After months of constant ear bashing from my mum to 'sign on,' I had a meeting at the job centre. Quite possibly, I am the only person in the UK who doesn't want to be on benefits. Just the mention of the words 'job' followed by 'centre' makes my heart sink to my boots. Which I proceed to stamp all over. Many times.
As a British citizen it's my right to receive help when required. Instead of feeling indifferent and accepting of my unemployed position in these economic climes, I just feel ashamed. Should I really feel this way? Since when has asking for help been synonymous with shame?
Nervous, I hoped that my meeting would shake my fears and settle my soul. So I arrived early. Outside, as my shoes argued with the ice-slicked pavement and the threat of more broken limbs loomed, I stood looking at the grey building, the bright green sign. My stomach flipped. Breath white in the bitter air. Automatic doors slid open and the inside heat enveloped my cold bones, bewitching my feet.
Inside, ten angry/depressed/frozen faces met mine and five voices asked why I was there. Thought that was obvious. Job centres are self explanatory. Directed to a man far too happy at such an early hour, I grew annoyed. As he rejoiced over the cold weather (kills germs, apparently), I spied my surroundings. Inconspicuous desks. Bland faces. 8.20am and bored already. A good start.
Fifteen minutes and four forms later, I sat in the 'comfy' chairs awaiting the next step. The job centre's definition of comfy does not match mine. But you're not meant to feel comfortable. They want you alert, back rigid, on edge for questions. The edge of an IKEA chair perfect for torture. Or bad taste.
As the clock edged closer to 9am, cold air gushed in and out, repeatedly, as more people filed in. Old men. Women pushing prams. Children moaned, babies howled. The office pulsed with disdain. My feet itched to leave. I told them to shut up. I'd come this far...
Finally, twenty-five minutes later I sat opposite another cheerful fellow. He smiled, telling me the systems were down and my application would have to be completed by hand. 'Don't worry,' he shrugged. 'It'll only take an hour.' My returning smile did not reach my eyes.
As we talked about my endless search for employment, I started to feel better. Unexpectedly, it was a relief to discuss it with someone who knew how bad things were. My stomach fluttered with a feeling akin to hope. Then he hit me with it: 'I'm being honest now though, don't think you've got much chance for a while.'
Oh the hope was slaughtered. 'Yeah, if you want to get a job, I'd remove all of your education info from your CV.' It was like he had taken a bat and repeatedly whacked me over the head. He was Al Capone and I was the gangster who had betrayed him. My brains were all over the desk.
Not only will I not get a job for at least another month but I've apparently wasted four years of my life, and thousands of pounds, studying for two degrees. Seemingly, educated people can't get jobs nowadays. But if I lie about what I've been doing all this time, I may end up on someones payroll. It's true. You do learn something every day.
Alas, I left the job centre still hopeless. I put myself out there and asked for help. Where did it get me? Watch this space...