Saturday, 11 June 2011

Atlas Of Imaginary Worlds 14: World Of The Elemental Benders

Back in March, along with the 9-year old who lives in my house and his mother, I watched the movie, 'The Last Airbender' (2010).  This movie had been panned by critics who saw the special effects as poor and the story as very confused.  It was portrayed as the nadir of director M. Night Shyamalan's career.  Everything was apparently wrong with this movie, with even 'The Guardian' complaining that the word 'bender' (misused as an outdated derogatory term for transvestites and homosexuals) was used too much in the movie.  The movie is based on the very successful 'Avatar: The Legend of Aang' (2005-8) animated television series which ran for three seasons.  It was aimed at 6-11 year old children though was one of the most successful series for under-14s run in the USA.

The series is heavily influenced by various Asian cultures, the word 'avatar' being used in the sense that it is in Sanskrit, to be a reborn descendant of a previous incarnation rather than the way we tend to use it as a substitute for an individual operating in a different realm.  Interestingly, there are also elements of Western culture, notably the focus on the four elements: air, earth, fire and water, in contrast to the five Chinese elements, earth, fire, metal, water and wood.  The stories are set in an imaginary world, which I look at in more detail below, with tribes that are associated with one of the four elements.  Each tribe has 'benders', people who can manipulate their particular element for defence or offence.  Those bending different elements use different martial art forms: for air it is Bāguàzhǎng; for earth it is Hung Ga kung fu; for fire it is Northern Shaolin kung fu, notably with projecting kicks and for water is it Tai Chi.  There is reference to a person's chi (in Japanese ki) being able to keep them warm.

Each generation an avatar comes, a person with ability to manipulate all four elements, though originating in turn from among one particular type of people.  S/he is also able move into the spirit world to speak with the various spirits who control aspects of the world.  Whilst this seems somewhat like Shintoism, you have to remember that in the West, especially in Classical epics, heroes went into the Underworld to speak with the dead or the as-yet unborn.  In the movie and the television stories, the current avatar is Aang awoken from where he was frozen in ice.  He is the sole remaining airbender following the massacre of all other airbenders.  The key antagonists are the Fire Empire, with steampunk technology, and populated in the movie by people looking like those from our Indian subcontinent.  The earth people appear Chinese; the water people are Anglo-Saxon/Nordic in the South living like Inuit and in the North like Russians or Swedes of the 18th century and the air people, of whom we only see monks and nuns who are airbenders seem to be Tibetan or Khmer, as their culture seems Buddhist; this is poignant given that Aang wanders passed numerous shallow-buried skeletons in the movie in a location looking like Angkor Wat.

As to the movie's story being too complex, I would say if it can be followed by a 9-year old, then it is not overly complex.  Basically it is as follows:  the Fire Empire wants to conquer the world; a boy with powers is revived and helped by friends to gain powers; a son of the Fire Empire ruler tries to capture the boy to win back the affection of his father; both this son and the avatar are opposed by a power-hungry general; there is a climax in which the avatar beats the Fire Empire forces besieging a city and the emperor's son escapes, so setting up events for the sequel (this is supposed to be a trilogy).  The special effects are fine and are certainly as good as anything you would see in the 'Narnia' movies, in fact, used in a more imaginative way.  I think the key thing which upsets reviewers, especially in the USA, is that 'The Last Airbender', like 'The Golden Compass' (2007 which has people's souls manifested as animals) and 'Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief' (2010 featuring a demi-god son of Greek god Poseidon, growing up in contemporary USA) draw from concepts outside the Anglo-American interpretation of the Judaeo-Christian approach.  The Narnia movies (2005-10) and 'The Lord of the Rings' movies (2001-3) laud and even the Harry Potter movies (2001-11) appear to fit into.  In many ways these other movies bring a refreshing approach to fantasy rather than rehashing very tired concepts, yet that seems to open them up to harsh criticism, judging them on a different basis to fantasy movies from the kinds of contexts that so many reviewers seem to feel are the only acceptable ones. 

