My first real job was at a local pub. I consider it real because it was for a very large company and they paid me direct into my student bank account. They didn't pay much into my student bank account and it is a testimony to my overdraft that I wound up spending far more there than I ever earned. But nevertheless, it was money over the counter, and up until then most of what I earned had been cash-in-hand. That was in 1995. It was my first opportunity to get a National Insurance number.
Today, almost 11 years later, I went up to a "jobcentre plus" to ask for one of these numbers. Two odd things happened. One, the first person I saw working there was someone I was in hall with in first year. We didn't know eachother. He was a fourth year and hung with the cool kids and I was an insignificant first year. We ran against eachother for some obscure post on the hall committee. He won. In any case, seeing this guy kind of ripped me out of queue autopilot (a sort of numb state I go into while waiting for anything that may take more than 5 minutes). I guess he was working there. He had an ID card clipped to his shirt and told the lady dealing with my queue that he was going home. It was only 1230. That actually fit perfectly with my vague memories of him from 12 years ago. No idea what his name was. His presence there was very random.
So, the second odd thing. Well, not so odd as frustrating. If you accept that there's quite a lot of beuraucracy that's very, very stupid, then realising that it's outsmarted (or in this case under-stupided) you is humbling. I just rocked up to the counter and said I wanted a National Insurance number. I had two pieces of ID and some tax document from last year that showed I'd been gainfully employed at one point.
Polite lady: Are you employed?
Me: Uh, not really, I'm writing a book at the moment.
Polite lady: Are you wanting to claim benefits?
Me: Well, uh, not really, I kind of want to avoid going on the dole.
Polite lady: In order get a National Insurance number, you need to either have a job or claim benefits.
Me: I've had jobs, and never got round to it. Uh, right. OK. I'll go. Sorry for holding up the queue.
I wasn't hungover, I suppose I had full use of my faculties and yet the two things I could have and should have done eluded me.
1 - lie. Tell her that I wanted to become yet another burden of the Welfare State and collect all the benefits to which I was rightfully entitled, simply by being too stubborn to find a job while writing a great work of literature.
2 - tell the truth. I am, for all intents and purposes, self-employed. Writing, web-design, IT flotsam. It may not be regular or paying work, but if I'm going to go around telling people I'm writing a book then writing's my job and I'm my boss. Duh.
Either would have saved me a return trip.
In other news, I went out for a pint yesterday. Well, four actually, but I hadn't been to the pub properly for ages. Well, I went for an after dinner pint on Friday but that doesn't count because it wasn't my local and it was part of an all-around evening, rather than just going to the pub for the sake of going to the pub. That may sound flimsy, but it's my story and I'm sticking to it.