Sunday, 15 September 2013

Achievements and Activities

Now, I am a person who likes to be busy and who usually has at least one project on the go, but in the last few weeks I think that I have managed to firmly dispel any feelings of having a quarter life crisis. 
For one thing I am now employed, which sadly means dear reader that you will no longer be treated to posts about my trips to the job centre. I am as sadden by this as you, but do not fear I am sure that there will be plenty of other things I will find to write about.
Aside from successfully finding work over the past few weeks I have; 
Graduated from University 
 Laura-Rose Saunders BA (Hons), MA (Hons), UCL (ULU)

Taken part in filming for a new BBC 3 show (look out for me in 'No Country for Young Men') helped interview one of the members of Russian Group Pussy Riot, had my last day volunteering at CCHQ, received a letter of thanks from Party Chairman - Grant Shapps, 
Letter from Grant Shapps

Travelled to Russia as part of a delegation, visited Yaroslavl, met Hero of the Soviet Union and first woman in Space - Valentina Tereshkova, met with members of Russia's four main political parties (United Russia, A Just Russia, the Communist Party of Russia and the Liberal Democrat Party of Russia), took part in my first press conference, 
 Alongside my fellow delegates

and once again found myself on Russian TV speaking, badly, in Russian.

 
Now to have a rest and catch up on some sleep!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Funemployment - Volunteering

Upon returning from my adventures in Russia (final post to follow shortly) I decided that I had had enough of sitting in my room applying for job after job and would use some of my time to do voluntary work.
It wasn't particularly hard to find people who were glad to have 'someone like me' helping out with them as, despite being rejected from over 100 jobs due to 'lack of experience', 'being overqualified' or 'not being quite right for the role', I still speak Russia, work well with people, have a Masters from UCL and have a wide variety of other useful skills.
Now, I consider myself to be an honest person and as such I dutifully informed the Job Centre of this fact. That and I have promised my boyfriend that I will not get arrested this year and that he will not have to come bail me out of jail for fraud or any other crime. This is where my latest spate of bemusement with the Job Centre and the whole JSA agreement began.
At my first appointment after returning from Russia I was asked, as always, if there was any change in my situation to which I replied 'yes, I am now doing some voluntary work' at which point the adviser's face literally fell and the reaction was akin to him just being told that I had committed the act of murder. When I asked why his reaction was such it was explained to me that while the Department of Work and Pensions (or Department of Worry and Pain as I have now dubbed it) do approve of me using my time to volunteer I can do no more than 15 hours a week or I will loose my benefit money.
My face now fell and it was my turn to react as if I had just been told that my adviser had committed the act of murder. I asked why it was that the DWP would have a problem with me putting my time to good use, gaining new skills and adding things to my CV rather than sitting at home eating MacDonald's, watching Jeremy Kyle and binge drinking. The explanation was simple; if you do more than 15 hours unpaid work the DWP will deem you to be in full time employment and will stop your benefit as it is not their job to fund your life while you help others.
While I can see that in some cases people could reject offers of employment in order to stay in their voluntary positions I was also confused, as isn't the Job Centre constantly trying to get me to attend workshops, or go and get more experience, or find unpaid positions that may lead to employment? How is it that when I then do these things of my own volition  I get told off by the DWP for doing so?
Since returning from Russia there have been two voluntary roles that I have undertaken. The first was at my Church's Arts Week where I offered my services to help raise money for a variety of charities. The second is at CCHQ. While I can see that if you are not predisposed towards the Conservative Party then you would probably be in favour of me loosing my benefit money as punishment for my Tory inclinations and right wing ways. 
However, through this voluntary placement I am learning new skills, meeting new people, being kept in the workplace mindset and environment, being given a focus, getting work experience and being praised for my contributions (something that counterbalances the constant rejection experienced while job hunting).
Given all of the benefits that come from volunteering somehow it seems strange to me that the Job Centre seem to have the stance that you can volunteer and try to better yourself, just not too much. It would be the same as them giving me a council flat but not providing me with glass for the windows or a front door, the attitude being one of 'we want to help you, just not too much.'
So for the time being I will be doing my 14.59 hours of voluntary work a week while job hunting, and if asked at an interview why I did not do more with my time to help others I shall simply reply 'Well, I wanted to use my time to better my situation and that of others but the Job Centre would only allow me 15 hours a week to do so and would prefer that I sit on benefits watching TV, drinking and eating junk food.'
The job hunt, and the disbelief, continues...

Monday, 10 June 2013

The Accidental Diplomat - Day 7 - A Bridge Over the River Kama

The energy levels began to flag today as all of the flying and travelling began to take its toll. Fortunately the itinerary for the day was a fairly relaxed one. After a hearty breakfast of pancakes, yogurt, fruit and coffee it was off for a guided tour of Perm city. 
On the tour we were driven around the city and show sites including the statue of Boris Pasternak (author of Dr. Zhivago), the friendly bear of Perm, and the 'Salty ears statue' which commemorates all the former residents of Perm who carried salt sacks on their shoulders and suffered from enlarged ears due to the salt rubbing against them.
(Image - The Friendly Bear of Perm)

Taking a leaf out of the habits of the bear I decided that the next few hours should be used for napping, eating, then some more napping. After this rather dull but useful cycle I was much revived and ready to return to exploring Perm.
One of my fellow delegates had found about a boat tour of the Kama River that departed every two hours and lasted about an hour and a half. So a group of us decided that this would be a great way to see the surrounding area and lap up some more of the sun.
The sun gently shone down on us as our boat sailed down the Kama, sea gulls flew along side as children threw pieces of bread to them. The only thing to disrupt the tranquillity of the trip was the pop music blaring from the upper deck. It seemed that we had managed to board the party boat. Many an embarrassed Russia child looked on as their parents boogied down to Russian pop music and even the ever popular Korean hit Gangnam Style.
(Image - Me on a boat on the River Kama)

After dinner I attempted to buy souvenirs from a very grumpy Russian lady in a park who told me that she could not be bothered to serve me and to return tomorrow. In the time that she took to be rude to me she could have made several hundred roubles, but this seemed to escape her notice so I decided to return to the White Nights festival where the service was, well, actual service.
On the way back to the hotel I decided to stop and pick up a beer to make packing for the return to Moscow more enjoyable. Sadly my attempts to buy beer were hampered as it was after 11pm and a new 'no alcohol after 11pm' law was now in place. The strange thing about this law is that beer, spirits and wine cannot be bought after 11pm, even non-alcoholic beer, but Kvas (a Russian yeasty drink that is around 1.5% alcohol) can be bought after 11pm. So instead of stocking up on beer to drink while packing I had kvas, it would seem that my day frolicking around as a peasant had had more of an effect on me that I thought!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The Accidental Diplomat - Day 6 - Peasant Times

Today was quite possibly one of the most random and fun days of my life! After a somewhat broken night of sleep, mostly caused by my body being confused by the fact it was still light at 1am, our group was taken on an excursion to a place called 'Khokhlovka' which wass a massive open air museum located not far from Perm.
We were greeted by two Russian ladies in traditional dress offering us bread and salt.Yum! There was just long enough to enjoy the view before we were directed into a nearby building where we changed into traditional Russian Peasant costumes. Given that I was named 'Laura' after Laura Ingalls-Wilder authoress of Little House on the Prairie this somehow seemed very apt!

