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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 43. The Criminal Records Bureau

This is a wonderful example of an initiative that seemed like a great idea, until the government and private partnerships got together to fuck it up and turn it into a massive job creation scheme.

The Criminal Records Bureau was set up by the government as a means of vetting individuals who wish to work with children or vulnerable adults, either as a professional or a volunteer. Individuals wishing to work with these groups (i.e teachers, coaches, youth leaders etc) have to undergo a police background check to ensure that they haven't any convictions for kiddyfiddling or other serious offences. This is commonly refered to as a CRB check.

Sports Centres by their very nature have a lot of children customers (plus groups of "vulnerable adults" such as the group of profoundly autistic and mentally disabled adults that are brought down each week as part of the truly incredible attempts by their carers to enrich their lives). Thus, all of the coaches are CRB checked. As are the Duty Managers (who may have to perform first aid for example). As an agency worker I am not, and thus my duties are restricted accordingly. I am not allowed to take down the details of anyone under 16 wishing to join a class, although I can take their money off them etc. This restriction has meant however, that my usefullness on the admin side of things is also restricted. I can't do a lot of the routine paperwork because I am not allowed to access the customer database for under-16s.

Of course, the CRB check has one glaringly obvious flaw - it only lists people who have been caught. Perfectly reasonable, considering that we don't (yet) live in a police state, but something that can occassionaly be forgotten. It also seems a little anomalous, that whilst I can't have access to children's details I can have entirely unrestricted access to the details of any young women who sign up for coaching classes... But I digress.

So why don't I get a CRB check? Well I gave it some serious thought. After all, I want to take a more active part in science week (at present I can only run classes with adults or children if their parents are present) and it would probably be a useful thing to stick on the bottom of my CV. There are two big reasons.

1) It costs £40. Fair enough. I could probably get it paid for if I could persuade the bosses at my agency that it makes me more employable. Even if I can't, I would regard it as an investment and might be prepared to pay for one out of my own pocket.


2) It is non-transferable. Seriously. You pay your £40 and fill in the forms, send them away and (many) weeks later they give you a certificate to prove that you have not been done under the 2005 Gary Glitter Act, and a unique reference number. That certificate is supposedly valid for a year or so, after which a new employer may insist on a new one being done if you change jobs. But even better than that, new employers (or voluntary organisations) may well insist that you get a new one even if you had one done 3 months ago. One of our volunteer coaches had one done in the summer. In order to also coach classes at another centre, he has just had another one done! Costing another £40.
And that isn't an isolated case. One new coach must hold some sort of record. He's a widower and semi-retired. He is therefore keeping active by voluntary work.
These are the CRB checks that I know of.
1) He is still a part-time surgeon, thus he has to have a CRB.
2) He is on the board of governers for two schools - both required a separate CRB.
3) He is a scoutmaster (yes, you guessed it!)
4) He is a volunteer badminton coach (yup - yet another).

The CRB went live in 2002, so his checks are less than 4 years old. Each time, it cost him or the organisation £40. Do the maths...

So, having been given a unique reference number, why the hell can't he just quote that number? The CRB double checks its database to make sure that nothing has been added to his file and gives the thumbs up to his new employer? How can they justify charging £40 and performing the exact same checks as before?

I have a theory.
When it went live in March 2002, there was a massive backlog of applications, some 300,000 by October. This was entirely predictable, given that every teacher, dinner lady, scoutmaster and sports coach in the country had to get one done before they could start work again. Needless to say, they didn't predict it and there was chaos for many months. In that time, I am certain that they will have employed extra staff to shift the load. Now it has settled down, the workload should have dropped considerably - after all, only new teachers etc need to be checked now. All of the 30 year veterans have been checked. One would assume that means that a large percentage of the initial workforce have since been laid off... have they?

Makes you think... £400 million job creation scheme anyone?


Saturday, November 26, 2005

... as a bag of spanners

All of my workmates are really nice people. From the coaching pros, to the other receptionists/ duty managers to the catering staff, cleaners and (with the possible exception of the pervert with the defecation movies on his mobile phone) security staff, everyone whom I have worked with at the sports centre has been nothing but friendly. Although, for obvious reasons I cannot wait to get a "proper" job, I think that I will probably miss the staff at the centre, and may well pop in for a chat when visiting the area in the future.

However, niceness aside, one or two individuals can drive me insane. For today's case study let us look at "Michael". A pleasant and generous individual, popular with the customers, he has risen to the exalted position of Duty Manager, a job he has held for 2 years. The problem is that Michael has 2 major flaws.

