Wednesday, May 23, 2007

A bit like asking an Irish person the way somewhere

I’ve been absent from my blog because recent events have left me eviscerated. I have ceased to find it interesting to be on the receiving end of the benefits’ system. Not just that, I’ve found it to be damaging. I reached a point where I thought I just couldn’t continue. This is what happened…see below…

Early in May...It’s ending as it began. In a fuddle. Today, I received recorded delivery a letter on a plain sheet of paper – no letterhead -- from the private agency to which I have been assigned for the past six months. ‘You have now come to the end of your time on Stage Two of the Employment Zone….no longer paying you your subsistence…new claims appointment has been made for you at Peckham Jobcentre Plus’ for the following day. In the meanwhile, I must complete ‘all of the JSA3 form’ (and find a dozen documents, bank statements, etc).

Another fucking form; and this one has really upped the ante on any I’ve previously tangled with. And, it’s all too much for me. My legs do their so-weak-I-can-barely-stand thing and shortly afterwards, around page three or four, I’m howling on the kitchen step. I just can’t take it any more.

Among the things I’m asked: do I have ‘money saved for something’ and ‘any other money’. If savings amount to ‘currently less than £5,500 has it been more than £5,500 during the last 6 months?’ If yes, ‘bring proof’. ‘Does anyone owe you any money? What is this money owed for?’ The form instructs: ‘Please read the notes before you fill in this form.’ I ring the Jobcentre to say I don’t have these explanatory notes. They will be posted to me. My appointment is rescheduled which gives me some thinking time. I’m told that if I don’t go on that date, my claim will be closed. I’ll be seeing a Miss X (you don’t need her real name). ‘Come up stairs, report to reception and then you need to cross the bridge to see Miss X.’ The bridge? It feels like a bridge too far.

I have to review my options. I can’t continue surviving on a ‘subsistence’ and all the word implies. I’m not a fucking serf. I’m going to have to cast off from this so-called safety net (yes it does function as a safety net, but at the cost of shredding your integrity and self-respect) and find out how I can survive. I’m about a year away from a state pension, my mortgage runs for another six years, no job in view, scribbling in my garret in the hope I’ll get a book published. Dream on! The dreams are becoming nightmares.

Some days later…
When the appointment time arrived for my interview at the Jobcentre I ignored it. I was busy doing computer-based things, and dreaming a brighter future. Then about an hour past the time I should have presented myself at the JC+, the phone rang. Miss X. Did I know I had an appointment, she asked. I said I did but that I’ve just become too depressed to cope. It’s worn me out. It’s so humiliating. She cautioned that unless I had a job to go to, it would not be wise to commit ‘financial suicide’. If I came in straight away, she would help me to fill in the form and all would be well.

Now, this was an amazing moment. Everything in the social security system is designed to trip you up and to turf you out. One false move, and you can be denied benefits. And, here was someone going out of her way to offer me her help and to save me from ‘financial suicide’. I was stunned. I grabbed my things and my wits and went there. Miss X made the procedure easy and she was respectful. I have come to think of her as an angel.

Enough of me and my angst. What about the street scene? On my way to the Jobcentre and on my way back (I popped into Lidl’s) this is what I saw.

Outside a butcher’s: chickens’ insides spilling onto the pavement…guts and blood staining the grey concrete slabs of paving, the butcher in his brown stained white overalls laughing as he scoops them in his hand and plops them into a plastic basin of chickens entrails. I don’t find this funny. I hop scotch over the brown drying splodges of evisceration and I scowl. Further on, a goat carcass is lobbed into a steely grey shopping trolley. Thump.

Earlier the sight of a young woman pushing a buggy ahead of me…a funeral cortege passes for ‘MUM’ as the flowers spell out. The young woman stops and, holding onto the buggy, she executes a counter-clockwise circle, frowns, then continues on her way…

I hit a new low or is it a high when I venture (for the first time) into Peckham’s Lidl store. I look around for a wire basket. There are none. I feel terribly middle class. How can I shop without a basket? There are trolleys for big shoppers, but I just want a few items. I gather that either you hold the goods on your person, or you grab a cardboard box from the store and use that. I end up with a big pineapple, a fat mango, a bag of organic carrots, a bottle of wine and a small rye loaf and change from a tenner. I later discover that the wine is fine, but the rye loaf is a year (yes, a year) past its eat-by date, and the mango is brown not orange inside.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Gambolling foxes

Two years ago I was coping with a lack of timepieces and a flickery TV. Not much has changed. Even the foxes have been replicated as this morning I counted four gambolling fox cubs with mum 'n' dad at the bottom of the garden. What becomes of them? That exponential thing: how does it work out? And, how will my plants fare? Last year half the foxgloves (quelle coincidence) were lopped off for which I blame the foxes, not the scrabbling squirrels or the marauding domestic pussies.

23 May 2005
I am running out of time. The watch that sits by my bed has a dead battery. I rely on it for the time because although usually I have the battery phone in the bedroom, I can't read the small digits without finding my glasses. The clock in the bathroom -- useful for idle bath bums like me -- died months ago. I no longer use my mobile, so when I'm out I have no way of checking what time it is. My computer screen flags up the time but it has never been the right time. I really should factor battery purchases into my budget.
Lighting continues dim. I don't think my budget can run to an electrician.
Free delight on Sunday morning arrived in the shape of three swallows elegantly gliding and swooping in a troubled sky. The wildlife theme continued when before bedtime as I washed-up, I was entertained by three gambolling cub foxes framed in my kitchen window. It was like viewing my very own Disney as they romped and leapt in the air, chased and parried, resembling miniature Bambis. Then along came a fourth. Eventually, the sound of clattering china alerted them to gambol into next door's garden.
Before that, I succumbed to TV. I must say that an indoor aerial is an excellent deterrent to watching very much. The picture jumps, goes monochrome, psychedelic, or blank thus providing the visuals of a vodka overdose without the cost. It demands attention. The sofa must be abandoned, and the constant tweaking is good for the figure (not for the nerves).
But, what's happening to telly these days? Why are skirting boards on TV? And the scouring of sinks? Are we dead, and we don't know it? Was this the future? I don't think we envisaged it that way when we dreamed it in decades past.
Great. I got through Monday morning without a tear or a tantrum. My daughter is doing her Maths A level, and I have stayed calm for her and fed her breakfast and said 'break a leg' as she strode out of the house. She'll be back soon for ratatouille.

