23 years

Kelvin Mackenzie and The Sun can apologise until they have no breath left to apologise with: Liverpool will never forgive them, and Liverpool will never forget.

23 years ago I had no connection with Liverpool, and wasn’t especially a football fan. My great aunt Dorothy lived in Hillsborough, so took a keen interest in the club and the ground where 96 Liverpool fans died. Consequently, even in Birmingham, I felt the sorrow and futility of what happened very keenly.

My A level French teacher (who was actually French) at the time, thinking she was being right-on and current, presented us with an article on the disaster from a French newspaper as a comprehension exercise. I took no part in the lesson as I spent most of it trying not to be sick.

“…et combien de ces gens sont morts…?”

Oh, fuck off, you HAVEN’T A CLUE HAVE YOU??

23 years later the families of the football fans who died are still looking for closure and justice. They won’t let it go. I don’t mean to malign other cities in the UK for their lack of tenacity, but quite honestly, no-one can hold a grudge like a scouser. And in this instance, I agree that they shouldn’t let it lie.

I have no illusions that crowd management at football matches at the time was very difficult. This wasn’t the first incident, though. It could have been managed so much better. That could be the understatement of the century, I’m aware of that.

Today’s news is welcome. It’s fitting that David Cameron gets to apologise for actions carried out on Thatcher’s watch. I ate my tea this evening listening to the seemingly endless roll call, and the familiar sick feeling came back.

They really shouldn’t let it lie. 23 years FFS.

Extend an olive branch, love

This week Lorna and I are attending a 2-person knitting festival in Ludlow. It incorporates all of the features we like.

1. Lots of knitting

2. No deciding which workshops to sign up to: we get to make up our own (Lorna is currently doing a combination swatch-Debbie-Bliss-pattern/curse-Debbie-Bliss – for her sake I hope it lasts less than 3 hours)

3. No having to make friends with strangers we may never see again (all the people I’ve met and am still in touch with are delightful. I mean the properly scary cat-woman who doesn’t have the sartorial elegance required to wear certain items of knitwear in public. Or to know not to wear them)

4. No pressure to buy things we don’t want or need from the market place – we’ve done a lot of that already from the comfort of our own sofas & LYSs.

5. None of that silly yarn bombing, or outsized group projects that have no long term purpose (not like the knitted galaxy – that’s fab and has many long term uses – bedspread-like if nothing else…)

view from conference venue
view from conference venue

Anyway, the first order of the day, after finding the venue and divvying up bedrooms, was to have the getting-to-know-you dinner. We selected a nice place called The Olive Branch which was less than 5 minutes from the Conference Venue and in the direction of where the car is parked. It was a cut above pub food (which Lorna has had a lot in the last week) and yet not outrageously Michelin-starred. And, it turns out, has a reasonably good vegetarian & vegan selection.

Having not booked, we were seated upstairs. Downstairs was totally empty (we were fairly early) but we had faith it would fill up soon. Indeed, when we left it was heaving, which made for quite a nice atmosphere.

The belly pork which had lured us off the pavement was the main dish of choice. In the manner of ladies who lunch the world over, we elected to share a starter – mainly because we’re both not very good at turning down baked camembert (with cranberry jam). The first hitch we came across, though, was when Lorna ordered a vodka & tonic only to be told that they had no tonic. I was saved the embarrassment of having asked for a G&T and being turned down, so I have to thank Lorna for taking a bullet for me on that one.

The House sauvignon blanc was a perfectly acceptable substitute although we were a little perturbed that the waitress, who had taken our order (along with having the conversation about there being no tonic) only moments before (long enough before, indeed, that she had only just had time to go downstairs, prepare our drinks, and then come back up again) had to ask whose was the white wine. I’m not one for insisting that waiting staff operate pad-free – I’m always PROPERLY impressed when they do, given that I have to check each stage of a recipe at least 3 times before carrying out the instructions, but really? There were two drinks, awkwardness over the tonic, one diner is wearing black and ordered coke, the other ordered white wine and is wearing a retina-searing cardigan (yes, that one). Even I could come up with a trick for remembering whose drink is whose in that situation.

