Tomorrow I begin a week of work experiencing with the Sunday Times. Lucky me, oui? My life then shoots to more drama this time next week as I start a three month placement at the Daily Telegraph (sorry to show off… actually I’m not)  and for a portion of this, at the very least, I will be commuting from Milton Keynes. Flying in the face of convention, the idea of train travel and early mornings isn’t filling me with dread. Here’s why…
 
Once you’ve capitulated and surrendered your life to ‘the man’ there seems to be no less poignant symbol of your life’s broken dreams than the mind-numbing boredom, consistent frustration and health-ruining inactivity of the daily commute. Everyday, trains fill with men and women who 20, 30 or 40 years ago would spend days wondering what the future would bring: would they be an astronaut? An adventurer? A great leader? No, as it turns out, you’re now an assistant manager for a company that sells ‘products’ or ‘solutions’ you don’t even understand. Livin’ the dream, eh?
 
It’s an indictment of modern life that the daily journey which, if you work in London, accounts for a month of your life each year should be seen, and treated, as such an aberration: how can we willingly sacrifice so much of our lives for something that fills us with so much hate and/or depression? A quick minute of Googling will show that there are popular websites dedicated to the hatred of National Express, Thameslink and the London Underground. Are sites like these where we want Britons to spend their leisure time? Can the NHS afford the bill for all the Prozac they’ll all undoubtedly need? Surely not.
 
Well, perhaps before you cry yourself to sleep tonight – mourning all those hours of life you’ll never get back – you should consider how lucky you really are.  For what tells people ‘I’m earning money and can happily walk into HMV and buy a CD without worrying about its cost’ like being present on the 8.13 from Milton Keynes? As one of those youngsters who now qualifies for the ‘long-term unemployed’ club, I can tell you that, if I was successful enough to commute each day, they’d be tears of joy on my pillow each night.
 
Now, I’m not going to try and argue that, after doing the same journey everyday for 24 years, you’re going to love it – or even be able to stand it – but surely it’s time to admit that, for the newest members of the British workforce, there is a prestige and a novelty that are an intrinsic part of the train and bus journeys that fill up so much time.
 
Once you are initiated into this group you suddenly realise that the world is built for your needs more than anyone else’s. Early starts mean you avoid the ‘light’ content that BBC Breakfast and the Today Programme always slides towards after 8am. Instead you get to hear the proper interviews: Mervyn King rather than the cast of Holby City. Similarly, the trains – to someone used to travelling after peak hours – are an image of efficiency. Never before had I managed to travel to Euston from Milton Keynes in under half an hour until I sampled this new world (whilst doing work experience at the Guardian last summer). Staff seem to treat this mass of bodies as a collective VIP: the heart of the UK economy. It is an experience a long way from us ‘after niners’, I assure you. I don’t doubt that there are some atrocious lines and one off events which can lead to frustration but at least you know that you, and your fellow commuters, are the company’s priority.
 
Anyway, in the hour or two that you are in transit, you can pick up a newspaper (or two) and a cup of coffee and – thanks to the mutual anti-social pact that commuters all sign up to – you get precious time in which to read and drink without fear of interruption… amazing. 
 
There is, however, one more basic reason to cherish your daily commute. As young people fail to enter the workforce and established, experienced employees find themselves ‘let go’, your involvement in the daily city-bound surge proves that, however precariously, you are still hanging on to your job.
 
With three month’s worth of unpaid Internship coming up, I will soon be part of this group again and – though I’m relying on a charitable grant, and Labour’s promise to keep interns like me eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance, rather than a wage to pay me through this time – I’ll once again get to feel a part of this daily march of success and employment.

Snow and ice can't stop us... we hope

Hello blog readers,

Yesterday I began a trip to London by foot and, with stiffness and blisters to show for it, Tom Skelton (whose been, to use a Paul Burrel classic, ‘my rock’) and I are now in Hemel Hempstead. Will we be able to finish the trip and make Tom’s gig at the Wilington Arms tonight?

