Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Anything to declare?

Honesty is own reward. It's an unusual expression isn't it? There's not really anything positive about it. At best the "reward" part would seem to come from a sense of self-satisfaction about not being a criminal, as if the only thing stopping people from ram-raiding and cat rape is a thin skin of smugness that could break at any moment, like water tension, sending you down into the depths of vice and venality.

And it's not true, either, there is no reward for honesty. Honesty is about giving stuff away; handing back the wallet, returning the heiresses' finger.

I decided to declare the writing I'm doing. Now that I'm actually being paid to write, it seemed dishonest to not declare it to the JSA. People begged me not to do it, pleaded with me. One of them, surprisingly, was the chap in the Jobs and Benefits office, who looked me as if I were mad when I first brought it up and, as the realisation dawned that I was serious, took on the grey pallor of a man who has suddenly got a lot of paper-work to do. It's a look I recognise.

So, we waded through the admin, it took over half an hour, and at the other end I was no longer a job-seeker but a self-employed. Now, I was nervous. I've had the promise of money for my writing but no actual money yet. And when I get it it wont be very much. So I need my dole if I want to eat and occasionally I do. But the JSA guy, who was now my best friend, assured me that it shouldn't make any difference, whatsoever. So I left with a modicum of self respect. It was official: I was a writer, a pro. Even the government would back me up on that!

And on Friday no cheque came. And on Saturday no cheque came. On Sunday, well obviously, no cheque came, but on Monday still no cheque came. My declaration of financial independence, or at least semi-detachment, had been a balls. I phoned them. The woman dealing with my case (I was a case!)was at lunch. She would ring me back. She did. She had been off. Somebody had put a load of stuff in her in tray while she had been off, on top of my new info. It was still there but as I had rang her she would deal with it now. Of course, if I hadn't rang her it would still be languishing in her over-stuffed in-tray and I would be pressing my nose up against the butcher's window like the stray dog I am. The cheque would be ready at 2 if I wanted to pick it up.

So, my pointless honesty had cost me a phone call but saved the government the price of a stamp.

Oh, and the cheque wasn't "ready". I still had to take a deli-style ticket and sit there for half an hour watching a plasma screen with my back to the staff (presumably so they don't feel they're in a bar-less zoo). I was the only one there who didn't smell of drink. Which is odd for me, but it was early.

When my name was called, because of the ingenious seating plan, I had no idea who called it. So I toured up and down the cubicles asking who had called me until one woman, who never made eye contact with me, constantly staring over my shoulder and occasionally rising out of her seat, as though I were about to be attacked from behind, handed my bi-weekly stipend having given my passport a cursory glance (though she didn't bother to tally it with my face).

So much for my new-found self-reliance and self-esteem. I then went for a long walk and trod in a dog-shit for the first time in my life, as normally my poo-dar is very good, but that, at least, was comical. Not to me obviously. But to the gaggle of schoolgirls who saw me do it it was a hoot.

Little man, what now?

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