Signing On

It's signing on day again. This afternoon I have to go to the Job Centre and have something called a work booklet inspected by a Job Centre employee, who sits on the other side of a desk in an open-plan office where everyone nearby can hear what you say. As usual on signing on day, I woke up this morning with a dark mood hanging over me like those personal thunder clouds in the old cartoons. I hate signing on. I don't know anyone who likes it.

I have been writing in my work booklet for the last two weeks. The first section I wrote in is called 'I will'. In that, I recorded my plan of action re: 'jobseeking' for the fourteen days between appointments. The second section is called 'What I did and what was the result'. It's like primary school all over again, except I'm no longer a child.

If the details I have entered into both sections are approved, the Job Centre employee signs their name in an indecipherable squiggle at the bottom of the page and I am awarded less money for a week than I was earning for one shift at the warehouse.

It's usually very civilised, as long as you play the game, keep your temper, don't give in to the sometimes overwhelming feelings of embarrassment and shame caused by the situation you're in. If you let it get to you, or if, as I have seen on a couple of occasions, sheer desperation drives you over the edge -- some people in there are hungry, facing homelessness, some actually are homeless -- there are always plenty of security guards on hand to bounce you out of the building.

The system protects itself. You, unless you're docile and obliging, are on your own.

But, according to a man I heard in a hospital waiting room earlier, people like me are lazy and work-shy, content to let everybody else keep the country running while we lay in bed until the afternoon and smoke and drink all day. So if we find the fortnightly signing on appointment a bit of an ordeal, we bring it on ourselves.