(Image - Me dressed as a Russian Peasant Girl)

Once everyone in our group was changed, and now looking very traditional, it was time for the tour of the museum. Throughout the excursion our guides explained to us about how the buildings were build and the history of the area. This was intermixed with activities such as churning butter, weaving, milking goats and traditional peasant dancing.
(Image - Traditional Peasant Dancing)

After this it was time for a lunch of okrushka (milk, onion, gherkin soup) and pies. Having been walking around in the heat for so long it was great to finally sit and relax. The experience was all the better as this was the view from our table;

Sadly it was then time to return to the Twenty First Century and Perm. There was enough time before dinner to have an explore and see some of the statues and sites. After dinner it was off to the 'White Nights Festival'. To celebrate the extended hours of daylight the city had transformed one of the areas into a mini city with a river, several stages for live music and various bars and cafes. It was both strange and lovely to be able to sit outside in the sun drinking kvas at nearly midnight and not be cold. I may have grumbled about it while trying to sleep but it was a totally unique and undescribible experience!

Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Accidental Diplomat - Day 5 - The Conference Part 2

I awoke this morning to find a note in the handle of my door informing me about a round table discussion on the teaching of Russian Language abroad with my name on it in bold. This somewhat perplexed me as I had not been told about this event before.
At breakfast I was told that it would be the same as yesterday - sit in the audience etc. Somehow I had the feeling that it would be just like the day before in that I would somehow end up speaking, but as the day before had been a success and it is an honour to be asked to speak I decided to go with the flow and see what happened.
Arriving at the conference venue I tried to hide at the back hoping that maybe I wouldn't be spotted, sadly this failled after it turns out that not only was I due to take part but that there was a name sign on the table. Luckily I was not the first to speak and was able to jot down a few notes about the teaching of Russian Language in the UK, how fortunate I was to have been able to learn it at school, how it was rare in the UK and some reasons for why that was.
(Image - Me speaking at the Round Table discussion)

During the round table the representative from Armenia got slightly bored and decided to start talking to me instead of listening, bit rude but she did say to contact her if I am ever in Armenia. After I had spoken the chair of the round table, Andrei Klimov, commented for a long time on the points that I had made in my speech.
Following some downtime in the gardens of the conference venue with some tea and sunshine there was breifly time for lunch before we were taken on a tour of the newspaper 'Argumenti i Fakti' Perm offices. This was a great chance to meet with their journalists and find out things like how they differ from the Moscow version of the paper.
That evening we had free time to explore the city of Perm. I decided that after sitting inside for so long that I would try to find a nearby beach and enjoy the sun and the 30C heat. Looking at the map I could see that it was a shortish walk over a nearby bridge to the less industrialised side of the river. I packed a bag and headed off.
(Image - The Bridge over the River Kama)

I found the route no problem and could see the beach from the otherside of the river. The problem came in crossing the bridge, because it was fairly high up and exposed my head started to spin part way across. I decided to turn back and try to take a bus instead as we had been told that the number 3 went in that direction. I managed to find the bus no problems and was happily sat enjoying the trip until I realised it was going in the wrong direction. Realising this I jumped out and decided to explore Perm instead as my attempts to ask the ticket lady if the bus went to the beach were met with the reply 'I don't understand, I don't know *glare*'.
Fortunately I was in the city centre and not too far from the hotel so decided to head to a nearby park. This park turned out to be called 'Gorky Park' and was like a smaller version of the 'Gorky Park' in Moscow complete with theme park rides, pop corn and shooting games. After I had had a good look round and enjoyed some ice cream I wandered back to the hotel past statues, beautiful buildings and a couple of highly decorated churches.
(Image - Perm by night)

Of all the places that I have visited in the World Perm is easily one of my favourites. The views are stunning, the buildings beautiful and because of the White Nights you have extra time to enjoy the city by daylight.

Friday, 7 June 2013

The Accidental Diplomat - Day 4 - The Conference

After only an hour of sleep and some serious jet lag after the double city jump it was time to get up and prepare for the conference. Luckily Perm was experiencing the White Night which meant that the sun rose very early and made 6am (1am GMT) feel more like 10am.
Once registration was over there was enough time for a coffee and a mingle with some of the other attendees before I headed over to the venue for my discussion. However, the event did not quite go as I had expected.
I took my seat in the audience on the front row so that I would have easy access to the microphone and could stand up if needed. I was just looking over my speech when one of the organisers came up and asked me why I was sat in the audience when I was meant to be on the panel representing Great Britain. This somewhat through me but it was too late to protest. Next thing I knew I was on the panel for the discussion along side five other people (all native Russian speakers) who were all very high up in their respected organisations. Oh and the event was chaired by the Russian equivalent of Philip Schofield, and was televised.
Eventually my turn to speak came and I decided to give it my best shot and pray their were no follow up questions. There was one but it was about the definition of 'proper Russian' which I was able to draw a parallel to 'Queen's English' and explain the differences to regional English.
(Image - Me on the panel discussion)

As it was a bit early in the day to begin drinking I decided to go and recover with coffee and biscuits, while doing so the chair of the debate, Sergei Brulov, came up to me and chat a had in English. He apologised for being a bit hard with the questions, asked me where I learned Russian language, jokingly accused me of working for MI6 and told me that clearly I would go far. All very encouraging things to hear!
(Image - Me with Sergei Brulov)

After lunch it was time for my fellow delegate to speak on behalf of Great Britain in the international round table that was linked up to countries as far west as Iceland and as far east as Japan. It was truly an amazing experience! It was then time for a drinks reception with the Governor of Perm and some time in the sun enjoying some Russian vodka.
(Image - Me with the Governor of Perm)

