Wednesday, September 28, 2011

But First a Word from Our Sponsor

On the 1st of October 1985, most parts of Britain experienced something really rather unusual. The temperature reached 30 degrees centigrade - it was the warmest day of what turned out to be a really shitty summer. The fact the warmest day of the year was after the autumnal equinox was pretty much a rare event. Yes, this country has 'Indian Summers', but true Indian Summers happen after the 21st September and they tend to be a period of not less than a week where the temperatures mimic those we expect in July and August. In that case, according to my book on Weather Lore (which Roger and his missus bought me a few years ago because of my love of meteorology) Britain doesn't get them very often at all and October 1st, 1985 was something of a one off; the 2nd was nice in the south east, but by the 3rd...

I spent 6 years in Canada before I hit double figures, age wise, and over there Indian Summers are pretty much expected, in fact if they don't get a couple of glorious weeks in October there tends to be a feeling of being let down, but Canada is part of a huge land mass and this isn't really that unusual. The last time the UK had a genuine Indian Summer was 1998. A blocking high pressure area sat over central Europe from the middle of September until the beginning of November; every so often it would drift north and drag in cooler air from the rapidly cooling continent, but temperatures stayed in the low 20s until the middle of October and high teens until November 7th when the country was finally hit by some Atlantic fronts. I remember 1998 pretty well; I spent more time in the autumn wearing shorts than I did for the entire summer.

We don't often get 'normal' weather now; there is always some new record broken. A little over 10 months ago we were all shivering for the entire month of December as the UK began to resemble Siberia and then we were all walking around in shorts and T shirts in April as temperatures his the mid 20s. I forecast back in May that the summer would fizzle out and September would be the redemption. I even suggested that companies pay me money for long range weather forecasting because I got it right and none of the Met offices or weather specialists could touch me. However, even I didn't expect what we're currently having. The weather men and women are suggesting temperatures will reach 28 degrees by Saturday, but I'm betting they touch the magic 30 in Gravesend or somewhere in Cambridgeshire - where they seem to think the country will be the hottest.

It is quite freaky out there. It probably isn't helped by the fact its very humid, because there's a lot of moisture in the air - you get that in the UK at this time of year, it's why morning mists are the more frequent than any other time of the year. The temperature on my patio is 26 degrees; probably a couple of degrees higher than out on the street, but it's just gone 11:00am, which suggests that by 2 or 3 this afternoon my patio will be like a sauna (until the sun goes behind the apple tree). It actually isn't that pleasant. I sat out there just prior to writing this; I had a cup of coffee - I should have had a cold drink - and the Guardian and after five minutes I was sweating like an overused clunge.

I was wondering what kind of sun tan you can get at this time of year? The sun isn't particularly strong, so I'm thinking instead of the roasting you get in May, June or July, perhaps you go a nice golden brown, a bit like a rotisserie chicken with a honey glaze? I might have to find out.

***

I remembered, during the short while I was out on the patio, something I've been meaning to say for ages. Have you ever noticed in films and TV when someone has to give some blood for a sacrifice or some such, that the person invariably cuts themselves across the palm of the hand and then squeezes the blood out like they're crushing a big grape?

Last weekend, after the death of our last rabbit, we decided to dismantle the rabbit runs so we could turn that area into some extra veg patches. They were built over 10 years ago by the wife and my late father and despite that not being a great endorsement, they were surprisingly tough to break down. While I was doing it, I cut the palm of my hand with some chicken wire. It stun like a bastard, didn't bleed that much and now, 10 days after doing it, it has just about healed up.

One of my dogs, Marley, has a habit of jumping up at us when we get in, sometimes she has sharp claws and often scratches the back of my hands. She did so on Sunday, slashing my right hand just below the thumb joint. It smarted, looked ugly and bled a lot. This morning it is just a thin scab and will probably wash off when I do the washing up.

Just why, other than for artistic merit, do people think cutting the palm of their hand is a sensible thing? The palm of your hand is the most prolific part of your body for sweating; you sweat more through your hands than you do your armpits or anywhere else that pongs. You also constantly use your hands, move them, twist them, stretch them and generally do everything with them. This is why the cut on the palm of my hand has taken 3 times longer to heal than the one on the back of my hand.

I am aware of just how pointless this is; but I have to do something to fill up my days...

***

Hurry Up, We're Dreaming by M83 is quite brilliant.

***

Of course, for hot blooded heterosexual males, hot weather means nubile women wandering around with considerably less clothes than usual. However, it also means you get a large proportion of fat, sweaty munters, who seem to think they look fabulous in their skimpy skirts and open necked blouses or halter neck T shirts.

My young friend Harriet, who has just started university as a maturer student (good luck with that, H), who has the kind of figure that women would kill for (and probably a few blokes) was telling me a few weeks ago that these ugly fat women don't think they sexy, they just dress that way because they're inherently stupid and just don't know any better.

The reason I'm being so blatantly sexist is because a woman just walked past my office window and all she needed was big ears and a trunk and she could have doubled up as Dumbo. Sadly, dumbo was quite cute, this woman had a face like a pug licking piss off of stinging nettles...

***

It's Dole Day today. I'm meeting with my personal advisor for the first time. That should be nice.

***

My bad back hasn't gone away. I'm heading towards two weeks of teeth gnashing pain and have come top the conclusion that it's probably been a good time to have it; because if I'd been working I wouldn't be.

