Sent to Coventry

About twenty years ago I was auditioning for something in Coventry. I have no real recollection of the audition itself, where it was held or if I was offered the position. The thing I do remember is having the following day to explore the city as the next audition was still a couple of days away and there was no point going home.

I had chosen a cheap B&B which was by a main road, a short walk from the city centre. It was a morning in winter, the rain was pouring and I had planned a lie in. Unfortunately, my room was where the towels and bedding were kept so from about 9am onwards there was a string of disturbances from the landlady getting pillow cases or face cloths while hinting (not so gently) I should get out of her way. This was an example of getting what you pay for.

My other memory of that visit was getting a minor electric shock from an exhibit in the near empty transport museum. I reported this event to somebody working there who helpfully told me ‘it must have been static’ and ‘it happens sometimes’.

Another day in May….

This week I found myself back in Coventry with time to kill. Once again it was raining but this time I had a plan. I was here for the City of Culture festival, I went to the last one in Hull four years ago and was very impressed, so feeling braver following my second covid vaccination, I hoped to repeat my experience.

As I got off the bus I noticed a teenage girl who was screaming down the road at a boy around her age who was walking quickly away from her. I am not sure what led to this tirade but it ended with her screaming the brilliant phrase “you are the blood clot in my life”. I enjoyed this insult so much I could have broken out into spontaneous applause, but I feel my actions would have been unwanted.

This time, I headed to the cathedral where there would be a concert and three exhibitions. Due to the ‘current situation’ pre-booking tickets was essential through their website. It was a time-consuming process, an account needed setting up, password created and lots of boxes to fill in. Anyway, I was prepared with my ‘exhibition and entry pass’ for 1:30pm.

Tiny pictures in massive frames….

Part of the reason I had chosen the cathedral to visit (other than it was free and very little else was open yet) was an exhibition which sounded so bizarre I just had to go. I love an unusual museum. I have previously been to a pencil museum in Cumbria, somewhere in Cheshire that had over 600 cuckoo clocks and was a regular visitor to a place that specialises in cat pottery (much of which is broken) in Norfolk. My eye had been drawn to “Concrete Collar by Tom Illesley… explore the beauty and complexity of Coventry’s ring-road in a unique photography exhibition”. A whole exhibition about the complexity of a ring road? I can see why pre-booking is so necessary

Due to the rain and vast amounts of construction work happening everywhere, I had exhausted the delights of Coventry by 12:45pm. Rather than risk death at the transport museum, I headed to the Cathedral thinking I could loiter outside for a while. Instead the lady at the entrance waved me in with a smile. She wasn’t interested in seeing the ‘exhibition and entry pass’ I spent so long applying for. It became fairly obvious this is because there were about four other people in the whole building (and some of those were staff). Sadly, the lure of the ring road exhibition on a wet Monday afternoon had proved very easy to resist for the good people of Coventry. Shame.

I sincerely hope in another twenty years, I will get round to visiting Coventry again, when the building work is finished and it isn’t raining. Perhaps it will be to see something called ‘the blood clot in my life’. That would make me very happy.

Quiz Master’s Rules

               Quizzes are everywhere. There are pub quizzes, school quizzes, charity quizzes, online quizzes and many more but what makes a good quiz? As somebody who has been running them for more than 20 years, I have a few thoughts…

The Players

There are two types of players. The first group are the serious players, they have come specifically for the quiz and will ask for a paper within 3 nanoseconds of arriving. These people are very serious, speak in a whisper during the questions and will inevitably shout during the answers convinced they (rather than the quiz master) must be correct. They don’t care who is listening, they must be right. I was listening to Radio 2 this morning and somebody stopped the game to argue with the DJ that their answer was correct, of course it wasn’t and they just wasted the time of 8 million listeners with their quibbling.

The second group are people that didn’t know there was a quiz and just happened to be there and decide to play on a whim. These people usually chat loudly throughout and will need the questions repeating multiple times as they were not listening. They are also, often drunk. The second group will also check through their Facebook account and take photos during the quiz.

These two groups do not get on. However, it is not true that the serious teams always win. Although this is a huge stereotype, team serious often have large gaps in their general knowledge. Asking questions about mountain ranges, royal history and classic novels will suit them nicely however it is not hard to trip them up with topics like last weekend’s football results, music released since 1990 or the plotlines of Coronation Street.

