Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Non Blog

Not a blog, just filing this here so I have it time and date stamped for a wager I am involved in.

So, yeah: Corbyn won't make the election. Two years as leader, tops. Same as IDS. Best case scenario. Bet lodged. Game on. The person I am betting against says weeks, if he does or says something too off the wall.

Right, that's my note to self done. Not tweeting or linking to this anywhere. Don't want a debate. Particularly when everyone's in full South Park, season 12, episode 12 mode on all my social media feeds. They'll come down on you like a drunk Randy Marsh if you mention any reservations. I am a card carrying union member who has always voted Labour, but I'll probably be called a Tory. Not worth it.

I get that people are hopeful and stuff but it all feels incredibly naive. When Ed Miliband was voted leader I remarked to a number of people that we couldn't win with him. As much as David was more Blairite, he was the right choice for keeping the Tories out, which was the crucial thing at the time - the only thing that counted, I mean shit, the coalition were a nightmare, we could not afford a Tory mob with a mandate. Got poo pooed as I always do (by the same people who are now on the Corbyn bandwagon - some of whom also split the left vote midway through the last election by pissing off and voting green. The same people who were telling me to vote green are now telling me to vote Corbyn. Good grief) Anyway, got told that David was a Tory. Which is bollocks. But they'd rather cut their nose off and spite their election result so that's the way that went. And the worst thing of all, he still remains the most 'electable' potential Labour leader according to the polls. But the left don't know how to play politics. That's why the right always rule the roost. And here we go again. Anyone playing the politics game is a Tory and we're back to voting in someone who won't win but satisfies a handful of people who don't get what the electorate vote on and will once again ensure an easy Tory win. The whole 'they're running scared' thing. Nope. They're having a field day with someone who is incredibly easy to rubbish. Anyway, this isn't a blog and nobody will read it so no idea why I am writing anything. Maybe I needed a bit of a cathartic lament into a vacuum. Yodelling into the void. Trying not to picture Prime Minister Osborne whenever I close my eyes.

Monday, 31 August 2015

The Jason Donovan Board Game

It's Bank Holiday Monday and it's raining. So that's tomorrow's small talk at the work tea point taken care of. Whew.

It's also a great pretext to stay in and finally play the Jason Donovan board game, 'Straight From The Heart', a mere year after finding it in a charity shop for £1.

Here are the Jason Donovan rules; live by them, die by them:

There are four question categories: Love; Favourite Things; Dates; and Music

Some of the questions are about Jason and some of the questions are 'truth or dare' style posers for 7+ girls.

Here are some of the choicest questions that came up:

DATES: Name the date you think you'll get married - Not fair. Impossible to be proven incorrect. I got a puzzle piece for saying "Twelfth of never" though

LOVE: What do you love most about Jason? - Bit awkward this one. But again, easy to win a puzzle piece. Nobody can disprove a thing.

LOVE: Describe exactly what you would say if Jason phoned you now - Easy "How did you get this number?"

FAVOURITE THINGS: What are Jason's favourite foods? - Healthy foods. Nice and vague that. And smug.

FAVOURITE THINGS: What is Jason's favourite painting? - One he did. One he did? Fair enough, I did actually sarcastically guess that based on other self aggrandising answers to questions about himself but still, that's not something anyone could 'know'

DATES: What year will you be 18? - 1998. Does a retrospective answer count?

LOVE: Describe where you would take Jason on your first date - Pass. Keep your puzzle piece, some games are not worth winning.

LOVE: Name one of your friends' boyfriends you like - Looking to stir up a bit of trouble between the players there Jason?

FAVOURITE THINGS: Does Jason believe in nuclear disarmament? - Yes. A man of peace. A great man.

FAVOURITE THINGS: What is Jason's favourite house? - His house. It's the painting question all over again.

DATES: Give a date when you think your best friend's boyfriend will leave her - What larks!

MUSIC: Sing the first line of 'Especially For You' - Especially for you. Toughie.

LOVE: Pretend you're putting on make up - (a) Love? (b) Not even a question

MUSIC: Does Jason like Michael Jackson's music? - Yes. No would have been a little bitchy so an easy correct guess.

