Snowtime

There was a “RED WEATHER WARNING” last week, so I worked from home. Because of Skype, I had to take care of my appearance more than usual, make sure the background was tidy and gave off a semblance of professionalism, and that my children didn’t make too much noise.

So, no, I didn’t sit unshaven in my pajamas all day.

This video call stuff – as well as speakerphone calls, screen-sharing, and conference calls, make working at home possible, but it’s intense; there’re no coffee break chats, no waiting at the photocopier, and no sneaky peeks at the internets.

Of course, when work is finished, it’s equally intense snow stuff with the children. I’m getting on a bit now, so building a snowman, having snowball fights and trudging through thick snow in a freezing white-out blizzard is tough for me. My feet were cold and wet through. My face was rouged and my hands zinging.

Here’s the thing, though. It was probably good for me to get a bit of physical activity. Good to get a bit of fun. Good family time, and a hard day’s work as well.

To then relax beside the log fire as the children did their piano practice, then dozing off to some silly old film makes snow days quite special. Full on, but special.

I have heard people moan about the weather. I know the shops were closed, and that people did a bit of panic buying so we couldn’t get fresh eggs or milk for two days. Well boo-hoo. That’s not the most terrible thing that could happen.

Like everything in life, it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react to it that is important. What you do about it.

I bet that a lot of people, like us, got more things done and had a great time overall thanks to the weather. Having said that, I am looking forward to getting back to the office – to “normal” – for a rest.

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Internethead

Unhappiness and screentime are related. I don’t want to bring up unhappy children. But there is Peer Pressure, Social Media, and Boredom to deal with. My children weren’t happy with me taking away smartphones, laptops, and tablets, but then studies show that they would be unhappy if I don’t take this stuff away – and worst, I could end up with depressed (and potentially suicidal) teenagers. So I had to do it; as a parent, it’s my job.

The charity Action For Children finds that a staggering one in four parents struggles to control their children’s screen use.

The first thing that had to change was MY use of these gadgets; you lead by example, don’t you? This is also hard.

Insidiously, this stuff has replaced the old ways of newspapers, wandering around shops and looking at clocks. I wasn’t looking to be a new age hippy or getting all Jesuit about it. It’s about increasing happiness.

These gadgets can be useful, as long as they are not addiction driven, or considered the default. People are fidgets – that’s why everyone smoked cigarettes in the bad old days. These days it’s the phone. Bad habits for idle moments.

So I began last November (2017) by coming off social media, leaving my phone behind, and demonstrably using gadgets less. Cookbooks were taken down from the shelf. Clocks told me the time. I used my brain to remember where places were and I figured out how to get there.

Have I got happier? Yes! I would say so. I went onto facebook today – for the first time since – and I no longer need to participate, after all, who cares if I “like” or “share” something that I instantly forget and really only was a knee-jerk reaction to show some level of approval? Vanitas. Bottom line is that my views are not terribly important, the effort is wasted.

So I am relieved and happier to have broken the bad habit. What about my children?

Well, this has been more difficult, to be honest. But it really does make a difference. I have seen it with my own eyes.

It’s all about showing them HOW to use a device as a tool for a purpose, and not to depend on it to alleviate boredom. My wife keeps saying that boredom is good as it makes you more creative; you invent something in daydream moments and similar weird mental states (like the eureka moment in the bath, or when waiting for a bus, gazing out of a train window, or sitting under a tree like Isaac Newton).

I do think it is weird and dystopian when I see crowds of children wandering to school each morning while staring at the screen on their mobile.

The biggest problem for my wife and me is that we slowly allowed the screen to allow us to get mummy-daddy time. The screen was a babysitter. My son now says “I’m bored – what can I do?” and he’s looking at ME. That is the challenge – see the Bob Granleese article below for what’s it’s like to try this.

The other aspect that gladdens my heart is that it reduces all those other risks – grooming, adverts, cyber-bullying, brain-washing, and exposure to radicalisation.

It is hard but rewarding. As a recovering addict, I would recommend less social media and less screen time to everyone. Go do a blog every few weeks if you cannot go “cold turkey”.

The main thing is to say goodbye to being an internethead.

