Eight Minutes Idle DVD Review

8mi

Sometimes it can be difficult to watch a film, or TV series when you’ve read the book beforehand. I’ve actually had to take the decision to no longer watch Game of Thrones for this very reason; I can’t just sit and enjoy it without picking up on every difference, at which I exclaim “but that didn’t happen in the book”, much to my partner’s disapproval.

I was though looking forward to watching 8 Minutes Idle, the film adaptation of Matt Thorne’s novel of the same name, since it arrived from Amazon last Saturday. Of course there would be differences – as Matt himself mentioned this to me in a Q & A published on here last year ahead of the films cinema release.

There were indeed a few noticeable differences between the two versions with the film focusing more on one particular plot strand from the novel, that of the relationship between Dan and co-worker Teri. The story though is mostly faithful to the novel: Dan is a twentysomething content to drift through life, but an unfortunate turn of events sees him end up living at his workplace – a call centre.

When it appeared in cinemas earlier this year the film was greeted by rather mixed reviews, such as this one from the Guardian, but I wonder if any of the reviewers had ever worked in a call centre?

A real strength of the book is the descriptions of the minutiae of call centre life so I was especially keen to see how authentic the call-centre scenes were; The call centre both outside and inside is as bland as could be expected from a real-life call-centre. On the occasions where we hear callers the dialogue is incredibly true-to-life, and quite funny. My personal favourite scene is where Dev the ‘Car insurance king’ instantly drops an irate caller who comes on his line (something I’ve done, and seen done, more than a few times). Immediately though he falls foul of his boss Alice.

Alice is superbly played by Montserrat Lombard and represents the archetype call centre manager who manages her charges with a combination of metrics and Machiavelli. At one point she asks Dan to nominate which of his teammates should be fired at pain of facing the can himself. There is a difference between the Alice in the novel, who is slightly more nuanced, but in terms of the film, and in terms of the one figure almost all call centre workers love to hate it’s a great depiction, and is quite worth watching for alone.

Throughout the film there is also a sense of Britishness, or to be more accurate Bristolian-ness. The characters, dialogue and locations are all well used to give the film a sense of place and characters like Teri’s flatmates are achingly familiar. One key theme in the book, which also made it into the film – but seemed to which escape the critics – is the sense of transience in the call centre. Dan remarks at one point about how close he is to being on the street. Call centre life is both transient and precarious: people pass through frequently, leaving without trace and even call centres themselves can be set up and dismantled with ease. The characters in both the novel, and the film reflect this – not least by their housing status: They are not settled suburban types, more rootless drifters clinging onto a toe-hold in the city.

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Stop that chatter!

Early on a Friday afternoon and the only audible sign that I’m not alone (which sometimes I am at this time of week) is the occasional clicking of my colleagues mouse. From the sound of it she – like me – is deeply engaged in surfing the internet. Whether its checking the news, online shopping or getting ideas for dinner tonight I can only guess. We haven’t talked for hours.

It’s not that we can’t stand each other. We have a typical colleague-colleague relationship. It’s just that we can talk whenever we want – so we don’t. It’s this which makes me realise how far away from the call centre I now am.

In the call centre talking to your co-workers is a forbidden fruit to be bitten into, to have its juices savoured. You talked whenever you had the chance. The reason for this is that when it is effectively the use of your vocal chords which is being paid for the employer expects them to be used only for the pursuit of their objectives. Using them for mere idle chatter is wasting money.

In my last call centre managers would go to lengths to prevent chatter. Not content with waving monitoring reports at you in your six-monthly review, showing how much time you’d spent not on calls they’d seek to catch you red handed. Moving around the floor with stealth they used the wobbly grey partitions, stone pillars and over-sized pot-plants for cover. Observing for a few moments they’d then leap like a lion on their unsuspecting prey.

There was really nothing worse than getting the unpleasant tap on the shoulder followed by a rebuke of ‘get back on the phone’ so against this threat we deployed several defensive strategies. The first thing to do when coming on shift was to find a seat which faced the managers desk cluster. This enabled you to observer the observer, and prevented any unnoticed approach. Adjusting your chair to sit as low as possible was another strategy. Too high and your head is literally above the parapet. Managers sight-lines could also be blocked by careful positioning of a box-file.

Another trick is keeping your headset on and looking straight-ahead, never looking away from the screen, whilst conversing with your neighbour. It goes against all the usual norms of face-to-face conversation, but it’s much easier to conceal an illicit conversation. Finally there is teamwork, which involves warning each other with nudge, or a head nod that a manager is on the prowl.

In my final year at that particular call centre I only got tapped on the shoulder twice.