Thursday, 26 November 2009

In Soviet Russia...

Pumpkin cans you.

More pumpkin shortage fun at work today. People were trotting into the shop with purposeful beady eyes, zipping quickly around, finding one of the staff and whispering "I heard you're getting more tinned pumpkin in today. Has it arrived yet?"

It was a rumour that we had permeated, but as yet we still hadn't received confirmation. Thanksgivers' queries were met with ambivalence and vague statements. "It might arrive after 4pm, but it might not. It's not guaranteed so it could be a long shot."

We took turns working the front of the shop and guarding the pumpkin-less frontline, taking the repetitive questions.

Customer: Do you have any canned pumpkin?
Manager: No.
Customer: Are you sure?

Customer: I heard you were getting pumpkin in at four. Is it in yet?
Me: It's only three. No.

Customers: Can I reserve a can/Can you keep one aside?
Me: No, I've had more requests than we are getting pumpkin in.

Customer: When is the pumpkin coming in?
Me: after 4pm.
Customer: Can you get it in sooner?

Coming up for 4pm, it was my turn on the frontline. My colleagues were pumpkin-weary and not up for dealing with pumpkin deprived Thanksgivers. The shop was full of eager shoppers. I maintained an abrupt, but not rude, manner.

Customer: Why is it taking so long?
Me: We had to get it flown in from America.
Customer: Really?!
Me: No. I mean it does come from America originally, of course. Brits don't really do pumpkin.
Customer: Really!?
Me: Nope. Libby's is American. We have to import it. It's taking so long today because we are getting some delivered from another shop.

Customer: How much is it?
Me: Eight hundred pounds a can.
Customer: Really!?
Me: No, but I swear some people would be prepared to pay that much today.

Eventually the pumpkin arrived, my manager doled them out straight from the box, and the crowd left happy. After that, when dribs and drabs of Thanksgivers came through the door I pointed to the tiny pumpkin-pyramid without a word, they took their can, paid me and left happy. Well, almost happy: We ran out of pie crust yesterday.

Finally, as evening set in and the shop quietened down, an American girl and her mother came for a browse.
Me: The pumpkin's over there.
Mother: Oh, no, not that stuff! I use real pumpkin. Or squash, because they are basically the same.
Me: Funny you should say that...
Mother: Well, you don't use that tinned stuff, that's just no good. Anyway, we're celebrating Thanksgiving like proper Americans, we're ordering Thai!

We still had some cans left when we shut shop. I feel a bit bad for all those folks who came by and missed out, but next time, folks, get your pumpkin early so we can order more in time.

Or celebrate St.Andrews day instead. We only sold one can of haggis today, and it was vegetarian.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Yes, we have no bananas...I mean...

As I live in smalltown Scotland I wouldn't think that this news story would have much effect on me. As it happens I feel like an innocent bystander caught in some terrible domestic argument that somehow ends up being all my fault.

My deli sells a selection of American imported products for our American population. This includes, for the months of October and November, Libby's Pumpkin in a tin. It's very difficult to get in the UK under normal circumstances, and it's almost impossible to get outside of these months. It's also reasonably expensive.

We sold out two days before Thanksgiving. Cue lots of last-minute Thanksgivers coming to our shop to find an empty space that had once been a pumpkin pyramid. Queries were met only with a shrug and a mention of a possible small consignment today.

It was ruthlessly windy and rainy today, typical for Scottish November. I was opening up the deli when I heard a knocking on the door and realised I had forgotten to unlock it on time. I headed to the front, panicking and praying that it wasn't the shop owner or I'd be in trouble.

A poor, pitiful, bedraggled figure was standing outside being battered by the wind. I remembered her from the previous day. She had bought some Aunt Jemima's products and had been disappointed to have missed the Libby's. I had told her about the pending mini-consignment of Libby's and I had also paid compliments to her cute purse.

