Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Conversation

Banking On The Wrong Name – Part 3.

My initial complaint and the first follow-up (part two) can be read by clicking those links.

My complaint handler at HBOS then sent me a letter in the mail, which I realised he probably would. I sent him the following reply today, and got an out-of-office response. He has not yet seen the letter published below. Not only am I interested in his response, I was looking through my correspondence with the company on Twitter and note that I provided them with my mobile number on the first day, alongside a request for them to contact me in writing instead. I will include that information next time, while chastising them appropriately for the lack of communication between departments.

Here is the bulk of the letter he sent me:

HBOS mailed letter

Here is my response:

Dear [staff member’s full name including his middle initials],

Thank you for your letter dated 8th April, which I received in the post today. I expected it, and had correctly anticipated that you would largely reiterate the content of your previous email.

I wrote in the first instance because I wanted you (that is, HBOS) to remove the Esq that you place after my name. It was, to my mind, no big deal – an outdated form of address that I have never personally used, it makes sense to rid myself of it. The timing – why now? – relates to a recent letter you sent which added “Esq Esq” after my name. Verging on the ridiculous, I decided to address the issue before I find myself in a roughly similar situation to Catch-22’s Major Major Major Major.

I imagined, evidently wrongly, that putting my very simple brief in writing would enable you to fix the problem swiftly, and all I wanted in reply was a note essentially saying “done.”

Instead, here we are – five emails, a dozen-and-a-half Tweets, and one Royal Mail-delivered communication later – and still no resolution. Furthermore, you have given me immense cause for concern on two counts. Firstly, as you are unable (you said) to locate either of the accounts I hold with you and, secondly, because you appear to have lost my phone number.

Please check again, my mobile number ends [last three digits redacted] and the Bank of Scotland has contacted me using it, in relation to my online banking approximately eighteen months ago. Your assertion that the number you have for me “is not up to date” does not wash: I was given that number when I took out my first phone contract, with Genie, in or around October 2001.

Genie was taken over by BT Cellnet, who became O2, now owned by Telefonica. It is how businesses operate, except that unlike this Lloyds Halifax Bank Of Scotland nonsense they managed to keep hold of my one and only contact number in the process. So, again, given that I have had precisely the same phone number for twelve-and-a-half years, please comb your records once more.

I hold a Current Account with you, which I opened within the last three years. I also have a Savings Account which was opened for me sometime in the early 1980s, when I was too young to foresee the hassle it would cause me thirty years later. You explicitly stated that you are “unable to locate an account in [my] name to make the appropriate amendments.”

I do not know what to say, except “try harder.”

I have two accounts, and one name. I have signed my name to every email in an attempt to make it easier for you. Perhaps a search for correspondence sent this month to recipients marked “Esq Esq” will bring it up? There are very few people whose name matches mine – especially not when my middle initials are included. There should be remarkably few people banking with you in the name Jordan (or J.) R.A. Mills.

I only wish I had the ingenuity of Alice Cooper, whose bank tried to find his account for him. “We have twenty Alice Coopers” they said, when the results were returned. He had the intelligence, grace, and wit to politely reply “Yeah, mine will be the ‘Mister’.”

A distinguishing name ought to be most useful at this juncture. If you will trust the medium of email then I can send you my account numbers and sortcodes across, but it worries me greatly that you cannot find them of your own accord.

“Feel free to call me with the information”, your letter cheerfully offers.

Once again, I am forced to state that I do not really wish to discuss this over the phone – it is not terribly convenient for me – yet you keep insisting it is the only way forward. Are you so bored or lonely in your office that you just wish to chat? Or maybe you read these letters and feel you have found a kindred spirit? Granted, we both sign ourselves with a pair of middle initials, there is that connection. However, I try to make my writing entertaining to read, instead of blindly repeating the company line in copied-and-pasted paragraphs while singularly failing to locate vital customer particulars.

I know my tone is cheeky, increasingly so, but I refer you to my original complaint. I was hopeful you would quickly make the necessary changes, and instead you seem to have misplaced some extremely important personal details. Not only have we reached an apparent impasse, but you have revealed negligence that borders on corporate incompetence. You will be aware of Data Protection legislation, and know that the loss or careless handling of secure  files would constitute a clear breach of the law. Find my accounts, and my number, and then you can phone me. Or, perhaps just quietly make the requested alterations as per my initial enquiry – no telephone conversation required.

