Category Archives: Life of Lydia

My first spot of bouldering

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I am only working half-days this week as I am about to start a new job.

So far in my afternoons off I have been shopping, watched the Christopher Robin film and eaten out.

Yesterday I tried bouldering for the first time. It is surprisingly harder than climbing with ropes. You have to hold your weight up with your arms at times and climb down once you are at the summit, if you can.

I wanted to do climbing with an automatic belay, but unfortunately my demonstration was too rocky. I had forgotten how to put a harness on, so I was not allowed.

i managed to do the easiest route, but that was hard enough. Those are the blue chunks you can see on the picture. After an hour, my limbs were aching and I was tired. Climbing is a full-body workout and tones you all over. It is also good for stretching out you back if you get backache. I watched an instructor nimbly demonstrate with ease, bulging biceps and incredible flexibility as she flung herself around hugging the fake rock.

The session was only £8 as I still get student rate. It was £10 standard price.

Some use bouldering as therapy and you could even get it prescribed by a doctor. This could be because it allowed you to concentrate solely on your route, the location of your hands and feet and your next move. It was akin to mindfulness.

I then went to netball and we won the match. It was a great feeling because we fought so hard for it. I had the advantage, as my opponent was smaller and slower.

Get down to your local bouldering rock and have a go!

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Filed under Days out/nights out, Life of Lydia, Sport, Uncategorized

The Picturesque Pyrenees

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There is something sublime about walking in the mountains.

Once you get up there, that is.

It was a long, hot ascent to the summit. The summer heat made our clothes stick to us as we stumbled up the winding fir tree forest path. The unforgiving ascent seemed endless.

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At one point, the path disappeared and we were launched into ferns.

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Another path had eroded partly off the mountain, and we had to lean into it to avoid sliding off.

But it was all worth it when we spotted a Griffin vulture soar out of the clouds, low above us. It flew serenely on the thermals, surveying us scrambling about on the peak.

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A brightly coloured patchwork of alpine flowers decorated the ground and the mountains in the distance were blue and green. You felt like all the city stress was slipping away down the slopes as you inhaled the fresh air and became absorbed in sounds of nature.

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One day we had a wild swim. The water was not particularly cold. The lake was encircled by pine trees and reflected the blue sky like a mirror. When we stood on the bottom, little fish came and nibbled at the dead skin on our feet. A complimentary pedicure.

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We walked away from the heat of the valley and up into the Pyrenees over two days, each route lasting around 7 hours. We walked slowly on GR tracks – French for big walk, taking plenty of photographs of the breathtaking scenery. We were staying near the picturesque French village of Seix, where we saw an impressive firework and kayak flare display for their festival.

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When we got down, hot, sticky and weary, we enjoyed tasty French food, full of flavour. Even their tinned beans were perfectly edible.

Our Air B’n’B host had friends round one night. They shared pineapple-infused rum with us from La Reunion, an island that is a French colony, and invited us to go on a traditional morning walk up a mountain with them. They were meeting the Spanish at 9am at the summit border. The French were bringing cheese and the Spanish were bringing wine!

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September 4, 2018 · 2:57 am

Fountains Abbey

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As soon as you walk down the hill, the tower emerges in all its glory. Then you see the columns and arches soaring into the sky.

Fountains Abbey is a skeleton of its former glory, yet one of the best preserved ruins in Britain. You need to spend all day in this UNESCO World Heritage site in Ripon.

After admiring the ruins you can explore the 18th and 19th century follies in the landscaped grounds.

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The abbey was built in 1132, the result of a religious divide amongst monks in York.

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You could ring the bell of the mill that ran here until 1927.

The small group that settled here were more conservative, believing that Benedictine monks should live more closely to the rules laid down by the Bible.

Eking out a living on the verge of starvation, they sold wool to pay for their upkeep.

The Abbey would not have survived without France. Money and supplies were sent over from there when they joined the Cistercian Order. They lived in silence, suffering cold temperatures with only brief respite at the fire.

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They suffered from the Plague and finally from Henry VIII’s pillaging. He sold it to a nobleman in the 1500s, after arranging for the roof to be removed and sold.

In the 19th century it fell into ruin before being restored, which is still an ongoing project.

It costs £1,000,000 to run each year with the combined forces of The National Trust and English Heritage.

To discover more about its history, visit this WordPress page.

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August 31, 2018 · 7:01 pm

The Job Lottery

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I was so lucky.

The week after I walked into a job agency, the last one on my rainy day trip in town, I started working for a local university.

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I am now doing administration for a team that deals with international student enquiries. It is work based around creativity, communication and technology and is infused with the excitement of students looking forward to exploring England.