Check out progress at snowwhatsnow.wordpress.com

Fox New's ratings winner Glenn Beck

 Have you ever heard of Glenn Beck?

If your answer was anything other than ‘yes’ then consider yourself blessed. For you have survived the entirety of 2009 without noticing the great fart that has wafted across the Atlantic. Unlike your common or garden post-Christmas fart, however, Glenn Beck has an almost unsurpassed talent for grabbing your attention, calling Obama racist and patriotic crying: not even extra Brussels sprouts will do that to your insides.

Glenn Beck, for the blissfully ignorant, is a presenter on America’s news-lite/fascistic propaganda tool Fox News. As 2009 progressed, we said goodbye to the USA’s least academic president (for the last 600 years at least) and this hole, the unrelenting gap where his stupidity used to lay, has allowed for many other people to showcase their dimness. Glenn Beck may be cleverly scheming his takeover of the planet in his mind but for now he is doing a good imitation of an intellectually challenged individual and has taken the crown of ‘America’s favourite village idiot’ from the former commander-in-chief with relish verging on gusto.

Despite his controversies (as well a calling Obama racist he has a propensity to call anyone left of Franco a ‘communist’) Beck has managed to develop an odd following amongst wet liberal Brits. The shocking popularity of Beck within this demographic has few parallels. One of these is the classic staring-to-see-corpses-at-a-crash side of humanity: instead of swan-necking to see gore, however, lefties sit glued wondering ‘what’s he going to say next?’ The only other parallel that I can think of is the excitement that tends to come from reading Jeremy Clarkson. Anyone who says he is a bad writer is delusional – his style is both entertaining and engaging – but once you’re glued to his columns he will undoubtedly fill your conscious mind with belligerent or knowingly-ignorant views. He may be less obvious than Glenn Beck, and is yet to full on call Obama a white hater but he has had his own share of shameful outbursts, describing Gordon Brown as a ‘cunt’ and describing Britain as ‘Mosque-drenched’. There is no doubt about the offensiveness of his words but still lefties and liberals are glued to his columns and glued to Top Gear too.

In fact, there is a huge swathe of evidence to suggest that we’ll read views we hate with just as much pleasure and passion as those we agree with. Last month the Guardian reprinted an article by Sarah Palin in which she called on Obama and others to boycott the Copenhagen Summit on climate change. As of today this one article has attracted 1074 comments, which goes to show the power of venim over readership rates. And this has led me to make a conclusion that might have given me my best chance to be a ‘commentator’ on a national newspaper yet. Why don’t we swap around some of the writers on national newspapers? How many Independent readers would rush downstairs each morning to open their paper if Richard Littlejohn was provocatively ranting about the pointlessness of immigrants? Guardian readers would love to get worked up over Simon Heffer’s antiquated conservatism and just imagine the impact on Daily Mail sales if Polly Toynbee joined and started spouting her ‘extreme’ views about equal pay or the need to tighten up rape laws? Readers would love the chance to get so passionately worked up within the comfort of their regular, comforting newspaper pages.

So I submitted a couple of pieces to the Daily Telegraph to see if I could get in on the act: could I become the next love/hate figure for the grand old paper? Surely a young, lefty/liberal young man such as I have it in me to cause the older part of the paper’s readership a bit of bad tempered harrumphing? So I wrote these two pieces and, not surprisingly, have heard nothing back… I still think it’s a really good idea though, don’t you?

Is Europe not serving the interests of Britain? We can only blame ourselves.

Let me start with an admission: the fact that a European President and Foreign Commissioner can be appointed without either of them having been voted in does, I think, eat away at the Union’s legitimacy. Its beggar’s belief that a room full of politicians can sit around a table, eat swan or peasant or something, can make such momentous decisions in secrecy. Did they really think that we’d all be fine with that?

