Questioning The Benefits…

I watched a television show this week that explored the benefits system here in the UK which pitted public opinion against the benefits culture.

I’ve never been on benefits although I have been in the position of scrimping to pay my bills and feed myself as the result of my job being made redundant at the end of 2008 followed by the a**e falling out of the job market in 2009. So as everything from the weekly grocery shop to the job hunting behaviour was scrutinised, I did have some sympathy. But I was definitely on the side of the tax payer who was stunned to see how cavalier other people were being with ‘my money’.

One of the people receiving benefits was a young guy on the dole who had graduated from University with his degree. He received a visit from a tax-paying nurse who works long hours to earn the money she needs to get by. She asked some pretty tough questions and pointed out to him that his situation in having a supportive family – living rent-free with an aunt and uncle who also co-fund things like his iPhone bill – surely meant that he should be working to contribute, albeit at something that might not reflect his degree qualification.

Granted, this guy only received something in the order of £3,600 per year and was doing some volunteer work at the local Youth Centre but in doing the job-hunting rounds of the retailers in the town centre, there was very little enthusiasm demonstrated around find a job to pay his way, let alone fund his hi-tech paraphernalia or brand-name shoes. He’d worked his way through Uni and he felt he should wait for a career job.

I remember leaving Uni in 1991, a rare (for then) duo of degrees in hand, expecting that my choice to double the workload and fees over my four years of study would yield the kind of career prospects I’d been promised when I had first enrolled. I had worked to pay my way throughout and also had a mountain of debt to pay back at the end.

As I sent off applications, phoned recruitment officers and generally chased as many opportunities as possible, time after time I was met with ‘you’re over qualified and under-experienced’, something I found – and still find – to be a ridiculously circular argument. (How can a graduate with any promise get the essential experience for an ‘entry level’ position in their chosen career?) So after leaving my put-myself-through-Uni job, I worked as receptionist, then moved to a sales admin role with a sales brokerage firm six months later and worked my way into my marketing career from there. Life being what it is, I have found myself back ‘at Reception’ several times, temping to make ends meet after moving to London. But that’s a whole other story.

It’s been demoralising each time and there was many a time I thought to myself, what am I doing and how did I get here after all that hard work? But I always wanted to earn rather than receive the handout. Quite frankly, it also kept me sane: to be learning about a new business and meeting new people rather than dwelling on the situation I was in.

There’s a big part of me that can ‘see’ the logic in waiting and taking what one can get. And I understand the disappointment of feeling that years of hard work to get a qualification is being overlooked or even dismissed. But I am pretty put out that my taxes are paying for his gadgets. I’ve blogged about ‘entitlement’ before so I won’t get on my soapbox (for now anyway) – maybe the fault also lies in a system that is ill-equipped to validate need versus ease.

What do you think? Is there anywhere that has gotten this right?
 

Women Of Note…

I read a snippet today that got me wondering.

Ruth Sunderland of the Daily Mail has suggested that the appearance of high profile women on bank notes here in Britain will bolster female interest in the engineering profession. 

Those that have received a guernsey in the proposed Womens’ Engineering Society (WES) campaign include crusader of the skies Amy Johnson and doyen of the digital Ada Lovelace. Sunderland suggests that the appearance of women such as this right at our fingertips could help to inspire young women thinking of a career in the engineering industry, or even the banking sector.

If you head on over to the source of all this inspiration, you’ll find out that WES is an organisation that supports women in technical professions. Formed by the women who took up engineering during WWI while the men were away, the WES will celebrate its 95th anniversary next year and in looking for ways to attract women into non-traditional roles, they will launch National Women in Engineering Day on 23rd June 2014, 100 years to the day after the start of WWI.
 

Further wiki-style investigation has led me to understand that, apart from Elizabeth II, the only other woman appearing on English bank notes has been Florence Nightingale who did the rounds on a tenner between 1975 and 1994.

Australian lolly fares better with the fairer sex featuring on 50% of bills. There’s warbler and sweet inspiration Nellie Melba, two Mary’s – Reibey, a businesswoman and Gilmore, a poet – and a couple of suffragettes (Edith Cowan and Catherine Helen Spence).

And then if you flip an Aussie fiver, you’ll find one of the two women who have held the royal reins longer than any fella in British history. She’s had an upgrade on the new polymer notes having only made her mark previously on paper of just one dollar denomination. The previous five dollar note featured champion of female immigrant welfare, humanitarian Caroline Chisholm.

