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French rugby

I’ve said it many times before: I’ll never support the French at rugby.

Brian O’Driscoll, cynically injured and nearly killed in the opening match of the British Lions tour that he was captaining, has now been punched in the face in a pre-World Cup warm-up against France.

He’s injured, but I guess we should be lucky they didn’t kill him… bet they tried!

I really hope he gets to play in the World Cup – he’s a brilliant player.

Tana Umaga – GBH

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Poor customer service

I must say that I am genuinely astonished by the quality of service provided by Drummonds Bank and in fact RBS (parent company) in general – and that’s not just because I happened to meet their Head of Private Banking a short while ago… honest!

It would be imprudent of me to compare RBS with my previous experiences of banking in four European countries. Well, to be honest I’d need to go through twenty years of archives and I’m a bit lazy… mind you, I guess I need something to do on a rainy day.
Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!).

/Dom

PS I eventually did write about Drummonds/RBS in August 2011. They aren’t satisfied that they forced me to close one company, now they’re after another it seems.

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British banking

I must say that I am genuinely astonished by the quality of service provided by Drummonds Bank and in fact RBS (parent company) in general – and that’s not just because I happened to meet their Head of Private Banking a short while ago… honest!

It would be imprudent of me to compare RBS with my previous experiences of banking in four European countries. Well, to be honest I’d need to go through twenty years of archives and I’m a bit lazy…

… mind you, I guess I need something to do on a rainy day.

Watch this space (but don’t hold your breath!).

/Dom

 

Who am I?

There seems to be some confusion as to what I’m all about, so I am publishing the results of a personality test that I took a while ago. Hopefully that might shed some light on where I am coming from.
I took the StrengthsFinder personality test a couple of years ago, with the following results:

SELF-ASSURANCE: People strong in the Self-assurance theme feel confident in their ability to manage their own lives. They possess an inner compass that gives them confidence that their decisions are right.

IDEATION: People strong in the Ideation theme are fascinated by ideas. They are able to find connections between seemingly disparate phenomena.

WOO: People strong in the Woo theme love the challenge of meeting new people and winning them over. They derive satisfaction from breaking the ice and making a connection with another person.

MAXIMISER: People strong in the Maximizer theme focus on strengths as a way to stimulate personal and group excellence. They seek to transform something strong into something superb.

STRATEGIC: People strong in the Strategic theme create alternative ways to proceed. Faced with any given scenario, they can quickly spot the relevant patterns and issues.

Copyright 2000 The Gallup Organization. All rights reserved. StrengthsFinder is a registered trademark of The Gallup Organization.


Silly names apart, I consider StrengthsFinder to be the best of all the many tests that to which I have been subjected (I have an MBA, so that means loads!). What’s more, I have been in contact with Gallup and they have explained that while people’s personalities do change a little over time, the main traits are quite constant from the age of about fifteen. The main ones (ie in my case the five ‘strengths’ listed above) are set for life.

What I like most about the test is that it is based on thinking that says we should concentrate on what we are good at, rather than trying to become a ‘jack-of-all-trades.’ In other words, the most efficient unit is not an individual, but a team of people whose skills complement one another. This runs counter to how senior managers run many of the American and British-based multinationals companies with which I have had dealing; they insist that people become skilled across a broad range of areas before they can be promoted. In the worst cases, this means that the performance of talented individuals is greatly compromised.

Surely it is better for people to concentrate on what they are naturally good at? Sure, there can be improvement in areas of particular weakness if they impede performance, but this should not be at the detriment of the job to be done, or indeed an employee’s progress in a company.

I recall one department I worked in where most members of staff were extremely dissatisfied with both the responsibilities they had and the salaries they earned. To this day I am convinced that the firm in question used its ‘development program’ to limit promotion opportunities and to cap salaries. This was certainly the attitude of the Director who ran the department; his penny-pinching attitude showed in almost every decision that he took – I should point out that he was generous with his chosen ‘stars’ who seemed to be elected to this elite status according to how high they jumped when he barked at them. I didn’t stay long.

