Monthly Archives: September 2010

Fine Boy, Boy for Sale

As part of Tinson2’s Transition Year he has to get Work Experience. For two weeks during October and another one next April he has to find some employer willing to take on an enthusiastic young man keen to do any job at all, for no pay.

Should be a doddle in these recessionary times, but most employers are unwilling to bite, having been bitten before, and that sentence makes more sense than it appears to at first sight. During the boom years anyone who worked in a company with a staff of more than about five got used to seeing every now and then a fresh-faced, red-faced, zit-faced teenager loping about the office with a walk that suggested he was on a trampoline, but only from the waist up. Overworked as we all were in those days we eagerly gave this Godsend any dull and easy-to-explain job that we didn’t want to do ourselves. Unfortunately the jobs turned out not to be as easy-to-explain as we had thought, especially to a hormone-volcano who was appearing to be listening, but instead was gaping at all the women in skirts and high-heels. You’d explain, he’d nod enthusiastically all the way through your explanation, then he’d tear off like the hare at the start of that race. He’d return remarkably quickly to say that the job was done, someone else would send him off to do something even more mundane, and this would continue until the end of his tenure.

It was only when he was gone that you’d remember that it was the tortoise who actually won that race, possibly because the hare got held up trying to undo something that his Transition Year student had done, and you’d realise that the word “Godsend” was actually “God’s end”, i.e., something that made you give up your faith in despair.

We still dread anyone asking us if we have a copy of any invoice from 2008. A guy in Accounts, almost a year behind with his filing, (he himself was a TY student trapped in the body of a 30-year old) got a young visitor to do it all. At the time the invoices were filed alphabetically (we’ve stopped that now), and if the phrase “thinking outside the box” actually means anything, then it describes what we have to do when we’re trying to guess where our student might have filed something.

I usually start with “V”, since that’s the first letter of our company name. This name will, of course, appear quite near the top of most invoices sent to us, so it’s an understandable mistake, especially since he probably knew our company only as “that place where my friend’s dad works”. He threw me a bit with a bill from the Clarence Hotel, where we had held a conference, but I eventually found it under “M”, since the hotel had addressed to bill to a girl in our place called Mary.

I’ve also found an invoice from Dell filed under “S”, presumably because it was filed by the Student.

None of this, of course, has any relevance to my own dear son, who will, if any of you have a vacancy, be the very model of hard work and efficiency. It’s not quite that simple, however. The Work Experience guidelines state that the work should be in the field in which the student wishes to pursue an eventual career.

And Tinson2’s favourite subjects are Woodwork and Metalwork.

This means that he has to find a boss who is willing to to allow a 15-year old get hands-on (and hopefully staying that way) experience with chisels, planes and lathes, or who is willing to turn a blind eye (or indeed risk having said eye blinded) while Tinson2 discovers that making a tuba on a bandsaw isn’t as easy as it looks.

And if such an employer exists, I’m not letting Tinson2 work for him.

Possibly Related

Ok, it turns out that “normal rubbish will resume tomorrow” actually means “normal rubbish will resume in four days time”. All I can say is that I was busy feeling sorry for myself. Anyway, if God wanted us to be good time-keepers he wouldn’t have invented Sorry I Forgot Your Birthday Cards.

While writing my replies to the supportive comments I received on my last post I noticed the Possibly Related Posts that WordPress suggested at the end of it. I’ve often been struck before by how oddly random these suggestions seem to be, and intend sometime to provide a selection of the more tenuously linked ones.

The ones here were strange, in that they were related, yet at the same time not. They suggested a post of mine called Out of Joint (nah, I’m not linking to it, it’s not that good). The main way in which this relates to the current post is that they share the same author, but there are 589 other posts out there of which you could say the same (advance warning there, 600th post not far away). The post is about when I hurt my back last January, and my boss made me visit a physiotherapist. I’m afraid I don’t see the connection, all it proves is that WordPress thinks all long medical words mean the same thing.

The other three suggestions are called “FMS. File Management System”; “If you’re looking for simple time manageme…” (the title is too long for them to fit it all in, perhaps the full title is “if you’re looking for simple time management, don’t bother reading anything with a title as long as this”); and “Office Organisation”.

Now, the meeting at which my tale took place was about a system we’re looking at for work. But the main thrust of my story, surely, was about derealisation, and how bloody soul-crushing it can be. The tags included “depression”, “derealisation” and my most used phrase of all, “it’s all about me”. Possibly More Possibly Related Posts, I’d have thought, might have included some of my own posts about derealisation (and God knows there’s no shortage of them, I hear you say), or other people’s posts about Tinman or the Wizard of Oz, or even stuff about clouds, rather than one suggesting a way of storing your files (I’m guessing alphabetical order comes into it somewhere).

