9 December 2014

My First 5 Weeks in London

These last 5 weeks have been completely crazy for me. It would be fair to compare them to university Freshers' in their diversity and the number of new experiences I've had. However, they've definitely not been as fun as Freshers'. I think I had quite an idealistic vision of living in London, some sort of British cross between Carrie Bradshaw's life and Rebecca Bloomwood's (from Confessions of a Shopaholic). It's definitely not been how I imagined it. At the start, going a day without getting lost was a massive achievement!

5 weeks ago (41 days to be exact), I left my family home in the quiet town of Stroud with nothing more than a very small suitcase, a handbag and a backpack full of noodles, and caught a one-way train to London. All I had planned ahead of me was a job I hadn't started and the promise of a place to stay with a couple of good friends from university. Ideally I would have liked to have found somewhere to live before moving but with such short notice from my future employer this was not an option.

(Me and Deannah at a
university hockey social)
For my first week and a half in London I stay with a friend from my old university hockey club. I'm so grateful for her letting me stay. I have no clue what I would have done otherwise - probably ended up in a massively over-priced hotel somewhere.

From the moment I found out I could finally move to London (I've been wanting to live here for a couple of years at least) I started trying to find some sort of accommodation. My friends and family suggested looking on www.spareroom.co.uk, which for anyone who's not been on there is an online advertising space for rooms.

The way it works is you browse through all the ads and email the advertiser to try to arrange a viewing. But one key detail I didn't know was that as a basic member (non-paying) you cannot contact any advertiser whose ad is less than 7 days old. After speaking to a friend who'd recently used the website to fill her old room I found out that most rooms went in the first 7 days. So at the earliest opportunity I paid for 2 weeks membership (£14.99 for a 2 week deal) hoping that would be all I needed.

From that point I was organising as many viewings as I could, travelling all over London hoping to find anywhere nice. What I did know was that the whole thing would suddenly turned into a popularity contest. It was like there was a whole new job to apply for, 'full-time flatmate'. I even had a second-round meeting/interview (how ridiculous!) which turned out to be a complete waste of time because at the last minute they offered the room to a friend anyway.

It was getting to the last couple of days of my 'early bird' membership and I still hadn't found anywhere to stay and if I'm quite honest, I was starting to get quite worried that I might never find anywhere. I organised 4 viewings for the last Saturday before my membership ended and just hoped that one of them would be The One.

I'm happy to say that viewing number 4 is where I am now living! The house is really nice, only 5 minutes walk from the tube station, 30 minutes commute to work (which is really good for London) and the people already living here are really nice. I've only really met one of them properly so far but I couldn't really be happier with this house.

So after 5 weeks of a sleeping bag, a sofa and at times even the floor I now have a bed! I've even brought my electric blanket from home so I'm feeling quite luxury.

I'd like to say a massive thank you to my brother and his girlfriend Sarah who let me stay with them for 4 weeks after having only moved into their new flat themselves. Without their generosity I'm not sure I would have stuck it out long enough to find somewhere to live. I definitely didn't realise how stressful not having your own bed would be!

I'm now getting used to working like a normal Londoner, sweating on the tube at rush hour and eating street food for lunch.

I hope this post hasn't been too boring just reading all about my life. Maybe my mistakes might just help you if you move to London or you can laugh along if you made the same ones as me!

My next post in a couple of weeks will be about the first two months of my new job and the truths of full-time employment!

4 November 2014

Blogtober:The Results

This is a few days later than planned but I am happy to say that I achieved my 1000 pageviews in a month! 

In fact, I achieved 1,067 pageviews in total!!!

The key objectives set out in my first Blogtober post were:
  • To prove my written and digital skills to employers
  • To engage readers in topics related to advertising
  • To motivate myself while applying for jobs

I'd proudly say I am confident that I have achieved all of these. A colleague even said to me today, "We've all been reading your blog" which was great to hear. Although they were all hard to achieve, perhaps the hardest was engaging readers in advertising content. Most people who read this blog are my friends and family, and what they're looking for is entertainment value. I know in the past I have engaged lots of readers on this topic, last year's 'Whose is Your Favourite Christmas Advertisement 2013?' is one of my most popular posts to date with 212 direct views. But as I've said before, with today's saturated advertising climate only truly unique and engaging work gets noticed. I think this is the same with my content. Some of my posts were not as popular as I expected and some were more. Over the next 6 months I am going to continue to work hard to come up with interesting and unusual posts which my readers can relate to, and which they can't read elsewhere. 

I've included a couple of little stats graphs in case anyone is interested in a behind the scenes break-down of my pageviews for Blogtober. Unfortunately because of the 4 day delay, the date range for these graphs is 6th October-4th November (Blogger doesn't let you alter it) so the totals don't add up to the full count for October but hopefully it's still interesting to see. 

These charts and maps show where my views come from and what devices they're using:

This shows me what sites people are on before they come to mine and where they found me. This bit confuses me a bit so don't worry if your not sure what the difference is between a URL and Site.

Future plans: 
If you haven't seen my last post then you might not know that I have just started a new position as a digital communications intern at Grey EMEA (stands for Europe, Middle East and Africa for anyone who hasn't been able to work it out). So I'll be pretty busy from now on but this doesn't mean I'm going to stop writing, just that I'll be writing less frequently. I have really enjoyed my first few days at Grey and I feel like I've learnt loads to improve my blog already.
From now on I am going to post at least once a month and hopefully fortnightly. I'm planning an article about my first month living in London working at a top advertising agency for the end of November so keep a look out!

Hopefully you've liked Blogtober and who knows I might do it again next year! 

29 October 2014

Lessons Learnt in the Meantime

Most of you now know that I have just been offered a  6 month position at Grey EMEA in London as a digital communications intern. I am sure that part of the reason I was given this offer was due to the hard work I have put in since leaving university. I have certainly been busy. For the past month and a half I have had two part-time jobs, a bartender at a local pub and a retail sales advisor at EE, alongside writing this blog.  Although these positions were not part of my ultimate career goal they have taught me a lot of different skills which will be useful for the rest of my life.
So I thought I would share what I have learnt with you!