"Is it here yet?" She asked.
"No," I replied, "I'm not sure when it will come in."
"Oh. No. Well, maybe I should just go to my class then."

In the next two hours I had a host of people ask me about the tinned stuff. When it did arrive, just twenty cans of the stuff, we kept it behind the counter and doled it out frantically like something illicit on the black market. A pimpkin. 'Ere mate, got any of the good stuff, yeah?

Within about 45 minutes it was gone. And I was back to having to console tardy Thanksgiving rookies.

At first I was quite sympathetic, but when it got to the 40th customer or so, my sympathy was becoming as depleted as our supplies of the tinned stuff. What should one expect in a small town in a country that doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving? We sell tinned haggis too, why not buy that and celebrate St.Andrews day instead?

As the afternoon wore on, customers became more desperate and pushy;

Customer: Do you have any tinned pumpkin left?
Me: No, we've sold out. Sorry.
Customer: Shit. But I heard you were getting more in today!
Me: We did at lunchtime, but it sold out.
Customer: (disbelievingly) Already?
Me: It sold out in less than an hour. We might get some more tomorrow, but not until after 4pm.
Customer: Well, what am I going to do then?
Me: You could try real pumpkin. Or butternut squash.

I said that with all the intent and purpose of being helpful, but the scowl I received in return was absolutely priceless. I may as well have suggested she grow the pumpkin herself. Obviously I just don't understand.

Maybe that's because I have never had a Thanksgiving dinner. I haven't grown up with the smell of Stove Top cornbread, I only tasted Candy Corn for the first time a few weeks ago, and to me, pumpkins are for carving into scary faces for Halloween, not for scooping out of a tin and making into pie.

I can only imagine that what I had said was something akin to this scenario: a situation where I had moved to Takayama in Japan, had been there for six months and was getting a little bit homesick. Christmas was coming soon, but isn't celebrated in Japan. Perhaps I knew there was one shop in the town that sold mincemeat and Jus'Roll pastry to make mince pies so that I could have that little taste of home, a small gesture of an old family tradition while thousands of miles away from the place I had spent my childhood Christmasses. I turned up to the little shop to find out that they had sold out of mincemeat that morning. My hopes of a single Christmas tradition would be ruined, until the cashier in the shop suggested...

"Why don't you just use grapes instead?"

Maybe that's how she felt. I'm not sure, but she certainly wasn't impressed.

One girl, after complaining that we had sold out, asked if my colleague had ever tried pumpkin pie. She hadn't. The girl had the audacity to add, "It's disgusting. But you're getting some more in tomorrow, right?"

Well, in that case, maybe I should try to compare it to looking for Brussels Sprouts. They really are disgusting, but essential for a family Christmas dinner. And maybe the Japanese cashier had suggested seaweed as a substitute...yeah. I don't know, I can only imagine.

A while later, the little bedraggled figure from the morning arrived back in the shop. She scanned the shelves and then saw me. Her face was filled with hope and her hair was filled with rainwater.

I reached through to the back and emerged with a solitary tin with a small paper note attached: for the girl with the cute purse.

I only did it because she hadn't asked for it to be kept aside and she wasn't pushy. Also, she had turned up first thing and caught me out with the door locked. I was definitely her favourite person today, but nobody else's.

So Happy Thanksgiving guys, although I feel a bit like a bemused bystander. You can be sure there won't be much thanks-given to me as I do the whole pumpkin shortage routine again tomorrow.

Monday, 23 November 2009


There once was a man called George, who at one point lived in the United States and worked as a barista in a well-known juice bar. I will never forget him.

He doesn't know me and wouldn't recognise me. I saw him maybe three or four times. I think perhaps our interaction time doesn't even total five minutes. But he had this way of handing me my 16oz cup of sugar and fruit concoction and telling me to "have a great day" infused with such sincerity that it warmed my heart right through. What a chap.

