Monthly Archives: November 2009

Managerial Trousers

My wife is a genius.

Countless books have been written about management, the internet is heaving with websites offering advice about management, there are training courses, consultants and untold other resources that are designed to turn people who are good at doing a job into managers of other people, whether they be staff or volunteers. Indeed, I often describe my own job as “supporting volunteer managers”.

Yes, in a single incisive phrase the other morning, Sue cut through all the theory by identifying the secret at the heart of management.

Managerial Trousers.

I was getting ready to set off to work, where I have been a manager since the start of this year. I was startled to hear a plaintive cry from Sue, “You can’t wear those  trousers, you need to wear Managerial Trousers.”  I was slightly bemused because this was an aspect of management that had never crossed my consciousness before that moment. I asked her to elaborate and was quickly guided to a pair of Managerial Trousers that were hanging in my wardrobe.

I am still not completely clear what it is that makes trousers managerial, and how they work remains shrouded in mystery. However, I am prepared to accept that this ground-breaking insight just make all the difference to the way I manage staff and volunteers. It’s early days, but I am starting to believe in the power of my Managerial Trousers.

I am a little worried that all these gains may slip back next week when the Managerial Trousers are put into the washing basket. We need to know whether Persil capsules have any effect on the managerial qualities that are impregnated into the very fabric of these trousers? Will the tumble drier damage the supervision skills in the pockets?

Can you spot which are the Managerial Trousers?

Are these Managerial Trousers?

Are these Managerial Trousers?

Or are these Managerial Trousers?

Or are these Managerial Trousers?

Ride Safe


Playing Trains or Bringing Home The Bacon?

I would surmise that voluntary organisations and charities have always been much better at spending money than obtaining it.  The charity of which Sue and I are trustees, the Derwent & Wye Valley Railway Trust, is no exception. We would love to be able to spend large sums of money on all sorts of projects relating to our charitable aim:

“To obtain, restore, preserve and operate a representative collection of heritage railway buildings, structures, rolling stock and artefacts for use by, exhibition to and for the education of the public in the infrastructure, management and the operation of railways between Ambergate and Buxton in the County of Derbyshire.”

So important is the inward flow of cash to organisations that fundraising is seen in many of them as a valuable skill. Indeed many larger voluntary organisations and charities have entire departments of paid fundraising staff. There is even a trade body for fundraisers, the Institute of Fundraising .

So as a trustee, I share the responsibility for bringing in the cash as well as spending it. I am also the only trustee who works in the voluntary sector and therefore is daily immersed in the comings and goings of funding news. So it was almost inevitable that my skills in this area, such as they are, are likely to provide the best outcomes for the trust.

So I have just had two days off from my paid job to volunteer intensively to write funding applications for an exciting project that will greatly enhance our visitors’ appreciation and understanding of the heritage of  the “infrastructure, management and the operation of railways between Ambergate and Buxton in the County of Derbyshire.”

I am not going into too much more detail at this stage of this project, but I would like to observe that this work involves:

  • Filling in details on application forms.
    Very straightforward and taking just a few minutes.
  • Finding or writing the supporting paperwork to go with the application.
    This is information about the trust, my fellow trustees and some financial information. Almost all of this can be delegated to the treasurer or secretary.
  • Writing up information about the costs involved. After all, this is the point of the whole exercise.
    This takes another couple of hours or so to get the information into the format requested on the application form.
  • Writing a description of the project.
    This is where it starts to get interesting and can take a couple of hours of writing and re-writing.

However, the biggest part of the whole process has been

  • Researching the project costs.
    The internet has made this a lot easier, but this is still the most time-consuming part of the process. I have spent about four days over the past fortnight doing little else.

If you are a fundraising professional who has happened to stumble across this, You will probably have gasped at the inordinate length of time that this research phase takes me. However, I make no apology. I really want to be sure that I am applying to the right funder.

Therefore I need to read the criteria of each potential fund in detail.  This is probably the starting point for me and will take ages and will cause severe wear and tear on Google’s servers and my keyboard. This is where the professional fundraiser will save time over me by having more knowledge of the bewildering array of funding that is available “out there”. I also know that there are lots of funds that have no presence on the internet, and for our current project, these are not even in my sights.

Then I want to make sure that I am asking for money for the right resources and equipment and that I have a realistic and up-to-date picture of its cost. THe latest internet special offer is all very well and would certainly give me, and the funder, the best value for money, but will it still be available at the never-to-be-repeated price by the time the bid has gone in, been approved and the money released to us?

