in my daily dose of the loose ladies. And after shunning her for all these years, yesterday I was even disappointed to find that Carol wasn’t on the panel!

Maybe it’s because I’m older. Perhaps it’s because you let certain things into your life when you need them. Is it simply because they make me laugh or am I becoming a sad appreciator of daytime TV? Who knows? At least Wimbledon starts in two weeks and I can have a proper reason to turn on the TV in the middle of the day.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Will somebody please press play?

The blasted birthday. Just typical of it to have the audacity to fall right slap bang in the middle of my personal career crisis, now made all the more poignant by a new digit smirking away at me.

Why are we so hung up on age? Is it a female thing? Us being inherently programmed, thanks to our biological gift of bearing children, to constantly review where we’ve got to and whether we’ve ticked all the boxes on our life lists we made at the ripe age of 16.

I'm not too worried about not owning a house yet or being nowhere near walking down the isle. What I find hard is being in some kind of career limbo, and feeling like everyone else I know is whizzing past me on their respective career ladders while I stay rooted to the spot.

To illustrate: when I found out that former Apprentice candidate Deborah Barr is 23, I literally fell off the sofa. Whether it was the TV camera’s influence or not, she does look older, but regardless, to be so confident and to have arrived at such a point in her career that she was in the final three, incited in me pure panic. What have I done in the last four years? I ended up questioning my past decisions and doubting my ability to succeed as a journalist.

Admittedly, the Deborah debacle was short-lived, but what I can’t seem to shake off is this feeling that I’m on standby. That the recession has hit the pause button on my career and I’m incessantly fighting to get it back on play.

Make your commute work for you - an update

The bloomin loves at TFL know how to show they care, hey? A two-day opportunity to walk all the way into work, arrive refreshed and alert, and then make your way home either on foot or by buses so rammed you'll have lost half your body weight in sweat by the time you alight - what are the chances?! Thanks guys.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Make your commute work for you

Could it be possible that I miss my commute? Am I really pining for a bit of blatant elbow shoving and the suffocating heat of the underground?

Yes, actually. Why? Vanity is the simple answer. To clarify: Because it was a bloody effective (and my only) form of daily exercise, and I loathe to admit it but I may have gained several centimetres on my hips since the commute became a part of my former life.

I was a serious pro in commutersville. I had my journey planned down to the last second, which of course gave no time for error/customary delays and frequently saw me running to make the several connections required in order to arrive at work on time. Hence, a great work out.

Thinking about it, my commute offered every type of exercise a girl needs to maintain her figure.

Cardio: Running for bus, running from bus to train, running from station platform to tube, running from tube to office.

Resistance training: Maintaining perfect balance on said bus, train and tube, whilst simultaneously checking phone and reading book.

Working up a sweat: Northern Line. 8-9:30am.

Increased lung capacity: Holding breath on aforementioned line when faced with proximity to a large armpit.

Poise: Learning to stand a millimetre apart from all surrounding passengers but under no circumstances ever touching them.

Step and tone: Storming up and down escalators, barging those who dare to stand on the left out of the way as you go.

Weights: Heavy handbags/shopping bags ensure upper arms remain toned.

You could even take it a step further and introduce chin dips or pole dancing using the abundance of cylindrical shafts in the tube carriages. I wouldn’t recommend in rush hour but it’s something to consider.

So what are you waiting for? All you need to do now is set a PB, try to break it on every journey and watch the pounds disappear.

Don’t thank me, thank TFL.

Monday, 1 June 2009


I am losing all patience and rationality when it comes to job adverts. Can they not just get to the point? Here’s the problem. I’m a journalist - I’m used to skim reading to the fourth line of a press release and knowing if a story is contained within. Actually, I rarely have the self-discipline to read to the bottom of anything, which just adds to the frustration and anger that befalls me on reading a page of job ads. I will illustrate my displeasure using a recent example:

An ad for an editorial assistant role catches my eye. I can instantly see that the pay is good and the subject matter is interesting so I read on. Editing experience – tick, liasing with contributors – tick, working on journals – tick. I’m getting a flutter of excitement butterflies and start mentally drafting my covering letter when - bam! At the very end of the third paragraph, more than half way down the ad reads the line: “Knowledge of classical Arabic is essential.” Seriously, you didn’t think that could have appeared a tiny, weenie bit higher up?

