Thursday 2 August 2018


My first PhD-accredited job was to teach a six week Summer course in Genetics for Boston University just after I graduated from the same place. That teaching experience was instrumental in getting me a sub-assistant-lectureship at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, my first of many short term contracts. After 3 x 2 years, I retired from that position in 1989, half a lifetime ago. As a retired full-time member of the academic staff, I'm on their mailing list, mainly it seems to get invited to memorials for other retirees. It was weird getting those calls in my 30s, and more appropriate now.

In December last year, I was cold-called at work by a bloke with a more-or-less Geordie accent (so we'll call him Geordie). He worked for a Fund & Asset Management company, claimed to be a graduate of U.NuponT, and wondered if I could use some help in planning and providing for my pension . . . which he knew was imminent. It was timely and I agreed to talk to one of their finance chappies (who was too important to do his own cold-calling) the following week. That telecon was useful because I found out that I _could_ transfer my pension entitlements from University Superannuation Scheme USS and consolidate them elsewhere. With F&AM, or in Ireland, for example, with the pitiful fragments of pension that I have since accumulated here. It was also useful because our discussion revealed what 6 years of contributions, at the very bottom of the pay-scale, 30+ years ago might be worth now. It was a bit more than "a Mars-bar a week" which I'd ruefully been telling everyone about; nearer to 2 lattes a day. We agreed that I wasn't the biggest fish that the Company had hooked that week, and they definitely weren't hunting me up to transfer my loot to their vaults.

Last week, I got an unsolicited e-mail from young Geordie inviting me to read something he'd posted about Brexit on LinkedIn. By the time I'd read that e-mail, it had accumulated a handful of cc:replies: some polite, some incandescent with rage; most of them asking for a cease-and-desist on any more such mails. Unfortunately, Georgie had cc:ed his nondescript message to 490 people, who were a) important enough to network through LinkedIn [a low bar I admit] b) currently working outside of UK and so more likely to care about Brexit. A couple of hours later we all got a pathetic mail just saying hopefully "Recall: Brexit message". That was followed by more angry and schoolmarmy messages; another begging people to stop replying and one saying "please keep me on the list Geordie, this traffic is the best fun I've had all week".

Four Five things come not back -- the spoken word, the sped arrow, the sent email, the past life, and the neglected opportunity.  Ancient Arabic proverb. Rumi? Ibn Battuta? Omar Khayyam? Omar Sharif?

The next day, we happy 490, we band of brothers, received, separately [cc: has probably been disabled by their IT Crowd] a very formal apology from Fund & Asset's Data Protection Officer assuring us that
  • they take their GDPR responsibilities very seriously. 
  • they had disciplined Geordie "a junior employee"; 
    • deleted his list; 
  • they had grassed themselves up to the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO); 
  • and taken action to protect our privacy and security.
all fair enough. But it smelled of white-wash, so I replied:
Dear F&A DPO,
I'm sorry for Geordie who seemed a pro-active, personable and ambitious person; useful to have about in a business that needs to grow to survive. The outraged response from some of the Geordiegate participants was mildly amusing on a slow-news day. I feel I have friends all over the world now! As well as hanging Geordie out to dry, your company might pause to reflect on whether corporate culture, targets and incentives - and poor training and management - could shoulder some of the blame for why it happened. But that's for HR, not you and me.
Which could sound pompous and tsk tsk finger-wagging but was taken up as I intended:
Dear Bob,
Thanks for your reply. It was an amusing response that provided a smile on an otherwise difficult day.
Geordiegate shall be remembered.
Kind regards,
Which caused me a tiny tinge of red face for not considering how the DPO and the rest of the company's management had been feeling about the matter. You may be sure that Geordie wasn't the only person disciplined in the aftermath and nobody likes being shouted at. Let's try to remember that we all make mistakes; that the person on the other end of the line has feelings; and that it's not All About ME. Here's some more advice: if you're hoping to succeed in the professional world get a professional sounding e-handle: bigbadmomma; dean_is_masterchief; weescotsman; xvxbobbyxvxv; xojimmy85xo; estateagentgeyser; bakebean; crewegossipgirl; wasmachien are fine for Instagram, less so for The Office. [powergenitalia and other names to be careful with]

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