After several years dotting about the local comedy scene, which saw my 100 stand-up gigs documented in the blog that preceded this one, I have decided to do my first solo show this year. Poster, descriptions, and ticket links follow below. I hope you can make it along, I expect it to be a one-off.
If you buy tickets online in advance, you will be entered into a draw to win some comedy DVDs – details here.
Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1488221281506109/
Having sent this email and received a reply so brief as to be almost non-existent, which also continued in its failure to address anything I had said, I wrote back without particularly holding back:
Dear Mr Farress, “Customer Relations Consultant”,
I trust you had a pleasant Christmas, and presume that you over-imbibed: only the presence of a monstrous hangover can possibly explain the brevity of your latest reply.
The alternative is that Virgin Trains are even less interested in providing adequate customer service than they are in ensuring trains run punctually, or at all.
I have written two letters of complaint, totalling eleven full typed pages, and so far you have failed to directly address a single sentence. Putting in a modicum of effort is unlikely to kill you, despite how it might feel – suffering as you must surely be from your festive alcoholic over-indulgence. I would have been happy to wait until the New Year for a response, had it meant you were sufficiently clear-headed to send me an appropriate reply.
I see now why your previous letter was full of copied-and-pasted (albeit irrelevant) paragraphs – left to your own devices, you have misspelled the word “cancellation,” an error which seems glaring given how many times you must encounter it in the course of your working life. Furthermore, you have asked me to “send through the relevant tickets” – I attached photographs to my original email, and you will find them there if you peer closer through your booze-induced fug. I can send them again if you prefer. You have already wasted so much of my time, you may as well squander a little more.
To remind you of the facts, I had booked four Virgin Train journeys in the space of six days. Of those four trains, two were cancelled and one arrived late. You have completely failed to address any issues mentioned with the staff, the service provision, or the level of customer service encountered thus far – most of which has been unsatisfactory.
I understand that, as a major company and in line with others of your size, you do not need to particularly care about any given customer’s experience. We are all but drops in the ocean to you. However, you most certainly do not lack the funds to reimburse me for my tickets and for the inconvenience and distress caused. Even discounting the refund of the concert ticket, which you refuse to pay despite forcing me to miss the gig – my sole reason for travelling – you should still be held to account.
I therefore repeat my request that you issue me a payment of £120 to cover my expenses, the abomination of a service you barely provide, and the stress and worry caused as a result of your actions and inactions.
I would also like a full reply to my original complaints, regarding the failure of station and train staff to adequately convey information.
I would ask to “escalate” this letter, but am informed by your Twitter team that I must telephone to do so – at my expense. They inform me that escalation will also occur if I include the VT-reference number attached to my initial email, however (having already included it in my follow-up communication) that previously returned straight to you. It is hardly escalation if we continue going round in circles, all my replies answered by the same work-shy inebriate who has exhausted so much endeavour in celebrating Christmas that he has no inclination to perform his job with any degree of competence.
Nevertheless, I will play by your rules. Please ensure this letter is escalated, and – once your New Year hangover has subsided and you feel able to write with relevance – I will be happy to hear what steps you will be taking to resolve this. In addition to receiving the payment and reply asked for.
While waiting for a reply, I am considering sending the whole of my correspondence to the CEO.
Update: I plan to write a separate blog to conclude this tale, but the upshot is – three letters totalling twelve pages later – they have refunded me £24 in cash (cheque) and sent me £100 in rail vouchers. My Virgin Train tickets, for the journeys which merited these complaints, cost me £90.
I am aware of, and largely unimpressed by, your inspired but transparent summertime marketing campaign. I am less interested in what forename is printed on the bottle label, and more in the bottle’s content. I only buy your product as an occasional sugary treat, without the intention of establishing an affinity with your packaging. Whichever name happens to be on it is irrelevant, and I have never wasted time selecting any bottle other than that which is closest or looks coldest. Personalised trash is still trash.
Today, by chance, I unpacked my shopping to discover that I had managed to pick up a bottle with, it looked like, my own name on it. Looked like, because closer inspection revealed that you had misspelt it in the most abhorrent fashion.
My name is Jordan. It has been Jordan for very nearly thirty-three years, and in that time I have never – never – met anybody older than me with this forename. I understand there are older Jordans in existence, only I have yet to personally encounter any of them. I could have resolved this, admittedly, but it seems a flimsy reason to attend a concert by the New Kids On The Block. Christ knows I would not be going for the music.
You can imagine, I am sure, that living with this name has had its ups and downs. Fortunately, I was at school when the basketball player Michael was cool, and happily accepted the nickname I acquired from the brand of footwear he promoted. Nearing the end of my state education, Katie Price turned up and ruined the name for every adolescent male Jordan left behind me in the playground.
My name has grown in popularity, transcending gender in the process, and there must now be Jordans who have reproduced and brought new Jordans into the world. So, in light of all this, what possessed you to print a label bearing the abomination “Jordon”?
Jordon is not a name, it is a misspelling; a source of constant irritation to me, as dyslexics and idiots throughout my life have insisted on unjustifiably changing the letters which form my name. Usually, this is a small detail – the substitution of the “A” for a second “O” – and a mistake made by recognised incompetents, such as the department of Glasgow City Council responsible for addressing my Council Tax bills.
I could retaliate in kind, as I did in opening this letter, but referring to you as Coco-Colo does not work as well when you consider that you are more commonly known by the shortened moniker, “Coke.” Is there some other way to resolve this issue? The “vegetable extracts” are supposed to enhance the beverage, not type (nor mistype) the list of people to whom you wish to sell your product.
I do not expect you to recall vast quantities of poorly-labelled soft drink, but perhaps you could amend the spelling for the next print run. Having accepted that the council will never manage to spell my name correctly, I refuse to believe that a company of your size cannot manage to correct this error.
Contrary to my stated disinterest, I will now keep a look-out for fizzy juice labelled “Jordan”, in the hope that today’s bottle just came from a bad batch and that somebody in the factory was simply not wearing their glasses that day. I concede that it might be quite a nice thing to possess, and am beginning to understand the appeal. I stand by my initial assertion that this marketing campaign, as much as I despise all advertising and marketing, is inspired. I am usually resistant to such tactics.
I look forward to your response.
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.
My complaint handler at HBOS then sent me a letter in the mail, which I realised he probably would. I sent him the following reply today, and got an out-of-office response. He has not yet seen the letter published below. Not only am I interested in his response, I was looking through my correspondence with the company on Twitter and note that I provided them with my mobile number on the first day, alongside a request for them to contact me in writing instead. I will include that information next time, while chastising them appropriately for the lack of communication between departments.
Here is the bulk of the letter he sent me:
Here is my response:
Dear [staff member’s full name including his middle initials],
Thank you for your letter dated 8th April, which I received in the post today. I expected it, and had correctly anticipated that you would largely reiterate the content of your previous email.
I wrote in the first instance because I wanted you (that is, HBOS) to remove the Esq that you place after my name. It was, to my mind, no big deal – an outdated form of address that I have never personally used, it makes sense to rid myself of it. The timing – why now? – relates to a recent letter you sent which added “Esq Esq” after my name. Verging on the ridiculous, I decided to address the issue before I find myself in a roughly similar situation to Catch-22’s Major Major Major Major.
I imagined, evidently wrongly, that putting my very simple brief in writing would enable you to fix the problem swiftly, and all I wanted in reply was a note essentially saying “done.”
Instead, here we are – five emails, a dozen-and-a-half Tweets, and one Royal Mail-delivered communication later – and still no resolution. Furthermore, you have given me immense cause for concern on two counts. Firstly, as you are unable (you said) to locate either of the accounts I hold with you and, secondly, because you appear to have lost my phone number.
