31 Mar 2004


The team are wearing me down with their complaints about the evening team sharing their desks.

Every piece of evidence of someone being there is treated like it’s a ripe turd. “There’s a sweet wrapper on the floor under my desk and I’m not picking it up.” Tizzy said.

“I keep being interfered with.” Brian said. “This screen is burning through my retina.”

I too have started to feel soiled. It’s similar to that feeling you get when you are riding on a bus. The ‘Goldilocks Effect’ is affecting me.

I have not met the Team Manager who sits at my desk in the evening. Our paths have not yet crossed, but she has taken down my picture of Dannii Minogue eating a packet of crisps and the laminated, life-affirming statements provided by Brenda.

The cheek!

She’s also sent a welcome message to me via e-mail and offered to have a meeting to discuss ‘ground rules’.

Rule number one: Hands off Dannii.

30 Mar 2004


Order has been more or less restored. The phone-lines are almost fully operational.

Thankfully, the nation’s supply lines of ‘non-slip’ Shower Slippers have been reopened.

Worse luck. The customers have been in a fighting mood following their day off:

“It’s cheap. It’s nasty. I don’t know how you have the nerve to sell such shoddy workmanship.”

I resisted the urge to reply with the commonsense response: “What did you really expect when you ordered the ‘Fifties Style Television’ (with space for a DVD player and VCR?”


29 Mar 2004


A fire raging underground in Manchester has caused the end of the world, as we know it. The fire has destroyed thousands of telecom cables and it has resulted in a reduction of inbound calls and stopped outbound altogether.

Janice co-ordinated ‘filing’ activities while Bernard called a crisis meeting in his office. He had three flip charts at the ready so we could form our contingency plans. On one it said “Maximise” and on another it said “Minimise” on the other it had a list of numbers.

“Thank you for coming to this meeting. You are the task force that is going to see us through this crisis today and beyond.” Bernard was solemn as he addressed us. “We need to MAXIMISE our opportunities while we MINIMISE the risk to our business.”

“What do the numbers mean?” Call Centre Tony asked.

“Ignore them. They are the drinks order from an earlier meeting.” Bernard ripped off the offending sheet and circled Maximise and Minimise. “We don’t have many calls coming in and we have none going out. You’ve got to ask yourself ‘what would Edward de Bono do in a situation like this?’”

“Get carrier-pigeons on the job.” Tony quipped.

Bernard rushed to the flip chart. “I love it. It’s thinking like that what’ll save us.”

Armageddon outta here.

27 Mar 2004

What a Wonka

I casually visited Bernard’s office with my golden ticket.

“I’m glad you’re here. I have a few bits for you to pick up.” Bernard swung his chair as he spoke and consulted a piece of paper covered in scrawl.

“I’ve been invited to a seminar next week.” I said.

“Yes I know. You all have. I’m speaking at it.” He grinned. “Power. Drive. Motivation.”

I paused. I thought he was just shouting out random words, but he seemed to be waiting for a response. “Well. What do you think? That’s my title. I want it to be all singing all dancing and show these guys that we mean business when it comes to communication solutions.”

Random words again. I nodded.

The evening of drinking until I was unconscious flashed before my eyes. “When are you on Bernard?”

“Second day. Bright and early because I want you to be on our exhibition stand.”

I’ll call Stella A. and Jack D. to tell them that the night’s off.

25 Mar 2004

Squares that Look Round

I have a golden ticket.

It arrived today in the internal post.

It was in a proper envelope too; not one of those scruffy looking ones with all the crossings out and a warning not to seal with sticky tape underneath a layer of sticky tape. It was a crisp and clean envelope with a printed label.

I have been invited to a two day seminar titled “Bigger Than Its Sum” to launch the merger of The Catalogue That Cannot be named with The Door To Door Catalogue that cannot be named. I’ve got two days out of the office next week while I listen about the “Dawn of a New Era of Mail Order Sales.”

