The Damned United at Derby Theatre

Last Saturday night I saw Red Ladder Theatre Company’s production of The Damned United at Derby Theatre. The play has been adapted from David Peace’s 2006 novel by Anders Lustgarten. You know that you’re probably going to be impressed by a play when the attention to detail starts before you enter the auditorium. The Match Day Magazine and Programme echoes the style of the publications sold at football grounds in the 70s, even down to the lettered list of matches to write the half-time scores against. As a Derby native, I particularly enjoyed that the programme listed the honours won by the Rams between 1968 and 1972, the era of Brian Clough and Peter Taylor, even if this reverie was slightly spoiled by the programme also listing the later achievements of Clough at another East Midlands team.

The Damned United Programme, Script and Tickets   Probably the first thing to note about the play is that it is a lot closer in spirit to (and the “industrial” language of) the novel than the film that starred Michael Sheen in 2009. This makes the play a darker and more intense experience – and a more interesting one, too. Brian Clough’s character, inner thoughts and relationship with Peter Taylor are centre stage, with the brooding presence of Don Revie passing judgement on him from the surrounding screens.

Andrew Lancel gives a well-paced and believable performance as Clough. His efforts are particularly impressive as he’s on stage for most of the 90 minutes without a break. Tony Bell is equally impressive as Taylor and the chemistry between them works well. Like the book, the action switches between the triumphs the pair shared together at Derby and the agonies suffered by Clough at Leeds, where Taylor had refused to join him after the pair had resigned from Derby. The supporting cast of John Graham Davies (Longson, Owen & Bolton), Tom Lorcan (McKenzie), Tony Turner (Kirkland & Cussins) and the ensemble players all help to keep the story moving along at a cracking pace.

The death of Clough’s mother, “The end of anything good. The beginning of everything bad.”, signals Derby’s exit from the European Cup at the hands of Juventus and an allegedly bent referee, with Clough’s bluff being called by the Derby board when they accept his resignation. In the Leeds timeline, the death acts to foreshadow the players’ revolt and Clough being shown the exit.

The play ends with the re-creation of the infamous Yorkshire Television showdown after Clough’s sacking. This is a particularly elegant piece of staging and powerfully done, with Lancel’s Clough interacting directly with the cleverly cut archive footage of Revie.

It’s by far the best production I’ve seen on this stage since the days of the old Derby Playhouse. The run finishes on April 16th, so there’s not much time left, but if you can get a ticket, go and see it. You won’t be disappointed.

The lost art of the end of the roll photograph

One of the lost arts of the digital age is the end of the roll photograph. These were the pictures taken, almost at random, so that a film could be developed before the significance of the events captured in the earlier frames was forgotten. These are some of my favourite examples from my father’s archives.

 

Market Cross Malmesbury 1951The market cross in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, taken in summer 1951. This is on the end of a roll of film that features a holiday in Devon, so this must have been the stopping point on the way back top the Midlands. The woman on the right hand side of the photograph doesn’t look as if she’s having a very good day.

Haste ye back to ScotlandTaken at some point in the mid-1950s as the last photograph from a holiday in Scotland, this end of the roll photograph was presumably a heartfelt wish. It was certainly a popular destination when we went on holiday as a family in the 1970s.

Hanging basket 1983A random photograph of the hanging basket outside our house from 1983. Looking at the angle of the picture I can only assume that it was taken from halfway up a step-ladder!

GNU 706NAnd finally, also from the end of a roll of film shot in 1983 a rear view of my first car that I don’t remember ever having seen before I scanned the negative yesterday evening. Complete with a Radio Derby car sticker from the era before the BBC insisted on imposing a boring corporate brand uniformity across all their local radio stations and a fluffy toy owl on the parcel shelf.

Which leads me to ask a question every bit as random as these end of the roll photographs are. Has anyone ever used a parcel shelf in a car for putting parcels on? No, I thought not.

6 things my pilot research interview taught me

I’ve now completed my pilot research interview, transcribed the resulting audio and conducted a very brief analysis of the data. These are six of the more important things the pilot has taught me.

