Friday, 30 December 2016

Peckham's Tastiest Offerings

When I first moved to Peckham, I was intimidated by the absence of a Pret for a 'get-out-the-house-study-break-and-gingerbread-man' or a 40% off Pizza Express Monday night student deal. A couple of years on, I've barely thought about pizza because Peckham is full of wonderful, independent restaurants and an abundance of different cuisines. I cannot claim to be a Peckham eatery connoisseur, primarily because I've discovered two places that I absolutely love and I just want to go there again and again and again. 

Miss Tapas and Mr Bao are not just restaurant goals, but couple goals. Imagine being a total Peckham power couple, and having constant access to the best food in the area? I think that's the dream. 

I discovered Miss Tapas about 18 months ago, because I'm metaphysically drawn to anything resembling tapas. Or ham. I dragged Simon along - a man reluctant to try anything tapas-like because a hates sharing food - and even he was blown away. It became our regular, and we went through a phase of going pretty much once a month. Miss Tapas does teeny tiny restaurant perfectly. It's cosy without being cramped, and sociable without feeling like you're sharing your food with everyone else in the restaurant. The menu changes regularly enough to keep it interesting, but the old favourites remain. I'm not sure what I'd do if I turned up for tapas and there were no patatas bravas. At Miss Tapas you can eat pork that is like no pork you have ever eaten before, or gorge yourself on padron peppers. There's a generous sherry selection (I know nothing about sherry), which makes the perfect after-dinner tipple. I don't think I've ever had enough room for pudding, because we've always filled any remaining space with extra ham/pork/sardines on toast, but it always looks great. I've been to Barcelona, and I've been to Madrid, and I've been all over Mallorca and Menorca, and Miss Tapas is a billion times better than any tapas I've ever had in Spain. Hands down. 

So when Mr Bao opened it's doors, I was keen to go. I didn't know what Taiwanese food was, and baos were a total mystery to my eyes and mouth. And Christ alive, what a magical experience. The only way to describe a bao is a tasty little cloud that rains deliciousness in your mouth. So far we've sampled chicken baos, pork baos and Christmas turkey baos, but I have every intention of heading back and trying out the rest of the menu. There's something about spinach covered in satay sauce, or broccoli dipped in wasabi mayo that makes me wants to eat greens all day every day...and wonder why I ever eat them with any other accompaniment. I left Mr Bao the first time trying to work out how I could replicate all the dishes in my own kitchen, and am well on my way to perfecting my own version of a kind of pork-y, soy-y Asian style bolognese. I left Mr Bao, after a delicious birthday meal last week, full of smore bao (sorry dairy & gluten free diet) trying to work out if I could justifiably just move to Taiwan. 

If you're in Peckham, or South London, or actually just London more generally, head down to Miss Tapas and Mr Bao. They both do lunch and dinner services, so you could have the day of dreams and visit them both. With such delicious offerings on my doorstep, I feel like I'll never need to eat anywhere else...and I'm totally ok with that. 

P.s. this isn't the beginning of a food blogging career. My knowledge and interest in food does not go far beyond 'this tastes good in my mouth', and if I've got time to take fancy photos of my food, it's probably not that great. Just couldn't resist a cheeky mention of these two restaurants that make life in Peckham excellent. 

Monday, 26 December 2016

Coming Home for Christmas

I was quite literally counting down the seconds to go home for Christmas. It turns out that buying your Christmas tree in November means that you get excited for Christmas slightly too early (4 weeks too early), and thus spend every post-birthday second crawling towards the Christmas break. So as soon as the clock struck midday, I darted to the tube. I only had to wait 2 minutes for a Circle Line tube (the dream) and my Southern train was on time (an absolute miracle) and I was heading back to Sussex. Christmas had begun, and I was coming home for 5 days of rest, relaxation and turkey. 

Sometimes it isn't until you get home, and breathe the (less polluted) air, that you remember quite how spectacular it is. It's quiet, it's peaceful, and there's no one knocking you out with their suitcase, or licking houmous off the hand rails on the tube (that's a story for another day). And 3 days in, I am feeling spectacular. I've consumed more food in the last few days than I have in the last month, I've had some excellent early nights, and I've hung out with my family and won the Christmas quiz AND Articulate. So, on this Boxing Day evening, I have compiled a list of 10 wonderful things about coming home for Christmas. 

1. You don't have to think about, queue for, wait for the inevitable delays on, pay for, or squeeze between a thousand people on the tube. For 10 whole days. The thought of not having to wait 22 minutes for a Circle Line train which is supposedly operating with a good service for a week and a half fills me with absolute joy. The thought of not having to then get on a Southeastern train which smells of farts and may be delayed/cancelled/have been disrupted by a leaf is elation like you don't even know. 

2. Early nights. On my first night at home, my entire family were in bed by 9.15pm. I had 10 hours sleep, and still woke up in line with my body clock shortly after 7am. For the first time in a while, I woke up feeling properly refreshed - made even better by the fact it was a beautiful morning, and I could see the sunrise from the comfort of my cosy duvet rather than a station platform. I'm pretty sure this is the routine of the elderly everywhere, and my god I envy them. I am all about the early night. 

3. I ensure that the kitchen cupboards in our flat are always pretty full. We are never without peanut butter, coffee or gluten free oatcakes. But that's nothing compared to the pre-Christmas home supplies. There are more cupboards, with more stuff in them. There are 2 fridges, full to bursting, and one is at least 3 times the size of mine. There's food that I can't afford, or possibly entertain eating all by myself. There's gin, and prosecco, and prosecco crisps, and gin chocolates and turkey and ham and pigs in blankets a plenty! There is never any reason to go hungry, or be peckish, or be anything other than uncomfortably full. 

4. There are places in London to go for a leisurely stroll, like Hyde Park or Peckham Rye Common - but they're not quite like a wander to the village pond. There are places to walk in London which really test your stamina, like the steps at Covent Garden or Oxford Street in the Christmas period - but it's not the same as walking against the wind on Brighton beach. The main thing I really wanted to do when I came home was to go for walks, to be outside, to get loads of fresh air, and to do things that didn't involve sitting at a desk for 10 hours a day. And it's so good. I feel fresher, and more energised and I heard that each step makes room for another stuffing ball. 

