Tributes to the Queen do not go far enough

I surely can’t be alone in thinking what everyone else must surely be thinking.

The tributes paid to Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II do not go far enough.

The lack of devotion shown to our former monarch from politicians, the media and, I’m afraid to say, the general public, has shocked and, frankly, appalled me.

Yes, I have heard our dear Late Majesty described as Elizabeth the Great.

Well, of course she was great! That is like saying the grass is green!

We need to get this matter in its proper perspective. She was the greatest Queen the world has ever seen or will, would, could, or should, ever see. Not only that, Elizabeth II was God’s greatest-ever creation. She was perfection in human form.

Her kindness and generosity of spirit was unsurpassed. She loved all humans, following a strict feudal heirarchy starting at the bottom with Her Grandson’s Ill-Chosen Wife, Her Republicans, Her Nay-Sayers, Her Followers of Objective Truth, Her Colonies, Her Tax Havens, Her Politicians, Lords, Bishops, Media, Corgis, Horses, Daughter and Her Sainted Sons, right up to Her Creator, God Himself.

The Late Her Majesty was the most radical and most traditional human being. She was the most humble and the most wise. The hardest-working and the most relaxed. The funniest and the most sincere. She had the twinkliest eye.

How was my mourning?

You might be wondering, how did I, initially, react to the death of the greatest-ever human being?

Firstly, I put on my mourning dress and for the next 12 hours I wailed. For the 12 hours after that I howled. Then, I ate three marmalade sandwiches with tea and sang God Save the King, before howling and wailing for a further 24 hours.

I travelled to Buckingham Palace to pay a Floral Tribute to the Late Majesty, taking a moment to help a young journalist pay his own Floral Social Media Tribute, which was rather well done. Praise be that there are still those among us who have some respect.

After that I went home and complained to the BBC because Huw Edwards was not presenting the News, and therefore I could not believe a word that was being said. I was grateful when they put him back on the air later that evening, although I thought the bags under his eyes rather unpatriotic.

On Sunday morning I went to Church to pray for the new King Charles III, making a specific request that the Cash for Honours business disappears and that he gets a better run of it than Charles I. Suitably reassured, I read the paltry and insufficient tributes in the newspapers, which made me realise that perhaps I should make some proportionate suggestions for a suitable tribute to Elizabeth II.

My Proposals to Honour QEII

  1. Create an annual Public Holiday on QEII’s Birthday (both State and Actual).
  2. Create an annual Public Holiday on the day of her death.
  3. Create an annual Public Holiday to mark the day she met Paddington Bear.
  4. BBC News presenters must wear full mourning dress and speak in hushed tones In Perpetuity.
  5. Pass a Law declaring a new Freedom: The Freedom to Worship the Monarchy and Honour the memory of QEII.
  6. Dissenters to be free to receive Medieval Punishments, such as the Rack, the Stocks, the Throwing of Rotten Vegetables from Boozed-up Patriots, etc, etc.
  7. Each Household to receive a Union Jack, a Flagpole, and a speaker system so they can salute the flag and sing God Save The King each morning with full backing track accompaniment.
  8. Pilgrimages to Balmoral should take place each summer, led by the Prime Minister.
  9. Weeping and wailing should be encouraged; except when joy and happiness is encouraged (such as during Street Parties).

These are just a few humble suggestions from my pen. I am sure others have almost equally as good ideas, so that we can collectively lift ourselves up from this tepid period of mourning, and finally, one day, many centuries from now, have paid proper and fitting tribute to the one we simply know as The Greatest.

Recruitment – can we do it a bit better, please?

I enjoy recruiting. It gives you a chance to meet new people and find out about the qualities they have, perhaps offer them a job.

But often the process – standardised questions, very specific answer requirements – robs you of any chance of developing a mutual understanding.

As a recruiting manager, I’ve found myself asking questions like:

“Can you tell me about a time when you have done a big project which went a bit wrong, but ultimately turned out all right due to the skills and behaviours you demonstrated which perfectly align with the score sheet I will have to fill out at the end of this soul-eviscerating process?”

Ok, it’s possible this isn’t exactly a HR interview question, but it’s not far off how it feels.

It is at best stultifying; at worst, you might turn down someone brilliant.

Fear not, though, as here to save the day with their big brains and capes is economist Tyler Cowen and investor Daniel Gross who have written a pleasingly snappy book on the subject, called Talent.

This book is a must-read for those involved in recruitment, but if you don’t want to shell out upwards of a tenner on it, here are some key take-outs.

Have an actual conversation

This is probably their most important, and simple, piece of advice. You must do everything you can to get away from the pre-packaged answers that a candidate arrives with, and move onto more interesting terrain. You could establish some kind of common ground, such as where they have worked, where they live, or cultural or sporting interests. You could ask them something about what they did that morning, at the weekend, on the evenings – anything so that the candidate starts to reveal themselves.

