Are you happy?
I sincerely hope you are. I like to imagine, whilst I sit here tapping away at these keys and occasionally blowing the fag ash out of the gaps in between them, that those of you bored enough to read my inane ramblings are seated upon a leather couch, iPad in hand, sipping a glass of white Zinfandel and occasionally popping a malteaser in your gob as your children lie on a rug playing with their favourite toys and half-watching the adventures of an anthropomorphised sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea.
It's a curious paradox, my happiness. Anyone that could see the damp riddled, rat infested house with the black mold decor in the bathroom and bedroom in which I am currently forced to dwell would struggle to understand how I could be anything other than miserable. Were they to see my bank balance, they would be further confused, and if they were to see me, on the coldest of nights, lay crying with the pain that, no matter what I do, won't subside enough to give me even the briefest respite until the painkillers kick in and send me loopy, they'd call me a filthy liar.
But I really am very happy indeed.
I'm not stupid. I can see that, from outside, my existence is generally a pitiful one. It hasn't always been the case. Once, I was successful. I had a family that loved me and that I adored. I still adore them, but I don't have them any longer. If I focus on that simple fact for long enough I get sad and so I never focus on that simple fact for very long.
Once, I had a social life that was the envy of most. I was popular and confident, I ate in fine restaurants, visited foreign lands, drove lovely cars and rode lovely motorcycles. But I was never truly happy until things went wrong.
I was made redundant from a job that paid a decent age and that I was good at, but it didn't matter. I'd never struggled to get a job and so I didn't worry. I was unemployed briefly and, during this period, I had an epiphany. I had never done a job that I wanted to do, only a succession of jobs that I was good at and that would pay me enough money to enjoy myself once my working day was over. "Why," I thought, "don't I try getting a job that I enjoy?" After all, as my father once said, if you enjoy what you do for a living you'll never work a day in your life.
As a teenager I had a friend named Mary. Mary lived with her mother in a damp riddled, rat infested house with black mold in the bathroom. Her father had left shortly after Mary's birth. Her mother was considerably older than my parents, well into her sixties when Mary and I were thirteen. Mary loved me and I loved Mary. Mary would hold me tightly whenever she saw me, kissing my cheek and giggling. I would wriggle free, embarrassed, as soon as I could, and then she would come to the park with me where we would meet our friends. Occasionally, en route to the park, someone would shout a nasty name at Mary and Mary would cry. I would take her hand and we'd continue on as bigger kids who should know better would shout the vilest things at us. Then, once in the park and among others that had known Mary all their lives, Mary would sit minding our coats whilst we played football.
Mary had Down's syndrome.
I lost touch with Mary once I'd left school. I have no idea what became of her. I do hope she's happy.
But back to my tale. I decided, after much deliberation, that I wanted to work with people suffering with learning disabilities. I applied for a job as a support worker, a very easy job to get since the pay is obscenely low and very few people want to do it, and I began working with autistic adults, supporting them to live in the community in their own homes.
For the first time in my life I was as happy whilst working as I was whilst not. I seldom stopped smiling and every day I would catch myself, whilst out walking my dog, muttering the words "I fucking love my life" and smiling like a lunatic. I was assaulted by my clients, I had poo thrown at me regularly, I dealt with things that would turn your stomach and I absolutely, wholeheartedly, loved it.
Nowadays, that work has dried up. Some people that work in banks did some bad things and we decided that those who needed help most should shoulder the blame, rather than the bankers, and do without. They can't complain, so fuck them. We dare not risk upsetting the bankers.
I mourn the loss of my career, but I remain grateful to those individuals that I supported for making me realise something that we all should realise. I'm a really nice bloke. Not everyone agrees with me, I'm sure many people think I'm a prick and, to be fair, I do have prickish tendencies. Just like you, him next door and the local vicar.
Life for the last three years has seen a steady decline in my standard of living but I never feared the future. I knew, just like in the past, everything would be okay. Yes, I was going through a bad patch, but it wouldn't last. Later this belief changed to "yes, okay, the bad patch got worse, but it'll be okay."
I made cut backs, refusing to claim benefits. After all, I thought, I'll be okay sooner or later.
Except now I was in my forties and I was competing for work with many younger than I and in the same position.
Eventually, I gave in and went cap in hand to the state. I filled in forms, attended meetings and was awarded JSA, but still I struggled. So I sold my possessions. My motorcycle, my cameras, my phone, my jewellery. I couldn't understand why I was still struggling so much. Others were in my position but weren't walking the streets in shoes with minimal sole coverage, they weren't eating beans on toast for every meal, skipping breakfast and freezing cold in a damp house. It must be my fault, I thought, and tightened my belt further.
I'd had several credit cards when times were good. I hated using them. Every month I would pay them off, in full, never having to pay a penny in interest. Once I wasn't working I'd stopped using them but now I was desperate. Just a tenner, that wouldn't hurt, would it? And anyway, I'd be able to pay it off soon.
But I couldn't. A tenner became two tenners, then three. Eventually I couldn't afford to pay anything off the balance and so I stopped opening the letters they sent.
