Are we in control of our fete?

A typical image of UK village, or in fact any community, life for me is a fete or other fundraising event. In my mental picture ‘stuff’ is collected from the dark recesses of people’s homes for sale alongside home made cakes and ably supported by an ancient toddlers’ roundabout and the inevitable raffle. Everyone works hard to create the event, stands in the hot sun all day (memories are always sunny) running their stall. The hard work of clearing away is then followed by counting a mountain of coins and the satisfaction of a successful community event and a profit raised for a good cause.
Now move to the 21st century and you are likely to find legislation has overtaken the event and a large proportion of the above is probably breaking the law. Did you carry out a risk assessment? Do you have the appropriate gaming license to cover your raffle? Were health and safety rules followed during the production and sale of Old Mrs B’s infamous chocolate brownies? Don’t even consider letting your event spill out into the street or a whole new level of laws will be waiting for you.
Local events are a key part of our communities and way of life but at the same time the public need to be protected from dodgy goods, dangerous rides and the salmonella of part barbecued chicken.
Where does the the line of pragmatism lie that protects us without stifling life and the ‘big society’?

Wot, no blogs? Teaching and the fun of the Fair

The eagle-eyed will have noticed a distinct lack of blogging here since November and some have even phoned to query the lack of activity. I can confirm I am alive and able to type but some consultancy, web site coding, Christmas, New Year and other excuses have all contributed to the blackout.
Since we last ‘met’ I have been asked to teach IT for Sutton Library Services and ‘standing in the wrong place at the wrong time’ has also lead to my appointment as Organiser for the 2012 Cheam Charter Fair.
Teaching IT has proved to be interesting and rewarding, allowing me to pass on over 38 years of IT experience to those starting out. It also provides an opportunity to meet new people and network with other Council staff.
In rugby terms the Fair role could be described as a ‘hospital pass’ but it is likewise providing an opportunity to meet people and network. In addition it has also required me to hone my WordPress, marketing, Social Media and diplomacy skills. With my background it was inevitable that IT would be at the heart of the job so within four hours of accepting the pass role I had bought a domain name, set up a web site and created accounts for Facebook and Twitter. The use of Social Media for the Fair has confirmed its power but also reminded me there are still organisations and individuals out there who can’t be reached via the Internet, and are losing out because of it – an interesting link back to the teaching role.

Life after employment – month 1

It is now a month since I left my full time job and time to look back to see how life outside the world of commuting is progressing. A month ago I set myself some objectives including the publishing of this blog. The ‘cunning plan’ was described in my blog post ‘Avoiding the sofa and daytime TV‘ and includes a set of target categories (Exercise, Learning, Beer/brewing, Photography, IT, Social Media, Human interaction, Travel) which I thought would cover my aims and needs.
I have been keeping a note of activity relevant to these target categories since the start of October and have now analysed this information to try to judge my progress. I shan’t bore you with the detail but, not surprisingly, my level of achievement has been mixed. A lot of areas would definitely get a ‘could do better’ mark and under the ‘Learning’ category there isn’t a record of any activity. In some cases the lack of achievement isn’t an issue e.g. the ‘Learning’ category was aimed at subjects outside my core skills set so overlaps with the ‘Social Media’ category which has seen plenty of activity. Over time I suspect the learning curve for Social Media will decline, leaving more time for other things.
Although it may seem a pain keeping track of activity it is useful that I can see where lifestyle changes are needed to enable me to put more effort into areas that are lacking achievement. I can also review the categories and adjust as necessary for future months.
All this may seem a bit ‘over the top’ but it does provide a simple way of tracking what I should be doing against what I am doing and, importantly, it is keeping me away from the dreaded couch and daytime TV. If you have a better plan please get in touch!

50% off wine?

What do you think when you see a discounted wine deal in your local supermarket? I suspect most people just buy some then wonder why the ‘£10’ wine they got for a fiver tastes like a £5 bottle of wine.
I used to get drawn in by these offers but came to realise that often (I’m being generous, my cynical nature wants me to say ‘always’) the price was manipulated so that it just fit in with government requirements on offers and in the end was giving you little or nothing.
As someone who hates being tricked by over-dominant businesses I stopped buying wine in supermarkets, unless I recognise the wine and think the price is indeed a bargain (although probably less of a bargain than their offer implies).
I then tried wine companies such as Virgin Wines, Laithwaites and Averys (now all the same company) but still felt the prices and offers did not match the quality of the wine I was getting so the relationship ended. Then followed a period with Majestic Wines, which I still occasionally use if passing through Calais. To be honest I don’t remember why I stopped using Majestic on a regular basis, maybe I’ll pop in again.
Still on the hunt for a company who would supply wine at reasonable prices and whose offers are genuine I stumbled upon Naked Wines who have an unusual business model which, in summary, involves funding small producers around the world so that they can make more and/or better wines which in turn allows Naked Wines to achieve greater value by buying them at better prices. So far this seems to be working well for me but their range can be a little restrictive if you want something particular.
Next supplier please enter stage right! A recommendation in Which? magazine brought The Wine Society to my attention so I recently signed up and must say I am impressed by the choice of wines available. For various (non-sinister) reasons I haven’t bought much from them yet, but I certainly plan to sample their wares.
So, after all this my wine buying pattern is currently:
– regular stock from Naked Wines
– specific wines and ad-hoc stock from The Wine Society
– Majestic in Calais were getting my custom but they may lose this as the Wine Society have an outlet about an hour away that offers their wines with an adjustment for France’s lower tax.
And the supermarkets? I recently bought a few bottles in a Supermarket while visiting some relatives and, surprise, surprise, my taste buds didn’t get that £10 feeling when I drank their ‘£10 reduced to £5’ wine. Like me, I suggest you vote with your feet until supermarkets start playing fair.