Please check again, my mobile number ends [last three digits redacted] and the Bank of Scotland has contacted me using it, in relation to my online banking approximately eighteen months ago. Your assertion that the number you have for me “is not up to date” does not wash: I was given that number when I took out my first phone contract, with Genie, in or around October 2001.
Genie was taken over by BT Cellnet, who became O2, now owned by Telefonica. It is how businesses operate, except that unlike this Lloyds Halifax Bank Of Scotland nonsense they managed to keep hold of my one and only contact number in the process. So, again, given that I have had precisely the same phone number for twelve-and-a-half years, please comb your records once more.
I hold a Current Account with you, which I opened within the last three years. I also have a Savings Account which was opened for me sometime in the early 1980s, when I was too young to foresee the hassle it would cause me thirty years later. You explicitly stated that you are “unable to locate an account in [my] name to make the appropriate amendments.”
I do not know what to say, except “try harder.”
I have two accounts, and one name. I have signed my name to every email in an attempt to make it easier for you. Perhaps a search for correspondence sent this month to recipients marked “Esq Esq” will bring it up? There are very few people whose name matches mine – especially not when my middle initials are included. There should be remarkably few people banking with you in the name Jordan (or J.) R.A. Mills.
I only wish I had the ingenuity of Alice Cooper, whose bank tried to find his account for him. “We have twenty Alice Coopers” they said, when the results were returned. He had the intelligence, grace, and wit to politely reply “Yeah, mine will be the ‘Mister’.”
A distinguishing name ought to be most useful at this juncture. If you will trust the medium of email then I can send you my account numbers and sortcodes across, but it worries me greatly that you cannot find them of your own accord.
“Feel free to call me with the information”, your letter cheerfully offers.
Once again, I am forced to state that I do not really wish to discuss this over the phone – it is not terribly convenient for me – yet you keep insisting it is the only way forward. Are you so bored or lonely in your office that you just wish to chat? Or maybe you read these letters and feel you have found a kindred spirit? Granted, we both sign ourselves with a pair of middle initials, there is that connection. However, I try to make my writing entertaining to read, instead of blindly repeating the company line in copied-and-pasted paragraphs while singularly failing to locate vital customer particulars.
I know my tone is cheeky, increasingly so, but I refer you to my original complaint. I was hopeful you would quickly make the necessary changes, and instead you seem to have misplaced some extremely important personal details. Not only have we reached an apparent impasse, but you have revealed negligence that borders on corporate incompetence. You will be aware of Data Protection legislation, and know that the loss or careless handling of secure files would constitute a clear breach of the law. Find my accounts, and my number, and then you can phone me. Or, perhaps just quietly make the requested alterations as per my initial enquiry – no telephone conversation required.
I await your response with more interest than you pay on either of the accounts you have mislaid.
Jordan R.A. Mills
(or, using the unwanted alter ego you bestowed upon me, Mr J R Mills Esq Esq)
After sending a complaint to the Bank Of Scotland, a digital receipt arrived in my inbox. The next two emails were short and professional, and I will relay only the relevant information prior to reproducing the additional complaint it led me to write.
At first I was hopeful, noting of my new contact: “As you sign yourself with two middle initials, and given part of the nature of my complaint, I expect you to be broadly sympathetic. However, I have stated (via the HBOS Twitter account) that I would prefer to be contacted in writing, and not discuss this over the telephone. They tell me they have passed this request on.”
It was nearly 5pm on a Monday, and an automated out-of-office reply arrived immediately. This stated that the complaint handler would be away until 9am that same Monday – a clear anomaly. I consider that to be fuel for the fire. Despite allegedly being away from his employment, he then replied personally:
“I fully appreciate your express wishes to respond to and resolve the complaint you’ve raised however, I’m unable to locate an account in your name to make the appropriate amendments. We do not recognise corresponding by email about account specific information as safe and secure. As you have not provided a valid telephone number to contact you and the only number which I can find for you indicates a different geographical location, I am unable to safely speak with you.”
Gloves off, let’s go.
Your Twitter team have already assured me that it will be possible to have this matter resolved in writing. If you look at how you addressed me in the letter to which I refer, then perhaps that will help you locate my account?
I hold two accounts, both under variations of my name chosen by your company and both suffixed unnecessarily as detailed in the missive to which you are responding.
I am uncertain as to why you are writing from a Lloyds TSB address, when my complaint is with HBOS. If all four of these banks are united then I begin to understand the recent political phrase “all in it together.”
If I recall correctly, HBOS has called me to confirm details in the past, with regards to my online banking. Somewhere, alongside the two accounts you are unable to find, you have my number on file. It gives me no faith in your company to learn that both of my accounts are invisible to you, and I am starting to realise why the man in the branch who set up my second account said it would be nearly impossible to amend my name in your records. You do not appear able to adequately check said records, let alone update them.
I note that the names on my two cards differ slightly, and both also differ from the way you address communications to me about those accounts. Unfortunately, as you “do not recognise corresponding by email about account specific information as safe and secure”, I am unable to reveal what any of these names are. Suffice to say they are variations on a theme. Personally, I always sign my name the same way – in the evidently mistaken belief that it might avoid confusion.
My phone number is in your system, and I am not responsible if you feel it is playing hide-and-seek with you. I am worried knowing that I have entrusted my money to you, if you cannot safely look after digits that do not even have financial value. Furthermore, I am questioning why you have written from a Lloyds email address. You may be quite correct when you say this is an untrustworthy medium.
Although I have replied with my tongue slightly in my cheek, be advised that it is only slightly.
Incidentally, my previous reply was met with an automated Out Of Office reply which stated that you will return to the office on Monday 7th April at 09:00 – if you are returning in the morning before you have left, then I envy your mastery of time travel.
Jordan R.A. Mills*
*Here’s a clue, both of my accounts contain some or all of these letters. My phone number is in there somewhere. Good luck.
He wrote back by post, and I have replied to that too. Read it here.
I bought a supermarket sandwich which purported to contain beef, but which revealed itself to be mislabelled and instead held only tuna fish. This is the second time I have had an issue centred around the simple concept of bread with a filling, so I wrote them this light-hearted complaint. Below is their reply.
The previous, unrelated correspondence can be read here.
Thank you for contacting us. I am very sorry that, again, you have been disappointed with your purchase of a sandwich from our [location redacted] store. I would like to offer my apologies for any anguish caused when you discovered it contained tuna instead of beef.
This is clearly not acceptable and therefore we secured the services of Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Magnum PI, Inspector Morse and of course those two lovely ladies, Rosemary & Thyme to get to the bottom of this mystery. Although they could not identify the culprit, all staff involved in the preparation and packing of our sandwiches have been retrained in the correct processes to follow and we are confident that this type of situation should not occur again in the future.
Please be assured that no genetic modification has taken place; we do not even use catfish or dogfish, never mind breeding underwater cattle! It has simply been a case of human error, to which we as a species are prone occasionally, and I hope you can forgive this oversight.
We would not want our customers to be disappointed with anything that they buy from us and we would not even think to pass our tuna off as being sea-horse meat. In view of the fact that you are now out of pocket, I will be sending you a £5.00 shopping voucher which will be posted out to you shortly.
Please let me apologise to you once again and I sincerely hope that we may retain your valued custom; and trust that all your future purchases will be entirely satisfactory, with the contents being exactly as described on the label.
Customer Services Department
Wm Morrison Supermarkets PLC
Dear Bank of Scotland,
Or, to address you in the same manner you addressed your latest letter to me,
Dear Bank o Scotland outdated suffix outdated suffix,
I would like you to reconsider how you word my name, and amend your records accordingly. I use both of my middle initials, not the one you assign, with valid reason. I do not require the “Esquire” you add after my name, and adding two of them seems doubly unnecessary. One recognised authority on etiquette suggests you have also used it wrongly, by placing it at the start of a written communication.
