Monday, 16 November 2015

Paris in a minute

Every Monday I play football with a group of learning disabled adults as part of my job. This week as we approached the training ground I was asked by a couple of the service users if we could observe the minute’s silence in memory of those who died in the Paris attacks. This knocked me sideways as I hadn’t expected them to engage so fully with the subject matter or the fact that part-way through our game there would be people standing silent in memory of those who died. As the time approached I gathered the group and said that we would be marking the event and they were free to stand quietly or step away if they wanted to. Nobody stepped away so we all stood around the centre spot and hung our heads, like so many sports teams had over the weekend, and observed our silence with those in France and around the world.

After the game we all sat down for lunch but the events were clearly playing on the minds of service users. I simply wasn’t prepared. The most common question I faced was “Why? Why did this have to happen to innocent people?”. I was floundering. Thinking on my feet I found myself saying that the people who carried out the attacks were selfish, angry and evil. These were concepts that the group I work with had some grasp of. For all that I thought of my ham-fisted explanation it seemed to find resonance with those who were engaged.

Why am I sharing this? Because it makes me want to shout into the abyss... at all the people making this more complicated than it is. None of the service users referenced religion, ethnicity, nationality or ideology; because that doesn’t matter. This is a tragedy because of the human loss. Regardless of who they were, what they believed or how they spent their lives, people died because these men were selfish, angry and evil. To call it anything else gives the perpetrators greater credit than they deserve and to hang something political from this tragedy is to detract from the senseless loss      

Monday, 31 March 2014

Dear John

To my beloved volunteer management,

I want you to know that I love you, that deep in my heart I think I will always love you. You have given me the most amazing three years of my life and our time together has meant everything to me. I have to admit that we have had our ups and downs, people haven’t always believed in us but when I look back they were never the ones who really mattered. You have introduced me to some amazing people who have changed and inspired me and supported the relationship throughout our journey and without these people we might not have got to where we are. With you I have grown as a person, had some amazing experiences and together we have had a lot of fun.

It lies heavy on my heart that I must now say goodbye. Victims of circumstance we must now part, a difficult decision but I feel like it is the only way. We might have had a chance at another time but just now it doesn’t seem to be working. I have come to realise that I need certain things from a relationship that you don’t seem able to give me. I need a full time commitment, someone to tell me I’m needed and that I don’t need to move heaven and earth to be with them. I know you have other priorities but you need to understand that my opinion counts. Hearing it from other people is fine but I need to hear it from you. I hope you see that I have fought for us. I have tried. But something always gets in the way. I have been prepared to go the extra mile, to go further and compromise to fit in with what you want but I don’t see you doing the same. You want me to move, to leave my family and friends behind or travel to London and beyond without offering enough in return.

It wasn’t as if we didn’t have chemistry, we worked together and I can’t escape that, but I have to look after myself and move on. Sometimes I get the feeling that you don’t understand me, that you are so focused on making money or investing in other relationships that I have no say in what happens. I need someone who will nurture me and let me shine and I get the feeling there are others out there who are doing that without wanting so much in return. The fact that I have given my time to you yet expected nothing in return should show how much you mean to me but it feels like it isn’t enough and that has been tough to accept.

I suppose what I’ve learned recently is that it wasn’t you giving me strength but the opportunity to show how strong I am naturally, and that doesn’t rely on you.

I’m not saying never, I’m just saying not now.  

Good luck.

D xx     

Saturday, 9 February 2013

National Libraries Day!

Today is National Libraries Day (NLD) and whilst some may say it is a shame that it takes the naming of a day for people to speak up about why they love these valuable resources it is a chance to focus on what makes them special and share with others.

My earliest memories of the local library are taking out Asterix & Obelix and Tintin books ON MY OWN CARD which transported me through time and space and took me on new and interesting adventures (until I exhausted the library’s stock and started all over again). This naturally moved my curious mind into the children’s reference section until that wasn’t enough and I ventured beyond the safety of the brightly coloured chairs and wall friezes and into the land of grown-up books! As a child new books were few and far between in our house, but a short walk to the library could entertain me and my younger brother and we could return with armfuls of books to keep us quiet for the rest of the day.

