Monday, 30 July 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: The Packages of Work (2)

FROM: Edelbertha Spengler, Chief Executive
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

Ken: Can you update me on progress with the Odanglesex Craft Olympiad? Cllr Waynflete was asking. Today, please.


FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob
To: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager
Continuing down Memory Lane (one-way street and close) with old adventures from Odanglesex: here the second part on the Packages of Work.


You'll see from the above we need to update Ed on the Odanglesex Craft Olympiad. Please draft to me by 2:30.


FROM: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision


It's with you since last Thursday for approval of the draft package - unless you've sent it to Vanessa?


FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

TO: Hamish Carpenter, Transformational Excellence Manager


Forget about the packaging. Please rework this package by 2:45 and I'll present it to Ed. You can resolve any rough ends with Vanessa later.


Friday, 27 July 2012

A chance encounter

When I lived closer to it, I used to walk along the Stort Navigation on the Hertfordshire/Essex border fairly frequently, roughly between Harlow and Bishop's Stortford. Note for non-Brits especially: a "navigation" in this sense is a river converted to make it suitable for barges, straightened in places and given at least partly artificial banks. The Stort is the original river. The area is surprisingly rural, with woods, fielda and marshes.

Since moving further away, I've become seriously interested in dragonflies and took the opportunity of recent sunny weather to revisit the Stort, reckoning it would be classic dragonfly habitat - and so it was. I was looking out for birds and butterflies too and had my binoculars round my neck.

A tractor was harvesting hay close to the navigation. It stopped. A powerfully-built white-haired man, naked above the waist, got out and came jogging across the field and through a rough gap in the nettles and other vegetation to join me on the bank. He'd seen my binoculars. He was the farmer. Had I seen the buzzard, he asked. Note to Americans: this is not the small vulture you call a buzzard, but a kind of large hawk, which was exterminated in Eastern England in the 19th century but has returned over the last twenty years. I hadn't. He said it often came down when he was working in the fields to take any prey disturbed by machinery. We chatted about birds. I explained my number one interest that day was dragonflies. He asked about that.

On my way back I did see his buzzard.

So why is that worth a post? Some farmers are still hostile to birds of prey, but he was seriously interested. More than that, he was working, stopped his machine and went out of his way to reach me and talk to me. I was impressed - humbled, really.

Oh, and the Three Horseshoes at Spellbrook had good real ale...

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Odanglesex Revisited: The Packages of Work (1)

Another reposted Odanglesex Chronicle, a little updated.

From: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision
To: All Transformational Excellence

I thought our away-half-day where we brainstormed our contribution to the Change Agenda and I explained our new mode of working in Transformational Excellence was a really encouraging, lively occasion. It's good to see so many people with a positive outlook. I was especially impressed that when I asked for any questions about our new made of working with packages of work, no-one had a question. Obviously everyone understands it and is fully on board. Well done!

Of course all the process requirements and standards are on the Infranet in the Transformational Excellence (Process) folder, passworded according to Directorate procedures, but I thought I'd just run through the main points.

In order to ensure that we're focused on the needs of our customers, which in our case are other parts of the Council, we no longer do work without a request being filed. This must be approved at Director level in the requesting unit and transmitted through Kelly Pattrick in my office to me for approval and allocation to a human resource. On receiving the request, the human resource must measure, milepost and categorise the package of work, identifying which of our corporate priorities it meets. The request must then be packaged according to the standard procedures and must be conveyed back through Kelly to me for transmission to the requestor. The requestor should then sign to confirm acceptance of the package, which is conveyed by the same route back to the human resource. At this point the work can begin. It is really important that none of these stages are evaded or short-circuited.

I have had a couple of queries about this process. One concerns situations where the requestor and the human resource do not agree the package. In order to ensure a robust paper trail, the above procedures must be followed: so the requestor will resubmit an amended request through the correct channels, the human resource (which may or may not be the one originally identified) will develop a package and so on. Meeting face to face to sort the matter out may seem attractive, but believe me, it only complicates things.

The other concerns situations where someone in Transformational Excellence actually originates the idea for the package. It is still necessary to find a requestor and proceed as above.

Of course, as I explained at the away-half-day, it will no longer be possible to have ongoing commitments and permanent specialisms, as these stand in the way of a flexible, responsive, fit-for-the-21st-century service.

