An occasional series of things that get right on my tits
No.6: The Smear
My first real job after college was as a clerk at the dole office in Reading. This was the mid-1980s when Thatch was doing her best to create as many paupers as possible, and Reading was heaving with the jobless, who swarmed in their thousands to my window at the Department of (Un)Employment. It was, at the time, the nation’s only growth industry.
For each and every one of these people, the routine was the same - present the UB40, sign the chit and go off to your cash-in-hand job. One morning, I even met the lad was was supposed to be fitting my parents’ bathroom. A nod and a wink and he was on his way, before plying me with drink down the Duke that night in a desperate (and entirely successful) attempt to buy my silence.
This process also involved, for many, the taxing task of signing one’s own name, and in order to achieve this, as many of the body’s non-essential functions were switched off, including the important one that controls your balance. Many of the claimants were already prepared for this as they walked into the building, it seemed, using half empty cans of Special Brew by way of a counterweight.
They’d grab the pen, and with a thud their head would collide with the plexiglass that separated me from a daily fatal beating, while concentrating fully on the task in hand - “X”. Then, like thieves in the night, they’d be away, leaving a lovely souvenir to admire - the smear of weeks, months, years of hair grease.
One smear of dole-ite’s hair grease. Now multiply this by a couple of hundred. At four windows. And it’s raining outside. By the end of the day, the smear would get so thick that you couldn’t actually see their faces. When one of the four James Bonds on our books turned up, cunningly disguised as a middle-aged unemployable layabout, I swear it was the real thing.
At closing time, the grease is painstakingly scraped from the windows by heavy-duy implements wielded by highly trained specialists and sold on to the doner kebab industry. FACT.
To this day, I cannot travel on a bus or train where some smeggy bastard has rested their head against the window, leaving that eye-level spider’s web of mouldy head-gunk that makes me reach. This is a complete bugger as I seem to spend rather a lot of time on trains. In fact, I’d rather listen to Celine Dion while being tickled round the private parts by Brain Blessed and Jocky Wilson.
My advice to the greasers of this world is simple: Buy some shampoo, you smelly gits. I gather Asda own-brand is remarkably good value for money, and used imaginatively can double up as soap while you’re pissing in the shower.
Fate, it must be said, played a cruel, cruel trick on me. A couple of years ago, I “forgot” to pay my council tax and got a court summons. I could only get around it if I went down the council offices that day and paid up two months’ worth of cash. So there I was, on the wrong side of the plexiglass, staring at the blurred face of the clerk through a mist of grease. He gave me the chit of paper to sign, and my legs buckled....
Somebody buy me these.