From what I know of George, I could deduce that he is a lovely fellow. I could be entirely wrong of course, but in our interactions I simply played the role of polite customer and he simply played the role of excellent barista. I don't have much to judge him on.

It is human nature to judge. I don't mind that. I judge people all the time.

At work, for instance. I have a great job; I work with lovely people, and I serve lovely people. It's almost how disappointing how lovely it all is, because it means I have no crazy customer stories to regale to you.

I've been there long enough now to build up rapport with some of our regulars: The little old ladies who buy their cheese and meats from us; the University lecturers with whom I like to banter about current affairs; the students who come in wearing pyjamas and holding paper coffee cups and talking incessantly about how they have been awake all night writing a presentation and took far too many pro plus and are now so jittery that they can't stop talking and they would really like a sandwich and they are so sorry that they keep talking crap at you but are really very charming and entertaining to listen to.

I'm sure most of my customers look at me, and the other girls I work with, simply as their deli girls. I don't mind that. I enjoy helping people, in any role. We exchange our pleasantries and our mutual disdain about the weather, I hand them their goods and they leave happy. I might not be as sincere or heart-felt as George, but it's a good atmosphere.

It's an affluent town and it's a high-end food emporium. Sometimes, I serve girls, students, whose purses cost more than my entire wardrobe. Of course, I judge them on that; I also judge them as lovely, because they usually are. But I also judge customers when they pay for their lunch with their parent's credit card by throwing the credit card at me or one of my colleagues, or when a daily regular completely fails to register my attempt at familiar camaraderie. I assume they judge me as 'just the deli girl' and I also judge them based on the small, daily snippets I see of their personality. I can only judge them on that and no more, especially when they refuse to engage in conversation on their daily lunch run.

One girl comes in almost every day to get her lunch from us, let's call her Shouty Girl. She shouts her order at us and then rarely speaks, smiles, or acknowledges us, usually talking on her flashy mobile or turning her back from us to talk to her friends. She comes in every day, and every day she is the same. I don't mind too much, but it really bugs some of the girls I work with because they are all at the same university.

One day a colleague, a student, told me she was sitting in the library studying, when she became distracted by an incessantly loud voice emanating from the girl sitting next to her. It turned out to be Shouty Girl chatting on her flashy mobile. My colleague turned to her, eyes set to death ray, and snapped loudly "will you please just SHUT UP?"

Shouty Girl was taken by surprise, snapped her phone shut and replied with disdain, "What's your problem? You're nice to me when you serve me in the deli."

"That's because I'm PAID to be nice to you in the deli," came my colleague's winning retort.

Whoever said manners cost nothing was wrong when it comes to dealing with the likes of Shouty Girl.

Mind you, she hasn't changed.

So we all judge each other, and that's ok. But if we all remembered that we are being judged on the short interactions we have with each other, whether we are buying a paper or a sandwich, going for dinner or on holiday, we'd probably all be a bit more like George.

Or at least the bit of George I saw.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Digital Literals

I put out a call for more resources about "digital poverty" or the "digital divide" and so far I have received some great links from people. Thank you and keep them coming!

More on that later, but I wanted to share one link I was sent by a good friend of mine. She said "it's a slightly more literal version of your "digital poverty" theme from your recent blog posts."

Behold, Alice and Kev, the story of being homeless in Sims 3.

It's not exactly what I was thinking of, but I have been promised tears by the end of their story.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Digital Poverty (part two)

While I was at home struggling with Google Wave, my mum was sitting in a lecture presented by economist David Blanchflower. You may have heard about his work on happiness and developed countries. He also sat on the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee. I heard from a mutual friend that he was on the lowest security clearance to be allowed to see the B of E's gold reserves, so he did, just because he could. I'd say it's pretty cool being able to see the actual bars of gold that our country is based upon.

Anyhow, my mum came home and raved about Blanchflower's presenting skills and about what he had to say. She told me of the lost generation of young people that will be scarred for life because of the recession.

