Monday 17 June 2024

Still chuntering along

Dau.I and Dau.II are now bracketing 30! Right now they're living city centre in a tiny flat where neither the bathroom, nor the kitchen has a window. It's okay, it's how millions live, but it's different from how / where they grew up. For reasons, and without consulting them, we chose to buy a remote farmlet, where the nearest inhabited home was 300m away; where the nearest shop was 3,000m distant and things like theatres 30,000m over the horizon. It might be short on amenities but it is long on wildlife, fresh air, . . . and chores. I was away working for much of those early years at the turn of the century, so it was on The Beloved to facilitate all the off-site stimulation that seemed desirable: the HomeEd meet-ups; the ballet classes; the tin-whistle, piano, saxophone lessons; the trips to the beach; the Speech & Drama sessions. So many car-miles, so much carbon foot-print but then again - so many audio-books, so many round-the-universe discussions, so many rice-cakes.

One of the regular tours was down to the Talbot Hotel in Wexford for afternoon sessions with Red Moon Children's Theatre. That was a 90km! round-trip which was tolerable for a twofer. But after one season of imagine you're in a balloon Dau.II dug in her heels, folded her arms, and announced that Drama was a drag and she was not going to do it. Figuring that the 90km might be part of the issue The Beloved spoke to Red Moon and asked if they'd consider bringing Moonhommed to the Mountain. The colonization of Co Carlow was agreed in principal, a date in September was fixed, Rathanna Community Hall was booked and The Beloved started a One Woman campaign to get small bums on seats for the first session. She knocked on every door in three townlands and thereby got to meet all the neighbours, some of whom had small children and some of whom offered money to the venture. It was hours and hours of work and A Lot of tea.

Michael and Eileen Red-Moon came on a scoping site-visit. Michael looked through the kitchen window at the back of the Hall at the truly spectacular view of the southern cwm of Mt Leinster rearing up from the flat fields and hedges to the craggy summit. Cripes, he said, I'd come and work here for free just to catch the changes in that view every week. Eileen told him to stop his romantic guff, this was work for, like, money.

On the day of registration, Dau.I (who was invested) and Dau.II (who was willing to help) were setting out chairs . . . so many chairs.
Michael: that will be enough chairs.
Dau.I: nope, we need 30 kids to break even, and the Mammies may want to sit.
And it was so! That first year 30+ kids from 2 different age groups committed to paying €5 each to imagine they're in a balloon. That was the same group size as the mighty metropolis of Wexford could muster. The creativity and energy of children is an enormous resource for the tapping.

Things moved on. After a tuthree years, there was a putsch and Red Moon were replaced by a younger theatre chap from Kilkenny. After a couple more years, Dau.I and Dau.II (who did participate) out-grew the after-school classes demographic. The Beloved performed her Exit Strategy: handing over the purse to one Mam, the bookings to another, registration to a third. 

A few years ago we were in the Post Office in Borris (12,000m distant and at the edge of the RathannaDrama catchment). One of the original Mammies from 2002 recognised The Beloved and saluted her for starting it all way back when. It seems the venture is still chuntering on. It is just possible that the first cohort, mammies in their turn, are enrolling their kids for September 2024.

The reason I'm remembering this now, and it's possible that I've told it already, is because of a similar story at the end of Hilary Cottam's book which I reviewed on Friday. When Participle set up their Circle experiments to empower and engage The Olds, the business model was a Club with each member paying a Sub. Some bystanders were knee-jerk outraged: these Circles delivered so many Good Things for the community that surely the local authority should be picking up the tab. It smacked of Co-pay which is an invidious idea allowing those responsible to weasel out of the full cost of service provision. Not so: neither for Cottam's Circles, no more for Rathanna Drama. It is an absolutely certainty that, if funded by the CoCo, The Drama would have been eliminated in the post-crash austerity [prev, last para]. By handing the reins of the cart to Mammies people invested in the success of the venture, it could not be obliterated by an anonymous bean-counter in County Hall.

Sunday 16 June 2024

Bloomsday 24

more and more for less and less

Friday 14 June 2024

Change Islands

Something is rotten in the State.