'The Last Airbender' is certainly far from being Shyalaman's nadir and in fact even as an adult I am interested to see what happens next, but I fear no sequel will never be made as too many reviewers have done a good job of burying this movie as they did 'The Golden Compass'.  I do also think that many UK-US reviewers have an issue with movies in which Asians are the lead characters; they have to be either poor people eliciting sympathy as with 'Slumdog Millionaire' (2008), comic characters like Jackie Chan's roles in Hollywood movies or the baddies as with Jet Li's roles in movies he has made in the West.  How long that attitude will be permitted in a world in which China and India wield such economic might remains to be seen.

Anyway, setting aside my view of the movie, I was interested to see what the world featured in 'The Last Airbender' looked like.  Maps of this world, for which I can find no name, feature in the movie and I was able to find a number online shown below.  Doing a search I found a number of interesting versions from a website called 'Deviant Art' but I avoided those as it seemed to be something pornographic and I worried that in some perverse way this setting was being suborned for inappropriate uses.

Maps of the World of the Elemental Benders

This one shows the different elements bent in the different regions.  Red is the Fire Empire, blue are the water nomads, beige is the earth regions and white are the air regions, though from what I know of the story all but one air bender has been killed, I assumed along with many of the people of these regions.  The water regions are polar, the other areas temperate or tropical.

A slightly different map including the symbols for the different elements next to the regions where they are predominant.

These maps show us locations appearing in the television series and the movie.  The Fire Empire laid siege to Basing Se for 100 days without success and in the movie goes to attack the main city of the water tribe of the North, but is defeated due to the intervention of Aang the Avatar who by this stage has mastered water bending in addition to air bending.

Looking at these maps we see classic elements of fantasy worlds which I discussed at length back in 2007-8.  There are the compulsory inland seas at the centre of the main continent.  Other features remind me of other fantasy locations.  The Fire Empire reminds me of Melnibone in the Elric series by Michael Moorcock:  The two polar regions look like distorted versions of Antarctica in our world.  Seeing the movie, I had wondered if it was set on our world in some distant future after significant geological changes.  We see a strange flying rodent creature large enough to carry people, reminiscent of the animal that carries the hero in 'The Never Ending Story' (1984) and there is a lemur-bat creature reminding of some of the envisaged evolved creatures in 'After Man: A Zoology of the Future' (1981) and the other similar books that followed.  The landscapes are pretty varied something the movie makes good use of and it is often difficult to tell when what you are seeing is not part of New Zealand and where it is CGI-generated, especially with the air monasteries.  This is an interesting fantasy series which adds another fantasy world to the canon.  In my view, if you have a child 11 or younger, ignore the view of the critics and rent the movie on DVD; you may find that, like me, you pretty much enjoy it too.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Attitude To Cycling Betrays Wider Societal Attitudes

Over the weekend I read a report featured in 'The Guardian' which not only noted that only 2% of journeys in the UK are by bicycle, compared to 25% in the Netherlands, 24% in Moscow, and 20% in Denmark, but that the bulk of adults saw cycling as something that only children or eccentrics did.  Subsequently people noted that the Netherlands is a flat country, but that is only part of the story as in Germany 12% of journeys are by bicycle and in Switzerland 9% and Austria 8%, countries with some of the highest mountains in Europe.
There are regional exceptions.  It is noted that in French cities like Paris and Marseilles fewer than 2% of journeys are by bicycle, whereas in Grenoble and Lille it is over 5% and in Strasbourg, over 15%.  In the UK, towns like Doncaster, Oxford and Milton Keynes are noted for having higher levels of cyclists.

Another factor people neglect is the fact that in the UK house prices mean that people have to commute farther than anyone else in Europe in order to reach work, making cycling there far harder.  Even back in 2003, Britons commuted for 45 minutes compared to 36 minutes in France and 23 minutes in Italy and the EU average of 38 minutes.  People with higher education qualifications in Britain commute 50% more than the UK average; given that 42% of 18-year olds now attend university,  average commuting times must now be higher.  Ironically the cost of living in the UK makes it less likely that people will cycle simply because they have to cover such large distances between home and work.  The fragmentation of secondary schools with so many faith and specialist schools where even just twenty years ago there would have been comprehensive schools taking all comers brings a similar issue to teenagers.
Geography will play a part but mountainous countries such as Spain and Colombia are noted for their world class cyclists as much as flatter countries like Belgium and the Netherlands.  However, there are attitudinal issues too.  Britain's success in cycling events at the Beijing Olympics, the Halfords sponsored city races and the greater prominence of British cyclists in international events appears to have not shifted attitudes at all. 