I’m going to stop and publish this now, I can’t wait to see what they suggest for this.

It’ll probably be about Birthday Cards.

But Clouds Get in My Way

At work we are looking at getting a system which will improve our budgeting, forecasting and planning.

Our current method has a lot going for it, we just think up figures out of our heads. For simplicity and speed it can’t be beaten. The new system, though, will place more emphasis on accuracy, and apparently management think this is more important.

Anyway, the man who’s going to implement it came in yesterday, and we spend the whole day with him, GoldenEyes, the boss and myself, explaining to him what happens at the moment, what reports we use, how we arrive at forecasts and actual results, what we’d like to see.

I had to get involved a lot. I listened to what the guy suggested. I had to explain in detail what we do now, sometimes showing stuff on a computer screen, sometimes giving long explanations. At one stage I found I had stood and was actually walking around the room while I was talking, hands moving like a charades-player trying to describe Jessica Rabbit. We talked about what could be done, argued about what we wanted. I made people laugh sometimes, and others made me laugh. It was intense and absorbing, the kind of day that makes you feel that you really are an important part of what goes on in the company.

And of course it all happened in a haze, slightly far away.

It’s on days like this that I suddenly realise how strong my derealisation is. At one point I was talking quite animatedly about something, when I happened to look straight at my boss, carefully listening to what I was saying, and I suddenly felt a brief flash of reality, suddenly realised that I was the centre of attention in an important business meeting, and it had all been happening on auto-pilot. I faltered for a second, as if I’d forgotten what I was saying, then just ploughed back on.

It’s been more than three years now, and I’m really pissed off. Compared to the depression days, the breakdown days, the heart problem days, the sleep deprived days, I’m so much better, so most of the time I’m quite grateful and content. Then a day like yesterday happens and it brings home how abnormal it all is. And once it brings it home, then the realisation of derealisation stays for a few days. This morning a great friend at work was telling me something that had happened to her and I felt a deep sadness that I had almost to try and consciously focus on the fact that she was talking, to me, right there and then, and that what she was telling me was real, and important to her.

Great days, tough days, fun events, deep conversations, sad stories, all barely discernible through the mist. I have three children – me, still a child in my own mind, have three wonderful people in my life who look up to me and adore me, and I can’t fully feel how astounding that is.

I’m sorry, I’m sure when you read the first two paragraphs you had no idea of the tone-detour this post was going to take. I just felt that I needed to vent, and I knew that as always you’d all listen, and care.

Thank you all as always. Normal rubbish will resume tomorrow.

Buzzed Off

When you expose someone like the Spelling B he’s likely to get quite angry. So I made especially sure that my post about him was as accurate as I could make it. I read it, then, just like Santa, I started checking it twice. He had managed to make the second sentence start “warning of us of the existence..” but this was quickly corrected, and my post was published.

I’d say he was steaming. I, of course, was delighted.

I’d forgotten that he’s not called the Spelling B because the B stands for Bounder. No, he really is a Bollix.

He couldn’t get at me, so he got at someone I know.

I’ve written here before about the co-incidences that dog my life, filling it with wonder, surprise and blogging material. Well, our HR Director writes a weekly news email. And although it’s only September, he picked this week of all weeks to write about the Christmas holiday arrangements. He wrote about the fact that Christmas Day, St Stephen’s Day and New Year’s Day all fall at the weekend this year, and about what happens when such an event occurs.

These three days are Public Holidays. He told us this. He told us that there’s a Public Holidays Act, which specifies what happens when a Public Holiday falls on a weekend.  He told us that those of us taking the Friday or Monday off instead are to ensure that we make it clear whether we’re taking it as part of our annual leave or as a Day In Lieu of a Public Holiday.

You can guess what happened, can’t you?

Well, you almost can. It actually happened twice.

I’m not sure what a Pubic Holiday is. Is it a break from sex?

Sting Like a Bee

When we were children we were taught about fearsome magical creatures like the banshee and the bogeyman. Warning us of the existence of these monsters at bedtime was supposed to make us more willing to go to a lonely bedroom and lie by ourselves in the dark. I’m sure things like this did me no harm at all, though I’m not sure my therapist would agree with me.