Sure, it will be bum-numbingly boring and I’ll need to exchange small talk about the Call Centre (“Yes. It can be quite monotonous on the front-line, but I like to think we create a stimulating atmosphere and a creative culture.” Yeah – right.) But I intend to get extremely drunk on free booze and miss the second day.

There’s a Q&A session with the ‘Key Players’ too. I spent most of the day trying to compose a suitable question. Suggestions welcome.

24 Mar 2004


Hot-desking creates the ‘Goldilocks Effect’.

“Look at this. Look. Look.” Thrush was shaking his head from side to side. “This is no way to run the business.”

He was pointing at a small tower of plastic cups.

He did a stage-grimace as he picked them up. “Oh no. Oh no. There are still dregs in the bottom. I’m not paid for this!”

The Night Breed, the evening team, had left their mark.

“Ugh.” John Doe said as he sat down. “I hate sitting at a chair warmed by someone else’s arse.”

They had left hours ago. I doubt that the chair would still have a bum-glow, but I didn’t say anything.

My team were collectively scowling in disgust. Everyone had a complaint: Tizzy’s chair-height had been adjusted; Brian’s glare screen had gone missing and someone had left the top off his highlighter pens.

Ken Loach, if you are reading this, please advise me on how Marxism can work in these conditions.

23 Mar 2004

The Night Breed

Fido has moved on to the team and he has already caused upset. He tactlessly suggested that Tizzy would benefit from going on the Atkins: “You can eat like a heifer without looking like one.”

I think I managed to smooth it out, and avoided the inevitable dash to cry in the Ladies, but Thrush didn’t help by joining in with, “Oh yes. She likes her food.”

I managed to hold on to a fragile peace until closing time when The Night Breed descended. I’d forgotten that the new evening temps were moving into our area today. My team were unprepared and were horrified when they moved in; especially when they stood over them while they packed away their headsets.

They were un-nerving, with celery-complexion and dark rims under their eyes.

Evening temps are usually a collection of social misfits who sleep and smoke home-grown skunk all day prior to interrupting customers watching Coronation Street with an indecipherable drawl, “Congratulations you have been selected …”

"Ok. Quickly pack up and leave. The evening team need your desks.” I stood, clapping my hands together like a knob.

In unison, the team looked back at me with ‘that look’; that look that Tony Blair must get from John Prescott every day; that look that says “you are selling us out again sucker.”

22 Mar 2004

Gnome that Tune

A box full of the new ‘The Catalogue That Cannot Be Named’ arrived this morning. The company is feeling buoyant following the recent acquisition of a Door To Door Catalogue That Cannot Be Named (this is going to get confusing!). This confidence is evident in the summer catalogue and its supplements.

Page thirty:

“Go Away” Gnome Family. A family of collectable friends has joined our ever-popular cat shooing Gnome. These Gnomes have special eyes that deter cats from fouling your garden in a perfectly harmless way. They are an attractive addition to any patio or lawn and a pleasant alternative to throwing a bucket of water!

The accompanying picture shows a group of gnomes in various costumes looking like “Snow White Meets the Village People”.

Cats up and down Britain must be shitting themselves.

21 Mar 2004

You are now in a cue …

Irritation developed into a rage today.

I was in work on over-time, using the opportunity of the relative quiet to have a think about the changes to the seating plan. One of my highlighter pens started to run dry from over-work, so I went on a search for a replacement.

I rooted around in the drawers in the area and found all sorts of rubbish. I found that important document from a couple of weeks ago. The post-it was still on it saying ‘Important’, so I highlighted it in pink and put it back in my drawer to make sure I deal with it tomorrow.

There was also a sheet of paper with the heading “Car Spotting Snooker Tournament. Spring 2004.”

“Tizzy, what’s this?” I asked.

“Oh, it’s Brian and John, they have been running a competition for the past few weeks. I don’t know how it works, but it something to do with scoring points based on the colour of passing cars.” She said.

That’s why they ‘needed’ a window seat.

A taxi went past. Pot black.

