While the Ramblers are celebrating their 75th birthday this year – Labour Exchanges are 100. Back in the depression laden days (sound familiar) of 1910 the forerunners of today’s JobCentre Plus network opened their doors. Winston Churchill, president of the Board of Trade in good old ‘Squiffy’ Asquith’s Liberal government visited 1 of these 62 new institutions – the one in Hackney on the 1st February – on its first day of business. I’m guessing he wasn’t looking for work, although there were a couple of vacancies for picture frame gilders listed, and he was very impressed with the green walls: “The colour of hope”, he hopefully reported.
Back then there were separate rooms for men, women, employers and children (good old child labour huh) all with their green walls. Today there are 750 JobCentres that employ 78,000 staff offering (and I quote) “an integrated service incorporating benefits and employment search”. Not a green wall in sight these days. I still sign on every other Wednesday (although these days I only get my National Insurance contributions paid and really only do it so the official statistics are more accurate). And I still walk down along the bank of the Thames to get there. Today after signing on I head right across London for Chigwell. I’m leading a Capital Walkers walk to Hainault Forest on Saturday 13 Februaryand I wanted to check how muddy some parts are. Well it was pretty muddy out there people. And not wanting to go on about the weather again it was one of those funny days when the sky was a deep blue but it was snowing. How does that work? Other than quite a few dog walkers didn’t really see many other people. (Don’t dog owners have jobs either?)
This no job thing is wearing a bit thin these days but there’s certainly some advantages to not working. There’s not only all the walking I can do but there’s also so much to listen to on BBC iplayer. I’m working my way through the 460+ programmes from ‘In Our Time’ at the moment. The history episodes are great but I don’t really understand the science ones. I also get Melvyn Bragg’s accompanying weekly email and for me one of the most enjoyable things is the fact that Baron Bragg walks around London so much. He nearly always comments on this and is pretty obviously a man that loves his walking. Here’s a recent excerpt: “It was a wonderful walk through London. Town walking is of course not as good as country walking – we take that as read, or as said – but it can still be exhilarating.” While I would disagree a little – town walking can be every bit as good as country walking for me – it’s always good to read someone passionate about their walking.
And I mustn’t forget Spotify. I’m just loving the new Massive Attack album (should I still describe it like that?) – Heligoland. Last week I played (virtually) One Life Stand by Hot Chip to death. Gives me something to do while completing online job application forms. Why are they all subtly different? Makes the whole cutting and pasting a right palaver. And, although not directly connected to being out of work I went along to one of those free preview screenings of an upcoming blockbuster the other week. Went to see Russell Crowe in Robin Hood. Oh dear oh dear – Gladiator meets Carry on Crusading would be the kindest way to describe it.
I also recently visited the Suburbia exhibition at The London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. The museum is great but this exhibit was pretty poor actually. So disappointing – I wonder who curated it? Much more satisfying was (as it always is) the Courtauld Gallery over in Somerset House. I know there’s loads of free art on offer in London but this Impressionist collection is well worth £5 of anyone’s money. (It’s free Mondays between 10 and 2 anyhow.) Anyway as one of my friends commented to me recently: “Sounds like the life of riley to me”.
Back to Labour Exchanges. I bet if you haven’t visited a JobCentre lately if I asked for the first image that comes into your head about them you’d say The Full Monty and the out of work Sheffield steel workers dancing to Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff while waiting in line. Well we don’t stand up anymore and they don’t have a radio playing where I go but in all honesty they’ve been about as helpful to me as they were to Robert Carlyle et al. Frankly Pulp’s advice: “Cut your hair and get a job” might be more use so I’ve done the first bit and now I’m just wait for those job offers to roll in.
The Full Monty
Robin Hood – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7rB1G88cGv0