The South West / South East Dichotomy – and how it’s reported?

There’s some interesting stuff going on at the moment, which touches many of us and ultimately plays a part in how we get our voices heard. (or how we can get our 15 minutes of fame)!

First, parts of the South West of England have moved much closer to the sea since Christmas, with little Environment Agency or Coalition action. Even the media has been a little disinterested, with only local or regional reporters getting their waders wet and sneaking onto the national TV bulletins. Even with rolling 24 x 7 news, the Somerset Levels were a forgotten, unpopulated land. I recall a ‘throw away’ comment being made by the usually eloquent Nicky Campbell on the BBC 5Live Breakfast show in early January, stating that the floods in Somerset provide “reporters their first airing on national TV” and that bad weather was “natures agent”. Nice.

But now a National Emergency is sanctioned because the ‘wealthy’, Tory voters in parts of Surrey and Berkshire risk getting their ‘Chelsea Tractors’wet! This may sound parochial, small minded and positively ‘socialist’ – who knows I may even start to take a liking to Sir Bob Crowe (sic) (!), but I do find it interesting that once the South East becomes wet, the world and his wife is thrown at the problem.

As someone with a healthy grasp on economics and commerce, I absolutely understand the importance of the South East to the national economy. In my opinion, the region is becoming outrageously dominant in the UK and threatens the equilibrium of the nation in the long term, but in the short term we need to keep them dry / get them dry and protect this precious population.

Of course, I am overstating for effect. Not all the South East is wealthy (or indeed Tory), but I will be counting the media minutes of coverage across all broadcasters over the next few days versus what we saw relating to the South West in the early days of 2014.

Talking of media minutes….

If you fancy having your say on flooding or any other mainstream topic on national radio, the teams at BBC 5live are in for a challenge this week!

LBC 97.3 (The London talk radio station) is going national via DAB. There’s some talented presenters on this station, who are not (usually) required to follow the line of the Editorial Management. Who knows if this will change on a national platform, but for now it’s worth retuning your DAB radio to listen to its offer.

Whilst I’m a self confessed fan of talk radio across most Continents, BBC 5Live has stretched my loyalty as a listener due to its incessant droning on about football and other mind-numbing topics. Its also started to become inwardly focused, repeating itself just as ‘TV-AM’ and other breakfast broadcasters did in the 1980′s. The emergence of a national talk platform without ‘who’s scoring against who’ or ‘ball by ball commentary’ of the Womens’ Cricket Tour in Australia will be a definite challenge – maybe it’d be a real fight if DAB was omnipresent across all regions in the UK?

I know these views will antagonise those football fanatics, golfing nuts and cricketing gentlemen, but you have got your own network (5live sports extra as a reminder)! if you need your fix!ImageImage

In the meantime, I recommend a change or at least I recommend giving LBC (Leading Britain’s Conversation) a chance!

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(Trust)ee Savings (Bank) – Do the words in parenthesis go-together?

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So yesterday brought us the news that the LTSB / Co-operative bank deal had fallen apart. From the shocked faces of the PR’s, it appeared not all press offices were fully prepared for the announcement, but to the customers already informed that their branch and their accounts would be transferred, it was another ail in the coffin of trust in the banking sector.

Whilst CEO’s can argue over the efficacy of the deal or use the excuse that “FS in the UK is not an easy place to be“, the bottom line is that a joining of two organisations such as these is just too complex. Whether it’s the core banking system, the back-book due diligence, the resource and infrastructure costs or just that Regulators are likely to make the FS Industry fiscal ‘pips squeak’ over the next few years – the bottom line is, you’d better be bloody good and bloody well financed if you want a UK banking presence.

However good your CV is, and however big your balance sheets are, the FS sector is increasingly challenging for the banks, but I would suggest, is even more challenging for it’s highly apathetic customers!

Now, let me explain apathy. I’m a bank customer and have been since I earned my ‘Midland Bank’ school bag in about 1980. (It was called a Griffin Saver account). In my second job, I needed a bank account, so saw the ‘bright lights’ of the Halifax and opened one there, with a free overdraft and (I think) an offer of free cinema tickets. At eighteen, I opened credit cards with Lloyds (the biggest mistake of my life) and later on, transferred my banking to Nationwide Building Society. (A jolly good, stoic British mutual) Even on that canter through my financial history of 25 years, I’ve added many accounts and ‘services’, but actually have only once changed my current account. I believe even that puts me in a bracket of just 20% of the population – a majority retain their ‘first-job-bank’ for life.

