21 Apr 2017

Old Skool Demolition

Maths block and Science Labs gone
Roof tiles stripped. Library open to the elements
I have to drive past my old school quite regularly at the moment, so couldn't help noticing that it is in the process of being demolished.

The buildings have been boarded up for the best part of a decade, so the demolition is not entirely unexpected, but it is still very sad to see it happening.

Not so much because I liked my old school. Most of my classmates clearly didn't want to be there and some were quite nasty towards anybody who did. That meant I didn't get on quite as well as my middle school teachers and parents had hoped.

It was also the wrong kind of school for me, tending to turn out apprentices for the local shipyards and factories rather than in preparing pupils for A levels, University and high flying careers in the Civil Service....

With the benefit of hindsight, I was definitely held back by going to Woolston Secondary Schoool, but at least it was local to where I lived. After 5 years of walking well over a mile (with little legs) four times a day to & from the middle school (Mum insisted that I came home for lunch), proximity was the most attractive feature of this particular school. When I had the chance, I put my foot down and insisted that's Woolston Secondary was where I was going. The bus ride into Southampton if I went to King Edward VI School really did not appeal.

The expensive extension is being demolished too...
It is also sad to see this demolition in progress, because the school had a £multi-million extension circa 1990 and that's being demolished too..

It seems such a waste of public money, as the school closed in 2008 with the new part of the building being used for less than 20 years.

Taxpayers money is clearly inconsequential to the local education authorities, and that makes me very angry. Doubly so when I look at the Wikipedia page and see that the history of the old school has been successfully sanitised, so that any hint of criticism of the education authorities and their gross incompetence is avoided.

On a more cheerful note, I recall that the Deputy Headmistress of the school, during the period that I was there, Margaret Harris, won the BBC's Mastermind competition in 1984. "What a pity none of it rubbed off on you", was the reaction of my workmates at the time. Lol. I wished I had never mentioned it..

Sadly, I remember Miss Harris as a fearsome old battleaxe who successfully put the fear of God into everybody even if they hadn't done anything wrong, including most of the teachers, but I dread to think what the school would have been like without her. The Headmaster of the time, Won Bailey, had a speech impediment and wasn't taken too seriously by the pupils...

And then there was the Woolston School Brass Band, of which I was a reluctant and somewhat below par member. Nevertheless, I had some very good times in that group, including a memorable trip to the Loire Valley region of France in 1974, staying in the delightful French town of Chabbanais, where the local school was twinned with Woolston Secondary School.

It wasn't all bad, I suppose...

18 Apr 2017

Snap General Election - 8th June

There has been a big surprise in the UK today, with the Prime Minister announcing that she is going to call an early General Election. I have checked the calendar, it is not April 1st, it does seem to be true. There really will be a General Election on 8th June, subject to the technicality of Parliament approving that in a vote tomorrow.

As the Conservatives have a massive lead in the opinion polls and nobody in their right mind is going to think that UKIP, Labour or the Liberal Democrats are currently fit for office, I can see the thinking behind Theresa May's gamble. If she wins this vote on 8th June, the Brexit bashers and Remoaners will have the rug pulled from underneath them, Theresa May and the Conservatives will have a fresh mandate and we can move forward with the Brexit project. If she is successful, that gives her a full three years after we leave the EU in 2019, to get the UK settled again before the next General Election would be due in 2022.

It is a brave decision, but potentially a very good move if the gamble pays off.

Needless to say, all the other parties will now be trying to pull the rug from underneath the Government and Brexit, so I am afraid that we are in for a delightful few weeks of political squabbling.

And lets not forget that David Cameron gambled on winning the EU referendum last year, and lost.

Meanwhile, the local elections on 4th May have suddenly taken on a much greater significance. They will be seen as a dry run for the General Election a month later. I expect the turnout in the local elections to be higher than might otherwise have been the case and candidates who thought they were in safe local seats to have more of a fight on their hands...

We live in interesting times.

17 Apr 2017

Classic Scrabble Victory

This doesn't happen very often, but I managed to win at Scrabble last night.

