A New Year, A New Start

•January 3, 2016 • Leave a Comment

I think it’s been well over a year or two since I posted on the blog. I know I’ve renewed the domain at least once since I last posted, anyway.

So what with it being a new year and all, I thought I’d make a renewed effort to get my money’s worth from the domain 🙂

It gives me a chance to refocus the blog on a couple of things. The first is that I’ve started making recordings of gaming videos and posting them to my YouTube channel. At the moment, it’s very racing-game focused (there’s a playlist of Forza clips, some Project CARS hot laps and the most recent is a series of sprint stages from Codemasters’ awesome PC rallying sim Dirt Rally). The plan is to try and add some more clips and recordings of other types of games, both from my Xbox One, and from the PC. Technically I could also pull clips from the PS4, but I don’t have much in the way of PS4 games to record.

The second new focus for the blog is my latest collecting obsession – customised playing cards. I’ve always been a huge fan of playing cards – how they feel, how they shuffle, etc. but I wasn’t aware of quite how many customised decks were out there in the wild. I’ve gone from a half dozen to well over a hundred and fifty different custom decks from a huge number of artists, designers, magicians, and sellers. I can’t tell you how much I’ve spent so far, but I am constantly amazed by all the different decks and designs. I’m planning on using the blog to publicise new decks on Kickstarter that are being crowdfunded, to show off pictures of decks that I’ve acquired, and to just document some of the decks that I think need to be shown off.

At the end of last year I started posting some YouTube and Spotify music playlists to Facebook so that people actually had something interesting in their facebook feed rather than the usual bollocks of slightly racist posts from people who should know better, reposts of Britain First bollocks from people who really don’t know any better, pictures with supposedly ‘deep’ sayings on them, and pictures of people’s babies/kids. I stopped before christmas when I wasn’t well, but I may well start posting a few (under the RJFM banner) in the new year. Not every day as I was, because that took an awful lot of work, and advanced preparation – neither of which are my strong suit. But what better place than to post them than here on my own blog as well as the usual Facebook/Twitter combo?

And in amongst those three main topics, there’ll be the usual bollocks of politics, TV stuff shit about any ongoing health issues/crises as and when they happen. There may possibly be a little bit about work in an entirely non-specific way, to ensure that I’m not in breach of my employer’s social media policy. And there’ll be the occasional post about my ongoing attempts to learn Japanese and stuff about the various digital comics I’m reading, courtesy of Comixology.

So that’s the plan. A new year, and a new focus – incorporating more pictures, and more videos. And we start in the next few days with a post about where the playing card collecting began recently, with the Bicycle Illusionist deck from Lux Playing Cards.

 

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Laid Up

•February 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Well, it’s been ages since I last wrote anything, and not just on this blog (although it has been fucking ages for the blog). That’s partly because I was busy on my 14-day trial for learning Japanese, partly just me being lazy. Writing started becoming a bit of a chore once I went back to work and was having to deal with an idiot of a project manager for 7 hours a day.

 

But now I’ve actually got no excuses with regards to work. I won’t be going back to work for some time, I think, and when I do, I’ve got a feeling I’ll be on “light” duties.

 

No, I haven’t resigned. And no, I haven’t been sacked (whoever shouted that from the back of the room!). I’ve actually been diagnosed with a blood clot in my left leg. If you’ve got the time, there’s a long story behind this… let’s go back to the beginning of how this all started.

 

No Spitting

One of many Dublin Bars

Weirdly, I don’t think I’ve been feeling 100% since I came back from Dublin way back at the start of December. I wouldn’t say everything stemmed from that. Nothing of the sort. In fact, I probably got more exercise on that trip, walking between pubs and walking around the city than I’ve got in ages.

 

But over that weekend, I think I finally smoked myself out. I took two packets of 20 camel lights over, and I smoked them at almost every opportunity. In fact, I ran out on the Sunday morning.

 

By the time I got home on the Sunday, I don’t think I have had a single moment where I felt like I fancied a cigarette. Which is brilliant, in it’s own way. The fact that I don’t see myself ever having another cigarette is great. A shame it’s taken me “smoking myself out” as it were to get to that stage; it’s probably not the best thing, but what can you do? Stopping smoking generally involves some form of willpower, which, in most circumstances, I’m not overly blessed with.

 

Anyway, having smoked myself out, I seemingly picked up a cold and chest infection, which took bloody ages to shake off. And when I say ages, I mean weeks. I felt ill over Christmas & New Year, which put a distinct downer on celebrations. I barely drunk anything, even though I had two and a half crates of wine sat underneath the kitchen counter. I really couldn’t face the prospect of drinking, plus I really wanted to enjoy the wine I had there, not to just drink it. So I didn’t touch any.

 

Eventually, in the new year, I went to see the doctor, as I’d coughed enough that when I was stood over a bowl of steaming water and I coughed up some phlegm, there was a spot of blood there. Only a tiny spot, but it scared me enough that I don’t think I coughed anything else up just in case there was more blood (stupid idea I know, but like most blokes, out of sight is out of mind). When I went to the doctor, I got some antibiotics (which a mate seemed quite peeved about, as his doctor had refused to give him any!). Those antibiotics finally did the trick; I was also referred for a chest x-ray. I’d never had a chest x-ray (or any type of x-ray) before, because I’ve never broken anything. The x-ray was a bit odd – I didn’t even have to take off my t-shirt! I was able to just walk in to the local hospital and get the x-ray done, although it did take me a bit of time to find the right place.

