Apr 19 2015

In between days

The toughest part of being on “watch and wait” are the days between going for blood tests and seeing the consultant to collect the results. Even though I now know the routine and I’m still feeling generally well, these “in between days” are the ones I find most difficult to cope with. I’m sure this is because that at one of these appointments, the results will mean chemotherapy will be starting, rather than being given a few more weeks of breathing space. I know that it’s nonsense to compare the experience with that of coming up for air while drowning, but I confess that the thought has crossed my mind on more than one occasion.

For me,  the best way to cope with the days between the tests and the verdict is to keep myself busy. There’s certainly no shortage of things for me to do at work at the moment, and this weekend is particularly great for remaining distracted from the beast as I’m currently on my way down to London to see Emily’s play, “Stasis”, at the White Bear Theatre. (Plug: you have until 25th April to catch it, and it’s been receiving great reviews). All of the people on the train who are on their way to watch Liverpool United play Aston Wanderers at Wemberleeeeee are definitely going to the wrong 90 minutes of entertainment.

Once my haematology appointment is out of the way on Wednesday, and assuming that I’m still on watch and wait, things will return to normal rapidly. It’s not that I ever forget about the challenge that I’m facing but I’m lucky to have people around me – family,  friends and work colleagues – that understand.

It’s why the “drowning man” analogy is rubbish. During these in between days, I need to keep reminding myself of that truth.

 

Apr 15 2015

Manifesto promises about adult education and lifelong learning

With the main political party manifestos having been published and now available on their websites(*), I’ve read them all, cover to cover, in an attempt to discover their adult education and lifelong learning commitments, so that you don’t have to.

In summary:

  • The Liberal Democrats have the best pledge – to establish a cross-party commission to address the undoubted problems of this part of the education sector.
  • The Green and Conservative Parties acknowledge that adult learners exist (explicitly in the case of the Greens and implicitly in the case of the Conservatives). However, both offer at least one policy that will damage their interests.
  • The Labour and UKIP manifestos are almost, or entirely free of content on this topic.

In detail:

Liberal Democrats

Pages 50 – 63 of their 158 page manifesto (a little under 10% of its contents) is devoted to education in general.

Page 62: “We will … Work with university ‘mission groups’ to … enable more part-time learning, and help more people to complete qualifications.” Many adult learners require part-time provision and it’s the only manifesto to acknowledge its existence and value.

Page 63: “We will … Establish a cross-party commission to secure a long-term settlement for the public funding of reskilling and lifelong learning.” There’s no doubt that a long-term settlement is required here and it’s the only manifesto to acknowledge that something needs to be done to address the problems in this sector that goes beyond party advantage.

Greens

The Green Party manifesto is an enormous 11Mb pdf file! It becomes clear why that is once you open it – it’s an image document, rather than a text document, making it impossible to read for anyone using assistive technology. They need to do better. However, the table of contents signposts the education section as being on pages 36-40 of the 84 page manifesto.

Page 36: “… the Green Party will make education free for everyone up to and including university or equivalent.” This is a bold promise, but lacking in detail. Does “university or equivalent” include masters and PhD level qualifications, and how many times would you be able to benefit from a free university education? (I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt that they don’t intend to put an age-cap on their promise).

Page 38: “Reverse the trend whereby 45% of apprenticeships, that is, jobs with structured training, are now taken by people over 25.” Wow. This is the only openly hostile policy towards adult education and learning I can find in any of the manifestos. In the Green’s world, it would appear that if you’re over 25 and want to better yourself through a job with structured training, you’d be too late.

Page 38: “Encourage local authorities to use some of the additional money we propose to give them to restore a full range of local adult education programmes.” Also wow. Just four bullet points after the apprenticeships bombshell, they say this – one of the few openly positive policies towards adult education and learning in any of the manifestos!

Page 39: “‘Lifelong learning’ is a phrase that is much used by politicians and educational professionals. Giving people the opportunity to be ‘second chance’ learners should be a crucial part of what universities offer to wider society.” So we have a party that claims to understand lifelong learners. But I’m not sure that ‘lifelong learning’ is a phrase that is used by all that many politicians if I reflect on my own experiences.

