Week beginning 19 Jan 1998.
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Unions and work
Index of earlier issues.
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If you haven`t looked at the other News From England before, read this in case it may save you some time.
The Other News consists of a selection of articles on whatever subjects find their way to the top of the pile on the week in which it is written. Whilst some of it is intended to be serious, quite a lot is just a bit of light reading (or heavy, if you are a certain type of person), and intended to keep you amused, and cause people to question some of the assumptions of life. Most of the material here is written by the editor, but no single article necessarily reflects the views of the editor or anyone else who writes here. They only might.
I MADE THE MISTAKE OF GOING TO A SUPERMARKET THIS WEEK. It was the not-very-successful American supermarket Somerfield. I needed some honey and two other items, and thought to save myself some money, and as they were right there in front of me I went in.
I found the honey and it was a little cheaper than our local corner shop does. Then when I went for the bread it was more expensive than theirs and of very poor quality according to my perception. The other item was not available at all.
So I went to the till with a jar of honey in a basket. Then I queued for twenty minutes or so, and then finally I put the basket down complete with honey and went down the road to buy honey in a proper shop.
The honey was more expensive - about 25% more - but I had a choice of several types, and the bread was the same price or cheaper with a choice of several types - some of which I would not object to eating.
Then, as one does when shopping, I decided I needed some fruit and discovered the fruit to be considerably cheaper than the supermarket. So influenced by this fact I decided to go round the shop and find out what else was cheaper.
Roughly, I can tell you that although certain key items are cheaper in a supermarket because the vendors know you will know what they should cost, a great many are more expensive (occasionally being of better quality), and then on top of that you have to queue for them because the greed of the company that owns the supermarket is so great that they cannot allow themselves to hire enough staff to operate the tills.
British management teams think queues are clever. They imagine they invented them, but of course some other idiots a long time ago invented them. But the reason we have them now is that the employers of people are so desperate to squeeze the last ounce of labour out of them that they treat them like battery hens (another unacceptable practice).
It doesn`t end there, though. When you queue in the supermarket/post office/bank you are paying for their parsimony and general meanness of spirit (perhaps poverty of spirit is the term) with your time. If you work in a city or reasonable sized town and you need to go to (let us say) Abbey National, the Post Office and then the supermarket in your lunchtime (which would once have been reasonably possible) you would now be left with no lunchtime in which to eat. They call that clever?
In the locality from which I am writing The Other News the banks have a need to extend their premises to accomodate the queues that build up because they are too greedy to serve their customers properly (by having enough staff), and if it is raining the customers go away. (I believe AN are the worst offender, but I think Barclays probably come a close second with Midland and the rest very close behind).
Of course there are certain things you can do about all this.
First of all you could try the personal touch and cheap prices of the local shop. And then with the time saved by not queuing you could probably get to know what individual shops do that is both individualistic and better than the supermarket - and shop better for less (as one supermarket questionably puts it) by shopping locally.
If you are a shareholder type, you might suppress your greed for long enough to realise that it may actually be more profitable to employ enough staff, and decide not to buy into firms who have the battery-hen approach.
You might try not keeping all your money in the bank so that you don`t have so much need for them (and there are also credit unions), and keeping cash out of the bank so that you have ready access to it (so does the local burglar, but they can`t do everyone).
We might all try telling our banks and supermrkets that we intend to stop using them as their queues make it impossible.
I thought I had finished saying what I had to say, but of course the same principle applies to telephone queuing systems, where the trader shows their contempt for their customers by putting them in a telephone queue.
This wonderful device ensures that (a) the customers have to pay the telephone company for the call (b) the customers have no idea whether they will get any service at all, (c) the customers don`t know if they will have to wait twenty minutes or five hours (unlikely to be less than twenty minutes), (d) the customers are shown just how little you care about them (e) treats your staff like battery hens, (f) ensures that the anger of the customers (which should go direct to the owners of the business) goes to one of the battery hens who probably is foolish enough to be loyal to your company and trot out something about Investors In People or a Chartermark that they have learnt during `staff development` courses.
In fact, to the kind of dimwit who aspires to run such companies it is all round pretty clever.
Furthermore, it helps to create poverty and unemployment, which in turn brings to the fore the parsimonious twits who run this kind of business.
At least where they are not monopolies you don`t have to trade with them, and who knows - where they are monopolies the government may eventually have the sense to re-nationalise them.
I am told that in Germany the children only go to school for half a day, with no half terms, and the occasionaly full day.
I know that in England the children go to school from about 9.30 am to 3.30 pm - or in schools where they are ambitious till maybe 4.30 pm, but they do have half-term holidays.
"Ambitious" in this context means where the staff wish the children to reflect their skills as teachers by passing exams. It may also reflect the neuroses of the children`s parents, but this is probably only a side issue because that type of teacher will have that type of ambition regardless of the parents.
As far as I am able to tell, the overall academic "achievement" of German children is the same as or slightly better than English children - that is, they pass equivalent exams but slightly more often than ours do. That is not to say that German children are more clever (or less clever) than English.
And I am led to believe there is less vandalism and school-age crime in Germany. This is particularly interesting because the minister of education is talking about putting extra pressure on children to "achieve".
These two different approaches to education are also worth thinking about because the implication seems to be that the English try to cram stuff down the throats of their children (a great deal of it useless twaddle as far as I remember) and despite that get only a mediocre result, whilst it would appear that the Germans take off the pressure and achieve the same or better.
I should point out here that there are also schools in this country (as far as I know none of them state schools) where the pressure is minimal or zero and where the overall academic standard is either much the same as the state schools or better - with the bonus that the pupil leaves with a positive attitude towards the idea of learning things.
Time for a re-think?
Gabriele Gad on alternative therapy: press here.
