Monday, 28 November 2011

Racist Tram Woman

Racist Tram Woman. Overnight Twitter sensation.

Before you press ‘Play’ be aware that this video ain’t for the kids – the language is vile. And to be fair, so is this woman. Spouting off her racist bile. She’s been on Twitter all day. She’s truly nasty, and it’s a shame for her kid.

But let’s dig a bit deeper, shall we? I have a suspicion – can’t prove it, but I’ve seen it before – that she’s been ‘doing’ something. Drink, drugs, maybe both. Slurring words, shouting, no sense of surroundings, the signs are there. Not an excuse, but might explain some of it.

And you then ask the question, how did she get like this? You aren’t born a bigot. You don’t wake up one morning and think ‘Hey, wouldn’t it be fun to hurl racist abuse on a packed Croydon tram’. Nope, she’s clearly been brought up this way. Parents, friends, media. All contributed.

Listen to the rant. It’s about immigrants coming over. Polish people, people coming to ‘her’ country and taking the jobs.

Lets compare it to the right-wing press. England is the most overpopulated country in the EU, says the Mail. 'Brussels says let in more immigrants', screams the Express. '90% of Immigrants live in England' says the same paper. 'Poll highlights anger over immigrants' according to the Sun.

I’m not saying that the right-wing media are responsible for this nasty lady’s behaviour. But lets face it, we could carry on for weeks with headlines like this, and it reinforces the views of people just like Mrs racist-tram-lady.

Can I suggest, instead of threats and lynch mob rule, as some of Twitter seems to be calling for, it would be better to arrest this woman on the current laws that protect people against racist abuse, and then do something about the culture that leads to it. Things like, as an example, newspapers trying to scare the crap out of people with stories like those above?

***I read she has been arrested. Good. That’s how democracy and the rule of law works in this country.

Strike while the iron is hot

Most of the public sector unions are on strike on Wednesday, it seems.

Their beef, apparently, is that they are losing out on their pension. As the husband of a public sector worker, I understand this concern, and I agree with it. I’ve always been a private sector worker, and our pensions were sacrificed and flushed down the toilet years ago, while we all sat back and accepted it. Ultimately, she will have to work longer, pay more, and get less pension at the end of it. One of those, the government might have got away with. All three is a bit much.

However, I can also report that Mrs B won’t be on strike on Wednesday. That’s because she’s not in a union. She left, for a variety of reasons.

* The price, £14 a month, which is extortionate – my union manages to charge all it’s full time members £8.80, incidentally.

* She recently had some concerns, and went to discuss these with a union rep. She couldn’t find one. The contact she had went to an answerphone, and when she rang it, a recorded message said ‘Please don’t ring this number for union matters’ – or words to that effect. Remember, £14 a month, and she couldn’t find a rep.

* The union insisted on sending out a load of Labour party literature with its magazine, praising this particular political party. She doesn’t rate any of the parties, but least of all Labour. She had also indicated she didn’t want to donate to the party via her subs.

* The final straw came with the union rallies earlier this year, with reports of a senior rep from one of the local branch offices heading to protest about austerity cuts. In First Class. With a nice meal. Clearly austerity measures aren’t affecting this particular union, remembering the subs of £14.

So she left this particular union. And as she’s not found a replacement, she still has no representation. Which is a bit sad, really. Seems to me that the traditional, Labour party, TUC affiliated unions aren’t too bothered about the minor but important things that affect their members, but have decided to crank up for a strike to prove to the Government that they won’t be pushed around. Seems to me that they need to sort out their priorities.

There seems to be a lot of propaganda put about, but there is no doubt that the Government have changed the terms they are offering, since the original strike ballots, and it also appears that the unions are refusing to discuss the new offers. That’s my impression, and that’s why I reckon they are just after causing a strike for striking sake, so they can all pat each other on the back afterwards for a job well done, while their members are all a day’s wages short, and the pension plans are still going to happen.

What these unions haven’t grasped, then, is that it’s not 1979 anymore, it’s 2011, and the world has moved on. Grown up people sit down and discuss their problems like adults, and I’d suggest these dinosaurs all do the same.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Customer Service is really easy

Anyone who works in a customer service environment, this is for you.

It’s the Great Yorkshire Show this week. Because Harrogate Sainsbury’s is on the showground, it shuts for the week. So, whilst out and about today, myself and Mrs B took a trip to Morrison's.

Now, we were once regular Morrison's customers, but we switched allegiance because not only did they consistently run out of the stuff we wanted, but the quality was deteriorating. Especially the fresh stuff. So today was a fantastic opportunity for Morrison's supermarket. We were returning.

