Making a decision about careers – a job in itself!

When I started this blog, I said I would write about my experiences as a graduate – when you hear graduate, you immediately think of the dire unemployment statistics (at least in the UK, anyway). The latest unemployment figures show that graduate employment is at a record high, with a quarter of the most-recent graduates still not employed in any kind of work after graduating nine months ago (which is on par with those who didn’t attend college or university). Although I would say I am lucky in that finding paid work hasn’t necessarily been a struggle for me so far (more on that later) I, myself, have spent a fair bit of time stood in the dole queue whilst waiting for my job to start, quite possibly the most depressing place on earth. The people there range from those that have been made redundant in the recession (as some of my family were) who are trying to raise children and desperately put food on the table, to university leavers like myself, to those who blatantly have no intention of finding any sort of paid work, and are more than happy to live off the state while slobbing around on the sofa, beer in hand, watching, or even appearing on, Jeremy Kyle (I’m not knocking this, I love a bit of Jezza). If you think I’m generalising, I don’t mean to, this is my direct experience, and I found that the latter actually received preferential treatment from the jobcentre – I think the poor staff just wanted them to stop shouting at them and make them go away as quickly as possible.

The past few years have quite possibly been the worst time ever to attend university. Course fees are getting higher and higher (thanks, Nick Clegg, for conning students into voting for you, then reward them by being too weak-willed to oppose the fee rises) whilst employment prospects are getting lower and lower. Yet, as part of the baby boom generation, we were brought up to believe that we could achieve whatever we wanted to, and thanks to the feminist push for equality, this included women also. Do the statistics now mean we should turn our back on our dreams and aspirations and settle for second best?

I still don’t think so. Although I am the first to admit I am afraid of things falling apart, the fear of failing isn’t as awful as the fear of getting to your deathbed, and regretting all the things you haven’t done – the fear of ‘what if’ is terrifying. I’ve found, if you work hard enough, someone, somewhere, will notice you. After graduating, I sent out hundreds of application letters to all sorts of different jobs – at that point, after a psychology degree, I felt I should pursue a career relating to this, but I wasn’t choosy about what I went for. I applied for everything from care assistant jobs to assistant psychologist posts (incredibly optimistic)…however, despite the current economic climate, I was choosy about what job I actually took. After spending half a day at one care home witnessing the horrific way the residents were treated, I walked out and never returned.

I was finally offered an interview at a psychiatric hospital (the very one where the word ‘bedlam’ originated from…I would soon find out why after I took up the post!) and was one of the lucky 8 who were offered a job out of 30 after a day of group tasks, improvisation, answering questions we hadn’t prepared for, and individual interviews. I later found out that over 300 people had applied for job.

I’m making this point because I am no more special that anyone else, I just spent a lot of time and effort on my applications, worked hard at the interview and had a genuine desire to get the job. I believe it was a case of being in the right place at the right time – the other hundreds of employers clearly looked at my CV and application and threw it straight in the bin, while this one thought I might be good enough for the job. I strongly believe that, particularly in today’s market, persistence is the most important quality to have.

As it turned out, the job didn’t work out. It was literally bedlam. I’m now working as a special needs teaching assistant which, don’t get me wrong, is extremely challenging, but I adore all of the children, and love seeing them each day.

Now, despite how confident I may seem about going for your dream, I have another side of me which craves the security of a stable job and good money, as it’s one less thing to worry about and, yes, although money isn’t everything, being able to afford a nice house, car and lifestyle certainly helps! I strongly want to be able to stand on my own two feet. So I have found myself at a crossroads about what I want to do next year. I feel that it’s time to move on from this job, and have been offered a place on a teacher training course which, although it is a great opportunity, I am now having doubts about. From this, I’d hope to go on to train as an educational psychologist in the future. On the other hand, I have always wanted to be a journalist. I suppose you would describe it as my dream. Both are equally as competitive, and yet somehow, becoming a journalist feels like the more risky option. Possibly because I want it more, it means the fear of failing is even greater? Or perhaps it’s the feeling of not being good enough? Either way, it is a genuine dilemma, and I have no idea what to do. Maybe I should settle for the safe option – after all, there is no dispute that these are difficult times with no sign of light on the horizon. Or, maybe I should join my friends, the majority of whom are feeling despondent after facing rejections on a daily basis, and are living hand-to-mouth, but are staying true to themselves and chasing after what they really want to do. After all, there’s always the lottery to fall back on. Perhaps I need to put myself in the slippers of my future grey-haired, wrinkly self, lying on that bed, wishing she could give a naive 22 year-old the kick up the arse she needs to chase after what she really wants…

