Disclaimer

BEFORE YOU START: Please note that although I currently volunteer for both the Stroke Association and Age UK, the views expressed in this blog are strictly my own. I am not a spokesperson for either (or, indeed, for any) organisation, and I accept complete responsibility for the views expressed herein. As indicated by the domain name, I am based in the UK and the blog therefore has a UK bias - I've tried to use the Glossary to explain any ambiguous terms, but if you think there is anything I've missed, please message me.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

Telltale Signs

When I worked in the City, people (agents) would often call me to see if I was interested in a new job. I got into the habit of asking them to sent a spec (specification) over to my email address. Why? The spec itself might go on to be important or it might not, but relly, in the first instance, I just wanted to satisfy myself that a spec existed. A spec showed that the clients had, at least, put some thought into what they wanted. Furthermore, clients often need to produce a spec internally to receive budget, so a spec helped to know that they weren't just on a fishing expedition. I'd sometimes get some bright spark of an agent saying, "this role is so new that there isn't a spec yet", to which I'd just say, "well, when there is one, send it over".

Another thing with the type of work I used to do, was duration. If a client had a permanent need for somebody in my role, but only wanted to offer a short-term contract, a probation period, if you like, then fair enough. I was quite happy usually to take my chances that I'd do enough during that initial period to impress. Alarm bells started ringing, though, if a client said they wanted a designer for just a couple of months, since a decent project could be around the 10-man-year length, or maybe 18 months duration, and you really need a decent amount of time to get your teeth into something.

So I ended up looking more for things that should be avoided, rather than things with potential. The things with potential were the ones left over after I'd rejected the things which fell at one of the hurdles. It is the same, really, now, although there are altogether fewer vacancies locally so the scale is smaller. Indeed I haven't seen anything in almost a year which ticks all the boxes. I saw a funny one yesterday. Somebody was offering just a three-month contract for a Head of IT. Obviously interim - someone must've been taking a leave of absence and the company didn't feel they could manage. But who do they seriously think will take that on? What do they think somebody can achieve in just three months? I must admit that I could happily take on a "head" role these days, but reall, I'd want to have a bit of time to see the effects of any changes I introduced.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

More Veggie stuff

Funnily enough, on the same subject as yesterday, I had my first interrogation yesterday about my reasons for deciding to be vegetarian. From one of my fellow-volunteer friends. I think I did ok, although it is not really an argument I had presented before, certainly not to other people.

This volunteer is the wife of a dairy beef farmer, so I would assume that she knows far more about farming than I do. "I just don't think a lot of vegetarians think it through", she said, "they become vegetarian in order to see lambs gambolling around the fields, where in fact these lambs are only there in the first place as part of somebody's commercial venture". And, "a lot of land that is grazed by sheep or cattle is unsuitable for farming crops instead". Both of which, I can imagine, are perfectly valid points. Certainly, a lot of this woman's grazing land is the water meadows surrounding our village. That they are water meadows certainly means that they flood in wintertime - I have no idea whether this makes crops unviable but I don't really see it as important.

My point in response was simply to say that I didn't expect to see animals frolicking around fields, rather I'd hope to see fewer animals altogether. There are pnly so many animals in the first place, because there is a market for them, so if I can help to reduce that market... And, even if we are already devoting every possible acre to farming crops as opposed to animals (my gut feel is that isn't the case, although I think there's certainly something in what this woman says), then fewer animals would mean less animal feed, meaning that instead of growing crops for animals to consume, people could grow things for humans to consume instead. So it is kind-of recognising that we have force-bred animals for years, and simply doing less of it.

Of course, there are knock-on effects here. Fewer animals would undoubtedly mean less "managed" land (every square inch of western Europe appears to be managed somehow), although I'm struggling to see a downside to this. Is there one? Apart from the obvious that people make money by using the land?

It is funny debating with someone, because your gut feelings will inevitably reflect your overall opinion, but unless you actually discuss things with someone, those opinions are often not very articulate. It is easy to believe these veteran politicians who have had to hone their arguments, improve them over time. It's all very well for someone like me to hold a view, but I don't spend all my time trying to polish my views, they're often quite raw. Plus, of course, the only person I need to convince about something is me, so thinking is usually enough. It kind-of surprises me therefore that somebody who has chosen to become a professional politician, can sometimes be so un-persuasive in their arguments.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Vegetarian

I might have mentioned in the blog already that I've mostly gone vegetarian. I say "mostly" - it isn't really an ideological thing. I've read a lot recently about climate change, how many more resources it takes to raise an animal for slaughter, compared to "raising" a plant. But it isn't something that I have become evangelical about - I've kind-of decided that, for the moment, fish and dairy are still on the menu - I had a fish finger sandwich yesterday! - but obviously this might change as I learn more.

Actually, I was vegetarian for several years, starting when I was a student at university. My diet then was quite poor, Margarita pizza and chips, and this time around I have resolved that I must eat better. I always had a downer on ready meals - you never know exactly what is in them - so even though the selection is far better now than when I was first a vegetarian, I've been trying to cook for myself. One of my staples over the last few weeks has been tofu stir-fry. Probably four nights per week.

