Why taxi drivers striking would be dangerous

St Mary Street, night

“The Cardiff Hackney Carriage Association, which says it represents about 700 of the city’s 950 drivers, said its members would strike as part of a dispute with the council over fares.”

This is what the South Wales Echo (WalesOnline) reported this week. The report goes on to explain exactly when taxi drivers in Cardiff are proposing to strike;

“Mathab Khan, the association’s chairman, said the industrial action – between midnight and 4am next Saturday and Sunday – would cause “total havoc” in the capital.”

So here we have the chairman of an association threatening to cause “total havoc” – excellent. What a man.
Striking from midnight to 4am on a Saturday night, and not just any Saturday night – a night when the city is hosting a sold-out international football match and a Kylie Minogue concert.

Speaking from experience, taxis can be hard enough to get on a weekend night around kicking-out time as it is – or at least, it was before structured taxi ranks were introduced, now there is a long wait at best.
But under the previous system, where you near-enough had to stand in the middle lane of Castle Street to attract the attention of a car arriving back into the city from the suburbs, there were times when I had to admit defeat and to walk home.

I lived in Tremorfa then, and to get there you have to walk through areas with some of the highest crime rates in Cardiff. Roaming gangs, speeding cars, drug dealers and prostitutes were all things that I encountered and had to deal with on these walks home.

Luckily I never got into any trouble, through being street smart – avoiding streets that I knew were bad news or poorly lit, but mostly this was down to plain luck; I’m sure of it.

Making hundreds of people have to seek alternative routes home at that time of night, most of whom will elect to walk, is just plain irresponsible. With horror stories of sexual assaults in Cathays and others, can Mathab Khan and his members really go ahead with a strike with a clear conscience? Do they serve the people or Cardiff, or do we serve them?

The Cardiff Hackney Carriage Association is trying to make a point, but using vulnerable people as pawns. Could they justify their strike if a person got stabbed, raped or assaulted – because they had to walk home when they would usually get a taxi?

I suppose the advice has to be – if you cannot get a taxi home that night, arrange to walk home in a group, or at least in a pair. Be safe everyone.

Taxi drivers split over strike action [WalesOnline]

Banishing presenteeism

Since joining the world of the working, oh some 10 years ago, a lot has changed for me.
My first ever job was flipping burgers; aged 16 and fresh out of high school, hoarding cash to use to get drunk after college.
When this all came to an end, after enduring an entire year in the furness (not just figuratively), I made my choices and pursued a career in software development, starting off at the lowest ranks – in fact, not even in the ranks, just somewhere to keep me in money while I learned my trade.

Anyway, 5 years after starting out with no formal skills – apart from a very keen interest that had been there for almost my entire life and a GCSE in IT – I was finally doing what I wanted to do: commercial software development.
One of the things I had learned through my experience so far was that in each job I had worked there was a notion that “you’re only doing your job if you’re seen doing your job” – while a lot of the things I was doing could be done from anywhere in the world, most of the time I was chained to a desk in a high rise building for fear of reprisals – or to be thought of as “a skiver”.

Whenever anybody would talk about somebody working from home or elsewhere, the air quotes would immediately be brought out – “‘working‘ from home”, and this kind of attitude is what has brought about a crippling culture of presenteeism.

Presenteeism is almost the opposite of absenteeism, where an individual is at work all of the time – even when ill, for fear of reprisal – and in my opinion is something that has to be addressed in order to maintain a happier, more secure workforce. If a member of staff clambers to get into the office (where they could spread germs) every day even when ill, the ramifications could be disastrous – in some cases even causing an entire workforce to become ill and thus compounding the issue to the nth degree.

And it’s not all about illness either; sometimes it’s nice to get out of the office and work in different surroundings with a different ambience. If we were allowed more space to explore our working personae, we may even find out new things about our working minds.
I, for one, like to work in a busy coffee shop – I find that in such circumstances I get a lot more done, especially with tasks like documentation. But also, when I’m working on some particularly convoluted code I like to sit outside; somewhere like a beer garden, weather permitting. It allows me to feel relaxed, like I’m not completely banging my head against a brick wall – whereas I have, on occasion, almost come to blows with my keyboard while sitting in my office doing the same thing.

