Category Archives: English Culture

Photocopiers – A Salesman’s Nemesis

This is a modified extract from a chapter of my forthcoming book – A Salesman’s Story (or Don’t Spend the Commission)

It was a rainy day in mid-April. The year was 1980, and I was approaching my 21st Birthday. Despite the overcast day, I was feeling happy, contended and confident. I was sitting in a queue of traffic, which, as was normal for the small West Sussex market town of East Grinstead, was at a standstill. Light drizzle was spattering the windscreen, distorting the outline of the cars ahead.

I idly flicked the wipers, and they stammered their way across the window in a reluctant arc, redistributing the greasy water around the glass. Out of boredom, I turned on the radio. Martha and the Muffins were extolling the virtues of Echo Beach. I tapped my fingers on the steering wheel, and checked out my image, which was faintly reflected in the window of Baldwin’s, the local Hardware store.

I congratulated myself on my obviously cool look. Despite the gloom and the rain, red framed mirror-finished sunglasses, and a snappy beige three-piece suit can’t fail to impress. You can’t be too under dressed working as an Office Equipment Field Sales Executive can you?

My first appointment was to see the Chief Purchasing Officer of the local Borough Council, who was interested in buying a small photocopier for the planning office.

I do not trust copiers, they are fickle and I am sure they are fitted at the time of manufacture with a malevolent force.

In the early 1980s, the choice for copiers at the low volume end of the market were limited. For very low users, 3M manufactured a small machine that used specially treated paper and a thermal imaging system, and copies were performed individually.

For medium users, there were compact copiers from a variety of manufacturers, but whilst they all operated on a photographic process, some required liquid toner to produce the image, rather than the dry black powder toner used today.

An early Liquid Toner Photocopier, circa 1979

Arriving at the Town Hall, I informed the receptionist that I was there to see Mr Maskell, the Town Clerk to demonstrate a copier.

A few minutes later Mr Maskell arrived, looking a little like a flustered Secretary Bird.  He showed me to a large open plan office, which had been freshly decorated, and still smelled of adhesives and paint.

The floor had been laid in black and white carpet tiles, and I felt as if I were a pawn in a forthcoming chess match.

Brand new black and white carpet tiles – what could possibly go wrong?

I realised that all was not well when Mr Maskell started getting an odd look in his eyes. He was desperate to interrupt, but I was in full flow, and he was a courteous man, so the first inkling that I had that there was a problem, was when toner fluid suddenly gushed from the machine, vomiting out in a greenish stream, soaking my hand, trouser leg, and flooding onto the carpet tiles below.

“Oh God!” he shrieked, “It’s a brand new carpet –tell me it won’t damage or stain the carpet!”

I decided to play it cool and unflappable.  “Of course it won’t Sir” I replied, hoping fervently that I was right. “It’s completely inert, and won’t hurt the carpet.”

He calmed down visibly, and remaining in position, I completed my demonstration.  Having seen the quality of the copies, he seemed impressed, so I moved in for the kill.

“Will you be purchasing or leasing the copier?” I asked. 

“Oh, outright purchase” he replied airily “We never rent anything at the Council”

“Come this way, and I’ll see that Doreen raises the requisition and the necessary paperwork” He strode off towards the stairwell, and I moved to follow him – and almost fell over.

With sickening realisation, and a sense of impending doom, I looked down, and realised with horror, that I appeared to have a black carpet tile stuck to my left shoe, and a white tile struck to my right.

I furtively tugged at it, but it seemed that the fluid was in fact a solvent, which had bonded the plastic sole of my shoe to the acrylic surface of the tile. Looking round anxiously, I slipped out of my shoes, and attempted to rip them free, but all I succeeded in doing was pulling both tiles from the floor.

At that moment, Mr Maskell reappeared, concerned that I wasn’t following him.

He immediately assessed the situation and was evidently not happy to see a red-faced suited bloke apparently wrenching his floor up. He escorted me to his office, where Doreen kindly cut round the shoes with scissors, leaving each one with a new sole, one white, one black.

With profuse apologies, I withdrew from the Town Hall, embarrassed and sweating, assuring Mr Maskell that the company would pay for the damage.

He did eventually forgive me, and ultimately I did get the order but lost most of the commission in repair bills.

My second brush with copiers came about two weeks later when Geoff Brown asked me to help him demonstrate a Mita Copystar DC-161 copier to a firm of solicitors in Horsham.

I was always keen to help my colleagues, as I learned a lot at these sessions.

“The Mita DC-161 is a beast” I looked at Geoff and wondered quite what he meant.

“It’s VERY heavy, and you need to keep a straight back to lift it. You must lift with your knees. It’s very definitely a two man lift, and it’s not very maneuverable, particularly up and down stairs, so we always take the lift”

I eyed the pink and white monster with a degree of trepidation. It was large, measuring about 4 feet long, by 2 feet tall, and about 3 feet deep. It had a state of the art control panel on the right hand side, and a large plastic cover over the copying bed. It also cost a whopping £3000, so would attract commission in the region of £600.00!

The mighty Mita DC-161 copier – a beast at 117kg (258 pounds) – a definite two man lift!

Geoff continued, explaining that in order to carry it, we would need to use his car, a Ford Cortina Mk III Estate, and use the Demtruck, which was a small trolley that could be swiftly dismantled to enable the copier to be slid in and out of the vehicle without breaking the backs of the staff.

So, having loaded the beast, we cruised over to Horsham, and parked up outside the solicitor’s office. It was an old building, so there would be no lift to assist us, and worse still it was a three-storey building.

We wheeled the trolley into reception, and were instructed to carry the machine up to the third floor.

Geoff motioned me to one end of the machine, and I pulled the carry handles from their concealed recesses within the copiers body, and keeping a straight back, and a rigid posture, we hobbled our way to the foot of the stairwell.

Geoff then manoeuvred me so that I would have to ascend the steep flight of stairs in reverse – and, to my chagrin, I realised that he had also slyly ensured that I had the heavy end of the machine containing the bonding rollers.

I began to dot and carry myself up the stairs, puffing with the exertion. Each step was an act of faith, in that my foot would land squarely onto the stair tread. I couldn’t see down, as the copier impeded my view; I couldn’t look behind me, as I was rigid, and my arms were locked straight down

“Am I at the top yet Geoff?” I grunted.

“Couple more mate” He panted

I shuffled a further two agonising steps, and asked again “Am I there yet Geoff?”

“Yep!” came his wheezing response.

Instead of then lifting my foot, I moved it straight back, and immediately discovered that Geoff had lied to me…

There was another step.

At this moment the twin laws of gravity and impetus conspired against me, and I gracefully and inevitably toppled backwards, still holding the copier, which now slowly settled upon my chest.

I was now trapped, lying flat on my back, pinned to the flight of stairs by what felt like half a ton of copier.

“Gerrritoffme!” I shouted to Geoff. 

 “I can’t mate, he replied, I can’t let go of this end, or the whole sodding lot lands on you or carts us both off down the stairs.!”