I talked to my doctor a few months ago about the amount of disruption my condition has brought to my life and she was relatively dismissive about it, saying quite rightly that others are far worse off than me and that I'm a long way away from being classed as truly disabled. The thing is, this spondylosis is a chronic problem that affects joints; effectively from nothing more than wear and tear. So whenever a new joint flares up, I know what it is and I don't bother my doctor about it - why bother? It's not like she's going to suggest anything useful.

The problem is I've had lots of time off work in the last 3 years. 90 odd days in 2009, 90 odd days in 2010 - both joint related: shoulder op and prolapsed disc. This is a lot and doesn't look good on applications or at interviews. I've only worked for 5 months this year and during that time I had a week off because of a bad back; since the beginning of June I could quite easily have had a further 20 working days off because my back, elbow and shoulder - it prevents me driving, walking very far or doing any lifting at all. My condition seriously affects my ability to do anything for a sustained period of time without the risk of me incurring time off because of the pain or inability to function properly. This therefore makes me less than desirable as an employee and I can't even discuss this with my doctor because she doesn't seem to think it's a problem.

Bit like life in general, really...

***

I bumped into an old friend earlier this week; someone who I used to score my illegal drugs off of back in the day. He's a bit of a stoner and tends to do some silly things, mainly down to his bad memory. He stopped dealing a couple of years ago and now has a good job and a respectable way of life.

He was going off to a festival at the end of August and was going through his cupboard looking for his old rucksack. When he found it he couldn't understand why it was so heavy until he looked inside and found a kilo of hashish. It had been sitting, wrapped up, for over three years - £500 worth of illegal substances that he just misplaced and then, somehow, managed to forget about.

This is the kind of thing I'd like to happen to me, the problem is I've never had anything like that amount at any point during my smoking life, so it's a bit like hoping I win the lottery; I need to be in it to win it.

The thing is, this person has a habit of finding things. We were out once in the late 1990s, walking the dogs over in some secluded fields and woods and he found a bag with about two ounces of weed in it; just sitting there under a tree in the middle of an old sheep field.

Why didn't I find that? I mean, it's not like I'm going to take it into the police and say I found it under a tree. It would be highly unlikely that I could claim it as my own after 30 days.

That reminds me of a story about some guy i used to know in Wellingborough whose car went wrong and he couldn't afford to fix it. He and his neighbour decided the best thing to do was steal his own car and then burn it out in some back lane and then claim on the insurance.

The first problem he had was neither of them knew how to steal a car...

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Bad Back of Beyond

A brief mention for Doctor Who, which has been in the news recently for all the wrong reasons: over complicated plots, a growing dislike of Matt Smith, and the realisation that Steven Moffatt writes good creepy standalone episodes, but has struggled to achieve his usual high standards as Show Runner.

I have to say that DW has always been a programme that I always watch but can barely call myself a huge fan of. It is throwaway adolescent TV at best and I've never really got it the way that others have. I haven't watched each episode half a dozen times and have therefore missed plot minutiae and have often found myself slightly puzzled at references to earlier episodes. I suppose I'm one of the people who watches DW and then forgets about it largely for the next week until the next episode it shown.

Last night's episode - Closing Time - was a perfect example of why I'll never become as obsessed with the programme like at least four of my good friends are. It was an enjoyable romp, with at least three laugh out loud moments, but at the end I just felt like I always do at the end of every episode; a little empty, a little bit disappointed and thinking I could do it so much better myself.

This entire series has just not held together very well. If Moffatt was trying to bring a US feel to the series, he's failed miserably. He has turned the Doctor into some kind of cursed demigod who eventually destroys everything he touches (with apologies to Ladytron). His approach to the series has changed the emphasis of the Doctor away from a time travelling cavalier who beats the nastiest things in the universe with logic and without violence, into a bitter village idiot. It's like he feels the more the Doctor regenerates the less 'human' he becomes and that just grates on me.

The series started with Rory, Amy, River and some aged CIA bloke meeting at Silencio Lake, where the Doctor gets zapped by the Impossible Astronaut and dies. We know that the Doctor who died was over 1100 years old and the Doctor in the series was 900 odd; so 200 years passed between the end of the episode where he drops Amy and Rory off to where he teams up with (wanky) James Corden to beat the (crappy) Cybermen. Because of this, just about everybody's theory of the series has been wiped out. It wasn't the imitation Doctor who dies, nor was it someone pretending to be him; it was the real actual Doctor and 200 years of his life has been breezed over in the week between leaving his companions and the day before he's supposed to die. That to me is a bit of a cop-out, plus it also doesn't fit in with previous plots and premises that Moffatt himself set up in RTD's days.

I know that time can now be changed - also a bit of a cop-out really - but this entire series has been one long sigh of disappointment and I really can't see the finale doing enough to make us all put our hands in the air and sing hallelujah. Plus, there have been stills from the Christmas Special - with Matt Smith - so whatever happens next Saturday night, you know everything will end well (or Rory will die again).

I know some friends who have stated quite categorically that their kids have given up on the series; ratings have dropped to just above 5m, which is a 30% drop on three years ago and for all the spectacle the show offers, it lacks in substance.

Moffatt isn't the expected messiah; instead he's just a bit of a naughty boy, who has made DW a bit wibbly wobbly and full of likeable characters (except River Song) in rubbish scenarios. I hate to say this but I didn't complain anywhere near as much when Davies and Tennant were doing the show! You could drive trucks through the plot holes in their series, yet there was something true to DW ethos which is missing now.

