Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Circus of Pornographic Horrors...

So many fellow Michael McIntyre and Hoff lovers may have noticed the Circus of Horrors cast crop up on the Britain's Got Talent show recently (and get through...interesting). I actually was given the delightful / soul destroying job of watching and reviewing an entire Circus of Horrors show for the paper so thought heck, why not upload my review to a) get the blog blogging again and b) fill in the bits they sadly missed out from their BGT entry

-Basically I am referring to all the parts involving nudity.

- Which unfortunately was most of it.

- Unfortunately as most of it was performed by the ageing dwarf.

- Sadly because it made me cry.


The Circus of Horrors - A Review

As the emphatic beats began booming around the blackened auditorium and the show’s world famous horrors slink their way out onto the stage via their individually, abnormal travelling methods (think backwards walking crab, fire spitting flying leaps), it becomes very apparent that the Circus of Horrors was not going to be like any other theatre show I have yet to encounter.

For a theatre - it should be noted - is not really the most ideal setting for a self-confessed ‘freak show’ that also seems to fall awkwardly in between being a Megadeath concert, or something from a paid-for Adult channel.

Celebrating its fifteenth “bloody” year, the Circus of Horrors promotional leaflet promised an"incredible revamped performance" for the milestone anniversary, where spectators would be taken on a "rockin’ & amp; shockin’ encounter through some of the most horrifying chapters in time." I was certainly intrigued.

What it did fail to mention, however was that a "shocking encounter" - Circus of Horrors style - often involves a large amount of nudity, including a placing of things in areas that they should never be placed and frequent overly vulgar sexual jokes – even for an adult show.

In addition, to allude to there being a storyline was an unnecessary oversight. For amongst the mish mash of props, scantily-clad performers and deafening electric guitar undertones from rock-metal group Dr Haze and the Inceptors from Hell, the performance may have well of been in a foreign language in as far as what could be understood.

Fortunately for the Circus of Horrors no-one visits a circus to see an ingeniously scripted show.

As far as what a circus is all about – the performers – this highly energized, talented bunch mainly didn’t disappoint. Though they did - they would be thrilled to hear - frequently horrify.

Incredible female contortionists had the whole audience wincing, skilled knife throwers and daring trapeze artists brought all to the edge of their seats, and the heavily tattooed and overly pierced ‘Hannibal’ filled the room with squeals as he proceeded to protrude his special sword swallowing surgically broken ribs out from his chest before finishing the painful-to-watch ingesting act.

Yet, jokes from the shows founder and ‘undead’ ringmaster Dr Haze frequently fell flat, the regular nudity of a particularly self-assured dwarf were possibly the most terrifying sights of the entire evening, and at times there was a sense of amateurishness with missed catches and prolonged stunts - perhaps the effect of an overly packed, exhausting tour schedule.

Undoubtedly the Circus of Horrors is not for the young, faint hearted, prudish or those of a nervous disposition. Yet there is something undoubtedly mesmerizing about the fast-paced, repellent yet extraordinary performances that will leave stronger-stomached fans wishing for more.

I would suggest for future performances however that ‘The Rock Circus of Erotic Horrors’ would be a more fitting title for the show.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

The trials and errors of new year's resolutions (Latest MSN Piece)

New year’s resolutions are notoriously difficult to keep. But as the wise old saying goes, if at first you don’t succeed, try, try, and try again – as it is the only way a new year’s victory will ever be achieved, says Vicky Lane.

New year's resolutions always start with such good intentions. Just look at the first one I ever made. I was 10, and resolved that it was time to relieve my mother from 'gerbil duty' and take a more active role in the lives of my increasingly ignored pets.

The year started well, and Frisky and Misty settled nicely into their new living arrangement. But soon the chore of throwing food into their cage each day proved challenging for my young self, and the new daily ritual changed into a sporadic event.

Then, the worst happened. Frisky ate Misty.

Unfortunately, I will never truly know if it was my negligence or a random psychotic spark in Frisky's personality that was responsible for Misty's untimely (and rather messy) end, but if any good came out of the tragedy, it was that I learnt a hard lesson about keeping new year's resolutions.

- And of course, of regularly feeding your gerbils.

