Monday, July 30, 2012


Part of my duties for my new company is to update credit card details for people who have bought something from us. A hot water system, say. Or a set of solar panels. We offer a fairly simple repayment plan whereby the customer gives us a couple of hundred bucks and then pays the system off with monthly instalments over two years.

One of the conditions attached to this is that the repayments can only be set up to direct debit from a credit (or debit) card. So if someone wants this instalment plan option they can't make the payments over the counter at the post office, or via bpay. This is a fairly popular scheme so this means; lots of credit cards, lots of updates. People call in because they've changed banks, or their credit card has expired. Or...

THEM: Yeah, I got this text message from you asking me to call in.

ME: Oh yes?

THEM: Yeah.


ME: And what was it about?

THEM: Hey?

ME: What was the message about? We send a lot of those out, for lots of d-

THEM: Yeah, some shit about me credit card.

ME: Ok, right. So did you purchase something from us?

THEM: What's that?

ME: Did you purchase something from us? Did you, you know, buy something from us.

THEM: Yeah.

ME: And you're still paying it off?

THEM: Yeah.

At this point I get a few of the person's details and look them up in our accounts system.

ME: Right, so the reason we sent the text message was because the most recent payment hasn't come through to us.

THEM: How'dya mean?

ME: Well, we tried to debit a payment on the 13th and it was rejected by your bank.

THEM: (instantly hostile) Well why's that happened then? Whatd'ya mean rejected? There's nothing wrong with me card! What the bloody hell is going on?!

ME: Just like I said, we tried to take a payment fr-

THEM: Well there must be something wrong with your system! Or the bank.

ME: -om... Sorry, if you just let me finish. This has probably got a really simp-

THEM: My credit is good! I've never had a problem in me life! I wish I'd never got caught up with you people. Nothing but a fuckin' hassle from day one!

ME: -le explanation. Well, don't take it that way. One payment hasn't come through, there's no need to panic.

THEM: Oh yeah? That's easy for you to say. That's easy for you to say, mate, when you're not the one being accused of something. I don't know what you're tryin' to say about me credit rating or me account or whatever but I don't like the way this conversation is going.

ME: Well... (lost for words, brief pause)... Er... I'm not trying to say anything except we didn't get your last payment. I mean, most likely there's just some change with your card? Normally it's just that you have a new expiry date or a card number.

THEM: Mate, I haven't had any fucking changes with me card or anything else. Everything is exactly the same way that it's always been. Same card, same bank, same details. Same everything!

ME: So there haven't been any changes to anything with your credit card?

THEM: Nup.

ME: Everything's the same?

THEM: Yep.

ME: Well.... Yeah well, I guess it is a bit confusing then.

I double check and confirm from the info in our system that the most recent debit has not come through. This system that we use is very reliable.

ME: Or maybe there wasn't enough money in the account wh-

THEM: Fucks sake mate, there's plenty of money in that account. Plenty! So what else have you got?

ME: Well... let's recap. There's money in the account?

THEM: Yeah.

ME: And nothing has changed with the card?

THEM: Nup.

ME: No changes at all. Nothing different?

THEM: (angry) No, I said.

ME: You haven't changed cards or gotten a new card?

THEM: Well yeah, I got a new card.

There is silence at this point. At least on the phone. I've hit the 'mute' button on my console so he can't hear me going 'You fuck faced fuck head! No fucking changes!! What's a new fucking card then!!!'

I then unmute myself and, in a tone of sober derangement, continue:

ME: New card?

THEM: Yeah, I lost me old one a few weeks ago.

ME: I see... (another session in mute, more yelling)... Well that'll explain it then. You'll have a new card number and your old card will have cancelled so that's what will have stopped your payment with us.

THEM: Really? I thought the bank would have just told everyone my new number, automatically.

ME: Fuck me. What planet do they do that on?

THEM: Huh?

ME: No they don't do that.

THEM: So I have to tell everyone myself? Fuck me! That must be a new policy.

ME: No it's always been like that.

THEM: Is that right? That's a bit shit on their part. I suppose you want the new number then.

ME: Yeah, new card number thanks.

THEM: I'll get me wallet, hang on a sec.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Dinosaur Head

At the desk next to me, I can hear a conversation getting out of hand.

My neighbour on that side, Simon, is a young bloke, 22, who normally seems disinterested enough in what he's doing to not get too upset with our customers. But he's clearly struck one that's getting to him. 

Even though I haven't really been paying attention, I know he's been on the call for some time. And his voice has slowly been rising in pitch. And he's been using some of the tell-tale phrases:

'Yes I know that, but...'

'If you'd just let me speak...'

'No, that's not correct, it's actually the other way around... '

Which communicate to the rest of us in the universal service industry language that he's stuck with a right cunt.

Finally, after several more minutes of this grim one sided conversation, he admits a minor defeat.

'All right, well, look, I'll need to check that with my supervisor. I'll just put you on hold for a moment.'

And he flicks the relevant button on his phone, pulls his headset off and lets out a groan. 

'Faaarrrk,' he says with feeling, running his hands through his hair. 'This guy is killing me.'

It takes me a second or two to realise that he's probably addressing this remark to me. I'm the one sitting closest to him and no one else in range is paying any attention. 

'Oh yeah?'

'Yeah. He's got all these old bills and he's arguing over every charge on every single one. I spend five minutes arguing with him about one charge on one bill and then when I finally start to talk him round to the point where he can understand it, he then jumps onto the next charge and we start all over again. And his bills have been recalculated and reissued any number of times, probably because he keeps ringing up and complaining, so that the whole thing is a mess. I'm confused now!'

Simon gets up and goes in search of a supervisor, a person referred to in our current office as a Senior. The Seniors fill a middle role between the regular floor staff and the actual team leaders and offer advice, assistance, do the rosters and field complaints. Leaving the role of team leader somewhat obscure, as these would all be tasks done by the T/L's in other offices I've worked in.

In any case, Simon disappears for a few moments and then comes back with Cara, one of the Seniors who sits nearby. Cara is in her thirties, a bit overweight, and is friendly, if always appearing harried. She listens patiently while Simon sputters out the situation:

'... high bill... doesn't agree... recalculation... charges... can't understand... not listening... ombudsman... threats... won't pay... refuses... demands... yelling...'

Cara nods.

'I see. So, in a nutshell then... what does this guy want?'

'Well... I guess he wants a reduction in his bill. He thinks it's too high.'

'And what do you think?'

'Well I think it's probably right. It's a bit confusing, but I think it's right now. It's just hard, with all the revised bills that have been issued, to explain it to him easily. There's lots of cancelled charges and miscellaneous adjustments and stuff like that, that are on the bill that I'm having trouble explaining. But those things are on there to get the balance right, and I think it is right now.'

'Well if you think it's right then you just have to tell him that.'

'I have been telling him that. I've been talking to him for forty minutes now.'

