Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Homage to Finkle Street

The trip to Ripon Library culminated in the discovery of my great grandfather's obituary, as well as that of his son, my great uncle, who died in WWI. Also discovered that three great aunts all 'succumbed to pneumonia on attaining womanhood' (1937 speak for died aged 19, 23 and 25, so heartbreakingly young). Now hope to learn more about their brother who emigrated to Australia three years after the end of WWI. At 80, my great granddad was 'Ripon's oldest hairdresser' when he died - says so in the title to his obituary, left me feeling rather proud of the old boy. He worked in his own shop, at 7 Finkle Street, top of the Market Square - must have done a roaring trade on market day, with various of his sons, for just over 44 years. That's a lot of snipping.  Bet he also did a nice line in 'something for the weekend, sir?' sales.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Mental health reporting - a perfect storm brewing?

As we struggle to come to terms with the loss of the Germanwings flight, news media focused on the mental health of the co-pilot, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) warns of a worrying rise in depression and anxiety among school pupils. Worryingly, however, tabloids are reverting to their previous practice of stigmatising mental health issues. Given the increase in depression and other mental health conditions among the general population, this risks trivialising - or even victimising - a large number of people and raises the danger that some will fail to seek help for fear of losing jobs or endangering personal relationships, causing untold misery for themselves, their families, friends and loved ones.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

A one-to-one ramble with the Ramblers

After a gap of several years, I decided to utilise the £44.00 a year I pay for joint membership of the Ramblers and go on a guided walk in the south Pennine hills. The walk had an inauspicious start, mainly because I was the only punter, so the guided walk consisted of myself and the leader. We set off at a quick pace and were soon climbing briskly across open moorland, but the guide was rather apologetic because part of the route might not be navigable, which would add nearly a mile to the advertised distance. I told him I had no problem with that, whereupon he informed me that changes to the advertised route or distance to be covered could be difficult: 'there's usually someone with a GPS, and there have been complaints'. This rather took me aback; leaders don't get paid for the difficult task of taking groups, or even single walkers out. In my case, being somewhat directionally-challenged, being able to walk in open country, with navigation left to someone who knows the way is the main attraction of Ramblers' membership. Surely, if you have GP you could navigate your own route, rather than use it to keep a constant check on the volunteer leader. We covered the route in quick time and the weather remained dry and sunny throughout. The only thing that spoiled the walk was a suggestion that I might consider leading walks - 'everyone has a walk in them, you should think about it' counselled my personal guide; leaving me to contemplate the utter chaos that would ensue if I should ever be put in charge of a ramble, with or without GPS.

Sanctions and church roof repairs

Jeremy Hardy joked that Osborne's Budget announcement of a £40 million Church Roof Repair Fund would at least mean that you'd be dry while queuing for the food bank. Given the Tory party's antipathy towards the current Anglican Church leadership's comments on poverty and social injustice, the fund smacks more of a desire to hold-on to a golden age that probably only existed in the era of the 'Tory Party at Prayer' gibe. Certainly, Osborne should find any attempt to buy favour receives short-shrift from those Church stalwarts who either volunteer at food banks or make regular cash or food donations to allow the vital work to continue. Getting a food parcel ready for someone who's turned up after being sanctioned by the DWP is enough to put anyone off voting Tory for life. And its good to see the Methodists aligning themselves very publicly with those who have been treated in this way by the present Coalition Government.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

The problem with bagels

Thirteen-year-old youngest son decided that a toasted bagel spread with strawberry jam was his choice of pre-bed snack for a Friday night. After cutting and toasting, he then placed the bagel on the kitchen worktop (sans plate) before spreading with margarine and jam, he then announced that the one thing he didn't like about bagels was the hole. Having spent what seems like an age cleaning up hardened globules of jam, neither do I.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Farage - an uneasy lesson from history

