Put down the semi-colon and let the participle dangle

When I started my old job working in the production of closed captions for the telly, I was fairly confident of my knowledge of the English language. I knew the difference between it’s and its, who’s and whose, and other sorts of things that Lynn Truss wailed about in “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”.

And I knew that my job would involve getting all my work edited and corrected, and that I’d receive a list of all the mistakes I’d made with explanations of what I did wrong. I figured I’d maybe make one or two mistakes per episode, and that would be it.

But then I got back the edit notes to the very first episode of Shortie I’d captioned and… it was three pages long. I felt dumb and illiterate. I was sure someone would soon drag me into their office and tell me it had been a terrible mistake and it was back to the dole for me.

However, that didn’t happen. Instead I got better and better. I learned about comma splices and attributive hyphens and the difference between “my pimp Carlos” and “my pimp, Carlos”. But I still got things wrong; I still made mistakes.

What I came to realise is that English is hard. It’s a bastard mongrel of a language. It has all these bits and pieces from all over the place, so while there are lots of rules that children quickly pick up really quickly, there are all these annoying exceptions that you have to memorise – like that the plural of child is children, not childs.

But then there’s the curious thing about English – you can mess with it and it still makes sense. Having excellent grammar and spelling is just a bit of oil to lubricate the works and make the message flow out clearly. But if you don’t oil it, the message is sill there and it still makes sense… eventually.

As much fun as it is to laugh at the poorly constructed ‘about me’ statements on NZDating.com, if I read that HuGGGy1 says he “enjoy sports like dinner concerts im reliable watching videos”, it might take me a while to work out what he’s trying (oh, he’s trying) to say, but eventually I can get the message.

To be really good at English, you have to be a total nerd. You have to practise, practise and practise and train your brain to do things in a certain way. You know how really good musicians have got that way because they’ve spent hours and hours practising? It’s the same thing with English.

And I’ve come out the other side of it realising that it’s more fun being the guy in a punk band who can’t really play his guitar but is having heaps of fun bashing out some tunes with his friends, rather than the lone guitarist spending hours in his room practising a lightning-fast guitar solo but missing out on life.

After I left captioning and returned to a world where I wasn’t surrounded by professional word nerds, I had to tame myself. I was back in a reality where people don’t always like having their spelling or grammar corrected. I’m sure they fear it makes them seem stupid or illiterate, so I want to say, “No! It’s not you! We’re all like this! Perfect English is really hard!”

Free your semi-colon and your arse will follow.

Web Designer

I left my old job as a producer on a portal and when people find out that I’m only semi-employed at the moment they keep telling me that someone as skilled as I am should have no trouble finding work doing web design.

People think I’m a web designer. Sometimes it’s people I’ve only just met, other times it’s friends or family members. People like this are not paying attention.

I am not a web designer. I have never been employed as a web designer, unless you count when I did my Dad’s work web page back in 1996 which he paid me $50 for.

Yes, I did the design for my own site, but I pretty much copied it off another person’s web site. I didn’t go so far as stealing the HTML, but I didn’t come up with the idea of the design on my own. Before that I copied off mid-’90s Suck.com.

People have told me that I would be a better web designer than a lot of the people out there who make web pages for a living. Ok, that’s probably true, but I’d probably also be a better checkout girl, or call-centre worker or accounts receivable clerk than some of the people who hold those jobs. I’m not about to drop everything and jump behind a cash register just because I’d better than someone else at doing it.

The same goes for web design. I could do it professionally, and I wouldn’t be terrible at it, but I wouldn’t be great at it either. At my old job I worked with web designers. Most of them were really good and could come up with truly excellent designs, even with the most minimal of badly-written briefs. I can’t do that. And to add to it all, web design is hard work for me and I don’t really like it all that much.

I’m not about to enter an occupation in which I would perform to a mediocre standard, and not even enjoy doing what I was doing.

You want to know what I’m good at, what I really like? You’re looking right at it.

Occupational Discomfort

The occupational health nurse came around at work checking everyone’s workstation (i.e. desk).

My desk was declared to be both bad, wicked and evil because of the following:

  • The desk was too high
  • The monitor was too high
  • The keyboard was too far away
  • The mouse was too far away

Nursie said, “you must get terrible neck and back ache at the end of the day!” I said I didn’t, but I don’t think she believed me. But really, if I was in physical pain at the end of every day, I would have done something about it long ago.

