Friday, 25 February 2011

Opticians, cold-callers and an unfinished debate on lights

It has been some time since I had my eyes tested. About two and a half years to be more precise.
Over this period my last optician has persistently sent me reminders, chasers, redemption vouchers, special offers, hey, anything that would get my attention short of a life size caste of Daniel Craig. Or James Hook, given my latest fetish regarding eye candy.

Anyway, I finally relented. I made an appointment. Or - to be truthful - I picked up the phone and dialled the number before my colleague did it for me after my umpteenth uttering of "I need my eyes tested" and fumbling for my glasses so I could read the spreadsheet on the computer screen.

That was it. Date set, time agreed, all sorted. I almost felt pleased with myself.

Until today when, with plenty of time to spare (ok, a bit), I ended up in a traffic jam. Knowing I was going to be late, I called the persistent optician to notify them.

"You can be a maximum of ten minutes late," I was told.

Excuse me? You have pestered me for two and a half years to come back and now that I might be a miserly ten minutes late you are turning me away? Who is the customer here?

I missed my appointment.

And then proceeded to ask a succession of other high street opticians - five in total - whether they could give me a standard eye test there and then. They all looked at me as if I were bonkers. Bearing in mind that all bar one of them was actually busy and had customers, I probably was bonkers. And gullible enough to assume that they were interested in winning my business and acquiring a willing client on a Friday afternoon.

Tsk. How foolish of me.

My phone rang.

"Hello!" the chirpy voice said at the other end. "This is (insert incomprehensible name) from (insert random unknown company). How are you today?"

I know a cold caller when I hear one. It is a fabulous talent I have. Not many people know this. I should put it on my CV.

"Why are you calling me?" I barked.

"We are conducting a survey on people who have taken out personal loans over the past ten years, and_"

"Do you offer eye tests?" I cut him short.


"Exactly. Good bye." And I hung up.

Which reminded me of the most recent late-night discussion I had with OH this week. It was about LEDs.
In short, he has this idea - I use the term loosely - that we will replace all the halogen ceiling spotlights in our home with these.

We have around fifty-odd throughout the house.

They cost some £70.00 each. Halogen replacement bulbs are £4.99 a pair.

I can do basic maths (this despite my report card aged ten stating that I made "occasional errors", and my subsequent career in investment banking... actually, they probably go hand-in-hand in hindsight).

"That is ridiculous," I stated, quite defiant.

"But they are energy efficient, last twenty years, and are being introduced into hospitals where they are on 24/7," he argued. He is an electronics engineer by training. But not a scientist. Or Brian Cox, for that matter.

"I already am energy efficient," I answered, "Have no idea where we will be in twenty years, and have no intention of turning this house into a hospital. So unless you intend to change habits and allow the kids keep the lights on day and night, the answer is no."

So, final result:
Opticians, nil. Cold callers, nil, LEDs, nil. Sarcasm, rising.


Monday, 21 February 2011

And now for something completely serious

Anyone see this? For those who have been keeping abreast - and commenting - on recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, and now Libya and Bahrain, it may seem an absurd comparison to liken the Arab world's political and economic characteristics with the nation that has given us Leonardo, La Dolce Vita, and Lamborghini. Oh, and pasta, pizza and panini (which, as an aside, actually means sandwiches - plural, so please please please remember this when ordering your lunch at the local café, eg one panino, two panini...).

The article in question (it is the Lex column from the most recent Weekend FT for those of you who cannot follow the link) draws an analogy between the elder statesmen of the Arab world and the prevailing gerontocracy of Italy. Or, more precisely, how Silvio Berlusconi has over a period of some sixteen years reduced Italy - to quote my sibling who lives and works there - to "un paese senza futuro" (trans. "a country with no future").

I will not start proselytising readers one way or the other as to whether the status of the Italian nation is merely down to one individual (it is not, but he has certainly run the country as his own personal fiefdom with no regard or respect for its subjects), or the culmination of other economic factors (inflation, unemployment, public sector debt to name a few), however it did remind me of an event many years ago when I was relatively novice to London.

In short, I was offered the opportunity to work in Italy. There was no formal application process, no job interview, no request for references. The mere fact that I ticked the right boxes (nationality, languages, married, Catholic - albeit seriously lapsed) was sufficient kudos for my prospective employer. Who was it? None other than the Istituto per le Opere di Religione, more commonly known as the Vatican Bank.

I turned them down. You know what it's like: timing not being quite right, about to purchase first abode with OH, newly settling into married life, rowing commitments (highest on list of priorities if I recall correctly), etc etc. Somehow the lure of duty-free food shopping in the Vatican State was not enough to temp me. Or a subsidised apartment in Rome. Or zero income tax. (Actually now that I write this down I query my wisdom).

Guess what? I was told that if I ever changed my mind, the offer stayed open.

