Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Contract

T-Mobile, Truly Mannerless.

I wrote a letter of complaint to T-Mobile, and was then given conflicting information about how to send it to them. Eventually, when my email bounced back and they confirmed that they have no public email address, I printed my letter and sent it via Royal Mail. I also posted it on here, and linked them to it via Twitter. I disputed the amount they requested from me to settle my account, and listed the errors they had made along the way.

T-Mob DMs

They must have read both entries as published here, because they then “direct messaged” me again, this time asking that I confirm a few personal details. I did so, and they linked me to a generic page on their website, here.

T-Mob help

I had already submitted my complaint, using the address that had been provided during one of many phone calls. This information was too little, too late, and I had also taken the time to write a separate and serious missive to the company’s CEO. His name was easy to find, firstly by using a well-known search engine, and verified by calling their head office on 01707 315000. The girl on the switchboard helpfully spelled his name for me too, and you can read about Olaf Swantee’s career on their site.

Two weeks passed, largely without incident. I enquired why they had checked my identity prior to supplying a publicly-accessible link, and they apologised for wasting my time. That is genuinely what they said. I have taken a fair few screen-grabs of all this back-and-forth chat with them. In the words of Chris Morris, here is “proof, if proof be need be.”

T-Mob dealt with

I decided against picking them up on their use of the words “dealt with”, and how that could be easily misconstrued if I was in the mood to prolong the fight. The implication of that phrase is that I am some sort of pest, Perhaps I was.

Today, it is a full two weeks since we last conversed on Twitter. It is four weeks since I spoke to anybody on the phone. According to my Twitter messages, it is seventy-five days since I queried whether or not they had correctly terminated my contract, without charge. This afternoon, somebody with a north-east English accent phoned me. He asked my name, and began discussing details of my complaint. No further identity checks were undertaken, a breach in protocol that would not be tolerated in any of the call centres where I have worked.

His tone was insincere, as he offered an apology that was as empty as the rest of his conversation. He was willing to waive the small charge that had been applied, for issuing my PAC code that let me leave them. I told him he could waive the rest as well, and that I had written to the CEO. He wanted to know if I had addressed my letter to just “The CEO” or if I had put his name. I told him that I had addressed it personally, although what difference it makes was not clear to me. In truth, I forgot Olaf Swantee’s name at this point, and even his nationality, mistakenly referring to him as “the Danish guy.”

The man on the phone pursued his scripted line of defence. It seemed to centre around the outstanding balance, of about twenty pounds, being “such a small sum” that it “seems a shame to mark your credit file with it.” The implication appeared to be that I should have saved myself some hassle by just paying a fee that I do not believe I am liable for, Frankly, my credit file is already marked, and twenty quid and the involvement of T-Mobile’s appointed debt collectors is unlikely to change much either way. I have bigger creditors to contend with.

To him, repeating himself in the absence of any meaningful debate, it was still “a shame” to have that on my credit file. As for it being “such a small sum”, it certainly is a small sum when your company took in revenue of nearly six-billion pounds last year. I would almost suggest that they should take the hit, rather than me. In fact, I did suggest that. I demanded it and refused to pay.

He persevered with his rebuttal. I suddenly remembered an article that I had been sent last week, from somebody who had read these blogs. He wrote of his own experience, and somewhere in there or on some other social media site, I had noticed that EE was being investigated by the BBC’s consumer affairs programme. I brought this into play.

“I heard you were featured on Watchdog this week.”

His answer astounded me. “Every big company is on Watchdog at some point.”

“Aye, fair play. Don’t let it bother you.”

That ended our discussion. As a “gesture of goodwill”, my remaining balance was wiped clean. Given the seventy-five days of mistakes, phone calls, letters, misinformation, and poor communication, I could have asked for more and maybe should have. They got off pretty damned lightly, for all of the inconvenience they have caused. Thinking about it now, they referred me to a debt collector, smeared my credit history, and then instantly wrote the debt off when I asked them to – while simultaneously implying that it was my fault for not paying them directly.  If I really owed them that money then they put up very little resistance, all told.

To recap, T-Mobile’s shop staff admitted that their coverage is very poor in the Greater Glasgow area. Their customer service department agreed that this lack of service provision was a breach of the contract I have with them. Due to this, they released me from my contract approximately ten months early, and without financial penalty. Having then taken two goes to supply the correct PAC code, they billed me for it – a charge which was not mentioned when I asked for the full terms and conditions to be explained to me in advance. This was the charge that I disputed.

it took me two-and-a-half-months, several hours of phone calls and even more hours of writing letters, but I finally got there. If you can be bothered persevering, persevere. If you have the option to not sign up to an EE contract, take it. Sign up to almost anyone else instead.

Big Olaf has not replied to me yet. I was far more formal when I addressed him, which makes for less entertaining reading. Therefore, I have not posted that letter here. However, if he sends me any kind of reply, I will be sure to publish it for all to see. In the meantime, you can write to him too. If everyone tells him how awful his company is, he will have to take note.

T-mobile envelope

His address is: Olaf Swantee (CEO), EE Head Office, Hatfield Business Park, Hatfield Avenue, Hatfield, Hertfordshire, AL10 9BW.


T-Mobile, Triggering Misery.

Account Number [redacted]

Dear T-Mobile/EE/Everything Everywhere,

I wish to complain about the service you almost provided while I was contracted to you, and the nightmarish circumstances you created when I tried to leave your shoddy excuse for a network provider.

Since T-Mobile merged with Orange to become EE, your signal is more accurately described less as Everything Everywhere and more as Nothing Anywhere. I complained about this lack of service on two or three different occasions in the past few months (via your 150 phone service – “press every number under the sun, and once you have a blister on your finger your call will eventually be answered by someone who is unable to help meaningfully.”)

I grew tired of being asked if I had an alternate number you could contact me on. I only have one phone, as it did not occur to me that your service would be so dreadful. Had it, I would have been sure to take out a second contract with another phone company, in order that you could reach me on it when my signal disappeared – as it frequently did, often in the middle of calls to you. I could invoice you for plasters purchased to cover my blistered number-pressing fingers, but I chose to waive those fees rather than speak to further incompetent members of staff.

I use the word “incompetent” advisedly.