'Well that's too long. And he's been on hold for five minutes,' Cara stares intently at the display on Simon's phone, 'and that's too long too. You need to get back to him and explain it, then get him off the line. Okay?'

'But how?'

'You need to explain it him.'

'But I need you to help me find a solution.'

'Look, that's not my job, to help you find a solution. You need to find the solution, that's your job. That's what we pay you for.'

Simon looks a bit stunned by this. His mouth opens slightly but he doesn't say anything. You can almost hear him thinking;

'Then what's your job?'

And maybe also,

'You fucking bitch! I hate you! I hate all of you! FUCK YOU!!'

But he doesn't say this, or anything at all. He nods his head, looking very unhappy, and turns back to his headset and his console. From where I sit I can see the hold button blinking on his phone, red, very ominous. 

Cara says, 'If you need me to find something in the system or you can't get all of the information you need, then come and ask me, but I'm not here just to break bad news to people when you've already worked out they owe us money. Just be firm, concise and get him off the phone, okay? That's it.'

Simon nods.


As that does appear to be it, Cara returns to her desk and I go back to what I was doing, which was staring out the window. We're on the 8th floor downtown and have a fascinating view of the roof of a conference centre, which is strewn with a bizarrely varied array of garbage. People who sit on my side of the building spend hours trying to work out what each individual item actually is.

'It looks like a plastic dinosaur head. But it couldn't be a dinosaur head, could it?!'

'I fucking hate this place,' Simon says.

Friday, July 6, 2012


An older woman calls up to apply for the Government concession that's available on electricity bills.

From other jobs I've had, I think of this as a pretty simple bit of business. All that should be needed is to note the woman's pension card number on her account, and the concession gets automatically subtracted from her bill each quarter.

And this is the case here too.

But what I'm not expecting is this 'script' that I have to read out to her, as part of the process. A little prompt box flashes up on my screen telling me I can't save her concession details until I've read this thing out.

'Script?' she says. She sounds about 108 years old, her voice throaty and harsh. 'What cha mean?'

'I mean... Well.... it's kind of like a statement, I suppose. Almost like, terms and conditions?'

'I see.'

The 108 year old says 'I see' in a way that conveys very precisely her view that the world long ago went completely mad.

'So you just listen to this statement and then tell me that you agree at the end.'


Now I've never read this particular script out before, so I look it up in the computer and I get a pop up with what I'm supposed to read. A note, in heavy bold type, at the top tells me that it needs to be read out VERBATIM.

Which, from a quick scan of the document, is going to be problematic. I mean, it's three lengthy paragraphs for a start. And even from skim reading I can tell it's couched in inpenetrable gibberish speak, so the old duck I have on the phone is not going to have the faintest about what I'm saying anyway. But still, I don't make the rules.

Please be advised that the following statement is a convenor of, and forms part of, a binding oral agreement, to the effect of which you are indicating your wish to apply for a concessional rate of electricity supply, this and all subsequent concessions to be applied to your account from the State Government of Victoria, but applicated via standing business agreements with individual electricity suppliers under Section 13 of the Human Service Act of the Commonwealth of Victoria 1981.

I pause for breath.

The old duck goes, 'Hmph' again.

Further, by indicating that you wish to enter into the aforementioned agreement for concessional electricity supply, you also accept that your electricity retailer or the State Government or the Federal Government or any other affiliated agency may use your concession card information, or any other information that may be relevant to matters at this time or any other future times, access to this information overseen by the relevant department secretaries or the corporate governance officers of your electricity retailer or any other third parties who may have access to the aformentioned information, third party access as outlined by the Federal Privacy Act 1992.

'Well I don't really unders-'

'No, no! I'm not finished yet. But we're nearly there.'

Deep breath.

Further, by making this application for concessional electricity supply you agree that you are also making a declaration that neither you, nor any other persons at your residence, whether related to you or not, nor any other people related to you, whether sharing your residence or not, nor any other person known to you in any capacity, whether related to you, or not related to you, or residing with you, or not, or living here or elsewhere or living at all, or dead, or existent, or not existent, or wearing a hat, or bare headed, or owning a cat, or any sort of pet, or not, or time travelling to the past, or using portals to access other realms, or not, or following the football because they love it, or just taking an interest to pass the time, or eating cake at breakfast, or walking down the street, or reading magazines, or not, or doing none of any of these things, or all of them, or any combination therein, that none of these people, to the best of your knowledge, will try and access your concessional electricity supply on your behalf or without your knowledge or in any way do anything that may be constituted as the doing of things, under penalties as stipulated in the Commonwealth Doing Act, 1989.

We pause here.

'So.... do you accept?'

'What?' And it comes out like a harsh squawk.

'The, er, terms I just read to you. Do you accept?'

'Do I accept... what? That... thing you just read out?'


'If I don't accept it then I don't get my concession, is that it?'

'That's right.'


'Well then I accept. But I don't understand any of it.'

'Well look, I don't want to be one of those people that says, 'It doesn't matter if you don't understand it as long as you say yes,' but... it doesn't matter if you don't understand it as long as you say yes. I mean, I didn't understand it. I have no idea what I just read to you!'

'I see.' And this said with the same connotation as previously.

'But I do know that if you accept then you'll have fifty dollars off your next bill.'

'All right then. I accept.'

Some of my new colleagues have told me that they have this concession script memorised, so they don't have to look it up anymore. I hope I never get to that point.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012


The company I work for has been in the news a bit.

In Queensland, the newly elected conservative Government has vowed to freeze electricity prices, at least for twelve months. As company's like mine factor these annual price increases into their profit projections, this is a big deal for us.

And so the company comes up with an alternate plan. If we can't put up the price of electricity then we'll jack up the cost of having the electricity connected to each person's house, what's called the 'Supply Charge,' a largely overlooked fee on every electricity bill in Australia (so overlooked that even the Queensland Government ignored it in  their price freeze policy). My company decides to put this up by nearly 50%.

The Queensland Government responds to this by telling the media that they're going to cancel any contracts they have with us for electricity supply to Government projects. To which we respond by telling the media that in that case the Government had better lawyer up, for we're not just coming back for our $1500, we're coming back for everything. Nasty things are said on both sides, threats made, ultimatums given, talking heads consulted, and all of it given daily front page treatment by the Queensland media.

Which is where I come in.

For as well as answering a few basic questions about solar electricity systems and occasionally tapping a button to release a pellet of food, while I'm on the job I'm also expected to be a mouthpiece for the company I work for. A kind of minimalistic spokesman with no real investment in the organisation, but who is nevertheless expected to defend it's every decision to the death.

Like jumping the Supply Charge in Queensland by 50%. Somehow I'm supposed to explain this. And with the amount of media attention it's had there, I get plenty of opportunities to do so.

'I just read in the paper that you lot are going to put our bloody electricity prices up by 800%!'

'The Premier vowed to fight what you're doing and I think he has to. He can't let you people get away with this!'

'I can't believe what you people are doing with these prices. I think it's disgusting!'