18 Mar 2004

Homage to Catalogue-ia

Brian has managed to secure his prime piece of real estate with a combination of concealed threats and appealing to my sense of “I-can’t-be arsed”. He has well and truly claimed squatter’s rights by sticking the words “Brian’s Chair – do not move or else!!!!!” on the back using the label machine and lots and lots of sticky tape.

An evening team needs to use the desks. We’ll be sharing. I don’t know how to approach this with the team, given they nearly staged a walk out when I suggested a bit of a move around.

‘Hot Desking’ brings out the worst in the most placid people at the best of times.
I considered playing a video of LAND AND FREEDOM, by Ken Loach, with its twenty-minute debate on the nature of collectivism during the Spanish revolution.

I've changed my mind. Collectivism may make them more willing to lend their chairs but it isn’t going to help my stats if they all hop on the next bus to Spain.

17 Mar 2004

Itchy and Scratchy

Thrush has amazing powers of annoyance. People ask what actually makes him such an irritating cunt and I struggle to respond. It’s an x-factor; I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it.

I overhear him saying things that I am willing to let go. For example, he sometimes uses some strange turns-of-phrase when speaking to customers that often leaves them puzzled: “Well, I’ll deal with that before you get the jungle-drums drumming.”


I made the mistake of trying to tackle him today. He was referring to “a missive from the computer”.

“It doesn’t sound good John. It makes us appear faceless and dehumanised.” I said.

“We are.”

He had a point, but I continued to press on. “I don’t think it helps a customer’s situation when the only comfort you can offer is ‘it was the computer wot done it’” I had a slightly condescending tone in my voice.

He snorted though his nose. Smiled. “It was the computer ‘wot did it’” He used his fingers to create inverted commas.

It was Nietzsche, I think, who said that if you stare at the abyss long enough it starts to stare back at you.

I walked away.

16 Mar 2004

Call in Noah

The floodgates have opened. Word has got around the team that I have given in to Brian, and let him stay in his window seat. It has caused a diplomatic situation that has rumbled on all day.

I only wanted to get Thrush out of earshot, and to make room for Fido, who is joining my team next week (along with his meat products).

A delegation from the ‘left bank’ of desks, led by Moomin Papa, asked to speak to me this afternoon. He presented a petition and waffled on about how it will affect the “team spirit” and that desk security was important to them.

I doubt that Martin Luther King could have generated so much passion over the location of a footrest.

Eventually I relented and agreed to reconsider the options.

I’ve spent three hours colouring in that plan. This is the thanks I get.

15 Mar 2004

When the music stops …

On the face of it, I thought I’d made a fairly innocent statement. In the team focus session today I said, “I’ve been thinking about having a swap round. Moving the team around a little bit.”

I’d spent ages drawing a diagram of the new seating plan and colouring it in with hightlighter pens (all those years in primary school education were not wasted after all). I held the plan in the air like Neville Chamberlin.

The team looked at me with a combination of horro and disapointment; as if I’d suggested that we ritualistically stuck cocktail sticks in our eyes and run around the office naked.

After the session ended they drifted back to their desks. Thrush lovingly stroked the veneer of his desk before looking longingly at his screen, as if to say, “good bye old buddy.”

Brian was the first to lobby me. “I need a window seat.” He tapped his baldhead nervously. “Don’t forget I need it as a ‘reasonable adjustment’ to stop me going off sick.”

“Are you threatening to go off sick if you don’t get a window seat Brian?” I asked.

“No. No.” He gave a capped-tooth, crocodile smile, and said, “The draft from the window helps my feet.”

You can’t argue with this level of logic.

13 Mar 2004

Louis Cypher

It was my six month appraisal on Friday. Bernard has got a new suit and it distracted me during the meeting because it makes him look like a member of Showaddywaddy who has taken up undertaking.

Brenda, the office manager and my self-appointed life coach, was a silent presence at the meeting.

Usually Bernard ignores the standard format of appraisals, as determined by human resources, by following his own train of thought no matter how off the wall, but I think the powers that be have reached him and insisted that he follows the standard agenda. This time he has agreed to play by the rules, after a fashion, and he referred to the ‘Competency Wheel’.

