Through a glass, darkly

Well, during these strange times, I’ve been looking to find ways of wasting time productively, or filling the gap between a) proper work and b) my vegetative state between the fridge and the TV. You may have a similar challenge in your life – some people seem to have the energy to do interesting things in their gardens, or setting quizzes, or spending time with Joe Wicks; I’ve decided to spend a bit of time researching my family tree. This involves taking the contents of boxes of stuff that I’ve accumulated over the years, and plugging this in to the rather wonderful site, which gives you not only a platform to land your ancestors onto, but also links to all the digitised census, birth marriage, death & criminal records from the past, and, if they let you, access to all the other family trees that might intersect with yours.

I’m aware that hearing about other people’s family trees can be desperately tedious – a bit like listening to, say, Matt Hancock spinning another yarn about government guidance. Things start off uninspiring, and go steadily downhill, until you start running calculations in your head around time off for good behaviour. This will happen at about the time you’re told about a second cousin who might well have had a grandparent on the Titanic, or, in Mr Hancock’s case, where he starts advising on your civic duty. But this blog isn’t really about a family tree as such, it’s about one person – not an exceptional person by the sort of standard you might set today, but someone with a telling story nonetheless.

Below is a picture of my grandmother, Dorothy Kerridge. She’s on the right – from the left of the picture are her brother Reuben and her elder sister Dora, then her mother, Mary.

Grandma was born in 1909, and this picture was taken around 1916. By this time, her other elder brother Sidney had been called up and was fighting in the Great War. He came back unscathed, and came out of the army at the end of the war, but millions of others didn’t. There’s a war memorial in the village where Grandma lived; it has 60 names on it, which at the time would have been about a loss for around every fourth household – she would have known most of the families as she grew up. One of the names is P Kerridge – this was Grandma’s cousin Percy, a sailor who lost his life in the Indian Ocean somewhere near Bombay – a long long way from Suffolk.

And just at the end of the war, the Spanish flu epidemic claimed 50 million lives – 500 million were infected, which was about a third of the world population. I’ve never seen memorial to Spanish Flu, but this would have dominated thinking in East Anglia several years after the war ended:

(note very Suffolk subheading!)

Having survived those early years, Grandma attended school in Wickham Market and in 1922, aged 13, was enrolled on the ‘Rural Teacher’ training course, she completed aged 19, at which point she was appointed as an assistant mistress.

She met my Grandpa at a fair in Suffolk when they were both 16. He had to move to Bournemouth shortly afterwards, but would visit her every month until they were married in 1933. By then they’d both seen the Great Depression and the tough times of the 1920’s – one of the reasons they were apart was because he was following his father around the country finding work as a journeyman butcher.

They had two children, my father and his brother, in the 1930’s, and life was beginning to settle down until the Second World War broke out, when, again, they found themselves travelling about after Grandpa was called up. They were never separated during the war, despite him being posted all over the country, often to the sort of location where a young family would be in danger.

Some sort of stability came after the war – Grandpa was back in the butcher business with his name above the shop, my father and his brother left home, and they became grandparents just about the time that his heart problems meant he had to give up work – they moved into a static caravan on a park near Bournemouth. I was their second grandchild, born just before the Cuban missile crisis, when the world held its breath and waited anxiously for the big bang.

My Grandma died in 2005, aged 96. Between my arrival and her passing away, she’d seen multiple recessions; world famine; the Cold War; cholera, flu and measles pandemics. She saw all three of her siblings and her husband pass away between 1987 and 1995.

I’m writing this down because I’m keen for some perspective at a time when so much talk seems to be of the end of all things. I’m not diluting today’s crisis in any sense, but the nature of all crises is that they do, eventually, come to an end. And also because, at this time, I can remember my Grandma very clearly indeed. Any one of those world events could have hardened and depressed her, and they didn’t. She lived a very, very happy life, never seemed to stop smiling, and took delight in simple pleasures. She would have got through the current challenges by waiting it out, and being sensible and caring for those around her. Being a very British person, she’d have raised her eyebrows a little at some of the pictures in the paper:

And being a very kind, generous person, she would never say anything rash like ‘they don’t know they’re born’. But you really wouldn’t have blamed her if she’d thought it.

