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musings on retaliation


As the row rumbles on about a slap at a certain awards bash I am reminded of an incident nearly forty years ago when I, too, resorted to violence. Yes, as a bespectacled sober member of the middle-management ranks, as I was then, I blew a fuse and gave in to the red mist. Now I don’t condone violence, but there are times when the primal urge to defend your corner comes up to the surface; threaten me with violence and you risk an equal response.

My red mist moment came not long after I had moved to this corner of North Wiltshire. We were exploring our new part of the world and had ventured out one Saturday. With my wife and our two children aged about seven and three we were strolling along, my wife in front with our daughter and me a few paces behind with our son. My wife was wearing a quilted coat with a hood and one of a group of half a dozen or so youths barged past us running. They were being a general nuisance; we had seen them going the other way a few moments earlier and, as they passed us one of them grabbed the hood of my wife’s coat and pulled it causing her to stagger.

He was too far from me at that moment, but we very quickly came upon the group leaning up against a wall. I walked over to the one I wanted, grabbed him by the throat, lifted him off the ground and told him a couple of home truths, banging his head against the wall in time with my words. His mates had legged it and, having said my piece, I let him go. As I turned away to face a couple of security guards I realised that I was still hiding my son’s hand; I had forgotten about him in the heat off the moment.

The security guys had some hard words for me, but let it go at that. I was grateful as I think that an assault charge might, at that time, have been a little career inhibiting shall we say; I recognised that my action had possible consequences. These days I would probably not been so lucky. I am not proud of what I did, but I wanted to give the little shit a demonstration that actions can have consequences beyond being chased off by the security team.

At the Oscar’s someone took a cheap shot and got slapped by someone else who loved their victim. I am all for free speech and will defend that right to the bitter end, no matter how abhorrent I might find the other person’s viewpoint. However, the right to free speech comes with some responsibility and if we want to live in a civilised society then we all have to behave accordingly. Violence is an extension of that behaviour. I try to rise above things and not let myself get dragged into the gutter, but don’t expect me to hide there either to let you ride over me.

Society these days has a fixation on human rights to the extent that perpetrators appear to do better than their victims. If society does not address that then a rise in personal retaliation is almost inevitable. Is that what we want?

on social media


I have been active within various social media platforms for a long time and, at times, have been an enthusiastic user of them for both business and personal purposes, but times are changing.

Perhaps it is the steady progress towards death: This year I will be 70 and the end is getting closer. I have no idea how long I have, but there is a growing desire to enjoy every minute as best as I can, so do I need all the clutter of other people’s lives intruding on what is left of mine? Yesterday I had a look at Twitter for the first time this year and quite frankly I don’t.

Twitter seems, to me, to have gone downhill fast. I used to enjoy scrolling through posts from those that I follow, but now my feed seems cluttered with all sorts of crap that they think I might like and it is hard for me to see the stuff that I want to look at. I have been fiddling with the settings and have got nowhere and so I have just deleted the app off my ‘phone and tablet. There is just so much nonsense on there that I can’t be bothered to wade through it anymore. Whether I retain the accounts or not (Have about four) remains to be seen but, for now, I am down and gone.

That was what started me off and within the hour I have also deleted the LinkedIn apps as well. Within all of the algorithms that they use surely they have one that detects your date of birth, so why do the keep bombarding a sixty-nine year old with job offers? Or offering someone with my CV jobs best suited to someone in their early twenties just starting out on a career? And then there all of the other members offering me services where none of them have really done any research on me or what I do. As with Twitter I will keep the account open for now, but my days of being active are over and I will probably shut the account down very soon.

Facebook still has some merits for me, albeit at one time I thought that it was pretty dreadful. At the moment I can live with it, but why does it keep bothering me with demands to add things? I don’t want to link things to Instagram or WhatsApp. Whilst I have both I have not come to grips with the former and only have the latter because my little sister and another relative use it. As far as I can see I have no need for either platform beyond that.