As I grew older my library card was always with me. I later discovered the central library with its archives and THREE FLOORS OF STUFF! It was about this time that I started getting into music and realised that the money I had went a lot further with a library card and a packet of TDK tapes that it ever would in Our Price or Wooly’s! But I won’t dwell on that any longer. With all that had gone before it was no surprise that I went on to become a library prefect and later head to Uni to study books (or English Literature as they called it). It goes without saying that I was in and out of the library for my essays but it was when I went on to do a research masters that things seem to go full circle. I was that wide-eyed child again, opening new worlds as rooms full of books and computers were at my disposal to stretch my mind and ask new questions.

Since leaving uni my relationship with libraries has naturally changed. Long gone are the 8 hour stints surrounded by textbooks but instead I’m now lucky enough to be paid to go to libraries (in the interest of full disclosure!). I get to share my love of libraries with everyone I meet and encounter some real library champions along the way. I still take out books and music but I also take out films for a week at a time and it costs me less than a three night rental from Blockbuster (as it stands libraries may soon be the only places you can rent films and games that aren't online) and I get to use internet-connected computers for free.

It is because of my love for this service that I gave four hours earlier today to volunteer in a library showing people how to access the elibrary and emagazines available free to all library members. Libraries are wonderful spaces and with Post Offices and local pubs closing they are strong community hubs but they are also looking forward and capturing the imaginations of a generation of ereaders and internet-savvy library members. So today I don’t want to desperately hold on to the library of my youth but celebrate the library service that has grown up with me, that has been so many different things for me according to my need and still means so much.

Friday, 21 September 2012

When are we meating?

I will start by saying that I’m a vegetarian. Now before you run from the hills this is not an attempt to “convert” any of you, this is just a rant about why I do what I do because I am a veggie who eats meat. I know “vegetarians” who eat fish and others happy to plough through a packet of Haribo so it shouldn’t be too much of a shock (yes Haribo, it turns out the reason kids and grown ups love it so is the dead pig in their Starmix!). At this point I want to make it clear that while I might tease my friends about it, I don’t think it is right to judge anyone on the degree of their vegetarianism. Whatever someone has decided they have made an active decision and it is easier to say veggie than ovo/lacto/pisco/haribo-vegetarian (or any other name on the scale from carnivore to vegan).

When pregnant with me my mother went off meat and by the time she had my brother four years later had gone veggie. No ethical consideration for the little critters, she just didn’t like the taste or texture. At the age of 7 I decided that I would be vegetarian too. A bold move in the late eighties, before middle-class people made it fashionable! It was only when friends asked “Mummy, can David come for tea?” that I realised how odd this seemed to others. Confusion and panic followed from mums who had to feed me. Having had the faithful chicken nuggets/fish fingers/burger options cruelly swiped away parents would ask “so what does he eat” to which the truthful answer was anything else… and lots of it.

Like my dreams of being a footballer this was a phase which passed and, much to the delight of my friends’ parents, I started eating meat again about a year later. Time passed and my love of food saw some meaty highlights (a phrase I never thought I’d write!). I enjoyed steak tartare in a Parisian café, ate home-made rabbit and thyme burgers in the summer and of course there’s the foot-long Italian BMT. For the uninitiated this is a thing of beauty; an exquisite ménage of three meats which provides an unforgettable, mind-altering taste explosion of continental meat delight (all with your personal choice of salad, sauce and bread!). During this time I also learned the fundamental art of butchery and had a less enjoyable time mastering fishmongery.

With all this behind me (and my dedication to a particular Subway roll) it might seem odd that a few years ago I started to question what I ate and where it came from. On little more than a whim I decided to not eat red meat. A half-baked notion of coronary and colonic health carelessly sprinkled with ethics seemed to hold together an idea that essentially had no impact at all; well not unless you count my health! At a time when I was training pretty hard, eating lots and sleeping well I was inexplicably lethargic and sluggish. It was at this point that I looked at my eyes in the mirror and it didn’t take much to see I was anaemic, so I made myself a big bowl of beef chilli and felt much better. This was also when I finally had enough of chicken breasts. Tasteless and watery, taking whatever flavour you give them but providing little but protein they are a selfish foodstuff. They took the focus of my anger because they were tasteless for the very reason they were unethical, because factory farming had forced the animal to grow too big too quickly.  