Now, it’s fair to say that Morrison's will not close down without our custom, but it’s also a good bet that we are not the only customers they will get this week, who normally use their main competitor in Harrogate. So, as a former supermarket manager I would have built this week up to a crescendo. The staff would be under no uncertain terms, that this is a fantastic opportunity to shout about Morrison's. To tell everyone how good they are. To make people like me question why I don’t go there every week.

Bearing all this in mind, then, allow me to transcript the encounter Mrs B had today, with a lady who was on the lottery kiosk.

Mrs B: “Hi, I’d like the lottery, please. Here is my completed ticket.”

<tap tap tap>

Lady: “Four.”

Mrs B: “Four what?”

Now slightly sarcastic lady “Four pounds.”

Increasingly agitated Mrs B: “Four pounds please.”

And that’s it. The very first assistant we came across was a rude, miserable old grump. No manners. No attempt at any. It’s all over. Morrison's have lost an opportunity to obtain approximately £3,000 of custom over the next twelve months. And, I’ve just told you all how crap I think they are. Remember, I’ve worked in customer service roles for years, much of this in supermarkets. I’ve made errors, but I’m passionate about service. That’s why I get so angry when people just can’t be goosed with even the basic niceties.

So, the moral of this story is, the one time you screw up customer service – and I only mean basic stuff here, like ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ - is the one time it could be important. And yes, I’m sending a copy of this to the top dogs at Morrison's. You’ve got three days left to make your new customers want to come back. It’s up to you.

Enjoy the show!

Monday, 13 June 2011

BBC TV Centre

Many people are getting sad and upset about the imminent sale of BBC TV Centre in London. But I’m not.

Well ok, I’m sad for the Blue Peter garden, and it’s interred animals. Asides from that, though, BBC TV Centre is a big ugly 1950’s building down south somewhere. I never saw it, other than when it was on TV. I always thought it looked a bit like a hospital, and that big ugly brick wall that faces the main entrance never evoked any feelings of awe. It’s hardly York Minster, is it?

Frankly, as a kid the place didn’t feature in my life, even if the programmes made there did. And, if I may draw a comparison, I enjoy a glass of milk without feeling any fondness for the Arla foods depot in Kirkstall Road, Leeds. If you see my point.

As a kid, I was more saddened when Radio Humberside shut their old studios above the post office in Jameson Street, Hull. That’s because it featured as a part of my childhood. I knew that the nondescript first floor building was the home of Tex Milne’s ‘Country by Request’ and it wouldn’t be the same when it went. And, I guess some people feel the same about TV centre.

But not me. It’s just a building, and in the digital era of 2011 it’s a big expensive white elephant that eats my licence fee, when it could be far better spent improving the CGI effects on Doctor Who. Thanks for the memories and that, but ta ta, now.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Beware Egyptians bearing gifts

KC Stadium

I don’t live in Hull anymore, but as I lived there for 34 years or so, what goes on there still interests me. Especially when it concerns sport in the city. I’ve always supported Hull FC rugby league team, and take a close interest in Hull City. So, when I see what appears to be happening regarding the KC Stadium, and the current owner of Hull City, I get concerned. Particularly for the future of my rugby league team.

A brief potted history of the KC Stadium, home of Hull City and Hull FC, may be in order here. It was built by the council using funds raised by the selling of council-owned shares in the local telephone company, and to this day is owned by Hull City Council. The stadium is managed on behalf of the council by the Stadium Management Company, or SMC, which has a 50 year lease on the ground.

Now this is not a perfect setup. It doesn’t make money. But it’s not meant to. It ensures that the City of Hull has an asset that is the property of the people who built it, and also, in my view, helps secure the clubs in it. Both clubs pay rent, and have no worries about the day to day running of the ground, such as stewarding, refreshment facilities, that sort of thing. The SMC look after that, so the clubs can look after the important things like players, fans, merchandise. Hull FC have posted profits for the last 6 years since moving to the ground. That tells me it’s a good setup.

The current issue concerns the owner of Hull City football club. Assem Allam is a self-made millionaire, who became rich by running a company to the west of Hull. When Hull City got into financial trouble following their relegation from the Premier league, he bought the club. All good so far. He has always maintained that this is due to wanting to help repay the city that helped him get rich. This may be true. I’m not convinced.

If indeed this were the case, I believe he would be quite happy to continue to rent the KC, and work with the council. Except he hasn’t. He wants to build a flash sports village, and to do this he wants to buy the stadium, with all its facilities and the fairground next door. If he can’t buy the stadium, he’ll shift the lot to Melton, near his business and several miles outside of Hull to the west. Melton is a rotten location for a football club, as no-one without a car will be able to go. It’ll also render the stadium in Hull something of a white elephant, tenanted only by the rugby league club and probably running at a loss to Hull City Council. Hull FC could not make the stadium pay on their own.

