The 11 types of Christmas gift

There are two types of people in this world; those who have all of their pre-ordered gifts neatly wrapped, ribboned and under the tree by December 3rd and those who’re sprinting down Oxford Street at 4pm on Christmas Eve screaming ‘QUICK ANYBODY – WHERE THE FUCK CAN I BUY A FUCKING DIPTYQUE CANDLE?’. 

I fear that buying gifts brings out the worst in me. As I write this (December 21st – yep FOUR days before Christmas) I’m sweating profusely, trawling the John Lewis website and mapping out my lunchtime foray to Oxford Street – during which I hope to purchase gifts for EVERYONE I KNOW in one swift supermarket sweep style shopping experience.

Gifts are so incredibly difficult to buy because they are so much more than just gifts: They are tangible representations of how much you respect their recipients: Box of milk tray literally translates to ‘couldn’t care less if I tried’. Bath salts = ‘I forgot to even buy you anything but please accept this meagre offering from the back of my bathroom cabinet you sod’. It’s a minefield. To help you make your selections and avoid total catastrophe I’ve devised a list of the 11 types of Christmas present: Numbers to avoid include 1, 2, 3 and 8 but 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 aren’t preferable either. See what I told you? Minefield.

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  1. The recycled from last year gift

Bubble bath, a scented candle or fancy moisturizer may seem innocent enough, but remember this – all items are easily re-gifted and were likely pulled out of the gift drawer (i.e. drawer full of crap nobody wants) mere hours ago. Be warned givers of recycled gifts for there is NOTHING more awkward than re-gifting a gift to the person who gave it to you in the first place. Proceed with caution.

2. The half-arsed attempt

A lazy attempt at pretending to care is evident in the giving of the cut-price autobiography of a C-list celebrity or a set of day of the week socks from M&S.  Although given that Christmas is the only time any of us actually gets new socks, this half-arsed attempt could actually be quite well received.

3. The last minute panic present

You’ll unwrap this present quizzically thinking is this really a furby/tin opener/batman themed rubber duck?! (Delete as applicable). Surely it can’t be a furby/tin opener/batman themed rubber duck?! They don’t make them anymore do they? Oh no it really is a furby/tin opener/batman themed rubber duck. This readers is what we call a panic buy: Quite probably picked up in a supermarket sweep style shopping spree by the giver on Christmas Eve and wrapped in the car on the way to you.

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…Surely not?!

4. The handmade present

Usually made with love but little skill or precision: The handmade present is a heartwarming offering which will likely be on display for two to three days before swiftly being thrown in the bin. Think sweaty chocolate truffles, pritt stick splattered scrapbook or clumsily iced biscuits. Always accept a handmade gift with grace as the giver is likely at best emotionally unstable, at worst clinically insane… Yep even if it looks like a twig attached to a piece of string (probably because that’s what it is).

5. The spare present 

It’s always safe to purchase a few spare gifts – you know, just in case Aunty Margaret gets forgotten again (poor Aunty Margaret always gets forgotten) and you have to unconvincingly mumble that you didn’t think you were doing gifts this year whilst staring at your shoes and wishing the ground would swallow you whole… Chocolates and wine both make excellent spare gifts because worst case scenario is that you get to consume them yourself.

6. The voucher

Most likely from an elderly relative who still thinks the kids buy their music at HMV. Depending on retail outlet, vouchers can actually be quite exciting because you HAVE to buy something tangible and can’t merely put the money towards your exorbitant travel expenses and/or addiction to alcohol – which, let’s face it, is where all your other Christmas money goes.

7. The dad gift

Christmas can be a difficult time for Dads – often found standing in the doorway of John Lewis looking utterly bewildered as they hold approximately 6373292 shopping bags and scan the floor searching for Mum who said she’d ‘only be five minutes’ over 40 minutes ago. Perhaps the disorientation of it all is what causes them to carefully select such bizarre gifts as fleece lined gloves, world maps or the Deal or no Deal interactive DVD game.

8. The hint gift

Gym membership, subscription to diet club, self help book titled how to change your life in three easy steps; if you receive any of these then I regret to say you are being hinted at my friend. In this particular instance I suggest that you make an exception to my rule and pointedly re-gift the gift to the giver. See how they like that.

