Thursday, 29 November 2012

Is Blackrock/Appco a scam?

I have not posted in a while because I've been busy with what I thought was a new job - but what it actually turned out to be was nothing like I'd expected. A scam? Or just a very dodgy business scheme?

Appco/Cobra Group

Blackrock Advertising is a smaller franchise of Appco (formerly Cobra Group) which has branches worldwide. Now, Appco/Cobra is actually quite well known for running these dodgy schemes. Unfortunately for me, throughout the interview process I was led to believe that Blackrock was just a small and successful business that was rapidly expanding. We were told a fake story of how the office manager started up the business on his own, after selling Daft Punk tickets at university. Obviously 'this company is part of a huge corporation that deals in screwing people over' doesn't sound quite as cute. The first I heard of Appco was when it came to signing the contract, and by then it was a bit too late to do my research.

The job was advertised over at, and was admittedly very vague. But then, I'm used to applying for vague jobs. It was posted through a recruitment agency and they often only include the most basic details in their job ads, so this didn't set off any alarm bells.
Want some fun, in a lively environment whilst building a career? If so, then read on! Due to demands from our newest, exciting client we are rapidly expanding and opening new offices in 2012. We are, therefore looking for 15+ people to fulfil a number of roles in various sectors of our business, including Sales, Customer Service, Marketing and Business Development.
Now maybe I'm just stupid, but when I read that description, I do not immediately think 'door-to-door cold calling'. And I expect that's the whole point - because who would sign up for that job willingly unless they were extremely desperate? When sending off the application, they actually ask you to select which of the four different sectors you wish to work in - again, leading applicants to believe that they will be working in an office doing a specific job, not herded along with everyone else into a cold calling role. The 'lively, fun office' doesn't really count if you're only in there for an hour each day.


I was given a phone interview a few days after applying. The guy who interviewed me sounded really nice, friendly and genuine. He asked me a bit about what marketing experience I had /(all of which was irrelevant) and then told me I'd ticked all the boxes they were looking for, and would I like to come in for an interview? A few days later, sat in the office waiting to be taken through to be interviewed, I heard the same guy interviewing another candidate over the phone, and he said the exact same things, word for word, like he was reading from a script. So much for being genuine!

The interview itself was extremely brief. Again, the interviewer (who turned out to be the office manager) was very laid back and friendly, and in fact he barely asked me any questions. Never mind, I thought, as I got invited to the second interview, so obviously I was the ideal candidate! (I'm so naive)

The first day of the job, me and eight other new employees were given a brainwashing session with free sandwiches, where we were told all about the humble roots of the company and how lucky we were to be offered such a great opportunity, with earnings of £200-£600 per week, plus great bonuses, and the chance to progress to team leader and then finally to run our own office. And because we were getting SO much commission, we didn't even need to be paid a salary! Wow! No. The sandwiches were nice though. Somebody must have let on the secret of my one weakness.

Anyway, it came to signing the contract and I had a pretty bad feeling when I read that when working for this company, we would officially be considered self-employed. So no national insurance, no long-term security, no nothing. At this point we still hadn't been really told what we'd be doing. We were shown a video about the British Red Cross charity and told we'd get to run events at football matches, shows and days out. We'd get to travel and receive great rewards. I just thought, 'a job is a job. I can't really complain', and decided I'd stick it out for at least this week and see what it was like.

The 'lively office environment'

The next day, two of the new employees who were in the room with us yesterday had already disappeared. I wish I'd done the same thing, because the day that followed was the biggest waste of time and energy I will probably ever experience! Each of us was placed with an experienced employee and told we were to follow them around all day and see what they did.

Everyone in the office was loud, excitable and very friendly. The morning meeting was just the manager reading out a list of how many sales each person had made the following day, and each person would get a loud 'WEYYYYY' and a high five. They loved their high fives. It was like a parody of an office, like you'd see on TV. Everyone was so ridiculously happy and friendly, at the time I was starting to find it very annoying and thinking 'I would want to kill these people after a week'. It turns out, from reading stories online from people who stayed with the company for longer than I did, that the current employees are all told to be especially nice to the new people, and to make them feel like the office is a super fun place to work, WEYYYYY have a high five, have some banter, here's a funny nickname LOL. But that after a few days, their true colours would begin to show, all the drama and office politics.


