Bankers Are People Too, Probably

Am somewhat struggling with getting myself into a routine and finding work. Or as they call it now, ‘sustainable employment’.

A few thoughts on the matter:

  • I am not interested in job competitition. I believe in filling gaps, not treading on others’ toes.
  • Better to focus on one’s uniqueness.
  • Look upon applications as adding a new dish to a menu, however cluttered. You may not be to their taste, or you may be exactly what they want.


One advert asking for freelance reviewers now looks likely to be some kind of scam, possibly where one’s details are used for junk mail. Still, it got me to put together a portfolio of clippings and a CV anyway.

The constant motto of the optimist: ‘Ah well, it’s a lesson learned.’ I just feel I’d like to start earning alongside all the learning, if that’s okay with the world.

Forgotten just how much I’d done over the years: a cover feature for Rock ‘n’ Reel magazine, a column in Select Magazine (the magazine folded before it was printed, but I was still paid), and quite a few full page review columns in Plan B, of films and exotic CD reissues.


To make my life just that little bit less lovely, Lloyds TSB has introduced a monthly £5 ‘usage fee’ for their agreed overdrafts. That’s on top of the £15-£20 monthly interest I’m already paying them for the privilege of being in the red. I’m on the dole, so paying off an overdraft isn’t possible until I get a regular wage again.

Stupid thing is, I paid off the overdraft when I last had a job, eighteen months ago. I was in the black. And it felt… unnatural to me. Just as cancelling my dole would have felt unnatural. Over the years, both dole & overdraft had muted from being fiscal crutches to actually becoming a part of me. An addiction, of a sort. Like heroin, just less cool and more pathetic. Even more pathetic.

But there’s another reason. Part of my depression manifests itself as a constant self-hating, self-harming voice telling me that I’ll always be like this. That it is my place to be on the dole and in the red from here to the grave. Now, I know this is not true. But it is something I have to struggle with every day, and it’s something that keeps holding me back. Living alone doesn’t help. But right now, just writing this diary entry means today is a success.

I read recently how Andrea Dunbar, the tragic Bradford playwright and subject of the film The Arbor, was taken to court by the dole office: she hadn’t declared her royalties from the film Rita, Sue & Bob Too. I can’t help thinking the same thing applied – a fear of change, even a change for the better. I also think it was why Quentin Crisp never moved out of his rooming house in New York, even though he had the best part of a million dollars in savings.

A phone call to Lloyds reveals the new £5 fee replaces their unauthorised fees for going over agreed limits, which I’m careful to avoid anyway. So effectively it’s a punishment for being good.

Amusingly, the staffer on the phone got quite annoyed with me when I made this point. ‘So it’s all about you, is it?’

Similarly, I was actually told off on Twitter by a financial journalist, for quipping that bailed-out bonus-scoffing bank executives weren’t even good at their job, de facto. Good luck to him if he’s going around Twitter attacking everyone who shares the sentiment.

This kind of unexpected defensiveness – for bankers, footballers and Government alike  – is very much in the news. There’s just been a debate on BBC4 on the ethics of pay, in which the footballer Wayne Rooney’s salary (£10.2million) was compared to that of a care worker (£12,000).

‘Well, he is worth it,’ said a young woman in the audience. ‘He runs about more than a care worker.’

Still, I have to face my own part in my penury. I could have avoided having an overdraft, depression or no.

And just as the Government and I agree that once I start earning the first thing I need to do is cancel my dole, the bank and I know that I need to cancel the overdraft as soon as I clear it.

The good thing about all this is that rather than sit and stew in my own anger, it’s spurred me into making three new applications for work today. This time as a TV & film extra. I’ve sent off photos to The Casting Network, Guys & Dolls, and Ugly.

If it were offered, I’d even appear in an advert for a bank. And that would be me told.

Tags: , ,

MP3 Interlude: McCarthy’s Marxist Loveliness

Second and final week of training at the new job. I’m enjoying the discipline of having to properly take in the world’s press every day, rather than just reading the stories that interest me. I feel like a kind of flaneur sans loisir: a detached but attentive observer, strolling through the day’s boulevards of Fact.

