Catching arachnophobia #NaBloPoMo

Yesterday I blogged about my experience of overcoming my neuroses and successfully travelling to the US for work. As part of this trip, I also had an encounter with a lesser fear:

spider

They have freakin’ MASSIVE spiders in Florida.

I have no objection in principle to the exciting plethora of other species which cohabit our planet. But I have by custom and habit somewhat limited my up close and personal interactions with them. I am fully aware that in the UK this is a rather overly cautious approach, as there are really not that many things which can kill you. Outside the green and pleasant land I call home however, all bets are off. Florida is basically a swamp, and swamps are full of terrifying creatures. Like frogs. I’m pretty sure the most venomous animal on the planet are frogs. I could google this to check but I’m tired and I want a bath so I can’t be arsed to do proper research right now, ok?

Alright, I just googled it. It may not be a frog. It may be a scorpion. Or possibly a snail, although that really is less threatening, and I would have thought, easier to evade than anything which can scuttle or hop. I’m getting off topic, and I really want a bath.

My point is that I didn’t used to be arachnophobic, although even in my more spider-tolerant days I like to think I would have had the sense to avoid something black & yellow. But, before I met Terry, I was pretty ok with our 8 legged friends. I’d could even pick up the smaller ones and remove them from my vicinity. Larger, hairier ones would get the glass and cardboard treatment, but that’s totally normal.

At the start of our relationship I kinda got a kick out of rescuing him from creepy crawlies. Prompting receipt of this lovely Edward Monk card early on:

As time went on though, I internalised his fear. I had heard that in long term relationship you sometimes start to share attributes. Ideally I would have got something a bit more useful, such as the ability to touch type, or something awesome like his flawless Chewbacca impression. But no, the main habit I picked up from Terry was the urge to run screaming from spiders.

Well, that and blogging.

Business trip #NaBloPoMo

In December 2013 I blogged about how I had spent most of that calendar year finding a new job. I actually posted that one on Christmas Day. I was obviously killing time before Doctor Who started.

When I handed my notice in at my old job, one of the reasons I gave was that the new job included the opportunity for international travel. In the 5 years of my previous role, I had one overnight trip to the National Science Learning Centre and the new job was dangling the tantalizing prospect of a trip to Florida. As it turns out, I ended up flying to New York first, prompting this Facebook status a couple of weeks ago:

Screenshot from 2014-11-02 11:23:50

Awesome right? I was now officially an international jet setter! I was getting paid to travel to New York, where I would co-deliver a couple of general graduate study recruitment sessions, then fly down to Florida where I would tour 4 of the universities with whom I have been working all year, promoting a specific scholarship & meeting with some (very) high ranking members of those institutions to discuss the strategies for raising awareness of this opportunity to their students.

As I posted the above update on Facebook, I remembered that conversation with my former employers about the opportunities this new role would afford me. Here I was, finally about to embark on this exciting experience which was the primary reason I had given for jacking in my old job.

There was just one problem. This was a complete lie. I wasn’t excited. I was terrified.

I didn’t take the job at Oxford because of the possibility for international travel. I took it in spite of that possibility. I very nearly didn’t apply for the job at all because the prospect of taking a trip like this was so scary. Eventually I reasoned that there was every chance that it simply wouldn’t happen. Business trips like this get cancelled all the time for a variety of reasons. I applied for the role as the rest of it sounded genuinely interesting to me, and I thought I could do it well, but I told myself that the line in the job description referencing overseas travel for recruitment purposes was probably only there to entice prospective employees. Even if a trip did take place, I reckoned that there were plenty of other far more senior people who would manoeuvre themselves to go in my stead.

So when the preliminary meetings started being held in early 2014 I made a point of saying that if it all fell through (as I expected that it would – although I kept that part to myself) I wouldn’t be too cut up about it. I contributed my expertise, talking about which universities had been particularly engaged and figuring out which ones to visit. I researched flights and dates and hotels. And somewhere along the line I started to envisage what it would be like to actually do this.

It was probably around early Spring I realised that if I really didn’t think I could cope with this trip I had to speak up before we got too far into the arrangements. Which would mean admitting that I had never wanted to go in the first place. It would mean betraying the trust my new employers had placed in me when they offered me the job. And, more than that, it would mean knowing that I had let my nerves and neuroses get the better of me and actually stopped me from doing something.

