The Back To Work Programme
by Norman Samuda Smith
The alarm on my android tablet kicked off at exactly 6.00 am. I wished it didn't. I was mash up man! Well and truly mashed. There was no reason why, cos I slept my self-diagnosed eight hours, but my limbs just wouldn't move dread. So I ignored the mellow tune the alarm was playing. It finally stopped and I drifted back to sleep. It began singing and dancing again what seemed like five minutes later. I felt the same way I did the first time round when it woke me; worn-out, totally busted! There was no use me wasting what little energy I had cussing it though, cos I deliberately set it to wake me at six.
It was my plan to kick-start and self-motivate the new me. I was gonna start the day with a mug of warm lemon water. Energise my body with some stretches; ease into Chi-Kung exercises, followed by a fifteen minute meditation then rounding it off with prayers extoling the most high. As I thought about drifting back into my sweet deep sleep again, my higher-self appeared before me with folded arms, frowning through furrowed brows and shaking his head in disappointment. He kept repeating: "Stick to yuh plan!" So eventually I crawled out of bed and began what was to be from now on, my morning ritual.
I was glad I found the strength to get up. I felt the positive vibes flowing through me, all over my body, even though I was aware of the dark cloud that continuously loitered, reminding me it happened to be exactly two years to the day when I was made redundant from my job.
Being unemployed if you allow it, can isolate you from your friends and family y'know, you don't plan it to happen, it just happens, cos you don't have the money to catch a bus to go and visit them. All of a sudden you're thinking:
"Make sure yuh buy yuh food. Make it last and make sure yuh have enough money set aside so that you can pay gas, electric and water bills, cos yuh don't wanna be cut off and plunged into darkness, or yuh can't cook or heat up yuh water."
So you live in this kind of cocoon, and convince yourself:
"As long as me have food, heating and hot water, me a‘right til tings get better." Survival mode kicks in; it's a natural human instinct. It evolves into second nature, til it becomes the norm; then your dreams slowly begin to wither and die and...well yuh know where I'm coming from. So, that's why I decided to start my morning rituals. I had to make a change, motivate me, cos the way I see it, where there seems to be no hope without, you look for it within. Meditation mixed with prayers, helps you to look for the answers within. As one of King Solomon's Psalms says: "Where there is no vision, you perish."
While I was researching this theory a couple of weeks ago when I decided to commit to my morning ritual and ting, I got a phone call from my old boss. He invited me to his house, cos he was throwing down a garden party. Nothing new there, he organises it every year. I missed out on the past two years, cos, yuh nuh, when yuh leave a job, forced or otherwise, you kinna move on, don't you? – However this year, I decided it would be cool to meet up with my old work mates, hold a couple drinks, nyam some food, catch up, chat and ting and ting.
Leonard Parker-Jones is his name. A tall slim but well-built English man in his early sixties cut from the cloth of the old school British Empire days, an ex- army officer. He once told me he in one of our many casual conversations that he met His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie. He described him as small in stature, frail looking, but he had a magnetism and stately presence. Mr Parker-Jones is posh speaking and well edified, it come in like he rolls a grape around his tongue. If you were to meet him, your first impression would be he's rich, and he'll look down his nose at you if you were of a lower-class than him. Well that's what I thought when I first met him in my interview, but he's quite the opposite I have to say. Mr Parker-Jones, Leonard, he insists us to call him, is one of the nicest people I've ever met. Genuine, a big heart, he was always concerned about the welfare of his fellow workers.
He didn't need to work, or even join the army, he was born into money. His dad was the owner of a big shoe making factory in Northampton, which was a major centre of shoemaking and other leather industries of the UK back in the day. Another time when we were reasoning at work, he told me he didn't want to grow up with the silver spoon in his mouth, he wanted to experience life, meet everyday people. He chose his own path. The factory is still going strong but on a smaller scale, his brother runs tings, Leonard is a silent partner.
He has a big house with a massive garden where he lives with his wife and three children in the leafy suburb of Edgbaston. So I reach the garden party, to reminisce with old friends and get the chance to talk about the good old working days. He chose a good day for it. The sun blessed us with its presence, uninterrupted sunshine from a cloudless sky. The barbecue smoke filled the air as I kicked back, relaxed and got shade from the tree. While I was there, me old work mate Dougie asked me:
"Do you miss work Mark?"
I looked at him and said: "The only thing I miss is the regular income, knowing that at the end of the month I can pay me rent and meet me bills. What I don't miss is somebody telling me when I can have lunch, when I can have a coffee break, and when I can take a holiday." And while I answered his question I asked myself:
Do I wanna work nine to five again? Not if can help it. I wanna do my own ting. What that ting is, I dunno yet. But I will find it. As the old saying goes, "When yuh know, yuh know."
