Archive for March, 2012

Sad Hair

Monday, March 26th, 2012

I washed my hair last night.

You might wonder why I bother to mention that, since I could wash each individual hair in less time than it has taken me to type this so far, but stick with me – there’s something coming to earn this story the “Weird Stuff I Noticed” tag. It took me a while to find the shampoo, since Purple Fred (Whom I Love Very Much) subscribes to the girlie philosophy of “You can’t have too many bottles of stuff in the bathroom” – added to which, we’ve got a lot of bottles of conditioner which we bought without reading the label carefully enough, in the mistaken belief it was shampoo.

So having found a bottle that I thought might be shampoo, I was reading the label carefully to make sure it was (it was), when I spotted, under the word “Shampoo”, the strapline “Ideal for hair that’s dry, appears damaged, or is just a bit unhappy”.

A bit unhappy? Why would hair – even the most badly treated hair – be a bit unhappy? It doesn’t have to work for a living, it doesn’t even have to wake up in the morning if it doesn’t want to – it certainly doesn’t have to get out of bed, more and more of mine stays on the pillow every day. And given how long it is since I last saw the main part of my hair, I think it’s probably sunning itself on a caribbean beach somewhere, from where it hasn’t even sent me a postcard.

And on that subject, by the time you read this, I suspect I’ll be living the high life on a management training course in Milton Keynes. Don’t be too jealous.

Information

Tuesday, March 20th, 2012

Last night’s journey home from work didn’t go as well as it might.

Now let me say at the outset that I’m not over-dramatising here – I know that for all that I was forty minutes late home, someone has died, and their family and friends, a train driver and all the witnesses had a much worse evening than I did. And I know that whem a tragedy happens on the rail line, trains have to be disrupted while certain things get done.

It’s the information I get annoyed about: People have complained that there wasn’t any information about what was going on, where really the reverse is true – there was too much information, on the platform boards, on the concourse displays, on the official South West Trains Twitter feed and on the website. All of it contradictory and all of it bearing no resemblance to what was actually happening.

I got to Waterloo to be told the Southampton train (or more precisely the Weymouth train, which goes through Southampton) was at platform fourteen – so I went there, to find a crowd waiting to board the train who’d been told it was going to Reading. It didn’t matter, the train was locked down with no crew anywhere in sight, so wherever it was meant to be going, it wasn’t going anywhere.

Then someone had a phone call from someone at home, who’d seen on the website that the previous Weymouth train, which should have already left, was still on platform seven, so we all scrummed down and beetled across to there. Well the train was still there right enough, but so full of people that you couldn’t have squeezed a chocolate swiss roll (or other confectionery of your choice) on board, never mind another person. They must have been taking it in turns to breathe on there, and I wasn’t getting involved with that.

So we charged back to the tunnel again, this time in response to a tannoy announcement that there was a Basingstoke train on platform nine, and that would at least get me partly home and there’s a better selection of trains from Basingstoke. And sure enough there was a train, and there was plenty of space – in fact it was only half full – because the guard had shut and locked the doors, and didn’t open them again before the train left five minutes later.

Then exactly the same thing happened with another Basingstoke train, this time from platform eleven after another dash through the tunnel between platforms.

Then there was a call for a train to Southampton from platform eight: I was one of the lucky ones who made it there before the doors were shut, and as the train pulled out we were told that this had been going to be the Southampton train, but for technical reasons it was going to terminate at Basingstoke, Arrrgh…still, at least I was moving in the right direction.

And then I got to Basingstoke, and after running between platforms one and four three times (because that was what the announcements led me to do, not for fun or anything), I got on a train home which wasn’t run by South West Trains, so went very smoothly.

The thing is, the only sensible explanation for all that confusion – and I use the word “sensible” loosely – is that the person deciding what information goes out to the waiting passengers isn’t the same person who decides which trains will go where – and they aren’t talking to each other. Not only that, but the Twitter feed, website and station information boards are all run by different people as well.

I’m not sure if this is most like Schroedinger or Einstein, but it seems the only way to really know where a train is going is to get on it and go there. I’m sure it didn’t ought to be like that.

Four Words

Friday, March 16th, 2012

I mentioned that I’d been reading Tom Reynolds’ book, along with my general preference to avoid blogging work-related stuff.

Something I can share with you – which I’m astonished Reynolds doesn’t mention – is the power of a simple four word phrase to irritate public sector workers.

Actually, there’s two of them – four word phrases, that is, not public sector workers, although I’m sure Call Me Dave has a target date by when that will also be true. The phrases are, “I know my rights” and “I pay your wages”: the first of those is obviously a Key Performance Indicator for every “English as a second language” school in London, as we frequently hear it from people who then insist we rustle up an interpreter (at fifty squid an hour, paid for by the taxpayer) as their English is too poor to explain their fantastically-complicated problem to us (and of course I’m already contravening their yoomin rights by not understanding their language). Nine times out of ten, the problem will turn out to be completely outside our remit, and all we can do is send them off to some other agency to repeat the process.

Actually, that’s often true of the fluent English speakers as well.

The second of those phrases (check back two paragraphs, just before the mini-rant) is most often heard, completely without irony, from people who’ve never done a day’s work, and therefore never paid a penny in income tax, in their lives.

There’s a third phrase, used by one particular frequent flyer, which is guaranteed to wind my mate Brian up no end: this guy prefaces each of his demands for sepcial treatment with “We the people insist…”. He’s never specified what marks him out as one of The People, and Brian as NOT one of The People, but whatever it is, he’s pretty fixated on it.