So that’s bank apathy. It’s seen in Energy companies and other utilities too, and whilst I wouldn’t consider apathy as a bad thing for either party in the banking relationship, it does create a flatline customer response – for a majority of the time.

“Can’t live life without one” is pretty standard feedback about a current account bank. Hardly the most overwhelming statement of delight!

Wouldn’t it be great if all bank customers would be effusive with delight when they mention their banking relationship? I think the closest we get to that in the UK is with FirstDirect, who I believe are a brilliant ‘front end’ to HSBC. (They’re also not that profitable)

So is that the crux of the matter? Great service = lower profits = customer service – not a chance! Is there not ‘another way’ (sic)?

Well, we saw the Natwest attempt to create ‘another way’ through ‘helpful banking’. We also saw three days of media venom following their technology outage last year. I’ve never seen such pub-bar hatred since the gazumping days of the 90′s property boom!

In short, we’ve got apathetic customers (until something goes wrong), we’ve got a commoditised product in a sector that’s universally disliked. Surely this should be some ad-agencies dream?

In my opinion, it’s not. We don’t need someone telling us that ‘BANKS are GREAT’ what we need is for banks to be great (again) and for trust to grow from inside. We need to organically trust our banks through good old ‘word of mouth’ – whatever today’s word of mouth actually looks like!

We should never believe that banks don’t need a ‘casino’ side, or that they won’t trade’ in invisible tokens or instruments, that’s just part of modern-day algorithmic banking, BUT from a retail and SME perspective the population needs to trust and positively engage with their bank. (…and indeed their FS providers of insurance, loans, mortgages etc)

When you think of it, the UK average salary is £27k PA. If you work for 45 years at this level, that’s over £1.2m of money transmission that you’ll put through your banks ledger. Add in the commissions, charges and related sales and, when you stop and think about it, you’re a valuable commodity.

Now stop and think. Would you trust your bank if you had £1.2m in your grubby mit today?

What would you ask them to do differently? 

What would it take for you to trust them with your wonga?

Again, my opinion possibly doesn’t matter to many, but a bank that’s authentic, has personality, tells the truth, has empowered employees and that recommends the right products to suit a persons’ needs is a good starting point.

A bank that does what it can for the customer, but tells them when it’s not possible AND WHY would be another move forward. (….and that doesn’t mean quoting pages of policy!)

A bank which truly ‘listens’ or truly believes in ‘another way’ or understands life’s ‘journey’ would be an epic ‘win’.

All these things require people, from the top of the hierarchy to the cashier to understand the ethos behind the bank. For the back offices to be as transparent as the front and middle office and for the people to be led by leaders who understand how people think, not just how numbers work.

The first bank to capitalise on their greatest asset and to over invest in the understanding of their customer will be the first bank that wins the trust war and ironically the first to celebrate positive apathy, because those customers simply won’t want to go anywhere else!

Will the new ‘owners’ of TSB be that bank? If things don’t go well in selling these branches, maybe every British Citizen will ‘own’ it and we could run it as a co-operative? Wouldn’t that be ironic?

I’d love to hear your views, particularly when it comes to co-operation or unionship in banking across the globe. What would it take for you to trust your bank?

David Oxendale

http://www.mobilementor.me

 

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The (animal) magnetism of a small town in the Algarve..

ImageSome will think that a sunny Monday morning in the Cotswolds has made me go a little soft, but I can confirm I’m ‘complete’ physically and mentally!

You may have detected a tone in my previous blogs, that I’m a huge fan of the ‘underdog’, for the person that despite determination always seems to come second or a runner-up, for the business that never quite manages to get a prime pitch or for the town that despite all it does, it never shakes a reputation (however maligned).

