Sunday, February 16, 2014

Can #floodhack help people work together to prevent future floods? (repost)

Here’s an idea for today’s #floodhack that would help people organise to prevent future floods by lobbying the people whose actions have led to the flooding: create a web service that allows people in low lying, flood risk areas find and lobby the people on higher ground who need to change their land use patterns to stop water rushing into rivers and creating floods. This is something that government data and modern web tools can easily achieve.
At the heart of flooding is a simple, powerful micro-economic problem: the people who are farming or building on upland areas in a rapidly-draining way causing a flood problem downstream don’t bear the economic costs of their actions.   Indeed in many cases have no idea that they are part of the problem. Therefore there is no hope whatsoever of a ‘market’ solution unless this is somehow corrected – both information about what they are doing and internalising the costs to their production decision.
Here’s how it might work, ultra-simplistically.   You enter your post code and are presented with a map of the drainage basin that might affect your flooding risk.  The areas of the basin that have the wrong type of vegetation or ground use are coloured red.  Areas that are controlled, built or in most cases farmed by one operator are singled out.  You can then click to organise a group of people to meet up in that area or protest to the person/company or petition them or similar to change their land use practices. To help that person change you are given a play list of appropriate land use practices – eg plant trees instead of wheat, for instance and government support schemes to incentivise this.  The service also records who is campaigning who to prevent overlap.  And also networks together everyone who is campaigning in that drainage basin.
The aim is very much to allow people who are doing the wrong thing, even inadvertently, to meet with people this is affecting and start to feel the human impact of their actions.  And then start to push them through behaviour change.  Of course there are lots of holes in this, but the basic capability to answer the question ‘whose behaviour do we have to change to prevent flooding long term’ is invaluable however it is applied. Why not let a hack day loose on it instead of some turgid Rural Payment Agency/Environment Agency process)
What data sets would you need?
drainage basins (EA, Geological Survey and many hydrology academics)
rivers (not open as far as I know)
land ownership and leasing (land registry)
who farms which bit of land (Rural Payments Agency has this – different to who owns it)
agricultural incentive schemes (RPA again and related to people who farm which bit above)
house building and drainage rule sets/incentives (CLG – de-regulating planning and building regulations won’t help)
and you could plug in some simple organising tools like meetup or the pledgebank engine or any of the petitioning tools
Why would i suggest a tool like this?  In order to tackle long term flooding problems major changes to land use will have to come about in the catchment areas that run-off too quickly due to house building or the ‘wrong’ sort of farming.  The governance of Britain for hundreds of years has been dominated by land owners, particularly in the House of Lords. Governments historically have been poor at influencing landowners unless they pay them huge amounts of money in cumbersome and much mocked agricultural support schemes. In austerity times, there aren’t huge amounts of money and the current government is inimicable towards the CAP, with little negotiating credit in Europe.  So i am pessimistic about this or any future government’s ability to drive affordable change up on the slippery slopes of drainage basins.
The government might crack this in the end, but the vested interest lobbies are horrible and the government’s tool set and indeed I dare say their own knowledge of who to act against, is weak.
So why not short circuit the government a bit and allow people who are at risk of flooding to organise themselves and campaign direct at the people whose practices are exacerbating the flooding?

(reposted from talkaboutlocal.org.uk which was having problems with it's mobile theme today)

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Keogh report and accountability - cut through the crap give citizens rights to enforce against the government in court



Today’s Keogh report into avoidable deaths and mis management on a huge scale in the health system was awful.  The partisan debate in the House was particularly unedifying even by the low standards of Westminster.  But there’s something weirdly British about the situation.  The public seem almost helpless in the face of institutional and political failure.  The way the British system works citizens (more correctly ‘subjects’) lack support from the third leg of the stool in an advanced democracy – the courts, independent of the party system.

We don’t seem to have rights in law to enforce against government that let us down.  In this particular case bureaucratic failure led to deaths – the most extreme form of institutional failure.  There is notionally the corporate manslaughter and corporate homicide act 2007 that cuts through the old concept of crown immunity, allowing NHS bodies to be prosecuted.  But for arcane legal reasons the act itself doesn’t work – lawyers still struggle with identifying who was responsible within a large organisation – they have only made one case stick so far against a small business.  