My name is Jordan R.A. Mills and, dear god, the abuse I have taken for electing to sign myself that way. Since late primary or early secondary school it has been viewed as an affectation, lending itself to the wonderfully tedious game whereby people guess what those two letters stand for. You can imagine, I am sure, that there were never any flattering or complimentary suggestions. It took me a regrettably long time to realise that the best and most effective way to shut that down was to simply tell the truth; that it is not immediately apparent that I sign my middle initials as they stand for the forenames of my two grandfathers – neither of whom lived to see me born. Now who is the “rotten arsehole”?
There are three ways people write this moniker for me – some take my lead and copy it verbatim, some disregard both initials, and – most annoyingly – some abandon only one of them. When I was occasionally performing stand-up comedy, and with reference to the second two options above, I made this observation:
“I’ve never understood why people find it acceptable to just jettison a key component of my name.
I’d never dream of doing that to someone, just going ‘You know what? I was going to write his name, but Jesus I can’t be bothered so I’ll leave a couple of letters out.’ Whatever time that might save. Yet it happens often.
Thankfully the birth registrar and the passport office, whatever their flaws, aren’t that desperately lazy. So it appears to be my legally documented name. If I’ve made the effort, and taken the twenty-odd years of abuse for signing them, there’s probably a good reason for their inclusion.
It also annoys me on automated bank forms and the like, where it says ‘middle initial’ and only lets you enter one character.
‘I’ve got two middle initials.’
Well, in that case, please decide which of the two dead grandfathers you never met should have their existence acknowledged in our records – one, or neither.
If neither had existed I wouldn’t be here. If there was only one I’d just be half the man I am today.”
This will explain, I hope, why your letter addressed to “Mr J R Mills” has irked me to the extent that I am contacting you.
Furthermore, for reasons that lie somewhere in the early or mid 1980s when my maternal grandmother opened this Halifax Savings Account for me, you have always added an “Esq” after my name. I have never been entirely sure why, and when I opened my current account a couple of years ago I was informed that it would now be difficult to remove from your systems.
I accepted this, it being no great shakes despite you being the only company in my experience to ever append it. Attention to detail is important, though, and I find it excessive that you used it twice in succession. Perhaps you were trying to butter me up by calling me “Mr J R Mills Esq Esq”, or maybe it was a piss-take by your admin staff – taking umbrage at the first Esq and sarcastically adding a second? Either way, I am happy for you to drop both of them in future. I have no requirement to be titled in such a way.
Incidentally, while researching (a loose term I use to cover a look on the internet powered by a world-famous search engine) the correct application of Esq, I found a BBC article on the subject. To quote directly from it:
“Esquire is more formal than Mr, and only used in written correspondence,” says Charles Kidd, editor of Debrett’s Peerage and Baronetage. “It’s more old fashioned, and you would only use it on an envelope.”
The article continues with an example which, adapted to this situation, clarifies: the envelope would be addressed to “Jordan R.A. Mills, Esq” but the invitation card itself would read “Mr Jordan R.A. Mills”.
At least, that is my interpretation of it. Some other sites question the abbreviating of full names to mere letters when the Esq suffix is added. They agree, however, that Mr and Esq should not be used in conjunction.
The upshot of all of this is, I have finally decided to try and have your records altered. The change-of-name page on your website came up as “unavailable” when I tried to access it this afternoon. I found another way to do it once logged into my online banking, and read through the instructions. Unfortunately, among the list of acceptable forms of identification, you do not list a passport. My passport is the only recognisable proof that I have to hand. Hence this letter.
Please remove the Esq suffix from my name, it has been there forever and there really is no need for it. I am content to be a plain old “Mr.”
As for the rest of my name, please add my second initial (preferable) or remove the existing one. As stated, I do not feel it is in your jurisdiction to acknowledge or deny the existence of half of my male antecedents.
Your cooperation in this matter is appreciated.
Jordan R.A. Mills
This is a light-hearted letter of complaint. Read the reply I received here.
Dear [national supermarket chain],
I have previously complained about the sandwich department of my local store, a letter which I published (along with your response) on my blog and which you retweeted. It was read over a thousand times on the back of that. In contrast, when I wrote about magician Paul Daniels cutting my head off he retweeted it and it received only a hundred or so views. Granted, it is no longer the 1980s and your name is undoubtedly now more recognisable than his, to many. You may remember the missive in question, and it remains one of the most popular things I have ever written – barring the possible documentation of a future attempt at my live on-stage decapitation by Dynamo.
Today, I was feeling a little peckish, and lazy, and browsed the selection of freshly-made sandwiches on offer at your store. I decided to opt for the age-old classic combination of beef and onion, served on a baguette and thus a handy, substantial meal fit for a king. To be clear, I am not a king and neither do I have kingly aspirations. I do, however, have an appetite and the usual skeletal and biological means of sating it.
I purchased the sandwich in the standard manner, carrying it back to my home as it was unable to walk there of its own accord, being a sandwich. I put the rest of my shopping away – I had picked up a few other items, the goal of my trip not being the sole acquisition of some ready-made lunch – and prepared to devour the delicious feast you had carefully hand-prepared. Alas, upon removing it from the protective paper wrapper I realised that something seemed fishy. Specifically, it smelled fishy, and before I took a bite I used my years of experience to my advantage. I removed the top portion of the bread, and was dismayed to find, inside, that somebody had sneakily stolen the beef and onion filling and replaced it entirely with tuna and cucumber.
I considered the events of the recent past. Nobody had tampered with the sandwich in my home, as I live alone (hence having time to write letters like these). I had definitely not switched the contents myself, so that ruled me out of my enquiries. Nobody had approached me walking between the shop and my house, so it seemed unlikely that the subterfuge had occurred on the journey. That meant the culprit must surely be located in the branch itself. The cashier – I believe in giving my custom to humans and not to machines, so never use the self-service checkouts that too many supermarket chains now provide – she had an honest face and I am inclined to give her the benefit of the doubt. The answer – the guilt – must surely lie with whoever made and/or labelled the product. It would not be the first time.
A couple of weeks ago, I bought an alleged “corned beef slice” which, once my teeth were in it (I mean I bit into it, I didn’t take them out and add them to the mixture inside), revealed itself to be some kind of spiced steak pastry. It was not unpleasant, but it was also not what I thought I was buying. On that occasion I did not complain, admittedly. Anyone who thinks they are buying corned beef and who instead receives steak has, in the local vernacular, won a watch. At least you managed to mix up two types of meat from the same animal. Today’s mistake was just farcical.
It raises a few concerns, which I hope you will take the time to address and answer fully. This is very important to me, as a regular customer of several years standing. Obviously I am standing (or walking) when I am in your branches, and not rolling along the aisles on my sides like a child going down a hill in a park. That would be silly and I daresay your staff would politely ask that I stop. I mean, as you will have inferred, that I have given you a lot of money over a long period of time. My questions are valid and require answers.
So, regarding this tuna and cucumber baguette which was masquerading as a far nicer beef and onion one:
– Was this an ill-timed April Fools prank? If so, the joke is on you because I bought it on the 2nd of April.
– Is your beef dolphin-friendly?
– Did you deliberately substitute tuna for beef due to worries about BSE or its human equivalent CJD? If so, in future I would rather take my chances and not have that decision made for me. You can make my sandwiches, but not my decisions.
– Were you lamenting the passing of the horsemeat scandal, and thinking that you could engineer a tuna fish scandal under the misguided belief that “no publicity is bad publicity”? I am not falling for your ruse, if so. It was blatantly tuna fish. At least the horsemeat suppliers tried to hide the fact.
– Are you participating in some programme of genetic modification which involves the breeding of underwater cattle? Do you farm tuna fish on land, putting them out to pasture and letting them graze freely? Is this how the mix-up has occurred?
