Friday, 28 December 2012

Lover of Literature

There is nothing better on a cold winter's day than curling up next to a log fire with a cup of fruit tea and a good book. Books have the power to educate, enlight and let you escape from the world around you. In my time at University and at School I have read a very wide range of books some that have become personal favourites and others that will never be touched again. However, when it comes to compiling a list of a good books where does one begin?

Previously I have mentioned the BBC's Top 100 Book list and it is this that I have found to offer the most comprehensive list of good books. One of my aims for this year was to increase the number of books on the list that I have actually read. It goes without saying that the Russian works of literature are covered but now it was time to target some other genres of literature.

Below is a list of the Top 100 Books and the 'x' denotes those I have read while the 'y' denotes books in my posession that I will endeavour to read in 2013.

The list;

1. The Lord of the Rings, JRR Tolkien
2. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen X
3. His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman X
4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams
5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling X
6. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee X

7. Winnie the Pooh, AA Milne X
8. Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell X
9. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, CS Lewis X
10. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë X
11. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
12. Wuthering Heights, Emily Brontë X
13. Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks
14. Rebecca, Daphne du Maurier
15. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger X
16. The Wind in the Willows, Kenneth Grahame X
17. Great Expectations, Charles Dickens Y
18. Little Women, Louisa May Alcott X
19. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres
20. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy X
21. Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell
22. Harry Potter And The Philosopher's Stone, JK Rowling X
23. Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, JK Rowling X
24. Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban, JK Rowling X
25. The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien Y
26. Tess Of The D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy
27. Middlemarch, George Eliot
28. A Prayer For Owen Meany, John Irving
29. The Grapes Of Wrath, John Steinbeck
30. Alice's Adventures In Wonderland, Lewis Carroll X
31. The Story Of Tracy Beaker, Jacqueline Wilson X
32. One Hundred Years Of Solitude, Gabriel García Márquez
33. The Pillars Of The Earth, Ken Follett
34. David Copperfield, Charles Dickens
35. Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Roald Dahl X
36. Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
37. A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
38. Persuasion, Jane Austen X
39. Dune, Frank Herbert
40. Emma, Jane Austen X
41. Anne Of Green Gables, LM Montgomery X
42. Watership Down, Richard Adams
43. The Great Gatsby, F Scott Fitzgerald X
44. The Count Of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
45. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh X
46. Animal Farm, George Orwell X
47. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens X
48. Far From The Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy
49. Goodnight Mister Tom, Michelle Magorian
50. The Shell Seekers, Rosamunde Pilcher

51. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett X
52. Of Mice And Men, John Steinbeck
53. The Stand, Stephen King
54. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy X
55. A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth
56. The BFG, Roald Dahl X
57. Swallows And Amazons, Arthur Ransome
58. Black Beauty, Anna Sewell
59. Artemis Fowl, Eoin Colfer
60. Crime And Punishment, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
61. Noughts And Crosses, Malorie Blackman
62. Memoirs Of A Geisha, Arthur Golden X
63. A Tale Of Two Cities, Charles Dickens Y
64. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCollough
65. Mort, Terry Pratchett
66. The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
67. The Magus, John Fowles
68. Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
69. Guards! Guards!, Terry Pratchett
70. Lord Of The Flies, William Golding
71. Perfume, Patrick Süskind
72. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell
73. Night Watch, Terry Pratchett
74. Matilda, Roald Dahl X
75. Bridget Jones's Diary, Helen Fielding X
76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt
77. The Woman In White, Wilkie Collins
78. Ulysses, James Joyce
79. Bleak House, Charles Dickens
80. Double Act, Jacqueline Wilson X
81. The Twits, Roald Dahl X
82. I Capture The Castle, Dodie Smith
83. Holes, Louis Sachar
84. Gormenghast, Mervyn Peake
85. The God Of Small Things, Arundhati Roy
86. Vicky Angel, Jacqueline Wilson
87. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
88. Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons
89. Magician, Raymond E Feist
90. On The Road, Jack Kerouac
91. The Godfather, Mario Puzo
92. The Clan Of The Cave Bear, Jean M Auel
93. The Colour Of Magic, Terry Pratchett
94. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
95. Katherine, Anya Seton
96. Kane And Abel, Jeffrey Archer
97. Love In The Time Of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez
98. Girls In Love, Jacqueline Wilson X
99. The Princess Diaries, Meg Cabot X
100. Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie 

My Current total is 36. New Year's Resolution Number 1 - to hit at least 50 by the end of 2013.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Funemployment 3 - The Job Centre

Call me old fashioned, but I like being able to pay my rent, buy food and you know generally have money, so given that my numerous job applications had not led to actual employment it was time to register for Job Seekers Allowance, or JSA as it is more commonly known. 

