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Tears: the new local government benchmark

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 “A record week for crying”, that was the message from my PA, Liz, in the first email I opened returning home on the ferry.

I deliberately ignored all those from Linked-In contacts I don’t want to meet and of course those from councillors, (technically I was still on holiday). Even a week away with the family I find genuinely life affirming and restorative, and I’ve developed tactics over the years to try to retain that warm glow for as long as possible. It never works.

More on the crying later but, first, my own struggles with ‘normality’.

I recall in my best effort (in 1990), rising early with a smile with my normally irksome alarm clock, retaining it through pushing and shoving at the bus stop and in the (inner city), street near my office. Someone had taken my seat, no problem I found another one albeit it was a bit wobbly. My computer had been ‘repaired’ while I was off, and I couldn’t log in, so I cheerfully picked up the fat pile of papers in my intray and got stuck in.

At 9am I learned that I was on phone duty until 1pm, so had four hours of calls, not all of them from people who were angry or tragic. I’d made it until lunchtime and I still felt good, so with a skip in my stride I took my novel and banana from my desk and headed for my secret quiet place to continue my positive start.

Just three minutes from the office, down a side street, I saw the church lit up in the sunshine. Bingo, no-one appeared to be in the churchyard. Then as I approached, I noticed something was different. They’d moved my bench? I’ll find it. But it hadn’t moved.

I could see that somehow the back rest of the bench had been bent forwards onto the seat part. One person could not bend it back, and it was impossible to sit on it comfortably.

At that moment I couldn’t appreciate what an ingenious wind-up had been achieved, and I felt the tension return to my neck, and then the anger, (with no outlet available in office clothes), that screws up your appetite.

These days, when I lose the warm glow, the anger bit doesn’t last long, (I don’t have the energy), and it quickly turns to a gentler grumpiness or listlessness. But my strategies are better: I have Liz arrange for two of my least favourite issues or people to be tackled on my first day. If that sounds odd, try to imagine the alarm clock going off on day two after your holiday knowing you’ve cracked the worst bits.

What all the was the crying about? Liz and I frequently discuss the state of morale, both ‘out there’ and amongst staff, and in times of stress we sometimes come across people crying in the kitchen, the toilets, or on the stairs. In the last week of July, Liz found four people crying, a record for a five-day period. Not scientific, but cheaper than a staff survey, and probably more representative of morale than those staff brave or stroppy enough to ask questions at lunch time Q&A sessions.

I recall the late, great Alistair Cooke during a big freeze describing the paraphernalia used in American weather forecasts like ‘wind chill factors’, and ‘% precipitation scores’. He concluded that it was better to quote the 1948 song and just say ‘Baby it’s cold outside.’

Well contrary to the Daily Mail cover I saw on the ferry suggesting local authority workers were getting more money while everyone else was being squeezed, I can tell you that in this council ‘Reader it‘s tough in here.’

The author, who is writing anonymously, is a member of a council’s senior management team

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