Nobody move…don’t…even…breathe…this could collapse…at….any…time…

And just to add the cherry to the cake, on my way home I find a glorious example of German product naming. Just be sure to wear these when trimming your bush.

Wow, you guys. Like boy HOWDY. These last few days have honestly been an emotional rollercoaster (hand gesture).

I’ll be honest: my time in Edinburgh, as the first three days of my new job, couldn’t have been more doom-laden. I put on a happy face in my airport blog post, but frankly I was deeply morose, and it wasn’t just because my Kindle has finally bitten into the grass (that’s how you bite the dust in Germany). I was morose because I felt like I was looking into the mouth of a big, long tunnel, a tunnel I’d been in before and thought I’d never have to scrabble through again to get to the light.

Why do employers feel that the best way to ‘initiate’ their employees is to assign them some ‘buddies’ to ease them into the business? More pertinently, why do they always seem to choose the select few that are seethingly bitter and acidically cynical to fill that role? When I began my last job at the publishers’, I was told in the interview that I was to expect a varied and exciting role full of challenges and inspiring new projects to keep me interested and train me in new and eye-opening realms. I was then sent for tea with my buddies, who leered at me with wide grins, savouring their Schadenfreude as they told me what the job was really like: “Oh, you’re doing that project? HAHAHAHAH. Yes. I did the previous version of that. Hope you enjoyed the last few years of your life, because the next few are going to be doozies…”

Refreshed from a few idle months of unemployment (read: moving to a different country, moving flat twice, endless job applications, freelancing, fighting with German burocracy etc) and on this super-groovy business trip to Edinburgh, I was determined and enthusiastic that things were going to be different this time. This time I would have found something fulfilling and real, something where I would be useful and where ‘travelling’ referred to trips to different cities in Europe rather than hours spent loathing every chug of the train journey from Reading to Oxford. I arrived in Edinburgh, was shown to the company flat (a bedroom in an office) by a lovely Polish girl with cool hair, and collapsed in a fur-lined bed. Yes. This was the future.

I woke up and was picked up for breakfast by my initiation ‘buddy’ for this new job. She was a loud, slightly terrifying Spanish woman with a leather jacket and a voice like a Mariachi sergeant general. She marched me to breakfast, sat me down and began: “So. I’m supposed to tell ju some theengs about your boss and ze company now. Hm.” She glared into my eyes with pupils like the barrels of a gun and tipped four sachets of sugar into her coffee. Then she told me a list of things that sounded like hell on earth. People in her role in the company usually worked from early morning to late at night and at the weekend, she said. People gave their lives for this job. I should be ready to deal with my boss because he is a strong personality and sometimes you will need to be tough with him because he will be tough with ju. And you know Microsoft Excel? Be damn careful with the colours in spreadsheets. He has a thing about colours in spreadsheets. You change those colours, you a dead man, ece.

As I met more and more people, they revelled in sharing even more horror stories with the wide-eyed noob: “You know the CEO? One time he got so angry with an employee he shouted at him in the street and started unzipping his fly and….well…” “One time, I had to work for four weeks solid without a day off and then I got ill and then my boyfriend broke up with me and I had to move out of my flat on the same day and I couldn’t get a day off still but I’m fine now.” “I’m afraid I can’t meet you tomorrow morning because I have the 10am-1.30pm shift. And then I have the 2.30pm-11.30pm shift. But it’s ok because then I have to move to Denmark because my job has changed!”

I would say my heart sank, but by this point it had simply shrivelled to a raisin. How could this be true, that these brilliant people and this awesome-sounding job was so nightmarish? I pleaded with these guys to explain, and they chuckled and said, “Hey, don’t worry, we only tell these stories because it’s funny to tell them to you! We all do this because we love it and we want to be doing it! Honest!” At the time I narrowed my eyes and resigned myself to the agony that was to be the next few months of my life.

