‘Funemployment’ has to be one of the more self-deceiving euphemisms ever bandied about. Most of the definitions centre around what Kiwis would call ‘dole-bludgers‘, but my particular, recent brand is better characterised as:
The state of being corporately displaced … while managing to maintain a positive attitude. Also known as ‘Jobbus Interruptus’.
Before London, I had been unemployed exactly once since I was 16. This period of idleness was the Summer of 09, when I had a two month period between my part-time student job finishing and my full-time job beginning. So, even ‘unemployed’, I had work lined up, I had savings, and I had very little interest in the stultifying job market in Dunedin, getting up to speed (i.e. learning to make burritos), and having to lie to any prospective employer about my ongoing availability.
So I moved back to my mother’s to save on rent, I cooked, I cleaned, I drove her crazy sorting out cupboards (not something you should do without warning to a quasi-hoarder, sorry Ma!). I was bored, and most of my friends had left town, and I wanted to follow, and some days I didn’t really leave the house, but at least I had company for some of every day, and I had a plan, I knew when the next paycheck was coming, and I knew this was just the in-between phase of the move-to-Wellington goal.
Being unemployed in London is a bit of a different beast. I’ve done it twice now, and each had a different flavour. Each of these flavours was of the shit variety.
When I first arrived, I knew that I would be sans-job and sans-flat at the same time for a little while, and that it was gonna suck arse for a bit. I was prepared for this – I had savings, I’d just had a great trip around Europe/Russia/Baltics, and I had friends in the same boat at the same time. So we whined about it together, we met up virtually every day, we got out in the sunshine when it wasn’t raining, we saw what we could of London on the cheap, and spent the rest of the time in the pub.
It was rubbish being at home alone in a horrid estate where everything was broken, and the landlord was a veritable nutcase. It was scary paying huge amounts in bond and rent and having to buy all the basics like bedding and toiletries and food all in one go, not knowing when the bank balance would next head upwards.
It was daunting, also, to scour the city for jobs and flats, constantly being mildly lost, never knowing what you’d see when you exited the station. How do you know where to look for a flat when you don’t know what the different areas are like? Which should you get first? You can’t choose what line to live on before you know where you’ll be working. But do you really want to start a job when you’re living on a couch?
In the end, I was very lucky. The day I started looking for a job, I got an interview lined up for two weeks later. I didn’t try very hard for anything else because I had a feeling I’d get it, and I did, and started the next day. Just as the flat situation got desperate I got a sublet, on the same line as work, and 5 mins on foot from friends.
I certainly can’t complain about two weeks’ unemployment, but what’s trying is having to do it all again. My job finished before Christmas and so, after a very cheap sojourn in Morocco, I was back in London and back in limbo.
It was more scary this time, because like before I have rent, and bills, and travel costs, but unlike before, the savings are gone. It’s not like I’m going to starve, but I need money for my student loan to stay in my NZ accounts, and have quite a sum tied up in bond, and can’t max out the credit card in case I ever need an emergency flight home.
There is no surplus, no fiscal blubber, and that is fucking scary. I grew up on the constant verge of going under, and so, from the second I could earn my own money, I put it in the bank, and I watched it accrue with a pleasure that was more to me than any item I could buy with it. Kate Moss infamously said that “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels“, but I think she may have confused ‘skinny’ with ‘millions in the bank’, since being skinny is her fortune. Security is not something I could ever inherit, and security is what I worked so hard to carve out of my meagre paychecks.
And so I’ve found this last few weeks absolutely terrifying. I had an idea in my head that I’d write a bit of a series on ‘funemployment’ as I like to write about the experiences that are common to all Kiwis/newbies in London, and show the shit side, offer some advice, seek some advice, and then show what it’s like on the other side and why it’s worth it.
Obviously this hasn’t happened, and I instead went into my bat cave, which is what I tend to do when I’m left to my own devices: activate hibernation mode. Seriously, I should not be left alone for too long. The result is always the same: my sleeping patterns move by several hours towards night-owl proclivities, I catch up on every show I’ve never cared about, I ignore my to-do list, I eat £2 oven pizza daily (seriously, I found a really good one), and I squint into the light out the window and hastily draw the shades again.
I have my excuses of course. It seriously is freaking cold in London in January. The other day I saw that the high was going to be -4C. The HIGH! How can a negative be a high?!?! I grew up in what is considered a miserable cold place in NZ, and a temp like that would be newsworthy as a LOW! So, since I can’t afford proper warm things, it’s natural that I stay indoors right? And the warmest place in my house is my bed, as it’s in an enclosed space that can actually warm up, and has blankets (aka one cheap Argos duvet and a crappy sleeping bag draped on top), and my computer is there.
I have to be at my compy to do most things job-related. And near the phone, so I can’t go out and go underground, or I might miss an opportunity. And where would I go? All my friends are working and I have no money!
So, what this all results in, is me being a total slacker hibernater. The weird thing is I’m super motivated when I’m at work – I’m the super organised, everything before deadline, clear desk, tidy drawers, logical email folders sort of person, who gets things DONE! But when unemployed I didn’t even do things I wanted to do, like read, or sell stuff on ebay, or go for walks, or write postcards.
This reminded me of despairing to a high school teacher that my best friend was planning to drop out because she couldn’t handle the pressure of her three subjects (5-6 was a normal load). Mrs Martin told me that the less people do, the less they feel able to do, and busy people always fit more in because they’re used to being on the go and getting things done.
I think this is absolutely true of me, and I know that I’ll get more done this week than I did in the last three, because…
I HAVE A JOB!!!
I start tomorrow, and it’s more money (well, more than sweet fark all) and an easy commute, so cross your fingers for rad workmates and social occasions, good work and plenty of it (throw some overtime at me baby!), great smart awesome bosses, and a nice long stay in the one place!
Since I didn’t provide my planned series on the great tribulations of unemployment in London, look out for an upcoming post on No Dole to Bludge: a guide to being an unemployed Kiwi in London.