Monday, 30 April 2012

Use of space

I found myself wondering the other night what architects from the past would think of our building uses these days. I live in a town full of big old late Victorian and Edwardian houses, too small for the aristocracy but still very large for the newly aspirant middle class. High ceilings, several floors, and a reasonable amount of outdoors space.

They would have been family homes, I think. Family in the pre-war sense; husband and wife, several children, spinster aunts, housemaids, governesses, whatever else was needed for a suitably genteel house. Most houses in that period would have kept servants – it was a very common thing to do, mostly because of the sheer amount of work involved in keeping such a big place running. Think Mary Poppins, if you will.

Nowadays very few of the houses are still run like that. A large chunk of them have been converted into nursing homes, charming buildings but a buggar to run on practical terms – staircases simply can't be widened all that much. Perhaps these are closest to the original purposes, although the staff come and go, rather than live in. People thrown together and living together in essentially the same household, while the staff snatch meals in basements with leftovers. (Yes, that last part really is personal experience.)

Some of the houses still have families in, of course. They don't have extended families – granny flats, and perhaps a cleaner and a gardener, but just one family. These days they're even more likely to just be an elderly couple rattling around together in a few rooms. Although I have nothing but sympathy for people who wish to stay in their own homes, I do sometimes think that the architect would bite through his drawing pencil when looking at this use of the space – empty, unused, and criminally helping to keep house prices inflated while young aspirant families shrink into smaller and smaller buildings.

What about where I live? The building I live in was (apparently) built in 1898, so still just about Victorian. What must have been astonishingly beautiful interiors have been ripped out and replaced by some quite shonky flats with thin walls and ceilings, and given the flat above us used to be a cannabis farm then probably quite severely changed. The buildings around us are all newer buildings – I suspect we live in the oldest on this side of the street. I think that maybe the architect would be unhappy as we live in our segregated areas, nodding on the stairways and only banding together to complain en masse about some difficult neighbours. (This may make us sound monstrous, but it wasn't your front door they were fighting with drug dealers in front of and on a few cases banging against it. Fading gentility, sometimes very faded, is the name of the game in this town.)

And yet, the other night, I wondered if maybe that was what he would have wanted. We're all very different people here, but we all constantly encroach on each other's spaces. There are at least three different nationalities represented in this buildings, with a wide variety of jobs, but we all walk up the same stairs and through our same front doors. I know the names of three of the four people living upstairs from the shouting – the fourth appears to be called 'Mummy' and very little else. We don't talk, and frankly I don't want to, but we all essentially share a house and we make it still work together.

So I wonder what the architects would make of the houses in this town today, and the way we use space as a community.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Review: Divine Women (BBC2, Wednesdays 9pm)

I have a lot of love for history documentaries on the telly. I'm often a little leery of programs that seek to Overturn Our Understanding Of History!!!1 (I'm looking at you, Niall Ferguson) but it can be a genuine pleasure when a historian genuinely seeks to shed light on an unconsidered period of history. As such, I've been quietly enjoying Divine Women, written and presented by Bettany Hughes who mostly specialises in ancient history. As a rule, that's not really my area – can't get my head around such an alien landscape. Hughes makes it sound effortless and wonderfully romantic, which is quite the skill.

This newest series looks at the role of women in religion throughout history, with previous programmes (at the time of writing, only the first two episodes had aired) on the mother goddess in various cultures, and ancient priestesses. Hughes is wonderfully enthusiastic and infectious in her joy, although she spends too often nodding away at historical experts who are a little superfluous at times.

More contentious, unsurprisingly, is also Hughes examination of modern religions and the role of women in them. I can see why Hughes takes the time to speak to experts here, as it keeps her detached from the subject.. She remains carefully detached from all she sees in terms of belief, instead looking at the effects and emotions presented rather than whether or not there was a Mary Magdalene or indeed an Aphrodite. There was a great look at the present-day traditions around the Hindu goddess Durga. I was pleased to see, however, that exactly the same 'travelogue' style was presented around modern day Christian beliefs, all academic with very little judging.

