Thursday, 27 August 2015

The dishonesty of Barnet Council over meals on wheels

 Barnet Council are currently proposing to scrap meals on wheels provision to over 200 of the Boroughs elderly and vulnerable people. In an article on the Barnet Times website, the crass dishonesty of the bully boy council was laid bare (http://m.times-series.co.uk/news/13627408.Meals_on_wheels_face_the_axe/)

Councillor Sachin Rajput said
“We will also be visiting everyone currently receiving the service to explain the proposal and to talk through which other options would best suit them should the proposal be agreed - for example lunch clubs or other catering companies."

In 2007, when Barnet Council outsourced the service, my elderly and severely disabled mother had a similar visit. What was meant to be part of the consultation was simply a box ticking exercise. Despite my mother being on Morphine at the time and having speech issues due to a stroke, she saw right through the dishonesty. They told here not to worry as everything would be the same and she would notice no difference . She replied "will it be the same person delivering it". The response "erm no". Will it be the same meals. Response "erm no" She then asked "will it come at the same time". The response "I don't know". To which my mum replied "you are lying when you say I won't notice. Do you think I am stupid. Everything is changing" and she was right. But at least she got a meal. Under the new proposals she'd get nothing. 

The council propose lunch clubs or other suppliers. They Are simply washing their hands of supporting vulnerable people. What happens if a private company fails to deliver? With the council, there is a whole organisation to provide backup, but if a private company dumps the service or a charity can't support it, then vulnerable people starve.

Barnet Council seem to have forgotten what they are elected to do. Apparently the service costs £180,000 a year. The director of adult services who is proposing the change, Dawn Wakeling, gets a salary of £164,000, which do you think provides better value? 

Meals on wheels allows elderly people to live independently. It is far cheaper for elderly people to live at home than to put them into council paid for care. They need meals on wheels because they physically can't cook. In my mums case, she wasn't able to use a telephone to complain. She simply had my phone number on speed dial and a panic line. 

Many elderly don't have local family. For them meals on wheels is a lifeline and the fact that Rajput simply sees it as a plate of hot food shows how out of touch with the reality of the lives of vulnerable people he really is. This visit will simply be a box ticking exercise. The vulnerable people on the end of this cruel cut are in no position to argue. For many it will be scary and upsetting. It is only just over a year since the Tories won on Barnet Council elections. There was no mention of this cut in their manifesto. Did Rajput tell you he was abolishing the services when he knocked on your door and asked for your vote? Thought not

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

How the media manage what we think

There are four contenders for the Labour leadership. Each is currently touring the country, making the case for their bid. Each is spending hundreds of hours at public meetings, answering questions and putting their case across. I was watching the coverage on Sky News and I realised I was becoming evermore frustrated with the way the race is being covered. The format seems to be that we are shown a five second sound bite of a candidate, usually Corbyn, followed by a ten minute debate between a panel of pundits, usually of a right wing persuasion, with the odd token Blairite.

We never get to see the context behind the one liners, we never get to see the q&a sessions or any real interaction between candidates & public.

All I know is why a bunch of often rather dull and inarticulate panellists think Corrbyn is Satan incarnate. What seems to have passed the rather out of touch teams who put this rather stilted coverage together is that in this age of social media, the whole picture is available and anyone who is interested is able to see the whole story.

Whereas 20 years ago, we had a very controlled input of news, and the Murdoch press could act as kingmakers.

Things have moved on and now it is essay to see the whole picture. Facebook and Twitter allow us to share the whole picture. Of course there is the misinformation, the Trolls and the bogus stories, but these are easy to spot and as people get more savvy with social media  these become more absurd and less relevant.

It is pretty clear that unless the traditional news channels recognise the way we process information has changed they will become ever less relevant. In the modern world, to be a trusted news source, you have to be honest. Sadly it appears that we are not getting the service we deserve.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The football fantasy. Is the dream coming to an end?

Yesterday Sepp Blatter gave an extraordinary press conference. He seemed to say that football wasn't corrupt, just the people who run it.

The premier league season has started, the transfer window is open and hundreds of millions have changed hands, largely on second tier players no one had ever heard of.

In the early season exchanges only Manchester City have looked vaguely decent, the other clubs are asking more questions than they answer. Chelsea have had all manner of issues.  Mourinho seemingly at war with everyone from his medical staff to himself! Manchester United seem strangely muted. LVG gives the impression that he doesn't know his best team or the best style of play. Yet again their transfer strategy is a shambles. Arsenal look short of a decent striker and the defence has at times resembled a bad pub team after a heavy night. At least they have addressed the goalkeeping issue. Liverpool have strengthened up front with Benteke but still look dodgy at the back Skrtl always looks like an accident waiting to happen.

In short, despite all the cash, there seems to be scant return. There has been little genuinely attractive or exciting football on show.

Football finances have long been more smoke and mirrors than what could be described as sound business practices. Huge TV deals, sponsorship agreements and naming rights bloat the wallets at dodgy middlemen, while nothing gets ploughed into grassroots soccer and youth football.

With all these bloated contracts, it seems austerity has passed football by. But what will happen if the stock market turmoil hits the corporations who use the PL as a primary source of marketing? SKY TV and BT largely fund this merrygoround, but recoup much from advertisers and sponsors. If these companies run into difficulties, all of a sudden the economics of the deals don't work. If the TV revenue dries up, what happens to the gold seal contracts?

Football seemed to surf the tidal wave of the 2008 crash, but the PL is Far more reliant on foreign TV and advertising than ever. Could it be that the PL football fantasy league is about to catch a very nasty cold?

Monday, 24 August 2015

The future is not the past

Perhaps the most dishonest aspect of the current debate about Jeremy Corbyns leadership bid is the attempt to try and base all analysis of the likely outcome solely on what happened to Michael Foot.

Oddly no one has drawn any analogies with the Attlee govt which created the NHS, Nationalised the Railways and started the long haul of repairing the UK after WW2.

If you look at what Corbyn proposes, much of it is resonant of the Attlee recovery plan. It would however be wrong to draw too many conclusions. The past is never the future. Just about everyone I discuss Corbyns plans with agree that he is right about restoring student grants. Many also agree with renationalising railways . Regular users are fed up with poor service due to chaotic management and policies which place shareholders profits before passenger service.

Neither of these scenarios existed when Foot was leader. Whilst the left are urged to learn the lessons of Foot, no one asks the same of the Labour right. Where are the voices saying that the split thAt created the SDP was a disaster and it gave the Tories a free run at elections for a decade.

Labour isn't in a mess due to Corbyn.it was the Labour right which lost trust with an illegal war in Iraq. It was the Labour right which lost the student vote with tuition fees. It was the Labour right which lumbered the NHS with the huge cost of PPI. 

The biggest lie of all though is the lie that the 2008 economic meltdown was due to the UK paying too much in benefits. What happened in 2008 was the result of global financial deregulation which allowed banks to gamble with money they didn't have. The cost of baling them out may have meant a period of austerity was necessary, but sadly it is benefit claimants who pay for the banks irresponsiblility.

