Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Have you fallen prey to the London commuter stereotype?

Diverse, exciting and vibrant are some words that can be used to describe London. But brash, unfriendly and reserved are others to describe its residents.

And Que PASO!? It has happened.

I catch myself fuming at the fact the tube is late and huffing and puffing as if Transport for London have tried to delay the Jubilee Line to exasperate me exclusively. Or ranting out loud to myself in the car because there is so much traffic (The worst offenders to raise the heart rate are people who follow emergency vehicles to get ahead)

What do I expect? I live in the centre of one of the biggest cities in the world and it is rush hour. But there is never time for logic when I am attempting to pay the congestion charge, not knock over any cyclists and not get lost concurrently.

Officially. I have turned into one of those typical stressed London commuters. I have fallen prey to this metropolis city.

I, technically, would say I am a northerner and in the north you say you are going to London and there’s always someone to remind you how vicious and unfriendly people are here.

‘No-one ever speaks on the tube’. What on earth do you want strangers to say to one another? Remember, it is underground so we can't really talk about the weather.

When I get on the tube at 7am, I quite like the collective feeling of melancholy. People avoiding eye contact, suits me. A Brazilian guy recently asked me why us conservative Englishmen actually go to great lengths to avoid eye contact on public transport.

‘We use it as a way to meet girls’ he said. Gee Whizz - I can worry about my appearance at a bar and not on the tube if it were to be considered a dating ground.

Because I have been known to get lost in other countries, I do try and help people out on the London transport system. Occasionally, I even stop when people are holding a map looking puzzled and sometimes use some linguistic skills to help out - minor saint!?. Oh and I help out mums with prams because.... I feel I should.

But that is about as far as it goes.

I don't think I sit there with a Cheshire smile on my face because it is 8am and I have just come out of my nightly coma - which took 34 alarms and a phone call from my mum to get me out of. I am also probably late. And yes that is obviously Transport for London's fault.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Social Fusion, at all ages, is irreplaceable

What would you think if you met a 16-year-old who said they wanted to get good at robbery like their brother? Would you judge them? Would you cross the road and continue listening to your iPod? Or, would you think about what type of life they may have had so far?

This summer, I have been working at the Challenge - a facilitator of the Government funded, National Citizen Service. It has been described by the Government as a ‘non military national service’, and this year 30,000 16-17 year olds took part across the country.

The idea is that young people come together from different social backgrounds, mix, increase their leadership skills, engage in their communities and ultimately encourage social action.

The programme works on the grounds that the more exposure youths have to people with different backgrounds, the more open-minded people should be.

After all, the ability to be tolerant only really comes with education and exposure so the luxury of meeting different kinds of people is vital.

In my group there was an array of young people from various ethnicities including a girl who had just got straight A* GCSE grades and attends a private school and a guy who had spent time in a young offenders institution for robbery.

“When I first met you I thought you would be too different, from a different postcode to me”, said one boy to another."I thought you would be stuck up but you're actually really nice", said someone else to a well spoken girl.

What do you think of rich people? Snobs, vulnerable and white were some of the answers I got in one evening session I did.

During the couple of months, I learnt some urban lingo so I could understand the chat.

South London urban lingo… (Perhaps politicians could adopt to get some street cred!?) Here are a few new words I have acquired:

Rushed – beaten up
Dope – great
Bare – lots of
Sic - great
Heavy – good
Calm – good
Gassed- Showing off
Screwed – stared at
YOLO - you only live once (Apparently everyone uses this but I had never heard it)

Some of the stories I heard about their schools were incomparable to my own tweed jacket experience, including a scheduled gambling session when kids were meant to be in class, girls learning how to climb walls so they wouldn’t get ‘rushed’ by a gang……stepping into the wrong postcode…. One girl who got much better GCSE results than I got hadn't told her mum yet as she "hadn't asked".

How it works..

First there is an outward bound type week when twelve 16 year olds who do not know each other but are from roughly the same area take part in some challenging activities.

This is followed by the Team Challenge, which is a community based week. We went to a home with people with learning disabilities and the group coached them football, this was actually quite emotional seeing people who the Daily Mail would just pass off as ‘HOODIES’ teaching a group of disabled people and mixing so well as a group.

The third week is the Real Challenge ending up with the group pitching a community action campaign plan in front of various dragons (business people, councillors etc).

