30 Jun 2003

The Ties that Bind

Brenda wanted to make an appearance at our Team Meetings this week. I hastily arranged one today because we haven’t had one since February as John the Morman took over the whole meeting arguing about the lack of car parking spaces and the dress code.

I could have stepped in and enforced my authority but I couldn’t be arsed. I rather liked that the fact that I didn’t have to speak to the team while he was droning on: “Have you heard of that bloke in Stockport who refused to wear a tie and managed to sue his company for discrimination. I’m going to stop wearing mine and they’ll not be able to do a single thing about it.”

The meeting then took a nasty turn when John Doe said that Tizzy could come to work as scruffy as she liked, with her midriff showing, and the blokes did not have that freedom. Barney, the big gay bear, suggested that he would like to come to work showing his midriff.

Before Thrush (so called because he is an irritating cunt) could step in and offer his views on National Service, I brought the meeting to an abrupt end.

It has been a dereliction of my Team Managerly duties. My team have been deprived of vital team-building time off the phone. I feel eternally guilty. No wonder they hate me.

It’s all going to change now that I have Brenda as a life coach. The meeting is on Wednesday.

28 Jun 2003

En Garde

Brenda and Bernard have offered me and my team a chance to redeem ourselves after the appalling results of the Tantazia, sun bed campaign. We start on a new, month long campaign on Monday. Another local business is using the Call Centre services: Dartanian, The Fencers – for all your fencing and gardening requirements.

It is going to be a ‘blended’ campaign, which means that the team have to be both inbound and outbound. In the quiet spells, when no one is calling in, the power dialler starts to cold call.

The team hate it because they don’t know whether they are coming or going.

The customers hate it because they are dealing with confused people who don’t know if they are calling or answering.

Call Centre management love it because it is relentless and nothing goes to waste.

Bernard collared me: “I know you can make this work. Bring it alive for your team. Lets have ‘Fence-Miesters’ – every time there is a sale, lets have a fencing competition. Lets have ‘Don’t fence me in’ piped through the call centre. Lets have fun AND make money. I know you can do it. Check it out with Health and Safety first and don’t spend any money.”

27 Jun 2003

I don’t Need No Good Advice

Brenda had her first one to one with me today. She tried to give the impression that it was informal by providing coffee (from the machine, it tastes like hot-dog sausage brine) and banana flavoured flumps. It was formal enough for me to ensure that my guard was up.

She sits really, really close and adopts a tone that Margaret Thatcher would find supercilious.

“Now. Your team’s performance has been patchy, how do you account for this?”

I shrugged.

“Take the Tantazia campaign for example. There were more complaints than bookings.”

“The leads were weak.” I suggested tentatively.

“The LEADS were weak. I could have taken those leads and toasted the whole of Bolton until they were a crisp.”

A waft of tuna, onions and garlic escaped from her gob and hit me like a sock full of rivets.

“I’m gonna help you be a winner. I’m gonna be your Alex Ferguson and you’ll be my David Beckham.”

More like – I’ll be your Keith Harris and you’ll be my Orville.

I wish I could fly.

26 Jun 2003

Get your freak on!

We now have to report EVERYTHING to Brenda, the new office manager, so she can mark it in the office diary. I don’t know whether or not she is a control freak or she is trying to justify her existence.

Tony is so far up her arse he can see Janice’s shoes: “I have linked an up date on the capacity verses the actuals and cross-linked it to the marketing budget. It makes VERY interesting reading.”

Mmm I bet it does – move over J.K. Rowling – “Tony Potter and the Order of the Phone Links” is on its way to bookshelves up and down the country.

24 Jun 2003

Everyone was Kung Foo Fighting

Brenda has started. Her Wankerdaq price is £4.50. It’s risen sharply since she began emptying her stacker boxes and furnishing her desk with stuff: she has more laminated Mission Statements and Personal Visions than Bernard and Call Centre Tony put together; she spent an hour arranging her ‘desk novelties’ which ranged from a nodding Jack Osbourne to a Kung Fu fighting hamster (the batteries have gone), and an inflatable can of baked beans to a Fart Extinguisher.

She looks like she’s gonna be REAL fun.