LETSSwing played at the opening of the new Bexley (Kent/S E London) LETS system on the 16th. January. Much dancing and fun. We expect to go back there sometime. If you wish to join Bexley LETS, the only contact number I have is 0181 855 4124. Membership will either be free or very nearly free.
Also playing at Green Adventure`s party in Camberwell SE5 on 31 Jan at about 2pm (which leaves time for both you and us to get in another gig). Phone 0171 277 2529 to join GA or see the band. Entry will be free or nearly free.
That is because of transposition, and I am going to try to explain to you what I mean by that. It took me a while to understand, so don`t drop out if you can`t get it first reading.
The principle applies to a great many instruments, but because I am a saxophonist (mainly) I will use the saxophone as my reference.
Saxophones come in a great many voices, and the main ones about which most people have heard are baritone, tenor, alto and soprano - each being a bit higher in it`s overall range than the one before.
The difficulty that comes as a result of this arrangement is that making one instrument a full octave (dictionary again) above the one below it creates too big a gap, so that instead they go in steps of about half an octave (I say `about` because it is not exact), and this creates a situation where if you were going to read music for the instrument you would either have to learn different fingerings for each note between one voice and another voice of instrument or you would have to use the same fingerings for each note but accept that the note comes from the instrument at a different pitch for each instrument type. With saxophones and most other `pitched instruments` the latter is the chosen method.
It may take a moment for that last paragraph to sink in. When it has, I will add the further complication that for acoustic reasons the saxophones (with the exception of certain special types) are so designed that when you read C the sound that comes out is actually B flat (tenor, soprano) or E flat (baritone, alto).
This means that when you play a C on your piano I have to play a D on my tenor, or if I am on alto I have to play an A, and the action of doing this is called transposition. At first it seems impossible to work out or to do, but I have never known anybody to fail to both understand and do it who has tried for long enough.
(This is something you might have to work out by looking at the layout of the piano keyboard and counting your way through. NOTE THAT WHERE THERE IS NO BLACK NOTE the distance between the two adjacent white notes is the same as that between any white note and it`s nearest black note - I`ll try to discuss this strange phenonenom next issue).
THIS CONTINUES to be boring, but the little group of pay and conditions negotiators have been having an extraordinary amount of trouble getting any useful information out of the college - the kind of information we need for our negotiation meeting the week after next. We have also been given some figures that tell us that the two full-time lecturers get between them 185,000 pounds per annum! (I think there may be an error here as most of us get a great deal less than that).
This, of course, suggests that we can`t necessarily rely on the figures we get being true and accurate, so presumably we are not going to have an easy time of it.
My meeting "to discuss my future work with the college" was a genuine meeting in which I was asked if I would undertake the moving of the workshops (design, discuss, build, co-ordinate, etc) and would I be interested in more work during the coming academic year? the difficulty here was of course that no specific work was offered, and I have to work for my fellows not necessarily myself.
Last week I made a barrow for the students to bring furniture into the building on, but the construction of it was the same that I would use if I were making a workbench in a hurry. It is a very rigid form of construction, and a normal sized bench without anything like vices fitted takes about an hour or so by this method to make - that must be fast by most people`s standards.
Don`t expect it to look sophisticated, but do expect it to look workmanlike and to work well.
The method is this. Take two legs and nail and glue onto them a top rail and a bottom rail in such a way as to get the maximum possible contact area, the top rail being about 6 inches deep and top edge flush with the tops of the legs and the bottom rail being the same and about 6 inches above the bottom. They are nailed flat onto the front surface of the leg (be accurate in the positioning of these). These will then look like two very simple gates. Put them aside handling gently to avoid the glue letting go before it is dry.
Make another frame the same as that one. These two will be the front and back assemblies.
Now cut four rails the width the bench is to be of and of the same depth as the others. Nail and glue them onto the ends of the two `gates` in such a way as to make a `pen` (put both end rails on one end before tackling the other).
Nail and glue a slab of heavy board (shuttering ply?) onto the top rails and leave to dry.
Saw away surplus ply (probably best with a jigsaw).
That`s it. The strength is achieved by being accurate and using glue.
Typical dimensions for a small bench: top 72" by 30", height 30", thickness of legs 3" by 3", rails 6" by 1" by 72" and 6" by 1" by 30", thickness of top 1", BUT don`t adhere to that as if you go to the nearest industrial estae you will be able to get a few old packing crates and adapt to the sizes they offer.
We have two excellent machine benches made by this method, one of which has been in use at least five years now.
I have thousands of articles on PCW disks that I want to gradually feed onto The Other News. To do this I need a means of converting from 3" disks to 3.5" disks. Has anyone in South East england got either a 3.5" drive for PCW or another means of converting? email@example.com.
Cheap laptop for writing the Other News when away from base. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Wanted pc/Acorn monitor, London area. email@example.com
Who knows where on the Internet I can get a good freeware or shareware score-writing program that will run on my p100 or Acorn 5000? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
(Will take LETS currencies): Industrial quality roofrack about 7 feet X 3.5 feet, made to measure for ford Sierra estate. I used it for woodwork contracting. It is the best I`ve ever seen. Contact email@example.com
Same again, about 48" by 96", but lesser quality, for Ford Granada estate or Volvo 7 series -almost free owing to poor condition - but it works. firstname.lastname@example.org
LETSSwing (the London all-LETS-members band) need a bass player. Suit someone who thinks of playing and writing music as a creative, co-operative, gentle activity, who likes out-of-date pop and jazz, and who doesn`t like making a noise. We play so quiet you could have it in your livingroom without bothering the neighbours most of the time, and are looking at the possibilities for involvement in `the community` (playing in hospitals and so on). Contact email@example.com
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