Friday, October 21, 2011

The Outside View (Part the First)

I'm pleased today to introduce part one of a guest posting following on from a visit by a leading academic in the area of occupational psychopathology  to my work unit. It's about bloody time!

A visit to the Department of Pedantry by Doctor Constantin Constantinopodopoulous of the Department of Psychiatry and Public Service, University of Chipping Sodbury.

At first glimpse, it looks like an ordinary civil service building. Peeling paintwork, suspicious carpet stains, grey men and women staring blankly.

A cursory glance into the office canteen at tea break time confirms this suspicion initially. The tables are occupied by a variety of interesting specimens. In particular:
-          CO staring out the window as three-inch long rope of drool hangs from the corner of her mouth.
-          CO staring at the wall (table not adjacent to window) as five-inch long rope of drool hangs from the corner of his mouth.
-          CO standing at back of canteen staring at nothing in particular, but with a strange look of murderous intent on his countenance.
-          Large group of middle-aged female EOs talking about Eastenders and cackling loudly. People at adjacent tables wearing ear protection.
-          Senior managers pretending to discuss policy documents over coffee – in reality they are trying to finish the Irish Times crossword, which they have photocopied and slipped in with the weighty looking stuff.
-          Private contractor (wearing VISITOR badge) looking around him in bewilderment.

However, behind this dreary and grubby fa├žade, there is a surprising flurry of activity.

A visit to the Apostrophe Enforcement Unit proved that things were not quite as they seemed.

The unit is staffed by two HEOs, three EOs and three COs and is responsible, as the name implies, for the regulation and enforcement of correct apostrophe use. Forms are submitted by members of the public to this unit, when an infraction of the relevant punctuation mark  by a business or advertiser has been identified. Forms are also completed internally by a member of staff who monitors the media, specifically print journalism and the Internet for misuse of punctuation. The forms are collated and processed, and a member of this unit’s staff visits the offending business premises and attempts to “re-educate” them in proper English. A variety of weapons are at the unit’s disposal for this purpose. Pens, multicoloured sticky notes, Departmental letterheads and leaflets entitled: "Common Grammatical Errors and You, You Illiterate Fuck".

More recent additions to the responsibilities of this unit include Text Speak Infractions (outside of mobile phone usage), and this alone has ensured that the volume of work has increased tenfold since the proliferation of mobile telephony in Ireland. The attendant impact on everyday written communication of the 140-character-or-less short messages has been devastating.

When I first entered, a HEO was busy training two of the COs in correct form-stapling operations. One CO had correctly collated several dozen forms and was progressing well. The other CO had managed, in the short observation period:
1:         To staple his thumb and forefinger together
2:         To staple a (bloodied) form to his sleeve
3:         To staple himself to the HEO.
When this last incident occurred, the local first aid representative had to intervene, and both officers were taken to A&E to be separated. 
One of the EOs came forward and wiped up the blood from the desk, so I could sit and observe the remaining staff. "We're used to blood aroud here", she said apologetically.
I made myself comfortable. It was going to be a long day...
In Part 2: More bodily fluids,  forms, red tape (nothing to do with blood this time) and commonly available stimulants.

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