How to work flexibly without actually snapping

I’ve long been an advocate of flexible working. Our business lends itself quite well to it and we’ve been doing it for a long time, so it’s become normal and the default. We have a culture of flexibility. Need to pick the kids up at 3pm? OK. Want to start at 6am so you can look after the kids when your partner works an afternoon shift? Sure. Put in a load of extra hours in the last few weeks and want to skip Monday to take a breath? Entirely reasonable.

It’s not totally open-season of course. Like most businesses, we have some functions which require us to be in a certain place at a certain time. We promise our customers that our helpdesk will be staffed from 7:30am. Collaborative work, meetings and work with clients generally has to happen in ‘normal’ office hours. So we have to communicate and figure things out so everyone knows what’s going on. Fundamentally though, we have each other’s backs when it comes to making work fit in with ‘life’.

We’ve recently created a ‘wellbeing’ group in the business. This employee-led group is there to promote the general health, safety and wellbeing of everyone in the company, no matter what their role. One of the first issues to be raised is the impact of various people in the company sending e-mails and messages ‘out of hours’. I’m probably one of the people who does this the most – I work weird hours and long hours. I’m far from alone though – it’s very common for me to receive stuff all around the clock.

I understand the problem this can create for the recipient. When I get up at 6:30 there will be a handful of things on automated emails – newly released tenders, newsletters and wotnot. In the days when I was working more with our US subsidiary there would be emails from the end of the previous day. Increasingly there will be things from local colleagues who are working very early or very late. When I go to bed at 11pm they will still be coming in, along with interesting chatter on Twitter and LinkedIn. It literally never stops.

The result can be a creeping and relentless erosion of your personal identity as work is always there. So much of our home life is built around technology – chatting to friends, surfing Facebook, doing the shopping or booking a cinema ticket all takes you to your phone and iPad. When work emails, Teams messages or even corporate social media live on those same devices, separation of work and home becomes almost impossible. Gradually you come to realise that technology has dismantled whatever boundaries you had and the day is an interwoven thread of doing work, organising tonight’s meal, replying to a customer email, booking cinema tickets for the weekend, preparing a sales presentation, doing an online shop and running some software tests.

What can we do? One suggestion is that we ask people not to email their colleagues ‘out of hours’. As soon as I send a message I am putting the recipient under pressure to reply immediately. That’s especially true when a senior manager is asking more junior colleagues for something. If ‘the boss’ is working at 8pm then it’s natural to infer that I should be too. Wouldn’t it be best if people just didn’t send messages “out of hours”.

The rather obvious drawback to this is that it’s a first step in undoing flexible working. When we say “out of hours”, whose hours are we talking about? Such an approach nudges everyone back towards working 9-5, or at least marginalises those who work outside those hours as doing something undesirable or anti-social. It also puts the onus on the sender to know what hours the recipient (or recipients) want to work.

I think the primary responsibility actually lies with each of us to determine when we are available for work. Additionally, as a manager it’s on me to empower everyone else to do the same.

I have recently struggled with this issue myself. My working hours have stretched at both ends of the day, almost to the point of meeting in the darkest hours of the night. It culminated in a mini-burn out. Fortunately, physical exhaustion acted as a fuse, switching me off just before I failed emotionally. At the last minute I dropped out of our annual user group meeting – the event I enjoy most each year and one which so many of my colleagues put so much work into.

Having heard the warning shot loud and clear I took a few actions.

Firstly, I took a day off (and dumped my colleagues in the mire in doing so). I switched everything off, filled a flask of tea and took a walk with my dogs. I got wet. I chatted to other wet dog walkers. I drank tea and felt bad about letting colleagues down. And vowed never to ignore so many red flags again.

When I got home I removed all the personal stuff from my work laptop. And all the personal stuff from my work phone. I got a personal phone with a new number and gave that number to family and friends. For the first time in 25 years I can “turn off” work an still be reachable by my kids, family and friends.