LOVE: Does Jason like dinner by candlelight? - Yes. Arrived at by using the classic 'what is the obvious correct sounding answer?' system of guessing.

LOVE: What does Jason think is most important? - Love. Bit easy, given the category.

FAVOURITE THINGS: What is Jason's favourite restaurant? - Any good Italian restaurant. Could you be any vaguer Jason?

LOVE: Describe what you would say if your friend dated Jason - Well, most of my friends are now married so I would ask if their husbands knew, what had precipitated all of this, and in some cases remind them that they have kids to consider.

FAVOURITE THINGS: What is Jason's favourite best friend at tea? - James Maguire. Obviously. Anyone who got that should not just win the game, but be made King of the World.

You have to keep playing until you collect enough puzzle pieces to make a picture of Jason. Which, given the overly specific nature of the questions, can never happen.

Play until you die. Or until you can pass the curse on to someone else a la The Ring, through the charity shop rather than the TV.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

All Work and No Sickness Absence Makes Cameron a Happy Boy

If this Government had a comedy catchphrase it would surely be ‘hardworking families’.

They bloody love hard work.

Which is weird, because most of them have never done any.

Must be the mystique…

Anyway, such is their love of hard work that they are presiding over a situation where many public sector workers are now doing the jobs of two or three people, after surviving being culled during the first round of cuts. And Osborne has the cheek to email us all whilst we’re working hard to ask for ideas for more cuts. I dunno, how about the mortgage the taxpayer is paying on your paddock Gideon? Now piss off I’m busy being hardworking.

The fun isn’t done either. Some departments will be cutting 30-40% in the next five years. How much work can one person take on? It’s like career Buckaroo.

As a result of the first round of cuts, many workers are already falling ill with stress and exhaustion related illnesses. I myself was signed off for two months at the start of the year when the admin team I worked in was cut by a third and subsequent staff absence left me flying solo.

All that sick pay, the occupational health fees and temporary staffing costs; boy it’s expensive this saving money lark. Luckily it’s all ideological bollocks and there’s plenty of cash. Even more if you tax people correctly and try to do something about the offshore problem. But I digress.

The increase in pressure and the resultant increase in sickness absence has, *sarcastic voice* totally coincidentally I am sure, been compounded by a recent nasty change in the sickness absence policy.

Someone I know in a central Government department was recently signed off for two weeks with a legitimate illness, certified with a doctor’s note, caused by work related stress and exhaustion.

This person returned from their time off to the same exact issues that made them ill. They continued to be overloaded with excessive amounts of work. They continued to be given work well above their pay grade. Stressful, high profile, urgent work, with short deadlines. No possible changes to the situation were discussed, mostly because everyone knew the situation could not be improved. The team were understaffed and more cuts were coming, so the overwork would just have to continue, and probably get worse. On day three of their return they were being sent all over town to cover senior management at various meetings. At the end of week one of their return they were on their knees and felt ill again already.

Then two weeks after their return they got a letter from HR informing them that they had reached a ‘Trigger Point’ in their sickness absence record – 15 days in one year – and were on course for disciplinary action.

Being made ill by work and then punished for being ill by the people who caused you to be ill. That’s irony Alanis, pop it in your song.

The ‘Trigger Point’ is 14 days in one year. The 14 days includes weekend days.

Yes, seriously.

So if you have a doctor’s note for two weeks, that’s 14 days of absence. Not 10 like you might think with your normal rational brain. 14. Saturday and Sunday. The day of rest no less. You can’t even be sick on your own time here.

The 15th day they recorded was a day that the person actually worked, but because it was during their doctor’s note (the final day of the note – which was revised to ‘may be fit for work’ to allow their return) it was counted as a sick day. Even though they were in the building working their arse off. That issue is still being appealed so may yet be rectified, as it seems ridiculous, but HR has been told this information several times and still remain insistent on disciplinary action, so maybe logic has left the building forever and Major Major is counted as out when he’s in.

When the person asked if this letter would be sent to someone coming back to work after a long term illness like cancer, they were told that, yes it totally would.

Wunnerful eh?