Interesting to hear Nigel Farage saying he wants to live in a country that is 'at ease with itself'. Leaving aside how this can occur while he and his minions rush around telling tales of fearsome foreigners, the words reminded me of another nationalist politician who was desperate to keep on the right side of the electorate. In his 1943 St Patrick's Day speech, Irish Taoiseach Eamon De Valera used the phrase to describe the Ireland he wanted to see. The speech, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Gaelic League, is also famous for his wanting to see 'comely maidens' taking part in spontaneous open-air dancing displays and no-one 'worth more than fifty pounds a year'. Within a few months of re-election, however, De Valera's Fianna Fail party had banned all unlicensed acts of public entertainment, although he never did quite manage to legislate against people earning too much money. At ease with ourselves, Mr Farage? Not with the likes of you around. Now, who fancies a quick dance down at the crossroads? Some Romanian folk dance perhaps, or maybe a touch of the Gay Gordons? I'm sure the UKIPpers will join in eventually.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Leeds and its squares

Leeds, my home town, likes squares. There's City Square, the proud home of the Black Prince's statue (though what connection he had with the place is anyone's guess), and his surrounding bevy of semi-clad nymphs. In 2000, the city created Millenium Square in front of the Portland Stone edifice of the Civic Hall. It was here that Nelson Mandela spoke when he visited the city to thank it for supporting him over the years and every Christmas features a German market, where dodgy tasting gluwein can be enjoyed/endured while looking for overpriced wooden toys and other nicknacks from the land of lager and lederhosen. Further back in the 1970s, the city fathers decided to honour the twin city of Dortmund with a square. Rather more downmarket this time, with a socialist-realism-ish statute of an overweight brewer. Now, it's just been announced that there's to be another square, Tower Square, just off Wellington Street this time, on the site of a former rail marshalling yard and subsequent home to a failed retail park. But Leeds hasn't got any squares named after its famous sons or daughters - be they Leeds-born or adopted, and I think the city planners should look to them before naming any new squares. Two candidates come to mind, Jane Tomlinson, the indefatigable charity endurance athlete who raised so much money for cancer research before her untimely death. OK, so she's got a race named after her already, but a square is a more permanent reminder. Or why not Moshe Osinsky (Sir Montague Burton), who founded his clothing empire in the city after arriving in England from Lithuania. In addition to his business success, he also went on to endow professorial chairs in industrial relations and international law at several leading British universities. His factory at Hudson Road, once the city's largest employer, is long gone, and apparently the only memorial to him in his adopted home is an out-of-town university hall of residence. Burton Square would do nicely.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

An exciting employment opportunity, or an over-excited employee?

It's high time the burgeoning employment agency sector was subject to regulation and statutory control, especially in the education sector. I was contacted, cold-called to be precise, the other day by an agency that said it had seen my CV, presumably on another recruitment agency website, as I hadn't even heard of them previously, and wondered if I could send them an up-to-date version. Where, I asked, was the job; not an unreasonable question. While, however, my CV was enthusiastically received - 'excellent' was the feedback from the 'consultant', my request was politely deflected - she 'was not at liberty' to discuss the actual school. Neither, as it turned out, was she able to be more enlightening on the number of hours or rate of pay - pretty much the most basic information you would expect - particularly in view of the long list of personal details they wanted from me. A second request for further information was met with the response that my previously 'excellent' CV was now sadly missing essential details that the anonymous school deemed to be essential. I demurred at this point, only to receive a rather embarrassing email from my current line manager, just letting me know he'd received a reference request. Now, I work part-time, and he has provided references previously - but only after I've given my permission for him to be approached. Here, we had a bunch of incompetents and shysters, who couldn't or wouldn't provide me with even the most basic details of the job, taking the decision to approach at least one of my referees to ask for a reference. After complaining to the agency, I was then told the fault was that of an 'over-exuberant' employee. Bad workmen and tools came to mind when I read it. I think the fault is rather over-caffeined, commission-driven cowboys let loose in a sector of which they have little real knowledge or understanding.