Irrational Encounters With The Modern World

Dole

Mail On Sunday, Foodbanks, and Peddling Horseshit

A rewriting of an article that appeared online today, Easter Sunday 2014, and which is now truer than it ever was when the MOS published it. Some original text kept, the rest written for parody.

Daily Mail foodbank bullshit Spoof


The Work Programme And Me – 13 Pages Of Witty Hate

After being asked to provide feedback, I composed this letter. I expected no response, and so I wrote freely and for my own amusement/pleasure. I rather like the result, and it saw me invited to meet one of the bosses to discuss what changes could be made. They refused to pay me a consultant’s fee, though, so this is all they got. Well, this and two years of my life.

Dear Work Programme/Working Links/[Company name redacted]/Whatever organisation I actually attended,

You asked for my feedback. Make yourself a cup of tea and come back to this, it is going to be lengthy.

For a start, why have you asked for “customer” feedback? I am not a customer, I was forced to attend mandatory fortnightly meetings. By definition, as I did not purchase goods or services from you, it is incorrect to address me in this manner. Had there been any element of choice, be assured that I would have avoided your organisation like the plague it so often seems to be.

Your survey asks about the welcome I received upon first attending [company name redacted]. I remember this clearly, as my hobby is stand-up comedy and in the beginning I was provided with ample source material. Having been required to attend a computer course, the level of which ensured that I knew not to stand on top of the monitor while typing, I was treated to the sight of the man next to me drooling over his keyboard. Meanwhile, two of your staff members demanded to know of an Iraqi gentleman with poor English if he was in this country legally. Given that we were all referred as JSA recipients, a benefit (before that became a dirty word) claimed by having a National Insurance number, it would suggest he had gone through due process to be (mis)treated in this way.

My confidence in your staff waned swiftly, after the lead tutor (and my initial advisor) turned from one desk and walked fully into a pillar into the centre of the room. I am not convinced that slapstick is necessary or conducive to your role, although the distraction was appreciated. I am not inclined to trust someone to help me find a job if they are not even able to simply avoid smacking into the architecture of their surroundings.

After this shambolic introduction to your services, during which I had to fill in a form that asked for full detail of my circumstances but which limited me (as I discovered after twenty minutes of typing) to a few hundred characters – thus preventing me from answering the questions asked – I was referred to a CV-writing course.

Call me old-fashioned, but if you are going to employ somebody to teach me how to write an appropriate cover letter perhaps you could ensure that their spelling is up to scratch and in line with accepted grammatical standards. I am not professionally successful enough to refer to myself as “a writer”, yet I do write often and am frequently praised on my output (without wishing to blow my own trumpet, this is just a fact provided for background) – and so it was insulting to have my time wasted by a writing coach who could barely spell the term “CV.”

I have kept a blog for some years now, on which I documented a few of the more absurd or frustrating elements encountered on your programme, and I will provide external links to these articles rather than re-write them here. However, in brief, my feedback will include:
– Your inability to provide the training I most need and which would render me extremely employable.
– Frequent, positive talk of jobs that failed to materialise (painting a factory, window-fitting, landscaping).
– Being accepted for a job that I was then told I could not take (parks department).
– Being promised four months of work, which turned into seventeen days and thus cost me money (Royal Mail/Manpower).
– Having my advisor changed several times, and having to re-explain my circumstances repeatedly.
– The suggestion that I might like to attend something that I later realised was mandatory.
– Being coerced into working in your call-centre under the guise of being “trained.”
– Having my ILA courses booked, cancelled, and rebooked so often that I never used the funding available to me in the end.
– Having my time thoroughly wasted applying for a call-centre job for which I was not eligible.

Let us begin.

I learned to drive when I was eighteen, and was at a standard where I would have passed my test, as my instructor repeatedly told me. For one reason or another, I neither booked nor sat the theory test, and was therefore unable to sit the practical. Years later, when I realised how important my driving license would be in my chosen career, I sat the theory and passed it comfortably. Unfortunately, life intervened and I could not afford the necessary refresher lessons prior to taking the practical. Owing to its limited validity, I now need to take the theory test again.

Twice in my working life I have been in a position to pay for the few lessons and two tests it would take to immeasurably enhance my employment chances. The first time, I was hit with a backdated council tax bill for two-thousand pounds. The second time, I lost my job and was forced to use my savings to pay my rent.

From my very first day with your programme, and at every subsequent meeting and with every single advisor since, I have been asked what the major barrier is to my finding and staying in work. This is my answer, and it is always met with the same response – you do not fund driving lessons. Neither does the Jobcentre. I know this, believe me when I say that this is a conversation I have had easily a dozen or more times, and probably twice that. It turns out that I have a second major barrier to employment – your organisation.

My background is theatre. I have worked behind the scenes since I was fourteen, running shows from the legal minimum age of sixteen. It began as a hobby, becoming a paid hobby as I subsidised my everyday work with casual shifts, and when I decided to obtain a degree there was only one subject that interested me sufficiently to ensure I would put in the necessary work. I continued to work casually during my studies, later supporting myself with work in theatre, film, and television. My ambition, in my final year, was to obtain my own listing on IMDB, the Internet Movie Database. Having achieved that within six months of graduating, I now understand that I should have aimed higher.

[paragraph redacted]

My argument is that, by funding my driving license two full years ago, you would have spent more or less the same amount as you did on my case anyway, except that I would now be in a far better position to achieve and maintain employment. You have wasted your money and you have wasted my time. My advisors have told me that you used to fund it, or whatever else was required to get people back into work. It is disheartening to know that I am not worth the expenditure, and it is a sham that you ask what barriers are in the way of your “customers” finding work while effectively putting up a barrier of your very own.

The Work Programme is not about getting the unemployed into employment – it is about shuffling numbers.

There have been various moments of hope in the past two years, fleeting moments where your advisors have had information about work coming in and positively spoken of it.

I am available and looking for work. I was turning thirty years old when I was referred to you. This is, in theory, the prime of my life – I am still considered young, and about as fit and healthy as I am likely to be for the rest of my life. I did a degree in theatre, specialising in scenic carpentry, only to find that these skills are not easily transferable to the construction industry (itself in decline) as I do not hold any recognisable joinery qualifications. There was talk, at one time, of trying to obtain these, but your organisation would only go so far as to get me the most basic CSCS card, enabling me to be a site labourer. There is plenty of competition out there for site labourers, believe me.

I am educated, intelligent, diligent, polite, and good-humoured. Your organisation has no idea how to cope with this. I am no work-shy waster, I am desperate to be in employment, to be surviving off my own back, contributing to my country, and with my confidence, self-esteem, and sense of purpose restored. This is useless. I am willing and able to undertake virtually any job offered to me, the only exception being jobs to which I am not suited. I am not sure how much wider my scope could be, and yet in twenty-four months you managed to find me a mere seventeen days of work.

Please do not get me wrong, there was plenty of talk of jobs. There was the taken-over car factory/showroom that needed a complete repaint. There is a subtle pronunciation difference between carpenter and car-painter, but I was happy to overlook that. Despite my asthma, and the known irritant that is paint fumes, I was willing to do the job on provision of respirators and other appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE). It came to nothing.

When I was given my second or third advisor, he guided me through a complete overhaul of my CVs – I have two – and rang me up one day, all excited that he had found a window-fitter loooking to take someone on. This client wanted somebody with knowledge and skills, was willing to train them in all aspects of the job, had steady work lined up, and specifically wanted somebody a bit older – perhaps aged thirty – who would treat this as a career and not as a way to kill some time in their late teens. It sounded perfect, and was certainly talked up to be so. This positivity continued for approximately five weeks, before petering out exactly as the painting job had done.

Most recently, I spent six weeks dreaming of a job landscaping in and around Glasgow. There was a group overview from the employer, individual interviews, and then – nothing. Weeks and weeks of nothing. I later overheard that the employer had taken a contract with one firm, and then tried to avoid using their staff/clients. I can only presume that negotiations broke down somewhere, or that he was unable to provide the promised employment to the sixty or so of us who attended the overview session.

The Work Programme is a purveyor of false hope. It is very hard to be enthusiastic at the prospect of some new job that yet again fails to materialise. These are just three examples, the most memorable ones, indicative of the impotence of your organisation. You are very good at making empty promises, and little else.

On one occasion, one of these jobs actually transformed into something almost tangible. The council were recruiting for their parks department, on a strict six-month contract. Not ideal, but it was a start, and as I have stated I am prepared to do just about anything for apppropriate financial remuneration. Working in the parks in summertime? That would be, well, a walk in the park. I am not above picking up leaves and emptying bins. Provided with the right PPE, I would do more than that.

