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 Tony grabbed an out of date copy of HEAT from a table next to where we were sitting.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.”


“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.
Nosey Parker

Pinned on my desk is a Dali painting which repeats the image of Venus di Milo against the background of a bullfight, littered with flies. There is something that draws me to this image again and again. I don’t know what it is … the myriad dots that create the a dreamy coastal inlet with the cliff face forming the decaying skull of a wounded bull; the lonely boy, holding a horn; the face of Venus, the woman who lost her arms because she didn’t brush her hair (according to my mum); the Spanish colonnades.

There is something magical about this image.

Maybe it is inspirational. Maybe it fulfils my subconscious desires.

I looked away from Dali’s image and watched Manic Miner delve into his nostril for ten minutes.

Maybe I’m just bored.

18 Jul 2003

Minority Report

Bernard has kitted out his office with the latest technological innovations: a plasma-screen television, an iMac that looks like a reading lamp (“I thought iMac was something to remove hair” said Tony) and all the state of the art office gizmos.

He does not know how any of them work. When it comes to technology, he has the best intentions, but ultimately has not got a clue. He thinks that if he says things like “has it got a modem?” or “is it year two thousand compatible?” people will not be able to see through him.

He called us into a meeting today and used his electronic pen and tablet for the first time. He has taken to heart a recent ‘GREEN GOBLIN’ memo regarding the cost of flip chart paper to the forests. His consumption of flip chart paper will give Sting a heart attack if he ever found out.

The thing is, none of his flip charts make any sense. He spends a whole hour creating reams and reams of indecipherable nonsense.

This afternoon the plasma screen was aglow with a scrawl of arrows and circles with words like “People”, “Culture” and “Desire” scribbled in really tiny writing.

There was a high-pitched squeal, almost like an orgasm, a women with a breathy, American voice said “It’s 16:55” over and over again.

“Ignore that … my mouse mat has an alarm fitted.” Bernard said impatiently.

Tony shouted out random words: “Best Practise in Practice”, “360 degree feedback”, and ‘Striving for Personal Bests’, so he could get kudos. Bernard was feverish in his replies: “Love it! Love it!”

Brenda honked in approval.

Bernard was in the throes of creating his ‘Pre-cog Contact Centre’ he dreamed up while watching Minority Report: “It is our killer concept. The next generation of call centre is born here. What is it? I don’t know. But its new and different to whatever came before.”

“It’s time to leave!” Called out the mouse mat.

16 Jul 2003

Another Bad Air Day

I spent most of the day consulting HR on how to handle the situation with Simon. The Call Centre has had its fingers burnt recently with a number of high-profile cases that have gone to a tribunal and subsequently the HR department are extremely cautious.

Wendy, my consultant, is ruthlessly efficient and, in between teaching old ladies the art of sucking eggs, she insists on EVERYTHING being documented in a ‘file note’. She can barely disguise her contempt for me. “Have you referred him to The Call Centre’s medical advisor?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Are there any underlying conditions that are causing him to behave in this way?”

“He farted. A customer heard him fart. What are you trying to say?”

“Well. Have you explored with Simon whether or not he has any medical history that can explain his actions.”

“He reacted badly to a donner kebab. I think you are missing the point. He farted. He used the word ‘arse’ which is inappropriate behaviour.” I was steadily losing the will to live.

“Well that may be seen as an acceptable idiom within the context of the call.” Wendy was matching my tone. “I think that you need to explore with Simon why he felt the need to react in this manner and if there are any mitigating circumstances.”

I gave up. “Sure. Fine. Whatever.”

“Oh.” She paused. “Don’t forget to document it.”

15 Jul 2003

Trouble Brewing

Here we go.

I knew that my recent run of good luck was due to end. It did today, during a call review. I have just about got to grips with the call monitoring software, so I decided to kill a couple of hours by listening to some calls.

I wish I’d kept Pandora’s box unopened.

I’ve had to work late, creating a file note and preparing for the inevitable backlash: I’m going to have to get personnel involved and everything. Talk about a bad air day.