1) He is as dumb as a bag of spanners. Seriously. This isn't some "I went to university and you didn't, so you are dumb" bullshit - I have a lot of respect for the other duty managers, none of whom went to university. They are very good at their jobs and I've actually learnt a lot about the surprisingly complex world of sport centre management (all of the DMs help draft the centre's business plans etc and are responsible for co-ordinating major events etc). Sadly, however, Michael is one of those individuals who can be told the same thing several times, made to write it down, and yet he still manages to fuck it up. Repeatedly.

2) He lies about his fuck ups. The fuck up then magnifies until eventually it all comes crashing down. Remarkably however, he appears to be untouched by the consequences of his mistake. It seems that when the fuck-up comes to light Michael is either on holiday or on secondment to another sports centre.

An example of the first flaw occured quite recently. It was early one morning and Michael had just gone on holiday. The phone rang and I put a somewhat irate caller through to the DM whose name is given as a contact for all external invoices. A few minutes later she emerges from the office.
"He's done it again! I can't fucking believe it! He's been doing this job for two fucking years and he still can't get it right!"
After some more spleen venting, she explained the situtation. One of Michael's (regular) duties is arranging use of the centre for corporate events. A major corporate client (and thus one that we do not want to piss off) books the centre a few times a year. Michael discusses their needs and quotes them a price. He then fills in an invoice (which has the other DM as a contact for queries on the letterhead) and posts it off to the company's finance dept. It's paid, and the event goes ahead.
"Michael quoted them £1,000 VAT inclusive for the upcoming event" (VAT is the UK's sales tax and is 17.5%).
"I've just had the big cheese at the company demanding to know why the invoice that was sent was for £1,175"
"Michael has added VAT when the VAT was already included in the quote" I realised
"Exactly - it's the 3rd fucking time he's done it!"

Another "Michael Classic" nearly had quite serious consequences and almost got me the sack - it might still be his downfall. Needless to say, I have had to change some details of this story.

Like many sports centres, ours gets some funding from the council to subsidise sports classes for adults and kids. The customers still have to pay for the classes (about £30 for a 6 week course for the adults) but it is a lot less than it would be if they had to pay the full cost of the room bookings, equipment hire and the instructors etc. When the customers pay their course fees, the money goes through the till on a special code. Thus when the till takings are audited at the end of the day, that money can be diverted into the correct budget.
A few weeks ago, the woman in charge of those budgets came out of the office looking panicked.
"I've just looked at my budget and I am hundreds of pounds down. Where the hell is that money, I have to pay a load of bills off that budget".

A cursory glance at the figures for the week, revealed that an impossible number of courts had apparently been paid for by members of the public paying cash at the till. Not only that, the till had a serious shortage the night before.
The implication was clear. I had fucked up royally. Yet I had no memory of doing so. The previous few nights had been quiet and uneventful.
"Who was the DM last night?"
"Michael", I replied. Knowing glances were exchanged.
"Lets have a look at the till audit roll shall we"
The audit roll, was duly unrolled to a length of about 10 metres, and we proceeded to go over every transaction for the past 48 hours.
Eventually the culprit was found. A single transaction of several hundred pounds, cash, over the till logged under general sales. We went to the safe and retrieved that night's takings in their plastic bag. The bag contained about £100 - and a thick wad of cheques. The names on the cheques matched names on the adult courses.
"Sane, you know the procedure for these courses. Put it through on the correct code, and you must differentiate cheque payments from cash payments. No wonder the till was so badly short."
He was right. I do know the procedures. It isn't rocket science, and I've been here a couple of months. I didn't do it.
I then spotted my salvation. The time of the transaction - 2050h. I work until 2100h, so in theory I was signed on to the till. However, the previous night there were no customers and it was pissing down with rain. So at 2030h, Michael said I could go early, and one of the lads from security kindly drove me to the bus stop. The security guard verified my story.

I'm told that Michael has denied all knowledge, but the clock on the till is accurate and the security guard was following his set rounds (which are timed). I've been told privately not to worry. Michael will probably get away with it again, but everyone knows I am blameless.

The irony... a few weeks ago I reminded him that he needed to put the last lot of payments through on the correct code and as cheques...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

How did you get here?

So here we go, as promised a selection of some of the weirder search terms that people have used to get to my blog. As before I have copied and pasted directly from the search box, so no sniggering at the spelling. Well OK, maybe just a little considering that it is often the fact that both the searcher and I haven't used a spell check that has gotten my blog flagged at the top of the results page...