As we grow up we learn that these creatures don’t exist, and we believe that in fact there are no mischevious fairies or goblins waiting to play wicked tricks upon us. Then some people, the world’s most charming, insightful, sensitive souls, take up blogging. This brings us face to face with the Spelling Bee.

Write a post. Read it over. Take out some of the lamest jokes, and replace them with lamer ones. Read it over again. Convince yourself that it’s the best thing you’ve ever written, ever. Read it over one last time. Re-assure yourself that it’s perfect. Hit “publish”.

It will take the Internet a quarter of a millifraction of a nanosecond to put the post onto your blog. And during this time the Spelling Bee will slip a mistake into it.

In the US the Spelling Bee is a spelling competition among schoolchildren. This is rather like the nursery rhyme “ring-a-ring-a-rosy”, which was about the Black Plague. They knew children would hear about these things so they invented a simple story or rhyme to explain them away. (“Mum, Little Jimmy says there’s something really awful called the Spelling Bee.” “Er, yes dear, it’s this really hard competition where if you don’t spell ‘diarrhoea’ right they do something to you that gives you diarrhoea”).

The real Spelling Bee is much more fearsome. He is not, of course, an actual bee, he’s an imp. His name is not actually the Spelling Bee, it’s the Spelling B. The B is short for something, and you can guess what it stands for if you reflect upon the fact that the other well-known nursery rhyme “a post that’s full of fun and frolics/is quickly spoilt by the Spelling B” doesn’t rhyme.

Try as you might, you can’t beat him. I know I checked last Friday’s post about teapots, yet when I looked at the published version it had the word “porbably” in the very first sentence (nah, don’t bother looking, I’ve changed it).

He does have a nemesis, a force for good who tries to fight him. The Font Fairy, Queen Qwerty, does her best, but unfortunately her best involves sending along her Page, Spellcheck, in the belief that the Spelling B is afraid of squiggly red underlining.

The Spelling B laughs at Spellcheck in the way that bankers laughed at the Financial Regulator. When Spellcheck arrives the Spelling B simply ups his game. He eschews simple spelling mistakes and goes instead for word substitution. Thus ‘they’re’ becomes ‘there’ or ‘their’. Or he will substitute one letter in a word and change it entirely. Yesterday’s post at one stage said “actors rent on the seventh day”, which may well be true, but it’s not what I meant to say.

The opportunity to remove the ‘l’ from the word ‘public’ is still his Holy Grail.

And he’s not alone. He has a sister, Grammatical Ella (she’s Chinese) whose (not who’s – see?) job it is to make sure your participles are dangling.

Their brother Parenthesus, who inserts brackets into the middle of sentences, seems to haunt only me.

Culture Night

Mrs Tin and I went to the theatre last night.

The fact that the sentence above gets a paragraph all of its own will tell you that this in not a frequent occurrence. Indeed, I’ve probably spent more time in the operating theatre than in the theatre theatre during my lifetime. But we went yesterday, for Mrs Tin’s birthday. That, of course,was last Sunday, and that was when she wanted to go, but when we tried to book we discovered that actors rest on the seventh day, possibly in the belief that they are God.

We went to see Death of a Salesman. I’ve never seen it before, it’s one of those things I always meant to do without ever getting round to it, like visiting the National Museum, or watching The Matrix, or joining the Mile-high Club. It’s one of those plays that has sunk into the subconscious of the world. People who’ve never read A Christmas Carol know who Scrooge is, people who’ve never read Hamlet know he says “to be or not to be”, people who’ve never read Sherlock Holmes know he lives in Baker Street. Similarly, though I’d never seen the play I knew the salesman’s name was Willy Loman.

It was terrific. I’m not a theatre critic, so I won’t try to review it here, except to say that the performance of Harris Yulin (look him up, you’ll know him if you see him, he’s one of these guys who’s in everything) was something I’ll never forget.

And the play is being very well attended, which is always good to see. Indeed, we got the last two seats in the house, which meant we weren’t side by side but each of us was at the end of a row, with me seated behind Mrs Tin (ironically, the only people in the whole theatre who didn’t turn up were the pair who were meant to sit beside me, so we could have sat together anyway).

Not sitting together in the theatre doesn’t matter anyway. It’s not like the cinema, you’re not going to start huggin’-anna-kissin’ in the back-row, you’re not going to pass each other popcorn, you’re not going to noisily open two cans of Coke.

And, when the action is at its most tense and the audience at its most silent,you’ve not going to lean over and whisper “I bet I know who kills him.”