From a feminist perspective, though, I've found the programmes so far to be fascinating and a little depressing. Although women can be strong and represent often terrifying goddesses, there's example after example of women who are stomped down on and unable to expert any power or control except out of the odd ritual. Even the odd rituals have slowly been stamped out in most of the Western world, which on contemplation is really very depressing. Even as the rest of the world moves forward in terms of women's liberation (agonisingly slowly as it sometimes seems), many religions are moving backwards.

Overall, it's well worth a watch for an introduction for ancient religious beliefs and for the role of women throughout history, and I'm looking forward to further episodes.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Graduate Myth #12: You Have To Be Friends With All Of Your Co-Workers

If you work full time, you will spend most of your awake time with your co-workers. With any luck you spend more quality time with friends and family, but the unmitigating horror of full-time work is that you have to be BFFs with all of your colleagues otherwise you are a failure at social interaction.

This is... not exactly a myth. There is, like the best kinds of myth, an element of truth to it. And one I shall tread around carefully for the sake of any old or current colleagues who might stumble on this.

Working full-time does indeed mean that you will be spending most of your awake time with these people. I am firmly of the belief that this doesn't immediately translate to you having to be best buddies with your work colleagues. I am not best buddies with my work colleagues, and whilst we go on occasional work nights out, I don't want to go on holiday with them, or have lunch with them, or go out every week with them. Sorry, guys. I've had colleagues in the past, in this job and in previous jobs, who I've gone on to be real friends with, and catch up with when I can. Just because I'm not BFFs with my current colleagues, though, doesn't mean that I don't respect them, enjoy talking to them, and don't mind the odd after-work drink.

Work colleagues are, in many respects, a microcosm of real society. Some of them are scum, some of them are nice people, a small fraction of them you'll become real friends with. My first job, in Homebase aged 16, was filled with horrible human beings who didn't talk to me. Ever. The managers bitched about me behind my back. It was delightful, as you can guess, and put me off shop work for years afterwards. That said, the job I look back on with most fondness is the shop job I had in university. I'm not naming it as the company is still on my CV for reference purposes, but it had the best group of staff ever, and I miss them all desperately.

That said: one of my ex-colleagues in my current job hated me. Really, fully, truly despised me. Put in complaints about my working standards (occasionally based on truth, on more than a few occasions completely fabricated), wouldn't look me in the eye, nothing. It was weird, and unpleasant, and I'm not sad she left. (Or that I gatecrashed her leaving do, which I naturally hadn't been invited to. Petty but hilarious.) Then again, it was only one person, and the rest of my colleagues were very supportive over it.

Don't let one person force you out. However, if you hate – and I do mean completely loathe – all of your colleagues, then to be honest it's not the job for you. Jobs, logically, attract roughly similar people, and there should be at least a few bits and bobs in common, enough to see through the day and the odd chat over the kettle. If all you do is sit at your desk and plot the deaths of those around you, then that should dictate a culture clash high enough for you to start seeking new employment – fast. Put it this way. Did you get on with every single person on your course at university? Of course not. But you could still be in a room with them. That's what counts.

FULL DISCLAIMER: Obviously if you are a current or ex-colleague reading this, I clearly don't hate you. No, not even you, B, who I talked about above. Your loathing was completely one way.

Unless you worked at a very particular Homebase around 2003 and 2004, then I probably hate your soul. So you know.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Undergraduates: stop panicking! A bit!

Many final year students are heading into the pre-graduation depression phase. Jobs and further study courses all seem hopeless, dissertation deadlines are looming, and the issue of where to live next year seems like it will never be resolved. You have to start getting out of bed early soon and NOTHING FUN WILL EVER HAPPEN AGAIN.

