Tuesday, 31 July 2007

Busy busy busy

Just because I'm unemployed with no money and the threat of repossession and eviction looming, doesn't mean I shouldn't have stuff to do.

I can check my e-mails and look for jobs at Jobchange, book doctor's appointments, volunteer and stuff.

So I did.

I've been offered a position on a course at a local (very, very local) radio station. The basics on how to "drive" a desk, record a small piece and edit it using Adobe Audition and get involved with the News Team.

It starts next week and I'm looknig forward to going.

After the meeting with the Training Manager, I went for a walk and bided my time before I went for my ultrasound scan.

I booked this after one of the most painful weeks I've ever had.

Close your eyes boys, it's going to be girl talk from on.

Ovulation pain.

This is a pain which has been getting worse ever since I came off the Dianette. About a week or so before my period I get a sharp pain in one or the other side.

Once, it was so bad, I mistook it for appendix pain and went off to the doctors for an emergency appointment.

That last fortnight before I was let go from the West Bromwich warehouse, the pain was astonishing.

Not just in my side but everywhere.

It hurt to bend forward, sideways, stretch back or to the side, it hurt to go to the toilet, breath or sit still. It hurt to get out of my chair, it hurt to get into my chair and at it's worst, there was a warm, stinging pain going up my back when I went to pee.

If I hadn't known what was causing it, I would have been terrified.

So I described this to the doctor when I next went to an appointment and she booked me in for an ultrasound.

I wandered around Wolverhampton's West Park filling myself with water and fizzy pop and was desperate for the toilet by the time I got to the doctors' surgery.

The park is well maintained but it's no Kew Gardens. There are flower beds, a band stand, a pond, a bridge over the pond, paths round the bloody pond tea rooms and a conservatory.

This is a very small greenhouse with the kind of plants which look like they grew too big for someone's windowsill. Different colours of wandering Jew, coleus, begonias, cacti and even a few parlour palms.

Like I said it's no Kew Gardens.

The sun was shining, the pond was stinky, there were rowing boats, ducks, geese and and a collection of winos all in or around the pond. And a long walk back to the doctors' surgery on the other side of town.

The problem with having an pelvic ultrasound is the fact that you need to have a full bladder for the scan to go well.

It was a fine balancing act. Usually, they're running a little late. I could not sit there for too long with a bladder that was about to explode and wait for the scan, so I arrived a little late hoping that I'd arrived just in time to hear my name being called.

No such luck.

20 minutes later, I was called in and invited to "hop up" onto the examination couch.

I don't know about you, but those couches, benches and chairs are far too high to "hop on" to. I'm very short and, with the added bonus of a straining bladder, hopping onto the bench just wasn't going to be an option.

I heaved myself very gently onto the paper towel - this promptly ripped and skewed out from under me.

I undid my jeans, pulled them down and the nurse covered my huge belly with gel. She then set about running the probe over my straining bladder as if she were deliberately trying to get me to wet myself. It was excrutiating.

She asked me a few questions and then told me it was over. I don't know what the final report is going to look like, but her notes started with "NAD".

That tends to mean "no abnormalities detected".

I didn't argue. I was off to find a toilet. Then I went home again until it was time to see the doctor.

She was okay. Her babies are learning to talk. Aaaaaaah.

Monday, 30 July 2007

Oh dear

Well Alex at CAB was very kind and understanding.

Which is just as well really.

She's the CAB debt counsellor who's ascertained what I already know.


1) I'm not entitled to housing benefit as my mortgage was taken out after October 1995

2) £59.15 a week will not cover my debts and living expenses

3) Throwing myself at the mercy of my creditors is, frankly, my only option


She even pulled out huge books and let me look up the grounds for appealing benefits decisions.

And, frankly, there aren't any.

Even mental illness is not considered an excuse anymore.

Basically acts of God, fear of violence and coma will get them re-thinking their decision. Not much else.

Alex told me that she was going to write to my creditors and offer them £1 a month until "I'm back on my feet".

I told her that HSBC weren't very forthcoming when I went to see them about halving my repayments and lengthening the repayment period.

