Sunday, 25 March 2012

On approaching adulthood

“I believe that everyone else my age is an adult, whereas I am merely in disguise.”
                                                                                                               Margaret Atwood

This quote is written on a card on my desk. It was a gift from a friend who often hears me utter the phrase, ‘When I grow up..”

Well, in a worrying turn of events, I fear that I may, without me having even noticed, grown up.

Let us examine the evidence.

  1. I live with a boy
  2. I pay bills like ‘rent’ ‘council tax’ and ‘electricity.’
  3. I have a dedicated ring-binder that contains the paperwork related to the above.
  4. I have a real professional job where I am required to wear smart clothing and keep my hair neat.
  5. I listen to radio 2.

be happy
On Life
Which leads me to the important question – what do I want to be when I grow up? I’ve included this image before, but I love it so much and it seemed relevant to include it again. Happy. I want to be happy. 

Someone who knows first hand about helping people to find out what this means to them is Michelle Woodhall, who likes to dance, has an excellent fringe and whose business is all about helping people discover the life they want to live.

She’s a life planner, which is different to a life coach or a councillor, “I support my clients to work out what their dreams are in a gentle and effective way. Rather than focusing on goals, I work to uncover passions and dreams and then find ways to incorporate the things that would make them happy into their life.”

She tells me that most people know deep down ‘what they want from life’ but most are putting it off until they retire.  

UNTIL THEY RETIRE. So, the way things are going, by the time I reach retirement they’ll be no such concept, and even if there is, there’s far too much of a risk I won’t get there – what with all the red meat and good living.

No, I’m definitely not prepared to wait that long, and the way I’m getting on with the office printer, I probably won’t last the week.

So what do I want life to be like when I’m a grown up?

I’d like:

More time outside
The chance to write more
To live near the beach
To see friends and family more often
To travel more
To live in a cottage with wooden floors and a brightly coloured front door

Perhaps with Michelle’s help, I can make it happen. You’ll just have to watch this space.

If you’d like to explore your dreams, feel stuck or fancy doing something different, you should check out Michelle’s website here.

Friday, 16 March 2012

In defence of libraries

I am writing this post from the library. I know, I know,  I have broadband and a laptop at home - but my local library does not have laundry to be done, floors to be hovered and daytime tv to distract me.

It just has lots of lovely books.

The library I am in right now, at 4pm on a Friday afternoon is in Leith, (a relatively colourful part of town,) and it is packed out.

I remember going to the library as a kid. Long Knowle Library was a small red box of a building, near to my primary school in Wolverhampton,  that smelt a lot like bleach. And in that library I remember attending writing workshops in half term, idolising Roald Dahl, and discovering the joy of being allowed to take 5 of these wonderful books home with me.

I had books at home too. A whole bookcase full of them. I so loved the library that I turned my own bookshelf into a library. Each book was coded up with a piece of paper stuck with sellotape onto the spine and could be borrowed by a friend. A Winnie the Pooh book-plate was proudly stuck in the front cover of each: ‘Rachel owns this book.'

I remember Stephen Charles borrowing my beloved ‘Please Mrs Butler’ book of poems. He tippexed on the pages. That was the day my library closed.

The closing of my bookshelf library in 1992 was no disaster. The closing of our communities’ libraries is a very different matter.

Sitting here, on this PC that I am using for free, I look around. What are the other adults doing here? I look at the two men either side of me. They are jobhunting online. 

On the other side of the computer bank are a group of adults working with a library employee. Eavesdropping reveals that this is a CV clinic.

A gentleman from the local council is in the foyer to answer resident's questions at a drop in clinic. 

Kids are coming after school to borrow books. Horrid Henry is a popular choice. 

3 out of 10 children in the UK do not own a single book. There’s no coded library bookshelves in their home. But here, in this small library in Leith, they can come in and borrow books. And books, let us not forget, open the doors to new worlds, people you’d never meet, thoughts you never believed possible. They fuel the imagination.

So Mr. Cameron. Please stop closing our libraries. For the communities that need them the most, libraries offer a place to look for jobs, to seek advice, to be part of community, to access books.

Every library that closes only acts to remind us that the gulf between the haves and the have-nots continues to grow, and that should be worrying us all.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Otherwise engaged

There comes a moment in every late twenty-something’s life, when she looks around and realises everyone is getting married.

Last weekend was my moment.

The University besties are happily hitched (you can read all about always being the bridesmaid here) but in my school friends I had hoped that we had a few years yet.

Seems not.

For on a Friday night,  whilst catching up in our favourite curry house in Wolverhampton, drinking beer from a wine glass, one friend casually said: “So, ladies, what’s the etiquette on engagement rings?”

I almost choked on my aloo gobi.

Turns out, said friend and her partner are in discussions about this very matter. And she is non too pleased with his views on the ring. “He said he was going to spend £500. I mean £500?”

Seems he doesn’t know that one to two months' salary is the norm for these matters. Although it might be worth mentioning that this norm seems to stem from De Beers' marketing department, who I’d say have a somewhat vested interest.

