Saturday, May 01, 2010

A Red-Green Poet Tries To Sign On

"Some will rob you with a six-gun, and some with a fountain pen" -- Woody Guthrie  Pretty Boy Floyd

Since I had to quit my job because of the bullying and harassment I suffered at the hands of the manager there, supported as she was by others at her level, who had portrayed themselves as the good guys in the company and then went along for the ride the minute she pulled out for public viewing the knives she was sharpening for me (we'd been having hassles on and off in private for years, and the only complaint I ever made seemed to encourage the director to view me as a troublemaker); since then (forgive that lengthy introduction: thinking about what happened still makes me angry), I've been living on my savings because I was hoping to find another job or win the lottery or get a freelance writing gig or a fabulous publishing deal before my money ran out. But I can't get a job because I have seizures and people think I'm a malcontent, both of which are true, I can't get a freelance gig because I can't squeeze my brain (or my sentences) into a narrow enough box to please an editor, I can't get a publishing deal because my prose and poetry don't even make a ripple in the literary pond -- I think I'm writing better stuff than a lot of people out there, but nobody else seems to -- and I haven't won so much as a tenner on the lottery in fifteen years.

So yesterday, despite the fact that I found even contemplating it stomach-wrenching, I phoned a Job Centre number I took from a Government website to make an appointment to go in and see someone about getting help with my money. What other choice did I have, I reasoned with myself, if I didn't want to end up on the streets? I'd already begun finding myself in the position of having friends refusing to let me pay for meals etc. because they assume that they can afford them and I can't. It's lovely of them, but it feels terrifically patronising if you have worked for a long time and you're accustomed to making the grandiloquent gestures yourself. (I know, my pride has been so overweening it deserves to be dismantled.)

But anyway, when the phone stopped ringing a recorded message told me that the number I'd taken from the Government's own website was no longer in use and redirected me to another one. There I was greeted by a human being who told me that new claimants for Jobseeker's Allowance (I was still calling it Unemployment Benefit) could not make appointments to go in and see an advisor. Under the present system, he said, new claims had to be made over the phone. "But I advise you to use a landline, sir, because it will take about thirty minutes and calls from landlines are free," he said. And when I told him I didn't have a landline, he said, as if it were the most reasonable thing in the world, that calls from BT-operated phone boxes were free also. Obviously in this judgemental, hate-they-neighbour world we live in an unemployed person expects to have to jump up and down and flap like a performing seal to justify his entitlement to a return on the taxes he has paid, but should he have to stand in a phone box for half an hour on the corner of a street regardless of the weather and whoever might be out there watching? Apparently. Or perhaps it just hadn't occurred to the low level Government genius cutting jobs at dole offices, so that new claims had to be made centrally, that not everybody could afford a telephone line, as he could.

Incidentally, I came to the internet cafe to make the claim online this morning, which would be about £10 cheaper, only to have a message come up on the Job Centre website that the service was currently unavailable. I'm wondering if I should just go down to the Job Centre like Yosser Hughes when it opens again on Tuesday morning and insist that somebody talks to me. But I'd probably get arrested if I did.

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