And then I came back from Edinburgh and spent my first real week on the job and realised exactly what these people meant. This really is an awesome thing to do and a brilliant clan of people to do it with. The office is full of incredible, diverse people, from a fluffy-haired Portuguese hipster to a lovable beardy Yorkshireman, all of whom are chattery and generous and overflowing with good humour. I share my part of the office with a fierce and erudite guy who looks exactly like Wolverine (yes, including the sideburns) and a hilarious accountant dude who makes the most tongue-drippingly delicious coffee in town. 

My two office mates have fun executive toys like a LEGO sculpture of the Brandenburg Gate and an enormous cricket bat which they like to swing around until they break something, usually a lamp. Unlike my old cardboard tinned-air cubicle, the office is a weird old flat in the middle of Berlin with red desks and big breezy windows. Inkeeping with German etiquette, there is an entire room in the office used to store all the bottles of fizzy water the employees require, in a variety of different fizziness-grades.

And the work feels useful and relevant because it is about making sure that people who break their backs at their jobs to go on holiday get to have a really great time when they get there, and that people who have moved to an exciting new city and want a cool and interesting job can get one and put their personality to good use for a change. I even went on one of our tours as part of my training and had a brilliant time learning about Berlin, admiring the handsome tourguide and basking in the glow of my first real moment of street cred chatting to a sweet pair of first-year Durham students: “OHmiGawd, you actually live here in Berlin? Omigod that is like, soooo cooowuhl…”

And my boss? The guy who, according to all TV shows and films ever, should be a ginormous bastard practising a moderate-to-high level of sexual harassment? My boss is actually a forgiving, understanding and fundamentally good bloke who has given me real work to do and answers my twenty-bajillion nervous questions with admirable patience. And forgives me when I am unable to understand all of his sports analogies.

And all of a sudden, amongst all this, I have started to accumulate things like ‘Social security’ and ‘a work phone’ and ‘expenses’. I have to pay ‘tax’ and ‘pension’. I have identification numbers and HR profiles. I am in the system. I am part of the rat-race and nothing more than a file in someone’s filing cabinet. GOD it feels good. 

Come on hubris, this can’t last for sure.

Click ‘OK’ to restart your commuter

There is a sign on the vending machine on the left which says: “THE CHOCOLATE HAS MELTED. YOU ARE ADVISED NOT TO BUY.”

Working in Berlin, I became a dynamite commuter. I worked in at least two different schools or Kindergärten per day, and they were perfectly geographically arranged to be at least an hour if not two away from each other. I learnt – after many long, hard days of getting it wrong – how to get the right trains and buses at the right time and in the right directions, which stretches were actually quicker on foot, which trams never came on time and which lines would always feature the maximum ratio of on-the-edge-of-sanity people to normal people. I thought, at the end of my year abroad, that my days of travelling for hours to earn my daily bread were over. How wrong I was.

So yes, readers, I apologise once again for the huge gap between this and my last post, which is a direct result of me having started my new job. Living at home and commuting into Oxford every day seemed like it would be such a doddle; Google maps cheerfully told me that the bus journey from the station to my office would take a scant 25 minutes even including the walks between stops, and the train journey itself is a relatively painless affair. I invested in a month-long bus pass and readied myself for being one of those people, salt of the earth, who willingly brave the public transport every day to get to work. 

But commuting in England is a very different kettle of very frustrating fish compared to commuting in Berlin. In Berlin every line runs smoothly and like a large, symbiotic lifeform; the lines link up nicely, the tickets work on every single mode of transport and the coffee being sold on the train platforms is generally OK enough to drink and enjoy for a mere euro per cup. In the UK, such an idea would be seen as a naive utopic dreamland to us bitter, British commuters. The trains stutter to and fro like elderly people driving golf carts, their arrival time on the electronic board simply an estimate of some time in the hypothetical future when a train may or may not be present for a hypothetical person’s needs. The tickets cost as much as a rare white truffle and even then are received by the ticket collectors with furious suspicion, as if you were handing them a Cafe Nero loyalty card with two stamps and a bit of old gum on it. And the coffee? Knowing that you are compelled to buy yourself something warming and dark at a cold 7am in the morning they charge £2.50 for a cup of lukewarm woodchip water. And the buses. Oh the buses.