9. The perfect present

It’s an elusive thing, but it does exist… AHEM: King of Spain if you are reading please see below image:

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The purrfect present

10.The overly extravagant gift

Always horribly awkward: You get her a necklace from Freedom at Topshop, she gets you a mini break to Paris. Thank god you stocked up on all those spare boxes of Ferrero Rocher.

11. The gift you really wanted 

Probably from your mum. She’s always sensible enough to ask what you’d like. In fact, if she’s anything like mine she probably let you have it before Christmas because you’re a brat and didn’t want to wait that long. Love you mum. I do not deserve you.  

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Christmas can NEVER come early enough

I’m listening to Christmas songs. There I said it. Is it socially acceptable yet? I don’t care. I started listening to them about three weeks ago and I’m not remotely sorry: Not even sorry for my long suffering boyfriend who had to listen to A Spaceman Came Travelling approximately 23568256749 times over the course of one three hour car journey last weekend. He should count himself lucky.

I’m sure it won’t come as much of a surprise to hear that I LOVE Christmas. If it were up to me we’d start celebrating at the end of August. I’ll be the first to drink mulled wine, the first to watch Love Actually, the first to don a festive jumper or request All I Want For Christmas in a club (don’t hate me). I would be the first to string up fairy lights were it not for the fact that if I did so, my housemates would unceremoniously cast me out into the street.

I’m accustomed to having eyes rolled at me when I suggest we pop some chestnuts on an open fire or play a bit of Nat King Cole. While I’m at home sellotaping paper decorations to my ceiling, intermittently sipping on baileys and demanding ‘MORE LIGHTS, MORE TINSEL’, tasteful people the nation over are sighing wistfully and harking back to a time when Christmas was a classy affair, celebrated on the 25th of December only.

I could tell you the reason I am so very fond of this time of year is all to do with charitable giving and goodness and going to church. But that would be a lie. In truth, the superficial stuff really gets me going: The John Lewis window display, Coca-Cola advert, twinkly lights on Oxford Street and exorbitantly priced mulled wine fill me with perfunctory glee.

Ultimately though, it’s not the relentless push for consumerism that makes me love Christmas so tinsel-toffing much. It’s the feeling: The festive feeling. The togetherness. The singing. God I love the singing. It’s the snuggling up on the sofa with a mulled wine and movie. It’s the contentment that comes from just being at home by the fire. It’s the everybody-coming-together-and-making-an-effort-to-really-“get-into-the-spirit-of-things” and have a silly, gay old time. I don’t think it’s ever too early to strive for that stuff… And admiring a twinkly tree whilst doing so wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

The virtuous may say that we’ve lost the true meaning of Christmas. I mean yes, I suppose it is now less about baby-Jesus-being-born-in-a-stable and more about keeping-the-turkey-moist-until-serving: But for me, the non-believer, the modern meaning of Christmas lies in the season’s splendor, it’s silliness, it’s innate fun, festivity and family time.

The majority of the UK is atheist. We don’t need any of this stuff. When we really break it down it’s all a bit silly isn’t it? Hauling a tree, big beyond all reason, across the city so that it may proceed to drop pine needles all over our floorboards for the next month: Spiking a lard filled festive dessert with pennies at great risk to our dental health: A jolly man dressed all in red dropping parcels down the chimney.

But the world can be a callous, miserable place. So is it really too much to ask that we extend this period of conviviality and celebration a little longer? This year particularly, I think we could do with a little Christmas spirit. Actually we could do with a lot of it. We need a little twinkle to brighten up the sky. We need silly headgear and carol singing and festive cheer. It really can’t come soon enough.

Paper & Cup

Stumble into Paper & Cup on a cold Monday morning and after a warm cup of cappuccino and a chat, you’ll leave feeling much better. So do the people working behind the counter.

You see, Paper & Cup is not your ordinary coffee shop: It’s a not-for-profit social enterprise created by SCT to support those recovering from addiction and long term unemployment.

The cosy coffee-cum-bookshop provides employment training for people who want to turn their lives around, giving them the experience and the confidence to get back into work.

