Tuesday, November 08, 2005



"What you are running here is not a factory, it is a zoo. But in a zoo there are many types of animals. Some are monkeys who dance on your fingertips, others are lions who can bite your head off. We are the lions, Mr. Manager"
-Jayaben Desai, Grunwick '77

Reading the piece on K-Punk about unemployment (and the rather spiffing additional commentary by the gombeen man who runs 'Scrabbling At The Lock' Blog, which I'll link to shortly - I bet you're well chuffed!), I'm struck by the realisation that I've spent almost all of my adult years employed. I've always 'been' 'doing' 'something'. Most times, when I worked between the ages of 17 and 24, I was either a) about to be evicted and needing to cough up rent, like, pronto b) doing it as a shortcut to that ever-elusive Flying V guitar. I never did buy a Flying V, as when I subtracted the actual dosh for rent, alcohol, fags, gigs, Es and the odd ragga clash tape or TG live album, there normally wasn't enough left to buy a pack of custard creams. (Anyway, I finally got to have a 60-second thrash on a Flying V at the Notting Hill MVE Instruments shop, even though the moribund bastard behind the counter unplugged me for the mere technical foible of 'not being able to play').

I'm sure counter cultural types will snigger - after all, this supposed punk rocker, wasting his youth working for The Man! I will return to this point and dissect it later. Yes, at the time it seemed unfair - why did my friends all manage to get cool jobs? Ben, for instance, got a cushy number in a second hand bookstore on Charing Cross Road, working with Dave Tibet's girlfriend. Mike Leigh used to pop in his shop and they got to sit around all day talking about Thomas de Quincy and listening to Stereolab. WHEREAS I always seemed to end up getting hit by whatever revolting slop the Jobfynder General had scooped from the depths of the U-bend. And in the meantime, years and years of rejection letters from magazines...("Dear Martin, Many thanks for your interest in the vacancy for the position of staff writer on 'Model Railway World'... unfortunately, your cover letter was hand-written in illegible scrawl and you declined to mention any interest whatsoever in old Hornby kits, which we deem a vital quality for those privileged enough to work for our august publication...")

Anyway, I've decided to make a list of some of the various jobs I did . This will probably be of zero interest to the average reader, and should be seen as an act of highly personal catharsis - but cut me some slack, as I never had a 'year out' to ponder existence and discover myself. At best, you can shake your heads and laugh at my folly.


You used to be able to pick up 'cash in hand' jobs in a number of pubs in Camberwell. I scored a lot of garden work with a Rangers fan called Billy (what else?), whose claim to fame was that his cousin had shared a cell in borstal with Les Mc Keown of the Bay City Rollers. We used to drive down Clapham in a van and then he'd bugger off and leave me in a rich woman's garden with a load of tools. Smashing her shed to a debris of splintered wood and broken glass was fun enough, though ripping the limestone out of the earth was backbreaking.

Why are middle class people so mean? Even though it was sweltering, the woman would bring me a tiny glass of tapwater, which I'd glug down in 3 seconds, and then offer me nothing for the rest of the day. Whereas whenever Billy sent me on lawnmower duties to the estate off Flodden Road, the old dears in the flats would ply me with endless mugs of tea. One even cooked me a fry-up once, and told me what a nice young man I was and how my mum must've been dead proud, and wasn't it awful for young people today, no future and no money and all the crime and the drugs, and you live in this country all your life and the council never sorts out the leak in your kitchen, but they come round as soon as the coons next door have a problem....they were nice sausages though...

Anyway, the Clapham woman's mother came round one day and started screaming at me and Billy, "I SPECIFICALLY TOLD YOU NOT TO REMOVE THE LIMESTONE! IT'S TO BE KEPT HERE! YOU'VE PROBABLY TAKEN IT OFF TO SELL IT, WELL I WANT IT RETURNED, ALL OF IT! AND YOU'RE TO STAY HERE AND SUPERVISE THIS BOY, LOOK WHAT STATE HE'S LEFT THE BACK POSTS IN!" Billy just laughed and drove off. I packed it in one day when it rained. I got paid 35 quid a day, which was my weekly rent in the roach motel in Camberwell Church Street (above 'Andrew's Insurance', if it's still there - if you're passing, pop in and tell the miserable bubble that me, Andy and Caroline had a massive party on the money we never paid towards the phonebill)

Worst memory - the time my strimmer hit a wet dog turd and the rancid shit splattered all over my arm. But it was quite cool coming back on the tube from Clapham to Oval, arms, T-shirt and face smeared in earth and mud stains, with a big canvas shoulderbag, packing a massive fuckoff hammer and a pickaxe. I'd walk up to the Skinner Arms, down a pint of Guinness and flirt with the old bag behind the bar. I was the only teenage punk rock navvy in Camberwell and if you wanted a shed pulverised, I was your man.


