Musings on Brexit

One of the many things that I like about spending time at the Club is the variety of topics and opinions that one encounters over drinks at the bar. Obviously, there are plenty of the old guard around, reminiscing about the Empire days or what they see as the lack of moral fibre in society today. Whilst one has to have some sympathy for their views, one cannot always agree or even understand what they are talking about.

The chaps and I have often found ourselves at loggerheads with some of the old duffers over one issue or another, and I have also found myself, on more than one occasion, completely at a loss to understand what they are talking about at all. They sometimes seem to have their own language and talk about people and places that I have never heard of. At the same time, one has to respect them and their achievements. Many are war veterans and seem to spend their days and evenings reliving adventures in far-off corners of the old empire.

But there are times when the life experiences of the old guard are actually very interesting. Whilst one or two of the old chaps have obviously lost the plot completely, a number of them still have enough of their marbles to provide valuable insights into some of the political discussions we often fall into. And we have certainly been having a few of those recently, what with the interminable discussions about Brexit, this week’s budget and events in Zimbabwe, there have been some very lively discussions going on. Not that I have too much to say on some of these subjects, but it is always interesting to see just how passionate some of the chaps can get over seemingly trivial things.

The one topic that continues to surprise me is Brexit. I mean, we had the vote, a decision was made, so why don’t they just get on with it? All this faffing about and opening up debates about so-called divorce bills and such look like nothing more than political procrastination. And I am not alone in becoming a little frustrated by having the issue constantly thrust in my face everytime I switch on the news or read a newspaper. Mind you, I had thought that the fellows at the Club would be pretty united on the subject, but it seems not. Whilst I knew that there were one or two who were closet remainers at the time of the vote, their ranks have apparently swelled somewhat over recent months, and last night it all came to a head when the debate was re-opened once again after a fairly lengthy drinking session.

I think it was all sparked off by the announcement in last week’s Budget about the amount of money being set aside to pay for the Brexit process. Admittedly I don’t normally take much notice of the budget as it rarely has any real impact on either myself or my immediate family, but even I was shocked to see that the Chancellor has set aside £3bn to pay for Brexit preparations. That seems quite a lot of money to me, considering that we are also looking at paying something like £40bn just for the privilege of leaving. I also learned from one of the chaps that over 8,000 people have been employed by the government just to manage the process of leaving the European Union. Obviously, anything that creates that many new jobs has to be applauded, but I for one had not anticipated all of this extra money and work being part of the Brexit process.

A couple of the chaps were very concerned at the loss of jobs in the City as EU institutions have already begun the process of moving to other cities on the continent. I do not remember any conversations during the referendum where these things were mentioned. Although I have little time for the interference in our affairs by our continental cousins, I have always been sympathetic to the freedom of trade and employment that membership has brought. I think like many my main concern has always been the unnecessary bureaucracy, the needless harmonisation and the feeling that our sovereignty and culture were under attack. Now, after one of the most heated debates I have seen the Club for quite some time, I am beginning to see why so many influential people warned against Brexit.

I remember well the divisions within the Club in the months leading up to the referendum. And from where I stood, it looked to me like it was the younger members who were supporting the Remain campaign, and the older chaps who wanted out. The way I saw it, the younger chaps were simply not experienced enough to see the problems the country faced if it were to remain part of the European Union. I know a lot was said about foreign workers coming over here and taking all our jobs which is something I had thought would have been of more concern to the younger people, but apparently not. Several of them were more than happy to employ Easter European workers in their businesses, often stating that they were cheaper and more productive.

One thing I do know for sure is that if my father were still alive he would be furious about what is going on. He was a very firm supporter of the European Union. He often spoke quite eloquently on the subject, and although we didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye on the issue, I did respect and admire his position.

So it seems that the closer we get to leaving the Union, the less support it has, at least amongst my friends down at the Club. However, amongst the old guard, support for Brexit is as strong and determined as ever, although I am not sure that some of them will live long enough to see the result.

 

Let battle commence

It’s an old adage that when in company you should never discuss politics or religion. And it’s a little bit of well-worn wisdom that I try to adhere to as much as I can. We all know that these are subjects that will inevitably cause friction and dissent, even amongst friends and family. I have seen more that one gathering descend into chaos as those with opposing views draw up their battle lines.

From the sidelines, these confrontations between people who are otherwise quite close can be rather amusing. But I have seen such disagreements lead to long-lasting breakups, which is not so funny.

I was reminded of this earlier today when I met with my Aunt Murdock and Uncle George. I had invited them to join me for lunch at a little place that we are all rather fond of on Parliament Square. Aunt Murdock has said more than once that it is her favourite London restaurant, and it is one I am rather fond of myself, although neither of us tends to frequent it too regularly. My choice of Partridge, followed by Cumbrian Beef, were a perfect reminder of why we enjoy it so much.

Anyway, today’s lunch was my treat. I have always been very close to the Murdocks and although I see quite a lot of old Mad Duck, I don’t get to spend much time with Uncle George these days. Since he retired from running his business he spends a lot of time playing golf, very often abroad, so I have to take these opportunities to get together whenever I can. I really like George and he is one of the few people I know I can talk to about politics and religion without causing a family feud. I could always talk to George in ways I never could with my own father. We have always seen eye to eye on most things, even the dreaded Brexit.

I find there is no better way to catch up on recent events than over a good meal. One can truly relax and savour the best in food and company if you chose your venue with care. Once seated George and I were very soon making observations, recommendations and comments about all kinds of things, from how to deal with North Korea, to the best ways to reduce terrorism and immigration. George’s immense experience travelling around the world gives him a wonderful insight into the way foreigners think and work. I have always taken his advice on political matters and very rarely do I find the need to disagree with him.

It was as we were waiting for our main courses I began to notice that conversation at the next table seemed to be getting a little heated. It was obvious from what was being said they were discussing the ramifications of leaving the EU, and I can tell you, there was little or no common ground between the two primary antagonists. I assumed they were two couples; the men were quietly battling it out while the women tried to come between them and broker some kind of peace. Things calmed down with the arrival of their desserts, which gave the ladies an opportunity to change the subject to families, children and last night’s television.

But the ceasefire didn’t last, and it wasn’t long before I heard mention of Boris Johnson, after which things began to get very heated. Mind you, it’s not the first time I have seen people fall out over their opinion of dear old Boris. I have to admit that I do like the chap, despite the silly things he sometimes does or says. I was almost tempted to leap to his defence, but a quick glance from Uncle George dissuaded me from that particular course of action.

In the end, it all got a little too loud and they were encouraged to leave the restaurant. It must have been frightfully embarrassing for the two young ladies who really need to learn to take a firmer hand. Aunt Murdock would never have allowed that kind of thing to happen at her table.

Once all the excitement was over we were able to enjoy the rest of our meal, which was as good as anticipated, as was the company. George and I were able to put the world to rights without coming to blows and Aunt Murdock got to enjoy her favourite Raspberry Souffle. For the three of us, it was a particularly enjoyable lunch. I only hope that the four young people who ignored the advice on avoiding politics and religion have made up their differences.

 

 

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.