BUNHILL: Lecturer for whom car parks are no academic matter

Click to follow
The Independent Online
WHEN Clive Baker is cornered at cocktail parties, he probably escapes pretty fast. "So what do you do, Clive?" "I'm a management lecturer at Southampton Institute, and I specialise in car parks." (Exit first party towards tray of canapes).

Which is a shame, because Mr Baker is a very interesting man. He believes car parks have been managed shockingly badly, because no one regards them as a potentially modern business. He even controversially suggests that "drivers should be treated as customers, and not be ripped off".

Before becoming an academic, he managed Southampton's car parking for 14 years, bringing it out of private ownership and turning a loss into a profit worth 2p on the rates. "It's a big business," he says. "We were turning over pounds 3m in Southampton alone."

He is also a world expert on floating car parks. A handful of these have been built and, he reveals sensationally: "I made an offer for the Herald of Free Enterprise."

He explains that Southampton needed an overflow car park for its boat show, and he asked the owner of the wreck how much it would cost. The answer was pounds 3m, so he didn't buy it.

I was so intrigued by now that I wanted to know if it was possible to do a course in car parks. "If I could find someone who wanted to, I would do it," he says. Strangely, no one has yet asked.

I WOULDN'T say I am jealous of Roger McKechnie. All right then, I would.

First he built up Phileas Fogg, the crinkly food company in Medomsley Road, Consett. It was hard work, but he and his fellow directors made it bearable by going off on regular brainstorming sessions to places such as Baja California. Humph. Then, three years ago, he sold out to United Biscuits and got pounds 7m. Double humph.

Now he has spent some of his beans on a centre on Lake Windermere. It is called The Samling, at Dovenest, costs pounds 250 a night all-in, and is intended to be a retreat for executives who want to contemplate the deeper issues of mammon.

There is of course a link between The Samling and those tough times in Mexico. Mr McKechnie believes one reason for Phileas Fogg's success was those three- or four-day breaks, "away from the office, the wife and the kids".

But he was not impressed with the hotels he stayed in, and when he saw The Samling sitting there with a "For Sale" sign on it, he instantly conceived an excuse for buying it. Now the poor guy owns a bluebell-carpeted estate in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. Humph, humph, humph.

Starting Monday

DID you know that the International Standards Organisation has ruled that the first day of the week is Monday? Thought not.

YOU will remember those televisions that came encased in tasteful mock- antique cabinets. So I suppose you will not be surprised to hear that Kunst Computer of Charlottesville, Virginia, has done the same thing to computers.

As you will see from the photograph, Kunst sells wooden computers, or at least computers covered in a wood veneer. It is, we are told, "the first computer that is truly a work of art" and it is "crafted from solid walnut".

But a colleague who understands style is very critical of Messrs Kunst's efforts. "Why is the screen that dreadful plastic?" he demands. "Why hasn't it been enclosed in a tasteful imitation Louis Quinze cocktail cabinet with gold-effect fittings?"

Newspeak today

IT IS tempting, if you wear a wig like mine, to be opposed to all change. But I was reading the Reith lecture last week, which said we must not oppose change in language because it is Normal and Right. As the lecturer was the Rupert Murdoch Professor of Language and Communication at Oxford, this view must be correct.

So I started looking for business words that decorate the language, rather than spreading a grey mass of gloop over it. I found just one I liked: WYSIWYG, which stands for What You See Is What You Get. It's a computer expression, but does a fine metaphorical job: "He's very wyziwig," you might say, and your friends would nod wisely.

Otherwise all I found, I am afraid, was a pile of Latinate dross: securitisation, deconglomeratisation, downsizing, synergistic, deprofessionalisation, empowerment, infomercial, proactive. So I have decided I am against change after all.

Comments