The Company that Outsourced Itself to Death

A short story about bad ideas, based on 10 years and a variety of work places.

At the company that outsourced itself to death it had been time to make one of those rare but important international phone calls. It was a desk phone type of call, the kind you want to make in private, preferably in a conference room.

The problem was this, ‘telephony’ was outsourced four years ago.

The company was by then paying £25 per phone per month, yet none of those phones seemed to work. As it was near the end of that particular contract, no one could be bothered making a fuss about the service level agreement.

Did those desk phones ever work? someone asked.

dark glass is the suspcious beard of the office building

dark glass is the ‘suspicious beard’ of office building design

If they did, they were impossible to understand and no one ever learned how to use them. The lights flashed constantly with backed up voicemails no one could retrieve.

‘Hope none of those are important,’ someone always said. Others always laughed, a sort of dead-inside laugh. A laugh that said: of course some of those were important.

‘I’ll just use my own mobile,’ people always end up thinking. Except with those important international calls you don’t want to do that. So that call always got postponed.

It used to be that you could just call in on Terry in Ops. Terry and his team used to sort that stuff out, until his side of the business was outsourced. The guy that oversaw all that, Pete, saved the company thousands. Then Pete left.

Our funky windows set us apart from the rest

Our funky windows set us apart from the rest

We would have brought all this stuff with the phones up with Pete were he still with us. Every company has a Pete. Or rather, every company used to.

Now even the food is outsourced. Any army marches on its stomach, and Race-to-the-Bottom Catering certainly understand that. They have the contract for our canteen and all our vending machines.

Do you remember when it was Sally’s retirement day. Everyone loved Sally and we all wanted to bring in that cocktail making guy we’d read about. Sally certainly loves cocktails!

Only RTB Catering said it was all there in their contract that no food or drink was allowed to be made on company premises, except by them.

So we had their Argentinian Sauvignon Plonk and vacuum-packed nibbles. There were red paper tablecloths and everything. What an atmosphere!

I'm the office block equivalent of a beaten wife

I’m the office block equivalent of a beaten wife

The lack of variety, imagination, and indeed nutrition, RTB offer hits morale every lunchtime. Why did we ever go with them? staffers ask. Think it was Pete’s idea. Or that guy that came after Pete.

The company that outsourced itself to death got more bad news last week. Bottleneck Tech Ltd, the firm that covered the outsourced back end of the company website went bust! It happens.

This was something we all argued about, back in the day. ‘We should keep that stuff in-house, just in case..’ Terry in Ops warned us.

Just in case what? ‘Just in case they go bust!’ But just look at the money we could save by outsourcing it! We could fire all those dreary unwashed guys in the web dev team.

Leave your soul in reception

Leave your soul in reception

So now the company that outsourced itself to death needs to find another web company. There are plenty of them out there. Only now they’re asking ten times what we used to pay Bottleneck.

They say its because their engineers need to unravel the last five years’ worth of mysterious bolt-ons, shoddy work-arounds and borrowed code.

The new firm, Squid-Lickers (quirky name, true, but cut-throat people…beware!) said it’s such a monumental headache they’re not even sure they want the contract. So we’ve had to offer them even more.

Let’s all go to the RTB canteen, buy one of their dull, pre-packed, half-filled sandwiches and mull this over, someone suggested.

Hey! What about the Head of Comms’ idea about getting that blue chip consultancy firm in? Audit the crap out of the whole business. Get a bright, fresh perspective!

I demand your respect, this is a serious place of work.

I demand your respect, this is a serious place of work.

It was a lot of money and a big gamble, but since none of us had any faith in our own perception of things, or wanted to learn anything the hard way, we got in this firm of firebrand Alpha males called Ker-Ching! Inc.

They gave us a new company logo and a big, thick ‘style guide’ no one here can understand.

They used the word synergy in ways good grammar shouldn’t allow. They wore expensive clothes that somehow made us all anxious.

As we suspected, it turned out we’d been doing everything wrong. Ker-Ching! Inc. told us sticking to their style guide would ensure the world saw us differently.

Unfortunately half the Marketing guys resigned over Ker-Ching! Inc.’s assertion that our approach to ‘paid media’ belonged in the same bin as the shake’n’vac ad. They accused our guys of ‘channeling the ghost of Victor Kiam.’

Help me, I am so empty and forlorn.

Help me, I am so empty and forlorn.

Ker-Ching! Inc. are going to find us a company to do all our social media. Bad news for the team that used to do that. And the thing is, staff turnover is already pretty high, especially now we sold off and moved out of our quirky old red-brick Victorian building and into this shared, rented glass tower built on reclaimed toxic brown-belt.

It’s not that people don’t like the space, it’s just the outsourced car parking company has us by the collective wrinkly sack. Ker-Ching! Inc. and Purple Pants (creators of heat-seeking Social Media!) always make excuses when we invite them over.

It’s almost like they can smell death.


