What a surprise. Royal Mail is handing £400 million to shareholders after a rise in postal deliveries during the pandemic. It’s bitter news for its hapless customers.
I finally received a birthday card two weeks after blowing out my candles. I’m still waiting for last week’s New Statesman – and the previous edition, published 11 days ago.
This isn’t a new failing. Twice I have had to chase The Times because I haven’t received my subscriber’s tokens for the print edition of the Sunday Times. Businesses like The Times and New Statesman are suffering customer complaints through no fault of their own.
When will Royal Mail reward its customers rather than its shareholders, and provide the service we have paid for?
Britain has been happily using a mixture of metric and imperial measurements for half a century. So yesterday’s headlines that the government plans to overturn EU restrictions on selling goods in pounds and ounces are far more symbolic than real. A sop to Telegraph readers. Inevitably, that paper called it a Brexit triumph. The more mature and modern Times called imperial a dead weight, adding the plan should not go the distance.
The current rules themselves are pretty mild. They say that traders have to display metric as well as imperial weights when selling goods – something sensible sellers do anyway, given the nation’s children have been taught metric measures for 50 years.
Like many British people born in the sixties and seventies, I switch effortlessly between metric and imperial. If I’m cooking, it’s millilitres and grams. (Why would anyone punish themselves by cooking in ounces, fluid ounces and the rest?) If I’m making anything, the simplicity of metric makes that the natural choice. But I measure my bike and car journeys in miles, my beer in pints and my height in feet and inches.
People often say Britain’s switch to metric has taken a long time. Parliament first debated going metric in 1818. But the real change came in the 1960s, as metrication began in earnest at the same time Britain prepared to ditch the shilling for decimal currency in 1971. I had a few lessons adding up in ‘old money’ (that must have been in 1969 or 1970) but I never remember being taught about imperial measures. Education in Wales had gone metric. So too had the BBC’s Blue Peter: I remember baffling the owner of Lendons model shop in Cardiff in 1974 when I tried to buy craft materials in millimetres, following the presenter’s instructions!
I doubt many traders will take advantage of the new freedom to sell only in pounds and ounces. But the move will do no harm. While I opposed Brexit, I do share the unease at unnecessary regulations that restrict everyday life and business. Ironically, however, UK governments have been a past master at this. When turning Brussels regulations into UK law, they often made them even tighter.
If Telegraph readers want to celebrate this modest freedom with a pint of warm beer with a restored crown mark on the glass, let them. But the rest of us will barely notice or care.
Iceland said, “We would like to reiterate that these comments in no way reflect the values or philosophy of our business. We are a proud Welsh company, with a long history of investment in communities.” Iceland’s move came as many in Wales said they would boycott the store as a result of Hann’s views.
Some defended Hann. Consumer journalist Harry Wallop tweeted:
Keith Hann is entitled to his views, however tedious and juvenile. He may think it clever and funny to mock the Welsh language as gibberish. Too many English people are proud of their inability to say more than a few words in another tongue. They are unwilling to see the glory of different cultures – even those in their own island.
But that’s not why Iceland sacked Hann. The simple reason is that he was not wise enough to see that mocking the country in which his company is based is not compatible with his role as the director responsible for Iceland’s reputation.
As the Western Mail said in an editorial, Iceland recognised that it didn’t make business sense for one of its most senior executives to insult an entire nation. It went on to point out how jokes that portrayed the Irish as stupid have thankfully and rightly died out. The Times also published a leader explaining why Iceland was right to sack Hann:
“Mr Hann’s comments have cost him his job. It may surprise him that there are hundreds of thousands of Welsh speakers in Britain, along with a small but thriving Welsh-speaking community in Argentina, and they are justifiably unhappy. So far from being gibberish, Welsh, like any other natural language, has a complex system of grammar and can express a full range of meanings. And it is integral to the culture of Britain. It is, in fact, in the form of its predecessor Brittonic Celtic, the oldest language of these isles and long predates English.”
Companies are under constant scrutiny. Those of us in PR have to judge our comments, far more than was the case even a decade ago. None of us is perfect, and everyone should be allowed the occasional mistake. But we also need to take the advice that we’d give to executives. If you make a mistake, say sorry. Treat others how you’d want to be treated yourself. Applaud diversity. Be open minded about other opinions. While it is sad to see someone losing their job, if Keith Hann had been a good head of PR, he’d surely have told himself that insulting Wales was bad news.