I await your response with more interest than you pay on either of the accounts you have mislaid.

Yours,

Jordan R.A. Mills

(or, using the unwanted alter ego you bestowed upon me, Mr J R Mills Esq Esq)

HBOS number sent DM


When Gas Is Better Than Water.

Two weeks ago, a couple of guys from the water board chapped my door and asked me to check if my cold water was running.

There has been an issue with the pressure in my tenement, and they were trying to ascertain – not for the first time – if the boundary stopcock outside the close entrance was affecting supply when they turned it. On that occasion, it was not. I still had water coming from my taps – in truth, the best place to have water coming from when it is in your home.

The guys thanked me and, as I left some minutes later to go about my day’s business, I passed them spraypainting around the metal plate on the ground outside. I thought no more about it.

On the other side of the street, a digging crew has appeared recently and begun laying a new gas main. I surmise it to be a gas job on account of the size and length of trench they have dug, and due to the large yellow plastic piping that is on site. Their workspace is cordoned off using orange and white striped barriers. Last week, an unmarked white works van pulled up outside my front window and offloaded half a dozen blue plastic barriers and a couple of temporary traffic signs. I was curious to know what was going on, having received no notification of work to be carried out in the vicinity.

I presumed it to be preparation by Scottish Water, given that they had marked the ground, due to the different type of barrier and the quantity left, and because the crew working over the road are – well, working over the road. It made no sense for them to mark out a second site while tied up with the first, the replacement of the main clearly some way from being completed.

If water maintenance was required, it would mean erecting barriers that would severely impede access into this building. If I was also going to lose my supply, I would like to know when and for how long, which I do not think is an unreasonable request. Shortly after the equipment was delivered, I called Scottish Water.

“Are you about to dig up the pavement right outside the front door?”

The girl checked her computer. “No, the only work in that street is for gas. Phone the Scottish Gas Network.”

I thanked her and called them.

“Are you about to dig up the pavement right outside the front door?”

“No, that’s not us, we’re working over the road. Try Scottish Water.”

I called Scottish Water a second time. I explained, again, why I initially thought it was them and why my call to the Gas Network confirmed my suspicions. The girl this time checked another system available to her.

“Oh yeah, it is us.”

“Am I going to lose my water supply, and if so, when?”

“We usually put letters through before we start work.”

“And you usually don’t drop barriers at a site until you’re ready to start work.”

“I’ll see if someone can phone you back.”

“Try that, but I’m not convinced they’ll be able to work the buttons.”

I posted the above summation of two hours of conversations onto social media. A friend revealed she works for the water company, and informed me that these days many works can be done without switching the water off. When I gave her more detail she provided an in-depth explanation. I was grateful for that, because Scottish Water never did return my call. The pavement was dug up the next day, after I had gone out, the disruption not affecting me personally as the job was done by the time I came home. Considering they were replacing a communication pipe, their own communication was sorely lacking.

Full credit to the Scottish Gas Network though. They had an engineer contact me promptly, from an unblocked mobile number, to say that the barriers were not theirs but that they would be working on my side of the street at a later date. On my side it will only be a partial replacement, and he did not have details to hand about whether that will involve loss of service. As promised, he did then check the blueprints the next morning and left me a voicemail (and his direct contact number to field any questions) to say that this future work will not involve my tenement or the two east of it.

It is not difficult, in this technological age, to share information effectively or communicate easily. Too many large corporations have yet to master it.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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]


Radio Uncontrolled Cars

I have mentioned previously that I once worked, in a temporary capacity, for the Inland Revenue (as it then was.) Regular readers know that all the stories I tell here are my own, observed by me and not apocryphal. Everything I document I can substantiate, with further background detail and facts as appropriate.

This is a break from the norm, a story told by a colleague who had the desk opposite mine. I cannot vouch for its authenticity, but he told it well and I have told it often since, without ever encountering it in any other form or from any other source. I am not sure how it will translate to the written word, but told with gusto it is very entertaining.

My workmate had previously been in the army, relating an incident that occurred when they were on manoeuvres, or out training in some capacity. His team were hidden in the undergrowth on the side of a hill, above a road that cut across the landscape but which gave way to a valley on the other side. My friend had control of the unit’s radio, being taken aback when suddenly, from nowhere, a landrover came roaring up the road. It took off when it hit the crest, bouncing down and continuing on its way at some speed.

soldierAbove: Hide-and-seek, with guns.