 

Having had the x-ray I kind of forgot all about it, and headed in to work – didn’t give it a second thought. I felt ok-ish after that; although not brilliant (I had the odd bout of panic attacks in work, which happens from time to time and I’ve learned to disguise them pretty well, although if people know me well, they might see that I’ve suddenly become a little less talkative than usual).

 

In the week or so after I having had the x-ray, I started feeling lumps in my throat, along with my throat feeling a bit scratchy. So I went back to the doctor earlier than I was planning to – and I felt slightly dismissed. Apparently, I had swollen lymph glands, which is really common and I kind of felt that the doctor wanted me out the door. While I was there though, she mentioned something that they’d found on the x-ray; something slightly “bulky” to the left side of my heart. Probably nothing for me to worry about, but I should probably keep my scheduled appointment later in the week to discuss the results.

 

Now, I’m never one for waiting for news (particularly medical news). Most of the time, the anticipation is worse than the news that’s likely to be delivered. It’s also a driver for my panic attacks to kick in again. So it’s fair to say over the next few days between doctor’s appointments, I felt lots of strange twinges in my chest that I was convinced were related to whatever this thing around my heart was, but were far more likely to be muscle strains from me propping myself up on one side or the other.

 

When I eventually went back to the doctor, he explained that this thing that had been identified on the x-ray was probably nothing – that it could have been that I was turned at a slight angle when it was taken. As they didn’t have anything to compare against, he suggested that I wait for a couple of weeks, and they’d do another one, then have a look at that and go from there.

 

The same day I talked about the x-ray results, I had a pain behind my left knee, on the inside of my leg. It made it slightly awkward to walk on, and so I was limping about a bit, to the amusement of one or two people from work (who shall remain nameless, so that they don’t feel guilty that they were mocking someone with a genuine injury). I went to Bristol that weekend, for the start of the 6 nations, and although it was a bit uncomfortable, I managed to walk from the train station to the pub ok (if a bit slowly).

 

After that weekend, I picked up another cough, so I thought the best thing to do would be to delay the chest x-ray slightly, so that the cough had cleared up – I didn’t want another thing on there that could be mistaken for something else.

 

I was planning to go back and have the chest x-ray at the end of this week, or early next week, but things have all been overtaken by where I am now.

 

When I woke up on friday morning, I didn’t feel great. I hadn’t got a huge amount of sleep. My left leg had been aching again, and I’d woken up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. But I got up, stuck my jeans on and hobbled down the stairs from the top floor (the leg was feeling a little dodgy, but nothing too bad).

 

I jumped in the car, and I’ll be honest – changing gear started to become a little bit painful. I tried to avoid changing gear if it was at all possible. When I got to work, I got to my desk – ironically my desk is about the furthest you could possibly walk to a desk in that building, logged in and immediately realised I was not going to be able to work. My leg was hurting, it was uncomfortable even to sit down. I typed up a short email to my line manager, and my PMs (including the one who’s been annoying me so much the last week or two), saying that I was going straight to the doctor to have my leg looked at, because I was in a lot of pain. I did manage to get what I thought was an excellent “fuck you” to the annoying PM into that email though, something along the lines of “Needless to say that means I won’t be updating your tracker” (referring to this document that has become the be-all and end-all of the project, and should be his job to update). It was a crumb of comfort at least, in amongst the increasingly painful situation with my leg.

 

Swollen calf

This was a week after first diagnosis… can’t get my jeans leg over my calf any more

I immediately called the doctor’s office and got an emergency appointment. As I was in Cardiff, and it was already 9.30, I wasn’t going to be able to make a 9.55 appointment, but I said I’d get there as soon as I could. I ended up having to wait a while in the holding room, but eventually I hobbled in to see Dr C (who I’m not sure I’ve seen before). I mentioned that I’d felt that my calf was now really tight, because my jeans were pulled tight around my calf – and I had no idea how bad it had got. So I whipped off the jeans, and at that point I realised how swollen it had got. Quite honestly, it was fucking massive. And rock hard too, although not painful, weirdly. I gave the doc a bit of history about the pain behind my knee, etc. and after a quick check on my balls (which was a little unexpected, I’ll be honest!), she decided the best thing was to get straight down to the local hospital for the DVT clinic, to look for a blood clot.

 

I managed to drive to my parent’s house, but that was me done for driving because changing gear was getting really painful. The doctor called me there, and my Dad took me down to the hospital while my Mum collected my prescription of anti-inflammatories. I got to the DVT clinic, and after assessment (and measuring both my calves and thighs to see quite what the disparity was), they arranged for me to have a doppler scan after lunch. A doppler scan, I discovered, is just an ultrasound, like they give pregnant women, and like the one I had for my stomach a couple of years ago.

 

What they discovered is that I did have a blood clot in my left leg (seemingly quite a large one). I went back to the DVT clinic and we started talking about treatment.

 

That's no moon

My belly after 8 days of injections

This is where it gets fun (sarcasm). I had to have an injection into my stomach, and I have to give myself two over the weekend – one of which I’ve done already. It stung a bit after I’d done it, but it seems ok now. Was easy-ish enough to do, although obviously not something I’d choose to do in the general scheme of things.

 

I have new-found respect for type I diabetics.

