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. I am based in the UK and the blog therefore has a UK bias - I've tried to use the Glossary to explain any terms which might be ambiguous, but if you think there is anything I've missed, please message me.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

IT Skills Course

I was up at the Trafalgar school again yesterday, for another session. Four people turned up - I don't know what the charity's expectations are, but that doesn't seem like many to me. Our village has about 5,000 inhabitants.

As I see it, possible reasons for this are:

(i) that there is no interest in the sbject matter.

I find this quite difficult to believe, since some people have travelled quite some distance - from our local city (Salisbury) and beyond.

(ii) that our village lies in the back of beyoud

This is obviously possible, since we do! A few people on the course have actually come looking for it, so maybe there jst aren't the people locally to generate the numbers for the course?

(iii) location

We're in a school which has quite an impressive computer room. There are lots of PCs there, all running Windows 10. The school is friendly and, as I say, quite well-equipped, I can totally understand why you'd want such an environment to prepare students for the outside world, but possibly our target audience has different needs? Unfortunately, I missed the first session, but I did suggest that it should cover things even more basic than computers, such as plugging a router into a phone socket, and getting an internet connection in the first place. One guy is a lovely chap in real life, but if you put him in his home environment, gave him a computer, and told him to go to such-and-such a site, probably wouldn't have a clue. But I've also heard a couple of people say that their internet (which they obviously have already) was set up by their children. Of course, I have no idea whether these people would *want* to find out about how the connection works, or whether the fact that it just exists is enogh for them.

(iv) changes in the session times

we (the volunteers) ourselves were a little confused, because whilst most of the sessions were on a Wednesday, there were a couple of sessions on a Thursday. I can't imagine that this is at all fatal, and certainly a phone call to the Age UK office would clarify things, but by the same token, everything was more complicated than it needed to be.

(v) rubbish tuition!

Of course, it's not a particularly pleasant thought for me, but it has to be there as an option. And I'm aware that the students are taking the lead role as tutors here, but personally, I'm more than happy to jump in and get my hands dirty. And I don't know if it's accurate but I have an impression that some of the attendees prefer talking to a 50yo than a 12yo. But by the same token, I am new to this type of work and could well be wrong.

I think it will be interesting if we ever sit down to discuss how we might have achieved things better. I watched a DR (disaster recovery) test at one client fail miserably, then be proclaimed a success by some middle-manager, dare I be so cynical as to think this could happen in a charity too?

Thursday, 22 June 2017

A New Day

So after the rare excursion into Salisbury on Tuesday, I did my regular drop-in yesterday up at the hospital. Of course, I looked again at my number of steps: 5000, only half as much as Tuesday, but still quite significant for me these days. Most of those steps were walking between the house and the bus stop, and of course the heat too is swelterig at the moment. No respite from the sun. And at the hospital, where it is always mega-hot anyway, I saw lots of electric fans.

But after two "active" days, I'm now looking forward to a few more restful ones. I haven't even bothered to put my watch on yet today, so I can confidently say that the number of steps so far today is zero!

So, quiet days planned. There are a few things I'd like to get on with. I'd like to get one of my bikes out (I'll get the thing out OK, but there's a high probability I won't be able to ride it) and, I bought a weatherstation a couple of months ago which is still in its box. I have a pole to stick it on, but I need to cut a small groove into the pole, to stop the station from moving around. Then, of course, I need to align the thing toward north, just so it can give a vaguely accurate wind direction, but that should be easy enough. But maybe, just maybe, it is too hot for all that?

Wednesday, 21 June 2017


A mixed day yesterday, but ultimately rewarding.

The heat - it is topping 30° here - is making it difficult to do much, including sleep. Ultimately useful, because it was an early start to catch a lift into Salisbury. I had an Age UK meeting at 10 o'clock and figured I could go in early, and have a leisurely breakfast beforehand.

Unfortunately, with the clock ticking, I had to forego the help of the FES, whose wires got lost somewhere under my trousers. I must have mentioned before that the FES is beneficial when walking, but that there is a trade-off in terms of getting the thing set up in the first place. And yesterday was the final straw, and there was lots of shouting and swearing and stress - and all at 7am! So I now need to contact the FES people, cancel future appointments, and arrange to return their kit to them.

Having abandoned the FES, I managed to get myself ready with just a couple of minutes spare, and caught my lift into Salisbury. A relaxed breakfast followed - calm was restored - in Costas. A nice cup of coffee but a "yesterday" croissant - stone cold, even if they'd just blasted it in their oven for a minute to freshen it up, it would have been better. Still, I was able to enjoy their wifi for the duration......

On to the Age UK meeting, which was a talk by a clinical psychologist from Salisbury Hospital - the art of conversation. Useful to formalize it, although there was not much new. It was also useful because this woman ran a team of volunteers at the hospital, so the talk was also applicable in terms of my Stroke Association work. They try to meet people who they think could be depressed, but by their own admission, the service is patchy and stops at the hospital door. Very unjoined - something they are acutely aware of. But yeah, implications for both stroke survivors and senior people.