Then nursie lowered the monitor stand and desk height, and moved my keyboard and mouse closer. She asked me if I could feel a change. I said no, and that it felt odd.

A quick explanation of what Occupational Overuse Syndrome was and how stretching out your fingers, hands, arms, back and neck is a good thing to do. Nothing I didn’t already know.

The nurse then moved onto the next desk and I found myself with a desk that was uncomfortable. So like a true geek I put the desk up to the height I liked, put the monitor back up, and moved the keyboard and mouse pad back to where I liked that.

And quelle surprise, no back pain, no neck pain. I left work at the end of the day feeling normal.

Postscript, 2007 What a vile, condescending hobag I was when I wrote this. Bad day at the office?

Hotpants and Boredom

“Hey Robyn, we need people to work at the show next weekend. You’ll get a day off in lieu. Are you interested?”

“OK, sure. Sounds like fun!”

Yeah, it sounded like a fun thing to do. There was an trade show exhibiting things that men are supposed to be into. Cars, stereos and other things that do things. The company I work for had a stand with its new thing that does stuff and needed people to make it seem REALLY EXCITING. So I volunteered.

The first sign that things were about to go horribly wrong was the t-shirts. Some had been printed up for the show, unfortunately they were fitted mens t-shirts and were very very snug-fitting. I tried on an XL-sized one and was shocked and terrified by what I saw. It fit, it just fit too well. The phrase “ample-bosomed” came to mind.

The alternative was a black XXL-sized Beefy-T, which I was instructed to wear with black jeans. It looked like a metaller maternity wear. All that was needed was “Metallica… and justice for all” to be printed on the back of the t-shirt. I would have probably looked more glamourous in a pink muu-muu.

I arrived at the show and discovered the following. Because I was female, it was deemed that I knew nothing about anything even vaguely technical and therefore would be spending the day handing out bags with a trial CD in them.

So I stood there with a bundle of bags, looking like a metaller chick saying “Would you like a bag?” to anyone who walked past. Unfortunately the girls in mini skirts on another stand were getting more attention and the predominantly male attendees were ignoring me.

The guy who was in charge of the stand decided that I wasn’t working hard enough and came over to show me “how it’s done.” He thrust a bag towards a startled man and said “Here! It’s free!” the man continued to be startled and walked on. He would have had more luck if he was in hot pants. After a few more attempts he finally got someone to take one and told me to do the same. Right-o.

Then disaster struck. We were running out of bags! I seized this opportunity to grab some CDs, bags and free trial stickers and ran up to the exhibitors lounge to make them up.

The exhibitors lounge was an enclosed area on a sort of mezzanine level that overlooked the exhibition hall. From there a most disturbing thing could be heard. There was a stand somewhere that was playing a Fleetwood Mac greatest hits CD over and over again. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow when I’d be at home!

I sat at a table stickering CDs then putting the CDs into bags. Behind me were two models dressed in hot pants and tank tops who were working for a tyre shop’s stand.

They appeared to have only met the day before, and I sat listening to one of them say stuff like, “When I was 17 I got pregnant and I really wanted to keep the baby, and my boyfriend did too, but we decided to adopt it so we did. I’ve been trying now to have a baby with my partner, but we haven’t had much luck. I think I might stick with modelling for a few more years…”

I brought a couple of boxes of filled bags down and was afforded half an hour for a lunch break. I wandered around looking at the other stands. Cars. Stereos. Boats. Televisions. Motorbikes. Disposable razors. Oh, it was all there.

Then it was back to the bags. This time a man and a woman who hadn’t seen each other for a few years were catching up.

“I’m operating a franchise for motorcycle parts and maintenance. It’ll take a few years to break even, but as we are operating a quality operation, we’ll be there in no time.”

“I’m a rep for a company that sells high-quality audio and video cabling. You know, people don’t realise that the quality of the cables can really make the difference.”

“I know what you man. I was at another stand here and the bloke there offered me a 10% exhibitors discount, but I said, “Mate, I don’t expect a discount.” I wouldn’t give him one, and I don’t expect him to give me one. Guys come in and say “Can I get 10% off for cash?” No, you bloody well can not. What they don’t realise is that they are paying for quality and if I give them a discount, the quality suffers.”