Located on Calvert Avenue, just off Shoreditch High Street, with its’ simple blue and white palate, funky interior decor, distressed wooden flooring, specially selected books, and locally sourced artwork – this cafe is a cool place to be. Just ask any of the hipsters who head here for their morning caffeine fix/photo shoot.

We also, incidentally, make some of the best coffee around – fit for even the most discerning connoisseurs, along with a delicious range of baked treats, fresh sandwiches and soup.

It’s the perfect little hide-away to finish that novel, catch up over a coffee or just sit back and watch the world go by. We love it here.

Volunteers like Leon are able to gain essential skills, grow confidence and eventually move on to long term employment.

It’s helped me out. Meeting members of the public on a one to one basis. I meet perfect strangers everyday. Everything’s going well at the moment, I’d like to keep it going that way.”

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Barista and trainer Wale has been working at Paper & Cup for over a year now.

I live locally – it’s good to be a part of something that serves the community I live in, to give back.

When I first came here I wasn’t so open, over time it’s hoped me to open up to people. I can see progress in myself and in the people I’m training. It’s great to be a part of it.”

Looks good, tastes good, does good.

To learn more about SCT’s wonderful work, head to http://www.sct.org.uk/

International Women’s Day at SCT

Happy International Women’s Day one and all! To celebrate this joyous occasion – dedicated to honouring and inspiring women, I had a chat with all the great ladies who make up Spitalfields Crypt Trust – a bloody marvelous charity working to recover and rehabilitate substance abusers and the homeless. They are all wonderful women who do bloody amazing work – so naturally they’ve all got some smashing things to say. 

… In fact, they all had so much to say that the result of a ‘quick chat’ with each was a 16 page word document – which although incredibly interesting – I’d never expect you to read all in one go.

So here’s the first interview – with the lovely Laura, who is a Progression Co-ordinator at the New Hanbury Project.

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What do you do?

I am the progression coordinator here. I work one on one with service users who are at a point in their recovery where they’re looking to progress perhaps outside of our services or on to our social enterprises. So I help them them on to Restoration Station and Paper and Cup and various things like going back into education and volunteering.

What’s the best bit about your job?

I love working with people and I’ve met such fantastic people here – colleagues and students. It’s like a little family at SCT. Seeing people move through is really lovely. I’ve been here long enough now that I’ve seen a few people start from being referred here and then doing a course and now they’re off at college and it’s so lovely to see that progression through.

From your perspective what are the biggest challenges faced by women today?

There is that whole just a woman thing still. I think there is still a kind of stigma about what we can do, even down to things where people are surprised – with my age people can be surprised by the fact I work – they assume I’m some little girl but I’m actually doing something and making a difference. There is that stigma we can’t do what they can do. That’s a big barrier. Entrenched misogyny.

How would you like to see these challenges overcome?

International woman’s day is a start. It’s just awareness. I had a YouTube playlist on and this advert came up about these phone emojis – and there were these girls going through them and all of the icons doing these activities were male. Even small things like that – there should be more women doing these things. It’s just kind of awareness and making more of a statement about it. Actively challenging them firstly and fighting back to them. A long road but this is a good start – having a day that’s committed to acknowledging that.

What does Feminism mean to you?

Ugh. Feminism to me means horrible books because I studied English. Lot’s of theory. [laughs] To me, I have a difficulty with the idea of feminism because there are a lot of new age feminists who are just man haters and give it a bad name. But for me – feminism is equality. It’s saying there’s not really actually a difference – fundamentally – our abilities are the same and even though what we do might be different there isn’t a fundamental difference that makes one gender lesser than the other. That’s what it means to me. I don’t like the whole men are evil thing. For me it’s just about acknowledging and celebrating equality.

What’s the best thing about being a woman today?

There’s a freedom in it. I feel quite lucky having all the opportunities that I know even my mother didn’t have and specifically my grandmother. When I speak to my grandmother it wasn’t like that. Her brothers were sent to school and to college and she was packed off to secretarial school. It’s shocking because it’s not that long ago. For me the best thing about it is that freedom. Especially being in London I feel that more. You can be whoever you want. You don’t have to fit into a box. Being able to work here and study and go out and have that freedom. I live on my own as well and I think it’s a stark contrast between a women who lives on her own and my grandmother who would have been chaperoned everywhere. The fact that that equality is coming about and starting to be acknowledged and the freedom that comes with that.