The funny thing is that I've seen really good results when I test my sugar each day. i suppose it shouldn't be surprising, since the tofu is high in protein and the stir-fry is just vegetables. Rather than those sugary, ready-made sauces, I've confined myself to cooking in sesame oil and adding a little Soy Sauce. Soy Sauce is low in sugar but, I think, quite high in salt. It certainly tastes salty. Yesterday I tried Worcester Sauce instead, but that didn't really work.

I mean, in the grand scheme of things, my sugar is only abou20% lower, but, actually, 20% is quite a lot. My average sugar over the last seven weeks has been just over 9mmol/l (about 170 mg/dl) but in the last seven days has been in the low 7s (130).

Mixed in with the stir-fries, so far, have been a couple of ready meals, although I'm weaning myself off them, there is still the one pizza per week, plus other assorted things from the vegetarian aisle - I picked up some frozen mushroom Kievs yesterday, which will prove to be interesting! But I'm still really in the experimental phase, finding which foods I like etc. I know so far that I love tofu (have always liked it), but never really knew how to cook it, but not so much Quorn. And not Linda McCartney sausages! These last few weeks I have gradually been getting rid of my meat meals in the freezer, e.g. chicken Kievs, to be replaced with veggie food, although I'm finding that quite a lot of veggie food must be eaten fresh. I need to replenish my supply of frozen fish, just in case I run out of fresh stuff.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Reasons for Brexit

I've mentioned before that I used to take vacations in France, I love it over there and we would often go over there, sometimes just sailing across for 36 hours, to get our weekly shopping from Carrefour.

I have a little French. Not fluent, but enough to get me by. Especially in hotels and restaurants. But I like the language and wish to improve myself. For that reason, I am a member of a few French-language groups on social media. In one such group, a London-centric group of French ex-pats the other day, was a thread on the subject of immigration. Somebody had commented to the effect that although there were no concerns about immigration in London, London did not represent the whole of the UK, just as Paris didn't represent the whole of France, and that basically, immigration was the big reason for Brexit, if you looked at the UK as a whole.

I responded to this, by saying that I was perhaps not typical, but that immigration, for me, had nothing to do with Brexit. In fact, having worked in London and enjoyed the cosmopolitan environment made up of many nationalities mixed in together, I feel my life has been enriched by immigration.

I see overnight that, rather than replying, somebody just put a "laugh" icon against what I said.

Sure, I can go on about the EU not being perfect, can represent me better, and all that is true but but the real reason that I want to Brexit is because the EU doesn't even acknowledge this concern. The rulers of the EU are doing nicely, thank you very much, and have no wish for its pesky citizens to rock the boat. My concerns aren't taken seriously. I might imagine that same "laughing" icon. So, in response, I am quite happy to say "ok, but then we go our separate ways". Which is what I've done. I generally think I'm pretty alone in what I think, but especially in France, where the Gilets Jaunes have been so active, I think I have company.

You want to look for a reason for Brexit? For Trump? Look no further. And politicians should be worried because nothing has changed.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Brexit Party

I must admit I'm quite interested in the Brexit Party. Not really for the obvious, but because they are talking about their desire to reform our system. The trouble is, all the heat and noise is currently surrounding the Brexit process, where the question I'd like to ask is "how do you wish to reform the system?".

Because I write this blog free of noise, however, I can, at least, say how I would wish to reform the system. Actually I am quite open on how it happens, but my end result is to have politicians who will collaborate with each other, to work to achieve a particular goal, even if they don't totally see eye to eye. Politicians who are able to take a broad directive from people, and fill in the details responsibly, even if they don't necessarily think that the directive is a good idea. I mean, it goes further than that - how the head of state fits into the representational system, how the Prime Minister fits into the representational system, the representational system itself - but in the interests of finishing this post today...

I spent my life doing that as a consultant. My primary goal was to help the client achieve their goal, regardless of whether I agreed with their goal or not. Frankly, I expect the same of a politician, I don't think I'm being unreasonable. So, in the sense that I am able to define them in a few lines, my requirements are simple.

Unfortunately I think that this might require a new generation of politicians. I don't want somebody who feels that their role is to make decisions on my behalf. I can quite happily make my own decisions, thanks. I want somebody instead who is able to take my decision and to put flesh onto it, so that we end up with a society in which I feel I am taking part. I fear that the "not being in charge" part of this is an anathema to some of them.

Incidentally, I heard Nigel Farage this morning about how he sees the goal of the Brexit Party, in the first instance at least, as delivering a WTO Brexit. I would like to see a deal (in fact I think May's biggest mistake here was not to portray herself as a broker, but that again is just a politician wanting to be a Field Marshall, so exemplifies my point) but I have to accept that he is probably right. Nobody can agree on a deal which *is* acceptable, so I think that probably the only way forward is to strip the relationship down to its bare bones and to start trying to rebuild it, over time, along some kind of consensual line. I'm in no doubt that's what'll happen anyway, on Brexit + 1 day - whatever we agree with the EU (which might well be nothing), people will try to build a little bit more onto it. With WTO, it's not so much the trade aspect that bothers me, but more of the surrounding infrastructure - guaranteeing the safety of medicines, protecting the standard of goods, protecting workers etc. - which I think have been beneficial to us. At best, it'll be costly in terms of time and money to replicate these.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Brave

After that Ken Clarke book, I've got back into listening to my Audible subscription. I tend to start work quite early, but by late morning I'm ready for a soak in the bath - and of course I listen while relaxing.