The Accidental Diplomat - Day 3 - Moscow to Perm

The rain beat heavily against my window as I opened my curtains before leaving my room to head to a breakfast of pancakes, coffee, fruit and yogurt. Almost as if the city were sad of our departure to Perm later that day.
Following check out it was time for a coach excursion around the Russian Capital. The plan had been to get out at various locations, however due to the rain this was only possible at Sparrows Hills near Moscow State University. Our tour began at Dinamo then we drove down to Tverskaya, on to Red Square, along the Moscow river past the Kremlin then on the Olympic Stadium, Sparrows Hills, Yuro-Zapadnaia, then back round and up to Red Square and the Church of Christ the Saviour. In short we saw all of the key site before heading off to Sheremetovo Airport.
(Image - Red Square in the Rain)
The trip to the airport should not have been too long a journey, in theory. However, our driver didn't seem to have either a sense of direction or any kind of patience. After getting lost near Khimki (a new technology park near Moscow), having a race with another coach, doing a u-turn across 12 lanes of traffic he then got lost again near the airport. Eventually we arrived near Sheremetovo and could at last see the hotel where we would have lunch and the airport we would depart from. Sadly, at this point the driver's patience finally ran out after he got the coach stuck between some parked cars. Upon discovering this he threw up his hands and shouted rather loudly words to the effect of 'buggar this! I'm off! I'm not driving you any further, you can walk from here.' then promptly left for a cigarette leaving our group to walk to the hotel for lunch.
After lunch it was time to check in and board the Aeroflot domestic flight to Perm. Now, I was always aware of how Russians love their security and paperwork but simply getting into Sheremetovo was an adventure in itself - passport control and security just to enter the place. Then more security, check in and passport control. Before I knew it I was boarding.
The first thing that struck me about flying with Aeroflot was the two stunningly beautiful air hostesses who greeted us on the flight. It turned out, however, that they were reserved for the first class passengers and that those in economy were left with the slightly more homely looking hostesses. The second thing that struck me was that alcohol was not to be served on domestic flights - somewhat ironic for a country with a reputation for drinking. Luckily I was befriended by a lovely middle aged man from New Delhi who distracted me from the fact I was on a plane, and sober, by telling me all about Perm and how for him flying for a luxury.
Two hours later we landed at Perm airport and were then driven to our hotel near the Kama River. Perm could not have been more different from Moscow. Where Moscow felt historic, busy and was filled with tower blocks and churches, Perm was rural, calm and exactly as described by Pasternak in Dr. Zhivago.
After dinner and more unpacking, well upending my suitcase onto the floor, we were given our itinerary for the next day at which point I heard my name called for taking part in a discussion that I had not prepared for. I went to the organiser to check this and was informed that this was in fact the case and I would be in a discussion but not to worry as I would be sat in the audience and would only have to speak when asked to.
Following a mild panic I went to my room to write my speech on 'the influence of SMI (Mass media) on the preservation and development of Russian Language'. Even though I had been told that I would only be in the audience I wanted to be prepared.
Around 2am Perm time (9pm GMT) I had finished and had just enough time for about 3 hours of sleep before needing to get up for the conference the next day. Luckily this was also around the time that the sun set meaning that despite being in the middle of the White Nights I was able to sleep in a darkened room.
(Image - The View from my Hotel Room)

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Accidental Diplomat - Day 2 - Moscow Baby

For the second morning in a row my alarm forcible wakened up at an ungodly hour, the only difference today was that it was in fact 8am Moscow time (5am GMT). Falling over my stuff to get to my alarm clock I vowed that the next time I unpacked something I would use a slightly more organised approach.
The first activity on the itinerary was a meeting with the head of Rossotrudnichestvo Moscow who explained to us the aims of the organisation before taking questions from our group. It was interesting to hear about the work that they do in a variety of different countries around the world. 
(Image - Me with the Head of Rossotrudnichestvo Moscow)
Then it was on to lunch at a nearby hotel. So far on this trip I had been offered some fairly normal dishes, however, it was at lunch that I was reminded of some of the more obscure aspects of Russian cooking. For example the format is almost always some form of heavily mayonnaised 'salad', soup, main dish, cake. Today I was given carrot, onion and mayo 'salad', cheese soup with mystery meat, cheesy fish with rice and a massive slice of honey cake. All of which was tasty but very different from the food I am used to in the UK.
(Image - Cheesy Fish and Rice)
With lunch over it was off to the International Language Library where we had the chance to explore the collection and hear from it's head. As a present from one of the groups that works alongside the library we were given some copies of books with parallel translation in them - Russian on one side, English on the other.
Upon returning to my hotel room before dinner I discovered that the maid had not liked my style of unpacking and had decided to reorganise all of my things. This made it slightly tricky for locating clean clothes and, amongst other things, my cuddly toy cat which meant that changing for dinner in fact became a very long and arduous process.
At dinner I was greeted with yet more interesting dishes to sample such as beetroot and mayo 'salad' however this was counterbalanced by a delicious cabbage soup and bread. Just as we were finishing dinner the organisers of the conference informed us that tomorrow morning we would need to appear at breakfast with our fully packed suitcases as we would not be returning to our hotel before our Aeroflot flight to Perm.
In all my time in Russia I had successfully managed to avoid Aeroflot, or Aeroflop as they are more popularly known, and domestic Russian flights which are known for their low levels of safety and high crash rates. As the train to Perm would take around 30 hours and the conference was due to begin the next morning there was no way out - I was going to be flying Aeroflot.
Luckily I managed to find three activities to distract myself from thinking about this - FaceTiming my family after discovering free wifi in the hotel lobby, watching Russian TV (Twilight was on STS :D ) and packing. Anyone who knows me will know how much I simply, erm, love this activity, which was made even more fun by spending several hours trying to locate all of my things after the maid had 'tidied up'. Luckily my approach to packing is similar to my approach to unpacking - grab all the items, fold them, cram them in, sit on suitcase, zip up. Sorted!

The Accidental Diplomat - Day 1 - Arrivals

At 3:30am on Monday May 27th my alarm clock screamed out that it was time to get up, get dressed and head down to Heathrow for my flight to Moscow before I would head to Perm where I would be a delegate at a conference entitle 'Russia Language between Europe and Asia.'
After two night buses and a train I arrived at Heathrow where I had enough time to check in and sample the delights of the Duty Free section. As someone who does not particularly like flying being able to try some new whiskey or a nice orange vodka before a fly is a definite bonus. A flight is a much more enjoyable experience following a rather large shot of orange vodka, or three.
It was then time to board the plane where I was able to meet my fellow UK delegates for the trip. We had previously communicated by email and it was nice to finally meet them and be able to put faces to names.
Four hours later our plane landed at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow where we were greeted by a taxi driver holding a sign for our conference and a torrential thunderstorm that would rival some of the ones in the UK. It was then that we got to experience the legendary Moscow traffic jams. On previous trips to and from the airport I had always used the express train and negated these jams, today however I was able to experience the joy of taking an hour to travel just over 5 miles. No wonder Russians are such terrible drivers.
Eventually we arrived at our very Soviet looking hotel and were given our conference itineraries and told that there would be a welcome dinner later that evening where we would have the chance to meet the other delegations. There was a few hours to spare so we had time to settle in and unpack.
My style of unpacking is to open my suitcase and tip everything on the floor, so for me unpacking was done in about thirty seconds. This then gave me time to run out of the hotel and buy a new SIM card for my Russian mobile. Luckily for me there was a Evroset kiosk not far from the hotel and close to Dinamo metro station. The only thing standing between me and it was 12 lanes of traffic. Upon witnessing several Ladas jump through red lights I decided it was best not to try to play frogger but to in fact simply wait at the crossing. It didn't take long to sort my SIM and I was back in time to change for dinner.
During the dinner I got to meet my fellow delegates from countries such as Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Ukraine, Vietnam, USA, France, Tajikistan, and Moldova. All of whom spoke Russian and it was amazing to communicate with people such a range of countries.
With dinner over it was time for bed before the conference activities began the next day. After four years away from Moscow it felt very strange to be back. Especially when I opened the curtains of my hotel room to see that my view was overlooking a building that I used to see everyday when I was walking to Sokol metro station. It seemed as Moscow was exactly how I had left it.
(Image - The View from my Hotel Room, Moscow)

