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Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: Tough, Tumultuous, Semi-Successful and Quite A Lot Of Fun

Brexit.

Let's get it out of the way.  Don't worry, I won't spend much time talking politics, this blog is all about the self-defecating narcissism, after all.

I summed it up perfectly on the morning when I woke up.  A victory for lies.  A victory for xenophobia.  A victory for racism.  Or something like that.

This year has seen the general feel of the country, and the wider western world, turn against the values of freedom, liberty, tolerance and respect that I hold so dear.  It's almost acceptable to be racist once more.  It feels in a general context that nastiness has swept the nation, and the western hemisphere.

But despite Trump, Brexit, Le Pen, Putin, Assad, Orban, Grillo, Wilders, Erdogan, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela and fucking Nigel Farage, there remains hope.  The general unpleasant atmosphere and rise of populist, nationalist and outright racist views makes it a tough outlook - but the world does continue to be a better place overall.

Less people dying in conflict, less dying from malnutrition, improvements in life expectancy, more countries democratising, vast improvements in technology, more young people in education, more women in education - you name it - there is a lot of good news around if you seek.  Let's just hope it doesn't get reversed through this period of unpleasant selfishness we have entered.

My year hasn't exactly been easy.  In fact it has been pretty damn tough at times.

It started with notice of redundancy.  Not that I cared about my job but I knew I wasn't ready to be a web developer.  Though I did care about my job, and worked with some wonderful people that could make me smile no matter how miserable the job, office...that fucking boiling hot office, and most of the customers were.  Oh sorry, did I ask you to pay on time?

Uncertainty ruled.  But sometimes worries and troubles can be a force for good, and I try to channel them as such.  I set myself a strict study plan, sometimes getting a little stressed if I hadn't done my hours - I remember being quite upset with myself when I left my Surface charger on the train to Hull, which meant I was not going to be able to do the required 6 hours of studying left on my weekly target.  I didn't know quite how insignificant this disaster was going to be compared with something that unfolded later in the year.

I don't really know how to broach that subject.  A handful of you know what I went through this year, most of you don't.  Well, assuming I have more than 6 readers of this post, it will be most.  Maybe I told a few more than 6 when drunk.  Someone very close to me contracted cancer.  I had the kind of blase semi-confident attitude that I normally do that everything would work out fine, as everything normally does work out fine.  But it wasn't as straight-forward as it should have been for someone fitter and arguably healthier than myself.

Of course, it did work out "fine" (still a shit outcome but much preferable than death), and 6 months later said person is pretty much back to normal.  But it could have been a very, very different outcome.  If you are reading, I hope I haven't said too much - let me know and I'll amend.

I remain lucky.  Others not so.  A few close friends have lost loved ones this year, and may I take this opportunity to say that my thoughts are with you.

Now, back to Brexit.

Only joking.  One thing it has made me realise is that I have to live my life and make effort to fulfill my dreams.  Although I knew that and things were in train anyway before the news.

You could say August was quite the month of upheaval, the cancer thing, moving house, moving city, changing job, changing career.  I was emotionally exhausted by time I went to Ibiza.

Which was fucking great.  I had the perfect person to go to Ibiza with in Martin, and the holiday was the perfect mix of messiness, sunshine, culture, beaches and looking at backsides.


It wasn't the only break away, as I also went to Bucharest in Romania with the ever-delightful Alena (Ali to you) which was a slight eye-opener being the poorest country that I had ever visited, by some way.  Even poorer than Hull - City Of Culture 2017.  Make sure you put Hull on your to-do list next year.

There were lots of good times during the year - roast dinners, birthdays, parties, occasional club nights or simple beers down the pub.  Thanks to everyone that joined me, from my sister, to Alena, Martin, Al, Rosa, Zag, JP, Ben, Karen, Elisa, Dave, Bod, Khristine, Ashley, Iain, Carrie, Tommy, Ellie, Swen, Shaun, Emma, Josie, Silvia, Michael, Ali...I'm asking for trouble aren't I as someone is going to turn around now and say "what about me?".  All of you, ok?  I love you all.  Even if you voted Brexit.

Many special events - being at Wembley to see Hull City AFC promoted again, going to watch the rugby league cup final with my dad - who insisted after the 5th or 6th defeat at Wembley that he would never live to see Hull FC win at Wembley.  We won.  Lord's with my Dad was pretty special too - we are in the ballot for this coming year.