What I find even more disgusting is how the govt are rushing to offload bank shares. Gordon Brown got pilloried in the right wing press for selling Gold reserves. Gold prices subsequently rose. Every commentator expects Lloyds share price to significantly improve over the next few years, but Osborne is being congratulated for selling the shares. Surely a prudent chancellor would keep the shares, pocket the dividends and see the value rise. That is not the Tory way.

We never hear talk from the Tories of how they flogged utility companies cheap,allowing foreign conglomerates to fleece UK customers and take huge profits home with them. Corbyn is derided by the right for opposing this but how can allowing huge monopolies to be run by greedy foreign canoes be a good thing.

The future is not the past. None of the issues Corbyn seeks to address existed when Foot was in charge. The Tories and the Labour right are oblivious to the issues, perhaps because they are doing very nicely out of it. That is why I expect Corbyn to do a far better job than the press are making our.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Massive response to our blog regarding Barnet Council scrapping meals on wheels

Yesterday I published a blog detailing the callous and heartless plan proposed by Dawn Wakeling, commissioning director for adult services for Barnet Council, to scrap the meals on wheels service and leave hundreds of Barnet pensioners stuck for a hot meal. Wakeling dishonestly presents this as enhancing choice, but the only choice is charity or hunger.

Yesterday saw the highest number of blog hits this year along with the most retweets. I was inundated  with emails, all expressing disgust. Fellow blogger Mr Mustard helpfully pointed out that Ms Wakeling earns over £164,000 per year, which buys a hell of a lot of dinners. Barnets excuse is that they aren't legally obliged to provide the service. This is a false and callous argument. If I see an old lady having a heart attack in the street,I am not legally obliged to assist her and call an ambulance. If however I walked past her with my nose in the air,I would rightly be viewed as a scumbag. The stress and anxiety this change will cause hundreds of elderly people I am sure will cause much suffering and anguish. Stress is a major contributor to heart attacks and strokes and I believe this will be an inevitable consequence. Maybe Ms Wakeling is happy to have such things on her conscience, but as a Barnet resident and taxpayer I am not. That is why it is vital that our community mobilises to fight this callous change.

Pubic servants such as Ms Waleking must realise that their primary role is a duty of care to our elderly and vulnerable. If this is beyond the limits of their compassion, then it is the duty of our councillors to hold them to account and if necessary sack them. It really is as simple as that.

Over the next week, I will be mulling over my response and working out how best to mount a successful campaign to stop this callous change. Many people are away in August so we will kick this off in September with a massive bang. Don't think the issue has gone quiet. We are just making sure we have a proper plan and we don't waste ammunition whilst people are away.

Thanks for your support.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Exposed - The inhumanity of Barnet Council in ending Meals on Wheels for vulnerable people

Yesterday I wrote a blog explaining why I support the campaign to elect John Burgess as General Secretary of UNISON. In it I detailed how I started to write this blog. Prior to 2007 I had no interest in local government politics. This changed in 2007 when Barnet Council outsourced the meals on wheels contract to Sodexho. At the time my mother was reliant on this service for her lunch.  Just in case you didn't read the blog, at the time my mother was 82. She had suffered a major stroke in 2000 and had problems with speech and mobility. She was housebound but fiercly independent and was determined to live at home. In 2006 she'd had a fall and broken her hip. This nearly killed her as did the C-Diff infection she caught in Finchley Memorial hospital whilst recovering. She suffered from spinal degeneration and Osteoperosis and had several emergency operation to repair spinal fractures. The pain from this was mitigated by opiates and often even the action of getting out of bed was agony.

Despite this she persevered. She had a helper who came in the morning to help her dress and make her breakfast. In the evening, my wife would cook her dinner and my kids would deliver it. My mother had her stomach removed following a bout of cancer in 1970. She needed to eat small meals regularly. Her lunch was supplied by the Barnet Council meals on wheels service, which she paid for.

When Sodexho took over, the quality plummeted and initially the meals were delivered extremely late (sometimes not until 5pm). My mother needed a regular routine and the changes caused her immense stress. If her meal wasn't delivered she'd have a panic attack and then start phoning around the family. We'd get calls with her crying saying "It's not here, its not here. If you have ever had to see your elderly, invalid mother reduced to a gibbering wreck, you would realise just how awful this was.

Eventually Barnet Council sorted out the service. Unfortunately the whole incident sent my mother into a spiral of depression. She died of a massive stroke in August 2008. I ascribe this partially to the stress of what happened to the meals on wheels contract. This was the moment that she realised she was not independent and the council could pull the rug on her at any time.

People who rely on Meals on Wheels for lunch are not people who have made a lifestyle choice to lie in bed and be waited on hand and foot by the council. They are people like my mother, who the ravages of age have robbed of the ability to make themselves meals. My mum could make a cup of tea or a sandwich. She lacked the physical strength to open a tin of beans or to peel a potato. She was extremely careful about her diet and looked after herself.  If she was to get a hot meal for lunch, the only practical way to get it was the council service.

People who receive meals on wheels by definition live at home. This is far cheaper for the public purse than living in care. People like my mother paid for the service. These people are not "spongers", they are fiercly independent people who don't want to be a burden. A caring, decent society would support them. But do we live in a caring, decent society?

As a result of my blog yesterday, I was sent a copy of the letter below from Dawn Wakeling, Adults and Health commissioning director (who is doubtless on a six figure salary). This email, slyly sent in august when many people are on holiday and distracted from care duties for relatives, states that Barnet Council is planning to cease the meals on wheels service. Please read this and see what your council is planning.





This is appalling. It undermines the independence of the elderly and will cause untold stress. Many of the recipients are in a routine that has been going on for years. Many will not be physically capable of responding by 18th September. When my mother got the letter saying Sodexho were taking over in 2007, she went into a state of panic. I can only shudder at the thought of what would have happened if she'd recieved this letter.  Ultimately this cut will cost the council far more than it saves. It will force many people who live independently into full time care and this costs tens of thosuands of pounds.

It is clear that the regime running Barnet have no sense of care for the elderly or the vulnerable. They don't care that this will devastate hundreds of elderly people. They don't care that these people have spent the whole of their lives working, paying taxes and building our Borough. In return this council simply dumps on them. I am sure the council isn't cutting its budget for sandwiches and biscuits for able bodied councillors at council meetings. It is only the vulnerable that get a kicking in Barnet.

I have a word of advice for our Barnet Councillors. I had given up on blogging about the council. This letter has shown me that I was wrong to stop. In fact I will now redouble my efforts to expose them and show just how disgusting they are. To attack the elderly and the housebound is inhuman. I will use every last breath to ensure that the meeting in Novemeber is left in no doubt as to how revolting this proposal is. If the council still proceed, then I will ensure that everyone in Barnet understands just what sort of people they are and how little they care. It is clear to me that Dawn Wakeling is either a completely heartless and horrible person, or she hasn't a clue about the people she gets paid a kings ransome to look after. Either way she is a disgrace.

By the way, today is my birthday. Don't bother wishing me a happy birthday, because this letter has ensured that I have never had a worse one. I am just pleased that my mother has gone on to better things. If she'd received this, today would have been a truly harrowing day.