Refs:

“Phone-addicted teens really ARE miserable: Scientists warn young people should limit their screen time to just two hours a day to boost happiness” By HARRY PETTIT FOR MAILONLINE PUBLISHED: 14:11, 22 January 2018 | UPDATED: 19:55, 23 January 2018

“Teens who spend less time in front of screens are happier — up to a point, new research shows” By Tara Bahrampour 22 January 2018

“Why are British kids so unhappy? Two words: screen time” by Bob Granleese The Guardian Thu 7 Jan 2016 12.24 GMT

“Limit children’s screen time, expert urges” By Hannah Richardson, BBC News education and family reporter
9 October 2012

 

Home Alone

I always thought it was illegal for parents to leave their children alone, but it turns out to be a myth; you can.

Parents can legally leave their children in cars, or at home, alone.

Parents can be prosecuted if they leave a child unsupervised ‘in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health’.

That’s all there is to it. It’s up to the parents throughout the UK to make that call.

I suppose then, that if a parent judges the children to be mature enough, and if they are in a safe environment for a short while, then – in the unusual event of something bad happening (such as an intruder), it would be irrational to blame the parents.

Being a “helicopter parent” is something I try to fight against; children need space to develop and grow – they need to go out with their friends, to cross the street by themselves, and to be able to be trusted to survive being left alone for a short time.

I would hate to think that – should an accident happen – I would be blamed and possibly ruined.

Would it be better to mollycoddle and raise dependent, incapable adults?

Good Can Win Over Evil if…

In RL Stevenson’s “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, it is clear that everyone has good and evil within. To remove the evil in order to be 100% pure good, means that the 100% bad part is freed into the wild with dangerous consequences.

Although the total good or evil remains the same, the effect is a strange case indeed. Perhaps it’s not what you do, but the way that you do it? Perhaps we ought to have the internal good v evil battle to “win” and be virtuous or worthy of the afterlife in heaven… or something.

It is a fascinating novella, and a great subject for discussion and thought. However, the most interesting notion to be teased from this work is, for me, the external manifestation of good and of evil.

Let me go further, does the good erase or in some way make up for any bad that someone does. I don’t mean atonement or penance, not exactly (although that is also very interesting), rather, I am taken with the idea of someone inventing or discovering something, but being a thoroughly disagreeable person – perhaps even considered evil.

I know that this is a poor introduction to what I am on about. Sorry about that. It’s just that it seems to come up again and again in recent times.

Take Wagner – a brilliant, innovative and unique composer – but a Nazi sympathiser and Jew-hater. Even today, his music is taboo in Israel. Can it be possible or reasonable to separate the man from his work – to allow yourself to enjoy his music and disagree with his politics?

In recent times in the UK, it has become clear that in some celebrities at least, the evil side of the personality triumphed from time to time. Jimmy Savile became a prominent BBC radio and television personality, gained fans and followers, brought entertainment and enjoyment to millions, and raised over £40 million for charities. However, it seems he might have had a dark side as a sexual predator. All of which has come out after he died.

Do the allegations and accusations overthrow or trump the good works?

Should they?

Rolf Harris was a role model – someone to look up to, a national treasure, but he’s in jail for sexual offenses. How should I feel about that?

Wagner was open and unapologetic, but no-one knew any bad things about Savile until after he died. Harris’s dark side was hidden – but he was found out while alive, and brought to justice.

Some people say that we ought not to speak ill of the dead, and I am inclined that way myself particularly if nothing can be gained by raking up evil.

Take Savile – he did good works and died. His bad side was then discovered. The big question I had at the time this came out in the media was – why did no-one speak up while he was alive to defend, respond or be brought to justice. If he was prolific as is suggested, surely some of the blame has to be borne by those who, by keeping schtum, allowed further abuse to take place. But all-in-all, what overall good would come of posting allegations over the front pages? I do think that the end result of this particular case is to negate the good. So the whole thing is just pure Mr. Hyde.

Wagner is different. He did not hide his antisemitic views. I wonder that – if he had held them as a dark secret – would people stop liking his music upon discovering “the truth”? Another thought – would his personal beliefs make people listen to his music? And so what? Does anything matter? If his beliefs were not known, what difference would it make to his music, and how it is received as music?

Pop Stars align themselves with political movements – should they? Should it matter to us? Should I stop liking or listening to their songs?

Rolf Harris is different again; he was disgraced and will pay his debt to society. By going to jail, by apologising and atoning, he is cleansed. In theory anyway. Harris faced justice, and gets a clean slate – so all his works, his TV, his books, his paintings – even his pop songs, all should be OK to like – shouldn’t they?

My thought is that we should always be inclined to good, to an exemplary life – even if fake. Why? Because fake is normal. We each have good and evil. We do good and bad, we have to try to let good win. Good must outweigh bad in the scales.