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The trials and tribulations of relationships…and banoffee pie.

I once made this with an ex-boyfriend of mine – the cake turned out to be far more successful than the relationship so, as a now-singleton, I thought I’d have another solo attempt at it. It is actually my favourite desert, and is particularly well-known in Britain…however, before I begin, I should add a disclaimer – this desert is in no way healthy and it WILL make you fat. But it’s amazing.

  • 250g/9oz digestive biscuits
  • 100g/4oz butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 400g/14oz caramel (you can buy a tin of this) *
  • 2 bananas, peeled and sliced
  • 300ml/½ pint whipping cream, whipped until soft peaks form (or just buy some whipped cream if you want to simplify this further)

* (You can used condensed milk – sometimes called ‘dulce de leche’ – in a tin instead of buying caramel, but you have to submerge it in water for 3 hours – if you don’t immerse it fully in the water apparently the tin will explode…seriously, who has the time or stress capacity to put themselves through that? If you’re not a banoffee pie purist, a tin of caramel will be fine).

  1. Put biscuits into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. (This is the way the recipe recommends…however, I find it more fun and far more satisfying to put the biscuits in a plastic bag and mash and bash – those are obviously the official cooking terms – the biscuits into breadcrumbs with a rolling pin. You could even imagine said ex-boyfriends face whilst doing this…not that I advocate that, of course).
  2. Transfer to a mixing bowl and rub the butter into the biscuits (this takes a while, but an added bonus is that your hands feel amazingly soft afterwards!)
  3. Place the mixture into a lightly greased, loose-bottomed cake tin and press down into the base and up along the sides. Chill for 30 minutes.
  4. Spoon the caramel over the biscuit base, and then cover with a layer of sliced bananas.
  5. Put whipping cream into a bowl and whip with a blender (this part was a bit trial-and-error for me – I did this with a hand-held one and stopped when the cream became thicker and, well, creamier – took about 5 minutes of blending). Spoon the whipped cream on top of the cake.
  6. Slice into wedges and serve.

The beauty of this type of desert is, even if you go horrifically wrong and it looks like a mess, it will still taste fantastic. This was a very simple recipe to make (it involved no actual cooking for a start!) but gets you used to techniques such as ‘rubbing in’ and allows you to use your own judgement as to when ‘the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs’ or what ‘whipped’ cream actually looks like, so it is a perfect starter recipe.

Overall, and I may be biased here, but I found that the cake I made by myself was nicer and significantly more satisfying than the one I made with my ex (I didn’t cry into my cake once)…much like the relationship I have with myself now if you want to get all Freudian about it! But this is just a cake. A delicious one.  And one which I recommend EVERYONE should try at least once!

Next week, I’ll post how my attempt at making a main meal for the whole family goes – surely a recipe for disaster?! Put it this way, I have the takeaway menus on standby…

Taking a risk – Roaccutane (week 1)

Bad skin. Acne. For those of you afflicted with the same curse as myself, you’ll know how debilitating and horrible this condition is. For girls, it makes you cake on make-up you wouldn’t do normally, grow your hair long to hide behind it (which, ironically, probably makes the problem worse) and, on a particularly bad day, makes you want to just hide away in a dark cave somewhere. I even feel uncomfortable writing this post, and I’m basically anonymous! And for guys, I can’t even begin to imagine how you deal with it without the luxury of foundation – I think girls possibly have this one a little easier.