So now I am in control of when I get work-related messages and have a clear line between work and personal space. I can’t get distracted by Twitter when I’m working because it’s on a different device. I can have my phone with me when I’m walking my dogs because work isn’t on it.

I have all the flexibility I need and it’s totally in my control, not dependent on anyone else knowing when I may or may not want to be ‘at work’. It’s guilt-free and stress-free too because I know that I’m still available to people who might really need me.

I try to set my working plan in advance – either in my head or written down somewhere. I have to know if I am “at work” or not. If I don’t, nobody else can! For example today I know I am going to finish this blog post (part work and part personal) and I’m going to do about an hour of prep this afternoon for tomorrow’s meetings. Apart from that, my work laptop and phone are switched off. I feel more in control and I know that during that hour later I will be more focussed and productive, with a set goal and a set time frame to work to.

I’m also taking breaks. I’m reluctantly accepting I am human, not to mention the wrong side of 50, and I need them. For me a break means I step away from my phone and my desk and think about something else. 10 minutes with a coffee and a dog usually does the trick.

I’m reminded of an analogy I heard recently. When an aeroplane has an emergency and the masks come down we are told to put our mask on first before helping anyone else. In management and teamwork the same applies – we must all look after ourselves to be able to help anyone else. So when I feel an urge to skip a break or reply to an email late at night I must be honest about my abilities and energy reserves. If I don’t then once again the fuses will trip and the lights will go out.

Parkrun Photo and Video Policy

I’ve been a Parkrun regular for almost 18 months now. Since May 2015 I’ve been to 7 different venues with my son, daughter, two nieces and my sister and brother in law. 2 weeks ago my 13 year old daughter completed her 50th Junior park run for her ‘Ultra’ band, to add to the 34 5km runs she has done. Her times are down by about 20% in that period and she’s been inspired to take up cross-country club running.

My 9 year old niece is a talented young athlete and from her first Park Run is now a keen club runner on the track and is giving my sister a run for her money over 5km every week. My 4 year old niece has just picked up her 11 run Junior band, although she ran a few ‘unofficially’ without a barcode before she was old enough to be eligible.

Even I, wrong side of 20 stone, have run a couple as I’ve shed nearly 3 stone and started a fitness program throughout 2016. As a family we have completed not far off 250 Parkruns.

Believe me, I get it. Parkrun is a fantastic thing and I recommend it to everyone.

On at least 30 of those visits I’ve taken my camera, photographed the runners as they pass and often shared a little banter. I always stay to the very end – the person coming in with the tail-runner is every bit as worthy of my attention as the semi-elite athlete who came home in 16 minutes something. Then, after several hours downloading, cropping and uploading I post a link on the relevant Parkrun facebook page. 

On a good weekend I can easily take 1000 photographs, which I will edit down to a couple of hundred. My Flickr account tells me how many people view the images, and it quickly gets into hundreds of times for each one. I’ve had lots of positive comments from people who like to see themselves, friends and family running and to have a photo to share.  

I read today that Parkrun is working on a photography policy because “from time to time, things have to change”. It’s not clear why they have to change, or what great calamity is to be averted, but coming soon is a new ‘photo and video policy’.

Here is a sneak preview of the policy… (you can find the full thing at

1. No names. Ideally, no full names would be attached to images of individuals. If the story/ communication would benefit from names being included, only use first names. As with all things parkrun, please let common sense prevail: if you have permission to attach someone’s name to a photo/ someone has been pleading with you to use their photo then of course it’s OK.

This seems to be about publishing and ‘stories’, not photography. If people don’t wish to be tagged in social media then they can set their profile accordingly. I observe, however, that Parkrun’s own website doesn’t offer such privacy – the full name of every runner and their placing is published every week, along with a full history of their previous runs. 

2. No ID. Avoid the inclusion of detailed information that could make individuals easy to trace, e.g. no pictures of children in a specific school uniform.