It was confirmed in your Glasgow store that much of Greater Glasgow is suffering from poor coverage just now, as you are dismantling masts. Your shop monkey tried to take the edge off it by sympathising “even we don’t get much signal.” This was little comfort, as you may gather, and while I appreciated his attempt to sympathise it was sorely lacking.

To cut a long story short – the full version is a work-in-progress that will appear on my blog, in two or maybe three parts, with accompanying times, dates, and screen-grabs – after a dozen calls to you it was agreed that you would give me two options. Firstly, I could accept a fifteen percent discount, applied monthly until the end of my contract. My monthly bill never rose higher than twenty-five pounds, and I had zero signal to speak of. You would charge me (at most) £3.75 less per month, in return for which I could continue to suffer your appalling “service” for nearly another year? What a bargain! How about no.

Alternatively, you would release me from my contract early, having checked your systems and discovered that – yes indeed – Glasgow, the biggest city in Scotland and third biggest city in the UK, is not particularly well served by your network. That sounded far more appealing, given that you could not supply any kind of time-frame as to when your masts might actually begin working properly again. I was quickly given a PAC code, which I asked to be repeated to me as I knew how very difficult it had been to speak to somebody capable of issuing it, and I wrote it down.

At this time, having wasted three hours of my Saturday night trying to get enough signal to call you, and having been passed from department to department, I asked about the terms and conditions of transferring my number. It was explained to me, patiently enough as I made myself very aware of your procedures, that my PAC code (read and repeated for confirmation again) would be active for thirty days, and that my contract would not end until I used it. Failure to use it would see my contract remain unchanged. This seemed reasonably straightforward, and I made sure to equip myself with (I believed) all of the facts during this phonecall.

A week later, I found myself in Northern England. I went there deliberately, so it was no great surprise to find myself there. It was equally unsurprising to discover that your service/signal/network/coverage is just as bad down there. As I was there for seven days, armed with the PAC code that I had jotted down phonetically, and confirmed phonetically twice, I called into the shop of a nearby rival. Within an hour I had chosen a new phone and payment plan, agreed to their terms, and left jubilant that finally I would be able to receive calls as they were made. Hell, I could even send texts and browse online – all of the fundamental basics that you should have been supplying as contracted.

This other company informed me that my number would transfer within a few hours, maybe a few days. Four days later, I had to contact them to find out why my number had not been transferred to my new phone. The answer? You had given me an incorrect PAC code. I was condemned to keeping my old phone to hand for a longer period, until I would get back to Glasgow.

In the meantime – and really, bonus points for being utterly useless here – since being given my (evidently wrong) PAC code, you had begun sending me texts thanking me for signing up to T-Mobile. I received texts telling me all about your wonderful company which I had just left due to you not providing the service you were legally obliged to.

Once I returned home, I was met with written confirmation of my PAC code. It was different to the one I had been given verbally, and thus was not so much confirmation as new information. I duly gave it to my new supplier, who was able to use it and transfer my number accordingly. Shortly afterwards, I was able to use my existing number with my new phone, and for a brief spell all was right with the world. Then you spoiled it, as your ineptitude suggested you would.

I was sent a final bill, which contained a load of figures that seemed unwarranted. Rather than waste further hours of my life trying to contact you, and heartily sick of your inability to function anything like competently, I ignored it. I guessed that, if it was important, you would contact me again, and you did.

This time, in bold letters at the top of the page, you announced that I had an overdue balance. My account had now been disconnected from the T-Mobile network, you said, and followed “for your service to be restored, please pay the amount in full stated at the top of this letter.”

The quoted sentence is important. I did not want my service, such as it was, to be restored – and so I did not pay you any money. I did not trust you to not try and reconnect me, since – until this juncture – there was no acion on your part that instilled confidence in me.

You wrote to me again, three weeks later, an identical letter (save for the amount asked for) which opened the same way. Again, as I have no desire for you to restore my service, I did not pay “the amount stated at the top of this letter.” That said, as my hand had healed somewhat, I was willing to risk new blisters. I dialled your customer service number, and pressed all of the required keys to talk to one of your employees. She was very helpful, inasmuch as she was thoroughly unhelpful.

She went through my final bill, breaking it into its component parts. It includes a “notice period charge”, and she explained that it is the fee charged for providing me with a PAC code. I suggested I should be given a discount, since I was provided with an incorrect code and thus inconvenienced. In truth, I told her outright that I dispute that amount as at no point – during the conversation whereby I decided to leave T-Mobile – was I informed that I would be charged for doing so. It had been a lengthy conversation, given that I received my PAC code and confirmed it, while asking for all of the relevant information regarding the issuing and use of the code, and I am sure you can go back and listen to it for quality and training purposes.

I asked this new staff member for an email address, so that I could put this complaint in writing. Unbelievably, she told me that T-Mobile do not communicate by email, and I countered by asking which century you are operating in. Her argument, weak as it was, is that you prefer all complaints to be in writing and sent by post, so that you can keep them all in one place. As much as I refuse to undermine my argument by resorting to cursing, this sounds like complete bullshit.

She seemed to suggest that, rather than have my complaint sent quickly and directly, to be stored in as many locations as you wish to copy it to, making it instantly and easily retrievable, you would prefer that I type it, print it, affix a stamp, and entrust it to the Royal Mail. Perhaps your internal servers are as dubious as your network coverage? This is the only reason I can imagine which would necessitate the involvement of a postman to resolve this. Unless you have suddenly elected to support and reinvigorate the flagging reliance on their centuries-old infrastructure.

Once I thanked the girl for her assistance, having jotted down the postal address she furnished me with, I did as all modern-day endurers of appalling service do, and went online to register my disdain for your company. While there, connected to the internet by a rival company who manage to fulfil that contracted duty, I decided to find a number for your head office. I had hardly begun browsing your terrible website before a box popped up, inviting me to chat to someone. Here we go! I asked for an email address to make my complaint and – incredibly – it was immediately forthcoming, without hesitation.

tmobile

Why is it, then, that your advisors disagree on the methods of communication open to your customers? I resent being misinformed by the telephone advisor, only to be given the correct information online minutes later and without fuss.