"Older people will suffer too" she said, "but they'll get over it." Younger people will lag behind in education and work experience and it will follow them through life. Blanchflower's solution is to subsidise young people now so that they don't lose out for the rest of their lives. You can read more about this here and here.

My mum, who works with the kinds of people about which Blanchflower speaks, was switched on to his ideas. Unfortunately she is also all too aware of funding difficulties, and other obstacles involved with trying to engage with what are commonly known as NEETS.

I thought this was a good opportunity to explain the concept behind the University of the People that I mentioned in my previous blog post. Free online further education. It's a step beyond the Scottish ILA system (through which I learned German this year, danke).

My mum agreed that this is an intriguing idea, but argued that it is of no use to this potentially 'lost generation' who may lack the motivation and literacy to participate. More importantly, they would probably lack access. By this she meant internet access.

"We first need to do something about 'digital poverty' so to say. Ooh! I just made that phrase up," she concluded.

"I bet you weren't the first to make it up," I replied. Laptop to hand I googled "digital poverty" - over three thousand entries, including a memo regarding Tony Blair from 2000.

I had previously scorned those with the "stubborn stupidity" to not learn how to use the new and vital technology at our fingertips. I will eat my words. There are those in good position to take advantage of learning how to use new technology, or who are in position where a certain competency should be expected of them. There are others who are being missed out.

Incidentally, I also googled "digital underclass" - more entries for this one.

What is interesting, and slightly alarming, is that most of the entries on google about digital poverty refer to the developing world, but what about the UK? There are those in denial about the existence of poverty in the UK, is this perhaps because their voices are not heard by the mainstream information services? So what about the homeless? the illiterate? displaced children?

Isn't this worthy of further investigation? Think back to my previous post about how fast technology has changed, and its potential uses. Even I, a well-versed computer geek, am overwhelmed by what the internet can do. How about those with little or no access, motivation, education?

Yep, so this is what my mum and I talked about one afternoon.

I have received some interesting resources from a former classmate about what I have since learned is commonly called the "digital divide" (it turns out it was a key part of a module taken by my Postgrad peers in the Political Communications course. Oops. It seems I really cannot get away from my previous life as a politics student).

Once again, there is little focus on the UK, so if there is anyone who knows anything about digital poverty or the digital underclass or the digital divide, or anyone who knows someone who might know someone, please let me know, I'd be interested to find out more.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Digital Riches (part one)

I am a geek.

No, not just a politics geek. I am also a computer geek.

I grew up with computers, playing Prince of Persia on an old 286 when I was about 7 years old, and making dialogue boxes that said "hello world" on Windows Visual Basic. I was convinced I was going to invent the new Windows. I was going to call it "Open Doors".

When I was about 10 years old the internet was just creeping into the mainstream, and I thought it was fantastic. By 11 or 12 I had my own geocities website, using html I had learned by looking at source codes of other websites. I proudly told all the kids in school about it, and being suitably unimpressed they called me a geek and made fun of me. If only I had known that a few years previously a similar kind of thing had happened to Atari-Democrat-in-Chief Al Gore.

I made cutesy framed websites using only notepad and ftp, and then tried to convince my parents to buy the domain (which didn't yet exist) so that Kodak would have to pay us millions in order to be able to set up their own site. My parents realise only now that if they had listened to their pre-cyber-squatting pre-teen daughter, then they could have been very rich indeed...or ended up in jail. I think either Kodak or my parents missed a bullet there.

It's amazing now, after the internet's recent birthday celebrations, to realise how far it has permeated into our lives. The internet is now so mainstream that football games have been shown over the net instead of on television, and certain political campaigns have been attributed to the likes of Facebook and Twitter respectively. I even know an MP who updates Twitter during PMQs. Web 2.0 allows users to interact with each other in ways completely unfathomable just a few decades ago, using technology that far surpasses my lowly and outdated html skills. The internet overtook me, but I'm still geekcore about what it can do.

