A “print-out-and-keep” commemorative tale inspired by the late jobcentre plus in Camberwell.
A not-so-young man gingerly approached my desk. His eyes darted below and to the sides in an attempt to avoid eye contact with his destination, but soon he realised there were no features for one to be distracted by in this office.
I did not address him. He sat down in the chair provided. I clicked through my emails in a self-important manner, but these I had already read through some hours ago. I then scrutinised him intently. What a weasley scrounger. After some moments he laughed nervously, and took his dusty black suit blazer off. “Warm, are we?”, I announced. He nearly jumped out of his seat.
It was necessary to keep the candidates on their toes, otherwise they got soft.
“So, Mr. … W-”, I began, getting his case file onto the screen. “Ah yes, the client with the PhD in semiotics”, I looked up to express my disapproval, but he was gazing at his fingernails. “Well, I had a Marxist geographer in your place a few weeks ago, and he’s now happily working as a customer services intern for a major insurance firm’s call-centre. I take it there’s been no success with your job search?”
“No, err, I’ve been applying for this and that but…no luck yet”
“You’re not looking in the right places.”
“You’re being unrealistic.”
“But I have a PhD, that’s why I’ve been…”
“Have you tried teaching?”
“Err, yes, to postgraduates, when I…”
“How was it?”
“Well… they didn’t pay much attention, and they just wanted to repeat the same old clichéd student crap on Marx and Nietzsche….”
“Very well, this will be just right. A secondary school in south London requires a teacher.”
“Well, if it’s in philosophy, which I very much doubt, then…”
“It’s to be a teacher in misery.”
“Well, I don’t know if I could do that…. I hate children….”
“I’m not a morning person…”
“Not a problem.”
“I don’t think they’d listen to me…”
“My doctor says I have an alcohol problem. …I drink and I feel guilt, but I have to drink, to cover up the increasingly all-pervading sense of worthlessness and failure of my life, all the missed opportunities, wasted potential, and failed relationships. Day by day, I feel like a little bit more inside me dies….”
Finally the nervous candidate had begun talking with some animation. Clearly his own misery was a subject he’d be able to inspire the school-children with.
“Perfect. I have here the job description. It states,
‘Today’s young people are boisterous, naïve, excited about all life’s possibilities, and keen to take their place in driving positive change for tomorrow. This is not realistic. We therefore require a semi-skilled candidate who can train the young people for a life of draining and dull work by condescending, mean bosses. We need a candidate who can inspire the students to spend all their time working on computers simply because they cannot imagine anything else to do with their time. We all know life is not easy, but the young people will struggle after they leave school unless they can expect not to be paid for working, that settling for second best is ok, not to burden tax-payers with their costly anti-depressant prescriptions, but to find happiness in buying things on credit, and not to bother the government or corporations with their selfish and unrealistic demands for a better quality of life. The main part of the teaching workload will involve using a blackboard to write exercises from a textbook, provided, which will be the basis for lecturing the students for their idiocy, obstinacy, and bad behaviour. Enhanced CRB disclosure required.’
I think it matches your CV perfectly. Shall we call them now?”
“What have I told you Darren! Read the board: W . A . S . P. – no walking, asking, speaking or passing. Shut up Nathan! Put that phone down! I won’t ask you twice!
“Sir, what are we supposed to be learning today?”
“Right, err… today… we’re…”. At last, he found the right page in the textbook. “Today we’re talking about the future! We’re talking about expectations, and we’re talking about realities.” He wrote the three words across the blackboard. So, hands up, can someone tell me what they expect after they finish at school?”
Hands shot up. He selected one of the less disruptive boys from the back. “Get a job sir, get some money and buy a car and move into my own flat, innit”.
“…Get the ladies round!” said his neighbour.
“Yes bruv!” he replied. Their clenched fists knocking together in friendship.
“Very well. That’s the expectation. But can anyone see any problems with that scenario?”
Silence for a moment, then finally a dissenting voice from the back. “Craig’s a batty boy though, AHEM!”
The class erupted in hoots and laughter, tables banging and pieces of paper flying across the room.
“Be quiet! Does anyone have anything intelligent to say?”
“Craig’s too retarded to get a job though sir, no lie!”
The classroom went into frenzy. He could hear the teacher knocking against the wall disapprovingly from the adjacent classroom.
