I heard a story today; true, but definitely no names, locations etc, and no pack drill. There’s this person who’s employed by an English local authority to do a certain job. Okay. As we all know, councils are under pressure to show economies, staff cuts etc. Suddenly, out of the blue, this person finds out that the job is being ‘out-sourced’, to use the buzz phrase. The person continues in the same role, but now has a private sector employer . . . a firm set up by the son of a member of the council that took the ‘outsourcing’ decision. The difference for the employee is that where the salary payments from the local authority always hit the bank on the due date, now they are regularly delayed, with all the potentially disastrous consequences for people managing a tight family budget, with mortgage and utility payments that can’t be delayed and the threat of crippling overdraft costs.
My first thought when I heard this? What Would the News of the World have done in its heyday with a story like that?
I have sympathy with the people who are on strike in Britain today. There are one of two exceptions, though; for example the tosser with the scarf who was interviewed on BBC Scotland this morning, trotting out the old learned-by-rote claptrap. His name was John something and he was billed as ‘Student’. Student? Then what the pluperfect **** was he doing there? What bloody right had be to present himself as a spokesman for people who have actually done a day’s work in their lives, and who have real, personal concerns about their long-term futures, and what idiot in the BBC news production team decided to put him on air?
That’s an aside, though. Public sector pensions are an area of interest to me, not least because I have one. I spent the 1970s in an off-shoot of the civil service, and accrued pension rights, non-contributory incidentally, for all that time. When I came to collect, I had done some calculations on what I might be due, but when my award came through it was well below my estimate. I queried it and received a letter from some junior clerk that was full of mumbo-jumbo and way short of the actuarial calculation to which I should have been entitled. I was left with no further redress and a continuing feeling, which persists to this day that I’ve been cheated. So yes, those people who are out there marching are right to make their points about entitlement now, and I’m behind them on that.
But what are they gaining by taking a day off work? What are they gaining by stealing a day’s education from children, and by inconveniencing their parents? What are they gaining by pissing off someone like me, a supporter, because my wheelie bin hasn’t been emptied this morning? Or pissing off my step-daughter, another sympathiser, who’s flying into Stansted this evening facing the likelihood of massive delays at passport control, that will probably cost her the difference between a rail fare and a taxi fare back into London? What exactly is the sense in all of that?
The last industrial action on this scale gave Margaret Thatcher the excuse and the ammunition to emasculate the trade union movement. What will be the consequences of this one?
I’ve just read a story my morning newspaper of a proposal (the story didn’t make clear who was its author) that drivers should give up their licences at 70, or at the least that there should be compulsory re-testing on age grounds.
I’d find the former suggestion risible if it wasn’t downright offensive, but I can’t argue against the latter. In North Berwick yesterday morning I saw two young drivers, their cars within the safe braking distance, drive over the top of a mini roundabout, as they made a right turn. Reckless, but not untypical. Yes, there should be compulsory re-testing, just as there is for vehicles. After all, almost invariably it’s the driver who kills, not the car. But which drivers? On a US trip a few years ago, I was struck by the fact that the Monday morning news bulletins were headed by round-ups of weekend road fatalities, state-wide. Almost all the dead drivers were said tio have been twenty-one or under. I would love to see an analysis in the UK of the average age of drivers found to be culpable in serious and fatal road accidents; I’ll bet that it would be lower than 35.
So here’s my proposal. Drivers aged under twenty-one should be re-tested one year after gaining a full licence, and every three years thereafter, until they reach the age of twenty-five. Twenty-five to forty-five, we should be re-tested every five years, forty-five to seventy-five every ten, and every three years thereafter. Drivers over seventy-five should also require medical certification by a doctor other than their own GP.
You want to keep death off the roads? Start at the lover end of the age scale, and work up.
We’ve just had a family of eleven magpies playing in our garden. How high up the lucky scale is that?
I am a keen supporter of Kenneth Roy’s highly entertaining internet magazine, The Scottish Review. Now I’m happy to be a contributor, and I’m posting this in the hope of attracting more readers to an excellent and worthy Scottish publication.
A trawl through recent issues will explain the background, a classic example of two people conducting an intellectual debate in a phone box, in terms that would fit nicely into Private Eye‘s ‘Pseuds’ Corner’ any day of the week.
This week Primavera 4 will be delivered to my editor. Next week, I plan to start on Skinner 23. Game plan, finish it by end February then head for somewhere warm on holiday.
I’m intrigued by David Beckham’s current hair style. Is he trying to become Ricky Gervais?
