Lessons Learned

Teaching wasn’t for me. A big part of this is frustration and anger. One of my classes, and the class that left the greatest impression upon me, was a class of year 7s (11-year-olds) to whom I was teaching a module about basic scientific concepts like pH (acidity/alkalinity of liquids), particles, what a chemical reaction is and what it isn’t, and so on.

Parts of this were great fun and the class was brilliant, a lovely, lively bunch of young people with some very distinct characters. But what frustrated me immeasurably was that a sizeable portion of the class were effectively innumerate and illiterate. And if that’s where your class is, you actually can’t teach them science. I tried. I tried taking out the requirement for reading as much as I could. I tried setting them worksheets designed to help their reading. I tried differentiating so that everyone could do something. I tried drawing step by step worksheets on how to do practicals. But at the end of the day there were children in that class who were not going to grasp much, if any, of what I was trying to teach them, simply because everything else about being in that classroom was already enough of a challenge. And that made me angry, and I wasn’t the right person, or in the right place, to fix it.

Another big part of why I left was that it was quite literally taking over my life. When I was in school, I was teaching. If I wasn’t teaching, I was preparing: printing, photocopying, marking, finding resources, practising experiments, etc. If you can think of all the things you ever did in lessons at school, just remember that all those things were prepared, sought out and dreamt up by your teacher. And think about how much time that must actually take up. Your science teachers have to sit down for a big chunk of time each week and decide what experiments they’re going to do with you, then decide exactly what kit they need, not forgetting one test tube or one simple reagent, to put on a list for the technician, and if you forget to say which lesson you need it for or what room you’ll be in, you simply won’t get it.

When I was out of school, I was planning lessons. And this honestly took up all my time. Every evening, every weekend. I stopped for long enough to eat dinner and watch some telly, but if I wasn’t eating, I was working, sometimes until gone 2am. And that done, I was getting up at 5.30am to make it into school the next day in time to beat the traffic and photocopy the living daylights out of all the things I’d prepared before a new day began, before staying late in school to do more planning and preparation or talk through the lessons I taught with real teachers.

I got to speak to S on the phone for maybe ten minutes at a time, usually twice a day. I usually spent most of that time crying out of sheer exhaustion. My mum came to visit twice in order to tidy and clean my flat; on one of those visits she sent me straight to bed for an hour before letting me get on with work. And once, in the entire six weeks, I went out for drinks with S when he came to visit, a wonderful four hours off that nearly made me weep with gratitude, but I couldn’t relax and enjoy myself because I was so worried about making sure I got enough sleep for once, and not getting a hangover.

Once, I had a wonderful surprise. S was supposed to be visiting but couldn’t arrive until midday on the Saturday. I was worried because I knew I didn’t have the time to take time off to see him, but I really wanted to. I was getting to the end of my tether. I had a terrifying meeting on the Friday lunchtime with my tutor at university, which I told S about when I phoned him that evening. After we got off the phone he texted me to say that he’d arranged a surprise present to arrive but the only time he could book a courier was to arrive at 11.30pm that night, and was that too late? Of course it wasn’t, I was still going to be planning lessons. 11.30 rolls around and he calls me to say he’s got a text from the couriers and it should be on my doorstep, as per his delivery instructions. So I head down in my slippers, and no. ‘Is it on top of the bins then? They sometimes do that’, he says, and I head out onto the street. There’s no sign of a present, but I suddenly have a flash of realisation – and I turn around and run towards the shape walking towards me, silhouetted in streetlight. I can’t stop smiling and crying, and S is here.

The next week, I caved.

And now I’ve moved from Uni Town and I live by the sea, in a little house, with S. I am puzzling over what to do next, and how  to get there, but I have learned a lot of things in the last few months, most of them positives, as it happens, and though teaching wasn’t for me, I am really glad I tried.