The bus on my bus pass is like communism: heavenly in theory, impossible in practice. This is a bus which only has roughly 2 miles to travel along a completely straight road and is part of a group of buses each of which follow the same route and collectively depart every three minutes. It sounds like a foolproof, solid-gold system. What actually happens in reality is that this ‘every three minutes’ idea transforms into four of the same bus arriving at the same stop simultaneously, at which point thirty people all begin to board the same one. The other three become redundant as they neither have any passengers nor could leave if they did accrue passengers because they are stuck behind the first one which is currently being mounted by a shuddering old lady carrying a lot of empty plastic bags and a teacozy. Finally, ten minutes after the bus was actually timed to depart, it powers up and leaves only to stop seconds later at the first of about fifteen red traffic lights along this straight and short road. The lights go green, so some Italian tourists decide to saunter casually across the road at this moment to grab a cornish pasty. At the first bus stop, the driver has a long and cheerful chat with the old lady while she makes her slow way out of the bus. A schoolchild has a question which he begrudgingly and slowly answers. In Summertown (half-way there) people daringly run-walk in front of the bus out of sheer desperation to get to the Co-op having waited at the pedestrian crossing for an hour already. At the next stop, someone alights simply to ask if they have the right bus or not and if not, what is the meaning of life? I have arrived at Oxford train station at 8.10am. I get to work at 9am. I could have got to work quicker on a child’s tricycle. 

So now I am an even more hardcore brand of commuter: a bike commuter. I am among the leagues of stringy businessmen wearing high-vis everything and bike helmets that look like a robot shark from the future. I am among those intense commuters who have invested thousands in their carbon-fibre-framed-folding-bikes and bike-to-business converting trousers. These are the scariest commuters of them all; they are unspeakably dedicated, slick and efficient, coated in neon yellow and swiftly lifting their bike from train to train like a basket of feathers. I seem to have joined this sect without reading the pamphlets first, as their looks tell me that I am certainly doing it all wrong. I am the only bike commuter among them who is a short becardiganed girl feebly hoisting my second-hand old mountainbike with the wicker basket held on with string and a beer bottle opener on the lock key. They glare at my ginormous and cumbersome bike shunted between their beautiful slim vehicles which they have expertly hung from the bike hooks on the train (mine does not hang; it is too heavy and too small. If anything, my bike squats).I suspect they imagine I am on my way to visit my grandma or doing my year 10 work experience. 

I then hoick my bike off the train and drill my thunderous thighs up those hills to the office, and arrive half an hour earlier than I ever would using a thing with an engine. On the way home I get to go downhill and go ‘weeeeeeee’ all the way to the station. My coat often gets chewed up into my gears, I cycle into puddles with such ferocity that the water goes right up my skirt onto my knickers, my hair billows into an angry scribble and I arrive home with my hands covered in mud and oil. Good god, I love it.

Tune in next time for some stuff about what my actual job is actually like!

What to expect when you’re not expecting anything whatsoever

“Hmm…the cards seem to be suggesting an internship with KPMG…”

Look, I know what you’re thinking. “Has she really just graduated, or has she been a crazy old craft-obsessed hermit this whole time and the student thing was just an elaborate front?”

I know you’re expecting blog entries about the graduate job scene, about applications and interviews and the looming sense of dread, but what would be the point? Between newspapers wailing about the dearth of graduate employment, job sites publishing lists of the top ten positions new graduates aren’t qualified for or skills new graduates are expected to have but don’t, and various relatives demanding to know why the situation is so thoroughly dire, I am sure there is not a single one of you who hasn’t had your fill of the entire doom-ridden shebang. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t; make a concerted effort to find something and all you meet with is reports of how impossibly, excruciatingly hard it is to get a job unless you are a forty-five-year-old trained accountant, take a breather while you figure out a strategy and you receive only admonishments for not getting into the game and spewing CVs out into the stratosphere like a huge, chundering lawn sprinkler. Good fun, right?


