Tuesday 10 March 2015

In A Pickle

Many years ago I attended Welsh language evening classes for two hours one evening a week (in winter) at the former Whitland Grammar School.

On the first day two out of a dozen students were late so we started 10 minutes late; the next week four were up to 15 minutes late and we started 15 minutes late; on the third week six were late and we started 20 minutes late (two anyway arrived later than that); on the fourth week there was a similar level of difficulty and the teacher proposed that in future we all agree to start half an hour later but everybody would "undertake to arrive on time".

This attracted much support but I became the most unpopular member of the group by pointing out that I didn't want to stay half an hour later into the evening which this would inevitably involve. The teacher said we wouldn't do that but just do a "reliable" 1.5 hours - this was popular because of course learning a language in a two hour session is hard work. I pointed out that we had paid for 2 hours.

The truth was that this was only in part an example of that very human conspiracy which often occurs between teachers and students to alleviate their shared hardship in the painful process of education. It was actually much more to do with that universal challenge about timekeeping which blights our lives and costs time, money, and peace of mind.

Now as a manager I was never a martinet about timekeeping in the sense of penalising people for being late - and of course I too was occasionally late for work, about twice a year on average I think. But I believe that 90% of lateness is the responsibility of the person who is late, variously a result of their poor planning, but also sometimes rudeness, selfishness, or (and this is the tricky bit) a subconscious desire to sabotage themselves and their own interests or else (I'm afraid) to anger, humiliate, or patronise the other person or people whom they are meeting.

Habitual lateness is not endearing and should not prompt indulgence but some honest observation and offers to help.

These thoughts are prompted by the extraordinary announcement by English local government minister Eric Pickles that motorists will be given 10 minutes "grace" when their car parking ticket or meter expires. He says this will ease the problem of petty officials fining people a minute or two after expiry.

Now I have some time for Pickles as he has a good instinct in wanting to remind local authorities in England that they are there to serve their community not to run them around and get in their way (and who will advocate that LAs in Wales too need reminding of this? Step forward Leighton Andrews AM, our local government minister, who like Pickles is making the right noises about not taking any nonsense from the local bureaucrats).

But this parking thing is just nonsense. A moment's thought will tell you that everybody will just add the 10 minutes to the time they have officially to park and they are just as likely to get back late as they were before - perhaps more so as they have to make the extra effort of adding the 10 minutes to the figure on the ticket or meter with the potential for miscalculation.

And, of course, the citizen will react exactly the same to the wretched warden who slaps a ticket on them - most with resignation and some with verbal abuse or worse.

And what was the upshot in Whitland? My "Twelve Angry Men" protest won the day - it was agreed that the teacher would start the lesson exactly at the original advertised time so long as at least one person was present. The result was that there was little lateness, we got the 2 hours we paid for, and we went home on time.

But the seething resentment towards me remained...