If I was to make a meaningful change it had to be considered properly this time. So what did it look like and how did I get there? Firstly I decided that I didn’t want to cut out meat completely. My scientific brain was telling me that as a species we have the teeth and digestive system for it and we’re part of nature’s food chain (whilst the rest of my brain was imagining a veggie lion explaining to the rest of the pride why it had declined their kind offer of wildebeest). We are hunter-gatherers but hunting has been made a whole lot easier since supermarkets came along and we replaced spears with debit cards. Our old ways of killing, gorging then living off nuts and berries until the next kill have been replaced by a ham roll for lunch and chicken for dinner. I was formulating a plan; I would eat meat, but once every 6-8 weeks. Many of you are aware of my usual SUPER SCIENTIFIC APPROACH but to be honest this just sounded about right for me so it stuck. I knew that supermarket meat was out of the question so I would source locally and ethically asking honest questions of the people who produced it. I became an Ethical Omnivore™!  

Having proven that I could manage my diet and stick to the veggie lifestyle for 3 months I went to my local farmers market (I know, I know, but I had to start somewhere) and began asking questions about some lovely looking sausages. After I’d found out where they’d come from, how the animals were kept and what they were fed I then asked (not wanting him to think I was taking myself too seriously) “were they happy pigs?”. The answer had me sold; he said without hesitation “they were happy on Tuesday” so I bought them and they tasted great.

From that day I haven’t looked back. Keeping to the rules I set, I have expanded my list of suppliers as word-of-mouth takes me to another local provider of ‘happy meat’. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Blogging On

With six months of blogging under my belt both here and on my ivo blog I feel that I am an expert and can tell you all how to do it!

Well not exactly…

But I strongly feel that more Volunteer Managers should be blogging and reacting to blogs by sharing and commenting (not just within the VM community) so I would like to use this Thoughtful Thursday’s chat (#ttvolmgrs on Twitter) to share our experiences and introduce more VMs to the blogosphere to illustrate how helpful it can be. I hope we can demonstrate how this democratised medium is not daunting, not the domain of wordy academics or geeky nerds and is a form that should be more widely used in the VM community. It is a call to arms for those already blogging to share their experiences and for those on the edge to get a step-up and the confidence to try it.

Each week one blog posted on a Wednesday evening sparks a day of international discussion on topics particularly aimed at VMs so the power of blogging should be clear to anyone reading this. Blogging is a wonderful tool for us to discuss current issues, gain almost instant feedback and forms part of our professional development online. Even before you publish a blog it can be a great way to focus your thoughts, to thoroughly examine a topic and find out what you really think about the subject. Once it is posted people can then respond and it may take you in directions you had never imagined (or cause you to question things you were once certain of!). You might even find that your words echo what is being thought by many and act as a springboard for change.

We all know that VMs are lovely folk and I have personal experience to back me that if you do take the plunge and start blogging there a plenty of kind people who will share and give feedback if you ask nicely! Here are some of the things for people to think about when blogging:      

You don’t have to be Dickens!
Let’s get this out the way first. People worry that they are not good enough to write for others, they dropped English at school because their spelling was rubbish and they didn’t know what a split infinitive is. Here’s my dirty little secret; SPELLCHECK (and while we’re at it I have a friend who got a Distinction for their Masters in English who still doesn’t know where to put commas!). This format is wonderfully informal and lends itself to a style that isn’t starched with grammatical convention and is driven by the desire to share information.

Good readers make good writers!
This was a great piece of advice given to me a long time ago and it counts double for VM blogging. Firstly read other blogs to get inspiration and an idea of how they work as well as providing valuable information relevant to your profession. Secondly blogging works well in communities and actively engaging (reading and commenting) will embed you in the VM community and give you a new voice. 