5. Having a tall boyfriend is great to reach stuff for you. It's less great when they have to lay diagonally across a bed, and thus spend far too much time on your side of the bed. I woke up almost every night last week to find myself half hanging out of the bed, being snugged too hard by a very leggy man (Simon, not just any man). This week I have a whole double bed to myself. When I get too hot, there's a cold side of the bed. There's no one wriggling, or snuffling or getting up for a wee in the night. Having said that, there's no one to wake up when you have a nightmare. You can't win them all.

6. Childhood nostalgia. There's something about Christmas that gets you talking about every other Christmas, and all of the memories you have as a family. Whether it's finding out that Father Christmas wasn't real because you saw your presents in the boot of your mum's car 3 weeks previously, or being offered a festive cigarette by your grandad aged 10, the memories I have of Christmas times are some of those that I hold closest (or are the most bizarre and make the best stories). Even though Christmas as an adult doesn't hold the same magic as it did as a child, it does hold hot water bottles, and sewing kits and the contents of Hotel Chocolat. 

7. Cooking Christmas lunch (and every subsequent meal which is a variation of Christmas lunch in leftover form) with my mum, and sales shopping. Partaking in my brother's Christmas quiz, and competing for the Favourite Child 2k16 award. Board games, country walks, catching up on life, comparing new year's resolutions: time spent with family over Christmas is the best. 

8. Christmas films. I saw Elf for the first time this year, and it was magical. The Santa Clause Movie not so much. I've caught snippets of The Grinch, Miracle on 34th Street and the Snowman. I've got big plans for Love Actually by the end of the week. I love the warm fuzzy feeling of a festive film, and being relaxed and attentive enough to actually sit all the way through a whole film. 

9. When you come home, you remember what it's like to be looked after. To have your washing done, your food cooked, your stuff tidied - and not to have to think about the Tesco delivery, or your alarm, or work, or real grown up life. It doesn't matter if you're 3 or 13 or 23, having someone look after you and do all the boring grown up things for you, is the best thing ever. I don't want to adult again. 

10. The break. The break from work, the break from early mornings, the break from work-related nightmares, the break from desk breakfasts and pitta bread lunches, the break from darkness, London, the indoors and the constant underlying tiredness. Getting away, and going somewhere different, and being surrounded by people who are also having a break from their day-to-day lives and jobs and commitments. The relaxation is contagious. 

Happy Boxing Day! 
I hope your Christmas breaks are as spectacular as mine. X


Thursday, 15 December 2016

a VERY happy birthday

December has always been my favourite month of the year. Despite the cold and the dark and the chill blains, it's festive, cosy, and I have my birthday AND Christmas to look forward to. I'm all about double celebrations, and if you try hard enough, it is possible to drag your birthday out all the way up to Christmas. 

One of my first memories is of my 4th birthday party, in a leisure centre, with a strong focus on the Spice Girls (I wanted to be Scary Spice but I never quite had the 'look'). I always really looked forward to birthdays, and birthday parties, and was never one of those kids that cried and hated being the centre of attention. In fact, that was the best thing about birthdays (alongside party bags). Over the years I've had puppetry parties, disco parties, pantomime parties, sleepover parties, pottery parties, eat your body weight in Greek food parties, surprise parties, laser quest parties, Rocky Horror parties and, now, roller skating parties. The nature of the party hasn't really matured...except that there's less cake and more gin cocktails...but the motivation has. My 10th disco party was born out of the very simple question 'how can I get away with having a birthday party where I can invite everyone I know and thus get the maximum number of presents?' whilst my 23rd was more of a 'I know loads of really nice people who I don't see often enough, and it would be great to spend an evening with them all'. And actually, this time round, I still ended up with loads of presents (just slightly more unexpectedly) and had a really great evening with lots of really great people.

Since my birthday is at the time of year when lots of people are busy (with Christmas parties, and family events, and work, and life, and can't face the train strikes) or ill, in recent years, no matter how hard I've or anyone else has tried, it ends up being a teensy bit disappointing. Whether it's people bailing on you at the last minute, or storms destroying all the trees so your house is virtually unreachable, it's not ideal, and it's made me a bit sad. So when it came to organising something for my birthday this year, I decided I was going to be 100% chill about it. I was going to invite the people I wanted to see (and not the people I felt obliged to invite), I was going to let everyone make their own arrangements, and I was just going to wait and see who turned up and have a bloody spectacular time with those who did. And, you know, it was great. I feel like I'm turning 23, the biggest non-age since turning 14, surrounded by wonderful friends, a brand new elephant mug, and a reinforced confidence that becoming a pro roller skater is not my calling. 

So even though today I had to get up at 6.45am and go to work, I think my 23rd is one of my best birthdays yet. I had SUCH a nice weekend, I'm transporting a lot of lemon drizzle cake to work, and I'm coming home to an evening of presents and pyjamas and chicken nuggets. It's a VERY happy birthday. 

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Talking trains...and time

4 months ago I was house hunting: following estate agents around tiny weeny flats with crazy rental price tags - but my main concern was 'how long is it going to take me to get to work?' Preparing myself for the long working days to come, I knew that I wanted to minimise my commute as much as possible, whilst still living somewhere affordable and cosy and well located. And so that's where we found ourselves, in a lovely little flat, a half an hour cycle (for Simon) or a 45 minute train/tube journey for me. Do-able. Absolutely. 