We, in Britain, have no real reason to complain though. All the way along we have had to be dragged by our little toes into Europe like somebody’s been saying ‘sit in turd’ rather than ‘let’s pool our resources’. Every time there is a summit, instead of leading the way and positively directing improvements in the system, we show up with absurd ‘red lines’ telling Johnny Foreigner that we didn’t fight two world wars to let you choose whether we use metric or imperial. I thought we fought two world wars in order to stop an egotistic nationalist from spreading intolerance (and the death) across the Western world: maybe it’s just me. 

Can you imagine what it’s like for all the other member states? There they are planning how to ensure peace and prosperity for all their members and integrate enough decisions to create a ‘block’ to rival America and China on the world stage; when in come a load of UK delegates telling the other states that they, categorically, cannot cooperate with anything that any other nation proposes. At least at the moment I can calm myself with thoughts that Brown, Mandelson and Milliband turn up and, quite apologetically, explain that their voters and press are forcing them to stall on everything. Can you imagine what it will be like if Cameron wins and he is less helpful than even his electorate demands? I swear Sarkozy will punch him.

The problem is that, at the moment, nobody is going to be won over by Europe because we don’t bother to invest the time in it. If, for example, people had had a tad more enthusiasm in the UK for Europe then maybe we could have used the tragic situation of Madeline McCann’s kidnapping as an opportunity to demand better communication between our different police services. As it was we complained about the Portuguese to such an extent that they’ve probably let 20, 000 tourists’ bags get stolen just out of spite. Probably.

Our relationship to Europe is that of a very badly behaved party guest: we turn up, pour wine on the Hi-fi, chuck half those attending out through a top floor window and then complain that it’s a rubbish party with no music and too few guests. I reckon if we weren’t there they’d all be having a far better time. ‘So would we’, I hear you cry, but if we weren’t at this party then we’d be at home eating beans on toast and watching Location, Location, Location: we’ve not been invited to any other parties, you see.

If we’d been better behaved and Europe’s politicians hadn’t spent quite so much time at Lisbon thinking how they could keep anything worthy of a treaty still alive whilst ensuring British involvement, someone might have had a moment to realise that picking a president at the same time as quaffing champagne and munching on pan fried Foie gras might not send out quite the right message. You never know it could have been a Briton who ironed out that little problem: how proud we’d all have been then, eh?

The other chorus I can hear being chanted towards my ears goes something like: ‘if its so bloomin’ great why not let us have a referendum’. Two words are all that’s needed here: representative democracy. We never had a referendum on Maastricht, nor on Amsterdam; yet, if we had had one on Lisbon we would have to have one on every EU decision for ever and ever and ever. If our Foreign Minister decided to ask his Italian counterpart where the toilet was he’d have to consult the British public whether or not he could take the Italian’s advice. Suddenly the slowness and inefficiency which is so complained about would be tripled and quadrupled by British bureaucracy. Oh, and as we’ve recently seen, referenda soon cause laws like the banning of minarets which make so-called ‘bonkers’ European law look like a Veritas manifesto.  

No, in Britain, we elect people who are more informed than you or me and can protect the interests of minorities and the sensible. So there’s no death penalty; no flogging of immigrants; no return to the 1950s (because everything was better when you knew your local bobby and kidney transplants were still an exotic dream, apparently) and it’s all thanks to representative democracy. Sort of.

Anyway, if we want the European Union to be more efficient, less expensive and more explicitly ‘in the British interest’ then we need to turn up with the right attitude. Can we really expect the French, Germans and other nationalities to make an EU we’re happy with whilst they have to pull an unhelpful, complaining neighbour along with them at every stage? If we’re not happy with the goings on of Brussels, we can only blame the vocal Euro sceptics in the UK for not letting them get on and make it better, wouldn’t you agree?

 

Why we have to ban private schools…

Everyone always talks about where we go after we die: will I meet my primary school dinner lady again? Will the afterlife accept nectar cards? There’s a whole industry (religion) set up to deal with our musings and comfort our numerous worries.

