A Flight From Isolation

Early days in the siege and slowly the panic is starting to ease, replaced by medium term concern in the cost of recovery and boredom.

Whilst most people accepted the constraints the anti social behaviour of the minority leaves a nasty taste. The supermarket gatecrashers who posed as NHS workers. The indifference of a portion of young adults who believed themselves immune, the guys who robbed supermarket delivery vans, the Doctor making millions from selling test kits whilst the NHS was starved. Banks who put the price of borrowing up just as the bank rate went down, retailers and wholesalers who jacked up the price goods dramatically to milk distressed purchases. The list grows, the human race deteriorates.

So why the photograph? Above us there are normally a host of aircraft vapour trials at 38,000 feet en route somewhere but now there are none – except for the one lone flight seen after four days of clear blue skies.

Changes Are Afoot

Times they are a changing. The sun is shinning, shops are shutting, concern is growing. Lockdown looms, but the sun is shining and there’s no sign of rain.

Covig-19 will go down in history as a test of Government, NHS and national resolve. Worst of all is the abundance of people who believe they are invincible and the new rules don’t actually apply to them. This is followed by the profiteers. Hedge funds screwing the economy, the private “doctors” making £m’s from selling test kits, the morons who crashed in on dedicated NHS shopping time at supermarkets. The wealthy moving to second homes or renting anywhere but London. And so it goes on, the perverse downside of human nature abounds.

One ominous change is in the skies. The blue sky overhead is generally a crisscross of vapour trails from aircraft. High in the sky at cruising altitudes there is generally 6 or 8 trails visible. Now there are none.

But in the midst of the mayhem there are many encouraging signs of positive human nature, the generosity and inventiveness of many with an altruistic outlook. The NHS dedication in the face of turmoil and danger. History will be kind to them, the morons will inevitably console themselves with the wealth they have stolen.

News Reports From Down a Well

The flood of news items ripping over the airways on the pandemic has given countless novel reporters their 15 minutes of fame. Many are nervous when the on-air light comes on and um and err as most of us would. The bigger issue is the advent of SKYPE etc broadcasts. We desperately need some schooling on how to set up the smart device so the report does not feature an up the nose or looking at the ceiling shot.

Having said this have you noticed the modern trend of documentaries where the report looks to one side of the camera, or looks back over their shoulder whilst walking along. Anyway the final beef of the issue is the sound quality. Using a smart phone, tablet or laptop means it all sounds like a broadcast down a distant well.

Keep Calm And Stop Hording

As supermarket shelves are stripped bare we must in theory be one of the cleanest and well fed nation? Supermarkets are enjoying a renaissance where brand wars have ceased and turnover has doubled, for the time being. And for all the wrong reasons.

Hopefully the crazy anti-social element of the situation will ease quickly. Time to reflect on the have and have not’s sections of society. The have not’s ironically include key workers who work all hours only to find they are last in the queue for food at the emptied supermarkets.

The supply of food is not at risk but the irrational herd driven mob rule hoarding is only one step away from the looters.

And now we enter the phase where the greedy and manipulative nasty element of society emerge. Stock exchanges raided bare by hedge fund manipulators anxious to make a fast buck no matter what the consequences. Airlines who refused to let the government bail out Flybe are now the same ones now demanding financial support as their markets have also collapsed. The same ones who put one hand out for financial help whilst the other is paying £160m in dividends to shareholders.

As trains, buses, ships, cars and planes are ‘grounded’ or curtailed the beneficial effect on the environment is huge: a massive element of serendipity. Maybe we need to reconsider our whole approach as we emerge from this crisis.

Covid-19 Gets It Done.

The house arrest has started, self restraint, self isolation. All down to a microscopic virus that you can’ even see with a conventional microscope. You need a fancy scanning electron chunk of kit that can magnifying thousands of times before you can see the little blighters.

Despite it’s diminutive size it holds disproportionately immense power. Scientists have described it as a truly magnificent creation a thing of beauty able to evolve and mutate at an amazing rate. To the rest of us it is truly an absolute bastard of the highest order.

Being of an age considered to a tad vulnerable we are obliged to go hide for the foreseeable. This sounds idilic on a tropical island, with deserted white sand beaches and a gentle surf, maybe the odd coconut and a glass of cold beer. But the poor U.K. has taken a battering from Brexit, general elections, and winter storms that have been queuing up in the Atlantic to come play with us.