The only reason I'm not calling this part a graduate myth is because it mostly concerns undergraduates and there's only so much I can calm your nerves, given this blog is called the Disorientated Graduate. Look, being a graduate, on balance, isn't as fun as being a student. You have to pay council tax, for a start. And this time of year is a bloody horrible one. Here are some survival tips and hopefully some slightly encouraging words. (I'll try to keep council tax discussions for a minimum.)

1. You have to finish your degree first! This is important! You have worked for several years towards the degree, and now is the time to buckle down. Yes, it's as much fun as a brick to the head, but it's a very satisfying feeling to hand in a fully bound dissertation, and finishing exams is a sweet, sweet day. I got so drunk in the afternoon after my last exam (with lecturers, natch) that I forgot how to get home to the house I'd lived in for two years. (I found it in the end, but had a very peaceful twenty minutes sat on a kerb trying to work stuff out.)

Seriously, though, you've spent years at the place, you might as well try to come out with a degree. Logically you're reasonably intelligent and worked hard to get into the place to begin with, so you may as well not have all those years wasted.

2. You may not have a job yet, or have heard back from the post-graduate course. You may not have bothered applying. This was an unwise move, but there we go. Get your head down and start applying right now. Speak to your careers advisers. You probably still not find something, but having applications in is a good feeling, and filling out those deadly dull forms is good experience. No, really, it is.

N.B. If you have a job lined up, or a post-graduate role, than congratulations! You are awesome, and be proud of your achievement! Don't be a dick about it though. I know someone who got onto a successful graduate scheme and is now complaining to anyone that will listen that 'they're too good' for accountancy. Fuck that noise. If you don't want the job, don't apply for it. Don't turn it down because buddy, unemployment is a lot less fun. Also all of your friends hate you now. If you hate the job after doing some time in it, that's a different kettle of fish, but don't wipe it off straight away. Also, as a recent graduate, you're not too good for ANYTHING just yet. You've seen the youth unemployment figures, right?

3. Don't worry right now if employers and universities haven't got back to you. This application is the most important thing in the world to you, but not to them. They will get back in due course. Send a polite e-mail, perhaps, but don't nag and don't waste hours fretting.

4. This is no way cancels out the first point, but do try to find time for socialising. Graduate life doesn't have that sense of student camaraderie, or not as often. Enjoy it!

5. Try not to worry too much. At some point things will start falling into place, at least a bit. Don't listen to everyone who tells you that things will be magically amazing when you graduate, because that's a lie. You will have to work, and work hard, but it isn't all council tax and bleak unremitting horror. You can put the heating on, and go on holiday occasionally, and that really is all quite exciting when you think about it.

Now try and ignore my blog for a bit, because you need to believe in point 5 to get you through the last bits of university and I suspect that I may be more bitter than usual until the kids in the flat upstairs start sleeping through the night, or the mad busy seasonal work in my office lays off a bit. One or the other would be a relief.

Friday, 13 April 2012


I can get very prickly about language used towards me. I swear like a motherfucking cunty sailor, when left to my own devices, and when I'm stressed it gets even worse. I can swear fairly aggressively at people when I need to as well.

Here's the thing, though; I am of the opinion that swearing is a great stress relief. Honestly, it does the soul good to release a torrent of semi-taboo words, particularly when it's inventive. I will never be Malcolm Tucker in terms of bile, but that's the way of these things, what with life not being scripted just yet.

Certain words, though, are less good. They're innocuous words in their own right, but it's the way they're used. In many ways, you see, I'm lucky; I'm white, British, essentially middle-class. A lot of innocuous words slide right over me. There are words used towards me, though, that drive me mad. Babe. Girl. Queen. Honey. These words are okay out of context, and indeed used at me are still okay too, depending on who it is who uses them. My mum called me 'love' is okay. My husband calling me 'honey' isn't insulting, as I know the context.