One might think that a prejudice may develop from seeing cycling as an activity of poor societies, with cities such as Dhaka in Bangladesh having 40% of its journeys by bicycle and Chinese cities such as Beijing (48%), Shenyang (65%) and Tianjin (77%) even in an era of capitalist prosperity, adhering to a mode of transport more reminiscent of China's Communist past.  Yet, you only have to go to an average bicycle shop, rather than a chain store like Halfords, to see bicycles for non-specialists retailing at over £1000 (€1090; US$1590) and to get even a basic adult bicycle new is unlikely to cost less than £300.  The key problem in Britain is less that it is seen as being an activity associated with the poor or undesirable (when did you ever see a chav on a bicycle?), it is that when you cycle you actually have to take consideration of other people around you, even of the weather.  You have to expend personal energy to propel the vehicle, thus drawing on traits other than your wealth or ability to intimidate other road users.  That is not what the average British person wants to do.  When they go on to the roads, they want to demonstrate how much better and richer they are than other people.  They expect other road users to get out of their way or to be able to intimidate them to do so.  Now I am driving in London more, I am witnessing many more cases of drivers in side roads forcing their way into the main flow of traffic purely through intimidation not right of way.

In many Western countries there is a reluctance to cycle, the figures show it.  Even in France, the home of the greatest cycle race in the world, the number of cycle journeys is little more than double the British figure.  However, having cycled in France, Belgium, Spain, Germany and Austria I know that whilst drivers may not want to cycle themselves they do not seem to have the desire to prevent other people from doing so.  The hostility to cyclists in the UK is alarming.  I have numerous personal anecdotes of abuse, fortunately in most cases a person on a bicycle can out manoeuvre a car slowing down and certainly outstrip a driver who chases after you on foot.  There is an intense anger against cyclists from car drivers as if we are out to deliberately offend the drivers.  Much humour is derived from shouting, spitting and manhandling cyclists in a way which would be deemed criminal activity elsewhere in the world or, interestingly, even in the UK, if both individuals were on foot.  The key problem is that too many drivers see their self-esteem based on their car and people acknowledging repeatedly, their 'superiority' throughout the duration of their journey.  The British are so insecure that they have to conjure up such challenges and resassert their machismo/a on a daily basis.

Anyone who drives in the UK, knows these things to be self-evident.  The situation has deteriorated since I received my driving licence in 1986.  Even if the number of vehicles on the road had not increased, a view that to get into a kind of battle and 'stomp' around in a car with no signalling and little recognition of right of way or the purpose of lanes or what red lights signal would make driving so hazardous.  Anyone who was on British roads on the afternoon of Friday 3rd June 2011 would have seen in front of them and heard on the radio reports the consequences of such driving.  Vast sections of major motorways and main roads were at a standstill as a result of accidents and jams caused by bad driving.  The thing is that such attitudes, such contempt for other people simply trying to make their way home as if they were doing something corrupt or perverse is pervasive right through British society.  There seem to be few countries in the EU in which people hold others of the same nationality in such contempt as in the UK.  It is most apparent on the roads, but you see it in shops, in parks, on the street even abuse shouted between neighbours.