Interestingly, I've not seen anyone from the DW community praising this series highly. Neither have they been heavily criticising it, but that might be because they don't want to be labelled as never being happy. I think the end of term review would be: could do better: C+

Friday, September 23, 2011

There is No F in Orange

I did a straw poll of sorts. There were 24 of my friends on Facebook who commented about the 'new look'. 17 were against it. Six were for it and one was ambivalent. Of the 17 who were against it, 17 of them were over 35. Of the six who liked it, five were under 25. I think that, above all else, tells the story needed to be told. Facebook isn't for old fogies really; it doesn't allow us the control over what we see that we want, whereas youngsters really don't care what goes up on their home page.

My Facebook experience has, it has to said, been waning over the last year. I play Scrabble, Bejewelled Blitz and a game called Collapse, which is like Tetris but in reverse. I post the odd link up and update my status about once every 3 weeks. My News Feed (something of an oxymoron) had been edited so that only about 50 of my 220 friends are visible and I have been taking to deleting any advert that appears on my page and giving the reason as 'offensive', because I find all advertising mostly offensive. If I want something I'll look for it - simples...

But I'm out of step with the rest of the world, really. This is probably why I've decided to invest some time in Google+ and less time on Facebook. Google+ looks a bit like Facebook did when I joined it; there appears to be a degree of control about it and yet while I write this I can't help but think it's all just a waste of time. Social Networking is at best superficial; at worst it is obtrusive and advertisement led and I've made my feelings about that clear already.

I'm not going to say I'm abandoning Facebook, but I'm going to take a leaf out of my mate Mark's book and every time I get pissed off with this totally free thing, I shall log out and go and do something less boring instead. When you no longer have any control over what you see, it's time to distance yourself, regardless of whether or not we pay for it.

That's one of the real issues we (speaking as a disgruntled misery guts) have to deal with; Facebook is free; we're not forced to use it and if Zuckerberg and his hordes of autistic cunts want to change it every day we can do nout but shout at our own walls. Contacting Facebook with a query or complaint is more difficult than being God and ultimately every one that complains is just complaining to themselves and all the poor schmucks who want to read your complaints. When Facebook changed its appearance 3 years ago, there were over 2 million people who signed a petition to have it changed back. Sounds impressive, but in reality it's about 1% of the total users - hardly the voice of the vocal majority now, is it? I'll bet that 99% of those 2,000,000 people were over 35. Oh and they didn't change it back and after a few months everyone got used to it.

Perhaps I need to get together with a couple of computer programmers and invent Old Farts Book; a place where misanthropes, residents of Tunbridge Wells and anyone who thinks under 25s speak in a different language. A place where we're not interrupted by things that mean nothing to us and soon become a hindrance.

***

Yesterday is the first day of Autumn. Welcome to 6 months of cold, wet hell (He says with the forecast for temperatures in the low 20s for the next few days...).

***

I have a big back garden and I've grown some funky things in it over the last few years, but I could make a load of money out of it if I was to build a block of flats or maybe some small mock Texas Ranch bungalows. Obviously there would be problems; there's no access to my back garden accept through others back gardens or my highly fortified back gate, but I figure if I tell the local council that I'm actually a Traveller and I don't need such things like Planning Permission or a brain, because via Facebook I can get the backing of countless B list celebrities to campaign for me. I should either make loads of money or I'll appear on TV looking like some Deliverance reject with the IQ of a cheeseboard and the righteous indignation that even though I'm in the wrong I can play the race card and just break the law. It will look even better if I can get the BBC to cover it...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Wok Hard

So, I'm in agony. I'd almost forgotten how much pain my back could meter out; it being almost a year since I had my prolapsed disc (and therefore almost a year since I packed up the fags). I am dosed up to the eyeballs with several kinds of painkiller and anti-inflammatory drugs, but it's barely touching it. I could do with a big bag of illegal drugs, but unfortunately I no longer have any money, so I'll suffer in silence (or not, as the case may be).

I'm not quite sure what acted as the catalyst for this first serious bad back for a year. It could have been yomping around Salcey Forest in anything but sensible shoes yesterday, or it could have been a combination of lifting; dismantling or bending over to inspect fungus. Who can say for sure, except that at some point yesterday afternoon, as I was about to walk down the stairs, a twang and a yelp occurred and the rest they say is history (or something like that).

Anyhow, it wasn't my poxy back I wanted to talk about. As we were driving back from Salcey Forest yesterday afternoon, I saw something I'd never seen before. In the distance, midway between Horton and Ravenstone, I saw this well-funky house. It was sitting up on the highest point you could see and looked a bit like the Arc de Triomphe; well, from a couple of miles away it did. So, when we got home I went onto Google maps to try and find the place. However, I couldn't find anything that resembled it (from an aerial view), but what I did find was even weirder...

Take a look at this picture on the left. In the middle of the woods are a number structures (if you go to Google Maps, type in Horton, Northants, and then scroll to the right, so that Horton just disappears off the left hand of the map, you will see them. Zoom in and you'll get a better view of them); all of these structures are surrounded by little moats and there isn't really any way of determining what they are. I puzzled over this for ages; got the wife to look at them. She thought they might be holiday chalets; I thought they might be fishing huts, for private anglers. The truth turns out to be crazier than a bucket of frogs on acid.

