Category Archives: Career prospects

It’s all happening again

Is the Faceman failing again?

Every time I feel confident that my life’s getting better, it seems something goes horribly wrong — or rather, several things at once, just as I’m approaching my second anniversary in the job I supposedly love.

I’m still getting headaches, and while the dizzy spells have largely (but by no means entirely) retreated, I’m still worried about my health — for example, the fact that for no apparent reason I can wake up in the middle of the night and not be able to get back to sleep.  This happened last night, and I felt a great depression come over me, almost wanting to give up on London entirely and go back to live in Worthing (yikes!).  This was at least partly thanks to taking ibuprofen to combat the pain, and as you will remember, I’ve experienced this before, and know not to do anything “drastic” (aside from cursing), because the feeling will pass.

I still felt miserable when I managed to drag myself to work, having made several mistakes this week, and feeling like I was letting down senpai (the guy I look up to, for those of you who Nihongo o hanasenai).  I was genuinely unhappy in the office, rather than my usual helpful, chipper self, and at one point experienced nostalgia by sitting alone in a small room, almost crying.  However, that turned out to be cathartic (as in the subtitle of this blog), and from that point on I actually felt a lot more cheerful, and found myself more than willing to help people…

Right up to the point that “boss lady” took me into a side office for a talking-to, just like in mid-January 2016.

Yes, folks, it seems I’ve had complaints all over again, and have one more chance to sort things out — the difference from a year and a half ago being that this time I’m permanent staff, rather than an ex-temp now going through six-month probation, and feel like I’ve earned my job and so shouldn’t be on a knife-edge.  It doesn’t feel any less dangerous, even though they’d have a harder time getting rid of me entirely now than they would have done back then.  I guess I should have realised that she wasn’t just trying to keep me on the straight and narrow before, she was genuinely unhappy with my behaviour, and it’s all come to a head now.

Needless to say, this has increased my stress levels again, and brought back anxiety to accompany my depression — as you would imagine, anxiety and depression together make a horrible mixture.  Thus, the stress I’ve been under, and the headaches and dizzy spells as side effects, has created a whole new reason to be stressed — but I daren’t take any more ibuprofen to combat the headaches, as it definitely brings my mood down and thus makes it harder for me to interact cheerfully with the users, thus exacerbating the problem.

Unfortunately she was unsympathetic to my situation, saying that I need to either manage this stress and remain perfectly polite to the users, or find a whole new line of work… it’s like it doesn’t matter how much good work I’ve done, or that she hasn’t had to talk to me like this for eighteen months, a couple of mistakes can bring everything down!

It sucks being back in this situation, but two things keep me going.  Firstly, I got through this back in 2016, and recognise that it’s only since I came back from holiday that these things have been happening all over again; it’s a difficult spiral to break out of, but if I can conquer my resurgent depression and/or anxiety, or at least make sure to get a good night’s sleep, I’ll be better able to interact with others.  Secondly, senpai is largely on my side here, and thinks that “boss lady” was out of line threatening me with “disciplinary procedures”, because although he knew I still had problems sometimes, we’re better off correcting each other as-and-when, instead of amassing evidence like this… and in any case, he agreed that she was unreasonable taking me to task over bantering with the bloke at reception via phone!

(Not to mention, she believed a lady upstairs who claimed I’d told her to “go away” and held up my hand, when this was blatant exaggeration — I’d just said I was very busy, and if anything had an anxiety attack, as she’d hemmed me in at my desk!)

Furthermore, although “boss lady” wants me to ask my team for help more readily, rather than rushing off trying to help users myself and making us all look “incompetent” by not knowing things (like the fact that one team had bought their own iPads while I was away), senpai reckons I’m not being supported properly by one particular member of our team, a gent he’s very annoyed with at the moment for palming off jobs to others, and making system changes without telling the rest of us.  Sad thing is, I like that guy too, and at least some of the time find him useful and helpful, but I’ve been told that “boss lady” likes him a bit too much, and refuses to see his flaws… damn, what do I have to do to get that kind of quasi-nepotism?!

I just have to hope I can cope with feeling this way all over again, and that I can keep my head together (despite the occasional dizzy spells) and win back the users I’ve offended, at least to “boss lady’s” approval.  I guess I should never imagine I’ve won her over again, and always keep one eye on her.  2017 comes three years after 2014 and 2011, both years in which I suffered during the autumn and winter months and, at times, wished it would all end; I don’t want that three-year cycle to be repeated, or for my 40th birthday to signal the start of bad times, like my 34th and 37th (and, to some extent, my 31st).

On that basis, only if I’m still in my job and earning the UK average wage by my birthday in October, will I even think of building a better PC!