Cold, damp, grey weather is just not fair. Being cooped up indoors with the threat of daytime TV is not easily going to lift the spirits. And the scarcity of soap in supermarkets has spread into the world of TV soap operas. We all need to engage positive Dunkirk mindset slightly before going into full fret mode worrying about where the next loo roll is going to come from. Do you remember the days when the choice of paper also extended to pastel shades to match the decor? And a few of us can remember the era of Izal toilet tissue, with its Jeyes fluid cold tar aroma and “Now wash your hands” printed on every shiny sheet. Those were the days when wiping a bum meant something! Ironically I could hardly imagine anyone wanting to stockpile Izal.

The other alternative, in the day, was torn up newspaper tied up with string in one corner. Could this be behind the online subscription newspapers now offering to deliver printed copies free of charge?

Shortly before the ‘gate’ closed I decided to stock up on paint, with a touch of undercoat, sandpaper, dust masks and gloss white paint. For it has been said that the inside windows are looking a touch jaded and would welcome some tender loving care. This poses a dilemma. Firstly I hate painting. Secondly the finished effect is to say the least problematic. If you want paint runs, drips and smudges, maybe a few streaks across the glass then I’m you man! If you want I can also moan constantly about the process and clean brushes in most inappropriate places, and not very well. Having failed to clean the brushes properly means the day begins by bashing the daylights out of a brush to ease the bristles into behaving.

Just to add insult the windows are Georgian with around three million corners.

Pollution Drops From Covid-19

In years to come we will be all able to sit down and reminince about the covid-19 effects. The lockdowns, hardship, business crisis and panic buying. Something the younger population who are now living through it will be able to tell their children. But is there another upside from this horrific situation.

Who would have thought the recent activity surrounding climate change; Greta Thunberg, airlines and cruise ships would have such a profound about face in less than four weeks. The skies above Chinese cities were clear of pollution for the first time in years, aircraft were grounded with nowhere to fly to, cruise liners were starved of passengers and laid up. Tourist locations overrun with too many visitors have a change to catch their breath. Economic hardship abounds yet the economic and medical crisis has achieved more in a couple of weeks than Greta could have ever dreamed of.

And who would have thought you wouldn’t be able to buy a toilet roll in the whole wide world. Ryanair are to offer to sell people toilet rolls as they stopped flying. The catch – you had to collect them from an airport and buy a Boeing 737 to go with them.

Farmers with milk herds wondered what has hit them as demand went through the roof. Convincing Daisy to produce five times the output within 24 hours took some doing. But at the same time coffee shops stopped ordering milk. People with loyalty cards for coffee shops face the possibility they could be one point short of a free coffee when the coffee shop went bust. Now’t necessarily to do with Config-19; I already have four of these beggars from the past so I thought it worth a mention.

One encouraging sign is the educational values being reinstalled in children. The reality of the effect of a pandemic on society, good and bad, could have long term impact on attitude and collective responsibility, something to an extent has been lost on recent generations.

Phone Calls To The Back of the Sofa.

The have’s and have not has become more apparent during the age of technology. Do you have a smart device, does broadband wander into your home, and does it always work. If so then move on to the next snake in the wonderful game of snake and ladders in modern communications.

There is of course a huge age gap with users. At one end the majority of we oldies struggle to grasp the full implications of technology – without a visible sign of caring a jot. We are beholden to the young un’s logic stuff and who then weep at our ineptitude.

Life, beyond that giant leap to answer a phone within the allotted timescale fails to account for the inherent delay whilst the phone is found. Buttons are replaced by shiny images you stroke, press or flick. I have found that younger members of the family factor in time lags to compensate for these ‘find phone’ delays and repeatedly voice frustrations when you finally speak. We are of course not the generation who strap a phone about our person 24/7 indeed.

Next comes the command not to move or sit down for fear that anchoring oneself in a comfortable position or seat may stretch the wifi waves to oblivion. ‘Go stand under the modem and do not move or pass go!’

It’s good to speak and courtesy of the tech guys; allegedly free of charge. Yes I know they are draining data from the call. It’s their right, you agreed to it on page 237 of their terms and conditions, muppet. In case you didn’t there’s another clause written in reverse logic that transforms ‘no’ to mean ‘yes’. Double negatives rule OK. Another reason why learning English language in school is vital if only to turn you into one of those very clever legal guys who wrote the T&C’s in the first place – and then manage to sleep. This takes training and skill.

