I last worked in 1999.
Don’t get me wrong I have worked in the last eighteen years, just not in the conventional sense of the word. I have taught English in Asia, sold jewellery on the beach in Spain and sold all kinds of stuff online. I have written about South America for travel websites and I have made up horoscopes for a magazine in China.
However the last time I held down a ‘proper’ job was when I worked in a respite care home in 1999. It wasn’t a great job; I thought I’d be saving the world (or at least, saving a few local families who were struggling to cope with a ‘problem’ child) but instead we spent most of our time having meetings. We changed the colour of the bathroom, so we held a meeting to discuss how everybody felt about it. It’s Monday morning, so let’s have a meeting to see how we all feel about that.
I said when I left that job that working for a living was a mug’s game and I stand by that statement. I was working 40 hours a week and still struggling to pay my housing costs every month; when you’re working full time yet can’t afford the basics of life then there is something skewed about the society you’re living in. My solution was to sell the house that I couldn’t afford to pay for and go explore the world.
However now I’ve found myself in this situation where I need to pay London rent, legal fees and the expenses on my house. Selling a few bits on Amazon is not going to cover that sort of living expense and so I have been looking for a job.
The trouble with working in the real world is that the recruitment process takes so long. Looking for something more instant I applied for a few jobs that turned out to be Multi-Level Marketing in one guise or another. Someone in a smart suit tells you how ‘hey, two years ago I was just like you but now I drive a sports car and own a big house with a pool’.
One job was effectively a mass interview; around fifty of us were crammed into a suite at a plush hotel where a man made a presentation and then told us it was $500 to go on their ‘training’.
He asked ‘who is excited by this and wants to sign up immediately?’ Around seven people put their hands up (at least half of them were probably plants). They disappeared to the office to sign up whilst the man got to work on the rest of us.
‘Who isn’t taking this opportunity because they can’t afford it?’ he asked. I put my hand up at this point along with five or six other people; maybe when he realised I had no money (or wasn’t going to spend what I did have on this at least) he’d let me go.
He homed in on me.
‘If you’ve got to your age without even $500 in the bank, you should consider yourself a failure’, he told me. ‘If you have a big screen TV at home and no money in the bank you should reassess your priorities’ he continued.
He’d clearly found his pet subject.
What could I say to that? I kind of agree with him. I also find it annoying when people bleat on about having no money but their homes are stuffed full of every gadget known to humankind, along with wardrobe after wardrobe of shoes and clothes.
You know the type: ‘oh I wish I could travel like you do but I can’t afford it’; yes you can, you’ve just chosen to spend your money on different things.
But whatever, it didn’t change the fact that I wasn’t about to pay $500 to go on their course. At this point a couple of people had started running for the door, taking advantage of the fact that his co-workers were busy signing up the people who had taken the opportunity.
I made my escape too.
You can run but you can’t hide.
Then there was a care job that required me to sign on for a student loan to take a pointless course, in return for an immediate start (not waiting for the police vetting and such that normally takes place before you can start work); you could think of it as a £3,000 bribe to get a job (using £3000 of the government’s money that you may not have to pay back).
I decided against it in the end, but welcome to the world of the exploited desperate, where you pay £3000 to be allowed to work for £7.50 an hour.
I applied to teach English to Somalian asylum seekers. The man I spoke to said that women were skilled in their own special way, but needed men to guide them. ‘This is what Allah teaches us’, he said, looking very pleased with himself.
I didn’t get the job. Maybe I should learn to let everyday sexism pass and just keep my mouth shut…