Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Taking Responsibility

Yesterday I left the house wearing what turned out to be inappropriate footwear, covered in the alluring smell of Deep Heat, and with a slightly out of date microwave meal in my bag. In this manner I set myself up for A Good Day, if by ‘good’ you mean ‘irritating’.

The casual reader might think my own incompetence set me up for a fall, but I would counter that with another point – everyone is stupid except me.
Well, maybe not everyone, but a significant portion of the people I have to deal with on a daily basis.

Of course when I say ‘deal with’, what I mean is ‘attempt to contact in vain via a third party’. The flat I currently share with three other struggling artists is ostensibly let to us by an agency, but when things go wrong they don’t send a maintenance person, they refer it to the landlord. Who does nothing.

On Monday I called about the boiler (broken for just under a month) and the downstairs intercom (broken for over a year) for the nth time. “That’s not very good is it,” said the woman on the phone sympathetically, “I’ll send an email to the landlord straight away.”

Because as we know, people are brilliant at reading and responding to emails. I’m certainly not surprised or unreasonably grateful when I come across someone who not only replies to messages but actually reads and digests the content therein. And our landlord must be the crème de la crème of those email reading people, the evidence speaks for itself! (/sarcasm, as we say here on the internet.)

Part of the reason I rang again was because I was due to despatch my sister to the local post office to pick up a third batch of Christmas shopping the postie couldn’t deliver (owing to the broken buzzer). You might argue that I shouldn’t be buying presents online when there’s only a 40/60 chance they’ll actually get delivered first time, but it’s not like I can just pop into Etsy for a look round.

There were four items to collect, but just for a giggle the Royal Mail decided they were only going to send one from the depot. The post office then claimed that I should have filled in the online redelivery form four times, one for each package.
If that were true (which it isn’t; I picked up three things after one form filling exercise only last Saturday) they should have given me four cards and four reference numbers to type in. Which I wouldn’t have done, incidentally, because the four bus trip across to the outskirts of Edinburgh to the depot - although massively inconvenient - works out cheaper.

Anyway, my inclination at this point was to shout at someone, but a) I was at work and b) finding direct contact details on the Royal Mail website is some sort of creative thinking challenge, so I filled out their generic online form. Because we all know people read emails properly and consider all the information therein…

I won’t lie, I found this un resolution unsatisfactory. So unsatisfactory that I found myself becoming the impotent emailer I previously derided, sending stiff notes first to the letting agency to follow up on Monday’s call, then the Palmolive corporation about a complaint I made several months ago.

By the time I’d made my three separate cases of mild annoyance I was so incensed that my damp feet in their inappropriate shoes dried off and the Deep Heat on my back began to work afresh, wafting round the office and putting colleagues in mind of old sports injuries.

And so it was that the annoyingness of other people helped me move on from my own cack handedness. Personal responsibility, who needs it.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Christmas Post

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas if popular high street book retailers who shall remain nameless didn’t try to sabotage their employees’ celebrations of it, am I right? Course I am.

Captain Tact has worked for The Shop That Must Not Be Named for just over three years. He is not allowed to apply for time off during December, because this is a busy period and all hands are required on deck for festive scrubbing; even though they take on an army of Christmas temps every year to manage the soapy chaos. People may not read anymore, but apparently this doesn’t stop ‘em buying shedloads* of books.

On Boxing Day.

The captain has been rota-ed on for the 26th every year he’s been there, actually, but through skill and determination has generally managed to affect a switcheroo. This time, his luck has run out. Who is rushing out to retail parks on the outskirts of cities to buy books on Boxing Day, you might ask. Did they not get a load of things to read under the tree only yesterday? I do not have an answer to this; ask me on December 26. Except don’t, because I’ll be curled up with a blanket and a book and Harry Potter 12: Myrtle’s Revenge or whatever other films they bung on.


Yes, I realise technically the New Year sales begin on Boxing Day. But I’ve been, and do you know what? They suck.

What are these amazing deals that people camp outside to nab? A pair of gold lamé jeans a size too small but it’s worth it ‘cause there’s £20 off! A new tent, even though you detest camping because you never know and this one has £35 off! Flesh coloured spike heels that will tear your feet to shrebbons, but will go with everything**!!

You know where else you can pay less for shit you don’t need or want? The internet. In the comfort of your own home, from behind a third tin of chocolate. People that are throwing themselves out into the cold instead of remaining with their loved ones and a bottle of gin are freakin’ idiots.

Now, some of those people will claim they have to get out of the house on the 26th because their relations are doing their head in. Apparently a child with a chocolate Santa stuck up its nose and an elderly aunt who smells a bit cabbagey are much more annoying than hordes of strangers deploying tactical use of the elbow as they grab for the last polyester flapper dress on the sale rail before you.

