Saturday, December 1, 2007

Penny's Hints 'n' Tips for working in the Captial

In celebration of my new job, I have decided to write a post on my experiences job hunting in London. This is because I received a lot of advice on this subject before I left home, some of it useful and some of it a load of old tosh.

The said new job is in the Comptroller and City Solicitor's department of the City of London. According to the website, my new job aim is to be 'committed to serving the needs of international business and maintaining the environment in which organisations and companies from all over the world can play their part in financing global trade and development'.


Anyways, here's my two cents on job hunting in London.

How much experience do you need?

It is infinitely useful to have some good experience in a 'real' job under your belt before you come over. This is because you then have a better chance of earning more money, which is crucial given that the cost of living over here is much higher than at home. London is only fun if you have money. It is no fun to be living in a share house in Putney with 15 other Australians, with your greatest indulgence being buying your weekly travel card and not being able to afford to go out and do anything. Unless you have a trust fund behind you to cushion the blow, I wouldn't recommend coming over when you've just finished uni. For reasons I shall expand upon below, it is even harder to get a decent job as a uni leaver than when you have had some experience.

There is no world outside of London

Notwithstanding that it helps to have experience, you quickly learn that the only experience people care about over here is UK experience. Experience in Adelaide means nothing to them. I could have been a Partner in my old firm in Adelaide, it's small fry to these people. From what I understand from friends, it's like that in most fields, not just law. So a large part of the challenge is trying to convince someone to take a chance on you even though you don't have any UK experience (for some people this takes a few months; I lucked out early on). All you can do is play up the experience that you've got and try and convince people that it still means something and can easily be applied in the UK.

This is utterly ridiculous because in a lot of ways, Australia is more advanced in its work practices than London and there is certainly a stronger work ethnic. But try telling them that.

If you don't have any work experience at home, therefore, getting your foot in the door to do anything other than crappy admin work is practically impossible.

The 2 Years PQE Myth

This bit is directed to the lawyers: the myth that you need to have 2 years Post Qualification Experience before you come to London is complete rubbish, perpetuated by the law 'scene' (for want of a better word) and your employers in Adelaide who want to discourage you from leaving, or at the very least, delay your leaving until they have had a few years making obscene amounts of money out of you while managing to get away with paying you like shit. Do not listen to them - you don't need 2 years PQE! You need good experience, but there is no magic number. I had 15 months PQE when I came over and I got a job in 3 days. Enough said.

The Temp Market

There is a significant market in London for temporary workers. No one ever really told me about it before I arrived. There are some advantages that I can see to being a temp. For starters, the pay is generally a bit better to compensate for the lack of job security, you can take leave whenever you want and there is plenty of work. Also, if you are a Pay As You Earn employee, you still accrue annual leave, which is a minimum of 24 days a year.

The downsides include the aforementioned lack of job security. Most jobs have a one week notice period for either side. Also, you are always on the outskirts of the work place as the temp worker, which can be a bit disheartening.

The Scourge of Job Hunting

The job market in London, for every field, is completely dominated by recruitment companies. They are a real double edged sword. The benefits are that the job hunting process is significantly faster - different recruiters specialise in different things so if you are signed up with the right ones, they will be contacting you all the time with jobs. In other words, they take all the effort out of job hunting. And because the application/interview/offer process is so fast, you don't have to bother with pesky stuff like application letters. They do the leg work for you.

But you always have to remember that recruiters will put their own interests ahead of yours. Most often they get a hefty payment when they find you a job and, this shocked me when I first got here, they take a cut from your hourly rate as well. To emphasise: every hour you work, they make more money. I know for a fact that my previous recruiter was skimming a whopping £8 an hour off what my employer was paying them for my hourly services, and think of what that adds up to over 10 months of work. It makes me sick.

Recruiters can be extremely cunning and manipulative creatures. Unfortunately, the way the system is set up, they have to be or they will get screwed over by a fellow creature who is. I have had recruiters ring me about the same job offering completely different rates. This depends on the standard size of the agency's cut. They are all over you like a rash when you are looking for work, but you hardly ever hear from them again once you're working. They are terrible at giving feedback - don't expect to hear anything from them when they put you forward for a job unless you get an interview. They can be very pushy and will try and encourage you to apply for jobs that are totally unsuitable, just so they have a sufficient number of CVs to show the employer.