Tuesday, 24 May 2005
I'm gloomy in the gloaming. You can't have a morning gloaming but that's how it feels. Dark, dank, hopeless. All right if you're a poet I guess. You can get all lyrical about the comfort of grey deadening the footfall of humanity as it -- we -- stamp our feet and cry like toddlers: 'It's not fair!'
I cross the Rye in order to restock the larder.
At the bus-stop I stand with my stuffed shopping bag on wheels (snazzy and from Top Shop) reading an official message to the effect that bus services have improved, and there are now more buses. I have 15 minutes in which to digest this fact-oid.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Finger-wagging serf

I have a thing about where I shop, preferring small shops run by local people where we have a chat that nicely passes the time.

But, today, I popped into a Tesco Metro for a few items: it felt like a heinous crime…and even more so when a security guard approached me wagging his finger and accusing me of ripping open the wrapping round a roll of black rubbish bags. (Are you with me?) I mean! What he saw was me feeling the quality of the bags, assessing their strength for the job I had in mind. Well, they were as flimsy as an excuse for missing work on a sunny Monday. What he didn’t see was me tearing open the paper wrapper because somebody else had already done that. I was incensed and suggested he consulted the CCTV for proof of his error. So incensed that I spoke to the manager about what had happened. He, naturally, toed the party-line and apologised, assuring me that he would pass on my complaint to the security guard’s company. Because, of course, the guy is not employed by Tesco. He’s a sub-contracted serf, bored out of his mind and passing the time by finger wagging at middle-aged women wearing sun hats. For gawd’s sake.

Another thing: I’ve been told by two shop-owners that we are in an un-declared recession. Barry told me this about a year ago. He and his two brothers have reluctantly sold the retail business they happily ran together for 20 years. ‘People aren’t spending like they used to.’ And, Rosie, has agonised about the permanent closure of one of her shops while scrambling to keep the other one viable. ‘There’s a recession,’ she said, ‘but no one’s acknowledging it.’

Don’t shop in stores with security guards: they don’t know how to pass the time in a pleasant way: that’s what I learnt this week.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Gristly news

We learnt last week that we throw away 30% of the food we buy. On closer examination, half of that is bones or inedible stalks, that sort of thing. The other bit – the remaining 15% of food that we throw away is, we are told, down to people buying too much food and some of it passing its eat-by-date. Silly us.

We must be silly, we ‘consumers’, because on the radio (Radio Four, that is) advice along the lines of: ‘Write a shopping list before you go shopping’ is handed out. ‘Only buy what you need.’ And the heretical: ‘Ignore the dates and use your nose. If it smells good, eat it.’ It’s as if we’ve become divorced from common sense and need these sentinels of the sensible to tell us to do the blindingly obvious.

Buy food, eat it. Waste not.

When I was at school we were served awful food: stringy and gristly meat; potatoes with grey lumps and sodden cabbage; tadpoles’ eggs. Dreadful. When some of us had difficulty eating this muck, the nuns at my school would always remind us of the starving children in India or Africa. How we longed to ship it to them.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Street sweeping

Did I mention that I’ve been privatised? After signing on for 18 months, the Jobseeker is obliged to join a private agency. There one becomes a ‘client’. It is a comfort to the unemployed that even we are worth something to someone.

A peculiarity of these employment agencies is that they have NO jobs to offer. The client attends the agency simply to be motivated to find her or his own paid employment. If the ‘client’ succeeds in becoming gainfully employed and remains in that job for at least three months, the agency receives a series of payments from the government’s coffers. The sum is approximately £4,000.

There’s a temptation for persuasion to turn into pressure. This is a snippet of a conversation I had with my advisor keen to meet her targets.
Her: ‘I just need you to get a job you can do.’
Me: ‘Well, I suppose I could do street sweeping, but it doesn’t mean I want to.’
Her: ‘Why not?’
Me: (After a moment’s bemusement) ‘Because I don’t have the stamina.’
Soon followed by the thought: why the fuck am I talking about street sweeping?

Monday, April 02, 2007

Stuck with tea

Here's another Dole Diary entry.

Tuesday, 17 May,2005
"Today I sign on. I shall not be late. I have given myself fair warning, and now, 10 a.m., I am ready to go although I don't need to leave for another hour. I have applied make-up and brushed my teeth. I have written my shopping list for afterwards. Today, I will get it right. I will leave in plenty of time to walk there.

I really must get something done about the lack of light in my life. The central light in the front room doesn't work -- two bulbs have popped in quick succession suggesting an electrical malfunction. The light at the top of the stairs needs the bulb-holding fixture changed, and the standard lamp has died. The TV aerial on the roof has snapped and a cheap indoor aerial has provided more in zippy crackly interference than existed before I bought it. The back door is peeling paint. The windows in the attic cry out for blinds in order to shun the sunrise. Oh, and while not necessary from a practical view, the avocado green bathroom suite is an offence to even the most blunted sense of aesthetics. But, with penny pinching the order of the day, I must work around the inconveniences. Although, the light situation is trying, especially when tired eyes try to read the newspaper lounging at night with a glass half-full of cheap wine.

Enough of maudlin self-pity. I see what I am doing; I am inviting sympathy. But I don't want your sympathy, thanks. We all have little crucifixes. At least I have my health. Thirty minutes of yoga this morning. Dry-body scrubbing yesterday. A good walk to come. Blue skies to get me thinking.

Wednesday, 18 May 2005
Feeling tired. There's an illness that I have only ever come across in women's magazines. It is known by the desultory acronym: TAT. Tired All the Time. I think I have it.

Why? Is it the air? Certainly a trip out and about leaves me enervated. Is it the water? The food? The stress of life? The financial strictures? The unfulfilled desires?

Sleep's the answer. But last night I didn't and a song by the Ramones got stuck in my brain: 'Twenty-four hours a day, I wanna be sedated'. Eventually, I did just that.

Yesterday I went to JC+ to sign, which took all of 30 seconds, and while in Peckham with my camera set about taking a few photos for a Street Photo Workshop I'm doing at Tate Modern. These pictures may be the last I ever take in Peckham. I have got into too much trouble over them. Too often, people have objected to the intrusion of being photographed. However, I had one frame left in the film. Outside the Jobcentre building I saw a line of people securing their bikes to a yellow metal bar and the colours of the bikes looked great. As I pressed the shutter, the man nearest me had his back to me, but he turned in my direction on hearing the whirr of my primitive camera.