Then, after walking the nine miles to the job centre to sign on one week in late October I was told that I could have no more. My contributions were depleted. But there was good news! They had made a mistake on my initial claim and I had only been receiving half the amount I should've been, the reason I'd been going hungry. They apologised and told me that the balance would be paid into my bank account.
"When?" I asked.
"Yesterday." They said.
I was saved. I dashed to the bank to draw out what I could. Except one of my credit cards was with my bank, so they'd taken it. It had appeared in my account and was immediately taken toward the debt I owed. Fair enough, I thought. I did owe it, after all.
I trudged home, thinking about the beans on toast I would be having for my tea. Everything was going to be alright, something would save me, I was sure.
DickFingers had been ill for quite a while and unable to work. She'd been attacked doing the same job as I had loved and, as a result, will never be able to work in that industry again. She wasn't eligible for benefits herself but had been receiving a small, monthly, statutory payment from her employer. She could've prosecuted her attacker and sued him, but she couldn't bring herself to do that. A letter had arrived whilst I'd been out. It informed her that this was to be the week her employer's obligation ceased. We now, literally, had zero income.
At this stage I began to worry a little, but I needn't have. DickFingers is considerably younger than I and she found a job. Not a great job, but a proper, full time job. It was minimum wage but, by that point in our lives, it was equivalent to winning the Lotto. We rejoiced. We were going to be alright. Well, next month we would, as her start date was mid November, but we'd make it. We had beans and bread, what more did we need?
(Butter would've been nice, but we're not greedy.)
She started work and we looked forward to payday, the last day of the month. It was going to be close, but we'd made it this far, all we had to do was hold on a little longer.
Payday approached and she came home one night in tears. There had been a problem processing her forms and she'd not be getting paid until the following month. As with so many things in this computer-age, there was nothing anyone could do to help her.
We were, I had to now admit, fucked. We would die of starvation in a cold house. There was nothing anyone could do to help.
We ate every other day for a week. The following week she ate every other day while I pretended I'd eaten whilst she was at work and I went two days between meals. I'd gone from fourteen stone to less than ten as we'd slipped into poverty and I was beginning to ache all over constantly. But I had a plan.
DickFingers has a family that love her but that knew nothing of our predicament. If, I explained, she went down south to stay with them for a while then I was sure I could sort things out up here and, as soon as there was food in the cupboards and I'd cleared the debts, she could come back. I smiled as I told her my plan, I acted as if it was ingenious, infallible, that I couldn't and wouldn't fail and that it would take a month, maybe two. Then she could come back and we'd live happily ever after.
I didn't tell her the whole plan though. I missed out the part where I would steal a bottle of whiskey, get pissed, walk up Winter Hill, throw my coat away and drink until I fell asleep in the snow never to wake up. I've never told her that part. The first time she learns of it will be if she bothers to read this blog.
She considered it. She didn't want to, but maybe it'd work. But first, she said, why didn't we try and find out if we could get some food from one of those foodbanks that she'd heard about?
So that's what we did. I walked nine miles to the nearest C.A.B. where a very nice doctor who was volunteering that day agreed we deserved a little help and gave me a voucher. He raged about how he hated our country, a rich nation, where he was spending his days dealing with people like me. "If I'd wanted to deal with starvation and poverty", he said, "I could've stayed in India."
We had to survive one more weekend before we could collect our parcel. Just one more. Then on Monday, having not eaten for four days, we walked a thirteen mile round trip to collect our food. I cried when I saw the vegetables. I actually cried, all because we had a fucking cauliflower to cook.
We carried the food home through the rain in several sports bags slung around us. At one point I honestly believed I wouldn't make it, so DickFingers took one of my bags and my hand and told me it was going to be okay.
We didn't eat much that night, we didn't know when we'd get any more.
The following Monday, still just half way through the parcel that was only supposed to last us a week, there was a knock at the door. I opened it to be greeted by an elderly couple, smiling and wearing Santa hats and Salvation Army uniforms. They had unexpectedly brought us another parcel because it was Christmas, and this one had a chicken in it. And fruit. And biscuits. I have never in my life been so grateful for a packet of bourbons and a tub of brandy sauce.
We survived through to Christmas and beyond. DickFingers got paid. I wrote some books. Between us, we now keep our heads above water. Paying off the consumer debt and the penalty charges that these unpaid debts have now accrued is still but a pipedream. We'll pay them eventually, if we don't die first. Either way, it's something we've long since ceased to allow to cause us sleepless nights. Some may say we should be ashamed of our poverty. In truth, we are, but one day we'll be dead. Why allow the time between this day and that to be filled with misery?
A bank caused our slide, another bank saved our lives. Not all bankers are bad.
Last month, for the first time in over a year, we treated ourselves to a chippy tea. TWICE.
This week we managed to put the heating on when we were cold.
I found thirty pence on the floor earlier.
And that, dear friend, is why I'm so fucking happy.
Enjoy the little things, folks. S'very important.