Beating the System – A Very Short Story

  “You need to self-motivate yourself.”

  “To motivate myself?”

  “No, to self-motivate yourself.”

  “What’s the difference?”

  “It’s what we say nowadays. Apply for at least six jobs before you next sign on.”

  “Oh, I will.”

  Bernie was beating the system and enjoying every minute of it. He owned his house, got his council tax paid, and considered the seventy-odd pounds dole he received every week mere beer money. In fact, he made a point of putting this money aside and spending every penny of it on beer. He said ‘Cheers!’ after taking the first sip of every single pint he ordered in the pub, which his co-drinkers thought excessively ceremonious, but then he wasn’t really addressing them.

   And they didn’t know, not even his pals. Bernie was careful, you see. A plasterer by trade, he never worked within twenty miles of Burnton and showered and cleaned his nails scrupulously every day after work. On signing days he had a lie in until nine and spent half an hour at the computer finding jobs to put in his little booklet, spacing out the dates over the previous fortnight. He always went to the pub after signing on. He said, only to himself, that it was his personal Bank Holiday and he rested from his gruelling work schedule in Manchester or Leeds or wherever his boss sent him.

   He didn’t like keeping much ready cash in the house and so indulged heartily in his hobby of coin collecting. He collected sovereigns, Maple Leaf dollars, Krugerrands and other gold coins of unquestionable authenticity. It must be said that he didn’t peruse his collection much, but he could hardly be expected to roll back the carpet and pull up the floorboards every time he fancied a peek inside the bags and boxes. He found that the very presence of the coins in the house gave him all the numismatic pleasure he required.

   His collection had been growing steadily for eight years and he felt sure that in seven more years he would tire of it and turn it over, little by little, to more discerning collectors. Seven more years, if his gold price graph proceeded in the manner he anticipated; it was funny how all this unemployment and instability made it rise. He made a point of checking the price on his mobile phone while he sat waiting to sign on, even if he already knew it. It made him feel warm inside.

   He had an inkling that his next hobby would be travel. Yes, he would let his house, buy a motor-home, and spend a few years on the costas. A dozen years in southern climes should take him up to retirement age and, who knew what might happen during that time? He might meet a woman of means to share his life with, or he might not. Either way, he would keep paying his stamp and, if all else failed, he would return home to draw his pension. The worst case scenario wasn’t all that bad, he thought, and he should still have a few monarchs’ heads around to brighten things up.

   What Bernie hadn’t noticed was the Ford Mondeo parked near to the Bradford building site where he was then working. A bespectacled man had been sitting there every morning and afternoon for several days, tapping car registration numbers into his laptop. It was boring work but had its satisfying moments, and his days in court always made a nice change.

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