And throughout September we are doing our social action days which include dressing up as hoodies and helping people with their shopping to try and stop unfair stereotypes and a campaign raising awareness about domestic abuse.

Does it work?

Ultimately, the young people have to want to do it. One rewarding comment came from a boy who was a ‘hard looking’ hoodie stereotype, a too cool for school guy who appeared to be completely disinterested in taking a leadership role confessed on the last day that the thought of standing up and talking to an audience terrified him. He was pushed, he did it and he said ‘ It wasn’t so bad was it..’.

Another boy who had in his own words ‘almost killed someone’, I think a knife was involved, had been to youth prison, and wanted to know if he could do the programme again.

It is costly, but a good Government investment nonetheless? Will a stint of inspiration, social mixing and confidence building at a pivotal life age translate into a stronger and more cohesive society?

I guess it does seem controversial seeing as so many year round youth projects are being forced to close down because of the austerity cuts.

Only time will tell. I certainly got a lot out of it. Maybe all tweed jacket schoolies should do the same.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Passion Pressure and the Happy Pad

We are in a triple dip recession, not an ideal time to graduate then. Team this with the worst summer for 18 years, and reminiscing about the 'good, old' freedom at university (before the boomerang throws you back to your parents house) makes getting out of bed in the morning somewhat of a mammoth challenge. At least in the 'olden' days, people had to walk downstairs and had time to become armed with a cup of tea and some cereal before the onslaught of bad news could begin. Nowadays, I read my emails on my phone in bed when I wake up and have no time to prepare myself for the blitz.

I have heard the words quarter life crisis tossed around a few dinner parties of late. Yes, I realise some of you will be rolling your eyes and thinking it sounds like ponsy middle class rubbish, like those people who claim they are allergic to gluten foods and their skin will explode into a multitude of dangerous rashes if they so much as stare at some white

The 'What's the plan?' question has become a taboo with friends and family alike.

A week doesn't go by without a friend ringing me up in a frenzy after their parents tried to have the 'life direction' chat with them or they hate their job and bravely admit they don't know what the hell they are passionate about, so don't know how to start being the next Steve Jobs (he once said 'people with passion can change the world for the better'). This 'passion pressure' leads people to go away for a second gap year, only to find themselves getting drunk at a full moon party in Thailand. Passion mission - very much unaccomplished.

There is no plan. OK?

And if you have to go to a school reunion and bump into an irritating person gloating at their success of being the first person under 30 to ever be a partner at their law company etc - point them in the direction of this article. Their dad probably hooked them up; even if it's not true, think it, if it helps you feel better.

For my birthday, my friend gave me a funky pad, which as we were chatting merrily about 'the night before', I decided I would turn into a Happy Pad.

When we were talking about it, we laughed so much that the people next to us on the train actually left our carriage, looking disgruntled and muttering moodily to each other. Obviously, they didn't get the chance to feature in my happy pad.

"What makes you happy?"

When I asked this question, some people looked at me as if I was an estranged hippie, others were happy to be listened to and many already had their own form of a personal happy pad (yes, secret self-psychotherapy is surprisingly common these days).

I asked english friends, foreign friends, grandparents, a polish big issue seller (he either didn't speak english or he didn't want to answer my question), the shopkeeper I briefly encounter each day and others.

Some of the most popular things that came up were: sunshine (awkward), new sheets, chocolate, a good cup of tea, laughing with friends, coffee, cooking,
when people smile at you on the street, dinner parties, cold white wine, compliments, post, dancing

Some of my favourite entries: sinking into bed after a long day, the last half an hour of a great book, piecing together the night before, standing ovations, chatting to shopkeepers, sound of rain from inside a tent, coming home to a hot water bottle in bed

Places: Airports, home, beaches, mountains, canals in big cities

A controversial entry: cleaning

Simple pleasures: tu te leves et il y a un joli soleil dehors, tu peux prendre un café et une cigarette et rester la à ecouter la nature, a cake and coffee in a cafe

Particular times: Friday mornings because I know I will soon spend time with the people I love, dusk on a summer's evening

Travelling: looking at something beautiful and getting that 'wow' moment, getting lost while discovering new cities