 

As well as that, I have to go to a clinic at the hospital every day for the next 5-10 days until they are able to thin out my blood, using a drug called warfarin (which also doubles as rat poison – who knew?). In order for the hospital to work out how much warfarin I need to take, they have to take some blood each day (woohoo!), which is never my favourite thing. Even more so when apparently, it’s quite hard to find a vein in my arm. I guess the upside of the news is that it would be very tricky for me to be an intravenous drug user (good to know!). Anyway. They took some blood on friday (looked like an armful, ho ho!), and I didn’t pass out, so that’s a good sign. I guess I’ll get used to it. Side note – I am getting used to it, although I still can’t watch the needle going in/blood coming out – I open my eyes again once the cotton wool ball is on my arm.

 

So now, it’s a case of go home (or back to Parent’s at least, until I’m able to get up and down stairs reasonably), and take the injections, and the anti-inflammatories until the swelling goes down. I will be on warfarin for at least 3, possibly 6 months. I also get to see a haematologist on monday (blood doctor). I’m not going to be in work at least until my blood is thinned out sufficiently that I don’t need to go to the clinic at the hospital.

 

So that’s life for the next few weeks/months. Funny how things get thrown at you. I am quite proud of the way I was defiant to the last with my twat of a project manager. Good to see there’s still a fighting spirit in there. In fact, I think the ache in my leg was driving me to being increasingly annoyed with the guy. He deserved what he got from me, don’t get me wrong, but my bluntness was probably related to the increasing annoyance at my leg.

 

This is all kind of old news to me already – I wrote this back on the 15th Feb, and wasn’t sure about posting it. But I think it’s safe to do so now, particularly now I’m not worried about my condition being life-threatening 😉 I’ve got another update to come that’s already written, but I’ll save that for a few days…

Why I Love Kickstarter

•January 3, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Normally this blog is about things that annoy me, or make me angry. But not this time! This time I want to talk about one of my favourite things on the internet. No, it’s not The Onion (which I barely visit these days due to their ludicrous paywall for foreign readers). It’s KICKSTARTER.

“Crowdfunding” as it’s known, is not especially new. The idea is that creative people who need money to start/continue/complete a project can make a request for a specific sum of money, and people can pledge money for that project. Backers then receive various ‘rewards’ depending upon how much they decide to pledge. If, however, the project doesn’t reach it’s funding goal within the time limit it’s been set, then none of the pledges are taken. It’s an all-or-nothing deal.

So far, I’ve got a pretty successful record on Kickstarter so far, in terms of backing projects that hit their funding goals. Only one of the nine projects I’ve backed so far failed to get it’s funding. In fact, that project was technically cancelled way before it’s deadline because it was quite clear that there was no way it was going to hit it’s very ambitious target. That one project, for people who were interested – was a manga-style comic called n.e.o.n. which looks really good, and I’m definitely hoping it eventually gets published.

There genuinely are projects for everyone on Kickstarter. The first project I ever backed was a sequel to one of my favourite videogames from when I was a kid – Wasteland, an apocalyptic role-playing game. I never really got into any other role playing games – they were all orcs and wizards and spells and stuff – and I hated that stuff. But Wasteland was great. And when the original designers created a kickstarter to raise funds to make a sequel, over 20 years after the original came out, I had to be in. I pledged $100 to Wasteland 2. The project was aiming to raise $900,000 – and finished up with pledges of close to $3 million. In the first week when the amount pledged was going up by the minute, it was fun just to keep refreshing the page, to see how many people were jumping on board!

So that game is probably due around October this year. I can’t wait. But in the meantime, I’ve got plenty of other Kickstarter bits & pieces turning up.

I pledged money to one of my favourite bands so that they could complete the mastering of a new remix CD. I’ve backed a new cartoon by the mad genius behind Ren & Stimpy (John Kricfalusi). That’s due out in a couple of months. I backed a new video game console, based on the Android operating system – that should arrive in March. I backed a build-your-own arcade unit, using the raspberry pi low-cost linux computer – that should turn up sometime in April.

And the one that I’m most excited about – and one project that is still open and raising funds (and that I’d really like to see get to the finish line safely) is this one: We Are Monsters, a film by John Shackleton. This is a local film production company, who filmed a lot of their previous film (Panic Button) just down the road from where I work in Cardiff Bay. The film that they are raising funds for is expected to be shot in the South Wales/Bristol area predominantly (the project is based out of Cardiff, which is how I found it). And I’ve pledged money so that I can spend a day on set, be an extra in a big crowd scene at the end of the film – and GET MY NAME IN THE CREDITS!! How awesome is that? For a measly £100. The production team are all being very active on twitter and facebook too. The Producer/Director John Shackleton is taking questions over Twitter & Facebook, and there’s regular announcements of everyone who pledges. I’ve included links below for anyone interested in either pledging or just want to know more about the film. If you’ve ever dreamt of being in a movie, or seeing your name up there in the credits at the end of a movie (and are probably not going to end up making one yourself), then here’s your perfect opportunity.

While I’ve backed predominantly media-related projects (games, animation, films, etc.) there’s still plenty of other things to back on Kickstarter that are just awesome. Just go to the site and search for projects in the city closest to you, and I’m sure you’ll find something that is worth donating to/backing – even if it’s just to feel proud of being generous. As an example – I stumbled across this one; a community bakery raising funds for a new oven, in a building just opposite the Liverpool football ground in Anfield Road. People trying to improve their local community, build a business and create a community. I don’t live anywhere near Liverpool, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to back them, even for just a few quid.

So, go on, take a look at Kickstarter. And while you’re at it, take a look at Sponsume and Indiegogo too. I might not be the most creative person in the world, but I love backing people who are.

http://www.facebook.com/wearemonstersmovie

http://www.wearemonstersmovie.com/

Who wants to elect their Police Commissioner?