I'm hardly the first to fall short of my new year's pledge however. Every 31 December millions of us around the world assert that this will be the year we lose weight/save money/give up smoking and so on. But then the new year's cake gets passed round, the January sales start, a packet of fags emerge from someone's pocket and before we know it we're back to square one with extra pounds (the weight kind, regrettably), a hefty smoker's cough and a lovely, yet completely unnecessary new winter wardrobe.

But at least we'll know better for next time right?

For despite the various failings and new year's setbacks, we should never be deterred. After all, self-development is what new year's resolutions are all about, and when we fail - we learn.

What's more, by compiling 'the list' each year we are taking important time to reflect and assess the areas in our lives we feel we should improve, the habits we need to control, and the goals and ambitions we want to strive for.

Our subsequent success or failing indicates whether we've pitched just right or aimed too high (we are only human after all), and ultimately, it establishes what we really value in life. Let's face it - if we are determined, we will succeed. But if deep down, we're not so bothered, things will slide (sorry Misty).

Often, we give up far too quickly. In fact, recent studies suggested that 20% of resolution makers will have cracked within the first week of January, and the majority of the remaining 80% will abort their vows throughout the remaining year - mostly by the end of February. It seems for many, a single slip up is the time to throw in the towel and accept the end of our new year aspirations.

But we should remember that the new year isn't over until the following one begins. So even if you do succumb to a sweet treat, go on a binger or miss the daily jog, that shouldn't be game over - but time to reset, and reassess. It's all about trial and error.

As you learn year after year that setting 28 new year's resolutions was a bit much, limiting your daily outgoings to a fiver ridiculously restrictive, and vowing to spend five hours in the gym every day life defying, you will considerably improve your chances of achieving the life changing results you originally hoped for.

Since my initial failure, you'll be pleased to hear, my success rate with new year's resolutions (and pets) has considerably improved. Throughout the years I have now tackled my rather unwarranted habit of tucking into a breakfast dessert each morning, managed to cut back on the eBay addiction that was plaguing my monthly outgoings, and have not only stuck with a jogging regime - but have even started (finally) to enjoy it. Oh - and I have managed to keep numerous other animals happy, well cared for and alive.

And so now, after years of new year experiments and some profound life reflection, I have put together the latest batch of resolution guinea pigs.

1) To stop sending birthday cards after someone's birthday.

2) To get rid of the happy fat without cutting back on the happiness (I propose a reintroduction of salad into my boyfriend's - and therefore my - life to do this. I never said anything about his happiness).

3) To no longer tell myself that I need the pressure of a deadline to do work when actually I know I just need to turn the X Factor off.

4) To not begin getting ready to go out at 8pm if we are meant to be meeting at 8pm.

5) To stop buying clothes online on an imaginary whim of how brilliant they are going to look to only later be disappointed, yet fail to return them.

Wish me luck - and let this year's trial begin. A full review and analysis of the results will be available December 2011.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Remember the snow? No? Oh well then here is a little reminder...

It's amazing really how something so beautiful can cause so much anxiety and chaos (similar to a tiger you might say - or Cheryl Cole). Fortunately for Hertfordshire, we are currently enjoying a lovely snow reprieve, hence why I felt this was a good time to put up some of the pics I took out in the good old Herts countryside. So enjoy and look back with fond memories - I suggest quickly though - before the next load comes down and pandemonium / extremely loud and constant swearing fills the land once more....

Sunday, 5 December 2010

LinkedIn – A Christmas Appeal.

For months colleagues and associates alike have insisted it’s “the next big thing”. Time and time again I have been assured I wouldn’t regret getting involved. I can think of numerous occasions where I have been reminded that I’m no-one until I’m “linked”. So eventually, I caved, and registered an account with the allegedly new social networking phenomenon, ‘LinkedIn’.

And boy do I regret it (damn those who assured…). From what I can make out it is nothing except an annoyance that sends endless, useless emails to my professional email box that I get unnecessarily excited about (only a special chosen few get the professional account address, and they normally have something interesting to say). Sure, I am now “Linked” with my father (who I also live with so probably not such a networking breakthrough), and numerous ex-colleagues (most of which I am also Facebook ‘friends’ – so again, fairly lacking in substance), but it is yet to bring me the fame and fortune result I was anticipating (true, it’s only been a month, but I like to see instance results in anything where I have invested effort).