Anyway, I saw a News article a month or so ago. Somebody had an autobiography out, they were one of the people who'd been part of kicking off the #MeToo campaign, so for that reason I thought it might be an interesting read.

So I have been listening to a book by somebody called Rose MacGowan. (I'm afraid anybody who knows me won't be surprised to learn that I just needed to look the name up!) I used to read a lot more than now, I used to like factual books, including biographies, but tended not to be interested in the entertainment or sport industries. I mean, of course these people entertain me, but let's not lose our perspective, it is just something that transports me to a fantasy world for a short while, but after that....well, there's enough going on in the real world, isn't there? I suspect that most stories by successful/famous actors or sportsmen are not really any more than "I have a talent, and got a good job because of it". Great, I'm pleased for you. So do I, just not in the same sphere as you. But obviously, when somebody is talking about abuse, that is real life, a whole level more serious.

I must admit to being a bit naive about how abuse happens. Naive is the wrong word, it is more really that I don't understand what the turn-on is, if the other person is not a willing participant? It's not even "what is the turn on?" but more "why is it a turn on?". OK, it boils down to a "power" thing, but why is having power over somebody a turn on?

This woman - it sounded like she's six or seven years younger than me - had quite a heart-wrenching childhood. I know from being a father myself that the one thing you try and do for your child is to provide some stable environment in which the child can feel secure and loved, but it is fair to say that she had little of that, and had a spell homeless before getting parts in movies almost by accident. She must have been quite successful at things before the abuse, because she says it happened at the Sundance Festival one year - something I have heard of, although I'm not exactly sure what it is. I don't know whether she's talking about Weinstein or not - she doesn't use the name - but in any case, that's just a detail. Her abuser was supported by other people who enabled the abuse to happen. So I get the feeling that the whole scenario is reflecting something more institutional than a lone wolf opportunist. Which means that it is the institutions which need to change - it's not acceptable for someone to say "he's the boss, so it is ok". But that's what the #MeToo is all about, I think. Plus, of course, she talks about the fallout, the blacklistings as soon as she opened her mouth - the punishment for daring to blow the whistle.

It's a desperately sad story, and as a result, her book sometimes goes into a rant, which in turn made it difficult to read. She sees a lot of this as men vs. women, but I think there's more to it than that. It might be true within her world, but I think it is probably more subtle than that. Especially as you get older and past child-bearing age, the male/female distinction is more blurred - to me, it doesn't matter, although I do think we process things differently.The things that my wife picks up from something, say, are different from those that I pick up. I can only speak for myself but I was horrified by her story - as a white male. From my own experience, I know that when I was able-bodied I never consciously discriminated against disabled people, but now that I am disabled, I know that discrimination happens, so how do you square the circle? As far as I am aware, I have achieved what I achieved based on merit - no-one ever did me a favour - but there again I'm a white male, so perhaps I've just taken it for granted?

Still, all of this is food for thought. The only real point to any of this is that it improves the situation for people going forward, and in that I hope she succeeds.

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Alone

I did a volunteering stint at one of my charities yesterday (Tuesday). Normally it is pretty uplifting but on this occasion I felt that I could have done better. When I go in, I have a small list of clients that I try to speak to. The amount of time I spend speaking can obviously vary from week to week, but I do try and speak to everybody. In fact, it's a classic case of the size of a task varying to fit the time available - I often end up getting out only when my alarm clock goes off to tell me that it is time to disappear.

But I spoke to one of my clients who seemed quite down. Apart from speaking to people that day, she hadn't spoken to anybody since Friday, so spent the whole bank-holiday weekend home alone. I have to say that being alone is not something which particularly bothers me - I was an only child and even in adulthood, would prefer being on my own to being with people I didn't want to be with. Before I got married, I spent a lot of time single, or not really being part of a couple. But I know that other people can be different. I immediately thought that I ought to spent some time talking to this client, although it became clear that they didn't have a great deal to say. My normal get-out of a conversation is to say that I had better let them get on with their day, but how do you say that to someone who's already said that lack of motivation has made them lethargic? What are they going to go and do? This really is where I fall short. I can happily chat to people, spend the time of day, etc. but I don't have any professional training to deal properly with this. I basically rely on taking their mind off their predicament, at least for the duration of the conversation. As it was, I suggested maybe going for a walk to enjoy the spring flowers, but I don't suppose that was much more than a sticking plaster.

I really feel for people who seem to need human company more than I do. I, at least, know that I was quite happy to get by before my wife came along. And vice versa - neither of us will be lost without the other. I'm quite happy not really to have any contact with my daughter, the fuss she caused in 2015, and the indirect fallout afterwards, have always felt like the final few nails in the coffin.