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The Comedy of Errors

A Canadian In New Basford on Recession

29 June 08 words: Rob Cutforth
illustrations: Rob White

"I look at these people and think, 'God, how can I be unemployed when that dude's got a job?'"

What’s that, a recession you say?

In the past month, my wife and I both got made redundant from our jobs. ‘Made redundant’ is an interesting British expression. Being colonial, if a word has more than two syllables, I’m pretty lost. I look it up in my trusty thesaurus:
 
re·dun·dant
  1. excessive; useless; superfluous, tautologous.
Well, there’s nothing worse than being tautologous, I always say. Even my spell checker doesn’t know what tautologous means. While you are looking at my ‘tautologous’ on a freshly printed LeftLion page, I am looking at it on my computer screen complete with bright red squiggle underneath it. However, there is a red squiggle underneath LeftLion as well, so what does it know anyway?
 
My eyes are naturally drawn to the only two-syllable word in the list and I gotta tell you, I’m not exactly thrilled by it. If there is one thing the English don’t do, it’s mince words. I cringe every time I’m in a pub and someone asks where the ‘toilet’ is. You might as well point at your ass and say ‘me need dump!’ If you ask where the ‘bathroom’ or ‘restroom’ is, it leaves a bit of mystery in the question. As far as the bartender is concerned, I’m simply going to have a little rest, get away from it all for a bit. He doesn’t need to know that my insides are at Def Con One after fourteen Stellas and a vindaloo.
 
Applying that same brash vernacular to someone who’s just lost their job is a touch heartless. ‘Why don’t I work here anymore?’ ‘Because you’re fucking useless, that’s why, asshole.’ Bloody Brits, you can’t just blurt it out like that, you’ve gotta finesse it a little. Saying you got ‘laid off’ by your employer, like we do in Canada, might just get you a high five from your buddies.
 
I've never been unemployed before. It’s an interesting experience. The first week of being made useless, you just walk around in a kind of delightful fog. You’re not sure what the future holds, it’s almost like being a student again. I’m not held down by some nine-to-five job anymore! The world is my oyster!
 
I put my resume up on Monster, built a portfolio website (I’m a Flash Developer when I’m not writing, by the way – nudge, nudge) and signed up to a number of job agencies. The second week of being made useless is even better than the first week. During the second week, your phone rings off the hook with recruiters trying to get you to move to London. Holy Cow, the movers and shakers in the big smoke heard about little ol’ me? Wow! Golly gee!
 
You get cocky in week two. I know what I’ll do, I’ll start asking for more money than I was making in my old job, yeah! Surely, if they want me down in big-time-hotshot-centre-of-the-universe London, I must be damn good.
 
Week three is a wake-up call. The calls from the keen recruiters peter out and you start getting calls from the crap ones. Recruiters with chavvy Mancunian accents calling to ask if you have a clean driving record and forklift experience. Um, yikes.
 
Walking around town when you’re unemployed sucks. Drinking your crappy builder’s tea from Wimpy’s, watching the employed people laughing and drinking Starbucks lattes. I hate employed people. I look at these people and think, ‘God, how can I be unemployed when that dude’s got a job? He’s got a smoker’s cough, a limp and he’s missing a front tooth for God’s sake. The lucky bastard! I wonder how much selling fruit pays?’
 
I hate other unemployed people even more. Big, fat women pushing prams overflowing with brats, little pink pieces of slutty underwear peaking out of the tops of their track pants, gripping a copy of Closer magazine. You know you’ve hit rock bottom when you are reading discount tabloid magazines. Those things should be treated like porno mags, covered in foil and placed out of the reach of children. I would rather be caught with a copy of Ass Tickling Coochie Smoochers than one of those horrible things.
 
I went down to the Job Centre Plus to see if they could help me. What’s the ‘Plus’ all about? It sounds like a name devised by an ad agency. I can imagine a group of twenty-somethings with designer eyewear sitting around a large table discussing how to make unemployment ‘hip’. Good thing it wasn’t just called a ‘Job Centre’, that would be far too gloomy. That ‘Plus’ on the end really helps me forget that I may be out in the street soon eating cat food out of a tin. God, I feel better already. In fact, I feel like doing a little pompom dance. Job Centre PLUS! SISS BOOM BAH!
 
It almost makes me forget just how shit the dole (yet another delightful British term) is in this country. Back home if you get made useless, you receive 55% of whatever your salary was. It’s not a lot of money, but it’s enough to get you by until you find another job. I go to the Job Centre Plus website expecting to see something similar. I click through the site and find this line: ‘Person aged 25 or over: £60.50’. Wow, they pay daily in England? How efficient! Um, wait, that’s per week. Two hundred and forty-two measly pounds per month. That’s wonderful; that will cover just over a quarter of my mortgage.
 
That’s when the panic starts to set in. My redundancy money drains out of my account faster and faster, I wake up at night in a cold sweat and have ridiculous thoughts like ‘hey, why don’t I just go freelance?’ Yeah, I'll work three days a week and use the other two to write! This will be a good thing! I'll finally get my ‘Living as an Expat in England’ book back on track, sell a million copies and then kick back while the royalties roll in. Hell, I can add a chapter in my book about living on the dole! This is the best thing that has ever happened to me! HOORAY!
 
I get the odd waft of shit creek on the breeze, but I have some savings and a month’s more redundancy pay coming. If I haven't found anything by the time that runs out, I won't necessarily be swimming in shit creek, but I'll definitely be dipping my big toe in it. In fact, by the time you read this, I will have received (and most likely spent) my last redundancy cheque. I wonder what I’m doing right now? Hopefully I’m scoffing a £20 Starbucks mocha celebrating my new job, and not on the corner saying ‘Big Issue, mate?’ spitting little pieces of Whiskas on passers by.
 
Oh well, at least Forest are in the Championship. Things are looking up.

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