Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy new rug

The manager of a nearby petrol station has gone for a surprising new look. For the past dozen or so years, he would perhaps best be described, along with myself, as 'folicly challenged' or bald as a coot, if you prefer.
Today, however, he sprang a surprise. Summoned to the counter to answer a query as to the availability of the jet wash, he appeared from the newspaper aisle sporting a bouffant gentleman's hairpiece that was as startling in its luxuriance as for its man-made lustre. So much nylon, close to petrol dispensing equipment might be inadvisable on safety grounds; so much new, artificial hair, as featured in his syrup, was also a threat to good order and discipline in the queue to pay.
Once I got over the shock, and mastered the urge to stare, my initial reaction was one of midlife crisis or urge to impress a new special someone in his life. Either way, what better time than a new year to completely throw over the traces and face the future with a bold, if nylon, new look?
Happy new year.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Read all about it?

I was at the gym when Sky broke the story of the shooting by police of Antonio Martin in Berkeley, Missouri. We don't have Sky at home - I can't abide the thought of adding money to Murdoch's obscene coffers, and I'm a former print worker, so there's no love lost between us. However, at the gym - as in many other areas of life, Sky is the only news source going. I was further limited by restricting myself to subtitles (Van Morrison provided my personal music soundtrack this morning). On returning home, my 16-year-old son brought me up to speed. He followed the Micheal Brown shooting and aftermath in Ferguson and couldn't believe it was starting again. His news was brought to me in a fast moving array of YouTube and website reports. I was amazed at the information he'd been able to gather in a short space of time. When I contrasted this with Sky's pared down coverage, he replied 'that's why I don't get my news from the news channels'. He's learning fast, and so are his contemporaries. Social conscience informed by the views of the world around him.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Recruitment agencies - a suitable case for regulation, or possible extermination

I'm a qualified and experienced post-16 teacher. Wanting to increase my teaching work, I registered with some agencies - mainly because many FE colleges now only recruit part-time and hourly paid teaching staff in this way. The downside - for the teacher - here is that, while agencies class you as 'self-employed', in reality you have the worst of both worlds, being expected to pay for such essentials as DBS checks (successor to the CRB), allowing you to work with young people, you can't claim travel or other expenses that the true self-employed can, because you are treated as an employee by HMRC. This not-so-neat trick aside, I naively thought that the agency would take the leg-work out of the job search. How wrong I was. For a start, registering with one online service seems to mean that your details are passed to a number of others, who all then send you details of the same job (albeit sometimes with different pay rates - of which, more later). The other problem is that, initially at least, you are promised a fantastic service and rapid results. In my case, this is mere hot-air: my subject - Law - is not one where vacancies often occur, so I soon learned to weed out the fantasy merchants. Now, to pay. I recently entered a digital merry-go-round involving a sixth form college near Wakefield that uses an agency to fill its vacancies. Having registered with the agency and filed my CV online, I was perplexed to see the advert on the agency's website, only to be told that there was a more urgent vacancy in Barnsley. Too far to travel, I told them - especially on the £16.00 per hour fee on offer, but Wakefield would be fine. The agency bod promised to get back to me, but then fell into sullen silence. The job was re-advertised several times online, and I applied to each one. Finally, tiring of getting nowhere with the agency, I contacted the college direct. Their HR dept were, I was assured, responsible for advertising all vacancies - they're on our website, I was also told. So I tried to apply direct, only to be informed that there were no Law teaching vacancies. No-one seemed to tell the agency, however, because the email alerts for this - now mythical - job kept on coming. Finally, someone from the agency got in touch to arrange an 'informal meeting' with a curriculum manager at the college, the pay? A princely £16.00 per hour. Now, this isn't a teacher-whinge: I also work in the real world of publishing so I know pay levels haven't increased much, if at all, for the best part of 10 years. But I also realise that for every lesson in the classroom, you need to make extensive preparations and mark the resulting efforts of your students, so £16.00 for the hour on your feet actually teaching soon reduces when you factor in the preparation and marking to something approaching minimum wage levels. Question to FE students and their parents: do you, or your offspring, really want to be taught by a teacher earning close to the minimum wage? We're talking A-levels here, a two-year commitment intended to prepare students for university. Sixteen pounds an hour isn't much in the way of incentive to stay with a college for two minutes, let alone the two years of AS and A2 level study, and students value continuity and the relations they establish with their tutors. Who, also remember, are frequently called on to help out with UCAS applications - a time-consuming, though ultimately enriching experience for all concerned, but one that cries out for continuity of service. After all, you can't provide a meaningful reference if you're the fourth teacher to deliver the subject because the other three have left to take up more lucrative work involving burger-flipping or manual car washing. I finally decided against taking up the offer of the 'informal chat' when a second agency - one I hadn't previously registered with - contacted me via a site called CV Library, which seems to act as a clearing house for employment agencies, offering the same post at £18.00 per hour, which proves that agencies must be making a large profit by suppressing the wages of those hapless enough to register with the hoping for a decent wage for their labours. The growth of teacher recruitment agencies has not been matched by any meaningful protection for those who look to them for work, and there is little to prevent the more desperate 'recruitment consultants' making extravagant claims when enticing in new recruits. For me, I'll stay with my two-days' teaching and wait for an upturn in publishing. Either that, or I could join the fantasists in recruitment consultancy - there are several teaching agencies who regularly advertise their internal vacancies amongst the teaching and training jobs. Wonder how I'd manage as a gamekeeper turned poacher?

