I squealed with delight when the P45 form finally arrived in the post from HM Revenue & Customs, confirming my long awaited news: the JobCentre had officially sacked me.
In other words, I am off the dole. Off to a part-time freelance job.
Bizarre as it may seem, while you are claiming any benefits during uenmployment, the JobCentre Plus is technically your employer, the employer of the unemployed. Once you are off their books, you are “fired”, you get your P45.
And what a pleasurable dismissal it was too.
On my last sign-on day, my amiable personal adviser Dennis greeted me with his usual enthusiasm: “How are you this morning, Mrs Elliott?” In keeping with our fortnightly routine, he moaned a little about the pain on his frozen shoulder while typing into the computer and preparing papers for me to sign.
“Oh dear. Is your shoulder still bothering you?” I asked, as sympathetically as I could, trying not to betray my glee at the prospect of never having to attend a sign-on appointment again.
It is funny how drastically one’s mental status can colour the glasses through which you see the world. The security guard had smiled when I handed in my “dole book”, my latest personal adviser was friendly and helpful, even the JobCentre manager had shown a wacky sense of humour: a short time ago I had noticed the advisers at my local JobCentre were seated in clusters of two, with a sign above each pair named Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello… That’s right – the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Whether this was meant to entertain glum jobseekers or provide comic relief to their own staff from the drudgery of their jobs, I do not know, but I appreciated their attempt at humour when there is so little for the jobless to be amused about.
Random acts of kindness
My adviser made a note of all the information he needed for closing down my jobseeker file and asked to keep the protective plastic pocket into which I used slip my “dole book” – the government had cut their supply to JobCentres.
Then he stretched his hand and wished me good luck.
“Thank you. Thank you for all your help,” I said.
“That’s what we’re here for,” he replied.
“I hope your shoulder will get better soon.”
I must have been grinning like an idiot as I exited the building. As I walked past reception, T., who had once snapped at me for arriving too early for an appointment, stopped chatting to the security guard to say goodbye. I saw both their eyes were smiling too.
Later a friend left a hilarious comment on my Facebook page: “You should have screamed ‘cowabunga!’ before somersaulting out the window like a true ninja turtle…”
I laughed, but I felt the panic rising inside. What exactly was I somersaulting into?
Expressions such as “career dreams” and “professional aspirations” have now left my lexicon…I am no longer unemployed, yet not fully employed, living in a vacuum I struggle to describe, where all that matters is food on the table, heating for the winter and a little spare cash to buy a present or two for Christmas.
Having only just left the dole queue, it feels as if I am already standing in line again at the back of another long queue. Where it will lead me I do not yet know, I’m afraid of knowing.