I loved going to watch the Shakespeare in Reading - how many years was I threatening to go there?  I had a really nice day in the picturesque village of Bibury (the day after Brexit).  I had a lot of fun writing my roast dinner reviews, and sometimes eating the roast dinners - though I did get dumped by Get Reading early in the year.  Oh and definitely not forgetting my visit to Parliament - I have the best sister.

I'm struggling for my segue into moving to London.  I should have done it earlier.  Not just the segue but the actual move.  For 11 years I threatened to move to London.  And finally I did it - and wow was it super-exciting at first.  I had a whole week off where I didn't do any studying and I just enjoyed my freedom to walk around the parks and streets of London, just getting off on the buzz of the place.

And I moved to London for my first web developer role.  Which didn't work out.  Fantastic at first, actually coding for a living and having a grateful employer.  But that I didn't fully learn PHP/Wordpress in 2 months was my downfall (not that it was possible to do so).  I don't know whether to be grateful for the opportunity as I know so much more than I did back in August, or be pissed off that I didn't get the training and support that I expected.

So now I'm sat here in London in another tough situation.  No money coming in except benefits and I still don't know what housing benefit I'll get if any.  But it isn't just the financial side of unemployment, but the emotional side too - the loneliness mainly.

I definitely used to be lonely.  I'm not sure if I am now - I have created quite a character for myself so I can normally keep myself amused.  That said, if unemployment goes on too long, then sitting here every day by myself may drive me insane.  No, I'm totally normal right now.  Not even the tiniest loco.

It shouldn't go on too long.  I should get a job reasonably within the next couple of months but who knows?

It's been a strange year overall.  I could easily write it off as a shit year but that really gives prominence to the bad things that have happened, all of which were out of my control (has someone taken back control?!).

However I'd like to view it as a very imperfectly good year.  Sure, its been tough.  My beliefs have been shat on, I've fallen out of love with my country and I've gone through arguably the most difficult period of my adult life.

Yet there has been a lot of fun and more importantly, I have actually achieved.  I have moved to London.  I have changed career.  I escaped Bracknell.  The main items on my agenda have a big bloody tick next to them.

So, with a lot of buts, I have to conclude that this year has actually been a good year.  Mostly down to me - and partly down to you too.  Thanks x

Friday, December 09, 2016

Unemployment Begins

So I have just returned from job centre minus for the second time this week.

It was inspirational, invigorating, exciting, relevant and demeaning.

So inspirational that I have poured myself a beer.  Though I was going to do that anyway - I've had a tough, busy week.  More on that in a minute.  Plus it is listed in the conditions for jobseekers that I spend some of it on beer.

Last time I was made unemployed, it took me nearly two months to get around to applying for benefits as I was having too much fun.  This time I thought I would be organised and applied for it the next morning after losing my job.

I applied for it starting last Thursday, not realising that I was still employed until this Wednesday.  I found that out about 20 minutes after applying.

I didn't think much further, went down to job centre absolutely not fucking plus on Monday morning for my 9am appointment, the doors were closed until nearly 9:10am, waited for my appointment sat next to someone clearly angry, waited longer whilst he kicked off during his appointment when she questionned him about being unemployed for 13 years which is all due to him being discriminated against for being a rastafarian.

Only then to sit down and find that they cannot change the start date of my claim and I would have to submit a new application.

So I went home (30 minutes walk), tried to apply but it wouldn't start my application due to stored information in the browser.  Tried a different browser, same problem.  Bizarre.  Tried private browsing and was then told by the system that I cannot have jobseekers and must apply for Universal Credit.

I went through the Universal Credit screening process online and it said I was not eligible for it.  Couldn't apply for jobseekers either.

So then I called the number and eventually got through to someone after a long-winded menu system who then put me through to someone else who then tried to insist that I had to apply online.

A few minutes of polite, calm reasoning later and she was taking my application by phone which took 30 minutes.

Bored yet?

So today I went for my new appointment.  An hour interview, basically him filling out forms - though I did spend around 10-15 minutes trying to use this useless signing screen to detect my signature before it would finally accept it.