The attitude to cyclists is only a most visible example, in so much of British society the assumption is that any other view, any other need aside from that of yourself, is wrong and intrusive and not only has to cease but the perpertrator has to be chastised through abuse and even assault. Margaret Thatcher's property-owning democracy made bicycles items that we strove to forget our poorer parents rode on.  David Cameron's 'Big Society' only makes the me-first attitude worse, by reducing the opportunities and resources in society the fighting over them becomes that harsher.  It literally adds to not the 'big' society but the 'fragmented' society, the broken glass society, the society of a sixty million bunkers from which people spit and punch out at anyone else, even in the houses around them, let alone in their town, let alone across the country as a whole.  Britain is becoming an increasingly violently intolerant society.  How, if people cannot stomach someone who drives in a different way or is simply one car ahead of them, let alone on such a weird (and clearly threatening) form of transport as a bicycle, can they ever live among people with different surnames, let alone size, age, colour, religion, politics ...

The negative attitude to cycling is a part of the negative British attitude towards pollution and to ill-health.  It seems ironic in particular that we think obesity and ill-health is someone else's problem.  These above everything else are actually our problems.  By turning our noses up at a way which can help us (and even more vitally our children) keep fit and reduce pollution we will harm ourselves and the ones we fight so hard to protect from 'weirdos who ride bicycles'.  I am pessimistic that we can break the current pattern of aggressive, even violent driving.  This means that cycling will be a hazardous activity and in turn seen as something only those too young to have a proper recognition of what it means to be a 'real' wo/man, i.e. being a driver or something only those who should be despised would indulge in.  Until we can address the aggressive individualism which is so prevalent in British society we are never going to see an increase in cycling, instead we will continue to see the rise in pollution and obesity.  Thus, gauging the attitude to cycling and cyclists is a way of seeing how healthy a society is as a whole.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Fear Of Putting A Foot Wrong In A New Job

As noted in my last posting, after 12 months of unemployment I have finally found work.  Whilst that has lifted a great deal of burden off me and lifted the threat of losing my house and never being able to own one again, it has opened up new fears, which in my weariness after joblessness, weigh heavily on me. 

One key fear is that I will not be able to do the job.  Much of the feedback I received from interviews over the past year has been incredibly negative.  One company sent me three pages of criticisms of my performance in the interview and another accused me of having lied on my application form because when they met me they felt I was incompetent and could not have been the man who appied.  When I was a teenager you were told that if you saw a vacancy for which you could match 4 out of 5 of the requirements you should apply for it.  That principle has long gone.  These days not only do you have to match 25 out of 25 of the listed requirements but also show evidence of what you have done.  I think this may be one reason why youth unemployment has reached a level even higher than in the 1980s even though overall unemployment has yet to reach that decade's peak.  Recruitment has become 'mechanised' and so the young without vast experience now do not even get the chance to show their potential because they are filtered out at stage one for not being able to say they have 3 years' experience using every piece of industry software listed on the job specification.  The increase in industry-specific qualifications which I have also noted on this blog, is an additional factor in this too.  By the time I applied for recent jobs, I was stretching every crumb of experience so as to match the specifications.  I was scrupulous in never lying, not even exaggerating, but now fear that I am simply not as confident or as skilled in the wide range of activities my job expects me to undertake as the interviewers believed as a result of my desperation to get interviews.

Other fears stem from coming into a new office and company environment.  I made a huge mistake in going to work for my last employer.  I had not checked what kind of working culture they had and so was really caught out when I found that it was a culture from the 1950s.  The snobbery and social class division at the company was incredible.  I was told that I should not be at the level that I as at, not because I could not do the job (I actually did it far better than my predecessor), but because of my social background.  I was told this blatantly by my line manager.  Bizarre things such as me being unable to say what my favourite recipe cooked on an Aga (a range oven burning wood or coal costing around £6000) was used to show how unsuited I was for the post.  I do not anticipate this in my new job, but it has made me very cautious of 'not fitting in'. 

In two of my last three jobs I have been bullied.  In my last full-time post a manager took a personal dislike to me from the start and taking individual words from emails portrayed me as setting up a 'resistance group' within the company.  She went around eliciting any negative comment or even neutral comment, that she could use to compile a list of complaints against me.  None of the complaints had substance and the word were taken out of context and blown up into some fantasy.  It made me phobic of saying or doing anything, knowing that even good work could be twisted some way to appear as a flaw.  The trade union representative found it incredible that she could do such things.  However, like me he recognised that these days you have little ability to fight back when someone even in a slightly more senior position decides to use the system against you.  Her behaviour cost the company thousands of pounds but they seem to have taken no steps to head off something like that happening again.  Procedures are wonderful for helping run a company smoothly, but too often in the hands of someone with a personal grudge, as I have seen happening too often to colleagues of mine, they can easily be used as a method of bullying.