Stay safe x


Steady on, Now’s Your Chance!

I met my friend P in town a few weeks ago. We talked backwards and forwards, as you do, and before long got on to the subject, as middle aged men are prone to do, of football.

‘I’m fed up with it all’, said Pete.

‘Ranieri being sacked just says it all – it’s not sport any more. I’m not going to bother watching any more.’

Me and P’s wife nodded sagely – this was, after all, the man who had sat at the Barclay End of Carrow Road week on week for as long as I’ve known him.

While I do get where he’s coming from, I think he should give it another chance. Because, in this very amateur fan’s opinion, there’s still a few opportunities to get a bit out of sport, and, oddly, you could do worse than renewing your season ticket for the Canaries next season.

For those of you not from round these parts, it’s worth having a bit of a reprise of Norwich City’s fortunes over the last few years. Never really able to play the confident lead at the top end of football’s premier leagues, Norwich have tended to be pretty confident when they’re in Division One (which, if you’re really not from round here, is effectively division two), and fairly well under the cosh when they’re in the premier league (which is, of course, division one). The see-sawing at Carrow Road over the years has meant that they hold the fairly dubious record of being the club most often relegated from the premier league.

You’d kind of expect there to be a Duke of York ‘when they were up, they were up’ element to supporting the Canaries, but in reality, it’s not quite like that. When they were up, there was a bit of a feeling of doom about the place, as a succession of very well paid opposition journeymen, masquerading as team players, would hike up the A11, generally take the mickey out of our woeful defence for 90 minutes, and then, Louis Vuitton washbags in hand, whizz back for a cheeky night out at China White’s, or wherever it is that someone on £50k a week can relax of an evening. On the plus side, I could cycle to a premiership game from my house, and watch some of the best sides in Europe ply their trade, and still be home in time to listen to ‘Canary Call’, cup of tea in one hand, top part of my head in the other.

If you’ve never listened to Canary Call, I can’t recommend it highly enough. On one side of the conversation there is a Radio Norfolk presenter, who redefines the word hapless, teamed with an Special Guest who has been watching the game, possibly with the same tea/hand/head/hand positioning as I mentioned earlier. At the other end of the conversation will be a caller with an accent so strong that it’s been passed down through the generations from the medieval burghers of Swaffham, or Watton, or Sheringham, without any change whatsoever. Very hard to reproduce here, but I’ll try to give you a sense of the sort of call that you might well hear:

Hapless Presenter: “Well, on line three[1] we have Arthur, from Swaffham, and I believe Arthur has some thoughts on City’s back four this season?”

Arthur from Swaffham: “Ahh burt hare bor, hev you now bin hairin may?”

(slight pause for translation)

HP: “Yes, we can hear you Arthur, go ahead”

AfS: “Well bor, that hent roight and oil say tha tyor fess and wun gret nod won wud. Tha back forrrr, I min well I hint nev sin thar sor farssin an fussin since tha wally Roeder cim dan an fule us awl.”

HP: “Strong words, Arthur, strong words…”

Keen listeners will note that Arthur from Swaffham (or his equivalent) will call and make this point on any given occasion – I have heard similar calls on the back of both heavy defeats and heroic victories, and such is the way of the Canary Caller.

Meanwhile, the Canary Call Special Guest will hope against hope that they’ll not be brought into such a lively debate, in the knowledge that sentence starters like ‘The manager can only do so much with the hand he’s dealt, but…’ and ‘I don’t normally criticise the ref, but’ will get him through an even more agonising 90 minutes than the one they’ve just watched.

The CCSG will fall into one of two camps – they’ll either be a fans’ favourite (in which case the acid test will be whether they can correctly pronounce the caller’s town of origin – Wymondham, Corpusty, Costessey callers can keep them on their toes), or a desperate last minute guest brought in through some odd connection with the club, like being second cousin of last year’s kit man, or physio, or goalkeeper (of course, round these parts, many people can tick all three boxes, tee hee).