I don’t recall seeing anyone running in school uniform and if someone is keen to avoid being traced I’d suggest doing Parkrun in school uniform (and getting their name published in your results list) is a poor strategy. As a photographer I am in no position to assess the clothing or ‘personal details’ of every person who sprints past me.

3. Appropriate clothing. Only use images of people in suitable dress to reduce the risk of inappropriate use, e.g. no pictures of people in swimwear. 

Again, I don’t recall seeing people run in swimwear but if they choose to do so then I’d suggest they might expect to draw attention to themselves. As a photographer I am not going to attempt to judge what is appropriate and certainly not try to guess what you might think is appropriate. If someone wants to run through the park in a mankini then good luck to them.

4. Think positive. Images that are published or shared should positively reflect people’s involvement in parkrun, e.g. smiling and laughing parkrunners, not anxious or unhappy ones.

Seriously? When Parkrun takes off in North Korea then this may be acceptable. Until then I’ll photograph the real spectrum of emotion I see each week – the challenge, the discomfort and sometimes outright pain that makes completing a run so worthwhile and satisfying. 

5. Be inclusive. Wherever possible, photographs should include groups, not individuals, and should represent the broad range of people participating, e.g. boys and girls, people with disabilities, members of all communities. Again, let common sense prevail: if the purpose of a photo is to illustrate a story about an individual’s achievement then of course it is ok to be of just that individual.

It gets even better. No pictures of people running alone, only contrived groups of grinning, multiracial, mixed-gender runners from a cross section of social classes. What are you trying to achieve with this nonsense – images which truly representative of Parkrun or a pastiche of a yoghurt advert?

6. Delete if asked. If an individual, a parent or a carer asks for any photo to be removed or deleted, it should be done without question at the earliest opportunity.

This is common sense, good practice and above all else ‘being a nice person’. It really shouldn’t need a policy. 

7. Permission. Due to parkrun events taking place in public settings, it is not possible for individuals to opt in or out of being photographed/ filmed at an event. For this reason, it’s important that all event-specific websites state that photographing or filming is likely to take place. If you know in advance that specific/ out of the ordinary photography is going to take place on a specific week, e.g. parkrun are sending someone to take a video to be used for a specific promotional purpose, alert people to this beforehand via social media and your website, and include it in your pre-run briefing.

You’ve stumbled on the key point here. Parkrun takes place in public and it doesn’t matter what policies you write. People have no reasonable expectation of privacy (you might like to Google that phrase) and therefore there is no need (or point) in trying to alert people to it. 

Unless, of course, you want to give everyone the opportunity to get their hair done, like they do in the yoghurt ads?

Your policy does overlook one point. Many Parkruns take place on National Trust premises. Whilst these grounds are public places they may have additional rights to enforce a policy on photography. Your Run Directors should probably be aware of any restrictions and communicate them to ‘official photographers’. 

8. Volunteer photographers. At times, parkrun events will have a volunteer photographer in attendance. This is someone who is taking photographs/ videos for inclusion in parkrun UK communication and social media channels. Photographers must:
• register as an official volunteer
• make themselves known to the Run Director
• wear a high-vis vest at all times during the event

Must? Parkrun is in a public place, remember? I don’t have to register, wear bright yellow or make myself known to anyone. If I did any of those things people might reasonably assume that I was working on your North Korean yoghurt commercial, and that’s really not for me.


I take a lot of photographs, quite a few videos and also try to keep MP3 copies of all my CD’s.  In addition I have guitar tabs, emails and all sorts of other data which I really need to keep.  Although a good deal of my stuff is now ‘in the cloud’ I like to know that I personally have all the data and don’t depend on any single cloud provider continuing to exist.

However, I’m also lazy, disorganised and generally half-arsed in my approach to administration.  Backing up is never at the top of my list, so when I came to tackle it properly I knew I needed a completely automatic solution that would work with zero intervention.