In both positions I have had to deal with difficult customers. It's almost impossible to work in sales without meeting at least one. I've learnt that unless you were rude to them first, it is not your fault that they are angry or rude. The best thing to do is to listen to them, let them have their say, always remain calm and never to interrupt them. If you don't know how to help them, ask your manager if they can. I firmly believe that it's the difficulties you face which make you stronger and which you learn the most from. There are always going to be times when you will meet with these sort of people in any career and the more experience you get dealing with them, the better.

I have become an expert at small talk, a skill very useful when you go for interviews and you're in the lift before it starts. I've always been quite an outgoing character but occasionally when I've been nervous or meeting someone for the first time I have been stuck for something to say. (Hard to believe I know.) But now I feel confident talking to almost anyone. In the end people are just people and whether they're a 40 year old farmer demanding another pint of Carling at 1am when you want to leave, or a timid shopper looking to get a new pay as you go handset, being able to connect with them is really important.

Being busy at work is actually so much better than having nothing to do. There is nothing more boring than being at work with literally nothing to do! No customers to serve, no glasses to put away, nothing. When you keep yourself busy the time actually goes much faster too. Also standing still for a long time is more painful for you legs and feet that walking around doing things. You might not like your job, but sitting around complaining about it isn't going to make it any better so just get on with it.

Patience is a virtue. Or so that's what people have been saying for ages and ages. If I'm 100% honest, I have never been the most patient person but the last month and a half has really taught me to be a bit more patient. Not everything can happen all at once and understanding that is really important. In the new position I'm about to start I will be communicating with people all around the world and with different timezones there's definitely going to be a fair amount of waiting around. If I had started this position in July I don't think I would have been as well prepared as I am now. So I am really glad that it didn't all happen straightaway for me because I would have been as good as I will be now.

My first time being formally employed has also taught me a bit more about the different ways you can be paid, and how and when you pay taxes - which before I had absolutely no clue about. With the government's allowance of the first £10,000 you earn in a year as tax free, I'm feeling pretty lucky! I've managed to save up some money which will help me pay a deposit on a flat (when I find one). I've never really been motivated by money and while I've been living with my mum I've not had to pay for any rent or food. In the past I would have said that I didn't need a part-time job because I don't care about money but the savings I've made are going to be really useful.

I'd advise anyone who is in the position I was in to try and get a local job while you're still applying for positions that are closer to your ultimate career goal. They might not always be fun but they can actually give you a lot more than just money!

25 October 2014

When Should We Start Thinking About Christmas?

Whoville 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas (2000)'

It's the 25th October, only 60 days until Christmas! I know to lots of people it probably feels like quite a long way away, but I can't help feeling it's closer than we realise. I absolutely love Christmas. I've been known to start playing Christmas music early in November and I've already bought at least one present. I'm always the first to start decorating the house with tinsel and lights, and to place our plastic Christmas wreath on the front door. I think a lot of people grow out of Christmas, but I'm certainly not planning to. 

What I'm wondering is, when should we start thinking about Christmas? When I say thinking, I mean seriously thinking about it - choosing what presents to buy friends and family, what meat to eat on Christmas day etc.. Supermarkets have started trying to sell decorations and I have seen a lot of advent calendars in the 99p store this week; magazines will have already made their December issues, including where to buy the latest Christmas jumpers and ideas of things to fill your stocking; and restaurants have already started taking Christmas bookings. So it's clear that some of us already are thinking about it, but when is it socially acceptable to start talking about Christmas with others? 

Got enough presents there Lou? 'How The Grinch Stole Christmas' (2000)
For a lot of people nowadays Christmas revolves around presents. It seems to be the main feature of the day. Whether we are eagerly anticipating opening a present we've been waiting months to get our hands on or anxiously watching our parent's reaction when they receive a set of body wash for the third year running,  a lot of time is spent thinking about presents. Sometimes finding the prefect Christmas present can be quite stressful, not to mention expensive. No one likes to be caught in the last minute rush on Christmas Eve where you end up choosing something completely impersonal or out of budget just because you have no time and/or patience left. Believe me, I've made that mistake a lot of times! 

With online shopping some of these problems can be averted but preparation is still key. Deliveries around Christmas time can be unpredictable and I wouldn't advise ordering something in the week running up to the big day, unless you are willing to risk presenting a wrapped up receipt. More and more people are starting to buy Christmas presents earlier. Having worked in retail for the last month, I've had quite a few questions about whether there will be any Christmas deals and I've heard the phrase 'early Christmas present' more than once. In fact, just today one of my colleagues mentioned having already bought all of her Christmas presents! Now I'm not suggesting we should all be that organised but perhaps thinking about them now would be sensible. Especially as spacing out the buying process could help keep our bank balances healthy. 

Another question I'm interested in is when should we start decorating, thinking about the food we're going to eat and playing Christmas music? A lot of people follow the 1st December rule. But if you are going to order your meat from a butcher then you'll need to do this well before December (I'm not sure when exactly because we just get a turkey from Sainsbury's each year). Even if you're just getting a turkey though, you need to work out how many people are coming to lunch or dinner, and if you're inviting family to stay. You may have to work this out earlier than you think, they might already have a couple of options and you'll need to make your offer known before they make plans. If you're going to go away for Christmas, you'll start planning even earlier. 

'The Bare and The Hare' (2013) by John Lewis

Finally when is it okay for Christmas advertisements to start appearing on TV? I said in my post last year's about Christmas advertisements, that as soon as the Coca Cola ad had been seen the Christmas season had officially started but of course not all companies can wait for Coca Cola. In fact I am sure that all the big department stores have already made plans for this years advertisements, if not already filmed them. I'm keeping my eyes out for the first one I see. 

There is a lot of growing resentment out there that Christmas has been taken over by commercialism. It's turning into a display of decadence rather than a time of good cheer or a religious holiday. I can't deny that Christmas has got a bit out of hand, but thinking about it earlier can prevent this. Last year the government predicted that on average British households will spend £820 on Christmas and I wouldn't be surprised if they predicted even higher figures this year. But by being prepared for Christmas you should be able to cut down the amount you spend. 

My conclusion, it's comes down to personal preference. But if you want to spend less time and money worrying about it, then starting to think about it soon might be a good idea. 