•November 6, 2012 • 1 Comment

While the British news media is currently obsessing over an election in which their viewers have no say (the US Presidential election, in case you weren’t aware – and if you weren’t aware, I’d suggest you go back to the google search page from whence you came), they’re paying absolutely no attention to an election that’s about to take place across England and Wales (with the exception of London) on November 15th. On that date, voters will get a chance to elect their very own Local Police Commissioner.

“Local Police Commissioner, you say? I remember my voting card arriving a few weeks ago, but I had no idea what it was for”. And there’s a very good reason why you wouldn’t have any idea why that voting card turned up: because the publicity for these elections has been practically invisible. But I’m jumping ahead of myself…

It takes quite a lot these days for me to get angry enough about something that I dig out my WordPress password and sit manically at my keyboard for several hours, ranting on about something that no-one but me cares about. But elected Police Commissioners has tipped me over the edge.

“Rich, why would you get so angry about something that less than 10% of the registered electorate are expected to actually get involved in?”.

Well, thanks Mr Anonymous Fictional Voice of Reason. I’m glad you asked! Mr AFVoR raises an interesting first point. Democracy can be a precious thing. You only need to look at how citizens of oppressive regimes fight so hard to oust dictators and achieve the right to elect their leaders to see that democracy is something that we shouldn’t ever take for granted. But in the UK, we’ve become weary of general elections, referendums, local council elections, local assembly or parliamentary elections, European elections and more, that rates of participation in elections have been on the slide for a considerable time now. I’m just as guilty of voter apathy as anyone. Of the three Welsh Assembly elections for which I’ve been an eligible voter, I’ve only actually voted once (apathy at the last election, absenteeism/being in England on the day of the election prior to that are my two excuses). Although since I voted in the first Welsh Assembly election, and voted yes in the referendum on having a Welsh assembly, I’m claiming a 50% voting record. I always vote in general elections, but my local council and European election record is a bit spotty.

Voters are increasingly seeing these elections as being less about democracy and more about jobs for the boys, electing people with no talent or personality to toothless elected bodies with little to no power to change their lives. And when apathy hits home, what you don’t need to do is hold an election for a position that absolutely nobody wants to vote on. This is the first thing about elected Police Commissioners that drives me mad. Who asked for elected Police Commissioners? Was there a public outcry that I missed? Have we become Gotham City, crying out for commissioner Gordon? The truth is that no-one wants or asked for elected police commissioners. Having elected Police Commissioners was actually buried in the Conservative manifesto for the 2010 election (no doubt drawn up by the man who wants every Englishman to have the inalienable right to have his bin emptied weekly – who could probably fill a bin each week with his leftovers – the delightful Eric Pickles MP). The fact that it’s in your manifesto doesn’t men that people actually WANT it though – which will be amply demonstrated by the voter turnout at these elections. Currently, voter turnout for this election is being predicted at around the 10% mark or below. IT COULD BE SINGLE FIGURES. That’s right – less than 1 in every 10 ELIGIBLE VOTERS (i.e. not even 1 in 10 of the actual population) may end up voting in these elections. This could mean a winning candidate being elected on the basis of 6% of their electorate or less. I think we can agree that that wouldn’t really be a valid mandate for any elected official.

“But Rich, lots of public officials are appointed on tiny mandates from the electorate – why else would you be mad? I mean it’s not like these officials are going to be highly paid, with almost no accountability, is it?”

Another interesting point you raise there, Mr AFVoR. It’s strange that you should mention salaries, because this most certainly is a position that is remarkably well rewarded.

The ONS’s Social Trends (income & wealth) data released on 24th Feb 2011 (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/social-trends-rd/social-trends/social-trends-41/income-data.xls) lists median gross weekly male pay for 2009 as £531.10 [£27,617.20 per annum, based on a 52-week year]. Yet these officials will be paid more than two and half times that amount – a staggering £70,000 per year, and will be elected for 3 1/2 years (with no indication of the likely electoral term after that, although I would presume it to be in the region of 5 years). That means that on the 16th of November we will start paying 41 elected police commissioners a total of £2.87m per year, and a grand total of over £10m before they are next up for “election”.

That, readers, is an absolute SCANDAL.

As well as the enormous salary attached to this pseudo public office, there’s no indication that this will actually be a full-time job for any of the candidates. It will be interesting to understand how many hours per week the job will entail, and what other positions/directorships/public offices that these officials will be allowed to maintain. This time next year I plan to raise a Freedom of Information request for my local police authority (South Wales) to find out how many official hours of work have been undertaken by my local police commissioner, and I would encourage people from other police authorities to do the same. I have a feeling I’ll be disappointed with the number of hours that my local Commissioner attributes to this job (in comparisons to his earning elsewhere). It will also be interesting to understand whether these police commissioners will be bound to declare any outside interests (like MPs are bound to do via the Register of Member’s Financial Interests). Will commissioners be allowed to sit on the board of, say the esteemed worldwide security giant G4S, and also be accountable for driving local judicial/imprisonment strategy? Will they be allowed to be a director of a company that makes police batons? Stun gun manufacturers? Will they be allowed to get paid/receive flights and hospitality for attendance at security conferences around the world on the basis that they’re elected police commissioners? We won’t know – because they won’t have to declare it.

“So Rich, apart from these officials being elected by a tiny number of people, to very well remunerated, likely part-time jobs, with no scrutiny of any other directorships or additional work or lobbying they may do, WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?”

Isn’t that enough, Mr AFVoR?