This was my checklist

  • must back up EVERYTHING – all my photos, music etc.  At the time it looked like probably 100Gb plus, currently it’s 500Gb and by the end of this year I have no doubt I’ll be double that again
  • at least one copy of my data must be ‘off site’ (i.e. not in or near my house)
  • at least one copy must be ‘on site’ otherwise it won’t be quickly or reliably accessible
  • must not require any physical media – swapping tapes, DVD’s etc means I have to remember to do something

As this is all ‘personal use’ I also needed it be relatively cheap….

Here’s how it works.

In my living room I have a small Buffalo network attached storage drive wired into my network router.  It cost me about £150 about 2 years ago.  It has 2 1Tb hard drives in it, configured as a RAID mirror.  In simple terms the same data is written to both drives and if

 when a drive fails I can put a new one in and it will rebuild the data from the other drive.  I have a spare drive waiting for the fateful day, and I’ve tested it (that cost another £60).

Over wi-fi this drive is just about fast enough to work with directly, but for working with photographs in Lightroom etc I work on my PC and then ‘publish’ the files I want to keep to my NAS drive.  At that instant I have a copy of the files on the SD card, on the PC hard drive and mirrored copies on the NAS, so I’m fairly safe.

The instant the files hit my NAS drive, stage 2 kicks in.  I have an old MacMini which is too old to do anything useful with, but it sits next to the NAS and runs Crashplan.  This constantly backs up everything on the NAS to the Crashplan cloud servers using my broadband.  It’s bandwidth limited so it doesn’t kill my connection, but ensures that all my data gets ‘off site’ within a day or two of being written at worst.  The more upload bandwidth your broadband has the faster it will go, and I’m lucky to be on cable and get a reasonably good upload rate.

Additionally, the Crashplan software also copies the same data to a USB attached drive on the PC in my office (which is upstairs and at the other side of the house to the living room.  That takes a matter of minutes.

The best bit about Crashplan is that I can selectively restore via a web-browser, at my full download speed. So if my entire house were to disappear I can get the scanned copies of my insurance documents on my mobile phone or any other PC in an instant.  

Because the MacMini does nothing else, it just sits quietly (it has no fan) in the living room without mouse, keyboard or monitor doing what it does all day long.  I can VNC to it if I feel the need to check up on it, but I don’t because Crashplan emails me every day to tell me how up to date my backups are (usually very close to 100%).

Friends and Family

One downside of being an IT geek is that I am the family computer consultant, fixing Dad’s laptop in return for a Sunday lunch.  The Crashplan software is brilliant – all my family’s computers automatically back up to my living room over the internet, absolutely free of charge.  When it all goes horribly wrong I know I have copies of Mum’s holiday snaps safely in my living room and my office.

All the data is encrypted so I can’t see it, but I can tell whether it’s up to date.  Right now Dad’s laptop is 100% backed up, but next week they’ll be downloading all the memory cards from their fortnight abroad and it will take a week or so to transfer it all.

The Costs

NAS drive – about £150

Spare disk – about £60

USB3 hard drive – about £80

Crashplan subscription – $5 per month

Links and Disclaimers

I don’t work for Crashplan in any capacity, I’m just a very satisfied customer and recommend them wholeheartedly.  Even if you don’t sign up, get their software and use it to back up to a USB drive or to another PC.  It’s fully automatic and means you just can’t forget to do it, and if something goes wrong it will email to tell you.

My NAS drive is a Buffalo LinkStation Duo, 2 x 1Tb.  It’s not perfect but it’s worked pretty well – the user interface is a bit clunky and it’s awfully slow to rebuild the mirror when swapping the drive.  The newer versions have much bigger capacity options.

Deal or No Deal

I should imagine that many Liberal Democrats have spent today agonising over what should now be done. To the injury of a dreadful election result we may now be about to add the insult of a Lib-Con coalition. Many have recoiled in horror at that thought, myself included.