Two jobs back from that I was bullied for a year by a colleague on the same level as me.  He was incredibly arrogant believing that anything that came out of our office had to have been influenced by his ideas and so should have his name on it rather than mine.  He was terribly impatient and assumed that if he sent an email it would be received instantly and in turn he would expect an instant response.  As anyone who has worked in a large company knows, this does not always happen.  I have had emails arrive between 4 and 14 days after they have beens sent and internal mail has arrived up to 2 months late.  In addition, I had other work to do other than that which involved him, often on behalf of more senior staff or with a greater urgency.  On aspect on which I was employed was my ability to time manage and prioritise, which I did.  Yet, of course, that often meant his work involving me had to wait in a queue, something he could not accept.  He was also critical of me for not being married or having children and so felt it meant I was immoral.  In fact I led a quiet, celibate life free from drugs and alcohol abuse.  This was not enough, the simple fact that I was unmarried implied to him that I must be a reprobate and unsuitable for work alongside him.  Both these bullies were 'nice people' liked by those they were not bullying and in both cases it proved impossible to make more than a handful of people understand how much I was suffering from working with them.  Bullying in 2 out of 3 jobs make me fear it will happen again, to the long-term detriment of my career.

I have certainly learnt not to say anything of my private life; not to have a photograph of my girlfriend or her child on my desk, because I have found these would be things used against me.  At my last job so many characteristics of my girlfriend (being from abroad originally, coming from a 'low' social class [daughter of a police officer], being a single parent, running her own business) were criticised and these criticisms were added to those of me, even though she had never even been within 120 Km of the company site while I was working there.  From now on I am going to keep all mention of my life outside work a complete secret.  Conversely, though, I do worry that I will be charged with being 'distant' or 'cold' because I cannot bring a wife along to work social events.  It seems ironic in an age when you have to complete extensive 'equal opportunities' forms every time you apply for a job, outlining your nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, marital status and any disabilities, to then find that even minor elements of these will, in fact, be used as a basis on which to criticise you.

Another thing I have learnt in the past 2-3 years is not to hold too tightly to the truth.  I think that I feel a real discomfort when lies are spoken partly because of Asperger's tendencies (and going for a proper diagnosis of that, I have now been persuaded, would be best put back if I want to keep my job).  However, as I have noted before, we are in an era of management culture which again smacks of the 1950s, with bosses feeling freer to say 'my way or the highway', to compel workers, no matter what their level to 'put up and shut up' rather than raising concerns about what is planned.  Of course, this is a trend which is prevalent in Chinese companies and government so I guess we should not be surprised to see it so common here in the UK.  In addition, the 'whip of unemployment' is back in full effect just as many employers were crying out for in the mid-2000s.  I am certainly cowed by it and know that in the coming year I am going to have to bite my lip and not speak out even when I see a plan which is bound for disaster.  It is ironic given that I have been employed for my expertise in 17 areas and have reached office manager level, that my views are not only not solicited but even raising concerns risks me losing my job.  You can term this the 'Titanic mentality' but it seems increasingly prevalent in British business and as a consequence projects are going to be driven through without sufficient discussion or reflection, based on the enthusiasm of one or two individuals rather than drawing on the knowledge of a range of staff.

Related to having to remain silent about any potential flaws in proposals is the need to check word-for-word everything that I write or say.  In my last post, emails would be checked literally word-by-word by my line manager and single 'offending' words were used as the basis for complaint. It was not about the overall content or the thrust of an argument, simply about the vocabulary used.