If you want to take the StrengthsFinder test, you need to buy the book, which is not particularly expensive (about £5 at Amazon.co.uk – it seems to be more expensive in the US for some reason). If you read it properly, there is an interesting section on how to work with people’s strengths, which is a lovely way of acknowledging that one’s greatest characteristics are also one’s greatest weaknesses!

/Dom

 

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“You say Jihad…

… and I say Crusade, you say heathen, I say evil zealot, you say weapons of mass destruction, I say ruthless terrorism‚ let’s call the whole thing off!”

I’ll start by stating the obvious: it’s not for some limey to pretend he can influence the election results of a sovereign State, let alone what is currently the world’s only superpower. On the other hand, perhaps by entering the debate, I can have some influence on the world that results from today (03/11/2004).

Napoleon was not the first world leader to spot that by going to war, he could extend his tenure, the Vikings were excellent at it, as were the Turks, Greeks, Romans, Celts and every other pretender to the crown of world dominance, including the ten or twelve tribes (depending what you read) from whence it is claimed that we came. Chinese dynasties were expert at it, as were the Mongols – I could go on, but I suspect you get the drift!

Where am I going with this? Well, my undergraduate degree is in Comparative Politics (thanks to the UK system, it is also in French and Spanish) and I have read a fair amount of history books and international relations text books. I have a hunch that what is happening in the world today is the coming together of a dangerous mix of essentially unconnected phenomena. If not handled with extreme care, this particular Molotov Cocktail is liable to blow up and take all of us with it to whatever it is that awaits us once we have fallen off this mortal coil – and that has nothing to do with dead parrots or any other Monty Python sketch.

Most (all?) of the European Powers (Old World) have gone to war for reasons other than to defend themselves. The United States (and the rest of the New World) is basically a product of European Imperialism; it is perhaps not surprising, then, that she find herself today fighting war on several fronts. What’s more, many (all?) people seem to believe that their personal way of doing things/beliefs/world view [DELETE AS APPROPRIATE] is the ‘only’ way of doing things. Further, we all belong to the NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) camp, so it is understandable that the biggest kid on the block is refusing to allow the Head Teacher to see what is in his pockets – after all, he’s big enough to inflict some serious damage on that nasty big bully – and if we’re honest, nobody seriously believes all that fluff about turning the other cheek in the New Testament, do they? I mean, look at the way governments around the world rule; it is human nature to defend oneself and most of us seem to enjoy getting revenge, or should I say defending one’s honour. I subscribe to the latter, hence my previous entry on this blog.

Unfortunately I am not describing the latest antics of a comic book character; I am describing the actions of the United States of America.

The US justifies its invasion of Iraq on the grounds that Saddam Hussein did not obey UN Resolutions that gave it no choice but to allow its Weapons Inspectors in. But the US itself is guilty of precisely the same behaviour. Moreover, Saddam did not have WMD, which means that in the eyes of many people, the war in Iraq. I was in New York and watched the second debate between Bush and Kerry. Mr Bush used the fact that Tony Blair was on his side to counter accusations that he had isolated the US. Well, I do not yet reached any conclusion on Iraq, but I can tell Mr Bush that Tony Blair is under siege over here, largely because so many Brits consider he lied to them regarding why we went to war.

In the past Prime Ministers and Presidents would be expected to get away with such trivial matters. What is different today is that communications technologies and excellent, inexpensive transport make us all superpowers. You hit me and I do have the means and the wherewithal to hit you back.

The US is continuing its tried and trusted foreign policy of posturing and ‘eye for an eye’ military attacks. This is precisely what the British government used in the past. It is an outdated policy and while it is employed by major Powers, it is making the world a very dangerous place.

Furthermore, there is an extremely dangerous attempt to lump together Iran, Iraq and North Korea as an “axis of evil”. Iran and Iraq are sworn enemies for heaven’s sakes! At worst, this is an example of ‘spin’; an attempt to justify a perpetual “War on Terror” that cannot be won. At best, it shows a frighteningly naïve understanding of the world.

