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


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


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


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.


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.”