Sunday, 31 March 2013

Easter Parade

Easter Weekend in the UK is something of a set piece event that it isn't in the US.

The kids are off school for two weeks but Good Friday and Easter Monday are the first of the country's see piece holiday weekends, public holidays that is - despite greater religiosity in the US than here, it doesn't stretch to a four day weekend for the majority of the population.

We have had a busy and enjoyable one. Vince went over to his cousin Claudias house and became the first other driver of her red racecar, which he proceeded to throw around the cul de sac like he was Dale Earnhardt Jnr, with his young accomplice laughing all the way. He has really bonded with her and they are more like brother and sister than cousins.  Speed was a theme for the day as we went onto the Redcar Bears speedway teams press and practice day.  I was a little concerned about Vince being near the intoxicating mix of kerosene, shale and noise but he loved it. He also got his picture taken with former World Champion Gary Havelock.

Sunday was more sedate if just as cold. I managed to get my run in, eight miles today down to the newish Infinity Bridge over the Tees in Stockton and back  I used to look at the new flats and buildings rising on the other side of the river from The Waterfront's terrace bar thinking it was a fad but I've got to eat my words. The development has really taken off and is a pleasure to run by the river on a weekend. 

We organised a mini Easter Egg hunt for Vince in the back garden where he tracked down five hard boiled eggs that spelled out his name before he got onto riding on his new bike and use my mum's Snow White and the  7 Dwarves statues in the garden for target practice with his sucker gun accessory. 

Not quite been back a month yet but for me and Vince especially, it's starting to feel a little like home again.

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Kafka is alive, well & keeping you on hold

666 isn't the number of the beast. It's 0845 600 1651.

My heart goes out to anybody who has to deal with the Kafkaesque torture system of the UK's Benefit Enquiry Line. 

First of all it's on 0854 number, not 0800, so it costs you, especially if you're on a mobile or don't have a landline as many of the users will.

You have to wait at least half an hour for a human to answer your call while a condescending robot woman tells you that you could call between 8am and 9am as they are less busy then (inferring that most jobseekers aren't up by then). I should also add that your claims cannot be dealt with at any job center or online so you HAVE to use this number if you have any enquiries, questions or god forbid, need their help. 

If you are lucky enough to win the loser's lottery and get your call answered then you face a byzantine security system that Indiana Jones would swerve as being too secure for his time. I appreciate the need for security but this is what happens when you take the human element out of system design. It has trouble dealing with the possibility that you might have moved within the past 18 months. 

I failed the first time, despite it being on my specialist subject of myself, and the poor guy at the end couldn't even access his own security database to tell me what I had got wrong - it had locked him out. After another half an hour, on my second call, I got around this because they were running a pilot scheme that luckily gave him access to the questions so he could see what the answers were and give me more opportunities. 

I should add that I consider myself fairly literate and numerate and if I have this amount of trouble with this system, how the hell do some of the other jobseekers, with language, comprehension and stress issues begin to manage?

If you pay UK taxes then this matters. I guess I have high expectations. Spending four years in a country with mainly efficient, pleasant customer service operations that aim to solve the customers problems will do that. 

Monday, 18 March 2013

How Refreshing...

So back home with contacts to make, work to find and also new friends to make - preferably who 'get' what I do, especially with Social Media, and unlike the guys in the Job Center, don't think it's something to do with computers. 

Refresh Teesside is a group that I began following when I was in Atlanta, and is a young, hip, group of creative gunslingers dedicated to improving the lot of their business on Teesside, helping each other out and generally having a good time in the process. So completely unsuitable for me.

With that in mind, what else is there to do on a rainy Thursday in Middlesbrough when the Speedway isn't on?  They meet at Sassari's Italian Restaurant on dear old Linthorpe Road and at first I wasn't sure I had found the right place - Linthorpe Road having undergone a facelift since my last visit some four years previously.  I did spot a large crowd of young people wearing expensive glasses, smoking outside so correctly realised this was the place. 

I'd spoken to James and Chris, the brains behind the operation, who were charming, friendly and intrigued to hear from me, even more so when I volunteered to give a five-minute quick-fire talk on my social media time in the ATL at the meeting.   It served a useful purpose for me too - as well as keeping my presenting and networking skills sharp, it is more efficient to stand in front of a room of 100 plus fellow professionals and let them know that you know what you're talking about, rather than walk round the room, meeting everyone individually!

It went really well, despite totally overrunning and the laptop not playing my first Vine video (see above) - I made a lot of new friends, got a lot of Twitter love and more importantly, will be allowed to come again. 

Despite being a solo-operator, actually meeting people, talking to them, swapping war stories and passing on any hard-won experience you may have is an undervalued and essential part of being a Social Media professional. The clue is in the job title. We had a Social Media Club at Kennesaw State, our own little haven from the outside world where we could meet and bleat about the demands and misunderstandings and assumptions of our trade and that's what Refresh Teesside feels like - a welcoming, new media clubhouse. 