That way lies hope.

Savile did good for more people than he did bad. That’s tough to type in this climate; it goes against everything just now. Same with Harris. Unlike Savile, Harris was found guilty – and is paying. Wagner didn’t even DO anything; he merely held a view that is unpopular. Why can’t we just focus on the good stuff as a default rule? Doing so doesn’t condone crime or evil or unpopular extremist views. Really it doesn’t.

Michael Jackson was a long list of accusations of child abuse, and yet it is widely considered acceptable to enjoy his musical legacy without a care about all that – why? Why is Jackson different from Savile? Jackson didn’t do as much for charity as Savile – Jackson was keeping his money for himself. Is this a double standard?

I remember when Rock Hudson died and it came out that he was actually homosexual. He clearly did not want this to be known while he was alive. He did not want to represent homosexuality. that’s just who he was and what he wanted to do. To out him after his death is not really fair to my mind.

Now I am not for one minute suggesting that homosexuality is evil or that Hudson’s dark side contained his gay secret. I am suggesting that he was careful about his public image and probably would have wanted to maintain that as his legacy. What good did outing him bring? People today look at him playing the very heterosexual male roles in pictures, and know what he really was – and that was likely to be exactly what Rock Hudson did not want to happen. People may even boycott his films because of that. I have heard of Christian fundamentalists taking that view.

There seems to be a popular trend for seeing the bad in people, in revealing things that ought to be hidden, and I don’t go along with that.

If someone was struggling with a personal issue, a dark side, a kink, an addiction – whatever, what business is it of mine? What good does it do society at large to display the flaws sufficient to overshadow any goodness?

I would suggest that the sooner we as a society drop this trend in favour of role models of positivity and good, then we can return to aspiration, looking forward, making good, advancement, and betterment.

Ups & Downs of The Market

Right after Brexit’s result, the markets dived. Right after Trump’s win, the markets collapsed.

And everyone points to the drop in the markets as though these indices were in some way a reflection of how well a country is doing. But that is simply untrue.

The big fuss about the Dow Jones Industrial Average number is ridiculous – an arbitrary selection of 30 companies, not even the biggest or most well-known, record their share values and this rather silly and unrepresentative value is then divided by a weird number that someone came up with in the 1800s (which we over-egg by calling it an “algorithm” in today’s parlance).

The Foostie, the S&P 500, the Hang Seng and the rest are indices of the stock market. That is all they are.

This is about the rich people.

When an index rises, this simply means the rich people are getting richer.

When an index falls, then rich people are losing money – and if the drop is significant enough and for a long enough time, then there is a chance that it might actually affect real, everyday people like you and me because companies may shed employees, or close down altogether.

This means that in a recession, everyone loses.

But at all other times, it is mainly about rich people and their value on paper.

Trump wins the election in the USA and the markets drop in value. OK, Boo hoo – rich people have less dough for a few hours because Trump then makes his acceptance speech and the markets rise to previous levels and above. So the rich people don’t lose a penny after all.

I just don’t get why the news media keep reporting the ups and downs of the markets when it is mainly only of interest to the rich – to people who own shares, to stockholders – do you know any?

It seems to be used as evidence of the foolishness of the masses to vote the way they did. The flavour is: Look what you did! See what has happened?

The markets are not a true reflection of the state of economic or political heath of a nation – these indices do not account for the common man – there is no consideration of inflation, currency exchanges, GDP, interest rates or anything other than the gambling value of company shares being traded by computers at break-neck speed over fibre optic cables.

Whenever I hear a news bulletin report the Footsie 100 or the Dow Jones, I grind my teeth and wish I were rich enough to give a damn.

 

Touching design

As a design student, it was impressed upon me the importance of how users intimately interact with a product design. I have never forgotten the handshake, the contact points, and I still use it to decide which things to buy. It’s how I evaluate everything, a benchmark.

I remember how BMW made the interior light fade instead of just switching on or off, and how that made me feel it was somehow of superior quality. How my CD player grabbed my disc solidly and drew it into the slot – how the lid of my cassette player slowly slid open – the sound of a Jaguar car door shutting.

Similarly, I remember so many things that felt lightweight, plasticky and cheap.

I was chatting with a colleague at work about vinyl making a comeback. He said “Why? the sound is terrible, and you get scratches and hiss.” He was genuinely puzzled.

That was when I realised how much tactility we’ve lost – and how that might be something we feel lacking today.

