Windfall

I took this photograph on a visit to Tatton Park in Cheshire

The thought struck me that we use the word ‘windfall’ incorrectly. After all, there’s nothing more certain and predictable that a gust of wind or strong downpour will cause an apple to fall from a tree; it’s not the unexpected or even rare occurrence that people describe when an unexpected gift or other unplanned bounty appears in their lives.

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Feedback from applicants overwhelmingly favoured public horsewhipping for the HR professional who invented the Core Competency-based Interview.

 

Next on the list of popular responses, with 45% of the vote, was to apply the same punishment for all the unimaginative and compliant grunts who blithely accept CCI as the way ahead for all employers.

 

Out of all respondents, 87.2% of those voting in favour of options one and two had been told they had ‘failed by only a few points’ to successfully navigate the shoals of bland questioning and hidden depths of weighted scoring, leaving their CPD stymied by human unresourcefulness.

Leeds misleads

The BBC headline was intriguing at first glance. Leeds, the old home town (OK, city) ‘may’ be about to ‘get’ a New York-style ‘high line’. Wow, I thought. One in the eye for the Big Apple. But wait, it turns out Leeds has had it since Victorian times and the last time people could walk on it was 1988. If it’s already there – all 92 viaduct arches of it – how come we’re just about to ‘get’ it? A more accurate headline would have read ‘Leeds remembers it’s got a High Line that’s every bit as impressive as those in New York and Paris’. But then, the city is rather good at forgetting things – like the flax mill built to copy an Egyption Temple, Colonel Harding’s campanile tower, the forlorn Queen Victoria’s Arch, abandoned to fate and the elements in Beckett’s Park, and the Headingley Bear Pit.

Just a little bit call centre

I’m looking for some extra work at the moment and was offered a ‘phone interview for a job with one of the major outsourcing companies (no names, you’ll see why…) The advert was non-specific on a number of key areas: I knew what service was being provided, but for whom and how were well hidden behind generic – and in several places ungrammatical – waffle. A few minutes in, the HR bod mentioned that the job could involve handling a number of telephone calls, to which I asked ‘is this a call centre?’ A pretty straightforward question in the circumstances, one would have thought. To which the answer ran along the lines of ‘no, um, rather yes’. It either is or it isn’t – you can’t be a ‘little bit’ call centre any more than you can be a little bit pregnant. There comes a point when relativism has to meet certain boundaries and I felt less than comfortable that an prospective employer could want to hide the real nature of a job by advertising in such broad terms

Is there a competent elephant in the interview room?

It might come as a surprise, but there are some who work in the private sector who might be tempted to apply for a public sector post on the basis that it meets their skill set. Private sector job descriptions can be very long-winded and appear more as a wishlist for a superhuman form of employee possessing skills and experience that runs for page after page. For the intending applicant, these are daunting at first reading, but if you can group them into workable categories that can be addressed in the application, then a perceptive recruiter (even if not possessed of sufficient editorial skill to prune the verbage in the first place) can evaluate a ‘broad-brush’ application. In the public sector, however, the tendency now if for highly specific internal skills that appear almost impenetrable to the private sector (or, even worse, self-employed/freelance applicant). This is strange, given that many public sector employers trumpet ‘diversity’ and ‘equality’ as being key to their recruitment processes. The paradox is further complicated by the universal – if nonsensical – way that both public and private sectors have embraced competency-based interviews as the only game in town. Faced with the usual six competency questions (three broad, three job specific) the danger for the private sector ‘outsider’ who has made it to interview is that you are hard pressed to identify the key words and phrases that are often meat and drink to public sector ‘insider’ applicants. Short of a Rosetta Stone or the divining powers of a dowser, private sector or freelance applicants are immediately at a serious disadvantage and can go on to award themselves the bum’s rush before they even realise that something’s amiss in their responses. A nice touchy feely ‘We welcome applicants irrespective of age gender, orientation, ethnicity, religion’ is all very well, but diversity can go take a running jump if you then rule the applicant out by a too narrow or overly subjective application of the competency criteria.