I usually veer away from organisations and societies that will have me as a member but like Teesside and my career/life trajectory - I've changed. And it's welcome. 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Snow Job

We woke to a light covering of snow this morning to greet Vins first day of school in England.  Of course, Atlanta had just seen balmy barbecue weather which all of my US friends simply had to tell me about.  Vince takes a lot in his stride so snow was not the big deal I thought it might of been for him.   Wrapped up in his duffle coat and grey uniform, he looked the epitome of the English schoolboy on his way to prep or morning chapel.  I knew there was nothing waiting for him at school that he hadn't come across before and couldn't handle.

Sadly I couldn't quite say so for myself. I had an afternoon trip into Stockton to revisit a former nemesis from my own past - the Job Centre.  Viewing it with equal  parts pity, ridicule and contempt, the Job Centre in Stockton is one of those rare success stories, although only in that business is booming.  I arrived before my allotted appointment time and joined a queue that was already snaking out of the door into snowstorm brewing outside.  I had an appointment to claim jobseekers allowance and intended to if nothing more than to help b my forthcoming odyssey of interviews across the north of England.  The place had certainly been given a lick of paint since my last appearances over a decade ago, although the still deathly air of quiet and not so quiet desperation hung around this abattoir of ambition. They have several floors of the building dedicated to people coming back to sign on for their jobseekers allowance or dole payments but only one downstairs to aid and advise people it appeared. It was also sending the usual contradictory messages to the clients. Informing them that they are now on twitter but also warning that use of mobile phones was prohibited under the data protection act and offenders would be asked me leave.

 My interview went quite well, at least better than some of the other loud discussions taking place nearby. I don't think I hurt my impression by dressing up a little and wearing a tie, although if i had wanted to blend in then jogging pants, hi tops and baseball caps was the order of the day. It's odd but despite only being in Stockton a week it's like competing trade delegations from Mumbai and College Park, Atlanta, have both arrived simultaneously and let their delegates out to wander the streets and impress their sartorial style upon the brave locals who ventured outside in the swirling blizzard. I got on quite well with my advisor, I guess because I was polite, prepared and not swearing or threatening her, and after some helpful advice on which jobsites and newspapers I should consult for positions, was granted jobseeker status. I was also spared the skills restart course, because she rightly guessed that i could download and print off documents correctly and that my literary and numeracy standards did not warrant an intervention - although its a good job there wasn't a handwriting component. I return later this week, then fortnightly to continue to sign on and fill my little jobseeking workbook with details of positions I am applying for and progress being made but I truly hope this is temporary.

When I was younger and gainfully employed, I used to revel in the tales of claimants waving to their restart offices from the beer garden of the pub overlooked by the job center and pointing to their empty glasses if they were late signing on, or the urban legends of a certain local pub that used to trade 50 pints for a giro (unemployment check) under the counter but within plain sight. No, this current passage is a bit close to home, good cheer and encouragement was in as short supply as the warmth and I hurried out, knowing that bad luck, like flu, is a communicable disease, prepared to take my chances in the snow.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Dispatches from the home front

Welcome to the first Blessay from Britannia - being a collection and journal of the adventures of Mr Guy Bailey back home in his native British Isles after four years abroad in them there United States.

We set off from the gleaming newness of Atlanta's international terminal for our night flight to Amsterdam.  After bidding a tearful farewell for us all to Stacey, who will hopefully follow in a couple of months when we can sort out her Visa.

The flight was one of the better ones we've had, as we both managed to get some sleep. We got to Amsterdam flying low over the gleaming, post-ironic metal offshore windfarms, and the city's famous canal network to my favourite airport in the world.  Clean, efficient, well signposted and with great transport links to and from its home city. An example to all present and future designers.

Vincent always makes a beeline for his own personal marker here, the McDonalds, but as it was lunch and we were there for a couple of hours, I acquiesced. They went quickly enough and we began the last leg of our journey home.  Always delighted when the cabin crew refer to Teesside as opposed to the corporate bastardisation that is Durham/Tees Valley, I spotted another good omen. A feature in the in flight magazine on reimagined album covers had a couple from my old school friend Huw Gwilliam aka @littlepixel. In the same way that a path you are not meant to follow becomes more obstacle strewn and arduous, so a desired one becomes more favourable with positive milestones, physical and literal to illustrate it.

Met by a delighted mum and my auntie Irene, we finally arrived home after 16 hours on the road, ready for sleep.

We didn't get chance to have a longer lie-in because we had an appointment with the headmaster of his new school to show us around and introduce him to English school life.  School has certainly changed in the 24 years since I left - AstroTurf play areas, interactive touchscreens and music labs. Not as far removed from the university I just left.  Vince has already been given the honour of raising the American flag on July 4th after successfully identifying the Welsh flag flying to celebrate St Davids day.  We then came home via the library where Vince announced that he was going to change his name to Mr Topsy Turvey.

As well as reacclimatising to the UK, certain columns of society remain including pneumaticly rude customer service. I certainly won't go to the Doctor's health center to register at lunchtime. Oh no.

Despite struggling with the inevitable jetlag and flared up eczema reactions, I hope you'll stick around for more on vince and I's monumental journey back to the so far sunless North East of the motherland.

We'll try to make it worth your while.