AN INTERVIEW WITH CALEB FEMI

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I was lucky enough to do my teacher training at King’s with Caleb. He was a great teacher, able to mesmerise even a group of sleepless grown-ups with grammar; I believed every last thing he said about double negatives and pronouns. Last year, after months of not being in touch with him, I read that he had been named Young Person’s Poet Laureate of London and I was so excited. Not just at the fact that something good had finally happened in the year of all things shit, but because he would now go on to inspire young people beyond the four walls of his classroom in London and spread a love of poetry – something pupils notoriously loathe – across the country. I immediately text him and demanded he let me interview him for my blog. Here’s what I asked him and here’s what he told me.

Do you write poetry for a living?

I write poetry for a living, for necessity, for survival and sanity.

How did the whole ‘Young People’s Laureate’ thing come about?

It’s pretty mental. Mental indeed, I was watching Orange is the New Black one day in July, I had just quit teaching full time as a secondary English teacher when I received an email stating that I was part of a shortlist of poets considered for the role. From this, I was invited to interview, so I went.

They only bloody gave it to me. 

Are you currently working on any exciting projects you can talk about? 

I’m currently working on a poetry pamphlet, which will be out sometime next year. Also, I have a theatre show called Goldfish Bowl I’m creating, which will be showing in the summer.

Where do you source inspiration from?

Life, everyday life. All the good and bad stuff that happens and, yes, that includes my time as a teacher, which was both good and bad.

Did you find teaching poetry easier than teaching, say, a novel?

I think it was more of a matter of the quality and accessibility of the work, be it a novel or a poem. I don’t think there’s much difference between a novel and a poem at the heart of it. They are both trying to convey a human experience, so it’s quite hard to say…

Who am I kidding? 

POETRY.

You’ve said in interviews that young people need to create a new voice for themselves. In the fallout of 2016 (AKA the year of shade), what do you think that voice might sound like? 

A fog horn on the morning of a hangover, if you’re doing it right.

Favourite poet? Dead or alive.

Impossible, can’t answer that one.

What piece of advice would you give to a young person with a passion for the Arts but without a way in?

Keep knocking until someone opens. OR, you could forge your own route, find like-minded people and dig your way through with them.

I know you’ve spoken about finally being able to embrace all aspects of yourself – do you think London breeds this sort of mentality and allows people to do just that? Or do you think it’s down to the individual? 

Definitely down to the individual. London isn’t some utopia where everyone embraces you, it only becomes something closer to that when you can make peace with who you are and understand that you don’t need to justify your humanity to anyone, only then does the city seem more like a beaut. 

Want to know more or watch him perform? Go for it.

THE CRAFT

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I used to have a little piece of paper that sat on my desk where I used to work (often hidden behind files and piles of useless pieces of paper) which read: ‘Make Time For Your Art. It’s Important.’

I think it came from an old calendar a couple of colleagues and I pulled off the wall when we moved into that office but I couldn’t be sure. Anyway, for the year that I sat at that desk, that quote was a constant, welcome reminder for me to go home and do what I love. I enjoyed my job, most days, but it gave me a much-needed nudge to leave work each day and write, read, strike up a conversation with other creatives online or sign up to a talk or a course that would teach me more about my craft. But when it came to leaving that job and emptying out my desk, I’m not entirely sure where that piece of paper went. It must’ve got misplaced during the move and I miss it.

The truth is, there are lots of us who aren’t getting paid to do what we love. In fact, scrap that, most of us aren’t doing what we love. We are all pretty much working 9-5 or lengthy shifts each week and then heading home to sit on a sofa because we’re too worn out from the day to do anything other than eat pizza or drink wine. Doing what we love becomes less of a priority than paying bills on time and getting the dinner in. Hobbies become more of a hassle than anything.

But, the point is, they shouldn’t.

Over the last few weeks, as things have grown a little hectic, writing for pleasure has taken a bit of a backseat. I, like many of us, have fallen guilty of neglecting to do what I love. I have felt so exhausted after work or at the weekend that I have ignored that this space even exists and it has made me more miserable than I ever could have imagined. It has left me feeling deflated, uninspired and a little lazy.

But all this is about to change.

I’m not promising that I’ll be burning through keyboards faster than you can say J K Rowling but I am making a conscious decision to write more and post more and I think even pulling this together when I can barely keep my eyes open is a good start.