Next thing, another landrover comes after it, flying up the road but missing it when it lands. The landrover tumbles down the hillside, while my friend looks to his group for advice. If this were war, the enemy vehicle would not trouble them. However, being an exercise, he is unsure whether to call it in or not – technically these are his comrades, and they may need help. He reaches for the dial. Suddenly, from behind him, high up on the hill, he hears his commanding officer bellow “don’t touch that radio!”

He looks round, and sees his sergeant (or whatever rank he may be) tearing down the hillside. He is red in the face, leaping over rocks and tearing through heather, vaulting over prostrate soldiers and small shrubs. Shocked into inaction, my friend again hears the same shouted command:

“Don’t touch that fucking radio!”

My friend is at a loss, already unaware of the correct course of action and now unsure of the intentions of his superior. His superior is still charging over the terrain, making the final leap that lands him in the ditch next to my friend. Without a word, he grabs the radio and immediately screams into it “there’s a rover rolled-over, over.”

Turning to my friend, he smiles and says “I’ve waited fucking years to say that!”

 

 


Disorganisation And Misinformation – The Jobcentre

I changed my phone recently, a saga that will merit one or possibly two blogs of its own. My new data allowance is a meagre 750mb/month, and I managed to use it all within four days. As this is my sole means of getting online, it is not exactly ideal.

During this transitionary period, my access was slowed to an unpleasant crawl and I was forced to rely on the germ breeding-grounds of library computers (with their one-hour usage limits, and surrounded by unwashed heavy-breathers.) It had an effect on the time I was able to put into job-hunting online, and I resorted to other methods in order to fulfil the mandatory minimum of twenty hours’ searching per week. Last week, for example, I printed CVs and handed them into various suitable establishments.

On Monday night, in the small hours, my phone decided that it would ease up on the throttling, allowing me an unfettered 3G signal. This happens periodically, with no rhyme or reason, and it is extremely volatile. I seized the opportunity, jumping onto the app of one renowned job site, and applying for the first appropriate vacancy. As seems increasingly standard, I was required to create an account on the employer’s page, going through a number of different forms and saving them all as I went. The norm is that, upon completion of several different sections, you can only then submit your application. I duly began typing, using a smartphone that I hate using and which has difficulty responding to touch.

Three hours later, and I dearly wish that that was an exaggeration, I had finished describing why I want to work for them, with plenty of reasons why I am an exemplary staff member in every conceivable way. All I had to do was upload my CV, and this is where it all fell apart. My limited data policy would not let me transfer a file, regardless of size. I was due to sign on the next day, and as the jobcentre recently revealed that they have computers for “customer” use (I reject that word with reference to the context in which they use it), I decided I would take my CV along on a USB stick. It would be a simple matter to add it to my saved application, and theory is a wonderful thing.

job-centre-plus-isnt-workingAbove: Image taken from lawblogone

My signer combed my job diary, checking that I had listed all of the jobs that I look at, whether or not I can actually apply for them. She questioned why I had noted seven hours of handing out CVs. I explained my situation, which led to a conversation that leaves me incredulous. She began by referring to a condition of claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance:

“Handing out CVs doesn’t count as Actively Seeking Work.”

Shall I repeat that? Read it again. Handing out CVs does not count as Actively Seeking Work. I asked the obvious question:

“How much more active can I be?! I spent seven hours traipsing the city centre!”

“Yes, but that is not in your jobseeker’s agreement. You’ve agreed to spend twenty hours a week looking online.”

I handed my CV in to businesses operating within industries where I have previous experience. The Jobcentre instructs me that my time would be better spent looking at advertised vacancies, regardless of how inexperienced, underqualified or under-skilled I am.

“That reminds me,” I said, “my advisor wrote into my agreement that I have internet access at home. I don’t. She asked if I had a computer at home, which I do. It’s not connected to anything though.”

This was corrected, and I signed the amended form. I asked if I could use their computers to upload my CV, complete this particular application, and submit it. Having spent three hours on it at home, ten minutes would be enough to send it off – once I also double-checked that auto-correct had not embarrassed me.

“I can book you in, certainly. The first available slot is on Friday morning.”

Friday morning? That was a full three days away, and I could have taken my sweet time over the form rather than rush to complete it. I had gone to bed at 4am, prior to my 10am appointment. This signer, incidentally, had previously “helped” (read “hindered”) me when I needed a Tax Rebate form stamped. On that occasion, one of the security guards had approached me when she left to photocopy something, looking at me sympathetically and confiding “she’s murder, mate.”

