Thursday, 3 December 2009

Living in a Guesthouse

As regular readers may have detected I am no longer unemployed.  After being put under investigation the moment I signed on as unemployed, spending £5500 in savings (very fortunate that I had predicted unemployment for over a year and had saved hard) and getting only three days' work in four months, I have now got a full-time job.  It is promotion, a little more pay and has greater responsibilities, which is useful for when I have to apply for work again next year.  It is only a 1-year contract which means I will have to start applying for jobs, probably by Easter at the latest and even then none of my bosses can tell me whether my job will be there let alone in the current form beyond July because of restructuring.  However, I must be grateful for small mercies as it does mean some money before Christmas and at least a short break from hour upon hour of filling in application forms running to 5000 words.

The job is 130Km from where I live and for one year there seemed no point in selling my house and moving.  I thought to rent a small flat and stay in it during the week and return home on the weekends.  The trouble was that it soon became apparent that whilst rents were much the same as in my home town, though the new town is smaller and has fewer places available, I could not get over the hump of affording the deposit on a flat, usually £1,100-£1,500 (€1208-€1648; US$1826-US$2490) for a one-bedroomed flat or a studio flat.  I would have needed to get the job three months ago to have been able to afford that.  It turns out my new employer should have recruited me (or someone) at least three months back as the running down of staff in the offices I manage means we have now gone the point of no-return for many activities, we just have too few staff, let alone experienced ones.  I have pressed for more recruitment but even if we got someone straight away we are going to run into problems before they are in post and working effectively.  That, however, is another symptom of British business, you pare so far back to the bone to the extent that in the next steps you take the leg will drop off and you find you cannot walk any more.

Anyway, the aspects of the business aside, I had a choice of commuting 260Km to and from work each day through rural southern England, beautiful yes, but very hazardous given I come and go in darkness and the heavy winds and rain we have been having or I move into a hotel or guesthouse.  That is what I did.  It might seem that paying £40 (€44; US$66) per night would be more expensive than renting a flat.  Of course, I can rent by the night so I do not have to find the deposit I do not have and also I do not have to pay for gas, electricity and water; nor do I have to pay for a separate television licence for the flat and I also get out of having a second council tax bill.  Every local council wants you to pay in full even if you only live in their town for part of the week so it is very likely I would not be able to get out of paying in my home town and in my work town.  Food bills of course would be cheaper, as the guesthouse only provides breakfast.  However, I can eat subsidised at work and I found anyway that if I eat two cooked meals a day (on the first night I ate in a local pub) I simply feel bloated.  Sandwiches bought from a shop are proving more than enough for my evening meal.  Of course over the Christmas period, unlike with a flat, if I am not in my work town I have to pay nothing.  It may not be ideal but it is less ridiculous than it might first appear.  In the name of reducing carbon dioxide emissions my employer is happy for me to work from home one day per week saving even more cash.

One thing I would warn you if you intend to visit a provincial British town in the next few weeks, is arrange your accommodation early.  I ended up at the eighth hotel I tried, all the others were full.  Having got on alright with the current hotel I tried to book again for next week to find almost all the rooms had already been booked and I could only have more expensive ones.  Why so many people are rushing to very ordinary British towns, mid-week, I have no idea.  Potential guests keep turning up at the guesthouse where I am now and being turned away, implying that demand still remains high and possibly unsatisfied.  Perhaps it suggests that the kind of working-living pattern I have adopted is far more common than you might think.  Being a British location none of the guests actually talk to each other.  We all already have our selected places at breakfast and only those in groups actually speak, the rest eat in silence.  Today a woman with her partner appeared, but otherwise all of the residents of this place seem to be male and working either in offices or building sites.

In some ways it feels very traditional as if I were in a Charles Dickens or an Arnold Bennett novel or perhaps in a movie like 'The Lavender Hill Mob' (1951) or 'The Ladykillers' (primarily the 1955 version, but the principle pretty much stands for the 2004 one as well).

The difference is that in this age in which space is maximised and we are all so very much more private than we ever were fifty years ago, we do not all sit down to dinner with the landlady at the head asking about our day.  Instead we all hide away in our rooms, equipped with private bathrooms (though this institution does have 'standard' rooms from which residents must go down the corridor to use the bathroom or toilet and that is very traditional) and our slimline televisions fitted into the wall.  In addition, very handy for bloggers the place has wi-fi.  It has quite a weak signal, some from properties nearby are stronger and I tried piggybacking on a neighbouring hotel's stronger network to no avail.  Now I have stopped my laptop whining that I am not connected to the company system, which seems a mad difficulty given that laptops are designed to be taken off site, I can sit in my room listening to the odd bumps and the groans of the plumbing, coming from neighbouring rooms fitted together as if we were a three-dimensional tetris game.  Though it is a small space and I will be gone from here tomorrow to spend the weekend at home and I have been allocated a different room for next week and a third for the week after, it does feel like a refuge.  Perhaps something I really need at present away from my usual setting and engaging with work once again and work in which the bosses are pretty challenging.  I was appointed over other candidates due to my ability to manage staff and get the best of them, but the first task I am assigned is to get more work out of fewer people when the existing batch are already working flat out and only completing work through (unpaid) overtime.

Anyway, this was not how I envisaged the next phase of my working life.  This stage may be ephemeral but it is interesting to end up with quite a different lifestyle one which owes a lot to historic patterns of work and residence and yet has many elements of the challenges of modern British society from people being non-communicative to ICT problems laid on top.

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