In the places where the mission statements cannot reach she has pinned up pictures of her family who are depicted from the cradle to the present day. Not only does she laugh like a sealion but when she talks of her family she recounts really, really boring stories as if they are jokes without a punchline:

“Well I went to see Denise in a talent competition … honk … honk … it was run by the school and I turned up late … honk … honk … (quieter) luckily they were running late too … giggle … giggle (back up to full belt) I didn’t miss her getting a bag of smarties … honk … honk … they were yummy.”

23 Jun 2003


I have had new call-monitoring software installed on my computer. It will take me months to work it out as I have only just got my head around the old system.

The bloke who installed it looked like Shrek and was filled with his own self-importance, as if he was dealing with a cure for cancer rather than a poxy, pseudo-big brother computer system. Everything I asked was greeted with the same reply: “No, you need to go through support to get that done.”

He taught me how to ping.

Mind you, I’m not as bad as Janice, she called me from her desk and asked “Where’s the ‘any’ key?”

“The ‘any’ key?”

“Yes it says “To initialise the Wrap Report, press any key.”

Have you tried support?

22 Jun 2003

Thin on the Ground

It has been boiling hot in The Call Centre today. Sundays are a day of rest. There is an air of calm that is impossible to recreate on a weekday. It is due to Bernard being out of the office – he generates a bio-climate of his own, usually stormy with the threat of lightening – when he is at home, wandering through the garden centres with his missus and kids, we have got our feet up, encouraging customers to call back another time, when we are really open for business.

It is the tyranny of the 24/7 consumer society that has created the myth that everything should be available ALL of the time. Whatever happened to the days when television had the good grace to have an Interval when they had nothing to say? These days they fill it with Gabby and Terry, instead of a test card.

The phenomena of kids waiting outside of their local Tesco for the latest instalment of Harry Potter should fill future generations with dread: it’s ok at the moment, while they are carefree 9 year olds, but will they be so enthusiastic in 7 years time when they have to sit on the tills at some ungodly hour so that middle class kids can be indulged in their latest fad?

Gentle reader, I implore you to make a stand against this tyranny. Think of the workers. The next time you need to make a call to your insurers, or to get that loan or to update your cable package, do the call centre workers of the world a favour – wait until Monday.

Unite; you have nothing to lose but your claims.

That reminds me, I need to call for some milk on the way home.

19 Jun 2003

Can I have a rewind?

Simon, the Craig David looky-likey, has phoned in sick again. He is always frankly honest about is reasons for being off. This time he claims that he has sustained an abdominal injury following a bout of particularly energetic sex.

Brenda starts Monday – Opening Price on Wankedaq is £2.00 a share – buy them while they’re hot because they’re gonna be snapped up. She has sent a photo and a profile:

“I am married to Jeff with 2 kids, Sandra and Denise, who occupy most of my spare hours but I still have time for appliqué and salsa classes. I am looking forward to moving to Bolton as I believe that you need to deliver vision and ambition to your operation; I’ve also heard about your famous ‘pie-barms’ and I want to try one for myself!”

I bought a jobs paper tonight.

Can life get any worse? I have been passed over for promotion; my new boss is a needle working visionary; my team are sustaining injury via their sexual athletics.

What CAN he of been doing?

18 Jun 2003

Slippy the Sealion

Brenda, the Team Manager from the Glasgow office, got the job. We found out by process of elimination and the appearance of stacker boxes from Glasgow confirmed our suspicions.

“What is her opening price on Wankerdaq?” asked Call Centre Tony.

“I’ve heard that she is a right cow.” Janice said. “She gets really, really close to you when she talks. It is really uncomfortable.”

“She honks like a sealion when she laughs and talks to people like their dog has just died.” I added.

“I’m going to keep an open mind. I’m not going to judge her before she starts.” Tony said.

Janice and I nodded in agreement.

17 Jun 2003


I have been in a state of numb silence since the selection event. Any self-confidence that I ever had has been knocked out of me. I have neglected the team all week and allowed myself to slip into a morose, self-pitying stupor.

The test paper, the group session, the practical ‘report writing’ exercise, and the actual interview have been playing over and over in my head for the whole week.

It seems that I am doomed to stay in the same position for the rest of my life. My friends have started to call me Parky, because I have had more interviews than Michael Parkinson.

