Monday, June 16, 2008

Column, June 25, 2007

WHEN the British Army was planning the logistics of the relief of Khartoum who do you think they went to for help?
It was quite an enterprise, they needed to move 18,000 troops and 40,000 tons of supplies, plus another 40,000 tons of coal, which needed 28 steamers to take it from Tyneside to Alexandria . On top of that 27 steamers were needed on the Nile and they employed 5,000 local workers in Egypt to shift it all.
Who had the experience of shifting that much bag and baggage across huge distances?
Thomas Cook, that’s who, or rather his son, John Mason Cook, who by that time was running the firm with his father.
No small achievement all in all for a firm founded by a lay preacher who decided the ills of Victorian society lay in too much alcohol and that education through travel was the answer.
The firm practically invented tourism as we understand it today, not only that they invented the package tour and came up with the idea of travellers’ cheques to boot.
So in the early days they clearly showed a genius for the sort of idea that made them the world’s best-known holiday firm. That and a grasp of the logistics of travel that meant many people agreed that they would not just book it, they would Thomas Cook it.
In achieving their pre-eminence as a holiday firm I suspect that their management focused clearly on the things that matter to their customers – price and quality – simple ideas, but taking effort to attain.
Thomas Cook came up with the idea for his holiday firm as he walked one day from Market Harborough to Leicester for a temperance meeting.
I’m not party to his thoughts that day, but as he contemplated the benefits of bring train excursions to the masses, I’m willing to lay money that he didn’t mentally add: “And I’ll make sure none of my staff speak Welsh as well.”
This isn’t the first time this has happened and I’m wondering if some of these companies send their management trainees to the same – presumably English – training school.
Then the bright young things are packed off to the provinces and some of them pitch up in Wales , where, apparently for the first time in their lives, they find that some people actually use Welsh as a first language.
Perhaps it is the shock of this discovery that led someone in Thomas Cook management to issue an edict instructing staff to speak in English.
But by now with the Assembly, the Commission for Racial Equality weighing in and Cymuned parking their tanks on their doorstep, well, waving placards, but if Cymuned had tanks that’s where they’d be parked, you would have thought some bright spark in the company that pioneered the Grand Tour would have said: “Hold on chaps and chapesses, let’s just have a think about this.”
You see, I bow to the superior management skills of Thomas Cook’s upper echelons, but I think before I started banning my staff from speaking their native tongue on grounds of clarity of communication, I might just have checked how much business had been lost because of a lack of clarity of communication between my Welsh and English staff.
I’m guessing that not one hotel room, not one airline seat, not one beach towel, not one Costa barstool went unoccupied because some of Thomas Cook’s Bangor staff speak Welsh to one another.
I’m also guessing that now, whereas many Welsh speakers might well not just have booked it they would have Thomas Cooked it, they’ll have come up with another rhyming slogan which owes something to the Anglo-Saxon that Thomas Cook would like to see employed by all their staff.
There is a point in these affairs where, if someone really senior steps in and says: “Look, bad, bad, really bad mistake, we’re sorry, of course you ca speak the language you learnt at your mum and dad’s knee, just please, please, please carry on booking your holidays with us because we do understand you can quite easily never use us again, ever, ever, ever.”
Then maybe, just maybe, we might be persuaded that it was just the idiotic actions of one ignorant management suit and a fine company with a great history shouldn’t be punished because now and then they give a job to a numbskull.
But, if as has happened so far, the management stick by their unjustifiable policy, then people in Wales might just decide to book their hols at the multitude of other firms who give not two figs what language their staff speak to each other, as long as they sell holidays.
If they won’t listen to reason then there is only one language this company will understand, and that’s hard cash. Don’t book it with Thomas Cook until they have backed down on their decision to ban Welsh.

A NEW threat has emerged to second home owners in Cornwall .
The Cornish National Liberation Army has targeted Jamie Oliver of all people, who it says, is responsible for the inflation of house prices there. Never mind the fact that his restaurant gives local young people the chance to learn how to become chefs, nor the fact that it uses local ingredients from local businesses, logic not the top weapon in the CNLA’s armoury it would seem.
But I was very interested to see the CNLA claim it has financial backing from the USA and ‘expertise’ from Welsh activists who burnt down holiday homes in the 1980s.
Hmmm. Those would be the same ‘experts’ who made such a dent in the Welsh holiday home market wouldn’t it? Not a sniff of a holiday home in Wales from Deeside to St Davids is there?
Estate agents in Cornwall must be rubbing their hands with glee, with ‘experts’ like that on board a second home boom is just round the corner.

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