And while we’re at it, here’s a crazy thought. Why not think out of the box a little and say what the job actually is? It would sure save us poor potential candidates a lot of time and energy finding out we didn’t want to work for you in the first place.

Take Foxton’s, for instance. A prime example of a job ad that tells you positively nothing, except that you get to parade around the city in a mini cooper – oh and that maybe it has something to do with surfing or extreme sports?

Perhaps they do it because the job itself is so utterly soul destroying that they’d rather you figure that out once you’re contracted into a three-month notice period.

Anyway, my point is please can job ads be a maximum of twenty words and include any middle-eastern language requirements in the first line. Thanks.

Rant over.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Wake up call

When I got the letter telling me I had to attend a ‘Back to Work’ session at the job centre I literally laughed out loud. Guffawed into my porridge. The very thought of sitting with a bunch of unskilled, lazy and let’s face it, probably grimy, people was, in my mind, entirely absurd. Without delay I called the office and explained in my most well-spoken manner that I really didn’t think there was any reason why I - a well-qualified graduate no less - needed to attend, and that I was quite alright searching for work on my own, many thanks all the same.

“It’s mandatory,” replied the voice. Ah, right then, better brace myself in that case.

I marched into the waiting area, praying that it would be a one-to-one so that I could quickly explain my situation and leave, only to be told gleefully by a ‘greeter’ that today’s was a group session. Great. I promptly dodged the camouflage-clad TA who were in situ trying to lure unsuspecting victims into a life of war games, and swiftly found a seat opposite a scruffy John Lennon look-alike. I could see the others out of the corner of my eye, all casually dressed, some sniffing into tissues – I almost had to ask for one, but managed to stifle the tears of humiliation.

When the session began I kept my head down and avoided all eye contact. It progressed well, just a bit of easy listening and stating of the obvious, nothing too taxing, over soon, I told myself.

Then a bombshell. The cheery women taking the session asked if anyone would like to share their work action plans with the rest of the group. Not one for sharing at the best of times, and certainly not under these circumstances, I kept schtum. “I’ll share,” piped up John Lennon. “Oh god this is going to be so depressing,” I inwardly moaned.

“I work in social care and I’m also an artist, so I’m looking for work within the voluntary sector. I’m currently volunteering for a charity and hopefully they will be able to give me some paid work soon. In my spare time I teach art to youth groups in the city.”

My head slowly rose so I could take a long look at this man. What did he just say? Before I could think anymore about it a second voice:

“I’ll go next,” said the guy sitting next to me, whom I’d written off as an out of work bouncer about 20 minutes ago. “I’m a gas engineer, so I lay new gas pipelines and do maintenance work on existing ones. I’m also a qualified builder, so my next plan is to contact the 2012 Olympic contractors to try and get some work on the site.”

Wow, I didn’t see that coming. “I’ll read,” hollered another man sitting at the end of the table. “I used to work in public procurement, but work has dried up of late, so now I’m looking to be a project manager in a related field. I’m still in touch with my old employers and they are helping me find work.”

I continued to hold my head up for the remainder of the hour.

The three men who were gracious enough to speak to the rest of us were qualified, articulate and humble. And I was surprised. Then ashamed.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Women of our time

Here’s something I realised the other day amid the daily panic and impending sense of despair that often takes hold around 10am – I figured out exactly which generation of women I am going to belong to when they write today’s history books.

You know, there were the suffragettes in the early 1900s to whom we owe our right to vote, the original ‘keep calm and carry on’ band of fearless females in the war-time 40s, the punk rockers who raged against the establishment and embraced mullets in the 80s, and now I know where I will fit into this historical female spectrum:

I will be a Recessionista!