It’s all about different things for different people, but this fear  - sometimes completely misguided – that if you aren’t in the office and in the presence of your boss then you aren’t going to get recognition for what you are doing, and that somehow they are thinking less of you – perhaps even worrying that they are angry at you.

I’m lucky – over the past two years I have had the ability to discover these things, and the potential benefits of working away from the office have been proved through my increased productivity and happiness levels. I get a lot more done in shorter amounts of time, my work is generally more creative, and at the same time I’m don’t feel stressed as often as I used to. I’m also lucky that I work for a small company who understand these things and are very accommodating – and who also adhere to these rules themselves.

Of course, there needs to be a balance – working away from your colleagues too often can break down relationships and abilities to collaborate and work together. Office banter can go silent because you’re seen as a stranger and resentment can form because of these tensions.

I usually work from home on one day each week, though this isn’t a hard and fast rule – for example last week I worked every day in the office and this week, for various reasons (appointments, baby-care), I will be at home for two days, but all the while I’m happy in the knowledge that my work life is stable and that I’m doing the best I can for myself, the company I work for, the people that I work with and for my home life – because without balancing all of those things, you could truly go mad.

So go! Take your laptops, your dongles, your notepads and mobile telephones – explore the countryside and the cityscapes, find new cafés and outdoor spaces with wifi and be productive – but most of all, be happy while you do!

Review: Friska, Bristol

Lebanese lamb meatballs - Friska

Continuing my series of Bristol light-biteries, I checked out Friska twice in as many weeks, having wanted to drop by since seeing them open shortly after I started working across the bridge.

The store is on my walk into the office from the train station so I am reminded of it every day, but had failed to make an appearance in there until now.
Friska’s slogan is “Feel Good Food,” which of course draws all kinds of thoughts into your head, from the usual (“It must be expensive”) to the ludicrous (“It’s probably bland”). Their branding works to drum up a fun, light and airy feeling about their food – as does the establishment; furnished relatively minimally, with long oak tables and benches, a few fridges thrown up against a random wall and a large open kitchen area behind the counter.

The kitchen is almost completely exposed and there are multiple chefs and kitchen hands busily cooking away, always appearing quite frantic. I see this in the mornings too, even when the shop floor is empty, and this gives a good impression. I hate walking into an establishment when all eyes are on you, and placing and order means having to break up a gang of nattering staff who have had nothing to do  since the last customer came in.
I guess that Friska must do a lot of corporate orders, and this is what is keeping the kitchen staff so busy. This service is heavily promoted in their leaflet literature and on their website.

On my first visit, the vegetable Thai red curry with pad noodles caught my eye. I’m a firm believer in the notion that a meal should only really contain meat where it is of the importance to the dish – making a good sauce with fresh vegetable chunks and good noodles can be spoiled by gratuitously adding some chicken just because you think you have to.
In this case, I felt that there was something missing – the sauce was thin and it was more of a soup than a curry. It was mildly spiced, and the vegetables were few and far between – I found myself spooning up watery, spicy broth  rather than eating a curry with noodles.

Despite this, I wasn’t deterred. It was, admittedly, an average lunch, but it wasn’t terrible – so when I was told that they had switched from their winter menu to a spring menu I wanted to check it out to see how different their offerings were.

I was enticed by the Lebanese lamb meatballs – it’s hard to find a good meatball, I think; especially lamb ones. Beef meatballs are hit and miss, depending on what spices are used and how they are bound into their spherical shape (I swear  some places use PVA glue).

Not Friska, however. These were some of the tastiest meatballs I have eaten in a while – even more so than those made by my own father, who prides himself on having a recipe passed down through the generations (or taken from a Gary Rhodes cookbook in the mid-1990s if I’m to expose the real truth).