The letter stated that the person’s manager would have a formal meeting with them where action would be decided. This is what might save their bacon. According to the rules managers can decide not to take action in exceptional circumstances, at their discretion. Fortunately this person’s manager is not inclined to give them a warning, but how’s that for a bully’s charter? If you don’t have a great relationship with your manager they can give you a formal warning – which could lead to your dismissal – even if you have just come back from a serious illness.

The person sent me a copy of the new sickness absence guidebook. It’s very DWP work capability assessment esque. And we know how well that’s going don’t we? Ah, more sarcasm. Here are some snippets:

Attendance discussions will focus on what the employee can do rather than what they cannot, enabling them wherever possible to remain at work instead of taking sickness absence

The Department is committed to promoting a culture of attendance

The Department is committed to reducing the number of working days lost through sickness absence and the impact this has on the business

Generally, being in work is good for physical and mental health and well-being. In many cases an on-going attachment to, and focus on, work can lead to a speedier recovery

We don’t need to be 100% fit to be at work

The manager should adopt a work-focussed approach during all discussions with the employee throughout their sickness absence

Adopt a work-focussed approach to reduce the likelihood of further sickness absences

A work focussed approach to managing sickness absence

Don’t know about you but I’d love to know what a work focussed approach to gastroenteritis would look like.

I understand that people can’t just be off sick all the time. I would never argue for that. As someone who works in a small team, irregular attendance can be disastrous. However the Government are, as usual, approaching the situation with the view that everyone is a chancer who needs to be cracked down on. There isn’t an epidemic of long term sick leave, there just isn’t. People taking the piss are rare and can be managed out because they will usually also be poor performers and insolent. Long term genuine illness is also rare, and has to be managed sensitively. So this shit falls uncomfortably between two stools and is of little use to anyone.

They are also clearly viewing all of their workers as mere resources, to be tapped, exhausted and then slapped on the wrist when they drop down through work related exhaustion. There is no people focus here. Business, business, business, work, work, work. Pesky people damaging business with their frail mortality.

The cherry on top of this foul tasting cake is how dead keen they are to claw back time lost to them through illness but not so keen to recognise all the extra work and unpaid overtime people are doing. An ugly double standard.

Bonuses are limited and people are being told during their reporting year that they cannot attain a top box marking at review time because of top down pressure to mark everyone as ‘adequate’ regardless. So you work all year, doing the job of three people, you get an adequate marking, no bonus and then a cheeky disciplinary if you collapse under the pressure.

Hard working families my arse.


The person has since had a meeting with HR about the sickness policy. They were told the following:

There is pressure from the top i.e. the Government, to apply this policy.

The policy is going to be rolled out throughout the public sector soon and will be the uniform policy everywhere before too long.

HR admitted they did not agree with much of the policy and it had caused them a great deal of problems with many complaints received, but “unfortunately it is here to stay”

The trigger points at this person’s department are 14 days (including weekends) in 12 months and 7 days (including weekends) in 6 months.

Apparently these are generous allowances and at many other places it takes less than this to trigger a warning letter and formal meeting.

There used to be teams to examine absence cases on a more individual basis – i.e. stop an automated letter going to someone who has just come back from hospital or time off for cancer – but this team has been cut. Obviously. Cut everything why don’t ya Dave?

The team who sends out the letters are basically just administrators and do not have the training or knowledge to respond to queries from the people who get the letters. Hence this person having their query and follow-up emails ignored for a fortnight. The net result is a nasty letter gets generated and then radio silence follows if you ask about it. Nice and stressful.

Counting weekends is justified because technically – by bent of being paid annually – we are paid at weekends. Yeah, sure, right, so why am I never called in?...

The justification for the letter and formal meeting was that it is all about supporting people back into work. That old DWP chestnut. However when the person asked if this was not the function of the return to work interview, HR got a bit muddled. They confirmed that the formal meeting did not replace a return to work interview, that it was supplementary and there still needed to be a return to work one. Thus undermining the line that the formal meeting is about supporting people back to work. The return to work interview does this. The formal meeting is where the manager decides whether or not to punish you for your sickness absence based on whether it is ‘causing a concern to the business’. I don’t see how that helps the employee. This Government need to make their bullshit less obvious they really do.