An effective CMCHA could be a powerful weapon cutting across a lot of the crap talked about accountability.  The CMCHA is usually seen alongside the much lampooned Health and Safety legislation – and that too could be beefed up.  The reams of management legislation around public services could also give a limited number of rights in law to the citizen/subject/customer to enforce in the courts against the state.  Most recently, the weakening of judicial review, itself never quite the fierce beast it was talked up to be goes in the opposite direction.

A group of us in London's Kings Cross have sought action against TfL for failing to act  in a timely or effective fashion when in receipt of warnings about a dangerous junction, at which a person later died. We have gone down the corporate manslaughter route, but people keep telling us that we are wasting our time.

There’s a challenge here for all parties as they think about their 2015 manifestos – are they serious about standing up for citizens? Then give people the rights one should expect in an advanced democracy and allow them to seek redress through the courts when public bodies or corporations kill people.

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Fulton Report 1968 Cmnd. 3638 'The Civil Service' full copy of main report

The Fulton Report is often referred to as the seminal report into the civil service, even over 40 years on.  Yet it is hard to find a copy online.  While a civil servant myself I asked a favour of a colleague at the National Archives and they scanned a copy in for me.You can find that copy of the Fulton Report 1968 into the Civil Service here as a PDF graphic.

The report is Crown Copyright under the Open Government Licence which is essentially a permissive licence you can do anything you want with.  It's an optical scan of reasonable if not the highest quality - if someone could try and OCR it to provide a free text search that would be great - let me know if you do it and I can link from here.

UPDATE - rather wonderfully @davebriggs has OCRed the report so we can now offer a searchable version of the Fulton Report into the Civil Service 1968.   Subject to the usual E&OE of OCR.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

TV remote controls - a salutary lesson in the need to adopt open standards

Today we learn of the death of Eugen Polley inventor of the TV remote control.  Remotes are integral to modern TV watching and the production of hundreds of millions, probably billions of them is an indicator of success.  But these huge numbers conceal an equally huge missed opportunity to deliver better products for people through co-operation and open standards.

The reality is that most TV remotes are awful things, lacking in ergonomics and designed at the fag end of the production process.  To manage all the audio visual devices around the TV most people have to have several remotes all of which use different symbols and have dozens of unused buttons.  It's hugely wasteful and detracts from the experience of using the wonderful technologies that the remotes control.  Eugen Polley's wonderful idea has mutated like an alien swarm and taken over our couches and living rooms across the world because the manufacturers didn't co-operate and agree basic open standards and principles on how remotes work.  This compatibility problem often exists within a manufacturers own product ranges.

The aftermarket  (what you can buy once you have bought your TV set) for TV and audio visual remotes is dominated by poor universal remotes that heroically attempt to back-fill the gulf created by the lack of compatibility. I've had many of these universal remotes over the years, they require hours of persistence to get working across all your devices.  This isn't usually the fault of the universal remote manufacturers, more that they have to work with a baffling array of commands and quirks across devices.  Patenting, fierce IP protection,  competition and an inate unwillingness to co-operate have led to to this awful mess in which the consumer loses out.

I love TV technology and enthusiastically adopt the latest kit. Imagine an aftermarket of remotes where you can buy functional, beautiful even remotes that just work out of the box.  You only need one to manage all the stuff in your living room and when you buy something new it works with that too.  Where remote manufacturers can invest in the aesthetics and customisation of the device itself, rather than in maintaining a huge database of commands that has to be updated from the Internet.  This could once have been made possible by the agreement and adoption of open standards for how TV remotes work.  Now it's probably so late that this can't be done.

Elsewhere in the internet world the open standards community often has trouble getting across to regular folk and policy makers why open standards are important. Remote controls are a salutary lesson on the mess that can emerge if you put competing standards ahead of co-operation.

