Sunday 14 July 2013

Blogs - Part 2

There is something about blogging that brings out the worst in some people. When you launch a blog two things will almost inevitably happen.

The first is that you will start receiving spam comments, nominally responding to what you wrote but in practice containing a link, or links, to some questionable site. I assume that somebody has created a software programme that trawls the net looking for places to post promotional material thinly camouflaged as an expression of interest or support. Clicking on the link provided is always bad idea: unless you want to give your virus or malware checker some work to do!

The second, albeit marginally less annoying, thing that will happen, is that people will ask to swap links to your blog for links to their blog. On the face of it there is nothing wrong with doing this: although links between blogs with totally unrelated target audiences presumably don’t generate many hits.

In practice many of the young bloggers who do this have a strange way of behaving. They could, proactively, put a link to my blog from theirs. Then they could make contact asking me to reciprocate. This approach is almost never used but would work almost every time.

They could make contact to suggest a mutual link swap and demonstrate their sincerity by offering to link to my blog first or they could make contact and say that once I had put a link on my blog they would do the same and then actually do so. Neither approach seems to get used very often.

In practice they tend to make contact to say that once I had put a link on my blog they would do the same but then “forget” to do so until reminded or they never get around to doing so even if reminded. Both approaches are commonly used but both unfailingly result in me regarding them negatively.

And the whole process makes me sigh every time!

Monday 8 July 2013

Blogs and why I like them

I like reading blogs. They open a little window into the life of a person that otherwise I would never meet. They can give me an insight into the thoughts and the daily lives of people, some of whom seem to live on an entirely different planet to me.

Some blogs I remember vividly include one written by a City of London banker whose entire world seemed to be ring-fenced by the M25. There was the teacher in rural North Dakota (USA) and the student teacher doing VSO in Calabar (Nigeria) whose combined experiences in teaching were so like mine but whose daily routines were entirely different from mine and from each other. 

There was the religious couple who had lost three children through miscarriage or still birth whose strength in adversity was quite simply awe inspiring and the youngster from South Wales who had a grade one hissy fit at every tiny thing that went wrong is her, apparently very affluent, world.

While some blogs are intended to be amusing - and a small number succeeded in this aim - most blogs are rather more mundane. A few blogs I discovered, usually by accident, were almost unbelievably poignant. I’ve read about a young married couple where the husband was dying from a rare degenerative disease, I’ve shared the pain and sense of injustice of a father whose ex-wife took their child back to Mexico (from Texas) and the story of the university lecturer whose “face didn’t fit”.

But all this enjoyment comes with a price attached. Bloggers come and go and are free to stop blogging whenever they want. None of the blogs I spoken about in this message have been added to in the last 6 months. Some remained accessible but inactive, dormant residues of a half-told story for weeks or months then vanished. Others were deleted with no warning and, presumably, few to mourn their passing.

But I remember them.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Nobody likes to be taken for a fool

Nobody likes to be taken for a fool so when people “try it on” with Claire the culprit can hardly be surprised when relationships become somewhat frosty.

Our gas fire is on an annual service contract so although it wasn’t causing us any concern it was given a full service only the other week. Curiously, almost immediately after the engineer’s visit, it developed a fault that required a second visit and the replacement of a part. So what exactly had the first visit achieved?

At best we were left wondering just how comprehensive the initial annual service had been if the cracks in such a key component hadn’t been discovered in the course of the visit. At worse we did have to wonder if the component failure and the visit of the engineer were somehow connected. That a profit yielding fault should appear so soon after the engineer departed seems rather too much of a co-incidence.

The part failure created the impression of a gas leak. What do you do when you have a gas leak - you report it and somebody is supposed to come out straight away. We did and they didn’t. It was an almost unbelievable 3 days before an engineer arrived.

Needless to say we are most unimpressed with the performance of the company and we will not be renewing our contract unless it proves to be impossible to make any alternative provision.

At the same time as this drama has been running we have had another repeat of the classic excuse “it must have got lost in the post” for one item coupled with “I never received it” for a second item. All the culprit has achieved has been to make themselves look somewhat less reliable than I had previously imagined. I had thought better of them and I'm disappointed.

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!   

Thursday 30 May 2013

The Daventry Years (2)

During my time at Daventry Tertiary College the industrial relations “atmosphere” was never particularly happy. Indeed for much of the time it was fairly toxic and the reason for this isn’t hard to find. The college was always going to struggle financially because of external constraints (too few potential students in the catchment area) but also because of top-heavy management structure that had been agreed when the college was established.

Even if the Principal and the four Assistant Principals had been stunningly talented and universally admired and respected by the staff and the local community it would have been a major struggle to maintain the viability of the college. The college didn’t need five such expensive members of staff soaking up resources that could far better have been allocated to improving the quality of teaching and learning. Inspirational leadership – even if had been available – was never going to be a substitute for qualified and experienced teaching staff!
In reality the Senior Leadership Team were not “stunningly talented”. Three of the five seemed to have no relevant experience or qualifications in the areas in which they were supposed to provide leadership and so they sought to hide their ignorance under a veneer of macho management posturing.
Local politicians and the Governing Body (later the Corporation) were warned again and again of the inevitable consequences of the ill-conceived staffing structure that had been imposed on the college as part of some bizarre educational experiment in the west of Northamptonshire. Unfortunately they had staked so much of their personal credibility on making the project work that they were totally unreceptive to any views that differed from their own.

