Friday, 22 January 2010

The Last Induction

Despite a hacking cough brought on from currently residing in a cesspit where my cohabitants think it’s ok to keep fifteen mice as pets and leave upwards of six bin bags in a corridor, I dutifully plodded along to my NHS induction today. It struck me as strange to have an induction when I’m already two months into a job but I guess they do it that way so you have a chance to get settled in to a normal work routine first, before bombarding you with jargon. Although as I only work three days a week, I don’t think I’m ever going to get ‘settled in’. Just as I get in the swing of things the time for my four day weekend (pity me) rolls around and I immediately forget all my passwords and extension numbers.

The chaperone for our little group was a lanky chap who looked a bit like a greasy, elongated Harry Potter whose wizardry strengths lie in handing out evaluation sheets and getting overhead projectors to work. When a guy who looked like Jack Bauer stuck his head cautiously round the door and asked whether he’d come to the right place my pre-caffeinated mind drifted to all sorts of half-baked blockbuster ideas, picturing Bauer casting spells to ensure captured terrorists cannot lie. Harry Potter & The Plot to Blow Up Washington.

Celluloid dreams aside, I found Part One of my two day induction course informative, if a little pointless. The unit in which I work has just been bought out by a privately owned company so its employees are uncertain of their futures to put it politely. I, however, was certain of mine as my contract only lasts for another couple of months, which is why I’m entertaining naughty skiving ideas regarding another training course I’m booked on approximately one month before I’m scheduled to leave. Presciently entitled ‘Resolving Conflict in the Workplace’.

A memorable highlight of the day was the section on fraud, which has supplied me with plentiful lucrative ideas for creating ghost employees (it doesn’t even have to involve murder) and overclaiming on my mileage. This part was delivered by two former coppers, one who would be played by Robbie Coltrane who did the scaremongering and another, Ray Winstone, whose massive sausage fingers lobbed cheap plastic ‘Report NHS Fraud’ biros at us.

The energetic Health and Safety man doubtlessly would have been portrayed by Jim Carey. In one cringe-inducing instance he quizzed my neighbour on her role within the NHS. Upon discovering she was a cleaner he cheerfully declared, with brows raised and eyes on stalks, “Right! Nothing wrong with that!” stressing the Right!ness by jabbing his finger at her. Of course if he actually believed this to be true he would have had no cause to say that. He redeemed himself by introducing me to a delightful new phrase, “this’ll make your bum tight!”. Cor. I was tempted to tighten my ears to prevent that dubious morphing of my rectum occurring. This was followed by an Equality and Diversity talk, the presenter of which’s gender is uncertain in my mind. When he/she/it began talking of recent NHS efforts to incorporate more rights for transsexuals as wells as gays and lesbians within its literature, I wondered how much of a hand (or whatever is the most appropriate limb) she’d had in that particular agenda item.

My head is now brimming with acronyms and legislation most of which is irrelevant outside the NHS, which I am soon to be cast out of. But as always I’m grateful for the experience if only so I know what not to bother going to in future, and for the chance to see Daniel Radcliffe & Kiefer Sutherland on the same stage. I also discovered I cannot concentrate on a slideshow presentation if it contains spelling errors, Unnecessarily Capitalised Words, or


uneven spacing.

Which is why I could not possibly divulge any more content about my day.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Space Oddities

(Originally written November 2009)

I finally tackled the tip of the merrily-decorated twinkling iceberg that is Christmas shopping this week. As with every year around this time my initial Christmassy cheer goes right out the painstakingly decorated window as I encounter other stressed shoppers whose only purpose in life seems to be to bump into me. As usual, I mutter to myself around clogged aisles of impulse buys about how I really ought to petition for a law to be introduced decreeing the exact range limitations an individual has to respect when in one’s presence, if they’re not a close friend, love interest or family member. Or all three.