There was a time when I was trying to use social media for business purposes, but these days I am at a point where I don’t need to anymore. It is like advertising; I don’t. I get a couple of calls a week for people on behalf of 118 and other advertising media and, if I am bored, I might take the conversation past the point where they say who they are and I say goodbye, but I do understand that the caller is some poor sod trying to earn a crust and is being fed from a mailing list. I try to let them down politely so that they can move on to their next potential customer.

The bottom line is that I don’t need social media for business anymore, so why waste any time on it? I have answered that question by the way, so please don’t feel that you need to answer it.

Last year I rationalised my web site portfolio and the cull of Twitter and linkedIn is just and extension of that process. Next up will be my blogging because I have too many of those as well. There was a time when I wanted to keep personal and business issues separate, but even that dividing line is beginning to blur and so I want to look at how I use blogs and see if a better focus is possible.

So if you follow any of my other platforms you might find that I have gone AWOL. It is nothing personal if I disappear off your list of followers, it will just be because I am no longer there. One day I will no longer be here either, which is, more or less, where I came in.

the lockdown log, an end and a beginning


A few logs back I mentioned that I had been having equipment problems in getting these logs uploaded. This turned out to be related to software updates where the operating system for the devices and the software versions for WordPress were out of synch. I had resurrected my old HP travelling laptop and that, running Windows 7, seemed to be fine and I have happily been writing my log each week since.

Until now that is, and this week when I had to temporarily retire that old HP pending replacing a part. Having reverted to my MacBook I find that none of the last four or five logs are out there in cyberland. I know not why, but I was feeling that a change was in the air, that the Lockdown Logs had run their course, and so this has made it easy to make that change.

I had started the lockdown logs during lockdown and we aren’t locked down any more. If we behave ourselves we can, I hope, avoid another lockdown so the weekly log seemed a little out of place, at least under that banner. The logs have developed a small following though and so I shall carry on, but under a new title; LifeLog perhaps? I have another week to make a choice.

On the subject of choices I got a call from my doctor’s surgery ten days ago to make an appointment for a diabetic review. That spurred my into the decision to stop my daily treats in an attempt to kick-start a further weight loss. I have written here before about my perception of eating habits with alcoholism. I understand that they are not the same thing, but I try to adopt a similar attitude in taking things a day at a time and being able to go to bed at night and say that this has been a day when I have not strayed.

I was able to check my test results on-line yesterday and all looks good. Of the other tests on the day things were also good; my weight was down from last time, there were no problems with my feet or circulation. The only negative was my blood pressure, but I had walked vigorously to the surgery and my pulse rate was up so I have been asked to check my BP at home twice daily and keep a diary for a week (I haven’t started yet). After the tests at the doctor’s I walked around the corner to the health centre for my diabetic eye tests. The results from the pictures of my retina should be through in a couple of weeks, but the basic, how far down the chart can you read, tests were OK.

So I am feeling a little positive. All being well I will finally be able to reduce my Metformin intake from 4 a day to 2 and that might have a beneficial impact on my digestive output. Whilst I have not had too many problems with one of the more unpleasant side effects of Metformin, I do have the occasional problem and I would be very happy to put these behind me. Another good thing from the doctor’s is that my scales and theirs agree so I am not deluding myself with the results I get at home. I am 6 kg over my best weight from about a year ago so I have no room for complacency, but the problem is that whilst I do not like being heavier than I want to be I do like eating. It is another of those choices.

As reported inn the missing blogs the Berkshire Belle and I have had our Covid boosters and our ‘flu jabs so we are as protected as we can be for the moment. We are still avoiding going out to crowded places, but have had a few lunches out recently, some to celebrate important dates and others just for fun. That has stopped as it is getting into Christmas party season and we always avoid that time of year. It will also help the wallet and purse a little; eating out is expensive as well as not being too good for the waistline.

Stay safe out there wherever you are, and thanks for sticking with me.

on working from home


For me the current passion for working from home worries me and I have enough experience of it, going back as far as the early 1980s, to think that I might have a point.