He was not happy. 'You shouldn't do that. It's not right. You should ask first. It's a liberty. You should know there are people around here DON'T want their pictures taken.' Two things saved me. The middle-aged smile on my face as I apologised and mumbled about an 'art project' and the fact that I, too, was on my way into the benefits' office.

But, it shook me up. Before that incident, I took a photo of a young boy trying to escape from two shop security guards. The boy was nabbed. It was a sad moment, and a couple of elderly Caribbean ladies looked really hurt. 'Where are his parents? Why is he not at school?' I thought the kid appeared to want to get caught. His mates got away.

Thursday, 19 May 2005
The thing about writing, or any art form, is that at this stage (undiscovered, unapplauded) one has to carry on in a bubble of hope. The hope has no roots in reality. It stands alone. It alternately mocks and beckons. It is the hope of my grandfather who thought one day he'd have a big win on the horses, and of my father believing he'd win the pools and, later, the lottery. I believe in my gamble. So did they. They were disappointed. Will I be too? One doesn't want to be foolish. Hope never paid a bill nor put food on the table. It must be alchemized with reality.

'Why not try for a job as a librarian in Lewisham College?' posits my daughter, not unreasonably. Regular money for a regular job. 'Because,' I say teeth gritted, 'I don't want to be a librarian. I want to be who I want to be. Not someone else for the sake of a pittance. I've done, probably, 30 years in offices.'

I want to be a writer. 'You are a writer,' she consoles, 'you are a failure, and most writers are failures. They write a half-dozen books before they get anything published or they don't get recognised until after they're dead.' Cheering in its way, but how to circumvent the scenario she outlines? I can't wait until I die. I can't write (prospective) book after book and consign them to the job of balancing wonky tables.

What I must do is carry on. I shall carry on.

What I'd like to do right now is take drugs. Not to obliterate the mind, but to stimulate it into rivers of radical prose. To inspire, alter, galvanise. A mix of speed and peyote, perhaps. Cocaine, maybe. Marijuana but without the accompanying eradication of motor skills (like coping with a computer keyboard gets like really too much, man). But, it's early in the day and I'm too ancient, really. Of course, there's alcohol. How I'd love to be the late-night whisky drinker who writes in a state of mellowing profundity. But, I hate whisky; since once, years ago, it nearly killed me. (Think unconscious and inhalation of vomit).

I'm stuck with tea. And four envelopes. One reveals that I am in credit with my monthly gas payments. I phone to see if I can get some money back. But, it's bad news. It's actually a debit, which explained to me in a soft Welsh accent, helps ameliorate my disappointment. Better news with Southwark Council. I have overpaid on my Council Tax. A signature on a form will secure a refund of £94.34. I deal with that straight away. The bank statement is not too awful. The last envelope is yet another incredible zero percent credit card offer, consigned to the bin.

Friday, 20 May 2005
To Peckham again. I'm really getting the hang of poverty shopping. Close to the end of Rye Lane (or beginning, depending where you start from) are a couple of stalls with knock-down prices on fresh vegetables and fruit. Both are operated by men who have the look of brothers who came over on some wave of immigrants escaping Irish rural poverty and stayed. The customers are from everywhere: I'm sandwiched between a Middle-Eastern family and a Caribbean woman who buys a huge bag of ginger. I ask her about the ginger. She says a friend boils it up for drinks.
For the grand sum of £1.50, I acquire three fat courgettes, a fulsome aubergine, a bunch of sturdy spring onions, a half-pound of bobby beans, a head of garlic and some fresh ginger. One person could eat for several days on this; just add rice. It's incredibly cheap.

'God bless you,' says the man, handing me my change. (Update: some months later I see him in a waiting room of a hospital. He is thinner. He has cancer. The stall is closed.)"

Monday, March 26, 2007

Mea culpa

The following excerpt from my Dole Diary charts the day after the day after I realised that I'd forgotten to sign on at the appointed time. This provoked a flurry of form filling and a litany of mea culpas. The incident is a good example of the tactics employed by the system to boot you off of Jobseeker's Allowance.

Thursday, 5 May 2005
Early to bed early to rise. I am aiming to get to the Jobcentre close to 9 am. I charge across the Rye, then succumb to temptation and laziness and hop on the bendy bus. It manages to travel as far as the next bus-stop and stops. It's not going anywhere. There is total snarl. Good job I didn't waste my bus-saver ticket on that trip. I get off and along with everyone else dodge along the pavements breathing belching bus pollution while avoiding sides of beef; trucks mounting the curbs; twin buggies; the crazies out wandering and the lady shouting 'You bastard'. I dash past a news headline for the South London Press: ‘PECKHAM MUM ADMITS COOKING HER BABY’. (I return and photograph it.)

The Late Signing Officer sees me straight away. I say that my ordeal puts me in mind of extending my hand so a teacher may hit it with a ruler. In fact, I'd rather that. She smiles. She accepts my paperwork. Next, I queue in the post office to obtain proofs of postage for the council tax form and one for the building society (a duplicate of the one I sent them last week).
I have been properly chastised by all this palaver resulting from the missed signing appointment. I have suffered frustration and mortification. I shall never forget an appointment again. Another thing that's happened is that whereas the first time I contemplated Peckham Jobcentre, I couldn't face going into it: to becoming a supplicant, an applicant, a ‘customer’, now, I just breeze in. I see myself as one of the infantry. Wounded but walking.

Tuesday, 10 May 2005
Today’s post includes two manila envelopes. What must the postman think? He must know. Not that we have just one postman for our neighbourhood able, should he be interested, to chart people's lives. But, if we did he would have seen that previously much of my mail was addressed to me as a managing director, but now it comes in an unappealing shade of brown and it's from the Department of Work and Pensions.

Today, it's a 2625/3010 that informs me: 'We cannot pay you an allowance' from the date on which I failed to sign on. It continues: 'This is your final payment of Jobseeker's Allowance'. It is accompanied by a INF1(JSA)10/04 telling me what to do if I disagree with the decision, and a leaflet entitled : 'Jobseeker's Allowance Hardship Provision' illustrated with a picture of a spaced-out looking young woman. Is she staring into the abyss?