20 October 2014

My First Video Blog - 10 Tips to Stay Motivated

I thought I would try something different for this post. This is my first ever video blog (or vlog)! It's a bit cheesy but hopefully you will all really like it. I watched a couple of experts on YouTube for advice and used the family's 20 year old tripod. Sorry about the windy weather and occasional bird noises! I only had one morning to do all the filming and the weather was really changeable! The topic I've chosen is 10 Tips to Stay Motivated! Let me know what you think!!

15 October 2014

20 Most Annoying Things About Living With Your Parents

I don't want this to make me sound ungrateful because I'm not; I love my family and I am very privileged to live with my mum. But that doesn't mean that she isn't really annoying sometimes, just like I can be annoying too. A lot of people I know are or have been in a similar situation to me, living with their parents after 3 amazing years of independence at university. If I'm honest I do find it hard living without the freedom I have become accustomed to. I thought the best way to get over how annoying living with parents can be is to make a joke out of it. A couple of people might not connect with some of these but hopefully most of you will! And don't think badly of my mum after reading this, she's the best.

1. You have to continually explain what you are doing today/this week because parents must know where you are every second of the day.

2. You are now the resident IT technician and are expected to solve all mobile/iPad/computer problems - especially relevant now I've started at EE.

3. You have no authority whatsoever. This is not your house. So are you supposed to ask permission for your friends to come over? (Starting to feel 10 years old again?)

4. You will get nagged over and over to do chores. Haven't you tidied your room yet?

5. You have to share the TV. But it's worse than normal because parents always want to watch programmes you have no interest in, like ones with subtitles or whole golf championships from start to finish. It's not your house remember so don't complain.

6. Everything that goes wrong in the house is magically your fault.

7. You have to keep explaining to people that you are 21 and still living with your parents, then endure their look of pity/ridicule.

8. You can not sit around doing nothing without getting hassled. This also means no more lie-ins.

9. When your parents actually have something interesting to go to the house suddenly becomes the most boring place in the world and you find yourself waiting for them to come back.

10. There is never any food you want in the house. This does sound quite spoilt and I have no problem with doing food shopping myself but if I come back from hockey at 9pm and want something to eat all I can find is Ryvita, salad and homemade chutney. That is not a meal!!

11. You have to share the car and/or wait for lifts. This actually doesn't apply to me but I know a lot of people who are in this situation so I thought I'd add it to the list anyway.

12. You will undoubtedly be treated like a child again at some point whether it is being told what options you have for dinner (which is nothing!!) or reminded to brush your teeth. How do parents think we've survived for the last 3 years at university?

13. You are now the fashion guru and approver of all outfit combinations. This could just be me and my mum though.

14. You have no personal space. Your room is no longer your room because it's not your house, remember? So you have to be careful not to leave anything personal lying around.

15. When your parents have friends around you have to be polite and interesting, pretend that you remember them even if you don't and listen to your mum explain to everyone why you haven't got a great job and moved out yet.

16. Even though you are the fashion guru (13) all of your outfits will be judged for practicality and you will lose count of how many times they have suggested you wear/take a coat.

17. You will have to repeat something around 4 times before they begin to remember it. Maybe it's an age thing but parents aren't great at listening.

18. Occasionally you will be asked to house sit/dog sit/cat sit. This could be just for a weekend or it could be a whole week. This means you have to do all the chores and the organising of the family house on your own. Duties include getting up early to let the animals out, feeding animals, walking animals, cleaning house, food shopping, all cooking and washing up, and locking up the house at night. It also means that you can't go out and do what you like because you are supposed to responsible for the house/dog/cat.

19. You will be continually questioned about how many jobs you are applying for, whether you've sent the applications off and why you haven't heard back yet. However when you ask for any help they suddenly lose interest and have no useful advice whatsoever.

20. You feel like you're 17 again. You have just gone from all the freedom your student loan can buy to back where you were before you left. It's like that feeling when you go on an amazing holiday and then come back home and everything goes back to the way it was, but it feels worse because you've had a taste for what's out there.

Obviously there are some great positives about living with your parents, like it saves loads of money, but who wants to read about that. If I've missed anything off the list let me know. I've made it easier to leave comments below.

For people like me who are keen to move out of their family home, don't worry it will happen.

10 October 2014

Why Are We All So Addicted To Social Media?

The first thing I do in the morning is check my iPhone for messages, notifications and Snapchats. When I go on holiday my first question is, will there be WiFi? And the thought of a long journey without any phone battery is my idea of a nightmare. Some people probably think that's really sad but in reality most people my age are the same. I barely use my phone for calls or texts anymore. I've just started working in a phone shop and it's not minutes or texts customers ask about, it's data. It's all about the internet. It's about social media. 

There are so many different platforms, each with their own uses and attractions. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, Snapchat, Whatsapp, LinkedIn and the list goes on and on. These are just some that I use on a regular basis. In fact I would probably check each of them daily and some more than 5 times a day. An addiction is "the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice" and I wouldn't say it's a stretch to describe my relationship with social media this way. I also wouldn't call my situation unique, in fact I'd probably call it common. The question is, why are we all so addicted to social media?

It's continuous.
It's a bit like those online games we all used to play when we were younger. I'm thinking of FarmVille but there are loads of different variations of the same sort of thing.  Even though you're not always playing, the game keeps going without you. You have to harvest your crops or you will lose the money you spent planting them. If we think even further back, it's a bit like Tamagotchis (although my parents never actually let me have one). You have to keep playing the game to keep your digital pet alive. Social media has a similar enchantment. People are continuously uploading new pictures, statuses, pins, videos etc.. Somehow, masterminds like Mark Zuckerberg have managed to create the feeling that you might miss something if you don't keep checking back. Although the pictures of your old university friends' crazy nights out are still going to be there 3 weeks later, who wants to be the last one to see them? 

Social media makes you feel connected.
It's called social for a reason. It's all about the connections you can make and keep. Social Media's common aim is to bring people together, to share ideas and create networks. Most people have times when they are alone, whether it's once a day, a week or a month.  Some people enjoy this peace and quiet, some don't. With social media, you don't have to be alone. You can spark up conversations with people all around the world. It's this opportunity to communicate with people you don't see regularly in a fun way that has surpassed email or snail mail. Most people like to have lots of friends and social media is an easy way to stay in contact with them all. But you have to keep going back to that site to stay connected. Let's say you meet someone new on a night out, you get introduced by a mutual friend, chat for a while and then go your separate ways. If you know their name, or even if you don't, you could probably find them online by search through your mutual friend's profile. If you send them a friend request on Facebook, you'll have to keep using Facebook to contact them unless you ask for their number or email, which could be a bit too soon, I mean you've only met them once? And that's how social media draws you in. 

