A few months ago, when I was in an old job where I regularly got very bored, I wanted to visualise how much a billion is.

I opened notepad and typed ‘1’ ten times. I then copied and pasted that ten times to make a hundred. Then copied and pasted that ten times to make a thousand. Then copied and pasted that ten times, etc etc.

I made it past a million and that already looked like buttloads. I kept going, but each paste took a little longer. Copying and pasting a million took about thirty seconds of the little egg timer. Copying and pasting ten million took over a minute.

I got to 70,000,000 and my computer crashed.

End of story.

No more blessings

That’s it. I’ve had enough. No longer will I abide by the rules. I am standing up to something that has bothered me for a long time. Consider this a mini revolution.

No longer will I say ‘bless you’ to someone when they sneeze.

I don’t know what the final straw has been here, but I’ve had enough. I don’t see the point, and I’ve started thinking about it so much that the pressure is becoming overwhelming.

Even receiving a bless you has become stressful. My natural reaction is to say ‘thank you’ afterwards, as it feels like they’re doing me some kind of courtesy. But during school, a friend of mine was always very adamant that saying thank you after someone says bless you is wrong because it ‘kills a fairy’. I remember laughing at him the first time he said it, but he was deadly serious, to the point that if I repeatedly did it, he would punch me in the arm.

So now, a decade later, I am scarred by this. When someone says bless you, I feel an urge towards saying thank you, but then I panic and think it’s the wrong thing to do, even though my friend is the only person I’ve ever known to have a problem with it. But it’s stuck with me, and now I just smile weakly and make a ‘nks’ noise, as if I have said thanks but not really.

Even worse is giving a bless you. It seems like people in my current job sneeze a lot. It might be the air, or dust or just a little cold that is constantly being passed around my team.

Anyway, someone will sneeze and I will go through a conflicted thought process of whether I should bless them or not. I then don’t know whether it’s something that I just say, or whether I need to make sure the sneezer hears it, or whether I need to make it audible to others as well. How loud does the blessing need to be? If I say it and the sneezer doesn’t hear, should I repeat myself?

And then, what if the sneezer continues sneezing? Sneezes rarely come in ones, and I often find myself saying it two or three times in a row. Of course, it is English law that the fourth and beyond have to be emphasised: ‘Oh, bless YOU!’ Beyond six sneezes and some kind of comment has to be made.

But really, more than once is an inconvenience. I’m taking a second out of my day to bless you and then you go ahead and sneeze again like it meant nothing! I’ve been trying to wait until the final sneeze, but it’s nigh-on impossible. You have to give it a few seconds to ensure that no more are coming, and then by the time you’ve said bless you, you just seem slow.

The big risk here is that someone will jump in and say it first. You’ve been preparing to say bless you after the last sneeze, waited a moment to make sure and then someone else does it. Then what? Do you say it too? Does that make the blessing better? Or are you then relieved of the duty?

Then comes saying bless you to strangers. I’ve heard horror stories of saying it to sneezing strangers on the tube and being met with wide eyes that say ‘whyareyoutalkingtomepleasedontstabme’. There are always sneezers in public, but for some reason, saying bless you to them seems like a crazy thing to do.

But it’s so difficult to not do it. People inexplicably expect it. Not blessing someone feels like not saying please or thank you, and that shit’s basic manners. If someone sneezes and you don’t bless them, the sneeze just hangs in the air in steely silence. It’s torturous, especially when you’re as aware of it as I am. It feels like they’re waiting for you to say it, and the longer it takes the more they’re judging you.

But what are they going to do? I dare someone to complain to me because I didn’t bless them! Their soul won’t be sent to eternal damnation or anything. Although if that turns out to be the case, my face will be red.

Do you see what I mean? This is far too much stress, I cannot be dealing with this on a day-to-day basis. So to you expectant sneezers, I say NO MORE.

Crappy job

Now that I’m in an exciting job that I’m enjoying a lot, I thought I’d write a little thingy about a crappy job I had a while ago.

After six years in the cushty situation that was Blockbusters, in which I could mostly chill out, largely avoid non-urgent work and even swipe a free drink or chocolate bar here and there, I was suddenly flung into a daily routine that was exactly the opposite.

I started as a ‘Telephone Negotiator’ at a debt collection agency in March 2012. Here is a ramble of reasons why it is a job that I would not recommend to anyone.

We were contracted to start at 8am most days, but if we weren’t in the office before the team ‘huddle’ at 7:50 we’d get a stern talking to. We then had to be connected to the dialling system at bang on 8, and again, a second later would get you in trouble.

At 8am, the phone would bleep in your ear and there would be someone there. No ringing, no few-seconds-to-compose-yourself, just *BLEEP*Hello?