The situation got worse, as I suddenly saw the funny side of my predicament, and I started laughing which was a bad move as the copier now lovingly wriggled and pressed harder into my chest.

“HELP!” bellowed Geoff, “Help”

After a couple of minutes, the partners appeared at the top of the stairs. My heart sank, as all of them, appeared to be somewhere between eighty and death – how could they help?

With much huffing and puffing, and the help from an amply bosomed matronly secretary, we got the copier into the office where Geoff proceeded to demonstrate its capabilities. 

An hour later, and we were happily wandering back to the car.

“So what finally persuaded them to take it?” I asked. Shooting me a big grin, he replied “I told them that if they didn’t order it, then they would have to help me carry it back down the stairs to the car!”

A few days later, I received a call from Neville Fuller, who asked me to supply him with a copier. Having discussed the various models and price options with him, we decided that a re-conditioned Sharp machine would do the trick, and I made an appointment to see him that Tuesday.

Now, I should explain here, that Neville Fuller was a courtly “Old School” gentleman, a retired accountant who now ran a small consultancy from his home. His wife was a very elegant, house-proud woman, somewhat reminiscent of Miss Marple – even down to her fondness for wearing tweed two-piece outfits and pearls.  They lived in a beautiful custom-built bungalow at the end of a very quiet cul-de-sac on the outskirts of East Grinstead.

Before going further, I should tell a little about my company car. I was given a 1978 blue Vauxhall Chevette estate car. It was, to put it bluntly, an amazingly, stupendously awful car. It was a true bitch to start, especially in the wet, handled like a trifle, and leaked water. Its only redeeming feature was a radio-cassette player, and even that was highly temperamental. Unreliable, despite the best efforts of Whites in Redhill, it broke down regularly, and was referred to as the Vauxhall Shove-it.

The latest fault to afflict this self-propelled scrap heap was that the parking brake could not be fully applied, despite the handbrake lever being applied so much that the handle pointed vertically at the roof. I was therefore quite cautious as to where I parked.

The truly appalling Vauxhall Chevette – Spent more time in the workshop than on the road.

On the day of the appointment, I swung the car into the cul de sac, and executed a precision three-point turn, smoothly reversing down the drive.  I stabbed the radio switch, rendering Sad Cafe silent.

I threw open the door, and grabbed my jacket from the hanger behind the driver’s seat.  Patting my hair down, I strode to the front door, and pressed the doorbell.

Neville Fuller opened the door, and I proffered my business card, and introduced myself, whilst stifling a degree of incredulity. 

For a second I was totally nonplussed – he was wearing what I can only describe as a Victorian Gentleman’s smoking gown, complete with a cravat in a lurid paisley design. Regaining my composure, I put my briefcase down, and stood patiently in the small porch.

Neville took my card, and peered at it, “Ahhh, the copier man. You’d better come in” he said, standing aside and indicating the chintzy hall beyond.

At that moment a loud, dull, echoing, thud interrupted the birdsong.

As if in slow motion, we both turned to see what had caused the noise, and I was astounded to see that my car had decided to make its way down the remaining 6 feet of the drive, and had now come to rest with its rear bumper lovingly contained in the warped embrace of the once pristine up and over door.

“Ohmigod I’m sorry Mr. Fuller” I blurted, I will move it….”  

I jumped into the car, started it up, and gently eased forwards, amidst the sound of rending plastic and distorting mild steel.

Resetting the hand brake, I took the precaution of engaging first gear, to prevent my car further raping my customer’s garage.

Neville was busy inspecting his door, so I joined him to review the damage.

“Is it bad?” I enquired.

“No – don’t worry, its popped back into shape, and the paint is just a bit scuffed, but it needed re-painting anyway”

This was very generous of him, as the glossy almost mirror finish clearly indicated that the door was virtually brand new.

“Would you like a coffee?” he asked as we walked into his smart bungalow.

“If that’s not too much trouble, that would be good. White with two please”

“I say Daphne, bring a coffee, white with two” he bellowed into the inner sanctum of his home.

He ushered me into his office, which was quite compact, and quite dwarfed by a huge desk, literally strewn with papers

“Where would you like me to demonstrate the copier?” I asked.

“Oh, just on the desk there will be fine” he said, swiftly gathering up stacks of paper, thus clearing a space on the desk.

Luckily the model of copier that I was about to demonstrate was a refurbished Sharp machine, one that used a black carbon powder to create the copies. It also had a bed that moved left and right upon which the original document was placed.

Being a fairly current model, it was light enough to be carried by a single person, and it had a reasonably low profile, but as a result, it was also quite wide – certainly not wide enough to be carried in a flat level upright manner through a standard UK internal doorway.

I discovered this as I was attempting to carry the machine into the office. 

Approaching the doorway, I found that the copier was too wide by about 6 inches, taking my arms into account. I smoothly turned my body through ninety degrees, and tilted the copier towards my chest, thus giving ample room for me to shuffle in sideways through the door.

And that is where the plan came unstuck.  Tilting the copier so far from its normal horizontal caused the black carbon toner to spill from the machine.

I heard a loud dull thud as about a kilo of toner hit the pristine white carpet at my feet, and I was temporarily enveloped in a cloud of cloying black dust. Mr. Fuller made a small squeaking sound, and through the stygian haze, I could see that his eyes were bulging, and he had a stricken look on his face.

I was frozen to the spot, not wanting to move, for fear of further contaminating the snowy white floor.

“Darling!” he croaked, “Would you please fetch the vacuum cleaner – quickly please”

I was impressed with his sang-froid. I had just obliterated about two square metres of luxury Persian carpet with fine black dust – carpet-bombing in its purest form. 

I gingerly placed the sooty copier on the desk, and looked at the devastation.

Mrs. Fuller arrived with the vacuum cleaner, and took in the scene with one glance. “Ohh! She exclaimed – I’ll go and get the Shake and Vac!”

“No!” I yelped. You mustn’t rub it or it will bond to the fibres of the carpet”

I plugged the vacuum in, and gingerly sucked up the vast majority of the toner,  leaving only a small patch of carpet with dark black staining, – the original point of impact.

Completing my task, I looked up to see Mr. Fuller looking at me in a bemused way over the top of his half-moon glasses.

“Err…. I don’t suppose you will still want to see the copier after this” I said, gesturing to the mess on the floor.

“Well – you’re here now” he said, “So you might as well show it to me”

Generous gesture, that.

So, I plugged in the machine, and eventually had it producing crystal clear copies of ledgers, letters and forms.

I plucked up the courage to ask if I could “fill in the paperwork”, and to my amazement, he happily filled in the Rental Agreement, thus committing himself to a three year contract, and earning me just over eighty pounds in commission.

I left a darn sight happier than his insurance company would be, having to shell out for a repair to a garage door, and the cleaning of most of the downstairs fitted carpets – all of which had been contaminated to a lesser extent, despite our care in not walking in the insidious powder.

