Wednesday, 31 October 2007

So, what are you doing for the rest of your life?

Today was surreal.

The office manager took me into a meeting room to ask me about my intentions long term. She was happy with my telephone manner generally apart from the "outburst" on Monday. I appeared to be picking things up very quickly and she'll be applying for computer access for me.

Right. That sounds temporary. Not.

She definitely wants to employ me for the next couple of weeks and there are jobs going in the factory. She went off to the HR office to find adverts for me.

A guy in overalls and a hairnet was sitting in one corner using a computer. He introduced himself as the Engineering Manager and said that he was looking for an Administration Assistant to free him up from the paperwork side of things.

The Office Supervisor came back and I was given two internal adverts for positions within the company. I also got a run down of the benefits of working for them and an idea of pay.

Even the permanent, full time staff have pay which is calculated by the hour. It starts around about £6.50 per hour (translating as £12,675 per annum for a 37.5hr week) and it rises every year. There's a profit related bonus for all staff around Christmas time (only to those who have been employed for a certain period of time) and a pension and other benefits.

I haven't been here a week.

I was polite and made "yes, I'll apply" noises. I wasn't doing anything long term and I was happy to stay for as long as they needed me. The meeting went well. I think.

The truly surreal part was looking out of the internal window to see part of the factory floor.

The meeting room/conference room/Visitor's Centre has a window which looks out onto the part of the factory floor which makes rolls. The window is set in such a way and the factory area is so vast, that it isn't possible to see all of the facility.

The rolls are made from balls of dough which have been cut and slapped onto a conveyor. The conveyor takes the slabs of dough to a kind of reverse helter-skelter which spins around forcing the dough upwards towards another conveyor as well as shaping them into a ball.

The balls are dumped onto another conveyor which takes them through a housing where blades are clearly spinning to split the dough into rolls. The split dough balls are then sent off to another part of the process via a curving conveyor.

The constant precision of the rapidly moving dough balls was mesmerising. The machine I could see was about the size of a bus. It was the first of at least four that I could see sending dough balls off on curving conveyors way off into the far distance. I could just see the back wall directly ahead through all the machinery.

Wow. That's a lot of engineering. And that's just for the rolls.

Part of the induction for new (permanent) staff is a tour of the factory floor. Cool.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Ooo, 'Eck

Okay.

I've been to this place once already.

I was late in today, because I got lost.

You see, it was like this.

Yesterday, I had the Google map and the written instructions. Today, I didn't bring them as I'd been there already. I'm smarter than the average, after all. I don't need telling twice. Do I?

This is a featureless, industrial estate, with almost identical roads, no landmarks, no signage and no one around to ask.

As the roads are very quiet outside the "rush hour", there are a number of learner drivers using the estate for practice.

Roundabouts. There are a lot of roundabouts. Instead of straightforward turns around blind bends and instead of T-junctions, there are roundabouts.

As I approached what should been a T-junction between the main road and the left turn towards my site, a BSM driver lapped the roundabout. He seemed very indecisive. Instead of turning left, I crossed the road (sorry, roundabout) to avoid the driver. I then carried on down the wrong road.

As the bakery is at the end of the road, it wasn't until I got to the end of the road I was on that I realised I was on the wrong road. When I walked back, I was looking at the junction from entirely the wrong angle. I guessed which road I was supposed to take. Luckily I picked correctly.

It was cold, I was panicking slightly and getting breathless because I was hurrying. I was getting wheezy too.

I was very grateful to see the gates of the bakery and the old toothless security lady on the gate shouting at a truck driver that he needed his ID. He was driving one of the biggest corporate trucks.

I was half an hour late. That's a day after I got the H&S talk and the "punctuality is extremely important" spiel.

Well. It's always goes to make a good impression.

My clothes are on the office casual side. I've got a handbag the size of a small weekend case. It holds everything that I would normally put in my jeans and nearly everything that I would have put in any bag I would have been carrying if I didn't have to have the handbag.

Everyone, even the Admin staff wear corporate wear. White blouses with black trousers or skirts. Any game of I - Spy with T for temp is soon over. So far I've been in black and black and blue.

All of today, there have been a steady stream of "girls" (adult women, everyone of them) walking in to the office to be fitted for the new corporate uniform for Admin/office staff.

Fitted up, more like.

The new blouse comes in different styles - long sleeved, short sleeved, fitted, loose, buttons, poppers etc - in the same excruciating shade of Santa Claus red as the trucks.

The girls are picking a selection of blouses for themselves from samples before an order is put in and the finished blouses are sent to the each employee. Each blouse will be "finished" with a logo and embroidery.

