Tag Archives: Department for Work and Pensions

Journey’s End?

In which The Author is putting his affairs in order

It must be well over ten years since I first went to see my GP about my depression. I’d been battling my own personal Black Dog since my teens, with varying degrees of success, and it had reached the stage where I was no longer able to cope unaided. I sat in Dr Wardrop’s surgery and poured my heart out to him. I told him about the way that my older relatives were being picked off, one by one, and that I’d already lost some friends who were far too young. In addition, my job had really started to grate on my nerves. I was drinking far too much, I was less than halfway through my allotted ‘threescore years and ten’, but I’d started to feel that life had nothing to offer me any more.
At one point, Dr Wardrop asked me, ‘Have you ever thought about suicide?’
I laughed it off at the time. I said something rather glib and witty – something like, ‘Oh come on, everyone who’s read Hamlet has thought about suicide. Everyone who’s ever seen It’s a Wonderful Life has thought about suicide. If you mean “Have you ever thought about actually doing it?” then the answer’s no.’
But that was a lie. It was a massive bare-faced whopper of political manifesto proportions. I’d been thinking about it on and off since I was a student the first time round. The only reason I hadn’t done it because I was too afraid.
Everyone says, ‘It’s the coward’s way out,’ don’t they?
That’s bollocks.
It must take tremendous fucking courage to tie that rope, or hold that razor blade, or guzzle all those tablets, knowing that (barring incident or accident) there’s no way back from that decision. I’ve known quite a few people who’ve done it. One of them was my cousin Julian.
I first referred to Julian and his brother Matthew in It’s Music, Jim – But Not As We Know It, early on in this blog. I hinted then that things had gone wrong for us. If you’ve been reading this from the beginning, you’ve possibly been wondering how that particular ‘story arc’ would resolve itself. I think I’ve mentioned it before, but I could be wrong. Either way, I’ll tell you what happened.
Uncle Tony, Julian and Matthew’s father, died of a sudden heart attack at the remarkably young age of 59. When Mother rang me with the terrible news, I thought she meant my other ‘Uncle’ Tony, an old friend of Dad’s, who was about seventy at the time. It came completely out of the blue. Tony was always full of life, and a passionate defender of the underprivileged; he was a Labour councillor in Cardiff. He’d actually contested a safe Tory seat as a Labour candidate back in the day. The South Wales Echo ran a terrific obituary. His funeral was massive, attended by the great and the good of Cardiff society.
His death blew a massive hole in our entire family. Mother and Elaine (her sister) had never been the best of friends anyway, and Tony had always acted as a peacemaker between them. Tony’s death hit the whole family hard, as you can probably imagine, and nothing was ever the same afterwards. Matthew started drinking heavily and got involved with the drugs scene in Cardiff. Meanwhile, Julian was living in Oxford, where he’d been working with vulnerable adults.
I suppose none of us realised that Julian himself was a vulnerable adult, too. In a comparatively short space of time, he lost his father, his job and his girlfriend. When things got too much for him, he tied a rope to the light fitting in his room. Tell me now that he was a fucking coward. Go on, I dare you to tell me that!
I think I’ve only seen Matthew once since the second funeral. He and my brother turned up at my place one evening, both pissed. I wasn’t in the mood for Matthew’s shit, and I had to tell him to leave through the door before he left through the window. The following day, Mother had a phone call from Elaine, wanting to know why I’d been so nasty to her precious son. Some home truths were told, and I broke off all contact with the Cardiff side of the family after that.
A little under three years ago, my good friend Jon W. took his own life. He was a very intelligent guy, several years younger than me, a talented musician, a techie, and an avid reader. We’d become friendly because of our mutual love of SF, back in the Carpenters days. He’d had problems with drugs on and off over the years, and had fallen back into that particular Gravity Well. Only a small number of people knew how deeply he’d become involved again.
On December 30 2011, around lunchtime, he posted the single word ‘Goodbye’ on Facebook. We were all understandably worried by that cryptic message, and started asking around if anyone had seen him. We found out mid-afternoon that somebody had seen him. He’d hanged himself on the ‘line’, the footpath that leads from Aberdare to Cwmaman.
Jon had been going out with Gema, the fucked-up Bi-Psycho whom I went out with briefly in March 2001. It was a volatile relationship, to say the least. Everyone blamed her fucked-upness for his death, even when the truth emerged a few months later. Gema physically attacked Rhian at one point, when everyone was still convinced she’d played her part in driving him over the edge. I defended Gema, but to no avail. We stayed friends for a while, but her alcoholism and other mental health problems were making her impossible to deal with.
When Rhian and I went to London in September, I shared the photos we’d taken on Facebook. Gema unfriended me almost immediately. This afternoon, logging on to Facebook, I discovered that she’d sent me a friend request. I deleted it immediately. I’m not in the right headspace for her fucked-upness any more.
A couple of years ago, I broke off contact with The Piss-Artist Formerly Known As My Brother, when his ‘flirtation’ with extreme right-wing politics turned into a full-blown relationship. I eventually got back in Mother’s good books (after being painted as the villain of the piece, of course.) But Xmas is coming. I expect I’ll have the usual invitation to lunch under the proviso that we play nicely together. Mind you, I didn’t go up last year, or the year before, or the year before that, so four in a row won’t hurt.
In the meantime, his fucked-up mates continue to drift into my orbit. Once such waste of DNA approached me in the Library on Monday. Apparently it had been suggested that I was a good person to talk to when it comes to computers. I can only speculate on who suggested this in the first place. I’d never met the guy before, but when he asked if I was ‘Phil’s brother’, I knew straight away that he would be a must to avoid. I couldn’t get rid of him, though. He turned out to be an ex-jailbird (surprise, surprise, eh?) After managing to shake him off on Monday, I encountered him again today.