Polite, on topic comments welcome.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Early railway humour - Charles Dickens on railway buffets

I find myself on trains a fair bit, often travelling through Rugby.  It never ceases to amaze me what a poor job the people who run stations do with franchising their refreshemnts.  A captive audience, often plenty of space on the inter city platforms and cavernous Victorian buildings yet the ubqiuitous Pumpkin chain never fails to depress, the one at Stoke-on-Trent stands out as an especially sad welcome to that glorious city.  It's not just Pumpkin though they are almost all bad.  There are some lovely exceptions where independents get in (at Bath Spa for instance), but they are a vanishing minority.

Charles Dickens wrote some savage short stories about his experiences at Rugby Junction station, thinly disguised as 'Mugby'.  Rugby in his day was a byword for chaos in changing trains.  Dickens apparently had a bad experience in the refreshment room at the station 'it never yet refreshed a mortal being' and took pitiless revenge in the the razor sharp story 'The Boy At Mugby' an in character piece by the boy servant in the rooms.

This piece is as relevant today as it was over one hundred years ago.  It seems to be the origin of all British railway sandwich humour.  Next time you are stuck with the  Pumpkin as your only source of sustenance on a cold night, read this, extracted from Project Gutenberg and weep at he state of progress:


CHAPTER III—THE BOY AT MUGBY

I am the boy at Mugby.  That’s about what I am.

You don’t know what I mean?  What a pity!  But I think you do.  I think you must.  Look here.  I am the boy at what is called The Refreshment Room at Mugby Junction, and what’s proudest boast is, that it never yet refreshed a mortal being.

Up in a corner of the Down Refreshment Room at Mugby Junction, in the height of twenty-seven cross draughts (I’ve often counted ’em while they brush the First-Class hair twenty-seven ways), behind the bottles, among the glasses, bounded on the nor’west by the beer, stood pretty far to the right of a metallic object that’s at times the tea-urn and at times the soup-tureen, according to the nature of the last twang imparted to its contents which are the same groundwork, fended off from the traveller by a barrier of stale sponge-cakes erected atop of the counter, and lastly exposed sideways to the glare of Our Missis’s eye—you ask a Boy so sitiwated, next time you stop in a hurry at Mugby, for anything to drink; you take particular notice that he’ll try to seem not to hear you, that he’ll appear in a absent manner to survey the Line through a transparent medium composed of your head and body, and that he won’t serve you as long as you can possibly bear it.  That’s me.

What a lark it is!  We are the Model Establishment, we are, at Mugby.  Other Refreshment Rooms send their imperfect young ladies up to be finished off by our Missis.  For some of the young ladies, when they’re new to the business, come into it mild!  Ah!  Our Missis, she soon takes that out of ’em.  Why, I originally come into the business meek myself.  But Our Missis, she soon took that out of me.

What a delightful lark it is!  I look upon us Refreshmenters as ockipying the only proudly independent footing on the Line.  There’s Papers, for instance,—my honourable friend, if he will allow me to call him so,—him as belongs to Smith’s bookstall.  Why, he no more dares to be up to our Refreshmenting games than he dares to jump a top of a locomotive with her steam at full pressure, and cut away upon her alone, driving himself, at limited-mail speed.  Papers, he’d get his head punched at every compartment, first, second, and third, the whole length of a train, if he was to ventur to imitate my demeanour.  It’s the same with the porters, the same with the guards, the same with the ticket clerks, the same the whole way up to the secretary, traffic-manager, or very chairman.  There ain’t a one among ’em on the nobly independent footing we are.  Did you ever catch one of them, when you wanted anything of him, making a system of surveying the Line through a transparent medium composed of your head and body?  I should hope not.

You should see our Bandolining Room at Mugby Junction.  It’s led to by the door behind the counter, which you’ll notice usually stands ajar, and it’s the room where Our Missis and our young ladies Bandolines their hair.  You should see ’em at it, betwixt trains, Bandolining away, as if they was anointing themselves for the combat.  When you’re telegraphed, you should see their noses all a-going up with scorn, as if it was a part of the working of the same Cooke and Wheatstone electrical machinery.  You should hear Our Missis give the word, “Here comes the Beast to be Fed!” and then you should see ’em indignantly skipping across the Line, from the Up to the Down, or Wicer Warsaw, and begin to pitch the stale pastry into the plates, and chuck the sawdust sangwiches under the glass covers, and get out the—ha, ha, ha!—the sherry,—O my eye, my eye!—for your Refreshment.

