Smirking From Home

Turning ideas into words.

True Colours

Raising kids is a young person’s game. Public disdain or not, at least teenage parents should theoretically have the energy to deal with a howling bairn. Which all indirectly leads me to the subject for today. 
It’s general election time here in the UK and Northern Ireland and this week we’ve been enduring the release of the various party manifestos. During my vain attempts to calm the wee lad down I’ve been satisfying my political appetite by having BBC News 24 on constantly. Despite being geographically unable to cast a vote in preference of a mainland party, I prefer to watch their shenanigans as opposed to the usual tribal claptrap we;re forced to deal with here in the provincial backwaters. It’s hard to get excited here in Lagan Valley when no matter who you vote for, the smug twat, Wee Jeffrey, will get elected anyways. There’s no counting for taste in these parts.
First up I’ll make no bones about what side of the fence I stand. I’m essentially a liberal/leftie who reads the Guardian, someone who firmly believes that God and the church have no place in political life. It’s the main reason why I could never trust Tony Blair, apart from other obvious fact that he was a lying hallion. Given his propensity for dishonesty and obfuscation, it’s no real surprise that he kissed the Pope’s ring. Despite his dour nature, Gordon Brown typified the Labour movement more than Blair ever did. His personality flaws may do him no favours but Brown does, I believe, have the genuine interest of the nation at heart and that secretly he must desperately regret the fact that New Labour became the lapdogs of Mandelson and his evil minions. He may put it right if he is returned to power but I’m not harbouring hopes for the immediate future. The seeds are sadly already in shoot.
The Conservative manifesto today was truly outstanding. The wee fella had calmed down enough for me to indulge in a post of ironing and I listened to Cameron outlining his vision for the future of the country. To the untrained ear he was describing a Utopic vision of Britain where we could all have a say in how the country was run. No longer would we be held hostage to Big Government. The little man could rise up and control his own destiny. We would have the power in our own hands. It was no wonder the wee fella fell asleep for those initial opening bars of Blue Dave’s refrains. All would be well in a Conservative Britain. And then the wee lad woke up howling the house down. Wheeeeeeeee…metaphor alert.
The calm serenity of the baby was a false dawn. He was only resting his eyes. Even he could see that it all was a sham and he took the opportunity, with full cacophonous vocals, to remind me as such. For the time being Robert is not in control of his own destiny, and neither, ladies and gentlemen, will you be under a Conservative government. Let’s look at what devolving power to the people really entails.