Now, with the tools necessary to document my subjection to your poor standards and inconsistent policies, I could begin writing. I took my time, admittedly, since this is a lengthy complaint and one I wished to word well. The telephone advisor had said that she would make a note on my account, saying that I had called in and planned to discuss the amount you claim I owe. I was under the impression, perhaps misguidedly, that I had bought myself time to compose a letter worthy of all the hassle and stress you have caused me.

Today, 7th September, I received a letter from [redacted] Debt Recovery Limited. You can guess the rest, I am sure, but my account has been passed to them. The next step is that I need to contact them and explain that I am in dispute with you, regarding the amount allegedly owed. I look forward to that chat, it gives me buckets of joy repeating the same thing to so many of your employees and associates.

I propose an alternate solution.

You can immediately waive the £[redacted] “Notice Period Charge”;
You can also dismiss the outstanding amount*, in lieu of the hassle and inconvenience of addressing your repeated failings and inconsistencies;
You can re-word the opening of your standard letter, so that it does not suggest that payment of final bills will result in reconnection to your service. I am prepared to give this advice free of charge, and shall not charge a consultant’s fee for recommending it.

You will note that I have appended an asterisk(*) after mentioning the outstanding amount. Here is why:

A letter from T-Mobile, dated 02/08/13, gives the outstanding balance as £[redacted].
My final bill, dated July ’13, and a letter dated 23/08/13, both give the outstanding balance as £redacted].
This letter from [redacted] Debt Recovery Ltd claims that the balance due is £[redacted].

Prior to having spoken to them, I would expect you to clarify how much you believe me to owe your company. Although it is a moot point, as I stand by my request that you write off the amount in full and with immediate effect.

You are the worst telecommunications company I have ever encountered, unable to justify your existence or provide even the most basic of services. Not only is your network and signal provision a joke, but your staff repeatedly fail to corroborate the most fundamental information. Instead of chasing me for your mistakes, your finances would be better spent on improving your national systems and in administering training.

I anticipate a full response to this letter. Unlike you, I accept emails – although you may use Royal Mail if doing so truly is an altruistic act on your part. At the very least, I demand an explanation for your continued failings throughout this troublesome episode, and I would like it in writing (typed or joined-up) that I no longer owe you any money.

Thank you for making me waste another few hours of my life documenting all of this, yet again.

Yours insincerely (apart from the bit about waiving any amount outstanding, I am entirely sincere about that),

[me]


Outward Bound At The Inland Revenue

I used to work for the Inland Revenue, long before it was renamed Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and at the time when Working and Child Tax Credits were being introduced.

It was an alright job, for what it was, and it gave me an insight into civil service life and how much money is (or was) squandered there. My job was to check data that had scanned incorrectly when the application forms went through OCR, by calling people up or issuing letters to enquire whether their name was John (as common sense would dictate) rather than what the computer had read and input as j04n. Initially, such judgement calls were disallowed, and I had many embarrassing conversations asking for details that seemed obvious.

We processed a huge number of claims, so efficiently that our contracts were repeatedly extended while other centres in the UK wound down. There were incidences of two teams in the same building working on the same caseload, though, and occasionally we would contact people or read notes only to find out that someone else had done the same work an hour earlier. We came in at night and worked for a few hours, getting attitude from the permanent day staff whose desks we had to use. I signed the Official Secrets Act before starting there, and at the time I was convinced it was so I could not tell anyone how badly the place was run.

It is my firm belief that nobody is truly incompetent until they work for the government.

I was part of a small team working in a huge glass-walled office building, and we got on well. We would socialise together, initially sharing jokes and collaborating on the paper’s cryptic crossword when the work dried up, as it frequently did during the evening. As we worked through printed lists of National Insurance numbers, pulling up files and generating letters or making calls as appropriate, there was a great sense of camaraderie. Being young, and perceiving incompetence within the methodology and managers, we were passively rebellious. All of us took smoking breaks, regardless of nicotine intake, and the best days were Sundays and Bank Holidays. These were voluntary, and you would be assigned to some supervisor who did not know you. Many were the hours of taxpayers money wasted as we sat and played Solitaire instead of doing paperwork. You had to be careful, though – if it was dark outside, and you were sitting facing into the office (so your monitor display could not be seen), the reflection of it in the window was occasionally noticed.

hmrc centre1Above: My workplace for some of 2003

One colleague successfully used the Jedi Mind Trick on our boss, when asked to hand in a contract renewal form. He waved his hand in front of the gaffer’s face, telling him “I already gave you it back.” The boss moved away, before realising this was an untruth.

Another friend asked me to join her on a smoking break, during a Bank Holiday shift when we were being largely unmonitored. Outside, with no cigarettes, we jumped into her van and drove to the shops. On the way back, being a nice day, she suggested a detour. I had no real choice, given that hers was the sole mode of transport back to the office, and it was not ideally situated for walking. I do not advocate skiving, and I am ordinarily conscientious and hard-working. However, as it really was a nice day, and since we were driving past the park anyway, I had no issue with stopping for a while.

Admittedly, drinking a recreational drug, then hiring a pedalo and cruising on the park’s lake, might have been taking the piss a wee bit. If every smoking break lasted ninety minutes and included a boat-ride in the sunshine, while paid on the company’s time, I would take up the habit.

To reiterate, I do not condone this as the actions of a responsible adult. However, I was only twenty-two at the time – an adult, but still irresponsible. We were on temporary contracts with definite end-dates, and I was starting my degree that year, and so I held no real fear of repercussion.

james-hamilton-parkAbove: James Hamilton Park, island not in shot.

Entry to the building was, as you may imagine, strictly controlled. Photographic ID was issued, and checked by security guards manning the front doors. Nobody was exempt, and our shift began with several hundred people filing past the uniformed staff glancing at every pass. It seemed to me that they did not always give their full attention to the job, and in my last week I elected to have some fun.

I wanted to find a picture of a gorilla, that I could cut out and stick over my photo. I am not saying that they were lax, but as I write that sentence I realise that it is indicative of the solemnity with which we did not treat this job. I cannot fathom, now, that I would ever pull that stunt while working for a high-profile authoritative department. At the time, it was in keeping with our collective attitude, but I failed to find an appropriate photo (this being the age before the internet really took off, when Encarta was as close as you got to a Google image search.) I did manage to locate an image of Al Pacino, however, and duly substituted it. Nobody noticed, at all.