However, like everyone else, I have a limited amount of time to give to my volunteering. As this blog recounted a year or so ago, I have reduced the amount of volunteering that I used to do and nowadays concentrate on my railway volunteering. When I go to the railway to be the guard, ticket inspector, buffet server or any other active role, I am aboard or among the trains. This is visibly volunteering for the railway and is the bit that I originally signed up to do. Although I have still been volunteering for the railway while sitting in front of this computer, I am sure that other railway volunteers think of me as not currently doing anything for the railway (if they think me at all.)

And when the funding comes in and the practical part of the project starts, those hands-on volunteers will have no idea of the time or work that has already been expended by volunteers on this project.

Now this is not a moan, but a plea to anyone in a voluntary organisation, or who uses the services of a voluntary organisation, to remember that almost every front-line service has to be paid for in some way and that a fundraiser has been involved in making it happen.

Ride Safe

A Week of Significant Dates

This week sees (for me) three very significant dates. Two of them are now part of the historical context of our modern world; the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago yesterday and tomorrow’s anniversary of the end of First World War. The other is a more personal anniversary, that of the birth of my second son.

Amid the celebration of yesterday’s big event in Berlin and tomorrow’s far more sombre act of remembrance (which I hope you will observe with me at 11:00am tomorrow), I hope that anyone with anything to celebrate today has a wonderful day.

Then I got thinking about other significant weeks across the year, after all there are 51 more of them to go at. Immediately, I picked out two more. There’s a week towards the end of August when we in UK celebrate our Late Summer Bank Holiday. around the same time, there are two more birthdays in our family – my eldest son’s and mine on consecutive days. Then the first week of June is another, in which my twin brothers were born and a couple of days later was my dad’s birthday. In fact the week after that saw my mum and dad’s wedding anniversary. This is also Volunteers Week.

Talking of which, it’s not quite a single week, but early to mid May sees a very important birthday – Sue’s which is just preceded by our wedding anniversary.

My youngest son’s birthday is close to that of youngest brother in January.

In fact, as I unpick the year, there are very few weeks when I don’t have something to celebrate. No wonder I used to eat too many cakes and biscuits! However, I am now a reformed character, having had a jacket spud followed by an apple for lunch today (because there aren’t any biscuits in the house).

…and by the way, were you wondering what G represents in yesterday’s post?  Grandchildren.

Ride Safe


Yesterday we were honoured with a visit from five young people who descended on us at the appointed hour of 7pm, devoured pitta bread and humous, followed by Sue’s delicious home-made pizza before a proper pudding of chocolate sponge pudding and custard, washed down with copious quantities of diet Coke.

Three of  these visitors were my three sons, now aged in their almost mid-twenties. early twenties and very late teens respectively, accompanied by the partners (well actually the wife of no 1 son and partner of no 2 son). No 3 son is still visiting the well-stocked lending library before actually buying a book, or so it seems.

There are a couple of other factors that seem to be relevent to these thoughts:

  • My sons were all born during my first marriage.
  • They all lived or still live with their mother
  • Sue and I have no other children
  • I can predict when we will be visited by them

This last statement is the result of many years of careful observation of the pattern of such visits and this observation has led me to another great scientific breakthrough.

This breakthrough has eluded scientists since the dawn of time, yet I proudly the formula that I have devised to make such predictions with unerring accuracy. This is the formula in the title of this post.

  • V is the number of visits that we can expect from sons in a year.
  • S is the number of sons
  • P is the number of wives / partners that these sons have. Normally this number will not exceed S (or there could be real trouble!)
  • B is how close their birthdays are to each other. If two or more birthdays are close together, there is no need for a separate visit, so can be deducted from the total V
  • The odd 1 to be added at the end of the calculation is for Christmas. I suggest that in non-Christian cultures, the extra visit would be timed to coincide with the major festival of the year.

So, puting the values of S, P and B into the formula for our own situation, you will see that in a typical year, Sue and I can expect:

  • S=3
  • P=2
  • B=2

              V= 3+2-2+1

               So V=4

Yes, we can expect to see them 4 times in a typical year. However, there are additional factors that could make any given year non-typical.

For example, this year has been a little different because No.1 son and No.1 partner got married. This led to a significant variation in the formula where a correction factor M had to be applied where M  is a fairly large number.

By applying a little scientific deduction, I expect that the application of the additional correction factor G will also result in an increased number of visits.

Can you work out what G stands for? 

I’ll give you the answer tomorrow

Ride Safe

HbA1C, No Biscuit Month and Muffins

Last week I went for my annual diabetes check up. I have Type 2 Diabetes. I was chuffed to bits to get some good news this time around. My HbA1C blood measurement was the lowest since they started monitoring me.