And so I made a decision that, even though I had been lying through my teeth when I told my previous boss I wanted to travel, even though I had almost convinced myself that the trip would never come to fruition, and even though the thought of boarding a plane was still making me break out in a nervous sweat, I was going to go on this trip. It would be hard, it would be scary, it would be tiring but I was going to do it. I wasn’t going to let my fear get in my way.

Bravery is sometimes described as the capacity to ‘feel the fear but do it anyway’. As the Doctor puts it during a recent episode, humans have a superpower-esque ability to forget their feelings. I don’t think that’s always a bad thing. The feeling of fear was transitory, but the fact that I took the trip anyway is an achievement that will be with me for the rest of my life.

Jet lag #NaBloPoMo

I flew back from Tampa, Florida yesterday morning after spending just over a week in the US on business. I had woken up at 05.30 Eastern Time the previous morning in an attempt to maximise my chances of catching some zees on the plane. In an unexpected act of financial generosity my workplace had sprung for premium economy seating for my overnight return flight (actual business class was out of the question – I work in the public sector) and I had selected my bulkhead seat on the BA app a week earlier so I had all the legroom necessary for my 5’4” frame.

Thanks to the combination of my trusty neck pillow, the foot rest, a gin & tonic followed by a perfectably acceptable red with dinner, and my sheer exhaustion from the trip, I actually managed to lose consciousness for a good couple of hours somewhere over the Atlantic. My plane landed early, border control was well staffed – so no queueing, and I collected my suitcase in record time. These minor miracles all resulted in catching the coach from Gatwick to Oxford an hour earlier than the one I had expected to be on. In a final confluence of serendipity the clocks went back in the UK while I was away, meaning that the time difference shrank for 5 hours to 4, thus making it 20% easier to adjust back to GMT on arrival. Never before have the deities of international travel made it so very easy on me.

I hadn’t counted on doing anything this weekend. The whole 48 hours had already been written off to allow for the symptoms which normally accompany my jet lag; alternating between shaking, weeping and swearing at anyone (usually Terry) who, with my best interests at heart, refuses to allow me to go to bed at 5.30 in the evening. Instead, I stayed up last night until 10pm (which is pretty close to my normal bed time – night owl I am not) and slept more or less solidly until 8.15 this morning. I now have a free weekend stretching out in front of me, unstructured and free of obligations, with which I can do anything, as long as I stay awake until tonight.

So, perhaps rashly, I am going to take a shot at NaBloPoMo again. I did this 2 years ago, and found it to be difficult but very rewarding. Since moving to Oxford my blogging output has diminished to almost nothing, although ideas continue to percolate. So for the next month I will, attempt at least, to publish a blog post each day. The majority of these will be written on the fly, although I have several drafts saved from the past year or so, which will get roughly kneaded into some kind of shape and then offered up at the alter of micro self publishing.

At best, I hope this will rekindle my enjoyment of writing, and of sharing my ideas. Too often I let the maxim “better to be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt” prevent me from sharing my views. It’s still something I find scary, but I have spent the past week living a rather different maxim, “feel the fear but do it anyway” and I want to continue in that vein.

And at worst? At least it might help me stay awake.

Support

Amongst the outpouring of grief, celebration of life, & criticism of other people’s reactions (see Richard Herring’s Twitter feed) an interesting but ultimately rather sad discourse emerged today about the nature & treatment of mental illness. On the one hand, there has been the expected contingent of uninformed trolls, spouting offensive crap demanding to know how it can be that a rich, sucessful, white, male celebrity has the timerity to be depressed about anything. How dare they!

There have also been the more compassionate voices pleading that anyone out there with suicidal thoughts remembers that support is available, and that they don’t have to suffer alone.

Concerningly though, a 3rd strand to this discussion has bitterly sought to highlight that this so called ‘support’ is frequently unavailable or inadequate.

I have quite a few friends who have varying levels of mental health issues. Some of them feel that they have received a decent level of treatment from their medical practitioners. Others have struggled to get any recognition for their problems at all. From this I surmise that it is something of a crapshoot as to whether you will receive the help you need, even if you are in a state to both acknowledge that help is needed and to ask for it.