I endeavoured to make the point, kicking subtlety out of the window and jettisoning the star of Dog Day Afternoon. I needed something bolder, something so ridiculous that to not spot it would be hilariously inept. I found a book that had been an unwanted present, setting about it with a pair of scissors and deftly removing the face of another movie icon. I attached it over my own headshot, and the next day – my last – I walked into the office unchallenged, despite having a photographic ID card that, in place of me, bore the likeness of Darth Vader.

VaderrotjAbove: “Hi, I’m Darth Vader, and you may be entitled to Working Tax Credit.”

Before condemning the desk staff for being particularly unobservant, it is worth noting that I was very visually recognisable in those days. The dress code was “no football shirts, nothing offensive” and I took that to the extreme. This later became a staple of my stand-up set, but every word of it is true, right down to the final, contemporary observation:

“When I was 20, everyone had wallet chains. I had a wallet chain and four pairs of handcuffs, hanging from the belt-loops of my blue camouflage combats. Those were tucked into my calf-high Doc Martens, and I wore them with a band t-shirt. On top of that, I wore a white doctors coat, and on the back of it I painted ‘Trust Me’ in red, so it looked like blood. The sleeves were rolled up and on the left forearm I wore a black leather spiked armband, which ran from wrist to elbow with spikes two-inches high all down it. On the other arm, I had a smaller armband, with smaller spikes. On my head, I wore a black top hat.

I might have looked like a dick, but I had a fucking cool shadow.”

 

 

 


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 2.

Thales, Govan Road, 4th April 2013

I awoke and checked my phone, as I always do. Near the top of my Facebook feed was a post from a friend saying that That Cunt Cameron would be visiting a local contractor involved in Trident. It was a last-minute announcement, based on the schedule that had been released that morning, and I reposted it as “unconfirmed” on a couple of relevant Facebook and Twitter pages. I also reposted it on my own page, mostly because it allowed me to tie it back into this whole tweet thing (asking someone to hit him in the face with a shovel) and make a joke about it.

Govan unconfirmed fb

When he was unelected but nevertheless appointed himself in charge of the UK (including Scotland, where his party returned one solitary MP – the joke being that Scotland has more pandas then Tory MPS, and the pandas have a better chance of increasing their numbers), I had a box of eggs in my fridge. I don’t eat eggs, and they had been left behind by a friend who was staying with me. I let them go out of date, having decided that it would be worth the guaranteed arrest and publicity for the sheer pleasure of pelting them at That Cunt Cameron’s smug face. They sat languishing in the back of the fridge for six months, carefully undisturbed, before a house move meant I had to throw them away. It surprised me none that, in avoiding Scotland (and especially Glasgow) for as long as he possibly could, That Cunt Cameron had revealed himself to be more of a chicken than the original layer of the eggs.

It didn’t take long to look through various social media feeds to find that this was in fact a confirmed appearance, and that there was a hurried effort in place to assemble protestors to greet him. A few texts and phone calls, and I found that my friend Matt had decided to head down. Given the time, my need to shower, and then jump a train, the subway, and walk for twenty minutes, I realised I would miss The Cunt’s arrival but could be there waiting for him to depart. I was in Govan less than ninety minutes later.

I missed his arrival by mere minutes, and it turned out that most of those already present had missed it too. In a move analogous to the way in which he became Prime Minister, he had been quietly slipped in the back door while nobody was really looking.

After having some group photos taken by a couple of pro snappers – one from the Daily Record – it was decided that we would split up, some people waiting by the gate through which he had gone in, others maintaining a presence by the main entrance. Yet others positioned themselves at the roundabout between the two points. However he left, he would see some form of dissent.

Govan protest group pic
Above: Shortly after his arrival through the rear gate. I’m at the back, somewhere under the flag to the immediate right of the banner.

The guy from the Record asked if he could get a photo of the back of my shirt – proudly emblazoned “Fuck The Tories” – and I offered to give him a shot of me holding my flag, a saltire, which is more publication-friendly as I blanked out the “U” in the word “fuck.” He agreed. There is no “u” in “fuck the Tories” because you wouldn’t fuck them with a shitty stick. Not when you could use the claw end of a hammer. There’s an idea for a future shirt – “Fuck the Tories in the head with the claw end of a hammer.” The imagery is more violent than my chosen form of protest, don’t worry. This disclaimer is true, and is also for the benefit of the inevitable government departments who will eventually find and follow my online posts.

The man from the Record then borrowed and handed me a “Yes Scotland” flag, on a pole, and took several dozen shots of me facing various ways while he captured the slogans on both shirt and flag together. To my knowledge, and I have looked, none of those pictures have been published online or in the print edition of the next day’s paper.

My awareness of Scrap Trident protests is probably the same as yours – every so often, there’s a news story about protestors being arrested at Faslane. I disagree with Scotland housing nuclear weapons, especially when we can’t even house all of our citizens, and I think the cost of them is obscene. However, I had never felt strongly enough about it to register any form of support for the disarmament campaign. Buoyed by the experience of marching against the Bedroom Tax five days previously, I decided that any acceptable reason to demonstrate my disgust of the Tories is fair game. This was also my first opportunity to hurl abuse directly at That Cunt Cameron’s smugly disaffected, overly-wealthy face. In theory.

With a couple of hours to kill, bearing in mind that he wouldn’t be leaving immediately, and with the photos all taken, Matt and I walked from one site to another. We talked to some of the other protestors, the mood being generally upbeat despite the close verminous presence of the Prime Monster. Somebody down by the roundabout wrote “Honk if you think David Cameron is a cunt” on the back of a poster. She stood on a traffic island, holding it aloft and eliciting cheers for every passing motorist who sounded their horn in agreement.

Govan birdseye view

After an hour of not much happening, three police meatwagons turned up – riot vans full of brightly-clad cops. I heard that, at the start of the demonstration, the police had asked a couple of people “who’s organised this?” Met with general shrugs and the admission that it had been a last-minute protest pulled together by social media, they’d said “keep it peaceful, eh?” Testament to the attitudes of people who want to ban weapons of mass destruction, it was a very peaceful protest. The arrival of these three riot vans meant that there were now about as many polis as protestors. “Maybe it’s a buddy system,” someone said to me. I concurred, likening it to a game of football where every player is marked by another. “Man on!”

