Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Chronicle – sign of the times (12)

Caught sight of this piece of publicity from our local rag the Essex Chronicle yesterday and burst out laughing.

chronic chronicle

I think I can guess one site council staff won’t be looking at or following.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011


Today we are asked to remember John Bunyan, preacher, pastor, writer and author of Pilgrim’s Progress. I remember reading Pilgrim’s Progress as a teenager and then again when studying for a paper on literature and theology as part of my degree. A few years later I found myself lecturing on Bunyan and the book at North Thames Ministerial Training Course and was surprised by how few of the ordinands had read Pilgrim’s Progress or appreciated it. One of the main concerns seemed to be Bunyan’s allegorical approach, yet, I treasure that as part of the beauty and power of the book. I also picked up that many of the students were not that keen on Bunyan’s Puritan faith, though I suspect few had taken the time to understand what Puritanism was about. I wonder how many of us would be prepared to go to prison for preaching the Gospel as Bunyan did?
He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.
Who so beset him round with dismal stories
Do but themselves confound - his strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might; though he with giants fight,
He will make good his right to be a pilgrim.
Since, Lord, Thou dost defend us with Thy Spirit,
We know we at the end, shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away! I’ll fear not what men say,
I’ll labor night and day to be a pilgrim.
In celebration of Bunyan and Pilgrim’s progress, here’s After the Fire’s excellent Pilgrim from the album Signs of Change.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

An easy mistake #gb10 #gb11

Our first venture into the world of camping as a family was attending Greenbelt 2010. I have to say it was not a great success and when I tentatively (no pun intended) explored the possibility of a return to Cheltenham for Greenbelt 2011 I was greeted with a resounding no!

Could it have been the five miles of walking as we trudged back and forth from the car park with all our gear because cars were banned from the site due to the rain soaked ground? Perhaps it was the near subzero temperatures at night on an August bank holiday?

Maybe it was the hour long queue to get a token so we could get a place for our young son in the children’s activities another hour later. We gave up trying in the end and he had a rather boring time saved only by his spotting the chap from ‘Rev’ filming outside a toilet on the Sunday morning. Unfortunately D had never seen Rev but he has seen the Pirates of the Caribbean series and kept calling out ‘look it’s Lord Cutler Beckett’ as Tom Hollander tried to record some footage.

Possibly the booking of a tent in Tangerine Fields only to find it was pitched by a very muddy patch on a major walkway was an error of judgement. Our nights were punctuated with unwary campers screaming as they ended up in the mud or banged into our tent as they sought to avoid said muddy patch. It didn’t help when friends informed us, once we were on site, that they had booked a T F tent before and would never do it again because of the noise.

Before leaving for Greenbelt I’d checked out the leisure centre facilities in the area and printed off a map. So on the Sunday morning, after an uplifting communion service, we jumped in the car to head off for a swim and a shower. Following the directions we  eventually arrived at a very grand looking set of buildings but didn’t give it a second thought as this was Cheltenham. We trudged up to the entrance in our grubby clothes and wellies. The doors to the centre slid open and we were greeted by a couple of smart looking young men in spotless tracksuits. I asked for a family ticket for a swim and was informed that the pool wasn’t open until 2pm. I explained that according to the website the pool was open all day. I was asked what website I’d looked at. ‘The website for Cheltenham Leisure Centre’ said I. ‘Ah’, said they, ‘This is Cheltenham Ladies College’. How was I to know they both used the initials CLC? Anyone could have made such a mistake.

The young men at the college were very helpful and gave us directions to the leisure centre which, when we finally arrived, looked more like a municipal facility than the other CLC. Anyway, we had a great time in a near empty pool, the kids had their first experience on diving boards and I enjoyed a very long, hot shower and refreshing shave. During our time in the pool there was a very heavy downpour over Cheltenham which finished just as we arrived back at the racecourse.

My wife had a particularly traumatic experience with the toilets at GB10 which I might recount in another post.

Thinking of all my corporeal and virtual pals who are at Greenbelt 11 and praying they have a great time. Missing meeting up for a chat and cuppa in the Tiny Tea Tent but not missing the rain, camping and sleepless nights. Greenbelt 12? Let’s wait and see.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Whistleblowing – A lose, lose situation?

The following is a guest post from my wife Kate who is an Associate Lecturer with the Open University.