I don’t fully know the roots of this particular celebration, as I’m an ambitious, driven and sometimes competitive person, but know what it’s like to be in second place. I can see the secondary school report for PE now “David has no aptitude for football or rugby but tries hard”. When I was selling stuff for a living I can recall a minor celebrity hosted black-tie ceremony where “David almost got salesperson of the year, but no cigar this year”. You’ll also know that however proud I am of my roots in Walsall, any mention of the Midlands when combined with my accent normally prompts “you’re a Brummie then”….And I’ve begun to tire of the blank looks or the ‘must just talk about something else’ that normally ensues following my speech about the (few) plus-sides of Walsall!

Anyway, enough of this ramble! What I particularly wanted to talk about today is towns, civic pride and recently found love (yes, you heard it here first!) of a town in the Algarve.

My closest friends will know that we were fortunate enough to invest a little money in a small apartment in Weston-super-Mare in North Somerset some two years ago. We particularly wanted a place where not just we could go and get some respite, but so could my sick Mother and her friends. 

The reason for the Weston super Mare investment was based on an immediate love for the town. It’s down to earth ambience combined with the knowledge that what you see from the sparkling new pier or newly regenerated seafront is not what you find in every backstreet. It’s those small neighbourhoods that give Weston (now abbreviated!) it’s character and characters!

The fact is that Weston, like many seaside towns in the UK has its problems. These problems came to a culmination a few years ago when its reputation was further damaged by national press coverage of the drug rehab business in the town and latterly, the fire on the pier – which unfortunately left Weston without a tourist focus.

Thankfully, that is all history now and whilst Weston could not be called a ‘boomtown’, many of its present issues stem from the current economic climate and significant growth in housing which the ageing infrastructure is unable to support.

My support for the underdog means I’m a staunch and stoic supporter of the town and am proud to say that (at least for some of the time) I live in a place that I’m proud of. 

I then take this ‘underdog journey’ south, about 1100 miles, to a place on the south coast of Portugal, called Albufeira. Albufeira roughly translated to English means a ‘lagoon’ or ‘bayou’. Whilst this conjures up a less than beautiful image, the many bays of azure sea, set against golden or terracotta coloured cliffs and beautiful sandy beaches make this place an attractive watering hole, most of the year round.

Our first visit to the resort was a little over 18 months ago and unlike the almost universal support for Portuguese cities of Lisboa and Oporto, I had some scepticism about my first visit. My view was slightly hackneyed in that I believed the beauty of the Algarve had been wiped away by concrete mixers and golf courses during the boom years. My dislike of anything golf and anything that resembles a high rise suburb of Hong Kong is not my ideal holiday town!

I was also aware that Albufeira was a town of at least two halves. One that supported the 18-30 set (message me if you don’t get what I mean, but one day, I’ll write about that holiday demographic!) and one that promoted itself to families on a budget in the summer and month-long stays on a budget to OAP’s in the winter. Infact, Albufeira to some people could be seen as the underdog to those slightly more upmarket resorts of the boating / tennis playing / golf club swinging set in Vilamoura.

Of course I’d love it. It was already apparently ‘second best’ and had a personality of it’s own….

So, just two-and-a-half hours from Weston super Mare on one of many budget airlines, we walk into the relative warmth of Faro airport. Whisked to the resort by fast and frequent ‘tourismo’ buses in less than an hour, Albufeira greets you like a warm scarf in winter or a G&T on a summer afternoon. 

The naturally friendly Portuguese locals mix well with tourists from a plethora of countries with bars, restaurants and hotels catering for all. I’ve not seen a ‘dirty’ hotel or a bar looking dishevelled there, and whilst the European graffiti artists have too made their home in the town, it’s not offensive nor overt.

I can feel myself becoming the ‘Judith Chalmers’ of WordPress and this is certainly not an advert for the local Albufeira tourist office, as there are clearly signs of the recession hitting hard in some neighbourhoods. There are empty apartment blocks, unsold flats and some concrete shells around the place, but no more than you’d see in any coastal town in Iberia. One feeling you don’t get here is that of abandonment, of bins not collected, or hordes of gangs marauding, but you do notice that it’s market is mid-market and frankly, proud of it!

And then there’s the cats. And a dog called Richard.

I’m a self confessed cat lover and have been since my earliest memories of having my little siamese with me as a child. In the last 15 years or so, I’ve also developed a fondness for dogs. Neither of these animal obsessions are for poncy poodles nor groomed pussies, but good old mutts and moggies!

