How to survive an all-nighter

Reproduced from the Guardian

All-nighters are an obligatory part of the university experience for disorganised students – i.e. for students. For most, they’re a grimacing experience. But some thrive under pressure, producing their best work at 4am with an impending 7am deadline.Image

OK, I’ve yet to meet one of those people. The truth is that all-night essay crises have always been, and remain, dreadful, lonely and humiliating.

It’s midnight and the panic is setting in. A bizarre double-think consumes your caffeinated mind. On the one hand, the morning is freedom, when the confines of your bedroom cease to be prison walls and you can finally sink under that soft duvet.

On the other, the morning is doom. Somehow those 200 words on the computer screen have to become 2,000. You don’t have the faintest idea how this is going to happen – in fact in a metaphysical sense it’s actually quite bewildering, profound even.

Both these emotional crises need to be confronted. Fortunately the prescription is the same for each: food, drink and focus.

First of all, calm down. Say you have seven hours – that’s a lot of time. Wise up and plan how you’re going to get this thing done. To avert cabin fever, take a ten minute walk. It will energise you before the long slog ahead.

Then, you need to enter that elusive zone. You may never have ventured there before, but the time is now.

If your essay doesn’t require an internet connection, then kill it. Cut the ethernet cable if necessary. If you need internet access for work then I recommend installing Facebook limiter – software that allows you to block Facebook for a specified time period. Other procrastinations can be vanquished by willpower, which alas, is not downloadable online.

Nourishment wise, you want a mix of carbs that slowly release energy – and the odd sweet treat as a reward. I’d recommend a generous bowl of cereal or dried fruit and nuts. As a rule, if it grows on a tree or in the ground – gobble it up.

Stay away from energy drinks, they’re more or less evil. You peak and then crash, your energies having been expended on staring at the wall excitedly. If you must, have a coffee or a soft drink – they’ll perk you up without delivering a hard landing 40 minutes later.

Management studies students will be familiar with the 80:20 principle: around 80% of a person’s work is done in only 20% of the available time. We can be both productive and creative when working in short, focused sessions – so split up your remaining hours into energetic bursts. Turn that all-nighter into an all-righter.


Monbiot’s Conspiracy Theory

I don’t normally have much time for George Monbiot, but I found an excerpt from his most recent commentisfree piece interesting, namely:

the further from its ideals….a system strays, the more fervently its justifying myths are propounded

He applies this dictum to both the elapsed Soviet system and the – apparently decaying – American one. If America’s founding myth is opportunity, Monbiot writes, then we will hear more and more about it as good fortune becomes further and further out of reach.

And why does that happen? Describing the financial sector, whose gluttony Monbiot can barely mask his contempt for:

The tighter its grip on politics, the more its representatives must tell the opposite [from what is really happening] story: of life-affirming enterprise, innovation and investment, of brave entrepreneurs making their fortunes out of nothing but grit and will

I am very sympathetic to Ed Miliband’s claim earlier this year that ‘if you want the American dream – go to Finland’ though Tim Stanley has a pretty good hack at it. In the OECD only Italy and, shamefully, the UK, have higher rates of social immobility – America is a society in which living in a nice neighbourhood, getting into an Ivy League College and earning a mint depends almost wholly on whether your parents managed to. 

As such the constant eulogies from both Democrats and Republics about America being a land of hope, opportunity etc ring a bit hollow when they can summon only anecdotal, not actual, evidence.

ImageBut Monbiot’s conspiracy theory? I just don’t buy it. When Romney&Ryan – the posterboys of the 1% – bang on about divine providence uniquely bestowing America with opportunity blah blah, they mean it. They really mean it. Obama’s ‘you didn’t build that’ rabble-rousing speech genuinely fills them with fiery anger, not meek embarrassment. 

So my advice to Monbiot (unlikely to be heard, even less listened to): keep making the arguments, but drop the angry conspiracy theory stuff. Even though they participate, perpetuate, entrench a system you think is ugly, that doesn’t necessarily make them ugly characters. Certainly not subversives. 


OK to Sell Internships?

Reprinted from the Huffington Post:

Is it okay to sell internships? We know that the Conservative Party certainly thinks so. Their ball last year raised tens of thousands of pounds flogging off plum internships inImage finance, industry and the media to Tory donors.

Cases like that one immediately invoke repulsion, but what if the money raised is going to a good cause?