Anyway, the point is this: whilst I love Italy dearly and relish every visit, I would not, could not live there again. The bureaucracy that existed some twenty years ago has grown increasingly worse, the living standards are tougher, the job opportunities non-existent, the disillusion amongst the educated, especially the young, palpable. In a nation where nepotism is still king, promotion is given according to length of service (not ability), pay structure is rigidly set by unions, and the ruling elite across the board stays in power until they exit their offices feet first, it is hardly surprising that someone of Berlusconi's calibre has managed to retain power for so long.
His interpretation of 'divide and conquer' is more akin to 'rape, pillage, deny and denounce'.

So, as the FT article states so well, much in common with (I quote) "many of the traits of the classic Arab plutocrat". 

I wonder if that covers plastic surgery as well?

Yes, I know. Completely against the grain. A serious post. Stop sniggering in the back row there, I am a professional businesswoman after all. Normal sarcasm resumes tomorrow.


Sunday, 13 February 2011

One and the same but not quite

What never ceases to amaze me are the similarities at management level in different industries - investment banking, large corporates, multinationals, telecoms - despite the variety of 'end products' involved.
It would seem that regardless of what you are either producing or selling or delivering, ultimately there is always a case of the elephant in the room that presents itself at some stage.

So imagine my surprise - or not, as the case may be - when one of the parents at the kids' rugby club voiced his concern at last Wednesday's parents meeting that there was not (I quote) "a formal set of professional coaches to take over from next year".

The children in question are playing in the U6 division of the club. That's six years and younger, for those unfamiliar with the term. Hardly Six Nations in the making. Or not yet at any rate given my take on recent sessions:

 London City Mum 

Refereeing under 6s is akin to herding cats. Fact  

Typically it is the volunteers - fathers, mothers, seasoned club members - who take over the training sessions, coaching, refereeing, and general admin duties in the 'mini' squad. It gives parents (often fathers) a fantastic opportunity to bond with their children doing a sport together, with rewarding results all round once the children progress to festivals and tournaments.

But the bottom line remains: if your child (or you) do not want to partake in such a team event, or spend your weekends during the winter months on a (very frequently) wet, windy, cold and muddy pitch, taking the initiative to get involved, helping to build camaraderie, learning new skills - including patience, tolerance and whistle-blowing - then, let's face it, this is not the sport for you.

Curling might be more suitable.

Anyway. Back to the elephant in the room analogy. There isn't one. This lone parent was the very obvious odd one out. The single dissenter amidst a sea of enthusiastic and energetic fathers and mothers. And additionally the only one who has still not paid the meagre subscription for his son's first year of introduction to rugby, five months on since we started.*

The sole reason for me writing about rugby is so that I can post a photo of my latest favourite pin-up.

Oh boy-o, that's a fine pair of legs you have there
Like I said. No elephant. None at all. 
*sighs and wipes away drool from mouth*

* Actually I lie. He handed me a cheque today to pass on to the treasurer. But not without a lament about the lack of tag belts and bibs. "Disgraceful," he said. "So is your attitude," I was tempted to reply. For once I held my tongue.


Saturday, 5 February 2011

Even managers are capable of taking the mickey

I have been away at the SKO.

What struck me this time - and I have attended numerous events of this nature over the course of my twenty years in the City - was how subdued it was. Now whether this was a reflection of the past turbulent year my new employer has gone through (reorganisation, redundancies, re-inventing of the wheel in some cases), or whether it was the venue (vast hotel conference centre, middle of nowhere, grey, grim and drizzly outside, I managed to get lost half a dozen times without even leaving the premises), or perhaps even the audience (some five hundred plus people from all parts of Europe, with a variety of interpretations of the English language), I really cannot put my finger on it.

It was most peculiar.


After two days of death by powerpoint (in a variety of guises, but still sleep-inducing nonetheless), we had a further two days in break-out groups, supposedly to learn all about how to understand a client's requirements, ask the right questions, cultivate the relationship, and build them a solution that addressed their needs but was a "Fiat not a Rolls Royce".

Right. Basically what I am already putting in to practice in my new role. That old phrase about teaching your grandmother to suck eggs kept springing to mind.

So, the upside was meeting and working (I use the term loosely) with some new (male) colleagues from other offices.  An American, a Swiss, two Germans and me. I named our group Four Blokes and a Bird. I think they got the joke, although at first the Teutons thought I was slightly bonkers. I was to prove them right.

The downside was some five hours spent deciphering an incomprehensible excel spreadsheet with one hundred and twenty lines and twelve variations. Oh, and it had a bug, meaning that if you filled in certain cells and then pressed 'calculate', the result read 'confused'. I kid you not. We were definitely that, regardless of nationalities. When I later mentioned this waste of time to one of the organisers, he nonchalantly said, "Oh, yes, we won't be using it in the next course."

I think I swore at that point.

Anyway. Where was I? That's right, the workshop. The culmination of which was a presentation of our findings in one of the following formats: singing, dancing or acting.

So I mentioned this to the Four Blokes:

And next thing I know... I am the Bird trussed up like this:

And our presentation was thus:

Morale of the story? Even management should be able to poke fun of themselves and wear silly fake moustaches.

At least the laughter is genuine.


Yadda yadda yadda...