IT Skills Course

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

As I see it, possible reasons for this are:

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

Maybe. People do become set in their ways as they get older. Maybe once you reach a certain age, such-and-such a problem doesn’t seem wirth the effort? But at the same time, some people have travelled quite some distance – from our local city (Salisbury) and beyond. So to come that far, some people must want to pick these skills up.

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

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

(iii) location

We’re in a school which has quite an impressive computer room. There are lots of PCs there, all running Windows 10. I can totally understand why you’d want such an environment to prepare students for the business world, but possibly our target audience has different needs? Unfortunately, I missed the first session, but I did suggest that it should cover things even more basic than computers, such as plugging a router into a phone socket, and getting an internet connection in the first place. If you dropped someone in their home environment, gave them a computer, and told them off you go, there is still some more knowledge required. But I’ve also heard a couple of people say that their internet (which they obviously have already) was set up by their children. so I have no idea whether these people would want to find out about how the connection works, or whether the fact that it just exists is enogh for them.

(iv) changes in the session times

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

(v) rubbish tuition!

That the students are taking the lead role as tutors here, and I think they were brilliant. So if there was a problem with the tuition, I misread the situation.

A New Day

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

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

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

Concerns

A mixed day yesterday, but ultimately rewarding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the future…

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

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

Electoral Reform

One of my pet crusades is electoral reform.

I still think that we need to have two levels of parliament. The lower house (House of Commons) deals with all the day-to-day issues, the party politics, and forms the government. Exactly as today. The role of the upper chamber (House of Lords) is really to sanity-check, to hold the lower chamber to account. Almost the same as today, but without the party politics. The lower chamber has precedence, although I’d really be hoping to see collaboration instead.

Lower Chamber

The main goal here is to try and make sure that the lower chamber is representative, in terms of the number of votes cast. It is to try and ensure that a party with half of the votes, say, also has half of the weight in parliament. This is very different from the current situation, where small differences in the number of votes might translate to large differences in parliamentary weights.

First, do we vote for a person, or a party? I broadly feel the latter, although we already developed a system which caters for both. Tick.

Incidentally, even though I’m usually voting for a party, I have big reservations over how things like party lists are compiled. For that reason, I don’t advocate a traditional, proportional approach.

My approach would see the voter behaving exactly as they do now, putting a single tick in a single box. In fact, it’s very important to me that this aspect doesn’t change.

So, you start with a constituency, just like now. However, each constituency is three times the size, say, compared to present-day. So, we only have a third the number of constituencies. The “three” here is arbitrary, it could actually be any number you like, but bear with me.

Why do I want these super-constituencies? Well, that’s probably best explained by looking at the votes in my own constituency (2017):

PartyPercentage of Vote
Conservative58.1
Labour25.5
Lib Dem12.2

with other parties making up the smaller places.

So, my MP is sent to Parliament representing just 58% of their constituents. And, bear in mind here that I live in a very “safe” area – the most marginal seat (North East Fife) elected its MP with just 32.9% of the vote.

Now, imagine if, instead of sending the top one person to Parliament, we sent the top three. If we do that, we’re representing not just 58% of the electorate, but (58.1 + 25.5 + 12.2), a much larger 95%. Even in the most marginal seat, the top three cansidates, between them, obtained 90% of all votes).

But we can’t just send all three to Parliament? Not on an equal footing? Not when one guy got almost 60% of the votes, and the other guy just over 10%? That would be crazy!

That’s right, that’s where technology comes in. We don’t send them on an equal footing. When they go to Parliament, the top guy gets 0.581 of a vote, the second guy gets 0.255 of a vote, and the third guy gets 0.122 of a vote. So, in that way, the candidates stay reflective of their number of voters.

Too complicated? Well, now you’re the one being crazy. Supermarkets will scan hundreds of items, priced down to the pence level, and still get the answer right on a hundred-pound shop! This stuff, technically, is trivial! Not to mention that supermarkets deal with many thousands, and we’re only talking here about a few hundred.

We could even have people walking through different lobbies, as we do today, but instead of counting one vote, the machines count fractions instead. As today, the winner is whoever has the most votes.

Now let’s backtrack to that number three. We’re sending three people, but have only a third as many constituencies, so the total size of my Parliament remains the same as today. But we could vary this if we wanted, more candidates per constituency, or more constituencies. My own view is that three candidates covers pretty much the entire spectrum of views, and that 650 is about the right size for a national parliament.

So, everything else stays the same, it’s just that as they go through your lobby, each MP doesn’t have one vote, they have a fraction of a vote.

Upper House

The problem I have with the current composition of the House of Lords is that many people are appointed by either the current or a previous prime minister. If they like you, you’re in. The notion of patronage, I think, is wrong.

An alternative approach would be to have an elected second chamber. But this would mean elections, campaigns, and inevitably, party politics. The second chamber begins to look much like the first. When the roles of the second chambers are different, I think it becomes blurred. So, how about this?

My idea would be to depart from both models, and to have a second chamber where people qualify. I’m quite open on exactly who should qualify, but possibly people like ex-cabinet ministers (any colour)? Basically, people who have had experience of dealing with issues, and might be able to contribute?

But, importantly, you do this on a rule, which is the same, year in, year out, not on whether somebody’s face fits.

Election Night

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

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

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

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

Inbox

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

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

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

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

A long week

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

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

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

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