Friday, 21 August 2015

John Burgess - Why UNISON need an activist as General Secretary

The local branch secretary of UNISON John Burgess is standing for General Secretary of UNISON, the Union for public service workers. As I am not a member of the the Union and I have minimal contact with the membership, you may ask why I have any interest in the matter? The answer is quite simple. At the right hand side of this blog, you will see the blog archive. You will see that the blog started back in 2008. What inspired a musician/ business owber to start writing a blog, you may wonder? Well the answer is simple. I started writing a blog for the Barnet Times newspaper. Originally it was supposed to be about local music. However at the time my dearly beloved Mum was still alive. She was in very poor health, having had a lifetime of illness. She survived diptheria and scarlett fever in the 1930's which wrecked her health, stomach cancer in 1970, which wrecked her appetite and a major stroke in 2000, which robbed her of speech and mobility. By the middle of the decade, she relied on council services for meals on wheels, a panic alarm and various other services. Despite the challenges, she was a fighter and lived on her own, in a purpose modified flat a few doors up the road from me.

In 2007, Barnet Council outsourced the meals on wheels contract. The stress of what happened, I believe contributed to my mothers death in 2008 from another massive stroke. Until the outsourcing, she could set her watch by the delivery time of her meal at noon. The quality of food was good and the staff were attentive and friendly. If there was a problem, they would often help her. If someone else on the round had a problem and they were late they would let us know. Then in April 2007, the council let the contract to Sodexho and all of the noce people who delivered her dinner went. This greatly upset my mum, who was 82 at the time. She had built up a relationship with them and trusted them. As the date approached she got more stressed and more frantic. We tried to tell her that there would be no change, it was just different people, doing the same job. How wrong we were. On day one of the new contract, no dinner arrived. My mother, who had difficulty communicating and was prone to panic attacks, went into meltdown. The lunch never arrived. The next day it arrived, stone cold, at 5pm. It turned out that Sodexho had budgeted on each driver delivering 40 meals in a three hour period. That is one every three minutes. For many of the old folk on the round, opening the door would take three minutes, let alone the journeytime between deliveries. In short, the whole scheme was a calamity. I saw first hand the stress this caused. I emailed our local councillors and screamed to the rafters. The council responded by making my mum the first drop.

Whilst this fixed our problem, I was acutely aware that some other old dears, who didn't have stroppy kids had been pushed even further back. I felt awful, but given my motheres fragile state, what could I do. When I started writing the blog, I became aware that every cut, every outsourcing had victims. Not people just a bit inconvenienced, but people who suffer. You may think "Why should an old dear not wait five hours for a cold meal". Well if you went to a restaurant and your meal was fiv hours late and cold, what would you do. If you were wondering, my mother paid for the service. In fact she paid twice as she'd spent her life paying taxes, in the hope of a welfare state looking after her when she was old and infirm. My mum was lucky, she had money and she had kids who were prepared to put themselves out for her. She did however value a degree of independence. As she saw it, she paid for her meals on wheels and the service had been trashed. She was livid. As she put it to me at the time "What sort of people make old people wait, starving hungry, for hours on end, to save a few quid". Due to the ravages of her stroke, my mother couldn't cook. She could prepare a sandwich, but my wife cooked her an evening meal and my kids took it up on a tray. Sadly we were not in a position to make lunch. Following my mothers cancer surgery in 1970, she physically couldn't go too long between meals. She was careful about her nutrition and wanted proper food. The quality of the Sodexho meals was appalling, compared to the previous offerings. Every corner that could be cut to save a few pennies had been. In the end, the service settled down, when the council realised what a terrible blunder they had made and forced the contractors to up their game, but there was a six month period, when every day there was a tale of woe. Our dog became fat as my mother insisted we feed the dog any meals that were inedible "I've paid for these, so they cannot be wasted" she insisted. The dog didn't mind, but the situation was despicable.

So that was how I came to the conclusion that outsourcing of public services was a bad idea. When I started my blog on the local paper, I started writing about the mess Barnet Council were making of social care. I started to mention how their polices were hurting the most vulnerable people. The people we love and care about. Typically blogs on the local paper were read by 15-20 people. All of a sudden, my blog was appearing in the top ten read list. This did not go unnoticed. The Tory Council started putting pressure on the paper to get rid of me. In October 2008, they buckled. Councillor Brian Coleman and Robert Rams, who lead the campaign celebrated that they'd ended my blogging career, boasting to their friends. In response, I set up the Barnet Eye.

Much to my amazement, hundreds of local people were shocked and disgusted by what happened. The Barnet Eye immediately started getting a couple of hundred hits a day. I paid a trip to a council meeting and there I met the local UNISON convenor John Burgess. John immediately stated that he was disgusted at what happened and offered any support he could give. I told John I was OK and I was pleased to be able to write a blog without interference. I immediately recognised that John was a man of immense strength and integrity. Both Tory and Labour councillors treated him respectfully and he was always well briefed. Around that time, the Tory council started pushing the one Barnet Program (then called Future Shape). In August 2008, my mum had died and at her funeral, I vowed to do everything in my power to spare any other elderly person the stress she'd suffered at the hands of uncaring bean counters. I vowed to hold the council to account. The One Barnet program was a mass outsourcing scheme and I immediately saw the dangers(the clip below is John talking about a half day strike in 2011. It is just one example of Johns clear headed, pragmatic and sensible approach, whilst being an extremely effective organiser).

I contacted John Burgess, explained my view and we agreed to work together in every way we could to spare any other vulnerable people the stress my mum endured. John also has an elderly mum who has suffered from council cuts, albiet not in Barnet, so we had a common cause. As a result of my blogging activities, other blogs started up in Barnet. These became known as the Fantastic Five (myself, Vicky Morris, Mrs Angry, Mr Reasonable and Mr Mustard). As each blog started, we'd make sure they knew who we were and how they could get in touch. We worked together, co-ordinating joint blogs. We'd also work with John, who in turn was able to put us in touch with experts such as Professor Dexter Whitfield, a world leading academic who is a respected expert in the field of outsourcing (watch this clip from 2011 of John talking about a