And this is how I know that copiers are most definitely the work of the devil…

Go Well…

Timeslip – and the Absurdity of Twinning…

I recently visited my elderly Mother in the sleepy West Sussex town that I grew up in. She still lives in the same house, which, despite being redocorated several times, still seems familiar to me in a way that is almost impossible to describe.

I am a frequent visitor, but I still get catapulted back to my youth when I arrive.

I carried my lightly-packed wheelie bag up the stairs to “my” bedroom.

I can remember when we moved to the house back in 1971, my parents offering me the choice of bedrooms, as I was the eldest child, at the ripe old age of 10…(Seniority rules!). I did a quick recce of the rooms, and promptly chose the room with a northerly aspect.

Mum was surprised about this, as the room was quite a bit smaller thatn the room facing south. She pointed out that I may prefer the larger room as I would need to do homework there.

I stuck to my guns – I wanted the northerly view, as this gave me a fantastic view of the aircraft descending on the glideslope into Gatwick airport, some eight miles to the west.

I smiled as I dumped my bag on the old wooden chair in the corner. I stood by the window, adopting almost the same position as my former boyhood self did fifty years ago.

A flash over the spire of St. Mary’s Church caught my attention. Even with my age-inhibited eyesight, I could still make out the colour and shape; a Norweigian Boeing 787, respendent in it’s red and white livery.

Norweigian 787
Norweigian 787 on Approach to Land

Back then I used to spend hours in my bedroom, armed with pair of Prinzflex 10 x 50 binoculars – a 10th birthday present from my Grandma. I am pleased to say, that despite several housemoves and a number of foreign holidays I still have these in my posession, and they still function perfectly.

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I was also the proud owner of a Vantone Airband Radio, My dear old Dad got it for me up Tottenham Court Road. I was thrilled to get this. It had Police, Public Service Broadcasts, Air Band, Sea Band and VHF so after a lot of trial and error I was able to tune the Gatwick Approach frequency and the Tower, and monitor the aircraft arrivals. God, I wish I still had that old set now. The hours I used to sit there, transfixed, listening to the exchanges between crew and air traffic control.

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No 787s then. My regulars were Air France Caravelles, British Island AIrways 748s, Tradewinds CL-44s, and the Braniff 747 – The Big Orange.

E21E78E0-D47C-4B13-B7F8-48F9CBE4F51C Tradewinds Canadair CL-44 at Gatwick Airport

All the registrations that I saw and heard were dutifully recorded in a battered notebook, together with scrawled notes of times and dates.

I have to face it. At that time in my life I was a certifiable addict. I needed my aeroplane fix every day,

Going to school was just an inconvenient interruption to my passion, and I spent many lessons just gazing into the sky. Sorry Mister Clifford. It’s not that you didn’t make Physics interesting, its just that my mind was always elsewhere.

Mr Woolcock, you tried so hard to fire my imagination up with chemistry, but moles and millimoles weren’t my thing. 707s and 747s were my thing.

I was so fired up with this disease called aviation that I even cycled the 9 miles each way to London Gatwick Airport every day of my school holidays to watch aircraft.

It was all so innocent by todays standards. I would park my bike by the simple chainlink fence, and climb up the steel emergency steps on the side of the gate building. Once up on the roof, I could walk all the way down the building and set up shop at the end of the pier.

From my vantage point I could actually look down at the BIA Herald aircraft sitting on the ramp below – not something that could be done now.

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So – visiting my dear old Mum caused a bit of a time slip – and I momentarily dropped through the temporal rift back to 1971.

Getting back on track then…

Knowing that my Mum is a regular church-goer, I took her to the Sunday morning service today. The church has been thoroughly modernised, but the congregation and the format of the service has not.

I recognised a good few of them. Many were the then young parents of my contemporaries back in the day. Now old, stooped and struggling, but still happy to belt out the hymns, most of which were unfamiliar to me. I nodded to some, and exchanged a few words with others.

It was when I visited the loo to wash my hands that I discovered what is probably the most unusual cultural exchange.

Let me explain…

After World War Two ended, the  Council of European Municipalities (as it was then) promoted the twinning of communities from different member states as a way of bonding the fissures created by the war – a war which effectively ripped mainland Europe apart.

From the Town Twinning website, I found this descriptive quote on “Twinning”

“A twinning is the coming together of two communities seeking, in this way, to take action with a European perspective and with the aim of facing their problems and developing between themselves closer and closer ties of friendship”.

The medium sized community of East Grinstead in West Sussex covers just under ten square miles and has a population of just under 26,500.  The town has been here since the 1300s, and lies on the Greenwich Meridian – so stand in the right place, and you can have a foot in either hemisphere.

It is twinned with Bourg-de-Péage in France, and has other twins in Germany, Austria, Italy and Spain. This is heralded on the signs at the boundaries of the town.

This is all a very lofty ideal, and I have been to various events in the past including a French Market, and a German Beer Festival hosted by the town twinning association.

What I saw in the Church toilet though made me laugh out loud.

There, on the wall hung a framed photograph of a very basic toilet facility somewhere in Tanzania. Apparently, this toilet was twinned with the clean facility here in the Trinity Methodist Church.

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Toilet Twinning – The Way to Go?

Stifling my laughter, I decided to check the other lavatory in the foyer, and sure enough, that one had been twinned with a latrine in South Sudan.

I decided that I needed to check this out, and I visited the Toilet Twinning website, and it turns out that this, whilst initially amusing, has a serious aspect to it.

According to the World Health Organisation and UNICEF, about 2 billion people on this planet have no access to a safe and hygeinic lavatory.

Furthermore, almost 1,000 children die every day from preventable diseases that are linked to dirty water and unsafe lavatories.

From the website, it seems that anyone can twin their toilet with a latrine somewhere in the developing world, and the money raised goes to the International Relief and Development Agency’s “Tearfund”.

The money is used to provide clean water, hygeine education and basic sanitation.

I know which Twinning Association I prefer…

Have a good day…

Mobile Communications – the Big Question

If, like me, you have embraced new technology, you will, in all probability have a smart phone. It is likely that you will also own either a tablet computer, or a laptop. Some of you may also have a smart watch as well.

The smartphone has invaded all our lives, and research suggests that there are more than 79 million active mobile phone subscriptions. A recent report by xxx shows that Smartphones have penetrated 71% of the UK market – about 57 million units, all of which are sophisticated handsets capable of streaming video, internet surfing, emailing, and even making telephone calls and humble texting.

Business has been quick to see the potential in such technology, with banks and financial institutions offering account access via self-contained mobile applications – “Apps” in common parlance.

With a smartphone and the correct apps, it is possible to buy railway tickets, check bus times, take photos or video film, and plan a route to walk, cycle or ride.

Smartphones are also able to monitor health, run a diary, shop online and remotely control domestic systems such as heating, lighting and manage solar power generation systems.

