Monday, 30 April 2012

A Time of Change

Spring, like autumn, is a time of change, of transition, of movement. For birdwatchers in temperate or arctic lands, it's a time of looking out for new summer visitors and passage migrants. By contrast the last of some wintering species goes hardly noticed - after all, you never know for sure it's the last, whereas that Swallow is definitely your first for six months. In Finland, the arrival of the Cranes is eagerly awaited by people with only the most casual interest in wildlife. They are spectacular birds, of course, and can be seen flying over urban areas. In Britain the nearest equivalents are the Swallow and the Cuckoo. The former is nearly always seen long before it's heard and the latter is heard easily but seen rarely. The Swallow, a small bird feeding by catching flying insects, is a brilliant flier. It's in a group called Hirundines, the other British members of which are House Martin and Sand Martin. The fluttering and swooping of a Hirundine, fast and manoeuvrable, is distinctive. The moment when a birdwatcher sees the first of the year, distant in the sky, the WHAT'S THAT? IS IT? YES! is a great pleasure. The Cuckoo is much declined (no-one quite knows why and young birds are now being tagged with radio-transmitters to try to find out)and its song is hardly beautiful (Cuck-coo early in the season changing to Bock-coo later) but perhaps the very facts that it's so distinctive and the bird is so often heard but not seen explain its big role in myth and the marking of spring. This Sunday I set out for a long walk along my local estuary, the Stour (forming the Essex/Suffolk border). Usually I do this sort of thing on a Saturday, but I'd been out with the local CAMRA (pro-real-ale) group accompanying Morris dancers round several pubs on the Saturday, so Sunday it was. I had two birds in mind. I'd missed Cuckoo earlier in the week when I expected it. Would I hear one on Sunday? And the Stour is particularly attractive for some reason to the Whimbrel, a wading bird with a beautiful call. They breed near the arctic, in Britain only in the far north of Scotland, but turn up on migration elsewhere. Would I get my first Whimbrel of the year? For most of the trip it poured with rain and the wind was quite high. This didn't stop many impatient summer visitors and resident birds singing, but there was no sound of Cuckoo. I did, though, hear and see two Whimbrels. I reached the Red Lion pub in Manningtree, had a pint and set off back. After a while the rain stopped and I could actually see blue sky! What's more, I heard two Cuckoos. Birding isn't usually that simple.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Politically Correct

Once upon a time, "PC" in Britain meant "Police Constable". It still does. However, now it may also mean "Personal Computer" or "politically correct", so you could have a PC PC with a PC. Interesting though police constables and personal computers are, I want to focus on those two devious words "politically correct". I believe the term originated in the U.S.A. as a reaction against tight social or organisational control on what people could say. While essentially the same issues of racism, sexism, disablism and so on exist in the U.S. and the U.K., together with the same approaches to opposing them, it seems clear that the U.S. culture has been more prescriptive and restrictive than the U.K.'s: things that very few people would object to someone saying in the U.K. would meet with shock and condemnation in the U.S., and I'm not talking about grossly racist or sexist language. In its origin, then, the term may have been a healthy revolt against too much unthinking prescription. The culture of "political correctness", correctly understood, is not a matter of challenging possibly hurtful or contemptuous words, but of ruling them socially inadmissable, thus preventing debate and open learning. The term crossed the Atlantic at a time when we in the U.K. had come nearer to an orthodoxy of language on sensitive issues than before or after. It was used vigorously in the media to hold up to ridicule people who said terms like "manhole cover" or "history" were sexist or that a local council should not talk about "Christmas". However, most of the examples which hit the tabloid press were invented, the ban on talking about manhole covers being a classic example. There was indeed, I know, an attempt to rename women's history as herstory (a misunderstanding, as "history" is from Latin "historia", a story, and nothing to do with male gender) - but the draft council document concerned was promptly changed, with down-to-earth criticism, by the committed feminist councillor it went to for approval. History survived. The orthodoxy of language declined, except in the field of disability issues. Now on both sides of the Atlantic it's used almost entirely to sneer. Object to offensive language and it's very likely someone will say, "Oh, right - political correctness!" To question why there are no Black people working in reception, or no women in senior management, is "politically correct" - and as soon as the dread two words have been uttered, people think the argument can be dismissed. So what started as a challenge to unthinking orthodoxy has become unthinking orthodoxy itself. Such is life. This is not to say that there aren't still reasonable points that end to get frowned at (the unreasonable ones should be easy to rebut in argument). For example, there is undoubtedly racial and religious discrimination in the U.K., but does either explain why the socio-economic profile of ethnic Bangladeshi Muslims has been improving while that of Pakistani Muslims has flatlined - or in particular why Bangladeshi women are improving their work status faster than their Pakistani counterparts? Might there not be a factor to do with those communities? I can think of places where saying this would make one to be looked at with great suspicion - but far more places where challenging the term "Paki" would be unpopular. Now the term "political correctness" is being used to disparage any kind of political values or commitment. I recently went on a trip to a brew-pub which was strongly committed to environmentally responsible practices. On the way back someone commented that the brewer's methods were "not just politically correct, they make money." From the way "politically correct" was pronounced, I gathered that it was odd or ridiculous to want to reduce your negative impact on the environment, but fine to be motivated by profit. So it may be politically incorrect to say so, but I wish we'd stop taking about political correctness.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