First of all, can I make it clear that


I have had something like a dozen different searches from different countries using different local versions of google for this televisual treat.

Similarly, Paula Radcliffe getting caught short in the London Marathon has also spawned several different searches, including

paula radcliffe takes a pee

paula radcliffe pisses in street

I'm afraid I can't help you.

What I want to know is why do people like MadDog get nice searches, such as the lovely Sarah Beeney, whilst I get searches like:

kebab sweating jade goody

peter andre twat


LIsa Minelli Disease

It would also seem that I am a popular destination for folks looking for Scientist Porn (which came up twice) and bizarely Hawaian Porn. That'll be my dodgy spelling then. Ahem.

Sadly I have no pictures to share of Jolene Blalock nude

or the frankly eyewatering germain greer on bez

Some of the search terms are just surreal

"mummy's boy" "trousers down" conjures up unpleasant images and I've no idea why anyone would want a free downloadable angry kid onto mobile, whilst I am certain that hand down panties barclaycard is probably not going to feature in an ad campaign anytime soon. And I'm afraid that there aren't any famous people boasting about themself on this site. Nor can I help you in your search for plastic for antique speedometer or Tesco Miracle Gel.

Just occasionally, a real bonafide science search throws up my site

Southern Blot grrrr - quite appropriate I think although I'm not entirely sure what the individual looking for copier paper use "southern blot" was really looking for.

quantitative pcr trouble shouting - is a sentiment that anyone who has ever done qPCR can probably sympathise with.

Finally, in answer to the question Should I lie about my A levels - the answer is no, because mine are shite and we might end up going for the same job.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 42. Worcester Magistrates' Court

It seems that the government's war against chavs anti-social behaviour, has fallen foul of the fashion police. In a breath-taking example of sheer twattery, Worcester Magistrate's Court didn't realise that the lawyer defending 18 year old thug Natasha Hughes was taking the piss and trying it on when he said that she shouldn't be fitted with an electronic tag because she liked to wear skirts and it would look stoooopid.

The vicious little cow was placed under a curfew order after being charged with grevious bodily harm. Part of the deal is that she must answer the door to the police whenever they call, to ensure that she is tucked up in bed under her fake burberry duvet after dark, instead of roaming the streets lowering the house prices. When she failed to answer the door to the police late one night, she was hauled in front of the magistrate with the recommendation that she be fitted with an electronic tag to ensure compliance. In what can be only described as breathtaking cheek, she claimed that she liked to wear skirts and so shouldn't have to wear an ankle bracelet.

"I didn't want to wear a tag because they are really bulky and embarrassing."

Her defence lawyer went further,
" She wants to wear skirts, not trousers, which would cover the tag.
"Perhaps she could arrange for a doorbell that could be linked to her bedroom."

The judge agreed!

What the fuck? Defendents get to choose their punishment now? What next, should we let the prisoners choose the colour of the jumpsuits they wear to court? Maybe they should be allowed to wear burberry with blinged up handcuffs. Rumour has it that BBC1 are contemplating a makeover show presented by Trinny and Susannah - "What not to wear to court". Or how about "Queer eye for the remand prisoner"?

So to Worcester Magistrates for making the law a total arse - take this Tuesday Twat Award and display it prominently under the Crest in the Court room.

Pasty legged Natasha Hughes who really ought to wear trousers.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

You patronising bastards!

Last night, a probationary female police officer was shot dead in Bradford by a gang robbing a Travel Agent.

So how does The Sun newspaper announce the news?

Police Girl Shot Dead

You patronising bastards! She was a 38 year old woman. Would they have called a probationary police officer a "police boy"? No, thought not. Scum.

Administrative Muppetry.

A few weeks ago, I applied for a job at a large Northern English University. A couple of days ago, I was excited to find a large A4 envelope emblazoned with the University logo sitting in my mailbox. Lets face it, they don't send you an envelope that big to tell you "No we aren't going to offer you an interview". I ripped it open on the bus as I travelled into work - I bet everyone on the bus heard my gasp of disbelief. They had taken my address off my completed application form (which took several hours to complete BTW) and used it to send me... a blank one asking me to fill in an application form and apply formally...


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Twat postponement

Apologies for my crapness, but I just haven't been able to find the time or energy to compose one, and I've run out of backups. I went away for a few days and came down with a nasty dose of the flu, so I have been lying in bed alternately sweating and shivering. Now that I am feeling a bit more life-like, I have to catch up on my job applications.

