Again I must thank you all for the considerable number of good wishes flowing in following my wife Alice's unexpected hospitalisation with leukaemia at Christmas. It is a long road with many ups and downs but we remain positive.
I've not been globetrotting as you will imagine so these notes may fall back on memories more often than they report ground-breaking news.
I've also been spending rather more time shopping that ever before and have also attempted internet shopping although I have to report the first attempt was promptly cancelled by Sainsbury's which was not a good start.
However I am a supporter of Messrs Sainsburys and many of you will know that in 1984 Dr David Quarmby was persuaded to leave the London Transport Executive board to join them.
Thanks to my own Board level friend at that firm I did spend a day a couple of years back in their Training School. I have often believed there are huge parallels for the transport industry with the major retailers. They serve the public at large with goods and compete in the marketplace. Their goods are as essential as ours. Yet they deliver fabulous customer service, great value for money and many community benefits and are generally warmly welcome in the community, give or take the odd planning application.
I wanted to know why their staff - who also work shifts, are recruited from ordinary people, are not particualrly well paid and facing the public every minute of their day manage to be so positive and helpful whereas the average busman, it must be said, doesn't do quite so well.
So I did a day in the Sainsbury Training School looking for the magic dust which they have and we don't. To my amazement I found things very similar. Average facilities, their DVD player also was a bit temperamental and our instructor wasn't Mary Poppins either. So during lunch I was puzzled why this machine turned out rather good shop floor staff whereas everyone was telling us ours did not.
An answer landed as we came back from lunch. We - the undisciplined rabble - returned from lunch talking together and walked out onto the supermarket floor. Suddenly we grew another 6in and in no time at all a customer asked us where to find carrots. One of my group - an average cynic - said "Come with me - I'll take you" ! Yes - on stage we were fine, respectful and helpful. We were not better paid or treated - it was just that when "on stage" we performed.
Of course on bus work the distinction between backstage and on stage is less clear. In a supermarket it is. Our staff transfer from "backstage" in the depot to a bus cab which is also "backstage". We don't go "on stage" so obviously and, I believe, we never "switch on" and "act the part" in the same way.
The cure is harder to find and we live in an imperfect world.
When you bus or train is late or cancelled passengers WILL write to the Secretary of State and demand change.
If Sainsbury's doesn't have any cabbages, does the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs get a call....????
And as a testimoney to the good old days I present RT1730 operating on the original Round London Sightseeing Tour in the good old days of the mid 1950s when good customer service was.......ordinary behaviour!