Why I love ‘Things to do before you’re 30’

Tonight, BBC1 decided to screen Things to do before you’re 30, a film made in 2004 about a lackluster group of ordinary blokes, living ordinary lives, brought together by football. It was not a Hollywood blockbuster. It did not reap millions in opening-weekend ticket sales. It does not have amazing CGI – or any at all, come to that. To me, however, it will always be one of those films that stands out from others. It is not because it’s funny. It is not because it contains football. And it is definitely not because of Billie Piper.

(In fact, very briefly I might add that replacing Billie Piper with a generic failed actress from a Never mind the Buzzcocks line-up, placing a paper bag over her head and painting a smiley face on it might do more to add depth to the character. /rant.)

The film is quite so wonderful to me simply because of what it stands for. Friendship, loyalty, sentiment and things that matter. The group of lads that we follow throughout the film aren’t necessarily special. They aren’t superheroes, they aren’t amazingly handsome (note the lack of toned bodies emerging from sparkling water on a tropical island), they aren’t spies, they aren’t beacons of morality – they are normal blokes. I find that I empathise more with some of the blokes here than I do with faux representations of men in anything that Hollywood has produced in the last ten years.

Recently, the people who zip their way into and out-of my life find far too much interest in shallow past-times. There is a great preoccupation with drinking the right kind of wine, or owning the right kind of shoes. We must socialise in the right kind of places and drink coffee with the right kind of people. This is not where I come from. My background is weaved together by hard-knocks and hard times. My own little band of brothers never went quite so far as to group together and sing the song from Annie, but we all know that we’ve known each other long enough that if any of us had the nerve to suggest such a thing, they would immediately be punched in the groin. Hard.

That is how we survive. We mock each other. We remind each other of all the embarrassing things we have ever done, and we make damn sure that they never forget it. We don’t do it to be horrible. We do it to survive. The lads in Things to do before you’re 30 are bound together by football – and the lasting message as we near the end of the film is given during a funeral. Death contrasted with hope. The Don, as he was known, could get angry at the team of foolhardy footballers. Never because they lost, but when they didn’t play as a team. There’s your message. There’s your reason to love the output of British cinema in 2004. The lads stick together because life is big, complicated and can knock the wind out of you at any given moment. Unless your best mate is standing next to you to say ‘Remember that time you blew your engine up? You tit’, it might just knock the life out of you as well.

So as far as this film is concerned, it is brilliant. It is funny, but in a grim and dark way that really does shine some light in the dark. It’s not humour for humour’s sake. I know that some people may never get the chance to empathise with films like these. The lads have grown up on the streets of Greenwich. A privileged upbringing in a mansion-esque palace with several cars splayed across the sizeable driveway won’t necessarily lead you to understand the film’s dark undertones. There’s some sort of ‘ignorance-is-bliss’ wonder about this. To an extent, I am truly envious. On the other hand, however, I will be forever grateful that I can watch a film like this and smile. Not with pure enjoyment, but with a certain sadness that may never leave, but will always remind me of what’s important in life.

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Professional hypocrites

“Dear [Company’s Name], I would very much like to work for you because [generic buzzwords such as enthusiastic, hard-working etc].” As a soon-to-be-graduate looking to undertake a challenging and rewarding graduate scheme, the above is an example of how I would never, ever begin a covering letter. So why bring it up?

Well, this is just the problem. Last week I received an email from one Graduate Recruitment Team which began (I kid you not): “Dear [candidate’s name]”. It was slightly baffling, but nonetheless demanded little more than a sigh and a slight raise of the eyebrows. However, the same company have since bothered to check their email account and have responded to any further enquiries with: “Unfortunately you do not meet our minimum criteria.” Once again, this is understandable: If they do not feel I possess the right skillset for the job then by all means, tell me so. However, their given criteria on this occasion were the basics: 320 UCAS points, full UK driving license, eligibility to work in the UK and available October 2012. I am, you see, all of these things. I was born, and have always lived, in the UK. I have held a full UK driving license for over three years. I have 400 UCAS points. I graduate this July. Hopefully, by now, you are as baffled as I am.

This rant comes after a long, long job hunt. During this job hunt I have dealt with countless Graduate Recruitment Teams who have, between them: Spelt my name wrong numerous times, despite corrections; Been un-contactable by phone or email for months at a time; Sent generic responses including square-bracketed indicators of personalised touches; failed to phone at arranged times (for telephone interviews), and more.