All went well. I was given the description and the application form. The group session was fine, as was my interview, and everything looked to be in place for the start date. I had filled in the medical form, giving details of my asthma and hayfever since those may temporarily affect my ability to do the job. Both are controlled with medication, and I was not unduly worried that it would prevent an offer of work forthcoming. I also noted that, in my teens, I had had a problem with my knee.

[paragraph redacted]

When I say that I walk everywhere, I mean that I walk everywhere. Shanks’s Pony. Having lived in Glasgow for nine years, I know my way about. My feet are cheaper and often faster than public transport, especially in the centre of town at rush hour. I currently live four miles from the heart of town, and I regularly walk home – it keeps me vaguely fit, it gives me thinking time, and it allows me to avoid the overpriced fares, slow maneouvring, and BO stench of public transport. I know all of the landmarks on the way, and can make it home in forty-five minutes or an hour.

This was of no interest to your organisation, who dismissed my application out of hand on the grounds that “the job involves a lot of walking and bending.” I had no opportunity to plead my case, although I asked to do so. It seemed, and seems, ridiculous to me that – in the interest of full disclosure – I managed to lose a job based on something that affected me seventeen years ago. There have been no recurring problems, no adverse side effects, and although it was over half of my life ago, I felt it best to be honest. The more I see of the world, the more I discover that honesty is rarely rewarded.

The Work Programme, it appears, will use the flimsiest pretext to keep somebody on their books. Whatever your motives might be, you would not allow me to appeal against the decision to not employ me – even though I was fit for the job, willing, and capable.

To your credit, you did find me work once. Unfortunately, it was an absolute farce that ended up costing me money. You claim ignorance and innocence, of course, and I cannot prove that you knew the full details – but somebody did, and we were stitched up properly.

The agency Manpower were recruiting on behalf of the Royal Mail, looking for Christmas staff. The hoops were all jumped through – meetings, application form-filling sessions, interviews, all the usual. As is standard, start dates were promised and changed, hopes were raised, postponed, dashed, and then finally – miracle of miracles – a contract was signed.

Throughout, your advisors assured us that this would be a few months of work – starting in November, and ending around March. Perfect! Four months of guaranteed work, regular hours, steady wages. Chance would have been a fine thing.

Off we went, me and (conversations revealed) a dozen or more others all from the Work Programme. In came the mail cages, lined up in neat rows, and the sacks were emptied. Small parcels were sorted into first and second class, with additional cages for foreign mail and bulkier parcels. There was a high turnover of work, a fast-paced environment where any delay caused congestion and build-ups as more lorries arrived and were unloaded.

It had been drilled into us, through you, that the best way to be kept on was to keep our heads down and work hard. I wanted to be kept on. Very quickly, I stepped up and began emptying the front cages in the row, into the sorting trays for others to separate, removing the empty cages and replacing them with full cages from behind. I ran the risk of being told to get back to doing the same work as the others, but instead I was instructed to continue. My job, then, became to keep the work flowing for everybody else – often I was left unattended, relied upon to shuttle cages around neatly, quickly, and efficiently. I emptied front cages, replaced them, and broke them down, before returning to do the same again. Every night I broke sweat, a fact regularly commented on by my supervisor, and I noticeably lost weight while working there. I am not clear how much harder I could have worked. I was determined to prove my worth, and in truth I enjoyed the job and the responsibility.

The work tailed off as Christmas approached, and on Thursday the 22nd we were sent home early and told to await a phone call. On the Friday, an hour before my shift was due to start, I ended up calling the agency to find out if I had a job to go to, or not. The answer, given rather curtly, was not. This four months of work had ended after seventeen days, at zero notice, on Christmas weekend.

Do you know anything about the infrastructure of the Department Of Work And Pensions? Or how it relates to Housing Benefit and Council Tax Benefit? You see, it is entirely possible that you can work enough to lose all of your benefits, without earning enough to cover your rent and bills. By the time I added up my earnings and took into account all of my outgoings, I owed my landlord just over a hundred pounds. It cost me money to work. And to work, as I have tried to demonstrate, remarkably hard.

Please remember, here, that “benefits” is not the bad word that the Conservatives and the Daily Mail would like you to believe. Housing Benefit in particular is available to those who are in work but on low-paid jobs, and if we were to stop and think about it then perhaps we would realise that work should pay enough to exist on without subsidy. Benefits, too, are drawn from the pool of money to which every person who has paid tax has contributed. We have all paid this money so that, in times of crisis or when there are insufficient jobs, we can claim some of it back and not be utterly destitute. It is a stop-gap, and I personally am angered that it is seen as shameful to briefly rely on a fund into which I have paid, and which I will pay into again once I find my feet. If we could get away from the propaganda for a minute, perhaps the truth would become evident.

The Work Programme expressed, or feigned, sympathy at my predicament. They had not known, they claimed, that the job would end so abruptly. It is my firm belief that somebody knew. Manpower could not have been less interested, although they did invite me to a meeting to discuss the issue. As it was one of their own who had been so ignorant and rude to me on the phone, I put little faith in their desire to actually pursue anything against him. My suspicions were correct, and the branch manager wrote to me on headed notepaper. As I was certain to get nowhere with it, and as she had printed her reply upside-down on the headed paper, I decided to write an entirely facetious letter of complaint. You can read it on my blog if you are interested.

The Work Programme, then, on the sole occasion it actually helped me into employment, left me financially worse off and more demoralised than I had been to start with.

This experience with the Royal Mail made me realise that my most recent advisor was effectively just a big drink of water, a streak of piss with no substance to him. Unbelievably, I was relieved to return to my original advisor, the one who had walked into a pillar on my first day there. We had spent much of the time since at loggerheads, until she miraculously revealed herself to be human after all on the back of this debacle.

We found a new understanding, something almost akin to friendship insofar as two people on opposite sides of your desk can be in any way “friends.” She sympathised, she almost empathised, and she changed tack. It is possible she now saw just how and why I feel so defeated by the entire process, and there was no hiding the strength of my desire to be in work and out of this situation. She enjoyed reading the very cheeky letter I had sent Manpower, and passed it round the office. In truth, that was the most that I had hoped to achieve with it.

She no longer works for [company name redacted], she left while I was in employment the second time. That was three months in a call centre which you provided no help in finding.

I have had other advisors too – the one who redrafted my CV for me and found the alleged window-fitting vacancy. You did not renew his contract.

There was the big guy that I have seen twice in two years, several months apart. There was the hard-faced woman who would not even given you the steam off her mince and tatties. There was the tall incompetent guy who had persuaded me about the benefits of the Royal Mail gig. He shrunk away quite fast after that, and has fastidiously avoided eye contact ever since. There have been various people who have turned up long enough to discuss specific jobs that have (of course!) never come to anything – one for the call centre fiasco (I will get to that) and one for the landscaping.

My most recent advisor has been comparatively helpful, revealing herself to be very human after a bumpy start. She sees that I do not need my hand held, and that this string of incompetence and falsely-raised hopes has coloured my vision of you and all who work for you.

The first time we met, she asked – as so many before her have – about my background, qualifications, and why I felt I was not in work. I asked her if she was joking, adding an expletive that I shall not include here for fear of undermining my point. The pair of us were stand-offish from the beginning, her wanting to know why I was being so sullenly defensive, and me demanding to know why she did not just read my file, which must surely by now contain every last detail.

Slowly, I began to explain everything that I have detailed here so far, and she accepted the reason for my demeanour. Once we got past that, we developed a healthy working relationship, although I am fully aware of the irony of using the word “working” here. If I was working, I would never have had to speak to her nor attend your utterly worthless organisation.

The Work Programme is a great place for meeting new people, and then being forced to explain your entire life story to each of them in turn – even to the ones that you only see once. If i ever see a job vacancy advertising for somebody to be a parrot, I will apply. You have given me a great deal of experience in repeating myself.

One of my many temporary advisors went to great lengths to make a local job fair seem appealing. He told me how wonderful an opportunity it would be, and I suspect that he could see my cynicism. I am past being able to hide it well, especially not within the walls of your office.

Credit to him, he was brilliant at selling all of the points and making it sound like a helpful and useful thing. Unfortunately for him, I did not appreciate his subterfuge and he had to resort to telling me explicitly that it was mandatory. I will not go into further detail here, I wrote a couple of blogs about it.