The next move of Barnet Council was to outsource parking and abolish Pay and Display parking meters. This hit local traders. With assistance from John, meetings were set up with local traders leaders such as Helen Michael in North Finchley. Helen had always been a Tory until Barnet Council torpedoed her business. It was ironic that the only person who had any sympathy was the local Union Leaders. The Council then launched an illegal hike in Pay and Display charges. John facilitated bringing them on board in our now growing community campaign. Next the Tories attacked the Librarys. I was outraged and in 2010 kicked off the Save Barnets Libraries Campaign. John facilitated leaflets and street stalls. As the level of the assault on the people of Barnet became clear, I was chatting to Charles Honderick, a young American director of trade films and commercials. Charles said it would be good to make a documentary film about this for Youtube. I concurred, having dabbled in film. I mentioned it to John Burgess, who threw his weight behind the project. John even got award winning director Ken Loach to make a guest appearance. We shot the film on a shoestring, interviewing people from all the campaigns. When John saw the film, he declared we needed a proper premiere and hired the Phoenix Cinema. Over 500 people from the community turned up and it was covered by both the BBC and ITV. People left the cinema saying they had never realised what was going on. The film helped launch the Barnet Alliance for Public Services, a highly influential pressure group. Many members joined after seeing the film. The film was shown at the Houses of Parliament, sponsored by MP John McDonald and at UNISON conferences in Bournemouth and Edinburgh. It was a great success and a classic example of how local people and Trades Unions can come together for the common good (here is the film).
There were many successes in the many campaigns which BAPS supported. The most notable was the 2012 GLA election. The local Tory encumbant, Brian Coleman was also a Barnet Councillor and had been responsible for parking in the Borough. He had a majority of over 20,000. On the GLA he was a key henchman of Boris and had lead a long campaign against the FBU. A huge campaign supported by all the campaign groups, resulted in Coleman being ejected and Labours Andrew Dismore replacing him. In the 2014 council elections, many of Colemans key henchmen in Barnet, such as library closer Robert Rams were ejected. Sadly the Tories were not ejected by the electorate, having their majority on council cut to one. In areas where BAPS were active, huge Tory majorities were reversed, but the Blairite local Labour group refused to work with BAPS or engage with bloggers, to harness their efforts. At a meeting set up by John Burgess to engage the bloggers with the campaign to oust the Tories in 2014, Blairite Labour leader Alison Moore suggested that the best way bloggers could help the campaign was to knovk on doors on election day. John had suggested that Labour supply bloggers with information on rallies and key campaign themes. As this blog gets 20-30,000 hits per month, it is clear that this would be a sensible strategy, but to Johns amazement, the Blairites refused to engage, beyond asking for help leafletting and door knocking.

Given that Barnets fantastic five bloggers have regularly been interviewed by TV, Radio and National Press, this was on the face of it inexplicable. The same Blairite Labour group on the Council never supported the campaign to stop the One Barnet outsourcing. Even more inexplicable was their support of a statement, when the Your Choice Barnet outsourcing of adult services failed and needed a £££million bailout, they signed up to a clause saying an in house option was not to be considered.

The whole One Barnet outsourcing was shown to have been implemented illegally in a High Court case Maria Nash, a heavily disabled lady launched a judicial review of the process. Maria successfully argued that the process had not properly consulted. The judge in the case agreed with the arguments put forward by Maria. John gave Maria much moral support through a difficult time.  Bloggers and experts such as Dexter Whitfield had helped Maria put her case together and John gave much advice on who to speak to and useful background information, giving up his free time at evenings and weekends. Sadly the judge also found that the challenge was out of time on a technicality. Given that the Council had been shown to have acted illegally, one would have thought that the Blairite Labour group would have gone at the Tory regime hammer and tong, but they simply acquiesed.

In the course of my dealings with John Burgess, it has become clear to me that John is the most politically astute figure I've met in Barnet. If John passes an opinion, it invariably turns out to be correct. The One Barnet program is delivering nothing like the savings promised. Even cemetries have fallen into awful disrepair as a result of the contractors seeking to squeeze every penny of profit out of the contract. There are dozens of other examples of where John has been proven right. I can't think of any where he's been proven wrong ( a short film I made last year to illustrate the neglect of Hendon cemetary under the Capita regime).
But this is only half of the story of why I believe John should be elected General Secretary of UNISON. The other half of the story is that if UNISON do not elect a campaigner, who understands the fight at the coalface and has shown themselves capable of reaching out beyond the traditional support base of the unions, it will be destroyed by the Tory government. The Tories have made no secret of their intention to neuter the Unions. I have spoken to several leading Barnet Tories. They believe Unions do have a role in the UK. They believe that Unions should be staff associations, which market pensions and insurance to members and give them counselling when their dog dies. They believe they have no role in negotaiting terms and conditions and no role in protecting members rights. Of all the UK Unions, I believe UNISON is the most important on a human basis. This is because it is the largest Union involved in the care of the elderly and vulnerable. What these uber right Tories do not realise is that any of us can suffer illness, disability and many will become infirm in old age. It is all very well to hammer the t&C's of staff, force pay cuts on caring staff and employ dodgy contractors to run care homes and provide support. The trouble is that if you pay the  minimum wage and impose harsh T&C's on staff, then they leave. The vulnerable need continuity of care. This is called basic human compassion. It is easy for Councils to squeeze cash savings from care budgets, by cutting staff renumeration packages, but ultimately the most vulnerable, people like my mum, are the people who suffer. The only organisation that offer those such as my mum any protection are UNISON. The fight to protect staff and their T&C's is not just about ensuring staff are well paid. It is about ensuring that carers have a career and are not forced out. It is about ensuring that they can do what they are paid to do, which is care for vulnerable people. Even George Osborne has woken up to the fact that a non living wage is bad for the economy. Sadly being a Tory zealot, he hasn't passed legislation to protect the T&C's of the council staff. Osborne could implement a living wage in councils, simply by freeing up the cash, but he chooses not to.

If UNISON carry on electing bureaucrats, people who do not understand the coalface, the Tories will destroy it. Whilst I have ultimate respect for John and the many trade union convenors I met at the conferences we took the film to in Bournemouth and Edinburgh, I was struck by the lack of support John Burgess had from the Bureaucrats who run the Union. It was clear to me that if UNISON had given Johns campaign 100% support with full legal and logistical backup in the One Barnet fight, thi could have been stopped before it started. This would have served as a warning to other Uber right councils planning to go down the same path. Union such as UNISON have huge resources, but the bureaucrats who run it are not prepared to commit these to fighting outsourcing. Whether they are simply happy to manage the gradual decline in influence of the Trades Union movement, or whether they simply like trousering large salaries for doing nothing I don't know. UNISON needs a kick up its arse. It needs to get back to doing what it should be doing. It should be fighting for the members. It should be leading campaigns to halt outsourcing. It should be involved with community campaigns to protect the vulnerable. I made a film on a shoestring, with a US film director. It received national acclaim. It beggars belief that UNISON have not taken this concept further. We took the film to their conference and they saw what could be achieved. The current regime have sat on their hands and seen council after council hammer their UNISON employees. I know for a fact that if John Burgess was general secretary, UNISON would be a different beast. George Osborne and his cronies would find that they would be held to account when thier fellow travellers attacked social care.

What beggars belief is that everyone gets it when they see their loved ones being mistreated by Council bureacracies. Everyone has mums, dads, grannies, brothers, sisters, cousins and friends who are vulnerable and need care. Any of us could find ourselves struck down. Three weeks before my mum had a stroke in 2000, she'd been living it up on a cruise in the med, not a care in the world. She was transformed to a housebound old lady who couldn't communicate in the bat of an eyelid. It can happen to you, me or anyone. We all need someone like John Burgess to stand up and fight for the staff who care for those members of society when we cant fight ourselves.

For John personally, there have been costs. Recently his car was vandalised and he received homophobic abuse for his support of LGBT issues. Whilst some men would buckle under a direct threat. John simply got on with it. I was disgusted that Andrew Dismore AM and Councillor Alison Moore, the Labour Group leader did not sign the letter of support to press. Sadly it seems that the local Blairites hate John even more than the Tories do. I am convinced that the reason the Blairites dislike John is because they know he is an excellent organiser and they do not want their lacklustre apporach to support for Labour issues exposed. It is noticable that Jeremy Corbyn has stepped in to support Barnet UNISON and John Burgess, where the local party can't be bothered.