Saturday 25 May 2013

Society accounts that don't feel right!

I belong to a number of specialist societies covering the full range of my hobbies. Although the topics that the groups cover vary widely it always amuses me how the same problems are discussed and the same frantic appeals are made again and again by hard-pressed society officers.

Getting people to do the various tasks needed to keep a group running seems to be getting harder and harder. It doesn’t seem to matter if it is a village fete, a primary school governing body or an industrial heritage group - finding volunteers who are prepared to give up their, increasingly limited, leisure time is next to impossible.
But there is another, equally worrying, trend that seems to be spreading though the subscription charging groups. Far too often I see annual accounts presented that don’t make any sort of logical sense. I have a set of accounts in front of me as I write this blog entry that falls into this category. A 400 member group claims to be paying out nearly £3,500 per annum on postage. I know what I receive three times each year and there is no possible way that this costs £3.00 each time. The bulletin weighs less than 100g and a “large letter” doesn’t attract postal charges anything like £3.00. Printing and stationery costs appear elsewhere in the accounts so that isn’t the explanation. But what is?

Accountancy fees came to over £500 pa (gulp!) or £1.25 per member but as 90%+ of the total income reported is the annual subscription how can this sort of figure be justified? Surely somebody in the group could do this work for a purely nominal sum?

Monday 20 May 2013

Exploiting inertia or ignorance

The business philosophy that exploiting the inertia or ignorance of an existing client is an acceptable, even desirable, practice seems to be well entrenched in the UK.

When the renewal quote for our car insurance came through last week we were surprised that the premium had increased by over 30%. By visiting price comparison website we were able to get a far better deal – indeed the price our existing insurers quoted was almost twice what we ended up paying for exactly the same cover.

It was the same story when we reached the end of the initial 12 month period during which we received an enhanced interest rate on our savings. The rate would then have plummeted but the bank/building society did the absolute minimum that they could get away with to let us know about the change. I am not sure that I would want to support any firm, now or in the future, that treats customers in such an off-hand manner!

It also seems to me that ignoring customer concerns or complaints has become the default position for far too many organisations. Again and again in the finance sections of the weekend papers I read horror stories of major companies claiming to have “no record whatsoever” of receiving any complaints from a dis-satisfied customer. It is my theory that the junior staff who open the post just file incoming complaints in the shredder so as to avoid the need to do anything about resolving the problem. When it comes to raising issues involving company malpractice or even illegality “say nothing – do nothing” seems to be the standard practice.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Participation and non-participation

If I say that I’m going to do something as part of a group effort then come hell or high water I will do it. It would take some massive crisis for me to let other people down and if I did realise that a change of plans was needed I would sort out the alternative provision myself.

Sadly and annoyingly there are too many people around who are quite prepared to offer their help during the initial planning phase but who then drop out without a thought if they get a better offer or if following through on their initial offer proves to be mildly inconvenient to them. They then end up feeling aggrieved or snubbed when twelve months later they are not even asked to get involved!

Another variation of this is when somebody offers their help but their offer is so surrounded by caveats and conditions that in reality they are not in a position to help at all. As an example If somebody volunteers to be a school governor then it is pretty much a given that they need to be able to attend meetings and/or to visit the school. I well remember a new governor over in Northamptonshire whom I never saw in the 12 months between her appointment by the Local Authority and my departure over to Shropshire. No exaggeration – I literally never saw her. At least twice she arranged to come in for her initial briefing only to break the appointment at very short notice.

The third and final sub-type is what I call the “non-resigner”. Sometimes a person stops participating in a group but remains, nominally, a member. This can be difficult to deal with especially in circumstances where the total membership of the group in laid down by law.

Tuesday 7 May 2013

Post-election blues

I used to get say that politicians were only interested in talking to me when they wanted my vote. As regular as clockwork when election time came round I could confidently predict that I would receive promotional material from each of the main parties standing in my constituency.

Sadly over the last few years there has been a steady move towards the elimination of even this small amount of voter/representative interaction.  For the last three elections – the Police Commissioner, the County Council and the Parish Council – nothing whatsoever came through our front door. I find this quite annoying in so many different ways. Why should I bother to vote for a candidate that cannot be bothered to tell me what he or she believes in? Little wonder that the turn-out at some of these elections is so low.

Looking on the bright side. I have greatly cheered by the recent performance of UKIP. What was particularly enjoyable was seeing the outrage of the political establishment at the prospect of their cosy little cartel being disrupted by “people power”. The Conservatives in south Shropshire seem so entrenched and now the other parties seem to given up trying to unseat them – neither Labour or the Lib Dems even stood for election – I would welcome the opportunity to vote for UKIP.

I don’t want a party run by millionaire Old Etonians to speak for me. Still less do I want to support a person who is so delusional that he believes that any meaningful renegotiation with foreign governments over the EU will be possible.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Education as a business - the lessons from history.

