Any day now, any way now, I shall be released

As of yesterday, six years and 256 days of servitude remain before I can rejoin the real world. Or at least, what is left of what I remember as the real world. When Ian Brady died earlier this week, I couldn’t help thinking that most child murderers get lighter sentences.

And what did I do to deserve this? What heinous crime caused me to be tied to a PC for 35 hours a week, surrounded by room temperature intellect drones, all wittering on incessantly about home lives almost as tedious as those in the soaps and reality TV they watch?

Well, it is true that until I was 40 I scrupulously avoided office work – or indeed being around chain-store suited drudges with newish cars, mortgages and the like. It is also true that I mocked such tomfoolery, and was sometimes paid to do so.

This was not from malice or vindictiveness. I simply found such dullards hilarious, and had no interest in joining them. Shortly before the year 2000 my luck ran out, and I had to. And that was that; the start of a sentence with hard labour which I try to bear with fortitude and good humour.

In my defence, when a libertine I had no interest in making life miserable for anyone, often going out of my way to spread some joy around – as I still try to do. Such a refusal to take life seriously seems to be a contributing factor in the sentencing. To be fair, even though I keep a straight face at work and do all I am asked to, it must be pretty obvious to the massed ranks of middle managers that I do not take them, the job, or indeed the entire financial services industry seriously.

But there is a vital difference between my deadpan humour and the forced hilarity of the workplace.

I do not impose my humour on anyone. I do not shout alleged jokes across the office, or shriek like a banshee in response to some Ronsealed harpie who does. I certainly never impose my seniority in order to compel laughter at thinly disguised bullying of more vulnerable workmates.

All this I do not do, I suppose, because I am a sixties child. I still remember people who went to university, not to study accountancy, but as the first step towards blowing away grey conformism and making the world more interesting. So, way back in the early 1980’s there was nothing about the new and brutal Tory culture then emerging to like, and I never did. Then in the 1990’s, when the dominant culture became so nuanced that it was – supposedly – possible to like Indie CDs at nights and raves at the weekend but turn up early at some awful office complex each Monday, I still was not fooled.

And so it goes. Still pained by successive generations of forty year old teenagers (it works both ways round: think about it) with no real ambition except to own a newer, bigger, uglier car and house.

Waynes and Sharons give way to Ryans and Chantelles. A newer generation Ford assembled in Europe and not the UK, clothes from designer C-listers made by even younger kids in even remoter countries, identikit houses assembled by Polish and Bulgarian (rather than Irish) temporary labour.

A curse on all of this. And a sentence which – for me at least – ends now in six years and 255 days.

I feel better already. Until Monday, when at least it will only be six years 253 days.onsealed

Charity ends at work

Ah well, a bank holiday instead of a day at work on Monday. Thank goodness for that.

Because it is so bad at The Unpleasantness that most days I never know whether to take instruction from one of our perpetually multiplying “line managers” or check if their nappies are full. The saying “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians” hardly covers it. Everyone around me seems to be (mis)managing like their lives depend upon it.

The most worrying thing is that somebody else’s might. Though as nobody is encouraged (or even allowed) to be aware of a world beyond the spread-sheet they currently check we will never know about that. They probably think Myopia is one of the lesser known offshore tax havens.

But I shouldn’t be so disparaging of these lovely folk. Why, only yesterday they proudly announced their latest corporate charity scheme.

In a nutshell, this is that people should walk or run about more, monitor themselves and ask others to sponsor them for doing so, and the most prolific over-exercisers (rather than fund-raisers) will get prizes. For an office overrun by sharp-elbowed, cretinously competitive sports nazis, turning the need to appear charitable into a competition was seen as the perfect solution.

It got even sillier when one of the jocks suggested that, in order to get the miles up, the company should hire an exercise bike so that the numpties can pedal in their lunch hour. This will cost in the region of £100 per week, plus there is the logistic problem of what every other lycra-clad lummock does for the hour once the first has nabbed the bike.

Neither was it explained how a finite number of people in a workforce can each sponsor the other or (more importantly) how anybody knows that the exercisers aren’t just lying. Be honest, if your profession is accountancy – and specifically hiding income from tax authorities – would you ever be capable of NOT lying, or of accepting any figure a workmate quoted you as true?

Anyway, in due time we can be sure that a number of smug faces will be photographed holding one of those massive cheques with a figure plucked out of thin air written on it. That happy picture will then appear in the local press, discreetly distanced from the advertisement for our services, thus negating the idea that offshore finance ruins lives.

Wasting away the moments that make up a dull day….

Hmm, I see it’s two weeks since I last posted. This blog gets more Bernardian by the day.

