Down at the Dole Office: A Lighthearted Look at Signing On! Part Three #DWProud

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It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, it was the summer of love of 1995 …

Everyone, one hopes, has at least one summer of love that is all their own.  At such times, one walks on air, the simple becomes sublime, every day is sunny and it really is a good time to be alive.  During that summer of 1995, one was infatuated.  One chooses one’s words with care.  One likes one’s ears unboxed, one’s face unslapped, one’s jaw undislocated and one’s dangly bits unbruised.  However, one thought the following anecdote worthy of recounting.

During that glorious summer, I was part of a four strong External Relations Team made up of two female Marketing Officers, one male Disability Employment Adviser and yours truly, an Inner City Officer.  We were based at Washwood Heath Jobcentre, but outstationed for a while at the old Sparkbrook Unemployment Benefit Office on Armoury Road as our home office was partially rebuilt.

Our patch was almost coterminous with that of  the Hodge Hill Parliamentary Constituency and our employer base was over 800 businesses.  A handful of our businesses were large, employing thousands of people, but most were quite small in comparison and some of the larger ones of those included local schools and a Department of Social Security Office amongst their number.  One company with whom we were working closely that summer was Tasty Bake, one of the UK’s leading sausage manufacturers.

Tasty Bake had been having problems with high staff turnover with many staff leaving soon after they started work with the company.  Making sausages was well paid work, but it was proving not to be to the taste of many of the new recruits.  One of the two Marketing Officers (no name, no pack weighted down with rocks drill) had successfully persuaded Tasty Bake to use Work Trials to ensure that those they wished to take on and who wished to work for them would be able to cope with working in a sausage factory.

We had to regularly visit the business to monitor the Work Trials, pay travel expenses and meal allowances as well as discuss with the owners as to how well matters were progressing.  During the height of the summer of 1995, I took over those duties whilst my marketing colleagues were on annual leave.  As a consequence, one glorious sunny day I had to I walk the ‘mean’ streets of Alum Rock from the Jobcentre to Tasty Bake, Panama hat on head and wearing a lightweight suit, a man who was not himself mean, who was neither tarnished nor afraid … the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world (with due apologies to Raymond Chandler).

On arrival at the company, my up beat self image nose dived almost as soon as I was ushered in to meet the management.  Their sense of disappointment at my appearance was palpable.  Concern was expressed about why my colleague (and friend) was not there.  I am sure their concern for her health was genuine, up to a point.  My colleague, to quote Mr Chandler again, “was (and is) a blonde.  A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained-glass window.”  I am many things, but aesthetically pleasing I am not!

On returning to the office, I remarked to the Vacancy Section Supervisor that I was seriously considering hiring a blonde wig and wearing it, along with a skirt suit next time I went to visit Tasty Bake.  The feedback I received from my colleague was less than complimentary and something was said about my needing to shave my legs …

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