Of course, I understand. It must be a tough job, and I am not denying them that. There must be hundreds of applications a year – maybe even thousands, and to be able to deal with them effectively cannot be an easy task. There is a difference, though, with showing simple consideration. Put another way; I firmly believe that if applicants displayed such lack of organisation and carelessness they would not stand a chance of getting anywhere near the job. It is disappointing, tiring and, quite frankly, a little soul destroying.

At various graduate networking events, careers and skills sessions and any other event filled with wide-eyed graduates hoping for employment miracles, we are always told one thing: Do your research. We are supposed to find out the name of our interviewers, research their own specialised area and become expert in it. We are supposed to be professional, competent and organised. We go to such effort to please – we tell various companies again and again, in 200 words or less, about a time when we have worked in a team. We sweat and we toil. And in return? “Dear [candidate’s name]”.

It is a tough world out there for graduates. Hell, some of us don’t even have daddy’s contacts to rely on. I am not asking for immediate employment; nor am I asking to be treated differently to anyone else. But a little professionalism could go a long way.

“Dear [company], Unfortunately I have decided that it would be physically painful for me to join a company whose graduate recruitment team cannot spell, understand apostrophes or respond to emails within a three-month time frame. It is for this reason that I must inform you that you have a long way to go before you will treat your applicants with any degree of professionalism.” – If it would make a blind bit of difference, angrily-worded letters would be dropping through a great many postboxes as we speak.

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The market economy of intellectual nausea

How many of my thoughts can I vomit onto the internet before someone takes notice? This seems to be the train of thought prominent in the minds of most columnists, bloggers and lost journalistic souls as of late. How many current events can I have an opinion on, and just how many quickly written and ill informed opinions can I hold in order that I may enter the free market of intellectualism perpetuated by the internet?

To give some context to this, I should perhaps explain that I was, until very recently, the editor of a Russell Group University student newspaper. It was a community within which there existed a few types of people. The first of these was the kind I didn’t have much time for; the kind who got involved for want of something to do and never really left. This inevitably meant that deadlines were not met and apathy was the prevailing state of being. The second type were those who were dedicated to the cause, and took an active part in student journalism and student media in order that they may take a stance on student issues in an active way, interact with a like minded group of people and genuinely develop their own understanding of political and current issues. The third type were, however, by far the most dangerous.

The third type were the ones who desperately sought fame and fortune within the world of journalism at any cost. Eyes on the prize and all that jazz. The worrying aspect was, they became so focussed on getting themselves published, obtaining a blog with the Huff Post or the Guardian and generally becoming known for their witty one liners and their own self-righteous musings, that their own sense of self became blurred. If the national media were one day stirred into frenzy by almost anything at all, they would pounce. “I must articulate my opinions on this issue,” they would say. “I must ooze throwaway jokes and the appearance of informed debate.” The problem was that their passions always lay more within their own writing than the issue at hand. Their mind would be set on their retweets and their readers, whilst the issue at hand was relegated to the proverbial bench, waiting for a chance to take rightful priority which would never come.

Thanks to twitter and the journalism industry’s (understandable) delay in finding a way to allow the best writer’s prominence online, this has become completely acceptable. Don’t get me wrong; Twitter is a wonderful thing. It allows democratic discussion of issues. It doesn’t matter if you are Stephen Fry or John Smith, you still only get 140 characters to say your piece. And if you have established a good sense of who you are, and what your position truly is on the latest trending topic, then this is wonderful. If you are writing for the sake of writing, then this is perhaps not so wonderful.

I gave a talk recently on ways to enter the journalism and publishing industries. The number of intelligent minds in the room was fantastic. The shoot-now-ask-questions-later look which flashed in their eyes was not.

There are a lot of talented writers around these days, many of whom would have been forced to man the customer service desk for a nameless corporation were it not for the interwebs. For this, we are thankful. Unfortunately, the tantalising prospect of journalistic success has the ability to cast a certain kind of spell on some. They forego all sense of integrity in order to enter the fray of debate, using only a sense of self aggrandisement and a quick look at a relevant wikipedia article. They never stop to ask: Why? Why am I writing this? Why do I care? Would I be ready to put forward these views in a public debate, and stand by them in the face of ruthless criticism? If these questions can be answered in full, and with no sense of shame or doubt, then you have my full support. Go forth and articulate your feelings in a well written article somewhere on the internet.

Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Writing for the sake of writing becomes transparent and old. Having an opinion for the sake of it is dangerous. Foregoing all sense of self in order to vomit your name onto the internet is perhaps the worst thing of all. Chances are, if you spend more time looking at your Google analytics page than you do reading and writing, something has gone wrong. I simply ask bloggers all over the world, before you write your next witty, friendly oh-so-clever blog post, just ask yourself if what you are writing is really, and truly, what you think.

Thank you.

And no, the irony of this article has definitely not escaped me.


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Etc: End of thinking capacity

Hello, welcome, come in, take your shoes off, feel free not to use a coaster, etc. Welcome to my new blog.

I’ll be honest, this is a bit of a new thing for me. In the past I have written for various publications, both on and offline. I have written advertising copy for websites selling dentures. I have taken editorial roles and managerial roles. But never before have I had the audacity to take the step towards becoming a ‘blogger.’

In today’s online world, the power of blogging has sky-rocketed. Political bloggers are now respected in their opinions as much as, or more so than political commentators who write for the nationals. Only the other evening I had the misfortune to catch an episode of Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares where Mr Ramsey himself nearly had a nervous breakdown because a woman was sat in his chosen charity-case restaurant blogging. She was not Delia Smith. She had not, to my knowledge, released her own cookbook in any form. I would honestly struggle to tell you her name. Despite this, however, she still had the ability to reduce an entire kitchen staff to paranoid, self-conscious sweat through a well timed tweet.

Other examples of influential blogs are not hard to find. Numerous technology news sites, and even those of national press, The Guardian and Observer, for example, have at one time or another published their lists of the world’s ‘Most Influential Blogs.’ In 2008, a team at Observer compiled their list. Number one: The Huffington Post.

As much as this was meant to be, in part, an inspiring little speech about how anyone can reach for blog-osphere fame, it has seemingly also become a leaking stream of consciousness (more on this, and the dangers of streams of obliviousness, later). Unfortunately, I appear to have waded into the world-web of blogging a little later.

Never mind. It’s a minor setback to this lackluster attempt at hopeful introductions and blog-related optimism. I say minor, because the fact still remains that blogs exist. If discourse-to-be-taken-seriously was still generated only by professional commentators and columnists, newsreaders and the odd celebrity, then surely wordpress, blogger, and especially twitter, would be at a slight loss. Social media such as Twitter proves that people’s opinions matter equally. Recently the News of the World saw its last ever issue, and every news outlet – from newspapers to those mysteriously perpetual 24 hour news channels – was awash with the scandal.

Needless to say, the Twitter-verse (or whatever it’s called now) was also quickly filled with discussion and debate about Rupert Murdoch, the News of the World, and what respectable and upstanding pillars of wisdom they were. Or something like that. The point was, however, that no matter if you were Nick Robinson (Political Editor, BBC News), a politically interested homeless man in an internet cafe or Mr Murdoch himself, you were still allowed just 140 characters in which to summarise your opinions (or at least dissect your opinions into 140 character chunks). Following the summary of your opinion, it was then shared on an equal platform to everyone else.

If your opinion is that the closure of the News of the World is an action which does not solve the problem or absolve those involved, and that a public enquiry is needed, and that any investigation probably should not be carried out by the same police force accused of accepting cash for information in the aforementioned scandal, then you were perfectly entitled to say so. If, on the other hand, your opinion was ‘NoTW is gay lol’, then you were also perfectly entitled to say so.

This age is one where everyone can have an opinion, and one where the views expressed by a columnist in a newspaper are not taken quite so highly over Mr Bloggs and his unreliable Virgin Media broadband package. It is for this reason, in part, that I plan to continue to update this blog with my own ramblings, rants, musings, thoughts, woes and attempts at humour. If they are not for you then they are not for you. I implore you to close this window and never return; I’m crap at first impressions and wouldn’t like to have to try and make one twice.

Until next time, I bid you adieu. Hopefully I will maintain the inspiration and willpower to keep this going. even if I don’t, I would ask you to start your own thought-streaming spot. Even if you think what you think is rubbish, someone else might not.

Go forth and blog.

Adieu.

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