And while they’re at it, how about a sub-law describing Rights of Way on Pavements? I.e. if you’re part of a couple please release your desperate clutches to allow a singleton to pass between you, or to enable yourselves to walk in single file so I can actually share the pavement and don’t have to walk in the road and risk being flattened, or be accosted by a bin/lamppost.

In extreme cases, in areas of concentrated known episodes of pedestrian rage, victims can be issued with Grease-style spurs which spring out of their shoes when attackers invade the designated allocated area of personal space.

* * *

I think it was during post-traumatic-shopping disorder I discovered evidence in my usual sanctuary of ‘home’ that feminism in practice is working a little too well. I entered the kitchen of the flat I currently share with 3 others to find a proud note from one of them drawing our attention to the fact she’d ‘scrubbed’ the kitchen and bathroom (largely full of her mess – teabags and hair dye seem to form her staple dietary needs). Upon closer inspection, however, it appears she had only swept the room with a glance. The washing up hadn’t been tackled at all, the overflowing bin hadn’t been taken out and there was a further note next to the still-stained hob with an arrow directing our gaze to aforementioned pasta sauce stains:

“Please could people clean up after themselves in future – I don’t want to play housewife again!”

After picking myself off a crumb-coated floor after I’d finished laughing at the incredulousness of this statement I felt shocked and, if I’m honest, a little angry. I am the main (unwilling) cleaner of the household: therefore am I viewed as ‘housewife’ too? Should I go the whole hog and make them packed lunches and attend to their sexual needs and complete all the other tasks we so readily dismiss housewives for carrying out yet which many of us would be lost without?

This day also marked the first, to my knowledge, that in a year of co-habitation she’d actually shown any knowledge of where the cleaning products live (the next step being learning how to use them effectively, ‘hun’). I guess to easily admit to such type of knowledge would label her too ‘housewifey’.

* * *

Next week I’ll be exploring the issue of Maths and Toilet Roll/Quantity versus quality: why it is unfair of you to buy a two pack of the luxury brand when I bought a 12 pack of the economy stuff when it was my turn. Be sure to tune in.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Just Do It

It’s so simple to pluck mass-produced trendy items from the rails in men’s clothes stores. And although one could argue the range is not as varied as women’s options; the prices in Peacocks, Primark, Asda and the like are comparable to those on the tags of ladies garments.

In this culture of growing social awareness, however, where we check our supermarket groceries increasingly for Fair Trade logos alongside the more traditional pie-chart emblem, more are asking for the opportunity to intersperse style and price with a clean conscience.

Popular fashion brands have associations at first invisible to the naked eye: Hugo Boss gloss over their history of Nazi sympathies and suppliers of uniforms to the SA and SS guards with well-known sleek and sexy advertising. Nike...where do I start. A tarnished history of employing slave labour who get what they’re given after working unthinkable hours in sweatshops so we have too many pairs of trainers to chose from.

The fact is that there are reasonably priced outfits available but the marketability for such is ambiguous. Sure, celebrities will pose in the buff for transient anti-fur campaigns, but what of longer-lasting promotion? Socially responsible companies don’t have the money to advertise their advantages whereas the companies that exploit their workers consequently do. Plus the most popular fashion advertising is generally aimed at women, so what efforts are being made to draw male attention to fashion ethics?

A brief internet search I conducted into the topic of ethical fashion threw up such names as www.hippyshopper.com and www.nomadsclothing.com – names which may discourage a large proportion of potential consumers who do not wish to be affiliated with bohemian culture and student-activist connotations. I have a feeling my conclusion that eco-friendly clothing, to become commercially attractive, needs to be re-packaged, is not entirely too dismissive and off the mark.

