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.