Not bad for a device that’s smaller than a reporter’s notebook![1]

Mobile communications are not just limited to cellular telephones, but also incorporates laptops and tablets, and as any customer of a high street coffee shop will attest to, enables work to be conducted just about anywhere where there is an internet connection.

Work isn’t just limited to processing documents. I have been unlucky enough to be seated next to a very loud woman who was conducting a Skype meeting with her team from the normal genteel environment of Costa Coffee in Haslemere. Not only is this rude and inconsiderate, but she was also revealing an awful lot about her company and its confidential details.

I digress…

For the price of a coffee, it is possible to hook into a reasonably stable Wi-Fi connection, and work for an hour or two, writing and responding to emails, conducting research, and creating reports and presentations.

No commuting either – so its got to be ecologically sound to either work from home, or from the local coffee shop.

So, you would think.

Its not quite as simple as that though, but to be fair, it never is.

Have you ever thought about the invisible carbon footprint generated by mobile communications?

Let’s forget, for a moment, the environmental costs of producing a smartphone in the first place. Concentrate purely on the actual communicating

 

In order for your simple SMS text message to be sent, the message must be digitised and transmitted over the cellular telephone network. Your phone sends this using microwave frequencies to the nearest cellular base station. These are easily recognisable as they normally have several antennae mounted upon a mast.

At the base of the mast, is a small building that contains all of the necessary electronics systems to enable the mobile elements of the network to interface with the Public Switched Telephone Network.

The message then has to be processed by one or more data centres, and forwarded back out into the network for onward transmission over the cellular network to its intended recipient.

All of this infrastructure consumes power, and has to be resilient enough to provide secure, continuous and reliable service 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

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Photo Credit E S Wales – Cellular Base Station

The same system supports mobile voice calls.

So – you want to read your emails in the coffee shop?  Surf the web?

Emails require multiple data servers, and more computer communications centres, all of which consume massive amounts of power.

Maybe as you glug back your vente white americano you want to order that item on Amazon, or eBay…

More data servers, more computer communications centres, but now with the addition of financial data processing centres, with yet more power-hungry servers.

Here are some sobering facts.

Data Centres and Communications networks together with other parts of the infrastructure were responsible for in the region of 215 mega tonnes of CO2e/yr back in 2007. By then end of 2020 this will have risen to about 764 mega tonnes of CO2e/yr, with data centres accounting for about 33% of the total contribution.

The entire carbon footprint of Canada in 2016 was about 730 MtCO2e/yr! 

According to research conducted by McMaster University,[2] the relative contribution to climate change from information and computer technologies (ICT) is predicted to grow from 3.5% (2007) to about 14% by 2040.

Quite shocking when compared with global transport’s contribution of 23%! (World Health Organisation figures)

Relative emissions generated as a result of smartphone use has risen from 4% in 2010 to an expected 11% by this year.

Absolute emissions (which include the production footprint; manufacturing energy, mining energy for extracting rare metals and gold and end user activities) from these much loved ‘phones will therefore jump from 17 mega tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year (Mt-CO2e/yr) to 125 Mt-CO2e/yr in the same period! That’s a massive 730% growth.

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Take out the production emissions, and we are looking at 12.5 mega tonnes of CO2 per year just to use our smartphones.

Our Mobile operators (In the UK, EE, O2, Vodafone, Three) have an unintended impact on emissions. Many of their mobile plans encourage their customers to upgrade to a new phone every couple of years.

I resisted this in the past, and kept my old iPhone 6 for almost five years before I decided to change phones. I would have kept it longer, but the 16GB memory was full, and the software was in danger of becoming unsupported by Apple.

Encouraging and incentivising customers to change phones when their previous model was more than adequate is a good model for enhancing a corporation’s profit, but the negative impact on our environment is unsupportable.

There is only a limited number of ways that we, as a society can stop this.

At a societal level, State intervention and Corporate Governance must ensure that all data centres are powered solely by renewable sources of energy.

As individuals, we must take a bit more responsibility.

It’s all very well for climate change protestors to exhort us all to ditch our cars, and to stop using plastics.

Equally important is not buying a new product unless the old one is either worn out, damaged beyond economic repair, or no longer supported by the manufacturer or network requirements.

Upgrading to a new phone every time one comes out is nothing but technological vanity.

Remember too, if you must upgrade, then recycle your old phone.

Shockingly, less than 1% of all smartphones are being recycled.

 

Despite this, for the time being, Life’s Good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] iPhone XR dimensions 150.9mm x 75.7mm x 8.3mm 174gm

[2] Assessing ICT global emissions footprint: Trends to 2040 & recommendations, L. Belkhir & Elmiligi

 

The BMW Myth… Busted?

It was a long day at work, delivering two flight training sessions. I was in no real hurry, as the weather was a bit miserable, with wet roads, and poor visibility. It was just as well, as the A3 southbound was moving at a sedate 40 mph up the hill through the fifty limit at Guildford.

I spotted the headlights first, weaving crazily in and out of the traffic, and then rapidly accelerating up the nearside lane as I was overtaking a slower van. The white car swerved out in front of me, cutting into my lane with scant inches to spare.

I was ready for this and was already braking, my sixth sense warning me of the potential accident heading my way.

As the car rocketed past me, I sighed as I glimpsed the badge on the boot lid.

Yes, just as I thought, it was another appallingly driven BMW.

I watched the car continue to weave in and out of the traffic, crossing lanes with no apparent understanding of risk. The frequent illumination of brake lights was not accompanied by any appearance of functioning indicators.

Par for the course?

I drove home without further incident, wondering if there was any statistical evidence to support the urban legend that all BMW drivers were aggressive and inconsiderate.

So, I sat down and started researching this to see what I could find.

It didn’t take long to discover that GoCompare, the insurance comparison website had conducted an analysis of their customer database, and had some interesting results.

Un-surprisingly, the urban legend was true!

It appears that more than 17.1% of BMW 4 series drivers have at least one conviction, which is about twice the average rate for all other BMW models!  A staggering 21% of 4 series drivers have also made an at-fault claim on their insurance.

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Further checking revealed that Audi A5 drivers are also up there in the top ten for convictions and at-fault claims, along with Mercedes C220 and E220 pilots, closely followed by Jaguar and Landrover owners.

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This all seems to tie in with my own un-scientific perceptions, honed as they are with a 450 mile  weekly commute.

Interestingly, Admiral Insurance has also analysed the data returned from their telematics systems – the Little Black Box fitted into the boot that monitors driving behaviour. It seems that drivers of Audis, Mercedes and Landrovers are again flagging up as the worst drivers in the UK.

But there is good news. Drivers of smaller, lower-powered cars such as Vauxhall Agilas, Hyundai i10s, and Nissan Micras are least likely to have been convicted of an offence, but they are also less likely to have made at-fault claims.

Maybe the lack of a big, tough metal box to sit in, a less commanding road position, and dare I say it, a low performance engine makes them less attractive to those with a more competitive and thrusting driving style?