Simon, the Craig David looky-likey, has finally pushed his limits too far by arguing with a customer about … farting. Unlikely as it may sound, he put an eloquent, perfectly reasoned, but inappropriate, apologia for cracking one out during a call about fence-posts.

Customer: “What was that?”

Simon: sniggers “Sorry sir, I was just blowing off… (noise off) TWIST, there I go again!”

Customer: “Well, there is no need for that.”

Simon: “Are you telling me you have never farted sir? It’s the most natural thing in the world. It is only like sneezing through your arse.”

14 Jul 2003

The Wheel of Fortune

It is that time of the year when I have to do appraisals for the team. It means a month of hard work and ‘documentation’. The Call Centre has developed a really complicated system of working out staff pay awards that is based on ability, behaviour, Performance, and retention (whether they want to keep you or not).

It doesn’t quite take a compass, calculator and protractor to work it out, but I think that they would help. I have a feeling that the whole thing is a series of smoke and mirrors to disguise the fact that it is next to impossible to get anything like a decent pay rise.

There is a big wheel made out of card that has different coloured portions with different headings like ‘Sales Focus’, ‘Team Contribution’ and ‘Customer Rapport’ and so on. You have a one to one session with your staff, push and pull the card, then write down the numbers that are totted up to work out your ‘Competency Value’.

It’s a bit like one of those cards on weight watchers used to calculate the ‘Points’ of food, except its ‘how much bread you can have on the table’ rather than the calorific value of bread.

The process would keep Stephen Hawking amused for hours, when he isn’t spinning his wheel in Stringfeellows that is!

12 Jul 2003

Yesterday Graham visited the office to see how the Dartantian campaign was coming along. I tried desperately to forget about his wig, but it seemed to be wonky, his fringe was at an angle.

“I have listened to some of the calls and I am unhappy. That bloke Simon, him with the woolly hat, he took an order for delivery to Standish. We don’t deliver to WIGan.”

My nostrils began to flare.

“That girl Susan, got an order completely wrong, so much so I had to step in after she had said HER PIECE and speak to the customer myself …”

I gasped a breath and held it.

“It was so sloppy – like she couldn’t give a FIG – she told the customer that there was nothing TO PAY … what’s the matter?”

I feigned choking and left the room immediately.

8 Jul 2003

Learn, you will

Had my first weekly session with Brenda today. She has promised to spend an hour each week as my Call Centre Yoda: analysing my team, establishing the weak points, the strengths (she suggested building Barney’s profile) and concentrating on my development.

She is having similar meetings with Tony and Janice. I asked them for advice for avoiding the Tuna-breath problem, “Make sure that you’re in a room with a table, make sure it is between you, and take in a packet of mint imperials.” Tony suggested.

The session started well. I wanted to express how unhappy I was with how she had spoken to the team. I suggested that it was not appropriate to talk down the Team Managers in front of the team in the way she did as it could potentially undermine the team’s confidence in my ability.

She was clearly shaken by my new found assertiveness and was not sure what to say in response. She sighed and I caught a waft of her lunch (Hummus and fresh garlic, followed by cheese and onion lites).

I reached for my mints. They were those paper thin, translucent, blue things that blast a fresh taste through your mouth like a dose of toilet duck.

I slipped one on my tongue, “Would you like to try one of these?” I discreetly offered her the packet.

“No thanks. I don’t like them. They’re horrible.” Honk. Honk.

In my haste, I had accidentally put five layers of them in my mouth. I began to leak from every orifice as the minty freshness melted the inside of my head.

“Look at you.” Brenda said, “I’d put up with bad breath if I was you.”

Honk! Honk!

7 Jul 2003

Hi-yo Silver, Away!

“How.” Thrush greeted me with his palm.

I still had paint on my face from yesterday so it prompted him to make comments about wigwams, tomahawks and Mini Ha Ha, all day.

Brenda joined in with a barking laugh.

Honk! Honk!

Still things are looking up. The calls have been coming through 2 Fast 2 Furious, as they say in the movies, and we are way ahead of schedule.

I was horrified when Simon, the Craig David looky likey, was saying “do you want some hardcore,” to a customer. Apparently it’s one of the products that Dartanian sell.

