The 10 Stages of Pain When Making a JSA Claim

When you live in Britain the media and the state like to remind you about the scourge of ‘benefit scroungers’. The Daily Mail are often the spearhead of media outrage against the lower-class, welfare pariahs and ‘chavs’ who they seem to believe enjoy do nothing more than hanging around waiting for their 15 minutes of fame on Jeremy Kyle in between picking up state handouts.

The scourge of the benefit scrounger is usually reignited every couple of months by an inflammatory story highlighting an isolated case of extreme governmental incompetence; like the one where Kensington and Chelsea Council moved a family of Somali’s who had migrated to England from their war torn country and placed them in a £2million pound house in a posh part of London. Then there are stories like the one about Joanne Sheppard, who has 12 children by three men and hadn’t worked for 19 years. Her 12th child (“an accident” apparently) was to a man who had no job, but was collecting £89.80 a week for long-term incapacity whilst allegedly still pursuing his hobby of riding motorbikes. This was the one that tipped the scales of outrage for The Mail, who stated that Miss Sheppard claimed £30000 a year in benefits. Perhaps Miss Sheppard and her partner have a long term plan to create there own Apostles and set up the church of Evel Kinievel, who knows what could motivate such irresponsible copulation. More to the point, who would seriously want to raise that many children on welfare money!?

Benefits couple with ELEVEN children rake in £30,000 a year and a free-five bedroom home (and now they’ve got another on the way)

Somali asylum seeker family given £2m house… after complaining 5-bed London home was ‘in poor area’

I’d like to think that most rational people would recognise that both of these stories are exceptions to the rule. For the vast majority of people who are claiming benefits long term, life is pretty grim. Let’s face it, you can’t exactly live it large on around £70 a week. However, for those of you who may be ‘between jobs’ due to the total mismanagement of the country by government and the total mismanagement of taxpayers money by bankers which has left you unemployed due to a declining economy; if you have decided to claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) for a period of time whilst you sell yourself cheap to an employers market, you will find that just making that claim is a harrowing process. A process that makes you want to dive out of a window – a plate glass window that is closed and exits a 10th story apartment. I found myself in this position and spent a very frustrating hour or so trying to make a claim. Although not as frustrating as the time I spent three weeks on the phone to BT technical support in some place in India trying to get my broadband problem resolved, but that’s another posting…

1. The first call – 0845 608 85 04
You start off with a call – that’s where it always starts, that first call. You know how it is, you’re wondering; “How many button choices will they give me to get to the right department? What will her voice be like? Or will it be a he? What about the hold music – classical, calming, some Costa coffee, soft, indie, rock/pop – what will be poisoning my ears for the next twenty minutes? Or will it be an hour? Ooh I’m scared!!!” But you have to make that call. I’d actually been told in the Job Centre that they prefer you to make the application online, but that has become little more than the alternative of two evils these days, and often results in having to make a phone call afterwards anyway, so I thought I’d try and skip the middle man. Bad idea.

2. Navigate the automated phone directions
She has quite a nice voice – calming and almost caring whilst also somewhat alluring. But it’s early days. She hasn’t even repeated anything yet. She gives you the customary preamble, which like the lengthy opening credits of a HBO series, is worth sitting through the first time round, but after episode 3 you’re reaching for Sky+ fast forward on your TV.  Fortunately the second option was the option I need so I opted for option two. This option instructs you to give your postcode so that you can get put through to the right area. My postcode is for Manchester, so I got put through to a woman in a call centre in Eastbourne, which is about 220 miles away!

3. The first interrogation
So you get asked a whole bunch of questions in this bit – name, address, national insurance number, when you want to claim from etc, etc, etc. Essentially, you answer enough questions to fill a good-sized application form – then you get told you can’t make a new application over the phone, you have to do it online!

4. Complete the online application form
This takes about 10 – 20 minutes depending on how much information you put in. There are some really useful questions like ‘How did you find out you could claim Job Seekers Allowance? Who did you ask for advice about claiming? When did you ask them? What did you ask them? What did they tell you? Is it safe?’* But this is okay because you’re only given 200 characters to answer the long questions. After you’ve completed the form you are informed that you will be contacted by telephone within the next 48 hours between 7am and 9pm. This all makes it seem quite exciting, like an important arrangement between secret service operatives.

5. Wait for the call
I missed the call – both of them. Instead I got an answer machine message telling me that because I missed both calls I had to call a freephone number to complete my claim otherwise they will assume that I no longer want to continue the claim. So I called the number 08000 55 66 88…

The second call (listen)

6. Call the 0845 number again
When you navigate the options for this call you find you get redirected back to the first number you rang!

The third call (listen)

You eventually get put through to someone who tells you to call the 0800 number again. By this stage you have heard the recording four times and the lady’s voice is no longer calming, caring or alluring, it’s just fucking annoying. The hold music is like an acoustic ice ballet performed on your brain by miniature sadists wearing razor blades for skates. You try to stay calm as you explain that you have already made an online application and you have already called the 0800 number. They detect the tremulous hint of desperate frustration in your tone and concede that the automated directions aren’t very clear, so they instruct you to select the option for a new claim, even though you are calling about a claim you have already made. You accept those instructions and you end the call politely.

7. Call the 0800 number again
You call the 0800 number again, this time making the incorrect selection in order to get to the correct person but…

The fourth call (listen)

…this takes some time. Your patience withers and wanes as you are told over and over again to make your application online, knowing that you have already made an online application. Your ears start to bleed as you listen to that first part of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons again and again and again and again – knowing that when it finishes you’ll have to listen to her voice again telling you to make your application online. And this seems to go on forever and ever and ever. In desperate reverie you imagine yourself smashing your phone against the wall and the pieces shattering in slow motion before you turn to the owner of the automated voice – who looks like the woman you hate most in your life – and you imagine strangling her with the strings from one of those violins playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Then you imagine just giving up on the claim, buying a local newspaper and replying to the first vacancy for door staff, cleaners or traffic wardens – anything just so that you don’t have to hear Vivaldi play that tune again!!!!!!!

