Tuesday 7 March
A listener to the early morning radio programme 'Farming Today' makes a plea for a 'Brexit-free' week of reporting, a sentiment that might have wider appeal. It made me think of other topics on which listeners and viewers might appreciate a period of media silence. A 'Trump-free' week sounds very attractive. The space could be devoted to serious coverage of mental health issues rather than the dangerous delusions of one man. A 'celebrity-free' week would also be appreciated by many. The antics of attention-seeking people, whose talents do not match their egos, have limited appeal, except for those who prefer fantasy to reality.
In Scotland, an 'Indyref2-free' week would provide a welcome break for large sections of the population. It would free up time for members of the Scottish government to focus on those issues of most immediate concern to people: jobs, the economy, health, housing and education. It might also encourage that incestuous band of political commentators in Scotland [recent photograph above – Ed] to attempt some original thinking, instead of simply repeating the same old clichés and threadbare arguments. That, however, is unlikely to happen. If the public were to be spared the penetrating insights of the nation's journalistic elite, even for just a week, they might conclude that they could do without them permanently.
Wednesday 8 March
According to my medical encyclopaedia – no hypochondriac should be without one – around a quarter of people over 65 suffer from some level of auditory impairment and require a hearing aid. I have no doubt this is a distressing condition which not only affects the quality of life of the sufferer but also impacts on those around them. Once friends are alerted to the situation, they should make a special effort to articulate clearly, without shouting (which can distort the sound), and to face the person with the hearing problem to assist lip reading.
There is an internet website called 'The Limping Chicken' written by, and aimed at, deaf people. A few years ago, it listed the 10 most annoying habits of hearing people. These included looking away while communicating, shouting and assuming that all deaf people are the same. There was a follow-up piece listing the 10 most annoying habits of deaf people, most of them contributed by members of the deaf community themselves. There was, however, one item missing: that is, the tendency of some people, with varying degrees of hearing impairment, to refuse to admit that they have a problem and that they need to obtain medical advice.
Let me illustrate this with an admittedly extreme example (though I have also encountered several less extreme cases). I know a man aged 90, whose general health is good but whose hearing is very poor. He has a medical background so will be aware of the various treatments and aids available to him. Despite this, he adamantly refuses to do anything to alleviate his condition. He drives his wife to distraction and mocks her when she suggests he should seek help. His attitude suggests a mixture of vanity and stubbornness.
Those who suffer from a hearing disability certainly deserve to be treated with sympathy and consideration. But, equally, sufferers bear some responsibility for seeking help where it is available and for trying to make their exchanges with others as straightforward as possible. Failure to do so can only serve to increase their sense of frustration. Communication is a two-way street.
Friday 10 March
A young woman tells me that, while she is glad to have a job, much of the work is dull and routine, with too many unproductive meetings. I am reminded of my attempt, some years ago, to try to make meetings more efficient and purposeful. The university in which I worked at the time was involved in a merger, which required restructuring of departments. Senior managers love restructuring exercises as it gives them a rationale for their existence and keeps frontline staff in a state of uncertainty about their futures. Endless consultations took place, mostly cosmetic, since it was evident to me that at the end of the exercise a top-down model would be imposed, regardless of staff views. I coined the slogan 'Fewer meetings, shorter meetings' in an effort to move the process along. Initial reactions were positive, but it became clear after a short time that many colleagues preferred to spend hours revisiting the same issues again and again and resisting pressure to draw conclusions.
I began to classify reactions. There were those who saw meetings as an escape from the tedium of their formal duties, particularly if they had an opportunity to consume a better quality of biscuit than their usual custard creams. Then there were people who liked to hijack meetings to drone on about their various obsessions: they seemed impervious to the glazed looks from others that accompanied their contributions. Another category consisted of those who were trying to position themselves to take advantage of opportunities which might arise under the new regime: subtle (or, in some cases, not-so-subtle) toadying was much in evidence. The process dragged on for months, my slogan was consigned to the bin, and staff disillusionment intensified. A subsequent external review was highly critical of the management of the merger but, to nobody's surprise, that was quietly buried. Narrative privilege allowed those responsible to rewrite history and move on to exercise their questionable corporate skills in other arenas.
Saturday 11 March
This is a cautionary tale about the ethics of the building industry. A couple who live near me will be moving shortly. They had paid a reservation fee on a new house due for completion in a couple of months. When they went to finalise the deal, they found that the price they had been quoted would not secure the level of specification they had expected. Additional sums would be required, not only for good quality fixtures and fittings in the kitchen and bathroom, but also for such things as lighting and wardrobes in the bedrooms. The figures for these 'extra' items seemed excessive, adding nearly £10,000 to the original price of the house. They decided to forfeit their reservation fee and look elsewhere.
Now it may be felt, with some justification, that the couple were remiss in not checking precisely what was included in the original purchase price they were quoted. Equally, however, the sales person should have made it clear that, in order to achieve the finish of the show house, additional costs would be incurred. He or she may have been under pressure to secure as many reservations as possible and withheld the information about add-ons, unless specifically asked. This would be done in the knowledge that the company would be compensated for any cancellations by retaining the reservation fee.
How should this episode be interpreted? As an example of sharp business practice? As an illustration of the commercial principle, 'Don't reveal more than you have to'? As a tribute to the 'entrepreneurial flair' that right-wing politicians constantly extol? Or as a warning to consumers that, in any financial transaction, it is wise to assume spivvish tendencies on the part of the seller?