A new year, a new adventure. Only this year it was a less likely destination, and an even lesser likely adventure, as we take another… step backwards, this time myself seeking full-time employment in the U.K. Which was overall a rather depressing and degrading experience, but it was necessary to test the water for a potential move and settlement in the U.K. down the line. So as Fanfan returned to Thailand to sit her law exams in Bangkok, I remained in the U.K. to live a life alone, while testing my own chances in the local job market in Bangor, Northern Ireland (U.K). For two months. Which felt like a year. But the reasoning was well worthwhile, as a steady job, and a presence in the British tax system, would ultimately pave the way for a longer-term visa for Fanfan down the line (following last year’s depressing realisations). But it doesn’t come without the realisation and reverse culture shock with a move back to life and employment in the U.K.
Testing the Job Market
I never planned on applying for jobs in November (when we first arrived) as we were more on holiday at the time, and I wanted to enjoy Christmas with family. But almost immediately after arrival, a local job popped up with the tourism board of my council (Events Officer: Evaluation & Grants), which was obviously in my ballpark. And my qualifications did fit relatively well (a degree in business, a diploma in financial management, and a diploma in tourism marketing). As well as recent experience working with big global travel brands. So I was confident to have a swing at it, only to be dropped before the shortlist. I told myself it must have been earmarked for someone internally (to not feel overly rejected) but I would also understand why it would. As it makes sense to work up through these careers, rather than just hire someone who has been aloof for the past 7 years. I am very much a risk when it comes to long-term employment, and, to be honest, I was relieved to dodge the 9-5 office job.
When Fanfan left (March) I was set to be alone for the coming 2 months, near 24/7, which was more by choice than anything, as I do enjoy my solitude (although this is generally seen as being weird in the U.K). So to keep my life as normal as could be I focused on holding down a routine, set pretty much the same as before, where I would wake at around 06:00 AM and sleep not long after sunset. I would work on the blog and daily tasks from the early hours through to 15:00 PM, before lighting the fireplace, cooking in the kitchen, and then watching crap on TV. Which typically included ‘Tipping Point’, ‘The Chase’ and then maybe the ‘The Eggheads’. But cooking was the only real enjoyment I had in the day, when I would experiment with food and recipes, and this (along with junk food) is what kept me motivated at this time. Then at night I was bingeing tv series, and catching up on 7 years of PlayStation games. I really enjoyed the routine. And the excitement through the weeks was the trips to the local Tesco, where I’d cycle on my bike, twice a week, to buy a whole bunch of food and alcohol to keep me entertained.
I decided if I was going to consider a job back home, it may as well be something I actually enjoy. As pay and potential career really do take a back seat in this decision. And instead I looked for self-employment, maybe, flexible hours, definitely not a desk job… And this brought me to opportunities in the shared economy (like Uber and Airbnb) where Amazon Logistics offer similar opportunities with their Amazon Flex multi-drop delivery drivers. And it was literally on the same day as Fanfan left, while signing up for job alerts, that I thought I’d apply for a couple of jobs (Google Maps driver the other). And I was already in for a job induction, by the end of the week, with one of Amazon’s contractors. And while it may not seem like many’s “dream job”, I do literally pay a lot of money to drive aimlessly around Europe and Asia on our regular road trips (we just arrived from 8 days driving through Scotland in the snow). Only with Amazon Flex I would be paid around £450 a week to drive around Northern Ireland (which easily covers the visa requirements) and, for once in my life, I was excited about a job.
So we signed up for the Amazon Logistics scheme on the first induction day, and had been given drugs (urine) and alcohol tests which I passed. We would then wait for background checks to come back before we would proceed further (filtering out potential thieves). And I also bought the necessary gear, i.e. steel toe cap boots and a hi-vis jacket, to be worn inside the warehouse. It was then a week later that I was brought in for a ride-along, sat alongside one of the lead drivers, for a full-day shift (I’ll share the Amazon Flex job later). And I am almost certain to have made almost the perfect impression, because I’ve actually run many leaflet drops and targetted campaigns in the past, and I pretty much predicted every scenario before walking in. So I went off to get the last of my necessary gadgets, including an Android phone, and a sim contract, before waiting for the call. Which never came.
A Change in Climate
Days then became much harder, with no idea if I had a job, or not, and I could never plan for the days ahead. It was just hard to feel settled, and while the job doesn’t seem like a huge deal, it would literally change our lives to come. But it never did come. Nor did my £120 promised for induction and training (£60 each day) but I had no real interest in chasing it up. But making the coming days worse, was the start of Spring and British summer hours, when I quickly found myself with 4 extra hours to kill in the day. And routine was ruined, as I was no longer lighting the fireplace at night, and people outside were just more active and busy around me. So I felt like I should be doing something, yet there really was nothing to do. Maybe join a club or whatnot. I was also housebound through this time, as the car had been stuck in the mechanics for 3 straight months after our Scotland Road Trips, and I had no idea if I’d ever see it again. And while I was always alone through this time, I can’t say I felt lonely, because I always had Fanfan on Skype if needed. But the more I stayed in, the harder it was to go out.
