23 Dec 2003

"Thank you for calling Call Centre Confidential. Our lines are now closed and will reopen on Monday the fifth of January. Merry Christmas and a happy new year to all of our customers. Never forget - your call is important to us."

Yeah. Right.

All the best - see you in 2004.

22 Dec 2003

Put a Needle on It

The Team Manager do was on Friday. I’d love to regale you all with insightful observations of my colleagues but I can’t as I missed most of it.

I always feel a little guilty leaving the office when the operators are still busy on the phones. I could feel the sneering looks burning into my back as we left.

We had a meal in one of those expensive café bars where they try to pass off a slice of meat on top of a bed of mashed potato, in the dead centre of a big plate, as food.

The meagre offering did little to line my stomach and within an hour I was smiling like the joker with black teeth. Call Centre Tony looked like he’d been drinking from a broken jam jar when we started at each other. It was a familiar argument; one of the great debates of our age:

Kylie verses Dannii.

We both accept that the two together would be something magical; bigger than the sum of their parts. However, separate them and the arguments start:

“Dannii is the ugly sister. The screaming skull.” Tony insisted. Pointing his finger at me in a threatening manner.

“Bollocks. She’s got her knockers, but I think she has a couple of outstanding features that put her ahead of Kylie.” I said.

Brenda’s honking laugh was ringing in my ears as I made a dash to the toilet.

It was when I got there that I realised how drunk I was. I stuck my head down the toilet bowl.

The restaurant manager woke me several hours later. I was clutching the toilet bowl and had the pattern of floor tile impressed on my cheek. He looked at me nervously as if I was a junkie who had over-dosed.

He was relieved when I grinned and managed to say “Red … Red … Wine.”

He was a Kylie man too.

19 Dec 2003

Two in a bush

“What are you doing?”

Barney, the Big Gay Bear, who sits on my right hand, caught John Three cutting off a customer in mid conversation.

“You can’t do that!” Barney was outraged.

“Well I said this morning that if another joker asks for a ‘partridge in a pear tree’ I’d cut them off. I’m not paid to take rubbish like that for seven hours a day.” John said.

Barney reached for his well thumbed copy of The-Catalogue-that-Cannot-Be-Named-For-Keeping-My-Job-Reasons and pointed to the Christmas collection:

“A great gift for your ‘True Love’. This partridge in a pear tree is a charming ornament that will make an attractive addition to your festive decoration. Plays three tunes: “God Bless Ye Merry Gentlemen”, “Jingle Bells” and, “The 12 days of Christmas”. Requires one AA battery (not supplied).”

Every home should have one.

18 Dec 2003

Always the Bridesmaid

My in-box is stuffed with messages from well wishers. Thank you. They almost out number the invites I have been getting to see Paris Hilton having a shag. Almost (I'm a Trusthouse Forte man myself).

It's great to get the 'Highly Commended' recognition in The Guardian Blog Awards. When I started this in February little did I realise that, by the end of the year, it'd come second only to a thinking-man's version of the 'Razzle Reader's Letters Page' in a national competition.

I'm not bitter.

To new readers: Welcome to my team. To older readers: Thanks and sorry, its a repeat:

Meet My Team

You’ll need to meet my team to understand my daily life. They are the strangest collection of odd-balls you are likely to meet. When we walk through the office, I feel I should have a ball balancing on the end of my nose: the circus has come to town.

Barney (The Polar Bear) – Barney doesn’t get his nickname from sucking on Fox’s Mints – if you know what I mean - he belongs to a gay sub-group of fat, fairy blokes with silver hair and doesn’t care who knows about it. He is like a camp santa and used to be big in Tetra Pak.

Brian (The Hills Have Eyes) - He looks at me through his jam jar glasses as though he wants to stalk me. He tells me everything. He once took his sock off to show me his corns.

Simon (Bo Selecta) - Craig David looky-likey. He wears a bob hat (sans bob) from Farnworth market and is a piss-head. He’s never here on Mondays. I had to ‘file note’ him once for inappropriate behaviour: he wore a ‘rape mask’ on a dress-down day.

Susan (Tizzy) – Gets into a flap about everything. The ultimate drama queen. Everything is a ‘nightmare’ and has a strange relationship with her cat. She had three weeks off after the ‘rape mask’ incident.



I have four John’s on my team. Whenever I say “John” their heads bob above the pens like Prairie Dogs.

John One - (Thrush) I call him thrush because he is an irritating cunt. He has to have the last word in every conversation. If he can’t think of anything to say in Team Meetings, he repeats what the last person said, as if it is a new idea. I would do 15 for this guy.

John Two - (John Doe) John Doe writes lists about everything. I like him, even though he is really odd, and has no sense of humour, but I like the challenge of finding the “All Time Top 5 Bus Stations you have ever visited.” He writes really, really small like the killer in the film SEVEN. He uses the same piece of A4 file paper, to write notes on, that he was given when he started, four years ago.

John Three - (Moomin Papa) People say he’s a morman, but I’m not sure. He thinks that The Call Centre is a conspiracy planned against him. Everything that happens happens to make his life more miserable. He is probably right.

John Four – John Four is, strictly speaking, not called John. Joan is so hard of hearing that she answers to John.




Tingle Bells

It was a mistake to hold the ‘department do’ on a ‘school night’. I suppose they thought that it would encourage people to stay sober – not a chance.

The team body-popped into the office today like those zombies shuffling behind Michael Jackson in Thriller.

Tizzy has been ill. She threw up and missed the bin. I sprang into action immediately: “Please get a cleaner here ‘asap’” (I actually said asap – what have become?)

The cleaners refused to help. Apparently it’s not in their contract to clean.

Call Centre Tony showed some intiative and discreetly got the hoover out of the cupboard and hovered it up.

I can expect a witch-hunt when they come to empty that baby. Ah well – it’s Christmas.

Ian had been in his element last night, impressing the ladies with his Jingle Bells tie: “Press up to me and see what happens.” A tinny sound played: ting ting ting, ting ting ting, tingle ting ting ting…

It was awful. It was enough to get him a passport into Pat’s panties but little else and by the end of the night he was wearing them on his head while playing air-guitar; it was like he was massaging an invisible anaconda.

17 Dec 2003

If the cap fits …

At the end of yesterday’s meeting, Bernard handed out the hats to the people who he thought best represented the characteristics of de Bono’s different modes of thinking:

Janice was red because she works with her emotions,
Brenda was yellow with her positive outlook,
Ian was green because of his creative taste (in ties),
Tony was black in view of the cynicism he demonstrated,
I was white because I am neutral and the black had already gone.

I tried explaining the theory to the team. Thrush was interested, “Thinking in different ways can be very powerful. Very powerful.”

Tizzy was curious: “De Bono – isn’t he in U2?”

Barney, the Big Gay Bear, smirked: “Who wears the brown hat?”

16 Dec 2003

The Prat in a Hat

“I’m thinking warm thoughts. I’m thinking feelings. I’m thinking ‘Red Hat’.” Bernard was wearing a Santa hat with pig-tails, “I want YOU to think good thoughts. I want you to express the way that you feel.”

He’s been on a course and I think he has taken Edward de Bono’s Six Thinking Hats a bit too literally, because he has been switching hats like Worzel Gumidge with an identity crisis. His annual ‘drains up’ takes place every year prior to the Christmas do and it allows us all to indulge in the same old lip service. It is supposed to make us reflect on our achievements during the year so we can learn, and move on.

We were surrounded by crayons and a large roll of brown paper and he invited us to create a ‘rich picture’ to describe our achievements during the year. “What have been the highlights for you as an individual.”

I pondered for a while. Time was running out so I drew a computer.

“Ahhh. Interesting.” Bernard did an on-the-spot analysis: “You see technology as our greatest success.”

Not really. My highlight of the year was getting Tony’s cast-off 17 inch monitor to replace my crummy 12 incher.

When Bernard uttered the phrase “What has NOT gone well this year?” we could hardly contain ourselves. Rolf Harris would have been proud of our sprawling stream of consciousness where we criticised everything from communication to the canteen.

Bernard was taken a back by our apparent unhappiness. “Well, I did want to have real, red hat, drains up.”

“And you got a colonic irrigation.” Tony quipped.

Bernard made him wear the black hat for the rest of the meeting.

14 Dec 2003

The Hierarchy of Dos

Its been bedlam over the last week, hence the dearth of posts, however things have started to quieten down as the deadline for Christmas deliveries has now passed.

You may have heard of “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs”, a theory that attempts to illustrate the stages of human motivation. I wish propose a new theoretical approach to Call Centre hierarchies based upon the activity of Christmas dos. I call it “Wrapstar’s 4 Ages of Call Centre Christmas Dos’:

Team

The Team do is the lowest of all Christmas Celebrations. Lets face it, these people would never be together if it was not due to some conspiracy of fate and poor local employment prospects. No one wants to organise it. No one really wants to go. It usually ends up being a baguette and half a stella-shandy at lunch time.

True to form, Thrush was on form at this year’s do: “I haven’t pulled a cracker since last Christmas. Geddit. PULLED a cracker. A cracker…”

Department

The department dos attract the party animals and subsequently end up being like Sodom and Gomorrah. I’ve been to department dos that look like they have been painted by Hieronymus Bosch but with cracker hats and Ben Sherman shirts.

Team Manager

As a ‘Middle Manager’ it is a statutory requirement that you attend the Team and Department do, but you can’t enjoy it because you’ll be cornered by some drunken part-timer who wants to have a career chat: “I love working for you. Every one thinks that you are great.”

On the other-hand, Team Manager dos are a chance to let your hair down with your peers. Inevitably it descends into sex chats: “If your life depended on it who would you sleep with out of Alison the post woman or Ten Tonne Bess from Janice’s team?” The Team Manager do for this year takes place this coming Friday.

Heads of Area

Partners are invited to these dos and usually involve seeing a show and a nice meal afterwards to discuss golf and cars. The small talk is so small it’s almost tiny.

8 Dec 2003

Who’s been eating my porridge?

Barney, the Big Gay Bear, likes to tell Tizzy about his exploits in great detail. I think that she thinks that his stories of cruising Teddy picnics and cottage full of bear-chasers sound quite sweet; like goldilocks in leather.

“Where’s the Christmas do?” He asked.

“The Burton Hall. You know near Asda.”

