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Thursday, 20 September 2007

Present times

We have saved, we have reduced spending to priority goods, we have cancelled holidays, we do not go out. We have paid all our bills. This is what you have to do when you have a much reduced income.

But we are heading into a whole new expenditure minefield, other than the eye watering bill I have just had to pay the garage for a service and necessary cam belt change on our little car (If it had been a slightly bigger bill I could have paid of most of our remaining mortgage instead and bought a timeshare in Spain).

I am talking about Christmas and birthday presents.

The EoTP household is now entering that time of the year when much of the family have their birthdays and, of course, there is Christmas. Now Mrs EoTP and I are not great fans of Christmas and the resulting consumer binge but we do like to buy the family some gifts, as you do. I am always amazed at the figures quoted by the press on the average spend per child at Christmas because it far exceeds the amount we spend. Some kids must be getting some huge presents. We have a simple maxim about money which is 'if you haven't got it you can't spend it.' So we now find ourselves in the dilemma of working out how much we dare spend.

I have to pack in my part time job in mid-December otherwise I won't be able to claim my mortgage protection insurance for 12 months. Yeah I know this is daft but them is the rules. So the much reduced income we currently have will be much reduced again. I asked my kids the other day what would it take for them to feel poor. We had been discussing the impact of redundancy on the family and how we had all coped so far. 'Not having a Christmas' was their answer. Note not holidays, going out, designer clothes and all the other consumer items their friends have but not having a Christmas.

So what do you do?

Basically we do not have the money to splash out or even disturb the surface of the water much. The kids have coped really well over the last 7 months but this looks like one of those totemic events that may be just a little upsetting. As for the rest of the family we really have no choice but to say sorry but this year we just can't afford it.

I'm not looking forward to 25 December at all.

Now another related topic which I feel I have to share to demonstrate the labyrinth difficulties of job hunting .

I applied for a local job about 6 months ago, one that I would have liked to do. As you will have noted from this blog I clearly was not successful but got the rejection letter that stated 'The response to our campaign was overwhelming and the general standard of applications has been very high including a number of applications which were very close matches to our requirements so sling your hook matey and take your pathetic loser butt elsewhere.' Well most of the sentence is accurate anyway. The result is the same anyway 'Nope, not you, go away and go away quickly.' Anyway despite this overwhelming response and this clutch of people who were just fine and dandy for the role, 5 months later it has been re-advertised. So much for those highly qualified, just right people then. Of course I have reapplied. I have to find out whether I must sling my hook again.

On that theme I applied for another job about three months ago, this time based in London. Same response, same sort of words but who wants to work in London anyway? (Wasn't it so much easier in the old days when someone tapped you on the shoulder, said come for a quick bite at the Frog and Spawn, said 'I like your style, you're in.') . Anyway, same thing happened, eight weeks later job is re-advertised, but this time I don't apply as I really wouldn't want to commute to London. This time I get the same rejection letter (same words, different signature and date) for the second time even though I didn't apply. I mean, they really don't want me do they or is this a case of kicking me when I am down and then twisting the metaphorical knife? I feel that now they will be writing to me regularly just to confirm that I really, really, wasn't the right person.

Sometimes you laugh and sometimes you cry.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

'I'm busy doing nothing working the whole day through', Bing Crosby

I've just celebrated, though that really isn't the right word, 6 months unemployment. How about mourned the last 6 months of unemployment?

When I lost my job I know that getting another would be tough but I think I believed that after six months I would actually have managed to get another full time position. Well so much for that belief then, another delusion I have been under. And I believed in Father Christmas, the Tooth Fairy, snow at Christmas and Al Gore becoming President of the USA. And nothing imminent either so it is going to go on for some time to come. In fact it is quite easy to see how a year can go by without securing another full time position. Anyway the part time job still brings in some cash so, as I may have said before, it could be worse.

