A return ticket to Ebbw Vale costs £7 (US$11) from Penarth. A ticket to Newport is £5.80 ($9.12) return and then an additional £2.75 ($4.32) to get the bus out to Caerleon. I go to Ebbw Vale twice a week, Caerleon once. Total weekly travel cost: £22.55 ($35.44).
The distance between Penarth and Ebbw Vale is roughly 24 miles as the crow flies. I'm not a crow, so I have to take the train on outdated rail up through worn, post-industrial mountain valleys. The journey takes almost exactly an hour and a half, assuming no cows or drunken teenagers get loose onto the tracks. Once there, I have to walk an additional two miles to the LAC, where I teach. On Mondays I have one lesson, on Thursdays I have two. Afterward, I walk the two miles back to the station and do the whole journey in reverse. In the evening it takes a little longer to get home. In total, I spend 10 hours a week commuting to and from Ebbw Vale. I teach there six hours a week.
The back and forth to Caerleon isn't quite as bad. The distance between is about 16 miles and travel via train and bus only takes an hour and a quarter. The walking is not so much that I really notice; I'd guess I cover about a mile overall. The journey back is more of a pain because unlucky timing can dramatically increase how long it takes. If I do everything right, I'm home in a 1 hour and 15 minutes; if I do everything wrong, it can take two and a half hours. On average, it takes an hour and a half. I teach two hours a week there.
Of the two commutes, I prefer the one to Ebbw Vale. It takes longer but the time on the train allows opportunity to read; being guaranteed eight miles of walking each week keeps me healthy. And there is less stress. On the trip to Caerleon, I switch from train to bus in Newport, which is not exactly world-renown for its safety. At night I have to walk through a series of pedestrian subways, which strike me as ideal places to be attacked. The alternative, though, would be running across a mesh of roads where people are driving upward of 50 mph. I think constantly of how I will respond if attacked; I fill my head with violence.
"Kill them," I tell myself. "If someone comes at you, fight back with intent to kill. They will probably be stronger than you, probably be tougher, probably be on drugs and more impervious to pain. Your only hope is ferocity. Simple defence won't be enough. You must try to kill them. Hopefully, that will be enough to make them run away."
I think often of buying a hatchet to carry with me on that walk. Because if some dude pulls a hatchet on you, that's just nuts. It sends the right message: whatever this guy in a second-hand coat may or may not have on his person isn't worth the hassle. But I've yet to buy one because: a) I'm guessing such a thing would be difficult to explain to a police officer, should one see me walking down the street with a hatchet; b) I don't really have the money for such a thing; c) I'd be doing all this just for the sake of teaching Welsh.
All in all, I earn £162.60 ($255.54) a week, before taxes. That is only slightly more than what I'd get from Jobseeker's Allowance, but as an immigrant I am not eligible for any assistance from the state. I've been out of full-time employment for some years now. Technically, I've not held a full-time job since 2006, but four of the past years were spent earning my bachelor's and master's -- degrees that have proven to be utterly useless.
Unemployment affects your brain, distorts it in some way that I can't ever fully describe. I am reminded slightly of my rugby-playing days and the feeling of an accepting confusion that comes after being kicked in the head.
We were once playing against Metropolis RFC and it had started to snow. We were getting killed and I had spent the match on the sidelines. As time wound down, I knew I wasn't going to be brought in because my captain had a deep personal vendetta against Metropolis and very little faith in me. So, I wandered around and drew little patterns in the snow with my cleats. Then, suddenly, my captain was screaming for me. A third flanker had been injured; I ran onto the field cold in every sense.
In my first play, I got the ball, made a few yards and was trampled in the ruck. I still have the cleat marks in my upper back, almost eight years later. Getting to my feet, I reached back to gently prod the ripped flesh and then looked at my hand, covered in blood. Everything felt out of step. My timing was wrong. My cold muscles wouldn't respond as I wanted them to. But my captain's rage drove us all on.
There was a quick fight and my captain got even hotter. A few phases after, the fly-half popped the ball to me and my captain swung in behind as support. He screamed, "Crash! Crash!" and I put my head down to simply drive into the defense -- no finesse, just throwing a body full-speed into a wall. His calling the play had tipped off the defense and I was driven down by three forwards. But using three defenders on a single player had created a gap.
My captain was desperate to capitalise. He was in full sprint behind me and decided, as I was being thrown to the ground, to kick the ball forward rather than bend down and form a ruck, rather than rely on anyone else on the team. So, he kicked the ball. The ball that I was holding. The ball that I was protecting by curling up into the fetal position. The ball I was clutching so tightly that it went nowhere. The force of his kick slipped his boot off the ball, to my forehead.
I don't know what happened. And then I was being pulled to my feet by one of the Metropolis players. All the action had moved a good 20 yards beyond, and it felt that he and I were the only ones on the field.
"You alright, bud?" he asked.
"Yeah. I think so," I said.
He slapped me on the back and we jogged forward to join our respective teams in beating the crap out of each other. My team lost, 27-17.
Obviously, there is no physical pain caused by long-term unemployment. But what I feel is that from-the-soul deep mix of confusion, sadness, exhaustion and betrayal. That feeling of thinking, "What am I doing? What is the point of this? Why have I been left alone?" of wanting to sit down and cry from all of it, but instead just carrying on running halfheartedly forward.
I apply for jobs constantly. When there are no jobs to apply for, I write to companies and organisations telling them of my skills and asking if there's any chance they could find a place for me. I cast a wide net: everything from Google to Prince Charles. Rejections trickle in at a slower rate than my applications -- most companies don't even bother getting in touch to say no.
I try to keep busy. Often you hear stories of the unemployed and they are listless, dislikeable people who spend their days watching television and drinking cold tea from dirty mugs. I read, I tidy the flat, I apply for jobs, I try to stay healthy. I also spend time working on another book. This will be my third. The other two sold only enough copies to cover a week's travel expenses. But I feel that this book is the best of my options. Two years of constant rejection has driven me to believe that my best hope, my only hope lies down the twice-unsuccessful path of being an author.
I try to tell myself things will get better. But in my heart I know they won't.