Monday, 24 December 2012

A sympathetic ear

   I love call-outs.  

   I hate them too, which gives you some idea of the emotional roller coaster this job really is. But 24/7/365 support is what we’re about and if a call comes in at an inconvenient time such as during a staff review or a personal development meeting, then it’s ‘hey lads, hey’! Down with pens and notebooks and on with the uniform and into the field.

   Cue Thunderbirds theme.

   The operation has got call-outs down to a fine art because; let’s face it (no false modesty just between you and me) we’re the first and we’re still the best. When that bell rings, no matter what footling after-sales task the outfit thinks we ought to be doing at any given time, it’s our long-standing policy that the customer and the customer’s needs come first. We can worry about the paperwork later. The customer comes first, no matter how trivial or silly their wants are.
   Don’t get me wrong, the customer’s needs can be silly indeed. From the harassed housewife who’s locked out of her house with thawing ice cream flooding her shopping and a baby crying his heart out in the car as the cold gets in and a neighbour’s dog barking and snapping at her heels to the stressed middle manager who’s just seen an envelope with his name on it on the HR manager’s desk and whose software just refuses to send the report his boss asked to be ready for this morning’s meeting when he was heading out to the gym at 5.30 the previous night, Technical Support will be there for them. 
   Take those two. They’ve paid their dues over the years; having seen the advertising everywhere they go. But they’ve never believed they’d ever actually need us. Insurance is just that; something you consider, sign up for and then promptly forget all about as they get in with their lives; caring for family, career, making money, looking after each other, paying the rent and so on. But when it hits the fan and they absolutely, positively need help with the slings and arrows then boy, oh boy do they remember us then. 

   And that’s what our Management just doesn’t get.
   I don’t blame them really; they’re Big Picture guys and so it’s fair to say they just aren’t aware about what it’s like in the field; what the punters are really like and what it takes to do the job. Oh, they try: every now and then they’ll come up with some simple notion; some ten-point plan the customers should follow to sort everything out, and then they promptly go back to long-term planning, strategic reviews, the annual audit and so on. But if the customers could follow a ten point plan, don’t you think they would? If that housewife had the grit and the brains to handle the troubles of life all by her lonesome then she wouldn’t have to follow Steps One, Two and Three. It didn’t work for Eddie Cochrane, did it? Or take that middle manager. He’s been doing as well as his limited intelligence will allow; neither tyrannizing his staff in some micromanagement hell nor ignoring them in the hope that freelancing them will let them flourish all by themselves. But his bosses notice that he’s a little lacklustre in the results department and so they wonder aloud if he’d be happier elsewhere. And that’s the exact moment when his POS laptop goes Hal 2000 (and whose upgrade or replacement request has been with the Budget Team for the last eight months) but when his company’s Directors all have state-of-the-art everything with full service packages and comprehensive, professional training from the get-go, Little Mister Meek is faced with a patronizing Microsoft pop-up informing him he’s been A Very Bad Boy, that’s when he calls Tech Support out.
   He just wants a little sympathy as do we all (myself included) and someone to fix this insane, blood-pressure skyrocketing hassle and make it stop. Just you try describing that to my Management in words of one syllable or less. They’ve tried to see the small picture but I honestly believe they don’t stand a chance. The last time one of them went out into the field to show how the customers can be trained to fix their own shit it didn't end well. It’s only human nature to face grief with anger and denial rather than practical self-help and teamwork and Valuing Other People’s Opinions and all that blah, and so on, etcetera. Talk to the hand.
   That’s really why I quit the management training programme in the first place. I just couldn’t see how the bosses would ever discover the slightest possibility of hunting down the location of a hint about where to find a clue.  
   But I believe; I truly, hand on heart believe that we at Technical Support can make a difference in the world in our own humble, bumbling, pragmatic way. And sometimes we get the opportunity to upsell the customer at the same time.

    So there’s the baby screaming the paint off the people carrier and the tattooed moron next door’s pit-bull going for her ankles while a half gallon of chocolate chip is flavouring an entire week’s groceries and Mrs. Mum just wants it to stop - nothing fancy.  The muddle manager just needs the break that he’s morally certain Fate and his bosses won’t provide. That’s when they call me out, quick as you like.
   And there I am in the spotlight; centre stage and ready to do my thing and save the day. Not only will I soon get that feeling of deep satisfaction of a job well done but I might - if I can only get inside their heads and really see their point of view - talk the deal up from, say, finding the front door key or the drop-down menu that’ll email the report all the way up to them actually wishing that the dog’s bastard owner would come out of his house at that very moment and be savaged by the little brute, or that the middle manager’s fucking boss would suffer a heart attack so Mr. Meek will be needed ASAP to take over and prove his worth and thus keep his own job. With a word here and a hint there they can be persuaded to sign up for the Deluxe Unlimited Lifetime Total Cover Plan: payment deferred to the end of the contract. They’re usually so stressed and relieved when I show up they don’t even smell the sulphur.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