Barney started grinning and giggling to himself. “I have had some fun in the toilets in the Asda car-park on a Sunday morning.”

Reason 22 to shop at Morrisons.

7 Dec 2003

Argie Barji

I was in yesterday, on my day off, for no extra money to put up Christmas decorations to surprise Bernard, the Call Centre Operations manager. Brenda has been planning it for days, “I want to get the ‘wow factor’ when he walks in the office.”

She didn’t turn up. She left it to Janice, Tony and I.

For who’s benefit is all this for?

I often ask this question to myself at times like this. I suppose the text-book response is ‘The Customer’. I expect Mrs Norris of Bath couldn’t give a flying figgy pudding if we Christmas decorations or not; she just wants her reusable DVD wipes in time to entertain her guests at Christmas.

Is it for the benefit of the staff that I am clambering over desks and swinging from post to post with only a swivel chair saving me from certain death? What possible pleasure can they get from golden streamers and plastic Santas?

Ultimately, Brenda has it right, Bernard is going to get the most from the idea that the Team Manager’s have pulled together to “make the Call Centre come alive” to “motivate the staff.”

Once we had finished, we sat back and admired our work, “It looks like our local tandori.” Tony said.

There’s been nervousness around the place since the latest news of call centres moving to India. “I heard that they work 14 hours a day, 6 days a week, without a break, for the price of a chicken tikka masala.” I overheard Tizzy talking to one of the temps earlier in the week.

“Well most of them are graduates and they are TRAINED to speak in different British accents. They can get extra pay for every accent they master.” Greg, the Artful Dodger chipped in.

“What like, if you can a brummy accent you get an extra samsosa every week?” Simon, the Craig David looky-likey, asked.

“Yep.”

“Can you imagine if they introduced that in this call centre? I can’t understand a word those people from Birmingham say.” Tizzy said, looking worried.

The Plague-Carrier, another one of the temps, joined in. “As Mike Harding once said: Brummies don’t talk, they sing, and if you haven’t got the words, yer buggered.”

They all had a go at a Birmingham accent. It sounded like an episode of Crossroads sponsored by Bobby Davro.

4 Dec 2003

Making Plans for Nigel

“Sooty’s coming back.” Call Centre Tony came over to the team.

I was wide-eyed, frazzled and mithered by a thousand questions. My headset was out of its velvet-lined box and in the middle of dealing with a complaint about the ‘Chocolate Biscuit Rack’ from the catalogue – Hob Nobs don’t fit on it apparently – “What?” I replied with a hint of irritation, I wasn’t in the mood for Tony today.

“Sooty’s back into the fold and we need to give him a good home-coming son. The time he came to the eighties day dressed as Austin Powers is probably the happiest day of my life.” Tony said with a wide smirk. “He’s coming back and we will be able to terrorise him.”

Sooty was Tony’s name for Nigel – who used to have Brenda’s job before he was moved out of the way by Bernard – he had a big Yorkshire Ripper beard on his security pass, hence Sooty (Peter Sutcliffe).

I was distracted. Greg, one of the temps, was dropping off to sleep in the middle of a call. He was working as a glass-collector in the evenings at a local pub. The pro-plus was wearing off.

Tony continued: “Do you remember the abuse we used to give him whenever he attempted to bollock us. He hadn’t the nerve to do it in his own name so used to say ‘Bernard is unhappy with your sales performance’. I’d say, ‘tell him to stick it up his arse, and stick MiniMe up there with it, Austin.’ He never knew what to say.”

“Greg!” I shouted over, ignoring Tony.

Greg leapt into the air and said, “Sorry, are these dead mate?”

3 Dec 2003

Firing Blanks

A little brass boy holding his willy sits, pride of place, on my desk. A famous Belgian, apparently, it’s a trophy from Zoe (My Boyfriend Is A Twat) for winning ‘The Blogger of the week’ vote a few weeks ago.

I’m proud of it, but I daren’t say where it has come from. There’s only Fag Ash Lil and Call Centre Tony who know about the blog and I intend to keep it that way following the scare story on Blogspot:

“If you end up getting yourself fired for blogging, deep down you must have really wanted out of that job. If that's the case, keep blogging. With your newfound status as one of only a handful of people in the world who have been "fired for blogging," you should be able to grab some headlines. Fan those flames! You could wind up on Oprah with a million dollar book deal. Theoretically.”

Optimistic advice from Blogger.

Knowing my luck I’d end up on Trashy Trisha, and have to undergo a DNA test for some cracker-spawn I have never seen before, ever, in my life, honest.

1 Dec 2003

Titfer

One of the new temps is a plague-carrier. His nose dripped onto the keyboard earlier today. He keeps sneezing and saying to customers, “sorry about that. Where was I? I have decimal places in all the wrong places.”

I suppose I should be happy that he is making the effort.

At the other extreme, I have Simon, the Craig David looky-likey, who is off work at the drop of his hat: “It fell off my head and hit my toe sir.”

30 Nov 2003

Tap and Unwrap

“Hi Honey.” Brenda came over, smiling and shrugging at the same time. She press-ganged me into coming in next Saturday, in my own time, for no extra money, to put up Christmas decorations. “It’s time to deck the halls …” she sang. Honk. Honk.

I’d like to deck her.

All hell is breaking lose at the call centre. Queues of customers have been smashing into the headsets like waves against the shore.

The temps are useless. The scrawny, Artful Dodger is almost horizontal in his chair. “Greg!”

“Grunt.” He replies.

“There’s no point shrugging. You’re on the phone they can’t see you.”

I’ve just come off a complaint from a customer who was unhappy at missing the Christmas deadline for personalised pound coin holders.

“What can I tell my grandchildren on Christmas day when they come to open their presents and there’s nothing there?” She said indignantly.

I’ve saved them from a fate worse than a chocolate orange. My work here is done.

26 Nov 2003

Poetry in Motion

“What are you reading?” Call Centre Tony entered his canteen confessional. I had found a greased-stained copy of yesterday’s free newspaper.

“I’m reading an interview with some chap who used to be a poet but he’s written a story about a bloke who feeds up a woman in a hotel for sexual kicks.” I said.

“I might have known that you, Timothy fuckin’ Lumsden, would be reading about bleedin’ poetry.” He snatched the paper. “He looks a right dick. He looks like he’d have a stuffed bird kept in a Trust House Forte.”

“It’s a story. It sounds interesting.” I said.

Tony started to read the article in his best John Major voice. “”Poetry can intimidate people and can wrongly perceived as a bit highbrow””

He looked mock scared. Then said, out of the side of his mouth, “Poetry isn’t intimating. Twenty of United’s finest in the Stretford End – THAT’s fuckin’ intimidating.”

I didn’t bother asking Tony if he wanted to join Nigel’s lunch-time reading group.

24 Nov 2003

Gnome Sweet Gnome

There’s something about the Gnome with eyes that scare cats off your lawn. Its like a totem sat in the middle of the team, warding off evil … and the temps.

I used to be a temp so I suppose I should have some empathy. When I graduated I joined a rent-a-mob agency that never managed to find a suitable job for me. To be fair, they gave up when they sent me to a firm of accountants and I made some crack about double entry.

The cut glass in the gnome’s eye sockets is in wonky so it looks boss-eyed; it follows you around the room with a Michael-Myers-fixed expression.

It would put the willies up any pussy.

You see – I can’t help myself!

23 Nov 2003

Consider yourself part of the furniture

Last week, a job lot of temps were herded into the Call Centre in preparation for the pre-Christmas rush of orders for novelty items from The Catalogue That Cannot Be Named. They preen and coo like those aliens in Toy Story. Everything fascinates them on their first day, like they have just stepped out of their flying saucer; after that they get bored and start abusing the other staff and customers.

This lot are a real bunch of ragamuffins. Pheobe, the training officer, has been overseeing their induction training like Fagin with a top-knot and Armani glasses: “Once you’ve been induced then you’ll be on the phones speaking to REAL people.”

“Coooooooooooo” the temps hum in unison.

“How often will we have breaks?” A scrawny lad, with an Eddie Shoestring tie and scar over his cheek, croaked at the back, “it’s illegal for people to be on the phones longer than three hours without a break.”

He crossed his legs and revealed dirty red socks.

“You’ll need to lyonaise with your Team Manager. Next week you’ll be distributed to different teams. They’ll sort out your breaks.” She said, dodging the Artful Dodger’s question.

I scanned my area: Manic Miner was gone; Joan was off long term sick and there were the desks next to ‘the cupboard that never opens’.

I quickly reached for the gnome with the scary eyes to keep cats off your garden, I put it on Manic Miner’s desk in the hope that its powers worked on Office Urchins.

I have a bad feeling about this…

22 Nov 2003

The Billie Piper Assignation Squad Vol 2

The secret rulers of the Call Centre continued.

Nigel (Sooty) Thrown into a ‘project limbo’ when Bernard, the head of the Call Centre Operations, realised he had been sold a pup. Originally he was an office manager but didn’t last six months, we had a field day, it was like having a supply teacher in charge, we tested the limits every day. Apparently, Bernard only took him on because his CV said he was an “Area Manager’ for McDonalds. It turned out that he was a manager of an area within McDonalds, the fat fryer I think. Now he turns up to meetings and talks bollocks about statistics that no one understands.

Wendy (Chicken Bum) The Human Resources Consultant. More PC than Juliet Bravo. Spends most of the meeting tutting though her tight lips; she’s got a mouth like a chicken’s arse.

Ron (The Tikki Man) The Ecology Adviser. He can tell camomile from Darjeeling but not nonsense from common-sense. Spends most of the meeting exchanging ethnic shopping tips with Wendy.

Wrapstar (For it is I) I have been co-opted into the Sales Stream for my ‘Development’ (aka Re-Programming). My stomach churns every night prior to the meeting because I know I’ll be put on the spot and will have forgotton something.
Battered and bruised and left for dead whenever a question about Communication Strategies emerge – I will have my revenge…

18 Nov 2003

The Deadly Viper Assassination Squad Vol. 1

The Sales Stream is a self-appointed elite of Team Managers who secretly run the Call Centre. David Icke says they are lizards – I’m not sure.