After my first eight attempts to battle with the registration part of the website had failed, I half gave up, made a cup of coffee then prepared for round nine. No website was going to stop me from receiving the money back that I have paid in through income tax! Eventually, after much swearing I was in and registered. 

The next day I got a text informing me that I would need to come into my local Job Centre Plus for an initial registering interview, to confirm details, have the process explained etc etc. 'Excellent' I thought, 'that was much quicker than expected!' Only problem, the time of the interview was when I would be on a train heading back to London after visiting my Grandpa on his 93rd birthday.

So I called the number to rearrange my interviews and was greeted with a pre-recorded message informing me that they were 'only open 9-5 Monday through Friday', so why text me at 6:30pm?! Clearly someone was there or else the text would not have been sent!

The next day I had slightly more luck, I got through to a person, was transferred to under 25s department and was met with a very surly man for whom customer service was clearly not his vocation. This is the conversation that followed;
Me - Hiya, I have had a text come through for an interview for JSA, but I cannot make that appointment and I would like to change it.
Man - Why can't you make the appointment?
Me - I have a prior engagement.
Man - Oh, so what is SO important that you do not feel that you can turn up to your JSA interview?
Me - Well, my Grandpa is turning 93 so I am out of London visiting him and I'll be on a train then heading back to London. So you can make my interview then but I won't physically be able to attend.
Man - oh. So what day can you attend?
Me - Any day but Monday.
Man - *sigh* fine, I'll let them know and they'll give you a ring, but I can't promise anything.

Three hours later I had a 30 second conversation with a women who moved my interview back by one day and said that it was no problem at all.

It is at this point I should have realised what my experience in the Job Centre would be like.

After my initial registration interview I had to return to put all of my details onto the system and check that my approach to job hunting was correct etc. As a person who is qualified and under 25 I am classified as 'High Priority' as my only reason for not working is simply that I do not have a job. My conversation with my adviser was what could politely be described as 'an experience' and some part of the conversation follows;
Job Centre Adviser (JCA) - Highest level of education?
Me - Masters Degree.
JCA - What's a Masters Degree?
Me - Pardon?
JCA - What's a Masters Degree? Is it like a degree?
Me - Yes, I have an Undergraduate Degree and a Post-Graduate Degree
JCA - So you have a PHD?
Me - No, I have a Masters.
JCA - *looks lost*
Me - PHD is the highest qualification you can get from a University, then it's Masters, then BA. I have the second highest level of University education.
JCA - Oh! In what subject?
Me - *bracing myself for the usual response* Russian...
JCA - Oh cool, so are you Russian?
Me - No, I'm English I just studied it at school etc etc
JCA - So do they need many Russian speakers in Russia?
Me - *slightly bemused* Erm... well yes, but they also need them in the UK too.
JCA - So do you think you'll go back to your home country?
Me - I am currently in my home country, I am English.
(some more time is spent explaining that I am in fact English)
JCA - So do you speak any other languages?
Me - Yes, French to A-level standard and Czech to A-level standard
JCA - How do you spell Czech?
Me - C-Z-E-C-H
JCA - What does to A-level standard mean? Like, can you speak them and read them?
Me - Yes....
JCA - Wow, you speak a lot of languages, clearly they are you thing!
Me - Well I am a language student..
JCA - Any other languages?
Me - Well, English obviously
JCA - *looks blank* what? You speak English?
Me - Well, yes that is what this conversation is taking part in....
(some more time and conversation elapses where I am asked where I have been looking, I list some job sites and am told that I have the correct approach, we then move on putting in my job choices on the database)
JCA - First job preference?
Me - Translator, interpreter, you know that sort of thing.
JCA - In which language?
Me - Erm... Russian?
JCA - And second?
Me - Content writing.
JCA - Context writing?
Me - CONTENT writing, you know articles, papers, blog posts that sort of thing.
JCA - I'm not sure what that comes under *searches database* erm it's saying writers and authors, does that sound right?
Me - yes...
JCA - Third choice?
Me - Teaching or tutoring.
JCA - So you want to be a Primary school teacher?
Me - *slightly confused as to what is happening* no, I can't legally teach in a school I don't have a PGCE but I can tutor children or adults one-to-one.
JCA - Ah ok, in what?
Me - Russian......?
JCA - Cool. Right that's all done. Can you just check the details and then I think we are done.
(I check the details then point out that half of them are in fact wrong, they get corrected and we continue)
JCA - Oh.
Me - What?
JCA - it's not saved.
Me - *look of despair that we'll have to go through everything again*
JCA - Oh no wait it's all fine. I just have to check that you know that you have to come here on a weekly basis?
Me - *resisting the urge to cry and shout something like oh God I have to come in here for this EVERY WEEK!* yes I am aware of this, every week until I get a job.
JCA - Until you get a job?
Me - well, yes because then after than I will be employed so I won't need JSA....
JCA - Oh yeah! 

