I met him by accident, he promised to tell me about his life. Well, he did…
In his Orwell Lecture Alan Rusbridger talked about a vacuum of 18 months in connection to the widespread phone hacking phenomenon at News International. That is, roughly 18 months passed before anything happened about NI’s obvious widespread invasion of thousands of people’s privacy, their regular usage of blackmail and intimidation. All that was revealed by the Guardian, but the revelations were ignored by those that should have done something. The police, other media outlets etc. did nothing or very little and nothing changed. NI still owned 40% of the British Media, was about to acquire more, one of the former NI executives under whose nose many questionable things happened was the Prime Minister’s head of communication. But the Guardian kept coming up with the goods, the details and the filth. They did not stop despite the vacuum of no reaction and the rants against Guardian’s findings in the Sun and other NI papers, visits Rusbridger received from senior police superintendents trying to convince him to stop pursuing the story and persecution of Guardian journalists.
It takes considerable courage to stand up against something (someone) so powerful. But it takes even more to be able to not give up, despite the vacuum. There is nothing worse than a vacuum. When all efforts seem to fail, as though everything froze; running on empty. One cannot help but admire Mr. Rusbridger and his team. Especially now, looking back, going trough the sequence of events. In sequence it all makes sense. Of course it does. All the pieces of the puzzle fit together. But going forward… No so much. While in the process investigative journalism does not make much sense, it is a leap in the dark. Over and over and over, say after day. Obviously, not many people are cut out to tolerate that.
Mr. Rusbridger thinks that a public press regulator “with teeth” could stop such things from happening in the future. I tend to agree, but I think there is more to the matter. It is “normal” for the powerful strong-arm the weak. It seems to be a fact of life that most big corporations can do as they please. I come from a country where this is norm. Where the powerful bully people into submission, where actions rarely have consequences. I know exactly what lies further down the road from phone hacking. While a press regulator would be great, I believe a wake up call to the British press would be even better. They should all realize how important investigative journalism is. Yes, it is expensive and time-consuming, but the phone hacking scandal proved that without someone who was actually willing to stand up to the bullies.
How the Guardian stood up to News International should be a parable to all. It should be taught, like Watergate is. It probably will be.
Until then everyone must watch Alan Rusbridger’s Orwell Lecture.
I work for a company that runs courses for people who have been unemployed for at least 6 months. Sounds great and charitable, but it isn’t. This is a for profit company and running courses for unemployed people costs money. Running them properly would mean less profit, I presume. The money comes from the government (I think it is wise not to specify how exactly) and some trickery is required. That, and staff and heating and rent etc. have to be paid. So the owner, Mr. X “economizes”. Thus we are severely understaffed, there are no sufficient databases available, there is nobody properly qualified around to set up a system that actually works, either. We are clueless, for the most part.
Ideally, after the unemployed we train finish their respective courses we should be able to give them certificates (in due course), then help them get a badge (which is more or less a piece of plastic proving they are who they are and are not axe murderers, or were not caught, at least), also their many specific pieces of paper are duly checked, they filled out paperwork precisely and correctly etc. All this so Her Majesty’s Government‘s institutions can exercise their rights to come up with more ways to create higher mountains of paperwork and jobs and institutions – to ensure health and safety prevails above all else in this gorgeous country – whatever health and safety should mean exactly. This is, apparently all essential for them to find jobs. I bet in the line of work we train people for 10 years ago they could have just walked in and if the boss liked them they were hired – which is pretty much how I was hired, unfortunately. Anyway, all this means we work with tons of pieces of paper and we misplace many of them. In the mean time, someone has to make sure learners’ exam papers reach respective exam boards, photos and signatures have to be uploaded onto databases. If they fail the exams they are re-booked and students need to be notified, too. Also, when the certificates arrive, students have to be phoned and asked to collect them. Then badge applications have to be processed. They need to fill in the papers, bring in relevant documents that have to be checked and sent off. And this is the least of it… Most importantly, of course, and above all else, their files have to contain the correct photocopies of specific documents, forms, reviews and the like, so the people allocating the funding get large amounts of (correct and specific) paperwork to play with, too. For some reason that we do manage to achieve somehow. I cannot help but wonder why it is specifically that of all things we manage to always achieve…?
Anyhow, we are doing very badly. We would need at least twice this many people for all the above to happen properly, so it obviously does not. It is mayhem and hell. Hell is a place where I sit behind a desk and people scream at me more or less all day long (either over the phone or in person) and I cannot help. Neither the person, nor the situation. If we had enough staff it would take about 3 months for all the paperwork to go trough – and that includes the course. For us it can take up to 6. Or sometimes more. Or we fail miserably or the clients just give up and stop coming and calling. Many of them do. We suck, I guess I have told you that already.
