Today is one of my favourite days – Dole Day.
My routine is this:
1. Sleep badly
2. Leave no time for a hairwash
3. Mount bike, sodden seat from rain instantly permeating buttocks
4. Arrive at jobcentre dressed as McMurphy from One Flew Over, who has wet himself and has a cowpat for hair
5. Sit writing erotic flashfiction as I wait for one of the lacklustre workers to dribble out my name
7. Eradicate wince like unwanted erection
8. Take my place in front of the dormant processor. Act like I’ve been called into the welfare office at school, as I squirm and jabber out a list of failed jobseeking attempts.
My favourite characters at jobclub are, (in no particular order, one wouldn’t want to be prejudiced):
1. Sandy: wouldn’t say boo to a goose, and no one talks to her, impressive hunchback and beard on chin.
2. Gloria: backroom bitch, immaculate makeup, job seems to be to stare accusingly at everyone, then to go off on her break/leave early for the day.
3. John: wonky badge, suspicious moustache, no apparent clerical skills, gets everyone’s name wrong.
4. Daniel: the unemployed man’s James Corden, overly cheery, assures me I will be in work in no time, which causes me to lurch as if administered with electric shock.
5. Wendy: gawd bless her. Wendy’s job is to waddle to the shredding machine or photocopier, depending on whether she’s busy photocopying things wrong, or having to shred them. She is not following my Aldi diet; from behind you can’t distinguish between her abdomen and lower parts. So she kind of sludges along like a snail. Fascinating to watch.
The peculiar jobseeking girl in the queue in front of me wears a shocking outfit rustled up from the depths of a forgotten laundry bin.
She sits, haughtily huffed up, in a long drab royal blue number, long hair limply smattering past her jutting-out ears, with a portfolio case in front of her. Has no one informed her that the dress code is strictly 1970s prison drama?
Every time she is asked to sign a document, she reaches into her old dogeared case for a pen, smirking her head from side to side in an officious manner. I look to her shoes. They are dusty black platforms. She’s like a bad advert for Woolworths, but thinks she is a cut above the rest. Perhaps she got made redundant from Woolworths?
Nothing spurs me on more to get a job more than the prospect of being here long enough to turn into her.
She is probably thinking the same about me….
Definitely thinking along these lines is the woman to the right of me, who has a look of terror on her dial. Her internal monologue rings out, “Bejesus! Look at the people in here!
John, the one with the moustache, drones her name: “Mrs Baaashford”.
“Blashford”, she scoffs, through gritted teeth. And with one copper-painted eye rolled to the striplit ceiling, she looks at me as if to say My God! Can you belieeeeve these people?! Can’t EVEN get my name right!
Spell it properly then, you snakeskin-clad beauty school dropout, and join the back of the queue with the rest of us – it’s where you belong now. You need this place, but it can’t wait to see the trussed-up back of you….
So though I don’t really ‘fit in’ at jobclub; neither with the long-termers or the freshly squeezed, I feel a sense of affinity with the whole process. I am a nomad, an outsider. There are not many places people like us can go to feel valued. And my lovely woodland creature who obediently signs my form today assures me I am doing all the right things to enter gainful employment. She values me.
I scarper out of jobclub. Out of the lying pan into the mire. Aldi.
Tip for those on diets: Shop only in Aldi.
I try, I do try, not to show my utter repulsion for the whole affair, to spare those shoppers who really have no other option than to procure fare from this abattoir.
At the checkout, I check out some local boys. One is so doped up that he keeps forgetting to move forward in the queue. When he comes to, he looks down to orientate himself, by trying to identify his supernoodles. A look of horror briefly flashes past his bloodshot eyes as he sees my shopping before him instead; low-fat yoghurt, carrots and spinach stare back at him apologetically, no supernoodles here, sir.
With my discounted goods I escape into the street, where I am held hostage by a railway crossing barrier. Shifting foot to foot, weighed down by my chemical bounty, I decide to go back and visit some pound shops. When in Portslade….
As a coping mechanism I walk around the aisles admiring the rejected stock as artefacts in a gallery – though most of the food products would be better suited to a museum. I leave empty-handed. This has the curious effect of making me feel like a failed shoplifter, but culture shock attained.
I need coffee.
Intending to get my caffeine-high al fresco, I scour the street for options. There’s Wimpy, where a gaggle of low-grade office workers excitedly gabbled away with coagulated UHT milk lattes.
I sigh. Though I hate to part with more than a sovereign for my fix, I settle on the exotic-sounding ‘Swami Soi’, which turns out to be Polish. There are plastic red flowers in the disabled toilet. But the Poles know how to make coffee. Coffee to keep you awake for the next few days (should you have a lot on).
And though I feel like an erotic-fiction writing celebrity in my surrounds, I do not feel particularly elevated in status when I see the price list.
And now, in Swami Soi Café, I find myself quite happily fitting in with the Poles who speak their native language but occasionally slip in ‘jobcentre’ betwixt their Slavic flow, nodding along with them to U2, Tracy Chapman and other such great modern classics as I scribble. Far rather fit with the misfits than with any haughty human who thinks they are above the DWP.
Gawd knows, no one would employ most of the poor buggers who trudge in day after day to stare at people like me, apart from local government. And while it’s awkward answering to those whom you would normally be ordering around, it’s important to appreciate that it’s a dirty job, and I’d rather they did it than me.
And unlike those poor humans, suffering 9-5 for the £67.50 us great un-arsed sign for every two weeks, I sit in Swami Soi, wondering how the two pounds I have to find for my coffee can justifiably fit into my daily budget.
Wondering what will happen to me when my six months’ worth of NI credits disappears and I am thrown onto the underground slurry heap of others with vaguely illicit sources of income.