Food entries: japanese food, freshly made sushi, chocolate fudge brownies, strawberries and cream, breakfast with other people, sampling new food for free at markets, Cocinar para mis amigos y mis seres queridos me hace feliz, homemade bread with proper butter

Sport/outdoor entries: yoga at sunset, jogging by the beach, listening to feel good music when jogging, cycling down hills, playing badminton, walks in the countryside, finding new bicycle routes

Conversation: J'adore discuter la nuit avec quelqu'un dans le noir : etre dans un lit, et parler de nos vies, notre vecue, nos sentiments, nos peurs.., street bars and red wine,making a good joke, juicy gossip

'Mature' entries: theatre, home improvements, gardens

Simple entries: Ice cold water

Random entries: a homeless person playing an outside piano

Closet broody entries: giggling babies, cute kids asking cute questions

A moral entry: "When I make other people happy, I feel happy", having a good deed appreciated, kind people

There you go - an array of different happy moments - c'mon you have to find at least one to smile about.

Happy fact box:

Orkney is the least anxious place to live in the pack ya bags and head north

The average brit claims they are 7.6/10 happy with their lives

Losing yourself in daily activities makes you happier

Monday, 7 May 2012

What's wrong with some shorthand licence?

For those of you that don't know, shorthand is a way of writing rapidly.

Apparently, a vital journalistic skill - It is the recognised sprawl in a reporter's notepad.

For me, In class, I listen to a dictation and write the words in symbols depending on the sounds that the words contain.

I have to write 100 words per minute , I speak at I would imagine double this speed. However, this is the required speed to get a job as a hack.

I am not very good.

"Can't you just lie? and say you can do 100wpm?", said a friend at my despair.

My Granny's advice was: "Laura, can't you just ask the teacher to repeat the dictation?", or "Haven't you got a friend you can copy off?"

When I explained that neither of these would be possible, she said: "Don't worry, I know a boy, he wears lovely shoes, I mean, you could marry him then you would not need shorthand."

To be pefectly honest, not being able to read my shorthand will just make my writing more interesting - I could just invent the words which make up the unreadable symbols. What is wrong with a bit of shorthand licence?

IT WILL CLICK....say the cocky bastards who already have achieved the 100 wpm milestone. But when? I mean, Physics A level may click if I locked myself in solitary confinement for a year with a few textbooks.

Katharine Whitehorn, an 84 year old successful journalist, told me that she didn't learn shorthand as she was too ambitious and 'back in the day' shorthand often lead to being a secretary. Not sure if I could claim in a job interview that: "I am simply too ambitious to learn shorthand."

Best be off, I am currently suffering from the shorthand guilt complex. Unfortunately, I don't think that my teacher really gets the whole shorthand licence thing. Damn.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Pablo V John

I hate stereotypes. I really do. Believe me, I have a posh accent and it feels like after I say three words, people have already decided who I am and what my life aims are.

However, today I discovered that a voxpop highlights social differences between
Argentina and England.

A voxpop comes from vox populi, the voice of the people. In journalistic terms, a reporter takes to the street to stop the public and ask them what they think about an issue. I asked: 'Do you think the government should increase fuel tax?'

When I tried to stop people in the street in the South East, I was met with complete and utter rudeness and negativity. Mainly the public didn’t stop and looked at me as if I had just asked them how much they weighed. They were in a go to Greggs, the sunbed, a cafe, facebook, the pub - anything but engaging in conversation with a stranger about a politically based question.

And the ones who did stop, some thought the government didn't need to 'squander' any more money. As the whole point was that the government may be raising fuel tax, they are not squandering money, they are finding ways to make more public money.

Others claimed they didn’t know enough about cars to respond…I say no more.

When I took to the northern streets last year asking about people’s opinions regarding the AV reform, I was met with "They’re all a load of tossers”, this didn’t exactly answer my question.

‘they’…’they’..’they’….the government may as well just be replaced by this word, usually spat out complimentary.

When I did exactly the same voxpop in Argentina, almost everyone I asked would stop and they would chat about the issue.

Also the average ‘Pablo’ would know a lot more about pertinent issues than the average ‘John’ of England.

Perhaps the main difference is in recent history? Argentina has had a military dictatorship, an econnomic crisis and corrupt governments. England has not.

Regardless of political opinion, the public should turn apathy into passion and do rather than complain.