(Universal suffrage, shurely? -Ed.) (No. -G.) . Well, the Sussex elections are in full swing, and as their Returning Officer I’ve just about survived the first few days of frenziedly vital queries eg. “I know the rules say we can’t use professionally-printed banners, but can I use a professionally-printed banner?” “Am I allowed to tell people that they shouldn’t vote for X because they’re totally useless?” (a campaign tactic modelled on Churchill’s finest moments) and, every candidate’s favourite formula for masking a whinge as an innocent enquiry, “I just wanted to check if what Z is doing is allowed.”
I’ve had to adjudicate on everything from unlabelled cupcakes to bicycle flashmobs – now there’s a sentence I don’t use every day – and am currently considering obtaining a Red Cross armband so that I can move through Library Square clearly marked as a civilian non-combatant.
Explaining to one candidate that banners cost 60 points (part of our spending limit system) per square metre, I was asked, “What if I want a rectangle though?” Erm…
One particularly fraught moment occurred at 3am on Friday morning when a candidate emailed me to announce that their banner had been cut down and a full investigation was called for. At 10am they emailed to clarify, “False alarm. It just blew backwards.”
Still, it’s all good fun – and where am I going to get my entertainment from once I graduate and become a Grown-Up?
When your heart starts a-pounding
Continuing this week’s Gabrielquotes theme of ‘Democracy: What Good Is It?’, the battle for Scottish independence ran into difficulties last week as Chancellor George Osborne tossed a caber into the works.
The complete git told journalists at a press conference, “If Scotland walks away from the UK, it walks away from the UK pound.”
To demonstrate his understanding of economic theory, he added, “A currency isn’t an asset to be divided after a break-up like a CD collection.”
As a celebration of this latest milestone in the fight to keep the United Kingdom united, I’m happy to release a song entitled The Pound: Can You Leave Her There? (Admittedly I copied the tune off someone else but I’m hoping to get away with it Scot free.)
An enviable power of recall
This week the Cabinet dropped the Recall of MPs Bill, which would have allowed a petition signed by 10% of voters in a constituency to trigger a by-election if their MP had eg. been found to have sexually abused a vulnerable constituent. Was dropping this proposal a good idea? This is democracy week: you decide!
“If you just plonk Sweden into Tanzania, you’re going to have pandemonium.”
“Is this clear?” / “Things have been clearer before.” / “What a diplomat!”
“If 50% of Global Studies students complete the National Student Survey, we get £1,000 for the School.” [And those 600 students between them pay £4,200,000 to the School every year. Still, I'm sure an extra grand will go a long way.]
In tonight’s episode, the electoral whinging was done by ██████ ████████████, ████████ ███ █████ and ████████ ████████. Flood defences were cut by the Conservative Party (not really relevant, just thought I’d say). And Scottish independence was opposed by Frankie Vaughan. This was an Gabrielquotes production!
Remember, you can sign up for more of this stuff on the right. (Of the page, not of the political spectrum.) .
University of Sussex managers (and in two cases their friends/ wives/ significant others) have been wined and dined and enjoyed free gadgetry giveaways dozens of times since September 2012, data released this week shows.
A copy of the University Hospitality Register – which is allegedly compiled “for transparency” but curiously never published – obtained by this blog makes interesting reading.
It shows that Jerry Sinclair of our pride and joy, IT Services, was treated to a day at the rugby in Twickenham by Wherescape, a software company to whom Sussex pays an annual subscription. It’s not recorded why they considered it necessary to offer a staff member responsible for advising on this contract such a lovely treat.
A lucky someone “outside the university” now owns this
Professor Colleen McLaughlin, meanwhile, received a Microsoft Surface tablet from Microsoft, who were hoping that she would “identify strengths and weaknesses” in a proposal to use them more in teaching. However, the register records that she “gave the tablet away to someone outside of the university as she did not need it”.
That’s nice for them, but I do wonder why Sussex thought it was a good idea to give away expensive items of computer equipment received by its staff in their official capacity to total strangers when we’re apparently stretched financially.
Dr Ian Carter, who works in Sussex House as director of Research & Enterprise, attended thirteen separate glamorous events at other organisations’ expense – generally commercial organisations, of course – all of the said freebies having been approved by Registrar & Secretary John Duffy.
Meanwhile, further up the Sussex House food chain, Vice-Chancellor Professor Michael Farthing and his wife Penny Alison were treated to dinner and an evening at the opera at Glyndebourne worth £450. Admittedly they could scarcely afford such essential entertainment on Farthing’s own £280,000 salary, so I suppose this is justified.
The V-C’s Office also received a gift in the form of a £50 Marks & Spencer voucher from local firm Streamline Taxis, who are presumably on some sort of contract because it’s difficult to see why they’d bother smarming up to Michael Farthing otherwise. Interestingly, for this entry the Hospitality Register records neither the name of the person who authorised the gift, nor which individual used it.
Senior management clearly expect their staff to be less money-grabbing than they themselves are; at least that’s what was suggested by their response to Monday’s two-hour strike. Although such industrial action is a stupid idea, one would at least expect an enlightened university to react lawfully, right?
