29 April, 2012

Back to Basics Britain

The day I graduated was a hopeful one. I swung out of university life with a comfortable 2:1, a lifetime’s supply of ‘life-experience’ and absolutely no idea what I wanted to do – but I’d always worked hard and was relatively clever, so I was going to be rich and successful, right?

But no sooner had we thrown our hats into the air and stumbled home in our robes, than Britain fell into one of the nation’s worst felt recessions. Panic waved across post-grad's UK wide as talk of unemployment pulled the rugs from under our feet, as did the realities that followed in the next few years . 

We gripped on for dear life, dreams of city breaks and Louis Vittons slipping away as we clung to whatever admin job we'd been fortunate enough to secure early doors – anything to avoid our own personal recession, the slump back home. Yes there’s no place like home, but when that’s back to where you started 3 years ago? No thank you. We took whatever credit we could to maintain ‘independence’ and scraped by for those first few years out of university, finding ourselves worse off than when we were students. Is this what we’d worked for our entire schooling lives? We weren’t impressed.

Skip forward to 2012 and while we have gradually paved our way, moved on from that first admin job and hopefully started to – shock horror – pay off our student loans, things still aren’t great. Progression isn’t easy, I for one have had to make some big changes just to stay afloat and last week the UK fell into its second recession in 3 years.

The Simple Life
It is understandable then that at this time (when we are poor) there seems to be a “back to basics” theme gripping the nation, particularly within the post-grad generation, to match our almost wartime stoicism. Cupcakes are a fashion accessory, flasks are all the rage (who has money for Starbucks?) and running is the new Virgin gym membership. Move over treadmill, we’re giving the pavements a go! I have to say I love that we have found the silver lining of this recession so Britishly and have adapted our tastes accordingly. Plus now we have even more of an excuse to put the kettle on – tea will always be a cheap past time.

I first started baking when I couldn’t afford to go visiting my mates who had mainly moved to other cities and had nothing but a bag of flour to entertain me one Sunday. That was 2 years ago and now I bake like it’s going out of fashion (seriously though, let me know when baking goes out of fashion) and I love it. I literally get so much enjoyment from beating eggs into flour and watching the cake garden grow. Gardening – that’s another one, I knew something was wrong when of my best friends (male) started sending pictures of his self-grown house plants to my Mum of a weekend. And THEN my sister asked for gardening stuff one birthday. I despaired of us all, us 20-somethings hankering after such domesticated past-times. But while I was worried 'poverty' was making us old before our time, I was pleasantly surprised to see how happy these mundane activities made us. Far, far happier than stumbling home at 5am having spent 2 weeks disposable income in 7 hours or maxing out our credit cards on clothes we couldn't afford.

That said, there is an irony in the fact that we also love a cheeky bit of Made in Chelsea, a coy slice of the lifestyle we once dreamed of. I love watching their lavish existence. And scorning it. I regularly find myself saying (to myself) “I would be soooo bored if all I did was socialise, and shop, and wear amazing clothes on a model-esque body….” 

Okay okay, so the High Life has it’s appeal and as much as I watch Made in Chelsea with a degree of contempt, I am willing to admit this probably comes from a splash of envy – awe of a life so far removed from my own, that I have to watch it on my dying laptop, in my little room in Sheffield, wearing 5 jumpers because I can’t afford heating. The truth is though, I don’t know how happy those Chelsea souls are, how fulfilled or how real. 

I love my kitsch little room in Sheffield, I love that I live in a city so down to earth it is in its entirety Green, I love my jumpers, all 5 of them. I’d love them more if I’d knitted them myself. I love it all because it’s real and it’s secure. Unless someone comes in and steals my mixing bowl, I can always rely on baking to keep me occupied and provide my boyfriend with treats, I can always rely on the pavements to be there to go running on and I don’t need a family who owns Dunlop to maintain that way of life. Plus I can get my dose of ‘Rah’ every Monday on E4 at 10pm #MadeInChelsea.
There is more than something to be said for The Simple Life and I can see why in Britain we have embraced our more limited means in the way we have, because sometimes less is actually a hell of a lot more. 

09 April, 2012

Anyone Got a Spare £18 bill? The Real Cost of Bank Holidays

This morning I was feeling on top of the world. Not just because I have a pretty new dress and only 6 days left of my no-cake ban (so not worth it), but because my world -  and probably yours - has just had a little bank holiday. A DOUBLE ONE. That’s a 4 day weekend people. Do you even know what that means?? Let me tell you. It means sleeping in without an alarm for perhaps only the second time this year, it means running in daylight with energy, it means wasting a whole day watching the complete American Pie trilogy *ahem* and not caring because you still have 3 more to waste. It means spending actual, real, quality time with the people you love, instead of rushed moments between long working days. It means having time to get away, or to just enjoy being in your home and actually see your home, instead of just barely existing in it. It means having rare, wonderful time to enjoy the life we spend 90% of our time building and only sporadically catch a glimpse of. And it’s all free! Or is it?