The Work Programme is a place where advisors try to disguise the compulsory nature of its role by making it appear like they are doing you a favour.

Another bone of contention with my original advisor came at the point when I was instructed to attend a fortnight of training in your call centre.

The training facility is in a place most accurately described as the middle of nowhere. It is a secret location reached only by taking two buses, in the kind of area where you can watch a man enthusiastically punching another man’s head in broad daylight. Once you alight from the bus, and walk a mile in the wrong direction, you will find a petrol station. Upon entering, you will be asked if you are looking for the [company name redacted] training centre, a sure sign that everybody follows the same route. A signpost would not kill you.

Upon arrival, it quickly became apparent that I would be doing a few days of training, followed by five weeks of taking calls. This sounds less like training and more like work. My argument, and I did argue, is that if it looks like work and it feels like work, then it is work and should be paid at a legal wage. Forty hours a week for seventy pounds does not equate to anything close to the minimum hourly amount set out in law.

While I was debating this with my advisor and with my trainer, I received a phone call from a friend (and sometimes casual employer) who posited that, instead of working for the Work Programme for nothing, I could go and work for his company for nothing instead – and at least be in the industry that I trained for.

This is a problem in my industry, everybody wants you to break your back in return for “experience” because it “looks good on your CV” – neither of which pay the bills. I did my time in that capacity, as did virtually every student on any kind of technical theatre degree. You quickly learn that the only thing it is good for on your CV is showing that you will work for nothing. Experience shows that, the less money that is involved in a given production, the more hassle you will have to put up with. Therefore, I decided a long time ago that my skills, knowledge, and experience are worth something. I do not work for nothing, be it for a call centre or for a chancing mate.

These points, eloquently put, convinced my advisor that the call centre was not for me. In the end, I found a job in a call centre of my own accord, and without mention of this episode.

Around the time I was removed early from your training programme, [details about a potential job offer redacted] It would be full-time, permanent, and paid at ten pounds per hour. It sounded ideal, not least because permanent jobs rarely turn up, and it offered everything that I wanted in a career – my industry, in an established firm, with job security and plenty of variety. There was, of course, one catch. It was being created using the Commonwealth Jobs Fund.

I did not meet the criteria to apply for a job that was virtually created with me in mind. The funding they applied for had an upper age eligibility of twenty-five, and I was thirty. I asked my advisor to check for loopholes, I called the council to find out if there was any leeway, I even wrote to my local MP to see if he would intervene. He did not reply, the council refused to consider my plea, and my advisor ran out of options. The job went to somebody else. He still works there.

My advisor’s best solution was to suggest that I go in to the office, speak to them in person, and offer to undercut the wage they were offering. The funding required that the position be created and paid at a living wage, the company were offering more than that, and I was advised to go in and say that I would accept less than the obligatory amount required by the funding small print.

This is the Work Programme, where my time and abilities have no value. The Work Programme, who could not help me to obtain a job that would have seen me in steady employment for the rest of my working life. A job that I was crying out to be allowed to merely apply for, but which I was denied by bureaucracy. The Work Programme – utterly impotent when it comes to having any say in anything that might have offered me a way out.

The problem with having so many advisors is that, among other things, they gave conflicting advice. I am entitled to ILA funding of two-hundred pounds, which I can use for one of a variety of courses.

What these courses are is a mystery, the website would let me search if I knew what I was searching for, but had no option to see what was available. There were no affordable joinery or welding qualifications, and I was told that upholstery was too niche (and again too expensive) for it to be viable. It was recommended that I get my CSCS card. This was duly booked, and cancelled, and booked, and cancelled again.

Later, I was informed that I would only be eligible for the most basic CSCS card, which would allow me on site to be a labourer and nothing else. To be a joiner, I would need to apply for another (or a different) card. I do not possess the joinery qualifications for that, and was dissuaded from acquiring the basic card as there is no pressing need for another entry-level site labourer in the construction industry.

Another advisor figured that I should apply for my SIA badge, and look for security or door work. He told me that it has a respectable number of vacancies just now, and that makes sense to me – as more people have less money, crime is bound to increase, and it seems logical to hire people to guard your property if you have it. I actually tried to apply to join the police, figuring that when the rioting starts I would prefer to be on the side with the weaponry, but as that industry is suffering from cutbacks and seeing the amalgamation into one unified force, they were not hiring at the time. I also considered the fire service, but my asthma makes me a liability.

With conflicting advice as to what would actually prove useful for me, and with interruptions as I left to work for seventeen days or when members of staff departed for pastures new, my ILA funding remains unused. I am still no clearer as to what I should use it for anyway. There was once talk of some new brewery-sponsored hospitality management thing. However, as so often with the Work Programme, it remained just talk. It never transpired into anything even vaguely approaching useful.

Speaking of massive wastes of my time, the one thing you are truly outstanding at, I think the pinnacle was the three hours you killed for me earlier this year.

I spent the last quarter of 2012 working in a call centre, a job which I sourced, applied for, and got, without your help. Unlike your call centre, this one was willing to pay me at the rate demanded by the government. I signed off, and went to work. It was a joyous time, the sun rose every morning and lit the world in a bountiful feast of colour. Birds whistled gaily overhead, small children skipped and laughed in the streets,  and there was good cheer throughout the land. The girls were pretty, the guys were handsome, the food never tasted so sweet, and everything just felt right with the world. A general contentment settled upon me, and instead of simply existing I suddenly felt alive.

There is a small chance that I am romanticising here, but you get the gist.

I was amongst the first to be let go after Christmas. They took on in excess of six-hundred people, and could not sustain that level of employment. The company handle a lot of contracts, and a few months later I received a call from the Work Programme. An opportunity had arisen, and I was invited to attend your offices for a guaranteed telephone interview. There would, I was told, be an online aspect to the application, followed by the interview. It sounded simple, and easy. I gratefully accepted and headed in as arranged.

The online part, it turned out, involved filling in the appropriate form on the company website. Had I known, I would have done this in advance at home. I object to being made to use your computers, as I am reluctant to enter any personal details without knowing how secure my data is. Furthermore, in the course of completing one form (as it happened, the company had my details stored on file, all I had to do was log in and update my employment history accordingly) your computer system crashed three times. It was bad enough being forced to use your system, without having to suffer further by repeatedly waiting for the thing to reboot. A small mercy, I suppose, is that the majority of my form was already there for retrieval. Had I begun from scratch, I might still be there today, cursing the slow and unreliable nature of your terminals.

Having completed this aspect, and with my teeth now ground to a fine powder, it was time for a presentation. Hurrah, the Work Programme has discovered Powerpoint! Having emerged raring to go after submitting the form, I was instead treated to thirty minutes of the most tedious and uninspiring slides, described in monotonous detail by an advisor I had never previously encountered. He took my enthusiasm and deftly eroded it with pointless facts about the vocal cords, body language, and an illustration of the brain stem. Quite why this key part of the central nervous system was pictured is beyond me – I associated it in my head with Chris Morris’s brilliant satire “Brass Eye” and imagined that I was listening instead to Noel Edmonds describing the part of the brain called Shatner’s Bassoon. If you get that reference, you will know that Cake is a made-up drug.

When all of the energy had been unceremoniously drained from me, and with no acknowledgement that I had passed a telephone interview for the same company a few months previously, it was time to be interviewed. All I had to do was wait for twenty other people to be interviewed ahead of me, averaging ten minutes per call, and with only two phones available. What could be easier? Or less exciting? Good thing I was not in a hurry.

The advisor, another newcomer, took the phone from the person before me, and guided me along a corridor into a private room. He spoke to the interviewer, wished me luck, and handed me the unpleasantly greasy communal mobile.

The interviewer took my name, confirmed that I had worked for the company before, and accessed my file. She relayed the information visible to her – next to my name, where it asked “rehire?” it said “no.” Thus began my very long walk back to find the advisor, to present his confused face with the phone. I was as delighted as I am now being sarcastic at having so much of my afternoon wasted. A little advance research could have saved hours of our time, and saved you the cost of my travel expenses. What is four quid, though, if it keeps me occupied for half a day and permits you to check off the necessary paperwork?

I am no clearer as to why I was refused employment with them, by the way. To find out, I need to put my request in writing and post it to the operations manager. Rather than highlight myself in this way, I will continue to live in ignorance. My boss only ever spoke to me to praise my performance, with relative frequency and without prompting, and so I am confident that I conducted myself in a satisfactory manner. It must be some clandestine company policy that prevents me from reapplying so soon after being let go.