'How can you people justify putting prices up by that much when the consumer price index only shifted by 2.6% last fiscal year?'

These type of complaints often seem to have some reference to 'you people' in them. 'You people' are doing this and 'you people' are doing that. It's such a common turn of phrase that I often forget that they're actually referring to me. I'm one of 'you people'. But when it's early in the day and my first Coke hasn't kicked in and I'm only sort of half absorbing what they're saying to me, it's easy for me to start day dreaming about 'you people'; imagining a kind of shadowy army of sinister corporate operatives in suits and 50s style hats, like the cast of Mad Men only gone bad, all of them working discretely and relentlessly towards their overall goal of over charging people for their basic services. 

But I can't day dream about this indefinitely. After all, I'm being paid to say... something.

'I just read in the paper that you lot are going to put our bloody electricity prices up by 800%!'

Well that's just not so. The price increases we've put forth are only going to be 50% across the next year. So this actually represents a cut in prices.... That's right, a cut.... A substantial one.... Well,  we're looking at a cut of 750%... That's right... That's calculated on the forward projections of your own estimates based on the figures that you've just given me as quoted by the media in today's press and ignoring all other assumptions and configurations.

'The Premier vowed to fight what you're doing and I think he has to. He can't let you people get away with this!'

The Premier and the State Government actually regulate utility pricing... Well, they control all the levers of the pricing mechanisms... Right, so when the Premier says he's going to fight us, what he's actually saying is that he's going to fight himself.... I know, it doesn't make much sense to me either.

'I can't believe what you people are doing with these prices. I think it's disgusting!'

I certainly understand where you're coming from and I know exactly what you mean... Well, I have to cope with the same price increases myself.... It's something that effects everyone in Queensland... I live in Red Hill.... Yeah, that's right, Brisbane.... Well that's right, the city is expensive... Yeah, this increase doesn't help!

'How can you people justify putting prices up by that much when the consumer price index only shifted by 2.6% last fiscal year?'

Dude, I get paid about a dollar an hour to field these questions. Watch Q and A if you want some answers.

And so on into the afternoon.

The point is, that my employer has me there really as a kind of roadblock. A deadend. Something for people to butt their heads against. A lot of the customers who ring up would know more about the pricing mechanisms and regulatory framework around electricity costs than I do, but they still want to hear the company line.

And as long as I say something, and that something isn't 'suffer in yer jocks,' then they just seem to accept whatever I've told them. They grouse, they complain, they grumble, they say 'you people' and then they say 'Thanks very much' and hang up. Some of them might take their business to another electricity company, but those other company's are pretty much like mine with prices essentially the same. So while it might make them feel better, it doesn't actually change their circumstances.

The whole thing conforms to a very set pattern; company announcement, government announcement, government threat, company threat, media, media, public complaint, company gibberish (supplied by me, in this instance), status quo. You can see this everywhere, playing out across every industry. It seems like an awful lot of time and energy, for not very much result...

... and then the customer hangs up and goes and watches some daytime TV, I take my next call, my company's share price moves 1/7 of a point on the Dow and it's secret army of Mad Men operatives continues their nefarious work.

Monday, July 2, 2012

4 to 8

The previous Friday, it sounded very straightforward.

Subject: Move to 8th Floor

Please be advised that on Monday we will be moving from the 4th to the 8th floors. You should all have been given your new seating assignments but a copy of this is attached. Any work related resources - files, folders, manuals - that you wish to have moved can be placed in one of the marked boxes at the end of each row. Please ensure this material is labelled - Name, Employee Number, Seat Number - clearly. This material will be moved over the weekend and should be on your new desk next week. Each new desk will also be set up with a PC, keyboard and mouse, multi line phone and a headset. While we anticipate a smooth transition on Monday, we request that staff arrive 15 minutes early, if possible, to ensure that the day gets under way with as little disruption as possible. 

Have a great weekend!

So it probably comes as no surprise that the above description of our move to the 8th floor bares about as much resemblance to reality as Game of Thrones does to the history of Europe; all the elements are there, but scrambled and rearranged to a point where they become something other.

When I walk in at 8.55 - five minutes early, so not a bad effort for me - it's to find not a smooth transition, and not a day getting underway with little disruption, but something resembling the last day of school before the Christmas hols. Kids... sorry, my co-workers mill about in groups, giggling and chatting and eating chocolate. A lot of traffic is moves on the walkway to and from the lunch room. There's a general hubbub in the air, the kind of excitable noise that comes from seventy different overlapping conversations. No one that I can see, at least initially, is sitting at their desk working.

A number of workmen in overalls are dotted amongst my co-workers. Some of them heft the boxes of gear that had been collected on Friday (the ones that were meant to have been delivered over the weekend), while others appear to be engaged in setting up workstations, connecting desks to cables and cables to sockets (as was also meant to have been done over the weekend). One of my team leaders hustles past with a grim look on their face, carrying a wad of brightly coloured wires and a manilla envelope.

So there's not much for it.

I know where my new desk is so I go there and sit. Or, rather, I go there and sit after I nick a chair from an unoccupied desk having found mine missing. My phone appears to be missing as well but I figure I better not just appropriate one of those, as I'm sure they need to be set up in a certain way or assigned to my desk or coded in or something. Instead, I flag down one of team leaders rushing past and ask them what to do about it.

'Just grab a phone from a vacant desk, eh?' they say, before scampering off, head down.

Which serves to remind me of yet one more way that public and private organisations differ.

In the public service, everything is mapped out, planned, structured. You wouldn't be allowed to pick up a phone, much less attempt to carry it to your desk, plug it in and start using it, at least not on your own. There would be technicians for that sort of thing, specialists. With a rigidly proscribed work manual to follow. And regardless of how long this might take and how long you might have to wait, this would be the only way your phone could be installed. In the private sector it's very different and very much everyone for themselves, anything goes, survival of the fittest. If you don't have phone you better find one, and quick! Before the bloke next to you grabs it.

So this is what I do.

And I'm not the only one.

Word is spreading.

We have staggered starts in my new office, anywhere from 8 to 11, so a good number of staff on the 8th floor still haven't arrived. And there's no one, no authority, to prevent these poor buggers from having their new desks looted. For while a lot of desks haven't been set up at all, a number of them do have equipment on them, possibly left by the previous occupants, like a defeated army abandoning their weapons in their hurry to flee the city. And these desks quickly become the focus of attention.

With each passing minute you can see more and more people at it. Swapping keyboards and snaffling wireless peripherals and unscrewing document holders. Anything that's lying about is fair game. Not wanting to work very much but also not wanting to have a non functional work station and so be assigned some even more degrading task as a fill in, I quickly join the fray. In a few minutes I have not only my phone but a new headset, mouse and a weird kind of illuminated plastic bubble that has our company name on it and whose function remains obscure.

'Are you ready to go?' still yet another T/L asks me, indicating my plunder.