Then you get your breakthrough. A voice. A voice at the other end that isn’t automated. You feel like Columbus, starved and deluded after months at sea, when suddenly land appears on the horizon. Hallelujah!

8. …It’s not over yet
I don’t know if it’s the effects of exhaustion or chronic exasperation – but you are calm. You’re just happy to hear a voice again – a real voice. This voice asks you questions that you have been asked before over the last hour but you answer them calmly. Then she tells you to ring that 0845 number again!

9. …you’re almost there
To your surprise you do not explode. You appeal to the lady in Eastbourne to consider your situation and ask her to actually try to resolve the issue rather then putting you through that hell again. Then there’s a pause at the other end of the line.

“Ok, can you just hold for a second whilst I speak to my supervisor?”

Now this can go one of two ways; the supervisor can resolve your issue there and then or they can insist that you have to jump through another administrative hoop and do something else. I got lucky and the lady from Eastbourne came back to me and went about resolving my problem. And the solution was? I was given an appointment to go into the job centre and complete a ‘clerical’ application.

10. The Clerical Application
Having spent over an hour making phone calls and filling in online forms I now have an appointment to go into the job centre. When I get to the job centre I will have to fill in a paper form in order to make my JSA claim.

Epilogue
Fortunately I was offered a job before I actually made the claim and I am now in gainful employment again. The thought of having to become an unwilling player in the sadistic administrative pantomime of welfare living frightens me. I cannot believe that anyone in their right mind would genuinely want for this. The process in itself is almost like a war of attrition. I can only assume that those who have been on long-term benefits without any genuine reason simply don’t have a mind that is right, or have been oppressed into submission by this process. They have been demoralised to the point of abject inertia as their resolve and motivation has been eroded by pointless and monotonous administrative processes. If daytime television isn’t enough to get you out to work, surely being counted and questioned and qualified every fortnight must be. Whatever the reason you find yourself on welfare, one thing is for certain – there are far easier ways to process a claim.

* ‘Is it safe?’ isn’t really one of their questions, it’s a parody of the classic Dustin Hoffman and Lawrence Olivier movie ‘The Marathon Man’. Good film if you haven’t seen it, one of Hoffman’s most accomplished performances. Thank you for taking the time to follow the asterix.

Advertisements

Football Family

Football, a funny old game – of two halves – but it only takes a minute to score a goal, and at the end of the day – that’s what wins matches. Putting the ball in the back of the net, because that’s what it’s all about, winning. But it isn’t. There’s more than that. The coverage, the commentary, the clichés and the cut of the new kit. It’s about performing in the theatres of dreams to the elation of the crowds and for the profit of the sponsors. Big games, big names, big stadia, big money and big adjectives. The Beautiful Game, the beautiful players… hang on a minute! That’s going too far. Prancing primadonna’s with sublime skills is one thing but in fact, footballers are more likely to share the aesthetic appeal of ‘Ginger Ninja’ Paul Scholes than ‘Goldenballs’ Beckham, and not all managers have the suave sophistication of a Mancini or Mouriho either, so let’s have a look at the extended football family… just for fun of course 😉

***

Manuel Pellegrini

Being a City fan looking forward to a new season with a new manager in 2013, I’ve been looking at Señor Pellegrini. At 59 the man they call ‘The Engineer’ is no spring chicken, and having spent a career working in the sunshine of Spain and South America, the sun has taken its toll and he now bears more than a passing resemblance to Zelda from Terrahawks. I imagine one sharp look from this guy will keep most in the dressing room in check.

Manuel Pelligrini

Terra on the touchline, Pellegrini is set to conquer world football

Rafa Benitez

Mr. Interim at Chelsea seemed to have picked up a poisoned chalice when he took over from fan’s favourite Roberto Di Matteo for the second half of the season. But Rafa Benitez is just like his distant cousin Penfold from Dangermouse, no matter how much of a disaster he finds himself in he always manages to come out on top… except at Inter Milan of course.

Rafa Benitez

Rafa the unflappable – fact!

Joey Barton

Wes Craven is best known for the Nightmare on Elm Street films, but in 1977 Craven made a horror film about a clan of deformed, inbred, cannibal mutants who terrorise a family that get stranded whilst on a road trip. The quote on the DVD release simply says “HARROWING AND NASTY”, what more is there to say about ex-con Joey Barton – the trademark cold sore and dead-eyed glare are enough to put you off your pint. Thankfully Monsieur Barton now plies his trade at Marseille in between bouts of assault and verbal diarrhoea on Twitter.

Joey Barton mutant creature

“Harrowing and nasty”

Gaby Agbonlahor

Staying on the mutant theme but on a much less nasty note, we turn our attentions to Aston Villa and England winger, Gaby Agbonlahor. I just couldn’t decide which side was Gaby’s best side, so I decided not to side with either side and present you both sides. Turning to show his left, Gaby is a dead ringer for Sloth from the Goonies, whilst down on the right he strikes a much more regal pose as he looks out toward his carer waiting in the stands, giving him a striking resemblance to Family Guy’s favourite office worker, Opie.