Social media gives you freedom.
There are things that are normally socially unacceptable that become okay on social media. I'm not talking about being rude or mean. But stalking through someone's old photos on Facebook is completely fine. You can get away with reading through all of someone's tweets for the last month without anyone knowing what you're doing. There is so much information about people on social media nowadays and that's what makes it so popular. It gives you much more freedom than the real world and you can express yourself in any way you choose. You can be whoever you want to be and say whatever you want to say (as long as it's not offensive). Social media provides the freedom that people crave in life and that freedom is what makes it so likeable and addictive. 

Who can tell what the future has in store for social media or whether in 10 years time we will all have forgotten about Facebook. All I know is, it's pretty addictive right now. 

5 October 2014

Why We Should NOT Ignore Advertisements

Nowadays there are so many different types of advertising and we are coming up with just as many ways to ignore each one. A lot of people record TV programmes they want to watch, like The X Factor, and then fast-forward through the ad breaks. In magazines people often skip the first couple of pages because they know they're normally 'just the advertisements'. Billboards and poster boards (especially the small ones on escalator walls in London tube stations) are so commonplace that most of us don't even need to ignore them - their constant visual bombardment creates a blur. But advertising is all about consumerism and obstructs our daily lives, so it's right to ignore it, yes?

No. That's my simple answer but if I stop with just that this will be a very short post. Advertising is important in many different ways and it can add a lot more to your life than you think. You might be thinking, she's just saying this because she wants to be in advertising or maybe she just weird. But hopefully after reading this you will start to consider the uses of advertising and will have a more positive view of the industry.

Firstly, not all advertising aims to drive sales. There are actually lots of different motivations behind different advertisements. For example, public services commonly use advertising to instruct others or create changes in behaviour. In November 2012, Metro Trains in Melbourne, Australia commissioned the campaign 'Dumb Ways to Die' to promote rail safety. They wanted to remind people how important it is to be careful around trains. They were not trying to sell more train tickets. This campaign reports to have contributed to a 30% reduction in "near-miss" accidents which is clearly a positive outcome and a great use of advertising.
Similarly, at the end of 2011 the British Heart Foundation launched a TV advertisement staring Vinnie Jones showing viewers how to perform hands-only CPR. This has saved at least 40 lives and has a really worthwhile purpose. Advertisements like this prove that there is more to advertising than people realise.
However, lot advertising is about sales. But, so what? If it's a great product or service that could improve your life or someone else's, does it really matter if you were persuaded to buy it? Without advertising there is no way you would know about all of your possessions or would have bought them. A lot of advertising can be really awful and annoying. With so many different TV channels and YouTube, advertising space is certainly becoming more widely available. But just because there are are some rubbish ones out there doesn't mean you should ignore the rest. If you went shopping for trainers, there might be loads if styles or colours you don't like, but that doesn't mean you'd stop looking for them and never buy a pair again.

Some advertisements are truly inspiring and amazing. Even if you decide you're not interested in the product or brand, the advertisement can still have an impact on you. Nike's branding is an example of this. Their tagline, 'Just Do It' resonates with many consumers. They believe in seizing the moment, going for something big, doing more than you ever have before. They aim to motivate people and being motivated is always a positive thing. Their ' Just Do It - Possibilities' (2013) advertisement inspires you to take things to the next level. After watching this advertisement you feel positive and empowered. The marketing is unobtrusive which allows you to enjoy the advertisement without feeling like you have to love Nike as a brand.
The 'GoPro HERO4: The Adventure of life in 4K' advertisement takes this idea of ads that inspire to a whole new level. Visually there is so much going on in the 4 minutes of this video (clearly it's meant for YouTube not TV). It is perhaps one of the best advertisements for a product that I have seen in ages. It shows you things you have never seen before, from a behind the scenes angle. The footage is simply breathtaking and gives you so much more than the idea that you should go and buy this camera. This is a fantastic example of why you should not ignore advertising. If you ignored this one, you'd be missing something great. It really give you a chance to be a part of their adventure.
Good advertisements aren't thought-up in a 5 minute brainstorming session. They can take weeks to reach their final concept and this is before they even start to be made. There are people in creative departments worldwide who dedicate substantial amounts of time to making their ideas great. There are loads of really good advertisements out there, it's just that they are swamped by the irritating, unoriginal ones. But the truly creative advertisements deserve to be taken notice of, especially the ones which make you laugh. Evian's 'Baby&Me' (2013) is really cute and funny.
Watching these babies dance like their adult counterpart is a unique idea and the costumes really make this advertisement. If you let it, this advertisement can really brighten your day and change your mood. It's not forcing you to buy Evian water right this second. It just trying to make you happy, so why are you trying so hard to ignore it?

Likewise, O2's 'Be more dog', although is clearly promoting is brand, attempts to make you laugh while doing so. It's inventive and quirky, and like Nike's advertisements, motivates you to try something different. It's especially entertaining if you have a cat because you know it's so unlikely for a them to do these things. 
Basically what I've been trying to say is, not all advertising is bad, annoying, forcing you to buy its product or love its brand. There are different purpose for different advertisements. They can teach you something new, inspire you, show you things you've never seen before and above all they can entertain you. I'm not suggesting we should love all advertisements and never fast-forward through ad breaks ever again. All I'm saying is we should give advertisers a break, because some of their work deserves our attention. 

1 October 2014

Blogtober - The Whats and Whys

Today is the 1st October and the start of BlogtoberMost people nowadays have heard of Stoptober (to help quit smoking) or Movember (to raise awareness of men's cancer), so I thought I would do something similar. But no, I'm not going to grow a moustache.
Since my last nostalgic post about university life, Freshers' has started and everywhere I see students living the life I used to live (on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat). At the end of that post I said that next I would write something positive about graduate life and what I am doing to get my career going. This is what I came up with.

