I went into my bank today. I had to go into my bank, as it was not possible for me to withdraw the low remaining sum from an ATM.
I cannot be the only person who has noticed an increase in the level of overly-friendly “customer service” provided by the counter staff, and how it is directly proportional to the financial mess that the banks have left the entire country in. I do not want to be engaged in this transparent distraction technique by some excessively-polite, smiley do-gooder. This is a business transaction, not a social interaction. I do not want you to try and be my pal.
It began with the blonde woman marching up and down the queue of four people, enquiring if we are “just paying in?” I am not sure how much time it would really save, in such a small queue, to be directed to the faster-payments thing. At least it is keeping her in a job, even if it does mean that I have to reveal the nature of my business in such a way that the earywigging people around me become aware of private details. I resent that. If she would just hold her horses, the reason for my presence would be made quietly known to the teller.
As bad luck would have it, I was called to one of the two tellers at the low desks. I was not really in need of a seat, and having to sit down when making the quickest of withdrawals is an unwelcome chore. I aim to be in such unpleasant places for the briefest amount of time, and needing to sit in order to be at eye level feels like they have added an element of captivity, not comfort. Worse still, the teller had evidently been a model student in his customer-facing training. He wanted to know if I was having a good day.
If this question felt in any way sincere or unscripted, I would be less annoyed by the persistence with which their staff always ask it. Instead, I find it to be intrusive – it is no concern of any stranger’s whether I am having a good day, a bad day, or an indescribably mediocre day. It has no bearing on whichever of my affairs I am in the process of conducting.
Bank staff are singularly bad for this. I will happily converse with the checkout staff in my local supermarket, with the conductor on the train, or the ticket office staff, and with just about anybody else who conveys any genuine warmth during the course of our encounter. By way of example, my supermarket staff unfailingly ask me if I “need any help with packing?” I always reply in the negative, and if I am in a reasonable mood I jokingly add “but you can help me pay if you like.” This usually elicits a smile and, more than that, everybody declines with good humour but in a different way. My point being that I am not above a casual conversation and a smile, provided there is some human depth to it. The banks, perhaps to nobody’s surprise given the crisis they created, lack humanity.
I find myself, then, entering into terse and largely one-sided dialogues with courteous but target-focussed individuals, whose individualism is denied them by their corporate masters and by the script they have rote-learned and from which they must not stray. If they thought about what they were asking, then they might stop and ask something else instead – something relevant, something less personal, or something that did not immediately lend itself to having its stupidity highlighted.
“Are you having a good day?” I was asked.
“So-so,” I replied.
“Could be better?”
By definition, if my day can be described as so-so then yes, it could be better. I neglected to point this out, instead telling him matter-of-factly:
“Better if I wasn’t taking out the last of my money.”
“Okay,” he said without listening, checking the balance of my account. “You have nine pounds thirty.” He began counting it out, continuing the line of questioning.
“Are you up to much today?”
Drily, I answered “Not with nine pounds thirty.”
He smiled. It was the smile of a man satisfied that he has done as his job requires of him. It was a smile that did not belie any indication that he had appreciated my attempt at injecting a little bonhomie into his day. Perhaps the possession of a sense of humour is seen as subversive. They trained him on which questions to ask, but not in how to respond adequately to the answers.
I haven’t written about the complete waste of time that is The Work Programme in a while, and this is largely because they appear to be doing less work than the unemployed people it is their sole duty to help.
I can say this with reference to personal experience, as – after they changed my advisor at Easter – I have had approximately three meetings in four months. It is supposed to be fortnightly, and they are supposed to be helping me conduct intensive searches for jobs and/or training, but due to a combination of Bank Holidays and the absence of my new advisor (who booked me in for a meeting on a day he had off as annual leave, and cancelled the latest one), I’ve barely been there.
In truth, I’m happier this way – I find the entire enterprise to be a mammoth waste of resources, and it is becoming increasingly clear to me that, if you are educated and literate, have no dependents or dependencies, and are aged 24 or over, then you are FUCKED no matter how strong your work ethic or desire to escape. They have no idea how to deal with you, or what to do with you, and so far have found me three months’ work that ended after seventeen days, and proposed numerous other jobs that have consistently failed to materialise. Fucking timewasters.
Recently, as evidenced by a blog I wrote here previously, they held a mandatory Jobs Fair event, at which there were no suitable vacancies available. Specifically, they had employers offering too few contracted hours to sustain anybody with rent to pay (based on THEIR OWN calculations), and others offering zero-hour contracts. The latter is a massive gamble, because monthly outgoings remain steady even if earnings fluctuate greatly – from lots, to literally nothing. You run the very real risk of not making anything, let alone enough to pay bills or eat.