Gaby Abmonglahor and friends

Gaby dreams of finding the treasure of his One Eyed Willy

Luis Suarez

Mid-season, when Luis Suarez was twisting and turning defences inside out for Liverpool, you could forgive his cheating, diving, antics and laugh them off. Then he was just a cheeky little buck-toothed Uruguayan striker that everyone wanted in their team and he reminded me of Rocky the flying squirrel. Then he sunk his teeth into a Chelsea defender and returned to being a nasty little critter just like the rabid, poisoned, rat-monkey, from Peter Jackson’s ‘Braindead’ movie. Noxious vermin is a little too strong, but only a little.

Luis Suarez

The Sumatran rat-monkey is deadly in the box.

Yossi Benayoun

Staying with creatures of the night we look at a player who now only occasionally appears in between long periods of absence, resurfacing in a different coloured shirt at a different ground after being silently transferred without ever being noticed. Just like Nosferatu the Vampyre Yossi Benayoun rises from the grave of mediocrity before disappearing again into mystery and obscurity, making some believe whether he ever really existed at all.

Yossi Nosferatu

Yossi Nosferatu has been around for longer than you think

Marouane Fellaini

Just like his sword wielding, animated, counterpart, Marouane Fellaini takes no prisoners on the field of play at Everton. His trademark afro is often seen towering above opponents in the box as he heads the ball into the back of the net and his deadly elbow is often seen by the ref as he smashes it into opponents faces. His uncompromising, aggressive style makes him the original Afro Samurai.

Afro Marouane Samurai

David Luiz

There is only one serious contender for the Carlos Valderrama Big Hair Crown in the Premiership and that is Chelsea’s David Luiz. It is big, but it’s not clever and it’s pretty obvious who his distant cousin is – it has to be Sideshow Bob from the Simpsons – nuff said.

Sideshow Dave

Perhaps a cameo on the Simpsons with brother Bob is on the cards!

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger has fallen out of favour with some Arsenal fans because of his frugal approach to spending on big players. Whilst refusing to part with the clubs cash to improve his squad, he continues to sell off players who go on to win trophies at other clubs – or in the case of Adebyor, win a contract and then do bugger all on the pitch. With his miserly approach to the modern game the obvious distant cousin would be Mr. Burns of The Simpsons. However, the spell Arsene seems to have over the club he manages is more akin to the influence of a Sith Lord. His Jedi mind tricks seem to work every season as Arsenal slip closer and closer toward the Darkside – fifth place and into the Europa league. So let me introduce you to Darth Vengar.

Darth Vengar

The force is strong but the team is weak Arsene

David Moyes

An Alex Ferguson look-a-like would have been ideal, but as much as I hate to say it being a Blue, Old Bacon Face is a one and only. However, his replacement David Moyes is a class act also, a work of art no less. Surely 20th century Norwegian artist Edvard Munch beat the bookies and everyone else in predicting who would be Sir Alex’s successor. He even captured the very look on Moyes’ face when it dawned on him just the size of the task he was about to undertake.

David Moyes The Scream

Aaaarrrggghhh!!!!

Expressions of Interest – Six of The Best

The English language is full of peculiar sayings and expressions that people often use without having any idea what they actually mean. Effectively, this means that people tend to talk a ‘load of bollocks’ – which itself is an expression of sorts, likely an alternative to talking a load of rubbish/bullshit/crap etc – the theme being, to convey information of which the constituent contents and reliability are of little worth. It’s an expression that upon reflection makes little sense, since most men who aren’t aspiring to be eunuch’s probably hold their testicles [literally and figuratively] in high regard and attach a great deal of value to them – I know I do. So what are the origins of these unusual metaphorical one-liners and linguistic clichés? Well, many sayings come from popular literature – particularly Shakespeare – and misquotes and reinterpretation of scripture. Then there are those others whose origins aren’t quite as clear cut, so I’ve compiled a list of well known but little understood expressions and applied meanings and origins.

Brass monkeys‘ is a term that is often used to express extremely cold weather. If spoken in a cockney accent – or if you are American, in the voice of Dick Van Dyke in the Disney classic ‘Mary Poppins’ – it would fit into a sentence like this: “Bladdy ‘ell, its braass mank-gee’s out there!” The origin of the term ‘brass’ originates from the Victorian era and is another name for ‘prostitute’. This was because the common charge for a quick shag was a brass coin. Bearded ladies were also very common in the Victorian era and those who were unable to find a husband or get a job in the circus often went into prostitution to earn a living. These ugly, bearded, prostitutes were described as looking like monkeys and would often find themselves standing around in the cold all night, barely getting any trade. They eventually came to be referred to as ‘brass monkeys’ and the term assimilated into everyday parlance to refer to freezing cold weather.

Virginia Frampton was the Pretty Woman of her generation, eventually finding love and happiness in the arms of a Victorian aristocrat.

Virginia Frampton was the Pretty Woman of her generation, eventually finding love and happiness in the arms of a Victorian aristocrat.

Stop beating around the bush‘ means, get to the point and stop dithering. This expression originates from the 16th century when Venetian merchant, Marco Polo, became famous for his travels all over the unknown world. It is said that on a trip to Indonesia he sampled the delights of monkey brains. In his journals he wrote about how the monkey brains were served; the diners are sat at a round table with a hole in the middle. A live monkey, restrained in a small cage, is brought to the table and is positioned so that just its head sticks through the middle of the table. The diners each have a small dining mallet called a ‘monkey club’. Using the monkey club, they proceed to smash the monkeys skull to reveal the contents of their meal, the simian’s opened skull being the serving dish from which they serve themselves. To make this experience less painful for the monkey, diners were instructed to beat the monkey in the middle of the head where there was more bushy hair. Ancient Indonesians also believed that eating live monkey brains made you more decisive, so the expression ‘stop beating around the bush’ was born. You could say that monkeys were the brain child of that expression, but that would be tasteless – unlike monkey brains.

