Thursday, 14 February 2019


Olivia Bland's interview from hell made national news after she tweeted about the ghastly experience she had where her interviewer belittled her, took apart her application line by line, and even criticized the way she sat amongst other things.

Apparently this is called a 'stress interview', a technique used to gauge how people cope under pressure.

Surely the fact it is an interview is sufficient stress on anybody though?  Only candidates on The Apprentice breeze into these situations supremely self-confident and sure of their own abilities!

Her experience reminded me of an interview I had years ago for a public sector role.

The interview panel also used this stress technique, expect I didn't know that it was a technique at the time - I just thought they were being incredibly negative, hostile and downright rude!

The questions I was asked included why I thought I could even do this particular job, given the degree I had, and why had I even applied in the first place?

Obviously, this threw me, and after concocting some sort of answers only to be faced with further negativity, I heard myself saying "Right, let's stop there shall we and not waste any more of your or my time - I'm obviously not what you're looking for."

Not that I would recommend this as a typical interviewee response, but it did have the effect of stopping them in their tracks and becoming friendlier, however by then it was too late for me and I left the interview room with as much dignity as I could muster under the circumstances.

I probably cried when I was in the safety of my car, but to be honest I can't remember that bit.  I do vividly remember though how worthless and stupid the panel had made me feel.

The upside of this story is that when I had to interview people for jobs many years later, I always tried to put candidates at their ease and never treated them the way I'd been treated on that occasion - I'm hoping that Olivia will take that lesson away with her too.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Rutland - Multum In Parvo

I was genuinely pleased for our neighbours in Rutland that their county was placed third in the best places to live in the entire country.

It is indeed a lovely county, with beautiful towns, villages and countryside - worthy of its Latin motto 'Multum In Parvo', meaning much in little. 

Slightly more inspiring than our Northamptonshire's 'Let Yourself Grow' which doesn't really mean much, does it?  I preferred to be greeted with 'Rose of the Shires' when crossing back across the border, but there you go.

Anyhow, it seems even Rutland isn't immune from bank closures: the last branch standing in Uppingham - Barclays - has announced it is to close, the same week that Santander announced their Corby branch was shutting.

Claims that it's down to the fact people bank differently these days are starting to ring a little hollow, well at least to my ears.

While I accept that some people prefer to bank online or on their smartphones, others are being forced to bank differently because banks keep on shutting branches!

I've lost count of the number of times I've been standing in my bank queue and have been approached by a member of staff, 'helpfully' pointing out that I can use a machine instead.

Well, I don't want to use a machine thank you - I want to deal with an actual human being.  I actually like exchanging pleasantries with a bank clerk, and making sure that my transaction is being carried out correctly.

On the last occasion I was approached thus, I said to the member of staff concerned, very politely, that she was actually talking herself and her colleagues out of a job.

Her reply was that she much preferred using her iPad and encouraging other people to use the machines instead.

I'm not sure she appreciated the irony of this statement, or she perhaps just didn't care.

But I'm really concerned for all our towns if banks and shops keep closing down - what will be left, and where will people work?

Thursday, 31 January 2019


I'm just about old enough to remember the 'clunk, click, every trip' ad campaign that ran to remind us all that it was the law to wear a seatbelt.

As far as I'm aware, the only exemptions were drivers of milk floats - not because their lives were worth any less than other road users, just that when they're driving around at silly o'clock in the morning on an electric milk float at 5mph, they're hopefully unlikely to be catapulted through the windscreen.

Plus, as they had to leap swiftly in and out of their vehicle, a seatbelt would hamper this speedy manoeuvre, or so the reasoning went I seem to recall.  I could of course be incorrect - it was about 40 years ago and I was very young at the time.

In today's modern cars, there is an alarming buzzer that rings relentlessly to remind you to put your seatbelt on too, lest you somehow forget.  In my car it screams at such an annoying level that you couldn't possibly continue driving, as your ears would be bleeding, and that would be extremely unpleasant as well as potentially dangerous.

So to be honest, I was very surprised that the Queen and Prince Philip were both pictured appearing to be driving without seatbelts, just after the Duke of Edinburgh's car crash on a busy Norfolk road.

Firstly, I was surprised that they were driving themselves.  Now don't get me wrong, this isn't an ageist comment in the slightest.  If their eyesight is fine and they're safe and competent, why shouldn't older people continue driving?

No, I was surprised that with the number of staff they have - personal protection officers, chauffeurs etc - that they would even want to drive themselves.

Personally, I would happily take a back seat and let a professional chauffeur me about!

What with one eye on the potholes, another on the traffic, plus monitoring speed limits, and the sheer volume of cars and lorries, I would much rather sit back, relax and watch the scenery scud past.

Sadly, despite my love of all things automotive, I find there's little pleasure in driving these days.

Thursday, 24 January 2019


Tony Blair is history.  Perhaps I need to clarify that statement - Tony Blair's time as Prime Minister is now being taught as part of the GCSE History syllabus.

Now, I don't know about you, but for me that's a scary thought.  How can something which seemingly happened so recently be taught in history lessons?!

I remember it all too vividly - the Blairs sweeping into Downing Street accompanied by their 'Things Can Only Get Better' D:Ream soundtrack, which truthfully could now become our national song, recited every morning to encourage us to get out of bed and face another day in Great Britain.

But yes, I realise it's actually over 20 years ago, so even though I might think of it as yesterday, it really does qualify as history.

I felt a bit like that watching the BBC Icons programme on Leaders too.  Not the segments on Churchill and Roosevelt, obviously - I'm not that old - but certainly the pieces on Thatcher and Mandela.  This was history that I actually lived through and could remember clearly.

