ŠKODA has been “fronting the peloton” as the official partner of the Tour de France, but a generation ago the former Eastern Bloc carmaker was a laughing stock, a source of ridicule and the butt of endless jokes.
My Czech uncle, a successful entrepreneur who made his fortune in California, has a joke about the marque of his homeland.
A Škoda driver started his car in a field but couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t pull away.
The hapless fellow got out and paced around the car looking for the problem. He found a blade of grass trapped in the door. The engine was too weak to break it. (It’s all in the translation apparently.)
Today, Škoda’s reputation has been completely transformed, thanks to the engineering ingenuity of its German owners and the low labour costs in the Czech Republic.
I bought a Škoda a few years ago, but being an adopted Yorkshireman baulked at the servicing costs of the Lancashire-based dealership that sold me the car.
Instead, I have been using a friendly little garage in Steeton, near Keighley, by the name of Philip Lund.
The other day the acceleration seemed to be playing up so I took the car in for a check-up.
The mechanic did a road test, drove it up some hills, drove it down some hills and ran some computer checks but couldn’t find any fault.
I asked how much he wanted for his time. He paused for a moment as he thought, narrowed his eyes and said, ‘Would you buy some biscuits for the lads next time you’re passing?’
What kind? I asked.
‘Oat’, he said.
‘Oat’, I affirmed.
‘No. ‘Owt,’ he said ‘Any kind.’
I laughed out loud.
He said, ‘We couldn’t find ‘owt, couldn’t do nowt so can’t charge ‘owt’.
Later, I picked up a packet of biscuits from a nearby Morrisons convenience store and returned to the garage.
I opened the window and passed the pack to the mechanic, telling him, ‘I couldn’t find any oat biscuits so got these for you instead’.
We laughed and shook hands. That’s how you do business.
Business communications ought to be clear, concise and straight to the point.
Too often, I receive company announcements that are anything but. Sometimes it is as if they have been written in another language.
Please bear in mind the iceberg theory made famous by the novelist Ernest Hemingway as a best-in-class approach to good writing.
A. Scott Berg, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer, said: “In this theory, as Hemingway first explained in Death in the Afternoon, and then in several other interviews and books, he says that if a writer knows enough about what he’s writing about, he can omit certain things in the story, and in fact, every time he omits something he strengthens the story.
“He likened that to the iceberg in which seven-eigths of it is underwater and all you see is the tip... It affords the reader an even greater reading experience, because the reader is basically running the story, doing the film in his own imagination.
“There was a corollary as well. Hemingway said if a writer does omit something because he hasn’t thought it through, the reader will instantly pick up on that and there will be a huge hole in the story.”
Mr Berg was quoted in Salinger, the New York Times bestseller by David Shields and Shane Salerno, out now in paperback.
Clearly there is a difference between fact and fiction, but we are all in the business of telling and selling stories.
I am not saying I expect all of you to only send correspondence that is of the same literary standard as the late great Papa, but please do apply some economy of style and stop clogging up in-boxes with badly expressed and ill-informed missives.