I think the polis lining the gate we were at must have loved overhearing our deliberations, as we watched the vans progress hawk-eyed. “They went down there, but nobody got out, and now they are parked up over there, so that means he will come out this gate – or maybe that gate – and then he will have to go this way, unless he goes that way. Wait, what about over there, is that a way he might go? Hang on, they’re moving. Right, so that must mean he’s coming out that gate, or maybe that gate.” And so it continued, everyone trying to second-guess police tactics that maybe the police themselves weren’t even fully aware of. It bordered on the ridiculous, and I hope the fuzz enjoyed it.

Govan ftt shirt

After a while, we spotted movement in the compound, cars mobilising in a way that suggested an imminent departure. From the other side, a protestor on a bike and others using the less physically-strenuous and faster method of smartphone communications confirmed that the TV crews and journalists were all leaving from the front entrance. Unsure where to stand, not knowing if the sleekit cunt would sneak out as he had sneaked in, Matt and I stood with a dozen or so others at the rear entrance. That was when we saw the entourage pull away and head round the far side of the building.

We ran the short distance along the street to the roundabout, past a bus stop of bemused commuters to where the others were chanting and waving placards, and got there just as the motorcade reached it and pulled away. At first, it wasn’t clear if it was them – they had made it up the street from the main entrance far faster than expected – but who else would be in a sleek motorcade of tinted windows? I did all that was left in me to do, the only thing I really could do in the circumstances, and shouted “BASTARDS!” as loudly as I could. The polisman next to me smiled. I think he saw that it was simultaneously cathartic and pathetic. Therapeutic but, of itself, futile. It was, however, heartfelt. I don’t know what anyone else in my position would have done, and all but one of the people I know weren’t in that position to find out.

Govan Pint fb

They must have hared it up that street to the roundabout, and one of the protestors (with a megaphone) loudly accused them of reckless and dangerous driving, claiming they had sped up on the wrong side of the road. Then there was cheering, and thanks, and the knowledge that we had done something to show that Cameron, his party, and the expenditure on this weaponry are not welcome in our country. Fuck The Tories. I went all that way to see him, and the cunt blanked us.

The photos taken of me never surfaced, despite the potential story there if the Record was to assimilate their article about my tweet with my appearance at protests wearing this slogan. I don’t really need or want the publicity, it just amuses me that they have now been involved twice in my one week of taking action. My one week. The first week. There will be more.  At the very least, we need a radical rethink from Westminster. At the very most, a Yes vote in the referendum will see us rid of the Tories for ever and able to govern our own people based on what we want and know we need. And not based on what some far-off millionaire is doing for the benefit of his school chums.


What Your Clothing Says About You.

This is one of those pieces that I have tried a couple of times as stand-up comedy. While this got some laughs, and didn’t necessarily fall flat, I have never been entirely comfortable with it as material. I think that stems from the fact that very little of the laughter points are mine, I am just relating things I have seen or heard. As such, the whole thing is kind of shelved as back-up for occasions when it is merited, rather than included as a main part of my set.

Years ago, the band Cradle Of Filth put out their “Vestal Masturbation” t-shirt. This infamous shirt features, on the front, a naked nun masturbating with a crucifix. On the back, it says in large letters that “Jesus Is A Cunt.”

jesus cof

This drew a lot of negative attention; people were arrested for wearing it, and in Glasgow Tower Records was raided by the police due to having stocked it. The band’s frontman, Dani Filth, later defended it by casually explaining that – as Christians believe they will be reborn through Jesus – technically, Jesus can be likened to that part of the female anatomy.

The controversy of this shirt led to others like it, and it seemed for a while like Black Metal bands were trying to out-do each other. The two that stick out in my mind were both by Marduk – one had the backprint “Fistfucking God’s Planet,” which was tame in comparison to their “Christ-Raping Black Metal.”

marduck christ

I only own one t-shirt of this ilk, and I write this as someone who bought at least one t-shirt at almost every gig I went to. I stopped this practice somewhere approaching the 150 mark, as that seems an excessive amount of short-sleeved clothing to own in a country as famously cold and wet as Scotland.

The final shirt, then, is one I do occasionally wear for the humour in its inherent stupidity. I got it as part of a bundle with an Alien Vampires album and EP. The EP is called Nuns Are Pregnant, and on the front is a heavily-pregnant, topless, alien nun. On the back of the shirt, it reads: “I Fuck Nuns.”

Last week, when I had been given my notice at work, I decided to push their policies against profanity. I wore my “Combi-Fucking-ChristMas” shirt to test the water, and received no comment. Earlier in my contract, I was given an unofficial warning for wearing my Uberbyte “Money Shot” shirt – the front has their logo and states “Pussy Vs. Cock” and the back contains the song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics in full: Tongue-fucking, asshole-licking, cyber cyber cyber whore/ Anal-douching lesbian, POV, cock cock cock cock/ Pussy cock pussy pussy cock/ Pussy cock pussy cock/ Money money money shot.

I know the manager who pulled me up for that had the same shirt at home, as he told me so. I think maybe that is why it was picked up on. Certainly, nothing was said when I later wore my Caustic shirt that represents his song “Cock-Blockin’ Beats.”

With a few days left to go, I laid out my other potentially offensive shirts – another Combichrist one, that has the silhouette of a naked girl crouching on one knee with a whip, and the backprint “Enjoy The Abuse.

In the end, I wore “I Fuck Nuns” before my last day, to coincide with the shift pattern a friend was working and so that she could enjoy seeing any repercussions.

There were none.

The guy across from me said that, from behind, all that was visible on my back was the word “fuck” – so I wrote down for him the rest of what it said, and he laughed. He laughed harder when I got up and walked away from him, where he could read it. It is such a stupid t-shirt, I like it.

av shirt

As it happened, I was sitting next to one of the managers. There is no way she missed what it said, and yet still nothing was mentioned. That is, until I walked around the other side of her desk to help my friend. On the way back, the manager smilingly announced to everyone in earshot and nobody in particular that it was “back to business-dress from Monday.”

That was the sole consequence of wearing that shirt – a general reminder that the end of the Christmas holidays signified the end of the dress-down period.