Blogtober is going to be a special month of blogging with aims and targets. I will have new posts every 5 days - 8 posts in total throughout the month. Most of you know I want to pursue a career in advertising, so for this month will be writing about, media, marketing, advertising and graduate life. It won't be like reading a textbook or a boring news article though I promise. I will be expressing my opinions and hopefully you will in your comments as well.

You might wander why I am doing this. There are quite a few reasons. Firstly, it will build upon by existing experience and prove to employers that I can write in a creative and precise way. Secondly, I know that a lot of people, especially those who are my age, are turned-off by advertisements. People are fast-forwarding through them, skipping past them in magazines or just plain ignoring them. But there are some fantastic advertisements out there and I want them to receive the appreciation they deserve.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, I am doing this Blogtober to motivate myself. It's hard work applying for jobs, waiting to hear back and taking rejection. At the moment I have two part-time jobs and another casual one, none of which are what I really want to be doing. With this Blogtober I have a target to achieve 1000 pageviews this October. Last November I started writing this blog serious and made it to 825 pageviews in a month. I want to beat that. In writing this blog I will stay focused on the career path I want to take and I will stay motivated.

At the moment I have some ideas about what I am planning to write about for the remaining 7 posts but I am also opening this Blogtober up to suggestions. Is there something you would like me to write about? Let me know in any form you like, Facebook, the comments section of this blog, Twitter or face-to-face (see my new contact page for details). I want to engage as many people as possible in Blogtober and show that blogging isn't just for experts, it's for everyone. You have to take control of your own life and make your own opportunities. 

19 September 2014

15 Things Graduates Miss Most About Student Life

I'm slowly starting to realise the truth that I am no longer a student - even though my student ID card says otherwise. I am now a graduate. But what does that really mean. I don't feel any different to how I did this time last year. Other than knowing a bit more about certain authors and understanding the real meaning of hard work, I still feel like the same person. Graduate life is supposed to be even more exciting than student life. I don't have to go to lectures or write essays any more, I can read whatever I want and I am about to start my career. But the reality is, for me at least, that I'm in a similar situation to where I was before university, except for now I have a massive student debt as well. The summer was good, taking a break to relax from all my exams (well actually just one exam..), free-time to meet up with all my friends and sort myself out. But now seeing some of my friends going back to university and everyone getting prepared for Freshers', the brutal truth is hard to take. I am not going back. That chapter of my life is over and it's time to start the next one.

Some of my friends have already found great jobs, moved to London and started earning a real salary or they're going to travel the globe and discover their inner self. I'm not quite there yet shall we say - living at home with my mum and two dogs, and working at a local pub. But I believe that everyone's journey is different and if I keep working hard, my time will come (sorry for the cliché). I thought that the best way to get over being a student is to make a list of what I (and hopefully others too) miss about student life, that way I can come up with replacements sooner.

So here is a list of 15 things graduates miss most about student life: 

1. Student loan - I'm pretty sure everyone will be able to relate to this. Having money in the bank when you've done absolutely nothing to deserve it's great. The only problem is when you have to start paying it back.

What are we even doing here?
2. Student nights out with all your friends - When you're a student there's always an opportunity to go out with your friends, have a good time and worry about the money you spent in the morning. The unknown adventures are what make student nights so amazing.

3. Living in a student house - Although a lot of people complain about living in student houses and how dirty they can be, it's actually really nice to have somewhere of your own where you won't be hassled about washing up or shoes left lying around.

4. Sports facilities - I used to complain about spending £200 on a years gym membership but it's actually a fantastic offer, especially when I lived a 5 minute walk away. Now I have to spend £5 per group class and even more for using the gym equipment. I definitely regret not going more when I had the chance.

Freshers' Fair last year
5. University sports teams - Being part of a sports team is the best thing about university, or at least it was for me. You make some really great friends, learn new skills, keep fit and have events organised for you. Again the cost is dramatically less than joining local clubs and most of the other members will be just like you - young students rather than grannies or school kids. This is definitely what I will miss the most.

6. University societies - Similar to number 5. Societies at university are great. There's so much choice, you meet new people and have the opportunity to take on responsibilities which benefit you. Never again will you find so many clubs provided for under one group.

7. Being part of a student community - Living within walking distance of all my friends was something new for me. I absolutely loved it. Walking to the shops, around the supermarket, and to and from university, you are continually bumping into friends. It's certainly hard to feel lonely.

8. Free time - As a student I had a lot of free time (I know that some subjects don't get as much but the majority of us aren't in university from 9-5). I have free time now but I'm expected to be doing something worthwhile. At university you have free time when you're actually allowed to do nothing.

9. Freedom - Some graduates still have the same freedom as they did as a student but quite a lot don't - including me. At university you are completely your own person, able to do whatever you want, pretty much whenever. If you're at living at home with your family like me, you have to continually plan your day around others. Luckily I have my own car, otherwise I'd probably be pulling my own hair out.

Halloween costumes
10. Students themselves - Not only do I miss my friends, whether they're still at university or doing their own thing now, I miss being surrounded my like-minded people.

11. Fancy dress - Wearing the most unusual costumes for nights out is okay because you're a student. You can express your creativity in so many ways and it's legitimate to have spent your whole day creating an amazing outfit. Also, what are you supposed to do now with the collection of fancy dress you've accumulated over the last 3 years?

12. Spending all day in bed under the pretence of reading/studying - Especially studying English, the chance to stay in bed all day and still be productive was the best. Now I have chores, family meals, work or the gym to go to. I definitely can't get away with 'working' in a same way.

Tour 2013
13. Sports tours - Hockey tours were crazy. The saying 'what goes on tour, stays on tour' definitely applies here but if any of us did those things, or saw the same things when we weren't students we'd probably be appalled.

14. The support - I don't think you realise it until you leave but you have so much support around you at university. From lecturers and tutors to help you with your studies, careers advisers, your parents and your friends. But once you leave everyone suddenly expects you to be a grown-up capable of doing everything yourself, and sometimes it's a big step up.

15. Last but not least VARSITY - I cannot stress how much I loved varsity. It's the one day when the whole university comes together in support of one another. It's like a sports extravaganza and my life will not be the same without it.

