When being Roman was no holiday

Click to follow
The Independent Online
YOU MAY have spotted that the Learmont report on prisons quoted the words of the satirist Gaius Petronius. Writing in AD66, he said: "It seemed that every time we were beginning to form into teams we would be reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganising, and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress, while producing confusion, inefficiency and demoralisation."

This quotation comes up regularly, and there are doubts over its authenticity (I have seen one claim that it was written in 1945). But I would like to believe that Mr P wrote it, and that "Business Process Re-engineering" was doing the rounds 1,900 years ago.

I wonder for what else those Roman management consultants can be held responsible. Caligula making his horse a consul? Someone had told him to push responsibility down to the lowest level - the core of Total Quality Management. Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burned? Good hands-off management style. Caesar dividing Gaul into three parts? Something to do with matrix management.

Then there was that ultimate deconglomeratisation in the fifth century. I can reveal that leveraged buy-out specialists GVO (Goth, Visigoth and Ostragoth) maximised shareholder value by taking over the Roman Empire and breaking it up. It plunged Europe into a 500-year recession, but I gather GVO's consultants earned terrific fees.

By the way, Petronius was forced to commit suicide. It's risky, taking on the consultants.

READERS have continued to send me examples of ancient bits of British machinery that are still working. NR Lines of Walsall wrote to say that the lift cars and winding gear of Eiffel's tower in Lisbon carry the name Wayland & Co, Falmouth Rd, London SE, and are dated 1902. "I would be interested to know if the company still exists, or what became of it," Mr Lines says.

Well, I've been down Falmouth Road, near the Elephant and Castle. No factories there. I've looked up companies called Wayland. The most promising was Wayland Sheet Metal Engineers of Hornchurch, Essex - but the people there denied any link. I've been told that Wayland was a blacksmith who appears in ancient legends, including Beowulf - and that Wayland's Smithy is a neolithic tomb on the Berkshire Downs. The legend is that if you go in there with a piece of ironwork and leave a sixpence, your repair will be done for you or your horse will be shod. This is interesting, but does not answer Mr Lines' question. Maybe a reader can help?

Vegetable matter

ONE DAY, someone will write a PhD thesis on The Cultural Implications of the Building Society and Bank Merger Boom of the 1990s. It should be interesting because many building society executives (most of whom are Yorkshiremen) are uneasy with their flashy new banking colleagues. They wear a loud shade of grey, and they visit restaurants at lunchtime. Not on, lad, not on.

But there are signs of change. Mike Blackburn, head of the Halifax, has been spotted wearing a tie with vegetables on it. They are not exotic - carrots and the like - but they could mark the thin end of a slippery slope. One day carrotty ties, the next day mobile phones and BMWs...

ACCORDING TO 'City Events', which lists London Diocesan happenings, there were 21 church services in the City last Wednesday, All Saints Day, and 18 the next day, All Souls Day. The Diocese is now blotting its copybook by trying to cash in on the film, 'Pocahontas'.

Its latest newsletter has a picture of the heroine, and tells us that St Sepulchre-without-Newgate will be open next Saturday, Lord Mayor's Show Day. The princess's bloke in the film, John Smith, is buried there. The trouble is, he wasn't her bloke in reality. The Church is thus continuing the work Disney has already put in blurring the considerable distinction between real history and cartoon history. Pedants might think this naff.

Hair of the dog

IT IS fashionable to believe that the Internet is more or less useless. Bunhill is happy to prove that it is an invaluable convenience, with the help of a product being advertised thereupon.

My picture illustrates this. The RoboCut Family Vacuum Haircutting System allows you to "cut your own hair like a PRO!". A blower straightens your hair, the device measures it, the electric scissors cut it, and the cuttings are then sucked away into the built-in vaccuum cleaner.

Best of all, "You get two products in one: Family Haircutter and Pet Groomer".

Just in case you are nervous about shaving your pooch, "an expanded Pet Grooming section has just been added to the harcutting guide, complete with hairstyles and even a goodie recipe to make the experience more palatable".

For all this, goodie recipe and all, you, the customer, pay a footling $59.95.