At the end of 1978 I was working in the the Unemployment Benefit office in Brixton, as a temporary clerk. At that time in London it wasn't hard to get a temporary job for a few months if you needed some money. When the contract came to an end after a few months, you could sign on for welfare benefits again, and indeed I signed on at the office in Brixton before I worked there, and afterwards too.
The Unemployment Benefit Office wasn't housed in any sort of office building. I think the building had once been a school. That's what it looked like anyway, an old Victorian School. The large hall where people queued to sign on every week might have been the school's assembly room, and the rooms where people worked were probably classrooms at one time.
In some ways it was quite a gloomy place. It was a shabby old building, not renovated, not well-lit, not warm, not comfortable in any way. On the other hand, the staff were mainly young and friendly and that made it not such a bad place to work.
Fortunately for me, my job didn't involve anything awkward. All I did was take fresh claims. When people came in to sign on as unemployed for the first time, I took their details and filled out the forms. I didn't have to do anything like assess their claims, or tell people that they weren't entitled to welfare, or anything like that. Which is just as well, because I'd have hated to do that.
I thought of this office recently when I heard an old Ian Dury record on the radio. Back in the unemployment office, the radio used to play through the tannoy system, and I have a pleasant memory that one day towards Christmas in 1978, the whole office brightened up when Ian Dury's Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick came on. Everyone liked that record. Everyone responded in some way when Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick played. There were clerks behind counters making little shuffling dance steps, or tapping their feet, and other clerks wandering around behind them singing the words under their breath. Everyone was cheerful while this song was on the radio. So I'm grateful to Ian Dury and the Blockheads for that memory.