North of these woods is Yardley Chase; which is Forestry Commission land, formerly owned by the MOD. In these woods there are also these strange structures; except this time instead of being surrounded by moats, they're surrounded by what appears to be elevated land; they sit in little basins. Curiouser and curiouser...

Several minutes of Googling and the mystery was solved. These buildings were built in the early 1940s, by the MOD, to store bombs and this is what they did until the late 1950s when the MOD felt that they had become obsolete due to the proliferation of nuclear arms. These constructs were essentially 'bomb shelters' for bombs, not people! Quite remarkable...

***

While searching for the answer to the above mystery, I found a place called Howcut Lane, which is just down the road from Yardley Hastings. Nothing spectacular about this, apart from the fact that Howcut Lane has some of the most amazing houses you have ever seen. It's like Mansion Street and all the years I've lived in the county, I discovered two things yesterday about Secret Northants that I never knew or expected.

I've often fantasised about owning a big fuck off house in the middle of nowhere; but the problem with that is the one rarely comes with the most important thing about living in an isolated community - a decent pub. Now you could argue that if you had enough money to afford a mock castle in the middle of nowhere, you could afford a taxi to and from your favourite pub; but, I don't know, there's something about living near a pub that is in staggering distance that appeals far more to me than giving some twat who drives a taxi my money...

***

Quick TV bit:
Haven has been so bad it hasn't warranted mentioning.
Vampire Diaries is back and I still think this is one of the best things on TV.
Secret Circle, which is a sort of VD spin-off, started and didn't really impress me that much. What did impress me though was the length of the lead actress's (Britt Robertson) skirt. If it had been any shorter you would have seen her belly button! However, the series is full of utterly dislikeable characters and unless it does a VD and changes course pretty quickly then it can disappear off my radar pretty quickly.
Torchwood stank like rancid fish.
The award for the best thing on TV at the moment is The Killing or Forbrydelsen. Not the utterly crap US remake, but the original Danish series, which we've been watching over the last couple of weeks. It is quite brilliant, is a damned sight better produced and complete than the US version and confirms my suspicions that Scandinavians are producing the best big and small screen stuff at the moment!

Now fuck off and do something practical and leave me to whinge about my poxy back...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Moron Counter

I will sign on for the first time in nearly 25 years today. The place where people sign on in Northampton has to surely be one of the least salubrious places on the planet. Not inside; that's been made plush and new; but outside where the dregs of society lurk, harass and generally give being unemployed a bad name. Part of me wonders if these people are actually employed by the government to put normal people off from becoming a statistic...

***

I tried for three days to come up with a review of Saturday night's party; the problem is, while it was a great night, attended by many, many good friends, it didn't really have anything of note happen for me to use as a catalyst for a blog entry. It was just a good night.

There was an incident towards the end of the night where the usual suspects entered into a round of singing Killing Joke records in a Pub Singer stylee; which sort of deals with the surreal side nicely.

I could say that for the first 3 hours, I barely sat down because I was busy being a host, while simultaneously saying that it's a pain in the arse being the host because you never get a chance to sit and chat to all the people who have come many miles to see you. I was lucky if I grabbed 2 minutes with everybody; some people were fortunate enough not to get me at all!

It also reminded me why we only have parties every five years or so. Bloody hard work!

***

I think of myself as multicultural, yet find myself increasingly frustrated by ignorant foreigners who seem to think that the world revolves around them, when it clearly revolves around me!

Take last night for instance: we're driving down to the pub for the pub quiz and there are three guys walking down the middle of Military Road; a thoroughfare that has two paths/sidewalks; one on either side. As we grew closer to them, it became apparent that only one of them understood he was on a road, while the other two continued merrily down the middle of the road. Eventually, as I grew closer, one of them, looking very disgruntled moved out of the way; the other just as I was about to hit him. I bellowed something about imbeciles, wankers, paths and saw they were all clearly from one of the former Soviet bloc countries. Got to the end of the road, turned round to return to a parking spot I'd seen and there they were again, walking in the middle of the road. The wife said something about not getting uptight, so I refrained from shouting any abuse at them; I just accelerated at them and made the ignorant twats move or be killed.

***

What I can't understand about this town and many others like it is how taxi drivers are allowed to flaunt, break and take the piss out of the laws of the road without ever getting in trouble or reported for it. Surely these people know that they are vilified by most people; you'd think they'd do something to improve their image, rather than exacerbate it by perpetuating the fact they are ignorant, offensive and rude.

***

I like to avoid talking politics nowadays, because it infuriates me immensely. However, with more and more people growing disgruntled, dismayed and disillusioned by the current government's policies; surely someone in power must realise that regardless of the supposed mess we're in, they have to do something that is going to make people have a little more trust in them.

Speaking of politics, I find it abhorrent during PMQs that the party in power sit and snigger, laugh, piss take and generally deride any query or point raised by anyone who hasn't probably gone down on a member of the cabinet. It makes people watching think that the country is being run by a bunch of leery, posh pricks who have no regard for the real people in the country...

Oh...

***

It's a sorry state of affairs when you realise that possibly as many as 50% of all our current crop of schoolchildren have lost the use of their legs. It's obviously something that's been kept under wraps, so not to alarm people that the future of the country is going to be dependent on a generation that have forgotten how to walk and believe that they have to be taken to and collected from school, by gas guzzling cars otherwise their legs will seize up or possibly fall off.