There was a moment of mild consternation when he asked what other jobs I would be looking for apart from web developer roles, and I replied "front-end developer, back-end developer, full-stack developer, Wordpress developer, Drupal developer..." - he insisted that I should spread my net wider and I negotiated at one extra role.  Credit control.  Which I of course will not be applying for any jobs for even though I could command a far higher salary than a junior web developer.

And then I came home.  With a bag of onions.

Government beaurocracy at its best.  Now I feel unemployed.  I feel part of the system.


There was one bright spot in that he suggested that it may be worth me going down the route of becoming self-employed, which is my eventual goal, but I would rather work for an agency for a few years before having my own agency.  And that there is a New Enterprise Allowance fund, similar to jobseekers, with a business mentor.  Which is good government.  And is my back-up plan if I am still unemployed in a few months.

I'm not sure I can cope with being unemployed for that long.  Last time was hard enough with redundancy money that I was happy to splurge and regular visits from semi or unemployed friends.  It is the being by myself thing.

This time I am acting as though I have a job.  I am treating Monday to Friday as a working week, with studying or coding websites roughly from 8am to 6pm every day, with a few breaks.  Granted I took a half day today - I am not amused that I am going to have to sign on every week instead of every fortnight as it was previously, with the amount of time and beaurocray that takes.

No update on jobs - nothing positive anyway.  The one I had a really tough Skype interview for last week I didn't get.  No surprise.  I've some bullshit conversations with a couple of agencies and applied for a total of 27 jobs online in total now, including some I have found on corporate career boards instead of the usual reed/indeed bollocks.  Some really damn cool companies.

More importantly, I have massively improved my portfolio - it looks much cleaner than what went before.  Still a few areas to be fixed but you can have a look seeing as you made it through the utter crap I wrote above.

Next up I am going to create a kind of agency site but with a very me kind of twist.  Not something at all sensible but something that might catch people's attention.

I have to say that I have had a lot more fun coding at home than I had towards the end of my job where I was just doing dull-as data entry.  But I do worry about the loneliness of being home alone all the time, nobody to have face to face interactions with except when I go to Sainsburys on a yellow sticker scavenger hunt at 9pm.  I am on a £25 a week budget so that rules out getting the tube to London even if someone is buying me a pint.

I shall try to spend more time exercising and DJing too - funnily enough the guy at job centre minus did suggest that I should try to get some DJ gigs.  Hmmm.

Until I have an income, it is heads down, crack on, study hard.  By myself.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Complaint: Cadburys & The Smaller Chocolate Bar Sizes

Dear Cadbury's

OK I'm overweight.  Not horrendously so but I am a good 10kg above the weight that one should be.

I don't eat a huge amount of chocolate.  My main issue is not doing any exercise - I refuse to go to the gym as I don't want people to think I am one of those gym types, and I never get laid as I only get fat matches on Tinder - and when I say fat, I mean phat fat.  I am sure that they are lovely girls but I have enough difficulties getting aroused at my age as it is (36).

Yet I note that you have stolen some of my chocolate bars yet again - this time taking 6g off a Cadbury Wispa.

Why do you think it is acceptable to make chocolate bars lighter in the same way that my drug dealer thinks that a gram should be 0.7 of a gram?  Being short-changed by my drug dealer is unacceptable.  Being short-changed by my chocolate dealer is also unacceptable.

In future, please simply put the price up.  I and most other chocheads can handle the idea that cocoa commodity prices have gone up.  We can understand exchange rate differences.

Just be honest with us and stop sneakily making our chocolate bars shorter.

By the way, the Daily Milk Oreo bar is a revelation in chocolate.

All the best
James


Thank you for contacting us about the Cadbury Dairy Milk range.

I was most concerned to learn of your disappointment with this product and that you feel the pack represents poor value for money.

Cadbury has long offered its chocolate in a range of sizes and shapes and these have regularly changed over the years. This particular change is driven by the need to keep our bars competitively priced in the face of rising ingredient costs which have been well documented recently. Some of our competitors have chosen to increase the price of their products, but we wanted to maintain a great price point for consumers and customers so have removed some weight to allow us to do that.

Whilst the price will remain the same, the move to reduce the size has meant that we are able to avoid raising our prices in light of the soaring cost of food and drink manufacturing in the UK.

We do feel that we are offering good value, in what is a particularly competitive market.

We very much value your feedback and would extend our thanks to you for taking the time and trouble to contact us.

Consumer Relations Team