Archive | April 2013

# 57 (2013) The Best Spring Clean


So there it is. I have moved. I have managed to condense my previous existence in a three bedroom house into one room in a house share. It’s official. And I am rather chuffed with myself. I have streamlined, downsized, sold and thrown away more junk and unwanted clutter in my life than you can possibly imagine, both physically and metaphorically.

I’ve moved on yet again. I have learnt the lessons and I am not going to make any of the old mistakes again. This is the beginning of the rest of my life. And it feels like the best spring clean ever. 

As if the week couldn’t get any better my six week data entry role in a mind numbingly boring office will also come to an end and I can get back to the studio. Because if there is one thing that’s certain, it’s that creatives do not belong in office environments.

By the time I leave I will have processed nearly 5000 enrollment forms and stuffed and franked envelopes for almost the same. It’s the same thing day in day out but it pays well enough to fill a noticeable gap in my income and for that reason alone it has been worth it.

I shan’t be sad to leave however. I won’t miss my new routine – dreading Monday mornings, wishing the week away. I liked how it was before when Monday’s were happy days and I could get everything done when it needed doing rather than trying to crush everything into Saturday before the banks shut.

I know that ultimately there will be periodic returns to the office. But each one will have an ending in sight which makes them all bearable. For now, I am looking forward to having my creative freedom back again.



# 56 (2013) Paying Your Way

The expectation that everyone should ‘know their place’ financially may seem absurd but you may have noticed more and more how anyone ‘getting by’ who isn’t the elite in this country is being penalised for it to apparently help reboost our economy. How taking tax paying shoppers off the high street is helping I have no idea.

High tax rates mean that if you are in a low income job, remaining under your personal allowance is imperative if you are to make it worth your while and, crucially, be able to survive off it. Out of the £234 a week I’m currently earning on a six week contract I shell out £47 of it PER WEEK to the tax man and another £10.60 for National Insurance. This, despite not being over my personal allowance. It’s a complicated situation.  
Thankfully I know how to work the system and will be putting in my claim for reimbursement as soon as this contract is over because that tax will amount to more than a week’s pay by the time I’m done and I want it back.
If I was doing this job full time, I would be about £2700 over the personal allowance at the end of the year but after paying tax and NI’s would be back under it by about £250 thus putting me straight back into financially difficult circumstances. To put that into perspective, after paying out for rent, regular bills and a very basic food allowance I’d have about £180 left in ‘spending money’ per month which I essentially put aside for emergencies.
There have recently been calls for pensioners on higher pensions to pay more tax. People who spent their working years carefully saving in boom time to make sure they didn’t have to struggle in their doting years may be put right back with the rest of us on low incomes. Personally I don’t think that’s fair. Pensions seem to have become a bottomless raiding pit for the Government and there seems to be no way to stop them.
Benefits have been slashed for many, often vulnerable recipients. Councils are still having their budgets cut, which it seems only affects the people on the ground who really need the services, hard working, low income, vulnerable people.
And yet still the elite, the politicians and the high flyers seem to be immune. Are they really untouchable or has our Government really not got the balls to make the changes where they really need to be made and where they may have a real effect on the current situation. The reality is that the 200 richest in the UK could dig this country out of debt.
The system has been set up to be abused. Certain changes do address some of these problems such as benefit claimants finding it more lucrative to remain on benefit rather than being in work. I haven’t claimed any benefit since I was 18 and then it was only for a few months, but looking at the figures I would be little worse off signing on than working so I’m not surprised people are working the system. But it seems the obvious targets are being sidelined, no doubt because of precious votes and political influence. I know politicians, I know how it works and how fickle these people can be. It’s all about feathering ‘one’s own nest’.
If anything, doing this 6 week contract has taught me that I need to be careful about remaining inside my personal allowance and not ‘over working’. I am running my own business but things are tough right now and I am doing a juggling act between honouring my business commitments when they are there and doing temp contracts to keep enough coming in to pay my bills. The system is workable, but you need to keep an eye on the details and know what your limits are. 
Certainly I have found no incentive to go back into work full time and that’s worrying for someone like me who always had a strong work ethic.