When I was a child we had a dog who, from time to time, would take himself off on jaunts. We would watch, with a mixture of amusement and frustration, as he would trot past the lounge window, his head turned firmly in the opposite direction, presumably in the vain hope that if he could not see us, we could not see him.

It would appear, judging by the recent phone hacking scandal, that News International have been operating with the same level of blinkered denial – keep looking the wrong way and so will everyone else. Unfortunately that policy is now crashing fairly spectacularly on the buffers. This is not due, however, to any whistle blowing (i.e. revelations of malpractice) by NI staff, but because, initially, of a fairly innocuous story about Prince William having a knee injury.

In a recent article by Nick Cohen in the Observer he notes that not one member of NI’s staff challenged the management and wryly comments that had they done so, “their editor would have fired them and in all likelihood they would never have worked in the media again.” This conclusion does not appear to be without foundation. Cohen points, for example, to the case of Paul Moore, a risk manager for HBOS, who raised concerns about the level of lending in advance of the banking crisis. His reward was to be made redundant and to be ostracised by the banking community ever since.

Cohen makes a plea for the ‘law to save whistleblowers, not silence them’, but theoretically the law does that already. The Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998 (“PIDA”) offers protection for employees making qualifying disclosures from victimisation. It has been recognised for some time that whistle blowing might have averted, for example, the Clapham rail crash or the Ziebrugge ferry disaster, and the enactment of PIDA was an attempt to empower and encourage constructive whistle blowing. Efforts have also increasingly been directed at encouraging corporate bodies to develop transparent policies on whistle blowing and a culture which values early disclosure of malpractice.

Despite this, many employees appear to remain ignorant of the protection available and frightened of reprisals if they raise concerns, perhaps with good cause. Public Concern at Work, (‘PCAW’) a charity set up to advise potential whistleblowers and promote greater awareness of the role and value of whistle blowing, has recently published a report on its website assessing the effectiveness of whistle blowing in the Care Sector. One of its key conclusions is that more proactive promotion of ‘best practice whistle blowing arrangements’ is required, with more transparency and clarity in the process to ensure that it is sufficiently safe and straightforward for employees.

According to Nick Cohen, the Commons Health Committee is suggesting a different emphasis – the imposition by the General Medical Council, and other regulators of the NHS, of punishment where clinicians have failed to speak out. I wrote an article some years ago for the Veterinarian Nursing Journal on the implications of similar requirements under a proposed new Code of Conduct for their profession. My conclusions then were that this could lead to employees being caught in a ‘damned if I do, damned if don’t’ situation: if they did not report suspected malpractice, they risked being in breach of their contracts and, if they did, they risked victimisation, both in the immediate and long term.

Cohen views the need to consider obligatory measures as a sad indictment on a cowardly society, but I have some sympathy with those caught in such a predicament. It seems to me that legal compulsion of care sector employees can only be justified if it is accompanied by clear and supportive guidance and protection for employees and a shift in the mindset of their employers towards whistle blowing.  I suspect this will only happen if further resources are invested in the activities of organisations, such as PCAW, to educate and inform.  Ideally employees should report concerns, not because they have to but because they feel empowered and encouraged to do so in a culture which values public interest disclosure and is not, like my dog, determined to look the other way.     

Article first published on the Open University blog Legal Verdict.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Number 1 but who saw it?

It is a fantastic achievement for the England cricket team to be crowned as the world's best Test playing nation. Some question marks remain over the side's ability to win consistently on the Subcontinent but let that not detract from what has been a glorious summer of great individual performances and consistently high achievement for the team. To whitewash the top team, India, over four matches and to capture their crown demonstrated the fact that England are the real deal and deserve all the plaudits they are getting at the moment.

The only problem with England's moment of glory is the question of how many people, and young people in particular, actually got to watch England's triumph? Since the suits who run English cricket sold the game's soul to Sky several years ago, most of us have had to satisfy ourselves with odd snatches of action in brief highlights packages in the evening. At the moment the highlights are consigned to Channel 5, a station you couldn't even receive in large swathes of the country until the digital switch over. Gone are the days when the nation's sports fans could gather round their T.V.s on an afternoon to celebrate an Ashes victory. Now the great game played over five days (that's the idea even if India seem to have forgotten) is reduced to three minute news packages and 45 minutes on the Big Brother channel.