So, if dear reader you combine my love off all things ‘underdog’ with the love of the street-cat (and yes, I follow Street Cat Named Bob on Twitter!), then you’ll understand the animal magnetism of my favourite Portuguese seaside town.

Theres the shabby tabby, the earless and now eyeless sleek white cat (Binky), the huge black brillo-furred male and the ginger tom. Then there’s those who look after them. The wonderful ladies with shopping trollies laden with crunchy goodies.

On my second visit to the resort, I’ve found out where the hidey holes are! There’s a load of cats on the cliffs and pallets next to the Sol E Mar, mainly ginger apart from a huge black Tom that resembles Tyson. 

There’s a second family (including the most beautiful ‘Blinky’) living on the cliffs opposite the Rocamar and then a third cohort on the viewpoint near the superb Frentomar hotel. Each of these were visited and provided with catnip toys, jingly bells and patchwork mice, in addition to tune and other fish from the local ‘Alisuper’ supermarket!

Whilst the cats were ‘interested’ in the catnip pillows, it was obvious the seagulls liked these more and took them away to the nest. The jingly balls were a confusion and were discarded onto the nearby walkways, creating a hazard to passing tourists! The food of course was consumed at a considerable rate, with the resultant  ‘cow eyes’ suggesting more comestibles were required!

A small donation to the local cat loving ladies on several occasions provided me with a little solace that our furry friends were to get fed in the winter months. It’s interesting to find out that these retired and sometimes widowed ladies have made it their lives work to look after the ferals of Old Town Albufeira and some of the history that these cats have.

It turns out that ‘Bruiser’, the black cat built like the proverbial ‘brick shithouse’ is a Tom that matured early and wasn’t spayed until quite late in life. His huge face and ‘smile’ come from additional male hormones that develop in his ‘complete’ years.

The white cats with no ears have all had a cancer of the ears brought on by years in the sun. They are actually quite old for ferals and have survived operations all paid for by the volunteers. Look out for these lovely cats by The Rocamar, they’re quite fussy when trusted.

The ginger cats, of both sexes (female ginger cats are unusual) are the mainstay of the resort, with all sorts of carrot coloured combinations visible. Only once has one feisty orange cat scratched it’s way out of my heart – albeit temporarily.

Upon further investigation, it’s apparent that many of these adorable creatures are once-loved family cats, who’ve spent most of their lives curled up in the sun or at the foot of an owners bed. The cat-lady has seen many a speyed animal, devoid of a collar but unable to fend for itself in the ‘wild’, with a particular surge in numbers once the recession begun to bite and expatriates forced to return to their homelands.

Of course, all this implies that you, like me, love cats. If you don’t appreciate these furry friends, then there’s still plenty of personalities across Albufeira! From the new Marina and enchanting district of Cerro Grande to the more built up ‘strip’ and Montechoro, whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Albufeira.

Like all those cats, Albufeira may have had more than it’s fair share of ‘lives’ compared to the more cultured Algarve resorts – but it’s no stray, no feral and even if it were, it would love you back with hugs and purrs.

And (with a nod to ITN), finally

It’s not just cats that tickle your fancy in Albufeira. Take a walk to fisherman’s beach any day and there you’ll find a gaggle of dogs (I’ll not use the correct term, as these don’t hunt together in a ‘traditional’ pack!) who clearly know each other intimately…

Theres an Alsation mongrel who is clearly in charge – you’ll know him due to his erect tail when running or sniffing. Then there’s a stumpy but stocky character, sporting a bow tie (or dickie bow) and now forever christened Richard (Ricardo!). There’s also a small, thin dog with a natural habit of adhering to his homeless owner like glue. He’s a real charmer and worth the odd Euro if you see him and his friend on ‘bar street’ on a cold winters eve.

These dogs however are not on their own. They not only have homosapien friends, but happily trot around the Old Town streets with two cats (a white and tabby) and share their food and other pickings with each other. This is a real disney-esque treat to watch, a real life film strip, possibly called ‘The Incredible Journey – Albufeira Edition’!