The festive cliché that families are horrible does not apply to us. Captain Tact’s dad is so adamant we don’t spend Christmas alone in our so-cold-it-makes-me-want-to-hurt-people flat that he has volunteered to do early Christmas lunch, then drive us back across the frozen wastes between Ayrshire and Edinburgh on the afternoon of the 25th so he can make this stupid shift. Meanwhile my sister, distraught at the notion of me spending Boxing Day alone with my thoughts, plans to drive down from Perthshire to whisk me into the bosom of my relations. Our carbon footprint is going to be monstrous, and all because some Scrooge in an office somewhere can’t bear the thought of missing out on two whole days of selling overpriced books to idiots.

Still, as I remember, famous book lover Jo March once threw herself onto the hearth and intoned ‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents’; then the next day she visited the January sales at Fort Kinnaird and indulged in retail therapy till her ears bled.

The Book Shop That Must Not Be Named is clearly doing something right.


Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Letter To The Landlord

Mysterious Landlord
Secret Lair

7th December 2011

Dear Mysterious Landlord,

As you may already know, I have lived in your property along with three friends since July 2009.

You know the place - the floors slope alarmingly because it’s an aging tenement gradually subsiding into the Water of Leith, the fridge leaks, the intercom is broken, the boiler is temperamental at best, and it’s colder than a penguin’s pants. Yet in spite of all that, it’s a nice flat. And at least we got rid of the mice.


Having said that, all the little problems are starting to irk. We have managed to adapt (visitors phone from the street when they want to come in, and we’ve attached all free standing shelves to the walls with brackets so they don’t fall), but the fact you never deal with anything means that every time a new issue appears, our goodwill stretches a little closer to breaking point.

You might think it enigmatic to force us to tell you things through a letting agency and to be referred to in hushed tones as ‘the landlord’, but the illusion is wearing thin.

Whenever we call to ask what’s being done about the thing we reported last week/month/year they feign surprise, because they referred it to you right away and you told them you’d sort it. What are you employing them for, exactly? Somebody to lie to? You do know you can talk crap to people for free, right? You don’t have to pay for the privilege. Or perhaps there’s some pleasure to be gained from watching them charge us outrageous administration fees for doing sweet FA?

The other alternative, I suppose, is that the agency haven’t passed anything on.

It is possible, then, that you don’t know the seal on the fridge door has been broken since we moved in, and that every morning we go into the kitchen to find a puddle of cold water next to it. We stopped reporting it, eventually.

You also won’t know about the buzzer, broken for over a year. Initially it was a case of replacing the button, as visitors to the building had to stick their finger in a hole full of wires to gain access. In recent months, though, it has stopped working at all. When I asked the agency (in April) if this was something we could sort ourselves as we’d been waiting an awful long time, I was told we were not allowed to do anything because it is a communal concern. That means it requires the owner – you – to liaise with the tenants of the three other flats in the building in order to sort it out.

This problem has cost us a fair whack in redelivery charges and bus fares to the royal mail depot, because although there is someone in the flat to take deliveries nearly every time, couriers and posties are unable to alert us to their presence. Fortunately two other buzzers have now met with the same fate, so we are optimistic someone else in the building (maybe the guy across the hall who professes to have seen you in the flesh) will prevail upon you to sort it out.

Of course you’ll be unaware the windows are so old you can actually feel air coming round the edges of the glass (many panes, by the way, are paper thin – check out the top left one in the right hand window of the living room. Feels like it’s going to come away in your hand, dunnit?). We’ve been fed some bollocks about the council saying you can’t replace them, but as we are all from middle class backgrounds and know how to look shit up on Google, we know this is not strictly true – you’d just have to adhere to a few rules and regulations. I’ll be honest; we have speculated in the past that you just don’t want to spend cash on re-pointing. And after all, you aren’t to know that there’s ice on the inside of the glass of a winter morning, or that we have to wear dressing gowns over several layers of clothes between November and March to keep warm even when the heating is on.

You probably don’t know our boiler has been broken for over a fortnight. Three calls to the agency resulted in a man coming after ten days or so; agreeing with my flatmate’s diagnosis that it needs a part, and vanishing off never to be seen again.

I suppose you are equally unaware what the problem is – an electrical fault, that means while we can put the heating and hot water on manually (although we can’t set it in advance for morning warmth), it can also get jammed on. To be honest, we might not mind so much at this time of year if any of the heat generated stayed in the building, but it was on for three hours the other night and the bedrooms remained at 12 – 13 degrees Celsius (about 52 Fahrenheit). In my mind, that temperature is not quite cosy enough to warrant the extra money this will add to our next energy bill.