And taxes

And taxes

   “You be careful and play nicely with the other children today, even Diane and Greta,” her mother ordered firmly at breakfast time.
   Jasmine looked up form her plain sugared rice pops – the cocoa crop having not yet recovered from the South American round of the changes – and asked; “Why, Mummy? In junior school you always told me to stick up for myself when people were mean to me.”
   Her mother sighed theatrically; a safer response by far than her honest reaction which would be to scream aloud and go out to burn down certain buildings immediately. How to explain it, Alison? Better still, how to avoid the issue altogether and keep the child safe by keeping the truth secret? Can’t hide it all, and the best lie contains some truth. “Jas, it’s because it’ll help Daddy if you’re nice to those girls.”
   “But why?” Jasmine scowled, her twelve years full of integrity and righteousness. “I don’t see why having my stuff stolen’s okay. You always told me it’s wrong to steal.”
   No longer, dear; nowadays it’s actually just somebody else’s privilege. Careful, Annie. “You’re very lucky because a letter we got today says you’ll be going to a new school.
Daddy hasn’t read it yet because he’s working nights, but Diane’s mother just rang me to say she’s going to the new one in Richmond, and I expect Greta will too because her father works for the Government.” The cold-hearted sow had actually phoned to gloat. “Our girls will still be together in September, Anne. Won’t that be nice? They’re becoming fast friends and it’d be such as shame to split them up.” “a pity if your mouse-like offspring escapes my bitch Diane’s claws”, is what she truly meant. Collaborationist tart. Not that we aren’t collaborating in our own way, too. The thought of Jasmine having to go into Rational Education and risk ending up in a shunt shop for the rest of her life was too much to bear. Better get it over with, Annie. Daughterly disillusion and hatred, here we come. “Jas, it’s just that our kind of people have to stick together now that things have changed. You won’t remember it much, but people used to be allowed to visit whoever they liked and befriend anyone willy-nilly, even if it wasn’t sensible. For your own sake you’re going to have to accept the way things are. Not everyone will be allowed in the Academies and lots of your nice friends will be going to the Richmond one. If you’re nasty to Dirty and Gloomy and they tell their parents and they decide it’s Daddy’s fault somehow, then… Well there’re worse things than having your lunch stolen.”
   “Like taxes, Flower,” said Brian stumbling in through the kitchen door, red-eyed and weary from work.
   He slung a briefcase onto the breakfast bar, covering the Academy letter and hurried over to kiss Jasmine on the forehead and wrapped his arms around Anne. They were silent and unmoving for long moments as a stony-faced Jasmine glared at her mother. Then Brian pulled himself away and reached into a cupboard above the breakfast bar. Moving aside a block of ageing baked beans cans still priced in the old currency, he pulled out two mobile phones – clunky and old-fashioned looking. “These are for you, and I want you both to carry them all the time. Flower; pop yours in your satchel now. Good lass. Always leave them on and please, never switch them to mute. They’re from Uncle Keith. Now, here’s the important thing. You know Uncle Keith travels a lot and we don’t get to see him very much, right?”
  Jasmine nodded casually but Anne became very still.
   “So, when he’s in the village he hasn’t got much time to visit us and I want you both to drop whatever you’re doing - no matter how important it is - and go straight to his house. Let yourselves in with the key he keeps behind the name plate.
   If you’re at school Jasmine, just pretend you’re feeling sick and ask them to call Mummy to fetch you (not to call me – like as not I’ll be busy when Keith phones you), so we can all meet as soon as possible. That’s why I don’t want you to set it to mute, Jasmine. Don’t worry about it ringing during lessons. Mummy and I will sort that out with the teachers before you go back.” He lifted Jasmine’s chin and gazed at her. “Promise me you’ll do it, Flower. Uncle Keith is part of this family and it’s important that we see him as soon as he lets us know he’s back. Okay?”  
    Anne nodded and Jasmine patted her father’s slightly shaking hand. “Okay, Daddy. I’ll do that. This is a grown-up thing, isn’t it?”
   “Yes Flower, it is. You’ll understand when you get older.” If. He meant, but did not say, “if.”
   Jasmine pattered away to get her raincoat, hat and ID.
   “You’re thinking of sailing away in the Princess, Brian?” Anne asked, clutching folded arms to her chest.
  “Not the boat, love. But Keith will visit soon. Perhaps even tonight or tomorrow morning. Do send him my love and go with him. You’ll want to pack your bags today, just in case.”
   “Brian, what’s it about? Don’t they trust you at work anymore? Is it because of Professor Milner?”
  “No, it’s not that, exactly. I think they think I’m okay. But one way or another I might not be able to stay at work much longer.” 
    His wife smiled. “Is it the taxes, Brian? Is that why you want to get away? The rumour at work is that even for the managerial caste, they’re going to increase them to a litre a month.” 