My victory was entirely due to putting down two letters, which gave me a score of 180.

The UN that I played made UNFROZEN, which happened to span two triple word scores, with a double letter score on the O too.

The rather ordinary looking basic score of 20 tripled up to 60 and when I tripled it for a second time I had an amazing score of 180 for just two letters.

I couldn't have done any better if I had been playing darts.

Heidi's face was a picture, but she wasn't quite rendered speechless....

If only I could do this every time I played.

15 Apr 2017

Lucky Escape

I think I might have had a lucky escape recently, as a care service job that I enquired about fell through.

All I initially did, was respond to a large advertisement in Hedge End Post Office's window, where Amberley Care were looking for carers. No experience required, full training provided. You know the kind of thing.

The point of my phone call was to ask if they were interested in male carers. It seems that they were and they damned near bit my arm off. I could have gone for an "interview" the same afternoon, if I was up for it, but as I needed a shower, shave, shirt, shoes and something else beginning with 'sh' I decided to leave it until the following morning.

It was probably the easiest interview I have ever had. From the outset, I had the distinct impression that they had already decided to take me on, subject to references and DBS checks of course. It seems that male carers are like hens teeth round here. It was agreed that once the initial OK from the DBS check had been received, I would start shadowing. After a few such shadow shifts, which were unpaid, we would all see what we thought of me being a male carer and take it from there.

Which is basically what happened. Within a week, I was shadowing the Senior Carer on some lunchtime calls.

Although I had been depressed overnight, at the thought of having to downgrade from what I had been previously doing, litter picking, the care service job looked straightforward enough and the clients all seemed nice enough when I met them. I was also very pleased that the personal care element was said to be strictly limited, as most clients don't want a male carer doing that kind of thing.

So it could have worked out quite well. I might even have enjoyed doing that kind of work, except that when I asked the Senior Carer about some of the terms and conditions that went with the job, I discovered that I wasn't going to be paid for time spent travelling between clients.

That meant that if travelling between client A and client B, I could potentially be stuck in traffic caused by (for example) problems on the M27 or by an event at the Rose Bowl and I would most likely struggle to park if the congestion was that bad. Then, once I overcame that little problem, I would potentially have to wait for a few minutes whilst the client got up out of her armchair to press the button on the door entry system which would let me into the building. Once inside the clients flat, the 15 minute call started in earnest, for which I would earn the princely sum of £2. Less tax and National Insurance...

Stuff that, I thought, thinking back to the large 4x4 on the driveway of the executive house where Amberley Care is based, and feeling thoroughly exploited...

Realising that a disaffected carer is not likely to be a good carer, I decided not to do the job unless I was completely happy with it. I therefore asked to see a draft contract of employment, before doing any more shadowing, so I could check that I had understood correctly. I didn't want to do any more shadowing until I was completely happy with the terms and conditions, as I didn't think it was fair on the clients...

Needless to say I am still waiting for sight of that draft contract and I haven't done any more shadowing.

I saw the problem coming there there, I think, and successfully avoided another exploitative situation. I have had too many of those, over the years, and am wise to them now...

The only positive thing to come out of this, is that I have now been DBS checked. Showing that to be all clear was a useful exercise.

So what do I try next, I wonder...?

I really do feel like one of the Mr Men some days, when I am trying to find a suitable job...

And like one of these alternatives, if I am rejected too often...

3 Apr 2017

Hedge End Town Council, Annual Parish Assembly 2017

As my niece had been nominated for the Town Council's "Young Persons Serving The Community Award", I decided to go to the Annual Parish Assembly in Hedge End this evening.

This was the first time I had been to any kind of Town Council meeting in nearly two years, having decided that with a handful of Tories elected to the Town Council in 2015, the dynamics were now better than the 20-1 majority that the Lib Dems held previously. Quite frankly, I was happy to let them all get on with it, pleased to retire from the position of (usually) being the only member of the public in the public gallery ..