One might be forgiven for coming away from the media (both social and er, the old fashioned kind) today feeling dispirited about humanity, in large part because of all the other atrocities taking place around the globe at the moment, and not just the tragedy of one beloved performer. And for all the well meaning messages about asking for help, if you don’t have any confidence that the help is there even if you do ask for it, I imagine that is of limited comfort.

I have no direct experience of mental health support, so I don’t feel remotely qualified to state that the current provision is or isn’t working, other than my 2nd hand experience of other people who clearly think that it’s not all it could, or should, be. I do think this is one of those cases where it’s easier to measure failure than success. That the headline grabbing times when nothing works can drown out the daily occurances of people fighting and winning against the black clouds that surround them. When just getting through the day is an achievement, I can’t imagine how much harder it is to feel like you’re surrounded by people saying the whole system is broken.

Someone I know suggested on Twitter today that if you don’t suffer from mental health issues then take the opportunity to reach out to someone who does. So to any of my friends who need it, consider this an open invitation. I can’t guarentee I can help. I can’t guarentee anyone can help. But I am happy to try.

On Stewart Lee

I want to find Stewart Lee funny. He’s clever, he’s meta, and he’s not popular enough to count as mainstream so liking him still has a certain cache.

I read his book a while ago when he talked about zooming out from the comedy so you can see the writing in the margins. I can see where he was going with that. I listened to his bit about how he could be a librarian but you’d have to understand how traditional librarians operated in order to really ‘get’ how his brand of librarianism worked. That was pretty funny. I enjoy the quasi-confessional, quasi-therapeutic moments with Lee discussing his method with Armando Iannucci on Comedy Vehicle (although latterly some bloke in glasses because Iannucci appears to be busy with Veep these days.) I appreciated that.

The problem is that I kind of don’t find Lee funny. I cast no aspersions on his artistic integrity or intelligence. He clearly has both in abundance. But I can’t really get over the fact that for every 7 minutes of performance there’s approximately 45 seconds worth of actual material.

The past 25 minutes have cemented this for me. Because I’ve had a tough day at work, & I decided to have a few drinks this evening. I am, as a matter of fact, slightly tipsy. And I’ve realised that I have laughed more in the past 25 minutes at Stewart Lee than I ever have before. Stewart Lee is funnier when I’m pissed. Which is usually the mark of a substandard comedian. Lee got funnier the drunker I got. I *want* to like him, but the evidence suggests that in order to do so I have to engage with him on the same terms as I would with, say, Russell Howard.

I don’t get that with Richard Herring. He tells better jokes about exponential mathematics. And the drunker I get when watching Herring, the less I realise I’m understanding. I find that funny.

Kissing Grandparents

I just read a brilliant article on the Guardian. Last year I might have just shared on Facebook with an exuberantly punctuated ‘This!’ But a) saying ‘This!’ is a bit passée now or so I am given to understand, and b) I’m starting to get a bit of time back to do some blogging and this is as good a topic as any to kick off the New Year.

So, tl;dr the article contends it is contradictory to teach children about consent and maintaining control over their own bodies whilst ‘forcing’ them to bestow physical affection on Grandparents (or for that matter any other relative.) This is a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree. Furthermore I was impressed at the clarity of Barbieri’s argument, and the inclusion of the disclaimer at the start, presumably designed to mitigate against the criticisms which sadly would come anyway. I was disappointed by the comments expressed horror that the author dare condemn such innocent activity, branding her opinion ‘perverse’ and ‘troubling’.

Once I stopped spluttering with indignation and exasperation on the writer’s behalf I started to unpack why I was having such a strong reaction. Firstly it’s because I feel she is quite definitely, uncontroversially, correct. It is inherently contradictory to teach children that they should have autonomy over who touches them and how, whilst at the same time placing social pressure on them to kiss & cuddle family members against their will. Whether or not that is a contradiction which society chooses to accept is perhaps a matter for debate but nevertheless it is surely undeniable that to do this is teach children a certain behaviour is bad unless an adult chooses to override that for their own spurious reasons.