These are facts released by insurance companies, and whilst they do seem to reinforce the image that motorists owning German-built cars are bad drivers, they don’t explain why drivers with poorer driving records seem to be attracted to such vehicles.

I guess I will have to dig for some more facts…

Until then – drive safely!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Your Body do the Talking?

The morning outside is gloomy and damp, and I am enjoying my morning cuppa.

I have just finished setting up my new bank account.

Having been with my previous bank for 36 years, I thought that it was time for a change, especially as my old bank had consistently ripped me off over decades. Some of my money has been returned with a successful PPI claim, and now I am £175.00 better off, having switched my personal current account (Thanks Martin Lewis’s Money Saving Expert!) and have kicked the holder of the sign of the black horse out of my life. Now I just have one more account to move…

Happy Days.

So, there I was, on the phone setting up my new account, when the automated system requested whether I would like to set up voice recognition to ease access to my account.

I accepted, as I know that my voiceprint is as unique to me as my fingerprints, or my facial biometric data.

It then struck me how much of my unique personal data is in the hands and care of a commercial organisation.

This got me thinking.

I have an E-Passport, which contains all of my facial biometric data. I access some of my personal electronic devices with my thumb print, or, in the case of my new phone, through facial recognition and a pin number.

65DC67F4-7261-4E63-B6C4-63214E910452

This in itself is a little spooky, but at least the choice is mine to make.

I accept that Her Majesty’s Government will assume a full duty of care if they release my data, but with commercial organisations, maybe based overseas that may be more difficult to assume.

Since the development of Facial Recognition in the mid 1969s, it has become much more prevalent, and is found all over the world, including Great Britain.

China is now using facial recognition to constantly monitor its citizens, and the collected and identifiable data is being used to prosecute individuals for even minor misdemeanours such as Jay walking[1]. This allows “behavioural scoring” and may be used to grade and rank citizens on their perceived support of the government.

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Luckily, or not, depending on your persuasion, facial recognition does have a weakness. It requires capturing a clear image of a face before the system’s algorithms can plot the data, and compare it with images held in its database.

This weakness is being exploited. In Japan, a university has designed a pair of anti-facial-recognition glasses[2], which, when worn, emit a sea of Infra-Red light over the wearer’s face. This disrupts image capture, and results in the camera only “seeing” a blurred image.

There is also a mask available which is designed with multi-faceted angles and patterns that disrupt the received image, again, leading to blurred images.

If you thought that the potential for a dystopian disaster ended with facial recognition technology, there is more over the horizon.

As artificial intelligence develops, we may see an integration of facial recognition with emotion recognition technology, laying wide open an interpretation of our deepest innermost workings.

Currently Emotional Recognition technology is in its infancy, and there is as yet little evidence that shows a reliable and consistent interpretation of the emotional state of an individual, but this will change as AI develops further.

So – if we cover our faces, or wear IR spectacles, we will be able to fool the cameras, and go about our daily business without the state, or, other more sinister organisations tracking our every move and emotion.

Sadly, the answer is no.

Please welcome Gait Recognition Technology!

Gait recognition is another unique human characteristic. The way we walk, hold our body, and our profile and posture are as individual as a fingerprint – and it doesn’t need to capture a facial image.

Anyone like to guess where this technology is being developed?

Whoever muttered “China”, take an extra 10 points.

Yes, a Chinese start-up called Watrix has already developed a system that can identify an individual from up to 50m (165 feet) away, regardless of whether they are facing the camera.

According to the company, the system can’t even be fooled by an individual adopting a limp, walking with splayed feet, or deliberately hunching or distorting their body as they walk.

This is made possible because the system analyses multiple features from all over an individual’s body.

Currently, due to system limitations, real-time gait analysis and confirmation of an individual’s identity is not possible.

Gait analysis requires video footage of the target, which allows the analytical software to process and store the individual’s way of walking.

Currently, video footage has to be uploaded into the system, and then analysed, a process that takes about 10 minutes to assess 60 minutes of video.

In due course, the processing requirements will improve to the point that real-time identification is possible.

According to Watrix, the system has a 94.1% accuracy rating, which is quite acceptable for commercial use.

No doubt this will also improve.

Meanwhile, governments in many societies are realising the dangers of uncontrolled use of personal data.

The EU has recently banned the use of facial recognition for three to five years to enable an assessment of the impacts of this technology and possible risk management measures that could be identified and developed[3]

In the USA, larger cities, and even states are banning the use of Facial Recognition.

San Francisco banned it in May 2019, and later in 2019, Oakland followed suit, as did Somerville in Massachusetts, with Portland Oregon likely to follow suit.

But despite the EU-wide moratorium on the use of this technology, (and the fact that we are still, until 31st January a member of the EU) the Metropolitan Police have gone ahead with a project to use Facial Recognition.

It appears that under the EU/UK’s data protection law, GDPR, it forbids facial recognition by private companies “in a surveillance context without member states actively legislating an exemption into the law using their powers to derogate.”

It’s interesting to see that the system being used by London’s Met Police is subcontracted out to NEC, which, as far as I am aware is not only a private company, but also a foreign one.

Obviously, there are pros and cons to having some form of surveillance, and some sacrifices have to be made to ensure the safety and security of the public, but is this a bridge to far?

Only you can decide…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.met.police.uk/live-facial-recognition-trial/

https://sciencebusiness.net/news/eu-makes-move-ban-use-facial-recognition-systems

 

[1] The Atlantic – Editorial Article

[2] The Daily Mail – Anti Facial Recognition Glasses Article

[3] Science Business – EU to ban Facial Recognition

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

Recently, a good friend, and one of my regular readers, made the observation that many of my articles are conceived whilst I am loafing about in coffee shops – commenting “Do I ever do any work?”

Whilst said as a jokey comment between friends, it was indeed a good observation, and was unerringly accurate.  Thanks NH.

I decided that this would have to stop.

So, early one morning, I was sitting on my lavatory, ruminating about what to write next. Not such a strange place to really. I’m sure that the peaceful tranquility of the latrine is a place where, no doubt, many people take some quiet thinking time.

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My subject matter today, therefore, is related to bowel health.

“Deep Joy”  I hear you say…

Bowel health affects all of us, and is fundamental to staying in overall good health.

Everyone is taught from an early age of the importance of staying regular, and of eating the correct types of food in the correct proportions to keep us running smoothly.

Despite this, I was amazed to discover that constipation cost the English National Health Service £162 million in the fiscal year 2017/18!

Delving further, into what is a very touchy subject, I learnt that the statistics show nearly 15% of all adults suffer from constipation, and a third of all children are bunged up as well.

It seems that there is a social taboo about discussing such issues, and many people feel too embarrassed to even talk about it.

According to a YouGov[1] survey of almost 2,500 adults in 2016, 35% of those experiencing constipation would rather do nothing, and wait and see if their condition improved before consulting with their GP. An alarming 50% thought it was not worth bothering with seeing their doctor.

