New Year, Working, Travelling, and Me.

Traditionally at this time of the year (the end, in case you’re wondering), people come together to celebrate what a majestic 12 months they’ve just had. Which would be more convincing if people didn’t whinge about New Year’s Eve itself, or if they didn’t spend the day professing what they’ll do differently in the next twelve months.

People don’t enjoy New Year’s Eve for a plethora of reasons- as Alex Turner once pointed out “anticipation has the habit to set you up”, and the hype certainly piles pressure on to have A Good Time. The expense is a massive turn off for many, and the intensely overfilled transport and venue turns what should be a cheery welcome to the New Year into a sweaty, cramped stressful night to forget. Surely, someone, SOMEWHERE is having a fabulous time, following the rules by kissing loved ones at midnight and singing all the correct words to Auld Lang Syne, but whoever this person is will certainly be the envy of thousands of hungover and bruised partygoers everywhere tomorrow morning.

This year, I’m working on NYE. Most people react to this news as though I’ve just confided in them a very embarrassing illness, when really, I’m quite happy to be busy. I love the people I work with, and if I’m lucky I might get a discarded dessert from the kitchen at some point. Plus I’m sidestepping all the fuss of a typical night out, and no mixed feelings of hungover shame or horror at realising how much I spent tomorrow morning. Win-win, really.

Coming up with a resolution can be difficult. Personally, I’m not a smoker, I rarely drink (and when I do, I only need about 3 units…) and I’d be at serious risk of blowing away on a windy day if I lost any weight. Last year, I opted for a “learn new skills” resolution- which has miraculously resulted in a Pass with Merit in Level One Mandarin (hen hao, I know). It feels like cheating to have the same resolution two years in a row, so where does that leave me?

The one thing glaringly absent from my 2011 is travel. Other than a weekend trip to visit some friends at the University of Edinburgh, a week spent at the best friend’s seaside town, and countless train journeys between my student home in York and maternal home in Huddersfield, I’ve been particularly stationary this year.

I spent an entire summer waitressing/cleaning/filing, and have not left the United Kingdom in well over fifteen months. “Wanderlust” doesn’t even come close. My friends who have been on gap years, casually popping to Ghana, hitchhiking or inter-railing around Europe, sunning themselves in all manner of exotic locations, and updating their Facebooks with photos of themselves cheerily scuba diving, hold nothing but my unadulterated envy. While I’m very happy for them all to have had these wonderful experiences, the exotic background of a Manchester industrial park office doesn’t compete, somehow.

Now, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for my experiences; I’ve never eaten as much food in my life as when I waitressed in a Chinese restaurant; and I’ve had plenty of fun discovering the wonderful city of York since I became a student here.  I just quite fancy the idea of rocking up somewhere new, living off the last 10 euros from the bottom of my rucksack, eating bizarre food and not understanding a word of the language surrounding me. Just to see how I’d get on.

So I’ll be eagerly browsing easyjet offers, and comparing reviews on hostelworld.com, and investing in a lovely rucksack to take on my travels. I’ll just spin a globe and jab my finger onto a point, then pack a bag. And now I’ve made this resolution, to travel more, public- I have the added extra embarrassment of people asking me why I’m not globetrotting if I fail, to spur me on. Bring on 2012.


Overdrafts & Being a Bloody "Adult".

Possibly the scariest thing about becoming “independent”, or worse, one of those “adults”, is having complete and utter financial control of your life. It might seem like a riot at first, being able to buy whatever you want, and the pile of beautiful yet impossibly painful skyscraper heels in my wardrobe is the perfect reminder of that. Paying for stuff yourself does make you feel all-growed-up, until you realise that you have to pay for literally everything.

There’s a conversation that every student household has once a winter, which ironically often gets quite heated. The Great Radiator Debate causes plenty of intense discussion; do you have yours on yet? How many hours a day? Did you know that she had it on ALL DAY when she was the only one in? It takes every student simultaneously aback- we have to pay extortionately to be warm. Not only that, our landlords are sending us chirpy reminders that if we don’t have the heating on and the pipes burst, they’ll be more than happy to charge us the repair fee. I blame this and solely this for the rise in Onesies.