I'm glad I made the effort to reach the garden party. It was an inspirational gathering with decent music, good vibes, nourishing conversation and succulent food. A couple of days later, after my morning ritual and while supping my mug of tea and devouring my two slices of toast, I watched the morning news. It was announced that for the past six months the government had been experimenting with a Back to Work pilot scheme for the unemployed who happened to be out of work for two years and over. The Employment Minister in his interview boasted of its success and voiced the figures of how many long-term unemployed have found work due to the scheme. Now it was decided the scheme would go nationwide, so those who have been out of work long term are to expect a letter soon. Well mine came a week after his announcement:
‘Dear Mr Braithwaite,
Our records show that you have been unemployed and claiming Job Seeker's Allowance for the past two years. We therefore have arranged an interview with you, to clarify what you have been doing in regards seeking employment and how we can help and advise you further how to find work.
Please bring this letter with you and proof of your ID and your national insurance number. On arrival wait in the appointments section until your name is called.
It is important that you are on time. Appointments missed will be deferred to a later date and your benefits will be suspended until after we see you.
Your appointment is on Wednesday July 10 at 10.00am...'
So, there I was, on time at the Job Centre. I made sure I was there before the allotted time at 9.45am, cos I didn't wanna get catch up inna any cussing session with them and I'm thinking: "Right, straight in, tell them what's what, straight out again, it shouldn't take more than thirty minutes tops..."
Ten O'clock come, and I'm waiting. Ten past ten, I'm sitting on the edge of my chair. Twenty past ten, I'm still there. Ten thirty, dem call a woman who come after me. Twenty to eleven, dem call a man who sat next to she. I start to wonder now: "Cho! It look like dem forget me!" So, I decide to go and question the girl sitting at reception. She was drinking from a can of ginger beer and eating from a packet of crisp call cheese and onion.
"Sorry sir," she seh, "All I can say, if you've been sent a letter through the post, they will call you anyway." Her phone start to ring; she began to munch her crisp fast and swallowed hastily so she could answer it.
"Er...Hello reception. Ah-ha...Ah-ha...yes...yes, Ok, thanks for letting me know. Bye," she look at me and seh: "We're a bit behind schedule at the moment I'm afraid Mr Braithwaite, they will call you in soon."
My temper was boiling now, but I just laugh to myself thinking: "Mind you don't choke on yuh crisp and ginger beer," as she began to stuff her face with the snack she was hiding under the shelf.
So I sit back down and decide to watch the entertainment. There was a man who walked in and picked up the cigarette ends; then there was the drunkard who was trying to find some drinking friends. Not forgetting the fat lady with six pickney who ah scream and bawl; and the two lovers in the corner who didn't care if we see them kissing and fondling each other at all. So I glance at me watch and turn in me chair: "I wonder wha' de backside dem people ah do in there?" The fat lady was screaming at one of her pickney dem to behave, and the other five ah laugh cos she ah rant and rave.
"Mr Braithwaite, follow me please."
Eleven fifteen, I can't believe it, I almost fall to me knees. So I get up quick and proceed to follow she.
"What's your name?"
"Date of birth?"
"National Insurance Number?"
"Do you have any proof of your job searches with you?" ...and the questions keep coming and coming....
"Well Mr Braithwaite, thank you for coming. I can see you are a very intelligent man, easily employable. What I'm going to do now is refer you to a Back to Work Programme. You will have to attend once every two weeks or as much as you like. They will help you update your C.V. If you have one already that's great. They will also help you with your job applications; IT skills if you need it, provide for your postal costs and travelling expenses, and if you want to go on any courses, we will pay your travel expenses for you to attend the course and the good thing is you learn a skill. You will get a letter from us in the next three days, which will tell you where the Back to Work Programme and your advisor are based."
"So dat's it?" I ask.
"Yes that's all thank you. You will receive your payment through the post next Friday."
"No, hold on, me payment is due this Friday. What yuh ah chat bout?"
"Oh, wasn't it explained in your letter?"
"That payment of your benefits will be resumed after this interview."
"No, it just tell me to attend. It never mention any delay in payments."
"Well I'm sorry Mr Braithwaite; I do what I'm instructed to do. There's nothing I can do about that. Thank you for coming." Well, me blood start to boil some more and me head start spin. She nuh even gimme chance to get another word in.
"But I've got to pay me gas and electric bills and I gotta get some food to eat, and the rent man will come knocking, he ain't gonna wait til next week!"
"I'm sorry Mr Braithwaite; your money is on its way. You might still get it this Friday." Well, what could I say about dat? I get vex cos I done make plans fe de day. All I could do is cuss this woman who just sit there and watch me chat.
"Goodbye Mr Braithwaite, good luck on the programme."
By now, I just couldn't take it, my mind wasn't at ease. So I continue to cuss, but it make no difference, it just make the whole ting worse; cos she just get up from her desk, disappeared into another room and me never see her again. It was them who send me this letter and tell me to be here for ten. The time was now twelve thirty, so me start cuss again. That's why I go old school and call them the Department of Bad Health and Total Insecurity.
So I walk out the place ah fuss and ah cuss and I tripped over a baby buggy and dat make tings worse. The drunken man with his breath smelling of stale beer come and hug me up and tried to make me feel a likkle better. I tell yuh man, I cuss the day they try to mess up the brand new me when they send me that letter.