Read. Watch. Go. Do 20/01/14

If you’ll allow me to ease myself back in gently, here’s a quick overview of what I think we should all be up to.

READ: Something written by a woman. Joanna Walsh started #readwomen2014 after creating these rather wonderful bookmarks featuring the likes of Gertrude Stein (pink), Rachel Carson (red) and Simone de Beauvoir (blue). As her Guardian article explains, even though women read more than men, fiction by female authors is often overlooked – and undersold – as ‘chic lit’ due to lazy cover art and marketing.

“you might like to do a Vida count on your own bookshelf; if you find an imbalance, consider whether you might have been a victim of inequality, missing out on good writing because of a pink dust jacket.” 

The year of reading women

You could get started with Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half book in readiness for February’s Blook Club. Next on my list is The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner.

GO: Eat in Edinburgh’s coolest restaurant/bar, The Devil’s Advocate. The macaroni and cheese was absolute perfection, and the espresso martinis will get you good and drunk. Don’t worry if you can’t get there for six months; it’ll still be Edinburgh’s coolest restaurant/bar such is the pace of my favourite of all cities!

DO: Sign up to Women in Renewable Energy Scotland (WIREs), if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. They have a fast emerging network of women in a young industry which employs women as only 28% of its workforce. The newsletter is good. November’s launch event in the Glasgow Science Centre was rad. And – because in the words of Madeleine Albright “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women” – they’ve set up a mentoring programme. I’ll be both a mentor and a mentee over the next year and I’m very excited about the opportunities for career growth.

This has been fun. Maybe I’ll be back in the blogging world for a bit.

Read. Watch. Go. Do 29/04/13

I got a job! A really exciting, grown up communications job in a renewable energy company. April resolution achieved.

READ: My blogpost for Grateful Chorus on the Bank of England’s decision to remove the last woman from the nation’s banknotes.

WATCH: The Gatekeepers! Go to the cinema and watch this right away! This breathtaking documentary brings together the last six former chiefs of Shin Bet, Israel’s internal intelligence agency.  You have to keep in mind throughout that they are trained spies, but it’s still astonishing to see them talk so frankly about the failure of Israel’s fight against ‘terrorism’, citing a war which has “no strategy, only tactics”. I learnt a lot.

DO: Switch your energy provider away from the Big Six with their disgusting profit margins and lobbying for continuing to rely on fossil fuels. There are quite a few available, but the company I’ve always had the best experience with is ecotricity. They use customers’ bills to build new green electricity, turning bills into mills. Switching is unbelievably easy and the prices are absolutely comparable to the Big Six. They also have a crystal clear pricing structure with just two plans. Switching your energy provider is a big individual action against climate change.

Read. Watch. Go. Do 17/04/14

WATCH: Today New Zealand became the 14th country to bring in equal marriage. When the winning count was announced the gallery broke out into singing a traditional Maori love song.  On the day that the UK celebrates a politician who legalised discrimination against LGBT people in schools, I choose not to watch her funeral and instead to watch this.

Translated lyrics: “I have written you a letter, and enclosed with it my ring. If your people should see it, then the trouble will begin… My poor pen is broken, my paper is spent, But my love for you endures, and remains forever more.”

GO: Give blood! In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings the American Red Cross were overwhelmed with donations of blood from local people to help the hundreds who had been injured. It reminded me that I haven’t given blood in four years having been prohibited for giving for a year after travelling to some weird places in Egypt. And that’s ridiculous because the need hasn’t gone down. So I’m making an appointment with the Edinburgh Blood Donor Centre for next week (I have a cold at the moment and they said I need to wait until it’s at the tail end).

DO: Sign up to Show Film First which offers free tickets to screenings of films and plays around the UK. We’re going to see Brian Friel’s Translations for free at the King’s in Edinburgh this evening. Free culture!

A day in Glasgow

Yesterday it rained in Edinburgh and not in Glasgow. I know this extraordinary event happened because I was there.

