… the shit world you were living in before, that is.
Redundancies were as regular and unpredictable as Flying Ant Day at my old workplace. And no matter how much you told yourself there was nothing to be afraid of and they couldn’t hurt you, you still ended up in a hot, panicky sweat when they descended in an unfair and inevitable cloud.
I’d clung on before, but only after performing a set of debasing tricks – being forced to apply for the job I had been doing for years with no complaints (from The Company at least), undignifyingly ingratiating myself in various interviews for the job I was already doing and then, finally, taking a test – a test! – to prove I could actually do the damned job. Yes, the job I was already doing.
This last time, the warning bells started to toll when it was announced a new system was being brought in to streamline our operation, making us a more flexible and agile workforce going forward.
For three months we worked twice as hard – literally – as the new system ran along the old system and our erratic manager helped greatly by reducing various staff members to tears.
Then it went quiet for a month. Then the ‘Regretfully this will mean…’ email went out.
I actually didn’t mind the work itself. I very much liked homeworking and had to be part-time. And we desperately needed the half-decent salary.
There was nowhere else within 100-miles where I could possibly do anything similar to my highly skilled but niche job as a news sub-editor.
I couldn’t afford to retrain, and even if I could, what would I do? Before I wanted to be a journalist I had wanted to be The Queen. I don’t think they run NVQs in that.
But I loathed The Company, its dismal atmosphere and the way it was run. The days I wasn’t working I still loathed it. I woke up in the night loathing it. I loathed the way it had trapped me and I despised myself for letting it happen. But there was no way I could afford to apply for redundancy, or let myself be made redundant.
I looked at my co-workers, willing one of them to take the leap and let me off the hook. I weighed up what their chances would be, how they would fare in the inevitable interview, or the how-to-do-the-job-you-are-already-doing test.
Then two things happened. I met a friend for coffee and I sold a comb.
The friend challenged me to prove there were no other jobs using my skills, and gently pointed out that it was the 21st century and people didn’t have to work a donkey-ride from their homes anymore.
Remote working is a thing. You can work for some company in London from home. You can pick your hours. That’s what the internet is for.
The last time I had actually looked for a job it had been written on a piece of card in the local Jobscentre (Google it, kids).
I ignored Candy Crush for an evening (Level 1113!) and went jobhunting. There were bloody jobs everwhere. Jobs I could do, remote copy-writers, short contract web-writers, proof-readers, part-time social media stuff, technical authors, piece workers writing bingo site reviews, press officers at nice places like universities and charities.
There were also jobs I couldn’t do but liked the sound of – bus escorts for special schools, A&E receptionists, lollipop ladies (stick provided), tourist information officers at local beauty spots. Nice jobs, interesting jobs, jobs I would never have considered before.
You don’t have to take the redundancy, said the wise friend. It is just good to know what else is out there. It gives you some options.
Without even admitting to myself I was doing it, I applied for a press officer’s job in a nearby town.
I didn’t get it. But I did sell a comb. For £2.
We had been clearing out my Grandma’s house (see previous sad posts) and started selling some stuff on eBay before handing it over to a house clearance company.
You wouldn’t believe what will sell. Vintage stockings? Yep. Steel tea service? Yep. Wartime knitting patterns? Yep. Old guide book for Berwick-upon-Tweed? You better believe it.
You could do this full time, said my husband, looking up from a pile of motoring gloves and old Buster comics. We could set up a business selling old knitting patterns and vintage eye shadow. If you can sell a comb we can sell anything.
We’d need to sell a couple of thousand more combs to pay the mortgage, I muttered darkly. But I told my sisters we wouldn’t need the house clearance company, I’d shift the lot myself.
I wrote a profile of Nicky Minaj for a ticket company’s website and a guest blog post about garden game for kids. I applied for a casual job as a tourism officer.
I set up a LinkedIn profile. In it I said I was open to offers.
I got the tourism officer job. It was just a few hours a week, but it was a wage.
My redundancy cheque (and it actually was a cheque, how quaint) paid off our overdraft.
Selling Buster comics, writing art biographies for a poster website, being a poll clerk at local elections, working in a stately home and making wildlife masks at a country park have helped keep us out of debtor’s prison. It was like I had suddenly got permission to grab things – anything – instead of watching them float by.
And once you let yourself do it, things float right up to you. At one point I had people ringing me up almost begging me to take a job with them (I found out why they were so desperate later, but that’s a whole other post…)
Fear of bankruptcy, swiftly followed by a superhuman (and slightly misguided) conviction that I could do anything I wanted to do, has seen me sign up to some really, really shit jobs – and some really, really good ones.
The main job I have now pays two-thirds of what I earned before, for a third more of the hours. And I am nine-thirds happier. Alright, I’m not the Queen, but I probably couldn’t have pulled off all those coral pink hats anyway.