Chirac refuses to play the game
Sunday 26 November 1995
IF YOU were trying to identify the ultimate in genteel organisations, you might plausibly light upon the John Lewis Partnership Ballroom Dancing Club. Or at least you might have done until a few weeks ago. An unobtrusive statistic in the Gazette, the partnership's magazine, notes that the club had 11 members in 1993/4, three in 1994/5 - and has now closed. Oh what tales of passion and jealousy must have slipped away with it - the flyfishing and bridge clubs will never be able to make up the loss.
The Italian job
IF FORTE is swallowed by Granada, it will be a sad moment for Italians in Britain. Charles, Lord Forte - whose father came to Scotland in 1913 - has long been the standard-bearer of the community. There used to be a newspaper called Back Hill that had one advertiser (guess who) and according to John Collis of the British-Italian Society: "He is very much the central figure of the community."
But who will pick up the mantle as leader of the Italians when he bows out? His son Rocco? Possibly. The obvious successor might be Sir Paul Girolami, who was born in the Veneto and presided autocratically over Glaxo as it grew great. But I don't think he has quite the right attitude.
The most interesting Italian-Brit I have met is a lady called Virginia Lopalco. She, with her brother, founded Pasta Reale, thus inventing the factory-made fresh pasta that keeps our tummies so happy and our wallets so light. She learned pasta-making from her grandma in the Veneto, and she is still everything an Italian should be: food-obsessed, charming and permanently dressed in her Sunday best. I propose Signora Lopalco as the next Chief Italian in Britain - I wonder if she'll give me some pasta now?
HURRAH, bribery is back! I have just received a note from Aquascutum announcing its Corporate Gifts Collection. It is written in particularly abstruse business-speak, but the fundamental message is clear. It starts: "In the world of business gifts, the old maxim that 'it is better to give than to receive' is increasingly true in the 1990s. It goes hand in hand with the trends of Total Quality Management, the blurring of Above and Below the Line disciplines in marketing and the focus on Customer Service."
A 1987 book cautioned against expensive gifts, it continues, "because they may be misconstrued". But now: "This has all changed as larger influences have altered perceptions and the business gift is now right back on trend." James Pow, chief executive of Aquascutum, is quoted as saying that the Japanese spend 3.5 per cent of GNP on gifts and adds: "This is being translated into the UK market, in which scepticism has gradually been replaced by a desire to give high-quality gifts with accompanying hierarchical considerations over 'who gets what' also appearing."
In addition, individuals have been "demanding consumer sovereignty ... the response by many companies to this ethos has opened wide the door to luxury goods brands, who can fulfil a task of ensuring that customer care extends beyond the parameters of the business environment."
So, if I follow this gobbledegook, it is now fine to hand out gifts - ranging from a brushed brass and grained-leather key-holder (pounds 14) to a traditional, handmade solid silver director's box (pounds 650 - for keeping share options in, I suppose). I think the clue might be the reference to the Japanese who do, after all, own Aquascutum. They bought us Total Quality Management and Just-in-Time manufacturing - now they are bringing us bribery, sorry, customer care outside the business environment. Splendid chaps, the Japanese.
AND WHEN we're not bribing people (or being bribed, if we're lucky), we're busy defrauding our employers. The British Bankers Association has launched a video called Live now - pay later!, which says that "50 per cent of all fraud involves employees" and "no level of staff is immune from temptation to commit fraud". I may be naive, but I thought the latest management theory said you should build up an atmosphere of trust with your staff. All right, I admit it, I am naive.
ARE YOU monochronic or polychronic? Do you know what I am talking about? If not, I refer you to a new book called Cross-cultural Communication (Gregory Barnard, Cassell), which explains that monochronic people believe that to master their destinies they must subjugate themselves to time, whereas poly- chronics believe that to subjugate themselves to time is to lose control of their lives. To put it another way, if you are German you are on time and monochronic, if you are a southern Italian you are polychronic and late.
Like most people, I suspect, I want to be polychronic, but I have better things to do than to sit around while everyone else is being polychronic too. Which is why I do not mind that monochronicism (monochronicity?) seems to be becoming something of an obsession.
I have learnt this week about three devices that will appeal immensely to hypermonochronicists (keep those syllables coming). Junghans has launched two solar-powered, radio-controlled wristwatches that it claims are "absolutely accurate, because they are permanently in contact with the world's most accurate clock". Just for good measure, they "run for ever" - nice to know that the perplexing little perpetual motion problem has been licked.
Oregon Scientific, meanwhile, has a new alarm clock, christened the RM913, which is "accurate to within one millionth of a second in a year". It is linked to a caesium-based atomic clock in Middlesex. Oh what joy for the truly monochronic ... "Sorry, Hans, I'm three-millionths of a second late!"
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