A study named Consumption Trends in the UK – 1975-1999 conducted by the IFS revealed “there is a significant gender effect on the clothing share”. Unsurprisingly the difference was less marked in 1999 than the extent of the contrast revealed in 1975. Women’s magazines still try to encourage expenditure on clothing with the excuse of it being a comforting exercise, a way to promote the self, a way to get what you want out of life – be it a lover or a job. Men need less pressure to spend because they do not fall prey to the same trappings to the same degree – there is little desire created to constantly rejuvenate their wardrobes to pander to the latest seasonal requirements, men tend to replace clothes when necessary, rather than for narcissism. News reports frequently emphasise the destructive nature of fashion advertising on women’s mental and physical health, rather than peer pressure that may arise in male groups. Less competitiveness is generated in the men’s clothing industry compared to women’s to get the best, newest version of whatever.

Venturing from my home in Canterbury to go down the coast to visit Hastings recently, I was struck again by the lack of diversity in the town’s main shopping precinct. It has been acknowledged by many a socioculturalist for years that British towns are becoming homogenised – for any acquisition of ‘uniqueness’ one must venture into the back alleys, or the internet. And sometimes the back alleys of the internet. An example of which is www.etsy.com. Launched in 2005 its ever increasing popularity is indicative of the consumer desire for handmade and recycled items. However, the result you’ll stumble across, time and time again, is that if you want to be ethically sound you’ll have to part with more cash. The choice is yours.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

It’s Only Words...

At 29,000 words, Shakespeare had a vocabulary only most of us with our measly 4,000 word limit could only envy. He even had the audacity to make up his own words – from ‘bedroom’ to ‘excitement’: something this writer would like to see appear in conjunction more often – as somehow 29,000 just wouldn’t cut it at times. We have since accepted a vast majority of these words into our everyday language, although the meanings have often changed. Shakespeare was indeed a true wordsmith, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he invented that word to describe himself and his elucidatory powers too.

A comparable trend has been rearing its head for some time now among the writers of today’s celebrity bibles but whether to similar everlasting effect only time, naturally, will tell. With appeal to mass society like Shakespeare in his time enjoyed, I’m talking about Heat, Glamour, What’s on Tv etc who along with credit crunch busting ideas such as only spending £100 on that oh-so-versatile dress which will see you through right into next week take it upon themselves as leaders of the new lexicon to coin such terms as ‘totty’ ‘kecs’, the almost-cute ‘preggers’, ‘hubby’ – who actually calls their spouse this and gets away with it?, phrases such as (cringe) ‘hot-to-trot’ and endearing celebrity nicknames (substitute ‘Madge’ for Madonna, ‘Chez’ for Cheryl Crow – I know they would) which are supposed to make us think of them as elder siblings in our humble directory listed worlds instead of the A-C listers they actually are.

And of course it doesn’t stop there. Showing admirable genius and in an eco-friendly paper-saving effort, somebody had the idea of combining the names of celebrity couples to create a superhuman transgender effect in our gossip hungry minds. I’m talking of course of BRANGELINA. I quiver whilst I type the very word. Imagine the red carpet-swathed devastation this monster leaves in its wake. And it doesn’t stop at people. Coronation Street becomes of course ‘Corrie’ and, alternatively, Tesco and Asda have the unnecessary ‘s’ suffix.

I would actually pay money to see these publications tackle issues of larger cultural weight than that of Katy Perry’s latest hairband or Charlotte Church’s. Weight, I mean. How would they describe the recession? ‘Reccers’? How about swine flu? Perhaps settle for a trendy acronym (see also: WAG). SF? But perhaps people would then confuse it with science fiction. Oh, wait...

That said, if I were tomorrow to receive the phone call inviting me to work with any of the above-mentioned tedious tomes, I would switch off the Corrie, pop down to Tescos with my hubby in tow to purchase my hot-to-trot trews as inspired by the likes of our Madge and Li-Lo and swot up on my knowledge of Kerry Katona’s exercise tips and check out whose pecs are perkiest on telly’s top totty. I’d be the headline-hungry Editorial Assistant littering a trail of poor puns throughout your coffee break magazine in no time.