Well OK, my last problem with this electoral charade is the actual candidates. Speaking as a voter in the South Wales police authority, the probable victor will be the Labour Party candidate, The Rt Honourable Alun Michael MP (financial interests as a sitting MP are here). My main question is this; why on earth are political parties putting up candidates for these positions? If you wanted to dispel the notion that these are anything more than jobs for the boys, then allowing candidates to stand attached to a party affiliation is not the way to go about it. Party affiliations are being attached to candidates because they know that if people actually turn out to vote (unlikely, as noted above), that if they are faced with 4 names without a political party alongside them, they will vote almost completely at random. With party affiliations, there’s the vaguest possibility that people will vote along their typical general election voting lines regardless of the name of the candidate.

The other reason that the candidates need to have party affiliations on the ballot papers is that they have not been allowed to issue any election material (during council/general/regional/European elections, candidates are allowed free mailings to their constituency). Whilst this has no doubt saved money for the taxpayer (although as we’ve already established, we’ll be spunking plenty of money up the wall in other ways with these elections), it also means that voters will have no idea who their candidates are unless they have specifically searched for them on the internet. If they don’t have access to the internet, they’re pretty much up shit creek.

I would encourage everyone to find out who their local candidates are. You can do that here or here. Using those resources you can also get to see quite how astonishingly trite the candidates’ “manifestos” are. They really are desperately lacking in any kind of ACTUAL POLICY. And by containing a complete lack of policy (which will therefore make the successful candidate almost entirely unaccountable), you have to wonder what exactly we’ll be getting for our £70k per year. Attendance at a few meetings, perhaps? Maybe an annual conference of the 41 elected PCs (no doubt at the taxpayer’s expense)? A monthly chat with the Chief Constable?

On a personal note, one thing I find particularly repugnant is that as well as The Rt Honourable Alun Michael MP standing in South Wales (some might say the fact that he uses the line “tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime” in his ‘manifesto’ is nauseating enough), who should we find standing in North Wales? This Tal Michael fella looks familiar! He wouldn’t happen to by Alun’s son would he? BINGO.

My politics lean to the left, but I find this father/son double-team almost as vulgar and repugnant as the way the entire Kinnock family took residence in the EU (as, variously, Commissioners, MEPs and researchers – do a google search as I’m honour bound not to link to stories in the Daily Mail or Daily Express on this blog).

“So Rich, with all these terrible candidates, who’ll be elected by a tiny minority of people, to a highly-paid part-time job, with zero accountability or transparency, how do I go about choosing who I should vote for?

A good question Mr AFVoR.

My answer is that I’m not going to vote for any of them. And this isn’t in any way a cop-out. I’ll be attending the voting booth. But I will be deliberately spoiling my ballot paper by writing “NO” in large letters in the two boxes beside each candidate. I’ll be exercising my democratic rights by demonstrating that I don’t want ANY of these candidates elected to this role.

I realise that my act of defiance will be ultimately pointless, since one of the candidates will be elected. But I’ll make sure that whoever does get elected, they really will be held accountable for the meaningless drivel that they wrote in their election statement. I’ll be asking for metrics. And details of their outside interests. And I’ll use the Freedom of Information act if required to obtain the answers. And I’ll publish the answers I receive on this blog.

Roll on November 16th!

The insipid pointlessness of Line Managers and “People Management”

•March 12, 2012 • 1 Comment

Under no stretch of the imagination could I ever be considered an ambitious person. My modus operandi has (and is always likely to be) to fly below the radar; to raise as few flags as possible. I’m distinctly uncomfortable with the idea of anyone looking up to me as an example of any kind of model behaviour or as a role model (although I’m pretty sure people I’ve worked with in the past have looked up to me in that way). I have no wish to manage people or to pass judgement on them in any work capacity. I’ve always been honest about this attitude to anyone who’s ever been (un?)fortunate enough to be assigned the task of managing me in my job. I’ve always felt that my honesty on this front has been appreciated by those people I’ve reported into. With one or two exceptions, I’ve enjoyed a friendly and respectful relationship with my line manager(s) over the 15 years that I’ve been gainfully employed. And while I may have caused trouble for some of them, and occasionally placed them in awkward positions through my own stubbornness, I always tried to be respectful and made sure that they knew why I was being awkward.

I wanted to lay out my personal attitude towards management before I launch into the diatribe that follows, as it may well be that if you don’t share at least some of the attitude above you won’t have a clue where I’m coming from. Please feel free to stop reading now.

Good – you’re still here.

So, with this blog having lain dormant for well over a year, what could possibly have caused it to rise phoenix-like from the ashes of a distinctly unhealthy dislike of Danny Dyer? Yes – the answer is simple. I’m really angry about something.

That something would be the new tier of management that my company has seen fit to create.

Being assigned a new line manager is always tricky. As with any new work relationship, you have to spend a bit of time trying to figure out where you stand; are you going to be relative equals, friends, or confidantes, or is there going to be an obvious power imbalance where the manager lays down the law, and the managee has to just suck it up? Normally it takes a couple of meetings, a few conversations, maybe a few more phone calls to figure each other out, to understand where each person’s motivation lies and how things are going to work going forward.

Seemingly not in this case. In my very first meeting with my new manager, I was paid a compliment which was followed up with an indication that “from talking to other people”, I apparently “lack motivation”. Good to see that someone had done their homework… although it might have been nice not to go into our first meeting with that pre-conception.