'Yeah, I think I've got everything.'


And they look very relieved before they hurry off again.

Of course, no one has yet shown me how to log into the phone system and register for the queue so I can get some calls, but I don't mention this. Not yet.

One thing at a time.

Friday, June 29, 2012


And then there were calls.

After training... after induction... and after any number of abstract business fucking about type activities that come along with starting any new job (forms, photos, tours, team lunches etc), it was finally time to sit at a terminal with a headset and plug in to our customers.

In some ways this comes as a relief. As the training and the induction and all the other rubbish fairly quickly gets tiresome, at least for me. And a days work, however mundane, does help pass the time.

On the other hand, once you strap on a headset and switch your console to 'Available,' you're exposing yourself to every nut in the country with a phone and too much time on their hands.

Which is to say our customers.

So Friday, after I've plugged in and run through a few stock standard 'Why is your company stealing my money?' enquiries, I get the first of these nutbag type questions. An elderly sounding bloke in NSW who's called up to ask me about his radio.

OLDER GENT: Yes, hello? Yes, well, now, I've got solar electricity attached to my house and it's all been connected and it all appears to be working fine.

ME: (hopeful) Yes?


Part of me wants, strongly, to leap in at this point and say:

'Well I'm really glad to hear it. Thanks for calling solar billing, have a nice day!'

In a rapid fire patter, cutting off any possibility this bloke will have of adding anything to this opening statement and then disconnecting the call before I have to draw breath and pause.

But my mind is a bit sluggish and so I don't do this. I do nothing in fact, allowing space for the craziness to creep in.

OLDER GENT: And what I want to know is this. Why didn't anyone tell me that when I had the solar connected, it was going to mess up my radio reception?

Some time passes, while I continue to do nothing. At least, I'm not saying anything. What I'm thinking is;

'The answer to that is obvious. Because no one would ever have thought of giving you information on such an insane sounding thing.'

OLDER GENT: Because what's happened, right, ever since I've had the bloody thing put on, I can't listen to the radio during the day! I never had any problems before the solar panels were put in and I don;t have any problems at night, when the bloody thing is off. But during the day the radio is just BRR-SWSSHHHH-BRR. I mean, I can't listen to that. Why didn't anyone tell me this was going to happen?

ME: Well, I guess it's not a common consideration when-

OLDER GENT: Not a common consideration? Other have people have got radios, don;t they? other people have got solar panels. You can't tell me that everyone else is sitting there listening BRR-SWSSHHH-BRR?

ME: Well, no.

OLDER GENT: No. So what I want to know is, what are you going to do about it?

ME: (taking a stab in the dark) Have you thought about buying a new radio? You know, a digital radio?

OLDER GENT: I guess you think you're pretty smart. Well let me tell you this, I have bought a new radio. A digital radio. And it hasn't made any bloody difference. So what else have you got, smarty?

Faced with a question I have no idea about, I turn to the one resource I have access to that was designed with that purpose in mind; Google. I do a search for 'solar system radio interference australia' and get a few hits from forums talking about the same issue. It appears as though the old gent is right. The solar system creates some kind of electrical interference, mild, that can interfere with a radio signal. Although it appears as though this should only be a real problem if the radio signals in question are particularly weak and can normally be solved by moving the radio away from wherever the solar system power and feed lines are located.

I explain this, as simply as possible.

OLDER GENT: Oh I see how it is. So now you want me to wander around the house with my radio in my hand, do you? Wandering about like some sort of twit with a radio, trying to get a signal. That's your solution?

ME: It's that or get rid of the whole solar system. They appear to be your only options, so I know which one seems easier.

OLDER GENT: Hmmm, yeah, I bet you do. Well I guess I'll have to think about it then. I just wish someone had told me about it beforehand. You know, that it was going to cause this problem. It would have been good to know.

ME: Well I can pass your comments along to management. Now, is there anything el-'

OLDER GENT: As a matter of fact there is. You're not getting off that easily. I make my own bread and just recently it seems as though the thing I make it in isn't working properly.

ME: You mean, your oven?

OLDER GENT: No mate. The bloody thing I make it in. The... bread maker.

ME: Oh right.

OLDER GENT: Well that hasn't been working properly. It doesn't get hot enough. Seems like it's not getting enough electricity.

ME: Not enough electricity? I see... So... have you checked the instruction manual? Taken it back to where you bought it from?

OLDER GENT: Course not. That's why I'm asking you.

ME: Of course. Well...

It's Google time again.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


Considering I've been in my new job two and a half weeks, the idea of going to an induction at this point may seem a bit strange.

But the email was clear.

SUBJECT: Induction

You are cordially invited to an induction day for new employees, to welcome you to the company and to introduce to you our corporate goals and principles. Details for this induction are as follows.

Date: Wednesday 27 June

Time: 9am

Location: Telstra Conference Centre, corner Exhibition and La Trobe Streets.

I could see from the address line that it had been forwarded to everyone else in my training group.

So 9am Wednesday I make my way to the Telstra Conference Centre, a crowded glass and white concrete block on a busy corner in the city. The lobby of the building, which also doubles as Telstra's own HQ, is awash with people, bending to scan their pass so they can get through a set of electronic security gates.

An even bigger crowd watches over this from a few metres back, clustered around one of three giant chain coffee shops on the ground floor.

Sign posts direct me away from the queues and the coffee and towards a slightly quieter mezzanine level at the rear of the lobby, where the Conference Centre is said to lie. There's no security in this part of the building, only a short escalator, about half the normal length, and then a series of corridors and walkways until I see a sign with my new company's name on it. This stands in front of a large, austere looking room dotted with tables and chairs, with a long table holding basic refreshments to the rear of the room.

I see that I'm one of the first to arrive and curse silently, annoyed at having wasted a rare on time start on a pointless event like this.

Myself and the others mill around for a few long minutes, idly killing time with a bit of half hearted banter and some flat sounding 'Good Mornings.' I read the paper. Someone else puts their head down on the desk, feigning sleep.

The facilitator for the session stumps about the room in a desultory fashion, showing no more obvious enthusiasm to be there then the rest of us. Which right away seems a bit out of place. The HR people they get to run these things are normally bursting out of their skin with excitement.

'You've come to work here at the right time! Just when we've become the greatest company in history!! NOW LET"S TALK ABOUT O, H AND S!!!'

But this HR person, Lina, hardly says a word of introduction and has a sour look on her face. She's about forty, with dark hair and is dressed entirely in black, which lends her something of a sinister appearance.

When everyone from our group has shuffled in and found a seat, she hands out an overview pamphlet and gets into it.

'Right... well... we're here today to.... well, we're here to... go through an induction process... to discuss... I mean, to introduce you to... to welcome you to the company. I guess we'll start... we'll start by... I guess I'll go over some information about the company and then... then we'll watch a video from the CEO.'