Since this blog was started, I have been involved in many successful campaigns. John Burgess has been central to the success of all of these. Every single one of these has resulted in good things for Barnet. Libraries have been saved, Pay and Display meters have been reintroduced, dodgy politicians have been kicked out, CPZ permit increases have been thrown out by the High Court. The fights we lost such as One Barnet and Your Choice Barnet, we've been 100% vindicated and proven right. I UNISON had a general secretary who understood the issues, understood how to campaign and understood the importance of not acquiescing in the face of pressure, we'd have won those as well. Sadly John Burgess was not supported in the way he should have been by the bureacrats running his union. What could have been game changing opportunities for UNISON to define the playing field in local government, became lost opportunities and might have beens. The situation for UNISON is dangerous. If they don't change the way they think and the way they support their branches, it will become terminal, as Cameron and Osborne are playing for keeps. It is clear to me that a country with a neutered Trades Union movement will ultimately be one where everyone suffers. This is because we have an ageing population and we will all become old. Sadly if our generation destroys the concept of care for the vulnerable, we will reap the whirlwind when we find ourselves needing it. That is why we need a John Burgess type figure to ensure that those who provide care get the support from their Union they need.

If you are a UNISON member, please pass this blog on to your colleagues. Please get your branch to support John Burgess bid to become General Secretary. My guess is that if you know John, you already will be supporting him, but for him to succeed, his campaign needs to get national support. As someone who is completely independent, if you don't know John and haven't met him, then speak to someone who has. Invite him to address your branch.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Londons "invisible" homeless

Did you know that there are people walking the streets of London with special powers? You probably watch Marvel superhero films and are stunned by the special effects, but in London there are hundreds of people walking the streets who don't need CGI to assist them. You are probably thinking "what's he been smoking this morning". Well I kid you not (and I've not been smoking anything thank you). The people I am talking about are Londons homeless. The powers I am talking about are the power to become invisible. I'd not noticed this (well I suppose if someone is invisble you wouldn't) before, but a tweet by Tory blogger and pundit Ian alerted me to this rather intertsing fact.
I love Edinburgh but can't fail to notice that in this SNP led nirvana there appear to be more homeless people on the streets than in London



I thought I'd check out the stats. Crisis reports that in Scotland there were approx 500 rough sleepers. In London there were 7,518.  So although we don't have a separate figure for Edingburgh, we can see that either Ian Dale has succumbed to the powers of invisibility of London homeless, which clearly Scottish rough sleepers lack or maybe he's just talking out of his armpit.

This is an issue that is close to my heart. I am writing this blog in my kitchen at 11.25 this morning, two hours ago I was finishing up my morning shift at The Passage, a charity which operates a day centre for Londons homeless. I am a kitchen volunteer. Please note that I am writing this blog in a private capacity and it in no way represents the views or policies of The Passage.

Let me tell you about my morning.

I got up at 5.40am. I had a quick shower, checked my emails had a cup of tea and got the 6.32 train from Mill Hill to St Pancras. At 6.57 I took a Victoria Line train to Victoria and arrived at The Passage at 7.15. First job is to set up for the morning breakfast service. When I arrived Alex, another volunteer was already starting to set up. We have to put out condiments, tea cups, make tea and coffee flasks up. We put out Jam, Marmalade and Marmite for the clients. As we were doing this Bella, Darren and Anne, other volunteers arrived. I had a quick chat with our chef Noor. Noor is from Kenya and there is always a good bit of banter with him. I won't embarrass him with the subect today, but lets say it was a good day for banter! Once we have set up, we wait for the breakfast to be cooked. The service starts at 8am (ish). Hot food is provided. A full English breakfast Sausage, Bacon at 15p per slice/portion, eggs, tomatoes, mushroomsnd porridge at 10p an serving. Tea/Coffee and the first two slices of toast are free. Clients with no monety get a voucher worth 60p. We also provide fruit (this morning I chopped up a pineapple and six melons). There were also ample free sandwiches donated by Pret.

At 8am there is a rush. This morning as it was cold and wet out, it was very busy for the first twenty minutes. I estimate that we served 40-50 breakfasts. I was on toast duties, Bella and Anne on serving and Darren on the till. Alex retreated to the kitchen to help Noor. People coming in to volunteer for the first time are often quite surprised by the clients.  I doubt that you'd notice many of them in the street or pick them out as homeless. The majority are male, quite a few are Eastern European, although sadly a fair few are British and Ex forces. Some will be chatty, some will be withdrawn. Some are animated and some are silent. Quite a few have health issues. Some this is obvious such as diabetics who avoid certain foods. Others will tell you about issues and some you just see chatting with the medical staff. I've been volunteering for three and a half years, today I think I saw only one client who was coming when I started. Many have moved on. Some have passed away. Generally the Eastern Europeans move home. Often they came looking for work or lost jobs. Often they can receive assistance to return home (although I am not knowledgable about this).On a cold wet day such as today, the mood is relatively subdued. Often people will spend the first half hour warming up.  The Passage provides all manner of support services for the homeless. The aim is to try and get people into accomodation and employment. For many this is acheived. Sadly though some of the clients cannot easily be helped into a less chaotic lifestyle. For some this is their choice and for others, there is no choice. They have too many issues to be able to manage a jop and the responsibilities of accomodation. Often this is a result of mental health issues. Often when you talk to hardcore rough sleepers you realise that they are highly intelligent, but our society is just not compassionate enough to give them the help they need to live a regular lifestyle. For many, they don't need handouts, they simply need assistance with the stress, strains and pressures that modern life entails. Over the years I've spoken to several ex service personell and they find it hard transitioning from an environment where they have no decisions to make, rent is deducted from paychecks and hot meals just arrive to one where everything has to be planned. I find it a scandal that the MOD takes no responsibility for helping such people. Strangely enough such people find rough sleeping  easier as it is more compatable with the self sufficiency they have learned. Sadly though, many suffer from the rigours of a life of hard drinking and other issues with substances.

Working at The Passage is hugely rewarding. I like to think that my fellow regular Thursday volunteers have become friends. We work well as a team and they are a very interesting lot. I guess that just to be there ou have to be decent and compassionate. I tweeted to Ian Dale that maybe he'd like to try a shift. Then maybe he'd start to see the real depth of the London homeless crisis. Sadly though, I suspect that what he actually saw was street beggars who presumably congregate in Edinbiurgh for the festival as there are rich pickings. There is a misconception that all rough sleepers beg. This is again wide of the mark. It is certainly a misconception that all beggars sleep rough. I personally do not give to people begging in the street. I suppose I take the moral high ground because I volunteer for a homeless charity, but if you have spare cash, give it to an organisation that can help them. If you give £5 to the passage, that will pay for ten breakfasts. If you give it to a street beggar, it may simply buy ten fags and a cheap can of lager. If you think ten fags and a can of lager is good value then fine, but ten people could have had a breakfast and received help to get into a better situation. There are many fine homeless charities. In Barnet we have Homeless Action Barnet, there is Crisis and Shelter and The Passage to name a few.