She told me that until the CAB get involved most creditors don't take up such offers.

Then she congratulated me on finding a loan with such a low interest rate. 6.9% was very good, she told me. Then she told me that it was very rare to find someone so organised.

I'd brought large sections of my filing system with me and had packed two large shopping bags with them.

Yes, she went on, it was very rare to have a meeting to be so short, as most people were very disorganised and couldn't answer basic questions like "How much do you spend on gas?"

I told her that wasn't much of a consolation and got quite teary.

She started packing up and making reassuring noises and I took that as the end of the meeting.

Brilliant. I'm in oodles of debt, with no income to speak of, but at least I'm organised.

The OCD does come in handy now and again.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Um

There are days when I wonder what the people in charge are on. Then I wonder how on earth some people get jobs at all.

This is one of those days.

After being given strict instructions about showing up on time, I and a motley collection of people spent nearly an hour watching television in the foyer.

After signing in I decided to go to the toilet. I had to pass through a security barrier, past a security guy and then I was left unescorted. From the barrier I could have access to any part of the building.

Luckily, I'm a good girl, who's pathologically honest. I came back and sat to watch BBC daytime television.

A pair of pensioners who were looking for a house were given three to choose from and chose the new build (with boundary issues with the local farmer) and a chair upholstery nut with mobility issues was assessed by an RSPCA man to see if she could give a loving home to a dog.

Then, we were called up for interview. Some of the candidates had Visitor passes like me, but quite a number seemed to have a headstart with Staff passes around their necks. Oh, goody. Unfair competition.

A HR child came down to collect us. On our way up, some of us asked for the toilet. It was about half an hour before we got started again.

While we were waiting for the toilet goers to come back, ther were a few comments along the lines of "we had plenty of time downstairs". Frankly there are some very slack people around.

We were taken up to a conference room and we were handed test booklets identical to the ones I saw at Sandwell Council's Test and Assessment day.

The answer forms were identical too. Using pencils, fill in the circle which matches your answer. Fill in your name (using circles which correspond with the alphabet letters) and fill in the date (230707).

As part of the preparation for the test, we'd all been sent a test battery booklet showing the type of tests that we could expect. The practice battery was tough. Checking, rapid checking, mental arithmetic, mathematics, deletion, addition, omission errors and computer printout versus hand filled form checking.

The tests we were given were laughably easy by comparison. Scarily, they were easier than the one for Sandwell Council.

Then, after we'd been delayed by well over an hour already, the HR child spotted a problem. for the second test, we had been handed one set of test booklets and she had an instruction booklet for a different test.

The tests were similar but slightly different. It was a rapid checking test. Instead of getting someone to come down with the instruction booklet to match our test, she asked someone to find the test booklets to match her instructions. It was only another 20 minutes before we were able to start the test.

Then when we were finished, we were escorted out.

I think I did well. However, as most places value existing staff over external candidates, I won't hold my breath.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

Things are looking up

The interview at the Wolverhampton Nuffield went a lot better.

They were friendly, I think I did well. I got there on time, answered the questions as well as I could, asked a few questions of my own and was shown round the labs where I would be working if hired.

Then, right at the very end, I was handed an application pack.

Pardon?

An application form, a complex and detailed health questionnaire (oh dear) and a CRB security form.

Great.

I filled in the forms but got stuck on the CRB referee.

Working for The Big E meant basic terrorist security clearance. This means detailing where you've lived for the previous 5 years, a list of all your immediate relatives, their dates and places of birth, their naturalisation certificate numbers if they're immigrants, and a long series of other questions, sometimes repeated in a booklet at least 10 pages long.

This was the first time I'd seen a CRB form. Four pages, with the most challenging question being give the name and address of someone who's known you for 2 years.

Um.

There isn't anybody.........

I'm quite a sad sack.

Monday, 23 July 2007

There's a horror movie in this somewhere

That interview was awful.

The first part of the test was nightmarish. I was put in a tiny room (doing a remarkable impression of a cubicle) and given brief instructions on what to do with information.

First, read through part of a report, bullet the most important points and answer detailed questions on what I thought of the quality of the information in the report.