Know your audience!
Understand what your readers are interested in and what the hot topics are. Take stock of the writing already out there and avoid duplication of existing discussion unless you have something new to say. Stay up-to-date through ivo and Twitter links to online articles (there have been plenty that have prompted spirited responses recently surrounding Gamesmakers at the Olympics).  

Write about what you know!
Pick a subject or event that interests you but be sure to take a step back occasionally. This will ensure that you are putting yourself into it and conveying the human side of any given subject in balance, we work in a field that is emotive and it needs to be recognised as such in this forum. It also allows you to find your voice and show some humour which will draw a reader to your subject through your individual style. Personally I’m a fan of putting thoughts and asides in brackets (along with exclamation marks it’s kind of my thing!). 

Hook them in!
 We have all seen a witty or intriguing headline we couldn’t ignore and this counts for blogs too. Is it any wonder that ‘The Best Advice you Never Had’ garnered 5 likes and 5 comments on ivo in a day whereas ‘EYV11 Opening Doors to Volunteering showcase initiatives’ didn’t. Once they have clicked, keep them with a brief opening that tells them what it will be about and offers something engaging or challenging to stimulate their interest.

Be controversial!
Don’t be afraid to rock the boat, sometimes by playing devil’s advocate you can shake people out of apathy. Honest and open debate is healthy and allows us all to gain fuller understanding of issues, but make it respectful and productive. Expect others to respond though and don’t be put off if someone disagrees or challenges back. If you want to see a master at work check out UC on ivo

Find a buddy!
Get someone you trust to look over it. Nothing I write goes to print without a fresh pair of eyes making sure there are no glaring errors. I find it useful if that person is a little removed from the subject matter too as you can never assume they know something.

Shameless tricks
A quick list of sneaky tactics to get you in the game:

Mention names and link to other key blogs/sites as they will then be eager to read your blog and maybe even signpost it for others.

Release it when people have time to read it. If you tell me about your blog on a Monday morning or Friday afternoon I am far less likely to have the time to engage with it.

Promote it through a number of forums and maximise your readership. Link it in from ivo, Facebook and Twitter for people to see and share with colleagues and friends who may have an interest.

Remember that on many sites like ivo the more likes and comments a post gets the more prominently it is featured. Share it as part of a network so others will keep the momentum.

For me there are two main questions today:
What can VMs learn from blogging?
What are your hints and tips to successful blogging?

But you might also like to share:
Where do you blog?
Who should VMs follow?
How do you come up with ideas?
What are you afraid of?
What do you want to write about?

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

A Cut Below?

So here we have another of “my” blogs, not a hint of volunteer management anywhere- you have been warned!  

This blog originated from a conversation had after work over a drink (where the best stories start). Goodness only knows how we got around to it but talk turned to male grooming. Now this isn’t the stubble debate, nor Beckham’s latest hairstyle or what metrosexuality actually means but a conversation about what I shall call “male intimate grooming”. I would by no means consider myself naïve but I hadn’t a clue just how common it seems to be! The only other man at the table said, quite frankly, that he “trimmed regularly” as if it was as normal as brushing one’s teeth in the morning. In response to this one of the women piped up that her partner does too and another said rather emphatically that she “insists her partner do it”. So how commonplace was this practice and where had it come from? I knew someone who regularly extolled the virtues of a shorn scrotum (not the words he used) but I thought by the reaction it received it was generally accepted this was not the norm. Had something completely passed me by? 

After some of my usual methodologically sound SUPER-SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION I have established that nether-topiary for men seems to have one distinct rule (an opinion generally shared by men and women); neat is good but shaved is weird and a bit porn-y! On top of this I know that for many men the daily ritual of shaving our faces is a little too much (and razor blades are bloody expensive) so it is unlikely we will make even more work for ourselves any time soon. But most of what I was hearing was leaning towards a view that this was commonplace and natural. I was on shaky ground here because I usually feel uneasy about pubic hair debates. They are generally aimed at women and almost always negative, but this was easy and conversations were relaxed. In this case we blokes seem to once again avoid such scrutiny and get the easy life, which might be why I haven’t felt the power of the advertising media compelling me to coiffure my bush! I didn’t feel pressure but instead there was intrigue and the rather amusing “I don’t want a bush tucker trial if I’m with a guy and I go down there” attitude from one woman that did make me wonder how important people thought it was. Other people’s opinions out of the way, why should I find it odd that men choose to do this? I go to a hairdresser for a haircut, clip my nails, shave and what facial hair I retain is styled, but some 17 or so years since my body decided to start sprouting fuzz I have generally let it be.

