Let’s keep it together

Earlier this week I was reminded of that wonderful old poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling:

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

It was one of my father’s favourite pieces of literature and one he lived his life by.  We live in a very difficult and complicated world and it very easy to find one’s self lost in the chaos of recriminations, strife and anger that surround us every day. I think that sometimes my father handled his business affairs a little like a military campaign. He would strategize to the n-th degree, trying to second guess the competition and doing everything he could to put his competitors (or enemies as he often called them) off their stride. But whatever his competitors were doing, however much pressure the business put on him, he remained always stoical and I never saw him lose his temper over a business matter. I remember him saying to me once when I had first started working with him at the office.

Don’t get me wrong, my father had quite a temper on him and he could fly into the most alarming and frightening rages, but never over the big issues. One felt that the world could be facing imminent doom and my father would remain the calm and reassuring rock that we all could cling to. If he had been on board the Titanic, he would have simply poured himself another gin and listened to the band play on. But should he find anything out of place in his study, or muddy footprints across the hall, woe betide the culprit (usually a much younger me!).

I think I must have inherited that from him, that very English ability to remain calm in the face of adversity. I like to think of myself as a relatively calm sort of chap;  I don’t get angry easily or very often. But there are times when one can see that final straw approaching and one knows that the proverbial stack is about to blow.

Like my father, the bigger worries of the world do not bother me too much. After all, there is very little point in getting worked up about something you can do nothing about. What would be the point in that? But what I do find is that frustration over seemingly insignificant things or some form of injustice can, and often will, lead me to lose my temper.

But not everyone shares this view of life. There are a number of the chaps at the Club who would do well to read and take heed of Mr Kipling’s inspiring words. But I suppose that in this day and age where there is so much pressure to conform and succeed, it is very easy to be pushed off track by events. Just yesterday I dropped into the Club for a quiet lunch when I found myself caught up in what I thought was a lively conversation, but turned out to be a slowly simmering argument. Two of the chaps – both very pleasant normally – it turns out were business rivals and had had a falling out over some kind of deal or other. Now, I didn’t get all the details, to be honest, it was difficult to follow exactly what they were saying after a while, but it was obvious that they would need to be separated before heated words turned into something a little more substantial.

I felt a little like one of those UN peacekeepers that you used to see much of on the television, positioning myself between the two combatants. All I needed was the blue beret. I have never, in all the years I have been a member of the Club, seen any of the chaps lose their composure in such a spectacular fashion. That is not to say that there haven’t been arguments and the occasional small fracas in the bar, but yesterday’s incident was by far the worst I have witnessed. And not just witnessed! There I was, arms outstretched, keeping the two of them apart, only find myself at the receiving end of a powerful left hook. It took me rather by surprised I can tell you. One moment I was standing there between them, seeking calm and consideration, the next I was sitting on the damp floor (it seems that one of the chaps had spilt his drink at the onset of hostilities) with my back to the bar and a throbbing left cheek.

I am a little unsure about what happened next. There was a flurry of activity, a little more shouting and quite a few pairs of legs passing in front of my eyes, then it was all over. The warring businessmen had been separated, calm restored, and a first aid kit secured to tend my wounds.

I cannot imagine what it was that had brought these two normally relaxed chaps to such a point of bitterness and recrimination. As my father said to me, there is nothing that can’t be resolved by a little calm consideration and a quiet word. I wholeheartedly agree with his approach and only wish that others would do the same. So much more can be achieved when we keep it together rather than losing control.

This is an adage that the current incumbent of the White House should take note of too. There is no point in his antagonising the likes of the North Koreans and then expect them to take notice of what one has to say. Diplomacy doesn’t work that way.

By the time I visited Hope later in the evening my cheek had come up in a gloriously colourful bruise that demanded some explanation. She was as appalled as I was at the behaviour of the two gentlemen in question, but relieved that I had not received any further injuries. In fact, Hope made feel like something of a hero which I suppose I am really.

Worrying unduly over matters that you cannot change or the inherent dishonesty of business seems so pointless to me. One could spend one’s life getting worked up about this and that, but it would be short and not too happy life. I for one prefer to keep calm and carry on, as the old war posters used to say.

I have kept something of a low profile today but will be out and about tomorrow with Hope. With a little luck, the bruising will have gone down a little.

And for those out there who are not familiar with Kipling’s “If”, you can read the full poem here.

A pleasant evening with friends, old and new

Dinner parties with strangers are a little like a leap into the unknown. One never knows quite what to expect. When Hope asked me to be her partner at this little soiree hosted by a couple of her old school friends I immediately accepted but did have my reservations. After all, I had no idea where we were going, who we would be with, or if we would have anything in common. As it turns out I need not have worried; we actually had a really fun evening.

The big surprise of the evening was discovering that although I did not know our hosts, I was already acquainted with the other guests, Richard and Lianna Bardon-Willis. I knew Dickie from College, he was one of the members of our little debating society; Lianna was one of the young ladies we used to drink with. They became a couple in our last year which was no surprise to anyone. We didn’t really keep in touch a great deal afterwards, but our paths have crossed on several occasions over the intervening years. Seeing them there was such a jolly nice surprise and made the whole affair much more pleasant.

Before I say I anything else I really do have to compliment our hosts – Charles and Helen – for the most amazing meal. A delicious Salmon and Prawn Taurine, Lamb so tender it virtually melted in the mouth, and a truly refreshing Lemon Sorbet to finish. All served with a perfect selection of wine which flowed just as freely as the conversation.

Our hosts seemed to know just the right things to say to keep things chugging along. I had not met them before, but they seemed to know a little about me. Apparently, Charles has some business interests that have brought him into contact with my Aunt Murdock, and my father before her. I don’t know exactly what he does, but it seems to involve property development in some way. Dickie, on the other hand, is in banking and has been since we left college, all those years ago.

The one rather strange thing about the evening was that Hope and I were the only two single people there. Although we have known each other for quite a while, our friendship is actually fairly new. For many years Hope was just someone I knew of but had very little direct contact with beyond family gatherings and social events. Over the past few months though I feel we have become very good friends and I am really rather fond of her. As the drink and conversation continued to flow, more than once I found myself watching her as she laughed, noticing,  not for the first time, that she has a couple of crooked teeth which I found strangely alluring A number of my friends and acquaintances have spent a great deal of time and money on having such things repaired, but there is something about these slight imperfections that I find more attractive and genuine. To my mind, all this tinkering with ones’ looks is often counterproductive. There is nothing so unnatural as a woman of a certain age relying on surgery and drugs to keep her looking like a 20-year-old. There are far too many women of my acquaintance whos looks owe more to a surgeons knife than their own efforts or lifestyle.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when plastic surgery and like are necessary, but the obsession some people have over tinkering with their own bodies I find quite frightening. I would never consider going under the knife for anything unless it was truly necessary. And I am pleased to see that Hope is not one of those who feel they need to hide their natural look.

I must say we all had a jolly good evening and I was a little disappointed when it came time to take our leave. Charles and Helen were wonderful hosts, it was good to see Dickie and Lianne again, Hope was her usual charming self, and I do believe I did or said nothing to embarrass myself, which is always a bonus.

Arthur collected Hope and me a little before midnight. During the drive back to her house, I asked Hope about Emily and what she thought I had done to offend her. I could tell she was a little reluctant to talk about it, but I eventually persuaded her to tell me.  According to Hope, Emily has worked on a number of cases that have involved one or another of the companies my business is linked with, and her experiences have not been very good. This revelation came as something of a shock to me and I promised Hope that I would look into whatever it was that Emily felt was wrong.

Personally, I am not totally convinced that her business dealings are the whole story, but I am happy to leave things there for now. Undoubtedly we will have other opportunities to clear the air and discuss whatever issues Emily feels she may have with me.

One of the many things that were discussed last night, all be it rather briefly, was Valentine’s Day. Now I am not one for all this sentimental flim-flam so I was rather surprised to hear that both couples were planning something special for today. I found the whole conversation rather embarrassing as, being the two singles at the table, there seemed to be some expectation that Hope and I would be doing something romantic today. Of course, we aren’t and I had to admit to not having given the day a moment’s thought. Thankfully the conversations moved on to other things fairly rapidly.

Why is it that married couples can’t seem to stop themselves interfering with the relationships of their single friends? Well, I for one do not appreciate that kind of thing, no matter well-meaning the plotters may be. As I said, things moved on very quickly so the whole subject was soon forgotten, but I was reminded of it this morning when Dorothy and Angela joined me for a late breakfast. Apparently, there had been flowers, cards and gifts aplenty and they soon turned their attention to me. But not for long. I very quickly appraised them of my view that the whole thing was just another event designed to make as much money as possible out of people. The price that restaurants and clubs charge for tables on Valentine’s Day is almost obscene and as far as I am concerned it is all a complete waste of time and money. As I see it, one should not wait until 14th February to let one’s feelings be known to our loved ones.

My plan for this evening is for a few drinks at the Club and game or two of snooker with not a piece of chocolate or a rose in sight.

 

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.

Lord Robert, PI!

holmes

What a week! My days have become so hectic recently I am not sure how I manage to fit everything in.

It was another early start today as I was back in the office again. And what a busy place it is. Miss Drayton, my trusty secretary, has been helping me, going over the details of the various pieces that make up the family business. It is like a huge jigsaw, but without the picture; or one of those you see with a different picture on either side. I am sure I will never get the hang of it all. I am very much in awe of Miss Drayton for managing to keep track of it all. I have not the slightest idea how she manages it.