— — —

P.S. I know many think of it as quackery, but my old yoga teacher (back in the country briefly) is planning to give me an acupuncture session, as he’s good at curing stress headaches — so, if I can make it to the weekend…

P.P.S. Maybe, just maybe, I should let my “second family” in Michigan sponsor me for a green card after all, even if the USA is an increasingly right-wing country these days!

The see-saw tilts again

mpfc_swing

“…and a tendency to wobble up and down in the middle because the screw’s loose.”

Sometimes it seems that I can never have an unequivocally good time at both home and work; as one thing improves, the other develops a problem.

Yes, I know, everything’s in cycles, but they usually change any time I comment on them to someone close — how I used to bicker with my UMich roommate in 1998-9 one day, and the next find him being civil and chatty.

And similarly, my former-drummer housemate, having been a jerk to me last Thursday, seems to have mellowed a bit now, probably because I haven’t managed to get on his nerves in a while, thanks to avoiding him outright whenever I can.  I did try to apologise on Sunday for the pie incident, but he threw it back in my face, and also accused me and our Turkish housemate (with whom he’s had major arguments in the past) of being “anti-social”, despite the fact that he seems to be more reclusive than either of us, since ending his career as a session drummer and drumming instructor.

Maybe I should pity him, as I know how hard it can be to interact with people after spending a lot of time alone, and he’s leaving music behind to drive trucks for a living… but at least tonight he’s been relatively decent, not having a go at me for cooking in the kitchen (beyond the usual implied criticism for eating Quorn).  In US military terms, I’d say we’re back down to Defcom 3 — not exactly peace, but not overt conflict.

(I just wish I hadn’t become so paranoid that I’d downloaded a sound recorder app onto my phone, in case I needed evidence…)

But as that situation goes up, so the other end of my life see-saw, work, goes down just a little bit.  Those of you who have worked in helpdesk roles will understand the ticket system: broadly speaking, your “flock” e-mails the helpdesk address with problems, tickets are created and assigned, and you’re judged on how quickly you resolve them, and also on the rating that the original senders give upon completion.  Maybe the details are different for you, but that’s my lot in life, and I either pass on tickets to my teammates (where it’s their speciality or otherwise beyond me), or shoulder the burden myself.

I deal quickly with a hell of a lot of tickets, including layman stuff like changing printer toners (though I monitor those myself anyway, and thus usually obviate tickets being needed at all), adding people to or removing them from e-mail groups, troubleshooting simple problems with people’s computers, setting up and deploying new hardware, training people to use the infernal Skype for Business, installing the infernal Windows 10 updates, creating new starters’ accounts, setting up equipment for video conference calls… all the stuff you’d expect Tier 1 to do, and a bit of Tier 2 as well, as they’re happy for me to take on more tasks where I know what I’m doing.

However, every so often a ticket will come along that I’m supposed to deal with, but which taunts and frustrates me.  There’s one young lady downstairs whose PC I set up for her when she started (one of the first I did, in fact), but which seems to give her no end of bother.  Every time I think I’ve fixed something (e.g. by reinstalling Firefox), either the same problem or a worse one arises.  It’s probably not unrelated to her habit of having 20-30 e-mails open in Outlook at any one time, along with 20 or 30 tabs open in Internet Explorer…

And my boss is getting concerned about the time it’s taking me to resolve this… but even though we now have some brand new Windows 10 PCs ready to set up, she wants me to “do something drastic” to resolve this, and re-image the girl’s PC.  This is despite it having started life as a Windows 7 machine, re-imaged with Windows 8, and then upgraded to Windows 10 during the “free” period — which means I have no way of knowing which of our (expired) Windows 8 keys I could put in, even if that’d work with Windows 10 installation media.  I can also try telling Windows 10 to “reset” itself, but even if either of these techniques works, I fear it’ll serve to do nothing save undo all the tweaks I’ve put in to overcome problems (such as changing graphics card options), and just bring back every problem we’ve already overcome — and how will that lead to a quicker resolution?

Don’t get me wrong, she’s a lovely boss when things are going well, and she (mostly) respects me and my opinions (even if she’s one of those people who tends to treat me like a naive manchild); but she’s very much a manager first and a computer expert second, and doesn’t always appreciate how difficult some tasks are.  On the other hand, she’s allegedly a lot nicer and more understanding than other IT bosses, and the team whose member has this issue is one which always seems to find things to complain about (especially another member, to whom my boss refers with a preciousss nickname), so I’m motivated to get it taken care of, for her sake as well as my own.

(However, I’m not averse to simply outright replacing the girl’s PC and lying about it, perhaps in conjunction with another of her teammates whose PC definitely needs a replacement… results are what matter, right?)

