Ciara Kenny

The Irish Times forum by and for Irish citizens living overseas,

Losing the dream in the Big Smoke

I thought I would be living the dream when I moved to London, but I am still unemployed and relying on an allowance from my mother while I search for a job, despite having a BA and MA, writes Fiona Ní Mháille.

Sat, Jun 2, 2012, 00:56


I thought I would be living the dream when I moved to London, but I am still unemployed and relying on an allowance from my mother while I search for a job, despite having a BA and MA, writes Fiona Ní Mháille.

Fiona Ní Mháille (right) with friends in London

Anyone who glamorises poverty is lying. It is the drought of the soul. My new Masters was my so-called passport to success, the professional accessory that would shoot me to the top of the career ladder. It has failed to do so. Or even get me on it. Far from Seamus Heaney’s scraggy wee shits the best of times and the worst of times brings feelings of worthlessness and low self-esteem. Perhaps we, the modern students, are the scraggy wee shits.

I speak four languages, am well-travelled and I have a BA International and an MA under my belt. On paper, I’m awesome. In reality, I’m awesome. And modest. But all of this awesomeness and modesty entitles me to what exactly? Not even a part-time bar job.

I dreamt of the day when my Masters would finish; when I would pass the sea of deadlines and assignments; when I would get my life back and make regular human contact instead of maintaining friendships through quick ‘likes’ on Facebook and countless broken promises (‘Skype soon, sooo busy ATM. No time to talk. Or text. LOL. F x); when I would expand my conversations to people other than my cat (hey, she’s a good listener!); when I would get something resembling a life and of course, a job.

Thank god all of my hard work and education paid off. Now, my weekly budget allows me to have DVD nights in with my girlfriends. The high point of my week is watching re-runs of Don’t Tell the Bride on television. Getting a life right now is too expensive because the cost of living is too high.

I recently told one of my girlfriends that I was going for a managerial job in Primark. She laughed straight in my face and said “but darling, we’re above that, we’ve got Masters now!” Which entitles us to what exactly, other than stressing about the economy like a regular person and joining the back of the dole queue?

Nobody chooses the life of an artist to make money. I accepted long ago that being a writer/journalist meant I may not be able to afford a new Mulberry bag every weekend, but I still thought I would have enough to get by. I thought that with a Masters – a staple fix to bigger and better opportunities in the workforce apparently – I wouldn’t be short of job offers, but now it appears I am ‘overqualified’. I may have to dumb down my CV to get a job. In job applications, I’m considering changing my personal statement from “I learn fast and I work hard” to “I’m a mediocre person with mediocre talents”.

While I apply for jobs, my mother is giving me a weekly allowance which I will pay back when I reach my fortune. She could be waiting a while. I am very aware of the fact that there are people worse off than me. I am very aware of the fact that I am lucky to have a beautiful mother who can support me until I get a job but the marriage of pride and poverty was always one doomed to end in divorce.

“No Mam,” I say to her every week “I refuse to take your money. I am a strong, independent woman. I can stand on my own two feet. I am my own kingdom. I am woman. Also, I need to eat so could you put my allowance through at your earliest convenience? Thanks very much!”

There is nothing more soul crushing than the knowledge that without my weekly allowance from my mother, I would be on the dole. Before I moved to London, I thought I would be living the dream in no time. In reality, I spend my evenings hunched over my laptop with a cup of coffee in my hand. I thought I would be living the high life once I wrote a best-seller and became fabulously wealthy. In reality, I live off a diet of Tesco value noodles and caffeine. I thought I would be living it up in a recession-proof city. In reality, I live in a flat with a whimsical bunch of people – an Englishman, an Irishman and a Greek. That’s not a Paddy Englishman, Paddy Irishman, Paddy Scotsman joke. I really do.

The Irishman is a musician with shoulder-length ginger hair and with skin so white, I think he burns in the rain (breaking out of the stereotypes). Not that I can talk, I’m so pale I glow in the dark. I look like the lovechild of the Grim Reaper and Mortishia Adams. The Greek uses his credit card far too liberally (why, oh why, is his country on its knees?) for a student. His name is something like Pjujyhguyjhbsjdnxajnj. I can’t pronounce it so I just call him Paddy and I have a sneaky suspicion the Englishman is Keira Knightley’s brother (I Googled it. She doesn’t have a brother but I think they’re keeping his existence a secret so he doesn’t get harassed by the press He hasn’t fooled me. I am woman. I am a genius). All three of us are MA students. All three of us are in the same boat.

I’d like to think of myself as a powerhouse woman who comes from a long line of powerhouse women but it’s hard to sing Beyoncé Knowles’s Who Run the World? Girls when your bank balance fluctuates from €0 to €0 on a regular basis.