The members are listed here so you may continue to develop your Wankerdaq portfolio – start selling stock now – Christmas is coming, "season of good-will" and all that, you will put up with anything as long as there is a mince pie and a couple of cheesey balls at the end of it …

Ian (Mutley) The leader of the group; he’s like a badly drawn Robbie Coltrane. He quickly agrees with everything that everyone says, “Yep. Yep. Yep.” but changes the minutes to reflect his opinion.

Mary (Cotton Mouth) The compliance officer. She writes scripts for the Call Centre frontline but takes her inspiration from a rail timetable rather than Harold Pinter. Last week, she was boasting that she once proofread the Magna Carter for a school project. She had sex in a lift with Ian at the 2002 managers’ conference. ** See 27th August **

Brenda (Call Centre Yoda) She still sits too close. She’s still earnest in her desire to ‘improve me’ and she was once the top of my ‘Wankerdaq’ list ** see 28th June **, however the Curryoke Night revealed her to be earnest but harmless. If only she’d stop laughing like Slippy the Sealion. Ian once told Call Centre Tony that he was “up to his nuts in guts” with Brenda at the 2000 conference.

Pheobe (Kermit) The training officer. Dippy but has a way with words. Always on a diet and eats lettuce in an odd way – David Icke might have a point. Was once seen with Ian buying a ‘toad in a hole’ from Ann Summers.

More follows …

16 Nov 2003

Sick

Human Resources are still in the process of rewriting the language. I contacted Wendy on Friday as Simon (the Craig David looky-likey) on my team is now in a state of ‘Recurrent Casual Absence’, which means I have to lock into a HR process designed to squeeze humanity out of illness, death and despair and replace it with forms, documentation and ‘reasonable adjustments’.

“Simon, you were off last week with ‘face ache’. What was wrong exactly?” I asked. Janice was ‘a scribe’ taking notes so the session was fully ‘documented’.

“I think I had RSI of the jaw sir.” Simon replied.

“RSI of the jaw? Repetitive strain injury of the JAW.” I repeated.

“Yes sir. I think it is through talking too much on the phone.”

I started to read the absences from the file. “Pulled ribs caused by over-active sex.”

“I don’t see her no more sir. Too demandin’. She were making me ill init.” He nodded slowly and sincerely.

“Tattoo related sickness.” I continued.

“There was a spelling mistake on my back sir. I had the words transformed into a snake. Do you wanna see it sir?”

“No. No, its ok – we’ll take your word for it.”

When I recounted the meeting to Wendy she spun into overdrive: “I need a work station review. This is covered by the DDA – proceed with caution – can we do anything to relieve the face ache, such as increased breaks, an ergonomic headset or soothing balms. I need you to explore these matters and put it down in a report.”

Can we not just put HIM down?

13 Nov 2003

Shabba

Call Centre Tony is a Manc. He calls us people from Bolton ‘inbreds’.

It’s not big. It’s not clever. It’s true.

Take Peter Kay for example, Britain’s favourite comic du jour whose sell-out UK tour has just come out on DVD in time for Christmas, everyone in Bolton is related to him – “he’s a cousin of my best friend’s girl friend’s sister’s dance teacher.”

Tizzy couldn’t contain her excitement when she was talking about the DVD. “I watched it frame by frame last night because I was there that night. I was looking for me and Dave in the audience.”

“Are you on it?” I asked.

“I thought I spotted me at the start, when the audience were going, but it was someone a different colour hair and coat – and she wore glasses. I spotted my mum’s hairdresser though.”

When I related the story to Call Centre Tony in his canteen confessional, he just smirked, raised his hand, and said: “Give me six brother.”

11 Nov 2003

In Flanders Fields

Me: “We are going to observe two minutes silence today at eleven.”

Simon ‘the Craig David Look-likey’ on my team: “What does that involve exactly?”

Being quiet for two minutes is difficult when your head is filled with poppies.

9 Nov 2003

Poaching

The focus day gave us a chance to raid Bernard’s cupboards. He buys a load of stuff from the cash and carry with the intention of using it for sales incentives. He loves to hoard it. Any opportunity we have to get into his stocks is a time to be relished.

Janice, dressed as a Wicked Witch, was rooting at the back of the cupboard. “Azad on my team has won a bottle of wine but, he’s a Muslim and doesn’t drink. I’m trying to find an alternative.”

She gave him an out-of-date ‘Buttons’ Easter egg instead.

Janice has not yet grasped the finer detail of cultural diversity.

7 Nov 2003

Carry on Screaming

The IVR has been switched on and the melon ball free gift has ended so, yesterday there was an equivalent of tumbleweed blowing through the office, compared to the bedlam we have experienced for the past three weeks.

We decided to have a Halloween focus event. It was a week late but Bernard had bought a load of treacle toffee and he wanted use it for an incentive for the staff. He said: “Do you think the fishmongers at Seattle stop having fun when THEY are busy? Errrrrmmm!”

The staff were a little bemused by the whole thing. Tizzy had rescued a jack-o-lantern from the kitchen bin at home. It was shrivelled and there were baked bean stains on the outside.

Call Centre Tony was wearing a Las Vagas Elvis suit. He wears it for every focus day, from seventies day to Pop Idol Day. He had his face painted white: “I’m dead Elvis – are you having that son?”

5 Nov 2003

Clean Air Act

A familiar fragrance wafted my way – damp dog, rancid radish with a hint of Brut 33 – it could only mean one thing: Mike ‘Manic Miner’ Clark was approaching. He held out his grubby hands and handed me a dog-eared envelope. “What’s this?” I asked.

“Its my notice. I’m packing the job in.” He said with a slight smirk.

I was a little taken a back. “Why do you want to leave?” I gasped another lungful of air so I didn’t have to breathe through my nose.

“Well. I didn’t expect to spend so much time on the phones.”

I resisted the temptation to reply – what did you expect, it is a bleedin’ CALL centre – it’s not like the clues aren’t obvious. “Really.” I said calmly. “Have you got another job to go to?”

“I’m going making up baskets at Body Shop in the run up to Christmas.” He said.

I turned over the envelope. It was encrusted with little flecks of green and grey.

S.W.A.L.B.

Sealed with a loving bogey.

4 Nov 2003

Touch Tone

Tony and I were ‘actioned’ with the task of writing scripts for the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) by the sales stream. Technology wiz-kids who were brought up on those ‘choose your own adventure’ books for kids invented IVR to trap us all in a labyrinth. Instead of populating the maze with dragons and trolls, it is filled with wage slaves and dead ends.

This is the first one we came up with:

“Thank you for calling. You will now be given a series of options designed to keep you on hold for as long as possible while we get our act together. It will take three or four attempts to follow these instructions.

Press the hash key now.

Thanks for doing that. You have made your first mistake. Now we KNOW you have a touchtone phone so we have got you here for good.

Please enter your account number, or press hash again if you are a new customer.

Now you have made your second mistake. Never admit you are an existing customer, you’ll be queue jumped by all those that are new.

Press 1:
A recorded message by a woman with a really shrill voice telling you about ‘known’ problems with postage in the London area. Click. You are abruptly cut off

Press 2:
An addled version of Moon River intercut with reassuring statements (“your call is important to us” (yeah, right)) and vague promises, (“you are moving forward in the queue and will be answered shortly”.)

Press 3:
As above, but you’ll eventually be answered by Piltdown man, who will grunt “you're through to the wrong department”, put you on hold until you give up or are cut off.

Press 4:
Because you have missed the previous options you will always press 4. This has an advert that is on a loop. You hear it from half way through, it catches your interest, but cuts into Moon River before you get any more details."


Call Centre Tony grinned, “Robert is your auntie’s live in lover.”

3 Nov 2003

Taz Time

Every fortnight there is a meeting of the secret rulers of The Call Centre - The Sales Stream – it is a self appointed elite group of managers who plot the future strategies of the office, maintain the infrastructure and ensure that there are enough toilet rolls on order.

The present leader is Ian, who leaves a trail wherever he slides because he is so slimy. The ladies love him and his collection of ‘novelty ties’. I have been co-opted on to the group for my ‘development’ so I too can learn how to introduce draconian measures that strip staff of their free-will while at the same time rewarding them with a bottle of Concorde whenever they make a ‘sale’.

The subject matter under discussion today was ‘Call volumes’. The Catalogue (which cannot be named for ‘keeping my job’ reasons) Campaign has been a great success, which is bad news for the Call Centre because it means that we have to do some work and speak to customers. “I think we need to introduce IVR” Ian said in his most earnest voice.

He was wearing a Tasmanian devil tie; Taz was wearing a dinner suit and clutching a bunch of flowers in an attempt to woo another ‘Devil’ with big lips.

“IVR?” Tony whispered to me, “why does he want to get pregnant?”

2 Nov 2003

Two Legs Bad

Brenda, the office manager, and self-appointed life-coach, has been keeping a low profile since her antics of Curryoke night. On Friday she was fuming up and down the office snapping instructions to the staff and managers: “What are you doing in wrap up for so long!” “There are twenty calls waiting – for goodness sake where is everybody – pull you fingers out.”

When things are busy I begin to realise that huffing and puffing Bernard and Brenda make about ‘having fun productively’ is forgotten when the calls start queuing. When the shit hits the fan they turn up the speed so everyone gets a bit of shit.

The customers for the catalogue (that cannot be named for ‘keeping my job’ reasons) have been ringing to place their orders before the end of October, in order to qualify for a complementary melon ball maker.

Call Centre Tony asked me to go to lunch. I refused. I was just so busy. He came over any way and started having a chat about his Wankerdaq stock. “Ian is a tosser. Bernard is a prize prat. Janice needs a good …” he blew a raspberry and lifted his fist up.

I gave a guilty laugh. Not because of what Tony was saying - I wasn’t listening - I always feel terrible, as manager, chatting when the team are on the phone. It’s like the end of Animal Farm when the rest of the animals watch the pigs eating at the farmer’s table.

Barney, the Big Gay Bear, looked at me disapprovingly as he was talking to customers, “Yes sir. Its free and until you have balled a cantaloupe, you haven’t lived.”

29 Oct 2003

Ab Fab

I came in early today, before the lines opened, to inspect the box. It was a cornucopia of tat. The catalogue (that cannot be named for ‘keeping my job’ reasons) has sent the team a sample of the products that it sells:

A tiepin napkin holder in the shape of a peacock.

A dog-shaped doggy-do dispenser that looked much smaller in ‘real – life’.

Wipes for everything from dash-boards to ash-trays.

