Archive for October 2009

I balls-ed up!

Posted on Monday 26th October 2009 at 00:00
Ok, I just glanced back at the post I wrote the other day with the details of my change of feed URL. Unfortunately I wrote it down wrong, because I'm a bit thick.It should have been:

Sorry about that!

Recent Posts


Posted on Sunday 25th October 2009 at 00:00
This blog has always been a mixture of diary and wider commentary, and such is the case with this post.

I moved to Plymouth a little over a month ago without any job to come to. I actually left a job in order to come here - one that I'd found without any effort at all on my part - and I rather assumed that despite the recession I'd have a pretty easy time of finding work. After all, why shouldn't I be able to just walk into a job? I have a degree in a part of the country where many people don't; I have work experience in several different industries and am above average when it comes to working a computer. I sat myself down in the sunshine outside Starbucks, logged onto the internet and started applying for any job that took my fancy.

A little over a month later, I am still unemployed, and have learnt a few things about job hunting and what the job market is like during a recession, when you're a very long way from London.

The first thing I've learnt is that there is no big business down here. None. Although Plymouth is the 15th biggest city in the country by population, it has achieved this feat in spite of the job market, not because of it. People do not come to Plymouth to work. They come here to retire, or to do a bit of shopping in they live somewhere more rural, but not to work, and definitely not to relocate their business. There are two reasons for this; two factors that shape the size, affluence, diversity and scope of the city. The first is the time it takes to get here from London, which on the train is usually around four hours. The second is the lack of other business centres in the area. Why are these factors important? I'll tell you.

The majority of cities in this country - indeed, the majority of regions - thrive because they are easily accessible from the capital. If you locate your business in Reading, Bristol, Cardiff or Birmingham you will often find that your customers are not living in your neighbourhood, and are most likely to be living in London. Not a problem, you say, I shall come to London to see you. So you hop in the car or onto the train and 2 hours later you are in the big city. Fine, no problem there. Your business can go on not being based in London and your customers may not even realise.

But supposing your city of choice isn't within two hours of London? Well, why not form your own micro economy? The likes of Manchester and Liverpool, which are a long way from London - or indeed Edinburgh, which is even further - get around this unfortunate handicap by turning themselves into business centres. They get together and help each other to become so big that if you set up your business there, you will be constantly surrounded by customers, and will never need to look - or travel - to the capital for your company to survive.

And that, my friends, is why Plymouth is an awful place to find work. Not only is it so far from London that even the specially timetabled "fast" trains to the city take a whopping three hours to get there, but there aren't even any other cities near by with which Plymouth can form a micro economy and attract business that way. After all, the nearest - dare one say, only - settlement of any notable size in the whole South West with which Plymouth could do business is Exeter, a full hour's travel away. And no, before you ask, I don't mean an hour in the Bristol to Bath on the bus 12 miles in rush hour sense, I mean the hour of driving along a dual carriageway at 70 sense. And because Devon has the hilly landscape that it has, even the high speed trains spend most of the time stuck at 60 or less, as they wind, snake like, round every peak and valley in the county. After Exeter, which itself isn't known for its massive, beating business heart, the next nearest city is, sadly, Bristol, and as mentioned above, that is too close to London for it to ever worry about doing trade with anyone else.

I think the lesson about the business situation really hit home for me when I got an email from my dad listing some PC repair companies to try talking to. When I phoned them up, each and every one told me that their only concern at the moment is staying afloat, never mind being so swamped with work that they must expand their workforce to cope. I mean, what sort of a city has so little business that even a computer repair man can't find work?!

The next lesson I learnt is that people don't give a toss about CVs. I started, as most would, by applying for jobs over the internet, using many of the countless job sites that have sprung up in recent years. The idea behind them is that you see a job being advertised and you apply for it, which sends your CV and cover letter straight to the employer and they get back to you to tell you if you have been selected for interview or not. Let me tell you this right now, so you can be in no doubt whatsoever:


First of all, no one who is actually in a position to decide to employ anyone has ever looked at these sites, or would ever consider using their services. Not one. The hundreds of thousands of job adverts posted on these sites have never ever been put their by the employers themselves. What happens is this:

The company in question decides to employ a recruitment agency to short list some candidates.

The recruitment agency, being keen to get their name out, post details of the job on hundreds of different job websites with a link for CVs to be emailed to them. Each advert shows the name of the recruitment agency, not the employer.

They then ignore the hundreds or thousands of CVs sent to them, whilst drawing up a list of candidates from the pool of workers they've interviewed face to face and know more about that a CV could ever say.

They give the list to the company who is hiring, never mentioning to anyone the thousands of CVs that weren't even checked.

And that is it. I don't even want to think about how many times I applied for dream jobs that would sort out all my problems only to never hear back from any of them.

The fact is there is only one way to get a job, even on a low salary, and that is to go and see people face to face. As crap as that is, and God knows I'd be the first to advocate getting a job without ever leaving the comfort of your computer chair if it worked, employers will never even look at your CV unless they already know who you are. And I have that on pretty good authority. After all, both my parents hire and fire. They both have the power to pull someone out of the dustbin of unemployment, shake the dust off them and give them a job. And both of them automatically delete any emails they receive containing a CV unless they have already met, or at least spoken to, the person sending it.

Gloomy as all this may sound, my hopes of finding a job - and so being spared from the awful clutches of bankruptcy - are higher now than at any point during this thoroughly depressing and stressful month. This week I went in person to two separate agencies, one temping, the other recruitment, and at both I was able to speak to someone about what I'm looking to do and they told me it is doable. I had been resigning myself to applying for part time work in Primark out of shear desperation, but they said I don't have to. There is real work out there, and they will help me find it.