Labour and Conservative politicians alike scoff at our party. We have no experience. We are naive. We are simply a mish-mash of disaffected socialists, wet conservatives and bearded weirdos with no real driving principle. Even if all that is true, we are now standing at a major decision point and the stakes are rather high. The next few days are not just about policy. They are not even just about politics. This is a three-sided chess game with no written rules.

Despite the myriad permutations, I see three options for the Liberal Democrats. The first is that we simply remove ourselves from the melee and declare that we will take each vote as a matter of pure policy and support the ones we agree with. No coalitions, no deals. This is not a credible position. For a party to campaign for proportional representation and ‘balanced parliaments’ and then be unable to work with other groups would be absurd.

The second possibility is a Lib-Lab pact of some form. This is undoubtedly a much more comfortable position for a great many of the Liberal Democrat membership. Senior figures in both parties have pointed out that there are areas of common ground, including the Labour party’s new found commitment to electoral reform. Forgotten for 13 years, this became a key priority for Harriet Harman at approximately five past ten on Thursday evening. Indeed, the sickening parade of Labour hopefuls queuing up to convert to the cause of vote reform might serve as a reminder to those who feel more comfortable with a Labour deal that all that glitters is not gold.

Ideology aside, the maths for a Lib-Dem / Labour coalition barely stack up. The ‘finishing line’ for an overall majority is 323 (assuming Sinn Fein continue to absent themselves). Labour plus Liberal Democrats amounts to only 315. Even 100% support from Plaid Cymru and the SNP leaves only a majority of one seat. So the coalition would have four members, and only then if the parties had 100% discipline. This would not be a strong government in anyone’s eyes and would struggle to provide the radical platform for economic change that is required, even with a new Labour leader as Prime Minister.

The final option is the unholy alliance with the Conservatives. A great part of their Queen’s Speech would be utterly unacceptable to the majority of Lib Dems, myself included. As hard as it is to accept, the Conservatives have 5 times the seats of the Liberal Democrats and have an unimpeachable argument for keeping much of their program. With a combined total of 363 seats the programme could certainly be delivered, even with some disaffected rebels voting against key bills. Negotiations may falter however, simply on the basis of electoral reform. Cameron’s current offer is of no value at all and the Liberal Democrats can and should accept nothing short of a serious commitment to reform in this parliament. For 23% of the vote to carry less than 10% of the seats is indefensible.

Nick Clegg may be in an impossible position. Walk away from the Conservative deal and the Lib Dems can be blamed for ‘letting them in’ as a minority government by splitting the progressive vote. At the next election, perhaps as soon as the autumn, the old two-party system will be stronger than ever as people vote against Tory cuts and injustice and the failure of a hung parliament. Proportional representation will be as distant a dream as ever and the lurch from ‘tax and spend’ to ‘slash and burn’ and back again will continue for at least another generation.

The alternative is that Nick Clegg should wring the very best deal possible out of the Conservatives and perhaps dilute some of their most damaging policies. It will take great courage to lead the party into such a coalition. Liberal Democrats will have to support some truly awful policies in order to win some of the changes our country needs so much. If we can deliver some real improvements in the structure and funding of education along with fairer taxation for the poorest it may be the best option available.

Some Liberal Democrats will find this utterly unacceptable. I would remind them that this is politics, and furthermore it is the politics of the balanced parliament we all wanted. We can’t have all the policies we want because we didn’t win outright. Neither can anyone else. Liberal Democrats have long campaigned for a breakdown of right-left politics and a move to representative leadership. The time for that is now. Let’s not pretend that we are all going to play nice and share our toys. We should fight tooth and nail to deliver the fairness agenda that was the cornerstone of the campaign. Whether we are working with the Conservatives or Labour should be a matter of who can best deliver those key reforms. At the top of that list must be electoral reform.