Monday, March 19, 2007

Gogo, Didi and me

A continuation of my Dole Diaries. I promise a good kicker if you manage to read to the end of this instalment.
Tuesday, 3 May 2005
“There is the sight of my bed linen puffing and blowing on the washing line. Blossom petals and seeds like faery globs of lightness flutter in the air. 'It's like ectoplasm,' remarks a neighbour. Onto the daisy-strewn lawn, the smallest of the foxes skips, looks about and disappears. In the twilight, an avian couple sing in the rustling leaves. It appears people have forsaken their gardens to get on the road for Bank Holiday snarls.

Today is Tuesday, yesterday was a Bank Holiday. I am so out of the normal loop I didn't realise we were in for a Bank Holiday Weekend until Friday. The weather was uncommonly co-operative and much of my daytime hours were spent in the garden. I re-read 'Waiting for Godot' and realised how many of my thoughts are rooted in Gogo and Didi. 'We are not saints, but we have kept our appointment. How many people can boast as much?'

I have tried to keep my appointments. I have shown up. Actually, I'm the sort of person who, despite being punctual, has often reached destinations at the wrong time: San Francisco after Flower Power; university after the student revolutions; the stock market just when you shouldn't; bought a house months before interest rates rocketed and house prices plunged, and prepared to join the Dot Com Bubble nano-seconds before it imploded.

That was then.

Back to now. I don't know what it is, but I suspect I do know but don't want to face it. All weekend, I did not very much in the way of housework. I got the vacuum cleaner out, but exercised its charms only downstairs. Didn't do a multitude of housekeeping jobs that I could have done. Then this morning, a normal one, I'm in the bathroom swinging that nozzle about like a mad woman sucking up stray hairs and dust in the bathroom. I think it's because when everyone has downtime, I can have it, too. But when they're all at work, and I have none and this is difficult for me to accept, or change, then the energy I have goes into, yes, cleaning!

Wednesday, 4 May 2005
Irony the bedfellow of despair? Ironic that yesterday I did NOT keep my appointment. It's hard to credit that this has happened. With only one appointment in a fortnight, I miss it. Yesterday at 11:40 I was due to sign. I had noted it -- albeit in tiny writing -- in my diary, but as I have no calls on my time and because I'm in a slump, I simply didn't check my diary. I missed my signing appointment at the Jobcentre.

This morning I awoke feeling less than eager to get out of bed, and then suddenly the bolt of awareness hit. Yesterday I should have signed on. (Insert repetitive use of four-star words.) I leapt out of bed (this is not hyperbolic, I really did leap), ignored the instant dizziness, ran downstairs and checked my diary. Yes, I got that right. I am dressed in 10 minutes and as soon as nine o'clock strikes I am on the phone to check what exquisite punishment awaits.

I am told to come to the Jobcentre. I must see the Late Signing Officer. I take off with a thud in my heart. I eschew travel by bus (to save money) and run through the rain to Rye Lane. Then it occurs to me that I can hop on the bendy (and, most importantly, free) bus. What a Peckham thing to do.

This reminds me that last night returning from Goldsmith's College where I attended a free literary lecture (followed by free refreshments), I took advantage of the bus-driver's distraction as he aided a wheelchair user needing the ramp, not to pay my fare. Awful behaviour. But, I'm in the underclass and this is what we do. We are late or entirely miss appointments and we fare dodge.

At the Jobcentre I sit on the red and blue sofa clutching my number -- B17 -- waiting to be called. On the opposing sofa, an adviser with white cropped hair is helping a 'customer' to generate a CV. He can remember the first name of his previous employer. 'Jack,' he says, but not his last name. She patiently asks him to give it more thought over the next two weeks and see if he can come up with more information than this. She is kind and encouraging; ditto the advisor behind me who does not crush the dream of the ‘customer’, young and black, who'd like a career in music…or social work.

I feel dazed. Am I becoming stupid or am I suffering derangement (sort of temporary stupidity)? I think deep down there is depression, and it's so deep, I can't or won't or at least only occasionally allow it to surface. I am in that fuzzy place you go when there are no calls upon you. The no-one-nowhere-doing-nothing syndrome. A place without edges.
My number is called. The Late Signing Officer asks me why I missed my appointment and gives me a form in which I must write my reason. She faxes it to the Decision Maker, and I return to the sofa.

I while away the time perusing the comments' book placed on the table before me. One contributor warns ‘watch the cracks in yer walls'; another entry is in French and concludes with: 'jobcentre de merde'. Almost all the comments are less than complimentary. I think this is unfair.

I am beckoned. The Decision Maker has decided that my excuse for missing my signing appointment (an elaborate version of forgetting) is not good enough. It is rejected. I must fill in another raft of forms, many of them duplicates of forms I have already completed. There's the JSA4R(RR), the M12 04/04 and a Reclaim for Council Tax Benefit form. I will miss one day’s worth of benefit. I despair. But, I have no one to blame but myself. The officer is pleasant, almost motherly. I leave with tale limply between my legs. I can't even keep this simple stuff together. The centre cannot hold. I am stupid.

On the free bus home, I spot a tantalising offer written on a sign in a butcher's shop. 'Spend £20 and get 1 cow foot FREE.'”

Saturday, March 17, 2007


I keep hearing that increasingly we are buying products not from need but in order to establish meaning in our lives and to help define us. Of course, on one level, I understand this. But, it’s silly to expect a new this or that to tell you or anyone else about who you really are.

Anyway, today I walked to my local greengrocer’s and there I purchased one large courgette, three English apples, a pound of Edward’s, a box of blueberries, large leek, couple of red onions, bunch of spring onions, large field mushroom, sprouting broccoli, an avocado, pound of tomatoes, two bunches of watercress and a small red cabbage. Total cost £8.24. Everything came in brown paper bags.

I don’t know what that says about me, but the purchases were made because I need to eat and not as a solution to an ontological crisis.

Well, on a different note, let’s raise our glasses to the happy news that the minimum hourly wage is to be increased by 17 pence. Hurrah.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Sermon on the amount

Another excerpt from my Dole Diary.

Friday, 29 April 2005
Watched 'Supersize Me' on the telly, and congratulated myself for getting through the day without a cup of sugar and half a pound of saturated fat.