“I know what you mean. People think we are wholesale, but we’re not. We’re retail and because of that we can’t give discounts.”

“That’s bloody right!”

Then a guy from the stand that was playing the Fleetwood Mac album continuously came in. Someone asked him about it and he explained that they had brought a large selection of CDs to the show, but whenever they played the Fleetwood Mac CD, it attracted lots of people.

I stickered more. I bagged more.

The husband and wife owners of the tyre shop were taking a break and talking with the models. “We were originally going to have you girls in mini-skirts, but we thought, if you’re going to actually be doing things with tyres, you’d be better off in hot pants.” The models agreed.

Finally, finally, it all came to an end, and I got to go home.

I had learned a number of valuable lessons:

1. Do not participate in anything that requires you to dress like a pregnant metaller.

2. If you are unable to muster up enthusiasm towards complete strangers about things you feel ambivalent about, go upstairs.

3. Avoid companies that employ people dressed in hot pants.

4. Playing Fleetwood Mac continuously is not a sign of a healthy mind.

5. If you’re feeling really dorky dressed like a metaller, and people are ignoring you in favour of girls in hot pants, being yelled at by the man in charge is does not do wonders for self-confidence.

6. But going around getting free stuff is cool.

I shall chalk it up to experience.

Help Desk Action

I’d heard stories. Stories about really dumb people ringing up helpdesks. Then I found myself on a helpdesk. I was a little skeptical. I had hope in intelligence of other people. Oh, but I was wrong.


This woman rings up and asks if there is something wrong with New Zealand web pages because she can’t get any to load. It turns out that she thinks that if you type in www.(any word).co.nz it will go to a page on that subject.

Cut Off

This person of indeterminate gender calls and complains that I cut him/her off in the middle of a download. Oh, like I am sitting there and I cut that person off because… um… I explained that it could have been a problem with the analogue telephone system. The response: “But it’s not fair….” Oh boo hoo.

And then…

This angry sounding chick calls the helpdesk. She’s got a new account, has managed to get connected… but, “um, where’s the internet”. Using my supreme technical skills I was able to solve the problem by getting her to run Internet Explorer.


A woman rang wanting to know where the key that looked like an a with a circle around it was. After telling her that the @ was called “at”, I told her that it could be found by pressing shift+2. For some reason, that key wasn’t on her keyboard.

Secret Code

A really confused sounding woman asked, “The password is the secret letters thing, isn’t it?” But by that she meant her user name. Top secret.

Porno Guy I

A guy rang up. He gave his log-in name as the ISP’s homepage. Then he said that he’d heard that there was lots of pornography on the internet. I told him to use search engines, but if I’d been thinking, I would have referred him to www.hotwetsluts.com.


And the cool chick who got an error message saying “illegal operation” and wanted to know if that meant her account would get closed or if the police would know about it.


“Could I have your name?”
“The name of what?”

Garth Brooks

This guy calls up and starts rambling about country music and various shite. I managed to get what he wanted, which was a friend of his had written a country song and wanted to give it to Garth Brooks, “It would be a big hit for him”. He had heard about how there are all these celebrities on this “internet” thing and he wanted to contact Garth. I told him I had no idea how to contact Garth Brooks. He sounded somewhat disappointed.

Porno Guy II

A pervy old man type person calls up and said he’s heard that “they” were cracking down on people who were “downloading files”. What he mean was pornos. I assured him that it was only illegal pornos, not the lovely ladies he was into. He sounded quite relieved.


Somehow Eudora becomes pronounced as “Endora” and Trumpet Winsock becomes “Winstock”. Another neat trick, “Open Eudora.” “Open my door?”

S For…?

I was having trouble hearing a person spelling their user name, so I was going through the letters with the alpha-bravo-charlie-delta alphabet. I said, “is it s for sierra”? The guy goes “No, that’s wrong. It’s S for Smith”.

Wrong Number

A guy rang up needing help installing a start-up CD for another ISP. And then a woman rang wanting to pay her phone bill. Then a guy called wanting to order a some computer games.

After about six weeks of this I finally got out and into a job in the accounts department. I was on the verge of turning into a egomaniacal helpdesk bitch, with nothing but contempt with everyone who called. But I’m ok now.

I should also mention that there were some pretty cool people who called and I only got majorly yelled at a couple of times.

It’s fun.