It’s only in the Isle of the Brave and Land of the Free (by which, of course, I mean to say Britannia) that Refreshmenting is so effective, so ’olesome, so constitutional a check upon the public.  There was a Foreigner, which having politely, with his hat off, beseeched our young ladies and Our Missis for “a leetel gloss host prarndee,” and having had the Line surveyed through him by all and no other acknowledgment, was a-proceeding at last to help himself, as seems to be the custom in his own country, when Our Missis, with her hair almost a-coming un-Bandolined with rage, and her eyes omitting sparks, flew at him, cotched the decanter out of his hand, and said, “Put it down!  I won’t allow that!”  The foreigner turned pale, stepped back with his arms stretched out in front of him, his hands clasped, and his shoulders riz, and exclaimed: “Ah!  Is it possible, this!  That these disdaineous females and this ferocious old woman are placed here by the administration, not only to empoison the voyagers, but to affront them!  Great Heaven!  How arrives it?  The English people.  Or is he then a slave?  Or idiot?”  Another time, a merry, wideawake American gent had tried the sawdust and spit it out, and had tried the Sherry and spit that out, and had tried in vain to sustain exhausted natur upon Butter-Scotch, and had been rather extra Bandolined and Line-surveyed through, when, as the bell was ringing and he paid Our Missis, he says, very loud and good-tempered: “I tell Yew what ’tis, ma’arm.  I la’af.  Theer!  I la’af.  I Dew.  I oughter ha’ seen most things, for I hail from the Onlimited side of the Atlantic Ocean, and I haive travelled right slick over the Limited, head on through Jeerusalemm and the East, and likeways France and Italy, Europe Old World, and am now upon the track to the Chief Europian Village; but such an Institution as Yew, and Yewer young ladies, and Yewer fixin’s solid and liquid, afore the glorious Tarnal I never did see yet!  And if I hain’t found the eighth wonder of monarchical Creation, in finding Yew and Yewer young ladies, and Yewer fixin’s solid and liquid, all as aforesaid, established in a country where the people air not absolute Loo-naticks, I am Extra Double Darned with a Nip and Frizzle to the innermostest grit!  Wheerfur—Theer!—I la’af!  I Dew, ma’arm.  I la’af!”  And so he went, stamping and shaking his sides, along the platform all the way to his own compartment.

I think it was her standing up agin the Foreigner as giv’ Our Missis the idea of going over to France, and droring a comparison betwixt Refreshmenting as followed among the frog-eaters, and Refreshmenting as triumphant in the Isle of the Brave and Land of the Free (by which, of course, I mean to say agin, Britannia).  Our young ladies, Miss Whiff, Miss Piff, and Mrs. Sniff, was unanimous opposed to her going; for, as they says to Our Missis one and all, it is well beknown to the hends of the herth as no other nation except Britain has a idea of anythink, but above all of business.  Why then should you tire yourself to prove what is already proved?  Our Missis, however (being a teazer at all pints) stood out grim obstinate, and got a return pass by Southeastern Tidal, to go right through, if such should be her dispositions, to Marseilles.

Sniff is husband to Mrs. Sniff, and is a regular insignificant cove.  He looks arter the sawdust department in a back room, and is sometimes, when we are very hard put to it, let behind the counter with a corkscrew; but never when it can be helped, his demeanour towards the public being disgusting servile.  How Mrs. Sniff ever come so far to lower herself as to marry him, I don’t know; but I suppose he does, and I should think he wished he didn’t, for he leads a awful life.  Mrs. Sniff couldn’t be much harder with him if he was public.  Similarly, Miss Whiff and Miss Piff, taking the tone of Mrs. Sniff, they shoulder Sniff about when he is let in with a corkscrew, and they whisk things out of his hands when in his servility he is a-going to let the public have ’em, and they snap him up when in the crawling baseness of his spirit he is a-going to answer a public question, and they drore more tears into his eyes than ever the mustard does which he all day long lays on to the sawdust.  (But it ain’t strong.)  Once, when Sniff had the repulsiveness to reach across to get the milk-pot to hand over for a baby, I see Our Missis in her rage catch him by both his shoulders, and spin him out into the Bandolining Room.

