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Monday, 15 December 2008

No country for old (wo)men

Welcome, welcome to to our small but rapidly growing country, as you now know it is called the Benighted State of Redundancionia.

Please sit down here at the table in our small customs post.I haven't much time to go through all the details about our State as there do seem to be rather a lot of people in the queue behind you all waiting to come in. Strange how the State seems to grow very quickly, almost all of a sudden and then shrink slowly again over time. Last time it grew, our population was over 3 million. We are not sure how big it will grow this time but it seems to go in ten year cycles or so. I suppose someone in your country knows why this is. No? Oh that's curious you'd have thought...Well I suppose they have a plan to fix the problem quickly and are working in a concerted way to enable you all to return to the State you were in. No? Oh that's a little curious as well, still...

Where was I, ah yes the population. Well of course some of our population never leave us you know. Once they've entered Redundancionia they never seem to be able to leave this State though they say they want to. They talk about 'Waiting for Jobbo', or someone with a name like that. But they never appear or arrive to take them away. Sad really. However I'm sure you'll be soon back where you were. You're not sure? Well there must be plenty of opportunities. No? Well...

We have all types here with all sorts of very good and useful skills, both sexes (and some who are not quite sure), single parents, young people, indeed all ages, though we do seem to be particularly popular with the over 50s for some reason. They seem to stay with us longest. Why is that do you think, you all seem very, very capable with lots to offer back home? Can't think why your State doesn't jump at taking you back, except of course for Estate Agents and anyone who was a Banker, we all understand that.

Now you'll find there's much to do in your new State. We particularly like filling in forms, oh yes we do, many of them, often asking for the same information week after week. We make it more interesting by changing the person you have to speak to who then has to collect all your information all over again. Laugh, you'll not want to stop. Or is it start? I can never remember. It's such good fun.

Then there's the games many of us like playing called, for example 'How can I buy enough food for the family to eat on this pittance from the State, 'Do you think I'll be evicted from my house' (such a good one that, many play that game even when they thought they wouldn't be able to), 'How many job rejections must you receive before you feel totally shattered and feel totally like giving up' and 'Why am I not even getting interviews have I turned into a sociopath?'. You'll love them especially as you'll play many of them time and time again.

What to do when not playing the games? Well there's the national pastime of Mooching. This is where you wander around the house aimlessly, having scoured the papers for jobs, applied for anything that vaguely resembles work and not received a reply. From anyone. There's also 'Annoy your partner time', this is a growing pastime especially amongst those who have been with us longest. For some reason being in this State doesn't rest easily with those in the other State. Still it causes much discussion and hilarity amongst those couples I can tell you.

The weather? Oh very much a gloomy State, not much light at all, with depressions coming around regularly.

The geography is, I'm afraid, not very interesting. Everything is very flat and, being gloomy, it makes looking forward to anything very difficult. Oddly, even though the land is quite flat, we have many tunnels, though as you might imagine there is not much light at the end of them either. We do also dig many holes but, sadly, we seem to almost immediately fill them back in again. Communications are, I regret, still quite poor and you will find that you are cut off from many things that you enjoyed or were used to. You'll find that the telephone rarely rings anymore and there is no mail except bills. We are working on that. Still musn't grumble eh?

We have a muti-faith religion here called 'The Exit'- you'll find most people are praying for a way out.

Our scientists are particularly proud of our best defense mechanism - we've managed to find a way to make you all invisible once you leave your old State and join us here. Isn't it exciting? That means that all your old colleagues will no longer be able to see you and possibly a number of your friends as well.

Yes the currency, must explain about that. Our currency is called Beyondyourmeans, popularly known as an I'm broke. 20 I'm brokes equals a Beyondyourmeans. We expect our people not to live Beyondyourmeans but we set a little task for them by not giving them enough so that have to use I'm brokes. A broke can be divided into a 10 I'm skints. Simple isn't it

Our capital city is Itscompletelyhopelessnoonewantsme and that can be found next to the River of Despair. True there isn't much to do their except, well despair.

We do offer a suite of training courses to keep you alert and ready for when you go back to your State. We offer 'Springboard into a new life', 'Bounce back from boredom, 'Dive away from despair', Computer skills for chicken sexers', 'Lurch into a new career', 'Explode into employment', 'Fall gratefully into the hands of anyone who offers you money', 'Estate Agency - the BIG opportunity' (no not really, my little joke there) and 'Have you ever thought about becoming an independent consultant? Well don't, you'd be mad to try it.' Most of these we insist you go on. They are usually at the other end of the State from where you live. Consider it another of our little jokes. Actually no, you can't pick up the chair or any other furniture it's all screwed down in Redundancionia. We find it better that way.

Well yes there are other places to visit other than our capital. Not places we'd recommend though because they are, how can I describe it, sort of positive and upbeat. Not for me, I prefer the gloom. Since you ask there's 'You'vegottolaffaboutitorgomad', 'You'vegototkeepgoing', 'Thingswillgetbetter' and 'Heyyouneverknowthismightbe Forthegood'. Quite a number of people do go there though, seem to have a good time and then return to the State they were in. No accounting for taste is there?

