20 July 2006

St Tropez Tan Mitts

I didn't sleep well at all, despite being so tired. I suffered from paranoia and had to get out of bed on several occasions to check that my bike had not been stolen. I got up at 6:18 and attempted to sort myself out a bit before I left for Labour Ready. Flo (my sister) was coming this evening and I had to tidy a little before she arrived.

I got to Labour Ready at about 7:55. I picked up my first cheque for yesterday's work - I was over the moon. I tucked it safely inside my notebook to prevent it from getting creased. I didn't want Adam to see me getting a cheque, rather than cash, as it was quite abnormal behaviour for a Labour Ready user. The more questions I could avoid the better.

Labour Ready was the busiest I had ever seen it, lots of people filling out registration forms and lots of people sitting around waiting for work as I had done on my first morning there on Monday 3 July. I felt very privileged to be waltzing in and picking up my 'work ticket', when so many here wouldn't work today.

I saw a man I recognised sitting at one of the tables, then it came to me; this was the Polish guy who had walked out of my first interview at Endeva Advertising the previous week. We were obviously treading the same job seekers path. I looked at him and smiled, though he didn't recognise me. I felt like going up to him to tell him what a lucky escape he had, what a terrible job it had been and how much better off he was at Labour Ready - work or no work.

I started to wonder why Alan had called me the previous day to offer me the work, when he quite clearly had more than enough people already signed in. Perhaps he thought I was a little brighter than some of the regulars and would do well in an office-based role. All things considered it is in Alan's best interests to send the best workers he can get his hands on out to the clients. Good workers will inevitably reflect well on Labour Ready, the clients will be impressed with the service and will want to use them again.

Adam told me that when the 'office work' had come into Labour Ready yesterday morning, I was the first person Alan had called. He didn't know anything about my experience or qualifications as he had never seen my CV - he must have just known I'd be good at it and wouldn't let him down.

Adam arrived shortly after 8:00 and we set off together for the bus stop. This morning, having spent several hours in each-others' company yesterday, it felt as though we had exhausted all possible lines of conversation. Fortunately we both managed to pick up copies of Metro which occupied us for the best part of the journey.

Today was when I really became aware of how unhealthy the employees of M & L Services' diets and lifestyles were. I arrived just before 9:00 (Adam had gone to Lidl again), to find Nicky and Emma sat goggle-eyed in front of their computers both munching their way through a packet of crisps with a chocolate bar close to hand for afters. This was either breakfast or a post-breakfast snack - I had no way of knowing.

In the office was kept a dangerous device known as a 'snack box'. A box full of crisps and chocolates that was left by the 'snack box man' and then refilled on a fortnightly basis - when you took something out you left cash behind in its place.

Before lunch break, Nicky had already reached into the snack box for her second packet of crisps. Then at 12:50 Emma declared her intention to go to 'McShits' for lunch 'come on Nicky, you're coming with me!' McDonalds was less than 10 minutes walk, yet they drove and were back before 13:00 with food for all the family (except me - they didn't bother asking me). Mum (Carol) had a Big Mac and fries, which she ate at her desk. She emptied the fries into the other side of the polystyrene burger box to create a makeshift canteen tray...

On her desk there was a large container of Saxa table salt. It looked as though this container remained on there throughout, as part of the desk furniture, and was used on a regular basis. Before even tasting a chip, Carol picked up the Saxa and with a fluid zig-zag motion, liberally covered both the Big Mac and the fries. Then with one-fell-swoop, she licked her lips, rubbed her hands together and tucked in. Had Carol, I wonder, ever considered how much salt there was in a McDonalds already?

McFlurries now long since gone, shortly after 15:00 Emma whipped out and started munching through a Mars Bar - a light afternoon snack maybe? Did they do this everyday I wondered, how is it possible to sustain this sort of lifestyle? I guess fairly easy if you're happy to carry a few spare tyres around with you until you meet with an early grave.

For the first hour of that day there was absolutely nothing for me to do. I had only been asked back to work this day as well, because the important visitors who had briefly shown their faces yesterday were due back in the late morning. M & L Services had to maintain the illusion of have lots of hard working staff.

I completed the 'B Grade' spreadsheet they had made me start the afternoon before. They then got me to reformat it into a different order, something that could have been done in a few seconds using 'Data > Sort' function in Excel, but instead they made me do it the most laborious way possible by typing out all the information again from scratch, this time in the new order.

It was during this excruciatingly tedious task, that the visitors returned and it was during their visit that I completed the newly ordered version of the spreadsheet. I mention to Nicky that I had finished. Because the visitors were in such close proximity, just outside the office likely to walk in at any moment, she panickedly said 'just type anything! Go to the bottom of the sheet and just keep typing!' So for the next few minutes I just randomly typed words, anything that came into my head, while the unsuspecting guests walked to and fro behind us. They eventually left for lunch.

In the 10 minutes that the girls were at McDonalds, I managed to get a few good pictures of the office (published above) and at 13:00 I went on my break and for a walk around the local sites. During my break I found that Janine (from Barker Ross Recruitment) had left a message on my phone. She was offering me more work at Gleeds starting on 31 July. Although I knew I wouldn't be going back I felt happy because, apparently, Sarah Brown had specifically asked for me.

To me this seemed excellent closure on the whole Barker Ross and Gleeds episode - reassurance that I had been a good worker, that they were impressed with my newly created filing system and that I had not let anyone down by being too weird or scruffy, as I had feared. I planned to call Janine tomorrow to let her know that I was no longer available for work - she had been really good to me.

After lunch the visitors were gone for good and Martin, the miserable big boss, was not there either. There was no need for any of us to pretend anymore. There was quite clearly nothing more to be done in the office so we all (except Nicky) migrated into the warehouse to the production line.

The radio was on and there was a nice atmosphere, much more relaxed than it had been in the tiny office. So for the rest of the afternoon Carol, Emma, Adam and I worked as a team packing St Tropez tan mitts into there boxes until they were all done, loaded on the pallet and fork-lift trucked towards the exit.

It was a very satisfying process, to see all the differed component parts (mitts, small boxes, stickers, large boxes, pallets, and pallet tape) come together. And was certainly light relief from staring at a computer screen. Adam was in good spirits and much more talkative in front of Emma and Carol, who joked and causally teased him. He came out with one philosophical pearl of wisdom that I won't forget for a while. It was very endearing and made me begin to self-analyse what a miserable cow I was most of the time. He said 'you gotta be appy ain't ya? Cos if yain't appy wha are ya? yor sad and nobody wants to be sad dothay?'

We caught the bus back to town again together. Adam began to get restless when we got stuck in traffic. He said he needed to get back to Labour Ready before it closed - he so desperate for the cash, he couldn't wait til the morning. He got off the bus a few stops early and ran. Overtaking all the traffic, he disappeared into the distance - that was the last I saw of him. I hoped he would be OK.

I popped into Labour Ready on my way home too, as it was still open and it would save me going back tomorrow. The man at the desk was not Alan, but someone not so nice who I did not recognise. He said he had shut down the computer and that he couldn't process my pay today. It was only 18:20 by this point and the place was meant to stay open until 19:00. This really annoyed me as I didn't want to have to go back tomorrow; I wanted to collect my cheque and to see the back of the place forever.

That night Flo (my sister) came to visit and it began to feel like the first step back to normality.