A far less mused over mystery is where we are BEFORE we arrive. Where were we in that moment before the Milkman’s eye twinkled? Like the afterlife, this is a realm of existence we’ll never have any conclusive proof about so it provides a lot of scope for time-wasting wonderings.

The best way, I decided after much thought, to see this pre-life era is to imagine that we’re all on some Alien Space Station (A.S.S., teehee!) floating around aimlessly waiting for the ‘off’. Over millions of years we get to float about a bit until this space capsule starts to act like a massive Lotto machine. Round and round we move until, suddenly, a few holes appear in the ‘chassis’ and we’re sprayed randomly into ‘life’.

Some of us end up in the tummies of poor Indian farmers’ wives; some of find ourselves in the Arctic as baby Eskimos and a few very lucky ones find themselves in the stomachs of some Lady Von Haw-haw-Lexington or other.

Whilst the poor Indian farmer baby is suddenly faced with a fate of back-breaking work and has little freedom to choose his or her life; the one who was randomly given the vessel of an aristocrat in which to swim gets horse-riding and organic pineapple chunks to grow up with instead.

On top of that, that lucky sod (to use the scientific term) also gets to fund whichever childhood ambition they choose. Beatrice wants to be a DJ? Here’s a £10 000 studio in which to record Tarquin ‘MC Gangsta Street’ DuVere. Or would little Leopold like to be selfless and teach for a living? Why not try the career out in Bolivia for two years first?

Whichever way you look at it, life is better if you have the immense good fortune to be born into the British upper middle class. Opportunities are abundant; you’re surrounded by other carefully nurtured people at all times and all the food you will eat will taste great all the time. And what did you do to deserve all this? Save a grandmother from a burning building? Find a cure for cancer? Nope: all you had to do was be in the right place at the right time when ‘lives’ were randomly allocated before birth. Well done.

If, as I’m sure we are all agreed, I’m right to think of the pre-conception world as working like a massive Lotto machine (wasn’t one of them called Arthur? Let’s call ours Arthur too) then in-built into the workings of the universe is a spectacular amount of inequality. I think a quick stroll around reality would quite quickly prove how right I am: has the baby born to the clueless 14 year old mum in a run-down estate really got just as much chance of becoming Prime Minister as the 4th Duke of Windsor’s favourite nephew? Honestly?

What kind of inequality-loving sadist, then, would add to all the unfairness of everything by siphoning the richest and most carefully-bred children off to their own schools? I’m sure this isn’t how people who put their kids into these schools think but, from the outside, it looks like your saying: ‘little Harry’s not going anywhere near you filthy little oiks. He need to amongst his own people’.

Imagine, just for a second, what the effect of all those children in the state sector could mean. Firstly, if I’d have had kids who’d been encouraged to learn foreign languages outside of school then I’m sure we would have all been better equipped to try: ‘Have you heard Jenkins speaking French, Gavin?’

‘Oh rather’, my old class-mate might have replied.

Everyone needs a challenge at school and by taking away the one who get all the private tuition (which, incidentally, means they’ll succeed at any school) you are taking away a whole level of attainment for students to see and to aspire to.

Secondly, and more importantly, if the state sector suddenly took on all these accidentally well-born kids then there’d be a huge, massive, unbelievable rise in the power and in-put of parents. Perhaps my school would have had fund-raisers for trips to Bengal. Or maybe one of the successful businessmen or women who’d now make up the PTA would donate a top range printer and editing suite for our non-existing school newspaper.

Whilst the majority of my friends’ parents worked all hours (both of them, if there were two), there would be at least some Nigella Lawson-types to come from the private sector. These Mums and Dad’s could use all the spare time and effort that they currently spend trying to out-do each other with their nativity costumes, demanding the best for all of children in the school. By having the social segregation that having a private sector causes, it means that even those in the state sector who have an evening free each week don’t know what their children are missing out on.