Also, she made a point of pointing out that the 2 olives, bits of bread & oil with balsamic vinegar were complimentary – I guess we looked like the kind of people who would complain at a cover charge. It just seemed a bit odd.

The baked camembert was yummy – exactly the right kind of yummy goo which made me feel like we were sharing a fancy cheese fondue. Not that I’ve ever had a cheese fondue, having been too young in the 70s and not mixing in the right social circles these days. What with it not being the 70s.

Lorna asked the waitress about the lack of tonic. Is this a restaurant policy, or do you just not have any? Oh no, she said, it’s not a policy we’ve just run out. People don’t order it, you see.

Waitress goes back downstairs, Lorna and I attempt to process the logic of this statement. There is a quiet background sound of fuse-wire fizzing as we contemplate everything that is wrong in what she just said.

And the pork belly was utterly sublime. It was served on a bed of (what Lorna reminded me was) cabbage in a mustardy-creamy sauce. Very, very lovely. Properly crunchy on top, melty-collapsy in the middle and crunchy again on the bottom. And served with lovely vegetables – as I said to Lorna, all too often recently I’ve eaten out and the main dish has been lovely, only to be let down by canteen chips and green salads from chefs who have yet to discover more than one type of lettuce and the joys of salad dressing. We had lovely new potatoes and vegetable batons served in filo pastry baskets. To be honest, the vegetables were a pleasant surprise (we were getting to know each other rather than studying the menu) – they could have got away without them and I wouldn’t have complained.

conference menu - main hall
conference menu - main hall

Speaking of which, we spent quite a lot of the meal regaling each other with tales of meals we (or our relatives) have complained about. Or not, with us (and our friends and relations) being British. Apparently last week Lorna sent back burnt bacon, only to have it replaced with very slightly less burnt bacon.

The waitress re-appeared and cheerfully told us she had found some tonic in the cellar. Lorna ordered a vodka and tonic (please) thus breaking clearly a long stretch of nobody ordering drinks involving tonic. Moments later, she was presented (by a different waitress) with QUITE LITERALLY a vodka and tonic. Lorna asked if she might have ice & lemon as well. The new waitress disappeared with the just-vodka-and-tonic and sliding doors-style, the original waitress came back almost instantly with a fully dressed V&T with all the usual accoutrements.

Af-desserts were also lovely, Lorna went for the chocolate & prune tart and I had the meringue. Both were quite rich, but very tasty nonetheless. We had been invited to go downstairs and see the desserts on display, but I felt that was a bit too much like the dessert trolley concept. If the description doesn’t accurately sell a dessert to me, then it’s unlikely I’ll enjoy it. I’ve never really been inspired by *looking* at dessert. Although the knickerbocker glory at Zinc in Abersoch may be the exception that proves this rule. Sadly, both times I’ve seen one, Joel’s scoffed the lot.

The Conference bar (possibly)
The Conference bar (possibly) (NB. not The Olive Branch restaurant)

So, all in all, enjoyable food, but the serving style could do with some finesse. Still, it broke the ice – after all, we don’t really know each other very well so it’s dispelled any early-conference awkwardness there might otherwise have been.

IT Philosophy (brace yourself, Mrs Trellis)

Caveat: I’ve had a glass of wine. Consequently, this post may not be as coherent as I would like it to be.

I work for Manchester University. But not in a properly academic way. It’s probably kindest to both if we describe the fact that I work for a Revered Academic Russell Group Institution as… incidental.

Although in another dimension I went ahead and did the PhD I could have done and am now Dr Hayes (aka Mrs Hanlon), in this one I didn’t and the University has the pleasure of employing me in a Support Staff Capacity.

In other words, I don’t want none of that intellectual shit unless it helps ma peeps to do their job better.

