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.
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.