I am a Recessionista. We, ladies, are all Recessionistas.

And so I declare to my friends and to all the 20-something good women of this country in the loudest voice I can muster via the written word: Even though you might be lucky enough to still have your jobs, we’re all going through this veritable wine drought, this time of consumer guilt and this period of waist belt tightening together. We stand and we unite at Stitch n Bitch, at the all-new Women’s Institute and on our Staycations. For one day in the not too distant future, we will be able to buy Kurt Geiger shoes again and feel the pinch on our feet rather than in our wallets, we will be able to increase our guilt-ridden carbon footprints on long-haul flights to salubrious destinations and we will also know how to knit, how to mend a broken drain pipe, how to bake banana cake and how to grow our own tomatoes.

We are the Recessionistas and we will rise again. More skilled this time, but with and equal if not heightened passion for shoes.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Shake it

Goddamnit. So the second-round interview I prepared my bloody arse off for this week will not, it has transpired, be leading to a window back into employment. For most people, such rejection tends to prompt a thorough post mortem of the entire interview to determine where might one have slipped up or what one could have phrased better, etc.

In my case, this is futile. I already know the exact moment - on entering the interview room and reaching across a table to greet my potential employer - that I wasn’t going to be offered the position. Why? I did the finger grab. The finger grab: a half handshake reserved, in my opinion, for the weak and pointless. OH MY GOD. How did this occur?

Having dissected the 0.3 seconds of aforementioned dexterous error, I have deduced that it was an unfortunate combination of a deceptively large table, the interviewers reluctance to reach too far for fear of his rather tight shirt popping out the top of his trousers and my lack of spatial awareness.

These are not excuses, you understand. Nothing can excuse a bad handshake. I interviewed an expert on the subject a couple of years ago who told me: “Even though a handshake is supposed to be a symbol of equality, one false move and it can turn into a battle for power and dominance.” Interviewers form vital opinions of you on your handshake. One false move and it’s history.

How a momentary action can hold such huge significance is somewhat angst inducing, but if you can recognise the potential areas for tripping up it’ll be much easier to avoid them in the future.

And now... for your comic and cringe-worthy pleasure, the pitfalls.

  • The crusher: By being too aggressive you’ll come across as a bit of a dominatrix.

  • The limp fish: Antithesis of above and equally disastrous as it conveys weakness and lack of personality.

  • The wet one: Clammy palms suggest nervousness and are pretty unpleasant for the recipient.

  • The over-eager: The only outcome of going overboard on the pumps will be someone’s sore right arm - not a wise move.

  • The glove: Trying to appear overly trustworthy by placing the left hand over the top of the handshake wont wash. Normally reserved for politicians - you get the picture.

  • The drifter: No eye contact makes you look indifferent and uninterested - avoid.

So what’s the magic formula? Be firm, but don’t grip, keep the angle neutral, check your palms are dry and always make eye contact - and an awareness of table width, I’m sure, wouldn’t hurt either.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Keeping it in the family

It’s not often I get out onto a motorway these days, which is generally a good thing. It's like being stuck in a monotonous, grey time warp from the moment you glide off the slip lane until you reach your exit junction. Alas, last weekend’s mini-break to the Forest of Dean required the use of a very long, boring stretch of highway, so for once there was no avoiding it.

Having exhausted our collection of CDs, I was about to nod off in the passenger seat when a colossal, blue articulated vehicle caught my eye. And not because of its gargantuan size or its proximity to our tiny Corsa, but because the name blazoned across its side read: BULL Transport.

Bull transport! If all else fails maybe they would hire me as a lorry driver! I mean, they couldn’t shun one of their own in her time of need, could they?

This prompted me to find out what other members of my extended family could potentially employ me. I found:

  • Bull Public Relations, in Windsor – great, almost on my doorstep;

  • Bull & Company Estate Agency, in St Ives – fractionally further a field but doable;

  • Bull Information Systems, in Ireland – would have to move;

  • Bull & Co intellectual property law firm – based in Norway, which is perhaps a little drastic.