You know I could talk for ages to you but there we are, the queue is not getting any shorter, in fact it is still growing. I've stamped your Passport, welcome again to our Benighted State.

Have a nice stay. Is good? You like?


Thursday, 11 December 2008

Equitable life

I know boredom. I was brought up in West Wales and I can tell you that once 'Sing something simple' started on the radio on Sunday evening at 7pm you might as well go to bed as there was nothing else left to do. It was no good asking your parents either as they would respond with 'How about you finish your homework about the sheep industry in North Wales, make plasticine sheep, colour in pictures of sheep or go and count the sheep.' Sheep figured largely in our young lives in Wales. And did you know that when sheep fart it sounds like a human one? Of course you didn't you are far too refined. So when it got dark all you could hear from your bedroom was the sound of ghostly farting from the fields and the distinct impression that some ghastly axe murderer was outside your bedroom window with dark intent but having eaten too many brussel sprouts for dinner. You longed for school on Monday.
The dynamics have changed. Wise up.
So when you have left your job (or, more accurately, your job has left you) and found that you no longer have a daily destination to go to boredom can set in quite quickly. For example I've just bought the 2009 'week on two pages' calender refill for my battered and beloved Filofax. So far I have birthdays and a dental appointment in there. For June. And that's it. If it had been available I would have bought a 'one-year on one page' refill but that might have been optimistic as it currently stands. In the old days, sigh of nostalgia here, I'd have been penciling provisional dates to beat up Marketing on their bonkers ideas to increase sales of badger warmers, dates for fighting with Finance who had the nerve to suggest that my entertainment budget might be er, 'a little constrained', dates to deal with the never ending list of disaffected employees who considered company property as a perfect eBay opportunity and the staff toilets as a useful centre for the distribution of marijuana, other illicit Class A, B, C drugs and stolen items and the bear pit fights aka as the Board Meetings that I chaired and were similar to Medieval street brawls at times; 'No please put the water cooler down we know that won't help the Sales Director explain the downturn in sales.'

Where did I put it?

Losing your job (doesn't that sound odd? 'I seem to have misplaced my job Mavis, have you seen it anywhere?' 'Well where did you last see it?'. Sort of like putting your spectacles down somewhere in the house and then spending the next two hours looking for them getting increasingly crosser and looking in more and more outlandish places.) There is a grieving process that you have to go through when you lose your job - can't be avoided it's gonna happen. When you start to come out of that you get bored and that's when you start following your partner around the house like a demented toddler seeking attention. Now we have to remember that your partner had had their own space and possibly job for many years. They've been running the house, managing the kids, living their own career without your intervention thank you very much, for a long time. So standing at their shoulder tugging at their clothes saying 'I'm bored' will become very wearing.
Very Quickly.
And you probably will not have pictures of sheep to colour in either.
The dynamics of the relationship have changed.

It's a hard thing but you have to find a new level of living and that means not having much of a structure to the day anymore - and finding that the day has many more hours in it than you remember. It does take a long time to come down from the demands that a job makes on you and the social benefits it also confers - where else are you paid to moan about the people who manage you with like minded soul mates, who now strangely do not return your phone calls and emails?
Do stuff. EoTP says it will help. Really
There are practical things you can do as you partner will not want to run the household whilst you are mooning about the house all day in your Winne-the-Pooh jim jams.
  • The shopping (I know the layout of Tesco intimately now and get annoyed if they move the shelves around.)
  • The cleaning - you should see my toilets, the pride of the street, twinkling with the intensity of the summer sun.
  • The ironing - creases so sharp you could cut down mighty oak trees with them.
  • Washing - there are 232 washing permutations on our washing machine though I only use 2. Still, I have now read the manual.
  • Getting fit. You should see me out sprint the milk float to the tune of 'Chariots of Fire' at 0630.
  • Cooking - no I'm not perfect I can't do this. I heat a darn good M&S Lasagna though.
  • DIY - moving swiftly on...
  • Communicate - look this is harder on men (comments on a postcard please) as we are genetically wired to hunt woolly mammoths and sabre toothed field mice and not clean the cave toilets. Women are, of course, far more adaptable than men and can catch and cook the mammoth whilst cleaning the cave without making a big fuss about it all and they don't need a stroky beard meeting beforehand to set objectives either. I don't mean that you should whinge every day about how bad it is not to have a job but talk about how you, the both of you, will collectively will get through it.
And so on.

Basically you have to find a new way to live your life with your partner in an equitable way and recognise that, temporarily at least, the relationship has to change and the roles have to change as well.

And if you don't recognise that or can't change then don't get too close to the water cooler.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Class distinctions

Training is like measles. You get it once and then never again. In this blog I'm going to have a look at the subject of training after you've signed on and become a 'Job seeker'. And then take a peek at Corporate training.
EoTP says don't get me started on religion. Oh you did. Your fault
Job seeker - sounds vaguely biblical doesn't it, like after you've answered the knock on your front door and been confronted by a small weird man and his smaller, even more weird partner? 'I'm a seeker of Job' the small man squeaks, 'Would you like to be a Seeker of Job too?' nodding furiously and offering you a handbill printed using a John Bull printing outfit. 'No' I say 'but how would you like me to come and knock on your door and ask whether you would like to be part of my Pagan Cult and worship oaks and ash trees and dance around wearing white tablecloths and pointy hats and chant about fairy folk?' They always leave at that point.