The Work Programme provides computers that are slower than a week in the jail, and which crash more than the average joyrider. The unnecessary (in my case) pre-interview training would render the most alert man catatonic, delivered as it was by an advisor unafraid of maintaining a speaking drone that failed to change in pace, pitch, or tone.

This is where I envisaged ending what has hopefully been an enlightening, if not altogether positive, insight into the Work Programme. However, there has been a development in the days since I began composing this essay.
I received a call on Friday, from another unknown advisor, alluding to some joinery work that has come in. The Hydro is behind schedule, and this new national venue requires carpenters immediately. It cannot open its doors as planned if those doors are not yet hung.

I was instantly wary, having observed and suffered so many pitfalls before now. He tried to allay my fears: it would not matter that I am not carded, no CSCS is required; I do not require a driving license, provided I can get my tools to the site; it is full-time paid work, for a few months.

I have zero faith in your staff or in their ability to actually find or help me into employment. However, I am in no position to turn down work, regardless of how unlikely it is to transpire. I agreed that he could pass my number on, listening to and then obeying his instruction to keep my phone switched on and nearby for the rest of the day. Unsurprisingly, the call never came. It never came on Monday either. I will chase it up on Tuesday, but I will not hold out much hope. Having singularly failed to help me while I was obliged to attend the Work Programme, logic dictates that you are even less likely to be of use now I have left.

I find it difficult to believe that a venue as high-profile as the Hydro is willing to take on emergency staff not in possession of the relevant safety qualification. [Edit: they weren’t. I was misinformed, unsurprisingly.] If they are, then it begs the question as to what purpose the thing serves in the first place – “you must have a safety card, unless we are pushed for time.”

My inclination is that this work will be uncontracted, with joiners booked on a week-to-week or even day-by-day basis. This is at odds with how the DWP operates – to sign off is a huge gamble, if there is no guaranteed number of hours per week. Work too little, and you cannot pay the bills. Work for just a fortnight and there is a chance you will end up losing three weeks of Housing Allowance. I have been stung twice before, once of my own accord and once with your help. I am unwilling to risk being stung again – I am unable to afford to live as it is, without accruing further debt and arrears.

I chased up this offer of employment, but my advisor could not tell me who had called me, and insisted that you do not have any contracts with The Hydro. She promised to investigate, aware of all the concerns I have listed above. It proved to me that I was correct to no longer raise my hopes on the back of anything you tell me. You have never achieved anything on my behalf.

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.

[me]
Glasgow, August 2013

References, listed on embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com

Losing the parks job: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/02/20/hello-world-you-are-absurd/
An overview of the Work Programme: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/03/16/the-work-programme-doesnt-really-work/
Mandatory jobs fair attendance, and driving license funding: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/free-to-do-as-youre-told/
Why the jobs fair was useless: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/04/27/further-down-the-spiral/
Follow-up post about G4S and the jobs fair: https://embracetheabsurdity.wordpress.com/2012/07/22/the-work-programme-still-not-working/

 

 


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.


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.


Pubs, Offensive Shirts, And Invisible Children.

A letter to a national pub chain, after I was asked to remove a particular item of clothing in one of their bars. Nobody has previously complained about the garment in question, and so I curiously asked what the problem was. Instead of a reason, I got attitude. With all business names redacted, here is the letter I have just sent to their customer service department. Some of the facts, humour, and phrases have been lifted from my recent blogs, but I think they were worth reusing. I am very interested to see how, or if, they reply.

To Whom It May Concern,

I wish to make a formal complaint about the manner in which I was spoken to in one of your Glasgow pubs recently. I am not sure if the staff member in question is a manager or supervisor, but I do know that he was overly aggressive in his tone. This happened at 5pm on a Wednesday, as I was enjoying my first drink of the evening, and will require some background context.

You have perhaps noticed on the news that a former UK prime minister died recently. They tried to cover it up, but I think the story slipped through. Her name was Margaret Thatcher.

On the day of the funeral, I had elected to exercise my democratic right to protest. This is, in part, because I would like to exercise my democratic right to government – in my country, we elected one solitary Conservative MP. As there are five million of us, voting in 59 MPs at a general election, you can see the numbers are disproportionate. Scotland has more pandas than Tory MPs, and the pandas have a better chance of increasing their number.

Having recently decided to take a stance against this thoroughly unjust distribution of power, inspired by the constant and unworkable cuts being imposed upon us by a parliament of millionaires, I have taken to joining marches and demonstrations. I believe the time is right for growing public dissent to become more visible, and am doing what I can to swell its ranks. After all, if I don’t stand up for what I believe in, who will?

With this in mind, I have begun wearing a shirt that I made shortly after the general election in which Cameron was not fairly elected by majority, but managed to get into the top job regardless. On the back of my shirt, taking my lead from the DIY ethic of the original punk movement, I wrote “FUCK THE TORIES.” I am not often given to defacing my clothing, but this was heartfelt and I am quite happy to display my disgust with them and all they stand for. That was my reason for attending this rally on the day of the funeral which, at a time when there is no money for hospitals or education, cost approximately ten million pounds. It is no odds to me that Thatcher is dead, she was dead to Scotland decades ago. However, I genuinely hope that more people will follow my lead, rather than registering their discontent with the Conservatives by merely clicking on and sharing Facebook images. The rising unpopularity of this government needs to be made very obvious.

I was wearing this shirt on the day of the funeral, over a T-shirt, and as the rally to “Remember Thatcher’s Victims” against the tide of rose-tinted eulogising was taking place in George Square, I arranged to join one of my friends beforehand. We met in [pub name redacted], as it afforded us the comfort, prices, quality, and drinks selection that encourage us to be repeat customers of [name of chain redacted]. I also regularly visit [other pubs owned by the same chain] in this city, and have come to expect a certain standard of service from the pubs bearing your name. On this occasion, I feel badly let down.

I had been at the bar for approximately half an hour, enjoying a pint of Thatchers Gold cider as I have a keen sense of humour. We could see the Square through the window – one of the key benefits of windows being their inherent transparency – and watched as the crowd outside grew in number. Stepping forward, we tried to get a better look at the bus from which the speakers would address us. Then we returned to the bar, and I resumed the position I had just left, standing with my back resting against the counter as I faced the door onto the Square.

This was when I was suddenly and angrily accosted from behind, by someone whom I presume to be the manager due to his shirt and tie. He looked like he would have been more at home wearing a tracksuit and sovvy rings, accessorised with a half-drank bottle of Buckfast and a Burberry cap, but I try not to be prejudiced. He aggressively enquired “Could you take your shirt off please?”

Although he did use the word “please”, it was evidently not a polite request. I am not much of an exhibitionist, and don’t usually take my clothes off in public. At the very least, I expect to be handed a couple of notes if that is all you want, or if you want more then you can buy me dinner and a few drinks first. I have my morals. In truth, I now regret that I did not immediately comply in a mock-seductive manner, while whistling that well-known piece of music, “The Stripper.”

Instead, being a rational human capable of intelligent and reasoned debate, I questioned his request. I have been wearing this shirt for about two years – although I take it off and wash it quite regularly, as I take a pride in my personal hygiene. In all of that time of wearing it in the streets of various cities, in numerous shops, to music and comedy gigs, in the vicinity of members of several police forces, and in dozens of pubs and clubs – in all of that time, in all of those locations – I have received no complaint about the message it contains.

Indeed, the only time people pass comment is to register agreement. This ranges from “Nice shirt” to “Do we add a tick if we agree?” to “Hear hear!” and sometimes just a nod and an “Aye.” The broad spectrum of society to have approved of the sentiment include families with small children, little old ladies, office workers, manual labourers, weekend shoppers, huge numbers of pub drinkers, and – while sworn to not display an opinion – nobody in the constabulary in Glasgow, Manchester, Nottingham, London, or Brighton has spoken to me about it.

I was taken aback, therefore, to be asked to remove this garment in a pub where I had been drinking for thirty minutes without incident. I certainly did not anticipate that the demand would be issued so rudely.

I asked the manager (as I will presume him to be) what the problem was. I was very calm, and eager to discover the cause for the sole disapproval I have encountered against the sentiment expressed across my attire. He could have politely explained, however his Napoleon complex must have kicked in, as he just glared at me and in an equally hostile tone said “I don’t want it in my pub.”

I don’t want my country governed by a party nobody here voted for, but we don’t always get what we want.