The most apt word I can find is shifting. Shifting responsibility to people means shifting the blame. We gave you the chance and you blew it. Or, we gave you the chance and you didn’t take it. Either way, it’ll not be the fault of the Tories. They’re telling us you can take control of your schools, hospitals and police forces. Heck you can even sack your own MP. Doesn’t it sound wonderful? Yet there were no promises made telling you how they would support you to do this. Here. Have some rope. In times of trouble, would a Tory government assist you in overcoming those difficulties? Hey, you had your chance. If it all sounds eerily familiar, cast your mind back to the 1980’s and the me, myself and I society, generated then, unsurprisingly, by the Tories. You had control of your own destiny then and what resulted was a Britain consumed by a voracious appetite for success and the expense of anyone and everything. LOADSAMONEY!!!!!LOOK AT MY WADGE OF CASH!!!! Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing. 
What it really means is that there will be as always a select few, usually always the current elite, who will exploit the loopholes and advantages of such a policy and create an even wider equality gap. Create a new business and pay no tax/NIC for the first 10 people you employ? Just rename part of your company and move some staff around accordingly. Winner! Create your own school and select only the best from your area to attend. Maybe even charge some fees. No sink estate scum for little Henry to scoff at whilst chewing on his M&S prawn sarnies for lunch. You see, putting this bluntly, the Tories tell you will have the power but they know full well that the majority of people have no impetus to and are too lazy to seize this advantage. Yet they know that those who will avail are those who are already possess the good things in life. In reality there is nothing there for the great unwashed, no mater how they dress it up with fancy words and soundbites. An old work colleague of mine in the Prudential had the audacity to promote the Tory cause by bizarrely claiming that they seemed more educated than the present government and, as such, could only but do a better job at running the country. Educated? Maybe. Skilled in the dark arts of smoking mirrors? Definitely. I hadn’t the heart to tell him that I doubt there’s very few, if at all, anyone in power at the moment, who left school with no more than C grades in Maths and English.
By the end of the fancy rhetoric I have to admit to feeling nauseous. I’d a creeping sense of dread that we will soon be governed by the above-mentioned wolf, who will shed the woolly garb and metaphorically eat us for dinner. I can’t get Cyndi Lauper out of my head writing this now. And that main fear is borne from the grim reality that people will fall hook, line and sinker for it. They always do, even more so should they be readers of the Sun and Star. Like a sailor pissing into the wind, they will eventually regret it.
Tomorrow sees the launch of the Liberal Democrat manifesto. It’s the one I’m looking forward to most. I have a sneaky feeling that this year could be their year. Definitely not an outright victory but drawing enough support to throw a bloody great bull into the china shop. People should remember the last Tory government. We’re still suffering from it. Labour have, for the most part, bolloxed up their big chance. Vote for Change, Dave? Yes indeed. A vote for the Lib Dems would do it.

