Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Thursday 23 September 2010

Cherchez la femme

A combination of family matters and mild blogging fatigue/Weltschmerz (this from JuliaM succinctly illustrates why) may keep posting light for a while longer.

Pavlov's Cat today reports a conversation he overheard at work (in a jobcentre) which could serve as  a metaphor for our times...

Adviser: Can you explain why you didn’t make your signing time today?
Customer: It’s my birthday, right and I was getting a tattoo innit and it took a while.
Adviser: I hope it doesn’t hurt too much?
Customer: Nah mate. it’s alright, I’m taking cannabis for the pain.

By coincidence, this story from the Daily Telegraph takes us into the same territory:

A woman with 30 tattoos claims she was told to ''put a bag over her head'' when she went for a job interview.
Hayley O'Neil, 23, - who also has 20 body piercings - says was also advised to ''stand behind a wall'' when she asked a job centre official what post she could apply for.

You have to admit, he'd got a point raising the question of her appearance - I mean she certainly shouldn't be allowed near magnets or high voltage cables.

Miss O'Neil, who got her first tattoo from her mother as an 18th birthday present said: ''I just felt so humiliated. I couldn't believe what this guy was saying."

It's stretching our credulity too, to think that someone in his position would expect to get away with that in today's climate. If he did express himself in those exact terms, then he certainly wasn't at home to Mr Tactful that day - and, more relevantly, had decided to kiss his career goodbye.

It's true that, when you're stuck behind a desk day-in, day-out, dealing with the the stroppy and terminally workshy along with genuine cases of hardship, the sight of someone sporting tattoos that must have cost more than your month's salary might well make you see red.

On the other hand, of course - always assuming he really did say something of the sort - he might actually have been trying to make a serious point in a humorous way:

"The guy said: 'on first impressions do you think anyone would hire you?' He said: ' look at it this way if you were to stand behind a wall - or put a paper bag over your face do you think you would have a better chance?' "

Considering the picture above....er, yes? At least with interviewers of a nervous disposition. But Telegraph headline writers et al, please note that, if those were his actual words, then far from 'advising' or 'telling' her to do it, he was asking her a question, using a graphic example to get her to consider the impact of her appearance.

The subtlety of this approach, however, seems to have escaped her and 'look at it this way' suggests that previous attempts at explanation had met with a similar fate; all she understood was that he was telling her to put a bag on her head. You might like to consider the reaction on her part that must have led up to this:

"He then backtracked and tried to say that he was sorry and hoped I wasn't offended but I was."

In fact, she was so offended that she went straight to the papers with her story - or rather several versions of it.

Significantly, the earliest report made no mention of paper bags or walls - simply stating she was upset by being told she would find it hard to get work anywhere other than a tattoo parlour and by being advised to remove her piercings. From today's Telegraph:

A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions denied any inappropriate remarks had been made during the interview, adding "Jobcentre Plus offers standard job hunting tips which include dressing appropriately when going for an interview or visiting a potential employer."

So who's right? And why the discrepancy? A clue, perhaps, lies in the Lancashire Telegraph's initial report on the 22nd:

'Her mother Dena, who accompanied her to the interview yesterday, said: “I was very upset.'

How many adults take their mother to the Jobcentre with them? And in the short intervening time, somebody has comissioned a more flattering photograph, lavishly embroidered the story with juicy, headline-grabbing detail and shoehorned it into a national paper, ensuring plenty of publicity. After all, celebrity careers have been built on less.

My money's on Mum.

(Update: this one's obviously touched a lot of nerves - there are plenty of interesting comments on Subrosa's take on it.  Scotland's answer to Boudicca simply replaces my lengthy ramblings with the title 'Today's non-story' - which says it all, really.)


  1. Who the hell takes their mother with them to a job interview?!?

  2. Now, now, Bucko. As the old Moorish proverb has it,
    'Every dung-beetle is a gazelle to its mother'.

    Who the hell takes their mother with them to a job interview?!?

    Presumably the sort of person who lets their parent buy them a tattoo for a birthday present (remember Kimberley Vlaminck?)

  3. Firstly, this was a Jobcentre Interview, not a job interview.

    Secondly, according to the Lancashire Telegraph, Ms O'Neil has worked in a bar, as a cleaner, and at an adventure playground.

    Thirdly, Ms O'Neil may have got her collection of tattoes and piercings while she was employed. The kind of rudeness she claims she was subjected to is never acceptable, and the Jobcentre need to investigate.

  4. Richard, I'm not sure whether your fist point is directed at me or JuliaM; if you refer to the Telegraph extract, then, granted, the sentenced is grammatically ambiguous, but not of my composition.

    Secondly, a careful reading will show there is no suggestion that Ms O'Neil herself had not been previously employed.

    And thirdly, your use of the word 'claims' admirably illustrates the point of this fundamentally light-hearted piece. Thank you.

  5. I have commented elsewhere asking if she has ever thought of going into debt collecting.

  6. "Thirdly, Ms O'Neil may have got her collection of tattoes and piercings while she was employed."

    She may indeed. One of the best, most willing workers I ever met was a young lad who looked like he'd wandered into B&Q's ironmongery section with a magnet clamped between his teeth. AND enough tattoos to render his ethnic origin hard to distinguish at first glance.

    Was he great at his job (back stage support)? Yes. Would we have ever dreamed of putting him on reception? No.

    Pointing it out to him wasn't necessary - he knew that, he knew it was his own choice, and he was happy with it.

  7. 'it was his own choice, and he was happy with it.'

    The problem is when visible tattos and piercings are combined with insufficient imagination to envisage their effect on other people.

    Round my dining table this weekend will be a group of youg people who would make a Diversity Coordinator weep with joy. Two of them sport unusual piercings and tattoos, but they are intelligent enough to have reasoned that their chosen careers (in computing) are unlikely to be affected.

    Ms O'Neil's apparent inability to understand the theoretical nature of the advisor's suggestion together with the presence of her mother, suggests a certain lack of maturity - sufficient, perhaps,to make one wonder why her mother made her a present of her first tattoo at 18.


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