The house has been awfully quiet since I sold the TV. When the license renewal letter landed on the doormat, I only had two options available: Either borrow the money, or sell the box and be rid. Ironically, the sale raised just enough money to cover the license itself.
In truth, I had been watching it less and less. The endless holiday destinations and property programs had begun to make me feel like a caged canary placed by window.
The clock is loud, and the rain on the windows also. But it’s given me time to notice the marked shift in perspective a person goes through as their options in life become increasingly limited. The haves and the have-nots do not think alike.
This was brought home to me again when I began to attend ‘group interviews’ for jobs, and got to meet the other contestants, the previously faceless multitudes of job seekers that I must compete against. The group interview is a way to process a large volume of applicants en-mass, and it isn’t surprising the method now dominates the low skilled work arena, if you consider that I recently applied for a cleaning job that had over fifty other applicants.
I arrived soaked from the rain for the most recent interview, and huddled into the room which already contained twenty or so other damp bodies hoping to win the same position. I was eye-balled by all in the room with frozen smiles tinged with dismay, for every person who came through the door decreased the chances of each individual from getting the job. There-in lies the first major difference between the world of haves and have-not’s. It contains no certainty, the world is in limbo along with an enormous jostle of other uncertain people vying for the same thing. Our attention is reduced to immediate circumstances. The names and faces and nationalities of all these uncertain people changes with each interview, the weary but hopeful look does not.
I prefer the group interview in all honesty. It’s a friendlier experience than the traditional face to face interview, despite its design to process large volumes of applicants cheaply and quickly.
A tentative conversation started in the room; Who everybody is, where they came from and how terrible the weather is this morning. There were around twenty of us in all and just under half the applicants were immigrants, although this varied considerably with the kind of work applied for. Only one man had recently arrived, I think he said from Nigeria, and did not yet have a place to live. He asked the other interviewees where he might best find affordable housing in the area, and somebody drew a small map for him on the back of an envelope. He smiled broadly, and thanked them for their help.
The interview began, and we all filed into a room where we were arranged into small groups. As in previous interviews, we were given an activity to do together, one designed to illicit a certain amount of debate around the table. Typically, two or three interviewers will then observe the social interaction of the group, and look for signs of suitable ability and temperament. A bit like Crufts.
So far, I have quibbled over which five objects to bring on a jungle adventure, named as many films as possible to the sound of the countdown clock, and created a 1 minute performance singing the praises of the hiring company with a group of equally unenthusiastic Albanians. (we lost to a group who choreographed a dance routine complete with Jazz-hands which received round of applause from the interviewers) Thankfully this time around, there was no dancing, instead we were given a case study; bizarrely, a group of people including an scientist working on a cure for rabies, a single mother with six children and an AIDS orphan from the Congo have fallen down a mine shaft together, and we must decide in which order to save them, as one will drown before the mission can be completed.
Periodically, we are each called to a desk in the corner of the room for a brief face to face interview. My answers, I’m afraid were less than stellar.
“Where do you see yourself in five years time?” Asked the interviewer. The question was a rude jolt, to which I could only draw a blank.
“I…don’t know!” I stuttered, which was worst answer I could give. Where will you be in five years time. Did any of the poor bastards in the room know?
There is a chasm between the internal world that I inhabited when I had work and security, and the mind that I inhabit now without. This chasm is what made me avoid the TV, and balk at the interview question.
When I had money and freedom, the inside of my head was a wide open place, as big as the world I could access. In my mind was a vast landscape, studded with various exotic places I had visited, and I could recall easily the atmosphere and hazy alcoholic nightlife of each city. Crucially, I was free to imagine various future scenarios in order to explore this wide horizon of possibilities available to me.
But I have no access to this inner flight now. A fog has descended over that internal landscape, obscuring all the places and experiences it contained, dimming the horizon from years down to weeks. It is a fog of three opaque words “I don’t know”, and it compels all who live with future uncertainty to chase the nearest visible object of salvation, or otherwise atrophy and give up trying to find a way out.
In the aftermath of Brexit, I read an article by an Oxford educated Guardianista, in which he listed all of his most treasured experiences in European cities, and lamented the small minded xenophobia of the Little Englander, for being far too small minded to comprehend beauty and superiority of the continental people.
But this point of view never attempts to step into the minds of the less well off, and consider the immediacy of the circumstances that compel them to think and act within narrower parameters of consideration than a man who has enough money and stability to gain new experiences whenever he wishes to do so.
That is true for immigrants too of course, many of whom, like the man with no house, are in invariably worse positions than myself, and acting within a much narrower range of possibilities than is available to myself. There is misery in being in direct competition with people even more desperate than yourself, but I am still compelled to fight my own corner, or see even that which I have taken from me. I have only empathy for people in the same boat as myself, living under the stupefying fog of ‘I don’t know’, far more than I have for Guardian writer, and when we all wish each other good luck at the end of the interview, we mean it. But how many more dances must we all perform before we have a future?