There is all the difference in the world between a school governor with a general interest in education and a governor with the experience and specialist knowledge of education sufficient for them to be able to act as a critical friend to the school - especially with regard to the quality of teaching and learning. Without knowing what questions to ask and the range of plausible answers I don’t see how any non-expert could carry out that role.  Surely the quality of the education on offer is crucial to virtually all the stakeholders in a school and anything that diminishes the influence of the “education experts” should be viewed with suspicion?  

When a school becomes an academy the temptation is always going to be to fill the Governing Body with accountants, solicitors and other professional “worthies” hoping that they will offer free support to the school in areas where the senior leadership team have gaps in their knowledge or experience. Is this going to be at the expense of other stakeholders?
A complicating factor is that a volunteer from an educational background is unlikely to find the hard-nosed accountants and HR managers congenial company when it comes to running a school. From my own experience in Further Education and in schools I would be prepared to bet that most educational governors will want nothing whatsoever to do with the business side of running the school. Time will tell if my worries are justified but anybody who was involved in Further Education in the last decade of the 20th century knows what happened to standards when colleges became businesses.

Friday 26 April 2013

Cannington College (6)

The last few weeks of my time at Cannington College were really rather strange. By this stage Steve S and Dave M had already left and the mobile classroom and office the three of us had occupied for several years was empty apart from me. My location, near the edge of the sports field, was scenic enough but geographically isolated from the rest of the department and shortly before I too was due to leave the entire block was rented out to – I think – a crèche and I was left homeless.

In characteristic Cannington fashion nobody bothered to warn me in advance and the first I knew about all of this was when I found a rather terse note on my (former) desk from the new occupants asking me to vacate “their space” pronto! Curiously and amusingly I never met the author of this note and although we exchanged a number of messages over a period of a couple of weeks I never saw them or any member of their staff or even the slightest sign that any childcare provision was taking place.

In ten years I had worked at Cannington I had accumulated lots of teaching resources and I was, understandably I think, reluctant to move them to some unspecified location elsewhere on the college site without good reason. I say unspecified because, although the college bosses had agreed to me moving out so the crèche staff could move in, the bosses hadn’t given any thought to where I was to move to. In the end I found my own temporary home in the large office used by the peripatetic agricultural lecturers and it was there I was based until the end.     

Friday 19 April 2013

The Daventry years (1)

It is a fairly standard rule in education that if at all possible lecturers should avoid assessing the work of a family member. This is particularly important if any marks awarded will count towards the grade awarded in an external qualification. If this problem really is unavoidable then the whole process needs to be very closely monitored and the marks awarded subject to rigorous moderation.

It was exactly this problem that formed the basis of the one and only clear-cut case of educational malpractice I came across in all my years as a lecturer. The member of staff was teaching his brother and it soon became clear that the marks the student was getting in the one module taught by his elder brother were totally at variance to those he was getting in modules taught by other colleagues.

What caused the whole affair to escalate was the absolute refusal of the lecturer to have his work moderated coupled with the discovery that no mark schemes existed for the assessments where his brother had done so well.

This student had transferred to “my” college after the start of the academic year and it was discovered that he had been accepted onto the course on the basis of having passed a lower level qualification elsewhere. The problem was that there was no proof that he held the qualification he claimed to have. For some years it had been standard practice for the administration team to take a photocopy of any certificates documenting a student’s academic history but when this particular student’s folder was checked it was empty.

The student was eventually withdrawn but as far as I know the member of staff who was clearly heavily involved managed to bluff and bluster his way out of the problem – mainly by playing the race card.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Cannington College (5)

At the end of the academic year there was always a staff meeting. Colleagues who were retiring or moving on to a new job would be given their leaving cards and presents when all the academic staff were gathered together. There had been very few resignations from the Food Technology department during my decade in Somerset - indeed four of the five lecturers who had been in post in 1980 were still there in 1990 - but by coincidence, and it was certainly no more than that, three Food Technology lecturers handed in their resignations during the summer term of 1990.

I don’t know why Norman didn’t follow the example of other departmental heads and make the three presentations to “his” staff at the normal time. Suffice to say he didn’t and I can remember being surprised when the staff meeting came to an end and nothing had been said about me leaving. I suppose it is just possible that the circumstances surrounding the departure of one of my other colleagues were such that a formal “good bye” for them was seen as inappropriate but I don’t see why that should have made any difference to my own rite of passage.
I never did have a formal presentation. All that happened was Norman, very casually, gave me a book when I was sitting in the staff room. Curiously, or perhaps not curiously, he also chose a day when almost none of my remaining departmental friends were on site. With hindsight this was just another example of the "way Norman was" - not a very nice person!

I had ten enjoyable years at Cannington College but by the end I can honestly say that I was pleased to be going.       

Friday 12 April 2013

Cannington College (4)

In the summer term there used to be a residential study tour that involved both students and staff. One of these tours forms the basis of a classic Cannington memory. In 1985 we took the students up to London for four nights. Mike Bryan arranged the visits – for which I was duly grateful because finding food-related places prepared to have students visit was always a time consuming and thankless task.

We drove up on the Monday so the first visit was supposed to be Billingsgate Market on the Tuesday. Of course Billingsgate only operates first thing in the morning so by the time we got there it was closing. Fair enough Mike and I were both to blame and we share the responsibility.
Wednesday was a useful visit to the Leatherhead Food Research Centre. No problems.

