Friday, 1 July 2016

From the UK to the USA - grave hunting!

This 13 day holiday called America's Founding History was organised by Great Rail Journeys and as has always been the case with this company the holiday was well organised and highly enjoyable.

Holidays such as this are rather hostages to fortune with respect to the weather and the energy and enthusiasm of the tour guide. We were lucky in both respects. John Rayment was one of the best guides we have experienced and the weather, although hot and humid, was overwhelmingly dry.

We visited (in order) Washington DC, Jamestown/Williamsburg/Yorktown, Lexington, Monticello, Charlottesville, Gettysburg and, finally, Philadelphia and, of course, we did some serious grave hunting along the way!

Arlington National Cemetery - Joe Louis, World Heavyweight boxing champion.
Arlington National Cemetery - Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II.

The only minor glitches were due to Amtrak and British Airways. The rail trip from Washington DC to Williamsburg was - to be blunt - something of a fiasco. The train arrived 45 minutes late at Washington and then fell further and further behind the advertised arrival times at assorted intermediate stops before finally arriving at Williamsburg nearly 2 hours late.

The outwards trip from London Heathrow to Washington by British Airways was excellent but the over-night homewards trip from Philadelphia was spectacularly bad.
  • The plane left Philadelphia nearly an hour late.
  • The cabin was so cold that many people wore the supplied blanket over their head to mitigate the icy blasts coming from the overhead vents.
  • The breakfast was both tiny and almost inedible. The croissant was so stale that it was solid and the Granola cereal fruit bar would not have been out of place as a surfacing material on a road.
  • When we arrived at Heathrow there was nowhere for the plane to park and we just sat there for 20 minutes waiting for a slot to become vacant so that we could disembark. 

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

The Big Society and Social History

In 2010 the UK Prime Minister launched the Big Society initiative  There were five main threads to this:
  1. Give communities more powers.
  2. Encourage people to take an active role in their communities.
  3. Transfer power from central to local government.
  4. Support charities and social enterprises.
  5. Have open and transparent government
The Big Society Network was set up in the same year in order "to generate, develop and showcase new ideas to help people to come together in their neighbourhoods to do good things." but in 2014 the Big Society Network was put into administration owing money to the government and an application was made to the Charity Commission to have the organisation wound up! David Cameron did not use the term "Big Society" in public after 2013 and the phrase is no longer used in government statements.

Critics have concluded that the Big Society was intended primarily as a mechanism for reducing the size of the state and that austerity (in other words withdrawal of central financial support) in combination with the 5 principles of the Big Society would re-invigorated civic society. It didn't.

I would go further - in my role as Chair of Governors at a local school (equivalent to a School Board in the USA) I am finding it harder and harder to attract high quality applicants to serve as governors. It is particularly hard to find Foundation Governors (representatives of the Diocese). In theory we should have 3 such governors but for most of the last 18 months we had only one and there is a very real chance that in September we will have none at all.