Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Is Facebook Making Us Depressed?

Zuckerbergggg *shakes fist*

I'm a 3rd year student, so naturally my Facebook feed is full of old school friends, uni friends, friends of uni friends, people who I've only met once and barely spoken to, and the odd random person who I keep forgetting to delete but constantly posts YouTube videos of a cat riding a tortoise. (That one's a keeper.)

Scrolling through my newsfeed I realise that I currently know more about many of the people I shared a classroom with, than I ever did when we were actually at school together. I know how the guy-who-I-sat-next-to-in-science's recent relationship ended, and how his year's study in Germany was 'amazing'. I know about the girl-who-me-and-my-friends-silently-hated's gap year in Australia, and what she had for lunch today, and how many hours she spent in the library last night. At the click of a button I can scroll through hundreds of personal photos of someone who I barely spoke to yet know intimate details about. The only thing we had in common was sharing air space in an overcrowded classroom, and perhaps a ruler may have swapped hands now and again.

Besides the issue of voyeurism or 'Facebook stalking' there's also the issue of competition and comparison. Someone is always skinnier, prettier, or more successful than you. It begins to feel as if you're stuck in some sort of school reunion purgatory, constantly being reminded of your short comings since leaving school. No longer do we have to wait until we're 40 to feel as if our peers have overtaken us, thanks to Facebook we're instantly updated on the internship, the award, the engagement, and the marathon running. It's easy to think that everyone else is having much more success than you, and that they're somehow 'winning' in life with constant updates on every new development. Never before have we been able to scrutinize our own lives in such detail.

So I deleted them. Well, I tried to. I got down to about 257 before it got too hard. Would I secretly miss checking up on that girl who went to Durham, but who I surpassed at English A-level? Would I feel a gap in my day when I didn't spend a good hour clicking through all of philosophy-girl's holiday photos? What if they achieved something amazing and I didn't know about it, so I couldn't question every decision I'd ever made after school and wonder 'what exactly am I doing with my life'? Perhaps I could do without them after all...

So off they went. I sorted the wheat from the chaff. Would I stop and talk to this person if I bumped into them on the street? Would we have a decent in-depth conversation? The answer being 'no' for more than half of them, off they went, and I watched as my number of friends slowly declined.

But then came the re-adding. Friend requests popped up from people who I'd deleted. THEY KNEW. But why was my primary school best friend trying to add me again? She'd never spoken to me in about 5 years, nor had she make any contact online, yet she felt the need to know about all of my goings on like a silent watcher from afar. This was getting a bit weird. It was almost as if she'd gone around collecting people from her past like tokens. Not to talk to, but just to have there to look at. Kind of similar to what I was doing really...

Conclusion: Facebook is evil and people from your past use it spy on you.

Or perhaps it's better to think of it like this: people don't share everything on Facebook even though it may seem like it. (Twitter on the other hand...) Apart from the odd person who isn't afraid to share every raw and intense detail of a break-up, people only tend to post things that they're proud of or are happy about. It's only when you talk to people in person that you realise that what you see online is only half the story. Like how the person who went on the gap year spent quite a lot of the time feeling isolated and alone, and the girl who looks like she's having the best uni experience ever also has the worst housemates ever. We like to present ourselves to the world as having it all figured out, when really that isn't the case at all. (Well, at least I hope it isn't..?)

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A Perfect Day at Penguin

Last Thursday I made the trip down to London from Manchester for Penguin's annual Graduate Open Day.  
I had to get up at 4am to be there for 9. No one should be forced to get up that early unless they're going on holiday, seriously. Train stations are very eerie at that time as well, and I did not envy the people who were opening up the coffee places at 5:30am. The train was pretty empty as well, apart from the odd sleepy businessman in a suit.

The sun came up somewhere past Rugby, and I pulled into London Euston at around 8am and jumped on the tube to Charing Cross. Even though I live and study in quite a big city, traveling to London and riding the underground was still a bit of a novelty for me. I felt like such a tourist.

I arrived at Penguin head offices in good time and we were whizzed up to the 10th floor for breakfast. Apparently the room that we were in was the room from which Winston Churchill watched the Blitz, so we felt pretty special.

What followed was a series of talks from those who work in all of the different departments at Penguin, and the companies which are part of the Penguin group as well, like DK, Viking, Michael Joseph and of course Puffin and Ladybird. (Who didn't have those as a kid?)

It was really interesting to hear about all of the different processes that go into making a book. From predicting 'the next big thing', to editing, production, publicity, marketing, rights, and sales. Each speaker gave their own story of how they broke into the industry, and what they're looking for in a graduate. It was great to hear about people's personal experiences and all the different routes that they took to get where they are today.

Also - free lunch! A student never turns down free food, especially if it's thai green curry. Mmmm.

