Do you curl?

So, the women’s curling team from Great Britain has won the gold medal at the Winter Olympics. That doesn’t surprise me as much as does the media coverage of the event. BBC Radio was incredibly apologetic about the sport, introducing several reports by stating something to the effect that “Although it may be unglamorous and dull…” and one sports reporter who was uncertain how to describe playing the game even asked the ubiquitous expert “How do you say it? Do you curl?”.

On the one hand, the Canadian in me doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about. Curling is a winter sport like any other, except that millions of ordinary mortals play it recreationally every year. Someone has to win the gold medal. Why not the British?

But it seems that despite winning the gold medal, the British (or more correctly the English) know nothing about curling. The women’s team are all Scots, and it turns out that whereas 20,000 people play curling in Scotland, only 300 play it in England and they all play it at England’s one and only rink somewhere near Chester!

The coverage on the web hasn’t been as bad (for an example see Conversion of the curling kind), but I imagine the Scots must be getting ready to break away from this not-so-United Kingdom.

Married love

“There is no greater sorrow than to recall a time of happiness when in misery.”
Dante Alighieri 1265-1321

Britain’s Channel 4 is broadcasting a series of programmes on Married Love at the moment. The first two episodes covered the sexual ignorance of previous generations and the increased sexual awareness of the “Me Generation”.

It’s ironic that as people have learned more about sex, they have chosen to have fewer and fewer children. One of my great great grandmothers had 13 children by the time she was 43; her daughter had six children; her granddaughter had three; and her great granddaughter had only two.

I know there are lots of reasons for this change, but it’s clear that sex is now almost completely divorced [excuse the pun] from its original purpose of reproduction and has become largely a recreation. I suppose for many people it must be right up there with shopping.

Who’s right and who’s wrong?

It’s amazing how dirty the word “socialism” has become. My dictionary defines it as “the belief that the state should own industries on behalf of the people and that everyone should be equal”. But here’s Digby Jones, Director General of the Confederation of British Industry, commenting today on a leaked European Commission draft proposal to extend temporary workers’ rights:

The flexibility of the labour market…could be under serious threat from this. It’s depressing that Europe decides it’s going to try and bring everyone down to some sort of low common denominator…It’s socialism coming straight out of Brussels,” he said. (For more see Bosses warn against rights for temps.)

Which part of the definition do you think he means? Since the EC proposal does not promote state ownership, he must be referring to the part about equality. The EC is for it; he’s against it.

And yet this month’s edition of the Harvard Business Review contains an article (see They’re Not Employees, They’re People) by the dean of all business gurus, Peter Drucker, which is summarised as follows:

In this essay, business thinker Peter Drucker examines the changing dynamics of the workforce ? in particular, the need for organizations to take just as much care and responsibility when managing temporary and contract workers as they do with their traditional employees.

Those seem like opposite points of view to me. So who’s right? Common sense tells me Drucker. So what’s wrong with Digby Jones? He clearly has not read his copy of HBR!

Everything old is new again…

“There is nothing new under the sun, but there are lots of old things we don’t know.”
Ambrose Bierce 1842-1914

Having only recently read about this blogging phenomenon, I thought I would try it out by posting some things I wrote with similar intent way back in 1997.

I’ve Died And Gone To Heaven!

As reported in Wednesday’s edition of the Financial Times:

“British youngsters flocked to beaches in Cornwall where thousands of colourful Lego building bricks were washed up after being tossed overboard from a ship damaged in a storm in the Channel. The toy bricks had been on the way to the US from Denmark.”

Re-Engineering The Grocery Shopping

Having returned from New York to an empty fridge in an empty flat, it was time to order the groceries again. Since October I have been shopping for groceries over the Internet. We’re participating in a trial currently being conducted by one of the UK’s leading food retailers, and as you can probably guess, it has both advantages and disadvantages.

Actually, the fact that our orders are transmitted to the store via the Internet (as an email essentially) is really irrelevant to us; we could almost as easily send our shopping list to them via the Royal Mail. The significant benefit from our point of view is that our groceries are now delivered to our door at a time of our choosing. And since my New Year’s resolution was not to set foot in a grocery store (with the notable exception of Marks & Spencer), I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this new service! I truly hope it succeeds and is expanded to serve the whole of the UK.

However, I have to admit that the process has its problems. From the start we’ve never received everything we’ve ordered; every single delivery has missed some items that she who shall remain nameless deemed essential (Pineapple Slices In Syrup 439g; Salted Cashew Halves 100g) and that were reportedly out of stock on the day our order was prepared (how can they run out of laundry detergent or fabric softener for goodness sake?!). In addition, we have sometimes received goods intended for someone else (if you’re still waiting for your 10 lbs of potatoes and six tins of peaches, we have them here!). There haven’t been too many problems with payment, if you exclude that fact that their software refuses to accept the last digit of my debit card and that our accounts have yet to be debited for two out of our five deliveries. And of course, it was inevitable that eventually, the van wouldn’t arrive in our chosen two-hour time slot. But those teething problems aside, the service is a great time saver (except when she who shall remain nameless spends an hour and a half compiling the list) and a welcome relief to those of us that find grocery shopping in person a stressful chore.

It has occurred to me, however, that some of our criticisms of our home shopping experience are our own fault. We have made a classic mistake. We failed to adapt the way we shop to take into account the new information technology we’re now using. Having applied information technology to our grocery shopping, we failed to consider changing the way in which we shop for food. If we re-engineered the grocery shopping process, we might experience fewer problems and hence enjoy the benefits of home shopping even more.

For example, to use the new technology to its best advantage we really need to use it only for what it does best. Home delivery is excellent for non-perishable goods of consistent quality that can be ordered in bulk. It’s not so good for items of variable quality such as meat, fruit and vegetables. Consequently, we should consider splitting up our grocery shopping by buying fresh produce from the grocer on our street corner, convenience foods from those kings of own-label products, Marks & Spencer, and non-perishable stuff from the national food retailer via the Internet. But that actually raises another problem for those of us in small homes — where do we put all those items that we now want to buy in bulk? Storage space is often in short supply in the UK, where many people don’t have large freezers in which to store copious quantities of frozen food. So this new style of shopping could end up changing household appliances and presumably even homes, if it proved sufficiently popular.

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