Every town and city in the UK is awash with mothers in 4x4s (because they really need them) between 8 and 9am and 3 and 4.30pm five days a week; making it doubly difficult for anyone needing to do something arguably more important efficiently. It also means that during this time there is more likelihood of accidents happening; cars breaking down and mega congestion at a time when parents should be educating their children about conservation and being green. It is, however, the fault of schools and governments who have allowed local schools to no longer be local. It must be really healthy for these growing kids' lungs to have to breath in all those fumes twice a day just because Tarquin or Jacosta (or as often as not Jaydon and Chantelle) can't catch a bus or walk the distance between their homes and their school.

I know people worry about the health of their kids, but this reminds me of an old acquaintance who once had a melanoma removed from her shoulder. It made her completely anti-sun. She would never go out in it without factor 50 protection; smothered her kids in said same protection and limited their exposure to sunlight to about a minute a day. This is the same woman who smoked 20 cigarettes a day; drank a bottle of red wine a day, and ate more red meat than a butcher's shop window. This woman was also sedentary, overweight and quick to criticise other parents who did things like take their kids to the beach or allow them to play out with their friends.

We live in a selfish old world where ignorance is bliss and being academically astute doesn't necessarily equate to having an ounce of common sense.

If I was running a school in this country, I'd either look into how I could lease a bus service to bring and remove the children from the school and supplement this with a ½ mile exclusion zone around the school. If a parent brings a child within that zone by motor vehicle, then the child will get a week's detention for every time the parent does it.

***

Equally, I'd make sure that we got rid of most of our armed forces; scale it back to the point where we defend our borders; supply a contingent for the UN and NATO and generally become like Belgium, Holland or Spain as far as military might is concerned. We would save ourselves shit loads of money and eventually would stop being a target for terrorists, created by our decision to back any invasion of any country that has oil or other precious commodities.

***

I'm actually in quite a good mood today...

Thursday, September 08, 2011

"It's Not My Fault My Company is Shit!"

In June, I registered for an agency called BS Social Care (part of the Brook Street company). Or at least I thought I did. I spoke to a young lady called Sam H who gave me her email address, told me to send my CV through and she would look at it and get back to me. So this is what I did.

Five days passed and I'd not heard back from her, so I phoned her again. She claimed she had not received my email (but I'd not received one telling me the address I'd sent it to didn't exist, so God knows where it ended up) and gave me a generic email address to resend my CV to. I did this and didn't hear anything for another five days, so I sent another email and heard nothing.

The following day I called BS Social Care and Sam H claimed she had not seen any of the things I'd sent. I explained to her that I must have sent the things to an existing email address otherwise they would have been bounced back to me and I got the impression I was trying to explain particle physics to a bowl of porridge. So I confirmed her email address and sent everything again.

We're now advancing towards the middle of July and I'm growing slightly frustrated. I email Sam H again and amazingly get a reply - she is on holiday... I wait a week, email the company again and hear nothing from them. I ring up again and speak to a girl called Jenny who a) hasn't got a clue who I am and b) can't find any of the things I'd sent through. She begins a new application with me and I thought we were finally moving. A week later, I called them again to see if she had received me references and was told that 'Jenny no longer works for BS Social Care...'

I now had the 'delightful' Leanne to deal with, who proceeded to go through everything that Jenny went through because, I quote, "There's no evidence that you spoke to her, she might have thrown all the applications away!" To say I was nonplussed and slightly bemused would be an understatement, but I went through the long and drawn out procedure yet again and agreed to go into BS with the documentation they wanted and for a face-to-face with Leanne. This happened on the 8th of August, over two months since my initial contact with Sam H.

Leanne told me that with my experience she would have no trouble finding me a job; however, it would be far easier to find me a job if I agreed to do sleep-ins, which I categorically refused to do, for two reasons - 1) I don't sleep and 2) I have, as many readers know, a bad back and a special mattress which aids my sleep; I can't see an employer forking out a few hundred quid for an agency staff to be comfortable at night, so I didn't even mention this; preferring to just emphasise that I was too old and had done too many sleep ins in the pasty to go back to doing that now. "Oh, this is going to seriously affect your chances of getting a job," says Leanne, to which I accepted that, but said that I was sure that BS got jobs in that didn't involve sleep ins.

Four days after this meeting I received a text message telling me that Leanne had not be able to find me anything but she was still looking. This was indeed a step up on the previous two attempts. However, by the beginning of September I still hadn't heard anything from them, so I emailed Leanne for a progress update. She was on holiday and I had no way of contacting her. this annoyed me, mainly because I was sitting at home expecting this company to find me a job and the person I was dealing with had gone on holiday and not bothered to tell me (or presumably any of her other clients).

Being unemployed is massively frustrating, especially when you can't even get an interview for a job that you could have done with your eyes closed six months ago. I believed that BS, with all their promises, were looking for work for me and who knows, in their strange way they might have been, but I wasn't aware of it, so I became more and more frustrated and angry.

What followed was a number of increasingly angry emails from me, which were met with disdain and arrogance from Leanne. She even suggested I questioned her ability to do the job, which I didn't; I questioned her ability to be able to do her job properly, not whether she could do it. This came from the fact that on August 8 she asked me for references and by September 8 she was still waiting for one of them because she had typed his email address in wrongly and he wasn't receiving any correspondence from them. This is a good point, but we'll come back to it.

On Wednesday morning, yesterday, I received a letter from BS Social Care HQ in St Albans telling me that I had been unsuccessful in being added to their list and they would not be seeking employment for me because I do not meet the company's high standards.

