I’m from the Gas Board

February 24th, 2009 § 9 comments § permalink

Duchess has posted a very funny tale about her experience of waiting for the Gas company to deliver and wire up a cooker (that’s a stove for our North American friends). It brought back such memories of my eleven years working with the Dublin Gas Company—which qualify me, by the way, to confirm that every word Duchess wrote and the guys from Monty Python acted out, are gospel truth.

I started working with the Gas Company as PA to the Chief Executive, who had been brought in from outside to try and drag the company, kicking and screaming, into the 20th century. It was a condition of my appointment that I was not allowed to join one of the company’s unions, because I would skew their productivity payout or something. Nothing could have suited me more; while it meant I would not get paid for overtime, it also meant that some tinpot little dictator of shop steward could not tell me when and if I could work. Don’t get me wrong; on the whole, I think unions are a good thing, especially when a union rep is all that stands between a conscientious employee and a bullying middle manager or supervisor. But the Gas Company unions were a special case.

First of all, there were thirteen of them. Seriously, thirteen unions for one company employing around 1,200 people. There was the major union, to which about 75% of the employees belonged; another middling-sized one, which was always trying to poach members from the big guy. Then there were the other eleven, the so-called craft unions, which represented the electricians and plumbers and carpenters—anybody who was not a gas fitter or a clerical worker. Some of these unions had only five or six members, and they were the most bolshie of the lot. If anyone above the rank of assistant to the assistant of an assistant supervisor looked sideways at one of them, a picket would be thrown up and the whole place would go out on strike. I nearly caused a general strike myself when someone passed by my office and saw me standing on a chair to screw in a light bulb. Apparently that was the sacred duty of one of the craft union members. Actually that would be two members—one to hold the ladder and another to screw in the bulb. Where do you think the “how many [blanks] to screw in a lightbulb” jokes came from?

Over the course of time, I moved on from my job as PA, first to become Press Officer, and then, just to get away from the arse for whom I worked, as Consumer Service Manager. Since the Gas Company was in the throes of switching over from towns gas to natural gas at the time, it would be, our public relations consultant said as he tried to talk me out of taking the job, like working as deck-chair attendant on the Titanic. He was wrong; iceberg wrangler on the Titanic would have been a doddle compared to my new job. You would not believe the abuse I and my poor secretary had to take, day after day, week after week, as the conversion slowly wound on its way. There were sacks full of letters, screaming phone calls, and people turning up in person, foaming at the mouth with rage.

In the end, we survived, as did the Gas Company—but only just. The company ended up being nationalized and I took a rich redundancy package which eventually paid my way to Canada. But thereby hangs another tale. Out of all the sturm und drang of my brief sojourn in the trenches, I took away with me one, glorious letter that I received from an irate gas consumer—one who actually had a sense of humour. I have it still and would like to share it with you. It reads thus:

Dear Ms Ryan: It is now some time since I had a series of quite pleasant conversations with your secretary. I am the chap who originally wrote to you objecting to the literary standards of your company’s correspondence, incidentally. The upshot of this has been that I am no longer bothered by occasional letters from New Dublin Gas (In Receivership) telling me that the part(s) needed to repair my heater which was, in fact, banjaxed by the men who were attempting to convert it (book in one hand and scimitar in the other, like the muslims of old), that these parts were temporarily out of stock and every effort was being made to expedite their delivery – in short I haven’t heard from you all in a long time. Are you all right?

Was it something I said? Are you trying to find or invent a word indicating a longer time than ‘temporarily’ or a somewhat more leisurely process than ‘expedite’? Is everyone off on an adult literacy course?

My jury-rigged heater watches with apprehension as the evenings grow longer and the howling of the first timber wolves of autumn is heard on the evening air. Will it be able to cope with the coming winter? Will a kind man from New Dublin Gas (In Receivership) ever arrive, like sleeping beauty’s prince, to fill the aching hole in its entrails with a new thermostat? And what of Ms Tessa Ryan – has she been overwhelmed by the sheer weight of her responsibility (a job combining the logistics of Horatio on the Bridge with the corporate image of a herpes virus)? Do let us know! My heater and I are eagerly awaiting the next episode. It’s so much cheaper than renting a TV.

Best wishes.

You may bet your bippy that he had a brand, spanking-new heater on his doorstep in the shake of a duck’s tail! At absolutely no cost to him.

Stop the world; I want to get off.

February 23rd, 2009 § 9 comments § permalink

The kids are alright

February 18th, 2009 § 6 comments § permalink

The above video was submitted by a kid in his 20s for an AARP contest, U@50, and came in second. It’s simple, yet striking.

Since these are our kids, it would be quite an indictment of us if they are indeed a “lost generation.” As the mother of a 25-year old, I have to say that I’m awed by him and his friends. At that age, I was a slacker in a dead end job, thought I was nature’s gift to humanity, and had a very high (and completely false) opinion of my own intelligence. It took impending motherhood to get me off my arse, when I was well into my 30s. If I had had his work ethic, intelligence, and creativity right out of the starting gate, who knows what I might have accomplished by now?

Margaret and Helen

February 17th, 2009 § 2 comments § permalink

Thanks to Ruth Pennebaker, over at The Fabulous Geezersisters, I’ve become enamoured of the Margaret and Helen blog.

Judging by the hundreds of comments on each post, they seem to be causing quite a stir in the blogosphere. Like Ruth, I strongly suspect this is not really written by two octogenarian ladies who’ve been pals for 60 years. (Shades of that “I’m in love with my best friend” blog that sucked a lot of people in last year, and turned out to be the genesis of a book.) But I don’t care; it is hilarious. And, as you might expect, I just LOVE what they have to say about She Who Must Never Be Mentioned again on my blog.