I spent so long on the discrepancies, that I didn't have time to tap it all up on the Word document, I just kept it in pencil on paper.

Then, I had to manipulate data from an Excel spreadsheet. Draw graphs, interpret the data and then add equations to show 10% differences and so on.

I sat there re-learning how to use Excel. The Help function was a big help, but I only managed to draw one graph before the time was up.

Then the interview.

What appeared to be two relatively elderly academics and a young HR girl interviewed me after reviewing the data I produced from the exercise.

Female elderly academic (a tiny bird like woman with a receding chin) seemed to be worried about my lack of wordprocesssing ability. Did I know how to use Word?

Male elderly academic (complete with grey beard and tweed jacket) wanted to know about how I would demand information from the Environment Agency and Severn Trent regarding the flooding crisis in Gloucestershire.

I wasn't very confident - even though I had gone through all the information on the internet that I could lay hands on about OfWat.

I didn't think to look up "Environment Agency" or look at the impact the flooding would have on the work of OfWat.

I know I didn't get that job.

No change there then

Well Leanne was a fat lot of help.

All I got from her were photocopied pages of the same generic advice that I can find in the Job Hunter's handbook, any job hunt page from any of the search sites I've registered with and any advice I've had from the Job Centre.

On the plus side - I was late for the meeting as I was 'phoning three different people to confirm interview details

Wolverhampton Nuffield private hospital (Medical Laboratory Attendant), OfWat (Information Analyst) and a third bunch (also Information Analyst).

Whoo hoo! Three interviews in one week. Actually, two interviews and one test battery.

After the "chat" with Leanne, I went upstairs and carried on with the job search. I've registered with so many agencies that I have to visit my e-mail at least once a day to stay on top of the spam and job alerts.

With reed.co.uk, I can apply for loads of jobs in one day. monster.co.uk keep sending Lab Tech posts from America (I really need to sort that), totaljobs.com are, frankly a waste of time and so are Adecco.co.uk.

But. I've got three chances of a job this week!

Wish me luck!

Saturday, 21 July 2007

I'm baaaaack!

I've spent the last couple of days in London with Dad. He went for a lumbar puncture and a chest CT scan on Thursday. The two procedures didn't take 2 hours altogether, but the whole day was spent at New Charing Cross in the Fulham Palace Road.

Dad is none too thrilled with the doctor he's been to see after his brain scan. Apparently there's evidence of atrophy. Due to alcohol abuse. The chest CT and the LP (spinal tap) were follow up examinations.

The LP took place at 16:15 and Dad was told to lie down for a couple of hours. I was supposed to go home on Thursday evening but that was out of the question.

I went round to MwK's and used the computer to book another ticket home for yesterday morning.

Cute Niece and Cute Nephew were there squirrelling away at each other and SiL was doing the housework. Cute Niece was excited about going to "big school" to see what that was like and Cute Nephew (who's 7 in August) was thrilled about his end of year school report. He has a reading age of 9 and he's top of the class in Maths.

Cute Niece won't sit or lie still for more that a couple of minutes and was covered in bruises. This is perfectly normal for her. At least once a week, the nursery asks her parents to sign an accident report form after her latest scrape, bang or bump.

She has been learning to ride a bike without stabilisers (she's tiny and 4) and even though she kept falling off, the nursery staff couldn't stop her from trying again and again until she'd mastered a two wheeled bike. Where did they find a bike that small?

I got home yesterday after only a half hour delay due to weather and roadworks. Then I had to go out and cash my Giro.

Then I had to visit HSBC and Nationwide and pay cash into both to cover direct debits. I've had about 19p in my HSBC account for about a week.

Then I popped into Sainsbury's to do a little bit of shopping and then I went home.

Then, as I went to top up my mobile, I found my 'phone had fiddled itself into silent mode and I found a missed ansaphone message.

Could I ring back and organise and interview for next Thursday?

Okay, I will. It will have to be first thing Monday. Before the 9:30 meeting with JobChange Leanne about writing a good cv. I'll probably ask about interview techniques as well.