The sad thing is that Homeless People aren't really invisible, we just shut our eyes to them. Do you really want to be a member of a soceity that throws its fellow man to the wolves? I don't, thats why I haul my sorry arse out of bed every Thursday in the rain, when I'd rather turn over and get another hours shut eye. I've done many things in my life, but volunteering at The Passage is something which has taught me more than any other about life, our city and myself.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Dyslexia Blog - Day by day

For those of you who haven't read my dyslexia blogs before, here is a little preamble and introduction, so you know who I am and what I do and why I write this stuff. For those of you who know the story, skip to the end of the paragraph for todays installment. Let me give you a bit of Background so you know who I am and what I do. I was born in 1962. I didn't start talking until I was 4 years old (at all, not a single word). My parents thought I was deaf. My reading age at eleven was 5. When I was fifteen I started a rock and roll band called the False Dots, the band is still going strong. When I was 16 I started a business called Mill Hill Music Complex (although then it was simply called the studio), a rehearsal studio, as we had nowhere to rehearse. The business has grown into a very successful enterprise, one of Londons biggest and most well respected independent studios. We now have 16 studios and a music shop and also have a photography/video studio and a dance studio. I also have done IT work, mostly on a freelance basis since 1983. In 2012 I also moved into film production, producing two highly acclaimed documentary films, both of which had screenings at the House of Commons. When I was 31, a friend suggested I had a dyslexia test. To my surprise I was told I was moderately dyslexic. This made me interested in the subject. To my amazement, what I have learned over the years is that my lack of educational aptitude, my feelings of anger and injustice and the core of my personality have been formed by the fact I cannot read words in a linear fashion. In 2013, I have set one of my objectives to use this blog to let dyslexics know they are not alone, to suggest that people who think they may be dyslexic to get an assessment and toget people who have dyslexic children or siblings to understand the issues that they face.

So far this blog has largely been about how I coped (or didn't) with dyslexia when growing up. I was chatting with a friend, who asked why I've not really bothered with how I deal with dyslexia as a 52 year old. My initial response was "it's become a non issue for me, so there isn't much to say".  But this isn't 100% true.  At school it was a huge issue because school is all about measuring you against your peers. When your brain is wired so it processes information in a less efficient manner, this can be a rather unpleasant experience. But when you become an adult, things change. Many people say "your schooldays are the best of your life". For me, they were the worst. I vaguely remember my pre school days as being blissful. I remember the joy of the summer holidays, but I have few happy memories of Primary school. Secondary school improved as it went. By the time I finally left Orange Hill Senior High aged 18, I was quite sad to leave. The last year of my A levels was far and away the best year of my education.

I'd already started my studio business then, albiet in a very small way. I started out renting some space from my father, to use as a band rehearsal space. This was initially for my band, The False Dots. As we didn't have the necessary equipment, we came to a deal with the Malone brothers and between us we cobbled together enough gear to have a basic rehearsal room. The deal was that they could use the space and we could use their gear. I then started letting other bands use the space for a small charge. At this time, this was just one of many schemes I had to cobble together enough money to go to gigs and the pub.

It is amazing to think that these humble beginnings grew into Mill Hill Music Complex. As initially the studio was one room and didn't bring in anything like the amount of money necessary to live on, I had to get another career. Despite having A levels in Physics, Biology and Maths (not great grades though), I decided that painting and decorating was the way to go. This allowed me to duck in and duck out as the band required. By the time I was 21, I realised that this was going nowhere. So I did a TOPS course in Computer Operations. TOPS courses were a brainchild of the Thatcher government and were a response to the mass unemployment of the early 1980's.  I was paid £40 a week for eight weeks, to learn the art of operating computers. The college was in Euston. This was the first time I'd come across a privately run educational establishment. The rules were different to school. It was all about making sure the college met the government targets for finding work placements for students. The actual educational element was secondary.  In my mid teens, I'd developed coping mechanisms for dealing with my moderate dyslexia and so found the course easy. I had chosen the course purely because it was the shortest course and promised big bucks. I hadn't even known what a computer operator was when I started the course. When I found out that it was the bloke who spent his life loading paper onto printers, tapes onto tape machines and disc cartridges into disc cartridge readers, I was horrified. Worse still, jobs in computer operations were usually run on rigid shift patterns. This meant that it would massively interfere with the band rehearsal schedule. This was a disaster. As interviews were lined up and pressure was exerted to take anything offered (so the college could meet its targets and get its money), I realised I'd made a horrible mistake. As ever I relied on the one thing which has always seen me through. Good luck.

After attending two disasterous interviews, one with an insurance company and another with an oil company, I was told it was my last chance, when I was sent for an interview at one of the UK's leading software companies. It didn't help my mood that the other two candidates were the star performers on the course. As ever, nursing a big chip on my shoulder, I was convinced I'd been sent as a makeweight. As I turned up for the interview at the swanky office just off Tottenham Court Road, I felt a bit intimidated. There was a rather attractive female on reception who beckoned me to take a seat. I felt defeated before I started. After a few minutes chatting to the receptionist, my classmate emerged with a big grin on his face. With that I was ushered up. My interviewer was a man called Peter Southerby. He had the look of King George V and a rather posh accent. He asked me what I knew about the company. I knew nothing. I replied "Well I was told that its one of the UK's leading software companies, but thats about it". He then asked why I wanted to work in the IT industry. I replied "When I left school I lived in Stockholm for six months, then worked as a painter and decorator to fill in. I thought it was time to get a sensible sort of job and IT seems quite well paid". Peter laughed. He asked "What were you doing in Stockholm?" I replied "I had a Swedish girlfriend, so I thought I'd spend some time with her". He asked "Did you like Stockholm?" I replied "I loved it, made some great friends there. Would have stayed if I could". We chatted for a while about travel. Peter asked me about my A levels. I said "Well I didn't really do as well as I should, I had a brilliant Maths teacher for the first term of A levels, that was why I took maths. Then he left and the school had a succession of rather poor teachers, who just didn't inspire me. In hindsight I spent too much time concentrating on my band". We then spoke about the band. Peter then looked at the clock and said "Oh dear, I had only allocated half an hour for the inteview and you've had forty minutes. Sorry I'll see you out".

As I walked back from Tottenham Court Road to the college at Euston I felt awful. I thought "what a nice bloke, made an effort to humour me". We hadn't talked about IT at all, except for me to establish that I really had no interest in the subject beyond earning some wonga. Why couldn't I just stick to the script? The college taught us what we should and shouldn't say in interviews. They helped us write CV's and told us to bring out the good things. There was me, walking in and telling King George V's cousin how much I loved clubbing in Stockholm with my beautiful Swedish girlfriend. Lord help me.

No sooner had I arrived back to the college, when the PA system summoned me to the careers office. I was expecting to be told I was a useless idiot. I sat down and the careers guy said "You certainly made an impression at that interview". The years of poker taught me to keep a straight face. "They want to offer you a job, starting on Monday, intial salary £6,200 PA". I nearly fell off my chair.