Although I did wonder why the Brighton hotel bombing by the IRA and the Falklands war were omitted from the piece about Margaret Thatcher - surely these were key events from her time in office?

I think it's safe to say that Mrs Thatcher was a fairly divisive figure at the time, so I wasn't entirely surprised that she didn't win the public vote to go forward to the final for the Icon of the 20th century.

But having heard Maggie's achievements listed out by Sir Trevor McDonald, it was hard not to admire her grit and determination to rise from her humble beginnings and smash the glass and class ceilings of the Palace of Westminster.

We shall probably not see the likes of her again - which I appreciate some may say is a good thing - but you have to wonder what she'd make of the state of the nation currently, and how the history books will view it all in 20 years' time.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Build communities, not just more houses

Having watched both parts of 'Billy Connolly: Made In Scotland', I can assure The Big Yin that it didn't depress me in the slightest.

On the contrary, he was inspirational - funny, honest, witty, intelligent, multi-talented, multi-layered and insightful.  His perceptiveness remains undiminished, and reminiscing about his Glasgow childhood revealed points which still have resonance today should people care to listen.

He discussed the importance of libraries, particularly to working class kids, and said "The Library is the key, all the knowledge in the world is there.  Books are your ticket to the whole world, a free ticket to the entire earth."

He also discussed being relocated to the new housing estate at Drumchapel, along with tens of thousands of other Glaswegians.  Of this he observed:

"Drumchapel had indoor plumbing, problem was we had f*** all else.  No amenities.  It was a crime to move thousands of people to a housing estate with no cinemas, no theatres, no cafés, no shops, no churches, no schools, just houses.

"Even as a boy I knew cafés, cinemas, community were the key to a sane life.  If a place has none of those things a dullness descends, a kind of anger develops, and if you have no way of articulating that anger you just lash out."

How often, particularly around here, do we hear about yet another planning application for hundreds, even thousands of homes?

And how often are shops, community centres, cafés, schools, nurseries, medical facilities or churches built simultaneously to accompany those houses?

Priors Hall Park is to finally get its own shop - a Sainsbury's Local - many years after its first residents moved in.

Why can't all councils make it a condition that if developers want to build more houses, they have to ensure that the infrastructure and ancillary facilities are first in place? 

Improve the access roads, make cycle-ways and well-lit footpaths, build community parks, centres and facilities before, or at least at the same time as, the houses are constructed.  Otherwise it's cruel to move people in and not ensure they have decent community facilities necessary for a sane life.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Saddened by the plight of HMV

Not being a 'streamer' I was saddened to hear about the plight of HMV, my go-to source of music and DVD entertainment.

I am a regular shopper in the Kettering and Leicester stores, where I've been going since I was a teenager, so my loyalty stretches back for many years.

I appreciate times are changing - I've moved from buying cassette tapes to CDs after all - but it greatly saddens me to think of our High Streets without music shops.

In my mind, you can't beat going in and browsing through the shelves of a good music or book store.

You often find things you weren't expecting, can ask the knowledgeable and helpful staff for recommendations, and can enjoy the general vibe that comes from being in the company of like-minded people.

Because there is a tribe that inhabits music shops, of which I'm proud to be a member.

The people who feel passionately about music and would actually like to hear a whole album just as the artistes intended, rather than pick out the hit song that's played repeatedly on mainstream media.  The folk that like to appreciate the album sleeve artwork, read the sleeve notes and study the lyrics - that's not just me, right? 

So yes, it'll be a shame if a buyer isn't found for HMV, and yet another great British institution disappears forever.

I would urge you all to shop there, or continue to do so if you do already, but you're perhaps getting bored with me saying 'use it or lose it'.

It seems the digital world is swiftly replacing our physical purchases, so I'm in danger of becoming a Canute-like character, simply shouting at a relentless and remorseless tide.

I don't have a solution, other than to carry on shopping there as usual until the metal rollerblind doors clang shut for the final time should a saviour not be found. 

If that day comes, I reserve the right to openly and unashamedly weep for what we've lost, and I'm sure I won't be alone.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

New Year's Resolution? Buy a paper

Friends, readers, county-people of Northamptonshire, lend me your ears!

Firstly, happy New Year to you all, I hope this first column finds you hale and hearty.  Secondly, I'd like to talk about New Year's resolutions and one that I'd like you all to make please.

I appreciate that if you're reading this I'm probably preaching to the converted, but please spread the word to your family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, people on the bus, in the queue at Asda or Tesco (other supermarkets are also available) - and make it a New Year's resolution to buy a local paper every week.

No, I'm not being paid to say this before anyone suggests that, but I am happy to support the #BuyAPaper campaign which emerged on social media late last year.

Local papers, such as the Northamptonshire Telegraph, are struggling because of a fall in revenue from hard-copy sales and advertising.

More and more people are just accessing their news online from various sources, so don't buy an actual paper.

But the NT and Chron websites, which I'm sure that everyone in the county looks at on a regular basis, wouldn't be the same without the quality writing of the journalists who have been properly trained and write the stories which appear weekly in those papers.

In this era of fake news, local newspapers are a source you can trust to be truthful, report on what's happening in your area, and hold our local councils and politicians to account when needed - something we all know in Northamptonshire to be absolutely vital.

So please, buy a paper every week and make sure that the great work of these local publications can continue.

As respected politician and academic Toomas Hendrik Ilves said:  "Fake news is cheap to produce.  Genuine journalism is expensive."

But at just £1.55 per week - and cheaper if you subscribe - you can get genuine quality journalism for less than the price of a coffee, and you can support a paper that's been standing up for your local community since 1897.