3 stages of monkey brain: young monkeys brains are said to taste of coconut, the traditional dish is an acquired taste but modern production techniques mean it now comes in a squeezy tube

3 stages of monkey brain: young monkeys brains are said to taste of coconut, the traditional dish is an acquired taste but modern production techniques mean it now comes in a squeezy tube

Pull the wool over their eyes‘ is often wrongly thought to refer to the old fable about the wolf that dresses in sheeps clothing in order to deceive the shepherd and sneak amongst the flock to steal a meal every night. However, that story has long since been discredited since it was discovered that the original wolf was actually Helmut Woolf, a real person who came from the village of Fucking in the municipality of Tarsdorf in Austria. Helmut Woolf liked to dress up in women’s clothing, which upset the locals (there was only about 60 of them) who burnt him at the stake in 1784 for his cross-dressing perversions. Helmut Woolf is now the internationally recognised patron saint of Transvestites. That detail aside, the real origin of the expression ‘to pull the wool over their eyes’ is a lot more recent and a lot more sinister. During World War II, garrotting with wire was the method favoured by the secret service for silencing enemy agents; it was clean and quiet and left the clear message that they could be got at. With the proliferation of plastics during the early 20th century, suffocating your enemy with a plastic bag became the murdering method of choice. As TV and media grew in the 60’s, the secret service found that ‘whistleblowers’ were increasingly becoming a problem to governments and big business. Initially the plastic bag method of execution became popular for silencing these whistleblowers, as every household had a plastic bag in their home so the assassin didn’t even have to go equipped. However, it was hard to pass this off as an accident, so new methods of covert assassination had to be developed in order to make civilian executions look like accidents, so the phrase ‘pull the wool over their eyes’ was used as a code for an execution designed to silence a civilian and make it look like an accident. It’s believed that this is a direct reference to pulling a plastic bag over someone’s face to suffocate them to death and alludes to the idea that a civilian ‘hit’ should be approached in a much softer fashion so that it doesn’t look like foul play. So instead of pulling a plastic bag over someones face to get rid of them, you would “pull the wool over their eyes”. Wool is much softer than plastic, and to cover someones eyes for good means that they can’t look at anything and go telling other people about it. Of course there is also the urban myth that this expression originates from Wales, and refers to the stereotype of the lonely farmer on a cold night, securing a warm sheep’s hind legs into his wellies, grabbing on tight and with eyes closed, burying his face into the soft fleece of the animal, pulling the wool over his eyes and imagining it’s the hair of a beautiful woman whilst succumbing to cattle lust… but that’s just a disturbing visual image – and probably racist on some level. I actually think it might have just been a joke – told to me by a Welsh guy actually, in the pub. I was talking about the origins of expressions, this one came up and he told me my story was bullshit and his was accurate. Personally, either will do for me so I’ll let you decide and we’ll move on.

Due to her trendy hairstyle Daisy was often an easy lay for the local valley boys, she just couldn't see them coming.

Due to her trendy hairstyle Daisy was often an easy target for the local valley boys, she just couldn’t see them coming.

As different as chalk and cheese‘ is an expression that is thought to originate from the Renaissance era of the 15th century. This was a period when many explorers were sailing out in big ships to go and ‘discover’ new lands and claim them for their respective rulers. This was a period of wonder, excitement and wealth for most of Europe, but a period of exploitation, murder and brutality for the indigenous peoples of ‘The New World’. There were many new and undiscovered raw materials and foods that were brought back to Europe. In England many people – both men and women – took to painting their faces and wearing garish makeup to distract from their awful smell and bad breath. The newly discovered powders and chemicals in this makeup was untried and tested and it resulted in many people going mad and being committed to asylums. One familiar symptom of people who had poisoned themselves with vanity based products was the practice of eating dried cat poo. When cat poo dries completely it turns white and resembles chalk. When people started to descend into madness after eating this dried cat poo, they would often say that it tasted like cheese. This gave birth to the expression ‘as different as chalk and cheese’, because not only did it mean that the two substances were completely different, but also that those afflicted with madness would act like completely different people.

A scene from a Victorian madhouse (left to right): Doctor and the medics, the mad breast touchers and what happens to patients who won't spit out their chalky-cheesy-cat-poo.

A scene from a Victorian madhouse (left to right): Doctor and the medics, the mad breast touchers and what happens to patients who won’t spit out their chalky-cheesy-cat-poo.

Taking the piss‘ is an expression that originates from Australia around the mid 19th century. Manly men of the outback pride themselves on being able to drink themselves into one of the milder states of severe brain damage without falling unconscious or losing control of their bodily functions. So if the fellas were out drinking and anybody did pass out drunk and wet themselves whilst unconscious, it was customary for their friends to take advantage of the situation and abuse and humiliate them solely for the amusement of others. The problem was, because this was such a laugh for spectators, people started doing it to anyone who passed out regardless of whether they pissed themselves or not just because it was so funny. This extreme pranking soon became known as ‘taking the piss’, which is now synonymous with taking advantage of a vulnerable person or situation.

*NOTE: People sometimes use the expression ‘taking the Mick’ as a substitute. It’s wrongly believed that people use this sanitised version to avoid using the word ‘piss’. This isn’t true; Mick Kelly was the name of a man from Melbourne who so often fell asleep in a pool of his own urine that he became the poster boy for piss taking across the Australian continent in the early 20th century. So much so that his name was forever associated with drunken incontinence inspired practical joking.

Asking for it, surely.

‘Tom tried to save himself by turning to the soft drinks, but it was too late, the damage was already done and he was now a victim in the waiting.’

