Thursday, 29 July 2010

A Blog's Life

I have become a sort of mentor of late, with friend's parents deferring to me as the guru of 'how to get into journalism'.

Despite my 20-something years, I have been through the media mill (to some extent), from education and careers fayres to countless work experience placements and even redundancy (not entirely shocking given the current economic climate), but still the past 5-6 years has provided me with a microcosm of events that appear to bestow me with insider know-how and tips for wannabe writers.

Of course the first thing I would recommend for those reading this that may indeed be thinking about how to get started on the path to journalism is to consider where in this diverse industry you may fit. Essentially, if you have a certain skill set (writing, design, proof-reading, editing etc) it can traverse across many different areas within the media industry. But decide if you want to go down the newspaper route, the broadcast route or the fiction route. And how do you discover where you fit if you are currently unsure? Work experience.

I knew I wanted to write. I knew I wanted to write for a magazine. So I did work experience at local titles, niche titles, national titles and even international titles. Each experience endowed me with some new nugget of expertise and insight. It taught me where I fit in personally and how to adapt myself to each unique house style. It may take several placements and jobs to finally find where you fit - it is only now at Christie's that I finally feel I'm somewhere that's me.

And if you can freelance, great. It's more for the self-motivated individuals who can network and multitask, but it's great work if you can get it.

Depending on where you are with your career/life, journalism courses are a good option also. I did a masters at London College of Communication (formerly Printing), and there are plenty of other courses via the University of the Arts London [] that will enable you to specialise in whichever sector of media you wish to pursue. The NoSweat Journalism college [] is great for shorter courses and is recognised and approved by The National Council for the Training of Journalists. London's City University offers one of the most widely sought-after post-graduate diplomas though can be tough to get onto and is rather more expensive than other options, and Cardiff offer an equally covetable course.

N.B. Work experience and a portfolio (of your by-lined works) are crucial when applying for these courses. Try the smaller publishing houses and local publications first before approaching the big names (IPC, National Magazine Co, Conde Nast, Hachette Filipacchi, emap etc) as you are more likely to get a placement and get to write, thereby building your portfolio. If you are at university, join your student paper/magazine and/or radio station - great experience and great for your portfolio.

Network!! I cannot stress this enough - seize every opportunity to speak to people, you never know who they know and who might be able to give you a leg up. Make a good impression at all your work experience placements, even if you're only making the coffee and feel completely invisible - you don't know who might be watching and whether a role might be about to appear that needs filling.

Read!! Newspapers, magazines (even the trashy ones), newswires (reuters, bloomberg etc), twitter, journals... from helping you out in interviews ["oh yes, Martin, I loved your feature on the impact of the iPad on the next generation" / "exactly, the issue of IVF is an increasingly pressing topic for the current medical landscape"]; to keeping you informed and providing you with educated conversation when networking - it is vital.

Social Media - get on Twitter, link it to your blog, share it on your Facebook page and update your LinkedIn with all the new contacts you accumulate. Social Media sites enable you to network, promote your skills, and raise awareness of your profile to a broad and international audience. Don't underestimate it!!

With these fundamental tools under your belt you are ready to set off on your path to written success. Laptop, set, get typing...

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

To drink or not to drink

I don't drink.

This is a statement I have repeated on many an occasion, be it at a works do, a birthday party or just a regular night out with friends. And 99% of the time I am met with the same puzzled look of bewilderment followed up by the assumption that there must be some great reason as to why this is: allergies, religious reasons, pregnancy... But the simple truth is that I just don't like it very much.

My mother was never strict about my exposure to alcohol, and from a young age allowed me to try (in moderation of course) the adult tastes she felt I should experience. Pre-teen years I was allowed a sip of Kiddush wine as part of the traditional Jewish occasions, from Friday night dinner to Rosh Hashanah (the new year celebrations) and as I matured I moved on to white wine spritzers, which were drunk in controlled environments - usually accompanied by dinner and my grandparents company. It is my belief that due to this freedom and lack of taboo surrounding alcohol, once I reached 'clubbing age', unlike my friends who were gasping for hangovers and experimental opportunities so long denied to them, I was not entranced by the A word.

