Monday, 25 November 2013

Would you walk a mile in the shoes of an Amazon Warehouse worker?

In order to make ends meet at the moment I work behind a bar.

I enjoy the job. It's minimum wage, minimum responsibility.  It fits in pretty well with being a part-time student and with me starting up my own business.  It provides me with a bit of stable income and it's casual so I can (to some extent) dictate how often I work.

The hours are obviously anti-social and the work is rarely intellectually stimulating but so long as I'm busy that's the least of my worries.  I'm fortunate because the shifts aren't back-breakingly long. Ultimately I guess I'm there out of choice and (sorry team!) I don't imagine that I'll be there forever.

That's probably not the case if you work in an Amazon warehouse.  But to be fair, I really don't know.

What I do know is that menial work seems to be very unpopular in this country.

I was working with a woman from Ireland last night who was pretty damning in her critique of the English work ethic. She feels there is a tendency in this country to talk more about the work that needs doing rather than actually get on and do it.  She said she'd noticed that the phrases used in relation to work are pretty passive, e.g. 'I'll give it a go', 'I'll see what I can do'....

It's a point of view, rather than a definitive condemnation of course.  But I'm interested, reading the Amazon 'expose' on the BBC website earlier today, to understand what it is we actually want in this country in terms of work.  According to the article Amazon have invested £1bn in the country and created 5,000 new permanent jobs.  We want work, right?  Just not that kind of work I guess.

A dear friend of mine believes that this country is being run down precisely in order that it can become the packing factory of the west.  He may well be right.  Although for my money I think that credits 'the powers that be' with more control and ability to direct things than I suspect they really have.

My trouble is this - we (collectively as a nation) want 'stuff' for hardly any money at all.  And that's the root of the issue.

We're happy to pay two pounds for a tee-shirt, to buy one-get-one-free at the supermarket or to buy our books and whatnot online significantly cheaper than we can at the bookstore down the road but then, on the other hand, we think it's outrageous if people (in our own country...) are being made to work ten and a half hour shifts and walk eleven miles (which by the way is the extreme rather than the median measurement) during their working day/night.

Here's the thing.  Every cheap item of clothing or jewellery or food that you buy I can promise you someone somewhere down the supply chain got shafted.  They may or may not live or work in this country but that doesn't mean they are not being done over and in a way that is equal to or much worse than working in conditions which 'increase the risk of mental illness'.

I'm not saying it's okay the way that Amazon workers are treated.  I'm not saying it's okay to live in a country which accepts that there is a distinction between a 'minimum wage' and a 'living wage', but I am saying that whilst we buy cheap all of us are buying into and condoning a system which is doing people over. Globally.

So, workers of the world unite?

Well, yes.  But whilst we're at it could somebody please work out an economic plan in which the world functions without it being that we simply push out all the work we disapprove of being passed onto another nation, another person, elsewhere in the world....?

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

The One Direction edition (also known as the late edition...)

I went to Devon this weekend to hang out with my sister and her family.

We were having one of those communal moments in the sitting room.  The TV was on in the background.  My sister was in the kitchen shouting through conversation to me whilst making dinner.  My nephew was on the iPad mini with his headphones on chuckling at funnies on YouTube.  My boyfriend and niece were respectively on their phones - Dave was reading news coverage whilst my niece was inhabiting the twittersphere.

In the melee of noise it emerged that my niece had over 1,800 followers on twitter.  We were all impressed.  Nonchalantly she declared she was aiming for 2,000 by Monday.

As we chatted over the next few minutes my nephew, released momentarily from headphones, kept up a running commentary as his sister got another new follower; two new followers, another new follower, and another one.

"I've only got about 50" he grumbled.

Meantime I'm texting a buddy of mine who is in the throes of setting up her own new soon-to-be super viral empire of money saving tips.  Knowing that Mrs Mummypenny would be as impressed as I am by my nieces numbers I ran them past her.