As a major retailer, you will be well-versed in The Sale Of Goods Act 1979 (as amended). This clearly states that, legally, items sold must be “as described” – you are evidently in breach of this statute. I think this incident may also be covered by the Misrepresentation Act 1967, whether the misrepresentation was fraudulent, negligent, or innocent. That said, I am not a lawyer. I am just an average guy who enjoys the occasional sandwich and who is sometimes too lackadaisical to make his own.
When I do make my own sandwiches, you can be certain that there is never – never, mind you – tuna fish in them. The only fish I ever eat is battered, although I don’t think it comes out the sea that way. I can’t say, I’m no fisherman.
Having established that I am neither a lawyer nor a fisherman, I am also not a binman. This comes as some relief to me at the present time, as that sandwich is going to start reeking soon. It went straight in the refuse, uneaten. Nice try, but you never got me.
As I see it, you owe me £2.20 and – more importantly – a series of answers to the questions I have asked. You can reply with your tongue in your cheek – I welcome that – but you can’t sell me hidden tuna fish in your sandwiches. I won’t stand for it, and that’s not an opportunity for you to bring out a chair.
I await your response with interest – quite a high level of interest, but not in the financial sense.
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.
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.
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.
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/
My previous post detailed a letter of complaint to my local supermarket, written principally for my own amusement and regarding a sandwich I bought which turned out to be stale. They replied with a cut-and-pasted stock response, which led me to follow it up with this:
“Thanks for cutting and pasting a totally impersonal response. It’s a genuine shame that they don’t permit you to function as a human and compose a reply of your own. The very least I expected was an acknowledgment that my carefully-constructed letter had made you smile. Or not.
Thanks for the offer of a voucher. As you don’t have my postal address, I don’t see much point in you sending me it. Give it a shot, though – my name is reasonably unique in this part of the world – especially if you include my middle initials. Certainly, with only my name and general geographic area written on the envelope, finding my location will keep the Royal Mail busy at this otherwise quiet time of year for them.”
For that last sentence to make sense, you need to know that I wrote this in December.
It occurred to me that their Twitter account might be a better way of contacting them, in pursuit of a satisfactory reply. They quickly asked for my email address, which I provided. Then it all went a bit quiet.
Credit to them, their reply – which arrived yesterday – was well worth the wait. Once you have read my original letter, you will understand and appreciate this reply:
Thank you for contacting us and please accept my apologies for your disappointment with the response you have previously received from us and for the problems you experienced with the long awaited, greatly anticipated Meat Feast Sub Roll you purchased from us recently.
I do concede that from purchase of this roll, to the time of placing it into your fridge, it could not have degenerated in such a short time frame (unless your fridge was conspiring against you)!
I assure you that I was most aggrieved to learn that you were unable to fully enjoy this roll as you had hoped and therefore would like to give you the reassurance that this will be addressed in store to ensure that we only sell the best quality products that please our customers and that we continue to maintain the highest possible standards.
I am so very pleased that the roll was safely disposed of in your rubbish bin (I mean your very nice bin designed to accept rubbish that has served you so well) and that no mishaps occurred whereby it was accidently dropped on a small child! We would certainly not want to learn that you were up on manslaughter charges due to you innocently purchasing some lunch!
At this point, I would like to say that yes, I was most amused by your comments and your eloquent description of events certainly did make me chuckle to myself.
That aside, I am extremely sorry for the crushing blow you have been dealt and I am happy to send you a £10.00 voucher as a gesture of goodwill and in recognition of the time and trouble you have taken to bring this to our attention. Rather than leaving the guesswork to Royal Mail, would you kindly provide me with your address details so that I can arrange for this to be posted out to you.
Thank you again for bringing this woeful tale to our attention and I look forward to hearing from you shortly.
Fair play, Morrisons. Fair play.
My tongue-in-cheek letter of complaint to the local supermarket. Submitted via their website. They have since replied.
I enjoy the range of fresh sandwiches that is generally available from my local store. A particular favourite is the recently-introduced “meat feast” sub roll, a hearty and satisfying combination of meats, cheese, sauce, and salad.
It certainly seems to be a popular choice. As often as not there are none of this specific sandwich left on the shelf when I call in for whatever messages I have decided to populate my fridge and cupboards with. You can imagine my delight today when, with a hankering for just such a concoction, I discovered one lone remaining “meat feast” in the chiller cabinet. I deftly transferred it to the basket in my hand, and proceeded to do the rest of my shopping.
I would not say that I was in your shop a terribly long time, and when I returned home some minutes later – I live in very close proximity to your store – I put the sandwich straight in the fridge, along with other chilled and perishable goods.
With the sandwich safely in my possession, carefully stowed in a cool environment, I went about my business until the moment when hunger struck. I let the pangs build, until my longing to satisfy the craving was beyond control. Then, and only then, did I retrieve this delicious morsel from its chilled home – and that is, sadly, where it all went wrong.
The sticker on the front of the packaging alerts me, proudly, to the fact that it was “prepared in store.” Unfortunately, it does not suggest precisely when this might have been. Judging by how stale the bread was, I would imagine that it was prepared some time in the past fortnight. What crushing disappointment!
I had dreamt of that sandwich, I had held off to the very last moment to savour it, and here it taunted me by being virtually impenetrable. Not wishing to cause myself the need for expensive dental work, I did not immediately bite into the end of the roll. Rather, I used it to hammer in a couple of nails in the hope that that might soften it sufficiently to render it edible. No such luck.
The filling was every bit as tasty as I had imagined, I was just saddened that I had to remove it from the normally-delectable sub roll in order to consume it. The bread roll was a write-off, unfit for purpose and swiftly consigned to the rubbish bin. To clarify, that is the bin for rubbish – it is not in itself a rubbish bin. It is actually a very good bin, which has served me well and which I am as fond of as any sane person can reasonably claim to be fond of a refuse receptacle.
I am no scientist, but I find it difficult to believe that the roll achieved this level of staleness in the time between it leaving your fridge and entering mine. I admit that it was the first thing that I put in my basket, but taking it for a stroll around your shop should not have induced such rapid onset of inedibility. Similarly, two or possibly three hours in my refrigerator ought not to have adversely affected it in this way.
I did consider returning it to the store in question, but I am not in the habit of taking sandwiches for walks. Certainly not twice in one day, as that is a level of commitment beyond which I feel mere food deserves.
Equally, I felt no compulsion to confront your staff with the decimated remains of a rock-hard lunchtime meal. There is only so much sympathy one can expect to elicit in such circumstances. I am also a regular customer of yours, and saw no need to embarrass myself by indignantly brandishing a stale roll while loudly demanding my two-pounds-fifty back.
When it comes to purveyors of traditional lunchtime fare, my local area is very well served. I placed my faith in your ability to provide a worthy alternative to the options available from nearby bakers and food chains. You have let me down.
Please have a word with your quality control department, to ensure that supposedly fresh goods are indeed fresh. Had I accidentally dropped that sandwich on a small child, I could easily have killed him or her. As it was, I was grateful that I had elected to wear my steel-toecapped boots. Who knows what injuries your stale sandwich could have inflicted, had I not taken such precautions. Broken toes, cracked legs, structural damage to the floorboards – it hardly bears thinking about.
In conclusion, the bread was stale and I threw it in the bin. The rest of this letter was written with humour, to make you smile. Let me know if I succeeded.
Read their reply here.
I have recently joined a new mobile network, my third this year. They offered cheap and unlimited internet access for my laptop, for a reasonable price. As ever with these things, though, there were a few teething issues.
