Unsafe Space

The Gair Rhydd Column: Labour Pains

I've got 99 problems... but I think they're all insignificant.

A couple of weeks ago, I got a job. After avoiding doing so for a year and a half, I finally had to cave. I needed a job for several reasons, the majority of which revolve around the simple fact that I just love spending money.

The first entity that I just love to binge my limited cash on is clothing in Zara. Zara is to me what soft blue tint glasses are to Elton John and what shouting at the working class is to Jeremy Kyle. It is an erotic wonderland of European-chic elegance and the only shop in the world that doesn’t make me want to strangle myself after trying on a few pairs of jeans. At least once a week I find myself dancing around the store with my left arm burning under the weight of nine hundred pairs of brightly coloured, floral print trousers and my right heaped with neutral toned jumpers baring bizarre foreign expressions on, that translate to something random like ‘it is summer’ or ‘beautiful, sunset, life’.

My second weakness is food. There is nothing better than spending money on food. It is both the most disgusting and satisfying way to easily blow twenty quid. The fundamental problem is that I hate doing a weekly shop. I despise it. Hiking to Lidl in the Antarctic blizzards to do an absolutely necessary food shop is quite literally, in my mind, worse than starving to death. Not only do my hands burn for the following 48 hours from having my indestructible bag for life cutting into the flesh of my skin (your hands will disintegrate before the bag does), but having an argument with a mum of nine with two trolleys and a knife in her back pocket over the last bakery donut and then getting to the till to have all your shopping thrown back at you at the speed of light is just NOT my idea of a good time. Lidl makes me a nervous, quivering wreck. Queue the beauty of the take away, the café, the restaurant. It’s so easy. You have your dinner cooked for you, unless you’re super keen then there’s nothing to carry home, and most importantly you don’t even have to do any washing up.

Finally, and perhaps most imperatively, I felt obliged to get a job this term because my best friend and I blew £600 on a flight to Vietnam on an impulse a few weeks ago. The time between the outbound and inbound flights is five weeks. Five weeks during which we will require food, shelter, transport and money for activities. Following this, I was left with only £8 (and four beautiful Zara coats) to my name. I knew something needed to change. So, I got a job.

Truthfully, thus far my job has been a breeze. The work is straightforward, the people are lovely, the pay is fair, there is little to complain about. But, my GOD, I’m exhausted. It’s seldom said that being a student is hard work. All we do is lounge around in our underwear eating week-old pasta and fried chicken and watching repeats of Family Guy and nursing our VK hangovers right?

The reality is that the further into your degree you get, the more challenging it is to balance the things you do. For me, attempting to juggle a combination of lectures, seminars, reading and essays, alongside having a job, volunteering, organising work experience, student media, having a social life and attempting to remember to eat and sleep and shit is a challenge.

So is it that I am left with an ultimatum? I either sacrifice my future job prospects by forfeiting work experience or my degree, or give up the things that I love like Gair Rhydd or volunteering with animals, or do I quit my job and stop being able to buy things that are absolutely essential to my university survival, like VK’s and Zara shoes and you know…dinner? None of the above seem attractive to me.

I sit here on a Tuesday night, shovelling macaroni cheese into my mouth, moaning to my flat mates about how the kitchen is untidy and I haven’t got a dress for the Journalism ball next week, and how I have a column, presentation and literature review due in tomorrow that I haven’t started and that I am still yet to discover what the actual fuck a literature review is. As I whine my attention is stolen by the television. A programme is beginning called “Born to be Different”. Suddenly I feel like the world’s biggest moron.

The show has been airing for thirteen years, annually documenting the lives of severely disabled children as they grow older. The episode I’m watching focuses on William Davies, who has Tuberous Sclerosis, a condition that causes tumours to grow everywhere on his body. His anxious looking mother stands in her kitchen and tells the camera that William has recently been diagnosed with a life-threatening tumour on his kidney, that without treatment, will cause him to suffer a ‘catastrophic bleed’ and that will take his life. The family are awaiting the call that will tell them whether the NHS deem his condition unique enough to warrant giving him the life-saving drug that he needs, at the cost of £30,000. Per year.

I stare at this lady on television, discussing how her son will die without this drug, as she implies that they will not be able to afford the medication without the NHS. I wonder how it must feel to be that helpless, to know that your child’s life depends on somebody else’s decision. I wonder how it must feel to have to get up every morning and know that might be the day you get the call that says they cannot afford to keep your son alive.

Suddenly my own worries become overwhelmingly insignificant. If problems were measured by spherical objects, William and his family would have a solar system, and I’d have a few grapes. Amongst the flurry of university life, with deadlines and schedules, I have forgotten how incredibly fortunate and blessed I am.

Although I accept that just because somebody else in the world has bigger problems, it doesn’t render mine irrelevant, I think the key concept is perspective. Yes, it sucks that I have to write a 1,000 word lit review in 24 hours, and yes, it sucks that I have so much to do that I forget to eat and sleep sometimes, but I would rather write a hundred, million, billion lit reviews and columns and work sweeping popcorn from the floor every day for the next hundred years, than have to worry about finding £30,000 (per year) to keep somebody I love alive.

So, from now on, I’m actively abstaining from complaining. When I fuck up my poached egg, or get rained on when I walk to uni, or when I am too fat to fit in any ball dress that I like, or don’t get a text back from that fitty from Revs that I had visualised marrying, I’m already over it.