These new tops will be finished off with a black logoed fleece with some dangly thing swinging off the zipper.

Ooooh. Lurvely.

Monday, 29 October 2007

And all the oven bottom muffins you can eat

I've got a job.

It's temporary and part time but it's a job. Answering 'phones to shopkeepers and managers wanting adjust their orders.

At a major bakery in Wednesbury. It's HUGE. It's also in the middle of a bleak industrial estate which feels like it's in the middle of nowhere.

It's a long walk from the tram stop and there are footpaths rather than proper pavements. There are shrubs overgrowing the paths and flytippers are happy to dump everything from rubble to matresses because with almost everyone driving and almost no regular traffic, there's no one to see the trash.

The car park is massive. It needs to be.

I show up around 10am (quelle surprise!) and the car park is nearly empty. It's possible to look across the park from the security barrier and see the building you're aiming for.

Pedestrians - who are very rare - have to zig zag across the park via sign posted and marked footpaths. You're even given the instruction at the gate "Just follow the little yellow men".

Past the empty parking bays, past the diesel and motor oil dispenser in what looks like a garden tool store next to the huge tank of diesel, past the smoking shed and past the Portakabin where the engineers go and you come across the Reception.

By the time I leave at two, there is not one bay left. The place is a mass of trucks of various sizes all painted the same eye crunching shade of red. It isn't possible to safely cross the park without the footpath.

The job is busy, if tedious. We answer the 'phone calls from people who want to change their daily orders. There have been problems with accents, dropped calls from mobiles, crackling lines and, of course, me not knowing the different products and their codes. And not having access to the computer system.

The simple query "Can you tell me how many blues waxies we are having tomorrow?" means that I have to put them on hold while I ask one of the Admin "girls".

One of them has to finish what she's doing, look up the account and then tell me. I take the customer off hold and relay the information to him/her.

This is usually followed up with another query about tomorrows order and the whole rigmarole starts again.

After I had finished one awkward call with someone who didn't have the information to hand and kept me waiting while he recounted each type of bread individually, I put my receiver down and shouted "You Freak".

I was told afterwards, not to do that in case someone else is on the 'phone and their customer can hear me in the background.

The Admin people are very friendly and happy to show me how to do/find stuff and the conditions are fine. If a little, I dunno, bizarre for an office job.

The factory first "presents" as one of those identikit industrial park offices. All magnolia and high traffic flooring. Non slip lino instead of the usual carpet tiles, but so far so routine.

The first clue is the corporate art on the walls. Instead of the usual "inspirational management" bollocks of waterside autumnal trees at sunset, or a lone seagull flying into the sunset across a still sea (usually accompanied by some slogan along the lines of "Our customer is King to our competitors") there are expensively framed, highly detailed photos of the bakery production facility signed by a member of the founding family.

The ladies' toilet is industrial. The mirrors are fuzzy with cleaning fluid, the dispensed handsoap is antimicrobial, the soap unit sits next to wet/dry barrier cream and the paper towel dispenser is powered.

The office is very much what you'd expect. Open plan with computers and a background radio. The work is fast and furious - as you would expect for such a major site.

But.

In a lot of other companies, the office and the factory side don't meet. In this place, there are people in "industrial workwear" walking in and out of the office almost constantly. Drivers in black and red, production staff in blue overalls, blue hairnets, steel toecaps and blue ear defenders and staff in white coats form an almost constant stream of people flowing in and out of the office doors.

The kitchen area is a little different to the average. It is a small cupboard of a room as you would have seen in a lot of office spaces. There is the standard microwave, fridge, freezer and a cupboard full of mismatched mugs. Then there is the large catering fridge, freezer and plastic heat sealing machine.

As the catering assistant is on hand to make up little packed lunches for visitors (sandwiches, naturally, in little logoed carrier bags) and lunches for staff, the kitchen has to subscribe to the same rules as a commercial kitchen.

There is a box of hairnets on the wall beside the kitchen door. If the assistant is in there preparing food, then we have to put on a hairnet to get a cup of coffee. If the assistant is unloading the shopping, then we can't get in there at all. Only once have I seen anyone offering to get tea and coffee for anyone.

And the smell of baking bread is everywhere. Up the road to the site, across the car park, in the building; everywhere except on the way in to Reception when you have to pass a vent that sends out a vinegary blast. Eugh.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Commuting. I really missed commuting. Not.