And that’s not the worst part: I’ve had other tickets open altogether too long, thanks to users not responding when I’ve asked them for updates (or re-opening tickets that I’ve tried to close as impossible to fulfil), combined with my tendency to procrastinate if I need someone’s advice but he’s too damn busy with a more important task (it doesn’t help that I work in the office five days a week, while the others frequently work from home).

face

What I really need to do is remind myself that one bit of honest criticism doesn’t mean my job’s hanging by a thread again: even if my boss wanted a pretext to get rid of me (despite my having made it successfully through 2016), a lot of people at my employer seem to like me, give me good reviews on my successfully-closed tickets, and sometimes even refer to me as a “hero” — so there’d probably be a rebellion if she got rid of me so unceremoniously (especially considering how bad my predecessors were).

However, I also shouldn’t get complacent: while it’s certainly true that I close a lot more tickets than my colleagues, that’s simply because I take care of all the easy “low-hanging fruit” tickets, while they focus on the more complex tasks (like university e-mail servers bouncing our messages, in a kind of arms race), or specialised tasks that a sub-team deals with (like the members’ database).  I’m part of the team — the face, as you’ll remember — and while I work hard and do my best, now and then I do need a bit of a kick up the rear to remind me not to procrastinate, that I really do need to pester my colleagues for help (or pester users for more information), rather than let things slide due to a lack of confidence.

And confidence is something I need at home as well: if I’ve done nothing wrong, why should I be intimidated and stay in my room until that guy’s gone, or worry about cooking stuff in the oven if he’s around in the evening?  In all probability he’s the one suffering from confidence issues at the moment (truck-driving sounds like a lonely, thankless and unrewarding career), and putting on loud bravado to cover his fear of human contact — so no sense in treating him like I’m afraid to be alone in a room with him, as he’s annoying at times but relatively harmless, and he does still coordinate paying the rent and other bills on our behalf.

(Or, on the other hand, he’s on drugs?)

I hope I’m wrong about work and home being the see-saw of my life, and that both can in fact be good at the same time.  Of course, there’s other aspects to my life, such as my ongoing attempts to find a girlfriend — could it be a triangular see-saw? — but I don’t want one thing to suffer just because the other things are going well: I want it all…

— — —

One way in which I’m trying to improve my confidence is to just “go for it” whenever I’m reluctant to finalise something — like an e-mail to a user, or a post in this blog that I’ve been picking at for far too long.  I just think to myself: “I like to live dangerously”… in reference to this classic Austin Powers scene.  And on that basis, I’m going to stop worrying about typos or word usage (or accuracy, which never bothers me normally), and click “Publish” for this post…

Going up in the world

climbing

Okay, this is the Castle, but it’s the only climbing picture I’ve got, so quit your whinin’!

Even as the world goes to Hell in a handbasket, my life seems to be returning to the relative calm and enjoyment of 2013.  No, I’ve not got another camping holiday in the western USA planned (though my old roommate’s brother wants me to visit Michigan again), but once again I’m getting paid a decent wage and no longer having to worry about making ends meet — and for this reason I’ve been able to go back somewhere I hadn’t been in years…

I’m referring to the Westway leisure centre, a place I hadn’t visited for climbing (aside from one rare evening in 2015) since that horrible night in November 2014.  For those who need reminding, I was recovering from four night shifts in that 24/7 job I was already regretting taking on, and I was so delayed getting to the Westway by the dreadful Circle Line that not only did I have to queue for 15 minutes just to get in (behind two lines of obnoxious beefcakes), but they had no lockers free for me to put my stuff in, and there was no way in the aforementioned Hell that I was gonna leave my bag ON TOP of the lockers, and risk having my stuff nicked!  I knew I couldn’t climb if I was having an anxiety attack, and so went home (fortunately getting a refund on my entry fee) to berate myself for not going to a more familiar place for my evening socialisation.

Fortunately, even though it’s a similarly dark time of year, I had no flashbacks this Tuesday as I travelled there after work (maybe because we weren’t sitting at Edgware Road for ages), and was able to climb without issue… so why hadn’t I been back there more often since that fateful day?  Forget anxiety, it was cost: I was already paying monthly membership at the Castle, and so didn’t feel I could justify an entry fee somewhere else as well while I was living hand-to-mouth in two successive jobs, even when I went permanent in my current role.  It’s only now I’ve had a pay rise that I can bring myself to pay £10 (give or take) to cheat on my usual climbing centre — and since I can now afford to eat out some evenings as well, I can stay in London for events instead of rushing home for dinner and then rushing back out again!

Another positive outcome of my pay rise has been the confidence to buy myself that new monitor I was on about before — or rather, a better one: I have joined the 4k generation, with a whole extra inch on the screen size, and the only problem I’ve faced (aside from finding 3840×2160 wallpaper that isn’t just badly upscaled from 1920×1080) has been convincing Windows 7 to display things at a viewable size, as it was designed back when 4k was a multi-monitor pipe dream.  Windows 10 may perform better at higher resolutions, but I value my privacy too much…

(And yes, I still have every intention of taking the old monitor down to Worthing for my mother to use, instead of selling it… because hey, I’d get twenty quid at most!)