But Mrs. Sniff,—how different!  She’s the one!  She’s the one as you’ll notice to be always looking another way from you, when you look at her.  She’s the one with the small waist buckled in tight in front, and with the lace cuffs at her wrists, which she puts on the edge of the counter before her, and stands a smoothing while the public foams.  This smoothing the cuffs and looking another way while the public foams is the last accomplishment taught to the young ladies as come to Mugby to be finished by Our Missis; and it’s always taught by Mrs. Sniff.

When Our Missis went away upon her journey, Mrs. Sniff was left in charge.  She did hold the public in check most beautiful!  In all my time, I never see half so many cups of tea given without milk to people as wanted it with, nor half so many cups of tea with milk given to people as wanted it without.  When foaming ensued, Mrs. Sniff would say: “Then you’d better settle it among yourselves, and change with one another.”  It was a most highly delicious lark.  I enjoyed the Refreshmenting business more than ever, and was so glad I had took to it when young.

Our Missis returned.  It got circulated among the young ladies, and it as it might be penetrated to me through the crevices of the Bandolining Room, that she had Orrors to reveal, if revelations so contemptible could be dignified with the name.  Agitation become awakened.  Excitement was up in the stirrups.  Expectation stood a-tiptoe.  At length it was put forth that on our slacked evening in the week, and at our slackest time of that evening betwixt trains, Our Missis would give her views of foreign Refreshmenting, in the Bandolining Room.

It was arranged tasteful for the purpose.  The Bandolining table and glass was hid in a corner, a arm-chair was elevated on a packing-case for Our Missis’s ockypation, a table and a tumbler of water (no sherry in it, thankee) was placed beside it.  Two of the pupils, the season being autumn, and hollyhocks and dahlias being in, ornamented the wall with three devices in those flowers.  On one might be read, “MAY ALBION NEVER LEARN;” on another “KEEP THE PUBLIC DOWN;” on another, “OUR REFRESHMENTING CHARTER.”  The whole had a beautiful appearance, with which the beauty of the sentiments corresponded.

On Our Missis’s brow was wrote Severity, as she ascended the fatal platform.  (Not that that was anythink new.)  Miss Whiff and Miss Piff sat at her feet.  Three chairs from the Waiting Room might have been perceived by a average eye, in front of her, on which the pupils was accommodated.  Behind them a very close observer might have discerned a Boy.  Myself.

“Where,” said Our Missis, glancing gloomily around, “is Sniff?”

“I thought it better,” answered Mrs. Sniff, “that he should not be let to come in.  He is such an Ass.”

“No doubt,” assented Our Missis.  “But for that reason is it not desirable to improve his mind?”

“Oh, nothing will ever improve him,” said Mrs. Sniff.

“However,” pursued Our Missis, “call him in, Ezekiel.”

I called him in.  The appearance of the low-minded cove was hailed with disapprobation from all sides, on account of his having brought his corkscrew with him.  He pleaded “the force of habit.”

“The force!” said Mrs. Sniff.  “Don’t let us have you talking about force, for Gracious’ sake.  There!  Do stand still where you are, with your back against the wall.”

He is a smiling piece of vacancy, and he smiled in the mean way in which he will even smile at the public if he gets a chance (language can say no meaner of him), and he stood upright near the door with the back of his head agin the wall, as if he was a waiting for somebody to come and measure his heighth for the Army.

“I should not enter, ladies,” says Our Missis, “on the revolting disclosures I am about to make, if it was not in the hope that they will cause you to be yet more implacable in the exercise of the power you wield in a constitutional country, and yet more devoted to the constitutional motto which I see before me,”—it was behind her, but the words sounded better so,—“‘May Albion never learn!’”

Here the pupils as had made the motto admired it, and cried, “Hear!  Hear!  Hear!”  Sniff, showing an inclination to join in chorus, got himself frowned down by every brow.

“The baseness of the French,” pursued Our Missis, “as displayed in the fawning nature of their Refreshmenting, equals, if not surpasses, anythink as was ever heard of the baseness of the celebrated Bonaparte.”

