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.