The wheel is designed to invite discussion and a mutual exploration of your skills and knowledge, but Bernard has not quite grasped the concept of ‘dialogue’ and ended each statement with a demand to “prove it”.

I did my best to fend off his questions in the hope that he was ready to give me my button and make me a ‘made’ manager. Sure, I have given up putting in any effort over the past couple of months, but I hoped that I had done enough to get some recognition from the big Boss.

“I liked your memo about the toner cartridges and you have made a contribution to the sales stream.” He paused and grasped his chin. “But I’m not convinced.”

I knew what was coming.

“You need to play the game more. I think you need to work on the two Ps: Politics and profile. You need to lighten up more. Think less. Do more. Do you really want to be the a Call Centre Team Manager?”


“Yes of course I do.” I said.

I handed my soul to him on a platter.

10 Mar 2004

Belle de Jour part deux (The Diary of a Call Centre Girl)

Today I had a special treat. The keyboard cleaners were in, dusting the detritus of slowly eroding Call Centre workers from the nooks and crannies in the office.

I love the keyboard girl.

I love the curl that kisses her forehead.

I love her china-white, translucent skin.

I love the way she coyly looks at me as though I am a lecherous fat biffer.

You understand that my appreciation of her beauty is intended in an enlightened and non-threatening manner.

I caught her brown eyes today and politely asked her to visit my desk.

Me: “My ball keeps sticking.”

She: “I’ll sort it out for you.”

She silently popped out the ball of my mouse and digitally explored the rim prior to extracting a tiny clump of fluff.

Is there anything this girl can’t do?

9 Mar 2004

Copy Cat

I am a little unfair when I talk about Nigel, aka Sooty, as I paint him as ineffectual, weak and boring, but he does have a special talent.

At lunchtime yesterday I decided to pass on my daily constitutional with Call Centre Tony and decide to visit Office World to buy some stationery. It’s one of those cavernous warehouses stashed, floor to ceiling, with stationery. For someone like me, who is obsessive about stationery, walking down the aisles can induce an organismistic orgasm.

I was on the hunt for a file to present my six-month report to Bernard. I selected one of those robust plastic files that look like they should be used to store radioactive material in rather than my shabby efforts to get a pay rise.

When I got back I decided to copy the report. The Call Centre has invested in a new photocopier that doesn’t look like a photocopier. It is more like R2 D2.

It’s the state of the art. It’s so good that when I fed the report into one end, it came out of the other side a crumpled, origami sculpture.

“Shit!” I exclaimed as it mangled the third sheet of my report.

Nigel calmly approached. Without saying a word he calmly took over. In no time it was colour copied, double-sided and perfectly collated; complete with a copy to give to my mum.

Nigel is a ‘Copier Whisperer’.

8 Mar 2004

The Time Bandits

Nigel was getting excited today. He tried to talk tough to corral us into action. The ‘Time Management Spreadsheet’ needed to be handed in early Friday. Only Janice met the deadline.

“Bernard is not going to be happy and the happiness of Bernardo is what makes us happy Pippin.” He said in his sternest, most whimsical voice, to stir me into action.

He might have done too if he hadn’t insisted on referring to me as ‘Pippin’.

I hurriedly made up some nonsense and submitted it to him.

I consider myself to be someone of integrity and honesty, yet I was willing to lie in this ‘Time Management Spreadsheet’ to a level that would have made Jeffery Archer proud.

Where I went to the coffee machine, I ticked the box that said ‘Team Coaching’.

Where I went for a George the Third, I ticked the box that said ‘HR Matters’.

I asked Tony if he had filled his in honestly, “You could say that it is ‘semi-auto-biographical’.”

It keeps Bernardo happy.

7 Mar 2004

Pay Back

There’s a theme emerging from the appraisals. Moomin does not want to be here and neither does Barney, but indifferent ways. It’s a combination of “seeing out my life” and “seeking to better my life”. I suppose I should be emboldened by the ambition that is apparent on my team.