“Shut up! Now, Jonathan has a point. Craig expects to get a paid job that’ll give him enough money to rent his own flat and buy a car, but that’s not realistic. Now Craig will get some GCSEs, though probably not many, or not as good as the boys at St. D–‘s. He’ll look to get a job, but, what’s this? There are three million people also looking for a job. And who knows how many more millions working part-time or on temporary contracts, also looking for jobs? So Craig won’t get a job, unless he works for free. That’s just how it is. And because Craig will need to work for free for at least a year, he won’t have any money to buy a newspaper, never mind a car!”
And here, for a moment, Mr W.- allowed himself a chuckle, before continuing. “Now, because Craig doesn’t have any money, no-one will want to go out with him, will they? And his mum and dad will get sick of him, but he won’t be able to leave, until finally he acquired enough photocopying and coffee-making experience to get a very simple part-time office apprentice job.”
“My brother’s got one of them!” said another boy.
“Yes, you can get a paid job if you work very hard. But let’s carry on. And from that, he’ll work for a number of years, perhaps also working in supermarkets and coffee chain-stores to supplement his wage, until finally, around middle-age, he has a middle-manager job where he gets to hire and fire other interns like he was, many years ago.”
“Yes mate, hiring, firing, and perspiring!” cheered another boy.
“Yes… and, err…. Craig might be married, he might not be, but either way, he’ll be fat and depressed, and if he did get married, he’d probably be divorced soon after. That’s just the way it is! No-one cares about anything. Nothing really is interesting. People don’t change. None of you will become better people or more interesting people. Most of you won’t do anything significant with your lives, except add more to the general bill of human suffering. There isn’t a future out there, that’s what being realistic means.”
The classroom was silent, Craig was entirely subdued. Finally Nathan interrupted the weighty mood: “Sir, is that why you teach here then?”
The classroom resumed back to its usual atmosphere of heckling and chaotic disorder. “You got told sir!” “Sir, is it true you’re a paedo?” “I ain’t gonna be no pussyole like that”. Chairs and pens began flying around the room, some hitting Mr W- directly.
“You’ll see!” he said, quickly retreating out of the classroom to find the Deputy Head, his arms vainly shielding his face from the artillery of exercise books.
A not-so-young woman came gingerly approaching my desk. Her eyes flickered below at the smartphone in her hand, captivating her attention with unknown images, to the point that she almost fell over into the seat in front of the desk.
I did not address her. She sat down in the solitary seat provided. I clicked through my online purchases in a self-important manner, before scrutinising her intently. What a misguided oxygen-waster. After some moments she asked if she could take her jacket off. “That’s a nice coat, did you steal it?”, I announced. She nearly jumped out of the seat.
It was necessary to keep the candidates on their toes, otherwise they got soft.
“So, Ms … Y-”, I began, loading her case file onto the screen. “Ah yes, the client who thinks she’s an artist.” I looked up to express my disapproval, but she was gazing into the space above my left shoulder. “So, you’ve been busy exhibiting your work. It says here you have an MA in Graphic Design. Ah yes, and that for the last three years you’ve been doing various different internships at arts organisations across Europe. Very proactive, Ms Y-, but it’s not realistic.”
“Please,” she murmured quietly, almost inaudibly quietly, before clearing her voice, and speaking louder, continuing. “I’m in so much debt. I can only afford to eat one meal a day. I’m having to borrow money for prescriptions. I’ll do anything, please.”
“Don’t fret. I had a sex-positive feminist activist and part-time substance misuse counsellor in your place a few weeks ago, and she’s now happily working as a sandwich artist for a major supermarket’s bakery. I take it there’s been no success with your job search?”
“Not yet. I’ve had a few interviews for gallery assistants at different places, but I don’t want to do anything commercial…”
“You’re not being realistic about the job market.”
“I was thinking about doing another really great internship with…
“a community arts foundation…”
“At this rate you’ll make yourself unemployable. Now, how about advertising?”
“Well, I once promoted a friend’s show with posters and twitter…”
“That sounds more like it. I have a role that’s just come up from a West End advertising firm. It’s paid. They’re looking for creatives who can help develop leading concepts and sales solutions for their clients in the fast food industry…”
“But you’ve got to be really stupid to believe anything those adverts say…”
“Yes, that’s right. Good answer.”
“But I don’t know the first thing about food.”
“But isn’t it a bit…unethical?”