Maybe in future, in tongue-in-cheek homage to Saint Jeff, each time I go a week without posting I should enter right onto the spirit of the thing and put a small message up saying “Manx Gent is unwell”.

It wouldn’t be true, but then neither was it the case all those times The Spectator editor gave up trying to get blood from the stoned and just placed the infamous message “Jeffrey Bernard is unwell” where the weekly Low Life column should have gone.

Look, there are just times (far too many) when the creative spirit looks out of the window, back at his or her “tripewriter”, then out the window and back at the tripewriter again and thinks….. “Why bother?”

On the other hand, why not?

Anyway, another week amongst the living dead in what passes for a hive of industry and what do I have to report?

Not a lot.

This week I realised that the combined ages of any of the several pointless management clusters nominally supervising my (equally nominal) work hardly adds up to my actual age. In addition, I doubt if the combined IQ of these myriad ( and I sometimes suspect self-replicating) power groupings would surpass that of, say, someone at the higher end of the special needs spectrum. Other than the fact that they cannot communicate with anyone outside their world, or register anything that does not appear as a “stat” on any of their spread-sheets, I really cannot understand how such idiocy continues.

Watching business management in action is like watching those cartoon figures who pedal air after running off a cliff. You know they should fall, you wait for them to fall, but they just pedal, and pedal, and pedal…..

The crash surely has to come any second now… wait, wait…. Oh, never mind, might as well wander off for another cup of tea.

Bureaucracy, it is becoming increasingly clear to me, seems to spread like plastic detritus on beaches. To someone who comes across it by chance, it is baffling where it all comes from. And neither logic nor imagination can stop the increasing proliferation of either phenomenon.

It may be true, as a research organisation I quietly help from time to time says, that those faceless figures behind the corporations wrecking the world are actual people, and have names and addresses. But just tracking them down is a full time job, never mind tackling the mess they cause. And neither task gets a mortgage paid unless you were born into the right race and class.

On the other hand, a figure I have admired for years, but unfortunately never met in person, died this week.

Gustav Metzger was not an artist the general public knew about. Far more radical than Tracey Emin or Damian Hirst, or Banksy, but because of his own principles never destined for their fame or economic fortune. In fact, outside a tiny, truly experimental and radical art community to whom he was one of the 20th century’s most important figures, hardly anyone within the highly incestuous and private art world did either.

Metzger arrived in Britain courtesy of the kinder-transport, went on to study art almost by accident, and unlike most art world enfant terribles actually lived life like he made art, including a spell in jail for crimes against militarism. For some 75 years – right up until the week before he died in fact – he was at war with capitalism, consumerism and the waste-makers of the world.

Discover him at , and .

Now THAT is not a wasted life.

Sick notes

The Inhuman Resources Manager at The Unpleasantness set up compulsory meetings for us all to learn about a new health plan this week. Yet another hour of my life I’ll never get back – though at least someone was paying me to sit through this one.

Like most (apparently) respectable employers, mine already operates one private health plan with a well known con artist, with free basic membership for all employees and a chance to include your family and add other “benefits” if you pay extra. Knowing that, behind the scenes, private hospitals and clinics are rackets run on a shoestring while billing each item of medical care (from a paracetamol or surgical swab) at about 10 times the cost that a diligent NHS manager would compute it to be, then adding “extras” like a glass of water, a bath or change of sheets at, say, £50 per unit, and also knowing such centres of clinical excellence will be staffed by surgeons who rarely meet basic training requirements, assisted by moonlighters who struggle into theatre after a double shift on underpaid NHS facilities, I choose not to.

I’m also trying to get out of my “free” membership, surmising that it’s little more than a tax scam whereby I get taxed for a compulsory “ benefit in kind” that I never wanted and will never use (for the reasons outlined above) while my employer gets a tax break on alleged payments to the health plan. Because the thing is, employers rarely have to pay for such schemes anyway. What happens is that the insurance companies behind them offer free basic plans to employers in return for the employers recruiting staff, who take up paid options which bring in all the real income.

All that aside, the reason for this week’s meeting was to get round an apparent glitch whereby the service provider (having noticed employees generally use the service for routine and trivial treatments such as dental check-ups and chiropody) introduced a £250 excess fee. The company’s answer to this was a second health plan which meets that fee, then offers other “benefits”. In practice, these are things like gym memberships and a range of voodoo medicine such as acupuncture, homeopathy, aromatherapy or untested teeth whitening procedures. Always nice to know your employer is so concerned for your wellbeing (and so rigorous in their vetting procedures) that they place it in the hands of some shyster with all the academic and professional qualifications of, say, a Victorian village wart-charmer.

