The Jaded Jedi

Journal and General Musings

Day 31 in the Corona house: Tell me on a Sunday.

08/04/2020

Month one in solitary

Those of you who know me well will know my love of language, words and idioms. It’s something that has fascinated me since childhood.

I think the first time I became aware of the curiosity in the space was just after starting school when I was bemused by the idea that a stitch in time might save nine.

I remember having the mental image of somebody applying needle and thread to a clock taking things unusually literally for me. I also remember my sudden introduction to Mrs. Metaphor – that you could describe an idea far bigger than the words used to construct it. Of course, at the time I didn’t understand this had a name ‘metaphor’, but I do remember it being like the shutters being taken off a window and wondering how big the view got.

I can remember asking my teacher save nine what? I also remember struggling with the concept of saved stitches. What did these look like? How did they differ from normal stitches and where did you save them? As for an ill wind blowing no good – let’s not even start.

My favourite metaphor

I soon found I had a particular liking for time related examples. One being once in a blue moon. It could mean occassionally when there is sufficient dust in the local atmosphere to give a blue appearance to the moon. Astronomically, it refers to the second new moon in a month (a not particularly frequent event). In any event it joins the stitch in time and month of Sunday’s turn of phrase.

It’s particularly the month of Sunday’s that I’m focused on today. I do remember once working out that (assuming a 31 day month) a month of Sundays would take you from 1st January to 2nd August. I didn’t claim that as an interesting fact but it does show what my mind turns to in quarantine.

The last thirty one days has been something I had never imagined living through. It may very well be the month of Sunday’s we have heard so much of in the past. It’s certainly felt like those Sunday’s in the 1970’s where everything was shut between Morning worship and Songs of Praise.

Veg-tastic

One advantage in the Shire is the number of small farms, wholesalers and distributors that are based here. One such made their first delivery to us (but I doubt it will be the last). Two boxes of provisions including eggs, tinned tomatoes and a great selection of fruit and vegetables.

Vaughan took a look through the box and we can identify all of the items, though a couple of them chef V-Dub is uncertain about. One in particular – the Chinese radish, also known as the daikon or in the Shire, a moolie.
When asked what it was the temptation was too great. ‘It’s a moolie I replied … and keep your hands off others moolies.’ For those unfamiliar with 1950-70’s musichall and end of the peer humour, I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist. It also gives me the perfect excuse to share one of Kenneth Williams party pieces.

More seriously if anyone has any recipes or serving suggestion for daikon/white radish we’d love to hear from you.

Keep your ‘ands off others Moolies

In other news an update on the work front. As most of my regular readers know, my post was made redundant at the end of last month. (27th March to be precise). I can’t say I was sorry to go as the working environment had become pretty toxic and the business had badly lost its way. As if being made redundant in the teeth of the corona crisis were not enough they put the cherry on the icing by withholding the redundancy payment until one month after my last day working there. That’s apparently normal, nothing ti see here move right along the bus please.

We’d like to make an offer

While I think that’s about as convincing as Dick van Dyke’s cockney accent, it isn’t worth the emotional investment at this stage.

I hadn’t turned my mind to aggressively searching although I had put out a couple of feelers.

One of those feelers appears to be showing promise. I had a provisional job offer this morning and an outline agreement on salary (better), working arrangements (more flexible and friendlier) and potential start date. Can’t say any more than that at present or I would have to shoot you but it turns out I’m employable after all – whoda thunk it?
I’m not enumerating my poultry just yet, but it’s a bit of good news to pepper the glum and rather bleak news hitting us from all quarters. Fingers crossed here, let’s see what the next week or so brings.

Slightly curtailed tonight as we’re about to roll up our tent and return to Gumnut towers leaving the bungalow secured and looked after/occupied by the neighbours who welcomed the extra storage and garden space at this time. That is, of course, if all the veg fits in the boot.

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Today’s post takes it’s title from a number in the musical of the same name. For those who like to hear the tracks it may be heard on the control below.

Day 29 in the Corona house: And another hundred people just got off of the train..

06/04/2020

Day 29 in the corona house

Today’s musical track seems strangely appropriate for a number of reasons. It’s taken from the musical Company by Stephen Sondheim, a lyricist and musician who you’ll find towards the top of my personal list of favourites.