I want to say that he was jumped-up, but had he jumped up then maybe we would have seen eye-to-eye. I do not want to say that he was short, but if you want to promote him to the next level you can do so by giving him a crate to stand on. I do not like to get personal, but nor do I expect to be spoken to in such a way when a clear and polite request would have sufficed,

His argument, and he was unduly keen to argue, was that “I’ve got kids in this pub.”

Whether they were his kids, underage drinkers, or if they had read a statement that – really – they should be educated in the socio-political background of, was not apparent to me. Words are not offensive in or of themselves, it is context that gives them meaning. I thought that perhaps I could try and explain that to these young and impressionable minds. However, I quickly glanced around, and could only see people that I would comfortably assume to be adults. It is possible that these kids had tried the old Beano comic trick, of sitting atop one another’s shoulders and donning a large raincoat, in order to slip into your pub unnoticed. If so, your employee must be commended for his eagle eye, as I failed to spot them.

This interloper – your employee – was evidently not in a mood for any form of casual conversation or meaningful debate. I tried to explain that I was just leaving anyway, but he glared at me with such vehemence that the best example I can provide by way of illustration is that of General Zod in the second Superman film. As he tried to penetrate me with his evil rays of Heat Vision, I decided that I was now bored with attempting to engage him, and simply left.

I joined the rally, where nobody complained about my shirt, and stood still for the numerous amateur, hobbyist, and professional photographers who asked if they could take pictures of it. This has become the norm, I have discovered. There must be close to a hundred photos of my shirt now in the possession of strangers. Some of these photographers have been children with camera phones, and at the “Axe The Bedroom Tax” march a fortnight ago one mother asked if her ten-year-old son could take a photo. My shirt is not offensive, the policies and dogma of an unelected government are. This is just a succinct way of summing up wide-reaching disgruntlement.

After the rally, I went to another pub not owned by [name of chain redacted], and asked the barman outright if my apparel would pose a problem for him. He laughed as if it was the silliest question he had been asked all day, which – being in a Glasgow pub – it probably was.

I do not expect that you will do anything regards this complaint, and certainly do not foresee any admonishment of the staff member involved. I just wish to register my unhappiness with the way I was spoken to in a pub chain that I previously held in very high regard. I will not be back in [pub name redacted] in future, and I think from reading this letter you will see that I have the conviction to stay true to that. If your employee believes that the invisible children in his pub are more loyal customers than me, then he can rely on them for his custom.

All in all, I found it to be a very disappointing experience. Although, not quite as disappointing as the media’s canonising of the woman who destroyed communities with her disregard for the lives and the livelihoods of the miners and the steel workers; who condemned Nelson Mandela and strongly praised General Pinochet; who covered up for the injustices seen in the wake of Hillsborough; and who died with the blood of the Belgrano on her hands.

If you would like to reply to this, I will be keen to read your response. Certainly, you may like to go some way to restoring my faith in your brand – if indeed you would prefer to retain my future custom.

Yours faithfully,

[Me]

 

 


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 5

“Remember Thatcher’s Victims”, George Square, 17th April 2013

They planted Thatcher today. Actually, I think they burned her. Either way, I do not care, and I suspect neither does she. The BBC and most of our media and politicians seem to be eulogising her to the point that it would be more honest of them if they just stood there masturbating while shouting her name. It sickens me. This woman was anti-gay, condemned Mandela, and befriended Pinochet – and those are just the first three that spring to mind, while trying to avoid the mention of steel, and unions, and pit closures.

This was an event set up to remember the victims of her years in power, and the injustices propagated and communities blighted by her endeavours. It was not another “death party” as seen on the day the news broke, being fully organised with the agreement of the council and the attendance of the police. It would be a peaceful rally, a chance to reflect on the pain she heartlessly and relentlessly inflicted, and a call to arms to rise against the still-living Tories who continue to assault us with Thatcherism. Tories who cannot fund care for disabled people, but have no qualms about spending ten million pounds on a public funeral for a stateswoman who was extremely unpopular. That is obscene, and must be strongly condemned. As must their plan to spend fifteen million quid on a museum in her name.

rally thatcherite cameron meme

When I told my friend that I was going to a protest rally, she warned me to stay safe. “It’s peaceful protesting!” I told her. “Rallying, chanting, listening, with banners and placards.”

She replied with a statement and question that amused me for the inherent absurdity that is implied: “But she is dead! What can that do?”
Indeed, what can it do? It gave me visions of protestors demanding Thatcher’s resurrection, as if that was the cause of our disquiet. Instead, I answered in a series of short sentences that – even when I come to edit this for the blog – sum up my opinion succinctly:

“She is dead, Thatcherism isn’t. The Tories continue to destroy lives with policies that do not and cannot work. This is visible dissent. That people are not happy. That we will lock arms and prevent evictions if people can’t afford the bedroom tax. That Scotland does not want, does not need, and cannot afford nuclear weapons. That the defence spending on Trident would cover ALL benefit cuts. That there is no money to prevent homelessness but they spend ten million on a funeral. That a YES vote next year will rid us of the Tories forever. Fuck them, fuck their dogma, fuck their propaganda and their lies, and fuck all they stand for. THAT is why I will be protesting”

And that is why I was protesting. I have had enough. I want my voice to be heard. I want all our voices to be heard – this government is shamelessly hypocritical, appallingly self-serving, and cruelly destructive. I will be taking every justifiable opportunity to swell ranks and provide visible evidence of discontent. We will succeed in reversing their unworkable decrees, we will oust them permanently from power by declaring ourselves independent next year, or I will gradually lose faith and heart (in whichever order) and see where life takes me. The one thing that strikes me, though, is something I posted earlier, after someone looked at a picture taken today and jokingly branded us “losers.” That is: if you don’t stand and fight for what you believe, who will?

rally me lynne grant Above: Lynne, me, and Grant. Photo: Adele McVay Photography Ltd

After three previous protests where I had held my “F_CK THE TORIES” flag aloft, struggling to fold it and grasp it against the wind to keep it readable, I knew I needed to adapt it. Either I could run some kind of weighting device along the bottom edge, to prevent it flapping loosely in the breeze, or I could use the provided channel and mount it onto a pole. This afternoon, I bought a bamboo torch in a low-price shop, cut out the torch, and then found that the diameter of the cane was too large to fit. It would affect the aesthetic to merely staple the flag down the length of the pole, and I live near to a small garden centre. I quickly nipped round there, taking the flag with me.

The proprietor was very helpful, and I explained straight away what I wanted and why. He ably assisted me, watching as I attempted to thread the flag onto the end of the pole he provided. It was finicky, but I could see that it would comfortably fit. As I persevered with it, he gestured to another customer, with whom he had been chatting at the counter. “He’s trying to read what it says,” he told me.

I looked at the other customer. “I could tell him, but he might not agree.”

“I can read it,” retorted the man, adding without malice “But you can add the other parties an’ all!”

I asked the salesman how much I owed him, anticipating it to be a few pennies, and not more than a couple of hundred. He graciously waived the cost, and I thanked him by telling him to watch out for it on the evening news. He said that I could tell them where I got the cane. True to that, and in the spirit of supporting local business, please visit Anniesland Garden Centre if you are looking for something they might have. I am not sure if it made the televised news, but the online report is here.

rally STV FTT stillAbove: Screen grab from the STV video on their site, showing Grant and me.

I headed into the town to meet my friend Grant, who was already in a pub adjacent to the square. I shy away from naming most businesses in my blogs, as I detest advertising and try to avoid helping any national corporation make money. I briefly considered naming this particular pub though, due to the incredibly rude manager I encountered there today. I shan’t be back.

I had been at the bar with Grant for twenty minutes or half an hour, and we briefly wandered over to the window to see if things had started outside. Back at the bar, leaning against it and facing the door, I was accosted from behind by a member of the staff. He was a short and stand-offish wee man, who would have looked more at home in a cap and tracksuit than in his shirt and tie. He asked me to remove my shirt, and it is to my regret that I didn’t playfully comply while whistling “The Stripper.”

Instead, I enquired why – being a rational man capable of reasoned debate, and curious as to what offence he could have taken that nobody in the local contabulary, in a handful of shops, in the streets, or in any other pub has. He belligerently told me that he “didn’t want it in is pub,” revealing himself to be the kind of Napoleon-complexed prick that life is too short (pun fully intended) to bother engaging with. I told him that I was just leaving anyway, and said that I couldn’t see what the problem was. This was all in good humour on my part, as I am interested in hearing intelligent views that challenge my own. Instead, he threw some further glares at me and ranted that there were children in his pub.