  • I was accurate at estimating how long the interview would take. I recorded just over 46 minutes of audio, having initially estimated 45-60 minutes. This is good as, if the interview had gone on for longer, it would have become too difficult for me and the interviewee to concentrate.
  • When listening back to the audio, it became apparent that some of the questions I asked were too long, too rambling, and in some cases were confusing, because I was asking for 2 or 3 things at the same time. A bit like that last sentence really. I’ve gone back through my interview schedule and revised the questions into what I hope are shorter, pithier and better phrased questions that will be easier for my participants to answer.
  • I was reasonably accurate at predicting how long an interview takes to transcribe. My original expectation was around an hour’s effort to transcribe between 5 and 7 minutes of speech. That turned out to be about right. Just as importantly, I’ve now discovered that it’s much easier to transcribe an interview if I don’t interrupt too often and try not to speak over my interviewee.
  • I was able to gather data that suggests I’ll be able to answer my research question. Hurrah! However, I’ve also realised that some of the questions I asked can be replaced by ones which more closely align to it. My supervisor agrees, so I’ve submitted a revised interview schedule that I believe will work better.
  • I have no shortage of willing participants. However, scheduling an interview is a little trickier than I first anticipated. Having a ‘plan B’ is useful when real life means that a participant can’t make it at short notice.
  • Qualitative studies produce lots of rich data and there isn’t enough time in the day to be able to analyse it from every possible angle. Having a well-defined set of methodological tools to start the analysis from is definitely useful, but to get the best out of the data you need to go beyond them – or at least, I need to use them in more depth than I did on the pilot interview data.

Oh, and number seven – never do a piece of qualitative research without piloting it! I’m certain that without the pilot session I would have ended up with poorer data to analyse in respect of my research question and the job of transcribing it would have become much harder. My golden rule (and note) from last time therefore still applies:

Ssshhh!If you’ve conducted a research interview, what’s your formula for success?

 

A version of this article was previously published at the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 6th April 2016.

Caterham highs and lymphoma lows

I’ve had a strange week. Last Friday started well enough. I went over to the Caterham dealer at Donnington Park and test drove a 270 SV. I was grinning like an idiot all the way around the route. It was definitely the most enjoyable road car that I’ve ever driven. I was hooked. I sat down in the showroom. I drank coffee. I ignored the nagging voice in my head that was telling me a car price list with paint, windscreen, doors and assembly on it as optional extras can’t possibly be a good thing. I ordered one. My flexible friend has never had to be quite so flexible.

For the avoidance of doubt, I feel that I ought to add that I’ve bought a full-sized Caterham 7, not the toy version illustrated above. Although it looks very cool too. My car will be a similar colour though, once the optional paint has been applied of course. Fortunately “Brum” (as my newly ordered car has already been named by my beauty blogger daughter) won’t be arriving until I’ve just about finished my MSc, so it won’t be distracting me from the many hours of transcription and analysis I need to do for my dissertation, not to mention writing it all up between now and mid-September. The other good thing that’s happened this week was getting a good mark on my final module assignment, so if I’m not motivated to finish the MSc now I suppose I never will be.

However, the lymphoma beast seems to be rearing its ugly little head. I’ve never felt so physically tired as I have done this past week and the enlarged lymph nodes in my neck are throbbing constantly. Unusually for me I felt so out of sorts this morning that I decided to work from home. It’s probably a good thing that I did as I needed to sleep for a little while this afternoon to get through the day. Blergh.

I make that two highs to one low this week (even if the lymphoma low has hung around since Sunday), so I’m still winning on points.

An alcohol-free Lent

Now that it’s Easter Sunday, I feel that I can safely talk about my alcohol-free Lent. I had my last glass of wine on Tuesday 9th February and not a drop of the stuff has passed my lips since then. I was expecting it to be difficult, but with the exception of Mothering Sunday when the four of us went out for dinner at the excellent Masa restaurant in Derby (ironically enough in a converted Wesley Chapel) I haven’t really missed it. This comes as something of a surprise. In other years I’ve always needed to call on the tradition of not counting Sundays as being part of Lent.

