“I Was Looking For A Job And Then I Found A Job”

Date of writing : 16/09/2014

There are a number of workshops here, each employing several dozen men in (usually piecework) activities that further the (profit) aims of G4S. It seems to be the run of things that upon induction, we select (in order of preference) where we would like to work – gardens, kitchens, various ‘orderly’ positions, cleaning, etc. – and this is then carefully ignored so that all those of able body and sound mind (and some of neither) are sent to the workshops anyway. A couple of weeks ago I was therefore unsurprised to be called to an electrical wiring test at the enigmatically titled ‘Industries 2’.

Industries 2 employs fifty or sixty men in an open-plan warehouse-like environment (which immediately evoked memories of the Industrial Zone in Richard O’Brien’s ‘Crystal Maze’, although without the arbitrary spinning amber lights), dedicated to the manufacture of light fittings of one kind or another. The test with which I was presented comprised some basic questions on electrical wiring – I didn’t have any trouble with these, having carried out much domestic wiring in the past – and also a couple of Ishihara plates to act as a colour-blindness test. Regular readers and friends may recall prior mention of my deuteranopia (red-green colour-blindness), the manifestations of which have been considered by those who have had cause to notice, to be significant. I made this clear to the examining officer immediately I spied the dreaded dots, but he wasn’t easily deterred.

Somehow, by visibly squinting and tilting the sheet against the light, I managed correctly to identify the alleged digits as 15 and 23. I have a theory that this is down to the poor calibration of colour reproduction in the printer, making the shades more easily discernible. It may also be partly due to one of the surprising abundance of Welshmen on the wing having made a point of telling me the numbers the previous day. At the time I made no special note of them, but perhaps I retained the information just enough to give the additional aid of subliminal suggestion. In any case I still don’t fully understand his logic in telling me at all; the assumption was that I’d want to throw the test so I didn’t have to work there, but in such a case, telling me the correct answers would be of no help whatsoever: I could either see correctly myself and lie, or not see and not have to lie. If for some reason he ever happens to be with me in a Labyrinth-like situation (The Labyrinth, incidentally, being one of the best films to come out of the 1980s, along with The Breakfast Club), where one guard always tells the truth and the other always lies (or similar), then … let’s just say I shan’t be heeding any of his advice.

Having passed the test with squinting colours, I was immediately set to work – in a team of seven – on the wiring of ballasts, igniters and capacitors for metal-halide floodlights. Thankfully, I have seldom had trouble distinguishing mains wire colours by shade alone, and from the beginning my Quality Control tests mostly passed without comment: any failures were due to pure incompetence rather than disability. I did once however make the unfortunate slip of referring to a reel of brown wire as red, but our ‘QC’ (i.e. team leader) seemed more amused than concerned.

This sort of work has a certain pleasure to it – when a team is working well together and everyone pulls their weight, one can fall into a pleasant rhythm, and take satisfaction from each pallet finished, industrial-cling-wrapped, and pump-tracked away to be loaded into a van. I was quickly moved from a training team (on a glorious wage amounting to less than half a pound an hour) to a well-oiled production team on piecework with pay that is rumoured to just about reach three figures (of pence) an hour in a good week. It’s physically quite demanding, but not excessively so, and also comes with the chance to use exciting compressed-air-powered tools. Most interesting has been the assembly of some very fine and expensive-looking LED striplights with emergency battery backup. I’m impressed at how this technology has improved in the last few years.

My little ‘Built by 106’ silver sticker is now in several hundred light fittings of one kind or another that are probably, even as I write this, being distributed to the far corners of the country. This morning I received comments as to how well I had slotted into ‘C Team’ (obviously I’m jealous of the ‘A Team, for their name alone), and that I was fast but accurate, and was never seen to be standing idle (the last being a common gripe where piecework earnings are divided equally in a team regardless of individual input). In all – aside from my mild discomfort at the nickname I had acquired owing to my sharing a name with a certain musician – I had found my place and was occupying it well. So … suddenly, I’m a Library Orderly (the more astute among you may have noticed the past tense that had sneaked into the previous sentence).

This wasn’t an entirely unexpected turn of events as I’d spoken with the friendly librarian (Sarah-the-Human) about the possibility, only last week. However, I’ve become accustomed to believing that things will happen only once they have already happened, so as to avoid perpetual disappointment in broken promises. It’s quite a relaxing state of mind – it may sound like pessimism, but it’s more of a refusal to get caught up in what might be and hence waste my attention on the future rather than the present. Instead I file away the promises under a list of things that may or may not happen in the future, and occasionally I’m pleasantly surprised when one of them does. This has so far been a win-win approach for me. I’m seldom disappointed, and good things happening as a surprise can make them all the more satisfying.

Anyway, today I awoke from a lunchtime nap (as the door was clunkily unlocked), and Colin handed me a piece of paper that had been tucked under the door sometime during my snooze. Said paper was inviting me to attend the Library for an interview for the position of Orderly this very afternoon (i.e. now), if possible. After a few seconds’ thought I decided that it was indeed possible, and my well-oiled machine of an assembly team would just have to manage without me. After a few minutes’ more thought, I noticed that the message was signed simply ‘The Library’, rather than by any individual, suggesting some kind of Borg-like gestalt entity into which I was about to become subsumed. Nonetheless, undeterred, I proceeded to the Library as requested to present myself for assimilation.

The Library itself is separate from the main buildings, and is a long, narrow provisional-looking structure comprising two Portakabins all but gaffer-taped together. Upon entering, the first thing that is often noted is the smell. This is a mixed perfume of old books and damp fire-retardant ceilings that I find strangely alluring. There are two long aisles walled with books, and midway along each there is a bucket to collect the rain that frequently seeps between the units. At the far end is a small office that sits unused, having succumbed completely to the percolations of precipitation and the blossoming of black mould. At the opposing end – nearest the main door – is the desk, behind the rickety sprung saloon doors of which lie such joys as the laminator, the photocopier, and the marvellous machine that is used to cover books in a loving layer of protective plastic. In short, it is a place of wonder.
The interview itself, it seemed, consisted of turning up and starting work. However, I do feel that I may just be on continual interview in an unspecified probational period with potential for release from duties should I not fit in. Initial indications are that I might fit in well. There are currently three and a half other orderlies (one of whom I’m intended to replace as he will likely be leaving soon), and between us and Sarah-the-Human there have already been a few geeky quoting moments (including the likes of Douglas Adams and Monty Python). Indeed, we have many overlapping cultural references, and I was pleased to find they have chosen to overtly celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate Day, including the construction of quite an impressive treasure chest from cardboard, and a special display of pirate-themed books. The Word of the Week is up on the board (with its associated definition and etymology) as ‘Avast!’. In all, so far it’s looking promising. I just hope they don‘t make me walk the plank any time soon.

In other news, after my lament for the lack of Marmite in my last post, suddenly, by coincidence, Marmite has magically appeared on the canteen list! It was nine months to the day from my initial incarceration that I was able to break my fast with wholemeal toast, butter (well Lurpak spreadable, which is good enough), and a generous covering of the delicious viscous black gold. I’m also now able to get decent decaffeinated coffee (having quit caffeine altogether several years ago – but that’s another story), so my breakfasting can be most pleasant. Now, it would be nice if I could just get some real milk instead of the abomination that is UHT …