We woke to a light covering of snow this morning to greet Vins first day of school in England. Of course, Atlanta had just seen balmy barbecue weather which all of my US friends simply had to tell me about. Vince takes a lot in his stride so snow was not the big deal I thought it might of been for him. Wrapped up in his duffle coat and grey uniform, he looked the epitome of the English schoolboy on his way to prep or morning chapel. I knew there was nothing waiting for him at school that he hadn't come across before and couldn't handle.
Sadly I couldn't quite say so for myself. I had an afternoon trip into Stockton to revisit a former nemesis from my own past - the Job Centre. Viewing it with equal parts pity, ridicule and contempt, the Job Centre in Stockton is one of those rare success stories, although only in that business is booming. I arrived before my allotted appointment time and joined a queue that was already snaking out of the door into snowstorm brewing outside. I had an appointment to claim jobseekers allowance and intended to if nothing more than to help b my forthcoming odyssey of interviews across the north of England. The place had certainly been given a lick of paint since my last appearances over a decade ago, although the still deathly air of quiet and not so quiet desperation hung around this abattoir of ambition. They have several floors of the building dedicated to people coming back to sign on for their jobseekers allowance or dole payments but only one downstairs to aid and advise people it appeared. It was also sending the usual contradictory messages to the clients. Informing them that they are now on twitter but also warning that use of mobile phones was prohibited under the data protection act and offenders would be asked me leave.
My interview went quite well, at least better than some of the other loud discussions taking place nearby. I don't think I hurt my impression by dressing up a little and wearing a tie, although if i had wanted to blend in then jogging pants, hi tops and baseball caps was the order of the day. It's odd but despite only being in Stockton a week it's like competing trade delegations from Mumbai and College Park, Atlanta, have both arrived simultaneously and let their delegates out to wander the streets and impress their sartorial style upon the brave locals who ventured outside in the swirling blizzard. I got on quite well with my advisor, I guess because I was polite, prepared and not swearing or threatening her, and after some helpful advice on which jobsites and newspapers I should consult for positions, was granted jobseeker status. I was also spared the skills restart course, because she rightly guessed that i could download and print off documents correctly and that my literary and numeracy standards did not warrant an intervention - although its a good job there wasn't a handwriting component. I return later this week, then fortnightly to continue to sign on and fill my little jobseeking workbook with details of positions I am applying for and progress being made but I truly hope this is temporary.
When I was younger and gainfully employed, I used to revel in the tales of claimants waving to their restart offices from the beer garden of the pub overlooked by the job center and pointing to their empty glasses if they were late signing on, or the urban legends of a certain local pub that used to trade 50 pints for a giro (unemployment check) under the counter but within plain sight. No, this current passage is a bit close to home, good cheer and encouragement was in as short supply as the warmth and I hurried out, knowing that bad luck, like flu, is a communicable disease, prepared to take my chances in the snow.