HbA1C is a test on blood that somehow shows the long-term level of sugar in the blood over, I believe, three months or so.

I’m sure that a significant contribution to this great result was my exercise of almost superhuman willpower at work where I told everyone that October was to be “No Biscuit Month”. I did pretty well, with a lot of help from my colleagues, who kept temptation away from me as much as possible. I have to confess that I did lapse once or twice, but I consumed far less sugar at work than I had for a very long time.  I have even managed to be included in the birthday cake runs at work without succumbing to the lure of a doughnut. I have been asking for one of Gregg’s delicious hot  sausage rolls.

However, I haven’t been so good in the first week of November, having been to several events where biscuits and sweets were freely available. Added to that, on a couple of occasions, Sue has cooked a batch of gorgeous muffins. Today’s were banana muffins and so far I have had three.

I hereby resolve, in public and in print, to continue No Biscuit Month through the rest of November and along the way, to also avoid other sugary nibbles at work. However, I make no such pledge as far as Sue’s muffins are concerned.

And I have no idea how to cope with the potential myriad temptations of Christmas.

Ride Safe

What Do You Mean By R&B?

The labels that are put onto particular forms of music confuse me. One of the real nightmares for me as a DJ is when someone in their 30s staggers up under the influence of some alcoholic beverage and slurs, “Play some decent R&B, mate.” (or, to be fair, any other genre of music, from Garage to House, Rock to Hip Hop, Soul to Bubblegum, or Alternative to Rap.)

My usual response is something like, “Sure, what song would you like me to play?” This usually extracts a title or artist and very occasionally, both.

I find the range of music that any genre encompasses to be incredible. One of the widest music styles seems to be R&B which has included anything from Girls Aloud to Jay-Z.

I’m sorry, neither of these artists fit any REAL definition of R&B, which is a term that has been around, certainly since the 1960s and means Rhythm & Blues.  This would therefore include bands like The Yardbirds,  The Animals, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks, The Creation, The Action and The Beatles. However, the term was coined as long ago as the 1940s and would also include early Motown,  Stax, Atlantic and other music that we would nowadays regard as classic soul. Even Sam Cook, Chuck Berry or Elvis Presley can be considered R&B. (So perhaps Rock and Roll is really R&B).

Jay-Z and some of the other modern rap and hip-hop artists could, at a pinch, be argued to be successors to artists like Wilson Pickett or Little Richard, although I doubt that they will be played, or even remembered, in 50 or 60 years time in the way that those R&B pioneers are today.

But Girls Aloud! R&B? Come on!

However, do the genre labels really matter? Not to me. If a song fits into the “groove” of the evening, it gets played.

But it does seem that the “label” is incredibly important to some people. Mostly, I believe, to 20 and 30 somethings who are desperately trying to show their peers (and kids) that they are still “cool and trendy”. But not yet old enough to realise that the amused embarrassment of “dad dancing” kicks in as soon as there is a younger person in the room.  I am quite amused when I watch these 20 and 30 somethings on the dance floor, especially at weddings and family occasions where 40 and 50 somethings simply don’t care about being trendy, are well aware that they are “dad dancing” and simply go for it. Those unfortunate 20s and 30s are doing exactly the same as their own dads, and aren’t aware of it – but the teenagers are.

It’s interesting that once the alcohol kicks in later in the evening, “trendiness” gets forgotten and these same people can metaphorically let their hair down and have a good time – to the cheesy anthems that they would rather die than admit to liking while they’re still sober.

Ride Safe

Remember Remember

…the fifth of November
Gunpower treason and plot

Just listen to the silence. It’s over for another year, although this year seems to have been marked by far fewer huge explsions.

Over the past few years, the weeks leading up to the 5th November have been marked by evening after evening of loud bangs as fireworks were being let off all around our neighbourhood. I would guess that a similar nightmare has been endured by people all over the UK.

For the benefit of any non-UK readers of this, the story of Guy Fawkes can be found here.

I’m not sure why we even celebrate an assasination attempt on the monarch and parliament, although I have some sympathy with the view that Guy Fawkes may have been the last person to enter Parliament with a completely clear motivation.

Anyway, this year the build-up to the day was far quieter than usual, with a few bangs and flashes overa couple evenings earlier this week, but very little in the preceding weeks. Perhaps the publicity campaigns are getting through? Maybe a clampdown on sales of fireworks could be helping? However, I suspect that the underlying reason for our cats not having been on edge, the neighbours’ baby having slept (well, a little) and us not feeling like surviors of a minor war could be the recession. After all, who can afford to send lots of money up in smoke these days?

Ride Safe