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Language Conference - Perm

From tomorrow until the start of June I shall be away at a Language Conference in Perm, Russia. This will mean two things; one, that I will probably not be able to post while I am there, and two, that when I return there will be a plethora of posts.
I will be attending the 'Russian Language between Europe and Asia' conference where I will be speaking on the topic of 'Teaching Russian language to Foreigners: Problems and Perspectives'. It is set to be a very interesting conference and I am honoured to have the chance to speak.
While I am away if you, dear reader, are looking for things to read then try the posts from my Year Abroad in Moscow.They give a fairly good idea of what life was like for me when I was living there. They also include some funny interactions with Russian old ladies or Babs.
Now to go and pack! I wonder where I put my passport......

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Funemployment 13

Last week I was treated to the joy of having not one but two visits to the Job Centre. I must say at this point that the advisers are now back to being helpful and running roughly to time.
The first visit was for my 'personal intervention'. Now I had been given the impression that I would sit with an adviser and go through everything that I was doing to look for work with a fine tooth comb and that it would be analysed and I would be told where I was going wrong.
For this appointment the adviser was running late and I did not have a book with me so instead I got to evesdrop on a nearby conversation;
JCP: So how is your job hunt going?
Claimant: Shit.
JCP: Oh?
C: Yeah, I had an interview and I didn't get the job.
JCP: Well this is not uncommon, tell me what happened?
C:Well, I went in and it started well and then they asked me a question I didn't like so I told them to f*** off.
JCP: *sighs* Well, that was probably why they didn't hire you.
C: *confused* why?
JCP: Well, people don't tend to like being told to f*** off, especially not in an interview.
C: But he was annoying me.
JCP: *sighs again* well, even if they are then you have to remain polite. Some interviewers will try and test you a bit.
C: Why?
JCP: To see how you react to certain situations.
C: Yeah, and when someone annoys me I tell them to f*** off.
JCP: *slightly exasperated* Yes, but in an interview you cannot.

Sadly at this point I was then called so I am not sure how the conversation ended but it is clear that interviewers do not like being sworn at. Who knew?!
During my 'personal intervention' my adviser asked why I was there, told me he had never in his life heard the term 'personal intervention' and that as far as he could see I was doing everything correctly and there were no complaints. He was then as confused as I was that I had been sent for this appointment to which I said that as far as the JCP were concerned I would just do as I was told.
After this session I was told that I needed to come back to sign on as today was X and I am a Y signer. I asked if it were not possible to just sign me on anyway rather than coming back twice in one week and was met with the reply 'you're a Y signer and today is X, you must come back on Y' and a look of confusion.
At this point I decided that it was best not to argue as it was eating into my job hunting and writing time. That and I wanted a coffee.
So what have I learnt from this trip? 1. Interviewers do not like to be sworn at. 2. If you are a Y signer you must come in on Y. 3. The 25+ advisers are still much more helpful than the 16-24 signers.
The job hunt continues.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Happy May Day!

Today is May 1st traditionally celebrated by those of a Communist persuasion as International Workers day. So to celebrate this I am sharing with you some of my favourite Communist themed videos while I go Morris dancing. Enjoy.

I read some Marx (and I liked it);


I am the man;



Rap Battles of History;

 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Funemployment 12 - A New Low

This may (not) come as a shock to some of you  but during my last visit to the Job Centre they managed to hit a new low. Now, I have come to expect a pretty dismal level of service from the Job Centre and the majority of the time they seem to be a hindrance rather than a help in my job hunt, last week they got worse.

I arrived duly on time for my appointment and took a seat to wait to see my 'adviser'. Usually the Job Centre runs at least ten minutes late but I make it a matter of principle that I will always be on time even if they are not. After around ten minutes a few people had been seen, various 'advisers' were industriously typing away (on what I couldn't see, probably Facebook, but they looked busy) and others were sitting on each others desk gossipping about their weekends. NB in the over 25 section there are no filing cabinets for them to lean against so desk-sitting is the new gossip position.

After about twenty minutes my general mood was decreasing - people coming in after me had been seen, people before me had been seen and no one had come to ask anyone elseo who was also waiting who they were here to see. I was on the verge of going up to the nearest 'adviser' and pointing out that I had better things to do with my time than sit and listen to office gossip while being ignored by people who were meant to be advising me. This was until I remembered that I hadn't actually signed on yet and that if the advisers got confused by me being polite then sarcasm would probably not go down well and may even be taken as a reason to put a strike against my name.

After a further five minutes one of the advisers started to 'free lance' from desk to desk and appear to be, well, actually working. Once he had finished with his last person I went up to him and explained, politely, that I had been there for nearly half an hour, I just needed to sign on, no one had called my name and that I wanted to know how much longer it would be before I was called. The adviser took my name and went to ask his colleagues.