Wrong. HR director Jane ‘bring me sunshine’ Summerville (pictured) emailed all staff to say:
As strike action is a breach of contract, those employees who take part in the strike action will have no legal entitlement to be paid at all for the day of strike action, even where the action is for less than a full day. A full day’s work is the quid pro quo for a day’s pay; anything less than a full day’s work does not entitle the employee to any pay.
So Jane has cleverly (1) angered striking staff further for no good reason, (2) given them an incentive to strike all day, since they wouldn’t get paid for any work they do anyway, and (3) implied that anyone who goes to the dentist or takes a brief personal ’phone call forfeits all of their salary for the entire day.
I wonder how she decided that the minimum unit of pay should be one day? Why not two days? Or one week? Or…
As strike action is a breach of contract, those employees who take part in the strike action will have no legal entitlement to be paid at all for the 7-year period of strike action, even where the action is for less than a 7 years. 7 years’ labour is the quid pro quo for marrying my daughter; anything less than 7 years’ labour does not entitle the employee to any sheep whatsoever. And furthermore, the sin will be visited unto the seventh generation.
Even my own charming cheder (synagogue Sunday School thing) class have been known to fall into this trap. So allow me to present, for one post only…
“The Burning Bush? Well, in the film…”
“Was Joseph the one who lived in a garden and ate some apples?”
ME: “So Jacob thought he’d just married Rachel, and after the wedding, he lifted up the veil, and there stood…” / “Esau?”
ME: “So what do we have 12 of in Judaism?” / “12 commandments.” / ME: “Are you serious?” / “12 plagues.”
“The Joseph story basically has the same plot as Atlantis, doesn’t it.”
“Unless you change ‘Hagar’ to ‘Hagrid’ I’m not doing this lesson any more.”
ME: “What did Moses do before the Israelites left Egypt?” / “Tell them to go to the toilet before the journey?”
ME: “Does anyone know what the Seven Species of Israel are?” / “Is one of them a shark?” / ME: [withering look] / [...] ME: “OK, we’ve got five of them. The other two are grains; what grains do you know?” / “Aramanth! Quinoa! Millet!” [no Brighton stereotypes here!]
ME: “So who can remember what we did last week?” / “Nativity plays.”
“I must not meddle in things that don’t concern me”
Education secretary Michael Gove has brought his considerable experience of teaching to bear (Is this right? -Ed.) by laying down new guidelines on school discipline, encouraging the use of ‘traditional’ punishments such as cleaning whiteboards, picking up litter and “weeding the grounds” [of the headteacher's estate].
Because obviously, the way to deal with ill-disciplined schoolchildren is to teach them that clearing up after themselves is a punishment. And as we all know from our own lives, the more essential jobs are denigrated, the more people want to do them voluntarily.
Pitcairn Island is many things: the world’s smallest democracy, Britain’s last remaining colony in the Pacific, the only place inhabited primarily by people descended from pirates (it was founded by the Bounty mutineers).
It cropped up in a seminar and since then, I’ve found a huge stash of documents online about its exciting history, which has been peppered with bizarre incidents.
For example, there was the 1930s ‘Coffin double murder case’, in which a married couple appropriately called Mr and Mrs Coffin were both charged with, coincidentally, attempting to murder each other: her with poison, him by shooting.
Then there was the case of Moris ‘Mento’ Christian. In 1941, while the rest of the British government was busy dealing with the Nazi menace (OK, you can have that one. -Ed.), the colonial official resident on Pitcairn wrote a long complaint to the Foreign Office stating: “A large part of the trouble on this island [population around 70] is being caused by a half-witted kleptomaniac named Morris Christian, invariably called ‘Mento’.”
A copy of Mento’s criminal record was included in an annex. His offences included theft, fighting, theft, theft, killing a cat, interfering (!), theft, theft, threatening to shoot two women and “violating law no.12″ (what a bastard!). “What did you do during the War, granddaddy?” “I enforced Law No.12!”
Nobody could accuse the historic Pitcairners of not having adequate social welfare provision. One letter from the island’s Magistrate to the Foreign Office was unusually personal in nature for a diplomatic message: “Sir— with regret I must state to you that Mel Warren is on family way again. She will be before the Court tomorrow.”
The ghost of Pitcairn Past
Court transcripts show that the hearing took place with customary formality: “Mel, it came to my notice you is on family way again. Who do you charge with being the father? [silence] Who do you lay the charge on? [silence] Who do you lay the charge on? [silence] Who do you lay the charge on?”
Following Mel’s refusal to answer this perfectly reasonable question, the Magistrate sent another letter to the Foreign Office asking for advice on how to make her talk.
The Foreign Office replied: “I note the words in your letter ‘to punish the girl for being on the family way’. Your attention is called to the fact that this is not a punishable offence.”
Other official guidance given by the British to the island’s judicial system came in a 1940 document entitled Hints and instructions to the Chief Magistrate. This notes that “women should be excluded if their presence would be undesirable. If the case is of a filthy nature proceedings may be conducted in private.”
In tonight’s episode, Billy Budd was attended by Professor Michael Farthing. Colleen McLaughlin’s friends got a pleasant surprise. And Jane Summerville kept a tight hold on Sussex’s money. The supporting cast included Michael Gove, William Brown, Richmal Crompton and Martin Jarvis. Security was provided by Mr & Mrs Coffin. This was an Gabrielquotes production!