In short, then, it’s a threat. “I want the stadium, and if you don’t sell me it I’ll shaft you”. Not exactly the words of a benefactor. And, remarkably,  he’s changed his view of rugby league as well. On 4th March, he gave an interview in which he offered to buy Hull FC but only if the clubs merged, because he didn’t want to show any bias towards Hull KR, the other Hull-based Rugby League club. Yet, shortly after the council’s Liberal Democrat-run council lost power to Labour, he appeared at Craven Park with several Hull councillors and the East Hull MP, having invested £1million into the East Hull club. He claims the investment is because he realised “he had done nothing for the people of East Hull”. Except that he has, because Hull City are representing the whole city. Incidentally, he’s done nothing specific for the people of West Hull yet, because he doesn’t own the stadium, a point he seems to forget.

I wonder what really changed his mind? Seems to me like he’s seen an opportunity to butter up the newly elected councillors, who I would suggest need extra money to spend having promised the people of Hull that they won’t make the huge budget cuts the Lib Dems were threatening to make. Truthfully, I don’t know, I’m just guessing. But I know that the Hull FC fans in particular are dead against this on the RLFans message board. As tenants of Hull City, as we would be, there’s no way our club will get the equal treatment we currently receive. For example, what happens if both teams have a game on the same day? Guess who’s moving their game. It won’t be Hull City.

So, I believe this is bad for Hull. This is because it will sell off a facility that was conceived as a community facility for our two professional clubs, and the community at large. I believe that the extra facilities Mr Allam proposes, will be inaccessible to most Hull people because as a private enterprise they will need to run at a profit. I don’t believe Mr Allam will wish to continue the partnerships with Hull College, for example, as it’s not in his interest to do so. I believe that my Rugby League club will be disadvantaged, and seriously worry that the investment in East Hull paves the way to a forced merger of our clubs, as Mr Allam has already stated is his preferred option. I believe that veiled threats to move Hull City away from the stadium prove his lack of interest in being a city benefactor, as if this were to happen I cannot believe that Hull City fans would be happy about this.

See, I remember David Lloyd, who promised this and that, and eventually ended up almost bankrupting both hull City and Hull FC, and in fact locked the Tigers out of their ground. I forsee this happening again, for short-term financial gain. I believe the stadium needs extending, but not at the expense of putting our sporting heritage at risk again.

In short, Mr Allam, thanks for saving City, but you’ve done your job. If you really care, you’ll provide loans to the council to build the village, extend the ground, but I don’t want you to own the ground. The fact you won’t commit to the extension unless you own the facility tells me you are a businessman first, and actually you are looking for cash profits before being a benefactor. That makes you a liar. I can’t, therefore, trust a word you say.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Give it a rest, Radio 1

Have you ever bought a live music album?

I avoid them, in most cases. Yes, I know there are exceptional ones, like ‘The Who – Live at Leeds’, but in the main, live albums are rubbish. You get all your favourite songs, but sung slightly out of tune, and with a background noise of screaming idiots. Great when you are there watching, but rubbish on a CD.

As a result, I feel duty bound to advise Radio 1 that they really need to put a lid on their ‘Big Weekend’. The ‘Big Weekend’ being a free music festival, that replaced the old and creaky roadshows that used to turn up at a seaside resort near you. Places like the boating lake, Cleethorpes. The Big Weekend is, it must be said, a giant step up from Dave Lee Travis arriving in a big caravan on a random beach in Newquay, with Smiley Miley giving out goodie bags. It still feels the need, mind, to visit places like Swindon, Maidstone, Bangor (Wales), and this year, the music capital of the UK (or not) Carlisle.

I should emphasise this important fact, incidentally. The festival itself is actually very good. This year, the line up included the Foo Fighters and Lady Gaga. Ellie Goulding put on an excellent performance. The acts are top notch, and if you got a ticket you are very lucky.

My problem, then isn’t the festival. It’s the fact that for the entire month either side of it, Radio 1 have to go on about it. Constantly. Chris Moyles presents his show for a week from Carlisle. The Chart Show takes every opportunity to play a poor, out of tune live version of a song in the charts. Edith Bowman has to mention it in every second sentence. For crikey sake, after the event they go on about how bloody magnificent it was, and how everyone loved it, and how wonderful Radio 1 are for bringing us this incredible event. Here’s another live song from the big weekend, out of tune and inaudible for the screaming crowd but aren’t you lucky to be listening blah blah blah.