It is also not unusual for me to pick topics I think the most annoying people in the room will struggle with. Drunken singing halfway through means more questions on Monet, arguing about the pronunciation of words means more questions on the X-Factor. Simple.

The Questions

The easiest way to get a set of quiz questions is to use a book or website, hundreds of options with no effort required. However, there are potential problems with this.

  • How old are the questions? Could it be out of date?
  • Who were the questions originally written for?
  • Is it possible the answers are wrong? Absolutely every question asked will need running through a search engine beforehand because the players will do exactly that. Even people with no realistic chance of winning will run up to the stage with their phone if they think there is any chance of a correction. Years ago, people would bring me photocopies of reference books to prove their point, at least that took time. Now the arguing can start instantly. What fun.

The Answers

Unless you are playing for huge prizes, the best way is getting the teams to switch papers to be marked. Allow time for this, they are never expecting it and it takes ages for people to rewrite their answers legibly and explain that they wrote their answers in the wrong places. It is surprisingly common for people to write the answer to question six next to a number other than six.

My own rule is “if you know what they mean and what they mean is right, give them the point”. Perhaps this is generous but there is nothing more tedious than a five-minute discussion after every answer about what counts as the same thing as the answer, dodgy spellings and “do I get half a point if the surname is right?”.


Now that everyone has internet access in their pockets, there has been an obvious rise in people cheating by looking stuff up on Google. The other teams know this and will make a fuss if they see anyone using a phone for any reason. If is best to ask everyone to put their devices away and not use them at all for half an hour until the questions are over. However, many people can’t survive without their phone for that long and within 10 mins will start checking their inbox. There is little that can be done to stop this and it makes the life of a quiz master harder.

So rather than fact-based spoken topics, start using photos instead. What flower is this? Name this footballer? Where is this building? All these things are much harder to discreetly Google under the table.


I really enjoy a tie-break situation, it brings excitement and is the only time everyone shuts up to listen. In my experience, the easiest way is ask a question where the answer is a number and the nearest answer wins. That way, there will be a winner straight away and we won’t need another tie breaker. The question should involve a large number that isn’t a round number – the Guinness Book of Records is great for these…

For example – ‘In his hometown of Lima, Peru, Otto the bulldog, set a record for the longest human tunnel travelled through by a skateboarding dog but how many people’s legs did he glide through?’ Nobody will know this kind of thing and although the serious teams will moan, it is completely fair and provides a humorous end to the evening.

Expressive angry businessman in formal suit looking at camera and screaming with madness while hitting desk with fist

In summary, I love hosting quizzes. I have accepted long ago that people will always tell me I am wrong (often at great volume from across the room) but as long as my research is done, I can happily brush them aside and as the quiz master the power is mine. Plus, I have the option of petty revenge if a winning team has been a lot of trouble – souvenir tea towels as a prize.

PS – Otto skated through the legs of 30 people. So now you know.

Uncharacteristically Me

               Today I have done a number of uncharacteristic things. Perhaps this is the reason I have come back to my blog. For months now, I have found updating my blog a real struggle. Nobody wants to read about writer’s block, it is very dull but this is not what I had. My noticeboard has a list of titles I have not yet written “on the plus side”, “quiz master’s rules” and “have you seen Granny” among them. The problem has been that I had lost interest in writing, it felt like a chore and I gave up. Then today happened…

  • This morning I managed to fall down an entire flight of stairs while holding a glass of water. I must have bounced spectacularly as I have lovely bruising on both the front and the back of my legs. It doesn’t hurt too much yet but lets see how I feel tomorrow. I managed to keep the glass from smashing, but the water went in every direction (including all over me)
  • I walked to the supermarket to do my weekly shop. It is about 20 mins from my house, then I realised I had forgotten my mask (I had put it in the wash) so had to go all the way home and get another one. Once I had finally got my shopping and taken it home, I found I had purchased a ‘paper pot maker’ which according to the box allows me to ‘make a limitless supply of biodegradable seedling pots from old newspapers’. The thing is, I have no memory of putting this in my basket or seeing it at the checkout or any point until I found it in my shopping bag at home. I checked the receipt and there it is… I am already racking my brains to think of somebody I don’t really like who has an upcoming birthday…
  • Then I went to take my washing out of the tumble dryer. I had kept an eye on the timer and after the cycle had finished, I went with the basket to empty the machine but it was empty. It turned out that, everything was still in the washing machine and I had set the dryer to do a full cycle with nothing in it.