I was put into a group with four others. We had to get a train to the next town over and knock on all the doors in a large residential area, say the rehearsed 'pitch' and try and get people to sign up to donate to charity. They seemed to love their job. Going on about how to keep their attitude up, how they were sooooo excited to make some sales today, gosh wow they loved speaking to all these people door-to-door, it was just so rewarding!! Looking back, I'm wondering if they were told to play it up for my benefit, or if they were just genuinely victims of brainwashing. Each person went off on their own to cover a specific street. Except for me and my mentor, who were obviously paired up. I worried about doing this on my own in the following week, traipsing around the streets from 12 til 8pm, being expected to go inside people's houses if invited, with nobody knowing exactly where I was. It seriously didn't feel safe at all.

I wasn't dressed for the weather either. We were told to dress office smart, so I had on a dress, tights, slip-on flats and a smart coat. It was freezing cold and raining on and off, and there wasn't even anywhere to have a break, so I was outside for eight hours. Towards the end of it, I just felt like crying. I felt humiliated talking to these people at their front doors, when they were clearly settling down for dinner and a night in, not wanting to be pressured for money by an annoying salesperson. I felt daunted by the prospect of doing this every single day. And even if I'd made the target of two sales each day, which seemed like an impossibility because who on earth actually signs up to these things? The amount I'd earn for the week would be barely scraping minimum wage. I'd be better off in McDonalds, at least then I'd be warm and safe, and actually getting paid for the work!

Back at the office, everyone high fived me and congratulated me on how well I did, how I was sure to get a shout out at the meeting the next day. As soon as I left I decided never to go back there.

So, is it a scam?

The people there seemed to genuinely enjoy what they did, but to me it just felt that they were being taken advantage of. Most of them were not much older than I was, and seemed to think they were getting a great deal out of it. I'm sure technically there must be a loophole that allows companies to make their employees do what amounts to free work, relying on generous members of the public to ever make any money. It just seems so, so dodgy. I don't think it's fair to falsely advertise a job as something completely different to what it actually is. Everyone I spoke to about what happened said I did the right thing by getting out of there. My brother said he had a similar experience with a company in New Zealand. But obviously these companies are legitimate, as they are so well known that if they were doing anything illegal they would be shut down. I guess having the employees sign a contract stating that they are self-employed means that the employer technically doesn't have to pay them anything.

Anyway, so that's my story. A word of warning to anyone thinking this type of job sounds too good to be true - it really is. If you start to get bad feelings about the legitimacy of a job, listen to your gut feeling and get out of there before they waste your time. I'm back to where I started now, unemployed, but at least I'm not being taken for a ride, and I'm not putting myself at risk.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Review: Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green

Budo is an imaginary friend desperate not to be forgotten, because when a child forgets about his/her imaginary friend, they disappear forever. Budo is lucky because Max isn't like other children; he 'lives mostly on the inside' and has trouble communicating and making friends, so he has relied on Budo for a long time.

One day something terrible happens to Max, and Budo is the only one who has any hope of saving him - but he can't do it alone, and soon his loyalty to Max is tested to the very limit.

Despite reading some very bad reviews of this book, I actually really enjoyed it. The idea of imaginary friends really existing, being able to interact with one another and trying to help each other not to be forgotten is a lovely concept. At first I was hoping that this wouldn't be all that happened in the story, but it did get really exciting and Max being autistic added another element of conflict.

The narrative style is very stilted and simplistic. This is on purpose to reflect Budo's interpretation of Max's autistic behaviours and speech patterns, but it does get a little irritating after a while and I feel like it could have been written more conventionally and still had the same effect. The story itself would have been enough to convey how difficult it is for everyone involved to cope with autism.

The blurb compares this book with 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time' and 'Room' (click to read my review) which is actually spot-on, as it is basically a combination of the two, with the addition of imaginary friends to the mix! Although I feel that this doesn't do quite as good a job of explaining autism as 'The Curious Incident', and it is (thankfully) a lot less gut-wrenching than 'Room', although there are still some weepy moments throughout.

