Portslade Job Centre
“You don’t need to say CV.” She was pointing to the bold heading at the top of the sheet.
Her name, he remembered was Claire. She had fine black hair and a crumpled, brown face. She could look quite good, he thought, on holiday or a Saturday night out in a country pub. With her partner; he didn’t think there’d be a husband. Not now.
“And you can’t put your age or nationality.”
“I didn’t put my age.”
“No, but your nationality, you can’t put it. It’s against Equality and Diversity . . .” The last trailed away as though it was too obvious or she was already tired.
“Oh, OK”. He thought of a defence – ‘I work internationally’ – but he was looking at the top of her head, bowed over the scrap of paper, and he thought better of it.
“So, you work with children?”
“No, not really, it’s just . . . ” He took the paper back. It was a mess of black and grey hieroglyphics. He started to say it was old, out of date, but stopped himself and cursed for a moment his broken down printer.
“It’s DBS now, not CRB. Is it up to date?” Claire looked at him for the first time since he’d sat down. “Was it issued by the Council? You’d have a PIN number.”
“I’ve got a PIN number,” he said brightly.
“Otherwise they have to pay for another one.” She said ‘pay’ reluctantly and he felt it must be his fault.
He looked behind her, at a bland modern window, and through that he could see the sky; milky grey, void of movement. If it were a child’s drawing you’d say ‘good, now colour it in’.
“So you can work with children and vulnerable adults?”
“Yeah. It’s just if they’re in the building. But, yeah, I can, 16 to 18.”
“Vulnerable adults are up to 24.” She sounded pleased, as though she’d caught him out.
For a while the ’24’ hovered in his mind, like a line on a child’s measuring chart. He wanted time to think: was this good, that you could be vulnerable until you were 24 or good that you could then cross that line and stop being vulnerable? But she had moved on, and, like a runner shrugging off a bit of cramp he hurried to catch up.
“You need to say something positive. Can you drive?”
He felt it was getting hopeless. He said “No” as defiantly as he could.
“Computers. Can you use a computer?”
“Yes. I thought I’d put it down.” Again he grabbed the paper back; somewhere, near the bottom it said the words ‘computer literate’. Had he thought of that himself, he wondered.
To his left, just out of eye-shot was another, younger woman, straight-backed, clicking at the keys on her desk. His eyes rested on her for a moment, but she offered no refuge, staring ahead at the screen, reproachful, as though he’d asked the wrong one to dance.
“What does this mean, ‘approaches to awareness’?”
“It’s just bullshit, really.” He attempted a drawl; she didn’t smile.
“It says here ‘cooking’. What kind of cooking?”
“My wife got me a book of recipes, I’m working my way through it. It’s from the BBC.”
She looked at him wearily “We’ll have to arrange another appointment. For next week.”
“But I’m doing a course. Here. Downstairs.”
“What kind of course?”
“Downstairs” he repeated, then, seeing it was no good, he picked up his bag and began to ruffle through it, hoping to find the right piece of paper and longing for escape.