The Odanglesex Chronicles - The Beasts of the Jungle (2)

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Assistant Chief Executive and Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision TO: Anton Wilks, Director of Content Simeon Lascelles, Director of Spatial Exploration and Direction Management Hilda Wrass, Director of Cultural Transformation bcc: Neil Balderson, Assistant Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision Colleagues: Thanks for making the really positive meeting where Anton explained how he saw content management developing under his tutelage. I hope Anton won't mind me saying the rest of us found it really fascinating and are excited by the challenges of working together in a totally transformational way. FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob TO: Neil Balderson cc: Dale Brashcon, Deputy Assistant Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision Neil: Thanks for your invaluable comments on the position we should take concerning ownership of content in TESV and how we can make sure Anton's efforts are directed into positive and forward-looking channels. FROM: Anton Wilks, Director of Content TO: Hilda Wrass, Director of Cultural Transformation Hilda: thanks for sending me the draft text of the OCC Christmas Pageant. I don't really have any comment on it and didn't expect my directorate to intervene in content management at this level. FROM: Anton Wilks TO: Simeon Lascelles Simeon: Thanks for the draft of your directorate five-year plan. What exactly is spatial exploration? FROM: Anton Wilks TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob Kenneth: I thought we'd agreed a structure for joint working when we met with Hilda and Simeon, but I'm finding my directorate bombarded with requests for approval of things like a response to a government consultation on community waste management and even an internal e-mail about the Chairman's charity (the Richard Plantagenet Ill Horse Home). Can we meet again to sort this out? FROM: Kelly Pattrick, PA to Kenneth Spotlessnob TO: Anton Wilks Kenneth's identified three dates when he could meet you as you requested. He asked me to apologise that they're all nearly three months ahead, but his diary is very full. FROM: Edelbertha Spengler, Chief Executive TO: Anton Wilks CONFIDENTIAL Anton - just a word in your ear. You're operating in a different culture and it's not entirely wise to suggest that the Chairman's charity, government policy on community waste disposal or Christmas are unimportant. Just a matter of presentation. FROM: Edelbertha Spengler TO: All Directors FOR CASCADE In order to move ever faster towards our aim of permanent transformational excellence, I've decided a rejig of cross-cutting responsibilities is needed to streamline delivery. The major cross-cutting responsibilities of Content are now to come under Hilda Wrass and the Directorate of Content will be phased out between now and August. This means, unfortunately, we are bidding goodbye to Anton Wilks and I would like to thank him for all the valuable work he's done with us over the past six months.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

The Odanglesex Chronicles: The Beasts of the Jungle


Hi! I spent odd bits and pieces of time over the last few days of my short break reading "Chaotic Organization" by the American business consultant Mark Walzenunfall. He divides everybody into four categories based on their degree of external and internal organisation. For example, you might be very organised in meetings but chaotic in organising your holidays or finances, or the other way around. You might be well-organised in both or in neither. Do you have a neat desk - OK, most of you don't have desks now, but I expect you remember them - while the inside of your briefcase, back-pack or handbag is frankly a mess, or is it the other way around?