Back to the wall‘ refers to being in situation that is going to be pretty tough to get out of. It’s thought that this expression came out of America after the Wall Street Crash of 1929. America’s prisons have an unenviable reputation for man-rape. Big, brutal, butch, men, locked up together in confined spaces for long periods of time under a punishing regime appears to bring the sodomite out in the all American male criminal. So imagine the horror going through the minds of all those bankers and brokers as they were faced with bankruptcy, debt and the threat of prison. It was either the cowards way out off the top floor of a skyscraper, or face the threat of being locked up in a hell hole and assault of the butthole. As you can imagine, should the latter situation occur, it was wise to have ones ‘back against the wall’  to avoid becoming someones prison bitch, particularly when showering.

*NOTE: It’s disputed as to whether the expression ‘between a rock and a hard place’ also comes from American prison language, and is actually a twist on the original expression which was ‘between a cock and a hard place’.

In prison, no one can hear you scream, so if you can't beat them, then you may as well fuck them!

In prison, no one can hear you scream, so if you can’t beat them, then you may as well fuck them!

It can often be very difficult to isolate the exact time, date and origin of popular expressions and many people will find it impossible to confirm the veracity of many of the almost mythical origins of common sayings, so I just made them up. However, you are welcome to take any of the aforementioned explanations as gospel and if you are teaching ESOL students, you may find that making things up about language is much more fun.

 

If A Person Falls Over in a Forest of Paperwork and Nobody Sees The Appropriate Document, Does it Mean They Don’t Exist?

Anonymous people

Britain has long had a reputation for bureaucracy and red tape. There is a fanatical fastidiousness about British organisations and the public sector that keeps armies of admin and clerical workers documenting, verifying, copying and countersigning in duplicate and triplicate, all manner of data and detail for… I don’t know. I suppose it gives people who have a remarkable capacity for retaining a pulse whilst enduring chronically mundane tasks for 35+ hours a week a calling in life. However, despite this commitment to the finicky detail of detailing the details of data in order to ensure documentation is valid and secure, things still go tits up, failings are still made and fuck-ups do ensue. When this happens, there’s an ‘enquiry’, followed by a ‘report’, which is usually followed by a resignation, a tasty pay off, and the application of a new set of rules demanding another layer of bureaucratic documentation.

In 2002 the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) was introduced in England and Wales to protect children, young people and vulnerable adults from the vile beasts that would manipulate themselves into positions where they would pray on them. In principle it is a good idea, as it provides some resource for schools and relevant organisations to vet people who have a criminal past, before hiring them to take up a position that they may exploit for illicit purposes. There was already the Department for Education and Skills’ List 99, which is a confidential register of all people convicted or suspected of child abuse, violent crimes or drug offences. However, the standard CRB system of checks also covers cautions and warnings, and even convictions that may have expired. An ‘Enhanced Disclosure’ goes further and includes any other information held on file that may be relevant, such as investigations that have not led to a criminal record, like nine charges of rape and underage sex in the space of four years for instance (read on).

Naturally there were teething troubles when the CRB was first introduced and tragically, whilst these teething troubles were being ironed out, school caretaker Ian Huntley murdered two school children, Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman.

Ian Huntley - just an ordinary bloke who likes to rape and murder children

Ian Huntley – just an ordinary bloke who likes to rape and murder children

It’s probably impossible to have an airtight vetting system without grossly abusing individual’s privacy and human rights, but over the space of four years, Ian Huntley had nine charges of rape and underage sex against his name before he was employed by a school as a caretaker. This information was documented and recorded by social workers and police forces, but despite happening at a time when computer databases and ICT were becoming commonplace, none of these organisations thought that it might be useful to share this information with each other for safeguarding purposes. Incidentally, it’s interesting that it’s noted that one of the main reasons the CRB was introduced was to protect organisations from litigation, which makes you question the moral focus of our lawmakers – but that’s another posting.

There’s a naively simplistic level of thinking amongst certain people in our society; those ‘normal’, law abiding, taxpaying, un-questioning, rule-following members of society, civil service and the public sector. These types of people are often guilty of placing people in boxes and using those boxes as building blocks of rationality. These people can’t think outside of the box and follow blindly according to instructions. These people wouldn’t have sat in the CRB meeting and raised their hand to say ‘There’s tons of literature proving that many dangerous and pathological criminals – particular sex offenders – are intelligent and manipulative and may very well have a history of charges and allegations that have not as yet led to convictions. Do you think we should have something in place to check for that type of thing?’  These people see things in black and white and think that it’s only people who have been proved to have broken the law – no matter what that law was – are wrongdoers and are dirty and tainted forever, unable to ever hold any significant position in society. These people can’t see the wood for the pile of trees that have been chopped down to make the paper by which they are instructed, informed and subsequently base the blueprint of their thinking and rationale on. These people have no capacity for abstract reasoning. They’re like automated drones who blindly follow their programmed procedure without employing common sense or initiative.

I have nothing against the CRB, that’s not what this posting is about. I think CRB checks are a good idea and very necessary, but sadly, shit happens that you are never going to be able to prevent. A CRB check isn’t going to tell you a great deal about a person who is evading the law. A CRB check is not going to provide any protection against creepy, celebrity, paedophiles like Jimmy Savile getting away with it, because a CRB check can’t highlight people of low, moral character working in showbiz who are prepared to turn a blind eye to child abuse rather than jeopardise their careers. What a CRB check does is cast a wide net over anybody who has any criminal record and judge them based off that record. What a CRB check does is provide a cursory snapshot of that criminal record without going into any character detail.