This was a trifle annoying, so I emailed Leanne and her boss Sam K, telling them what I thought of their shower of shit company. Amazingly within twenty minutes, I had Leanne on the phone; not apologising, but expecting an apology. Not taking any of the responsibility, but blaming her colleagues, who she "wasn't about to apologise for"! And saying that the references being late wasn't her fault, she had just typed the email address in wrongly. Uh? What? She types the email address in wrongly and it's not her fault? I didn't realise that typos were exempt from the mea maxima culpa rulebook.

She also tried to blame my ex-boss, saying he had taken his time, had gone on holiday and it was him I should be angry with, not poor old blameless BS Social care. I then had Leanne tell me for ages how she's good at her job and in 4 years she has never let anyone down (until now?) and she thought I was aggressive and being very rude on the phone... Well, let me see, I just received a letter from her company telling me they weren't going to help me find a job and a phone call from Leanne trying to blame everyone but herself for the cock-ups and I shouldn't be a bit angry? Jesus wept; the audacity of this fat cow is amazing.

The upshot, because I got to it as fast as I could was that her call wasn't to tell me that BS were reconsidering application - because they weren't; it was so that I was aware that they did everything in their power to help me and I was being ungrateful and unreasonable - and she thought I was being rude to her??? I asked her what the point of the conversation was if she wasn't going to find me a job and she didn't really have an answer. I think she took umbrage at me suggesting her company was a load of shite; and proceeded to do nothing to make me think any different.

I'm now expecting a call from Sam K later today to discuss my letter. I really can't believe this. I barely hear from a company for three months and as soon as they say they aren't going to help me, they all want to talk to me. I can't think what she wants to talk to me about unless she's going to apologise for her company's incredibly unprofessional behaviour, poor communication skills and inability to follow up phone calls. Plus tell me they intend to try and help me find a job after all. I can't see any of that happening, so I wonder why she wants to speak to me...

I've never had luck with agencies; I've heard some real horror stories from colleagues about them; including this one. Tomorrow I'm at the dole office; I've promised the wife that I'll be nice and civil and agree to everything they ask of me...

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

A Rash of Arse Holes

I've had a rather angry period of time.

I bit the bullet and decided that I needed to sign on. I am, after all, entitled to some form of benefits, so I might as well get them. Anything put into the household pot is going to be better than nothing at all.

So, I called them up and I'm not going to even bother telling you what happened. Instead, I'm going to cut and paste the letter of complaint I sent to my local MP this morning...

Dear Mr Ellis,

I was made redundant from Northants County Council in May, 2011. I was one of four people who ended up losing our jobs at the Youth Offending Service based on Billing Road. Initially, it was believed that up to 15 people would lose their jobs because of budget cuts and lack of funding; however, in the end the only people who lost their jobs from this department were the four people I mentioned.

I received a redundancy payout, for which I ended up waiting 6 weeks for, because of payroll difficulties within John Dryden House. I'm sure there were other reasons for the delay, but I'm not here to speculate.

In June, I contacted the Job Centre Plus and was told that there would be little point in starting a claim for JSA while I was using my redundancy money and my fears of not having my NI contributions paid were allayed by the person I spoke to telling me that once the claim had been fully processed and they had confirmation from NCC that I had been made redundant, I would get the NI payments back dated. This was a blatant lie - especially as my wife used to be an NI officer for the civil service.

The point is, I had redundancy money and I had no intention of being unemployed for very long; so I figured I'd just look for a job and not worry about benefits claims. But as the summer dragged on and fewer jobs were advertised in the local press, I started to run out of money and we realised that with a mortgage, a loan and many expenses, we couldn't live on my wife's money alone.

Today, the 5th September, I decided to put a claim in for JSA and what follows is, I hope, not indicative of the hoops and hurdles people have to go through to get a benefit, because if it is then it is an appalling procedure.

It took me 2 hours and 11 minutes to get through to a call centre operative. The first two times I rang, I was cut off while waiting. The third time, I waited 22 minutes before the call was answered by an operative called Lisa. Amongst the questions I was asked was to supply two telephone numbers; the reason for this was a) so they could contact me (naturally) and b) in case we got cut off. This sounded like she almost expected it to happen.

Guess what? 27 minutes into the call; we got cut off. I sat for ten minutes waiting for her to call me back and when that didn't happen I decided I'd try and call them again. I finally got through to an operative called Chris, who fortunately for me managed to carry on asking me the questions from the point I was cut off. However, by the time I spoke to him it was 5.50pm; ten minutes before the call centre shut. While talking to him, the battery on my handset gave up - it had been used excessively in trying to contact them. Chris said he'd phone me straight back; I swapped phones over, but it was now 5.55pm and he was about to finish work. So I didn't receive a call back from him either!

This was by itself a hindrance and extremely frustrating; but what made it worse was the feeling that I was being treated like some kind of 2nd class citizen because I didn't have a job. The fact that I was asked some of the most invasive and awkward questions; which I understand are 'important', but are done in such a automaton way, with no humour and quite unpleasant. For instance, having to give almost as much information about my wife as about me; being asked for the name of my wife's line manager, so they could verify with her whether I was telling the truth. Wanting to know her NI number; what she earns, what her pension contributions were. I'm surprised I wasn't asked for her bra size. And of course, after ages on the phone, the claim still hasn't been dealt with and I expect to face at least another 30 minutes on the phone tomorrow working my way through the maze just to get something that I'm entitled to. The fact that I am entitled to Income Based JSA seems to be ignored - I've paid my contributions for this benefit; it should be made considerably easier and less invasive for people who are entitled to it!

