29 Mar 2003

Call yourself a salesman you sonofabitch!

My boss, Bernard, is boarder-line psychotic. Seriously. He is insane. His enthusiasm and passion and drive and belief in the company have driven him to the edge and he is about to go over.

If anyone has an idea, no matter how stupid, he goes for it: “I love it! Do it!”

Our area needs to increase sales so The Company has come up with a new “Opening Doors” initiative for new customers. Right away Bernard has a flurry of ideas: “I want forty doors from B&Q – let’s bring this alive – we’ll have a knock-knock competition for advisors; we’ll need a door-bell for every team, when there is a sale we’ll ring them in harmony; we need THE GREEN DOOR piped through the office and on the hold message …”

All of his efforts go over everyone’s head and never increase sales.

Nevertheless, we got some great new Knock Knock jokes. (Knock Knock. Who’s there? Biggish. Bigish who. No thanks mate. – Big Issue – geddit?)

The B&Q doors have been impounded by the health and safety officer.

28 Mar 2003

Friendly Fire

“That could have taken my eye out.” John Doe was brought down to his knees in a hail of rubber bands fired from the team next to ours.

He has been doing impressions of George Bush in the style of Clint Eastwood/ John Wayne: “Saddam, you got 48 hours to gedoutta town. My mule here, he doesn’t geddit …”

He rolls his stubby pencil across his lips, a la “The Man with no Name” from the Leone Westerns.

It was funny at first, but now it has begun to irk our neighbours.

He was clearly upset by the attack, however I was too busy thinking: “I wonder if anyone has ACTUALLY lost an eye due to a rubber band being flicked at them?”

I’m back on toilet duty tomorrow.

27 Mar 2003

Piss Stones

I’m on toilet patrol today.

I once had a boss who was an American and wore a yellow-grey wig. He used to unnerve me – not because of his wig (although if you have a choice of hair, why would anyone go for a parchment rug?) – he used to be in the toilet whenever I was in there.

I put this down to one of the following:

1) He was always in there, hiding from the other bosses,

2) Our bladders were coordinated by some amazing synchronisation,

3) He was soliciting me,

It turned out that he had a prostrate problem and left a year later on poor health. Following this experience, I never spent too long in the toilets.

Since I have been hanging around the loos watching out for the phantom flusher, I’ve noticed that the same people come in here for refuge.

One guy was in here for an hour. He went in the trap with a holdall, probably filled with lunch and reading material, and he had a Walkman. A Walkman. I could hear the “ching, ching, ching” of pop interspersed with “plops”.

I hope we catch the bog washer soon. I can’t take much more of this …

23 Mar 2003

Bog Wash

Bernard, the boss, called all of the Team Managers into his office today. He looked serious.

Redundancies had been threatened recently as there were rumours that The Call Centre was moving to India.

We expected the worse.

“Thank you for coming here so promptly. This is a serious matter and I needed to speak to you all personally before I take it further. There is a vandal in our midst.”

We looked at each other.

“Someone is stuffing toilet paper down the u bend of the toilets. Forcing it down with the brush. Then they are flushing, causing damage to the floor, the brush and the plumbing. Stop it. Stop sniggering and grow up.”

We looked at the ground.

“I want a ‘Toilet Duty’ rota drawn up and I want you to follow your staff into the toilets so we can catch the culprit.”

We looked bemused.

22 Mar 2003

Shock and Awe

There is nothing better than war or a soap crisis to get people talking at work. There has been something of a ‘Call Room Blitz’ of opinion on my team today. The cross-section of world opinion is represented on my team, from the sublime to the downright stupid.

Barney has been unhappy since they replaced BARGIN HUNT with analysis of the war on Day Time TV.

Joan keeps shouting: “Doesn’t Tony Blair look haggard.”

John Two has been banging on for weeks about his bunker that he has set up in his garage: rows and rows of baked beans and pot noodles along with gallons of fresh water are stocked amongst his Castrol GTX. Now that The Home Office has recommended that everyone buy a torch and a spare blanket in case of terrorist attacks, he feels that he has been completely vindicated.

Since a friend of mine pointed out that Sadam Hussian is the first military dictator in history to forsake a general’s uniform for a V-neck sweater, I have not been able to take him seriously. When he appeared on TV the other night, with a pair of Harry Cross (from Brookside) glasses, I have come to realise that his threat to the world is only slight.