My first experience of working from home as an employee of a large corporation was back in 1982. I worked in London which was a three hour round trip commute away, and, for six weeks, was assigned to work with a supplier based on stop up the railway line from home. Because of issues of commercial confidentiality the supplier did not want me on site more that necessary and so I worked from home.

It was a nightmare in many ways. My wife felt that my presence meant that she could just talk to me whenever a thought entered her head and the inevitable list of garden and household jobs was right there under my nose; “I’ll just take a break and mow the lawn” type of thing. Yes, I did get all of the work that I was being paid for done, but, in general, I hated it and the one lesson that I did learn was that I could use the opportunity to time shift, that is to take an hour off for some DIY during the day and make time up in the evening for example.

Of course that was pre-internet and mobile ‘phones. Im did have a portable typewriter that I used for some reports, but a lot of my written work was done longhand and forwarded to the typing pool (remember them anyone?) at the office.

Later I became an early adopter for working from home when office space was at a premium and I was working all over the UK. By then I was on my second marriage, there were no children at home and I had a wife who understood that there were times when I needed to be left alone. Again I often did personal stuff during the day and work at night, but y then I was a fully equipped road carrier with cell ‘phone and GPRS equipped laptop.

Around the mid 1990s some of the implications of remote working were coming to the fore as it became more common and a working party was set up to look at the pros and cons as well as to try and draft some good practice notes along with a company policy. One of the key issues that came out of that was the employer’s liability. There is a duty of care and whilst we had all of the necessary workstation and VDU stuff in place for employees in the workplace, how did you cope with people working, unsupervised, from home off the dining table or with the laptop on their lap as they sprawl on the sofa? You can moan all you like about jobsworth H&S people, and I do, but the law is the law and their are people queuing up for big scalps.

The other big issue about working from home, for the employee and employer, is the lack of dynamics that you get when people are collected in one place. There is a lot to be gained from teams being together and the interchanges with others in those water cooler moments. Scatter the buggers all around the country and you have lost that. I don’t know how you measure it, but, over time, you will miss it. As a team leader you get a lot from seeing your people in action, it speaks volumes and helps to pick the real stars from the poseurs. Yes, you can judge on results alone, but, if you do, you will promote the wrong people too often.

Looking at working from home from the customer perspective it is already apparent to me that there are times when it is just not working well enough. This may just be due to policies and procedures combined with technology issues, but it has been a lot harder to get problems solved since lockdown started. Take one of my clients who has three times had the wrong item picked and shipped. Every time the supplier has made exactly the same mistake, but each time customer service have been called the person responding has been working from home and unable to do anything other than to tell my client how to return the item for a credit. At no time have either of us been able to speak to anyone who is actually there to try and resolve the problem. In the end we bought the item direct from the US and they got it right first time.

For some sectors there is no excuse for continuing to allow working from home now. The Civil Service being one; that large chunks of them are apparently working from home still is a scandal. Remote working in various forms is a viable tool in this day and age for the right jobs, sales teams being a classic example, but for much of what used to go on in the office we need to see people back and their desks. Working in a mask is a pain, but I do it as do many others.

We are in a time of great change and need to adapt. It may be that some businesses will feel that they can allow more people to work from home and will come up with policies and practices that work for them. If they can make it work then fine, but I think that, for now, we need to see a lot more bums on their original office seats.

PS: If you are working from home have a search through the old posts here for my top tips for home workers.

on control


There is a lot of talk about loss of freedom at the moment. We are, globally, living in a time when there have to be restrictions and, for many people, we are just not used to that. There is a perception that we have lost control of our own destiny because we are being told what we can and can’t do.