Most people at 8am were, understandably, not happy to be called by a debt collection agency. You’d get a lot of hang-ups, a lot of shouting and a lot of confused, sleepy voices. I’d often spend the first hour or so of my day wasting as much time as possible just to get to the more reasonable time of 9am.

But wasting time wasn’t easy. Once you’ve finished a call, you are given some time to ‘wrap’ it up, i.e. write some notes on the account and perform various duties to progress the account. This has to be done within ten minutes before people start panicking and shouting ‘YOU’VE BEEN IN WRAP TEN MINUTES ALEX, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’ across the room.

But, to prevent you from just taking the full ten minutes every time, your overall wrap time is measured, and if it totals more than 30% of the time you’ve been logged in, you get called out on it. So, you have to do the essentials, click onto the next call straight away, and then *BLEEP*Hello?

This dialling system that could see what everyone was doing and pull up stats about every employee’s work was particularly annoying. If you wanted a break, you had to tell the dialling system, which would then time your ten minutes. One second over and it’s noted for your monthly review. Worse still, you had to let it know if you were going to the toilet, and you were timed for that as well.

I was eventually so conditioned into this horrible routine of strict times and rules that when I went into my next job as an Editorial Assistant, I asked on my first day what the rules were about breaks and going to the toilet, and whether I could have my phone at my desk. All of my new colleagues looked so confused, but I was just so used to living under the regime of the dialler.

I hated that dialling system. I had little fantasies about sneaking into the building at night and wrecking the machines, so that when everyone came in in the morning we’d have a little breather. It did mess up occasionally, and everyone would have to sit around and wait for it to start back up. I lived for those moments.

So we’d be there, headsets plugged into our phones, for 42 hours a week with little respite. Some days would be 10am-8pm instead, and we had to work at least one Saturday morning a month. You were encouraged to do overtime, which was optional, but would generally get a chilly response if you declined (as was often the case with me).

We’d have to assess a customer’s financial situation through a lot of probing questions, then agree on a payment plan that was mutually beneficial. Those payments would then go against your name and you’d gradually rack up a total collected amount over the month, aiming for a target of about £25,000.

Why’d I stay? you ask. It paid well. Hitting those targets for collecting money meant potential bonuses of £500 per month. I hit these a few times and it felt great. One time, a woman paid £11,000 about fifteen minutes before the end of the month, bumping me up to my bonus. It felt good, ignoring any guilt about how I’d achieved it. It is a necessary job in the grand scheme of things, I get that, but it just felt mean and as if I shouldn’t necessarily be rewarded for it. But then without the bonuses, I wouldn’t have lasted the eight weeks of training, let alone ten months on the actual job.

Although, having said that, the place was largely populated with cool people of a similar age to me, which was another thing that kept me going. I did make a lot of friends and meet a lot of people I wish I’d got to know better. They did have a massively speedy turnover of staff though; out of the ten in my original training group, only one now still works there. The managers there seemed to know that most people saw it as a temporary solution to make some cash and find something more stable.

Due to the nature of the work, quite a lot of sensitive data was floating about, so a lot of data protection measures are in place. At the start of a call, we had to confirm the customer’s full name, date of birth, address and postcode, even if we’d called them. We couldn’t discuss anything about the nature of the call until they’d confirmed these details.

This isn’t a problem though. This is a sensible security measure to ensure that people’s details are handled sensitively. The problem was with the customers who were completely blind to this and the frustration it caused on both sides.

"NO! Tell me what it’s about and then I will give you my address."

"I’ll tell you my address but there is no way I’m confirming my date of birth!" 

"Why don’t YOU tell ME your address, eh?"

A lot of conversations would go around and around this one point for minutes on end with the customer getting more and more angry until they hung up.

In fact, the customers were the majority of the stress. They largely assumed that we were robotic morons chained to some kind of script and couldn’t handle it if we had to go off-piste. But in reality, we had to deal with hundreds of calls a day, each of which was different and required a different solution and constant problem-solving. It was difficult. On the odd occasion that a customer told me that I’d done a good job or gave me a compliment, it brightened my day. So be nice to call centre workers, they’re probably having a fairly crappy time but still trying their hardest.

Anyway, that’s it really. Sorry there are no funny little anecdotes or anything, I just like telling people just how horrible it was. Like I say, it was a good source of income and there were lovely people, but I just could not deal with all of the rest of the crap involved.

Last night for dinner, I had:

Artisinal seasoned root vegetable segments, with a poultry and cooked water granule jous pastry cup, garden-picked emerald petit-pois and a side of chilli bacon jam.

