Pesky students

I’ve yet to make up my mind about the protests of the last few weeks. I watched the first live courtesy of a hyperactive BBC news channel, which probably gave a vastly distorted view of everything, and have been keeping up with – if not participating in – the rest of events. As a slightly bolshy leftist I broadly agree with Marx’s tenet that education should be free: I dislike the way it’s become a marketised social cost that must be repaid, when a good education is really a social benefit – that’s not really a radical viewpoint. Nevertheless, I think what’s been missed by the angry students and socialist agitators is that a lot of the education that’s affected is not all that good, not necessarily fit for purpose.

I don’t agree with charging any student nine grand per year to study. It’s too much burden to place on a teenager who isn’t really sure what they’re doing. I don’t agree with a graduate tax when a loan can be paid off and not hang over the student forever.

Having been both a student and an education administrator of late, I’m pretty familiar with HE: what’s needed is not necessarily to make undergraduate degrees more accessible to all, but to make education more appropriate to need and ability. So: students who are academically-able should be able to go to do a literate, academic degree at a university of their choice, and should have the same access whatever background they’re from. But many students would be better suited to vocational courses, or training, or apprenticeships, or something similar, and this is what is sorely lacking. Hiking fees and cutting university funding is NOT the way to solve the problem: it needs a more root-and-branch approach.



It’s been an odd few weeks since I last posted here, and I’ve had much and little to say, if you see what I mean. Married life doesn’t really fit in with an effective, regular blogging schedule. Nevertheless, plenty enough has been actually going on since then. I have had odd sort of jobs, and I’ve mostly been left befuddled by a new level of mis-understanding of how employees are employed.

One job was supervising a blind woman in an office: no problem, errands to run, typing to check etc. But that is one inefficient use of salary. The next was receptionist, or rather, the bored-looking security guard who gets to sit on a swivel chair, hand out visitor passes and watch lots and lots of news channel news.

The latest is the school office, which fulls my burning administrator’s need for officiousness whilst actually being quite a pleasant place to work. This one looks to be extending into the new year with a proper job looming, so – if the phone interview with TfL was unsuccessful – I might be in full-time work again soon. And lookit, it seems my calling in life is education sector admin. Huzzah!

Temporarily available

From Toothpaste For Dinner

From Toothpaste For Dinner

I’m beginning to see the appeal of becoming one of these serial unemployed types that you hear about in the newspapers these days. I’m having quite a pleasant time, all things considered, sat at home: today I’m constructing road signs out of coloured cardboard (don’t ask), playing with Google Maps, and waiting for the phone to ring while listening to the Beautiful South.

There’s only the question of money to be dealt with, so I’m biting my tongue to talk to vacuous, squeaky-voiced recruitment consultants who keep trying to convince me to do night shifts scanning documents in Hoddesdon, and trying to find something to occupy my time that doesn’t involve scissors and prittstick. I type at least 15wpm more than Kim Jong-Il, I got advanced scores on Word and Excel, and though am now registered with three temp agencies, have had a miserly total of 9.5 hours work in the last month. Ah, the modern world. I’m slightly pinning some hopes on getting a proper job soon, which would be nice, but until then I’m going to have to run the risk of IDS coming round to knock on my door looking like the vulture muppet and demanding my arms and legs in return for some dole money, thankyouverymuchsiryou’reverykindsiridoffmycaptoyousir. Stupid tories, ruining everything.

…then I found a job

Well, not really. I have 10.5 hours work this week. Perhaps some next week; perhaps not. My wife is the breadwinner right now, a public servant, and I am grabbing what I can. I do believe this puts me in Gareth Stedman Jones‘ “dangerous classes” of casual labour, which is quite exciting. See you down the docks.

