"Exciting opportunity in pest control for dedicated individual. All equipment and training provided. £10 per hour plus expenses, great opportunities for advancement for the right individual."Ten pounds an hour is ten pounds an hour. It's good money. Not great money. Good enough though. And more than I'd get on the dole. After nearly a year of unemployment I'll pretty much do anything if I don't have to take another one of those bloody CV workshops again.
Funny, the government seems to think the only thing standing between you and over 600,000 vacancies is your inability to write a CV. Never mind we got CV writing crammed down our throats over many successive years in school, or that there's over a million people unemployed. No, the reason you’re out of work is clearly that you don't know how to list your work experience in chronological order. So off you go to another workshop sir, and remember - no more than two sides of A4...
I was stoical about my lot in life. You'd hope I would be, since I graduated with a degree in philosophy specialising in Stoicism and the lessons for "the good life". I had very early on realised that the old joke about how you spot a philosophy graduate (he's the guy behind the counter asking if you want fries with that) was pretty much accurate, so I wasn't expecting to get a job based on my degree. But I hadn't reckoned on how bad the job market would be when I got out there.
The old joke is no longer true. It’s not the philosophy grads asking about side orders; it's media, business, law, science. These days the minimum requirement for a job waiting tables these days is two masters and ten years’ prior experience.
I lucked out with a few temp jobs, mostly office work, nothing glamorous or exciting. Enough to get by. But then the jobs started to dry up. It was longer and longer between assignments. The agencies weren't calling as often, picking up the phone less.
And for 11 months I didn't work at all.
So when I spotted this position at the Jobcentre, I swallowed my doubts and my squeamishness, and went for it. Pest control at least sounded sustainable. There's always rats, mice, wasps, cockroaches and god knows what else. Plus maybe I'd never have to actually kill anything myself. Just bait some traps, collect the remains and dispose of them. Nothing involving blood, nothing involving being the one to pull the trigger, so to speak.
Adviser #15 (they keep changing, and I gave up taking note of names after #5) typed in the job reference number, pulled up the details, then looked at me.
"Yes, that sounds like an interesting career opportunity for me."
"£10 an hour."
"Uh yeah. It's not bad pay, considering. And the advert says that they pay exp-"
"Yes, and they provide training and-"
"Equipment and training provided."
"Yes, I did read that bit about-"
"Great opportunities for advancement."
"Look, are you just going to read the advert to me? Because I read the advert. That's why I brought it to you. Can you just give me details about how to apply?"
"Are you wanting to apply for this position?"
"Yes, I wouldn’t have brought it to you if I wasn’t-"
"And you understand that if you get this job it could affect your benefits."
"Yes, I understand that, I'm hoping if I get it I won’t need to be on-"
"And if you carried on claiming benefits while working we would need to stop your benefits and begin an overpayment investigation into you."
"Why would I-"
"I'm sure you wouldn't want that to happen to you. So we have to make sure that you're serious about applying for this position."
"Yes, I’ve told you I-."
"And you definitely want to apply for it?"
"Just give me the application form!"
Adviser #15 glared at me, then aggressively stabbed at the keyboard with her fingers. "There's no need to shout Mr Ryan. You won't get anywhere in life with an attitude like that."
A tangy, metallic taste filled my mouth as I bit my tongue. This is what the Jobcentre is like. Infuriate you to the point of no return, then punish you for reacting. At least this time I wasn't falling for it.
Adviser #15 grudgingly handed over the sheet of paper with the job details, and I snatched it away before she could change her mind. I got the hell out of there before I could be signed up for any more workshops, and headed for home.
I was going to apply the hell out of this position.
There was the small matter of my total lack of previous experience, my complete distaste for blood, and a squeamishness that means I can't even watch hospital dramas without needing a sick bag, but these were all minor issues that could be dealt with on the job. My main concern was actually getting the job in the first place.
I phoned the number the Jobcentre had given me. It rang four or five times, then kicked over to the answerphone.