I speak plainly and clearly, but now need to learn how to discuss issues, no matter how controversial they may be, in language as circumspect as that used in the court of the Japanese emperor.  When a single word in a set of minutes or a report can be used to suggest you are trying to undermine the company, you have to check and check again.  Not only that, you have to quickly understand what your managers and colleagues understand by certain phrases, even if that understanding is out of step with the rest of the industry.  In the age of desktops and laptops we are all our own secretaries, but from now on, I am going to get as much written by other staff as possible so at least to put a 'fire gap' between me and the readers of the minutes or reports, knowing that so much will be 'lost in translation' as we battle to know what the readers (not only those who the material is intended for, but anyone who may stumble across it later too) understand by individual words.

Another challenge for me is length of communications.  As I have noted before, there is a demand for everything to be very brief as if Twitter has become the baseline for our communications.  Again I have been criticised for the simple length of what I write, not the content.  I have failed to learn the unstated acceptable length for an email, which of course varies depending on the particular recipient and the subject being discussed on that occasion.  The length dismisses any discussion of the actual content and so makes it pointless for me to even bother communicating.  I have no idea what the acceptable length of communication is in my new job, but you can guarantee that I will be sending lots of single sentence emails filled with abbreviations; with separate emails to cover different aspects of a single case, rather than risking putting them into a single email or report.

My experiences make me feel as if I have become an outsider in the workplace and that, despite all my years of expertise, have missed out on the training on what seems to so many employers to be the 'standard' and only acceptable approach to working in an office.  Ironically it ignores things which on paper should be basics of office work, such as clear communication and avoiding discrimination on any basis.  I am certainly going into the workplace fearful of saying or writing anything wrong.  This has effectively castrated me as an employee, not willing to risk making comments on any proposals, let alone taking any initiative or leading an activity for fear that even minor differences from the 'norm' will be used to attack me.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A Year Of Living Joblessly

This posting started out being entitled 'Joining The Ranks Of The Long-Term Unemployed' to mark my year without a full-time job.  However, incredibly I have been offered a job which starts today, 12 months to the day from when I was laid off by my previous employer.  Whilst I have been incredibly fortunate, after 80 job applications and 29 interviews to have escaped unemployment (for now) and stop the sale of my house, I still feel it is worthwhile reflecting on the impact being unemployed for longer than all the combined previous periods of joblessness in my life has had on me.

The latest figures I can find for long-term unemployed people, i.e. those without work for 12 months or more, date back to summer 2010, so with the recession having continued since then, I imagine they are higher.  The figure in July 2010 was 787,000 people, with 50% of unemployed people over the age of 50 falling into this category, the suggestion being that they will never work again.  I have heard that current figures are over 900,000 people, though cannot find hard data to support that.   In addition, it is claimed possibly millions of people are in part-time work as they cannot get a full-time job and so there is also a category of long-term 'underemployed' who are not able to contribute as much to the economy as they could and would like to do.

Anyway, as of today, I suppose I can count as long-term unemployed.  The last time I had a full-time job was 12 months ago.  Strictly I suppose I am not counted because I worked for a couple of days per week for a period of six weeks around the start of 2011.  However, it did nothing much to raise my household income.  I guess I will also not count because I am not claiming jobseekers' allowance.  I exhausted my contributions based payments back in December 2010 and because the woman who lives in my house runs her own business and works more than 24 hours per week, I am excluded from claiming incomes-based jobseekers' allowance.  It is for reasons like this that there is always a discrepancy between the number of people claiming jobseekers' allowance, currently around 1.45 million and the actual number of unemployed people, now 2.48 million, according to BBC figures.  This is because benefits tend to look at the household income so an unemployed husband/wife (or co-resident lumped into that category) or grown-up child living in a house with a man or woman working will often not be entitled to any benefit, but still be without work.  If it had not been for HM Revenue and Customs realising that they had made a vast mistake in the tax I had paid, then by now I would have had my house repossessed and guess I would be begging friends to sleep on their floor.  I certainly count myself one of the lucky ones.