Adendum to 6 Things That Would Vastly Improve Manchester

Following my earlier post, which explored the idea of Manchester having some civic-minded awnings about the place, I did a little (very little) research and found images of awnings in the Chorlton area of Manchester (on a fantastic site called Chorlton History).

This is proof that in 1913 at least someone was magnanimous enough to offer pedestrians and window-shoppers some cover. Civilised that is.

Chorlton in 1913 (from Chorlton History / Andrew Simpson)

Chorlton in 1913 (from Chorlton History / Andrew Simpson)

Now fast-forward 100 years. The totally re-built Manchester centre had a chance to be this considerate, to learn from these historic examples, but chose instead to offer no sort of cover to people on foot at all. If it rains the city invites you to hide in a coffee shop.

And check out this for mean spirited…

What’s left of those Chorlton awnings seems to miss the point entirely. You can’t wander freely from one shopfront to the next here. These awnings are for patrons only!

Mean spirited awnings

Mean-spirited awnings in Chorlton

Stationery Corner – Published 13 Apr 2007

Lamy take on Rotring in Pen-copying Deviousness

There just aren’t enough serious articles about stationery. Fact.

As someone who believes in stationery like V Beckham believes in hair products, I think I must write more on this subject.


To start then, I want to bring some recent developments to light for all you fountain pen enthusiasts out there. 

For the last few years if you wanted a long, slender, slightly pretentious, arty fountain pen for writing and drawing, there was only the Rotring Art Pen.

Rotring, based in Hamburg, won our hearts and fingers with this slim, black Füllfederhalter. Whenever you used it, it said of you: ‘this guy likes to write with a long, thin, black plastic fountain pen and my god isn’t he sexy and mysterious!’

But then Lamy, the Heidelberg-based manufacturer of the German ‘Master Pen’ and long-time rival, came along an introduced the Lamy Joy – a suspiciously similar product!


Similar but with improvements? you ask. Well yes and no. It feels nicer, looks artsier (yes that is a word), it has a hole so you can see how your ink cartridge is doing and it has a red piping pocket clip – I assume that is meant to bring the ‘Joy’.

If nothing else it certainly brings back memories of 80’s kitchen fittings and the first VW Golf.

rotring art penThe silver nibs come off too, should you want a different thickness of line (1.1, 1.5 or 1.9 mm chisel point are available). The man in the pen shop showed me a trick for getting them off using sticky tape.

With the Rotring you have to buy a whole new pen, which I actually like since I have the money and like pens.

However, despite that Mercedes/BMW-style rivalry and ink-based one-upmanship, the Rotring is still better to write with. And draw with. Simple as that.

Stationery News END.

Lamy Joy…

Lamy Joy

Shat ’em, and Misc – Published: 9 Jan 2007

Been meaning to have a go at embedding some Youtube video – so here goes. Watch and marvel at William Shatner…


A visitor‘ left this comment on 13 Jan 07
What the hell is it? I feel distressed.
Got a Brand New Bag

I’ve been cycling in to work since September, cos I just can’t afford to take the tube. Plus it’s healthier on a bike. And green.

Anyway, I treated myself to a nice courier-type cycling bag today. I know that’s unremarkable. But, I have to tell you, I larfed and larfed when I visitted the bag company website… esp at the little ‘bag demonstration’ films they have.

It’s a cannon, it fires kittens

And the slightly inferior bat the penguin game…


Not Jade Goody and Big Brother

Just to prove to everyone it is possible not to discuss Jade Goody and Big Brother, here I am not doing it.




How’s that for self control?


Clem Snide

Big swirly news on the Tesco front this week, but I’m not going to write about it because I haven’t taken it all in yet.

Instead. I went to see Ben Folds last night. He was good but I was kinda taken more by the support who was a guy called Clem Snide – if you can imagine someone who is 40% Steve Martin 50% Paul Simon and 10% Crispin Glover.

He writes really sweet, slightly comic songs. If you enjoy a song like Dishes by Pulp, well he writes those kind of tunes.

Anyway, I thought I’d put him on your radar. He’s from Nashville but he did a song about David Icke. I think that tells you all you need to know.

Biscuit Face – Published: 12 May 2005

A lot of people say to me, they say Tim, how on earth did you become the man you are today? To which I usually reply, by reading other people’s newspapers on the train. That and onanism.

But enough gay banter. Two people have noticed I haven’t blogged for a while. I’m making amends today, despite having lots to do. My audience obviously feels let down.

So to kick off, here’s a fantastic link: This site has hundred of classic books that you can download – in most cases as text files but in many cases as mp3s, so you can listen to, for example, Tess of the Hoovervilles by Thomas Horny as you eat a humble breakfast before work. Sure, that’s what Timmy does.

Here’s another handy little tool for music lovers. Commercial Breaks and Beats. If you hear a song you like used in a TV ad (like recently when I was so keen to find that Crisp and Dry music) this site will help you track down what it is.