After the meeting, I did have a think about who might have made that comment about me, and while there was one person who immediately sprung to mind, it quickly dawned on me that it could have been pretty much anyone who’d ever worked with me, ever. And I figured it wasn’t worth spending any more time trying to nail it down. 

So besides having had a sweeping generalisation made about my work ethic, a couple of other things stood out from that first meeting. The first was that whereas my previous line manager had spent a decent amount of their own time compiling evidence for my performance appraisals (despite being only part-time as a manager), from now on the task of compiling all of this falls distinctly on my own shoulders. This comes despite the fact that my new manager is 100% line manager, and nothing else. Which doesn’t seem quite right – my new manager has more time on their hands, and yet more of the burden falls on me… so what exactly will they be doing? It will no doubt be pointed out to me that maybe if I had spent a bit more time compiling that evidence in the past, I may well be in a different position now. To those who make that suggestion, I will smile, accept your comments, and redirect you to my opening paragraph. I wouldn’t argue this point at all. In terms of my career, the only promotions I’ve ever had were either stumbled into by chance or where other people have been convinced (by others) of the quality of my work, not through any activity, pressure or ambition of my own. “Go-Getter” is not a phrase used to describe me.

The other thing that stood out from that first meeting was a question about the number of hours I work. I’ll be honest: as a principle I try not to work any more hours than I need to. When a project I’m working on hits a crunch point, I’ll do what needs to be done (often grudgingly – but if you work with me long enough, you’ll learn to tune that out). So when my new line manager suggests that I’ll struggle to stand out performance-wise if I only work my contracted hours, I was a little bit taken aback. Was this a suggestion that I should do lots of paid overtime and impact my project’s finances, or was it that I should do more unpaid hours? Surely in a large company where cost-cutting is the watchword, and workplace stress is supposedly very high on the company’s agenda, neither of those two options would be sensible things to suggest? And yet that was a topic of conversation in our very first meeting. It was also documented in the event that I am ever absent from work due to stress.

This is a really serious issue. Should a responsible employer be encouraging me to spend more time in work than I’m paid to be there for? What about those people with young families? Are they being encouraged to work longer hours and miss out on seeing their kids? Are they tacitly being told that they’ll not be awarded positive performance ratings if they put their family ahead of their job? That’s unbelievable. And yet, I’m not the only person who’s been on the receiving end of that suggestion from my new manager (which at least reassures me slightly that my “lack of motivation” isn’t singling me out for special treatment).

This takes me on to where exactly that line between work and not in work gets drawn. Ever since I escaped the dark period known as “the call-centre years”, I’ve always been pretty careful about switching off from work. When I leave the office, I try my best not to think about work until I stumble, bleary-eyed, into the office again the following morning. In general, it works pretty well. If I work longer hours, whether they’re paid or unpaid, it becomes trickier to switch off. Working unusual hours causes the same problems…working a midday until 10pm call-centre shift can really make you feel like you’ve never left the office.

The point is, whilst I work with some great people, and I enjoy the time we spend together when we’re in the office, I also value the time I’m not in work. It’s my own time. I don’t exactly have a bustling social life (quit sniggering at the back), but that time is my own. I resent any attempt to take even a second of that time from me. I like having that line drawn in the sand between my work, and my life. A work/life balance, you could say.

That balance is important because it reflects the fact that I’m an employee. I’m paid to do a job. I’m not invested in my job in the same way that a small business owner would be. I work for a faceless corporation. So I do my job (as well as I can – and as well as everyone I work with says I do), collect my salary, and go home and do whatever it is I like to do.

In short, I work for the company and do their bidding so long as they pay me. When they’re not paying me, I don’t. They employ me. They don’t own me.

Which segues nicely into the most astonishing suggestion yet by my new manager. It seems that as part of my performance appraisal, I can include any voluntary work that I do, and it will count in my favour. So if I perhaps liked to spend my spare time trimming back bushes at a local school, or as a school governor, or as a coach at my local football team, that would count in my job performance appraisal. Seriously. So not only has it been suggested that I should work more hours, the company would also like me to spend some time doing good deeds for my community, or else I’ll get marked down.

Are you fucking kidding me?

They employ me. They don’t own me.

The fact that I choose not to volunteer or spend my time on performing good deeds for my community is irrelevant here. Even if I did volunteer my spare time on something, it would be because it made me feel like I was doing something worthwhile, and the last thing I would want is for that to be included in an appraisal. It’s no longer selfless or volunteering if you’re doing it for selfish reasons.

This is where the line has been crossed. I’m not prepared to smile and nod along with this any more. I take the “work more hours” suggestion with a pinch of salt, because I know the company hasn’t got a leg to stand on. I can pay lip service to the idea of working unpaid hours. But not this one.

I was recently accused by a colleague of acting “like a 70’s socialist” about the performance management process, that I was acting as if my employer owed me something – and that I had no choice other than to “bend over and take what the company is giving me”. Nothing could be further from the truth; after several periods of potential redundancy over the last few years, I’m well aware that the company owes me nothing. But in equal measure, I don’t owe them anything either – least of all my loyalty. Which means I’m not obligated to take what I’m given without speaking out. My spirit might have been beaten down in an endless series of company restructures, but it’s not broken.  

With that in mind, I look forward to my next face to face meeting with my manager. Without wanting to be confrontational, I’m not in the mood to let these things go. I will be challenging them all. There’s a fair chance I’m going to be marked down as a troublemaker of some kind. I can’t wait.

