A reader asks how could I not notice before now that the gas meter had an extortionate daily surcharge. It’s a fair point. The reader also recognises how much we take for granted when in work. It’s incredible how we just plod along when that monthly pay packet goes into the account … and get ripped off without knowing.
Clearly various gas companies have been charging me this fee for years and I genuinely never knew because I put money on the card, put the card in the meter and put the heating on.
Also, the bank has only recently stopped automatically charging overdraft fees because I complained: they seemed to be adding the fee on a certain day each month “just in case”. Keep checking your bank statements.
It got me thinking about other things I’ve taken for granted as a full-time worker and the bad habits we develop with less time to think about what we’re buying. Let’s face it, when you get home from work each night you don’t immediately check your bank statements and doing the weekend shop becomes a tedious chore, like work, and you want to fill the trolley and go home.
Now an unemployedhack I’m learning to prioritise. While in work, and certainly when a young hack, going without a night in the pub was more than I could stand so I would, of course, prioritise pennies for pints. This was a career essential, though: my first staff job at a national was given to me because I drank a heavy-drinking colleague under the table. It was no easy task. I sank pint after pint then walked, somehow in a straight line, to the underground with a colleague I was trying to impress.
“So dyoo fink yoo could work hehere?” I distinctly remember him asking, as if I was actually considering other options.
“I sink I cohould!” I tried to sound professional, in control, able to take as much lager as a career on a national tabloid newspaper could throw at me.
I made it to the Underground. I sat quietly, humming to myself in an attempt to stop the train from spinning, then a panic attack took hold, claustrophobia told me to get above ground away from these Mole People. I ran through the station, perhaps even up the escalators, into the street outside Kings Cross station then – with some gusto and while still wearing my hack mac – I threw up all over the floor. I vaguely remember some tutts of disgust from passers-by but I didn’t care: I was about to work for a downmarket tabloid so knew I’d have to get used to it.
And I was home in time for Eastenders.
As a young hack. I also learned to go to council meetings and various events to make sure I got my tea. As an older hack my home was filled with freebies from various companies, anything from CDs to shampoo. And I got free holidays – albeit swift ones I had to write about.
My priorities are different now – cat food is more important than a night out. Aside from limiting my alcohol intake, taking my car off the road and not having a mobile phone, I realise I’m getting used to going without stuff I once accepted as necessary. Maybe you recognise them or have your own.
A Friday night take-away: Oh, how I miss the gluttony of a Thai curry in front of the telly. But at no less than £10 a time I might as well be buying the restaurant.
A friend treated me to a kebab yesterday – and I enjoyed it all the more on reading a visitor to the Tory conference in Manchester state on Twitter: “Man in kebab shop on seeing my Conservative conference pass: “Are you a Tory? Cos I don’t serve Tories.” It turns out, I find today, that this man is not a Tory so did get his kebab … he’s a journalist. Perhaps only Tories deny food to journalists by taking their jobs.
Taxis: I ‘m a fan of the Hackney Carriage and admit to hating public transport: I once saw a man sneeze into his hand, wipe it on the seat, then cling to every post making his way to the exit and I’ve never recovered. I used to lazily fall into cabs after work all the time – it was a ridiculous expense then but now it would be impossible. My local taxi firm will be struggling from the loss of custom, I’m sure.
Books: I bought a few second-hand books a week when working. Sometimes I would buy them new but prefer a well-worn book, finding them comforting. I now can’t afford to buy any – but have enough to be going on with.
Bedding: I realise now I had something of a bedding buying habit. Thankfully this means I have many sets because I won’t be buying any for quite a while. It also means they have recently been washed thanks to an Indian summer because I can’t afford a dryer or to put the heating on.
Clothes and underwear: I also like second-hand clothes shopping but the charity shops where I live don’t offer the range that is available on over-priced eBay. Underwear has become something of a luxury and I can no longer replace tatty gussets as quickly as I used to.
Bags of salad and pre-packed vegetables: Or any lazy food item. Caesar salad is a favourite but at COST a bag it is a silly expense. Pre-packed new potatoes in butter, perfectly packaged mange tout and mini corn, and mixed vegetables to pop in the microwave are off the shopping list.
Wine: I do like my red wine and would often treat myself to a Marques de Caceres Crianza Rioja at £10 a pop. Now I scour supermarket shelves for the cheapest and hope for the best. I find a cheap Chilean Merlot can often prove palatable.
Catnip: Cat marijuana costs a fortune whether fresh, shaped like cigars, or covered in chocolate. Chaplin had his first catnip cigar as a gift I brought back from a trip to New York. He has well-sucked, tatty leftovers hidden all over our home and seems to be ok going without new catnip bananas. I don’t think his habit reached rock star proportions.
There are also little things like hair dye, painkillers and haemorrhoid cream (seriously!), luxury shampoos … the things you throw into the trolley without much thought. Of course there are other things like a gym membership I would never use, dining out and going to the cinema with pals.
Many thousands of working people up and down the country are now living like this; prioritising, going without basic things. While this government continues to take our jobs myself and 2.5 million others can’t be frivolous with our shopping.
I got a chance to shout at the government on a demonstration in Manchester yesterday and enjoyed every minute of it. There was a turn-out of 35,000 demonstrators. I watched the students, understanding their fury, and hoping the they don’t, like me, spend their early career begging for food thinking things will get better – then end up on the dole, going hungry, and being told by Jobcentre Plus to pretend they don’t have any skills and qualifications.
Funny jobs found while job-hunting: Presenters to run chocolate workshops: candidates must have experience in a teaching role, have a passion for food, experience of presenting and as a chef. That should be an easy vacancy to fill.
Funny job titles found while job-hunting: Customer Consultant; Cluster Manager; Sampling Ambassador; Telephone Negotiator; Telephone Researcher.
Unfunny salaries found while job-hunting: Marketing Communications Executive up to £20k: when did Executives start earning so little?