Part of me wishes I'd written this last Wednesday, when the Circle line broke, and I felt like punching everyone who budged me on the tube, or didn't have their Oyster card ready for the barriers. Or the Wednesday before, when the cancelled sign at Victoria caused me to just burst into tears. That day it had taken me an hour longer than it should have done to get into work - and only because I was small enough to slot just below one man's armpit, and almost squeezed between another lady's boobs. I stood, in this claustrophobic mess, convinced that the air I was breathing was 90% sweat and 10% germs, for the longest 15 minutes of my life. So when, at 7pm, you're greeted with delayed, followed by lol, it's actually cancelled and so is the next one, I cried. Lame, I know, but I am not about 4 hours commuting a day to travel a grand total of 12 miles. 

And you know what? I wouldn't even mind if it was a one off. Sometimes trains break down, and sometimes there's a signal fault, or a streaker on the line, but last week, not one single train I have taken ran on time. And that's not unusual. We all hear the angry passengers on the news talking about how much their season tickets cost; but, for me, it's not really about the money (even though I can think of so many things I'd rather spend £124 a month on). It's about two things:

1. The embarrassment. 
When you've got up extra early, allowed an hour and 20 minutes for your 45 minute commute, and you're still late and have to awkwardly walk into your meeting full of apologies, it's embarrassing. There's sympathy, and other people understand the struggles, but there's only so many times it can happen before you start to look flaky and unreliable (when in fact Southeastern are, not you). 

2. The time.
I spend 50 hours a week at work, and should spend an additional maximum of 10 hours a week commuting. So when your 60 hour week threatens to become a 70 hour one, it's beyond crap. When you leave Victoria and know that it's less than 12 hours until you're back; when you get in late, and by the time you've showered and eaten, it's already gone 9pm and you're knackered anyway; and when you get to Friday night and you can't remember doing anything that week that wasn't work, or standing on a station platform...And, of course, I am not the only one. Last week I sat next to a lovely man on a train that had been delayed by 45 minutes, and he'd downloaded a children's book on to his iPad so he could read it to his daughter down the phone. Whether you're missing out on quality family time, or sleep, or watching 24 Hours in A&E, it's all still important - and it's time you need, and deserve, and makes you more than just a weekday machine. 

So although I am now the proud owner of a sorry we're rubbish and ruin your morning and your evening nearly every day gift, in the form of a Southeastern canvas bag, it feels like a small price to pay for all the time, discomfort and money I, and every other commuter, suffers and continues to suffer. Public transport is the first thing I have to deal with in the morning and one of the last things in the evening, and it ruins my day (week/year/life). Seriously. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

There's No Place Like Home

"Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition." 

Going home is one of the best feelings in the world. Whether it's walking through the door after a long day at work, returning after a holiday, or coming back after a long term at uni, home has always provided a sense of warmth, and a sense of relief. And now, for the first time in a long time, I feel like I'm at home. Every day. And every day, I'm coming home. 

I feel like I've lived in a lot more houses than many people my age, and I always feel a bit jealous of those whose parents still live in the house they were born in, or the only house they remember. I remember some of my houses as houses, and some of them as homes. Going to university seemed like 3 years of moving between houses (or rooms), none of which ever really felt like places you could really go home to. Whether it was the damp carpets, the prospect of pesto pasta for the tenth night in a row, or the living with people who kind of had their own lives, their own things going on, who weren't waiting for you or expecting you, it just wasn't the same. At the same time I went to university, my family moved houses too. So coming home never really felt like home. Sure, it was a house with the same people, and a lot of the same stuff, but it always felt a bit more empty, a bit less cosy, and I never spent enough time there to ever truly know it as home. 

But today, and tomorrow, and the next day, I will be coming home. To my new home, and the first home I feel like I've had in kind of a long time. It's a place I look forward to going, and I enjoy being in. It's a place I can spend all day, and all night, and all of the next day. It's somewhere that I feels belongs to me (us), even though it very much belongs to our landlord, because it's full of our stuff, and our photos, and our lives. The kitchen cupboards are (almost) always full, and there's always a cosy blanket on the sofa. There are shelves full of our books, and reminders of places we've been and the things we've done everywhere. It feels warm, and full, and safe. And it's quiet, and you feel like you're alone, even though you're in a complex of flats. It's perhaps the first place I've ever lived where I enjoy being by myself, instead of wondering when someone else was coming back. 

I never thought I'd ever feel like London was my home, forever feeling like I belonged somewhere less busy, less lit and less...claustrophobic. But I do, and I feel more at home than I have in a really long time. Home isn't always about where you are, but who you are, who you're with, and what makes you feel. 

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Before the Flood

Picture the scene. 

It's Saturday morning. I've woken up feeling rubbish, full of cold, and I still have yesterday's eyebrow headache. It's cold, really bloody cold, and I'm wrapped up in my dressing gown, eating peanut butter and jam on toast. I stare fondly at my Modern Family boxset, when I'm rudely startled by Simon starting up the PlayStation and searching YouTube. I see Climate Change Documentary and 1hr36m. This is not the Saturday morning tv dream. 

And then I realised that it was this mentality that is at the root of the climate change problem. Too many people not taking an interest, not engaging, not making sacrifices...and watching Modern Family and burning fossil fuels instead. 

Before the Flood is presented by the National Geographic, and follows Leonardo DiCaprio on a journey across the world in his role as a UN Peace Messenger. The documentary begins with a reference to a piece of artwork DiCaprio had in his bedroom as a child. It features the world in three different stages: 
1. The Garden of Eden - the world operating in perfect harmony
2. Before the Flood - sin, overpopulation, fantasy
3. Hell - evil, torture, darkness

DiCaprio imagines our world as a physical representation of Before the Flood, pessimistic, but recognises there is scope for change, and that Hell is not the only option. And this sets the attitude for the rest of the documentary. One of the greatest values in the production was DiCaprio's pessimism; it's not an unrealistic, all-singing-all-dancing approach to climate change. He doesn't suggest that we all stop using fossil fuels immediately, or play on unrealistic ambitions of consumption change and sustainable energy investment. It's an exploration, of people, places and industries. It highlights the problems without preaching the solutions. 