According to the BBC News site, Marxism is back in fashion thanks to the ‘credit crunch’ (a phrase that I promise to never, ever use again).

Amid all this talk of collapsing economic souffles and self-raising unemployment, it seems fitting I’ve managed to suddenly get myself a job, at this time, and in the City too. Fitting also that I’m commuting to Bank on the rush hour Tube, hemmed in by men and women of the fiscal cloth, while I listen to one of my favourite ever bands, McCarthy, on my iPod.

Sample McCarthy song titles:

‘And Tomorrow The Stock Exchange Will Be The Human Race’

‘Use A Bank I’d Rather Die’

‘The Home Secretary Briefs The Forces Of Law And Order’.

‘Can The Haves Use Their Brains?’

‘The Drinking Song Of The Merchant Bankers’

(The iPod’s an obsolete model – but then, aren’t they all, a split-sigh after you’ve left the shop. Cue an HM Bateman cartoon set at Apple Headquarters – ‘The iPod Development Engineer Who Said “If It Ain’t Broken, Don’t Fix It”‘.)

McCarthy were a UK indie group from the late 80s, who married charming & jangly 12-string guitar tunes with viciously satirical Marxist lyrics, often with a dash of roleplay and irony.

I pretty much adore everything they did, but have plumped for offering you this, Dear Reader:  ‘I Worked Myself Up From Nothing’, from their final album ‘Banking, Violence & The Inner Life Today’. The sentiment might be sardonic (an Orwellian take on self-help), but the sheer loveliness of the melody has the very effect that eludes the narrator. A kind of ‘let them eat cake and have it’: 

The track features Laetitia Sadier on Nico-esque extra vocals, perfectly complementing Malcolm Eden’s fetchingly epicene trill. Much as I love Stereolab, the band Mlle Sadier and McCarthy guitarist Tim Gane formed the year after this was recorded, I can’t help wishing they’d stuck with this line-up just that little bit longer. 

‘You have it in you / though there are holes in your shoes’

Actually, there IS genuinely a hole in my shoe, too. I’d fixed it a few weeks ago with Super Glue, but today’s rain made short work of said adhesive’s fabled ‘super’ powers. I need new shoes. Hence, yet again, the job.

[Buy two sublime albums’ worth of McCarthy, via official download, from Cherry Red Records.]

Tags: , ,

Bohemian Miners At The Coalface of News

Saturday – afternoon tea at the Wallace Collection with the Teaists. Service is criminally slow – over an hour and a half till we see our food. ‘Trouble in the kitchen’ apparently. For mere cakes, scones and sandwiches. But they do offer us free wine by way of compensation, and let us waive the tip.

Seventeen at table – a record turn out. Those present include Jamie from the Irrepressibles, Jake, Suzi L, Helen McCookerybook (singer and Monochrome Set associate – my first meeting with her, I think), Sebastian G, Tobias, John Joseph Bibby, David Ryder-P, and Lucinda & William. We are quite a vision to the eldery Ladies Who Tearoom around us, and I’m not sure if they side with the appalled tearoom customers in that Withnail & I ‘finest wines known to humanity’ scene, or if they enjoy us. Either way, we get more than a few stares.

The occasion is Lawrence Gullo’s joint birthday and deportation back to the US, as his work visa has expired, and the retail job he has is not deemed Highly Skilled enough to allow him to stay. A sad case of affairs, and not the first ‘deportation party’ for a much-loved American friend that I’ve been to, either.

There really should be a green card system that recognises Proper Friends in number, in the same way as the points system currently used by the Home Office for determining what is a ‘skilled’ enough job. Prove you have enough UK friends living nearby, those who might as well be family members, who are willing to commit the level of support you’d expect from a spouse (seeing them regularly, rushing to hospital beds,  being by their side when needed etc) and the cumulative ‘Attachment Points’ would count towards an extended stay.

The friends in question would have to pledge their Proper Friendship under oath, and sign a binding contract subject to checks by the Ministry Of Friendship. But that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Goodness knows there’s enough of my friends whose degree of affection I’m never quite sure of. Would they stretch to donating a kidney, or are they happy to keep it at the ‘occasional friendly nod across a crowded bar’ level? It’d be handy to get these things in writing.