Looking for Leeds Central

The first verse of Hue & Cry’s song Looking for Linda contains an intriguing railway mystery. Linda, the eponymous heroine/victim of the song is escaping from an abusive relationship when she meets the singer, a wandering railway troubadour presumably, on a slow train, heading – she hopes – for Paisley.

So far, so ScotRail, but things then take a strange turn, as Linda keeps on running away ‘straight down to Leeds Central’. Now, assuming the slow train connected at Paisley to a train, or trains, that could take Linda to Leeds, the choice of the Central suggests time travel, because that station closed in May 1967, twenty-one years before the song was released.

Leeds only has one main station now, the rather unimaginatively named Leeds City. It is the third busiest station outside London in the UK, behind Glasgow Central and Birmingham New Street, which rather suggests closing the Central wasn’t perhaps the smartest of Beeching’s moves, especially if you’ve ever had to wait on a stationary train until a platform comes free.

Pat and Greg Kane’s choice of Central over City for Linda’s arrival into Leeds could be down to the way the words scan – arguably the former fits better than the shorter four-letter alternative, and avoids repetition of the word ‘city’ within the space of two words. As with many artistic choices, this creates an image in my mind of something I’m not even sure actually happened but represents a very important first meeting between my much younger self and great aunt Vera, my grandma’s sister.

Vera lived in Dublin and her visits to Leeds were eagerly anticipated joyful occasions. In later years, she flew in to the then Yeadon Airport (now Leeds/Bradford), but her first visit of my lifetime was a sea crossing, from either Dun Laoghaire or North Wall to Holyhead, with a boat train bringing her the rest of the way. As Leeds Central closed when I was five, what follows could be mere wishful thinking on my part, but – like the song – actual reality isn’t as important as the impression. Great aunt Vera had to get off the train from Holyhead somewhere, and Leeds Central seems to be as good a place as any for me.

In my memory, my parents, grandparents and I, are standing on a long platform with buffers in front and some trains, steam trains, close up to the buffers. Down a long side platform, running the length of a train, my great aunt is walking towards us, a great beaming smile on her face and the light playing on her pale ginger hair.

Stations are evocative places; memories of arrivals and departures, families, friends, lovers reunited or divided. And Leeds Central would have been no different; it was a terminal station, so trains arriving here were going no further, this was the end of the line, and in 1967 those lines ended permanently.

The ground was cleared of all trace of the railway, with the exception of two stone-built goods lifts, that had been used to transfer mail and other freight from road level to the platforms above. For many years they stood marooned amid a scene of urban devastation. Eventually, the site became the Aireside Shopping Centre, which suffered from a chronic lack of parking. Too close to the city centre to be ‘out of town’, you took pot luck finding a place to park either in front of the shops or dodging traffic wardens on the surrounding streets.

Now the shoppers have gone, replaced by the Wellington Place Development, which means commerce and law have now moved onto the site. One of the three-storey goods lifts remains – a reminder of the station and all those who it brought into and out of the city.

One last thought on Looking for Linda lyrics: £35 for a packet of fags was a hell of a lot in the 1980s – what was she smoking, gold-filter tipped Balkan Sobranies?

The barbarians are well within the gates

These photographs show the sadly now closed Burley Library on Cardigan Road in Leeds.

Strangely enough, the disused building sits cheek by jowl with some very swanky new student accommodation and is situated within an area that has been term-time home to students from Leeds and Leeds Beckett Universities for years. Admittedly it’s some time ago now, but when I was a student we spent rather a lot of our time in libraries. Looks like things have moved on now, though. After all, Leeds has always liked to think its at the cutting edge of social change. I can remember when it proudly proclaimed itself ‘Motorway City of the 70s’ – and if you want to see how well that turned out, try circumnavigating the Inner Ring Road around 9.00am or 5.30pm. Perhaps the city worthies should have kept the libraries and found enough money for a tram system. You know, like they have in Manchester, Sheffield and Nottingham.

Superior retail confectioner

I was put rather firmly in my place recently while buying a couple of cinnamon buns at a well-known mass outlet bakery operation that begins with a G. On entering, I noticed cinnamon buns placed in the display incorrectly identified on the card as Belgian buns.

