Friday, September 23, 2011

Fourteen Weeks and Counting

At 5 p.m. today I will have completed fourteen weeks of unemployment. Although I've had three interviews in that time I've got nowhere near getting a job, not being invited back for second interviews. I'm guessing I was too old and too experienced for the jobs, they wanted some keen young thing to concentrate on a few repetitive tasks all day long. I can do that. Gizza job!

I have plenty of experience but not qualifications. I was never interested in studying such a boring subject. They tried to get me motivated to study in my first job but I gave up after a week and handed my notice in. If only I had those qualifications I could be getting rejected for better paid jobs than I am presently.

People give you advice. "Go down the entrepreneurial route, set up your own business, get yourself some clients." As if there aren't hundreds or thousands of people trying to do that already. "Don't worry if you haven't got the qualifications, apply for everything!" Ok, so what do I write in my covering letter? I'm not qualified to do this job but I make a nice cup of tea?

Maybe I need to think about what I really want to do and go for it.

Well, there is nothing I really want to do that will earn me money, never has been, never will be. Everything I have ever done to make money has been done with absolutely no enthusiasm.

I don't feel bereft now I'm out of work. I'm not depressed. I don't desperately need the company of others. I haven't lost my confidence or my sense of self-worth. I still think I'm better than those bastards. You know who they are.

It's poverty that fucks people up, not unemployment. But there aren't enough jobs to go round and unemployment can cause poverty because benefits are so shit. Benefits are so shit because of the attitude of the majority of well-off people who actually believe there is a job out there for everyone. "All you have to do is get off your lazy arse. If I was unemployed I'd do anything, I'd even stack shelves."

So there are shelves out there waiting to be stacked, are there? Dickhead.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Aimless (5)

Maths was a subject I found easy in the early years of Big School. I suppose I had an aptitude for it. But I had my limits and Maths would cause me more tears than any other subject over the years. Maths teachers seemed to me to be the most blinkered. They just couldn't understand why a pupil could not understand. They were explaining it. They understood what they were explaining as clear as day. Surely you must understand this, boy. But I didn't really get this feeling until doing my A-level. My early Maths years were a piece of piss.

Even though I'd been a big football cheese at primary school, captain of the school team, when I got to Big School I had lost any confidence my old teacher had tried to instill in me and, not being the most forward of eleven year olds, didn't get a sniff at the big boys' school team. It was a case of the louder the mouth the further you got, a real lesson for life there. There I was expecting to be passed to every now and then because I was in a good position but because I wasn't demanding the ball I was never given it. Oh well, my loss was England's loss.

I took to cricket, however, like a duck to water. For some inexplicable reason I found I could bowl on target and at a similar length each time. I had no idea how to hold the ball, just cradled it in my small hand as if I were holding an apple, but my run-up and action were decent enough. Playing with and against eleven and twelve year olds on a full-size pitch, you could get away with bowling accurately and not have to worry about complicated things like swing or spin.

I enjoyed fielding, too. Because we had a few accurate bowlers, the fieldsmen crowded the batsman. I was silly mid-on, not so silly when the batsmen could only play weak defensive shots. I got a thrill from anticipating dives to clutch the results of pathetic shots close to the ground. The big, booming Geography teacher enjoyed this mini version of real cricket as we did. Nobody shined and boundaries were very rarely hit.

That was until we played a school which contained black boys! We didn’t have black boys at our school. Bexley was a London borough but by no means integrated. The nearest any of us got to black music was a love of Jimi Hendrix who was lumped in together with white rock, his blackness never mentioned, though of course all white rock was based on the blues. So to come up against a school with black boys, well, it was like playing against the best young cricketers the West Indies had to offer! They hit the ball so hard! One boy was smashing our bowlers all over the pitch, boundary after boundary. I was standing at square leg, not my usual silly mid-on. But square leg seemed a bit silly as the boy hooked a shot with tremendous power straight towards my gut. I caught the ball but, God, the pain! My team came over to congratulate me, my big, booming teacher patted me on the back. It was the greatest act of bravery the school had ever known. I watched the batsman stroll off and we exchanged smiles of mutual respect. Of course everybody that day thought I was a fucking idiot. They were thrashing us and I wouldn’t have lost much face by jumping out of the way.