Like I said. My team is the hothouse of debate. I still preferred the stuff about the serial killer on Coronation Street, some how it seemed more real.

19 Mar 2003


We have been put on high alert due to the possibility of war.

Short of being issued with gas masks, I don’t think that The Call Centre managers can do anything else to make us more ready; more ready to face Sadam and his minions; more ready to face the paranoia of Tizzy and her ilk.

I had to show the team the Bomb Threat video today. Although it is not as amusing as the Fish video, it is one of the most unintentionally funny videos in the library. It is poorly acted and on dodgy ground because the actor who plays the bomber has an Irish accent. No doubt it will be updated to be more politically correct and feature a Greenpeace campaigner such as Swampy. However, it is more likely to have a fella with a tea towel on his head to represent Osma Bin Laden.

Barney, the big gay bear, who is on my team, was in hoots of laughter when the video suggested: “Ask the bomber why is he/ she doing it.”

“As if you are going to have a protracted discussion about the whys and where fors of international terrorism while everyone else rushes for the exits!”

He had a point.

Later, Tizzy was upset because someone phoned in claiming to be President Gadafi, he said that Tom Jones was his body double and the world was about to end.

I let her go home.

16 Mar 2003


Tizzy came into work with a broken tooth today. Everyone noticed, but we pretended that we didn’t. Call Centre Tony suggested that she could chew polo mints without breaking them.

Later in the day she got upset about it and I had to call her to one side.

“My boyfriend did it.” She sobbed.

A bitter taste filled my mouth when I realised that we had been ridiculing her pain. I also realised that the floodgates were about to open and I was not sure I could cope- domestic violence and a trip to the refuge – and I had some vital filing to do this afternoon.

Nevertheless, I switched to EMPATHY: “I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”

“Well he bought me some Thorton’s special toffee, and he KNOWS that my cap always comes off when I eat it.”

13 Mar 2003


There are several Call Centre legends. The latest concerns a Team Manager who posted an on-line poll on the Intranet. The poll concerned The Call Centre’s senior manager Cathy Gilroy and was something like: “Cathy Gilroy, does she: Spit; swallow; not go in for that kind of thing.”

Word spread around in minutes. The poll was removed and he was called into the office.

“I am afraid we are going to have to suspend you with immediate effect,” Bernard, the boss said.

“I was hoping you would say that,” he replied, “there is a double bill of Kilroy I want to watch this morning.”

Honest. That’s the legend.

By the way, the results were as follows: 55% spit, 20% swallow, and 25% does not go there.

11 Mar 2003


Following ‘the trunks’ incident, internet access has been very restricted in The Call Centre. That said, everyone is playing Celebdaq (http://www.bbc.co.uk/celebdaq/) the on line Celebrity stock market where a celebrity’s value rises and falls according to the column inches in the daily papers.

I love Celebdaq, only because I can say, “I have dumped Danni Minogue because she kept going down on me,” and mean it.

Call Centre Tony and I have developed an alternative game for The Call Centre, its called Wankerdaq: share prices rise and fall depending upon how often someone has irritated you today.

For example: John One (Thrush) is at 2.34 a share (+4) because he has been a right royal pain in the arse since he had the best call performance figures last month.

Bernard (the boss) is at 18.00 (+4) because he wants to bring back the fish theme.

I am still developing my portfolio.

10 Mar 2003

Comic Relief

Red nose day looms.

No doubt I will be drawn into the annual enforced fun that hits the office every year. Somebody will bungee jump off the side of the building; someone will shave their head; some freak will be trying to crack jokes while the rest of us will be working to hold the business together.

I read today that a woman was photographed with her bare feet in a bowl of beans. A guy said that it was for the benefit of comic relief. It was only later, when she worked through the logic of the request – he didn’t ask for any money - that she realised that he was after another kind of ‘relief’.

It reminds me of a time when a guy in accounts was caught down–loading pictures of men in trunks. There was some debate on whether or not it constituted a breach of the ‘Internet Policy’ as there was some ambiguity surrounding his motives. While many had him down as a screaming queen, he insisted that he was merely checking out the latest cut of speedos ready for his holiday in Grand Canaria.