So the Gettysburgh Address it ain't. Yes, Lina has something of a thankless task with material she's been given; five hours of dry, rah-rah nonsense about the company teat that we all now suckle at. But she's obviously determined to make it as laborious as possible.

There are long pauses between sentences. She mumbles. She speaks softly and inarticulately. She looks and sounds cross. She sighs frequently. The people in our group rest their heads on their hands, which then begin the long trek downwards towards the desk.

It promises to be a long session.

And then, all of a sudden, a small gift appears for everyone.

Lina had reached a point in her dirge where she was talking about performance assessments and career advancement. Out of the blue, from the inert mass that the group has become while our moribund instructor has been speaking, someone asks a question.

This bloke Nigel - early thirties, goatee, black hair - puts his hand up.

NIGEL: Yeah, on that point. I was just wondering... if we were to see an internal vacancy advertised, how would we go about applying for it?`

LINA (appears mildly stunned that someone has asked her something) What, er... what do you mean?

NIGEL: Well, just that. If I see another job advertised at the company, what's the process for applying for it?

LINA: (suprise giving way to annoyance) Well... you just apply for it.

NIGEL: Yeah ok, but how? I mean, do I have to speak with my team leader? Or get my manager's approval? Or do I just apply along with everyone else?

LINA: (quite definitely annoyed) Well you just apply for it.

NIGEL : So I don't speak to anyone in my original department first?

LINA: I really couldn't tell you. That's up to you to figure out. I can't tell you everything, for every situation you'll come across, okay? You'll have to figure some of this out on your own.

NIGEL (quietly, a bit put out). Ok. I just thought you would know.

This tense discussion seems to reanimate Lina somewhat, as she then conducts the rest of the session in a state of barely contained hostility. Snapping at people. Ignoring questions. Telling us we can only have 45 minutes for lunch instead of the promised hour.

In comparison to the slack paced sludge we initially put up with, this is undoubtedly an improvement. Lina's narky attitude irritates a number of members of our group and there are a few repeats of the above exchange, with a different second participant. We're only a remark away from blows, it feels like.

Lunch, while shortened, is at the company's expense and they lay on quite a nice spread. Four different types of sandwiches, fresh juice, cold cuts, fresh fruit, pastries and a cheese platter. The last of these is so nice - quality cheese and a variety of biscuits - that the tray continues to work it's way around the room, even after the rest of the buffet has been cleared.

Much to Lina's annoyance.

'If you could just put that knife down so we can concentrate for a moment...'

The final part of the induction session is given over to reviewing what we've covered in the first part of the day. A process which I can sum up for you quite easily:

And then Lina gives us a small token to mark the day. A hideously ugly company pen, enomrously oversized, that also has a USB drive embedded in it.

With our new pens, Lina bluntly asks us to fill out some comment cards, rating her performance. I can see people around me gripping their pens tightly as they bend to the task of trying to describe, in a polite but aggressive way, how much they hate her and wish her ill.

I consider doing this myself, but the comment cards are going back to Lina and I just figure she'll throw out any really negative ones. She's grumpy, but she doesn't look stupid.

We hand the cards in to her as we shuffle out of the door at the end of the day.

'Thanks for coming in,' she says, with an expression that she may have meant as a smile, but which looks more like a mild grimace. 'Welcome to the company.'

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


As most of you know, my previous job was in the public service, working for a large Government organisation that many of you have had dealings with (and most of you despise).

Through a variety of circumstances, I quit that job about two months ago. I'm back in the private sector now and, for the first time in many years, back in a call centre. Solar energy is my game now; panels, inverters, sunlight, tariffs, subsidies, contracts.

And while I wasn't necessarily that excited about taking returning to a call centre, there's no doubt it has it's upside. And that is... primarily... that's it not my old job. For the two could hardly be less alike, which is certainly something of a relief.

After two weeks of training, this week I've started taking calls at my new job, and the comparisons between my new workday and my old one could hardly be more pronounced.

This manifests itself in a lot of ways; in everything from the building itself (brand new tower in the city versus converted supermarket in the suburbs), to resources (brand new everything in copious supply versus tooth and nail fist fight over the last box of pens), to IT (Windows 7 and new computers versus 7 year old PCs and a version of MS word so old that outside organisations couldn't read my attachments) to the staff room amenities (free coffee, tea, cocoa, milk, biscuits and fruit versus a dingy, bare, windowless little room where the cold water tap was frequently out of order).

And while these changes are nice, the biggest, and most immediately obvious, difference between one job and the other has got to be the customers:


ME: Hello sir, how are you today?

THEM: (glares, silence).

ME: I said, how are you today?

THEM: I'll be a lot fuckin' better when I get out of this fuckin' joint, I'll tell ya that.

ME: Yes I see. Well anyway, what can we do for you today?

THEM: Yeah, listen mate, I just want to arsk ya about that fuckin' thing that we have to do.

ME: The, er, thing?

THEM: Yeah, you know, that fuckin' thing that we have to do. That annual thing.

ME: Hmmm, well I'm not too sure...

THEM:  Fuck's sake mate! Are you fuckin' dense or something? I just want to know about that fuckin' thing we have to do. You know, every cunt has to do it.

ME: -

THEM: Fuckin' hell. How fuckin' hard is it? (swigs from open can of VB) Just get it fuckin' done, eh? Before I lose me fuckin' temper.

ME: -

THEM: You're on your way to a smack in the face if you keep this shit up, I'll tell ya that.

ME: Maybe I'll just have a look at your record, see what's going on.

THEM: Fuckin' rude cunt.


ME: Welcome to Solar Billing you're speaking with Danno.

THEM: Oh hello. That was quick. How are you today?

ME: I'm well, how are you?

THEM: Very well! It's nice to talk with you.

ME: And nice to talk with you. Now, what can I help you with today?

THEM: Well, I have a question about my solar bill. Basically, how does it all work?

ME: Well, the sun shines down on the Earth.

THEM: Yes.

ME: And that sunlight is collected by some solar panels on the roof of your house.

THEM: Yes... yes!

ME: And by some sort of magic this is turned into power, which you can then use for watching television or, for downloading new shows to watch on your television.

THEM: Amazing!

ME: And all of it for free! Plus $87 an hour.

THEM: That's really incredible! What an age we live in. Thanks for explaining it to me, you've made my day.

ME: You're welcome, thanks for calling.

THEM: I love you solar man.

Which is to say, the customers I dealt with in my old job were a bit more demanding than the new lot. Or, to put it still another way, if the two customer groups were pieces of music, the old group would be:

While the new customer group would be:

Right down to the two hipsters in the clip. I'm pretty sure they work in my office.

Friday, June 22, 2012


Our training co-ordinator, Derrick, is a low key sort of bloke.

Which is unusual. People assigned to take training groups tend to be loud, gregarious, quote-unquote zany. In other words, they're normally totally insufferable.

But Derrick is a pipe of different colour.