Lucky it's Thursday, as I've got an interview and work based test on Wednesday in Birmingham City Centre at a place I've had an interview before. The place that's about 5 minutes walk away from where I used to work at The Big E.

And, of course, I'm signing on on Friday afternoon.

Wish me luck.

Right and wrong

I have been to see an advisor at the Citizens' Advice Bureau. Ernesto is profoundly deaf and the BSL interpreter sat behind me within sight of Ernesto.

The meeting was awkward. He'd sign a question, the translator would ask me the question, I'd answer and the translator would sign my answer back. It took a lot of willpower not to turn around and face the translator.

I've got a further appointment with debt counsellors on 30th July.

I have been frantically filling in job applications and visiting the JobCentrePlus. Once you're unemployed, there is all sorts of help available including JobChange.

As long as the search is job related, all computer and printer use is free.

I've been using the library computer, paying to use an "internet cafe" in a run down shop in Broad Street and even hand delivering and faxing applications. Where has this place been before now?

I'm skint. I found out on Wednesday (on the bus to London) that my Giro cheque will be for £67.60. I delayed applying for benefits for no good reason and so they won't back date my claim. Four weeks unemployment and all I have to show for it is £67.60.

I asked them to reconsider, the trouble is I was on the bus and

a) didn't have any documentation in front of me and

b) didn't want to discuss my personal problems in front of a bus load of people

The lady told me that it was unlikely that my appeal would succeed but that the decision would be reconsidered.

Great.

Friday, 13 July 2007

Friday the thirteeth - Unlucky for me?

I went to a work assessment at a Training and Assessment Centre in Oldbury for a job in Sandwell Trading Standards Unit.

It was awful.

The only way to get there is by bus (well, it is when all you have is a bus pass which expires on 18th July) It took forever. It was bucketing down with rain and the buses were crammed and delayed.

The place was just outside Oldbury town centre and it would be very hard to find a more pitiless and depressing hole.

I got off a stop too early and had to walk under a motorway flyover. Everything was grey concrete. No one even bothered to stick fly posters up as few people walked there and cars just sped past.

Deafening bangs and crashes roared over a huge concrete wall as a metal recovery works (that's a car wrecking yard) started up its business after lunch.

There was a very short terrace of houses with a small corner shop alongside the flyover. Great place to live. Not.

There were major roadworks affecting traffic lanes and the pedestrians. The pedestrian crossing was out of use as a result. I just had to dodge the cars, the barriers, the cones, the plant and the workmen to cross the road. In the pouring rain.

I found the Training and Assessment Centre car park and emergency exit. And a young man dressed smart casually all in black. He and I wandered around the outside of what had once been an old school built in a large square around a courtyard.

He rang up the test centre and followed some instructions. He didn't wait for me and so I had to follow at a run. It was a long run.

We followed the road round past a long wire fence. There were industrial units on the other side of a badly signposted and potholed street. There were loud bangs and crashes coming from one uint and thick, acrid white smoke from a second. The smoke was so thick it resembled fog as it coiled and billowed across the road. It was choking.

We ended up at the barriers of another car park around the other side of the building we had just left. There was no pedestrian access. At all. We ended up sucking in our stomachs and ooching ourselves between the barrier posts.

The car park was potholed and uneven. It was a long walk to the main entrance. Once there, we signed in and waited.

There were fifteen candidates, only four of us were women.

I had smartened up with a skirt, smart shoes and a handbag. I needn't have bothered. Only one of the women showed up "suited and booted" as if for an interview and another showed up in flip flops. At least two men wore jeans.

The tests were meant to start promptly at 13:30. We were sat in the waiting area until 14:00. Then we were shown through the security door, down a corridor, out across the courtyard and in to the other side of the building.

We ended up in a hall complete with a grand piano. The tables had been positioned so that we could sit two at a table with pencils and erasers laid out.

There were twenty-six positions laid out. That means eleven hadn't shown up and couldn't be arsed to ring up and cancel.

The woman in charge of the tests was massive. She wore a vest top which kept riding up over her belly and a pair of culottes so tight that you could see what was in her underwear. She had just finished laying out the places and she was out of breath. She was required to walk around the room handing out and collecting test papers and she was exhausted by the time she made a single circuit of the room.

