It’s a Hard Knock Life

It’s been a year of hard knocks, and I have to admit I’ve struggled badly whilst trying to adapt. A new graduate never has it easy but the recruitment market has forced the cattle into a bit of a bottleneck. You see, with rising unemployment, the prospects for recent graduates are not anywhere near as healthy as they have been. More so, when you’re a mature student. It culminates in my reflection of a perpetual series of poor academic decisions during my life.

The greatest thing that I have done to date is go back to school, the worst was quitting an earlier degree over a decade ago. I blame it on poor mentality and bad advice by non-academics, but there is never too much that a person can dwell on without it driving you insane. When sanity eventually graced my meagre mind, I returned to education.

My choices were primarily for me, there was no particular focus because I was hellbent on erasing my past mistake.  At the time, there was a possibility that I may explore the possibility of becoming an educator, but it was not the driving force for my decision. In the end I chose to read a BA in Arabic and English Language.

Going back was difficult, being out of education for so long whilst working primarily in an operational capacity burdens the mind with wastefulness. I struggled in many respects, for one, over eighty percent of my classes were reaming with students much younger than I and I felt like there was an outstanding gulf between us. In reality, I am immature and a bit of a goofball, but the aura of difference was overwhelming at the time. Secondly, I had lost the capacity to learn, it had become alien to me. I endeavoured on a programme of retraining my mind to absorb, it took much longer than I had ever anticipated. By the end of my first year going back to university, my grades were appalling and it was hardly helped by my work schedule. I decided by that point that I should take a career break and study Arabic to develop my language skills. Taking a career break was a risk but I had become stale in my working environment, promotional opportunities at the time passed-by but there was no real sense of progress in any of the roles. In hindsight, had I taken a role in first-line management it would have done me the world of good. Having said that, time was of the essence and I felt that I would not have achieved anything out of my degree if I stayed.

Earlier that same year, I had reached a feat that was precious to my personal harmony: I got married. I call it a feat because it is the most outstanding feature of balance in my life, rather like yin and yang. Nevertheless, after my wedding I had convinced my wife to travel with me to Egypt to embark on our adventure with study. We did not have a honeymoon, in fact I often tell her that our two year stint in Egypt was an extended honeymoon, she fails to see the humour. I am forever in her debt, so let this be a warning to all you young men waiting to get married: have a honeymoon else you will be held to ransom (for eternity).

The time spent abroad proved to be incredibly fruitful, any hardships that were endured made us understand the intricacies of life. As a foreigner in a new land, you have to adapt quickly to the cultural dynamics of your surroundings or things can turn sour very quickly. I worked in a few roles and studied Arabic for nearly two years with sporadic success, but I know I had achieved a high degree of Arabic. I was content but left with the feeling that I could have achieved a lot more. It fills me with a great sense of satisfaction when I reflect on the facts: I had moved away to a foreign land; worked; studied and; built great networks.

On my return to England, it took me three months to resume work. I was back to full time work with the same employer. My goal was to go back to university with my newly acquired skills, reinvigorated and yearning to learn more. I failed to progress past my first year prior to the trip to Egypt, but I met with the languages leader and convinced her to progress me into the higher strand of Arabic: I was now studying for a BA in Arabic & International Relations, realising that teaching English was not my passion. I envy my peers that teach, it takes a huge amount of character, sometimes without rewards. I breezed my Arabic the 1styear but struggled initially adapting to political thought, but despite the blip I progressed into year two. This time, after exerting so much effort into improving in political science, the ascendency of Arabic deteriorated so far that the roles had now flipped. I was doing really well in International Relations and performing poorly in Arabic. I had regained momentum in my final year and was delighted when I achieved an upper second class. It was by far the most significant achievement of my life. Thinking back to the days that followed my withdrawal from my first attempt at gaining a degree in 2001, I knew I had made the wrong decision, but finally this ball and chain, this burden had been removed. That it had taken so long had made the success feel all the more amazing. Actually I prefer the word “Euphoria” because it encapsulates a sense of my soul rising.

So comes to the last 14months of my life. My wife had been searching for a place for us to purchase for some time and she had eventually found one almost immediately after I had heard news of my degree. Things were great, and they were to become even greater shortly after I had been offered a much higher paying promotion with my current employer. It was still in the operational field, and I had envisaged, somewhat deludingly that my career would have progressed into management by now, but this was a step in the right direction, I thought. The problem was, that I had a 10 year plan that was not going as I intended, nature and economics had taken over. The double-dipping, helter skelter of a world economy had hit us all, hard.

Between my penultimate year and final year I had begun researching into careers and internships, I had succeeded in securing one for myself in an NGO based in London. The amount of research I have done into postgraduate programmes and graduate schemes is absurd. I am a veritable encyclopaedia when it comes to knowledge of courses and grad schemes. A friend of mine, also a mature student,  had recently graduated and he was shaken with the lack of opportunities available to him. Given my wealth of knowledge, I offered him advice and told him about numerous openings. The upshot of it all was that I could not possibly be in a position to fail, but I had created contingencies in any case should there be any unanticipated problems or quandaries. Research and hours of endless reading had lead me to the belief that once I had graduated, the world would be my oyster. Insofar as I was concerned, I could walk into any job I wanted. It mattered little that I would take a pay cut because any junior position would eventually lead to a place that I wanted to be and an eventual spike in salary. So I applied for graduate scheme after graduate scheme.