I’m certain I’m not using it right. Perhaps I need some tutoring (can you hire someone for that kind of service?)I know Twitter took a while to kick in – maybe I just need some more time. (From a now twitterholic to all the non-twitter users out there – trust me – I’m a journalist - once you get past the far-spread and incorrect assumption that it is just mere ‘Facebook updates’, you will venture into a wonderfully intricate world of information, contacts, and people pretending to be people that they’re not – it’s simply delightful).

So am I dismissing ‘LinkedIn’ too quickly? Will my rash decision to delete my account be one I will regret for the rest of my life? Will potentially useful contacts be overlooked for ones with some fabulously horrific Facebook photo albums? I just don’t know at this point. So this is my Christmas appeal to you all. If there are any LinkedIn pros out there, then please, please, do get in touch. I really need your help. Thank you.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Alan Rusbridger says 'its a great time to be a journalist' -he also said a few other things the Guardian forgot to mention...

There was an article in today's MediaGuardian about last weeks Student Media Awards. It quoted Alan Rusbridger, editor -in-chief of the Guardian, telling students that it was a "great time to be a journalist" albeit at "a fantastically insecure moment because people can't yet absolutely put their finger on the economic button that's going to prove it all works."

What the paper failed to report however, was firstly the runners-up (I know! Apparently even second means feck all nowadays!) and, more importantly for this piece, when Rusbridger enthusiastically announced, "the best thing about student journalists is that you're all FREE!" Pursuing debate at the after party indicated that many of us felt this wasn't in fact our best attribute.

Regarding this speech, I was asked today by a fellow shortlisted Guardian Student Media Award achiever, who is writing an article about the issue of unpaid work in general, what I thought. He asked:

Do you have any kind words of wisdom about the editor's speech?
Do you think it was fair?

So here is my brief opinion of the whole unpaid work experience issue / Alan Rusbridgers comment that night:

"As a group who had just been acknowledged as some of the top student journalists in the country, it was a rather painful kick in the teeth to then be told that our best trait actually was the fact that we are “free”. What Alan Rusbridger should have said was that it was commendable that we are so dedicated to our journalistic ambitions that we are willing to do whatever is necessary to achieve them, even when that - as it usually does - involves working for free. Yet he seemed sincere, and even mocking in his initial declaration, much to the obvious annoyance of us students.

It is a worry, and makes me ask is this condescending opinion shared amongst all the editors? Do they always view student journalists as free lackeys rather than as potential journalists they’d genuinely consider investing within? And if this is the case - does it not indicate that we are wasting our time, efforts and money partaking in work experience that is apparently so disregarded?

To an extent we have to accept that we are liable ourselves for becoming such easy and desperate free labour. Perhaps we should put up more of a fight, perhaps we should put a cap on the amount of free work that can be done by any one person. But then, as Girush Gupta has found, to kick up a fuss is to be ostracised from the journalism community, and if you don’t want to do it, there is always someone else who will.

What Rusbridger said was very unfair, and he is, of course very much mistaken; we’re not free. No-one is free. For now, we take payment in the experience, contacts, skills and knowledge we obtain, but mainly, we continue building up our work experience in hope that one day our efforts will be acknowledged and procure a permanent paid role. And there is a limit – there has to be – we won’t and can’t work for free forever. But drawing a line over your ambitions is a tough decision, and ultimately, this habit of the ever-extending work experience period is going to cost the journalism world a lot of bright and eager young minds.

It is a catch-22 situation that certainly needs to be reviewed, and a media issue that Rusbridger certainly shouldn’t take so lightly."

What does everyone else think? Some comment / debate would be lovely.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Runner Up: Guardian Student Media Awards Writer of the Year, An Underdog's Tale

Certainly being shortlisted for the Guardian Student Media Awards ‘Writer of the Year’ category was a huge accomplishment in itself. I hadn’t expected it – and was rather taken aback by the simple and unexpected, ‘Dear Vicky, I’m delighted to confirm that you have been shortlisted…” email that popped up in my inbox mid-September.