Anyhow, I digress. It got me thinking who might appear on currency of the future. Would Angelina Jolie’s humanitarian efforts garner her a spot on a greenback? What about Claire Balding, one of Britain’s best sports reporters, beaming up at you from a British bill?  And then there’s Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister – how will she be honoured by her world of back-biting back benchers and odious Opposition?

Who do you think should get their bonce on your banknote?

Proud To Be Australian?

In the absence of any stimulating TV last night, I watched an Australian documentary series by Joe Hildebrand exploring the reputation of Australians overseas. Hildebrand is a journalist for The Daily Telegraph in Sydney and appears on a variety of TV programs sparking much controversy and debate with his outspoken and provocative views.

Prior to yesterday, I’d never heard of him. But I was catching up with a friend I have not seen since high school and over a glass of wine and a bowl of pasta, we were talking about how Australia has ‘changed’ and more specifically about the ‘race riots’ in Cronulla (which are still so viceral in the minds of Australians that when my friend mentioned them, I thought there had been something more recent than 2005).

Anyway the series, called Dumb, Drunk and Racist, follows the experiences of four Indians invited to take a road trip with Hildebrand to experience the best and worst of Australia. 


The prevailing view in India is that Australians are rude, racist, dumb and drunk to the point of embarrassment, irresponsibility and violence. So Gurmeet (a journalist/ newreader), Radhika (an education advisor), Amer (a law student) and Mahima (a call centre worker) all agreed to face their preconceptions and, for some, fear of visiting the Land Down Under and to share their views on what they experience .

Warrning: Before you play this, much to my embarrassment you should know there’s some shocking language in this trailer.

If you think this trailer is bad, the series is worse. And in some ways better as the generous foursome end the series with a much improved view of Australians having witnessed the hard-working, warm and generous people who are at the heart of Australian communities, both in suburbia and in outback towns. But more often than not, I cringed as I watched, horrified at the boorish, narrow-minded Australians that have become the basis of our reputation in the wider world.

While I don’t believe that the majority of Aussies behave like this, the behaviour of a few is tainting the perception of the whole and I am concerned that Australia, with its ‘she’ll be right’ mentality and sense of entitlement to a land we took from others in the first place, will not really address this.

Our lucky country has never dealt with terrorism, attack or even real economic crisis when compared with the rest of the world so as a nation, we’ve never had to fight for or fear very much.  Maybe our literal isolation from the rest of the world (and from each other – Australia is a spacious place by anyone’s definition) creates a feeling of safe-ness, the urgency of doing anything dissipating in the absence of any trouble on our doorstep. We have a view of our laid back attitude as rather lovable and fun but perhaps it actually hides an unwillingness to step up, ‘rock the boat’ and demand change.

In saying all of that, it was heart-warming to see the surprise and delight of the four travellers at the Australian sense of fun and open-ness – there’s a really gorgeous moment between Mahima and a local when, obviously quite taken with her, he follows ‘pleased to meet ya’ with ‘would ya like a beer?’ and then proceeds to order her purple PomPom drinks, to her absolute delight.

The spirit of community that emerges in our country towns and our tolerance for lifestyle choices taboo in India is also lauded and in spite of the nastiness throughout the six episodes, I found a lot to be proud of.  But it was still hard for me to watch these gentle and intelligent people being abused by foul-mouthed locals. That we are not the only nation facing these kinds of challenges matters little.  For all our easy-going tolerance, there comes a time when a line needs to be drawn.

And the time is now.

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Most of the series is available on youtube if you are outside Australia and cannot access ABC2.

Smear Campaign…

One of the to-dos on my early morning, bleary-eyed bus trips is checking out some of my favourite bloggers. It’s an efficient and effective use of the 15 minute trip. I am not ‘at my best’ first thing and habitual early rising for work ‘starts’ over the years means I rarely sleep past 6am – so rigid routine is the only way to get me out of the house and engaging with the world at large at the hour of the sparrow’s fart.

On Friday morning, I popped over to check out the goings on of fellow Aussie, The Vegemite Wife. Her caustic wit and antipodean observations of life here in the UK often have me nodding in agreement or chortling quietly  on the bus like a mad woman and even though we’ve never met (she lives somewhere ‘up north’), I feel a certain kinship.

Her post last Friday gave a nod to an important anniversary: one year since she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It’s not for me to share the details of this with you and I would suggest you read her update one year on to understand the context of her story. Needless to say, she’s not one for wallowing in the ‘tragedy’ of it all and like any self-respecting Aussie, simply gets on with it. But her main point is this – she went without a Pap Smear for 15 years and when she finally ‘got around to it’, things were far more advanced than they would have otherwise been.

