Thursday, October 25, 2007

A workplace fraud with dangers

Work has found me once more. I don't like it, but I'll have to go along with it. I've found myself incarcerated in a darkened basement room of Manchester town hall this week as part of a new temporary employment arrangement with Manchester City Council. Each week will see contestants - erm, I mean me - catapulted into alien office environs on different work placements, performing menial tasks for a cash prize. At the moment I'm with the Fraud Investigation Group, transcribing taped interrogations of alleged benefit fraudsters. Naturally my pledge of confidentiality precludes me from revealing any particulars about the ongoing cases here (give me a call), but what I can say is they're scoundrels, scavengers and leeches the lot of them.

I get to listen to a succession of characters explaining - usually in their thickest Mancunian accents - exactly why they didn't consider having thousands of pounds stashed away in a bank account relevant information when filling out a benefit claim form. "I jus'... I jus' di'n't think it woh necessary yeh knoh?" Yeah, I knoh alright. This country is going to the dogs; mind you, an evening's entertainment at the local greyhound racing track has never done anyone any harm. But no, seriously - some of these people are unbelievable. At least stash your thousands under the floorboards of a delapidated outhouse if you're serious about this whole benefits thing.

One joy of temping is that there's no pressure to develop genuine or lasting relationships with your colleagues. Permanent staff regard 'the temp' as an extraterrestrial being to be, rightly, approached with a great deal of caution. The fact I won't be in any one place for very long means idle chatter can pass off without later recriminations for any perceived conversational contradictions. I could paint myself as a risk-taking, surf-loving, wall-shagging extreme (sorry, Xtreme) sports knob if I so wish. In fact I might try that. And then alter my persona with each council department I'm placed in, until I'm eventually sussed out by those famous 'town hall bosses' I always read so much about (but am yet to see anywhere, whether bossing the corridors, the toilets, or just the staff) and marched from the building.

When I'm not preoccupied with trying to work out how I'm supposed to transcribe alleged fraudsters' wholly inarticulate noises such as 'urgh-hurgh', 'hmmffph' and 'jaffaquack', I occasionally pick up on tidbits of the office conversation from those with real jobs. I can tell you all about the relative ages of the members of Take That if you're interested. Yesterday I picked up on a conversation about the pitfalls of men wearing white underwear - namely that when you sweat, the white goes a bit yellow. Yes, we all know that, but does nobody else perform a quick circumnavigation of the hips with a roll-on anti-perspirant each morning? Clearly not. At one point today I became so bored with people repeating themselves on the tape I was transcribing that I found myself transfixed on the woman eating a grapefruit the size of a brain tumour on the other side of the office. But regardless... it's twenty-seven times better than the call centre, I'll tell you that for nothing.

PS: In other news, following a protracted saga too infuriating to describe here, I should have the internet in the flat after the weekend. Which is a relief.


Blogger Dan said...

I'm enjoying picturing you as some sort of Harry Caul in 'The Conversation' type figure. Please dress accordingly.

October 26, 2007 10:12 am  
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