Ask questions that surprise the candidate

This sounds obvious, but often an interviewer is simply asking questions supplied by HR, rather than something they are interested in. The candidate feels this, and the whole process can veer dangerously towards a meaningless charade.

Tyler and Daniel suggest questions which perform the function of surprising the candidate and forcing them into spontaneous answers.

For example:

  • How do you feel you are different from the people at your current company?
  • What subreddits, blogs or online communities do you enjoy?
  • And the slightly terrifying: What’s a story one of your references might tell me when I call them?
Annoyingly young, rich and talented: Daniel Gross

Be comfortable being uncomfortable

If you want to have a meaningful conversation with a candidate, it is inevitable that there will be times when the person either has to think for a while before answering, or gives you a look which says, ‘do you actually want me to answer that?’ Tyler and Daniel advise – this is all good. As long as you are asking questions in good faith, and not trying to trick a candidate, then it’s ok to have moments when things get a bit sticky. That means you have moved away from standard questions and standard answers, and may just be getting somewhere interesting.

Zero in on a candidate’s motivation

I have asked why someone wants a job, and I have sometimes asked motivation related questions.

But I have never asked, as they suggest, “How ambitious are you?” This obviously reaches beyond the present job for which they are interviewing, and looks at something longer term. If the candidate has an ambition that is genuine, then it will be likely well thought-through. If it isn’t, of course, then you gain a not particularly positive insight.

Go meta

They suggest allowing a person to talk about their belief systems, and be analytical about it. To this end, asking: “Which of your beliefs are you least rational about?”

I have a whole stack of these, as perhaps we all do. I like cyclists generally, but hate Boris bikers. I like vegetarianism but think veganism is ridiculous. I like 60s music, but loath Paul McCartney. And so on.

This gets you closer to the actual person and helps to see how their mind works. In my case, they may think me a charming addition to the team or a bizarre weirdo who should be shown the door.

They also suggest the rather brutal: “How do you think this interview is going?” This might allow for some good self-analysis and allow the candidate to shine, but some good people may just dead-bat it. Proceed with caution.

Interview referees

This again might seem completely esoteric for many companies, who only ask a referee to confirm the basic truthfulness of a candidate’s CV. But I was particularly struck by this as a useful approach.

They suggest asking: Is this person so good that you would happily work for them?

I love this question. It makes the referee, and you, consider the person at least a level or two above the job they are applying for. If a referee can say, I was this person’s manager, but I would be happy for the relationship to be the other way round, that is a massive tribute to the candidate’s all-round behaviours and competence, and probably their willingness to develop their skills. Rather than the formulaic – would you hire this person again – which is a fairly low bar, it takes you into the realm of actual insight.

Being inclusive could very well give you a huge advantage

Tyler and Daniel are mostly interested in high-end talent that can transform a workplace and make outrageous innovations and/or a lot of money. They want people who see the world differently. They argue that the top-end of talent is a rarified place, and most of the available talent is easy to identify. Therefore, they go into quite a lot of detail about why going after diverse talent, ie women, people from different ethnic minorities, and disabled people, is potentially hugely rewarding.

On disabled candidates they highlight Greta Thunberg (autism) and Richard Branson (dyslexia) and say: “Even if you think disabilities are disadvantages on net, many of them come with offsetting advantages in the overall package. And sometimes these advantages can be very impressive.”

As brainy as his hair is questionable: Tyler Cowen

Women often get ignored for really stupid, man-related reasons

Men, this bit is quite embarrassing.

Tyler and Daniel lay out details of a study of over a thousand venture capital pitches.

It showed that women-only teams were judged more stringently on pitch quality than men, revealing that “women have to walk a thinner tightrope when presenting themselves to the outside world.

“But the really striking result was this: when women pitched on mixed-gender teams, the quality of the women’s pitch didn’t really matter at all. It seems the potential investors paid attention only to what the men said.”

If this isn’t bad enough they continue, “Anecdotally, we have found that men have a harder time judging the intelligence of women, because women often present themselves as more agreeable in an interview setting than men do…Many men will incorrectly downgrade the intelligence of an especially agreeable woman…In essence, male judgement often goes astray when women are (a) quite agreeable or (b) not very agreeable.”

Basically, men: make sure there is a woman on your interview panel or you could be doing you, your company and female candidates a massive disservice.

Conclusion – we can do better.

Recruitment is really important and, on the whole, we can do a lot better. We need to have actual, interested conversations in interviews. We need to make sure we are thinking broadly about the skills we need. We probably need some structure to the interview question process but that should include spontaneous interaction and the possibility of getting to know the person as a person, rather than a series of case study examples of things they may have done well (or may have massively dressed up).

Reading Talent does make me question – what is a fair process? They suggest a loose but earnest approach that taps into who the person is. It’s possible that this could misfire if done badly. But the overall point they make, that you need to cut through the inherent fakeness and preparedness of the interview process to something deeper, must be correct.