The more I go to Church, the more atheist I become

A few weeks ago I was at yet another funeral.  Oddly enough I find funerals to be rather uplifting affairs, bringing together a family and giving everyone a chance to reflect on the brevity of life and the limited time we have to do something really meaningful with it.

For me, a lifelong atheist, nothing throws this into sharper focus than the 30 minutes or so spent in a cold church, muttering hymns at my shoes and shuffling uncomfortably as the vicar tries (and on one splendid occasion failed repeatedly) to remember the name of the person he’s paying tribute to.   For me the church, at least as a physical building if not an institution, is full of well-meaning folks who are completely wasting their lives talking to the sky.

I’m a liberal sort of fellow and have no objection to anyone doing whatever they wish with their time, within the bounds of not harming anyone else.  Standing there in a cold church listening to a vicar none of us had met and an organist who couldn’t play I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony.  Life is not everlasting.  We can do good things with the brief time we have.  The vicar and the organist were clearly ‘good people’, but to my mind they were great examples of how easy it is to waste it.

Bin collections – a matter of life and death?

In the current snowy conditions, with all the relevant agencies and motoring organisations warning against non-essential travel, Twitter is alive with the sound of people moaning that their bins are not being collected.  It is a collision of two great British media obsessions – the weather and bins.  I haven’t yet seen the Daily Express weave Princess Diana into the picture, but perhaps they are working on that angle right now.

cars and trucks on road in bad weather, blurred image

The most striking aspect of all this Twitter-talk is that most of the people complaining seem to be at home.  I imagine it is far too dangerous for them to attempt to drive their small hatchbacks along the street, let alone walk to work.  And yet they are aghast that council managers are not willing to send out 26 tonne (gross weight when full) wagons down ungritted residential roads, where children are rightly playing (because teachers clearly cannot open schools) to pull heavy bins along icy pavements.

Let’s put it in perspective.  If the council don’t collect your bin, it will have to stay full for a few days.  Most councils are relaxing their side waste policies so they can catch up next week.  Your life won’t be blighted for too long.  Store the waste in the garage, in your recycling bin or perhaps in the boot of the car you can’t drive.

The alternative is that a 26 tonne truck may just slide straight through your garden.

Why Engineers Shouldn’t Design Stuff!

It’s a small complaint.  In a world where people starve, kill each other and worse, this is going to sound like an absurd middle-class whinge.  Which it is, but here goes anyway.

It rained yesterday.  Not just the ordinary rain that we get on a regular basis, but the really heavy stuff that bounces off the pavement, runs down the street and overwhelms the gutters.  I’d rather have 2 hours of that than the usual 3 days of drizzle but it came right at the time of the school run.  So by the time I’d walked up the school drive, through the flooded playground and back down to the car park I was pretty soaked.

The school car park was a mass of three-point turns and kamikazi parents in family cars.  As I manoeuvred out of the car park my stress levels were up, but I made it out and set off.  Taking a deep breath and relaxing, I accelerated over 10mph.  In a BMW that is the point at which the car decides you are properly moving.  Accordingly, the doors locked and the parking sensors switched off.  And the little sensor that knows whether the doors are shut properly decided to tell me that the back door wasn’t shut properly.

It had known this from the second I closed it.  Before I got into the car.  Before I started the engine.  Before I engaged first gear.  Before I released the handbrake.  Instead of troubling me with this crucial information whilst I was in the car park, stationary and able to rectify my mistake, it waited for me to exit a junction and enter a one way street with no safe place to stop.  That, it judged, was the perfect time to tell me that my toddlers door wasn’t closed properly.

If anyone from Munich, or indeed anywhere on Planet Earth, can tell me why that is a good idea then I’d love to hear it.  Right now it has pissed me off enough to put me right off the blue propeller for good.

I pay your wages (and i’m happy to)

Sitting this morning in one of Barnsley’s recently refurbished park play areas with a coffee and a twix I got to pondering just what I get for my council ta (which for the record is just north of £100 per month). More to the point I thought about how it stacks up against my other monthly bills.