I will keep my remarks here about life in the UK for no other reason than that, for obvious reasons, I have not been anywhere else since life changed back in March 2019. We have it pretty good here which is why so many people from other countries want to come here, and talking to a colleague from one of the former Soviet Bloc countries I was told how they had needed a permit to go from the side of town where they lived to the one that they worked in. Just imagine how that would have gone down here. Yet the Covid regulations (for want of a better term) have, in some ways, not been that far removed and there has been acceptance from some and howls of protest from others.

Over eighteen months we have had to have levels of control imposed and there has been a level of fear across us too. This is a silent and invisible killer, the stuff of science fiction. To all intents and purposes we are at war and it grinds you down. Mental health was an emergent problem in any case, but has become more of an issue as we face up to this modern day plague.

Something that I learned in my business life was that I needed to focus my attention on certain areas as a time management issue more than anything. To get the best out of the 60-70 hours I was putting in each week I had to focus on what I could deal with and one of the tools that I would use is the Eisenhower Matrix. I won’t go Ito that here, just run it through your search engine of choice if you are not familiar with it, but the basic principle is in prioritising tasks.

One of the benefits of this type of technique is that you get things done. I used to say that there were times when I couldn’t get my head out of the trench for long enough to see which way the bullets were coming from. Life could be like that and whilst that style of firefighting management can be good fun at times it is not a recipe for long term success: I needed to get things under control and, once I had, I found that I had time to think about preventing fires rather than having to keep putting them out. Life got easier.

Getting to that point took a lot of the stress out of work and I have tried to apply the same type of thinking too life under lockdown. There are lots of things that I cannot control right now, but if I focus on what I can control and take charge of those then it gives me some comfort, certainly more than I would get if I just sat in a heap complaining. Finding the things that I can manage myself might see me mired in trivia; often the things that a straight application of the Eisenhower Matrix would see me discard, but they are things that I can do without recourse to anyone else; I have control and it helps to keep me sane.

Control the things that you can. If nothing else you will be practising a good discipline that will help you in your career in the longer term.

on ambition


A few weeks ago a professional journal for one of the sectors that I work in talked about attracting young people into the trade. It got me thinking about the young people that I currently work with and then my own career.

Asking around amongst some of the under-thirties I know there seemed to be a balance between probably sticking with their current sector, if not with the same employer, and those who would just see what came up. Of the former only one thought that they would definitely want to stay in the sector.

The general opinion was that things change and that there was no guarantee that the right opportunities would be there for them when they needed them. That got me thinking about how my working life had panned out.

In my later school years I looked at what would have been a long term career, but although there was a chance to go for it, there was a need for parental commitment that was not forthcoming. It left me with a desire to become a manager, but with no idea of what.

An opportunity to achieve that ambition came as I left school, but was screwed up when we moved elsewhere a few months later. Another long term opportunity sailed away with redundancy and I then spent the next six years or so drifting along with four distinct changes of sector before settling into a major corporation with which I was to stay with for over thirty years.

However, even there I did not settle into any specific discipline. I worked for them in retail, finance, IT, policy, procurement, logistics, sales and marketing, training and facilities management working all around the UK. If I had any ambition it was to move up the ladder, but around half of my moves were because of reorganisation rather than me actively seeking them.

In the end I did achieve that rather vague ambition to be a manager. I worked my way up from the bottom to the board room and have served as both executive and non-executive director, but I cannot claim to have been focused on a career. More that I just took my chances and played whatever hand I got dealt as best as I could.

Following that example is perhaps the best advice that I could give.

on food on the road


I say on the road, but mean food whilst travelling in general, regardless of mode of transport. My first experiences of having to find food whilst out and about came back in the mid 1970s when I was a salesman flogging lorry parts and hydraulic fittings around London’s East End and the North bank of the Thames. It was there that I learned my first and second important lessons in finding decent, affordable food; firstly, ask the locals and secondly, learn who to trust for advice.

There were some dreadful “greasy spoons” about, but there we also some gems, all of which I would have driven past if I had not been told to stop. It was around that time that I was introduced to salt beef bagels for example and these are something that I will still look for one the rare occasions I get the chance. Pub grub was not a big thing back then, but the Waterman’s Arms on the Isle of Dogs, whilst a little more expensive than I might usually want to got to, became a regular spot for a treat when I was having a good week.