In true geek fashion, I recently spent a coveted day off work trying to figure out how to use Twitter and Google Wave. As a latecomer to Twitter, unconvinced of its usefulness, and confounded by Google Wave, I sent a "tweet" that said "now i have google wave but i'm not sure what it is or does. at least i'm on trend, right?"

To my surprise a complete stranger replied with some useful links to get me started. Now I'm an expert; well, now I am able to get my Twitter updates through Google Wave. And if that doesn't convince of you of the usefulness of either, what else will?

Google Wave is not perfect, but I think it is the start of something very exciting; something that involves using social media for good. In the UK we have NESTA and the Social Innovation Camp, coming up with user-generated technology-based answers to modern day questions:
How can I support my grandparents from afar?
How to get people to give up their seats on public transport?
How to make health care more accessible?

In the US, a groundbreaking, profit-making enterprise is using technology for social change. Virgance has pioneered programmes that encourage energy efficiency or use consumer power to promote corporate social responsibility.

Other start-ups use technology to provide services to the public that sometimes have eco-friendly by-products, such as,, or, to name but a few.

The latest of these I have discovered is The University of the People.
Its aim is to provide free online education to those who want it, depending on voluntary contributions from professors, academics and experts. So far, like Google Wave, the 'University' is in its very early stages, and so far without accreditation, but its potential is very exciting. The U of P seems to take some of the core foundations of the Open University and adds a Web 2.0 twist, keeping it online, and keeping it free (well, almost). I would like to see it succeed and progress.

None of these websites has all the answers to our generation's problems or questions by itself, but each of them demonstrate something unique that can be achieved through the web. I am truly very excited to learn more about how these tools can work together for the public good. I'm even tempted to sign up to the U of P's Computing Science programme so I can join in.

Never before have we been so digitally rich. I hope we are smart enough to be able to handle this wealth.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

if you don't know what to do, do something

try not to get downhearted. it can infect your job applications with a tinge of desperation or bitterness.

a piece of advice from my old maths teacher: if you don't know what to do, do something. you might not always get the right answer, but you might learn something in the process. it might help to see jobhunting as a process rather than a means to an end.

i haven't got the right answer yet, but i'm definitely learning.

1. learn where to find the jobs you want.

2. learn how to get an interview.

3. learn how to get a job.

i'm at stage 2. referring back to my previous post, i have a good bank of sites and resources that advertise the kind of positions i am interested in and for which i am qualified. i have been invited for a number of interviews, and attended a few, but i had been unsuccessful in earning a job offer. however, i did receive some great feedback, so that's part of the process, and useful to getting myself to third base (sorry).

this approach is useful because it avoids pinning hopes on one job or one goal. if you see each job opportunity as a part of the process, you can approach it positively using the lessons you have learned from careers advisors, peers, and from previous application feedback, or from your own reflections from past performance.

i had an interview for what would have been a great job (although part-time). my application was fantastic, because i've honed my skills at this stage of the process. however, i knew i did not nail the interview. i was more reserved that i should have been, and forgot to highlight where my skills are exemplary. next time, i'll try a different tact.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

You can take the politics...

It was a month since I tried to demonstrate the important difference between lolitics and not-lolitics and I had promised to follow up with an explanation of why political humour can sometimes be damaging to political discourse. I have not forgotten about this promise.

I had started by writing a commentary on the whole BNP/Question Time debate to compare the notion of political debate on the BBC with that of political punditry in the USA. By the time I had finished my 'draft' it was over two thousand words long and not yet finished. I wanted to comb through it to give it some finesse when it dawned on me that something frightening was happening.

Two thousand words sounds very much like an essay draft to me.

It seems that you can take the girl out of the politics degree, but you can't take the politics degree out of the girl. Not that there's anything wrong with writing politics essays when one doesn't have to, but I was alarmed to find myself doing it mostly out of habit.