Thrilled as I was, I didn’t for one minute expect to get any further. Call me a pessimist, but from looking at the academic credentials of my fellow “shortees” (University of York, Oxford, Warwick etc) I felt as I have been repeatedly made to feel since leaving university; that my non-Redbrick university background meant I was destined for the bottom of the consideration pile. I believed my shortlisting was a fluke, or perhaps even an attempt to initially showcase a more open minded competition - one that wasn’t so Oxford / Cambridge led as the awards had been criticised for in the past.

Perhaps this sounds very bitter, but I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who is incredibly fed up of being made to feel incompetent because I didn’t go to a “top” university. Never mind that I achieved a very high first, got the top mark of my university course, all my NCTJ preliminary qualifications, the top dissertation mark, managed to hold down a job whilst attaining all this etc, oh no, the fact is, my CV doesn’t read ‘Redbrick’, therefore it is no good.

How do I know this is the case? You may ask. You’re being ridiculous, you may accuse. It isn’t all like that, you may retain. And I hope you’re right. But if I got a £1 for every job vacancy I have forlornly read that says; “candidates not from a top ten university need not apply” or “Redbrick universities only”, or even the testimonials of previous successful journalism graduates I have seen explaining their esteemed university background, then I wouldn’t need to a get job; but instead would live happily in my early retirement on the south coast in a lovely seaside cottage.

The part that most frustrates me is the fact that I am being judged on how I was over seven years ago. I will be twenty-five in January, and as with most people, am very different to how I was aged seventeen / eighteen. I wasn’t perfect then (not that I’m saying I am now but you get my drift), and for various reasons had lost motivation at school and didn’t achieve as everyone expected, or more importantly, as I should of.

It would have been good for everyone to remember that I didn’t do that badly either – but the fact is, I’d mucked up my chances of getting into all the “acceptable” universities. This was a big slap in the face, and I realised I needed some time out to re-think my plans and re-focus my ambitions. So I bought a one-way ticket to Australia via Asia, and didn’t return for another two and a half years.

Me on my travels

This was a very valuable period of my life when I learnt many important, often hard-hitting life lessons; something, I would argue, a lot of students lack education within (even those from the top universities). Most importantly though, those years gave me the precious ‘time’ element so many are forced to make do without, to truly consider what I was really passionate about and decide what I wanted to do with the rest of my life - and that was journalism. I also was obviously far more mature by the time I commenced university because of my experiences (anyone who objects can see me), and I know for fact I would never have tackled the unusual subjects I did within my journalism work at university (Afghan refugees, gay erotic writers, Jehovah witnesses, Uganda) if I hadn’t had taken that time out to get a bit of perspective on life, and to grow up.

My point is, I believe there shouldn’t be so much weight in society today on academia alone. As long as a person is intellectually qualified to a perform the available role – irrelevant of where they gained that suitable knowledge –then there is no reason why a candidate from Portsmouth (for example), shouldn’t be judged as equally as a candidate from Oxford. Instead, factors such as extra merits and relevant experiences they themselves are responsible for having, should determine the eventual victor.

When my name was called as the runner up for the Guardian’s writer of the year award, I became entranced in an astonished bubble. I had been that certain it wasn’t me, yet there was my name flashing up on the screen and expectant, smiling heads looking back and coaxing me to take my place on the stage. The next sequence of actions: going up on stage, being congratulated, having my photo taken, floating back to my previous position - all happened so quickly that I didn’t even hear who’d won. I was just so overwhelmed.

A very happy (and tipsy) me with my runners-up prize

And you know who it turned out had won in the end? The guy from Manchester Metropolitan University – or for other words, the other non-Redbrick university ‘shortee’. It was nice – the Guardian had recognised us. They had read our work, as our work, not as “non-Redbrick” attempters, and it felt good.

So perhaps I should eat my words and learn to be more positive. And assuming that people start to take more notice - then I will.

And don’t get me wrong - I genuinely have nothing against those who did attend Redbrick universities - many I’ve met and am friends with often amaze me with their intellect (as have, notably and in keeping with the theme of this blog, many who didn’t). I am merely asking that those who did not attend “the greats” are not immediately written off because as I, the winner of the writer of the year, and the winner of the publication of the year (Kingston University) have proven, we also some pretty good stuff to offer.