For starters, he dresses conservatively, in dark slacks and plain business shirts. My new office is a pretty casual environment and nearly everyone, including the managers, comes to work in jeans and a t-shirt. But each day we've had him, Derrick has worn his slacks and a white, cream or off white collared shirt.

He's a trim man in his early fifties, balding with narrow spectacles, and the combination of outfit and appearance make him look like a benign high school English teacher.

He's also, mostly, eschewed games during training. Which is such a radical departure from what I've come to expect from having endured thousands of these inductions over the years that I think I'm still in a form of mild shock. Games - of the draw a picture that represents your dreams, tell us two lies and one fact and we have to guess variety - are usually king in the training room, to the extent that they almost push out the stuff you're supposed to be learning about.

People that know me well will probably not be shocked to hear that I also find these games totally insufferable as well.

So the absence of them while we've been with Derrick is something he will have my eternal gratitude for.

Without games, we've mostly stuck to a learning program Derrick has come up with. A ten day crash course in the ins and outs of home solar electricity systems; installation, testing, metering and billing. Which is what we'll be taking calls on when our training is completed and they turn us loose on the floor.

Derrick has gone through the program quietly, in a no nonsense but still gently paced fashion. Running through examples and power point presentations competently and with minimum fuss. It's been fairly dry, but well presented.

But this is not to say that he's without a sense of humour.

As well as taking the bulk of the training, Derrick is also one of the four supervisors who will be looking after the teams we'll be assigned to. And Friday afternoon, while he's wearing his T/L hat, Derrick reveals that he does, after all, have a little game that he likes to play.

Although calling it a game is, perhaps, a bit misleading. It's more like a lateral thinking exercise.

About Friday lunchtime, Derrick sends out a bulk email to everyone in our unit, subject heading: THE LOBSTER REPORT.

The email reads something like this:

As usual, Friday afternoon finds us with a juicy lobster in the tank, ready to be given away to a deserving staff member.  To nab yourself this beauty, provide an answer for the following question. What is this a picture of?

Submissions to me by 4pm.

As we're not really part of the team proper yet, and we're doing training room work and often away from our computers, no one in our group notices this email until after four. And then the obvious question is forefront on everyone's mind.

'What's a lobster report?'

To which Derrick answers with another question.

'Well, what's lobster?'

'A kind of shellfish?'

'Yes, but what else? I mean, what could I mean by a lobster in a work environment?'

We puzzle over this for a moment, all of us except my excitable colleague Steph who says;

'Oh my God, I totally can't eat lobster! One bite of it and I just get totally sick. But I love it, so I eat it, but I shouldn't, but I do. So I get sick. I hate it! But I love it. One time...'

Finally, someone else says, 'What, you mean... twenty bucks?'

'Exactly,' Derrick says, looking pleased. ' Twenty bucks. So, this is like a little Friday afternoon competition. Or a puzzle. However you want to think about it. You look at the picture, answer the question, email me and the answer I like best earns twenty bucks for the author. The lobster report.'

All of us, except Steph and the girl she's sitting next to, are silent for a moment while we absorb this.

'Well, can we see who won today? Which one you liked best.'

'Of course.'

Derrick's computer desktop is being displayed on a large white screen at the front of the room and he skims through the million or so emails he has in his box and quickly lands on one from a billing consultant none of us have heard of. He clicks it open and we can see the answer.

Where babies come from.

There's another brief pause in the room and then a few people, including myself, have a bit of a chuckle. The rest of the training group look mystified.

A couple of them say, 'I don't get it,' and shrug.

One of them, this girl Allison, looks amazed more than puzzled.

'I can't believe it,' she says, stunned. 'That someone guessed it. I would never have gotten that in a million years. The guy that guessed it must be some sort of genius!'

Now it's Derrick's turn to look puzzled.

'Er, how do you mean?'

'Sorry, I'm just really surprised. That someone would get such an obscure answer.'

'Obscure? Answer?"

'Yeah. When I saw the picture I thought it might have been Australia's oldest car. Or maybe somewhere this company (name withheld for the usual reason) gets coal or gas from. I would never have guessed that that's what you were driving at. Where babies come from. Are you and the guy who gave the answer good friends? I mean, does he know you well?'

Derrick frowns.

'No, I think you might have misunderstood. I didn't give the answer. Each person in the team gave me an answer.'

'Right. And this is the one that matched your answer.'

'No, no. I didn't have one.'

'You didn't have one... what?'

'An answer. I just sent out the picture, you see? I send out the picture and then everyone sends me a response.'

'Response? What do you mean, response?

'I mean... well, response. Whatever the picture made them think of.'

So what, you mean... there is no answer?'

'Well, strictly speaking that's right. There is no formal answer. No right answer.'

'If there's no answer... then how do people get it right?'

'People just respond to the picture however they like. And I pick out the response I like best.'

Allison looks confused, and a bit like she's in pain. Her eyes whip round the room.

'Am I the only one who doesn't get this?'

It's almost like she's fallen over and she's looking to us to help her up. The half of the group that gets the idea try and get her back on her feet.

'There's no answer, it's just like a sort of a joke.'

'You can say whatever you like. You know, something funny.'

 'Whatever the picture makes you think of.'

And we all fail miserably.

'Well it doesn't make me think of babies!' Allison snaps, clearly irritated now. 'That picture is, like, the total opposite. It's a bloody wasteland! It doesn't have anything to do with children!'

The part of the group wanting to help her understand is quietened by this outburst. We look at her, wanting to reach down and pull her upright, but none of us sure how to do so.

Someone, in a very quiet voice, says 'That's why it's funny.'

In his unruffled way, Derrick smooths it over.

'Well I would have been very curious to see what it did make you think of. Anyway, Lobster Report, watch out for it. Now, moving back to what we were talking about, this solar tariff chart...'

And we move on. Or, some of us do.

At the next break, as we're walking towards the kitchen in a loose group, I can hear Allison behind me.

'No answer? How are you supposed to answer something with no answer? The whole thing is ridiculous!'

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

After School

The bus drops me off on the beach road around four thirty.

A few other, much younger, kids get off with me and quickly scatter, running and laughing. Once they're gone, the hot afternoon is silent.

I take a deep breath.

The bus drop off marks the start of my favourite part of the day, the beginning of my afternoon, my real afternoon, my post high school free time. A few short hours of nothing before dinner and TV and bed.

We live in a small country town - my mother, step father and myself - and the streets are drowsy and deserted. Most of the houses in our neighbourhood are big, shambling affairs, pretty badly run down in many cases, and they stand largely inert at this time, waiting for people to get home from work.

I walk the rest of the way home from the bus stop.

At the rear of our house is a vacant block and I take a short cut across it rather than walk around to the front.

I pause on our property line, which is unmarked on this side of our house except that the undergrowth on the vacant lot gives out. We've lived in the house for about a year now and my step dad has been meaning to put the back fence up the entire time, but has never quite gotten to it. The means for erecting it, a big pile of lumber and fencing slats, sits under a tarp on one side of our garden.