What’s the most difficult thing about being a woman today?

If you’re a young, pretty woman and you’re doing something I find that there’s a lot of ignorance. Oh you’re smart, oh you can actually do something. That for me grates a lot. Not that I’m bigging myself up – I just don’t like that there’s still that assumption that you can’t be more than one thing and that is something that really frustrates me – especially in my profession. I’m training as a therapist and I can very much see that there will be a situation when someone sits down in front of me and says how are you gonna help me? It does come into it.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I was DYING to watch Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Austen and the apocalypse: My two great fictional loves combined.  I asked my sister. She said ‘why on earth would I want to watch that?’ I asked my boyfriend. He said ‘why don’t we go and see Spotlight’. I asked my friend. He said ‘um, yeah okay’.

So that was settled. I took his ill enthusiasm as a resounding ‘YES’ and made haste (how v Austenian of me) to one of the very few remaining cinemas still showing.

Why people were so adverse to the idea I knew not. We LOVE Austen and we LOVE dystopian fiction – why WOULDN’T we want to see the two combined for comic effect?!

Then I realised.

I enjoy both zombies and Austen in equal measure, depending on my mood. But when I want Austen I want unadulterated romance between polite chitter-chatter in the drawing room over a rousing game of whist. And when I want zombies I want 28 days later; unadulterated entrails and beheading and gritty drama.

In combining the two I essentially got neither. The essence of each genre lost, to little comic avail.

The thing with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was that the Pride and Prejudice bit was done quite badly, and so was the zombie bit. And so Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was sort of not really Pride and Prejudice and not really zombies.

It was all farce. Which was, I suppose, what it was intended to be all along. But actually it wasn’t really that funny either. (I’m berating myself as I write this because I REALLY wanted to love this film.)

Perhaps the biggest befuddlement was that Douglas Booth did not play Mr Darcy: With those chiseled cheek-bones he was born for the part. Mr Darcy was in fact greasy haired and chinless and may as well have been Mr sodding Collins. It was all a farce. All of it.

Incidentally, Matt Smith’s portrayal of Mr Collins’ eccentric dance moves during Mr Bingley’s ball provided one of the rare genuinely funny moments of the film – but that was always a funny moment in any adaptation – even before the zombies.

In order to really appreciate the in-jokes one does need to have actually read Pride and Prejudice – which I suspect the three howling women in front of me had – and were making damn sure everyone knew about it. Sort of like when you’re at the theatre watching something terribly sophisticated (as one so often is) and, although the joke isn’t all that funny, you want to make sure your fellow audience members know you understand the subtle wit and so you laugh in spite of yourself just to exert your own intelligence. Well yeah – it was all a bit like that.

Look, I really don’t want to criticize this film anymore because despite everything it was silly and (mildly) scary and smart and satirical. Just the notion of Miss Elizabeth Bennett pulling up her petticoat to stamp on a zombie’s head is funny, you know?

 

Happy birthday to me I am twenty three… Hang on wait what?!!!

If you need me over the next two days I’ll be curled up in a corner rocking back and fourth, listening to this song on repeat; trying to soak up the last ounces of my withering youth.

I turn twenty-three on Monday. Twenty-three. I’m in my twenties. I mean, I know I’ve been in my twenties since, you know, I turned twenty, two years 11 months and 19 days ago. But until now I felt I was kind of teetering on the edge. No longer. As of Monday I am a twenty something woman

But I’m fine.

No really. I’m FINE. You know why? Because I’ve compiled another list of course!

Here are some reasons growing up is actually quite good: 

  1. Getting enough sleep

No longer cajoled by the call of cheap Tuesdays, skint Mondays, union Wednesdays or – well any other day really – I now spend my evenings blissfully engulfed in my duvet by 11pm watching a nice box set. (That is weeknight evenings – weekends are still reserved for debauched club dwindling… I am, after all, 23 not dead.) No longer do I stumble to seminars, on two hours sleep, still slightly drunk from the night before, questioning my morality and wondering where my left shoe is… To return home and collapse onto bed at around 4pm, too exhausted to even pull back the duvet… Only to wake at 8 in order to repeat the whole epidemic. I am now in a deeply fulfilling relationship with my duvet and I’m truly sorry I neglected him for so long. Honestly, I think it could be love.

