It’s beginning to feel a lot like heartburn

Christmas. That much used and abused date in everyones calendar that means what you want it to mean. A gluttony of commercialised excess for the consumer age spawned by coca cola? The picture postcard snapshot of Victoriana forged of Dickensian imagination? A celebration of the birth of a religious VIP according to a book selectively composed of bits of scripture dug up in a desert and reinterpreted centuries later by canonised warmongerers in funny hats? A pagan festival to celebrate the winter solstice? Or maybe an excuse to take a few days off work, see friends & family while reminding oneself just how bad Dick van Dyke’s cockney accent was.

Shiny things
Shiny things

Take your pick (I’m firmly in the latter camp) but unless you are mentally unstable there is something every year waiting to test your nerves. This year it’s Simon Cowell – a man frantically burying choice fragments of his autobiography in the hope he may be “rediscovered” as the messiah in 2000 years – again trying to steal the Christmas number one slot with his latest formula dirge. At least Joe Public is fighting back by getting RATM to the top slot. I struggle to think of a more potent statement of public opinion in recent years, a combined hatred for SC and everything he stands for that would drive millions of people to pay to download a track they weren’t even going to listed to. It is utterly futile of course. These people are just lining Sony’s corporate coffers and rewarding SC’s faceless business buddies, but that’s not the point.

Baubles
Baubles

The point is that despite all of the despair people presently feel about our world – unsanctioned wars and the victims on all sides, the corruption of our elected (and unelected) politicians, the threat of global warming and our clueless approach to tackling it, the loss of jobs as employers go to the wall while morally/financially bankrupt bankers are allowed to take tax payers money in one hand and bonuses in the other – the RATM episode proves that there is hope. It proves that while the voice of a man in the street cannot be heard (or is not listened to) when lots of men in lots of streets shout together then they have the unstoppable power to swing the balance. Today’s “victory” is a trivial one. Perhaps next time the common voice will speak decisively about politics, the environment or conflict. Maybe we are learning that the silent majority do hold the power after all if they just know how to collectively mobilise themselves.

Under the tree
Under the tree

Sorry for allowing my blog to slip knee deep into the murky depths of serious social commentary but it feels appropriate to look to signs of hope at this time of year and this might be as good as it gets.

I’ve just finished decorating the artificial tree and proven to myself that you can always eak out one more year from a threadbare wire frame with enough bling and sufficiently dim lighting. Most of the presents are accounted for and wrapped so next on my tick-list is the business of enjoying myself for the next couple of weeks. For me this will mean seeing family/friends, getting busy in the kitchen and attempting to smile more than I frown. Nothing I shouldn’t be doing every week of the year really.

The tree
The tree

Here are a few seasonal related things that have made me smile this week

Mr Christmas isn’t

Sir Cliff’s sleazy Christmas

You think WE find Christmas confusing?

Finally – I’m donating to charity this year rather than sending out many of the cards I would normally write so the photos in this blog are my alternative offering to you.
Merry whatever!

Mr Moocow - just for Archie
Mr Moocow – just for Archie

My letterbox and me

I don’t know about you but I have a hole in my front door to enable strangers to put things through. I didn’t make it but it was there when I bought the house. It’s an interesting concept that a few years ago you would take for granted but how relevant will it be in 10 years I wonder?

The ongoing postal dispute may be an inconvenience for many people but the general scale of disruption is nothing like that brought about by strikes of years gone by because it is no longer central to many transactions in our lives. Thanks to Tim Berners-Lee and co a huge volume of mail has become internet traffic.

What does the postal service in 2009 mean to me? A trawl through my weekly mail reveals unsolicited Kleenese and Avon catalogs, delivered unfailingly for years despite me never placing an order or even returning the catalogs. I used to leave them outside the front door for retrieval as requested but they weren’t normally collected and I tired of having my doorstep littered so now they go in the bin. On one occasion I informed the Avon lady of this and she got very angry saying that it cost her money. She seemed unconcerned that I didn’t want this junk through my letterbox in the first place and that technically I own the floor either side of my front door.