There must be a way out. Just when I thought I couldn’t get any lower, my new mobile phone started to rattle. It was in my trouser pocket and the motion sent my leg into spasm. It was a text message from Bernard:

“Srry tht this mssg is l8tr thn xptd. Un4tnly yr un6ssfl in yr applxtn. Bernard :>””


15 Jun 2003


Web User magazine asked me some questions – here are my answers:

1) Why and when did you set the weblog up?

I started in March this year after stumbling on blogging via an article in The Guardian. Last year I read KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL by the chef Anthony Boudain, a memoir of working in the kitchens of New York City. He managed to fill his book with interesting and engaging incident and amusing characters to such an extent that I wanted to share his lifestyle. I realised that his work was just as boring as mine, however he had managed to look at it in a skewed and interesting manner that made the boredom seductive. The Blog is therapy, trying to find interest in a job that I hate. I have worked in a Call Centre for over a decade and I now realise what I have been missing: sex, drugs and lost calls.

2) Is the Call Centre as chaotic as it sounds?

Like most things in the cosmos, The Call Centre is subject the second law of Thermodynamics: everything that moves goes wrong, but in interesting ways.

3) Are there any juicy incidents that you have never been able to relate?

There are some incidents concerning sexual, extra curricula activity that has brought down some of the most powerful people in the Call Centre, that I have never discussed: I’m an artist, not a gossip, but then again if I ever get stuck for something to write, sure enough, I’ll be spilling out the sordid details.

4) Do your bosses know about you blogging and the revelations regarding your blogging the antics in the office?

No. If I did, they would text a P45 to me as soon as you could say ‘The Accident Group’.

5) After that bloke who was caught downloading pictures of men in trunks, have there been any other incidents where people have been nabbed perusing “interesting” websites?

Well there is Joan on my team who is so hard of hearing that she thought someone advised her to look up something on “Gobble” rather than “Google” and was quite surprised at the results. Many of the incidents happen by mistake because Internet use is so closely monitored, people are too cautious to look at anything dodgy at work. There is a legend circulating at the moment that claims that some one from accounts wanted to adopt a child from abroad and was surprised at what came up when she typed in “Asian Babes”.

6) What’s the worst call that you have had to deal with/ have you ever been on the receiving end of some very colourful abuse?

Customers assume that the worst calls are the ones that involve shouting and swearing. Those calls are just funny. The worst ones are the customers who think that they are Nicky Campbell. The kind of people who listen to You and Yours, Moneybox Live and watch Watchdog. If anyone starts a conversation with: “I am taping this call: which is my right under the 1991 Communication’s Act,” you know that you are in for trouble. I always want to say “tough tit, you bought it.”

7) Are the toilets patrols still in existence?

Brian, the security man, is built like a brick shit house so he is at home in the loos.

8) Have you got any more stories about other call centre legends?

There’s a legend about a trainer who flipped when giving a presentation to the directors of The Call Centre. He was showing the motivational video FISH! which features fishmongers in Seattle who have become world famous for throwing fish at each other.

Alan, the trainer had been passed over for promotion and was in a rage. During the training session he reached into his bag and pulled out a smoked kipper and without further-a-do he flung it at the managing director’s cheek and shouted “Catch!”. It hit him with a slap and within an hour Alan was at The Job Centre.

9) Do you guys really value our calls?

When you are waiting in a queue, listening to some out of copyright music, just think about the people in the office: they are probably throwing a ball in a bucket.

10) Complete this sentence: “Call Centre Confidential is ...”

The best description I have heard is “The Office meets Phoenix Nights”

11) Any other hobbies?

I have just built a scale replica of The Statue of Liberty out of toothpicks. I am doing the Taj Mahal next.

14 Jun 2003

The Eliminator

The next round of the selection event took place on Tuesday. I have been reeling from it ever since!

They left me in a room. There was a desk, a PC, a phone and chair and a static camera observing my every move.

A laminated sheet of paper described the task: I needed to draft proposals for developing new contact strategies for 2004 in the form of a report. I had 45 minutes to complete the assignment and could use the facilities in the room.

It seemed easy enough. I set about having a brainstorm, writing down all the crazy things that came into my head: “the job’s mine”, “I can piss all over this task,” “Lot of lip service to keep Bernardo happy is all that is needed,” etc.