The plan for today was

1. Buy a Network Day card which gets me unlimited travel over the West Midlands by train, bus and tram.

2. Go into Birmingham casually dressed to go to the dental hygienist appointment at 10:50

3. Return to Wolverhampton to prepare for the interview

4. Go to University for the interview at 14:00

5. Return to Wolverhampton and collapse

This was a rubbish plan. As I found out at the train station when I found out about the power lines failing between Wolverhampton and Stafford.

This meant all the train lines were affected as diesels were being used to tow trains along the north bound lines. If there were any spare, that is.

I got to the dental hygienist appointment for 11:30. She had a "gap", but that meant waiting another 20 minutes.

I got a scale and polish as well as a clean bill of health and was off back to Wolverhampton.

I got home to change and sort out the web site stuff that I printed off and was off again. Without the soft casual Timberland shoes I usually wear, I was limping quite badly. The plantar fasciitis thing has been getting worse and the Ibugel which was prescribed isn't really touching it any more. I am going to have to do something about it. But not today. When I really didn't need the added stress of pain on top of a job interview.

I got to Wolverhampton train station again and rediscovered the joys of commuting. To my annoyance, I had just missed the "slow" multi stopping train which tends to carry on regardless of power failures as it is diesel powered and just runs between Wolverhampton and Birmingham.

After another dash to the new footbridge to get to Platform 4, I arrived on the platform to see the Virgin train to Plymouth inching away from the station. Terrific.

After being sent to two different platforms, via the staircases, I joined the commuting-savvy regulars on the new footbridge to watch for whichever southbound train came first. Every southbound train stops at Birmingham New Street.

We piled onto Platform 3 and got on the next Virgin train to London Euston. I got a seat next to a woman who was reading a pile of work related papers and a few seats down from The World's Most Boring Yorkshireman who was loudly regaling his luckless companion Peter about how he likes to drive the Xenon.

"Now Peter, you can tell me you like the Mondeo all you like, but I like the feel of the car as it drives....."

The woman beside me was loaded with a briefcase and a large handbag, both of which she had on her lap as she was reading Human Resources material about part time working. She was clearly on the Ladybird version. The first line of the first page was

"Part time working is anything less than full time working"

I turned away from the papers and looked out the window to the industrial landscape that was passing s l o w l y beside us.

"Now as you know, Peter, the Mondeo has its faults, you've acknowledged them...."

He went on to describe in tedious detail how he drove around his old home town of Leeds. Peter pointed out that Leeds was a city.

"You're quite correct Peter! I stand corrected. Or should I say sit corrected."

He then described how he managed to find the loopholes that got his wife off a parking ticket

"Now I was thinking, "Should I be cute and tell people about this?". I mean, I have written to The Telegraph before now and I have been published..........."

The woman beside me put the paperwork into her briefcase and pulled out "The Rise and Fall of the Yummy Mummy" from the carrier bag she also had with her down by her feet.

Then there came the usual unexplained delay between Smethwick Rolfe Street and Smethwick Galton Bridge.

By the time we pulled into New Street Station, Peter (and the rest of the carriage) had been told about how his pal had seen off Jehovah's Witnesses

"....and I told them that by standing on the doorsteps of total strangers, they were just asking for a reaction and if they didn't like it...."

and how he argued for better service from his internet provider or else they'd lose his custom

".....so I told them there are are plenty of other providers out there these days and if they didn't pull their finger out they could bloody well whistle for their back dated charges........."

I suspect the stampede and resulting crush to get off the carriage wasn't just because it was over 30 minutes late arriving at Birmingham New Street. Peter and his pal may have had a lot to do with it.

As I didn't know which train I needed to get to University, I needed Information. So did nearly everyone else.

In the scrum of people around the exit, there are queues of people buying penalty fares, queues of people getting out, queues of people getting in and queues of people wanting to know where to go next.

I joined one of those queues and when I finally got to the front, I was interrupted by an Asian guy. He was immediately slapped back by the woman behind the desk who told me I needed the 13:25 to Longbridge from platform 11.

I ran down the concourse with a small group of other people (not rivals for the job, surely?) and got stuck on the stairs behind two very fat (and slow!) women who were carrying a large pushchair awkwardly down the stairs.

We got to the platform to see our train pulling away. I turned to go back up the escalators as someone else made a comment to the two women who had held us up. I could hear an incredibly foul mouthed argument starting up as I left for the concourse.

I got to Information again and spoke to the same woman as before. She did an obvious double take before telling me I needed the 13:55 Longbridge train from Platform 11.

That was not an option. It was now 13:35. My interview was for 2pm.

