Palace of Wesminster from the south bank of the Thames

Breaking the London stranglehold

When will organisations learn? When will they realise?

People don’t live in London. They survive London.

Throughout the whole of my job search experience one thing throughout has been consistent. If I was prepared to sacrifice quality of life, I could go and work in London tomorrow. Having such a high level of vacancies in one place is not good for businesses and organisations based there. It is a simple supply and demand dynamic. As supply goes down, costs for hiring new employees goes up and for getting the right employees, they skyrocket.

Speaking to organisations recently, particularly in the Third Sector, they still seem totally unaware of the possibilities opened up by remote working. At best they appear to see it as a way for London based employees to dodge the commute a day a week.

If organisations could break themselves free of this London-centric view, they would suddenly find that not only is real estate much cheaper outside London and the South East of England, but so are the people who bring the skills and talent to the organisation. We work longer (even basic office jobs work longer hours outside of the capital, 37.5hr/wk v 35hr/wk if adverts are to be believed), for less money and from my experience deliver greater efficiency.

We do not have the congestion or the commuting problems the capital face either. In my area, the last figure I saw for average commuting times was 17 mins door to door. No need to fall asleep on the Underground, Train or Buses. During the week we are able to have a family life outside of work that consists of more than getting the kids off to bed and then having dinner.

Why do organisations insist on having so many staff based in the capital or the South East of England? A core may be need there for services to be delivered locally, however, with the advances in communications technology, can there really be any excuse given to shareholders to have anything other than a skeleton staff in London?

Bridge over the Atlantic at Isle of Seil

Bridge over the Atlantic

Isle of Seil signWhat would you say if I told there was a bridge over the Atlantic?

No really, there is. In Argyll & Bute in Scotland, you will find a bridge from the mainland that crosses the Atlantic to the Isle of Seil.

Originally built in 1791, the Clachan Bridge provides a single track roadway and was built by architect Robert Mylne.

The original population was involved in slate mining an this accounts for the largest population on the island’s 551 people (2013 figure) being in the former slate mining village of Ellenabeich.

On the day I visited it was cloudy and raining, which oddly enough, added to the atmosphere of the place. I couldn’t help but wonder how many Red Coats had marched over that bridge to keep the locals in order.

A whale

Protection requires action

At first I was really pleased when I saw this news article. Wildlife conservation is important (apart from snakes, I hate snakes 🙂 ) wherever you are in the world.

But as I read further in to the article I realised the designation of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) is actually totally meaningless unless someone is going to do the protecting.

It is not sufficient for the governments who signed this agreement to simple turn a blind eye and not carry out any enforcement activity.

So who will actually ensure protection is in place for the marine wildlife?

Looking at the map above, the governments of Australia or New Zealand appear to be the obvious choices as they are closest, but should the responsibility of protection patrols and enforcement be laid solely at their door? All governments who have signed the agreement have a duty to ensure the agreement is adhered to and that sociopathic whalers from Japan are kept well outside the zone. Will the signatories do this? Somehow I doubt it.

The only people I have seen do any sort of enforcement in the Southern Ocean is the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and when they were prevented from doing so by a shameful decision in the US Court system, Sea Shepherd Australia took the reigns if I remember correctly. (Let me know if I got that wrong.)

Even when the International Court of Justice found the Japanese Government’s claim of ‘scientific research‘ to be utterly baseless, the Japanese took a year off, then decided they would sneak back down to the Antarctic and ignore the ban the court imposed. That is why signatory governments to this MPA agreement must get directly involved in enforcement action and protection patrols.

If the Government of Japan is so interested in research, how about researching how to stop their failed nuclear plant at Fukushima belching out radioactivity? That would be the honourable thing to do.

Then again, whoever said the government of Japan was ‘honourable‘?

Smoke from the train

There are many situations where you will encounter smoke and most of them signal danger. We are to having smoke alarms fitted in our homes for example.

However, there is still one situation where encountering smoke gets the hairs on the back of my neck standing up for all the right reasons, steam trains.

The Pockerley Wagonway At Beamish Museum

Heighington Lane Railway Station
Heighington Lane Railway Station

I was born quite near to where passenger railways first began. Locomotion No. 1 was first placed on the rails at Aycliffe Station, known today as Heighington Lane Station, back in 1825 having been brought down the Great North Road from Newcastle Upon Tyne.

From here it went to Shildon to pick up the first load of passengers outside the Mason’s Arms Public House.

The first journey was quite a rough affair with people travelling in open coal wagons, however it wasn’t long before the golden age of steam and style became an integral part of the journey.

Hand painted logo of the London Midland & Scottish Railway Company
Hand painted logo of the London Midland & Scottish Railway Company

And with the many companies competing for passengers, it was not long before speed became a focus. From cities in the south, to Scotland, companies competed on reducing journey times. In 1923, The Flying Scotsman was put into service by the London and North Eastern Railway Company. Designed by Sir Nigel Gresley and built at the Doncaster Works its top speed of 100 miles per hour beat all its contemporaries. It would stay in service for forty years which no doubt help to secure it s global fame, but it was eventually retired in January 1963.

Currently part of the collection of the National Railway Museum, the Flying Scotsman is lovingly restored and made a special run earlier this year. Watch the video below. It does not look as though it is moving that quickly but if you have any doubts about the speed, try and count the number of carriages the train is pulling.

Remember, most, but not all smoke is bad.

Dark Tower Blocks

What makes a good Manager?

It’s one of those questions that comes up quite a lot.

What makes a good manager?

Of course it can mean different things to different people, but these are some thoughts I had on the subject.

A first day experience

Many moons ago I had my first day in my first job after graduating from college. Starchy collars and ties all round in the corporate suit world. Walking tall in my best suit I entered a large manufacturing facility and after the usual first day checks eventually I hit my desk. I was in mainframe Technical Support. Still wet behind the ears but the Technical Support team was the place to be back then.

A tap came on my shoulder. It wasn’t a team member. It wasn’t my boss. It was my boss’s boss. “Holy crap!”, this guy was literally God in the department if he said “No” it didn’t happen.

“Come with me, the National Director wants to see you in my office.”

With that single sentence, my sphincter started twitching. I hadn’t been there long enough to do anything wrong. Had I parked in the guy’s bay in the car park? I put my suit jacket back on and buttoned it, quickly flicking a piece of fluff off my right sleeve.

Technical Support was at the far end of the department from God’s office. I felt like I was doing the walk of shame through the department as the eyes made contact with mine, then quickly ducked down behind their respective screens.

By the time I got to God’s office I was terrified.

“Ah right. Sit down right there!” this towering guy in a dark blue pin-stripe suit ordered me. No introductions. I was now in the presence of the guy who God called God. ‘I’m done for. I won’t even get to visit the canteen at lunchtime’ I thought.

So God’s God sat opposite me at the table and said, “Right. I’m going to tell you how we do business here. I don’t give a shit how other people do business. This is how we do business.”

I was mortified. I had gone through a sweary period before graduating and had been given stern warnings from family about moderating my language in the workplace.

God’s God went through the production and business flows and didn’t seem to draw breath for fifteen minutes.

He slapped the table with the flat of his hand and said the immortal line, “Right! Any questions?” As his hand made contact with the wood I jumped at the sound.

I paused for only a second but it seemed like a lifetime.

“This section here doesn’t seem to make sense” I said. I might as well tell the truth and get hung for a sheep as a lamb I thought.

“Are you telling me I’m talking rubbish?” God’s God asked aggressively.

I paused once more, “No. I am saying it doesn’t make sense to me. It goes around the houses when you could just go from that point there, to that point.”

I had barely finished speaking when God’s God scooped up the paper showing the production flow, screwed up into a ball and threw it against the wall.

“Excellent. You can come back tomorrow” God’s God told me with a huge grin on his face. “Always tell me the truth. Even if you think it is not what I want to hear. If you do that, I promise I will always back you up in public and only ever bollock you in private. If you ever screw up, I need to be the first to know so we can put things right quickly. Don’t ever shy away from telling the truth.”

With that I noticed God was now grinning like the proverbial Cheshire Cat.

I had made it.

I was in.

That man always stuck to his word. He was a rough diamond, but his people were the best people in the world. He would tell us that. He would tell his bosses that. More importantly he would tell his bosses that in front of us.

He never managed us. He facilitated. He fought the political battles that inevitably crop up in a multi-national corporation so we didn’t have to.

If he wanted us in at 3am on a Sunday morning, we would have been there and not even questioned why, such were his inspirational leadership skills.

I only hope he knew how well respected he was because I personally never got the chance to tell him.

Barrels outside a shed

Banned – Never produces the intended result

Banned. Prohibited. Forbidden.

However you want to phrase it, the banning of anything never produces the intended result.

Prohibition of Alcohol in the USA

Take the Prohibition years in the USA. From 1920 to 1933 the sale of alcoholic beverages was banned under the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the USA. The intention was that alcoholic drinks were bad, so if the sales, importation and transportation of alcoholic beverages was banned the people would be saved from themselves by the ‘Dry Crusaders’.

As with all bans, it only works if people are prepared to stick to the law. The Eighteenth Amendment overnight, created an illicit market in booze and hence provided a lucrative funding stream for organised crime.

Prohibition of the ownership of Pistols in Great Britain

Perhaps the only prohibition that has affected me here in the UK, was the knee-jerk reactionary laws put into place around firearms. In particular, pistols.

Had 1997 not been a general election year, then perhaps things may have turned out differently, but following the Dunblane Shootings, the private ownership of pistols in Great Brtain was banned. In excess of 100,000 of the most law-abiding members of society (they had to be in order to qualify for Firearms Certificates from their local Chief Constables) were scapegoated for the crimes of one man. They had their pistols, ammunition and ancillary equipment confiscated by the state.

As one party proposed a measure, another would propose a harsher measure in order to win votes in the upcoming general election.

Now notice I said the ban was put into place in Great Britain rather than the UK? That is England, Scotland and Wales. The area of the UK, Northern Ireland where most firearms crime occurred escaped the pistol ban. If banning pistols in Northern Ireland would not work because the terrorists would not stick to the law, why would anyone expect it to work in Great Britain.

As a result of the ban in Great Britain, firearms crime increased according to the Home Office figures. The direct opposite of what was intended. Why? Those pesky criminals you know just will not stick to the law.

So the next time you hear somone calling for something to be banned, you may just want to pipe up and ask them to explain exactly how they think that ban will turn out.

To my readers in the USA I say this. Treasure the Second Amendment. Without it you lose the First, then very quickly all others.