All the Mercurcy Music Prize 2022 nominees reviewed + exciting prediction

Here’s my rundown of all the runners and riders in this year’s Mercury Music Prize. Reviews start short and get shorter as fatigue crept in.

Predicted winner at the end. I’ve never been right before so I’ll definitely be right this time.

Fergus McCreadie – Forest Floor

The Mercury Music Prize always has one jazz nomination. Never none, which would be rude; never two, which would be overdoing it. Always one.

This year it is Fergus McCreadie’s turn. Forest Floor is a piano-led pastoral jazz album which, despite my tendency to support complicated, commercially non-viable music, I just don’t like.

The first track is one of those piano tracks which is A LOT OF NOTES and strikes me as showing off. Then there are some quasi-pleasant folky/woodland style pieces that are ‘interesting’ but I’d probably never bother listening to ever again.

Apple Music has put McCreadie’s music on a Restorative Yoga playlist, which probably explains sufficiently why I find this album nearer to appalling than nice.

Gwenno – Tresor

Very strong ‘afternoon at Latitude drinking a somewhat stronger than you’d imagined cider’ vibe to this album. Straight out of the dreamy psychedelia tradition of Broadcast and Gruff Rhys, this is one of those albums that I’d never have come across without a Mercury nomination. It’s mostly in Cornish, so I have no idea what is going on lyrically. She could be talking about elves; it could be dark ruminations on former lovers. The fact that you have got those options is part of the pleasure. I loved it.

Harry Styles – Harry’s Room

Apart from once working next to a woman in her late 20s who declared that she found a 16-year-old Harry Styles hot, I have been mercifully unaware of the pop princeling’s cultural impact to date.

Harry’s Room, for the first four or five songs, is really good. It has enough of a Venn diagram crossover with Beck, Nile Rodgers and A-ha to make it quite pleasing in the early stages.

Styles rapidly loses faith in this credible album lark about half-way through, no doubt fearing that long-time fans will be turned off by actually good music. Thereafter he performs a series of psychologically damaging ballads, the standout being the deeply unpleasant Boyfriends, which is basically Styles saying: “Hey girls, boys aren’t as thoughtful as they should be and girls deserve better, but, you know, boys are fairly shit, even the great Harry Styles himself sometimes, despite being really pretty.”

Kojey Radical – Reason to Smile

When you see people jumping around on album covers: take care

I do like Kojey Radical, but I do not like this album.

I am constitutionally opposed to songs called Happy or albums called Reason to Smile, as I’d always presume that the opposite would be better.

Too many tracks on this album sound like a credible artist trying to be as commercially palatable as possible, as if he wants to become an English Will Smith or something. There are a few good songs on Reason to Smile, particularly his duet with Ego Ella May (who needs a Mercury nomination herself one of these days), but I basically much prefer his In God’s Body album.

Yet, still. Kojey can be a monstrously good rapper, and if he wins the prize I’d definitely put aside my concerns and tip my cap to the fella.

Little Simz- Sometimes I might be introvert

Judge an album by its cover – Little Simz

There are people out there who think that a 65-minute rap album with 19 tracks including 4 interludes is too long. I’m here to say – those people are dead wrong. This is a long album, but it explodes from the spectacular title track and keeps going, dipping into classic soul, musicals, Afrobeat, all threaded through with self-examining rap. Sometimes the lyrics can feel a bit like a self-help book to beats, but on the whole this is a banger.

Nova Twins – Supernova

Pop-rap-heavy rock. Strong female Fred Durst vibes, mixed with a touch of Kelis and huge riffs. No doubt enormously enjoyable live, which might give them a chance when the winner is picked.

Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under

Earnest anthems by an earnest man. Sounds to me like he’s listened to Hungry Heart by Springsteen and made an entire career out of it. I never did like that stadium singer-songwriter thing and while he’s probably a good lad who is kept up at night raging about the emptiness of the Levelling Up agenda, his music leaves me utterly cold.

Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure

Diary entries turned into wild, astringent dance hits. The type of music you listen to if you cannot face going to work or leaving the house and it will give you the boost to do it. Or it may just make you feel good about not bothering. Possible winner.

Wet Leg – Wet Leg

How did the leg get wet? And why just one leg?

While Sam Fender is always trying ever so hard and is permanently sub-par, Wet Leg give the strong impression of being barely semi-half-arsed, and still end up great. Life’s terribly unfair, isn’t it?

Yard Act – The Overload

Northern man does witty lyrics in a pretty decent imitation of the late Mark E Smith. Nice.

Joy Crookes – Skin

This year’s Laura Mvula. Splendid voice, lovely arrangements, lyrics that do enough but not too much. Respect for the name-check of the number 35 bus on When You Were Mine. I’d probably end up listening to this album more than all the others. Apart from Little Simz.

Prediction

Heart: Anyone but Sam Fender.

Head: Sam Fender.