Occasionally, though, I get sucked into thinking I could or should attempt to weasel my way into The Kilburn Building and attempt some kind of transfer to the IT Department. In some ways I feel it’s my spiritual home even if no-one there apart from my knitting buddies know who I am. On Wednesday I got a pass out and went to the CDT Group’s launch lecture. It advertised computational logic and fun in the same event – what’s not to love??!?

Let me first say, it was a good lecture. If one didn’t find computational logic theory fun or interesting, it was clear that the speaker did. And what’s more, he finds it fun in a strong Russian accent which adds an excellent dimension of exotica to proceedings, if requiring a little bit more concentration. I had several flashes of deja vu to Tony Cohn’s lectures at Leeds. Clearly a very intelligent guy, but much of his audience are thinking “WTF? Please?”

I had some fairly unpleasant flashbacks which were in no way the speaker’s fault. We got past a certain level of complexity and my (apparently very practical brain) started silently screaming I DON’T CARE! WHAT DOES IT ***DO*** FOR *ACTUAL PEOPLE* TRYING TO *DO STUFF*.

When the numbers of lines of code generated to resolve problems and “this theorem takes up terabytes of data and takes 9 days to run” were quoted phrases like “intellectual pissing contest” started floating through my brain.

Could I just say now that Prof Volokov seems like a top guy, and after Prof Goble he’d be my next preferred employer.

I guess my main problem was the amount of theory that was quoted: it felt like academics talking to academics about stuff done for the benefit of academics. I felt like putting my hand up and just asking “That’s all very lovely but really – what’s the POINT?”. I didn’t, because, as a lecture given by a professor in his own IT department which was advertised to University staff, one could argue that academics addressing academics was exactly the right pitch.

Also, I didn’t put my hand up for two reasons.

One, several people were clearly keen to get to “the dinner” and holding up proceedings further would probably mean cold cabbage.

And two, the answer to my question was partly given in response to the one question that *was* asked. The logic engines, or ones similar to them, are used to schedule sports fixtures – specifically the Spanish Basketball league.

The example of the Premier League was given: scheduling games so that not only the basic round-robin and home/away fixtures are satisfied but that both Manchester teams don’t play in Manchester the same weekend unless they’re playing each other PLUS that two sets of fans going to completely different away matches shouldn’t cross each other’s paths at a random other station on the way or there’ll be trouble.

See? I get that *that* is useful. I could spend 3 years working out an algorithm to do that, or even programming a logic engine to work it out for me. Me being me, I’d want to do it in 3 weeks, but that’s because I’m ridiculously competitive and don’t like to trouble myself with testing.

So out of the two hours, I found about 2 minutes genuinely properly inspiring. And half way along Oxford Road on the way home, it occurred to me that automating the nursing rota could be a bigger challenge than the Premier League. So, what do we say CDT Group – should I apply for funding??!?

it’s about the gays

Yesterday morning I was listening to five live while doing the housework, and somehow the controversy over David Laws hiding his homosexuality by swindling taxpayers out of over £40K has turned into a discussion, headed by Iain Dale, about how hard it is to be gay and to come out.

Undeniably it is hard to come out, especially to one’s parents. However, it should be equally hard to dishonestly acquire £40K.

That’s not really why I’m writing. The parting shot of the discussion, in which a young man said he had decided to tell his parents immediately before going away to university, got me very wound up.

Ever since I was at school and several of my friends (ones for whom I had big romantic hopes, it might be added) came out – one of whom disappeared and then sent me a poignant “goodbye & thanks for all the fish” note, which REALLY pissed me off (does he know me *at all*??!?) – I’ve been passionate in my defence of equal rights for homosexuals. I nearly resigned a pretty good job when I found out that the company I worked for was withdrawing benefit rights for same sex couples (they were an american company: this was quite a significant change in benefits for the US colleagues it affected) except I resigned for other reasons before I could check my facts. Discrimination on these grounds generally gets me so cross & wound up I start hyperventilating. I’m working on that, because it makes me less useful in such arguments, but for some reason this issue speaks to me in a big fat loud voice.