Most of us try not to stuff a smartphone costing zillions in a vulnerable back-pocket that can accompany us into toilets. No don’t answer it! This also overcomes the abrupt contact with Mother Earth during one of those slipped on one’s arse cracked screen episodes. At least the phone should still work to summons help. See we have thought it through. Thus a key feature of modern life for the time expired is to activate the ‘find my phone’ on a second device. Maybe best not to use your spouse’s phone as it could be in a similar predicament. This facility will reveal phones hidden in nooks, crannies and back of sofa locations in a trice.

And now spellcheck. That delightful function that turns us into gibbering idiots. Take you eye off the ball and this fantastic function will transcribe your inner most thoughts and objectives into lunatic speak ( this is probably non pc) The modern version of Chinese whispers of ‘going to a dance send three and four pence’ and don’t go there by mentioning 5G. This can scare the bejabbers out of young recipients invoking those ‘is he totally loosing it, best start looking for nursing homes moments’.

Trump Handshake Trumped

We’ve all seen it, the moment the Donald Lunges forward , grasps the hand of a visitor and jerks him forward to pull the guy into the Donald’s corner.

With the onset of cofig-19 the lunge will have to be replaced. I imagine the Donald is practicing with his elbows or feet, but I can only imagine he is trying to elbow the visitor out of the way or deliver a smart kick to the shins.

Digital Disruptors Grow Up Fast

The digital disruptor has a finite life span before it too needs to recreate itself. The brave new world approach may have a finite life span before being re-consumed by the ‘old world’ it set out to destroy.

Remember the advent of Travelodge and Premier Inn’s et al. They took the hotel market by storm. Offering a low cost solution to overnight accommodation they initially occupied low cost industrial plots, built modular hotels and sold rooms for £19 a night. No breakfast. Hotels slowly responded seeing a way to offset competition by reducing their prices and the range of their offers. Breakfast a traditional element of an overnight stay become an optional extra.

In the meantime the budget hotels found their offer could be extended to the high street. Up went the nominal price accordingly. The £19 per night went up to £22, £29 and now knock around the £79 mark. The burgeoning budget hotel market had become a teenager. Improved room layouts, adjacent catering facilities and a substantial growth in the numbers of hotels built become the norm. Traditional hotels again responded, although the price comparison sites rip 15% of the price in commission, breakfast included became more widespread.

Now a digital disruptor in the hotels market has emerged in the form of Airbnb. The cheap rent a room approach had a massive swipe at conventional and budget hotels. The growth of Airbnb had been spectacular, but it too is now changing. The number of people renting out a spare room is being overtaken by the commercial approach. Commercial operations are buying up entire blocks of flats or half a street to become an Airbnb establishment. Luxury sheds are being installed in gardens. The income is appreciable but so also is the social impact on local residents. There is a treat looming to format of Airbnb.

Uber is a similar case. The cheap hailing service that threatened the conventional taxi spurred a gig economy. Criticism of its poorly controlled modus operandi spread. But now a change is emerging. Uber is allowing the drivers to set the price, they can respond to local conditions and competition more readily. Prices of the once eagerly competitive service are now destined to be less attractive. Drivers, as a result, are no longer part of the gig economy are now considered to be contractors. A new ball game is set to run. As the saying goes, disrupt or be disrupted something conventional and disruptor businesses need to keep in very sharp focus.

Unhelpful Helplines

The growth of technology, online accounts and e-commerce have forced us all to use help lines. On the plus side you get to speak to someone without having to travel to see them in a shop or office. On the negative side you never get to see the whites of their eyes.

The wretched start of the process is the multi choice advice at the start of the call. For ‘this’ press 1 for ‘that’ press 2 for the ‘other’ press 3. “We’re very busy at the moment but your call is important please hang on”. A great start as you, who are assumed are not that busy as you’ve had time to make the call, listen to the on hold music interrupted by having to listen adverts – possibly the reason why you are on hold.

You hang on hoping that the 1, 2, or 3 choice was correct and you won’t be faced with the phone being answered by someone saying you came through on the wrong line, and you are transferred to the back of the right queue.

Contract renewals are probably the bulk of the calls. You have the cheek to query the renewal cost. And this is where technology bites the call centre on the bottom. I recall a sales fundamental known was customer relationship management. CRM. One of the basic principles was the rule ‘the retention of one existing customer is worth 10 new ones’. In great swathes of companies this rule is ignored, replaced by spreadsheets showing just how many new customers they have gained!