Upon returning the conversation went as follows;
JCP: Sorry about that, but it turns out that the person you are due to see isn't actually here and doesn't work on X.
Me: Oh, well that explains why I didn't get called
(in my head): well there's a bloody surprise! I've been booked in with someone who's not even here, how incompetent do you actually have to be to work here? Is it some kind of specified skill on the job description?
JCP: Yeah, well I'll just go and get your record and we'll sign you on.
Me: Cool, thanks
(in my head): You haven't even pulled my record out?! I come in on the same day at the same time every fortnight and no one has found my record?! If I were this disorganised and useless at my job I'd had been fired!
JCP: Right found it *types away and brings up my page* ok if you could just sign here
Me: Ok *signs paper waits with baited breath for 'a have you considered MI6?' comment*
JCP: Ok, I have also booked you in with Y at X on Z and because this is your M visit next time you'll be having a, what we call, 'Personal Intervention'.
Me: Ok.....
(in my head) What the hell is that?! Have they been following me and are going to formally reprimand me for blogging about them? Or my drinking? Bollocks this does not sounds good!!!
JCP: *looking at my confused expression* don't worry it's not as scary as it sounds you will just sit and go through everything that you have done to find work with one of our 'advisers'. 
(in my head): oh God! This sounds worse than I feared
JCP: you can also tell them how you feel about job hunting
(in my head): hello! Someone is actually going to ask me for my thoughts on job hunting, he he he, they may live to regret that!
Me: Ah ok, that sounds useful
JCP: do you have any other questions?
(in my head): yes, can I bloody leave now please
Me: No, don't think so
JCP: Goodbye then! Sorry again about the wait.
(in my head): DW you're still doing better than Haringey Council! 

At this point I grabbed my stuff and ran out the Job Centre still slightly stunned that someone had actually booked me in to see someone who would not even be there. Seriously, if I had done something like that when I worked as a receptionist then I would have been in big trouble. It's no wonder that the DWP has problems if they can't even book someone in for an appointment and not cock it up. Needless to say I am now very much looking forward to my 'Personal Intervention' *slightly evil grin* if I get asked for my honest opinion on job hunting then they may find that they have a lot of feedback about my experiences.

The job hunt continues.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

RIP Margaret Thatcher

On April 8th 2013 it was announced that former PM Margaret Thatcher had passed away in her sleep at the age of 87. The news of her death brought about strong reactions on both sides of the political spectrum; those on the right have mourned her passing while some of those on the left have literally danced for joy.
Margaret Thatcher has always been a figure that people seem to either love or hate. However, just a thought to those celebrating her death; while you may be happy that she has 'finally gone' please bear in mind that you are in fact celebrating the death of an old lady. While you may not agree with her views, policies or what she did she is still someones mother, wife, daughter and friend, and above all else is someone who deserves our respect. 
Lady Thatcher was the first woman to become Prime Minister of the UK, won three consecutive General Elections and stood to her guns when dealing with the unions. Feats for which she should be praised. No one since has been so successful in a General Election and many of her policies are still in place today. Things that bring to mind the old saying 'if you want something done properly, get a woman to do it'.
When I first began to be interested in politics and get involved it was Margaret Thatcher who stood out as a role model for the aforementioned reasons. Politics may be an area that is predominantly male but it is still one where women can succeed. Margaret Thatcher may be gone but her legacy will live on and she will most certainly not be forgotten.
I leave you with a video mashup from some of her speeches;

Aquaerobics

Since becoming funemployed I have tried to use the time that I have not been looking for work to see some parts of London I have not seen, read some new books and try some new experiences. One such experience that I have tried is attending the gym. Yes, I know, I am as shocked you dear reader!
Earlier in the week one of my housemates informed me that LA Fitness were offering 5 day free trial passes and that there was a gym fairly close to our flat. So, given that a. is it free and b. I have some free time I decided to give it a try. 
Now, I feel at this point it is important to note that I have never set foot in a gym in my life as working out is not really my thing, but this gym had a swimming pool and given that the local leisure centre charges £4.70 a swim and is, well, shit I decided to give it a crack.
Day One went fine, the pool was lovely, I made a new friend in the sauna who also shared my views on the condition of the local leisure centre, and the only thing to mar the experience was the news that Lady T had passed away. God rest her soul.
Day Two however was a somewhat different experience. Things began well - nice swim, bit of time in the sauna, then when I was back swimming I suddenly became aware of a lot of older ladies beginning to enter the pool and remove the rope that sections of the laned swimming. Next thing I know the pool is now full of about twenty older ladies and somehow, I still literally have no idea how this happened, I have become part of an over 60s aquaerobic class.
After several failed attempts to leave the pool and being stopped by said older ladies in brightly coloured, floral swimming caps I decided that the best thing to do was try to hide and ride it out. Things were going rather well with this plan until one of the ladies next to me informed me in a rather loud voice that caused several other ladies to turn and look at me that I was not doing the exercises properly as I had to somehow alternate my feet and hands. How on earth she noticed this through all the splashing I have no idea. Still I thanked her, explained sport was not my thing and once again tried to remain inconspicuous. Well as inconspicuous as you can when you are surrounded by twenty ladies who are a good forty years old than you and all in floral bathing caps.
My plan went well for a further five minutes until the instructor shouted out 'and jump and turn 180 degrees'. I resisted the urge to shout 'oh buggar' rather loudly as I had now managed to be at the front of the class and all of the ladies were now watching me. Luckily, for me, the instructor then asked everyone to jump back by 180 degrees and I was now at the back again and able to try to hide.
The problem that I now had was that every ten minutes or so the instructor changed the types of exercises we were doing so as to work out different parts of our bodies. After an initial gentle warm up it then moved on to the more strenuous exercises that involved a lot of jumping and clapping. The movement caused by twenty older ladies and myself jumping more or less in unison caused a lot of tidal waves that crashed over the edge of the pool knocking the grates out of places and also moving several nearby flipflops along the side of the pool. The sight of which caused me great amusement and I had to try very, very hard not to laugh each time this happened.
After about half and hour the exercises had changed again and the instructor's back was now to us so I decided to try to make a dive for the steps and run off and hide in the nearby steam room. Sadly, once again my path mysteriously became blocked by some of the older ladies and I had no choice but to remain in the pool until the end of the class.
Luckily, after 50 minutes the class came to an end and I was able carry back on with my swimming and try to pretend that nothing had happened. I also decided that if I was swimming and had my head under the water then the instructor would not be able to catch me and ask me why exactly I had decided to gatecrash an over 60s session and I would be able to escape trying to explain that the older ladies had seemed to decide to band together and stop me from leaving. 
So, having now taken part in my first, and well last, aquaerobics session I can safely say that it is not the sport for me. Not just for the fact that I had been criticised by an older lady for my lack of co-ordination, the tidal waves that were created by the jumping that kept making me giggle but also the fact that it is rather embarrassing when the instructor asks you to stand on one leg and it is me that fall over and not the older ladies.
Now back to job hunting.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Do You Remember This Lady?

Earlier today I was forwarded an email about one truly inspirational lady and her actions during the Second World War. Sadly she missed out on a Nobel Peace Prize but she is someone who should not be forgotton! Rather than forwarding the message to those I know I am instead putting it here so that even people I do not know can read the message.
 
"As General Eisenhower said at the time, "we want plenty of photos so no one can ever say this did not happen."

Remember this lady?