The problem is, if you haven’t suffered it yourself, it’s difficult to contemplate how hard it is for people with the condition. Especially if a person is able to cover it well, often people tell you that it’s not that bad and can’t understand why you’re so self-conscious about it. Or there are those that assume that you need to keep yourself clean and wash more often – again, ironically, acne sufferers probably keep their faces and bodies cleaner than the majority of the population in order to combat their bad skin. The fact is, it’s a horrible, horrible condition that really does have a negative impact of the sufferers’ confidence.

So, after attempting to deal with this for around 10 years, using various over-the-counter remedies (didn’t work) and prescriptions from the doctor (didn’t work), I was finally referred to a dermatologist, and have been put on Accutane (Roaccutane in Britian).

If you saw me on a good day, you wouldn’t necessarily think I had bad skin (god bless make-up). This made me question whether I was making the right decision going on Roaccutane. I was terrified of taking these pills beforehand, and actually still am. It only takes a quick search of Accutane to bring up thousands of posts from people saying ‘it’s ruined my life’, ‘I wish I’d never taken it’ and listing side effects I never knew was possible. However, people have to remember that, for every horror story, there are plenty of positive ones from people who say it’s the best thing they’ve ever done, and they wished they’d done it sooner. People tend to report the bad stuff, right?

With this in mind, and I think a pretty realistic view of the possible side effects, I am now 1 week into a  4 month course of Roaccutane (30mg day – my skin condition would probably be described as moderate).  So far – to be honest, there have been very few noticeable effects of any kind. My skin hasn’t really had any new breakouts this week, but occasionally I do have weeks like that. As for side effects, not many yet (famous last words, I’m sure). My lips feel like they may be starting to get a little dryer, and I’ve had quite a few stomach aches (but I suffer from these anyway – what good genes I’ve been blessed with!). I am aware it’s very early days, and am fully expecting the side effects to start hitting soon (I am armed and ready with Vaseline, lip balm and aquaphor!) so I’ll report back next week and see if anything’s changed. For those of you on it, I’m interested to hear how your experiences are. I’ll post soon too with products and make-up I’ve tried that have somewhat helped. I’d like to end this post by saying something along the lines of we’re beautiful inside and out, stay strong – but, I’m a typical reserved Brit, so to anyone struggling with acne or battling Roaccutane, chin up and keep positive, fingers crossed it’ll all be worth it in the end.

Gambling – why is it so, well, addictive?

Who hasn’t played the lottery before? We all do it, we all say we don’t expect to win, yet if we truly believed it, why do we spend our hard-earned money on it? Because somewhere, deep down, we do think we’re going to win. We watch the tv on a Saturday night (or check the numbers the next day for those lucky enough to have a life on a Saturday night!) and still get the slightly elevated heart-rate, tingling in your fingers whilst gripping on to your ticket, waiting for your numbers to flash up…and then experience the gut-wrenching disappointment when they inevitably never do. Or, very occasionally, the overwhelming excitement of winning £10, quickly followed by the comedown when you realise it’s still not the £1,000,000 you secretly hoped it would be. So why do we do it?

Well, I actually know (or, should I say, knew) someone who has won the lottery in the past few months. In fact, it was one of the biggest wins ever in Britain at £46,000,000. And I used to be in the same class as him at school. And possibly, even worse than that, I had recently been asked out by his best friend, who has just received a best-friend bonus gift of over £1,000,000. Sucks to be me! (Is it too late to get in contact do you think…?)

With another lucky winner having a large lottery influx just before my schoolmate in the same city, my hometown started being toted in the press as being ‘lucky’, and I began to wonder if some of this so-called ‘luck’ might have rubbed off on me. Which has led me, for the first time in around 5 years, to play the lottery tonight.

I decided I’d buy my tickets online (as it’s clearly too much effort to get up and actually go out mid-day on a lazy Saturday while watching old ER episodes back-to-back), but there was only one problem – you have to deposit a minimum of £5 and tickets are £1 each. I assessed my laziness, and decided to go ahead with this – I spent £2 on two tickets, and decided to spend my remaining £3 on the instant win online games…a rocky road, I’m sure you’ll agree.