Ignoring longer term constipation potentially leads to more serious situations, hence the large number of hospital admissions – 71,430 in 2017/18. Of that number, almost 53,000 were unplanned emergency admissions.

Constipation has more than a financial cost. Constipated patients spent a total of 163,128 days in hospital beds. That’s about 447 years of lost productivity, and extra strain on an under-resourced health service.

Those that do visit their GPs are sometimes prescribed laxatives to resolve their problem, and prescriptions cost in the region of £91 million.

UK GPs see on average about 6 people a week who have screwed their courage up and discussed their constipation. This is about 218,000 consultations per week[2], and this costs the NHS a further £487 million per year[3]

So, what can we do about it?

The basics are now widely understood, if not acted upon. Healthy varied diet, with an intake of fibre, vegetables and fruit. A good level of hydration, and some regular exercise. All of these factors will reduce the risks of becoming backed up internally.

We also need to adopt better habits when going to the loo.

According to Bladder and Bowel, we need sit correctly on the toilet, in order to place the hips and lower abdomen into the optimal position for clearing the bowels.

The correct position?  What??  There is a correct position for taking a poo????

Why was I never told this?

This is what Bladder and Bowel say about adopting correct posture.

Note: For my aviation, aerospace and airline professional followers, this is NOT the same as the BRACE position.

  • Lean forward when you are sitting on the toilet with your hands resting on your thighs
  • Make sure that your knees are bent and are higher than your hips (it may help to use a footstool if your toilet is high or you are not very tall)
  • Make sure your feet are resting on the ground – (or on a footstool)

ARE YOU SITTING COMFORTABLYFigure 1 – The correct Sitting Position

It may not always be possible to do this, as not many public toilets, or those at work have small footstools, and let’s be honest, platform shoes went out in the 1970s, so until they come back into fashion, you may only be able to sit correctly at home.

It is recommended to try and establish a regular routine so as to avoid having a sudden need to use the toilet. However, if a sudden need is felt this should not be put off, and wherever possible we should go. Ignoring the urge could impair the bodies defecation reflex, which may then make it harder to know when you do actually need to go.

Now, as I alluded to earlier, the average UK bog is the place where we are all assured of a certain level of peace and tranquility. Many men will retire to the smallest room with the daily paper, a good book, or nowadays, with a smart phone or iPad.

As far as I know, this habit is mainly restricted to men…

Now the bad news. It’s really not a good idea to sit for prolonged periods of time in the “position” as this partially opens the bowel, which weakens it and this may lead to complications in advancing age – such as incontinence.

So, dump the books and papers fellers…

Lastly – we are a nation of ever-expanding people. I know that I am an incipient chocaholic, and love food of all types. I struggle with balancing my love for sweet desserts with my need to shed weight, and prior to Christmas I managed to slim down to 86Kg.

Post-Christmas, I have put 4 of those kilos back on.

To enhance not only overall fitness, but to prevent constipation, more exercise is needed more regularly. Exercise and hydration really will help to keep the body in better shape – as well as sitting correctly on the throne.

Bet you wish I’d gone to Costa’s now…

Mark

[1] YouGov Online Survey conducted 1/2/16 sample sized 2352, weighted to represent all UK Adults 18yrs +

[2] The Lancet – Cost of Constipation Report

[3] Appointment costs and times

THE CHINESE CONNECTION

As a sixty-year-old, I am very privileged to live in an age where I have been able to maintain contact with old schoolfriends, college buddies and university alumni, in a way that my parents could never do.

I was chatting with my Mum the other day, who was wistfully talking about growing up in the 1930s, the disruptive and irretrievable loss of her youth to the war and the education that she subsequently lost.

She sadly referred to good friends – friends that she had when she left school at just fourteen, to go to work. Friends that she lost contact with over the years, and has never been able to find.

I recall sitting down with the old dear with my Facebook account (When I still had one!) searching, as she went through a litany of names. As would be expected I was unable to find any of her peers. Many were girlfriends, so probably would have married and changed names.

My Mum is reasonably fit and healthy, and is approaching ninety. She is highly unusual as she has a laptop computer, and happily uses email to stay in touch with her grandchildren. She shops on line, and is pretty savvy for a lady of her years.

I couldn’t say the same for many of her contemporaries, so even if they were still alive and kicking, there is no assumption that they would have an on-line presence.

I connected with one of my old friends some years back.

Some of you may remember Friends Reunited, which closed down in 2016 after sixteen years of operation.

Screenshot 2020-01-19 at 10.20.04I was sitting in my back room in about 2003, typing the names of old friends into the search bar, when I finally got a hit. I immediately emailed the lad whom I had last seen in about 1986 when we all went to see Queen supported by the mighty Status Quo at Wembley.

After about six weeks without hearing anything, I accepted, a little down-heartedly, that times move on, and maybe he no longer wanted to catch up with a life that was seventeen years previously.

I was somewhat surprised when some eight months later I received an email out of the blue from my old mate. Yes, he was keen to meet up, and was still in contact with the rest of the blokes.

It seems it was me that fell through the cracks, moved away and followed a different path.

Happily, we all met up at a pub in East Grinstead, and we picked up conversations as if it were yesterday, rather than almost two decades.

Subsequently, we have remained firm friends, and meet regularly every couple of months. We chat on WhatsApp or Messenger, or just plain text messaging.

So it was last Friday. We all met up in East Grinstead – initially in a little independent brew-house called the Engine Room,

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THE ENGINE ROOM, EAST GRINSTEAD

from where we all trooped down through the town centre to the Wing Wah Chinese restaurant.

Every member of our group of 8 has a fond memory of this particular restaurant. For me, it was the place that I took my very first girlfriend to on a date, way back in 1977.

The crazy thing is, that the waiter at the time, a young Chinese chap called Alan is now the owner of the restaurant.

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So – how the wheel turns!

Forty-three years later and I am being served in the same restaurant, in the same building, by the same man and sitting with the same bunch of blokes, discussing motorcycles, politics, and music and putting the world to rights.

 

 

Life’s Good!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elderly Drivers – Good or Bad – I Hope To End Up As One! (Or – Are They Safe?)

I parked the car, nonchalantly locking it with the keyfob, as I do every evening when I return from work.

It was a blustery, rainy late afternoon, and my journey home a relative nightmare. All of the major routes west of Heathrow Airport were in chaos. It seems that the average Brit is breathtakingly incompetent in wet conditions, despite bemoaning that its always raining here.

Either driving lunatically fast, or crawling along far too slowly, the result is multiple accidents, and long holdups. The delays were only made marginally tolerable by listening to the radio.

I decided that the solution to my grumpy mood was to pull my bicycle out of the. garage, and cycle the mile and a half to my alternate refuge, the Passfield Club.

It was only five past five when I arrived, and the place was almost deserted.

I ordered a pint of Fossil Fuel, and went at sat at a table at the far end of the room.

I was thinking about driving. Despite my journey, I knew that I was fortunate to be in a position to drive.