I thanked her and limped briskly to the Taxi ranks after stopping briefly to get yet more money out of the cash machine. £20. At 13:40.

I was the only one in the queue and went to the front taxi. He looked at the map I printed off as if I had just handed him the latest Conservative Party Manifesto document printed in Japanese. He clearly didn't have a clue.

He pulled out his copy of the A-Z, and holding my map upside down, tried to compare the two. After taking an age to compare them, he handed my map back to me and agreed to take me. At 13:45.

We went through the city centre, out along Broad Street, down to Edgbaston and out through the leafy posh bits. He hit a main road, then took a turn off and we arrived in the University area (I recognised this bit from the job interview at the Blood Service lab). We carried on past the red brick Victoriana of the original University, past the comprehensive school visions of the sixties and on to a more modern red brick gated estate.

He swung round the driveway and left me in front of a door. He told me that I was at the Science Park and that here was where I wanted. Somewhere. At 13:55. He drove off with £15.

I took my map out and started walking away from the door, before I realised that it was the building I wanted. I yo yoed back, hoping the Receptionist hadn't seen the double take.

She had. She thought it was funny.

She directed me down a corridor and I met another Receptionist. She asked me to take a seat and that my interviewer would be with me shortly. The Reception area was barriered off from the offices with partition boards upholstered with scratchy, hard wearing, tweedy fabric in a tasteful grey pastel. They matched the chairs.

There were diet sheets lining the walls and information for new patients starting on the new prostate trial.

The Interviewer showed up, shook my hand and showed me into his office. We got on really well. He explained how the organisation worked, how the patients are managed and what my role would be if I was hired.

I liked the guy. He clearly enjoyed working there,talked enthusiastically about his work and his role and called his immediate line manager "inspirational". He was so fired up, he even got me wanting to work there. Even though I still had no idea about salary.

After the interview (where I showed up my lack of people contact yet again), he left me with a Administrative Leader who showed me round the rest of the site.

The patient files filled the massive filing shelves which lined both sides of a long corridor of a room. There were scrutiny areas where clients could check up on the work being done, patient consultation rooms and a drugs room which only clinicians had the keys to.

There was the Reception area. There was a small kitchen area. There was where I'd be working. And there was the Exit. Bye.

I didn't fancy limping all the way to the train station so I crossed the road to the bus stop. I took a bus back to the City Centre. It took the scenic route through the University campus, around Edgbaston and finally, after we stopped for the driver to visit a betting shop, at Birmingham New Street.

I called in to the bullring shopping centre. I needed the toilet and, while I was in Birmingham I could pretend to have money and go window shopping. I ended up in Debenhams where I received a call from Catherine who was eager to know how it went.

As we talked, I wandered through the Menswear section. There was music, pop videos on overhead screens and regular announcements about offers "....throughout the store!" forming a constant and intrusive background noise. I apologised to Catherine who had had to repeat some of what she was saying to me.

The pay was £14,000 per annum. Plus bens. I tried to sound enthusiastic, I really did. But, I had to face facts. £14,000 per annum would mean getting a second part time job simply to pay for the travelling costs.

Catherine rang off making enthusiastic noises (she would, she stood to make £700 if I was hired) and promising me that she'd contact me with any news.

Nothing. Nada. Not a sausage, since. Not a reply to my e-mail or anything.

I take it, by the silence, that I haven't got that job.

Quelle surprise.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Not looking good for this one

I've got an interview on Wednesday. In Edgbaston near Birmingham University. This was organised by an employment agency in Manchester.

I've been given a web address, background information and everything I need to do well.

Something will go wrong. It always does.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

I don't believe it!

Today was recycling day.

The local ASAN charity had arranged skips for wood, plastic and cardboard for between 08:30 and 11:00 today.

I loaded up my wheelie bin with old wood and trundled it down the road. It was H E A V Y.

I then made a second trip with more wood, all the plastic I'd been saving and the cardboard. It really makes a difference with the rubbish. My kitchen bin is less than half full.

As I brought my bin back home, the local council came past with a trailer so that people could load their stuff up and have it taken to the end of the road for them.

Still, I needed the exercise.

Friday, 19 October 2007

Some people are easily impressed

The Asian guy I met for my 13 week review was sympathetic when I explained that I had a job at about 10am yesterday, had signed off in the expectation of starting today and lost the job at about 17:20 yesterday afternoon.

Apparently it happens all the time.

When I pulled out my expanding job application folder, he openly admitted to being impressed.

The folder is divided into a number of sections. The job adverts, jobs I'm still waiting for a reply from, jobs I've had interview for and jobs I've been outright rejected for.