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Last year I worked from home. It wasn’t a very fun year, but I didn’t have a huge number of other options, and it paid the bills. The bit about not having many other options is only partly true, though. I worked from home. I was sent work, and given perhaps a month in which to complete it. And Parkinson’s Law (“often used in relation to time usage: the more time you’ve been given to do something, the more time it will take you to do it”) more or less ruled my life. The same article from which that quotation comes (don’t worry, link to follow) suggests that of an 8-hour business day, most working people only spend 3 hours doing productive work. I assume that most working people then spend the remaining five hours gossiping round the water cooler about Youtube videos of cats and the results of Bake Off (you can tell me now; I’ve finally managed to watch the final).

The article I’m talking about also talks about how an 8 hour working day is something big businesses promote: “Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce”. You should read this article – it makes for depressing reading but it might also make you feel better if you spend all your working hours looking at cat videos.

It made me very happy, though. As well as depressed. Working from home didn’t suit me – I hated how long simple jobs seemed to take, how lonely and demotivated I felt, how somehow leaving the house or putting some thought into my clothing or hair seemed like a luxury all of a sudden. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t feel much better if I’d been doing the same job but had to go to an office to do it. The work – when I did it – was genuinely quite enjoyable – but there was no reason for it to take over my day. Somehow I felt more time-pressured last year, trapped in my house in front of my laptop, than I had the previous year, dashing between work, musical engagements and university commitments with a healthy dash of social life, hobbies and other commitments thrown in – even though the previous year definitely felt far busier.

Now, training to be a PGDE, I am once again spectacularly busy. I’m on the staff-student committee, I’m still holding down that healthy social life, and for crying out loud I’m doing an insanely large fraction of a master’s degree alongside a very intense training course. When I get home at the end of each day I am satisfyingly tired, and I know I’m only going to get more so as the weeks go on, once I’m in school four days a week.

And I know (as I hope many of you do) that my time in school will all be full-on, full to the brim. I couldn’t possibly do in three hours what I do in eight, because I’m going to spend more than three hours of each day up in front of a class, and there’s no way you can really make children learn faster than they do (or certainly very little you can do once they reach you at the age of 11). And if you could make them learn faster, you’d get them to learn more, rather than telling them to go home early. You’d hope that they’d want to. The school day runs for six-and-a-half hours at my school. I will then be working in the evenings to get ready for the days yet to come – on lesson planning and organisation and marking and all my own course requirements. I might waste the first few hours of each evening, and do some more work later, but work will happen. And Parksinson’s Law barely gets a look-in because I don’t have the time to let the task fill that time. I will be using very nearly all the time I have.

So big business won’t have stolen my inclination to use my leisure time for all my hobbies. Work will steal my leisure time, and what I manage to salvage has so far been used on things that make me genuinely happy. Although I’ll admit that alongside all the smug running and visiting of tourist attractions and wandering by the seaside, that sometimes includes Bake Off (and cat videos).

If, meanwhile, your 40-hour workweek, and the sapping of your energy for all the amazing wonderful free things you used to do with your spare time, has made you long for a simpler life and less material joy, think carefully. This article from the Guardian brings together lots of peoples’ experiences of poverty, in the UK, here and now. People have written of their experiences of poverty as elderly people, students, highly-qualified ex-professionals – ordinary people like you and me, having an unimaginable time.

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How I Live Now

Just to confuse you, I haven’t actually seen the film of the same name. I’d like to, incidentally – the book it’s based on is one of my teenage favourites. That’s for another day, and frankly I’ll put money on me not getting round to it.

What I’m doing now, though, is post-worthy. After a year of not doing much, I am doing a PGDE in the same old town I’ve been in since the start of uni. PGDE stands for PostGraduate Diploma in Education, and, like the PGCE, confers Qualified Teacher Status (QTS) on those who make it through, as well as a good handful of credits towards a Master’s in Education. In the case of the PGDE, we get 120 out of the 180, as opposed to the PGCE’s 90. 

If you know anyone who’s done a PGCE, you’ll know it’s a mental year. I don’t get half terms, because I go back into university for a week of classes instead. I am in university at the moment but the week after next I will be doing a half term’s work in a school. There are course requirements galore – video-teaching and analysis thereof, diagnostic proformas where we analyse the teaching we receive in university to put into words what we have learned about teaching from those sessions, and hundreds of other things to do in order to write or talk or present about every aspect of education.

