12.30am, back home in Stoke Newington, ready to fall into bed, 19thAugust 2008
O.K, so the ground didn’t open up and swallow me whole as I wished last night but there is time. Believe me there is still time. Today is the day that I am expected to show up at the local Jobcentre for my pointless meeting with some pathetic excuse for a job title. In fact that ground had better hurry up with my nearest opening.
(FYI: I don’t hate the Jobcentre or the people there, I just resent the fact that this was set up behind my back…wait is that even legal?)
8.30am, same morning, same old house….bleurgh
‘Melanie dear!’ How was the business lunch with that chief executive?’ my mother bawls out from her bedroom across the hall.
‘Fine, Mother, absolutely splendid.’ Melanie replies from her dressing room table in the room next door to me.
‘I may get a position as her new PA if I continue to play my cards right. FellowCambridgegraduates and all.’ I never really understood why she continues to get dressed here when she has her own flat. Senseless I say, senseless. Speaking of which, how come two little words like “credit crunch” don’t affect people like Melanie? Sorry, but it just has to be said. Louboutin heels, suits from Debenhams and hair styled by Nicky Clarke? Shoes from Primark, uniform provided and hair styled by…Morrisons 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner.
What was that theme tune fromMalcolm in theMiddle?#Life is unfair…#. Damn straight.
‘How was your work night Jennifer?
‘It was okay, Mum, just fine.’
‘Are you still at thatsupermarket?!’ sneers Melanie.
‘No, Melanie, I am the Queen’s personal tea-lady because I constantlybrownnosemy way to the top!’ I yell in frustration.
‘That isnoway to talk to your sister, Jennifer!’
Aargh! When will they ever stop bugging me?
‘Mother,I will go to your silly appointment out of politeness, but don’t expect miracles.’
‘Don’t worry, I wont.’ she retorts snidely. She and Melanie laugh in a united front against underachievers everywhere. Harsh.
Thankfully, I am not at work today so I have the whole day to sit and prepare my CV and put on my one and only business suit to try and master the impossible feat of impressing my family and landing a semi-decent job. Or maybe I should just try to muck up my mother’s efforts to get me another job to prove a point. Cut my nose to spite my face, you might say. Ah well, it will be fun and besides my nose is kinda long anyway.
Same place, same time. Does anyone know the Doctor?
‘BA in Drama & English, Queen Mary, University of London, 2002-2005.’
Immediately, I imagine the recruitment consultant saying to me: ‘English and Drama could restrict you in terms of potential jobs. There are lots of jobs available that you wont be qualified for because of your degree choice.’ Well, sorry mate, but debt and time stop me doing every degree imaginable.
‘2005-present, Customer Service Assistant, Sainsbury’s Dalston,Kingsland Road,LondonE8 .’
‘Why have you wasted all your time at university to become a checkout girl?’
Oh shut up you stupid voice! People are out there getting rejected by McDonalds and Lidl and you expect me to turn my nose up at work. Idiot.
Hobbies, interests and personal interests are vital to allow me flesh out my CV. Well a girl’s gotta make use of drama societies and newspaper internships, right? Funny how those never really materialised into anything. Compared to Melanie, though, with her music, ballet and MENSA, my hobbies look paltry. As always. She beats me at everything! Brains, beauty and boyfriends. And she doesn’t let me forget it either. Her last relationship broke up right after she started climbing the corporate ladder six months ago, whereas I haven’t seen any light at the end of that particular tunnel for near on two years. Not that flirtation with your rather cute colleague is a relationship, but who splits hairs on a balding head?
2.00pm, still here.
Styling my titian hair as best as possible, I put on my black suit with the green silk shirt mother dearest bought for me in the H&M Christmas rush. I was actually grateful to her for it because it contemplates my eyes until I found out it was a two for one offer. Surprisingly she didn’t give to Melanie as I thought she would, because with their identical brunette hair and dark eyes, it would have made her look even more attractive than men normally find her, but I guess it was her idea of trying to help me attract a man. Oh well. Silly of me to think that I would get a beautiful and expensive shirt simply for being alive.
2.45pm, Tottenham Road, Dalston, Hackney, East London
Standing near Oxfam, waiting to cross the road to the Jobcentre is not something I thought I would do in sunshine, let alone the pouring rain. Would you believe that when I left the house, its sunny as can be…for about five seconds. I don’t have an umbrella (surprise, surprise) and now my titian hair resembles damp dog than potential L’Oreal goddess. I’m guessing I’m not worth it. I’m too busy thinking this and don’t realise that the green man’s on and I’m staring into space like an idiot. Nothing’s changed then. Finally get across the road to find that the door is extremely heavy. Oh, I see. It’s pull not push.
A strong musty smell hits me on the way in and incessant chatter, ringing of phones and doors creaking assault my senses.
‘Good afternoon, I have a 3 o clock appointment for a consultation.”
‘Who is it with please?’ asks the bored looking man on the other side of the screen.
‘Umm, I’m not sure, my mother made the appointment for me.’
No change in demeanour.
‘Take a seat please.’
Here we go. Fifteen to twenty minutes of staring at either the stained blue carpet or the cream walls with posters such as ‘Jobcentre are here to help you find your brand new job today.’ More like, ‘Jennifer is here today to stop her mother from bawling her out and crowing on about her wonderful, charming, beautiful ‘Stepford Wife’ sister. Gosh, one day, one DAY, I will show them. I swear I will show them that I can-
‘Good afternoon, my name is Justin Collins and I’m going to be your recruitment advisor.’
- be exactly who I want to be, when I want to be and no one-
‘Justin…Collins…your…personal…recruitment…advisor.’ the man says to me as if I’m a little bit slow.
‘I…I’m Jennifer Woods. Sorry about that, I was daydreaming and plotting…’ I pause as he looks at me as if I’m a few forks short of a full cutlery set.
‘That’s probably why you are sitting there instead of at work…where do you work anyway?’
‘Sainsbury’s Dalston.’ I say as he leads me over to his desk in the furthest corner of the open plan office. ‘It’s not meant to be a forever job, it just…’ My voice falters as I realise that he isn’t asking to be friendly. Hell no. Not at all.
‘Well, you’re hardly going to be Prime Minister in this place, are you? You’re not such a big cheese, yourself.’
‘Touché, Miss Woods, Touché. I can understand why you might be resentful, a little bit hurt, perhaps, yet I am sure you can see it’s for your own benefit.’
‘Yeah, right. MY benefit. She just hates that she can’t boast about two daughters at family gatherings. “Well Melanie is at JP Morgan, don’t you know. Yes, yes, first at Cambridge. She was always a mover and shaker. Jennifer? Uh, well, yes, well Jennifer is at…well, she’s a checkout girl”’
‘Well, if it is any consolation to you…I can actually understand…’
‘Don’t tell me. You feel my pain. You understand
the cross I bear. You’re glad you don’t have my
life. Save it, Mr Collins and let’s get this over
and done with.’
‘If that’s what you really want.’ He sniffs as if
he was hard done by.
5 minutes later, Tottenham Road, Dalston, Hackney, East London
‘You’re educated to degree level with experience in
a customer facing role and a hardworking attitude.
Your references are superb, so I think you stand
an OK chance in the job market right now.
‘OK? Is that it?’
‘Well, under normal circumstances, I would say you
had an excellent chance, but we are in a global
Wait, this story is meant to end in happily ever
after, not tales of economic downturn and job loss.
Just who is writing this here story anyway?
‘I do however have two openings, which may suit
you. They won’t actually be high-flyers yet, but
I’m sure there is room for promotion in due
We tentatively smile at each other in recognition
of my little jab at his earlier catchphrase.
‘The first is an in-house receptionist role at
Andrews And Bagwell, the architecture firm, and the
other is at Trayman’s & Co, the law firm.”
‘If it isn’t too much trouble, can I be put forward for
both of those jobs?’
‘Sure you can. Just allow me to photocopy your CV, give
HR a call and then fax both companies a copy each.’
As Justin Collins walks away, I begin a feel apprehensive
about the possibilities ahead. Interviews mean smart
dress and appropriate experience. Neither of which, I
have. As usual, I have allowed myself to be railroaded
into things by mother and now I’m lampooned. Oh bugger.
Justin’s back and he’s making phone calls. All I can see
is his mouth and hands working almost in slow motion as
my status as job candidate is cemented in concrete.
Justin catches my eyes and passes a note.
I actually DO understand. I have a girlfriend whose family all give me grief because
I am not an Earl, Baron or MP. Her dad’s politician, her mother is a magistrate and
her two brothers lay for some Premier league team or other. A worker at a Jobcentre is
never going to be good enough for their little girl and they let me know it. It’s only a
matter of time before Zara gets the hint and leaves me in the dust. But I love her and
that’s what matters.
How he managed to write all that before he got off the
phone is beyond me, but it makes me smiles all the same.
‘So you have a nightmare family too? Join the club.’
‘Ha! Well, I did tell you I understood.’
‘Yeah, I know…look this might be a bit awkward…actually,
you know what…forget it.’
‘Want to go for a drink sometime?’
My jaw drops. ‘But you have a girlfriend?!’
‘I know, and she comes with a nightmare family. You have
one of your own and that’s reason enough to commiserate
in my book.’
I grin. ‘When you put it like that, I’d love to.’
Seems like we’re back to the shy phase. No idea why.
‘Well, Mr Justin…’
‘Justin…my name. It’s Justin.’
‘Hi Justin. It’s Jennifer.’ I say, shy smile still
sitting on my lips.
‘Well, I have your number. I know it’s wrong.’
‘Oh! No, it’s O.K. At least you told me. Bit wrong if you
didn’t, but yeah.’
‘Can I call you?’
‘For that drink? You’d better.’
The ice instantly breaks and we laugh as good friends. As
we make our goodbyes and I walk towards the suddenly
appearing sunshine, it seems Fates has called my number.