Sometimes, with a fan’s favourite, the call will drift suddenly away from this week’s glorious victory/embarrassing defeat/turgid draw into a weird world where a caller will phone in to demand that the CCSG recalls the time that they met: ‘I bumped into you in 1993 in the Ten Bells, you were a proper gent, and I’ve never forgotten that’. I heard a call last year where Brenda from Norwich[2] called Rob Newman,[3]  purely to mention that she’d always been a keen admirer of his thighs. In many phone-ins it’s hard to close the call down, but this was a work of beauty, as Brenda’s voice, just gently, breathlessly, drifted away, and you could just imagine the two men in the studio, unsure of the next step, while all of us listeners just listened to the dead time in wonder.

And there’s something quite attractive to me as a football fan to be amongst this sort of slightly surreal cynicism. If, after a home game, I find myself up the city[4] and I don’t know the score, I’ll try to work out from the expression of the fans which way the game has gone. I have never, ever been able to tell. And against that backdrop, you have a club that consistently punches above its weight in characters. Right from the top, where the blessed Delia will attend each home game in her trademark scarf, appearing occasionally in front of a camera at half time to deny her accusers of being drunk in charge of a football club, then, in the second half, give a little regal hand up to the Barclay End, who, bored with the football, are chorusing ‘Delia, Delia give us a wave’. It’s not a million miles from Noel Coward in ‘The Italian Job’. Ed Balls is still hanging around in the boardroom, and Stephen Fry was recently appointed, then unappointed as a Director, presumably as he found out it was about the only thing in life that he wasn’t really good at. I can’t think of a business with such a set of directors who are as, well, eclectic, as the ones at Carrow Road.

On the pitch, there are, actual and real personalities, who have largely escaped the new boss’s recent decide to cull the squad in order to pay the bills next year. Wes Hoolihan is an Irish midfielder who must be fed up with every journalistic description of him being ‘diminutive’. But I can really imagine when he was a kid, just being really, really good at football, deciding to do it for a living, and the fact that he only really just exceeded jump-jockey height not really bothering him. At the other end of the scale, Mitchell Dijks is a 6’ 4” left back, who is incredibly fast, particularly once he’s worked up a bit of a gallop. Because he’s so big, any normal sized opponent coming in to tackle him just spins off like a spanner being thrown into a threshing machine. Referees aren’t really used to this sort of scenario, and most of the time he seems to get away with the fact that his flailing limbs are sending other players flying, sometimes, quite some distance. The Murphy twins (Jacob and Joshua, which has made for a challenge on both the replica and real kit front) are 22, both pretty quick on their feet, and, on their day, both capable of what MotD punters would call ‘something special’. They’ve been with the youth team at Norwich since they were about 3 years old, carefully protected until they’ve been deemed ready to play with the big boys. They’re also reasonably interchangeable and will never both start the game, so, apart from anything else, this allows for a bit of sibling rivalry where Jacob, for example, will score a fabulous strike from about 30 yards out, and Joshua, warming up on the sideline, will reluctantly applaud, in the knowledge that he’s not going on in this game and probably not going to start the next.

There’s more, and the point of this is not to go through the whole of the team, more to give a bit of a flavour as to why they’re actually, win or lose, quite entertaining to watch, because there’s a bit of character on display.

And as long as the characters keep playing, as long as the non-playing staff continue to amuse, and as long as all the supporters continue to fork out to watch each game with a sort of suppressed passion that displays itself as complete indifference, and as long as I can enjoy Canary Call for all the wrong reasons….I’ll keep going.

OTBC! As they say round these parts.


[1] ‘Line three’ is stretching it a bit. This is Radio Norfolk, where you’re doing well to have a single phone line functioning. During a very brief spell that I spent aiding and abetting at Radio Norfolk, we’d have regular phone ins, and it took me ages to figure out why my friend Vince would say ‘the lines are really hot at the moment, so if you don’t get through, do keep trying’, while, the other side of a glass partition, the temp that he’d brought in to man the phones would just shrug her shoulders at us until, eventually, a light would come on to signal a call. Which was often a wrong number. Happy times.

[2] Not her real name

[3] Or his, possibly

[4] People in Norwich do not go ‘in to’ places, they go ‘up’ them at all times. They also go ‘Up Asda’, for example rather than ‘to’. I think it makes it more of an event….