Thursday was another cock-up. For some reason Mike Bryan decided to take some of the students over to France! So he took the minibus which left the rest of us with no means of getting to Covent Garden Market. In the end I had to use public transport to get my half of the students across London  and unsurprisingly we got there too late to see anything useful.
On Friday Mike had arranged for us to visit the Barbican Centre (err, why?). When we got there we were not expected so the whole visit was pointless. Then we drove home to Somerset.

Fast forward to the next Tuesday. Clearly some parents had complained and Norman Dickie decided to blame me – and only me. I got the dreaded summons and Norman started to get very agitated. Mike Bryan was very much Norman’s pal so once Norman found out that most of what went wrong was down to Mike the whole business was quietly dropped.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Cannington College (3)

One of my favourite times of the year was the annual prize giving ceremony. The Principal used to give his review of the year and the lecturers sitting at the back of the hall used to keep count of how many times he mentioned the different departments that made up the college. In a typical year about 65% of what he said was about agriculture, about 34% about horticulture and about 1% about food technology. Indeed at least once he didn’t mention my department at all! Even when food technology became larger – in terms of full time students – than agriculture we still hardly got a mention.

Each Head of Department also used to write regular reports for the governors and for the academic board. This was another source of endless amusement because Norman Dickie used his reports to praise his friends and allies within food technology while the rest of us didn’t get a mention.  It was always those of us  “exiled” to the mobile classrooms and offices by the sports field that used to get ignored.
Norman always used to witter on and on about doing lesson observations for each member of the department. Three or four times a year he would mention this in the weekly meeting but it almost never happened. We would all sit there nodding wisely as he pontificated on the subject knowing full well that he would never get round to doing it. I wondered at the time exactly how Norman filled his day. All the more so once I moved onward and upward  because none of the duties that I took on in Daventry or at Guilsborough School ever seemed to be done by him.

Sunday 31 March 2013

Cannington College (2)

Norman D

Norman was a Scot who became Head of Food Technology after the untimely death of Brian Galloway. Although Norman was a good teacher he seemed to me to struggle as a manager - he tended to have favourites and nothing destroys morale quicker than a manager doing this. That said he went on the greater things with Network Training so I can only suppose that I never saw him at his best! 

Mike B

Where to start? Mike was very much a colleague with two contrasting sides to his character. I always thought that he was capable of sustained high quality work when it was in his interest to do so! When there was honour, glory or recognition to be gained perhaps? But if it was a project being run by somebody else it was a very different matter and non-participation was usually the name of the game. Mike went on greatness with Network Training working alongside Norman Dickie.

Richard F

I always think of Richard F and Mike S (see below) as a pair. This would seem strange to people that knew them both because in reality they were as different as chalk from cheese. They both started at Cannington a couple of months before me and Richard took over from Norman D not long before I accepted a promoted post in Daventry. It was impossible to dislike Richard although he and I had little in common.

David M

Dave knew more about bakery technology than the rest of us put together. I liked Dave because in true Liverpudlian fashion he didn't suffer fakes or frauds or pomposity gladly, or indeed at all. Dave and I made an, unsuccessful, attempt to set up a small business selling pictures which I still think should have worked better than it did. All too soon Dave left post-16 teaching and returned, so we all thought, to Liverpool. Much later I was told by a former student that he was still living in Somerset several years later. All rather curious. In 2012 I received a very strange email that claimed to be from him but when I replied it all went quiet again.

Steve S

I shared an office with Steve for many years. A really nice bloke and an excellent teacher. It was a great loss to further education when Steve moved up to Blackpool to run a hotel. Steve used to eat a lunch of bran - just bran with no extras - for reasons that were not clear to the rest of us.

Mike S

Mike had a lot of experience in the dairy industry and this was his main teaching responsibility. He was respected by the students but some of his colleagues were very unimpressed by Mike lecturing them on "professionalism". My favourite memory of Mike was when he and I attended a job interview near Nottingham. He seemed to have zero interest in the job on offer and was only applying because he could not bear the thought of me getting a promoted post before him! I still remember the unflattering song that Steve S wrote about him.

Tuesday 26 March 2013

Living in a bubble?

What is the link between Fox News, the Republican Party and some of the smallest sub-sects of the Christian Church?

The answer is that the people involved live in a bubble, almost entirely surrounded by like-minded people and hence having little or no contact with alternative views of the world. Republican voters who watched Fox News were genuinely amazed by the recent election result - primarily because they had accepted the Fox News opinion polls as accurate. On Election Night even when it was clear to almost everybody else that their side had lost they remained in denial.
It is pretty much the same with most, if not all, of the non-mainstream Protestant splinter groups. Members find that their friendship groups, their social life and even their political views have foundations in their particular brand of religion.  You might expect that most Christians of all denominations would be politically to the left of centre and heavily into the dignity of man and human rights.  In practice many stalwarts of these smaller fringe churches are almost unendurably pompous - appearing to outsiders as almost totally indifferent to the bigger picture.

Nothing is too much trouble for them when it comes to helping member of their own tiny clique but when it comes to the “Big Society” far too many of them simply do not want to get involved. Or if they do want to get involved they think that they should wield influence out of all proportion to their tiny numbers. To them democracy isn’t about the counting of heads but the weighing of heads -  with their heads counting for vastly more than those “poor unfortunates” existing outside their personal bubble.