I can’t tell you any of my significant news cos it’s a secret. In lesser news, I recently bought a Bronica ETRSi which has been an ambition since sixth form. Medium format cameras have crashed in price, entirely because of digital photography. They are still magic, require some skill and make you feel like a photographer.

I have to scrub the bath now, but I’ll be back with more.


Fixni Fixdi Fixci

We Came, We Saw, We Fixed.

Many thanks to my oldest pal Ben and to the friendly folk at Technical Support Forums who helped me muster the nerve to fix my broken, sickly computer by myself – rather than fork out £££s to have it repaired at a London fixit shop. It was a major triumph of inner courage and frugality.

My machine went dead two weeks ago and it was like losing a family member. It’s ressurection was better than Christmas (surely Easter – ed).

In other news…

The Goodies have been touring in Australia. I found a blog entry from someone (clearly a big fan) who’d seen a show… Read the report.


‘A visitor’ left this comment on 26 May 05
Hooray for technology!
I get jumpy if my computer is switched off; only to boot it up, look at your blog, then immediately run out of things to do. What’s with that?

On the hardware note: I switched on my new soundcard at the weekend, then looked at my receipt. It’s been 9 clear months since I bought and installed it. 9 months doing nothing! Is that fear? Lethargy? I don’t know. Perhaps my massive tower of a PC *can* do more than show the Web and check email. Sheesh! Couldn’t even the Z80 do that?


‘A visitor’ left this comment on 26 May 05
Glad I could help.
Thing about computers is – they are much easier to work on now than they used to be. And parts are so cheap – so no-one should be ripping anyone off anymore when it comes to computer repair.

Tim, when are we going to do a blog entry about Ken Morse, The Rostrum King?


‘A visitor’ left this comment on 25 May 05
I know what your secret is! 🙂
Joanna Beardsmore []


Santa – Published: 6 Dec 2005

Check out this Santa we picked up in Kingston’s TK Maxx. Both Santa and the doggie have usually both moved when we come and look at them each morning. Wonder what they get up to in the night? They seem to be pals.

‘A visitor’ left this comment on 9 Dec 05
To be fair they make a nice couple. By the look of things they both enjoy a bit of the old S+M. Judging from Santa’s stretched beard and elongated arms, the dog puts him on the rack after applying nipple clamps etc. This is all evident in the dog’s wide assed grin. Eitheir that, or they’re both on drugs.

October 2004 – posts

New 10 commandments

I had a go at creating a new set of 10 commandments, perhaps more relevant for modern life…
1. Don’t be evil (Google had this motto when they launched, it covers everything.)
2. Don’t buy from unethical groups if you can help it.
3. Don’t work for unethical groups, ever. (Where you choose to work and what you choose to buy is more powerful than a vote in an election.)
4. Try not to bore people with your views, but spread the word if you know something helpful.
5. If you need a car, don’t let vanity influence what you buy, no matter how much money you have. (Rich people, lead the way. Shock the pants off everyone by owning a small, economical car.)
6. If you don’t need a car, don’t have one.
7. Defend your heritage. Heritage isn’t just old buildings and countryside. Custard, Milkmen, Bandstands, allotments, post offices, local newspapers, icecream vans, such things are our heritage.
8. Use your library.
9. Always question.
10. Enjoy what ethical groups provide; goods, services and careers etc.
They go a bit downhill toward the end but it was an interesting thing to do.If you can think of better ones, let me know.

Published: 6 Oct 2004


Tim‘ left this comment on 12 Oct 04
What? Even used caravans?
A visitor‘ left this comment on 12 Oct 04
1a. Don’t shit on people, things, your underwear or caravans.Keith Smith


panpipes and ukelele, the instruments melodies are made forPublished: 6 Oct 2004

How to Spot a Winner

Mr Winner

Having just spent the morning listening to some of Victor Lewis-Smith’s phone pranks, two of which involving the duping of Michael Winner, I was amazed to bump into the man himself (Michael that is, not Victor) in Book Etc. Shepherds Bush.

Michael was signing his new book (pictured left) though there seemed to be no one there actually buying copies.

I was just explaining to a friend how Winner never shuts up about how he worked with Charlie Bronson when I noticed the book jacket… (see vacant chair to Winner’s right).

He’s certainly consistent. I thought about following him for a bit, to see if he’d go in The Officers Club or other high class Bush boutiques but was distracted by a book about Hitler.

Published: 9 Oct 2004


A visitor‘ left this comment on 9 Oct 04
Congratulations! You finally achieved your pilgramage of worshipping at the foot of the Director of Traffic, Orkney Isles. It must have been a sh!tter of a religious experience.Still can’t believe the name dropping descends to having a “CHARLES BRONSON” photoshopped onto chair next to him, that probably was even on the set anyway…Ben


To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization, and at present very few people have reached this level. 

Bertrand Russell,

Our greatest weariness comes from work not done.
Eric Hoffer

Published: 23 Oct 2004