Last Friday I had the pleasure of sharing a platform at the awkwardly named Reading Crime Writing Festival, with my good friend of 30 years, Michael Dobbs. Arriving a few hours before the event, I took a walk around the town centre, to check out the lie of the land, and also to check out the local bookshops, as is my wont. Yes, Waterstone’s was there, I was pleased to see, although that was to be expected still, in the heart of such a large community. Mind you, it wasn’t exactly awash with customers, and not far away I found the empty shell of what had been until recently British Book Shops, the big W’s regional rival. I visited the head office of that chain, and several of its stores, last year. I found a bustling, management-owned, go-ahead company with lots of good ideas, very similar to Ottakar’s, Borders UK and even Waterstone’s itself, in their formative years. Yet little more than twelve months later it has followed two of those three into liquidation.
So what’s the cause? The economic downturn? It can’t have helped, but I’ve heard of anecdotal evidence that when times are tough, people read more. Internet shopping? No doubt about it. In the face of the explosive expansion of Amazon, traditional book stores are under the sort of pressure they’ve never experienced and never anticipated. If they had, they’d have adapted, and set up their own web sales operations well in advance, rather than staring wanly after the bolted horse. Supermarkets? Mightily, and in a way they are more damaging to readers, writers and publishers than Amazon, for they focus almost entirely on hot titles and authors, screwing big stock discounts from their suppliers, with no interest at all in back list titles. E-books? Perhaps not yet as much as is suggested, but they will impact more and more for sure, given the way that Amazon is pushing its customers towards digital versions as fast as it can, and offering direct access to established and would-be authors with not a sign of quality control. As before, the retail trade has reacted to this rather than anticipating; Sony, the Barnes & Noble Nook in the US, and the Kobo, internationally, are out there, and Waterstone’s are promising their own product, but in the face of the massive marketing campaign that is being thrown behind the Amazon Kindle, most of these formats will be left floundering.
There is a case for suggesting that authors, and possibly publishers, should be all for e-books. They offer instant accessibility and they have minimal production costs, so they should be more profitable even at greatly discounted prices. They’re here and they’re unstoppable, but they are also a danger, if they’re pushed too far and too fast. The majority of people still read old-fashioned books, printed on paper, but with the traditional book retail market having been decimated, many of them are having to go further afield to buy, without any guarantee that when they get there, the titles they’re after will be in stock. If Waterstone’s goes, what will remain in Britain for buyers who want to choose from a broad range of printed books without having to go on line? WHS Smith, which despite its claim to be Britain’s biggest bookseller, is still more of a newsagent, stationer and sweet shop. A steadily diminishing number of independent book stores, subject to all the pressures I’ve listed, plus the added problem of the spread of well-intentioned but pernicious charity shops. Beyond that nothing.
The way things stand, you won’t find my entire back-list stocked in any High Street book shop in the UK. The same is true of any author whose titles run into double figures. I’m fortunate in that I have the asset of http://www.campbellreadbooks.com, where you will find all my titles, signed and post-free in the UK, postage subsidised elsewhere. However most of my colleagues, like it or loathe it, are having to rely on Amazon, which like most bottom-line businesses, has no soul and no conscience. I confess that I use the monster myself, a lot, for lifestyle reasons, and I accept that in principle it’s okay. However if it pursues a goal of total global market domination, it’s not, and the signs are that it’s doing just that. It has already faced one anti-trust suit in the US, and settled out of court before the case even got to proof stage. I wonder how many more will follow in America, and how long it will be before it falls foul of EU competition laws.
You’ve pretty much covered the lot, it seems. Funeral Note, the next Skinner will appear next June, but before then, in January, As Easy As Murder, the third Primavera, will hit the shops and websites.
Word is spreading of QJ’s folly. Somewhere Over the Rainbow, a light-hearted non-crime novel, set in days gone by and drawn from my time as a political spin-doctor, has been posting steady sales since I published it on Amazon’s Kindle platform. Today I can reveal that I am in talks which could lead to its publication in printed form. Watch this space.
Sepp Blatter promised change when he slithered back into the presidency of FIFA. He led us to believe that he would clear corruption out of football’s global body, that he would improve its administration and that he would reconnect it with the real world. He has just demonstrated the depth of his sincerity and his grasp on reality by banning British international football teams from wearing the poppy emblem on their shirts in the friendly games that will be played this Remembrance weekend. An arcane FIFA regulation has been produced to justify this, backed by the threat that referees will call off a match in which Blatter’s Ban is defied.
Is that so?