Overall, this was a really enjoyable read despite the voice of the narrator. What starts as a deceptively light hearted premise tackles some really big issues and towards the end will leave you frantically trying to finish it to find out whether everything is okay in the end! If you're anything like me, it will also leave you feeling very guilty for all the imaginary friends you forgot about - and inadvertently killed - when you were little.


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

After witnessing the mysterious death of his grandfather, sixteen-year-old Jacob travels to a tiny Welsh island to discover the truth about the strange letters and photographs his grandfather left for him. There he discovers the old house, home to some very peculiar children who need his help, leading him on a terrifying adventure that will test him beyond anything he has experienced before.

Well it has to be said that this book isn't particularly well-written. It is a YA novel but I have very high standards as I know that writing for children and teens is no excuse to cut corners! The main character, Jacob, is a bit annoying; even before anything bad happens to him, he seems to do nothing but sulk and complain about how much he hates being rich and privileged. The narrative style is very stilted and I found my eyes drifting off the page sometimes because of how repetitive the sentences were.

However, the story itself was quite enjoyable. It was a bit slow leading up to the discovery of the old house, but after that it became fast-paced and exciting and I was eager to find out what would happen next. The best part about this book is that all the photographs scattered throughout the story are real and mostly unedited, and it seems like the author picked out some intriguing ones and pieced the story around it, which is a really nice idea. The characters and abilities of the peculiar children are great, even if their dialects sometimes seem a bit too much like an American person trying to sound quirky and British, which is a massive pet hate of mine!

The ending was very abrupt, and left them heading off in a boat to try and find somewhere else to live...which led me to think the author is probably planning to write a sequel. I don't like it much when it's this obvious, it feels like I'm not 'getting my money's worth' so to speak, if I have to read a whole other book before I find out how the story really ended!

The book is great to look at, with thick paper, wallpaper print on the chapter pages and of course the wonderfully unsettling photographs. So nice that I avoided reading it in the bath like I do with most books, as it inevitably makes the pages wavy.

All in all, this was an enjoyable novel but I never felt as invested in it as I do with most of the books I read. I think I'm definitely more into realistic stories that I can relate to. However, I will be passing this onto John as I think this sort of thing would be right up his street...monsters, time travel, etc etc!

 I think this would translate well into a film and will probably end up being made by Tim Burton with lots of black and white stripy things and Helena Bonham-Carter playing the role of Miss Peregrine, which will surprise absolutely no one.

6/10 - Not my usual cup of tea, but a fun read nonetheless!

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

My second internship gets under way

This week I started my internship at the Navy News and I've settled in really nicely. On Monday I researched and wrote the 'Time of your Lives' column, which is where they publish some news stories from that month in previous decades. So I had to go through the archives and find an interesting story from November of 1972, 1982, 1992 and 2002 and then write a brief summary of each along with quotations. I also picked out a nice picture relating to one of the stories - a cat being awarded his Good Cat Badge!

Then yesterday I was given the task of writing lots of charity-related press releases into proper news stories, which I found really interesting because at my last internship with Fusion People I had to write and edit some press releases, so I now have experience of writing for both sides of the process.

Today I had the scary task of meeting the chief executive of the Mary Rose trust and interviewing him about the soon-to-be-opened museum and the whole project of building, conservation, etc. But it turned out not to be scary after all, he was very nice and eager to talk to me about it, which was great because it meant the interview ran really smoothly and I got a lot more information than I had questions for. I also hope this means I'll be less terrified the next time I go in for a job interview, because I know what it's like on the other side!

I recorded the whole interview on a voice recorder, then when I got back to the office I played it back and typed it all out. Tomorrow I am working from home to write up the article, which is looking to be very extensive. It will be fantastic to see the finished article published in the Navy News.

I'm really pleased with how many times I have stepped out of my comfort zone and taken on new challenges in the last few weeks. I feel like I'm a lot tougher and smarter than I give myself credit for.

I'll be posting some book reviews in the very near future - right now I am reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children which is way out of my usual choice of genres but it seems like a fun read so far. I have also been reading Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire on my train journeys, so I can pretend I'm escaping to the beautiful, wild American desert rather than travelling through grey England!

