Jack moves ahead of the problem

If Jack had learned a lot from meeting other unemployed people, he'd also learned that the people who had a really hard time were the ones who were overwhelmed by the problems. The trick, as far as he could tell, was to stay on top of the situations, and get ahead of the obvious possibilities.

It took a while, but they learned to budget really well. Their daughter commented how much better the food had suddenly become. Money was still tight, but not the killer it had been. They were still living on very limited means, but daily life was no longer the terrible financial ordeal it had been.

Jack's compassionate instincts had also been given a jolt by being unemployed. He was a middle class kid, but not a fool or an ignoramus. He could empathize with the people at the unemployment office. He knew they were trying, hard, and he felt for them when they had problems.

It was weird, as well as tough, but it was like he was getting some sort of education in human realities. Words like depression now meant something to him, he could see the stress those people were living with. It was truly horrible, and brutal.

Fred was a good teacher. Fred's special skill in life was apparently being likeable, and people would talk to him about their problems. Fred, in turn, while not being a gossip, could explain to Jack how these stresses worked on people, using examples of people he'd met, not names, to show Jack what people were going through.

Fred and Jack met a guy called Bill one day at the unemployment office. They got to know Bill pretty well. He was a really interesting person, with a range of former jobs that was quite astonishing. Bill could tell stories all day without repeating himself.

That was why they were shocked beyond description by a story about Bill's marriage. They were talking together in a pub when Bill blurted out a story about his frustrations and his terrible feelings about not being a good provider for his family. This was a horror story, and coming from a friend, it was a terrible tale.

Bill was one of those people whose sense of obligation to his family overrode all else. Nothing else mattered. His own problems, which they knew, weren't trivial. Bill had really been through anyone's idea of tough times. He'd starved as a kid, he'd been fired from a job in the middle of a mortgage, he'd had to find money to pay for a sick kid. He'd done everything anyone wouldn't want to think about. His whole life story was one big battle.

So when Bill said he was a liability to his family, and was thinking of just disappearing, it sounded so out of character Jack and Fred's reaction was pure shock. They both spent the rest of the day talking him out of it.

That wasn't easy. Bill, somehow, probably through sheer worry, seemed to have convinced himself that his family would be entitled to benefits of some kind if he left. That just wasn't true. But it took Jack and Fred five hours to talk Bill out of this very strange concept. Eventually, they talked him down, and just to make sure he went home they accidentally happened to go home the same way as Bill.

They literally saw him to the door, where Bill's wife, Jane, came running out. She had some news. Bill had got a job. There was a big, happy, confused, conversation on the doorstep. Jane, who was over the moon, then rushed back to do something. Bill looked silently at Fred and Jack. He grinned, shook their hands, and went inside.

Jack went home thinking he'd learned something else: Never give up.

That's one dangerous problem some people never solve.

Jack had moved ahead of that one, and there was no going back.