That's more than people normally show him, he said.

Getting me back on the Signing on register was a matter of correcting a couple of fields on the database and although he couldn't find my signing on file, I could sign another bit of paper and he'd hunt down my file before it was processed. He'd ring me later and give me my new signing on time.

He did. It's going to be 11:20 2nd November 2007.

I went to JobChange. I looked for jobs and got kicked out with everyone else when it closes for lunch on Friday at 13:00.

It then opens at 14:00 and closes early at 16:30.

I spent the intervening hours wandering around the Mander and Wulfrun Centres. Like all the other unemployed losers before limping home via Sainsbury's reduced sections.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Now you see it........now you don't

I got a call from Reed at about 9:30 this morning.

There's a job. Data entry for the purchasing department in the local NHS offices in Chapel Ash for between £6 and £7 an hour. Would I be interested?

Is the Pope a Catholic?

Michelle told me that she'd call me back after she had sorted out the details, confirmed the job and found out who I'd be reporting to.

Ten minutes later, she called back. The job was £5.93 per hour, the hours were 8:30 to 17:00 and she still had to confirm who I'd be working with but the job was on for tomorrow.

Friday?

Yep. The job entailed a short day's training so that I could hit the ground running on Monday.

Okay.

So as well as going to JobChange to look for work on-line, I called in to the Job Centre to sign off.

On my way back home, I called in to Reed.

Michelle met me and said she was still waiting for the 'phone call. I'd know as soon as she knew.

Ten minutes later, I was wandering through the Mander Centre when I got the call.

The job was 'on hold'. They would call her on Monday.

Terrific.

That meant I had to sign on tomorrow.

I am going to a 13 week review meeting tomorrow - hopefully I'll be able to sort something out then.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Nope

It was another bright, crisp winter's day when I got the 'phone call from the Technical guy from Extra Personnel.

No. I haven't got the job in Four Ashes either.

I presented well, I seemed to know my stuff, but there was the consideration of the buses and the fact that as I had worked for someone like The Big E, they weren't sure I was used to working to tight deadlines.

A lot of asbestos analysis is done with building projects in mind and not being able to work to short deadlines could mean expensive delays for clients.

Right.

Okay, then. Keep looking for me, won't you?

I went on to JobChange to adjust my cv one more time and that evening when I called Dad to see how he was he asked me about the interview.

When I told him that I hadn't got the job, he started to angrily ask me to look at myself. It can't be all the employers who are wrong.

Yep. I know.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

20 years on

I went to the job interview up in Four Ashes. In theory, it's a simple straight run up the Stafford Road. In practice, it's in the next county with an infrequent bus service.

I think the interview went really well. They seemed friendly enough, I seemed to impress them with my research about the subject and I walked out of there thinking that I'm still in the running.

The only problem I can see is that the bus which will get me there runs once an hour. The 07:45 will get me there just in time for the 08:30 start. I told them that I got a taxi for the interview - but the bus would be no problem.

And they said that they had someone who had worked there before who used the bus.

Although the weather is getting colder, the weather was sunny and crisp. It's a pleasant ride down the Stafford Road, detour to Brewood, back to Coven and then back onto the Stafford Road into Wolverhampton.

When I got to the agency who sent me I tried going upstairs to the Technical section only to be told by the receptionist that it was closed. The ceiling had caved in one night and the Technical section had re-located to West Bromwich.

I rang the guy. He asked me how it went and I told him how I thought it went and we chatted for quite a while. All the while I was conscious of the credit on my 'phone running out. After the call I checked and found to my pleasant surprise that I stll had nearly £7 left.

I still need a new 'phone. The vibrate function has stopped working, the shell is full of dust making the camera fairly useless and the battery flattens in within two days.

To save a bit of money, I popped into the new agency I signed up with and told Young Man how I thought it went - but I also told him to keep looking for work for me as I have been in this position before.

You know, the position where I think everything has gone really, really well and I still don't get the job.

Today is the 20th anniversary of the so called "Great Storm" of 1987. So called because the storm was the worst to hit the South East of England in over 300 years. The South East (including London) is, as far as the media are concerned, the centre of the known Universe.

Never mind the fact that Scottish coasts routinely see this kind of weather every 30 years or so, this, The Great Storm is the worst EVER in living memory as far as the BBC is concerned.

2007 is a landmark year for me. 20 years ago I was just starting my first full time job - in a hospital.

20 years ago today, I had to bring a torch to work to help me see where I was going, dodge fallen trees and show up to the hospital which was running on auxiliary power.