The problem is, when you apply for a CRB check, what comes back is an indiscriminate private record of your past that doesn’t take into account whether the information is really necessary for disclosure. Any crime that you have committed, no matter how venal or embarrassing, is now revealed to some clerical worker in your office. So if you got caught shoplifting some knickers from Woolworths when you were 18, then 23 year old Garry, the admin support worker from HR, probably knows about it and had a good laugh at your expense with his friends at the weekend when they were sniffing lines of coke off his new IKEA table during the house warming party he had to celebrate the new mortgage he’s just anchored himself with on an overpriced plasterboard apartment in the city centre that he bought for a snip at £149k. You’re not a pederast or an armed robber or a drug smuggler or a DJ from the 70’s, but since you sign kids in at the reception at the community centre that Garry also works at, it is imperative that your private life of 20 years ago becomes the public property of Garry’s anecdotal work whinges at the weekend. You may have thought that Garry smiled at you in that way because he fancied you, and maybe you even had the odd fantasy of having an affair with the young man from HR; but really he’s smirking at the idea that you once stuffed a 3-pack of knickers down your blouse and tried to do a runner from Woolly’s back in 1983, and he’s wondering whether they were the Bridget Jones type that reach up above the navel – and if you still wear them.

Knowing Too Much Information copy

I work with young people and vulnerable adults and it is necessary for me to have an enhanced disclosure. CRB checks are at the discretion of your employer, so whilst some say they need to be updated every 3 years and some say 5, my employer has decided that he wants it updated every year. I understand this to a certain degree, as it would be very easy for me to commit GBH at the weekend, go through the whole procedure of court, conviction and suspended sentence over the course of the subsequent year without my employer being any the wiser. But the bizarre thing is the verification of who I am, that really only needs to be done the once, surely? It’s not so much me having to re-verify who I am that is the strange thing, the office manager has to verify who our boss is. So that means that the employee of our employer has to officially verify that the person that employed her and pays her wages – the person for whom she has to go and see to have cheques countersigned and authorised and verify any payment of goods – now has to have him bring in documentation to prove that he really is who he is for the purposes of this CRB check. This is surely an unnecessary detail!?

Our office manager is one of these people who lives life by instructions and does nothing outside of the conventional rules. She is nice, inoffensive, but very dull. She would never do anything to harm you or anyone else, but I couldn’t see her ever doing anything extraordinary in your defence either. I’ve been sat alone in the office with our office manager for whole days at a time and forgotten she was even there. I often forget she exists. Sometimes I walk into work and when I see her it startles me because I am reminded that she does actually exist. When I received an email off her requesting the relevant documentation required to prove my identity in order to corroborate my CRB application, I asked her if she really needed me to dig out my passport [again] and a recent utility bill [again] and council tax bill [again] to confirm that I was indeed the same work colleague that had been sat across the room from her in the office we have worked in together over the last year, and that I wasn’t someone who had raped and molested children whilst on the run from drug smuggling and multiple murder charges, who had kidnapped the real me and locked him in a room whilst I had corrective surgery on my face and vocal chords like Nicholas Cage in ‘Face Off’ during a period that the real me was off sick or on holiday, in order for me to imitate the real me so that I could sneak into the workplace of the real me and gain access to children so that I could continue my evil paedophile ways?

She said; “Yes”.

She said if she didn’t she could get arrested (I’m really not joking about this bit). So I asked her – “Do you really think the Judge would be able to keep the jury from laughing long enough to actually continue with the resulting court proceedings from your heinous deception?” – but she didn’t want to play my hypothetical game anymore.

'Mike was stunned to find out he'd been the victim of identity theft'

‘Mike was stunned to find out he’d been the victim of identity theft’

The ridiculous thing about verification of identity is that the very people whom you are giving your personal details to aren’t exactly carefully vetted Secret Service Operatives themselves. I was on holiday in Portugal one summer and I had a massive fallout with my then girlfriend, so I decided to go missing for a few hours to get drunk. Whilst I was out drinking I met this character who said he was in the fraud business. He told he ran a team of thieves who stole credit cards off holiday makers and used them to buy goods, which they then sold on to locals who lived and worked in resorts around the Mediterranean islands. He was a generous guy who paid for my drinks all night, and every half hour or so would send me to the toilet with a bag of white powder to snort up my nose.

As the night wore on, this Costa Del Criminal told me funny story after funny story and I found him to be quite a decent bloke. He told me that he didn’t really feel any moral qualms about what he did (he never use the word ‘qualms’ of course, he was a crook) because he was only robbing off the banks, who were robbing bastards anyway (he had a good point there). He said that on the last night of using a card, he would take his team to a brothel and splash out on a night of filth and debauchery. This made sure the banks had to pay out to the family who had their card stolen. I mean, there’s no way any court in the land would believe that Valerie and Allan Stannage took their three kids on holiday to Alcudia and orchestrated the fraud themselves, before indulging in the pleasures of prostitution at ‘El Jefe’s’. He also left me with this little trade secret before I disappeared into drunken unconsciousness and he disappeared into the night; he told me a common way for fraudsters to get private information, was to employ people to get jobs in call centres taking personal data from customers; “Always get the name of the little fucker taking your details mate. Make sure they know that you know who it was who took that call. They get dozens of calls everyday and loads of info, so the ones that are risky they’re not gonna use.” I told you he was a nice bloke.

I know this posting has somewhat rambled on and in some way lost its thematic through-line. However, I hope I’ve managed to impart some wit and wisdom. As much as it’s important for valid identification and safeguarding measures in certain professions, there should also be some safety measures for us. There should also be the application of some common sense. Am I a real person or merely the sum of my documents? And who are these people collecting all my personal information? And why is it that despite me only giving my landline number to close friends and family members, a man named Keith with a strong Indian dialect can call me at home from a call centre in Mumbai to offer me free representation to claim damages back for a car accident I never had in the last three years – and call me by my first and last name!? We all to easily give too much of our personal data to random strangers every day, it’s no surprise that identity theft and fraud is so prolific. It’s only a matter of time before a defence team gets someone off because the prosecution are unable to locate a recent bank or utility bill and relevant picture ID from List B to confirm he was actually the person whom the killers DNA belonged to. Stranger things have happened!

