PC 282 Back in The Hope

Cafés have been in the news recently as the population adjusts to more flexible working arrangements. Here Debrett’s, the British Guide to Social Etiquette that was founded in 1769, has issued advice on the problem of WFC (Working from Cafés) – not to be confused with WFH (Working from Home). WFH is all jolly well but it’s lonely and often the simple addition of being within sight and sound of others can lift one’s spirits. So those WFH have migrated to WFC! The issue Debrett’s has identified is that of table usage; become absorbed in your laptop and you hog a table for too long, depriving the café of income from new customers.

At one end of the spectrum, in Manchester and London the Costa chain is trialling soundproof booths you can rent for £13 per hour. At the other end the Hackney Coffee Company has introduced a policy of no laptops on weekends and after 1700 on weekdays.

The Hope has, you may recall, recently installed charging points so it’s a hot topic. Of course the primary purpose of a café these days is to host customers who are meeting friends for a coffee and a chat; in the Hope case this might also mean grabbing some delicious Brazilian pastry from the delicatessen next door!    

You will have read how I have come to enjoy time in The Hope Café, overhearing conversations that might contribute to some sort of post, getting to know Josh and Susie, meeting Sami and Edith. To conjure up tales from inside one’s head is always possible but people relate better to real life observations! I would like to think I am sensitive to the WFC issues and on busy days vacate my table after an hour or so.

This week I found Sami head down in a book, with a half drunk coffee and a crumb-scattered plate. His latest book is The Man Who Died Twice, the sequel to Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club. He looked up and smiled as I approached; I sense his holiday has done him good or maybe it was giving his evidence to the Post Office Inquiry (See PC 235 Generosity in Government June 2021).

Hi! Richard. Glad I got that over …. but everyone’s been talking about the BBC Panorama programme ‘Scandal in The Post Office’ by Nick Wallis.”

“I’ve got it recorded but haven’t had time to watch it. Is it revealing?”

“Absolutely! The most significant case they reviewed was of Martin Griffiths. A sub-postmaster with an unblemished record of some 13 years in Great Sutton in Cheshire, a few months after the Horizon computer system was installed he had a shortfall of over £61,000. According to his widow, he was persecuted by the Post Office, made to pay it back and had his licence terminated. Unable to cope this father of two teenagers committed suicide.”

“Wow! That’s horrible!”

There’s more. A firm of forensic auditors, Second Sight, were investigating the hundreds of cases of missing money. A few days before they were due to report, the Post Office made a ‘take it or leave it’ financial offer to his widow Gina Griffiths on condition of her silence. They were worried that news of Martin’s suicide would have made headline news particularly for the tabloid press and the whole edifice of the Post Office would have come crashing down. The CEO of this organisation from 2012 to 2019, Paula Vennells, was made a CBE for ‘her services to the Post Office’. Now it’s been suggested she should have that honour taken away.”  

Isn’t she an ordained priest?

Sami nodded and shrugged his shoulders! ‘I don’t think being a priest necessarily makes you a wonderful manager and leader, or vica versa!’

I appreciate that this scandal may be of little interest to some, but for me and others it’s so utterly unbelievable yet jaw-droopingly true that it needs to remain in focus until those whose lives were destroyed, in some cases completely, see justice. Those responsible for the Post Office’s management and leadership during this time must be called to account in court.

I excuse myself and head back to my table, as I need to scribble something for this week’s post. Edith’s been rather down, reports Josh. He senses the whole Ukraine nightmare and the ridiculous use by Russia’s Putin of the word Nazi have reawakened nightmares of her own. While completely understandable, objectively it has caused many who had scant knowledge of the 1935-1945 period to reach for the history books, just as those who experienced it are coming to the end of their own lives. This is a good thing, understanding the past, particularly our own past, as it should help us to make better informed decisions today and tomorrow.

Josh hovers near my table, checking no one needs him, and asks for my opinion:

The other evening Luke and I had three other couples to supper and, after the main course had been cleared away and before some pudding, a couple got up saying they wanted to have a cigarette and headed for the front door. Another couple obviously liked the idea and joined them, leaving the table half empty! I want individuals to enjoy themselves but afterwards felt they could have waited until they walked home. Then I remembered how lovely a post prandial smoke was, so understood the urge.”

Wasn’t it just, sitting around the table, smoke from cigarettes and cigars mingling with the smell of red wine and meat! Later a glass of port, Cognac or Drambuie helped the conversation to flow. Times change and I understand your conundrum; are you gracious and don’t make a fuss or simply ask your guests to be patient? I wonder whether Debrett’s can rule on this conundrum! Should I write to them?”

Why not” says Josh then with a “sorry, need to get back to work, maybe see you next week?” he moves back to behind the counter.