Leo DiCaprio's tour takes us first to Canada, and the Great Canadian Oil Sands, to visualise Western addiction to fossil fuels. Next to the Arctic Circle, to see the effect of melting glaciers and extreme sea level rise. Flooding in Florida, and the huge investment required to manage the issue even in the short term, brings it home for DiCaprio. The air pollution in Beijing, and an insight into China's poorly documented investment into renewables was the next stop; before moving on to India and understanding the massive weigh-up which either favours coal consumption or development. South Pacific Islands which are under impending threat from sea level rise revealed serious human risk, whilst an underwater expedition to dying Caribbean coral reefs showed the disregarded environmental impact. Perhaps the most heart-wrenching part of the tour for me however, was his trip to Sumatra, Indonesia. As one of the world's last remaining rainforests, and richest ecosystems, it is under enormous threat from palm oil farmers, burning the rainforest to make space for palm oil plantations. It made me want to quit my job and go and save the orangutans immediately. DiCaprio meets Obama, the Pope, entrepreneur Elon Musk - to understand their perspectives of climate change, and their visions for the future. 

The places he goes, and the people he speaks with gives a really comprehensive overview of the problem and the ways in which people and ecosystems are being affected all over the world. It is far too easy for those who feel as if they're not being directly affected (yet) to ignore the problem; whilst communities in the Global South experience more extreme weather patterns than ever before, and experience the floods, famine and poverty that comes with it. It was a stark reminder that we are, whether we like it or not, part of a global community and we, who cause a large majority of the problems, owe it to the sufferers to do something about it before it's too late. The documentary offers suggestions of small changes that individuals can make, and recognises that Western consumers aren't about to dramatically change their lifestyles. Whether you sign up to pay a voluntary carbon tax, or do your best to avoid products containing palm oil/buy alternatives which use sustainable palm oil, you can help be part of the change. We see countries like Germany and Sweden storming ahead in renewables, making a huge amount of progress, and we should aspire to follow in their footsteps. 

On a day like today, where we see the devastating news of a new US President with little (no) regard for environmental matters, about to undo all the positive work Obama has campaigned so hard for, there is no time more important to be the change. I urge you all to take the time to watch the documentary, visit the website, think about what changes you can make. This Saturday, my peanut butter will be palm oil free, and sponsorship of an Indonesian orangutan is at the top of my birthday list. 

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Write on Kew 2016

After a whirlwind month, I can't quite believe that the Kew Gardens Write on Kew literary festival was five weekends ago. After being so impressed with the line up and our literary weekend last year, my mum and I were eagerly awaiting this year's ticket release. Though there were fewer 'big names' than last year, an array difficult to follow after presenting the likes of Bill Bryson and Margaret Atwood, there were plenty of writers that we were keen to see. After some deliberation, we decided on a busy Saturday afternoon of Nick Clegg, Joanne Harris and Tracy Chevalier, followed by Tony Robinson and Val McDermid on the Sunday.

Nick Clegg
First on our agenda, and perhaps the most disappointing talk of the weekend, was Nick Clegg. I had high hopes from the charismatic, interesting man who performed so well in the televised election debates all those years ago, but was met by someone who seemed much more defeated and much less confident. Perhaps that's what a term as Deputy Prime Minister does to you?! Speaking about his recently published memoirs, Clegg had very little to offer in terms of his own reflections on the coalition; he described it almost as an inevitability, and the position the Lib Dems owed its country, and its voters, to take. One really interesting point which did come out of the discussion however, concerned the 'fashionable' nature of politics - the idea that it's cool to be perceived as politically engaged. I agreed with him, for the most part, that we have created a society of seemingly politically interested individuals who, when it really comes down to it, are not politically motivated to help be the change. A semi-stimulating talk from a semi-intriguing man! 

Joanne Harris
Until two weeks before the festival I was guilty of never having read a Joanne Harris novel, now I've read one, but I have three more downloaded on my Kindle. This interview centred around Harris' most recent novel, Different Class, which tells the story of a crime and a its simplest terms. I loved the book, and I couldn't put it down. For me, it was everything a great novel should be: characters you like, characters you dislike, characters you still can't make your mind up about; a story that was multi-dimensional, layered, with multiple narratives; and the old favourite, a plot twist. Joanne Harris, an ex-teacher herself, captured the complexities of a school perfectly, and reminded me very much of one of my own school teachers. She spoke passionately about her story, and her relationship with the characters in it, and I only wish I could have probed her more about the twist - but was forced to avoid spoilers by the audience members who'd not yet read it. I was really interested to learn about Joanne's synaesthesia, and thought the idea of creating a scent and a playlist to go with each of her books was a wonderfully romantic and engaging thing to do. She inspired me to read more of her work; and Chocolat has got to be first on the list!

Tracy Chevalier 
I didn't know an awful lot about Tracy Chevalier; for one, I didn't know that she was American. I tried to read her new novel, At the Edge of the Orchard, prior to the talk, because I hate it when people don't, but I just couldn't get into it. After reading fifty pages almost solely about apples, I just wasn't motivated to carry on. The interview with Tracy however, did give it a bit of a new lease of life. I learnt a lot about apples, and got a bit of insight into where the book was heading. It definitely made me want to read more, but also made me realise that it's a bit too heavy to be my new train read. I'll let you know how I get on with it...

Tony Robinson
What a man. I think this was my favourite event of the weekend, because it was the greatest performance. Without an interviewer, and left to his own devices to give us a sneak peak of his new autobiography, Tony Robinson was the perfect engaging, comical showman. His tales of his early years as a child actor had the audience giggling from the very start, and reminded me of the 'drama kids' I surrounded myself with as a pre-teen, and desperately wanted to be. His somewhat distant relationship with his grandfather, troubled by his experiences in the war, was a sincere and heartfelt backdrop for his own autobiography and need to share his own life stories with his children, grandchildren and, of course, fans!We purchased a copy of his autobiography, personally signed by the man himself, and I'm looking forward to getting stuck in. A cosy, Christmas read, I think. 

