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.