Strangers, though? Oh, that is not cool. I went to the recycling centre to do a massive recycling trip at the weekend. I drove, as Mr DG doesn't have his license, and frankly I tend to keep on top of the recycling more than he does anyway. It was a Saturday, so it was busy, something I was expecting. A council worker was at the gate, and motioned for me to wind down my window.

“It's quite busy,” he told me. “That going to be a problem for you, girl?”

I prickled. “Excuse me?”

“It's busy, will you be alright girl?”

I don't want to be called madam at the recycling centre. Good grief, I work in a periphery of the building trade, I speak fluent builder. I know that the meaning behind the words wasn't insulting – there was a kindness there, in fact. What made me prickle was that he'd seen me driving, assumed I would panic (I have been driving for over seven years now!) and referred to me as 'girl'. He certainly wouldn't refer to Mr DG as 'boy'.

I get this in work a lot. One customer called me 'babe' that often I very politely flipped out, and pretty much shouted back “MY NAME IS ACTUALLY DISORIENTATED GRADUATE THANK YOU” although I didn't shout all I wanted to shout, which involved me howling that I didn't appreciate being named after a child and also that I didn't need to have any feminine specific names thrown at me in a professional context.

Obviously directed insults are a different thing. Call me a bitch, a slag, anything like that to my face and I have a comeback. Call someone else a racial term around me and hell, I'll do some shouting there too because I find those words despicably insulting. But call me babe, girl, anything like that, I don't know what to do, because those words are more insidious. They belittle me, put me in my place, make sure I know who I am. It's not deliberate, it's just one of many subtle ways that society conspires to make sure we're stuck with who and what we are, and as a rule it's not done with any great malice.

If anyone has any suggestions about how to deal with this (I can hardly shout my name at everyone who does this) then I'm appreciate them.

Monday, 9 April 2012

The Budget, weeks after everyone else got there first

Bloody hell, George Osbourne, that was a hell of a Budget to go and sneak up on us.

I appreciate that the Budget happens at the same time every year, and that the political analysis has been done to death, and everyone else has already said their bit on it and moved on, but, well, it happened while I was getting married and I've only just twigged in the last week or so that perhaps the wider world might not have given a toss.

(That said: I did have a piece published by Offbeat Bride on How To Handle The Bride which is probably the most well-read thing I've ever written. I wrote it as a venting exercise, not expecting it to be featured in any way, so it's even under my jokey pen-name that I use for other internet stuff. Ah, the irony. Still, that's what I was up to in my time away.)

However, I still feel it's worth commenting on this Budget because in a nasty and shameful little way, it was a really good one for me. I am now paying less tax. Because if there's anything that able-bodied young people with no children need, it's to have a tax break paid for by less tax credits for young families, right?

I am aware of some sort of logic behind this tax break, in a twisted and horrible way. Basically, people in their twenties, not on a great deal of money, need some more disposable income. We're most likely to spend it, or even better shove it on one of the magical new 5% deposit mortgages the government appear to be promising. (The thought of even having that 5% deposit is hilarity making to everyone I know, but that's an aside.) Besides, we're all being so comprehensively screwed in terms of extra money on booze, fags, pasties, petrol, everything, that surely all the books balance out, right?

I don't want to pay more tax. That's the sad truth of it. I recently received a bonus in work, and spent three days howling with incandescent rage at how much money had gone on tax and on student loan repayments. I wouldn't dodge tax, and I am aware of my social obligations surrounding it, but my goodness, tax going out is a bit of a pinch.

I'm not all Tea Party about this, wilfully refusing to understand that without tax we wouldn't have any of the formal structures of government. And I'm pleased that my tax provides the safety net of the welfare state, which I have used before now and will hopefully still be there for me if I need it again. What worries me is that there are tax breaks being found for the individual, i.e. me, and yet still swinging cuts to services.

One or the other please, Mr Osbourne. One or the other. Both almost makes me begin to think that the cuts are ideologically driven as well as economically driven, and we can't have that, surely?