April 13, 2010 Posted by | Bringing Up Baby, Politics | , , , | 1 Comment

Under Siege

Finger pointing is generally frowned upon as being socially ignorant and insulting. It rarely accomplishes anything other than raising the hackles of the recipient even further, a sure-fire method of fanning the flames of futility where an argument is concerned. Once the finger is raised the defensive barriers slam shut and progress decides its’ had enough and goes on vacation for 2 weeks. In the meantime, the protagonists in the original debate continue finger-jabbing and the common man loses all hope in ever having a satisfactory outcome achieved.
I used to be a Union Rep whilst I worked in the financial services sector. The union at the time was Amicus which has since merged with other organisations to form the largest collective in the United Kingdom, Unite. Honestly speaking, it was a thankless task. The country was in the throes of an economic boom, one which we now know was a feckin’ great Trojan Horse, generously presented to us by Bank Plc. Unions  and their members were considered a nuisance but were generally accepted as the itch that could be lived with. Times were good so the itch could be controlled easily with a little dab of cream here and there and all of us continued on our merry way. Rarely was there a need to upset the apple cart. Unions were content with the minor issues in the corporate world and the HR departments and Directors across the country were just happy to have their staff under a modicum of control. Who was to know that the Garden of Eden was in fact located in Denmark?
Now it seems the world is falling apart. Unemployment is rising at a rate last seen in the 1980’s. Many people are facing financial hardships, admittedly caused by frivolous over-spending but primarily caused by unscrupulous lending practices by the bankers and their lust for gluttonous bonuses. Amidst the maelstrom, there are people fighting for survival, for their jobs, their homes and their families. I’m not convinced we’re remotely even near the end of the storm but like all economic cycles the boom will once again return some day. For now though we shall struggle on. As a union rep I always believed I was part of something special. Even in the days when everything was carefree and easy, we always had some issue or other to deal with on behalf of our members. The big movement at the time was trying to prevent the outsourcing of our own jobs to India, a fight which has since disappeared into the bigger picture.
I mention the Indian scenario as it has a major relevance in highlighting the blatant hypocrisy on display in certain parts of the media and the political establishment the past few days. The current cause celebre is the impending BA cabin crew strikes planned for the next two weekends. In one corner we have Unite, who have balloted their members on the basis of protecting jobs in the face of extreme cost cutting measures proposed by the company. In the other we have quite an array of scrappers all lining up to have a free potshot at unite and its’ members. Naturally one of these is Willie Walsh, a cut-price Michael O’Leary, only without the witty quotes. He states the strikers have a hidden agenda to destroy British Airways. Now to this untrained eye, that’s akin to turkeys striking for a better quality of birdfood. Yet as a highly-charged soundbite designed to cause Janet and Charles to spit their Earl grey over their copies of the Daily Mail, it’s incredibly clever. What better to provoke popular disgust at the strikers, than to pander to the literate numnuts of middle-England. We’ve all witnessed the power of the “horrified from Henley” brigade whenever their plumes have been ruffled. I can hear the tuttings from here.
Then we have the Government weighing in, calling the strikes “deplorable and unjustified“. The same Government which has decided to obviously pish in its own bed, deciding that they can probably do without the £11+million it gets in donations from Unite. Can this finally be the definitive proof that New Labour is truly divorced from its roots as a party of the people, the working man? Let’s all cosy up to whichever fat cat is in trouble this week and keep the defecting voters onside. Mind you, it’s not terribly surprising as we all sold our souls when the good times flowed.
Whatever side of the fence you might fall on is entirely up to you. That’s your constitutional right to do so living in a “free” society. However, I’d like to point out one thing to those out there who are the rabid, fervent supporters of everything they read in the Daily Heil. The next time you complain about some Indian called Sanjit or Meenu talking to you about the Market Value Reduction on your Bond, you are the architect of your own displeasure. Those bolshie unions, whom you are currently spewing over like fleas round a pile of manure, fought in vain to prevent those jobs moving to the call centres of Mumbai and Bangalore. Even when the circus was rolling in admittance fees, the ringmasters still outsourced their performers. You shrugged your shoulders and returned to your golf clubs and your places in the sun. No over-zealous sense of moral outrage to be seen back then. From that perspective you can keep your whines to yourself and consequently you have no reason for complaint this time either.
Apologies. I’ve wandered off down the road of polemical ranting. I hadn’t intended to but it takes a certain degree of discipline to maintain a focused mind on such a topic which is close to my political mindset. It’s incredibly frustrating to constantly have to contend with right-wing, anti-employee, smug disgust from the cloistered  denizens of suburban and rural comfort. Whilst I firmly believe in dialogue as the natural means to overcome all issues, there comes a time when the ordinary people amongst us have to make the decision to get up, walk away and take the ball with us. If not, then the corporations win again. Just like the banks. I believe the term is riding roughshod.

March 15, 2010 Posted by | I Am What I Am, Politics | , | 1 Comment

Can I Speak To…?

