One day, while cleaning a coffee spill for a mum sitting with her young son, the boy struck up a conversation with me. Well, he showed me his new toy car.
I smiled at him and said, “It’s good, innit?”
“Innit,” his mother said, sneering as if she’d smelt something offensive. “Innit? Would you please not speak to my child like that!”
“I can’t help it,” I said, walking away. “It’s the way I speaks, innit.”
I was overheard and told by my boss that this sort of behaviour “would not do”.
The next day, maybe a week later, I’m not sure (it wasn’t memorable work) I was clearing a table and over-estimated my strength (not for the last time) and, picking up a tray of cutlery and plates, managed to drop a pot of sugar sachets on the floor.
“Bollocks,” I muttered under my breath. Or so I thought.
“What did you say?” I looked up, from my knees where I was on the floor picking up sugar sachets, to see a man in a pinstriped suit. I tried not to laugh at the cliché and continued picking up the sachets.
“I asked, ‘what did you say?’” he repeated, this time moving his newspaper aside to look down at me.
I’d had enough. Something snapped.
“I said bollocks!” I looked directly in his face, throwing the sachets in the air and walking out.
The decision to walk out of jobs I couldn’t stand never left me. Years later, while working at a press agency, my editor told me to “take a letter”. He wanted to dictate to me a letter for a tabloid columnist who’d annoyed him. I pointed out it wasn’t my job and that I had other things to do.
“You do what I tell you to do,” was his reply.
I stood up, picked my coat up off the back of the chair, told him to do something I won’t repeat here, and walked out.
I’ve lost my job for union agitation, for being disabled and off sick too much, for out-witting insecure bosses, for not being willing to be harassed by customers … now I’ve lost my job just because I was on a casual contract.
It got me thinking again about this country’s contempt for the unemployed.
What am I now?
I’m not signing on yet so I’m not benefit-claiming scum but I am unemployed and that’s low life, right?
And the longer I remain unemployed – despite not losing my job for any reason other than casuals are no longer being employed at this particular workplace – the more scummy I am, right?
And the fact that my employer wishes he could keep me on and praised my work – the fact that I am good at it – is of no consequence and will still be of no consequence when I’m asked to work in a multi-million pound corporation to “earn” my benefits.
Have I got this right, so far? That no matter why, when or how we lose our jobs the second we do so we are worthless, to be looked down on, to be willing to take any other job on offer and to forget anything we’ve achieved and certainly anything we aspire to.
I’ve been away a while, among the working masses, but constantly aware of the contempt in which some people on this insignificant, too often peevish, little island hold those less fortunate.
I’ve a few weeks before the wolf makes it to my door. I’ll let you know how it goes …