I’ve learnt that when that piece of paper that I kept on my desk used to whisper at the end of a long day that making time for art is important, it meant so much more than I ever could have realised at the time.

Perhaps this is a little nudge that you might have needed tonight?

Here’s to all of us being creative after hours.

THE UNDERGRADUATE

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Living in Bristol means that, since the start of September, the city is now awash with students and I have found myself queuing for longer at the supermarket, dodging bleary-eyed teens on my walk into work and being forced to reflect on rugby initiation ceremonies, which I still can’t quite believe are a ‘thing’.

Aside from being an old grump about Bristol being busier and the fact that students here are better dressed than most adults with actual wages, I can’t help but feel for the first years who have been arriving with their brand new pots and pans over the last few weeks. I regularly overhear awkward conversations between barely-friends and often hear second and third years talking like they have life sussed. Seeing all these fresh faces makes me think back to when I was at university and how desperate I was for someone to guide me through it all because, no matter how it may have seemed to my fellow students, I actually really struggled with the whole thing.

With this in mind, I have decided to write a list of (hopefully) helpful and (at least semi) relevant advice that I would give to any fresher, should they ask. Baring in mind I do not have my shit together in the slightest, I’m not holding out for a young person to come up to me and ask my opinion on how they should spend their time at university, but should one lonely fresher read this and find some comfort on a lonely day in a new city, for that it will have all been worth it.

So, here goes.

Let your parents help you pack

Although you’re probably all moved in already, don’t huff at the hundred sachets of lemsip hiding at the bottom of your suitcase or the childhood comfort blanket they forced you to bring. Trust me, when the weather grows colder, you’re feeling a little lonely and you fall ill? You’ll be grateful for their interfering.

Be kind

Looking back, me and my friends were so wrapped up in our own world to even notice that there were people sitting alone at dinner times or in lectures. I was so worried about not making friends that I ignored those who really could’ve used one. Those people who refuse to come out of their rooms? Listen, they’re not being weird, they’re probably just struggling, so knock on their door and offer to share a cup of tea and a packet of Hob Knobs with them. You could be the difference between them quitting or seeing it through. And that hour spent in their room? I promise that it will make no difference to forging new relationships for yourself. Open your eyes to everyone around you – uni can be tough when facing it alone.

Go to lectures

I hate to sound like your grandma, but just fucking go. Yes, even to those 9 o’clock ones that the fit guy from your course doesn’t even go to. Let’s be honest, you probably have no more than ten contact hours a week – not going is not only a really bad habit to get into but it doesn’t leave a positive impression on your tutors (who you will really need down the line). Spend the rest of the day in bed if you must, just make sure you get up and go.

Participate

I’m not just talking in seminars, I’m talking your whole course: presentations, actually reading the books, pair work – own it. Never forget that you have paid thousands of pounds for the privilege of being there. You won’t be the mug for geeking out, those pissing away their degree will, which brings me onto my next point…

Don’t waste too much time drinking

I’m not going to lie, some of my greatest memories from my time at uni were from when I was blind drunk on WKD (see photo evidence above) but my friends and I went out a lot. Like, four times a week, a lot. It’s fun, but it’s not conducive to much else. University is supposed to be a time of discovery and exploration – if you’re hungover, you’re less likely to go to lectures, get involved in the cool stuff or find something you feel really strongly about. Missing one night out isn’t going to make a difference to your life, no matter how hard that is to believe at the time.

Don’t get sucked into the ‘hierarchy’

Exeter was pretty bad for this. Those people who are part of the ‘it’ crowd who always walk around in large groups and talk five decibels louder than everyone else? They will probably refer to university as the best days of their lives, even after travelling the world, having kids and getting married… you do not want to be one of them.

Find something to do

Basically, get involved in something other than shots at the bar. Think sport, charity work or writing for the student newspaper. This is one of my biggest regrets looking back, especially because I knew I wanted to get involved with so much at the time but just… didn’t. Branch out of your comfort zones and make the most it because you will spend the rest of your adult life wishing for so much spare time.

Ramp up that CV

If you can intern during your holidays, then for god’s sake, do it. Ask your friend’s mum or that distant relative if you can get some work experience at their company, gain as much relevant experience as you can, start a blog (I started this in my third year) or spend time researching what you might want to do when you graduate.