After six years of continuous education, my exhausted mind needed a break but the promotion that I had been offered did not really allow for it. I entered into a training programme for the new role, packed into 13 intensive weeks of theoretical and practical training: it had previously allowed trainees 6 calendar months. Midway through the course, I was given even greater news that I had gained admittance into a top ten university to study for my Postgraduate Masters in Transport. It was the pinnacle of my year and with this distraction, I admit that work played second fiddle: I did not prepare; I did not read the materials provided and; I did not do my homework because quite frankly, this was another run-of-the-mill job, how difficult could it be? My arrogance was my downfall, although I passed all the in-class assessments and the practical training, I did not carry out my subsequent tasks satisfactorily. My job was taken very seriously, I was focused once I had qualified but I just needed more time in a time critical environment.

By now I had commenced my studies at Loughborough, travelling every second week to sit in class discussing the mechanics of transport policy and strategy. I loved it, I was enamoured with the fact that I was progressing and getting to where I wanted to be.

When you are at your pinnacle, it is a long way down.

I encountered a few problems at work right from the start, during the interim period I temporarily withdrew from my MSc in order to focus, but I decided to do something to keep my mind open and in a constant state of learning. I studied E-zone courses, an internal tool for learning facilitated by my employers and I started to read and write brief articles for my own pleasure. I had always envisaged returning to Loughborough in Autumn 2012. When another incident followed it lead to my eventual dismissal from my role. Twelve years, I have been at this company working in various roles, so to describe this as a proverbial kick in the testicles is making light of the situation. In reality, I am sitting at a base role, waiting to start right over unsure as to whether I will have any support to personally develop: I’m gutted. Increased significance for me to  return to education was now the order of the day.

The responses from all the other jobs came flooding in as a wave of rejections. Now? Could it have been timed any better? New criteria had been adopted for the coming campaign, recruiters and employers now look as far back as A-level achievements. I did my A-level’s nearly 20 years ago and the fact that I achieved a upper second class (Around a 3.2-3.5 GPA) has little significance, neither does my extensive work experience. It strikes me as entirely unfair and insulting that work experience is regarded as irrelevant, graduate campaigns need to adopt a softer approach for mature students or education-returners. My contingencies began to fall away to the extent that nothing remains despite planning extensively.

I recently had to quit my Masters completely because the academic timetable has been altered so drastically that it becomes a logistical impracticality to attend lectures.  It should be clear from all of the above how important my education is to me, the one thing that was giving me hope to move on has been seized; I’m devastated. I have a list of things that I am going to study while I await the next deadline to commence a new MSc. much nearer home, I now have to hope that they accept me into the programme (and that it runs!)

In the end, I am a broken man because for all my attempts to move on, I cannot. It reminds me of a statement that a (then) young preacher said to me when I told him I wanted to go back to school all those years ago: “Don’t go” he said, “There are already people who have learnt those skills, so just earn as much as you can and use it for good.” Maybe then, I am destined to be here to earn what I can, in something of a rehash of Webber’s protestant ethic: faux-ambition. The problem is, in life you never know what you are destined for.

I think I will do with that, just as I did with the preacher’s advice. Ignore it and move on.

The Wotsits Conundrum

Twenty five years back, my Old Man used to work in a cash and carry near Aldgate station. Occasionally I’d be taken there spending a few hours running around the store while he would work in the office out the back. It was a good place to spend your time playing hide and seek, but it never lasted more than a few moments, my father would halt our fun with a very effective neanderthal grunt. He didn’t need words to express his distaste, we knew what that grunt meant.

On one of these trips to Aldgate, I weaved my way through a few steel shelves and into the confectionery section. A kid in a candy store needs little tempting to start devouring boxes but I was always reticent to invade the jars of boiled sweets because of the consequences of my action. I could have lied and accused the mice, but I doubt these skilled-sweet-loving-nemeses would be able to negotiate the glass jars as i could. Having had said that, I wouldn’t be lying- on the technicality of being nicknamed Moynul the Mouse. Like I said, I didn’t do much than contemplate.

Some years later, I watched an episode of QED about the dietary-behavioural connection, it doesn’t sound like the most engrossing TV but I assure you it tantilised the brain cells. I’m not discussing that though, what I will mention is that they asserted that children are either given pocket money to satisfy their carnal desires to pig out on junk- or they are provided with junk by their parents. I’m partial to the latter but in my childhood, I always wanted the money to spend on shit food. I think I’m compensating on that lack of tuck-shop money by spending thriftily on kebabs- so declared the evolution of junk. Anyhow, we were stocked with junkfood straight from the cash and carry.

Getting back to my slalom run in the cash and carry, I noticed a big yellow box and beside it was an orange one. They were cornsnacks- crisps. The name of these crisps were: Thingimejigs and Somethingbobs or other. Now I know now, as I knew then that these were rip-offs of Wotsits but we weren’t well-off folk so dad opted to buy the cheaper version similarly and just as bizarrely named. The irony of it was that although they were cheaper, we used to consume much more- much, much more in fact. Clearly Wotsits were enough of a success to copy and rebrand into budget versions with budget tastes. Cheetos have tried and succeeded and thingimejigs have since been replaced by corn puffs/snacks etc.

But what on earth is a wotsit? Is it that enigmatic? Who cares!?

Every time I have a packet- and that’s still quite often, my fingers are covered in a cheesy orange residue that I’m obliged to lick off vampirically. And it’s not only that, I become accustomed to having 3, maybe 4 packs at a time. It’s more “once you pop you can’t stop” than a tube of Pringles. A trigger in your head summons your hand towards that metallic, glistening, taste-preserving pack like the archaic, matt orange packet never enticed you to. I hate the urge, but I’m always overwhelmed. What’s in a Wotsit that makes it so addictive, according to the anagram, it’s a Sow’s tit.

Yum, then. (?)