So, clearly my brain is melting. Perhaps this is why I spontaneously applied for a dream job that I don’t believe I have any realistic chance of getting.

The job I currently have is fine. I was supposed to be doing a part time job in a care home running activities, then my colleague left a month ago and since then nobody has applied for the vacancy which means I am now working full time, I don’t really mind, I appreciate the extra money and it’s not like I have a full diary…

Working in a care home is an unpredictable environment. Every day is different and entirely dependent on the mood of the residents, most of whom have dementia. Two separate people think I am their son (they had an argument about it last week) while one lady screams every day as she thinks lizards are dancing on her stomach. There is also something weird about logging in to my computer each morning and seeing if any of my clients have died overnight. This happened ten times in six weeks earlier in the year and is certainly a challenge to deal with. I must write sometime about the positives of being autistic but not getting emotional about all this, is certainly one of them.

I noticed a job ad for an apprentice journalist for a national radio station based in central London. It is four days in the studio and a fifth at college getting an NVQ. I thought that it would be fun and so today, I applied. I have no reasonable hope of getting it. Who wants an apprentice who is unqualified and nearly 40? It will doubtless go to somebody in their early 20s and because I know this, I won’t be disappointed when I never hear back (after all, I am sure they will have hundreds of candidates).

As part of the application we were asked three questions. The first two were ‘tell us about yourself’ and ‘what do you think of the radio station’. These are easy, I know about me and I listen to the station so have plenty of thoughts. The third question was ‘give us an example of a story you would like to cover’. I wrote about the care home and my time there. Why are there so many vacancies when millions of people are unemployed? Perhaps this is my advantage, I have real world experience. On the other hand (and equally likely) I might win the lottery and all this will be void.

In the meantime, I have work to prepare for. I wonder if the over 90s have any use for a paper pot maker?

*** Update – 11th June. After just six weeks after the closing date, today I got an email “We have carefully reviewed your CV against the role and unfortunately we have decided not to take your application forward at this time”. Oh well…

Eggy Easter

               Running activities on a cruise ship with an international staff, I was often asked by my team about the national holidays of England with a view to recreating them for the enjoyment of our guests onboard. Many people have a basic understanding of the major events of other nations such as Chinese New Year or Rio Carnival. There are also holidays of other cultures that many tourists didn’t previously understand but really enjoy finding out about like Diwali and then there are holidays that are just a big party like July 4th, Australia Day or St Patrick’s. In fact, there are many brilliant national days from around the world that we could introduce our guests to. The problem comes with trying to explain the holidays of England.

               There are only eight public holidays here (one of the lowest in the world). Christmas Day is a fairly obvious one, after that it gets trickier. What actually happens on any of the others? New Year’s Day is when many people get a day to sleep off a hangover but what is the August Bank Holiday for? What do people do on May Day? Are there any Easter Monday traditions? Even the purpose of Boxing Day is hard to explain to my international friends. Many would say that the national day of England is St George’s Day which isn’t actually a public holiday and that might be because we don’t seem to do anything for this either. In brainstorms all we manage to come up with for most of these is going to a beer garden, which is often not the greatest idea in early April.

               This brings me to Easter. I have been trying to run events for years at Easter time but they are often a bit of a failure. A few years ago, I ran an Easter Egg hunt, only two people came to take part. It seems children have been eating Easter eggs for weeks by this point and now get so many that they loose all impact. I have tried dressing as the Easter bunny but this seems to make children cry (although maybe that says more about my performance than the costume).

Perhaps this bunny would be less scary

So, the team meetings go, ‘what else is there to do over the four-day Easter weekend?’ ‘Is there a traditional Easter meal?’ ‘It must be lamb, or is it chicken?’ ‘Isn’t it served on the Sunday?’ ‘Does that mean it is just a normal Sunday lunch?’ ‘Then what about traditional Good Friday food?’. I feel I should know the answers… Let’s be honest, the only things we are certain about for Easter are Church services (which only certain people are interested in) and chocolate. So, eggs it is.