I have a couple of normal posts to share with you over the next few days and I promise a proper Twat update next week.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

Number 41. Dr John Reid.

Dr John Reid is the man that has killed off the English pub lunch.

For the last few years, Britain has been contemplating a smoking ban in public places, a la New York, Ireland or one of a growing number of countries. The devolved parliament of Scotland used its hard won powers to announce a complete ban (including bars and clubs). After many years of wrangling, England finally gets to follow suit... or rather not.

When he was Health Secretary Dr Reid came up with a half-arsed "compromise" that would insist on a ban in pubs containing food (what constitutes "food" has yet to be decided. Pork scratchings aren't food but bizarely a pre-made chicken fajita might be), but pubs that only serve booze will be allowed to keep exposing their staff to cancer-causing smoke (but not over the bar, a distinction that is about as useful as a designated pissing section in the local swimming pool). Well, Reid has moved onto the position of defence secretary and lost a vote in the Scottish parliament, a place where English politicians have no voice.

But never fear! Just because you are no longer Health Secretary for the UK, and are Scottish, should not be an impediment to you sticking your nose in and forcing the compromise on England! Reid has gone toe-to-toe with Patricia Hewitt, his successor, who favoured a complete ban and forced a vote on his compromise proposal. Thus proving that not only is he a meddling troublemaker, but that as predicted, Scottish MSPs do not have the integrity to keep their noses out of solely English politics.

So what does this have to do with Pub lunches? I recently asked the workmate who is starting a bar if he was planning on serving food. To which he replied "No chance. Every other bar in that area will be closing their kitchens down if the ban takes force. No one will come to my bar to drink if it is the only bar in the area that won't allow smoking, and the profit from food just isn't good enough to replace lost drinking revenue".

So on behalf of the many people who enjoy a pub lunch (and, if I may be so bold tens of thousands soon to be unemployed catering staff) - please accept this Tuesday Twat Award, Dr Reid (and any other Scottish Politicians who believe they have a right to comment on English affairs).


Friday, November 04, 2005

Sporting fun

A couple of weeks ago, I posted a few stories about some of the idiots customers that I have to deal with at the sport centre. I shall ignore the comparisons to Mr Britass, and post a few more that have stuck in my mind.

Four o'clock one sunny afternoon, a middle-aged gentleman arrived with a dozen 10-12 year old boys in tow.
"I've booked 3 tennis courts under the name of Mr Twat"
I looked at the booking sheet.
"I'm sorry, I have no bookings under that name".
"Yes you do."
I turned the booking sheet around so he could see for himself.
"No, I'm sorry we have nothing under that name. In fact we have no bookings for 3 courts this evening".
He starts to bluster.
"You most certainly do, I rang up to book them. You mustn't have taken them down properly"
I remain polite, despite the insult.
"I'm afraid we don't. I have not taken any 3 court bookings recently" (we only have 6 courts, so booking up half of the courts at a time tends to stick in the memory).
"Well this isn't good enough. I shall be ringing to complain. And I bet you haven't took them down for next week either."
Nope, sure enough there are no bookings then either.
"What about the week after, I certainly booked then".
"When did you ring up?"
"I can't remember" (I'll bet!)
"It was probably some time last week" (Bingo!)
"Well, we only take bookings 7 days in advance, so you can't have booked ahead then".
"Rubbish! I want your name and I shall be ringing your boss personally to complain about this appalling service".
"Certainly, would you like his number?"
"I already have it. This won't be the last you hear of this!"
"Have a nice day, sir"
He stormed out.
I rang the boss and explained the situation.
Quite rightly, he questioned if I was sure.
I explained that not only was he claiming that we booked over a week in advance (the booking sheets are kept locked away and I can't pencil someone in even if I want to that far ahead), he also claimed to have booked half of our courts (extremely rare), and the piece de resistance - at 4 oclock on that day, we always have regular pre-bookings that reduce the number of free courts to a grand total of 1.
What has actually happened, is that this guy (probably one of the local "youth workers") has agreed to take a group of kids to play tennis. He has taken the money off the kids, but halfway there has realised that he hasn't remembered to book them in. Knowing that he will look like a right prat, and the parents will probably be royally pissed at him, he has rehearsed the whole thing on the way over. The giveaway is the speed at which he lost his temper and threatened to phone all and sundry. In my experience, customers faced with a similar situation are usually surprised at first, then try and help you by suggesting alternate names that they may have booked under or describing who they spoke to on the phone. Annoyance usually takes a few minutes to build up, and they typically demand to speak to a manager there and then. This guy was just putting on a show for the kids.