Down on the Farm

Tinson2 is now in Transition Year, the year students spend between finishing the Junior Cycle and starting the Senior Cycle at school. They do projects, get work experience and go on outings. It’s like Blue Peter, except it’s not on telly, you don’t get a badge and you don’t get to name an endless succession of remarkably short-lived dogs.

Apparently Transition Year students refer to it as “doss year”. I was unaware of this when I asked Tinson2 “is it not just a doss year?”, which shows that I have the mentality of a 15-year old. I was also unaware that Mrs Tin had forbidden Tinson2 from using this phrase. This forbiddenness has now been extended to me.

I am also forbidden from referring to Tinson2 as a Tranny.

Anyway, he’s a couple of weeks into it now. He still goes off to school each morning in his uniform, and oddly still gets homework, which I presume is just being told to sit in his room for an hour and do nothing. Already, though, he has collected for charity, done courses on journalism and computers and visited a stables.

And this week they went on a two-day team building programme on a farm. They were given a list of things to bring (warm clothes, raingear) and things not to bring. Among the things they cannot bring are aerosols, and knowing the boys in Tinson2’s class as I do this will cause Lynx’s profits to fall by about 40 per cent.

He left on Thursday, and on Thursday night his loving mum, dad, brother and sister sat in our warm house watching the torrential rain outside the window, thought of him on his wet, muddy farm and, well, fell about giggling. Perhaps we could do with some Team Building ourselves. The trip involved mud – lots and lots of mud. It’s like Oxygen without the music.

And he had a great time. He did an assault course, he chased a piglet, he milked a cow, the cow milked him, i.e., sprayed him with milk. He arrived home last night glowing with fresh air, happiness and excitement, and very, very tired.

This is my first experience of Transition Year. They didn’t have it back in the last millennium when I was at school (indeed, younger readers won’t believe this, but we didn’t even get driven to school in an SUV). Tinson1’s headlong rush to be a grown-up as quickly as possible meant that he opted not to do it. But it seems to be a great idea, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the year turns out.

Up the Spout

There is a saying (by Emerson apparently, probably before he teamed up with Lake and Palmer):  “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”

People who work in marketing will obviously disagree strongly with this, arguing that people will beat a path to your door only after a lot of market research, a load of branding think-tank sessions and an intensive bus-shelter ad campaign, but never mind that. I would suggest that there should be another saying: “Build a load of crap and, if you sell it cheaply enough, people will beat a path to your door, even if using it is going to endanger their own customers.”

I offer in supporting evidence the café teapot.

Order tea in a café and the waitress will bring a small metal teapot. The same type of metal teapot is used in every café everywhere in the world, the manufacturers obviously have the type of monopoly on teapots that Monopoly has on board games.  The waitress will bring it on a tray, and will transfer it on to your table by holding it through a cloth. This is because she knows the handle will be hot, and she has learnt this, over time, by the empirical method.

Although, as I’ve said just recently, Science was not my strongest school subject, some stuff did sink in. Even I remember something called conduction, which would tell me that a metal handle attached to a hot metal pot will quickly become as hot as the pot itself. It seems the manufacturers of these teapots paid even less attention in Science than I did, or perhaps they did Latin instead.

Grasp the handle and you will burn your hand. You will swear, grab one of those tiny serviettes they give you and, using it both as a bandage and an oven-glove, you will pick up the pot and pour.

Most of the tea will waterfall out onto the tablecloth. There is no known way of stopping this.

You will look at the small amount of tea that has managed to find the cup and will notice that it is the colour of widdle. The answer to this is to squeeze the solitary tea bag with a spoon, and to do this you will need to lift the lid by the nubbiny thing on the top. This is also made of metal, though it will be too late when you think of this.

The startling thing about all this is that we don’t learn. The manufacturers still make them, the cafés still buy them and we, no matter how often we’ve done it before, still burn ourselves on them next time.

Who needs to build a better mousetrap, when the mice are happy hurling themselves onto the old one.

Clothes Horse

We don’t have a work uniform, but we might as well do, since I pretty well wear the same thing every day. I wear casual trousers, a polo-shirt (in winter, thanks to our ill-conditioned air-conditioning, this gets upped to a Nadal-type sleeveless singlet, a t-shirt and a polo-shirt) and a hoodie.