Don't be proud, be humiliated.

In my experience it's always better to sign on. Come on, don't be proud you're entitled to the money, (well pittance actually, money is an exaggeration and insult to the term), and your National Insurance gets paid (for your stunning State pension of course) and we all like to be officially demeaned in front of complete strangers who undertake the equivalent of a public financial strip search whilst asking us to sit on chairs screwed to the floor. Sounds great doesn't it? Who'd want to miss such an experience?

Impulse power only. My impulse is not to go.

Training is available but not as we know it Jim. My initial training, when I first became a 'Job Sneaker', was in how to use a computer. For 'Executives'. Yes, I know, I know. OK so not everyone in the early 1990's had used a computer to be fair. The venue was a shabby outhouse attached to the Job Centre 12 miles away from the Job Centre in the town where I lived. I pointed out to the extraordinary caring and supportive Job Centre person ('Can't do anything for you can we, you're not eligible for training unless you've been unemployed for 18 months and are dead.') that I didn't have a car and there was no bus service to the other town except on Sundays. 'Not right bothered' seemed to sum up her response. As you HAD to go on this training to keep your Job Weaker payments (so no change there then) I eventually found a way to get to the town only to find that the computer equipment consisted of Amstrad green screen computers, no mouse, and badly typed instructions on how to type a CV. There was no way to save, electronically, the CV you had typed and the printers were line printers with hole feed. Classy.
This pretty much sets the scene for all the other training at that time. All training courses were given dynamic and thrilling names such as 'Leap into work', 'Bound back to employment', 'Replace', 'Restart', 'Renew', 'Give in', 'Reluctant to go but do you still want your dole?', 'Do I really have to?', 'Surrender to the inevitable' and 'We have Tasers, come out from under the table'.

This sums up my experiences:
  • Shabby facilities.
  • A trainer who clearly had much better things they'd rather be doing with their time and had a degree in Patronising.
  • One flip chart with two sheets of paper left, six marker pens, all dry.
  • An overhead projector, no bulb, no replacement. Screen that only came down half way.
  • Old desks and chairs.
  • Training that could be done in 15 minutes by reading a handout but was strung out all day so the trainer could claim a day rate.
  • A coffee machine from which came brown warmish liquid regardless of the input you gave the machine; coffee, tea, hot chocolate, orange juice, warm stoat piddle.
  • One person in the group to be trained who clearly was going to do their level best to be as disruptive and obnoxious as possible. If training proceeds at the pace of the slowest member then most of the training I went on actually went backwards and I came out knowing less than I started with.
I'm told that training has now improved. You can really tell the difference in taste, apparently, between the hot liquid that comes out of the coffee machine but which is now so hot that it is actually melting the plastic cup that holds it and your fingers are burning as you rush to put it down on a table somewhere. It is a while now since I was last on a training course - when I signed on last year I was told that 'You are too well qualified for any further training. Now how much money have your children got in their piggy banks it all counts for means testing.'
The relief.

Of course corporate training, when you are employed, is so different. Here even more dynamic phrases are used to justify it such as '360 degree',' 1-2-1'. 1-on-1', 1x1=2', '180 degree only so we can really criticise You in public', 'Customer is king, queen and on-hold on the phone something should be done', 'Telephone techniques to keep the customer on-hold on premium lines so we make more money from them whilst telling them we value their business with a recorded message' and so on.

This sums up my experience of corporate training
  • Always booked at hotels miles from where you work or live and are in the middle of an industrial estate.
  • Hotels that have just opened and are desperate for any occupancy.
  • The food is on a plate. You know it is food only through the fact that it is on a plate. There is no taste or texture but is always given a French description 'A wheelcover of mange tout lovingly coated in a moue of une Mars Bar with a garnee of les fruits de la catering pack of vert bits'
  • The shower delivers one small jet of lukewarm water unless you shower at three in the morning.
  • The room is overwhelmingly hot
  • The training room is overwhelmingly hot.
  • The staff are underwhelmingly undertrained.
  • A trainer who clearly had much better things they'd rather be doing with their time and had a degree in Patronising.
  • One flip chart with two sheets of paper left, six marker pens, all dry.
  • Role plays - I so hate role plays. 'Hold onto this telephone hand set with no cord and pretend to deal with a difficult customer'. How about we pretend I'm bludgeoning an overpaid trainer?
  • Training that could be done in 15 minutes by reading a handout but was strung out all day so the trainer could claim a day rate.
  • The bar has the attraction of an 1950s Eastern European police station (but is always engagingly called something like 'Antonio's Well' (good I hate an ill bartender) yet five members of staff will stay at the bar drinking until they pass out. Every night.
There's always something that you can learn from any course, I used to think.

Well, of course, you can be upbeat about life or stew in your own cauldron of despair and I know what I prefer.

However thinking back about training please pass me the matches, I need to light the fire to heat up the water.