I attended my high school prom at age 17 (the youngest in my year) and while my cohorts set up camp around the tiny bar, I enjoyed the evening dancing the night away. However, when I reached university, this hysteria reached a whole new level as friends claimed it impossible to endure a night out without the aid of copious amounts of alcohol. There followed an almost competitive push throughout student-ville as to who was nursing the worst hangover the morning after and what embarrassing antics they had participated in while enjoying their drunken stupor.

I admit, the few times I have made erroneous judgments on nights out and wished I could have blamed it on drunkenness, has not escaped me. However, I never felt the need to drink, I don't particularly enjoy the taste of most alcoholic drinks (though granted most don't - it is the affects they pursue over taste) and I really didn't want to part with my cash when I could be spending it on clothes and shoes.

Maybe it's because I am a bit of a control freak, maybe it's because I am mortally afraid of alcohol-fuelled ventures resulting in me lying on the floor flashing the entire population of central London on a Saturday night, maybe I've smelled too many wine and beer-breathed peers to risk subjecting myself to it, or maybe it's because on the few occasions I've drunk alcohol it's just run right through me...

I'm also one of those rare freaks who doesn't drink coffee. Yes, I know your mouths must be on the proverbial floor, but please do pick them up again. My reason - I don't like it. And that's the basic truth - if I don't like something, I won't do it. Why should I? Just because everyone else is doing it? To avoid the judgement I face at a variety of occasions (including meeting someone for the obligatory 'coffee' in Starbucks or Costa)?

Last night was my work summer party, a sophisticated affair at the Kensington Roof Gardens. Conversations preceding the event were primarily punctuated by intentions of consuming vast amounts of alcohol and what would ensue later in the night as a result... I am not a party pooper, and I don't ever try to draw attention to my tee-total status - I silently drink my orange juice or water (yes water) and enjoy the night as much as everyone else. And, on little or no sleep, often feel as terrible as my hungover colleagues the following morning.

Essentially, everyone is free to drink or not, without judgement. But perhaps it would be interesting to step back and ask ourselves, why?

Monday, 19 July 2010

Talking bout Religion

The hubby and I spent half the weekend with family friends in order to experience a true Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath which runs from sunset on Friday evening to dark on Saturday night).

We arrived just before 7pm and shortly after, the men left for evening prayers at synagogue while the women remained at home. We had switched off our mobile phones and were shown which lights in the house would remain on and what time the rest would go off.

An hour later the menfolk returned and we all sat down for a delicious dinner consituting of the traditional Friday night dinner menu: chopped liver, egg & onion and Challa (traditional plaited bread) to start, followed by Chicken soup, then the main dish of roasted chicken, roast potatoes, an array of vegetables and so on and then to finish up our hostess presented us with a selection of desserts, from homemade tiramisu to fresh fruit salad. And as if this wasn't enough, coffee, tea and chocolates were brought out afterwards.

Dinner (or the banquet as it should more aptly be referred to) was followed by lively conversation in the family room, before we finally retired to sleep well past midnight.

At 8am the next morning, we were awoken as our host let us know it was almost time for the morning service at synagogue. An interesting point, of which I was not formerly aware, is that showering is not officially allowed during Shabbat. As an obsessive showerer, I had one but my husband chose to follow it by the book and thus had me prodding him every half an hour asking if now he wanted to have a shower?? The answer was irrefutably, no.

I opted to stay at home with our hosts' daughter while the others attended the 3-hour morning service. I read my book and several magazines and chatted about everything from cakes and dieting to celebrities and work.

On the others return we sat down for kiddush (a custom by which prayers are made over wine). Two other guests had been invited for lunch so we all chatted about life. The interesting thing about listening to the theme of conversation in a religious household is that more often than not (particularly on Shabbat) it will centre on issues key to the religion. From what the rabbi discussed in his sermon that morning to the differing topics highlighted in the variety of Jewish newspapers (The Jewish News, The Jewish Chronicle, The Tribune, Hamodia etc) and of course, a favourite amongst Jewish mothers - what they're children are up to, particularly if it's impressively good!!

Then before we sat down for lunch, it is customary to wash hands, and then remain silent until the prayer over the Challa (bread) is made and we have all taken a piece. Again, lunch was a foodie affair with a selection of cold meats, salads and bread, followed by several desserts.