And water! You have to pay for water! And it’s bloody expensive, especially when you consider it literally pours freely from the sky daily. When I received my first ever water bill, I felt like sodding it all and just setting up buckets outside. And License Fees! I’ve basically been watching any old rubbish on BBC3 just to make sure I get my moneys worth. And Council Tax! Which, technically, as a student, I am exempt from- but is still a terrifying prospect. I asked for a food hamper for Christmas, and that tin of mackerel is probably the most useful thing I received.

Now, the actual “adults” amongst you may be rolling your eyes gleefully at my pitiful naivety/immaturity, but please spare me. I am in the grips of being in an overdraft, and am currently resenting every outgoing that isn’t iTunes or H&M related.

The first time I went into my overdraft was an accident. I spent about 76p too much in ADSA on my lunch, and having realised this, rang my mum in a pure panic begging her to lend me a quid so I could get out. I don’t know if I was expecting Natwest to turn up and demand I pay them back immediately or else, but everything I knew about overdrafts summed up to one thing: they’re A Bad Thing.

Now, mourning the 76p stage, and coming out of the notoriously pricey festive season, any talk of money depresses me. Rent due? Oh fabulous. Next gas bill? Wonderful. January Sales? You enjoy yourself. I’ll be over here eating my mackerel on stale toast, waiting patiently for my next payday and Student Loan instalment.

Student debt is an inevitable outcome of going to University, I had been warned. But I’ve always been excellent at handling my money. Maybe I thought I’d surpass the whole scary financial aspect. More likely, though, I just forgot to count in bloody bills when designing up my Christmas budget. And now I’m in fear of checking my bank balance, and enormously grateful that Natwest aren’t nearly half as threatening as I originally anticipated. It’s hard to tell who I’m more in awe of; the friends who are sailing through life without even sniffing at their overdrafts, or the friends who are in much more debt and are breezing through their bank statements with a casual laugh and blasé shrug of the shoulders.

 I accept that I’m being a wimp about the whole thing. In fact, I’m glad I’m being so pathetic. Maybe it’s a sign of future sensible fiscal decisions. I’d like to treat it as a bit of a learning curve; the all important life lesson of How to Not Spend Money You Don’t Have. Sounds like a self-help book title. Sounds like one I could have done with reading.


The Yorker Archives… (Student Stereotypes)

Now that Fresher’s term is almost over, and everyone is pretty much settled in, you’ll be starting to notice WHO you’re living with. Obviously, you’ve all met, and you’ve all shared your most horrifying stories courtesy of Freshers Week “Never Have I Ever”, and you’ve all had to queue to use the loo. But do you really KNOW who it is that you’re sharing your oven mitts with? Fear no more,The Yorker Lifestyle is providing you with a handy guide to the seven typical characters to watch out for in your halls of residence.
*The Couple- During Fresher’s Week, this character was embodied by two people. Well forget that now, because they’ve officially become a single unit. Maybe come up with a handy combined name to refer to them, a la “Brangelina” or “Jedward”. Come complete with PDA’s and great opportunities for fancy dress ideas.
*The Drunk - Perhaps hasn’t 100% grasped that Fresher’s Week ended a while ago. Found at the Willow, or lugging their pre-drinks around to flat parties. Always comes up with fun drinking games and is great at parties, though can be a vomming-liability at the end of a night. Room full of traffic cones and empty glasses, probably doesn’t remember your name but knows that they “love you!!!”.
*The Busy One- Rarely seen. They’re always flitting between lectures, meetings with the JCRC, supervisor sessions, their kick-boxing class, dance rehearsals, volunteering at the local school and their part-time job. And that’s only the stuff you know about. Room covered in post-it notes, Facebook covered in event-invites. Has to schedule in “quality time with flatmates”. Somehow seems to know everyone on campus, and destined for future BNOC-dom.
*The O.C.D. One- The only person you’ve ever met who actually preheats the oven. Is never late, assignments are in a week early, and their bedroom is SPOTLESS. Seriously, it’s in better condition since they moved in. Owns and knows the difference between a vast array of cleaning products, and actively uses a colour coding system for everything in their life. An excellent person to befriend, as not only do they remember their own schedules, they’ve got yours memorised too. You know, just in case.
*The Genius - Seemingly effortlessly gets a First in every assignment. Resentment is natural, don’t worry. Try to remember that they do actually do all the reading, and hand in everything on time, and participate in seminars rather than sit sulkily at the back with a hangover. They frustratingly tend to be really nice, which can be difficult to accept if they do the same degree as you, but much, much better. Comes complete with a cheery modesty and a library loan list longer than your arm.
*The Posh One- Would never dream of the existence of 9p smart price noodles, never mind actually consider eating them. The only flatmate who shops at Waitrose, and the only one who owns a yacht. Speaks the Queen’s English, as well as fluent Latin. Thinks Poundland is a myth.
*The Mystery- There’s eight rooms in your flat, but there’s only ever seven of you? Everyone’s gone to bed but there’s someone in the shower? Don’t worry, it’s not a phantom flatmate, it’s just The Mystery. Origin unknown, degree unknown, name unknown. They’re either seriously shy, or have decided to not bother with you all. Move along, nothing to see here.
Chances are, you recognise at least one or two of the above characters from your own experiences. Tell us about any we’ve missed in the comments section below.