 For what is, essentially a quirk or fate and a stroke of very good luck, the children of the rich get a hell of a lot as reward. If George Osborne put his policies where his mouth is and put us ‘all in this together’ then we’d start to attack the great divide caused by an uncontrollable fact: to whom you are born.

 If we don’t just want to pour bucket loads of oil on to this class fuelled fire then we must, surely, ban private schools.

Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall, Alexander Boris De Pfeffel Johnson, The Queen; I was always aware that people had ‘posh’ names but, until recently didn’t realise I was one of them.

In the past two weeks I’ve written two blogs for the Guardian website about my attempts to find work. Being young, enthusiastic and – I hope – talented I’ve tried to get noticed by national papers for the written work that I can do. I knew pretty quickly that my ambitious strategy would make me some enemies but I wasn’t ready for one of their attacks.

Apparently, the hyphen in my name (Gockelen-Kozlowski) is an unforgivable sign of privilege that means I’m instantly pushed up to the upper classes. It’s this anti hyphen feeling which led Conservative leader David Cameron to comment last month that Annunziata Rees-Mogg should change her name to Nancy Mogg. Unfortunately, however, unlike other members of the upper classes, somebody’s forgotten to give me the trust fund, good teeth and yachting holidays that usually come with membership: I’ve never formulated anything on the ‘playing fields of Eton’.

'We are all in this together'... or at least they seem to be.

Rather than pointing to a background in banking or pharmaceuticals my name is a patchwork of poor European families who escaped death and disease to come to England: It’s like wearing a T-Shirt which says, ‘It took a lot of persecution to make me’ and that’s why I love it. My family doesn’t have a coat of arms or village named after it but I have both my parent’s names with me always.

My name also gives my Mum some credit for all her hard work. As John Lennon so eloquently put it, it’s “she what bore you in the back bedroom, full of piss and shit and fuckin’ midwives”. Surely that deserves a mention?

Finally, my parents have, for as long as I can remember, been divorced. There’s my Mum (Gockelen) and my Dad (Kozlowski) and then there’s me: the only Gockelen-Kozlowski in the world. Brilliant. My surname is the creation of modern thinking, a modern world and equality.

And, if that’s true for me, who else is being wrongly labelled privileged? I asked some of my friend to see what, in 2009, was the cause of their elongated monikers. One friend quickly replied ‘my Dad’s a feminist’. Simple as that. Another admitted hers was denoting of grand lineage but, as she pointed out, it was her Mum’s name that she’s just taken after growing up in a single parent family.

 Most common cause of all though was ‘divorce’. When I mentioned my double-barrelled criticisms to a lady at my work experience placement she explained that her eight year old son had two names. His parents, like mine, divorced when he was very young and so a single ‘family’ name wouldn’t be appropriate. As she pointed out too, “it’ll be his choice when he’s older whether he keeps both our names”.

If divorce is, as it seems from an admittedly unscientific bit of research then most double-barrelled names are a symbol of the changing face of Britain’s families. So when David Cameron demands his prospective MPs to ‘drop’ their extra names it may not just be an aversion to his party looking posh: maybe he just doesn’t like broken Britons very much?

Being God must be rubbish. Sure you have the power to create continents and dishwashers but that must get boring after the first couple of billion years – no matter how much you pace yourself.

Existing out of linear time (as God apparently does) he, she or it must already know what objects and ideas are about to be created or destroyed: God’s doing it after all. Walking down a darkened alley with God, you might as well find a ballerina kicking a troll’s head in, shouting “who the hell is Gloria Estefan anyway?” Even then, God would only shrug and say: “oh yeah, kinda odd I suppose”. He’d seen it coming, after all.

Imagine if you’d known from the start that Obama was going to win or that Michael Owen was going to lose his form: it would take all the fun out.

Happily, as someone who is definitely not God, I don’t have this worry. I’m to omniscience what crystal meth is to a healthy lifestyle and so am blessed with constant surprises and have a child-like attitude of wonder to even the most mundane things in life: bus stops, for example. Mad.

