Game off.

This week Premier League players were granted an extra Saturday off each February, made possible by moving an FA cup game to midweek and cancelling any replays. Bad news for the lower division clubs who need the FA Cup income. Their players play more games for lower wages, but you don’t hear them requesting concessions like the ones already been made to the top division.

There used to be 42 league games a year. Now there are 38. Then teams could only field one substitute. Now they are allowed three. Clubs used to pick their best side in all competitions. Now they field the reserves in domestic cups, with fewer replays, and, in some cases, enter at a later round.

The clubs demanding a winter break are the same ones who swapped friendlies at local non-league clubs for extravagant tours of the Far East and America. The same ones who backed the expansion of European competitions, specifically the misnamed Champions League. In 1984 Liverpool won the European Cup as English champions, playing 9 games. Despite not being champions since 1990 they reached the final of this year’s Champions League, playing 15 games.

We can agree that the highly played professional athletes deserve a break or we can wonder why the departing Chief Executive of the Premier League found it necessary to stress again that there are no plans for a European Super League.

A Novel approach

Most writers want to write full-time, but few can afford to do so. Obstacles such as paying bills get in the way. The ones who make it are those who match talent with hard work and patience. They reduce social engagements and balance professional roles whilst learning the craft of writing.  As they progress in the alternative career, the prospect of surrendering a regular income becomes less appealing. A 2016 study for the European Commission found that the average salary of full-time writers in the UK was below the minimum wage.

Some try shortcuts.  I have heard of aspiring writers who sign on the dole whilst writing their first novel. This not only cheats the system and annoys taxpayers who should not have to dreams, but also denies the opportunity to experience the real world where most writers find inspiration.  Now there may be an alternative. A new company, DeMontfort Literature is offering an annual salary to prospective novelists and it is above minimum wage.

This approach is unprecedented because of the huge financial risk. Unless the company has other sources of funding any novel would need to earn enough to cover the salary, and the author’s royalties.  For De Montfort’s initiative to succeed and finance itself,  it will need to create some bestselling authors quickly. That could be you so if you’ve ever wanted to give up the day job pop along to their website and consider applying.

Next question please

As I start writing questions for a forthcoming trivia night I remember the heyday of the pub quiz. A popular event that drew extra customers into the local pub on a Sunday evening or other quiet time. You came away, perhaps a little inebriated but with enhanced general knowledge and sometimes prize money. I enjoyed participating in many, at different levels, until the occasions were ruined by smart phones whose users were anything but smart.

People unwilling to admit they didn’t know the answer began texting under the table. Next, they made phone calls, discretely in the toilet or smoking area. Today they type the question into a search engine. This is impossible for quizmasters to police, especially in a crowded venue where everyone plays on their phone instead of talking. Pub quizzes stopped being fun when prizes went to ignorant people skilled only in browsing the internet.

This will probably be the last quiz that I write because it is becoming more and more difficult to create questions that some humans can answer but Google cannot. Soon the pub quiz will be lost to history, like many of the establishments that hosted it so successfully.

No fines please, we’re British

Like many people I received a lots of emails this week, advising me to confirm that I still wished to subscribe to newsletters and other services. This is due to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR as the EU loves acronyms) effective from 25 May in all EU member states and covers your personal data such as name, address, photos, email address, bank details, posts on social media networking sites, medical information and computer IP address.

Any business that stores any of this information must now ensure that it is kept securely and anonymously. They also have to give you access to the information and tell you how it is stored, shared and acquired. To help the EU obliges all states to create a new authority to oversee complaints, as well as the administration of the policy.

We have been here before. Twenty years ago, the UK introduced a Data Protection Act (DPA), and an expensive ombudsman to administer it. In the last twelve months that body, the Information Commissioner, collected fines of £290,000 from three local councils. Breaches of the GDPR, which overwrites the DPA, can result in much larger fines of 4% of global revenue or 20 million euros. The difference is that this money will not be recycled around government, but vanish into one of the EU’s many accounts.

With their track record it is only a matter of time before the UK Government fails to protect someone’s data and gives the EU a last chance to recoup the revenue it will lose when Brexit occurs on 29 March 2019.

Royal Nonsense

The media has a long history of reporting connections between Jack the Ripper and the monarchy. This week they surpassed their previous gullibility by claiming that Megan Markle is a descendant of Jack. As he was never identified this is impossible to verify yet several outlets stated it as fact.

The story comes from Jeff Mudgett, a descendant of the serial killer H.H.Holmes who, it is alleged, crossed the Atlantic to commit the Whitechapel murders. In my recent book, which looked at 333 Jack the Ripper suspects, I found that the case against Holmes depended on unproven statements made by Mudgett. The only external support is some handwriting analysis but that is questionable because there is no evidence that the killer wrote the letters attributed to him. They have also been linked by other handwriting experts to different suspects and Mudgett initially stated that Holmes did not write them.

There used to be standards in journalism. Stories would be checked for facts and ignored if they could not be substantiated or published with supporting evidence. Nowadays they are regurgitated without questioning by editors who then wonder why their circulation is falling.

Nobody will make you pay

Once there was an honest landlord, who even put correct details on his tax return. Then he got a tenant who refused to pay. He asked nicely. The tenant became abusive. The landlord sought help. Instead of being able to take the tenant straight to court he had to apply to another government body, which in Queensland is the Residential Tenant’s Association. As the name suggests they predominantly help tenants and claim to resolve 70.8% of disputes but that is only where both parties agree to talk. The real figure is 47.1%, less than half.

The RTA encourage mediation, to save on legal costs. The landlord said that he had already tried that but they insisted he tried again. The tenant remained abusive. The RTA made him send a form, giving the tenant another week to pay, followed by another which gave notice to leave. The tenant disputed it, on the grounds of gaining time. The RTA arranged a lengthy mediation. Several months later they issued a document to say that the dispute resolution was unsuccessful.

The landlord was now allowed to go to court and obtained a warrant of possession which the court passed to the police who told the tenant when they would enforce it. The tenant vandalized the property first and was given another house by the government. The honest landlord never got any rent to pay the mortgage, so the house was repossessed.

It may not be surprising that dishonesty still prevails in Australia, but the governments of other countries, including Britain, have also lost the willingness to deal with deliberate debtors. This casual attitude is one of the reasons why they have such a large debt of their own.

Tell a story without slides

Thirteen years ago Amazon’s Senior Management Team stopped using PowerPoint presentations and adopted narrative structure. Humans are conditioned to receive and respond to this structure.  Good stories have a beginning, middle and end and tell how the hero overcomes a problem. Swap hero for business, beginning for past, middle for present and end for future and you have a template to help your business consider a specific issue.

A narrative structure explains what happened, highlights the current position and shows a solution. More importantly it exchanges bullet points for real sentences, allowing you to draw from customer experience. Graphs might show that you are losing market share but a complaint from a customer woven into the presentation gives an indication why. You can summarize all customer complaints and table them, without empathy. When you hear how your decision affected a real family, it means so much more and should inspire a determination to do better. A poignant example of this is the resignation of the British Home Secretary over threats to deport the children of the Windrush generation.

The Home Office almost certainly has slides with deportation targets, counting the people affected as stats and approving the destruction of their paperwork.  Listening to their stories should have been part of the decision making process.