June 23, 2016
This Wookiee’s a winner.
Simply a chair being pushed across a floor.
It’s the little things, when we spot them, that make us smile.
He may not have got a medal at the end of A New Hope, but his signature roar is a classic.
Loving Chewie. Loving the chair’s impression of him.
Make you laugh, it will.
I’ve avoided making any comments at all on the forthcoming EU referendum. I’ve done it deliberately.
There’s been no rational debate. Just mud slinging, name-calling and fear-mongering.
From both sides.
It’s been like listening to a group of kids in a school playground where the loudest voice is king.
So if you say anything on social media you get people telling you you’re wrong.
Seriously!?! I’m wrong for holding an opinion?
Surely that’s the whole point of debate (and, you could argue, democracy).
People are allowed to hold a different opinion. (And I’ll let you into a little secret – an opinion is all it is. It’s all based on arbitrary figures, dependent on a person’s methods, beliefs and influences. So it’s, at best, just a decent guess.)
Something else I’ve noticed clearly is that people don’t listen to understand.
They listen to respond.
So there’s never any point where they consider the other side’s view.
They just think of a bigger / scarier / more outrageous fact to throw at their opponent.
It’s sad. It’s divisive and it’s not acceptable any longer.
We need to stop people preying on fear.
Where are all the intelligent arguments for the positives of staying or leaving the European Union?
It’s been very difficult to find any commentator who has been rational and forensic about the forthcoming vote.
It will have a huge impact on the future of our country, perhaps for generations.
If you can’t see your way to a sensible, non-hysterical debate try thinking of your children.
Imagine them in the room as you start frothing at the mouth.
Hopefully that should help you maintain a modicum of common sense.
We should all be free to vote however our opinion tells us to.
That’s the power of democracy.
Respect each other. Even if you disagree with each other.
Our ancestors fought wars for the right to vote and for the right to freedom.
We, currently, show no respect for their sacrifice.
We have turned into a country unable to have a rational debate. We’re in danger of creating a schism in our society we never fully recover from.
Don’t listen to the loudest voices.
Listen to the quietest ones.
Because they’re confident in their beliefs so they don’t need to shout about it.
If you only ever listen to the loudest voices you’ll live their life.
If you listen to the quiet ones you’re free to choose the path you want.
I almost signed off by saying may the best campaign win. But, sadly, I think that would mean no one would win.
Each of us can make a difference to the debate.
We can behave reasonably.
Remember to respect each other.
And remember there are no absolutes.
It’s all just a big mess of grey.
Cast your vote how you want to.
And remember when it’s all over, just because someone didn’t vote the same way you did, that doesn’t mean they’re a bad person. They just have different views to you.
June 21, 2016
An outstanding story of selflessness and believing that you should stand up for what is right. It’s something we can all learn from and be inspired by.
In 1996 the Ku Klux Klan held a rally in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
It was a strange choice of location, as Ann Arbor is a multicultural place, where extremists like the KKK are generally not supported or welcomed.
Much like any KKK rally, there was a large police presence. And a huge number of people gathered to demonstrate that far-right views were not welcome.
It started like any KKK rally with the police (in riot gear armed with tear gas) keeping the small number of Klansmen separate from the protesters. There was a fence separating the opposing sides too.
Then one of the protesters noticed a man wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt in amongst them. The Confederate flag is often seen as symbolic of far-right views and has unsavoury connotations. The man also had an ‘SS’ tattoo on his forearm.A shout went up from the crowd “Kill the Nazi”. The man started to run. He was knocked to the ground. The mob surrounded him and started hitting, kicking and beating him with their placard sticks.
And the pack mentality took over. When part of a group, people often behave in a manner they never would if they were on their own. Things looked bleak for the middle-aged white supremist.
Until a teenage girl, who happened to be black, decided to make a stand. So she did the only thing she could think of to save the man. She threw herself on top of the man to protect him from the blows.The photographer who captured the images, Mark Brunner, could not believe what he was seeing. He said: “She put herself at physical risk to protect someone who, in my opinion, would not have done the same for her.” The teenager who performed this amazing act of bravery and selflessness was Keshia Thomas. She herself had experienced violence and had always wished there had been someone there to help her – to make it stop. She said: “Violence is violence – nobody deserves to be hurt, especially not for an idea.”
She never heard from the man whose life she saved. But she did have an amazing moment a few months later. She was sitting in a coffee shop when a young man approached her and said: “thanks”. When she asked what he was thanking her for he told her that the man was his dad.