All of which brings me back to the title of this post – people whose only job is to manage other people are the most pointless people in a company. Would projects still get delivered if they weren’t there? You bet they would. They’d probably get delivered a damn sight quicker. Would we still have plenty of ambitious people scrabbling for promotions? Yeah. We would, because those people will always exist in a big company. So what do those managers do? They create more work for everyone and spend most of their time desperately trying to cover up the fact that they could disappear tomorrow and no-one would be asking where they went.

My point is this: in a company desperately concerned with “value”, it’s hard to discern exactly what this tier of management actually brings. It really does feel like a shocking waste of money, and the additional time-suck they’ve created costs far more than time – it saps the morale too. My answer to all this is a simple onr – if you’re an employee who has a manager with no purpose… make it your purpose to keep them busy. At least it’ll feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.

Danny Dyer is *still* a cunt

•May 5, 2010 • 2 Comments

Well, well.

Seems like everyone is catching on. It turns out that besides being a smug, talentless prick, Danny Dyer is now advising spurned boyfriends to cut the faces of their ex so that no-one else will want them. This was in response to a question asked on his weekly “agony” column in vacuous lad mag Zoo.

My previous complaints about Danny were really about his enormous ego. This story just reinforces his cockney cunt persona. I’m actually struggling to put into words quite how distateful and repugnant he is.

Danny – quit with the “I’ve been misquoted” line. The column’s got your name and your face on it. While I’m sure you didn’t actually write it (as you’d struggle to write anything with words longer than 3 syllables), you’re still responsible.

And you’re still a complete and utter cunt. Glad to know I’m not the only one who thinks so, though…

Dom Joly’s opinion of Danny Dyer

General Election 2010

•May 3, 2010 • Leave a Comment

2010 was always going to be an election year. The campaign itself has been running for close to a month, and the end is near. This thursday, the UK electorate votes for a new government, and potentially a new prime minister.

This is the fourth general election in which I’ve been able to vote, and in that time, I’ve seen a new government sweep to power (1997), and since then I’ve seen that party make so many great strides forward for Britain, and yet at the same time let me down on so many levels.

The Labour party (I refuse to refer to them as ‘New Labour’) swept into power on the promise of a fairer society. That Britain would be a meritocracy, that money would no longer be able to buy you privilege. That those people at the top of the financial scale would pay their fair share of tax to ensure that the poorest in our society wouldn’t have as little. That government would no longer be soiled by scandal, bribery and influence-peddling. We were going to see reform of the House of Lords. No longer would a family name entitle people to have a say in how our country is governed.

Where are we now?

For a start, we’re 13 years down the line from Tony Blair’s crushing 1997 victory. 13 years in which some people in Britain have prospered. Some people have risen out of poverty, while others have remained mired in the same holes they were in 13 years ago. We have a national minimum wage, which successive Conservative governments (and oppositions parties) argued would bankrupt tens of thousands of businesses every year, and which in fact did nothing of the sort. We have more schools, we have more hospitals, and the NHS has so much money it employs a personal assistant for every doctor and nurse in the country (OK, that was a lie).

So things got a lot better. People felt wealthy as the value of their houses rose. People could borrow more, buy more things, build bigger houses, consume more. But it was all built on sand. And the sand moved in 2008, with the banking crash.

While I wouldn’t say I played any part in the banking crash, you could argue that I benefited directly from the behaviour that contributed to it, since the deposit on my house was paid from money earned in bonus payments from the bank that I work for. So I’m as much to blame as any other home owner out there who took out a mortgage at a ridiculously low rate that it was obvious the banks couldn’t sustain.

My point is that none of us are blameless. We, as consumers, knew that the financial boom couldn’t last forever, and yet we carried on spending, and borrowing and consuming like there was no tomorrow. Our financial institutions and our government knew that the boom couldn’t last forever, and yet they carried on borrowing, lending, spending and consuming as much as they thought they could get away with.

And that’s why we find ourselves at a crossroads with this general election in 2010.

Britain has a history of lurching from one side of the political spectrum to another, because of the ludicrous way our parliamentary first-past-the-post electoral system operates. For decades we’ve swung between the Labour Party and the Conservative party. The ‘workers’ and the ‘management’ parties. It’s easy to think that this election will see the inevitable swing back to the right that the newspaper and the media (and David Cameron) were expecting.

Except this election could be different. For the first time in my lifetime there appears to be a credible alternative party in Britain. And they could hold the balance of power at the forthcoming election if people actually vote the way they keep telling the polling organisations they will (although I’m naturally wary of all market research companies).

What I’ve found most remarkable about this election is the way that the Liberal Democrats have emerged as a credible alternative to the two-party state. It appears to have all started with the first televised debate between the three Westminster party’s leaders. This was a first for Britain. Previously, we’d been a bit too stiff-upper lip (or at least, far too blase) to actually have the leaders of the parties debate each other. It just wasn’t British. Television debates were for those savage, backward types in the colonies (and the US). And yet, when the debate did happen, people actually opened their eyes and realised that there was actually a 3rd party they could vote for – and they actually had some ideas that make sense!

It makes me angry, and frustrates me that the people of Britain are so apathetic that it took a televised leaders debate to make them actually wake up to an alternative voice in British politics. Were people paying such limited attention to the country’s political landscape that they were unaware that a 3rd party even existed?

After the first leader’s debate Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats saw a huge leap in their polling figures. As a I write, following the third and final debate, and with the election looming this thursday, those polling figures still seem to be holding up. It appears that for the first time since 1974, Britain is heading for a hung parliament, with no one party in control.

