An aged blogger grumbles about “Great Continental Railway Journeys”
This programme, presented by Michael Portillo, was broadcast on BBC 2 on March 15.
I watched this programme and, as usual with the Portillo offerings, I rather enjoyed it.
On the debit side I was disappointed by one omission. The theme of the programme was the history and geography of the railway between Batuum and Baku and I think that mention could have been made of the brief British involvement in that line.
In his final volume of his history of the First World War, Winston Churchill wrote as follows:-
“The British landed at Batuum and rapidly occupied the Caucasian railway from the Black Sea to the Caspian at Baku. Here our troops found a friendly and on the whole welcoming, though agitated population… The British forces, about 20,000 strong, were by the end of January, 1919 in possession of one of the greatest strategic lines in the world… What the British Government was going to do with it was never clearly thought out… It was with the greatest difficulty .. that this protecting line was maintained for about a year.”
Given that the centenary of this remote theatre of WW1 is almost upon us, and that yet again tensions between the UK and Russia are very much in the news today I ,feel that the programme makers missed an opportunity to shed some light upon this intriguing period in our history.
I have to declare an interest here. My father was one of the 20,000 troops mentioned by Churchill. He served in The Royal Engineers as a Plate Layer on the “great strategic line,” and returned to the UK in 1919 to spend the next 40 years working as a plate layer in the rather more tranquil surroundings of the line between Bolton and Lostock Junction.
One other item unearthed from a very long stroll down a very long memory lane. My mother – born in 1897- told me that my great grandmother – born in 1838 – used to sing my oldest brother – born 1921 – to sleep with songs about the Crimean war – yet another falling out with Russia.
Isn’t is about time that the UK and Russia resolved their differences in a rather more civilised fashion?
A word about Sir John Chilcot
In a previous blog item I begged those in authority in the UK to abandon the approach adopted by Sir John Chilcot in his inquiry into the war in Iraq. Quite simply, I argued that Sir John had been rather too anxious to re-visit every episode in great detail and, more importantly, at a very languid pace. He, Sir John, had decided at the outset of the enquiry that no stone should be left unturned – and no stone or even tiny pebble – was left unturned.
Let us now fast forward to today. The attempted murder of the former Russian spy and of his daughter was followed by the most rapid arrival of conclusions in British history.
Could it be – I wondered – that Mr Boris Johnson had read my Chilcot blog and had been fully persuaded of the need to get a move on?
However even I, with my zeal for alacrity, had not sought to argue that the time honoured need for a careful investigation prior to arriving at conclusions should be abandoned, but evidently BoJo was in no mood to be deemed to be guilty of Chilcotisation – and nor was he. Thus we went from the extremely cautious approach of Sir John Chilcot on the one hand to the rush to judgement adopted by BoJo at the other extreme with no pause for thought as the pendulum swung from one extreme to the other.
A couple of digressions here:
* The Boris effect:- 1:- Emma Duncan mentioned the Boris effect in her Notebook in the Times on March 19. She was initially persuaded that “All the evidence points towards Putin as the ultimate perpetrator of the attacks in Salisbury… So why has my conviction begun to waver? Because Boris Johnson said it was “overwhelmingly likely” that Putin ordered the attacks, and he has shown himself to be so untrustworthy that I am inclined to disbelieve everything he says.
Good point, Emma.
* The Boris effect-2 – In the Andrew Marr show on March 18 we had the unedifying spectacle of Andrew Marr interviewing Boris Johnson about the Salisbury poisonings.
I noted above that I share the low opinion of Emma Duncan and many other others about the dubious nature of the character of BoJo.
The public should not forget that it is not that long ago that Andrew Marr took out a comprehensive injunction banning all mention of his not especially interesting extra marital exploits.
I think it likely that both HMG and the BBC could use more plausible employees to make the case against the role of Russia in the poisonings.
Notes on Bullying
“A deserved kick up the backside isn’t bullying”
Headline above the Matthew Parris column in The Times, March 17, 2018
Matthew Parris used his recent column to suggest that the public view of bullying has swung too far in the direction of being over sensitive and that there will always be a case to take people who are failing to perform to the required standard to task.
So far – so good – but as is usually the case in these tricky areas – the devil is the detail.
I will limit my comments on the matter to the actions of a few media moguls and then leave it to readers to decide if the said moguls might be deemed to be guilty of bullying.