I found this really interesting. I'm afraid I'm a bit of an organised exterior, disorganised inside type, and no, I don't mean after a curry. After I'd read Mark Walzenunfall I went straight and tipped out my handbag. I found all sorts of things there - tickets for the whole family to a show last week, a condolence card for my aunt, eight paper clips, three tissues, my blackberry, two and a half biros, a ten pound note, some Euros, some sweets, a corkscrew, some lip salve, some girl things and a small colony of ants. I was able to organise them all into a much more rational presentation.

The fact is, I had the system all set up (the handbag). I was in command of the direction of travel (wherever I went, the handbag went too). But I'd lost control of content.

We have lots of systems at County Hall. We have Special Delivery Vehicles. We have external and internal communications systems rated outstanding in the last peer review by Lord Oddie. But what's in them? Most of us don't know. Last time I opened up one of the Special Delivery Vehicles I was horrified by what I found. It wasn't in line with our Transformation Strategy at all.

In the private sector people are used to maintaining close control of content. What would you think if you opened a six-egg carton and found only five eggs, let alone pickled onions? This is why we've created a new Directorate of Content and I'm really delighted that Anton Wilks is coming hotfoot from being Director of Transit and Allocation at Morrison's the supermarket to be our new Director of Content.

I'm very contented and I know you all will be!

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Assistant Chief Executive and Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

TO: Simeon Lascelles, Director of Spatial Exploration and Direction Management
Hilda Wrass, Director of Cultural Transformation
cc: Neil Balderson, Assistant Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision


Kelly will be contacting you shortly so we can discuss how we can best work with the new Director of Content.

FROM: Neil Balderson

TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob


It's a side-issue, but I thought you might like to know I looked up Anton Wilks on the internet, and while his personal profile is quite impressive on the face of it, he was in charge of Morrisons' operations in the North-west five years ago when pickled onions were found in egg cartons in three Manchester stores.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

What is a Liberal - to me?

When I last posted I described how the term "Liberal" has come to mean different things in different places, its roots, and how it evolved in Britain. I ended by describing the party I joined at the end of 1966 as I saw it then.

So if I told someone I was a Liberal and they didn't understand, roughly what would I say?

The constitution of the Liberal Party (before merger with the Social Democratic Party) said Liberals "put freedom first". All other political creeds have at best a conditional adherence to freedom. Nationalism, for example, can be advanced along with freedom or at its expense. Many early social democrats in the Labour movement supported free expression and democracy in Britain because they were the established culture and convenient channels for creating a fairer, more rational and better planned society: elsewhere, as in the Soviet Union, they saw these things as disposable if the end result was their kind of society. But "freedom" means almost as varied things to different people as "Liberal" does.

At its most basic it indicates an absence of control. That can't be absolute, or society would disintegrate, but if I am prevented by law from drinking alcohol, criticising the founder of the state or painting my house in vivid, clashing colours, those are limitations of my freedom. Some limitations are justified to protect the interests of other people or life forms, such as limitations on late night noise or on killing rare animals. But it isn't only the law that stops me doing things. If I'm blind and paraplegic, for example, a mere absence of help will profoundly limit what I can do. In a profoundly poor, disadvantaged community, I may not need a legal ban to tell me I won't be a judge or conduct an orchestra or sail in the Olympics. This leads to a concept of freedom as maximising people's potential. The term "potential" is loaded with hidden value-judgements (what if my potential is to be a brilliant serial killer?), However, I support the idea that maximising people's opportunities is an aspect of freedom and Liberalism. Where I disagree with the "economic Liberals" who have gained leading positions in the British Liberal Party in recent years is that I see opportunities closed off by poverty, by hatred and discrimination and by the actions of big business more than by the legal restrictions imposed by a democratic state.