Then you come to the teaching. In school we walk straight into a timetable in which we are expected to be in front of a class for half the lessons in a week. We are also the lead teachers for those classes for the duration of our placement, so therefore all the lesson planning for those lessons, and any assessment or marking or exam or coursework preparation that needs doing, is our responsibility too. Don’t forget that you’re lucky to be teaching in a school at any sensible distance from you – to be at my school, I have to leave my house at 6.45 – or will do once I’m on placement there.

And finally, the master’s assignments. As if they’re not a huge part of the course for most people on a PGCE, we have another 30 credits to pick up that PGCE students don’t have. And it’s fascinating work – you can research and read up on all kinds of topics within the titles we’ve been set and in the end the problem is usually not ‘how to write 4000 words’, it’s ‘how to get this back under 4000 words’. 

So I am loving every minute of it, but two Fridays in a row now have been Deadline Days for master’s assignments and there are so many other things I need to get done before I go into school properly in two week’s time. Loads of other deadlines for course requirements, loads of things to learn and make notes on, folders to set up, records to keep… it’s hard to keep from getting stressed.

But it’s so nice to be this busy, this purposeful, this excited. It’s been a while.

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Oh, man.

In the arid millennia since my last post, what’s happened? Quite a lot. I’ve been fairly successfully self-employed for more or less a whole year – successfully in that I haven’t starved to death and, most of the time, I haven’t missed out on spending money to do fun things. Copy-editing, in case you care – enjoyable, but I don’t like working all alone at home.

I applied for PGCE places in Chemistry at University of Home City, Ex-Poly of Home City, Another City We Both Like, and in Biology at University of Home City. Meanwhile S ranked all the junior doctor jobs in the county, with his top choices being Hospitals Close To Home City, Hospitals In Home City, Another City We Both Like, and Seaside Town, followed by all the jobs in those places he didn’t want, followed by all the jobs in places he didn’t want to live.

S discovered that his F1 job will be one of his favourite rotations in Seaside Town, which is about 2 hours away by train or driving from Home City. Which is great news – Seaside Town will be a lovely place to live and it’s very much the job for him. Part of me was still hoping I’d get a PGCE in Another City, as it’s a bit closer to Seaside Town, even though we’d still not realistically be able to live together.

The week after we found that out, he passed all his exams. I will now slavishly refer to him on this blog as Dr S. (No, I won’t, but I am incredibly proud. I have yet to go to any dinner parties with old school friends so I can say, ‘oh, I’m so sorry S couldn’t make it, but you know, he is a doctor’ in as obnoxiously loud and smug a way as I can…*).

Then I got invited to interview for a PGCE place in Home City. There was one Chemistry place and three of us interviewing for it, as well as a physicist and a biologist. And I got it! I can’t really describe how happy I am about that – somehow it feels like a long time since I achieved something and was just wholeheartedly and without reservation proud of myself for achieving that thing.

So that’s that.

S has a beautiful house for rent in Sea Town, all to himself (rents there are amazing). I am looking at city centre studios aimed at postgraduate students and young professionals, and also at the studio apartments available for postgraduate students from the university, which is quite exciting. I’m looking forward to a year of incredible stress and hard work, weekends away relaxing in beautiful Sea Town, and a job which I think I’m really and absolutely going to love, even on the days when I sort of hate it a lot too.

Life’s looking good. I’m sorry it’s been a while.

*I wouldn’t do that, don’t worry.


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My hobby

What do you call something that you do when you’re not working, that you don’t just do because it keeps you alive, that you make time for where you can, spend a certain amount of your disposable income on doing, and enjoy?

For me, things that fall into this category are photography, walking, music, reading and knitting.

I believe they’re known as hobbies.

What about clothes, though? I think this is something people don’t realise. I like wearing clothes, I like buying clothes, I like looking at clothes on the internet or in the weekend newpaper supplements, and I like thinking about clothes. I have to wear clothes, though, and I think this is where people get confused.