Part of my avoidance strategy has been to make sure that I’ve always had an alternative to wine at home. While the Co-op’s no added sugar dandelion and burdock is excellent, there’s only so much of it I can drink at once, rather like diet colas. So sparkling water and various cordials have also been on hand. Even so, I’m not sure I would have made it unscathed if I hadn’t remembered that alcohol-free lagers are available. I’ve always dismissed them, as the ones that were available 30+ years ago were invariably disgusting. However, as with so many things in the twenty-first century, the Germans have come to the rescue.

I can thoroughly recommend Bitburger Drive, although I haven’t managed to find it in a local supermarket. In fact, the only place where I did manage to purchase a couple of bottles this Lent was at the Wheatsheaf Hotel in Virginia Water. Bitburger alcohol free lagerSo the main staple of my alcohol-free beer drinking during Lent has been Beck’s Blue. I even drank it a few evenings ago when I’d been given a free bottle of red wine to go with my meal in the Holiday Inn in Darlington (I live a jet-setting life!!). That bottle made its way back down the A1 with me and is currently sitting in the wine cellar chez Holyoake (aka the cupboard under the stairs).

Becks BlueMy  local Co-op sells it too. But for some reason, they challenge you to prove your age when you buy it (the alcohol content is stated as being less than 0.05% by volume), but don’t bother if you buy Shandy Bass (alcohol content stated as being less than 0.5% by volume – 10 times as potent). A brief twitter exchange with them didn’t shed too much light as to why, except that Beck’s Blue apparently looks like it’s alcohol, whereas presumably Shandy Bass doesn’t. I’d have thought the big red triangle was equally suggestive of booze as the shape of the Beck’s Blue bottle.

Go figure, as they say in America.

Six things needed for a research interview

On Monday I will start to feel like a ‘proper’ researcher. That’s because I’ve reached the stage in my dissertation when I can conduct a pilot interview. The aim of piloting the interview is to make sure that the questions I’m asking can be understood by the actual group of participants I’ll be working with in April and that the answers to the questions generate data which can be analysed in such a way that it helps me to address my research question.

Interview KitThe picture shows the things that I’ll be taking along to the pilot interview session I’ve arranged. The items are:

  • A participant consent form. This is vital, as without it being signed by the participant to signal that they’re giving me their informed consent to take part in the research, I’d be breaking the ethical code of conduct of both the university and the British Psychological Society.
  • Briefing notes and my interview question guide. Before I start the interview, I need to let my participants know a little of what I’ll be asking them about. So that the interview doesn’t turn into some kind of unstructured chat, I have the key questions linked to the research models that I’m trying to test, written in a table form for me to refer to throughout the session.
  • A participant information sheet. This is so that my interviewees will be able to understand what will happen next in the research process (transcription, checking and analysis), how they can get in contact with me again if they have concerns, and to remind them of their right to withdraw their data up until the point at which I’ve conducted the analysis.
  • Pens to write some brief notes with during the interview. These notes will help me to quickly find parts of the interview that strike me as being particularly important, as well as being able to record other aspects of what happens during each session that can’t be retrieved from an audio recording alone.
  • My trusty digital voice recorder. This is purpose-built for the job and produces extremely good quality audio – essential for the transcription process. It’s also easy to transfer recordings from it onto my encrypted laptop and then wipe its entire memory – essential for protecting participant privacy. I’ve tested it again this morning, making sure that the batteries are up to scratch and that I also have spares – just in case, you understand.

The hardest part for me during the interviews will be to do more listening than talking. I’m expected to talk a lot (some would say far too much) for my day job, so I’m going to be taking this little note along with me too.

Ssshhh!A version of this article was previously published at the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 19th March 2016.

