26 June 2006

Desperate Times

On Thursday 22 June I discovered a place not very far from where I live called Labour Ready . 'Work Today - Cash Today' was its slogan. I had walked past this place thousands of times over the last few years as it is on direct route between home and my studio or the station, but not once had I taken any notice. Now, under this self-imposed pressure to find work the words jumped out at me from the window display.

I went inside. The deal was that you had to register before you could get work. Registration took place between 5:30 - 8:30 and apparently, if you turned up at this time, you were highly likely to get sent to work that same day. Factory or 'order picking' work - it all sounded a little vague, but at least it was a possibility. 'Right' I thought, I'll go in first thing on Monday morning and find work!

On Saturday, just to throw another spanner in the works, my boss from Broadway Cinema called to say that he'd pencilled me in for some shifts in July and could I confirm whether I could definitely do them by Sunday. What should I do? My own 'low-wage' job wanted me to work and here I was desperately scrabbling around trying to find another one.

On Saturday night my head was completely swimming - the ridiculousness of the situation dawned on me. What exactly was the purpose of the next few weeks? I was looking for a job, because I was being paid by Prime to look for one. I was about to force myself to get up at 5:00 and enter the seedy world of Labour Ready, just to work that one day. This was a completely unnatural experience. False pressures were being applied from all directions. Prime was stipulating that I must work 20 hours each week and I was going to play the game and force myself to do just that.

I had a restless night's sleep on Saturday and a long succession of nightmares. I dreamt about queuing at Labour Ready amidst a vast number of people. Sometimes I was the only woman there, sometimes not. I was nervous and self-conscious that I would be found out as 'an artist' doing 'a project'. People looked at me suspiciously as I scribbled down my movements in my notebook. Is she a reporter? What is she doing here? No matter how long I queued for I never reached the front, I never got a job.

When I woke I went swimming to clear my head. The thought of starting two things at the same time (the new job and recording all my actions) was just too much for me, especially when there was so much uncertainty about how either would turn out. It was making me feel sick inside. I was nervous about each of these things in equal measure and the combination of the two beginning at the same time could send me over the edge. So I formulated a plan to help me stay sane:

At 0:00 Monday 26 June I would begin monitoring my activities, keeping an ongoing record of how I spent my time. This would allow me to get used to this process in a safe environment - get used to using my new Log Books and my new large screen digital watch (both of which I had bought on Saturday in preparation).

I would use the first week of the project as a warm up, getting myself used to the process. I would go to my meter reading interview on Wednesday and keep my fingers that I got the job, hopefully starting the following Monday. Plan B would be Labour Ready and I would go in first thing on Monday 3 July and work.