The final comment on this morning’s radio discussion (which, generally, was pretty well handled – I was just thinking that what it missed was a swivel-eyed loon declaring that the gays were all disgusting and Queen Victoria had the right idea when she routinely hung them all at dawn when the final comment was made) was a young man who said that he thought he probably would tell his parents that he was gay, but would do so immediately before he went away to University.

As a parent for whom my children coming out would be no problem, I would find such a choice of timing extremely hurtful. My babies going away to university will be a difficult time – it’s hard enough when they go to nursery for the morning. To have this emotional time compounded by what my child clearly considers a bombshell would not be good. I would be denied the chance to show them that I accept them for who they are, that I’m OK with this, and that I just want them to be safe & happy. Plus, especially if it’s the last one to leave, I’ll be reassessing my role in the family, purpose in life, etc and to be told that I don’t know the child I’ve just spent the last 18 years rearing would be pretty unhelpful.

Having said that, if this happens, then I will have failed, because my children clearly don’t know me, and I don’t know them. I don’t routinely tell them at ages 4 & 6 that it’s OK to be gay, but at an age where they can understand what it means, I will be. If only to promote their tolerance of people they may know who are gay.

If I were a parent who wasn’t basically OK with the gayness, but who was willing to alter my mindset to accommodate my gay child, the bombshell on leaving would again be pretty selfish. It’s not being thrust in my face if they’re away at university, but at the same time, getting used to the idea will be so much harder. There’s an argument that says that this isn’t the child’s problem, but frankly it should be.

The only scenario in which the bombshell on leaving represents helpful timing is when the parental reaction is “You’re dead to me now”. In which case, well done – you judged that one right. I hope you’ve made accommodation plans for the holidays.

It just seemed like a wholly selfish decision, with no regard for his parents, made all kinds of assumptions about how they would react and was basically content with leaving them out to dry emotionally while he went off and built his new life.

I really hope that by the time Lily or Joel are old enough to know whether they are gay that our society is one more step towards tolerance which means that they are confident they can build a happy life for themselves, whatever their sexuality. I hope that they know they can tell me anything – I might be surprised, I might (if it’s stealing £40K rather than coming out) be cross, I might be worried about the repercussions for a whole raft of reasons.  And that whatever they tell me, I will still love them, and where they need it, will give them my help & support.

Treasury ministers bending the rules on parliamentary expenses to help them keep personal secrets I’ll deal with another day. Maybe.

Move on, nothing to see here…

Apparently from some things, one is not allowed to move on. In the interests of helping us all to get along better, I shall keep my comments to saying that some people need to learn how to. Just because someone doesn’t agree with you about something, it doesn’t mean you can’t get on with them on some level, especially when you have many important principles in common. Allegedly.

This is a plea to please grow up, and move on.

Also, Nestle are still pushing powdered milk in 3rd world countries in communities without a clean water supply, and are now also hacking down the natural habitat of Orang-Utans (and which Terry Pratchett fans aren’t appalled at the thought?) to get the oil they use to make Kit-Kats. It’s really not getting any better.

Working Wonders – or are we?

I’m a labour activist and party member. I fully support the values of the party and where I can (as someone with a full time job and two children) I help out to try and get Labour representation at all levels of government. However, I feel the need to highlight something which hasn’t been handled well, and if possible ask the advice of anyone who reads this if there’s anything we can do to remedy the current situation. Anyway, here goes (watch out – it’s a long one)…

An incomprehensible series of events over the past few months has made the ultimate closure of a valuable asset to the cause of adult literacy in Wigan more likely.