I didn’t see any children, but I also didn’t waste much time looking. I could argue that we should educate children as to why a great many of us accept and agree with the sentiment behind the “Fuck the Tories” statement – and that words are just words, it is context that gives them meaning – but the interruption from this aggressively rude interloper had already bored me. I left Grant to finish his pint, and walked out into the square. In future, I will be taking my custom to pubs who cater for an exclusively adult clientele.

Once I have caught up with the blogs, I might write the company a letter of complaint for my own (and perhaps your) amusement.
[Edit: I have, and you can read it here. I managed to rewrite this in a far more tongue-in-cheek way for them.]

rally shirt back Above: The offending shirt. Photo: Mean Street Photography

Contrary to my other recent experiences, there were almost no flags to be seen in the 200-strong crowd. I caught up with my friend Lynne, Grant joined us, and we stood near the south-west corner of the square, listening to the speakers. Thanks to the length of cane I had elected to buy (and then been gifted), this saw me standing at 6-foot-2 with my arm raised, hand clasping a 4-foot flagpole – like some living Glaswegian Statue of Liberty.

I had thought the back of my shirt was popular photography matter, but this paled in comparison with the flag. There must have been two dozen snappers took photos of it – the camera-phone owners, the hobbyists, and the professionals. With a strong breeze that kept changing direction, I did what I could to aid their shots, trying to hold the flag at an angle where the wind would keep it flying straight and the wording visible. This worked with some degree of success, the downside being that in most of these pictures I am looking gormlessly up at the flag. I think I became the second-most photographed person in the UK today, the first being dead.

With all of the attention that it was receiving, I soon found myself approached by a two-person camera crew who asked if they could interview me for STV. I agreed, and they immediately asked my reasons for being here today. I answered as honestly as I could, making the pertinent points that leapt to mind and that I have detailed above. I know that I hesitated at times, and did not answer as eloquently or as articulately as I had when pressed (by the Scotland On Sunday) as to my involvement at the weekend’s Scrap Trident demo. In hindsight, I wish I had told them that the Bedroom Tax “does not affect me, and yet it does, as it affects us all” – inasmuch as it is to the detriment of the welfare state, it will cause untold rises in homelessness and crime, and will have other knock-on effects too. Their published report, with a handful of inaccuracies, is here.

They describe me by saying of the crowd “some [were] clinging to flags … criticising the Tories with scrawled expletives.” It may be an expletive, but you can clearly see from all of my photos that the word is censored, which was deliberate on my part precisely so that it could be shown or published in news reports. As for it being “scrawled,” that must be the neatest scrawl in the history of doctors’ signatures.

FTT flag george square Photo: Lynne McKinstray

I thought I may be able to make my point about the tax to the circulating BBC crew, but they steadfastly avoided me twice – firstly to interview Lynne, and then to interview Grant. Sometimes, the BBC post on their site that they are looking for audiences for debate shows. These generally request that membership of any political organisation is made known, along with information about whether your mind is already made up on that specific issue. This is in their pursuit of balanced opinion, which has been sorely lacking in their sycophantic news coverage lately. I can only presume that they decided against interviewing me as my opinion was written firmly across my attire.

It turned out afterwards that it had been BBC Alba, so fuck it, no-one will ever see it anyway…

rally sheridan bus posters Above: Tommy Sheridan and posters naming the victims of Thatcher. Photo: Mean Street Photography

Tommy Sheridan was one of the speakers, and said what I wish more people in the public eye could have said recently:

“Some have said it is distasteful to celebrate the death of an old woman. And I was brought up to respect people, but it’s clear Mrs Thatcher did not respect us. She didn’t respect the workers she sacked, or the hunger strikers who died, when she was in power. We’re here to say ‘We don’t respect you either’. We won’t shed any crocodile tears over her death. But now we must look forward. Just as we united to fight Thatcher’s poll tax, I would urge you all to unite and fight Cameron’s bedroom tax as well.” – Source.

We left after the rest of the speeches, once the final musical act was on, and headed to a pub that was not the one I had been in earlier. Lynne and her friend were already there, having left before us, and as I sat down she brought up the potentially-offensive nature of my shirt. I called the barman over, showed it to him, and asked if it was okay if I continued to wear it in his pub.

He looked at me quizzically, smiled, and said that it was fine. Crisis averted.

Later, when I called into the nearby supermarket on my way home, someone else came up to me and smilingly told me “Great shirt! Be more assertive.”

Be more assertive.

I think that is the purpose of writing these blogs. I know that many of you are unhappy. I know that, at a basic level, most of us want to see the same things. Over on Facebook, I just read the gripe that “I’m still annoyed at £10m being spent wining and dining millionaires at MT’s funeral.”

If you are that annoyed, protest. Channel the anger. Show them they are not popular. If enough of us do it, they cannot deny us.

rally flag chambers Photo: Mean Street Photography

At the time of writing, it is three weeks to the day since the Daily Record published my tweet and the story of the retweet that started this ball rolling. As it did not adequately convey the fulllness of my disillusionment, I have resorted to taking direct action where possible. I have decided to stand with my fellow countrymen and fight for the rights that our forefathers battled for; to strengthen the numbers of the disaffected taking to the streets and proving that there is a problem with this government and their policies. This problem can only be addressed if enough of us make our opposition heard.

It has been twenty-one days, and I have taken part in two marches, a hastily-arranged protest, and a rally. In that time, the items upon which I have written “Fuck The Tories” have been photographed at least a hundred times. I have been printed by the Record, photographed by the Record, interviewed for the Scotland On Sunday newspaper, and for Scottish Television. Maybe it is because I stand out that people think I have something to say. I don’t want to stand out.

I don’t want to stand out, because I don’t want to be the only one proclaiming these views. I want, in the spirit of the original punk movement, a growing number of people to join me – physically, and in wearing their contempt for all in the street to see.

I will continue to demonstrate where and when I can, because I believe that we are in the right. I believe that we can make a difference. There is strength in numbers. I did not get here overnight, I got here when years of anger forced me to take action.

If you are angry too, then I hope you will soon join me. One way or another, we can change this.

 

vote yes


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 4

Scrap Trident, George Square, 13th April 2013

I had to do a bit of research before deciding whether or not to join this demo. My previous excursions into public protest had been based on long-held beliefs: that the Bedroom Tax is unworkable and must be abandoned; and that David Cameron is a reprehensible cunt and that I should seize any chance to let him know in person.

My knowledge of Trident is less intricate. While I am opposed in principle to Scotland housing nuclear weapons, it is not something that I previously felt strongly enough about to merit my presence at one of their many protests. Every so often, there is a story on the news about activists (or maybe they should be termed deactivists) being arrested for blockading the naval base at Faslane where Trident is housed. These people invariably look slightly “hippier” than me, and while I am glad they are prepared to make their resistance known, I had no interest in joining them.

As previously asserted, I have recently reached the conclusion that the best way to oppose the Tories is to visibly oppose the Tories at every opportunity. This was undeniably an opportunity, to once again show that public opinion runs contrary to their policies. I do not want to blindly march for causes I know nothing of, and so I did a little background reading in advance. It paid off.

Trident sign

None of the friends who had made previous marches were able to make this one, and so I went along by myself. I had posted on Twitter, hashtagging various relevant terms, to see if I knew anybody who would be heading down. That was later picked up on and retweeted by some unknown accounts, resulting in my first trolling. Somebody composed a tweet to me, wrote “RT” at the start of it to make it look like they were simply forwarding what I had written, and then put their own words in my mouth. I forget the exact phrasing now, having blocked all those involved, but trust me when I say that “Keep Trident. We need Trident. RIP Maggie” is not the kind of thing I am likely to post.

I had not been in George Square long before somebody with an armful of them offered me a placard to carry, and I accepted. I had my flag with me too, although it was still folded up in my back pocket. Looking around at the assembling demonstrators, I was happy to see my friend Alasdair in the crowd, and I went over to join him. He was marching alongside the red banner of one of Scotland’s socialist parties, although I had to rely on the photographic records below to check which one. As far as names go, sometimes it can get a bit “People’s Front Of Judea/Judean People’s Front” when it comes to parties using the words “Scottish” and “Socialist.”

 

As we began marching, it became apparent that we were amid the quietest section of the crowd. There was little in the way of mass chanting or protest songs, but with Thatcher dead and not yet buried there were a couple of attempts to start a singalong of “Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead.” The key problem there was that nobody knew the lyrics, which did nothing to prevent a few valiant and enthusiastic renditions of what might be the correct words. Whereas, for reasons I am unable to explain, I think I do know the words – at least to the second line, which is where they kept falling down. I kept this information to myself, however.