I have put my new SIM card into my old phone, which is now permanently connected to the computer. I use it as a modem, sharing my signal with the laptop through a process known as “tethering.” I did this before, but having now unlocked my phone and joined another network, I am finally permitted to. Being acceptable under the terms of my contract, I phoned the company’s technical support line to get some help understanding why it was giving me problems. To her credit, the girl I spoke to was able to guide me through the process, and she sent me a text for future reference.
As I read it, this message tells me that to get help using my phone as a modem, I need to go online using my phone as a modem. A lovely paradox, and a fittingly absurd entry for this blog.
A major international soft drink manufacturer has recently begun emblazoning common first names on containers of their main products. I am unwilling to name the company in question, as I do not believe in giving most brands any undue mention that may help further embed their names in the public conscious. I am also certain that you can imagine who I refer to, given my opening sentence. They are not known for scrimping on their advertising or sponsorship budgets.
It is probably a shrewd move on their part to personalise bottles, leading people to seek out specific names and perhaps buy something they would otherwise not have purchased. I detest advertising and marketing though, and the dedicated psychologies that target consumers in attempts to sell us things we do not need and that do not benefit us. I make a deliberate effort to try and remain unsusceptible, as far as possible, while being aware of the power of suggestion. I despise commercials that are designed to tempt us by asking “why not try…?” or telling me to “go on,” “treat myself,” or that I “am worth it.” Use of these and similar phrases is a sure-fire way to make me boycott whatever service or product you are hawking.
In the supermarket recently, I noticed a display of these canned soft drinks. Rather than being aimed at one person, as the individual bottles are, the multipacks are for sharing with “friends” or “family”, something about “summer”, and the one that caught my attention – “everyone.”
It is not clear to me how it can be possible to share twelve cans with “everyone.” One possible explanation is that this multinational corporation has now developed such a messianic view of itself that it believes that its primary carbonated output is akin to five loaves and two fish. Even Jesus only managed to feed five thousand in that way, considerably less than the current population of the world which could generally be considered to constitute “everyone.” With approximately seven billion people on earth, most are going to get barely a sniff from this particular pack size.
Another possibility is that a dozen people is indeed everyone. Given that there are no provisos, such as “everyone at your party” or “everyone in the meeting,” perhaps this design was accidentally released for sale early, being intended to go out after the nuclear holocaust/flooding/mutated superbug decimated our human number down to barely double figures. If this is the case, then how could the manufacturer know just how many survivors would be left? Conspiracy theorists, you can have some fun here if you wish.
A more realistic slogan would be to advocate sharing beverages with The Dirty Dozen, or with 12 Angry Men. You could try giving them to the days of Christmas, or to the Christian apostles. If you were so inclined, you could have one and spread the rest around every member of your favourite football team. Alternatively, they could have stopped short of quantifying who you should share it with, as it seems they have grossly underestimated how many of us there are.
When I ran the above observation past a friend, she envisaged a far different scenario – that you would share this liquid by opening a pack and distributing the contents freely to other shoppers around you. I much prefer this idea, taking the caption at face value and immediately presenting passers-by with tins as instructed. It would be similar to the experiment conducted in the brilliant pop-culture Adam And Joe Show of the late nineties, when they helped themselves to the free percentages of promotionally-marked items.
In response to this global supplier’s current strategy of printing different names on their bottles, the makers of Scotland’s homegrown and most popular soft drink adopted the idea with tongue firmly in cheek. Tying in to their own current advertising campaign, they printed up several thousand limited-edition bottles with the girls name Fanny. As well as being an outdated forename, the term is an everyday slang name for the female genitals and – therefore – also used as a (relatively mild) insult, often between friends and on a par with eejit or numpty. Ya mad fanny.
They also produced bottles named Tam, Rab, and Senga – the first two being very common Scots versions of Tom and Rob, and the third being a ubiquitous though now largely under-used girls name.
Given the dual meaning of “fanny,” it is easy to derive risque or vulgar humour from it. For instance, with reference to the photo below, it can be said that it is wet and it tastes good; it is best enjoyed when it is wet on the inside; some guys see it and lose their bottle; nothing wrong with a bit of fanny juice. You can probably come up with your own too, and by placing two bottles together you can refer to them colloquially as “a pair of fannies.”
I do hate advertising, and yet I have a wee soft spot for a local, highly successful business whose ad campaigns are famously risky, cheeky, bold, funny, innovative, silly, memorable, definitely Scottish, parodical, and genuinely entertaining. It makes them a lot more tolerable.
In 2008, I was working on a pantomime in Glasgow. One of the actors, a well-known face from our national soap, had previously done a panto there in 2006, the year I started. There was a great cameraderie between cast and crew, and the pair of us got on well together. I would tell him as many deliberately shite jokes as I could remember, and he would groan and take the piss out me for it. It was good fun.
Meeting again, after this gap of two years, he asked what I had been up to. As it happened, I had just written a pantomime of my own, which was being performed locally. I told him as much, and we slipped easily into the mutual joshing that characterised our friendship.
“You sold a pantomime?” he asked, immediately discrediting the notion with “Who to? You’re not funny!”
“I’ll write you a script, and get you off that shitey soap,” I told him.
That was how it started. My off-the-cuff riposte had potential, and it interested me to explore it. I spent that run working on ideas for a screenplay that was titled “Uberstardom” – a film about a soap star who decides to pursue his lifelong ambition of stand-up comedy, which then backfires catastrophically and with grisly, blackly-satirical results. I pitched it partly as a combination of Shaun Of The Dead, The King Of Comedy, and The Running Man.
To make a long story very short, after several years of writing in inspired bursts I eventually produced seven drafts and redrafts of the screenplay. This actor read one of them, and enjoyed it (phoning me up to tell me it was “mental”, which I took as a compliment), but although he promised to pass it to a producer, nothing ever happened with it. I then sent a later draft to a Hollywood actor with whom I have a passing family connection, and never received acknowledgement or reply.
Later, I lengthened it and turned it into a 70,000-word novel. The first draft got some pretty decent praise, including from one publisher who said they would have been interested except for the fact they only publish three books a year and so have to be fully committed to each. I have yet to revise it and produce a second draft, which it definitely needs, but every so often I read over the manuscript and find ideas, jokes, images, and turns of phrase that I enjoy and am proud of. There is room for improvement, of course, though I wrote the book that I wanted to read, based on the script for a film I would dearly love to see. All of this is, however, merely background information.
Today, I saw a headline about somebody pelting raw eggs at the judges of a TV talent show. Three years ago, I imagined and wrote in detail about exactly that event. It was a scene whose setting closely resembled a number of high-profile “talent” shows, and their judges. One of the reasons that I need to write a second draft is to eliminate anything potentially defamatory. In any future reworking, I will also need to seriously reconsider this scene in light of it being something that has now happened.
Whatever the facts of the case, here is an excerpt from the unpublished novel, in which I tried to blend satire with slapstick and farce. The judges are returning their verdict to a lone, unnamed singer-songwriter. His three friends are in the audience, armed with eggs. The protagonist, Stevie, is in the wings, nervously waiting for his own chance to shine.
“What can I tell you,” Jetty Mappendage began, treading the fine line between smug and cunt and broadly straddling both, “I personally don’t enjoy your style of music, it doesn’t speak to me. You’ve clearly got ability, I just think it could be better spent – I don’t know, washing cars maybe.” The audience booed him, but the singer tried to take it on the chin, knowing you couldn’t please all the people all the time. He turned slightly, and focused on Felicity Penn, sitting in the centre.
“I liked it, I really did,” she gushed, genuinely touched by his heartfelt lyrics and style of playing. “I just thought it was a bit – you know – lacking in originality” she said, feeling bad about having to criticise him, and feeling worse when the room booed at her too. “No, no – I did like it!” she reaffirmed, trying to redress the balance by offering words of encouragement. “I think you’ll go far, but just – just not on this show, sorry.” This got a smattering of applause; at least she had offered hope rather than just dismissing him out of hand. All that was left was Jonathon Kecks’ opinion – a man renowned for his snide asides and punishing put-downs, as much as for the height of his waistband. He waited for silence, and it came fast as the hall eagerly sat on tenterhooks.
