Week One

I applied for job seekers allowance online and by the next morning they had phoned to arrange my first job seekers interview. My appointment was at 9.45am on Monday. I decided that I would get up two hours before, to give myself time to eat breakfast, shower and generally sort myself out. Despite my best intentions I slept through my alarm and woke up at 9.35am - ten minutes before the interview. I panicked for a bit, grabbed my stuff and then legged it out the door. I could have just phoned to tell them I was running late, when I took the phone call to arrange the interview they gave me a phone number to call if this sort of thing happened, but I hadn’t planned on over sleeping so I didn’t write it down. I got into the job centre bang on time and went to reception.
“Mr. Whitehorn“ the guy said, I confirmed this and he continued “Your appointment it as five past ten, go to the second floor and wait there until you‘re called“.

It was definitely Monday morning, the staff all looked like they had smelt a bad fart or been witness to the horrific killing of their parents over the weekend. I was upbeat about coming to the job centre, this was going to be a new start for me, something different, and I was excited. I was excited, but not anymore. I continued smiling, and smiled at anyone who made eye contact, but it was all in vain. No one cared, they probably thought I was a prick. “Mr. Whitehorn” a voice called, I stood up and looked over, and there she was, smiling at me, the most beautiful women in the room. The sexual attraction lasted about six seconds, the time it took to walk to her desk and sit down. She was a lot older than I had thought. In my despair, I must have been solely concentrating on the smile. That’s what this place had done to me, in just twenty five minutes of being in the job centre I had become sexually attracted to smiling. I handed her the paperwork required and she started to type my details into the computer.
“Mr. Whitehorn, what job is it that you are looking for?”
“I’m not sure yet, I was hoping for”
“It say’s here that you are a labourer/builder. I‘ll put that down”
“Yeah, well, I was also in childcare but I don’t want”
“Ah, ok, I’ll put that down as well”
“No, you see, I was kind of hoping for a bit of careers advice as I don’t really know what it is I want to do next”
“Ok, I’ll put it down for now”
My smile had disappeared. Job hunting was going to be shit. Why am I always so fucking na├»ve? The interview didn’t get any better, she handed me a book to keep track of my job searches and had somehow got me to agree to a set of conditions that I‘d need to fulfil to show I was looking for work. I had agreed to send out five emails each week to potential employers and check the Job Centre Plus website at least once a week. Of course, that is all fair enough, but when I explained to the lady that I didn’t know what it was I wanted to do and that I wanted some career advice, she replied with “you need to send out five emails each week to potential employers and check the Job Centre Plus website at least once a week”. Everything I asked was answered with her repeating that sentence.
“But I can’t search because I don’t know what I want to do”
“You need to send out five…”
She wasn’t listening to me so I gave up and nodded along with everything she said. She arranged my first signing on date and handed me a list of websites that would help me find work. I signed a few bits of paper and got the fuck out of there. When I got home I made myself breakfast and a well deserved cup of tea. I sat down in front of the television with my breakfast and my cup of tea and watched a rather excellent episode of Cash In The Attic.

My first signing on session wasn’t until Thursday afternoon, and despite not knowing what I wanted to do for work, I logged on to the Job Centre site to have a look. I obeyed the lady at the job centre and looked into the jobs I’d done in previous employment. Labouring or Building wasn’t an option as I was never really either, I had just put it down as rough description of what I was doing in Self-employment. My Self-employment was with a plumber and the plan was to fit bathrooms and I’d learn on the job. We only ever fitted one bathroom, the rest was odd plumbing jobs here and there, a few boiler changes, a few power flushes and even did a decorating job. I was pretty much being paid to tag along. So, that left childcare. Two of the reasons I moved away from childcare was the appalling wage and the lack of appreciation from the parents. On a few occasions when I was out and about, I had parents of the children I was looking after ignore me. Some parents didn’t even know my name. It was odd behaviour considering I was the person responsible for their children when they couldn’t be. Some parents were excellent though, but they were few and far between. Then there’s the wage, it’s funny how much people are willing to spend on luxuries but not on the care of their children. I logged on to the Job Centre website, typed Play Work into one box and my postcode into the other and hit search. It was exactly how I thought it would be. Most of the jobs demand a level 3 qualification [which I have, I eventually went to college] then expect you to except a wage between minimum wage and £8 an hour. The £8 an hour was for a managerial role for twenty hours a week, term time only. That is thirteen weeks a year without pay. So, for £6240 a year you’d be expected to organise the staff, plan activities, write reports and liaise with primary schools on the development of key stage 1 pupils, deal with child protection issues and be in charge of the Ofsted inspections. The responsibility is similar to that of a head teacher but the pay scale has more in common with a school cleaner. I'm not saying the role is as difficult as being a headteacher, but surely responsibility should count for something?