Technology now exists that allows us to engage in dialogue with our ‘enemies’ and try to understand what it is that they do not like about our behaviour. It is only respectful to listen to other peoples’ opinions – this is the basis of democracy. It is also correct to respect other peoples’ ways of doing things. What works for you may or may not work for me; if you impose it on my, I will not like it. I will probably break it. I am a big kid.

Whoever wins the US Presidential Election today, I pray that they begin to show some common sense and start listening to other people.

/Dom

 

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… the Fifth of November

The gunpowder treason and plot.

I see no reason why gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent

To blow up king and parliament.

Three score barrels were laid below

To prove old England’s overthrow.

By God’s mercy he was catched

With a dark lantern and lighted match.

Holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring

Holler boys, holler boys, God save the King.

Words of “Remember Remember” refer to Guy Fawkes with origins in 17th century English history. On the 5th November 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with several dozen barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes was subsequently tried as a traitor with his co-conspirators for plotting against the government. He was tried by Judge Popham who came to London specifically for the trial from his country manor Littlecote House in Hungerford, Gloucestershire. Fawkes was sentenced to death and the form of the execution was one of the most horrendous ever practised (hung, drawn and quartered). This reflected the serious nature of the crime of treason. This nursery rhyme ensured that this crime would never be forgotten hence the words ” Remember, remember the 5th of November” The poem is sometimes referred to as ‘Please to remember the fifth of November’. It serves as a warning to each new generation that treason will never be forgotten. In England the 5th of November is still commemorated each year with fireworks and bonfires culminating with the burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes (the guy). The ‘guys’ are made by children by filling old clothes with crumpled newspapers to look like a man. Tradition allows British children to display their ‘guys’ to passers-by and asking for ” A penny for the guy”.

The notes above come from here.

I wonder how Osama bin Ladin will be remembered once he’s been caught. I guess the answer depends on whether you are one of the people he is terrorising, or you belong to his completely misguided followers who seem to believe that harming someone’s children is an appropriate way of making a parent back down on their principles. Can’t Al-Qaeda see that theirs is a policy that is only going to make their enemies more entrenched? Perhaps that is what they want… life is so much easier if you have an enemy with whom to contend (did someone say Neo-Conservative?).

I wonder if the Americans will hang, draw and quarter bin Ladin? Of course that action would only serve to make him a martyr, engendering thousands more willing disciples of death – just look to Northern Ireland if you want a lesson from history… I was in Belfast the day before the IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands died; I still recall the tanks cruising the streets, waiting for action to kick off, but not knowing where it would actually start.

Actually, there may be a theme here… the day after I left (El) Ferrol in Galicia 17 years or so ago, Galician separatists blew up the statue of Franco that was right outside the bank I had used the day before… then there was the bomb on the metro in Paris at the time I usually went through St Michel  (a terror campaign by the Algerian Armed Islamic Group aimed at taking vengeance on the country for its support of the regime in Algiers. The bombing of a packed commuter train at the Saint-Michel station in Paris in July 1995 killed eight people and injured 100).

Luckily I was nowhere near New York at 9/11 – I watched it while talking to a gentleman called Paul Blackburn who had just made me redundant. He was also watching it on TV… you can imagine the conversation was somewhat uninspiring.
I think I’d better watch my back!

A final note: May Sgt Stuart Gray, 31, Private Paul Lowe, 19 and Private Scott McArdle, 22, the three members of the Black Watch who were killed in the Sunni heartland yesterday rest in peace. The civilised world, who they were defending, sympathises with their families.

/Dom

 

In order to get some ‘closure’ as my American cousins are wont to say, I should perhaps explain why I asked my splendid friend Paul to help me set up this weblog. After all, what would a self-declared technophobe be doing joining the ranks of the űber-nerd and blogging for his own navel-gazing satisfaction?