"How is she doing that?!" exclaimed the text back.  I asked the twitter princess the secret to her success. She shrugged demurely.  She can be a girl of few words my niece.  But words worth following apparently.

Her key interest is music.  She loves One Direction.  So do nearly all of her 1,800 twitter followers.  "Liam[1D band member for the uninitiated]'s mum just accepted my friend request on facebook" she announces.  I'm doubtful of the validity of this but who knows, anything is possible with social media right?

This is her third or fourth twitter account.  She's moved identities a couple of times, as a way of abandoning unsympathetic followers.  At school no one is really into 1D in the way she is so the internet enables her to connect with people who share her interests.

Staggeringly she's only had her account for about three months.  I've had mine much longer and thought 145 followers was pretty decent.  @MrsMummyPenny's been up and running and actively getting her name out for the past 4 months and is also in the 125 area.

We're still discussing the phenomena that is my nieces twitter account over dinner.  My nephew announces that a guy he knew at school got 100,000 followers and then sold his twitter account for £200.

My journalistic sense twitches a bit as I write that - I can't validate the who of the boy, whether he really had 100,000 followers and my nephew didn't know who the guy had sold his twitter account onto. Consequently I share it with you purely as an anecdote.  I kind of feel bad for the boy too, if it is true, because £200 sounds to me like he was ripped off.

I'm interested though, my niece and nephew are part of a generation that knows how to work twitter.  They totally get target markets and how to generate a community of followers instinctively.  As Mrs Mummypenny was saying, it could well be worth getting my niece to work her account for her.  I'm guessing marketeers are already all over this but I wonder what is going on in terms of people buying and selling their twitter accounts.  More research required.

We got home, later than intended, on Sunday evening, thanks to the traumas of car ownership.  Around 8pm I get a text from my sister.

"H just hit her 2000 followers!"

....beating her Monday morning deadline.

Interestingly she isn't driven by ego in this hunt for numbers. Frustratingly for her twitter wouldn't let her follow more than 2,000 people UNTIL she had 2,000 followers apparently.  Who knew?

By the by, H and her followers are all gearing up for 1D Day coming up on Saturday.  I note this as a way of feeling less Machiavellian for calling this the One Direction issue....

Monday, 11 November 2013

The three rules of blogging and surviving a university semester

I mentioned last week that I'd broken the three rules of blogging.

I honestly can't quite remember the rules now which inevitably means I'm breaking them all over again.

Anyhow, the one I do remember is that a blog entry 'should be useful to others'.

I'm mid-semester on the Journalism MA at the moment and I think we're all starting to feel the strain a little bit.  One of our cohort has dropped out entirely.  I've certainly had a weepy moment.  Others have been knocked sideways by illnesses personally or within the family.  The usual stuff of life.

None of us really know the extent to which other people are coping or suffering or bounding blithely through the sunshine filled grasses of further education (or anything else for that matter...) but any which way my 'useful' offering of the week is to share some advice a very dear friend of mine was given some years ago whilst undertaking her undergraduate degree.

My friend had a number of essay deadlines looming and, despite being a committed and enthusiastic student, admitted fretfully that she hadn't made a start on any of them and was staring down the dark tunnel of paralysis that comes at the foot of such a mountain of work.

The first piece of advice she was given was, to be frank, very northern:

"You can only do what you can do"

It was a bit of an anticlimax I imagine.  I think she'd been looking for something a bit more 'whizz-bangy', something that would help get her motivated.

She persisted however, earnestly explaining that whilst she was grateful for the advice given, that it may well be true and everything, she was still faced with impending deadlines and the fact that she hadn't done anything at all as yet on any of the work.  To which she received the following response:

"You just have to make a start"

I offer these up in my blog this week because they tend to be amongst the things I think about when I start to panic about large blocks of work ahead of me.