What can you do about this? Not much. You just have to play the game and make them work as hard for you as possible. Sign up with a lot of different agencies and make them compete to be the one who puts you forward for a job. Don't let yourself be put forward for jobs that you don't want. Ask them if rates are negotiable and push them to get you more money. They will always be trying to get as bigger cut as possible.

Well, that's all I have for the moment, but if I can think of anything else that is useful I'll post an update. Not much else going on generally, as I have gone into semi-hibernation for the winter. My chosen place of hibernation is our lovely new flat, which is very warm and cosy and as a friend says, much more 'something out of a Richard Curtis film' than our previous place of abode:

Cozy. Hope everyone else is enjoying the summer....don't let the blue sky in this photo deceive you, it's freezing here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Sunshine and Sangria

I should be spending this post writing at length about my cultural experience in Barcelona, all the beautiful Gaudi buildings I saw, the quaint Gothic quarter we were staying in, all the wonderful food I ate (and I will come to that), but in truth, my overwhelming highlight in Barcelona was this:

I haven't been to the beach since I left Australia, so its been 10 long months. My travelling companion and fellow temporary Londoner Emmalene and I went into throes of excitement at this sight, and spent most of a very lazy day lounging at one of the beach bars eating olives and drinking sangria.

It was inexpressibly good to be out in the sun and at the beach again. Especially since it is freezing in London right now and dark by 4.30 pm.... but I'm getting off topic.

Back to Barcelona.

I think that the best thing to ever happen to Barcelona was an architect, Antoni Gaudi. It isn't really possible to explain his architecture, you have to see it for yourself:

Gaudi's masterpiece is the Sagrada Familia, which construction began on in 1882 and it is nowhere near finished. The inside will be just incredible when it is finally completed - the columns of the church are all like tree trunks and the vaulted ceilings are made of leaves. What amazed me about all Gaudi's architecture was how functional it was. Everything had a practical as well as an aesthetic purpose, and a lot of things he designed were so innovative. I could go on about him all day.

Here is me, on top of La Pedrera, one of Gaudi's apartment blocks, with the Sagrada Familia in the background (I'm suffering a major case of squinty eye, but I was so thankful to have sun, I didn't care):

I've had a request from mtk to provide detail as regards the food. Well, I'm a born snacker, (unfortunately), so the Spanish diet of tapas suits me dangerously well. Despite tapas not really being traditional Catalan cuisine, there was an awful lot of it in Barcelona, which you could buy for a few Euro a plate. Amongst other dishes I tried some delicious fried sardines, but what I was determined to sample was a plate of jamon from one of the Grandpa bars that had legs of cured ham strung up from the ceiling. So I did just that. Here's me proudly sitting with my plate of meat:

Well, I got my comeuppance for that little culinary adventure. I felt nauseous for the next three days, which I attributed initially to the jamon, then to too much cava (champagne, entirely self inflicted), then to anxiety about the outcome of a job interview, and then the cursed jamon again.

We also managed to get to the main drag, La Rambla, which had some of the most impressive statue people I've ever seen. Normally statue performers annoy the bejesus out of me, but they seemed to go the extra mile in Barcelona:

All in all, it was a lovely little break, and it meant a lot to me to travel to a city that my family had once had to cancel a trip to when I was kid. I felt like I had finally conquered the last part of that long lost holiday (now Tori and Jeremy - you have to do it too!) Muchos gracias must also go to Emmalene, who was a great travelling partner and was very patient with having to do all the ordering and such for both of us, even if all of our travelling 'mug shots' had squinty eye and ended up getting cut off on at least one angle:


Sunday, October 28, 2007

La Dolce Vita

My mission to conquer Europe by mini break continues!

I know I am starting to sound like a broken record when I do these blogs about the cities I visit. I realise that I proclaim each one as incredible and beautiful and one of my favourites. But Rome really was one of my favourites! Where to begin...