Six months later, I was having a beer with Peter Southerby, we had become friends, when I asked him "Just out of interest, why did you employ me? The other two candidates were the stars on the course and knew far more about IT". Peter's reply surprised me "Yes, but they had no social skills. I wanted someone I could work with. Our firm sends people all over the world and they have to be able to fit in and represent the company well. When you said you'd moved to Sweden at age 18 and made a stack of friends, it was clear you were just the man for the job". What was even better was that the job wasn't a classic computer operations job. The company had a machine they used to develop software on. It needed paper changing, tape backups etc, but this was only 5% of the job. The rest was doing all manner of things which at any other company you'd need years to get into. System configuration, machine room management (overseeing maintenance etc), programming, installation of software packages. In short, it was a highly interesting job, where I could make my own schedule. So long as everything was done,they didn't care how. Not only that, but the firm took on 30 graduates every year, so there was a ready made social circle of people my own age, most of whom were in London and on their own.

I worked for the company for 2 1/2 years. I only left as they were taken over and the new bosses had a graduates only policy for technical staff. Since then I've worked in IT on and off in parallel with running the studios. In the early 1990's I decided to work as an IT contractor, as this was better paid and offered more flexibility. Which brings us to the subject of dyslexia. During my IT career, I realised that technology is a blessing for people with dyslexia. Autocorrect is perhaps the greatest tool. There are many words that I just cannot spell, no matter how hard I try. Autocorrect fixes this. Another blessing is that when you proof read a document and realise you've written nonsense, you can change it without typex or rubbing out. As I have to reread everything, generally this means that unlike my non dyslexic peers, if I write something stupid or ill considered, the fact I have to reread it means that I often have a "think pause". One of the modern curses is the instant reply that causes a huge row. My guess is that dyslexics are less prone to this because rereading tends to make you think twice before firing off angry emails.

Another asset I have is that as I find reading from a script stressful, if I have to give a presentation, I don't write a script. I simply write a whole series of notes which detail the points I have to cover. I also write how long I have to speak for at the bottom. I can waffle so if I don't do this I tend to come unstuck. I would urge any dyslexics who have to deal with public speaking to adopt this strategy. I was speaking to a non dyslexic colleague recently who saw a presentation I had to give. He saw this long stream of words and numbers on a piece of paper and asked what it was. I said "This is my presentation". He was bemused. I explained that if I write a script it is wooden and dull. By just having joggers for the key points, I find I can do a more interesting presentation. A couple of weeks later, he told me he'd tried the technique and found it worked far better. Another thing I try and do is talk to people rather than exchanging endless emails. I find that as reading is not my strong point, I sometimes miss nuances, therefore a conversation often makes more sense. This has the added benefit that a five minute chat will usually resolve issues that seemed implacable previously.

Many of the coping strategies I use for dyslexia actually work well for everyone. Rereading emails, using joggers rather than script and talking to people where possible rather than exchanging emails are all techniques which everyone should consider. I am often surprised that people who are good verbal communicators are dyslexic. When you discuss this with them, you find that at school they were often the shy ones who hid in class. It seems that the communications skills were developed outside of the educational environment. Often the skills are developed as a way of deflecting attention during stressful periods at school. When I was at FCHS, I was labelled a troublemaker because I would usually give teachers a cheeky riposte when they tried to verbally bully me. A typical example was our highly sarcastic history teacher Mr Linane. He asked me if I was practising to be an idiot. I responded by saying "No sir, I just try and model myself on my teachers". The whole class erupted in laughter and I got a slap around the face for being cheeky. But after that Mr Linane chose other people to verbally abuse. Not all teachers resorted to violence though, some enjoyed it and would give as good as they got. Mr Shuttler, my favourite teacher of all, once picked me up on my atire when I entered a lesson "Have you ever considered dressing yourself before you come to school?" I had a shirt haning out and my tie wasn't done up. I responded "With all due respect sir, you are not exactly a style icon, are you" (Mr Shuttler was a beardy with the ambience of a real ale fan). He simply laughed and said "I suppose I should be flattered that you've taken my look and taken it to a new level, but I don't think you've really understood the style properly, so now sit down". I saw him recently at a school reunion and he told me that he always enjoyed the banter and felt if you couldn't give as good as you got, you were probably in the wrong job.

Mr Shuttler was a good example of what a teacher should be. He never needed to be intimidating or violent. He engaged students and made the subject interesting. He would spend time with pupils if he fel they'd benefit and he'd try and bring the subject to life. I would not have a physics A level without his influence. I have no idea whether he had an inkling I was dyslexic, but he certainly gave me and all of my classmates the time and support we needed in lessons to excel. The one thing I got from him was that if you have a good teacher, dyslexia can be overcome. That is why I have respect for the man.

Dyslexia throws up many challenges in everyday life. I cannot fill in a form to save my life. My wife does all of these. If she doesn't I tend to tick the boxes that say I'm female or that I only have one leg. Sometimes this has caused all manner of issues. The most serious example was when I was 25 and I misread the usage rules on a bottle of antibiotics. This resulted in me nearly dying and spending months in hospital and a medical condition that haunts me to this day. As a result I have learned to reread the dosage instruction numerous times as a result and in this information age, always read all of the contraindications of medicins before I take them. This has prevented me drom taking highly unsuitable prescribed medicins on three occasions, so there is a high degree of swings and roundabouts with this.




Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Motivation

Motivation. It is perhaps the most important word in the English dictionary. When I was a teenager, I had a period where I got really into chess. It was during my O level retakes when I was studying at Orange Hill Senior High School. I would sit in the common room and spend hours playing against my mates. These days teenagers sit and fiddle with their phones on social media, but we played chess and cards, did the NME crossword, talked about punk rock and which girls we liked. But of all those activities, the only ones which gave me any real benefit was playing chess and cards. Cards is a great way to learn how to read people. To be a truly great poker player, you have to understand what your opponent is thinking and the best way is to learn there "tells". Although I am not a great poker player, I became very good at this, which is a valuable life skill and a massive asset. But perhaps the most important skill was the one I learned playing chess. When I joined Orange Hill school, I was a useless chess player. I am highly competetive, so I set about trying to change this. There was one kid who was far and away the best. I determined that I would beat him before I left the school. So I started to read books on chess, learned openings, closing strategies and upped my game. All of a sudden, I was transformed from a rubbish player to an extremely average one. Try as I may, I couldn't get anywhere near the good players, let alone our chess god.

I was discussing this with my Dad, who mentioned that one of his mates was a truly awesome player and had played masters etc. He  suggested I give him a few games. As with all things in life, If I want to do something, I will move heaven and earth. So I arranged to play said individual. Inevitably, I was thrashed withing ten moves in the first game. The second game was even more humbling. So I asked what I had to do to become a better player. I was surprised by his response. He said "You've learned lots of openings and lots of closings. This will help you beat a very poor player. But when you play a very good player, they will know these. This is there bread and butter. They understand your motivation, which is to do things by the book. If you want to beat a very good chess player, then you must understand their motivation for every move. He recommended I threw out all of the fancy openings. He said that a poor player (ie me) should play an ultra defensive, conservative game and analyse every move the opponent makes. He said "understand the motivation behind the player. What is he trying to do. Why is he making the move and what is he expecting you to do. If you can undermine his faith in himself, then you have a chance".