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence
TO: Neil Balderson, Senior Transformational Excellence Manager

Neil: Councillor Pannona Willis is concerned that our packaging procedures may increase our carbon footprint. Will they? Please draft a reply for my approval.


Monday, 23 July 2012

Odanglesexd Revisited: A Transformational Milestone

I'm continuing to re-post the Odanglesex Chronicles with the occasional change. Here I've merely added the latest shibboleth, "the change agenda".

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

TO: All Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

I'm delighted to be able to tell you that we've completed the sixth step change on our transformational journey to an excellent, fit-for-the-21st century, lean, responsive, proactive, place-changing, pace-setting, customer-centric perpetually transformational organisation in line with the Change Agenda.Many thanks to Kevin, who rehung the paintings.I'm sure you'll all be excited that we're now ready for our next challenge.

You'll remember that the fifth step change involved the paperless office (except mine, of course, because Councillor Broadthwaite and other members prefer to engage with hard copy). The seventh step change on which I want you to join me is our exciting journey to the paperless toilet! Our milepost is that from 16th December all paper supply will cease and paper supply mechanisms will be withdrawn. Instead there is a wide range of virtual tools to choose from and HR are providing training courses on these which I hope you'll all go on.

Dale Brashcon is leading on this exciting journey and questions on points of detail should be addressed to him.

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob
TO: Dale Brashcon, Transformational Excellence Champion

Dale: Councillor Broadthwaite has pointed out that there is no paper in the male toilets in the members' area. Please sort this out and report back to him.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Above the law?

Twelve generations ago, civil wars were fought in England and Scotland over whether the king was above the law or governed by it. Military and political events combined to give the answer that monarchs were governed by the law.

Police and all the other officials of the legal and government systems are governed by the law too. British policing rests on two fundamentals - that it depends on consent; and that the police are citizens subject to the law as other citizens are. They have some special powers, but the exercise of those powers is subject to challenge through the law.

In April 2009, massive protests challenged the G20 summit in London. The police had the job of keeping order and making sure the summit was not disrupted. There were many criticisms of the tactics they used that day, but I don't want to get into that argument.

One person died - Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper seller who was caught up in the events. he was prevented from returning from his work to the hostel where he was living by the police tactic of "kettling" demonstrators and he pleaded to be let through. One officer pushed him hard in the back. He fell and suffered injuries which caused his immediate collapse and soon after death.

It might never have been established why he fell, had not an American banker who had gone to the demonstration out of curiosity filmed the action. Once it was established that a police action might have caused his death, junior police officers acted very responsibly. One reported to his superior that he might have seen the incident. The superior contacted all his team and asked them what they'd seen - and others reported they'd seen an officer they did not know push the man in the back as he was walking away. The superior passed on this information to his superiors. At the highest levels, though, police tried hard to suppress what had happened. They claimed that police medics while caring fore the dying man had been pelted with missiles by the demonstrators, which they later admitted was false. They tried to get the Guardian newspaper to stop investigating the matter, claiming entirely falsely that Tomlinson's family were anguished by the Guardian's actions (in fact they supported them).

Then an officer, PC Simon Harwood, said he had pushed a man who might have been Tomlinson. This may have been a resonsible act of conscience, or he may have judged he was likely to be indentified (he should have been showing his number but he'd obscured it). Harwood's statements thereafter were contradictory and he should not have been where he was, having been detailed to guard his team's police van some way distant. An inquest found Ian Tomlinson had been unlawfully killed. Harwood was prosecuted for manslaughter (a crime which applies when your actions kill someone, not intentionally, but when you might reasonably be expected to know that there was a risk of death resulting).

PC Harwood has just been acquitted, though there was no doubt he was the officer who pushed Tomlinson, there was medical evidence that Tomlinson's death resulted from his heavy fall and there was no doubt that Tomlinson was walking away and not presenting a threat to anyone.

So - here is a warning. Do not let your back come within pushing distance of a police officer's hand, because he's entitled to push you so you fall down and if you die as a result that's your own fault.

This is not for a moment to question that police officers do a very hard and necessary job, or that in Britain they're mostly polite and responsible (and far more prepared to be argued with than in America, as far as I can judge). The tragic event showed most of the officers near Tomlinson acting responsibly, as they did in reporting what they'd seen.