We spent the first day exploring the Colosseum and Roman Forum. Both are amazing beyond description, and the fact you are walking down the same road as Caesar, or looking at the spot where Mark Antony said 'Friends, Romans, Countrymen...' is almost too much to comprehend. The Colosseum is for the most part amazing well preserved, and those parts that are not we have the Vatican to thank for. We took about a million photos, which don't do it justice, but here are a few:

But I personally was more taken by the Roman forum, where you were literally wandering through the remains of the heart of the Roman Republic and then Empire. This was where the remains of the temples, courts and government administration building were. Even in the remains, I couldn't believe how sophisticated it was. They had drainage, toilets, taps, beautiful and complex buildings, posh suburbs, bad suburbs, a Senate... all thousands of years ago. You just can't help but be amazed by how advanced they were.

The next day we went to the Vatican. It was a must do, although I'm not sure why as neither of us are religious, let alone Catholic. But there you g0. We made the mistake of almost going on a guided tour with an extremely over bearing American guide, but bailed after the Piazza as we realised we didn't want to ave to keep answering questions like on a quiz show the whole tour.

The Vatican is stunning and I particularly liked the Piazza, with its beautiful columns and statues of the Saints looking down upon you. Shame that half the stone that built it was looted from the Colosseum. St Peters itself was very over the top, as you would expect, and so while I was taken aback by the sheer ostentatiousness of it all, it didn't inspire any particularly spiritual feeling in me.

We also went to the Vatican Museum, which is where, after what seems like an endless series of decorous passages and hallways and rooms, you finally, finally, get to see the Sistine Chapel. Yes it was amazing, if you were able to block out the hundreds of whispering people crammed in next to you and the fact you were being hassled by narky security guards.

The next days was devoted to the Pantheon and the squares of Campo de' Fiori and the Piazza Navona. The Pantheon, sounding like a broken record again, was incredible and I could not believe how well preserved it was. The Piazza was also beautiful but unfortunately, its primary attraction, Bernini's fountain of the Four Rivers, was closed for renovation. (And no, I did not see Jake Gyllenhaal and Reese Witherspoon, who reportedly were in the very same area on the same day. Damn.)

Another favourite was San Clemente. There were countless churches and they were all very impressive, but this one is particularly interesting as it was the site of pagan worship, early Christian worship when the religion was still prohibited and then a proper church was built when Christianity gained dominance. From the church you descended down into this amazingly complex network of underground passageways which had been carved out over the centuries, which featured a pagan temples and ancient frescoes and the graves of early Christian saints. It was dank and mysterious, and fascinating.

And of course, the amazing Trevi Fountain (or Fontana de Trevi - shame that the retaurant on Pirie Street doesn't do its namesake justice!):

And finally a special culinary mention. All the food was of a generally high standard (as you would expect), but if you are ever going to Rome, I recommend the Taverna Dei Fiori Imperiali on Via Madonna dei Monti for the Italian culinary experience of your life. Seriously, write the name down! I cannot rave about that place enough (and thanks to Ma and Pa Chalke for the recommendation).

Even though we saw most of the major sites, there is so much in Rome that you feel you have barely scratched the surface. The only downside to an otherwise fantastic trip was an air traffic controller strike on the day of our departure which lead to us having to stay another night in the tiny town outside Rome where Ryanair flew from, Ciampino, and paying a totally exorbitant price to get the only room left in the hotel.

Curse you Ryanair and your oh so irresistible prices but oh so shitty customer service!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Grand Final

First some scene setting: 5.50am. Darkness. A cold and drizzly morning. Puzzle Pub, Hammersmith, London:

Yes, we were glued to the screen. And there were lots of us, who'd paid 9 squid each for a Tooheys New, soggy chips and a pie (chicken!).

And then there was me, decidedly flu-ey and grumpy:

Perhaps not the greatest of ideas considering I'd been sick all week with the world's most persistent cold. Ah well.

For a much better update of what I've been up to lately, see here. It will probably explain how I got the cold. Cursed partying and its detrimental effect on the immune system!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Too much of too many good things

Last weekend Brenton and I visited Amsterdam to get our hit of.... culture (just kidding mum and dad!)

Well, I do wish that I could live in a city with canals. When I eventually tread my way back to Adelaide, I may suggest to the Council that some get built in the city centre since they add so much to the atmosphere of a place. How could you not enjoy having a view like this everyday?