Miss Whiff, Miss Piff, and me, we drored a heavy breath, equal to saying, “We thought as much!”  Miss Whiff and Miss Piff seeming to object to my droring mine along with theirs, I drored another to aggravate ’em.

“Shall I be believed,” says Our Missis, with flashing eyes, “when I tell you that no sooner had I set my foot upon that treacherous shore—”

Here Sniff, either bursting out mad, or thinking aloud, says, in a low voice: “Feet.  Plural, you know.”

The cowering that come upon him when he was spurned by all eyes, added to his being beneath contempt, was sufficient punishment for a cove so grovelling.  In the midst of a silence rendered more impressive by the turned-up female noses with which it was pervaded, Our Missis went on:

“Shall I be believed when I tell you, that no sooner had I landed,” this word with a killing look at Sniff, “on that treacherous shore, than I was ushered into a Refreshment Room where there were—I do not exaggerate—actually eatable things to eat?”

A groan burst from the ladies.  I not only did myself the honour of jining, but also of lengthening it out.

“Where there were,” Our Missis added, “not only eatable things to eat, but also drinkable things to drink?”

A murmur, swelling almost into a scream, ariz.  Miss Piff, trembling with indignation, called out, “Name?”

“I will name,” said Our Missis.  “There was roast fowls, hot and cold; there was smoking roast veal surrounded with browned potatoes; there was hot soup with (again I ask shall I be credited?) nothing bitter in it, and no flour to choke off the consumer; there was a variety of cold dishes set off with jelly; there was salad; there was—mark me! fresh pastry, and that of a light construction; there was a luscious show of fruit; there was bottles and decanters of sound small wine, of every size, and adapted to every pocket; the same odious statement will apply to brandy; and these were set out upon the counter so that all could help themselves.”

Our Missis’s lips so quivered, that Mrs. Sniff, though scarcely less convulsed than she were, got up and held the tumbler to them.

“This,” proceeds Our Missis, “was my first unconstitutional experience.  Well would it have been if it had been my last and worst.  But no.  As I proceeded farther into that enslaved and ignorant land, its aspect became more hideous.  I need not explain to this assembly the ingredients and formation of the British Refreshment sangwich?”

Universal laughter,—except from Sniff, who, as sangwich-cutter, shook his head in a state of the utmost dejection as he stood with it agin the wall.

“Well!” said Our Missis, with dilated nostrils.  “Take a fresh, crisp, long, crusty penny loaf made of the whitest and best flour.  Cut it longwise through the middle.  Insert a fair and nicely fitting slice of ham.  Tie a smart piece of ribbon round the middle of the whole to bind it together.  Add at one end a neat wrapper of clean white paper by which to hold it.  And the universal French Refreshment sangwich busts on your disgusted vision.”

A cry of “Shame!” from all—except Sniff, which rubbed his stomach with a soothing hand.

“I need not,” said Our Missis, “explain to this assembly the usual formation and fitting of the British Refreshment Room?”

No, no, and laughter.  Sniff agin shaking his head in low spirits agin the wall.

“Well,” said Our Missis, “what would you say to a general decoration of everythink, to hangings (sometimes elegant), to easy velvet furniture, to abundance of little tables, to abundance of little seats, to brisk bright waiters, to great convenience, to a pervading cleanliness and tastefulness positively addressing the public, and making the Beast thinking itself worth the pains?”

Contemptuous fury on the part of all the ladies.  Mrs. Sniff looking as if she wanted somebody to hold her, and everbody else looking as if they’d rayther not.

“Three times,” said Our Missis, working herself into a truly terrimenjious state,—“three times did I see these shameful things, only between the coast and Paris, and not counting either: at Hazebroucke, at Arras, at Amiens.  But worse remains.  Tell me, what would you call a person who should propose in England that there should be kept, say at our own model Mugby Junction, pretty baskets, each holding an assorted cold lunch and dessert for one, each at a certain fixed price, and each within a passenger’s power to take away, to empty in the carriage at perfect leisure, and to return at another station fifty or a hundred miles farther on?”