One more sign of improvement is that my boss now trusts me to work from home in an emergency, even if she jokes about forcing me (and the other newest member of the team) to come in at all costs while the rest of them go to a burger joint.  We’ve figured out why I couldn’t remote onto my workplace PC through Citrix (DNS, don’t go there), and so I can do almost everything from right here on my home computer that I would normally need to be in the office to do.  Much of my job involves remoting onto other people’s PCs, or their Citrix sessions, or indeed onto servers for various functions — so, think on this: one day, while working from home, I might remote onto one of the Proxy PRO servers in order to access someone’s home-working laptop, and thus go three deep!

Obviously while working from home, I wouldn’t be able to do physical tasks like replacing printer toner or moving equipment around — but if the Tube strikes were still going ahead next week, no-one else would be in the office to need those services anyway, would they?  No, I’m fully prepared and able to keep the important systems of my workplace running, even if events conspire to stop me physically coming in… oh, wait, my password expired over the weekend, and now I can’t log into Citrix.  Argh!

I just wish spring would hurry up, as only the gradually brightening mornings (and the fact that it’s only twilight when I leave work) signify that we’re coming out of winter.  I haven’t had the usual 1st February five-minute sunlight-on-windows sign this year, presumably due to the cloud, and the weather’s due to get cold again this coming week, as bad as January and far worse than December… how I wish I had a home of my own, where I could sort out the insulation and have the heating on whenever I want — that’s the way in which I want my prospects to improve next!

2017 starts… ambivalently

ss_ffI’ve got good news, after a long period of keeping on keeping on: they’re increasing my pay at work — and not just by a “cost of living” increase, but by a couple of thousand a year, backdated to October!

It seems the recent reappraisal of pay rates at my employer has worked in my favour, and now I’ll be on £26k p.a. instead of less than £23k (with all the same benefits as before — for one thing, they’re paying for my new glasses!).  My boss was in my corner for this process, and naturally I’ll be eternally grateful to her — not just for the added moolah, but also for not firing me last January!

Obviously I’ll wait until I see it in my bank account before I get complacent, but the backdated pay (along with the money I’m owed for my December overtime) will mean I can buy myself a new 1440p monitor, and give (not sell!) my old one to my mother; the overall increase means I’ll no longer feel like I have to space out paying for my personal training sessions, or somehow give it up entirely and exercise on my own initiative (what a ludicrous notion!).  I’ll even be able to save up for a proper holiday, perhaps even outside Europe…

Of course, this leads to a certain compulsion: I feel I must defy the Tube strike on Monday in order to journey to central London for my job, instead of taking the day off.  I wouldn’t say the place would fall apart without me for just a day*, but I reckon anyone who can be there ought to at least try, just to keep things running — especially Citrix, as a lot of people will undoubtedly be working from home!

(* Obviously I know my own worth, but it needs to be said that some staff members are a lot happier when I’m in the building — presumably because I deal with all the little problems, while my teammates work on the bigger projects)

beavis_christmas_carolOn the other hand, I’m still not having any success finding a woman: I’ve just had two dates on consecutive days, and both have been one-offs that have not led to anything more.  As far as I’ve advanced emotionally over the years I’ve been writing this blog, I still feel down when this happens — indeed, even more as the big four-oh approaches in the autumn, and I wonder if I should even bother trying after that point (since I’m so shallow that I won’t ever be happy “settling” for an older woman, except maybe Courtney Cox in Cougar Town).  After all, it’s not just women who face ageism in the dating game… maybe I should use some of my newfound wealth to see my dating coach again, for the first time in three years?

Mind you, my gloom is nothing compared to that of “best mate”, whose car (to which we always refer as a name similar to “Batmobile”) conked out while he was on the M6, driving back after visiting his family in Ireland over Christmas.  He’s in a bad way now, as not only was the journey back to London horrendous (he nearly needed a third tow truck to get his car all the way!), but there’s every possibility he’ll need to buy a new vee-hickle, and while he can afford to do that, it’d cut into the money he’s saving to become a homeowner.

(Maybe I shouldn’t tell him I dreamed last night that we’d been driving up a hill when he’d hit-and-run a pedestrian, and I had to convince him to turn around and go back…)

Even if he does pay for a new car, he still might end up getting his own place sooner than I thought (with family help), which would leave us with the prospect of needing to find TWO new housemates this year, neither for desireable rooms (his is always cold, while the former drummer’s is a box room).  It’d be like late 2011 to early 2012 again, as I might have to find somewhere else entirely to live — and I doubt somewhere even further away from the centre would be cheaper, or even warmer!