Then the phone rang. I looked directly at the static camera as if it should answer it. “Hello”

“Hi. We have had a major system failure. The main call parallax of the ACD has collapsed. We are not receiving any calls into The Call Centre.”

“Thanks for the information,” I replied, “but I am in the middle of an interview at the moment, can you tell some else to sort it out.”

There was a silence at the other end.

“Thanks.” I hung up.

The phone rang again. I ignored it for about 5 minutes and continued doodling on my pad. I couldn’t take it any more so picked up the receiver, “What?”

“There is a high level, director on the phone, he has a complaint about the ‘on hold’ music, he knows that you are in and wants to talk to you immediately.” I recognised the voice, it was Bernard doing his poor Terry Wogan impression.

It dawned on me that it was all part of the test. I accepted the call from the customer and dealt with the query: “Of course not everyone has the same taste in music – it is different strokes for different folks – one person may object to pan piped versions of The Beatles, while others are asking for details of the album.” I went on and on for about 30 minutes on the subject and seemed to be making a strong impression Bernard who was acting as the customer.

In mid-flow, someone entered the room and said that “time was up” and switched off the camera. They took the notes I had made. “I haven’t done anything about the report yet. Those notes are useless.”

“They are all part of the thought process, so they will be useful.” He said.


9 Jun 2003

The Me I always wanted to be …

The first part of the selection event was the worst. It was a ‘Group Exercise’ which, in case you have never experienced the pleasure, involves conducting a meeting within an allotted time with a ‘case study’ problem to solve as a group; the object of the exercise is to assess how you work within a group, build on the ideas of others and bullshit in a team situation. There are observers watching your every move.

The assessors have a set of criteria that they need to see evidence of during the exercise. They make notes as they observe to back up the decision that they have already made based on the cut of your jib.

The other candidates (my opponents) were as expected: Call Centre Tony (who maintained an air of distaining superiority), Janice (who is still peeling from the sun burn – she had her green contacts in) and Brenda from the Glasgow office (she is a fellow GREEN GOBLIN ecological representative and honks like a sea lion when she laughs.)

I was quietly confident throughout the session. I sat back; nodded in the right places. Then Call Centre Tony pulled a blinder. He stood up, patted Brenda on the back, engaged everyone in eye contact and took one of Janice’s ideas and ran with it: “Janice I like that idea and it builds on Brenda’s vision perfectly – we need a blended approach to incoming and outgoing calls. Our people should become more like ‘Customer Contact Agents’ ready to do their up-most whatever the channel.”

I have never heard him speak like this before. The observers, including Bernard, feverishly scribbled down their reactions. They were beaming with delight. I knew that I needed to seize the initiative, so I stood too, and said:

“You know call centres are all about relationships. (pause) What we need is fewer customers, less money. It is the things we think but do not say.”

There was silence.

I knew I shouldn’t have watched JERRY MAGUIRE last night.

8 Jun 2003


Talk about a dream
Try to make it real
Spend you life waiting
For a moment that just don’t come
Well don’t waste your time waiting…

CallCentre you gotta live it every day.

(Or words to that effect.)

Last week, I saw Bruce Springsteen at Old Trafford Cricket ground and ever since I have been listening to his music to inspire and drive me to get this new job.

The selection event is tomorrow. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Thrush has been saying: “Break a leg – not that you’ll need it – but good luck.” I know he means well, but after the tenth time of hearing it, I wanted to break both of his legs … and much more besides!

This team rips the bones from my back – it’s a deathtrap – it’s a suicide rap … I need to get out while I’m young.”

6 Jun 2003

Hoop Dreams

The Call Centre does not have straightforward interviews any more, where you were given the opportunity to disguise your incompetence by baffling the interviewer with bullshit. Oh no. That would just be too easy.

Instead, there are multiple stages to the selection process, so like a dog jumping through a set of hoops, you have to prove that you can sustain the bullshit over a period of days and in different situations.

The first stage is the dreaded ‘psychomentetricinated’ tests (or something like that). These usually consist of a numerical reasoning paper followed by a character assessment. I am hopeless at the numbers paper, and I cannot see the relevance of calculating the value of washing machines after ‘stock damage’.