At the same time, I've spoken to two separate people about gaining professional IT qualifications. I'll have to teach myself the knowledge and pay to become certified, but when I'm done, I shall have a fighting chance of getting through to those employers for whom a degree isn't enough.

The recession has been long and hard, and looks set to stay that way for many months and years to come, but if I keep making the effort and keep jumping through those hoops, than perhaps I won't have to keep being unemployed.

Recent Posts

Change of Address

Posted on Monday 12th October 2009 at 00:00
If you are reading this (and I hope you are) you may have noticed that I've changed the URL of the blog. Previously it was a standalone site hosted at, where it has been residing for over three years, but in an effort to bring it in-line with my main website, you can now find it at

If you receive the blog via RSS, you will hopefully continue to receive updates as normal, but to be on the safe side, please update your feed link to


Recent Posts

Grass is Always Greener?

Posted on Tuesday 6th October 2009 at 00:00
When I first moved to Bristol, back in September 2004, I chose my accommodation very carefully from the wide range of buildings and locations offered by the university. I had it in my head at the time that I wanted to be at the centre of all the action and university life, so I deliberately chose a flat in the block with the highest student population in the city centre. I had it all planned out: parties, cinema, shopping, sight seeing, theatre - the works.

When I got to Bristol however, I encountered something of a culture shock, coming as I was, from a small, sleepy commuter town in Hampshire. I was emotionally intelligent enough at the time to foresee that I'd have to adjust to my new surroundings, but the sheer scale of the change drove me half way to insanity before the year was out and I could move to the suburbs.

The first thing that struck me was the noise. I'd been a regular visitor to London and many big towns and cities before moving to uni, so I was well versed in the sort of noises that cities make, but it didn't take me long to realise the real challenge. You see, it isn't the volume that is the problem, it's the longevity of it. All day and all night the traffic purred away to itself and the sirens bleared. Every single day and night, with not so much as an hour's peace to give my poor ears time to recover from the daily assult. The windows were single glazed, which I think probably exhasibated the problem still further, and it wasn't that unusual for a particularly warm night to force me to leave the window open.

The second problem was the smell. From the moment I stepped through my front door each moring until the bus dropped me off at the out of town campus where all my classes took place, I was choked by a toxic cocktail of diesel fumes, fast food outlets, dodgy sewers and half a million other people making their way about the city. I'd never previously thought much about the value of fresh air, but once it was taken away from me, I would have given the world for it. This became especially apparent as the autumn wore on and I began to fully appreciate the ability of the pollution in the city centre to drive away those crisp cold mornings that had always told me that winter was coming. Even the frost and the snow was unable to penetrate the mild stew of exhaust gases.

The third problem was the view. I lived, as I have mentioned, in a small commuter town, prior to moving to Bristol, and although I wouldn't dream of calling it the countryside, I was used to spending my days walking under trees, kicking the leaves, or admiring the dew on the grass early in the morning. In the centre of Bristol there was no grass and the only trees I could see from my building were struggling to break through the concrete and tarmac laid right up to their trunks.

Between these three major environmental differences and the social changes of arriving in a city where I knew no one and was unable to connect with the students I met due to my lack of interest in being continually drunk or stoned, I found myself alone and depressed most of the time, and stayed in my room, hardly ever partaking in any of the fun I'd planned for myself before arriving.As the years went on things slowly improved. I moved out of the city centre, made a few friends and eventually got myself a girlfriend. The thing is, as my life in the suburbs gradually settled into some sort of routine, I found myself craving a life in the city centre again.

It's not that I suddenly missed the fumes and the concrete, far from it, but I found it annoying that in order to take advantage of any of those things I was looking forward to about living in Bristol, I had to travel. Even something as simple as popping into a coffee shop for an hour meant half an hour on the bus or in the car each way, and excessive charges to match. Similarly the cinema was a long way away, and even the beloved countryside, which I was much closer to, wasn't actually in walking distance at all.

At the time I was working in a bar at UWE, which is north of the city centre, and I was living in Kingswood, which is east, so my daily commute was a drive between the two, completely avoiding the centre, the restaurants, coffee shops and cinemas. Whilst this saved me a whole lot of traffic jams, I found that actually visiting the centre of the city I called home became something of a rarity, and I felt disconnected from whatever it was that gave the city its soul.

That said, during the course of the summer, L and I made the effort to go into town very regularly. We attended all the festivals we could, and ate in most of the restaurants. I even discovered a few new parks that I'd previously been unaware of.

For L, this summer was a chance to have one last look round the city she had grown up in, as well as showing me all the parts of it that were dear to her. For me, it was a chance to make up for my complete failure to find anything good about the place during my first few years there. Ironically, had I finished my degree on time and not stayed their an extra two years, I'd never have discovered the hidden gems that make Bristol such a wonderful city. Indeed, it was only after I'd moved out of the centre and was shortly due to leave the city that I finally realised what a wonderful place it was to live.

I think it is for this reason that L and I have made up our minds not to repeat the mistake. We have just completed our move to Plymouth, where we shall be for the next two years. I am currently unemployed and frantically looking for work, but that hasn't stopped us settling down in our city centre apartment and engaging in absolutely everything we can find (and afford) to do here.

In the two weeks since we've arrived we've gone on a group walk on Mount Edgecumbe, visited the city museum and art gallery, swam at the Pavilions pool, attended a free comedy evening, walked along as much of the coast as our feet will manage, dined with friends and still managed to spend every sunny breakfast and lunch time in late September on our little balcony, looking out over Sutton Harbour. We're even due to visit the theatre on Thursday!

For the five years I lived in Bristol, the grass was always greener on the other side, but now for the first time, I can honestly say the greenest grass is that which grows under my feet.

Recent Posts