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Posts Tagged ‘swindon’

Improvement projects should make things better, shouldn’t they?


I travel by ‘bus and train as often as I can, not just because of the green aspects, but because I quite like it; I get to look around and to think in a way that I can’t afford to do when I am driving, but looking around and thinking can lead to seeing and realising. For someone who has a long record of customer service seeing and realising can mean trouble. Read more…

A Patient’s Progress – The Book


For those that remember my series of stories on life in hospital, the 20 or so stories that appeared here were a little under half of what I wrote during my stay, and I have pulled the whole work together in an eBook.

As with my previous book it is on Kindle to begin with, but I will start looking at the paperback options in a week or two. You can buy the Kindle edition here: A Patient’s Progress

My hospital sojourn interrupted the process of another book that was also almost ready for publication, and I want to resume work on that with the aim of having it on Kindle before Christmas, so watch this space.

2013 could see a number of publications from me depending on how other work goes; writing is a very time-consuming activity!

Monday Musings holiday fun on travel to London


As it is a Holiday Monday I thought a little frivolity could surface and so, having been reading about the Mayoral campaign on a couple trips to London recently, it strikes me that I might make a suggestion.

One issue for both candidates seemed to be to do something about “the monolith that is Transport for London”. If so, then I ask that they axe the DffTCB; The Department for frustrating ThatConsultantBloke. I have a picture of something like this: Read more…

It’s about 1150BC, and an FM in darkest Wessex has just taken a call


It’s about 1150BC, and an FM in darkest Wessex has just taken a call from an Egyptian pal he met at the recent FM conference. In the best traditions of the wonderful Bob Newhart, we can only hear one end of the conversation:

Hey Jabari, when did you get back?

Four months? Took me nearly that. Too bad the Romans haven’t started their road building programme yet eh? So how’s that pyramid project going?

Just started. So how big is this thing?

Wow! That’s going to take a lot of labour.

OK, so you can get plenty of people in from overseas? You must have a great benefits, healthcare and welfare package down there to bring them in, right?

Slaves! Can you do that?

You do it all the time? OK, so if that’s how it is. I guess you don’t have a socialist government then? Say, Jabari, how do you do with accidents working with stone?

About 10% of the workforce? How many of those are serious?

That’s just the fatalities! Ouch! Good job liability lawyers haven’t been thought of yet. So, tell me, how do you get involved as an FM while the place is being built?

Trying to head off hand over problems? Yes, we get them too, and FMs do spend a lot of time trying to make new buildings work. Who’s your architect on this one?

No, I wouldn’t know him. How many of these jobs has he done?

This is his first! Why not go for someone with experience?

You kill them at the end of the job? I know I’ve felt like murdering one or two myself, but you must have been pretty dissatisfied right?

Client policy, eh? Rather you than me. I wouldn’t want to be failing my KPIs down your way!

Right. So how long are you going to be using this building when they hand it over?

All eternity? Goodness! Now I’m into future proofing, but this is in a different league. Sooner or later someone will invent stuff we can’t even imagine, so you might want leave some sort of access, and maybe carve some instructions into the stone to say what you’ve done?

OK, well, look: this pyramid shape, it’s not great in terms of user friendliness you know? Over here we’re still strong on the roundhouse for now, but what you need are vertical walls, right? But stick with the pointy roof on top; believe me you do not want to go with a flat roof. So your square shape with walls would give you a great useable space.

Yes, we’re still on open plan, but we have this great new concept; you have interior walls to break up that space, and then you can separate the masters from the animals and the workers.

You already do that? How does that work for you?

OK, so you call them chambers. So how are your occupancy numbers on these pyramids with chambers?

That’s terrible! With that floor plan, even as a pyramid, you need to be getting a lot more people in than that. I know! This some sort of scam to keep the rates down right?

Oh! It’s a tomb for the king! Yes, I get it, so you’re thinking security. We just pile tons on earth on ours so no one can dig through fast enough to not get spotted, but if you’re all sand down there I see why you need so much stone.

Talking about stone buildings, I told you we’re trying to build some over here? Well, I managed to get a couple of big piles of decent stones assembled down in Wessex ready for when we get some demand. Funny thing though, you remember that craze for crop circles we talked about at conference?

That’s right. Well, some crazies got into our storage yards and spread all the stones out into circles and patterns!

No, I’m not joking. They even hoisted some of the damn things up and stood them on top of each other. Goodness knows how, but those Celts are strong lads, especially when they’ve been on the mead.

No, it’ll cost a fortune to tidy it all up again, so I’m going to leave them as they are and just take the odd stone when I need it. Mind you, there’s some religious group want to rent one of the sites for a festival.