Of course, Aunt Murdock has always been the one who really knows how all the pieces fit together, but I am beginning to think that Miss Drayton is the only one who has the whole picture. Anyway, I left the office feeling somewhat exhausted at about 1 o’clock and headed down to the club for a spot of lunch. Nothing fancy, just a simple soup, the Beef Wellington and a particularly nice cheesecake, washed down with half a bottle of Chablis.

When I arrived home a little after 3 o’clock, I found my godson Nigel waiting for me. He was already on the computer – he said he had an update of some kind for the family tree software. It is all beyond me which is why it is so good to have someone like Nigel around to help me. Admittedly I was a little confused at first by the documents that Nigel was working on. I was not aware that we had any Russian or Thai connections, but I am sure that Nigel knows what he is doing.

Anyway, we I spent the rest of the afternoon doing some research on my mother’s side of the family. I must say it is jolly good fun searching through old records. I am beginning to feel like one of those private detectives you used to see so much of on the television. Looking for the smallest clues hidden amongst the veritable shoal of red herrings. There’s so much information out there on the internet that it is very easy to get distracted. One never knows where any of the threads you pick up will lead to.

But there is more to this research than simply going through birth, marriage and death records. You see, Nigel has been showing me how to search the whole web thing, and how to work out what is interesting and what is not.

I’ve seen them on the television go through old newspapers and such, so I know we may well have to get out and visit some old libraries and museums at some point. But for now, I am quite happy doing what I can online. Now, that’s something I never thought I would say.

I have to admit that the who ancestry thing has got me hooked, it is quite fascinating and very addictive. Each new nugget of information opens up a whole new avenue of investigation and helps complete the picture. It’s a little like trying to figure out the jigsaw of relationships between the various parts of the family business.

Families are funny things and as I have discovered, not everyone is what they seem. The biggest shock for me so far has been finding out that several members of my mothers family were leading socialists at the turn of the twentieth century. Quite a thing really. I knew her side of the family had built their fortunes and reputation on trade but had not suspected that they were socialists. I must admit that I don’t really know how to feel about that little revelation.

Right now I am feeling a little tired after such a busy day. I can hear Dorothy moving around upstairs so I think I will pop up and say hello before going out. This evening I am meeting a few of the chaps for a few drinks and, hopefully, a bit of supper at the Club.

It’s a family affair!

I had lunch with dear old Aunt Murdock today, and what an event that turned out to be. You see, I haven’t seen her for a couple of weeks and so have not had the opportunity, until today, to tell her about Dorothy.

To be quite frank, I had been putting it off. I was rather hoping that someone else would let her know how things stood. Actually, I need not have worried. She may be an old stuck-in-the-mud, but it turns out she was quite alright about the whole thing. Admittedly she was disappointed that her attempt to match me up with Dorothy or her friend Angela was fruitless, but she took it all very well. In fact, she already seems to have another eligible young lady lined up for me to meet.

But today’s meeting was all about business. You see, it seems that the old dear has actually been quite ill recently, not that one would guess from her demeanour, and she wants me to take more of an active interest in the family business. Now, I love the old codger dearly, but she doesn’t seem to understand that I have tried to do the whole running the family business thing and it just didn’t work. In fact, my father practically had me frog-marched out of the building, all over some misunderstanding about some missing paperwork. I mean, it is hardly my fault if one or two contracts had not been filed properly.

Since then I have stayed well away from the business side of my family’s affairs. That is, until now. According to Aunt Murdock, I am going to have to be a little more “hands on” in future as she may not be in a position to give as much time as she has been doing to either the bank or the properties.

I suppose I can see her point. She is getting on a bit and perhaps I do rely on her a little too much. Anyway, the upshot is that I am going to be spending a couple of mornings a week at the office, trying to get to grips with it all. I would like to say that it should be jolly good fun, but I am sure it will be anything but.

And to top it all, she has only gone and arranged another one of her “blind dates” for me this weekend. Apparently, we have both been invited to a small garden party organised by one of the bank’s largest investors. I am sure it will be an interminable bore, but I can’t risk upsetting Aunt Murdock right now. So, I don’t seem to have any choice but to go with her and play along with her latest attempt at matchmaking.

The thing is, I am sure I know the lady she has in mind for me. If I’m right, it is one of my Aunt Margaret’s old friends. Margaret is actually only a year older than me and I have met several of her friends, one of whom I know is currently single (she lost her husband two years ago in a car accident) and on the lookout for groom number two. If I remember rightly she is about 48 and built like a Sherman tank. Of course, I may be wrong and she may have me lined up to meet a supermodel. I wish!

Anyway, I had better have myself an early night tonight if I am going to put in a full morning’s work in the office tomorrow. I will have no more than a couple of drinks at the Club tonight. I would stay at home, but I need to speak to a couple of the chaps and it is the only place I can guarantee seeing them.