During lunch we had the opportunity to talk informally with quite a few of the people who spoke earlier in the day. It was great to be able to ask them questions on a one-to-one basis rather than in front of an audience. Although quite a few people still had a large group around them!

Everyone was really enthusiastic and genuinely wanted to help as much as they could, and I received some great advice.

The ever so lovely Ashley and Bryony who I met at the event :)

At the end of the event we were given a goody bag which included a copy of The Help, which has recently been made into a film starring Emma Stone. I saw it the other week and really enjoyed it, so I'm looking forward to reading the novel. Definitely my kind of goody bag.

(Part of being a student is coming home and realising that your parents are slowly turning your room into a store cupboard)

All in all it was an amazing day. Really insightful and inspiring. Publishing is like any industry: if you've got the passion and the drive (and are willing to work your way up) you can do it. Well, that's what I'm telling myself anyway...


Saturday, 15 October 2011

Top Tips for Reading Lists

Being an English student, a lot of my money tends to go on books. I don't mind paying £6.99 for a book that I know I'll enjoy reading again and again, but for a novel that I'll only study for a week and probably not look at again - not so much. If you see Beowulf on someone's bookshelf gathering dust, chances are they studied English at uni.

Anyway, instead of paying Waterstone prices for many of the books on my course, I have many other places I like to check out first.

First of all charity shops. They're always full of books that need a second home. Most of the time they're alphabetized, so go in with your reading list, but be prepared to search through a few copies of The Da Vinci Code and Katie Price's autobiography before you find what you're looking for. Charity shops are especially good for Classics and Popular Fiction. I found this copy of My Sister's Keeper for just £1.99. I do hate books that have pictures of the film on the front however, but beggars can't be choosers...

(Yeah Jodi Picoult is on my reading list...I'll keep you updated on that one)

I also found this copy of Oryx and Crake in Oxfam. God bless you Margaret Atwood for having a surname beginning with A, my knees were about to give from all the bending down near the P's.

Even though I do disagree with supermarkets and chain book stores being able to offer crazy discount prices that independent book stores can't compete with, I put such morals aside when searching for a bargain. Which leads me on to my next tip - HMV and Fopp. If you don't have a Fopp in your city then you're missing out. Think of it as HMV's younger sibling who gets all the hand-me-down goods but at excellent prices. They're both good for prize-winning books and classics for a £1 (although the printing is never that great). My copy of Their Eyes Were Watching God was only £3. Yay.

And then there's abebooks.co.uk. I go to Abe Books if I haven't managed to find any of my books elsewhere. Chances are someone somewhere will have it listed on here. It's especially good for out of print or obscure books as well. This is where I found a copy of The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist for £5.78 inc. p&p. Amazon Marketplace is also good for this type of thing, but I prefer Abe Books for some reason.

You could also check out swap-shop style websites, but I find them too much of a hassle, as you have to list all of your books and then find someone who's willing to swap books with you.

Books make good presents too, so giving your reading list to your family or a friend is a good idea if it's your birthday before the start of a new term. Make sure they get you other things as well though...

So after scouring the internet and various shops I spent a grand total of £23.70 on 8 books, which, if I'd have bought them all new, would have come to a ridiculous £63.92.

A saving of £40.22!

I haven't even bought all of my books yet, and this is just two modules worth. Of course I could just borrow the books from the library, but I like to write in them (in pencil of course), and a lot of the time the library will only have two copies of a set text, which just doesn't cover over 50 students. Anyway, I like old books, and you never know, you might just come across something as lovely as this...

I like to imagine what kind of relationship these two people had, and why Matty decided to donate this gift to a charity shop. I love finding personal notes in old books, and old receipts. Anyone else?

I hope this is useful to a few people. But everyone loves a good charity shop rummage, yes?

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Blackpool in Photos

Saturday, 9 July 2011

8 Things I Learnt From Glastonbury

As the novelty of regaining the use of running water wears off, and the fear of finding a surprise on the back of a toilet seat abates (do people seriously have such bad aim?), I thought I'd share my top eight festival tips with those who are just about to dip their toe into the final waves of this summer's festivals, with Latitude, Leeds/Reading, and Bestival still yet to come.

1. First of all - wellies. Wellies, wellies, wellies. You really don't need to be a hardcore festivaler to realise that wellies are THE essential item for any time spent in a field longer than 10 minutes. But lo and behold every year there's one mad person who thinks that their trainers, or flip flops (yes, flip flops) can withstand the onslaught of mud. DO NOT BE THIS PERSON. This year the queue to the entrance was littered with abandoned Keds and Converse. There's nothing sadder than a single trainer encased in mud, being trampled on by wellies again, and again, and again...

2. Socks. Bring socks. Lots of them. They are your wellie's friends. Especially the to-the-knee kind, as they stop the wellies from rubbing your calves at the top. This especially includes the boys, as they're less inclined to wear long socks. I saw some pretty sore legs around the site, including one guy who was practically carving away at his skin. Not pretty. If you don't want to wear socks, turn the top of your wellies over, which should stop any unwanted chaffing.