Hopefully this list didn't come across as entirely negative, and it should prompt some of my friends who are still at university to make the most of student life and the opportunities it brings. Next I'll write about being a graduate and what I'm up to in my search for a position to start my career.

28 August 2014

Why Has The Ice Bucket Challenge Been So Popular?

Me and my dog doing the Ice Bucket Challenge.
Almost everyone has heard of the Ice Bucket Challenge over the last couple of months. From celebrities to young children, pets to those who does even use social media, thousands worldwide are getting involved. This internet trend follows on from others which have been popular this year such as NekNominate originating in Australia between January and February, and the #nomakeupselfie campaign in March which raised over £8 million for Cancer Research UK in six days. But this trend has gone even further, with some figures claiming that over £48 million has been raised so far. The question I am trying to answer is, why has the Ice Bucket Challenge been so popular?

One reason which I think has been really important is that the challenge is hassle-free. A bag of ice costs £1 from supermarkets and in the Western world water is pretty easy to come by. You don't necessarily need a fancy contraption like Bill Gates, just an old mop bucket will do. There isn't much preparation necessary and other than the fact that you will be a bit cold and wet afterwards, there aren't any side effects or bad consequences (as there was with NekNominate). You can take part in the challenge wherever and whenever, on your lunch break, in the middle of town, on the beach or in the bath. As long as you have a towel nearby and a change of clothes then it's a reasonably easy challenge.

Celebrity participation has also played a massive part in raising this trend's publicity. With David Beckham, Simon Cowell, Lady Gaga, Jessie J, Kate Moss, Tom Hanks and many more taking on the challenge it's clear to see how popular it has been. An article I read recently reports that Celebrity endorsements fail to boost engagement with charities but I think the challenge does not fit to their findings. The Ice Bucket Challenge has been reported on hundreds of news channels globally which has increased people's awareness of ALS (Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or motor neurone disease) and there has been a fantastic influx of donations over the last months. When people see celebrities getting involved in the same trends as us and doing their bit for charity it promotes the idea to others.

This challenge is quite different from those before it. The NekNominate challenge primarily involved students and those who drunk alcohol. Although some did substitute alcohol for food or other disgusting solutions, this trend was reasonably exclusive. Similarly, the #nomakeupselfie campaign was targeted at women who wear make-up. Men who did want to get involved took to putting on as much make-up as possible but there were nowhere near as many taking part. The pictures posted by women who don't wear much make-up on a daily basis were not particularly exciting and those who wear a lot were not overly keen to take it off even for a good cause. And so this trend did not last as long as the Ice Bucket Challenge has. Anyone can take part in this challenge, poor or rich, young or old.

The Ice Bucket Challenge has an entertainment factor that doesn't seem to get old. Although most Facebook timelines at the moment are filled with these videos, there are still new and hilarious versions. Some of my favourites include people using JCB's, diggers and loaders; people falling over because their buckets are too heavy or getting their buckets dropped on them; people getting smacked on the head with MASSIVE chunks of ice and people managing to miss their own heads! It's like a really specific episode of You've Been Framed that goes on and on. People are getting entertainment combined with a feel-good factor of donating. Here's a good mix of some of the fails: (some strong language)

One last reason which most people might not think of but is also important is that this isn't a manufactured campaign. ALS didn't start it, there are basically no rules and it's not being pushed upon people. You are free to do the challenge in anyway you want, as long as there's ice, it goes over you and you nominate that's all that matters.

8 August 2014

COLOURBLIND: A Consumer Behaviour Experiment

From my previous posts you can see I've recently started learning how to make my own sweets. At a wedding tea party last weekend I took this one step further. I used my new-found sweet making talents to do an experiment on consumer behaviour. I wanted to find out if people's sweet choices were based on appearance or flavour, specifically their choice of heart-shaped wine gums! Does colour blind your decision?

Initially I wanted to make a variety of different flavoured, red wine gums. However, this presented difficulties, not in the sweet making process, as many food flavourings are colourless, but how would I be able to tell if people even realised there were different flavours? I would have had to draw attention to their differences which is not something I wanted to do. I wanted my experiment to be as unobtrusive as possible.

My other alternative, and the path I finally decided to take, was to make a variety of coloured wine gums, all in one flavour. This way I would be able to see if people choose sweets based on their colour rather than flavour. I chose lemon as the flavour for my wine gums and made the standard wine gum/fruit pastel colours: red, orange, yellow, green and purple. I wanted to see if people had preconceptions about the wine gums based on their colours. Would they assume the red was strawberry for example? And would they continue to eat the red ones, even though they tasted exactly the same as the other colours?

At the tea party I filmed the five separate bowls of different coloured wine gums. I then edited this footage and created this video:

I'd love to know what you think about this experiment so please leave me a comment, tweet me @_Sam_Blundell using #colourblind or let me know personally.

11 July 2014

Mission Impossible: Finding Something to Wear for Graduation

Next week is Graduation Week at the University of Leicester. Each day has a morning and an afternoon ceremony where hundreds of students from each subject sit in a large hall, waiting until it's their chance to walk up some stairs, shake a man's hand they've never seen before, and sit down again. Graduation is the culmination of your educational achievements to date, it's where you officially get what you came to university for, your degree, and yet it's not really the most exciting part of the day.

For most students the exciting part is what you wear. I'm sure next week my Facebook timeline will be flooded with people posing for photos with family and friends in gowns and mortarboards (those hat-things people wear). Of course, I'll be doing the same myself and I'm not criticising people who do, I'm just saying that's the bit everyone really looks forward to. That's why choosing the right thing to wear is very important. I'm sure by now most people have already got their outfits sorted but just in case you've left it to the last minute, hopefully this will help.

Firstly you need to find out what sort of hood and/or gown you will be wearing. This is dependent on what sort of degree you have done. Here's the list if you're at Leicester, I don't know if it's the same at all universities but you definitely need to find out when planning your outfit. Having done a BA, I'm going to be wearing a black gown with a white and red hood, like the picture. This immediately ruled out some colours for me (pink, green, red and blue).
The guidelines on what ladies can wear are quite vague, 'A smart top or blouse with skirt or formal trousers. Alternatively a suitable dress may be worn with formal/smart shoes', which doesn't really help. I don't want to wear a blouse, I've had 5+ years of that at school/college already and a dress gives you a lot more options so that's what I've decided on. 
A friend who graduated a couple of years ago was also really helpful. She explained that if you're wearing a dress you need to pin your hood to it and they can be quite heavy. She advised against wearing lightweight, thin materials like silk or chiffon as the pin could rip or leave a permanent whole. This is very sensible advice but it's not exactly easy to find a thick dress in the middle of summer! 