One of the companies offering zero-hours contracts there was G4S, the security/stewarding company.
You may recognise their name as part of the first Olympics fiasco (I say first: others seem inevitable) – they were awarded something like £280m to provide staff, and failed. So now they are drafting in the army instead, and will lose approximately £60m of what seems like an unjustifiably large sum to begin with.
It has been reported that in Glasgow, G4S have lost the confidence of the police, who will now assume responsibility for security at Hampden. From the linked article:
Strathclyde Police’s decision comes after the force said on Monday that extra officers were being drafted in because G4S confirmed it was not able to meet its commitments at Hampden Park and training venues in Scotland.
This company has been paid a massive amount of public money to employ people, and Christ knows there’s no shortage of willing unemployed people and certainly not in Glasgow. So fuck knows how they managed to squander it so spectacularly – when there are folk crying out for jobs. It’s all zero-hour contracts though, so I guess people are reluctant to risk everything on nothing.
Give me Independence as soon as possible – Labour did fuck all for us, the Tories were contemptuous of us before and now it’s not just Scotland they are destroying. They’ve all proved they can’t govern us effectively, so it is time for us to have a go ourselves. The one thing that Independence offers, which they can’t, and don’t, is hope.
Without hope, we truly have nothing.
The main reason that I believe life is absurd, accept it as such, and just embrace it, is that there are so many examples of things that are inexplicable any other way, things that can’t easily be defined within the confines of our collective knowledge. I’m not talking about things to which we attribute meaning either – the phone rings just as you’re thinking about the person on the other end: that’s because we discount all the times that the phone rings and we aren‘t thinking about the person who has made the call. I see as absurd the almighty coincidences that are much harder to explain away, like the one I’m going to document here.
I play the lottery (a term I use to also include the EuroMillions game) on occasion, maybe three or four times a year. As someone who studied and enjoyed studying maths at school, and who remembers when the lottery first started and when – as an exercise in fourth year – we were shown how to mathematically prove the much-publicised assertion that the odds of winning were fourteen million to one, I am fully aware of the futility of my playing pattern. Specifically, I remember learning about probability, and the chances of (for example) rolling any given sequence of numbers on a die – the odds increase with every roll. So the chances of me picking the winning combination of numbers – already astronomically high – are magnified significantly by the chance of me then also choosing the right week to actually play those numbers. If I changed my numbers too, that would further increase the odds of ever winning. So far, to nobody’s surprise (least of all my own), I have won nothing – literally nothing.
The numbers I play are usually consistent, save for the difference in draws – six numbers for the original game, five and two stars for the EuroMillions game. Usually, because every now and then I forget which combination I play – the past few times I’ve played as a main number one that is also a star, and so I could play it there and add in the omitted sixth number from the regular game. I only realised this recently. All of my numbers relate to birthdays of two members of my family – days, shared month, years – and one additional number which I chose for reasons I can’t remember, but which relates vaguely to the house I grew up in. There wasn’t a great deal of thought went into my numbers – I didn’t want to think then over-think my choices – and I never actually checked the year of birth of my Grandma, just guessed at what I thought it might be. I was wrong.
At a family meal on Sunday, my sister asked my dad what age my Grandma had been when she died. This reminded me, prompting me to ask what year she had been born. He thinks it was 1922, making my rough guess two years out.
When I was at the supermarket on Tuesday, I passed the lottery desk on my way out the store, then doubled back on a whim and put a line on – changing that one number. Later that night, I got three numbers came up in the draw, and won just over a fiver.
This is just one small example in a lifetime of other occurrences, equally freakish – in all the years I’ve played the wrong number, I haven’t won a thing. The week I change it accordingly, I win something. There’s probably some rational explanation in the grand scheme of things, but at this level we’ve no way of knowing what that might be – easier to just take it in stride. And hope for a bigger win next time.
Life is absurd. Statement of fact. I called my blog this because there are so many incidences that are beyond the realms of comprehension, it is easier to just embrace the fact that crazy things happen all the time, rather than try to fully understand them. Here is one such coincidence, which has flummoxed me. Some background information is required.