Perky? Me? Pass the pills.

February 12th, 2009 § 11 comments § permalink

Screamingly funny rag by Onion on those regular CNN fillers on the latest medical so-called breakthrough. A friend and I had a good old chinwag recently about the revolting way in which pharmaceutical companies invent diseases to sell their latest pills and then build advertising campaigns around them. You know the ones: “Don’t let embarrassing foot odour come between you and that dream job. Talk to your doctor about Toejam-B-Gone, the exciting NEW remedy for excessively sweaty feet!”

Looking back, I reckon it all started with Lifeboy Soap. According to Wikipedia, the makers of the soap actually coined the phrase “body odor” in order to sell their crappy product—which, if memory serves, smelled like carbolic soap and, if anything, made its users, usually young men, smell even ranker than usual—which was saying plenty, in 1970s Ireland!

The biggest of Big Pharm’s scams, to my mind, is the annual ‘flu scare, which, here in Canada where we have universal free health care, means that provincial governments are spending billions every year to buy doses of anti-flu concoctions that are made up by guess and by golly to cope with a possible epidemic. Most people get the ‘flu maybe once or twice in their lifetime; half the time, what we call the “stomach ‘flu” is just a bellyache caused by some random bug or food-borne pathogen, while a bad cold is usually responsible for the rest of it. If you have ever had the ‘flu, you will know there is no mistaking it—you feel like death, every bone, muscle, and sinew in your body hurts like hell, and there is no crap about nobly making it into work or to the kitchen to feed your family. All you want is to curl up in a ball somewhere and quietly die. Which most of us don’t; we eventually get over it and get on with life. A very small, really miniscule, percentage do actually die—mostly the very elderly or those whose immune systems are compromised for some other reason. It’s sad when that happens—but is that a good reason for all of us to be lining up like sheep to be shot full of some wacky antidote made up of past ‘flu viruses for some epidemic that might never happen?

But every year it’s the same—the government spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on print and television advertising, trying to scare us into trekking down to the nearest community centre or clinic in order to get our ‘flu shots—for which we, the taxpayer, have paid big bucks to Big Pharm.

I have never had a ‘flu shot and never will—but then I’m descended from an oul’ virago who survived not one but two episodes of the dreaded Spanish Flu. That would be my maternal grandmother, who was such a fearsome old bitch that even an epidemic that wiped out an estimated 100 million people worldwide couldn’t faze her.

Hullo?!?!

February 11th, 2009 § 4 comments § permalink

For Moi?

February 7th, 2009 § 9 comments § permalink

superior_scribbler_award-1.jpg superior_scribbler_award-1.jpg

This is what happens when you turn your back for a few days … people sneak up and lob stuff your way while you’re not looking. Maybe it’s a case of absence making the heart grow fonder? While I’ve been going through a bit of a blogging funk—a mixture of work piling up, becoming addicted to Twitter, and blogger’s block—both Kate and Thistle, bless their little bedsocks, sent me the above Superior Scribbler award. It was created by The Scholastic Scribe, with the rubric

“Diverting the internal traffic between the Writer as Angel of Light and the Writer as Hustler
is the scribbling child in a grown-up body, wondering if anyone is listening.”
~Herbert Gold, Elder Statesman of The Beat Generation~

As always, with greatness come obligations, and, according to the rules, I have to pass the award on to five other bloggers. Since I have been given the award twice, I should pass it on to ten other bloggers, right? And, since I received them from bloggers on both sides of the Atlantic, perhaps I should divvy them up accordingly.

As my blogroll indicates, in recent months I’ve become enamoured of a number of European bloggers, most of them Irish or ex-patriate Irish. The attraction is partly because they remind me of home which, thoroughly transplanted Canuck though I am by now, I still miss terribly sometimes. The other reason is that I find them really, really funny—and that definitely is an Irish thing, because they are obscene, rude, and foul-mouthed in the extreme. If you have ever spent more than ten minutes on a Irish bus or in an Irish pub, you will know that, while we Irish may indeed be gifted with the gab, we are also very, very rude! For a nation that is largely educated by priests and nuns, I’m guessing that cursing is a way of kicking against the pricks—and the fact that the equally priest-ridden Spaniards and Italians are also pretty inventive with curse words probably bears me out.

I should add that, because the following are all Irish, that means they are also an ungrateful bunch of bastards and are quite likely to tell me to take my award and stick it where the sun don’t shine. But that, too, is part of their Irish charm.

  • The Spanish Exposition
  • Chancing My Arm
  • C’est la Craic
  • Bock the Robber
  • Arse End of Ireland
  • For my second Superior Scribbler Award, I choose the following:

  • The Other Side of Sixty (Technically, Wisewebwoman is also Irish, but she’s a transplanted Canuck like myself, and that’s what counts. Besides, it’s my party …)
  • Midlife Slices
  • 20th Century Woman
  • Dante and the Lobster
  • Slightly Off-center
  • If it seems that there might be a slight bias towards female bloggers in the latter list, you are right. While there are a few male bloggers on this side of the Atlantic that I really like—John at Running After My Hat, Alan at A Round World through Square Glasses, and Norm at Mostly Anecdotal come immediately to mind—it is true that most of the North American bloggers in my blogroll are women, while it’s a 50/50 male/female mix among the European bloggers. And I have absolutely no idea why that should be so.

    Thanks again, Kate and Thistle, for shifting the blogger’s block. I’m b-a-a-a-ck!

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