Of course, there are plenty of mailers who are not the least interested in what I do with their junk after it lands in my hallway. The sheer volume of pizza menus I get is truly something to behold and most of them hail from establishments much further away than the excellent local outlet meaning they haven’t a prayer of patronage from anybody around here. Almost as numerous are the Indian takeaway menus, yet despite such intense competition for trade they manage to precisely duplicate each other meaning they have no competitive edge. But the flyers I can least comprehend are those for double glazing. My house is one of 80 on an estate build 7 years ago. Every one of these has double glazing covered by a 10 year guarantee so chances of a sale must be somewhere in the region of nil. At best.

What then we are left with after all the straight-to-recycle fodder are birthday and Christmas cards. Bank statements I can get online so I’m not sure why they send them to me. When occasionally I order something for delivery the postie usually comes while I am at work resulting in a trip to the collection office. In other words I only need a hole in my door in the days leading up to 26th May and 25th December.

So the postal service no longer has anything to offer. Not so! I’m saving a fortune by collecting and reusing the red rubber bands the postman dumps on my doorstep each week.

Not a very supermarket

State of the nation: a world credit crunch leaves no corner of industry untouched. Every business is feeling the squeeze. The retail sector is a battleground with stores desperate just to hold onto market share and ride out the storm.

With one remarkable exception: Business analysts are flocking to Sainsburies at Kingsway in Derby to try and understand how they are able to successfuly operate in a way that defies commercial logic. They observe the following:

  • Far too few trolleys which are rarely returned to bays near the store entrance. Shoppers have walk to all four corners of the carpark in all weathers to find a trolley so they can get on with the business of shopping.
  • Customers arriving on foot, of which there are many, must negotiate the relentless traffic flow without the aid of any pedestrian crossing.
  • Once in the store there are always missing mainstream stock items. Which rare & exotic grocery will be missing this week? Will it be onions, apples or maybe carrots?
  • Every few weeks whole sections will be entirely absent. Sorry, no fresh fish counter today. Or perhaps the chiller units are out of order so there will be no meat.
  • Sometimes when stock is regrettably available the store will move sections around just to make it harder to find what you want. “I say, soup’s selling well – lets move it a few aisles away for no reason so people can’t find it any more.”
  • Finally, why not alienate the people who have stuck with this farce as far as the till by charging the wrong amount? Labelled 2 for 1 on the shelf? Not at the till. Reduced item? To you – full price. In one case I was asked to pay £47 for 6 items in a basket by an unblinking checkout girl. I had to point out that this couldn’t be right and it took several minutes to recalculate the bill as less than a tenner. No apology or reason of course.

    Rival groups are hoping to understand this marketing approach so they too can operate with impunity and save costs on management, staffing and facilities.

Danger – High Voltage!

We’ve suffered yet another casualty at work this week. This time it was Trevor on the receiving end of an exploding kettle in the kitchen – 3rd degree burns and some scalding – should be out of hospital and in the queue for plastic surgery in the next week or so. That’s the second time we have witnessed the horror of that particular occurrence. Last month it was Diane who fell victim to the overheated photocopier. Some idiot left it switched on over night (can you believe it!) and it went up in a puff of toner leaving Di with flash burns and breathing on a ventilator. We had hoped to have seen the last of this sort of thing after tragic events at Easter when we sadly lost Graham after he was electrocuted on the water cooler that somebody had turned off at the mains but foolishly left plugged in. Turns out the current jumped the switch, the device malfunctioned and he caught the full shock via the plastic cooler casing in cruel defiance of the laws of physics.

This seemingly endless sequence of office maimings and fatalities no longer even makes the local news but it’s a real inconvenience to the teams who regularly find their headcount down with the same workload to deal with. Thankfully we seem have put a stop to all of this now by turning off every electrical device in the evening, switching the mains sockets off and then removing the plugs. I have been the first arrival recently while early bird Jane is off (berzerk shredding machine incident) and I accept that the reconnection of every mains operated device before I start working is a small and worthwhile price to pay for the knowledge that lives are being saved. Indeed we must all make the effort to do our bit and remember that the minor risk we each take when endlessly connecting or disconnecting a multitude of high powered devices from the mains with our sweaty bare hands is making the workplace safer for everybody. Or something.