But a multitude of possibilities! And if all else fails I suppose Red Bull could be my back up option...

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Because we're worth it

The headlines tonight:






So, unemployment has reached 2.2 million. And benefit claims rose in April from 57,100 to 1.51 million. Good, well my benefit guilt has certainly come back to haunt me, if not the impending sense of doom and despair.

2.2 million. What does that even look like? The entire population of Paris, if that helps.

I blogged recently about feeling lonely. Today I don’t feel lonely, I actually feel a sense of solidarity, part of a big club that no one wants to join but more inevitably will. I want to talk to the other 2,199,999 million people who have lost their jobs in this recession. I want to meet them and ask them how they feel. Do they, like me, ever feel guilty and worthless without a job?

As I’m certain is the way for many, my career is a large part of what defines me as a person. I’ve worked hard to build it up, just to have it blown down in a stiff, south-easterly breeze I’m certain prevailed from somewhere near Canary Wharf...or Wall Street.

Sometimes I look at my friends and peers, I see them flourishing in their chosen professions and I feel cheated.

Often I have to remind myself that it’s my job I have lost and not my career – there’s a big difference. My career will always remain with me, and it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be building it back up again.

Friday, 8 May 2009

A game of numbers

Trying to land a job is exactly like trying to land a man.

If you think about it, the parallels between job interviews and dating are uncanny. Here are a few examples:

First impressions

JOB: The all-important outfit, smile and handshake combo is a vital stage in the interviewer being able to decide if you’re a fit for the company.

DATE: The all-important outfit, smile and handshake/kiss combo is a vital stage in the man being able to decide if you’re fit and a bit of what he fancies.

The chat

JOB: Making eye contact, being expressive and confident, bigging yourself up without sounding self-obsessed, making your prospective employer laugh – all qualities that will help you to shine when going for that dream job.

DATE: Making eye contact, being expressive and confident, bigging yourself up without sounding self-obsessed, making your prospective partner laugh – all qualities that will help you to shine on that dream date.

The waiting game

JOB: Did they like me? Will they call? Am I going to get a second interview? Should I call them first – just to check – or should I just be patient?

DATE: Did he like me? Will he call? Am I going to get a second date? Should I call him first – just to check – or should I just be patient?


And then there’s the juggling conundrum. If, like me, you’ve forgotten how many jobs you’ve applied for over the past few weeks because there have been so many, it’s likely they will now be at different stages of assessment. Some you’ve yet to hear from, some may have invited you for a first interview, some you will have been to and are waiting to hear about a second, and so on. You weigh up the pros and cons, work out the best commutes, and consider the impact each could have on your life.

This perfectly mirrors the way we are when dating men. You juggle potential dates, first dates, second dates and maybe even going-nowhere dates just to give yourself more options. You weigh up the good points, the bad points, how easy it’ll be to get to his place, what his friends will be like etc. And the bottom line is no man need know there are any others on the scene. Although chances are he’s doing the same thing. Just like potential employers are.

It’s all just a big game of numbers at the end of the day, right?

Friday, 1 May 2009


“… And then next door’s cat did the funniest thing – she launched herself into a bush in a failed attempt to catch me a bird! I knew the bird was a present for me because I’d just been stroking her tummy for ages. Anyway, two letters came for you in the post. Mum called me at around lunchtime and I found three more jobs I’m going to apply for. I think the washing machine has broken and by the way I drank all the milk, oh and ...”

Have you ever thought about the number of people you speak to, even just say good morning, in an average day? My bet is you wouldn’t be able to remember them all. I could be having three conversations at once while simultaneously signing for the day’s deliveries at my old work and would consider it perfectly normal behaviour.

Slowly but surely, what I’ve come to notice now that working in an office is no longer part of my daily routine, is that I hardly talk at all during the day. So little in fact that when my partner gets home I can’t stop the banal diatribe that hurtles from my mouth and into his ears.