In a desperate bid to out-offend each other, with a series of increasingly blasphemous shirts, these metal bands only succeeded in being accidentally hilarious.


Putting The “Broo” in “Brutal Waste Of Time.”

I’m back to being a sign-writer for the broo. It can’t last, because if I’m not working I will lose my flat, and sooner rather than later.

I don’t particularly like being unemployed at the best of times, and especially not now that – due to cuts in Housing Benefit – I face being made homeless as the shortfall in rent cannot be made up from the pittance that is JSA.

I’m not trying to get something for nothing, to be abundantly clear.  These benefits are there for anyone who is entitled, to help them while they get back on their feet. When I’m working, I pay into the system like everyone else. I just want the record to show that this is what they are doing – making people homeless to “save” a few quid, and then forking out hundreds or thousands more to have them rehoused in hostels and the like.

As I have said before, my rent is set so high because that is (previously) the maximum that the council would pay. The private landlords set their rent accordingly, to claim as much as they could. Now that amount has been lowered, it is the tenants who are liable for the difference – regardless of circumstance.

These governmental cuts are not working. They are stigmatising hard-working people who suffer from an absence of employment opportunities, amplify social and housing issues, and cost far more money than they save.

broo2

ABOVE: This Jobcentre is so lacking in jobs to advertise, it has been permanently closed and all fixtures and fittings removed. Argyle Street, Glasgow, December 2012.

As my temporary employment has just come to an end, earlier than I hoped, I find myself having to contact the DWP to submit a new claim for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Previous experience has made me aware that it involves a 45-minute phonecall, and so it was not possible to call up at the end of last week – in advance of my contract ending – as my half hour lunch break wouldn’t permit enough time. Instead, I waited until today, Monday, to call them.

I reached an automated system that told me I should apply online, and that online applications are given priority over telephone applications. Had I known that, I would have submitted my claim at the weekend. Annoyed, I hung up and loaded their page.

It advised I would need 30-60 minutes to complete it, and so I made my lunch before starting, figuring it might time out halfway through if I paused for any reason. When I came to start, I got an error message telling me it had already timed out – prior to me typing a single thing – and to close my browser and start again. This was a pain in the arse, not least because I had half a dozen other tabs open.

I tried opening a separate window, but it became clear I would indeed need to close everything to begin again. On the second attempt, I got as far as a request for some details that I figured I could find through my online banking. Opening a second tab crashed my browser so thoroughly and so spectacularly that a full system restart was required.

Having now wasted a full hour, I called them up.

“Please state your postcode,” the automated cunt asked me. It took four goes before she gave in and made me listen to – I can never remember if it is Greensleeves or Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but either way I am fucking sick of hearing it. Finally, my call was connected to a live human.

“I tried to do this online, and it has thoroughly crashed my computer” I told him.

He laughed, and said he would try to help me.

I asked him why he was laughing, and very angry Jordan elicited an apology. I relented, as angry as I was, since I did need his help and a terminated call would see me back at square one. It was already every bit as painful an experience as I had expected.

He took a note of where I was at the point the site crashed, and said he is not unfamiliar with this complaint. So, there you go – there is an awareness that the online system, which “will be given priority,” crashes fully before completion of the form.

I figured, again from experience, that my details would be taken and the form sent to me to verify and sign. Then I would get an appointment at the local Jobcentre to go and discuss the work I am looking for. At this point, I will consider any work that pays. This process usually takes a few days, and as calls were dealt with less quickly, I anticipated an interview date later in the week.

“We have an appointment in five minutes,” he said, and half-joked “How fast can you get there?”

As it happens, the local office is round the corner from me. Taking into account a roundabout and the supermarket carpark, it is about 7 minutes’ walk.

“I can book you in for half-three,” he offered, proceeding to race through the scripted terms and conditions so that I would have time to grab the necessary ID and paperwork before heading out the door.

And that’s what happened. The lower-priority phone application saw me allotted a slot scheduled for twenty minutes after the call ended.

The high-priority website wasted an hour of my time and gubbed my laptop.

This is indicative of a system so inherently broken it is very difficult to imagine how it may ever be fixed. It is, however, hard to fathom that further cutbacks and not investment is the answer.

In the meantime, if you know of any full-time work going in the Glasgow area, I will be very happy to hear from you.

Finally, if you get the chance to punch Cameron, Clegg, or Osborne in the face, please do so. Unrelentingly.

As for Iain Duncan-Smith – he has put the “cunt” in this country. I hope they are all held accountable when the rioting inevitably starts.

broo


The Email Of The Species Is More Silly Than The Mail.

I started a new job recently. I can’t say anything that will identify the company, because this is in the public domain. I work in Customer Service for a high street chain, and my role involves answering calls and emails. I have quickly learned that the best part of my job is seeing what other people have previously written to customers, whose replies I am dealing with.

My favourite so far is a complaint from the other day. In the earlier replies, including the original communication, I saw that the customer had tried to contact one of our other departments six times, and each time the email had bounced back.

The reply to him ran along the lines of “I am sorry to hear that your email was returned to you six times, and apologise if this was inconvenient.”

IF this was inconvenient.”

Brilliantly understated. I imagine that, if you compose and send a time-sensitive email, have it returned and then resend it on six separate occasions – maybe it’s just me, but I’d be inclined to presume that was indeed inconvenient. Inconvenient to the power of six.

Not as inconvenient, however, as a more recent reply from another colleague. “I am sorry to hear that your email bounced back, but you have sent this to the wrong department. Please send your complaint to…” and then provided the same email address that had returned the customer’s mail in the first place.

My resolution, such as it was, was to supply the customer with a phone number instead…

 

There was another time, when I looked at the notes on an account, and sought assistance from my manager before answering. The issue had been dealt with by another agent, who hadn’t correctly addressed the problem at hand. I pointed at his name on the screen.

“Do you know this idiot?” I asked my boss.

“We are all idiots at some time or other,” was his unhesitating, diplomatic, and insightful response.

All I could say was, “That’s irrefutable.”

It is. We all do idiotic or silly things to some degree or other.

I like my job. It’s nice to get paid for doing things that I enjoy – rational thinking, problem solving, and writing. I just wish they were transferable skills, as it would be useful if I could calmly and rationally solve my own problems too.