Finished, out in the midday sun, and straight off to find a barber. Not a bad job, and cheaper than my normal local barber. Then a few hours browsing the shops, watching the market, and just generally finding seats to rest on for a few minutes. But when I looked last night, my watch (which knows these things) told me that I had walked 9,000 steps, an awful lot for me these days. I ended my day off as I started it, with a refreshing iced coffee, whilst I again waited for my wife and a lift home.

Whilst, of course, in the light of what has happened, I can think of these things in terms of "progress", I must admit to being anxious about what the future may hold. I enjoy volunteering, and I think I'm helping people, but I'm conscious that it's never going to pay the mortgage. And I'm acutely aware that even though I can offer a full stack of cards intellectually, there are limitations physically. Would an employer pay for this? I do find it totally unsurprising that this speaker finds so much trade in the hospital - these things really are difficult to get one's head around. I know that, when faced with a massive project, the trick is to split it all into smaller, manageable chunks, and the only way to complete the project as a whole is to develop tunnel vision to complete each chunk. But maybe those people who get depressed are just the people who concentrate on the big picture, not the tiny details? Maybe those of us who get tunnel-vision are just the thicko worker bees? It is surprising, but as I get older the more readily I am to question the views that I have held all my life. Aren't we supposed to get more entrenched?

Anyway I am going up to the ward again later, so I need to wear my happy face.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

In the future...

The more I think about it, the more attractive remote working becomes. Living with the effects of a stroke can make things become difficult for the most trivial of reasons, for example, bar work. How good would I be at things like collecting glasses, with only one functioning arm? And that is not to mention the angle where I come from a highly specialised background, and all those years of experience would then go to waste. And mobility - I am helping out at an Age UK thing this afternoon, at the school on the other side of the village. Only about 2 miles away, and yet I need to budget a couple of hours each way. Ridiculous! And the list seems pretty infinite. I had an email just now about somebody giving a lecture on something quite interesting. I'd like to attend but my first thought is "how can I get there?".

However I can mostly hide the effects of my limitations behind a keyboard. I used to be very good, just at communicating with people - at the end of the day, I was a consultant so had to be good at communicating - and I've still got a lot of that.  I'm slower with things like typing, but I use things like spellcheckers on emails, and when people see the finished result it generally makes sense; people generally don't see that everything takes me that ittle bit longer. I see on Facebook that commercial grammar checkers are also available. So possibly this is the way forward?

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Electoral Reform

 One of my pet crusades is electoral reform, so I thought I'd share some ideas here. I've never really discussed these with anybody, so in that respect, these views are quite "raw" and unpolished.

I still think that we need to have two levels of parliament. The lower house deals with all the day-to-day issues, the party politics, and forms the government. Exactly as today. The role of the upper chamber is really to hold the lower chamber to account. Not so much party politics, and a little more common sense. Again, generally the same as today. It is the composition of these two levels which should change. If push comes to shove, then the lower chamber has precedence, although I'd hope that there would be an amount of collaboration instead.

Lower Chamber

The main goal here is to try and make sure that the lower chamber is representative, in terms of the number of votes cast. It is to try and ensure that a party with x% of the vote also carries x% of the weight in parliament, to get away from the situation where such-and-such a party ends up with 10% of the vote, but with only 1% of parliament members,

At the heart of my approach is the question of whether we vote for a person, or a party. Personally, I feel the latter, although I think we can develop a system which caters for both. But this question highlights the limitations both of the first-past-the-post system, and of the obvious PR system (party lists - I have reservations about how fairly these lists are compiled).

First-off, you start with a constituency, so in that respect you could still think of yourself as voting for a person. However, each constituency is three times the size, say, as a present-day. So, we only have 1/3 the number of constituencies. The number "3" is arbitrary, unimportant, but bear with me.

It is worth noting that herein lies one of the biggest downsides of this system. A third of the constituencies means that 2/3 of current MPs would lose their jobs. So, in this respect alone, the system poses problems.

In each of these new constituencies, you have a vote, pretty much the same as we do today. However, in each constituency, the top 3 people will get to represent you in parliament. At this point, we introduce technology. Each candidate has a weighted vote in parliament, which is proportional to their share of votes in the election. Say, for exanple, that Candidate A receives 10,000 votes in an election. Candidates B and C get 5,000 votes in the election. Candidate D receives fewer that 5,000 votes. When these people get to parliament, this translates as:

Candidate A = 50% = 0.5
Candidate B = 25% = 0.25
Candidate C = 25% = 0.25

in parliament. Candidate D is not elected. In such a way, of course, you end up with the same number of MPs as we have today. Again, though, this is arbitrary - we could have a smaller (or a larger) number of MPs by varying either the size of each constituency, or by the number of leading candidates who are elected. A country such as France, twice the size as the UK geographically , has fewer MPs in its lower house, but this is not key.