Take a look at this now-elapsed charity auction raising money for an extremely worthy cause. There were 50 lots, selling all manner of sparkly items and experiences. Some of the most popular lots though were those selling work experience placements and one, a two week placement at the Sunday Times, finally went for over £2820.

It sounds like a lot, but in the context of a promoting a son or daughter’s fledgling career it’s a small investment to make.

The internships were advertised as ‘experiences’. The recipients as well as their benefactors will surely sleep easy in the knowledge not that they’ve bought a step up in life, but simply a worthwhile ‘experience’. The word is evasive, equating a market in internships to one in any other leisurely activity. Of course we all know it isn’t.

Can one imagine a society in which jobs – especially the lucrative, coveted ones – were auctioned off, rather than allocated on the basis of merit? A country in which young people scour the Sunday supplements in search of a profession they can afford to enter, rather than one they might excel in? No, but in a more insidious way it remains the state we are in. A tight jobs market requires applicants to have interned, for which they must typically have performed unremunerated labour or, as these ugly cases represent, bought outright.

Sellling off internships stinks; it is intrinsically immoral. There can be no justification for it. Yet in the fiercest job market for young people since the early 1980s young people are in no position to end the practice.

The Oxford ‘Posh Girls’ Guide and the Death of Satire

Reprinted from the Huffington Post

Like most students who rarely summon the energy to go out at the weekend, I am a big fan of Al Murray, best known as the jocular pub landlord (and less famous as an Oxford history graduate). Every week the stereotypical jingoist used to grace our screens, slandering just about everything that wasn’t British. Lampooning Germans was a particular favourite. However the audience, tickled pink by his rabidly patriotic routine, understood that the show was a farce. No one left the studio fired up with nationalistic rage. No, they had a chuckle and went home. Because the obvious truth is that Al Murray isn’t a xenophobe; nor does he incite xenophobia.

Writing ‘A Guide to Dating Posh Girls’ for Cherwell, the 96-year-old Oxford University newspaper, I placed tremendous belief in ‘Murray’s Law’ – namely that in a sufficiently ridiculous context otherwise objectionable remarks could elicit harmless humour. Fearlessly therefore, I asserted that posh girls are terrified of venturing to the North, that they are all secretly Conservatives and, most controversially, that they will have had frequent sex from a young age. Following the national uproar this provoked, characterised by screaming headlines and Twitter’s self-righteous convulsions, my faith is waning.

I was greatly touched that amidst the week’s hard-hitting stories – the revelation that Harry has genitalia being the most significant – the national newspapers found space to report my ‘Posh Girls’ piece, and the subsequent controversy it raised. Thus I briefly entered the national spotlight in a rather ignominious fashion. I’ve long harboured ambitions to get into the newspaper business, though I’d hoped to write the articles rather than feature in them.

You have to be quite a tough nut to be catapulted from obscurity to national infamy whilst holding your nerve. The calls, texts and emails are relentless. Total strangers start tearing you apart. In the eye of the storm, your public popularity lies somewhere between that of Al Qaeda and E. Coli. Indeed one cannot maintain any sort of ego. A particularly cruel chap called Chen, commenting on the Daily Mail article, had this to say: “No wonder he can’t get any good/posh girls. He looks dreadful”. Well Chen, notwithstanding the Mail‘s heroic efforts at impartiality, that’s also how I felt.

Read literally, ‘Posh Girls’ is odious. That’s why my apology to the offended readers remains; they were my words, so the responsibility rests with me. But it’s precisely because the remarks were objectionable that they were placed in a deeply insincere and self-deprecating context. It was written to be phenomenally, obviously and rigorously ridiculous. And whilst my satirical skills were perhaps inadequate, the intent was clear.

The aim was to gently mock ridiculous generalisations and make people chuckle along the way. Endowed with a dollop of common sense, anyone would have understood the remarks as being employed satirically and sarcastically. The suggestion that all ‘posh girls’ are covert Tories may contain a nugget of truth. All humour does. But only a witless cretin would interpret that as an explicit allegation pertaining to each and every upper-class female.

Well not just a witless cretin, rival student journalists too. Everyone knows that Oxford politics is a viciously competitive affair whose practitioners are every bit as duplicitous and conniving as the ones in Westminster. The same is true of student journalism. Cherwell exists in competition with the Oxford Student, the student union paper, and there is no love lost between them. The latter regards itself as Oxford’s moral compass. Indeed they were so outraged by my piece that they… reprinted it in full (strictly in the public interest of course). On the same day the Sun defended its publication of Prince Harry’s nude Vegas pictures as similarly in ‘the public interest’. Which claim, I would ask sardonically, is the more credible?