And, just to rub salt into the wound, he’s considering Greenford — a miserable dump that I would call “a wide spot on the Central Line” (easily the worst Tube line, except maybe for the Bakerloo) after personally experiencing it in September and October 2014, as you guys may remember ($DEITY knows, I’ve tried to forget!).  Am I going to lose touch with him, like I lost touch with “good housemate” (who I’ve barely spoken to in years)?  At best, will it be like when he lived in Willesden and had to drive over here when we went to the cinema or otherwise hung out?

Remember in 2012 when I posted about “potholes on the road to happiness”?

Never mind 2015 or 2016, this really seems to be the long-awaited rerun of 2012: I’m getting mo’ money at work (albeit this time permanently, instead of for helping to cover maternity leave), but potentially losing a close friend from my household and facing upheaval.  Believe it or not, it happened in 2007 as well: I went up in the world (from Scale 2 to Scale 4 during one of Camden’s endless reorganisations), but it was a bitter consolation after “female best friend” moved out, having never really settled into that pad on Caledonian Road.  At least she stayed local until she went to Sheffield in late 2008… but it was hard to get to see her after that, and of course then she met her future husband, and I felt like there was no place for me in her life any more…

(And worst of all, we never got to watch the second season of Space Battleship Yamato together!)

Am I now discovering a five-year, or even ten-year cycle in my life (major life changes), to go with the four-year (specific events) and three-year (emotional states) cycles I noticed before?  Or am I just down because it’s a dismal, cold January, and that’s getting everyone else down as well?  Will this be “my” year, or is the money just a consolation before I get fired?  Will I go through the worst “girl troubles” of all time, the final end of my futile efforts to get laid, or will I have another chance with an American girl (like the one I never even met face-to-face in mid-2012), and this time actually get it right because of all the confidence (and muscles) I’ve built up?

Yeah, I know I said I wouldn’t do these “then and now” attempts to figure out mystical cycles any more, but hey, it gives me something to post about here, doesn’t it…

Eight days a week

spare_tyre

Consider this a combination of my “Sisyphus” and “Beavis and Butt-head fixing computer” images

By the end of tomorrow I’ll have worked seven days in a row, and the only reason it’s not more is that I took last Wednesday off to let British Gas in yet again (I’m not naming and shaming this time, as they’ve replaced my radiatior with one that actually heats my room now).  It’s thus entirely possible that mah jerrrb is taking over mah life, and the next stage might be for my boss to buy me a phone, so they can contact me any time they like…

I was always planning to go into work on Saturday in order to help one of my learned colleagues upgrade a server; this, however, was postponed indefinitely due to the fact that the server in question is too old and can’t be guaranteed to work with Windows Server 2012.  We were also having problems with our website, but my other learned colleague (the one I think of as senpai in Japanese terms, even though he’s a black Londoner, with no Far Eastern blood) didn’t need my assistance with that, and so I went home early, content that I’d have a bit of extra money from the overtime, and watched Scarface properly for the first time (a Blu-ray target of opportunity).

So imagine my surprise when I got a call from senpai on Sunday, asking me (and one other) to come in to help with the website, at double-time!  We didn’t get everything done on the day, but I helped restore sidebar navigation and replace broken URLs with working ones where I could… over about eight-and-a-half hours (so I’ll have no trouble paying for my mother and grandmother’s Christmas presents this year).  And then on Monday and Tuesday (today), I did more of the same — but this time, in conjunction with my normal weekday computer-fixing, printer-toner-replacing, backup-tape-swapping, PDF-default-program-resetting, crashed-mobile-phone-battery-taking-out-and-putting-in tasks!

I like to think I’m making myself indispensable (again), as not only have I helped with a lot of the donkey work in restoring the website, I’ve also learned how to sort out these kinds of problems in the future as they come in, and thus can take some of the strain off my colleagues.  Unfortunately I also learned some home truths this weekend: my other, other learned colleague (I have the three of them in a group called “Dorks” in my phone list) really doesn’t like or respect our boss, and is hoping to move on as soon as possible!  If it does come to pass, my hope is to learn as much about Citrix from him as I can before he leaves (a process already begun), and thus take on those duties as well — but would the pay rise compensate for the additional out-of-hours duties, and the inevitable stress and disruption to my (ahem) social life…?

At least I’ve sorted out (to much acclaim) the problem that was causing Word on certain people’s PCs to crash during Group Policy updates (as I thought, it was the printer refreshing), and thus cleared out some lingering tickets from my queue.  However, in the current website crisis, more than ever, I’ve noticed the tendency for two tickets to come in for every one ticket I close (hence the Sisyphus vibe in the image above) — and people still hold out a forlorn hope that we can press a button to restore the website fully, when in fact we (and they) have to go through what we currently have and manually fix the sidebars and links.  There’s no quick fix, especially considering we’re not sure why the website went wrong in the first place, and that it won’t happen again and undo all our work!