On Wednesday (with a week and two days to go) I went shopping for the perfect graduation dress. In my mind I had a good idea of what I wanted, either a dark purple dress or a black and white dress with geometric panels. I wanted them to be quite fitted and suitable to wear for other occasions such as weddings or at work. As this is a serious event my usual go-to shops like New Look, River Island and Topshop were off the list and instead shops like John Lewis and Karen Millen were on it. This was also quite a good time to go shopping as most places had summer sales. 

First up was Karen Millen, not somewhere I've ever shopped before, and after a bit of browsing I found two similar dresses with black, white and grey panels in quite a stretchy material. These were quite close to what I had been hoping to buy, however, I very quickly realised that finding the right dress that fitted was going to be a lot harder than I thought. Being 5 foot 3 inches (or 160cm) can make sizing a problem sometimes, especially having a short top-half of my body. In these dresses I had a problem where if the bottom-half of the dress looked nice, the top and shoulders looked baggy and if I tried on a size where the top-half fitted nicely, the bottom-half was far too tight for a formal occasion.

I had the same problem in Marks and Spenser (and quite a few other shops). I found a nice black and white dress, geometric panels and shaped - exactly what I wanted - but when I tried it on I had the same issue. I tried to capture what I meant by it being too big over my shoulders and around my neck in this picture. 
Even in John Lewis with a petite section, the style of dress I wanted was too big over my shoulders. I was starting to have a serious panic about not being able to find anything at all! Everywhere was either selling lightweight summer dresses or didn't fit me properly. My best possibility so far was a white dress I'd tried on in Lipsy, not exactly that formal looking and I couldn't wear white to a wedding but at least I had one option now. 

As a distraction from all the stress I decided to buy some really nice, soft brown sandals from Office (only £28!). Obviously nothing to do with graduation but I needed sandals.

Finally, after at least four hours of searching with no breaks I found a dress that I liked! I decided if I wanted something that fitted well I would have to give up on my imagined style of dress. I went into a shop called CC which is paired with Viyella (owned by Austin Reed). Although I was probably the youngest person in there I had given up caring by this point. I was on a mission to find a dress for graduation and that was all that mattered. I picked up anything that was black and white, and went to try them on.

This is the dress I found: 
It doesn't look as good on the hanger so I decided to model it as well. I think this shape looks much better than the ones I was trying before. I like capped sleeves, oval neckline and that it kicks out after my waist. It's made from for 98% cotton and 2% elastane with a polyester lining. It feels quite thick and hopefully won't be damaged by the pin. Overall all I'm happy with this dress. Although it wasn't what I had in mind originally, I think it looks nice on and is appropriate for the occasion. I'm going to wear it with some gold heart-shaped studs I bought from Accessorize and plain black pumps which I already have. I'll probably wear my hair down and straightened so that it doesn't get in the way of the hat. 

I hope my experience helps any last minute shoppers and that readers can relate to my difficulties! 

Good luck!

29 June 2014

My Last 2 Weeks in Leicester

Following on from my last post, I attempted to make the most of my last 2 weeks in Leicester. I made a list of things I wanted to have done before I left and now, having moved home about a week ago, I am going to report on how they went.

I didn't manage to complete all 8 of the ideas on my list. In fact, I only managed 5 of them. Part of this was because I went home for the first weekend and the other part was because of the amount of 'celebrating' I was doing, I had to write off a couple of days for recovery. Although 5 of 8 isn't too bad, at least I've left myself some things to do when I visit at some point in the future.

First up was the international supermarket. I decided to walk there in flip flops rather than drive on a very hot Thursday.. not my best decision. By the time I got there I was really thirsty and just wanted to sit down. But, it was definitely worth it. It's not as big inside as you would expect but there is so much stuff in there it's amazing. It felt a bit odd wandering around a supermarket like it's a museum but it really was quite interesting to walk around. I ended up taking so many pictures that I used up all of my phone battery.

They had lots of vegetables I had never heard of, giant fish loose in lots of freezers, a meat counter selling all different types of meat, including goat! They had massive bags of powdered mashed potato, aisles and aisles of rice (which all looked the same to me) and a whole aisle dedicated to pasta! My favourite part was a cake counter they had near the back which housed about 30 different, large cakes with bright icing. They looked so good I could hardly tell if they were real or not. 

After wandering around for about an hour, I bought some of the food colourings and flavourings I needed for making sweets (also on my list); some spices I needed, some pasta and multi-coloured vermicelli. Although I took £20 to spend I ended up only spending £6 (partly because I didn't want to carry too much home). I had planned to go back on another day with my car but I ran out of time. I'd recommend everyone have a look there though, I was very impressed.

Next, in the order I completed them in, was making sweets. This took me longer than expected, not because making the sweets was all that hard but finding all the ingredients, especially for the cola cubes, was difficult. Other than heating the sugar to the right temperature, which is much easier to gauge with a sugar thermometer (luckily I already had one of these), making them was quite easy. The wine gums were really easy to make and tasted pretty good. The cola cubes were harder but mainly because the mixture cooled down really quickly so a lot got left behind in my saucepan and jug. I think the next sweets I'm going to make are rhubarb and custards which look even harder.. I'll let you know how they go.

I then wasted a couple of days doing nothing much which meant I had even less time and I ended up having to do a couple of things from my list on the same day. On the last Thursday, a friend who left university the year before came back to visit for a couple of days. So I decided she could join in helping me accomplish the ideas on my list too.
As she's a vegetarian it made the next thing on my list a bit easier to do. I wanted to try to make a meal with food only bought in the market and although there is a new meat and fish section in the Leicester markets, it is primarily a fruit and vegetable market. Cooking for two, I decided I would make a three course meal instead of one course, adding to the challenge. Although I bought almost every ingredient in the market, there were a few things I already had or couldn't get there, but I did my best. We cooked all of the food together and it was really easy to do. (If you want recipes let me know.) It's fair to say we were a little full after all of this, especially before a night out but definitely better than my normal tomato pasta.