“Aren’t you being unrealistic, Ms. Y? Do you not want money for prescriptions? Now, here is the job description,
‘Do you have the wow-factor? Can you KO clients with communications that show oodles of style and pizazz? We seek advertising creatives who know that some bogus stats, infantile cartoon characters, racy innuendo and soaring indie landfill rock are all really great ways of selling produce. In today’s tough economic climate, the challenge of getting people to buy what they don’t need and cannot afford is even greater. Survival of the fittest! So if you’re a money-motivated self-starter who just needs a brief and a budget to sell sand to the Arabs and snow to the Inuits, then we want to hear from YOU! Payment is based on performance and successful meeting of targets. Candidates must be prepared to also work evenings, weekends and holidays, family funerals etc., as per necessary.’
The young woman looked pale. “Well, I guess I have been a bit unrealistic and a little self-indulgent about my career. And I certainly could put together brand packages…. if I can market Anarchist expressive body art to hipster Dalstonians, then selling fried chicken to retarded mums and dads from Liverpool and Lancashire can’t be that hard…”
“That’s more like it! It’s not every day I see a go-getting candidate like you, Ms. Y-! Let’s give them a call now!”
The clients, two sales managers representing Dollar Fried Chicken, were directed from the wide open-plan office with its sweeping London views, rolling news and playschool-coloured furniture to a private meeting room. As they entered the meeting room, clutching onto their complimentary cappuccinos, they were greeted by Ms. Y- and Charlie, a not-so-young brand manager whose lenseless glasses and checked shirt were a vain attempt to conceal a growing beer belly and the usual effects of ageing.
Now suitably awkwardly seated, Ms. Y- clicked her presentation on and began the pitch. “Okay gang. Let’s talk about ‘Project FeastNight™’.”
The two sales managers cooed and rubbed their hands.
“Ok, Charlie, can you give the clients the skinny on the initial brief. Shoot”.
“Thanks babes. So you came to us to talk about how to expand the market for your extra-large meals to new demographics. You were worried that parents and some journalists might object to the very high salt and fat contents of these foods, and the ethics of irresponsibly marketing to children – what we call in the business a media cock-block.”
“Lols Charlie!” Ms. Y- continued. “So we took the extra-large meals and gave them a brand overhaul. What we’re talking about is FeastNight. Simples. You take the four extra-large meals and establish a brand partnership with a leading comedian, actor or sports star for each meal. Personalise the boxes. Then you market it to the comfort bracket. Take a look at this 30-second ad we’ve put together.”
Charles switched off the light, and the clip began. A leading stand-up comedian, known for his somewhat salty and blue humour, is seen walking running down a high-street, chased by a gang of ethnic minority children dressed as vegetables, covered in flies and dirt, as well as an old-fashioned looking brass band playing a dreadful though somewhat catchy tune.
“Ironic, huh!” Charles sniggered.
Suddenly, a piano drops on the roly-poly comedian, and it looks as if our salad-dodging hero is done for. But inside is a former children’s television presenter popular about a decade or two ago, dressed as a butler, who serves the comedian one of extra-value FeastMeal boxes. Then another well-known comedian’s voice booms over: “Need to refuel! You deserve a break! Join the FeastClub!” His voice is immediately followed by a somewhat weedy but fun-sounding trumpet parp.
Here the screen changed to a hovering perspective of one of the extra-large meals in a large cardboard box, the fried chicken, chips, apple pies, doughnuts and chicken wings all piled up on one another with an almost rustic flourish. “Every day there’s a different Feast to try!”
The next screen showed a big group of primary-school children laughing and eating away, supervised by a couple of middle-class looking mothers. “Treat them today. And if you’re under the age of 12, buy one FeastMeal, get the second half price, limited offer now on, only at Dollar Fried Chicken! >”
The final screen, lasting no more than a couple of seconds, flicked back to the comedian inside the piano, who is now holding the Feast box, whilst the butler next to him titters and shakes his head in cheery disbelief. “Why not?” says the portly pub stand-up, in a very silly voice.
“>Why not? That is the topline message that the FeastClub meal conveys”, said Ms. Y-, switching the light back on. “We’re challenging the audience – tell us why you shouldn’t eat far more food than you need. And if anyone replies, ‘because it causes obesity and heart disease’, we outmanoeuvre them with the ‘Gag Defence’ – it’s supposed to be funny, it’s ironic, if you criticise it you miss being in on the joke and are therefore very uncool.”
The two sales managers were spellbound by the pitch. They had this one in the bag. Later that afternoon, she’d pair up with Charles again for another presentation for a major high-street betting shop. They’d put even more work into the superhero-themed antics of the ‘Have a go, hero!’ online poker campaign. Although the job still offered no securities, the boosted income now meant that not only could she keep buying the latest gadgets and afford even more prescriptions for anti-psychotics and tranquilisers, but she was now able to live fifteen minutes closer to her workplace, though once more still struggled to pay the rent each month.