That meant so much to Keshia. She realised that she’d not only helped the father, but she’d potentially stopped the son from following down a path of violence. Now, 20 years later, she tends not to think about the incident. She prefers to look forward.
In her own words: “I don’t want to think that this is the best I could ever be. In life you are always striving to do better.”
You can read more about her story on the BBC site.
At a time when the world is changing faster than ever before we should all try to be more tolerant. To be more understanding of other people’s views.
In short, we should all try to be more like Keshia.
All images © Mark Brunner
Last week, my friend Julie bought a cover for her new phone.
She bought it in Carphone Warehouse.
Unfortunately the cover didn’t actually work.
It cost £40 and offered “some functionality of your phone through the touch sensitive front cover”.
The cover didn’t stay shut, so it was useless as a product.
She returned it to the shop where she bought it only to be told “we don’t do refunds”.
She pointed out that the cover wasn’t actually able to do the job it was sold for and that she thought that meant she was entitled to a refund.
The shop told her she was wrong and that all they had to offer was an exchange.
So she told me what had happened.
She thought I might be able to help.
So we sat down together and called Carphone Warehouse on their customer service number (0370 111 6565).
Our first call was answered by a man called Khanyo.
I explained that the phone cover didn’t work and explained that we’d like a refund.
He told us they only do exchanges.
I pointed out that UK consumer law, under the Consumer Rights Act, states that faulty goods are eligible for a refund for 30 days.
He repeated that they only do exchanges.
So I asked to speak to his manager.
He told me that his manager would just tell me the same thing.
I pointed out that I’d asked to speak to his manager, not asked him to guess what his manager would say.
I had to ask five times before he finally relented and went to get his manger.
We spent six minutes on hold.
Then Khanyo comes back and tells me that his manager had told him to tell me that they don’t do refunds.
I bit my tongue and asked him to please get his manger to come to the phone.
If nothing else, I thought he might be interested that their interpretation of company policy broke UK law.
So he went away again.
This time only for two minutes.
Then Khanyo’s manager came on the line.
He was called Fabian.
I then patiently explained to Fabian that the cover wasn’t fit for purpose and that the Consumer Rights Act states that Julie should be given a refund.
He then asks if I’m an attorney.
I replied “I’m sorry, we’re not in America.”
He then asked if I was a barrister.
I told him I didn’t make coffees.
He didn’t get it.
I then spent eight minutes basically arguing with Fabian.
I kept asking him to ask someone in the company who knew the law if we should get a refund.
He continually refused.
So I asked if I could speak to his manager.
Then he told me his manger was on holiday.
But he did give me her name.
She was called Shereen.
But he spoiled it slightly by telling me that even if she was in he wouldn’t let me speak to her.
I asked him if he was serious.
Then the line went dead.
I swore a wee bit.
Then I called back.
This time Glenville answered the call.
I asked to speak to Fabian.
Fabian told Glenville to tell me that he wouldn’t come to the phone.
I asked Glenville to ask Fabian to have the common decency to come back to the phone.
He went off to ask again.
He returned to tell me that Fabian had gone for lunch (with, apparently, impeccable timing).
Glenville refused to put me through to a manager.
So I hung up and called Carphone Warehouse head office.
And remarkably I got through to the same office as the previous calls.
This time, however, we get to speak to Aneesa.
She was a star.
I explained the story about the cover, the previous phone calls and the fact that the law states Julie is entitled to a refund.
And she agrees.
We are entitled to a refund.
She’s very apologetic (and also pretty disappointed with her colleagues’ behaviour).
She takes a few details and asks if we would mind taking the cover back to the shop Julie bought it in.
I asked if she would mind if we called her when we got to the shop, as I was pretty sure the manager of the shop would still refuse to give a refund.
Aneesa agreed. (That’s what customer service should be about – making sure the customer’s expectations are met.)
So Julie took the phone back to the shop.
When she got there she called Aneesa. (The person who answered refused to put Julie through for almost three minutes!)
Aneesa came on the phone and asked Julie to hand the phone to the shop manager.
So she handed the phone to the shop manager with the words: “It’s for you.”
She only heard his side of the conversation.
But his opening line, after establishing who was on the phone, was: “We don’t do refunds.”
Aneesa put him right.
So Julie got her refund. Eventually.
There’s a really simple lesson for companies here.
If you empower staff to make decisions on your behalf, make sure they know enough to not be actively breaching UK consumer law while they’re doing it.
Or at least have an escalations system that ensures your customers’ fate isn’t down to the randomness of where a call to a call centre ends up.
With social media allowing people to share bad experiences to a wider audience than ever before, it’s increasingly important to get things right.