A lot of people try to make out they’re knowledgeable about everything. Some middle-aged men, especially, will say: “I’ve been around the block a few times” as if having been at the 1974 League Cup final makes you a fountain of powerful knowledge. The cleverest people over 30 seem all too aware that they have barely scratched the surface of Earth’s mysteries. Ask Stephen Hawking about the events of Big Brother 4 and you’ll see what I mean.

The best option is to just swim in your ignorance: lie in the unimaginable sea of facts which surround you and feel at peace that you can never fit all of them in. Obviously there’s nothing worse than being patronised so you can’t wallow in your stupidity too often but an occasional backstroke through human history, science or culture is just what the doctor ordered.

And that’s what’s so great about music. You can listen to music professionally, review and explore it for the sake of others but there’ll still be too many great songs to listen to. Tried the Sheffield scene? What about Bradford? Skegness? Tattenhoe? If all you want is white middle class young men weeping onto into your ears about being single – even with such narrow wishes – there’ll still be too much music for you to ever listen to.

There’s therefore nothing better than spending a day on Spotify, YouTube and last.fm and letting yourself roam free. Either you can pick a band you like and listen to other bands who seem similar or have worked with them: within a minute you can get from the Fugees to Motown and then you’re

The utterly brilliant Tango Negro Trio

 listening to some 60s band that’s been forgotten by history.

Alternatively, you can just pick a country and see what happens. Estonia, Ghana and Argentina are fantastically rich in great music and most of it even the greatest connoisseur will never have heard of. Amazing.

With new music available to people who’d never been able to afford it or were averse to taking risks with things they weren’t sure they’d like, we are now in a position to let everybody share in a wide, strange and beautiful spread of music outside what we are expected to be fed. 

Here are a few bands/people I’ve discovered like this…

Tango Negro Trio,

Brett Smiley,

Current 93,

Enrique Rodriguez,

She & Him,

Os Mutantes,

Question Mark & The Mysterions,

Craig Morgan

Krista Sildoja.

So basically, I’m just gonna hand out some of these card things and, like, I’ll probably get a job as a columnist and cultural commentator by next week. I mean I’ve done absolutely nothing about it but I think writing reviews, snippets and features might be something I’ll not hate… It’s pretty easy too, right?

Wrong.

I don’t need telling that a few bits of cardboard and a polite; ‘thank you for your time’, isn’t how you get people to pay for your writing.  What I do need, though, are readers. You. If I don’t get people reading my words and seeing what I’m doing then how, I ask, am I ever going to stand out from the crowd?

I’ve spent the best part of two years emailing journalists with requests for advice and PDFs of my student newspaper and magazines. I’ve done a lot of hard work the orthodox way and had some great responses. There are some amazing writers who’ve been more generous with their time than I can ever thank them for: just an email means a huge amount.

Unfortunately, however, I can’t rely on emails as a way of making contact with busy, busy people. Roughly every 20 emails I send will give me one good reply and – from chatting with like-minded friends – I think this is a pretty general rule. If so few of the industry’s influential people have time to reply to speculative emails from youngsters then it would take decades to get that ‘right place, right time’ moment. It’s already been six months.

This is why you received my card (if you did): it’s a way to show I’m here and to attract a few more people to read my work. Just as I’ve been doing for different websites and companies for months, I’ll write you up anything you want. For free.

I know it won’t start me on the road to fame, fortune or regular pay cheques but if someone decides (as they’ve already done) to give me a shot and get me to write something then this whole ‘affair’ has been, in my eyes, completely justified.

If you get a moment – take a look at some of my other posts here and, you never know, you might like what you read.

There will be some of you arriving on this site thanks to my piece on the Guardian website or my haranguing of your workplace… Hello.

In honour of your attendance I thought I might just post a few links to recent stuff I’ve done other than this blog. Shameless (but necessary) self-promotion is becoming a bit of a habit.

 Pixie Lott interview

Julian Casablancas review

Les Plastiscines gig review

Thanks for reading