Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lights, Latex and Lubrication - it's Time to Examine That Prostate!

There really is nothing quite like a prostate examination first thing in the morning to add a spring to the step and a fresh focus to the eye. Having told the Doc that I was gaining entirely the wrong sort of reputation as a twice (or even thrice) a night man, he decided it was necessary to go through the brown rusty key-hole for a quick digital examination. Now, I've heard some people are prepared to hand over a decent wodge of hard-earned for this kind of thing, so getting it free on the NHS could be a boon for them, but whisper it not in front of Jeremy Hunt, for I'm sure he'd want to emulate the trail blazed by the private sector in offering this service, albeit for very different end reasons. For those of us either not yet initiated into such practices, or whose views on such matters are purely practical, as opposed to pleasurable, it does feel a bit intrusive to have - admittedly a medically-qualified - rigid digit pass through the old tradesman's on its way to gauge the size and location of this mystic organ. Then again, there is the undoubted advantage that a short period of discomfort gives way to longer-term reassurance: size and location found to be 'normal' it was all over and dignity (for both of us) was soon restored. I can now sit down in comfort, safe in the knowledge that there's nothing nasty lurking where the sun doesnt' shine. More of us chaps of a certain age need to try it - a lot more is at stake than a moment's embarrassment and fleeting discomfort.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Day the Co-operative Bank Stopped Co-operating.

Once upon a time there was a bank that did not exist to make a profit for its shareholders. Instead, it was owned by its members and shared its profits with them. It did not sell products that its staff didn't really understand and it wasn't concerned with taking over as many other banks as it possibly could to grow its market share. Unspectacular banking - and it was ethical too: it refused to lend to businesses that were involved in the arms trade or in tobacco products, for example. But then it bought a building society. That was also a mutually-owned business (we used to have a lot of those, but most converted to become banks, and turned out to be run by people with about as much idea of banking as I have about football or brain surgery). Unfortunately, the building society, in order to compete with the bad banks that used to be mutually-owned, had made some spectacularly bad lending decisions and they sank the bank that co-operated with its members and its lenders and borrowers. And no amount of hiding behind spurious arguments, such as it was actually a 'plc' all along, just owned by a mutual organisation, will change the fact that ethical considerations and member dividends have now been sacrificed: we just lost another of the few mutuals, and in spite of the need to open up banking and increase competition, that everybody agrees on in principle, we now have one less alternative to choose from.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

The Overexcited Headteacher

My son's high school headteacher sent a letter out to all parents at the end of the last half-term. In it, he used four variants on the verb 'to excite'. On closer reading, his state of near euphoria seemed to have been induced by a proposed extension to the entrance hall and a WiFi upgrade. I was torn between advising him to calm down - take a restful holiday, perhaps, or maybe do some relaxation exercises. Either that or advise him that vacuous hype of the trivial or mundane was a waste of trees, when commited to paper. In education there is a tendency for those in positions of authority to resort to vapid sloganising. The phrase 'I'm excited to tell you' - or one of its many variants - too often hides the reality that there is nothing worth saying, and that being the case, silence is the most honest course to take.

What's in a Name: the University That Needs to Grow-up

Soon after the official opening, my dad found himself standing in front of the then Leeds Polytechnic's new Brunswick Building, when a man came up to him and asked what he thought of it. Dad was a joiner and spent much of his working life on major construction projects. Taking in the front of the building, he said to the stranger that it was neither symmetrical nor finished (the right hand side was punctuated with the protruding rusting ends of metal wall ties). Hearing dad's assessment, his interlocutor took a sharp intake of breath before announcing that he was Patrick Nuttgens, the Polytechnic's Director and the architect responsible for the building! Nuttgens, who was Director of the Polytechnic from its opening in 1969 until his retirement in 1986, channeled his considerable talents into architecture and higher education. Not always popular in his adopted home city, he was nonetheless a leading advocate of urban development with a human face and of wide access to higher education, based on merit, not ability to pay. Fast forward a few years after his retirement to 1992, and the Polytechnic became Leeds Metropolitan University. The new name, a tad too pretentious for some, was felt to add a certain cache to the institution's new status - and served to differentiate it from the neighbouring, and longer established, Leeds University. Twenty-one years after attaining university-status, Leeds Met's current leadership (who don't tend to go in for Nuttgens' like longevity in office) appear to have decided that 'Metropolitan' has been outgrown, and propose spending £250,000 on a makeover, that includes the options of substituting Metropolitan with 'Headingley', 'Beckett' or 'Riding'. Susan Price, Leeds Met's Vice-Chancellor and leading advocate of change, wants a 'consultation with stakeholders' - whoever they might be - but offers little by way of explanation as to how a name adopted in 1992 has become 'outgrown'. With finance cuts blighting further and higher education provision and courses closing in many universities, including the loss of some language teaching at Leeds Met, a more mature outlook from the leadership would be more welcome than this ridiculous cosmetic attention grabbing exercise.