Come on people – it’s not that difficult. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and you’ll find the answers present themselves.
The flip side is when people go that wee bit further to keep their customers happy. Like this example from Chester Zoo. Imagine how you’d feel about the zoo if you returned to your car and found this.
Hats off to Chester Zoo’s car park team. Customer service really isn’t that difficult. As long as you don’t put people in charge who don’t actually want to help customers.
And thanks to Aneesa at Carphone Warehouse. She’s what all your staff should aspire to be. And if her manager happens to read this, give her a raise and promote her. She’ll do more for your brand than you can imagine.
June 19, 2016
The government seems to be unsure of how to educate children nowadays. They seem to think that constantly putting children under pressure is a good way for them to start life.
Don’t get me wrong, learning to cope with pressure is an important part of any person’s development. But having children learn about things that are completely unnecessary is counterproductive. It harms confidence and can lead to children thinking they’re “not smart”. Everyone is smart – they might just be better at things that don’t involve knowing what a fronted adverbial is.
My own daughter is now at secondary school and I’m seeing for myself the sometimes disjointed approach to learning. And it’s tough as a parent to not react to some of the crazy decisions that are made. Don’t get me wrong – there are a huge number of teachers who do a great job. But the government’s ‘test everything to death’ approach surely doesn’t help? I spotted a clarion call against this sort of madness on The Writer website (which is always worth a visit). They looked at the requirements of the SATs that kids sit. And the English test looks like a) a nightmare and b) a bit of a waste of time.
They quite rightly point out that many, many writers (OK, almost all of us) don’t know every granular detail of grammar. They also point out that spelling and grammar are important – they’re the basic fundamentals of how we communicate when we’re writing. But being a good writer is more than knowing the rules. It’s connecting with your audience. Giving them something they’ll be interested in. Writing it in a way that appeals to them. And it’s fun. It really is. (Or it bloody well should be.)
So here’s The Writer’s article, reproduced in full. If you have a child taking SATs you really want to read this. Then give your kid a hug and let them read it too.
A letter to primary school children in England
We’ve heard all about the spelling and grammar test you have to do as part of your SATs. We think it sounds pretty tough.
Not just the test itself, but all the months you’ve spent learning about things like fronted adverbials and expanded noun phrases and subordinating conjunctions. We’re willing to bet you wish you’d spent a bit less time doing that, and more time making up funny poems, or writing your own adventure stories.
Well, there’s something we wanted to tell you.
We asked our team of 15 professional writers whether they knew what a fronted adverbial was. How many do you think said ‘yes’?
One. And that’s because she has a daughter in primary school, just like you.
The rest of us didn’t have a clue. Remember, we all earn our living from writing, and helping other people to write better. And we’ve all managed to get this far without the words ‘fronted adverbial’ ever entering our minds.
We did try, honest. We looked up ‘fronted adverbials’ online, and spent a good few minutes frowning and scratching our heads. We couldn’t really understand it, and then we decided not to worry about it anyway, because fronted adverbials make sentences sound a bit weird, like they were written by Yoda from the Star Wars films, and we went off to make a cup of tea instead.
All this isn’t to say spelling and grammar aren’t important
They are. Our writers all know where to put apostrophes, and what semicolons are for.
And we understand how grammar choices can affect how writing comes across to the reader. Like how passive sentences can be unclear or – worse – make it seem like you’re trying to hide something.
But we don’t know what every single little grammar thing is called. And we don’t need to.
Trust us. We’ve helped thousands of grown-ups all over the world get better at writing. And we’re going to tell you the same thing we tell them: it’s okay to sound like yourself when you write.
You don’t need to use long, complicated words to sound important. You don’t need to use fronted adverbials or expanded noun phrases to be a good writer (we think you’ll be a better writer if you don’t). And it doesn’t matter if you wouldn’t recognise a subordinating conjunction if it clonked you over the head.
If you find those things hard, it doesn’t mean you’re no good at writing.
What makes someone a good writer?
You’re a good writer if you sound like a human being, not a robot. (Unless, of course, you’re writing a story about robots.)
You’re a good writer if you’re kind to your reader: if you don’t write long, boring sentences, or bang on for pages without getting to the point.
You’re a good writer if you have something interesting to say, and you’re not afraid to say it.
You’re a good writer if you make your reader change their mind about something. Or look at something differently. Or do something they might not have done otherwise.
You’re a good writer if you can make your reader feel happy. Or sad. Or indignant. Or motivated. Or reassured.