Thursday was signing on day and I arrived at the job centre ten minutes early. At the entrance, someone was filming everyone going inside. I’m not sure why, probably shame, but I pretended to itch my right eyebrow to cover my face so I couldn’t be recognised. It was a silly thing to do considering I have the build and look of a mythical creature. Even people that don’t know me and have just seen me out and about would know it was me. If it was aired on television, people all over town would be saying to their friends and work colleagues “Guess who I saw on the tele last night?, you know, the guy with the long hair and pointed ears, you know, Lord of the Rings” [that’s a reference to the film, not a reference to a homosexual reputation].

It might have been because the sun was out, but the job centre seemed like a much friendlier place. No one had a face like an abandoned greenhouse anymore and the room was filled with sunshine and smiles. I handed my appointment card to the lady I’d come to see [a different one to the one from Monday] and she told me to take a seat. I turned around to go and sit with all the other people waiting but she told me that she meant the chair opposite her. I laughed, did a quick impression of Joey Deacon, then sat down. To show that I’d been looking for work I had filled in my looking for work record booklet. Other than checking childcare and criticising it, I hadn’t done any job searching so I made most of it up. These were my five entries

What I did - what happened - what I will do next

  • Phoned John, a guy I did some work for previously - He said he’d phone me if any work became available - wait for him to call back
  • Phoned J, the guy I did work with on the Gas - He said there is no work in the role I did anymore (gas mate) - N/A
  • Joined fish4jobs.com - Had a look around but not sure what I want to do - await some career advice
  • Looked on job centre site - Had a look around, still not sure what I want to do - await some career advice
  • Researched rope access work - No employers offer training, have to train at own expense - Find out about funding for training

She was either a super quick reader or she didn't care what it said because she paused for a second, signed it and gave it straight back. I asked about careers advice and she said that it would happen in the third week. I explained that it was hard to search for work if I didn't know what it was I wanted to do next and she agreed. She consulted a colleague and he told her that my appointment with the careers adviser could be brought forward a week. It was a nice feeling, having someone finally listen. She made me an appointment for the following Wednesday, and I headed down the stairs towards the exit having regained my faith in the job centre. On my way down the stairs I was blocked by what could be described, in bingo terms, as the number 88. Two ladies, one clearly in distress, had stopped to argue with security. Security had decided that both women couldn't go up because only one had an appointment. I’m not sure what sort of threat the security thought they posed, I’m guessing it’s just a silly rule put in place and that he was just doing his job.
“You can’t go up there, you don’t have an appointment”
“Yes I can, she has a right to have somebody with her”
With that, they both headed up the stairs towards me, there wasn’t any room so I retreated back up the steps to allow them past. The security man wasn’t going to let it go and called for back up on his walkie talkie! I didn’t stick around to see what happened next, hopefully a senior member of staff had the common sense to let her accompany her friend.

On my way home I bought a root beer from the newsagent and showed some guy from Luxembourg, who was starting at university, the way to the bus stop. That was my good deed done for the day so I decided to take the rest of the week off. Being your own boss is great. I had band practice that evening, a gig the following evening, then on Saturday night I treated myself to a curry and watched L’Humanite, a French film I had rented a year ago but not got around to watching.