The answer to the world's over-consumption, fossil burning, denuding nature of its bounty, chemical lives is, I am discovering, poverty. If we were all sort-of poor, or at least not silly rich and if we all had to think about our transport (mine is walking and bus), our shopping (without a car you can't stock up for Armageddon), our use of energy (turning off lights and the like), the products we use (opening a window beats spraying the house with noxious chemicals) and if we took time to talk with each other (when walking or shopping locally that can happen), well, the earth would be better off...and so would we! Thus endeth the sermon on the amount…

Must get on. Have a M12 04/04 form to fill in. It is for people with a mortgage; and it may be that I will qualify for help to pay it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Paid to smile strangely

There’s something strange going on in my local Post Office. There are two people working behind the counter; while a third person who should be working the counter is hanging around the customer area holding a bunch of leaflets. Normally, this woman can be relied upon to be bad-tempered as she deals with car tax, parcels, etc. But, today, she’s forced to put on a smile and appear friendly whenever one of her colleagues persuades a customer to show an interest in the Post Office special offer credit card. A smile doesn’t suit this woman’s face. I help out by taking the leaflet and form. ‘Don’t forget to sign it, and fill out all the details,’ she advises as if signing a credit contract might be something novel. Meanwhile, the Post Office queue lengthens; no one’s interested in the card. But, a book of stamps inside 20 minutes would be a good idea.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

No comment

I asked my friend, Jo Money, to check out my blog. She thought that it would be a nice idea to comment on the blog site. Several other friends have had the same generous impulse. However, with one or two exceptions they have failed. Here's a 17-step explanation why passing comment is harder than passing a brick, thanks to my friend Jo M.

1. went on to your blog page and read latest blogs and this time I saw all the photos which I very much enjoy.
2. clicked on 'make a comment'
3. waited, waited, waited, waited...................not much going on and losing patience
4. left site and tried again
5. this time went into archives to check out all the photos I had previously missed or rather just not seen.
6. read King Nicholas story and liked it saw it had two comments so I clicked on 'make a comment.'
7. Hurray I got a comments page come up and clicked on 'open a google account'
8. waited, waited, waited, waited.................not much going on and loosing patience
9.shut down site and went into google accounts without all the milarky attached on the end
10. Hurray I got a page inviting me to open an account so I filled it out
11. Did as I was told and went into my e-mail as they told me they'd sent one which they had.
12. On my e-mail it said click on the link below to activate your account so I did
13. Hurray i've got a google account. With intense excitement i went back to your blog page and clicked on make a comment with my comments all poised on my finger tips filled in the box and clicked on send.
14. 'password invalid' humph
15. went back to e-mail and clicked on help link
16. 'page not avalable'
17. went into a serious huff and felt no closer to 21st century technology than when I started

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Shopping shame

A spokesman for the supermarket industry on Radio Four’s You and Yours programme (an inducement if ever there was one for gainful employment that restricts mid-day radio access) said: ‘We live in a consumer democracy.’ The statement rolled off his tongue like melted cheap chocolate.

We do not. We are more than consumers, more than shoppers. To reduce us to one function rather than human beings with an unknown purpose on a planet in a universe no one can comprehend apart from in bite-size portions is pernicious.

He went on, proudly: ‘Ninety-five percent of people in this country shop in supermarkets, regularly.’ If he’s telling the truth, there’s something sad about this.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dole Diaries

Previously called 'Year and a Bit on the Dole', it's now 'Dole Diaries' and below are a few more excerpts. Rather lachrymose this lot, but I don't think you'll need your hanky.

Wednesday, 20 April, 2005
I’m feeling beaten by the Jobseeker (what a misnomer that is) thing. Crying, weeping, wailing, desolate.
Then the doorbell rings. This brightens me up until I discover a pair of Jehovah Witnesses. Who do I think Jesus Christ is, do I read the bible, what do I think about the world’s wickedness, and am I ready for the coming of God’s Kingdom? It’s a lot to ponder. I promise to read the Watchtower. Unemployed. Unloved (because that's how you feel when you're on the dole), but still attractive to religious proselytisers.

About my office lie the corpses of my business chequebooks; the carapaces of the paying-in, paying-out books. Although my mobile is no longer live, my recorded phone message still refers callers to it. It has been like a bereavement. I have wept like one who has lost a loved one. As an earner when I walked out during the day it represented an interlude in my work. But, now when I go out it is as a person with no calls upon her (apart from renewing food stocks). I am aimless. There is no need to speed my step. I tell myself I'm not a victim. This is temporary. I will scratch and scramble out of the slough. I bloody will.

This afternoon, lucky me, I'm going to Tate Britain to see the Turner Whistler Monet exhibition. Art is the last refuge of the impecunious. It will feed my soul and open vistas closed off in my tiny office with its Velux blind closed against the world. It seems to me that art is all.

Thursday, 21 April, 2005
Before leaving for Tate Britain, the post clumps onto the mat. I study my bank statement. Has money from the Jobseeker's Allowance been paid? It has not. Since applying I have received precisely nothing. I phone Makerfield Benefit Centre (the oracle on these matters), and ask what's going on. I am told that the first payment went through a week ago. I am relieved.
‘Thank you, Darren, I say (they always give you their first name).

Next, a letter from Southwark about Council Tax. I’ve already been to the Housing Office with evidence of Child Benefit. But, I must re-present already presented documents. It's simple enough. As I’m dealing with this, the phone rings. It's Darren.
He’s spotted a problem. What happens after you first sign, he says, is that the right-hand box moves to the left-hand box on the screen, and that means the money is sanctioned to go through. In my case, this hasn't happened. The box has stayed to the right of the screen. He says this is probably because I get Child Tax Credit. I must go to my Jobcentre as soon as possible (no show, no money) and fill out an MF47 to make a JSA statement that I don't receive WTC (Working Tax Credit), but I do get CTC (Child Tax Credit).

(He goes on to tell me that for 20 years he worked in industry, and when he moved into this line of work, he was bamboozled by the letters and numbers that are the building blocks of the entire benefits' system. Last night he was explaining a work situation to his wife when suddenly she screamed: 'You've become one of them!’)

For some reason these two further demands dent my precarious sense of unity in mind and body. I could wail. But I have to go see Turner Whistler Monet. This is good. In former days of solvency I joined the Tate so now I can enjoy gratis admission to exhibitions.