I have held a full licence since February 1977, almost 43 years. The car and motorcycle have become an intrinsic part of my life, and as a relatively fit man, I rarely think of the time when I too will have to hang up my car keys for the final time.

Before that time, I may have to downgrade my vehicle from the small SUV that I drive to a smaller vehicle. Maybe electric?  Who knows.

I recall hearing somewhere that many older people bought an automatic car after maybe decades of driving a manual gearbox car, and subsequently had an accident as a result of confusion over the foot pedals and their location.

 

Also, that older drivers were as dangerous as the young due to their worsening driving abilities.

I wondered if this really was an issue, so I decided to do some research, and here is what I discovered.

According to AXA Insurance’s Technical Director David Williams[1] drivers may face rises in insurance premiums as a result higher compensation claims being awarded following vehicle collisions and accidents.

The two age groups that will be affected most by this will be younger drivers in the 17-24 age group, and those over 75.

That surprised me a little.

Further digging revealed that there are an estimated 2.7 million drivers under the age of 25. Of that figure, 1.3 million are under 22. Combined, these groups make up about 7% of all UK drivers.

Drivers aged 17 -19 represent 1.5% of the driver population, yet they are involved in 9% of all fatal accidents in which they are the driver! Altogether, the under 25 age group are responsible for 85% of all serious injury accidents.

So where does this leave the older driver.

Bizarrely, a quick check of the stats[2] instantly confirms that drivers in the 17-24 category have a very high accident rate comparatively speaking, with 1,912 collisions per billion vehicle miles (CPBVM) travelled. The accident rate then progressively reduces as age increases, reaching its lowest point between the ages of 66 – 70 dropping to just 367 accidents CPBVM.

So, I am, in theory, becoming statistically less likely to have an accident, due to my relentless march into decrepitude.

The accident rate rises slightly thereafter, but peaks to its highest for the 81 – 85 age group – at a massive 2,168 CPBVM.

So, in overall terms, from age 60 to 70, not a bad record.

Some of the reduction may well be inked to the fact that older drivers travel less than other adults, with about half the average mileage covered.

 

Demographically, the older population is forecast to expand and the number of people aged over 65 in the EU is predicted to double between 2010 and 2050.

Now a quick look at the science.

Aging brings with it several inescapable changes, including sensory, psychomotor and cognitive reductions – failing eyesight and hearing, slowing reactions, and slower and impaired judgement.

The higher reported fatality rate for older drivers is due to increasing frailty leading to death in a collision that would have potentially only injured a much younger driver.

Current UK legislation requires that driving licences are renewed when an individual reaches 70, and are valid for three years before requiring to be renewed again. This is a sensible approach.

When combined with requirements placed on medical practitioners to advise the UK Driver Vehicle Licencing Agency of any medical condition which would require the revocation of a driver’s licence.

But us oldies are fighting back!

It would appear from several studies that there is an almost compensatory mechanism at work, and older drivers are good at making sensible adjustments to their driving, and adapt their driving to reduce their exposure to higher risk driving conditions.

Many will stop driving at night, or will adjust the times of day or the days of week on which they travel.

Now – back to my original thoughts.

As an individual with no formalised forensic vehicle accident training, I accepted at face value the statement that elderly drivers should not drive cars with an automatic gearbox.

road-safety-character-elderly-driver

Surprisingly, my research seems to indicate the opposite, and a number of reports actually suggest that older drivers should use an automatic car.

In fact, a Dutch study was conducted by the University of Groningen using a professional driving simulator. The research placed young and older drivers in both an automatic transmission car and a car with a manual gearbox. The subjects were then required to drive several routes, including rural roads, rural roads with random varied intersections and finally a route that necessitated joining a busy motorway, overtaking vehicles and then exiting safely at a junction.

The results were interesting, in that the older drivers performed better in an automatic gearbox car than a manual.

This is possibly because the time lag induced by the age-diminished psycho-motor skills to both brake and shift down the gearbox simultaneously impaired driver performance. This was discussed as far back as 2002[3], where research suggested that older drivers should, in fact switch to driving an automatic car.

Interestingly, even the younger drivers in the sample also performed better when driving an automatic.

I accept that there needs to be a safe transition period, so maybe when drivers get to 65, when they are statistically at their safest, they should change to an automatic car, so that they have a few years to adapt to the differences, so that they may benefit from the additional levels of safety that a car with an automatic gearbox provides.

Manual-Transmissions  0009e2bb5fd7-3095-4bef-8

So, in six years, I will get my electric car, which will not only be cleaner in terms of emissions, but may even help me to stay alive a bit longer!

Mark Charlwood© January 2020

[1] Article Click4Reg April 2017

[2] Older Car Drivers Road Safety Factsheet (2016 data) Published May 2018

 

[3] Warshawsky-Livine & Shinar (2002)

Is the Spirit of Flower Power still alive?

Lounging on the sagging brown leather sofa in the Petersfield branch of Costa Coffee, I take a swig of my coffee.  Not my normal velvety creamy latte, but a black coffee. Dark and with no sweetener. Not anywhere near as satisfying, but under my new weight loss regime, essential.

A middle-aged woman walked briskly past the window, a stark contrast to the overcast day; bright floral trousers, baby-pink quilted jacket, a lurid multi coloured beanie hat, and electric blue plastic clogs.

Her flamboyant outfit sent my mind rocketing back 4 decades, to the mid 1960s.

The summer of 1967 was sunny and warm. I was eight years old, and loving my school holidays. To my boyish eyes, all of the local women were fabulously gorgeous, and there was an excitable buzz everywhere.

In the USA, the Summer of Love was happening, with over 100,000 young hippies assembling in Haight-Ashbury, a San Francisco suburb, preaching peace, happiness, self-determination, and rebellion against repression and materialism.

These flower children were hopeful and idealistic, as we all are when we are young, and want to see change.

I started to ponder things. The hippie dream was one of love and peace, with multi-ethnic communes striving to live with minimum impact on the environment – an ethos that was strong in 1967. I wondered how much of that dream has survived the intervening 52 years?

The hippie motto of “turn on, tune in and drop out” was a rallying call to disengage from contemporary middle-class values and materialism, and concentrate on expanding the mind – albeit propped up with the use of Psychedelic drugs and living in harmony – not just with each other but with the environment.

Pop culture drove some of this, with icons such as the Beatles promoting eastern religious teachings, and whilst vegetarianism had always been an option, it never had the wide promotion and uptake that it enjoyed with the hippie generation.

Hippies were generally aligned to “Make Love not War” and many thousands protested at the US’s involvement in the Vietnam war, including two demonstrations in London, leading to a number of injuries caused during confrontations with the Police.

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The Hippie counter-culture was influenced by a number of global events. In January of 1968, Alexander Dubček, the First Secretary of the Czechoslovakian Communist Party introduced a series of reforms intended to give more democratic freedom and civil rights to its citizens. By August of 1968, the Soviet Union aided by other Warsaw Pact countries invaded and ruthlessly supressed the “Prague Spring.”