For Liberals, freedom is freedom of the individual. The freedom of a nation or people from a wider state - of Scotland from Britain, Corsica from France or the Tamils of Sri Lanka from Sri Lanka - should be valued if it contributes to individual freedom, but not otherwise. But stress on individual freedom can lead to an atomistic view of society, again seen among "economic liberals" and Thatcherites, viewing society as separate individuals pursuing individual goals and impeded by government. In fact, we achieve freedom and awareness collectively through relationships. Political freedom is protected by a web of free organisations, universities, trade unions, political parties, residents' associations, pressure groups and charities, churches and other religious groups. When we join and get involved in something like this we are not buying something in the market - we're sharing in common action for something we judge to be valuable.

Promoting such activity is for me essential to Liberalism. We are more free if we can influence our human environment (laws, institutions, roads, buildings, education, social care) and do so by such free association. A passive society getting on with its economic activity and voting every few years for a centralised government might satisfy a social democrat (no intention to refer to the SDP here) because it might be relatively fair and benign economically, but it should not satisfy a Liberal. Hence Liberal support for all kinds of devolution of power aimed at bringing power nearer to people.

The more unequal society is, the more freedom is restricted because masses of people have little choice and little influence on what is done in their name. An academic Liberal when I was a student argued that Liberals and (democratic) Socialists both valued freedom and equality, but the Liberals put freedom first when the two conflicted. I'd add, or amend, that Liberals and Socialists both want equality, but Socialists are more interested in equality of wealth and Liberals in equality of power. Centralised command socialism tries to achieve a degree of equality of wealth and creates profound inequalities of power. Liberals pursue political reforms and local activism to redistribute power, but in an extremely economically unequal society, the rich will always use the power much more effectively than the poor.

There is one last aspect of modern Liberalism very important to me. When I joined the party, raising environmental issues (as I did) made you seem a bit odd in any political party. The business-first economic Liberal parties of some European states are not greatly interested in green issues, but the Liberal Democrats in Britain have pursued them harder than the other mainstream parties (unless you're Welsh, as Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalists) seems to me to have much better environmental credentials than the SNP (Scottish nationalists). It isn't very obvious to me how this dovetails with the rest of Liberalism, but I suggest seeing the rest of creation as having value and rights independent of human interests (a "deep green" position) is a logical extension of Liberal internationalism and opposition to narrow hatreds and fears such as in racism.

Now someone might point out the Liberal Democrats of Britain are currently in a Conservative-led coalition which is doing some not very Liberal things by the criteria I've suggested. True - and it's doing some Liberal things (stopping I.D. cards, abolishing the default retirement age, tax reductions targeted at the lowest-paid). But the experience of power and of coalition have led to soul and mind searching by Liberals, revisiting questions like "What is a Liberal?". I think that's healthy - and I'll never accept the answer is just "Someone wanting a weak state and an absence of government restriction on civil liberties plus more freedom for business and for individuals to buy what they want in the market".

I'm a Social Liberal. I want a Liberal society.

Monday, 16 April 2012

What is a Liberal? 1: A Bit of History and Geography

I am a Liberal. I find that the term is used by people who have no stake in it to mean things I don't recognise - and sometimes by people who do have a stake in it. It also means different things in different places - so I thought I'd define what it meant to me.

It isn't altogether strange that the word means such different things in different countries: after all, the military dictatorship of Myanmar (Burma) calls itself Socialist, as does the main French centre-left party, which has its faults but is certainly democratic and civilian; and the same word was used by Communist dictatorships and by British Labour Party leaders who tied Britain closely to NATO, the USA and a hostile stand-off with the Communist regimes after the Second World War. "Conservative" might mean similar things around the world, but that's because it's perhaps more a condition than a programme or a philosophy; and European Conservatism has little of the moral majority flavour of U.S. Conservatism.

In the U.S., Liberal means something like "left-wing" or "social democratic" in Europe. In much of continental Europe Liberalism is seen as a creed of individual liberty and free enterprise, naturally aligned against high taxation, a strong state and a powerful church, and kinder to business interests than the Conservatives, Nationalists or Christian Democrats. South American Liberals are traditionally anti-clerical.

The roots of the word are, I believe, in early 19th century Spain, applied to reformers who opposed absolute royal power and challenged the Catholic Church on some issues. It has Latin origins and meant either "free" or "generous". Britain had a Liberal Party from the 1860s, but that party had much older roots, being a merger of Radicals (left democrats often accused of being rabble-rousers and crypto-revolutionaries) with a larger group of Whigs, a party tracing its roots back to opposition to the King in the 1670s and even to the Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War and that of the Covenanters in Scotland. So there are some emerging themes - opposition to unlimited power, plus defence of individual and collective rights against a powerful centre.

The Liberal Party in Britain generally stood for the removal of privileges and barriers, for example the restriction of access to universities by religion, and led the gradual process of extending the vote to more and more groups during the 19th century. A commitment to free trade was seen as part of this opposition to unfair and divisive barriers and privileges. In the late 19th century the party increasingly perceived that liberty as well as compassion required an assault on extremes of poverty, and the Liberal Government of 1905-14 laid the foundations of a system of social insurance. Although the Whigs had once been a rather warlike party, Liberals were always more suspicious of military adventure and empire than their main opponents.

The rapid replacement of the Liberal Party by Labour as the main anti-Conservative party in the 1920s meant a deep decline but also to a painful process of redefinition and rededication in roughly the period 1928-1962.

So what came out of that? It matters to me because I joined the party as a student at the end of 1966.

I was joining a party that was uneasy with the facile categories of left and right, but on most issues stood on the left. It was not hostile to the state, but opposed what it saw as unnecessary growth of state power such as nationalisation of some industries. It defended individual liberty in moral matters and preached a revival of local initiative and collective self-help, instead of the centralisation and command planning popular with Labour at that time. It was internationalist, and without arguing against commitment to NATO and suchlike, sought a way out of military stockpiling and the Cold War. It was interested in giving real power to employees in companies. While less suspicious of business interests than Labour, it was not a "businessmen's party" as some continental Liberal parties had become.

Perhaps what attracted me most was the commitment to facilitating local, free, collective action wherever possible instead of either passive acceptance of central state power or big business power.

Next time I'll try to define what I mean when I say I'm a Liberal and what that means for British Liberalism now.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Walking from A to Z again

A lot of people seemed to be reading the two "Walking from A to Z" posts (SEEMED...but what were they REALLY doing???) Like when on the BBC TV news they say "...and now the news from where you are..." - I mean, HOW DO THEY KNOW WHERE I AM???

OK, enough of pretending to be paranoid (I can't keep the pretence up for long and then my guard is down AND THEY'LL GET ME). I realised I'd not covered some fairly obvious issues in those two posts, and as people seemed interested, it'd be worth adding a bit more.

So if you didn't read the other posts - this is about walking long-distance trails.

ACCOMODATION: It takes a lot of time to arrange unless you're prepared to risk going without pre-booking, which is risky and troublesome if you're arriving dog-tired in the early evening with a full pack and have to go from place to place. This would be near suicidal on the three main Scottish routes (West Highland Way, Great Glen Way, Southern Upland Way) except at the eastern end of the Southern Upland, but it does give you flexibility if some stages turn out easier or harder than you expected. If you are pre-booking, you will end up with a long list of places to ring or check electronically, and as you make bookings, it becomes impossible to change the start date - which is why I advise identifying the most risky locations (like the King's House Hotel on the West Highland Way, where there is nowhere else to stay for miles) and booking them first, making changes at that stage if necessary. It's easy to skimp on making clear notes when you've booked, but not doing so may lead to confusion over whether you've paid a sum in advance or even lead to you turning up at the wrong place. Do your level best to locate the venue precisely before you set out, but take a mobile phone and all the accomodation phone numbers - it can be a life-saver (maybe even literally).

CAMPING means you have huge flexibility in hill country, but the tent is extra weight and perhaps more importantly, if you end one day with wet boots and socks, they'll still be wet the next morning. That way lie foot problems. It also means you have to carry more food unless you're Ray Mears.

WALKING ALONE OR ACCOMPANIED is an important issue. I've always done it alone, but often find I'm falling in with other walkers and may walk most or all of a day with someone. That way getting on one another's nerves is less of an issue and if one of you proves to be faster than the other there's no problem - you just part. Walking with others is a bit safer and can lift spirits, but in summer in most hill country and in spring or autumn elsewhere the main serious risk is getting hit on a road and if you carry map, compass, phone and whistle as well as correct clothing you'll find most "difficult" sections aren't that bad. My first guidebook used on the West Highland Way waxed lyrical about the dangers of fearsome Rannoch Moor and advised people not to walk this section alone. Well, Rannoch Moor is a wild and risky place, but the WHW doesn't go over it. It skirts round the edge by a well-marked drovers' road. Even in thick fog you'd know the moment you stepped off the track: only thick snow would be a real problem. True, anyone can fall awkwardly and break an ankle, but the chances of this happening are very low, the chances of being found are much higher on well-known trails than elsewhere, and it's up to you to carry rain-gear, emergency rations, whistle and so on.

BOOTS are crucial. Never go forth with boots that haven't been broken in over several days' tough walking at least. If the boots you've bought aren't quite comfortable, buy another pair in good time. A good grip is essential, especially in hill country or on cliffs. Some trails, like the coastal ones generally, don't absolutely require leather walking boots, but remember nearly all fabric boots are not fully waterproof and wet feet develop problems. Take something light in reserve such as a good, broken in pair of trainers (not old ones with smooth bottoms): it can be helpful to wear them on an easy section where you don't expect marsh or a lot of mud to give your feet a change, because often slight problems build up and different footwear can help.Take spare laces for obvious reasons.

BINOCULARS are useful to spot distant landmarks or a gate at the far side of a field into which the track disappears. However, ordinary ones are quite heavy. Consider taking a mini-pair (still serious magnification such as 7 or 8 times, but much smaller and lighter: what you lose is the wider field of vision and some valuable light in gloomy conditions).

BATHS are to be avoided - seriously. They soften your feet. Showers are OK. However, a bath can help with a muscular strain, especially a slight one.

Don't skimp on WATER, especially in the warmer months. It's quite heavy, but getting dehydrated is unpleasant, weakening and even dangerous. So consider drinking where you can along the way (and beer is fine, but not too much).

Next time I post, it'll be the Odanglesex Chronicles again, but I think there's one more post in the current subject - comments on some trails I've walked.

If you're a walker - happy walking!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The Odanglesex Chronicles: The Reorganisation (2)



You know the feeling when some much-loved member of the team returns from a very special holiday - you all cluster around looking at her photos and admiring her tan.

Well, I've just come back from Egypt, eager to get back in harness and work with all the wonderful people in OCC again. I couldn't wait. Of course, I was very happy that Kenneth would be an inspired leader while I was away, but I do enjoy being Chief Executive here.

Anyway, in Egypt they have pyramids. You're not allowed to climb up them, but you can see that for some of them it would be a very long way and even quite dangerous because of the slope as you might slip. My other half tells me that in Central America they have stepped pyramids, which must be much easier to climb up.

We have pyramids here in Odanglesex too, though we don't get many tourists coming to see them. Our pyramids are organisational ones. Councillor Waynflete and I are at the top (blush) and I don't really like the idea that I'm standing on Kenneth Spotlesshead's nob but that's how it works, right down to the lowest levels, but of course, unlike with the Egyptian pyramids, the bits of rock at the bottom can make their way right up to the top or nearly.

The Egyptians and the Mayas made their pyramids very high to impress people. In Odanglesex we don't want to impress people. We want to give them a positive customer experience. If the pyramid's very high and steep, it's a long way to the top and there are lots of people monitoring or approving everything and as you move up each level they get paid more. We want a flatter pyramid. That's why we're going through a series of reorganisations, starting with a pilot in Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision. There will be a bit of disruption, but at the end we'll have a flatter, more accessible, more customer-friendly pyramid.

Now here are some of my holiday photos...

FROM: Dorothea Biggs, PA to Chief Executive

TO: Edelbertha Spengler

Ed: I've made three changes if that's OK.

I've deleted the bit about admiring her tan. This is ethnically sensitive. Would "muscles" do instead?

I assume you meant to say you were standing on Kenneth Spotlessnob's head, not the other way around, though I wonder if you want to reconsider the phrase. I mean, your feet are quite big and his head is quite small. It just seems funny to me and not very safe.

I've taken out one of the holiday snaps because of what the fat man was doing in the background.

FROM: Councillor Bill Wayneflete, Leader of the Council

TO: Edelbertha Spengler

Ed: just read your blog. Fascinating as always. Why don't we have more tourists coming to see the pyramids in Odanglesex? Could I have a project plan draft to address this?

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Assistant Chief Executive and Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

TO: Neil Balderson, Acting Assistant Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

Neil: In reply to your query left on my answerphone - yes, your interpretation is correct. A flatter pyramid in TESV will be achieved through two transformational changes:

1: The seven DC2s will be assimilated to DC3. The alternative of assimilating to DC1 would be unviable because of the relational implications of the pay reduction involved.

2: The minimum number of employees managed to entitle a manager to line manager status will be increased from three to thirteen.

FROM: Silesia Jones, Equality Consultant

TO: Neil Balderson


Is this for real? As an efficiency measure, I can no longer approve mileage claims or leave or carry out annual appraisal on the three colleagues I manage, despite Equality Excellence being a discrete unit, but must pass all these things to Neil Downing, who has no experience of them?

FROM: Neil Balderson

TO: Silesia Jones


Correct. This helps achieve a flatter organisational pyramid and less bureaucracy.

Concerning the three colleagues and indeed the Equality function: haven't you read page 111 of Kenneth's presentation?

FROM: Stanley Livingstone, President Emeritus, National Association of Micro Businesses, Odanglesex and Sarfebutt Branch

TO: Edelbertha Spengler

My dear Mrs Spengler:

Is it correct what I read in the newspapers, that seven of your extravagantly paid jobsworths have received an entirely unearned pay rise by being "assimilated" to a higher level?

Can they instead be taken out and shot?

FROM: Edelbertha Spengler

TO: Stanley Livingstone

Dear Mr Livingstone,

Thank you for your most helpful letter. I can confirm that the organisational change you refer to is being implemented as part of a package of measures to reduce expenditure and improve the customer experience.

I am grateful for your helpful suggestion, but unfortunately it would be ultra vires.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

A Gap

Perhaps the most famous scene in the Sherlock Holmes stories occurs in the story "Silver Blaze". Holmes has arrived to investigate the apparent murder of a race-horse owner's most trusted employee and the disappearance of the race-horse. Having found that the official detective has diligently collected a lot of information, he runs through the information and then says he is leaving. The Inspector asks if he wants to draw his attention to anything. Holmes actually refers to two things - an epidemic of slight lameness among sheep kept near the stables and "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time."

"The dog did nothing in the night-time!" the Inspector exclaims.

"That was the curious incident," Holmes replies.

Now for my curious incident this morning.

Near my house is a small shopping-centre with a post office and a building which used to announce itself as "Kingsway Evangelical Church". That was on a large, prominent white board across the top of the front of the low brick building and also on a neat square notice behind a glass panel.

This morning I approached it and got that strange feeling that comes when you notice something is not as you expect, but for a moment you don't know what.

The big board had a conspicuous big gap in the sign. It now said:
KINGSWAY *********** CHURCH. The middle bit had been painted out. I looked at the square notice. The gap was less obvious, but the same thing had happened: the word "evangelical" had simply been removed.

It set me wondering. Had the ruling committee or whatever decided going out and converting people was not very important after all, or gay marriage was a really good idea or it was possible to get too enthusiastic about Jesus? Here my ignorance came into play. Were the churches calling themselves "evangelical" and not part of some traditional set-up such as the Church of England or the Baptists organised under some structure of authority? If so, had the Kingsway church offended against some requirement or split away on some point of principle? Or had they all decided to drop the word for some reason?

Whatever it was, it seemed to have happened quite suddenly: otherwise the signs would have been replaced, not awkwardly censured.

Sherlock Holmes would have had an answer.

Back to the reorganisation at Odanglesex County Council next time.