“That was shite,” he summed up succinctly, not an aficionado of Oscar Wilde’s wit. “Fuck off,” he hinted maliciously. The singer picked up his guitar and trudged offstage, trying to retain what little dignity he could. He was met halfway by the host, who was coming on to console him before introducing the next act, more fresh meat to be thrown to the lions. They met and shook hands, which was when the voice of dissension rang out, loud, proud, and distinctly Glaswegian.
“See youse, ya fannies, youse wouldnae recognise real talent if it battered aff yer napper like a raw egg!” screamed the hippie chick, on her feet in the balcony and directing her tirade at the judges table. The hippie guy and the young man in the stalls rose to their feet too, each armed with several boxes of eggs. They began pelting the judges, who cowered in their seats as their table exploded with the gloop of albumen and the shrapnel of shattered eggshells. Felicity screamed as raw egg trickled down her carefully-coiffed hair and onto her face. Kecks attempted to raise his waistband over his head, trying to cower inside his trousers, and Mappendage leapt from his chair, sprawling to the floor then crawling behind the bingo brigade in the front stalls, using the old women as a wall of defence. The rain of avian missiles continued, erratically now all three wayward punters were being wrestled by security guards and stewards, who tried to pin their throwing arms to their sides as well as manhandle them out of the rows they sat in. The audience were torn, some shielding themselves from accidental fallout, others smiling or laughing at the spectacle of it all, and a few were booing – though the object of their disapproval remained unclear. Some shouted encouragement to the protagonists.
“Gaun yersel’,” they cheered, “Gie it laldy! Get tore intae him, big yin! Tan his jaw! Ram the nut oan him! Gie ‘im the Glesga nod!
For their part, the three protestors had run out of ammunition and were now engaged in verbal warfare with the human gorillas dragging them towards the auditorium exits. “Sniff ma gusset!” the hippie guy invited, belligerently, as he was forcibly removed from his seat.
“Your tea’s oot, ya muppet” the leather-jacketed man in the stalls shouted, trying to take an indiscriminate swing at the three man-mountains heaving him down the aisle. “I’ll set aboot ye!” he screamed, unable to even set foot on the floor at that point as he was carried outside. The girl was unleashing a torrent of abuse at her would-be captors.
“Get yer paws aff me, ya durty perv, or ah’ll gie ye a sore face! Rape!” she yelled, despite the fact it was three female stewards who had tackled her. “’at’s it, the rattle’s oot the pram!” she cried, writhing in their grip and trying to get a punch in. “Ah’ll toe yer hole,” she promised, trying to swing a kick up too. They had her too firmly, though, and she was ushered out the door. The two guys were still hurling abuse as they were huckled out, engaged solely in their own private worlds and oblivious to the fate of their friends.
The host had moved quickly when things kicked off, forcing the singer into a half-nelson and marching him into the wings where security took him away while their colleagues dealt with the troublemakers. He returned to help the judges, who struggled to their feet, a bedraggled dripping mess. Mappendage clutched himself, bent double in agony, after one of the pensioners he had used as a human shield took umbrage and whacked her walking stick squarely into his balls. Kecks had taken refuge under the table, and despite the persistent barrage of abuse and missiles, had managed to avoid getting egg on his face, although his trousers would need a good cleaning. He stood up, slipped on eggshell, and fell back down on his arse, knocking into Penn as she rose and sending her careering into Mappendage, who plunged forehead-first into the third step and fell back, stunned. The audience convulsed with laughter.
From his vantage point in the wings, Stevie saw the whole travesty unfold and watched transfixed. Mappendage rose, trying to cradle both balls and forehead simultaneously, and stumbled up the steps onto the stage and off into the opposite wing. Penn followed, breaking one of her heels off in the commotion and pitching sideways off the steps to land in the lap of a grateful old man. He helped her back onto the stage, using his hands more than was strictly necessary. She limped off, in tears. Kecks crawled on hands and knees to the foot of the steps, where the host lifted him up and hoisted him over his shoulder, carrying him off like a hero fireman – right up to the point he slid on some yolk and sent both hurtling to the floor like an enormous sack of spuds. A security guard who had returned from handing over the singer walked on and took hold of their legs, dragging them offstage as the host – professional to the last – raised the cordless microphone to his lips and apologised.
“Sorry about this, ladies and gentlemen,” he said, flat on his back as he was pulled across the stage. “We will be back just as soon as the judges are cleaned up.” He sounded exhausted, but geared himself up to deliver his payload – “Remember, we have yet to find our Uberstar!” The audience weren’t even listening though, caught up in the excited hullabaloo as the curtain fell.
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.
There is very little that is more awkward than your boss, who is roughly ages with you, trying to communicate to a roomful of employees but becoming stuck between talking on their level, and being aware of the environment and of the expectations of his corporate masters.
While twenty of us sat around the edges of this call-centre classroom one afternoon, our speaker tried to best illustrate a particular point with a modern phrase known to us all. He failed to fully commit to its use, however, and trailed off after saying “Bros before…” – the missing final word being “Hos.” It was never clear quite how this American frat-boy mantra, which advocates prioritising guy friends over girlfriends, was relevant to the customer service emails we were being taught to compose and send.
I can, at least, understand why – at each mention – the boss began the statement and then bailed with the words “I won’t finish that sentence.” I think, and hope, that he was shying away from using the derogatory term “ho”, short for “whore” or – as it was phonetically written on the graffitied walls of my secondary school – “hooer.” Though perhaps he is just staunchly against the further Americanisation of Scottish culture.
During the course of the informal tutorial, several of my co-workers used the phrase too, all of them stopping short of completing it. I decided that it was time to derive some humour from it, since the word play is – at least, I thought – obvious. One of the girls quoted the saying, and by this time it was a running joke that you would only give voice to the first two words. Deadpan, I asked my question to the room at large:
“What is it about that particular garden implement that means you can’t say it??”
There was a pause, as the pun registered with almost everyone in the room, leading to laughter. The only person not laughing was the person who had last expressed the term.
“I don’t get it,” she said.
“Garden implements,” the boss explained, smiling. Her blank stare was met with further explanation. “Hoes.”
“Oh!” She exclaimed. “I thought you meant like a trowel or something.”
“Yeah,” I said, matter-of-factly inserting that in place of the omitted word. “Bros before trowels.”
We had been taken on as temporary staff. They kept her on, they let me go.
The Two Ronnies, and some confusion over “hoes” – starts at 2m 18s.
I logged in to my Twitter account the other day, prior to setting up a dedicated account for this blog in order to try and reach a wider readership. So far, the blog page is being followed by ten people, and is not yet what you might call a roaring success. If you are on Twitter, you can help me change that if you are so inclined. Please be inclined.
I always have a quick look at my Timeline, to see what people I follow are posting, before switching to the “Interactions” page so as to avoid being swamped by a million new-tweet notifications. This has changed now that I have begun using Tweetdeck to manage my personal account, this blog’s account, and the account for my “Adventures In The World Of Stand-Up Comedy” blog. However, that was my routine on the day in question.
The top of my Timeline was filled with retweets from comedian Sarah Millican, and from them it was fairly evident that she had posted about swallowing her chewing gum. Most of the “funny” answers had already been given and, as I have an aversion to being in any way “hack” with my jokes, I was prepared to skip straight to the page telling me how little I had been socially interacted with since last signing in. That was when I noticed the tweet I was drawn to reply to.