I choose to do this on my own website because I was recently expelled, quite arbitrarily, by the CEO of a website called Ecademy that claims to be a ‘trusted network’. As a consequence, all the content I had contributed over several years evaporated instantaneously, together with my links to a relatively large number of people with whom I had maintained contact for some time. Rather than sound like a cracked record, I will post the response that I posted at the time. I am grateful to several Ecademists who ensured that the Management reposted it so that it could be debated (it was pulled after less than two minutes when I originally posted it, probably because I had rejoined without begging forgiveness for whatever misdemeanour I was deemed to have committed earlier).

This is the last time that I want to discuss Ecademy.

——————————————————————————————

Here is my response to my banning by Ecademy in full:
Title: In case I get banned again

… please find me on soflow.com or dompannell.com (which I will update shortly… I find I have to earn money in order to eat!).

As many of you know (thank you for all of the supportive blogs and emails – I have read them all and pretty much all of them hit the nail on the head), I was not going to rejoin since Ecademy owe ME money for having removed my account without warning. However, as I was on holiday until this week, I literally read for the first time this afternoon a series of emails from Glenn Watkins accusing me of a variety of things ranging from threatening his wife (er‚ I don’t think so Glenn – I have always found Sophia to be quite charming and I have absolutely no axe to grind with her – Sophia, if you felt threatened by my email which was intended to flag up a weblog that your husband pulled without telling me, I sincerely apologise) to aiding and abetting other members in the all too serious ;) crime of using false profiles – FYI fake profiles are quite common practice among people who do not wish others to see that they have been checking up on them.

One thing I must say is that while I have my differences with the Ecademy management (see below), at least I respect their integrity insofar as they have corresponded in writing so it is relatively simple to demonstrate facts. True manipulators write nothing down.

I decided to ‘power up’ for one last time in order to make the following points, which I stand by and which I believe ought to be addressed by the Ecademy Management if they are to repair the considerable damage that they have largely inflicted upon themselves over the past months.

I have several major concerns regarding the capabilities, methods and goals of the core team. In short I find them to be:

  • Amateurish
  • - repeated communications cock-ups have, over time, run down trust in the entity as a whole.

  • Dogmatic/arrogant – I, together with others, have been advising them for some time to use the services of professional services suppliers, particularly on the communications side of things – our words have fallen on deaf ears it seems;
  • Hypocritical – why do they publicly welcome certain fictitious members (eg Mike FabGear AKA Mike Southon… there’s even a cat in there somewhere!), but ban others who they believe not to exist (Wayne Kerr, may or may not be real, who cares? He is subject expert. If he chooses not to reveal his personal details, that’s his/her prerogative… several days ago one of my colleagues met somebody called Dick Head who is extremely proud of the fact apparently).
  • Untrustworthy/irresponsible - I was banned without warning whilst on holiday for trying to thank someone for his or her excellent assistance (see above). Consequently, for several days, dompannell.com pointed at a page that implied my character was questionable; at least three professional contacts saw it and have told me they were considerably concerned.
  • Dictatorial – I have a collection of extremely patronising emails from Messrs Power and Watkins telling me, for instance, that my reputation had been diminished for a variety of reasons, in general for things that were far beyond my control (as I replied, who are THEY to judge MY reputation?). Moreover, if ‘Ecademy networking’ is the new lifeblood of business, who, then, has the right to switch off the drip? Who elected the management?
  • Most disturbing of all, I find Ecademy management to be fundamentalist – I am extremely concerned that Mr Power in particular is on a mission to promote his personal worldview and religious beliefs. In an increasingly chaotic and confused place where religious factions (including political regimes) are increasingly lashing out violently against innocent people in order to impose their point of view, I question the wisdom in this.

I assume that far from getting responses to my points above, this weblog will instead be pulled and my account once again removed (please can I have my money back?) So farewell, then, all my Ecadechums, I have thoroughly enjoyed it thus far…

Once again, if anyone would like to stay in touch, please feel free to contact me at soflow.com or dompannell.com

/Dom

[EDIT: Please note that soflow.com was closed a couple of years later. Its founders (unlike those of Ecademy) did not want their website to become a lifestyle business based purely on membership churn.]

So December comes around again. For me that means Crisis Open Christmas, or COC1.