But after this verdict, I have to ask: are police officers REALLY under the law like you and I are?

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Odanglesex Revisited

I said I'd pause the Odanglesex Chronicles until or if I got new ideas either from my head or other ones. In the meantime I said I'd repost the old episodes with a few changes if I so fancied. This is the first.


From time to time I'm going to post communications received under a freedom of information request from the local authority of the relatively little-known English shire county of Odanglesex. Here's the first by way of introduction.

FROM: Mandy Messenger, External Communications
TO: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision
We've got a proper Wikipedia entry at last instead of that one that said we were abolished by Alfred the Great! Ed wants you to run an eye over it to check it's OK. By midday tomorrow please. Relevant bits follow.


Odanglesex, commonly abbreviated Odsex, is an English shire county in the South Midlands region. The county town is Nottchester and the largest settlement, Mudford, has city status. The population at the last census was 1,999,999....

The council is controlled by the Independent Conservatives, with the True Conservatives as the official opposition. The Leader of the Council is Councillor Waynefete and the Chief Executive is Edelbertha Strangler. Since 2008 the council has been noted for a number of innovative projects such as the personalisation of refuse disposal and the Bank of Odangles...

FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

TO: Hamish Carpenter, Senior Strategic Vision Manager

Hamish: please check above by five.


FROM: Kenneth Spotlessnob, Director of Transformational Excellence and Strategic Vision

TO: Hamish Carpenter, Senior Strategic Vision Manager

Hamish: Councillor Wayneflete has pointed out that his name is misspelt in our Wikipedia entry. Ed is also, I believe, less than pleased that her surname is wrongly stated as Strangler instead of Spengler. I have told both of them that you were responsible for checking.


Monday, 16 July 2012

Two nations divided by a common language and...

Someone (the most popular candidate is George Bernard Shaw - or, as he's known in the States, "George Bernard? Sure!" - is supposed to have said that Britain and America were two nations divided by a common language. Despite the odd argument over faucet/tap, john/toilet, humor/humour and tenderize/tenderise, we do have a common language, which enables us to misunderstand one another better because we assume that someone speaking our language is similar to us and better communication means more differences are identified. In Douglas Adams' "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", the Babel Fish, which enables instant translations from any language to any other in the galaxy, has been the cause of countless wars because suddenly people understood what that lot were saying.

Nonetheless, Britain and America (meaning the USA) do have a lot in common, so it's significant that they seem to be growing further apart despite globalisation. The divergence can be seen most in and around religion and politics - much less, say, in literature and business - and it's on politics that I want to concentrate.

The early American colonists came mostly from England and Scotland, and most of the rest from Ireland, which for good and ill had experienced much English and Scottish influence. They imported not only a language but a legal system and both political ideas and experience of representative politics. When the break came, leading British and Irish opponents of the British government such as the elder William Pitt and Edmund Burke saw the American rebels as Englishmen fighting for English rights. After independence, British people continued to emigrate to America and trade across the Atlantic preserved a close relationship. After one short and slightly half-hearted war in 1812-15, the two countries never again went to war despite a massively long frontier between the USA and Canada and all the uncertainties caused by Westward expansion north and south of that border. Major artistic figures like Whistler, Henry James and Charles Dickens were famous in both countries and moved quite freely from one to the other despite the length of the sea crossing. In the twentieth century the countries were allies - eventually - in two world wars and have been formal allies ever since.

When I was growing up a politically-aware kid, the main oddities about American politics (in the eyes of Britons) seemed to be:

*The very different system, with primary elections, a federal system, an elected President and so on, with the American President a hugely powerful figure compared to a British Prime Minister;
*Racial oppression in the South; and
*Two parties which didn't seem to differ much, in contrast to British and West European political systems dominated in most countries by some sort of centre-right conservative party and some sort of democratic socialist party.

The difference in the systems still exists, though the American President, so often blocked in Congress, now seems a much less towering figure. The American South has changed astonishingly and with Britain now having a much larger Black population than it had in 1945, the differences between the two countries in this area are now much smaller.