The lights were on but, in my building little else was working. Someone had to be there to receive the spent krypton generators from the delivery drivers even if we couldn't send them out with any fresh deliveries.

It was weird. Shortly after the last driver left, I was sent home as we could do nothing until the main power supply was back.

There has been a lot of reminiscing about the storm. A local television station broadcast from YouTube - Coast to Coast (check the 80s style), A montage of BBC tv news clips (remember the old logos?), the Forestry Commission still mourns the loss of so many trees and this piece of indulgent drama 20 years on is really quite over the top.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

I hate Owen Payne

I recently applied for a couple of jobs on the http://www.reed.co.uk/ website. They were advertised by another agency called Owen Payne.

I got a call, thanking me for my application and asking me to register for the job at 2 o'clock today with a "consultant".

I arrived on time, as dolled up as I thought appropriate and was hacked off to find no one was ready for any interview. I was left in an overheated waiting area with a clipboard full of forms to fill in. The tricky one was the Health questionnaire. How many days off sick had I taken over the past two years. Um. Ooooooh. >30 days.

I filled them in and knocked on the door of an office when I finished. A young blonde girl came out, gave the forms a quick glance over and brought me into another office where we sat opposite each other at a desk.

Which job had I applied for?

Eh?

They had advertised the job and must have noted the replies - why didn't she know which job I had applied for?

The data entry position.

There's only one data entry position, that's in Walsall and that's on hold. We're not recruiting for that job at the moment.

Oh.

I wasn't happy and it probably showed.

On my way out I was fuming. Not fuming enough to ignore my fear of heights.

Owen Payne are in a set of offices in a Victorian block. You know the sort of thing, one door at street level leading up a flight of stairs with different offices on different floors.

To let light onto the lower floors, the landing was the kind of framed glass inset that one sometimes sees in pavements to allow light to the basements below the pavement level.

It's enough to trigger my fear of heights. I tiptoed across it.

Then I carried on flouncing out of there.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Here we go again

I've still heard nothing from Matt from Randstad, so I'm guessing I haven't got the University lab job.

I've got an interview tomorrow at 2pm with yet another agency. The registrations are always the same.

As they interview me I am "amazing", "really good", "really easy to place" and all sorts of compliments.

I'm telling people that I left to get a wider work experience in more varied work places (not true), that I had done the same job for nine years (true), was getting really fed up (true) and couldn't be promoted (true), couldn't be moved sideways to a placement of my choosing (true) and really could do with a change (true - ish).

And I hear the same things over and over again - I'm doing the right thing getting different work experiences, that they'll have no trouble placing me and there are a number of jobs already on the books that suit me.

They make helpful, friendly, really keen noises and then I hear nothing from them again.

I'm registered with most of the agencies in Wolverhampton and I hear nothing - even when I ring and e-mail them to remind them I'm still here.

I have got to find something soon.

Matters aren't helped by the saga of next door.

Someone nicked next doors bin a few weeks ago. Next door threw rubbish into my bin. It was rank.

I'm fairly fastidious about even my wheelie bin. No "raw" rubbish gets put ito it - it always goes into a bin bag first. I washed out and disinfected my bin and then brought it into the front room so she couldn't do that again.

Yes. I know that sounds obssesive and insane. That's how I am.

After too many visits from too many unsavoury people at all hours of the day and night, Next Door left to live with her mother and her two children whom Social Services are taking an active interest in.

That hasn't stopped people knocking on the front door at all hours of the day and night.

A few days ago, I found a bin at the top of the road which had no markings on it. There's an off-licence at the top of my road, which is at the end of a terrace.

They have been doing some building work on the flat above the shop which has its side entrance in my road. A number of bins have been doing double duty as domestic refuse receptacles and, like the one I found, also as cement and plaster storage bins.

I nicked it. I then spent some of the precious money on a tin of paint. I marked it up with next doors number and used it for my rubbish.

The point being that I could make the house next door look like less of a burglary target by making it looked lived in.

Well, that plan backfired.

I left the bin out for the bin men.

About 7:30 this morning, someone came along to boot the crap out of the door. There were two voices - one deep, one high pitched and whiny. I didn't get downstairs in time to see who was there, but the curtain stuck to the inside of the front door had been pulled into the letterbox to help muffle the noise.

They must have thought there was someone in there because the bin had been put out.

After the binmen came, I washed out the bin and left it to dry.

I called the number the police gave me to report any such incident and then went off to JobChange.