The guy who showed up in a pinstripe suit, shirt, tie and highly polished brogues must have wondered why he'd bothered with a 7 hour car journey from Scotland.

Between puffs, she apologised to the man in black. Yes, she'd given out the instructions and yes she was Training and Assessment Manager but she wasn't normally in this building.

This building being the Training and Assessment Centre.

She was usually based in Oldbury. She carried on apologising for sounding like a complete bimbo when he'd called, and then, once we were all sat down went in search of the tea and coffee she'd ordered.

After she left the room, the candidates exchanged a few quizzical glances and comments.

Um.

Weren't we in Oldbury?

There were a series of tests. Mathematics, Comprehension, Number and Letter Recognition and a Personality Questionnaire.

The tea trolley showed up between tests. There was no water. I was the only one who sussed out out the coffee dispenser worked and I helped myself to a few biscuits which had a "home made" feel about them.

They were shortbread. The biscuits with the M&Ms in them had been overcooked with a tad too little butter. Very thin, they didn't crumble, they snapped like crispbreads. The M&Ms were visible through the pastry - I could make out the letters in some of the pieces.

The biscuits with the currants in them were the exact opposite. Thick, with too much butter, they had started to disintegrate when they were cut. The plates were a mass of crumbs and fruit.

Picking one up was a delicate art. Any pressure on them and they crumbled. Attempting to pick one up with my thumb and forefinger resulted in most of the biscuit remaining on the plate and pinch of greasy crumbs in my hand.

I just stuck with the M&M snaps. So did everyone else. When the Training and Assessment Manager explained how the next test would go, the room was filled with snapping and crunching noises as we bit into the biscuits and chewed.

I don't think anyone finished the maths test. 20 minutes for 35 questions. For the entire 20 minutes all I could hear was the frantic drumming of fingers on calculators. There was a nervous laugh from everyone as the end of test was announced.

The personality test wasn't timed and it was the last of the session. We were told we could finish "whenever" and hand everything in before we left.

As I left, it rained. I had to waddle across the car park, ooch myself between the barrier posts, find the return bus stop and start my journey home again. In the pouring rain.

The weather did not let up the entire time.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007

It's still going very wrong

I received a collection of application forms on Friday with a letter that stated the closing date was Monday.

Dad called and told me that he and Married with Kids would be landing on Monday to do a bit of work on the house.

Saturday, Dad announced that he and Married with Kids wouldn't be arriving until Tuesday.

That gave me the opportunity to fill in one of the forms and hand deliver it to Birmingham City Centre on Monday.

Married with Kids and Dad arrived on Tuesday in MwK's van. MwK screwed plasterboard to the ceilings in the front room and in the middle bedroom. He sanded the bathroom walls, using money from Dad he bought plasterboard, plaster, wood and arris rail from Wickes and declared the curry from a local pub some of the best he's ever tasted.

After hearing my washing machine start to deafen the neighbourhood, he condemned my washing machine as "fucked". He knew of a Bosch washing machine that could be had for free but for a few scratches. He could bring it up on Monday when he could collect Dad.

What?

Married with Kids announced that he would be returning to London on Thursday, but Dad would be staying until Monday.

Oh. Great.

I couldn't say I was exactly thrilled. All I could think of was the mass of application forms that had to be filled in. I went to the college library every day last week and brought applications forms with me, but I wasn't able to get half of them done.

Terrific, more money wasted.

Dad then went on to plaster walls in the downstairs front room, the downstairs back room and upstairs middle bedroom. There is now plaster all over the house. Lumps of it stuck to floors, cracked off pieces being ground to dust on every floor and powder every where.

The best bit was when he changed the position of a radiator from the external window wall to the chimney breast area. The local Plumb Center (I hate the American spelling) was closed on Saturday for stock taking so he cobbled the copper pipe he needed from the existing bits. I went out to Homebase to buy another tin of butane/propane for the blowtorch and he and I set about draining the central heating down to change the radiator position.