Neil “Doctor” Fox was a fixture of my childhood, his nationally-syndicated weekend chart show playing in the car on our way to or from various shopping malls, supermarkets, and trips to see one or other of my grandparents. More than anything, I remember the constant jingle that cut the word “Fox” onto a truncated sample of Robert Palmer singing “Doctor, Doctor,” from his song about having a “Bad Case Of Loving You.”
I tried to find a clip of that particular jingle, with no luck, but I did find this track by Kunt And The Gang. They appear to be offering sexual favours in return for a high chart position.
I have loved Chris Morris ever since I first stumbled upon an episode of The Day Today on BBC 2 one night, and mistook it for a factual programme for about thirty seconds. Its subversive genius soon became apparent, and it has subsequently made televised news impossible to watch. I was fortunate enough to then see the original broadcasts of his equally brilliant Brass Eye and the darkly twisted sketch show Jam. I have watched all of them innumerable times since, able to quote large amounts of all of them and awed by the beauty of his turns of phrase. “Proof if proof be need be”; “Quadrospazzed on a Life-Glug” ; “Cake is a made-up drug … A big, yellow death-bullet in the head of some poor user, or ‘custard gannet,’ as the dealers call them.”
“When dancing, lost in techno trance, arms flailing, gawky Bez. Then find you snagged on frowns, and slowly dawns… you’re jazzing to the bleak tone of a life support machine, that marks the steady fading of your day-old baby daughter. And when midnight sirens lead to blue-flash road-mash; stretchers, covered heads, and slippy red macadam, and find you creeping ‘neath the blankets, to snuggle close a mangle bird, hoping soon you too will be freezer-drawered. Then welcome… mmm… ooh, chemotherapy wig, welcome. In Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jam. Jaaaaam.” – Intro to Episode 1
Brass Eye’s most infamous episode was the one-off special, Paedogeddon. From Wikipedia:
“To illustrate the media’s knee-jerk reaction to the subject, various celebrities were duped into presenting fatuous and often ridiculous pieces to camera in the name of a campaign against paedophiles. Gary Lineker and Phil Collins endorsed a spoof charity, Nonce Sense, (pronounced “nonsense”—”nonce” being British slang for people convicted or suspected of molestation or sexual crimes), Collins saying, “I’m talking Nonce Sense!” Tomorrow’s World presenter Philippa Forrester and ITN reporter Nicholas Owen were shown explaining the details of HOECS (pronounced “hoax”) computer games, which on-line paedophiles were using to abuse children via the internet. Capital Radio DJ Neil “Doctor” Fox told viewers that “paedophiles have more genes in common with crabs than they do with you and me”, adding “Now that is scientific fact — there’s no real evidence for it — but it is scientific fact”.”
That last quote, from “Doctor” Fox, is one of many that I can easily recite verbatim. Here he was on Twitter, espousing an obviously nonsensical “fact” in reply to Sarah Millican’s tweet, and I replied without a second’s hesitation – quoting his own assertion about facts and evidence.
I did not expect a reply – I figured it would be an episode of his life that he would be embarrassed to be reminded of, since various celebrity interviewees later denounced the show while publicly expressing their anger at being duped. I did not anticipate a reply from Sarah Millican either, as she has previously ignored me. Kind of. We have a mutual friend, a professional comedian who once publicly posted the link to my film “Jerry Generic” – which is a short satire of stand-up and of hack jokes and topics. Ms. Millican “replied” to it, but only insofar as to send an unrelated tweet to the friend off the back of it. I saw it as I was named in the original tweet, but the reply was not directed at, and did not concern, me. I presumed that it was easier to tack a new message onto that one rather than hit the “compose” button, and took that communication to be an act of convenience rather than a personal slight.
It came as some surprise, then, to find a reply from Foxy a few days later. He had taken my tweet in his stride, seeming to praise me for making the reference, and candidly referring to the occasional repercussions of his appearance on that show. I accepted that at face value and decided not to reply further – instead resorting to just retweeting it for others to read.
I forget precisely what new story inspired my latest vitriolic social-networking chastisement of the leader of the government which nobody in my country voted for.
It was something to do with more cuts imminently about to take effect, further destruction of whatever last bastions of hope still remain, or the perceived abolition of the entire welfare state and all of its many benefits – benefits in the sense of positive attributes and not, as has recently become the norm, a filthy word to be spat out in a mixture of contempt and disgust. In hindsight, I think it was mention of the JobCentre having to send increasing numbers of people to Food Banks.
Demoralised and worn-down by the policies of our unelected Prime Monster and his millionaire cohorts, I have long since abandoned any formulation of argument and resorted to wearing a German army shirt adorned on the back with the handwritten, Punk-era-inspired epithet “Fuck The Tories.” I have also taken to referring to that cunt Cameron as “that cunt Cameron.” This is a misnomer, as – to quote a Jimmy Carr heckler put-down – I doubt he has the depth or the ability to give pleasure.
It was in this spirit that, fed up of more depressing pronouncements about how these seven-figures-rich, expense-claiming bunglers are “in this together” with people who are working every available hour in order to starve and freeze, I posted the following to my Twitter page:
“Could one of you be good enough to hit that cunt Cameron in the face with a shovel, please? Maybe a couple of times? Quite hard?”
It was a throwaway line, the kind of silly request that – tallied with extreme violence – characterises many of my posts to Twitter, Facebook, and which colours the jokes and stories I have developed over the past 29 months as a part-time, largely unpaid, stand-up comedian. If you follow my blog specific to those experiences, you are probably aware that my only journalistic review called me “fond of absurdity and with more than a hint of menace.”
As I checked the “connect” sub-page of Twitter, to see if I had had any kind of response to it, I saw that it had been retweeted – forwarded – by my wee cousin. This was of no surprise to me, as she has an equally abject hatred of the Tories – being, as she is, Scottish and of voting age.
The tweet was then retweeted by a “Derek Mackay MSP.”
Who? Never heard of him. I know what an MSP is, though.
At first, I presumed it was a spoof account – the kind of humorous, satirical account that alleges to be the new pope, or the JobCentre, or my local council, and posts a slew of witty, insightful, scathing, or absurd comments. That seemed the most likely occurrence, until I noticed that this account has a blue “tick” next to it, signifying that it has been verified as accurately portraying the notable person named. Possibly, this account had been hacked, then. Certainly, my post sat awkwardly amidst a stream of dry information about conference attending, going for a swim before attending a conference, and a trip to Dundee.
It was unusual enough, and raised my interest sufficiently, that I took a few screenshots on both my laptop and my phone.
The next evening, I was out with my wee cousin. I told a few people that I had been retweeted by an MSP, and at the point of checking I noticed that that particular notification had gone. I laughed aloud, figuring he must have changed his mind, and thought nothing more of it. Whether it had been deliberately posted by this MSP, or by someone pertaining to be him, it had now been removed. I joked that maybe it showed the true breadth and depth of feeling in this country, when even the elected members of our parliament can’t abide their Westminster counterparts.
Today, Wednesday 27th March, I met a friend for coffee. Doing some messages after that, I happened to look at my Twitter interactions page, and saw a message from one of my regular comedy colleagues. I thought he was alluding to publication in some obscure local rag, and it took a second glance to realise that he was using the common colloquialism to refer to the Glasgow Daily Record. In my haste to buy a copy from the nearest newsagent, I unsuccessfully tried to cross Union Street three times without detouring the five metres to the traffic lights, and managed to step worryingly close into the path of a moving bus while doing so.
As soon as I bought it, I turned to page four. There, indeed, was a short article about an MSP retweeting me. As soon as I got home I posted pictures of the tweet (screenshot) and of the article itself. On Facebook, it has been shared by nine of my friends and led to something of folk-hero status. On Twitter, it has been passed on less times, but with equal amounts of praise from those who have read it. Considering the Record included my Twitter username, it would have been very easy for people to object directly. At the time of writing, nobody has. I suspect they are all too busy working out whether they pay for heating, food, clothing, or fuel this week – being as it is not quite payday, and we can’t all be millionaire MPs with expense accounts.
