First day back at work for the year, I was called into the boss's office. Face full of anguish he told me he was sorry, but business was very bad indeed and he had no choice but to make my position redundant. With a handshake and the promise of a good reference, I stepped out into the street to join Britain's 2.64 million unemployed.
Happy New Year.
This is the reality of life in a country still sluggishly dealing with the global financial crisis. Back home in Western Australia, the crisis almost seems a blip. The dark days of 2008, when HSV utes with hand-painted ''for sale'' signs were a common sight in Perth, seem long forgotten. Retail sales are inching upwards, interest rate cuts are encouraging people back into the property market, big resources projects are under construction and the talk, once again, is about boom.
The contrast with life in ''Austerity Britain'' could not be more stark. Unemployment is at 8.3 per cent and increasing. It is tipped to hit 2.9 million people by Christmas this year. Growth for 2012 is predicted at just 0.2 per cent. Business confidence is at its lowest level for 2½/ years.
Every day big companies announce huge losses, go into receivership or cut thousands of jobs. High street shops - including big retail chains - are pulling down their shutters for the last time. Fashion retailers on London's Oxford Street are so desperate to persuade punters to spend their cash they have permanent sales, discounting by up to 80 per cent.
There's not a lot of money going around. People are worried for their jobs, so they are saving where they can. They are also being ridiculously ''squeezed''.
Many workers, including those in the public sector, have had their wages frozen or slashed. VAT (Britain's version of the GST) has gone up. The costs of food, petrol and public transport have risen.
In a case study last year, a woman said she spent 1½/ hours on the bus to reach her cleaning job because it was cheaper than catching the tube, even though the journey time was three times longer.
Even animal shelters are struggling to cope with the number of abandoned family pets.
This month a Bank of England survey on the ''squeeze'' found families had reported an average drop in available income of £46 ($68) a month last year. No wonder there has been a massive rise in the number of ''pay day lenders'' who will lend £50 to help pay the bills, at an interest rate of up to 4000 per cent. Every high street now has one and they advertise incessantly on radio and television.
Also looming are family tax and benefits cuts which the Family and Parenting Institute says will see a real income drop of 4.2 per cent per household by 2016. That at a time when the Campaign to End Child Poverty claims more than 52 per cent of children living in Britain's poorest areas (including Tower Hamlets, Hackney, Westminster, Camden and Islington in London) are living in poverty and the cuts would lead to ''economic and social disaster''.
We are talking about 2.5 million children and that number could be 3.3 million by 2020.
The public mood is depressed and there seems no light at the end of the tunnel. The government is exposed to the crisis gripping the euro zone and has £165 billion of its own debt maturing this year.
The budget cuts are hitting Britons hard in their daily lives - libraries have closed; street lighting has been turned off; there have been cuts to hospital and police funding; public sector pensions are being slashed; university fees have tripled; Legal Aid and Disability Living Allowance budgets are being eviscerated.
Just when effective welfare is most needed, the government is slashing £18 billion from the welfare budget and introducing John Howard-style ''welfare to work''. Although how you force people into jobs that do not exist is not clear, especially when there are 23 applicants on average for every job advertised.
More recently the mood has turned distinctly anti-immigration in a predictable ''they're coming here and taking our jobs'' way. Especially after a government agency report appeared to show that for every 100 non-European Union migrants, 23 locals missed out on a job. Many economists agree the cuts are crippling growth but the government is unrepentant, taking its lead from the script of The Iron Lady: ''Yes, the medicine is harsh, but the patient requires it in order to live.'' The constant doom and gloom about heading back into recession feels gloomier still in the grip of a long, dark, British winter. But I, for one, am adopting the British ''stiff upper lip'' approach to both the nation's predicament and my own.
After all, the days are finally getting longer and, much as we had the royal wedding to rouse a bit of cheer last year, there are the Queen's Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Olympics to look forward to this summer. Thank goodness we do. The bunting really cheers the place up.
Dan Hatch has been working as a freelance journalist, broadcaster and stand-up comedian in London.