Wigan & Leigh “boasts” several areas which feature in the bottom end of the country’s index of social deprivation. Among the problems encountered here are worklessness, drug and alcohol addiction and teenage pregnancy. Underlying many of the stories behind the figures is widespread illiteracy and innumeracy. The causes of poor literacy in adulthood are many and varied: each individual has their own story to tell. In many, the cause is social, endemic, and has effectively been passed down through generations as parents struggle to help their children at school as their own parents struggled to help them. The inability to read, write and use numbers well in turn causes employment and social problems, and a vicious cycle is set in train.

My mother in law started out some years ago working as a tutor in adult basic education at Wigan & Leigh college. She was working in the community outreach section, but ended up resigning as she believed there was no real understanding on the College’s part of the extent of the problem or commitment to running basic skills classes in community venues. She felt the college administration didn’t fully appreciate the extent to which adults with literacy and numeracy problems see entering the college buildings as a barrier. When you only have negative experiences of educational institutions and certainly do not see yourself as a “student” or “learner”, why would you voluntarily enter one and admit to having a problem which you’re really embarrassed about, and is commonly socially stigmatised? The second major barrier was that a minimum class size of 8 was imposed: without 8 learners, a course could not be funded and classes were closed. As the average group size was 6 this stipulation was unworkable in the given context.

Shortly after leaving the college, my mother in law was approached by the Chamber of Commerce to run a 6 week pilot running adult basic education in the community. The pilot was a runaway success. Out of this, the organisation “Working Wonders” was born.

Over the years, drawing funding from a number of sources, but principally from Wigan MBC, Working Wonders has helped between 700 and 1000 learners per year to gain qualifications, confidence, increase their literacy and numeracy levels, and in some cases, completely transform their lives. Some of the case studies read like fairy tales. They have, for some folk, truly been working wonders.

Partly because of its humble beginnings, administration overheads and management salaries have always been kept low. The focus on channelling funding to tutors salaries and ensuring maximum possible provision has always been at the core of Working Wonders’ budgeting. The directors have only ever taken a fraction of the salary enjoyed by public sector managers at a similar level. For several years, Working Wonders exceeded all enrolment and achievement targets that were set by their funding providers.

Indeed, Working Wonders has shown quite clearly that adults will return to education to improve their literacy and numeracy skills if, in the first instance, the approach is right, the venue is right, classes are held at times to suit and the tuition is friendly, informal and individualised and it has shown that this strategy is successful in helping people go on to gain employment and have the same life chances as others.

A change in management at Wigan MBC’s ACL department has changed this situation. The council officer with whom Working Wonders had worked for years, who saw the gap that Working Wonders filled, and supported the organisation, retired.  New management meant a new focus away from basic skills and what was derisively termed “the special relationship” between Working Wonders and the council was over. This meant that Working Wonders had to seek other ways of funding what they saw as the core deliverable for them: reaching and helping the “hard to reach” learners with the lowest skills in the most deprived areas of Wigan & Leigh.They were advised that applying for Train To Gain funding was a way forward, as well as running ECDL courses for the Council. Principally these second courses (the likes of flower arranging and nail art) could be used as stepping stones to make contact with relevant learners, and then leverage this contact to access other funding for literacy and numeracy teaching.

This course of action was adopted, as they were assured by a consultant, who had worked in the relevant sector for years, that this was pretty much the only way forward available to them.

It was while they were effectively re-structuring the organisation to accommodate ECDL Courses (which, what a shock, it turns out *weren’t* the pathway to other funding, they were just a pathway to more ECDL Course subscriptions) that it transpired that their successful application for Train To Gain funding had triggered an Ofsted inspection.

Here is where the current nightmare really begins. Had Working Wonders not been transforming to cater for ECDL, they might have had a fighting chance of preparing for Ofsted in a meaningful way. As it was, their belief that funding should be spent on delivering courses and not on management has been their death warrant. According to Ofsted, if it’s not written down, it didn’t happen.  Therefore, if you can’t afford the high levels of administation Ofsted see as essential, the service is “inadequate” and it’s not their problem if the service stops because of their findings.