Friday, 22 April, 2005
Art was yesterday. Today I must tangle with the Jobcentre. I am in tears. It’s going on six weeks since I entered the alternative universe of the Jobseeker. I have had a bellyful of mis-information, form filling, delays and obstructions. What I haven’t had is any money.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Dave, the humming milkman

Another excerpt from my Dole Diaries

Monday, 11 April 2005
'Eighteen years ago, I was at the tail-end of pushing out my baby. In fact, her birth is about 15 minutes away. Her head is about to crown; I'm about to give one last exhausted push. No time for pain; it's beyond that. Now, these many years later, I cannot tell the pleasure she has brought.
On Sunday, we celebrated with friends, bottles of Cava and the largest, creamiest, fruitiest cake allied with one other, a gorgeous chocolate creation, baked by one of her friends. After they took off for the pub I washed-up and picked up and felt satisfied. I like Sundays as they are no-man's territory in the real world.
Not so a Monday. An email from my accountant who has heard from the Inland Revenue that I have changed my work status. I should say I have. I must explain my sorry state to him. I've been reluctant to do this, feebly hoping for a miracle.
I look about at the day's options. I can't wash-up any more. My bed is made. I'm running out of diversions. My daughter is in the bath with a blare of music leaking out. She goes to school late on Mondays. I write this.
No milk on my doorstep today. It was a twice-weekly routine that I have had to abandon. I can't afford to pay extra for milk and the luxury of its delivery. But, I'd rather have Dave in his humming milkfloat dropping off milk than the 40 pence saving each week.
I'm walking more, and the saddles of flesh are disappearing fast. A few years ago I abandoned car ownership.
When purchasing the Cava last week, I couldn't remember my PIN number. I tried again. No luck. Stressed about my financial situation? I think this tells the story. The numbers have become scrambled. Even now I'm spending intermittent moments going through combinations of the four numbers, having had the same PIN for a decade. If I don't get it right next time, a machine will gobble it. And if it does, I'll be given a new PIN, and how challenging will that be for my stressed-to-breaking-point brain?
With the weather sunny, I have spent the afternoon in the garden. Weeding, mowing, tidying. Strikes me (a little too late) I should be growing my own vegetables. But, sharing the garden with several cats, families of foxes and ever-more squirrels, I'm not sure of the wisdom of that course. All is quiet until the next-door neighbours return and the kids start screaming about a slaughtered robin in their garden. Is it the tabby that has left it blood-spattered? The father digs a small grave for the corpse, but before he can deposit it, a cat slinks along and pees in it.
About five o'clock I'm exhausted from doing not very much and take a nap.
Before that, I have a telephone conversation with a woman who is following-up my enquiry about getting into teaching literacy skills to adults. Ah, she says, firstly I’ll need to work for a year as a volunteer (no expenses paid), then I’ll need to study for a PGCE -- one year full-time or two years part-time and at that point I can be considered for employment. I say I'll think about it and laugh my head off. Then, feel sad because it is something I could do.'

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Poor love

So, our adolescents are the most depressed, unloved, pissed and promiscuous in the developed world which rather begs the question: what kind of development have we developed? One where values translate into BOGOF offers, where parents are too busy earning money to nurture their children, where friendship doesn’t always mean kindness, and where role models are get-rich-quick sellebrities.

Poverty is about more than money. For children not to feel loved and nurtured is an egregious impoverishment of their very humanity. Love will get you through the night; a pair of Jimmy Choos won’t.

Let me finish this sermonising with a letter published in the Guardian that suggests the malaise is even more widespread: ‘”British children: poorer, at greater risk and more insecure”. Only the children?’

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A leg to stand on

Below is another exerpt from my 'Year and a Bit on the Dole'. Official refusal of my benefit claim was the first I heard from the Department of Work and Pensions.

"Friday, 1st April 2005
Another manila envelope. This one contains a letter stating: 'We cannot pay you Jobseeker's Allowance'. There is no explanation. To appeal, I must fill in the form in leaflet GL24. I am stunned but somehow unsurprised. I'm even wondering if it's a good thing: this attempt to obtain a modicum of money from the State, plus, possibly, the payment of my Council Tax. Maybe, I can do without the money; do without the humiliation, the unfathomability of it all.

When not sobbing into rationed tissues, I have been filling my days with more cleaning and tidying. The airing cupboard is cleared of odd socks. I have had time to deal with this sort of thing.

So, it's with the greatest of upset that I see black things on a kitchen shelf. I open the cupboards, and see more black things the size of match heads. Have they been there all along, or is this a sudden infestation of mice? I have lived in this house 17 years and it has been rodent-free all this time. But, when you're down, nature can be relied on to give you a kicking. I am distraught. I have no money to live on and now I have mice. I phone the Council. It'll cost me £65 to have the problem dealt with. That's about £10 more than I'll be expected to live on for a week should I ever be granted Jobseeker's Allowance.
I empty shelves. I clean like a machine. I'm distraught. Dazed. Fearful. I don't like mice. Could be rats, says a friend. I retrieve china and glasses from way back in the cupboards, get rid of the bag of plastic bags (could be a nest), wash every bit of crockery. And, I source the problem -- a bag of flour. I lavishly sprinkle peppermint oil (rodents don't like it) all around the kitchen. It's April 1st but it's no joke.

The task spills into Saturday. When I get up I feel the dread as I tread downstairs to inspect the shelves. Clear of droppings.
I spend the weekend snivelling and cleaning. My daughter has been away for five days; she returns to a mess of a mother.

Tuesday, 5 April 2005.
Today I must sign. It's an act of faith and desperation. My claim for benefits has been rejected and I have received no money which I gather may be because I haven't submitted Form B16/17 explaining my previous self-employment status. I will hand it in to the Jobcentre today. With luck, that will trigger my claim going through.

Meanwhile, I have phoned for jobs. Read newspaper advertisements. Dispatched my CV hither. I want to work because I like being an autonomous person untrammelled by bureaucratic anonymous government departments that decree things like whether I qualify for this pittance.

I am dreading signing on, imagining myself in a scrum of desperate people. But the 'customer' ethos really kicks in here. It turns out the appointment time is actually the time that the claimant is seen. We sit on primal blue and red sofas. Rosey-hued muzak plays in the background. 'I can't make you love me,' laments the singer. We are African, West Indian, white and Asian. Only one bloke is cursing and he's a whippet of a man in polyester sports gear. A guy seated opposite -- he could be Columbian (there are many in Peckham) -- beats out on his thigh a jazzed-up bass line to the soppy music.
My name is called. I go to a desk, sit down. The interviewer, a pleasant woman, asks me what I'm doing about finding work, and seems satisfied with my answers. She tells me the routine: I must look for jobs and tell them at each interview about the progress I've made. That's it, really. She advises me about the process the system is going through to verify my claim, and says at this point I don't need to appeal the fact that my claim has been rejected.

