Graduate unemployed during recession shock!

Friends, I am unemployed. But not, please God, unemployable. This week has brought not one but TWO (count ’em) job rejections, to add to the small but perfectly-formed pile of guarantees that I spend my whole life on JSA, at least until David Cameron gets in and harnesses me to some sort of moat-draining, cash-burning chain gang. It is almost as if two (count ’em) Oxford degrees do not magically guarantee one a life of affluent joy.

I am not dismayed (this is a lie). I have until 1ST JULY to find paid work. This is sort of a lie too, actually. Gather round. My lease, in a total departure from undergraduate Oxford leases, which force you out every holiday, runs from now until September 10. This is standard for one-year-Masters leases, because most Masters degrees have dissertation deadlines in September; mine, however, is due in mid-June. You have to give one month’s notice to break your lease. When I leave Oxford, I will return to the West Midlands, official home of the worst unemployment figures in the country. Now, I bow to noone in my love for the West Midlands, or indeed the Midlands in general. Only today, I engaged a Regents fresher in conversation because in her dulcet tones I detected the LAND OF MY MOTHERS, i.e. Netherton and/or Dudley (home of the amazing castle/zoo combo of Soviet-like depression). My great passion for Stratford-on-Avon is also well-documented. It contains my wonderful parents. My charming cat. The best theatre company on the planet. Any number of beloved schoolfriends are there, being gainfully unemployed at their parents’ expense.

However, there’s one bus an hour and everything closes. If I go home and don’t get a job offer/Distinction/DPhil funding/Lotto win, I will be there forever and I can’t even fall back on the safe Shottery standby of marrying a KES boy and getting a flat north of the river. I can’t do it.

The current plan is that, should I still be jobless and hapless by 1 July, I will give notice on my lease, and go home on 1 August. I am of course returning to the bosom of parents and rent-free living, which of course twists me into the twisty knots of middle class guilt, because it really does take a very special snowflake to worry about dole-penury when she’s got the promise of a warm bed, a stocked fridge and any number of paperbacks set in Cornwall about A Family And What Happens To Them (mother’s preferred reading. I do have sneaking fondness for same). Then again, I do have a friend who shops at Toast then complains she has no money (CHLOE) without spotting any kind of connection, so.

I intend to document my struggle. It will be stirring. It will be inspiring. It will doubtless become very obvious where I’m going wrong. Please tell me when it does. Tomorrow is for an eight-week TEFL contract, based in Oxford. I am hopeful, not to say desperate, and if I tell you all my hope is founded on the fact that the administrator was once an ASM in my biggest Oxford show, you’ll realise just what sort of situation this is. I have also just applied for a tutoring job in – of all places – California.

We shall see.

In the meantime, job tips! Websites! Inspiring stories of how you were once unwaged hopelessness, but are now smug and wealthy! If only in the noble coinage of job satisfaction etc etc etc. Also, please give me a job. I am good at all sorts of things. And I have only once had a job which paid double figures per hour.

In other news: The Costcutter across the road has stopped selling Haribo, and started selling ‘Last Will & Testament’ kits. I don’t want to believe that the two are related.

Stratford in bloom.

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The newly-reopened Bancroft, looking towards the bridge and the boathouse.

Back in Stratford. Effects of the recession: we are getting a Lidl, parking has gone up (70 pence for half an hour), and everyone who graduated without a law-conversion-training-contract is on Job Seekers’ Allowance. Unemployed at the start of last summer, I passed the time filling in my little dole book & trying not to weep over the kind public sector workers who told me that, what with my double first in English Literature, I should keep from setting my sights too high, and aim for retail. Having been turned down by Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer and (you-bastards-the-money-I-have-spent-in-you) Waterstones, I got the best job of my life at the Royal Shakespeare Company, and the issue of crippling penury was solved. Now, however, loud sing cuckoo, and I am even a little bit sunburnt – spring is here, so summer soon will be, which means a) I am going to have to Leave Oxford, and b) I really, really need to find a job.

Rad Cam & old Bodleian, seen from Exeter Fellows' Garden
Rad Cam & old Bodleian, seen from Exeter Fellows' Garden

Worse, this time I am actually leaving Oxford – whereas last year, there was the word-made-flesh possibility of a First and my Masters (mercifully realised), this time I have not applied for DPhil and so definitely shan’t be returning. I never intended to apply this time round, but it turned out that not even my best friend believed I would stick to it,  and instead assumed my reiterations of ‘but darling, I shan’t be here next year’ were just another form of mental torture. Considering our past relations, etc.

At the moment, I have three job applications current, three possibilities for work experience (one incomplete, one under consideration & one offered but logistically difficult!), one begging letter sent off and another to write. I have a chapter of my thesis due in next Friday, but did manage to spend today partly on the river. Stratford is beautiful – the air is much cleaner than Oxford, as I keep remarking – and since blogging, email & facebook keep me in touch with my Oxford friends, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds.

Stratford – despite the profusion of unemployed twentysomethings largely indistinguishable from holidaymakers, the unabating frothy fury of the local press, and the Tories – really is blooming. We even have a new community radio, with whom I hope to do some work over the next year (quick plug: presenter Debi Ghose, Friday mornings > anything on Radio 1). If I am going to be in Stratford for a while, I want to find out all the cool stuff that’s going on – there must be stuff I missed when I was at school. As far as religious feeling goes, I am apt to be indiscriminate in attaching it to churches, theatres, and libraries; Oxford in summer does look a lot like Heaven, and lamp-lit twilight in Radcliffe Square can be as sacred as anything in the college chapels. The morning after Barack Obama’s election, the Cowley Road Methodist Church (just down from where I live – I was there last Sunday!) changed the Scripture on its noticeboard to the first line of Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament proclaims His handiwork”. It was perfect, perfect; perfect for a perfect day and a fact, a single proof of human goodness in appetite and action, that still makes me happy, five months on. The new RST building is taking shape, and the actors performing in the Courtyard now are those who’ll take the stage on the new theatre’s opening night. When I was home at Christmas and in February, the site was still a mess; now, the scaffolding’s shaping a building and not a building site. There must, surely, be new jobs and renewed tourism when the site is finished, for some people, at least. It was great to be back with my friends, on an accommodating river, in a suitably battered boat. And to me, the emerging theatre looked like a symbol of hope.

The RST, seen from the river.
The RST, seen from the river.

P.S. Happy Easter, to those who are celebrating!