It would also help me when someone says ‘Hello Dickon’, and I can’t quite place who they are, or can’t quite remember their name. Which has happened at least once at the New Job.

So: I’ve just completed my first week of Proper Work, taking my place amongst the Bohemian Miners At The Coalface Of News.

How has it been? Surreal.

‘Surreal?’ says Ms D. ‘Hah! Normal work for you is surreal?’

‘REAL for me is surreal…’

It’s been tough, in fact. A shock to the system. A sobering, if salutary experience. I have to brave a packed, surly tube to Tower Hill for 0930. I sit at a computer screen. I scroll past scanned-in pages from national and local newspapers. I use the computer mouse to carefully slice up and duplicate the articles, deciding which ones should be sent to which news-hungry clients. Computers can’t yet fathom the subtleties of context, hence the need for human readers and editors. I repeat until 1345. I take 1 hour lunch. Then I carry on until 1730. With a 15 min coffee break here and there.

It really is pure work, so far. No phone use, no internet use. Not much conversation, either, as the one other nightshift trainee is as keen as me to get as much done as possible, and neither of us know how much counts as Enough.

We’re on the main office floor: umpteen long tables of chairs at screens. And as these two weeks of training are 9 – 5 and Mon – Fri, we’re sharing the room – and part of our table – with the daytime staff. They aren’t unfriendly but there’s a definite sense of separation, putting us in our place as not only mere trainees, but trainees for a completely different staff. So they talk to each other in the usual office way (the economy in crisis, Madonna’s divorce, did you see X TV programme last night, etc), but never including us. Which is fair enough, but it does make the week feel even more surreal than it already is for me.

So I accept my invisibility, and am just getting used to this, while immersing myself in the work, when out of nowhere someone comes over and says ‘Well well well, Dickon Edwards… What brings you here, prithee? How the mighty have risen…’

Or words to that effect. Not quite ‘how the mighty have risen’. That’s me.

This sort of thing has happened about four or five times. Jarring, sporadic bouts of non-invisibility in an otherwise undivided week of feeling like a ghost. Again, the overall word just has to be: surreal.


Thursday was the worse. Thursday I came close to tears. The work, the cold-shower shock of it, the sudden visitations from Friends Of Friends. But Friday was, in fact, fine. A normal Friday feeling, I suppose. And now it’s the weekend and it FEELS like a weekend. Bliss. Freedom. A connection with the working world, albeit a tentative one.

I suppose what I’m experiencing is a kind of jet-lag from crossing one world into another, with no halfway house.


The other trainee seems nice enough. Although he doesn’t know me, he does know the boyfriend of someone I know.

And at Lawrence’s afternoon tea party today, one of the seventeen turns out to be on the same night shift as me.

Anyone who says ‘small world’ at the Bohemian News Mine is immediately directed to the naughty step.


The work must be having an effect on my Ideas production, though. In addition to the Proper Friends contract system for saving much-loved Americans from deportation.

I think it’s about time one should be able to donate Testosterone.

I’m thinking of my dear female-to-male transsexual friends. They want to be physically more manly, and I hate shaving. And I don’t just shave my face. If in the future I ever want a beard, or a hairy chest, I shall just go out and buy one, frankly.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Eve Of Instruction

I’ve been offered a Full Time Proper Job.

Okay, that’s given you time to pick your jaw, and indeed the rest of you, up off the floor. We’ll go on.

My job title is “Reader & Editor, Night Shift”. With a private company that provides tailor-made ‘media monitoring’ services to various clients. Reading news stories on a screen, editing them to fit a morning press pack. Seven nights in row, then seven off, then back again. 10.30pm till 6.30am each night, in a large office building opposite the Tower Of London. Fairly intensive, battery farming-like work, too. (Nightingales: ‘No one here but us chickens’). No one talks or surfs the Net or goes on Facebook. No phones. Only the Work. Reading, typing. Conventional employment that’s not quite conventional.