Page 40: “The Green Party would address this through … Restoring access to lifelong learning by supporting mature students and their families. We will reverse the 20-year programme of dismantling the lifelong learning sector.” There’s no details as to what kind of support they’re going to offer – free (taxpayer-funded) education? loans? childcare? something else? So beware – fine words butter no parsnips.

There’s a lot to mull over here and some great sentiments in the manifesto – but the openly hostile and ageist approach to apprenticeships they appear to be advocating is hugely concerning.

Conservatives

Page 35: “We will continue to replace lower-level, classroom-based Further Education courses with high quality apprenticeships …” This is bad news for returning adult learners. The policy of diverting funding from the adult skills budget to protect the apprenticeship budget is opposed for good reason by the relevant trades union and adult FE providers.

Page 35: “And we will encourage the development of online education as a tool for students, whether studying independently or in our universities”. Potentially interesting, as many adult learners benefit from the flexibility that the Open University and MOOCs provide, but there’s no detail as to what form this “encouragement” might take.

Disappointingly, there’s no explicit statement in their manifesto that any form of education or learning is needed by individuals and/or the businesses they work for past early adulthood, but I guess that ‘studying independently’ might just be an implicit acknowledgement.

Labour

Page 37: “We  will protect the entire education budget, including the early years, schools and post-16 education, so that it rises in line with inflation.” So it sounds as if the cuts made by both the coalition and the previous Labour government to adult education funding will remain in place. The context of this sentence is also from an entire section that talks about education being important for “our children”, so I do wonder if post-16 education lasts much past 21.

Page 52: “Labour will do more to increase the amount of time prisoners spend working and learning.” A laudable aim. But I’m not going to suggest that anyone should consider getting locked up to secure access to educational opportunities as an adult!

From the perspective of adult learners, the Labour manifesto is disappointingly content-free.

UKIP

There’s nothing at all in the 76 page UKIP manifesto for those wanting to understand their policies on adult education and lifelong learning. But that’s ok – their leader will simply make it up as he goes along, as usual!

 

(*) I’m speaking from an English perspective of course, so I’ve not bothered to read the manifestos of those parties only standing in specific countries or regions of the UK, as much as I’d like to find the time to read Mebyon Kernow’s manifesto.

 

Apr 12 2015

Guilty?

Pigeon at Raglan Castle

 

Apr 03 2015

Six reasons why I loathe LinkedIn

Let me count the ways I hate you, LinkedIn and the manner in which you encourage people to behave.

1. There’s far, far too much willy-waving going on. For some reason that completely escapes me, people write in a strange kind of LinkedIn-ese that you see nowhere else (except on CVs destined for the ‘reject’ pile).

Some examples:

“I am a multi talented individual …” – Good for you!

“I am a results oriented business leader.” – What kind of results do you get?

“I operate at the most senior levels to make things happen.”  – What things? Are they good, bad or indifferent?

“I continuously remove obstacles preventing sales in order to reach my objectives” – Sounds ominous to me.

“… strategically managing multiple hard-to-fill and urgent job requisitions.” – Pardon?

“As a sales hunter, I drive myself to reach my goals …” – So no points on your driving licence then?

2. Oh dear.

Homeopathy on LinkedIn

3. I see endless examples of ageism and sexism, in the guise of humour or “research says that …”. Here’s part of a milder example. As anyone who’s ever studied occupational psychology knows, someone’s age or gender isn’t correlated with how well people do at work.

Ageist tosh

4. I detest the corporate shill – someone who only ever posts company propaganda. LinkedIn at its best is personal – and nothing is more impersonal and lazy than simply regurgitating everything that your marketing department produces. That’s not to say that it’s never appropriate – it may well be. But if your status updates only consist of that material, then you’re not providing much of value to your network.

5. The constant entreaties by email and on LInkedIn itself to take out a free trial of their premium service. No thanks. If there was a way of permanently stopping you from asking me about this several times a month I’d probably like LinkedIn a little more.

No, I don't want to upgrade

6. The many and varied ‘intelligence tests’ that appear to be the only thing that some people post. I particularly hate these if the person concerned can’t tell the difference between “your” and “you’re”.
A LinkedIn intelligence test

 

However, I won’t be deleting my account any time soon. At its best, LinkedIn is a useful source of information and contacts. In particular, it’s been a good way on staying in touch with people who I’ve enjoyed working with in the past, as well as with my current colleagues. Within the last month, a person I worked with more than 15 years ago contacted me as he’d heard about my lymphoma. Without LinkedIn, I doubt whether that would have been possible. It’s these moments of humanity, in amongst all the willy-waving that makes me grateful that LinkedIn exists after all.