At the meeting this year, I thought we agreed I would get the eggs. So off to the discount supermarket I went. I had 38 people to buy for plus a few spares for prizes so I got 50 eggs for £1 each (bargain!) and at the till the lady told me somebody else had just bought 50 eggs too. I thought nothing of it until I got back and of course, my colleague was the ‘someone else’ and now (on the evening of Good Friday) we had 100 eggs to get rid of. Cut to this morning when an email arrived from the manager “don’t worry about the Easter eggs, I picked them up on my way home”. So somehow, due to a communication failure, there were now 150 chocolate eggs sitting in my office (to be shared by 38 people).

So many eggs….

Now, everyone is getting chocolate. Eggs for staff, eggs for the families of staff, eggs for the neighbours, eggs for the chef to melt into recipes, we even tried giving eggs to people passing by but it seems taking chocolate from strangers is a little taboo.

As I write this, tomorrow is Easter Sunday and I will be going round again with more eggs, hoping people have eaten the previous ones, I will be doing this fairly slowly as nothing else really happens at Easter and then going round again on Easter Monday…

“Eggs, get your chocolate eggs”.

“Please, take some”.


I’m An Artful Dodger

We are about to reach the first anniversary of the UK Covid-19 lockdown. As a result, there have been a lot of articles recapping the events of the last year (as if we had forgotten). Generally these are fairly similar in mentioning zoom quizzes, banana bread, graphs on TV and outdoor clapping. I did an internet search to try and find who the clapping was for and found the answer was ‘clap for the NHS’, ‘clap for carers’, ‘clap for key workers’ and also ‘clap for heroes’, each vaguer than the one before. No wonder we got bored of it all.

There is also a lot of coverage featuring people who have learned new things about themselves. Some are more resourceful than they thought while some are better in their own company. I have seen several reports of people ditching their city lives for more space in the countryside. Other people have discovered new skills or taken up new hobbies. For me, a number of discoveries have been made.

Firstly, I can’t be bothered with art. I have spent years going round art galleries pretending to understand, feeling there must be something faulty with me as I don’t get it. The galleries themselves are echoey and often overcrowded, the prices are expensive and it takes me longer to get there than I spend inside. I fully appreciate that other people love going to see art but I am now happy to admit that it is all wasted on me and I am fine with that. On a similar note, I am also going to stop trying to understand Shakespeare. Just typing that feels like a weight lifted.

This was also the year I finally realised that living on meal deals from supermarkets is a terrible way to live. While it is true that I am still awful at cooking, making my own sandwiches (rather than buying them every day) is cheaper, easier and tastier. It is slightly embarrassing that it has taken a global pandemic to teach me that. I am also no longer terrified of chip & pin cards and have not used a cash point in months although my new phone (the one that took me days to sort out), remains unused, sitting on my shelf next to the old one, so some things remain consistently unchanged.

Next, I always thought I was the kind of person who enjoyed working. Actually, this year with its enforced ‘stay at home’ has shown me, that I work to live rather than the other way round. I have started dreaming of retiring very early and buying lottery tickets to make it happen. I was very excited last week when I got an email to say I had a winning ticket. Upon logging in, I found all I had got was a free entry for the next draw, which in turn got me nothing. Still, maybe one day…

Although, even if I do miraculously win enough to retire, I still won’t be spending it on pre-made sandwiches in art galleries.

Flowing Laterally

               ‘Don’t worry, it’s very easy’. This is always a terrible thing to hear. It generally means, ‘Don’t ask me how to do it’. In this case the ‘it’ in question is the Lateral Flow Test (LFT) which as part of my work at a care home, I am required to do twice a week for the Coronavirus.

I am also required to take another weekly test, the PCR, which according to Google, stands for polymerase chain reaction, a term somebody brighter than me will have to explain. The results of the LFT are said to take thirty minutes but in my experience, are obvious after about two minutes which is very handy. The problem is, they are said to be unreliable and also require the user to honestly declare the true result into the Government website. This is why we need the PCR backup which is sent away to a lab, the result appears by text message in the middle of the night. I am not sure why the results can’t be sent during daylight hours thus avoiding waking everyone, perhaps this is a question I could ask at a forthcoming Downing Street press conference.

