Thursday 17 June

I ‘sign on’ and for the second time in my brief career as unemployed hear someone desperately trying to come off benefits, despite having no job to go to. Yes, Manchester once again finds itself testing a new system for the new century, or the one after that (you will recall how the recent trialling of ID cards belly-flopped so spectacularly in the sensible North West). When it comes to ‘Jobseeker’s Allowance’ the mechanics can be so complicated, so baffling and/or terrifying that some genuine claimants rather despairingly believe they’d rather do without. ‘Fair play, release ‘em; leave ‘em to it!’ the cash-strapped government may say. ‘If only it was that easy,’ the advisor advises each want-away, mournfully, ‘but to relinquish your non-salary requires you to navigate a series of obstacles more challenging than many work-based tribulations. And it’s not like I can guide you through them. You need to speak to the rather terrifying Mr X, in Lytham-St-Anne’s, long-distance.’

In contrast, I appear to be one of the luckier few. There is a social security category for ‘author’ (my advisor seems as stunned as I by this) and any jobs they come across in that sphere (proofreader, copywriter etc) will be tossed my way. Most grateful and all the more if they can be home- (or USA-) based. I doff my cap and leave to rapturous applause. As ever I am stunned by the power of language to affect everyday lives. Those who panic in the face of bureaucratic questions get caught out by or caught up in the system, while others need only chuck out a long word or two, to see their status instantly elevated. While I myself am not immune to somewhat verbose and self-indulgent prose, I dread the day when an educated murderer charms himself out of trouble in the dock, while an inarticulate innocent is sent down for the crime of miscommunication, having been labelled as irredeemably word-shy.

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