You’re a good writer if you can keep your reader interested, even if you’re writing about something really boring, like gas pipes, or tax.
You’re a good writer if you can take something really, really complicated, and explain it so simply that your granny could understand it.
And, most importantly, you’ll be a good writer if you enjoy writing, have fun with words and even break the odd rule now and again.
Don’t worry about the test. Really.
And to all those who think it’s disgraceful that people don’t know every detail of grammar, I point you in the direction of the genius that was Dr Seuss:
He was pretty successful and had an astonishing connection with his readers. He made up words, constructed sentences with fun in mind and blew a giant raspberry at dull writing. Long live creativity and writing that sets out to entertain and engage. And, as for teaching primary school children about minute intricacies of grammar, well I’m not at all in favour of it.
February 8, 2016
This is one of the funniest things I’ve come across for a quite some time. It concerns a designer called David Thorne. He’s an amazingly humorous designer, satirist and man you don’t want to start having an email discussion with.
His website is outrageously amusing. He documents email discussions with people. Which sounds fairly normal. But his emails are always slightly off-kilter. You’re often not sure if he’s serious or messing with you.
He tried to pay an overdue bill (for $233.95) by sending a picture of a spider that he had drawn. He notes in his email “I value the drawing at $233.95 so trust that this settles the matter.” Needless to say it wasn’t the end of the matter. It was just the start of a beautifully bizarre exchange with a lady called Jane Gilles. It’s very much worth a read.
One of my favourite exchanges on his site is with a secretary in his office. She asks him to make her a poster to help her find her missing cat. On the surface it’s just him messing around after a secretary in his office asks him to make a poster to help her find her missing cat. This is known online as the ‘Missing Missy’ case.
If you read a wee bit deeper into it, I think it’s a great example of what can go wrong if the person briefing you doesn’t think enough about what they actually want. I see it as a searing indictment of people’s inability to think things through properly and write a proper brief.
The best way I think to show you how the conversation progresses (and how David uses exaggeration to make his point) is to just show you the conversation.
So here goes. Buckle up.
To be fair, his tone and heavy use of sarcasm should alert us to the fact that this isn’t going to be the normal polite email chit chat.
Shannon, the secretary, comes back with a couple of questions. And David answers them. I love his negative space comment.
As a small aside here, if you’re asking someone to do you a favour saying “That’s just stupid.” is unlikely to aid your request.
Again, he’s followed her instructions to the letter. Which starts to show why writing a loose, poorly-though-out brief is asking for all sorts of trouble. Guess what? Shannon’s not happy with his amends either. I, however, am loving his work. Especially when he points out that “I don’t come downstairs and tell you how to send text messages, log onto Facebook and look out of the window.”
And so it continues. (I defy anyone not to laugh at the next image.)
Again, he’s followed her brief to the letter. (Granted he’s not followed the spirit of her request, but he has answered her brief.)
Shannon’s patience seems to be beginning to wear thin.
Hands up who spotted that’s not Shannon’s cat?
Surely he’ll send her what she wants this time?
Shannon thinks she’s finally got across to David all that she wants in the poster. But we know better.
Again, he’s followed her instructions. And she’s still not got what she wants.
I love that he’s deliberately messing with her to prove his point – unless you think about what you’re asking someone to do it’s unlikely to end well.
Using the creative work to refine the brief is a crazy way to work. It’s lazy, disrespectful and shows you don’t actually care about the work your project will ultimately produce. You’re pretty much the nightmare client.
If only we were all as brave as David, then perhaps the people who write really terrible briefs would get their just desserts. Unfortunately, most of us are far too polite to actually point out the lack of clarity in other people’s thinking. Certainly more than once or twice on any single brief.
If you’re on the secretary’s side you’re most likely someone who writes terrible, terrible briefs.
There’s an old saying that people get the work they deserve.
So when you’re writing a brief, think hard.
Always try to communicate one single idea.
I promise you’ll get better work if you write a better brief.
If you don’t, give me a call and I’ll answer the brief for you.
And a final salute to David. Hats off to you sir. Your whimsical response to a shabby brief should be an inspiration to us all.
January 20, 2016
The UK government announced last year that they’re going to fast-track fracking applications in England and Wales.
The Energy Secretary, Amber Rudd, was on UK media pontificating about how local councils are dragging their heels over applications. (Her statement also seems massively at odds with the Tories stated aim of devolving power to local people, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
I have no idea whether councils are, or aren’t, dragging their heels.
But surely the only questions that should be relevant are:
- Is fracking safe?
- Does it benefit local people?
The answer to question one is that we don’t know yet. So surely doing a bit more research into this is the best way to go?