For a final thought, I must tell the story that always comes to mind when I think Oxford / Cambridge students (unfortunately for them perhaps). On safari in Uganda I met a Cambridge medical student who was only too keen to repeat to everyone as often as possible her university background. It was lunchtime, and upon my purchase of a cheeseburger she naively enquired, “Oh, are you vegetarian then?” There was a short silence as I pondered whether she was being serious. She was. No, I eventually replied. Because that would be a cheese sandwich wouldn’t it?

This is why I know I don’t need a Redbrick education to do well.

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Age of the Internship

In an effort to put some more serious and professional pieces on my blog (some...), here is the most recent promotional article I wrote for work:

Britain is on the brink of an internship revolution. What was once a purely American phenomenon has seeped to this side of the pond and is spreading throughout the British work sector. No longer is an office complete without an intern, and no longer is a graduate’s CV absolute without having interned.

The age of the internship, it seems, is upon us.

And it couldn’t have come a moment sooner. As the depths of the global recession continue to plight the business division and hold back employment opportunities - especially for the hundreds of thousands of eager graduates flocking out of the university nest each year - internships are bridging a gap in an imperfect and oversubscribed system.

Seventy applicants are reported to now chase every job vacancy, and graduate unemployment is at its highest number in seventeen years. Where previously a university degree might have secured a position, a candidate’s academic record is no longer a priority. Employers now need more for their tightened budgets; they need experience and they need a certain level of competence – something many complain they struggle to find even amongst the masses of applicants they receive.

This is where an internship is coming into its own. It is filling the training gap universities are omitting, whilst developing a far higher calibre of applicants for companies who can’t afford to get it wrong.

Of course, as with any revolution, the internship practice has its critics. Caricatures depict unpaid interns making coffees, sorting the post or collecting the boss’s laundry; whilst the unions shout exploitation charges when the intern is given relevant work over the remedial tasks of the work experience kid.

The age of the internship, it seems, is still developing.

A middle ground must always be maintained. The intern needs to gain educationally from their experience and be in a stronger employment position by the end; and the staff time and company efforts dedicated towards training the intern need to be justified by the work the intern puts in.

Madsen Pirie, President of the Adam Smith Institute has hired a number of interns and thinks those who believe its exploitative is missing the point. In an article for Coffee House, he argued that internships had become widespread because nearly everyone benefits from them:

“For employers, work experience is a useful way to assess a candidate’s strengths and weaknesses, and to make a full-time hiring less risky,” he said.

“And it works the other way…People are better prepared for work than they were, and they go into jobs more aware of what work entails.”

With almost a third of graduates currently out of work, many are opting to remain productive by taking on internships rather than staying at home, and importantly, usually have no regrets about their decision.

In a recent survey conducted by Inspiring Interns, 100% of those who took part said they had found their internship experience useful. When asked why, they all agreed they had learnt a lot of new industry skills from the experience, and explained that the internship had either led to a permanent role within the company they had interned with, or, they believed, had been responsible for their achievement of another.

Similarly, in a recent national survey, 69% of employers said they were more likely to hire someone who had spent time in their organisation, whilst for 43% any work experience completed was an asset.

Andrew Leacy, the Head of Careers for BPP Business School, agrees with these findings.

“Having worked with students in Higher Education for over ten years I am very aware of the enormous value of work experience,” he said. “Whilst students tend to put the greatest effort into achieving good results in their exams I know that employers value "real world" experience almost as much as , if not more than strong academics.”

Internships are also providing a way for both sides to ‘test the water’. With many graduates coming away from university unsure what profession they want to pursue, an internship allows a comprehensive insight into their options, whilst equally allowing an employer time to make sure they are investing in the right candidate.

With economical factors restructuring the office environment and recruitment process all over the UK, internships are occupying spaces which would otherwise be filled with unemployed desperation, or for a struggling company, just left vacant.

As an intern recruitment company, Inspiring Interns strives to find meaningful internships in ambitious companies, and continues to support a revolution which is proving to have a strong, mutually beneficial impact, creating a win / win situation for all.

The age of the internship, it seems, is only going to strengthen.