A digital file might sound better, and be conjured up easily on a phone or laptop – but with vinyl there is handling. The design handshake. You get artwork, a card sleeve, the disc itself and the ritual of taking it out, putting it on, and turning it over when the side was played through.

This is common to all audio formats – cassette, CD or 8-Track. You got a “thing”.

Reading a Kindle book is great – cheap and very convenient. But it also lacks that handshake. A book feels, smells and looks better – and an expensive book – a hardback with a dust cover – is a prized possession to be cared for.

I worry about the future in this respect; driverless cars, voice activated audio and video and more besides. If you are not driving the car, how can it thrill?

At one time, people bought a daily newspaper – it  was used as a tablecloth, a napkin, to wrap chips, scrunched up to clean stainless steel and windows, rolled-up to swat flies, stuffed into damp shoes, cut into party decorations, used to draw a coal fire… it was read, the crossword was done, articles clipped out, ads circled, moustaches doodled onto the photographed luminaries. It was laid under carpets and used to fill gaps in window frames.

Today, we read our news online, listen to the radio or watch TV.

I’m no different; I stopped wearing a wristwatch in favour of the smartphone. I put away my cassettes, videos, CDs, DVDs, LPs, 45s, reels, books, magazines… I will ask Google before looking up a dictionary or pull a book from my shelves. I threw out my maps and atlases years ago in favour of my sat nav and google maps.

My TV is too thin to have a decent speaker, and I have lost all concept of quality, accepting whatever my phone or TV gives me. I put up with slow browsers, buffering, Freeview digital “Max Headroom” glitches. This is what I have become.

My pens have dried up, my watches stopped. Nothing ticks, nothing takes time to dry, nothing needs a tactility skill, fingers swipe screens and click mice.

I have playing cards, chess sets, wind-up toys and board games in a sealed box in the cellar. My children play with tech, and buy apps. Will they grow up with no understanding of what a new book feels and smells like? What it’s like to be given a designed product as a gift? Will they know or miss knowing that feeling you get  when you clean the capstan and recording heads, when a tape desk has been demagnetised, when a record has been brushed, when a guitar has been restrung and tuned, when a car was driven with joy and appreciation?

Will they care about design? Will they grow fond of a thing? Will they relate to the ghost in the machine?

I wonder if vinyl’s return reveals an innate need…

 

Trusting Forward

Times they are a changin’ – so sang Bob Dylan back in 1964, and he’s just won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year (2016), so he’s still valid, and what he sang is still valid too.

The times are indeed still changing. It’s a big change in itself that Bob can win a literature prize when he’s not working in that field.

I suspect that the biggest change is in regard to trust.

When you think about it, trust underpins the majority of changes we all hear about these days.

Labour Party supporters lost trust in their own party and voted in Corbyn. The public lost trust in the Labour Party and voted for other parties instead. The majority of Brits lost trust in membership of the European Union.

People have lost trust in Big Business, Big Pharma, Big Banks. They have also lost trust in politics, religion, economics, sport, climate change, and the media.

Corruption, Fake News, Drugged athletes, VW’s rigged emissions… it’s difficult to find anything we can still trust in.

This idea intrigues me, so I’m thinking it through here on this blog in front of your very eyes.

I was once told that marriage is a relationship based on trust. That it requires a buy-in from both parties, and is based on continuance-without-question. This is close to the work ethic in that you get up and go to work each morning without thinking – it’s automatic, it’s what you do. You do not have to stop and decide to choose to go to work each day. Same thing with marriage – you decided to marry, and don’t need to make that choice every day. Until that trust is broken.

Can trust in work or marriage, once broken, ever be regained? I have heard it said that once trust in a relationship is broken, then a decision is continually made – that there is a choice every morning. You do not automatically assume subconsciously to continue. Broken trust is when that comes to the fore and is considered however fleetingly. Maybe this fades over time? What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Yes, we all know relationships can continue – but the point is that the trust is not there; something has changed. Perhaps more often than not, continuance is because there is no clear alternative, and the choice is forced rather than freely made.

OK. I know what you’re thinking – that relationships have different areas of trust, and my description is too narrow.  You’re right but only to a certain extent; some people don’t trust their partners to drive their car, others don’t trust their significant other with handling the money or children.So we can have working relationships containing distrust, but it seems to me that it works only when the distrust is known to both, and actively managed (not ignored or avoided). That’s the important difference I think.

What can be done when trust is broken?