Show me a person who approves of, likes, or voted for David Cameron, and I will show you somebody who probably lives in the south of England.
My friend McGovern has made me realise that I can extract, as a poster quote should I ever succeed enough in comedy to require one:
“Bile” – The Deputy Leader of the Scottish Conservatives
And, thanks to the adjective they used, I can also include:
“Comic” – The Daily Record.
I am considering whether, on the back of the Tory’s comments as reported in that article, I should write to Alex Salmond in support of this Derek Mackay MSP.
Firstly, I do not want him to lose his job over this. It would be good if he could just admit that this was an error, and move on. God knows, there are more important democratic matters at hand. Like the fact the UK prime minister heads a party that had one MP returned from our entire country. Scotland did not vote for this government.
Secondly, I genuinely believe that this was an error on the part of Derek Mackay MSP. Not only did this retweet sit at odds with everything else he has posted, so far as I could see, he also had to be fully instructed on how to remove the tweet from his timeline. This is evidenced by the screenshot below. To me, that demonstrates a basic failing in knowing how to use the site, supporting my theory that this was an accident. On a smartphone, it could have been a simple slip of the thumb.
Thirdly, it borders on being inconceivable that any politician, by the very virtue of being a politician, would post anything so fundamentally unequivocal. Even if it happened to be his personal opinion, of which I have no knowledge. Deliberately retweeting this could be tantamount to career suicide, and at best it would be a foolish move for someone so open to public and press scrutiny. I very much doubt that this was intentionally retweeted.
While I decide if further press coverage merits me writing in support of this man and defending him for making what I believe to be a genuine mistake (and not even a mere oversight of judgement), I took the liberty of sending him a short message of support directly. Unsure how to word it, and trying to convey the right sentiment, I opened with my sincere desire that he is not unduly disciplined for this matter. I wasn’t sure how to end, though, and I suspect I may have undermined that sincerity with my closing sentence. I hope not, it just seemed apposite.
My overall response, naturally, was to post the following general advice to all of Twitter (well, to my 331 followers anyway) :
“If you’re in a position of public standing, it is inadvisable to retweet messages containing “offensive” language & requests for violence.”
I really don’t think he meant to.
[There is now a follow-up to this piece, which can be read here.]
Earlier this week, I was in my local branch of a mid-sized national supermarket chain. I happened to see an offer on burgers, and took a photo of the sign in order to make a silly joke on facebook, with reference to the UK horsemeat burger news story of last week. One of my friends looked beyond the cheap gag, and pointed out that the pricing information on the sign was arithmetically incorrect. I decided, for my own amusement, to write a complaint to the company in question. Ostensibly, it would be about the news story, and I would fill it with as many puns and as much wordplay as I could, before making a comparatively serious point about mathematical standards. This is the letter I sent, after the photo that I took.
Unless you have had the blinkers on, I am sure you will be familiar with the major headline story last week. On the back of the recent news reports about “beef” burgers and their contents, I’m afraid I wish to register rather a serious complaint regarding one of the products you offer for sale. I saw it, and took the attached photograph, in a branch in Glasgow, on Monday 21st January.
I understand that this brand, Birds Eye, was not caught up in the recent ‘horsemeat’ scandal. I can only presume that this is because they use their name to alert consumers to the possibility that their burgers may contain alternative types of meat, for example avian ocular organs.
I am aware that, by law, burgers must have a minimum meat content, and I absolutely trust that the majority of burgers do contain a minimal amount of meat. Listening to the naysayers, this issue seems to be less about eating Red Meat, and more about inadvertently eating Red Rum.
I understand, too, that – while your business may have stable suppliers – it is not your mane duty to vet all sources of meat used in the products you sell. I do not mean to nag, nor to stirrup trouble, and trust that you will not trot out a generic answer to this statement of concern.
Selling these particular burgers at half price, after this (without wishing to sound too grand) national outrage, seems – in a manner of speaking – a little like you are shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. It is almost as if you do not wish to be saddled with this remaining stock.
Having had free rein to bring this to your attention, I am now champing at the bit to explain the nature of my complaint. It relates to the advertising sign attached to the shelf edge in the photo, and I am not sure how it got pastyour quality control department.
Specifically, as you will see, the sign pronounces “Half Price” in large, bold letters. The original selling price, as stated and struck through, is £2.70.
You are offering this pack for sale at £1.29. I am not sure where you learned division, but it does not take great dexterity to realise that half of £2.70 is £1.35.
I realise that it is too late to amend this sign, and merely suggest that greater care is taken in future when calculating differences in price. Indeed, you could have made this offer seem more attractive to the potential consumer, by pointing out that it represents a saving of MORE THAN half price.
As you may gather, from reading this email, I am presently (like so many others) unemployed. I will be happy to come in and do basic maths or proofread signs for you on a regular basis, for a small fee. I am also available for any writing vacancies you may have, for example in public relations, subject to appropriate remuneration.
I do hope that you will give this some serious consideration, and await your reply..
If a reply is recieved, be certain that I will post it here. I sincerely hope that they will reply in the same spirit in which this was written.
Edit, 2nd May 2014: Fourteen months after I questioned their maths, to which no reply was forthcoming, they have still failed to grasp basic concepts. A three-day weekend is fifty percent longer than a normal one. They are eight hours short.
I took this photo in the store of a high-street “beauty and health retailer,” on Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow. It was my friend who first noticed the display, as she walked past, and thanks to the evolution of digital technology I was able to capture the image for posterity.
You will see from the shop’s section heading that these are the things women just can’t live without…
Either that, or I took an opportune moment to take a photo of something that amused me.
I was at a launch party for the new Nachtmahr album last night. I’m not the biggest fan of them, and they are not a band that I particularly go out of my way to listen to. However, I do like some of their songs, having listened to the album Feuer Frei while typing this, and have seen them play live twice – once in Glasgow, and once at the Summer Darkness festival in Utrecht.
While it is only the music that interests me, they rely heavily on (and have been criticised for using) pseudo-Nazi imagery, which frontman Thomas Rainer protests does not reflect his political stance. He also surrounds himself with pretty young women, sometimes dressed very smartly and sometimes barely dressed at all.
The picture below is representative of their album artwork. I cannot find an uncensored version of the flyer I was handed last night, and regret that I deleted the photo that I took of it. This will have to serve to give you an idea.
I was reminded about seeing them this year, when they appeared on stage right before Combichrist.
Thomas said during his set “You’re probably wondering why I have four sexy girls on stage with me. Because I can.”
During Combi’s set, their frontman Andy LaPlegua said, with a cheeky grin, “You’re probably wondering why all these sexy men are on stage. Because we’re a real fucking band and we play live.”
His mischievous sense of humour and fun is one of the many reasons that Combichrist are my favourite band.
Later that evening, we joined the Nachtmahr aftershow party, which was in a hotel room almost directly under ours. I asked Thomas if he had heard what Andy said. The answer was no, and I later heard that he wasn’t entirely happy to learn. Unlike most of us, who found it funny.
And here are Combichrist, an hour later. Singer, Guitarist, Drummer, two Synth players who also have five- or six-piece drumkits for additional percussion duties, plus Tim Van Horn from Aesthetic Perfection on drums, and two drum technicians onstage to pick up all the gear that gets thrown around mid-set. Busy, relentless, energetic, and messy:
On the plus side, I did come home last night with one of the two Nachtmahr t-shirts that were being given away to promote the new album which I haven’t yet heard. It is called Veni Vidi Vici, and I feel – given the treasure I acquired – that phrase aptly sums up my evening… 🙂