Identity Thief

 

Update 29th January 2013: Criminal record checks system breaches human rights, court rules. Wow, sometimes common sense does prevail – I wonder if the judge read my blog?

There’s Something About Madonna

Madonna Inn #2

Madonna was in the news [again] recently at the centre of controversy [again] for [another] lewd and raunchy stage performance. To be honest, this isn’t at all surprising as Madonna’s whole career has centred around sexual controversy in a series of masterfully, orchestrated, attention grabbing, performances.

Madonna has been the dominatrix of the media for years. For three decades she has controlled her own controversy like it was a muted, masked, gimp at the end of a leash; and in doing so she has become a multi-millionaire and achieved legendary pop status. Her most recent media hype came during her MDNA Tour in Los Angeles where she performed a ‘striptease’ on stage in support of the young girl who was shot by the Taliban in Pakistan for promoting women’s rights to education. Well why not? Any rational person would find Madonna’s actions perfectly appropriate to the cause wouldn’t they? Only just last week I considered uploading a sex tape on YouTube of myself with a prostitute and three grey squirrels to draw attention to my blog… oh, and highlight the plight of… of… erm… yeah, the plight of the Syrian freedom fighters – yaay!

I’ve never been a huge fan of Madonna’s music, although I have nothing against the woman herself. As 50-odd year old women go – aside from her vampire-white, tissue paper skin – Madonna is looking good; and I’m sure the dirty old mare still knows a trick or two in the bedroom (I certainly wouldn’t kick her out of bed for menopausal sweating). I’ve always had a soft spot for  women who are unfairly labelled as ‘slutty’. I find women who are open about their sexual proclivities tend to be open and honest about everything else. And they are great fun. It’s just that Madonna’s pseudo-erotic publicity seeking routines are getting a little bit predictable and tired. Times have moved on and Madonna isn’t ahead of them anymore. Not only that – elderly feminine rights aside – she’s old and it just looks so desperate, sad, and glaringly cheap.

You can’t really knock Madonna’s achievements. She is pop-royalty, for sure. I was a kid when she first broke onto the scene in 1982 and for me that style she had made her look accessible. She was like the older, precocious, teenage chick at the school disco, who would take you by the hand to the toilets, pull you into a cubicle, remove her chewing gum, unzip your pants and give you a blow job with a smile. She was energetic, rude and playful, but instead of being considered as slutty, she was just a liberated, horny, 80’s chick. A throwback to the hippy-chick of the sixties, but with brighter colours, more makeup, more hair dye and more cleavage. Her music wasn’t really any good, but she was shagging John ‘Jellybean’ Benitez, one of the most successful producers of the time, so she was onto a winner. With MTV pumping out of TV screens 24hrs a day, pimping out pop-music for all it’s worth with flesh, neon, flashing lights and trashy fashion, this horny Italian-American chick in raunchy outfits, thrusting and gyrating and bouncing around like she just wants to party, singing stupid songs with catchy beats and lyrics about material girls living in material worlds getting touched for the very first time – this was the dawn of the age of decadence and excess – Madonna had arrived whilst the rest of the world had come.

Sex sells, and for the remainder of her long and successful musical career, Madonna sold sex like nobody else could (Madonna also did some acting and film stuff, but she wasn’t very good). She milked the tit of sex marketing for every last drop – hetero sex, homo sex, group sex, dirty sex, sleazy sex, kinky sex, inter-racial-religious sex – stage shows, videos, risqué clothes, even a book – Madonna used anything that was left to the imagination to sell herself and she did it very, very, well.

After all the sex and erotica Madonna did on and off stage in the 80’s and 90’s she decided to become a mum. But for all intent and purposes, her public image was more like a nun. Despite a past of promoting decadence and debauchery, she named her first daughter after the one the world’s most famous religious shrines, Lourdes. She then married British film director Guy Ritchie, gave birth to son Rocco and moved to England where she attempted to adopt the mantle of landed gentry, even going as far as buying her own little in-house African – a baby boy she ‘adopted’ in Malawi and named David. But it seems the Noughties were a confusing period for Madonna. This was a period where she attempted to be an English wife, an orphan rescuer and a Kabala spiritualist, but still found time to give Britney Spears a tongues-in kiss on stage to grab some attention. But what is it all about? What is Madonna’s message? Does Madonna really have a message? And if she does have a message is it simply, “Buy my records, come to my shows and look at me, damn you”?

videos

I really don’t know what Madonna’s message has been over the years. After all that slutting about on and off stage, the whole English Ma’am period seemed like some sort of penance. A last snatch (no pun intended) at respectability before entering middle age. But clearly she’s fallen off the wagon. The publicity lure of the lewd and lurid is too much of a draw for the world’s greatest exhibitionist, and even at the age of 54 she still feels the need to strip off and gyrate around the stage in front of thousands of people. Why she still does it I can only guess. She certainly doesn’t need the money or the fame, so perhaps she just needs to be seen. I just can’t figure out what the deep message is that she’s promoting. Sting was a muso-eco-warrior, Bono has his politics, 50 Cent has his street cred and Noel Gallagher has Man City. Madonna has conical bra’s and extravagant outfits, spiritualism and muscular body image, extravagant outfits and gay friends, concerns for poverty in Africa and sexual liberation, lots of hairdo’s, lots of sex and lots of publicity – but where has she been going with it all?