Working Wonders had always provided sufficient and accurate evidential reports for funding bodies and they had their own management information system for this.  However, for work funded through the Council they had to use the Council’s TERMS management information system, which was not designed to cope with the roll-on, roll-off courses that Working Wonders delivered. This was an on-going problem which was compounded by the decision, by the previously-mentioned consultant to commission, in the run up to the Ofsted, a new management information system which (the supplier of the new system even admitted) provided no additional functionality and brought with it a significant training and reporting overhead.

The Ofsted inspection was a train wreck. The inspectors clearly had no concept of how a small company runs, which sharply contrasts with a large college. They failed to see the purpose of Working Wonders community-based service stating that people could go to College for help.  Unbelievably, they also failed to understand that often it can take an adult months to improve their basic skills to the point where they are ready to achieve a qualification. The Lead Inspector said she had worked in a prison where inmates had achieved a qualification within two days and she saw this as the expected norm. The inspectors studiously ignored the positive evidence given by many learners about the service and instead focussed on what they saw as negatives. They considered nothing unless it had been written down and produced immediately on demand and they behaved from the start as though the conclusions they reached were pre-determined.

After a very unpleasant week, Working Wonders were graded an across the board “inadequate”, including the judgement, that in time proved to be the most crushing – that they lacked the ability to improve. The lead inspector acknowledged as they were leaving that this would quite possibly mean the closure of Working Wonders. She derisively informed my mother in law that the work that the company was doing in the borough was “nothing special” and people all over the country were doing the same work.

As a consequence of this series of decisions, Working Wonders have now, for the past few months, been unable to get any funding to continue the important work they do. Decisions that have been made by career council officers whose main concern is protecting their own position; by consultants who have been trusted and paid to advise the organisation, but who make sure that their own backs are covered, and their own income from future consulting work (for the council & LSC) is assured; by inspectors who stay in 5 star hotels a 3/4 hour drive from home, demand bowls of fruit on their meeting tables and expect inspectees to agree that black is white or face being downgraded, and who blindly apply an inappropriate and subjectively applied set of rules. In the meantime, an organisation run by hard-working, relatively low-paid workers is biting the dust, putting around 40 tutors, support and development workers out of work.

Adding insult to injury, Train to Gain have now decided that they must claw back some of the funding because their inconsistent rules about entry levels were applied wrongly according to today’s interpretation of those rules.
It may be true that organisations across the country are doing the same work as Working Wonders. I sincerely hope they are. No-one else in Wigan & Leigh is, though. And very soon, in spite of herculean effort, probably no-one will be.

Working Wonders are still operating in some areas of Wigan, and in West Lancashire, where they have been very successful, but these areas are not sustainable on their own. Ironically, Ofsted may now decide that as Working Wonders are not currently providing any training for which an inspection would be relevant, they are not to be re-tested, so changes made in response to the poor inspection have apparently been in vain, and the organisation cannot now be shown to be improving and any hope of regaining the funding sources that have been lost due to the original inspection is lost. This decision is pending: Ofsted, if you’re listening, please reconsider & give Working Wonders at least a fighting chance of showing some improvement.

Our Labour government has pledged millions of pounds to help literacy and numeracy levels in the deprived areas of this country. Unfortunately, the current system means that this money is delivered through a mechanism that is engineered to cut out organisations that are small enough to be responsive to the needs of the exact people it is intended to help.
The Wigan & Leigh MPs have been very supportive, and have done their best to persuade the relevant decision makers that they are making the wrong decision in withdrawing support for Working Wonders, but it is looking like their intervention is not enough. Indeed, there seems to be a “who do they think they are” attitude from the (Labour-run) council.

Working Wonders is having to close its doors. Working Wonders was graded “inadequate” by Ofsted, because of this report, the Learning and Skills Council have withdrawn their support, Wigan Council have withdrawn their support, Wigan’s Adult and Community Learning have also withdrawn their support.  However, Working Wonders reputation among the thousands of ordinary people it has helped since 2003 and its reputation with community groups and community centres is second to none.  I know whose opinion I trust.