The nature of the sickness is irrelevant. Cancer, depression, anything at the trigger point could get you a warning letter and a formal meeting.

The person asked if someone with a doctor’s note for serious illness, or someone returning from in-patient hospital treatment could be given a formal warning. They were told yes, but the line manager should make the right call. The person asked what if the line manager makes the wrong call or worse, has a grievance against the staff member and can use the system to bully them? HR said if a warning was given in these circumstances a complaint could be raised. The person pointed out that people who were sick or in a vulnerable situation (i.e. stress/depression/working for a bully) might not feel able to raise a complaint or have the energy to fight one. The HR rep had nothing to say to this and just made a sympathetic face and said they understood where the person was coming from.

The person asked about infectious diseases. Should they come in with gastric flu, ebola, the plague? Infect everyone and make entire teams of people go sick in their wake? Or what about the time they had shingles? Should they have come in and risked the life of their pregnant line manager’s baby? HR said no, it absolutely wasn’t the intention for people to come in when ill. Hard to see what the actual intention is then, because if people are going to be disciplined for taking a week off with gastric flu the inevitable result will be people forcing themselves in whilst ill.

The person asked why the letter and absence guidance was worded so harshly. HR confirmed a less confrontational version of the letter was being drafted in conjunction with the Union in time for the New Year. Returning to the issue of the guidance, the person pointed out that it was written in a very leading way that implied that formal disciplinary action should be the normal response to any trigger letter. HR actually strongly agreed with this, but said it wouldn’t be changing.

So there we have it, a sickness policy that overrules doctor’s notes, punishes you regardless of circumstance, has low triggers compounded by the taking into account of weekends and ultimately relies solely on the whim of your line manager, who could be a bully or an incompetent.

Let’s just all just run away and join the circus.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Pull back and reveal

My uncle recently found a card I had made, aged six, in my grandma's memory box.

It is my first documented pull back and reveal joke. And also evidence in any future murder trials I may be the subject of.

Here we have a nice looking house. Christmas wreath on the door. Santa going down the chimney to deliver the gifts. Lovely:

And here we have Santa hanging in the chimney, facing his fiery death with the dead eyes of true hopeless despair:

Interesting to note that there are already some presents under the tree.

Perhaps this card is a comment on the existence, or not, of Santa.

It was my Nietzsche moment.

Santa is dead kids. Santa is DEAD!

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Corrections, clarifications and recriminations

They say the best things in life are free.

They can't have read the Metro.

On 11 June the Metro printed a story wherein they called Mencap a mental health charity.

A mistake. Fine. It happens. So I emailed their corrections and clarifications address pointing out that they are a learning disability charity and that learning disability and mental health are quite different things.

Checked the paper the next day...no correction.

Checked the paper the day after...still no correction. All the time, other corrections are being printed.

So I emailed them again asking for a reply and adding that it was Learning Disability Week (at the time) and ironically enough the theme this year was 'what is a learning disability?' The reason for this theme being a general misunderstanding about the nature of learning disability, so it would be a really apt and helpful correction to print.


I emailed one more time because hope springs eternal right?

Then after a long pause...............................(these dots represent said long pause, to immerse you, dear reader, in the experience.....................and lo, at last, an answer! Oh. A rather snarky answer. Odd.

"Thank you for your notes.
Mencap has been described as a mental health charity in the media for many years.
A quick Google search will find many references in the media and I am old enough to remember the origin of the Mencap name.
Having said that, I take your point and note the current description of the charity as ‘the voice of learning disability’.
In future references to the charity we will endeavour to use ‘learning disability charity’ or similar. But ultimately, the charity and not the media is responsible for getting its message across and for the way it is portrayed. Our aim with descriptors generally is to let readers know who we are talking about and that inevitably may reference the past"

They agreed to use the correct term in future, which is good, but what's with the snark and the smug?

The (strangely overconfident for someone who is wrong) assertion that it started as a mental health charity and that he himself knows this from being aged and wise and knowing the origin of the name.