Am I alone in hoping that the Home Nations’ governing bodies summon up the courage to tell the twisted Swiss idiot and his lackeys what they can do with their prohibition? Does anyone seriously imagine that if England remove their tracksuits on Saturday to reveal poppies on their white shirts, in honour of our war dead, any referee in his right mind would refuse to blow his whistle for the kick-off? I’ll go further; if our football authorities bow down to this their cowardice will be insult the memory of those whose courage and sacrifice the poppy celebrates.
Just found this on the BBC website.
An interesting question no doubt, but it raises another. In the great scheme of human endeavour, does it actually matter at all?
I’ve met Craig Levein, the Scottish national football manager on a few occasions. I like him and I rate him very highly as a coach. People in his position are under pressure from the moment they’re appointed, unless they’re over-the-hill Italian martinets with contracts so bloody lucrative that their employers can’t afford to sack them. The rest can’t afford to take chances, and that probably explains why Craig’s original squad for a forthcoming Scotland friendly international included only three players drawn from within our domestic leagues. I’m not knocking him for that, it’s how it goes. However there was a day when we had things called League Internationals, where the participants were home-based. There was nothing in the rules even then that said foreign-born players couldn’t be selected, but they rarely were. How about bringing them back, guys, so that people who choose, or are compelled by circumstances, to stay and play in their homeland have a chance to pull on the blue shirt.
As I write, Motherwell are playing Celtic at Fir Park, and the official attendance has been announced as 10,440. That is around 25% short of the ground’s current capacity and around 200% short of the attendances that fixture generated when I was a kid. Yes, I know, we have all-seater grounds these days, but even allowing for that unnecessary imposition on supporters, it’s a sad reflection on the decline of what we kid ourselves into thinking is our national game.
By the way, it’s 1 — 1 with fifteen minutes left, but Celtic will score. There is one requirement alone if you want to be a true Motherwell fan. In other matters you can be the sunniest individual on the planet, but when it comes to football, you have to be a fatalist.
Scotland waits with bated breath this afternoon as the votes that will determine the new leader of the Scottish Conservative Party are counted. Can you feel the tension? No, I thought not. I suspect that very few of the 8,000 (are there that many left?) electors will have heard of all four of the candidates, and that the diehard tweed and twin-set rump of a party that once polled more that 50% of the popular vote in a Westminster election will not support any of them with enthusiasm. Although I no longer have a personal interest, I’d like to see Murdo Fraser win. The central plank of his platform is the dissolution of the party he strives to lead and its replacement with ‘something else’. The first part of that will be easily done; the truth is that rightly or wrongly, the Scottish public perception of Margaret Thatcher killed the Tory Party north of the border twenty years ago. The second part will be rather more difficult. Murdo seems not to have noticed that ‘something else’ already exists. It’s called the Scottish National Party.
As write this, the three Pakistan test cricketers found guilty of corruption are being sentenced. I’m following court proceedings courtesy of the BBC journalist James Pearce, and his Twitter account. While it’s remarkable in one sense that we can do this, I find it ridiculous that in the 21st century we should have to. If someone out there has a coherent argument against TV and radio being allowed to broadcast the sentencing phase, at the very least, in criminal proceedings of significant public interest, then please let me hear it. I’m trying to come up with one, and I can’t. It would be a damn sight cheaper than Strictly Come Dancing, etc, and the viewing audience might be just as high.
I must quit iTunes. Can’t stop playing ‘Ceremonials’ the new album by Florence and the Machine. What a voice the girl has. They’ll be on Jools tomorrow night; I plan to record and watch later, so I can focus on the good stuff.
I have an event next week, and I’m looking forward to it very much. Next Friday, November 11, 7:30pm, I’ll be at the Reading Festival of Crime Writing, sharing the platform with my old friend, Michael Dobbs, creator of House of Cards, the Winston Churchill novel series, and most recently the Harry Jones thrillers. Baron Dobbs of Wylye is one of our greatest raconteurs, and I may tell the odd story too. If you can, please join us.
Maybe I’m in a minority . . . time will tell . . . but I have mighty admiration today for George Papandreou. He’s had the courage to listen to the voice of his people, stand up to the hectoring and bullying of Sarkozy and Merkel, and say to them, bluntly, ‘Back off, you two. Greece is the cradle of democracy, so before we condemn ourselves to decades of penury in order to remain in your currency club, it’s only right that we have a vote on it.’ He says that he wants a ‘yes’ vote. I’m not sure I believe that, but otherwise he strikes me as a politician of integrity, a rare breed. Or am I wrong, Paul?