Curriculum VitaeAbove: Like everyone else on earth, I work well on my own or as part of a team.

I decided that I would go to the library, taking my chances that I might get online sooner than seventy-two hours. Sitting down at a computer, having been struck by just how very empty the place was, a staff member apologetically informed me that all of Glasgow Libraries’ computers were being upgraded and thus unavailable “today and tomorrow.” Thursday would be the earliest I could get online. By Wednesday afternoon I had had enough of this ridiculous situation, and called the Jobcentre to speak to my advisor. I needed, and her title suggested she should provide, advice.

It was her day off. I spoke to an alternate member of staff, who listened to me.
“I have an agreement that says I need to search for twenty hours a week, online. The library is open six days a week, and the maximum computer time per person per day is two hours. I can go in every day and still be eight hours short. I can use your computers, but only once this week. Other forms of job search are discounted. All I want to do, at this point, is submit an application for a job that I have seen advertised, and want, and have already filled in the form for. They are not going to wait for me. What am I supposed to do?”

I can go in at 9am tomorrow and he will sort it out for me, making him the single most helpful member of staff I have yet encountered within that (dis)organisation. As it happens, I have newly taken out a contract for mobile internet, from a provider whose cheapest deal means that I have a new SIM card in my old phone, connected to my laptop and used as a modem. Being essentially a second phone contract, I realise that I should have shopped around instead of taking the primary one I agreed to two months ago. This new phone has enough inclusive texts and minutes to cover everything I would comfortably use within a month. So now I have two phones: one that I hate and struggle to use, both because it is unwieldy and because of the poor data allowance; and one that sits untouched on my table, connecting me to the outside world and to all the jobs advertised there. I am paying twice what I need to, two-thirds of it to a company whose services I do not require.

I cannot afford to be connected to the internet but, more importantly, I cannot afford to not be connected.

Today, I told my friend about this CV-handing-out anomaly – how looking for work no longer counts as looking for work.

“I was in that Jobcentre last week,” she told me. “They said that instead of just looking for jobs online, I should go round places handing my CV in.”

You know what? If they spent half as much time and resources on creating jobs as they do on clamping down on those desperate to find work, perhaps we would be in a better state. As it stands, the United Nations is now investigating the policies of this Tory Government. It is time for change. I am voting for independence.


What’s In A Name, Or Number?

I used to work for the catalogue firm Index, one of only two companies encapsulating pictures of their products in glossy books rather than following the more conventional method of putting items on display.

Index ceased trading in the mid-2000s, shortly after I stopped working for them, though I imagine it was unrelated. It was obvious that the company was in trouble, inasmuch as we noticed that less and less staff were being hired to replace those who left. To this day, when asked if I cope well under pressure, I recall that Boxing Sunday when I single-handedly manned the customer service desk while also broadly overseeing the collection desk, jewellery counter, and till points. The queue for returns was so long that its end rarely made it within the confines of the shop, people lined up all the way to the front door and spilling into the shopping mall beyond.

At the time, I hated the job – or, more specifically, most of the customers – but in hindsight I enjoyed the responsibility I was afforded. The staff were good fun too, and there was a healthy cameraderie between us. Like any working environment, there were issues and grievances, but on the whole we got on, worked well together, shared a very bawdy sense of humour, and socialised frequently. We were young and carefree, twenty-somethings who did not take the work entirely seriously. At least three of us were regularly pulled up for poor time-keeping, the reason that I eventually quit, and one of my friends lost her job due to repeated lateness. She went in crying and pleading to be given another chance, was given that chance, and then – come her next shift – decided she had had enough, and stayed home. In retrospect, it is not exactly commendable behaviour, although probably on a par with the majority of attitudes at that age.

A year after I left, my old manager phoned me about a rather more serious matter. One of the women had made allegations against the most charismatic of the stockroom staff, accusing him of sexual harrassment. It was laughable, but policy dictated that it was treated with due gravity. I did not give much truck to the claims, as the guy in question was a friend who had a steady girlfriend and who – although his humour could be coarse and perverse – did not stand out any more than anyone else because of this. His boss, for one, was a dirty old man in the making, as I often joked with them both.

