Thursday, January 26, 2012

'Crusher, Slag'

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:

‘Crusher, slag.’

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.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Does anyone care for you on a regular basis?

I gathered all the necessary documents in advance of the marathon phone call I apparently had to make to sign on: mortgage details, P45 etc.

Jocasta was making her debut at playgroup. I sat on a toddler chair for half an hour to ease her in and to complete all the paperwork. Jocasta’s keyworker was kind enough to help me out of the toddler chair. I sneaked out with a ‘call me with any problems’ gesture and headed home to my landline.  What better use of my tiny window of free time could there be than answering a series of inane questions about my employment history and personal circumstances. It was beginning to feel like too many hoops to jump through to achieve a discounted rate at the local pool. I clearly would not be entitled to any actual money, on account of Maude’s proper job.

The questions were all pretty predictable: when did you last work? Who lives with you? Do you have dependants etc…

I was then struck by a question in the section on physical wellbeing and ‘care':

‘Does anyone care for you on a regular basis?’

I paused a little and gave an answer that probably didn’t compute:

‘I do like to think so.’

Sunday, January 22, 2012

'Just on the way to the tip, you can't miss it.'

‘Hello there, I’ve been made redundant and I’d like to sign on.’

I was trying to sound positive, but this wasn’t easy in the setting. All of the ‘Jobcentre Plus’ desk staff seemed trained to brilliantly avoid the gaze of all jobseekers entering the building. My chipper smiles were not reciprocated – as they were unseen. The security man was muscle-bound and looked very tense. A young man shouted into the freephone by the door, encouraged by his girlfriend.

I’d asked for directions at the local library. They sent me across a large car park:

‘Just on the way to the tip, you can’t miss it.’

The three signers-on ahead of me were all signing on at rearranged times. They had missed their allotted signing on times. I found this intriguing and wondered what had detained them elsewhere. I thought it best not to ask.

‘Have you signed on before?’


‘Well you can’t make your first claim here. You’ll have to do it online – or over the phone. Do you have a landline? It’s free and takes about 40 minutes.’

‘So I can’t just do it here, at the ‘Jobcentre’, face to face, like these other chaps?’

‘No. Here’s a leaflet.’

I left with something short of a spring in my step. The leaflet was a wonky photocopy and the web address was misprinted.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Worn out Paddy

My Dad spends the majority of his time in his armchair. The armchair is about 10 inches from a huge double radiator which pumps out enough heat to warm an airport. The chair faces the TV corner. The new, larger screened television blares. 

My dad can only see shapes now. He only leaves the armchair to eat at the kitchen table, take his tablets, go to the toilet, or go to bed.

‘Manchester’s full of worn out Paddys like your Dad’, says my mother.

’Loads of them - sat in chairs like that. Them that are still alive, that is. They came over here from the back of beyond and went mad with the drinking and the women.’

My youngest gravitates towards my Dad, stuck in his chair, worn out. I think she knows that her chances are probably few to jump on his knee. He tickles her with his big sausage fingers.

Today, my nephew stopped texting briefly to take a picture of the tickling on his phone. I followed suit and took a few pictures too.

‘It’s the new one.’ I said, showing my nephew my phone. ‘The camera has more megapixels.’