How much am I being paid? On finding out, my first thought was similar to that moment in Big, when Tom Hanks’s boy in a man’s body gets his first pay check, and yelps out aloud like he’s won the Lottery. The co-worker at the next desk along replies miserably, ‘Yeah. They really screw you don’t they?’

Thanks to the dole, and the long-term dole top-ups one gets just by getting older (a kind of state compensation for being increasingly less pretty) I’m currently living on about £70 a week, after I’ve paid my rent. That has to pay for everything else: food, bills, Internet, phone, travel, dry cleaning, wine, going out and general London living. I’m rather hoping the post-tax wage will be a bit more than that. Lately I keep messing my dole up, overspending in the big Sweet Shop that is London, and having to borrow from friends and family, trying desperately to stop rent cheques from bouncing. Yes, I do know what it feels like to actually starve. It’s no Picnic, or even a Lion Bar. So the thought of more money coming in is very much a relief.

But then I calm down and remember there’s also that initial period of getting used to arrears payment, when you have to work and somehow survive for a month, perhaps more, before the first lot of cash finally comes through. At which point you realise you’ve been deducted Emergency Tax until the Revenue sorts it out. More hoops to jump through. Work really is too much like Hard Work.

But it might be fine. It might turn out to be more money than I thought. I might find it suits me, that I ‘perform’ well (which always has connotations of a seal getting its fish), and have my wages increased. I may even (whisper it) be able to start Saving. And then perhaps I won’t live in a bedsit forever after all. There’s only one way to find out.

(Though, yes, I know… it IS a bedsit in Highgate. It’s all relative.)

Anyway. Money, schmoney, as not nearly enough people in the news are saying right now. There’s another reason why I feel the job will be good for me. For the last year or so, I’ve had all the time in the world, yet I’ve become unproductive to the point of drying up completely. Even my diary entries have become sporadic. With no one else to prod me out of bed, I’ve tried to impose self-discipline, but the little voice in my head that constantly whispers ‘what’s the point?’ and ‘do it tomorrow’ has been winning all too frequently.

Once I have finally convinced myself life is worth getting out of bed for, I’ve found it impossible to settle my mind on doing any one thing. The mere idea that choosing one thing to do – to THINK any one thing, has made me brood on how this means every other possibility is being missed out on. Every alternate thought, every alternate sentence to write, every alternate way of spending the day, the evening, the month, the life. The harsh inevitability that whatever you do, you will miss out on a million other things. The sheer nature of being able to do anything has left me doing nothing at all.

Sounds close like madness, but it’s more a kind of mental build-up. There’s a recent Doctor Who episode where Catherine Tate’s character finds her newly-enhanced mind is starting to come terminally undone, in classic Flowers For Algernon style:

‘You know who I’d like to meet? Charlie Chaplin. I bet he’s great. Shall we, Charlie Chaplin? Charlie Chester, Charlie Brown, no he’s fiction, friction, fiction, fixing, mixing, Rickston, Brixton’. [she gasps]

Well, that’s the way my mind is all the time.

And normally I can work with it, enjoy it, be creative with it. But it needs a slap every now and then. Ideally, administered from somebody else. Hence the job.

My anxiety has also taken a turn towards physical manifestation lately. Though I’m never been a proper self-harmer, I have started to pull manically at my eyebrows when trying to concentrate, plus I’ve developed a severely itchy scalp, for which the doctor has given me both pills and a water-based steroidal balm. I didn’t know you could get pills for an itchy scalp until this week.

The skin on my arms has also become itchy: I keep checking there for insects, even fleas, but never find any. Might just be an allergy, but it does rather sound like just another anxiety outlet. My skin is crawling, and I’m crawling up the walls too. Something has to change. Hence the job. It can only be good for me.

The job will, one hopes, force me out of this rut, and sharpen up my faculties. The work is all about concentration, focus, reading speed, comprehension, English usage, grammar, deadlines. I can do those things. I can be very good at those things. I just need a bit of regular, external coercion to do them every now and then.

So I don’t really see it as just a job. I see it more as a kind of intensive, vocational college course. And I need it.

Training starts tomorrow morning, 10 am. Wish me luck.

Tags: , ,