My last trip to the Jobcentre was depressingly similar to the rest. I walked in, did my best happy face for the guy at the front desk and politely waited for him to state the obvious fact that I should sit down and wait for my ‘advisor’ (read: the poor sod charged with measuring and boosting my guilt levels until I go to work).
Being a bit more used to the place, though, for the first time I was really able to sit back and observe my environment. (For a second there I considered the phrase “observe the habitat”, but decided against it. It implies that somebody, anybody might actually belong there.)
The guy who has the dubious honour of greeting people at the door is clearly a little resentful at his role of glorified receptionist. I can’t exactly blame him. He spends most of his time asking people their names, telling them to sit down and telling other people that their clients – none of whom, let’s face it, they could pick out from a police line-up if they were the only suspect – have arrived, and the nearest he gets to real conversation is a passing comment from one of the two security guards patrolling the floor.
They’re there to protect the staff. You know, just in case any of the chronically miserable people in front of him escape their stupor for long enough to kick off, which occasionally they will. It’s usually round about the time when the Database of Destiny decides it’s had enough of them and exacts its bloody revenge. I tend to imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing about ten years ago to pick them off while they’re still in school. Anyway, the security guards are there for damage limitation when things get rough.
I’ve never seen the guards do more than glare and prowl, but Front Desk Man copes magnificently with people taking their frustration out on him. By the time my guilt-counter is finally ready to see me – twenty-five minutes after my actual appointment time and trust me, that’s early – I’ve seen him pointedly walk past half a dozen bitter stares and politely ask one of the rudest men I’ve ever seen “NOT to throw things at me, please. It’s very ignorant.”
Finally, a job that even the jobseekers in the room wouldn’t do.
My guilt-counter apologises for the comparatively short delay. The girl he saw before me and the guy before her happened to be “slightly more complex” cases than Database-defined timeslots could allow for. People, it transpires, don’t fit into an online calendar any more than drop-down menus, and now he’s back with me. The English grad. The reading, writing, nothing-else-doing English grad still on his caseload because she clearly enjoys baiting the Database. It’s like she wants to make his life harder.
It’s a beautiful moment when you share that tacit understanding with another human being that neither of you wants to see the other. Nothing needs to be said, but the two of you look at each other and the common sentiment is tangible: let’s get out of here.
He trusts me, he’s happy with my efforts, he doesn’t need to see me until January and everybody’s happy. Next, please. Sorry for the delay. Complex case.
And now, I don’t have to go back at all. I’ve just started doing admin work for an NHS trust – I’ve finally entered the world of the generic English grad spending her days doing something slightly dull in the hope of getting to some other, as-yet-unknown destination.
It’s not my dream job (though who knows what that is?), nor is it forever, though it’s very useful experience. But here’s the key – “spending her days”. Since early September I’ve spent nearly every day on the same sofa, writing applications, waiting for something to happen and taking rejections as a compliment because hey, at least they replied. Getting up, going somewhere, doing something, going home in the knowledge that you’ve been a little useful sounds pretty basic, but it’s a feeling I’ve really missed.
I called the Jobcentre a couple of days ago and told them I wasn’t coming back. The man on the other end informed me that “in the nicest possibly way, we hope we never see you again”. The feeling’s mutual.