After a week of job applications (some exciting work finally came up. Hopefully this means the month long drought is over) I was excited to head west for the day, having been invited by Oxfam Scotland to road test their new policy makers’ online application. The app under development helps policy makers in NGOs and government to check that changes they’re pushing for actually improve overall wellbeing as measured in the Humankind Index. Road-testing done we headed out for a greasy, vegetarian Chinese on Sauchiehall Street.

I popped in to GoMA and was seriously underwhelmed by their sculptural exhibition ‘Everyday’. Painted chairs, bits of concrete and ceramic orange peel scattered over the floor did not do it for me. A real danger when exhibiting in this space is that the beautiful architecture of the exhibition room overshadows the work inside. That definitely happened yesterday.

After that I moved to written art, camping out in my favourite Glasgow venue the Hillhead Bookclub as I read through Northworlds Now literary magazine and a Saltire Society Book Spirits of the Age: Scottish Self Portraits bought for all of £1 in the Oxfam bookshop on Byres Road. After spending seven months immersed in the Glasgow literary scene I miss the people and events that are so regularly held by this wee community.

My uni friend M – a Glasgow convert after years in Stow, Oxford and London – picked me up and we spent the evening in her flat with her South African surfer boyfriend and bee-expert flatmate getting drunk on home-made banana rice wine. I had every intention of being home in Edinburgh by 9pm. In fact, I barely caught the last bus home.

When I left Glasgow two years ago to move back to Edinburgh I thought the city was great, but just not great for me. But days like today make me reconsider. I also drunkenly pledged to learn Gaelic at the train station but in the cold light of day that seems like more work than moving to Glasgow!

Read. Watch. Go. Do 08/04/13

READ: This Guardian comment piece on the danger of applying the ‘do not speak ill of the dead’ dictate to such influential public figures. The following paragraph, and a later comparison to the tone of the discussion last month when Chavez died, make this piece worth reading on the day Thatcher died and half the country’s commentators went into overdrive criticising people on the left who are celebrating or using this as a time of reflection.

Margaret Thatcher

Whatever else may be true of her, Thatcher engaged in incredibly consequential acts that affected millions of people around the world. She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War but also using her influence to publicly advocate for the 2003 attack on Iraq. She denounced Nelson Mandela and his ANC as “terrorists”, something even David Cameron ultimately admitted was wrong. She was a steadfast friend to brutal tyrants such as Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein andIndonesian dictator General Suharto (“One of our very best and most valuable friends”). And as my Guardian colleague Seumas Milne detailed last year, “across Britain Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted – and for her political legacy of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown.”

GO: Tickets have nearly sold out for the National Museum of Scotland’s latest ‘Late Night’ event – Dino Night! On 17th May, for only £10, you can enjoy adult face-painting, a silent disco, booze and paleontology lectures. Yes?

DO: Apply for Young Friends of the Earth Europe’s annual summer camp in Lofoten, Norway. It runs from 28 July to 4 August and the contribution asked for is only 20 euros – they reimburse up to 100% of (non-flying) transport from anywhere in Europe. The camp is happening all the way up in the Norwegian Arctic Circle as it’s focused on raising awareness and taking action to prevent the drilling for North Sea oil off the coast of the Lofoten Islands.

I wish I could go but I’ll be in the South of France for a hen do (booked my Eurostar and train this morning for less than the cost of the easyjet flight!). I’ll have to console myself by watching Young Friends of the Earth Noway’s adorable invitation song:

April resolution: job by the end of the month.

After a rather terrifying month in which zero appropriate jobs were advertised, the next fortnight brings three deadlines for job applications which I actively want to apply for, and another couple that would be OK.

In preparation I’ve been doing some CV building by undertaking pro-bono work for the Electoral Reform Society for Scotland on the gender balance of Scotland’s public institutions, as well as starting a pretty intensive Coursera course from the University of Florida on Economic Issues & Food. There’s a lot more financial data and a lot less food than I had expected, but that is a good thing. My brain is working hard and I’m learning a lot about global financial systems and economic theory. Both of these things are rewarding in and of themselves, but more importantly they show potential employers that I haven’t spent this period of unemployment letting my skills go rusty.

