>Telephone numbers!

>We are all used to hearing these days about the “fat cats” and their inflated salaries and, worse still, their ridiculously huge bonus payments.

Still, this morning’s Today programme set me thinking afresh about this. The boss of Network Rail has announced that he won’t be taking a bonus this year (even though Network Rail is apparently doing well). Hurray, we say!

Last year his bonus was £300,000. Crumbs. But he will be taking another bonus which is based on long-term successes, which last year was £200,000. And his salary? A matter of public record, he says, at £600,000.

Now I know Network Rail is a very big concern, and therefore the responsibility shouldered by the Chief Executive is massive, and these figures are cast into the shade by some we have been hearing about recently. But I can’t shake off the feeling that no-one can possibly be worth that much. After all we are only human. We can only do a certain amount of work in a week. The farmer, 1kool, at his busiest, used to do 80-90 hours most weeks, but that got a bit much once he turned 45. He didn’t have responsibility for a large number of people, but animals are more dependent than people are, for their food, water and shelter. I work 3 days a week in a school, in a support role. I have little responsibility but I still feel compelled to be conscientious in my duties. I don’t take unnecessary sick leave or claim unnecessary expenses, or spend my working hours surfing the net. Even the teachers, who earn up to 3 times what I do, are only taking away less than 10% of the salary of the Network Rail man. And no bonus, unless you count the long holidays.

My point is that even the most conscientious and hard working members of society can only dream of earning a tenth of the figures I heard on the radio this morning. There is only so much any one person can do in a day’s work.



>This work-life balance thing is harder than you might think. Almost every morning I have sat down at my computer to write my blog, but each time something has stopped me. Blogging is not work, it’s something I choose to do, but something is blocking me. I think it’s the “work ethic”…

There is always something one “ought to” be doing. One day it’s checking the bank accounts and paying the bills; today it was the housework; at the end of the month it was paying the bills and doing the VAT return. And if the phone rings, well it has to be answered, doesn’t it?

Today, though, I’m rewarding myself for hoovering and dusting, by sitting down for 30 minutes to write this. A strange thing, this belief in a “just world” of rewards (and punishments?).

Teachers are strange too. At our school an “early efficiency retirement opportunity” has been advertised. In order to help realign its staffing in line with the changing curriculum, teachers who are within a few years of retirement can volunteer to leave now. They are being offered a lump sum payment during 2008-2009 of 50% of their final salary.

Apparently teachers are queueing up to apply for this. In my experience teachers can’t wait to retire. They are full of plans and the things they want to do. Most intend to retire at 55 anyway, and of course they have a high enough salary to save for their retirement, and a good pension to look forward to. But they will not admit that they are the lucky ones, and show no appreciation of the fact that most of the population don’t have these options, and many will have to work till 65 or 70.

One teacher commented to me that if the 50% is not enough, she might take a “little admin job” to tide her over: “something mindless, that I don’t have to think about till 5 to 9 in the morning, and can forget about by 5 past 5 every day”. How patronising! I have first hand experience of this lady’s organisational and computer skills, and I would not give her a reference…

>Current affairs


So, no election this year, eh? G Brown has not bowed to pressure from the Tories and the press, and is now taking the flack for his decision.
Tories are criticising Brown mercilessly for his decision, and for delaying his decision so long. There is no reason, of course, for an election – no law that says an election must be called just because the party leader has changed. The delay, no doubt, was political in nature – make the announcement at the most opportune moment, and force the other parties to spend their conferences talking about nothing else but the possibility of an election. Also, maybe, an element of keeping options open until the last possible moment…
Did Brown bottle it? Or did he make a considered decision and announce it at the most opportune moment? We know what the opposition parties say, but, well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? If Brown had called an election no doubt they would have put an equally unflattering spin on it.
4Kool (younger daughter) says she will not vote when she turns 18 because “I don’t want to encourage them…”
“Spanish practices”: synonym for being lazy, doing as little as possible in one’s employment; antonym for Protestant work ethic, productivity, efficiency etc
Such practices are being discussed at length in the papers and on the radio this weekend, in connection with the Post Office strike. Some workers claim that they are overworked and have to do extra hours on a regular basis just to get the day’s work done. Others claim that they can knock off early when they finish their rounds, effectively working 4 hours and being paid for 8.
Personally, I know both sorts, even in my own little job. Although we are (allegedly) a team, and we have the same priorities and objectives, one member of the team gets by with as little effort as possible, hardly ever doing her contracted hours, let alone overtime. Although intelligent, she is often dead weight, and we resent this. Another member of the team works hard all day, always looking for the next thing to do, never checking emails or surfing the web, and often working significant amounts of overtime even though we are not paid to do so. He also likes to play the martyr a bit. Yours truly tries hard to tread the middle line, always on time in the morning, doing a little overtime if it means a job will get finished, but making it clear that the contracted hours are enough, and that my outside hours are precious to me.
Question: could “Spanish practices” be equated with the current trend towards a better work-life balance? I frequently read exhortations to “downsize”; to cut one’s working hours and have more quality time; to retire early and spend the kids’ inheritance; or to go freelance and work hours to suit oneself instead of being at the constant beck and call of an employer. How do such ideas square with the traditional English work ethic? Or is it a more sinister idea, implying that the employer is being cheated, or even robbed?
Inheritance tax: Conservatives say they will raise the threshold to £1m! Ridiculous. What an obvious, rabble-rousing, electioneering claim. This has found great favour with the tabloid press of course, but Patrick Collinson for one (in the Guardian yesterday) takes a more considered view. If a rich old man leaves just short of £1m to his “children” who are maybe in their 50s, how does this benefit society? The “children” will invest the money, probably in property, thus taking property even further out of reach of the younger generation. Perhaps personal inheritance limit (as opposed to death duties on the whole estate) would provide an incentive for people to leave their accumulated wealth to their grandchildren, nephews and nieces, dividing it more equally among the population? But there would be a shortfall in the Government’s income all the same, and no doubt this would have to be made up from somewhere.
Still, the Tories’ exaggerated posturing may have the positive effect of making the government think more carefully about inheritance tax thresholds. Wait and see…