Further Down The Spiral.

As mentioned in my last post, I had to attend a Jobs Fair today. My cynicism was well placed.

There were half a dozen companies with representatives there, two of them hotel chains; a photographer who had left before I arrived; an event stewarding company; and a cleaning company. The stewarding company are vaguely in my line (theatre, film, TV, and events crew) but they only offer a zero-hours contract, in line with the rest of the industry. They also only pay minimum wage, and so if I could risk the gamble of having no set hours then I would apply to every theatre under the sun ahead of donning a high-visibility jacket and parading football grounds and festival sites – the pay is better, and it’s what I want to do. The problem with no set hours is that there’s no set pay, and when you have several fixed monthly outgoings to meet it’s a risk. The Jobcentre don’t make it easy for you to take that option either, as by the time your claims are closed, opened, or processed your work situation has changed again. Somebody needs to address that.

The Work Programme have mentioned in passing a number of vacancies they have going in a recycling plant. It’s hardly glamourous, but I know they’ll provide all necessary PPE and it’ll be a lot more enjoyable than anything office based. If it’s lifting and shifting, then that is much the same as theatre to some degree. I thought that was the job I went to ask about today, but I was wrong.

The advisor sat me down and told me that this firm clean offices – fine, whatever, I’ll clean an office. At this point I don’t care, so long as it is financially viable. Then she told me that they’ve just been awarded the contract to clean a local theatre. Specifically, a theatre where I worked as a carpenter, flyman, stage crew, and followspot operator. I politely declined, because I’m not ready to turn up at my old place of work in that capacity. “Hi Jordan, how are you, not seen you in ages, what you been up to, what you doing here?”

“Can you show me where the hoover is?”

Naw.

I can take a knock to my pride, sure, but I’m not about to dropkick it down a dozen flights of stairs and then stamp its head concave.

It’s not even full-time hours anyway, the most they can offer is 24/week and the Work Programme have already told me (via a Better Off In Work calculation) that I need to be doing  at least 37 to make ends meet. So that’s the jobs they could offer me today – one that won’t guarantee it can cover my regular expenditures (rent, bills), and one that doesn’t provide as many hours as they’ve told me I need to be doing. Complete waste of time.

I held off writing that on the feedback sheet they gave me to fill in on my way out.

 

 


The Work Programme Doesn’t Really Work.

On the face of it, The Work Programme seems a good idea – an initiative set up to help the long-term unemployed find work. The problem is, there are too many people out of work (the figure just rose by another 28,000) and not enough jobs. Companies that aren’t cutting back on staff numbers are instead largely cutting back on hours and terms of employment. The benefits system isn’t designed to cope with zero-hour contracts (no set hours per week, so you can end up doing sixty one week and none the next, or anything in-between) and if you work over sixteen hours a week your Job Seeker’s Allowance gets stopped. That means casual work is out, as is anything part-time that works out at more than two days a week. Even being in work doesn’t pay.

Personally, I’ve been told that I need to be looking for full-time, long-term work for it to be financially viable to sign off the dole. If anyone knows of any full-time, long-term work that is even being advertised (let alone attainable) you’re in a better position than me. There is an undeniable stigma attached to being unemployed and claiming benefits, even though an increasing number of people who have worked their whole lives paying into the system now find themselves at its mercy. It’s just been announced that the Work Programme is taking on everyone that gets released from jail in the UK. So we are in good company, at least. Those of us with degrees, who have worked and will work wherever and whenever it is available, are now at the same societal level as ex-convicts.

My own experience with the Work Programme, well, I could fill a book were I inclined to post all of my personal affairs publicly. They are set up to get people into work, and so far, for me, they have found the following:

– 6 weeks call centre training, which quickly became five days training and five weeks answering their phones, unpaid. I refused, on the grounds that if it sounds like work and looks like work then it is work, and should be paid at the minimum wage or higher.

– 15 days with the Royal Mail, which earned me enough to lose my benefits, but didn’t pay me enough to cover all my outgoings. That full-time, short-term work left me financially worse off.

– 6 months cleaning Glasgow’s parks, a job that I lost before I started it after they read my mandatory medical history form and decided the problem with my knee, that bothered me 16 years ago, meant I was unfit to do a job involving walking. Despite the fact I walk everywhere, literally for miles to get home, and have no other means of transport.

There was one job came up in that time in my industry, a job that I found (or it found me), a job that I have dreamed for years of doing. It was created with specific funding though, the criteria of which meant I couldn’t apply, as I graduated “too long ago.” I appealed to the council funding department, who couldn’t do anything as it was taxpayers money and they had to be accountable for it. I emailed the council directly, pointing out that I’d be less of a burden on the taxpayer if I was in full-time work and paying taxes. There’s so few permanent jobs in my industry (theatre) anyway that if you find one within the specified two years of graduating then you’ve either been damned fortunate or have left to work in a call centre. They didn’t reply. I emailed my MSP too, making the same points, but all I got was a “thanks for contacting me” auto-response. Six weeks later, having heard nothing further, I emailed him again to tell him he’s lost my vote – and didn’t even get an auto-reply.

The Work Programme have broadened my search criteria, with my full consent, to include carpentry, joinery and general construction work, and I’ve been looking at jobs proof-reading and other similar roles too, based on the fact I read a lot and write quite well – if not always concisely. Their latest tactic has been to give me the address of a website to visit, where I am asked eighty questions about the kind of things I would enjoy in a job. Using my answers, the site lists the roles for which I am best suited, and it has been agreed that I will go through their suggestions looking for career-change options that might be viable in the current economic climate. So what was the outcome?

I am told, by this website that will succeed where they have failed, that I am best suited to working in:
– Music, dance, drama and theatre technology
– Building technology, furniture making, construction crafts, mechanical and manufacturing engineering (including fabrication and welding)
– Printing, publishing, graphic design
And
– Museum work, cleaning and related services.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen – after several months, a few false starts, and the intelligence of this website, the jobs I am best suited to (according to the Work Programme) are the ones I did my degree in. Uncanny! I’m also suited to construction work and in printing. So what have we learned from this? Yes, that’s right, the Work Programme is a complete waste of time, money, and effort. Certainly for anyone halfway educated.