At school the weedy kids played tennis. They were taught by the vicious one-armed Art teacher. This was in the days before two-fisted backhands, of course. The Art teacher would serve by resting the ball on his stump, jerking it upwards and hitting the ball at about head height. It was embarrassing watching the kids at school play tennis. They weren’t suited for sports at all and I couldn’t see what enjoyment they got out of it. It must have been hell for them.

I was qualified to look down upon the quality of school tennis as I had learnt the game outside and belonged to a tennis club.

My dad’s friend at work had taught me tennis, a few lessons at the local council courts. And luckily one of the twins had learnt himself and his dad belonged to a bowls and tennis club. He got us in and we practised whenever we could, baseline rallies that went on forever. I was the master of the topspin forehand though little else. My serve was perfectly performed yet slow and my volleys were powder-puff. So the baseline it was for us.

We visited my tennis coach a few times in Chatham. And my dad got so friendly with Tony that he even agreed to us going on holiday with Tony and his family.

For a few halcyon years we took our holidays in the south-east’s holiday camps. Butlin’s and Pontin’s were too common but Warners was more in line with our upper working-class credentials. I would spend hours looking through Warners brochures, comparing facilities. Sinah Warren had a glamorous name and offered everything a family needed. But it was out of our league, too expensive. I liked the name ‘Dovercourt’ and this became my second favourite, having most of the facilities Warners offered. I lf I liked a name back then that was the most important thing. Castleford became my favourite rugby league team because I liked the name. Not that I liked rugby league at all but it was always fucking on on a Saturday afternoon. I’ve heard too much of Eddie Waring’s voice in my life if you add up all those boring rugby league games, It’s A Knockout, Jeux Sans Frontieres.

So Dovercourt was my second choice and we got to go there with Tony and family. Except what was intentioned as a pleasant family holiday turned into a piss-up for Tony and my dad. One night they took it in turns in a wheelbarrow on the journey back to the chalets.

Warners had snooker, table tennis, as many servings of food as you could eat, rude lunchtime comedians in the bar which was open to all the family, and even a tennis competition which I won because the other players were as bad as the tennis players at school. A highlight for me was seeing the great snooker player and Pot Black star Graham Miles up close as he demonstrated his shots for the men and his firm buttocks in his tight trousers for the women. I got to drink cheeky shandies half-filled with beer unlike the half-inch measures I got at home.

School summer holidays were filled with tennis, cycling and reading. Like a posh girl with a healthy body and a healthy mind. My dad’s favourite books apart from The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist were the adventure novels of Wilbur Smith which I lapped up along with the Ian Fleming Bond books and Hawaii by James A Michener which, to my shame, I have still not attempted to read. My dad never wanted to go anywhere overseas except for Hawaii. He never did leave Britain.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Hourglass Economy



It is now generally accepted that most western countries now have an "hourglass economy" with a thriving top and bottom and a greatly reduced middle.

The hourglass economy is illustrated in Image A above. As you can see, it has three sections:-


The TITS (Those In The Sun) are those at the top of society, the lucky bastards earning lots of money for being able to fit perfectly into a society which rewards privilege, nepotism, luck, and, sometimes, intelligence.

The WAIST (Why Am I So Thin?) are those in the middle of society, not to be confused with the "squeezed middle" which doesn't really exist except in politicians' speeches and if it did exist would need to be illustrated by a fat person wearing a corset. The WAIST includes middle managers, skilled manual and office workers, etc.

The HIPS (Humans In Poverty Situations) are those at the bottom of the working society, those in shitty jobs in which you have to smile and pretend you're enjoying yourself in return for shitty money.

As you can see, the WAIST is so much thinner than the TITS and the HIPS. It wasn't always this way.