Sir, mere words cannot express how much I am dreading another four months of feeling like I’ll never be warm again, of swearing under my breath at innocent posties, and standing in weird fridge water in the morning. The cons of renting this property now far outweigh the pros and if I had my way I would be out of here, but sadly my financial status last January was uncertain enough that I allowed your agency to force me into signing for another year. Rest assured that in June of 2012 I will be headed for Barbados, or failing that a new build with level floors, containing both sealed fridge and working intercom. Such stuff as dreams are made on, as the Bard once said.

In conclusion, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this letter and I hope that now you are aware of the things that have been done – or not done – in your name, you will see fit to sort it the fuck out.

Kind Regards,
The Unhappy Tenant

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

How To Cope With Rejection

A lot of people on the internet tell me that as a writer/journo I should be prepared for rejection. It is possible they do not appreciate the massive drawerful of rejections I already have, from all sorts of exciting places. DC Thomson, The Guardian, The BBC, Historic Scotland, The National Gallery, three independent publishers and a couple of theatre groups, a company called Seafish…

Larger still is the number of newspapers, magazines and other organisations advertising social media/copywriting/coms jobs that have ignored me entirely. The List, The Herald, The Scotsman, Edinburgh University, The Scottish Government, The Lyceum, The National Library of Scotland, several Edinburgh PR companies, the SYP, SCVO and RIAS are just some of the folks who haven’t even seen fit to send a ‘no thanks pal’ over the past couple of years.

All of which is actually fine by me. I’m currently quite happy temping and writing in my spare time. When I was unemployed, and later when I was in a job that regularly made me cry, I spent a lot of time and energy applying for Anything At All. These days, I only apply for jobs that would be Really Genuinely Amazing, on the grounds I currently have it pretty good (till my current contract runs out in March, at any rate).

One such RGA job was Temporary Magazine Journalist at The Beano, for which I was interviewed a couple of weeks back. Interestingly, so did my other half, the enigmatic Captain Tact.

Generally speaking, the Captain and I do not apply for the same jobs. This is not actually through design; it’s just worked out that way. However, given we met through writing jokes for a spoof paper at university and both have aspirations of making a living from words (perhaps even funny ones) there was always danger of overlap – it was just a question of when it would occur.

The day we received our identical ‘come for an interview’ letters was strange indeed, mixing natural excitement with trepidation about what would happen if one of us got the job. Having three rejection letters from DC under my belt already I was a bit more pessimistic than the Captain. I was also a bit worried about the potential for emotional fallout - I spent a year after school trying to get them to take me on and failed; how would I feel if I finally got to interview stage only to be beaten by him?

He meanwhile was concerned about the logistics of the situation. How much would we see each other if he was commuting from Edinburgh to Dundee, and how much would it cost? Would there be any scope for flexible working; even working from home, or would it be 9-5 office hours? If it’s the latter should we consider moving, or is that silly given the role is maternity cover and won’t last more than a year?

An insight into gender difference, there. Still, there was no point worrying about it before we’d actually been in.

The face to face part of the interview seemed to go OK for us both, but we were less optimistic about the 40 minute grammar assault (so many pages! Neither of us finished) followed by the 45 minute ‘write four 150 word pitches - two strips and two features - yes, The Beano has features now’ test. Never let it be said their interview process is not rigorous.

As it turned out, yesterday we received identical rejection letters; avoiding the feared emotional and practical turmoil and enabling us to chalk the whole thing up to interesting if slightly traumatic experience. However, they did say we interviewed well and should not be put off applying for other roles in the organisation…

Next stop, The Dandy. Followed by The People’s Friend.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Equal Marriage

There is a lot of shouting around the Scottish National Party.

When they won a majority of seats in the Scottish Parliament this year and announced their intention to have a referendum about independence in a couple of years’ time (after proposed changes to the Scotland Bill have gone through Westminster and we’ve seen how they work out), they got shouted at by everyone. Other parties, journalists, people on the internet, you name it.


All of which seemed to overlook the fact that ultimately they can only use a referendum to find out what people think. The Scottish Government do not have the authority to pass legislation on this, all they can do is head to London and say “this many people want to have a bash at going it alone.” It has to be agreed by both Westminster and the queen before it can actually happen, and good luck getting it past David ‘Autons are Cool’ Cameron.

AND, even before you get to that point there is no guarantee the people of Scotland would vote yes to independence. The SNP got voted in for a variety of reasons that didn’t necessarily have a whole lot to do with the ‘N’ part of their name. The Scottish electorate were disillusioned with Labour and the Lib Dems and retain a deep seated hatred of the Tories dating back to the 1980s; and over the past four years the SNP have done a pretty OK job of government. We’ve got a lot more libraries left open than they do down south, for instance. And better access to universities. And free prescriptions.

Even so, that doesn’t mean people will vote yes to independence, because all this has been achieved through careful management of the money allotted by the UK government. To my mind, a real test of whether independence is viable would be devolved taxation. If they managed that effectively you could probably colour me swayed.