Friday, 5 October 2012

Bad Flo :(

I haven't posted in over a month! So I'm forcing myself to write something now, even if it is just a poor recap of what I've been up to over the last month.

At the start of September I went to Rome for a week! It was fantastic and one of my next posts (hopefully you won't have to wait a month for it) will be my top tips for anyone visiting Rome - dos and don'ts, that sort of thing. It was a great holiday and the first time I've been to a different country as a proper responsible grown up rather than letting my parents do all the work. I ate a lot of gelato and pasta, but I also did an awful lot of walking so it balanced out rather nicely.

I am now two weeks into my three week placement at Fusion People, where I have been working on the marketing team and doing lots of research, editing, copy writing, etc etc. It's been a great experience so far and I've learnt a lot, as well as (kind of) overcome my phone-shyness! It's gone really quickly and I will be quite sad to leave. But I've got another internship coming up on the 15th October, working in the editing office of the Navy News in Portsmouth. I've been so lucky to get all these opportunities, and experience in marketing and editing is a really valuable thing.

It's my birthday next Wednesday. I have no idea what I'm doing or what I'm getting from anybody. I hope I get brioche for breakfast, but other than that I'm not particularly fussed! I'm getting into the writing spirit again, and I'm desperate to write a book of some sort, so it's lucky that November is next month so I can take part in NaNoWriMo for once. Everyone from my university graduated today except me, because I couldn't afford to get tickets or hire a hat and robe. I didn't really feel like floating around in a cape all day anyway.

I'm planning on setting up a Facebook and Twitter account for this blog so I can post updates through those. It'll mean deleting my pre-existing 'Love from Florence' Facebook account which was for my handmade jewellery, but that seems to have dwindled over the last couple of months as I've developed a social and working life out of nowhere!

I have another couple of posts planned out, including a book review, a craft tutorial and my aforementioned Rome guide, all of which I'll write and post over the weekend, and I will continue to update regularly from now on...I promise!

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Review: Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

Throughout their fifteen year relationship, Annie has had to put up with Duncan's obsession with the rock singer Tucker Crowe. It is like having a third person in the relationship. The only thing Duncan ever seems to talk about is Tucker Crowe's music, particularly his most famous album, 'Juliet'. He spends a lot of time on discussion forums with other Crowe fans. The story starts with him dragging Anne on a Crowe-themed sightseeing tour, and sneaking into the San Francisco house owned by the woman who was supposedly the inspiration for 'Juliet'.
Back home, while Duncan is out, a package is delivered and Anne decides to open it. It contains a pre-release copy of 'Juliet, Naked', an album of demo and acoustic versions of the songs from 'Juliet', sent with the intention that Duncan should write a review of it. Anne listens to the album before Duncan does, and whereas Duncan thinks it is an emotionally-charged work of genius, Anne isn't at all impressed by it. She decides, mainly to get at Duncan, to post a scathing review on his fan site. To her surprise, she receives an email from the elusive Tucker Crowe, and the two begin to hit it off through secret online correspondence.
This definitely wasn't my favourite of Hornby's novels. It is very bleak throughout, even more so than 'A Long Way Down'! The ending doesn't really wrap anything up, and it left me feeling depressed about all the characters. In the end, Anne (who has been wanting a baby for a long time but Duncan was never interested) ends up sleeping with Tucker and sneakily 'forgetting' contraception in order to get pregnant. I think this was meant to be seen as a win on her part, but I just found it really creepy and a bit sad.
I also found the story very slow-moving, and from the blurb it sounded like there would be a big cast of weird and wonderful characters, but we actually only meet them briefly before they're gone again and it's back to the boring relationship angst between two very neurotic and irritating people. I don't think books should be allowed to make a big deal about characters in the blurb if they only get a tiny amount of page-time!
I did enjoy the general commentary on how obsessive music fans end up overthinking the music, and how the reality to all their theories is actually very mundane - and how when Tucker finally does release a whole new album, all his fans hate it because they have built him up so much in their minds that it is impossible for him to live up to their standards.