3. Layers. All good things have layers. Cakes for example. Take heed of this king of desserts and layer up. If it's too hot you can take one off, and if it's too cold just pop one back on. Think dress - hoodie - poncho for the girls or t-shirt - hoodie - poncho. With the added benefit that it's impossible to be unhappy in a poncho.

4. British weather is crazier than. Pack for all weathers, well, heavy showers and extreme sunshine. This year Glastonbury was marked by heavy downpour for the first two days and then glorious sunshine the next, making it more fickle than my Nan with a box of Roses. A lightweight mac, kag, or poncho are always good to whip out when the clouds start to form, and suncream for when they start to disappear.

5. Choice of Alcohol. Cider, beer or wine boxes are normally the usual festival tipple, but be warned - drinking 5 cans of cider whilst watching your favourite band on the main stage, might not be the best idea when the nearest portaloos are 15 elbow digging, and crowd maneuvering minutes away. Oh and don't think about bringing Tequila. Without the salt and lime it doesn't make anybody happy, and you'll just end up bringing it back home with you. (True story)

6. Babywipe Showers. So effective you'll consider giving up the real thing. Kind of.

7. Toilet Paper. None of the toilets will have it, so bring it with you, and guard it with your life.

8. No matter how many pages magazines dedicate to 'Festival Fashion' or 'Festival Chic' you will not be able to achieve the same look, and will stare down with absolute hatred those that do. And no matter what the magazines say, DO NOT wear a playsuit/jumpsuit to a festival. You know how you have to get naked to go to the toilet? Well imagine that but in a portaloo. In the dark. Best to leave the onesie at home.

But the best advice I could give is to just embrace everything. You're muddy and your feet are wet, so what? You're stood watching a band that you've been dying to see, in a field with thousands of people who feel exactly the same as you, singing their hearts out. Amazing.

See you in 2013.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

I'd rather be a...

I'm currently in my second year at Manchester Metropolitan University, and for the most part I enjoy my course and like being part of MMU, but when it comes to actually telling people which university I'm at...well I tend to just avoid it.

A typical conversation will go something like this:

(After various other topics and general chit-chat)
Other student: So, what course are you doing?
Me: English & Creative Writing :)
Man Uni Student: Oh right, cool. I didn't know they did that here.
Me: Oh, erm, yeah, no, I'm at the Met.

After which I vomit a list of reasons why I chose to come to MMU, and that in fact I had the grades to go to Manchester Uni (2A's and 2B's, don't you know) and that we have Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage, and we have The Manchester Writing School, and that we have practising poets and writers working with us, and that one of our senior lecturers used to work in the English department at Manchester University and said that it was a terrible establishment where they force you to recite Chaucer backwards and learn every 6th word of Beowulf whilst connected to some instrument of torture, or something like that...

I don't know why I react like this. Am I embarrassed about  my choice of university? Am I worried that people will think less of me? Well, partly, yes. There's only so many looks of quiet pity and polytechnic 'banter' I can take. You can see someone's opinion of you change within a second. And of course, it shouldn't be like this. I shouldn't have to feel inferior to anyone, but of course that's life. Ho ho. (That is not my laugh, just for the record :p )

My best friend (who is also on the same course) was having, let's say, an 'intelligent' conversation with someone from Manchester University and they actually said: 'I keep forgetting that you go to MMU.'

He was, of course,  referring to the fact that she was too clever to go to such a terrible low brow establishment such as the Metropolitan. Heaven forbid that some of us actually CHOSE to go here, over the amazing 'red-brick' institution that is Manchester University. (Actually the term 'red-brick' was previously used as a derogatory term, meaning that the university was relatively new and was made of the usual building material as opposed to the stone used at Oxford and Cambridge - little fact for you there...) Which kind of goes to show that there will always be someone above and below you. Always.

Well someone's a bit bitter aren't they, I hear you cry. This is something that I've thought about. Deep down am I just jealous that I didn't decide to apply to such an established university? I guess that every time I've had to explain myself to the 800th person who's asked me 'why MMU?', I've wondered what it would have been like if I did go to the other university. How different would things be? Would I have the same reaction to those people that I met that went to the Met? 

I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but yes, I think I would. Everyone makes judgements based on your appearance, your accent, your job, your education, your salary. Plus a whole bunch of other labels, indicators and tags. You can't deny it. We need to put people in some sort of order and compartmentalise them, to try and make sense of the world.

So what's my point?

I guess I could put in some poignant lines about not making assumptions of people, and challenging stereotypes, but instead I'm going to embrace everything that makes up the characteristics of a polytechnic student and shout:

I'd rather be a poly than a w****r.

(for now)

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