Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Cracking the whip

While scanning the 'sits. vacant' columns recently, I came across a reference to staff being involved in 'driving customers online'.

Something about the implied coercion rankled and I later tried to find the advert again to investigate further. I didn't succeed but, to my surprise, a quick google of the phrase produced a veritable cornucopia of books, webinars and courses devoted to the subject using exactly that term, along with a collection of self-congratulatory reports (among which was the rather worryingly curtailed boast that:
'We've been a key part of the Sainsbury's Groceries online team for a long time, driving customers online through many traditional channels, including execution...' [sic]) 
Restaurants, retailers, power companies and banks all appear to be utterly unabashed, not to say enthusiastic, at the idea of compelling customers to contact them via the internet. It's not a new phenomenon (see 'The Bank that likes to say "F**k off"') but, judging by the amount of training material out there, it has become a lucrative and widespread business in both private and public sectors.

Perhaps it's just me, but I find this suggestion of 'driving' people into changing their behaviour more than a little repellent and no more so that when it concerns basic services; while customers can choose not to patronise a shop or restaurant which is trying to force them online, the same tactics used by the NHS or local councils are little short of bullying.

In between, there are the banks and utilities, where customers have a nominal choice but cannot easily dispense with the service altogether. It's bad enough for those of us who are computer-literate and can make the change, albeit under protest; customers who cannot comply often end up paying more and finding it hard to access their own accounts.

I'm quite happy to deal over the internet with companies where that was my first port of call but, where I initially chose to contact the organisation in person or over the phone, I expect that to continue where possible and, more importantly, particularly over financial or health matters, I neither expect nor want to be pressurised into putting my personal details online.

I've long thought that the banks and utilities are effectively treating us as somewhat recalcitrant livestock, applying the Patrician's principle of extracting money from the populace:
"Taxation, gentlemen, is very much like dairy farming. The task is to extract the maximum amount of milk with the minimum of moo." ('Jingo': Terry Pratchett)
To talk of 'driving' customers anywhere suggests that they see us that way too.

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To lighten the mood a little, the same trawl through the listings turned up this little gem of unfortunate phrasing:
'Richmond Vale Academy offers an A-certificate in “Fighting with the Poor” in St-Vincent and the Grenadines.'

Monday, 31 July 2017

What I Did On My Holidays

I'm happy to announce that the Tavern is re-opening for business; please come in and find yourself a seat at the bar.

Now, while I set about serving the drinks, I should perhaps offer a word or two in explanation (mitigation?) for the long silence. Blogging fatigue had well and truly set in when I hung the towels over the pumps and locked the door 18 months ago; whenever I spotted a news story ripe for comment, it turned out I had already subjected the regulars to a rant on the subject and I was in danger of recycling the whole repertoire.

To combat the blogging fatigue and a certain amount of overload at work, the Spouse and I have been spending most of our free time doing a bit of this...


(albeit in a rather more mundane vehicle) 

...leading to quite a lot of this.....



...and occasionally this...



...in order to restore a sense of proportion. 

It's certainly an effective way to get away from it all and, of course, we're not the only ones hoping to shake off the day-to-day stress in the mountains; we haven't yet bumped into the Prime Minister or Angela Merkel halfway up an Alp but I'm sure it's only a matter of time.

All this got me thinking; I recently noticed a picture of Mrs May in full poles-and-rucksack walking regalia in close proximity to this headline:
We're becoming a nation of couch potatoes: Number of British adults going for a stroll plummets 20% in a decade

I've written elsewhere of the peculiar phenomenon of otherwise sane and well-educated individuals becoming completely irrational at the mere mention of the name 'Margaret Thatcher', much as the playground gangs of my childhood lost all sense of proportion over opposing football teams; no self-respecting Rangers fan, for example, would join the Cubs and have to wear the detested green, while mere possession of a blue pencil-case would entitle the owner to a sound kicking from the Celtic contingent.

The juxtaposition of the two news stories led to an intriguing proposition; what if the rabid anti-May brigade are starting to conflate the woman and her much-publicised recreational pastime? Never mind the Communist-inspired mass trespass at Kinder Scout ('the embodiment of the working-class struggle for the right to roam') or our grandparents' tradition of a Sunday-afternoon stroll in the park; "We can't go for a walk; that's what Tories do!"

It's a far-fetched idea, perhaps but having seen at first-hand the mindless anti-Tory venom of the eighties, I can well believe there might be some kind of subliminal persuasion at work, aided and abetted by the myriad lures of electronic entertainment or the local shopping mall.