The menu went as follows:
Starter: Spinach and leek pancakes with grated parmesan.
Main: Soy mince chilli with rice
Dessert: Low fat chocolate and banana brownies with vanilla ice cream.

Somehow between all the food shopping and cooking, we managed to fit in going to The Pheonix to see Grace of Monaco. After seeing that Rotten Tomatoes had given it 1 star I was highly apprehensive about watching this film. But I didn't want to see any of the others and the trailer looked good so I went for it anyway. (Before the film they advertised a new movie called Downhill which looked really funny, like a middle aged version of The Inbetweeners, which I now really want to watch too.)
All in all, I thought Grace of Monaco was pretty good. I'd give it 3 stars. The costumes, something I always notice, were really amazing, especially Nicole Kidman's dresses; the acting and scriptwriting were good and the historical content was informative and engaging. One criticism I would make was that the camera angles and the tendency to zoom-in and linger on Nicole Kidman's face was quite off putting, and detracted from the scene. Overall, though, I was very happy we managed to squeeze this in and I think I'll be looking out for more alternative cinemas in the future.

The final thing I managed to complete on my list was a big picnic with all my friends in Victoria Park. When I say big I mean BIG. Postponing this from Friday to Saturday was the best decision we made. I had forgotten that this was the day Kasabian were performing in Victoria Park. Although some of my friends had tickets, quite a lot didn't so we sat just outside the walls listening with our ginormous picnic, which had everything you could possibly want (mountains of sandwiches, houmous, crisps, amazing pasta salad, 3 packets of party rings and loads more). You could hear the music really clearly and the atmosphere was so chilled that we ended up sitting here from 2pm 'til 10:30pm. This, combined with the university's Summer Festiball the next day, felt like the perfect end to a great three years at Leicester.

I didn't manage to see Richard III (but I sort of knew this was going to happen anyway), go to Sophbeck/Basement or have a day out with my camera. But I did manage to really enjoy my last 2 weeks in Leicester. After some research I saw that they are opening a new Richard III centre in Leicester in the middle of July so this is going to be a great excuse to come back and visit all my friends next year. Other than that, I'll be back on the 18th July for graduation. My next mission is finding something to wear for it.

9 June 2014

Achieve Before I Leave

As promised on Friday, I am posting a list of things I want to 'Achieve Before I Leave' Leicester, in exactly 2 weeks time. I've spent most of my weekend thinking about this, especially as I've had nothing to do. I've had a couple of suggestions from my friends, such as learn to do a Rubik's cube (I have only just realised it's not spelt with an x) which sounded good except I'd have to buy one.. Another idea was booking a holiday but after 3 years of university, I can barely afford take-out, let alone a nice holiday in a country where it is actually sunny.. And finally a few people have said get a job which isn't exactly something I can control. I mean I can apply for loads but when it comes down to it's not me who decides if I get it or not. All I can to it try and hope.

So all of the things on my list are things that I can actually achieve. I was planning to do 10 but I can only think of 8 good ones so if people have any more suggestions that would be great.

So here's what I've got:

1. Go to the international supermarket. It's the giant lime-green supermarket near the bus station and every time I drive past it I tell myself I want to go any have a look. I've been putting it off for almost two years now, I'm not really sure why, but if I don't go I know I'll regret it because it's meant to be really good and unique.

2. Have a big picnic in Victoria Park with all my friends. It's something that I always think of on a burning hot day when I'm in the library slaving away (which doesn't happen thaaat often) or when I walk past and see all these families doing it. I'm always really envious but I don't know why I don't just organise one myself. My friends and I have all finished now so we've got no excuses. And when I say big picnic, I mean BIG. Loads of sandwiches, party rings of course, crisps, cakes, Coca Cola, everything we can think of. Oh, and everyone is invited to join.

3. See Richard III. I'm pretty sure I've actually missed this opportunity.. Which is a bit gutting but I will go to all the museums to do with finding him and the walking trail. It's probably what Leicester is most famous for and other than watching TV documentaries about it I don't really know anything. So I'm going to spend one day learning as much about it all as possible. Then when I come back to visit next year, I'll go and actually see him (if I can).

4. Make a meal with food only bought in the market. Leicester is also famous for its market, which is great. I've bought stuff from there every now and then. Sometimes material and sometimes vegetables but I think it would be a nice challenge to try to do a whole meal with only market produce. Anyone is welcome to join me, eating with others is always more fun.

5. Go to Basement and/or Sophbeck. These are the only two clubs in Leicester that I haven't been to that I actually still want to go to. I can never stomach XY after Wednesday nights.. I've heard pretty good reviews of these two so I definitely want to see what they're like myself.

6. Have a day out with my camera. My family surprised me at Christmas was a professional SLR camera and I haven't used it at all except on the day. This makes me sound so spoilt but in all honest I haven't had an opportunities to use it and I'm a bit scared of breaking it. But now I have time I want to go out for a photography day around Leicester, working out how to use it properly and taking some pictures of the campus and city centre. It's actually quite picturesque in places if you look up.

7. Make sweets. This is something I've really been looking forward to. My brother bought me a vintage sweets book at Christmas and I haven't made any. At all. And I love sweets. You're probably wondering why I have all these presents I don't use - which is fair. I really can't believe I'll need anything this Christmas. Anyway, I have time now so I want to make some. I think I'll go for cola cubes for my brother (he's already placed an order of 1kg) and wine gums for me. I'll let you know how they go..

8. Go to the Pheonix and/or the Curve. The Pheonix is an alternative cinema in Leicester where you can see movies that you wouldn't normally get the chance to see. I've had a look at what's on and I think I'd like to see 'Grace of Monaco', it's staring Nicole Kidman and looks really good. The tickets aren't that expensive so I'm pretty keen on doing this. I may or may not make it to the Curve (Leicester's main theatre) purely because the tickets are quite expensive. If I do go I'll see Birdsong which is on between 17th-21st June but we'll see.

And that's the end of my list. So far. I'm sure I'll think of other things to add but at the moment I'm stuck for more ideas. Please let me know if you think of any good ones or what to join me on any of these.