I have a wonderful friend that I have known my whole life. Literally. We are the same age – actually she’s a day older – and from the neighbouring bed in the maternity ward, her Mum (of 3 children) was responsible for keeping my ‘first-time’ Mum just a little bit sane. Both the Mums and daughters share a special bond that defies our lack of proximity. And a few years back, this life-long friend of mine learned that she had cervical cancer.

I don’t know what shocked me more – her diagnosis or the fact that this was a woman my age, an aware and pragmatic person who never seemed (to me anyway) to shirk life’s personal responsibilities. The treatment she underwent was incredibly aggressive and while successful, gave her a new perspective on what she wanted and she chose to move to India as a more conducive environment for both her physical and spiritual recovery. (She has blogged about her experience and recovery here.)

It had been just 4 years between Pap Smears for Nathalie.

I have no doubt there are many other stories like this – it seems that cancer touches us all in some way, whether directly or by association. My purpose in writing about this today is in the hope that these two women – who face(d) this and have the courage to share their stories – will encourage some heads out of the sand and a flurry of female footsteps treading paths to local clinics for regular Smear tests.

It’s summed up perfectly by my fellow Aussie up north…

Don’t be a twat like me and leave it .. to have a Pap smear. Do it now.



I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Horses**t…

If you haven’t heard about the latest scandal here in the UK, you’ve probably been either living under a rock or cryogenically frozen for the last six weeks.

The discovery of horse meat in a high profile brand of frozen burgers back on the 16th of January has led to outrage, a**e-covering and some serious spin doctoring from all quarters and producers and retailers alike are re-examining and re-fortifying their supply chains. Ikea has withdrawn its weiner sausages from sale, Tesco is vowing to back British farmers and only yesterday, the Food Standards Agency revealed horse meat DNA in even more products. 


Needless to say frozen burger sales have plummeted 43% (source: Guardian 26th Feb 2013) and I suspect other family ‘mince-based’ favourites like frozen lasagne and spaghetti bolognese won’t be far behind.

The press are loving it.

But it’s not just sensational headlines that have been shifting papers. Co-op placed a full page ad in last Saturday’s Times newspaper and Tesco have also boosted the media’s advertising coffers by placing full page ads in the Metro newspaper starting with a rapid fire response the day after the scandal broke followed by a double page spread this week.

I’m sure this is all intended to reassure their shoppers. But quite frankly, when I turned the page and saw it, all that registered was ‘blah blah blah’ and rather than being reassured, I was left thinking ‘what a load of s**t’.

How cynical you may be thinking. And you’re right. 

The damage has been done, another dent left in consumers’ waning confidence and with trust at an all time low, it will take more than a couple of ads to restore it. And every subsequent exposé will serve to underscore this deepening lack of faith in the world around us. 

Or will it?

Do you think we can find it within ourselves to trust again?

What is it going to take?

A Symbol Of Freedom And Light…

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was great debate about whether Australia should become a republic. A survey was created (called a referendum) and all of the people in the land were invited to participate. The results revealed a nation divided with the vote to maintain Australia’s colonial status quo snatching victory from the republicans  55/45.

But there was outcry. Some of the people suggested that the questions did not really present a clear choice between Republican-ism and Colonial-ism. And so while the Colonialists won the battle in 1999, the undercurrent of discontent around the Great Republican Question bubbled on.

And in the midst of this, there remained another question – the question of the flag and whether it was really fitting for our modern and multicultural nation.

I love the Australian flag.

I love how it celebrates our southern location and open skies with the Southern Cross constellation.

I love how it honours our Federation with the seven pointed Commonwealth Star – with six points representing the six previously self-governing states and one point representing the territories and any future states.

And I love that it also gives a nod to the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788 to make the first modern settlement in Australia, 16 years after pioneering Englishman Captain James Cook sailed along Australia’s eastern coastline.

But like most things in life, this is not a simple fairytale and our nation is still on its journey to find a happy ending. Does our flag reflect the indigenous, the discoveries of the Dutch (through explorers Willem Janszoon and Abel Tasman) and the emergence of a multicultural nation inspired by new horizons, the prospect of success borne of hard work and not least, the hopeful opportunity of the Gold Rush.

Is it really a reflection of our modern nation, whether it be colonial or republic?

And then earlier this week, I opened an email from Mum to find a poem that was given to her in the late 1970s by an ex-servicewoman she knew in Cairns. As I read it, I felt proud that our flag held such patriotism and passion in its thrall and my fierce republican heart couldn’t help but recognise the validity – and poignancy – of her words.

 
KEEP THE FLAG
Our flag bears the stars that blaze at night
In the Southern sky of blue
And a little old flag in the corner
That’s part of our heritage too.
 