I leave and go to the Persian shop next door and buy baklava. These honeyed pastries are my reward and £1.60 well spent. I'm beginning to feel not so bad. I am not down and out in Peckham, yet."

Friday, February 16, 2007

Passionate officers

The picture (see below) of the blue-faced chaps is skewwhiff because it flipped onto its side due to a miracle of technology. On my computer screen the image was upstanding. Many of us started off that way.

Yesterday I perused newspaper advertisements for jobs, and was struck by the number demanding passion from prospective employees. Passion, no less! What was once a word associated with Greek lovers is now associated with servicing clients, meeting objectives, massaging bottom lines. Give me a break.

Another thing staring the job seeker in the face is the high number of short-term contracts. Even then, passion is expected. But, who could possibly be passionate about a job destined to last nine months?

One more thing to catch my eye was the prevalence of the word – officer – in job titles. Some examples: Project Partnership Outreach Officer; Supporting People Officer; Government Affairs Officer, and Overview & Scrutiny Support Officer. Is it a reflection of our wartime footing?

Friday, February 09, 2007

So blue

In support of the principle that there’s always someone worse off than you, so, too, there is someone bluer than you.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Get back to work!

Two stories in the press last week grabbed my attention. One was the exhortation of lone parents to get back to work. The other was the escalating cost of childcare.
The government has a point. Too many single parents are stuck in the benefits system. They and their children suffer the malaise of the marginal. Shoes are made of man-made fibres, food is low on wholesomeness, and holidays are something that happens when school terms come to an end but they don’t mean you get to go anywhere. It is horrible to be poor and raising a family.
‘Only 56 per cent’ of our lone parents work, but in Finland 80 per cent work. (If you’ve ever been to a Finnish nursery, and I have, you’ll understand the attraction. Think warmth, timber architecture and professionalism.) The quality of nurseries is one thing; the cost another.
Here the weekly national average for a full-time nursery place for a child under two is £142; in inner London it’s almost £200. Just how is a lone parent to afford this expense along with all the other survival costs s/he must meet from a salary? Beats me.

Friday, February 02, 2007

The goat's cheese of management

It’s lunchtime in the house of two of my (married) friends:
‘We couldn’t manage without money from our parents.’
‘I’m the same. I’ve only kept going because my Dad left some money. I’ve been more or less living on it.’
‘It’s crazy.’
‘At our age. Why is this? We shouldn’t still need hand-outs. And, how are we going to help our kids when they’re older? That’s what worries me.’
‘It’s not like we don’t work hard. I do except when I’m too depressed about the lack of money and all that.’
‘I’m always working.’
‘You know when we did our taxes after deducting expenses we had £860 to live on for a year! Can you believe it?’
‘That’s as bad as signing on.’
‘Course we’re all artists: music, photography, writing. That doesn’t make you rich, not usually, but we should be making something.’

This was the conversation as four of us (all aged about 50) sat around a table enjoying fresh ravioli, salad, and a half bottle of French wine, followed by Spanish goat’s cheese practically melting on the plate as the sun shone like it wasn’t a Thursday in February.
And we wondered just how are we managing?

Friday, January 26, 2007

Getting ahead

We’re all trying to get ahead including the immigrant woman who has set up her market stall with several heads to which, perhaps, she may add wigs, possibly hats, or maybe it is the heads that are for sale. Get a head.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


A couple of nights ago on the BBC World Service I heard a middle-class American couple speak about their lives. It appears they live day to day in fear. Fear that they will end in poverty. With two children and living in a country where 47 million people have no health-care coverage, the woman said she didn’t dare leave her job because it provided health insurance for the entire family. She hated her job, but each day she made herself go. To get there, she drove in a car that’s inferior to cars she has previously owned. The same is true of her husband’s car. ‘We’re going down, not up,’ he said in bewilderment. Their underlying fear was the erosion of the middle class.

Is it any wonder when average earnings in the US have actually declined, while CEOs are wallowing in salaries amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars. There’s only so much to go round.

Take it from Barack Obama: ‘At a time when average workers are experiencing little or no income growth, many of America’s CEOs have lost any sense of shame about grabbing whatever their plaint, hand-picked corporate boards will allow.’ To America’s first black presidential hopeful, I say amen.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Coming clean

Exfoliate your face not with a product tempting you to part with £9.99, but with a flannel and a bar of soap (I recommend olive oil soap). After working up a lather and rinsing with cold water, moisturise with almond oil (250 ml of organically produced almond oil costs about £4, and your skin will love it).

Laundry: use half the recommended amount of washing powder. Occasionally, to brighten whites, use the full amount. Don’t bother with rinse conditioner. It’s unnecessary and smells like babies’ sick. And, for those delicate fabrics that need to be hand-washed just reach for the Fairy Liquid.

Don’t get taken to the cleaners with clothes that must be dry-cleaned. They’re costly to your pocket and the environment.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Free lunch

If you’re watching the pennies and missing the pounds, you have to be a tad opportunistic. Such as this bird: the Pied Wagtail. As I walked down a street in Peckham, it flew past me and straight into a bakery where it helped itself to lunch, posed for a picture and was off. Not that I'm suggesting you go nicking your lunch...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Labour's new spotlight

The government is hot on the trail of the lying, thieving benefit cheat. Buses in my part of town feature advertisements for this campaign including one that depicts a thin, mixed-race, young woman who looks like she wants to fold into herself. The ad tells us she thinks that because she hasn’t declared that she has a partner living with her she’s not guilty of ‘benefit fraud’.

She is! Indeed, she stands accused of being a ‘benefit thief’. But, allowing my imagination a brief flight I can conjure several scenarios. She’s lonely and has met a new lover and he has moved in. Will he stay a week? Will he be gone in six weeks or six months? If she declares him as living with her and he leaves her, how long before the benefits are reinstated? What if he is only there some of the time and has kept on his own accommodation? At what point has he moved in? Perhaps he’s living with her but has not the means or desire to financially contribute to her home life. What if, his living in her home actually costs her money?