I get excited if the postman rings the bell, because it means I can interact with someone – albeit for 30 seconds. A few words and a smile from the sales guy in Costcutter is a great pick-me-up. Making phone calls also prompts much enthusiasm. Although I have to remember to clear my throat before trying to speak – otherwise all my vocal chords can produce is an unintelligible croak.

It’s lonely, this business.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Baker Bull

I was thinking today about abandoning journalism altogether and embarking on a completely new career. So I looked at which of my multitude of skills I could turn into a lucrative business.

1) Cleaning. House-proud is a very accurate way to describe me. Not quite to the point of my ever so slightly neurotic mother, but I’ll get there one day there’s no point denying it, so I could set up a cleaning business.

2) Plucking eyebrows. I was renowned for my interminable tweezer action at university.

3) Dog walking. In Argentina they have people called paseo perros, who walk about 25 dogs at once – profitable and time efficient. There is a definite market for that in East Dulwich.

4) Baking. Now this is unquestionably an asset I pride myself on. Indeed, last Christmas my mince pies were something of an event among my friends – of course I didn't mention the pastry was bought frozen.

Yes…I can see myself as a purveyor of decadent fairy cakes and sticky pastry treats. Bull’s Bakery – doesn’t that have some kind of lip-smacking ring to it?

I let my mind wander into the realms of banana cakes and vanilla slices. Have I had any serious baking disasters?

Nope, nothing of note. Apart from that time when the landlord came to do a few maintenance jobs on the house. Being the domestic goddess that I am, I resolved to greet him with the smell of freshly baked orange and almond biscuits – you know, just to prove we were tenants worthy of a rent freeze. All was going to plan until I attempted to blend whole blanched almonds, butter, sugar and orange peel in a very shallow bowl using my hand-held food mixer. Cue massive almond explosion and peel lodged in eyelid. The smoothie maker didn’t prove a much better blending option. I had to add so much milk to un-clog the mixture from the blades that my dough was pretty much liquefied. But apart from that, oh and the time I added black peppercorns instead of raisins to my fruit scones, I am an unadulterated baking success story!

Best go and buy some supplies: Cake packet mix, ready-to-roll icing, Delia’s How to cheat at cooking…

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

24 Hour Party: Peckham

In the days of regular monthly payslips, I’d only ever been to Peckham on sporadic trips to the cinema. I’d clocked the Asian supermarkets, the mobile phone kiosks and the heady smell of fish, sure, but I’d never really thought about what kind of a neighbourhood Peckham really is. I mean, what could Rye Lane offer me that I couldn’t get on Lordship Lane in a much more refined form?

I’ll tell you. A perpetual street party, that’s what.

As luck would have it, I now have another reason (aside from seeing the latest blockbuster) to pay Peckham a visit – it is the home of my local JCP (Job Centre Plus). But on my several sojourns to the high street in recent weeks, I have been greeted not with the smattering of buggies and pensioners I was expecting – quite the opposite, in fact.

Picture the scene: A carnival atmosphere cloaks the streets, music blares from Carribean cafés and people of all ages team the narrow pavements, spilling onto the roads seemingly unconcerned by the red, bendy floats snaking their way through the crowds. And here’s the best bit. The core of the entire party is taking place in none other that Argos. What’s behind the unassuming blue and red exterior is akin to Newcastle’s Big Market on a Saturday night. The collection point is four-men deep with punters wrestling for their warehouse-fresh purchases and the queue for browsing through the revered laminated catalogues stretches round the block.

This is what's going on ever single day in Peckham. Go see for yourselves if you don't believe me.

Peckham’s got it just right in my opinion. Who needs work or school when there’s this much free fun to be had on your doorstep?

Friday, 17 April 2009

Freeganism is looking tempting

One major advantage of having so much free time these days, is that you can realise many of the things that have been penned on your virtual To Do List for the past three years but never actioned. For me, that included growing my own. Oh yes, I wanted to get back to the good life, dirty those fingernails and be able to sit, weeks later, with a luscious salad in my lap in the smug knowledge that yours truly cultivated the contents. All the more poignant was my mission thanks to the now lack of disposable cash to flitter away on culinary treats.