It’s for the English, the Scots and the Irish
Who were sent to the ends of the earth.
The rogues and schemers, the doers and dreamers
Who gave modern Australia birth.
 
And you who are shouting to change
You don’t seem to understand
It’s the flag of our law and our language
Not the flag of a faraway land.
 
Though there are plenty of people who’ll tell you
How, when Europe was plunged into night
That little old flag in the corner
Was their symbol of freedom and light.
 
It doesn’t mean we owe allegiance
To a long forgotten imperial dream
We’ve the stars to show where we’re going
And the old flag to show where we’ve been.


Out with the old and in with new? Suddenly it’s not such a simple question.

There Is No Plan…

I read an interesting piece today called Is ‘Follow Your Passion’ Bad Career Advice? and it gave me pause for thought.

I hear many people bemoan their jobs and wish that they could follow their ‘true passion’. But what is that? Are we sitting around waiting for our passion to ‘arrive’ or do we need to go out and ‘get it’? And how do we know what ‘it’ is anyway?

I am a passionate person. I feel and express things I believe in strongly and can become slightly addictive about the things I love to do. And over the years, I have been surprised to find some of these passions change. Strongly held opinions suddenly seem less important, replaced by some other perspective or tempered by time or a particular experience. Other times, they just drift quietly away.

One of the things I have always believed is that you get one shot at this life – and along the way, stuff happens. The good, the bad and the ugly – relationships and jobs, friends and viewpoints, and even circumstances – arrive and wipe their feet all over my metaphorical welcome mat. Some are polite and considerate, others barrel in with not much more than a cursory stomp on the threshold. And when they leave, it is with alacrity or nonchalance or something in between, leaving their impressions and their impact behind.

So the whole notion of ‘following my passion’…like a well-thought through career plan…feels a bit at odds for me.

I remember being in an organisation in my 20s, formed to promote networking amongst young Australian women embarking on their business careers. One of our founding committee members was telling me about her career plan – to be working for this organisation and to be in this and that role by such and such a time. She was so passionate and unyielding in her commitment to this plan. Part of me admired her conviction. But part of me reeled back in silent disbelief. What about life and all of its unexpected twists and turns, the anomalies it sees fit to deliver?

The article I read speaks specifically about career but for me, career is not something separate. All of the different things I do – work, play, rest, relationships, wellbeing – are intertwined, with yours truly as the common denominator. So I think the lessons quoted in the article apply to life in total. Things like making excellent mistakes, persistence trumping talent and making an imprint.

And the point that rang most truly? That there is no plan.

There is no way of knowing what will really happen so embracing uncertainty and making decisions based on our fundamental beliefs – for me, the opportunity to contribute and make a difference – is likely to stand us in better stead than all of the best laid and well-reasoned plans.

And bringing my passion to the things I do and decide often results in these very same things taking on a surprising meaning for me. So when I stop being vocal, when my passion seems a little dimmed and my natural enthusiasm is on the wane, it usually means that a change is on the way…

…and that the current plan has gone out the window.

So how about you? Do you have a plan?

Travel Broadens The Mind…Worrywarts

I have been a bit of a travelling wilbury of late, meaning much mile-high consumption of a vast range of reading material. Audrey‘s had quite a workout but with the rules being what they are, there are about 20 minutes per flight when, after dutifully switching her off for take-off and landing, I wonder what to do with myself. And that’s when BA’s business:life magazine comes to the fore.

There’s been a bit of a change in format with the latest edition and I’m not sure of some of the new ‘regulars’ (rare earth metal of the month being the most random). But you’ll be pleased to know that the fascinating facts are still there so I’m delighted to bring you this latest edition of Travel Broadens The Mind.

This post’s theme has been inspired by the pessimism of the British. Amazingly, in this nation of worrywartsone quarter of Britain’s HR Executives have no formal policy to manage employee stress and anxiety.

It’s a big problem. British workers have a lot to contend with on a daily basis. I mean did you know that they lose 10 million individual socks each year?


I wonder where all of the lost socks go. A lot seem to disappear in my washing machine, odd socks finding their way into my basket without their significant other. Sometimes I find a rogue sock ensconsed in a trouser leg but some seem to have disappeared for all eternity. business:life reveals that there’s a fair bit of clutter in the average UK attic – £2,800 worth in fact. Gidday HQ doesn’t have an attic but does have a cellar – do you think they might be there?

In the meantime, what should one do? I’m not sure about wearing odd socks so should one buy all socks the same so that they can be re-paired with new matchy mates? It’s quite a conundrum. Particularly since 1 in 3 UK women hates shopping for clothes. (For the record, I’m in the two thirds.)