Continuous improvement is more than a sound-bite. My colleagues are positive, supportive and most people clearly love what they do. Colleagues laugh every day (particularly the ones that go abroad for work) and the Director also has a great sense of humour, putting his “betting hat” on when he was betting on the World Cup and having a team meeting outside with ice-creams. People are inspired and motivated by him and he looks on the bright side.

My manager is the same. She sees someone else’s “problem” as her “challenge” that she can solve by liaising with her contacts. She supports me and encourages me to do new things and I have developed as a result. I will miss the office and she seemed genuinely disappointed that I am leaving in two months, but money talks. I am giving up 9-5 hours for irregular shift hours but better pay. I am looking forward to the mornings off during the week already.

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When I was unemployed I applied for a job as a civil servant and I am now returning. Back to bureaucracy but a different role which hopefully will be more suitable. I will be working afternoon shifts as well, perfect for someone who is not a morning person. I will pay for it by working 7am until 5pm on a weekend, three weekends in the month. That bit scares me but I got used to leaving at 6.30am for a 7am bus when I was a nursing student.

Touch-typing and clicking my way through paperwork will be much easier than trying to change a dressing and keep the new one sterile, with three generations of the family looking on, and applying a bandage with 50/50 stretch. I hope I can be the office first-aider. I already stepped in when a man fainted and the first-aiders needed prompting.

I have helped my new housemate find work by directing her to the job agency and helping her market herself.

You are the product, make yourself one that will fly off the shelves as the employers try to buy you first.

Do as much as you can to find work and one of your job application tickets may be a golden one.

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Recruitment agency registration

Today I had two interviews with job agencies for administration and legal administration.

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I didn’t need to set my alarm clock because my housemate gets up for work at 7.30. I didn’t mind as I then make the most of the unemployment holiday. Looking for work is a full-time job as I searched for jobs, re-writing my CV, filling in forms and then actually applying. I had struggled to get to sleep with stressful thoughts whirling around my mind. I dozed off and woke up at 11am. I dressed in tailored pinstripe trousers, a lace sleeveless top and a navy striped cardigan. I looked in the mirror and checked that I was business-ready. Fake it til you make it.

I had ensured that both appointments were in the afternoon as I am not a morning person. Apparently it is in your genes whether you are or not, so that is not going to change no matter how much caffeine I drink. I allowed 45 minutes for a 20 minute bus journey. Just as well as the bus was packed and stopped every few hundred metres to pick up yet more noisy students, mothers with children, and retired people.

The general administration recruitment consultant was a business-like young lady in a sharp black tailored jacket and trousers. She had brown eyes and shoulder-length brown hair that was straightened to within an inch of its life. I admired her sparkly peach manicure as she went through the wad of registration bureaucracy. She gently persuaded me to lower my asking price from £9 per hour to minimum wage. Although I have eight years of administration experience, the consultant firmly urged me to lower my desired salary to minimum wage, due to the level of current job competition.

The company receive so many CVs that their email warns that you may not receive a response due to the sheer volume of applicants. In today’s market you have to stand out. It is not enough to have a degree when there are so many graduates, you need a masters. It is not enough to have some experience, you need extensive and recent experience. If you can’t get a temporary job for the CV you need to volunteer or try to get an internship.

Most of the employment available online was for those without qualifications, knowledge of Microsoft packages was the sole requirement. Typing jobs were few and far between and the recruitment consultant that this would severely limit the opportunities available. It doesn’t matter that I type at around 90 words per minute or that I have a bunch of text and audio processing certificates. For temporary work, basic administration skills are all that is required.

The legal recruitment agency meeting was helpful because I got advice on how to improve my CV. The meeting was in a new office at the top of a building, with a lovely view out over the cityscape.

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My CV was not extensive enough, so I popped to the central library and increased it by a page. I added another three years of job history to make it more comprehensive. But the smiling young woman with long, ginger curly hair and square glasses told me that they had no temporary opportunities available at the moment. She would keep my file on record for any future opportunities. I was getting used to hearing this.

So, when should you choose a job agency?

  1. When you are looking for temporary work. Agencies are best-placed to get work quickly. Temporary work is also ideal for those with bar work or acting jobs who need to supplement their income.
  2.  When you need a quick fix following redundancy or unemployment. Sometimes this can lead to full-time, permanent work, as was the case when I last worked with an agency.
  3. When you are not interested in taking over the office, but are content to be a cog in the wheel.
  4. When you are trying to get your foot in the door of a new industry.
  5. If you have recently finished school/college/university or if you are returning to the world of work following a break.