The guests left after lunch, and as is also typical of a Shabbat afternoon went home for a sleep, which my husband also chose to participate in. Although I was incredibly tired - having not slept particularly well and woken early - I decided to stay up and read my book... which I did for the next four hours (in addition to Vogue, In Style and Grazia!!)

We all sat in the family room and chatted, drank tea, ate cake and After Eights and read and slept. At about 9pm the men returned to synagogue for closing prayers and on their return at 10.30pm we did Havdalah - a brief ceremonial service comprising wine, spices and the lighting of a candle, which symbolises the ending of the sabbath and the drawing in of a new week. In the summer, Shabbat goes out exceptionally late due to the days remaining lighter later.

It was a strange experience to just completely relax and do not very much at all, and oddly I now feel more tired than if I had gone about my usual weekend activities... the people we met swear by the restorative benefits of their relaxed Shabbat, saying it sets them up for the rest of the week. I guess it depends on what you're used to and what your body's used to. I think if it's used to activity and stimulation, then depriving it of those things can wear it out from lack of use. I would have liked to have gone for a walk however there wasn't the opportunity - prehaps that would have made me feel differently.

Overall, it was a good experience but unusual. I enjoyed the absence of TV, mobile phones and other technological distractions but I must have my shower!!

Friday, 16 July 2010

The B Word: Part Deux

I apologise for continuing this particular subject within the space of one week, but there really is no escaping it.

Marie O'Riordan, former editor of Marie Claire, waxed lyrical in the Saturday Times about the debate over motherhood versus lying in on the weekend and other such luxuries denied to most parented people.

She said: "There are millions of us — married or single, gay or straight, infertile or desperately trying, positively child free or regretfully childless — and yet we are increasingly sidelined by a society obsessed with progeneration."

Those who choose not to wander down the baby road, or those who find obstacles placed in their way should not be ostracised by society or made to feel like alien life forms. As Carrie Bradshaw pointed out on discovering her aversion to marriage and all things societally expected: "I should be put in a test tube and studied." However, surely the flood of 'procreation propaganda' only serves to inform us that perhaps it is those women who DO choose motherhood, particularly before the age of 35, that are considered to be the weird ones?

With a new government determined to make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe is it any wonder the media and entertainment industry are clamouring to have their two penny's worth? Fertility is the hot topic of the day as babies become the new popular accessory, and 20-something women with a bump no longer need worry that opinions may instantly be drawn to the negative connotations of pregnancy on someone still young enough to wear a crop top and mini skirt.

Opinions change, trends fluctuate, and Jennifer Aniston's fateful saga continues, but what is clear is this: everybody is entitled to do what they want to do, and to be able to do it without fear of judgement or discrimination.

Life is for living, and more importantly, living it for nobody but yourself.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

The B Word

I've just finished reading this article from Daily Mail's Femail magazine [], and in fact read a similar article in the Saturday Times magazine about a group of women ranging in age from 20 to 27 who have all chosen domestic bliss over a high-flying career. It's got me thinking...

As a 20-something, recently married woman, babies are definitely something I am thinking about. I mean, you have to right? Factoring them into your plans for the future is completely necessary, especially as the years seem to be speeding past.

Last week's Stylist magazine spoke about the ever-present biological clock, with the aptly phrased cover line: Tick Tock Tick Tock. The article outlined ways to essentially put the brakes on it, offering ways of pressing pause on fertility from egg freezing to surrogacy. The media certainly seems to be putting particular emphasis on this fertility. Tina Fey's 'Baby Mama' (2008) presents the notion of surrogacy in a comic portrayal of one woman putting all her eggs (literally) into another woman's basket...

...while Jennifer Aniston is set to star in 'The Switch', choosing to go down the artifical insemination route (only who IS the father?)'s amazing how many options there are available. And the voice of current popular culture is making sure it informs us of them.

As women strive to 'have it all' in this oh so trendy day and age, the stress of achieving it all is incredibly wearisome. Our fertile years are purported to be between 20-30, however with the average individual graduating at 21 the likelihood of securing marital and domestic bliss plus your intended career within this time frame is in most cases nil to one. Realistically, the average woman is about 26-27 before she is at the stage where the 'B' word is even factoring in her consciousness...

And then there's the issue of maternity leave - in most cases, you have to have been with your company for at least 3 years to be eligible for the full maternity allowance, unless of course you are in the position where you work for yourself/from home/do not need to work.

