Monday, 7 March 2011

Squeezed Until The Pips Hurt, As Well As The Teeth.

"Christ's sake," says Max this morning, while we're watching the breakfast news. "I'm getting a bit sick of this 'Squeezed Middle' thing. Have you seen what the people at the top of the band are earning? We should bloody well be so lucky."

"Funnily enough, you're not the first person to say that to me," I say. Which is a subtle hint that Max doesn't seem to pick up.

"And it'll be even worse when I lose my job," he says. "Our pips'll be squeaking all over the place."

"If you lose your job, not when," I say. "Think positive."

"At least you two are of working age," says Dad. "Whereas we poor pensioners are on a fixed income, you know."

God knows how Max and I refrain from squeezing a certain part of Dad's anatomy at that point - or from making sarcastic remarks about the terrible poverty he must be suffering if he can only afford half a dozen trips to Thailand a year, but we manage it somehow. Mainly by opting to leave for work earlier than usual - which proves to be a mistake, if by doing so I was hoping to escape discussion of people being metaphorically squeezed.

"That bloody phrase is already starting to become as annoying as 'hard-working people'," says Greg. "And far more meaningless, if the complaints we're getting are anything to go by. Listen to this."

I've got a horrible feeling that Greg may be considering a new career as a poet, if all the reading aloud he's been doing lately is anything to go by, but I keep quiet so as not to tempt fate.

Instead, I sit and fidget while he reads a very long letter from Philip Jervis, who's almost incandescent with rage at politicians' and the media's insistence on including people earning up to £44,000 in the category of those who are suffering the squeezing effect.

"I'm on £17,000 a year, and I'd happily swap any of those people," he writes. "Especially as I live in a rented house, and both my twins have had to come back home after university. Neither of them have managed to get jobs yet, and their food alone costs almost as much as they get in Jobseeker's Allowance, yet I can't claim anything for them now that they're adults - not even a share of the rent, which is going up in April. And the household bills have gone through the roof  as well - what with the kids both stuck at home all day. Ed Miliband needs to think of a new phrase that separates me from people earning almost three times as much."

Now I'm really anxious about how Max and I will cope once - I mean, if - our income drops, especially while Josh is still working so few hours at the cinema. And what if Connie can't get a job after she graduates? It doesn't bear thinking about.

"What are you going to reply to that, then?" I say to Greg, while counting myself lucky that I wasn't the one who opened the letter.

"God knows," he says. "Though I'll probably refer Mr Jervis to the CAB and ask them to do a Better Off Calculation. And check if there really aren't any benefits he's entitled to."

That's a good idea, but I'm already pretty sure that Mr J is going to turn out to be earning just over the threshold for benefit, like loads of other constituents who are equally upset about this. And like Max and I will be, too - when he loses his job. If, I mean. Bloody hell, I need to get a grip.

"What are you looking so stressy about, Mol?" says Greg. "At least you're not in that situation."

"Not yet I'm not," I say. "But Max is probably going to lose his job before the end of the month. Or might, anyway."

I'm hoping Greg will tell me not to worry, and take over on the positive thinking front, seeing as I'm not doing too well at it - but he doesn't.

He just stares at me in horror, and then says, "How the hell will you manage then, Mol?" - which doesn't make me feel any better at all.

Nor does his decision to remind me that, if you're just over the benefit threshold, you're also excluded from "hidden extras" like free dental treatment and free prescriptions.

"Have you had your tooth fixed yet?" he says. "Since you broke it when you freaked out about that email you'd sent to Johnny?"

"No," I say. "Oh, God. Do you think I could claim it was an industrial injury? It was partly caused by the stress of the job, after all - and I bet you tooth-grinding's an occupational hazard amongst MPs' staff."

He nods in agreement, and is about to say something when the phone starts ringing, and I automatically pick up the receiver. Pavlov's Dogs had nothing on me.

Greg rolls his eyes in exasperation, and decides to make his point by resorting to mime instead - which seems to involve baring his teeth as much as he can, while pointing at them at the same time. He obviously thinks he's very funny, but he's not the only Marcel Marceau in this office. I make an effective gesture using two fingers and some extravagant wrist movements before I begin to speak into the receiver.

"Good afternoon, Andrew Sinclair's Office," I say. "Can I help you?"

See - a perfectly trained animal. Whose teeth are already beginning to clench with anticipation.

"Edmund Beales here," says Mr Beales Number One. "What about those stupid Special Forces people, then? Talk about a total shambles. And what were they wearing when they landed in Libya, anyway? High-visibility jackets, or something?"

I know exactly where this is going, even before he adds:

"That's probably why there were none left over for that Policeman I ran over to wear."

I bite down on yet another reply, and immediately wish I hadn't. Ow, ow, ow.

Honestly, my family might not be better off if I gave up work, but my teeth definitely would. I shall be a toothless old crone if this keeps up.

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