As a choice, it’s relevant as well as being strangely ironic. It relates to the constant churn of people in cities such as New York with it’s daily new arrivals and those who ‘go away’ as the lyrics mention. It’s unclear whether that’s merely a reference to leaving New York or something more fundamental, but it does emphasise the transient nature of a city as well as those who live within it.

In terms of the corona virus, the thought of a lively, bustling city with residents and workers jostling through it now seems strange. It’s like watching a film in which people were smoking in a restaurant – it’s something you know happened but it seems like a lifetime ago. How strange it now seems to see television programmes with liberal hand shaking, contact and interaction. I’m sure we will return to it, but those scenes seem almost mildly threatening when seen through the lens of the current emergency.

Vaughan suggested an alternative title – and another hundred people just got Covid in Spain but that needed too much explanation to avoid appearing crass which was certainly not his intention.

Analogy v. Metaphor

I admit to thinking twice about going with the choice myself. What was I suggesting the train is? A literal means of transport? Am I cheapening someone’s death by saying they just got off the train ? A potential minefield of how to offend anyone having lost someone or reading with a particular sensitivity to the words chosen. I could also hear a former English teacher, Mr Hector suggesting it may not be wise to confuse a reader with analogy or metaphor.

In the end, I’ve decided my readers (in as much as there are any) are bright enough to recognise either and open minded enough to go with the flow. It did start me thinking though – so the first train, the literal.

London overground, tube and bus travel are massively reduced

Despite the reports of thousands of Londoners flouting the regulations and undertaking all forms of extreme sunbathing, this isn’t the experience I’ve been living. Nor, in terms of transport is it supported by the statistics. The available figures are from the end of last week but show the overwhelming majority of people are correctly staying at home and avoiding unnecessary travel.

Transport for London are reporting tube use down by 90 to 95% based on the equivalent day/week the previous 2 or 3 years. In London that’s millions of journeys per day that haven’t been taken over the past two to three weeks. That significant reduction in terms of percentage reductions is also similar to figures from the RAC and AA both showing reductions of around 80% in routine vehicle traffic over the same period.

The Waggy finger of judgement.

Even with those good figures, I have heard professional level tutting and the wagging finger of judgement saying this is still not enough. I should say I fully support the stay in, don’t take unnecessary journeys message and enforcement where that is necessary, proportionate and not doing so would damage public trust or safety.

The current complaints are some people on the train or tube don’t look like key workers. Also, there has been a spike (a slight increase of around 5%) in vehicle traffic over the past week. Just before rushing to judgement could I make a couple of points to encourage a less sanctimoneous default position.

Not all people on the tube or train look like key workers: I haven’t been on the train, tube, bus (or in the car) for over 29 days, nor do I intend to. I’m also not supporting or apologising for those who think the rules don’t apply to them – we should all stay in, in line with the regulation.
However, those regulations permit me to travel for medical purposes, to travel to work (if that can’t be done remotely), to travel to provide care and assistance for someone who is vulnerable or to carry out certain legal obligations). Those doing so quite lawfully may well not look like a key worker – whatever they look like.

Dorothy “Dot” Brennan (formerly Cotton)

A former work colleague told me how she was on her way to deliver prescriptions (contactless) to relatives and felt most uncomfortable and as if she had to justify why she was on the overground.

I’m in favour of those kicking the behind out of things being dealt with. For others who don’t appear to look like they should to us, I would refer you to Ms Dorothy Cotton

Judge not lest ye be judged

Vehicle use has nudged up in the last week. As to the blip in vehicle use, it may indicate some breaches, though personally, I doubt that is happening on anything other than the edges. It may also be explained by the increasing amount of small businesses now offering delivery. The two week lag may well have given time for many to find ways to stay in business within the governmental restrictions. Let’s be driven by the data trend rather than any one or two days without knowing what may have caused or contributed to them.

In any event, if the train is taken literally we can say far far more than the hundred mentioned have got off it in recent weeks. But what of the metaphorical trains. I think and hope it might be a bit clumsy for me to refer to those dying of the virus as getting off the train. It might equally refer to those getting off the viral train by recovering from it’s effects.