Barney has devised a celebration dance every time there is a sale. He does a big high five, while all the team shout out “All for one and ONE for all!”

They did it once.

Barney did it on his own a couple of times.

By lunchtime it was forgotten.

6 Jul 2003

Bob a Job

It’s been a working weekend.

I turned up early at Dartanian’s warehouse, ready for my assignment. I was kitted out with a boiler-suit-type-overall, which was bright red and had a photo printed on the back of Graham, the manager, dressed up as the laughing cavalier. I put it on and felt immediately dumbed down; they would even make Jean Paul Sartre feel like a Hill-Billy hick.

I was assigned to Mr Pigeon, who wanted his fence repaired and painted. It didn’t help that he was almost completely deaf. He was so bad, he made Joan off my team, seem like Jamie Summers: “I’ve come to paint your fence.”

“No I haven’t taken offence, what do you want?”

And so on.

I got more on my face than on the fence (there's some in between my toes – how did it get there?), but spending that thinking-time on my own, without interruption, made me realise that THIS is what life is all about.

Giving something back.

Helping the elderly. Enriching the lives of others in a meaningful way.

Sod the Call Centre – this is me – I am a giver. The voice of Mr Pigeon broke my reverie.

“Oi. Yer stupid bugger. You’ve got paint all over my carnations.”

Suffer, elderly blokes and come unto me.

3 Jul 2003

Post to Post

I have enlisted Barney as a 'coordinator' for the team during this campaign: “I’m going to enjoy sitting on your right-hand,” he said.

He is good at his job and has respect from most of the team, with the exception of Thrush, who thinks he can do everyone’s job better.

I got a phone call. It was Graham, the manager of the garden centre, ringing to confirm that everything was ready for the weekend. I naturally thought that he meant the sales campaign (he has distributed over five hundred thousand flyers in the local area with our number on.)

He wasn’t. Apparently, when he met me the other day I had agreed to join his ‘Fences for Owd Folk’ charity scheme. I have volunteered to build a fence for a local old bloke.

Call Centre Tony was in hoots when I told him: “Brace yourself Charlie Dimmock – support is finally at hand.”

Serves me right for concentrating on Graham’s syrup.

2 Jul 2003

Vision On

“… in short; the reason why your performance is so poor, compared with Glasgow, is that you have not had the benefit of first class leadership from first class Team Managers. You will notice a difference. I promise that you will see improvements. I believe in working hard and playing hard: I maybe a ball-breaker in the office but as soon as I am out of here, I’m at home with a needlework kit and a good class of chardonnay.

I know your team can do better. I ask you to knuckle down, get on board, or you will be left behind. Don’t worry – I know that you are good people – I won’t let you be patronised by your Team Managers …” Brenda paused. I think she was expecting applause or something from the team, as they looked on, slightly nonplussed. I don’t think they knew how to respond to her fervent enthusiasm.

How was I supposed to follow that?

I passed round the Tesco jam donuts (they had gone slightly hard) and put my hands together: “RIGHT!”

“A bit of fun, in preparation for the forthcoming Dartanian campaign, Barney has prepared a quiz on celebrity gardeners.”

1 Jul 2003

Sitting on the Fence

The team have been in a state of barely restrained euphoria all day at the thought of team meeting. I have been putting together ‘agenda items’ in spare moments.

Also, Graham the manager of the fence and garden suppliers came in today. He is a heavily tanned, tall guy, with a possible wig.

Look at the evidence:

1) His fringe has no apparent connection to his scalp.
2) His hair above the collar is white, yet the hair on his head is a chestnut brown.
3) There is a label sticking out (Dry Clean only).

I made up the last one.

During the meeting we held with him, my fascination with his syrup distracted me somewhat. He was telling me all about the virtues of feathercrete compared with concrete posts and how his, smaller operation, was far better than “the big boys” such as B&Q and Focus, as he builds fences on site, reducing the movement that the panels have to endure.

I’d ordered a plate of biscuits; he managed to polish off the borbourn creams.

I said yes in all the right places, and pretended to listen to anecdotes about his rags to riches life story. I was too distracted by his syrup to be really interested.

I have a good feeling about this campaign.