From the 50s to the late 70s, the economy was shaped more like Image B, the bloated economy. As you can see there were still TITS around then but TITS growth has rocketed in the past 30 years. And just look at the bloated WAIST! (We're All In Society Together, in this case). There has been some movement from the WAIST to the TITS over the years, and plenty of movement from the WAIST to the HIPS. In addition, technology has acted as a form of liposuction on the economy and taken the excess waste, or fat, out of the WAIST and HIPS and into the corner of the room where it grows as a constant reminder of what could befall the bottom two-thirds of the economy.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Eleven Nine

I was in the office on 11th September 2001. There were a lot of serious faces about. The management had the radio on all afternoon. But we were safe in our building. We each had a job for life.

Now the management have gone, plenty of others, too, me included. Jobs for life don't exist in an increasingly technological world in which jobs are being replaced by computers every day. Where there were six people in my old department when I started in 1986, now there is one. I was in charge of coping with the reduction from six to two over the years, never thinking my reward would be the two becoming one.

And more people have joined the jobs market. Labour force growth, which had been moderate in that supposedly golden age from post-war to the mid-sixties, stagnated until the mid-seventies, then rocketed. The baby boomers wanted jobs, yes, even the women.

Then there weren't enough jobs to go around. There haven't been since. There won't be in the future. And since the number of people in the UK in work peaked in 2008 and has fallen sharply since, employers now have a flood of experienced, trained and suitable applicants for each job. Getting an interview is down to sheer luck. Getting the job is down to chemistry. Any one of hundreds of applicants could do the job well, but only one is apparently the right personality fit.

I wonder how many of the two hundred applicants for the poorly paid part-time job I applied for are unemployed? How many are desperate for a job? How many will never get another job, if they've ever had one in the first place? How many have the right personality if they ever get to the interview stage? How many don't need the job but need the social side of working? How many are in a job they hate and need a change? How many need two jobs to survive?

Where do I stand? I'm lucky, I don't need a job to survive. I was lucky enough to have been able to afford to save well over the past several years. If I want holidays, yes, I'd need to work. But what percentage of even the world's working population can afford to go on holiday?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

It's Patrick Bloody Hamilton, Man!

I went for my third interview since my redundancy yesterday. It was all going well until I was asked the question, "And what about Geoffrey in his spare time? What does Geoffrey like to do?"

Of course I wanted to say, "I don't know, you'd better ask him." But I thought I'd better mention my more intellectual pursuits.

"I like to read, watch television and films, listen to music."

"What are you reading at the moment? Which author?" she asked.

For the life of me I couldn't remember. I knew what the book was about but I couldn't remember the name of the author or the book's title. I'm like this with books quite often nowadays.

"I'm afraid I can't remember. It's a trilogy. It's very good."

I didn't really want to describe the book and thankfully she didn't ask me to. If she had asked I would have had to describe it thus...

"I'm quite a way through the first part, the part seen through the eyes of Bob, the waiter at a London pub who falls in love with a 'beautiful' young prostitute, Jenny. He gives her money, not for sex, but because every time he meets her she seems to need money for rent or for a dress for a job interview, etc. He knows she's using him but he's so besotted with her that he cannot give her up even though the more he finds out about her the less he likes her. It is an autobiographical novel as the novelist, whose name currently escapes me, fell in love with a prostitue himself in his twenties and started to drink heavily. The second part of the trilogy is written from the point of view of Jenny and the third is about Ella, a 'plain' barmaid who works with Bob and seems to be in love with him. Even though the book is very much about sexual infatuation there is no actual sex in the book, purely chaste kisses between the protagonists, though of course what Jenny gets up to when apart from Bob, God only knows, and for the purposes of this job interview I think I should leave it at that."

