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Thursday, 5 May 2016

MEMORY IS A FUNNY OLD THING

Memory is a funny old thing. Sometimes I can't remember something from last week. Sometimes I forget birthdays and other important stuff. But, for some reason, in this cavernous filing cabinet that I call my head, random things have stuck.

Today, 5 May, is the anniversary of the 1980 Iran embassy siege in London. I was living in a flat in Crouch End and working in BHS Wood Green. The 5th was a bank holiday Monday, a day off, and in the early evening I had settled down to watch the western Rio Lobo starring John Wayne.

At a point in the film there was a newsflash interruption and live pictures of an incident at the Iranian embassy.

Five days earlier, six gunmen had taken over the embassy and held hostages in their bid to force the release of ninety-one prisoners held in jail in Iran. They also wanted a plane to fly themselves and their hostages out of the UK. After one hostage was shot dead by the gunmen, the Home Secretary, Willie Whitelaw, authorised a rescue mission at the embassy and, as the live TV coverage was showing, the SAS moved in. I was watching in awe at the activity on the embassy balcony and the fire-flash of exploding grenades. This was real danger and, it has to be said, excitement happening right before our eyes in those very moments. It was nervy but thrilling television coverage and I know how crass that sounds.

The thought occurs to me now that, unlike today's live coverage of events, I don't recall endless commentary from news presenters or reporters. The pictures were telling the story and we viewers could see it and understand it on our own without unnecessary blether.

Apart from recalling the siege and rescue, the memory bit that amazes me is that I also remember Rio Lobo and John Wayne. Trivia. What's that all about?

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

EARTHA KITT WAS BANNED IN OUR HOUSE

Eartha Kitt was banned in our house. Anytime she came on the telly, my mother would switch over or switch off. Ms Kitt was deemed to be a too sexy and therefore unsavoury singer whose vocal style involved breathy sighs and frequent purrs, accompanied by seductive eye movements.

I was reminded of her when I chanced upon an old edition of The Good Old Days from 1972. For the younger generation, The Good Old Days was a very popular BBC variety show that ran from 1953 to 1983. That's 30 seasons in today's parlance. The show based itself on old music halls and the enthusiastic audience dressed up in period costumes to add to the atmosphere. The bill included singers, comedians, magicians, acrobats, ventriloquists et al.

The compere was Leonard Sachs. He would use strings of long, pompous words to introduce the acts and at every word the audience would oooh and aaaah their delight at his thesaurustical dexterity (oooh, aaah). As he announced the name of the act about to appear on stage, he would bang a gavel.

In the 1972 show I mentioned, Sachs was on top form. The bill included not only Eartha Kitt slinking and gliding her way across the stage but also Terry Lightfoot's jazz band, an intentionally clumsy comedian called Larry Parker, ventriloquist Neville King, acrobats The Macardis, singers The Barrie Brothers and Eira Heath and the one and only Arthur Askey who kidded around and sang a song about a penguin. The audience loved it all.

The variety show format as we used to know it is long gone from television. Today's versions of variety shows, including the Royal Variety Performance, seem to be dominated by performers from The X Factor, Britain's Got Talent and the non-stop conveyor belt that delivers the recurring roster of comedians taking a break from regular appearances on panel games. I reckon not many from the modern generation would have much of an appetite for the old musical hall acts. Why would they? Why should they? This is the Ant and Dec generation that seems to enjoy ordinary people doing funny things and celebrities being pranked.

As I watched Eartha Kitt from over forty years ago (I'm allowed now), I reckon if she had performed her act for Simon Cowell back in the day, he would have snapped her up. She had the allure, something unique and a nice line in sparkling frocks.

I don't know if The Good Old Days and TV back then really were the good old days but a wee dose of nostalgia every now and then is not a bad thing.


Monday, 2 May 2016

VIEWS OF A RELUCTANT TIPPER

I was wondering in this age of austerity, how tipping has been affected.  I am a reluctant tipper. Why should it feel compulsory in some places? What's the point of tipping anyway? Tip boxes, buckets, bowls, jars, etc are appearing in all sorts of commercial establishments. Should staff have to, er, beg? No. Should customers be pressurised? No. Should employers stop being misers? Yes. Should Americans wise up? Definitely.