She’s a pariah. But not so the tax fraudster, cheat, thief. That person is wealthy and therefore not to be harassed.

I confess that these days I hear the word benefit in a quite benign context and I jump. I’m a person in the spotlight of the benefit police.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Subway romance

This is a romantic image, I think. I took the photo in the subway at the heart (some would refer to another part of the anatomy)of the Elephant & Castle. For anyone unfamiliar with the Elephant & Castle, romantic it is not.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Green poo

Pundits representing the save-the-planet lobby are to be heard fervently extolling the virtues of public transport. ‘Leave the car behind,’ they say (not even considering that you might not have a car to leave behind). ‘ Take the bus,' they say in a way that makes you think they’ve only just discovered that buses exist. Or, the train. Let it take the strain AND save the atmosphere.

The atmosphere on the top deck of the 63 is KFC. No one appears to be eating crumbed stringy bits of hammered chicken flesh right now, it’s just a residual smell. I spot that the seats at the front of the bus are vacant. Happily, I head for them but, just in time, spot the reason. Faeces. It could be animal or human. By it lies a crumpled smeared tissue. Protruding from the brown mound a Q-tip.

On the bendy bus I endure every nerve in my body being juddered. When I’m not being shaken I experience nausea with the way the bus swings out to take corners. A whippet of a white man, shod in trainers and limp tracksuit attire, gets on the bus with bedraggled woman and thin children. The man is smoking. There is no one who is going to remonstrate.

These are but two journeys on one day in London. Yeh, go Green, take the bus.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

With or without a crutch

Here's another instalment of my putative book about life on the dole. It describes my first appointment at the Jobcentre in March 2005:

"At the Jobcentre I am directed upstairs to a department all pinks and purples. It is airy, or would be if the windows were open. The sun streams in.
I approach a woman at a desk. I say that I have an appointment but I’m worried I have filled out the wrong form.
'If you don't ask for the right one that's what happens.'
'How can I ask for the right form? I don't know what they're called.'
'What are you applying for?'
'Jobseekers I think.'
'Can you work?'
'Then, it's Jobseekers.'
She peruses the form, decides that even though it's the wrong one, it'll do, stamps a couple of pages and tells me to take a seat on a sofa. But, before then, after I confess I’m new to all this, she advises quite out of the blue:
'Drop out, dahling. That's what you need to do. Just drop out.'
I sit as directed. The sun is streaming in and I begin to feel hot and claustrophobic, but I’m temporarily diverted by the supervisor.
'You know me, ‘ard as nails,’ she says to a colleague. ‘Customer had a crutch, didn’t he? Only tried to hit me with it. Another customer saved me. Frightening.''
Then another diversion when a couple of the women working there joke about whether one of them has a hickey on her neck.
'Go on, show us!'
I think I'll just walk over to the window. I want to move my limbs and catch sight of the elusive air out there. This place has virtually none. To reach the window I have to walk past an adviser dealing with a young pregnant woman with broken English. Strolling past the desk, I feel the temperature plunge. I have transgressed. The adviser is threatened by my unplanned-for movement.
'Sorry, I need you to go back there,' she says firmly as if dealing with a child (or a criminal).
I return to the nylon sofa feeling for a moment as if I’ve inhabited the body of a crazed petitioner capable of lashing out, crutch or no crutch."

Monday, January 08, 2007

The F-word

Here's an excerpt early in my story (March 05) of going from self employment to no employment.

'Walking home from my shopping spree -- porridge, tea, pears, two bananas and no flowers despite the cheapness of daffodils, I cry. I know I'm crying because in the neutral rain, I taste salt. I hope to see no one I know. When I do, and she asks how I am, I avoid eye contact. An F-word comes out: fine. Just fine. How do you tell someone that you've been blubbing in the bathroom, the dining room and the stairs in between. That the phone doesn't ring. And my only e-mail is asking me to contribute to a charity fun-run. I leave off the make-up. I do eat lunch, though, and that must mean I haven't reached absolute rock bottom with depression. I can't exercise. Can't fill out the numerous forms that await scrawls. No one comes. No one goes. I'm going to lose the power of speech.

I've cleaned the crumb-tray in the toaster. Aired the mattresses, changed the sheets, bagged twigs from various pruning forays. Wiped off years' worth of finger staining on doors where the handles are never used. Mopped the floors. At least that's one task that bears infinite repetition, so I need not be without anything to do.

Benumbed. Becalmed with an occasional storm of anguish. Then the placid surface reforms. My head is down. My spirits too. How long before I can have another cup of tea? How long before I can switch to a glass of wine? How much longer can I afford wine? Should I start going to mass for the teaspoonful I'll get in the Eucharist? That's not enough. At 50+ you're thick-skinned, hard-bellied, bitter and it takes adulteration to keep that slippery smile. Without the addictions, the smile might not even appear. So far, I can still smile. But, joy? I feel joy as an absence. I've lost her. Sometimes I call to her.

I turn on TV. It is sometime past noon. This is another blip. I don't do this. I sit. I watch the news three times in patches on three different channels and in between inhale the many aroma advertisements. Air fresheners that last for hours and days, ones that spurt on opening and closing the toilet door. 'What does your loo say about you?' I turn off the TV and listen to the news on Radio Four. Jamie Oliver is on every programme. He's a fine chap. A wife, two children, a heart, a soul, a mission and a money-generating empire. See, he's a success.
I am not. I am an F word.'

Friday, January 05, 2007

Dinner reprised

Technology (actually, the culprit is my ineptness) ate picture number two of my healthy/cheap meal. Here it is (see below for context). This dish of food was eaten last summer but ingredients appear to be quinoa (yes, you’d have to be a city-zen to get hold of it; basically it’s a protein-rich grain that once fuelled the Incas!); roasted vegetable; butter beans enhanced with lemon, olive oil and a little red onion; flat leaf parsley, and dressed cooked beetroot with spring onion. Enough of food: you get the idea.

I’ve been told to start inserting into my blog some parts of the book I’m working on which is a journey to Hades. To be less dramatic it’s about the madness of signing-on and confronting in my middle-class middle-age the trials of life on the dole. Enlivening the story is the fact that the journey takes place in south London.

Coming soon to a screen in front of you.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

nosh for dosh

Here are a couple of pictures of meals I cooked and enjoyed eating at an approximate cost of £1.30 per serving. The photos are the proof of the pudding. You can eat cheaply and well.