In the previous two days, in narratives A New Literary Venture, and New Literary Venture – Day 2 yours truly posted the first two re-edited drafts of the first 2,500 words of a book I’d original written in 2010, but has sat unloved gathering dust for a decade….. Today, I’ve updated the next 2,200 words, forwarded in lieu of a daily blog (from which I’m currently having a hiatus):-
Standing by the dimly lit tea cupboard, Joe Keeley’s thoughts once again turned to his recently exhibited unprofessionalism with Terry and intolerance at Louise’s quirkiness which he deemed as dim as the lighting overhead.
Behaviour which plagued the forty-something emotional support volunteer. His doubts at his current suitability for this role growing with every half-witted exchange.
Concluding he wasn’t enjoying the role anymore, longed for the return of his old drive, and redemption from borderline insomnia which had taken him to a plateau of tiredness akin to existing with permanent jetlag. Consequently, he’d acquired a level of cynicism and intolerance previously unseen.
As Joe added the boiling water and milk to the tea bag, Louise got her first call of the evening and of her BEST career, greeting the woman with a affable “Hello Birtdale Emotional Support Team…. How can I help you?”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Birtdale Emotional Support Team’s office was located was in the town of Birtdale in the north of England. After all, if it’d resided in nearby borough of Ainsley Scragg it’s reasonable to assume the group of predominantly voluntary workers would represent the Ainsley Scragg Emotional Support Team (ASEST)….. But it didn’t, and it wasn’t!
Birtdale was a fairly large town that’d grown around the coal mining industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. However, since the 1980’s closure of local mines, its economy was now underpinned by service industries; employers ranging from call centres for banks and power utility companies retail outlets at on out of town shopping centre.
The Birtdale Emotional Support Team’s office itself was one of many offices that resided in an old coal mining office that stood on a fairly rundown industrial estate at the edge of town. It was an ugly 1960’s building, designed and constructed with hard lines, large rectangle metal window frames and grey cladding.
It was an edifice designed by the acclaimed architect Grenville Holmes early in that decade. To clarify, he wasn’t acclaimed for his architectural prowess; no the kudos he received was for the fact he could produce such high levels of ear wax, he’d made his fortune making and selling candles.
The candles were moulded by a Willy Wonka-esque team of midgets who worked around the clock fulfilling orders for the naturally produced and long burning candles. Unlike Wonka, though, his owner succession policy didn’t require a need for selection by golden ticket. Holmes instead merely bequeathed the business on retirement to his son Harold.
Holmes senior’s other claim to fame was that he was the man who introduced stone cladding to Birtdale in 1965. However, stone cladding wasn’t that impressed with Birtdale so made its excuses and left in 1967.
The only clue to the buildings previous existence was a faded bit of graffiti about six metres from the ground on one side of the building which claimed ‘I kicked Scargill’s Arse – Maggie Thatcher 1984’.
No one really knew how the Iron Lady had scaled the wall to write this graffiti in the 80’s. However, there were many townsfolk who’d conveyed their desire for her be suspended by noose at this height after her destruction of their towns heavy industries.
The building was certainly not the most inspiring piece of architecture, and the exterior and interior of the building was certainly in need of some tender loving care. However, the rental was cheap so directors of BEST had opted to locate here until they could secure additional funding to become tenants in more contemporary facilities.
The team of volunteers rarely complained about the decorative state of the office, or indeed the antiquated equipment and furnishings at their disposal. Their counsel held after directors promises that funding was on its way to improve their facilities.
Unless you’d no qualms about relaying misleading property sizings, the BEST offices certainly couldn’t be classed as spacious. Even renowned liar Archie Chuff, janitor of the building, admitted there wasn’t any room to swing his cat Hardwick in the nooks and crannies of the decaying chambers.
During nightshift’s the rooms were poorly lit with only two strip lights illuminated above two desks located in the centre of the room, and one above the coffee cupboard.
There were other strip lights located in a seating area, but they were not currently lit or were only providing sporadic illumination due to flickering, until switched off by an irritated Bestie…. Only generally being turned back on if Jimmy Harris’ mischief got the better of him at the conclusion of his shift.
The long white plastic casings housing the strip lights were thick of dust due to questionable cleaning practises of the cleaning company who’d secured the tender to maintain office block maintenance.
Opposite the coffee cupboard was a metal sink and draining board, encased by a 1970’s formica lament fronted kitchen cupboard below.
Inside the cupboard were the mugs used by the Besties for their brews or soup, a bottle of washing up liquid, along with a ‘Recipes for the Depressed’ cookbook. A publication containing recipes to cheer you up, or ‘comfort food’ as it’s more widely known.
Acquired from a shopping channel on cable tv, the book had been an impulse buy of team leader Eddie Tremble. One of his trademark idiosyncratic decisions, he’d decided providing comfort food recipes to depressed callers would raise their spirits. The team had never adopted this eccentric notion, though, for two reasons. One it was a shit idea, and two it was an incredibly shit idea!
On concluding her first solo call as an accredited Bestie, Louise Swailes surveyed her surroundings, scarcely believing how poor the facilities were.
The two wooden desks, which she and Joe were using, had seen better days, a bit like Joe’s battered old training shoes she thought. However, concluded it wasn’t as bad as his t-shirt which looked like it had been chewed by a goat….. A verdict partly backed by the presence of the BEST mascot goat Trevor who was stood beside the fridge eating humble pie.
Atop each desk was a personal computer, a telephone with a mirophone headset. The telephone was connected to the call management system (CMS), which routed the calls to the team member who was in a call retrieval state of ‘available’. If they were both available it could go to either team member. If both were tied up with calls the 3rd caller would be put into a queue, hearing on hold music until there was an agent available.