 

Mar 19 2015

Go TeamHolyoake!

I’m a very proud, if amused father at the moment.

Here’s why – a message (and photograph) from my daughters.

TeamHolyoake

So anyone who knows us will know we’re not exactly seasoned runners. Jess actively hates it; her favourite activity is sitting down and she prefers to take the train. Emily hasn’t run anywhere for many many months and once pretended to have a sprained ankle to avoid a 800 metre run that was sprung upon her at school.

Perfect candidates for a 10k.

We’re doing this for a lot of people, because like most families we’ve lost people we love to various forms of cancer. But we’re mostly doing this for our Dad, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in August 2014. He hasn’t started treatment yet, but when he does we suspect it won’t exactly be comfortable. So we’re going to forgo the sitting down for now and make ourselves distinctly uncomfortable to raise money to help him, and everyone else who’s struggling.

(Jess’s secondary aim is to look like Kim Kardashian.)

Please give us some money. In return, we’ll post ridiculous photos of us trying to run around Exeter.

 

So if you would like to give Cancer Research a few pennies or pounds through them, their donation page is here.

Thank you!
 
Follow my blog with Bloglovin

 

Mar 13 2015

Stasis

This post is simply a shameless plug for the play that my eldest daughter has written. It’s being produced by Encompass Productions and is being performed at the White Bear Theatre in April. It promises to be a great experience as science fiction is seen rarely on stage. I’m really looking forward to seeing it. Tickets are on sale now. If you go on Sunday 19th, I will be in the audience with you.

How far are you willing to go to say you’re sorry?

Stowaway Ren is on a Union spacecraft. Mission uncertain. What is for sure, is that she shouldn’t be there. With the whole crew in stasis and only a hologram and the ship’s computer for company, Ren must cope with isolation and depleting oxygen whilst trying to find her way home.

Stasis

 

Mar 07 2015

The Great Northern Greenway

A few photographs from this morning’s walk along the Great Northern Greenway at Breadsall. The path follows the route of the old Great Northern railway and is currently in the process of being extended towards Ilkeston. Although today the path ends near Breadsall Hilltop, the old line passed over Friargate Bridge in Derby which I recently photographed.

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Mar 04 2015

“We’ve got something for everyone” – Why astrology and homeopathy win votes

I don’t know whether to get angry, despair, or both when I hear David Tredinnick MPs pronouncements on astrology and homeopathy and why NHS spending on them might be an effective use of our taxes.

From a politician’s perspective, there does appear to be some mileage in championing these pseudosciences. A substantial minority of the UK population believe in astrology and/or horoscopes (22%, according to a 2009 Gallup survey – up from 7% in 1951), and (almost – see comments!) a majority of us believe that homeopathy is ‘just as’ or ‘more than’ effective as conventional treatments.

Fortunately, the scientific truth of a hypothesis isn’t a popularity contest, as the resolution of the controversy surrounding the method of cholera transmission in Victorian London demonstrates. The popular belief of the disease being spread by invisible cholera clouds was eventually proved to be wrong, consequently saving countless lives.

Turning back to astrology, there was considerable effort expended between 1980 and 2000, reported in the peer-reviewed astrological research journals of the time, on attempts to test a whole range of claims empirically. This summary of 91 abstracts demonstrates that the “results were invariably incommensurate with astrological claims“.

But even before these efforts, the psychologist Bertram Forer had uncovered an interesting phenomenon, often referred to as the Barnum effect, during one of his experiments in the late 1940s(*). It involved administering a personality test to his students and subsequently ignoring the results. Instead, each student received privately the same thirteen items of feedback:

 

1. You have a great need for other people to like and admire you.

2. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself.

3. You have a great deal of unused capacity that you have not turned to your advantage.

4. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them.

5. Your sexual adjustment has presented problems for you.

6. Disciplined and self-controlled outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure inside.

7. At times you have serious doubts as to whether you have made the right decision or done the right thing.

8. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations.

9. You pride yourself as an independent thinker and do not accept others’ statements without satisfactory proof.

10. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others.