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Job agencies are like sales companies. They “buy” jobs for their potential employees and then they “sell” you to the company.  Some have better working conditions than others. It is good if an agency specifies in its recruitment material whether paid annual leave is included and how many days annual leave allowance you are entitled to. Some even have a pension plan. A good recruitment agency should work with you to try and match your particular CV to a job that suits your skills and experience.

If you are a fellow jobseeker I wish you luck. Never stop trying and never give up the fight. Today’s job market is tough but you have to stay strong.

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Shopping on a tight budget – five top tips

Shopping takes on a new dimension when you have low or no income.

Recently I was a student and my shopping budget was £17.50. Currently I am waiting for benefits to start so I am getting by with my savings.

So how do you manage? Here are some tips for getting the best deals.

  1. Skip Shopping (known as “skip diving”).

No, I don’t mean give shopping a miss altogether, I mean shop from a skip. Seriously. It beats “dumpster diving” (salvaging items from shop bins is a step too far for me). It is not illegal to take items from a skip as it is rubbish and it is in an area accessible to the public. There is always one in our neighbourhood. I look over its contents quickly as I walk past. If I see something, I wait until I go back home via the skip. I check to make sure the street is empty (for the sake of my dignity) and then I whip out the item as quickly as possible. I have so far retrieved a leather Michael Kors handbag, a lacy black top and a flowery mug from two skips. These items are completely free of charge and all they require is a thorough and careful clean to restore them to their original glory. I simply sponged the handbag with soap and water and used some make-up wipes to remove any makeup on the inside. The mug went in the dishwasher and I am waiting to see how the top looks after a good wash. Getting the handbag (worth approximately £100) from the skip gave me the same dopamine hit as finding a cut-price bargain at TK Maxx. Priceless shopping is just what you need when you’re on a tight budget.

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2. Get back to basics

If you shop at Waitrose when you are on low income or unemployed you either live off your partner/trust fund/inheritance or you are delusional. Waitrose was the first shop I crossed off my list when I became a student. Say goodbye to the pink Himalayan rock salt and culinary experiments. I stick to the economy/basics section of most supermarkets or I shop at Aldi. I still haven’t found cereal cheaper than their £1.15 granola.

But be warned, other supermarket basics are often a similar price. Retailers sometimes just sell less food for the same price. My diet mostly revolves around the 30p bag of pasta and the £1 bottle of pesto.

The secret is to buy in bulk. I bought a 5 kilo bag of rice for £5. It requires 30 minutes to cook instead of the 3 minutes for microwave rice, but it is at least three times cheaper and I have the time now that I am unemployed. To make that into a meal, I combine it with a sliced frankfurter from a jar or packet (whichever is cheapest) and a 15p tin of tomatoes with herbs from Aldi. You can also buy a tin of frankfurters in tomato sauce and have that on toast if you don’t have the preparation time. I actually like tinned ravioli as well.

You can make a meal out of instant noodles by adding spinach, ham and even a boiled egg, ramen-style. For a snack I do nachos with a packet of mozzarella for 80p and a tin of tomatoes, with a small pot of sour cream (cheaper than guacamole).

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3. Shop savvy with “discounts”

Newsflash. Just because it’s reduced or on special offer doesn’t mean it’s a good deal. Sometimes the shops use this as a psychological grab because most people presume that this means it is much cheaper. If the discount doesn’t make the item at least £1 cheaper then forget it, it’s not a good deal and you’re just buying something more expensive than the basics variety. My mum taught me this trick and it’s really helped me look after the pennies (and the pounds will take care of themselves).

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4. Want new clothes? Let family/friends know, go to a clothes swap or charity shop.

Recently two friends have had a wardrobe clear out and I have accumulated a new one as a result. The only problem with those clothes are that they are past season. They fit, they look great and I now have more than one day dress. Charity shopping is about knowing when to go. The best time is in late June or July when students move out or return home.

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Credit: The Tamburlaine Hotel, Cambridge

5. Special offers and vouchers

Use vouchers as often as you can for as much as you can.

If you are on 3 Mobile you occasionally get a free tea/coffee, a free film or even free chocolate! The free tea offer encourages me to get out of the house and gives me much-needed caffeine for the job hunt.

 

 

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Unemployed…again.

“The-greatest-teacher-failure-is.”-Master-Yoda-Star-Wars

Since my last blog post, my life has changed completely.

In November 2017 I decided to apply to do a postgraduate nursing diploma. I had spent years working my way up to a well-paid steady job as a civil servant. But I wanted to have a job where I could help people. It was a gamble but it was the last year of the bursary – it was now or never.

“My bursary was £450 and rent is £380 – all activities were limited by my budget.”