But important trends in politics have gone in opposite directions. While the U.S. is still governed by Democrats and Republicans, the political divide there has widened to a chasm. In Britain and nearly all Europe, on the other hand, the big right and left parties dominate less than they used to and are harder to tell apart than they were in the 1940s and 50s. While the influence of organised religion on British (and most European) politics has waned, in the U.S. it has increased, and it's fundamentalist strands of religion that call many of the shots.

The economic and geographical divides that underlay the Conservative/Labour divide in Britain (bosses and bosses' assistants against the industrial masses; countryside and suburbs against towns and inner cities) have almost vanished, but when we listen to American politics, it seems that remark about two countries divided by a single language could be applied within America. Liberals and Conservatives seem to draw on different cultures with little in common and the level of hatred and vituperation in American political debate startles us.

I understand one reason for this is an unspoken pact between the two parties to draw the boundaries of congressional districts in ways which minimised the number of marginal seats, thus creating a situation in which the great majority of representatives did not have to appeal to the middle ground. Low turnouts also helped the more zealous zealots, whose supporters could be counted on to turn out, to dominate - but higher recent turnouts in Presidential elections haven't reversed the trend. The shift has largely helped the right (conservative) side, so that whereas when Kennedy was battling Nixon, American politics was not obviously to the right of British politics except in the Deep South, now an American moderate liberal can sound like a European conservative and the Tea Party sounds to a European like something on the wilder fringes of the outside right. There is also what seems to a European Christian like an odd alliance between unrestricted capitalism of the devil-take-the-hindermost-and-the-hindermost-is-actually-morally-inferior type and fundamentalist Christianity. If anything the religious types in Britain tend to be on the left and the Catholic right of continental Europe, while conservative on social issues, is not particularly conservative on economic issues.

In Europe, including Britain, economic issues dominate alongside immigration and the environment. These issues matter in the U.S. too, but abortion is a massively bigger issue than anywhere in Europe (even the Irelands, Spains and Polands)and it's practical politics to attack the theory of evolution - a debate most Europeans view dumbfounded. Now I'm not suggesting the European version is better in all respects - I wish abortion was debated more in Britain - but the American system, with weak political party organisation and discipline, is ill-prepared to deal with deep and bitter divides and as someone who has greatly admired the American genius for politics, I wonder where America - that is the USA - is going.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Favourite places: Naseby

The battle of Naseby was one of the most important battles in British history. It took place on 14 June 1645 in the last but one year of the First Civil War between King Charles I and Parliament. When I studied the origins, course and aftermath of the Civil War as a History undergraduate (my special subject in my last year was "Oliver Cromwell and the English Revolution"), I had little interest in the military side, but since then I've found battlefields both mournful and fascinating places. Unlike, say, Culloden (a stand of pines is right in the middle of the battlefield, so you can't stand on one side and imagine how it looked to see enemy forces drawn up on the other side: besides, not far behind the Jacobite position now are brick houses of the Inverness suburbs), or unlike the other most decisive Civil War battlefield at Marston Moor (road through the middle, rubbish dump by the monument when I visited), Naseby is relatively well preserved, though a motorway spur was driven through an outlying area.

The site is in Northamptonshire but very close to Leicestershire to the north, in rolling, mainly open country of fields, small woods and villages. The monument and small interpretative display are just in front of the centre of the Parliamentary position: from there you can easily see the ridge where the Royalist army started and Sulby hedges, which played a key part in the battle, to the Parliamentary left. In 1645 the roads in the area were rough tracks and some ground now farmed was marshy.

The war had been going on for three years with little sign of an end. Parliament's advantage from the major victory at Marston Moor outside York the year before had been squandered in a disastrous Westcountry campaign in which many of the veteran Parliamentary infantry had been killed, many after surrender and disarming by Cornish locals. Parliament had organised a "New Model Army" to clear out half-hearted officers, but the infantry were very green (some got their first weapons training on the march a day or two before the battle)and many were unenthusiastic, unlike the highly-motivated, well-trained cavalry. The Royalist army had plenty of experienced infantry; their cavalry ("cavaliers")were confident but ill-disciplined.