My discovery of this great place has truly changed my mood and it’s animal magnetism has helped me personally through some difficult challenges. It’s a place to sit, reflect and ponder the future. To think, to write and yes, to dream of sunnier skies, cooler beer and happier people.

It’s got a big ‘recommended’ sticker on it from me, and I’m happy too that not just my partner, but my sister have been captured by it’s allure…

See you there soon?

David Oxendale – AKA Judith Chalmers and a cat lover

wwe.mobilementor.me

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Reflected perspectives: 17th April 2013

I wrote the following blog on an aircraft in the morning of 17th April 2013. I’ve held back on it’s posting as a mark of respect to both the family of the late Baroness Thatcher and to those who died and were critically injured in the Boston Marathon atrocity.

~x~

17th April 2013 will, I’m sure, be defined as a day that will divide a nation. In the years to come, just as in the past, Baroness Thatcher will continue to be a true ‘Marmite’ leader. I dislike using brands as descriptors in the main, however I find that politics is currently full of ‘product placement’, with David Cameron recently using the much overused ‘Ronseal – does what it says on the tin’ metaphor. I really do feel that once politicians need to stoop to advertising strap lines to describe their policies, we’re in trouble! 

Anyway, back to possibly the best blog in the world..If only Carlsberg wrote blogs… Et al!

So today, the Nation buries Thatcher. The media storm, now with added ‘catastophisation’  (sic) following the atrocities in Boston is following the every move of the casket from it’s undercroft temporary rest to her final resting place.

A week on from my last musings  on the subject,  I still find myself writing and thinking in a balanced way. Whilst Maggie’s Clause 28 /Section 28 rulings in the late eighties twice provoked me to march on the streets of London waving ‘freedom’ flags, in reality, the generation that we were fighting for at the time didn’t suffer from any more or less homophobic abuse by their peers or elders than in my early school years. The inability of the education system to ‘teach’ (or preach) about homosexuality in schools was soon replaced by local help groups and helplines and anyway, in reality how many students were ever pushed into a life of segregation and abuse by teachers ‘promoting’ the ‘benefits’ of being gay?
On reflection, I wonder how many students at this time actually left secondary school in Walsall with a decent qualification, or at least one that prepared you for the outside world? Maybe this was just a time of significant change in the teaching profession and those of us in the public system at that time only had two options – fight or flight. 

Whatever I think of the education system and my efforts and results at school, there were countless other policies and decisions launched by the Conservatives in Maggie’s reign which provoke  bipolar reactions even now. Either way, the country at large (and particularly those that make their way onto  the mainstream media) will today stand resolutely proud of what we’ve become as a country (thanks to her swingeing changes) or those that still see Maggie as a destroyer of Industrial history, a burner of books (sic again!), a stealer of kiddies milk and, as mooted this morning on the radio – the root cause of the current financial crisis. Excuse my language, but even I find the latter complete bollocks.

I believe in some ways, we need to be more adult about our emotions and ask some deeper questions when’s it comes to Maggie. In the communities that suffered from the changing political environment, how many have moved forward? How many have been blighted by years of malaise? How many generations have inherited the culture of blaming the Prime Minister for woes both then and today? Whilst I’m a great believer in understanding personal and local history, is there not a difference between understanding the past and living in it?

In short, I wonder if the UK lives in its past, blames others for its misfortunes and relies on the State too much? Maybe Maggie isn’t the real reason for today’s radical outbursts, but we are – each and every one of ‘us Brits’? 

Maggie’s a good scapegoat though..

However much I believe Maggie did the majority of the country ‘good’ and the fact without her, we would have been a morally and fiscally bankrupt nation (well before 2007!), there’s no doubt that today’s media and tomorrows political comment will be as polarised as the traders in The City and the ex-miners in the Midlands.

Whilst on the subject of The Baroness, I’ll beg one further pause for thought. Will we be celebrating in remembrance our current leaders in the same way? Will we pass a tear for Blair (Bliar) or for just a frown for Brown? Conversely, will any of Maggie’s contemporaries provoke such barbaric and misdirected hatred and an outward celebration of death as we’ve seen in some instances over the last week?

However difficult today will be for some in the UK and of course with great respect for the Thatcher family, there are other matters in the news..