Upon opening my box containing 25 Lateral Flow Tests, I encountered 16 pages of instructions written in a font so small, that a microscope is needed to decode it but ‘don’t worry, its very easy’ they said.

  • Step One – Specimen Collection

There is something awful about the word specimen in a medical context and collecting my own specimen is not something I look forward to. There is a medical swab to unwrap and I am instructed to ‘wipe the pharyngeal tonsils’ with ‘moderate force at least three times’. This sounds like a line from a horror script. I am guessing that ‘pharyngeal tonsils’ just means ‘tonsils’. Then the same swab should be ‘rolled five times along the mucus inside the nostril’. How lovely. This process inevitably leads to gagging and sneezing so should probably not be done in polite company.

  • Step Two – Result Extraction

The swab should be placed into something called an extraction tube which is basically a small plastic bottle. The next step is to ‘press the extraction solution bottle to drip 6 drops of extraction solution into the extraction tube’. On a side note, perhaps a thesaurus could have been located to avoid having an extraction solution bottle, extraction solution and also extraction tubes. Six drops strikes me as a strange number and when I try and get the correct number of drops, I always end up with more of a small squirt. I am yet to discover how many drops equals a squirt.

Anyway, only two drops from the tube are needed for the test cartridge and the manual tells me to ‘start the timer’ which makes it sound very exciting, like we are breaking a world record. There are three possible results. A line appears at C, means negative. A line appears at T means the test is invalid and a line at both C & T means positive. Why the letters C and T are used remains a mystery.

  • Step Three – Reporting

With the phrase ‘don’t worry, it’s very easy’ still ringing in my head, I am asked by the government website to create an account. It needs to know my gender, ethnic group, ethnic background, date of birth, address, email and phone number. After answering all these tedious queries, I am now ready to enter my result which I was hoping would be much quicker but no such luck. More questions come:

                              Who are you reporting a result for?

Who was the test for?

What is their unique code?

Which of these best describes you?

When did you take the test?

What is the test strip ID number? (which I need to enter twice)

Do you know your NHS Number?

As more and more questions arrive, I wonder if a set of breathing exercises could be suggested to ease the stress. Eventually the big moment comes and I am finally allowed to enter the results. The sense of relief is overwhelming, that is until both my emails and phone ping simultaneously with an automated message telling me:

Even for people who are a little forgetful, it seems unnecessary for the government to send out messages telling me things I only told them moments earlier.

And with that my LFT is finally done, until I need to do it all again in three days time, complete with obligatory sneezing.

Free For Three

Last week saw the third anniversary of my ‘medical discharge’ from my 12 year sea going career and the start of my adjustment to life as a land lover. I feel like I have changed a lot over the course of the last three years as I have tried to learn more about myself and how my brain works.

The first part of this was figuring out I was autistic, before going on to be formally diagnosed which I have written about in previous posts, though the debate regarding which of my behaviours I can blame on being autistic and which are down to my frequent bad decisions continues.

Since then, it has occurred to me that having strategies to cope with stress would be helpful to lessen potential meltdown situations, sleep better and just be a better person. This time last year I got a telephone assessment with talking therapies, it took me weeks to pluck up the courage and I was surprised by how quickly they got back to me with an appointment once I finally asked (only a few days). However, in those few days, lockdown was announced, I lost my job and as a result had to move house. Basically, I was too stressed to complete the stress prevention course.

Over the last year I (like everyone else) have had a lot of spare time, so I have undertaken a lot of free online courses (sometimes three a week), these have included:

  • Big Data and the Environment
  • An Introduction to Children’s Visual Culture
  • How To Read a Novel
  • The Tudors
  • Fashion In A Changing World
  • Content Management

Looking back over the eclectic list of completed courses on my account, I am struck by how I have forgotten most of them. One I recently signed up to was Mindfulness. This is a term I have never previously understood but I learned from the course it is a series of techniques to better connect to our surroundings. After week one, I discovered it is a lot of sitting quietly and breathing. While I am sure it is great for many people, I realised I am quite happy not knowing what is going on around me. It seems like the more aware of my surroundings I am, the more there is to be stressed about so perhaps that for me, ignorance is bliss.

