Visiting the Social Welfare office for the first time proved easy enough. I was expecting the process to be a lot more intimidating, with long queues similar to the days when you stood in a long line to renew your motor tax or in the early days of the recession when unemployment skyrocketed. Not so.
You need your Public Services Card before you can engage with staff, and while I had one, I had neglected to have it activated. Thanks to my buddy Brendan mentioning this a few days ago, I was able to make the call while standing in a laneway around the corner from the Social Welfare office.
There were very few in front of me, which threw me a little. In fact, when I selected my ticket and sat down I realised I was number 7 – and the electronic board told me that no 3 was already being dealt with. A few minutes later No 7 flashed up and I approached the desk. Unfortunately, there is very little privacy involved – there were clients/customers on either side of me whose every word I could hear if I had been bothered, so I presume they could also hear mine. I also had to stand throughout the process, so it’s just as well it didn’t take too long. I was asked a few routine questions, then given a time for an appointment with the welfare officer for next Friday, altered to Monday week when he realised that had already been taken.
A technical glitch meant the guy I was talking to couldn’t print out the appointment details for a few minutes. Incidentally, I noticed not one of those at the front line engaging with us at the desk had identity tags. Is there a reason for that? He also handed me a form to complete, telling me I needed to bring a few documents with me, such as ID, etc. it was all over in about 10 minutes.
By the way, one of the first things to hit me from January 1 was the high cost of transport. Up to now I had an annual tax deductible bus ticket which was roughly €1,000 gross, before allowances kicked in. A single fare to Cork from Ballincollig is €3.90 for an adult, or €7.10 return. Needless to say I bought a Leap card straight away.
It will take time to adjust to suddenly being one of Ireland’s jobless. While some of you assume I have retired, that isn’t true. My work pension won’t kick in until I’m 65 – three years and nine months away – so, finding work is a necessity.
The last day in the office was tough going for a start. Nothing quite prepares you for those final hours, knowing that your newspaper career is over. I kept myself relatively busy editing features. But it seemed like the longest day I ever endured in the office. And how was I to handle the final few hours? I found myself snatching glances at the clock every so often. I tried reading the papers, but for once they held no interest for me. Forty-two years all ending that afternoon.
I watched the first episode of Charlie on RTE last night and it brought back memories of the whole Haughey era I lived and worked through in the Examiner; his rise and fall were played out on our pages and I was part of the editorial team that wrote headlines on those traumatic events. Charlie is long gone and at 4pm last Tuesday I was banged out by my colleagues. The walk from Examiner Towers in Blackpool, Cork, to the bus seemed like the longest I had ever taken, but I elected to walk rather than take a taxi because I needed the fresh air and time to absorb my departure.
I was not alone. In total 11 sub editors left The Irish Examiner and the Evening Echo, most in December. Other staff from various departments also bade farewell. And last Saturday night 12 of us met up in Counihan’s Bar to toast our departure and salute our colleagues. It was a great night chatting to so many people with whom I had worked. Yes, the end of an era. The highlight for me was the presentation of a mock Page 1 which will be framed and placed in my study. There it is at the top of this blog. It’s a lovely send up of me and some of my other editorial colleagues. I will cherish it to my dying day.
I was quite surprised that my blog post Farewell to the Irish Examiner drew thousands of viewings, and am especially grateful to everyone who sent me messages of support on Facebook, LinkedIn and retweeted the blog on Twitter, etc. You’re a great bunch of people and I’m thrilled by your positive reaction. Now all I need is work.