An extendable squeegee that can clean upstairs from down stairs.

A gnome with glass eyes to scare cats off your lawn.

Battery Operated Ab- trimmer – a strap-on, elasticised belt with plastic discs that vibrate slowly to make you thinner.

It’s little wonder that we are so busy with these great life-style boosting products.

28 Oct 2003

Boxing Bernard

I don’t think I have ever been so excited at work as I have been today. A big box arrived addressed to me.

It was perfectly wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. I saved the string and carefully picked open the paper and folded it neatly to save for future use. With the stringent cuts in the stationery budget you never know when it might come in.

Since last Monday we have been taking calls from a catalogue company. (It can’t be named in this blog for ‘keeping my job’ reasons). The wallboards have been going crazy, bleeping and beeping like R2D2 at an Ann Summers’ Party.

The team have been locked to their telephone headset and screens like lab rats. Dear reader, I too have needed to take my head set from its velvet-lined box and speak to people. Little wonder that I have no time to complete this diary.

The arrival of the box and its ceremonial opening was interrupted by Bernard who strode down the office, purple with rage, “All hands on deck! Calls waiting!”

The box was put away and I took orders for Singing Christmas Trees.

"Typical," said Barney, The Big Gay Bear, "just as you want to enter the box, Santa wants to keep his sack full."

No. I didn't understand him either.

25 Oct 2003

Pretty in Stink

I’ve been rushed off my feet for the past few days and this call centre diary has suffered as a result. I don’t know how Tony Benn managed to keep it up for so long (a big puff on the end of his pipe seems to do the trick, so I have heard.) I have much catching up to do; it’s been an eventful week in The Call Centre.

First things first, a familiar pong returned to The Call Centre today. The warm smell of brussel sprouts decaying in a warm armpit. The Smell, Mike ‘The Manic Miner’ Clark, came back off his holiday.

My cowardice has created a monster.

Taking advice from readers of this blog, I tackled the issue of Mike’s stench in a round a bout way, suggesting that he had a secret admirer. Since his return from holiday he has been like a new man: his hair is cut short and slicked back, his nostril hair is trim and stale Brut 33 mingles with the smell of sprouts.

He has taken to talking to women in the office like a gigolo, “How YOU doin’.”

He thinks he is Joey from friends. He’s more like Joey Deacon.

I need to go back to the drawing board.

17 Oct 2003

What a dilemma

(The Call Centre Smoke Club - by Fag Ash Lil aka Low Tar Tara)


Kathy and I are usually the first of our group to reach the Smoke Room, mainly because we both work in the Sales department but also because we like to eat our lunch in there, after having a fag first of course. We both eagerly await Marlon’s arrival, another of our group who usually starts us on our daily topic of conversation.

"I’ve got a dilemma" gushes Marlon on his arrival before he even sits down. "Should I go out with my best mate tonight or my best mate’s ex?"

"You’ve got food on your tie again" Kathy says pointing at Marlon’s crumpled tie, "Why are men such pigs?" She looks at me with a knowing grin; he hates it when we’re not impressed by his sexual deviancy.

"Sod the tie, what do I do tonight. I’ve got half an hour to decide", he spits on his tie and starts scratching at the remnants of the canteen curry. He looks such a pathetic sight, if you didn’t know him better you would swear he was starved and homeless. A typical 19 year old lad, eats like a horse but looks like he has to run around in the shower to get wet and if mummy hasn’t ironed his shirt - well that’s not his fault. His long term girlfriend recently dumped him and he now sees his role in life is to sleep with as many women as possible, whether they are conscious or not.

"I’m surprised you’ve got any friends if you have to ask that, of course you should go out with your best mate", why do I even bother?

"What’s he doing now?" Sharon and Beverly join us.

"Oh just Marlon showing us again he has no morals, should he go out with his best mate or his best mate’s ex?"

"Marlon you’re a pig" shouts Bev, our little naive 17 year old.

"Why? I’ve snogged her before and told my mate, he said he didn’t mind, plus she’s got huge tits"

There’s a loud tut from the Sewing Circle and Sceptic Sue stares at us through her 3 inch specs. A retired Police Woman who just can’t shake the fact that she no longer has any authority.

"Oh Marlon" he really does send me back to work with a smile on my face.

15 Oct 2003

Tribes

(More views from the Call Centre Smoke Club from our correspondent, Fag Ash Lil, aka Old Yella)

There are definitely a few different factions in the Smoke Room which can be witnessed on a daily basis.

Firstly there is the Lone Wolf, they have purely come in to smoke and can be usually be found in the corners reading a book or newspaper. They don’t want to join in with conversation but have been seen stealing a glance above their reading material if a conversation gets interesting.

Then there’s the Sewing Circle, christened so as usually made up of older ladies. They have been smoking since it was fashionable and have a superior attitude to the rest of the Smoke Room - especially to those young pup’s who have the audacity to laugh out loud, which disturbs them greatly.

Then there are the Fun seekers (I'm one!). Groups of like-minded folks who come to unwind before going back to the necessary evil of working for a living. There are 5 in my group at the moment but we can intermittently be joined by others from like minded groups if there own isn’t there.

Lastly there are people like Barry. Barry is the type of person who doesn’t belong to a group, he doesn’t want to be a Lone Wolf but no group will have him. He bursts through the door like a man possessed, there’s an audible intake of breath while he decides which group he will join today.

Oh God he’s coming this way….

13 Oct 2003

Holding back the years

Tomorrow we are switching from outbound to inbound. Thank goodness. The outbound campaign has been soul destroying. We are furrowing the same land and the leads are stretched to snapping point. Everyone that we ring has either changed their number, gone away or died.

It needs patience:

Tizzy: Please may I speak to Joseph Grey? I have some great news for him.

Customer: You’ll have a job. He’s three months old.

Tizzy: That’s ok. I can wait.

12 Oct 2003

Smoke Club

These are the rules of Smoke Club:

Rule number one; do not talk about lung cancer, smelly clothes, smelly breath or how much you spend on the glorious weed.

Two; just like toilet etiquette, if there are other chairs, use them, never sit right next to someone else – especially if you don’t know them.

Three; always smoke as many fags as possible in the time you have, you’ll be sorry later if don’t and will waste the rest of the day dreaming of the next one.

Four; NEVER leave early to go back to work – why would you?

If you are a non-smoker and have popped in for the experience, you MUST be accompanied by a smoker and under no circumstances complain about how smoky it us.

If you are a manager NEVER sit with your staff and vice versa. This is a relaxing place where bitching is indulged and nurtured.

If you forget your fags, it’s ok to bum a smoke, but do it too often and you’ll get a bad reputation. You’ll be known as a ‘Fag Bummer’ and that’s bad.

Feel free to join Smoke Club. Adhere to the above and you’ll be fine.

Disclaimer: this list is not exhaustive.

By Fag Ash Lil.

8 Oct 2003

Ash Wednesday

I often wonder why smokers have special privileges in The Call Centre. Cathy Gilroy was unhappy that they were stood outside, freezing their bollocks off, and leaving their dimps in the doorway. A port-a-cabin has been built for them to indulge in their bad habit. I wonder if she will extend the same hospitality for other bad habits: Manic Miner could have a room for delving in his nostril, or a room with an extractor for mid-day farting.

The Smoke Room is a place in which I have never ventured but I understand that this is the hotbed of rumour. The grapevine starts and ends in the smoke room.

For the first time, I am sending in a special correspondent, Fag Ash Lil, to report on the comings and goings in the port-a-cabin. Armed with a short-hand notepad, a pen and twenty bennys , Lil will send a report from the Smoke Room… beginning soon …

6 Oct 2003

Signs

My deep thought was interrupted by hammering and drilling. We are having new wallboards installed to prepare for the new campaign. We will be receiving calls from catalogues and info-mercials on daytime television starting from next week and the wallboards will tell us how many customers are waiting and how many we are losing.

We have seen it all before of course. The present wallboards are a twinkling set of lights that serve no other purpose than fill a spot where a fire extinguisher could be.

The new ones are brighter, more colourful and more complicated. It won’t be long before there’re birthday messages spinning around, ignored by all, “Happy 21st Biffdi to June – from all your mates in accounts.” It will stay on for months. June will be collecting her pension before some one decides to take it off.

Bernard loves the wallboards as he thinks that it is another means of ‘improving manager-advisor relations’ by opening another channel of communication. In fact it is merely a demonstration of the wonders electricity.

I would ignore the wallboards all together. They would not feature in a blog entry. But these new ones make a noise.

When there are five calls waiting they make a bleeping sound.

It went off today and we wondered what is was – people went diving for their bags – they thought they were getting a text.

These wallboards were designed by Satan and life will never be the same again. Mark my words.

4 Oct 2003

Not available in the shops

Yesterday, we all filed solemnly into Bernard’s office ready for a major announcement that was promised to send shockwaves throughout the organisation.

Bernard was in a state of frenzied enthusiasm. “Love it. Love it. Have I got news for you… errrmmm!”

Tony whispered to me, “Why does he do that?”

I looked back at him with a puzzled expression.

“I have promised expansion for the bureau and I am pleased to say that it is on its way. Not before time errrrrrrm!”

Tony whispered again, “Why does he do THAT?”

Bernard passed round a set of catalogues. We flicked through them with intense interest as he grinned broadly. The catlogue featured a host of useless useful items such as ‘dado-rail dusters’, ‘Novelty Doggie-Do Bag dispensers’ and ‘Fold away treadmills’.

“The contract has been signed and in two weeks we will begin to receive the calls. I want to see this campaign come alive! I want to see energy, passion and desire with motivational games. Tony where are you up to with that ‘Motivation pack’?” Before Tony could answer, he snapped to me. “I want to see Sun Tzu workshops taking place for the Team Managers and the full use of the Intranet. This is the biggest thing to happen to us and I don’t want any slip ups errrrrmmmmm!”

Why does he do that?

2 Oct 2003

Press the hash key now

I’ve been amusing myself today. Investigating Site-tracker for this site and the chat room in the call centre.

It seems that some people come here after typing ‘What do call centres do?’ It’s a good question – when you find the answer, let me know.

There is something odd about Bernard’s enthusiasm for staff intranet chat-rooms, as everyone else seems to be turning their back on increased electronic communication. That bloke from Phones 4 You has banned the use of internal e-mails and Microsoft have withdrawn their ‘free’ chat room service in the UK.