Thursday 21 March 2013

Cannington College

Cannington College, or the Somerset College of Agriculture and Horticulture as it was sometimes called, was a million miles away from being a typical further education college.

The dominant union within FE was, and still is, NATFHE.  At Cannington College lecturers had to look to the totally hopeless Association of Agricultural Education Staff (AAES) for support rather than NATFHE. The AAES Branch Chairman was an odious little horticultural lecturer who seemed to be politically well to the right of most rational human beings.  He had zero interest in the views of people outside his small clique – loftily dismissing the rest of us of living in “cynics corner”.
My finest hour at Cannington was when I stood against him in the election for staff representative on the governing body.  I received over 65% of the votes, and he came third - out of 3. But even then, despite the fact that AAES membership then tumbled and NATFHE membership soared, AAES were regarded by the bosses as the "voice of the staff".

My third finest hour was closely linked to the first.  Norman Dickie, of whom more later, was grumbling, in the context of performance management, that I didn’t have a high enough profile on the staff. I mentioned the election result and he hastily changed the subject.
Number 2 on my all-time list centered around the strangest job interview I ever had.  There was going to be a promoted post within the department.  There were 2 internal candidates but curiously one Norman Dickie, stout yeoman of the parish, neglected to tell one of the candidates, that would be me, that the interviews were taking place the next day.  I ended up with about 3 minutes warning so unsurprisingly I didn’t get the job.  Subsequently dropping Norman into the mire almost made missing out on the job worthwhile!

It was about now that I realised that it was time for me to move on. I did some work for the Somerset Information Technology Unit (SITU) and this gave me the confidence and the experience to apply for a promoted post at a mainstream further education college in Northamptonshire.

I got the job and the next day I submitted my letter of resignation to a rather shocked Principal. It seems as most people had assumed that I wouldn't get offered the job - and most of the rest thought that I would not take it even if I had been offered it. It was fun to prove them wrong.

I never taught Food Technology again!

Friday 15 March 2013

Sally Nicholson's thoughts on religion

Sally said - "Turns out most religions could take a leaf out of sikhism's book. A fab assembly today from "a man in a hat" (according to my Year 1's!). "If you want to believe in God, that's great. If you don't want to believe in any God, that's great too!"

As I said only the other week - "If somebody wants to meet up with a few like-minded people in a former warehouse under the guise of calling it a church go ahead, I would be the last person to interfere."  Just don't expect me to be in awe of your splinter group off a subsect of just one denomination of the Church that split off the Catholic Church in the middle ages. 

Religion gives great joy to many people. It also gives comfort and solace to people in some of the darkest moments of their lives. But I always wonder what motivates the "ostentatiously religious" who are prone to waving their arms around during their "church" services in some bizarre attempt to appear more religious that the people around them.

I tend to judge people on the basis of what they do, day by day and week by week. What they do during one hour on a Sunday is just a tiny part of this. Many of the most community minded people that I know have no obvious religious affiliation while two of the most religious appear to do no voluntary sector work whatsoever.

My suspicion is that some of these fringe religious groups are in for a major shock when they reach the proverbial "Pearly Gates".  "But what did you do that was useful to society at large?" is a question likely to leave them floundering!

Tuesday 12 March 2013

Justice for a student I mentor!

I have been mentoring a university student who lost both her parents in a car accident when she was in year 12 (lower sixth form). She went to live with her maternal grandparents who turned out to be totally vile people.

She had a nightmare six months living with them but was so unhappy and felt so unsafe that she moved back into the family home on her own to escape. She must have been desperate to do this in the middle of her A levels. One thing led to another and in the end she complained to the police and the whole affair was taken out of her hands. 

The case reached its conclusion this week and at the Crown Court Granddad was sentenced to 3 years and 6 months (with some sort of reduction for pleading guilty) and his wife got 12 months (also with a small reduction). Granddad got 1 year for the fraud (basically stealing her money), 1 year for the domestic burglary (breaking into the family house the day after the accident to remove cash and jewels) and 3 years and 6 months for assault (hitting the poor girl with all sorts of objects for such major crimes as mentioning her dead parents!) - all three sentences to run concurrently.

Given that the two of them were in their 70s the court must have been very unimpressed with what they had done to give them a fairly lengthy custodial sentence.

I had a few email dealings with her Granddad and he seemed like a total nutter to me - with no redeeming features that I could detect. I’m pleased that he is sitting in prison as I write this – it rather restores my faith in fate catching up with bad people.


Wednesday 6 March 2013

Am I a libertarian?

I feel that my main responsibility is to watch my own behaviour and not to interfere with the behaviour of others (except in exceptional cases).  It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that E+E live in a clan marriage or that my elder daughter is co-habiting with her boyfriend. Similarly I don’t know and I don’t care what religion my neighbours practice. I have a moral framework that suits me – one that has developed over many years – and I would regard it as unacceptable, almost laughable, for me to attempt to impose my system of beliefs on anybody else.