And what happens when your choice is taken away and pregnancy arrives without a warning? I have always maintained the importance of 'readiness' - I (personally) want to have achieved the majority of my "singleton" objectives before baby: husband (check), first home (hopefully next year), travel (in the works), financial security (hmmm...). But when will we ever be really ready for what having a baby truly means for our lives, in some ways maybe it would be nice for fate to just take the decision out of our hands.

Especially when we consider the issues one may encounter when finally ready TO try - in our favourite TV shows we watched as first Charlotte in Sex and the City and then Monica in Friends came up against the reality of infertility. A friend and I were having dinner the other night and she said she was seriously considering fertility testing. She's 26 and not yet married to her boyfriend but owns her own home and has a good job, and is not planning to start a family for the next few years but she wants to know that when the time comes, she has done her homework (so to speak).

Compared with our predecessors from decades past, we are fortunate to have numerous portals open to us enabling us with options that were not on the market years ago. But this issue is something that remains at the back of most female minds...

Jennifer Lopez just recently starred in 'The Back-Up Plan' [] about another 30-year old woman who hasn't yet met The One, and tired of waiting decides to strike out on her own via artifical insemination - but of course, Hollywood movie and all, who does she bump into 5 minutes later, but, Mr Right - and guess what, he doesn't mind playing father to her unborn child!!

And, needless to say, the celebrity magazines are full of our favourite movie stars, Sandra Bullock, Angelina Jolie, Meg Ryan to name a few, choosing the philanthropic route of adoption; this could also be an option, though the road is long and tumultuous, but definitely worthwhile.

So, 'baby' is the hot word of the moment. It will be interesting to see if the 1950s housewife re-emerges. The 1980s baby boom (aptly illustrated in the 1987 film starring Diane Keaton) seems to be being repeated and only time will tell if we all decide to give up on the Wall Street/Big City career in favour of making jam in the countryside...!!

Monday, 12 July 2010

It's in the bag!

I have become obsessed with finding THE bag... having thrown out my battered camel slouch bag from Oasis as I attempt to feng shui my flat in preparation for moving back in with my mother (yes I will explain in a moment*), I am faced with a dilemma.

I need [read: want/desire/covet] a statement bag. Just one gorgeous tote to go with everything. One that says stylish, sophisticated and poised. But what to choose??

I found my clutch on the weekend - having trawled for a while for the right one I finally saw it at the Vintage Fashion Fair, held yesterday (Sunday 11 July) at Cecil Sharp House in Camden. Accompanied by my Mother in the glorious sunshine, we discovered a magical, fashion oasis in the heart of North West London. Rails of 1950s prom-style dresses, beautiful pearls from eras past, 1940s fur stoles, pointed shoes from the 1920s, and bags from every era imaginable, with a soundtrack to match. I alighted on a chocolate leather clutch with a topaz buckle dating to the 1960s. I seized it before someone else fell for its buttery soft charms!!

But now, I want the bag. Mulberry? Chloe? Hermes? Chanel? Choices, choices... Continuing our day of fashion and jewels, my Mother and I met up with my Godmother in South Kensington to visit the pre-sale viewing of Hermes handbags and beautiful jewellery at Christie's. Eyeing up the sensational array of Birkins, Pochettes and Kellys in delectable jewel and neutral tones, we were spoiled for choice. (Oh and I may have been tempted to enter a bid for an exquisite solitaire diamond ring with way too many carats!! Don't tell the hubby!)

So to return to my earlier bombshell* I am returning to the Mother Ship with the husband in tow in a couple of months as we trail along this road called 'Saving up for a deposit'. We are in the process of turning my bedroom into our 'new couple' haven complete with widescreen telly and shoe rack!! My extensive collection of Glamour magazines will be boxed up and relegated to the loft as we make way for books and clothes etc. It's exciting times and also no reason why I can't treat myself to a little something...

...a new bag perhaps?!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Say it with Fashion

Maintaining a standard for appearances sake identifies the juncture where politics meets fashion. In an age where an image sells its weight in worth for the value of a thousand words, what we wear can determine not only our fashion kudos but more importantly, our point of view. Issues of state have to be accompanied by a public spectacle and national headline to even nuzzle at our political consciousness. People take notice of a statement. And, if the rapid sell-out of Anya Hindmarch’s ‘I’m not a plastic bag’ in 2007 taught us nothing else, it’s that notoriety breeds awareness.