The other reason that it was laughable is that the complainant herself often instigated as many filthy comments as she was now calling inappropriate. She was short, bespectacled, and somewhere in her forties – it was hard to be sure, as she had the haggard face of a lifelong smoker, and the cough to go with it. There is little attractive about somebody who laughs in a manner that suggests they may be about to hack up a lung. As I understood it, her action had proved divisive in the little shop of thirty staff. The managers had to try and remain diplomatically neutral, but I got the impression that of those thirty staff twenty-nine thought she was “at it.”

In defence of my friend, I thought back to an incident some time previously, at one of the periodic staff nights out. This woman had produced, unwarranted, a bag of assorted genital-themed accessories, the most memorable of them being penis straws and earrings similarly shaped like the male member. She was in no way the chaste, put-upon innocent that she was now claiming to be. In truth, the thought of her naked would not so much turn you on as turn your stomach. In a building full of twenty-year-olds, she was not getting much of a look in, and this accusation looked like a bid to effortlessly secure a sizeable payout. I heard no more about the case, and am uncertain as to how it ended.

The conversation at that night out, at a table littered with shaped foil confetti and the remnants of explicit straws, was of a suitably risque nature. Drink flowed, and one of our supervisors was introduced to the term “sixty-nine.” This mutual sex act, named for the position of the bodies in relation to the figure 69, had hitherto bypassed our good Catholic boss.

You know that way, when you hear something for the first time, have a few drinks, and then later try to refer to your new knowledge but with only a vague recollection as to what it was? Thus we were all treated to the inebriated question “what is it again, forty-seven?”

It is hard to know what a 47 would look like, and it does not lend itself to seeming particularly comfortable. If any keen experimenters want to figure it out and let me know, I will be happy to share your findings.

At least she knew better than to call it a ninety-nine. There has been no point in anybody’s life, lying naked in bed with a partner, when one of them has interrupted coitus to say “honey, you know what I want to try right now? An ice-cream cone with a flake in it.”

With a remark like that, you would be guaranteed to make the bedroom cold enough to prevent your ice-cream from melting.

icecreamAbove: Not a sexual position, no matter how hard you try.


Feeding Back And Being Fed.

My time on the Work Programme has come to an end, after two fruitless years.

I was part of the first wave of people to be referred to them, and so am among the first to leave. My time there has not instilled in me any desire to praise them, instead leaving me even more cynical than I was to begin with. I am left, too, in precisely the same situation that I was in when i began attending fortnightly mandatory meetings. You can find several past blogs about my time there, listed at the bottom of the home page..

As part of my final appointment, I was told that I may be asked to provide some feedback. When the email arrived, requesting to know my opinion of the Work Programme, I was happy to reply in full, not least because the email addressed me as a “customer”, suggesting there was some element of choice in my obligatory attendance there.

I have not yet decided whether to make the full thirteen pages that I wrote available publicly. However, each section ended with a summation, and I wrote an overall conclusion, reproduced below:

“To conclude, this has been the feedback you requested. It details, or addresses, every complaint that springs to mind when I think back over the past 730 days during which we have been acquainted. Two full years of empty promises, false hope, incompetence, ignorance, and downright inconvenience. I leave in exactly the same position as I started, only more bitter and jaded. You have achieved absolutely nothing, in my interest at least. You have wasted your money, you have wasted our time, and, since that first day when my future advisor walked into the pillar, nobody has even had the good grace to make me laugh.

I doubt that you will reply to any of this – for a start, it is going to take somebody an afternoon just to read it all. There is nothing you can really say anyway, save for a stock response about ‘taking my feedback on board.’ If all you have is a stock response, please do not send me it.

Oh, your questionnaire asked, if I recall correctly, how likely I am to recommend the Work Programme to others. Not at all likely.

Not at all.”

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, despite my suspicions, there was no character limit on the website form that I was directed to use to submit my comments. I copied in all thirteen pages of scathing, witty, but wholly negative documentation, and figured that would be the last I would hear. I am not interested in receiving stock responses, as I made clear above and as sadly ignored previously by RBS and the Co-Op, to name two.

Of all the outcomes that I anticipated, I did not foresee the phone call that I received less than forty-eight hours later. Their head of employability telephoned, inviting me to meet with her and expressing admiration for my writing and gratitude that I had taken the time to reply so thoroughly. She wants to talk through my experiences in order to improve the service that they provide all the other poor suckers following in my footsteps, which sounds like “taking my feedback on board” – but at least it was not a stock response. Unless they have some kind of written-word-based vacancy, it is unlikely to benefit me particularly, beyond having my lunch bought for me somewhere local. This was an unexpected development though, and who knows what may happen next?