So for example if somebody wants to meet up with a few like-minded people in a former warehouse under the guise of calling it a church go ahead, I would be the last person to interfere.  Providing of course that not one penny of my money is used to subsidise their operation.  I would say that groups like that should not attract tax breaks of any form. If I allow them to receive any of my money then I am in effect accepting that their rights are more important than mine.  
I am comfortable with the idea of a central government that provides services that it would be difficult to arrange at the local level. But the breadth of my comfort zone is, to some, surprisingly narrow. As an example I would not subsidise the railways by a penny.  If current users don’t want to pay the increased fares that would result then employers would have to raise salaries or move the business to where the people were. Their choice, their freedom if you like, but they shouldn’t look to me for money.  The total cost, both human and financial, of the centralisation of business activity in London is mind bogglingly large and it comes out of the pockets of us all.

Friday 1 March 2013

What happened next to the Corbetts

Just for fun I have come up with four possible frameworks for a "What happened next to the Corbetts" book

Version 1 – Although Peter exchanged regular letters with Joan and the children he never saw his family again as he was killed on active service off the coast of Norway in April 1940. Joan and the children returned to England shortly after VE Day in 1945 but they were never happy in their former home in Southampton and they all returned to Canada within a matter of months.

(This would be a book mainly set in war-time Canada and would be a fairly major research project if the mass of detailed information needed in the book was to be factually accurate.)

Version2 – Peter survived the war and Joan and the children were reunited with him in 1945. Sadly he and Joan, like so many married couples separated by the war, had drifted apart during the six years that they lived their own lives and they divorced in 1946 with Joan taking the children back to Canada the same year.
(The contrast between the sadness of gradually increasing emotional separation and the happiness of the war moving to a successful conclusion might have worked rather well)
Version 3 – Peter survived the war and Joan and the children were reunited with him in 1945. Peter went back to being a family solicitor - based in Southampton as before.  The children found post-war austerity Britain very different from the wealthier and more relaxed Canadian lifestyle they had got to know so well during their six years away and Peter never managed to establish a normal parental relationship with them. He was found drowned in the Solent in 1951 and an open verdict was recorded.

(This would be my first choice. Lots of potential for tension and an ending that would leave questions unanswered.)

Version 4 – Joan and the children never made it to Canada. Reports of intense submarine activity caused the liner to return to Brest only 48 hours after it had departed. Joan found Peter a matter of minutes before he was due to sign the papers committing him to naval service for the duration of the war. After much discussion the whole family sailed back to England and Peter saw his family safely established in rural Shropshire before he returned to Portsmouth to enlist. He survived the war and was reunited for good with his family in late 1945.
(This could be a "two threads running side-by-side" book - I think it could be quite effective and since there is lots of source material around it would be tolerably easy to research the fine detail required throughout.)

Sunday 24 February 2013

“What Happened to the Corbetts” by Neville Shute

Far too often I finish a novel with a sigh of relief that an overlong plot-line has finally ground to a conclusion. Somewhat rarer is the novel where all the loose ends are tied up and where I can read the final page with a sense of satisfaction but also with a definite sense of closure. “What Happened to the Corbetts” by Neville Shute is one of those very rare novels that left me wanting to read more.

There are some marked similarities between this story and “On the Beach” by the same author - most noticeably in that it is a young married couple bearing the heavy responsibility for looking after their young children in the aftermath of a disaster who are the central characters.

Written in 1938, Shute accurately predicts the effects of air-raids on the civilian population. The speed with which normal living breaks down when water and electricity supplies are disrupted is frightening. Peter and Joan Corbett have to make the difficult decision to move away from Southampton after a series of air raids and the second half of the book is primarily concerned with how the family end up sailing to the French port of Brest.

The book ends with Peter Corbett volunteering for war service and the rest of his family having set sail on a Canada-bound liner. The reader never gets to know if Peter survives the war or what happens to Joan and the children. Lesser authors would probably have written at agonising length about their separate lives but Shute, wisely in my opinion, ends his story with these questions unanswered. 
Certainly worth 9/10. 

Wednesday 20 February 2013

The miracle of prediction

My last blog entry has generated more replies than anything else I have written in the last twelve months. Frankly I would never have predicted this because the theme – professional scientists exploiting the energy and enthusiasm of amateurs – is a topic I have raised many times over the years without generating too much interest.

Perhaps now we have finally reached the tipping point. The point at which so many amateur astronomers have been left feeling cheated by the ruthless antics of professional colleagues that they feel comfortable speaking out.  I certainly hope so.
“Never again” just about sums up the most widely held view. “They want us to do the boring and time-consuming grunt work but the instant some significant discovery is made the professionals elbow us aside and grab every scrap of recognition going.”

Of course, mug that I am, have been down this path more than once myself. My prediction regarding the response from the person who “stole” my results was almost paranormal in its accuracy. I received the briefest of brief replies from the culprit - followed by a sullen silence from their side of the Atlantic. Not the slightest indication of apology or regret. No offer to put things right. Just ill-concealed anger that they had been caught.
It will be interesting to see what tactics the professionals adopt the next time they have large quantities of data needing to be processed. My gut feeling is that pool of volunteers has just about dried up. Truly the professionals have killed the goose that laid the golden egg.

Thursday 14 February 2013

Is this plagiarism?

A few years ago I, mistakenly as it turned out, shared some astronomical discoveries with a professional colleague based in the USA.  At almost the same time I also emailed a copy of the article in which my discoveries were formally announced to a magazine co-edited by a different astronomer who just happened to work at the same observatory as the recipient of my, misplaced, generosity. The full significance of this geographical co-incidence was only to become clear some time later.

