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Snowed in

In which we consider historical weather and historical labour disputes


Incidentally – while the weather is still cold and the snow is deep again – I should point out that, on this day in 1978, the weather was pretty much the same as it is today. “Country in grip of freeze” all over the papers, and that sort of thing.

The reason I know this is: my mother kept all the press cuttings about it, so she could stick them in her New Baby Book.

The other big thing in the news which she saved clippings of, oddly enough, was: Grimsby workers getting rather upset about foreigners taking their livelihoods away. Back then it was fishermen, who hadn’t quite given up their hopes of fishing in Icelandic territorial waters, even though the main Cod Wars had been over for a few years. Today, of course, it’s oil workers who are going back to work, presumably satisfied that their rather vague demands* have been catered for; the fish industry now sticks to breadcrumbing and battering other people’s fish. This is only a rough guess, based on anecdotal evidence, but I’d say that most of the people working in fish-related jobs in Grimsby are migrant workers – largely, as I said before, because they’re the people who apply for factory-line jobs nowadays.

* An awful lot of the strikers interviewed on TV didn’t seem awfully sure what their demands even were, or what it would take to get them back to work. “We’re sending a message to Gordon Brown, that someone will have to do something?” “What will they have to do?” “Um … well, I dunno, but someone is going to have to do something

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Regionalism

In which we discuss employment in Grimsby, as it’s in the news


Nice to see the Grimsby area in the news for once, even if it isn’t very good news. I bet the Grimsby Telegraph‘s news staff have been so excited over the last week, to get some national-quality news to report on, they’ve probably been wetting themselves.*

I was rather wistful myself, what with formerly being local – so much so that in my teens I did work experience in the very refinery that’s been on the news. It’s bad luck, really, for the contractors who sparked the protests off: they would have to bring foreign workers in to one of the most reactionary and xenophobic parts of England. Grimsby’s the only place where I’ve heard someone say the immortal line: “I’m not a racist, but I do think all those coloureds should go back to their own country”. Without irony. And mean it.***

I’m also well aware that the area’s an employment blackspot; on the other hand, though, I also know that it’s not as bad as you might think. There are great estates full of people who have been on benefits ever since they were old enough.**** There aren’t many jobs other than in a few limited sectors. But, when I lived there, I had contacts at a local employment agency. Within a few sectors – mostly factory line work – there were once plenty of jobs. They go to immigrants; Poles and Lithuanians. That’s because Poles and Lithuanians were the ones who turned up to apply for these jobs, and were the most employable when they turned up. It’s easier, I guess, to sit in the pub and rant about how all these foreigners are taking the jobs of honest British workers, than it is to go out and get one yourself.

I said “there were once jobs” because I’ve not been around there for a while, and all I’ve heard since I left has been about factories closing. I don’t know what things are like there at the moment, but from what I’ve heard things aren’t going well. I’m not saying, either, that the work in question at the refinery shouldn’t have gone to a local company. The refinery and its suppliers, though, already in total make up a big chunk of the local workforce, and the small number of foreign contractors that have caused the protests make up a tiny proportion of the number of workers on the site.***** They haven’t put that big crowd outside the refinery gates out of work, either. Grimsby has bigger problems than foreign workers, much bigger problems. The issue shouldn’t be whether the Prime Minster should live up to some sound-bite his speech writers came up with a while back; it should be one of getting more investment into the area. More foreigners, in fact – both Lindsey refinery and the neighbouring Humber refinery are foreign-owned plants. It’s also a problem of education; and a problem of ending the area’s isolationism. You can’t exactly pick Grimsby up and move it closer to civilisation, but maybe things would be better if that could be done with some of the locals’ minds.

* Although their managers won’t like it – it might be a bit of a budget-stretcher for the Grimsby Telegraph, sending reporters all the way from Grimsby to Immingham. God knows what might happen – one of them might even try to put a burger-van lunch** on expenses!

** there aren’t many other refreshment options in the area, unless you can get in the refinery canteen.

*** And it was a nurse, too.

**** I would have said “ever since they left school”, but a lot of them didn’t go to school.

***** The site is, after all, the size of a small town.

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Milk (redux)

In which FP gets a reluctant refund


A couple of people have, for reasons best known to themselves, asked how I’m getting on with the office milk lady since we fell out. Well, I don’t think I’m any more popular with her than I was. Fed up of there being no milk, and fed up of the woman in question – Administrator Of The Tea Fund – refusing to accept that tea supplies were anything to do with her, I told her that in that case she could give me back the balance of what I’d put into the fund, and I’d make my own arrangements from now on. Which might have been a bit petty, the balance being only 20p, but there you go.