(Anyone who had an actual grasp of the name would know that it comes from The Royal Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults. Hence Mencap. Not Menhealth)

Then the compounding of that incorrect factoid born of muddled memory or guesswork by only conceding that the correct description - borne out by a visit to their website - is actually merely the 'current description'. So begrudging and sulky.

The batting back of responsibility for their mistake to MENCAP, even though MENCAP get their message across very clearly thanks very much. Something that is undermined by incorrect reporting over which they have very little control.

The inference that previous incorrect references in the media mean that the media can repeat said wrongness ad nauseum, because fact checking is for losers right?

And a worrying reference to perfunctory Google searches, which explains a lot about the quality of their journalism.

They never printed the correction either. A correction that was definitely worth printing. The most they could promise is that they would try to use the 'current' (for current read correct) term from now on, but may inevitably fail.

Nice people. Excellent journalists. Great paper.

Correction: Twats, hacks, rag.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Ghost Hunt!

Hey look, it’s another sporadic blog entry!

Sorry, no discipline. It’s just so much easier to post a 140 character Tweet. Maybe that thing about the internet destroying attention spans wasn't a myth...oh look, a poodle...sorry what was I doing here?

Oh yes, one of my infrequent blogs. I suppose it keeps it special though, eh? Like spotting a yeti or a ghost.

And speaking of...

A couple of weeks ago, I went to 30 East Drive. A property billed as being home to Europe's most violent poltergeist.

As you can tell, I'm still alive. That's one spoiler alert that I can't help, sorry.

I answered an invitation from a friend who I met when I was doing comedy. He goes on lots of ghost hunts and has all of the equipment; emf meters, temperature gauges, night vision cameras.

I figured at the very least it would make for a more interesting than usual response to the dreaded “What did you do at the weekend?” question you get at the work tea point every Monday morning. A refreshing change to: “Not much, you?” - “No, not much”

Providing I survived. Which we have already established I did. More spoilers!

As we turned off the motorway on to the a-road leading to Pontefract we were greeted by a huge sign in a field which said ‘Prepare to Meet Your God’. A fantastic omen.

I should probably stop here for a moment and just state my position.

I was going along as an open minded sceptic. I like to think I am logical, rational and all those synoyms – see my previous blog entry on ghosts and how we frame everything backwards according to experience and preconception – however when I was little a few things happened which are hard to explain.

My dad was pushing me on a swing in our back garden. My mum was in hospital having just had my brother. I started waving and saying goodbye to, apparently nobody. Dad asked who I was waving to. I named the person and said they were saying goodbye and going away. When we got to the hospital we bumped into my nan who said that her neighbour, of that name, had just died.

I don't remember this as I was too young, so I can't conclude anything. The only explanation I have is that I may have overheard the grown-ups talking about her. Maybe they were mentioning she was ill or something and my imagination went with it. I didn't know her and hadn't interacted with her. My nan lived on the Old Kent Road and I lived in West Wickham. At that age, I only went there for a couple of hours at Christmas.

The house in West Wickham was weird too. My mum didn't like to be there on her own. When she put the TV on heavy footsteps started going up and down the stairs. Then when she muted it, they abruptly stopped. I used to claim there was an old man in the house, coming up the stairs. I used to run to bed and clean my teeth under the duvet. Again, I can’t conclude anything. I was too young to remember seeing him. I have no memory of any of it. But I have been told all of the stories. Here’s one which is really rather creepy.

Mum says I had a toy bunny, like the ones in the Duracell adverts, which I used to play with to excess. It was taken off me one day to give my parents some peace. The batteries were taken out and the bunny was placed on the top of a wardrobe out of my reach. In the middle of the night what do my parents hear? The bunny. Batteries back in, marching around my bedroom floor whilst I watched on from my crib. If I'd have been on the ball I would have said “They're heeeeere” in a squeaky voice. Ah, l'esprit d'escalier.

I can't think of an explanation for that one. But the absence of an explanation still doesn't mean ghosts. So yeah, open minded sceptic. More things in heaven and earth, only know I know nothing etc etc.