The existing customers have just been told their premium is going up. A quick search through comparison sites reveal you are much better off being a new customer. The help line explains that your loyalty is valued but they prefer new customers to meet their targets. And you’re gone, preferring all the hassle of new accounts, direct debits, passwords and login details to the feeling you are being gently screwed.

The massive and basically sapping exercise of finding alternatives begins. Change your energy supplier every year. Use comparison sites to check all insurance policies, buy single tickets between stations en route to save over a return fare. All are technologically fuelled, all fighting the status quo. And the end result, a hefty commission paid to the comparison site, thank you very much.

Maybe we will continue to get more edgy about the remoteness of call centres, and I don’t mean those in India where “your call is important to us, that’s why we have moved the call centre overseas to increase profits”. The interaction with another human where you can actually interact is worth 10 call centres. But there is a cost and balance between the concept of CRM and the quest of profit growth over customer retention. The first guys to crack this code and introduce the solution could create a tsunami in the market that will be equivalent of the digital disruptors. We wait with bated breath.

Watch What You Say

The quotation “Publish and be Damned” originates from the retort of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington on being blackmailed by John Joseph Stockdale and Harriette Wilson. The advent of social media has made the quotation even more relevant.

The origins of the quote stems from a threat by Messrs Stockdale and Wilson to publish her memories and letters from the Duke. Letters may now be in decline, a massive headache for the Post Office but the dramatic and instantaneous nature of social media that have emerged in their place has left many ruining the day they hit the publish button.

I was taught by a sage to always leave a response, observation or retort in “a drawer overnight”. If you still agree with the content the next day then send – but guaranteed you will have changed your mind, reduced the content or want to modified the nature of the letter. Even chuck it in the bin! Amazing how overnight, any rage duly subsided, it proved him right on numerous occasions, even elicited an apology from one sender thanking me for not rising to issue! If he only knew.

The problem now is the instant access to potential damnation. The opportunity for trolls to vent demented and instant opinion is remarkable. The poison pen letter of old at least took a few days to arrive. But we all can be tempted to voice opinion; it’s so easy, I am writing this as an example.

Contrary to the modus operandi of social media who thrive on the good and bad commentary that it generates, fuelled by its immediacy, perhaps there should be an enforced delay in publication. A series of checks and balances to ensure the sender is sure about the content and completes a checklist to promote sensible content.

This process will still allow meaningful objectives and repossess to be published, but hopefully prevent the irrational and emotive opinions that could haunt the publisher for decades. How many people have had past beliefs re-emerge as damaging content even though their opinions have now mellowed, or changed direction.

The instantaneous publication craved by the social media owners to generate response and traffic could be replaced by a new theme – slow news with thoughtful and considered comment. Westminster could take the lead.

Challenge To The Taste Buds

The day started well, up with the larks the sun shining the day held all the freshness of what promised to be a good ‘un.

You start with a bowl of cereal, the good sort the advert promised and to enhance the nourishing qualities you whack on a spoon full of yoghurt. This is the stuff that contains billions and billions of micro things that power up your day. Yet who actually counts the little blighters. Is it a figure dreamt up by the marketing team, or an actual census conducted by an intern – go count the bugs in yoghurt, no not all the bugs just the good guys. Where do you start. Anyhow be that as it may there is one further caveat to the start of your day right. Do make absolutely sure that the pot of life giving yoghurt which’s lives in a white pot in the fridge is the one you pull out half asleep, and definitely not the adjacent very similar pot marked mayonnaise. This provides an altogether extremely weird combination with your favourite cereal, and best avoided. It is impossible to scrape it all off.

Needless Notice

The sign below is a classic example of wasted energy. It is in effect an oxymoron. The message says the information board is broken, feels poorly, unloved, it is a non-sign because the same message would be just as apparent if it was switched off!

Anyway it has been broken for over three months so doubtless no one takes any notice of it anyway. It reminds me of the classic sign in a kids playground which read “It is forbidden to throw stones at this sign”

Coalition Is Best Bet

The electioneering talk is escalating as we loom up the the12th December election. The trouble is who to believe. But I have “a cunning plan”, if we all go for the safe option of voting equally for conservatives, labour and Lib Dem’s we could force a coalition, and totalling up their individual manifestos we should see a total investment in the U.K. of around £2 trillion. Gawd knows where the money will come from but that’s their problem isn’t it, and perish the thought they were telling fibs.