For the purpose of this discussion, I have removed the US track from the chart as it is so dramatic in its exponential curve, that it squashes the European countries into the noise. However, if you look at the graphs tracking new cases, it does give some hope that the impacts of social distancing are starting to show in the data.

Italy has transitioned from exponential to linear in it’s increase and may even be starting to level out (in the sense that the daily increase is reducing its rate). It’s too early to be sure but the inclines for all European states mapped apart from Spain look as though improvements are starting to show up. For this reason, it looks unlikely that those social distancing and wider restrictions are likely to be relaxed any time in April. The current emergency regulations end on 16th April. That’s just after Easter, though my money would be on them being extended in at least their current form until the end of the month, probably until after the May day Bank Holiday weekend.
How we then scale back or transition into a state that is less restrictive is the big question, but thankfully not one for me today. Given the apparent slowdown in infections which in turn has slowed the intensive demand on the NHS to a less devastating level, I for one am happy to abide with the continued social distancing and sheilding however difficult and frustrating that is at times.
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The title for today’s post took comes from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company. For those who like to hear the associated track, it may be heard on the control below.

Day 13 in the Corona house: One day more.

22/03/2020

Day 14 in the Corona house

Day thirteen at Gumnut and we’re reaching the end of self-isolation following our return from Milan. However, I suspect that’s a moot point as both for reasons of medical history and the increasingly severe drive to stay at home, it’s not likely to be much different for me for a few weeks at least. Vaughan suffers a bit more than me from cabin fever but Southwark is a hotspot within the hotspot of London so we’re both likely to be home birds for a while yet.

I should start by asking where did those 14 days go? That should be followed quickly by a warning. There’s been a fair bit happening over the past 24 hours, so I’m perhaps a little heavier in the word count than usual. I’m still learning the bits to edit, reduce and precise without losing the interest, relevance or reason for including the content in the first place. Bear with me during that process while I tread the fine line between natural flow and rambling, hopefully staying on the right side.

Time flies – wise words indeed

I would have to say the past 24 hours has been defined by the certain knowledge of tempus fugiting.

A few things contributed to this. The first was the news that someone I knew in passing had become ill and died after contracting the Coronavirus. I don’t claim to have known Nick Matthews well, certainly not well enough to call him a friend, though our paths had crossed professionally a number of times. Nonetheless, it was a sobering moment when those you know (even slightly) fall victim to the virus. I was aware that he had recently suffered a heart attack and I suspect his BP may well have been on the high side, but knowing all that, it was still a shock. Let’s keep it just one person if we could please.

The second component was bizarrely the news of the death of Kenny Rogers. I wasn’t a particular fan, but like most people who can remember the late 70’s and early 80’s his voice formed part of the soundtrack. A school friend Les picked up on my saying Kenny Rogers reminded me of kinder times. Quite spookily, he was able to reference the same memory, a radio show hosted by the late Terry Wogan that boosted Kenny Rogers into the public consciousness, even apparently if you were just a teenager.

My mate and collie lover Carole

The third factor was one of those acts of random chance, a meeting (if you can meet whilst being ten feet apart) of pure serendipity. I was walking Taz this morning and noticed a lady trying to pack artwork into a large plastic crate on one of the park benches. We wouldn’t have spoken but Taz went and dropped his tennis ball into her container which may not have helped the situation. She introduced herself as Carole and spoke to Taz and even threw the ball for him. I gathered from distance that she had just been collecting fabric samples from the Camberwell college of Art before it closed.
Over the next three minutes, she told me she was about to retire after working for thirty years as a west end costume designer.

Her plastic box was topped with programmes from Phantom. Les Miserable, Wicked and Miss Saigon, all of which she had worked on. There was also a picture which seemed out of place. She must have seen me looking at the picture as she smiled and said ‘It seems like a lifetime ago.’

In that moment, I was reminded of a documentary in which Shirley Black (formerly Shirley Temple) asked ‘what’s left to do when you’ve reached your peak at age 10?’ Thankfully, in both Shirley and Carole’s case the answer is quite a lot, a life in the diplomatic service beckoned for Shirley Temple and an award winning costume designer lay ahead of Carole.
Many of you of a certain vintage will be familiar with Carole, in fact she holds the Guinness world record for the the longest appearance on TV. She’s clocked up over 70,000 hours putting any film star of the modern era into the shade. I’ll let you into the secret a little later but it made me think how some people remain ever young in our minds regardless of the passage of time.