Good point! I’ll put a clause in about no sacrifices. They make such a bloody mess.

Your money’s running out? OK Jabari. Good talking to you. Maybe see you again next conference.

thursday news from monday musings


A rare mid-week post, but I have a couple of pieces of news to broadcast.

First off I had some kind feedback on last year’s Christmas Story and so I am working on a couple of humorous posts again for the next two, maybe three, Monday Musing columns and the first of these is already scheduled ready to run.

The other piece of news is that, having become aware that I need to prune the archives here to maintain space I have put together a collection of the older posts that seem to generate repeat traffic and added a lot of new and original material to be published as an e-book. The completed volume is with Amazon at the moment and will be exclusively available via Kindle to begin with. If you don’t own a Kindle, then  Kindle for PC can be downloaded from the Amazon site at no cost. Click here to buy the book from Amazon.

I Don't Have My Decision Making Trousers On

As 2011 runs out I’d like to thank all those who have followed my blog(s) and supported my efforts over the year. Seasonal greeting to all and best wishes for a good 2012.

On the anniversary of 9/11, an awful piece of emergency management

September 12, 2011 2 comments

This morning I went out to do my usual Sunday morning shop for the week at one of the major chains local emporium. They have adopted the civilised approach of opening the door at 0930 even though the ludicrous Sunday trading laws mean that they can’t serve you before 1000, so I can, at least, wander round filling my cart and be back home at a reasonable hour to get on with my day.

I was accompanied as usual by a companion who, like me, is a veteran of managing large establishments and running countless emergency evacuations of such places, and so when a bell sounded a couple of times and an alarm started up we resignedly began the journey from half way round the store towards the exit: We know the signs, especially when my companion was literally shoulder charged by one of the store employees running towards the store room and bakery area.

Sure enough the public address burst into life and a message asking everyone to leave the store began, but then an extraordinary thing happened. From the Staff Only area that the lady who had bounced off my companion had vanished into, employees began to emerge shouting “There’s a fire, get out!” and running, yes running, towards the exit.

My companion and I were making a calm departure having abandoned our shopping carts at the side of an aisle out of the way and the other shoppers were also leaving in an orderly fashion, but not the employees, they were weaving and bobbing as they rushed to get out and the “There’s a fire, get out” was heard several times from more than one of them as they rushed past us.

It was truly one of the most extraordinary scenes I have witnessed at an emergency evacuation. I have been in some tight corners over the years, some of which you’ve read about here, but this morning I felt genuine fear. Thank goodness there was not a panic amongst the shoppers, especially as we got near the narrows of the exit. My companion was not too steady having had a fall at home the night before and, large as I am, I’m not too sure that I could have shielded them adequately in a stampede.

Fortunately we, and everyone else, got out OK, but I am writing to the company concerned with some observations.  Given our experience of these things we did not hang around for the aftermath, but decanted to a rival store up the road where I may start to shop in future on the basis that I might be safer.

The other observation I will make is that, having assembled the store team in the centre of the car park two of the supervisory team, presumably having completed the roll call, appeared to realise that the main entrance had been left open and, seemingly, unguarded for about three minutes. They then both began to run back to the entrance.  Why run through a car park with some, like me beginning to drive out and others still driving in unaware of the drama? Why run anywhere at all?

Whether there was a fire or not is not important, what matters is that an emergency evacuation should be carried out in a calm and controlled manner and this one was not, it was almost a “How Not To” demonstration.

All in all it was a shameful performance. I would love to do a debrief using the CCTV footage (assuming they have it) and to try and help improve. I’m still having problems believing it happened.

I’m still not advocating bullying, but consider Winston Churchill; where do you draw the line?


Last week I mentioned bullying in a leadership context. Bullying is generally accepted to consist of three fundamental types of abuse; emotional, verbal, and physical. One or more of these techniques are used as methods of coercion through intimidation, and leadership is sometimes about coercion as it is about inspiration.

When a leader gets people to follow them through inspiration, painting a vision or any of the things that we like to talk about when we try to develop leadership concepts we are taking the moral high ground, And perhaps rightly so, but in reality there will be times that leaders need to get the followers moving by other means.

The prophetic aspect of last week’s bullying mention came via one of those fly on the wall TV shows last week. This series follows a 12 month project each week. I wasn’t following too closely to begin with as the characters and situation had not had too much appeal, but then came an incident where one of the team left the project because of a bit of a clash of personalities with the business mentor that had been appointed. The departing body had a few words to say as to why they were going and the other party defended their style.

