Yesterday at the job centre waiting my turn, I saw a girl on the seat opposite me carrying a tiny dog in a sling designed for a baby. It passed the time wondering what it all meant before I was called up to a cubicle to see someone.
‘Yes,’ a grey haired woman asked me without expression.
‘I have to change my rendezvous date,’ I started. ‘I’m going to Paris. To see my girlfriend. I’m leaving Thursday. My rendezvous is Friday. I’ll be back next week. Monday.’
I handed her my TGV ticket as proof and then waited for an age as she painstakingly inspected it as though searching for some hidden motive. It felt like those long agonising minutes at football matches before half-time when you’re absolutely dying for a pee due to the eight pints of lager you drank in the pub before kick-off.
At least I wasn’t sweating profusely, which sometimes happens in these situations. I remember having an interview in a posh hotel in Birmingham a few years ago. Spending the entire half hour sweating like I was playing the drums in a 60 degree sauna while at the same time trying to look composed and professional. Eventually prompting the interviewer to ask me halfway through if I was OK. I said I was fine. Just hot.
The woman took her glasses off. ‘But this isn’t an official visit,’ she said glaring at me through the perspex screen. ‘It’s not for an interview. C’est un voyage personnel.’
‘I know,’ I stammered. ‘But I’ve never been to Paris.’
Her glare intensified.
‘And neither am I receiving any chômage (dole money),’ I continued. ‘So it doesn’t really matter whether I’m here or not, does it?’
That shocked her. Even more than hearing that I’d never been to Paris. So shocked in fact that she stopped doodling on my TGV ticket and asked me what I was doing here.
And so began my long convoluted explanation as to why I was in France, why I was in Bordeaux, why I didn’t have a job, why I wasn’t receiving any dole money, and so on and so on.
What was so incredible though about the entire incident, was her change in mood. From one of utter contempt at the beginning, to one of almost love at the end.
‘You poor bastard,’ she must have thought. ‘Everybody in France gets the chômage; it’s a way of life.’
I left the job centre and went back home to reprint my TGV ticket which now had pictures of beaches, mountains and forests on it. I felt sorry for her. I mean what a life, dealing with people like me all day from behind a perspex screen.
Anyway, the point of this blog post was to say that I’m off to Paris tomorrow. I lied in the Job Centre. I have been to Paris. On a school trip in 1989. But as I don’t remember anything about it – how we got there, where we stayed, what we saw, what we did, what we ate – it may as well be my first time.
So au revoir Pôle Emploi. And bon voyage (personnel)…