Everything was going well until the radiator had to be disconnected. Even though the valves were closed, they continued to leak. Unbeknownst to us.

The radiator was fixed to the recently plastered chimney breast and all seemed to be smooth until Dad started to fill the central heating again. I was downstairs bleeding the radiators of air. I could hear a hissing noise. Dad couldn't work out why the pressure wasn't building. I went upstairs after he shouted down to me to find that it was raining.

There was a leak in the pipe approaching the newly changed radiator. The pressure of water was so great, that it was spraying up to the ceiling and out the door. The ceiling water was dripping into the power tools that Dad had lying on the floor in the middle bedroom and Dad couldn't hear a bloody thing. The place was soaked.

The radiator near Dad's feet was also open and the carpet squelched as he got down off the ladder. He left the water flowing into the central heating system. I switched off the radiator and the fill loop.

There was such a massive air lock by this time, that it took almost an hour to drain the system down again so Dad could fix the leak. This meant spending a good deal of time hunched on our hands and knees holding a thumb or a finger over the hole in the pipe to prevent more water leaking out.

It was at this point Dad decided to bring up the subject of selling some British Gas shares. I had to tell him that I didn't know how to do that. But with the paperwork with me I could probably work out how to.

We drained the system down and found a small length of copper pipe to replace the holed length. Then we tried to fill the system up again. Then we tried to make it work. The pump was overwhelmed and there was no heat and no hot water.

We drained down again. Re-filled again. And failed again. MwK and I exchanged a series of awkward texts. Him giving advice which Dad would tell me was a load of bollocks. He also told me there were no excuses for not helping Dad sell his shares and that Dad was planning to help me pay for my house with the proceeds of his own house sale.

Well. Thanks for the guilt trip. I already felt bad that I couldn't repay Dad for the work he was doing and the money he paid me.

The following morning (Sunday) we woke up to find a large puddle of water on the table in the back room. The leaking water had found its way down through the floor and the downstairs ceiling and had poured itself along the ceiling to the light fitting and down the wall to the layer of insulation under the laminate. There was a groove worn down the wall from floor to ceiling. More good news.

After spending two days in Dad's company with him telling me that British Gas were a bunch of useless bastards and they didn't know what they were doing and they must have put the three way motorised valve backwards on the system, MwK showed up to rescue us.

He correctly diagnosed an almighty air lock. The water was being heated in the boiler but was trapped at the pump. What was really needed was a high air valve (a nipple valve) to bleed the air out of the system above the boiler. He went out to buy one. He went on to fit it. Eventually.

The plan was to arrive, bring in the washing machine, plumb it in and level it, go to Wickes for yet more plaster, pack up the van and go home. That plan was scuppered by the heavy rain and the bollocksed central heating. He got here later than planned and Dad cursing him all the way for not getting his arse into gear earlier.

The washing machine was very, very, very heavy. MwK reversed the van up onto the pavement, and, using old boards, only just managed to wheel the thing into the house. The old washing machine was wheeled out and the new one wheeled in to replace it.

Then I went out to buy cheesecake for my Sister-in-Law's birthday and Dad and MwK set about the central heating. The new valve went in okay. But another joint started leaking instead. It took three goes before the second joint stopped leaking. All the while S-i-L was sending moody texts to MwK about being late.

They set off late even though they didn't go to Wickes and I just breathed a sigh of relief.

I went to bed early after Dad called after 9pm to tell me they had a great run home.

I have missed at least three applications.

I am skint and there is no work on the horizon. Today I set about trying to claim Jobseekers Allowance. Homeowners aren't entitled to Housing Benefit. But I might get Council Tax. There is a discretionary cash fund held by Wolverhampton City Council which I could apply to but I shouldn't hold my breath. Goody. I get to lose my house.

I was on the phone for nearly an hour answering questions that I thought would be filling in on a form. No. That's not how it's done these days.

My Job Oriented Interview is with Debbie at 10:30am on Friday. At Molineau Court in Temple Street. Where the drunks and dossers gather. Whoo hoo.

Now. If you'll excuse me, I've got a few 'phone calls to make about job applications.