The new software is being ‘piloted’ on my team prior to full ‘roll out’ (see, I can use the jargon, promote me now!). I have to study the usage carefully and provide a report to Bernard with recommendations.
Today I have discovered a dialogue about ‘skunk’ between Simon ‘The Craig David’ and John ‘the anal retentive’ Doe. I first thought that they were referring to Manic Miner and the smell, but I soon realised that it was ‘wacky baccy’ they were earnestly comparing notes about.

It’s all I need; not only do I have to deal with Stig of the Dump, but I ‘ve got Cheech and bleedin’ Chong to sort out.

What do call centre Team Managers do?

30 Sep 2003

Something in the air

I called Mike, also known as Manic Miner, into the Meeting Room today. The smell has not gone away and Janice is getting impatient, “If you haven’t got the balls to deal with it, I have. My team are complaining, it isn’t right. Deal with it!”

It is not immediately obvious, but on close inspection, he is really scruffy. I should have realised it was him all along. His shirt looks like it has been ironed with a brick and trousers are crouchless due to a hole worn between the legs.

Thanks for your suggestions on how to deal with the matter. The air freshener idea has not worked. My team is in a sponsorship deal with Airwick. Tizzy has been spraying the area so often our team has its own hole in the o-zone layer.

The trouble is, he doesn’t speak, he just stares. I opened the session weakly, adopting Wendy’s softly-softly approach, “Hi Mike. It’s a delicate issue. It’s time for some feedback. There’s no easy way to say this … but … well let me ask you … you … what do you think I’m going to say?”

Blank look.

“Well ok. I don’t know if this has been an issue before … clearly, it might not be an issue before or since … there are, how can I put this? Hygiene issues. Yes. There are hygiene issues.”

Blank look.

“You have hygiene issues.”

Blank look. Silence. Not a flicker.

“… Any way, I heard a couple of the girls talking about someone who was really cute …”

Thanks Natalie.

29 Sep 2003

Delhi Belly

For the first time in ages, Call Centre Tony invited me to his confessional in the canteen, today:

“Tony, what do you make of this memo from Bernard, inviting us to this ‘Important Announcement’ on Friday? I reckon The Call Centre is going to be moving to India.”

Tony didn’t look up from the paper. “I bet the quails in Bombay are bricking it.”

“You heard about the Curryoke night then?”

Still reading his paper. “All I heard was Brenda shouting for Huey all night, you were trying to skin a budgie and Ian was playing the air guitar like Marcel Marceau having a wank.”

27 Sep 2003

The Pictures got smaller

Last night was Brenda’s Curryoke night. She appeared at the curry house like Gloria Swanson – a spangled top, a black feather boa, heart shaped sunglasses (it was dark) – she was like a faded starlet stylised by Primark.

For some reason, I thought I’d be daring and show off my curry-stripes by ordering a quail jalfrazzi. Curried quails. Quails in curry.

The wine started to flow and Brenda and Ian got louder and louder.

I attempted to eat my meal, while keeping up with the conversation, by chasing the two, whole quails around the plate with my knife and fork. Brenda loudly said, “It looks like a couple of budgies wrestling in mud.” HONK! HONK! Honk. Honk. HONK! HONK!

People around us looked nervous as she laughed. Half masticated chicken tikka spinning in her mouth like a laundrette on over-drive.

Later we were in the karaoke bar drinking cocktails. Ian switched up his flirting by a few gears, “Do you fancy a ‘Long Hard Screw’?”

Brenda Honk, Honk, and Honked so much she ran to the loos to throw up.

Ian danced like a dad at a wedding, playing air guitar to The Darkness, “I love this. Hard Rock. I like it Hard.”

Brenda got on the stage and sang ‘Like a Virgin’, flossing between her legs with the boa.

Vomit and sequins glittered in the spotlight. My life-coach has lost a bit of credibility. I’ll never think of her in the same light ever again.

25 Sep 2003

Cold Feet

How do you tell someone they smell without causing upset? Nothing prepares you for the task. Perhaps there should be GCSEs in the process.

I’ve noticed that the team have been talking strangely. They are avoiding breathing through their nose.

I contacted Wendy in personnel for advice. “I’m concerned at your allegations. What investigations have you undertaken? You need to explore with the individual possible causes.”

Janice suggested that it was his feet.

Tony was more helpful. “You need to be direct and say something like ‘I don’t know if its your pits or your hole – but yer stink!’”

23 Sep 2003

Smear

The smell is having an adverse effect on relations within the office. Janice pulled me to one side, “You are going to have to do something about him.”

“Him?” I asked.

“Him.” She pointed at Manic Miner on my team. He was digitally exploring his left nostril.

“What about him?” I asked, ignoring the obvious.

“He stinks!” She said in a whispering shout.

Of course it was under my nose all the time!

He continued to explore his nose like a retired gynaecologist, who likes to keep his hand in.

20 Sep 2003

Narnia

“I’ll be able to get into it sir.” Simon, the Craig David looky-likey, volunteered to break into ‘The Cupboard That No One Opens’. He straightened a paperclip and set to work.

Conscious of the recent clamp down on stationery orders, I made a mental note to twist it back into shape when he’d finished.

The smell has reached ‘terminal velocity’ - it’s still bad - but has not got any worse. I am determined to discover source and ‘The Cupboard That No One Opens’ seemed the best lead I had.

Finally, Simon got it open. Inside it was a cornucopia. Every item of stationery you can imagine stacked in neat rows: post-it notes, highlighter pens, super clips, tip-ex (and thinners!), flip chart pens, keyboard wipes and those really good, fine tipped gel-pens that we were banned from ordering months ago.

Within seconds I was like a scouser in a blackout. I filled every pocket and orifice I could stuff things into.

It was like another world. A world without stationery budgets.

I tested the tip-ex thinners, in case it had gone off and was causing the smell. I spent the rest of the afternoon high, jibbering rubbish and attempting to twist the paperclip into its former shape.


19 Sep 2003

Goodfellas

Barney: “Hello my name is Barney. Can I take your name please?”

Customer: “Why. What’s wrong with yours?”

Over a million wise guys are ringing call centres every day.

I decided to take action against the smell and tackle ‘The Cupboard that No One Opens.’ It is one that is in the corner of the office. I feel sure that the source of the stench is there. Tomorrow I will don my marigolds and enter.

17 Sep 2003

Hearsay

Sun Tzu says that you should base your knowledge on facts, not on hearsay and gossip.

Ian came over to see me when Shrek, the IT technician, was installing the messaging software on my PC. “What the hell is that smell?” He asked.

“I know. I Know. I can’t work it out. I think something might have died. A mouse or a rat or something.” I said.

Ian stroked his Darth Maul tie. “Did you know that rats reach sexual maturity at 8 weeks old and have sex up to twenty times a day?”

Is it this kind of talk that turns on the women? He was quite flirty in his approach, using that breathy voice. He continued, “They’re appearing in record numbers. They are everywhere – nasty little critters.”

Shrek grunted, “It’s done.”

“All that sex and they don’t even have chat rooms.” Ian smiled and slithered away.

I was left a bit worried. What was he implying? Was he suggesting that rats would indulge in ‘internet grooming’? I will never read Wind in the Willows in the same way ever again.

I never trusted Ratty’s intentions towards mole as it is.

16 Sep 2003

A public statement by the author

I am becoming increasingly concerned regarding the advertisements that are appearing on this site courtesy of Blog-spot.

Gentle reader, a couple of weeks ago you were being offered an herbal cure for thrush. This week there are adverts promising to cure feminine odour.

As for the rumours that I am getting sponsorship from John West -my lips are sealed -so to speak.
Carpe Diem

The smell has got even more intense.

Sun Tzu says that a warrior should ‘seize the day’ and embrace every opportunity that is presented.

Tizzy has brought in a load of magic trees to hang around the place to disguise it. The area looks like that scene in Se7en.

Tony came over, pushing through the dangling air-fresheners: “I feel like Brad Pitt.”

Barney replied, “So do I. Do you have his number?”

15 Sep 2003

Pencil case

In the sales stream meeting, Brenda presented a paper that she had prepared concerning the stationery budget, “We need to be smarter. I propose that we have a stapler amnesty; I think that people are hoarding them.” She gave a sad, pathetic look to everyone in the meeting. “I think we need to reach the people. They need to understand the impact that the needless ordering of stationery is having on The Call Centre.”

“Personally. I am like Brian Mon-what-his-name-from-the Falklands.” Ian said earnestly. He stroked his tie: it was black with Cartmen from South Park saying, “Kyle’s Mum’s a bitch.” He continued, “I count the paperclips going out and those that come back.”

I laughed.

He was being serious.

13 Sep 2003

When life seems jolly rotten …

The smell has not gone away.

Sun Tzu says that you should ‘Expect the worse’ so I think that something has died under one of the desks.

It is like old sprouts, or the smell of wet dogs mixed with musty teenage bedrooms.

I have been trying to locate it before it gets any worse.

In the meantime, Janice has revived the diet club. She has joined the Gym and is trying to shift some weight. Her confidence has been buoyed after the recent pay-review, it is clear that she is Brenda’s favourite, and she has been adopting a superiority complex ever since.

She came over, sniffing the air like a dappled deer, “what on earth is that smell?”

“I don’t know.” I put my Sun Tzu book away. “Are you going on the Curryoke evening?”

“No. Curry’s too many points. I wouldn’t mind singing though.” She said. “Are you going?”

“I said I would. I want to see Brenda drunk. I understand that she turns into a devil when she has a drink. I’d like to see her dark-side. Ian’s going.”

“He always says that he is going to these things and never turns up. Tony is on a ‘Brixton’ too. You’ll be with Brenda on your own.” Janice smiled. “You could be her next victim!”

I looked at her in horror. “Let’s look on the bright-side, I could be knocked over by a bus tomorrow and not be able to make it.”

Sun Tzu doesn’t know who he’s dealing with.

11 Sep 2003

Catch the Pigeon

Sun Tzu says that you should lead the way. Great leaders are signposts giving clear direction, not weather veins; pointing anywhere the wind blows.

Today I have felt like a pavement. Pecked by a thousand pigeons.

Tizzy asked: “Do we need to fill in a ADS5 if they are not on the electoral roll?”

If you feel the need – then please do.