Soon, and somehow, we had migrated into the realms of another Disney film. In what I think was a group effort, as lines were added by different people until the best ones came together, we began singing “Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Trident’s got to go. Now Thatcher’s gone let’s ban the bomb, Hi Ho, Hi Ho, Hi Ho.” It lended itself very easily to repetition, and quickly caught on around us. There was a good sense of cameraderie, and an upbeat atmosphere, although less of the anger and sense of civic pride I had felt during the anti-Bedroom Tax march two weeks previous. Somebody with access to the Scrap Trident Twitter page must have been right behind us, as they posted a photo of my shirt.

trident tweet shirt

Once we arrived back in George Square, having marched through and around the city centre, we spread ranks and listened to the various speakers. Then there was music, and more speakers, and more music, and more speakers. They just kept going, and by the third section of speakers a sizeable protion of the crowd had dispersed. Two sections would have been plenty.

As I stood listening to the first couple of sections of speakers, somebody else got a photo of my shirt. This is about the fifth picture I have found online, and that is a tiny fraction of the number actually taken – all by different people. I hope at some point that more folk will join in, and customise their own clothing. I would rather see heartfelt political messages walking up the high street than the names of a dozen faceless corporate brands.

Trident shirt george squarePhoto: Ritchie James Patton

While standing in the square, I was approached by a woman who introduced herself as being from the Scotland On Sunday newspaper. She asked if she could interview me, and I agreed. She wanted to know why I was there, about the statement on my shirt, and what I hoped to achieve, and I made her aware of the views that I have expressed in this and my other recent Anti-Tory blogs. She was familiar with the film “Network” and seemed to appreciate my “Mad as Hell” analogy. When she asked if I thought Thatcher’s death had helped drive support for this particular movement and protest, I answered honestly that “I don’t think it has hindered awareness.”

I was glad that I had read up on the history of Trident before leaving the house, and managed to remember some of the pertinent facts from this particular article. There were a couple of instances where I looked to my friend Al to confirm what I was saying, and he ably assisted by adding points. Like, for example, how they refuse to relocate Trident to Plymouth because of the risk to life, yet at Faslane it is closer to the nearest densely-populated area. It is these double standards, and contempt for Scottish life, that help fuel my dislike of Westminster rule.

trident interviewAbove: Being interviewed for Scotland On Sunday. Photo: Alasdair McDougall

Having handled myself well and answered fully and eloquently, Al approved. I posted about the interview on Facebook, and soon received a reply from one of my comedy friends who tagged her journalist friend and asked if that was who had questioned me. I looked at her profile, and it was. Small world.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, I posted about being interviewed and how, if you write “Fuck The Tories” on your shirt, it is useful to be able to articulate why. A friend asked if this was “Off the back of Tweetgate?”
“No, it is off the back of my shirt,” I replied. The press interest had been totally unrelated, a coincidence.
“Do they not know you are Tweetman?!” she asked, before telling me that she would buy a souvenir edition of the paper, and would I sign it?
“My secret tweet identity is safe! Unless they read this,”  I told her, agreeing that “I will happily sign anything for you, except cheques.”

In the end, the paper ran nothing of what I said, not even twisting my words to suit whatever their agenda may be. Instead, they printed a column reporting on a 12-person conga line that formed an hour after the end of the rally, in “celebration” of Thatcher’s death. I guess that is more newsworthy than a two- or three-thousand-strong march against nuclear weapons and unpopular government mandates. There is a video of the march here.

trident crowdAbove: Al and me, in the crowd. Photo: Scotland On Sunday.

On the Monday following this Saturday protest, there was a scheduled blockade at Faslane, with several hundred people present and forty-seven arrests. I was not part of that protest, although I took the time to read the briefing pack that was issued. I canot now find it to link to, but it is a thorough document detailing precisely how and why to protest, and how to avoid arrest if you want to show support without risking a blemish showing up on future Disclosure Scotland checks. They have done this before, you see.

As much as I disagree with Trident, my priority just now is to urge a rethink of the Bedroom Tax. That ill-thought-out piece of legislation is imminently about to leave people homeless, which will result in increased levels of crime too, as well as damaging families and communities. I also want to help stop the cuts on the welfare state, in particular the immoral activities of ATOS, which are seeing increasing numbers of affected people resort to suicide.

Meanwhile, That Cunt Cameron has just approved plans for a £15 million Thatcher Museum, while the privatisation of the NHS will directly profit a huge number of MPs. As for the myth of benefit “scroungers” – “Most benefit recipient – 60% – are working people who are so poorly paid by their employers or so exploited by their landlords that they can’t manage without state assistance.” Source.

This government is corrupt. It was not democratically elected by majority in England, and it certainly does not represent the views of the people of Scotland, who did not vote for it at all. I do not know how much more I can do, but I do know that – until the referendum in 2014 – I will do what I can to ensure that Scotland votes Yes and breaks away to fully govern itself. Westminster has consistently proved that they do not have the best interests of Scotland or its people at heart.

vote yes

The next protest will be on the day of Thatcher’s funeral. Then there will be speakers at the May Day Parade in Glasgow, and an Anti-Bedroom Tax day of protest on 18th May. I plan to be at them all, and anything else that crops up in-between. I am angry, and I am fed up, and I hope that if you are too then you will join me, as I have joined the thousands of others who got here before me.

“I believe [an independent] Scotland would legalise same-sex marriage. I believe it would reject Trident. I believe it would refuse to accept the victimisation of the poor, the ill and the weak.”
Source.

As far as the current balance of power goes, I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more.

Trident FTT flagPhoto: Robyn Ramsay


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 3

Margaret Thatcher Goes To Hell, 8th April 2013

Thatcher Maggiedeth

Margaret Thatcher died unexpectedly peacefully, at the age of 87.  I found out about it from a friend who told me succinctly that “Thatcher is dead.” As far as I am aware, Thatcher was dead to Scotland decades ago.

Another of my friends alerted me that “Thatcher has only been in Hell twenty minutes, and already she has shut down three of the furnaces.”

Some of you will remember where you were when you heard the news. I remember where I wasn’t. I wasn’t in George Square, at the impromptu “Death Party.”

This was due to a prior commitment, or rather two (I went to a comedy club in the evening, letting Facebook know that: If you were thinking “I’m only going to Improv Wars at The Stand in Glasgow when Thatcher dies” then TONIGHT’S THE NIGHT.) Otherwise I would have been there with everyone else. I was always taught that you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead, and it gives me no pleasure to witness ugly scenes of others revelling in a death, but while I don’t condone it I also don’t condemn it. Had I been there, it would have been to publicise my contempt for the Tory Party and for Thatcherism, rather than to rejoice in the passing of a wee old woman I never met. Nevertheless, I am glad that there was a small gathering and a demonstration of how reviled she was in Scotland.

The parties were roundly condemned by the reprehensible, war-mongering, toadying Tony Blair – whose leadership of New Labour is acknowledged to have broadly perpetuated Thatcherism.

thatcher - my further fb jokes

My own memories of Thatcher are inextricably linked to my childhood; of constantly seeing this cold and heartless woman on the television, and being vaguely aware of her policies. I recall the point when, in the early 1980s, they stopped giving us free cartons of milk at school. Whether this was the residual impact of her infamous “snatcher” actions, or down to various other measures, I cannot now say. I just remember that they started charging us for it, and recall the price gradually increasing.

On that note, a friend went into the nearest pub when the news broke, and asked for a “celebratory post-Thatcher glass of milk.” The barman duly poured it, and said “Since she’s gone, I can just give you this free.” He did.

I grew up in a town near to Ravenscraig – the steelworks that was shut down after the Tory privatisation of British Steel – and, without being at an age of full comprehension, I still personally knew of people who lost jobs and livelihoods as a result. Many of the surrounding communities were irreversibly destroyed. When I was sixteen or seventeen, and increasing in awareness, I discovered punk rock – the soundtrack to a previous generation of disaffected youth. On a Friday night, I religiously watched repeats of “The Young Ones” and its contemporary, one of the finest satirical sketch shows ever aired, “Not The Nine O’Clock News.” I can still quote vast swathes of the latter. These served to corroborate my view of Thatcher as a distant figure who sorely lacked compassion, heading up an inherently prejudiced party. It is, I believe, a mutual lack of compassion that has led to these “Death Parties.” Why should we care about someone who singularly failed to care about us?

thatcher greg hemphill tweet

I won’t mourn her passing, and I am sickened by the eulogising that has gone on since her death. Whoever invented rose-tinted spectacles has been doing a roaring trade this past week. There has been indignation that many of those partying “were not even born when she was ousted from power.” This is one of the weakest arguments I have yet heard, as if none of her legislation, policies, and leadership continue to affect (and disaffect) the people of today. Her legacy is well documented. At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, but by way of extreme example, I wasn’t born when Hitler was around – but it doesn’t take much study (or more than a passing brush with the collective knowledge) to know that he was not a particularly nice person. Thatcher does not strike me as having been a particularly nice person. She permanently blighted lives. Regardless of age, that makes her, and her death, relevant to us all.