Well, I’m not lucky. I’m bored of it. I commend you, Radio 1, for bringing live music to the masses but there really is no need to be so self-bloody-righteous about it. In fact, you made me listen to Chris Evans and Nick Hancock on Stray FM last week. Stray FM!  I officially became to old to listen to Radio 1. And, for this, I will never forgive you. Now, take your big weekend and deposit it in a dark pit until next year.

Monday, 11 April 2011

AV or not AV

By crikey, it's been a while since I wrote a blog post. Hello again!

So, the AV referendum campaign properly kicks off about now, the No2AV people have a broadcast in which they are going to tell you that AV is rubbish, and we should stick to the old system of electing people. I, on the other hand, reckon they are wrong, and here's where I tell you why I think that.

So, in simple terms, what's wrong with the current system? You vote for a candidate, and the one with the most votes gets in. Right? Well yes, if there's only two candidates. If there are three, or more, then that's not always the case. Have a look at the results for Harrogate in the 2010 election, in terms of percentages;

Conservative 45.7%
Lib Dem 43.8%
Labour 6.4%
BNP 2.1%
UKIP 2.0%

Ok, so that tells me, if you do the maths, that 54.3% of the people who voted, didn't vote for the winner. The majority of people in Harrogate didn't vote for the person who is their MP. How's that fair, then? If you look at Hull North, it's even worse. 39.2% of the voters elected Diana Johnson. That means nearly two thirds of the people who voted didn't vote for the winner. In fact, around 21% of people voted right wing, that's Tory, BNP, UKIP.

I don't think it's fair that you can get elected with less than half the electorate voting for you, because in some cases, you only have to impress those people who would vote for you anyway. You can get away with ignoring two thirds of the electorate. The Alternative Vote system, in my opinion, goes some way to rectifying this.

At this point, by the way, it would be good to address one of the main arguments of the No2AV campaign, namely that the AV system is too complex. I find it insulting that I'm considered too thick to work out how AV works. It's this easy;

* you get a ballot paper
* instead of an X, you rank the candidates in order of preference. 1 for your favourite, 2 for the next, then 3, and so on.

That's all you really need to know. Actually, in my opinion, if you can't put people in order, then should you be voting? I believe that is really easy, and that everyone can understand it.

After that, it's down to the vote counters. They worry about the complexities of it. Except it's not complex. They count all the papers. If no-one gets 50% of the vote, they take the person who finished last, look at who they placed as their second choice, and divide them into the other piles. And they repeat this, taking into account the third/fourth choices if necessary, until someone gets a majority.

I think this is a better system, because whoever wins has agreement of the majority of people who voted for him/her, and therefore has a stronger mandate. I also believe it means that every candidate has a greater responsibility to address every constituent, not just the supporters of their own party. If you voted Tory in North Hull, then Johnson had no reason to make the effort to secure your vote, because you are a minority. If your second choice could mean she loses, I guarantee your views will take on a sudden new importance. Labour voters in Harrogate will be the difference between winning and losing.

I've heard other arguments against AV.
* It's too expensive. It'll cost vast amounts of money for flash counting systems.
- Well, actually, no it won't. It's no different in terms of logistics than the current system. All you need is pencil, paper, and a load of volunteers to do the counting. It might take a bit longer, but so be it.

* No-one else uses it.
- True, not many countries do. But the Labour party elects it's leader using AV. I remember using it to vote for the NUS president when I was at university. It's used in all walks of life. Why not in government? Saying we shouldn't do something because someone else doesn't isn't an argument. Maybe _they_ are all wrong?

* Most AV supporters actually want PR.
- There might be some truth in that as well. I would prefer Proportional Representation to AV, but either system is far superior to the current one, in my book. We don't have PR as a choice, so we'll vote for what's in front of us and worry about PR at a later date.

* Minority parties will decide who gets into power. In fact, it could allow the BNP in.
- The BNP don't want it, which tells me they don't think they'll do well. But so what if it did? It puts pressure on the main parties to address the issues that make people vote for these smaller parties, surely? Personally, if people are more likely to vote for a party because they want them to win, as opposed to now when people vote for who they think will beat the party they want to lose, , then that's a good thing.

* There'll be more coalition governments.
- We've had 4 coalition governments, compared to 2 in Australia over the same time frame. They have AV. We don't. Says it all. And what's wrong with coalition governments anyway? The alternative is majority government that steamrollers through unpopular policies unopposed, and I hate that.

So, that's my view. You might agree, or not. But it's a chance to change our voting system from the rubbish system we have now. Any improvement is good, surely? And AV is a definite improvement. You know what to do.