There is something romantic and aesthetically noble about being a struggling writer on the dole isn’t there? Oh please say there is, I need the morale boost. Having just spent the last five years loafing about at home nibbling on chocolate cherries and staring at clouds, I’ve recently been compelled to admit that enough is enough. It’s high time I got myself a new pair of black viscose trousers and leaped back onto the Carousel of Careers.
What’s that I hear you say? Didn’t I also while away the days bringing up a young child, writing a novel and several short stories, editing a small-but-quite-popular-with-its-readers magazine, working for a local charity, and setting up a community market for people who make stuff? Yes, I did, but as I didn’t get paid for any of that, it doesn’t actually count in the harsh world of You Are What You Earn. Or at least that’s what it feels like sometimes when people I’ve just met ask me what I ‘do’, or a taxi-driver enquires if I’ve had a long day at work on our drive back from the station. I can’t help it, I cringe and blush and waffle on about being a ‘fulltime mum’ – juggling those words in my mouth as if they were razor blades.
But after a recent stock-take of the family finances, it’s been decided that ‘fulltime mum’ or not, I should better hurry up and find some kind of paid employment as well. After all, Dexter’s at school half the year now and the cat doesn’t need me around so much. Plus I’m totally up for it! I can’t wait to get back into the workplace; relaxing at a desk I don’t have to share with Fuzzyfelt, chatting with colleagues who aren’t constantly asking me for snacks or help casting off their loom-band bracelets. So last week in a flurry of Carpe Diem I strode into the local job centre, looked the guard square in the eye—as if I truly believed that he and I were equals, despite the fact that he is being paid to lean against that pillar and give out laminated passes to the upper floors, while I am there to ask for free money and career coaching—and explained the purpose of my visit. He showed me to a large airy room with a comfy couch where I waited to see an advisor. After allowing a man from The Samaritans give me the hard sell (was he trying to save me or recruit me? I couldn’t tell) I was able to have a good look around at my surroundings.
It’s a long time since I was last in a job centre—22 years to be precise—the cold hard winter of 1991, Brighton at the height of a recession. In those days, job centres were depressing places—you kept your coat on and your eyes down and channeled Kafkaesque feelings of alienation and social outrage. It was great for a budding writer! But in 2014, job centres look more like Foxtons—with their brightly painted interiors, state of the art computer terminals, cappuccino machines and fridges full of designer beers…. okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but they’re quite nice. And the people working in them are nice too, and they really do seem to want to help me back into work. In fact they talk about it as though we are working together to ease me back into a favourite old pair of jeans that I might have grown a little chubby for—acknowledging that I now have the added bulge of a child and his care to consider, and apparently not judging me when I cheerfully tell them that I’m not actually sure if I want the old jeans anymore, or indeed if there are any ‘jeans’ out there that will fit me at all. (This is still a metaphor by the way—my actual figure is that of a lithe young woman half my age.)
The first joyous discovery made whilst signing on is that I actually qualify for JSL (that’s Job Seekers’ Allowance not a new boy band off the telly). Due to a slight oversight on my part I have accidentally been contributing National Insurance payments for the last five years having failed to cancel a direct debit at the beginning of the chocolate cherry-eating, cloud-staring years. I rush home very pleased with myself to go through my online bank statements in case there are any other direct debits for things like gym membership, PPI or HP sofas that I should no longer be paying. Fortunately there are not. Then it’s just a question of updating my CV and getting it uploaded onto the intergalactic cyber super highway of the South East’s Situations Vacant. Simples!
Or it would be if I had any idea what CVs are supposed to look like these days. The smiley gentleman at the job centre didn’t seem to get my joke request to turn my CV into a Sci-Fi implant that prospective employers could plug into their brains via their nostrils. He did however tell me something very uncanny about writing job-seeking buzzwords at the top of my CV in white text so that they are invisible to the human eye, but get picked up by computerised personnel scanning devices. Genius or what!!! Unfortunately I was so busy reeling from the short story potential of this idea that I forgot to ask him what the buzzwords actually are—but I’ll be back again in two weeks to sign on so I’ll ask him then.
Meanwhile I open up my old CV document on the computer and duck as a couple of cyber moths fly out in a discombobulated state. Then I flex my typing fingers and get ready to start career alchemy. I’m looking to turn an MA in Creative Writing into ‘Transferrable Skills’. Anyone want to help me out with that?
To be continued……after the summer!