Instead, I feel self-pity because I think of all the times that I have shared their ambition. It is coming up to my birthday and the twelfth anniversary of working at the Call Centre and I still can’t shake off the disappointment with my life.

Nevertheless, I have spent some time preparing for my pay appraisal with Bernard. Normally I’d wing it but this time I want to be ready with a quick remark or examples to support my claim for more pay.

Last time it was disastrous, I can still hear his voice; Earnest, precise and cutting: “You may think that you are better than this. You may think that “there must be more to life than this”. If I thought that you had the drive and ability, I would say that you are wasted in the Call Centre. But, you haven’t, so get over it. You’ve got a job. Life ain’t that bad.”

I have a file full of memos, reports and papers that I have been involved with over the past 6 months.

I intend to prove that I deserve some reward for biting my lip and “playing the game” over the past 6 months. There may well be more to life than this, but for now, it’s the best I’ve got and I've the paperwork to prove it.

Cynical? Moi?

3 Mar 2004

Teddy Ruxpin on Acid

Tizzy phoned in sick today. She has developed an allergy to the stick insects that she adopted: “I’ve had to take Kerry and Jordan back to the shop because I’ve come out in lumps.”

There’s no answer to that.

During the last appraisals, in August, I indulged in one of my addictions so I could get through them: fizzy sweets in the shape of a dummy. I have managed to resist the temptation this time. Instead, I have still got a job lot of duty-free sweets I bought from the airport (you know the ones, they have different fruits pictured on the wrapper, but they all taste the same) but I haven’t touched them. I’m quite proud of myself.

I’ve almost finished the appraisals. Thrush and Moomin are out of the way for another 6 months.

Barney, The Big Gay Bear, makes it nice and easy by agreeing with everything I say. He has worked hard on the team and he deserves to be rewarded for sitting on my right hand and supporting me through 2003.

Once we got the sordid business of his appraisal out of the way, he started to tell me about his latest money-spinner. He is making screen printed t-shirts featuring teddy bears dressed as gay icons in an Andy Warhol style. “You should see my version of Winnie the Pooh meets Judy Garland – it’s to die for – and it’s selling like hot cakes.”

Finally, a cottage industry he can’t get arrested for …

2 Mar 2004

Sofa so good

Moomin Papa stares at me with wild eyes during his appraisal. He obviously does not like me and everything, to his very marrow, exudes his dislike of Team Managers and everything they stand for … which isn’t very much.

Everyone says he’s a Morman, but the subject of religion never comes up in his pay appraisals, as I try and keep it to wrap-time, orders per hour and fiddle with the competency wheel for a bit.

He used to be a bank manager who was made redundant. He is now working for ‘pin money’ and to see his four daughters through college: “I want to keep them in beer and tampax for the next five years.”

Silence. I didn’t know what to say.

“In life, you realise that you amount to nothing.” He said. “You might be some big shot manager at the moment but you’re expendable. If you had your hand in a bucket of water and took it away, there would be no difference …”

“That’s interesting. Can we keep it to the subject in hand … your call to order ratio.”

He ducked it again with some comment about him being a ‘chair leg’ propping up the wannabes.

“John, you’re not a chair.” I paused. “You’re more of a stool.”

1 Mar 2004

The Mask

I need to get through the team’s appraisals this week. This is the most important point of the year for some of my team. They take it too seriously. Once, Moomin brought in a Dictaphone to make sure that the meeting was captured on tape. I’m not sure that it would be admissible in court, but it seemed to make him happy.

I started off easy and did the members of the team that are easy. John Doe is anal, but I quite like him. He has been cock-a-hoop since I came back from Cyprus with a rubber mask of Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos. He has been collecting rubber masks of world leaders since he saw POINT BREAK.

On the other hand, Thrush is really difficult. He makes everything so hard because even when he is agreeing with what I say he snorts through his nose in disapproval.

The ‘Performance Wheel’ has been discovered in the corner of the top drawer. I’ve dusted it off and I have set the coordinates for self-destruct.