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.