There was disagreement what such a person should be called.  Whether revolutionise, atheist, Bright (I said him), or Un-English.  Miss Piff screeched her shrill opinion last, in the words: “A malignant maniac!”

“I adopt,” says Our Missis, “the brand set upon such a person by the righteous indignation of my friend Miss Piff.  A malignant maniac.  Know, then, that that malignant maniac has sprung from the congenial soil of France, and that his malignant madness was in unchecked action on this same part of my journey.”

I noticed that Sniff was a-rubbing his hands, and that Mrs. Sniff had got her eye upon him.  But I did not take more particular notice, owing to the excited state in which the young ladies was, and to feeling myself called upon to keep it up with a howl.

“On my experience south of Paris,” said Our Missis, in a deep tone, “I will not expatiate.  Too loathsome were the task!  But fancy this.  Fancy a guard coming round, with the train at full speed, to inquire how many for dinner.  Fancy his telegraphing forward the number of dinners.  Fancy every one expected, and the table elegantly laid for the complete party.  Fancy a charming dinner, in a charming room, and the head-cook, concerned for the honour of every dish, superintending in his clean white jacket and cap.  Fancy the Beast travelling six hundred miles on end, very fast, and with great punctuality, yet being taught to expect all this to be done for it!”

A spirited chorus of “The Beast!”

I noticed that Sniff was agin a-rubbing his stomach with a soothing hand, and that he had drored up one leg.  But agin I didn’t take particular notice, looking on myself as called upon to stimulate public feeling.  It being a lark besides.

“Putting everything together,” said Our Missis, “French Refreshmenting comes to this, and oh, it comes to a nice total!  First: eatable things to eat, and drinkable things to drink.”

A groan from the young ladies, kep’ up by me.

“Second: convenience, and even elegance.”

Another groan from the young ladies, kep’ up by me.

“Third: moderate charges.”

This time a groan from me, kep’ up by the young ladies.

“Fourth:—and here,” says Our Missis, “I claim your angriest sympathy,—attention, common civility, nay, even politeness!”

Me and the young ladies regularly raging mad all together.

“And I cannot in conclusion,” says Our Missis, with her spitefullest sneer, “give you a completer pictur of that despicable nation (after what I have related), than assuring you that they wouldn’t bear our constitutional ways and noble independence at Mugby Junction, for a single month, and that they would turn us to the right-about and put another system in our places, as soon as look at us; perhaps sooner, for I do not believe they have the good taste to care to look at us twice.”

The swelling tumult was arrested in its rise.  Sniff, bore away by his servile disposition, had drored up his leg with a higher and a higher relish, and was now discovered to be waving his corkscrew over his head.  It was at this moment that Mrs. Sniff, who had kep’ her eye upon him like the fabled obelisk, descended on her victim.  Our Missis followed them both out, and cries was heard in the sawdust department.

You come into the Down Refreshment Room, at the Junction, making believe you don’t know me, and I’ll pint you out with my right thumb over my shoulder which is Our Missis, and which is Miss Whiff, and which is Miss Piff, and which is Mrs. Sniff.  But you won’t get a chance to see Sniff, because he disappeared that night.  Whether he perished, tore to pieces, I cannot say; but his corkscrew alone remains, to bear witness to the servility of his disposition.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Life is a seesaw ride

So I am 40 today.  People have helpfully asked if that is my waist measurement or suggested that I have in fact been 40 since I was 19.  I don't feel much different than I did ten years ago - albeit thicker round the middle and even thinner on top maybe.

The whole 'middle-age' thing can be very literal - I could well be half way through my life, this year could be the pivot around which things rotate.  Certainly, this year so far has felt pivotal and seen the extreme ups and downs of life's seesaw ride.

Fran and I are overjoyed that her pregnancy is going well so far.  This is a huge high after the low of miscarriage in the Spring.  We hope to have our first child just before Xmas just after we move into a new house.  We are delighted by the good wishes people send.

