I get out of bed at 9.18 after I snooze several times. I set the alarm for 8.30 but I couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed. First stop, the laptop. I turn it on and I check my emails. The job search alerts are in my inbox, I quickly glance through and delete the useless ones. I save the potential good ones for later. I waste the next 10 minutes on Facebook.
I never change into my clothes on days like this; I stay in my pyjamas until it’s time to go out. Hair in a ponytail and socks to keep my feet warm. Breakfast is buttered toast with jam and instant coffee. I spend about half an hour flicking through the channels, morning TV is terrible. Sometimes I catch the last 5 minutes of Friends and that is frequently the highlight of my day: finding something bearable to watch on the telly.
After I’m tired of this, it’s time to face the dreadful task of applying for jobs for one more day. I tend to refresh some pages several times a day, just to see if they’ve put anything new up. The part after the initial elimination of the morning alerts isn’t easy either; I spend so much time re-reading the ads to see if there’s any point in sending an application. ‘Minimum 2 years of experience’ is usually a no but it depends. If I think I can claim I have most of the bullet points, I decide it’s worth a shot. After all, they might like my CV and ask me to come in for a different role (wishful thinking).
Hotmail is refreshed even more times during the day. Every new message could be a potential job offer (wishful thinking again- jobs are usually offered over the phone; emails are used for rejections). I used to ponder if I should keep the rejections in my inbox. Every time you open your email, it’s there staring you in the face. Every rejection is painful, even if you were not that interested in that job in the first place. The ones that hurt the most though are the ones you thought you’d at least be called for an interview. What do you mean ‘you’re sorry but you’ve had a large volume of responses’? I had all the stupid bullet points! That’s my initial reaction. Then I sit and stare at the screen for a while, I text Emanuel to tell him I was rejected again. I try to make a joke out of it (on a good day).
Stuff doesn’t get done on a day like this. I think to myself I have the whole day to take care of things but I always leave it til the last minute. Then it’s time to go to work for the 3 hours I work a day every other day and I’m rushing to get out of the door. I’m late and I’m not even ready. I can’t make an effort today; I’m not in the mood.
I come back home after 12. Not sleepy at all. I check my emails again (there’s not really a point, is there?).
I’ve told everyone I’m looking for something, anything would do. N from work said today that she can probably get something for me for one night. It’s a house party for a Cypriot’s 21st birthday and she asked me to work as a hostess. It’s 80 pounds for 3 hours – 10 til 1 – but it’s in Totteridge and Whetstone. I check that there are nightbuses to bring me home and I reluctantly agree. My job will be to ‘greet the guests, make them feel comfortable, hand them shots and get them to dance’. The outfit is supposed to be black dress and heels which is fine by me; it’s the rest I’m not too sure about.
It’s the day of the party today and the guy who’s organising it calls to make sure I have all the right information. After we hang up, he texts me to ask what I’m going to be wearing saying he is expecting ‘a bunny outfit’. I don’t want to be blunt and say ‘I don’t do bunny outfits’ because 80 pounds is 80 pounds and I’m barely earning my rent this month. I simply say that I’m on my way to work, I don’t own such an outfit and I have no time to buy one. A few minutes later the phone rings and my friend tells me that it is a bunny outfit or no work at all for me. I tell her I can’t do it. It’s during times like these that this situation gets to you the most. When you actually stop to think if it’s silly to deny work just because you have to be dressed in a skimpy outfit and serve shots to men who need to be encouraged to dance with a sexy bunny. It’s at times when you try to talk to the boss at your part-time job to check if they have new people coming in next month because you can’t afford to have any less shifts. And you pray that the crap he’s feeding you (‘you’re very important to our roulette’) is true and that he thinks you’re good enough to do the job so you won’t be replaced.
That is the worst thing about unemployment. It renders you into this weak caricature of yourself with a volatile mood and no sense of self-worth. No matter how many things you’ve achieved in life, bachelors and masters and diplomas, no matter how many jobs you’ve had before, you simply feel that you’re not good enough, that you deserve to be hoping for some extra shifts spinning that wheel and you settle for wiggling your bunny bum to earn a few more pounds.
It’s during moments like these that you also say yes to the recruitment company that calls to offer you a job for 4 weeks in ‘market research’. The guy says he’s going to confirm the interview with the company in a while because he wants to send my CV to them to see if they’re interested. He calls back to tell me they can schedule me in for an interview (really? You don’t say!). I get there the following morning, in semi-formal attire and I walk down Harrow High Street, next to chip shops and the Asian cornershops. I will have to do that walk every morning for the next 4 weeks at half 6 in the morning. I walk in the hallway. About 15 people are standing in the room. All from different parts of the world, dressed in tracksuit bottoms and fleece jumpers. My pencil skirt clearly looks like the wrong choice. I announce to the receptionist that I’m here for my interview. ‘There are no interviews taking place here today. It’s assessment day’, he grunts. I try to explain that I’ve been told about an interview but he just gives me the same response. ‘What are you here for?’, he asks. ‘Market research’ is my reply. ‘This is an assessment day for the call centre’. I’m starting to feel slightly dizzy and I tell him that I’m there for a Greek role. He still doesn’t know anything about it and he asks me who I’m here to see, he doesn’t have any candidate names written down. I feel a knot in my throat and tell him I’m going to call the recruiter to ask about the person I need to see. I exit the building and feel the chilly wind on my face. I can’t go back in there.