Secondly, contact with another person doesn’t have to be sexual to be unwanted. Despite the interpretation of this article by many of the commenters, Barbieri does not say anywhere that hugging between family members has a sexual component. Insisting that if a child does not want to kiss granny then he shouldn’t have to, does not imply in any way that granny has paedophillic designs on her grandson. What it is doing however is teaching the child that their feelings about whether or not they want a particular form physical contact is, if not irrelevant, then at least secondary to the feelings that an adult has on the matter, whether that’s hurting Uncle’s feelings or embarrassing Mummy because little Timmy suddenly shies away from a whiskery peck like a spooked horse.

Thirdly, what kind of well-adjusted adult is incapable of forgoing their own whimsical preferences if it’s upsetting to a young member of their own family? I suppose I can understand that an adult might feel a momentary sense of rejection if their well intentioned display of affection is met with a less than enthusiastic response. But if a child says “No, I don’t want to” then, seriously, what kind of responsible adult responds with anything other than “Ok, you don’t have to”. Said, I might add, in a manner which clearly respects the child’s wishes as opposed to a pleading, emotionally blackmailing display of disappointment designed to guilt the child into doing it anyway!

Children can be capricious, hurtful, mean and self-centred, and part of responsible parenting involves teaching them about how other people’s feelings matter, and the importance of being polite. But surely learning that autonomy over one’s own body is important is the foundation for learning that on must respect the autonomy of other people as well.

2013 – the year I got a new job.

In a rare moment of wakefulness past my usual bedtime, I saw in 2013 with some good friends in Woking. It was a lovely evening at home, made all the more festive for the bottle of Lanson Black Label champagne. I was fairly relaxed after my customary Christmas break stretching from Christmas Eve through to 2nd January (one of the perks of working in the Higher Education sector – Universities tend to shut down completely over the festive period.) But I also felt nervy about returning to work.

Since about September 2012 my colleagues and I had been trying to do our work, but substantial change was in the air and it’s hard to stay focussed when you don’t know what your job will consist of a few months down the line. We had been faithfully promised that we would know our fate by the time we broke up for Yuletide. Whether the news was good or bad, decisions concerning the new operation would have been made, and planning would start in earnest. To no-one’s tremendous surprise the deadline came and went and nothing actually happened. So we all sloped off for the break none the wiser.

Come the end of January Terry & I headed off on a proper holiday. Still we knew nothing, and by now we were getting pretty bored of being jerked around by the DfE. I returned to work in early February, established that we still had no idea what our jobs would be, if we would want to do them or even if they would actually exist. And that’s when I started thinking.

At this point I had worked at the Institute of Education for four and half years, administering a programme of Continuing Professional Development to teachers and technicians working in Science education. It had been a varied role, I had learned a lot, made some very good friends and generally enjoyed it. But returning to work that February for the first time I realised I really didn’t want to go back into that building. Not just the normal end of holidays blues, but a deeper malaise signifying that I was no longer happy in my job.

But there’s a recession on. I was bloody lucky to have a job at all, and it felt childish to indulge in existential angst about whether every waking moment spent within those solemn grey concrete walls was any fun. Plus whatever lay ahead it was likely to involve a lot of work, and I was riddled with guilt at the prospect of leaving friends and colleagues in the lurch. So I spent an unhappy 6 weeks miserable, bored, anxious but in a state of semi-denial that anything was wrong. My ever-patient, ever-supportive husband gently suggested that I polished up my CV and started seeing what jobs.ac.uk had available. In the meantime work was getting worse; everyone was tense and short-tempered and now in March we were still in the dark about what would happen in the Brave New World as we not-very-cheerfully had taken to calling it. Eventually I saw sense and agreed the time had come to Start Looking.

In a break with tradition, Terry was staying still, career wise, and getting on pretty damn well at O2 in Slough. So we figured out where I might be able to work which wouldn’t drag him away. Analytical types that we are, we overlaid the UCAS map showing all HE institutions in the UK with the Mapumental tool which draws circles according to commuting times via public transport and another which shows distance by driving time. With our parameters set, 3 areas seemed likely candidates: staying in London, moving to Reading or moving to Oxford.