Richard 13th May 2022


PC 281 Stepping Through Life

Some new acquaintances, a Ukrainian and her English partner, came to tea last month. I know I am sometimes insensitive but I just can’t help myself, wanting to understand how individuals came to be how they are, where they are today! What steps have led them to be sitting in our living room having tea and lemon drizzle cake with us? Then I had this image of stepping stones across a shallow stream, some stones small, others more like a boulder, some within an easy stride, others requiring a jump. You remember doing this, getting your balance, thinking how you are going to lift off through your feet, deciding which stone of two to step to, grateful obtaining your balance when you arrive; maybe stepping straight off onto another, maybe recovering your breath and pausing, assimilating, assessing?

If you look back over your life so far, you can see your experiences as these stones, these places you have moved through, sometimes changing behaviour to do so but more likely ‘more of the same’. Do you want to look under them to see what lurks in the darkness, or are you happy to see them for what they are, simple steps on your path through life? Most stones in a field have slugs lying under them and it’s damp and smelly; those across a stream are washed by cool water but contain a micro-kingdom of minute creatures and plant life. Revisiting one’s experiences can be cathartic and insightful or it can be painful and emotional. Experiences have happened and cannot be reworked or relived; they just are.

My advice is always to see them for what they are; don’t attach any unwarranted emotions to them and step forward to the next stone! Coincidently, my local Ekah yoga studio started their May newsletter with this quote from Abraham Maslow (he of the Hierarchy of Needs): “In any given moment we have two options, to step forward into growth or step back into safety.” I could add a third, ‘or to remain paralysed by indecision, fear and doubt’!!

Photo from The Times

Recently there has been some news coverage of how people look as they age and more importantly how they behave. We have always imagined that life expectancy would go on increasing as healthier lifestyles and better healthcare contributed to longer life; you may remember that in the USA at the beginning of 1900 the average age for a man was 46! Figures for life expectancy are very dependent on where you live. In the UK, in the most deprived areas where sadly endemic poverty, substance abuse and abysmal levels of expectation still exist, its 73.5 for men compared with 83.2 in the least deprived; for women its 78.3 compared with 86.3. Ten years of living lost just because you were born in the wrong place? In the words of the prophet: “Something must be done!”

Interestingly, as the end of one’s life becomes more of a fuzzy reality than something below the horizon, we stop investing in the future – for the future is here! The importance is to distinguish between being project-focused, ie getting stuff done and investing in the future and process-focused ie doing stuff and living in the present.  

Started in 2014, there are now five volumes of my scribbles!

And still with the life theme …..it’s getting better as far as ‘Living with Covid’ (Note 1) is concerned but there was a period just before Easter here in the UK when everything seemed to go tits up! Flights were cancelled, ferries didn’t sail, the M20 motorway to Dover became a lorry park and queues formed everywhere; ‘staff shortages’ became a defensive cry. One of the reasons may have been that the government increased the number of identifiable Covid symptoms from 9 to 11. Now the working population seem to think: “OMG! I have a sniffle/ache/memory lapse/itch/hot flush/brain fog/cognitive difficulties/red big toe. Maybe I have Covid?” in the manner of someone in a Bingo Hall shouting ‘Bingo’ – and so not turn up for work, for instance as security in an airport.

But they actually feel fine so when Lucy says let’s go on a four day break to Budapest and Alan says yes, let’s and they get to Luton Airport for their Easyjet flight, to find the queues are horrendous and why didn’t they allow enough time and when the local newspaper’s reporter shoves a microphone in their face to ask for their reaction, Alan says there aren’t enough staff, that the queues are horrendous and the country’s going to the dogs. Irony alive!

Stepping through life is often recorded in celebrating birthdays and Celina’s is coming up. She needed a new Kindle; her much-loved one is tired and we knew that the sharpness of the display had improved immeasurably. Amazon advertise a ‘Trade-in’ offer for an old Kindle. Send it back and they give you a £15 voucher and 20% off a new one. But if you are an avid reader you don’t want to be without one, for even a day. I ordered a new one, it arrived and we deregistered the old one. The Trade-In instructions are easy to follow and it’s gone; the offer of £15 plus 20% off a new one is now valid. I manage to find a real human to talk to in Amazon Customer Services and explained to John I had just bought a new one, wouldn’t be buying another new one for a few years and could he give me the 20% refund. This question was above his pay grade and I was put on hold; 10 minutes later a refund was agreed. You just have to ask!

When I started reading the last paragraph of Rose Wild’s Feedback in a Saturday Times a fortnight ago, my imagination went into overdrive: “While I was writing this a cow came crashing down the chimney bringing with it 100 years’ worth of soot and dust.” Once the absurdity of this picture dawned, I reread it. For ‘cow’ read ‘crow’!

Don’t be paralysed by the unknown; have faith that the step you take will be OK. And if it isn’t, that’s OK too, as you can learn from what transpired.

Richard 6th May 2022


Note 1 Had my Spring Booster Covid vaccine last week so all up to date!