Post-40 Bloggers

Exeter Cathedral: two photographs taken 65 years apart

Yesterday morning I was sat at home in Derby, working through my father’s photographic archive. I happened to scan this photograph of Exeter Cathedral, dated 1951. Even though I know the Cathedral well, it took me some time to recognise it. I think this was because of the covering over the West window. I’ve since seen another photograph of the Cathedral taken on VE day which also shows this covering. My guess is that it may have been related to the bomb damage the Cathedral suffered on 3-4 May 1942 as a target of the Baedeker raids. While the Nazis usually targeted sites of military, economic or strategic value, these raids specifically targeted culturally or historically important sites. Much of Exeter city centre was destroyed but the Cathedral survived relatively intact, with the main damage being restricted to St James’ Chapel on the South side.

Exeter Cathedral 1951I took the second photograph a few hours later after my eldest daughter had successfully driven her first car (and me) 220 miles down the motorway to her home. You can, of course, no longer park directly in front of the Cathedral and the mature tree on the left of the picture is long gone. The stonework around the entrance seems to be much cleaner than it was, probably due to a combination of hard work by the cathedral stonemasons and lower air pollution. Otherwise, in a city that has seen many changes since the 1950s, the 600 year old Cathedral comfortingly looks much the same as it did 65 years ago.

Exeter Cathedral 2016

MSc occupational psychology modules review

Last night I submitted the final module assignment for my MSc occupational psychology qualification at the University of Leicester – hurrah!

It’s now just the small matter of restarting the dissertation process (which I’m ashamed to admit that I almost entirely neglected during February), working out the questions I need to ask my participants when I interview them, having them approved by my supervisor before I start to ask them and then, well, getting on with it I suppose. September 15th seems very close all of a sudden.

But before I finally knuckle down, I thought I’d look back at a blog post that I wrote in August 2013, just before I started the course and see how each of the six modules has lived up (or not!) to my expectations.

Research Methods: This looks like a sensible start to the course and I hope it’s going to be relatively straightforward. I doubt if there are any statistical techniques it will throw at me that I won’t be able to get my head around having wrestled with the “fish” book and SPSS on the OU psychology degree. There’s also coverage of qualitative methods – I wonder if Q will get a mention?

It was a good start to the course. Q doesn’t get a mention, the stats weren’t any more difficult than those I was already used to and there was a qualitative method – interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) that I hadn’t used before. There was also an ‘early assignment’ of 1,000 words that we had to submit within a few (I think it was 4) weeks of starting, which was good for blowing the academic cobwebs away after taking a couple of years out after finishing my BSc.

Personnel Selection and Assessment: I’ve been involved in this aspect of work, on and off, for about the last 20 years. I’d like to think that I’m a better interviewer and selector than most, but who knows. Psychometrics rears its ugly little head in this module, so I’m looking forward to unleashing some critical arguments from DD307(*)!

All kinds of selection techniques were covered, including some that I hadn’t come across (for example, situational judgement tests). Psychometrics do rear their head and while I’m still far from convinced of their utility, I at least now understand why other people are.

Ergonomics: Looks interesting. I wonder whether the vogue for open plan offices and hot desks is more to do with the desire to exert power over subordinates by senior management than as a way of ensuring a productive workforce or reducing overhead costs?

Though I had no way of knowing it at the time, the words that I wrote in August 2013 were more or less how I concluded the second module assignment (but with a cost-benefit analysis accompanying it to demonstrate my point). The first module assignment was great fun and involved me spending a Sunday morning taking photographs (like the one below) inside my car. This was probably the module that I’ve enjoyed the most.

Ergonomics assignment - inside my car!

The Psychology of Organising: I really hope this isn’t going to be an attempt to fit most of an MBA into 12 weeks – but the description of the module makes it potentially seem like the most interesting of the course. I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into this one.

It wasn’t an MBA in 12 weeks (thank goodness!), but it was interesting. The two module assignments were interesting too – one broadly covering the area of change management & resistance to change (very useful in providing me with material that I now use to support my ‘proper’ job) with the other introducing me to the positive psychology concept of authentic leadership, which I greatly enjoyed critiquing!

Psychology of Occupational Training and Learning: I’m definitely not sure about this module. It sounds a little dull to be honest.

Definitely not my favourite module, but not dull either. It does what it says on the tin!