Have that relationship if it feels right

People always say that you should remain single while you’re at uni. Although I think it’s good to have a bit of both (I was one of those lucky ones), if you meet someone and fall in love, then go for it. That shit doesn’t happen often, so embrace it, people.

If you need to work, then work

I was pretty much the poorest person at Exeter, which made it difficult to find the motivation to go to work when hardly anybody else did. The peace of mind I got when I received my pay packet, however, was well worth it.

Finally and most importantly…

Be yourself. It might sound like such a cliche, but honestly, this was what ruined university for me. I have spent many a conversation blaming the city itself or the abundance of obnoxious rich kids as to why I hated Exeter so much, but really, I was just pretending to be someone I wasn’t and that shit is HARD after a week or so. Be yourself and you will find true friends and enjoy great experiences without driving yourself insane pretending to be someone you’re not.

So, undergraduates of the UK, even though you will probably ignore all of the above, get ready for an emotional time – on so, so, so many levels.

Take care of each other and good luck.

THE JOB CENTRE 2016

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This time last year I decided to start something.

That ‘something’ was a month-long campaign whereby women of all ages would share their stories of job success in order to help other women realise their fullest potential and strive to accomplish their personal career goals.

I was so tired of seeing women posting wishy-washy quotes on Instagram about fate and ‘following dreams’ instead of spending their time chasing what could be a reality, whilst men were allowed to be openly competitive, ambitious and were being praised for working hard. I was hearing so little about the practical ways in which women could achieve their goals that I realised it was no wonder we sometimes felt a bit lost when it came to finding our feet in the workplace and so I decided to do something about it.

In truth, I had high hopes of becoming a fashion designer when I was younger but without any real direction or advice being readily available to me, it quickly became a dream that disintegrated into nothingness. I didn’t know one single person who worked in fashion – so how was I to step onto such an alien career ladder without someone offering me the right rung? Little did I know, at fourteen, that had I applied to Central St Martins or LCF and interned at a shit ton of fashion houses instead of sketching in a notebook whilst listing all of the reasons why I wouldn’t make it, this dream could have become a reality. Looking back, I think I just liked pretty clothes and probably wouldn’t have enjoyed working in fashion anyway – but still – you never know what could have happened had I been offered the right sort of advice or stumbled across something like, dare I say it… this.

Although there are plenty of women out there – some of whom you will hear from over the next four weeks – who know exactly what they are doing, where they are going and how they’re going to get there, there are some women, across the UK and the rest of the world, who haven’t been offered advice – or even the option – of pursuing a successful career and really making something of themselves, be it a midwife, journalist or athlete.

And this is where The Job Centre steps in.

Over the next four weeks, as will happen every September from now on, you will read about the successes of various women in a whole host of different roles and industries, ranging from copywriters and hoteliers to bloggers and barristers. Some of them might be doing the exact same thing you do and others might be working a job that you’ve never even heard of. Many of them might have had contacts that helped them get to the top and others might have grafted from the very bottom. Either way, they all have something valuable, interesting and insightful to say about how to get into a particular profession, so listen up, ladies.

If you have recently graduated and are looking to be steered in the right direction or if you are a bit older and are looking to switch jobs before the year is out, then read, comment, ask, engage and even disagree with these women if you really want to. After all, this is a conversation, not a lecture and I want everyone to get as much out of it as I do.

It isn’t difficult to do what you love, you just need to know what it takes to get there.

So, without further ado, welcome to The Job Centre 2016.

Tap the faces below to hear stories of hard work, dedication and success.

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#WHENIGROWUPIWANNABE

THE JOB CENTRE – JESS MARK

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Age: 26

Occupation: Nutritionist

Which means: I’m currently working on a study at King’s College University, helping patients to reduce their risk of developing Cardiovascular Disease within the next 10 years. We are testing whether a psychological technique known as ‘Motivational Interviewing’ can help patients with lifestyle changes such as eating healthily and increasing exercise to reduce heart disease risk. I also write health and nutrition articles for TotallyTween – an online magazine for 8-12 year olds.

Did you go to uni? I studied Nutrition at the University of Nottingham and graduated in 2010.