What has been more useful has been learning about CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy). This is a way of becoming aware of negative thoughts so they can be dealt with. It doesn’t stop the thoughts from appearing, but it stops them becoming overwhelming. An example would be somebody with arachnophobia. Doing CBT would not stop them hating spiders but would let them get on with their day rather than quivering in a corner.

For me, I want to use it to sleep better. I have spent many midnight hours getting annoyed about minor incidents that happened twenty or thirty years ago. CBT is showing me that I need to recognise that it is not useful to keep going over all these things everyone else has forgotten. So when something pops into my mind at 3am, I must find something else to focus on so the destructive thoughts don’t ruin my whole night.

Of course, it is taking quite a lot of practice but I feel it is starting to work, I am sleeping better and it is now rare for me to have a terrible night of sleep. Although is that because of the CBT or is that because my life is currently relatively stress free? Also, it is true to say that I might be doing it completely wrong. After all, I haven’t formally done any CBT, I just read about it on the internet…

Let’s see how that goes…

The Big Day

As I write this, tomorrow is set to be a big day. The Prime Minister is due to announce the plans for England to leave lockdown and we will all find out what our futures hold. This will be broadcast live on TV and judging by previous announcements, he will be surrounded by flags (perhaps it will be fun to guess how many) and sat at a small desk which has the draws facing the camera (rather than the person using the desk) meaning it is back to front.

How does he get things out of the draws from there?

               It is likely the opposition parties will say that whatever is announced will be ‘too little, too late’, which seems to be their default position and then there will be a long stream of people asking ‘why if you can do this thing, why can’t you do that thing’ for which there will be no answer. Judging on previous experience, it will be weeks until the guidance is produced meaning that whatever is announced will be unclear. Some people will say the reopening is too fast, others will say it isn’t fast enough and we will get endless news footage of people outside shops being asked their opinion while wearing masks incorrectly.

               Even though, it is no longer a novelty, I am still very distracted by what is behind the scientists being interviewed from their houses. It is now very rare for children or pets to get involved and bookcases are becoming less popular too. My current favourite is a scientist from the University of Liverpool who has a hobby horse in the background. I imagine him running around and asking for sugar lumps between interviews.

A hobby horse spotted in the office

To be honest, I have no idea what I would choose for my background, probably a blank wall would be safest, although it seems a longshot that any journalist would be asking me what my opinions are regarding virology (or anything else).

What would be nice, is if the announcement made some kind of sense and won’t need days of clarification but if sitting on the correct side of a desk proves challenging, perhaps we shouldn’t be too hopeful.


               According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a technophobe is a person who fears, dislikes, or avoids new technology and so this means I am a technophobe. I have written before about my reluctance to try any new piece of equipment, mainly because everything I have, I can work and I am fine with that.

               My opinion on this is starting to change. I am beginning to understand that technology is designed to be easy to use and it wouldn’t be popular if it was difficult. So technophobia is a choice. It is not that I can’t work new things, it is simply that I don’t want to.

               The pandemic has forced me (like many people) to adapt. I can now successfully operate You Tube, I have downloaded (though admittedly, hardly touched) Spotify and I finally understand why everyone uses chip and pin rather than carrying lots of coins. There is a great satisfaction in ‘conquering’ a new piece of tech, even if the rest of the world has been using it for years.

So much to learn…

It has become obvious to me that my life would be better if I didn’t keep using paper maps and out of date bus timetables, printing out paperwork or just hoping nothing has changed since I left the house. So this week, I took a major step forward when, for the first time in over a decade, I decided to order a new mobile phone.

As there are no shops open I can avoid the problem of a shop assistant having to explain things to me like I have been in a coma since Queen Victoria’s time. Instead, Amazon will have to do. I typed phone into the search and I was informed there were ‘over 60,000’. Why the number was so vague is a side issue. I have no idea what makes a good phone and so I settled on one that fitted my price range and had a high number of stars from other reviewers. It was the OPPO A5 2020 Snapdragon 665 5000 mAh Dual Sim 12 MP Ultra Wide Quad’. There is pretty much nothing in this description that I understand. Neither have I any idea about what I will do with the ‘internal gyroscope’ or why it matters that ‘It combines Frame Boost and Touch Boost’.