I wasn’t crazy about sticking with London. South West Trains’ quality of service had been steadily declining, in direct opposition to the cost of the tickets, and I was aware that the daily grind of the commute was not helping my mood. I submitted my first job application to Reading on the 1st April 2013. I didn’t hear anything back, (correctly) assumed I hadn’t been shortlisted, asked for feedback (was told I had been a decent candidate but it was a very strong field blah blah blah) and resolved to Carry On Looking.

A few scant weeks later I put myself forward for a job running one of the largest and most prestigious scholarships at the University of Oxford. I was stunned to be shortlisted, which consisted of a substantial pre-interview task, a pre-interview computer test, a presentation and then the interview itself. It was hands down the most gruelling job application process I had ever gone through, but it seemed to go well. Really well actually! I left feeling cautiously optimistic, and then, because it happened to be my birthday, I went to the pub and got drunk.

I received the rejection letter at 16.15 the following day and had a beautifully restrained little cry in the corridor at work (think Emma Thompson in Love Actually!) There was the normal gubbins about the panel having a really tough decision to make and would I please consider other posts. Blah blah blah.

Ever my guiding star – Terry had a different interpretation of this missive. Where I had assumed polite smoke-blowing, Terry was sure there was real intent behind the invitation to apply for another position which had been advertised at the same time. And so I re-jigged the stuff I had submitted before, hit the Send button, and waited.

Whatever they had liked about the previous application was clearly still there, as I got shortlisted again, and went through the whole pre-interview rigmarole once more. I was a little better prepared, a little less nervous and felt like I had given the best account of myself possible in the interview. I felt optimistic, but was determined not to get my hopes up too high. A friend was celebrating her birthday in Soho that evening, so I resolved to make my way back to London and get drunk.

Which is in fact what transpired, except that during the intervening 2 hours The University of Oxford rang up and offered me the job and my life changed.

I handed in my notice, hunted for, found and bought a house in the 3 months it took me to leave my job and moved to Oxford 11 days prior to starting in the Graduated Admissions and Funding team. I’ve barely stopped since, what with learning the ropes of my new role, settling into the house, and getting to know a brand new city. As such, many other things such as blogging and going to the gym have fallen entirely by the wayside, so I hope to start easing my way back into normality in 2014. It’s been a turbulent year, but I can honestly say that while I am exhausted, I am finishing 2013 much happier than when I started.

#Techmums

#Techmums was featured in the Guardian today, which is great news for Dr Sue Black who is its founder. I confess I tend to avoid anything overtly referring to Motherhood as I generally feel it’s not going to be of much interest to me. But having read a bit more into the kinds of issues Sue set out to address when #techmums was created I think I have a better grasp of what she’s trying to do and why it’s important. So I unreservedly applaud her efforts and wish her the best for her venture.

Having said that I was conscious of a prickling of discomfort as I read the Guardian article on the bus this morning. Not because of the content of the piece, but the because of the section of the paper (well, website) where it appeared. It was in Life and Style. Not technology. And for a moment I felt rather indignant on Sue’s behalf. How dare they relegate such an important issue to the ranks of recipes and sex tips?

Then it occurred to me that perhaps it was under Life and Style because those are the sections that its target audience read. I can be a little slow sometimes. And no sooner than this thought crossed my mind I wondered why I had it in my head that appearing in a different section to the one I expected was in any way a relegation. Why would I have it in my head that recipes and sex tips are somehow intrinsically less important than technology? In fact I actually think quite the opposite – I think that eating well and having fulfilling relationships is actually rather more important than the features on the latest version of the iPad.

I sincerely hope that #techmums is a success. I hope that it doesn’t suffer from the easy inclination to dismiss tech as ‘not counting’ because it appeals to Mums (or school kids, or old people, or any other demographic). In fact I really hope this ushers in a new age of inclusivity in the tech world. And I hope that at this amazing project helps other women on the road to finding an interesting and life changing new skill.

Was going to university worth it?

Around this time of year I feel pretty smug. I remember getting my A-Level results, 13 years ago, and the prospect of never having to go through that again is wonderful. (And the prospect of not having to through it again by proxy is even better. “Not having to deal with exam results” is one of my many, many reasons for not wanting to have kids.)