But equally I have to eat food and there are plenty of people who count ‘cooking’ as a hobby. If I wrote a post about my quest for more ethical eating, I don’t think anyone would question that it wouldn’t necessarily entail a change in how much of my money I spend on doing so. If I’m a foodie there won’t be much difference between getting Waitrose best-quality this-or-that, and the Fairtrade/vegetarian/etc equivalent (whatever my particular ethical beef happened to be. Pun semi-intentional).

I was asked on this blog what harm my increased spending on clothes would do to the rest of my budget – would it stop me supporting independent cafes or bookshops, for example? I think this is a fair question – if nothing else, no-one but myself really knows what my spending looks like pre- or post-ethical resolution, but also it is a definite consideration. I love town centres, little cafes, restaurants and independent shops, just as much as anyone and I want to still have a town centre to go into on a Saturday when friends visit or walking isn’t an option or just for fun, and the only way we get to keep that is by using those shops and cafes. It would be a thought worth considering – that my supposedly ‘good’ choices were ruining other things I value.

But I think some people take that line of thought bizarrely far. The comments on a recent Guardian article about giving up clothes shopping for a year by and large completely miss the point. The author of the article spends something like £1200 on clothes each year, has hardly changed size during adulthood despite marriage and motherhood, has an amazing archive of vintage items to draw from since her mother worked in fashion and kept everything, as well as the hoard of her own things from the past however many decades of shopping, and partway through the year a friend gives her some very pricey shoes, box-fresh, tags-on, because they’ve never fitted the friend in question. How do you buy expensive shoes that don’t fit – and then keep them?! So the author of the piece has a huge and rather lovely wardrobe to draw her clothes from before she resolves to stop buying clothes.

Evidently this woman is very lucky. However she also has always taken care of her clothes and in the course of the year learns to do so even more – darning tights for starters. Her attitude to clothes-buying changes and when the year ends she doesn’t feel a major sense of relief. She says she felt ‘liberated’ by her challenge rather than constrained, and intends to spend the next year continuing to get rid of things rather than buy new things.

All the comments, however, are in the vein of ‘£1200? I don’t think I spend £100 a year on my clothes’, harping on about her privilege, her rich friends, asking things like ‘would it have been as interesting if you simply could not afford to buy clothes for a year?’, and accusing the post of being shallow.

I’ll admit it’s hardly hard-hitting journalism, but it very much struck a chord with me. I don’t know what your hobbies might be, but what if some good could be done to the world if everyone did less of it, and on that basis you decided to give that hobby up for a year (or at least the buying of things associated with that hobby)? Say you really like gaming (since I’ve spoken about it recently) so you spend a year playing all the games you already own and ignoring all the old releases? You then write a blog about it and I come along and comment ‘well people in Africa don’t have Playstations so I don’t see why you think this is so hard’ or ‘well I didn’t even spend £10 on games last year, basically you’re just spoilt’.

Anyway, it’s only just struck me that ‘clothes’ is a hobby of mine. Buying them, choosing what to wear, imagining perfect (usually nonexistent or unobtainable) outfits for upcoming events, looking at clothes on the internet to hanker after new things or gaze mournfully at things I never will have. Wearing clothes I like makes me feel happy; wearing clothes that don’t quite work together puts me in a bad mood.

But if even I didn’t really consider that clothes could count as a past-time, how could I expect people to understand that who literally view them only as a necessity, merely as a thing that stands between them and social nicety and possibly hypothermia?

And it’s possible that part of this realisation is due to the imminent arrival of J’s sewing machine. Now all those unobtainable or imaginary clothes can be real, and can really fit and suit me. The despair as I realise I can’t get a dress I like for S’s graduate ball for less than £more-than-I-have is allayed by the revelation that I can get a dress of extreme gorgeousness in any one of my favourite colours for much less money… and much more time.

I’d better get planning.

