Friday, 28 June 2013

Waving goodbye to two old friends.

Times change and sometimes I need to accept that a part of my daily routine that at one time had been really important to me has gradually become either peripheral - or in one case I’m thinking about downright burdensome.

On the other hand sometimes priorities move in the opposite direction and an activity that I had embarked upon casually or even by accident suddenly became really quite significant to me. Examples of this would be the Ragleth Writers and the Church Stretton group “Walking for Health”.
This week I said my final goodbyes to an internet based group I have visited almost daily for three years. Two weeks ago I would have said that the group was still very important to me. Certainly I didn’t have even the slightest intention of leaving. Nor can I say that I have identified any one event that has prompted my change of heart. I think it was more a sudden realisation that I was reading the same old views being endlessly repeated combined with a "zero sum" meeting of minds between the protagonists.  It all suddenly seemed rather trivial and pointless and simply not the best use of my time and energy. I wonder how long it will be before any of the current group members notices that I have departed?

A bit sadder is my decision to stop initiating email contact with a friend in the USA. If she emails me I will reply and will be happy to do so. But I’m not going to be the one that restarts our long running conversation. For the last couple of years it has almost always been me taking the lead. I would think, “Oh, I haven’t heard from X for a while, I will write her a letter” and then I would look back through the archives to find that it was anything from 4 to 8 weeks since I had last heard from her. Virtually never did she take the initiative and it’s going to be quite interesting to see if she ever gets back in touch. In one way I hope she does – hence proving me wrong – but I wouldn’t bet on it!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Oh dear - something must have gone wrong!

Claire and I recently attended an outdoor event that provided us with a lot of innocent amusement. Somehow there must have been a communication breakdown because almost everything that could go wrong for the unlucky organisers did go wrong.

If you want to charge for admission – as was clearly the intention from all the publicity material – it is a good idea to have somebody available to separate the visitor from their cash. But when we arrived all we could see was a few cars in the middle distance, a couple of tents almost on the horizon and, well over to our right, a man sitting in splendid isolation beside a pedestrian gate. Indeed at no time during our visit and self-guided garden tour we were asked for our £10.00.

We are not clear if the fete at the far end of the car park was an entirely separate event or was part of a greater whole. But if you think of Ticklerton Fete divided by 10 you would get a fair idea of how few goods and how few stalls there were. We were only there five minutes but twice in that time the tents were nearly demolished by the gusty wind.  

We followed the signs to the house and garden where the helpful ladies from the tea and cakes team directed us to the walled garden. This appeared to be a nothing more than a wilderness surrounded by a wall and if the intention was to drum up support for an external funding request that wasn’t the way to do it! The Forest Walk was clearly a last minute addition to the attractions because it was narrow, steep and slippery it really quite dangerous and we gave up on it while our ankles and wrists were still intact!

Finally the advertised “lots of entertainment” didn’t appear to exist. We didn’t see a single timetable of events so the what, where and when of what had been planned for any paying customer remained a mystery.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Running a cemetery (1)

Vicars and Local Authorities presumably face similar problems when it comes to managing churchyards and cemeteries.

I suspect that finance would be #1 on most lists. The standard practice is to make a single payment when the body is buried. However those taking on the responsibility then have a long-term financial commitment over many decades. It seems as if in some cases the money coming in from new burials plus any investment income from decades of earlier burials is not enough to meet current costs. This leaves those in charge with just three options. Greatly increase the charges for new burials, neglect maintenance (or in the case of churches rely entirely on volunteer labour) or look for a public subsidy. I imagine the situation when the graveyard or cemetery is full is even more serious since no income whatsoever will be coming in. People with their family or friends buried there will campaign, sometimes quite strongly, against serious neglect but most taxpayers will be supremely indifferent. There are not many votes to be found in cemeteries.

#2 on the list will be geographical. What do you do when a site is full? There is unlikely to be vacant land next door to a Victorian cemetery and so many new cemeteries are established on the edges of towns and cities. Of course most people want to be buried in the same cemetery as other relatives - not some new site with which there is no family connection.

A third issue is who should be held responsible the maintenance of monuments and headstones? As the years go by and people move away neglect gradually increases. Add to this natural decay and vandalism and it isn’t surprising that some sites seem so tatty.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Daventry Years (4)

One of the most bizarre periods of my life happened when the senior staff at Daventry Tertiary College decided that they wanted more flexibility from the teaching staff. They put forward a proposal whereby staff would work 23% more hours per week for several more weeks per year in exchange for a tiny (3% comes to mind) pay rise.

The Management tried to persuade us that there were vast numbers of potential students just champing at the bit to come to the college and that the only thing preventing this massive influx of students was the inflexibility of the existing staff.

This of course was total rubbish and it was fairly insulting to all those outside their tight-knit clique that they should be seen to base so much of their business strategy of this fabrication.

Increasing the workload of existing staff by about 30% (23% via more hours per week and about 7% via more weeks per year) would greatly reduce the number of staff required. Even if the total income coming into the college remained static the proposed contractual changes would free up large sums of extra money. This was the (sole) reason for the sudden burning desire to change long-standing employment contracts.

Amazingly a small number of staff who wanted to accept this offer. The colleague who was most strongly in favour justified her stance on the basis that she needed the extra 3% to fund the ever-increasing cost of child care. This remained her view until somebody pointed out how many more hours of child care she would require per year to cover the proposed changes to her working week. Her about face was as sudden as it was dramatic!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Daventry Years (3)

While I was working in Daventry I had some minor involvement in what, even with hindsight, was quite possibly electoral fraud. There were a total of three vacancies for elected Branch Officers and although I was elected unopposed there were two candidates for each of the other two roles.

A number of features before, during and after the election process combined to make me feel suspicious. There was no evidence that either of the two, ultimately successful, candidates had been correctly nominated. They were both expecting to be returned unopposed and were very much caught by surprise when other nomination papers were handed in five minutes before the deadline. I think it is more than likely that they then generated their own papers retrospectively.

There also seemed to be a serious mismatch between the number of ballot papers found in the ballot box and the number of people who complained that they either never received their ballot paper or who claimed that they didn’t even know that an election was taking place. It seemed curious to everybody - except the successful candidates - that such a high turnout was being claimed for an election where so many people were complaining about not having voted! It was also impossible to reconcile the votes for the different candidates with the way people claimed to have voted. There was certainly widespread incredulity at the low number of votes the unsuccessful candidates appeared to have received.

Subsequently it was discovered that the ballot papers had been counted without the unsuccessful candidates being present and without any public scrutiny. This was after the published time for the count was unilaterally changed by the Returning Officer. Curiously the two successful candidates had managed to be present at the count!

So no hard proof but a large number of unanswered questions shall we say!