In a moment of madness, as I now realise, the words ‘two Belgian buns, please’ tripped off my tongue, to which the shop assistant replied ‘we haven’t got any today’. Undeterred, I walked to the cinnamon/Belgian buns and pointed, at the same time asking for ‘two of those’. Sensing the need to educate, the assistant looked quizzically at me and then enunciated slowly and deliberately ‘those are cinnamon buns’ – with added emphasis on the last two words.

Suitably chastened, I paid and left the shop with the cinnamon buns in a paper bag. But then I remembered a similar incident many years ago in a Birmingham confectioners. I was attracted to a rectangular cake with cherries and a dusting of icing sugar, my request for ‘one of those, please’ was met with the decidedly superior reply ‘that, is a paradise slice‘.

Are confectioners trained in the overarching need to teach customers the correct name for each and every one of their products?

East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, by Philippe Sands

This is a great book and a worthy winner of the 2016 Baillie Gifford non-fiction prize, in which Philippe Sands traces the development of the international law terms ‘crimes against humanity’ and ‘genocide’. But this is no dry legal treatise, largely due to his extensive research and highly engaging writing style, Philippe Sands shows how the lives of Hersch Lauterpacht, Rafael Lemkin and his maternal grandfather Leon Buchholz came to be intertwined in the now Ukrainian city of Lviv. While Lauterpacht and Lemkin studied there – with Lauterpacht going on to an academic career in Law at Cambridge, where he developed the concept of ‘crimes against humanity’ in an attempt to protect the rights of individuals, Lemkin’s work was focused on the protection afforded to identifiable groups and races by calling for recognition of the crime of genocide. On the other hand, Leon Buchholz lived through the full horror of the Nazi invasion before escaping to Paris, where he was eventually joined by his infant daughter and later his wife. The crimes defined by Lauterpacht and Lemkin featured in the indictments used at the Nuremberg trials, where Lauterpacht’s ‘crimes against humanity’ gained wider support than Lemkin’s ‘genocide’. Although arguable that this has been reversed in the prosecution of post-WWII war crimes, Sands’ narrative has an edge-of-the-seat quality as legal argument and the preferring of charges show how the four prosecution authorities built their cases against the defendants. Hersch Lauterpacht looms large in the development of international law, but at Nuremberg his powerful intellect and professionalism are brought face-to-face with the accused – at a time when he did not yet know the fate of so many of his own family members. The last five years of his life were spent as the British judge to the International Court of Justice in the Hague; an appointment that was criticised by some in politics and the media on the dubious – and frankly worrying ground – that he was not ‘sufficiently British’. Sands’ work is a triumph of research and great writing, as a work of legal history it also stands as a salutary warning for today, perhaps best encapsulated in George Santayana’s telling observation that: ‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it’. East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, ISBN 9780385350716 (print) ISBN 9780385350723 (e-book)

Royal prerogative – a lesson from the swinging 60s

Back in 1964 the BBC ended up in the Court of Appeal over a spat with the Inland Revenue, in which Auntie decided that it qualified to be treated in pretty much the same way as the rest of the establishment by using the Royal Prerogative (RP) to trump a tax claim. Now, the RP has a bit of a chequered history, mainly due to the activities of one Charles Stewart, or Charles I if you prefer (the only monarch to end their reign approx 10 inches shorter than at the start). The Beebs legal argument came to naught, largely thanks to the memorably pithy putdown from Lord Diplock, who said: it was “350 years and a civil war too late” to allow for a broadening of the RP. Strangely enough, the Daily Heil didn’t come out against the noble Lord as an “enemy of the people” on that occasion (probably because he was putting the Beeb in its place?). But today we’re faced with Paul Dacre and his band of scribblers busily casting themselves as the enemies of the Rule of Law, which is a far more dangerous place to be – and one that not even Art.10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (Oh, irony of ironies: how wonderful if he ends up having to hide behind that to defend himself!) will stretch far enough to cover his twisting of fact and inflated, yet baseless, opinions.