(Originally published 2nd December 2011, http://www.theyorker.co.uk/news/theknow/8049)


The Yorker Archives… (World of Work)

Gained a job or managed to scramble up some work experience rather than scavenging off parents over summer? Part-time jobs may be a blessing in the bank, but don’t count your lucky stars just yet…
You will get the awful tasks.
“Junior sales advisor” or “clerical assistant” may as well be renamed “Official tea bitch”. Worst thing is, you don’t even gain Brownie points for it. Running in and out of the office while trying to remember how many sugars Brian in Marketing takes and to only use the cup with the “special handle” for Lynn in Management might seem like a mammoth task to you on your first day, but chances are, you’ll only get a nod of appreciation. Take pleasure from the meaningless tasks to avoid death by boredom- create yourself a little world of The Filing Olympics, hiding out in the stockrooms to lengthen the walks to and from the office, and pretending the mannequins you’re dressing turn into real people when the shop’s empty…
Your boss will be terrifying.
No matter how nice they seemed in the interview; you take the wrong drinks to the wrong table, or forget to ask the customer if they want their purchase gift-wrapped, and they behave as though you’ve simultaneously committed all seven deadly sins. There aren’t any shortcuts to this one, I’m afraid. Whatever the problem, even if it’s entirely and clearly not your fault, suck it up. You’re late because the bus broke down? You should have flown to work, dammit.
You will have to suck up to everyone.
Even if you’re 100% sure that everyone in the office doesn’t know your name, never mind what you’re doing there, everyone has to be your best friend. It’s called networking, apparently. If you’re not smiling manically as you “offer” to clean the staffroom loo, you will never become genuinely liked by these people you resent…
Consider the worst shifts yours.
Working the night shift in what must be a haunted warehouse? Serving angry and vomiting drunks their fill of post-night out pizza and chips at 3am? Got to be at work by four in the morning, despite there being no known forms of public transport even stirring before 6am? I think it’s supposed to be character building, but in reality, it just makes you hate everything.
The people you work with will be the only people you ever see.
Whether you’re in a dated office with everyone at least forty years your senior, or working on a kids camp surrounded by giddy four year olds hyped up on fizzy drinks and Lazy Town; you’d better get used to it. Work tends to take up a whole bunch of time, meaning your plans of spending the entire summer lazing around in beer gardens drinking fruit cider with mates are restricted to weekends only. Make up for this by going to the “work do”. Helping carry your inebriated manager into a taxi will ease the pain of your next telling off, and hearing the guy from behind the bar attempt to rap along to Eminem during karaoke will make his awful jokes that bit more bearable.
There is, however, the major perk of pay days. Though it might seem a lifetime away when you’re wearily counting stock at 8am on a Monday morning, and even if you’re not sure it even reaches National Minimum Wage, there are people paying you to spend time here. Plus, seeing as you don’t have the time to spend any of it because you’re working all the time, it builds up into a nice little lump sum, ripe for freshers week. And who knows, you may find your dream job this way! You’re more likely to find a job that spurs you on to NEVER have to work in this field again, but you never know…

(Originally published 26th August 2011 http://www.theyorker.co.uk/news/theknow/7521)