Thatcher Frankie quote

Rather than celebrate her demise, it seems more potent to me that we use this as a stepping stone to build encouragement for action against the continuing, incredibly damaging, Tory regime. Ding dong, the witch may be dead. But the dead Tory is dead; it is the living ones we need to fight.

On Wednesday 17th April, the government will spunk between eight and ten million pounds on giving her a send-off unrivalled (at least by the attendance of the Queen) since Churchill died. This is the government that tells us we need to cut back as there is no public money available for such basic amenities as housing, health, or alleviating the lives of the disabled. This stunning hypocrisy would be breathtaking, if it were not to be expected from these brazen, self-serving millionaires. Naturally, they will divert funds to see off one of their own. They were already able to claim back nearly £4000 in expenses just for turning up at Parliament during the Easter recess to say nice things about her.

Thatcher Loach quote

During that tribute session, Glenda Jackson MP was the only one who said anything worth listening to, the one to stand up and decry Thatcher for her destruction of working men’s lives and communities.

 

On Wednesday 17th April, at 5pm, I will be in Glasgow’s George Square. There is a mass protest planned at this vile misuse of money – in memory of her thousands of victims, but also a visible public demonstration against Thatcher, against Thatcherism, and against the sheer bloody-minded vindictiveness of an increasingly aloof Tory government. This time, I have deliberately made no other plans. I will be there.

I don’t care about this dead woman. I care about the country I live in, I care about the fundamental tenets of democracy and society, and I care about the steady undermining of a welfare state that was long- and hard-fought for. If you care too, then I hope to see you there.

 

thatcher - my fb jokes

 


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.


Diary Of An Anti-Tory Protestor – Part 1

George Square, 30th March 2013

There comes a point in every man’s life – or, at least, I hope there does – when you realise that clicking “like” on shared Facebook photos and statuses is not an adequate or forceful form of protest. My own study of history leads me to believe that women received the vote as much for the roles they fulfilled during the First World War as for their widely-known protest movement. Yet, it is is hard to believe that Emmeline Pankhurst would have been quite so powerful and historically renowned a figure had her cohorts not chained themselves to the railings of Downing Street and instead merely hashtagged #Suffrage on Twitter. On Twitter, due to the limitations of hashtags involving punctuation, it is not even possible to accurately tag it #Women’sSuffrage.

I was aware, through Facebook, of an actual physical protest being held in my city on Saturday 30th March. This was the end of the week in which, as previously documented here, I had sent out a Tweet requesting that someone hit That Cunt Cameron in the face with a shovel, which was subsequently retweeted by an MSP. It was reported in the Daily Record, and then raised at First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish Parliament. My involvement, the reasons for my tweet, and the sentiment behind it were not discussed, and the full (lack of) reaction can be read in the follow-up post here. It seems that I had violently and abusively summed up the consensus of growing public opinion.

I can’t remember how the protest first came to my attention, although due to the political motivations of several of my friends and mutual friends, it began appearing on my pages with some regularity. I have since joined the Anti Bedroom Tax Protest In Scotland page, and have long been a follower of the “The last person to enter parliament with honest intentions was Guy Fawkes” page.

 

Last summer, I had bought a couple of Scottish flags, saltire crosses upon the centre of which I stencilled the logo of my favourite band. One of them ended up on stage with them at their Glasgow gig, held aloft during their encore at The Arches to loud cheers. I had planned to do something similar for another band I was seeing in Berlin at Christmas, but never got round to it. With this “spare” flag still in a drawer, I looked it out and wrote “F_CK THE TORIES” across the middle of it. While the back of my shirt has the same phrase uncensored, it occurred to me that self-censoring the first word would make it more publication friendly, should any photographers or cameramen happen to record it. The message is still unmistakeable, and I deliberately used an underscore in place of the “U” so that, if I decide to, I can fill it in later. The task, which I had started when I got in from a late-night comedy show, was finished by about 5am. I slept a few hours, and then dragged myself out of bed and down into the town.

I knew a few people who had said they were going, and another couple of dozen who had clicked “attending” on the facebook page with no real intention of showing up. One of the former, my friend Matt, was also attending his first ever protest, and I had provisionally arranged to meet him. The overall plan was to assemble at the Green, march to George Square, and rally there. I was running a little late, thanks to the company who – due to the frequency with which they announce it – may be known to the uninitiated as “Scotrail Apologise.” This same company is better known to users of social media as “Fuck Scotrail.” Thanks to their sterling inability to run trains to anything even approaching the timetable they set, I made it to the Bridgegate just as the march set off. Matt was, he texted me, next to a large black Scrap Trident banner, and I stood on the corner of the street until I spotted it. This being a protest march and not an orange walk, it was very easy to infiltrate the ranks to cross the marchers and join him.

 

It fair fills you with civic pride to march alongside hundreds – thousands – of others who all care passionately about the same thing. Especially when you know you are in the right. This “Bedroom Tax”, to use the accepted colloquial term, is completely unworkable. The government are demanding people downsize into homes that just do not exist – it has been widely reported that there are tens of thousands of people who are now required to move into a couple of thousand homes. The housing needed – affordable single-bedroom homes – is not physically available in anything even approaching the numbers necessary. Those affected, therefore, will have to make up the resulting shortfall in their rent, on the back of this cut, and if they can’t keep up payments they will face eviction. On the face of it, this does not affect me. I live in a one-bedroom flat. However, on the back of all the other ill-thought-out strategies – involving Workfare, ATOS, the NHS in England, funding for Trident – and the general hypocrisy of Tory rulers who are, largely, millionaires and have little or no idea what life is like on the breadline – I have had enough. This party has one MP in Scotland. One. That is not a mandate to rule, and when That Cunt Cameron installed himself as the Prime Minister I immediately wrote “Fuck The Tories” across the back of a shirt, in the DIY protest spirit of the original punk movement.

 

With growing anger, I have watched as the Tories have systematically undermined the entirety of the welfare state – rights that were hard fought for by our recent ancestors. On the back of my infamous tweet, mentioned in the blog already linked to, and the general apathy with which it was mostly met, I realised that it is time to protest in a more visible form. I don’t mean, and am not advocating, masks and molotov cocktails, but just being on the streets and marching and swelling the ranks by the number of one. It is my belief that people are taking to the streets to protest the Bedroom Tax, because if they don’t then inordinate numbers of people will be forced to LIVE on the streets. That’s when homelessness increases, and then crime increases, while businesses fold as people divert disposable income into living expenses. It’s time to stand and fight.

This is how I came to find myself in the midst of three thousand people, wearing a shirt and holding aloft a flag that both state my view clearly – Fuck The Tories. I didn’t join in with any chants, partly from being self-conscious, and largely because everything I wanted to say was clearly written upon my person.

msp shirt protest

To my mind, this is the part in the film “Network” where he says “I want you to get up right now, go to the window, open it, stick your head out and yell ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more!’ I want you to get mad!”

I want you to get mad. This affects us all, directly or indirectly. You don’t have to support the SNP or want independence to realise that this whole Bedroom Tax fiasco is unjust and totally unworkable.

 

When we got to the Square, I bumped into or met up with another few friends. My friend McGovern is no stranger to socialism and protest marches, and he joined us to listen to the various speakers being introduced by comedian Janey Godley. I found the pair of us in one of the photographs that was circulated online after the event.

msp protest circled me mcgovern

At least four people took pictures of the back of my shirt – they got my best side – and three of them had the courtesy to ask first. When I went home afterwards, I stopped at a local shop to pick up some messages. A wee woman came up to me from behind and said “Do we just add a tick if we agree?”

Like I said, the feeling is widespread. If you feel that passionately, then do something. Make yourself heard. Stand up for what you believe to be right. Stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Today, for the first time in my life, I realised that I feel prepared to lock arms with people and prevent evictions, if it comes to it. I’ve had enough.

I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this any more.

 

bedroom tax meme