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Thursday, 8 March 2007

More madness

Well after the adventures described in Website madness, I thought it would be unkind to leave the tale incomplete - who was it said "A start, a middle and an end". As it turns out, my previous post was only the start, this missive represents the early middle, and the end is some way off.

Chosen career number one, Adult Education Lecturer, is in a state of suspension. I have applied for, and been accepted on a course starting in September that is designed to convert my experience into teaching qualifications. The Little Yellow Application form has worked its magic, and I am also at the end of a shortlist to actually get some work if a position becomes available. I should add that the phrase "shortlist" in a country of 60 million people is oxymoronic.

Chosen career number two, Home Inspector, is also in a state of suspension, although this career choice is cryogenically frozen until someone discovers a cure, rather than just a year or two off. This is due to a combination of our finances, and possibilities of the next UK government messing with the Home Inspector scheme, thus making any contemplation of investing in this training the least sensible idea we've had since Nel and I attended dance classes and agreed that the man (i.e. me) should lead.

The conclusion is that I actually now will be returning to the building site (at least metaphorically if not an actual building site), as soon as possible, because we need money. Having taken several days to have a magnificent sulk about this "should have been obvious" necessity, I also decided to register for the English version of EI. The Englsih version was known as Unemployment Benefit (UB), but is now the friendlier sounding Job Seekers Allowance (JSA).

NOTE: Some countries have Reciprocal Agreements (RA). These agreements allow a person who has contributied to the EI scheme (EI CONTS) in Canada (CAN)to transfer these EI CONTS to the UK National Insurance Scheme (UKNIS) and get paid JSA money. It can be expressed as follows:

EI CONTS/CAN * (RA + UKNIS) = $$$ where $$$ = JSA and EI CONTS = loads.

Applying for JSA means revisiting the website of my old friend, JOBCENTRE PLUS. Undeterred by my previous experience I log-on, thinking "Dishing out benefits is their specialist area, this will be a snip". Alas, as the bard quoth, the plans of mice and men "aft gang awry". It looks promising at first, as I scroll to the page that says "How to claim benefit".

This page describes quite a few things - how the "expert staff can help you find a job", how I might need to meet a personal advisor if I want to claim Maternity Allowance and that I can find out about the NEW DEAL (Tony Blair's brainchild) at the Jobcentre, but frankly it is scant on detail on "How to claim benefit". Almost bereft, actually, but I do divine crucial information, namely that I should phone my local Jobcentre in Hull. At this stage I would like to invite any Canadian readers to take part in an experiment which will not cost them a penny, although it may cost them a little time. The experiment is to locate the Jobcentre in Hull, and try to telephone them. The results are amazingly consistent, regardless of whether you call during opening hours or not. In an effort to reduce unemployment statistics, the office has developed the simple but effective ploy of not answering the phone. Ever.

Having managed a workforce of fishermen on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia I'm not about to be deterred by this transparent tactic, so I bicycle down to the JC PLus office to find out more. Being back in the UK means that I remove both wheels, lock them to the bike rack(making sure that it IS firmly embedded in concrete), remove the seat, panniers, lights, water bottle holder and water bottle and give a pound to a nearby youth to "mind me bike". Twenty five minutes after arriving at the JCPlus Office, I'm ready to enter. Inside the office, a burly Pinkerton security guard denies me access ("No entrance without an appointment, sir"), but gives me a badly photocopied piece of paper. It strikes me that badly photocopied pieces of paper are a developing theme in the UK, and maybe I could get work as a photocopier saleman. I also wonder why he bothered saying "Sir" when he really meant "Workshy scrounger". No time for pondering though, because the paper gives me a freephone number, which I am invited to utilize in order to further my claim. At last! The Holy GRAIL!!

The phone call to process my claim actually took an hour, and was either semi-automated, or I was talking to a cyborg. Two days later, I recieved a fourteen page booklet, which I am now thinking about completing, featuring the same questions as the cyborg asked, plus a few bonus questions. One of these bonus questions is "Have you come to the UK from Montserrat after 1995 because of the volcanic activity?". Page 5 features the question "Are you being held in custody until a trial?". I answer NO to both these questions, especially the second one, which I think is a trick question, designed to snare dumb criminals, because I realise that if I had been held in custody and then escaped, my first instinct probably would'nt be to go straight to the dole office. Also, if I had stopped to claim benefit during my flight from British justice, any chance of showing a clean pair of heels to the pursuing cops would be have been badly impaired by the three day wait for the form, not to mention the traceable phone call.

Later tonight, I might take this form down the pub, and fill it out over a few quiet pints. I'm promised an interview on Friday to review my claim with a special Careers Advisor. Part of me wants the Careers Advisor I am to see, to be the person I was trying to get information from last week. My accent is still, regretably, a commentable rarity round here, and I have no doubt that person would remember me. I'm now convinced that she's a kind of "tough love" genius and her apparent uselessness of last week was actually a complex initiative test. By getting this interview, I think I've passed, at least the first part that test. I hope she's impressed, I certainly am, by which I mean that my dealings with British bureaucracy so far, have certainly made an impression on me.


Joanie said...

And "writer" still hasn't made your shortlist of career choices?

I think there's enough material here for a regular column. "Adventures in career planning..." or some such thing. Really...


Bill Hall said...

"Aft gang awry:? Well, what were the Stern gang doing (Palestine 1947) while there mates were lolling about at the front?

Possibly you meant "gang aft agley"

See you at

Grasshopper said...

Maybe writing *is* your new calling, Martin! Of course, to continue to have material for a weekly column, you'll have to continue fighting with bureaucracy. Perhaps you'll have to expand the theme of your article to eventually deal with every non-telephone-answering government department. Barring that, I think your suggestion of a photocopier salesman is a good one. The best part is, you could advertise your photocopier to them on a badly photocopied piece of paper and immediately get your foot in the door.

MJN said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MJN said...

Bill is quite correct. I abused dear old Browning quite considerably. You can either believe that I paraphrased the gentleman concerned in the interests of translation for our Canadian friends (for whom Trainspotting had to be subtitled), or that the last time I read the poet was 28 years ago, and misremembering led to misquoting.

Thanks for your comments and glad its giving some of you a laugh. I do'nt think there is any shortage of material in British bureaucracy, nor our own continued inability to think in a manner that makes our dealings less likely to result in major and minor cock-ups. Two quotes spring to mind "nosce te ipsum" and the more recent "A man's gotta know his limitations".