Given the state of those three industries, and their reliance on temporary freelance workers, I will now be looking for any full-time jobs that become available which offer the chance to clean museums. Apparently that is all that is left for me. Although, the construction options did tell me of apprenticeships that I “can apply for once you’re sixteen,” and I look forward to going back in time fourteen years once I figure out how.

In the meantime, now that I finally know which vocation to pursue, I would like to pass on that hope to the other 2,669,999 of you.


Letters Designed To Enlighten And Entertain.

I worked for Royal Mail for fifteen days in December, through a recruitment company whose staff were stand-offish and disinterested, and whose communication was sorely lacking. I made a formal complaint, they invited me to initiate a Grievance Procedure, then wrote to me detailing the outcome of their “findings.” I had the right of appeal, and exercised it. Figuring that I’m unlikely to get anywhere with them, I responded with satire. I’m still waiting for a reply, but here is my letter to them.

ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED, ADDRESSES REMOVED, AND SOME PERSONAL INFORMATION REDACTED.

Regional Operation Manager,
Manpower UK Limited.

Dear [REDACTED],

I write to appeal against the outcome of my recently-held grievance hearing. My purpose in writing to your head office in the first instance was to avoid dealing directly with the branch I hold my grievance with, in order to avoid bias in their handling of the situation. The response I received by post today is heavily biased, with seemingly unfounded assurances, incorrect information, and printed so hurriedly that one page of it is upside-down on your headed notepaper. I think if Charlotte had taken my complaint in any way seriously, bearing in mind the reason for the grievance was the aloof nature of one of her staff members, she could have ensured she printed the whole letter the correct way up.

I understand that my “assignment with Royal Mail” was worded in such a way as to provide you with the ultimate get-out clause: that just because it was heavily implied over a number of instances that the job would last until March, it was not guaranteed to do so and is therefore perfectly acceptable that you let me go after just fifteen days. What I resent, and what I complained about, was the fact that I had to phone Eddie, with whom I’d had no prior dealings, on the Friday before Christmas to find out if I had a job to go to that day, or not. A little bit of communication wouldn’t have gone amiss.

His attitude during that phonecall suggested that, being the Friday before Christmas weekend, he couldn’t get me off the phone fast enough, and I was being bothersome by asking him questions about whether or not I had a job to go to. He told me several times that “everywhere’s shut for Christmas” and refused to acknowledge or even listen to the fact that I was scheduled to be in, which blatantly contradicted his statement.

When I went in to get my wageslips (which I found you don’t print and make available in hard copy, presumably because you can’t guarantee that they won’t be posted out printed upside-down or back-to-front), Eddie gave me my personal log-in details, and details of my pay, indirectly including my National Insurance number and without checking any form of identification. I saw this as a breach of the Data Protection Act, and he also gave me full contact details of one of your internal accounts department staff, which was contained in an emailed screenshot that he printed for me. That was printed on blank paper, so it’s impossible to gauge if it was the right way up or not.

Charlotte, in her letter, assures me that she “can confirm that Eddie did verify [my identity]…by checking [my] passport details at ID on file.” Firstly, the latter half of this sentence makes no sense to anyone who constructs their sentences in English, and secondly, she doesn’t explain HOW she can confirm this. I guess she asked her staff member, who works in her office, about whether he’d followed company procedure. Amazingly, he seems to have agreed in the affirmative, almost as if he’s aware that his boss is carrying out a grievance procedure. Again, this was why I didn’t want it conducted by the people he works with on a daily basis.

Charlotte also states that she “can not find any evidence to suggest that [Manpower Branch staff had a general dismissive attitude towards]” me – I’d like to know where she looked for evidence. Presumably she asked her colleague. With whom she works, in the same office, every day.

Finally, Charlotte apologises for “any breakdown in communication” that I feel “may have happened” and she “can confirm that [I am] now in receipt of wage slips and P45 as requested.” Earlier this week I emailed her asking where my P45 is, the one that was allegedly issued weeks ago and that should apparently take only ten days to come. She said then that she would look into it, but without replying further she can now “confirm” that I am in receipt of it. I will be if it ever arrives. This seems to show the same casual and dismissive attitude to my case as demonstrated by her colleague Eddie in the first place. This letter lacks any real attention to detail, and seems so rushed that she didn’t even put your headed paper in the correct orientation before printing it. Then posted it without checking it, or she would have noticed that she only got one of the two pages the right way up.

I feel I can paraphrase her response fully below:

Dear Mr Mills,
Eddie is a nice man, because he works for us. He may have lied through his teeth but – because he works for us – we automatically believe him. You were only ever a short-term employee and so anything you say is worthless and suspect, as you don’t work for us.
I’m sorry you wasted my time, here’s some empty answers rounded off with an incorrect assertion.

I had my doubts that initiating a grievance procedure would be worthwhile in any respect – I only attended because I was invited to do so, on a day that I was already in town anyway. This letter I have received reinforces my initial impression of your staff – uninterested, rude, dismissive, patronising, casual in their demeanour, lacking in attention to detail, and just plain wrong.

I would like to take this opportunity to sarcastically thank you, as a representative of Manpower, for wasting so much of my time. Not only did I end up in debt and rent arrears because of the full-time short-term work I did for you, and miss out on money (tax credits) to which I should have been entitled, I have also had to enter into correspondence with Manpower, [REDACTED – names of seven other government/local authority departments and subsidiaries], that has now dragged on for four times as long as the actual job (or “assignment”) lasted. And still it continues.

I fully anticipate that you will continue to toe the company line as regards my employment, or “Brief Distraction” as it would be more fittingly termed, and will protect your own staff over and above any complaints made by your casual and exploited temporary workforce. At this point, all I want from you is the P45 that I am NOT yet in receipt of, as soon as possible, and ask that you remove all of my personal details from your files – most importantly the copy of my passport that you allegedly possess for checking “at ID on file”, anything containing my National Insurance number, and my bank account particulars.

I trust that you will do this at the earliest opportunity and that, if you decide to respond to this, you will make sure you have all of the headed notepaper facing the same way before printing. At this point, that’s the least I expect.

Yours sincerely,

[Me]

PS: This letter will not self-destruct, but at this rate I might. Sixty-two days and counting, sorting out the mess created by fifteen days of employment.

– END –