After the induction of the first two weeks, we were left to get on with finding work.
As we checked small ads and wrote our job applications we compared stories about how poor we all were.
During the second week of Job Club I met John, a kindred spirit. He wore an earring in his left ear and looked embarrassed when I drew attention to his curly hair. He had been a care assistant for most of his working life. He was disenchanted with the pay they were offering. He told us about his impending repossession and how last night he had to hide from the TV detecting van.
I warned him that, "tonight they will be back and send you to jail".
Bob said helpfully that they couldn't send him to jail but they could fine him £1,000.
"What's another grand?" John bragged, "I already owe ten!"
I sensed that John was trying to impress me with his debts. I told him I no longer had a bank account.
He looked surprised.
"I can't imagine owing as much money as you" someone said.
"It was easy in the 80's," I bragged.
I told him how much credit we once had, how big our house had been, where we went on holidays and all the rest. More embellished tales followed about the wild parties and the sizzling steaks al fresco, the exotic cocktails, the Habitat sofa bed and so on.
"I knew that we were poor when we couldn't afford Hagen Daz anymore," I told them.
Two weeks into the Job Club routine we met our new job club manager.
She trotted in for the first time and announced to the underclass that she was "back from holiday". I was not the first to notice her striking resemblance to the disgraced Dame Shirley Porter.
Maybe Dame Shirley would have preferred a different audience for her ostentatious holiday anecdotes but we were all she had. We listened disdainfully and felt like shit. Eventually she settled down and got on with her job which is basically to look good and act like she really cares. We never forgave her for that Winter holiday.
Our Job Club is in the centre of a working class beach town, Southend. And it has its fair share of nursing homes and cheap homes. This of course is a combination of circumstances which is bound to keep wages down below what would have been the minimum wage.
Nobody wanted those jobs. Things hit an all time low that week. The Job Centre was looking for a shop assistant to accept a wage of £1.18 an hour, and then a petrol tanker driver was also wanted for a position in Zagreb, Croatia. And let's not forget the irresistible situation at a pound an hour for a night-watchman who must have his own dog. The dog gets the interview.
We began to associate our new Job Club manager with an increase in management coercion with us to go for less than acceptable appointments. According to one of my buddies who is staked out near her on the phone, Dame Shirley definitely had targets to meet. He heard her on the phone telling somebody that she had to get four of us out to work before next week. Unfortunately for her some of us job seekers were just not having it.
I have a BA degree but I would have settled for a typing job. Last week she encouraged me to accept a warehouse stacking job paying £7,000. I set her straight. Dame Shirley turned her back on me in disgust.
I found out before too long that the Job Club would pay my travelling expenses to go to London if I had a legitimate interview in the City. I found an interview in the Evening Standard. It was as job for a trainee broker. It sounded easy. The man on the phone did not really answer too many of my questions but he did say that I sounded just like the kind of person they were looking for. I told Dame Shirley about the interview, she made sure that it was bona fide and that I wasn't taking the day off to go to Harrods at the Job Club's expense and she was duly satisfied.
That day started out sunny, even for the end of January. I arrived at the interview exactly 10 minutes early. I felt that it was strange that about four nervous people who I took to be interviewees shared the lift up with me up to the third floor. We found ourselves in a room where there were at least 20 other desks occupied by pimply faced youths staring into phones. My contact eventually met us and directed us into a room with 4 rows of chairs accommodating a further 15 applicants. So we the assembled hopefuls were then subjected to a Waco-like recruitment ritual and a serious talking-to by a weird 100 words per minute mouthpiece telling us how much we liked money, fancy cars, eating out, big houses and early retirement and how he was going to help us "Get it!"
We learnt that Mr. Waco Wako was quite literally a former "barrow boy" and then the grim truth that he was offering no wages, and commission only.
"I can give you the name of a man across the street who can give you £15,000 a year but you'll be on the street in a week if you don't perform", he said pointing out the window.
We had all been conned. Someone, maybe me, should have stood up and silenced the orator in mid spiel, but we sat through the whole damn thing without protest. Before we all left Wacoman told us that he wouldn't be phoning us but that we would certainly be phoning him to arrange a further interview. He had to be eating corn flakes toasted with angel dust if he ever thought I'd call him back. He stood at the door and shook our hands as we filed out of the room. I took this opportunity to ask him for the phone number of the fictitious man across the street.
That lasted one hour and as we left the building, a fresh new bunch of new recruits had arrived for the next show.
I made a yarn of it at the Job Club the next day. Everyone oozed concern for one of their own number.
I picked myself up and started all over again. Ten weeks later Mr. BT and I feel like lifers on death row. He and I were the longest serving members of the Job Club meaning that we amongst our peers have failed to get work. Most of the new recruits have been bullied by the Dame Shirley into taking badly paid jobs. The younger job seekers have been easily exploited. We watched them depart one by one and head off for burger flipping careers and watched other sad faces replace them. This was all getting a bit much for Mr BT and occasionally he would let us know just how he felt, not sparing the expletives, particularly after a liquid lunch.
"What we need" he'd blurted out, "is a fucking union." Someone had pointed out a Daily Express article about the willingness of the jobless who are happy to work for their daily dole. Illustrating the story was a smiling Ken and Bryan who were what the express called "volunteers". Ken and Bruce had offered themselves as examples to we picky job seekers who were holding out for a more meaningful job and let's face it, more wages. Ken and Bryan it seems were happy to accept the extra £10 on offer for the 40 hour extra working week cleaning up the community and as the Daily Express reminds us with a prominent by-line,
"It has done wonders for their self-esteem." Ken and Bryan are smiling about their jobs and we are wondering what kind of self esteem you get from the kind of community work that petty criminals are sentenced to by the courts.
We job clubbers might just have pitied the poor buggers if they were not forcing down the value of real labour. Mr. BT had not yet found his union for the unemployed but he had found a couple of black-legs.
We tried thereafter to keep the Daily Express out of Mr. BT's reach.