People my age tend not to wear hoodies, if only because you feel more justified in glaring suspiciously at youths in hoodies if you’re not wearing one yourself. I only really started after my first blackout, when my forehead was quite badly cut after my fall and I couldn’t pull jumpers on over my head. Since I had no cardigans (I’m not yet a grandad, nor am I Val Doonican) I borrowed a hoodie from Tinson1, one of those ones that zip up at the front. No sooner had my head healed than I fell on it again, re-commissioned the hoodie and eventually Tinson1 gave up trying to point out that it had originally been his.

By now I have lots of them. I like wearing them to work because they are comfortable, and because on really bad air-con days I can pointedly sit at my desk with the hood up. I realise that wearing one means that I am banned from some shopping centres, but this doesn’t bother me since shopping centres mostly sell clothes, so I’d rarely visit one. As I’m sure you’ve gathered, clothes are not my strong suit, if that remark makes any sense.

Anyway, I’d to go with the boss to a seminar this morning (gosh, sounded like a real business person there for a second) so, since I was temporarily the public face of our company I decided I should, I think the phrase is, suit up. I put on a long-sleeved, button-fronted shirt, I put on a jacket and finally I put on that ultimate waste of the polyester-forests, a tie. I’d say that I looked dapper, except that it’s one of those words that you hear used a lot without ever knowing exactly what it means.

The seminar ended, we returned to work and I spent the rest of the day looking dapper (perhaps it means half-witted?). And I was amazed at how much comment my attire provoked among my workmates. Not just the ones who are my friends (yes, they slagged the shit out of me, that’s how you know people are your friends), but people to whom I rarely speak felt emboldened to remark about how, well, dapper (does it mean ludicrous, maybe?) I looked. I spent a lot of the day assuring people that no, I did not have a hot date, no, I was not going to a job interview and no, I was not due in court.

I argued that I have worn a jacket and tie often before at work and that’s it’s not that long since I last did it. And I believed this. And then sometime in the afternoon I put my hand into the inside pocket of the jacket and found something from the last time I’d worn it. We used to bring clients to football matches in the UK and one day a client dropped out at the last minute and for some reason I ended up being dragged along. Since dinner at the club was included I’d to wear the jacket and tie. So what I found in my pocket was a ticket for Sunderland v Arsenal, on the last day that I wore a jacket and tie.

On May 11th, 2008. I think I’m not really executive material.

I also found three chocolates in wrapping with the Sunderland crest on. Mrs Tin, Tingirl and I had one each this evening, they were lovely. So my story ends with some really good news, especially for women.

Well-wrapped chocolate, if kept in a very dark wardrobe, never goes stale.

Odd Man Out

Tinson2’s Junior Cert results came out today.

He did well and is pleased. Very pleased, in fact, so much so that we realise that underneath his super-cool exterior he was actually quite anxious. He need not have worried, he did well in everything except, oddly, in C.S.P.E (Civic, Social & Political Education) which even he’s surprised at. C.P.S.E is the oddball comic relief of school subjects, the educational equivalent of Luna Lovegood. If any of you have young children who will one day face this exam, here is a brief summary of what you need to know to pass it:

  • voting is Good
  • littering is Bad
  • helping your neighbour is Good
  • turning up hungover or tired for work is Bad (this is a very recent change to the curriculum, until yesterday we all thought it was not just Good, but compulsory).

His best two subjects were Woodwork and Metalwork. I find this astonishing, since using chopsticks for two minutes till my fingers get tired is my idea of woodwork, while all I know about metalwork is that I am partly made of it.

And his next best subject was Science. Tinson1 won the Chemistry award in his last school exam, got an A in Biology in the Leaving Cert and is now at Trinity doing Science. Tingirl is just starting 2nd year, but in 1st year her best subject was, well, Science. There’s a bit of a theme going on here.

Yet I remember getting 26% in a science exam, and remember it because it was one of the good years. I remember a teacher holding up my two different drawings of the lungs, one marked “before inhaling” and the other marked “after exhaling” and trying to get me to understand that “before inhaling” and “after exhaling” are exactly the same thing. I remember that whenever I thought about the reproductive system (and back then I thought about little else) then my mind would fill with diagrams of the insides of rabbits.

When a child is very different to its parents we have a glib cliché “he must have been switched at birth”. That explanation looks less likely if all three of them are different to me, gifted in subjects that left me cold (because I didn’t understand thermal radiation).

Then I remember that my father, their grandad, was a carpenter by trade, could fix his own car, mend obstinate Christmas Tree lights, and loved (loves, he’s still alive) things like the space program, and fossils, and engineering feats like great bridges, and it all becomes clear.

I’m the one who was switched at birth.