To tip or not to tip, that is the dilemma. A tip is always expected in most countries of the world, ask any taxi driver or waiter - but not always deserved.  Is tipping just a duplicitous way to supplement low wages? My answer is a resounding yes. The customer seems to be expected to pay extra for this thing called service, regardless of standards, especially in restaurants and taxis. Some time ago, a group of us went out to a pizza restaurant. The food was fabulous but the service was a little slow, a tad robotic and littered with several mistakes including forgotten starters, wrong wine etc. As a group we put in our share of the bill and I took it to the cashier. We had decided to leave the change as a kindly tip. Standing next to the till was the restaurant manager, an American as it happened, who watched the money being handed over and, in a mechanical calculator kind of way, he quickly worked out the change amount as a percentage of the total bill. As soon as I had generously said, “keep the change”, he glared at me with a stony face and said: “That’s only 8%. Isn’t that a little insulting to your waitress?”  I stood with my friends in a collective dumbstruck rigidity before saying: “The food was great but the service was just okay. Our tip reflects the service.” He continued to glare and complain about our stinginess citing at least 15% as a starting or indeed tipping point. We stood firm and left the restaurant wondering why we felt like naughty schoolchildren.  Clearly, in this case, the customer is always right except when he’s wrong.
This kind of pressure happens all too often either from the management or from the hangdog waiting staff who are only interested in supplementing their meagre wages.  It is interesting to note the fickleness of people in service jobs, where friendliness, helpfulness, sincere good manners and efficiency should be delivered willingly and well all the time.  At the point of payment,  some catering staff change attitudes like Jekyll and Hyde at the absence of a tip, turning surly and huffy to show their disappointment.  So, were they really suited to the customer service job in the first place?  Was the whole service gloss just a sham?

Here’s a warning notice I would like to see outside restaurants: “THIS RESTAURANT DEMANDS THAT YOU AGREE TO PAY ANY SERVICE CHARGE WE DECIDE TO PRINT ON YOUR BILL AND IT WANTS YOUR GUARANTEE THAT YOU WILL TIP WAITING STAFF WITH AN AMOUNT NOT LESS THAN 12.5%.  IF YOU DON”T COMPLY, WATCH OUT OR DON”T ENTER IN THE FIRST PLACE”.   If I saw a notice like that, I would know their stance and where I stood and I would avoid the restaurant, nip to Sainsbury's and buy a deep pan pepperoni to eat at home.   This tipping exploitation of customers and wage deprivation of staff by catering and taxi people is not just a UK disease.  On recent trips to California, everybody, it seemed, waited for a tip including the hotel doorman (but not the hotel receptionist, strangely enough), the porter, the maids, the bartender, the restaurant staff, the taxi driver and anybody else who could screw us for a few more dollars.   In one restaurant near Sacramento, a colleague and I went to a self-service (hold that thought) Chinese restaurant. We were shown to a table and then told to help ourselves from the buffet counters. We did just that, had a fine lunch and as we walked out, we could see a table clearer straining his neck to clock if we had left a tip in our booth. We hadn't, of course, but if his face had been a laser, the look he gave would have melted us on the spot. Tipping in a self-service restaurant?  What?   More recently, in another Chinese restaurant, this time in London’s Soho, we were a table of seven and our host decided not to leave a tip on top of the included service charge.  Our waiter’s facial expression, body language and attitude, formerly Saturday night game show host happy, smiley and charming, turned to Charles Bronson in “Death Wish” in a heartbeat.  It’s that arc from “greetings” to “grrrr”. The notion that you have to budget 20% more spending money for gratuities when visiting America and some other countries where tipping expectations are frighteningly high is both ridiculous and unacceptable.

I worked in retail management for nearly forty years and not once was I offered a service tip nor did I ever expect one. What is it about the hospitality business? It's beyond me.

I will tip and I do tip but only on my terms. The fact that the Government feels it has to implement new regulations and possibly laws to police tips is laughable on one level. How did it come to this? On another level, if investigations expose skullduggery about who gets what share of the tip jar, then good. But I will continue to follow my own guidance and give extra if the service is well above and beyond the waiter's or whoever's job description - my money, my decision.

I could go on and on, but I won't....for now.


Have a nice day!

Sunday, 1 May 2016

I AM NOT JOSS CASHMERE

My surname is Cushnan. Over the years this name has been misheard and misspelt dozens of times. In my younger days, I found this very annoying, almost always in telephone conversations having to spell it out, not once but two or three times as people on the other end poked at their earwax. When sending letters, CUSHNAN typed is as clear as CUSHNAN typed. CUSHNAN handwritten carefully with each letter painstakingly crafted to look like a C, a U, an S, an H, an N, an A and an N could not be any clearer.

Even as I type this, spellcheck "corrects" CUSHNAN to CUSHION, one of the names I have been called many times.

From memory, these are the versions of my surname I have endured so far:

Cushion (aforementioned)
Cushner
Kushner
Krushner
Cushan
Cusson
Cashin

I'm sure there are more examples.

I'm used to it all now and I get mild amusement when cold callers phone and ask: "Can I speak to Mister Cushner?" and I reply: "I'm sorry, there's no one here by that name." It throws them off balance.

So all you Smith, Jones and other one syllable surname people out there, you don't know how lucky you are.

Yours faithfully,

Joss Cashmere (Oh, FFS!)

Friday, 29 April 2016

BOOK REVIEWS - HOW MANY VIEWERS?

I started this blog in mid-2011 and I have posted all sorts of things on here, starting with poetry and developing into some opinionated stuff and other diversions. But lately, I have enjoyed posting my reviews of interesting books, non-fiction mainly but occasional fiction gets a look in.