After this conversation there were some more details about other ways to find work, I was informed that I was clearly qualified, I knew what I wanted and that to be honest their database probably would not be much use as my area was so specific. It was at this point I was about to ask why I was even being put through this until I remembered that this person is the one who has the authority to allow or deny my JSA payments so I simply smiled wished them a Merry Christmas and headed for the nearest coffee establishment (not Starbucks) to try to work out whether or not I was on some new reality show or if that had actually just happened. It turns out it had. My motivation to get a job is now even higher. If you are a future employer reading this, please hirer me!

Film Review - Kuka

During the research part of my dissertation I had the opportunity to watch a wide variety of Russian film, some of which I had never seen before, some of which scared the life out of me and some, like Kuka, which have now before new personal favourites.

Iaroslav Chevazhevskii’s film Kuka is set in St. Petersburg and follows the title character Kuka, a six-year-old girl who lives alone and is too independent for her age. Kuka is an orphan, who receives her Grandmother's pension and runs the house by herself; cooking, cleaning and doing the shopping. When her Grandmother dies the girl, fearing that she will be taken away to the children's home, keeps it a secret and lives alone in her Grandmother's house. Despite being completely alone in the world Kuka's only problem seems to come when she wants to leave the house as waiting for her is the mortal danger of a huge, toothy German shepherd (who she later befriends and keeps as a guard dog).

Juxtaposed against Kuka is the character of Lena, a 38 year-old woman, whose life it would seem is sorted - she lives in Moscow, has a career, a 'prestigious' boyfriend etc but Lena knows that this all leads nowhere and decides to move to St. Petersburg to do something more useful with her life. While out on a job with Social Services Lena and Kuka's paths cross, seeing that Kuka needs help Lena decides to track her down and offer her assistance. Having found out that Kuka is parentless Lena decides to adopt Kuka giving a happy end to this melodramatic fairytale.

Despite living completely on her own and being totally independent Kuka’s childhood is portrayed as a generally happy one; she does not need to worry about money, she plays in the park with other children, plays make-believe with her teddy bear, her only adversary is the dog who bars the entrance to her house (who she later befriends), and on the whole she does not seem upset by the absence of a parental figure from her life. In the end Lena is able to resolve her issues of not having a child by adopting Kuka and Kuka is able to return to the realm of childhood as she now has Lena to take over all the adult responsibilities.

Unfortunately, a childhood on the streets is a fairly common occurrence in the post-Soviet period; although it is hard to calculate exactly how many street children there are currently in Russia as a whole in St. Petersburg alone it is estimated that there are 16,000 street children. Sadly the situation is nothing new; following the Revolution and Civil War by 1922 there were an estimated seven million children living rough in stations, derelict houses, buildings sites, rubbish dumps, cellars, sewers and other squalid holes, and as with the street children of today begging, peddling, petty crime and prostitution were the means by which they survived.

When watching Kuka it is important to bear two things in mind; firstly, the director wanted to make a film that would raise awareness of the fact that there are a high number of street children living in Russia today, and secondly, that this is a fairytale. Kuka may be set in present day St. Petersburg but had it been filmed more realistically then it would have been a much darker, grittier film more akin perhaps to Lilia 4-eva or The Spot.

Sadly, I have yet to find a copy of this film with English subtitles meaning that only those who speak Russian can enjoy this wonderful film. I have managed to find a trailer of the film which gives a flavour of what happens in the full movie. As I said earlier, this is without a doubt one of my new favourite films.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Funemployment Part 2 - Skillz

It has been a couple more days and I am still funemployed and still having to rest, dropping that box on my foot clearly did not help the healing process, so I have decided to harness social media and use my blog as a way to find a job. My JSA agreement states that I have to actively look for work so I am hoping that this counts. In this post I am going to list all of my skills and hope that this will impress any future employers enough to hire me. 

I have an MA (Hons) and BA (Hons) in Russian Studies from University College London.
A-Levels, GCSEs, Additional Maths and various Language Qualifications.

English - Native Speaker
Russian - Near Fluent
French - A-level
Czech - GCSE/A-Level
Welsh - Odd Words and Phrases

Written For:
In my time as a blogger I have written for my blog, Voices of the 7 Billion, UCL Conservative Society, UCL Chocolate Society, The Hackery Blog, and the TRG blog.