On the way there, I met PC Teddy Bear. PC Bear is absolutely massive. Up and sideways. When he drives a normal police car he makes it look a bit like a pedal car. It's too small for him.

Today I saw him parked up beside the Dartmouth Arms pub and I stopped to tell him what happened earlier. He was in a people carrier. A much bigger car than the one I usually see him in and it seemed to be far more comfortable for him. He had to stretch to reach the notebook on the passenger seat beside him.

He told me that there had been a conference with Next Door, the Social Services and her mother and she had moved out. If anyone comes round could I keep an eye on them? If I hear anyone inside I had to call 999. Okaaaay.

We then got chatting about the bunch in Maxwell Road. I told him about the Bank Holiday where in an attempt to fix a broken window, the family had stolen the window from the house next door and were attempting to nail it in to the frame. I had been given an anti social behaviour diary to fill in, but they had turned very quiet. The anti social behaviour affecting me most was from Next Door.

They had probably turned very quiet as they had been given their marching orders. The police had finally found the landlord and had persuaded him to give the family their notice. He lived in Pendeford and couldn't give a toss about the place as long as the Housing Benefit was paid he was fine.

He won't be fine trying to let the place again, it's now a ramshackle pig sty.

We got chatting about the area and how Tesco had been able to get the planning permission they needed to start work on the old hospital site and how the area seemed to be picking up slowly.

At least, I said, it wasn't going to turn into Heath Town.

"Oh no," he replied, "I'm not going to let it get that bad!"

I thought that was quite sweet. The fact that he felt so responsible for the area that he didn't say "we" he said "I".

Gotham City has Batman in his Batmobile and we've got PC Teddy Bear in a people carrier the sized of a hearse stuck all over with logos and reflective strips.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Um, right

Wolverhampton
Male 29
Seeks reliable new friends
Male/Female, that have
passion for hard underground
dance music which include
Hard House, Techno, Hard
Techno, Speedcore and
Dutch Style Hard core to go
clubbing with, as mates have
lost interest. Plus general
socialising. Replies from
local area preferred
Box Number P13051
Express and Star
Queen Street
Wolverhampton WV1 1ES
Good luck looking.

Buses

I bought a Faresaver today in an effort to save money.

I sat on the 126 all the way from Wolverhampton to Birmingham with my cv in my bag.

Walked down Corporation Street to the Pallasades, handed in my cv with the brightest smile I could manage and went down to the train station for cash.

I joined the queue for one of only two machines working and got the machine that was only giving twenties.

Terrific. I had £120 left. Now I've got £100 left.

I bought a smoothie from Zumo and walked back out of the Pallasades and back up Corporation Street to the 126 bus stop. One was loading up as I got there.

I got back to Wolverhampton and got to the Job Centre. My 13 week review is due next time.

Great. At 09:20 Friday 19th October, I've got an appointment to see an advisor and if I can't explain what I've been doing to find work then I could lose my benefits and my National Insurance contributions.

There's an incentive.

I called Matt. Nope. Nothing. He was "busy with a client" but still didn't get back to me later.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

I don't feel very well

I haven't been in the mood for much lately.

I was too depressed to go to evening classes this week. That makes two weeks in a row.

I have been fighting a headache which left me going to bed early Thursday and Friday.

I've upped the dose on the lofepramine to 4 x 70mg per day, but it's going to take a little while to take effect.

Job Interview

There was an interview in a laboratory close to Birmingham University. I was told I'd get a call through the agency either Thursday or Friday.

The interview went well. The labs are spotless. The team is small and friendly and the hours not at all bad.

Birmingham City Council owe a lot of money

On the way out (Matt drove me there and back), Rosemarie called from Birmingham City Council.

Get this.

The Council are still trying to write the cheque out for the overpaid nursing home fees. They owe my Senile Uncle well over £30,000.

After his care was funded by the NHS on and after the 1st July 2003, they carried on sending the bills until the summer of 2005.

They have sent the bills to me.

They have addressed the bills to me.

They have happily accepted my cheques

from a Receivership bank account in my name

and signed by me.

So who do they address the cheque to?

That's right.

Senile Uncle.

I had to send the cheque back, with copies of the Birmingham City Council documentation that listed me as the debtor and they said they'd get it done as soon as possible.

It's now October.

Rosemarie, the Section Manager called me and asked me for the Court documents to prove my eligibility. Did I have access to a fax machine what with the Postal Strike coming?

I looked around Matt's car as we drove around Edgbaston.

No.

I would have to post the documents to her as she had to see the embossed Court Seal anyway.