The presumed terrorist attack at the finishing tape of the Boston marathon and the heart wrenching tales of those that survived and died on the day has led many to speculation.
I’m sure many readers will have seen social media speculation about the source of the attack, obviously many pointing at Islamic fundamentalists, however I believe we need to caution ourselves at jumping to the wrong conclusion.

It’s a time of great sensitivity in the World, whether its Northern Ireland, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan or in North Korea. Wrongly phrased words, targeted blame, inaccurate right wing bravado or misplaced religious loyalties can create a vicious circle of hate which slowly but surely creates a basis for future atrocities.

Whatever the FBI finds in the minutiae of remains from Boston, we’ll one day be able to target our anger, emotion, nay grief at the ones who created that bedlam. For now, I think it’s time to moderate our outward views and leave those closest to the events alone in a period of reflection.

Finally for today, I focus on my old favourite topic for discussion, Tesco. This retail giant has dominated (I use this word cautiously) the supermarket sector in the UK for almost as long as I can remember, now accounting for one third of the UK food expenditure.

I’m a huge admirer of those that work at all levels in super-marketing. Whether the underpaid workers stacking pallets or those spending billions on store / business investment, it’s the speed that this market works at that makes it so interesting.

It’s therefore with some surprise that Tesco failed to read the US market correctly and has ended up pulling away from the US chain, costing ver $1bn. Having spoken to residents of California who’ve never heard of the US concept, it’s apparent that its not just pre packed fruit or small shopping trolleys that intimidated our US cousins. 

I understand that many UK companies have struggled when entering the US and some are understandable failures as some brands and strategies are very British. Others have performed well, and marketed themselves on ‘Britishness’ – well done Sir Philip Green!

It’s pretty obvious to me that research and marketing have been then root cause of this failure. Big in bulldozing through the UK grocery sector does not necessarily mean that you’re an instant success in Nevada or California.
It’s a costly error and likely one that has led to many heads rolling at Tesco head office, but one has to question whether the market dominance (and big-headedness) of this retail giant has actually led to this poorly executed investment.

David Oxendale

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Tales from the Barista’s steam wand…

After a week of serving coffee, tea and handmade cakes in our new business in Painswick, I’m already learning much more about myself!

  1. Dexterity – I’ve got some!
  2. Multi-task-ability – I can just about do it!
  3. Dishwash hands – I get what Nanette Newman was talking about in the 70′s commercial!
  4. I have feet – I can feel every part of them in great detail each night!
  5. I love cake. Full-stop.

In addition to these world-changing discoveries, it’s apparent that I’ve regained some lost mojo, exacerbated by a period of grief and change that I could have taken more control of and handled better.

The swoosh of the steam wand, the tempting aroma of arabica and the interaction with a wide and interesting array of customers really does help with my personal mantra of “learning something new every day”. It’s also given my confidence a much needed jolt in a short period of time and has brought to life many of my tried and trusted self-coaching theories.

So enough about me as The Barista (for now anyway!). I’d love to hear your ‘tales behind the counter’ and feel free to send them to me. I’ll promise not to repeat any of them, unless you want me to bring them into a montage…

Have a great Friday and enjoy the weekend, wherever you are.

David

http://www.mobilementor.me

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Has the ‘roof’ created by The Thatcher weathered the storm?

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Thatching is the craft of building a roof with dry vegetation such as strawwater reedsedge (Cladium mariscus),rushes, or heather, layering the vegetation so as to shed water away from the inner roof. (Source – Wikipedia)

Some believe, on the other hand, that rather than protecting people’s homes from the elements, this  Thatcher actually took the roof from over the heads of some of the the UK’s population. Whether it was her policy (or her Government’s policy) to do this through privatisation, demographic segregation, the Poll Tax or simply by rolling out the council house ‘right to buy’ scheme is open to debate. Whatever side of this debate you’re on, it’s as contentious and divisive as the self styled Iron Lady herself.

I grew up in the Thatcher era. I lived through the flickering TV images of ‘coal not dole’, bodies piled in hospital morgues and Leicester Square full of bin sacks during General Strikes.  Power Cuts (which actually helped my late Mother’s cooking prowess!), the three-day week and the infamous winter of discontent are all stark memories of a Britain few younger than 30 would recognise.