11. At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, reserved.

12. Some of your aspirations tend to be pretty unrealistic.

13. Security is one of your major goals in life.

 

Each student was then asked to rate on a scale of 0 (poor) to 5 (perfect) how effective the test was at revealing personality in general (mean score = 4.8) and their own personality in particular (mean score = 4.5). All from a set of faked results!

In the words of Forer:

 

After the papers had been returned to the writer students were asked to raise their hands if they felt the test had done a good job. Virtually all hands went up and the students noticed this. Then the first sketch item was read and students were asked to indicate by hand whether they had found anything similar on their sketches. As all hands rose, the class burst into laughter … Similarities between the demonstration and the activities of charlatans were pointed out.

 

Luckily for politicians, politics is a popularity contest. Given that the direction of travel in the UK population as a whole is one of increasing belief in the pseudosciences, a political stance that embraces them may actually help, rather than hinder electoral success.

For as this 2014 piece of psychological research notes, people who are given information that clearly demonstrates their belief is in error tend to rationalise it away as “just another opinion”.

And this, dear reader, really does make me angry and despair.
 

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

 

(*) Forer, B. (1949). The fallacy of personal validation – a classroom demonstration of gullibility. Journal of abnormal and social psychology, 44(1), 118–123.

 

Mar 01 2015

Foreign exchange controls in 1955 and 1969: when a Labour MP sounded like UKIP

I was sorting through some more of my late father’s things today and came across this leaflet, dated March 1955. It details the foreign exchange restrictions that were in force at the time. These were of relevance to my father as he made what I believe to be his first trip abroad in 1956. £25 is equivalent to approximately £600 in 2015 terms.

Foreign exchange controls were finally abolished in 1979, having been a feature for most of the post-second world war period. One particularly lively exchange in the House of Commons in 1969 over a proposal to remove them is documented in Hansard. Moved by John Peel, the Conservative MP for Leicester South East, he introduced his argument that the (then £50) limit should be abolished like this:

 

I regard this limit on our travel freedom as a typical piece of frustrating Socialism. It is an obstruction to one of the dearest freedoms of the British people, namely, our ancient freedom to travel and to move amongst other peoples and in other countries where and when we want.

 

The motion was eventually defeated, but it seems highly unlikely to me that this was because of the speech made during the debate by Hector Hughes, the Labour MP for Aberdeen North. I reproduce it in all of its dubious glory below, reflecting that the attitudes expressed do not necessarily seem to be a million miles away from those held by some present-day UKIP supporters.

 

Britain today is in a very particular and peculiar financial position. That is one reason why I oppose the Motion.

The Motion is typically anti-British. It is, therefore, unpatriotic and should be defeated. It is designed to drain from Britain money which is badly needed at home.

It used to be said that it was necessary for one’s education to travel abroad. That is no longer necessary. We have the amenities, the instruction and the advantages of countries all over the world without travelling. As Shakespeare said, we have, England, bound in with the triumphant sea, Whose rocky shore beats back the envious siege. There is no need today for people to go abroad to obtain what used to be called the advantages of travel.

I oppose this wrong-headed Motion on several grounds which I shall state briefly and seriatim. First, we need the money at home. Secondly, our holiday camps need holiday workers and holiday makers. Thirdly, our hotels, both at the seaside and in the country, need visitors and money. I know that the beautiful city of Aberdeen, which I have the honour to represent, could do with more visitors than it gets today. In the present international situation Britain needs attention at home, both at work and in play.

In our present circumstances we should not pour our largesse abroad. We live in particular circumstances when such money as we have in Britain should be retained. The time may come when the authors of the Motion will have their way and we may pour money into foreign countries. Where are we to go? To dictatorships? To Spain? To Greece? No; I say we should keep our money at home and enjoy the advantages and the fruits of Britain.

It is old-fashioned nonsense to say that we must go abroad for our education. We have at home all that we want. The other evening on television I had the advantage of seeing pictures of five countries. In our modern libraries there are books of a descriptive character. We have every advantage at home without pouring our money abroad into foreign countries. Butlins and other holiday camps offer not only education but enjoyment to people who want to stay at home. It is wrong for the authors of the Motion to try to induce the Chancellor to change his beneficent rule about the £50 allowance. Let us stay at home. Let us protect our industry. Let us encourage trade, industry, commerce and employment here, instead of spending our money abroad.

 

Older posts «