(But don’t tell anyone who I work for, okay?  It’s a good company, and I don’t want to bring dishonour upon them just because I wanted something work-related to talk about in my little-read blog!)

My other general life issues are mostly getting cleared up, and things are going well just before the end of a bad year: for one thing, the reason I won’t end up working eight days in a row (despite the Beatles-inspired title of this blog post) is that I’ve booked Thursday off work, and will thus be able to box with my personal trainer (the last time I see him this year), and go to Winter Wonderland with “best mate” when he’s back from Wales!  I’ve also received a load of Transformers-related presents from my old friend in Michigan (hopefully I can get him something through Amazon USA, and thus have it delivered before Christmas), and best of all, as I said before, my room’s tolerably warm now thanks to my new radiator (and the mild weather), so I’m more content to stay in this house a bit longer.

In addition, I’ve fixed that Reliability History-trashing wmiprvse.exe startup crash on my PC I mentioned previously: it’s 99% sure to have been Samsung Magician (which monitors the SSD I’ve had as my Windows drive since 2013), as stopping it auto-starting has ended the issue at a stroke!  Possibly it wasn’t contacting the Internet properly, thanks to the modified hosts file I use to block advertising and resist data harvesting, but there’s no way I’d stop doing that.  So there you go — even if I can’t fix everything at work, I’m still master of my own PC’s destiny… and I’m building one for my mother as well, using my old processor!

(Damn, still need a low-profile CPU heatsink/fan that’ll fit in the box, but the only half-decent ones that might actually work are sold by Amazon USA… gah!)

We’ve also got a new housemate, who’s settling in nicely, and our landlady’s forgiven me for questioning the 10% rent rise and isn’t suggesting I move out — which is good, because where the hell would I go, my family home in Worthing?!  Commuting from there to Oxford Circus would take two hours at the best of times, and Southern have ensured these are far, far worse times than ever (my mother’s still calling them “snivelling wretches” after one single visit to London during the summer!).  The landlady’s proxy (my former-drummer-turned-trucker housemate) is also moving out next year, and I’ll likely take on the duty of liaising with Virgin Media in order to manage our Internet connection — which I’ll do with an iron fist (and a MAC whitelist)!

Boy, I’m really getting into this IT career thing, aren’t I… and it’s only taken six years, two nervous breakdowns, one self-finding visit to the western USA, and more money than I’ve earned thus far! I don’t know how far down the rabbit hole I can bear to go: if they buy me a work phone, I have an idea (from how frequently I hear senpai‘s work phone buzzing as he gets a message, even on a quiet day) of just how much work I’d be burdened with, even when I’m supposed to be on leave.

But considering how low I was this time in 2011, we can say that at least I’ve left behind the “dark night of the soul”, and found instead… a hard day’s night?

(And I’ve been working like a Scumdog!  See, I’m still more a fan of Gwar than the Beatles…)

It’s a dirty job…

Gorged on guts, gouged-out eyes
Captives fill the breeding hive
Desecrate their sovereign world
Bloated, bloody, drunken churl
Cultures crumble, races die
Stench of midgets fills the sky
Smashing skulls with ghastly crunch
Pretty soon we’ll break for lunch!
—Gwar, “The Obliteration of Flab Quarv 7” (This Toilet Earth)

ygdwygdNow that the crisis I was facing has passed, it’s time, finally, for me to talk about my job — the true beginning of my IT career, and how I nearly lost it all…

My average day starts badly, due to it being the damn winter; it’s hard getting up in the cold and dark, and even harder trying to make lunch as well as breakfast, but mostly I manage at least the latter, and set off just after 8am, turning off Chris Evans’ breakfast show on the radio and walking or running (depending on the exact time) to Finchley Central Tube station.  I’m wise enough to know the times that near-empty Northern Line trains come down from Mill Hill East, and time my arrival so I can get a seat on a train that’ll take the Charing Cross branch.  I settle down to watch the first half of an episode of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman on my smartphone, pausing this and putting on music (be it classical, Gwar or recently-bought) in my Bluetooth headphones as we get close to Warren Street station, from which I walk across to the Marylebone area (via Fitzroy Square, with the BT Tower, er, towering above), petting any dogs I encounter.

(On a bad day I get off at Goodge Street station, which clearly was not designed to be a destination for commuters — it can take five minutes just to get into a lift to the surface, and walking up 136 stairs is no picnic either!  And on a really bad day, I have to change to the Victoria Line at Euston… ecch!)