The case against Rupert Murdoch
The following extract from my book, A Cushy Number, sets out the case against Mr Murdoch
“In their splendidly entertaining book, L!ve TV – The uncut story of Tabloid Television, Chris Horrie and Adam Nathan wrote an account of the rise and fall of L!ve TV in which the dramatis personae included the well known media figures, Kelvin McKenzie and David Montgomery, some time Editors of The Sun and News of the World respectively. Horrie and Nathan relate how even the legendarily thick skin of Kelvin McKenzie was starting to show signs of wear and tear after a decade of abuse from Rupert Murdoch, this despite the fact that it had been said of McKenzie that the only sensitive part of his person was the tip of his organ of generation.
“Most of us would prefer not to have to endure the daily verbal assaults of Mr Murdoch even if the plus side of the job was that the Editor was free to pour cold water on the rest of us. (We know that water is not le mot juste but our ingrained fastidiousness made us shrink from inserting the name of the more appropriate liquid.) In any event McKenzie fully exploited his freedom at all times. However the fact remains that KM was bollocked on a daily basis by RM – Calculations show that McKenzie received about 4,000 in all, which must constitute some sort of unwelcome professional record. At one point the authors quote the luckless McKenzie as lamenting that ‘F’kin hell, the boss has been on the gorilla biscuits again’.”
The case against Paul Dacre
My source here is the book, Flat Earth News by Nick Davies and I will quote from the book.
“There is something else which Mail journalists talk about, which is Paul Dacre’s aggression. A woman who edited a section of the paper told me:- “ they call him the vagina Monologue because he calls so many people a cunt. He would stalk through the newsroom… and he’s shouting “What the fuck, is this you cunt, there’s not a fucking brain in this office.”
There is plenty more in this vein but you get the picture – a picture in which the boss is not averse to using the language of the gutter to emphasise his points.
Is Paul Dacre a work place bully? You tell me.
The case against Richard Desmond is broadly in line with the case against Paul Dacre – only more so.
So there you have it – just how objective might our proprietors be given their propensity to resort to strong and offensive – to those on the receiving end – when dealing with perceived flaws in the quality of the work of their respective subordinates.
I rest my case that my trio of media moguls have been guilty of workplace bullying. I would be surprised if Mr Dacre has softened his approach, but it may be that advancing years may have diminished the aggression of Mr Murdoch, and I have no idea about the scope for bullying in the more remote media shores now occupied by Mr Desmond.
A case of tangible work place bullying
The late, incomparable Times Columnist Bernard Levin wrote a piece called “How to know when you’re not wanted” on June 2nd, 1978.
His column arose from a dispute before an industrial tribunal between an employer and his employee over the alleged dismissal of the latter. The tribunal was told that “ the owner of a hair dressing salon punched one of his staff in the face and kneed him in the groin .. It was also reported that he, the employer, then attempted to drag the employee outside so that he could have a real go.”
The complexities of what does and what does not constitute dismissal do not concern us here.
I suspect that few of us would contest the charge that the employer had adopted a bullying approach towards his employee.
For the record “the tribunal accepted that such treatment was tantamount to unfair dismissal.“
A bullying story with a happy ending
“I have a long series of insults to avenge … have a care; for if you do raise the devil in me, the consequences shall fall heavily on your own head.
“He had scarcely spoken when Squeers … spat upon him and struck him a blow across the face with his instrument of torture which raised up a bar of livid flesh as it was inflicted…
“Nicholas sprang upon him, wrested the weapon from his hand and, pinning him by the throat, beat the ruffian till he roared for mercy — he threw all his remaining strength into half a dozen finishing cuts and flung Squeers from him …. Squeers striking his head (against a form) lay at full length on the ground, stunned and motionless.
From “Nicholas Nickleby” by Charles Dickens
Then, as now, the public liked to see a bully bested and beaten, especially when the victor was an employee and the loser was an employer.
The fastidious might argue that Dickens seemed to relish the combat, but the outcome was a source of comfort to his readers.
A hypothetical case of bullying
Matthew Parris wrote light heartedly that a kick up the backside isn’t bullying.
Some years ago I rashly invested a substantial part of my hard earned savings in allegedly safe funds operated by Capita/ Arch CRU.
I regretted my decision when a few weeks later the funds were mysteriously “suspended” and it appeared likely that I would lose the full amount.
I pondered on the sentence that would await me if I were to seek out the senior manager responsible for my impoverishment and proceed to insert my size 14 boot up his anal orifice to the very last lace hole.
Wiser counsels prevailed with the intervention of the doughty Jeff Prestridge from The Mail on Sunday. The outcome was that I recovered the greater part of the money that I had assumed to be gone for good.
What view might the law have taken had I taken action along the lines hinted at above?