Stood over the bath, mirror strategically placed and trimmer in hand I felt at a point of no return, driven not by media or peer pressure but by genuine curiosity and the knowledge that if something went wrong at least it would grow back. Not really knowing where to start I went for it and everything seemed to be going ok. I was then reminded that symmetry is not easily achieved when back to front and the wrong way up. Numerous rounds of “evening up” followed (complete with a moment of panic when the trimmer ran out of charge). This being said I was pleased with the result, as a debutant at any activity might be with a job well done, and there was certainly no going back.

So how does this story end (or what was the bloody point of me sharing this with the world)? Well I think I can say I’m now a convert! A mown man-muff seems to be the way forward for me. It is easier to maintain, quicker to dry, aesthetically more appealing and (dare I say it) the wonders of perspective and framing have had a positive side-effect visually! I have been able to assess my options, make a decision free from pressure or judgement and when it comes down to it I’m the one who has to live with my body. If anything, this silly experiment has provided a stark reminder of the contrasting attitudes and pressures faced by women when it comes to body hair. I hope that in reading my “emotional journey” it might prompt some other chaps to give it a try, but more importantly to recognise that we live in a culture which denies women freedom from scrutiny and judgement in what should be personal choices. 

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

The Volunteer Manager/Music Correlation

Something has become increasingly clear to me over recent months as relationships have grown with other members of my profession (for it is a profession!). One thing that seemingly unites us all is a love of music; making it, listening to it or simply getting all excited and raving about it. So I decided to explore this a little deeper to discover the ABSOLUTELY VALID SCIENCE that backs up this correlation.

I think the nature of the music discussed (most recently a Tom Waits/Nick Cave “OMG how brilliant are they” discussion over Twitter) goes to show that VMs are discerning, selective and not willing to go with the mainstream or most popular for the sake of it. Not always swimming against the tide but with an eye to pick out musical gems, even in the rough, to give them a chance to shine and so often they’re rewarded.

VMs are very aware of genre and history. Music from the past nestles snugly alongside contemporary music and more often than not VMs are the ones championing new and experimental music.

Genres that recur and the science bit:

Rock- Loud and in your face, not afraid to shake things up. Covering many sub-genres and styles.
Post-punk- More complex and experimental than its forbear but with the same spirit of rebellion.
Jazz- At times smooth and calming, at others inventive, edgy and challenging.
Indie: True indie, shunning convention to back their own style and inspiring others.

The VM jukebox is big and it’s loud, it covers all genres and tastes and there is something for everyone. It makes people get up to dance and sing, but not everyone knows about the party. Unfortunately there are those happy to listen to the same old records on repeat. These people need DJs to educate them, to champion different styles and give the VMs something to listen to when Bieber is the only thing punctuating Fearne Cotton’s ramblings [OK if you still think this blog is all about music that was a thinly veiled reference to the potential VE/NCVO merger (Fearne Cotton was playing the part of Fearne Cotton though, that was just a pop-culture reference for the kids)].   

Unfortunately there is one dirty secret in the VM CD rack, one which should be consigned to BBC4 archive footage and obscure questions on Never Mind the Buzzcocks. For me as a Reading boy it is an old Slowdive album from a short-lived Shoegaze phase which was soon overrun by indie and grunge (with good reason). Described at the time as ‘The Scene that Celebrates itself’ this is a style that many VMs cling on to, listening on their own or in small groups.

So my plea to anyone who still has some in their collection, drop it off at a charity shop and leave the shoegazing to someone else, you just keep on rocking!