That said, presuming it is on their expense account, let’s hope the place sells steak and champagne. I might as well enjoy it for what it is, given they are probably unwilling me to pay me a consultant’s fee.


“Uberstardom” – Life Imitating Art

In 2008, I was working on a pantomime in Glasgow. One of the actors, a well-known face from our national soap, had previously done a panto there in 2006, the year I started. There was a great cameraderie between cast and crew, and the pair of us got on well together. I would tell him as many deliberately shite jokes as I could remember, and he would groan and take the piss out me for it. It was good fun.

Meeting again, after this gap of two years, he asked what I had been up to. As it happened, I had just written a pantomime of my own, which was being performed locally. I told him as much, and we slipped easily into the mutual joshing that characterised our friendship.

“You sold a pantomime?” he asked, immediately discrediting the notion with “Who to? You’re not funny!”

“I’ll write you a script, and get you off that shitey soap,” I told him.

That was how it started. My off-the-cuff riposte had potential, and it interested me to explore it. I spent that run working on ideas for a screenplay that was titled “Uberstardom” – a film about a soap star who decides to pursue his lifelong ambition of stand-up comedy, which then backfires catastrophically and with grisly, blackly-satirical results. I pitched it partly as a combination of Shaun Of The Dead, The King Of Comedy, and The Running Man.

To make a long story very short, after several years of writing in inspired bursts I eventually produced seven drafts and redrafts of the screenplay. This actor read one of them, and enjoyed it (phoning me up to tell me it was “mental”, which I took as a compliment), but although he promised to pass it to a producer, nothing ever happened with it.  I then sent a later draft to a Hollywood actor with whom I have a passing family connection, and never received acknowledgement or reply.

Later, I lengthened it and turned it into a 70,000-word novel. The first draft got some pretty decent praise, including from one publisher who said they would have been interested except for the fact they only publish three books a year and so have to be fully committed to each. I have yet to revise it and produce a second draft, which it definitely needs, but every so often I read over the manuscript and find ideas, jokes, images, and turns of phrase that I enjoy and am proud of. There is room for improvement, of course, though I wrote the book that I wanted to read, based on the script for a film I would dearly love to see. All of this is, however, merely background information.

Today, I saw a headline about somebody pelting raw eggs at the judges of a TV talent show. Three years ago, I imagined and wrote in detail about exactly that event. It was a scene whose setting closely resembled a number of high-profile “talent” shows, and their judges. One of the reasons that I need to write a second draft is to eliminate anything potentially defamatory. In any future reworking, I will also need to seriously reconsider this scene in light of it being something that has now happened.

Whatever the facts of the case, here is an excerpt from the unpublished novel, in which I tried to blend satire with slapstick and farce. The judges are returning their verdict to a lone, unnamed singer-songwriter. His three friends are in the audience, armed with eggs. The protagonist, Stevie, is in the wings, nervously waiting for his own chance to shine.

“What can I tell you,” Jetty Mappendage began, treading the fine line between smug and cunt and broadly straddling both, “I personally don’t enjoy your style of music, it doesn’t speak to me. You’ve clearly got ability, I just think it could be better spent – I don’t know, washing cars maybe.” The audience booed him, but the singer tried to take it on the chin, knowing you couldn’t please all the people all the time. He turned slightly, and focused on Felicity Penn, sitting in the centre.

            “I liked it, I really did,” she gushed, genuinely touched by his heartfelt lyrics and style of playing. “I just thought it was a bit – you know – lacking in originality” she said, feeling bad about having to criticise him, and feeling worse when the room booed at her too. “No, no – I did like it!” she reaffirmed, trying to redress the balance by offering words of encouragement. “I think you’ll go far, but just – just not on this show, sorry.” This got a smattering of applause; at least she had offered hope rather than just dismissing him out of hand. All that was left was Jonathon Kecks’ opinion – a man renowned for his snide asides and punishing put-downs, as much as for the height of his waistband. He waited for silence, and it came fast as the hall eagerly sat on tenterhooks.

            “That was shite,” he summed up succinctly, not an aficionado of Oscar Wilde’s wit. “Fuck off,” he hinted maliciously. The singer picked up his guitar and trudged offstage, trying to retain what little dignity he could. He was met halfway by the host, who was coming on to console him before introducing the next act, more fresh meat to be thrown to the lions. They met and shook hands, which was when the voice of dissension rang out, loud, proud, and distinctly Glaswegian.