Well we can vote for change. We can vote against the establishment. We can revolt. We can fight back.

I know that Air B’n’B is all about trust; people are in your home – your private and personal space.  Uber is another new business that is very trusting too.

This is the new trust way.

We always had a social contract, a trust that the taxi driver would take us to our destination. We maybe didn’t have a great level of trust that the fare would be correct or that the taxi would not break the speed limit. But with Uber and Air B’n’B it’s a two-way street in that you can review your experience, and they can review you as a customer.

The result is that service provider and customer behave better, and trust is currency.

Reputation becomes the biggest and most important commodity.

Councils provide housing for people who do not take care of the property. Perhaps if there was a system like the Uber/ Air B’n’B model, reputation would make councils repair and maintain properties better, and tenants would keep their homes better?

Banking and investing have always been about customer reputation – credit scores and ratings – but that is one-sided. We need the banks and financial institutions to care about their own reputations, we need this to be a two-way street to rebuilt trust.

Politics is too far gone. The old party politics system is no longer fit for purpose. Council members, MPs, MEPs and MSPs have never been rated and reviewed on their performance, their delivery of manifesto promises nor even on their attendance/ involvement. There have never been Key Performance Indicators nor targets against which they may be measured. It’s deliberately complicated and opaque.

I can’t think of anything that can’t be improved by changing to a reputation model – including work. I hope this is the future.

 

Petty Crime for the 21st Century

The way we shop has changed – along with the way we steal.

My mother shopped every day, sometimes more than once. She would take her shopping bag and buy just what she needed for the meal or recipe – a couple of slices of this, a few scoops of that. This type of shopping made it difficult to steal because you were served by a counter assistant on a one-to-one basis.

Stealing relied on sleight of hand skills and misdirection. You could ask for something on a high shelf, for example, and while the assistant wasn’t looking, items could be pocketed. You could use an accomplice too – this helps with misdirection, and while there were no CCTV cameras or smart tags, the risk was direct and personal.

I know of people who are nostalgic for such days; they miss the thrill, the adrenaline rush, the risk of shame and humiliation. Even when there was no criminal intent, this was present; the shop assistant knew exactly what you were buying – pornographic material, condoms or ointments for thrush.

Perhaps because of the personal interaction element, the embarrassment factor or the need for privacy, shopping changed, and along with it, the crime.

Supermarkets introduced baskets, trolleys and check-outs. The thief only had to put items in a pocket or otherwise avoid the check-out till. Shopping was much faster and less embarrassing, but so was shop-lifting.

It is possible that the losses, at least to some extent, would be offset by the savings in reduced staffing levels and relying on technology like CCTV.

But people are inventive, and with each new innovation in shopping comes an innovation in crime.

Today, we have the Self-Service-Checkout.

Thieves must be delighted with this – it makes everything so much easier and less risky. If caught, one can simply say it was an innocent error.

George Charles of VoucherCodesPro.co.uk carried out a survey of 2,634 people aged 18 and over about their shopping habits and use of self service checkouts.

About 19 per cent said they stole from Self -Service-Checkouts – and the majority said they stole regularly.

Helen Dickinson, Director General of the British Retail Consortium (BRC), said: “Theft from stores pushed the direct cost of retail crime up to £511m last year, 166 per cent higher than five years ago.”

Of course, this generates more vigilance – usually in CCTV at this area, but what if there was a way to go undetected by CCTV?

Well, it seems that there is a way. I was recently told of a popular method to rob a store blind while appearing to do everything properly and honestly.

Here’s how it works:

You do not scan your expensive steak, instead you turn the barcode from the scanner, and weigh it on the scales instead. You select a cheaper item – so instead of paying for steak, you pay for apples or a potato or something about the right weight. This allows you to put the item into the scaled bagging area, where it will be expected.

Nothing looks amiss; on the CCTV, you have scanned everything, and no alarms have been sounded. You pass through the door scanners too – you have a receipt, so you can even return items later. Everything appears above board.

So what can the shops do?

The answer to that might just be from Amazon – the new Amazon Go shops.

This idea seems a way to stop stealing – but on the other hand, it removes ALL the people – these stores do not need the same numbers of CCTV and store security personnel – and no till operators. Even if they are not foolproof (remember with each innovation comes innovation in crime), the saving in not paying staff might make it worth it.

I saw this with Uber recently too – they are having problems with trades unions and worker rights to the extent that they are heading down the driver-less car route.