I will be interested to see what the viewing figures are for this summer's Test matches. That will be of little concern to the money men at English cricket's HQ as they bank the subscription T.V. dosh. But how many youngsters will be heading into the garden or down to the local park to emulate their cricketing heroes if they never get to watch them play? Who will be inspired to become the next Cook, Prior or Anderson? It is one thing to put some money back into the grass roots game for those already in local clubs. It is a much greater challenge to attract potentially gifted future cricketers if they have never seen and grown to love the game in the first place.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, 22 August 2011

Not so Fantastique Maitre Renard

This is the sight that greeted us on our return from holiday in France. An empty chicken run, save for a few feathers scattered across the apple strewn ground. Our remaining four chickens, Snowdrop, Pebble, Dusk and Hazel had been despatched by a fox.

I could understand if this had happened in the Spring when vixens scavenge to feed their hungry cubs but this seemed like an act of wanton destruction. The urban/suburban fox doesn't just kill for food but seems to be consumed by a blood lust that drives it to slaughter for the fun of it. The vandal leaves a trail of carcasses to be cleared up by the devastated owner or, in our case, the unsuspecting chicken sitter.

We are used to handling the demise of chickens; some die from an undiagnosed illness and others are despatched once their laying days are over. Our delinquent Labrador Bramble has on occasions bumped off the odd chook when we forgot to put them away at night. However, there is something infuriating about the bushy tailed vagrant who turns up in dead of night, does his work and is on his way before his crime is discovered.

So why do we persist and plan to restock the orchard with another batch of chickens? Mainly because once you have tasted eggs from your own chickens there is simply no competition from the supermarket. The yolks are a dazzlingly rich gold and taste sublime. Cakes, pavlova, and eggs cooked every which way are delicious. You know that your eggs have been laid by chickens enjoying freedom to strut, scrape and peck and fed on good quality feed supplemented by kitchen vegetable scraps.

Chickens are also fun pets. Each chicken has its own character and lays distinctive eggs, they sort out a pecking order, flap around in dust baths and clear the weeds from under the fruit bushes. They are happy to get on with life with the minimum of fuss and care as all the average chook demands is a place to roost, a supply of food and plenty of clean fresh water.

Oh yes, and the one thing we failed to supply... Protection from the not so fantastic Mr. Fox.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Shared Ignorance

Having been out of the country for the last couple of weeks I watched the unfolding tragedy of the riots in England with dismay and not a little despair. As I had very limited internet access I was unable to comment, save for the odd tweet, and this was probably a good thing because it saved me contributing to the appalling drivel spouted across the airwaves and the digital media in the aftermath of the mayhem. Let me give a couple of examples.

On the Today programme I listened to a panel being interviewed about their take on the London riots. This panel included a middle aged single man who described himself as gay, childless and a conservative. He went on to say that he never visited schools except when they were used as polling stations. Nevertheless he felt competent to tell the listener that many of the problems in our society and a cause of the riots could be traced back to the feminisation of our schools under the last government. No evidence was offered to support his assertion, save his brief glances at the displays in the school where he went to exercise his vote. What qualified this man to share his ignorance with us on BBC 4's 'flagship' programme apart from the fact he had a mouth and was quite prepared to open it at the behest of the programme's producer? It was left to a local head teacher to explain the good work that was actually taking place in many of the local schools in the area in contradiction of the panelist's generalisations.

Later I tuned in for a spot of Test Match Special covering England v India only to discover there was a rain break in which another panel of experts, cricket experts, shared with us their take on the riots. This panel launched into a lamentation on the lack of team sport in general and cricket in particular as being a cause of the riots. One commentator informed us that if these lads had been in a cricket club they wouldn't have been on the streets rioting. The discussion ranged across the loss of sports fields and cricket clubs in areas like Tottenham, though they didn't offer any facts or figures to back up their assumptions and assertions.

It was left to the excellent Michael Vaughan to explain some of the facts on the ground in terms of initiatives and facilities being offered in some of these communities and it was apparent that his colleagues in the discussion were completely ignorant of what he was talking about. Perhaps if they spent less time quaffing claret and stuffing their faces with TMS cakes and a bit more time getting out into the communities to do some coaching and fundraising they might be better qualified to speak on this subject. No doubt the producer of TMS thought it a wizard wheeze to fill some air time with a topical discussion but all the discussion did was reveal that the commentators needed to stick to analysing Tendulkar's form rather than the state of inner city sports' provision.

I could list plenty of other examples of this sharing of general ignorance but you will have your own experiences from the last couple of weeks. When did political and social comment in the media turn into an extended version of Loose Women?

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