One highlight was Anne Frank's house on Prinsengracht. I remember, like I'm sure everyone else does, reading that book at school and it having a profound effect on my 13 year old self. It has been years since then but it was still quite poignant to see the swinging bookcase and the hidden door, and wander around the tiny rooms of the Secret Annex. I was also thrilled to see the famous diary itself... until I found out it was only a facsimile due to 'humidity' issues.

(This is Anne Frank's house with Brenton out the front, trying to be funny)

We also saw Rembrandt's house, which was furnished as it was when he lived there, including the hilarious beds when everyone used to sleep upright because they thought they could be killed by a blot clot to the head if they lay down! And the Van Gogh museum was also amazing - we saw the famous Sunflowers and Irises, and his much gloomier earlier stuff. What a difference an artistic pilgrimage to Paris can make. From this:

To this:

Colour! Brenton had to drag me out of the place when I had finally exhausted looking at his early sketches (as mtk and Bonnie can testify, when I go to an exhibition, I see it all, even if it takes hours).

What strange people the Dutch are. They are extremely efficient - I was very impressed that you could buy your train ticket while you were waiting for you baggage to come onto the carousel. They also have quite an exhibitionist streak, houses were always on the street and curtains were always open. You could literally look into someones living room as you walked past, which was fascinating and unnerving, especially if someone inside looked back at you! I loved all the narrow, wonky little houses though:

And yes, we had a look at the red light district one night. Had to have a look, and it seemed there the Dutch exhibitionism manifested itself (though actually very few of the prostitutes were Dutch). I couldn't believe how unashamed everyone was. Not the tourists like us who had come for the novelty value, who were probably the majority of the people there. But the people participating in it and especially the men who would stand at the girls' windows negotiating their price and then walking back into a street full of people when they had finished, as nonchalant as if they were just leaving the hairdressers. Weird.

We stayed in a lovely little houseboat just near the central station, which was a lot of fun and had a lot of character. Unfortunately the two gentlemen we were sharing with were quite anti-social and spent most of their time there trying to fill the houseboat with as much smoke as possible. They were from the Isle of Mann, and I took it that they didn't get out much.

Incidentally, we both got a thrill when we were watching CNN on our houseboat TV and saw the Chaser prank at APEC. The reporting was hilarious: "According to a survey conducted by a national newspaper, most Australians thought the prank was 'very funny'". That cracked me up.

And lastly, a special mention must go to Febo/Smullers, the good people who have managed to take that last tiny bit of human interaction out of buying a hamburger. What a stroke of genius this contraption is, especially after a drink or two, which helps you forget the fact that you have no idea how long the burger has been sitting in the little metal dispenser...

So back to reality (i.e the finer points of food law) for now but I am packing in two more trips before Christmas; Rome in October and Barcelona in November with my compadre Emmalene. And we are also moving into a lurvely new flat, but that's another post...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Where is the warmth in global warming?

Well, we are coming to the end of another glorious English summer, featuring scenes in London such as this:


And this:

Okay, well, that last one is actually Blackpool, but I am including it to emphasise how completely rubbish summer in England has proven to be.

It is actually the wettest summer England has ever had since they began keeping records 240 years ago.

Since I had been hearing choruses of "Just wait until summer" and "London is so great during the summer" for months leading up to July I feel severely ripped off. The long nights I had pictured of dining al fresco and sitting in parks drinking bottles of wine til 10 o'clock at night have never eventuated.

It has been terrible for ice-cream manufacturers and clothing stores but apparently very good for travel agents and pizza chains.

I never even got an opportunity to retire my brolly from permanent item in handbag status. Ah well.

Just having a bit of a whinge. Apparently we are going to get a small respite this weekend, with temperatures of 26! All the Aussies are banding together and having, of course, a barbie to celebrate the last little bit of warmth before the descent into the real doom and gloom of winter.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

I wish I were a Princess too

It reached a peak during their engagement-wedding period, but my minor obsession with Princess Mary had petered out for a while. Until, that is, I arrived in Copenhagen. Then it all came flooding back! I am a sad sad person. I know it. I kept imagining what it must have been like for her when she first moved over to be with Frederik, anonymously wandering the streets, thinking, 'One day this will all be mine...' or something to that effect.