He’s got some interesting wartime artefacts which he’s keen to rehome. I suggested a few likely adopters, but he reckons this stuff is ‘dynamite’, and too good for the Library or the History Society. After five minutes of his crap this morning, during which he talked about ‘smashing someone’s house up’, I knew it was time to split. After all, when it comes to smashing someone’s house up, he’s got the wrong brother.
I left the Library, and straight away rang the surgery and asked if I could be fitted in today. The receptionist asked if it was urgent. I told her I hadn’t broken my leg or anything, but yeah, I’d consider it pretty important. She managed to get me an appointment at Aberaman Surgery this evening.
The reason I considered it important is because for the past three nights (all night) I’ve lain awake all night, wondering what to do next. I’ve got a ‘benefit review’ tomorrow, and while I’ve got nothing to hide and nothing to be afraid of, I know that the people in Aberdare Jobcentre have targets to meet. Whistleblowers in the DWP have gone on record to say that they have to sanction a set number of people every week. They love to throw the S word around, in fact. It clearly says at the foot of the letter that failure to attend, or to provide all the information requested, will result in a sanction. It also says that any query will result in the suspension of benefit. And they want to see all my documentation, going back to Goddess-knows-when.
Now, I’ve rocked the boat there a couple of times. I contacted my MP a little while ago, raising the issue of appointments being changed with no notification letters being sent out. I had a reply about a fortnight ago, which included the official response from the person responsible for ‘compliance’ across South Wales. I don’t imagine that this went down too well in Aberdare Jobcentre. Nothing’s been said on my previous visits, but it’s probably still percolating through the many layers of bureaucracy.
I can’t find my mortgage statement. It gets sent out early in the year, and Goddess only knows where it is now. They also want to see my insurance documents. Well, the insurance on the house lapsed a long time ago, as did my endowment policy. Just this morning, I had a letter from Santander, chasing me for the overdraft I ran up when I was a student the second time round. Unlike George Bailey in Frank Capra’s timeless film, I’m not even worth more dead than alive.
If my money gets stopped tomorrow, through some arbitrary whim of a civil servant struggling to meet her targets, I’m fucked. Totally and utterly fucked. No way out.
Then again, even if I somehow manage to cling on to my house for the next ten years, once my mortgage ends I’ll be equally fucked. There’s no way on Earth that I’ll be able to make up the shortfall. Even assuming I got a job on Monday, I’m in too deep to be able to dig myself out any time soon. I can be broke and homeless in 2015, or broke and homeless in 2023. Some choice, eh?
Last night, I started compiling a list of my collectible books and records, which are definitely not to be taken to the charity shop after my death. They include such rarities as Michael King’s Wrong Movements: A Robert Wyatt History, which alone should fetch over a ton on Amazon. If Rhian is shrewd and plays this hand nicely, they should recoup most of the money needed to pay for my funeral.
I’ve no idea what would happen to a mortgage house if the purchaser dies within the term – especially when the life cover has lapsed in the meantime. I imagine the bank would repossess it, just as they would with any other defaulted property.
With this in mind, I’ve made copies of my house keys. I’m going to give one set to Rhian. I can’t think of anyone else whom I can rely on to go through my stuff and do a proper job. She’ll also get a copy of my collectibles list, so that she can pull out the goodies first. Ross emailed me his address earlier, after I messaged him on Facebook. He probably thinks I’m going to break the habit of a lifetime and send him and Rich a Xmas card. Instead, he’s going to get an envelope within an envelope; the inner one will be marked TO BE OPENED IN THE EVENT OF MY DEATH. Rhian will have one as well. So will Rowland, Maria B., Neil R., Martin H., and Geoff and Olga. I’m pretty sure they’re the people I can depend on to sort everything out, after all. I can trust them to divide up the spoils, and get the best return by selling them online. The rest of my books, records and DVDs will be up for grabs before they get offloaded onto Barbara and/or Smack Generator.
I’ll box up my bondage stuff and give it to Helen, I think. It’s probably best that it goes to a good home, rather than lying around for anyone to find. Some of the associated magazines and books might be worth a few quid, though, so I’ll let Rhian sort through those.
So, that’s the background material sorted out. At least, unlike Denis, I won’t be leaving a contestable Will for the family to quarrel over. There’s fuck all in my bank account anyway. I just need to decide on the ‘how’ and the ‘when’ now. Luckily for me, Dr Wardrop’s surgery and Boots in Aberdare seem to have got their wires crossed on several occasions. As a result, I’ve got a large stash of prescription-strength Co-codamol. When I say ‘prescription strength, I mean 500mg of paracetamol and 30mg of codeine per tablet. I’ve probably got about a hundred, or maybe more, lying around at home.
Or I could wait a couple of weeks and really go out in style. Rhian and I have a trip to London booked for December 8. Once I’m satisfied that she can find her way around the Underground and get back to Victoria unassisted, I might just become another ‘incident’ at a tube station.
Of course, I don’t need to go that far. When I was about seventeen, a guy from Trecynon became, in the words of the great Morrissey, the first of the gang to die. We were in school together, and although we were never great mates, we used to say ‘hi’ when we saw each other. He lost his job, too, and split up with his girlfriend. Echoes of Julian, rippling back through time to 1983, or whenever it was. Dai walked up to the top of the Darran, the steep glacial cliff at the far end of the Dare Valley. Nobody will ever know whether he jumped, or just missed his footing.
When I was in my early twenties, and still young and foolish, I scaled the Darren freestyle on a Sunday afternoon. I’d never been rock-climbing before. I had no gear, I was on my own, and nobody knew where I’d gone. Nevertheless, I made it from the bottom to the top without much trouble. It didn’t even occur to me until I was about a third of the way up that I could quite easily lose my grip and fall to my death in the alder wood below. I haven’t told many people about that crazy adventure; for obvious reasons, I’ve never told Mother. After all, she panicked on 7 July 2005, in case (by some remote chance) I’d decided to visit London on the day of the terrorist attack. I mention it merely because there was a nice meme circulating on Facebook last week:


Anyway, I’ve just got back from the surgery. I didn’t see one of my usual doctors, though. Instead, I saw Dr Jones, who is quite young and very understanding (although she called me ‘young’ as well, which I found quite bizarre.) I told her that I’d lied to Dr Wardrop during that consultation all those years ago. I told her that for the past week I’ve thought of little else but suicide. I asked her how many 500/30 Co-codamols I’d need to take to be sure of finishing the job.
She said, ‘Not many.’
I explained about the pharmacy cock-ups which meant that I’ve been stockpiling them for months. She asked me if I’d ever seen anyone with liver failure. I told her that I had, and while it wasn’t a pleasant prospect, I couldn’t see any real alternative. We talked for a long time, during which she asked me if I had any family or friends I could turn to for support.
The problem is that I haven’t. Most of my friends have got enough on their plates as things stand. I don’t want to open this can of worms with Mother, either. She’s been through enough, between looking after Dad and looking after Denis and looking after Peter D. and (most recently) looking after David. Besides which, I spent a week under Mother’s roof after my shoulder operation in 2008. It was too much for me. You can kill someone with kindness, after all.
I asked Dr Jones how one goes about setting up a DNR. For those who don’t already know, this is a Do Not Resuscitate order, a legally-binding document which prevents medical staff from acting in the event that a patient flatlines. She seemed to think that I was too ‘young’ (that word again) to go down that route. She told me that it was an option for people with a terminal condition, not for someone like me.
The thing is, I do have a terminal condition. It’s called Life. We’re all afflicted by it, and some of us choose to check out early, rather than go on suffering. Dai did it. Julian did it. Jon W. did it. Other friends, my own age or a bit younger, didn’t have the same choice in the matter: Mike H., Toffas, Stuart Cable, Martin from the Cambrian Quiz Team, Andy B. from Waterstones, to name a handful.
I’ve got to ring Dr Jones tomorrow morning. She thinks I might need to be seen by the Crisis Team in Merthyr. In the meantime, she’s made another appointment for me tomorrow evening. Between the phone call and their possible intervention, I’ve got to go to the Jokecentre and have my ‘benefit review.’ I’m 99% sure that I’ll be sanctioned just for being a fucking troublemaker, as I explained earlier. When I do, all bets are off.
Dr Jones told me not to have any more to drink tonight. I’d had two leisurely pints in Thereisnospoon before going to the surgery, where I wrote the first part of this entry. I already knew that the Crisis Team wouldn’t see anyone if they’d had a couple of pints under their belt. I knew that from bitter experience. A chap I knew through some friends, a young lad named Dean, rocked up at St Tydfil’s Hospital in Merthyr ten years or so ago. At the time, they had an acute unit and a secure unit for patients with mental health problems. He was in a really bad state, but because he’d been drinking, they wouldn’t admit him.
He came back to Aberdare and killed himself the same day.
But I’m having another pint (or two) anyway. I might as well stay here as go home. At least there are people around. If I go home, I’ll only end up watching the 2009 Doctor Who Xmas special, which is as far as I’ve got with my revisit marathon. It’s the one I wrote about in New Year, New Start, just after I dumped Jenny in this very blog.
I cried watching it then. I’ll cry watching it tonight too. Unlike the Last of the Time Lords, though, I won’t be regenerating by the end of it.
I walked into the pub earlier, and straight away Susanne asked me if I was okay. She told me I looked ‘grey.’ I just paid for my pint and sat down.
That’s what four days without any sleep has done for me. I won’t get any sleep tonight, either. Not unless I have a real shedful, and spend all my remaining cash in here. It’s another week until I get my next payment. There’s enugh food in the cupboard to see me through till then. Of course, if I get sanctioned that’ll be the end of it all anyway.
Rhian texted earlier to say she can meet me tomorrow. In that case I’d better crack on with my list of Collectible Things, so that she have a copy along with my spare keys.
If things go as I’m expecting them to tomorrow, it could be some time before I post again. In fact, this could quite easily be the penultimate entry in this blog. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. It’s a pity I never got to meet any of you in person, but that’s the nature of the blogosphere, isn’t it. Just like Jack Trevor Story, I’m sitting here typing to nobody in particular, feeling for the first time in my life like a proper writer: no cash, no prospects, a patchy employment history, and an unknown number of unknown readers.
And a nearly-empty glass – both literally and metaphorically.

