The job centre is a fascinating place.
A well of genuine awfulness.
It is the place you arrive at having been swallowed by the quicksand.
A place for the disillusioned to become further disillusioned.
Purgatory on earth.
A smoking cauldron of bad vibes.
An itch you cannot scratch.
A dull mound of sorrow.
A place of supposed hope, that provides nothing but perpetual hopelessness.
A cave of universal misery.
Oh, it's not that bad.
It was 11.30 in the morning.
I joined the queue, and listened to people as they approached the greeting podium.
The security guard kept staring at me, as if I potentially presented some sort of threat.
I winked at him, and he looked away.
"I was supposed to sign on at 9 this morning", said one person.
"I'm in a rush because I have to be in court at 12", said another.
I handed in my slip of paper indicating my legitimacy to a lady who seemed drained by the world and it's collective woes.
She gave my details to the suspicious security guard, who's eyes narrowed as he assessed me once more, then beckoned me towards a bank of seats occupied by fellow jobseekers.
I recognised one gentleman sat there.
He had a carefully organised sideburn on each cheek that pointed towards his mouth in the shape of a dagger. When I first came across him he was wearing a suit. He looked sharp and keen, sat upright holding a large pad and pen. Actually, the pen was in fact only normal size. Now, he looked bedraggled and sorry. Week after week his appearance and quality of clothing had deteriorated. Stubble was fast eating away at the perfection of his striking facial hair concept, and he was now wearing an unflattering combination of flip flops and jogging bottoms.
It had only taken a month or so for the last thimble full of optimism that he had retained to be beaten out of him by this depressing protocol. Now he just looked like a bum. With no pad, or pen. He clutched his mobile phone as if it was a passport to freedom, a life jacket, a parachute - it had come to resemble a symbol of hope.
Maybe it would ring and he'd get some good news...
"No mobiles in here", said the security guard pointing at the guy's mobile phone. He had removed his glasses to indicate the seriousness of the situation.
The security guard, whose belly was disproportionate enough to give him a triangular profile, was seemingly irritating everyone. He sent a pregnant woman up several flights of stairs to sign on, only for her to reappear moments later:
"Apparently I'm supposed to be down here", she said, out of breath.
"Well I don't know, do I?" said the portly, uniformed git.
I couldn't help but notice, as 5 or 6 of us sat in wait for our slice of enlightened advice, that no one seemed to be doing anything.
Loads of staff, not doing anything.
Just sat there talking to each other, shuffling papers like broadcasters at the end of a news bulletin. The main topic of conversation seemed to be who was having what lunch break and when were they finishing their shift. This was sporadically communicated via the sensitive medium of shouting loudly across the room at each other.
"I don't know why I bother", said the chap next to me, who I now discovered was responsible for the dull cigarette stench lingering in the air. "All they ever do is suggest I get a job repairing air-conditioning ducts..."
I nodded in a non-committal but user-friendly fashion. I had made a special pact with myself not talk to anyone at all unless it was completely essential. I had been hoping that it would not end up being a suicide pact, but it was not looking good for me. Ladbrokes had stopped taking bets on that eventuality.
I get called over to speak to a lady who I have spoken to maybe 5 or 6 times in the past. Each time she acts as if she's never seen me before and asks me questions as if she's never spoken to me before. I walk past a co-worker of hers - a guy sat behind the desk next to her who I'm pretty sure was enjoying some alcoholic refreshment in the pub on the corner prior to his next appointment.
"How are you?" Said Vanessa, as I sat down and slowly lowered my forehead within millimetres of her desk.
"Not that good", I replied, in a rare fit of honesty.
"Excellent stuff", said Vanessa, pre-occupied with her computer screen.
She studied my jobsearch documentation evidence booklet, scanning over a deliberately poorly written paragraph in which I had written:
"Why do I bother writing this? You're looking at it, but not reading it - why don't you just smile and sign me off as usual".
She smiled and signed me off as usual, before, incredibly (given the amount of times she's asked me before), asking what kind of job I was interested in.
"I'd like to get a job repairing air-conditioning ducts", I said.