Events Manager for CFoR, Social Sec for UCL Conservatives, Website and Publicity for UCL Conservatives, Tastings Officer and Publicity for UCL Chocolate Society, Deputy Area Chairman for Bristol and Gloucestershire CF.
I have campaigned in Local Council Elections, By Elections, General Elections, and both Boris Mayoral Campaigns.
I am currently listed in the Top 50 Conservative Bloggers in the TP Guide to Political Blogging, and have featured in that list since 2008.

I worked the entire time I was studying for my MA in order to pay my way through University.
I have lived in Russia and travelled as far East as Siberia, South as the Caucasus Mountains, North as Saint Petersburg and West as Moscow.
I can cook, sew, knit as well as wire a fuse and assemble my own furniture.
I play Violin and Piano.
I am first aid trained meaning that I have the knowledge to potentially save a life.

Let the job hunt continue...

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

iOrphan Charity Dinner

Over the summer I wrote my MA Dissertation on the subject of Childhood in Post-Soviet Russian Cinema. Despite my initial thoughts that this would be a rather jolly subject matter I quickly learnt that this is sometimes not the case. One section of my dissertation focused on the issue of orphans in Russia and how they are represented in film.
One website that I used while doing the research for the section on orphans was iOrphan.On January 14th 2013 iOrphan will be hosting a fundraising dinner at Samarqand Restaurant in London. The guest speaker will be Craig Murray the former Ambassador to Uzbekistan who will be sharing some of his experiences of his time there. 
The event looks set to be a great one and luckily there are some tickets still available. To buy tickets and help raise funds for this worthy charity click here.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Funemployment Part 1

As of November 30th at 4pm I became unemployed, or as my housemate has dubbed it 'funemployed.' Since then, aside from registering for JSA and job hunting, I have also had an operation on my foot, which has slightly hampered my ability to literally look for work. Especially since I was explicitly told by the NHS to keep my foot elevated and to rest. Anyone who knows me well will know that me and sitting still just don't happen. 
Anyway, as it turns out my foot hurts so much that walking or running around is physically impossible, so my attentions have turned to filling my time with other activities to stop myself from going crazy. 
After several Google searching for 'Jobs Using Russian' and several pages of results suggesting that I either become a Nanny or register as a Love Bride, I decided it was time for a break. It was at this point that my eyes fell upon my craft box. A box I have had for as long as I can remember which contains all of my arts and crafts materials. A box which I have not opened properly since I began to study for MA and work to put myself through University. A box which now has kept me amused for the last week and stopped me from going stir crazy.
Since opening Pandora's Box, as this box shall now be called, I have become slightly obsessed with arts and crafts to the extent that in the last week I have made; 5 name badges, decorated 12 Christmas tree baubles, embroider one card, one picture and near completed embroidering two cross stitch patterns, planned out two cushion covers and two aprons, and continued knitting myself a blanket. I have also baked 1 cake and 2 batches of ginger biscuits, the only thing stopping me from working my way through my reciepe book is the fact that standing for long periods of time hurts my foot.
The conclusion to this piece is that being funemployed and being under enforced bed rest do not mix and that I need some kind of occupation to do. As my foot continues to get better, leaving aside earlier when I dropped a box on it, I can start to physically job hunt until then it is back to arts and crafts. If anyone has any requests for things they want me to make send them in, or if anyone would like to employ me that would also be great.

Things I have made thus far;

Monday, 3 December 2012

Dear Santa

The Christmas season is well and truly upon us, my flat is decorated and my friends/family are already fed up with my terrible renditions of 'All I want for Christmas', 'God rest ye merry gentlemen' and 'Baby come home'. So all that is left to do is write my letter to Santa so that he knows exactly what to bring me on Christmas morning.

Dear Santa,

Thanks for the gifts last year - that Onesie was spot on and combined with the gin and tonic in a can and all the chocolate made for a very merry Christmas, so nice one there. Apart from my standard requests for an Aston Martin DB9, the winning lotto numbers to the Euromillions draw and a bottomless bottle of Gordon's I would like to add a few new things to my Christmas list.

This year if it is not too much trouble I would like the following books to my list; A Christmas Carol, Great Expectations, Les Miserables, The Hobbit, The Winter Palace, The Count of Monte Cristo, A Little Princess, and The Secret Garden. Plus the following films; The Mirror (Tarkovsky), The Island (Mamonov), Spooks Season 9 and 10, Brideshead Revisited (The one with Jeremy Irons in), and Beauty and the Beast (Disney, not the French version). 

If there is space in your sleigh after tossing all of that lot in a girl can always use more jewellery, clothes and shoes (ignore what the BF says I do NOT have 100 pairs and I really do need more). Oh and a Furby! I'd love a furby, I am not allowed pets in my flat so this is the next best thing.

Thanks in advance and Merry Christmas,


Laura xoxo