The Return of the Circumlocution Office

In which The Author is being fucked around

My regular readers have probably come across a reference in this blog to the ‘Circumlocution Office.’ It’s a phrase coined by Charles Dickens, in Chapter 10 of his novel Little Dorrit (published between 1855 and 1857), to satirise the British Civil Service.
The Circumlocution Office was (as everybody knows without being told) the most important Department under Government. No public business of any kind could possibly be done at any time without the acquiescence of the Circumlocution Office. Its finger was in the largest public pie, and in the smallest public tart. It was equally impossible to do the plainest right and to undo the plainest wrong without the express authority of the Circumlocution Office. If another Gunpowder Plot had been discovered half an hour before the lighting of the match, nobody would have been justified in saving the parliament until there had been half a score of boards, half a bushel of minutes, several sacks of official memoranda, and a family-vault full of ungrammatical correspondence, on the part of the Circumlocution Office.
This glorious establishment had been early in the field, when the one sublime principle involving the difficult art of governing a country, was first distinctly revealed to statesmen. It had been foremost to study that bright revelation and to carry its shining influence through the whole of the official proceedings. Whatever was required to be done, the Circumlocution Office was beforehand with all the public departments in the art of perceiving—HOW NOT TO DO IT.
Through this delicate perception, through the tact with which it invariably seized it, and through the genius with which it always acted on it, the Circumlocution Office had risen to overtop all the public departments; and the public condition had risen to be—what it was.
As you can probably imagine, Dickens continues in this vein for a couple of pages, but you get the general thrust of his argument. I’ve been using the term ‘Circumlocution Office’ for a couple of years now. In the Twenty-First Century, it seems that not only did Dickens nail the Victorian Civil Service precisely, but also predicted its development over the next century and a half.
My claim for Employment and Support Allowance ended abruptly on 19 September, so I was thrown back into the maesltrom of the Circumlocution Office the following Monday. After a surprisingly quick telephone conversation with a pleasant lady in Halifax, I was given an appointment at Aberdare JokeJobcentre on the Thursday morning. I went along, armed with the first instalments of my paperwork (see What a Waste) and after a brief interview with an adviser (sorry, coach) I was given a fresh appointment.
On Wednesday 1 October, I attended my new claimant interview as arranged. At the end, I was given my regular signing time: 9.30 a.m. every other Thursday. As I would ordinarily have signed on the following morning, my coach said she’d save me a second trip into Aberdare and signed me there and then. I asked her when I could expect a payment, as by the following week I’d be running on empty. She told me that my claim would be processed on Friday, and that I should receive my money the following Wednesday (8 October.)
Needless to say, on Wednesday morning I went the cashpoint and found a zero balance. Luckily for me, my £5.00 refund from TfL (see Straightforward (Part 94)), had gone into my account the previous day, and I’d spent that on topping up my electricity. Even so, that left me with no money at all. I decided to phone the DWP from a payphone using their free number, but when I got to the part where I could speak to someone, I had to call another number. I didn’t have credit on my phone, or change for the payphone, so I walked into Aberdare and called into the Jobcentre.
After about ten minutes, I was able to speak to a adviser coach downstairs. She made an internal call, and then I had to go upstairs to speak to someone else. She checked on my file, confirmed some basic information, and then sent an email – presumably to the mysterious Caerphilly Benefits Centre. She told me that I could expect a phone call within three hours, and that my money would be paid before the end of business that day. In the event, I received a text at just before 3.00 p.m., and when I checked my balance at 3.30 I was extremely relieved to find that my money had been transferred.
A week ago today, I called in to sign on, as arranged at my previous interview. It had even been written down for me by my coach, so I knew the exact date and time.