2. Warm clothes

This is what I wore on my 21st birthday (which is, may I remind you, in February):

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Sincere apologies for the diamante tiara – never, under any circumstances acceptable… 

Aaaand this is the outfit I will most likely be sporting on my 23rd:

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I mean there really is no competition is there? Comfort comes before style these days. I’d rather look like a yeti than be chilly. No more standing for hours outside a nightclub shivering because I opted to wear what is essentially… oh no, actually, a loincloth in mid winter (see below).

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Knowing my limits

…More or less anyway. Shut up Kess. That was one time. I now can dominate the dancefloor all night long without having to lean on people as props. It really is marvelous leaving the club when one is actually ready to do so, rather than having to be escorted off the premises by a bouncer begging ‘pleeeeeeeeeease sir let me stay for one more song‘, then waking up the next morning, wondering at which point you lost your dignity and how you can possibly reclaim it.

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You guys do the heavy drinking, I’ll do the judgmental looks and the bad dancing

I’m more self accepting  

There was a time, not so long ago, when I wouldn’t dare pop to the co-op for a packet of biscuits without a full face of make up for SHAME that someone might actually see the monstrosity that is my face. It was exhausting and really bloody expensive. Approx 7483792 touch-ups a day, everyday = a hell of a lot of foundation. Now I’m at the ripe old age of… don’t make me say it… 23, I just really don’t give a monkeys, it’s too tiresome to be so superficial all the time. Now I go out looking like this without even a second thought…

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Me with no make-up on

Ooh, maybe that’s why people have started moving away from me on the bus.

Food. I ❤ food.

During one particularly destitute week in third year, I was rummaging through the cupboards attempting to forge a semi-decent meal. The best I could do was one packet of ASDA 29 pence stuffing, topped with half a tin of very questionable tuna. No doubt I would have made every club night that week though (priorities). I look back at that time and feel incredibly grateful for my age – as I sit on a sofa feasting on avocado and fresh fruit and home made granola and salmon and asparagus and all things nice. Brb just going for a snack.

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Better Friendships

Now, I don’t want to brag or anything… But when I was 16 I had, like, a lot of friends. Now I’m 23, not so much. Being busy means that you do inevitably whittle your friendship group down to only the people you really care about seeing. My friendships are fewer now but the ones I have I really do cherish – and they are much stronger because of that. I am voluntarily unpopular. My 14 year old self would rather be seen dead than hang with me, and I’m quite happy about that.

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No themed nights

See below. I was stained yellow for a week. Themes are acceptable once a year on Halloween and even that’s pushing it.

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Being selfish and learning to say no

It’s rare, but I’m increasingly experiencing a little thing called JOMO… (which for those of you not in the loop – means the joy of missing out.) If I’m not queuing for thirty minutes in the rain to be felt up by a bouncer before being thrust into a sweaty bar – I’m kind of actually okay with it. Anyway, I have things to do. Learning to prioritize and say no has given me back so much more time… And there is no present like the time.

WISDOM

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I’m constantly acquiring new knowledge. Some of it serious, most trivial. But now that I’m not perpetually booze addled a lot of it actually seems to be sinking in. Now I can make my way around large portions of this glorious city without even having to consult city mapper (so long as they’re not in the East). I know how to bake my own granola and I know who most of the members of the cabinet are (should have already known this as studied politics – but better late than never). I actually read for pleasure – not just because I have to cram half the Norton Anthology for the exam I have in two hours.

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Yeah hang on… Just acquiring some knowledge

Don’t be fooled by this post, dear reader. I still have a lot of growing up to do: I still love sleepovers and marshmallow-y hot chocolate and eating Nutella from the jar with my fingers and Tequila slammers and singing along to S Club 7. I don’t have a mortgage, am still in an unfathomable amount of student debt, don’t wear trouser suits or buy brioche.

But with a new age comes a multitude of new experiences to enjoy. So I say out with the old and in with the… Even older.

Happy my birthday to all of you! 