The months went by and I heard nothing from the magazine and, eventually, it dawned on me that the editor had not the slightest intention of publishing material that might, even slightly, be in conflict with the career interests of his pal.  They don’t call it “publish or perish” for nothing you know! I was pleased that I had put my results, but not the methodology underpinning them, into the public domain believing that not even the most ambitious or unprincipled professional astronomer would claim credit for another person’s work.
Fast forward to 2013. I have just discovered that most of my discoveries have now been published – which is the good news – but that they have been published under the name of the professional astronomer I shared them with 3+ years earlier without a single mention of me appearing anywhere in either the article or the standard catalogue in which discoveries of this type are recorded.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Curiously, or perhaps not curiously, if you are a cynic, a very similar situation occurred a few years ago. A professional astronomer based in the USA was given credit for amateur discoveries that had already appeared in a peer reviewed journal a year before the professional astronomer’s claims were published. Even more curiously, or not, both problems had at least one paid employee in common!

Thursday 7 February 2013

Passing the Baton

Two things happened this week that made me realise that I’m getting older and perhaps moving towards the end of my time as a fully productive member of the community. 

I’ve been mentoring young adult care leavers for a few years now.  But this week two of my mentees were approached by Social Services to act as mentors themselves to an 18 year old who has just timed out of foster care. It is right and proper that E+E should be given this opportunity and I’m sure they will do the job with youthful energy and with the compassion born of their own experiences. Nevertheless it brought home to me that people I have supported – and even trained to a certain extent – are now in a position to take on posts of significant responsibility without any further help from me.
E+E have changed enormously during the time I have known them and I feel quite proud that I played some small part in this. But I would be lying if I denied that it has come a rather a shock to realise that perhaps I haven’t got much more to teach them.

It was much the same at a local school. One of the younger governors has done a superb job on a wide-ranging project of real importance. I realised that although at one time I could have done an equally good job that time has now passed. I’m not convinced that I still have the dynamism required to do jobs that I would have done without a second thought only a few years ago.

Friday 1 February 2013

Harpenden neighbours

It is back to the Harpenden years for this week’s entry.

Most of the people at our end of Dalkeith Road very much kept themselves to themselves and neither Mum nor Dad would have regarded any of their near neighbours as friends. There was never any sense of community spirit but neither was there ever any hostility between the different families.
Looking back one or two events did strike me as rather strange.  The lady at number 66, so our immediate neighbour, saw burglars climbing into our house through a back window in the late evening while Mum and Dad were away overseas.  What did she do about it?  Nothing is the answer, because as she said later, “I didn’t want to get involved.”   What made her behaviour even stranger was that she subsequently went to quite a lot of trouble to make sure that the window was replaced and the house left secure once the police had finished their investigation.

For many years there was an understanding that “For Sale” boards were not to be used by Harpenden estate agents. So when our neighbours at number 62 put their house on the market there was nothing to make us look at the, usually ignored, property section of the Harpenden Free Press  to make us realise that they were moving.  That said it was a great surprise when a removal van arrived and burly men started emptying the house.  Unsurprisingly Mum went round to see what was going on – to be told by our neighbours of at least 10 years standing that they were moving to St Albans.  I think Mum and Dad were rather hurt by the way the neighbours had kept their departure such a secret.
Number 64 was sold in 2005 not long after Dad died and when Mum had moved into a residential home for the elderly near Rugby and I have only been back to Harpenden a handful of times since then.

Sunday 27 January 2013

Jumping on the band waggon

It is always mildly frustrating when people who have remained silent on an issue for months or years suddenly claim, “I always felt X was corrupt/incompetent/bone idle” or “Martin is quite right. The current system for doing X, Y or Z simply doesn’t work.”

I find myself wanting to ask them, “Where were you when I was saying exactly the same thing five years ago?” “What support, covert or overt, did you offer me when I first raised the matter - long before it was fashionable or politically correct to do so?”
I don’t think for a minute that in most cases the band waggon-jumpers as I call them suddenly changed their collective minds just before deciding to speak out. Almost certainly most of them agreed with my opinions for some time before they plucked up their courage to go public. To me they lacked the moral fibre to speak out until the tide of public opinion was clearly flowing in their favour.

Sometimes it can years before the truth about a person or organisation emerges into the full glare of public scrutiny. To me what makes battles of this type worth fighting is that eventually the whole story almost always does come out and it can be very satisfying to know that events have proved me right.

At the moment I only have three campaigns on the go. Of these one is nearing completion and my “gut feeling” about the person, negative as it was, has been shown to have been over-optimistic. The other two issues have been rumbling on for years but the evidence base is building up and the tipping point might be quite close. I remain optimistic.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Endemic misinformation and the AAVSO!

What is the link between Goebbels, the Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945, and the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO)?

Goebbels worked on the basis that endless repeating the same lie was a highly effective way of making large numbers of people believe it. So it is with some of the senior people in the AAVSO. Goebbels also was a firm believer in the old maxim that “the end justifies the means.” So it is with some of the senior people in the AAVSO.
It was impossible to have any meaningful political debate in Nazi Germany. It is similarly impossible to have a meaningful scientific debate on the economic, ethical or scientific merit of some of the activities of the AAVSO. Within the AAVSO dissent is seen as evidence of disloyalty. Dissent, or as more reasonable people might put it, an alternative perspective, is something to be ignored or censored. When all else fails what we describe in the UK as “playing the man, not the ball” is undertaken.