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I was going to wait until I could give you a teaser photo, a macro of some obscure aspect of my first sewing project. Such an obscure macro that comment discussion would rage until someone said, ‘A-ha! Jenny, are you making a dress?’.

Sadly that post isn’t going to happen because I really want to talk about it, and because I’m not going to be able to start work on my dress for at least a week. So far I have a pattern, but no fabric, no thread, no notions, and no sewing machine.

That last bit might seem like an especially big hurdle, but it’s on its way. My spiritual director bought one for the purposes of making things like curtains and draft excluders a few years ago but has as yet not got round to using it (having a family rather got in the way) so he offered it to me to borrow for as long as we both live in this city and as long as he doesn’t need it.

So I’ve got all kinds of ideas for things I want to make. True to form I fell in love with a pattern which says it’s for ‘intermediate’ sewers (what do we call sewing people these days – I’d far rather say seamstresses but it does sound like a feminine word, like waitress or actress, and seamster definitely isn’t a word, and ‘tailor’ refers only to suiting doesn’t it?) so this is going to be a slow and frustrating process, and for precisely that reason I am going to do it properly, with chalk, making a muslin, buying a book that all the reviews seem to think is the Bible of sewing.

Let’s be honest, I’ve got a touch of beginner’s arrogance. I haven’t anticipated all the things that might go wrong. I should probably start off with a genuinely beginner-level pattern but if I did I definitely wouldn’t bother with muslins and caution and books and would probably mess up horribly as a result. I hope therefore that my combination of arrogance (I can definitely do a harder pattern) and caution (OK then, I’ll buy the book) will actually work out well for me, resulting in the most slowly-made dress ever, but one which works and looks right in the end.

I suppose making my own clothes was a natural next step in my quest for sustainability. I’m trying not to let my brain ask where the fabric comes from, because the idea of trying to source fabric made in fair trade conditions makes me want to cry. I just know it’ll be the most frustrating experience ever.

I promise, though, those photos will come. Maybe I’ll mix them in with other confusing macro details and make a macro quiz. Although I think that’s been done before…


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In Spite Of Myself

New Year’s resolutions. I always say I don’t make any – why should you pick an arbitrary starting point to do something new? Why not just say you’re going to do it from the moment you think of it? Or so I say. Somehow, though, it always seems to happen, however much I try not to and however much it’s basically an accident. Because however much I say it’s an arbitrary point to pick in the calendar which we have designated as the start of the year, it does make sense. After weeks of bad weather and stress (is it a stressful time of year or am I still on academic time?), followed by Christmas, which is by this point a wholly necessary feast of brightness and gluttony and love and laziness, we want new steps and Spring and clean sheets. Culturally it would be wired-in to think like this, I think, even if Resolutions weren’t a Thing.

So quite without meaning to, I have made one resolution. This one, as my resolutions tend to do, has more or less crept up on me. I’ve always talked the talk about fair trade and being a considerate consumer and all the rest of it, and other than tea, coffee and bananas, there’s always been a good reason not to walk the walk very often. Mainly it was being a student, a combination of not being very well-off and also wanting to dress like every early twentysomething girl and therefore having to go to the same high-street cheap shops in order to do it. I’m not a student any more, but I’m not rich, and I’m still young, but somehow I wanted to go sales shopping, looked on the internet, ogled the shops when I went past them, and couldn’t get further than that. I don’t really know how I reached this point, but I have.

From now on, where possible, all my clothes will be as ethical as possible. Primarily fair trade but I’m not afraid of dabbling in clothes made in Britain (revitalising our industries and helping with unemployment), or organic clothing (cotton production with pesticides being basically the worst thing ever) or indeed any other kind of ‘ethics’ that might crop up. I’ve made a fairly good start – with a little of the money I earned before Christmas, I just treated myself to some little goodies from the January sales at Monkee Genes, People Tree, Nancy Dee and Elroy (via Think Boutique).

So, my resolutions, yet again, have crept up on me. If I discover any more, maybe I’ll let you know.