I returned to Gumnut Towers anticipating that Vaughan would still be semi-comatose for another couple of hours. However, I was to be surprised. Vaughan who enjoys cooking and is a pretty good cook had decided to go global. He was up (well nearly) and planning his first pilot episode of Grub with V-Dub.

Lights, camera, dress…

I’ve still a lovie at heart and immediately thought production values, nice opening credits, check lighting in the kitchen and had something along the lines of Great Peckham Menu. Vaughan told me he was thinking of something more like fun with flags but with more peppers (or capsicums as he calls them).

Those of you who have trodden the boards in any capacity will understand my sense of impending doom when I realised Vaughan had started his project while I was upstairs trying to find the best camera to use. With the sounds of live streaming eminating from the kitchen I hurtle down the stairs thinking ‘What? Is he insane? No dress rehearsal!”

Today’s pilot episode featured a chicken curry which I must say was (as we say in the west country) gurt peachy lush. There were a few technical issues and a couple of prop malfunctions but despite me sitting on the stairs breathing into a paper bag and tutting about working with amateurs all went as well as it could – without a dress rehearsal. Vaughan had a great time and we have some vlog equipment on the way so there were lessons learned from the pilot – watch out for Chilli and Spaghetti Vaughnalaise following in due course.

Among all this self-isolated excitement, I have been chastised for not updating on a few outstanding matters. Let’s start with our cider stock. It’s been slightly depleted. I am able to report on Taunton Cider’s First Pressing medium cider (4%). As the name suggests it’s medium, quite fruity and drinks as Vaughan would say like apple juice. (Score 4 out of 5)

Secondly, on Torres cider farm’s Along came a cider (5.5%) which is a medium cloudy cider from a farm specialising in scrumpy. Need I say more?

Scoring split the judges. I gave it a 4, Vaughan gave it a 3.5 saying it had a cloudy taste which I have not decided on yet. – That said it disappeared pdq. The next cab off the rank will be Hecks Girdle-slackner. Watch this space.

Billy the bog-roll, like Elton is still standing.

I’m instructionised to inform Brent who may be a reader of this blog to prize open thy wallet and extract a tenner.

I make no comment on to how he has done this, but Billy the bog roll is still standing and I have not been aware of any particularly Scrooge-like behaviour in the dunny department. Vaughan is claiming a fair and square victory in the loo-roll challenge. I’m informed his winnings should preferably be sent by bank transfer to avoid contact with filthy money. Don’t shoot the messenger I only deal in the reportage.

A few people have very kindly said they have enjoyed the last couple of weeks blog reports and asked if I’m thinking of continuing them. They weren’t started with any grand scheme of world domination in the blogging world, more as a means of passing the time. However, to know a few people have enjoyed them is very rewarding. As I’m likely to be in purdah at either Gumnut or the Acreage for a while yet, I’ll keep them going for the routine it brings as well as no small amount of enjoyment. Thirteen days down, one to go.

BBC Test card F

Oh and as promised earlier, this was the image I saw screenprinted onto a t-shirt while walking Taz.

This is Carole as I remember her in her (and my) younger days. Tempus Fugit indeed.

Day 12 in the Corona House: There's got to be something better than this.

20/03/2020

Day 12 in the Corona house

In an attempt to fend off the criticism that this title isn’t a song from a musical I find myself calling on pantomime in saying “Oh yes it is”.

I have to say though that among my friends which has more than its share of theatrical lovies and musical theatre fans, only Bill Meehan in the States is likely to know which without falling back on Dr. Google. We’ve been fairly busy at Gumnut working out how to do new things remotely. I’m trying to manage recruitment processes when communication is impersonal and interviews though possibly remotely seem to be on hold at present. Things are still progressing albeit in fits, starts and with considerable uncertainty.