The project was successfully completed and, at the opening do, one of the dignitaries referred in a light hearted way to the mentor as having bullied the project through, echoing the earlier clash of style. Someone else then said to the mentor’s face, again in a light hearted, way that they had been a bully and that led to tears. In the wrap up the presenter took up the bullying theme so, despite the risk that TV could not show a year’s worth of filming in an hour and therefore may have played up the controversy angle, there was a reasonable chance that the use of the term bully was not unfair.

Now I admire the results of the project concerned and applaud the team for having got it done. The mentor, as a leader, played their part in getting it done and deserves their share of the praise. What I did not admire was that they seemed to prefer to deny that there was an issue with their style instead of accepting that so many pieces of feedback had to have some significance.

In trying to rise above the way that the TV team may have used film selectively to try and portray conflict and resolution to build a story, my observation is that the project was successfully seen through, that it did need pushing (in my experience of similar projects they always do), that the style employed by the mentor grated, but that the mentor was generally loved by the team as evidenced by the farewell send off and gift. Bullying tactics had not diminished the good will of the team.

Sometimes you have to coerce. Take a situation where you have to make radical change. Some will see the need and go willingly, some will see the need and obstruct while others will just be difficult.  How are you going to get them all going the way that you want them too?

People are individuals and they respond to different things. The line between benevolent coercion and intimidation is a fine one. As a leader you have power that you should not abuse, but getting it right isn’t easy. Leading us in WW2 Winston Churchill used bullying; does that diminish him as a leader? What do you think? More on this in a week or so.

why do wives put up with it?


Lately I have been back on the train a lot, and have been reminded of a phenomenon I had largely forgotten. One of those strange ritual behaviours between the female and the male of the species that puzzles, even troubles me. So let me set the scene:

Join me on platform one at Swindon as I await an early Paddington train. As an avid people watcher I have plenty of material to work with in such situations; travel provides a fascinating insight into one’s fellow humans. The platform regulars are instantly recognisable, as is their pecking order.

But, just beyond the tracks, is activity in the north car park that has reminded me of a, to me rather sexist, behaviour that really should have died out in these enlightened times. A car will sweep into the car park, pull up near the station entry and from the driver’s side will emerge Mr Businessman, suited and booted for his day at the office. From the passenger side will emerge, well, for the purpose of this story, let’s call her Mrs Businessman, and she is dressed for doing stuff around the house.

Mr B will take his briefcase from the back and depart for his train, and Mrs B drives the car back to the 4 bed, 2 rec, 3.75 bath or whatever.

Now there are variations on the level of human contact in these vignettes, but most are pretty perfunctory at best, but one stands out: The Volvo estate is brought to a stop with some authority. Mr B emerges, takes his briefcase and strides away without a glance at his companion. She walks round the front of the car, seeming to distance herself from him as much as she can, and departs with a decent touch of wheelspin. It is a shame that she had to pause to adjust the driver’s seat and that the car is front wheel drive. If she had been quicker and had had rear wheel drive she could have sprayed him with gravel such was the violence of her leaving the scene.

What domestic strife had preceded this journey? What was the atmosphere in the car along the way? These are the joys of people watching, speculating on events.

But I digress. The point here is that this ritual, something that I have seen for as long as I can remember, still goes on. OK, it is none of my business how other people live their lives, but this behaviour is so alien to me and seems so insulting to the ladies, although they seem quite happy to accept it.

I would never have dreamt of behaving like this with any of the ladies I have shared my life with since I flew the nest over 40 years ago. I know I’m not unique here as the guy who lives opposite is equally as happy to have his wife drive him as he is to drive her, but he and I do seem to be in a very small minority judging by my observations.

Maybe all of this is covered in the Handbook of Inter-Gender Relationships, I don’t know. Perhaps the ladies concerned are quite happy to have things this way. Maybe it means that they don’t have their driving criticised by some chauvinistic oaf. Possibly one of them might read this and enlighten me.

I hope that they do, because I would love to know. Whilst I’ll never find out what the story behind Mr & Mrs Volvo was, my natural curiosity is aroused and do I like to learn something new every day.

come in number 6, your time is up – when the boatman calls….


I wrote here the other week about how we might be remembered, a thought brought on by having seen a couple of the buildings I used to manage demolished. Time passes; things move on.

This week other incidents have sparked me off along the same lines though. One was being reminded of two 40 something ladies meeting on a road I frequent two or three times a week, and the other was the pictures of the water sweeping in across North Eastern Japan.

Like many of us I watched in awe as the water swept in. I’ve been through three earthquakes in my time, including one in California that I slept through, as well as a couple of hurricanes, so I have some feel for what nature can do and the sheer power that can be unleashed, but to watch helplessly as that tidal wave swept ashore was a humbling experience.