God, this was unbelievable. Had to lurk around outside Oval tube like a pervert, in the rain, and note how many vehicles, by type, passed by. I popped in the caff at one point, and some retard with an identical clipboard followed me in, yapping, "You can't just wander off, it's not allowed, they'll do you if they find out!". I did get done a few days later, and couldn't have cared less. Nobody ever ticked off the correct numbers of motorbikes vs HGVs anyway, surely - or, here's a scary thought, maybe they did!!!


Me and my Californian flatmate Brian one day realised we'd spent almost all our money on drugs and couldn't afford electricity, so we decided to become bus conductors. You'd think it just involves turning up at the depot, but you actually have to fill in a never-ending form, supply London Transport with urine samples and do an aptitude test before you even get down to the basics.

Everyone laughed at me when we got our uniforms and I asked where the hat was. "S'alright mate, you don't have to wear one", one of the blokes said. But I insisted on the hat! One of the guys dug one out and I was ready to do my first of many trips on the Number 36. I know some people hate the idea of having to wear a uniform cos it negates their individuality and all that, but I actually quite liked it, in a furtive "Mr Ben" way.

The route went - Lewisham (pick up scabby, dribbling old drunks) ; New Cross (all the anarcho punks, crusties and freaks) ; Peckham (rude boy crews stomping up the stairs) ; Camberwell (art students and bedsit writers) ; Vauxhall (gay clubbers spilling out of the Vauxhall Tavern) ; Pimlico (most people had gotten off by now) ; and finally Victoria, where some scabby, dribbling old drunks would get on, and the whole thing started again.

Every weekend night without fail, someone would return to the depot with bruises and cuts from where a passenger had
attacked them. Never happened to this cat - I couldn't be arsed to ask for fares half the time. Some furious looking Jamaican would kiss his teeth and snarl "CHILD FARE!" at me. "That'll be 40p, son" I'd reply. No way was I getting bashed in the snout for LT. Funniest though was when a load of kids got on for some 'Legalise Cannabis' protest march. I was chatting to some tasty punkette with a circled 'A' T-shirt, when she flashed me a yearly travelcard - woaah, smash the fucking system!

Anyway, Brian got fired cos some woman got off too early or something and broke her ankle. I lost my job a week later when I blew out a weekend of shifts to go up to Glasgow. It was good money though, and allowed me to buy TG's stunning 'Rafters - Psychic Rally In Heaven' bootleg album.


Packing pharmaceuticals in a factory in Perivale. This shithole was run by a bunch of Pandits who demonstrated aptly why (admittedly thick) kids end up supporting the BNP. When I rolled in at 8am, the slimebag in charge insisted on showing me around the site. This took half an hour. "OK, we'll put you down as beginning at 8.30" the cheeky vulture announced. I told him that I'd be back down the Jobcentre and reporting him for fraud, and he grudgingly ticked me off as having started at 8.00. Cunt.

Well, what did I do? I packed legal drugs into cardboard boxes, by order. Prozac was a constant big seller, though Christ knows, if anyone needed it it was me, working in that dimly lit hive. Fag breaks meant you were docked 15 minutes' pay per smoke, but seeing as we were in the middle of an industrial estate and there was nowhere to go for lunch, I just took four lingering smokes every day instead.
There was an old guy there and I really felt sorry for him. He'd worked at Kodak for 30-odd years, had then been made redundant and, by some hideous freak of fate, ended up here. He was bitter and angry and scornful, but undeniably sad. This place was killing him, but he couldn't bring himself to tell the pack of them to fuck off. Next time you feel like penning a lyric about how cool you are compared to the idiotic, blank slates doing dead end jobs, bear in mind this bloke was a fellow human being who'd hit his 50s with no family or friends, and had nothing to look forward to except another round of 10-hour shifts. I have no doubt, given the mentality of the vermin who employed us, that if he'd dropped dead from a heart attack, they'd have phoned the local temp agency before bothering to dial for an ambulance.

Things came to a head when I refused to climb up a metal ladder that contravened every safety regulation under the sun. For some reason, not wanting to end up in a wheelchair was seen as a sign of insubordination and I was given a 'caution'. I told them that my Uncle Jimmy had died (he's died numerous times since 1986, often to help me get time off -cheers Jimmy!) and that I had to fly over to Ireland for the funeral, so I wouldn't be in the next week. The wanker replied, "Do you have to attend?" I told him to go and fuck himself, with a bit of a cliche'd "Watch your back around Wembley" threat, and I've never been back to Perivale since.