Crisis is a charity that works for and with the homeless in the UK. I came across the charity in 2001 when, not spending Christmas in the comfort of my family home for once, I wanted to do something worthwhile.

As a budding entrepreneur (not wholly out of choice; I struggled for years to be a good employee, only to realise that I have a fundamental problem with taking orders from people who are driven solely by financial gain and/or their own self-importance) and having done my time signing on for unemployment benefit, I know only too well how easy it is to slip into the downward spiral of disillusionment and exclusion.

I am lucky in that I have an amazing support network around me without which I would certainly have hit the streets (thanks everyone!).

While Crisis is not the only organisation that works with London’s homeless, I was looking for a truly effective charity that did not have links to any particular religion (I might write about my views on religion one day, if and when I have worked out what they are!). At first sight Crisis appeared to fit the bill.

I spoke about volunteering to two excellent Colombian friends, Sylvia and Andres, who were also had some spare time during Christmas week and before I knew it they had signed up for the “drinkers shelter2 – to this day I don’t know if this was a comment on my own drinking habit – I duly signed up for a couple of afternoon shifts and before I knew it I was there pretty much every day, using my language skills to sort out a young Swedish couple who had had their money stolen on arrival at Stansted Airport and ended up resorting to sleeping in the shelter while they waited for their return flight home.

I recall that I overheard two Swedes discussing the safety of the digital camcorder that they had stowed in the luggage store and figured that perhaps they were not in the safest place. Luckily the Swedish Church in London is a particularly compassionate haven and it was a simple task to persuade them to look after the unfortunate pair.

I have been hooked ever since.

In 2002 I was made a Key Volunteer, which means giving up several weekends a year for (excellent) training sessions relating to issues that relate directly to homelessness (mental health, drug use and abuse), the running of the various shelters at the “Open” (policies for dealing with Guests, team-building), as well as informing us of the many different services that Crisis offers throughout the year – I am a member of Crisis Skylight (they did say Vols were welcome to sign up) and attended a very good introductory course to film-making last year.

Being a Key Vol also means that I get to boss people about!

Actually, that’s what I find so refreshing about Crisis; there is NO BOSSING ABOUT! The operations of the entire organisation are based on respect for others; take the Open, for instance. COC is a massive military-esque operation that is currently run by an amazing chap called Maff Potts. Indeed, COC would not exist at all if it weren’t for the amazing people who are behind it.

I believe that this year Crisis is running six shelters, the largest of which (“the Main”, where I generally work on the morning shift) slept close to 650 people one night last year and topped 500 for at least three. If you reckon on three times that number of people visiting the shelter during the day but are able to accommodate themselves at night, you will begin to see where the estimated £450,000 in donations and donated goods goes.

Every one of the Guests at the Main is given access to the facilities available – if memory serves me right, two years ago this included thirty-seven different services ranging from IT training, to haircutting through three hot meals (itself a vast undertaking), advice on re-housing and drug dependency to access to fully equipped medical and dental staff.
In the evenings Guests are offered a whole range of entertainments (if you have ever played soccer against a bunch of ex-squaddies, you’ll know that it hurts) before the beds are put out, the lights are switched off and overnight Guests go to sleep.

That doesn’t mean that the day’s job is done, however, as some people can’t or don’t want to sleep, so the lights are left on in one part of the shelter and Volunteers carry on with perhaps the most important of their many tasks: talking to people who may not have had the opportunity to express their thoughts to another soul for many months.

The night shift also monitor the sleeping bays in an attempt to protect the property of Guests who have chosen not to stow all of their belongings in the luggage store – sadly, every year sees a handful of thefts, particularly during the hours of darkness.

Moreover, it is often during the night that some of the most vulnerable cases are identified.

By the time the morning shift comes on, there is always a list of actions waiting to be dealt with once the appropriate professionals arrive. Effective handover briefings are crucial.