13 years ago I was already in possession of a rather dismal D grade AS level in Psychology (back when they were proper AS levels that were the same difficulty as an A Level, just half the syllabus.) I was properly nervous about getting my results, thanks to a combination of making some rather questionable decisions about which A-levels I would do, having a later-than-normal teenage rebellion phase, and realising far too late that maybe I wasn’t quite as clever as I thought I was. I was over the moon to get an A in English Literature, slightly disappointed to get a C in German and absolutely stunned to get an E in Maths – given that I had assumed I had failed that entirely. As per the standard instructions I immediately phoned the University of East Anglia to see if these were good enough to confirm my place on the Philosophy degree course I wanted to do. I think my offer was BBC, which by my calculation I had met in terms of UCAS points, but not in terms of the configurations of results so I was extremely relieved to find out that I had the place I wanted.

At the time, my relief was mostly to do with the fact that my then-boyfriend, a rather older gentleman (well, 27 to my 18) , was living in Norwich, and I was quite exited at the prospect of living in the same town as him. Unsurprisingly this relationship lasted just a few scant weeks into my university career and we mutually called it a day. Fortunately Norwich is large enough that we didn’t keep running in to one another! A mere couple of months after that, I started seeing the man who I would later marry. So much as I despise Boris Johnson for saying it, if I’m honest with myself, I kind of did go to University to find a husband.

There’s a lot of advice swirling about for prospective undergraduates, some of which seems sage, and some of which is utter gubbins. There’s usually some newspaper columnist waxing lyrical on how he/she didn’t go to University, and they did ok. According to some pre-emptive strikes on Twitter, this is usually written by reasonably privileged individuals whose experience of the ‘University of Life’ is probably, to put it kindly, atypical. At the other end of the spectrum there are the college cheerleaders who bang on about how nothing gives you a better start in life than spending 3 years drinking beer, occasionally turning up to class, joining footlights and then getting discovered by Granada television studios. Or how writing a 10,000 word thesis on the legacy of the Great American Novel whilst accumulating a debt which is larger than a small mortgage is a really good idea!

The truth is that most people love talking about their own experience, and most people like to think that this can be extrapolated out to a world view which will be valuable to everyone else.

So, I am speaking purely from my own experience, and don’t expect this to help anyone else out of a dilemma. Was going to University worth it?

I’m a bit embarrassed now to think that at 18 I was more excited about hooking up with my older boyfriend than I was about actually going to university. (In the short period between us breaking up and meeting Terry, I wised up a lot about how relationships, and how stupid it is to utterly define yourself and your future by another person.)

On the other hand, my (current) relationship is one of the best things to come out of my university years. So for that reason alone, yes it was worth it.

University meant getting to mix with a wide range of people. A diverse social circle might not sound like the most important aspect of higher education, but I really think that learning to get on with different kinds of people is one of the most important ‘life skills’ a person can develop. At the ripe old age of 31 I pride myself on being a pretty open-minded kind of women, and I credit that in no small quantity to the fact that I’ve met a wide variety of people. I find intolerance hard to deal with, whether that’s misogyny, homophobia, racism, classism or some other arbitrary dislike of a section of the population. But I often find that the ‘root’ of said intolerance comes from a person who has very little experience of people with whatever characteristic it is they despise, be that people of a different ethnicity, sexual orientation, attitude to drug taking or hair colour.

I learnt how to look after myself. I went to a boarding school, and I really couldn’t understand my fellow boarders heading off to catered halls of residence. In fact one of the very few absolute stipulations for me was going to a University which had self-catered halls. I already knew how to cook, and had been doing my own laundry for a good few years, so the notion of going somewhere that expected me to relinquish these trappings of independence felt like it would be a huge step back. I know lots of people describe the minutiae of adult life as boring, but I was overjoyed at the prospect that I was getting close to the point where I would pay bills, fill in forms, get a proper (non student) bank account etc. This, I felt, was Growing Up, and I loved it!