“Oh no I quite agree,” added another friend (apparently planning her engagement this summer) “It’s one month’s salary, or £1000: whichever is greater.”

Friend B’s fiancĂ© to be is soon to qualify as a doctor. My advice to him is: BUY THE RING AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE before your salary sees a dramatic spike skywards.

“But how can I tell him that £500 isn’t enough, without sounding, well, like a snob?”

By now ‘soon to be doctor’s wife’ had put away several wine glasses of beer, and had the perfect response.

“Just say, (adopts sinister whisper) £500? F**k you.”

Perhaps this seems a tad on the harsh side in the sober light of day.

But my friends are not alone. Getting married is synonymous with haemorrhaging cash.
The engagement is just the beginning, for thereafter lies the interrogation about the ‘big day.’ “Will you have a big wedding?” they will ask, looking at you as if you have become a giant living cashpoint. What they mean is: will you pay for 300 people to hate your wedding dress and whisper about your back-fat?

No, I wouldn’t either. 

The average cost of a UK wedding is £21,000. £21,000. Why, oh why, would I spend 21k on a wedding, when I’m trying to buy things – like, oh let me think, a house!

Call me selfish, but the idea of eloping for a two person ceremony followed by a fabulous five star holiday sounds like a far better option to me.

Whichever way I look at it, spending 20 grand on a wedding for £2000 of John Lewis goods is bad economics. I’ll buy my own toaster, thanks.

So ladies, I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on the ring. Surely it’s just the love that counts?
Although saying that, if anyone ever buys me one from Elizabeth Duke, I might have to reconsider my position.
Finally, I hope you’ll allow me to close with the words of a fellow Wolverhampton-er, Caitlin Moran:

“Perhaps we should just junk the whole idea of getting married in the first place. I’m generally against anything where you’re supposed to change your name. When else do you get named something else? On joining a nunnery, or becoming a porn star. As an ostensibly joyful celebration of love, that’s pretty bad company to be in.”

If you haven’t read Caitlin Moran’s: How To Be a Woman you really should. 

Friday, 2 March 2012

Rach does TV: A week of documentaries.

It’s been a busy week.

This week’s Coppers was the last in series, and saw a gentler method of policing in the sleepy Scottish Highlands. In fact, it was so sleepy that a former Glasgow copper told us that when he first moved from the inner-city, ‘I thought my radio didnae work.’ 

No mate, there’s just no crime.

So in Pitlochry, which made the town from Heartbeat look like Downtown LA, we did get to witness a Saturday night drug bust. One lad, caught outside the local pub was in possession of a small amount of crack. Luckily, he was caught in Pitlochry, and as such benefited from the ‘slap on the wrist’ approach to drug-crime. Turns out the coppers knew the lad’s family, so as long as he headed straight home, avoiding the pub on his way, they’d say no more about it.


Tuesday saw the controversial Channel 4 Documentary, My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, which this week featured surprisingly few weddings. Of course there was still ample airtime given to large dresses, fake tan and ‘bling.’

This episode focused primarily on the plight of the girls in the gypsy communities, highlighting the fact that very few stay in school beyond the age of ten or eleven. Mary, an 8 year old preparing for her first Holy Communion, seemed to have never even heard the term GCSE.

One teenager, Angel, offered a glimpse of hope for the whole of womenkind. She had continued her education in the hope of a life beyond child-baring and housewifery. The tragedy was that she was bullied by both sides for her choice.  Her school peers excluded her as a pikey, her community couldn’t understand her choice.

For the rest of the girls, the future held marriage, babies and bleach - a life of semi-servitude at the beck and call of men who rarely seem to deserve it.

And finally, last night saw Making Bradford British.

This much publicised documentary declared itself to be an attempt to discover what "Britishness" is and whether multiculturalism can really be achieved.

So what happened?

Less than one minute it, and over his pint a ‘gentleman’ barks, “If a dog’s born in a stable, it doesn’t make it a horse does it?” I can only assume that in this intellectual metaphor the dog was a ‘non-white’ person and the horse was the essence of being ‘British.’

Brilliant, best get a bigot in the opening credits I always think.

8 people, all of whom were born and bred in Bradford, and all of whom had failed the British citizenship, were put in a house together.

“I cannot think how any intelligent, rational person can be a racist,” said Maura, a posh 66 year old magistrate. No Maura, neither can I. Cue talk of ‘paki-bashing’ and arguments about trips to the mosque.

“The colour of your skin is absolutely irrelevant, but if you’re a dick head – you’re a dick head,” was Maura’s forceful conclusion.

And I couldn’t agree more, but all in all people got on. Because through conversation and compromise came understanding.

Until next week of course, when they’re moving into each other’s homes and communities, and I’ve got a funny feeling the dick heads might be out in force.

For twitter commentary on all hard hitting (and less hard hitting) channel 4 documentaries, follow me @brownrach