Despite any protestations to the contary senior colleagues within the AAVSO were just as unresponsive to my comments or questions when I was a subscription paying member as they were after I had resigned. The “answers” I received – sometimes 12 months after my initial contact – were masterpieces of misinformation. Almost inevitably the "answers" or “facts” shared with me were either demonstrably false or were based on nothing more than wishful thinking or on a systematic rewriting of history.
As I said in May 2012, “The vast majority of the work carried out by the members, officers and paid employees (of the AAVSO) has been of a high standard - which makes the endemic bad practice that prevails when “something goes wrong” all the harder to explain.” This is presented as me disliking the AAVSO which just goes to show how anxious some people in the Association are to avoid accepting responsibility for recent problems of their own making.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Collecting postal history (2)

In an earlier posting I identified the criteria that might cause me to reject a country as a possible candidate for a postal history collection. It is now time to move on to consider in more detail those countries that haven’t been eliminated and then to put together a short list of possibilities.

South America – There doesn’t seem to have been much published on 20th century postal rates and without this information “writing up” covers is almost impossible. Although it might be possible to locate Post Office Guides that would tabulate this data I assume they would have been written in Spanish or Portuguese neither of which I speak. On the plus side there is a reasonable quantity of material available and, I assume, relatively little competition for it since most of the auction lots I examined had attracted no bids.

Colonial Africa (the non-English speaking parts) – Information does exist on the postal history of French West Africa but I imagine that the quantity of mail coming out of these countries is relatively small which, to me, would imply that that anything other than the first-tier letter rate covers would be in short supply and highly prized (and priced). At least I do understand enough French.
Eastern Europe – Language is the main barrier here. Logic dictates that substantial quantities of 20th century postal history must exist but without the skills required to decipher postal marking differentiating the common from the scarce and rare seems too big a challenge. It certainly isn't impossible that I might do a more detailed survey of what is available sometime in the future.

Scandinavia – I’m prepared to bet that somebody somewhere has published information on postal rates but again my poor language skills are a major barrier.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Collecting postal history

The first challenge for the postal historian is to decide what to collect. One approach is to eliminate countries or eras that do not appeal or that are impractical – it can be quite surprising how long the list of rejects can be!

I don’t speak Chinese, Russian or any of the non-English languages spoken on the Indian sub-continent and in my eye that is an almost insuperable barrier to creating a high quality collection of these areas. Much of the Indian material also suffers from heavy climatic discolouration and I would take no pride in displaying tatty-looking material however rare it might be.
Other countries are too expensive to collect – either because I would be in competition with other, far more wealthy, collectors who have forced prices of even quite plentiful material sky-high (19thcentury USA would be a good example of this) or because large quantities of material never existed and what does exist is being chased by a, albeit much smaller, group of enthusiasts.

Another constraint is where all the interesting or unusual covers are held in a few, sometimes a very few, exhibition quality collections -effectively leaving nothing for everybody else. Just try to locate decent material from the Orange Free State to see what I mean. This doesn’t always have to be expensive material. I am aware of one massive hoard of Guyana provisional stamps on commercial covers that is in private hands. This was put together in the 1980s when the stamps were issued and I am tolerably certain that no other significant stocks exist.
Next time – after the deletions, what is left?

Saturday 5 January 2013

Mentoring young people (2)

You should never get involved with mentoring young adults unless you are prepared to accept that you will never hear the end of their story.  I always use the analogy of travelling to a foreign country – I might be the person who takes them to the airport, or I might be the pilot of the plane, or the coach driver at the other end or even the hotel receptionist. I play a role, perhaps a quite important role, in that young person’s life but eventually my time helping them must come to an end.
Yes it can be quite upsetting when this happens. You will have invested lots of time and emotional energy and it leaves a gap in your life when you realise that the relationship has come to an end. When it is a quick, clean break it isn’t so bad, particularly if the young person has found stability and happiness in their life.

When it becomes really quite unpleasant is if you know that your client is still deeply troubled or unhappy or when the decision to break all communication isn’t by mutual consent. If you have exchanged emails on a weekly basis for many months it can seem really hurtful when the messages suddenly stop and all your attempts to get back in touch are ignored. If this is something that you feel would be unendurable then I would have to say that being a mentor for a care leaver probably isn’t the best job for you.
I have been fairly lucky. None of my long-term projects have ended messily but in my head I realise that one day it is bound to happen and that I will have to be a “big brave boy” about it.      

Friday 4 January 2013

The great leap out of the Middle Ages.

I get tired of people throwing Bible verses at unsuspecting Facebook readers. This is something I came across many years ago, and I still laugh every time I read it.

Dear Dr. Laura:

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination... End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to the French but not to the Scots. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Scots?

2. I would like to sell my daughters into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for them?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15: 19-24. The problem is how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.

4. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is, my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath when he drives to Church Stretton to buy a newspaper. Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

9. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

10. My Brother-in-Law is a farmer. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev. 20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.