We sometimes forget that the gift of life is a privilege and not a right. It will take a while before we know what the death toll is in Japan, and other parts of the region affected by the earthquake, but it seems like we could be talking about a six figure number. None of those folks knew that this was the day that they would die. They went off in the morning to do whatever it was that they had to do. Some will have had to be in what became the danger zone, other will have been sent there by the law of chance; the maintenance engineer sent there rather that to higher, safer, parts because of a call for help for example. Fate is a fickle mistress.

When your time is up and the boatman calls your number it is all over and your time here is done. The meeting of the two ladies is a case in point. I was 6 miles up over the central Atlantic when they met, but it was a time that I might otherwise have also been on that road at about that point in space and time. Their meeting was no social encounter; each was alone in their respective cars when they both needed the same piece of tarmac. Travelling in opposite directions they met at a closing speed over around 100 mph and neither survived*. Up until four or five seconds before the impact neither would have had any notion that this was their time. Had I not been elsewhere I might have found the finger of fate pointing at me that afternoon, but the Berkshire Belle had booked us to fly on that day rather than the next as planned and I was safely parked in a window seat on a 767 at the time of the crash rather than driving myself home on that road.

In the words of the legendary Sid Collins we are all speeding towards death at the rate of sixty minutes in every hour. We don’t know when the call will come, so what we do with our time here is important. If we can do something positive for the world and the people around us then our time here will not be wasted.

As I say, our time on Earth is a privilege and not a right. We all have a choice of what we do with that time. What are you doing with your time here? Remember, life isn’t fair either, and we may not get as much of it as we would like, so never mind what you’d like to be remembered for; try and make a difference and do it today: You may not get another chance.

* I had been told this by one of the locals, but in 2013 I found that it was not true. In the accident one of the ladies died and the other was severely injured, but later recovered. In one of those awful examples of fate it was the innocent party who died instantly in the collision, but the survivor was the one who caused the accident. Having been observed shortly before the crash driving at high speed and erratically, according to reports, she had over twice the legal limit of alcohol in her system. She fled abroad to escape justice, but was returned to the UK where she received a jail sentence. Her recent appeal against the severity of the sentence was turned down.

The local paper summarised the incident here.

let the train take the strain, or is the car better by far?


Recently I had a meeting near London Bridge, but which way to travel? I go up to town about 15 times a year on average these days, and I’ve had bad luck with trains to and from Swindon one way and another in recent years.

An additional issue is that the cost is very high if I can’t book well in advance, and I try to keep costs down regardless of whether it is I or my client who is paying. A spontaneous run up to The Smoke from Swindon will cost about £120 including the car park for example. Another problem is the latter; car parking is a bit hit and miss if I’m not there reasonably early and, if I get there and can’t park, I’ve driven 15 minutes in the wrong direction and have therefore wasted about half an hour by the time I get to the M4 heading East to try an alternative.

Over time I’ve developed options for driving part way, usually to Reading where there is covered parking next to the station, a connecting walkway to the platforms plus extra train options from other routes that converge there. Nett journey time from my house to Paddington is about the same as going from Swindon, but the rail and car park charge is so much less that, even allowing for a mileage charge at HMRC rates, I can still do the run for about £35 less that by rail from  Swindon.

Another option is to drive to Basingstoke. The extra mileage cancels out the slightly cheaper rail fare making it on a par with the run to Reading, but the traffic is easier and the cross country drive via my home town of Newbury is pleasant. The trains take me into Waterloo, so it is an easy walk from there to London Bridge, or across the river into central London if I’m going to, say, the IoD or Whitehall.

So I favour this hybrid journey of road and rail combined. Certainly it is less effective in terms of my green leanings, but it provides me with a cheaper and less stressful journey and, for the part I do in the car, is far more comfortable. Trains these days I find appallingly uncomfortable, and yes, I do understand that my size has something to do with that, but, whilst I accept responsibility for my girth, I can’t do a lot about my skeletal height and width. Train seating these days is clearly designed for dwarves and midgets and the lack of anywhere decent to park my carcass takes a lot of the pleasure away from what used to be a treat.

I loved taking the train, especially in the 80’s when I travelled around a lot of the UK by British Rail. And also trains in Denmark, Germany, France and the USA.

Even in my various spells of commuting into the City during the 60s into the 80s there was a bit more space and the seats were tall enough for me to have somewhere to rest my head, but then some idiot design team came in and refurbished all the carriages with small seats, plastic and strip lighting and the world of rail travel went on a downward spiral for me.

Now we have these ultra modern trains with their garish and lurid colour schemes that offer a period of torture rather than the pleasures of old. Yes, they are usually clean and reliable, but are they what we need to attract people onto public transport, especially given the, often extortionate, cost?

Such is progress.

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