Due to the potential nature of the incoming calls, the on-call music had to be selected carefully. It had been mischievously suggested joked amongst the team that several artists/bands that depressed people would be keen to avoid whilst waiting for an available Bestie.
For example, it was thought including melancholic offerings from the Phil Collins’ album ‘Face Value’, or The Smith’s lead singer Morrissey’s morbid wailing would be completely inappropriate.
In the end it was decided to go with ‘Agadoo’ and/or ‘The Hokey Cokey’. Refrains which were not only upbeat party songs, but would allow callers to indulge in a little exercise whilst they waited on hold.
This call waiting strategy suggested mischievously by jester of the team Jimmy Harris. The wag advocating callers undertaking ‘The Hokey Cokey’ whilst waiting for an available member of staff painted a visually funny image.
Jimmy also joked at that same team meeting there should be an Auto Teller routing calls depending on the nature of their problem.
Examples given by Harris:-
“Dial 1 if you’re depressed”,
“, Dial 2 if you’ve been friend blocked on social media.”,
“, Dial 3 if you’re stuck in an elevator with a chartered accountant”,
“, Dial 4 if you’ve just heard someone sing ‘Old Shep’!”,
“, Dial 7 if digits 5 & 6 are missing”, and
“Dial 9 for all other queries, including why there isn’t an option 8!.”
This obviously tongue in cheek suggestion raised a lot of laughs at the meeting, however, team leader Eddie Tremble thought it inappropriate; consequently, the suggestion was put on the back burner.
Underneath each pine coloured desk were two deep drawers. The bottom one on Joe’s desk would only open if he tied a rope around the handle and could muster up a ‘tug of war’ team to pull it open.
As luck would have it, there wasn’t much within the drawer which was required on a regular basis. Not unless you wanted to read an ‘Economy 7’ heating leaflet from the 1970’s, or one several newspapers from a variety of decades.
Presenter Carol Smillie, on her tv show ‘Your House Need Not Look Shite’, would probably describe the rest of the décor in the office as minimalist. There was a battered old settee in the room corner, along with some old rotating office chairs reclaimed from one of the other companies who shared the building.
Seats acquired from this company when they upgraded their furniture a few months back. They were taken without the other company’s permission, however they’d not been overly fussed about the sudden disappearance as it saved them the cost of a skip.
Beside the chairs were a portable colour tv Joe had brought in which sat on a wooden cabinet brought in by another colleague; along with a portable cd/radio, which on this evening was tuned into the local radio station Birtdale FM.
On the dark purple walls was a noticeboard adorned with Samaritans posters, the shift rota for the next fortnight, along with various takeaway leaflets advertising exotic cuisine originally created in places as far away as India. Italy, China and Cardiff.
The takeaway leaflets were heavily patronised, in particular by those Bestie’s working nightshifts. This habit such a money spinner for local eateries that owner of the local kebab shop/pizzeria Raj gave them bespoke discounts, and even named a pizza in their honour.
The pizza in question contained a topping of cheese, tomato, various meats, chilli peppers and pineapple. Dubbed the ‘Don’t Jump Pizza’ by Raj, it’d become a big favourite amongst the team. That being said, though, this reverential act exposed Raj to some rather unwanted customer questions about the name’s origins.
The main room the Birtdale Emotional Support Team resided in was around four metres square, had two large metal frame windows typical of 1960/70’s office building which were desperately in need of a lick of paint. On the night shift the dusty metal blinds were shut, allowing privacy but, shutting out the town’s street lighting, darkened the room further.
Like BEST, many other small companies rented secured rooms in the building, which was, until the collapse of the coal mining industry in the 1980’s, formerly fully utilised as offices by the pre-privatised Coal industry.
Since then the offices had attracted these small companies, partly by the location close to the major roads in and out of Birtdale, but moreover the cheap rental resultant from the machiavellan landlord’s unwillingness to invest heavily in improving what he pimped as a “sturdy enough” building.
“If it aint broke don’t fix it!” was his maxim. When it got pointed out to him that there were plenty of things that were broken, such as window latches and toilet flushes, his response was to give them a bucket to fill with water to help flush away toilet waste.
“How does this help fix the broken window latches?” Eddie Tremble the team leader pointed out to him at the time. An enquiry receiving the mischievous reply from the landlord of “It doesn’t. However, now you can flush the toilet there’s less requirement to open the windows.”
This frugal approach to building maintenance resulted in most of the edifice’s chambers were in severe need of an upgrade. The only units/offices that could be deemed in good condition were rooms tenants had invested in refurbishment themselves.
The room where the team took customer calls was one of three rooms they’d access to. Of the other two rooms, one was a rest room with a bed and some battered old lockers, which no one used as all the keys were missing and were locked.
The rest room allowed one of the Bestie’s to rest on quiet night shifts, whilst the other took calls. It was important for people who were working as volunteers, and working in their normal job the next day, to get a chance of some slumber prior to leaving for work.
The other room contained a shower to help refresh team members if required, either before or after leaving their Samaritans shift. This room also contained the intermittently unflushable toilet, the bucket ‘kindly’ donated by the landlord, along with a high chance of Legionnaires Disease.
Team members didn’t normally work many support shifts on the trot, normally a maximum of two, which generally’d to be fit around their daily job. This meant there were a few days a month when the volunteers would potentially lose out on much shuteye.
Some volunteers worked shift rotas in their day to day job, enabling them the opportunity to fit easier their voluntary shifts around their careers.
The room with the bed and the shower room still needed a bit of updating but not to the extent of the main office. The rooms were in better decorative order and although fairly sparsely furnished ordinarily bore fresh sheets, towels and toiletries. Mind you, as it was never without a curly hair, the hygiene level of the soap was frequently in question.