TV and broadband costs about £50 per month, and for that I can have as much conversation and telly as I want. I can also do all sorts of interesting stuf on the Internet.

Gas costs about £100, a bit more if you include the service contract. For that I have a warm house and occasionally (and briefly) clean children. If the boiler breaks I get it fixed.

Car insurance – both cars together are about £150 per month. If one gets bent they straighten it for me. It was very poor value until about 12 months ago when I recouped about 17k of my investment…

So, what do the workshy idiots in the Council give me for my £100 per month?

  • Unlimited use of large areas of well kept parkland
  • Empty bins every week
  • Street swept every few week
  • If my house catches fire they send someone round to put it out
  • They educate my children
  • They exercise a degree of control over the pubs and clubs in my area
  • They check that the local chippies and takeaways are ‘broadly compliant’ with health standards
  • They check that the buildings being built in my area won’t fall down any time soon
  • Unlimited loans of books and other media from the library
  • Enforcement of parking laws to ensure the roads keep clear

And probably a few more I’ve overlooked.

So when the direct debit fires again in a few days and takes me that bit closer to skint I wont begrudge it. The system could be fairer (ability to pay shouldn’t be measured by the size of your house) but local government spending is not unreasonable.

Ferry good indeed

I travel to Ireland quite a bit, and although I love the place it’s frankly a pain in the arse if you want to get to anywhere other than Dublin.

At the moment I mostly travel to a place about an hour south-east of Limerick. There are three airport options – Shannon, which isn’t well served; Dublin, which has dozens of flights per day but is a three-hour drive away or Cork, which isn’t well served, is 2 hours away but has a very nice hotel in the airport. So day-trips aren’t possible and there is always hassle with hire cars (Ireland seems to have mostly broken hire cars in my experience).

My normal route is an 90 minute drive to the airport (including parking time), 90 minutes wasted in check-in, an hour flying then 3 hours drive to the client. That means setting off at 4.30am and arriving, exhausted, at about noon. We then get half a day’s work done and stay in a hotel. Half a day’s work the following day then a dash back to Dublin to fly home, exhausted, arriving at about 11pm. In total we get about 9 hours with the client at the expense of 2 very long days.

I have accidentally found an alternative. Instead of the flying I am writing this from the Plus lounge of the Stena Adventurer. It takes a bit longer for sure – the drive to Holyhead is 3 hours and I still need to leave an hour for check-in. The crossing takes 2-3 hours depending on the exact ferry you catch. However, there are some serious upsides…

i) I haven’t had to lug my bags across a car park, onto a bus and through an airport. They are in the boot of my car.
ii) Check-in was a matter of reading out my reference number and hanging a card from the rear-view mirror
iii) At no point have I been frisked, had my shoes removed or had to place my laptop in a plastic tray
iv) There are three (yes, three) separate first-class lounges – one with leather-ish swivel chairs and plasma TV’s, one with meeting tables and one with just chairs. All have free drinks, snacks and waitress-service for full meals, reasonably priced.
v) The wi-fi is not just free, it also works. I don’t have to put my laptop away or fold up my table while we set off.
vi) the nearest person to me in the lounge at present is about 40 feet away. I can’t hear his conversation or smell his feet
vii) if the ferry is late (and it won’t be) it doesn’t matter. My car is downstairs, and when we arrive I’ll drive home.
viii) when I’m bored writing this blog I am going to go to my private cabin and have 3 hours sleep
ix) when I booked, I saw the price and that is what i paid. No ‘ferry terminal’ tax, extra charge for my golf clubs or a hidden fee for booking online / not booking online etc etc.

The price of the trip is £125 each way, plus £25 for the cabin (which I didn’t bother with on the day sailing out). It’s fully flexible – if you are late, just get the next one. If you are early, get the earlier one. Last time I flew it was about £150 plus the cost of the hire car.