I’ve admired Dyson’s electrical devices since I bought one of its early vacuum cleaners in 1998. I love the elegant, clever designs. I also admired James Dyson’s long battle to bring his invention of the cyclonic, bagless cleaner to market.
So when our central heating failed just before Christmas, I was quick to order a Dyson Pure Hot+Cool heater for our large kitchen. It worked like a dream, so after almost a week without heating I bought another. This time, as I turned on the second Pure Hot+Cool for the first time, I saw a stark warning triangle in place of the display:
I called customer service, and eventually got the device working.
At least once a day the dreaded warning triangle would come on again, and while it was displayed the device would not do anything. After a week, the Pure Hot+Cool stopped working for good.
I called Dyson on Thursday 14 January, and was put through to an engineer. I was very impressed that she conducted a video diagnosis of the machine, which led her to conclude this was a faulty machine that needed to be replaced. She arranged for it to be collected, and a replacement delivered, the following Monday, 18 January. She explained that the courier would bring a box for the faulty machine.
Monday 18 January came and went without anything happening. I called a day or so later and was told that the Pure Hot+Cool was out of stock until early February, so there was no replacement available. It looked like I’d have to wait, despite what I was told by the helpful engineer.
At the end of January, I received a ray of hope. Dyson emailed to say ‘Your Dyson guarantee is now active’, showing a Dyson Pure Hot+Cool purchased on 28 January. From our experience with three purchases in December, Dyson sends these registration emails a day or two before you receive your machine. I waited for an email with delivery details, but got nothing.
I called Dyson yet again on Monday 8 February and was told that Dyson would ask the courier company what had happened. The agent said this could take up to five working days. Seven working days later, no one from Dyson has contacted me. The useless machine is sitting in the house, as it has for 30 days.
Needless to say, my view of Dyson has taken a big hit. Having spent £1,400 in 10 days in December on two heaters and a vacuum cleaner, I expected so much better.
PS: fortunately, our central heating was mended in late December.
British Airways lost a lot of goodwill in Wales today by tweeting support for England in the autumn nations cup rugby international at Llanelli.
The airline may be a sponsor of the England team but a moment’s thought should have revealed that such a tweet would upset a lot of Welsh supporters – like me.
Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething put it well: “Good way to annoy 3m potential customers. BBC News at Ten presenter Huw Edwards tweeted, “I love @EasyJet.” The super-active YesCymru independence campaign was quick to draw attention to BA’s blunder.
Some have countered, saying that BA’s tweet was understandable as the airline sponsors England rugby. But that misses the point. For a UK brand to choose one nation over the others is ill-judged, especially today, when the union is under pressure and national consciousness is stronger than ever in Scotland and Wales. Nationwide Building Society was wiser, sponsoring all four UK football nations, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, earlier this century.
Other brands have been less sensible. I got so annoyed by emails from O2 urging me to cheer on England’s rugby team that I blocked all marketing emails and then moved to EE. I should add that I have nothing against others supporting England rugby – just that brands need to understand national identity.
To end on a positive note. To its credit, British Airways quickly deleted its tweet and apologised, saying it had strayed offside. Let’s hope that it has learned its lesson.
PS: Wales lost – but it’s unlikely that BA’s support for England made any difference.
I’ve loved books for half a century. I remember the moment the love affair began: my grandmother giving me an Enid Blyton tale featuring a wooded island. (The Secret Island?) There was no turning back. My reading status changed: in a relationship.
Martin Latham has made books his working life as well as his passion. He has sold books for 35 years, and has produced a book of his own, The Bookseller’s Tale, that is full of intriguing stories and authors I had never heard of. Even his dust-jacket is revealing: it reveals he was responsible for the largest petty-cash claim in Waterstones’ history when he paid for the excavation of a Roman bath-house floor under his bookshop.
Latham opens by talking about ‘comfort books’ – books we love, and keep buying and reading. They may, or may not, be literary masterpieces. The author recalls the novelist AS Byatt buying a copy of Terry Pratchett’s latest Discworld book in his Canterbury bookshop and admitting she couldn’t be seen buying it in London.
Latham never quite defines a comfort book. A book you read in difficult times? A volume you loved when you were young, and which gives you a heady draught of nostalgia every time you re-read it? A book that moved or inspired you deeply and which you read time and time again?
The definition may not matter. Most of us have books that we remember vividly and which we will happily read again. Here are some of mine.
