164. Rage against the machine…

“Now, when someone joins the department you write their name, date of birth and reference number on this card.  It’s called an M11.”  I nod and try to look intelligent.  It’s my first proper graduate job and I’m being shown the ropes by an old hand in the staffing department.

“What’s the purpose of the card?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s not for us: it’s used by other people in the department.  We just make them and put them into this index box.”

I continue to tour the department, each section head in turn explaining to me their bit of the jigsaw.  I am impressed to see that the civil service really does tie things up in actual red tape.  Who knew?

Eventually, I reach the section dealing with paperwork for leavers.  I am shown how to inform the payroll department, how to work out remaining annual leave and how to take the M11 from its index card box.

“What do you use it for?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s not for us: it’s used by other people in the department.  We just take them out of this index box and file them with the other papers.”

You’ll be ahead of me on this one.  No-one used the M11s.  They were made, they were filed, they were useless.  My suggestion that we actually stopped making them was met by an aghast horror which would have done credit to Sir Humphrey.  The Civil Service had been making M11s since before I was born; they were good enough for the Empire and were good enough for me.

So, before we had computers, people were still quite capable of hemming themselves in with reasons not to engage with the bigger picture, not to use their intelligence or humanity.  Stupidity is not dependent on silicon chips.  It’s just so much easier with them because one has a scapegoat.

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged about the logistical nightmare surrounding my friend Mrs Brown’s attempt to renew her Disabled Parking Permit because the whole darn thing is now only accessible online.  One of the responses to this blog came from a friend who has kindly said that I can share it with you, anonymously.  She expresses it thus:

My 95yr old Mum had a corn and sore toes. I took her to see the nurse at the local walk in centre as I wondered if it was infected…  A month later the podiatry appointment date came. We bustled round trying to get my Mum out of the house and to the early appointment at the local hospital in time. We were a few minutes late as we entered the building. Phew, I thought, I think we will just about make it in time.

Then….my Mum says, ‘Is there a toilet in here? I think I’ve got diarrhoea’. My heart sank. Oh no! Now we will definitely be late, I thought. We rush into the toilet and by this time it’s too late. My Mum did indeed have diarrhoea and now dirty underpants. As I washed the underpants in the sink, my mind was racing wondering how to deal with the next problem. Do I drive home for a clean pair? No, I can’t leave her there unattended but I can’t take her in the car like that either.

Then I had a brainwave. I took off my own underpants and gave them to her to wear whilst I wore none under my jeans. Gosh, I thought, we might just get to our appointment also. So we rushed up the corridor to the clinic area and sit down, 15 mins late but not bad in the circumstances I thought. My Mum in my underpants and me in none.

Then the podiatrist woman came out and I apologised profusely for being late due to circumstances beyond our control. But no…….’I can’t see you I’m afraid as I’ve already entered into the computer that you didn’t come’….. But can you change it?…..’No, I can’t change the computer. It won’t let me.’

Then the other elderly patient in the room said ‘Give them my appointment and I will go home without seeing anyone. You can’t not see a 95yr old’.

But the podiatry woman was adamant. The computer wouldn’t allow it. She said she would send another urgent appointment. I pointed out that this appointment was fitted specially around my annual leave and I couldn’t leave work to take her another day. Another appointment came a few weeks later which I cancelled as I had commitments at work which I couldn’t cancel. She still has not seen a podiatrist but I have fixed her corn myself. How ridiculous!!!!!”

Isn’t that outrageous?  Even reading it back now, I’m getting cross all over again.  And it’s nothing to do with computers.  Of course, the programmer should have created some way of over-riding a cancellation; one has to account for human error.  But if the podiatrist had ignored the appointment system and seen my friend’s mum anyway, the machine would hardly have flung itself between them.  Yes, the stats would have been wrong but – so what?

To the barricades on this one, my jellypeople, and rage, rage against the machine in the week ahead.  Let’s break those rules, treat those old folk and fling our M11s onto the bonfire (or preferably recycle them in a more environmentally friendly manner).  We have nothing to lose but our bonds!

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