Would I been deemed to be guilty of assault, provoked or otherwise? I suspect that that would have been the outcome – private citizens must not take the law into their own hands.
PS – writing the above tetchy notes reminded me that 10 years later I am still owed around £1k and that this money is languishing in some vague cells in The Channel Islands.
Holdenforth action – get after Capita / Arch CRU for this outstanding amount!
A plaintive aged blogger bleats
“Behold a sower went forth to sow, And when he sowed some seeds fell by the way side and the fowls came and devoured them up.
“And some fell among thorns and the thorns sprung up and choked them.
“Some fell upon stony places ….. And when the sun was up they were scorched and because they had no root they withered away.
“But other fell into good ground and brought forth fruit some an hundred fold , some sixty fold, some thirty fold.”
Matthew 13, verses 3 to 8
I mentioned in a previous blog piece that I had resorted to social media only because the previous recipient of my views, Tribune Magazine, had gone out of business or gave every impression of having done so. Prior to this I had had no contact with the arcane world of social media and I had no particular wish to do so.
My initial entry to this mysterious new world was a cautious dip into the shallow end of the social media pool. I wrote blogs that covered roughly the same ground as my Tribune articles, and my son who grasps the modus operandi of this brave new world did the rest.
So far so good.
I became aware of the much wider field that is/are Social Media, when I was advised to send my blogs to my Facebook contacts.
What Facebook contacts?
In this brave new world it was not that there gaps in my knowledge but rather a void.
My initial velleity had been that my blog pieces would be speedily and electronically transmitted to my newly acquired Facebook contacts and that they in turn would transmit them to their Facebook friends and so on ad infinitum. In less time than it takes to tell my blogs would be distributed to a number at or around the circulation of the Sun newspaper and I would be transformed from obscure Tribune contributor to a columnist with the influence of – let us say – Mr Littlejohn, the doyen of contemporary columnists and now fulminating in the pages of The Daily Mail.
I was advised that the introduction and widespread availability of social media was a social and technical revolution as significant as the introduction of electronic communications in an earlier age.
It was explained to me that these social media signified the end of the monopoly exercised by the conventional print and broadcast media – hence the collective distaste felt by this group for the new usurpers.
Finally and belatedly it was also explained to me that the modest downside of my new venture would be that I would be on the receiving end of a tsunami of Facebook updates, Facebook status reports, Facebook photos, Facebook accounts of accounts of shopping expeditions, all contributing to the startling diversity and complexity of contemporary life on earth.
I was urged to accept all requests from strangers to be my friends on Facebook apart from those from unlikely sources such as say Boris Johnson or Michael Gove.
For reasons that remain unclear to me things did not work as per my velleity – hence the title of this piece.
The predicted downside turned out exactly as per the prediction – no complaints from me on that score.
The hoped for benefits are to still to be delivered, and I am unsure as to why this this should be so. Given the similarity of the Facebook multiplier process to a Ponzi scheme – my blogs in theory at least are routinely arriving into thousands of computers. I appreciate that most of the recipients will speedily for wholly understandable reasons. However, I had anticipated that a few might read them and that a lively exchange of views might follow would follow.
Sadly this has not yet happened, and so far as I can make and to use the sower parable from the Gospel of St Matthew – most of my well intentioned seed has fallen either by the way side, or upon stony ground or among thorns but as yet – none into good ground.
Where to from here? Clearly – to seek advice to explain the functions of the myriad of icons that accompany and confuse every Facebook arrival into my social media world.
“£25bn is wiped off Facebook after fury over data harvesting”
Daily Mail headline – March 20, 2018
Good enough for the bastards!
Nice work if you can get it – the rich water boys and girls
Earnings of the Chief Executives of the English Water Boards – Details thoughtfully supplied by the Daily Mail on March 6, 2018:
|Area||CE Names||CE Earnings – in £M|
|Liv Garfield||Severn Trent||2.45|
|Steve Mogford||United Utilities||2.3|
|Steve Robertson||Thames Water||Up to 2.1|
|Peter Simpson||Anglian Water||1.5|
|Richard Flint||Yorkshire Water||1.32|
|Chris Loughlin||Pennon Group||1.3|
|Colin Skellet||Wessex Water||0.91|
|Heidi Mottram||Northumbrian Water||0.73|
|Paul Butler||South East Water||0.42|
|Mel Karam||Bristol Water||0.23|
|Ian McAulay||Southern water||0.20|
Just one comment. – nice money for those senior managers whose business conduct is based on the standard set by Mr Arthur Daley, They live off the fat of the land in their cushy numbers in the water supply cartel.