Maybe it’s best to take a rest from the issue at hand altogether. Not only does a holiday sound like an excellent plan but by getting the destination right, you can actually avoid sock-gate altogether with a range of sandals, slides and flip flops thongs (unless you are a socks and sandals kind of saddo gal/guy). But it will likely take you 9 days to get back into a work routine after returning from holiday so all of those HR executives will have just a little bit more to worry about.

Just goes to show what goes around comes around.

But it won’t be long before the stress-o-meter will be up again – at least for the 14 million families in Britain living with unfinished home improvements.

Because let’s face it.

There’s nothing like an un-done to-do list to give you something to worry about.

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Travel Broadens The Mind – Back Catalogue
…Let’s Play!
…It’s A Virtual Life
…The Euro Zone
…All About The Readies
…Flights Of Fancy
…Or So They Say

This Is My Life…

In perusing my weekend-ly dose of Saturday Times this morning, I read that Deborah Meaden – yes the multi-millionaire businesswoman on Dragon’s Den – was a gifted pianist as a child who, upon winning a prestigious music scholarship, decided she wouldn’t do it because ‘all eyes were upon me and it became someone else’s thing.’ 

She doesn’t say anyone pushed her but does cite her ‘refusal to obey orders’ in the preamble to this tale. I suspect no-one ordered her to ‘do’ anything but rather felt that they were merely encouraging what she loved to do anyway and wanted her to fulfil her promise. But now her passion and talent had an expectant audience and it had stopped being hers.

And in her anecdote of childhood wilfulness, I recognised myself and a lifetime of rebellions and I won’ts flashed before my eyes. If you are regular Gidday from the UK reader, you can probably figure out some of these for yourself, my sudden move to the UK being among the most notable.

But there are many – giving up clarinet as a teenager after 9 years of playing, an all-or-nothing approach to my tertiary choice, a double degree that no-one had heard of (no-one did 2 degrees at the same time then) at an institute of technology, rather than a university. Not playing the corporate ‘open all hours’ game to get ahead, climbing the ladder at a rapid rate anyhow by producing results no-one thought I could. Refusing to fill my life with the work or ambition that ‘society’ suggested I should in the absence of children. And even now walking away – sometimes mentally as well as physically – from the people and the things that don’t work for me.

It took me a long time to reach this point – where my life is mine and mine alone – and to stop feeling battered by the best-intended expectations and good opinions of others. For while my rebellion may have seemed intransient on the surface, it was so often underpinned by guilt and inquisition. Was I cutting off my nose to spite my face? What sort of a person did this make me, this proud and jealously possessive soul?  Selfish, impatient, ungenerous, obstinate and righteous?

These were not ‘nice’ things to know about myself.

I look back over almost 9 years in London and I am proud of what I’ve learned from all the challenges I’ve faced here and how my expat experiences have given a different cast to the way I shape my life. That’s not to say that all of those years leading up to January 2004 didn’t teach me a thing or two. Things like resilience, resourcefulness and learning to ask for help (although the last could always use a little more practice than I give it).
Somewhere along the way I learned to believe that saying no was valid, that disagreement was OK. That the love and the listening of close family and true friends really was unconditional, whether they actually liked what I was doing or not. That they just wanted happiness and success for me even though the direction I chose did not appear to be the obvious path to them.

Many years ago, I committed to living a life of complete generosity and inspiration. Little did I realise that the biggest bridge to cross was to be those things for myself first before others.

And in this, I finally learned that all of the ‘theys’ (and that includes all of the ‘yous’ who might be reading this now) don’t have to like my life.

I do.

And that is when I found happiness.



This post is also part of Post of the Month Club – October – pop over to discover more great bloggers.

Just The Essentials…

What is it about life when it delivers randomly themed events that make you wonder what on earth kind of secret desire energy you were channelling?

I went to work on Monday thinking to myself – on my early morning bus trip – that I really must do some bra shopping to support those which precede me.

I open my Springwise email – which, along with strong black coffee, is about all I can manage at that hour – to be greeted by this…


…a breast tissue screening bra that uses smart technology to detect tiny changes before cancer can grow.

What a great idea and a timely reminder to give my protuberances a preventative prod or two.

So I go to work Tuesday thinking I should do a breast check this week (again on the early morning bus ride – obviously these things germinate while I sleep).

I get to my desk, open my Springwise email to find this…

…the Joey bra complete with handy side pocket for your essentials.

Because aren’t every woman’s essentials small enough to fit in your armpit?