What was your first job after graduating? I decided to go travelling, so my first job was working at Wimbledon. I had a few different jobs to save money to fund my 8 month long trip. When I got back from travelling, I decided to really pursue the nutrition route but it was so difficult to find a paid job! I did lots of volunteering at various charities, an internship at a Nutrition PR company and then decided to go freelance. My first proper nutritionist role was for Hillingdon council, working as a Nutrition Coach for teens, helping them to manage their weight and become more active. I was also running nutrition workshops for parents and children in primary schools across south London.

Do you have to have a degree to do your job, or is work experience more important? Having a nutrition degree and work experience were both really important in landing the job. For this project in particular, other health-related and psychology qualifications were also accepted as the role incorporates nutrition, exercise and psychology. However, other nutrition roles I have had ask for a degree as a requirement.

What’s the difference between a Nutritionist and a Dietician? Currently, anyone can call themselves a nutritionist as the title isn’t protected in the same way as a Dietitian. There is however, The Association for Nutrition (AfN), a charity that holds a register of Nutritionists who work at senior levels across the NHS, academia, industry and food service. This is to enable public safety and ensure those who release information are adequately trained and knowledgeable enough to provide evidence-based information and follow strict code of conduct. In order to join the register, you have to demonstrate core competencies in nutrition and science. The AfN currently accredits a number of undergraduate and postgraduate courses – my course at Nottingham was one of them. Students completing an accredited degree programme have the right to apply to join the register. Joining the register post-graduation gives you the title Associate Nutritionist (ANutr) and after 3 year’s worth of experience you can become a Registered Nutritionist (RNutr). This is useful because employers are increasingly looking for registered status in posts they advertise.

What’s does a typical day at the office look like for you? No day is ever the same, which I love! I spend most of my time at GP surgeries or community venues working with my patients. If I’m in the office, I attend meetings, catch up on emails, book my patients in for the week and organise rooms at GP surgeries and venues. I also have to plan my sessions and write up patient outcomes from sessions. Working on a study means that there is quite a lot of data to be collected and recorded. When I’m out of the office, I’m either working one to one with patients or delivering group sessions.

What’s the dress code? Smart/casual. As I spend a lot of time travelling to different locations, my main priority is comfort but I try to look as professional as possible. I do have to carry lots of resources to sessions, so it’s not unusual to see me running around in my trainers with a change of shoes in my backpack!

Where do you see yourself in two to three years time? What are your achievable goals? I would like to get back doing freelance work. I really enjoyed creating my own projects, especially for children. I think it’s so important for children and parents to be properly educated about food, so I want to continue health promotion in this area. I would also quite like to do some more studying and work abroad.

If you could do anything other than what you do now, what would it be? I really can’t see myself not working in this field. I love food, so it would probably be something food related – maybe own a restaurant or set up a food delivery service?

The world has gone mad for ‘Super Foods’ and ‘Clean Eating’ – is it all  just another moneymaking scheme? I definitely see it as a massive marketing ploy. There’s always a particular food that we ‘must be eating’ that will ‘solve all our health problems’. The term ‘Superfood’, however, has no official definition and the EU have banned health claims on packaging unless it can be supported by scientific evidence because it gives us a false expectation of the benefits. ‘Clean eating’ also has no definition or scientific support. The reality is, if you eat a ‘Superfood’ thinking that it will undo the damage of consuming other unhealthy, processed foods, it won’t! Superfoods cannot compensate for unhealthy eating; no food on its own can work miracles. The Superfood trend exploits the fact that healthy lifestyle choices can reduce our risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, strokes and cancer. There’s a massive wellness trend at the moment with a lot of influence from social media- Instagram in particular. You see lots of incorrect advice being handed out which can be very dangerous as it promotes confusion and misinformation. I know it’s boring and everyone has heard it before, but a healthy and balanced diet really is key. Limiting yourself to consuming only a certain superfood or ‘eating clean’ and restricting other important nutrients can be detrimental too. Balance and moderation are what’s important. We need to eat what’s right according to our individual needs.

And finally, what one piece of practical career advice would you give to your younger self?

STOP WORRYING!  I would tell myself that there’s no point worrying if the problem can be solved, and if it can’t be solved there is still no point in worrying! It’s not going to help the situation, so just let it be. If you’ve tried hard enough and really given something your best shot, you’ve got to trust that things will take care of themselves and work out in the end.

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My beautiful best friend, confidante and foodie. We like to eat. And party.

Questions for Jess? Just ask.