Anyway, now I've got that out of my system, I can say that I really enjoyed Copenhagen. It had a bit more character then Oslo with the addition of canals, which always add to a place's prettiness quotient I think. One of the things we did was take a canal tour, which enabled us to see lovely things like this:

And some interesting (what I assume is) modern Scandinavian architecture like this:

And this (their Opera house):

We also rode bikes around the city which was a great way to see a lot of the sights. Of course the Little Mermaid was on the list, although in reality she is ruined by the hundreds of tourists snapping away, Americans who actually wade out into the water and climb up on the statute even though everyone else is trying to take their photo, and canal tours like ours coming up from behind to take a look.

And of course, I had to have a look at the Palace, which actually consists of four palaces, and I was not exactly sure which one Mary and Fred lived in, but I was excited all the same.

Copenhagen seemed like an extremely liberal and relaxed city, as evidenced by the 24 hour porn on free to air tv! Helpfully, we were staying in the red light district (not intentionally but inevitably when you choose a two star hotel), so we got to see that first hand! I don't know what they are putting in the water up there, or if there's just not enough to do, or if it's so cold most of the year that there's nothing else to do, but yeah. Lots of that.

It was also a city full of buffets. Everywhere you looked, a pizza buffet. And if it weren't for me getting fussy, that's what the boys would have eaten the whole time. Ick.

But I really enjoyed the city centre, which basically consisted on one long high street intercepted by fountains and square and lined with cafes and restaurants. There was obviously a big restaurant culture, similar to Adelaide's, which of course was a big plus.

Anyway, I would thoroughly recommend Copenhagen, it had a good mix of old and new, trendy but accessible, liberal and traditional. Put it on your lists.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

I've found the place we can all retire...

...Oslo! Except for the blistering cold and snow for eight months of the year, I think we'd all be very happy there. Firstly, Oslo is very green and beautiful:

Has some nice quaint parts to it:

And a ski jump for the boys:

The only problem is that you need to have your own mint to live in Norway - everything costs a fortune and makes London's prices look positively bargain basement. AUS$18 for a crappy Maccas meal makes it even less attractive than it was before. And another downside is that the alcohol is heavily regulated too - you can only buy it at government outlets, and it's incredibly expensive and only about 3.5%.

On the upside, if you actually live there you get free health care and education, free looking after when you get old, nice tax breaks and an extraordinarily high standard of living. I imagine you'd be able to travel all the time because everywhere else would seem comparatively cheap. Even if you're unemployed in Norway, the government gives you the equivalent of $50,000 a year, which I think anyone would agree you can live quite comfortably on.

The reason for all this, I discovered over there, is that Norway is astronomically wealthy due to its vast oil and natural gas reserves. Apparently the government's strict control of the economy is due to the fact that there is so much money that if they let it go unregulated, everything would just go berserk (that's my incredibly simplistic explanation of things, as I don't have a clue about economics). It's like living in Brunei or something, but with a bit of socialism thrown in. But it's good to see at least one country using their income from oil in a positive way.

We stayed with some relatives of Brenton's friend Ben, the lovely Jan Erik and Bjerg, who were the Norwegian version of my grandparents. They were fabulous to us and fed us well too - beautiful fresh seafood everyday. We also met a few of Ben's other relatives and gained a bit of an insight into the Norwegian approach to things. Norwegians struck me generally as a quite insular but down to earth bunch who were aware of how good they had it but had no desire to mooch off their country's wealth, or take more than they needed. They were also very environmentally minded and acutely aware of the need to preserve the their country's resources for future generations.
So, on the whole, a pretty impressive and progressive lot.

Some other things I liked about Oslo:

Amusing and unusual buskers:

The Munch Museum, whose main feature was a pastel version of The Scream. The 'real' version was still being restored after it was stolen from the Museum in 2005. (Incidentally, the previous time the painting was stolen, in 1994, it was stashed at the house next to Jan Erik and Bjerg's, who woke up one morning to find a sting operation taking place in their front garden).

Endearing public works of art:

And lots of water surrounded by luscious green, foresty areas:

Next post: the delightful Copenhagen, where I was extremely embarrassed to find out that they show Australian Princess on TV.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Older and more paranoid?