Acceptable wisdom

Apologies for the slight delay in missives from Emu Towers, there has been a stellar amount of stuff going on. One day, I must write it up…

And one of those things has been happening many miles away from home, and has necessitated a solo drive across country lasting the sharp end of seven hours. I don’t like driving at the best of times, and I’m reasonably happy, in a very non alpha-male way, to admit that I’m not very good at it. I find it very easy to be distracted or go to sleep on any form of transport, and unfortunately that seems to extend to when I’m in charge of the vehicle. Frankly, the only reason I don’t go to sleep when I’m riding my bike is because I need to keep pedalling. God knows what I’d get up to if I ever got on one of those electric things.

Anyway, ahead of such an onerous journey, I dose myself up with half a gallon of coffee, pack some bananas, set the satnav, and wave goodbye to my loved ones, who are a bit too ready with the ‘please let us know when you get there’ messages. After all, they’ve all been traumatised by journeys when I’ve gallantly taken the wheel, for example, when we had to drive for about ten hours from Norwich to the Loire Valley, and I started the driving, only to pull into a layby outside Thetford, claiming ‘extreme fatigue’. If you’re unaware of that particular geography, Thetford is about 30 miles from Norwich.

Nonetheless, off I set, and had on the passenger seat the hidden weapon in my staying awake plan, ie a phone full of podcasts. I love a podcast, me. I love comedy stuff, business stuff, drama stuff, and really anything that I can get my hands on, so all the way from the A11 to the A38 I was entertained, and, more importantly, kept awake, by The Bugle, This American Life, Crime In Sports, Witness, Danny Baker, S-Town, Freakonomics and Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, all of which I heartily recommend.

And it was on Tell Me Something I Don’t Know, a show dedicated to telling people stuff they don’t know (funnily enough) that I heard something that I didn’t know. And it started with the question ‘Why do American drivers drive on the right, and drivers in Britain drive on the left?’ Other than the smart-arse answer of ‘If they didn’t then they’d crash horribly’, the real answer was brilliant and, given I tend to believe most things I hear on that programme, reasonably believable.

When roads started to be organised in Britain, apparently, it was a time of pedestrians and horses, and, when you passed a fellow pedestrian or horse rider on the road, it was important to show that you presented no threat. Given that most people were/are right handed, if your right hand didn’t have a sword or a dagger in it, then it was a fairly safe bet that you’d pass by with a cheery hello. Or possibly ‘Hail, Good Fellow’ if you were in the home counties. Incidentally, this is probably the same reason that a handshake is with the right hand, in that it would be hard(ish) to shake hands and simultaneously stab your new acquaintance with your dodgy hand.

When roads were introduced in the States, a few decades later, times had moved on, and most of the travelling was done by carriage, and, apparently, what you really need to speed your carriage along is a whip, which, naturally would be held in the right hand. And in order to be nearer the centre of the road but still allow passage, and enthusiastic use of the whip, the driver would sit to the left of the horse.

So there you are. One great nation drives on the left to avoid the more obvious opportunities of being stabbed, and the other drives on the right in order to continue a tradition of animal cruelty. So much has changed in our cultures, no?

The point of telling this story was to demonstrate, that, as times change, so do the standards, or accepted wisdom that we all follow. And in my little car, pootling along London’s bustling North Orbital, at a healthy 15 mph, I wondered if we should apply that sort of thinking a bit more in other parts of our lives.

Take elections, for example. The keen eyed of you will have noticed that we seem to be living in a time of frequent elections and electioneering, with each event being described as critical to our future, and, when the result goes the wrong way, catastrophic for the world at large.

Notwithstanding results, I wonder whether we should be taking a bit of a gander at how this electioneering process takes place – we have a system in place in the UK that seems roughly in line with practices of the 19th century at best, and I can’t help feeling we could be, well, driving on the other side of the road if we moved on a bit. Here are three ideas that I reckon would be worth thinking about:

1, Licence MPs.