Presented in a well-blended tomato sauce, the balls of lamb are juicy on the inside after the initial warm bite, and when dipped again into the sauce the tomato gets right in there and takes up residence ready for the second go. Of course, I have a big mouth so two bites and a meatball is gone – if I was daintier perhaps I could have had even more fun with them, but alas…

The side of rice and vegetables was also very good; the rice was steamed perfectly and the carrots were clearly very fresh – this was the lunch I had been expecting first time around! Real “feel good food,” as had initially been promised.
My colleagues were intrigued by the good smell and wanted to know where I had managed to get such a good lunch, because the area where I work (Baldwin Street, Bristol) is a little bit of a culinary wasteland – unless of course you go up to St Nicholas Market.

So, in conclusion, I will be visiting Friska again – the welcome was warm, the food got better and my mad preconceptions were, of course, unfounded.

Red thai vegetable curry £4.65
Lebanese lamb meatballs £4.86

Friska is at 32 Victoria Street, Bristol, BS1 6BX

Review: Pembrokeshire Pasty & Pie Co.

I’m on a bit of a mission at the moment, and it seems to be something along the lines of “try as many new places for lunch as I can”. I headed back into Cardiff early one day last week, sometimes I just like to work from my living room with the boy playing on the floor in front of me – I’m just a big softie.

Anyway, I needed to grab some lunch on my way home so after I exited the train station I headed towards St Mary Street with the intention of going down one of the arcades to find something.

Instead I found this new shop lurking on the outside wall of Royal Arcade – where Ferraris bakery used to be – the Pembrokeshire Pasty & Pie Co. It had been creatively fitted out, with a mural of cow in a field painted directly onto the largest wall, although it was devoid of customers I still decided to check it out.

In situations such as this, walking into a new store when there are no other customers in sight, I usually take it upon myself to ask questions – “How’s business?”, “When did you open?”, that kind of thing - essentially because I know I’m going to write it up, so I can get some background information. In this case, I was met with a wall of nothingness. The boy behind the counter was eager to serve me with a few grunts and get back to reading his copy of The Sun and the lady seemed to prefer to stand away by the door and stare out onto St Mary Street – so I have nothing for you, sorry guys.

I wanted to get a pasty and a pie, pasty for lunch and pie for later on – hell, it’s a pasty and pie company, why not try everything? I was dutifully informed that they had no pies, despite there being a large number that this company apparently have in their range. Perhaps there had been a rush earlier and I’d missed it all? Anyway, I decided to cut my losses and get out of there as quickly as possible – I chose a large traditional pasty and headed for the door. I was a little pissed off if I’m honest, I would have had more of a warm welcome at a busy Greggs than I did at this desolate place.

So onto the food, it’s not all about attitudes after all, and less so when you’re taking out I suppose. So when I got home I quickly forgot about them and got onto the pasty.

The first thing that I notice as I put my fingers into the bag is a distinct moistness, not unlike putting your hand into a bag of oily chips. My hand became instantly slippery and shiny, as though I had slathered it in baby oil – the thing had been deep fried! Well, no it hadn’t, but it might as well have been. Although it did still have some flakiness,  it was so soggy that you sense it had thus far had a very sorry life. I felt a bit sorry for it. I felt more sorry for my insides which had to try to digest bucket of oil and soft, doughy pastry soon.

There was but one redeeming feature, and this came when I finally made it to the filling – it was delightful. The kind of delightful that I knew would have been better had it not been reheated, reheated, reheated. It was sweet, with a taste of apple and the meat tasted like it definitely had a quality to it at one time.

Pembrokeshire Pasty & Pie Co. have a slogan, “Parcles of Magic”, and I see how that could possibly be true – as long as you catch them at the right time, when they are fresh from the oven or within an hour of that – I don’t know how long this one had been around, but it was most certainly longer than that, if it was even the same day. I was disappointed, again.

So – aloof staff, no pies and a questionable pasty at a “Pasty & Pie Co.”? I’d need some convincing to go back.

The Pembrokeshire Pasty & Pie Co, Royal Arcade (St Mary Street), Cardiff, CF10.