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Aimless (4)

In my last year at primary school I was a bit of a rebel. I just didn't treat art seriously, preferring to draw cartoons rather than the serious painting my classmates were doing. I was developing a political mind, my dad's bible was The Ragged Trousered Philanthropist and his beliefs were rubbing off on me. He hated the Tories, so did I. Ted Heath was an idiot and I entitled one cartoon '3 Eyed Ted From Number 10'. Ted Heath with his big toothy laugh and three eyes, one in the middle of his forehead. I didn't know what political point I was making, maybe that the Tories were aliens and should head off back to their own planet. I have a suspicion that Steve Bell somehow saw my cartoon and somehow made a career out of portraying Tories as monsters. Tories are not of this world, though. There's something inhuman about them.

I gained another friend who played David Bowie and Alice Cooper to me and his mum gave me tea. Tea always included baked beans with something, fish fingers or sausages. Tea away from home in my primary school days was accompanied by Blue Peter which I hated and Wacky Races, which I loved.

The Alice Cooper boy also supported West Ham and one day he planned a trip for us. We were to get a Red Bus Rover and visit every London football ground in a day. We got as far as West Ham, Leyton Orient and Arsenal before having to turn back as it was getting late.

The way to West Ham was the 96 bus from Crayford to Woolwich, Woolwich Ferry to Canning Town and 101 bus from there to East Ham Town Hall. Big bovver boys got the 101 on a Saturday and walked through the Woolwich Foot Tunnel. The ferry was much more romantic, second only to the Mersey Ferry with its Gerry & The Pacemakers' romance. Maybe the Woolwich Ferry should make itself more of a tourist attraction by playing some Cockney Rejects or something.

Apart from cheesy Top of the Pops albums with their scantily clad girls next door on the covers and abysmal cover versions of the days hits and my groovy K-Tel albums with the wonders of glam rock and Python Lee Jackson, my first real musical purchase was Tony Orlando & Dawn's Tie a Yellow Ribbon in 1973. OK, it wasn't bought with my earned money and I think my mum had some say in the choice of record as I immediately asked her to take it back to the shop. I was embarrassed by its mawkishness. It is not even one of my guilty pleasures today.

Now and again I heard a tune called Sylvia by Dutch rock band Focus. I loved it and wanted it. I saw a Focus LP in the music shop in Crayford and my mum kindly went to buy it for me. Unfortunately what she bought was not the LP but some complicated Focus sheet music including yodels. Another embarrassing return to a shop ensued.

I didn't make the same mistake twice. I got the Focus compilation album from the same shop and played it to death. And so my prog journey began. Sorry, not very punk, is it?

I started Big School in 1973. Having passed the 11-Plus I had the choice of a grammar or a technical high. There were two other boys in my class who passed their 11-Plus and they were going to the technical high. Having somebody I knew going to the school, including a boy I had been to tea with several times, overrode the opinions of my parents that a grammar school would be better for me. Of course the grammar would have been more suitable but all I could see at the grammar was nobody I knew and lots of girls.

So, without an interest in science or technology or making things, without an interest in Doctor Who or science fiction or Tomorrow's World, I decided to go where the boys went. The boys who were shy of girls.

I turned up on the first day in full school uniform, one of only two boys wearing a cap. The other was called Cheeseman. I was assigned to the same class as Cheeseman and sat next to him as the seating plan was alphabetical. Two little boys with two little caps. It breaks my heart to think of the naivety of it and the potential for piss-taking. But this was a nice school. Bullies were few and far between and didn't pick on me for some time. I settled into certain classes with ease. English, maths and French. Everything else, I hated.

Physics. Nice teacher, yes, into his trad jazz, but what the fuck was Physics all about? And why those tall stools, why the long benches? So uncomfortable. I liked a desk with a chair, a stool and bench were so uncivilised.

Chemistry. Teacher a bit distant. And there we were in the lab again. I didn't belong in a lab with its tall stools and long benches and bunsen burners. I didn't want to be anywhere near fire! Physics, Chemistry, how things worked. I couldn't give a bollock how things worked. Never have done, never will. I want to take it all for granted. I want to turn on the telly and let magic happen. Magic is what it's all about.