Turning off my music and clipping my ID card to a belt loop on the side of my jeans, I go up to my office, turn on my PC, have a drink of water, and see what IT support tickets we’ve got to start the day with, passing on any to do with the members’ database or the website to the appropriate people, and seeing what I can resolve out of what’s left.  My tasks for the day can range from simple things like replacing printer toner, troubleshooting Outlook or network drives, through to helping home workers with Citrix issues, in between which I’m also working on preparing computers and laptops for people to use, perhaps in offices in other countries of the United Kingdom.  My team support me as I support them (despite some bad jokes and playful mockery!), and I get on with just about everyone in the organisation, knowing some by sight and others by where they sit, but always trying to help.

Since I run around the building, up and down stairs (though I try to use the lift if I’m traversing more than one floor, sometimes it’s just quicker to use my legs instead), I get hungry and tired, usually buying lunch at Pret A Manger (it being a posh enough part of London that there’s one on every street instead of a Subway) and eating over a Stephen King novel, and, until recently, making myself a couple of mochas every day.  I’ve had to stop the latter, however, because as my workplace is an association of health professionals, they can’t be seen to make chocolate or sugar too “available”, and thus I seldom make myself caffeinated drinks, since I don’t like coffee on its own.  This is a shame, as the coffee-making machine in our office always made me think of a Gwar track, “The Issue of Tissue (Spacecake)”, from the same album as this post’s opening quote.

(And just to complete the trifecta, the name of my employer is a three-letter abbreviation very similar to the title of the most controversial song on that album… no, don’t look it up on YouTube, I’ll get in trouble!)

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Duuun-da-da-dun-dun-GATCHAMAN!

At the end of the working day, usually I go straight across to Goodge Street station and try to get a seat on the Northern Line home so I can watch the second half of the day’s Gatchaman episode (the mid-episode ad break buffer music makes me realise I’m on my way home), though often I have to stand as far as Archway, thanks to all the selfish people — gasp — using public transport at the same time as me, and not giving up their seat!  On these occasions I stand there listening to Gwar, and find myself sincerely hoping people are offended by the noise leaking from my headphones — well, hey, Gatchaman is quieter, so maybe if I could sit down…?

I still go to social events now and then, and on these occasions I walk to a nearby Nando’s or Ed’s to get dinner, and perhaps then visit the shops on Tottenham Court Road before heading off to the event.  Sadly my yoga teacher has left the country, but I still go to salsa classes in Old Street, or climbing or seeing my personal trainer at the Castle, and sometimes I even meet a girl for a date.  One way or another, however, I come back here, either to make and eat dinner over post-2005 Doctor Who or Torchwood (or anything else I’m watching religiously at the time) and then play video games, or if I’m back late, just shower, write in my diary (and possibly this), watch Family Guy and/or American Dad! (at least until BBC3 goes off the air), and finally go to bed and read classic Judge Dredd comics until I’m tired enough to sleep, hopefully before 1am…

You probably don’t think this sounds much like a decadent playboy lifestyle, but it’s kept me happy over the past few months — more so than when I worked for Camden and only really enjoyed my life outside work (and then only once I started going to Meetup.com events).  However, I came close to blowing it: four weeks ago my IT manager took me aside and spoke sternly to me, telling me I’d had numerous complaints against me (including from the chief executive), and that perhaps customer service wasn’t really for me, the technical side of my job being something “anyone can do”.  She also thought I was condescending to people without necessarily realising it, “huffing and puffing” when asked to do things, and making users feel I didn’t know what I was doing, but said I had two weeks to sort myself out…

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Not me, apparently (or at least not in January)

Naturally, this tete-a-tete left me shocked, as although I know I’ve made a few mistakes in my interactions (the trigger seems to have been an incident that week where I asked the nice lady in the office services team to resend an e-mail to helpdesk with the description of the problem in the body rather than the subject), I’ve never really felt impatient or snappy with people, especially compared to my time at Camden, and honestly thought I was succeeding as the “face” of my team.  It completely blindsided me, and I spent the following three weeks (yes, I know she said two, but still) wondering if I’d have a job by the second week of February…

Fortunately, my follow-up chat on Monday confirmed that I’d been doing a hell of a lot better, earning no further complaints; my boss said I’d “turned it around”, and that she knew how hard I work every day (even if a lot of it is just elbow grease).  Thus, I no longer fear for my job, or indeed that my entire career in IT has stalled before it’s even begun; obviously I won’t let myself get complacent again, thinking they can’t possibly fire me (though part of me wonders whether my boss was facing a rebellion from the team and chose the path of least resistance), and will continue to be scrupulously nice to our users, while also (it has to be said) lying to them to cover up any more serious issues we might have.