If you’re employing a doctor, a dentist, a teacher, a lawyer or any other profession, you’d check their professional credentials. When you got them to the point of employment, you’d offer them a job subject to some sort of due diligence – credit checks, acceptable references etc. In my old corporate world, you’d also run regular vetting during the course of their employment, and sling them out if they went awry. To the best of my knowledge, which I accept may be flawed, there are no such checks in place for MPs, and the selection approach is actually not a million miles away from that of the 1700’s. Really, pretty much anyone can stand as a member of parliament and, if they have some sort of backing of their party, stand as a candidate and become a key part of the decision making process running the country. I know that the line of sight from ‘I’d quite like to be an MP’ to ‘I am currently minister for defence’ isn’t quite as clear as that, but I’d really like to know that the person that I’m voting for is actually qualified in the same way as the pilot that takes me up in a plane, or the doctor who looks in my mouth or the mechanic who fixes the brakes on my car. My last but one MP, who I’m pretty sure had no relevant qualification or experience, campaigned on zero tuition fees, got into parliament, abstained on that particular crucial vote, and went on to be about as effective as an MP as a damp piece of lettuce. In fact, I think of him whenever I see a damp piece of lettuce, although sometimes I need to pour quite a bit more more water on to get a really good comparison.

2. Licence voters

After the Brexit vote, there was quite a lot of noise made about getting what you deserve by giving a vote to people who didn’t understand the issue they were voting on. So, just in the same way that we licence MP’s, we should licence voters. Now, I know that many people have given up a lot for each and every person to have a democratic vote, but I think that was assuming that people would use their vote responsibly. And they don’t. People use their votes to follow a load of nonsense that is now being charmed with the title ‘fake news’ and, importantly, don’t seem to be particularly well informed on different sides of the argument. How about a process where each voter had to acknowledge that they’d understood what they were actually voting for? The point is that while times have moved on apace in many other places, the political system has left the voter stranded with a load of nonsense and attention grabbing misinformation, so they end up voting on the wrong issue anyway. If you don’t believe me, ask a pro-Brexit voter whether their vote was influenced more by immigration than economic sustainability. Maybe there should be some sort of hustings in advance of any election vote, where you actually got to choose between different policies, presented in a clear and differentiated fashion. Maybe we should grab some ideas from those comparison websites that actually put different products next to each other and describe the difference, without needing any biased ad campaigns…

3. Impose a media moratorium

…which brings me on to the media. In the 70’s and 80’s, I remember debate about how influential and biased the media was, and why this was A Very Bad Thing. Since when, very little seems to have stopped the slide. Nowadays, people are far more likely to believe information about (say) conservative policy from reading ill informed tweets about Theresa May, Facebook opinion about immigration and Sky News about, well, just about anything, than they are from some sort of balanced assessment. Many other parts of our world have moved on from this – again, if you look at how we recruit into organisations, the push for anonymity in CV’s to suppress bias over applicants names is a good example. So why not do something similar ahead of an election. Just for 24 hours even, allow nothing to influence the voter except information on policy. Might be a bit boring, but done right could help us all appreciate the value of this fabulous thing that we call democracy.

I think it’s unlikely that these changes will ever take place – if they do, they’re unlikely to happen any time soon in the UK or the US. Which is a shame, as I really can’t help feeling that we’re all driving on the wrong side of the road.

The Doctor Is In

Like any other sane person living in the United Kingdom, I spend a reasonable amount of my time worried about the state of health in the country, and in particular the perilous condition of the National Health Service. I feel fairly well informed in this area by Mrs E, who qualified as a nurse over 25 years ago and has returned from almost every shift since with either a) a shake of the head in a ‘you couldn’t make it up’ style or b) a story about something so inspirational around life and death that makes you think that really, the rest of us are just playing bit parts to the Doctors and Nurses that really make the world go around.

So, it was with a genuine and non-sarky interest that I read of the government’s new initiative to get 5,000 new GPs on the NHS register. In fact, I went straight to the GMC website to check what sort of a difference this would make. If you’re of a similar mindset, head for and have a look for yourself. You’ll see that if Dave’s big plan is to announce 5,000 more GPs before the next election, then he doesn’t actually need to do anything more than for the last five years.  If, however, he wants to get 5,000 in the next (say) twelve months, then he’ll have his work cut out, particularly given the number of grads qualifying each year as doctors.