Personally I would like to see the fuses removed from all disconnected mains plugs each night by blindfolded members of staff who are standing in buckets of water. Why? Because we will all be sorry when one day a microwave that has merely been powered off, then switched off at the wall and the plug disconnected, spontaneously plugs itself back in, turns itself on at the wall and on the front panel, before setting itself to maximum power and jumping out at a passer by in the kitchen and cooking their smug little head.

That said I will never really feel 100% safe until a vague and generic dictat about what safety measures we should all take filters down from Health and Safety via an email chain in response to soaring insurance premiums. Only then will I be able to truly relax and not think for myself about the common sense things I could do to protect my wellbeing.

In fairness my current workplace isn’t the only magnet for paradoxical thinking on some health and safety issues. At my last place the cleaners used to mop the floors around the kitchen areas twice a day. Their rationale for doing this during work hours was that people sometimes left splashes of drink on the floor that could lead to a slip. Their proactive response? Mop the whole floor area regardless so it is regularly all wet rather than the odd drink splash here and there a couple of times a week. To mitigate this self created hazard they would then leave out a knee high plastic sign in the middle of the floor bearing a “warning – slippery floor” message. Ironically this was more dangerous than the coffee splashes and floor mopping combined. Firstly the signs would get left out all day long after the floors had dried so their message was rendered meaningless (a bit like those expensive overhead signs you see on major roads that always tell you there are queues on slip roads despite the fact there usually are none. Bad information is more dangerous than no information). The worst part was that people were always tripping over the signs – sometimes resulting in spillage of a hot drink – because the signs were so low and often out of the line of sight with other people milling around the area. They were also a particular menace to the blind chap who could navigate his way around the building brilliantly except for these plastic assault course escapees. I was one of a number of people to raise all of these issues with the cleaning manager but to no avail. The response I got was that Health & Safety reviews had demanded these measures and so they had to follow them.
Perhaps global warming or pandemics are less of a threat to our future survival as a species than bureaucracy and dumbing down. Once again Douglas Adams got there first, this time with his “Restaurant At The End Of The Universe” subplot involving the Golgafrincham Telephone Sanitisers
I would love to hear any stories you have about misguided safety initiatives. I’ll be sure to append any good ones to this blog entry. Just be careful not to cut yourself on your keyboard as you email me or to inadvertently attach yourself to the message and end up with a hand stuck fast in your DVD drive.

Marketing meat and the militia

On my travels to Norfolk this week a couple of wonderful signages caught my attention and demanded consideration. Firstly in a Hunstanton shop the following “toy” was pointed out to me (thanks Sarah)…

We come in peace, shoot to kill
We come in peace, shoot to kill

So what – it’s a combat soldier armed with a variety of firearms, knives, explosives and a head mask just to make sure that any mobile phone camera footage sneakily captured by a terrified member of the public as the soldier storms and ransacks their family home as they act on “military intelligence” that a fugutive was hiding inside, does not identify him on CNN replays later in the week. A wholly inappropriate icon to wrap in birthday paper and hand to a young and impressionable child then…

…but hang on – what does it say at the bottom of the packaging? It’s ever so subtle and easy to miss but there it is…

World Peacekeepers

Well that’s different! The perfect gift then for a young boy with an imaginative mind. We can all sleep safer in the knowledge that all of these baddies the government keep telling us about are being kept off our clean and democratic western streets by these heroes who are stamping the problem out at source. Three cheers for George W, Maggie, Winston Churchill but mostly for the marketing genious who came up with such a simple way of legitimising & protecting sales of an endangered genre of toy!

Picture, at the other end of the marketing spectrum a high level executive meeting at the meat marketing board. The graphs don’t lie and it’s there for all to see. Sales of pork have been losing ground to other red and white meats. Extensive surveys on the streets of Norwich by mimimum waged baseball capped students with clipboards who have collared a couple of dozen slow moving obese junk food addicts has revealed that people aren’t eating pork because they think it is bland compared to Big Macs, Turkey Twizzlers and Bernard Mathews mechanically derived meat and bone substitute offal sticks in lard, salt and E-number seasoning. The tension is palpable as the head of marketing is asked how he intends to put pig back onto the public plate. Want to know what he came up with?