This week I’ve felt an awful lot better about my life, back to my old self — or further indeed, as I’m acting more confidently at work, making hardware-related decisions (with proper confirmation where necessary) instead of deferring everything, and resolving many problems with help from behind the scenes.  One member of my team has been a real mentor throughout my time with the organisation, to the point that I would call him senpai… but since he’s away for a few days (he has a family, unlike decadent playboy Dave-ros here), I’m once again the main person in IT that the users initially speak to when they have problems — so I’m back to being the redoubtable “face” of the helpdesk.  And with the boss away during the half-term holiday, and the loudmouth joker of the team also off today, one might describe my Friday as almost blissful…

(Now if only my love life could follow the same improvement, instead of setback after setback — but that’s a story for another time, inevitably!)

What a difference ten years make

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2005 was also the first time I really got into horror films, like “Hellraiser”… yes m’lud, that’s why I chose this image!

I know I shouldn’t keep looking back, but too bad, here’s another “then and now” post, somewhere between my last one and my next (planned) one.  I’ve been through a lot this year, and now that things are picking up, it’s interesting to see how much improvement there’s been.

Anyway: ten years ago (2005, in case you’re reading this years after I’ve written it), I was living in the Wood Green area with two of my Astrophysics classmates (the people I now refer to as “good housemate” and “female best friend”), an Irishman born on the same day of the same year as me, and the latter’s live-in Australian girlfriend.  In September I started a temp job at Camden council that would ultimately lead to me becoming permanent there for almost exactly eight years; this followed admin work earlier in the year in an office where I was underused but got on well with my cheerful colleagues.

And now look where I am: living with an Irishman and three others (two of them female and the other a wacky guy who mocks me for being a vegetarian), commuting to work on the Tube, watching the Japanese anime Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (but getting rather further than I did when I only had the first 36 episodes) and doing a job that started out temporary (and quite stressful for that reason) but which has now become permanent.  The differences, of course, are that my Irish housemate is rather more cheerful and less irritable than your man from 2005, that my job is what I want to be doing rather than just something to pay the bills, and that (apart from the occasional issue) my morning commute is bearable… dare I say, almost enjoyable?

(And for your information, sometimes I get the Victoria and Piccadilly Lines to the Castle after work — almost the same journey as my homeward commutes in 2005-6 — and the service hasn’t improved on either line!  If anything, it’s even worse…)

Moreover, I’m still in touch with the nice ladies at the admin job I did earlier this year to tide me over; I think I sorted my head out there a lot more than I did at Haringey council in 2005, and in all probability owe them my life… so I’m having lunch with them on Friday (when, shock horror, I’ll be taking a half-day from my job!).  I spent far less time unemployed this year between the two jobs than I did back in 2005, when “female best friend” had to swing something for me at her workplace for a few days, and I got fired from an audio-typing job at a hospital because the obnoxious lady in charge took a personal dislike to me!

Another improvement on 2005 began this weekend: I’m watching Doctor Who.  No, not the new Peter Capaldi episodes… well, yes, I am watching those, but that’s not the remarkable thing — I’ve begun rewatching the first series of the show’s revival, with Chris Eccleston as the Doctor, and I’m enjoying it a lot more than I did back in 2005!  I didn’t like him back then as I found him too uncouth and “northern” (but not Scottish like Sylvester McCoy), and the fact that he ditched the role after the first episode was broadcast didn’t endear him to me; I also didn’t like the show going to a 45-minute episodic format instead of the weekly 25-minute episodes that built into serials, as it seemed like dumbing down.

Now, however, I find I actually like the episodic format (hey, Star Trek did the same and I never complained about that!), instead of being all “they changed it, now it sucks!” — and I like Eccleston’s portrayal, perhaps because his impish grin and sticky-out ears remind me of my good friend, the yoga teacher who’s helped me feel more spiritual the past couple of years (his is the Meetup.com group I’ve attended by far the most).  It’s a shame he only lasted one season and then turned his back on the show entirely, even refusing guest appearances…

(And yes, I watched the Paul McGann TV movie first — and yes, I do wonder if his claim to be “half-human on his mother’s side” is in any way significant regarding last week’s Capaldi episode…)

Ten years is a nice round number, and it’s also significant to me somehow: I keep saying I feel way younger than the 38 years my birth certificate claims I have (I don’t doubt it, I have memories of the early 1980s — including, yes, Doctor Who).  I sometimes feel like I lost ten years of my life (three in 2000-3 living in Worthing with my folks, and seven in 2005-11 existing but not really feeling), so it’s not entirely delusional for me to claim to be 28; it seems like a more appropriate age for me to be, considering my emotional maturity level.  Also note how physically fit I am now that I eat well and exercise regularly, instead of sitting home each and every night (I wasn’t even going to Japanese night classes back then).

Yeah, maybe I’d really like to be 18, but only because then no-one would object if I tried to sleep around with college girls…