I arrived about ten minutes early, so I sat and read the paper while I waited to be called. At about 9.45, when I still hasn’t heard my name, I queried it with a member of staff. She told me that I should have gone to the desk upstairs.
I made my way upstairs, and was spotted by Ellen, who used to look after my claim a couple of years ago. She was surprised to see me, and told me that she was expecting me the following morning. To prove it, she rather shamefacedly produced a letter from my file. It was dated the previous Friday (10 October), and presumably should have been posted that day. I laughed it off, saying that it was lucky I’d called in, and went on my way.
The following day, however, while I was waiting to be seen, I saw a steady stream of people coming and going. Almost without exception, their appointments had been rescheduled without prior notification. When I eventually got to the Library, I wrote a letter to the manager of the Jobcentre. I pointed out that had I missed my Friday appointment – through no fault of my own – I would have undoubtedly been ‘sanctioned’ and my money would have been stopped. After having heard similar stories from some other friends, I decided to send an email to our MP, Ann Clwyd. Ironically, her constituency office is directly above the Jobcentre, in Crown Buildings, so that she doesn’t even need to pick up the phone to speak to the manager.
This morning, I arrived for my scheduled appointment, in plenty of time as usual. Ed and Karen J. were there, and we chatted for a little while before Karen’s name was called. When Ed hadn’t been called, he queried it and it took a few minutes before his paperwork was unearthed.
By 11.35 my name still hadn’t been called. One of the staff members told me that she’d track down my file, and spent about five minutes going from desk to desk before calling me to her desk. She explained that I’d been given the wrong information, and that I wouldn’t be signing on until next Thursday. Therefore, I wouldn’t be needed next Friday, as I’d been told. You can see her alterations to my schedule for yourselves.


It’s a good thing that I’m a generally laid-back kind of guy, with a warped sense of humour and extensive experience of customer-facing work. If I was one of the alcohol- and/or drug-fuelled stroppy bastards who frequent the Jokecentre, I daresay the outcome of my last three visits might have been very different. It’s hardly surprising that the building is manned by security guards from HM Government’s favourite private army, G4S. I can understand entirely why people would kick off in there, if they’d been fucked around in the way I’ve been fucked around over the past month.
As I said in my letter to the manager, paperwork used to go astray in Dillons/Waterstone’s from time to time. When it did, the worst case scenario was that a customer didn’t get a book. When there’s a SNAFU at the Jobcentre, it risks leaving vulnerable people destitute through no fault of their own.
It seems to me that the entire system needs to be overhauled, and dragged into the Third Millennium where the rest of us live. There’s no reason why appointments need to be made by letter. We’ve all got mobile phones and/or email addresses, which allow instant communication at a fraction of the cost of sending a letter. There’s no chance of a mobile phone call going astray in the system, either. We’re all expected to use modern technology in our job searches; it’s high time the gatekeepers of the Circumlocution Office got with the program too.