Technical Drawing. Dull teacher. And even that fucking desk was too big and not flat! It was on a fucking incline! I didn't want to be on an incline, I wanted to be parallel with the ground. And the pencil was too hard. 2H! I was making indents into the paper. I am just not interested in how things are designed, whether by God or by man. God designed this little green apple. Let God draw the fucking thing. Nuts, bolts, screws, not interested. Give me a pencil and paper and I want to draw silly things. Paper's there to have fun with.

Art. Vicious one-armed teacher. Expert at throwing things at naughty boys. More inclined desks and high stools. And so serious! Yes, I wanted to draw and paint better but I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I wanted to enjoy myself. Who in our class was going to become a serious artist for Christ's sake? Come on, let's be honest. Just how many artists has this school produced in its history? I bet it's none. Then why in God's name were we doing this? We might as well have been having fun, taking the piss out of things. You never know, there might have been some budding cartoonists.

Geography. Big, booming friendly teacher, cricket fanatic. But really. I wasn't interested in the earth and what it's made of and why weather does what it does. Why couldn't it just be a mystery? Couldn't we just be surprised by things? '5, 10 and 21, Winter, Spring and Summer Sun.' That's all I remember from Geography. What about the world's resources and why they're owned by cunts and not by everyone? Why is there poverty, hunger, genocide?

Woodwork. Oh dear. Nice teacher, old school Jack Hargreaves type and if I had my grandad's carpentry genes, maybe. But I haven't got a clue and I couldn't care less. Someone's got to make chairs and tables and desks and fucking high stools and benches I suppose, but that's not me, buster! I wasn't put on this earth to make things. Hammers, planes, chisels. I am not an artisan.

Metalwork. Oh dear, this teacher's a bit, how do you say, let's just say he runs the Railway Club which over the course of my school days was a front for middle-aged men and young teenage boys to get away and experience a nature of sorts. Days out photographing impressionable boys. That didn't float my boat nor did drilling and cutting metal. Bollocks to rivets.

History. Incredibly dull young teacher. And we're starting from the very beginning of humanity. What do we actually know? That's not history, it's speculation. Who's to say the earth wasn't run by aliens who kept us for their entertainment as we hunted animals and cut them up with our primitive utensils? The aliens pissed themselves laughing for years until they got bored and pissed off to their own planet.

PE. Psychopathic teacher in white shorts. Ex-army. Made us shower before, after and during Games and PE. Took glee in our failure to climb ropes, jump horses, pull ourselves up on the rings. One day the cunt brought in some shitty 50 year old pairs of boxing gloves. What did he expect us to do with them? He thought he knew it all. The healthy life. It was his dream to go to America. When he retired he landed at the airport and dropped dead of a heart attack. We were in mourning. Mourning, I tell you.

So Big School was all work, no play, cramming in subjects till they came out of our ears. We were exam machines, there to get good results for the school's reputation.

My favourite subject was English Language. And I was Best in Class. I sat in the corner, furthest away from the teacher because I was the best. The worst at English sat next to the teacher and they would get hit regularly. Nice. The school had an annual anthology and a couple of us from our class got something in there. Shit poems, you know the sort. Teenage boys' poetry is the worst. Especially when you throw in some prog rock lyrics.

French was enjoyable, too. The teachers made it sound so easy. First we had a nice yet violent teacher who could turn on you if you were being disruptive in his eyes. Once I dropped a chair off the desk by accident and he brought his knuckles down on the top of my head with some force. The only time I was ever hit by a teacher and I still feel the sense of outrage. But other than that he was nice.

We soon got another French teacher, a young attractive woman who got us eager to get near the front of the class. Not only was she good-looking but French seemed to get easier. This beauty was magical. She just made it seem so easy. We were having tests and getting percentages in the late 90s. I got 99% in one test! You can't imagine the self-confidence eye contact with a beautiful woman, a smile, a 'congratulations' for being damn near perfect in her tests gave us. French was a wonderful language, the language of love and success. It wasn't until we got a proper French teacher that we found out how far behind in the syllabus we had got. She was teaching us baby stuff.