They got him on a double-entry technicality, but it serves to illustrate the ambiguity of some sexual practices. Why does it need to be so complicated for some people? Women standing in a bowl of beans; for god sake!

8 Mar 2003

Sing when you are winning …

Today I read in the paper that the prisons in Russia are running a nationwide competition. It is a song contest with a difference: the winner gets freedom; the runner up gets a HiFi.

I have been singing “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” all day in the hope that the Call Centre managers would catch on to the idea.

Thrush kept saying, “some body is in a good mood” over and over again.

6 Mar 2003

Meet the Team (Part 2)

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.
Meet My Team (Part One)

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, hairy blokes with silver hair and he 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.

4 Mar 2003


My favourite part of the day is the ‘Fit to Fly’ or ‘Buzz Sessions’. This is the time when everyone on the team gets off the phones and get together for quarter of an hour and ‘get motivated’. Of course many managers miss the point and attempt to fill this time with ‘worthy’ attempts to communicate to their staff: new campaigns, the problem with the toilet blockages and postal problems in Morecambe.

Most managers who use these sessions for this purpose have usually never been on the phones themselves, because everyone knows that these sessions and meetings are all about ‘slacking’. All time away from speaking to customers is time to be relished.

The best focus sessions involve the team staring into space while the Team Manager goes through as much flip chart paper as possible. Fuck the postal problems in Morecambe.

3 Mar 2003

My Guru of Laziness

No matter what I do in life; no matter how good my intentions are when faced with a new job; no matter how often I have ‘come a cropper’: I always befriend someone who is going to distract me and get me into trouble.

As Wordsworth said, the child is father to the man, and at school I was always the bright kid who was easily distracted and ended up being a little John, rather than Robin Hood. I could have been somebody. I could have been a contender; instead, I have decided to arse about.

In the Call Centre, it has been no exception. For the first eight years I distracted everyone else. Now I have my own Guardian Angel of distraction: Tony.

In many ways Tony is the complete opposite to me. He is a family man who loves football passionately. I’m bookish and have no kids. What we have in common is a sense of mischief and a self-destructive streak.

What Tony has taught me is that good people make it look easy.

Laziness is truly the mother of invention. My most distracted years have been my most productive.

2 Mar 2003

Shock Jock

Every morning I listen to a radio phone-in programme. The presenter deals with consumer problems with aplomb: refunds for holidays from hell; advice on a last will and testament; and advice on boundary disputes with neighbours. He also deals with opinion, arguing the toss about the news of the day: hang ‘em high; send ‘em home; and skin 'em and salt 'em.

When I was an advisor on the phones every day, arguing with customers about charges, I used to get through the day by imagining myself as a phone-in host, fielding people’s problems and swatting them away with a timely bons mots.

My morning companion is scathing of Call Centres: “stop phoning and start writing” he insists. If only more people would take his word for it.

1 Mar 2003

Cods Wallop!

What’s the most influential cultural phenomena to emerge from Seattle in the past decade? Nirvana? Grunge? Wrong.

Anyone who has worked in a ‘progressive’ call centre will tell you that FISH!, a training video featuring the fishmongers of Pike Place market, is the most significant contribution made by smelly Seattle scruffs in the nineties.

I trust that this video will be watched in 15 years time in the same way that those ‘timeless’ John Cleese and James Bolum Video arts videos are rolled out at every training opportunity.

The fishmongers are a group of relentlessly cheerful dorks who have derived a way of dealing with the mundane nature of their work. They throw fish at each other. If you want a halibut (and why not), they’ll send it flying through the air while shouting something inane like “Going to Montana”.

They have become world famous for introducing ‘fun’ at work.

The whole video is designed so your trainer can say:

“Well what do you think? These guys work a 14-hour shift and permanently smell like a docker’s gusset and yet they love their job and customers. You lot work in a nice clean office with hot running water – stop being so fucking miserable and enjoy your work!”

We embraced their theories a little too readily. Bernard, the boss sent us out for a job lot of fishing items: a tank with goldfish and beanbag toy fish.

The goldfish reacted badly to the air conditioning and was dead in days. The beanbag angelfish was thrown when a sale was made. It worked well until it skimmed off Bernard’s head and he was scolded by a cup of coffee.