In the 5 years of the blog, it has attracted 95,600 views - not bad in my orbit.

In the Top 10 most popular posts, there are 5 book reviews and here they are with the total number of views as of today, 29 April, 2016:

The Good Son by Paul McVeigh (First posted 8 May, 2015 - 1,247 views)


The Beginning Of The End by Ian Parkinson (First posted 10 May, 2015 - 404 views)


Unfinished Peace by Brian Rowan (First posted 18 December, 2015 - 278 views)


Teenage Kicks: My life As An Undertone by Michael Bradley (First posted 25 February, 2016 - 219 views)


The Seven: The Lives And Legacies Of The Founding Fathers Of The Irish Republic (First posted 25 March, 2016 - 255 views)


Hope it helps the authors and publishers.



DING-DONGS

The ding-dong in the street between Ken Livingstone and John Mann is interesting not only for the important subject that triggered the confrontation but also for its entertainment value. We like to watch stuff like this especially if it involves people in high places. It's a bit like motor racing. Many people watch it for the crashes. We need more public collisions in politics.

But above and beyond interest and entertainment, verbal fisticuffs like this demonstrate a refreshing change to all the sanitised, on message, carefully spun claptrap that we are fed by politicians. Let rip, say I, every now and again to expose true feelings and opinions in slanging matches.

Prime Minister's Questions is the perfect example of questions unanswered or answered in a way that skirts round the issue and allows an opportunity to promote an agenda. It should be renamed Prime Minister's Questions (But Don't Expect Actual Answers). It is political panto that has worn thin, except when Dennis Skinner gets his dander up.

So more ding-dongs, please, in the street with cameras and microphones and let's hear what our politicians really think.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

LEADERSHIP UNDER THE MICROSCOPE

I can't recall a time when leadership has been under so much detailed and intense scrutiny - political leadership, business leadership, religious leadership, media leadership, police leadership, in fact just about any leadership past and present. It might have something to do with the social media microscope with its whiplash-fast means of communication to praise or destroy characters and reputations in a heartbeat. Both serious and necessary analysis of decision-makers and gossipy, sarcastic nit-picking join death and taxes as inevitable parts of life these days.

I know a bit about leadership from my forty years as a manager, starting in the low ranks and steadily moving into the middle and almost senior management orbit. I did some good things and I made mistakes. I made good decisions and bad decisions but hopefully the good outweighed the bad. In management, I've found that you learn as you go. You learn by experience how to deal with certain recurring challenges and you weigh up how to handle surprises and the unexpected. Sometimes you're on a sure footing and other times you choose your route and take responsibility and the consequences.

In my forty years, rather neatly but honestly, I have had forty bosses. I have learned from all of them and not always in a good way.  I have been tinkering with an idea for a book - Career-View Mirror: 40 Bosses In 40 Years - but I haven't spent too much time on it lately.

However, as part of the idea, I listed my bosses, not by name or chronology, in one word summaries of how I saw them. The simple point is that all bosses are different in personality and behaviour but it is competence and delivering the role properly and professionally that counts.

I have worked for a couple of brilliant leaders, some good ones, too many average ones and a handful of idiots.

Here are the words I attribute to my past gaffers:

BOSS 1 - AMBITIOUS
BOSS 2 - BRUISER
BOSS 3 - BULLISH
BOSS 4 - CONSISTENT
BOSS 5 - DRIVER
BOSS 6 - EAGER
BOSS 7 - EGOTISTIC
BOSS 8 - ERRATIC
BOSS 9 - FREEWHEELER
BOSS 10 - FRIENDLY
BOSS 11 - FOCUSED
BOSS 12 – FUSSY
BOSS 13 – GRITTY
BOSS 14 – GROUNDED
BOSS 15 – HAUGHTY
BOSS 16 – HUMANE
BOSS 17 – HUMBLE
BOSS 18 – HYPOCRITE
BOSS 19 – INCONSEQUENTIAL
BOSS 20 - LAZY
BOSS 21 - METHODICAL
BOSS 22 – MILITARY
BOSS 23 – PATIENT
BOSS 24 – PURITAN
BOSS 25 – RANTER
BOSS 26 – REAL
BOSS 27 – REBELLIOUS
BOSS 28 – RUFFIAN
BOSS 29 – SCRUPULOUS
BOSS 30 - SELFISH
BOSS 31 - SINCERE
BOSS 32 – SMUG
BOSS 33 – SNEAKY
BOSS 34 – SNOB
BOSS 35 – SOFT
BOSS 36 – SUPERIOR
BOSS 37 – TENACIOUS
BOSS 38 - UNCERTAIN
BOSS 39 - UPSTART
BOSS 40 – VETERAN

The business writer Peter Drucker nailed it when he said: "Management is doing things right. Leadership is doing the right things."