Whilst colour TV was still in it’s infancy, Britain in the early eighties was highly monochromatic. Cities were coated in the detritus of industry, I recall Manchester, Glasgow, Birmingham and Liverpool looking distinctly dower even on the sunniest day. Even our capital, London, had blackened Portland Stone buildings with ‘Big Ben’ seemingly coated in a dark chocolate sauce.

The cause of this soot had it’s basis in hard work. It was the status symbol of a nation that made things. Where glass towers, shopping malls and luxury condominiums now stand, chimneys, cooling towers and winding houses puffed, chugged and heaved blackened workers involved in heavy duty engineering and mechanical industry.

My home town of Walsall made Leather goods which were distributed across the world. Birmingham was famous for steel, jewellery, dunlop tyres and other heavy industry that littered the landscape from the Welsh borders to the green fields of Leicestershire. The mines of Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire stretched to The Potteries and to Coventry in the South. Parts of Telford’s Industrial Revolution were so dense, that The Black Country was named due to the levels of soot and carbon in the air.

So what happened to all this, and was it all Thatcher’s fault?

In my opinion, it wasn’t. If one studies the cracks that begun to appear in the early 70′s following post war optimism, we can see that our beloved Industry was falling apart. Coal, Steel, Car Production and Utility Industries were all beset by Industrial Action (strikes), where huge swathes of workers would ‘down tools’ for hours or days on end. At the same time, international crisis dominated the news and when combined with the laissez faire attitudes of British workers, this became a toxic combination that ate away at the foundations of British infrastructure.

You can also see, that as Thatcher came to power, other, previously unnoticed economies started to develop. The physical, political and economic world around us was changing and Britain was on strike!

Thatcher had little option to change the way we did things in the UK. Whether you believe these changes were correctly positioned or indeed whether they were the right things to do at the right time is a personal view, but I’d refer you back to previous blogs regarding ‘change’ and how best to deliver it.

She was a strategist, a thinker, a passionate believer in commerce and a patriot. On the other hand she was blinkered, opinionated and controlling. It’s alleged, if she didn’t get her way, she would ‘shut down’ with nuances in language that the media would pick up on in later years.

In order to get things moving, she needed hard cash. To do this, City Regulation and Exchange Controls were scrapped or reduced. Taxes were levelled.  She knew that The Square Mile had to become the powerhouse of the UK.

In addition to cash, she also needed a motivated workforce. She set about a little known strategy to take on The Trades Unions, particularly in the Mines of the East Midlands and The North. To do this, she needed luck, stealth like tactics and secrecy, but most importantly she needed to stockpile huge amounts of coal – she instinctively knew what action her opponents would take. She was in for a battle!

Whilst what ensued later is well documented, the miner’s strikes decimated the Coal Industry. There are now less than five collieries remaining in the UK.

Whole communities across England, Wales and Scotland became wastelands. Whilst invisible trade boomed, buoyed by the ‘Big Bang’, traditional industries were beginning to creak and fail. The North / South divide was forming.

A similar divide was also forming more clearly in the media. Pictures of young, upwardly mobile city workers (branded Yuppies) drinking Moet and tapping their brick-like cellular phones dominated the right facing press. Conversely, the left leaning publications talked of the tales of woe in the Welsh Valleys, in Mansfield, Rotherham and Sheffield.

During all this change, I watched as a teenager as some of my fellow pupils came to school in older looking uniform, in shoes that had ‘seen better days’ and who were clearly more withdrawn. The kids were under pressure from the reduction in the heavy industry of Birmingham and it’s surrounds, parents were being made redundant – the changes were now much closer to home.

So what was going on in Government at this time? Well, I believe there were more decisions, more effort and less contrition than in any government or coalition we’ve seen since. Maggie was ‘on a roll’ and whilst she looked bulletproof, subsequent general election results and the antipathy felt by the IRA resulted in some mental and physical knocks for The Iron Lady and her Cabinet.