My Parapals Rory and Alastair, for all that they mad-busy, are great readers altogether. I've taken on board a few of their book-recs out of respect to their sense of what's worth spending time on. The latest rec to be eased out of the library has been  Radical Help: How we can remake the relationships between us and revolutionise the welfare state (2018) by "social engineer" Hilary Cottam. 

Cottam's thesis is that William "Charterhouse, Balliol" Beveridge's 1942 vision for a Welfare State is no long fit for purpose in a post-industrial society top heavy with extractive plutocrats and ranks of declining Olds. And always the ♇!⊗king market, as if competition was always obvs better than community and cooperation. Maybe Capitalism = Koyaanisqatsi = "a state of life that calls for another way of living": Caring for each other is not about efficiency or units of production. It is about human connection, our development, and at the end our comfort and dignity

In the UK, there are 100,000 neighbours-from-hell families, each of which is costing The State about £250,000 every year. One case study of a (single parent four offspring one preg) family in Swindon clocked 74 different professionals from 20 different agencies (tutors, counsellors, police, housing, health visitors, the social) involved in the family's care and attention. Cottam's people shadowed (with a time sheet) the eldest boy's social-worker and found that 74% of his time was spend on Admin (the forms, the forms); 12% on the phone haggling with other agencies; leaving 14% of the working week for actual work with the chap. But that social-worker's case load was much longer than one troubled teenager. 5½ hours a week spread across a dozen kids barely gives a social worker time to take off his coat, and in-fill another questionnaire before driving off to the next meeting. FFS don't use neighbours-from-hell and the like, it lacks compassion and smacks of hubris - the overweening complacency that it could never happen to me coupled with victim-blaming.

Cottam sets out the stall for the UK welfare state as it now stands. The Irish equivalent is not substantively different. When novel "obvious to all thinking people" good things are suggested, The State puts the kibosh on them double-quick:

  • See the same doctor? Too expensive
  • Help another person? Too risky
  • Provide solutions through a known community group? Against the rules of competition

Manage need vs develop capabilities

The middle section of the book looks at left-field "Experiments" or pilot-studies with which Cottam has been involved; professing, if not actually solve, to ease the burden of problems in 5 areas where The State is only rearranging the deck-chairs and not delivering a lot. Well 1 million people are employed to help make things better for their fellow citizens - 1 million adults not collecting the dole, so there is that. For ten years, Cottam's NGO Participle did the state some service and demonstrated how agile, focused orgs might deliver more QALYs for less money.

  1. Family. Their Life programme set in place mentors / listeners who had time to listen to the manifold problems of the dispossessed; develop a holistic view rather than silo-thinking; engender self-respect by respecting the troubled rather than joining the line of comfortable people who want to beat on them
  2. Youth. Their Loop programme swept up lost youth and found them work-placements in the community - a bit like the best examples of Irish Transition Year work experience. The pilot study was going gang-busters with obvious benefirs accruing to The Yoof, The Community, The Employers. But when they held an open day for government agencies, the scheme was immediately closed down . . . because teens were developing a relationship with an adults who was neither a family member, nor a teacher. In the eyes of The State, all adults are potentially if not probably predators on the young.
  3. Employment. The first thing in Backr was to call out the complete failure of Job Centres to place the unemployed in work. They then created a network of MeetUps where job-seekers could network, commiserate, and even crowdfund money to get small businesses over the threshold for creating a new position.
  4. Health. Another problem, another daft label. Wellogram applies similar holistic views to health and well-being. It's normal now to refer people with unlabelled malaise deeper into the maws of the NHS. Maybe it's better to take them out of that mill altogether and treat their loneliness, stress, and feeling crap with kindness and a cup of tea. The GP has no time to listen and for some people some of the time, tea and chat is at least as effective as [and FFS cheaper than!] anti-depressants, anti-biotics or anti-inflammatories. Health education is the unsexy, unfunded, unseen part of the health service: but it doesn't have to be like that..
  5. Aging. The End is Circle. This experiment facilitated Elders getting together and telling each other that they could so do more for themselves rather than relying on the State or it's agents. Call me the complacent patriarchy but I've found that fixing stuff, making stuff, myself is empowering. It also frees me from dependence on someone else's timetable, engagement and priorities. And it saves money. I know, I know it's a short step from victim-blaming but making people do for themselves can be done with kindness, with panache, with respect.