Ha ha ha...oh my sides, what a wit...I was employed to - actually I don't know. It was a branch of Lloyd's Bank in Wembley, and I had to sift through transparencies of account statements, and look for certain transactions by date and customer. I'm sure I did it all wrong. I didn't really talk to anyone, I was seen as temp scum and only good for doing the most menial of tasks. Imagine trying to read reams of Spectrum-generated text on 10,000 strips of camera film, and that's what it was like. I used to fuck up constantly, normally by accidentally spilling half the transparencies onto the floor, or by placing them back in the wrong envelopes.

Look, this was braindeath, so I'll cut to the filthy part ; I had a bossy Indian supervisor who always wore high heels and a short skirt and had massive thighs, and I once wanked off imagining shooting all over her legs . I lasted six weeks.


I hope that everyone who attended South Bank Polytechnic in Elephant & Castle in the 1995-1996 year is thoroughly grateful for the sterling work I did in mopping your robust academy's stairs clean. Working with bins and toilets is never pleasant, and I really deserve a pat on the back for scraping the chewing gum off the floor in the lecture hall. I worked with some guy called Ray who used to call me 'Marxist' instead of 'Martin', and would do his cockney wide boy impersonations until someone of higher authority in the cleaning chain demanded he fix yet another problem. "'Ere Marxist, there's a load of ants in the toilet! Oh bloody 'ell, we'll have to call the pest inspectors in. Get down there Marxist!" AND DO WHAT? Serve the ants an eviction order? Mop them to death? This job was completely crap, and as soon as I'd raised enough cash for a couple of months' rent, I sacked myself off.


I thought being a barman would be a bit of light relief, but I ended up in a pub in Edgware called The Beehive. The place was patronised by underage drinkers who would always kick off after two bottles of Kronenberg. The bar manager was a pederast called Bex, who used to regularly slip off upstairs with a 14-year old, leaving me to deal with the baying throng. There was a Korean barmaid at one point, and some cunt spat at her and called her a "Japanese bitch". Eventually, when the ashtrays started getting waved around, I'd tell Bex I was going to get some ice and just sit in the basement, relaxing with a cigarette and a bottle of Woodpecker.

Not many fun stories, which is unusual for a barman, granted. I did once accidentally pour someone's girlfriend a white wine and cider (as opposed to soda) - neither saw the funny side. I took it down to the basement and drank it, and it wasn't that bad. But by 10pm, I'd have a thirst on, and serving pint after pint after pint to other people on a Saturday night just isn't on. Somebody got stabbed outside one night, and a gang of idiots turned up for a spot of revenge, laying into a group of kids who'd been sitting by the door, and that was it - I just told Bex to stick his 3 pounds an hour and walked out.

Conclusion - I learnt it's way harder to pour a good pint of lager with a decent head, than to pour a Guinness.

Assuming anyone's still reading at this stage, I would like to point out my findings. Yes, in some respects, I have worked in menial, crap jobs when I could have signed on, foregone the TG albums, and avoided work. You could argue that immersing myself in the psychogeography of the route of the Number 36 is a poor substitute for all the additional books I could have read had I never shown up at the Camberwell depot. But I had to live on something.

However, I'd like to go back to the whole counter culture / wage slave intersection. In all my jobs, I believe I have met a wider range of people from all sorts of background than I would have had I stayed in some isolated 'scene'. I also managed to get to grips with workplace psychology, how to cover my back and test limits, and the methods by which a number of commercial enterprises operate. This is no fucking advert for going out and getting a job, but I refuse to buy into this absurd notion that the workplace is a pen for mindless sheep (to be clear - this is NOT what I read into K-Punk's piece, but more a criticism of other, more romantically minded 'individuals', whose scribblings I've had the grave misfortune to witness).

I've seen some lunatics in shirts and ties and London Transport jumpers who would probably shock most self-professed 'alternatives' with their outlandish behaviour and offbeat personalities. The idea that everyone who passes through these temp agencies, pubs, depots, offices and factories is a dull clone, compared to Davey O' Cool down the Music and Video Exchange, would be amusing if it wasn't quite so repulsive.

Overall, life's too short for regrets though. If I was told I'd never be allowed to write again, I wouldn't have a problem with sweeping the streets, if that's what it came down to. I'm not cursed with the Protestant work ethic or 'job pride', thank you very much. And it's really for the best that I couldn't ever play guitar, cos I would have been the most arrogant, power-mad, irritating cunt to ever have disgraced the cover of 'Melody Maker' had I been able to play more than an atrocious rendition of "Chainsaw" by The Ramones. No shit!
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