            “See youse, ya fannies, youse wouldnae recognise real talent if it battered aff yer napper like a raw egg!” screamed the hippie chick, on her feet in the balcony and directing her tirade at the judges table. The hippie guy and the young man in the stalls rose to their feet too, each armed with several boxes of eggs. They began pelting the judges, who cowered in their seats as their table exploded with the gloop of albumen and the shrapnel of shattered eggshells. Felicity screamed as raw egg trickled down her carefully-coiffed hair and onto her face. Kecks attempted to raise his waistband over his head, trying to cower inside his trousers, and Mappendage leapt from his chair, sprawling to the floor then crawling behind the bingo brigade in the front stalls, using the old women as a wall of defence. The rain of avian missiles continued, erratically now all three wayward punters were being wrestled by security guards and stewards, who tried to pin their throwing arms to their sides as well as manhandle them out of the rows they sat in. The audience were torn, some shielding themselves from accidental fallout, others smiling or laughing at the spectacle of it all, and a few were booing – though the object of their disapproval remained unclear. Some shouted encouragement to the protagonists.

            “Gaun yersel’,” they cheered, “Gie it laldy! Get tore intae him, big yin! Tan his jaw! Ram the nut oan him! Gie ‘im the Glesga nod!

            For their part, the three protestors had run out of ammunition and were now engaged in verbal warfare with the human gorillas dragging them towards the auditorium exits. “Sniff ma gusset!” the hippie guy invited, belligerently, as he was forcibly removed from his seat.

            “Your tea’s oot, ya muppet” the leather-jacketed man in the stalls shouted, trying to take an indiscriminate swing at the three man-mountains heaving him down the aisle. “I’ll set aboot ye!” he screamed, unable to even set foot on the floor at that point as he was carried outside. The girl was unleashing a torrent of abuse at her would-be captors.

            “Get yer paws aff me, ya durty perv, or ah’ll gie ye a sore face! Rape!” she yelled, despite the fact it was three female stewards who had tackled her. “’at’s it, the rattle’s oot the pram!” she cried, writhing in their grip and trying to get a punch in. “Ah’ll toe yer hole,” she promised, trying to swing a kick up too. They had her too firmly, though, and she was ushered out the door. The two guys were still hurling abuse as they were huckled out, engaged solely in their own private worlds and oblivious to the fate of their friends.

            The host had moved quickly when things kicked off, forcing the singer into a half-nelson and marching him into the wings where security took him away while their colleagues dealt with the troublemakers. He returned to help the judges, who struggled to their feet, a bedraggled dripping mess. Mappendage clutched himself, bent double in agony, after one of the pensioners he had used as a human shield took umbrage and whacked her walking stick squarely into his balls. Kecks had taken refuge under the table, and despite the persistent barrage of abuse and missiles, had managed to avoid getting egg on his face, although his trousers would need a good cleaning. He stood up, slipped on eggshell, and fell back down on his arse, knocking into Penn as she rose and sending her careering into Mappendage, who plunged forehead-first into the third step and fell back, stunned. The audience convulsed with laughter.

            From his vantage point in the wings, Stevie saw the whole travesty unfold and watched transfixed. Mappendage rose, trying to cradle both balls and forehead simultaneously, and stumbled up the steps onto the stage and off into the opposite wing. Penn followed, breaking one of her heels off in the commotion and pitching sideways off the steps to land in the lap of a grateful old man. He helped her back onto the stage, using his hands more than was strictly necessary. She limped off, in tears. Kecks crawled on hands and knees to the foot of the steps, where the host lifted him up and hoisted him over his shoulder, carrying him off like a hero fireman – right up to the point he slid on some yolk and sent both hurtling to the floor like an enormous sack of spuds. A security guard who had returned from handing over the singer walked on and took hold of their legs, dragging them offstage as the host – professional to the last – raised the cordless microphone to his lips and apologised.

            “Sorry about this, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, flat on his back as he was pulled across the stage. “We will be back just as soon as the judges are cleaned up.” He sounded exhausted, but geared himself up to deliver his payload – “Remember, we have yet to find our Uberstar!” The audience weren’t even listening though, caught up in the excited hullabaloo as the curtain fell.


Protected: Napoleon Complexes, And The £64,000 Penis (Part One)

This content is password protected. To view it please enter your password below: