Sunday, 18 December 2011

And so this is Christmas and I am undone...

I'm going to take a wee break from here for a while. Merry Christmas and a happy New Year. I'm well out of this year.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

This last month I've had a crisis in confidence about my writing, mainly because I read some of it and it seemed a bit shit. The one person I trusted to be massively right about everything, whose judgement I trusted, is gone. How does a mind like Kelly's just stop? Where do those thoughts go? What happens to the machinery of that one, unique, impossible brain? Some of her is in me, some of her in everyone she met, she was walking osmosis. But not enough. Never enough.

I'm sitting on my own in a comedy club. I'm two hours early because I was told it started at 8, when in fact that when the doors open. The first act, and I'm here for the last act, doesn't come on till 9. In front of me is an old Belfast Empire poster for a play called "The Black Moth". There is no significance in this. But I choose to see some significance regardless. The last thing in life you would want to be associated with are moths. But there you go - I don't suppose either of us get a choice anymore.

The wind was brutal on my way into town. I saw one of those pinky-party-cowboy-hats lying in the dirt by some railings, its string chin-strap snapped. Sometimes life is so tawdry and obvious it looks like a bad movie. The dog shit parked in the rain outside the job centre the next morning was much more like it.

The Empire is showing "Holiday Inn" and playing Jeff Buckley over the top of it as an appropriate patina of gloom. I feel the Bing Crosby looks, a miserable bastard in a sanatorium. In fact we're of a type: bell-shaped, short-legged Micks with big ol' noggins. He's better dressed than me though, an oily Kramer in a colourful panelled cardy, gull-winged collars and pleated slacks. I'm in my uniform: black shirt, jeans, Doc Martens. There are Nazi-boot boys with a more outré sense of style than me.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Some nice words from my friend, Kathryn.

Our friend, Kelly – the wife of my friend John – was an extraordinary person. Firstly, let me tell you now – somewhat shallow of me, I know – that she was a true Irish beauty, a knockout: long dark hair, a wide smile... But she also possessed an interior beauty. Witty, clever, eccentric, steel in her strength. She was genuine loveliness and true grit. And there in her eyes, something deeper again: the record of a pilgrim soul. We met her when she fell in love with John. They enjoyed marvellous interplay. John’s incredible sense of humour was matched in an ideal partner. They adored one another. But Kelly discovered, not long into their marriage, that she had cancer. She approached her illness with great dignity and courage. I remember her – kindly, but very firmly – swatting my emotion when we shared coffee and pastries one day. She had no time for such saccharin. A true fighter, she kept her paws up. But cancer is no respecter of love or value, and, tragically, in July of this year, Kelly lost her battle. The order of things seemed disturbed. It was incredible that someone young and utterly gorgeous and productive and so important to so many could be lost, and lost so ruthlessly. But it happened. I knew Kelly for too short a time. But she made a big impact. Such is the power of the rare person. You rocked, Kelly.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Stranger in a Strang land.

In Strangford. It's very beautiful, the sort of beauty that only the wealthy can enjoy. Or people like me enjoying a cheap holiday in other people's happiness. I'm here for the filming of "The Beautiful Silence", a fifteen minute short that I've been calling "a ghost story without the ghost" in the hope that it would catch on. So far it hasn't. The location is director Adam's dad's house and it is the second nicest house I've ever been in. The nicest, and that isn't really the correct word, belonged to a homosexual South African millionaire vintner. During my brief say there Vogue turned up to use his garden as a photographic location and Earl Spencer popped over for lunch. That's Princess Diana's brother. Who was, rather annoyingly, quite nice.

But Adam pere's pile is pretty impressive. For one thing it appears to be be four houses in one, like the Beatles' groovy pad in "A Hard Days Night". There is an ornamental garden on three levels, with a coy carp pond and a fountain. There are books on Chinese erotic art, statues of Saint Sebastian and the single largest collection of antique binoculars I have ever seen. (Though I promise to swing by the "Museum of Binoculars" next time I'm in Tring.)

It is the home of a well to do middle-aged Bohemian and as such my dream home. I will never live anywhere like it, of course. The appropriate accumulation of wealth should have started already and it hasn't. But hey, I'm a pretty hand-to-mouth kind of guy. It's the shortest journey after all.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

All apologies

A phone-call from a girl called Clare this morning. She assayed a sort of triumphalist bark "Everything has been sorted, Mr Higgins," and respond to non response by crumbling into meek contrition. My brooding, masterful silence is really foggy-headedness - I've only been up for ten minutes to put the bins out and haven't had a cup of tea yet. Still, it seemed to work better than my usual hand-ringing on-the-edge-of-emotional-collapse thing, as she offers me a whole range of payment options, whichever suits me.

I elect to go in. The cheque will be waiting at 11.30.

The flat-screen telly, subtitled and with the sound down, is showing one of those travelling-in-a-police-van-with-the-police-as-they-arrest-drunks-and-the-mentally-ill programmes. They used to show these things as three in the morning post-pub time waster on ITV twenty years ago. They are now a fit for the BBC1 antiques in the attic slot. I've never really watched one these things before but here, in the Job Centre, or whatever it's called, The Labour Exchange, the programme takes on an oppressive and, yes Orwellian, property. Poor people, it says, Dole scum, do not attempt to commit any crimes. You will be tracked down, you will be humiliated on national television. In the future only the innocent will have their faces pixilated. Their bodies, in an oddly puritan gesture, remain guilty as sin.

The chap behind the desk is a nervous type and apologise for the wait twice before I've sat down. I glower at him. I am terse, my voice a low rumble. I question everything he says, pointing out things on the form. I tell him the money's a week late. He apologises again. I tell him its a shambles and not good enough. He apologises again. I say, is this it now? Are there any more forms to fill in any more nasty surprises. He apologises again - even though that's not really the response I'm after. That's it, no more problems, plain sailing from now on. I laugh a hollow miserable laugh, like Byron looking in the window of Jones the Bootmaker. He apologises.

He hands me the cheque and I leave. Somehow I think I got played. I think they put their best man on it. Nobody died today.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Skip this one

I'm not sure there's any point in continuing to write about this. It's just every post. Not getting any money from the Job and Benefits office is now my full time career.

Sigh. So, when we last left them, on Friday, a sad faced woman was promising me a phone-call to confirm when/how/what was going to happen for my new "part time worker" payment status. You'll recall that they were supposed to pay me on Friday but instead sent me a new form to fill in which needed to be completed before they would give me any money. So I filled it in and hand delivered it, making sure that it had been completed correctly. I became very emotional, simultaneously furious and embarrassed, and on the verge of tears. The woman assured me that though she couldn't do anything on Friday she would make sure that sure that I was phoned as soon as a decision had been made. What decision, I asked? Is there a possibility that they were considering NOT giving me any money. No, no, it's just a formality. Well then the form has been filled in, as per your instruction, can I have some money now? No, I'm afraid you'll have to wait till Monday at the very earliest. Well...anyway...I go for an angry walk etc.

It's Monday morning. The phone rings at 9 on the dot. I scamper towards it. It's a recorded message talking slowly in a dead voice about a bank loan. It is not the JBO. The phone doesn't ring again. At half three I buckle and I ring them myself. I get through to a woman who asks me my name and national insurance number. She asks me what the problem is. She doesn't know anything about my case. It is the best kept secret in modern government. No wikileaks scandal here. I say I'm expecting a phone-call. She says what about. I grit my teeth and explain again. She puts me on hold. For five minutes. When she comes back she says I WAS meant to be called but the person who was due to do the calling didn't come in. Why could nobody else have called me? She ignores this and tells me that a decision has been made - I am now classed as a self-employed part-time worker. I tell her I know that already, where's my money? She seems slightly crest fallen as if her meticulous magic-trick had fallen flat. There is no money yet. The person doing the money isn't there. Well, I say, is there anyone there who can get me some money. There isn't. Can I speak to the supervisor. She isn't there. Can I have her e-mail address? I'm not sure I'm permitted to give out her e-mail address, Mr. Higgins. Isnt is a standard, governmental e mail address, I'm not after her private one. You can have mine, she says, and I'll forward it onto her. Well if I know her name and have the body of her e-mail address, surely I can just transpose her name onto your address and I'll have her direct e mail address. Er, please don't do that. You can ring her tomorrow. Surely, you mean she'll ring me, I say. If you like. What's your number? What? We have your land-line but we don't have your mobile. Do you have a mobile?

I hit the roof. I have given my mobile number about five times. The last time I did so being on the prior Friday. I start ranting like a mad man again and I'm periodically interrupted with her assertion that she "understands my frustration". I tell her she does not. She doesn't know the first thing about my life. She doesn't know anything about me other than my surname and national insurance number. And through it all, and at one point I stop even listening to what she is saying, pulling the phone away from my ear, I start to feel ridiculous. I start to think this isn't her fault. She's covering for someone else. She's doing the best she can with limited information and limited intelligence. I start to feel sorry for her.

And this is clearly wrong. I shouldn't feel sorry for her. It doesn't matter that it's not her fault. What matter's is that it is no ones fault. No one has done anything. Except, as usual, me. There has been no accountability, no one has apologised. Everyone has said this is somebody else's mistake but nobody has ever attempted to fix that mistake. So, tomorrow, a week after I've signed on, or whatever you call applying for money as a part-time worker, I shall ring them again. And no doubt become very very angry again. When I declared my self a part time worker I didn't think the work I would be doing would be begging for alms. But I'm doing a lot more of that than writing at the moment.

I may need to invoice them.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Friday, 2 December 2011

Back in the DHSS

There is a sign up in the Jobs and Benefits Office asking the patrons: "Please do not let children play unsupervised at the revolving door." Supervised play at the revolving door is fine, though.

Another sign says: "Benefit payment by cheque is ending! Payment into an account is our normal method of payment." Now, that's interesting. When I first applied for this business they asked me how I would like the money paid and I said into my account, providing them with my bank details. They sent me a cheque anyway. Of course that was in the good old days when they actually sent me cheques. Now they send me forms about boat owner-ship.

I'm eighth in the queue, waiting to hand in the form that they forgot to get me to fill originally and which is now stopping me getting any further monies.

I wait a half an hour. I am seen. They fuck me over. I shout again.

Sitting in a pub called The Lonely Poet. it has an un-poetic clientèle, mainly old blokes in anoraks, but there Italian film posters on the walls and Dave Bowie on the jukebox, so it suits me. if you're going to advertise yourself as a pub for lonely poets you have to expect one to turn up every once in a while.

I walked directly from the job and benefits centre, still railing at them as I pound the streets in the drizzle. I'm looking for a dentist called cherry valley in a place called Gilnahirk. I have never been before but I have printed off and filled in their form and found out where they are on the map. The walk is between two and three miles and I'm angry enough to enjoy it. I fully expect to get lost as I always get lost. In fact I don't. I follow my route exactly and it is where I thought it would be . The fact that it is closed is neither here nor there. So it has an unadvertised half-day on Friday which is not mentioned on the web-site, so I will have to repeat this trip again on Monday. So what? I don't expect anything to actually go right or offer me the slightest convenience. I've been doing this shit for forty years. I know what to expect. What matters is that I've found it, and then I found the The Lonely Poet. I set out to do something and I did it. That is not nothing. In my life, that is something.

The best short story that I have ever written is now on Jottify, the new writing site that is rubbish. The story is called "Desire Path". I wrote it for the Guardian short-story competition where it came nowhere. But still I worked hard on it and was very proud of it. It is by some margin the least popular thing I have ever posted on there. I think I might take it down again. Pettily.

The Lonely Poet is an odd pub. It's a glass box with Flintstone-style period brick-work and Italian sex comedy posters on the walls. the beer choices are the normal local drops: Harp, Carlsbad, Smithwicks, but they also sell Hendricks' gin which is always the mark of a classy bar. In my mind. The place is starting to fill up with an after-work Christmassy crowd. I don't think I'll stick around for a second pint.
Sigh. Well I admit it. They were right. Declaring myself "self-employed" to the JSA was the stupidest thing I have ever done. They BEGGED me not to, but I knew best. What difference would it make? It's not like I've been paid or anything. What could they do me for? So, I filled in the forms. And they never paid me. I rang them, they found my cheque and asked me to come and pick it up. A week late. The next time I signed-on they asked me to come in a day early, so they could strike, so I did and filled in a load more forms. This morning, when the cheque was supposed to have been sent, they sent me another form asking me to fill in my name, address, national insurance number, which they clearly need despite it being on every form I've ever filled in (about twenty of them by now) and addressing every question to me "and my partner" as an extra dig in the balls. They needed to know whether I was a fisherman with my own boat and exactly what kind of farmer I would describe myself as.

I rang them to find out whether I needed to fill it in given that a) any relevant information required had already been given on my various other forms and b)I don't own my own boat.

I was told that not only did I have to fill in the form but that I wouldn't be getting any money until it had been returned and processed. Despite them having already paid me one weeks worth of cash with less information on my sea-worthiness. How long will that take? I ask. They didn't know, maybe by the middle of next week if I hand the form in personally. So I ask why wasn't I asked to fill in the form while I was already there, filling in the other forms? It was a mistake. A mistake made by another department.

So I shouted, gentle reader, I shouted and I was rude. And I hung up. And then I filled in the form. Again.