I think my problem with this book is that, while in Hornby's other books the characters are always quite likeable despite their very serious flaws, in Juliet, Naked I didn't really find myself rooting for any of them, because if they weren't downright irritating they were just very dull. I think if you want an enjoyable, funny, music-themed read which doesn't leave you miserable, High Fidelity is the one to go for!

2.5/5 - could have been a lot worse, and I'm sure I just have bad taste in books and it's actually really good...but I just wasn't feeling it with this one.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Review: Amy and Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson

'Amy Curry’s year sucks. And it’s not getting any better. Her mother has decided to move, so somehow Amy has to get their car from California to the East Coast. There’s just one problem: since her father’s death Amy hasn’t been able to get behind the wheel of a car. Enter Roger, the son of a family friend, who turns out to be funny, nice… and unexpectedly cute. 
But Roger’s plans involve a more ‘scenic’ route than just driving from A to B, so suddenly Amy finds herself on the road trip of a lifetime. And, as she grows closer to Roger, Amy starts to realize that sometimes you have to get lost to find your way home…’
My mum recommended this book to me after reading it on holiday, saying that although it was very light reading, she really loved it. I have to say that I agree! The characters of Amy and Roger are really likeable, as are all the weird and wonderful people they meet along their journey. The book is laid out in a fun scrapbook style, with doodles, receipts and photographs for every chapter. There are also playlists to show you what they listened to on the road trip, so you can discover some new music while you're reading! 
The story is quite a bit heavier than it looks from the cover, as it focuses on Amy struggling to cope with the guilt and grief after her father's death three months before, and her twin brother is in rehab for his drug addiction. It's a tearjerker in parts, and there are a lot of flashbacks to Amy's life leading up to, and after, the accident. But the story that unfolds in the present is really fun and uplifting, as we see Amy and Roger's friendship grow, and desperately hope that there will be a fairytale ending. Their relationship is not only adorable with all their inside jokes and habits, but also very realistic, because both characters have their flaws and problems. 
Some parts of the story were very easy to predict, and I found myself picking up on the hints of what would happen very quickly, but I don't really think this spoiled the story at all. I felt that the ending wasn't quite satisfactory, because I was desperate to find out all the extra bits that we don't get told, but this was such a good story that I read it in just a couple of hours. Despite being a Young Adult novel, I think this is a book that anybody with a sense of adventure and a love of travel would enjoy reading. I especially liked it because I've been to a few of the places mentioned in the story - I had the exact same all-you-can-eat breakfast in Yosemite! 
Amy & Roger's Epic Detour gets 5 stars, because I've given up trying to be picky about how many stars I award things, and I really loved it! 

A long awaited update on my EXCITING life.

It's been ages since I've posted anything! I've been very busy - too busy to even read a book, which explains the lack of book reviews. (But I did finish one last night, so expect a review of that very soon!)

Every day this week I have been working with children at a Stagecoach summer school, where they do fun activities based around singing, dancing and acting, as a way of improving their skills and confidence, and of course giving them something to do during the summer holidays so they don't end up bouncing off the walls! The children range from 3 to 7 years old, which is quite a difficult age group to work with, but it's been good fun despite the hard work. Tomorrow morning they will be performing the play they've been practising ("Happy Hat Land") to their parents and relatives, and hopefully *fingers crossed* it will go smoothly!

I'm still anxiously awaiting my next lot of CVs to proofread, as it's been three weeks since I last had any. The reason is that there were staffing issues in Mumbai so it's taking a while for everything to get sorted out. But I'm impatient and I need to give my brain a workout!

My parents got back from Greece yesterday, so it's a full house again. I've been playing 'Pioneer Trail' on my friend Emma's recommendation and I'm afraid to say I'm hooked...which is why it's doubly urgent that I find something more productive to do with my life!

My social life is still at an all-time high, which is fantastic! We've been going out for drinks, meals, clubbing, and tomorrow we're having a girly night in with films and tasty food. I feel like having all these friends appear out of nowhere has made me more confident, and I'm really happy despite still not having a job because I've got all these other things in my life to distract me. I'm off to Rome in three weeks as well, which is excitingly close!

So there we go. Despite the sarcasm in the title, I think my life actually has been fairly exciting lately :)