Irena Sendler
Died: May 12, 2008 (aged 98)
Warsaw, Poland





During WWII, Irena, got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist.  She had an ulterior motive.  Irena smuggled Jewish infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried.  She also carried a burlap sack in the back of her truck, for larger kids.

Irena kept a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto.  The soldiers, of course, wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.



During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2500 kids/infants.  Ultimately, she was caught, however, and the Nazi's broke both of her legs and arms and beat her severely.

Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she had smuggled out, in a glass jar that she buried under a tree in her back yard.
After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived and tried to reunite the family.  Most had been gassed.  Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.



In 2007 Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize.  She was not selected.  Al Gore won, for a slide show on Global Warming.  Later another politician, Barack Obama, won for his work as a community organizer for ACORN.
In MEMORIAM - 65 YEARS LATER I'm doing my small part by forwarding this message.  I hope you'll consider doing the same.

It is now more than 65 years since the Second World War in Europe ended.  This e-mail is being sent as a memorial chain, in memory of the six million Jews, 20 million Russians, 10 million Christians and 1,900 Catholic priests who were murdered, massacred, raped, burned, starved and humiliated!

Now, Iran , and others, claim the HOLOCAUST to be 'a myth'.  It's imperative to make sure the world never forgets, because there are others who would like to do it again."

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Favourite Literary Quotes

Being unemployed has, obviously, given me a lot of free time something, which after six years at UCL, is a slightly strange experience. Now, I am the sort of person who likes to put their time to good use and not be without an occupation. So, aside from when I am doing job applications, attending interviews or doing work for my internship I am using my time to explore parts of London I have not visited before and to read my way through all the books I have wanted to read and not found the time to read.

Now, dear reader, before you jump in and remark about 50 Shades of Grey I feel I should state that this is NOT on the list. My 'To Read' list comprises of a mix between classic literature such as Dickens, Hugo and Wilde as well as some more modern works such as Girl with a Dragon Tattoo. Aside from finally managing to discover some great works of literature I am also finding some fantastic quotes and I will share just a few of them with you.

From The Picture of Dorian Gray by the wonderful Oscar Wilde we have;

“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”

“The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” 

“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.”

“Because to influence a person is to give him one's own soul. He does not think his natural thoughts, or burn with his natural passions. His virtues are not real to him. His sins, if there are such things as sins, are borrowed. He becomes an echo of some one else's music, an actor of a part that has not been written for him. The aim of life is self-development. To realize one's nature perfectly -- that is what each of us is here for. People are afraid of themselves, nowadays. They have forgotten the highest of all duties, the duty that one owes to oneself. Of course they are charitable. They feed the hungry, and clothe the beggar. But their own souls starve, and are naked. Courage has gone out of our race. Perhaps we never really had it. The terror of society, which is the basis of morals, the terror of God, which is the secret of religion -- these are the two things that govern us.” 

From Dickens there is;

"Out of my thoughts! You are part of my existence, part of myself. You have been in every line I have ever read, since I first came here, the rough common boy who poor heart you wounded even then. You have been in every prospect I have ever seen since - on the river, on the sails of the ships, on the marshes, in the clouds, in the light, in the darkness, in the wind, in the woods, in the sea, in the streets. You have been the embodiment of every graceful fancy that my min has ever become acquainted with... To the last hour of my life, you cannot choose but remain part of my character, part of the little good in me, part of the evil."

And from Tolkien;
“Where there's life there's hope.” 

“Don't ever laugh at live Dragons, Bilbo you fool!”  

Now back to job hunting.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

The New Class System

Today the BBC announced that Britain no longer has a three tier class system but instead can now be divided into seven different groups. The new groups are Elite, Established Middle Class, Technical Middle Class, New Affluent Workers, Traditional Working Class, Emergent Service Workers and Precariat. It is these groups that allegedly replace the old and more basic system of Upper, Middle and Working Class.

Pretty much all day my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been filled with people taking this quiz to discover what new class it is that they in fact now belong to. So not wanting to be one to be left out I decided to give it a try. I decided that the best thing to do was to begin by filling it in honestly as reflects my current work situation and leisure activities. 

The quiz begins by asking you to tick boxes to provide your rough income level; 0-10K, 10-20K etc, then whether or not you own your own house and lastly what your savings level is. The next section gives you a list of jobs of varying levels of pay, intelligent and skill with the very general question of 'tick if you know someone who works in this industry'. Lastly, you are given a list of cultural activities and asked to tick which of them you do in your free time. These activities range from 'listen to rap music' to 'go to the opera'.

After a few seconds (it was peak time and Virgin Internet does not like this) my results were in and am I pleased to announce that I am now a member of the 'Emergent Service Worker Class'. The definition of which is a 'class group [which] is financially insecure, scoring low for savings and house value, but high for social and cultural factors' and whose key points are that I am young, cultural and rent my own flat. In other words 'unemployed middle class'. 

My reaction to this was one of 'well no shit Sherlock' given that I am currently unemployed, spent six years at University and read Dickens, Wilde and Tolstoy for fun it comes as genuinely no surprise to me that my income is low, my friendship circle includes nurses, lawyers, teachers and other professionals, and in my spare time I listen to classical music, read, visit museums and watch sport. Nice to see that my license fee to the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation is going to good use on truly groundbreaking research.

If you would like to take the quiz and finally discover which class it is that you in fact belong to then click here. Warning! The results may not surprise you.

Monday, 1 April 2013

Funemployment - The IDS Challenge

The Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, has said that he would be able to live off £53 a week the amount that one Benefit Claimants states he has after the costs of rent and bills have been met. This news comes after IDS was on the BBC Radio Four Today Programme defending the upcoming cuts and changes that will be being made to the Welfare System. On the programme IDS stated that if forced to then he would be able to live off this figure.

For some reason this news that a person can live off £53 a week seems to be completely shocking despite the fact that this is what thousands of unemployed people do every week. Based on the comments section of The Daily Torygraph website it would seem that the shock stems from the fact that most seem to have casually missed the phrase 'AFTER rents and bills have been met'. While the article does not define what 'bills' actually covers it would be fair to assume that it covers gas, electric, water, mobile etc but most likely not food, transport or entertainment. In other words you would be left with £53 to feed and entertain yourself.

The Welfare System was introduced as a safety net for those who have fallen on hard times so that they would be able to buy food and shelter etc for themselves until they get back on their feet. However, somewhere along the line this idea has been lost and it is now viewed by some as a career option - what's the point in working if the State gives me the money for free? It is this kind of attitude that the reforms are clearly aiming to stop.