Morning shift also means that the clothes store opens for the day. This, along with the dog kennel, where the fabulous Andy (AKA “Dogs”) and her team stay in a makeshift hut for the week minding a limited number of Guests’ faithful companions, is one of the most valuable (and most contentious) services that the Open offers. Several dozen people queue for hours hoping for of a change of clothes in the knowledge that they will probably have to return to London’s wet and windy streets in a few days and that proper clothing may be the difference between life and death.

It can be an explosive situation, especially as the clothes available are distinctly limited and have to be rationed in order to help as many people as possible.

For as long as I have been working at the Main, the clothing store has been run by Martyn and Lynette according to a strict set of rules: Martyn hands out tickets to Guests who have been queuing patiently for at least a couple of hours. He has to spot ‘repeat visitors’ who try to game the system by collecting two sets of clothes – a few years ago, according to long-standing Vols, it was fairly commonplace for certain Guests to fill up shopping trolleys with new clothes, which they then sold on.

In order to prevent any altercations, Martyn is accompanied by two of the… er… larger, more experienced Vols; for the past couple of years that has meant a chap called Andy and myself for the morning shift (if for any reason Andy reads this, I sincerely hope he is recovered enough to work this year).

Certainly, without the cooperation of Guests and Volunteers alike, COC would be a powder keg waiting for the fuse to be lit. The reason for its success is, in my opinion, the result of some of the most foresighted management techniques around, two of the most essential are respect, delegation and effective support.

Respect
As I have already mentioned, respect for people is fundamental, especially as so many of the Guests and indeed the Vols cannot or will not tolerate being ordered about for no good reason. Shift leaders and their most capable assistants (“Green Badges”) are constantly on the lookout for potential trouble spots while asking for and taking on board feedback from Guests and Vols alike.

Where there is not an obvious reason for something, it is changed if it will make the operation flow more smoothly, in this way ‘management’ continually earn the respect of everyone around them.

There is no question of anyone hiding behind a closed door and opting for an easy life!

Delegation
This is another key to the success of the Open. As I have implied, COC has a loose organisation structure whose exact structure depends on the number and experience of Vols available.

Crisis Volunteers come in all shapes and sizes and from any number of backgrounds. Many of the really dedicated have experienced homelessness, or as in my case, the bleakness that can come with being made redundant for no good reason (I will post my experience of WASP management techniques at some point in the near future – DP).
Even those who have no personal familiarity with the issues surrounding homelessness are not being paid, choosing to join in out of the goodness of their hearts. What unites this motley crew is the fact that they cannot be told what to do. Nevertheless, COC runs successfully and is, for the most part, a source of fun in the middle of London’s dreary winter.

Shift Leaders, Green Badges and Key Vols are skilled in asking people to do things, some of them not altogether pleasant. Hopefully new Vols realise that none of us will ever request that someone else to do something that we would not do ourselves – I have done everything except for working in the kitchens and I am due to attend a course in food hygiene training in a week or two so I will be able to fix that particular gaping hole in my COC career.

Over the past four years, I’ve cleaned lavatories and shower units, swept floors, carried boxes, manned the front gate in a blizzard, attempted to physically constrain a guest who, at close-down, realised that she’d missed her chance of being re-housed (she was trying to persuade the person in charge of the medical service to lie on her behalf) and decided she would try to go through the confidential patient files that were still onsite. The young lady in question was eventually talked into leaving the premises. I’ve averted at least three fights (on one occasion I just needed to walk away), mopped up vomit, assisted ambulance crew in providing medical assistance to seriously ill guests and (hardest of all) turned Guests out into the snow at the end of the week.

And yet, none of the above is what comes to mind when I think of COC. What I remember is talking and laughing with friends, listening to some of the most colourful stories imaginable, watching grateful Guests eating hot meals finished off with a cup of coffee and a free fag. I think of all the wonderful Vols who give up that most priceless of luxuries – time – to bring a smile to the faces of good people who, as the saying goes, “but for the Grace of God, go I”.

I recall the camaraderie that brings Vols together at several points in the year for wonderful (or wild, depending on which shift to which one belongs! I go to all of them!) parties with like-minded folk.

This year, all Vols were invited to meet up for an exceptionally good event on the Dixie Queen, which is a steamboat on the Thames; it has already been booked for 2005.