There you have it. Dozens of ideas, thrashed out round a conference table, and rolled out into the local community. Some of the schemes are still chuntering along years after the initial funding dried up.  Related to this is Samuel Smiles [prev] and his vision for the world in Self-Help (1859). But what do I know? I've returned Radical Help to the library. You can read it next. It might outrage you enough to do something different.

Change Islands? A decade ago The Blob wrote a neat 900 word essay about fishing on the North shore of Newfoundland, parcelled it up, tied it with a green white & pink ribbon and launched it into the blogosphere. The next day I butterflied off to write about Sellafield / Windscale about which I was marginally better qualified to express an opinion. That was then, this is now, and flitting about long ago and far away won't butter no parsnips. 


Wednesday 12 June 2024

99 is the sailor

In my culture "99" means an ice-cream cone supporting a stick of chocolate at a jaunty angle. But it can also refer to a [reasonably] venerable age. I qualify the age with [reasonably] because there are hella many centenarians about. 30 years ago my Scottish grannie turned 100 and got a telegram from Mrs ♛indsor. She also got A Lot of 100th Bday cards from neighbours and [not many left] relations. She got nothing from her pals because they were all dead. What struck me at the time was how few dupes there were among the cards: Hallmark et al. must have a market, so there must be a few customers out there. Obvs, they are expecting more sales for that particular bday than 98 or 103. We're not there yet, but last week Pat the Salt celebrated his 99th Bday:

It's 8+ years since Pat's wife died. And it's been "interesting" to observe the changes as the years tick past. Having run away to sea at the age of 14 and spent most of the rest of his teens churning around a world at war, he has enjoyed pretty robust good health. He could so easily have died by torpedo, storm or scalding cocoa as a youngster, that the gods seem to have cut him a fair hand healthwise for the rest of his life.  As Pat moved into "His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide for his shrunk shank . . ." territory, a lot of new people entered his life to compensate for some of the deficits of age. For some it's just work; but for others, including those on the payroll, it's clear that there are bonds of  affection and respect even if recently forged. 

One of the latter, Seamus the Ornithologist [above red R] who came out from Waterford every Tuesday as a conversational companion. The charity which brokered the deal covered Seamus' bus fare but couldn't manage minimum wage for his time. There are for sure ethical, social and economic questions to be asked of The Voluntariat. But since Seamus has retired in his turn, he's been dropping in on his old WWII Mentor because they are genuinely fond of each other. And he seems to have kept Pat's birthday in his diary; because he turned up with a couple of hours notice on Der Tag. I don't think it was the smell of cake! Supervalu do a line in these micro iced cakes and The Beloved went up and bought a few for the current team of HSE carers who are rostered to Pat . . .

But, there was an under-count and I was dispatched to Supervalu to purchase two [2] more cakes. Phew! luckily there were three still standing on the display table and I was able to snag The Best brace o' cake. Phew! because I would have had to make an iced-dainty decision in real time. Are 2 eclairs == 1 micro-cake? 3 eclairs?? 2 eclairs and a strawberry flan??? 1 eclair and a box of fence staples???? The permutations are effectively infinite and I was certain to be wrong-footed whatever I chose. 

Anyway, the important data is that Supervalu shareholders are assured of a Christmas dividend Pat got to have 🎂 on his 99th Bday and he was saluted by those who cherish him.

Monday 10 June 2024

Hail fellow

. . . well met. I must have met Dan Bradley in the Summer of 1990 when I came back to Ireland for a week long scoping exercise in Trinity College Dublin. I was then 'resting' in the NE of England having run out of steam as a population geneticist. I had secured an EU 'retraining fellowship' to convert whatever number-crunching skills I had from pop gen into a more useful area of science. That would be molecular evolution using bioinformatics. During that week, I hung out in the binfo lab which was hosting the fellowship, found I could do the work, found an old farmhouse to rent out near the airport, found my way down to coffee and probably had a few pints in the Summer evenings.