As well as that I’ve been reading business books borrowed from the local library. Most useful so far have been Brilliant Cover Letters by James Innes (especially the pages on ‘the salary question’ when a post is only advertised as ‘Competitive’) and Mrs Moneypenny’s Careers Advice for Ambitious Women by the Financial Times columnist.

The latter only came out last year and I have raced through it. I respond well to very common-sense, perhaps even harsh, instructions, provided I trust the credentials of the people giving the advice. Which in this case, I do. The book’s premise is that rather than wishing the world of work was less ‘asymmetrical’ for male and female workers, bright, ambitious women need to adapt to the way the world is now and steamroller their way to the top of their field so they can make it better. For me, this needs to work hand in hand with campaigning to improve gender equality at a structural level, but this isn’t really covered in the book.

Moneypenny breaks down the essential components which women need to secure in order to progress to the top including:

  • Qualifications – she is emphatic that you need good qualifications from prestigious institutions on your CV and gives suggestions for what to do if this isn’t the case in your early career, mid career and nearing retirement
  • Networks or ‘social capital’ – “The idea is that your connections are as valuable to you – and, crucially, to your present and future employers – as your qualifications and experience”
  • Saying No – this requires knowing your priorities, in descending order. “I have priorities. I measure every request for my time against those priorities and, if the request does not measure up, I say no – however uncomfortable that makes me feel in the short term”. This isn’t all that big an issue for me right now, but goodness I could have used such a list 18 months ago…
  • An understanding that You Can’t Have It All – Moneypenny insists this righting of unrealistic expectations is the most important chapter in the book
  • Financial Literacy – This has really resonated (hence the economics course). I am unemployed because too few people in the organisation I worked for were financially literate. I caught up fast but things might be different if there was a greater onus on NGO workers to be as financially savvy as business people. I will not be making the same mistake again.
  • Develop yourself as a thought leader – I can identify people in my industry who are the ‘go to’ source on a given topic, not because they have a PhD on the subject but because they regularly write articles, blog on the subject, retweet relevant information or new pieces faster than everyone else, and are seen at networking events. They all have good jobs, many of which they got after establishing their credentials as thought leaders. Almost all of the people I’m thinking of are men. That needs to change. We need to be strategic about this stuff.

Apologies for going on at quite so much length about a book it only takes six hours to read, but I’ve found it a useful kick up the bum. I can see that I’m not crowing enough about certain aspects of my background and am taking up too much space with examples which were important to me but don’t read well. For example, I went to the Times Higher Education’s second highest rated university on the planet and this is on page 2 of my CV – MISTAKE. I speak basic Japanese although I don’t include it on my CV because it’s unlikely to ever come up in my daily working life – MISTAKE.

Whilst the book isn’t perfect and I know some people might not enjoy her tone, I have loved and benefited from it. It has also reminded me that another rubbish thing about unemployment is not being able to afford £2.50 a day to buy the Financial Times…

The Daily Mail: a pictorial comparison

I doubt I need to go into much detail about why I dislike the Daily Mail. Yesterday seemed to hit another nadir. Six children were killed by their father. They were growing up in crowded poverty. Instead of mourning their deaths on the day their father and his wife were convicted of starting the fire which killed them, the Daily Mail dehumanised them with this front cover.




Not only do the Mail explicitly state that the evil act committed by Philpott came about because he was living on benefits, they dehumanise these children by stating that they were “bred” not born. I don’t know if I’m burning out but I just feel upset rather than anger. Those poor poor kids.

The campaign of hatred which the Mail is perpetrating against those on benefits and people legitimately seeking asylum or work in the UK has a long history. In case you or anyone you know is tempted to sympathise even a little bit with the Mail’s position, it’s worth looking at this clipping from 1938, and wondering how reporting of the Philpott children’s murder will be viewed in 80 years.

Daily Mail 1938 refugee Jews

The Mail is a monstrous institution and all those who work for them (at significantly higher rates of pay than other newspapers) is implicit in this hatred.