Current Occupation: Low-grade sales assistant for big supermarket company.
Former Occupation: Student, Music PR, writer, admin serf.
Contact Information: Bradford Middleton lives in Brighton on England's south coast. When he moved there he struggled to find work and this is a story from that time. It is a time he misses… For more from me follow @beatnikbraduk on Twitter.
THE DAZE LASTS FOREVER
Jack had only been living in Brighton for eighteen months but it was already starting to get to him and his increased anxiety levels made him question constantly whether he had made the right decision to relocate from London. If someone had grown bored of London then what hope life becoming more interesting in a town one-tenth the site where a night out on the JSA can leave you broke and close to the edge. When he had first moved it had seemed idyllic and he found it easy to meet people in all the wonderfully weird bars around town. The only problem was these people tended to be too cool to want someone like Jack as a friend, if they could be bothered to have any friends at all. Jack had once been a cool kid but he had long forgotten the joys of youth; he had just had his fortieth birthday and the idea of any youthful exuberance had long vanished.
What had ultimately led him to this situation were his lack of work opportunities; he was well-qualified, some employers thought him over-qualified, with a fair bit of previous experience in a few different type of roles from retail to office but nothing was coming through. The situation made him sad and angry as he saw the futility in looking for suitable work in the twenty-first century. He often asked himself what it would take for someone to give him a job. It had seemed easier to find work when he was a reformed junky with virtually no experience or qualifications than it did now and his increasing desperation to earn some money had seen him engage in some interesting conversations around town.
‘Here, drop this off for us and I’ll give you a cut?’
‘Erm, no thanks… I’d rather not be your courier; I can’t afford to be caught in possession again, let alone with all that!’
He didn’t understand where this situation had come from and it left him frustrated and antagonistic towards the authorities he had to deal with. It seemed he had a better idea of how to do their job than they did themselves and the constant question of ‘Why can’t you get a job?’ from which ever Job Centre Plus drone he was dealing with would drive him inextricably closer to the edge; spiralling out of control until he landed in the pub a short time after. Did they honestly think he didn’t want to work? With all the financial problems Jack had it was clear it wasn’t so much a case of wanting to work it was a case of needing too; his student debt was huge as were his credit card bills and overdrafts. It was a ridiculous situation that needed to be resolved. Every time he entered a shop or an office or anywhere for an interview they would chat for a few minutes and it would become apparent to Jack that they were scared by what was on his CV – time in the music industry, a master’s degree in something useless and lots of time spent in office jobs.
‘Why can’t they just get it into their skulls that I just want a job? I don’t want their job!’ Every interview had ended encouragingly but then within days, if not hours, there it would appear in his inbox yet another rejection letter with no apparent explanation. He had thought of a million ideas to get around this increasingly awful situation but all of them required the one thing he did not have – money. Jack’s life had entered a dark space and it was increasingly difficult for him to picture a way out; a way out from this mess of a life.
Every day was now the same. He would wake early and invariably lean over and discover the remnants of a joint from the night before in the ashtray and proceed to smoke it whilst making a cup of coffee before hitting the streets in yet another vein attempt to find work. He would often see the homeless masses getting free food from a local charity near the pier every day and he would often try and scam some but because it was clear he had somewhere to live he never succeeded despite often being ravenously hungry. He would try and pop into at least five or six places before coming home for his first food of the day, a sandwich and another joint and if he had sensed it was going to rain heavily or was feeling particularly negative after the morning’s activity he would sit and vegetate in front of his television for the remainder of the afternoon. At least he still had a television, it was his friend and he would always find something to cheer him up when he was feeling down. Those moments of happiness made the bleak moments seem worse so he only ever watched when he was particularly morbid. If he was lucky enough to have some food in the cupboard he would cook himself some dinner before settling down with a bottle of cheap, gut-rot wine whilst he would carry on smoking joint after joint. He only needed some smoke and some wine to stave off insanity and it cost so little in comparison to what else he would need if it wasn’t available. When he had first moved to Brighton, before he had found a decent dealer, he had run out and had to exist for over a week without it. It had driven him to the brink of insanity as he went out every night in order to numb the pain by drinking himself into oblivion. It was rare that he ever ran out but on the few occasions when he had it had always ended in a number of the worst hangovers he had ever experienced. It was as if everyday was becoming a nightmarish vision of how he was to spend the rest of his life; a sad reflection for a middle-age man who really just wanted to work enough to clear his debt. He vowed never to let things get this desperate again.
Jack lived in the middle of the city, not far from the famous West Pier that had famously burnt down but still cast a ghost-like shadow over the town with the remnants of its decaying structure noticeable above the water. It was a nice area, a bit expensive but then the life he led suited being in the middle of town as it meant he could walk anywhere he would need to on a regular basis, whether it be the Job Centre or one of those horrendous job club places that he was constantly being referred to or even, on those rare occasions when he could afford to buy food, the supermarket.
However in amongst all the grand million pound homes around his neighbourhood there was still some squalor and it was in one of these shared houses that Jack lived. Nine flats spread over four floors; his was the smallest and had no view, but at least it was a roof over his head even if some months he didn’t have enough money to cover rent. With every passing day life got harder but still Jack persevered with attempting to get it back on track. He kept thinking of something his dearly departed Gran had always told him, ‘If it doesn’t kill you it can only make you stronger,’ well if that’s the case then bring on anyone in a fight because Jack had never felt stronger than he had since moving into the house-share.