Fortunately, the Emu exists partly to right these political challenges, and using simple principles of supply and demand, proposes an innovative method of getting more doctors into GP practices. It seems to me that there are more than enough individuals wandering around, calling themselves Doctor, that we should just start asking them to step up to the mark and start to save the NHS.  Here is my starter for 10:

1. Dr Dre

Let’s face it, it’s time for the good doctor to leave his past of Snoop Dogg and Ice Cube endorsement and the production of ridiculously expensive headphones, and return to his previous occupation, which, as very few people know, was as a junior GP in a small surgery just outside Sheffield. Rap fans will know that Dr Dre’s son Curtis is now known as ‘Hood Surgeon’, so there’s a great opportunity for the two of them to work together as a family practice, possibly under the banner “Get Well or Die Tryin'”.

2. Dr Who

When I was growing up, our family went to the same doctor for about twenty years. Which was great for continuity and relationships, and Dr Who could offer the same sort of service, what with him being over 900 years old. There would be a problem with him regenerating every couple of years, but that would probably be ok as long as you didn’t get Peter Davison while pregnant. You’d worry about him slipping out of character and into ‘Young Mister ‘Erriot’, and delivering the new born with nothing more than a bar of carbolic soap and a winsome smile.

3. Doctor and the Medics

Looking at the pictures of Doctor and the Medics, it’s quite hard to believe how they’d work out at some of our quieter GP practices, but, on the other hand, how many Doctors will actually come fully equipped with a full set of medics to assist their procedure? In any case, they might be just the tonic for some of the more depressed goths that you find hanging around waiting rooms.

4. Doctor Spock

Not to be confused with Mr Spock (see 5. below), Doctor Spock managed to turn American baby and childcare on its head in the 1960’s by psychiatrist analysis of family behaviours. Something that might not be a bad idea to revisit, given some of the things that you see every day. He also wrote a book called ‘Why Babies Suck’, which might be of interest to the goths currently waiting to be see by Doctor & The Medics (who are, of course, running late again).

5. Doctor McCoy

I don’t know that much about Dr McCoy’s actual medical qualifications, although, on reflection, you never saw the actors in Star Trek with coughs or colds, so I reckon it was a pretty healthy place if you ignored the weekly alien predators. But the overriding reason you’d have Dr McCoy as your doctor would be so that he’d be around to lighten the mood during a family death. You’d ask him (say) if your grandfather was ill. “It’s worse than that, he’s dead, Jim”, he’d say. Even if your name wasn’t Jim, you’d ask him to say it again, and again, and you’d have skipped right to the acceptance part of the grieving process.

6. Doctor Zhivago

Let’s face it, if Omar Sharif was your GP, AND he was a poet, AND a left wing radical who’d been wronged by the system, AND you knew that all he ever wanted was to live a peaceful life thinking wistfully of the woman he loved….well, he could tell you anything really. Terminal illness, high prescription charges, permanent deformities, anything really, as long as there was a bit of soft balalaika going on in the background.

7. Dr Evil

Just along the corridor from Doctor Zhivago, with his soft eyes and gentle touch, is the slightly less popular office (inside a hollowed out volcano) of Doctor Evil. Fans of Austin Powers will remember that the bad Doctor went to Evil Medical School in Belgium, before graduating and embarking upon despicable plans to take over the world. He could at least be relied on to be fairly direct when delivering bad news, and , failing an immediate cure for your ills, could help you to be cryogenically frozen.

8. Dr Indiana Jones

By day, Dr Jones is a renowned lecturer on early history, with a penchant for tweed jackets and an apparent need to employ a butler. In his holidays, he likes to go exploring ancient civilisations and battling with Nazi throwbacks. None of this comes for free, so he’d be an ideal candidate to moonlight at a GP surgery of en evening. Much like Dr Zhivago, he could tell you most things while you melted in his eyes, but with the added bonus that you’d be talking to an expert lasso enthusiast at the same time.