In case you don't know, the Annual Parish Assembly is a meeting where the public are invited to listen to reports from the Chairman of the Parish Council, the District and and Borough Councillors and from the leaders of any other groups that the council gives significant funding to. There is also a chance for members of the public to ask questions....!

In Hedge End at least, the Parish Assembly is not usually very well attended, with maybe 50 people attending this year out of a population of over 21,000. And many of that pathetically small audience were the Councillors themselves and their partners, or the friends and family of the people who are up for some kind of award. Even worse, about half of the winners in the "Best Cultivated Allotment" awards didn't turn up, causing the Town Clerk a certain amount of embarrassment as he announced their achievement. I was wondering why we all bothered, but this meeting is actually a legal requirement. The law requires it to be held every year. For historical reasons I presume...?

If that wasn't depressing enough, I thought the meeting got off to a very bad start, with the Chairman of the Town Council having a personal rant at the audience over the misuse of the Ambulance services. When he eventually moved on to his formal report, in his capacity of Chairman of the Town Council, I thought it was a little better. He highlighted some of the ongoing problems, difficulty upgrading the paddling pool for instance, and although the outlook was generally optimistic in tone, it wasn't as rose-tinted as some reports that I have heard previously.

Particularly pleasing to me was the report that the location of the Xmas lights switch-on had been changed, to reduce traffic safety concerns. I remember expressing exactly those concerns in a "Culture and Community" meeting previously and although I didn't get anywhere at the time, it seems that things did change a couple of years later, after the obstinate Cllr Bloom resigned from the council and the chair of that committee changed. That tells me that it is worth making these comments at Council meetings, but I should expect to play the longer game rather than achieve instant results.

For once, the reports from the Borough and County Councillors were quite interesting. Both seemed to adopt the same kind of tone that had been set by the Chairman, not shying away from the difficulties, but generally optimistic without being rose-tinted. They were not too long either this year, which is always a bonus...!

The financial Report was interesting, revealing that the Town Council is now digging it's own graves. I had heard that idea proposed a few years ago and was pleased to see that it had now come to fruition, with the purchase of some additional equipment to allow the Town Council's groundsmen to dig holes in the local cemetery. It saves the expense of having to get contractors in to do that, so it is a sensible change (in my opinion), helping to keep our Council Tax down in the long term..

There were surprisingly few reports from the local organisations, with the Hub (Youth Services) and Kings Community Church being the only two of any significance.

The Serving the Community Awards were a little more interesting than usual this year, as there was some family interest. I was slightly surprised to learn that were only two nominations in each of the categories. I would have expected a few more than that, from a population of 21,000. Did the Town Council have to drum up a few nominations I wonder..? They don't exactly seem to have been inundated with them and (apart from my niece) the nominees would all have been well known to the Council ...?

Anyway, the adult winner was a lady who maintains raised flower beds for the Council. Deservedly so, as those beds are much better kept than they used to be. The junior winner was a teenager who has been doing some good work at the Hub (Youth Services). My niece was runner up and was given a really nice certificate in a frame. There will not be too many youngsters getting one of those, and it is a real achievement. Something to be proud of.

Inevitably, I couldn't restrain myself from asking a question when the opportunity arose. What more can the Town Council do, to advise the public when ad-hoc vacancies occur and encourage them to put themselves forward as Councillors..? Having put the Chairman of the Town Council on the spot, my question was batted across to the Town Clerk, who competently fielded it by referring to various technicalities and the fact that the Town Council is only required to do a limited range of things. Which they do. Not entirely satisfied with that, I suggested putting a flyer in the Hedge End Gazette and I think I got a commitment from the Chairman Cllr Paul Carnell and Cllr Jerry Hall to raise the subject in a future Town Council meeting.

So I will have to go along to that meeting and join in the discussion, It will be just like the old days...

Meeting over, the best was yet to come, with various Councillors happy to chat to me as old friends. I really appreciated that, more than they realised perhaps, and that for me was the most valuable part of the evening. In particular, Cllr Dan Clarke was particularly generous with his time.

But I won't report all that we discussed here. Just that it was a really enjoyable chat with a local Councillor on topics of the day, national and local.