 
The most fun of the whole experience is, in fact, nothing to do with the progress and success of your job search whatsoever. The joy of the experience lies in how the minute you graduate your friends, family and acquaintances unexpectedly begin coming out with their personal suggestions for the careers they see you fitting into. All of a sudden you are evaluated and receive a momentary insight into the ways the people you know see you and have always considered you, interpreted into a job description. Everyone has their own suggestion and each suggestion is tellingly revealing about both you and the person suggesting it, and it is endlessly fascinating to hear what people have to say.

My mother has been the most diverse contributor, having variously suggested that I go to catering school, become a journalist, work in broadcasting, get into politics, write novels, study horticulture or make and sell my own pickled produce online. My father seems fairly indifferent to the direction I take just as long as it is NOT TEACHING, for that would be ‘too easy’ to get into and a daughter of his ought to be aiming at something far more likely to lead to high blood pressure and a stroke in early middle age. My brother generally agrees with this view with the one caveat that I also ought to aim for something which will, as the saying goes, help me towards the goal of ‘rolling in the benjamins’.

I have been told by media people that I would make the most of my life by going into a career in graphic design, something which I have never studied or even remotely considered but for which I am apparently suited because I can pronounce ‘Adobe’ properly and know what a vector is. I am told that I should follow my dreams and do something in Berlin, although the precise nature of that ‘something’ is rarely explained so I assume they  are referring to wandering about Görlitzer Park drinking Club Mate and accumulating piercings. Others suggest that I write for a living but I can’t afford the drinking problem right now. Many people think that I would be ideal as a food critic because of my love of cooking, but I have enough trouble keeping my pot belly under control without being contractually obliged to eat fried foie gras with black pudding jus. A careers website stated that I should be a ‘counsellor’, but of what and why it was unwilling to reveal. Press, marketing, branding, stand-up comedy, youth work, teaching, translation, PR, professional silversmithing…I appear to be suited for so many different positions that I ought to simply advertise myself as an executive bob-a-jobber.

The difficulty in dealing with all these suggestions is firstly knowing how to respond: for the suggestions that are clearly miles wide of the mark it requires enough energy simply to not choke on my tea in stunned outrage, while many hit tender areas of beloved and wistful dreaming that unfortunately I have to abandon out of a crazy hope to one day earn enough to pay rent and see a film from time to time. Secondly, any time spent with people who have been working for a decent length of time just goes to show that the whole idea of ‘aiming for a career’ is entirely moot. You will rarely find anyone who aimed for a certain job and have spent their lives doggedly and appropriately marching their way up the ranks to become the person who does the thing they wanted to do and then the person in charge of the people who do the thing they wanted to do. Mostly, people’s career anecdotes are sheer, unadulterated serendipity. I met a journalist who writes for one of Northern Ireland’s most popular papers having started his path with a casual letter of complaint to the editorial staff of said publication. The boss of Keo, an excellent factual TV production company, didn’t study anything that even rhymes with ‘television production’, let alone qualifies a person to be one of the main players in the industry. The people who are doing what they love and what they are suited for are almost always there by accident or coincedence, having met someone in a bar once or left their CV on a train or tripped and fell into the lap of a secretary at some huge conglomerate somewhere. It seems that if you want to do what you love, you almost have to wait for it to come to you, and only when it comes to you will you know what it is that you love to do in the first place. 

In the meantime, I have decided that the best strategy for the time being is to aim not for a career that will satisfy your aspirational hunger and quell the yearnings deep inside, but to keep it simple and humble and aim for the mere nuances of a thing that will mean you doing something vaguely difficult for money. I have pinpointed that I want a position, for the moment, where I will be busy and find the work hard and see a value in what I am doing and not be using too much unbearable business jargon. I’ll aim for things where I think that will be the case and where I know I won’t want to slit my jugular with the office stapler. Maybe I will love it and climb the ladder (to da stars, babe) or maybe I will serendipitously end up becoming famous as the new Charlie Brooker after my blog accidentally gets published on the Financial Times website due to a coding error. And in the end I’m not worried, because I always have my pickled gherkin business to fall back on. 


My next entry will indeed be about pickled gherkins.