Leaving Wigan Pier for a flash

All I knew of Wigan was the pier made famous by George Orwell’s book (which I have only just read) and the sight of the tall chimney proclaiming ‘Uncle Joe’s Mint Balls’ as I whooshed by on a train that felt itself too important to stop. I also knew they had a rugby team thanks to Eddie Waring’s strange way of pronouncing ‘Wiiiigan’ in the Saturday sports results on the TV in the1960’s .
A recent family connection, in fact two, has caused me to get to know Wigan and it’s history a lot better. I was surprised to find the pier didn’t exist but despite this fundamental problem it still came to fame following a traveller mistakenly thinking they were in Blackpool, a period as a Music Hall joke then George Orwell giving it a permanent place in history when he wrote ‘The Road to Wigan Pier’. A stub of a ‘pier’ has been built in more recent times to provide a focus for tourist activity.
The 1930’s Wigan described in the book was a dirty smelly place with people living in extreme poverty and working in one of the large number of coal mines in the area. Since then all the mines have gone, the last closing in the 1990’s, and even the ‘Wigan Alps‘ are no more, having been leveled in the 1960’s. Walking in and around Wigan in 2011 it is hard to imagine the scenes in Orwell’s book without the mines, their supporting industries and the dilapidated workers accommodation.
One of the side effects of mining is subsidence caused as the land starts to collapse into the mine workings below. In Orwell’s book this is typified by the poor living in houses whose doors and windows won’t open due to the movement of the building caused by the subsidence. Modern Wigan has taken advantage of the subsidence by allowing holes to fill up with water and transform into ‘flashes’, huge lakes which have now been designated as nature reserves. A look on Google Maps shows the extent of these flashes with the Leeds & Liverpool canal and its Leigh Branch providing a route amongst them. The local council and organisations such as Lancashire Wildlife Trust have worked hard to transform one of these areas into Wigan Flashes Nature Reserve, a home to a huge variety of wildlife, including the rare Bittern. Look around and you will find other similar areas that provide a green band around Wigan.
So, there is now a ‘pier’, you can try ales from Wigan’s two excellent breweries and you can walk home by the flashes listening to ‘booming’ bitterns while sucking one of Uncle Joe’s tasty mint balls. What more could you want, except maybe one of Wigan’s famous pies.

It’s a bank Jim, but not as we know it

I spent an unusual (for me) but interesting day today visiting two charities who have major projects to enhance their buildings so that they can improve the services they offer in their community.
The first was St Andrew’s Fulham Field Church which, as well as its Church of England duties, provides a hub for its community and a food and clothing service for the homeless.
The afternoon stop was at YMCA Wimbledon which is a place I have walked past many times during the past 35 years. Although I knew it was there it was a real eye opener to see the wide range of services it provides to its community such as childcare, fitness facilities and accommodation for (typically) younger people while they are helped along the path to an independent life.
Both building projects were able to happen thanks to funding provided by Charity Bank who kindly arranged the visits and kept me fed and watered. At the moment banks generally have very bad press coverage, and I can sympathise with those that have a mental picture of overpaid ‘fat cats’ making a mess of the lives and future of the wider population. However, I can see Charity Bank is a very different beast as it exists purely to pay a reasonable rate of interest to it’s investors so that it can then lend the money to charities. While doing this it also seems to avoid the poor loan default rate that has brought other banks to their knees. If this wasn’t enough, it raises itself further in my estimations by using any profits it makes for good causes.
Maybe it’s time to extend this banking model to personal and business customers, anyone got a few million to spare?

Avoiding the sofa and daytime TV

Having left the world of commuting and the 9 to 5 work pattern I now need to ensure that I don’t descend into the greater evil of the sofa and daytime television. My current approach is to identify what I should be doing to achieve, and maintain, physical and mental well-being then make sure I do it! All this is also meant to be interesting and will hopefully generate some income here and there so I need to consider my interests and skills.
I have therefore created a set of high level categories which cover my goals and will keep track of my activity against these categories to see how I am getting on. By keeping track I will also be able to see how useful my categories are and adjust them as appropriate. I suspect I am trying to be too scientific about something that isn’t but that’s part of the challenge; let’s see how it goes!
My first stab at the categories is shown below but if you have any suggestions relating to the categories or the general approach I would appreciate your input.
Categories (in no particular order):
– Exercise. I need to increase my fitness.
– Learning. For business or fun.
– Beer/brewing. I don’t just mean going to pubs!
– Photography. One of my interests.
– IT (Consultancy/Web site programming). Earn some money!
– Social Media. An area I am interested in that will enhance my existing IT skills.
– Human interaction. Not a good idea to spend all my time at home interacting by computer.
– Travel. They say it broadens the mind!
I have realised an activity could fall into multiple categories but I think this is probably an advantage rather than issue. In a few months I may however come to regret these words!

Goodbye NLA, hello to the unknown

I finally left my job as Head of Systems at the National Landlords Association yesterday. Thanks to all my colleagues, and ex-colleagues for a great send off and all the kind words. IT can be a strange job, if things are working nobody notices or comments, if things go wrong everyone is chasing you. This imbalance can lead to a certain paranoia as you notice the negatives more than the positives. It is therefore reassuring when people voice their appreciation of your efforts.
As it’s the weekend I’m not sure whether I’m out of work today or from Monday.

Hello world!

Welcome to my blog at!
As you may know, after 36 years of 9-5 (plus some!) in the world of IT I have decided to leave my job and see what happens. My last day at work is Friday 30 September 2011 so I intend to start posting my progress in the world of domesticity and ad-hoc paid and pro bono work here from Saturday 1 October 2011.
Aside from this I will be trying to assess how social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn affect the course of my journey.
If you have any suggestions for things I could do please add a post.