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Monday, 10 August 2015

Stoked!






I found myself in the cultural quarter of Stoke-on-Trent a few weeks ago.  This may surprise you in, at least, two ways.  Firstly, that I was in a cultural quarter at all, and secondly, that Stoke has a cultural quarter.

I was here for the theatre.  A dramatisation of 'Room on the Broom' if you must know.  Not that I was going to enjoy this thespian endeavour, my role for the day was to chauffeur my grandson and wife to join the rest of his playgroup for their end of term treat.  Therefore, whilst they settled themselves into the Regent Theatre, I was left to potter around the pavements in the determined drizzle of a weekday morning.

I may have missed something, but the only cultural aspects of the 'cultural quarter' that I could discern were the theatre and BBC Radio Stoke, but I suppose you've got to start somewhere.  

I may not be viewing the 'cultural quarter' with entirely neutral eyes, as I'm a little biased against BBC Radio Stoke.  Many years ago, when I was a presenter for our local Hospital Radio station, I sent a demo tape to Radio Stoke in the hope that they might take pity on me and let me loose on their public.  I heard nothing from them, so I wrote to the Station Manager complaining bitterly about being ignored by the local radio station.  This seemed to have the desired effect, as I was invited to come in to the station for a chat.  They kindly gave me a tour of the station and an explanation of the station's output.  The highlight of all of this was when one of their celebrity presenters suddenly dived out of his studio, mid-programme, to come and shake my hand.  I was hugely impressed at this welcome from a brother broadcaster, until it turned out that he had mistaken me for the local MEP and his interest in me waned spectacularly when he found out who I was.  At the end of the tour, a callow youth was dragged in to meet me and he explained to the Station Manager that he had reviewed my demo tape and had found me to be nothing special, whereupon my visit ended and I was returned to the pavements of Stoke, somewhat deflated.  If you want to find out how I might have sounded, had I been let loose on the airwaves, have a listen to this BBC Radio Derby interview: My Granny at BBC Radio Derby 2006

I'm not actually sure that Stoke's cultural quarter is, in fact, in Stoke.  Those of you who know Stoke, or who are fans of the work of Arnold Bennett, will know that Stoke consists of six towns, Hanley, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton and Fenton in addition to Stoke itself.  This makes it a nightmare if you're looking for the city centre, as there are six of them.  I rather suspect that the cultural quarter is in Hanley, but I'm sure you'll tell me if I'm wrong.

Anyway, sitting in a car park didn't seem to be a very entertaining occupation for an hour or more, so I set out to discover the cultural quarter.  Having exhausted its offerings in about ten minutes flat, I fell back on the traditional English solution, and went for a cup of tea.  Parked in a cafe, poring over the internet on my mobile phone to give the impression of my having some purpose, I was able to indulge in a little people-watching.  The opportunities for this were quite limited, as the only other people in the cafe were three men sitting at the table by the window.  It was evident, from their conversation, that a job interview was in progress.

I'm always fascinated by job interviews because they're almost invariably awful.  Most of my career has been spent in HR in one form or another, so I have some inkling of the theory and practice of selection interviews, which is more than can be said for most managers.  Did you know, for example, that the predictive validity (how likely it is that you can predict success in the job) of most unstructured selection interviews (those that are, by and large, a chat) is about the same as tossing a coin?  On that basis, you can guess the likely success of those managers who "can tell what they're like as soon as they walk through the door" - and there are a lot of them still about!

This interview was being conducted by a grey-haired bloke in his shirt sleeves, with his back to me, who seemed to be leading things, along with a slightly younger, balding bloke with glasses and the expression of one who  has never seen a spreadsheet he didn't like.  The candidate was a young man, apparently a school-leaver, who appeared to be applying for an apprenticeship in website development.  By and large, the interview seemed to be reasonably effective, and the young chap gave a good account of himself.  However, my respect for him increased immeasurably when the lead bloke asked him:

"How would you make sure that our website was relevant to young people...people like myself, for instance?"

Given that this chap wouldn't see 40 again without the aid of a radio-telescope, if I were the interviewee I think I would have burst out laughing.  That this young bloke didn't, shows that they're made of sterner stuff in Stoke (or Hanley).  I hope he got the job!