Over the next few weeks, I'd play my new mentor regularly. He'd give me a running commentary. Every time I made a duff move he'd scream "THINK!". He'd then explain just why I had made a stupid move. He then suggested I play our school chess guru. he said "don't try and win, just remember his moves". He said that he'd then analyse his style and tell me what his weaknesses were. He advised to do a simple opening and just play defensively. So this was exactly what I did. The plan was to figure him out and then see how good he really was. For my schoolmate, this was just another game of chess, an easy one at that. For me it was a vital part of a key ambition. I hadn't let on to anyone I'd been having tuition or practising. I hadn't played any of the good players recently. Much to my amazement, a truly amazing thing happened. I won in 12 moves. My schoolmate had made a silly move after five and crumbled. I couldn't believe it. He seemed absolutely devastated. For me it was one of those moments when I realised that if you want to succeed in life, you need to plan, prepare and practice.

That evening I went to see my mentor. I was euphoric. He was interested to see the game replayed. He said "Your friend clearly wasn't expecting the game you played and then fell apart. He clearly isn't used to playing people who play without fear". He then explained that one of the main reasons I'd been losing was because I was playing by the book, in a conservative manner and with fear. When I'd been liberated from this straightjacket, I'd upped my game. We got into a conversation. My mentor had been a prisoner of war for four years. During the period in a prisoner of war camp, the only release he had was chess. The camp commandant was also a chess buff and had encouraged the POW's to play. He would also on occasion play them himself and it was the one time when you got a decent meal and a glass of cognac. I was surprised by this friendlyness but my mentor explained "He was a man of culture and refinement, who wasn't cut out for a life in the army. As the commander of a POW camp, he was fair and honest. he had confided that he felt the Nazi regime repugnant and was determined to ensure his camp was run according to the Geneva convention and that no one should be treated unfairly. At the same time, he was not a soft touch. He ensured that discipline was kept and everyone knew who was boss". I was intrigued by this insight. How could you play chess against a camp commandant? He replied that the first thing you need to understand is that we are all human beings first. He told me that the commandant enjoyed playing the English, because he could simply play chess for the sake of it. I asked if there were guards in the room. He said "No, why on earth would he need them? It would be an act of extreme stupidity and futility to attack an unarmed commandant in a camp guarded by hundreds of armed men. It would lead to massive reprisals and probably ensure a complete bastard took over". Of all the lessons I learned from this period, this was the one which was perhaps the most revealing. When it comes down to it, human beings are programmed to survive.  That is our primary motivation. It is also important to understand the results of our actions. In my naive teenage state, I'd felt that my chess mentor was less than heroic. He could have taken out the camp commandant, but would rather have a cognac and a ham sandwich. But he knew damn well that his action was good for his own self preservation and had he done otherwise, he would have simply have triggered a massacre of his camp mates. I discussed it later with my Dad who had escaped from a POW camp. I'd expected him to be disdainful. He put me right "Until you've been a POW or even in prison, you can't possibly understand. He did the most sensible thing possible where he was. My situation was different, I knew an escape was a viable option and we were being half starved to death in Romania."

Motivation. We need some sort of motivation to achieve anything. In my case, my motivation was to improve my chess. My Dads friend was motivated to survive. In any situation, we need to understand not only what motivates us, but also what motivates those we are interacting with. I write a blog. You may wonder what motivates me? The answer is quite simple. I enjoy it. It seems that other people enjoy reading it, which is why I've had more than 1.6 million hits. I don't get paid to do it. I don't write anything on behalf of anyone else. I am not the member of any political party and I dont label  myself as subscribing to any political persuasion. Some of my views are traditionally left wing, some are in the centre and some are what could best be described as libertarian right. What is interesting is that whenever I write something people deem controversial, those who disagree with me try and apply labels to me.  I guess that is just par for the coure

 I am continually surprised just how seriously certain people seem to take what I write here. Granted, a lot of people read this blog and a lot of people seem to agree with what I have to say, but I don't understand why a small group of rather odd people seem to forensically trawl the blog (and my twitter feed) for the smallest scraps of information which they think will discredit me. What is their motivation? The sad thing about such people is that they lack trust of their fellow man (and woman). Are they really that scared that if I say something, the world will change? What is quite interesting is that whenever there is a concerted attempt to have a go at me, the number of blog hits I get goes up and the number of twitter follows goes up as well. Following my blog yesterday, two twitter followers were upset and publicly unfollowed me. I don't mind, thats their perogative and if they don't want to see what I have to say that's fine. I find this concept that following someone on twitter is endorsing them is an odd concept. I'd say the majority of people I follow, I simply follow as they have something interesting to say. If I violently disagree with them, that would be all the more reason to follow.  Unlike some, I don't really have a huge interest in twitter and how many people follow me. If you want to great, if you don't thats fine. If you agree with me, great, if you don't, thats fine. The main reason I tweet is simply so people know that I've posted a new blog. I usually post a blog called "Tweets of the Week" so people in the Borough can see what is going on and who to follow. That is really the only time I look at Twitter, apart from when I get notifications (well that and when people send me DM's saying "have you seen this").

What I have noticed is that there is a mindset that the chief motivation for many people on social media is provocation. They simply seem to want to upset people. They hunt around for comments by people they don't know and then give them what is tantamount to a kicking on Twitter. Why? I've no idea. We all get things wrong, we all say silly things, but on twitter, this is blown out of all proportion. I wonder if these Trolls really understand what is motivating them. Do they think "If I am beastly to enough people, party X will win the next election or candidate Y will become the leader of Party X"? If they do they are delusional. At present, there are some very nasty tweets flying around the Labour Leadership contest. If you were a Martian, you'd wonder why a competition to be Labour Leader is being given a choice between Loonies or Tories. The truth is that none of the candidates are either. They are simply people with a different perspective. It seems to me that one has made the best case by a mile and the other three are at a loss how to respond. It also seems to me that one has made some rather nasty comment about disabled people, so is reaping a whirlwind. But all in all, I am truly amazed at what is happening. I ask myself (going back to the earlier discussion) "What is their motivation?". One rather hopes that their motivation is to do the best job possible running the UK and the Labour Party. One rather hopes that as candidates, they would have a manifesto that lays this out. Mainly one rather hopes that they can do this without resorting to being rude about their fellow candidates. As far as I am concerned, motivation is not enough. As I explained earlier, to succeed Motivation needs to drive planning, preparation and hard work. As I look at the candidates I ask "where is the planning in this campaign?" "where is the preparation of policies", "where is the hard work necessary to win the argument". It is the absence of these in certain camps that is defining the result.

When I was playing chess at Orange Hill, I told one of my mates that I would beat our chess god before the year was out. He told me that I hadn't got a hope in hell. When it happened, he was gobsmacked and said "you were so lucky there that he made that mistake". It is funny how often I've been lucky in my life. What is even funnier is how often I've been lucky when I've worked my butt off. From what I've seen, a certain Labour candidate is being written off in a similar fashion, with regards to becoming PM if they win. I've no idea whether he understands the maxim "there is no substitue for hard work". I suspect that if he does, one or two people may be in line for a rather rude awakening.