The thing is that in the last two weeks I've been busier than any other time during the last 6 months. I have had to work every work day for the last two weeks, plus a Sunday as well, to meet deadlines. In fact I even managed to get past the boundaries of the county on a number of occasions. Sometimes it feels like those scenes in Star Trek when Kirk says 'Shields up' and there is an invisible, impenetrable electronic sort of condom around the Enterprise stopping the aliens getting close. Recently there has been a reverse shield around the county seemingly stopping me get out to talk to the aliens (when you are restricted to a small area of the country you begin to think everyone else is odd, bit like they do in Yorkshire), but out I have been, as far north as Blackburn and to London twice. Marco Polo think on't.

However something odd happened. I started getting grumpy about going out. 'Look to get to Blackburn by 11am I am going to have to leave at 0700 in the morning and to get to London I'll have to catch the 0645 train to arrive on time for my meeting at 0930.' This would be followed by 'I'll be late home tonight, possibly as late as 6pm.'

6pm? When I was working I'd still have hours left in the office at that time and as for early starts, well I would laugh in the face of dawn and tell anyone daft enough to listen that this was my favourite time of day and that I had seen dawn rising all over the UK you layabeds you and didn't you know there were two 5 o'clocks in the day?

But now, now I find myself thinking 'Well I was going to mow the lawn' or 'I was going to go for a walk in sun whilst the weather was still fine'. This Friday I have to be the wrong side of the M1 to travel home and, even though I claim my fee by the hour, found myself thinking that this can't be right I should be home for a Friday afternoon and not fighting my way across the UK at the busiest time of the week.

I put this down to Darwinism as it can't possibly be anything wrong with me. I think it is a sort of adaptation to the circumstances and now, after 6 months, find adapting to work as much as a change as adapting to not working. A survival mechanism has kicked in allowing me to deal with the lack of things to do and with the pressure of work being, largely, removed. The pressure is still there but in other ways like not being able to spend on anything but necessities with the odd (very occasional) luxury item being bought.

We are still dealing with it, we have to, but as the song goes "I'd like to be unhappy but I really don't have the time.' If only it were like that really.

Monday, 10 September 2007

'I still haven't found what I'm looking for', U2

‘So that’s it, your benefits stop at the end of this week Mr Featherstone and you can no longer claim unemployed status.’ The manila folder was placed precisely on the desk lining up with the pen and pencil holder, telephone and picture of a Yorkshire terrier with a red bow around its neck.

Martin looked up and did a double take. He’d only been half listening to the conversation with his ‘Personal Advisor’ in the Job Centre. Every two weeks, since he started signing on four months ago, he had to turn up on a Thursday morning at 9.30 am at the Job Centre and sign several forms to confirm he was still unemployed and actively searching for work. Martin had been working on ten different ways, in his imagination, to deal permanently with the Yorkshire terrier. So far that morning he had considered using it in a rugby match and had idly been considering what was the maximum possible trajectory that could be achieved by Jonny Wilkinson. Usually all he had to do was confirm he was looking for work, sign four forms and leave the building, 5 minutes at the most.

‘What do you mean my benefits are ending?’ said Martin ‘I’ve only been out of work for four months and you made me wait the first month before paying me anything. I know it isn't much but you can see from my records what my financial outgoings are.’

‘It’s new rules Mr Featherbrawn’ said Mrs Fillet (for she was Martin’s Personal Advisor at the Job Centre) ‘Brought in by the Government to discourage slackers...I mean encouraging those searching for work to look that little bit harder.’

‘Yes but’ said Martin ‘I have been looking for work, you’ve seen the CVs that I’ve been sending out. And by the way it's Featherstone. You can’t change my status just like that. If I can no longer sign on as unemployed then I can’t claim my mortgage protection insurance. I’ve got a young baby and a pregnant wife due to give birth again in three months time. I need the money.’

‘Not my rules Mr Featherbrain, just applying them. I see you haven’t applied for any local jobs at all.’