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How to stay sane when it’s January and you’re jobless

I just got back from India. Did I mention? And it was great. But now I’m here again. Sunny England. Except it’s cold and grey. And Christmas is over. And I don’t have a job. And EVERYBODY else has a job. The only thing more depressing than going back to work after Christmas is not going back to work after Christmas.

It would be easy to start totally FREAKING OUT right now. But I’m not going to do that. Okay brain? No freaking out. How?! I hear you cry – are you staying so cool and calm and collected while your entire life crumbles around you like a burning city. Well firstly calm down. I’m just unemployed, it’s not the apocalypse. And secondly – I’ve been making a lot of lists. Like the one I’m about to share with you, you lucky thing.

List 6473803: How to stay sane and get through your unemployment relatively unscathed

1. Adopt an attitude of gratitude

Gratitude is, like, so hot right now. Everybody’s doing it, feeling it, selling it, baking it. And for good reason. Feeling genuine gratitude is bloody lovely. I write a list of all the things I’m grateful for once a day and spend a little time sort of embracing my thankfulness. I know it’s all a bit zen, but don’t fret – I won’t start exclusively eating kale/quinoa or train to be a hot yoga teacher. My gratitude lists are very silly and often include the words ‘pyjamas’ and ‘macaroons’. It’s the little things ya know?

2. Get up early… and do stuff

You don’t need to tell me how hard this is. I know. I live it everyday. It’s torture. It’s pain. But it’s necessary.

Don’t be fooled. Just because you don’t have a job does not mean you cannot have a productive day. Sitting in your flannel pyjamas watching re-runs of the Downton Abbey Christmas special is appealing of course, but will certainly not help with the whole unemployed situation and is not conducive to a satisfying day.

Getting up early makes me feel as though I’m being really bloody productive before I’ve even done anything. It’s marvellous. Now what to do next…?

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3. Exercise

I’m a strong believer in doing things that make you feel good. Which is why you’ll never ever ever catch me on a cross trainer or one of those hideous stepping machine things. Life is too bloody short and they are too bloody painful. I do, however, happen to love running. Very slowly. In fact I’m sure if you put your mind to it you could walk faster than I run (HRH confirmed this the other day which is why I now run alone).

But it makes me happy. I run for my mind as much as I do my body. A quick shout out to endorphins… You guys rock. No matter how chilly it is outside I ALWAYS come back from a run feeling as though I want to swing around a lamp post and sing in the shower. And that’s the way you should feel everyday if you possibly can.

Me after a run

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… only joking – this is me after a run.

4. Act as though you are employed

Slob around in your pyjamas all day and you will begin to feel as though this is all you are capable of. Get dressed. You can do it. Sit at the table with a cup of tea and your laptop. Be professional when looking to become a professional. Act as though you are someone and you will become someone. (I cannot guarantee this will happen. I am still very much no one. Actually no, that’s not the point… I am SOME ONE… I’m just not entirely sure who yet.)

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5. Budget

You don’t have a job. I’m sorry I’m not trying to be mean. But you don’t. You’ve got 99 problems and having to pay £10 a day because you’ve gone over your overdraft limit again needn’t be one.

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6. Have POSITIVE ENERGY and self belief 

It’s a simple message. And it comes from the heart. Believe in yourself. And that’s the place to start.

… Okay yes I did steal that from the Arthur theme tune. That show taught me so much about life.

But seriously – do. Because if you don’t nobody else will. You are capable of far more than you realise. Reading complicated job descriptions is completely disheartening… and often leaves you feeling utterly bewildered. I DON’T KNOW HOW TO DO ANY OF THIS STUFF.

I was explaining this predicament to the Mancunian the other day and she explained that nobody knows how to do that stuff; when she applied for her current job she had no bloody idea what they were going on about in the job description. Turns out a lot of the time it’s just very simple stuff enshrouded in complicated wording. They’re weeding out the faint hearted before the process has even begun. Sneaky.

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7. Enjoy this time

Repeat after me – life is only bleak and depressing if you make it that way. And you’re not going to… Are you?!

If life goes according to plan you’ll be working for the next fifty years. FIFTY YEARS. So bloody hell ENJOY the fact that you have a little time off right now. You can use this time productively and still have a bloody great time. Write, read, run, have fun. Oh and maybe actually apply for a few jobs while you’re at it.

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