I was a big fan of Habitat in my twenties and thirties. I loved the clean design of the furniture, kitchen wear and dinner sets. I’m typing this blogpost on the 23 year old Habital dining table (now my working from home desk) seen in the photo, while drinking from the pictured 31 year old coffee cup from the store. Somewhere I still have a Habitat fondue set and towel rail.
It’s all thanks to Terence Conran, who has died aged 88. Conran was one of the entrepreneurs who changed the face of Britain, bringing fresh, modern design to the high street and the home.
“It is hard to overstate how uninteresting London was then,” Conran later said. “You could go along a terrace of houses, and every living room you looked in was the exactly the same, with the same extremely dreary furniture.” (You can see a glimpse of that world even today in many chintzy guesthouses.) Design was a hugely under appreciated discipline, as a glance at almost any household product would show. Conran opened the first Habitat store in 1964, and the stores quickly became a symbol of the Sixties. Over time, Habitat made the duvet (or continental quilt as my parents and grandparents called them), beanbag, wok and fondue part of everyday life.
My grandfather at a Penarth street party, VE Day 1945
Today, Britain marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the second world war in Europe, VE Day. It was a muted occasion, held in the shadow of coronavirus and in the grip of lockdown.
The 75th anniversary was more muted
True, the BBC replayed Churchill’s broadcast from 1945. And the Queen will broadcast to the nation at the same time as her father George VI spoke to the Commonwealth in 1945. (The Queen pitched it perfectly as always.) Broadcasters will offer a tired selection of wartime films.
Chalfont St Giles, Bucks: a coronavirus-closed pub marks VE Day 75
In a curious way, perhaps this was an appropriate way to mark the occasion. It is time for Britain to look to the future, rather than continually harking back to those six years, critical though they were. We will always remember those who sacrificed their lives. I will always be fascinated by histories of those critical years. (I highly recommend James Holland’s War in the West series.) But perhaps we will now set aside these huge anniversary commemorations (apart from the 75th anniversary of VJ Day this August) until the centenaries from 2039 to 2045.
Victory: Churchill about to address the nation
On VE Day, Churchill in his broadcast said, “We may allow ourselves a brief period of jubilation”. On the 40th anniversary in 1985, I contrasted that sober comment with the enormously hyped BBC coverage of the anniversary. It felt then as if the jubilation had never ended. Perhaps now we can built a better, more equal world, just as the people of Britain yearned for one in 1945 as they rejected Churchill’s Conservatives and gave Labour a landslide victory two months later. The NHS, the subject of 2020’s adoration, was the result of that peaceful revolution.
Churchill added in his broadcast: “Let us not forget for a moment the toils and efforts that lie ahead”. Few on 8 May 1945 would have taken notice of that cautionary note in their huge relief that the war, in Europe at least, was over.
For millions of people, home is now the office. The days of commuting are over. Welcome to working from home.
Some of us have been doing this for years, although in my case just a day or two a week. COVID-19 has made it permanent – for now.
It’s a very big change, and we shouldn’t assume that the switch to home working is just using your laptop on your kitchen table rather than the office desk. Here are my top tips for effective home working.
Create a suitable home office
Find a suitable quiet spot to work. (Obviously this is easier in a large house than a bedsit.) Ideally this will be a room with a decent work surface, such as a desk or table, and where you can shut out any distractions of home life.
If you share your home with others, make sure they understand that just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you are free to play. (Though this is easier with adults than small children!) Unless you have the whole place to yourself, you might want to wear headphones to avoid that conference call booming across your home.
We’ve all seen the images of empty supermarket shelves. No loo paper for love nor money. Yet Britain’s supermarkets are doing a great job adapting to demand, and the need to let people shop while keeping apart, based on my experience at Tesco, Gerrards Cross.
I had a short wait getting into the store, as staff regulated the numbers in the shop. We were offered sanitiser at the entrance, which I used to wipe the trolley handle and my hands.
Once inside, I found everything I needed apart from liquid soap. It was a strangely calm shopping experience with fewer people in the shop. I did feel I needed to get it down quickly to allow others in.
There’s been a lot of talk of stockpiling – and I referred to this in my post last weekend about the British government’s communications response to COVID-19. We may have been too quick to judge: according to Kantar, the empty shelves reflect the fact we’re all adding a few more items to our baskets and making more shopping trips, rather than stockpiling.
PS: this unremarkable Tesco store has an unusual history. It was built over the Chiltern railway line and the tunnel collapsed on the tracks just after my train passed through in 2005.