Those who know the speed of change active in the criminal justice system will recognise that Vaughan had a more significant work challenge today. In normal times, he would have been attending the High Court for an insolvency hearing. That would require a judge, interested parties, a quarrel of lawyers and enough paper to wrap the court to be present for the hearing. As of Wednesday, that was still the Court’s position.
They did move into the 20th century yesterday with the promise of an electronic hearing via Skype. However, neither the Court nor the parties concerned had done this before so it was a promise of a voyage into the unknown. What could possibly go wrong?

I returned from walking Taz to find Vaughan online at his desk infront of a neutral wall. The Skype meeting was underway. Vaughan was listening but had to be ready to activate video had, for example, the judge or counsel asked a question of him.

All I can say is although that didn’t happen, had it been necessary, I would suggest you thinks less of Legal Eagles and more of Will Ferrel in Anchorman. More than this I cannot say. However, the important point was that the hearing although not perfect took place electronically and ‘in person’ to the extent that Skype is in person. Further an order was made that service of papers usually necessary in person, could in the current climate be undertaken via email.
Having a professional interest in dragging the Courts into the 20th century, I was keen to hear how Vaughan felt the process went. His view (as an involved party rather than a casual observer) was that it might need polishing but it could be something that would be viable in the future.

Being alone isn’t nice shock

What surprised me this morning were comments within the wall to wall coverage from people in self-isolation.

All of them mentioned how 2-3 days of reduced contact had been increadibly isolating and how it has given them an insight into what is normal for so many people, especially the elderly in the UK. How they might feel if that reduced contact came with reduced mobility or independence, no Netflix/Amazon and lasted for years I’m not certain. However, I do hope some of them might reflect on the question. If anything positive could come out of this crisis it might be reducing the isolation and exclusion of the elderly or those without extended families. Hopefully some insight might influence future actions and priorities.

There are certainly some things that may come out of this situation that have the impact to make lasting social change. Some political theorists believe meaningful change doesn’t occur incrementally but is the result of revolution or crisis. If they are correct, this may be one of those times.

I’m suddenly able to work remotely and corporate finances can be found to enhance networks, upgrade servers or buy additional bandwidth. It’s disappointing (though not particularly surprising) that business can respond in these ways quickly and effectively to support an external crisis of this kind. These are, in many cases the same businesses that have been resisting such change on the basis of an improved work/life balance for their staff. Those who care to observe the difference in response may well question how genuine claims of social or corporate responsibility are and what their claims of valuing staff have been worth to date.

Other initiatives I would welcome lasting beyond the current crisis would include things such as the silver shopping hour, reducing the 24 hour shopping hours, moving the mindset further towards work being what you do not where you do it and digitisation of the criminal justice system.

If the insolvency hearing was good enough today in digital form and if service of documents was permitted by email why should this no longer be acceptable post Covid19. Of course some adjustments are likely to be necessary but it’s all too easy to think we’ll just slip back to the former status quo once this all ends.

The Che Guevara in me would urge us all to move some of these changes from being seen as an emergency solution towards it becoming part of the new normal. Some of the current crisis is pretty lousy, but in the mix are also some pretty positive changes if we elect to maintain and develop them – something to think about maybe.

In time honoured fashion, at least time honoured over the last 12 days, something to end that I hope prompts at least a smile. I couldn’t help but wonder how Sheldon Cooper might handle the current situation. Maybe this gives us a clue. (For those, if any, who don’t know Big Bang Theory – here is 1.30 to sample. Sheldon is in the blue, Leonard in the red. That’s all you need to know. Bazinga !

If you could imagine how Sheldon might be coping in the current climate.

A relatively short post from me today as like everyone else I find myself (even in quarantine) pulled in many directions at present which make demands both of time and available energy as well as time. I mentioned to Vaughan how it felt like sometime last month we were in Milan whereas, in reality, it …

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The seventh day, so just under one week in self-imposed isolation where isolation means social distancing. While you ponder on what that means (has he been out of the house or hasn’t he), I hope you will forgive a slightly less content-rich edition of the blog. It’s Sunday and I’m taking it as a bit …

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Are we all going the way of the knocker-uppers?

19/09/2015

As someone who has spent some time researching my family history, I remember the surprise when I found a distant relative of mine had been a dog-whipper in the mid 1700’s.