"Thank you for calling Keinesohne and Sons Exterminators. Our office hours this week are 5.15pm to 4.30am."
Shit. Shift work. Maybe ten pounds an hour wasn't that good.
"If you would leave your name, number, and brief details of your enquiry we will get back to you as soon as humanly possible."
A short beep followed. "Hi, Mr..." I glanced at the job details. "Keine… Keinesohne? Yes, Mr Keinesohne, hello, my name is Will Ryan, I'm calling about the job you have advertised for exterminators? I'd very much like to meet with you to discuss whether I'd be suitable. If you could call me back on-"
And then the line went dead. One of those answerphones that only lets you record a very short message. Shit. And I'd spent far too long sounding obsequiously professional. I hit redial.
"Thank you for calling Keinesohne and Sons Exterminators. Our office hours..."
I waited for the message to end. "Hi, Will Ryan, calling about the job advert. My number is-" Again the line went dead. I redialled.
"Thank you for calling Keinesohne and Sons, the office is now shut. Goodbye."
When I redialled this time, the number failed to connect. Great.
I crumpled up the job sheet, and tossed it across the room in the vague direction of a wastepaper bin I thought might be there. It bounced off the wall and landed on the floor amongst a pile of similarly balled-up paper, clustered around a conspicuously absent bin.
I ambled to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea, then swiftly ran out of the kitchen to grab the baseball bat I keep by the front door (in case of political canvassers, door to door salesmen and Jehovah's Witnesses).
I returned to the kitchen, holding the bat out in front of me, pointed directly at the man sat at my kitchen table, drinking a cup of tea.
"Grabbed a weapon then came back. Interesting."
"Who... who the fuck are you? How the fuck did you get into my house? And... and... no, that'll do it for now, who are you?"
The stranger stood up and held out his hand. "Peter Keinesohne of Keinesohne and Sons Exterminators, and you, Will Ryan, called me about a job."
He was smiling at me, hand still held out. He wasn't what I expected from an exterminator. No boiler suit, no apparatus. And he didn’t seem like someone who ran the business, he wasn't in a suit. Instead he had on a pair of khaki combat trousers with innumerable bulging pockets, an olive green t-shirt and a hunter's vest over the top with yet more pockets bulging with lord knows what. He looked more like a soldier. No, he looked more like Action Man. Dressed, not like a soldier, but how people think a soldier dresses, with the same close cropped fuzzy hair, and his hand held out like it had kung-fu grip.
None of this however answered my questions.
"OK, that's who the fuck you are. But how did you get into my house?"
"Front door. I knocked, but you were on the phone, so I let myself in."
"Oh well that makes it OK does it? You knocked?"
"You were phoning me, I presumed you wanted to talk."
"Well, yes, but... at your office, I didn't expect you to break into my house!"
"I knocked. The door was unlocked. No breaking in required."
"That's not the point!" Then the question nagging at the back of my mind stepped forward and decided to make its presence known. "Hold on, how the fuck did you know where I live? I couldn't even leave my number on your answerphone, let alone my fucking address."
"Oh that's quite easy."
We looked at each other for a few moments.
"Not important. For now, come with me."
"What? No, where am I meant to be going? It's almost six, I want my fucking dinner."
"Work trial." He headed towards the door. "We can eat on the way. Coming?"
Don't ask me why, but I grabbed my coat and followed him. Maybe it was just the shock of finding a stranger in your house who seems to know a lot about you when you know nothing about them. Maybe I wanted to know how he knew my address. But I followed him out of the front door and towards the van parked outside.
"This is a fucking strange day."
"Day's not over yet" he said as we clambered into the van. He turned the key in the ignition, swerved out in front of oncoming traffic, then sped down the road. "Do you realise you say 'fuck' a lot?"
"Only when I'm caught off guard."
"Ah." He pressed his foot down on the accelerator. "In that case, I imagine you'll be saying it a fair bit this evening."