However, that isn’t what they’re working on at the moment – the latest thing people are shouting at them about is their consultation on gay marriage.

Once again folk are shouting and screaming at Big Eck and pals about the ramifications of something which they’re so far only committed to asking people about. Apparently though, asking the people of Scotland anything at all is irresponsible and wrong.

There was a collection of opinions from some of the detractors in the Scotsman yesterday, which was an illuminating (/jaw dropping) read. According to the article Bashir Maan, a former Glasgow councillor said, “it could be the beginning of the destruction of society as we know it.”

“If there’s no family, what about society? These politicians should look forward and have some foresight – what will become of the family without the union of a man and woman?”

Because apparently if two men or two women are allowed to get married, heterosexuality will cease to exist and people will stop wanting to have children. As a straight person I can testify that the possibility of marriage is the only thing that keeps me coming back to the opposite sex… my attachment to Captain Tact has nothing to do with physical attraction, personality, hormones, or shared experience and everything to do with the fact we might one day sign a piece of paper indicating our matrimonial alliance.

AS IF, as the kids used to say in the olden days. Not that long ago getting married would have indicated I was legally his property; I like to think we've moved on. Marriage is about publicly declaring your love and commitment to one another, if you merely want to procreate you can do that without giving yourself the hassle of having to organise the biggest and most expensive party ever seen.

Still, the religious right have spoken and so has Mister Sunshine himself, Gordon Wilson. Leader of the SNP for about a hundred years before Alex Salmond, independence was very much his thing and other matters of policy were really by the by. Notably the SNP were not in power, then.

Wilson reckons that merely asking whether folk think gay marriage is OK will incense enough people in Scotland to turn out and vote an overwhelming ‘no’ in the referendum. A bit like they did when he was in charge and behaving like a veritable homophobic caricature...

If you want to actually be consulted about this, fill in the form on the Scottish Government website here before December 9th.

Come along everyone, let’s join in with the cool kids and shout at the SNP.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Employment Tips

Because I am a lazy person, I am still signed up to receive assorted useless job opportunity updates registered in 2008.

It would make sense if they ever sent me stuff I could do, but they tend to disregard my knowledge and experience. “Why not manage a shoe shop in Livingston for minimum wage?” they suggest, “or apply to be Communications Manager at an enormous finance company in Leeds?”

“Because I am not qualified to do either,” I respond. “Also I have been in steady employment since January 2009 and should have unsubscribed from these alerts ages ago. Delete, delete, delete.”

I receive these emails because I once ticked some boxes confessing to retail experience and an interest in communications. This does not make me manager material, as I’m sure a summary googling of the job description would testify. Still, it’s nice to be asked.

Having said that, Totaljobs have evidently got wise to the “get lost, I couldn’t go for that even if I wanted to” response, because this week they sent me an email urging me to complete a managerial qualification at the University of Liverpool.

They were always prone to sending me messages suggesting I consider improving myself, preferably through distance learning (they aren’t to know about my aborted attempt to do that CTJT course last year). But the courses they suggest are always totally inappropriate for my existing skillset (writing, journalism, drawing) and career aspirations (writer, journalist… drawer).

I’ve taken umbrage at the latest in the series for a couple of reasons. One is that I haven’t taken umbrage for a while and this seemed as good a time as any. Another was the content of the subject line: “Alison, stay ahead with a quality online degree.”

Quite apart from the fact they’ve apparently got Lee Nelson in to do their marketing, this sentence seems to imply my existing degree is somehow not of sufficient quality because I didn’t get it online. What kind of backwards technophobe gets a degree by reading musty old books for four years?! I’ll probably never get a job, and serve me right.

The other way to read it is that they know some people think an online degree isn’t as good as one obtained by attending actual classes and secretly they agree, so are trying to fool me into thinking this particular course is the exception to prove the rule. Don’t get one of those crappy online degrees you sometimes hear about, have this proper good one.

The other thing that grates here is that having a degree, online or print, is unlikely to put you significantly ahead in a world with bugger all job opportunities. A management qualification might help if I had even a passing interest in managing other people, but I suspect my lack of experience would show me up. Furthermore, given my main aim in life is to subsist as a freelance creative type, it feels like a strange way to channel my energy and time.

Then there’s the fact I already have a quality degree (2:1 MA Hons from St Andrews, thanks) deliberately chosen to help me get ahead. I’ve lost count of the number of journalists who advise wannabe hacks going to university to study a subject and work on the student press rather than going for a journo-specific course, which is exactly what I did.

In social terms this was fantastic, but in career terms all it’s done is get me rejected for some things on grounds of over qualification (although to be fair I get rejected from journalism jobs because there are only about three in Scotland at any given time, with hundreds of applicants).

The moral of this story is that I should unsubscribe, but if I do that the blog will be bereft of updates like this…

I’ll probably soldier on.