I’m an optimistic sort of chap, and have confidence in a master-plan that I don’t really know about, so I figure there’s no point fretting. But I can’t really help but feel an ire on behalf of everyone in this country who isn’t stinking rich right now: some hilariously disingenuous economic spin gives an impression that we’re all in this together, but it isn’t true: just ask Vodafone, who were last month let off £6bn tax – incidentally, not too dissimilar to the amount slashed from welfare benefits by Gideon George Osborne yesterday.

According to the Guardian then, we’ve got a withdrawal of £50 for those on long-term disability benefits. Screw you if you can’t afford Bupa, peasant. Screw you if you can’t afford to defend your rights against huge corporations – £350m goes from legal aid. Screw you if you happen to live in a poor place where there’s crime but no private contracted security – 20% from the police. Screw you if you can’t afford a roof over your head – “half off social housing!” reads like a special offer – it’s not. Screw you if you’ve had to slave through your life looking forward to retirement because you can’t afford a pension – retirement age goes up. Screw you if you can’t afford a car – rail fares to rise. Screw you if you’d like to be educated but can’t afford it – EMA is dismissed for the poorest students as a “bribe”, FE and HE funding is slashed.

And screw you if you think freezing the science budget when it needs to be swelled, raising the schools budget a touch – but taking the pupil premium from within it – or a paltry £1bn green investment bank is sufficient, because you’re wrong, and if you’re not stinking rich, you’re going to suffer. Pleh.

Recommended reading: Johann Hari in the Indie.


While there’s a (small) part of me that wants to be a little postmodern and not make huge sweeping generalisations, I’m generally very happy to take a structural, sociological point of view: people are complex and individual, but not as much as they’d like to think; we’re simplifiable. I take a pretty misanthropic view of the world’s inhabitants: people can be nice and do good things, but we’re all a bunch of rotters on the inside (as a Christian, I’m more than happy to temper this with a very nice redemptive alternative – but we’re still generally blackguards).

I can get grumpy about most anything, from the large – fanatical capitalists of the American right at the moment, swingeing ideological cuts here – to the small – why do a company (British Gas) that espouse ecological credentials send me so many letters? What makes people you work with petty, small-minded jobsworths? It was such a relief then to read and see and hear over the last day or so the story in Chile which has pretty much no bad news about it. Journalists are really scrabbling to find the villains of the piece: is it the government who’ve worked tirelessly to get these miners out, or the mining company who’ve apologised humbly and made massive safety improvements? Not really. It’s just a really lovely story of the happy side of the human spirit – the miners who’ve organised themselves, had faith and were vindicated, the right-wing government who’ve shown compassion and humanity, and my new favourite, Laurence Golborne, who’s cheered everybody up mostly by playing Radiohead songs by the campfire. Nobody’s perfect, the story says, but good news is a rare commodity.

I was looking for a job…

And I still am, and it’s pretty much boring and stupid. I’ve not progressed past applications for jobs I’m overqualified for, and there’s just not that many I’d like to do in the first place; and, as your man said, even if I find a job, I’d still be miserable. If anyone would like to give me a perfect job right now, that would be great, ta.

It’s a test of faith I guess: I’m certain there is a right job for me, I just don’t know what it is, or where it is, or when. My wife and I have surprised ourselves by realising it may not be in London, or in the exact career we’ve trained for, or what have you. We are awaiting some sort of guidance. Temping awaits.


I seem to be listening mostly to relaxing dance music these days. I blame a trip to the Big Chill festival in August: three days spent lounging in the Herefordshire sunshine listening to relaxing dance music. It’s been wonderful for working too – I love my head-noddingly intellectual electronica, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something so undemanding about Mr Scruff for example, or Lemon Jelly. It just cries out for a cup of tea.

I’m running out of ideas though. There’s only so much help that Spotify can be. I like the related artists function, but I can’t seem to break out of a cycle of Ninja Tune on there. So I’m looking for suggestions of chilled, calming dance music to listen to so that I can plug my way through thousands of old census returns, and at the same time imagine I’m in a field with some tea, or looking out over the Adriatic, or looking out of the window into a rainy night with low lights and mugs of coffee.