Nobody wants to be writing politics essays "out of habit" and I doubt anybody wants to read such essays either. So instead I've been intently following America's Next Top Model and Project Runway and making a concerted effort to avoid any broadcasting or commentary involving X-Factor. I've left my embryonic essay on the back boiler for now. I'll return to it at some point soon.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Gears of lol

Last week we had a month's worth of rain in one day. In order to achieve this, rain must be both relentless and heavy. As you can probably imagine, that's no fun to be out in, so work was the quietest that I had experienced it to date. This suited me fine because I was safe and dry at work; I also had friends staying over and was glad not to be too tired to entertain them.

After shop had shut, we went for dinner and drinks and catch-up. We went to a reasonably priced Mexican restaurant, asked if we could have a table outside and provided much entertainment for the serving staff. We ordered after much gossip, deliberation, and menu scrutiny by my nouveau-vegan friend (it all happened after she broke up with a butcher). We ate, teased the waiter, tipped well, had after-dinner coffee and gin, bought some soy milk, and called a taxi back to my village.

It was all very lovely until the taxi passed a village at the top of a hill, reached the bottom of the hill and splooshed into a giant puddle, which turned out to be a burst river, which broke the engine and brought the taxi to an unceremonially pathetic kaput. We four girls and the taxi driver were stranded in a river.

I laughed nervously and felt incredibly bad for my friends who had travelled for hours on a bus to see me and what I had promised to be a beautiful corner of the world. Friend A reached out of the window to dip her hand in the river which reached up towards the car door handle and produced a reasonable current. She reminded us all that she couldn't swim. Friend B whipped out her iPhone to update facebook status and text friends about our situation (a reply from a mutual friend: "oh noes! i can has dry? hello to girls in a taxiboat!"). Friend C became increasingly concerned about the large damp patch that was forming at her feet while the taxi driver assured us that the car was waterproof.

We sat for an hour while a people-carrier taxi from the same company approached from the other side of the burst river and decided it was too deep and wide to be able to rescue us. Another car sat some way behind us on dry land flashing their lights (were they alerting other drivers or were they gloating to us that they weren't stuck? We never found out). Eventually a tractor from a local farm came along, and the farmer gallantly towed us back to his farm before going off to rescue more drivers of a foolhardy disposition. The people-carrier taxi took us home, for free.

Luckily the next day was dry, the view was beautiful, the burst river had entirely disappeared, and I went to work while the girls partook in some shopping before heading back to the city. I found out later that the taxi's engine was totally wrecked to a cost of £5000 and our driver was completely contrite about what had happened.

All this excitement with the taxiboat reminded me that I haven't held up my side of the "moving back home" deal. I need to learn to drive. I have been putting it off, but I really don't have an excuse now, especially as I have announced it to the public domain of internetland. I know it sounds pitiful but I am incredibly nervous about this, not just because of the taxiboat incident, but because I am scared of traffic. People assure me that it's not a big deal, "it's just like riding a bike".

That's all very well, but I can't ride a bike either.

Sunday, 8 November 2009


I joined twitter.

Obviously I'm following Stephen Fry already.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

sharpen the soul

I did something foolish.

I know it is foolish and I know that it may have been a terrible decision, but I also think it was the right thing to do.

I received an email last week inviting me to a telephone interview for a paid internship directly related to my career interests. I had applied for the internship in July and since forgotten about it.

My heart leapt with excitement. This is good news! So what did I do?

I emailed back and said I was interested, yes, but unavailable until the new year. Let me reiterate: I turned down an interview, for a potentially ideal position.


During a tough moment about a year ago, a friend was telling me about the seven habits of highly effective people. I can't actually remember any of them (which I guess doesn't bode well) except for the final one, "sharpen the saw" which I actually misheard as "sharpen the soul".