I decided not to pay the extra £4.99 for the next day delivery but it arrived the next day anyway. Because my old phone is a museum piece surely worthy of display next to plastic cups connected with string, I had to order a new SIM card. I learned this from a website as none of the words in ‘OPPO A5 2020 Snapdragon 665 5000 mAh Dual Sim 12 MP Ultra Wide Quad’ translate in English as ‘manual included’.

Automated phone services are always a nightmare and I learned a while ago that the best way to navigate the robot voiced menus is to repeatedly press numbers that are not one of the options. Eventually you get a human. Mine was called Owen. I don’t know why this was important, but he told me three times. I was ready with a ruler to measure the slot to work out what size I needed but as everyone (except me) knows, new SIM cards are all the same size.

What do these things all do?

“The best way to get a new SIM is from one of our authorised retailers” Owen informed me.

             “Do phone shops count as essential retail” I asked, knowing that they didn’t and as such, were all shut. Owen paused.

             “Well, as a special treat, I can send one out to you free of charge, saving you £1.50” came his reply. I very much enjoy that for Owen a £1.50 SIM card counts as a special treat.

             While I wait for this, I have managed to install the updates, download a couple of apps and correctly attach the case. Weirdly, getting the case on was the hardest of those tasks.

             I am still not caught up yet on all this technology though, I have never used a TV streaming service or taken a photo with anything other than a camera while the point of posting anything on social media hasn’t really become clear to me. But these are things for another day, I am still figuring out what to do with my internal gyroscope.

Rolling Out The Red Carpet

I once heard a theory that the Queen must think everything smells like paint as everywhere she goes has been recently refurbished in anticipation of her arrival. The same must be true for company executives. Nothing puts the fear in a branch manager more than a notification that somebody important ‘from corporate’ is on their way.

               The run up to the big visit sees an extraordinary set of events take place. Absolutely everything in the building is purged, if it is untidy, it is gone. Waste paper bins vanish, useful notices are binned and large amounts of money is spent on new furnishings. The poor maintenance team need to work about 17 hours a day putting up new flatpack cupboards, painting walls and examining historic paperwork. Obscure stockrooms and outbuildings become urgent priorities and rotas are altered so the more ‘problematic’ staff members are absent. Then come the flagged emails telling the whole building there is a chance they will be questioned by the VIPs on a previously unknown procedure we are supposed to be following.

Panic spreads….

Of course, what actually happens is nothing of the sort. The visits are usually brief and unremarkable. The CEO never seems to run their finger over the newly dusted curtain rail, the Chairperson doesn’t look behind the door of the third floor supply cupboard and for all the training urgently undertaken, the Chief Operating Officer fails to ask the new recruit from logistics what point seven of the customer service excellence scheme is. The reason for all this, is that generally speaking, they don’t care. They are here to see the manager and have no interest regarding the dates of the memos on the noticeboard.

               I was put through the trauma of one of these visits recently. I knew something was up by the number of fresh flowers that suddenly appeared. Then a van arrived full of boxes, the curtains were taken to the dry cleaners and the unfortunate deputy was tasked with looking over everything to make sure the old logo was nowhere to be seen.

For them, it a nice day out…

The day before the visit, our manager discovered that the big day was only a couple of weeks before the CEO’s birthday so this would be a great opportunity for a surprise party. A chef was hired to cook a special meal, a cake was ordered and the already overworked secretary was sent round to gather everyone’s signature in an oversized birthday card. We were all summoned to sing happy birthday and pose for photos on their arrival. However, it transpired that the branch visited prior to ours had the same idea so all our visitors arrived full of cake and couldn’t eat a thing.

               Over the following few days the waste paper bins reappeared, we were allowed to unlock the messy (but useful) cupboards and everyone could go back to having ‘personal items’ on their desks.

               I am sure that company executives must realise how much chaos their visits must cause and question why all their premises have a waft of varnish in the air. One day, when I am actually allowed to talk to one of these executives, I might subtly suggest that video conferencing would be a good option rather than a site visit. On the other hand, I might just carry on hiding out of the way until it is all over.