The Dog Whipper

The Dog Whipper

As an avid dog lover this was something of a horrific finding. In fact, after a little research although not wonderful, I found that this late in century there was no longer any whipping involved. In fact, this job was a type of church-warden who’s role was to chase off (or in extremis remove) dogs during church services.

Historically, it had not been uncommon for dogs to accompany their owners to church, often with interesting consequences. The preferred tools of the trade were actually a large pair of wooden tongs often padded with leather pads  or netting with which to remove the errant hounds. The dog whippers had disappeared shortly afterwards as it became socially unacceptable to take dogs into churches.

Searching through census returns of the last hundred years it started to become something of a side interest when I found a particularly interesting occupation.

lamplighter

                Lamplighter

The most likely reason for the disappearance of occupations before the industrial revolution was a change in social convention. However, after the industrial revolution the introduction of technology takes over and makes roles which were once considered indispensable redundant.

One of the more common roles was the lamplighter who wandered the streets of 19th century towns lighting and extinguishing the gas lamps of the time. It was seen as one of the more secure semi-skilled jobs of the time – after all what could replace gas lights. When automated town gas and early electric lighting emerged, this didn’t stop the occupation from disappearing in little over 10 years.

A Victorian Knocker-Upper

A Victorian Knocker-Upper

This then brings us to the deliciously named knocker-uppers who were key to the maintenance of an effective workforce until well into the Victorian era.

Shared houses held several families, clocks and watches cost the equivalent of several weeks wages and those late for work were simply replaced by willing replacements queuing for work at factory offices. Given that, for our Victorian forebears, having a reliable timepiece could provide one of the most lucrative if antisocial jobs of the time.

Charging each household a weekly fee of between a farthing and sixpence, the household could ensure that they would be woken (or knocked) up in time for them to start work. Some contemporary authors indicate that the knocker-upper was often paid second only to the landlord. Without turning up on time the likelihood of the workhouse or penury increased beyond measure. This role continued to be vital until the introduction of factory clocks and systems such as steam whistles indicating the start of the working day. However, the demise of this job is perhaps the most sudden with the role disappearing entirely within a period of three to five years.

Fleet Street Typesetters

Fleet Street Typesetters

Of course, those with skilled occupations have managed to fight off the rise of technology for longer. The dexterity, attention to detail speed and ability to work in reversed text had made the typesetter a skilled occupation from Tudor times until well into the 1980’s.

However, this has changed with the growth of computerised technology, mobile working and the introduction of laser and thermal printing.  These developments have seen the typesetter consigned to the list of historic occupations. It was perhaps the earliest example of technology moving into and replacing skilled workers.

Despite these advances, the rise of technology was typically limited to replacement technologies or the introduction of computer processing making many administrative roles redundant. Until recent years, it was more uncommon to see more complex functions replaced. That may soon change with a new range of robotics making new inroads into areas previously very much the domain of a human workforce.

In this Sept. 2, 2015, photo, a cow voluntarily gets milked by a robot at Lambert Farm in Graniteville, Vt. With trouble finding reliable labor and technology more readable available, some family dairy farms from the Northeast to the Midwest are turning to robots to milk cows to stay competitive. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

Now, robots are making significant inroads into the workplace, again following the same pattern with less skilled work. Farmhands, milkers, stockmen and cattle herders are being replaced across the United States and Europe.

Cattle no longer graze in fields with scheduled milking times but instead attend a robotic milking parlour when they want food. On arrival a robotic milking arm identifies the specific cow, scans the udder to ensure the optimum milking technique for the particular animal. It then applies a milking cup and orders food for the cow to be dispensed.

Meanwhile a second robot monitors the feed ensuring waste is reduced by sweeping feed back towards the cattle and dispensing food only to the bays where cattle are waiting. Whilst farmers report up to 30% increase in yield these advances have been far from universally popular. Concerns over the welfare of grazing animals being permanently ‘housed’ and significant reductions in workforce make this an innovation feared by many. The parlour can replace a team of 5-6 herdsmen with a single ipod or tablet control.

amazonWith increasing amounts of retail transactions completed online we have already seen retail jobs reducing as large warehouses servicing internet orders increasingly take their place.