The King's main army had captured Leicester, a city of strong Parliamentary and Puritan sympathies, and had slaughtered a number of civilians. The Parliamentary General Sir Thomas Fairfax had been besieging Oxford, but was ordered away to engage the King, which he did. The King was hoping for cavalry reinfoircements but they never arrived; in contrast, East Anglian cavalry under Oliver Cromwell reinforced Fairfax the night before the battle. As a result, while the numbers of infantry on the two sides were similar (with probably a slight Royalist advantage), Fairfax had a big advantage in cavalry and also some dragoons (light cavalry who operated like modern motorised infantry, travelling fast but fighting on foot). On the Royalist side the King was in ultimate command but under him, control was with Prince Rupert.

The Parliamentary left and Royalist right rested on Sulby hedges. Fairfax sent dragoons behind the hedges so they could deliver flanking fire. Some accounts say the Royalists tried to occupy this point too and were driven off. The King's army charged and won early success against the green New Model infantry and some of the cavalry, but Prince Rupert's cavalry pursued fleeing Parliamentarians away from the main battlefield while Cromwell, having defeated the outnumbered Royalist cavalry facing him on the Parliamentary right, turned to join the infantry battle, as so did the dragoons (on horseback, which was not at all in the rulebook). The Royalist cavalry scattered and the infantry then had no chance, though many fought on. The King's cause never recovered.

I've visited the site perhaps four times and it has a strange power for me. It is not hard to imagine myself there on 14 June 1645.

Other things to attract visitors? A short way to the north over the Leicestershire border is picturesque Market Harborough. There's a good network of footpaths and it's pleasant if unspectacular walking country. There's plenty of good pubs, many of them in the characteristic, mellow local yellow sandstone.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Words are little things

Some time ago I mentioned a local mystery. The Kingsway Evangelical Church had suddenly become the Kingsway (large gap) Church on its big name board and its notice board. What was happening, I wondered. Had other Evangelical churches thrown it out for dubious theology or had it revolted?

It's only fair to provide a sequel. It's now the Kingsway Community Church. A nine letter word has replaced the eleven letter one. What change of focus or image does this represent? They don't seem to have a website, or it can't be found easily by keying in the obvious words, but I may run into people who know.

Remember, if you're old and British enough, that scene in The Pink Panther where Peter Sellars as Inspector Clouseau announces with great self-imnportance to a young woman, "I am an officer of the law"? Or rather, he announced in an imitation French accent, "I am an offisaire of the leu!" This last word was pronounced rather as a real Frenchman might pronounce "le". It was famous partly because it came out that the scene had had to be reshot many times because the young woman had to repeat his words wonmderingly with the same pronunciation but kept dissolving in giggles at "leu". Well, Sellars' French accent was not without its critics, but this morning my car radio was featuring French business people criticising new taxes and one, speaking in accented English, said the problem was not so much the level of taxes as the uncertainty created by repeated changes to... the "leu".

Lastly, I take my mother to her GP surgery from time to time and the waiting room features a TV which seems to be running 24-hour news, with the sound on but with the words appearing on the screen for the hard of hearing. However, the transcription is by machine and is not infallible. Last time the item was about the head of British internal security warning about the danger from cyber attacks. Yes, I thought...yes, please...wait...will it...and then it did. Up on the screen came the clear words "Danger of hostile cider attack. Nothing escapes these guardians of our safety.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Odanglesex Chronicles: The Away Day (8)

Up until now, the away-day had been indoors - but everyone knew that, rain or shine, the afternoon sessions would be outside and energetic. A few people had come with notes from doctors and one had got pregnant, but no ther excuses were allowed by Kelly Pattrick, supervising the creation of teams with a zeal that suggested Girl Guides meet Hitler Jugend. That was Mike Finnegan's thought and he promptly filed it away as a potential book proposal.

Outside, the sun shone on grassed areas,a stream and bare-floored woodland soggy with the morning's rain. The Outdoor Centre's Director, a bald, heavy-bearded goblin, had appeared and Kenneth Spotlessnob buried himself in conversation with the man while the teams received their instructions from Kelly and her cohorts.

The first event involved two people in each team lying on their backs in the middle of the woodland holding hands. The rest of the team had to lift them up and carry them over various obstacles, over the stream by a bridge and out to the open grass without the hand contact being broken. Reema's team triumphed, as did most of the others, though one carrier tripped, lurched forward and brought down the load, breaking the contact, while another team came to grief entirely while trying to traverse the narrow bridge.

The second was more competitive. Each team had to get five full buckets of water across the stream, aided by a rope, stout wooden stakes and a chunky plank long enough to stretch across two thirds of the stream. The exercise was time-limited to twenty minutes and the water each team had conveyed would be measured at the end. Various ingenious solutions were tried with varying success and Dale Brashcon, who seemed to be entirely in his element, fell in while reaching for a bucket from the far side. The Napoleon of the event was Gwilym, who stuck one of the stakes in the stream to measure its depth and then organised his team to stand in a line in the stream passing the buckets across. Even the goblin seemed surprised.

The third event was familiar to some. People paired up and one was blindfolded: he or she had to tranverse the area guided by the other's instructions. Then the roles were reversed. How exactly it happened that after Neil Balderson had guided Scott Fitzwilliam across, a misunderstanding had led to Neil stepping into the stream, would be a mystery for all time.

The fourth event was a treasure hunt. Having finished his discussions with the goblin, Kenneth Spotlessnob joined in this, mimicking Dale's undiminished enthusiasm. One item of treasure was lost and never recovered. For the last activity, Kenneth, Kelly and the gnome acted as observers.

The fifth and last event took them to the assault course. Each team had to traverse the course and was timed. They could complete the course only if everybody had overcome every obstacle, which involved teamwork and improvisation. Gwilym, abandoning all thoughts of what the whole business cost if you totted up the pay of those participating, had started enjoying himself - but he was about to face a moral and practical dilemma.

One stage of the course involved a high wall made of a series of planks laid horizontally. Only the best of climbers could scale the thing unaided, but the worst could in principle make it if pushed from below and caught and pulled from above. Lucy Marlowe was organising at ground level and so it happened naturally that she was the last to ascend and had to do without help from below. She was young but not of athletic build. She made it most of the way and then froze. Reema had grabbed her arms, but she was small and slight, so found Lucy's weight too much to cope with. Gwilym could see that shortly Reema would either let go or be dragged over the edge. He could see a solution - one solution and one only - but there was a problem.

"Help!" cried Reema. It was now or never. Gwilym reached down, clasped Lucy's backside and hauled her up. He was not in the habit of touching work colleagues inappropriately, but it had worked, but he was having trouble with his Methodist upbringing, but Kenneth had noticed and was making notes... He could of course broach the subject with Lucy afterwards, but the chances of that being misunderstood seemed around 50%. He was also a bit embarrassed about being forced into the he-man role: he was bigger and stronger than Reema, true, but probably had no more muscle power than Kelly. Anyway...

"Get through that hoop, Gwilym!" yelled Reema. And so it was finished; and Kenneth and Kelly compared notes; and the rain came back; and Kenneth sent an e-mail the next day saying how much he'd enjoyed participating, how much they'd learnt about working as a team and how he knew they had too.


NOTE; THE ODANGLESEX CHRONICLES. I know some people have followed this, so I'm letting you know that I'm resting it for a while because I've run out of inspiration. Of course, I'd welcome new ideas for it. I received one that worked very well. In the meantime, though, I'll dredge up and repost some old episodes bit by bit, reworking them a bit if I see the need.

By the way: Gwilym's dilemma was based on reality.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Odanglesex Chronicles: The Away Day (7)

Gwilym presented his group's findings on the revival of the Bank of East Sessex with a straight and earnest face, to polite if slightly stunned attention from the others. It turned out that some of the other groups' tasks had also carried a hint of subversion: for example, one had been required to firefight revelations that the former leader of the council had taken home a taser belonging to the Chair of the Police Authority and had used it on two Mormon missionaries, who were also slightly stunned by the turn of events.

"Who the, well, you know, wrote these things?" Reema whispered to Scott at the first opportunity.

"Apparently they were approved by Kenneth and submitted by a randomly-selected group of three," he replied. "Look - Kenneth's just realised there's something a bit odd about them." But if Kenneth Spotlessnob's face betrayed unease, his rally-the-troops speech did not. After half an hour of brainstorming with coloured paper, it was time for the buffet and for the afternoon's outdoor activities. The staff ate with some enjoyment and relief, though with a little nervousness in case their conduct at the buffet was being evaluated to identify leadership traits.

Hamish Carpenter found Henry Donaldson crouched alone in a corner and asked him if he was all right.

"Fine, yes. Praying for rain," Henry replied.

But the rain did not come.