So to work. Being the type of girl who’s always thinking ahead - either that or in my last week at work I was so fraught with the impending prospect of unemployment that I took home enough freebies to fill a small caravan - I’d already acquired a few vital packets of seeds that were knocking around the ex office. Such are the advantages of working for a consumer lifestyle magazine. I had also, wisely, put aside a couple of those plastic trays mushrooms come in, knowing that they would come in handy one day for this very purpose.

Method: A dollop of fresh compost, scatter in seeds, bit more compost, quick water and place on sunny kitchen windowsill. Took about ten minutes. Now what?

What’s that? I have to wait?! Urgh.

Three days later….

Oooo some tiny green shoots - how exciting! Both my lettuce and cress were germinating, hurrah! Am kitchen gardener of the decade!

I must admit that after this minor triumph, I forgot about my seedlings somewhat and packed myself off for a long weekend break with the family. Lord knows I needed a rest after being on Seed Watch for 72 hours.

I returned, relaxed and well watered, only to find that in my absence my little baby seedlings were not, and looked like they’d had some kind of all-weekend rave. My cress was almost three inches long, a tad yellow and drooping like old men, and in the lettuce tray an all out war was on the verge of breaking out. Call me naïve, but I didn’t realise when I planted the things that one seed equals one lettuce. I’d planted the whole sachet in a 10cm by 5cm plot and now my 40 mini Little Gems were clambering over one another, jostling for space like school children eager to jump on the bus home.

In a week all I had to show for my efforts was some dried up cress and a lettuce war. Freeganism has suddenly become a much more appealing option.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Signing on for shame?

“Do you have any qualifications, miss?”
“Tell me them please.”
“Sure. Eleven GCSEs, three A-levels, a 2:1 honours degree in French and Spanish and a post-graduate diploma in journalism.”
The reaction that followed my response – a spontaneous chuckle and raised eyebrows – was at once unsurprising and galling.
“There isn’t an option for post-graduate diplomas on the system,” replied the worker.

At 27, signing on had never been part of the master career plan. And yet, thanks to a bunch of ill-made risks taken by so-called financial leaders of the world, the rising cost of paper and a magazine company in subsequent jeopardy, for me the benefit office has recently become a reluctant reality.

The practical side of my brain persistently tells me that I ought not to be ashamed of signing on. I’ve paid my taxes and national insurance contributions consistently for four years, and am therefore entitled to a finite amount of state benefit. Yet walking through the doors of the job centre, sitting on the scratchy blue sofa and waiting for my name to be called, the assertive voice of reason dissolves into nothing. What settled on me instead like a determined migraine was shame, a sense of failure and guilt-ridden panic.

Shame because, rightly or wrongly, this country has a certain perception of someone who lives on benefits. The mere phrase ‘signing on’ denotes images of dole queues and layabouts, and my inner middle class snob was searing to not be associated with it.

Failure because losing my job – the job I’d recently beat over 100 hopefuls to and had dedicated my career to landing – was like Mr Monopoly plucking me from the board and putting me right back to the start, without passing go or collecting £200, needless to say.

And guilty panic because what I was going through at that very moment was being played out the length and breadth of the country. Every day, the rising numbers of unemployed face no other option but to claim benefits. Are we the ones draining government resources and subsequently stalling the recovery of the economy?

Without wanting to sound overtly vulgar, and probably failing, it is a likely fact that eight months ago, I would have been one of the most qualified people sitting on the claimant side of the cluttered job centre desks. But last week I doubt I was alone.

I strongly believe that I shouldn’t be ashamed of signing on, because the system exists precisely to help those in my position and we as a nation are fortunate to have it. And if, like me, the whole experience of signing on still terrifies you - so much so that you become hell bent on getting work - then maybe the system is working!