My remote signing on experience was followed by an interview at my local ‘Jobcentre Plus’. I gave my full name to ‘Lynn’ whose role seemed to be to put new claimants at their ease before going through the questions they had already answered on the phone. Before she did this, Lynn made kindly remarks about the details I had supplied and which were on a printout on her desk:
‘What a lovely Irish name you have.’
‘Your daughters have beautiful names – wish I’d had those on my list.’
I resisted the urge to ask Lynn why I had been turned away from this office a few days earlier to make my first claim by phone, only to be brought back to answer the same questions all over again, which I could have done in the first place and used my precious window of Jocasta in playgroup time more enjoyably.
Lynn was clearly a nice person and was only trying to do her job in a fundamentally flawed system. She had also popped a button and was showing a great deal of bra. Lynn was not aware of this – it certainly wasn’t flirtation on her part. It could have been a very sophisticated ruse – along with the nice comments on my family names – to distract me from any thoughts of complaining about the aforementioned wasted time. I don’t think it was.
Lynn told me it had been really nice to meet me and showed me to a seat on which I should wait for my ‘adviser’.
I was now about to speak to the 4th ‘Jobcentre Plus’ person involved in facilitating my claim: Sandra.
Sandra was acceptably helpful and pretty upbeat for the surroundings. Halfway through filling in an eternity of screens of boxes requiring codes we reached the point at which we had to identify the types of jobs/fields in which I would be interested. I asked her to use the words ‘art’ or 'arts' to start with. This brought very little to light.
‘I’ll just put in the code for ‘admin’ – we can always change it later.’
Sandra glanced out of the window. She had the look of a smoker and I think she was checking the weather for a cigarette break which couldn’t come soon enough.
‘What about trying the word ‘culture'?’
Sandra helpfully turned her monitor towards me and scrolled through the drop down list. Hurtling towards the late C’s into occupations beginning with D, she stopped the screen.
‘No, nothing at all with ‘culture’ or ‘cultural’ in the title. We do need at least 2 – so I’ll just put the code for admin again. As I said, we can change that later…’
Sandra glanced towards the window and then smiled a smile which told me that our interview was drawing to a close. I looked again at the list and noticed that a variety of ‘crushers’ were recognised as valid occupations: ‘Crusher, car’ among the more obvious. My eye was drawn to the final ‘Crusher’ on the list:
Sandra was unable to tell me what a slag crusher actually did or how one would retrain for such a role. Sandra then took her cigarettes from her desk drawer, dropped my file on Lynn's desk and left the building.