I feel better for getting that off my chest, anyway. I guess my point is that although I understand that checks and balances are important to ensure that public money is well spent, and we get value for money (although the admin overhead which is apparently demanded means we don’t get the value for money that we *should* get), it must be appropriate checks & balances. The strictures put in place by the current system ensure that those most in need won’t get help.

In the main, when Wigan MBC Councillors have been approached they have at best been indifferent. They are the ones who should be directing officers to implement government policy on a local level.

I will almost certainly get in trouble from someone for posting this, but it seems unacceptable that a valuable resource like Working Wonders which has produced tangible, life-changing benefits for hundreds of people in the borough should disappear without a fight, or at least those responsible being made to feel embarrassed.

…and on that bombshell

The observant among you will have noticed I haven’t blogged in a while. There are a few reasons for this, which are outlined below. Firstly, though, can I say I’m disappointed that I haven’t been inundated with “please post a blog post” emails. Shame on you, my wide & varied readership, although it seems that at least one reader of this blog has been doing her best to get my attention. Well, not just mine, but you’ll see at the end of the post…

So – why no blog. Firstly, the good reason(s) – we’ve been really busy at work, building up the business, and I’ve been working a lot in the evenings. When I haven’t been working I’ve been sleeping. Get me, the crazy stop-out.

Also, the camera I like to use to take pictures of WIPs to post went AWOL after Steve went to conference. I only found it in the back of his car a week and a half ago, and still have to track down the battery charger. So it’s iPhone photos only for the moment, it seems, which is a lot less stylish & good-looking than pretty much any “proper” blogger you care to mention. If I got a chance to take photos when it isn’t either dingy or dark it might help, but I’m home at dusk and weekends are traditionally briefly sunny on Sunday mornings when the faithful are in church (can you tell I’m reaching now?).

Other reasons – we’ve had a series of mini disasters happen, the extent of which leads me to think that either we haven’t been praying hard enough or one of use broke a mirror. Or maybe it’s just Our Turn. Here we go:

  • I went away for a relaxing weekend to Cambridge to meet my friend. 2 miles from the B&B, the car broke. The AA brought me & the car back to Wigan, where the car remains in the car of a car mechanic who periodically sucks his teeth at us when we call and ask awkward quetions like what’s wrong with it, how much will it be, and when will it be fixed. The workshop I went to Cambridge for was fab, though, and it was good to see Debbie.
  • Car troubles paled into insignificance when, half way home, I found out that Debbie’s Grandad had passed away that afternoon.
  • After the hour and a half waiting for the AA on Friday, my cold, which I had almost shaken off, came back with a vengeance. Enough to make me miserable, but not enough to make me stay in bed.
  • The car troubles didn’t stop there, though.  Our employee’s car broke in a similarly bad way over that same weekend. So we are down to one car that can be used to visit clients between 3 of us. His, at least (in the same garage) appears to be closer to being fixed and he has some ball-park figures for fixing it for him to worry about.
  • On Monday we discovered that the basement workshop at work (formerly known as The Server Room) had collected a centimetre of water in one corner from an apparently external source. United Utilities have been good so far, although after one leak-finder visit and one hole in the ground, the leak has not yet been located & fixed. Fortunately we have more space than we need, although, with the amount of work we have on at the moment, not a great deal more.
  • This evening, I looked up from tweeting while in the kitchen to see a fairly large mouse waving some of Bruiser’s food at me from near the back door. Bruiser, true to form, ran in the other direction when I chased it into the back bedroom. It later left the building (or at least, the part of it we can see) through the utility room.

Apparently, these things are sent to try us. I take consolation in the fact that in the work we do, we are solving problems similar to these for other people on a daily basis. And we do it without sucking our teeth.