Otherwise known as homemade chips, Sainsbury’s basics chicken pie and frozen peas. I did have chilli bacon jam though, that bit was true.

This is a screenshot taken from Skyfall. This is about a twenty second walk from my flat- I walk around here every day. Although, as Leo correctly pointed out, I’m not sure why Bond and M went through South East London on a drive from Westminster to Scotland…

This is a screenshot taken from Skyfall. This is about a twenty second walk from my flat- I walk around here every day. Although, as Leo correctly pointed out, I’m not sure why Bond and M went through South East London on a drive from Westminster to Scotland…

Sinterklaas

Every nationality has its own weird little Christmas traditions. I always thought that British Christmases was quite normal and boring in comparison to the rest of the world, until last year my Austrian friend found it absolutely hilarious when I sent her a picture of me wearing a paper crown from a Christmas cracker.

However, when it comes to weird Christmas traditions, the Netherlands take the prize.

Sinterklaas is the Dutch (and some other parts of Europe) version of Saint Nicholas and he is also where the name Santa Claus comes from. He’s a bit more saintly looking than our Coca Cola Santa:

But while Santa magically sweeps by sleigh from the North Pole to every home in the globe in the wee hours of Christmas morning, Sinterklaas has different travel plans.

Sinterklaas arrives on a Saturday in mid-November, by steamboat, having come from Spain.

Kinda weird, sure, but more of just a regional quirk than full-blown crazy. Keep reading.

Sinterklaas then rides through the streets on a grey horse, visiting schools, hospitals and shopping centres.  Over the following weeks, Sinterklaas visits the homes of children and fills their shoes with sweets. Sinterklaas also originally tossed gold coins through the windows of three young girls to save them from prostitution. This last bit doesn’t occur so much these days.

Again, a bit weird. This is where you stop believing me.

Just as Santa has his elves and reindeer, so too must Sinterklaas have some helpers. In German-speaking countries, this helper comes in the form of Krampus, a long-tongued, horned hairy demon man with hooves.

This is pretty disturbing, but not as much so as the Dutch helper: Zwarte Piet. Zwarte Piet (or Black Pete) is usually played by a white adolescent male who blacks up and wears the outfit of a seventeenth-century page. The Black Petes (there’s often more than one) navigate Sinterklaas’s steamboat and then assist the Sint in his Sintly duties.

From Wikipedia: “Zwarte Piet is felt by some to be racist.” Cannot see why.

While Sinterklaas dishes out sweets and oranges to the good kids, Krampus or the Black Petes stand by to take care of the naughty ones. Traditionally, they either spank them with a broom made of willow branches, or they put them in a sack and take them back to Spain.

I shit you not, this is all true. Merry Christmas, you crazy, crazy Dutch people.

When applying for jobs on Reed.co.uk, sometimes you have to answer a couple of preliminary questions before submitting your application.

These are just general things to make sure you have the basic requirements for the job. So they might just ask ‘Do you have the right to work in the UK?’ or ‘Do you have experience working with (bla bla bla)?’ and you have to click yes or no.

I found this job listing just now with a rather difficult application question:

M?

How do I answer?? What if M is a requirement? Or what if M is an absolute no-no for this role?

Job hunting is hard.

Might start sending this cover letter with job applications

I know who you are. I know what you want. If you are looking for an employee, I can tell you I don’t currently have a job. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills; skills I have acquired during my role as an Editorial Assistant. Skills that make me a delight for people like you. If you give me a job now, that’ll be the end of it. I will be prompt, I will be enthusiastic. But if you don’t, I will look for you, I will find you, and I will probably try again if another role comes up.

Old

The oldest man in history has died in Japan, aged 116. This is sad news, but bloody hell that’s a good innings. 116! He was born in 1897! So by the end of World War 2, he was already pushing fifty. Boggles the mind.

When I think about it, if I reach 80 years old, I’ll be in the mindset of ‘Alright, I don’t necessarily want to go, but my time is probably approaching, so I’d best get used to that.’

If I then lived another ten years and hit 90, I’ll be thinking ‘Okay, I’ve been prepared for a while now, I’m bound to be off soon and that’ll be normal and expected.’

But then if I live another ten years and hit 100, I think I’ll be starting to get sick of things. That’s a fairly huge milestone, and one that most humans ever never hit. I’d not expect to hit any more milestones after that.

This guy lived sixteen years past that! From the point where I’d start getting ready to pop my clogs, he lived a further thirty-six years! That’s one and a half times my current age! When I was born, he was already 92!

This blog contains a lot of exclamation marks and weird, Pilkington-esque ramblings, so sorry about that. I’m just in awe.

116! RIP Mr. Kimura.