With a hung parliament the most likely outcome (according to polling data), political attention has turned not to the Lib Dem’s policies, but to merely a cat-and-mouse game of trying to work out who they would side with. And it’s this which makes me most angry of all.

The media in our country (both newspapers and TV) like to portray themselves as above politics. They aim to inform us, to root out injustice and hypocrisy in our politicians. At least, that’s how they like to portray themselves. Instead, they’ve actually become part of the problem.

I had been moved to write this piece earlier in the campaign and chose not to. But a fairly insignificant event took place today which cut through my own apathy and made me sit down and type.

The BBC news channel were showing live footage of a Lib Dem rally in Streatham. Quite honestly, it felt a little uncomfortable, with almost a punch-and-judy pantomime style speech by Nick Clegg (whether it was intentional or not, the crowd might as well have been chanting “he’s behind you” about David Cameron). But it wasn’t the uncomfortable speech that prompted me to write. Shortly after returning from a weather forecast, a local BBC reporter spoke to Nick Clegg. But rather than ask him about his policies, or how he would help the people of Streatham, about the quality of the local candidate, or what good he (or she – since the candidate’s name was never mentioned by the BBC) would do for the local area, there was simply one question that the reporter wanted to ask. “Who would you side with in the event of a hung parliament?” “No, I really need to push you on this – don’t you think the voters deserve to know?”

This might have been just an annoying local reporter wanting to get her foot on the ladder to becoming a Westminster correspondent, but it struck me as representing the election in a microcosm. The media don’t want to have to discuss policy with politicians, because they think the viewers don’t like it – and they’re right. So instead they stick to trying to get a soundbite out of the politicians in the hope that they’ll feature on the main news broadcasts. “If I get a scoop about what the Lib Dems will do in the event of a hung parliament, I might get promoted!”. The viewers, meanwhile claim to not want to be patronised by politicians – and yet when the politicians do talk about policy, the nation switches off. Or goes off to moan about immigrants taking all of the (low paid) jobs (that British people feel are beneath them).

So the broadcasters have to take their fair share of the blame. Primarily I find myself angry with the BBC, as it’s their news I watch most. Sky obviously have their proprietorial agenda, and ITV news is just utter trash, suitable only for people who don’t know the meaning of the word hyperbole. But they all share this incessant need to create a story, rather than try to actually try to understand party policies, and their underlying reasons, influences and impacts.

The newspapers also need to take their fair share of the blame. And in this, not one newspaper escapes unscathed. I’m not even going to get into how disgusting the Daily Mail is with it’s “Clegg Nazi Slur” headline. Likewise the Sun and the Express make me want to vomit. However, newspapers like the Guardian, with its liberal-leaning bias have been equally culpable during this election campaign. I point you at this article in the Guardian. This entire article was written after watching Nick Clegg being interviewed by Andrew Marr the previous day. I also watched that interview. And anyone with an ounce of political awareness could tell that the article was written entirely with its own agenda. The newspapers think they have to interpret things for us, to tell us a story, to explain what Nick Clegg actually said. The story becomes what he meant, rather than what he actually said. The BBC were also complicit in this, since they spent the entire day replaying, and having a seemingly 15-year old “Westminster correspondent” dissecting the interview (or, more accurately, a 30 second clip of it). The “correspondent” again seemed desperate to make a story out of something that was actually a very straightforward conversation. Nick Clegg quite openly expressed a view that (shock horror!) the party with the most votes should get the first opportunity to create a ruling coalition in the event of a hung parliament. And that it was actual votes rather than parliamentary seats that is important. And that his party wouldn’t be interested in sharing power with either the Conservatives or Labour unless they were prepared to share a legislative agenda with the Lib Dems, including electoral and financial reform, as well as cleaning up the decades of financial abuses from politicians across the political spectrum.

This interview became the story. The story wasn’t about the Lib Dem’s political agenda. It was about what they would do in the event of a hung parliament. Rather than let us hear the actual interview again, the BBC push forward a spotty-faced oik to tell the viewing public what the BBC interpreted Nick Clegg’s comments as meaning. Once again the media (in all it’s forms) failed in its duty to educate the voters of this country, instead preferring to childishly pursue one single line of questioning. “Are we there yet dad?”

So that’s where we’re at. A faltering economy, an election days away, Britain seemingly becoming more isolationist and right-wing, and a government I previously supported breathing its last.

You may think after reading this paean to the lib Dems, that that’s who I’ll be voting for on Thursday. You may be right. For the first time in 13 years I go into an election still trying to weigh up who’ll get my vote. My choice is made all the more difficult by the fact that my constituency MP is a remarkably honest, decent, honourable man. He was not involved in the expenses scandal (other than to stand out as one of the beacons of honesty trying to fix the system). He stands up for his constituents, and he doesn’t slavishly follow his party’s line. In fact, looking at his electoral leaflet, it takes a minute to actually spot the party logo – it’s almost as if he’s ashamed of the party which he purports to represent.

And therein lies my problem. For all his honesty and honour, he represents a party that I no longer feel represents me. I don’t think I’ve changed. Those people who know me know that I’m as much of an agitator and political animal as I always was. But the Labour party have forgotten who they represent, and who they need to stand up for. Whichever way I eventually vote, I won’t do so with a heavy heart, because I’ll either be voting to change the electoral system or for an honourable man who’ll subject whichever party is in power to the same level of scrutiny he’s always applied.

I just hope that my vote counts for something. And I hope my next post isn’t under the auspices of a new landslide conservative government, which truly would be a disaster for this country.