At the same time, our relationship with world powers changed – but it had to. If you are over 30, think about your own life since Magie…

At this time, your delivery firms became ‘logistics’ providers – because no longer did the UK dig something out the ground, smelt it and make a car from it. It was cheaper to make headlights in France, car doors in Japan, plastics in China and tyres in Germany and bring them all together (on a Just In Time (JIT) basis) on a robotic production line in Milan. The Fiat Strada was the first car which used robotics but also used international logistics in it’s raw material sourcing.

Think about getting a phone in your home. In the UK, regulations and triplication often meant a phone line would take six weeks to install in the days of Buzby! Post regulation and with 80,000 fewer employees, the newly privatised British Telecom would install you a pug and socket in a fortnight – and a phone with a push-button! “Phones for the push-button generation” was their Saatchi-esque strapline at the time!

By the time Electricity, Gas, Phones and Airlines were all privatised, we’d become international, we’d also become a little more European (albeit with a small ‘e’). Stories about the length or curve of European bananas were abound, but Maggie managed this ridicule by pushing-back against bureaucracy – but at the same time, allowing the UK to become closer where it would assist with her agenda.

When you sit back and think about the change that the UK went through during Maggie’s reign, it wasn’t just significant, it was monumental. We know there were economic highs and lows throughout this period too, but recovery ensued and the cycle of boom and bust was created.

And there’s the legacy. Constant cycles in economic wealth which lasted until 2007 and many believe will last forever.

The communities which were built around heavy industry are, in the majority still surviving but as ‘dormitory’ towns where workers commute out on the morning and return later in the day after working in offices or shops – built atop rubble where steel foundries once stood. There are also swathes of mainly Male workers and their families in these areas that haven’t worked since and have brought up children that have also never worked.

The economic legacy of privatisation gives us a very 21st century problem now, with Rail franchises part stated owned, the electricity industry being so dissipated that we now face power cuts and water companies struggling to supply water in drought or protecting our coasts from erosion and floods – the international companies involved in the very veins that keep our country alive are attracted by the money, but spend it where there’s greatest shareholder return. As a shareholder, I’d approve in that strategy, but as a citizen of the UK,  I’d like some surety that the power will stay on next winter!

So as I write this, I reflect on the highs and lows, the impact her government had on my family, but I also think about what I’m doing right now.

I’m typing on my Mac, made in China, bought via an MBNA credit card, which I obtained because the banking market was deregulated. I sit in a coffee shop where the furniture is is made in Europe but assembled 7 miles from my home. I live in a town which has high speed internet access provided by an international business and rely on a mobile phone made in China and on a network based in Hong Kong. I drive a German car, drive on extended and widened motorways, maintained by a French company.

At the same time, I listen to the news this morning and hear the hatred that remains for Maggie in large parts of the UK. Morally, I believe this is wrong. Margaret Thatcher is a person, a Mother and whatever we think of her politics, hatred is a very strong term and having a ‘death party’ is shameful.

I believe we all have a little to thank Maggie for. To do this though, one needs to sit down, depersonalise and rationalise your thoughts. We also need to overcome prejudices, sexism, political bias but most importantly we have to respect the past, but also move forward.

On thing is for sure, if I could bottle the vitriol and energy that I’ve heard and seen in the media since the death of Maggie, the country would soon recover from it’s current economic gloom!

David Oxendale

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Tales from the Barista’s steam-wand!

 

Hello Readers!

After months of planning and time-juggling, we finally opened our new coffee house in Painswick late last week. We’ve researched beans, blends, cakes and pastries until the proverbial ‘pips squeaked’, but the hours spent watching and learning from the Barista have really paid off!

It’s great to be on the ‘other’ side of the counter (despite the fact I’ve got less space and more gadgets than a Ryanair stewardess), and as part of the development of  www.mobilementor.me, I’m putting together a few notes on the do’s and don’ts of setting up a new small business and taking control of ‘self’ in order to hit the ground running.

We’re less than 72 hours in, but it feels like we’ve been working for 72 years to get this far. I hope you’ll find my musings useful, enlightening or even pithy! I’ll be pulling together some notes over the next few weeks, but as ever it’d be interesting to hear tales from you if you’re setting up a new business, you’re new behind a ‘counter’ (of any type) or are a barista with achy feet – just like me!

Watch this space for more ‘from the nozzle’ of life in this small but wonderful Cotswold town.

David

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