Then there’s the “confidential counselling” service by telephone which purports to help with things like substance abuse, stress, financial and relationship worries, bereavement, etc. That sounds fine until you know it is offered by a company with a lousy reputation for unethical behaviour (such as selling on client details) that you would never – ever – want to share personal problems with. For one thing because it is owned by and reports back to an insurance company which many have their company pension and life insurance with. This means all your personal worries end up on their files and cause them to up your premiums, then when you get ill or pop your clogs they have reasons never to pay out (or more precisely pay back a small portion of what you gave them).

Finally, though, I suspect it’s just that old Manx disease – Brown Envelope Syndrome – flaring up again. Seriously, I have never known such a place for petty officials who won’t do anything without a “present”. I know many Eastern Europeans who grew up with such a culture, and even they laugh at how crudely it works here.

The Manx public sector has been riddled with it for decades, and in the various supply trades it is an open secret that nothing like foodstuffs or stationery gets supplied until the relevant company employee has their palm greased. It was inevitable that such a culture would spread to bigger, supposedly more rigorous, professions. I have already mentioned that private health providers actually pay companies to get their employees on board so, as with “independent financial advisors”, it should be no surprise that insurance companies routinely give “introduction fees” to the HR or accounts personnel who are throwing millions of pounds their way – which in 99% of cases never flows back to the customer.

It’s enough to make you sick.

(Not-so-) smart buildings

At the time I was so anxious to get away on holiday a few weeks back, one of the problems I was hoping would resolve itself while away was my new workplace.

The thing is, the very week I went away my source of income and daily unpleasantness moved to a new building – which we were assured was one of these “smart buildings” you hear so much about. Humungous sums were spent refitting premises which were not more than 20 years old anyway with “state-of-the-art” kit. Management sent around almost daily e-mails with photos and video reels to prepare us. Over a million, we were told, had been spent on the heating and air conditioning alone.

Maybe we should have twigged all was not as it seemed when promised tours of the building failed to happen due to a “tight deadline”. Because the truth is, if this building was a person, it would be in special needs.

Take, for example, the refreshment facilities. As any office worker knows, all you need is a kettle, a sink to fill said kettle and wash the cups, some dish towels and/or a paper towel dispenser, a fridge, and maybe a water cooler for fresh drinking water.

The new premises has kitchen areas on two floors and very little of the above. Instead of a kettle or a water cooler there’s a fancy tap which dispenses not-quite-boiling or not-quite-cold water according to which button you hit. While each kitchen area serves at least 50 staff, the fridge is about the size of one of those jobs you get in hotel rooms. There are no towels of either paper or cloth variety. The microwave broke within a week and has not been replaced.

Then there are the washrooms.

Oh yes, they have a shower facility to please the junior management morning cyclists and lunchtime joggers, and the cubicles are adequate. But, there are no taps on the washbasins (just one of those automatic things that recognises when you put your hands under the faucet, but only squirts water for about two seconds) and no towels, just an air hand-dryer which makes a racket like a 747 taking off and can be heard two rooms away – as numerous people have pointed out. There might as well be a brass band waiting to sound a fanfare every time you void your bowels.

And these are not even the worst mental and physical health hazards. Oh no, because that would be the infamous (and wildly expensive) air conditioning and heating system. Regardless of the weather outside, or number of people, volume and nature of work or physical conditions inside, this is presently pumping out air at near Arctic temperatures. One suspects that it has been set to a computer program for the entire year, which knows that the average temperature in W on the Xth of Y should be Z, and therefore that is what we get.

We have asked (politely and increasingly not-so-politely) for the temperature to be set according to the actual conditions, but have been told this is not possible. When asked why, we are simply told that because of the seven figure investment on the system we should put up with it until it teaches and adjusts itself. In practice, this has led to staff working in winter coats on days when the temperature outside is in the upper 20’s, and outbreaks of ‘flu. I, for example, spent yesterday croaking like Lee Marvin singing “Wandering Star” and this morning coughing up enough phlegm to fill a whiskey glass.

So, dumb building, or just dumb planners? It is tempting to get caught up in some David Cronenberg scenario of a malevolent building which has logically decided that the staff are dispensable, but I suspect the failings are more human than mechanical.

It could simply be that they are inflexible bolt-necks who cannot admit that they made unwise choices or got some details wrong. Such dolts reproduce themselves; this is the built-in design flaw of management.

But I idly wonder if certain local households have just had posh new kitchens, bathrooms and perhaps heating systems. If so, I just hope that they malfunction too, and that the owners enjoy paying out extravagant repair fees.

Staring at a wall

I hate work.

I know everyone says that, but I loathe it to an extent which doesn’t seem to be true for other people. It isn’t laziness because, actually, I am driven (and certainly very, very disciplined), just not to pursue anything which might constitute a “career”.