I had asked my friend to explain it, and he regailed the story of the guy ferociously and unsuccessfully trying to chop down a tree with a blunt saw, believing that he did not have time to sharpen the saw, which would in actual fact save time. It resonated with me because I was working by day and studying by night and weekend, rarely letting myself take a breather or have a distraction. If I had, I probably would have been more productive.

So now that I have a chance to take a breather and enjoy distraction from the overall goal, I am taking and enjoying it. Don't misunderstand this; I am working 5-6 days a week as a supervisor in a posh deli, earning back money.But I'm enjoying the job and I'm not taking the next step of my career, yet.

It is one thing to be able to make opportunities for oneself. I worked hard to get my degree(s) and learn languages and gain skills and was offered an opportunity as result of this. However, it is another thing to be able to turn an imperfect opportunity down. The internship could have been perfect, but I know that it wasn't the right time, and therefore I know it isn't perfect.

Maybe I am a fool, or maybe I am astute. Only time will be able to tell... not the time it takes to sharpen a saw, but definitely the time it takes to sharpen the soul.

Monday, 2 November 2009

it will all be worth it

People always ask kids what they want to do when they "grow up". It's only now I realise how misleading that question is. I know very few people who have only had one career in their lives. Most people I know have had rich and interesting fits and starts and stories about how they reached the current point in their life.

As I had no clue what I wanted to do "when I was grown up" I entered the habit of setting myself short-term challenges. Going to University was kind of like one of those challenges; I studied what I enjoyed, rather than a particular vocation. One summer at Uni I challenged myself to get a "real" summer job and gained experience in Marketing. The next summer I challenged myself to getting a summer job in New York and had fun working on the Coney Island Boardwalk. The next year I challenged myself to find a "graduate job" or get elected as student union president, but was unsuccessful in either.

During a slow day at my "non-graduate job" for the government I decided that in order to change the world, I needed to learn more about how the world actually works. How was I going to do that? I suppose I could have done any multitude of things; the world is a big and varied place after all...

So I made a swift decision to apply to do a part-time MSc in European Politics. Yes, really. I am sure that there area much more interesting ways to find out how the world works than this, but this approach appealed to my geekery for all things political and educational. I was swiftly accepted, swiftly and inadvertently embarking upon a huge, huge challenge.

I went about things the hard way, I think. I was working full time in order to afford fees and rent, volunteering with a political party and attending night language classes as well as doing my Postgrad degree. (This is far too much for a mere mortal to attempt - do not do it.)

Banks collapsed around me and the jobs market looked less and less pleasant. I tried to motivate myself to study while working in a job that, frankly, I did not enjoy. I had set myself this challenge purely out of interest, but part of me wanted to make sure that it was a worthy investment. Grades were and weren't important: I chose to write on topics that I knew little about in order to broaden my knowledge, but of course this probably affected my grades, along with trying to balance deadlines with other commitments and time-pressures.

All through this I had a handwritten ink-note blu-tacked on my bedroom wall to keep me going: It will all be worth it.

Although I don't necessarily recommend setting yourself the same challenge, I do not regret it at all. I challenged myself to learn how the world works, and while I am under no delusion that I am now a worldly expert, I certainly I have learned a great deal. I learned more than I could have expected, and much more than was included in the course curriculum. These unintended lessons have been just as revealing as the classes I attended. I have learned about the world, and also learned about myself, and other people.

When I handed in my final piece of coursework and started packing to move back home, I tore down that little note of encouragement. I didn't need it anymore. It tore away some of the wall paint with it, I guess the idea had stuck...eventually.

I got my grades last week.

Was it worth it?

Well, of course, as you know, I don't have a job related to my desired vocation...yet.

Was it worth it?

My grades were good enough for me, and nobody can take them or the experiences I gained away from me.

Was it worth it?

Damn right it was, but I'm bloody glad that challenge is over!

And as for the current challenge, well, it's to recover from the last, mentally and financially, as well as to prepare for the next...