A few months ago, I decided on a whim to finally investigate getting my first ever tattoo. I figure now I’m 30, the folly of youth is somewhere behind me. Trevor, the drummer in my favourite band, Combichrist, is a tattoo artist, and I asked him to quote me a price to get some work done on their forthcoming UK tour. His fee of $150/hour in cash, while not particularly unreasonable when you consider his portfolio and his standing, was sufficiently off-putting for someone with only an idea and no real money. Even with a favourable exchange rate, I’d need the cash (as opposed to credit card) and have to pay commission. Then consider that I have no idea how labour-intensive a tattoo is, how quickly it can be done, or in fact very much at all about the actual procedure involved. All I know for certain is that I want my first tattoo to hold meaning, and I’m extremely relieved that at no point in my twenties did this desire for a tattoo manifest itself this strongly – otherwise I might be permanently inked with the name of a band I no longer listen to.
Caught up in the idea, I immediately set about thinking of something appropriate but simple – filled with meaning, but achievable within an hour-long session. The Combi logo seems hack, and I realise now that I don’t want to be marked with the name of a band who look set to become huge – fine for the first few years, and then you look like you jumped on the very bandwagon you helped start rolling. I decided instead, in a sudden epiphany, that my first tattoo should involve the word “Glasgow” – my home for the past eight years, and when I moved here I discovered that I was always a Glaswegian, I’d just been trapped in Hamilton for 22 years. In describing this choice of tattoo, I would say: I’m a part of it, and it’s a huge part of me. I combined some Google image searches, and quickly came up with something I liked.
My closest and most trusted friend is a girl I have known for the entirety of our adult lives, and last night in the course of sending her an email I mentioned, for the first time, this notion that had taken me some months back. It didn’t relate to the rest of our conversation, apart from me saying that I’ve just booked up to see Combi four times on this tour, and neither of us is tattooed (which surprises many), but as she is my barometer of good/shit I ran my design past her. Her response, condensed, is that I should re-think the border I have chosen, and replace it with something that holds significant meaning. “I don’t think your tattoo design is finished yet would be my concluding remark if I was to make one which I have in fact just done.”
I realised, lying in bed reading this at 4am, that she is right. This is partly why we are friends and why I run things past her. I had hastily created this design and then chose the best of five similar ones I threw together one afternoon. Sure, the actual name of this city is as significant as any one place can be in a man’s life, but the rest of it came from what was at hand at that particular time, drawn from half a dozen pages of search results. There is still two months until the tour, plenty of time to plan further the artwork I want indelibly drawn on me, and although I am happy with the result generated so far, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is finished or doesn’t require additional work. Even though it isn’t financially viable right now, and though I did some research and came up with a few designs, one of which I like a lot, there’s still the possibility of creating something even better. All of which might be blindingly obvious to some of you, but which I was obviously blind to. That’s the thought I fell asleep to, tattoos and Glasgow and the resolution to put further thought into my design and make it truly personal.
Tonight, I finally got round to putting away some of the stuff that I dug out of boxes last week, stuff that has been in storage at my dad’s since I moved out of my first Glasgow flat – long-lost treasures like my craft materials, black kilt socks, and a hip flask. I put this last item in the drawer with my other good-but-scarcely-used items, among the neckties, the kilt socks and pins, the other hip flask, the cufflinks, and the watch I’ve never worn. It was a present from my youngest sister, sometime when she was still working in a jewellers, but I’d stopped wearing a watch at that point as I didn’t like having the extra weight on my wrist and used my phone to tell the time. It has sat in various drawers all of the years since, during which time the battery has gradually died. As you do when confronted with some rarely-seen item of clothing or jewellery, I took it out and put it on, noticing that it could do with having a link or two removed and contemplating whether I have the skills and the tools for the job. Idly trying to wind it, I removed the plastic display insert from the box, looking for the instructions to confirm the method of setting the time. I don’t really want to break a watch that is as pristine as a watch can be. What I found was so unexpected that I have no explanation for it, and when I phoned my sister to ask her if she can tell me more, she can’t even remember ever giving me a watch.
“Are you sure it was her gave you it?” asked another friend. I am certain – I don’t own an abundance of jewellery, and I remember precisely how I acquired that little which I have: a watch for my 21st, which I chose and which has been broken for years and no longer has the metal strap attached; this watch my sister gave me, year unknown; my grandpa’s wedding ring, the replacement for the one he lost in the Mediterranean Sea; a gold chain that was my 18th birthday present, and which hasn’t been worn in over a decade; and a pair of cufflinks which my dad gave me in anticipation of my need for them at my sister’s wedding. That’s it. And at no point do I remember secreting money in any of them.