Years ago I learnt how to happily stare at a blank wall for an hour or more, and this seems to disturb people, though I honestly cannot see why. For me, every day in an office making money move around the world – or indeed almost any activity which leads to the creation or circulation of wealth – is far more pointless. Employment makes me lose the will to live. So, from observing advocates and similar blights on humanity I pace myself to put up with it by calculating, at 15 minute intervals, how much money I have earned.

Then, at the precise second in the day when my employers stop paying me, I power off my PC and go home. Applying the same logic to my own employment as my employer does to the provision of services to a client, to do anything else would be uneconomic. A waste of time, brain-cells and effort.

Then I sit at home, more productively, staring at a wall or writing. What would be the point in doing much else?

I do not watch TV or net-surf, as such activities seem to drain intelligence and reduce concentration span, and I seem to have read as many books as might usefully offer either sane guidance or amusement. Hobbies are for train-spotters. Distraction is the enemy, and feeling you have to do something is – for me – a sign of weakness.

So, as soon as this is posted, it will be back to staring at my wall. Much more of this and I may need to go and lie down.

Relief from the comic

Tomorrow is a bank holiday, and so I get an extra day’s break from a workplace that gets ever more moronic. Two cases from the last week alone would prove my point.

Now, it may be an unfashionable value judgement, but for me anyone who watches enough TV to talk about it at work is beneath contempt. Why do I have to endure the pain of being around such numpties?

OK, apart from because I get paid to be there. Which is no real answer, because the payment is for the pointlessness and drudgery of the work, not the uninspiring surroundings or the vacuity of wage slaves and supervisors who – amazingly – seem to regard such activity as worthwhile or even stimulating.

I mention this because I had to endure the office veg ranting on about East Enders this week. Which got me idly wondering when was the last time I watched any TV soap, and why they don’t interest me.

Apart from a brief period in the 1980’s when I was confined to a house which did, I realised that the answer is “never”, unless I was visiting someone else who does. And the latter, to be honest, is itself unlikely because I would be bored rigid by anyone so dull-witted that they bother.

The thing is that before the year 2000 I was usually out at work until late at night – or just out at play. So I never learnt the genre, and never had the time or inclination to watch TV anyway.

I have never been one of life’s spectators and cannot imagine a time when I would be. Well before the age of hundreds of channels, internet devices and so on, I learnt to pick any rare interesting programme, watch it, then turn off to do something more interesting.

Another source of office-based misery is the monthly compulsory corporate charity scam. In which – in return for the dubious privilege of being allowed to come to work on Friday dressed like a brain-dead Rotarian at the golf club – we “voluntarily” donate money to “good causes” carefully selected by some of the company’s worst mouth-breathers.

From time to time, in order to counter the idea that the company robs the poor of public services in order to subsidise the rich, a mugshot of such slack-jawed oafs branding a giant cheque appears in the local press. Oh, and the “donation” is written off on the company tax return. In fact, everybody wins except those being nominally helped.

This week it was “Subsidise the Yacht-trash”….. sorry “Sailing for the Disabled”. Another of those pointless pseudo-charities that bored rich gits set up, then pressure others to pay for. There’s also Riding for the Disabled, and probably countless others along that line.

See the pattern yet? People with the kind of expensive hobbies that require you to shell out thousands to arse around with other rich wastes of space magnanimously agree to share their dismal hobby with some crips. As if an inability to ponce about in a yacht or on a pony is really the first thing on any disabled person’s mind.

More like, getting a job, being able to get round the house unaided, finding a public toilet, catching a bus…… well, the list goes on and on really. If the nauseating wasters who think up these schemes really wanted to share their toys with some wheelchair user, the cost of adapting them would be….. what, one G&T a week for a year?

But the Manx obsession with pointless charities and cretinous fund-raising events (usually involving the kind of charmless sports player you’d pay to avoid or have crippled, not to encourage) is just another of those joyous things about living here, along with kissing some rich in-breed’s arse, dealing with a government department headed up by the aforementioned in-breed’s least employable relatives, etc. etc. ad nauseum.

Not that I am complaining. In fact, observing the sheer inanity of such experiences is enough to keep me amused for most of my waking hours.

Though you do need a strategy to deal with psychos with collecting tins. I find keeping a collection of toy, fake or foreign coins in a separate pocket to your real spare change is a useful one. In the last year, while sporting the appropriate fake smile, I must have dropped, oh, all of 50p’s worth of junk coinage into various collecting tins. It almost makes it interesting and worthwhile to seek such rubbish out, and imagine the dismay and anger when the self-important fundraiser finds it hours later.