A couple of weeks ago I pontificated about some of the methods of communication we have at our disposal in this day and age. There’s an almost endless array of gadgets, applications and tools at our disposal, allowing us to stay in touch, buy items cheaply and the subject of today’s topic, be hassled by unknown entities. Increasingly often I answer the phone only to be addressed by a pre-recorded message telling me not to hang up as there’s an important message I need to hear. Even if I hadn’t had to drag my sorry backside off the couch, usually mid-babyfeed or nappy-from-hell changing, I doubt I’d still be amenable to whatever fantastic offer they had in store for me. There’s a small part of me that feels they’ve missed a trick with this pre-recorded voice malarkey. Your standard Queen’s English intonation doesn’t cut any mustard but if they adopted Stephen Hawking’s voice box then I could very well be lured in, even if they were not offering time-travel as opposed to timeshares.
It all smacks of desperation, or to be more accurate, a sad reflection of the current global economic situation. Five or six years ago a call centre in India would have been created to spam us with these random sales/information calls, whereas these days it’s obviously cheaper to knock something up using a dialer and some voice software. The Indian treasury must be feeling the heat by now. Admittedly the majority of “nuisance” calls we receive are still emanating from East. In the last week alone I’ve been contacted by four individuals offering me cheaper home insurance. I know I received the odd substantial bonus in my early years at the Prudential, but I cannot recall spending them on a beachfront condo in Mumbai. Whilst I can understand people “losing the bap” when they receive these calls, I cannot condone it. We’re a global society now. Virtually everyone is either a ring or a click away. No matter where someone is, or who they are, it’s their job, their source of income. Yes it’s annoying but a little common courtesy should be the order of the day. And if it persists then there’s always the Telephone Preference Service for those of you who reside in the UK. 
All this was brought to the forefront of my attention last week when I attended an interview for a sales job at a call centre in Belfast. The campaign was to call mobile phone users up and “persuade” them to switch provider. For 45 minutes of the interview we were ushered into the main hub to listen to a few calls being made by current employees. There’s no denying the fact, that no matter where an operation such as this exists, be it Belfast or Bangalore, it’s bloody soul-destroying. My background was primarily an inbound call centre, where people called you as they wanted to discuss something important to them. It too had its moments of stomach churning despair but on the whole I believed we provided a valuable service to policyholders, generally with good humour and sound knowledge of the company’s products. Nothing, though, prepared me for what I experienced last week.  There’s an expression I’m particularly fond of. You can teach a monkey to ride a bike but you can’t teach it to explain what it’s doing. In that short period of time I genuinely cannot recall seeing one person smile. The air was thick with silent streams of desperation, fragments of futile hopes to achieve any sale of some sort. I sat with one particular chap from Belfast who, in the course of the 45 minutes, contacted 12 answering machines, and spoke to 7 mobile phones users, 2 of whom told him to foxtrot oscar in no uncertain terms. The remainder had no interest whatsoever in taking out a £30 a month contract over the phone. You know the drill. You get the guff from the employer about how wonderful it is to work for them and how great the career prospects are. After a year you could be peeling your own bananas. With hard work and dedication, after two years, you could be showing others how to peel their bananas. I asked my phone-buddy what the average length of time someone stayed in the company for. He said 4 months. Unsurprisingly, that coincided with the probationary period. Maybe I’m looking back on my Prudential days with rose-tinted spectacles but I can genuinely state it was never anything like this, even in the dark days when people realised they couldn’t pay their mortgages when their endowments matured, let alone afford the speedboat they were “promised”. At least with those calls we had a captive audience.
I’m not overly optimistic about getting the job, sales not being my strongest natural attribute. What it does do is serve as a sharp reminder about two things: the necessity of finding a means a sustainable means of income but also to do it in a way that will not result in a breakdown of mental faculties. We’re caught over a barrel in many ways, especially the younger and recently redundant elements of the “searching for workforce”. There’s plenty of call centre jobs these days but they come at a price. And is that a price worth paying. I’d love to be able to definitively answer that. I’m not 100% convinced I can. One thing is remarkably evident though from browsing call centre jobs online and in the recruitment papers. There are very few inbound telephone roles these days, a clear indication of cutbacks in the  customer service industry. When they start using voice messages as opposed to highly educated and friendly Indians, then we are truly on the slippery slope downwards to meltdown in that sector. It’ll all reverse itself again in the future no doubt. It generally does. What form it will take is hard to second guess. Although I’ll hazard a guess that it’ll occur at exactly the same time when the banking bastards decide they’ll start offering you credit cards and cheap loans again, rather than answer any simple question you may have about your account. That’s another story for another time though.
To end on a slightly jollier note, a good friend of mine gave me a brief insight into how he deals with cold-callers. Knowing him as well as I do at this stage, I wouldn’t doubt him for a second. It’s more than likely been toned down for public consumption.
“Good evening sir. I’m calling on behalf of <insert random company name I’ve never heard of> and I’d like to offer you -”
 “Ah yes, I’d like to order the American Hot please, with extra jalapenos.”
 *stunned silence*
 “Oh, and I may as well take advantage of your special and have a 2 litre coke with that. Cheers mate!”
There’s more than one way to skin the cat it seems.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | Communicating | , | 2 Comments