Occasionally when it wasn’t raining he would walk down the hill to the beach. The beach was his one place of solitude and reflection; he hated it during the summer due to the invasion of the tourists and Londoners who would swarm down on the trains. His favourite time of year for the beach was those glorious days of winter with the sun high in the sky and the beach all to himself. He would often sit there, invariably smoking a joint, and just stare out at the sea, wondering how it was beyond the horizon, was it as bad there as it was here. He doubted that it could be and damned himself for not taking his language classes seriously enough in school all those years previously. If only he had learnt another language maybe he could now be working in Europe and living a nicer life, or at least it was a nice dream to have.
It can only be about thirty miles to France, he would often think, feeling nostalgic for his parents who had retired out there some years before. They too had no idea why their only son was in this predicament and tried as best they could to sometimes help him out with some money that they too could hardly afford. The even scarier thing was that all of Jack’s friends seemed to be in a similar situation when it came to work. It appeared hardly anyone worked a full-time job in Brighton, there were some who even had to commute to London everyday just to work but it was mostly a motley assortment of students, drug dealers and bar workers who actually lived and worked here.
On one of those magnificent spring days when the world seemed to be just right Jack had visited the beach. As he was walking back up the hill to his poky little room he bumped into Tom. Jack had first meet Tom at one of those laughable long-term unemployed groups and they had got on pretty well but there was something about Tom that made Jack feel slightly uneasy. Frustratingly he could not fathom what it was that gave him this feeling but it was all to become very obvious within a matter of minutes of them meeting on this occasion.
“Hey Jack” Tom shouted seeing his friend walking up the slope leading to the bottom of West Street. This had taken Jack by surprise. Despite his long time in town he was still a largely anonymous face and not many people noticed as he stalked the streets everyday.
Walking towards each other Jack moved his hand out to shake Tom’s when they came together. Within a few minutes they were in the Fiddler’s Elbow, a rather ramshackle pub just off the main thoroughfare of West Street, the main strip of bars for visitors and out-of-towners at weekends and the sort of place that would turn into a virtual war zone on a Friday or Saturday night. Within seconds it was obvious to Jack that Tom was off his head on something but seeing as he was paying for the beers, with whisky chasers no less, that were currently in front of them on the bar, he didn’t particularly mind. There were so many people who were like that in Brighton that Jack had become accustomed to it.
“Well, what do you think?” was the next thing Jack heard from Tom and it obviously confused him as he hadn’t been listening, he was just grateful for the free drinks.
“I’m sorry mate, I’ve got a lot on my mind today… run that by me again?”
“No worries, what I was saying was my mate down in Hove, he’s got this mental whiz at the moment and I was wondering if you fancied little business deal where we could sell some on at a great profit to each other?”
“Hmm, I’m not sure, times may be hard but I don’t think they’re that bad yet. Anyway, I used to have a bit of a problem with amphetamine’s a few years back and I wouldn’t really trust myself not to take all of it and in all honesty that is the last thing I really need right now.”
Jack secretly knew that his rent was leaving his account tomorrow and there was barely enough to pay that let alone get involved in some shady deal with a guy he didn’t even know that well. But unfortunately Tom was having none of this and demanded drinks off Jack as he had generously bought the first round, the only problem was that he had no money on him and if they visited the cash-point Tom would clearly see the four hundred pound lying in Jack’s account and that could only lead to the situation worsening. He would clearly have to talk his way out of what was becoming an increasingly fraught situation but was unsure how to progress. Suddenly, and probably as a result of the mixture of amphetamine sulphate and the beer and whisky currently circulating in his body Tom stood up and headed towards the toilet. Jack’s moment for escape had come, unexpectedly, and after downing the remains of his pint in super-quick time he was off, out the door, running, and towards the Lanes where he knew he could lose just about anyone.
After about an hour he finally felt safe enough to contemplate going back out into routinely packed commercial areas of Brighton and as he walked up North Street towards the clock tower, which meant he was now only ten minutes from home, he suddenly heard a scream of pain in the near-distance. It was then that he saw Tom beating down a man, who was simply lying there covering his face and body with his hands and arms. People were watching in a state of disbelief, this sort of thing simply didn’t happen in Brighton, well at least not at four o’clock on a Wednesday afternoon, and everyone seemed too scared to get involved. Jack had seen plenty of fights whilst growing up in south London but he had never seen anyone dole out quite as ferocious beating as Tom was currently doing.
Jeez, it must be the speed that’s making him like that, Jack thought as he turned away again and began walking fast up the hill onto Clifton Terrace. ‘I hope he didn’t see me’ crept into his thoughts but that was constantly being contradicted by the thought that he was too pre-occupied to even notice anyone, let alone him. This calmed him and reassured him of his own safety and it wasn’t long before he was home, listening to the even more calming strains of the 13th Floor Elevators whilst smoking a monster joint that he began to forget the afternoon’s event.
The next day things changed again with the astonishing news of a job offer, only for six months, but still it was nevertheless a job and something with which he could put up a fight with the bank and at least fend off the threat of bankruptcy for a few more months.