So it’s half the price, 100% less hassle and Ryanair don’t get any of my money.

What’s not to like?

It must never happen again….

Last night I watched “The Miner’s Strike” on the telly. This morning I read a heartfelt and well-reasoned blog post on the subject, and felt compelled to add my tuppence-worth.

I was 13 at the time and the program simply reminded me of my perspective at the time. Born and bred in Wakefield, we too were pretty close to the reality of it, as were my wife’s family who all came from Grimethorpe.

Last night’s program astonished me in that the word ‘coal’ was hardly mentioned. It underlined the fact that the miner’s strike had very little to do with coal, even though it did start off as being ostensibly about the mining industry. It was a class-war, started by a power-crazed, dogmatic autocrat. And in the other corner was Margaret Thatcher.

Against the backdrop of a coal-industry that was oversupplying coal at loss-making prices after decades of massive public investment where clearly ‘something had to be done’ were two individuals who callously used their power to send good people into an appalling and distructive situation. I simply cannot understand how Arthur Scargill has escaped largely blame-free whilst the popular view is to rail against the police and just about everyone else. He started a strike without any vote and refused to consider anything short of total government and NCB capitulation.

The police did as they were told because that it was police forces always do. Individuals behaved very badly, as individuals do when forced to take sides. The pickets also did as they were told (or conditioned to do by years of “working class hero” culture) – they were equally manipulated by the NUM leadership who denied them a vote and rapidly became an embarrassment even to the Labour party they were affiliated with.

Orgreave was a dark day. It is widely portrayed as some kind of trade-union ‘Bloody Sunday’ and the misreporting of the events (for example the BBC showing events in the wrong order) certainly doesn’t help matters. There seems little doubt that the police initiated the violence, whether to protect themselves, property and the innocence or for some malevolent higher reason. However, that ignores the fact that somewhere in the order of six thousand pickets (including Scargill himself, complete with loud hailer) mobbed a relatively small place in Sheffield with the intention of forcibly preventing people exercising their freedom to simply go to work. 6000 people is not a picket line. It is an organised riot, and the police had to respond with similar numbers.

In the end, all parties lost. The miners lost their entire industry, partly because of the wider economic situation, partly because they got into a fight with the party that had seen their previous Prime Minister toppled by the NUM and partly because they refused to accept that change had to come.

The people, particularly in the coalfield areas of Yorkshire, South Wales and the North East, saw their society torn apart. Families went hungry and the ordinary “working class” people were divided and degraded. The UK in general squandered the opportunity to properly use a vast resource of energy, driven by a short-term economic view and lack of any real foresight.

Have we learnt any lessons? I don’t think so. Our current Labour government has misused the police and armed forces with a flair that would have taken Thatcher’s breath away. Angry protesters still flood the streets and have pitched battles with the police and achieve virtually nothing. Innocent people still die, whether they are walking home from work through London (see Saturday’s Guardian) or driving a taxi to a colliery. Young servicemen are still dying in numbers because of the political positioning, arrogance and fear of democracy of our government. Trade unions are still stacked full of people with political aspirations and an inability to see any bigger picture than ‘workers against management’.

But the most revealing part of the entire documentary last night was right at the end. The documentary had to wrap up with a quick 2 minute summary of what had happened post-strike and post-mining to the main subjects. Unsurprisingly, those pickets, who were fighting tooth and nail to “save their industry” because there was simply no other option have actually gone on to have happy, productive and fulfilling lives without the coal industry. Relaxed and smiling they told us how they had formed new careers and new skills. Things had turned out so well that they could look back on 1984/5 and say “wouldn’t have missed it for the world”.

That’s perhaps a lesson that large industries, governments and the trade unions could all learn. Change will come and fighting it is usually futile. If change is embraced and communities, businesses and governments work together then it can end well without all the pain, suffering and injustice of 1984.