Hope and change

   I’m a reasonable man. I’m willing to see the other man’s point of view; nobody could say otherwise.  Nevertheless I, as many of us were, was disappointed in my youth by forces beyond my control and the damage remains with us. All I’m hoping for is to put some of the harm right. It won’t be easy and I’m sure there will be mistakes along the way, but I’m sure I have something to offer; a skill if you like, to persuade people to co-operate for the greater good. The only question is; shall I keep the moustache or not?

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Diary of Dusk Shrugging in Code at the Hallowed Old Grey Chocolate Shop: Volume 2

L---- I---- of I--------  
North West of J--------  
1-, J---, ---2  

Dear Dmitri Alexandrovich,

As I prepare to lay down my pen for the very last time in this year of the Lord ---2, here amongst the beans and bees, I recall the time when Garton, Sandy, Chivers and I were pursued through Kenya’s Burnt Umber Highlands by a pack of the most brassica-breathed square-headed Huns that Marlowe of the Foreign Office could ever grow to fear and send clean-limbed Englishmen against; ill-prepared and disguised as an itinerant band of Romanian Gypsy plasterers. Sandy was but a beardless youth in those days, on the very verge of his manhood and more than half in the dark about what he had left behind in the grey-green fields of Lancashire’s west coast; its fields as flat as the local vowels and his potential for beauty and pleasure almost as high as Blackpool’s iconic, ironic iron tower overlooking as it did the hope and poverty of the lower classes as they drank and sandcastled their pitiful wages away, wages they had sweated for and been bloodied with the work of a year; a year of weeks of long cold days in mills and warehouses; manufactories, mines and the offices of counting-houses. Chivers had once said (and how poignant it still seems, even now as I recall it here amongst the beans and bees) in our early days together at Oxford, struggling with Homer, Virgil, Sir Walter Scott, Scott Tracey, Brains and the eaters of brains and a host of other cultural giants;
    “W------,” he ejaculated, “I dreamed of you again last night.”
   “Was I dressed as a clown again this time, old boy, or naked?”
   “You mean there’s a difference?”

But I grow weary tonight, Dmitri, and I can hear the scraping, the awful scraping that I can no longer ignore and fear, and only wonder when my dear, late wife shall be with me again, despite the best work of the embalmers and the Golden Child’s sweet promises in that magical spring when my grief was young and the cyborg outriders of the Lazy B Ranch rode into town.
   I bid you goodnight, Dmitri Alexandrovich, and wonder where you are; learning to perfect your art perhaps; not merely in its mechanisms and its technicalities, but in the passion and the heart and the spirit of what it offers to a world possessed by empty-eyed navigators, bricklayers and, of course, by the Possessed themselves; G-d damn their empty, soulless, bloodthirsty eyes.

Warmest regards,

The Scarlet Tower
Dragonselbow Castle
Manhaven Reach
Ursula Minor
Migration Day, Second Spring, First Tide of Perihelion, Age of the Coming.

   Dear William

How are the thighs? Any hope of putting some speed into them, as is days of yore when Fat Molly, Deekins Dewlap, the estimable Reverend Sqeedley-Banksman and we two journeyed the length, breadth and collar measurement of the Continent together, one step ahead of the Frenchman and his ticking, creeping, dream-crushing dripping poxy nose; afraid that each day that we would every one of us would awake as bowler-hatted voles, never to see England again?
   The puppet show is going well and, if I can but persuade my honorable employer, Mister Themistocles Widdycobbler, to abandon his obsession with creating the world’s largest albino corset, I shall then be free to perform for all the folk in the castle our tale of the woodcutter’s son who, for a year and a day at teatime was obliged by the Grand Vizier to mime a well-known Elvish ballad narrating the hopes and ambitions of a little Cro-Magnon girl trying to make it in the tough male-dominated world of jocks, hard-bitten editors, and discharged (in so many ways) soldiers, and thus convey in no fewer than nine, one thousand-page volumes her deep, agonized, eternal, self-sacrificing love for an adopted, bulimic, bioluminescent trouser-wearing teenage bear.

But I must hurry. They are coming and slow-moving though they are; if I linger they must surely catch me at last. Happily, I have jury-rigged a scattergun from abandoned prosthetics and scraps of abandoned hosiery and P assures me that I have the fastest and best-adapted car in this most deadly of possible futures; an Alpha Romero.
   But one thing still puzzles me: why have your words and deeds towards me always been of the tenderest and why have you never disclosed, as once you promised, the identity of my parents and the secret of my birth?

Dmitri Alexandrovich 

L---- I---- of I--------  
North West of J--------  
2-, ----ber, ---2  

My dearest Dimi,

What can any parent say, or do, once they have launched a child into this world of pain and wattles? Only that I knew your mother was trouble from the moment she walked into my grimy office on the corner of Ninth and Maine. From the moment my eyes crossed hers, taking in hair fit to make you weep and legs that went all the way up and across and down the other side to Kansas again, I knew our future held nothing but fear, mystery, and gradually slowing thighs.

 And your birth, son? All I can say is that the Butler Yeats did it, who else?

From Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction challenge to write the end of an imaginary novel.