Val McDermid
My mum loves a crime novel and, until recently, I'd steered clear of McDermid, warned that her novels were too gory and too scary for a bedtime read. McDermid's newest novel, Out of Bounds, was just the right amount of gory and scary, especially when read on a Croatian beach, far away from the cold Scottish nights in the book. It tells the story of Detective Karen Pirie, a slightly rogue officer who makes it her mission to solve two equally challenging crimes at once; made all the more difficult by having to do it in secret, away from the punishing eye of her superiors. I loved that it read almost like two stories in one, and felt like the perfect amount of suspense was maintained throughout, alternating between cases, so as not to wear each story out. Val was a dry and fascinating speaker, and her obsession with death and murder both disturbing and intriguing. Finding out about Val's variety of friends and contacts involved in forensics and police work explained the compelling authenticity of her novels, and made me want to delve deeper into this world too. Perhaps too frightening before bed, but truly excellent any other time of day - only made more so after having enjoyed the company and expertise of a truly fantastic writer. 

All in all, it was a great weekend. Kew is a lovely setting for the event, and overpriced cakes aside, a wonderful place to spend an autumnal weekend. It was a shame that the events weren't more well attended, generally in much smaller venues with more empty seats than the previous year. I really hope it continues next yer, and the line up remains as varied and impressive. Write on Kew makes for a fantastic girls weekend away with my mum, and offers a really good value literary festival a stone's throw away from Central London. 


Tuesday, 11 October 2016

10 tips from 2 weeks of work

Over the past five weeks I've spoken to nine graduates about what being a graduate means to them: their university experience, their life after university, and all the things that have shaped and are continuing to shape those experiences. They are all excellent, hardworking, interesting people making graduate, or almost-graduate, life work for them - whether that's embracing further study, travelling the world, trying to find their place in the job market, or working an enjoyable and satisfying job. They are living proof that there is no one type of graduate and that, perhaps, the first stage of adulthood is making your aspirations, job and lifestyle work for you. 

And that's exactly what I'm learning to do right now. I'm two weeks into my first proper job, and it's a little bit of a shock to the system. After a four month summer of travelling, chilling and hanging out with friends, and a three years at university where, beyond my four to six hours of contact per week, 90% of my study time took place from the comfort of my own bed or sofa, ten hour working days and a 45 minute commute each way is...intense. But good intense. You could not pay me to go back to uni and, well, I am actually getting paid to go to work. I love the structure, the routine, the feeling that I'm building some sort of platform for myself and, for the most part, I enjoy the work. It's a change, but one I'd better get used to since I'll probably be working for another 50 years!

So, instead of telling you all about my journey to becoming a graduate, I thought I'd share ten of the most important things I've learned since starting my first 'graduate' job: 

1. Early mornings are your best friend and your arch enemy
There's something really peaceful about being up early, and I've seen the sun rise more times in the last fortnight than I have in my whole life. I like the fresh autumn mornings and, once you're up and out, you sort of lose sense of the time. At the same time, when your alarm goes off at 6am on a Monday morning, it's still pitch black, everywhere outside the bed may as well be the Arctic, and you have to mentally prepare yourself to get on a rammed commuter train, it's a bit less fun. Indeed, the realisation that this is your life for many years to come, until you have a baby and then have even less sleep, is something not worth thinking about. 

2. The work anxiety you inevitably had quickly goes
On the morning of my first day at working (and pretty much every morning in the week preceding it), I felt physically sick. I wanted to stay in bed and never face anything or anyone. It's the anticipation, the fear of the unknown and change, and it's really bloody scary. But the scared 'I'm-still-a-student-don't-make-me-adult' soon disappears. You get there, you pick things up quickly, and no one expects you to be an expert from day one. People will help you out and, before long, you'll feel like you've been doing it for months. The fact you've got to get up and go every day, you don't have the option to sack it off because you're feeling a bit nervy, helps. You chuck on your suit jacket and, somehow you find it in yourself to go. 

3. Heels are the worst
You wear flats to commute in on day one, and change into your heels at your desk. By the end of a long day of walking solely from your desk to the kitchen/toilet and back, you vow never to wear heels again. Unfortunately, you're only 5'1 and all the 5'10 women in your office still wear heels, and you don't feel like you can get away with it. From then on you resign yourself to constantly wearing plasters on your heels, and being forever thankful that boot season is just around the corner. 

4. Packed lunches are the best
Not only do they mean that you don't have to spend £15 on a salad from Whole foods, or ever decide that an extortionately priced litre of beetroot juice is a daily necessity, you also get to spend your morning looking forward to your afternoon snacks...and your afternoon making your way through them. My current favourites are frozen grapes (well and truly defrosted by the time I get round to eating them), and Nairns berry oatcakes. A packed lunch means that you can head straight to the park at lunchtime, and don't have to spend 45 minutes queuing to pay for your Boots meal deal; and it also means that you don't have to brave the cold/wind/rain in the winter, and can enjoy your sandwich from the comfort of your own cosy office. 

5. You have no idea how you wasted so much time at uni
When you're at uni it somehow feels absolutely necessary to check Instagram from new pictures of pugs every half an hour; WhatsApp your mates throughout the entire day, every day; and take that Buzzfeed quiz to find out what should you have for dinner based on which Disney Princess you're most like. Sometimes you just need to watch five episodes of Come Dine with Me of an afternoon, because you deserve a break from reading those two academic journals. Today I have one hour in which to eat my lunch, go for a walk, AND pick up some bread, and I have to make my own dinner decisions, free of Disney interference. 

6. Talking of dinners, prepare for your freezer to become your new best friend
Bulk make meals at the weekend, freeze them, and microwave them when you get home. That way you don't have to live off pasta and soup, you get the tasty home cooked meal you've been dreaming of since your last afternoon snack, and it saves you so much time (and money). 

7. You can justify buying stuff
Not only can you now actually afford to buy stuff, you can justify it to yourself. You're a working woman (or man) now, and wearing your school leavers hoodie and leggings doesn't feel so much like an outfit you can actually wear out to anywhere other than Tesco. My new favourite thing is working out how many hours work equals your new purchase. You can definitely buy those £60 boots at lunchtime if that's what you've earned that morning (disclaimer: you cannot do this every day). 

8. You do not need to shave your legs in the week
When hopping into a warm shower is one of the big highlights of your evening, don't ruin it by trying to balance on the bath, hacking at your legs, and exhausting yourself unnecessarily. You've got black tights and trousers, and you'll stay warmer in an air conditioned office. Save that chore for the weekend.

9. Exercise is this thing you still need to do but want to do even less
I cannot think of anything worse than going to the gym before or after work. One day at the weekend has to be reserved for sleeping, cooking, laundry, food shopping and chilling. Having said that, after 45 hours spent sitting at a desk all week, I do get kind of fidgety. I find myself enjoying standing on the tube, and eating my dinner standing in the kitchen, just because I'm bored of sitting. Lunchtime walks have become my saviour, whether it's wandering round the park, or down the High Street, at least it's something, and at least I'm doing almost 10,000 steps every day. The fresh air is so needed, and the sunlight a luxury I hope sticks around for a little bit longer.

1o. Be nice
If you've got to spend 50 hours a week with your colleagues, it's probably in your interests to get on with them. They don't have to be your new best friends, but they should probably be someone you can ask for help or can enjoy a Friday evening drink with. Be friendly, make them a cup of tea, and give them a hand when they're overworked - and they'll probably do the same for you. Having a bit of a support network at work will be worthwhile when you're having a bad day. 

So there it is, my words of wisdom: my thoughts, discoveries and reflections on my first two weeks of work. It's a big deal, a big change, and a big new grown up lifestyle to get used to; but we've all got to do it at some time, and these are the things which, for me, are making every day a little bit easier. If you have any tips to survive the long working weeks, please share and let's all master adulthood together!

Friday, 7 October 2016

The Graduate: Christian

Name: Christian

Age: 25

What's your story?
I studied at Aberystwyth University (mainly because they offered me £800 off my accommodation!) and read English Literature, with mixed success. My first year was hands down one the best experiences of my life, both in academic terms and in terms of social andsport. The course was open and inviting, I especially enjoyed the Greek and Roman myth module, and my tutors were awesome. The social aspect of university was booming, as was the sport - being a keen rugby player and sailor, Aber was a great choice. It's funny how quickly things can turn sour. The uni faced financial cuts, a new VP, and dropped about 20 places rating-wise in a year. I think it's fair to say that second year is always a struggle for most students; it's a transition from the initial novelty and excitement of first year, and the 'final stretch' feeling of third year. For me, however, I think it was the first time I realised that University, and the university academic environment, was not for me. 

Why did you decide to go to university, and why English Literature?
If I'm perfectly honest, I have no idea why I decided to university. After having 2 years out after school, travelling to Malaysia with Raleigh International, gaining a Outdoor Activity Leadership qualification, and working as a watersports instructor, my plan of joining the Military was at the foremost of my mind. I think the decision came (after much protesting from my parents who didn’t think it was the best choice for me) purely because I saw my friends photos from school on Facebook, documenting wild nights out and massive crowds at rugby games. The degree was purely a byproduct of 3 years having a great time. Plus, how hard can it be to get an English degree? It's basically just reading right? I think the issue today is that university is seen to be a right of passage, and almost something that everyone should experience and feel entitled to. I still remember the slogans at school about going to uni, and the one that stuck with me most is: 'gain valuable life experience'. I certainly know how to drink a pint quickly and shout drinking chants as someone else does, but I don’t feel university offers anything like the 'life skills' it advertises. It preaches self sufficiency, but really only shelters you more for the day-to-day aspects of the real world. We even acknowledge this while at uni saying things like 'I can't wait to get back to uni and away from real life', yet we expect ourselves to come out of it in a better position? Sure, we might have a degree in our chosen subject, but as a lot of people are realising now, that doesn’t always count for much in this day and age. Especially when you're up against something with a better degree, AND experience spanning back to apparently before they were born. I think the thing that uni lets its students down the most on however, is its attitude towards academic study. I'm sure this is bias from my own experiences, but if there's one place you should have MORE support academically, its university! My experience left me feeling out of my depth with no lifeline whatsoever. I probably could have spent more time with my tutors, but surely having those people as 'mentors' means they should make just as much effort, if not more reaching out to you? I spent 2 hours once waiting outside my dissertation tutor's office for a diss meeting with him, only to be told that he 'forgot' he had another meeting. This idea that students at uni shouldn’t ask for help, and the idea that you need to study by yourself (drummed into me in 4 lectures at the beginning of first year) is totally bogus. My advice: milk everyone for everything you can. At the end of the day you're paying for it, and you deserve even more help at uni than you did at school. 

More importantly, what's made you decide to go back and finish your degree?
I think, aside from my career aspiration to be an RAF Physical Training Officer (which requires a degree), the decision was a result of closure. It’s something that needs to be finished, and that I feel I will regret if I don’t. I also feel that I am personally in a much better place to be able to put in the required work in order to get a decent result. On top of this, I can study something I really am interested in by picking and choosing modules with the OU. For example, studying issues in contemporary sport and things like nutrition etc.

What's helped you get to where you are today?
I've had the great privilege of experiencing a number of different things since leaving school. From 3 months in Borneo to working in a number of varied jobs, such as activity instructors and fundraisers. However, I have to say (and as cliche as it sounds) one of the main things that have got me where I am today, and more importantly feeling in as good a place as I am, is my family and friends. Everything becomes easier with a support network, and while with my family it certainly had its big ups and downs, it is now firmly in place and stronger than ever. I can't downplay how important it is to have a close group of mates as well. Guys that you can chat to about anything and who (probably through the use of multiple insults) will always show they care and come through for you. I am, also, a firm advocate of self appreciation. It's something everyone should do (within moderation) and is essential to your mental health. Never forget to congratulate yourself on achievements, and in this case, I have put in a lot of hard work in a number of different areas.

What advice would you give to someone struggling with university?
As much as university is amazing (and it is even with all the problems I had there), it is a place the puts an immense pressure on you. I think people would be shocked if they knew just how many people at uni struggled with some sort of issue, from stress to anxiety. As much fun as uni is, it’s a place that can really bring you down, either through the weight of the academic side of things or the social aspect/relationships. But nothing is worse than feeling under the weight of it all and, even though you are surrounded by people, you feel all on your own. I guarantee you, every other person you meet will have probably gone through the same thing, so it's important to remember you are not on your own. Problems become so much easier when they are spoken out loud, instead of being allowed to fester. I think I'd also say 'don’t worry about it'. Even though it might seem like it, uni isn't the be all or end all of life. It could be that you regret going and feel trapped, but are worried that leaving will somehow ruin your life. Well that is 100% not the case. It could be that university isn't the place for you, or it could be the it just isn't the place for you YET, and there is nothing wrong with that at all. You have so many opportunities out there that it just isn't worth sacrificing your mental well-being for. The most important thing is being comfortable, happy and enjoying yourself. If one of these things is not being realised, you need to ask why? 

Where do you hope to be in 10 years time?
I think the most important thing for me is being something, and doing something, that I'm proud of, and that benefits people. The paycheck isn't a big deal to me now (though a few years ago I must admit that wasn’t the case). Obviously I want to be comfortable and be able to do the things I enjoy, but I want to be able to stand up and say 'I'm proud of what I do because...'. So I think the aim for me, in 10 years, is to be well established in the RAF, preferably in a remedial role (helping wounded veterans, and people struggling with fitness). However, if things change in between now and then, it's not the end of the world. As long as I can hold my head up high and be proud of who I am and what I do, I think everything will be cool. 

Christian, the almost graduate.
Aspiring RAF Officer.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

The Graduate: Imogen

Name: Imogen

Age: 21

Where did you go to university, and what did you study?
I went to UWE (the University of West England), and I studied English Literature.

Why did you decide that going to university was the right option for you?
I think my decision to go to uni was informed by a few different things. One obvious reason was that I loved, and continue to love, books. I love reading them, I love talking about them, I like trying to work out what they mean. Love them. Another reason was that I totally wasn’t ready to go into the real world! I couldn’t have gone into a 9-5 job when I was 18; I didn’t really know who I was or what I was about, and (naff as it sounds) uni really helped me to work that out. Coming to Bristol was the best thing I’ve ever done - it got me a degree, a boyfriend, a social life and it’s a city with more culture than you can shake a stick at. I love it here and I can’t see myself leaving any time soon.

What are you doing now?
Now I’m half way through a digital marketing internship. It’s taught me a lot and it’s definitely something I’m going to stick at, at least for a little while. It was all a bit of whirlwind really; I finished my exams in May and then the day before my graduation in July, I had an interview for the internship!

What's helped you get to where you are today?
 To be honest, I think it’s sheer luck! I will admit that for the longest time I was not the most determined or motivated person in the world. I’ve always done well, but it feels like if I’d pushed myself that little but harder, I could have done really well. But, when I came towards the end of my degree it was like “Shit. I actually have be a grown up now”. So I just applied for every internship in sight that was even mildly related to my course - journalism, editing, publishing, marketing, the lot! It just so happened that the marketing one came through and it’s been great! That’s not to say it’s my forever career, but for now I’m enjoying it.

Do you think that your degree has any practical application to your current job?
Absolutely. I write a lot of content for websites, and a degree in literature has obviously helped me to refine my writing. There's also quite a lot of analytic work involved, both numeric and in terms of assessing target audiences. It might not sound directly related, but I had to analyse books down to the gaps between words, so I like to think that helped. 

What are your plans, if any, for the future?
Just to stay happy and busy; I don't ever want to be that person that hates their job. I'll just keep on following my nose and having a good time. I like to think that one day, maybe soon, maybe not, I'll go back to academia and do a Masters. My boyfriend is doing one now, and I'm a little bit jealous that he gets to hang out in beautiful building reading James Joyce and T.S. Eliot. I love all that. 

What are your top tips for current students and soon-to-be graduates?
Just do what you love. If you ever find yourself not loving what you're doing, or not knowing why you're doing it, just take a moment to step back and reassess. It's never too late to change paths, just be confident in what you do and make yourself happy. That's what's important. Oh, and don't throw your mortar board at graduation - there will be blood. 

Imogen, the literature graduate.
Digital marketer. 

Friday, 30 September 2016

The Graduate: Jye

Name: Jye

Age: 21

Where and what did you study?
BSc Economics at UCL

What made you decide to go to university and study Economics?
I found Economics A Level really interesting and wanted to explore it further. I also felt that I didn’t know enough about the world to start a career straight after college, and so going to University would give me some additional time to find out what I wanted to do as well as meet new people.

What are you doing now?
I work for MW Eaglewood as a middle office graduate. The firm specialises in direct lending and P2P investment strategies as part of the Marshall Wace Hedgefund group. 

Have you always been interested in working in the financial sector?
Not at all! A lot of people in the industry have wanted to be an investment banker since they were a baby but, to tell you the truth, I didn’t even know what an investment bank was until my second year of uni! I’m actually really interested in Politics, and it was the importance of the financial services industry to economic growth and poverty reduction that really sparked my interest in the profession. 

What's been important in helping you get to where you are today?
There's definitely not a 'secret recipe' to securing a graduate job. My experience of university has been very different to lots of my friends in the industry. I personally had no contacts in the industry, and so I made a deliberate effort to go to as many society talks, presentations and training sessions as possible in order to network and find out about different areas within finance. I became the Social Events Officer for the Economist Society in my first year of uni, and then went on to become Director of Social Events at Enactus UCL (a social enterprise society). I’ve also had a variety of part time jobs since the age of 13: everything from working in a sweet shop, to being a club rep for two summer seasons in Bulgaria! These were all things that I spoke about in my interviews for a Summer Internship and, whilst I was rejected from 15 firms, I eventually secured a place at J.P Morgan. At J.P Morgan I made an effort to go for coffee with as many people from different divisions as possible, which led me to discovering more about hedgefunds and, ultimately, starting a career at one! I was also extremely lucky to have friends and family who were more than happy to go for a beer after each internship and graduate job rejection email, and encourage me to continue putting in as much effort as possible to secure a role.

What's your average working day like?
I get into work at around 7.30am to check my emails and eat some breakfast before the rest of the team get in at around 8am. I then spend my first few hours responding to any emails that require attention, and undertaking daily tasks that I’m responsible for. There's usually a meeting or a call that takes place in the morning, so I often attend these before heading to lunch. After lunch I work on any projects that I’m responsible for, and often meet someone in the firm for a coffee catch up. There's a real culture of innovation at the firm, and so I usually also take some time in the afternoon to look at current processes or materials, and see how they can be improved. I leave the office most days between 6.30 and 7.30pm, though this depends on how much work I have on.

Where do you hope to be in 10 years time?
I would love to be out on roadshows promoting the company and selling new investment funds with some form of managerial responsibility. I'm not 100% sure of the exact details yet because the industry is set to continue growing, and so it's unlikely that the current job exists.  

What advice would you give to recent graduates, and current students?
Do things that interest you, don’t just do things because everyone else does! My best grades at uni were the modules that I enjoyed, not the so-called 'easy modules' that everyone took based on other peoples' experience. Similarly the roles and projects that I have been praised for have been those that interest me. Also, interviewers and recruiters are really good at knowing if you’re interested in something or not, and that's something they will use to make their decision on whether to hire you or not! It’s also fine to be passionate about things other than your job: no-one wants to work with someone with no personality! Finally, if you don’t ask you don’t get! I remember at one society event, the CEO of Coutts bank did a presentation. At the end of it, I approached him and asked him if I could meet with him for a coffee to discuss private banking, to which he said yes, and resulted in him inviting me into the office for one of the most interesting and inspiring conversations I’ve ever had with anyone!

Jye, the economics graduate.


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Graduate: Beth

Name: Beth

Age: 22

What did you study, and where?

Public Relations and Digital Communications Management at MMU.

Why did you decide to go to university?
I won't lie, it was a last resort. When I was 13, I was headhunted for a Great British rowing scheme to get tall people into rowing (I'm 6ft). From age 13 - 17, this was my life alongside school. 6am starts, out on the river, and evenings in the gym, with school sandwiched inbetween. It was very intense, and training camps and competitions took away most of my weekends. When I was in the sixth form, it all became too much for me. My training partners were slightly older, and were improving as they could focus on rowing full time; my school friends were getting better grades as they weren't rowing in any every spare second they had. I had to make a decision and, for personal reasons, I chose education.

I always thought that rowing would be my future, my career. So, now, faced with the prospect of university, I was a little dazed. I'd never imagined myself at university because I hated sixth form so much. One of my brothers encouraged me to apply and then deal with the decision of whether or not to go on results day. So, I did - and, when I got accepted, I just kind of took the why the hell not? approach. What else was I going to do?

So, I know that you did a placement year as part of your degree. Can you tell us a bit about that?
I had been working one day a week at a digital marketing agency during my second year, and continued here full time for my sandwich year as their Content and Outreach Executive. This involved creating unique, engaging pieces of content: from blog posts, outreach articles, website copy, press releases, and copy for SEO purposes such as meta descriptions, to outreach campaigns to improve visibility and reach for clients. It taught me more in one year than my degree taught me in three. It was real hands on experience that gave me a true insight into the day-to-day working of the industry. It also helped my approach to work, and working in an agency. I must say that employers are far more impressed and/or intrigued by my experience on my placement year than my First Class Honours degree!

What are you doing now? Was it always your plan?
I finished uni in May, and jumped straight into work at an Inbound Marketing Agency in Manchester. This wasn't my plan.

I'd been playing with two options:
1. Move home, get a waitressing job and save money to go travelling
2. Jump on a plane to South America and travel until I had no money left (around 8 months)

My friend, and now housemate, had a few interviews with more lined up. She accepted an offer from an agency, and cancelled an interview she had later that afternoon - but put my name forward instead. I was invited to an interview a couple of days later, and accepted the job offer straight away. It was miles away from my original plan, but I got such an amazing vibe from the people and the agency as a whole. I'm a big believer in fate, and that everything happens for a reason and, as this was such a weird set up, I had to go with it. So now I am a Content/Inbound Marketing Executive working on a range of B2B clients.

Have you always wanted to work in marketing?
No. I always wanted to do something with animals. I'm a dog mum, a bunny mum and a gecko aunt, and I LOVE THEM ALL. But I'm happy I found marketing. It's a great way for me to channel my creative side and, as a Content Executive, I get to write a lot - which I love!

Tell us about your travel plans! Why are you so keen to travel?
I'm quite an inquisitive person and get bored sooooo easily, and travelling has always appealed to me. I'd been saving all through uni to move to Indonesia and work in Orangutan sanctuaries, but in my final year I fell in love with the idea of South America, and that's what I'm working towards. I'd like to stay in my current position for at least two years, save up some money, build up my CV, expand my knowledge and skills, and make my mark. Then, pack my bags and trek through South America until my purse is empty. I'm hoping to be able to do freelance work whilst I'm out there. That's the great thing about this industry, you don't have to stay in one place. I was in Australia last year and met a digital market who travelled for months on end whilst still doing amazing freelance work. All he needed was his backpack and his laptop! That's the dream right there.

What advice would you give to current students, or recent graduates looking to get into marketing?
I don't regret going to uni, but I don't think it's a necessity. I learnt the most during my placement year, and most of the skills and knowledge I utilise in my day-to-day job were learnt here rather than at uni. Just do what's right for you! I definitely recommend getting in touch with an agency, and trying to get some experience before you jump into anything feet first!

Beth, the PR and communications graduate.
Marketing Executive.  
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