I got to spending 3 years learning for its own sake. Although Philosophy is pretty good for transferable skills, it’s not exactly a fast track to a career, like, for instance, computer science. I got to study something I loved, without feeling overly-burdened as to what I would ‘do’ with it when I finished. I feel immensely privileged to have had that opportunity. But having enjoyed this privilege I now feel slightly like I need to justify such wild academic extravagance. At the point that I was getting my A-levels, the concept of a Gap Year was starting to become an object of derision – rich kids bombing around Asia for a few months getting stoned whilst living off their trust funds. (I’m sure that wasn’t the reality for lots of people, but that was the caricature!) In my first proper part time job I had at University, I was surrounded by people who treated my indulgence of doing a non-vocational degree with exactly the same level of contempt as I would exhibit towards those who thought 6 weeks doing shrooms in Bangkok constituted ‘seeing the world.’
And afterwards, when I started searching for full time work I felt that my degree did give me a bit of an edge. I got temp work easily enough, and nailed my job interview at a bank. Having a degree demonstrated I had brains and commitment. Of course perhaps I would have been better off if I hadn’t got that job after all.

So what are the downsides? With more and more graduates entering the jobs market, having a degree is no way guarantees getting a job. I’m inclined to think it probably helps, but I have no evidence for that.

I was in one of the first cohorts to pay tuition fees, but 13 years ago they were a fraction of what they are now. Additionally the grants of yesteryear had gone, and we just had student loans. Which, as it turns out, I am still paying off. University felt like the right choice for me, although I was aware that it was a substantial investment. Of course, compared to now, it was an easy decision. Now, there is so much more to consider.

I can saw with confidence that university was definitely worth it for me, but 13 years later, the landscape has changed. At this time of year there’s no shortage of commentary suggesting that the University experience is not all it’s cracked up to be. That may or may not be the case. The point is that it’s different for everyone. You might go to University and spend 3 years following a course which doesn’t interest you, because you felt it was what was expected of you. You might skip higher education and get an apprenticeship which leads you to the career of your dreams. Or you might not. But part of growing up means making that decision for yourself.

Is the new Marmite advert really the most important thing happening right now?

I don’t want to be the kind of person who thinks that other people are stupid. That would be arrogant, elitist and wrong. But sometimes, it’s really hard not to! There’s a phenomenon I’ve noticed a lot in the past few months, which I keep meaning to blog about but never got around to it.

At this moment in time, lots of really important things are going on in the world. The below is a selection of things I’m aware are happening now, based entirely on my own biased preferences as to what news items will grab my attention, and what the equally biased ‘meeja’ will have chosen to tell me about in the first place:

1) Edward Snowdon has been granted political asylum in Russia, prompting the cancellation of a planned meeting between Obama and Putin.

2) Nairobi airport was on fire, which could have a potentially catastrophic effect on trade and tourism for vast swathes of East Africa.

3) As conditions for the LGBT community in Russia worsen, the debate heats up about the best form of political protest against the upcoming sporting events to be hosted there.

4) A 3rd person has been arrested in connection with increasingly violent threats made on twitter, while there are reports that Jo Smith (the sister of the teenager Hannah Smith who tragically committed suicide, apparently as a result of online bullying) is now facing similar ‘trolling’.

5) Seven people, alleged to be members of al-Qaida, have been killed in Yemen by a US drone, following reports from US intelligence claiming ‘chatter’ had reached pre 9/11 levels.

6) The shady practice of ‘zero-hours’ contracts is facing further scrutiny as research indicates the true number of people employed under these contracts could be much higher than the official government figure.

7) Someone in UKIP said something racist.

However in spite of the availability of reasonably up to date coverage of each of the above stories, at 15.23 this afternoon, the ‘most read’ article on the BBC website was regarding the number of complaints about the latest Marmite advert.

Marmite

I cannot speak to the veracity of the data which indicates what is ‘most read’ at any given time, but if true this is both rather depressing, but somehow also not that surprising. Perhaps it’s because these daft little ‘human interest’ stories are easier to understand than news items which involve complex geo-politics. Perhaps it’s because ‘proper’ news is generally so depressing. Perhaps I have massively underestimated the cultural significance of Marmite. But when people talk about a lack of political engagement, I can’t help but feel that this is relevant.

So, if anyone has the time to conduct some proper research in this area, that would be swell!