In the last few weeks though we have been coming to terms with my Mother's diagnosis of terminal cancer.  My beloved Mother is the very embodiment of vitality, determination, love and kindness.  She is a fizzing bundle of energy who lightens every room she enters. My father's tragic, sudden early death means I literally owe her everything.  Outwardly she still appears remarkably well. She has fought off cancer six times in the last 20 years.  I am enormously grateful to family, friends, colleagues even clients who have been so supportive over the turbulent last few weeks as we have ploughed through the awful diagnosis period.

We now know what confronts us and are resolute on the course we have set.  Mother starts palliative chemotherapy in a couple of days.  It's a terrible shock but our small family beset by so many untimely deaths over the years is rallying together.  The tragedies we have confronted together have made us strong.

Sadly of course these things don't balance each other out, but mean much up and down, like a seesaw on its pivot.  But with the support of some wonderful people, life goes on.


Thursday, April 21, 2011

Calm Club - self organised, accessible mindfulness meditation groups at work

A colleague, noticing a line of people outside an office recently told me 'it [was] great that smokers got to stand outside and stare into the distance for a while'. This brought home to me that almost the only way you can get some calm time in the office is to take up a habit likely to kill you. For a while I've been toying with the idea of a self organised 'Calm Club' that anyone could run in their workplace, supported by a central website with basic materials.

Calm Club is simply a way of getting people together to take a short focused break in the middle of the day in their place of work or study. It is a self organised guided meditation/mindfulness session. A Calm Club website would provide basic branded materials to help people organise a short group meditation in a meeting room at work. The online resources would explain the concept simply, provides some customisable pdf flyers, an eventbrite style meeting organiser, basic tips and simple script for organising a group session and some short guiding podcasts to download and play to the group. The podcasts would be tailored versions of mindfulness guided meditation CDs such these by Reinhard Kowalski a consultant clinical psychologist in the NHS.

So if you want to organise a Calm Club at your workplace, you would:
  • Book a quiet meeting room and use either the calm club website or your office meeting system to invite people. Maybe stick some Calm Club flyers from the website on the notice board in the coffee area. Send text from the website to interested people.
  • Download the podcast to your player, print off the one-sider script and a Calm Club Do Not Disturb sign from the website. Find some speakers for your ipod/mp3player.
  • Set up the room by partially drawing any blinds or turning down the lights
  • Invite people to sit comfortably
  • Stick the sign on the door
  • Ask for silence for 30 seconds. Run through the script. Play the podcast for say 15 minutes
  • Go back to your desk refreshed.
In the tradition of the yoga movement Calm Club would be run on a not for profit basis with a strong self organised bottom up ethos. Calm Club should be free of religious, mystic or commercial influences in and around the Calm Club session. There are quite a few people out there offering workplace meditations but, the language around them can often be off putting to people who aren't familiar with meditation or eastern traditions. Calm Club or a similar brand could be more attractive to a sceptical Anglo Saxon office worker in the spirit of 'Keep Calm and Carry On'.

I came up with the idea of a Calm Club during a course with Reinhard Kowalski in 2009 and have been kicking it around in a sporadic email exchange with Reinhard and Andy Gibson for ages. But we’ve all been too busy to get Calm Club off the ground. I've finally got around to writing about it, prompted in part by the happiness agenda in the UK. But also aware that several things come together to make this happen.
  • Employers are starting to understand that they may be liable for long term mental health issues if they don’t help their staff manage stress - eg law firms, management consultancies, call centres
  • The understanding that stress can be or managed tackled through non pharmceutical interventions
  • Mindfulness is accepted in the NHS on the last course of Reinhards I attended only two of us were non-NHS professionals
  • The web is good now at organising meetings and spreading the word
  • Work-based groups such as book groups are increasingly popular
  • It’s easy now to download a podcast and play it
  • Meditation is considered slightly less weird than it was
  • There’s a lot of interest in happiness now which embraces mindfulness
  • Some sporting role models such as Ryan Giggs and Jonny Wilkinson and sports coaches are open about the benefits of meditation, yoga and a mindful approach
  • The whole thing could be done very cheaply if people give materials to a movement.
So all this is a bit rough - it may be that someone has already come up with this (i usually find that Geoff Mulgan has) or that there is a similar movement in California or that I am missing some huge things here or that I am just a stupid hippy. Can you help me make this idea better and bring Calm Club into existence?

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