The next story is a salutory tale of why threatening legal action at the drop of the hat and being unreasonable isn't in your best interest.

An incident occured late one evening over a disputed court payment (I won't bore you with the details). Anyway, it was late at night, the customer was being extremely indignant and forceful, so in the end I just gave him a polite fuck off and told him to ring in the next day and speak to a manager.

After he left, I wrote up the incident ready for the manager. Putting together the facts, I realised that in fact the customer was actually right (that is actually pretty rare - in my experience the customer is rarely right, despite what the old wives tale would have you believe). However, because he was generally obnoxious and demanding, I was more interested in getting rid of him than wading through a ream of documents with him shouting at me.

The following morning I explained what happened to the duty manager, and said that I was man enough to offer unreserved apologies for the misunderstanding and recommended that we give him a couple of complimentary tickets. The manager agreed, but said that he would offer the apologies on my behalf.
The customer rang in.
"I want the email address of a senior manager" (Note the lack of "please").
"Is this about last night, sir"
"The duty manager is here and he would be happy to speak to you immediately"
"No, I have been on the phone to Trading Standards, and they insist that everything is in writing"
I passed on the manager's email address.
An hour later the email arrives. Printed out, it takes up a full A4 sheet. The letter is naturally full of impressive sounding legal mumbo jumbo including a threat to take me to the small claims court personally, and stuff about trading standards. The last paragraph was a complete fabricaton, accusing me of taking money off minors under false pretences (that particularly pissed me off considering that I had been extremely charitable to those two kids by allowing them to play for 20 minutes longer than they paid for and waiving the hire fees for rackets because they only had the court fees and their bus fare).

Now here is a little advice for any would be lawyers out there. It is your word against mine. I can conjure up half a dozen witnesses on my behalf (some of whom weren't even working that night), who will simply claim repeatedly that you are lying. And there isn't a fucking thing that you or the Office of Fair trading can do about it. So fuck off with the threats and act in a civilised manner.

We were prepared that morning to solve the problem amicably and generously. However, the last line of the letter stated that unless we dealt with the problem within a reasonable period of time, he would take us to the small claims court.
"I think a week is a reasonable length of time" said my manager,
"Remind me to deal with that letter when I come back off holiday..."

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Tuesday Twat(s)

No. 40. Vaioni Group.

"Who?", I hear you cry. Well they are the reason that I haven't blogged since the last Twat posting - they are my Internet Service Provider - and they are utterly shite.

"So leave them!" I hear you cry, as you roll your eyes at my foolishness. Sadly it is not that simple, I am afraid. Vaioni are the sole network providers to my apartment block. They wired the building when it was being built, and have an exclusive contract. The building's telephone system is similarly exclusive, meaning that I can't simply hook up BT broadband to my regular phone line.

My broadband connection has been patchy since day one. At first, it wasn't too bad. I sustained downloads of up to 1.5Mbits in the evening. As a night owl, that suits me fine. Two years ago, that was pretty darn good for £27/month. BT and AOL both offered basic 512Kbit packages for not much less.

However, the provider's shortcomings first became apparent when the network went down one evening. I phoned the helpline and was met with a recorded message "Welcome to Vaioni group limited. Our office hours are 9am to 5pm, monday to friday". Yup, that's right. They only work office hours. I'll leave a message, I thought. Ummm, no answerphone. A search of the company's website reveals that that is the only number available.

Well, I live in a building primarily populated with people who work - thus if the service goes down during the night, the chances are that none of the residents will notice before 5pm the following day, and so the problem goes unreported (and thus unfixed) until the following day. It goes without saying that the cowboys at Vaioni have no idea what the network status is until they are phoned by a pissed off resident. Now imagine what happens if it goes down Thursday night... yup, no internet access for me until monday evening. When I got precisiely 1 hour before it went down again. Just enough time for my email inbox to fill with spam - but not enough time to answer any of it.

It is now 2005. BT and numerous rivals offer 2Mbits for about £15.99/month (and even throw in free equipment), so £27/month for 1.5 to 2Mbits (if you are very lucky and no one else is using the network) with no out of hours service support, is fucking shite.

However, the peasants are revolting. A demand has been signed by all residents and passed to da management. If they don't either up the speed, drop the price or let us switch, we are going to stop paying (we all have a rolling contract, so they can't force anything). Let's see who folds first... Twats.




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