At about the same time, in Vietnam, the Tet Offensive began, leading to the US military commander General Westmoreland announcing that the Viet Cong could only be defeated by drafting another 200,000 men, and activating the reserves.

This not only unsettled middle-class America, but also further affected the Hippie psyche. Draft-dodging became recognised as acceptable conduct amongst the disaffected young; In my part of the globe, England, I well remember the protests in London, and seeing in later years the student riots in France, as the idealist young rebelled against the old world order.

The increasing public awareness that there could be a better way led to the normalisation of the emergent ecologic movement, and that man should go back to living in harmony with the planet.

Music of the time reflected the changing values. Donovan sang “Universal Soldier” as a protest about the Vietnam War. Barry McGuire released “Eve of Destruction” as a protest against the broken civil rights system, war, the worsening situation in the Middle East and the assassination of John F Kennedy.

At the time, this angry protest was deemed so inflammatory that several radio stations in the USA banned it, as did Radio Scotland. Even dear old Auntie Beeb placed it on a restricted playlist, meaning that it couldn’t be broadcast on general entertainment shows.

So, what of the Hippie dream now?

Well, it may not exist in quite the same form, but be under no illusions, there are still plenty of idealistic people out there.

Greenpeace still upholds ecological ideals and frequently protests robustly.  More recently in the UK we have seen Extinction Rebellion protesting against the lack of state action on the climate emergency.

Highly organised and connected via social media they advocate peaceful protest against inaction by the government.

Their website suggests that protests should be occupying relevant and significant buildings, chanting at meetings, and gluing themselves to doors and infrastructure. Not quite so radical as French students setting cars ablaze, but still quite effective.

I think that pretty much everyone has heard of Greta Thunberg, the schoolgirl who protested climate change outside the Swedish parliament every Friday. Now an internationally recognised figure, and a speaker at global climate change conferences, she has captured the younger generation’s consciousness and has catalysed a global movement.

In the UK in 2019, School and University students called a strike to highlight climate change, as did youth from across the globe, from Australia to India, and the USA to Sweden. The events were co-ordinated using social media under the banner of Fridays for Future.

However, there are other equally able and motivated young people here in the UK, who don’t appear to be as well known.

Take, for example, Bella Lack. She is now 17 and has been an activist against climate change. She has over 150,000 followers on social media, and as a result of her activities, she is Youth Ambassador for the Born Free Foundation, The RSPCA, The Save the Asian Elephant and The Ivory Alliance.

Amy and Ella Meek, sisters who formed Kids Against Plastic, an organisation that is dedicated to reducing single use plastics, and educating young people in the environmental issues facing us, and highlighting the fact that young people have a voice, and can make a difference.

I believe that the Hippie Dream is still alive and kicking. Its face may have changed, but its spirit lives on in the likes of Greta, Amy, Ella and Bella.

These are the new Hippies – caring, thoughtful, and motivated to make the world a better place for all of us.

Maybe their music isn’t as good as that churned out in the 60s Summer of Love, and maybe we don’t have Woodstock or Flower Power…

 

Perhaps we should…

 

Mark Charlwood© 2020

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Modern Office?

I looked expectantly at the middle-aged woman sitting across the desk from me. I could feel my pulse thumping in my wrist, and my mouth was dry with anticipation. Would she, or wouldn’t she?

She smiled, breaking the tension. “Yes, I think we’ll go ahead with your electronic typewriter.  We’ll start off with one machine, which I will place with the typing pool supervisor, and if she likes it, we will order a further twenty machines”.

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I swallowed hard. I was thinking of the commission.  My old maths master would have been proud, as during his classes of modern maths, I would stare hopelessly out of the window, whilst wrestling with the problems of tessellations, matrices and other modern maths nonsense.

However, I had become quite adept at knocking percentage discounts off, and then working out my commission to a reasonable level of accuracy.  In this case, I estimated that even after the discount I would have to give to land such a sizeable order I would scoop a little over two and a half grand!

Back then the average wage was about £5000 per year, so a cool six months’ salary.

A few weeks later, I got the go ahead, and delivered twenty further machines into the offices of a medium sized factory. More precisely into the typing pool.

Picture1

How times have changed.

In order to keep their orders rolling in, that factory needed 21 college-trained typists, whose sole job was to type out letters, quotes, orders, specifications and manuals. The noise generated by 21 typewriters was phenomenal, and the output continued without remission from nine in the morning until five in the afternoon. A whole room in the bowels of the building.

Office clerks would walk down to the typing pool with memos, and other draft copy and would place these into a basket where the supervisor would allocate the work out to the typists.

A junior manager would normally share a personal assistant with two or three others managers, and this individual would usually be trained to take dictation in shorthand, which nowadays is a virtually dead art.

Generating correspondence was a labour-intensive task back then!

Other subtle and sinister advances in office technology, such as dictation equipment removed the need for a secretary skilled in Shorthand. Managers were now evolving to sit alone in their office, dictating their letters and memos into an electronic recorder, using magnetic tape, normally contained in a small cassette.

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The skilled secretary could now be replaced by an audio typist, who would transcribe the audio tape, whilst wearing a headphone and using a foot control to start and stop the recording.

Brave new world.

Further “evolution” has meant that current managers and executives, even those at the highest levels of seniority generate their own correspondence, and from pretty much anywhere on the globe.

Modern offices are relatively quiet, except for the muted clatter of fingers pecking away at keyboards.

Egalitarian too, with male employees openly accepting a task that thirty years ago would be seen as “woman’s work”.

poste-de-travail-et-technologie

Gone, then are the days of fingers blackened with carbon paper, the thwack of typewriter hammers thumping text onto a page, and a whole room filled with young women; the admin clerk who opened the incoming mail, the intimacy of sitting in the office with a trusted secretary, dictating mail, safe in the knowledge that despite the ramblings, the completed work would be correctly spelled, accurately punctuated, and grammatically perfect. The signed document would be whisked away to the post room, leaving only the smell of delicate perfume.

Forgotten, then, the adolescent thrill of sitting in the office, eagerly anticipating the arrival of the ladies of the typing pool – a fashion catwalk, and the start of many teenage fantasies, and in some cases dates. The smell of hot electronics mixed with a faint aroma of methylated spirits, completed letters left on the desk in a folder for signature.

Replaced by what?  Efficiency. Sterile, drab and devoid of human interaction. Individual managers, efficiently bunkered in their electronic silos, creating and typing their own correspondence, often by email – signatures inserted digitally – even the humble ballpoint pen being slowly replaced by biometric data.

Auto correct and spellcheckers unerringly ensure that documents are almost perfect, and it may be days before anyone receives a hard copy document.

Thirty years ago, I would have either drafted this article in pen, or dictated it.

However, I have created it all. Consulted nobody. Flirted with no one.

I may be old fashioned, but I kind of miss those days.

Welcome to brave new world.

Mark Charlwood 2019 ©️