Hmmm, pork...
Hmmm, pork…

Apparently there’s now a senior vacancy in the marketing section of the MMB if anybody is interested.

Heavenly Praise

This isn’t a blog as such, but a cut and paste of the lovely email I received from Wilson & Dottie today. Just had to share it with you…

Hi Tim,
Sorry this is late,but we couldn’t track down your address and this is what the church finally gave me.

Both Wilson and I really appreciated your duet with Rebecca,Your voices blended so perfectly and your words were both challenging and meaningful.Once again we applaud you for sharing your talent in an effort to make our worship experience more meaningful.(it really does)

May GOD bless you richly as you continue to honor HIM….In HIM ….Wilson & Dottie Riedy

I’m not one to blow my own trumpet but it’s great to be truly appreciated, especially by people you have never met for something you have never done. If I get any more of these charming but errant epistles I’ll be sure to “spread the good word” with you.

Fuel for thought

Get this. My dual gas/electric energy supplier has been sending me bills based on estimates because… well that’s another story of post-privitisation incompetence. I thought I would do their job for them and phone through with actual meter readings, as prompted by my latest bill, which implored me to phone through a reading to ensure accurate billing.

When I told them my actual readings they told me they would only be able to use these readings “for information” and not to adjust my bill ?!?!?!?!?!?!? In order for them to adjust my bill based on the readings they need to be taken within 2 weeks of a billing date. When I then asked exactly what “for information” actually meant they uhm’d and ah’d before realising that their customer training hadn’t provided them with a scripted bluff for this question. I suggested that “for information” meant that they would do precisely nothing in response to my phone call and the customer service operative was reluctantly forced to agree.

It’s a good job there isn’t an open market for energy supply or I might just look for a less clueless supplier.

Oh, hang on a second…

Anyone for tennis?

It’s that time of year again when tennis membership rockets for a couple of weeks before people realise that it is much harder than it looks on TV and that “serve and volley” is supposed to be the quick & efficient way to win a point – not represent a rally.

As you probably know this year marks the debut of the sliding roof on centre court at Wimbledon and what a success it has already been. Sure enough the rain inevitably came on Saturday and the roof was closed enabling play to continue without any impromptu singalong from Sir Cliff Richard. The nation owes the LTA a debt of gratitude for their foresight to install the roof (codenamed Project Mute) and as it turns out the roof also enables play to continue, which is a bonus. I’m still not entirely sure why they couldn’t have saved £50m and just got a restraining order on him though.

MJJ – RIP

Well Jacko wanted some healthy sales to help pay off his debts and there’s no more sure fire way for a popular recording artist to cash in then by dying. Putting aside the human tragedy – he was still human despite his best efforts – I have been struck by the wall to wall media coverage, and one facet of it in particular. Have you heard this question yet from a news anchor to his hapless man in the field?

So Josh [or whoever], has there been any change in the situation?”

Whoa – hold on a second! He’s dead (Jim). Just what kind of “change” do we think might be on the cards? Unless of course the media really believe it is some kind of publicity stunt and that Jacko will re-emerge corpse-like from a cemetery wearing a red leather jacket and jerking around with a vacant look on his face.

The other footage I found interesting was that of Jo Jackson (father) appealing to the press to respect the family at this hard time, which is entirely reasonable. I do wonder however whether he is aware of the irony of this request given that he physically & emotionally abused Michael as a child (not allegedly – he admits it) – robbing MJ of a childhood and casting a shadow over his adult life. If we think Jacko was eccentric it would serve us to consider why this might be. Families eh!

Finally, thanks to that anonymous band of creative minds from all around the globe who in the face of tragedy pulled together so quickly to come up with a stream of bad taste jokes to mark the occassion with. I’m sure you have provided invaluable support to countless people in making the incessant media commentary bearable. You certainly cheered me up!