"The Country Could Save Money if Bank Holidays Are Eradicated"

So I was feeling very happy this morning. That was until I watched the news (there is a reason I don’t do that) and saw this distressing news story. The Centre for Economics and Business Research has gone and suggested the country could save money if bank holidays are eradicated. To quote today’s Independent “Scrapping public holidays could add £18 billion to the nation's annual economic output, according to a think-tank.” Erm, excuse me? What’s that now? Take away Bank Holidays? Are.You.Kidding.Me.

 I know the chances of this happening are *hopefully* slim, but the very fact that it has even been put on the table by this “think tank” is worrying to me. Do these organisations of supreme economical understanding not realise the toll the daily slog already takes on our lives, our relationships and our personal happiness? Do they not realise that ‘Bank Holiday’ to us is what the Golden Ticket was to Charlie? It is so very rare a time that myself and the people in my life aren’t completely swamped by, controlled by and stressed out by work. Sadly I tend to notice when people aren’t stressed, rather than when they are. What does that tell you? These economical munchkins need to get back in their tanks and think while I paint them a picture.

Ghost of Bank Holidays Past

It may have been the sunshine, it may have been the patriotic sense of community that the Royal Wedding left in its wake, but I will never forget how gosh darn happy the world seemed last April, when we had that never ending bank holiday and 11 days off for the price of 3. You couldn’t walk down the street without a perfect stranger offering you a cup of tea, a slice of Battenberg and a spot at their Wills’ & Kate party. The world just smiled more and I noticed a rare time when people didn’t seem strained, rushed or pressured. It was just…nice. Back then I thought this is what life should be more about. And I still do. 

We work approximately 70% of the year, on average we get 20 days holiday out of 365, and that includes Christmas. We leave our beloved home at the crack of dawn only to return 12 hours later having worked through ‘lunch’, with barely the energy or time to prepare for the next working day. We do that 5 days a week. And of the other 2, we spend 1 sleeping off the toil, leaving us 1 measly little day a week to actually L I V E. And not even a good one! Sunday TV is rubbish since the death of T4. Even when we’re not at work, we’re planning for it, traveling to it, replying to emails and thinking about it. Work is more than just the 260 odd days we spend there per year and everybody knows it. Have we earned the occasional extra day off while the bank has a snooze? I think so! 

Don’t get me wrong, I love my job, I look forward to it and I am so very blessed to find fulfillment there, but for one thing that doesn’t apply to everyone and for another, however you dress it up work is work. I have always lived by the principal that we should work to live, not live to work. So what happens to that principal when we start talking about reducing bank holidays, taking away even more of the precious little time we have just to be?

I have now had my charming 4 days off thank you very much, along with much of the working world, and I am more ready than ever to go in and kick some professional ass this week. The day I work tomorrow will be infinitely more productive than the day I would have worked had I had to drag myself in on Friday, after a long cold winter 2012 of little relief. Yeah I spent Friday making hot cross buns and sleeping, but trust me when I say my employers will benefit from this in more ways than one. And they won’t be the only ones. Even though one can argue that many businesses have been out of action for the past 96 hours, I’ll bet my bottom dollar that those 96 hours are worked ten times over in the productivity levels seen in employees post-break.

“The Key to Life is Balance” – My Grandad, circa 2005

I am not saying life should be one long holiday, heeeeell no, I for one would get cabin fever like you wouldn’t believe and we need that structure, challenge and er…salary. But I do think society needs to go easy on itself. I find myself and the people I know constantly, frantically running around the world in a frenzy, trying to cram in to our “spare time” everything else we want to do, or would do if our time was in any way our own. This cannot be good for us, in any way, and what’s not good for us surely isn’t good for the country. Unhappy stressed individual means unhappy stressed society means unhappy stressed economy. And without wanting to be too ‘out there’, I believe personal well-being makes a huge, huge difference to professional productivity. I know right, crazy cat.

I was so excited when this bank holiday finally descended because I'm not ashamed to say I freaking needed it. I was shattered to the very core. Putting one foot in front of the other was like running a marathon and actually doing good work was a small Himalayan trek, every hour on the hour and then drop and give me 100. I may be exaggerating slightly, but honestly another day and I think I would have lost all grip and gone tumbling into a dark abyss, potentially never to return. I needed these 4 days and so did you (probably).  

I won’t lie, I don’t understand the economics behind bank holidays – Christ I was 24 before I learned they genuinely meant the bank was having a holiday – but I do understand that they are a small thing that make the people and this life one hell of a lot happier for a while. So do our bank holidays cost us £18 billion a year? I really don’t care. At all. What is the cost of a nation of happy, fulfilled, revitalised people, willing to go out and work hard for their country until the next installment of well deserved time off? I would say, priceless.