Without going into great detail the basic Human Rights of a person are;
1) the right to life
2) the right to clean and safe water
3)the right to a healthy or adequate environment
4) the right to reproduce
5) the right to refuse to kill
in other words a person living in the UK legally needs to have access to food, water and shelter. However, in the UK we are more accustomed to a higher standard of living than it is possible to have while on benefits. £53 a week will buy you food (value rather than Waitrose Finest) what it will not buy you is alcohol, cigarettes, fast food, an Xbox or a holiday to Spain. These things are classified as luxury goods and are the things to buy once you have a job and disposable income.

So, to defend poor old IDS, who seems to have gotten a lot of stick for his claim that he could live off £53 a week, it is possible. It may not be fun, enjoyable or ideal but it is possible, you may need to make some rather drastic lifestyle changes and adapt but no one ever died from not being able to play Xbox, watch Sky TV or travel first class to Disney Land. If you want these things then the solution is simple - work for them. Life isn't fair so stop expecting the moon to be handed to you on a stick but go and get the moon yourself.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Funemployment 11 - Job Centre Revisited

Now I am a firm believer in giving credit where credit is due and it is to this end that you, dear reader, may have noticed a lack in amusing and critical posts about my adventures at the Job Centre. This is because since my last birthday I have been sent to another part of the Job Centre where my adviser is actually helpful and competent.
Having gotten another year older, and I would like to think another year wiser, has meant that now I am placed in a different category by the Department of Work and Pensions. At first the realisation that I am no longer in the 'youth' category induced a mild Dorian Gray-esque panic and made me wish that I too could track down Basil Hallward and get my own portrait painted. However, once this panic had subsided I began to realise that my last experience at the Job Centre had been very different now that I am not a 'youth'.
For one thing in my last few visits I have seen the same adviser, note please the lack of '', meaning that someone is actually keeping track of my progress, can remember whether or not I have had any interviews and is able to actually advise me. No more do I dread comments such as 'so you speak Russian, have you thought about MI6?' or 'what's a Masters degree?' or 'are you planning to ever work in your native country?'.
Another thing that I noticed was the treatment I received. The adviser listened to my responses to their questions meaning that an actual conversation took place, rather than a series of rather unhelpful quips. I was also made to feel like I was there because I had fallen on hard times and that this was a temporary situation rather than when I was a 'youth' who was clearly there to steal money from the taxpayer in order to buy fags, bargain booze and sweat pants with 'juicy' across the bum before performing in an antisocial way that would mean I would grace the pages of the Daily Mail.
To me it is very interesting that simply because some time has passed means that my treatment at the Job Centre is different. In essence I am still the same person, I hold the same beliefs, same attitude to work but now I am treated like an adult. Either they now view me as an adult or the Job Centre have found my blog posts and have taken my criticisms on board, but this seems very unlikely given that some of my previous 'advisers' didn't seem very computer literate.
While this does mean that my adviser is helping me get a step closer to employment it does mean a distinct lack of material for humorous blog posts. Luckily, however, strange things seem to just happen to me and weird people seem to follow me around, so if things get really bad then I shall simply begin a series entitled 'Laura's adventures on the bus'. But for now, the job hunt continues.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Job Hunting vs Dating

It has come to my attention that Job Hunting in many ways is very similar to Dating and that there are many similarities in both processes.
Having been fired and having failed to get a job at a networking event or by talking to someone face to face you begin by creating an online profile - your qualifications, good points, skills and a photo in which you are neither drunk nor wearing more make up than someone on TOWIE. 
Following this you begin to look through the profiles of others, read about the company, what is it that they are looking for? Does it match with what you are looking for? Conversely companies sit and look through your profile deciding the same thing.
Eventually contact is made either a company phones you or you make an application that is well received. The next step is the interview, an experience very akin to a first date (minus the battle at the end for who should pay - you, them or go Dutch?) - you dress to impress, prepare in advance what you will say and spend most of the time either suppressing 'the crazy' or twisting what it is that you actually do. For example I have seven cats named after the seven dwarfs becomes I am an animal lover, I once got drunk and wound up on a train to Edinburgh becomes I very much enjoy travelling, I read the entire Twilight saga in one weekend becomes I love nothing more than curling up with a good book etc. However, the one thing guaranteed to go down well in both situations is the phrase 'I do enjoy cooking especially making cakes'.
Once that first interview/date is over you then spend the next few days after it praying that the person will contact you to arrange a second. If they do you are over the moon, if they don't you spend the next day in your PJs eating chocolate and watching Bridget Jones Diary wondering what exactly it is that you did wrong.
However, after numerous applications and several interviews/first dates you eventually managed to impress and finally hear the words 'congratulations you got the job!' meaning that at least for a bit you will be free of the stress of applications and interviews/first dates. It also means that you can now sit and slowly become one of those smug happy people who use parties as an opportunity to try and set their single/unemployed friends up on dates/interviews.
So it would seem that the worlds of Job Hunting and the world of Dating are very similar indeed and thus show a use of transferable skills.

NB If you are a future employer I do not own seven cats named after the seven dwarfs that would be sad! It's actually five and they're named after the lads from One Direction. :P

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Prison for Pryce and Huhne

After weeks of twists, turns and revelations the eventful trial of former Fib Dem, sorry, Lib Dem MP Chris Huhne and his ex-wife Vicky Pryce has come to an end. Yesterday both were sentenced to 8 months in prison for perverting the course of justice.

The case came into fruition after Huhne’s ex-wife went to the Times to expose her husband for a driving offence that occurred in 2003. In short Huhne had been caught speeding but it was Pryce who took the 3 points on her license to stop Huhne from being banned from driving. Ten years passed and the now former Mrs Huhne decided that it was time to expose her husband, an action which also shafted her at the same time and resulted in the pair both being sent to prison. A classic example of hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

However, while for the majority of people a spell behind bars would put a death sentence to any chance of having a real career or in some cases of ever finding employment when it comes to MPs prison often seems to be the making of their careers. Take for example former Tory MPs Jeffery Archer a now famous author or Jonathan Aiken who found Jesus in prison (as in Christ not a fellow prisoner of hispanic origin) and is now the president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The question is for Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce, will prison be the making or the breaking of them? The reputations of both are in tatters meaning that it should be a good long while before either of them will be in a position to work in a role that requires integrity. This being the case what could the future hold for Huhne and Pryce?

It goes without saying that both will endeavour to make money from their experiences in prison, but how? Given how the events have unfolded I predict that Pryce will go to the papers and sell her story (let’s face it she’s done it before) but this time it will be as a series over several weeks. The angle will be something along the lines of ‘my love for my bully of a husband cost me reputation and landed me in prison’. In this series she will share all the gory details – new details of her marriage, the horrors and shame of prison, how her children are now estranged to her etc etc. In other words a classic Daily Mail piece.