The Individual at Work: The module description makes it sound all lovely and fluffy (work-life balance, diversity, workplace counselling and the like) – but I have this nagging feeling that it’s aimed squarely at HR professionals who want to know how far they can push people before they start to fight back. I’m hoping that the module hasn’t been written by Catbert – but if it is, at least I should end up with a better understanding of what motivates people to become HR managers.

The module description is correct, rather than my paranoid interpretation of it from August 2013. It’s too close to me having finished it for me to review it entirely dispassionately, but I struggled with the assignment and, all in all, found it to be the least interesting of the six modules. However, I suspect that this might be because I came to view it as an annoyance – something that was standing in the way of me getting on with my dissertation.

Talking of which, I guess I have no more excuses left not to get on with it. Now, where did I put my copy of Seale’s “The Quality of Qualitative Research” again … ?

 

 

(*) DD307 was the Open University’s critical social psychology module (now discontinued), which gave me nightmares at the time, but made far more of a lasting impact on the way I think about psychological issues than any other module I took at undergraduate level.

A version of this article was previously published at the University of Leicester Student Blogs, 2nd March 2016.

Why education shouldn’t be a treadmill

I can understand why some people say that education is a treadmill that you get on as soon as you’re born and eventually fall off, presumably when the speed of the belt goes beyond your capacity to keep up. There’s a brilliantly amusing and thought-provoking post over at Jo Sandelson’s Heir Raising blog which makes this point.

I find myself agreeing with a lot of what Jo writes. Play is important and we need to make time for it. Hot-housing students does no-one any good. Much of the over-testing that successive governments have introduced in schools is counterproductive. All of us (children and adults alike) need to be free to explore and follow our passions, whether that’s racing cars, looking after pigs or becoming a priest. Working for a software company is perhaps an even weirder choice, but that’s a different blog post.

But (and there’s always a but) some of us rather like the challenge that formal education provides. When I was young (a long, long time ago) nothing horrified me more than being forced outside to play, especially if team games were involved. The more academic stuff I could do, the better. In sixth form I willingly gave up my Wednesday afternoons on the football pitch to spend a few more hours in the strange little storeroom between the physics labs. There were four or five of us in there, working towards getting an additional qualification in electronics.

An education system without examinations or assessment seems utterly pointless to me. They need to be viewed positively as the chance to get recognition for all of the work that goes into study. We have to encourage children and adults to think of examinations and assessments like that. Tackling the fear that assessments are a nasty, stressful hurdle to get over with negative consequences if you fail is therefore really important. It’s up to all of us to change that discourse, to take the pressure off, one child, one subject, one assessment at a time. (Now, I’m well aware that the former education secretary, Michael ‘loose lips’ Gove, did much to set this more enlightened view back several decades when he removed resits at the same time as denigrating vocational subjects, piling yet more unwanted pressure on students. Hopefully however, after his alleged leaking and misreporting of a conversation he heard someone else having with the Queen, he’ll be off to the tower soon).

If you want to be happy in life with a comfortable standard of living, education is essential. A good education, with the certificates and grades to prove it remains the most important enabler of social mobility. While we should encourage everyone to follow their dreams – I have two amazingly talented daughters doing exactly that in the precarious world of writing and acting – it’s much easier to do that if you have qualifications to fall back on. I see very few happy people who have none at all … they’re probably even rarer than people like me who have always enjoyed study.

So how can we help to alleviate some of the pressure that children feel and make education seem less like a treadmill? In my view, education is so important that there needs to be a way for people to take second, third, fourth … or any number of chances to succeed. Sadly, recent governments have unthinkingly dismantled much of the support for ‘second’ chances by slashing further education budgets and forcing up the price of higher education – putting many mature and part-timers off.

Providing ways to ensure that adults can access FE and HE at any point during their lives is needed to break the tyranny of the treadmill. However, it’s only if people value education (academic and vocational), focus on the positive joys of learning and the benefits that a good education brings longer-term (socially and financially) that this type of provision will become a political spending priority again. It isn’t at the moment, and a sea-change in attitudes is required.

Education, examinations and assessments – not a treadmill, but a gateway to a happier future.

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