Once you get into parliament, you frame all of your motions such that people either agree or disagree, a binary choice. As today. You can have amendments etc. with which people either agree or disagree. As today. Then, in parliament, when Candidate A goes through the lobby, their vote carries 0.5 weight. Candidate B goes through the lobby, and their vote carries a weight of 0.25, and so on. So, parliamentary votes become more complicated, because we no longer have a one-man-one-vote situation, but this is where we can use technology. Smart cards swiping past a reader, perhaps? It could be like a high-end Tesco!

Of course, this system is more complicated than the one we have at present, but also far more representative.

Upper House

The problem I have with the current composition of the House of Lords is that everybody is appointed by the prime minister. If they like you, you're in. But it is all based on patronage, which I think is wrong.

An alternative approach would be to have an elected second chamber. But this would mean (obviously) elections, campaigning, and inevitably party politics. The second chamber begins to look much like the first. It becomes confusing, when the role of the second chamber is different to the role of the first. Election advocates have even suggested that the second chamber would be elected as a part of the general election process, thereby most likely making the composition of both houses to be identical. A second chamber which simply rubber-stamps the wishes of the first seems a little superfluous.

My idea would be to depart from both models, and to have a second chamber for which people qualify. I'm quite open on exactly who should qualify, but possibly people like ex-cabinet ministers? Basically, people who have had experience of dealing with issues, and might be able to contribute something useful? Remember, their job would be to scrutinise. Of course, cabinet ministers are still appointed by patronage, which I think is absolutely wrong, but this is something that can be sorted separately. These are obviously quite large changes, so need to be managed in smaller chunks.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Election Night

I couldn't possibly let this general election pass without saying something.

Broadly, I'm satisfied that the UK ended up with a hung parliament. Nobody can make unilateral decisions, everybody will need to take other people's ideas into account. But the politicians have to make this work. I mean, it's not a bad mantra for life in general, let alone in politics. It's quite sad that it doesn't look like anyone from the Left will be part of the government, but in any case, majorities are so slim that I'm sure the left will find a way to influence parliament's decisions.

I voted Green once again - where I live, tactical voting goes out of the window, Tories get more votes than everyone else put together, so I don't worry about fragmenting the vote! - and I suppose that it wasn't a particularly ground-breaking night. I suppose it reminds us that the Green Party is very much a protest vote, and your share depends on how disillusioned people are with the main parties, as much as what you say yourself.

Personally, I always said that I liked Labour, I liked Corbyn, but that I thought him unsafe because of animousity amongst his parliamentary party. I like that the guy has principles that drive his stance, I like the principles themselves, I like that the guy appears to be more of a chairman than a dictator, but there are still plenty of Blairites in Labour I think. But now, he has shown that someone can be left-wing and still credible. So given his creditable showing last night, I may reconsider in future.


I opened up my email this morning, and in there was a message containing a link, username and password to get onto the Stroke Association's "volunteer" intranet.

I'm hopeful that this site will contain some useful resources, although I must admit to having some reservations, in particular about being a part of a much larger organisation. You see, I spent my whole working life, almost, as an outsider, running my one-man-band and essentially parachuting in somewhere just to help out. So, I'm used to being independent.

Also, it made me focus - just how involved do I want to be with the Stroke Association? Certainly, I was unimpressed with the absense of any public comments in the wake of redundancies following recent local council cuts. I felt that they could have used the national media, at least, to mention this. (In their defence, I'm probably over-estimating the amount of clout they'd have in any case.) So I'm not sure that I could be guaranteed to be "on message" with them. It sometimes grates when people talk about the "wonderful" health service, and I just think "well, it wasn't particularly wonderful for me". And certainly, I've found other stroke charities which, I think, are more tuned in to my views, since I discovered the Stroke Association. I do tink with stroke, we're also talking about health service priorities, i.e. politics, and we're sometimes justified in being critical.

But I suppose, if we let the politics get to us, we'd all have stopped volunteering a long time ago, what with one thing or another.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A long week

So we have another week and, in the UK, another attack.

I do find it quite premature that we have people calling for more powers for the security services. I'm not automatically saying these people are wrong, but both of these last attacks seem to show that there seems to be a problem with the anti-terror people being able to sort the wheat from the chaff, not so much with them having raw material in the first place. Whether this boils down to resourcing issues, who's to say?

As an observer (I cast my postal vote a few weeks ago, so am unaffected by current campaigning), I do find it a bit strange that given a simple binary choice, some people still say they trust Theresa May more than Jeremy Corbyn.  I mean, I happened to see Amber Rudd (who is the Conservative Interior Minister) on tv, and indeed have since heard May herself, saying that we needed to vote for their party if we wanted to be safe.....and I couldn't help but wonder exactly what their definition of "safe" was! I mean, just by looking at the track record, it isn't exactly glittering. I'd be tempted just to give the other guy a chance, purely on the grounds that the incumbents have done quite a poor job. I'd say some new thinking was required.

But, of course, general elections are not a simple binary choice.