They might not be the most useful words you've read but I can guarantee because of the simplicity of them, as well as the goodly common sense they contain, they will almost certainly come back to you when you're in the middle of a pink funk.  Or whatever colour you call your moments of mild panic when you're not quite sure how you're going to get through whatever is ahead of you.

I hope the blog police, with their three rules of blogging, will be pleased to see that I have made some attempt to adhere to at least one of them....Oh and just for your information my friend actually did get all her essays in on time, having made a start and done what she could do.  She even got some pretty good grades for them too.  So sometimes there is a happily ever after.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Dark Space Remains - FINAL NIGHT at the Wardrobe Theatre

Frankie is an outsider.

On that basis he has kept himself locked inside a room, inside photographs, inside a time that has past.

Better to be inside, where it’s safe.  With the devil you know.

DarkStuff Productions latest show ‘Dark Space Remains’ is a story of three friends Franklin (Frankie), Lizzie and James. Having grown up together, hung out together, got drunk together, their lives at one point seemed inseparably entwined.

Frankie is the friend that never grew up, that never moved on from endlessly getting wasted even when the people weren’t there to get wasted with. When we meet him, he is flicking through images of the past, drinking vodka, looking for answers.

The activity of the play is moved onwards as Frankie stumbles through a narration flicking from photograph to photograph.

Everything within the piece is about containment.  The Wardrobe theatre is ‘cosy’ and director Dom Rowe uses the constraints of the venue to best effect – for example when Lizzie realises she is in a room surrounded by pictures of herself the claustrophobia of the moment is intimately felt.

Using the actors to represent the still photographs that Frankie ponders over by ‘framing’ them in white rectangles is also an effective containment device.  It enables the audience to ‘see’ what Frankie is seeing: to him these aren’t just images, they are real people.  By giving us a still image which then activates to play out the rest of the scene we become as engaged and committed to these people as Frankie.

For a moment his friends are there with him.  We exist together in their shared past.  But, like Frankie, we can't actually reach out and touch them; they melt instantly into images contained by the edges of the photograph, tantalising but ultimately two dimensional, beyond him and us.

‘Dark Space Remains’ captures life in snapshots - understood and shared in images posed for.  The language between the friends echoes this theme – the three use a shorthand of half finished sentences and looks.

This is the first original script for while from writer-producer team Phil John and Simon Williams who more recently have worked on successful adaptations of Sleepy Hollow and Moby Dick. However their ability to find and potentially to define the modern gothic is evidenced in this show which indirectly reflects the way in which our understanding of ourselves and our relationships with each other and with events we attend is ultimately experienced through images recorded via social media.

For one more night only ‘Dark Space Remains’ is yours for the viewing at The Wardrobe Theatre, Cotham – tickets £5.00.  No photographs though….

Monday, 4 November 2013

Freelance Writing: One Month in...

What I've learned:

1) Everything takes longer than you hope
2) I love working from home
3) I love working on websites
4) My worry about not being able to pay the bills made me take some really bad decisions in terms of other work I agreed to
5) I am likely to fail at some things
6) I am likely to succeed at somethings
7) Which is (5) and which is (6) is not altogether clear at this stage
8) Many of my friends appear to be juggling much more than me, much more effectively - but I'm okay with that
9) My attitude is becoming 'bad' in the way historically reserved for the 'cool' girls when you're 15 years old. I am not 15....
10) Everything takes longer than you hope

By the end of month one I wanted a website.  I have a 'holding page' which doesn't work on some versions of internet explorer (feel free to let me know if yours is one such!) please have a look at

By the end of month one I wanted to have a rhythm of working on my MA, bar work and working on writing.  I remember a friend of mine wanting something similar a month in to having her first baby.  We were both idealistic in our goals.

By the end of month one - I have two clients.  I have a holding page.  I have a much clearer idea of what I do (and what I don't) want to do.  I have a much greater sense of value and worth of my time and understand I should give it away for free a lot more carefully.

And I know this blog post fails on all of the 'three rules' of blogging.

But all of that is okay.  This is, after all, only month one.