‘Well of course not’ said Martin his voice rising just a little ‘We’ve been over this. I am not a sous chef, or a builder and cannot work a CNC auto lathe with monobloc controls which you suggested I look at last time we spoke. My qualifications are wrong for those sort of jobs. And it's Feather STONE.’

‘Mr Latherstode if you do not apply for these local jobs it’s out of my hands’.

Martin took a deep breath and said ‘Look, I have a degree in particle physics with an MA in molecular biology at a nano level. I then went on to do PhD in nano particulate technology using carbooxylates at a porosity of .00005% to assess their reaction at absolute zero Celsius in zero gravity. I then held a research position at Rutland University for 6 years with one research assistant, who had one GCSE in kitten care, in their research labs working for the world's largest pharma company who then pulled my research grant because they decided that they wanted to develop a world-beating self-heating, pot noodle. I was the only person in the world doing this research. I can tell you anything you want to know about the actions of carbooxylates at absolute zero but I could not lay a brick or make a bloody omelette to save my life! I cannot afford a car and don’t have a driving licence anyway. I am computer literate on Apple Macs only and then provided they are not running an OS later than 7.5 So there is absolutely no point is asking me to weld, lay bricks, or use a CNC what ever that is. I’m applying to every University as it is but they only recruit at certain times of the year. And it is FEATHERSTONE.’

‘Well nothing more I can do. After tomorrow you are off benefits as I said’ snapped Mrs Fillet and got up to leave but then stopped. ‘There might be one thing’ she said ‘it’s brand new, introduced just today, hasn’t been used at all yet anywhere but…’

‘Well what is it?’ demanded Martin, ‘I’ll try anything.’

‘It’s a brand new system just introduced by the Government – based on the American military missile guidance systems used by their fighter pilots in combat apparently. It’s called the Super National Apparatus for Fixing Unemployment or SNAFU for short. Guaranteed to find a job. It is designed for the long-term unemployed but you could be a guinea pig if you want. However there are conditions to its use’ Mrs Fillet added darkly.

‘And they are?’ asked Martin.

‘SNAFU absolutely guarantees 100 percent to find you a job and guarantees the employer a person with exactly the right qualifications to do the job. It costs nothing to use and therefore saves everyone hundreds, if not thousands and thousands of pounds, in recruitment costs. But as it is so expensive to maintain, once a job has been found you have to take it and the employer has to give it to you. No interviews required it is all system based. Now the job could be anywhere but the Government gives very generous relocation grants or meets travelling costs for five years. However, I must repeat, you have take the job and you have to sign a contract first.’

Martin considered this. Shouldn’t be a problem at all. All the research labs were in places that he and his wife would happily relocate to especially with a generous grant. Might even be overseas…

‘Right I’ll do it. Where do I sign?’

For the next four hours Martin sat at a computer, monitor and keyboard in a separate room in the job Centre entering his qualifications, life history, salary aspirations and requirements, work experience and, truth be told, pretty much all of his life into the SNAFU system. He felt exhausted, as if he had had to complete 100 different public authority CVs in one day.

‘Right’ said Mrs Fillet, when he had completed the task, 'Now for the result.' She and all the other members of the Job Centre crowded into the small room as Mrs Fillet hit the ‘submit' button on the screen.

Martin stood up and walked away from the monitor where the hour glass icon continued to spin and rotate.

At last, after ten minutes or so, there was a loud ping and the screen changed to a new window. Mrs Fillet, smiling broadly, pushed her way eagerly to the front to read the message saying, as she moved, ‘Right Mr Botherstroud I will now announce your new position.’ Then she became very still and peered at the screen closely.

‘How odd, how very, very odd’ she muttered.

‘What?’ shouted Martin, ‘what does it say?’

‘It says ‘We have found a position that matches your requirements but we have received a good response and a number of people appear to match the specification more closely. Thank you for your interest in SNAFU and we wish you every success with your future applications.’