Thursday, July 27, 2017

Leeds misleads

The BBC headline was intriguing at first glance. Leeds, the old home town (OK, city) 'may' be about to 'get' a New York-style 'high line'. Wow, I thought. One in the eye for the Big Apple. But wait, it turns out Leeds has had it since Victorian times and the last time people could walk on it was 1988. If it's already there - all 92 viaduct arches of it - how come we're just about to 'get' it? A more accurate headline would have read 'Leeds remembers it's got a High Line that's every bit as impressive as those in New York and Paris'. But then, the city is rather good at forgetting things - like the flax mill built to copy an Egyption Temple, Colonel Harding's campanile tower, the forlorn Queen Victoria's Arch, abandoned to fate and the elements in Beckett's Park, and the Headingley Bear Pit.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Just a tiny bit call centre

I'm looking for some extra work at the moment and was offered a 'phone interview for a job with one of the major outsourcing companies (no names, you'll see why...) The advert was non-specific on a number of key areas: I knew what service was being provided, but for whom and how were well hidden behind generic - and in several places ungrammatical - waffle. A few minutes in, the HR bod mentioned that the job could involve handling a number of telephone calls, to which I asked 'is this a call centre?' A pretty straightforward question in the circumstances, one would have thought. To which the answer ran along the lines of 'no, um, rather yes'. It either is or it isn't - you can't be a 'little bit' call centre any more than you can be a little bit pregnant. There comes a point when relativism has to meet certain boundaries and I felt less than comfortable that an prospective employer could want to hide the real nature of a job by advertising in such broad terms.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Is there a competent elephant in the room?

It might come as a surprise, but there are some who work in the private sector who might be tempted to apply for a public sector post on the basis that it meets their skill set. Private sector job descriptions can be very long-winded and appear more as a wishlist for a superhuman form of employee possessing skills and experience that runs for page after page. For the intending applicant, these are daunting at first reading, but if you can group them into workable categories that can be addressed in the application, then a perceptive recruiter (even if not possessed of sufficient editorial skill to prune the verbage in the first place) can evaluate a ‘broad-brush’ application. In the public sector, however, the tendency now if for highly specific internal skills that appear almost impenetrable to the private sector (or, even worse, self-employed/freelance applicant). This is strange, given that many public sector employers trumpet ‘diversity’ and ‘equality’ as being key to their recruitment processes. The paradox is further complicated by the universal – if nonsensical – way that both public and private sectors have embraced competency-based interviews as the only game in town. Faced with the usual six competency questions (three broad, three job specific) the danger for the private sector ‘outsider’ who has made it to interview is that you are hard pressed to identify the key words and phrases that are often meat and drink to public sector ‘insider’ applicants. Short of a Rosetta Stone or the divining powers of a dowser, private sector or freelance applicants are immediately at a serious disadvantage and can go on to award themselves the bum’s rush before they even realise that something’s amiss in their responses. A nice touchy feely ‘We welcome applicants irrespective of age gender, orientation, ethnicity, religion’ is all very well, but diversity can go take a running jump if you then rule the applicant out by a too narrow or overly subjective application of the competency criteria.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Looking for Leeds Central

The first verse of Hue & Cry’s song Looking for Linda contains an intriguing railway mystery. Linda, the eponymous heroine/victim of the song is escaping from an abusive relationship when she meets the singer, a wandering railway troubadour presumably, on a slow train, heading – she hopes – for Paisley. So far, so ScotRail, but things then take a strange turn, as Linda keeps on running away ‘straight down to Leeds Central’. Now, assuming the slow train connected at Paisley to a train, or trains, that could take Linda to Leeds, the choice of the Central suggests time travel, because that station closed in May 1967, twenty-one years before the song was released. Leeds only has one main station now, the rather unimaginatively named Leeds City. It is the third busiest station outside London in the UK, behind Glasgow Central and Birmingham New Street, which rather suggests closing the Central wasn’t perhaps the smartest of Beeching’s moves, especially if you’ve ever had to wait on a stationary train until a platform comes free. Pat and Greg Kane’s choice of Central over City for Linda’s arrival into Leeds could be down to the way the words scan – arguably the former fits better than the shorter four-letter alternative, and avoids repetition of the word ‘city’ within the space of two words. As with many artistic choices, this creates an image in my mind of something I’m not even sure actually happened but represents a very important first meeting between my much younger self and great aunt Vera, my grandma’s sister. Vera lived in Dublin and her visits to Leeds were eagerly anticipated joyful occasions. In later years, she flew in to the then Yeadon Airport (now Leeds/Bradford), but her first visit of my lifetime was a sea crossing, from either Dun Laoghaire or North Wall to Holyhead, with a boat train bringing her the rest of the way. As Leeds Central closed when I was five, what follows could be mere wishful thinking on my part, but – like the song – actual reality isn’t as important as the impression. Great aunt Vera had to get off the train from Holyhead somewhere, and Leeds Central seems to be as good a place as any for me. In my memory, my parents, grandparents and I, are standing on a long platform with buffers in front and some trains, steam trains, close up to the buffers. Down a long side platform, running the length of a train, my great aunt is walking towards us, a great beaming smile on her face and the light playing on her pale ginger hair. Stations are evocative places; memories of arrivals and departures, families, friends, lovers reunited or divided. And Leeds Central would have been no different; it was a terminal station, so trains arriving here were going no further, this was the end of the line, and in 1967 those lines ended permanently. The ground was cleared of all trace of the railway, with the exception of two stone-built goods lifts, that had been used to transfer mail and other freight from road level to the platforms above. For many years they stood marooned amid a scene of urban devastation. Eventually, the site became the Aireside Shopping Centre, which suffered from a chronic lack of parking. Too close to the city centre to be ‘out of town’, you took pot luck finding a place to park either in front of the shops or dodging traffic wardens on the surrounding streets. Now the shoppers have gone, replaced by the Wellington Place Development, which means commerce and law have now moved onto the site. One of the three-storey goods lifts remains – a reminder of the station and all those who it brought into and out of the city. One last thought on Looking for Linda lyrics: £35 for a packet of fags was a hell of a lot in the 1980s - what was she smoking, gold-filter tipped Balkan Sobranies?