What does it signify being long-term unemployed?  Well, the first thing seems to be that people feel free to treat you as if you are feckless or lazy or an idiot.  As has been discussed before on this blog, I think this varies depending on the area you live in, as in areas of high unemployment, it has to be a fact of life for lots of people.  Living in southern England where the recession is only steadily biting, and especially in a district where most residents seem to be self-employed, the Thatcherite attitude that you are only unemployed because you want to be, persists.  Without any knowledge of the vacancies available or what qualifications you need to fill them  people insist that there is work.  As I know from trying to get jobs in local shops, these days it is not an issue of being qualified but having a whole array of industry-specific qualifications whether to work in a baker's or as a travel agent or an estate agent.  With unemployment high there are always lots of people around that have such qualifications that I do not have and so I got knocked out of the running at the application phase, especially these days when so much recruitment is about matching requirements to the applicant's statements as the first phase.  If you do not have a 100% match then you stand no chance.  So you get told that there is work and then bewildered questions about what you are doing wrong turn quickly to condemning you for being flawed in some major way.

Though less common than it used to be, there often comes the suggestion of setting up your own business.  Given that we are in a recession and established businesses are folding every day and 50% of new businesses collapse within 6 months, I do not see this as an escape from unemployment, just a way to quickly lose whatever money you may have remaining.  In addition, if we were all budding entrepreneurs, would we not all be doing it anyway?  As programmes like 'Dragon's Den' show, even many people who think they are entrepreneurs are often sadly deluded and many more people get rejected even on that show, than win funding.  Why should it be any different in real life?  The laziness comes in the assumption that that is the answer for everyone, when in fact it is only the answer for a small minority and then only with luck rather than skill.

Ironically, whilst long-term unemployment is usually seen as being your fault, people also treat it like an infectious disease.  Unemployment defines my life as it has for the past 12 months.  I go nowhere, I talk to few people, so being out of work and applying for work are the key elements of my life.  Yet the moment you start talking about them, you get the 'I don't want to hear that' attitude, almost as if it is a contagion that through talking you will somehow blight that person's job.  This myth is one the government and employers like to perpetuate, that unemployment is the consequence of your personal actions.  If you have been dismissed for inappropriate behaviour, then, yes, that is acceptable.  However, very many unemployed people have been made redundant as a result of lay-offs affecting hundreds if not thousands of people.

We have minimal control over our working lives these days.  Unless we can go back in time and change which career path we went down.  When I started in my industry back in 1994 it was seen as a secure one which was going through a period of boom and now it is in crisis.  How could I have predicted in 1994 that instead I should have been taking travel agents' qualifications so I could still get a job in 2011? 

People say 'save'.  I have done this throughout my life.  I used up my first batch of savings covering my mortgage while unemployed for five months in 2009.  I have now used up my redundancy package and tax rebate paying it in 2010/11.  Of course, I had mortgage protection, but it does not apply if you are not claiming unemployment benefit and you cannot claim that if someone in your house works for more than 24 hours or you have been in fixed-term contract work.  I should have saved the premiums on paying for that insurance.  If I had got a job just 3 months after being unemployed or even 6 months, then I would be comfortably off and ready for when the next crisis hit.  We are only at the start of the government-augmented recession, we have years of this to go.  It took from 1979 to 1994 before the economy recovered last time, so on a tight estimate we have about until 2023 before we can breathe easily in the UK, perhaps longer given how severe Cameron has been compared to Thatcher in the damage he is intentionally doing to the economy for ideological rather than pragmatic reasons.  However, all that money is now gone, so next time I lose my job it is going to be very nasty.

Of course, I have not been lazy. I have now applied for 80 jobs which works out at 1.5 applications per week, below the level of 2 per week that the Department for Work and Pensions insists on. However, that average does not reflect the seasonal ebb and flow of vacancies and that in some weeks I have applied for 6 vacancies and in others none. In addition, applying for jobs these days is not just about sending in your CV. On average I write 5000 words per application, with some as long as 10,000 words. The longest, with 51 requirements, took me 8 hours to complete. In addition, as so many applications are done on unstable online application forms, I have probably re-typed many thousands of words again when the system has crashed and lost all that I have input. I lost two hours' worth of work last month because they system decided to drop out. Another even timed me out, after three minutes, before I had time to set my password for the application, then would not let me access or delete or replace the account which only had my name and address on. When I emailed the company I was told that a lot of people had had a problem with the online application. Why not get it fixed then?