Bernard sent a terse e-mail: “What have you done with that Sun Tzu book?”

I have become more internally aggressive, but at least with a sense of purpose. The book also makes an interesting coaster for my cup of hot dog sausage brine from the coffee machine.

Joan asked: “What’s an electrical role?”

Switching on the Blackpool lights.

Barney enquired: “Do we need to use a pencil on the ADS5?”

Try it and see what happens.

Everybody: “What’s that smell?”

What is that smell?

Simon, the Craig David looky-likey, must have been farting again.

Sun Tzu never faced wind like the wind I face in the Call Centre.

I’m pointing North-by-North West like Carey Grant chased by crop duster.

10 Sep 2003

Seconds Out

Sun Tzu says that you need to fight. Competition is inevitable so you need to take on your enemies and destroy them in an emotionally detached manner.

Brenda has been drumming up interest in a manager’s night out. She has sprung back to life following a period of calm. “At Glasgow we used have great nights out. They were famous. We’d start the evening with a curry. Follow it up with a few drinks. Then finish the night off with a karaoke. Curryoke. Get it. CURRY oke. Honk. Honk. Honk!”

“Yep. Yep. Yep. Yep.” Ian gave a breathy agreement. “A great night out.” He calmly stroked his Simpsons tie (Homer, sprawled on a settee in his y-fronts, dribbling). “I’ll order transport from my mate Jack. He has an executive coach.”

A date has been set for the night out. I’ll probably get completely leathered, say things I’ll regret, fall asleep in the coach on the way back and dribble.

I need to come up with an excuse so I can stay at home and watch Fame Academy.

On the other hand, it could be my opportunity to strike Sun Tzu style, slice their throats in an emotionally detached manner as they sleep.

“Just wait until I get the mike,” Brenda started to sing, “I will survive!”

Sun Tzu never worked in a Call Centre.

9 Sep 2003

Salt Lake City Limits

Sun Tzu says that strong armies pull together.

People say that John Three on my team is a Mormon, but I’m not sure. What do they look like? Are they tired and shagged out from having too many wives? Toothy and wholesome like the Osmonds? Or do they have septic knuckles from knocking on too many doors? Either way, everyone says he’s a Mormon, so the story sticks.

He is presently competing with John One (Thrush) for being the most annoying member of the team. Barney, the big gay bear, has introduced a hooter to the team. When a sale is made the hooter blows.

John Three hates it. He snapped at Tizzy, “Your toot is going off in my ear. I’m trying to concentrate.”

Barney tutted. “John. I thought you’d be happy to get the horn!”

Sun Tzu never worked in a call centre.

8 Sep 2003

Tony Talk

I have regretted telling Call Centre Tony about the blog from the moment that it left my lips. He has predicted that my openness is tantamount to whistle blowing. If Cathy Gilroy (the Call Centre’s Big Cheese) found out she would arrange a mafia type hit involving horse heads and a tollbooth massacre. At best, the powers that be would make a ‘Dr David Kelly’ like example of me and hound me into submission.

I remind him that I am exercising a fundamental human right.

He just smiles and does a “sleeps with the fishes” routine.

Nevertheless, he has been cock-a-hoop at the response to the recent request for questions for a Tony interview.

DrD: What does Call Centre Tony look like? I have a beautiful female friend who wants to know.

Tony: (snatches the paper out of my hand) Bollocks! (Reads) You see. The only reason people read your shite is because of the kid here. (Grins) Some have said that there is a bit of the oriental in me, so if your mate fancies a Chinese take-away, let me know. I have a look of Brad Pitt.

((Brad Pitt after a car accident where they undertake major reconstructive surgery and base their work on a picture of a fat Harry Potter – I should add.))

Birdman: What gives you the most job satisfaction?

Tony: The people. This is a people business. The people make it an experience. The people and darts. I have convinced Bernard to get a ‘motivational’ dartboard so we can create more of a sales spirit in The Call Centre. Also, I need to improve my game for a tournament in the club. So, Darts and people give me satisfaction. At the moment it is probably more darts than people.

Birdman: Do you believe in the existence of objective reality or parallel universes equal to the number of possible states in which that object can exist, with each universe containing a unique single possible state of that object?

Tony: I work in a call centre. The question has never come up. Do you wear glasses?
Birdman: Have you a favourite sandwich?

Tony: I’m on a Brixton at the moment to lose a bit of Terry before Christmas. When I have a sandwich it is usually a ham and tomato baguette, dry. I have gone off the sandwiches in the canteen since I noticed that the guy who makes them has a thick rim of soil under his nails. I have had pie and chips since then. He can’t get his fingers in those.

((Brixton Riot – Diet. Terry – Weight (as in Terry Waite)))

More will be coming soon …

4 Sep 2003

Talking Shop

Ian and I were in Call Centre Tony’s Canteen Confessional at lunchtime today.

I chatted about the communication project for my contribution to the sales stream today. The next meeting is due later this week. I have been pushing it to the back of my ‘Things to Do’.

Ian gave me some advice. “Make sure you are the gate-keeper for the forum, chat room and instant messaging and it will make all the extra work worthwhile. You’ll get to see EVERYTHING. Bernard will think that the forums will enhance adviser’s ability to fulfil their role. Instead, it is a platform for decadence.”

I hadn’t considered the advantages of snooping on my colleagues until Ian pointed it out. “Is it ok to read other people’s mail?”

“Yep. Yep. Yep. You MUST. It is part of the role. You need to make sure that the facility is not being abused. You can turn a blind eye to some ‘social uses’.” He was getting more breathy and excited. “Nine months after the installation of the software in Glasgow and most of the women were on maternity.”

Call Centre Tony’s Interview will be published on Monday.

3 Sep 2003

Yojimbo

Bernard called me into his office today. He has started to wear a ‘hands-free’ earpiece so he can talk to people and work or wander in his office. “Terry. Terry. It’s Bernard. I have a few bits for you.” He was stabbing at his keyboard with two fingers as he spoke – no doubt it was some terse memo to us asking for increased sales – he raised his eyebrows as I entered.

“Where are you up to with the ‘best practise in practice’ work you were doing for me?” He barked. “I was expecting it yesterday.”

My heart sank. “I’m sorry.” I mumbled. “I can’t remember …”

He raised his hands and pointed to his ear. He started to rummage through a pile of books and files on his desk. They went tumbling over: “Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing”, “I’m Ok Your OK”, “The One Minute Manager” and “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.

He put one in front of me while he continued listening to Terry’s excuses in his left ear. He scrawled on a post-it “Read This!”

It was Sun Tzu’s “Art of War”.

He smiled and indicated I could go.

I knew he was developing ideas for expansion. I didn’t realise that it would include marching into Poland.

2 Sep 2003

Frozen Assets

“I have concerns about Susan.” Ian said, tapping his pen on his clipboard. He has been sitting with Tizzy on my team.

“She isn’t very bright is she?” To illustrate the point he found a call on the monitoring system and played it back:

Customer: “I’d love to have a new garden but I don’t want to touch my savings. I have all my money in an ISA.”

Susan: “An icer? Why are keeping your money in the fridge?”

1 Sep 2003

Doing the Do!

Ian from the sales stream is spending the next couple of weeks sitting with people on my team in order to make an analysis of skill gaps and future training needs.

He is the image of sleaze. I checked the ground where he had walked for slime trials.

He is strange looking, one eye is lower than the other; he rests his hands on his pot belly when people are talking; he is ruthlessly sexist; he wears the same black shirt everyday with a different lurid, ‘character’ tie; and the women love him.

Tony loves his stories about women he has had affairs with in The Call Centre. He has been joining us in Tony’s canteen confessional the last couple of days. “Is it true you have been with Brenda?”

“That would be telling,” he gave a knowing smile.

“2002 manager’s conference.” Tony continued to grill him. “While we were listening to the usual claptrap you were …” he raised his fist in the air and blew a raspberry.

Later, I spoke to Janice about Ian and his reputation, and she tried to explain: “I know what you mean about his ‘look’ but he has an x-factor. I spoke to him earlier and he made me go all girly. He has an animal magnetism I can’t put my finger on …” We both looked across to where he was sitting.

He was stroking his Scooby Doo tie furiously.

I can learn from him.

31 Aug 2003

Hay Lads Hay!

“But Sir!” Simon, the Craig David looky-likey, has been protesting at the new scripts we have been using, “they don’t make any sense.”

“Well we have to follow them I’m afraid.” I said forlornly, I could understand the team’s complaints. Can you imagine, sitting at home, the phone rings, and you are exposed to this rubbish? For example:

“In accordance with regulatory requirements, pertaining to the sale of goods via telephony, I am obliged to advise you that the £10 complimentary voucher is subject to written terms and conditions that are available on request. There is no obligation to purchase. I will be retaining your address details, but no further information, a copy of the files held relating to this call are available if you submit a stamped self addressed envelope. This call may be recorded for training and monitoring requirements.”

I got on the phone to Mary and let her know that the scripts were hard to work with. “Well, you need to stick to them or we’ll face fines and possible closure. When it comes to hay lads hay we need to be water-tight.” She said.

“But, since we have started saying this stuff we haven’t sold anything.” I said.

“Tough. I have consumer law to worry about.”

That was it.

John Doe, the anal retentive on my team, was also struggling with the new convoluted script. Out of the whole team I thought that he would be the one who could deal with it. “In the words of Harrison Ford to George Lucas “You can type this shit, but you can’t say it!””

I’ll try that line on Mary when I next call.

27 Aug 2003

Who dares …

The sales stream is a group of self-appointed elite who have clandestine meetings in the boardroom. Fuelled by coffee and bourbon biscuits they plot future initiatives that impact on all facets of The Call Centre.

I came away from yesterday’s meeting slightly addled by the detail that they apply to everything. My days of playing fast and lose are over. Thanks to Bernard and his desire to develop me and push me out of my ‘comfort zone’ I have to suffer anal retentive like Mary: “I think “ringing” is less polite than “calling”, yet “making a call” is more accurate, but cumbersome, please can I have your thoughts?”

I had none. I grinned inanely.

As a result of the meeting I have picked up a new area of responsibility. Bernard wants to improve the ‘Adviser Communication’ and wishes to introduce an intranet forum and instant messenging.

At the head of the sales stream is Mutley (Ian) so called because he answers every question with a breathy, “Yep. Yep. Yep.”