Eleven years of working in a call centre have not equipped me with such knowledge; nevertheless, I did quite well on the Test The Nation programme (I cheated a bit).

The character assessment is a bit like one of those questionnaires you get in Cosmopolitan: “Are you your own worse enemy?” I tried one this afternoon and this was the results:

“Mostly Cs: You are hardworking, conscientious and an ideal candidate for work with The United Nations. You need to toughen up, don’t let others walk all over you. You need to stand up for yourself. At a party you are likely to be a wallflower and your handbag full of condoms are never going to get used unless you go for it!”

How can these things be so accurate? The job is mine if Bernard is looking for a peacekeeping, yellow-belly that can’t be arsed asking for a shag.

5 Jun 2003

Crushing Grapes

I have received a couple of e-mails asking what happened at the Tantazia ‘Celebrity Evening’ that I was invited to a fortnight ago.

Stu Francis was double booked, so Steve, the owner manager, managed to get a chap who got to the second heat of Pop Idol. He sang a selection of Boyzone hits, badly, while accompanied by a tiny casio organ.

Steve was pissed on Tesco Sicilian red wine by the time Janice and I had arrived. He looked like The Joker because the wine had marked his lips. His teeth were black when he grinned insanely.

I was nervous about seeing him. I was expecting him to beat the living daylights out of me once he’d realised how few appointments we had actually made. Fortunately, the ‘saloon’ had been broken into and the appointment’s diary had been stolen. He was relying on the customers turning up and accommodating them as much as possible.

He managed to insult Janice by suggesting she tried his new electrolysis treatment to remove her facial hair.

We left early.

4 Jun 2003

Not a Zinger

I did have a mobile phone, but I left it in a taxi last year when I was pissed. I hadn’t noticed that it was gone until I got the bill. It had been used to make 180 quid worth of calls to Islamabad. It still stings me to think about it.

I consoled myself at the time into believing that the phone was used by an Asylum-seeker desperate to speak to a family member with a terminal illness in Afghanistan. Thanks to my misplaced phone, this person was able to share final moments in communication together.

However, it was more likely used to deal drugs, or I was an inadvertent contributor to bin Laden’s campaign of terrorism.

Call Centre Tony brought a phone in for me today. It is massive. It rattles rather than vibrates.

At least you don’t have to have fingers like drinking straws to work the damn thing. Trouble is, now that I have got it home I’ve realised that it sets off my next-door neighbour’s doorbell every time I use it.

I have been playing a high-tech version of knock-a-door run all evening.

3 Jun 2003

No Brainer

Bernard is captivated by using text messages as a means of communicating to his Team Managers. The Accident Group, the compensation claim company, went bust this week, and they apparently issued redundancy notices to their staff via text. Most people were appalled by this shabby treatment, but Bernard thought it was a great idea and insisted that we all provide him with our mobile phone numbers so he could reach us if he was off-site.

“I haven’t got one.” I said.

“What do you mean you haven’t got one! You work in a call centre man! You are like a vegetarian butcher!”

“I’ll get one,” I said, a little embarrassed by his reaction.

Call Centre Tony says that he can get me a cheap one from Jimmy The Wasp at the club he goes to.

I have asked for one that vibrates – I have to get some pleasure from Bernard calling me.

2 Jun 2003

Natural Selection

Sorry for not keeping this diary up to date very much this week. I have been preparing for an interview that is due soon.

A couple of weeks ago an internal advertisement was circulated for a vacancy that has been created in our department. Bernard wants a deputy so he can concentrate on more ‘strategic issues’. The new deputy will deal with the day to day issues that arise in the office, while Bernard continues to “think what is going to happen in three years hence.”

He has started to use that line for an excuse for everything: “Bernard, I haven’t had the overtime payment you promised.”

“Sorry. I have been thinking about the budget in 2006. This year is going to be a tough year for us. Do you need the payment immediately or can I carry it over to the 2006 budget?”

He was inspired by Minority Report, and he brought it into to the management meeting last week to illustrate the point: “I want us to become a ‘pre-cog’ Call Centre. We need to be proactive. We need to anticipate our customer’s needs. We need to be one step ahead. By having an Office Manager, I can focus on the future.”

When I submitted my application, he said: “I didn’t see this coming.”