Fashion has long been an ally to the political arena. Iconic first lady, Jackie Kennedy, used her style know-how and Oleg Cassini’s classic American creations, to create an unprecedented hallmark of presidential success, manipulating the media to promote the image she had so carefully constructed. Every outfit she wore was political apparel, providing her with the perfect photo opportunity to endorse the Kennedy brand and show off the credentials of a land made for dreams. A descendent of this chic statement-dressing, Carla Bruni, wife of the French President, is making steps towards repeating Mrs. JFK’s flair for using her wardrobe to her husband’s diplomatic advantage and for her own passage into the society hall of fame.

Creating a reputation, as a ruse for popularising your personal beliefs and values, distinguishes those who make up the fashion intelligentsia as the ultimate trendsetters. The scepticism that accompanies agenda-trends, relegating them to the confines of a fashion victim’s closet, fails to acknowledge the impact that long-lasting popularity can have in raising not only one’s style, but social sensibility.

Eco-fashion crusader Katherine Hamnett put the voice back into democracy during the early 80s, by wearing her political opinions, quite literally, on her sleeve. The controversial t-shirt Hamnett wore when meeting with then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to highlight the British public’s resistance to basing nuclear weapons in the UK, stating ‘58% DON’T WANT PERSHING’, heralded a powerful freedom of expression. At 2003’s London Fashion Week, Hamnett’s catwalk models stormed the runway with one message ‘NO WAR, BLAIR OUT’ in view of the imminent invasion of Iraq. With the 2008 re-launch, of her infamous, much-copied slogan tees, brandishing such dictums as ‘Choose Life’, directed at drug abuse and suicide, and ‘Clean Up Or Die’, a prophetic adage warning us that how we consume decides the future of the planet; Hamnett is letting fashion do the talking, with the hope of bringing about a much-needed change.

Having been turned into a revolutionary art form, the concept of sloganeering, using the tee as a political debate forum, found its way into the anarchic arms of the punk movement, with anti-authority fashionistas Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren at the helm. Westwood’s 2005 anti-terror campaign, in collaboration with civil rights group, Liberty, again utilised the power of the tee to make a political statement. The provocative, ‘I am not a terrorist’ design caused quite a stir by publicising the undemocratic anti-terror laws being advocated by the so-called democratic British government. Ever one to make a statement, Westwood recognised the unbeatable power of putting the message out there in cotton, black and white.

Fashion is driven by a raw desire to make the world beautiful; whether by adorning it with Swarovski crystals, or by tapping into the human psyche with bold and meaningful words. There are times we feel powerless, adrift and without a voice, and these are the times when even the most resourceful person feels the need to put a message in a bottle, or on a simple cotton tee.

All you wanna do is ride around Harry...

Thought for Today
Men in suits. Men in suits riding around London on bicycles...??!

Quite possibly one of the most paradoxical images to come across during my lunch hour today. Awaiting the halt of traffic at the Green Park interchange and what do I see but a tailored, suited and booted gentleman astride, a bicycle!

With the advent of increasingly expensive public travel, environmental awareness, the importance of healthy living and 'Ride to Work' schemes, I guess it was inevitable that this day would come. Although, of course, 2010 does not mark the debut of such antics as can be seen in the below photograph of the Hawthorn Cycling Club, dated 1900 - 1909:

Caption: Photograph of eleven men with bicycles posed against a background of trees;the men are dismounted and are holding their bicycles; all are dressed in suits and are wearing bicycle clips or have the legs of their trousers tucked into their socks; one man is holding a dog; the men have been identified as members of the Hawthorn Cycling Club []

So, is riding a bicycle retro? Like everything it is cyclical (pun intended), ascending the trend barometer together with similarly 'what's hot' activities, theories, issues, fashions, individuals and so on. I appreciate that this 'suited men on bicycles' has been going for longer than just today, but I just happened to really notice the physical comedy in such a spectacle! However, I do applaud them for taking on the extended commute, tackling their exercise regimes and potentially risking their clean apparel.

What's next, ladies riding scooters in heels?!
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