He slithered over to me after the meeting, munching on a pink wafer biscuit, “Good to have you on board. I think you’ll add a lot to this group because I hear that you are very “grass-roots” and we need someone like you on the team.”

Mary was listening. “I wouldn’t say “grassroots”, I think “Man of the People” is more accurate.”

I love Mary. She incites violence and adoration to equal degrees, like a boxer who is into small print.

26 Aug 2003

A Script for a Jester’s Tear

In a bid to raise my profile, I have joined ‘The Sales Stream’, an elite group of people from across the Call Centre who are dangerously close to disappearing up their arses.

They work closely with Mary, the compliance officer, who thinks that consumer rights mean that customers should be bored within an inch of their lives just in case they might be persuaded into buying something that they might want.

Every week ‘The Sales Stream’ meet to discuss the latest sales scripts and discuss them to death. Mary said, “Mmmm. I’m not sure. In this script you claim “The Drum – Drum Hearing Aid could improve your hearing”. If you say “could” it implies that it “could” improve your hearing.”

“It COULD improve your hearing.” I said giving the line the emphasis that I think illustrated the point.

“Mmmm. MAYBE it could improve your hearing.” Mary suggested.

I could smash Mary’s head in. Maybe.

23 Aug 2003

Wankstas Paradise

Barney, the Big Gay Bear, on my team, was going on and on about Euro-pride today. He is in the parade through Manchester in a Bungo outfit handing out gummi bears to the crowd.

I wasn’t listening because despite my better wishes I kept going over and over the appraisal in my head.

Aloof. Cynical. Fuck ‘em. Fuck ‘em.

Something in me wanted to prove them wrong, but something was also saying Fuck ‘em.

Brenda kept looking at me with a tight smile that you give to people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness: “I don’t know what to say – sorry.”

Janice has had content buzz. Tony has switched back to his management guru mode and has stopped having lunch with me (he’ll be back).

My Wankerdaq portfolio has gone through the roof.

“You look tired.” Barney interrupted his story to express concern.

“I’m ok.” I replied. “I didn’t sleep last night, I had a lot on my mind, I was tossing all night.”

“Well, I hope I’ll be doing the same all through the weekend!”

21 Aug 2003

If you can’t make it, Fake It!

It was my appraisal with Bernard today.

“How do you like your feedback? Do you like it on the chin, or wrapped up in cotton wool?” He asked. It sounded like something he had read in one of his management books.

“On the chin.” I replied.

He picked up a scrap of paper and began to read from it. Each word was delivered with dramatic emphasis. “The job’s mine. I can piss all over this task. A lot of lip service to keep BERNARDO happy.”

They were notes that I had made at the selection event for the office manager position. I assumed that they had been long forgotten. Instead they had been saved until they could inflict the maximum damage: my pay review.

The words still hung in the air. Brenda was there too, for some reason, she looked tight lipped and serious. Bernard dropped the paper dismissively.

“What can I do with you? Janice has drive, ambition, ability and delivery. Tony is sharp thinking, inspirational and, despite being rough round the edges, driven for success. I don’t know about you … capable … intelligent … but cynical, lacking drive and an aloofness.”

I could feel my head drooping with shame.

He continued, “You may think you are better than this. You may think “there must be more to life than this”. If I thought that you had drive and ability, I would say that you were wasted in The Call Centre. But, you haven’t, so get over it. You’ve got a job. Life ain’t that bad.”

I suppose it is too late to ask for the ‘wrapped in cotton wool’ version.

19 Aug 2003

Cut out the middle man

I had my headset out of its velvet-lined box today and was taking some calls. It reminded me of the good old days, before I was a manager, fielding calls from complaining, unhappy customers, with my usual charming rapport: “you are through to the wrong department, let me put you through to our accounts line.”

On the Drum-Drum line we often get calls from a Minicom operator. They are people who act as the interpreter between a deaf person and a hearing person. Usually they speak like Stephen Hawking because they think they are a Speak and Spell ™ machine, but without the personality.

Today I met the exception. A scouse woman came on: “Hello love. I’m on a minicom, you know the score, I’ve got a moaning owd trout on the other end.”

I didn’t know how to respond, so just mumbled in the right places.

“Good grief love, you better brace yourself, she’s got a right cob on. I don’t know how you put up with this lot all day. I really don’t …”

Can you manage what havoc she could cause at the United Nations?

18 Aug 2003

Vagisil

The half yearly appraisal deadline looms, I cannot put it off any longer, I need to do Thrush’s appraisal. I call John One ‘Thrush’ because he is an irritating cunt, and his ability to get under the skin is no better illustrated than when he attends his appraisals.

I dread it every six months, because it’s the same every time: he folds his arms across his chest and stares at me like he is delivering some kind of Jedi mind-trick; “these are not the droids you’re looking for …”

He has this way of agreeing with everything I say but disagreeing at the same time by repeating things back to me arse about face, for example, while smiling: “Yes you’re right. I am a bit of a loner and don’t mix with the team. I can work on my own initiative.”

He’s like an itch that you can’t scratch.

14 Aug 2003

The Pet Shop Boy

There was a riot going on in the office today. Bernard and Brenda were away, so it was time to play. I climbed into the stock cupboard and found the dusty length of drainpipe and sock full of dried peas on the end of a piece of string, that was lurking at the back under a pile of paper.

Mental Mickey, a Team Manager who left to join a Bank Call Centre based in Durham, used to play this game every day throughout the summer. The idea is to drop the sock on the string through the drainpipe and the ‘players’ attempt to hit it with a rolled up newspaper before it is pulled back up the pipe.

The official name is ‘Sock the Sock’ but the ‘street’ name is ‘Twat the Rat’.

Barney was swinging a rolled up copy of Attitude above his head.

Tizzy was giddy, “Quick Barney, the little mouse is about to disappear up your chute.”

“Who do you think I am? Richard Gere?” He said bringing down the magazine.

Hole in one.


12 Aug 2003

See here

I had my headset out of its velvet-lined box again today. I was monitoring the help-line for Drum-Drum, a Hearing Aid company, who quote a number on their warranty documents.

The calls usually blend with the others, but there has a recent spate of complaints, as there is a manufacturing fault that causes the Model 6 to pick up radio messages. In certain regions of the country, the Model 6 has been tuning into a Taxi Company. We have decided to isolate the calls, so they have been directed to my team this week.

I don’t think that it was a good idea putting Joan on the line. All the calls went along the same lines:

Customer: HELLO, IS THAT DRUM-DRUM …

Joan: (talking to Barney, in the background) muffle mumble

C: HELLO, IS THAT DRUM-DRUM …

J: HELLO, THIS IS DRUM-DRUM HELPLINE, Joan Speaking. HOW CAN I HELP YOU.

C: I keep hearing voices …

J: SORRY LOVE, IT’S A BAD LINE; YOU’LL NEED TO SPEAK UP!

C: Pardon?

J: Eh?

C: What did you say?

J: Excuse me?

And so on.

11 Aug 2003

Walter Mitty Type Character

I am beginning to think that I made a big mistake telling Tony about the blog. He has been round to a friend’s house and read it from beginning to end. He keeps phoning me from his desk with questions: “Do you get any people asking what Call Centre Tony looks like? If you did, and they were women, would you tell me? Write more stuff with me in it because, I’m not being funny, they are the only good bits.”

Yeah. Whatever.

I went on another health kick this week. I have cut out weekday drinking.

Every time I close my eyes I can see the cans of Stella in the fridge.

The phone rings, its Tony, “What does blog stand for?”

If I have one little drink tonight it might not be so bad.

8 Aug 2003

Pig in a Poke

Cathy Gilroy relented and allowed us to have a dress down day. What’s more we were allowed to wear “summer casuals” in view of the hot weather.

Call Centre Tony looked ridiculous in three-quarter length pants with sandals and socks. “Tony. I agree with what you were saying yesterday – people should get 15 years for looking how you look.” I said.

He growled, but agreed to go to the pub at lunchtime.

When we got there it was packed. I was handed a ticket for my chip butty and we sat outside.

I tried desperately to prevent Tony picking up where we left off on Thursday. There was still an atmosphere between us. I decided that I could win him back round by revealing a secret. “Tony I have been writing an on-line diary about my daily life in the Call Centre.”

“Who the fuck would want to read anything about working in the Call Centre, its fucking boring, nothing happens.” He said, un-phased, drinking his pint.

An old woman came out, a chip butty in her hand, sucking on her false teeth, “Sixty nine! Anyone order a sixty nine.”

Maybe he has a point.

7 Aug 2003

Daily Constitutional

“Let me finish my sentence …” I said in vain.

In his canteen confessional booth, Call Centre Tony was on a rant. He went from criminals to asylum seekers within a blink of an eye, and back again, “I’d put the lot of them in jail for 15 years. There are no excuses. If you want a video – buy your own – don’t rob an old woman. Throw away the key on the lot of them. You’re on crack? Not interested. It’s your own look out. Stay out of my house. Come anywhere near my stereo and I should have the right to stove your head in. There is NO excuse. None.” His finger was jabbing at me as he spoke.

We only usually get this heated when we are discussing the relative merits of the Minogue sisters.

I went back to my desk a bit exhausted from the argument.

I took out my headset from its velvet-lined box and plugged myself in for the afternoon. I chalked another day into my diary and looked out to watch people enjoying the sunshine on benches outside the local bar.

Let me finish my sentence.

6 Aug 2003

For the love of Fatima

This time, there were no Pringles or preamble, we were called into Bernard’s office and the new staff communication video started straight away.

The video had “Nobody Does It Better,” played as an instrumental in the super-market style, playing over the top of images of out-of-copyright athletic events: Daley Thompson and Steve Ovett running behind Seb Coe. Over the top of these grainy images were words that faded in and out: “Desire,” “Determination” and “Dedication”.

Cut to Cathy Gilroy, the senior manager, giving a key-note speech at the managers conference, looking like a glamorous version of Mrs Doubtfire. There was something about desire, delivery and de-something else.

Cut to our office.

We cheered. Bernard said, “I hope that they have got my good side errrrmmm!”

There was a slow motion shot of Barney, the big bear on my team, getting animated while on a call. The music got loader as he waved his arms around like a happy camper in all senses of the word.

Cut to Bernard talking about determination, dedication and detoxing. Of course there was something in there about his pre-cognitive Call Centre too, but I still didn’t understand it…

More athletes.