P.S. if anyone knows where I can get tights (ordinary black 40 denier tights I mean) under any kind of ethical consideration, or proper shoes (e.g. brown leather knee-high boots – mine are dying fast), do let me know, and I’ll start saving…!



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Gamer’s Girlfriend

When you meet someone new, and you get together, you want to share a lot of your lives with each other. S and I both enjoy walking, we met at a Photography Society social, we both like reading (although we don’t entirely share the same tastes), we like cooking, we want to know more about wine than we do, we want to drink more wine than we do, et cetera, et cetera, and that all said we can quite happily while away plenty of time with each other.

We both also have some things which we do not have in common. I sing a lot, for example. S will happily come to the odd concert or service but I think it’s fair to him to say that it’s hardly his favourite thing to do, and I have to remember when we talk about music that we each mean totally different things by words like ‘sharp’ or ‘tone’. But he’s curious, and happy to discuss music, listen to me sing and he even tries to take me seriously when I tell him I think his  voice is a lot better than he thinks it is.

S, meanwhile, likes playing computer games. I have never really played games. We had a Playstation when I was younger but I always spent less time on it than my sister did and I think it’s fair to say that it doesn’t come naturally to me. I think I’m worse at it than Dara O’ Briain (watch this video from about  5 minutes in, especially the bit about Metal Head or Gear Head or Metal Head Gear or whatever it’s called – a) it’ll have you in stitches and b) now you know how I game).

I try, I really do. S comes up with games that he thinks we can probably play together, and I can’t even get the hang of walking in a straight line. It’s a bit like the time he took me kayaking, except that I think it’s probably fair enough to  find your first time in a kayak, being chased by swans, rather challenging…! Did I tell you about the swans?

Anyway, yes.

The thing is, I know we can’t be the only couple with this problem. He talks about the games he plays, and watching him play them, I can understand why they interest him. It’s not about shooting lots of people – or aliens! – spilling lots of blood and carrying out the kind of violence that would in real life make most people baulk massively but, according to the Daily Mail, is pretty much the sole explanation for rape and violent crime today. It can be about a lot of things. Puzzle solving, clever sniping, getting together lots of different bits of information  from a whole host of different characters and then completing helpful little challenges for each of them at the same time. Games seem, to me, like they can be really immersive, imaginative landscapes and I’ve seen some scenes in games get genuinely and believably emotional as you approach the climax and inevitably your right-hand man (or woman) dies, or you have to choose to save one group of people at the expense of another, or whatever it might be.

I’m not about to say they have a place at the Sundance Festival, deserve shortlisting  on the Booker Prize list, or anything like that – I don’t know enough. There are some great indie games out there (more innovative but lower-budget games from independent bodies rather than the big games manufacturers), and some great blockbusters. Respected actors voice characters, orchestras I’ve heard of play the musical scores. Gaming is not necessarily what you thought it was, if, like me, you’re an outsider.

So it’s an interesting new avenue of entertainment. But the games that I find most interesting are not games I can play. I can’t move with any level of ease – I have to think really hard to remember to make sure my character is facing in the same direction that he or she is travelling in. I can never remember which buttons I need to use to get out items or weapons, to perform actions (such as opening boxes or doors) or to look at maps and other options. I press buttons frantically and end up doing things with dire consequences completely by accident.

In multiplayer games, to be honest I’m not always sure which of the people on the screen is ‘me’. A character will run in the direction I’m pressing, and then do something really clever and I think ‘ooh, how did I  do that’, before realising that I’m actually the little character in the corner, desperately trying to run through a wall. So I don’t have the co-ordination to ever do the right thing, I struggle to remember which buttons do what, how to find menus for things my character ‘owns’, or things like ‘maps’ or other options, and I can’t really tell what’s going on on the screen all the time – which little flashing light or number tells me what, what’s going on in really confusing scenes with lots of characters and lots of things happening, and it all comes so naturally to S that he can’t always understand why I don’t already know what’s happened, whether or not I levelled up, or whether one of my guns is a sniper rifle or not.