9. Dr Hook

Most people will be surprised to hear that Dr Hook was qualified as a medical doctor, but his was nothing if not a life of contradiction, given that  he didn’t actually have a hook either. Which was just as well, given some of the delicate keyhole surgery he had to perform early in his career with the Medicine Show. Dr Hook was also known for his bedside manner and good nature with relatives, for example with Sylvia’s mother: “Please Mrs Avery, I just want to tell her goodbye…”

10. Doctor Seuss

Doctor Seuss is my outside candidate for greatest American author of all time, so I’m slightly biased, but I really think if every interaction was in the style of ‘The Cat In The Hat’ then even really bad news would be fun:

Would you, could you, step this way

Your blood results are back today

Not, alas the ideal answer

Son, you have pancreatic cancer

On the rare occasions that I visit a doctor, I’ve forgotten the diagnosis about 5 minutes after I leave the surgery. Maybe I need to go to a GP to check my memory loss, but I think it’s more that complex medical terminology and me have never really worked well together. But if Doctor Seuss told me the diagnosis, I’d never forget.

Given the challenges faced by the NHS, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if we had some of these Doctors facing off to the Great British Public before too long. As one of the GBP, I’d be delighted.

I’m Mandy*, Fly Me

I vividly remember the first time I flew on an aeroplane. I was 11 years old, and I was despatched to Rawalpindi, to visit my uncle, aunt and cousins. Exotic, huh? By far and away the most exciting event of my life, and travelling alone gave it a level of wide eyed wonder that I wish I could have bottled and kept forever. In contrast, my last flight, on an admittedly less glamorous trip, was rather less exciting. It was really just an exercise in getting from A to B, with all the attendant long queues, intrusive security checks, last minute rush to the gate, cramming into a seat and hoping that the whole exercise would just be over with before the noxious fumes of my fellow passengers took over completely.

Given that almost 40 years separate these two journeys then it’s hardly surprising that things have moved on a tad in the airline industry, not least to what the marketeers no doubt describe as the ‘customer experience’. Let’s face it, air travel has fundamentally changed, from the most thrilling and special experience you could possibly imagine, where everything about the journey felt geared towards you, to an exercise in unsuccessfully minimising the many hassles that you have to deal with. Added to which, in these enlightened eco-sensitive times, there is lots of guilt to mask any pleasures that you might have hopelessly been hanging on to.

Which brings me to the current challenges that BA and its much maligned cabin crew have been having in the last few months. With apparently very little reference to the ‘customer experience’, the series of strikes, combined with the already challenged air schedules, have made BA a bit of a joke for travellers, and I suspect that, following the debacle around Terminal 5 and various pricing shenanigans, that this latest story means that people flying BA will be those who have to fly BA, rather than those who have any choice in the matter.

So, given that it’s all gone in that direction, why? BA has lots of good routes, an excellent safety history, and pretty reasonable record in getting large groups of travellers to the right place on time. Most of the time these days the baggage goes to the right place as well.

My theory would be that the airline has just lost its way since the halcyon days of air travel. When you get on a BA flight, it feels like you’ve stepped back to the 1970’s, insofar that it ought to feel special, but it doesn’t. Most other airlines have recognised that it ain’t going to feel that special anymore, so they don’t really bother. And part of the problem, frankly, is the cabin crew, who have, ahem, grown up with BA. So the “special” bit is delivered by crew who, frankly look and behave as if they’ve seen it all before. Which they probably have**.

In contrast, the budget airlines put people in the air who know that their role is to give you the safety talk, not deal with any flak, and generally get the trip over as painlessly as possible, not least for themselves. These (young) staff know exactly what they’re getting into; there’s no glamour to this – at Ryanair they even pay for their own uniforms. And this is a million miles away from the image of air crew in the 60’s and 70’s, where, without blushing, a pouting stewardess would appear on an ad to say to the business traveller “I’m Mandy, Fly Me”. (Technically, I think this is somewhere between a double and a single entendre.)

Meanwhile, the BA management hold out against the unions in a manner reminiscent of the standoffs of the winter of discontent, and that seems a bit out of time. And, the cabin crew complain of being ill equipped, badly paid, put into difficult circumstances and unhappy with their uniforms. Which, given that these are much the same complaints being sent back from the military in Afghanistan, means that they’re also completely out of touch. Both sides are completely losing any public sympathy, which I would have thought, given the circumstances, that they should really be craving.

I’d really like BA to be a good airline. I just wish it would grow up a bit.

*Other names are available. Evening and weekend rates apply.