The summary upshot and bottom line is that – as a result of petty crime over the years, the drive has been away from employees toward technology. The removal of people is what is going on. Less jobs, less face-to-face interaction, less embarrassment, less risk, and fewer thrills. Online shopping, cashless, credit cards and mobile smartphones, have heralded a new future where people are diminished in favour of technology.

I’m not sure I can make sense of this future – fewer jobs for people usually means fewer employed earners that are shoppers. We are being sold a future where we can shop without a queue and get a driver-less taxi, but can that be true? Will this only be for those few with jobs?

And what of those people with no jobs? Will they create an alt-society? Or will they innovate new criminal ways as before?

Only time will tell.

Sexism and Politics

The Trump sexism thing has really blown up.

Recently, the Washington Post found and shared a secretly recorded conversation (from 11 years ago) between Access Hollywood’s Billy Bush and Donald Trump. They were both lewd and Trump boasted that he can do anything he wants to women because he’s a television star – including “grabbing them by the pussy.”

Since then Trump has become the US Republican Presidential Nominee, so it’s a big deal – right? Sexism loses votes – doesn’t it?

I am not sure because of what happened in Australia with Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott, and the famous “Misogyny Speech” given by Julia Gillard on 9th October 2012.

At that time Julia Gillard was Australia’s first female Prime Minister (from 2010-2013), and she suffered a lot of lewd comments every single day as leader of the Labor Party and as PM. She was very often openly called a bitch and a witch, and widely mocked in the media. Her hair and clothes were always being commented upon, and all of it was about her gender – not her results, leadership, effective governance, debating style, intellect or politics. And she put up with it every day until she snapped and made the speech that went viral on the internet.

In this famous speech in parliament, she directly faced Tony Abbott – the Leader of the Opposition sitting across the forum – and let loose. She did not miss. She listed all the things he had said and done to her right to his face. It was a roast.

“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man; I will not.”
– PM Julia Gillard about Tony Abbott

Gillard described comments by François Hollande and Helle Thorning-Schmidt: “The president of France congratulated me on the speech, as did the Prime Minister of Denmark, and some other leaders, just casually as I’ve moved around, have also mentioned it to me.” US President Barack Obama reportedly complimented Gillard on the speech in a private conversation following his re-election, and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, praised the speech as “very striking” with Gillard going “chapter and verse.”

Some dictionaries updated their definition of “misogyny”  from “hatred of women” to the broader “entrenched prejudices of women.”

This was a Big Deal – Global leaders’ support, viral video, dictionary redefinitions, massive support and encouragement… so what happened next?

Well, Tony Abbott got over his roast, everyone forgave him for the sexist comments he made and his world-famous misogyny… and he became Prime Minister of Australia from 2013 -2015.

So, hey, it’s just the way men talk, it’s Locker Room Banter; all bravado and silliness. Boys will be boys, eh?

And clearly perfectly natural, totally forgivable and totally forgettable.

 

 

Bereavement and The Work’s Phone

I heard that James had died. It was sudden and unexpected. Everyone in the office was astonished – and then felt sad for his family. His daughter’s wedding day was near.

It had nothing to do with us, but someone at Head Office would have to sort out everything. The company car, mobile phone, clear his desk, do something with his e-mail and hard drive and who-knows-what-else – all would need to be dealt with as soon as possible to allow his family and friends to get on.

It’s not too callous, I hope, but the workload increased, and we were all too busy to dwell on such things.

Time passes quickly, and the company recruited a few new people who had never known James. I thought Alan was one of them, but it turned out that he did know James – and that he had worked at this company with James for years, many years ago.

Alan went through the usual forms and inductions, and was given a company phone, car and a desk with a laptop. Nothing unusual in all of this until last week.

Last week he started receiving weird phone calls from a sobbing woman. After a while he discovered that it was James’s daughter.

The company had given Alan James’s old phone and phone number, and James’s daughter had been regularly calling to hear her dad’s voicemail message – to hear his voice. This was a comfort to her. She’d been talking to him, leaving long and emotional messages about her wedding and then about her pregnancy.

When Alan answered, she got such a fright. She then realised that Alan could hear back her very personal messages – and that she would never again hear her daddy’s voice because Alan had erased the outgoing message with his own.

Of course, Alan, immediately erased all her recordings, and apologised as best he could.

Surely there ought to be some kind of procedure for this sort of thing? Something better than what happened here.

Is it better that Alan knew her, that he knew and worked with James? Or would it have been better had he been a complete new start to the firm?

A modern world brings modern ails.