The end.

We clapped and nodded to each other. Bernard said, “Well what do you think of that then.”

Brenda smiled and started to sing, “Nobody does it better …”

Tony carried on, “Makes me feel sad for the rest.”

Janice grinned, joining in, continued, “Bernard … you’re the best.”

They all then looked at me for a reaction. I was too busy thinking that a bloke on the 1st floor is the spitting image of Fatima Whitbread.

4 Aug 2003

Communication let me down

Bernard looked like the cat that got the cream. Pleased as punch. He was like a dog with a tin dick.

He called all the Team Managers into his office. “I have got the new staff communication video. It is excellent and delivers some key messages in new and interesting way.”

We nodded to each other in mock agreement.

“I want you guys to see the premier performance. I don’t have a red carpet, or a dress like Liz Hurley, errrrm! But, I have got some non-alcoholic bucks fizz, some savoury snacks and some serviettes so we can enjoy the presentation.”

We sat in front of his new plasma screen, ready to be impressed. “Ladies and Gentlemen. Prepare for the 2003 Staff Communication, “Precontact – The Future of Call Centre Communication.”

He pushed the shiny DVD disk into his iMac.

The screen went blue.

It came up with “Input AV Channel,” in green characters.

“Ladies and gentlemen … YOUR future.” Bernard said boldly.

The screen flickered to a dead channel and blasted out white noise.

Tony and Bernard spent about an hour plugging and un-plugging the leads from the iMac; changing the connections in the back of the plasma screen; fiddling about with the preferences of the computer and then ringing the help desk who offered a 24 hour call-out promise. “Same time tomorrow then guys. Normal service will be resumed ermmmm!”

At least the Pringles took my mind off the fizzy sweets for an hour.

2 Aug 2003

Children of a lesser sod

If fizzy dummys are like heroin, then fizzy cola-bottles are hill billy heroin, because they are meaner, more addictive and swell in your stomach like cavity wall insulation.

I thought that I would ‘do’ Joan today. I found somewhere out of the way, after all Joan can whisper over three fields. I needed to find somewhere private and soundproofed.

“So, Joan. It has been an interesting 6 months. I have done your appraisal wheel and it tells me that you are still level 2 … what do you have to say about that?” I asked.

“THAT’S RIGHT.”

“Your Customer Rapport skills are let down by your ‘Active Listening’ …”

“Eh?”

Good grief.

1 Aug 2003

Spooks

“I love how you do this. I think it is wonderful. It’s like you are a mind reader or something.” Susan (Tizzy) said at the start of her appraisal meeting.

“What do you mean?” I started to arrange the wheel on the desk and unfurl her statistics in front of her.

“I have had my cards read, and this is exactly the same, you fiddle about with that wheel and tell me things I didn’t know were going to happen.”

I laughed. “It’s not like I can see dead people or anything.”

“Well its funny you should say that, because I have a lady who follows me, I’m very spiritual, the woman who did my cards said so!” She got all wide-eyed and excited like Sue Pollard with a tyhroid problem. “She said that an old lady follows me everywhere, her name has an ‘e’ in it and she has a connection to a black dog." She paused while she gasped for air. "I wracked my head for days and days thinking who it could be, then I realised who it was – Sandra the woman who worked in the DOG and Duck pub on BLACKburn road.” She said conclusively.

“Where does the ‘e’ come in?” I asked.

“Someone spiked her gin and tonic. She got loved-up a bit then keeled over with an heart-attack.”

I wonder if I need to order an extra headset?

31 Jul 2003

Officer’s Mess

Call Centre Tony sits in a corner of the canteen when he is in one of ‘those moods’. There is an area of tables that are separated into booths by partitions of pink trellis and Tony treats his spot like it is a confessional.

We don’t often have time for a lunch, but recently Tony has insisted that we have one. Today we exchanged advice on our Wankerdaq portfolios. “I have sold my stock in Janice. She might be a hefty unit with no sense of humour, but she is harmless enough. Top of my list is Brenda.”

I sputtered on my coffee-flavoured-hot-dog-sausage-brine from the machine. “You were brown-nosing up until last week. What changed?”

“I’m not being funny, but she hasn’t got a clue, she goes all round the houses and misses the point. If it was left to her, we would have to ask Uncle Tom Cobliegh and all, every time we needed to order new paper for the fax machine.” Tony grabbed an out of date copy of HEAT from a table next to where we were sitting. Crumpled and covered with baked bean stains, Tony flicked through the pages quickly. “This is the life for me son. Visiting premieres, all the booze and fags I can get hold off and holidaying in the sun, son.”

“There must be more to life than this.” I said. “I have Thrush’s appraisal looming – I can’t be arsed with his nonsense.”

“You need to have some time on the officers.”

“Officers?”

“Officer’s Mess – Stress. All you need to do is clutch your chest a couple of times, look wide-eyed, and make sure that Bernardo clocks you.” Tony demonstrated. “Next thing you know, you are signed off for three months, feet up, watching Kilroy all afternoon.”

When I got back to my desk I tried it out. I think I over-did it a bit when Bernard was rushing past, because he said, “You look like you’ve been shot! Don’t think you are having any time off if you have been!” He laughed as he disappeared back into his office.

30 Jul 2003

Betty Ford, here I come …

I don’t know whether I can survive many more of the appraisals. I have developed an addiction to the fizzy dummys.

The problem with fizzy dummys, is that they are like heroin. The first hit is great – the sourness tingles your saliva glands so that they pore with excitement – then you feel compelled to try and reach that state of euphoria with each subsequent dummy, knowing that it is impossible. I have nearly finished off the box I’ve bought, and I have the rest of the team to go.

Today I have chalked up two of the Johns on the team.

Moomin Papa insisted on taping the conversation as he said that he might need to refer to the content of the discussion later.

John Doe’s, on the other hand was much easier, as he is fascinated with the mechanics of the Wheel, the paper contraption we use to make the assessment.

“Well John. The Sales Focus is in conjunction with your Team Contribution. Another couple of notches on the Customer Rapport and I may be able to consider you for a pay increase next time you have the appraisal in another six months. In the meantime, help yourself to a dummy.”

He took a handful.

I could feel my eyes popping from my head.

I think I need to arrange some methadone.

29 Jul 2003

Squeal like a duck

I decided to press on with the half yearly appraisals today.

Brian, the hills have eyes, was a ‘project’ I inherited off Janice’s team. He had always caused problems for Janice, and I agreed to take him on to my team as I had a belief that I could ‘cure’ him. He is hopeless. Despite being the most experienced member of The Call Centre (he has been here since it opened) he still takes ages solving the most basic queries. He goes inside and outside of a duck’s arse on the most simple customer requirements.

Trouble is, he is too nice/ thick, to manage. Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to reach him.

Today was no exception. I got the sweets ready, plus all the statistics pertaining to Brian’s performance over the past six months, so I could really lay into him. I decided that the best approach was the direct one.

“Mmmmm, fizzy dummys, my mum likes these.” Brian said as he tucked into the sweets.

“Brian. We have to seriously consider your future at the Call Centre.” I inhaled. There was no easy way of saying it, but I’d done it as directly as I could.

“I love kiddies sweets.” He laughed to himself and looked at me through those thick lens glasses. “I get a bag full of these when we go to the pictures.”

“Brian. I seriously think that we need to start document an action plan to assess your performance over the next three months.” I was sterner this time.

“My mum likes these too.” He started to tuck into the flying saucers with serbet in them. “She says that they are like communion bread with a fizz.”

Pause. “So, Brian.” I reached for a flying saucer as I spoke. “Tell me …” I broke the pink disk and let the serbet fall on the desk in front of me. “This Red Hot channel you have got from Tony, is it worth fifty quid?”

“Well. They went in an out of a duck’s arse …” Brian said.

Forgive me father for I have sinned.

28 Jul 2003

Appetite for Distraction

After having a few days off I have come back to a full mailbox. It’s full of the usual rubbish – stuff that was relevant three days ago but completely useless now: “The timesheet system will be down for 30 minutes on Wednesday.”

Call Centre Tony has been trying to impress Brenda for the last few weeks, but he has started to crack, and press the self-destruct button.

He has been round for most of the day, trying to get me involved in his latest scheme: “Dodgy subscriptions to Red Hot television.” He said it through the side of his mouth like he is dealing with someone down the pub.

“Fifty quid Johnny (Cash)” He winked. “The next night you can the purest filth this side of me old Dutch.” He looked very pleased with himself.

Brian, The Hills have Eyes, has been a surprising punter. Unfortunately he has been talking quite openly about it on the team. He talks of Ben Dover and Anal Nights in the same way that someone might say, “did you see that documentary on sharks on the Discovery Channel last night.”

Valuing Dignity policy, my arse.

I have received a message from Amber, the subject is “News Alert, Your Job Sucks,” Robert G. Allen can make me $24,000 in 24 hours. Last week Amber said that my penis could grow two inches. Thank goodness Amber is giving me some hope.

21 Jul 2003

Open your eyes

I’m off until next Monday, so I thought that I’d better make a start with my appraisals. I have taken note of recommendations from readers of this diary and prepared by buying some sweets for each member of the team. These light confections will make the processes literarily ‘sweeter’ and act as a cheap bribe in the hope that they won’t be too hard on me.

I bought a box full of those ‘sherbet flying saucers’ and some fizzy-dummy-shaped sweets.

To break myself in gently I thought that I’d deal with the FNG (the flippin’ new guy), Manic Miner. He was new and there was little to say to him other than the odd word of encouragement. “Keep it up, and help yourself to a sweet.”

“Is that it?” He replied, while his thumb quickly scratched the inside of his nostril. “I was expecting you to give me some idea of my future in here.”

I’m a Team Manager. Not Russell bleedin’ Grant.

“Well,” I said. “What do YOU want to do?”

“I want to work for the boss. You know. Him with the big telly in his office.” His little finger popped in and out of his left nostril. “I graduated in marketing and electronics at University. I think I could do a lot better than being on the phones all day.”

I had a flashback. Eleven years ago. I was in an appraisal, with headset rash behind my ears, I wanted more: “How much notice do I have to give when I get a proper job.”

I sent Manic Miner away with some platitudes and spent the rest of the afternoon scoffing fizzy-dummy-shaped sweets.

My stomach is still burning.