A not-so-old man came swaggeringly approaching my desk. His steely-blue eyes darted not below or around but dead towards me, with the commandeering leer of a man unfamiliar with disapproval.
As he landed on the solitary chair provided, with the grace of a great bird plummeting from a migratory height, he slapped his palm onto the desk. One of his thick silver bands clacked with a peculiar trill. Using his other hand, he rolled his smartphone from his inside suit jacket and slapped that on the desk, the phone falling and bouncing onto my keyboard. “Oh, ever so sorry”, said the man in his expensively-bred voice.
I did not address him. After clicking through some of my Facebook friends’ profiles, I turned to the man and scrutinised him intently. Little Lord Buttfuck the Shareholders. But he returned the glare, until I called a truce and switched on the electric fan. “It can get rather stuffy in here”, I finally uttered. He folded his body back into the seat and gave me a look of disapproval, as if he had been tested to a draw by an inferior opponent.
It was necessary to keep the candidates on their toes, but some were more easily intimidated than others.
“Mr… S.-P-.”, I began, loading his file onto the screen, which presented a rather unimpressive history as an investment banker. “Now, according to this, you’re not looking for any work at all. Is this correct?”
I raised my eyes to express a look of disapproval, but he had beat me to it, and was probably fantasising about inserting sharp objects inside my intimate cavities.
“Look, Mr….” and he craned over to read my name-tag, which was in fact blank. “Err… I make money. That’s what I do. I don’t work, and I never have done. I pay other people to do that for me.”
He snorted like a goat, as if the word work were as scatologically-suggestive as plaiting one’s anal hairs.
“I meet people every day who don’t wish to work Mr S.-P.- Now, according to your record, you’ve primarily worked as a … partner, and an…. investment banker for S.-P.- & Sons, and before that, at various other investment banks, it seems.”
“I’m done with that”, he replied, brushing away the suggestion with his hand.
“For what reason,” I replied, typing in my own name into a more obscure internet search engine, to compare results.
“I’ve played the game. Played it very well. Got bloody loaded for a while. I was the UK’s 14th billionaire under the age of 25 once, bet you didn’t know that. But the game eventually played me, because I played the game, and the game plays those which plays it, play to win… umm… You know what, it was because of people like you. Little bureaucrats with their little desks…”
By this point, he’d picked up my stapler and had begun rapping it threateningly against the edge of the desk.
“The nanny state nearly stifled my entrepreneurial spirit with an unpaid tax bill and some chumped-up charges of gross mis-selling and fraud, which my father’s lawyers were fortunately able to settle out of court.”
“Does that mean you still have a clean criminal record?”
“Oh yes, of course. The only people prosecuted these days are chavs and hoodies who can’t afford a good legal team. But, the settlement does mean that I cannot have any involvement with financial services.”
“What are your views on politics?”
“I have none.”
“Very good. Do you profess to have any ethical or religious beliefs?”
“My one vocation is making money. I’ve never given a thought to anything or anyone else.”
“Perfect. Now, what are your views on the NHS?”
“Filthy beds, nurses who can’t speak English, incubators of diseases in the feckless and workshy underclasses…it’s a socialist sham, political correctness gone bloody barmy.”
“Do you enjoy any sexual practices that might be considered deviant or indecent?”
“It depends what you mean sir. I sometimes do enjoy a bit of dress-up with a couple of dirty escorts…”
“What do you dress up as?”
“Well you know, errr…. officers from the Waffen-SS, that kind of thing? I like the escorts to dress up in those stripy blue-pyjamas like the whatsits used to wear, though I prefer it best when they play camp guards, and give me a ruddy good hiding…”
“Yes, that’s quite enough, thank you. From what you have just relayed to me, I think I’ve found just the right opportunity. Have you ever thought about going into politics?”
“I don’t know the first thing about politics.”