**I’m acutely aware that this is about the 4th sentence in this blog that is grammatically horrible. My favourite ever line from ‘Just A Minute’ was when Nicholas Parsons asked Clement Freud “Who would you most like to be shipwrecked on a desert island with?”. To which the great man replied: “Almost anyone who didn’t end a sentence with a preposition”. So, sorry.

Norwich Shadenfreude

I’ve become a citizen of the fine city of Norwich pretty much by osmosis. I arrived here almost 30 years ago, finding it very awkward to get to, and, unsurprisingly, as awkward to leave. Many of my friends arrived here about the same time, intending on staying for about 3 years, and we’ll all pretty perplexed about why the road out of Norwich is as trampled as the one in*. Norwich has many many wonderful qualities, one of the key ones being that the local characteristic is not to get too excited about how wonderful it is. Which means that they get to keep it to themselves.

Part of the responsibilities of a citizen of Norwich, is to naturally be very dismissive of anyone from Ipswich, particularly where football is concerned. It’s not exactly the Auld Firm rivalry, but there is an agreed assumption that if you come from Norwich (City) you should just dislike Ipswich (Town). (Sorry about that, but we have got a cathedral.)

And vice versa. Over the years I’ve played a few gigs in Ipswich, and everyone I’ve met has been perfectly charming. Until they ask you where you’re from. My friend Chris got into this situation in a pub once, and a bloke at the bar stared him out, saying that he hated Norwich so much that he’d removed all the yellow and green cables from his plugs.

So just hold that thought, while we consider the enigmatic force of nature that is Ipswich Town’s manager. Roy Keane is a long time stalwart of Manchester United, who is well known for stamping on his rivals in matches and for walking out of the Ireland World Cup team mid-tournament because he didn’t like the manager. So…that’ll be three good reasons to not like him terribly much. He’s got a fearsome reputation in the game, to the extent, I fear, that even journos don’t really like to criticise him too much in case he turns on them. So, possibly four reasons. And we’d probably be up to five if he was still playing for Ireland in last night’s match against France – how scary would that have been?

So, even though Norwich (City) are now in what we all agree is still called Division Three, playing against the legends of Bristol Rovers, Wycombe Wanderers and Tranmere Rovers, there is still a an immense sense of satisfaction to see Ipswich (Town) and Roy Keane go into a sharp and direct decline in the division above. Especially as it’s extremely likely that the club won’t sack Mr Keane as they’re too scared of him. Tee, and to a large extent, hee.

So, this local (and frankly, mildly xenophobic) schadenfreude is actually quite enjoyable. Apparently, if you’re any sort of person at all then this should be at best a guilty pleasure. But every now and again, all of your stars line up in the sky and you may as well enjoy it. After all, in a couple of years time, Norwich (City) might have a bad run, and the club could appoint a new manager, and it could be…

*Actually, it’s the same road, and it’s called the A11. A very strong campaign still exists to prevent it being converted to dual carriageway, as this would make the journey in & out a little too easy.

One of us is Lying

Waiting in an office for a meeting on Thursday, I noticed copies of The Daily Mail and The Times.

Having been in London the previous day, and having managed to avoid the protest marches, I was interested in how they’d turned out. Unsurprisingly, the focus was very much on the disruption and violence accompanying the marches, and the following photo and caption was on the front page of the Mail:

Interestingly, inside the Times, there was a similar picture, probably taken just a few seconds before or after. In fact, I might even guess that they were taken by the same photographer. In the Times picture, however, there are a couple of subtle differences. The protestor is backing off, and holding his arm up for protection. The second policemen from the left has his riot stick raised. And, well I never, it looks like the protestor is wearing a jacket, that’s been removed by the time the picture above is taken. Incidentally, I also read in the article that there was a lot of red paint being thrown about, which made everything much more dramatic.

Now, far be it from me to suggest compromise in the fourth estate, let alone go off on an anti Daily Mail rant. But I can’t help feeling that we’ve been a bit set up here.

And if we’re being set up on something as important as the right to protest against financial meltdown and climate change, that doesn’t feel terribly good. By the by, this also feeds into my blog which I really must write down, on Why Telling People What They Already Believe Is Bad. But that’s for another time.