However, I was amazed (or, deep down, was I half expecting/hoping for it?) to find that I began winning – very small sums, a £1 here, £2 there…until the big one. £5! Now, I had a dilemma – at £6 left in my online lottery funds, do I pay the money back into my account, or keep playing? Thankfully I did the sensible thing (bearing in mind, I am a graduate on a less-than-graduate salary) – I drew my £5 back out (effectively getting tonight’s tickets for free) and would play with the last remaining £1. I was sure to win, wasn’t I? I’d been on such a winning streak so far…

I didn’t win. And then I felt it – the mild disappointment, the small hole of emptiness of knowing that my chances of winning the big money had vanished and, more scarily, the desire to transfer more money in my attempt to win. At that point, I closed the site down, and hid my purse from myself until the sensations subsided, vowing to giving the gambling a break for a while.

Until tonight, of course, where I still have my two lottery tickets. And, failing to find myself a life this Saturday night, I’ll be there, in front of the tv, waiting and secretly half-expecting to see my numbers flash across the screen. Will I win? I doubt it. But there’s still that hidden part of me, deep down, that isn’t quite so sure…

The life of an Amateur Graduate: Learning to survive in the real world and other essential life skills

Life of an amateur graduate – bit of a strange name for a blog isn’t it?

Like most new bloggers I suspect, I have just sat in front of my laptop for a good, ooh, half an hour or so trying desperately to come up with an interesting, witty name that might capture even just one person’s attention and make them take a precious few minutes out of their day to linger on this page. After failing to do so, I then thought I’d choose a title that simply reflects me. That took probably another 15 minutes on top of that. Have you noticed how difficult it is to sum yourself up in just a few words? Maybe it’s us Brits that struggle more with this! For me personally, job interviews that ask you to ‘describe yourself in 3 words’, or ‘tell us what qualities your friends say you have’ make my palms go clammy and my heart sink, and I’ll spout out something generic such as ‘fun, friendly, polite’ very unconvincingly (despite liking to think I do actually possess these qualities!) That question is usually the kiss of death for me.

So, back on point, I think the title of ‘amateur graduate’ sums me up fairly well. I graduated back in 2010 and, I have to say, although being a student was undoubtedly the best time of my life, it in no way prepares you for the real world. Yes, you work hard (usually), yes, the social aspect is great (I was unbearably shy before starting university and was slowly but surely brought out of my shell); but unless your future career path involves pulling all nighters with copious amounts of energy drink before a 9 a.m. exam, becoming addicted to Jeremy Kyle (despite your best efforts) or learning the rules to the ‘take me out’ drinking game, graduating from the student lifestyle can be a real eye opener! After growing up thinking that a shiny degree can take you any place you like, leaving university and entering the ‘real world’ in a recession is pretty daunting for most.

Saying this, I have to explain, despite being a hard worker and quite focused, I have been described on occasion as ‘ditzy’, and many of my friends have compared me to Bridget Jones (maybe I should tell my next interviewer that if the dreaded quesion arises!) so certain toils for me tend to be more pronounced! (A perfect example occurred just before writing this post as, while attempting to activate my ‘wordpress’ account, I inexplicably forgot my email password I have used every day for the past 3 years).

Therefore, this blog will document my experiences of cooking (I plan to cook one new recipe a week and, coming from someone who ruined a pot noodle, this is no mean feat), career struggles I’m sure myself and many other graduates are experiencing, and the hellish prospect (sorry mum) of moving home after university. I also will write more specific posts on my experience with taking roaccutane (anyone unlucky enough to suffer with bad skin will be familiar with this), reviews on health/beauty products, and generally write ideas as they come to me in the hope that some of you out there will find them interesting or helpful.

For anyone still reading – I admire your dedication! I’ll post again soon, so I hope you’ll check back in with me then 🙂