When I came back in October on salary, I defo met Dan because by a peculiar set of circumstances his boss was my boss. Dan had just finished a PhD looking for lesions in genes that resulted in retinitis pigmentosum which causes late onset hereditary blindness. Like me, he was also stepping sideways - into the genetics of tropical cattle. His boss Paddy Cunnngham had bigger fish smaller flies to fry running the screwworm eradication programme out of the FAO in Rome. Cunningham had recently landed a huge research grant, and hired a postdoc [Dan] and two post-graduate students Ronan Loftus and Dave MacHugh to prosecute the cattle project.  My boss, Paul Sharp, as tenured faculty could act in loco parentis for these three orphans. But they didn't need much hand-holding; being recklessly brave and technically competent in adverse circumstances in the Third World. And quite undaunted by the institutional bureaucracy of TCD. For the next tuthree years, the two labs would have a joint Christmas dinner which seemed to require G&Ts between each course, and telling cray-cray war stories from the bush.

Irish science had been absolutely in the doldrums through the 1980s, and the cattle project was one of the first big-money rumblings of what became the Celtic Tiger. in 1992, TCD scrabbled together the money to create a new lectureship in Genetics. It was exciting: we all sat through job presentations from the short-listed (Top Gun) candidates - before they went in to be formally grilled by the search committee. In the pub that evening, Paul Sharp confided [I got all the important information in the pub] that he'd been asked his opinion for the best candidate as "the person most like to bring in the largest grants". The most intellectually stimulating science or the best teacher of genetics came further down the list of desiderata. Paul's unequivocal answer was "Dan Bradley"; and it was so.  Turned out Dan had an even better nose for writing citable papers of which he's contributed more than 25 to [super-prestigious Nature | Science | PNAS]. That's about as many papers (crappy + marginal + okay + pretty good = all my papers) as I've been party to . . . six of which were actually coat-tailing on Effectives from the Bradley lab.

Pure science is fine; bringing in big grant money gets you Best Boy status with your employer; launching a successful Campus Company is pure gold. Dan was one of five founding directors of Identigen [multiBlob] which is still trading well into its third decade.

I should add that as well as being a great scientist who can tell it so that non-specialists can appreciate its importance, Dan is a good bloke and a loyal friend. He brought me to hospital when I was whacked off my bike in Westland Row in 1998 and was smart enough, and kind enough. to know that I'd be so long in A&E that I'd need a Mars Bar and an Irish Times.

In the middle of May, Professor Bradley was elected Fellow of the Royal Society. Short of a Nobel, that's about the biggest gong you can acquire as a research scientist in the English speaking world. No slouch the chap who escaped from a chicken farm in Maghera, Co Derry to go to Cambridge. Chapeau! and a sweeping respectful bow.

Sunday 9 June 2024

A fresh face in politics

It's about a month since I was canvassed to elect Daniel Pender to the local county council. Local elections are really local. Even county Carlow which is a micro civil polity [90,000 hectares; 62,000 ppl] is divvied up into 3 LEAs Local Election Areas. We are assigned to the southernmost LEA, comprised of the scut-end of the county: wedged between the Blackstairs and the River Barrow. Of course, my #1 went to Willie Quinn who lives between us and the nearest post office. But I did give Dan Pender a number. You're meant to continue your choices until you really have absolutely no preference among the remaining candidates.There were only 8 candidates for 5 seats at the county council table. Having excluded the patently deranged, the fixers and racists, it should be a shoo-in for any reasonably honest, reasonably personable, fairly photogenic, applicant for the job. Who takes the photos on the promotional literature? Who signs off on the choice??

Our LEA data: Electorate: 14,100; Total Poll: 7,231; Turnout: 51%; Spoiled votes: 138; Total Valid Poll: 7,093; Quota: 1,183.

Well, the votes are counted and the results are shown here [R]. And who gets elected on the first count? . . . with a chunky surplus, but The Fixer, who arranged-to-be-delivered 100 tonnes of roadstone back in Feb 2022. Call me peculiar, but I'm not going to vote for people who bend the system in the interests of patronage. That kind of grift inevitably preferences those who have connexions and excludes those who really need a leg up. Willie sailed in on the second count. The person who's ragin' this weekend is the monumental incumbent Arthur McDonald FF. The people have voted for a younger, fresher, fitter version of Fianna Fáil - Go Dan Pender!  The next Taoiseach but four.

Sun Msc 9th Jun 024