I am no longer on the course but I hope that I can start again, because I really enjoyed both the academic and practical aspects of the course. It involved military discipline and if I wasn’t passionate about nursing I wouldn’t have managed it. I woke up at 6am to go to placement, got back at 5 or 6pm, ate a sandwich for dinner and then wrote a 6 000 word essay in the library until it shut at 9pm…for over a month.

My bursary was £450 and rent is £380, so all activities were limited by my budget, even food shopping. Gone were my flights of fancy at Waitrose. Now it was Aldi or Co-Op basics. The 30p bag of pasta and the £1 jar of pesto with some defrosted peas or carrots became my go-to meal.

Despite the long hours and low budget, patients kept me strong, smiling and focused and made the experience enjoyable. Being able to provide care was a privilege and gave me a deep sense of contentment.

It made me realise that caring for others is not just what I do, it is a fundamental part of who I am. It gives my life more meaning and purpose.

This is why I volunteered to help at a Dementia Cafe with a wedding theme this week. I immersed myself in the experience, from blowing up confetti balloons to hearing people’s life stories. It was a welcome relief from the stress of feeling lost, confused and worrying about the future.

If I don’t get another chance, what am I going to do?!

Things couldn’t be tougher. The intense combination of university and placement have been replaced by throwing myself at the job market. My bursary has been stopped but I still need to pay the rent. I have already had to endure two consecutive days of rejections from two job agencies.

“I didn’t get off the sofa most days.”

If I don’t find work in June, I will be forced to give up my independence and move back in with my parents. My housemate couldn’t believe it. “I love living with you” she said, “please don’t move out.”

I never thought I would be in this position again. It has been two weeks so far. The first week I was an emotional wreck and I came down with a sore throat and a cold. Exhausted and drained both physically and emotionally, I didn’t get off the sofa most days, crying, blowing my nose through a full loo roll and watching TV. I didn’t have the energy for anything else.

But when you’re at your lowest, you realise how lucky you are to have so many good people around you. Everyone gave their time to listen, offer advice, meals, and a shoulder to cry on. With their support my week gradually improved, and I was able to focus instead on my birthday celebrations.

I have already tried to get care work but sadly it wasn’t possible. I have no formal qualifications in it (despite years of experience) and I can’t afford a car.

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A few days ago I decided it was time to stop crying and get off the sofa. Partly because I had watched everything remotely interesting on TV catchup, from the BBC to More4 and ITV. There was only dreary daytime TV left.

I started by creating a more positive and restful environment. I tidied, cleaned and hoovered the house. The saying “clean space, clear mind” is confirmed by research showing that messy rooms cause excess cortisol production and can be distracting for the brain.

I then began a Post-It Power Plan, where I brainstormed ideas to find a way forward. It was a good method to get some clarity in the chaos.

I am either too qualified or too unqualified – I am stuck in Catch 22 limbo.

Yesterday my job mission continued. I rang up three job agencies and applied for admin work online. So far I have been turned down by two job agencies on the basis that although I have experience, it is not recent enough. This is a new level of competition compared to the “you don’t have enough experience” response when I was last unemployed some five years ago.

But persistence is key if you are to break through the increasingly reinforced walls of the current job market. The next day I ramped up the pressure by going in person to other job agencies with my CV and even going into various businesses with it. It is always more effective going to a job agency in person than contacting them by telephone or email. In person they can practically smell your desperation as you offer to give their employers your time on any basis, working for any pay and at any level, as you hand them your CV, your passport, your CRB certificate and your dignity. They can see that you’re tired from walking around all afternoon in the pouring rain in your business power dress.

Next week I am going to a job fair where up to 25 companies will be hiring and I will be spamming companies with CVs. By the time I’ve finished, I will be surprised if there is a business in the city that has not heard of me. Short of walking around with a billboard strapped to me, reading “AVAILABLE FOR WORK NOW” and my phone number, there isn’t much more I can do.

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I now have a busy week of job-hunting to look forward to next week. I have signed up with one agency and I have an appointment with another next week. I also have an appointment for Jobseekers Allowance. I am dreading going back to this handout again, it is so shameful that at my age and with my experience I will now have to sign up to weekly harassment involving job skills workshops, when I got a first in a careers development module at university. I know how to gain employment. The problem is that I am either too overqualified, or too underqualified – I am stuck in Catch 22 limbo.

I was in this desperate position when I started this blog in 2013. The blogging community spurred me on and eventually my documented struggle to find employment attracted over a thousand views a month from all over the world.

If you are in the same boat and you are struggling to keep your head above water, read this article about the importance of learning from failure and being patient until you succeed.

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