The house itself is a squat, rectangular box on wooden stilts and is so unlovely you wonder how it could ever have come about. It looks a bit like a small barn, although made out of gyprock and tin sheets rather than something more sturdily barn like.

My mother and step father built the place themselves, partly to save money and partly, I think, to show that they could.

Of course, neither of them being craftsmen, or having any building experience whatsoever, made this hard so, in order to be able to do it, they had to pick the simplest, most straight forward plan they can find. Hence the barn. And since they wanted to do all of it themselves, and not hire any extra help, they had to chose light, easily shifted materials. Hence the gryprock.

To top it off, and to show that they are lacking in aesthetic as well as house building ability, they also painted the house a kind of off pea green, the sort you'd find in a public hospital. The neighbours, mostly elderly, conservative couples, generally regard the barn with horror.

But all of this is just background noise in my head as I mostly ignore the house and focus instead on our driveway. The driveway is of red pea stone and curves from the street out front round to the left side of the house. From where I stand, I can see that it's empty.

This means that I am the first one home and I waste no time, dashing across our backyard and up the back steps, flying through the sliding door at the rear. Our Jack Russell, Tagger, is waiting for me and jumps up and demands a bit of attention, wagging his tail and butting me with his head. But I've got no time, not even for the dog, if I want to get in and out before my folks get home.

The dog will have to wait for later.

Appropriate for it's barn line appearance, the house inside is mostly open space. An enormous open plan living/dining area takes up about 60% of the total floor space, with bedrooms dotted around the central area. Mine is at the rear of the place, about as far away as you can get from everyone else without escaping the barn altogether.

I skip lightly to my bedroom and dump my schoolbag, exchanging it for a lighter plastic backpack. Into this goes; a can of Coke (from my stash in the fridge), the book I'm reading (currently 'Dirk Gently's'), a tatty old sweater and my Gameboy. I zip the bag, put my keys and my Sony walkman in my pocket and I'm ready to depart the house.

I fuss over Tagger a bit more and give him a solemn promise to walk him when I get back. And then I'm back out the door, leaving the house locked behind me. I get my ageing ten speed from the garden shed and ride off back the way I came, darting back through the vacant lot, bunny hopping over the tree roots and rocks, and then onto the network of streets beyond.

I've got places to go, people to see. A lot of time to kill.

Two Bob Snob

Sara is the last of the trainees to arrive this morning.

She comes in looking hot and flustered and pretty annoyed.

'Sorry I'm late,' she says, fussing with her coat and bag as she settles rapidly into a seat. 'There was a bit of drama on the train.

The trainer assures her that this is fine and that he hasn't actually started. In fact, he excuses himself almost immediately for a few moments as he says he's left some resource materials he wants in his office. Left to our own devices, the rest of the group latch onto Sara's comment.

'Drama? Watcha mean?'

Sara takes a pull on her water bottle and smooths her burnt orange slacks.

'Oh my God,' she says. 'There was this... horrible old bat on my train this morning, making trouble. I know, that sounds awful, but this woman was unbelievable.'

'What happened?'

'No, wait, where were you coming from? Which line?'

'Well I'm coming from Altona. The Werribee line?'

'Ok, right.'

'Anyway, the train is totally crowded. People are pushed right up against the doors, sort of thing. It's like that every morning. And at my stop, more people just try and squish in. Except in the carriage I'm getting into, there's this older woman getting on through the same doors as me. She's probably in her sixties, and she's a bit overweight and she's got this really mean look on her face. You know, like she's already pissed off about something.'


'So the doors open and I start to squeeze in and this lady is right beside me. And straight away she goes, in this really loud voice,

'Aw fuckin' hell! There's no fuckin' room on this thing!' 

'Which is probably fair enough, I think that myself pretty much every day, but still, it raises a few eyebrows.'

Chuckles from the training group.

'So the doors close and the train starts off and this woman tries to grab onto a hand hold, but it's hard for her to get one as the train is so crowded. So then she goes,

'Fuckin' hell. Fuckin' train. Rah Rah! You know why it's so crowded? You know why? Coz of all the fuckin' immigrants on it. The whole train is full of immigrants!'

Sara pauses for a moment.

'I'm sorry about that, I mean, I don't want to offend anyone, even second hand, but that's what she said. And then she just kept on yelling about the fucking immigrants and how they've ruined this country and we were all better off before any of them came here and how if it was up to her she'd make sure they were all thrown out of the country or locked up.'

You can hear someone in the group mutter 'Fuck me' and someone else mutter 'Tony Abbott.'

Sara continues.

'So everyone was backing away from her while she's shouting. I mean, it wasn't just what she was saying but also she was just really aggro and she had this awful, thick, 'Strayn accent which just seemed to make it worse. And she just went on and on. And then the train got stuck between platforms for a few minutes so we were all trapped there with her. By this time she was going up to anyone who wasn't white and going,

'You, ya fuckin' cunt. You should get the fuck out of this country. My grandparents built this country and they didn't build it for the likes of you to come in and steal everything from it. You fucking thieves!'

'And she just went on like that. Yelling about her grandparents and stealing and telling everyone to fuck off. And everyone was backing away form her. Except me. I was standing pretty close to her and I was just glaring at her the whole time. Like, I was just waiting for her to say something to me. You  might not think it to look at me, but I can be pretty fierce if need to be.'

Which I guess is probably true. That I wouldn't have thought it. Based, at least, on the previous week of training. Sara has so far presented as pretty mild, and about the friendliest person in the group.

'Anyway, finally this old hag comes around to me and she sees me staring at her. And I was giving her a real hard look. Like, 'just try something bitch.' I mean, I really wanted her to say something to me, or do something. I felt like I could kill her! So she glared at me for a minute and then she just stood still again. And we just stood there then, glaring furiously at each other. Total stand off.'

'Wow, so what happened?'

'Well the train pulled into the next stop and she got off.'

A sort of sigh from the gorup, and a bit of nervous laughter.

'But on the way out she snorted at me and went,

'Fucking two bob snob.'

To which everyone laughs properly.

At this moment the trainer re-enters and clocks everyone laughing at something.

'What's funny?' he asks.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The First Day


I guess it doesn't matter how I got here.

It's not much of a story and I'm not going to tell it now. Suffice to say, it's my first day of a new job, working in the accounts department of a big energy company in the CBD. Since my last job wound up I've had a couple of civilised weeks of doing nothing at all, lazing about and reading while I lived off my last pay check, reminding myself of what it's like to be human. 

But that time is over.

The human time.

Today it's time to dust off my plain black pants and one of my many plain business shirts and rejoin the work force, heading off like every other sucker to spend the day tapping on a keyboard and a talking an appallingly foul pile of shit in exchange for a small paycheck...

So it's a good thing that I'm stoic.