I understand that not everyone is an Al Murray enthusiast. Some people do consider him to be a xenophobe. They’re probably the same people who think I’ve started a misogynistic class-war. Though countless well-wishers have encouraged me to, I’m not just going to tell them to ‘get a sense of humour’, for that would diminish the seriousness of a far more saddening phenomenon. I feel sorry for those people. It must be unpleasant to go through life expecting hatred and horror at every turn. The world must seem scary, hostile and morally bankrupt – when really it isn’t. On second thoughts though, save your pity. It is far more unpleasant for the people against whom this PC mob turns.

It would be a great shame were satire to die in the public sphere, as cases like mine indicate it has. Occasionally there will be misinterpretations of intent. Writers should therefore do their best to disambiguate their language and style. But that’s only half the problem. The only full solution would be a disclaimer: ‘I don’t really mean x and y and z’. I immediately feel empty at the thought. It would patronise readers, most of whom are wholly aware of the jest. To immunise satire from causing offence, one would have to kill it. Let’s not.

Is the North pulling away from the UK?

After an extraordinary 3 weeks inter-railing I’m hastily scrambling together a first draft for next term’s Isis, the glossy termly publication of OSPL, on the North-South divide.

The notion of a rich South and a destitute North is beaten about so much as to be caricatured. I remember playing off the lazy stereotype for most of Michaelmas term. Still, as the academic Danny Dorling is quoted in this Economist article, there is an understanding – more or less reflected in the facts – that in the North ‘there are islands of affluence in a sea of poverty’ whereas in the South the sea is of affluence.

I was keen to speak to John Micklethwait, the Editor of The Economist, the world’s most globalised publication. Last month I did. When I challenged him that London’s runaway success had promoted it into the league of prosperous metropolises at the expense of the rest of the UK, he was civilly boisterous in a fashion so characteristic of the magazine he edits. ‘The problem for London’ he told me is that ‘the rest of Britain doesn’t realise how lucky it is.’ He is surely accurate in describing the capital as ‘an engine which keeps pumping more and more money back into the system.’

Even with CrossRail, the Olympics and a generously maintained public transport system London remains a net contributor to the Exchequer whilst the Northern regions fail to return all the money to the Westminster Piggy Bank that they spend. Despite this, ‘the rest of the country tends to feel more and more resentful about it and the danger comes that you may at some time have a government that thinks it can play around with the golden goose.’ For Micklethwait the capital is to be cherished, not maligned: ‘every other country in the world would love to have a London’. And whilst ‘yes, you get steeper inequality [in relation to the rest of the country]….overall it’s an incredible bonus’.

Micklethwait notes that, unlike competitor cities such as Mayor Bloomberg’s fiefdom of New York, ‘London is totally embedded into the rest of the country’. Institutionally this is true but institutions alone cannot suppress powerful and unhealthy economic trends. Back in 2006 when the next Conservative government would ‘share the proceeds of growth’ rather than striving desperately simply to find some of it, David Cameron was very fond of an analogy described by Polly Toynbee in her book, Hard Work: Life in Low Pay BritainIf society is a caravan moving through the desert then how far do the members at the back – the allegorical poor – have to fall before we are left with two caravans, not one?

Manchester’s Royal Exchange Hall, previously the stock market of the Industrial Age – now a hotbed of Northern theatre

Personally I prefer the melted cheese analogy, which I’ve ripped off from someone somewhere, about two slices of pizza pulled further and further apart – admittedly it gets low marks for poetic flair.

In Manchester at least, times are a-changin’. One of my favourite comedy-drama shows is Cold FeetSky’s helpful cataloguing of all five series on Anytime robbed a significant portion of my productive summer. Starring James Nesbitt the show was set on location in and around the city, taking in the regenerated and gentrified districts of central Manchester and Salford – now home to MediaCity – as well as the suburbs around Didsbury and Trafford. Now over a decade old, the show’s characters personified the city Manchester has become in the wake of deindustrilaisation: cosmopolitan, educated and fun.

Living here, walking around town, I get one impression of what is going on in Manchester – and by a more tenuous extrapolation, the North. But the statistics, as well as the evident global, not national, character of Greater London, suggests to me that Northern England is becomes slowly disconnected from the rest of the UK: from Scotland and Wales by political devolution, and from the South-East by economic disaffiliation.

I would really welcome any thoughts in aid of my piece…