So we stick to fairly simple games – we found a good fun racing game to play called Split/Second where by driving well and by ‘drifting’ you can earn the power to then alter the track,  which either has terrible consequences for fellow drivers or opens up handy shortcuts you can take. We’ve been playing Lego Harry Potter, which I still find pretty confusing but I can at least keep up with what’s going on. We tried Borderlands 2 and I really enjoyed that but kept dying impossibly often. We tried Portal 2. That may have been the worst. I was never facing the right way, I could never jump onto moving platforms in time, I couldn’t always work out what I was seeing in order to work out what needed to happen…

So the games I can play – Lego Harry Potter and Split/Second – might be simple to play but they are also simplistic. Lego Harry Potter is in essence similar to the few games I played as a ten-year-old on that playstation. Split/Second is a racing game, and that’s all there is to it.

Sometimes we look for free puzzle games on the net – a good example being a genre called ‘room escape’ games, which  are all about putting together clues, almost like one of those Usborne books, where you have to piece together lots of little visual clues around a room, pick up objects and work out where they go, and do things in the right order in order to work out how to make the door open so that you can escape the room.

But that doesn’t avoid the point that there aren’t many games out there that are enjoyable in terms of having a good plot or challenging your brain or being emotionally mature and realistic, while also catering for people like me who haven’t been playing games since they were seven, and don’t have the familiarity to know that ‘A’ (or whatever) is almost always ‘jump’.

I’m interested in games, I really am. I’d just really like to see some games that are simple to play but also interesting. I want to maybe have one weapon,  and the option to jump, and for that to be it, and then the game itself to be engaging in and of itself so that I want to get better at the co-ordination and become good at moving around. I suppose I do want Portal, really, I just want it to be… easier.

There must be plenty of us – and let’s be honest, we’re probably mainly girls – who haven’t done the gaming thing before, but our boyfriends do, and we can see why it’s interesting. We’re a market of people as yet to be got – people who want serious games for people who don’t know how to game and who didn’t have the apprenticeship of having a Sega or an N64 or all the consoles that came afterwards, and are suddenly faced with these huge-scope, complicated, beautiful, intriguing PC games which are essentially made for people who are already experts in the field.

It’s as if S suddenly really wanted to become a classical singer, except that if he did, there’s plenty of easy music he could sing that’s out there, that would sound nice, that wouldn’t be nursery rhymes, and that would teach him how to be a better singer. At the moment I’m effectively being asked to choose between singing Three Blind Mice or the entirety of Tosca, with apparently very little to choose in between. So who’s making those games, and where can I find them?


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With Thanks To Yvette Cooper

My sister just forwarded the following email on to me (and presumably at least four other women). I’m cross and a bit flabbergasted, so I thought I’d share it here, then I can link to it on Facebook and spread the word that way. So here it is:

Dear Clare

Yesterday, the true extent of the Government’s blind spot on women was revealed. George Osborne’s Autumn Statement will hit women harder than ever.

New analysis has shown that 81 per cent of the key additional direct tax, tax credit, and benefit changes announced yesterday will come from women – that’s a shocking £867 million of the £1.065 billion raised.

As a result of these changes, working parents will see child tax credits and child benefit cut even further in real terms – and this comes on top of the previously announced real cuts in Working Tax Credits and childcare.

Maternity pay is also being raided, a move that will take £180 out of the pockets of new mums by 2015/16, making it harder for women to afford to take their full maternity leave.

Overall the changes this Government has announced since the election now mean women are paying three times as much as men to bring the deficit down, even though women still earn less and own less than men. Things like the increase in public sector pension contributions, cuts to attendance allowance and social care hit women harder too. House of Commons Library research shows that out of the total £16bn George Osborne is raising in direct tax, credit, benefit, pay and pension changes, £12bn is being paid by women.

Yet at the same time the Tories are giving a £3 billion tax cut to the richest people in the country – worth an average of £107,000 for 8,000 millionaires.

David Cameron, Nick Clegg and George Osborne all have a real problem with women. Despite repeated warnings that women are being hardest hit, the Government just keeps coming back for more. Women are paying the price for the Government’s economic failure.