I slip on my work clothes, grab a coffee and head out around 8.20. I live quite close to the CBD and have decided to walk up to work. Soon I'm part of the throng hustling cityward up Victoria Street, everyone in trench coats and gloves and with iPod headphones screwed into their ears. It's only a half hour walk and I'm due at nine, but I stop for another coffee and get held up waiting for it and end up getting to the office a couple of minutes late.

I'm part of an induction group, 12 strong, and they're all waiting for me in the lobby of the tower that we'll be working in. I'm probably imagining it, but it seems like some of my new colleagues area glaring at me impatiently as I walk up and introduce myself to one of the HR girls minding them.

'Danno? Great! Lovely to see you, glad you could make it! Now if you could just pop over to the reception desk there and get them to issue you with a pass, then we can go upstairs.'

Which seems simple enough. Except there are about 15 people already in the queue at reception and I have to wait in line. After a couple of minutes of queuing, slowly, imperceptively, out of the corner of my eye, I notice that the rest of my group are being ushered to the elevators. I think about ducking out to join them, or maybe waving to one of the staff with the group, just to remind them that I'm there.

But then I think that I already told them I was here and that they know I'm standing in the queue and that I don't want to look daft. Even if they all go upstairs without me, and I can see that they have, then I'm sure someone will come back and get me. 

So I sign in and get my pass and then... wait. 

Five minutes or so goes by and the crowd in the lobby thins out. There is no sign of anyone coming to get me. I ask the receptionist if she can help me and she looks a little startled that I would even ask her. She gives me a patronising look while she explains that she doesn't know anything about anything. She has no list of new staff, no instructions, no contacts for people like me who are late or lost. She just hands out the cards.

I ask her if I can't go up on my own and just ask around. I put it to her that someone, somewhere must know where I'm supposed to be and I imagine I could find them easily enough. But she dismisses this suggestion and gives me a look that now indicates she considers me to be a bit barmy.

She tells me I'll just have to wait until someone shows up to collect me.

Which I do, on a kind of rubbery amorphous blob, one of many that dot the lobby and are probably meant to double as art and seats. I fidget a bit, unable to stop myself wondering exactly how bad a first impression I've made; firstly showing up late and then getting left behind.

After about twenty minutes, and another fruitless visit to the poster girl for unhelpful corporate office reception staff, a jocular middle aged bloke named Ethan appears to bring me through. After we shake hands he says,

'Yeah look sorry mate. No one told me you were here. One of the HR girls just came in to the training room and asked where you were. Said she'd left you queuing for a pass. Really sorry, like I said. It's been a busy morning.'

We chat a bit in the lift on the way up. Ethan - middle aged, bald, large framed but oddly small legs - is one of my new supervisors and has worked for The Company for 8 years. He'd previously done office admin type work, but The Company had now outsourced that work elsewhere and he'd been thrown back into customer service.

'It's a good time to start, actually, ' he says. 'We've got a lot of new staff on board.'

Ethan takes me to the 8th floor and leads me through row after row of call centre desks; about half of them occupied, the other half either vacant or festooned with boxes of new computer equipment. Everything in sight is new, in fact; the desks, computers, carpet, paintwork, everything. Ethan also explains that The Company have only just moved on site.

Ethan takes me through a labyrinth of corridors to a spacious training room where my new colleagues are, once again, waiting for me. I take the last vacant seat and the facilitator, Belinda, slides a mass of paperwork in front of me.

'Just a few forms from HR,' she says brightly. 'If you could just have them filled out by the end of the day.'

Belinda then calls the group to attention and we get down to business. Which is to say, we spend the first hour of our training fucking about wasting time and drawing pictures. 

Each of us is given a sheet of green, A4 paper and told to make a name plate for ourselves with it. Belinda wants us to decorate the name plate with three pictures that show some aspect of our life or personality. I draw a football, a stick figure girlfriend and two stick figure cats and a picture of New Zealand. And then we go around the room and talk about our pictures.

'My name is Danno. I like football, I live with my darling girl and her two cats and I'm originally from NZ.'

Although this is not enough for Belinda and she tries to get more info out of me by asking me random sounding questions about my drawings, like:

'What is New Zealand?' 


'Why is football?'

Among my new colleagues I learn that there are a few more cat lovers, and a couple of cat haters, some sports fans, some shopping addicts, an outdoorsman and a girl who admits to being obsessed with the Ultimate Fighting League. And then there's Steph, who says;

'I'm Steph and I really really like to eat and drink and smoke cigarettes. And shop! I know that's four but I couldn't leave any of those out, they're just, like, all totally important. If I could do all four of them at once then that'd be me, totally happy. On my days off I normally go to Chaddy and have a big feed of nachos and a burger or something and then I run around all the shops buying stuff and I buy all sorts of crazy stuff, like stuff I don't even need like, one time I bought a clothes steamer which I've never ever used but then I race home and drink, like, two bottles of wine while I sit on the couch in the dark listening to Rod Stewart. I love Rod Stewart! And all the time I'm smoking smoking smoking, wherever I can get one in. I tried to quit once but my patches kept falling off and then I thought stuff why even bother trying if I enjoy so now I just go with it and smoke as much as I like.'

After which she cackles like a crazy person. 

More on my new colleagues later.

After our drawing exercise and a break, we then get down to the embryonic beginnings of learning about the energy industry. The rest of the first day is given over to this general type information. How energy is sourced, where it's sourced from and how it/'s transmitted to the vermin that we call customers. It's fairly dry stuff and kinda boring, although not as much as I was expecting.

As we're all milling back into the room after our afternoon tea break, one my new colleagues, Mel, rushes in looking flushed and excited.

'Oh my God!' she says. 'There's a man on the roof of the building behind us who's threatening to jump off!'

Everyone in the room stares blankly for a moment, and then makes a kind of 'Neejin' sound as they spring to their feet and dash off to check it out. There's movement across the whole floor of the building we're in as people hear the news and chatter about it excitedly with their immediate neighbours, or get to the feet and join us in moving towards the side of the building where the action is. You can almost see the ripple of information spreading.

Our training group finds a window on the south side of the building and presses up to the glass. A small back street runs along this side, on the opposite side of which is a medium sized office block and carpark. A dumpy, middle aged man in tracky dacks and a flannel shirt stands on the edge of the roof, holding lightly on to a light pole with one hand. The small street below has been blocked off with fire trucks, and firemen and cops are dotted along the street itself. 

'Holy shit!' someone says.

After about two minutes of this, and nothing else happening, Belinda seems to shake herself out of a trance.

'I don't want to watch this,' she says. 'I mean, I don't think we should be watching this. Let's go back. That poor man.'

And we turn and head back for the training room, some of my new colleagues grumbling quietly about missing the 'action.' One of these, this girl April, says aloud:

'Well he's obviously not going to do it. I mean, if you want to kill yourself, you just do it, don't you. You don't muck about on a roof. He's obviously just trying to get attention. You know, get himself in the paper.'

Which draws a horrified look from everyone else. More about April later.

So we go back to the training room and spend the last part of the day filling in our forms for HR.