Huhne on the other hand will most likely follow in the footsteps of other politicians and go for the book option. The title of which will be something like ‘Crime Does Not Pay – My Almost Year in Prison’, copies of which is slowly move off the shelves before being found in the bargain bin at service stations. There is also a chance that this ‘fame’ will earn Huhne a place on a reality TV show a la Nadine Dorres. The twist will be that Huhne won’t receive a whipping from George Young but that Pryce will be a surprise guest on the show.

Whatever happens when the pair leave prison (which given the justice system will probably be in a few weeks time) they will not fate gracefully into obscurity but in some way will find a way to profit from this experience.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Funemployment 10 - Signing Back On

After my two week placement had finished I had still not managed to secure a full time paid job. Sadly this meant only one thing - signing back on at the Job Centre.

If anything re-signing back on was much easier and quicker than signing on as all I was effectively doing was re-activating my account. All of my information was the same and my situation had not changed in any way. A couple of hours later I received a text informing me that I had to report to my local Job Centre at 9am the following day to sign some forms. When I read this I nearly dropped my iPhone in shock at the efficiency of the Job Centre. Maybe, just maybe, they had become more organised in the two weeks since I had last been. Sadly, I was lulled into a false sense of hope.

I reported to my Job Centre on time and was the first person there. I sat waiting for an adviser to become available. Something which you would think would be easy given I was the first person of the day, but as usual the staff were all engrossed too in conversation about their weekend activities and leaning on filing cabinets to help.

Eventually I was seen, given some forms to sign and have the process explained.My adviser handed me all the forms I needed but then became a mixture of enraged and confused when I began to read them. Telling me that I didn't need to read them I just needed to sign them. I then became enraged and confused. I have been raised to always read a document before I sign it. Yes the form simply stated that in order to receive my JSA I needed to apply for X jobs a week, turn up to appointments etc, but how was I to know whether or not in the small print they had added a section saying that if after six months of unemployment they could sell my organs to the NHS (good luck to the poor sod who gets my liver! 1 year in Russia and 6 as a Tory!), force me to donate blood in exchange for money or rent out my womb to a childless couple.

Having once again tried to skim read the forms I decided that it was best to just sign them as the words 'organs', 'womb', 'sell' or 'NHS' did not instantly stand out. It also meant that I was spending needless time in the Job Centre. I was then told to report back in two weeks for a normal signing on session and was then able to leave. It appeared that I had escaped the dreaded 'preliminary consultation' where an 'adviser' would go through my CV and spend 40 minutes asking me to explain the UK education system, why exactly I was unemployed followed by 10 minutes on why I should work for MI6.

Two weeks later I appeared for my signing on session knowing that I would only have to appear for ten minutes then could leave. Sadly my hopes of avoiding the 'prelim consultation' were dashed as my adviser noticed this box had not been ticked on my form. Despite trying to explain that I had already had one of these sessions and that I had had 4 interviews in the last three weeks i.e. I clearly knew how to job hunt and was getting somewhere it was still mandatory. So it would seem that the Job Centre had clearly not become more organised, as I had hoped, and I still would have to waste 40 minutes of my life with an 'adviser'. Joy. The job hunt continues.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Funemployment 9 - The Job Centre IV

At long last the moment I had been dreaming of since I first set foot in the Job Centre had happened - I was able to sign off. Now, before you crack out the champagne on my behalf I must state that this was only for 2 weeks while I was on a paid placement. Even so it meant that I was free from the Job Centre for 2 whole weeks. Bliss.

This 2 week placement came into effect fairly quickly, basically Monday - got placement, Tuesday - start placement. The rapidity of which meant that I had one afternoon in which to sign off from the Job Centre so as not to be committing benefit fraud. The Job Centre, like the Council, may be ineffectual, useless and disorganised BUT forget to sign off, miss a Council Tax payment and BANG! Angry letters with threats of bailiffs and court.This was something I was not going to deal with.

I remember the 'signing off' process being fairly straightforward - fill in a very basic form saying I had found work and would no longer require JSA, submit form, account is then closed and payments stopped. Being that I was not due at the Job Centre until during my placement and how they seem surprised by me appearing even when scheduled to be there I felt that turning up in person would cause utter chaos and phoning would be a better option.

Eventually I managed to get through to the right department and speak to somebody where I explained that I needed to sign off JSA but that I needed to do it today as after that I would not be available to come in person. I was told that in theory this was possible over the phone but that my local job centre would have to do so. My heart sank.

The person on the phone told me that they would forward me to the Job Centre and that they would deal with it from there. My call was forwarded. No answer. Bounced back to the main switchboard, spoke to another person who forwarded on my call again. No answer. Bounced back to the main switchboard spoke to a third person who forwarded my call. Finally someone picked up. Conversation as follows;

Job Centre: Hello, Job Centre Plus Sam* speaking how may I help you?
Me: Hi, I have found out today that I will be doing a two week paid placement so I need to sign off my JSA, but I start tomorrow so I need to do this ASAP and the main switchboard told me I could do this by phone.
JCP: What? You need to actually sign off?!
Me: Yes, but it's only temporary as it's a 2 week placement
JCP: *sounding confused* but you've found work?
Me: Yes, hence I need to sign off. 
JCP: *still somewhat confused* you WANT to sign off?
Me: Yes, I will be on paid placement for two weeks so legally cannot claim JSA. Can I do this over the phone?
JCP: Erm... it's better if you come in in person...
Me: I start tomorrow
JCP: Can you make it down today?
Me: yep, can be there in about 10 minutes
JCP: *still sounds confused but not as much as before* right, erm, come down to us, explain all this to reception and they will give you the forms etc and direct you to an adviser.
Me: Cool, thanks, bye.

When it comes to ripping off a plaster I have learned that it is better to do so in one go, so in less than ten minutes I was down at the Job Centre ready to sign off. Sadly in my excitement at not having to visit the place I had temporarily forgotten that I would need to have a similar conversation again in order to explain why I had turned up.

Luckily the person on reception, although initially confused by my turning up without an appointment AND wanting to sign off, gave me the form I needed, told me to fill it in and wait five minutes until an 'adviser' was free.

The form took around 30 seconds to fill in as it involved ticking two boxes and signing on the dotted line. What took the most time was the fact that most of the 'advisers' were more engrossed in conversation about what they had done over the weekend, how wasted they had gotten and how they wished it wasn't Monday, and thus were clearly too busy to work.

Eventually, I was directed to an adviser who signed me off, understood the fact that this was a 2 week placement and explained to me how to do a 'rapid reclaim' once my placement was finished. It looked like on my final first stint of funeployment I had found someone competent at the Job centre. Yes, I am genuinely as shocked as you are by this fact.

I then headed home safe in the knowledge that for two weeks I would be on a paid placement and free (temporarily) of the Job Centre.

*Name changed for legal reasons

Post Coming Soon - The Job Centre - Signing Back On.