I don’t want to work for a glorified call centre for 7 pounds an hour. This is too depressing. I recall my mum’s attempt to get a job in a call centre in Athens. She got to this old building in a not-so-nice part of central Athens and waited with a bunch of people of all ages. All desperate for a wage, who knows with what degrees and with how many years of experience behind them? She got on the third floor with the rest of the group in a run-down office with a mismatching shiny new plate announcing the manager’s name and title. Plastic flowers were decorating the room where they were (all together) told the specifics of the job. She couldn’t bare it either. She left midway through feeling embarrassed that she couldn’t do it because so many people stayed back and were prepared to do it. The secretary at my old office in Athens is still working there handing out toilet rolls to the boss when he cries out for them from the toilet bowl because she can’t find any other jobs that are not in a call centre. I hate the ‘toilet roll’ or ‘call centre’ dilemma. No, I can’t work there. I make my way back to the train station trying to fight the tears. ‘Hi mum… No, I just left. I couldn’t do it.’
Today it’s my interpreter’s appointment. I do them every now and then when the agency calls and it’s good money for an hour, only they usually sent me to the most far-out places in London. Today it’s a hospital in East London somewhere and I get there by changing a bus and a train and walking for about 20 minutes. It’s a great job because it gives you the opportunity to engage with people but today it’s so depressing because the old lady I’m doing the interpretation for is senile and doesn’t understand almost a thing we’re telling her. She thinks she’s in Athens and she doesn’t even seem to grasp that she’s in the hospital and that she has serious mobility issues.
On the way out, I find a missed call from a number I don’t recognise. I dread that it’s the same Graduate Sales recruitment agency again but I dial the number. No answer. I call my answer phone and there it is. ‘Hi Eleni, my name is RG and I’m calling about that position I told you about a while ago. I was wondering if you’re still interested.’ (RG had emailed me about 2-3 weeks prior to that call to ask if I was interested in a Greek speaking role. I replied yes straight away but I never heard back – until today). I call back and leave a message on his answer phone. I spend the next 5 minutes thinking I’ve screwed up; the tone of my voice was silly, what I said was silly – I’m thinking I sounded flat out desperate. He calls back to tell me about the interview. I literally can’t believe it. This is my first interview since I moved to London in September and it’s the beginning of April now.
He sends me the spec for the job the next day. I make notes and try to learn things by heart and then I research the company and find out that they’re quite big at what they do. Panic kicks in; why on earth would they pick me? Self-doubt hits new lows.
The day of the interview: I reread all my notes while I’m trying to figure out what to wear. I skype Emanuel to ask his opinion about my outfit and I frantically iron my shirt because I have a change of heart at the last minute. I leave with some time to spare but when I arrive at London Bridge I get out at the wrong exit and am lost somewhere in Bermondsey. I start to run because I only have 15 minutes to get there and I still don’t have a clue about where I am. When I finally find my way, I’m already out of breath, sweating, with my hair all messy and I’m still wearing my flats. I find the building and check my watch: about 7 minutes to go. I open my bag in the middle of the street and get my shoes out, I brush my hair and check my makeup while I’m still panting. At this point, I don’t even care about the passersby who are looking at me; my interviewer could be one of them.
An hour later I’m at the same corner putting my flats back on. I am confident that the interview went well and I make my way back home walking through the City Mission Park. I think to myself that this would be a nice area to work in but I regret my reserved optimism and enter the tube again feeling silly that a happy thought like this would dare cross my mind.
It’s been a week now and I can’t wait to hear back from them. I’ve stopped looking for other things intensively which is a big mistake. I still keep the ads for the jobs I’m interested in though, I just feel that I need to know what is going to happen. Then I see the email. I get a sudden rush of blood to the head. Jobs are usually offered over the phone; emails are used for rejections.
RG asks me if I’m interested in the temporary role my interviewer told me about. All I can think is that I didn’t get the job. He confirms it with his next email and he wants to arrange a new interview for the other role the following week. All I can think is that I didn’t get the job. I tell Rupert about it and he says it’s a good sign – he was interviewed for a different role originally too but he got a different one after waiting to hear back from his current company for 10 days (they had told him they’d reply within 8). All I can think is that I didn’t get the job.
Monday. It’s the day of my second interview. I’m not going to bother with heels today. All I can think is that I didn’t get the job. I’m going to the interview absolutely certain that it’s a waste of time. I was wrong. There are even lower lows to self-doubt’s lows.
At least I know how to get there today so I’ll skip the bit where I announce myself to the receptionist asking for some water. I walk slowly on my way to the building. The trees on the street are in bloom, full of beautiful pink blossoms. They were not there two weeks ago. While I’m walking under their branches, I get Emanuel’s text: ‘Good luck. And remember. You’re always more important than the ball of a roulette’. I smile and it’s the first time in a week that I don’t think that I didn’t get the job.
Friday. 23rd of April. It’s 9.30 and I’m on the southbound train on the Northern line. I read the paper on the tube. A girl has taken her own life because of her failed job hunt. I stare at the page in shock. A clash of emotions.
15 minutes later I walk under the same branches with the pink flowers again. This time all I can think is that I did get this job. All I can think is about the newspaper girl. I’m sad she won’t be able to walk under similar trees and over fallen pink flowers on her first day to work. All I can think is that I am more important that a fucking roulette ball. That she was more important than a fucking roulette ball. That we are all more important than a fucking roulette ball.