Apart from sex, erotica and publicity, I can’t really see a common thread in Madonna’s ethical causes, which is what makes me wonder if there really is any. Sure she has inspired millions across the globe and will legitimately lay her claim as one of the 20th centuries greatest female icons and exponent of sexual liberation, but I just find no ethical cohesion in it all. The positive stuff seems simply to be a bi-product of the marketing of Madonna and her pathological need for celebrity attention. If she had have retired and opened a legal whorehouse in Nevada and campaigned for reform in the laws governing the sex industry and greater efforts to combat sex trafficking around the world, I would have felt like I understood the woman better and had a greater respect for her. But all I see is someone who is pushing an envelope that was opened and had its contents exposed years ago. Someone who is in denial of an intractable fact of the female aesthetic – youth is beauty. This is something that is embedded in the biological gene pool of the human species and not even Madonna can change that – but then again maybe she isn’t, I just don’t know. I just wish she would stop. Just go away and leave me with the images of the 80’s and 90’s. Continually being reminded that Madonna is still performing the same sex routine messes with my sense of chronological equilibrium. Go and sit by a piano and do acapella covers to old classics, just stop thrusting your gusset out at us all for chrissakes.

* I have deliberately refrained from including pictures of Madge in this post, you know what she looks like.

Young, Gifted and Dope

I’ve spent many years working around young people and I think it’s great the way they interact with technology. If you are a parent you’ll know that children demand all kinds of stuff that they tell you they ‘need’. If you are a conventional parent, you will give your children that stuff – eventually. Not because they really do need it, and not because it will make them happy, but probably out of peer pressure. The other parents that you know got their children that stuff and because you don’t want to lose face you got that stuff for your child too didn’t you? Go on, admit it. Well in the words of Lawrence Krisna Parker (aka. KRS One) ‘Make sure you got what you need and keep at a safe distance the things that you want. It’s want’s that get you into trouble.”

A 5 year old doesn’t need their own flat screen TV in their bedroom any more than an 8 year old needs a state of the art laptop to do their homework on, or a 12 year old needs a smartphone with GPS and super quad core processer and the capacity to store over a thousand telephone numbers. They all want them though – no – they demand them.

If you get your child a 37″ LED Smart TV to hang in their room, they will use it to watch the variety of mind-polluting garbage on TV in between bouts of playing health and mind defeating video games. You may buy them the latest MacBook Pro or sleek touch screen tablet in the belief that they are utilising the latest software to do all important school and college work. They aren’t; they’re either watching porn or spreading rumours on MSN and Facebook – that’s why someone threw a brick through your window last night and left a turd wrapped in flaming newspaper on your doorstep this morning. If you get your child the latest, fully loaded smartphone, that has a music player, calendar, organiser and alarm notifications, as well as Facebook and Twitter and the capacity to download hundreds of thousands of apps that perform a whole host of amazing functions like converting units of measurement, translating languages, giving map directions, first aid advice – you can even get an app that helps you set your own training regime and tells you how well your fitness routine is developing – but most of your spoilt, misguided, little shits won’t even answer that phone that you bought when you call. And as they rise up through their teens, they’ll either forget every appointment they have, or just never turn up to anything on time. They’ll also lose the ability to write properly, because after texting in acronymical, abbreviated, code for so long, they will be barely able to write a message in their own language let alone a foreign one. As for using the GPS, they can’t find anywhere unless you give them money and put them in a taxi.

A group of young people utilising the advanced technology at their disposal to laugh at a YouTube video of their friend Ashley who stuck his pet terrapin up his bum as part of a drinking game and then started crying because its head came off when he tried to pull it out – these kids will go far – unlike Ashley’s terrapin. Although the video did go viral and now agents are emailing Ashley to interview him. But Ashley never answers his emails because he only communicates via Facebook and BB.

I jest to some degree, but young un’s – are you fucking stupid? Your laptops, tablets, mobile phones – such magical tools of technology at your fingertips that the mere possession of would have had you burnt at the stake for heresy (that’s heh-reh-see, not hearsay) a hundred years ago – and all you want to do is update your status and take photos!

Updating your status is less likely to put money in your pocket than setting up your email and responding to enquiries from professional people. Proliferation of gossip only earns you income if you write for a column in a magazine or for some media organisation (FYI – this is not going happen if you never respond to your emails because you’re too busy responding to shit on Facebook and Twitter).

Unless you’re doing it for a living, proliferation of gossip (look up ‘proliferation’ with your Dictionary app… Yeah, you haven’t got one installed have you?) is more likely to earn you a smashed glass in the face one night when you’re out on the town, because you spread some uncorroborated nasty rumour on Twitter about some guy that some girl that some friends don’t like, gave head to in a toilet, and he only had a small penis that looked like Jeremy Kyle smiling. The fact that nobody knows if the rumour is true isn’t important – the scar left on the side of your face after getting viciously glassed and having the wound stitched up by a tired and irritated doctor in ER will be pretty important though.

Charging your phone helps to make the battery power increase which makes your phone work. Not losing your phone helps you to use it.

If you’re a parent with a child and you buy that kid some expensive phone that does all manner of magical, wondrous things, but he/she never answers it, is always late for everything and has his/her head buried into it 24/7 – take it off them and give them a £10 burner. Better still, take it off them, smash it into a thousand pieces, take a photo of those pieces with your smartphone and share those photos with your friends and theirs on Twitter and Facebook – that’s if you know how. The agony of your child not being able to share in this distribution of banality will have the same affect as torture, and you will be in a great position to coerce your child into doing all those things the little shit should do for you anyway. That’s unless they go all Columbine on yo’ ass and then you’re in trouble.