We need to build the campaign to stop this Tory-led Government turning the clock back for women. Please help us to let women know the unfair damage that David Cameron’s cabinet is doing by:

1. Forwarding this email to 5 women;

2. Writing a short letter to your local paper or a magazine, highlighting the impact of the Autumn Statement on women;

3. Using Facebook and Twitter to spread the word.

Thank you,

Yvette Cooper

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Ethical Dilemmas for the Technologically Privileged, Selfish and Incompetent

My phone was stolen. So I do need a new phone. I am currently using my aunt’s old phone, which is fine, texts, calls, alarms, no problem. However… I miss my old smartphone. Not just because it was shiny and kept me in contact with all my friends and had access to the internet and all manner of silly games if I was stuck waiting for a bus with no-one to talk to and no book to read. I think all those are big reasons why smartphones are popular, but the reason I feel like I *need* one is because actually, being able to check your emails, read over documents people send you, add things to your calendar — which then syncs with your email calendar and then beeps to tell you not to be late, and do any number of other useful, grown-up things, is brilliant. To someone like me, who really struggles to remember things like doctor’s appointments and even regular weekly rehearsal slots and so on, it’s a lifesaver. And when you’re desperately trying to get somewhere, and you’ve got no sense of direction and you’re going to be late? Google Maps. In your palm. Bang.

So I do feel rather lost without my smartphone. I’ve not had it for three or four months now and I still miss it and I still struggle without it.

So I’ve come to the conclusion that, wonderful as it is that my aunt has given me her old phone ‘for as long as you need it’, I do need to replace my beloved smartphone sooner rather than later. Cost is a consideration for me at the moment, but I’d rather get something pricey and futureproof (ish) than something outdated or poorly made which won’t last above a year. I don’t like buttons, I’ve decided – when my hands are cold or I’m walking and texting it’s far, far too easy to inadvertently delete or send texts when I’m not ready, which wasn’t a problem at all with the iPhone I used to have. I do want something which is a pretty object to have in my handbag, let’s be honest. And maybe the crucial concern is that I don’t have much patience with technology. I have plenty of friends, and a boyfriend, who can pick up anything electronic and use it straight out of the box. It’s like my friends are all Chip-Whisperers or something. Yes that is a thing. It is a thing which I am not. But I can’t stand being confused by technology and I can’t stand it if I don’t find it reasonably intuitive and I can’t be doing with spending too long ‘getting used to’ how it works.

So for me the iPhone was pretty much perfect. It worked right out of the box, there were definitely shortcuts and things I didn’t know about for  far too long but once I knew them they seemed like magic to me, and had I never discovered them, my life would not have been the poorer for it. It practically talked to me and told me how to do everything I needed to do.

I’m worried that other smartphones won’t do that. I don’t know – and I don’t know how to find out. Ideas?

The thing is that up until about ten minutes ago this wasn’t a problem. I was just  going to find an iPhone that was as new as possible, preferably a fully refurbished 4S or something, at the most affordable price I could, from somewhere reputable, and that was going to be lovely.

And then I thought, ‘shouldn’t I try to be vaguely ethical about this’?

The answer is that no, you can’t get an ethical smartphone. Wherever you look, the workers are unhappy, trade unions are a rarity or a sham, they’re working with toxic materials in unsafe conditions under regimes that we don’t really like, and it’s all a bit horrible. Out of twenty, the highest any phone manufacturer scores is 10.5 (taken from this article, courtesy of Ethical Consumer, which I can’t afford to pay to read). Amplicom don’t make smartphones, but we’ve all heard of Blackberry, in 2nd place, who do.

I don’t want a Blackberry though! They’re clunky and buttony and complicated and I’m neither a lawyer nor an MP so I just shouldn’t have one!

Apple score 7. Is that OK? No, it’s shit, it’s 35 percent of ethical, which is hideous. But if the best I’m going to get is a grudging 50%, is that OK?

I hope that last paragraph or two explain the title completely. #Firstworldproblems indeed… .


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