Even here, human interaction is becoming entirely optional. The new Amazon warehousing systems have replaced significant numbers of fork lift drivers, warehouse workers, packers and dispatchers. Automated pallet, storage and picking robots ensure that goods are picked within seconds of an order having been placed. It even has hidden impacts such as the fact that fewer safety/health and safety officers are required as the warehouse spaces have effectively become human free zones reducing the opportunity for injury significantly.

robot2Now, using similar technology, the robots are starting to breach the semi-skilled and skilled environments. Hospitals are now reducing the number of pharmacists as medicine storage, replenishment, distribution and delivery are run via a fully robotic pharmacy.

Two new build  hospitals in the United Kingdom also have an underground level with robotic porters. Guided beds are integrated with the door and lift controls and the underground level allows access across the entire hospital site.

The question for most of us remains, how liable is my job or occupation to be overtaken by automation. Of course in the past this would have been something a consultant or business analyst may have helped you assess. Now, the groundwork has been done and published on the web. (Another role bites the dust).

In recent years the questions being asked were around what we would do with all the spare time automation would give us. Now, it seems to me that we are more likely to be asking what on earth will people still be employed to do? Other than those selling or servicing robotic workforces, there is also the question of how we will earn money to buy whatever is being mechanically produced, sold and distributed. It’s a shame robots don’t need knocker-uppers !

Defer your family to boost your career ?

15/10/2014

I know I’m about to tread on territory that many will say I have no right to comment on given that the subject matter is exclusively a choice faced by women. However, I’m taking a chance as I felt so strongly about the latest ‘option’ being introduced.

Benefits Package

Benefits Package

For many years women have been working to balance the demands of family life, parenting and career. So what some will say – so have men. However, men do this in a predominantly male oriented society and without the constraints of ‘the glass ceiling’ and a biological body clock ticking.

A huge number of women manage to do this brilliantly – however, I would be the first to say that business and society generally could do a lot more to make the process more achievable and introduce greater flexibility as well as a better work/life balance.

Having said that, I recognise that businesses continue to innovate and offer new and often imaginative ways to attract and retain staff of all genders. However, I find myself struggling with the most recent offer to female employees made by Facebook and Microsoft. Both organisations have announced that they will offer a financial subsidy to female members of staff who may wish to freeze their embryos – presumably to extend their working life and level the opportunities offered to male colleagues. The offer is around $20,000 US, (£12,500).  Other tech giants such as Apple have already announced their intention to follow suit in early 2015.

I include the financial sum purely to indicate how seriously the companies are taking this offer. For me the amount is not the issue – I find myself opposed to the idea on principle.

freggsFirstly, it’s important for me to draw a distinction between freezing due to medical circumstances (ie prior to radiotherapy) and elective freezing to extend working life. I have absolutely no issue with the former and recognise that this is entirely a personal view – but it’s my personal view and I believe I’m entitled to raise some questions about the practice.

I wonder what message this sends to employees (male or female). It would appear to be saying that work is the most important aspect of your life and the part which should determine other actions. This may be true for some but I doubt it is true for all. What pressure does this now bring to those women who are demanding enough to expect equality of opportunity without deferring a family? It doesn’t take much of a jump to imagine employers pointing out (in measured terms I’m sure) that if you want promotion you may wish to consider ..

I recently visited Microsoft offices in the UK and (like many others) found catering, gaming, relaxation and even some ‘crashing’ space. Whilst these were all legitimate staff benefits, a Microsoft manager also commented when it came to game developers we really want to remove their need to go home. Everything they need is here.

The unspoken and barely concealed drive to extend working hours in this way is clearly advantageous to the employer – but I wonder what it does for the employees work life balance?

In some ways, this latest offer is very similar. I acknowledge and support any woman’s right to choose if and when to conceive but is this decision fully informed in these ‘benefit’s package’ offers. A quick call to the corporate communication/press offices makes no mention of counselling, supporting medical advice or information about the consequences of deferring conception.

Are employees advised for example  that the chances of successfully conceiving reduce markedly for women between the  ages of 25 and 35. If not, then is this a truly informed choice? I can see what’s in it for the company. I would hope that if these offers become more common (and personally I hope they don’t) that independent medical advice/information is a compulsory part of the decision making process.

If employers wish to attract and retain staff I would suggest that available and cost-effective childcare might have been a better starting point.

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