Well team, another birthday has passed and I'm okay with it (just). I think I've told just about everyone I've ever met how much I hate ageing, but on reflection, life doesn't seem so bad at the mo. I'm living in my favourite place on earth and life seems to be rolling along quite smoothly. I have great friends, a decent fella and a relatively cushy job. All my family and friends are healthy and happy. And I am getting to travel all the time, which is my favourite thing to do. So, by way of birthday life review, I think it's all going okay.

I said in my last post that I would be saying something about the security situation in London. I am one of those unfortunate people who, over here, share their birthday with the anniversary of a terrorist attack. Because of this, security in London was amped up considerably in the weeks leading up to the date and getting anywhere was close to impossible. Thankfully it has eased up now, but at one point a tube station was being closed nearly every day due to a 'security alert'. Airports were being closed, causing the usual level of chaos. There were police everywhere. At the station close to my work, they closed 10/13 entrances and posted police next to the remaining ones to watch everyone coming in. I found myself scrutinising the people in my train carriage, which perhaps surprisingly I haven't really done before over here.

As it turns out, where terrorism fails you, incompetence steps in and fills the void. My usual train into the city, at the time I usually take it, derailed the other day at station before mine (Mile End) due to a tarpaulin being left on the track. It would have been horrible to be on that train, particularly since everyone on it would have been certain it was a terrorist attack and it would have been every bit as scary.

Anyway, things are relatively back to normal now, and the only problems on the train are the usual ones of signal failure or 'body under the train' (I kid you not). But, as a friend said the other day, at least we're living in a city of enough significance for someone to want to attack it.

Anyhoo, am off on Sunday for a week or so, to visit Oslo and Copenhagen. And yes I am planning to call on Princess Mary and yes I will say hi from all of you! Or maybe I will just try and test Australians' popularity in Copenhagen by trying to scam free drinks at the local bars. One or the other.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Oui, oui, c'est bon!

Ahhh Paris. Just lovely. Given that Brenton and I are both novices when it comes to French (okay, every language other than English), we did a good job at getting ourselves around and semi-communicating with the natives. We were also very proud of our mastering of the Metro, which is far nicer and about 10 degrees cooler than the Tube.

We saw the beautiful Notre Dame, which I have decided is my favourite Cathedral, mainly because it was a lot neater than Canterbury. But surprisingly, they allow tourists to parade around Notre Dame during sermons, surely knowing that a large number of those tourists are loud and annoying Americans who have zero respect for the no flash rule:

We also did the compulsory meander over to the Louvre and Champs-Elysees, via a number of pet shops where was spent ages ogling the adorable puppies, though I got a bit teary when I saw a little Sammy lookalike. We then spent a while embracing the European way of life, i.e. spending long periods of sitting around leisurely:

I also stopped by mtk's favourite bookshop, Shakespeare & Co, which was so cute and eccentric. Unfortunately, the top four floors were closed. But the first floor, which the shelves to the ceiling and big piles of books, was great. Since mtk didn't post a photo, I'm putting one up now:

Shakespeare & Co was in the Latin Quarter, which was the cool cafe/bar/club district that I've noticed is present in every European city....

...and, as usual with every city, the gay/lesbian population had realised it was a cool area before anyone else and made it their own. It was International Pride Day I think, so the streets were filled with people, music and a massive parade. I was slightly more into the spirit of things than Brenton, who got a bit annoyed when I started singing along to Kylie!

Of course, the purpose of the trip was to see Genesis, playing at the Parc des Princes of Saturday night. For those of you who are not already wise to this, Genesis is really just Phil Collins. The other members are Mike from Mike and the Mechanics (so I'm told) and some other guy, but they don't really do a lot.

I was amazed by how many people were at the stadium - there must have been about 30,000 or so. Who knew so many people were still fans of Genesis? Phil was great and impressively conducted most of his banter with the audience in French. Although, he and the band seemed to have a taste for long instrumental numbers which were a bit exasperating, especially when you're standing up. The stage was also amazing with the clearest big screens that I've ever seen:

Yes, I was one of the youngest people there!

The next day, we were extremely tired and hungover, so much so that we even missed the complementary buffet breakfast. Shocking. But we did manage to squeeze in a quick walk down to the Eiffel Tower.

I loved Paris, and I am surprising myself to say that its the first city I've visited over here that I have actually thought I could live in as an alternative to London. Particularly with the security situation being what it is, but more on that later...