Yet it is not just us. After all we are talking about people here. Unemployed people, to be precise. Do not get me wrong (and my middle class guilt wants to make sure this is duly recorded, so listen up): there are many here who are absolutely lovely. They are keen on completing the paperwork and the course. They are helpful and kind. But there are some who are not, shall we say, “socially refined” by any means. People who do not show up, when they should or who are very late and then do not understand the fuss over it. People who scream at me because I ask them to bring in something absolutely essential (i.e. some piece of paper or other), they do not have it and it would probably cost money, which they do not have. They are on job seekers allowance, obviously. Of course, there is very little I can do. And there are the people who call in drunk or high or both that they won’t be coming again, ever. People who stink, who are abusive because they are and people who steal the toilet paper and the coffee and the sugar. But there are people who scream at me because they are fed up. With me and the organization. And, as I mentioned earlier, rightly so. They call and it either goes to voice mail, and if they leave a message they do not get a call back. Or if I pick up, I either put them on hold or hang up, or I fiddle about the computer and/or tell them I will get back to them and I rarely do, or I just tell them to call back in a few weeks time. Either way, I mostly lie. When the phone stops ringing for a second and there are no people waiting to scream at me I do try to do something, for instance I go and try to find the certificates or email a colleague about a certain issue. I am rarely successful. My colleagues do roughly 3 people’s work just like I do so very little actually gets done. I am, though, successful 30% of the time (give or take). You see, the phone rings all the time and people come and my boss nags and I get lost and forget things. I do not remember people’s names and faces at all. I have no idea how many people I deal with every day, but lots. So names and faces melt into oblivion. I mostly do not remember what I was doing 2 minutes ago, let alone what day it is or what I had for breakfast. I have a headache, my back hurts, I want to go to the loo and I need a drink of water. But I can’t and I don’t because I have this gentleman here screaming at me and the phone rings off the hook and I should get on with my work, too, checking documents, calling people to bring in documents, or photos or whatever, scanning them and calling people back and following up stuff I should, because I promised I would. Well, I swore, I would. To people coming in, who are about to start screaming and/or people on the phone – likewise. Or they do not scream, because they are too kind, repressed and/or jaded. And because I am convincing they mostly believe me. I think I am convincing because I am scared of people screaming, but mainly because I do mean it. I really do. I would like to help, I really would. I just rarely can and I feel exceedingly frustrated and guilty as a consequence. But unless I turn into the lord almighty to be present at several places simultaneously at any given time, or find a way to clone myself asap, this is not subject to change any time soon.
So I am here and the guy is still screaming. He took the course 7 months ago and no-one called him to tell him what was going on. He failed 2 exams and he had no idea. He could have retaken them and had his certificates by now (wishful thinking, mate, I want to say, but don’t). He called about 20 times and visited twice in the last 6 months. He was told he would be called back, he was promised answers he never got. My mind boggles. It took me roughly 30 seconds to figure out what is wrong (this is the easy part), I have no idea why no-one else managed this much in the last 6 months (staff turnover is rapid here for some reason). The guy stops screaming and says he had enough. No, he does not want to retake the exam. It has all been a colossal waste of time. Yet again, I do not blame him one bit. His face is sad, he gets up and walks out.
I have had this job for less than a month. They say it gets better, I will get used to the abuse and will stop taking it personally. They say it will toughen me up. That, and that I should get drunk if I feel overwhelmed after I go home. I do drink sometimes, but not every day as it just makes it worse. I did try my first week. I was in hell. Hangover is horrible when it accumulates and my life is a nightmare as it is.
I apply to many jobs every day and I pray to God (the one I am not sure I believe in) for something miraculous to happen.
Like waking up one day to not having to do this job ever again.
It was horrible. It was truly really bad. I wanted to die and walk out, not necessarily in that order. Every muscle in my body hurt, I hated my job, could not learn the menu and remember the table-cloth sizes, numbers, the wines etc, etc, etc. And I knew I would be fired and/or wait tables for the rest of my life. It was roughly 55 hours a week, the commute at 2 in the morning, the people on my back testing me on everything… Most of the time I felt like an idiot. I had always been a shit waitress (mediocre at best). I had no idea what I was doing in this stellar restaurant, where captains of industry, politicians and celebrities go to feel cool and be seen. Where everyone worked really hard, but got paid well, too. Where everyone was always impeccable and impeccably nice. To me, too, not only to the patrons. But I sucked.
It was that day that I served razor clams to Dustin Hoffman and almost dropped the food into his lap. I stumbled and the silver plate jumped in my hand. Suddenly everyone around the table was looking at me. I just stood there, stupid. Then Mr Hofmann said: “My god, you are like I was. I got fired for stuff like this all the time. Nobody got fired more times from restaurants than I did and I was a waiter for 10 (TEN!) years. I was hopeless. I would stand around staring at people, so I got fired.” My heart missed a beat and I wanted to hug him. I wanted to tell him how much what he said meant to me and how much I respected him and loved his work and it was extraordinarily nice of him to say such things now, when I feel so hopeless and wrenched and he made my day and I feel there is hope for me after all. For a moment he made me feel like a human being, an emotion I forgot I was capable of. But of course I did not say any of those things, you are not supposed to talk to patrons, that I was told more times than was necessary. So, I just swallowed and said:”You are very kind, saying that.” Then got on with my work.
I got fired a week later.
He was there in the charity shop, singing “Everlasting Love” (Open up your eyes/Would never realize/Standing by my side/Everlasting love). His voice was coarse (to say the least), he stank, was slightly bent and had greasy blondish-grey hair. It was my lunch break. As I entered the shop the uneasy tension was palpable. I hate scenes, so I turned around and walked out, my head down. He came after me for some reason. He bumped into me (literally) in front of the news agent.
“Sorry” – I said, because I am always sorry.
“What are you sorry about? Have you been sorry all your life?” – he replied smiling with yellow/brown teeth.
“Yes, more or less.” – I answered, still regularly wonder why.
“So you spent your life being sorry, on your knees.” – he was clearly enjoying himself by now.
I straightened out, looked into his eyes and said:
“No” with all the conviction I could muster.
He was taken aback, but would not give up.
“Are you Irish?” – he asked.
“No” – I said and walked away.
Tis high time I re-evaluated my life and shit.