Meg, Leo and I watched ‘Soccer Aid’ last week: a football match between two teams of celebrities - one team from England, one from the rest of the world. At first, we thought it would be a bit crap, but after noticing the caliber of celebrities, it became more interesting.
England had a team including Jack Whitehall, Mark Owen, Stephen Moyer and Dominic Cooper. The rest of the world had a much more famous team, featuring James McAvoy, Sam Worthington, Michael Sheen and Jeremy Renner.
For some reason, Leo and I were really excited to see Jeremy Renner on the pitch. He is, of course, most famous for The Avengers, American Hustle and the least good (but still ok) Bourne film. Maybe we expected him to also be an action star on the pitch and pull off crazy impressive moves.
Renner came on at half time and, after twenty minutes or so, we’d forgotten he was even on the pitch. He didn’t seem to have touched the ball once!
Then he gained possession and started making a run down the left of the pitch. A few ROTW players were hanging out in the box, just waiting for a sweet cross from Jeremy Renner. He took a swing… and mis-hit it awkwardly, sending the ball out for a goal kick. He didn’t just hit it awkwardly, but like someone who had never played football before, or at least was completely crap at it. Minutes later, Renner’s number was signalled for substitution, but rather than jogging off the pitch, he hung around, looking a bit bewildered and wondering what was happening.
It was quite nice to see a big Hollywood celebrity be completely rubbish at something. I think it’s quite easy in our culture to think that celebrities are all perfect super-humans who are just amazing at everything, and that’s probably quite damaging on a subconscious level to us normal folk. Seeing Jeremy Renner being crap at football was quite refreshing.
So the next time I’m anxious about failing at something, I’ll think about Jeremy Renner playing football. If I get something wrong at work, I’ll think of that terrible, scuffed cross and remember that nobody’s perfect. If I get embarrassed because I completely forget someone’s name, I’ll think of his face when he didn’t understand that he was being substituted and remember that I can’t possibly remember everything in the world.
Thank you, Jeremy Renner.
[It should also be mentioned that Jeremy Renner was amazing in the most recent episode of Louie. Watch it!]
It’s nearly World Cup time again.
The last tournament in 2010 made me go a bit football crazy. Before that, I’d only ever taken a passing interest in big England games, but something about that tournament completely consumed me. I must have watched about 45 of the 64 games and since then I’ve started following league football, gained a favourite team and been to a bunch of games.
Now the World Cup is back and I can feel it taking over like a virus. But I think the obsession has gone a little overboard.
It started a couple of months ago. I still had a few days of annual leave left to take. I spent a couple of lunchtimes with a print-out of all of the fixtures, highlighting the ones which kicked off at 5pm (before I finish work) and deciding which were the most essential. I’ve ended up taking four and a half days off over the next month, just to ensure that I soak up as much international goodness as I can.
I was invited to a friend’s house to have a few drinks, watch the first England game against Italy, then stay over. A normal person’s reaction would be thinking how nice it would be to spend time with friends and get a bit tiddly in the summer heat. My first thought was, ‘I hope nobody minds if I watch the three other games going on that evening’.
I visited my brother recently, who is way more football obsessed than I, and has helped spur on my following of club football. I arrived at his flat to find him watching Toronto FC vs New York FC on some obscure freeview sports channel. When we spoke about the World Cup, he said, “Is it some kind of FIFA rule that Nigeria and Argentina have to be in the same group? Because that always happens.” I remembered that, indeed it does happen, and of course they were in Group B with Greece and South Korea last time. He stared at me, slightly bewildered that I’d remembered that, and began to quiz me on how much I could remember of the groups from four years ago. Turns out it’s quite a lot.
Then, last week, I had a thought: the season finale of Game of Thrones would be on after the World Cup has started, and therefore will clash with a match. After a brief panic, I thought: “Meh, it’ll probably just be Iran vs Nigeria or something.” I checked the World Cup calendar on my phone, and sure enough that was the exact match on at that time. Why did I remember that? That information is taking up valuable space in my brain!
Anyway. If any of you want to hang out or anything between June 12th and July 13th, you can forget it.
I’ve not been having the best time financially. Living from payday to payday, skipping social events, eating cheap branded food, etc etc.
Big help has come in the form of an app and website called Toshl. You tap in every time you spend money and can tag the expenditure. So I can see that I’m spending x amount on this and y amount on that, and can effectively track spending and work out budgets for the month. It’s really good, I’d recommend it if you’re looking to save a bit of money.
But a flaw with the website is a chummy, automatically generated comment on your spending that pops up at the top of the page. It usually says things like ‘Wow Alex, you saved loads of money on [tag] this month!’ or ‘Keep an eye on how much you’re spending on [tag] this month’.
This isn’t always bad, except for when it picks up on my essential expenditures and guilt trips me about them. For example:
'Hey Alex, how's that rent you've been spending your money on?'
or 'Shalom Alex, you've been spending a lot of money on utility bills, keep an eye on that.'
Yeah, alright Toshl, thanks a lot. It’s called living in London.
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.
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.
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.