Whatever, back to the ghost hunt!

30 East Drive is an ordinary looking, fairly modern council property. A strange place for a black monk to haunt you might think. He should be in an abbey or a castle. But apparently there was a gallows on the site of the house and he was hanged for a crime he didn't commit, hence the restless spirit roaming the earth story. There is also supposed to be a little girl in there, and according to the neighbour, an evil elemental in the bathroom. Quite off-putting when you're on the loo I expect.

First impressions on entering were: it's freezing, it smells funny, the atmosphere is tangibly 'orrible. The former two were down to the property being uninhabited, the latter because of the story behind the house. It was odd though, being that struck by the unpleasantness of a place, despite the rational explanation.

(The d├ęcor didn't help. The guy who bought the house – the producer of the movie about it, which we watched in the house that night, woooooo! – has done his best to recreate the look of the place at the time of the poltergeist activity. Old furniture, old carpet, bare beds, creepy china dolls. He has bloody well succeeded)

The cold was weird though it has to be said. I've been in a house that hasn't had the heating on for a long while. This was a different cold. Extra cold. It clung to you. Literally. There was a point in the night where I thought someone was squeezing my legs (actually there was a point where someone really did this – hid under a bed and grabbed my ankles in the dark – I didn't flinch and am therefore, in the words of Alan Partridge, braver than ten firemen and a dozen policemen) The time I am talking about though, I was standing alone in the main bedroom. It felt like something tightening around my legs. I stood there for ages, trying to be objective about this weird feeling. Then I looked down and it turned out the cold and damp had caused my jeans to cling to my legs really tightly. I see now why people on Most Haunted keep insisting that someone is touching their leg (apart from the need to fabricate activity for their TV show that is) There were also sudden drops in temperature in certain isolated spots now and then.

“But were there any weird occurrences?” I don’t hear you say because how could I? Well, one or two.

When we were setting up for the baseline tests my friend found that all of his fully charged batteries had drained to zero power. Apparently this is something commonly reported at 30 East Drive. He put them in the wall charger and we went off to do some of the tests as a group. When we all came back, the wall charger had been switched off. Nobody admitted to doing it. We were all upstairs and the front door was locked. That was interesting. Not beyond explanation but interesting.

During the early hours light orbs were seen on film and on still camera – some say this is supposed to be ghosts trying to manifest, some say it's reflection and dust. So debatable and explainable. There was however an unexplained light which flashed brightly when we were asking for activity. We were in the sitting room and it flashed past the glass door connecting to the kitchen. It was like a car headlight but much more focused and very bright. Our resident die hard sceptic was in the kitchen at the time and my mate said that it had pained the guy to report that there were no cars going past when it happened. That too was interesting and we can't find an explanation for the source of the light. All of the lights and torches were off and the biggest sceptic among us was in the room where the light came from.

The best bit of the night was when we all went off to sit in different parts of the house in the dark. My friend went into the coal shed, where the dad who lived there at the time of the poltergeist activity got locked in by unseen hands, apparently. A friend of his who was standing outside in the kitchen asked “Where are you in the house? Are you in the coal shed?” At which point the motion sensor outside the coal shed went off. My friend leaped out of there and ran at his mate, who kicked the kitchen door shut behind them. My friend decided to put that down to setting up the motion sensor carelessly and it falling over by itself. Amazing timing though eh? Only time in the night it went off.

In the absence of actually seeing a ghost, shaking its hand and having a chat, I remain an open minded sceptic. It was a fun night though and I would recommend a ghost hunt whatever your perspective on the matter.

Here are some photos

The group at the start of the night

Sign on the kitchen door

Creepy decor

Using the emf meter in the coal shed

Stairs where the black monk is supposed to walk

Watching the film about the house, in the house

Waiting for something to happen in the dark

Lights out selfie

Monday, 26 January 2015

Now *that's* magic

Hi. Sorry for never blogging. It's a combination of being way too busy and not interesting enough.

Anyway, before I disappear back into silence, I wanted to show you something.

My friend Jane got me the birthday present to end all birthday presents: A personalised message from Paul Daniels and Debbie McGee.

Drink it in: