A busy start to the new year

After a very poor start to the new year, things have begun to brighten up a little in the Dimbelby-Smyth household. Dorothy has secured herself a small role in a show of some kind due to be staged in London next month. I am not sure exactly what it is but she is quite excited about it. I spoke to Aunt Murdock on Monday and she is sounding much like her old self again. Obviously, she is going to have to slow down a little but she sounds much better than she did at Christmas.

And, to top it all, I have heard back from the insurance company about my poor old Bently. thankfully the old girl is built like a tank so the damage is mainly superficial. That said though, it is still going to take a couple of weeks for the repairs to be completed. But then again, quality and craftsmanship can’t be rushed. I will just have to be patient.

Albert is still rather upset about the whole thing. He has never been involved in an accident before and, despite my constant reassurances that he is in no way to blame, he seems to feel responsible for the damage inflicted on my dear old car. If it is anyone’s fault it is the driver of the delivery vehicle that hit us, although I understand that he is denying this. I personally have no desire to get involved in all the arguments and who is or isn’t to blame, I am only too pleased to leave that in the hands of my brokers. Personally, I just want my old car back.

One of the most unexpected consequences of being involved I what they term a road traffic accident is the pressure to make a claim for injury or losses, even if there aren’t any. I think that most people will agree that I am a fairly tolerant man – there are not many things that really make me angry, but this modern-day obsession with apportioning blame and pursuing ridiculous claims is one of them. I have often heard the phrase “where there is blame, there is a claim” and I never really understood what it meant until now. From what I hear from the chaps down at the Club, this culture for claiming compensation for even the most trivial of incidents is costing insurance companies, and so consequently yours truly, an absolute fortune. And as some of them have business interests in the insurance industry one has to believe what they say. I mean, it makes sense, doesn’t it? If the commpanies are paying out untold thousands of pounds in compensation, that that will mean higher premiums for the rest of us. I do not pretend to understand how the insurance industry works – all that underwriting and so on just confuses me – but even I can see the logic in that.

I believe that several companies have already attempted to make contact with me regarding my “injuries”. It is a good job they didn’t come through directly to me I can tell you. I would have given them a piece of my mind and sent them off with a flea in their ear, make no mistake about that.

Now don’t get me wrong, where there is a genuine case I am all in favour of victims receiving their just compensation, but this idea that one is somehow owed something I find rather offensive. I was pleased to note that many of my chums at the Club are of the same mind. As far as I am concerned, at this moment in time, my most pressing concern is the return of my Bentley.

This week I have spent three mornings in the office making good my promise to be more involved in the family business. And I must say that it is all much more complicated than I had at first thought. Not that I was under an illusion over the complexity of the family’s affairs. Generations of wheeling and dealing have left few avenues for investment untrodden. I am sure that with the help of Miss Drayton and Aunt Murdock I will learn enough to enable to steer this somewhat ponderous ship into a bright and prosperous future. However, I suspect that many of the various managers are expecting my endeavours to fall a little short. I can’t blame them if they do. My record with the firm hasn’t exactly been glittering. Working under my father I made a lot of mistakes, which is why he left the running of the family’s affairs to Aunt Murdock. He never had much faith in me, and looking back I can understand why. I am not a natural when it comes to business and financial affairs, but I am determined to do my best this time around. After all, I am a little older and more determined than I was I was in my twenties.

On Friday I was going to call on Hope again but decided instead to call her on the telephone. I have never been comfortable trying to hold conversations over the telephone; one never knows quite what the other person is doing or who they are with. I know it doesn’t trouble most people, but I always feel much happier when I can actually see the person I am talking to. But since I have had very little success when trying to visit her in person, and since the unfortunate events of my previous visit, I decided that it was much safer to call instead. As it happens, Hope was available and seemed genuinely pleased to hear from me. She could only speak to me briefly but we have agreed to meet for lunch next Tuesday, which is very agreeable to me. I think I will take somewhere quiet and intimate as I have a few things I would like to chat with her about, not least being Simon. I don’t know if she has seen him recently but I feel that if she does have any intentions towards him she needs to be made aware of his track record as far as women and relationships are concerned.

Yesterday I spent the evening with my old pal Dorchester and his family. they have a very nice little house south of the river where I spent many a pleasant weekend in my youth. Having known the family all of my life I find time spent with them much like being with family. One can relax and be one’s self in the company of people who have lived with one through the good times and the bad. We were joined by Dorchester’s two sisters, Clara and Emily. Clara is just getting over a particularly acrimonious divorce whilst Emily is visiting from abroad. At the moment she is living in Germany where she works in some capacity for the European Union. I think she is a researcher, but I may have got that wrong. We had a very pleasant evening, catching up on recent events and reminiscing about some of Mine and Dorchester’s little adventures when we were on holiday from school. Clara reminded me of a time when the four of us decided to take a boat onto the Serpentine, only to capsize the thing after becoming a little too boisterous. I think we all developed nasty colds and Clara insists that she has never been on a boat since. Half in jest I suggested that I take her back to the scene of the crime once the lake reopens in the spring. To my surprise, she said she would love to, providing I agreed to behave myself!

During the evening I asked Dorchester about Anne. He was a little coy, I suspect because he didn’t want to say anything in front of his sisters, but from what he did say, it seems that he has seen her a couple of times since Christmas. I must say that I was delighted with this news. Anne is a really wonderful young lady much more suitable than that American he was seeing until recently. I am not sure his parents are aware f this new relationship; they seem to be under the impression that he can make things up with Annabelle. From my point of view, he is much better off without her and I hope that his new relationship with Anne works out. I am sure his family will all like her.

I have no plans for today other than visiting the Club this evening after dinner here with Dorothy and Angela. In fact, Dorothy is cooking and has told me to “expect the unexpected”, whatever that is supposed to mean. I just hope it is nothing too continental or spicy. I do enjoy Dorothy’s cuisine, but there have been occasions where her dishes have been a little too hot for me. Anyway, I had better go and prepare myself. There should be just enough time for a snifter of the old Scotish firewater and a glance through the newspapers.

Another unwanted American import

black-friday-shoppers1Anyone reading my journal might be forgiven for thinking I have become obsessed with the Americans. I haven’t. But they do have an annoying habit of sneaking through one’s defences and getting under the skin. I think I have made my feelings about the crackpot President quite plain, and I have no time for their loud, in your face attitude or their belief that money can buy anything.

Of the many things that annoy me about our cousins across the pond, the one that I find the most unforgivable is their propensity for exporting their more inane ideas. And this week we saw probably the worst of the American imports, Black Friday. To me, this one event symbolises all that is wrong with the American culture, if there is such a thing, particularly as it follows immediately after Thanksgiving. The idea behind the Thanksgiving celebration is not new, events to mark the harvest and the good fortunes of the preceding year have been celebrated throughout the world for millenia. I have nothing against this idea and am happy to see our cousins come together in harmony and celebrate their good fortune. But to then follow this inspiring event with the most flagrantly consumerist binge is almost obscene. The founding Pilgrims would be turning in their graves if they could see what their ancestors had done to their original celebration of good fortune.

I should point out that I have no problem with what the American’s chose to do on their own soil. If they want to celebrate the excesses of consumerism as if it were some kind of religion, then they can do, just so long as it stays on their side of the pond. The trouble starts when these blatantly consumerist ideas start trickling over here, contaminating our British values of reserve and moderation. The images and stories one sees in the newspapers are quite frightening. People fighting over a new television or item of clothing is quite obscene and very un-British. Once again we find ourselves imitating the worst behaviour of our American cousins. Yes, I have read the headlines about the boost to the country’s economy, but at what cost?  It is by these small acts that we begin to lose our identity. Do we really want to become a mirror image of the United States?

It wouldn’t surprise me to find that within a year or two we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. Not that I have anything against the thing itself, so long as it stays on the right side of the Atlantic. After all, we have already had rock and roll, Black Friday, school proms and baby showers. What next? I ask myself.

And what about all that Trick or Treating we saw last month? Whilst I have never been a fan of Haloween itself, at least when I was a child it was just about bobbing apples and maybe a bit of dressing up and a scary movie or two. Now it is all about greed. Haloween has become big business and just another excuse for excess and spending. And anyway, Haloween is one of those strange days that we really shouldn’t be celebrating at all. All Hallows Eve is a pagan celebration that has no place in a Christian society and the commercialisation of it makes the whole thing even worse.

Not that we are directly affected. It is one of the benefits of living where I do that casual visitors can’t get to us. But I know from what I have heard from others that these trick-or-treaters are a real nuisance, knocking on the door and demanding sweets with menaces! It is a typically American idea and one that we could well do without.

But getting back to imports from America, it is not only celebrations and commercialism that we had adopted. Our TV screens are filled with shows imported from the USA, our language has been infiltrated, and American-styled fast foods dominate our high street. There are some imports we really do not need, and the American culture is by far the most noticeable.

Unfortunately, there seems to be some kind of stigma attached to having a pride in being British. Well, as far I am concerned, I am British and proud of it. I am not some new-fangled, gender-neutral citizen of some imagined a global state. I am British and proud of it. Let the American’s keep their inane consumerist celebrations, we don’t need them and should not be expected to follow them.

 

 

Home is where the heart is

Well, here I am, back in town. I had thought I might return on Tuesday with Anne and take the opportunity to meet with Hope, but in the end, I decided to stay another couple of days and sort out a few issues with the estate. And I am very pleased that I did. I met with Anne for lunch after her return and she told me that her meeting with Hope had gone very well indeed. It sounds like they will be working closely together on a couple of projects. I am so pleased that I have been able to help them both.  Over drinks at the King’s Arms on Friday night, Anne and I were joined by Mr Rotherby who told us that he had just been speaking to a couple of local farmers who said that they had been visited by some developer or other about selling portions of their land.

This very quickly became the focus of a lot of debate around the bar, I can tell you. There is a lot of bad feeling amongst some of the locals about all these new developments, Not everyone is happy about having all these people moving into the area from the cities and cluttering the place with their cars and teenagers. Whilst I don’t share their views, being a city boy myself these days, I can see their point. Many of the small villages around here are like little oases of calm and rural tradition. But it is that very authenticity that draws in their new neighbours. But they also need to accept that these people bring money, jobs and some stability to what are sometimes areas in decline.

But I do have some sympathy for them. It seems that almost everywhere you go these days they are building new homes on what was once good farming land. I know that a lot of people get very angry about it, but so long as they stay away from our old estates and lovely villages, then I don’t see what the problem is. After all, politicians and campaigners keep banging on about the need for more houses, so let them get on with it. But if anyone thinks they are going to get their hands on any of my lands, they can think again. I may not be there very often, but I am determined to keep the estate as well maintained and intact as possible.

You know, I really don’t understand all the fuss about the housing shortage. I see plenty of empty properties almost every day, even in the city. There are whole blocks just sitting there with no one in them. Whilst some of these may not be housing as such, surely they could be converted or knocked down and rebuilt to make something suitable. Then they wouldn’t need to start looking avariciously at our beautiful countryside.

And I don’t understand all this fuss about what they call “affordable” housing. I mean, surely if one has a job one can afford a mortgage or rent. I admit that I am no expert when it comes to the economy or finances, but it doesn’t make sense to me to make house prices too high for people to afford. And if buying is beyond reach, there is always the rental market. A large part of my family business is related to property development and rental, and although I don’t understand it all, it seems to me that there is plenty of property out there.

It’s strange but for most of my life the old family house has just been somewhere I visit occasionally. It has not been a real home to me since I was in my teens. Although, if I am to be totally honest, I am not actually sure it ever was, even then.

My parents sent me away to school when I was very young so that is where I spent most of my time and I think that in many ways, the various schools I attended became home. That was where my friends were, and where I was happiest, which I think is as good a definition of home as any.

I have always been glad to return to the city, but there are times, like now, when something about the country leaves a trace of regret. The country estate may never have felt much like home to me, but family is important, and the family home is as much a part of it as the people themselves. After all, it is the place that holds the family’s memories and treasures. And there are certainly plenty memories in the old place, but not all of them good. And as for being a repository for the family heirlooms and mementoes, it is certainly that, in spades. Most of the walls are lined with portraits of various ancestors on my father’s side. The house shows very little of my mother’s influence, other than some improvements to the kitchens and new greenhouses.

Anyway, I am back in my Kensington abode, which feels much more homely now that Dorothy has returned from her filming job in Edinburgh. I am so relieved to have her around the place again.

Divided by a common language

Today I had another of those tedious meetings with one of my managers. This time I had the dubious pleasure of meeting the head of PR and Marketing, Miss Langdon. Whilst I openly admit that talking to my heads of Logistics and Human Resources had left me underwhelmed and a little baffled, today’s little chat was in a league of its own.  Where Human Resources mangle the Queen’s English in a manner that makes it almost unintelligible, the language of PR and Marketing is about as easy to follow as Esperanto, and twice as incomprehensible.

Not only did I not understand two-thirds of the things she said, I am convinced that she was making some of the words and phrases up as she went along. I mean, what is all this about “blue sky thinking”? Does she expect me to stare at the clouds and daydream? And who came up with the phrase “white eye time”? I am all too familiar with the red-eye but was totally at a loss to understand this particular direction of our conversation. And when did it become accepted practice to speak in abbreviations? On several occasions, Miss Langdon would prefix a sentence with “FYI”. It wasn’t until afterwards when I asked my secretary about it that I understood what it meant. Needless to say, I was decidedly unimpressed by what I heard, or at least by the little I understood.

I think that anyone who knows me will accept that whilst I am not always the most on the ball when it comes to current affairs and business, I am not stupid. My parents spent a great deal of money on my education and I am pretty sure it can’t have been all wasted. So why do I feel so out of my depth and confused following these meetings? Is it too much to ask to expect people to talk in plain, simple English? I am sure my father would not have put up with all this gobbledygook.

I mean to say, English is such a beautiful language. It is the language of romance, of poetry and music. It can be so lyrical and magical, a joy to read and to hear. Whilst I can understand why the chaps from the colonies, particularly the Americans and West Indies, have manipulated it to make it their own, there can be no excuse for educated people from the City to try to do the same thing.

And it’s not just in the office I see examples of our wonderful language being murdered. I hear plenty of conversations in bars and restaurants where the phrases and words used seem to be designed to confuse rather than enlighten. At least at the Club, the Queen’s English is very much the language of choice. You won’t hear anyone dropping the term  “blue skies” into a conversation unless of course, they are talking about the weather.

Of course, I appreciate that language changes with time. Like everything else, it evolves. Anyone who has read Shakespear or Chaucer will acknowledge that. Even the words of the great Charles Dickens can seem a little odd these days. But from what I recall from my school days, evolution is a slow and natural process, and I don’t feel there is anything at all natural about blue sky thinking and FYI! It seems to me that insecure managers have collaborated together to create a linguistic barrier to anyone else encroaching on their territory. It seems nothing more than a device to secure their own positions whilst excluding those they perceive to be outsiders. One needs to learn the lingo, so to speak, if one wants to join the club.

Well, I am not going to play their games. In future, it is plain old Queens English or nothing. I am going to make it my mission to rid the company of business gobbledygook once and for all.

Once I had finished my chat with Miss Langdon I spent the rest of the morning with my secretary Miss Drayton. I wanted to get her view on the people who run the various departments. After all, she deals with all of them and I have learned to trust her instincts. I have also often found that women tend to be better judges of character than men. I don’t know whether it’s the hormones or part of the mother instinct, but they do seem to be able to see beyond the facade that some people manage to build for themselves. Miss Drayton is particularly astute at spotting those who have things to hide, or who are not quite as they seem. Actually, it makes me wonder why our head of Personel (or Human Resources as they like to call it) is a man. Surely this is a role better suited to a woman? Anyway, according to Miss Drayton, all the various department heads are very reliable and loyal. That doesn’t mean to say she trusts them all, but she says she knows how to handle them, and when they can be trusted and when they can’t.

I did consider taking Miss Drayton to lunch, but after what happened last time, I decided against it. It seems that it is not just our language that has changed beyond all recognition in recent years. These days a man can’t take his secretary out to lunch without his intentions being misconstrued. My father often took his secretaries out for meals and such like and no one thought anything of it. Or at least, if they did nothing was ever said to me. Ah well, I suppose that is the modern world for you. Maybe it is time I returned to the old family homestead in the country for a short while. I do love living in the city, but sometimes I like to return to the old estate, just to recharge the batteries and regain my perspective on life. Perhaps once Dorothy has left for Edinburgh on Saturday I could take myself away for a couple of days. I can’t be away for too long of course as I am attending an event at Hope’s gallery next week.

Anyway, I must dash, I am meeting Dorothy and Angela for a farewell dinner. I believe that we are being joined by a couple of her friends. I just hope they aren’t those theatrical types. I have had a stressful enough day without having to deal with a room full of lovies!

 

 

 

Calling a spade a manual earth extraction tool

It has been such a busy couple of days that I have hardly had time to think, let alone write a blog! What with meetings, lunches and visiting the Club, my days have been jolly full. But one has to find time to relax, to unwind and recharge the proverbial batteries, which is why it has taken me a couple of days to get around to doing anything on my computer. I know that Nigel has been working on something but I just haven’t had the time. Those two mornings a week at the office have really made a difference to my flexibility.

But aside from my failed attempt to meet with Hope on Wednesday, the only other event that seems to warrant a particular mention is my meeting on Thursday with the business’s Director of Human Resources. When Miss Drayton first told me about the meeting, my first reaction was one of confusion. I mean, I understand the words themselves. I know what a human is and I know what resources are. What I couldn’t work out at first was what it means when these two words are bolted together. I suspected that it was going to be about people and jobs, but aside from that, I was totally in the dark.

Anyway, at 10 o’clock, I found myself ensconced in a small room with a very large man. Now I don’t want anyone to misunderstand my meaning. I am not saying that he was fat because he wasn’t, he was just very large. He must have been well over 6 feet tall with the widest shoulders I think I have ever seen outside of a wrestling bout. He was actually jolly intimidating, looming over me as he did with a glistening of sweat on his brow. This, apparently, was my Director of Human Resources, Mr Scott. It seems that the purpose of this particular meeting was simply to introduce me to him and to bring me up to date on staff issues through all the various companies the business has an interest in. However, I found that far from feeling informed, my only certainty when I left was that I was going to need to invest in a brand new dictionary.

Thankfully, the meeting was brief. Throughout it, he talked about “rationalising the human element of the balance sheet” and “streamlining the low productivity salary stream.” I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. Apparently, according to Mr Scott, we need to “facilitate some blue sky thinking” over staffing levels. Once Miss Drayton had translated this nonsense, I understood that he was talking about redundancies. Now, it is not my place to question the decisions of those who know so much more than I about running a business, but I did express some concern over the idea of sacking people simply to save a few pounds here and there. Mr Scott – I simply cannot remember his first name – assured me that anyone who was “disproportionately disadvantaged by having their role delimited or negatively restructured” would be adequately compensated.

But it wasn’t just the way he spoke that left me all at sea. Whilst discussing various roles and departments within the myriad of companies that make up the family’s business interests, I was struck by the absurdity of some of the job titles themselves. I mean, exactly when did a cleaner become an Environmental Maintenace Office? These days it seems that everyone is some form of engineer, technician or officer. What is the point of making a job sound grander than it is? I simply can’t see who benefits from these changes. Certainly not the individuals who actually do the jobs. After all, a cleaner is a cleaner, whatever you decide to call them.

Actually, I remember reading a piece about this sort of thing no so long ago in the Daily Mail. The article talked about these aggrandised job titles and I must admit that at the time I thought it was just some kind of prank. But apparently not. I know it is a long time since I was last involved in the business on anything like a regular basis, but I am sure that back then my father would have kept such things under control. He would never have stood for all this “blue sky thinking” and “touching base”. But then I suppose that everything changes over time, even language, although I don’t see the point of creating a new business language that nobody understands!

Talking to Mr Scott reminded me a little of the first time I worked for my father, just after I finished at college. My role at that time seemed to involve moving things from one place to another.  Sometimes it was money, sometimes it was goods, sometimes even people. I never really understood the rationale behind it all, but it seemed to please my father and I thought I was getting quite good at it. Unfortunately, not every movement went as planned. The good ship Robert sank without trace following a particularly disastrous episode involving a half-full van, three Norwegian tourists and a Traffic Warden. I still have occasional nightmares about it even now, all these years later. I still get a Christmas card from the poor old Traffic Warden who retired on health grounds shortly afterwards.

I mentioned the whole job description and business-speak matter with the chaps at the Club last night. Some of them have been involved running their businesses for quite a while so I was intrigued to hear what they had to say on the subject. I can say with some relief that they all to a man shared my feelings that things have gone a little too far in recent years. And it seems that there is more frustrating them than a change in language. Some of the chaps got quite hot under the collar about red tape, health and safety and interference from Brussels. I have to admit that much of the conversation went way over my head. There were a lot of references to needless bureaucracy and unnecessary costs, as well as the need for a firm hand when dealing with unions and local council officials, both of which came in for particularly vehement criticism.

I left the Club a little after midnight feeling relieved that I was not alone in my thoughts about political correctness and the pandering to absurd and unnecessary dictates from those interfering eurocrats in the Europe. The sooner we can get back to managing our own affairs and do away with all this red tape and pussy-footing about the better as far as I can see.

I’m not sure I will ever get the hang of this business thing but I am determined that now I have started working again I am going to make a much better job of it than I did in the past.