She seemed not to know what that meant but reminded me about the postal strike. This wasn't going to be a fast process. I told her again that I would have to post the documents to her - she had to see the embossed originals.

Then she asked me if I had a pen and paper handy.

I looked around Matt's car as we drove into the University campus.

No. Text it to me I said.

She did hours later, while I was in the cinema.

Kenny


I went to see "Kenny". The agency was in Broad Street opposite the cinema so after the interview, I popped across to see what was on.

Kenny was funny in an understated, mock documentary kind of way. The weird part was his Dad. Swap the Aussie accent for an Irish one, the bleeding ulcer for a bad back and give him a shave and that's my Dad right down to the fear of hospitals.

Another job to apply for

As I was passing through the Pallasades shopping Centre to get to the trains, I spotted an advert for Optical Laboratory Technicians and walked in.

I was told I could pop my cv in and then I'd hear back. Okay.

So I went home, picked up everything I needed for the JobChange place, the original Receivership Order, the Interim Receivership Order and the letter that went with it explaining what it was.

I photocopied the letter and posted it with the two orders to Rosemarie at the new address in Birmingham.

It'll probably get to her by next Friday.

I then logged on to a computer, looked through all the emails and came across an Optical Laboratory Assistant job advertised on jobsite.

I applied online and printed off my cv in case they were for two different places.

There's nothing like being thorough.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Why oh why?

I went to see two films yesterday.

The Bourne Ultimatum - slickly made, fast paced, action thriller that doesn't need a brain. The hero is some sort of superhero who magics money, passports and obscure transport knowledge out of thin air.

At one point, after a whistlestop tour of Europe including Waterloo Station in London, our polyglot hero and a girl are in Spain. She tells him the man he is looking for is in Tangiers. He knows straight away

a) how to get there

and

b) when the next ferry is due out

The rest of us would be trying to locate Tangiers on a map and Googling transport and air fares.

But this is the sort of fantasy tosh where this sort of thing goes by the wayside. It's all explained in the first of the films The Bourne Identity. He's part of a secret 'black ops' outfit where he was taught all this.

Michael Clayton - Okay, I'm a George Clooney fan. I loved the film. But for one baffling plot thing.

Michael Clayton is a legal fixer. Originally a proper lawyer, he is now a legal 'janitor' for a huge New York law firm, cleaning up clients' mess, greasing palms and 'doing favours' for people.

His law firm have been contracted by a gigantic agrichemicals company on whose behalf they have been fighting a class action law suit regarding a pesticide.

An old friend and lead in agrichemicals case suddenly goes nuts - stripping naked and declaring his love for a girl giving evidence.

Michael is called to rein his old friend in, get him back on his medication, limit the damage and get the case back on track.

He tries to do his best on all fronts - his brother has fallen off the wagon and left him in debt after a restaurant business they set up together fails, his family is broken, he ferries his kid to school in the morning, he's fighting a gambling addiction - all character study stuff.

The "Lock Stock" style editing is good, the grey tired feel of the movie reflects the character's mood, the sense of hotel room anonymity is summoned up very well - this is all good stuff.

Then.

As he fires his car away from yet another client and another legal mess (hit and run, no less) he deviates from the main road, stops in the middle of nowhere and climbs to the top of a hill to look at the horseys in the field.

That's how he survives a car bomb.

Eh?

It's Hollywood. I know. It's probably supposed to be a bit mystical and a bit mysterious like the stag sequence in "The Queen".

However, it makes no sense at all. There is nothing that suggests Michael is a country boy who wants to get back to the life he once knew, no references to horses in the rest of the film that would put the scene in any sort of context, just three horses on the horizon which Michael gets out of his car to get a close up view of.

Right.

Go see them, if you like, but don't expect it to make sense.

One thing which is unnerving me though are not just the films but the trailers.

We seem to be in a dark conspiracy fuelled period of film making.

"The Kingdom" with Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Garner is about Middle Eastern bomb makers operating in Saudi (the Kingdom in the title) and is a dark affair about who you can trust as well as explosions.

"Rendition" with Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon is an extremely dark tale of a Middle Eastern man married to a Western woman (Witherspoon) who is secretly transported to an unknown destination to be tortured for information.

and "Lions for Lambs" starring Tom Cruise and Meryl Streep is also about military solutions to the War on Terror and incompetence and ruthlessness.

A British film is coming called Eastern Promises. This stars Viggo Mortensen as a Russian gangster. There's a dead girl, her diary and her baby and a midwife and guns and blood and a bunch of red roses in a crib and and and hmmmmmn.

Strong stuff.