Jobs changed and I found myself working in offices with canteens (sorry, staff restaurants) for a few years before heading out and about again some ten years later. Motorways were the quick way to get around, but their service areas by then were pretty awful places and to be avoided so I began to search out other options. One of my early successes was to find garden centres not too far off the motorway. They often had a cafe and, in those days of mostly independent operations, you got good, home cooked, food. There were also some good pubs around where lunch, or even breakfast on days with early starts, could be found.

My aim was usually to try and eat more healthy food than the convenient locations offered and the sorts of places that I sought out often offered seasonal food. One favourite stop for lunch in the Spring was a country town cafe where I could get a poached egg on top of a crumpet with local asparagus; much nicer, and better for me, than a Big Mac and fries. I have no problem with the big chains and do use them even now, but trying something different is important for me even if it does cost a little more.

After a time travelling the UK I started to get the odd trip overseas and there even more opportunities to move away from regular fare arise. On a holiday there is an tendency to get trapped in the tourist fare that is on offer, but if you are working then talking to colleagues from the area will almost always find you something interesting. I have experienced dive bars on the waterfront in China, a home cooked meal in Libya and been taken to eateries in many places that I found never have found had one of the locals not guided me. In Thailand the ladies in the office would offer me fruit and curries and, for the ones that I liked, write out the names of them, or similar dishes, so that I could buy them in the street market behind my hotel for my evening meals.

My waistline did suffer over the dirty odd years that I travelled regularly and I have lost 20 or so Kg over the lockdown period. My main business travelling days are now over, but I have many happy memories of places that I have been fed at, from dive bars to Michelin stars they all have given me pleasure.

on market research and advertising


Over my years of working I have worked in sales several times and, in my own businesses, I have had to rely on my own abilities in that area. Knowing what will sell and how to get it in front of those who will buy varies according to what it is you are selling, but the basic principles are the same whether you are standing at your stall in the market or pitching a multi-million pound deal in the boardroom. If you don’t grasp them you will not last long.

This is not about the mechanics of selling though, it’s about some of the stuff that goes on around it. Specifically understanding who will buy what, why and how to get their attention.

Starting with the back end of that, advertising, it has struck me how things have changed. Visual advertising, mainly in the form of TV commercials, but also including billboards and the like, used to have an element of wit and style, but these days they seem to have dumbed down to a point where many are just puerile. If they are intended to make me want to buy the product, they don’t, but worse, they put me off using the company altogether. I vote with my wallet and there are some places where I will no longer take my cash based on their advertising.

Perhaps these companies have researched and tested these adverts; they almost certainly have because the Berkshire Belle amuses herself by taking part in market research and will often warn me that her tablet is about to “make a noise”. Some of the questions that she will then be asked are so off the wall as to be worrying, for example she will often be asked to say what sort of person the advertiser is, and various other oblique questions that are almost impossible to answer with any credibility.

Not only is someone paying shed loads of money for this research, but they will also go on to spend much more on commissioning the commercial and getting it out there. But if the questions are ones that it is not possible to answer with any genuine accuracy then the results will be flawed so what is the point?

As stupid as it sounds people are using this stuff. Perhaps it is because they have paid a lot for it that they choose to believe it; I don’t know for sure, but I have certainly been on the inside of teams who have been using data from this sort of market research and cannot ever recall it being challenged by those making the decision.

I am not saying that all market research is wasted. You do need to know, but be careful with what you get back because people lie in at least some of their answers. Use such data as a guide rather than an absolute and do look carefully at the results that you get when you go to market.