She said “I’ll give you it later.” A few hours later, she phoned me up.

“Have you stopped chucking your little tantrum yet?” she said. “We’ve got some milk in – are you back in the fund or do you still want your money back?”

“I’ll have my money back, please.”

“You’ll be very thirsty this afternoon then.”

“Er, no I won’t be.”

“Well it’s very silly of you, you’re cutting your nose off to spite your face.”

There was a pause. I wasn’t entirely sure what she expected me to say, other than possibly start begging for her forgiveness.

“So are you back in the tea fund now?” she continued, persistently.

“No, I’d still like my 20p back please.”

“Well, I gave you one last chance. I’ll get some change and bring it down for you in a few minutes. You said you don’t want your 20p back?” A nasty little switch at the end there.

“No, I’d still like my 20p back please.”

“Fine. I’ll see you later.”

So, a few minutes later she came downstairs, slammed 20p on my desk, and went away again. And since then, all has been peace and quiet. I can see why some colleagues, those who have to work with her more, don’t like her very much, though, after that conversation. This is someone whose job is to talk to customers over the phone, take orders, and so on – it makes me wonder if she tries doubling back on herself and making quickly misleading switches when she’s on the phone to customers as well as to colleagues.

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Milk

In which we upset colleagues


At the office, I’ve been doing more to make myself unpopular. Specifically: I’ve fallen out with the woman who runs the tea fund.

My complaint is this: if you run the tea fund, then you’re responsible for buying tea, milk, coffee, sugar, and so on. If I give you money, to buy tea, then your job is to make sure tea gets bought. Tea Fund Lady – who has only taken the task on recently – did not see things this way. She was there to collect the money. The money sat in her drawer, and anyone who wanted to go and buy supplies could go and get some. Buying supplies herself, though, was entirely out of the question. It was entirely impossible, she said, because she doesn’t have a car. I was tempted to set up a “Stop The Tea Fund Lady Starving!” campaign, because if buying groceries is that difficult I’m not sure how she manages to stay alive.

So, the way I see it, I may as well manage things myself from now on. Have my own tea bags and my own milk, and see how much it ends up costing me. We will see.

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Everyday life

In which the truth gets told


The last couple of years, I’ve posted “guess which bits are true” posts on April 1st.

I didn’t particularly feel like trying to fool anyone this year. Things have been a bit too stressful, lately, for me to spend much time writing here; for me to spend much time writing true things, never mind about making things up.

Work has been rather busy lately; a lot of upheaval. I’ve heard it said that when you see people under stress, it can bring out new qualities in them. It hasn’t seemed true, to me. It’s pushed people to become more extreme versions of their ordinary selves. The tetchy people are tetchier, the people who flap around panicking panic more, and the arse-lickers use their tongue ever more often. And, on the other hand, the nice friendly people are just as nice and friendly as ever.

At least everything else is going well. And we didn’t get too snowed-in, camping. I could tell it was a good sign when K – who had never been camping before – started saying “the next time we go camping, we’ll have to…”

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Infamy

In which FP discovers more people read this site than he thought


I went for a drink with people from the office. This may have been a mistake – on the other hand, it’s better to know things.

“Oh, we all read your blog,” said someone from the Accounts department. “Your boss told us he reads it too. We know you change all the names, so we try and work out who everyone is. ______ was convinced that she was ‘the cute one from the Accounts office’ and we kept trying to persuade her that it wasn’t her.”

Maybe it’s a good thing I haven’t mentioned work much in the past few months, then. Or, alternatively, now I know they’re reading, that might mean I can mention them more. With it all understood and on the level.

(Yes, I know, I have to think about things to post before I can decide whether to post them or not)

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Something for nothing

In which our eyebrows are raised when we learn that Americans all have free healthcare just like us


The scene: the office conversation, a quick conversation with a new member of staff whilst the kettle boiled. He was telling me all about his past, his former history of self-employment.

“… but you can’t do anything in this country nowadays, it’s terrible for small businesses, this government, it really is, they want to get control of every little thing…”

I thought: I know exactly what’s coming here.

