Review of 2011 – 4. Holidays

Shivering in a grey and chilly Leeds it is nice to remember back to warmer times. Uncertainty about work and the fact that I only started to accrue holiday in June meant that we didn’t get a traditional long holiday away but still had a few breaks.

We also had a fun few days in Berlin (1, 2, 3, 4, 5 posts worth) and a couple of long weekends at Center Parcs in Longleat and Sherwood Forest. I hadn’t quite got into my stride on this blog by then but had a great week skiing in La Rosiere too – with temperatures getting to a summery 20C at resort level while staying cold higher up the mountain and going over to La Thuile in Italy.

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Review of 2011 – 3. My Cultural Year

Music

2011 is the year when I came clean to myself that I was no longer the voracious consumer of music that I once was. I have bought a few CDs which I have enjoyed but nothing that I can see that I will love in 20 or more years time like “Disintegration” by The Cure or my collection of early albums on Warp by The Aphex Twin and other pioneers of armchair electronica. Some, like PJ Harvey’s Mercury Prize-Winning “Let England Shake” are by “old” artists from my record-buying heyday when I’d scour the NME, go to gigs every week and spend hours thumbing through the collections at the shops on Berwick Street in Soho.

So my posts on music have been rather nostalgic – from my account of the Desert Island Discs evening we had with some of our neighbours to a reminiscence of a road trip to London to see Julian Cope play when I was an undergraduate. I’m hoping that it is nothing very much to do with being on the wrong side of politics to be allowed to like music. That music has played a big part in my cultural life does still have its echoes in the suprisingly large number of my posts which I have initially unintentionally given musical titles to (although not generally in any way to endorse the particular songs referenced).

Computer Games

I was lucky enough to get an XBox and Kinect for Christmas last year so have enjoyed a few games on it. OMB and I and the whole wider family have spent hours playing Kinect Adventures and Sports. Dance Central has proved a hit at parties, even if it has meant that Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” is imprinted as an earworm. I also loved LA Noire and am enjoying Elder Scrolls:Skyrim even if the latter is a very stern test.

Most of my gaming has been on iPhone – I’ve sunk far too many hours into Bejeweled Blitz and have marvelled at how OMB is far better at physics-based games like Angry Birds and Cut the Rope than I am.

Books

Normally I’m an avid reader. This year, few books have really gripped me and the majority of my reading time has been taken up by books I’m reading to OMB. That has given me the chance to reacquaint myself with Roald Dahl’s books and to discover Mr Gum, Captain Underpants, and Mr Stink.

The highlight of the grown-up year of books has been Jonathan Frantzen’s “Freedom“. I was a little underwhelmed by Howard Jacobson’s “The Finkler Question“. I’ve been disappointed at what a slog it has been to read Peter Carey’s “Parrot & Olivier in America”.

I also enjoyed reading Christos Tsiolakis’ “The Slap”. It has its flaws as a book but most of these were ironed out in the excellent Australian TV adaptation that has just finished its run on BBC4.

Theatre

I’ve never really been a regular theatre-goer but was glad to have seen Speechless at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. I’m also looking forward to going to a couple of pantomimes in the next few weeks despite always having rather hated them as a child. OMB’s first Nativity Play will of course be the theatrical highlight of 2011 though!

Cinema

I haven’t had the chance to go and see a lot of films other than with OMB, so on that basis, Tangled, a reworking of Rapunzel, has to be up there with the best of 2011 for me!

Rather differently, both Lives of Others and Goodbye Lenin were good bookends to watch on DVD either side of our half term in Berlin.

Review of 2011 – 2. Something so objectionable they pay you for it

I started this blog a few days after being made redundant. Living in Leeds and finding that even having a broad geographical area I’d be willing to commute to didn’t help in securing work (down to Nottingham, up to Newcastle, and anwhere between Hull and Manchester across the country) despite being a highly qualified and experienced lawyer was something of a shock.

I was lucky enough, before the redundancy settlement ran out, to find a London-based employer and project which allowed me to work remotely from Leeds for 7 months. Now I just need to secure something for 2012. A permanent job that allows me to live at home and see my wife and son daily is probably a couple of years into the distance.

Sadly, things seem to be much worse for younger people. The immediate impact of youth unemployment is different to that for older people. They at least, largely have the option of staying with their parents and throwing their search out wide, considering volunteering abroad, travelling, further study and so on. With a family and a mortgage, plus having to overcome a degree of feeling entitled to have a life that wasn’t such a struggle after years of work and “doing the right thing” in studying and achieving highly the pressures of getting used to the idea of living away from what you have spent years building in terms of family life or even losing them as you are forced into working out a completely different lifestyle are hard.

But, at least I was lucky enough to be reasonably confident of finding work when I graduated without needing to to do substantial amounts of networking and unpaid work experience. My qualifications were sufficient in themselves to get my foot in the door and there were opportunities for those who had not spent as much time in education – school friends who had left education at 16 had managed to get careers, homes, cars and families while I was still flat sharing in my mid twenties. Today’s equivalents would all be burdened with student debt or in insecure unskilled employment as there wasn’t much else available for those who hadn’t stayed on at school and university.

Perhaps things might be turning round to give opportunities to those who do not wish to stay in full time education past childhood. It is unfortunate that for branding purposes it is seen as necessary to describe decent apprenticeships as “graduate level” but at least there is starting to be a choice again rather than an ineluctable conveyor belt leading to degrees that are neither useful nor valuable. That doesn’t mean that elitism should be a dirty word – the opposite in fact, if there are proper opportunities for ordinary people we ought to be able to be comfortable about providing opportunities for those who are talented rather than trying to level everyone down.

With some luck things will be rosier in 13 years time when OMB finishes school.