“That’s not a problem. This is the job description,
‘Can you persuade a captive audience that the sky is green and the grass is red, in total sincerity? Could you then persuade that same audience that the sky was in fact red, and that you had never said it was green, and that only lunatics and political-correctness-gone-mad would say such a thing, still in total sincerity? If so, we want to hear from you. We are a very prominent media and infrastructure conglomerate that seeks a representative of our commercial interests in national and international government. Candidates must be confident communicators and networkers, able to immediately suss and indulge whatever mirage each demographic wishes to hear. Connections to major financial institutions and journalists, preferably through school or university, are essential to succeeding in this role. The successful candidate need not possess political views of their own, but must be able to consistently represent the interests of aggressive entrepreneurialism throughout the echelons of civil decision-making and policy. This is a customer-facing role, dealing with a potentially hostile electorate: experience of plying gullible and self-centred groups (e.g. shareholders) with greedy incentives and appeals to maudlin sentimentality (morals, patriotism, etc.) is essential and we will expect previous experience in this area. Although we are an equal opportunities employer, we are only recruiting candidates from a white British male background who have been privately-educated and have attended either Oxford or Cambridge university.’ ”
A wry smile had crept up onto the side of his face, beneath his buttoned lips. “I suppose it could be a possibility,” he offered, after a few moments silence.
“As I thought. Let’s give them a call now”.
The press room of Q.- MediaCorp was now dangerously full. Beneath a palisade of microphones, the MP could see a small army of interns arrowing about, attempting to persuade journalists at the front to part with their seats in order to accommodate more reporters into the room.
The MP for Thorpeswaite and West Cumleigh had become something of a ‘rockstar figure’ in British politics, and had charmed much of the apathetic electorate. His aristocratic brashness, cheeky contempt for parliament’s ‘bureaucratic bobbycock’ – his term – and his almost mercenary approach to flogging the interests of large corporations and financial institutions had won over hearts and minds. Here at last that here was a politician who could be trusted, to the sense that he made little effort to conceal his untrustworthiness – “we can trust him about that at least, that’s honest of some sort!” was often the feedback reported from focus groups. In particular, he had consistently advocated for the Q.- MediaCorp, which had first funded his electoral campaign into a safe countryside seat, followed by an aggressive promotional campaign which had smeared his rivals to the point where he was parachuted into the role of Energy Minister in the current government. Rumours circulated, usually via Q.- MediaCorp channels, that he could be the next Prime Minister.
One his PAs approached him from behind the stand, he could never remember her name, but she had a great figure. Pert. Absolutely lovely. She was fretting about some complaint by one of the local constituents about their right to die from some dreadful condition. He brushed her away with that same gesture of her hand. “Can you sort it”. It was much easier having the secretaries run the salons and business of the constituencies, as he later boasted at one of his expensive dinners.
The MP had successfully obstructed a Commons bill with a rambling four-hour speech. The rambling series of generally unrelated peregrinations and autobiographical anecdotes had often bordered on farce, forcing the eventual end of the session, causing a scandal. The press were already calling it ‘Ballsgate’ on account of his frequent use of that offensive term. “Balls in a tea-cup!”, he announced.
A bill had proposed to set up an independent commission that would establish further committees, staffed by impartial experts, to effectively re-regulate financial services, property and currency transactions, as well as media and information fairness. “More quangos! More red-tape! Not in my name!” he shouted again, a bead of white froth gathering below his lower lip.
He was repeating the slogans from an ambient media campaign his team had used with a popular West End advertising agency, which utilised revolutionary-looking street stencils and a viral video game to attack red-tape and monstrous bureaucrats. “Simple. Rip a new orifice in the liberals, and fuck them into unconsciousness.” said the young marketing woman behind the campaign.
“Sir, does the torpedoing of the bill related in any way to Q.- MediaCorp’s proposed buyout and takeover of the BBC?”
“Pure coincidence. Next?”
“Sir, footage was leaked out yesterday that recorded you selling lands across the country to an international luxury property construction firm, land which had previously been used for school-playing fields, public parks, and former nursing homes. How do you respond to charges that you’re just a stooge for big business?”
“The era of top-down government Whitehall dictatorships is over! Next question!”
“But sir, those lands were sold without prior consultation or even official approval.”
“I have no memory of that. I will request my lawyers investigate. You?”
“Ballsgate has seen your popularity spike ten points higher than the prime minister. Can we expect you to stand as leader in next year’s election?”
“It’s certainly something we’ve been considering. That’s it, thank you!”
After the press conference, the Rt. Hon. S.-P.- was dining that evening with the head of a major petrochemicals company, some favoured journalists and MPs, and a couple of advisers. “You’ll be leading this country by the next summer, I count on it,” said the oligarch. “How do you do it?”
“It’s just like banking. All I do is sell other people’s property at inflated value to my friends, and I get away with it. Money is the only real thing. Eventually everyone, even the doubters, believes that. You know what I say to my liberal critics? I say ‘that’s fine for you to think, but who can disagree with power?’”
“Money, what else could there be?” laughed the oligarch, shaking his head.