“…it makes it impossible to run your own life…”

… any second now …

“it’s this Nanny State…”

BINGO! As soon as someone, especially a certain type of person, starts along that line of argument, they’re going to mention the Nanny State, which rules every aspect of our lives and tells us exactly what we can and can’t do. These are the people who believe that Christmas is being banned, or that the government has banned blackboards for being racist, and that it’s Political Correctness Gone Mad. And I don’t understand them. Do they never look at the world around them? Do they believe anything they hear or read?

He rambled on about how much better everything was in America – how life is far better, the taxes are lower, everyone is better off and lives a wonderful life without government interference.

“Yes, until they fall ill and can’t afford to pay for treatment,” I said.

“No, no, medicine is free in the USA too,” he replied.

“Really?” I said, because that really doesn’t square with everything else I’ve been told about the USA over the years.

“Yes, it’s all free, just as it is here,” he said. I was tempted to ask if the land is also flowing with milk and honey, with dollar bills and chocolate coins growing on the trees, but I’m not sure if he’d have realised where the joke was.

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Voodoo terminology

In which we speculate on understanding, and on pretending to understand


There are three types of people that I’ve always had to deal with at work. By extension, there are probably three types of people in the world, because I’m sure that none of the places I’ve worked at have been particularly unusual. There are three types of people in the world, and they can be divided like so: those who know what they are talking about; those who don’t know what they’re talking about, and admit it; and those who don’t know what they’re talking about, but are desperate to hide it.

There are two ways I could look at this. One, being uncharitable: they know they don’t know what they’re talking about, and are just trying to hide that.

The charitable view, though: I don’t think some people realise that words do have meanings, precise meanings. They’ve heard people who do know what they’re doing talking, and they want to fit in, so they string together words they’ve heard other people use, in ways that make grammatical sense, without noticing that they are making completely meaningless sentences. Maybe they think that this is the way normal humans talk. Maybe they think that if they use a word that they’re not sure of the meaning of, its meaning will change to suit them. Essentially, though, they’re behaving like small children: imitating without understanding.

These are the people who brought you the phrase “log on to our website”. They call the main case of a PC “the hard disk”. They will refer to “the system”, and expect you to know exactly what you mean. One colleague today, scrolling through her inbox looking for an email, said: “I know it’s in the system somewhere.” “That is not,” I wanted to say, “what that word means.”* These are the people who call me and say “the system isn’t working! We can’t do anything at all!” when what’s actually wrong is: they have pressed Num Lock and don’t understand why numbers are no longer appearing.** These are the people I have to work with, and the chances are, this is what the people who run the country are like too. These people, who not only don’t understand words, but don’t understand the importance of the right words, nevertheless get into important positions. And that scares me.

* She was looking for an email, because she wanted to print it out. She had called me over because her printer “was not working”. She didn’t have a printer selected in the print dialog box, and did not understand the error message she received, that said: “You have not selected a printer.” When I pointed this out, she said: “That’s never happened before. I don’t understand all these technical terms.”

** Yes, this has genuinely happened.

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Ouch

In which we wonder what happened to Big Dave


Talking of Room 3B (the IT office): long-term readers (who remember the air-conditioning fight) might be wondering what Big Dave has been up to for the past few months, since he left, and what he’s been up to.

Well, the answer is, I don’t really know. He’s popped into the office, once or twice, since then. He’s kept in touch with a few people round the building. But I don’t really know what he’s been up to. The only news I have is: Big Dave’s broken his jaw. How he broke his jaw is a mystery. It’s very possible that he doesn’t know himself, of course. So, unfortunately, no tales of entertaining-but-horrific fights outside bars. No tales of unlikely-but-possible accidents involving server racks or poorly-secured hard disks. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

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Why the weather doesn’t bother me

In which FP is remarkably un-bothered


“Ohh, isn’t it awful weather lately?” people keep saying. “It feels like it’s winter already.”

Well, the weather doesn’t bother me.

Cool days are a good thing. Summer heat is too hot. A cool grey breezy day is relaxed, the sort of day work can get done. A windier day is energetic, the sort of day you want to do work. Both are useful.

Rain is a good thing. Rain doesn’t bother me either. I don’t mind walking in it, getting slightly wet, when I can always get dry again later.

The one other reason the weather doesn’t bother me, though: I rarely see it anyway. I don’t smoke. Room 3B (the IT office) has no windows. I’m insulated. Some days I wish there was a cool grey breeze on me, instead of the standard filtered and air-conditioned air that flows out of the ceiling vent.* But, nevertheless, the weather doesn’t bother me.

* Although we had to fight to get it, if you remember back that far.

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