Effective Support
COC is a hard slog and it takes its toll on many of the people involved in running it. Fortunately, support for Vols comes in spades and if anyone feels that they cannot fulfil their tasks, they are encouraged to speak up. A replacement will always be found, or a way round any obstacle.

Working Environment
COC depends on the benevolence of other organisations for where the shelters are based and consequently sometimes they are not located in ideal premises (the hardcore still talk of the time when the Main was housed in a tent on Clapham Common. It was particularly cold that year apparently.

In 2002 and 2003 we were lucky to have use of a disused distribution warehouse on Mandela Way in Southwark whose large areas were pretty much ideal for organising the Main. Strong rumour has it that this year two of the shelters will be in a rather famous building on the South Bank! Hopefully I will be able to procure myself a bike, otherwise I will be dependent on cadging a lift from Vols when public transport stops on Christmas and Boxing Days.

If the rumours prove to be correct, Tim Edwards the Operations Manager and his team have come up trumps again.

For the other fifty-two weeks of the year, Crisis is based in ultra-modern offices on Commercial Street, which is prime development property in the heart of London’s financial district.

According to what I have been told, the reason for this is that the landlord made a neighbouring building available for the Drinkers Shelter in 2001 (i.e. my first year) and was so impressed with how smoothly it ran that he proposed the disparate elements of the charity come under one roof. I have no idea whether Crisis pays full commercial rents, but in any case the landlord did the charity a massive favour: morale is always high in the offices and people clearly enjoy both their jobs and the working environment.

On the subject of working environments, two years ago I effectively quit a well-paid senior management position because the CEO (a woman) refused to introduce water-coolers, despite clear evidence that such a simple gesture would improve the lot of the hardcore of the very hard-working, ill-paid workforce – for some reason the company has an extraordinarily high staff turnover, which costs it an inordinate amount of money in recruitment and training. I knew I could not stay when the MD (also a woman) referred to Human Resources as “really useless, woolly stuff” when we were discussing the business studies that she had done.

As this was the same person that had unofficially asked me to look for ways in which the workplace might become a happier place, I knew it was time for me to get out.
If anyone genuinely wants an abject lesson in how to keep workers happy in the twenty first century, they could do far worse than to go and take a good look at how Crisis is run – now I think of it, there could be an MBA case study in there!

I have done stints on each of the three shifts (Morning, Afternoon and Nights) and can honestly say that

COC NEEDS YOU!

This is especially true towards the end of the week when seasonal goodwill is less abundant.

No matter what your skillset, there is some way in which you can help; you don’t necessarily have to be ‘the front line’ as there are plenty of vital jobs that need doing behind the scenes.

This year I have had a lull in business activity, which has allowed me to spend the past couple of days lugging heavy objects around warehouses as part of the Resources Management team that is run by Bob Hove.

Bob is an excellent manager who worked for twenty-seven years in large corporations, ditto “Stocky” who has run the teams that provide the technical infrastructure that underpins COC.

Bob and I have discussed the reasons for the repeated success of Crisis/COC and we agree that respect is paramount – many of the fulltime employees have spent time on the street and, in a situation where creative problem-solving, where hard rules do exist, the reasons for them are explicit, understood and followed. There’s a lesson there.

A few hours hard physical work has done me good, as has spending time with people who, refreshingly, have no interest in business and, especially, the ego-politics that inevitably permeates any situation in which people are battling for their livelihoods. Just when I was flagging yesterday, a bunch of schoolchildren from Bexley Heath Lower School arrived with a lorry containing 8,000 tins of baked beans.

Must go, I need to earn some money if I am to avoid becoming a guest at COC this year!
One last thought: I wonder what ‘interesting’ substances I will have the pleasure of eating this Christmas – personally I tend to avoid tinned baked beans, but then I guess beggars can’t be choosers!

  1. By 2011, COC had been renamed Crisis At Christmas, which is what everyone used to call it anyway… big shift in meaning, however.
  2. These days this is referred to as the Dependency Centre.

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