Maybe my criticism of advertising is, in part, due to flaws in the research. I don’t know the answer to that either, but I suspect that, whilst it contributes, the biggest problem is a general dumbing down of society. Our expectations have been lowered so much that we get what we deserve. For me it means that, just as I will not buy from a cold call, I will buy very little that I see advertised on TV.

on fake news


I am not one for conspiracy theories and am fully aware that news media are not, in this day and age, unbiased so I treat anything that I read or hear from them with as open a mind as I can. If something interests me enough then I try to triangulate and get bearing from other directions and try to form my opinions accordingly. I was, at least, taught at school to try and think critically and that side of my education was refreshed as I worked my way up the greasy pole of management through three decades.

An example of something that is puzzling me at the moment, and it is an area in which I have a professional interest, is a claim that I saw recently that we have lost over 100,000 lorry drivers from the UK job market.

Now I know that some drivers from EU countries have left due to the UK leaving the EU, but 100,000? This just does not gel with what I see and hear around me. There are not loads of trucks parked up with no drivers and when I talk to immigrant drivers they will admit that some of their compatriots have gone home, but not in any great numbers.

There are issues in terms of recruiting and retaining drivers within the industry; poor pay, nowhere to park for statutory breaks, poor facilities and, for those not directly employed, the costs of retaining their licence. Even getting a licence now is a problem because of a ridiculous EU regulation that we have not struck from the statute that prevents someone going directing to an articulated truck licence (you have to take a rigid truck test first and then move up to an artic) effectively pretty much doubling the cost of a licence.

But the media channels are reporting a shortage of drivers as a problem of us having left the EU and so that is what the person in the street believes when they see an empty shelf at their local store.

I will refrain from banging on too much about these things; there are plenty of other examples and you may well have favourites of your own. It seems that the media are either trying to make a political point or are just looking for ways to sex up a story and think that we are all too stupid to challenge them, or maybe it is also just the echo chamber effect; to give their readers news biased to the way that they want to hear it.

Sad really, but the truth has become what you want it to be and that is dangerous. Orwell’s 1984 might have come late, but I think that it has, perhaps, caught up with us.

on freedom of speech part two


I dashed off a rant the other day on this topic. Naughty because I try not to do that sort of thing, but I was incensed and that is an especially bad time to launch into print. I will try to be a bit more considered here.

The issue with Piers Morgan worries me considerably in terms of our society because it seems that there is a view that one person can give a TV interview and say what they like, but another person commenting on that issue gets shouted down. Why is one allowed to speak freely and another not? That has to be wrong.

Over the last few days there has been a move by the Left to persuade advertisers to shun the new UK TV news channel because it styles itself as right of centre. Personally I had not intended to watch it of a regular basis, but I am temped to watch it daily now and to shun any company that pulls its advertising. Censorship is not acceptable to me.

I have moved around to political spectrum over the years. I leaned a bit left in my younger days before drifting into the centre. Yes, I have some views that will seem extreme and used to joke about being turned down by a South American Junta for being too right wing, but, for example, I did not support the abolition of capital punishment back in the 1960s and am still opposed to those that support its exclusion from the options available to our courts. If that makes me a right wing extremist in your eyes then so be it. I am entitled to a view.

One of the things that we did not have in my youth was social media and so to express a view you needed an audience in person. One of my delights was Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park where there were all sorts that you could listen to. Not all were good orators, but some, like Donald Soper, were very good and, even if I did not agree with the views that they were expressing, there was a joy in listening and an opportunity to consider what they said. To think critically about what was said, weigh up the various points and form my own opinion was a big part of my teenage education.

Heckling was part of public speaking and a good heckler versus a good speaker was another part of the free entertainment as was the ability of a good speaker to deal with a moronic heckler. Indeed many of the crowds would turn on the latter, something that you rarely see in the social media echo chambers of today. In any case heckling is a dead art now as political events and conferences eject anyone not espousing the common view. Another loss of the freedom to speak.

We are in danger of becoming intellectually sterile and that is not good for society. There should be open debate and an acceptance that, through constructive argument, alternative views can be weighed. Freedom of speech is also about the freedom to think, but it is also about freedom itself. Let us not lose it.