I estimate I have written 400,000 words in applications, enough for four doctoral theses or a series of novels (I used to calculate things on the basis of an Agatha Christie novel, they were 60,000 words long, but these days they seem very short, so probably 120,000 is closer to the average). Of course, a lot of it is repetitive stuff and I still have no idea why companies want to know which 'O' levels I got in the 1980s, what grade I got for each of them and the precise day (not just the month or year, but the actual day) on which I was awarded the qualification. What difference does it make if I got a B or C in Chemistry 'O' level on 29th June 1984 for whether I am a good office manager or not?

I have had 29 interviews which works out at more than one every single fortnight.  Of course, they have not been spread out evenly and things like Christmas, Easter and the run of bank holidays, means they have been ill-distributed; on 4 occasions I have had 2 on the same day.  I have applied for jobs ranging from £19,000-£54,000, meaning, in fact my life could have gone down very different paths if I had got a job from one extreme or the other.  The same applies to where I will end up living.  The geographical bounds of my applications are now Southampton-Swansea-Edinburgh-Colchester, an area which covers a large chunk of the UK's population and economic activity.  In southern England, of course, it is distorted because a lot of the jobs in a particular circumference are actually in France and some UK employers seem reluctant to accept applicants from other areas.  One employer in Hertfordshire actually said to me 'we've never employed anyone from the other side of the M25' as if it was an iron curtain.  It is bitterly ironic when the phrase 'get on your bike' has returned to attack the unemployed with, you find employers who have a difficulty envisaging employing people who live elsewhere even within the South-East region.  Of course, being unemployed, you cannot be picky, you know you have to be willing to go anywhere and rent a shitty room in a house that you have had to compete with six others to secure in order to get work.  Quality of life does not even come near the equation.

The biggest problem for me being long-term unemployed is the fear.  Having already lost my house and the career I once had, I worry how much longer this can go on and how much worse it can get.  Employers are reluctant to take on the long-term unemployed as if they have succumbed to their disease and are now incurable of all the bad habits that unemployment instills in people.  They do not understand that we are so desperate we are willing to work for poverty wages, wherever they choose and dare not question whatever outrageous demands they may make.  That is the impact of 12 months' lashing with the whip of unemployment.  I am doubly cursed now because I am over 40 too.  An article recently said employers see the over-40s as lacking energy and being fixed in their ways.  This is ridiculous, I have had to adjust so many times in my life, I have worked for four different employers at times, that I am honed in the art of being flexible and adjusting the work changes.  As for energy, I have never rolled in hung over like many in their 20s, I do not spend time texting my friends or updating Facebook pages, in terms of productivity I will be better than someone 20 years younger.  However, of course, such prejudices are not challenged and in fact as attacks on feminism have shown, in many ways, prejudice in terms of what you are is again acceptable, just as David Cameron and his supporters have desired.

Stretching out in front of me is an ongoing path of uncertainty.  Will I still be unemployed this time next year?  How much poorer can I get?  I know there will be loads of disappointment.  I have been rejected 28 times from interviews and another 51 times been told I was not even good enough to get there.  Every piece of feedback seems to contradict the one before.  Just recently I was told that I did not come across as sufficiently sympathetic to workers when apparently being overly-sympathetic was criticised in my last job.  Even now with work, nothing seems certain.  I have been incredibly lucky, but will always remain fearful that it will be short term.  I was laid off from my old job only 7 months after being appointed to it.

I am both weary of how long having no job went on for with no succees and retain a fear that this is the pattern my life will hold in the future especially as I progress further into middle age.  No-one seems able to offer practical help, they just seemed to be able to harangue me or avoid me.  Joining the ranks of the long-term unemployed does not permit access to a fraternity, rather you simply become classified a pariah.  Of course, I am grateful that I am now in a job, but I know that there are many hundreds of thousands of people in the UK in even worse situations with even less hope than me and I mourn for that and the long-term damage it is doing to the UK.