# 55 (2013) Independent Living

Is the goal of a relationship to live together? Once upon a time marriage was the ultimate, and expected, reward of a mutual partnership. But in our modern age where social media makes it easier for us to keep in contact with each other and our increasingly independent and singular existences, is living independently from your chosen partner the new key to staying in a happy relationship? 
In the past I have moved in with most of my partners pretty fast for a variety of reasons. Doing so immediately put the relationship in jeopardy. Even though most of them did turn out to be long term situations, I’m sure that moving in at such speed had a detrimental effect on their longevity. Had I not moved in most of them would have ended a lot sooner.
Firstly, moving in fast doesn’t give you time to work out if you really like the person. Secondly living with someone all the time isn’t easy if you are naturally independent and have your own agenda. What if your needs within the relationship aren’t compatible with the other person? What if you’re just fine with your own company? What if you want to work and be out all the time and they are a stay at home?
Not moving in with someone straight away gives you time to work out if you are actually compatible. Moving in is also invariably an unnecessary commitment since although most people can’t afford to live in their own accommodation, house shares of all kinds are common throughout the land. 
Despite the cost of living in the UK continuing to rise, about 7.6 million people live alone, 4.2 million of them working age adults. But how many of them are in relationships whilst still thriving on their independence? Incidentally cohabitation for both straight and gay couples has doubled in the last 6 years to just under 6 million couples, suggesting that to many people marriage is no longer the final stage of a happy union.
Living apart means you will probably only see the side of your partner that they want you to see. But maybe that’s just fine. Maybe you don’t want to see them in all their ‘first thing in the morning’, ‘man-flu’ or ‘Sunday afternoon’ glory. And maybe you don’t want them seeing you like that either. Sometimes we all need space. It’s nice to be able to kick back with a good film, get on with work in the evening or sleep star fish style in your own bed with no one to fight with over the duvet.
Maybe we are less tolerant of each other but at least we are dealing with it and it’s probably making our relationships stronger. Isn’t it more fun to gear up to a ‘weekend together’ than come home to the same face every day after work or wake up in the morning grumpy and wishing you didn’t have to engage in conversation? It doesn’t mean you have any less of a bond with the other person.
Not all of us are made for cohabitation. I don’t know if I’m one of them or not. I’ve seen it from both sides. But this time around we have taken things slowly and it’s made for a better, more interesting and more rewarding relationship. And whilst nothing has been ruled out, no one seems to be in any rush to make things official with a matching set of house keys.

# 54 (2013) The Thatcher Years

Every politician has his or her supporters and haters. The news of Baroness Thatcher’s death on Monday provoked responses at every end of the emotional scale. Whilst many mourn her passing and have reflected on the good work she has done during her time in power, it was probably at least equalled by the number of revellers partying in the streets in celebration at her demise. 

Troops in the Falklands (source)
I chose to avoid the news in the days immediately following her death. I grew up under Thatcher rule. I won’t lament her passing. 
But not many politicians can say they have instilled such strong feelings in the country as our only female Prime Minister. Perhaps that is why we haven’t had one since? Those that truly prospered during the 1980s were fewer by comparison and no doubt some of them are now feeling the pinch in austere times.
Many more will be glad she is gone because of the profound effect she had on the lives of the working classes. In many ways we are still paying the price for some of her decisions and those of her cabinet. Those of us who lived through the 1980s will remember the poll tax, privatisation, power cuts, the miners strikes, how she crushed the unions and the irreparable damage that has been done to our manufacturing industry. It is a legacy that has never been rebalanced. And whilst the Falklands War may be seen to be in her favour, some questioned her methods.
Miners strikes (source)
 The country suffered both recession and boom during Thatcher rule. But long term we are paying the price for many of her decisions. Home grown industry is still at an all-time low and we are very reliant on imports. This is a precarious position to be forced into given everyone’s current economic state and has seen the demise of many of our UK brands. Unemployment is still high and housing is an ever growing problem thanks to right to buy and the selling off of council housing which has in turn had a detrimental effect on housing prices and housing availability. We may blame this on the Labour Government but it stems back further. Every ruling party is trying to undo the damage of its predecessor.
Even in death Margaret Thatcher is still a controversial figure. The taxpayer, whether it likes it or not, will be settling at least part of her £10million funeral bill. Apparently, we can afford it. It is the last bitter taste of a divisive rule.

# 53 (2013) Temper temper

I first started temping in London in the late 1990s when it was lucrative and you could get some very interesting assignments. It wasn’t always like that but generally once you’d got yourself into a big company and proved your worth they were reluctant to let you go and you could bounce from one short term position to another for years.

You felt valued for it because you were filling in an important gap in the machinery, quickly and with little stress. Because hiring someone, asking them to sit at a desk and do a job with no training other than ‘this is who you are working for, this is your computer and this is your phone’ was a standard introduction. And if you could instantly become good at your job based on that, you were in luck. I made it a specialty of mine and it kept me in work for years.

Temping isn’t quite what it used to be and I’ve just returned after a nearly four year absence. Maybe it’s because I am no longer working in London. Maybe things have just changed. These days you often have to go through an interview post agency sign up and the jobs can be less than challenging.

I’m still trying to work out why I was hired for my present contract. It’s a 37 hour week for 4 – 6 weeks but at a push I probably manage to fill the equivalent of just one day a week with useful work. I’ve not tried to pretend to be busy. I’d rather be doing constructive things than trying to look busy reading the company website for the third time in a day or trying to frank the mail as slowly as possible to make that last hour just a little bit more interesting. I work fast and efficiently. Maybe that is one of my problems.

I am exasperated. I feel like my brain is dying and I am wasting my life. I shouldn’t be. I’m earning money and paying bills. That has to count for a lot. And I always say I’d rather be in a job I hate than have no income. BUT when I think of all the other things I need to be doing it pains me. I do hope things improve. I know it’s not London, but come on guys.