It was humiliating; designed to annoy me to the point where I wouldn't want to make the claim and extremely unhelpful. I tried to be upbeat and friendly and was greeted by humourless people reading off autocues and without a smidgeon of sympathy or empathy. I think it is appalling that someone who is nearly 50, has worked non-stop since the late 1980s; has paid all of his NI contributions and has worked for the last 6 years with young offenders and disenfranchised people should have to face this kind of debilitating stress coupled with no return of calls and leaving me hanging on a phone. No wonder there are umpteen thousands of people out there who don't claim benefits because they don't want to suffer the indignity and humiliation of trying to claim benefits from a government department that clearly wants to make it as difficult as they can to give you anything.

I intend to call them again in the morning and hopefully continue filling in the information they want. Unfortunately, my wife will be at work and she has the answers to a lot of the questions they will ask me; if I can't give them these answers then my claim may well be suspended or take longer to process.

I'd love to get a job and not have to suffer this ritual humiliation; however the private sector has not been as forthcoming as your government claimed it would be and there are very few jobs out there that pay the kind of money that I need to be able to live and pay all my debts and none from the private sector; so I'm left with having to claim benefits. I'm hoping that you might be able to speed the process along a little, or possibly even look into ways of helping people such as me get fast tracked or helped by human beings.

As my local MP, I would expect you to do whatever you can for a constituency resident.
My call this morning was to make an official complaint and much of the above was repeated to a supervisor, ironically called Paula, who refused to give me her surname and at one point accused me of being rude; this was met with a volley of 'How dare you' and examples of how her call centre operatives were rude to me by not calling me back. Eventually I got an unreserved apology from her, but by this time I realised that it was a pointless and futile exercise - this was a call centre in Bolton, run by contracted people, who really don't give a shit.

At the conclusion, I have an appointment at the local Job Centre on Friday. They tried to fob me off with the 22nd September, but I quite firmly suggested that after the aggro I'd just faced being given an appointment in 16 days time was tantamount to them taking the piss. Amazingly, they managed to find me an appointment within 3 days.

I'd been told that the entire process was like having teeth pulled out with rusty pliers with no anaesthetic and someone putting your testicles in a white hot vice. I stupidly thought these people were exaggerating.

***

I picked another pound of mushrooms yesterday, which means I now have bloody loads of the things in the fridge. I'm cooking up a tagliatelle and wild mushroom dinner this evening - using field, horse, parasol and wood mushrooms combined with some reconstituted ceps (found the other week in their usual place) and some cream. The rest will be thinly sliced and bunged in the airing cupboard to dry.

Ironically, over 3lbs of wild mushrooms will reduce down to less than 4oz; but they'll give a depth of flavour to any soup or stew I make over the winter. Marvellous!

***

The weather forecast still looks grim, but not as grim as it did. The weekend is likely to be on the windy side, with the chance of an early shower, but quite warm - 22 degrees at the moment, which would be more than adequate.

***

Back in April, I had an interview at a local school and narrowly missed out on a job I would have really enjoyed doing. When I was informed I had been unsuccessful, the HR lady asked if they could keep my details on file as they had another position coming up they felt would be ideal for me and the experience I had. That job was advertised in the middle of August and I applied for it, but didn't even get short listed for an interview.

Feeling that I need to get feedback for these failed attempts, I called the school's HR department after receiving an email telling me I wouldn't be asked for an interview. I explained to the chap on the phone that his predecessor had specifically targeted me for this job and it would help me in my quest for employment if I knew why I hadn't even got an interview, especially as in April I was an ideal candidate for it.

I was told I hadn't been selected because there were better qualified candidates and I had been out of work for 3 months. I asked how this was a problem and was told that the general policy of the school was to employ people already in post. When I suggested that this was against Equal Opps, I was told when I understand what Equal Opps actually was, perhaps I'd reconsider bothering them with futile questions!!!

I'm still slightly stunned. A friend suggested I report the school, but what's the point; I'm not going to get the job, am I?

***

Today is extremely windy; the remnants of hurricane Irene apparently. The annoying thing about it is that today is also bin day and the wind has blown the contents of the recycling bins everywhere. This wouldn't be a bad thing if the bin men actually cleared up the mess, but instead it just floats around the street causing far more of a blight on the road than is necessary.

but, I'm just in a bad mood today...

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Come and Burgle Me!

My mate Chev gets a little OCD about Facebook and its privacy controls. I'm quick to point it out to him and feel that sometimes he overreacts to the entire Facebook culture, which to be fair, neither of us are that committed to. Chev prefers Tumblr and other things like that and I actually like to talk to people - you know talk, that's where you are either looking at a person or using the telephone and exchanging views, etc., via the medium of speech. We are involved in this social networking nonsense, but needs must.

Recently Facebook has had another one of its 'making things easier for its members to share information' makeovers and for Luddites like me this is just another pain in the arse. One of the recent additions to 'improving your Facebook experience' is the new Status Update facility which now allows you to link to other Facebook friends you happen to be with and allows you to pinpoint where exactly they are at a given time. For example: Joe Bloggs is with Fred Bloggs at the Old Clunge Pub in Little Pisser on the Flange. The Bloggs brothers have now announced to the world that their respective homes are empty and a prime target for any of their opportunist 'friends' tom pop round and liberate them of their stuff.