It’s another simple demonstration of why I think that governments are, generally, morons.
This situation reminds me of when Phil Woolas (a member of the previous Labour government) said “it is now down to the opponents of genetically modified food to prove it is unsafe.”
What a chancer. That’s like saying we can see that smokers suffer higher instances of cancer, but it’s up to them to prove that smoking causes cancer.
Sadly, due to the level of duplicity practiced in the UK by politicians, I no longer believe what they say. I read the Phil Woolas quote as “we can make a bucket-load of money if we allow GM crops”.
And it’s the same with this stance by the current crop of idiots (no pun intended).
Fracking is in the middle of a huge argument between scientists, power companies, governments and rich people. Surely we should listen to what the scientists say? Otherwise it’s the same as looking at the engine of a broken down car and asking a greengrocer to fix it.
Here’s a great quote from a US politician (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d type!):
But just to the west, natural gas development is dramatically changing the landscape. Drilling rigs are running around the clock in western Pennsylvania. Though buoyed by the economic windfall, residents fear that regulators can’t keep up with the pace of development. “It’s going to be hard to freeze-frame and say, ‘Let’s slow down,’?” Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr., D-Pa., said last fall. “That makes it more difficult for folks like us, who say we want to create the jobs and opportunity in the new industry, but we don’t want to do it at the expense of water quality and quality of life.”
On a human note, do politicians not tire of making every decision based on money? Do they not wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning thinking: “I’m a horrible, soulless person?”
They bloody should.
Back to the UK Tory politician who has most recently advertised she’s sold her soul, Energy Secretary Amber Rudd. She’s quoted as saying: “delays in decisions on fracking don’t help anybody”. She’s got to be joking, surely?
How can so many people in the UK keep on voting for these self-centred heartless maniacs? Can she really not see that a delay might benefit all of us if it’s proven that fracking is environmentally unsound.
Some of the issues that are currently being debated are:
- the amount of water required to carry out the fracking process
- the loss of methane during transportation
- the ‘dirty’ power used (diesel engines and generators) to extract fracked gas
- water contamination (from leaks, not the actual process)
- does fracking fluid contain carcinogens (like benzene and methanol)?
I’m no expert in energy production, nor would I claim to have an extensive knowledge of fracking. But after spending a fair amount of time reading both sides of the argument it appears that there are still significant debates occurring. So would it not make sense to pause for a moment, assess the facts and then move on in a manner that is safe for this generation and future generations to come?
I’d love Amber Rudd MP to see this and to respond. It would be fantastic to hear her try to explain her stance. I’m guessing it wouldn’t just be “we love money”. Unfortunately that’s what seems to drive most politicians these days.
I’m pretty certain that this signals the launch of the open season on fracking in England and Wales. However, as I live in Scotland things are a little different up here. The Scottish government has ordered a moratorium on fracking. They’re investigating to see if the benefits outweigh the negatives. Their stated aims are to:
- undertake a full public consultation on unconventional oil and gas extraction
- commission a full public health impact assessment
- conduct further work to strengthen planning guidance
- look at further tightening of environmental regulation.
Which seems like common sense to me. It’s the fact that politicians seem evasive that makes people think they’re trying to hide something. And the fact that companies refuse to reveal what their ‘secret ingredients’ are that erodes trust between them and the general public. Communicating isn’t difficult. Tell the truth, simply. Not. That. Hard. (Unless you have another agenda.)
What’s astonishing about the situation in Scotland is that politicians are using their brains to do the right thing (and not just the thing that makes rich people richer).
I’m pretty apolitical, but I’m proud that we seem to have a group of politicians who are driven by the welfare of everyone in the country and not just the elite. I’m sure they’ll manage to do stupid things too, but it seems like they’ll genuinely care about what they say and deliver.
As for the Tories and their desperate attempts to allow their rich friends to become even richer, I’m pretty disappointed. Absolutely not surprised, but very disappointed. Surely the people who vote for the Tories read the news each day and think “they’ve just shafted me again?”
Seriously people, we hold the power. Protest and make sure we know the truth before we start allowing energy companies to drill all across the country. If it’s safe, then we’re all laughing. Loads of new energy sources – it’ll be happy days. But if we continue fracking and then find out it has horrific side effects then it’s too late.
As a side-note to Amber Rudd MP, do you want to be remembered as the person who let the genie out the bottle if fracking does have negative consequences? You have the power to order a moratorium. It’s what any sensible person would do.
Let’s make sure fracking is safe before we start celebrating rich folk getting richer.