Friday, December 12, 2014

The simplicity of right wing propaganda - a lesson from Goebbels

Profoundly disturbed to receive, via Facebook, something forwarded by a friend from the I am Proud to be British Facebook 'community', which says the overseas aid budget should be used to house homeless ex-servicemen. Now, where to begin: first - there is no either/or here; the overseas aid budget is far in excess of the housing needs they purport to identify; second - it isn't meant to be an intellectual exercise, rather it's an attempt to create fear and hatred of 'them': foreigners, those that differ from me/us. And it isn't meant to assist homeless ex-service personnel one iota. Rather, it's intended to further a blinkered, far-right agenda: stigmatise the scapegoats and frighten the masses: how Goebbels would approve! I prefer Auden's approach, Epitaph on a Tyrant he wrote:
Perfection of a kind, was what he was after, And the poetry he invented was easy to understand; He knew human folly like the back of his hand, And was greatly interested in armies and fleets; When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter, And when he cried the little children died in the streets
By my reckoning, they've reached the easy invention of their themes, and are delighted to experiment with human folly in garnering as many shares, hits and likes as possible. We need to be afraid when they discover armies and fleets - and watch out for those Tories who, anxious to save their skins, suddenly find an accommodation rather easy to swallow, for they will be the first to quake at the jokes made at the expense of the lost, lonely, different or disadvantaged.

Monday, December 08, 2014

A little known cause of man-flu?

The middle-aged male cashier who served me Sainsbury's this afternoon was plainly under weather. After laughing off his symptoms with a self-deprecatory diagnosis of man-flu, he then said that it was nonetheless a real condition. His special pleading then broke down, because he put his plight down to excess oestrogen!
Cue hilarity from self and two women ahead of me in the queue.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Northern Powerhouse, poverty pay

Now that the excitement over George Osborne's discovery that the North is not the desolate region his father-in-law believes it to be is settling (and how many of the more excited commentators neglected to mention that our 'sovereign wealth fund' will be funded by fracking profits?) more attention needs to be paid to the value of the Northern skills base. An illustration of persistent, and pernicious, undervaluation is found in an advert for experienced freelance editors, placed recently by a Manchester-based agency. PSUK wants editors educated either to PhD level, or who are advanced members of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders to work on academic titles for the miserly sum of £12.00 per hour! SfEP suggested rates for this work range from £22.00 to £27.50. Needless to say, this SfEP Advanced Member won't be applying.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Fraud is good!

Received a piece of puffery from a business consultancy, telling me that fraud has to be expected in a percentage of all business transactions. This, they reckon, is a good sign, as it means we are now recognising the inevitability of fraud in business and can work with clients to address the issue (using, of course, the flummery only they could provide...) I countered this by reminding the sender that 'greed is good' has now become hackneyed, but they came back to say that ethically businesses have to allow for fraud in their planning and negotiations. At this point, I had to admit finding their enthusiasm and acceptance of fraud to be a profoundly depressing comment on the state of business and commercial life. How can something that causes misery and harm be acceptable in the shiny world of corporate piffle and froth?