Snowcase #11 • 15 August 2007 • The SnowBlog
Mike Manson has had two non-fiction books published. This is his first novel.'This isn't my story,' he says. He has to. He signed the Official Secrets Act.
Max doesn't work. Now he's been offered a job - in the dole office. The hot summer of '76; the dole office; cider and a riot. Where's My Money?
Mr Blunt handed me a diagram of the civil service career structure.
'These are the opportunities that are open to you.' The gloom momentarily lifted from his face and he smiled a beatific smile.
There were about 40 grades. I was pleased to see that I was already about fifteen rungs up from the bottom of the ladder - above cleaner; porter, janitor, storeman, stationery assistant, paper wallah, tea monkey, and so on. Thank goodness for a university education.
'Think of this as a map of your life. It's all here, from youth to maturity; from clerical assistant to regional manager. Very few people are in such a privileged position to see their future charted like this.'
I shuddered. It was as if some hideous old crone had read my palm and identified the precise cause and date of my death.
'I want to tell you something very important about this job.' Mr Blunt's voice softened. 'You know, one of my earliest memories as a young lad was walking with my father past this very building. I remember seeing a queue of rough unshaven men. Of course I was too young to know what a dole office was. To my inexperienced eyes I thought those pale and thin flat-capped men looked rather sad. My father, who owned a busy hardware shop in Castle Street, knew better. Do you know what he said? I'll never forget it. He said: 'they need to get off their backsides. They're work shy; there's plenty of work to be done.' And do you know he was right. Even in those days.
'So this is my advice, Mr Redcliffe. Don't ever waste your time feeling sorry for these people.' He glanced over at the window. 'I see them arrive by taxi to sign-on. I can't afford to travel by taxi. How can they? And when they leave the building I see them laughing. Do you know why they are laughing? They are laughing at you and they are laughing at me. And worst of all they are laughing at the system. I see them. Pimps, prostitutes, pariahs.' Mr Blunt spat out these sour words as if he'd bitten on a lemon.
'We must crack down on these scroungers. The Government has high hopes for this department; for the foreseeable future unemployment is going to be increasing. We have ambitious targets that must be met. Mr Redcliffe, these targets will not be hit if staff are allowed to be too soft.'
Mr Blunt leant back in his chair, put his hands together behind his neck and closed his eyes. It was an alarming sight. His eyeballs, which had previously been magnified by his glasses into comic proportions, were replaced by a flesh coloured nothingness.
'Mr Redcliffe,' he said languidly with his eyes still shut, 'why didn't you tell us about your little incident with the authorities?'
A tingle of alarm shot up my backbone. This was the last thing I'd been expecting. I then remembered Baxter's conversation about MI5 when I was completing my application form. Is that what Baxter had been hinting at?
Mr Blunt opened his eyes. 'Let's just say that I know, and leave it at that.'
'I'm sorry, but what are you are referring to?'
'I think it's best if we leave it at that, don't you?
I was only too pleased to leave it at that seeing that I had no idea what he was on about. But then again, maybe I did.
'Now, Mr Redcliffe, I'll be seeing you again in few weeks' time for your initial Job Appraisal Review. We will talk about your long-term training needs then. Welcome to the Department of Work. My door is always open.'
He gestured with a flip of his hand for me to get out.