When I lifted out the plastic insert, there was a flap in the bottom of it with thick folded paper – I presumed instructions – inside. It came as a surprise to find that it is actually $130 US dollars in ten-dollar bills. I have no recollection of hiding money in there, and I have only been to America twice – in summer 2005 and February 2006. Both times, I took Travellers Cheques and only a handful of notes. The cheques were slipped inside the covers of various books I had taken with me, stored with my passport, and generally kept in a few different locations. Some were in my suitcase, some in my wallet, some in my backpack – all sound hiding places, and ensuring that it would take extremely bad luck to leave me without anything. When I did run short of money, towards the end of my ten-day stint in NYC in 2006, I figured I had spent more than intended or had done some poor accounting. In 2009, when I had moved into and from six flats, and finally unpacked all my boxes of books, I found an uncashed Travellers Cheque inside the back cover of the novel I had been reading at the time. I certainly can’t explain this wad of notes in the watch box.
For a start, it’s a watch I have never worn, and so I can’t imagine why I would have taken it on a transatlantic journey. The plastic insert has been sliced open, unevenly, and I am not given to destroying my belongings in such a way – if this was my chosen hiding place, I’d be far more inclined to keep it aesthetically pleasing by keeping the insert intact then folding the notes flat and hiding them under it. To damage something in otherwise excellent condition, to make uneven slits in the base instead of neatly cutting along the seams, to then secrete a bundle of notes inside it instead of keeping the notes flat – none of this strikes me as my natural choice. Then there is the fact that there are thirteen notes here, and I have explained on here previously that I have a lifelong aversion to that number. To place 13 ten-dollar bills in one place, to my mind, would be tempting fate.
I actually checked the notes against the light, looking for watermarks (which I found), but sense tells me nobody would go to such lengths to hide Monopoly money. There are only two possible explanations: 1) I put this money here for safekeeping, for reasons and in circumstances now wholly eradicated from my memory, or; 2) fuck knows. The money was hidden there by person or persons unknown on its way to, or before being returned unused to, the reputable jeweller who then sold it on? That seems implausible, and yet the rational option (that I did it) is alien to me in numerous ways. I have to accept that I will never know for certain, but there is one notable upside. Specifically, $130 dollars, in cash, is almost exactly enough to pay for a tattoo…
I would say this is really weird, this casual talking of and rethinking my tattoo (which hasn’t been spoken of in months) then suddenly finding funds for it completely by chance, because it is. But life is so overwhelmingly absurd anyway that it’s just another inexplicable coincidence to be taken in stride.
And if you ever hid 130 bucks in a watch box then lost track of it, please don’t contact me.
I’m writing this because I don’t like the number thirteen. I’m not scared of it, or by it, I just don’t like it – it is an ugly number.
This is pretty irrational – how can a number be ugly, or aesthetically pleasing? I don’t know, but I do know that I like numbers that are multiples of 5. I can’t have the TV or the stereo volume set to an odd number, with the exception of eleven – the level at which the stereo gets set at night when it is too late for twelve (or higher) but too early for the winding-down levels of eight or nine. Eleven and nine are the only acceptable odd numbers for the stereo volume to sit at, and only late at night or early in the morning when I don’t want to disturb my neighbours. I wish they showed me the same consideration.
Anyway, my point in writing this is, I can’t have the number of blogs posted sitting at thirteen – so this will be the fourteenth.
When I studied Psychology, for one year as part of a degree I later dropped out of, we discussed phobias. Our lecturer was a funny guy, who would anthropomorphise animals when telling us of practical experiments and tests, and he made the classes hugely entertaining by telling us, for example, how you can make pigeons superstitious. To listen to him, his style was comparable to Eddie Izzard’s, so his classes were informative, interesting, and often hilarious.
This particular day, we were all encouraged to shout out things people might be scared of, which he then listed on an overhead projector. Someone said spiders, so he drew a crude one, then a thread coming from it leading up and off the sheet of acetate. He positioned the sheet in such a way that, when he pulled it towards him on the projector, it looked like the spider was animated and descending from the top of the screen. Simple, but quite funny. “Vertigo,” someone else shouted, and he asked if they were okay sitting at the top of the lecture hall, or if they wanted to come down the front to a seat at floor level.
In amongst the list of other fears, the number thirteen inevitably cropped up. He started to write this down, but in a deliberate gesture he stopped, rubbed it out, and wrote instead “12 + 1” – just in case anyone was scared of seeing it written down.
The really stupid thing though, given that I don’t like the number thirteen, is that it was the street number of the house I grew up in. I lived at number thirteen for twenty-three years, and I still have family living there.
Like I said, irrational.