Whatever he – and spouters of the other wind-up magic words – mean by it, it seems to be symptomatic of a feeling that’s becoming pretty widespread, if my extensive research (the comments from the ranting idiots who respond to stories on the Echo website) are accurate: a feeling that the working population is divided into two groups: the private sector, with their Victorian working conditions, poor salaries, lack of job security and enforced flexibility of contract, and the public sector with their massive salaries, gold-plated pensions, total security of employment, early retirement, and contracts that tie down job descriptions to within an inch of their lives.

While I’d be the last to deny that private sector working conditions are pretty grim at the moment, things are no better for public servants. I’m paid significantly less than I could earn in the private sector (if there were any private sector jobs going in my speciality) and I haven’t had a pay rise for three years, in spite of increased responsibilities in that time. My team is two people down because of redundancies, and is picking up more work because of redundancies in teams around us. My pension looks pretty rosy, at least compared to the state pension, but only because I’ve contributed heavily to a private scheme for years. I get fairly decent amount of holiday – or at least I would, if I had time to take it. I’ll be carrying the maximum-permitted number of days over at the year end, because I haven’t had time to take them. I actually had to cancel a booked holiday so another member of my team could get married in half term week – his fiancee’s a teacher and couldn’t have time off anywhen else, and there isn’t enough flexibility to allow us both to be off at the same time, even though if you looked at our contracts you’d think there was no overlap in what we do.

Please understand I’m not telling you this to make you think I’m anything sepcial, quite the opposite: my working conditions are no different to ninety-nine percent of public sector workers.

I was employed – and technically still am – as a Health and Safety sepcialist, but an expectation of flexibility and a desire to stay employed means that I’m expected to do more and more little “odd jobs” on the side. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve –

  • Investigated a suspicious package which our mailroom team thought might be a hostile device. It turned out to be a broken washing machine part that one of our regular contributors thought we should see.
  • Scrambled around on my hands and knees making secure a broken security gate. I wouldn’t have been allowed to go home and leave it insecure.
  • Explained to a colleague that the reason he hasn’t got his new ID card yet is that he refused to supply a photograph, or to attend to have one taken.
  • Explained to another colleague that the reason it isn’t warm enough to sit in the office in shirtssleeves might be connected to the snow in the ground outside (his response was“it’s all right for you, you’ve got a pullover on”)
  • Spent 45 minutes trying to explain to a member of the public that turning up without an appointment, at five o’clock and without an apparent reason means he’s not going to get to see our Chief Executive. And that swearing at me and offering to sort me out outside doesn’t help his case. And for the record, he was wrong – I’ve seen my parents’ wedding photos.

All grist to the mill of the average public sector worker.

Book, and Other Thoughts

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

I’m currently reading More Blood, More Sweat and Another Cup of Tea by Tom Reynolds.

It’s the second volume of the book version of Reynolds’ blog, about his daily life as a paramedic with the London Ambulance Service. I haven’t read volume one, but volume two is available on Kindle whereas volume one isn’t. Go figure.

Anyway, it’s a pretty good read, in a lightweight, not too taxing on the brain kind of way. The chapters are bite-sized so it’s pretty easy to dip in and out, although it’s interesting enough that I keep thinking “One more chapter when really I should be going and doing something else.

It reminds me that before we were restructured I used to get a lot of face time with members of the public, and some of the issues they came to us with would have made pretty interesting bloggage. Unfortunately there was never any way to retain enough detail to keep the story interesting without breaching confidentiality – Reynolds doesn’t have that problem as he sees enough people with similar problems that individuals couldn’t identify themselves. Also, I try hard to anonymise my stories so that anyone who didn’t know where I work couldn’t work it out from these jottings, partly because my employer doesn’t want to be linked to the opinions I express here sometimes, but mainly because I don’t want the public I meet at work to be able to Google my name and the name of my employer, and get links telling them which town I live in, which train I get home and what my hobbies are – i.e. everything they could learn about me here.

So that’s why I continue to visit “little northern towns” and buy my lunch at Mungo’s. Meanwhile for those who meet me face to face, I’m sure I’ve still got plenty of tales you haven’t heard yet.

Belsize Park, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Tuna Fish

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

There was an interesting piece on the BBC news website the other day about new research into earworms.

These, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, are those annoying tunes that get stuck in your head and go round for ages. The research looked at what causes them to embed themselves, and what triggers them. It could be hearing a bit of the tune, of course, or a sight or smell, most commonly associated with the first time you heard the tune. On which subject, I have what might be called a reverse earworm – or maybe,
rather grossly, a noseworm – as every time I hear Crosby, Stills & Nash singing Marrakesh Express, I can smell microwave tuna pasta bake. Don’t ask.

My most common earworm trigger is the phrase “Belsize Park”, which always starts Marillion’s Kayleigh running in my head.

Do you remember, barefoot on the lawn with shooting stars
Do you remember, loving on the floor in Belsize Park

As I see maps of the London Underground quite a lot, I’m exposed to the words “Belsize Park” more than you might think – it’s an area of London with a station on the Northern line. I even tried going up there one morning before work (and doing a cache there, naturally) in an attempt to root the worm out, but it didn’t work.

It’s lucky I like Marillion really, although I prefer Lavender to Kayleigh. At least it isn’t Marrakesh Express.

Can anyone smell tuna?