The Weekly Budget
While I had planned on making money during this time, I otherwise set myself a not-so-bad budget of £100 a week, and had no cash cards so I couldn’t be tempted to dip into our Thai accounts. (It’s around £25 more than Job Seekers Allowance (here) which I obviously didn’t claim for). But it did me well to begin with. Before all the unexpected costs. Like the near £200 for the work gear, which I may or may not ever use. Then Royal Mail somehow lost a package worth £104, which was me returning a wrong item sent by Amazon to begin with (and I may have misplaced the receipt). Not to mention the £473 we had already lost with Fanfan’s flight cancellations. I was haemorrhaging money. Yet I still felt fortunate to have a house, as well as options, whereas many job seekers may not have the same. So my main comforts of cooking, and food, and alcohol were diminished, to the point where I was jealous of the cats’ daily rations of fresh prawns, while I was eating Tesco Value Ham (I can’t deprive the cats). I even ordered 4 curry fried rices from a local Chinese, to get a free salted chilli chicken, then froze 3 of them to ensure I had at least some takeaway food for the coming weeks.
A Very Long Month
But it just felt like everything was going wrong. So I’m already near a grand down with car repairs still hanging over my head. I did hope to actually make some money through this time, but with the potential cost of the car repairs, it didn’t seem likely. Otherwise, the coming months seemed to go from one disaster to the next. I was trying to save money, yet was losing more than ever. Meanwhile, I was dealing with what I guess would be household problems, and it seemed like every other day I was contacting people, filling in forms, or sending letters, or complaints, and just dealing with mistakes and problems of others. I even had my dad’s personal details in front of me so I could impersonate him over the phone for various contracts and accounts. But I couldn’t really do the same for my mum (in a rather nasty scam situation here). But screw-ups by others, like Aer Lingus, Royal Mail, Amazon, Nationwide Bank, AXA Insurance, Car Mechanics, as well as just the ridiculous lack of communication in the job search, made it feel like they were doing it on purpose. Like the entire world was pulling one ginormous prank on me.
My (Other) Life Goes By
My life would obviously continue in Thailand, where Fanfan reluctantly joined projects alone, which was kind of a compromise given I was plying the job market in the U.K. So when she was on a 3-night, 5 Star Accommodation stay in Macau, with Michelin-star and fine dining for every meal at the 50 Best Restaurants in Asia. I was on my training day for Amazon. Then I was the one that would edit it all, while surrounded by grey skies and miserable weather. So it’s kind of weird as my life continues without me in Asia, but it honestly didn’t really bother me. As I really just enjoyed the break from travel. But I also had a lot of time to get back to some overdue posts on the blog (including our near-month-long road trip in France from 2 years ago). Meanwhile I set up the blog to potentially self-drive, given I won’t have time for it with a full-time job, and began accepting collaborative posts and guest posts on the website. So I was otherwise busy organising tasks and responsibilities to enable a full-time move to the U.K. It is something I am taking rather seriously.
Realizing the Realities
I had applied for jobs on the first day, in the first week I had my first induction/interview, but I only really applied for 2 jobs in total. Otherwise the job I was excited for was the Google Maps job (mapping driver), which I followed up to find if they received my application, asking a bit about shortlisting, and just trying to get an idea of the procedures involved. But they were “unsure as we are getting a high volume of applications”. Which I guess is fair. However these applications are made online, connected to emails, and auto-replies don’t exactly cost per person. It literally takes seconds to send out notifications of receipt, of short-listing, of rejection. It’s just ridiculously simple. Meanwhile, I was waiting, wandering, and ultimately never heard back from these jobs. It’s a bit boggling the lack of communication in these processes. And, like a mug, I held off applying for other jobs, because it felt like cheating on potential employers. But this seems to be the realities in the U.K. these days. Where dynamic companies, such as Amazon and Google, will only be as effective as the local workforce and recruitment. It’s certainly not a great place to be unemployed, which was highlighted last year when the U.K. ranked 54th (of 65) countries, by global expats, on where they like to live and work. Now 4 behind Russia, just 1 above China, and 3 above India.
So What Next?
I otherwise put the whole job search on hold after the end of the 1st month. When I then I won a Thai Blogger Awards 2018 (two years running now), and more or less had free flights to Thailand, and a week of free accommodation and travel. Something I had a fair idea about earlier, and had planned to turn it down given full-time employment. But, by this time, I really needed to escape this environment, and now plan to return for a fresh start. However I don’t exactly see this all as a negative experience. It was a learning experience. As I realized the realities of the job search in Northern Ireland. So I take these months more as a positive. The water has been tested. And as tempting as it was to cancel the return flight from Thailand, and return to my wife and life there, I am also not one to quit. So I will be back applying for more multi-drop jobs, where there are a bunch of alternative contractors and companies employing on a regular basis. Like Yodel, and Hermes, etc. And if I don’t land a place in the early months, these jobs will likely be offered in the dozens with the run-up to Christmas, and Black Friday. It’s almost a seasonal job. So I plan to show my dedication in these months, and if I manage to hold a driving job for 6 months, then we will be well on our way to securing Fanfan a more permanent visa to stay in the U.K.