Or, as with one I saw today, two of my friends were at their folks' for dinner and Facebook pinpoints their folks house with a close up map - another handy tip from the burglar friendly people under Mark Zuckerberg. You might as well leave an answer machine message saying, 'Hi, I can't come to the phone right now as I'm on holiday in a foreign country; so pop round and help yourself to the flat screen and other gadgets!'

Facebook, where all the thieves hang around for handy tips!

***

Mushrooms are back and how! Over 2lbs of the buggers were collected up at the park near the industrial estate and I left soooo many more!

The crappy August has meant that we could be in for a repeat of last year's veritable feast of mycelial goodness.

I haven't done a good old mushroom report for a few years, maybe this year I'll indulge myself...

***

Families, eh?

If anyone is going to let you down it's the family.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Get Out of My F*cking Face

181 songs.
11 hours of music.
Umpteen bands and artists.
2 CDs.

I've spent the last two days compiling the music for the Silver Wedding Anniversary Party on September 10. It has been a lot of fun and ended up being quite hard work. I almost ran out of things to add (hence why there's some shit).

When you have a wife whose music tastes range from filthy dirty grunge to classic pops songs of the early 1970s coupled with a husband whose music tastes can only be described as 'eclectic', putting together mix-CDs that will make us both happy and keep the people attending the party happy is a tough thing. Fortunately, the majority of the people invited will probably appreciate 50% of both CDs, even if some of the stranger stuff might go a little over their heads.

Chicken Pussy by Bongwater anybody? Possibly the weirdest 1 minute 40 seconds you'll ever hear and definitely not something you can dance to. But intermingled with stuff like this are hits from 1982, 1986 and a spread throughout the time we've known each other. Not every song on these discs are my cup of tea, but they're there because they represent specific times in our 25 (28½) years together.

Hey Dude, I've been limited to only a few songs that I'll quite happy nod my head to, while others wonder what the hell they're listening to. As I said to the wife, she can always hit the skip button if it looks like I'm driving people into the duck pond like Wild Horses. I shall be the only person grooving to Teen Angst by M83 and I don't care! What people make of Pudding Time by Primus is anyone's guess, but it rocks like a cunt on speed! If you like Fuck You will you love Gravastar? Is the Killing Joke good party music or would your prefer Florence and the Machine? How about some diddly diddly Waterboys or some Stranglers, singing about Christ just Hangin' Around? I want to invite someone called Stuart, so I can Boogie with Stu while having a Southbound Suarez and trying not to get Trampled Under Foot. It could be Pandemonium, but it could also be time for a Delta Sun Bottleneck Stomp - which is always nice on a September evening. If it's cold you can always Light My Fire, or if you find the music a little too much against your tastes, you can always go Over the Wall, kill yourself so you can go Breaking Into Heaven or go in search of Wynona's Big Brown Beaver - it'll be hiding with all the Bedbugs and Ballyhoo. That's Entertainment!

Ahem...

The long range weather forecast is... dreadful. On September 13, 1986, we got married in bright sunshine, but by 3:00pm it was absolutely tipping it down. We held a big BBQ in 1996 to celebrate 10 years on one of coldest September days ever. The 20th anniversary party was preceded by 12 hours of utterly shitty weather and ten minutes before it started the clouds and rain disappeared (for a few hours at least) and the sun came out to warm everyone - over 60 people - up for a few hours. I'm not expecting balmy, T-shirt weather, but one without the need for galoshes would be nice. If anyone coming believes in God, say a few prayers for us!

Ironically, five years ago, the day after the party was a day like today - gloriously sunny and warm; the kind of weather that doesn't help massive hangovers.

Today I go a pick up a barrel of beer - Kingston Topaz, from the mighty Newby Wyke Brewery in Lincolnshire. I'm hoping it would have settled down by a week tomorrow. Otherwise I'm going to be opening an impromptu public house for a few days in the wake of the party, to ensure that the money isn't wasted!

I've also been planning the food. Had I been working, we would have bought most of it (probably from Pooja in Wellingborough), but as the party has suddenly become something of an exercise in entertaining people for peanuts, I am going to be producing all manner of nibbly goodness later next week. Bhajis, koftas, pakoras and a few things for people who don't like having a sore ring the next morning! I might even have a go at making some hummus - I have all the right ingredients. I have ideas that involve puff pastry; things that people will squint at but still eat because they will taste exquisite (which is also a great Scrabble word) and for the adventurous there's Sloe Vodka, a bottle of finest Mexican Tequila, some wine and whatever the assembled masses bring along. Can you tell I'm getting a little excited?

All I need now is a job to make it a really great day!

***

Speaking of jobs. Agencies are a load of shit. How on Earth do they make any money and why do employers use them? Where are all those Private sector jobs those twats in power promised us six months ago to absorb all the Public sector cuts? There are less jobs in the paper now than there was 6 months ago.

The irons I had in the fire appear to have gone cold...

***

While pal Roger is off at his first full festival for donkeys years and hoping the fine weather stays in Dorset, we've got a weekend jam packed full of stuff with some family visits from people who can't make the party. It'll be good to see some of my family; I don't see enough of them often enough and while it scuppered other plans we had (a friend's birthday party and the Adelaide Beer Festival) we should still have a good weekend.

That's put the mockers on that then!

***

Just to set the record straight; my wife would have been paroled by now if she'd just killed me in 1986 rather than go through 25 years of complete and utter unpredictability; or maybe that's why it worked...