Why no Man-Buns?

I’m curious; why have we not seen the Man Bun in Manx financial services yet?

It’s odd. If you can believe the hype, this a cutting-edge, crest-of-the-new-wave industry in which the future has already happened. We have all kinds of flashy stuff. Instant communications with far away places, millions being shifted across continents at the click of a key. Why, we’ve abandoned ties for men, and dress-down-Friday has been an institution for at least a decade now.

So why no man-buns? I get about a bit to other company offices and government departments, but (on the Isle of Man at least) not one to be seen – anywhere.

Even the builders and other contractors currently tearing up and re-arranging our offices for the umpteenth time have more fashion flair. There’s something about manual work that causes such things. Dreadlocks for instance, and tattoos are pretty obligatory now that the habit has even reached female office workers…. and beards! Oh, I’ve seen beards that would startle a Victorian panto villain on kitchen fitters and electricians. Yes, the hipster thing has come full circle. All the way from ex-public-school Camden artisans and right back to – well – blokes who actually make stuff that has to work.

So, I ask again, why no man-buns on office workers?

Or maybe it’s just a Manx thing, because the male Manx office worker is a bit…weird. Almost an insult to Manx pride in fact.

The Manx male has never quite got past the seasonal working habit. Until the 1960s’s the braver ones did a spot of fishing and planted a few spuds, then sat about idle or drunk for most of the year while their women folk did all the heavy stuff. When the seaside holiday came along some – reluctantly – lugged a few visitor suitcases or deckchairs about. A few others even became chefs – though never waiters.

So offshore finance came as a bit of a blessing. At least for those not totally workshy – who are still sitting at home in a pile of empty beer cans playing computer games, waiting for wifey to get back.

In the early days it was just some ex-King Bill’s boys who would have become lawyers anyway (the priesthood being a dying trade), plus a few bright state school kids with ambition, plus – mostly – girls yet to be married (or older women who wished they hadn’t) to type up contracts and enter figures into ledgers for Important Men to summarise and profit from.

Offshore finance also came as a relief to farmers sons who’d run out of lame cows to sell each other. I should explain that on the Isle of Man farming has always been a type of fraud, largely based on convincing civil servants that the lifestyle and (limited) produce is essential (even though housewives prefer the flown in, supermarket variety). In truth, it hasn’t ever been necessary since World War Two ended and people stopped having to eat horse.

So, apart from insurance and double glazing there weren’t many newer frauds to perpetuate – the kind of thing that involved lunchtime drinking while wearing an ill-fitting, go-to-church suit. At least that’s the only logical reason I can come up with as to why a good number of my colleagues are overweight, uncomfortable around women, favour bucket-loads of knock-off “designer” cologne and have the facial expression of a freshly stunned Friesian.

I suppose they’d be one reason the new “no tie” office look went down so well. Previously, there was always a good chance they’d either blind you with the odd colours or get them trapped in a office fan and strangle themselves.

As for their shoe choice – maybe it’s some subconscious folk memory of all the turnips their ancestors kicked, or simply that need of rural idiots everywhere to emulate cowboys. Whatever, the general effect is of so many Boss Hoggs rolling around the office, leaning on other people’s desks for support while telling endless tales of last Friday’s drinking escapades – which were indistinguishable from every other Friday night save for the variation in who threw up over whose shoes.

But anyway – you see why the man-bun is never going to be the hairstyle of choice there.

What is odder is that it hasn’t even taken hold amongst, say, the marketing or IT departments. OK, IT is a fashion no-go area, but you’d expect at least one goatee or braided beard? Strangely, no. All our guys seem to be weekend car nuts, or even TA volunteers. Bizarre.

The marketing/graphic design bit is easier to explain. The poor dears entrusted with our corporate image struggled to get through art school, even with parental backing. I used to dabble in the stuff in my magazine days, and was at uni with people who went on to style ads for the like of Nike. From time to time I amuse them with the latest horrors from our corporate offering, which leads to much sniggering over typefaces that haven’t even been seen in Marks and Sparks advertising since 1990 and odd “designer” touches last seen on Albanian hotel brochures of about the same period.

So, no surprise there are no man-buns there. Even their slim fit jeans come from Lidl rather than Harvey Nicks.

Finally, could it simply be that male office workers in the Isle of Man have better taste and some dignity?

No. That would be even more ludicrous.

The Office

In the midst of generating enough paperwork (mostly pointless) to destroy a rain forest at The Unpleasantness this week I also found time to produce the following scientific formula.

In any given task, bureaucracy expands as the time and facilities allotted by management shrinks. This growth and shrinkage occur at the same time, in the same space, with the same energy, and are in every other way equal but opposite.

As this is (a) true, (b) comprehensible and (c) intentionally funny I doubt that it will ever appear in one of those vacuous Business Studies textbooks, but I thought I should pass it on.

Now some might ask why I waste time at work thinking up such things when I should be – well – working. You obviously haven’t worked for years. Certainly not in the offices of a major player in the financial services industry.

Because one of the first things to note is that nobody in an office actually does much office work.

There are, for example, the managers who – every day, and doubly on Mondays or Fridays – come in late, go home early and spend at least two hours per day noisily micromanaging their offspring’s sporting careers. Speaking of which, I really must start gathering evidence to check if the obnoxiousness and low intelligence of children whose parents work in financial institutions multiplies in direct proportion to the seniority of those parents’ positions in the institution.

Seriously, I’m starting to suspect that their parents only keep such grunts running round in circles to ensure they’re too tired to shriek and throw faeces around their bedrooms. The descriptions of these charmers I get from objective third parties would certainly suggest gorillas in King Bill’s uniforms.

Lower down the chain, this micromanaging of kids and partners is also a constant amongst female staff. First thing in the morning (or at least once gossip about last night’s TV and domestic traumas has been duly exchanged) the I-phone or tablet is plugged in beside the office PC, the first calls from kids come through on their office extension, the first instructions to feckless spouses are given on the mobile. Then, throughout the day, the whinges flow in and the orders flow out. This goes on until lunchtime, when they leave early and return late, and sporadically throughout the afternoon, when any down time is spent shopping for home furnishings on Amazon, booking holidays, etc., etc.

Then there are those who spend more time supervising evening and weekend staff social activities than the actual office work of those who live in the real world, interact with families, friends and community and so would not or could not be seen dead drunk at such gatherings.

And so it is that I, a confirmed idler and the world’s most reluctant office worker, often appear to be the only one actually working – at least for the company.

Odd. Very odd.

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.

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 https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/02/gustav-metzger-artist-appreciation , https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/03/gustav-metzger-obituary and https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2017/mar/03/gustav-metzger-art-revolutionary-human-being-capitalism .

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.