And now, if you play this blog post backwards at 72rpm, you will hear exactly what I think of the latest political shitstorm to hit West Lancashire. If I spell it out here, even briefly and at a high level, I will almost certainly be threatened with expulsion again. Happy to be a member of The Labour Party. Happy, happy, happy.

(I think if you hold it up to the light as well, you can also see the relatively innocuous things I wrote, and then deleted on the same grounds, those being that they aren’t really very innocuous at all)

Back to the knitting, next!!

shards of glass all over children’s playground

This evening, after tea, we took a short trip to our local playground. It’s a short walk/bike ride skirting round the edge of a council estate, overlooking open fields – at most 5 minutes away. The kids love it, because it’s a good place to ride their bikes, even when there are other children there nearly running into them because they drive a little erratically…

However, when we got there, the ground under the main climbing frame was covered in shards of glass. And I mean, covered. After 5 minutes of picking up this much glass (click to embiggen – it’s worth it):


The ground was still this sparkly (the white spots are all glass):


I noted, with interest that (in a not pissing in your own back yard manner), there was no glass on the ground around the “youth shelter” (the white spots here are chewy):


Also, I’m told, by my handy source of information about the council, that this CCTV camera:


…has never worked. Maybe if it did, the incidents of antisocial behaviour that lead to this mess could be prevented, or at the very least, followed up.

I’ve approached my councillors before now about maintenance of this playground – in the summer it’s often a flowery garden of ice-pop wrappers – and periodically it’s quite good. Over the summer it’s generally been pretty clean. Today was properly shocking, though.

It’s a shame, because it could be a really good playground.

I guess this is partly down to the council not cleaning up often enough, but also down to the thoughtless selfishness or downright viciousness of whoever puts the glass there in the first place.

To end on a positive, they have at least replaced the side panel of the half-pipe which had turned into a smoking and who-knows-what-else den:


You can see it’s already been accepted by and decorated by the community…

I’m pointing my councillors in this direction, in the hopes of raising the profile of this problem. Thank you in anticipation, chaps!

I’m disappointed

This is a re-post of old news. The explanation of why is another post, yet to be completed. Or you can check on Steve’s blog: he covers the issues quite well, I think.

Occasionally I have been disappointed by the actions of my MP Rosie Cooper, and on this occasion I am disappointed by the news that she is apparently spearheading a close collaboration between Nestle and the government.

Here’s my source:
Complementary Therapy News from Herbal Remedies and Complementary Therapies in the News: Breast vs bottle: the new battleground

Her trip to South Africa, which according to the above article, was funded by Nestle in order for them to demonstrate their newfound corporate social responsibility, could be interpreted by some as potentially compromising her impartiality when it comes to judging just how socially responsible her hosts are.

It could be assumed that Nestle are keen to increase their share of the baby formula market in the UK, them being a commercial organisation who sell formula milk. Given the poor take-up of breastfeeding in areas in this constituency such as Skelmersdale, and the namby-pamby middle-class-liberal-likely-to-breast-feed-and-hate-Nestle mood in Ormskirk (also in this constituency), I’m concerned about the potential where-loyalties-lie message this sends to our MP’s partners in the constituency, principally the local health authority. It’s possible that Nestle are indeed more responsible in their efforts to supply powdered milk to the 3rd world than they were reported to be in the ’90s. As someone who was a student in the 90s and boycotted Nestle for years (and for someone with a chocolate addiction, it *did* impact my life, quite a bit) I find it hard to let go of this prejudice.

I was disappointed that Cooper, who is a former manager of the Liverpool Women’s hospital, and so I thought should know better,  would allow her name to be linked with Nestle in this way.

I want my taxpayer funded choclate treat.

If interns at my MP’s office (allegedly) get free (to them) mars bars (I’m told, by rumour & supposition), paid for by HOP, surely I, as paper-folder and leaflet-deliverer extra-ordinaire (on Mothering Sunday, no less, among other dates), should get at least a twix? There’s a whole exchange rate/currency system to be worked out here